Chapter Eight
Word Count: 1365

Zero didn't know if he was even capable of feeling normal human emotion, to him the world was a dull blend of grey emotions and awkwardly suppressed thoughts. The only time he felt like he belonged anywhere was when he was on a mission, in the heat of a fire fight, charging across the line to plunge his sword into the heart of his enemy before moving on.

His training made him like that, the Program did that to him. It wasn't normal to take pleasure in the death of his enemy, it wasn't normal to smile in pride over their headless corpse before moving on to find his next target. Something inside told him that...something his training suppressed with straining fingers. Something he knew nothing about.

Something the scientists didn't want him to discover.

Shaking the thoughts away he refocused himself, now was no time to think of the past. A hundred things had to happen before he could even start to think about finding the answers to his questions. The real answers.

Plato hadn't changed since the last time Zero had last walked its muddy streets; the slum world seemed as crowded as ever. People resorting to sleeping on the floor and huddling together for warmth to keep out the cold bite of the night, those that were lucky enough to find shelter in the plate iron huts that cluttered the landscape rarely left again. Spending months and months in the same place, knowing that if they moved another would take their place and they would be forced to face the cold. Fights over these places were common, almost as common as the dead bodies that rotted in the streets. It was not a pleasant place, but Zero didn't want pleasant, he wanted safe. And for now disappearing into a population of tens of millions on a planet the size of Earth’s moon was the safest at his disposal. Avoiding the grasping hands of the beggars and whores Zero kept his head down and just walked, deeper and deeper into the heart of the slum world until the ramshackled towers were several tiers tall and neon signs flashed over the entrances of the few businesses that made their homes on Plato.

Hella. This district was known as Hella. His training told him that.

Shifting his shoulders he felt the reassuring weight of his sword between his shoulder blades, he was not nervous. He did not become nervous, his training told him that. But he should be, his instincts told him that. Hella reminded him of the labour cities on Mars, the buzz in the air and the white noise background of a thousand voices blending into one, the smell of putrid water and stale sweat in the streets, the hustle and bustle of the people walking through the streets, the smell of barely fresh food being cooked. This was not a place to disappear, he was safer on the outskirts with the homeless. But he needed food and supplies...the gain outweighed the risk.

Standing at a food stand selling cooked rats and cockroaches Zero began counting in his head, all the while watching the passing crowds. The owner of the stand talked a great deal to him at first, asking what he wanted, about the state of Plato, about the local gang leader demanding more protection money and about the brothel he frequented raising their prices. Zero took in the information without listening and when he finally realised that he wasn't going to buy anything the vendor moved off to chat with his other customers. For eighteen minutes Zero stood there, watching the crowds as if a nosey bystander, when he finally saw them. Their white uniforms were as ostentatious in this world as it was impractical, the soldiers of the Earth Defence Force walked the streets fully armoured with lasrifles held against their chests. Pushing through the crowds and knocking over passing civilian’s simply because they could.

An undisclosed number was garrisoned on every planet in Earth's galactic empire; the propaganda told the people the enforcers were there to protect them, to keep the peace. The truth of the matter was they were there to enforce Earth's rule on the planet, and to root out any hint of rebellion or uprising against the government.

They were guards of an invisible prison that a thousand worlds were condemned too. Most of the enforcers Zero had encountered were nothing but thugs with rifles...that would make this encounter incredibly easy.

It took three seconds to evaluate the situation and two and a half seconds to reach a plan with the most successful outcome. He was victorious ninety-nine point nine, nine, nine, eight percent of the time.

Watching them turn down a wide street Zero waited two seconds before following them, making sure not the push his way through the crowd as they did, instead he avoided people where possible. Slipping through gaps like a fish between rocks. The stark white of their armour made seeing them in a mass of muddy faces and dark clothing more than easy, watching them he saw one wave at a whore standing outside the door of her brothel. She returned the wave by blowing him an over exaggerated kiss and pressing her breasts together. After that they walked seventy three more steps before turning down a narrow side alley. An unwanted smile crawled up Zero's face.

He had them.

When he was level with the alley Zero darted out of the crowd, fast enough to barely disturb the people that walked beside him. The wet smacks of his footsteps in the puddles made his approach louder than he had intended and alerted the guards sooner than planned, but it made no difference. He was behind the first before he even began to turn. He struck at the gap between the enforcer’s neck plate and helmet with the side of his hand. With a bizarre groan his body seized in its place as the electrical signals from his brain were cut off momentarily. But a single moment was enough to send him sprawling to the floor in a twitching mess. His training told him to crush the head of his downed target and snap the neck of the remaining.

Something stopped him doing that, he didn't know what.

Instead he swept the legs from under him, cracking the armour plates, and palm striked his head into the wall of the alley hard enough to knock him unconscious and crack the black visor over his face. All this happened before either of them hit the floor.

Falling into the putrid water in near synchronicity their bodies went limp; his training told him to take their weapons. That was a mistake in the current circumstances, he could not hide a Hydra assault rifle and it would more than likely be traceable. His target was something more subtle. Quickly searching the enforcer with the cracked visor he found it in a small compartment in his wrist, extracting the wafer thin comp-slate he held the clear crystal up to the little light that pierced the night of Plato. It was undamaged. Wrapping the four inch long slab of crystal in a torn length of cloth he stole from a homeless person three hours before he stored it safely in his bag and went after his second aim. Just as his hands wrapped around the other enforcer’s helmet to extract the radio device something in him told him to look up.

A small child stood at the opening of the alley. Her tiny body outlined by the glowing neon of the signs behind her. His training told him nothing. His instincts told him nothing. Something...something told him to raise his index finger to his lips. Unknown of what else to do he did that, and after an agonising second a smile spread over her face and the girl returned the gesture. A woman nearby called a name and the girl looked away, by the time she looked back Zero was gone. Having vanished into the darkness. 

He didn't know what told him to do that strange gesture...but it was fortunate he had. He wanted answers, and with the comp-slate he was one step closer to getting them.

The End

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