8 August 2033
“C’mon. It’s just one drink. What could go wrong?”
His colleague’s words reverberated in his skull as Catwalk took a sip of his bourbon. Plenty of lives had gone from promise to peril in the shadow of ‘just one drink.’ He’d managed to pace himself, offering empty smiles and courteous nods while Emory Blake, Esquire, ordered round after round, making eyes at their polite waitress all the while. Emory was in the mood to celebrate. Why wouldn’t he be? He had just won a conviction on ‘The Hooded Hooker’ serial killer, thanks largely to the evidence and witness testimony Catwalk had dug up over the past few weeks. In Emory’s mind, a killer was away for life. He’d rid the streets of a murderer, a menace to society, and a media target all in one.
Cat’s perspective was understandably different. He had put away plenty of those predators during his years as a DC cop. Tonight, thousands of kilometers from his former law enforcement career, he studied things from a different angle. He recorded the look of satisfaction on Emory’s face—every crease of the man’s forehead, the giddy turn of his lips and the heavy-lidded look that indicated the drinks were shooting Emory’s dopamine levels through the roof. A silent beacon flashed in the corner of Cat’s cybernetic vision and his lips spread to a smile rivaling that of his host. The slick lawyer guaranteed Cat would be compensated for each witness he rounded up. The first payment just cleared.
He raised a glass and proposed a toast. “To the first of many big fish reeled in by the hard work a’ the Nitro City Police Department, and Emory Blake, Esquire.”
Emory’s bleary eyes met Catwalk’s as he raised a glass. Cat feigned ignorance of the man’s condition and forgave all his overstated claims so far. Why should he hold a grudge? Emory had come through, delivering his half of the bargain they’d struck. Cat rounded up the eyewitnesses and got them to testify. In exchange, Emory ensured prompt, untraceable compensation. The blinking light in his heads-up display didn’t lie. Cat smiled. His client’s payment had cleared.
Emory ordered another round. He approached the barely legal, artificially enhanced brunette tormenting him from the bar with long lashes and crossed legs. A few awkward lines later, the pair began to dance in the center of the bar. Cat refused to celebrate the arrest of one more Nitro City thug. For every mass murderer the NCPD successfully put away, two more hit the streets, and a third escaped from custody. The smile faded from his lips, and Cat realized that was one thing that drew him to the West Coast and the former City of Angels. He’d left the world of law enforcement for freelance work. What better place than the city with an endless supply of murderers and thieves?
His cybernetic eyes stole a glance at his comm. A blinking light confirmed he’d chosen the right path. The ‘message received’ beacon notified him the warning he’d sent last night was received. Cat exhaled sharply, thinking of the little girl from the video. The twisted psycho from the recording had received, and read, Cat’s warning.
“No prison cell for you, Hitch,” Cat whispered aloud. “There’s a special level of hell, and you have a reservation.”
The brunette bent at the waist and ground her hips against Emory’s. The lawyer stole a quick glance at Catwalk, feigning the motion of slapping his new playmate on the ass. Cat raised his glass in a mock toast, and the lawyer returned his focus on the heavenly body writhing against him. The ex-cop snuck a look at the clock behind the bar. He scoffed. If he could scrounge up twenty more minutes of feigned interest, he’d have no trouble escaping into the shadows and leaving the impromptu party. He shot a glance back to the dance floor. Emory and the brunette moved together in time to the music. Cat rattled the ice cubes in his almost-empty glass.
Twenty minutes dragged along like dental work. Catwalk tuned into Emory’s unsteady gait and offered to hail a cab, pick up the check, and call it a night for their party. He succeeded in forging Emory’s signature on the bar tab and even improvised a short farewell speech. The brunette refused to leave until Cat forced her number into his buddy’s palm and promised he would call as soon as he sobered up. He was still shaking his head when he noticed how quickly the bar emptied out.
Emory slapped a heavy hand on his shoulder, laughing loudly. “Now that was one hell of a party, Cat man!”
Catwalk agreed, steadying his weight and that of his colleague against his cybernetic legs. “We should do it again sometime.”
“Soon,” Emory answered in reply. “Sometime soon.”
Cat nodded. “I can’t wait.”
Emory took a few unsteady steps to the exit, leaning hard on the exit door as he left the bar. Cat recognized the Auto-Taxi waiting at the curb and wasn’t sure if his friend could make the eight steps to the awaiting door. Emory paused a moment, steadied himself and made the first six steps with no problem. A meter or two from his ride home, the lawyer stopped, his blood shot eyes looking back at Cat through the window.
Emory winked and raised his fingers, pointing them at Catwalk. He fired both hands like mock six-shooters, mouthing the phrase, “bang bang.”
Catwalk chuckled, lifting the tumbler to his lips.
Then, the world went white.
The windows shattered inward. A fist of wind blasted into the bar, knocked over tables and chairs, and slammed Cat backward onto the floor.
A flash of fire followed the wind. Cat stayed low and watched the fire quickly rescind. Glass and wood rained down on him. He shook his head, growling a mechanical sound in return. He lifted his knees to his chest and kicked his feet out. Landing in a crouch, he reached to his belt and snapped the self-defense baton to its full extension.
Catwalk ran to the door. He attempted to regain focus, though his cybernetic eyes should never have lost it. His eyes were programmed to compensate for everything from low light to flash grenades. His lack of focus wasn’t technical. It was mental. In the din and fluttering shrapnel, he made out Emory’s silhouette on the pavement. Cat drew nearer then stopped in disbelief. His friend’s body was hardly more than a skeleton.
One blink later and Emory’s bones melted, leaving nothing but a puddle of liquefied flesh.
A mechanic roar shook through his body, and Cat twisted with the force, skidding to a crouch back by the bar entrance. As the roar died down, Cat shook his head to clear the stars in his eyes and the ringing in his ears. The horizon became an orange-red haze of fires and explosions so close together that Cat couldn’t tell where one ended and the next began.
Suddenly, a huge figure darkened the skyline. It was gigantic, inhuman and heading right for him.
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