Chapter 9Mature

Jarred led the way from the busted van into the nearest store, an abandoned Office Works—the interior of which seemed covered in semi-glowing graffiti that almost grew out of the walls. A hole in the roof let meagre moonlight in, better than through the front door. Scattered across the floor were so many discarded cardboard boxes. A second set of stairs led downwards into a dark pit, a shadow counterpoint to the shaft of moonlight.

Tesla Squad and Modok raced inside and down the front stairs with only seconds to assess the store’s safety, and threw themselves over the counters. The three of them with guns—Jarred, David and Jessica—then trained their weapons on the entrance, where sliding doors once stood. Jarred realised his breathing was heavy and ragged, his arms unstable on the counter. He forced himself into a calming series of deep breaths, and his teammates followed suit.

Tiffany’s bandits pulled up in front of the second gang’s staggered line of modified cars and bikes, vehicles that had weapons pointed at the newcomers. The second group of bandits wore leather jackets with white, grey and black fur protruding from the tops, and on the back insignias of snarling wolf heads wreathed in fire. Several wore red jeans, but most wore black.

A pregnant moment passed between the two groups, members of both sides eyeing up the opposition. Finally a shaven-headed brute with perma-stubble began to speak.

“You’re on Hellhound turf, girl!” he shouted.

“Chasing prisoners from Kill Squad territory,” Tiffany responded.

“They’re our property now!” perma-stubble declared.

Tiffany responded by shooting him in the neck. He countered with a gaping neck wound that spurted blood all over his clothes. The over-masculine protagonist of too many first person shooter games fell to his knees then toppled onto his side as the blood began to pool.

With their leader bleeding out the Hellhounds opened fire on Tiffany’s Kill Squad. Tiffany’s gang responded in kind, and in seconds a storm of bullets tore through the air, felling bandits from both sides until enough of them got behind cover to force a more tactical skirmish.

Meanwhile Jarred watched the battle. Whoever won would be coming after Tesla Squad, and he wanted to know the arsenal and tactical ability of the victor... not that either side displayed sophisticated tactics to begin with.

“Popcorn?” David asked, having picked up a box. It didn’t actually have any in it, whether because of rats or something else, but Jarred got David’s point.

Jarred’s face wrinkled in disgust. David tossed the empty box aside and got back to the Fine Arts discipline of waiting to shotgun something.

Somebody threw a bundle of grenades down the stairs. They bounced down and into the open space between counters. Tesla Squad ducked behind the registers.

When they only made a hissing sound, the kind that air made when it escaped a container like these, and the smell of paint and smoke wafted to Jarred’s nose, he realised with a nervous chuckle that it was just a bunch of smoke grenades. They began filling the air with multiple hues, purple, blue, green, yellow, red, pink and orange, all of them mixing in the air to clog it up with a rainbow.

Then another grenade bounced down the stairs. This one began flashing a bright white-blue in a random pattern, a strobe light like a nightclub’s, accompanied by an irritating loud klaxon like a fire alarm. Jarred had to cover his eyes, wishing he could cover his ears too, and that was when the bandits stormed down the stairs, gas masks covering their faces, makeshift shields scrounged from whatever they could fine warding their fronts. They came in guns blazing.

“Down!” Jarred yelled over the whine, even as he ducked behind the checkout’s cover. The staccato roars of the semi-automatics and the blood-thirsty shouts added to the grenade to form a painful cacophony.

Jessica shot the grenade emitting the flash and noise. It exploded in a shower of sparks and metal, and just like that, that particular element of the mayhem was eliminated.

But the smoke was still thick in the air and it was hard to breathe. Jarred’s heart was pounding, his hands raw from gripping the weapon’s handle, and there were still bandits crouched in a makeshift approximation of the Roman turtle formation, only made of riot shields, stop signs and halves of doors.

‘Nice one!’ Jarred thought, before snapping back to the fight, firing at a bandit as they gave Jarred an opening. Another bandit, this one a stocky woman with pink hair and several pins in her face, not to mention filed-down, sharpened teeth, fired under her shield at the counter Jarred was behind. Her bullets churned up the wood as Jarred scrabbled back, firing over the countertop.

A single shot hit the woman in the head, and she fell, blood spurting from the skull wound.

David took out a third bandit with his shotgun, the spray of bullets eating right through the wooden shield made of pallet crate. He collapsed.

With a roar, Modok jumped out over the counter and landed in a crouch over a dead or dying bandit. He picked up the fallen Uzi and fired at the bandits with wild abandon, eating up bullets and hitting maybe a quarter of the targets—which was just one. The other three, including Tiffany herself and her surgeon, dove to the floor, firing just as wildly as they leapt. One of the shots hit Modok in the head.

Modok squeezed his muscles, and right before their eyes the bullet sunk even further into Modok’s face. And disappeared, the skin sealing over the wound.

Modok spat the bullet out, covered in blood and saliva, into his hand, and dropped it. Then he sprayed the bandits on the floor with more lead, and didn’t let up until his gun clicked empty—by which point the bandits were all lying on the floor, unmoving or writing in agony.

“Modok king of death,” he said with a grin. The bandits groaned.

With concentration, Tiffany squeezed her muscles tight. The bullets in her chest popped out with a sickening squelch and clattered to the floor covered in blood.

She cracked her shoulder and neck. The other bandits began to get up, bullets falling from their bodies with likewise sickening pops before falling to the tiles.

“Holy…” Jarred breathed. Sweat was covering his body, along with dirt and smoke. His heart hammered in his chest. His ears rang; he probably wouldn’t be hearing those particular decibels again.

Jarred took a deep, slow breath. Then another. It helped.

“We could do this all day,” Tiffany said. “But you guys are going to run out of bullets, and we can regenerate. So what’s going to happen now?”

Silence greeted her.

“I’m very pissed off with all of you, getting free and causing all this aggression. But I’ll make you a deal: you surrender, to me, and I will spare your lives.” She paused. “You’ve got nowhere to run, and even if we both shoot till we run out of bullets, we’ll still regenerate and you won’t. You’re screwed if you don’t. We win, you lose, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

“That’s where you’re wrong!” Jarred called out. And sent electricity flying.

His initial bolt hit Tiffany square in the chest, and sent her flying to crash against the stairs. She lay unmoving. The bandits turned back to Jarred and Tesla Squad, and laid down their arms.

“Let’s get you out of here,” he said to Modok, and led the half-breed outside, where a white van waited with Xavier, Collin and Seth present.

“Tough day?” Xavier quipped.

“You have no idea,” Jarred replied. “Here’s your troll.”

The End

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