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The Devil Comes on Titanium Soles

Johnny
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  Will’s heart pumped, thudding in his chest. He was high, make no mistake. Eyes rimmed in red and light brown, both from lack of sleep, and the Spin he’d been dropping for the past two years. He sat alone, up on the roof of some unknown apartment stack downtown, east of the warehouse district. He sniffled, wiping a dirty sleeve across his nose and cleared his throat. It was damp outside, and hot. July in the city was always a humid hell. His pants stuck to his legs, not to mention he’d not showered in at least three or four days, he couldn’t remember.

    The twenty-something boy wet his cracked, dry lips with a swollen tongue as he pulled the tiny, folded piece of paper from his pocket, unfolding it with dirty, grime-stained fingers. His left foot bounced on the damp roof of that stack in anticipation, when finally, the nugget of Spin was uncovered from its crisp paper.

   A lover in his eyes. She never mistreated him, ever faithful. All of his “friends” and family had just tried to get between them, but it was fine, it would be better now. It always got better.

 “Yeah,” he gasped as the little rock hit his palm.

   Will plucked it up between thumb and index, dragged it once across his semi-moist tongue, tipped his head back against the wall and set the little crystal in the center of his forehead. He tried to still his bouncing foot, but the anticipation or neurological damage was too great. Seconds seemed like hours to him, but the drug eventually did its thing, and melted into his skin. That first rush as it flooded his senses, it made him gasp, as if having an orgasm with that sweet lover of his… Soon the boy would be in another place, away from the pain and expense of this world.

   So he wouldn’t see the door from the stairs open. From it marched a demon in midnight. The dark blue eyes of the figure took in Will’s elsewhere form for just a breath span, then his glossy boots carried him to the roof’s edge. Below, several storeys down at street level was Manor de Obscurite, a popular night club.

   Will didn’t know it, but earlier that thudding in his chest wasn’t his heart, though it had been beating hard, but rather the bass of the huge sound system in that club. From up here, Olivier’s eyes flickered in the reflection of the lights of the dance floor below, seen through Obsurite’s skylight. Upon his tactically armored breast was a badge of a four pointed black star. A single sidearm adorned his figure, which shifted as he lifted his leg to the roof ledge, the optics of his augmented eyes seeing and sorting things no normal person could.

He sought a mark…

 

   Johnny was in the VIP section.

   There were women here of all sorts — the thirsty types, doing all they could to find their alpha, whether for the night or foreseeable future, those just here to dance and have a good time, and if someone was met and taken home, all the better.  Then there were those girls’ friends, who kept that friend in check, validating whichever less-than-alpha who came to speak to their ward.

    But up in VIP, Johnny could see the entire floor behind tinted glass. He was close enough to have a mirrored reflection, and throat-cold smoke pushed out from between his lips, chilling his tongue in that menthol way. It crashed against the glass and sought less firm ground to tend to. Johnny’s suit gleamed from the spiraling lights, glistening at the lapels in the style that he adorned most, a single-breasted type relaxed cuffs and much less business cut.

   He’d seen her once, at the Blue Moon. She gave him a light and had suddenly disappeared. He didn’t follow her here, but there she was, getting a drink paid for by some random, but Johnny told Vince to show her up to VIP. Already Vince held her attention and pointed upstairs. Everyone knew what it meant, and so many desperate few were ever given that opportunity. He saw the woman nod, take her drink from the bar — with a scowl from the man who’d just bought it for her — and follow Vince up through the cordoned areas. She would be here momentarily.

   Johnny grinned. 

 

 

   A girl’s night is what had been suggested, and agreed upon, and Cielo had leapt at the chance because, really, given the nature of the hours and days that she kept, something as innocuous as meeting some girlfriends for drinks and whatever, on a Saturday happened once in a blue moon. Despite there being only four, it had taken some planning what with work commitments, keeping jealous boyfriends happy, arranging for a child minder.

   Cielo had no such constraints.

    Self- employed, single and childless it seemed that she was the one that seemed to have the easier time of it. And because of all of these complications, it really was becoming bigger than Ben Hur. Still, she hadn’t seen this particular group out together for the best part of a year, and she kept silent while they regaled her with the complexities of their lives that were now- years down the track from the commonality of college- were so very, very different to her own.

    There was a musing as to why she did as she widened her eye, gazed hard into the mirror and curled the mascara wand about lashes. Sentiment- perhaps even to stroke her own ego with the sense of social superiority, though she couldn’t for the life of her wonder why she would want a high paid job in corporate law, a crazy biker boyfriend, or would have been silly enough to bring a child into a world that, in her eyes, was on its way out.

   Perhaps she was being a little harsh, a little unfair, and chided herself for not being a little more patient or charitable towards women that ten years ago had been considered her sisters- never to part. Tempus fugit and lives that had been based around study and partying and the crazy lifestyle that comes with that sense of invincibility in one’s early 20’s, had entered a divergent phase and they really had little in common with each other outside of past common experiences.

    The zip would be tightly fastened, running up the side of her dress to just under her arm, and hands smoothed the fabric down over her thighs as she surveyed herself in the mirror- the phone rang.

    After several minutes of extraneous explanation, it would appear that one of her “sisters never to part” was working on a big case, and she and her team had been ordered to cancel their lives and work through the weekend at the offices. Profuse apologies that verged upon the gushingly false and Cielo being ever understanding, soothing, assuring her friend that a lunch date in the next couple of weeks would adequately make up for this. And then there were three.

   Sliding the closet doors apart with a soft hiss, a choice was made of footwear, and a little more care taken with a purse. Adjusting the whole ensemble as shoes were applied and jewellery discretely adorned, she turned to once more assess the overall appearance.

   Cielo considered herself lucky in this regard. She thanked her mother for the cheekbones upon which the rest of her form hung, and for skin that given her mater’s example was pale and clear and slow to age. She had looked after herself by avoiding the sun.  She became enamoured with a rather delightful yoga instructor some years before and taken him as a lover. Thankfully for her, the interest in yoga had ran a course that was much more satisfying and enduring than the instructor. She ate well, got plenty of sleep and the result of this was clearly seen in the reflection.

   Out the door and into a taxi and just as the cab was pulling away from the door, her cell took a call. It was girlfriend #2. Once more soothing tones from Cielo but in the darkness of the cab eyes were rolling with cynicism. The silly girl should never have told her boyfriend Cielo had been a lover in college. It had become an issue and so to placate this particular psychopath, for she did seem to have a penchant for them, she was cancelling also.

    Replacing the phone, a huge sigh. This night was starting to become smaller and smaller.

 

 In the club, the bass was pounding and as always filled with delightfully beautiful creatures all of which were no doubt a lot younger than she at the ripe old age of 29. It was clear from the surreptitious attention she was getting that perhaps this dark beauty had something that the brassy bleached blondes that were her peers at the Manor did not. Poise perhaps, patience, a little class. Certainly, her dress discrete and European designer, as were the strappy heeled shoes, were as different from the rest of the clientele as she was. Black Velvet, subtle, no plunging cleavages or inappropriate display of bra straps here, just clean lines and a hint of pale flesh and legs that seemed to go on forever.

   By the time she had sidled her way through the sweating jostling crowd and finally made it to the bar, a vibration from the purse she held in her hand and this time a text. Girlfriend #3 had a cancelling sitter situation and again, more apologies.

   Now this was annoying, and she slapped the purse onto the bar and threw her cell back into it without the socially accepted norm of answering straight away. Perhaps her expression showed her displeasure though Cielo was usually more stoic than most.  

   An offer of a drink from a man far too drunk to be attractive, and with a sigh, she accepted anyway. One drink and then she was out of here. What a washout!

 

   When the signal came from one of the bouncers that she had been invited to the VIP section, she was really rather relieved. The crowded space where the hoi polloi gathered really was not a place that was designed for someone like Cielo. Had she have stayed, she probably would have gone upstairs anyway, knowing the establishment and the owner, but it really was very nice to get that curled finger for once.

    It means that she has been spotted from that glazed silvered eye above the dancefloor. A curious half smile at this and it was that same inquisitive drive that had her thanking the man and taking herself and her drink away to mount the stairs and discover exactly who had requested her company.

   She sees a man stood before the window, broad shoulders and dressed in a suit that appeared bespoke and so was of a superlative fit.  An arch of an eyebrow – inquisitive- until he turns.

   Well now! She recognized him straight away of course. The guy from the Blue Moon.  She was a regular at that particular establishment. It was equidistant between work and home and convenient for both, but she had never before seen this man there. She had been quietly attracted but life had once more created a divergence and his face had become consigned to the file “What could have been”.

   She was flattered and smiled as she approached him, a delighted “You!” accompanied her approach before she follows with “Don’t tell me! You would like a light?” 

 

   Johnny followed her gait, professionally weaving in and out of bodies that writhed in all manner of silly-to-seductive all without being crashed against, hit out, grabbed or even touched, and all while maintaining the integrity of her chosen drink. She had done this plenty of times, it seemed, but when the door opened, and Johnny heard “Good to see you again, “Chaylo,” well, then the large, tanned man felt the slightest bit embarrassed. She had most certainly been here before, so the round tables and secluded booths weren’t new to her.

   Where the music was tolerable, swaying bodies, creepy guys and spilled drinks were a forgotten memory. VIP was dim, near the glass, glossy and rampant with the dance floor’s strobes of color. The DJ booth hopping, literally with fans sat just below, easily viewed from here.

 

   The Venus approached, the embarrassment had passed, and he didn’t hide the once or twice over the blue eyes made of her figure and form. The full lips of the man turned up at their corners into a broad, friendly smile. He met her just a few feet away from his table, with high-legged chairs for optimal viewing of the floor below, though he had been standing. Indeed, he was a broad man, with wide shoulders and a barrel chest, unhidden even behind suit and shirt. The man’s left arm rose, he offered his hand, still smiling.

    “I’d take a light from you even in hell, “Miss Cielo,” chuckling in that deep tone of his. “I suppose, asking if you come here often wouldn’t really be out of sorts? You know Jacques and Angelo?”

 

   She had been bitterly disappointed downstairs in the bar when she had received the text from the one person that could save the night from being a total waste of time, though there was little but a mild frown to signify it, as her expression as always, for one that worked with the fantasy of perfection, was muted. Upon laying eyes upon the stranger from the Blue Moon though she mused that she was rather glad now that her unreliable girlfriends had cancelled one by one.

    Quite used to having eyes graze over with the intention of assessing value for money, it made a rather nice change to have the same process but this time with an obvious appreciation. Lips twitch into an enigmatic smile at this and broaden at his words.

   Charming- very charming.

   So he was earning points with each new revelation though, curious that he offered his left hand. A pause for a moment and then as she placed her drink down onto the table, she would offer her right, Elegant, well manicured fingers, with polish of a dark shine that coordinated with lips.

 

   But then- oh damn! Had he introduced himself at the Blue Moon? If he had then she had completely forgotten or thought, perhaps a little foolishly now she was in his company and able to find out a little more about this quietly confident man, that a random at the Blue Moon, no matter how attractive, was not so important to be retained.

   Well now, this was awkward, she could spend the rest of the night skirting about this social faux pas, or she could just straight up ask him.

    “Forgive me” she eventually says smoothly. “I feel like a complete idiot but… “

   By his expression, perhaps he already knew what was coming. An apologetic expression sc uds across her visage like clouds on a summer breeze. The way she spoke. Her ease. Her confidence-already building rapport with someone from just a few pleasantries. At this- she was expert.

 “Please remind me of your name?”

 

 

   Deep blue eyes focused on that left arm, as thick, strong fingers enclosed and encased the finer boned digits of the new face. A dozen little points darted up on an unseen HUD, and focus was enhanced, spiralling inward.  There was a small line of faintly lighter skin, an imperfection from some time ago, yet something to store away about the woman. Johnny’s hand was far too encompassing to profile fingertips, but that bone structure in her cheeks would never be lost, even from this high of an angle.

    Indeed, Olivier, bent over the roof’s edge, had a new card to play if necessary. A moan turned the Black Star enforcer’s head, distracting him just briefly, the sound coming from Will, tripping over in the corner of the damp roof. He gasped, and his breathing fluttered. Olivier’s eyes told him that asphyxiation was creeping up to claim the boy. He watched, silent and devoid as the young man’s life slipped away from him, turning his last moments from euphoria to wide-eyed confusion, choking, gasping and flailing legs.

 

“Johnny,” he said, laughing softly.

 

    The man was ex-military, and now worked for a black ops organization, though mostly lived the life of a wealthy night-lifer. However, as his fingers curled about the smooth, warm curve of her tiny hand, she was processed. The man didn’t feel good about it, but, it was who he was.

   One night stands could be a literal death of him. And so it was that her public records were sifted through within a HUD she couldn’t see behind those eyes. Any priors or offenses at all, even if expunged via legal means, for it was beyond the digital age, and nothing was ever lost or forgotten when burned upon silicon.

   “And don’t worry over it,” with a quick tip of his head. “I’m glad you accepted, wasn’t sure. You looked pretty put out down there,” releasing his firm grip on her hand.

   “Booth or table?” Johnny asked, while reaching for a pack of menthols inside the breast of his suit, a glance about the room, where many still vacant places allowed their pick, private or casual, pull-curtain or exposed to all others within the ‘commons.’

 

 

   It was best just to be honest. There was always the end of the night of course but how could one possibly relax completely in the company of anyone while that elephant was present in the room. Johnny was suave enough to take it in good humour and she would note, amused at herself, that she was rather relieved at this. She had glided expertly over his initial question upon greeting, by of course distracting and ultimately leaving it unanswered. She did not want to raise any curiosity regarding the nature of her knowledge of the owners of the establishment and their “mutual business associates”.

   She was immediately struck by the resonance of his voice. Up here in the heights above the pounding of the bass below that made it impossible to be able to communicate with anyone without lip reading and hand signals and that awkward tilt of the head as one tries to discern what was ultimately a poor constructed attempt at a pick up, it was subdued insomuch as the music was relatively muted.

    This was a place for people to gather, talk, relax and was treated with an ambiance that made this possible and to this end she did not have to strain and found she was already quite taken by his deep, rich timbre.

  A glance at the booths. There were already a few that were filling, even one or two with drapes drawn even at this early juncture of the evening.

 

   She knew, or at least could guess at what kind of transactions were already taking place behind those secretive screens. Knew because back in the day, it was how she conducted her own business. However, those days were long gone, although the thought of taking to a booth now would have that same sordid attachment and so she replies with a simple “Table I think” without a hint of the reasoning behind her choice, and with her hand returned to her, was using it to reach for her drink. A tumbler of some amber liquid with the severe melt of ice watering it down to acceptable levels for this time of the night. A sip, enough to wet her lips, but those dark inscrutable eyes that were as unfathomable as black mirrors never left his for a moment.

 

   “Dig,” Johnny said, and turned his side to her, gesturing just those half dozen feet away where he’d been watching her from behind the tinted glass, catching a glance of himself along that way to their table in that mirror.

    The crowd below was getting heavily into the DJ change that happened minutes earlier, but, Johnny was a man, and Cielo a very lovely woman. Hair to heel, he’d already assessed what he could — he didn’t have x-ray vision within those augmented eyes. It didn’t work that way anyway, but if Cielo sidelonged at the glass on the way to the small, four foot high table, she would catch Johnny’s abnormally dark blue eyes taking her in from an angle not previously viewed.

 

 Reaching the meeting place, Johnny reached up and touched a small box on the glass.

 

 “Sylvia, I’ll have a vodka tonic with lime, and, whatever Cielo’s usual is.”

   Sylvia apparently knew that by now and would have the request sent from the bar amid her other orders from the VIP room.

 “Sure Johnny. Need a lighter?”

 This made Johnny laugh, and mirth full in his eyes, he looked across the table at Cielo.

 “Nah, Syl, I got that covered. But thanks for making me look like “that guy” up here.” Sylvia replied via the intercom, “Always Johnny. If I didn’t embarrass you, you’d just stalk around here looking all rough and –“

   Johnny reached up and clicked off the intercom.

“Could I get that light now,” he asked around a curved grin and lips pressed about a menthol.

 

   She was still mulling over the coincidences that had brought her to this point in the evening and into his company. A faint smile escaped that metered visage as she also considered the competition she would have had from her three companions for this man’s attention. The lawyer would have blasted him with questions as though she was still in court. And Avril, who really didn’t get out much since the birth of her child a year ago would have been overcompensating wildly in her efforts, as lack of the practice of social interaction would have fair enough put her in his lap with breasts thrust into his face.

   As she follows, he would be able to regard the slender profile, the casual manner in which she rides both glass and clutch purse and a certain something that would denote an unconscious awareness of the space she occupied.  She appears relaxed, this much he could tell. Attractive and knowing it, but without the aloof airs of some that may use it as a weapon. He would tell from this already that she would be easy company.

   Seating and silently adjusting the hem of her short dress as she crosses her legs so that he doesn’t get more than what she wishes to show him from the legs that would appear just as comfortable on a baby giraffe.  She turns away momentarily as he speaks into the device, a short conversation and a reminder of her initial question.

   The flap of her black clutch is prized open with click as he ends the formalities with the bar tender and a hand descends into what is really not much more than a receptacle for her cell, wallet and keys and does not contain any of the extraneous frippery that one would expect. So the lighter is easily revealed just as he refers to it.

 

 “Of course- why else would I be here?”

   The gleam of metal, and the cap of an ancient and well used zippo is snapped back with her thumb and the flare of the flame illuminates both of their faces with a soft orange glow that would give both an opportunity to once more apprise the other.

 

   “Thanks,” leaning forward enough to fire up the tip of that cigarette.

   Indeed, as the amber-orange glow of that zippo, and it’s very distinct scent of burning fuel hit Johnny’s sense, he did take that space, that spark of time and flame to get a better look at the woman before him. It couldn’t be hidden in the dim glow of the VIP that after the lighter’s breath was extinguished that the light from it remained within Johnny’s eyes for a heartbeat longer — likely a thing to make a person double-take, or question, perhaps, what they had seen, or ‘thought’ they had seen.

   Wispy tendrils, like some sort of spectral limb of a thing from beyond, ran their way up along the angles of Johnny’s face, then were disturbed as his lungs pulled a breath through that tube of rice paper.

 

   With an exhale directed away from the two of them, Johnny pulled the cigarette away from his lips.

 “So, Cielo. Tell me,” and he pointed at the tinted glass, the people below though kept his eyes with attention and direction to her own.

 “Why are you here? You look a bit…,” pausing briefly, a canting of his smooth head. “Too professional to be here.”

   Smoke from the cigarette reached for the ceiling from its confines there within the snug grip of index and middle finger at his left.

 “I don’t want to put you in places you don’t belong, but how far off am I here… You seem more like a ramen shop girl, relaxing on some unfiltered sake with the rain outside keeping the street noise out.”

    The man before her lifted a brow just faintly and rubbed the back of his thumb on his right hand across his chin, scratching. He wanted to get to know the woman, but their meeting was very abnormal for Johnny.

   It was more common for him to engage those he worked with, whether an everyday co-worker or the occasional away job contractor. But, truth be told, Johnny in all of his confidence and style hadn’t had much time for women in a good length of time, and Cielo was the first one that stood out, that really caught his eye. He wanted to get to know her, even if that avenue led them to said ramen house with drinks, rather than his or her bed.

 

“You are most welcome” she says, holding that flickering flame between them.

    He hasn’t offered, and she didn’t want one of her own, and anyway, with such perfectly scribed lips, the deep rich red of a peony rose, the last thing she would want is for that to be smeared by the smooth filter of a cigarette. No- she didn’t really smoke when she went out believing that the only thing anyone should detect in aromas about her person is the discrete scent of hair product and the unmistakable and unforgettable miasma of her signature, Chanel.

   However, that old and beaten up zippo went everywhere with her, and was obviously of some sentimental value to the woman for it was hardly a matching accessory to her ensemble. As she snapped the cap and the light extinguished, her observant gaze did notice an odd effect from the depths of his eyes and was disarmed a little, though good sense and reason would dismiss it as a flare from an errant laser. The lighter was slipped back into her purse and the phenomena forgotten.

  The purse was left upon the table and the tumbler taken from it. The deep amber had now bleached into a pale shade with melt and with drinks on their way she took a healthier portion from it then her earlier efforts.

    As he spoke and that voice like melted chocolate once more filled the space between them, she would smile, lips parting for the first time to reveal a bright countenance and divulge dimples either side of her mouth that had been a charming secret until then.

   “To be perfectly honest Johnny” she replies with a laugh. “I’m not keen on these places now, and was here to meet college friends that I haven’t seen in an age!”

   A laugh then, a shake of her head causing the soft wave of ebon to bounce against her neck and an attitude that what she was about to tell him, even to her ears now seemed preposterous.

 “This place holds happy memories for us- though why we thought we could relive them by meeting here is beyond me and as you see..” a light shrug and a smile of dogged acceptance. “I was stood up. By all of them!”

   She didn’t appear to have any ill will towards them for such, in fact, he would get the impression that this was an unusual night for her.

 “And as for a ramen house- I am such a home body generally that it is more likely I would curl up with a takeout carton and a movie. This was the first time I had been out in months however…” and with this her eyes narrow slightly redolent of a contented feline but with a warmth that would put him at ease.

 

 “I am very glad that I did.”

 

   Her laughter came to his ears like poetry. That smile, the little divots in her cheeks when doing so — she was dangerous, this one. As her eyes danced, and while she played off the annoyance of her friends flaking, only to follow through with a suggestive tone of much preferring his presence to her college friends… Well, all of this culminated in that smile broadening, and Johnny reached up to distract himself from growing too confident and rubbed at his chin, nodding.

 “I’m glad you did, too, Ci–“

   There came a thunderous crash, and Johnny started sharply, pushing away from his table and toward Cielo in utter shock. Dust, splintering wood, ceiling tile and gravel from the roof exploded all about them. The room went to chaos as people screamed. Curtains were torn back, the booth viewers peering out with eyes wide of both fury and terror. A man was screaming on the tile nearby, a section of rebar pinning him to the floor… which creaked and groaned mightily. He who made this manifest stood amid the clearing dust and entropy, a demon in midnight, with a black star and a glowing, pulsating pistol. It shed blue-white light at either side of its venting ports, and was aimed directly at Johnny, who had lifted his left arm, barred across Cielo’s body, unsure of what was happening. A revenant wrought of old memories, he stood the height of Johnny, though not quite as broad. Encased entirely in dull black, hugged against his arms and shoulders tightly enough to see the ridges and lines of musculature beneath. The visage of this upright chaos portrayed little more than cold calculation.

   Vince was moving quickly into the room from the door to help those in pain but halted suddenly at the sight of the man. Had he come through the goddamned roof?

 “Hey! Help these people!” the Vince shouted.

   With little care, the Black Star enforcer turned just a scant and squeezed the trigger. A strobe of purest, white-hot energy cascaded about the room… and where Vince was, he was no more. Only a heatwave and ash signified the man’s passing.

 “John,” said the enforcer, turning the cold azure of his gaze back. “It’s been a while. I’ll need just a minute of your time,” spoken vacantly over the screams of the woman who saw Vince evaporate from the blast of the plasma pistol, which was again levelled on Johnny.

 “Where is Jonah, John?” The pistol warming up again, its vibrating hum distorting the air about it and Olivier’s hand. Johnny’s face was a mask of rage and horror. He had pushed Cielo from her place at the table, several feet away, still angling himself between her and the enforcer.

 “Fucking Olivier!” spitting the name. ” How the fuc– You can’t keep this out of the networks, Martin.” Johnny was a professional, but the whitening of his face at seeing a man turned into an afterthought was goddamned frightening, and his blood pulsed like hammers in his ears.

    Eyes narrow on the pale enforcer, who had so many augmentations that he was barely man anymore. Johnny wasn’t even certain if the skin he was in wasn’t entirely synthetic, but he had sent shells through the man in the past, yet didn’t bring a sidearm this time. The floor groaned, like old wood of a well-travelled ship at sea. Johnny’s eyes fell to the place beneath Martin’s feet, then up at the enforcer again.

    Martin hadn’t calculated the structural integrity of the upper floor, and his immense weight did more damage than expected.

 “Bye, motherfucker,” Johnny said as the floor gave way.

   Olivier fell fourteen feet to the dance floor below, and everything went crazy. That silver-white burst game again, but Johnny had already thrown himself at Cielo. She hit the floor beneath the man roughly. His voice was sharp and loud.

 “On your feet!”

    The adrenalin sending his augmented eyes aglow, lighting her face in cobalt blue just seconds before she was pulled from the ground as harshly as she had hit it. The blast from the plasma pistol had seared through the floor and ceiling both, leaving a perfect crescent shape of the table they were previously at missing, and smoking black, moonlight shone through the second hole in the roof. Cielo was on his right arm, and with a grunt he twisted on a heel, put his hip and shoulder into a movement, and slammed his left fist into the wall of the VIP. A section of brick burst outward, shards and dust showering down into the area below.

    People below were shrieking, and the music had stopped. Small arms fire could be heard, but Johnny was pushing through the wall then, and out to fall a dozen feet to the alley way below, Cielo being held into him as though a spare parachute, saving her feet and ankles from the fall.

   As he hit, he heaved himself from the cinder block wall, and said to her firmly, “Follow me and yell if you get behind. Don’t stop fucking moving unless you want to die,” and with that he burst down the corridor of stone, grime and puddles of rain from earlier in the evening.

 As they made their way, another blast of that deadly plasma pistol could be heard not far behind them from within Manor de Obscurite.

 

   It hadn’t taken long for her to relax into an easy conversation, and feeling perfectly at ease with this man that she was happy to give him an indication that she wanted to be here- with him-now. His response would be very telling as to the kind of man he was. Would it all be blown out the water by an ego grab, oh she certainly hopes not because, she likes him. And truly- what not to like?

   He is courteous and God knows that was a rare commodity these days. One only had to look down into the pit below the lounge to see how the art of seduction had degraded into alcohol fuelled fumblings and the resultant walk of shame. He filled his suit beautifully, had style without being ostentatious, and even now as he responds to the cue that she was interested and the confirmation that he was certainly moving smoothly along Cielo’s track, rubs at his face with an endearing gesture that was certainly not indicative of the braggadocio that she was used to facing in these situations.

   A shift in her chair to uncross her legs and he is about to respond when an explosion shocks time into half it’s normal speed and the world descends into confusion. The lounge fills with dust, debris and the intimidating figure of an unknown man.

   Cielo’s life and her assured understanding of the world is about to change forever.

 

   There were screams of shock and shrieks of pain from a man on the ground and Cielo did nothing but stare with misapprehension at the ensuing interaction between the interloper and what was promising to be a rather enjoyable evening. Shock had stilled her into silence. Clouds of dust settling did nothing to aid a numbness of shock that had seen to leave her mute and devoid of any thoughts but why he was pointing a device at Johnny.

   Brandishing like a weapon, but unlike anything Cielo had ever seen, and given the company that she was prone to keeping, she had seen much in the way of arms. Perhaps it was the shock of this catastrophe but the voices of Johnny and this man seemed muffled and she was unable to discern or comprehend the content but it was clear that there was no love lost between them by the emotional backdrop on which their words were sown.

  Cielo was numb still with the trauma of witnessing a man drop through the ceiling and even when the stranger tanked his weapon and fired, and the VIP lounge erupted into the panicked screams of naive patrons, there still wasn’t any comprehension for this woman. She was still trying to assimilate into her experience the knowledge of that crisis.

   Her heart was pounding against her chest like it was a feral caged animal. Her consciousness was starting to catch up with the sensory overload of this…whatever it was and assimilate the new information into her intellectual core but before she could finally start to react to what was essentially a fantastical situation, the stranger disappeared and suddenly the world turned and exploded with a thousand glittering lights behind her eyes as the back of her head made contact with the floor and Johnny sprawled protectively on top of her.

    Perhaps it was just as well that she didn’t have time to comprehend what was happening, probably dazed from the blow to the head, but when her face was illuminated by a sickly dim glow, the source of which shouldn’t even be possible, what Johnny saw was slackened lips parted in astonishment and eyes wide with fear.

   However his words were the only detail that seemed to filter through that concussed haze and when he ordered her onto her feet, she was there right beside him, horror churning her stomach but the very strong sense of self- preservation that Cielo had accrued over the years very sure that she would only survive this if she did exactly as he says. How they suddenly resulted to be outside and upon the wet paving of the alley that ran down the side of the club, she didn’t want to hazard a guess. Her senses told her that he had just punched his way through a solid wall of brick but logic was trying to come up with an alternative explanation and failing.

    Screams from the inside of the club were echoing through their exit and when he gave the order to run, she did, and did so admirably considering the designer heels, though utterly divine were also utterly useless. Despite his warning to not stop, she did, just for a second to wrench the bloody things from her feet and throw them to one side before pounding after him in stocking feet, not caring for what she stepped in or on just a need to put as much space as possible between herself and the psychopath shooting up the club. 

   Johnny glanced back, watching her tear the heels from her feet. He’d reached the mouth of the alley and was waving his right hand at her quickly, though his eyes had strayed to the Obscurite. The small arms fire had stopped. He knew before it happened that Martin would be coming now. As Cielo reached him, Johnny took her by the bicep and tugged her along, helping her navigate the sharp corner without needing to stop.

   The woman caught a glimpse again of those eyes of his — or at this point, ‘optics’ would be more accurate, and even saw the irises of them narrowing down when he yanked her past him, her face coming inches from his own. The turn made, and her feet wet up to the ankle from standing water here and there, Cielo saw the street ahead, Parker Heights, a major strip that ran the length of the warehouse district.

   She heard Johnny coming up behind her just seconds after the shockwave of something exploding rumbled in her chest. Martin was exiting the Obscurite. Johnny raced beyond her and skid himself to a halt, sliding nearly a foot on the damp asphalt just before the curb of Parker. Traffic rushed by, the man shielding his eyes from headlights of those oncoming. He turned and reached for Cielo’s hand just as she caught up to him.

 “You’re doing good, keep it up, Cel,” encouraging her through adrenalin-clenched teeth. “But we gotta move, girl.”

    Looking back, Johnny ran with her at his heels, his right hand tight around hers. Cielo kept with him, perhaps dragged at times, unless she kept on top of her fitness. As they continued north up the sidewalk, passing a couple that were making their way toward the Manor, oblivious that a bloodbath had been left behind, Johnny yelled.

“Fucking move!” pushing by them forcefully, clipping the man’s shoulder and spinning him away opposite the fleeing pair.

 

“Hey, you fucking asshole!” called the woman, but as Ceilo looked back to spot the two, she could see a look of confusion cross the woman’s face… soon to be replaced by white light, and her headless corpse slumped to the ground.

 “Goddamn it,” screamed Johnny through grit teeth as the burst of plasma ripped through the air, sucking the oxygen from their surrounding briefly.

    Cielo was again manhandled by the much larger man, spinning her about. She thudded against his chest, suddenly now facing the opposite direction. She could see the death machine charging toward them from down the avenue, the plasma pistol already warming back up… then there lifted Johnny’s left arm coming into her view, held as she was against him by his right, and the man’s left hand angled toward Martin Olivier, dislocating and lifting away at the wrist, fingertips laid flat against forearm.

“Cover your ears!” he cried at the woman.

 Johnny’s sleeve burst open with a ripping tear as his cybernetic bicep separated from its adjoining section and like some sort of charging miniature jet engine, there was a violent ripping of the sky, it seemed, as a static burst of electricity launched from that arm of Johnny’s, lighting up the avenue like the 4th of July.

 Streetlamps explode. Cars come to a rolling stop, and nearby windows burst in a line following seconds behind that blazing bolt. It crashed into, and through the Black Star enforcer. The man’s arms dropped to his sides, and for just ten feet more Martin continued toward the pair, after which he fell to both knees, and kept himself from crashing face first into the sidewalk with a shaky hand. The enforcer emitted some sort of whirring sound, unmistakably mechanical in nature, smoke fuming from beneath the tactical vest that held the metal black star.

   Everything went silent, save for Johnny’s heavy breaths pushing rapidly and repeatedly beyond Cielo’s left ear and across her flushed and damp neck. Johnny’s arm slowly lowered, turning, he took her by the hand again and silently continued running up the street, searching for something, his head darting left and right.

 

   The sudden burst of speed, looking back after the fact, would have surprised even her but it truly was astonishing what the body was capable of when faced with the threat of imminent vaporization. Fear was an exquisite motivator. If there was shock at the appearance of Johnny’s eyes then there wasn’t time enough to register it, her sole purpose was placing one foot in front of the other. The numbness had gone and suddenly there was an acuity to her senses. The scent of wet pavement after a recent rain seemed almost overpowering, the squeeze of his grip about her bicep, the jarring pound of the unforgiving and unyielding road up through heels that would usually be shod in Nike runners for such an activity.

  These would become highlights in a blur of what was fast becoming a deadly parody of a Jason Bourne movie. When she ran, she truly sprinted and with an efficiency that even as he came up behind her, would indicate that she was experienced in such a past-time and not just a jog around the park on sunny days. And by God, was she not now thanking her luck stars now of all those evenings through school and college, training at the track.

   The woman moved, and with further encouragement to get her ass in gear, automatically lengthened her stride and brought hands loosely up to bounce at chest level as her elbows pumped. Breath was starting to become sharp, the diesel smelling air of the street outside the club suddenly feeling very cool and clean in rapacious lungs as each breath, now through lips that were slack with trepidation, blasted audibly.

    Why were there not more cars was a thought that was stabbing through her consciousness right now. This road at any given night would be packed and slow moving, congested with party goers who were funneled from the town’s CBD and away to the uninhabited areas where the club was, where their celebrations would not disturb anyone else and could continue unabated till sunup.

    A loud sob now as panic started to catch up and she considered how many of the establishments patrons wouldn’t see the next dawn. Johnny barrelled through a couple using the sidewalk, and now was having to drag at her hand as she takes a glance behind her at the woman who was already mouthing her protest at the two.

   A flash, magnesium bright which became etched upon her vision for seconds and left veins of violet in negative upon her view, and even blinking away, a dawning comprehension that the woman wouldn’t be shouting at anyone anymore brought another and a faltering in the pace as she slows now, running backwards, dragged along by this man whose only purpose right now was to get them away.

 

“What…what the fuck..?” she cries before his insistent urgency moves her once more from a trot back up to a sprint. “What the FUCK!” absurdly repeating the exclamation as though it would somehow give an explanation for what she has just seen.

  

   Johnny dragged her for a few paces before she once more put her own effort into it. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks now at the very real reminder of the threat of death and he would hear her breath fast and getting faster and punctuated with ragged sobbing. Comprehension seemed to be becoming a foreigner this evening. What had just happened?

   One moment the woman was shouting, the next her head was gone– just gone—not even on the ground before her, or in pieces around her, gone- like it was never there! No time to stop, not time to think until she is skidding to a halt, her ankle turning and flowering in red, raw, angry pain that makes her cry out which is then muffled as she is slingshots into Johnny’s chest and at more instructions, presses her face into his chest as though he is a wall to hide behind and grips the shell of her ears and plugs apertures with fingers.

    Cielo doesn’t observe his arm transform, only the resonant whir of robotics. Johnny can feel her shoulders heaving against him with breathlessness and silent sobs and the world once more explodes but this time all she can do is feel the shockwave.

   Once more, they run. Cielo chances a glance behind her as the pace begins again but this time her gasps are battered by words as she demands explanation.

    “What the fuck is that?” her voice rising, shrill with a mounting hysteria. Wide eyes bore into him now and he can feel her gaze penetrate his periphery. “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU?” 

 

   Johnny didn’t stop even after they turned down the westbound street, that is until coming upon a little silver coupe. His chest ached, and he was practically panting. A man his size and with his smoking habit was only meant to run very short distances. Sirens were heard bouncing off of cement and concrete from afar, even as cars continued to drift by, though, the spectacle moments ago from around the corner had caused a pile-up of stalled vehicles, spectators and passengers all out of their cars, looking around dumbfounded.

   Parker Heights was dark; the streetlamps, headlights and all else. As they both approached the Maserati, Johnny coughed, clearing his throat and trying to catch his breath.

 “I’m really fucking sorry,” he said.

   In fact, he said he was sorry about eight times while tears still streamed down the woman’s cheeks, and stared at him blankly. She didn’t see one of his fingertips collapse away into a device that allowed them access to the car.

   “Get in, we’ve got to get out of here, Cel, just get in.”

   He was a professional, but never had he been so afraid as then. Not necessarily for himself, but them both. He knew — perhaps Cielo didn’t, but Johnny knew she was marked now and it killed him. The man opened the driver door and slid into the car, reaching across in a lean to open hers. Once she’d slid in as well, the car fired up, roaring that throaty growl of high end sports cars.

   Pedals pressed, and the stick moved, and soon enough they were leaving the Warehouse District. Johnny wove in and out of traffic like a New York taxi driver and made it onto the interstate. It was quiet in the car, save for his shifting of gears and rumble of the engine, at least for several miles. They’d passed several police and emergency vehicles, and more than one helicopter was seen overhead as they travelled the length of the Narrows bridge.

  After easily half an hour, Johnny steered the vehicle through a route of neighbourhoods and back streets and brought the car to a rest under the awning between a welding company and a liquor store. The silence of the dead engine was deafening. No music, no more emergency sirens, just silence and heartbeats. Johnny didn’t know what to say, he just reached into his breast pocket and took out two menthols, offering her one of them as he slid the other between those full, tan lips.

“Got that light still?”

 

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