Monday, April 25, 2011

CHAPTER NINE

45 Hours Later In New York




            New York City is a lovely place to be in early August.  People play hooky from work to stroll the streets of Greenwich Village or Brooklyn Heights.  They take impromptu picnics in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. Toss Frisbees in Manhattan’s Central Park.  Take in free concerts or matinĂ©e movies. 

            It’s not a time for the Voice of Odin to be heard.

            The Voice was heard exactly at 1:07 PM.  And while there were many different accounts of that day, one thing was agreed on: the Voice was a musical, even magical sound, like a thousand crystal wind chimes all being stirred at once by the same soft summer breeze. A sound that hung in the air and cascaded like a veritable waterfall of harmonious sound.  A sound so fearfully deadly.

            Later that day, the complete reports of the effects of the Voice added up to three thousand cases of heart attacks, eight thousand with permanent loss of hearing, and twelve thousand other cases of injuries relating to those who had lost unconsciousness or had a seizure or… something else.  The ‘or’ cases were quickly classified by the American Intelligence Machine, the National Security Agency, and other alphabet soup agencies.

            The Voice of Odin was heard again in Hong Kong an hour after the New York attack.  Again, everybody remembered hearing that same sound of a thousand crystal wind chimes, almost heartbreakingly beautiful in its simple gloriousness.

            And then twenty thousand glass windows exploded into shards of deadly transparent razor sharp missiles that killed over a thousand people and injured six thousand more.

            But the Voice of Odin was not through yet.  In Hollywood, the famous actress Dixie Dunbar received the Madeline Bouchard Lifetime Achievement Award for her outstanding 50-year career in film and television.  Still gorgeous at the age of 73, with an outstanding figure and a pair of knockout gray-green eyes that melted the hearts of men young enough to be her grandsons… Dixie was giving her acceptance speech when that same musical, thousand wind chime sound was heard in the Amphitheater located in the Michael J. Fox Cultural Center.  And everybody who was there said the same thing: when the angelic wind chime sound was heard, the gorgeous, beautiful Dixie Dunbar clutched her throat, then her heart, and then dropped like the Titanic.

            Of course, this being Hollywood, and this being Dixie Dunbar, it was a while before it was realized that this was not some publicity stunt or outrĂ© entertainment, but was, in fact, another attack by the Voice of Odin.


***


            An email was delivered to every major news service some seven hours after Dixie Dunbar’s death.  By then, the rumors flew fast and furious over the airwaves and on the Internet.  The email soon put a name to the terror that threatened everyone:

           “My name is Odin.  Today you heard my Voice speak in three major world cities.  It will speak again.  It will speak because you must be convinced of the truth of what I can do.  My Voice will be heard every three days.  After you hear my Voice, I will make my wishes known.  If my wishes are not obeyed to the letter, my Voice will continue to be heard.  You have seen what my Voice can do.  If you choose not to obey me, it is at your own peril, since the peoples of the world do not know where or whom it will strike when I speak next.

            “I understand that it will take time for you to be convinced.  I have that time.  I have waited long for my Voice to be heard, and I have nothing but belief in the power of my Voice.  Ignore me at your peril.  Disregard me and the lives lost will be your responsibility.

            “To the peoples of the world; your leaders will tell you that I am a madman, that what I have done today, I cannot do again.  Your leaders are self-serving fools who care only for the security of their jobs, and nothing for you.  Think of your wives, your husbands, your parents, your children.  They are the ones who will suffer because your leaders decided your fate.  I beg of you that you not leave the future of your lives in their hands.

            “I truly do not wish to create such havoc and chaos.  But there must be order imposed on this tired world, and I will impose it at any cost.  So I say this to the people of the world: obey the Voice of Odin or make your peace with whatever god you worship.

            “And do it right soon.”


***


            The President of the United States sat in her Oval Office, mightily wishing that she had stayed a senator from Hawaii.  Senators didn’t have to deal with madmen wielding technological terrors that slew from a distance.  Several men sat across her large desk looking at her, each with laptops or thick folders in their hands.  They were the men she was counting on to give her advice in this unthinkable hour of fear.

            Doctor Michael Cadwallander was one of her Science Advisors.  He was also the Director of Special Projects for the Henderson Institute of Alternative Technologies, one of the leading scientific research firms in the world.  Cadwallander was about five eight, with hair and eyes the color of ashes. 

            The second man dressed in a steel blue business suit and was furiously tapping on his laptop.  Milo Dane, codenamed: ‘Wildcard’ was the head of Omega Elite, the U.S. government’s ultimate ‘dirty tricks’ department. When the first attack had happened, Omega Elite’s members had been put on alert.  The problem was that they had no target.

            General Patrick Nathan Leary, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff quietly spoke into a cell phone.  A muscular slab of a man: blocky, with a square, honest face and the steely gaze of a born warrior.

            The President spoke in a voice as brittle and fragile as ice on the surface of a lake.

 “I need answers from you, gentlemen.  What kind of weapon is this and why don’t we have a defense against it?”

            Cadwallander answered in a clear but troubled voice.  “Madame President, it’s pretty clear that this Odin has somehow created an effective sonic weapon using harmonic wave patterns based on molecular vibratory signature variances.  As we’ve seen today, it’s very dangerous and very effective.  Various government agencies and independent research facilities experimented with such devices, but it was judged unfeasible and funding was cut from those experiments.”

            Milo Dane nodded.  “Our weapons research at the time was concentrated into electronics and physical enhancements.  Sonic research was something we just… well, let slip.”

            The President ran a short-nailed finger through her coal black hair and leaned back in her chair.  She crossed slim legs and said some very un-lady-like words.  “Do we have any experts on this we can call in?  Where’s Kalaydjian Feros?”

            “He and his team haven’t been seen for two weeks.  They went on a personal mission to France and that’s the last anyone’s heard of them,” Leary answered.  “I’ve got friends of ours over there looking for him.”

            The President fixed a bilious eye on Cadwallander.  “And where’s your boss?  Where’s Henderson?  His brother Mongrel?”

            Cadwallander shrugged.  “I called him two hours ago and got his personal assistant.  She simply said the both of them were unavailable.”

            “Damn!  What’s the point of me giving these people carte blanche to run around doing what they want when I can’t find them when they’re needed?”

            “Madame President, I’ve got my people putting together a file on Odin right now, but it’s pretty obvious to me and to all of us that we’ve got to move and move damn fast,” Milo Dane said quietly.  “We’ve got three days before Odin turns that thing loose against us again.”  Milo looked at Cadwallander.  “You wanna help me out here?”

           Cadwallander gave the other man a disdainful glare and turned his attention to the President.  “The only advice I can give you is this; we have to find Odin and we have to find him fast.  And for that, I suggest you talk to the one man who isn’t here.  Talk to John Velvet.  He knows people that he can put on this to find Odin.  But whoever he puts on that job had better be damn good and damn fast because when Odin turns that Voice loose again there's no telling what will happen."






Friday, April 22, 2011

Hancock Tips His Hat To DILLON!

Tommy Hancock, Honored Member of The Spectacled Seven and the architect of ALL PULP was good enough to write a review of "Dillon And The Judas Chalice" which you can find by going here.  In the next couple of days I'll be posting a "And Now, Behind The Scenes" about this story. You'll be able to read it for yourself soon in FOUR BULLETS FOR DILLON  but in the meantime you'll need some info about it, won't you? So make sure you come on back here for that.  And after you read the review, why not poke around and read some of the other articles, interviews and reviews featured at ALL PULP?  It's the place to be if you want to keep up on the latest in what's happening with all your favorite writers and artists involved in the world of Pulp.  To paraphrase Brad Pitt in "Inglourious Basterds"...

"We is in the story-telling business.  And cousin, business is a-boomin'."

Monday, April 18, 2011

CHAPTER EIGHT


The trio of B.I.T.E. armored assault vehicles crashed through the fortified gates of Numby Castle like steel avalanches on wheels. Fat sparks shot from severed electronic connections like miniature runaway comets.  The guards at the gatehouse did their best to stop the intruders, but it was no use.  Their weapons were too small a caliber to even be an annoyance to the massive behemoths with their thick armor plating.  Three black helicopters swooped in from the north and the west, and their huge spotlights lit up the grounds at an intensity close enough to high noon as to make no difference.  Men and women alike galloped in all directions.  Some technicians, some castle-staff.  Here and there, some of Numby’s security staff had taken the hint that there obviously were no further paychecks here and it was time to go.

            The lead assault vehicle rumbled to a stop some five hundred feet from the immense double doors leading into the castle, and an amplified voice boomed from the speakers on top of the vehicle.

            “This is Colonel Thompson of the British Intelligence Tactical Elite!  In the name of Her Majesty The Queen, I am empowered to use any and all means at my disposal to secure this castle and arrest all within!  You have thirty seconds to surrender!”

            An enthusiastic storm of machine gun fire from the castle was his answer.  Numby still had some loyal men who were willing to keep earning their pay.  Thompson’s reply was equally quick and to the point.

            A pair of rockets zoomed from the assault vehicle’s main cannons and blew apart the double doors, sending thick pieces of flaming wood and metal yowling in all directions.  Ribbons of flames engulfed the front of the castle and broken, charred bodies  flung to and fro.  The lead assault vehicle rumbled inside the castle, right into the main entrance hall, rolling over blackened, smoking rubble.  The side door slid open and B.I.T.E. commandos poured out, silent and deadly, loaded with weaponry.  Machine guns chattered as they covered the first team, which drew a defensive perimeter around the assault vehicle and began securing the area.

            Some fifty of Numby’s men were putting up a fight, crouched in doorways leading to other parts of the castle, covering the rest of their force, retreating up the giant, curving marble staircase slick with blood.  Thompson leaped out of the vehicle, closely followed by Gregory Tipp, who looked much different now.  Garbed in a skintight black jumpsuit made of a Kevlar IV/Ferosium micro-mesh weave, he looked nothing like the deskbound paper pusher he normally appeared to be.  He aimed his grenade launcher and fired at the staircase.  The explosion was not enough to destroy the marble, but it was enough to clear a sizeable path, sending ruined, bloody bodies somersaulting through the air, their screams echoing in the vast hall.

            “We’ve got to get further inside the castle and find Dillon, if he’s still alive!”  Tipp shouted.  Thompson stopped firing long enough to toss a fierce grin over his shoulder.

            “I’d bet my pension that he’s somewhere raising a considerable amount of hell himself.  Give me and the lads here half a mo’ to teach these buggers who’s in charge here and we’ll go look for him together.”


***


            When the first explosions rocked the castle, Dillon skidded to a stop and Kris almost fell on her face in surprise at how quickly he’d halted.  The floor under their feet  vibrated as if suddenly turned to rubber.  “My God, what now?”  Kris moaned.

            “It’s B.I.T.E.”  Dillon was grinning with respectful admiration.  “I gotta give Tipp his props…when he’s on your ass; you truly have somebody on your ass.”  Dillon turned to Kris.  “Looks like this is where you get off, sweetheart.  Stay here and wait for Tipp.  He’ll take care of you from here on out.”

            “Wait!  Where are you going?”

            “After Chew Mi.  I owe her for throwing me in that glorified fish tank, and I’ve got to get that ring back.”

            “Oh, let her have the damned ring!  What good can it do anybody now?  Everybody’s dead!”

            “She’s not dead and neither am I.  And Odin’s still out there somewhere.  I owe him a big beat down as well for siccing his dogs on me, and the one way to get to him is to get that ring.”  Dillon cupped her chin in a gloved hand and kissed her swiftly.  “Stay here and wait for Tipp.  You’ll be okay.”  Dillon ran down the hall about five feet then stopped and turned.  He flashed her that Cheshire Cat grin she’d come to know well.

“You were a pain in the ass at times, but you’re okay, Kris Quinlan.”  He ran down a corner and was gone.


***


            Dillon kicked open the door to the rooftop hangar, a pair of Browning automatics in his gloved fists.  He figured that if Chew Mi were going to try to get away, flying out would be the best way, so he’d headed straight up here.  He didn’t like the thought of shooting a girl as young as she was, but he also had a deep aversion to being killed himself.  The rooftop hangar was an enclosed area with a roof that could be folded back to permit takeoffs and landings by the various aircraft kept at the castle.  A couple of helicopters, an autogiro, a couple of one and two-man jumpsticks.  Dillon moved soundlessly through the hangar, his eyes darkened to smoldering, molten gold, his face a neutral mask of calm detachment.

            He heard the hum of a firing system being activated three seconds before bullets started tearing into the wall next to him.  Dillon ran, firing both his weapons, slugs humming and screaming around him as he dived, rolled, and came to rest next to a yellow and red forklift.

            “Dillon.  Oh, Dil-lon . . . come out and play-ay…”

            “I really don’t want to have to kill you, Chew Mi, so don’t make me.  Throw down your weapon, come out, and I’ll let you off with an ass-whooping, okay?”

            Dillon peered over the forklift and saw Chew Mi floating slowly toward his position, riding an Olishanky air cycle.  It floated on a field of magnetic-repellent energy that made the underside of the vehicle glow neon blue.  She sat astride it as if it were a proud warhorse.  Gleaming silver and red, normally it served as a pleasure device of the idle rich.  An airborne jet-ski that had been converted by Chew Mi into a flying weapon.  A 30mm electric cannon was mounted on the front and it still smoked from her initial salvo.

            Chew Mi’s painfully young face contorted in a snarl of psychotic rage.  “Let’s see who’ll give who the ass-whooping!”

            “Ain’t nothing between us but air and opportunity!”  Dillon leapt to his feet.  He ran backwards almost as fast as he ran forward, firing both his guns.  Bullets spanged off the armored windshield and sides of the air cycle with painful whines, but to no effect.  Chew Mi laughed.  “You think you’re so fucking smart don’t you?  I’ll show you!”

            Dillon stopped his backwards run and back-flipped straight up about six feet onto a stack of metal storage containers.  He dropped his empty guns and reached under his jacket for his .44 Desert Eagle Magnum.  Chew Mi cut loose with the 30mm cannon, cutting the container he stood on into metal shavings that collapsed under the withering fire.  Dillon disappeared as he tumbled backwards. The containers toppled and crashed the screeching sounds of metal banging against metal harsh and loud.  A cloud of yellowish dust obscured her vision.

            “Hah!  Not so tough now, are you?”  Chew Mi twisted the throttle, gently nudging the air cycle forward… but not too much… she’d underestimated this man once before and she’d not do that again.

            A .44 Magnum slug cut through her hat, ripping it from her head, barely missing her skull.  A cluster of hair strands fell in her face and she blew them away as she turned the Olishanky to the right.  The 30mm cannon yelped as it cut loose with its lethal spray, a veritable high-pressure hose of lead.

            Dillon jinked like an NFL pro running back, zigzagging like mad, snapping off shots as he dashed to the far end of the hangar, belly flopping to slide under a light Reese/Hartin autogiro as Chew Mi pounded bullets into the aircraft’s gas tank.  Dillon gained the other side, scrambled to his feet, and continued running as the bullets ignited the fuel.  The aircraft seemed to open up like a metal flower to reveal an orange-red explosion within that picked him up and threw him another fifteen feet in the air.  Dillon twisted in mid-air, using the thrust of the explosion to propel him higher.  It gave him enough room to tumble, twist and land on his feet.  He brought his weapon up and snapped off three more shots at the air cycle that was rushing right towards him through the flames rapidly spreading through the hangar.

            The bullets shattered the windshield but didn’t hit the grinning Chew Mi, whose hair whipped wildly around her head and shoulders as she gunned the air cycle full throttle.  Dillon leapt upwards and landed on the front grille of the speeding air cycle, but it continued on, smashing through one of the huge windows at the end of the hangar and flying into the night sky over Numby Castle.

            Chew Mi was headed right towards one of the B.I.T.E. helicopters.  She twisted the controls, skewing to the right, barely missing the rear rotors.  Dillon slid off the front of the air cycle and he grabbed onto the electric cannon for dear life, looking down at Numby Castle, which all of a sudden seemed very small beneath him.

            Chew Mi raised a small fist.  The golden ring with the sparkling opal glittered on her index finger and she brought her fist whistling down into Dillon’s face.  His lower lip split and fresh blood filled his mouth as volcanic rage filled his soul.  He whipped his right leg up and around and his booted heel cracked Chew Mi a good one upside her head, snapping it back.

            Chew Mi twisted the directional thrust and the air cycle began to spin, once, twice, three times, with Dillon desperately holding onto the cannon as his body was pulled straight out by the centrifugal force.  Using the momentum, he flipped himself into the seat in back of Chew Mi.

            Chew Mi twisted around, the side of her head purpling from Dillon’s kick, and snapped at his face like a rabid Doberman.  Dillon head-butted her and reached to grab the controls, turning the air cycle back to the castle.

            Chew Mi’s hands went for his throat and she started strangling him with real enthusiasm as the air cycle went careering straight back at Castle Numby.  Chew Mi laughed, a schoolgirl’s giggle that sounded incredibly macabre.

“I’m bad!  I’m bad!  You know it!”

            The air cycle smashed through one of Numby Castle’s priceless 16th Century stained glass windows, hit the floor, skidding some twenty feet with Dillon and Chew Mi still relentlessly fighting each other, then hit a marble pillar, throwing them off in opposite directions.

            Dillon shakily pushed himself to his hands and knees, shaking multicolored glass from his back.  His entire body was aching from all the fighting he’d done this night.  He had extraordinary reserves of strength and endurance, but even he had his limits, and the strain of the last twenty-four hours was beginning to tell on him.  He could feel the black cloak of unconsciousness being pulled over him and he fought to get to his feet.  The ring could not fall into Odin’s hands.  No matter what.  He rose and looked for Chew Mi.

            The air cycle lay smoking and hissing where it had crashed into the pillar, but there was no sign of Chew Mi.  Maybe she had decided to make a run for it while he was pulling himself together?

            “Where’s my ass-whoopin’?”

            Dillon whirled but he was too slow.  Chew Mi caught him with a solid roundhouse kick.  An explosion of pain went off on the left side of his head.

            “Big bad-ass Dillon gonna give the little girl an ass-whoopin’, right?”  Chew Mi delivered another devastating roundhouse kick to the other side of his head that made him stagger backwards, completely disoriented.

            “So long, farewell, auf wiedersein, and goodnight!”  Chew Mi gave him a blistering uppercut that lifted him off his feet about a foot.  He crashed to the floor on his back, completely laid out cold.

            Chew Mi gazed down at him for a disdainful moment, contemplating ending his life.  Then she looked at the golden ring on her fist and a smile curled her lips.  No.  She had a better idea.  Dillon’s life would end and she would do it.  But later.  There was work to be done.  Odin’s work.  And who better than he to have the services of the one person who had been able to beat Dillon when others such as Frederick Whalen and Alistair Frayne had failed?

            And since they were dead, there was only Dillon left to be tortured for ending the life of her beloved lover and father, Aristotle Numby.

            Chew Mi turned, her cloak swirling about her like a great dark wing, and she left Dillon where he lay.


***


            The castle had taken nearly fifty minutes to secure, and Thompson received word to join Tipp upstairs in one of the upper chambers.  Thompson personally made sure that Lady Thelma Sharpe and Frederick Whalen were firmly in custody.  Incredibly, considering the amount of punishment he had taken, The Whale was still alive.  In fact, he had put up enough of a fight that he had to be shot with a tranquilizer.  They were being taken to a special compound known as ‘The Cloisters’ where they would be questioned. 

            Even though Lady Thelma’s role in this affair was pretty clear, she was still a powerful woman with many influential friends, a significant number of which had political clout.  She would have to be handled carefully.

Thompson found Tipp in a smoke filled room where he was looking down at an unconscious Dillon, being examined by a pair of paramedics.  Tipp quietly smoked a cigarette.

            “You’ve got him at last, Greg.”

            Tipp nodded.  “I’ve been talking to some of the prisoners.  Seems as if you were right.  Before we got here, Dillon had broken free of some kind of holding cell and was working out some frustrations on Numby and his staff.  Hell, if we’d waited another hour, the lot might have been pleading for us to rescue them from him.”

            Thompson nodded.  “We’ve got the Quinlan girl downstairs in one of the choppers, but she’s half out of it.  Can’t tell a coherent story.  Goddamn, Greg, what is going on here?”

“I don’t know.  But we need answers, and we need them fast.”

            Thompson eyed his friend warily.  “So what do you want to do?”

            Tipp seemed to set his shoulders, as if taking on a great weight before answering.  “I’m going to send Dillon and the Quinlan girl to Project: 65.”

            “That’s a little extreme, don’t you think, Greg?  Dillon may not be a friend, but he’s not an enemy either.”

            Tipp’s voice was cold as he answered.  “I need answers from Dillon, and I’m prepared to use any means necessary to get them out of him.  And yes, Al, I’ll even use Project: 65.  You see to his transport there, and then forget him.  I’ll cover your ass; never fear on that score.”

            “I’m not concerned about that, Greg.  I’m concerned about the damage you might do to a potential ally.”

            “Potential ally or not, I’ll do as I see fit.  Because as of right now, Dillon belongs to Her Majesty’s Secret Service.”


Thursday, April 14, 2011

And Now, Behind The Scenes: "Dead Beat In La Esca"

DEAD BEAT IN LA ESCA is a different kind of Dillon story for a couple of major reasons.  It’s the first Dillon story penned by another writer and it’s the first story where Dillon meets another fictional hero, the rock guitarist/mercenary Sly Gantlet created by Joel Jenkins and for more information on The Gantlet Brothers all you need to do is get to clickin'.

Joel and I go back a long ways.  Back to when he ran a website called Electronic Tales which presented modern day pulp stories.  Joel was good enough to give a home to my earliest stories about Regency, an urban vigilante and we recognized in each other a really strong connection in terms of our writing style and choice of material.

I have written stories about Joel’s characters: so far there are two stories where Regency teams up with Joel’s Max Damage and his companions who collectively are known as Damage, Inc.  The stories aren’t finished yet but I plan to correct that next year.  More on that later.

I had long been talking about teaming up Dillon with The Gantlet Brothers since it seemed plausible that they would have run into each other given that they’re in the same business, more or less.  Don’t ask me how or why Joel and I latched onto the idea of Dillon and Sly Gantlet being best frenemies, but this is the story that starts that rivalry.

My contribution to the story is minimal.  It’s Joel’s all the way and he does it with gusto that makes me laugh every time I read it.  Dillon and Sly Gantlet are in the tradition of great partnerships such as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.  Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder.  Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.  Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance.  With the added flavor that between the two of them they’ve got the skills, the weaponry to wipe out an army.

But the question I always get asked is how did Joel and I start trading characters back and forth and how far will it go?  I really dunno exactly.  It’s not like we sat down and drew up a contract and stamped it.  Despite living at opposite ends of the country and having only talked via email, phone and Skype, Joel and I have trusted each other implicitly with each other’s characters.  We’ve spent considerable time planning adventures together for his characters and mine.  We just have to put time aside when we’re not crafting our individual stories to do so.

In any case, you’ll get a chance to see how well Joel writes Dillon when FOUR BULLETS FOR DILLON drops as DEAD BEAT IN LA ESCA is the second story in that volume.  I’ve already got the second Dillon/Sly Gantlet story; “Dead Beat In Khusra” plotted out and currently my plans are to have that story done in 2012. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

CHAPTER SEVEN


Dillon hefted a Heckler & Koch 9mm UMP submachine gun and motioned to Ben.  “You’d best get a head start while I go to work.  Just one thing before you go…”

            The technician, looking highly uncomfortable indeed, paused in his headlong flight out the door.  “Yes?”

            “Thank you.”  Dillon extended his hand.  Ben looked at it in surprise for a few seconds, and then shook it.  Ben’s face was one of obvious relief.  Probably had second thoughts about turning loose a crazy man with a bag fulla guns in his boss’s home.  And if he doesn’t, he should, Dillon thought.

            “The main security room is four doors down. I dunno how you’re going to get in there, though.  My keycard won’t open it.”

            “I’ll use my own key.”  Dillon jerked his head toward the door. “Scram.  I’ll give you one minute to get off the floor.”  Ben nodded and left.  Dillon checked his holstered automatics once again.  Several grenades were clipped to his belt as well as a flare gun and several different types of flares stowed away in his jacket pockets, along with spare ammo clips.  He hefted the H&K, yanked the door open and stepped boldly into the corridor.  Four cyborg guards had exited the elevator and the doors were closing.  Dillon got a glimpse of Ben’s face just before the two halves of the door kissed.

            Dillon cut loose with a withering stream of bullets that caught the cyborgs in their legs.  Blood and lubricating fluids spurted from veins and tubes.  Bone and plastic splinters flew.  The cyborgs collapsed in a collective heap and dragged themselves along the floor at a frightening rate of speed toward Dillon, fat yellow sparks leaping from their shattered legs.  Dillon smoothly drew his flare gun and fired on the floor in front of them.

            The cyborgs yowled and cursed as the bright, pure white flare flooded the corridor with intense light.  Dillon whirled, keeping his eyes tightly shut.  He could hear more shouts of pain, rage and dismay all around him as other guards, alerted by the shots, burst from rooms on either side, only to be blinded by the flare.

            The flare abruptly went out.  Dillon made his flares himself, and they only burned for one minute.  His enemies would be blinded for a long time, but he was able to go on and do what needed to be done.

            Dillon ran to the door leading to the main security room, jammed a grenade in the handle and yanked the pin.  With a Whoomp! the door was blown off its hinges and Dillon quickly followed, taking advantage of the smoke and noise to spray the room with quick, lethal bursts of deadly bullets.

            Men screamed and tried to fire back, but they barely got their guns clear of their holsters.  In all the time they’d been working here, they’d never run up against opposition such as this.  Dillon turned and fired back through the door, taking the guard who had been sneaking up on him full in the chest, throwing him back clear across the hallway to smash against the far wall.  The guard slid to the floor, leaving a wide, sticky red smear.

            Dillon heaved a grenade out into the hall and then ducked as if went off.  He was rewarded with screams of dismay and pain.  He quickly popped outside and sprayed the hallway with bullets, first left and then right.  He ducked back inside, ejected the empty clip, slapped in a fresh one, and again sprayed the hall.

            He heard desperate, frantic orders to pull back.  Good.  They’d take a minute or so to regroup and figure out how best to hit him again.  But that was okay… he already had an idea of how to get out of here.  But first, he had to find out where Kris was.

            The security setup wasn’t far removed from similar systems Dillon was familiar with, and it wasn’t long before he was cycling through the series of security cameras in various rooms and sections of the castle.


***


            “What in bloody hell is going on?”  Frayne demanded.  He jammed his gun in Chew Mi’s side.  “What’s happening?”

            “How should I know?”

            Indeed, there were alarms and sirens going off, and flashing emergency lights had popped up from the floor, indicating the quickest route the staff should take to clear out.  Armed guards were shoving past quickly exiting technicians.   Spying Chew Mi, they headed towards her.

            Chew Mi roughly knocked Frayne’s hand off her arm and smiled dangerously.  “Guess who just bought themselves a weekend being tortured by yours truly.”

            “Don’t be such a nit.  If what I think happened has happened, you’re going to need every gunman you can find.”

            “And what do you think has happened, you smirky bastard?”

            “Dillon’s loose.”

            Chew Mi snatched Frayne’s gun from his hand and cracked him across the face while her men surrounded Frayne’s mercenaries.  “You must think I’m stupid!  I put Dillon somewhere that nobody could get out of!  I don’t care how good he’s supposed to be; he couldn’t get out of the Fishbowl!”

            Frayne spat out a thick gob of blood. “Ask your men what’s happened, then.”

            Chew Mi snapped at the first man in line.  “Report!”

            “It’s the prisoner you threw into the Fishbowl.  Somehow he got out, got hold of his weapons and he’s gone berserk.  He’s killed everyone up on the security floor!”

            “How did he get up there?”

            “I have no idea.  He must have destroyed everything in the main security room, because the communication systems and the backups have all gone dead.”

            Chew Mi raised her fists to the ceiling and screamed in pure hatred.  “Get up there and kill him!  Regain control of the floor.  And I don’t care how many of you die doing it!”

            “Bad move,” Frayne said.

            “I suppose you have a better idea?”

            Frayne sighed.  “Don’t you understand yet who you’re dealing with?  He gets to your security room, raises a considerable amount of holy hell and while you and your men rush up there wasting time, he’s long gone.  He’s only one man against an army.  He can’t afford to stay in one spot for too long or you’ll overrun him with sheer numbers… and he knows it.”

            “So what are you saying?  He’s gone already?”  Chew Mi demanded.  Her eyes were still furious, but she was listening.

            “Sure he’s gone.  And I know exactly where he went: to rescue the girl.  He’ll want to get her before he escapes.”

            “And why would he do that?”

            “Because he fancies himself the friggin’ hero of this show, that’s why.  And he won’t leave the Quinlan girl in the hands of the dastardly villains.  He’ll go right to her.  But what he doesn’t know is that the Whale is there as well, and if you don’t wanna miss a good fight, I suggest we hurry up and get moving.”


***


            But Dillon did know that Frederick Whalen was in the room.  He’d seen the huge bodyguard on the security camera, and that was why he went in machine gun first when he burst through the door of Numby’s office.  He rolled, bounded to his feet lightly, and spun about, searching for Whalen.  Where the hell does a bastard that big hide? Dillon wondered as he became increasingly more and more aware that Whalen was not in the room.

            Dillon stood up straight, frowning.  He looked over at the couch and saw Kris and Lady Thelma lying on it, both out cold.  The body of Dr. Numby looked somehow small and pitiful lying near a beautiful handmade Pakistani rug.  Dillon didn’t like it. Whalen wouldn’t have gone anywhere without Lady Thelma, which meant he had to be somewhere near . . . but where?  Dillon hadn’t exactly snuck into the room, and even the stone deaf could have heard all the noise he had made busting into the place.  Maybe he went to investigate the alarms and sirens that were still going off all over the castle?

            And maybe you just oughta stop playing 20 Questions with yourself, get the girl and get the hell out before he shows up along with Frayne and Chew Mi! the common-sense part of his brain yelled at him.  Dillon hurried toward the couch…

            And the Pakistani rug jumped up and attacked him… seizing him in a bear hug.

            For one of the few times in his life, Dillon had been caught totally by surprise.  The rug had somehow grown arms that had wrapped completely around him and were squeezing him with frightening strength.  Dillon blindly whipped his head forward and heard something that sounded suspiciously like bone crunch.  The arms relaxed slightly and Dillon brought his legs up into the rug’s chest and shoved with all the power in his considerable leg muscles.  The rug went flying one way and he went flying in the opposite direction to somersault to a panther-like landing on his feet.

            The Whale threw the rug aside and Dillon saw how the trick had been worked.  Using his prodigious strength, the Whale had actually ripped up a section of the parquet wood flooring with his bare hands, wedged his body into the space underneath, and arranged the rug over the hole.

            The Whale charged Dillon.  He fired off the last few bullets left in the clip and watched in amazement as the bullets hit Whalen in the chest with no effect whatsoever.

            Dillon ducked under Whalen’s swing and was nearly knocked off balance by the wind.  Dillon seized Whalen’s ankle and whipped the limb up into the air.  Whalen executed a complete somersault and crashed onto his back with an impact that knocked paintings off the walls and knick-knacks off the fireplace mantle.

            Whalen moved quicker than any man that size had a right to move and twisted like a giant alley cat, getting to his feet as if he were yanked upright by a bungee cord.  Dillon ejected the spent clip and wasted precious seconds fumbling for a fresh one while Whalen seized the advantage and charged.

            Dillon twirled out of the way with the grace of a bullfighter and cracked Whalen a good sharp blow upside the head with the butt of the Heckler & Koch.  Whalen shrugged it off as his elbow lashed into Dillon’s side, throwing him onto Dr. Numby’s desk.  Before Dillon could react, Whalen had grabbed the desk, which had to weigh at least five hundred pounds, and flipped it.  Dillon tumbled through the air like a badly tossed Frisbee to strike the wall where Dr. Numby’s collection of swords hung.  The impact of Dillon’s body hitting the wall knocked the swords off their hooks and they clattered around Dillon, who rolled out of the way of the larger blades.

            Whalen jumped over the desk, his eyes gleaming with delight. Glad you’re enjoying this little workout, Dillon thought as he snatched up a sword and hurled it right at Whalen’s throat.  See how you enjoy having this!

            Whalen caught the sword almost lazily, as if he plucked swords out of the air every day.  Whalen grinned at Dillon, broke the sword in half in his bare hands, and tossed the two halves over his shoulders.  Then he charged again.  Dillon slid between his legs like Jackie Robinson sliding for home and when Whalen turned around, Dillon let him have it with everything he had in a punch right over the Whale’s heart.

            The Whale’s entire body jerked as if he had stuck his finger in a light socket.  A horrid, blubbery gasp escaped him.  His eyes bulged and he tried to draw in a breath.  Dillon reached under his jacket, got one of his automatics clear before Whalen slapped it out of his hand, but the big man followed it up with a straight punch that made Dillon see red as he flew the length of the room and collided into the far wall hard enough to leave a man-shaped impression.  He hit the floor, all the air knocked out of him.

            Whalen wasn’t doing much better, but then again, after the punch Dillon gave him, he shouldn’t have even been alive.  A punch like that would’ve stopped the heart of a normal man, but as Frederick Whalen was proving, he was nowhere near normal.

            The door swung open and armed men piled into the room, taking up positions where they had clean lines of fire.  Dillon used the wall as a brace while he pushed himself up to his feet.  Whalen was bent over, hands on his knees, drawing in deep breaths as his color returned to normal.

            Frayne shook his head.  “What a shame.  I’d have paid good money to see that one.”


***


            Colonel Alvin Thompson looked up from his desk as Gregory Tipp entered Thompson’s private command car located at the rear of the twelve-car B.I.T.E train.  Tipp’s face was bright with excitement.  He eagerly shucked off his topcoat, threw it carelessly onto a high-backed chair, and walked over to Thompson’s desk.

            “You took your sweet time about getting here,” Thompson complained mildly, gesturing at a silver, eighteen-cup capacity coffee urn burbling happily in a corner.  “Coffee?”

            “I’d rather have a belt of something stronger, but I know you don’t allow that sort of thing before a mission.”

            “Absolutely not,” Thompson confirmed.  “And all my lads know better.  I don’t care if they drink a barrelful of booze once the job’s done, but nobody on my team goes on a mission if they’ve had so much as a mouthful of Listerine.  I’m sorry, Greg.  Technically you’re my boss, but those are my rules and—”

Tipp waved away Thompson’s regretful words.  “This is your court, Alvin, and I’ll play by your rules.  I’m not here as your boss.  I’m here as a colleague to help smooth out the rough spots.  Coffee will be fine, just throw an extra couple spoonfuls of sugar in it and that’ll be enough of a jolt to keep me up.  Now what’s the play?”

Thompson gestured at the mapboard he had been examining.  “I just received confirmation from one of my scout teams that Dillon was taken hostage by private guards in the employ of Dr. Aristotle Numby.  I understand that he’s been under surveillance for some time now, but he’s got a lot of powerful friends in influential places and we haven’t been able to get the authorization to go into his castle for Dillon.”

Tipp nodded and looked at the schematics of the castle.  “I know Numby.  Met him at a variety of government functions.  He’s reputedly a brilliant man, but he’s also been known to bend the rules a bit in his work in genetics and biomechanics.  Numby’s been one the major players lobbying for a relaxation of the laws regarding cybernetic augmentation in the United Kingdom.”

“Well, he’s got Dillon, that’s a fact.  My men questioned several barflies in Numby Dell and they swear that Dillon and the Quinlan girl were taken by ‘Dr. Numby’s windup warriors’.”

Tipp looked up sharply.  “That a quote from your lads or the barflies?”

“The barflies.”

“And you interpret that to mean—?”

Thompson shrugged, walked over to the urn, and began pouring coffee for Tipp into a huge black mug with B.I.T.E. in red letters emblazoned on the side, the letters forming huge fangs in a gaping snake’s mouth.  “Numby’s got cyborgs up there that he uses for his personal use is the only thing I can figure.”

Tipp looked back down at the schematic.  “Big place.  What did you have in mind?”

“First off, do you have the authorization to give me the go ahead to take the castle?”

Tipp took the steaming mug of coffee and blew on the liquid twice before taking a cautious sip.  He looked at his friend with steady eyes.  “Don’t worry about it.  I’m giving you the word to take the castle any way you deem necessary.”

Thompson frowned.  “Dammit, Greg, don’t go putting your arse in the grinder if you don’t have to!  If we bust in there and kill some people and don’t find Dillon or any evidence of illegal cybernetics—”

“Then I guess you’ll just have to bloody well make sure that you do, hmm?”


***


            “I’m going to end all of this right here and now,” Chew Mi promised grimly.  An even dozen of her men had their guns pointed squarely at Frayne and his men.  Frayne was unarmed, but his men still had their guns and looked perfectly ready to use them with or without a word from Frayne.

            Dillon and the Whale had been shoved into the middle of the two groups.  Now that he was closer to the larger man and could see through the bullet holes in his shirt, Dillon saw how the Whale had survived being shot: the giant was wearing some kind of flexible body armor.  That, along with his considerable musculature had been enough to spare him.  Dillon made a note to use armor piercing shells next time he had Whalen in his gun sight.  If there was going to be a next time, because from the antsy way Chew Mi’s and Frayne’s respective crews were acting they were just about to reenact the last fifteen minutes of The Wild Bunch.

            “Good idea, twinkle.”  Frayne confirmed and snapped his fingers.  A gun was tossed to him by one of his men and he ran lightly over to where Kris lay on the couch.  “First things first: I want that damned pain in the ass ring, Dillon, and I want it right now.  No tricks or I give your girlfriend here a 9mm hair dye using her brains.”

            “Okay, okay!”  Dillon reached into a pocket and pulled out the golden ring, the opal sparkling wetly in the bright overhead lighting.  “Listen, let’s just all take it easy here before—”

            Whalen rabbit punched Dillon with enough force to knock him to the floor.  The ring flew up into the air, turning over and over, and for a few crucial seconds, everybody’s eyes were on it.

            Chew Mi was the first to snatch her eyes back on the one thing in the room that really mattered to her: Frederick Whalen, the man who had slain her beloved Dr. Numby.  Chew Mi lifted her AK-47 and screamed as she squeezed the trigger.  A dozen bullets took Whalen high up on the chest and blood spurted in a fine mist as Whalen’s body jiggered and jumped.  The impact of the bullets kicked him backwards into two of Frayne’s men.  AK-47 must have been loaded with Teflon bullets, Dillon thought as he watched Whalen’s massive body crash to the floor.

            The rest of Frayne’s crew opened fired enthusiastically on Chew Mi’s men, who were just as generous in their return fire.  Dillon stayed on the floor, covered his head, and hoped they’d use up all their bullets in their sudden, bloodthirsty zeal to wipe each other out before remembering he was between them.

            Frayne caught half a clip in his stomach and chest and fell right next to Dillon, his eyes astonished, as if he could hardly believe that he was dying.  Dillon looked over at Whalen, who was sitting with his hands in his lap like a giant child, his eyes glazed and unfocused, his shirt and jacket soaked with his own blood.

            Frayne’s crew and Chew Mi’s men were all dead, having shot each other into hamburger.  The room was filled with smoke and the thick smell of cordite.  Chew Mi dropped her AK-47, grabbed up the golden ring and ran from the room, cackling.  “Now I have Odin’s ring and it is I who will determine where it goes!”

            “Swell.”  Dillon got to his feet and stepped over Frayne, his intention to check on Kris.

            Frayne’s hand seized Dillon’s ankle.  Dillon looked down at his dying enemy, who was trying to say something, but only managed a gargling rasp as thick, dark blood bubbled past his lips.

            “What the hell do you want, Frayne?  Die with a little dignity, willya?”

            “Too bad… it had to end up . . . like this…”

            “Not from where I’m standing.”  Dillon kicked his foot free and went over to Kris.  He yanked her to a sitting position, unsnapped one of the pouches on his belt, and pulled out a small white capsule that he cracked in half under her nose.  She came back to consciousness in seconds and was appalled to find herself sitting in a room that had been turned into a slaughterhouse.

            “What… Dillon, what in …?”

            Dillon pulled her roughly to her feet.  “I’ll explain on the run.  Right now we’ve got to catch up to Chew Mi!”

            “But why?”

            “Why else?  The damn ring’s changed hands again!”