Easily dodging missiles, Hit slips past the enemy and down a corridor. There's a secret door here, which he enters. Extra life. There's no stopping him now. He peers out of the door, fires off a couple of shots and runs for it. Something moves on the left; he turns, fires, it disappears into smoke and flame. Hot air washes over him; this could be the real thing.
He sees the end ahead. Behind, pursuit is building; it's a matter of seconds. Something enormous drops down in front of him; he's ready for it, he's got it all planned out. Smart bomb. The way forward is clear. He takes out the key, reaches forward and
Everything goes black.
Awakening: the same as before. Head aches. Itches all over. Mouth dry - need a drink. Need a fix! So close. Eyes aching, sore. Open: bright light. So late? Need a drink!
Crawl out of bed. Stand; feel sick. Fight it. Water: tap, dripping. Thirst. Turn it; too stiff; two hands. Drink, refreshing, relief. Memory: the same every time. It's never enough. Reach behind head. Feel around, found it, grip. Pull. Dead as a dodo. "Shit." Kept it going too long. Burnt it out. It's gone brown. Why does that happen?
Look around. Bright sun, bare walls. Pile of clothes. Get dressed? Purpose, man with mission. Need some more green. Headache fading, feeling better already. Itches. Need a shower. Don't get dressed.
Hot water. That's refreshing too. Stay here forever. No. Better things to do for eternity. Smile. Lots to do today. Really get dressed now. Trousers. Shirt. Jacket. Boots; gonna hit the street. Gonna show 'em who's in charge, who's boss. Smile. Despair. Lowest of the low, scum of the earth. Dirt. But this dirtbag is gonna bite back, let 'em know the real story.
Down the stairs. Past doors; sounds from within, others getting on with their lives. Easy for them. Live and let live. You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. And so into the gutter. Phone. Dial. Wait. Listen. Ring. Impatience. Wait. We've work to do! "Yeah?" It's Yeti. Reply, "Tonight." Put the phone down. That's communication? Animal grunts, no more. And tonight he'll be howling.
The listener puts the headset down and grins happily. He picks up his own phone and speaks a name into it; after a few seconds, a voice replies: "You got something?"
"Just picked up someone calling the Yeti." The nonchalance in the listener's voice sounds forced. "Said, `tonight.' Thought you'd like to know."
"Yeah, we were expecting them to move in the next few days. Cheers."
Yeti looks at his liveware stash. It's pretty low; Melt is right, it's time for another raid. It could be the last; Yeti suspects that his phone is being tapped but he's not sure. The games always die after too long in the head; he knows that they need sunlight to survive but, like all livewires, he doesn't care.
It's surprising Melt burned out first. He used to last the longer than the others; he must be getting deeper in. They all are, really. Hit always seemed to be the worst. Yeti decides to contact him first; if he's running out he'll be glad to hear it's time again. Black can wait.
The meet. Getting dark already. Got to move quickly, can't leave it to tomorrow. Too long. It's always like this. Yeti. Black. Hit. All here. Gotta job to do. Tool up. When? Where? Yeti decides. Can't think. Leave it to Yeti, he knows it all. Talking. No time for talk! We gotta move. Hit talking too much, too many questions, always the same. Shut it!
"Hey, man, how come you're called Yeti, Yeti?" Thinks it's funny: Yeti, Yeti. Ha, ha. Dumb shit. Ignore him, don't encourage him. Black answers.
"'cos he's big an' ugly an' spends most o'time so high he's halfway up a mountain." For the thousandth time. "Hey Melt, OK?" Sure, let's just get going before Hit gets hit. Oh fuck that...
"Yeah. Let's move."
"They're on the move again. North on Ripon." Like a spider in a web, he feels all the threads of the hunt, a net drawing close. He's waited for this.
"What's the target?" Could be too early, but he should know soon. The spider must know it all.
"Stadler Street, I guess. In position now." Jumping the gun, but where else would they go? He can't afford to get it wrong; there's too much investment tied up in this. He has to take these livewires. They care for nothing but their bizarre addiction; they can't even tell what's real any more.
Round the corner. Silence. Cool night air; nice on the face. Ready to go. "VirtualTech." Stand outside. Hit tries the door. Locked. (What was he thinking of?) Stand back. Guns out. Thunder and lightning: shattering glass. Silence. Enter. Get the green! Crunching underfoot. Movement! Someone coming down. Guard? Police? Get the green!
Aging man. Shotgun. No prisoners! Thunder and lightning. It's the game. Green and blood everywhere. Get the green! Black shoots the till. Yeti: "Quit fucking around. Get the green an' let's split." Gather it up. Get the green! Last a month on this, two. Black raiding the till, grabbing money. Get the green!
The cars and the van are all parked around the corner, out of sight. The fly is in the web; the spider is moving in for the kill. A watcher reports one fatality. It can't be left any longer. "Take them," he orders; this will be their last game.
Death creeps out of the shadows, wearing a black uniform. It gathers round the shopfront, draws a dozen guns and takes aim on the dim movements and muted sounds within. No further orders are required.
There's a sound out in the darkness. Hit turns on one foot, and stares out. His eyes adjust to the gloom outside and he realises what's happening. He smiles and raises his gun, tensing in readiness; he'll dodge their fire, he decides, break out to the right and come at them from behind. It'll be easy.
Pulling the trigger, he starts to move. He sees a dark figure go down, but finds himself on the floor. There's a pain in his leg. It's not supposed to happen like this. Something moves. He looks up to see
Copyright © 1998 Richard Kettlewell.
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