The shots echoed up and down the twisting, deserted street. There were three, evenly spaced: pop, pop, pop, followed by silence.
The war had begun.
I moved deeper into the shadows, the metal of a security door at my back, waiting. Moments later I heard footsteps, running, coming from the direction of the shots. The shooter flew around the bend and lightly ran down the narrow lane, directly past me. Always in the right place at tht right time, that’s me.
The supressor on my 9mm reduced the sound of my shots to soft thuds. One, two, three, swiftly, the three bullets making a neat triangle on the runner’s chest. As the assassin fell his—her—face was caught by a street lamp. She crashed to the street, dead, her gun clattering across the ancient cobblestones.
In a quiet villiage like this one, the police would respond quickly, but there was little they could do now. What had started minutes before in the the little town square would have to be finished, no matter what the cost, no matter who died.
I looked at the form crumpled on the pavement, her face in shadow. For a moment I was tempted to go to her, to get a look at her face. I’d probably seen her around before. It didn’t matter anymore, though. I wouldn’t be seeing her again. She was lucky; she had only known war for five minutes, from the moment she killed the commissioner to the moment the bullets entered her heart.
She had probably wanted to grow up to be like me. In that case, I had done her a favor.
The girl had been running toward her friends; I walked the other way. I was tired, although all I had done was pull a trigger.
I dove for the shadows when I saw Hampton sprawled on the street. He was supposed to be on the rooftops, and if he wasn’t, then someone else was. Chips flew from the stonework around me as a burst of machine-gun fire tore thgough the space I had been moments before. I crouched in the recess of a doorway while the bullets continued to rain down, chipping away at the stone. My shelter would not last long.
I waited for the gunner to change clips, then turned and kicked at the wooden door behind me. It gave with a crash and I dove through into the darkness as the bullets streamed past behind me. One hit me hard in the ribs, but my ballistic armor stopped it.
I regained my balance and looked around. Stairs up, staris down. I had a choice. The town was famous for its catacombs; I chose down.
The stairs creaked above me; I turned and fired even as I fled. Someone grunted and fell. Enemy or bystander, it didn’t matter anymore.
At the bottom of the stairs was another door, locked, but no match for my steel-shanked boots. I have trained long and hard in the art of kicking things. Bullets followed me through the door into the apartment. A couple cowered in the corner of the studio. There were no other doors. Dead end.
Shadows flitted past the window high up on the wall, the feet of more people rushing to where I was. There were a lot of them. Perhaps I had at least diverted them long enough that the rest of my people could regroup or escape.
“Sorry about this,” I said to the two twenty-somethings cowering in the corner. I emptied my clip out the door, and heard someone cry out. Three cliips to go. “Is there another way out?”
The girl shook her head, a brief terrified jerk.
The situation wasn’t going to get any better. No sense in getting these two killed along with me. “Guess I’ll be going this way, then.”
I am a soldier, and a damn good one. Physically, I was blessed with the tools a soldier needs. Strength, agility, endurance. A steady shooting hand. Good night vision. But in this day and age, none of those things matter a great deal. Machines give us our strength. When you throw a hundred bullets at your opponent, you don’t have to be a sharpshooter to score a hit.
This war, however, would never involve great armies. It was an ugly war, a war of stealth and swift action. Action without remorse. It was the war I was born to fight.
I remembered the stairs I had come down, and knew just where the enemy would be. I dove through the shattered doorway, firing from memory. One, two, three. Two of soldiers waiting for me fell immediately, the third put a bullet into my armor before I sent him on his way. Above those three the stairwell lit up with furious gunfire, but they could not reach where I was, and they could not move until they stopped firing. I closed my eyes to protecct my night vision and waited.
The gunfire slowed but did not stop, and they advanced, spraying bullets before them. I pulled myself into a corner of the landing, then climbed, bracing myself between the door frame and the ceiling. I steadied myself and got one hand free.
They were blinding themselves with their own muzzle flashes, and as they descended I put a bullet into one, then the next. They assumed I had gone back into the apartment, and were working to get firing angles through the door. Another, then another fell. As the soldiers came down I would shoot a leg, then when the man fell I would shoot his face. No armor there.
My legs and the arm I was holding myself with were starting to shake. I was not going to be able to stay up there much longer. On the stairs, the bodies were starting to pile up. Whoever was in charge up there called a tactical retreat. I dropped to the floor. I heard voices above, but the ringing in my ears from the gunfire prevented me from hearing it.
I glanced back into the apartment. The two were still there, huddled in the corner, looking back at me wide-eyed. There were three bullets left in my clip, so I switched it for my last full one. I heard sirens outside; the police had arrived. That had to work in my favor now. The cops wouldn’t be able to do much, but they would try, and that would complicate any attack on my position.
I attacked. I stepped over the corpses on the stairs, counting my bullets as I put one man down, then another, then another. By the time I had killed five of them the rest were on the run, forcing me to shoot them in the back. The last of them spilled out into the glare of the headlights of the two police cars. The four cops, armed with little pistols, called for the heavily-armed soldiers to drop their weapons. Cops are so stupid. They are soldiers like me, but badly equipped and blinded by duty to something completely imaginary. They think they are defending the law, but there they stand, hoping the law will protect them. They talk before they shoot. The last of the men I had routed tore the cops to ribbons before I could kill them.
Outside again, I put my hands on my knees, gasping for breath. The windows looking down on the street were ablaze now, onlookers silhouetted in front of their laccy drapes. I stepped back into the shadow. The other guys still owned the rooftops.
Back in the shadows, I wrapped my scarf around my face and pulled my hat low. It didn’t matter who was out there, it was time to be going. Every policeman for a hundred miles was on his way, and probably the army, too.
I felt someone behind me. Close behind me. The hair on my neck stood and my ears tried to swivel to the back of my head, an ancient mammalian reaction, as I heard the action of a revolver right next to my spine.
“Excuse me, miss, do yo have a light?” The voice was a smooth baritone, calm, almost laughing. He spoke in English, my native tongue, with an accent. Austrian, perhaps.
I froze, trying to grow extra arms out from my shoulder blades, and eyes in the back of my head.
“Very well, then,” he said. “Would you like a cigarette?”
“That’s too bad. Tobacco came from America, did you know that?”
“Our gift to the world.”
“Now, smoking is a worse sin than adultery in America.” He sounded mournful.
“There’s still plenty of both.” I had to do something soon. Time was moving, the world was closing in.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“What else is a girl going to do on a Saturday night?”
“Well, damn. I should be washing my hair, then.”
“Do you know who that was you killed?”
There were bodies everywhere, but I knew who he meant. The runner. The assassin. “No.”
“That was my niece,” he said. I closed my eyes, knowing what came next. A bullet to the spine. He was more careless now, I could feel where the gun was. If I made a move I had a reasonable chance of winning. I just couldn’t muster the strength to do it. I wondered what it would be like to have a niece, or any family.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“I loved her,” he said. “But I knew she would get into trouble.”
“I’m sorry,” I said again. There really wasn’t much else to say.
“She wanted to be like her sister.”
I knew what he was going to say, even as I knew it was not possible. I turned, hoping he would shoot me before he finished. He had lowered his gun.
“She wanted to be like you.”