She had a cat’s eyes – slanted and predatory. Bubblegum pink hair distracted from what was most important, her guns. But it was her look, more intense than the sun on a summer day, that paralyzed anyone caught in her sights. Down, and down they would burn – to ashes. Laser light flickered with an intensity of a disco, a rave on ecstasy, a marvelous riot of color with murderous intent.
Click. Click went the triggers, screams gracing her ears.
Pop. Pop went the bubblegum she chewed, nothing but net. Another assignment down and another step towards enlightenment.
“Why?” Bystanders would ask her.
She would respond with a shrug and a raised eyebrow, leaving only the scent of vanilla in her wake. Their confused faces would warp and shrink as she sauntered away, gleaming across her armor’s mirror surface.
“Who is she?” They would whisper behind her back.
Nobody knew and the smart ones didn’t want to know. Her boss knew who she was – when he hired her. But now? Her name collected dust, long since entombed and forgotten in a dusty archive – just the way she liked it. To her victims she was The Warrior, a Warrior of the Laserlight Faith, and nothing more. Not that she needed anything more to get anywhere she needed to be. Her attire was her key to the city.
Labyrinth was its name. Bigger than anyone could comprehend, it stretched beyond the horizon and through the haze, reaching the very limit of physical probability. Not that the Warrior had any interest in ancient things that could be so easily taken for granted. No, the only things that mattered were what directly influenced her. Like how the grit blasted against her skin and stung her eyes. It was easy to forget the air was filled with infinite nanomachines – when the wind didn’t blow.
The swarm was bad today, and she could only blame the corporations with their less than stringent ecological code. Not that it mattered, given the safeguards built into Labyrinth. Nothing short of a rouge plant could disrupt life for its inhabitants. And even then, The Warrior had bigger things to worry about.
Like whether the convenience store down the way had restocked her favorite brand of chew. Which they hadn’t, much to her displeasure. Given what she’d done to the previous clerk – and she was guilty over that particular incident – she hoped they would get a shipment soon. The off brand stuff just wasn’t the same, no matter what anyone said.
She stared into the twilight outside the store, reading her next assignment as it danced across her retinas. Not everyone embraced technology like she had, blurring the lines between synthetic and organic. It was times like this she appreciated the augmentations most, when organic skin would be nothing but flesh under a cheese grater and net connectivity an impossibility.
She blew a bubble between her painted lips, letting it snap when grey specks tainted its pure surface. A grunt, and she spit it onto the sidewalk. Experts and the like said the swarm didn’t pose any health risk, but she knew who filled their wallets. Even though the swarm infested her body and every single inhabitant of Labyrinth’s, she didn’t want to deal with tasting it.
A fresh piece came forth unbidden, silver wrapper discarded on the ground, and she started walking. Overhead, a taxi blew into pieces, showering the street with glowing shrapnel. She didn’t flinch – today was just another Monday at the office for the Warrior of the Laserlight Faith.
She strolled towards her destination; taking what shortcuts she could while smelling the flowers. Civilians – innocent and naive – filled the streets in a mob. The Warrior bulled her way through and ignored their banter. Louder and louder they grew, agitated and restless.
The Warrior rolled the gum across her tongue and peered over their heads. It wasn’t every day there was a riot, not if the news was to be believed. Just her luck, The Warrior fumed, to be delayed by trivial matters.
Screams echoed off the faces of buildings lining the street and the panic grew. The Warrior frowned and walked towards the commotion, leading with her shoulder to clear the way. A riot wouldn’t cause people to stampede away from something. They were a focus, a gathering of people, not something to run from. The crowd parted and a gristly scene stared her in the face.
A writhing mass of flesh, undulating and dry as a desert, flopped from a rift above the street. Its form changed constantly as she watched, running and flowing like a liquid, yet moving with purpose and intelligence. Dark ichor dripped from the rift onto the concrete and tainted the air, smelling of cloves. Purple radiance overwhelmed her senses and dazzled her eyes. Never before had she seen the color – the complete absence of everything, not black or white, but nothing. The street warped and moved as if alive, twisting under her booted feet like a small animal. Screams from citizens fell on deaf ears as she parted the ocean of fleeing people.
The warrior spit out her gum and squared her shoulders. Whatever this thing was, it shouldn’t exist. To hell with her assignment, this took precedence and demanded her attention. Not that the corpses laying in the street had anything to do with her decision – no, that was too subjective to be official. The crowd stampeded and she steeled herself.
Click went the trigger, sending prismatic laserlight into the abomination. It disappeared in a cloud of vaporized atoms, only the smell of cooked flesh reaching her.
The warrior let her arm drop and stared at the thing. It reformed before her eyes, vaporized chunks rematerializing out of the rift. Ever bigger it grew, towering over her and filling the street. From where it came she had no idea. Formless mass flowed and seeped into the buildings, slithering like snakes through their openings.
“Odd.” The Warrior said, cocking her head to the side. She drew her second pistol, notched seven times or more, and aimed both.
Click. Click went the triggers, giving her the rush of power she so craved.
Liquid gushed down the street and stained her armor to the knees. It spilled from gashes drawn by her lasers, deeper and more numerous by the second. The Warrior didn’t stop for a long time, determined to see the end of the beast.
Her stomach flipped and she let her arms drop. Even with both, the horror grew inexorably and terribly. Rifts of flesh flaked off, suckers and talons forming and dissolving as she watched. She gripped the pistols tightly, forcing herself to stand resolute. A gaping mouth – big enough to swallow a bus whole – formed on its flank. Jagged and mismatched teeth rimmed the asymmetric maw, glistening in the light.
The Warrior, for the first time in her life, couldn’t move. It wasn’t the mouth, or any of the myriad of nightmares bleeding into reality, that froze her feet to the ground. No. She could feel it looking at her. Not with eyes or its mind, but something alien. Something so different it made her hands tremble and brow sweat. Her teeth bit at the inside of her mouth and she wished she hadn’t spit out her gum. The Warrior holstered a pistol and unclipped a pouch slung across her waist. She ignored the blood dribbling from her ears and cocked her arm back. The bag of grenades flew – her arm lethargic and unresponsive – into the mouth and exploded. Viscera spewed into the air and dark fluid splashed her face.
Even the grenades had no effect. Ever onwards and closer it came, and she still couldn’t move. It was her against it, for what little time she could buy for more to escape. Bodies lined the street, piling in ever greater numbers.
“Impossible.” She whispered.
Her head split open and blinding pain shot through her. At once every inch of her body felt alive and foreign, awakened by a siren’s call. She heard it now - beautiful and alluring - and knew it had always been there, just on the edge of perception. A trebling pale hand came into view and she watched as grey spots formed under the skin. Her hand, it felt so far away – disjointed and dissociated. The Warrior chuckled and let her hand drop. So the megacorps had lost control. Typical of the bureaucracy, she thought. And now the Labyrinth would fall because of their own oversight.
She raised a pistol and hesitated. The thing filling the street called to her, willing her on.
Only what’s best for everyone, she told herself.
Grey tendrils wormed under her skin, chilling her to the bone and singing their siren’s song.
Click went the trigger, one last time.