By William Morris
The wind howls against corrugated metal, filling the corridor with the stink of tainted rainwater. Jelbar has never been a friendly world to life, whether human or otherwise, and I dare say that the development of Beesee as the planetary capital hasn’t exactly improved matters. It is permanently dark, never lighter than dusk, and it rains incessantly. It is poorly planned, badly governed, overpopulated, and profoundly unequal. In short, it is a haven for crime.
I am alone, and I am being hunted. Two things an Auditor of His Majesty’s Customs Service never wants to be.
“Show yourself, fattie.” The voice growls from the darkness, echoing through the steel corridor from up ahead. “I promise I’ll make it a headshot.”
That is the voice of Jambo Slyt. Wanted on three planets and in the Fae Jurisdiction for thirty- four counts of kidnapping, wrongful imprisonment, slave trading, rape, and murder. The worst of the worst and a box on the King’s list that I’ve wanted to cross out for eleven years.
Unfortunately, Slyt has the advantage over me. I am alone in the corridors of a disused factory, up against a combat veteran who has been manufactured solely for the hunt.
The only thing I have in my favor is gripped between my gloved fingers. The Macerat-5, a beast of a handgun, dwarven made and holding eight thumb-sized slugs. My grip on it tightens as I make my way down the dimly lit interior, my footsteps taking on a metallic thud from the wet steel floor.
“I can hear ya, fat boy.” That voice again. The echo locator implanted in my ear buzzes, and I home in, following the noise.
The corridor has widened out into a warehouse, lit only by a single bio-bulb, hovering in mid-air to illuminate the maze of boxes stacked up over the floor. I recognize their pattern from a holopict of the scene of his last crime. A trap that he’d laid for a colleague of mine.
The air reeks of joy-tox smoke, mixed with the acrid scent of acid rain.
“Like my handiwork?”
He is still taunting me. He knows that I recognize the pattern, and he is reveling in it.
“I like to treat all my catches to a good runaround before they go on the auction block. Makes them easier to break.”
I do not consider the implications behind that sentence. If I do, I will lose all control, though of my fear or my rage, I cannot tell.
“You won’t be so lucky.”
The anxiety in my heart becomes naked terror as I hear him—no more than five feet off to the left. By the Gods, he is quiet.
I turn, and in a split second, I see him—a giant, sheathed in vat-grown muscle beneath russet brown fur, straining at the seams of repurposed fatigues. He would be handsome, if it weren’t for those demented, yellow eyes. I have only a split second to take all of this in, before he is upon me.
His weight alone is enough to pin me down, claws sinking into my shoulders even through the bulletproof weave of my overcoat. His strength is horrifying. The Macerat-5 slides from my grasp, skidding out across the floor. He straddles my midriff like a dancer in an illicit tavern, crushing the air from my body. One of my arms is pinned beneath his left knee. It feels as though the nerves are being ripped from it one by one, and that is enough to tell me that he’s broken the bone.
His feline features hover inches from mine, and it is all I can do not to gag from the reek of his breath.
“Humans…” He chuckles cruelly, never once taking his eyes from mine. “You’re all the same. Fat, and slow.”
His tongue, long and unnervingly prehensile, licks over teeth yellowed by years of tox-smoking. He is dragging this out as much as he can, trying to savor every bit of terror that he can wring from my shivering heart.
“Well?” He chuckles.“What’s the matter, fattie?” He leans in and raises a clawed digit to trace over my lips. His voice falls to a whisper. “Cat got your tongue?”
I shake my head. “You forgot my other arm, you idiot.”
Before he can process my sentence, my backup gun is already shoved into the hard muscle of his belly. The Spiro Auto fires pathetically small slugs, but Jambo isn’t wearing body armor. It takes me less than a second to empty the entire ten-round magazine into his guts, and at that range, the bullets rip clean out his back like a red fountain.
I slide out from under him and piston both legs upwards into his jaw. I hear the crack of bone, and he falls onto his back with a heavy thud. By the time he gets up, the Macerat-5 is in my hand.
“Fat? Yes. Slow? I think not.”
My gun barks, and his heart is blown out of his back in a spray of ichor. He is thrown back, thrashing, onto the factory floor before I slam another two rounds into him for good measure.
He takes five minutes to die, unable to do anything but wheeze as his expertly made body tries vainly to repair itself. I ignore his death throes, and instead busy myself with the contact buzzer on my wrist.
“Cyrus here. The bastard is dead. I need a cleanup squad.”
I do not bother listening to the reply. I simply watch as Jambo Slyt rattles his last bloody breath. His yellow eyes dim, and his jerking body goes limp.
I don’t smile. In fact, I vomit. Twice. But I do allow myself a glimmer of satisfaction. He is one more name checked off on that list.