Jack crouched low in the alleyway. He could hear the whistles of the policemen growing closer and experienced a thoroughly unusual emotion; he was afraid. His preternaturally sharp hearing told him that the constables had him effectively surrounded. Another wave of panic surged through his body. He looked desperately around for an exit route. The thick London fog reduced visibility to a matter of feet. The last thing he wanted was to run into was a group of angry constables. Suddenly, he sensed movement at either end of the alley. How are they following me? Wondered Jack. Hiding clearly wasn’t going to be effective he decided, time to run again. He stood up from his squatting position and regarded the high tenement walls on either side of the alley. Abruptly a dark figure materialised out of the swirling fog. One of the constables! In one hand he held his truncheon, the other he raised to his mouth and then gave a sharp whistle.
‘Found him!’ bellowed the officer and he advanced towards Jack, his truncheon raised for a blow. As he advanced, Jack smiled and took a deep breath. He exhaled and vented a great cloud of bluish white flame. The flames engulfed the constable, who fell to ground, convulsing but strangely, not burned. Jack grimaced as he heard running footsteps and more blasts from the constables’ whistles. He crouched and then sprang at one of the tenement walls. His feet landed briefly on the wall, about ten feet up, and then he bounced onto the opposite wall this time easily clearing the twenty foot mark. He bounced again and landed atop the roof of the first tenement. He immediately dropped to his belly and peered over the edge of the roof. After a moment’s concentration, he adjusted his vision into the infra-red spectrum and could see the heat traces of the constables and their lanterns in the alley below.
Jack breathed a small sigh of relief. He had once more eluded the constables, though they had come very close this time. He almost relaxed, and then his sharp ears caught a slight sound behind him. Jack spun round, the metal claws on his fingers extended. About five feet away was a well dressed man, in frock coat and top hat. He had a dark tanned complexion and aquiline features. Jack smiled, exposing sharp, pointed teeth.
‘I can’t imagine why you’re up here,’ remarked Jack, ‘still, a final kill to end the evening.’
‘I think not,’ responded the stranger, ‘in fact, the very idea is preposterous. Even were you capable, it would not be in your interest to do so.’
Jack launched himself at the other man, and about a foot from him found himself frozen in mid air, his muscles locked. Jack looked down at the roof surface which his feet were now no longer touching. The tanned man regarded Jack, his face a study in contempt.
‘It would take more time than we have available to tell you what my normal response to such mindless aggression would be; much less inflict it on you,’ said the man matter of factly, ‘however you and I can be of use to each other. Specifically, without my help, you will be caught and executed in a matter of moments. You have taken too many foolish risks, and have drawn the attention of a dangerous hunter. This man is as deadly as the constables are ineffective, and you cannot hope to defeat him.’
‘You underestimate me.’ growled Jack.
‘No, you overestimate yourself. This hunter I speak of has power as well. Different to yours, but power nonetheless. More importantly, he is well versed in it’s uses. Listen carefully to me; even as we speak the hunter is leading some constables to our location. There are constables on the roofs of the surrounding buildings. You have no chance to escape; they will kill you when they find you.’
‘How do you know all this?’
‘Because, I am also like you. Only more so. I have more power in my finger than you have in your entire body.’ As if to illustrate his point the stranger moved his finger slightly; each of Jacks’ limbs pulled in a different direction, stretching the muscles and tendons to their breaking point. Jack gave a low moan of pain. ‘Have I made my point? Am I finally getting through?’
‘It would seem I have little choice.’
‘I’m glad you’ve grasped the realities of the situation. Now, let’s formalize our arrangement.’ The tanned man stepped forward, a scalpel in one hand, a test tube in the other. In a deft move he sliced Jack’s wrist and captured some of the spurting blood in the test tube. The man then ran his finger over the wound, which closed up as if it had a zip. The man carefully placed the test tube in his pocket.
‘Who are you?’
‘I am known as Apep, you, however, may call me ‘master’. Ah, I see we have some company….’
A tall, broad shouldered man emerged from the shadows. He had a shock of blonde hair and penetrating blue eyes. A heavy service revolver was gripped in his left fist. He spoke over his shoulder, towards the shadows.
‘Stand firm, men. I’ll deal with these devils.’ With that, the blond man ran forward at incredible speed, seeming to blur as he did so. In the space of a heartbeat he had almost closed the distance.
Apep turned to face the newcomer. With a sneer, he gestured with his hand, the blonde man was picked up and pitched off the side of the roof, his body describing a graceful arc. After a momentary pause, the constables rushed forward. With a harsh laugh, Apep made a horizontal cutting motion. Two of the constable flopped to the ground, their bodies severed at the waist. Apep clenched his other fist and the roof collapsed beneath the remaining constable, sending them crashing into the building below.
‘Now,’ he said, considering the suspended Jack ‘we need you to disappear for a while..’ Apep swiftly extended his arms, grabbed Jack by the chin and back of the head and gave a sharp, powerful twist. There was a loud crack and Jack’s head lolled on his shoulders. The body slowly lowered to the roof surface and lay limply there. With no apparent effort, Apep stooped and flung the body of Jack over his shoulder. He glanced about and then extended his forefinger and slowly drew it downwards. In front of him, the air seemed to shudder and then tear. From the ragged gash in the air, a silvery twilight shone out. Apep gave a quick glance about and grinned savagely.
‘This is just too easy.’ With that, Apep stepped through the rip, which sealed up behind him, leaving only silence on the tenement roof.
* * *
The day had been a long one for Daniel Wolfe, both satisfying and tiring. Daniel had been working with the Chroniclers, at the nearby university, in an effort to recreate a scene from the early colonisation of the moon. The buildings were recreated from the old architect’s plans and the activities of the settlers were simulated using carefully crafted Synthetics. Throughout the day, there had been a pressure building behind Daniel’s eyes. As he strolled through the broad, pleasing avenues of apple and cherry blossom, he resolved to try out the new Pythagorean Harmoniser he had been given.
Within twenty minutes, Cailte was plunging downwards in a large elevator. When it finally stopped, he stepped out onto the waiting platform of a subterranean maglev system. The floating train was waiting for him to board. Entering one of the carriages he found it to be empty. A quick check established that the three carriage maglev was empty other than Cailte. Glancing out the window, he realised the train had begun its journey, its speed reaching the six hundred kilometres an hour mark in a matter of seconds. The journey would take just over two hours, by Cailte’s estimate. He slipped an Entheogen capsule into his mouth and got comfortable in one of the seats.
Cailte became aware that the light levels seemed to be lowering, even though the internal lighting seemed to be as strong as ever. Through the Entheogen, Cailte could see the shroud of darkness settling in the carriage. Around each of the lights, there was an aura, as if the light could only penetrate a short distance into the air. By now the light had dimmed down to something approximating twilight. Cailte stood up when he realised there was someone else in the carriage.
The other figure was slightly shorter than Cailte, but considerably broader. He had small dark eyes, a shock of black hair and large, shovel like hands. With his enhanced awareness, Cailte could sense the psychic strength radiating from the newcomer.
‘Who the hell are you? And how did you get here, this is supposed to be a secret maglev!’
The other smiled briefly. ‘I am Czernobog, you may have heard of me?’ He seemed slightly disappointed when Cailte shook his head.
‘How did you do that with the lights?’
‘Don’t worry about that. This is important, so listen to me. It’s vitally important that you keep your target alive. Do not, I repeat, not, kill him. There is something you need to see, and he needs to be alive for you to see it.’
‘Can’t you just tell me? It’s an Outsider; we don’t usually take them prisoner.’
‘If I were to tell you, you wouldn’t believe me. This has to be seen.
Abruptly, the full light levels returned and, blinking, Cailte found himself alone once more.
* * *
Dinarzade sat cross legged in the uppermost chamber of her onion-domed tower. She was unsuccessfully attempting to meditate and set herself at ease. The presence of the Outsider was constantly in her mind. It was close, though how close she could not tell. She wondered why the thing was still nearby, what it wanted.
The window exploded inwards, showering the room with tinted glass. Standing amidst the wreckage was the Outsider. In a swift movement the tall form bounded over to Dinarzade and clamped a hand over her mouth. In the periphery of her vision she could see the gleaming claws on the ends of his fingers. He raised his other hand and placed his forefinger to his lips.
Dinarzade made a faint muffled noise. The Outsider’s elongated features twisted into a smile, displaying his sharp teeth.
‘Just be patient.’ He murmured to the alarmed woman. He glanced towards the door to the room. Dinarzade followed his gaze, to see the door opening. Moving deliberately, a tall blond haired man with an old scar on his face stepped into the room. The man was clad in what was unmistakably some sort of armour. He was clad in a dark grey jumpsuit of a dark Biopolymer weave. There were plates of an unfamiliar looking metal protecting his shoulders, chest and lower legs. On either forearm were mounted multi function weapon systems. As he entered the room, the Outsider followed him with his red tinged eyes. The man glanced at the shattered window.
‘Messy.’ He noted, and then turned his attention to the other two. The Outsider removed his hand from Dinarzade’s mouth. He turned to face Cailte.
‘You can scream now.’ He told her, and he exhaled a great gout of blue white flame at the blonde man.
Moving with incredible speed, Cailte bowed deeply at the waist, allowing the flame to pass over him. As soon as it had, he straightened and launched himself straight at the tall, thin Outsider. They grappled briefly, and it ended in Cailte being hurled against the wall, narrowly avoiding Dinarzade. Cailte bounced to his feet and spoke loudly and quickly,
‘I remember you,’ he said ‘you were called Jack when we first met. Listen carefully Jack, you are guilty of Unauthorised Reincarnation and Soul Destruction. You will be removed from the community. The easy way or the hard way. Your choice. But the hard way would be more fun. Well, fun for me at least.’
Cailte raised his right arm and fired a dart from the weapon housing. Jack was too fast for that, however. He brushed the dart aside in mid air and launched a savage swipe at Cailte, his claws shredding the weave of the suit and drawing deep wounds across his left arm. Cailte’s response was a blow to Jack’s sternum which staggered him slightly. Dinarzade’s eyes widened as she saw the wounds on Cailte’s arm close over and heal. Jack lunged forward, claws extended. Cailte grabbed his wrists and the two wrestled for position. Slowly Cailte forced back Jack’s arms. Four serrated, foot long blades slid noiselessly from the weapon housing on Cailte’s right arm. Jack’s eyes widened slightly, in alarm. He drove his head into Cailte’s face. The Mechanic grimly ignored the pain and continued to force back Jack’s arms, angling them so his blades crept towards Jacks’ face and neck. Jack abruptly shifted his weight and flipped Cailte through the air into the wall of the room. Cailte sailed backwards, colliding with Dinarzade as he did so. As he came to a rest, Cailte fired another dart at Jack, who had already half leapt out the window. As Jack passed through the damaged window, the dart missed him by millimetres and exploded violently in the window frame, removing a significant chunk of the wall.
Cailte raced to the window hole, with the heightened senses that Entheogen provided he could make out Jack leaping from roof to roof. He was easily clearing the width of the avenues, and eventually ended up on the roof of a maglev train, speeding in an eastwards direction.
‘Perfect,’ muttered Cailte, ‘I just came from there.’ He turned to face Dinarzade, who was cradling her left arm. ‘My apologies for the wall, is your arm all right?’
Dinarzade smiled tightly. ‘I think it’s broken.’
‘I have something that will help, what are your feelings regarding nanotech?’
‘Um, any port in a storm, I suppose.’
Cailte reached into his thigh pocket and removed a thin flat case, which he opened to reveal eight syringes, already filled with a silvery substance. With surprising dexterity and gentleness, Cailte injected one of the syringes into the broken arm.
‘I can feel them working.’ Dinarzade said surprise evident in her voice.
‘Most Psychonauts can,’ replied Cailte ‘I assume that’s why they prefer Harmonisers. Nanobots are much quicker though.’
Cailte considered the small, dark woman. ‘I’m afraid I need your help. Normally, we hunt and kill Outsiders; this one has to be captured unfortunately.’ Cailte was peripherally aware that he had accepted Czernobog’s word about the Outsider, without actually thinking about it.
‘Why does it need to be captured? Surely it would be better to sent it back to where it came from? For that matter, who are you anyway and who is this ‘we’ you refer to?’
‘It seems my social skills are a little rusty,’ said Cailte, ‘I’m a Mechanic. You won’t have heard of us, as we operate very much in the background. We maintain the health of the Community, principally by dealing with Outsiders and aberrant personalities. Oh yes, my name’s Cailte. Who are you?’
‘Like in Arabian Nights? I thought you were a fictional device to link the stories together.’
‘Why do you need my help? And what do you mean fictional device? That’s really rude!’
‘Normally we work with a Life Engineer telepath to locate the target. This one has killed all the telepaths in a five mile radius, apart from you, so I need you to track him for me. Before that it would be helpful to use your ‘Net to see if he’s left a physical trail. And sorry about the fictional device thing. Like I said, rusty social skills.’
Dinarzade nodded and activated the holographic display of her computer system. The news was both good and very bad. There were numerous entries on the Community Forum concerning attacks on the people of Camelot by an unknown assailant. There were reports of serious physical injuries, as well as many victims being blinded and suffering significant nervous system damage. Cailte noticed the majority of the assaults were eastwards, towards old London.
‘Is there anything happening around there?’
‘I think a small group of Chroniclers are doing a large scale diorama around that area.’
‘What’s the subject?’
‘I’m not sure of the details; I think it’s themed on what was called the late nineteenth century at the time.’
‘He’ll be heading there, that was his time of origin.’
Dinarzade looked startled. ‘He’s not Jack the Ripper is he?’
‘Nah, there were other famous villains called Jack around then, he’s one of those.’
‘You Mechanics are well schooled in history.’
Cailte grimaced. ‘Not really, I’ve met Jack during one of my previous incarnations.’
‘A few good men died. Myself included. If your arm is better, we should get moving.’
Dinarzade curled and uncurled her fingers, experimentally. The break in her arm was completely repaired. ‘That’s really impressive, is it normally that fast?
‘Not quite, we’re at the cutting edge for that sort of tech. The reason many are against it, is the question of the Nanobots after they have repaired any damage.’
‘What happens to them?’
‘I haven’t the faintest idea,’ responded Cailte, ‘I’m not a Bio Engineer. I find it best not to think about it.’
‘Do you always combine as many Psi –Drugs as that? I spotted enhanced strength, speed, reflexes and tissue regeneration.’
‘Heightened senses as well,’ added Cailte, ‘and yes, I do regularly combine up to ten at a time.’
‘That’s very dangerous.’
‘We get special training, from people like you. Don’t worry about it. Do you have a personal vehicle?’
Dinarzade replied in the affirmative and the pair departed the devastated room and headed to the street below.
As they glided smoothly through the streets, Cailte adjusted his projectile thrower and swallowed another handful of capsules.
‘This is the plan. I want you to stop at the edge of old London and try to get a fix on Jack. I’ll then deal with him. If we could maintain contact until I have him that would be very helpful.’
Dinarzade nodded, with his Entheogen enhanced awareness, Cailte could sense her rising anxiety.
‘Try not to worry,’ he said, ‘in a couple of hours we’ll both be gone and you won’t hear from either of us again.’
‘Violence comes so easily to you, how do you function in the Community?’
‘I don’t,’ replied Cailte simply, ‘the Mechanics live apart for exactly that reason. We are the lesser of two evils. The Community is a non violent society, yet it has dangerous enemies. To deal with dangerous enemies, you need equally dangerous people. Throughout all our incarnations, the Mechanics have been warriors. We know nothing else, but that is what is necessary to keep the Community healthy.’
‘Surely with the aid of Psychonauts you could integrate yourself?’
‘That would be counter productive. We need to maintain a certain mentality. It has been said that we are only marginally better than those we hunt. This is probably true, but, just now, the Community needs us to behave in this way, alien as it may seem to you.’
* * *
Jack padded noiselessly after the three figures. Through the swirling fog he could make out a man in fine top hat and frock coat accompanied by two women in corseted dresses and shawls. He grinned broadly, displaying shark like teeth. Jack found this time and place puzzling. He had arrived into a world of shining buildings, and unusual clothes, and yet here was a place more familiar to him from his original days on earth.
Jack ducked down a rubbish strewn alley which he knew would bring him out in front of his prey. He waited patiently for them to approach and then he sprang out of concealment. He slammed into the male, sending him reeling towards a pile of refuse. Jack struck one of the women to the ground and grabbed the other by the throat. Then he noticed the man rising from the pile. Jack stared in amazement, loosening his grip on the woman.
‘People do not get up after I hit them.’ He said in a disbelieving voice. Casting the woman aside, he sprang at the man. Jack’s claws tore through the man’s clothes and into his flesh. Something was wrong. There was no blood. Jack stepped backwards a pace and slammed his fist into the man, who was still wearing his top hat. The man was remarkably solid, but offered no more than passive resistance. Baffled by this, Jack lunged and sank his razor sharp teeth into the man. He tore through rubbery flesh, and again, there was no blood.
There was an audible whoomp and Jack was bowled off his feet by a concussive wave. He fell to the ground, momentarily dazed. Cailte stepped out of an alley on the opposite side of the street.
‘Not so clever really,’ he remarked, ‘it keeps getting up because it’s a Synthetic. You would have to smash it to get it to stop. Normally I would kill you where you lie, however apparently you’re important in some way, so I only get to beat you within an inch of your life.’
Jack leapt to his feet, eyes glowing red. ‘We’ll see.’ He snarled. Jack launched himself at Cailte, his claws reaching for Cailte’s face. Cailte paused and then with split second timing, side stepped and drove the heel of his hand into Jack’s chin. The clawed man flipped and crashed onto his back. Cailte fired a tranq dart at him, but Jack rolled aside and on to his feet with inhuman speed. Jack leapt onto Cailte, bearing him to the ground and attempting to drive his claws into his face. Cailte grabbed both of Jack’s wrists and fought to keep them clear of him. Cailte twisted and managed to roll on top of Jack. As he attempted to manoeuvre his thrower for a shot, Jack opened his mouth and breathed out a gout of blue white flame. Cailte rolled away, the chemicals in his body counteracting the convulsions. His vision was obscured by huge bright patches of light. Unhesitatingly, he fired a tranq where Jack had been, but heard it clatter to the ground. Cailte closed his eyes, and focused his thoughts on Dinarzade.
‘He’s blinded me, I need your eyes.’
Dinarzade carefully overlaid her thoughts onto Cailte’s, allowing him to share her aetheric view of the area. It was a disjointed experience for Cailte, as his mind was filled with an eagle’s eye view of the scene, looking down on himself being stalked by the silent Jack. Cailte sprang forwards and upwards, turning in midair as he did so, discharging a concussion dart where he had been standing. The dart detonated as Jack lunged, flinging him through the air until he impacted with a nearby building. As Jack flew through the air, Cailte fired another dart after him. As he collided with the wall, the dart exploded violently above him, burying him in rubble.
Cailte strode towards the rubble, still guided by Dinarzade’s telepathic instructions. As he approached, the debris burst outwards as Jack rose to his full height. He snarled and then paused, as if confused. He looked down to discover three tranq darts embedded in his chest. He stared at Cailte in disbelief. The blonde man solemnly shot him twice more.
‘Pretty fast, eh?’
* * *
Cailte made sure that Jack was still unconscious in the containment unit and then stepped of the underground maglev onto the platform. A Life Engineer telepath was waiting for him.
‘Another one for Purgatory?’ said the telepath cheerily. Cailte regarded him thoughtfully.
‘This one was a little persistent,’ he said mildly, ‘he’s on his tenth tranq already. You better make sure you can keep him quiet before I leave.’ The telepath looked slightly surprised, but nodded and went to look at the containment unit. Without activating the viewing screen, he closed his eyes for a few moments.
‘Should be fine, I’ve met stronger minded aberrant personalities. This one seems to be quite unhinged.’
‘It’s an Outsider, not an aberrant personality.’
‘I think I can tell the difference.’
‘So can I!’ Cailte activated the viewing screen.
‘Look at those teeth!’ said the telepath, ‘That’s grotesque.’
‘He has metal claws on his fingers and he breathes fire that makes you go blind. He’s an Outsider.’
‘I’m sorry to disagree, but that is a heavily tranquillised human soul in there.’
Cailte stared at the telepath. ‘Really?’
‘Absolutely. I’ve encountered both; it’s not hard to tell the difference. The Outsider’s are alien to our minds. The mind in there is broken, not alien.’
‘Aberrant personalities don’t manifest powers like that.’
‘No they don’t,’ agreed the telepath, giving Cailte a significant glance, ‘and we would both do well to remember that. Now, don’t worry about our passenger, he won’t be bothering anyone ever again. Remember, you are a Mechanic and you have fixed this problem. Be thankful for another opportunity to serve the Community. We’ll see you again soon I’m sure.’
The telepath sprang aboard the maglev and it sped away, leaving Cailte alone on the platform.