Once we’d returned from our little incident at the tower block, we were all shaken up. I couldn’t be sure, but I felt like I’d at least a fracture or two.
While Sandra was busy attending to her own injuries, she threw me a healing contraption without saying a word. I could tell she was in a sour mood.
I’d pretended that what I’d done to the guy was nothing but an accident, a little miss step you could say, but of course that didn’t fly. This woman was smarter than me, and we both knew it.
As she reiterated our duties and what we were and weren’t supposed to do, I felt myself drifting off while my body was healing and restructuring my broken bones.
When I woke up the next morning, trouble was already brewing. Theodor was more than a little pissed about being knocked out while Sandra was on a tirade about what he’d done.
I half-listened as she reiterated the same speech she’d given me last night. This time, however, she was much colder about it.
“It’s our duty to take care of incidents and to keep the public save, we aren’t vigilantes out for justice.”
Eventually, though, she broke up in frustration. She admitted those guys had been scum and she could write them off as collateral damage during the fight.
Still though, she reminded Theodor, one more act like this, and there would be more dire repercussions than just a bit of pain.
“And what might those be?” Theodor dared to ask.
“Well, I’m going to inform headquarters that your assistance won’t be needed her anymore. You can imagine what that means, can you? Ah, maybe you don’t, but you do, right Dylan?” she asked looking at me.
I gave her a sour look and nodded.
“Any new reports on those puppets? Any hits from your surveillance network?”
“Shit, you know what, Sandra? Something’s up, I’m dame sure of it. Or do you think we took down the creature responsible for it?”
“I can’t be sure, of course, but I doubt it. Whatever’s been controlling them is much more powerful than anything we’ve handled so far.”
“So you’re telling me there’s even worse stuff out there? Worse than that thing under the mall? Worse than that B-class yesterday?”
“Yes, and it might be the same thing that reached out to you during your coma.”
“Wasn’t that a manipulator? I thought it could only reach out to me because of that orb?”
“Yes, but that was a direct connection, so to speak, something delicate. A powerful enough manipulator, however, can freely influence other realities via the use of proxy organisms, at least to an extent.”
“Like that cat thing we fought?”
She nodded again.
“So you’re telling me all those puppets are remote controlled from… fuck, I don’t know somewhere else?”
“Then why aren’t they giving off any signal? If they are like that cat thing, shouldn’t they have one of their own?”
“Not necessarily. That cat thing was a true extension of this manipulator. It reached through, so to speak. Those puppets might be just that, puppets, created with a single purpose and thus not giving of any actual signal.”
“Isn’t that fucking great, so we’re pretty much blind,” I cursed.
“Yo, what’s up with those damn computers here? Why can’t I get on the freaking internet?”
Theodor called out from the back of the living room where he sat in front of Sandra’s computers.
She jerked around instantly.
“Those are for handling the surveillance drones and analyzing signatures! Don’t tinker with them!”
Theodor lifted his hands to show her he wasn’t doing a thing.
“Fuck, all right, just wanted to find some freaking porn.”
Sandra sighed audibly.
“Why don’t you try to read some of that Nietzsche stuff you’ve been talking about?” she asked.
“Sure, if we owned the books, but you know,” he joked, measuring up Sandra with a little smirk, “I think I’m good.”
When Sandra realized what he was implying, a new tirade of curses followed.
I watched their interaction for a while and frowned. It felt like I was nineteen years old again and back at the dorms. Jesus, we had god knows what trouble coming up and this place here turned to, well… that.
When I had enough of listening to their argument, I sat down in front of the computer and went through the data of our recent incidents.
I checked out signature locations, lined them up and checked out which areas hadn’t been affected so far.
“Dylan, what are you doing?” Sandra asked, stepping up to me.
Theodor had already vanished back into his little room.
“I checked our recent data and the areas where we’ve found those puppets. If we compare all of them to those, what did you call it, distortions? We get an area that hasn’t been hit so far. See? It’s a cluster like the others, but nothing has happened there so far.”
Sandra inched closer and scanned the map.
“Ah, yes, a commercial area. Nothing there but old offices, a few stores and parking lots. It’s an ideal area. I’ve got some drones in the area already, but you’re right, we might have to make some adjustments.”
With that she gently pushed me aside and went to work, rerouting drones and doing a few other things too sophisticated for me to understand.
“It might be risky to give a single location that much focus, but-“
She was cut off when her phone vibrated. She stared at it for a moment before she sighed.
“We’ve got a new signature. It’s small, but given yesterday’s incident, we should be careful. We better prepare ourselves, Dylan.”
I nodded and went on my way to the storage room.
While I was busy stocking up, I heard Sandra opening Theodor’s door to tell him we’d work to do. A moment later, she stormed back into the living room, cursing.
“Your fault for barging in like that, I was just getting to the good part,” I heard him joke after her.
Once more I sighed and had to fight the urge to throw a grenade into his room. By now, his antics were annoying, even to me.
We arrived at the signature’s location about half an hour later. It was a sparsely populated, exclusive neighborhood at the edge of the city. The area rich folks moved to when they retired.
As I walked past these well-kept houses, I couldn’t help but reevaluate my life choices.
“So, what you got, Sandra?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary. Seems to be D-class, maybe lower C. Still, let’s be careful, we didn’t expect to find a B-class yesterday.”
“Don’t you worry, as long as there’re no distractions, I’m going to handle things just fine.”
Sandra looked at him for a moment, scanning his face, before she focused on her scanner again. I saw her frown a little before she pointed at a house nearby.
“It should be over there,” she said as she rang the bell next to the gate.
A well-dressed older woman opened the door. Her eyes focused on Sandra for a moment before they wandered to me and Theodor. When she saw the latter, a frown appeared on her face.
“Excuse me, miss, we’re here by order of the local police. There’s been a break-in in the area. We’d like to have a word with you and look around your property. It’s nothing but a precaution, of course.”
With that, she showed the woman a fake badge we’d been provided with by headquarters. It seemed to do the trick, and the lady nodded, inviting us inside.
“To think that stuff like this is happening out here, my god, what’s the world come to?” she started as she re-locked the gate and led us to her house, babbling on.
“All right, we’re going to have a look around the vicinity to see if there’s evidence of anyone trying to enter your property.”
With that, Sandra led me further away. She focused on the scanner once more, but she was frowning again.
“What is it, Sandra?”
“I can’t say, this signature’s strange. It’s almost like its spreading.”
“A swarm type down in the basement?” I asked, but Sandra shook her head.
“No, it’s not just this place, it’s almost like it’s stretched out over the entire area.”
“Shit, are you telling me we’ve got multiple signals?”
“No, that’s not-“
Our conversation was cut short when the old lady screeched and threw herself at an unsuspecting Theodor, who’d spaced out right where we left him.
“What the fuck?” he cursed when the old lady tried to claw at his face with her fingers. Her mouth opened wide as she let out a loud, reverberating scream.
In a moment he tore her off himself and threw her to the ground, where she lay unconscious. He was about to finish her when Sandra called out for him to stop.
“What now? The freaking thing almost clawed my eyes out!” he yelled in anger.
“It’s not here. There’s something weird about this signature. The origin’s nearby, but there’re smaller signals all over the area. This woman flared up before, but it’s all gone now.”
“The fuck are you talking about, dammit?”
“Residue,” she said to herself, but I didn’t get to ask her what she meant.
My eyes turned towards the gate where a bunch of people had gathered. They were all screaming indistinguishably and soon threw themselves against it.
“All right, Sandra, what the hell’s going on here? For all I know, we’ve been cornered by a bunch of humanoid types and-“
“No, if they were humanoid types, they’d have transformed and torn down the gate already.”
“Then what the fuck’s going on?” Theodor spat at her.
“Can you two be quiet for just one moment?” she screamed at us before she tinkered with her scanner again.
“Well guess we’re going to have some fun,” Theodor joked with a grin on his face, waiting for whatever was out there to tear down the gate.
“Calm down, all right, we don’t know what’s going on here. Let Sandra figure things out first. There’s something wrong here.”
“What? It’s clear that those fuckers are coming for us! What if they-“
“Inside,” I called out and pushed him forward. “If we barricade the door, it will give us some time. You got anything, Sandra?”
She shook her head but was quick to follow us.
Inside, I pushed a cupboard in front of the door before I started adding other items of furniture to my makeshift barrier.
After a few minutes, I could hear the sounds of the gate breaking down and a moment later people streamed into the front yard. It wasn’t long before we could hear them outside, beating against the front door.
Then glass shattered and someone threw themselves through a window. An older man stormed at us. His face was bloody, cut multiple times by the window’s glass. He was about to jump me when Theodor rushed forward and hit him square in the face.
The man was thrown back. His head crunched against the edge of a table and his body started shaking and convulsing as a layer of blood gathered below him.
“What the fuck’s going on here? Why have none of them transformed yet?”
“No. That’s not what’s going on here,” Sandra started. “I analyzed the signals of the people and they only carry the residue of something else. Whatever we’re up against is a control type. It’s likely able to assert control over any organism that’s been exposed to it for some time. These people here, they are merely being controlled by it.”
Theodor looked up and his eyes wandered back to the body of the man.
“Are you telling me…? Fuck! Why didn’t you say that sooner?”
All the color had drained from his face and it showed a look of true and honest misery.
I rushed up to him.
“Come on, we’ve got to,” I started, but my words were cut off when more people came crashing into the building.
For a second, my hand closed around my gun before I cursed and let go again.
“Sandra, do you have a location on the controller yet?”
“Nothing clear, there are too many interferences, but it’s not in this building.”
“Shit, all right, we’ve got to move!”
With that, I got a hold of Theodor and dropped a flash grenade right behind us. Blazing white light exploded around us.
The people behind us who’d broken into the building all stopped, covering their eyes.
With that, we hurried through the building and towards the back door.
In a moment we’d made it outside, then to the fence at the edge of the property.
“Talk to me, Sandra.”
She was still staring at the scanner before she gave me a nod.
“Two buildings from here, to our right!”
More people were coming for us already. For a sparsely populated area like this, there sure were a lot of them.
As I hurried on, I knocked out a middle aged man, and barely avoided a knife wielding woman’s attack.
“Sandra, we’ve got trouble, can’t we just-“
“Just keep moving! Its past this hedge, right in front of the next building!”
The moment we’d made it through the hedge, I threw another flash grenade, hoping it would give us enough time.
We hurried through a lavish garden before we reached a small sandbox. A little girl sat there, shovel in hand, busily building a sand castle.
The moment she saw us, her eyes grew wide, and she stared at us in a mixture of fear and confusion. Her mouth opened, but nothing but a frightful squeal escaped her.
“That’s it, she’s the host!” Sandra called out.
I ripped out my gun, pointed it at the little girl who cringed back, crashing over her little sand castle.”
“Shit, Sandra, are you sure? If she’s not-“
“There’s no doubt! The signature originates from her!”
“Fucking hell,” I cursed.
More people were closing in on our location, and my hand moved to the trigger.
Before I could press it, though, Theodor pushed me aside and turned to Sandra.
“Didn’t you just say that something’s controlling people? What if this little girl’s the same? You can’t shoot a fucking little girl!”
“Theodor, just let me get this over with!” I screamed back.
While Sandra used her powers to hold the closing people at bay, Theodor got a hold of my wrist. He twisted it and the gun clattered to the floor.
Right at that moment, the little girl behind us screeched up. Her jaw unhinged and a mess of thick, heavy tendons pushed outward. If not for Sandra and her powers, they might very well have gotten to us.
Sandra batted them aside effortlessly before she pushed the little girl to the ground. She held the scanner to her squirming, twisting body.
“Just as I thought, a parasite type,” she brought out in an icy voice. “There’s no hope.”
“No! You can’t just… fuck! I didn’t come here to kill a freaking kid!”
“Theodor, fucking stop!” I yelled as I got a hold of him. “Once a parasite takes over, the host is already dead. She’s not a kid anymore, she’s nothing but a husk!”
He pushed me off him and I crashed to the ground hard.
“And what if she’s like me? Maybe there’s-“
“No, there isn’t,” Sandra cut him off and with a wave of her hand the girl’s body was crushed and evaporated into nothing but bloody, red mist.
The people who’d made their way towards us all fell to the floor, unconscious.
“Fucking hell,” Theodor cursed up. I walked over to calm him down, but he pushed me back again.
“Don’t fucking touch me, all right, asshole?”
“Hey, how about you calm down, okay?”
“How the fuck can I calm down after seeing something like this!”
Then he stopped and looked at me. A sick grin appeared on his face.
“Oh, I get it. This wasn’t your first time doing something like this, wasn’t it?”
“What are you saying?” I asked, getting angry myself.
That grin on his face made me more than tempted to have a go at him, even if I didn’t have a flying chance.
“What are you waiting for, Dylan?” Theodor taunted me.
“Will you to be quiet!?” Sandra screamed, power erupting from her body.
When we both turned, we could hear a high-pitched alarm from her phone and I could see that all the color had left her face.
“I’ve got a hit from the surveillance network, but this, this is too huge, this is…”
I stepped up to her. She was scanning the data of the various drones before she found what she’d been looking for. An underground area, and the entire place was swarming with puppets. There weren’t just a few, not a dozen, this had to be hundreds.
A second later, the stream cut off.
“What the hell? Where’s-“
“That commercial area. I rerouted the drones there, but most of them have been destroyed. But the data they’ve gathered so far,” she broke up, her lips quivering.
“Then let’s get going! We’re done here, right?”
As I said this, Theodor gave me an angry look before he spat on the ground.
Sandra next to me didn’t say a thing, instead she kept staring at the data on her scanner, at the emerging signature she’d found.
It wasn’t cold outside, but when I saw it spreading further and further, I started shivering.
And then her eyes turned to me. They were wide and scared.
“You were right, Dylan, you were right. Something was coming, but I never thought-“
“Well, what’s going on? Why the fuck are you suddenly acting all scared?”
Sandra turned from me to Theodor. Her mouth opened, but it still took her a while to find her voice again.
“That signature, there’s no doubt. It’s A-class, and we’re too far away to do anything about it. There’s nothing we can do to stop it from crossing over! We’re in trouble, we’re in serious trouble!”
You know, fuck monsters and fuck being right.