Most parts of New Cluster were more awake after dark and the lower regions south of the hub were no exception. Dregs wondered, too afraid of the vulnerability sleep brings to stop moving. Criminals of every sort prowled. Working women were passed by gangs of Bangers and thugs less organized.
A hundred scents mixed in their nostrils, the majority foul. New Cluster had long since let its streetlights go to rot and darkness reigned supreme. In this city, the people thought they had the choice of embracing the darkness or running scared. Talon had made a third choice.
He was the gray.
Moving through the masses like a ghost, he thought back to his plan. Sure it was not the most original of ideas, since Talon had learned more from movies than his limited education, but he was still hoping it would work. He remembered what Micro had said to Talon, when he had shaved off most of Micro’s hair. Talon had just left him a mohawk, like his own, for fun.
While Talon had glued the hair to his head, Micro had asked him, “so what do you think dressing up like me is going to do? Do you think you are going to fight your way through all of them?”
“Heh, I’m much more of a scamperer. Besides, what do you have to lose?”
“Plenty, if that program doesn’t reach the X.”
A group of hunting Rips snapped him back to the present. Without thinking, Talon ducked behind a group of homeless kids. After giving them all his change so they would not narc him out, he continued on his way. As he drew closer to the meeting spot, the Rip patrols grew thicker. They were always in groups of five. Perhaps that is as high as they could count, he thought with an internal smirk.
What did the X think about all this, he wondered, as he hopped over a low fence? The other gang must see all of these Rips around. He was half surprised that they were not attacking each other or keeping an eye out for Micro. “Maybe they don’t want your little toys as much as you thought,” he whispered to himself, while checking on the disc lying in his pocket for the seventh time.
He was trying to stay casual and keep loose, but a tightness ruled him. His hands clenched and unclenched. He was constantly wiping them clean of the sweat that was gathering there. Shaking his head, he tried to clear his stray thoughts and remain focused. One mistake, one piece of bad luck, and he could easily go down tonight. The Rips had no love for him and after the attack he made on them last night Ax might have removed his protection completely. If they got their hands on him, it would be all over… save for the pain.
A slow stream, more sludge than water, reflected the night before him. If he could cross it and make it down the alley, he would be nearly in front of The Joint and would only need to travel about thirty feet of the more major street, before he reached the relative safety of the bar. Something held him back. If he was looking for a sneak, this is where Talon would place his men.
Picking up a rock, he tossed it upstream. It made a sick plop. The noise brought two men out of hiding. They were here. He removed his bat from where it had been hiding under Micro’s jacket. Part of the plan was for Talon to show himself as Micro, so the real Micro would be able to sneak into the bar. He only hoped that he could do it without getting himself killed.
His free hand fumbled with the Personal that Micro had loaned him. Talon had a feeling his new friend was not going to be getting it back. He tossed it into a pile of leaves that had collected near the low bridge. With a remote, he started it. Their words sung out loudly dispelling the creeping silence.
“Hey Talon, are we almost there yet”
“Shut up. Do you want to get us caught? Keep up the blubbering and the Rips will find you for sure.”
“I got news for you little piggies, it’s too late.” Strang’s words burned into the air and, moving like jagged shadows, the Rips emerged form their dingy hiding places. Talon recognized a few of them. It was the same pack that had tangled with them the night before. “This big bad is going to blow your life down!”
Even as they rushed the recorder, Talon was moving towards the slimy stream. He was still twenty feet shy, when her heard the sound of metal breaking plastic. “Its some kind of- Wait, there he is!”
Talon did not even bother to look. Instead, he broke into a full sprint and attempted jumping the stream. He landed eight inches short and was rewarded with toxic green sludge filling his boots and staining his one pair of pants. After almost losing his footing, he continued mad dash for The Joint. He spied a few members of X pacing the street and he hoped that meant the place was safe.
The bouncers, both big fellows, named Booth and Primus, eyed him and were frowning as he ran past The Joint and straight up to a brace of X. These Bangers if anything were more bizarre than the Rips. Where the Rips were fierce and brutal, the X were just plain eerie. They dyed their faces and arms the color of crushed blueberries. There heads were kept shaved and without adornment other than the black X they had affixed between their eyes. For some it was a tattoo, while others favored branding or scaring.
“Hi guys.” He looked over his shoulder in time to see the Rips behind him hesitate, but then signal some of their fellows. If another five joined in the chase that meant two things. A, these X would not have much chance no matter how tough they were. B, he had a better excuse to continue with the original plan.
Before they had a chance to see through his disguise, Talon yelled, “There are too many of them!” He had found it all too easy to become nearly as hysterical as the role called for and bolted, not only the X, but also from the bouncers between him and the Rips.
Almost at once shouts, yells, and screams of pain followed in his wake. Before he had rounded the next corner, the sounds of other X taking up the fight had reached his ears. Strang was calling Micro’s name, but he just kept going. Where homebound Micro would have had little chance, a lifetime of hiding served Talon well. Strang and Tern had managed to pull away and gave him a good chase.
Each time they got close, Talon would dash into a crowd. During one of these ditches, he pulled the tangled mass of Micro’s hair off his head. It hurt like hell, but after he lost the jacket, he looked like a whole knew man. Eventually, he was able to grab a bus on the Y line and get out of there unnoticed.
Sitting down on the grimy seats, he let out a long sigh. Micro might not be able to go shopping for a long while, but as long as the Rips never discovered his location he would be all right.