Episode 13: Chernoblast

Zack had one of his Purcellian Striker Pistols in his hand before Fletch’s third word. He didn’t have a clear shot with Doctor Zeta standing in the door, but Fletch had a reputation for not caring about such trivialities and the cybernetic reticle she wore over her eye was already scanning the entire room. He instinctively reached for his hat with his free hand, but Fletch had already spun the stunned doctor about to restrain him as a human shield with one hand while reaching into the room with the hand that held a black, spine covered blaster.

Zack pulled his hand back just in time. A dull thudding noise accompanied by an electric crackle heralded the searing-hot bolt of dark energy that left a precise, circular hole in the seat of the cushion of the chair where he’d tossed his hat when he had first arrived. The hole would have been centered right on his forearm if he’d finished reaching for his hat, which had lost a portion of its brim due to its position at the perimeter of the blast. He didn’t have to look into the hole to know that the scorched, circular void would descend beyond the chair into the wall behind it and possibly out the wall into the streets of Helix. He knew that blaster; everyone at the DMA knew that blaster.

It was called the Chernoblaster by those who wanted to pretend that they didn’t take it seriously, or by those who knew human folklore well enough to take it seriously. Some people called it the Phase Reaper due to Fletch’s track record. When asked where she had acquired it, Fletch never answered. When asked what type of weapon it was, she would just say “mine.” Some swore up and down that it was a weapon that came from Glorien space, which made it feel like a disturbing mix of alien and human technology. Rumor had it that over fifty high-profile targets had been killed with that particular weapon, and that at least two of them had been former DMA employees. Zack knew that it was just a weapon like any other even if it could burn through a monstrous amount of material at a time, and that getting shot by it would be just as fatal as if Fletch used a cheap disposable four-shot blaster from the DMA’s armory… but it was hard not to associate the weapon with a certain terrible inevitability.

Fletch’s blaster began to whine, a cycling noise as the capacitors recharged before its next blast. The reticle focused on Zack and he saw a horrible smile as Fletch aimed the gun at him. He inhaled what would certainly be his last breath.

The electronic reticle zipped to the side suddenly, and Zack watched the smile that should have been the last thing he saw vanish. It was replaced with a look of confusion. Before Zack had time to match the look, Carmen successfully tackled both Zeta and Fletch, sending the three of them to the floor. Zack took the opportunity and drew his second blaster. Aiming both at the currently opaque windows, he fired.

The magnetically-infused energy beams caused the window to splinter, become transparent as the circuitry within it malfunctioned, and shatter. Zack looked over his shoulder at the fight to see that Fletch had let go of Zeta to have at least one arm free while dealing with Carmen. Carmen was holding down the Fletch’s gun arm. She’d obviously tried punching, but Fletch’s free hand was holding Carmen’s fist at bay. Zeta was on the floor watching the scene, completely baffled by what was happening and not sure what to do.

Carmen seemed to have the upper hand, and if he had to put money on most fights like this Zack would bet heavily on the one in her position, but he knew the kind of training that Fletch put herself through, and had seen some of the videos. The edge of surprise that Carmen gained through charging when a regular person might just sit in fear was quickly slipping away.

Carmen, meanwhile, was having blast. A rage-fueled, adrenaline-boosted blast. She hadn’t had a real fight since before she went semi-pro, and whoever the person with the scary gun was had all the markings of someone with way too many rules about fighting to do it right. If she could just get her hand free while still keeping the gun out of the fight, she could probably do some real damage.

A jarring pain hit Carmen right below the ribs; Fletch had managed to knee Carmen in the abdomen with enough speed to make Carmen’s grip weaken. Fletch tried to rip her arm free, but Carmen held on.

She truly didn’t like hurting people who got in her way, but experience had taught Fletch that injury and death were necessary for killing the real target sometimes. Assassins who got squeamish about killing innocent people to finish the job generally wouldn’t last long. She twisted Carmen’s other hand and the asteroid racer screamed. Fletch’s reticle glowed with a furious red light and targeted Carmen’s face.

Zack grabbed the reticle and pulled it off Fletch’s face, severing her neural connection to it and causing it to power down before it could fire. He shouted in surprise as a portion of the built-up energy discharged into his palm, causing him to reflexively toss the reticle away. He’d never seen her face without the reticle before; he wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but the four metallic dots surrounding the eye that allowed the reticle to connect to her face were surprising. He’d never thought about the mechanism that held the reticle in place before.

Fletch finally wrenched her gun free from Carmen’s grip, aimed it at Zack now that he was in convenient point-blank range, and Zack regretted not leaping out of the window right when he’d blown it open; he’d be away, and Fletch might… conceivably… have allowed Carmen to leave with her life.

Zeta jammed a syringe into Fletch’s neck, and the assassin’s eyes blurred.

She scowled and fired. The dull thud and electric crackle came as expected… but her arm was already drooping, burning a hole into the ceiling and prompting a distant scream from someone up above. Fletch grabbed the syringe, pulled it from her neck despite Zeta’s attempt to keep it there, and crushed it with one hand.

The gun whined and began to recharge, but Carmen twisted it away from Fletch. Fletch roared in frustration, attempted to punch Carmen… a motion that looked more like a badly aimed, slow-motion swat… and fell still, her eyes closed.

A few moments of tense silence passed. Zack took stock of the hall he was in… no one showing up to investigate the gunfire yet. Zeta looked at the detective and the racer, panting heavily.

“What was THAT?”

“An assassin,” said Zack. “Sorry, doc, I wanted to be gone before anyone found me here. The price on my head could pay a gamblers debts for a year, or a non-gambler’s bills for a lifetime. It might even get Helix repairs mostly paid off. If she found me, others could be close behind… or far behind. She’s the best, after all.”

“You’re saying we should jet?” asked Carmen. “Should we take the stairs or the window?”

Zack looked at the window and winced.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “I was panicked.”

“YOU were panicked?” said Zeta. “I was… I don’t know what that was. She should’ve… that should have knocked her out nearly instantly. How did she stay awake that long?”

“Stimulants in the system to keep her moving in case something like that happened,” Zack said. “I’d be willing to bet she also won’t stay down for very long.”

“So, what… do we just leave her here?” Asked Carmen. “Should we… I don’t know, should we finish her off? Might be good to get it over with, take her out so we don’t have to worry about her. I mean, what’ll she do to Zeta when she comes to?”

“Honestly?” said Zack. “Unless Zeta gets in her way, she’ll probably leave him be. The good assassins usually don’t hold grudges against civilians. Though it might be good if you’re not around when she wakes up, Zeta. Or if you could move her somewhere.”

“Or we could finish her off,” said Carmen. “Don’t wanna be a parrot here, but if she wakes up then she’ll be on your tail for the next lap. I don’t like it, and I appreciate a fight as much as the next girl, but I’d rather not be worried about her.”

Zack looked at Fletch. He considered it… it would certainly make things simpler to know that Fletch wasn’t around. On the other hand, there was a reason why he was in the DMA’s investigation branch instead of its mercenary branch.

A chime at the end of the hall signaled the arrival of the elevator. The doors slid open revealing Vox Cul-Dar, who looked surprised to see Zack.

“Window it is!” shouted Zack. He ran past Carmen back into the medical office and grabbed his singed hat from its seat on the cushion next to the smoking hole. Vox ran, quickly, but fell to the ground when Carmen grabbed his leg as he tried to pass her. Zack waved to Vox and jumped out the window to the street below.


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