Alec Tucker

A City of Ghosts

Ambush

The basement was cold. She felt herself shiver and in the dim light saw her breath mist before her eyes. She tore her thoughts from her discomfort, hardening herself for the endgame that was finally in sight. She had been searching for more than a week and despite dead end after dead end she persisted in her search. Her sister's life, and the lives of so many more, depended on her actions. Finally she had a lead. She could end this right here and now. First however, she had to find the payload.

She stalked through various rooms filled with cylinders containing all manner of gaseous elements, crates filled with chemical products. None bore the symbol she sought. She felt hope begin to drain away as she neared the last room. Her heart pounded as she took in the maroon painted metal door. It didn't look like it was used often, but it had definitely been opened recently.

Could this be it?

Her hand trembled as she reached for the door handle. She flexed her fingers over the cool metal, feeling her hands wrap around its shape and took a deep, heavy breath. She shut her eyes and reached into her jacket, drawing a Heckler and Koch P30 handgun. She hadn't used it so far. She hoped she wouldn't have to.

Here goes everything.

She threw open the door and was inside, hands taking her weapon in a grip so tight it hurt. She scanned the room. It was small compared to some of the other storage rooms in the basement; barely ten metres by ten metres and like those, composed of dull, grey, cold concrete. There were no lights and darkness coated the edges of the storage room, lingering like an eerie mist and clouding her perception.

It was empty.

She felt her heart plummet. Sweat began to break out on her lovely face. She took a tentative step inside, turning her head left and right, searching for any sign that she was simply not looking hard enough. Nothing yielded itself to her sight. She felt like collapsing, almost did, staggering and pushing an arm out for support against a wall.

She heard a grunt as she leaned against something that was most definitely not a wall.

She had slipped up.

The room was not empty.

She spun away in the instant that the hand reached for her. Already other shapes were emerging from the shadows. Men dressed in combat gear blacker than black. It was a sign of her fatigue and her stress that she hadn't noticed them as she'd searched for her objective and she cursed herself for it. She stepped back and lashed out with a brutal side kick that took one of her attackers in the throat. The man dropped, clutching his neck and making ghastly choking noises.

'Freeze or we will open fire!' she heard one of the men shout, all of them save the one she had downed trained short, compact MP7 submachine-guns on her. She froze, knowing full well that so much as a twitch would spell her demise. At the same time however, it would also mean the destruction of the entire city.

Part of her debated speaking with the group of armed men, but she railed against the thought, dismissing it. They'd never believe her. Not with her record, or rather, her lack of one. As she debated what to do in her mind, one of them took a cautious step towards her, one hand on the trigger of his weapon, the other reaching out for her.

'Ma'am I'm going to ask you to get on your knees and put your hands behind your back. If you do not comply, you–'

She moved.

In the span of a heartbeat she was inside his reach. Hooking her arm around the soldier's neck she used him as a support as she lifted herself into the air, lashing out with several kicks that knocked several weapons aside. As soon as she landed where she had begun her manoeuvre she slammed her palm into her victim's shoulder before turning her gun on the soldier's leg, pointing it about mid-thigh.

'Sorry,' she murmured as she squeezed the trigger.

The man screamed as a bullet found its way through a gap his Kevlar padding didn't protect. He crumpled to the floor, clutching his wounded leg as blood streamed through his gloved fingers. She was outside in a moment while his teammates recovered from her sudden attack.

She got no further than ten paces from the ambush when she felt something dig into her shoulder. Craning her head, she saw a dart protruding from her dark leather coat. She released a curse as her movements suddenly began to feel sluggish and heavy. It was only through sheer willpower that she didn't collapse then and there.

She took her P30 in one hand and spun on the balls of her feet, almost losing her balance as she hammered round after round in the direction of the soldiers, who ducked behind the entrance of the empty storage room. She turned and suddenly her face exploded in pain. A hulking brute clad similarly to the men who had attempted to take her in the storage room loomed above her, loosely shaking the hand he'd used to punch her.

'Got to hand it to you, this didn't go nearly as smoothly as my boss told me it would,' he glanced over in the direction of the ambush squad before turning his gaze back to her.

'Just sleep princess. Trust me; you're going to need the rest.'

And she did, as the drug flowed ever quicker through her veins as her heart went into overdrive. Her dreams were horrible, hateful things. The full weight of the knowledge that she had failed reverberated throughout her subconscious, taunting her until she woke next.

Captive

The Spectre pulled up into a gravelly car park which had clearly seen better days. Its own state however could not hope to compare to the building that sat adjacent to it. The building used to belong to a shipping company that had long since gone under, demolition however had been delayed constantly thanks to some intervention on behalf of the group the recent arrival worked for. The place saw frequent visits by Spectres because of its location on the very outskirts of Elspeth City, far enough that no one heard or suspected that anything even remotely clandestine could occur there.

The Spectre parked his old Jaguar in a spot by a gnarled, weathered Ash tree before stepping out and inhaling a gulp of air. He liked it on the Yale Isles. The air was cleaner here, the people friendlier. If his job allowed him the luxury he might have moved here long ago. A light, but chilling breeze played upon him, making the light hairs on his neck stand on end.

He ran a hand through his short hair, a curious shade which some mistook for blond and others for brown. It leaned more towards brown, but it seemed to depend on the light. He found it strangely fitting considering his profession; his job forced him to change regularly. So often in fact, that he sometimes wondered exactly who he was staring at whenever he looked in the mirror. He wondered which role he'd need to play today; the guardian who walked in the light or the devil who worked in the dark.

He locked his car, frowning at a scratch marring its dark green paint that hadn't been there last night.

'Kids,' he said with a heavy sigh. His voice was gravelly, and a light bur was present for those attentive enough.

He stowed his keys away in his dark jeans before sticking his hands in the outside pockets of the military-green hoody he wore. Underneath was a grey short-sleeved shirt the Spectre had bought because it was cheap and in his size. The name of a band he didn't particularly care for was emblazed in heavily stylized font on the left hand side of the shirt. The agent watching the entrance made a note of it but he paid it no mind.

The main interior of the building was devoid of life and bereft of anything remotely worth looking at. It was simply a large gallery of peeling tan paint and rusting metal, but the action never took place here. The Spectre strode towards a doorway at the far end of the building. A rusting chain and padlock was wrapped around the door handle. The Specture simply opened the padlock – which was fake – and lowered the chain before stepping inside what had once been an abysmally designed office.

'Ah, Mr. Walker,' came a voice from the dimly lit space, 'good of you to join us, she was just about to wake up.'

Ethan Walker, known to almost everyone else in the room as 'Etrius', gave a quick, casual salute before stepping up to the group of seven individuals cloistered around the unconscious form of a young woman. He scanned the room, counting the number of heads. A frown told everyone that he'd come up one short.

'Where's Zephyr?' Ethan asked, half-curious.

'Took a bullet in the leg when we jumped her,' said the largest man in the room while simultaneously jerking his head in the direction of their prisoner. He was a hulking Turk referred to as Anvil; his voice was deeper and even rougher than Ethan's.

Ethan sniffed at the news but otherwise made no reaction.

The woman groaned and Ethan noticed that dried blood coated her mouth and had trailed down her neck. He cast a quick glance at Anvil, who shrugged.

'Had to do something to put her down; even tranq'd up she kept moving.'

Ethan grunted.

'So who is she?' he asked.

'We're about to find out,' said a thin man wearing thin spectacles. He looked by far the oldest of the group present and was the most formally dressed in a black blazer, dark trousers and smart, brown shoes. The woman moaned as the tranquilizer wore off and began to stir.

Ethan saw that, even with the blood and quite possibly a broken nose, she was not unlovely. He could see smooth, fair skin and short, blond hair that shone even in the dank of the old abandoned office. A small, dark leather coat sat over a red button-up blouse, but before he could take in more her eyes opened.

'You awake my dear?' the man in the business wear asked her. The captive shook her head roughly and a moment later her eyes roamed all over the small office, wide and full of what Ethan felt was fear.

'Good,' the man in the suit smiled thinly, though he didn't sound pleased, or anything. He sounded as if he were simply reading notes off a list, as if he were utterly disconnected from the world. The captive coughed and cleared her throat and seemed like she was about to speak, but the suit fixed her with a look that silenced whatever she was about to say.

'Let me tell you now my dear,' he began; his voice suddenly hard as granite, 'that you are in very, very deep shit…'

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