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[Fiction] Carver - Opportunity


Singularity

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(writer's note: please excuse the unpolished nature of the story: I didn't have the kind of time I wanted to perfect the story but I wanted to be sure I got it out here on time)

Things had been going so well.

,,

Life was supposed to be simple for Alexa. Do well in high school, leave Phoenix for college, work as an artist for a few years, get married, raise a family, and spend her twilight years with her husband and the art she left behind. Unfortunately, life had a different plan for her. New York City was a far cry from the sunny and open expanses of Phoenix. Every day, towering skyscrapers that blocked the sun turned the streets of Manhattan into dark, urban canyons filled with noxious exhaust and the ceaseless noise of cars and pedestrians. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the yellow-sodium lit streets at night were filled with sharp shadows, harsh denizens, and god knows what sort of vermin… and that wasn’t even considering the dark whispers she’d heard while on the street nor the unseen nasties that she had found. Or, more accurately, that had found her.

Alexa had met Jade on their first day at NYU; the two of them were assigned together as roommates and it couldn’t have been a more perfect match. The first two months had been wonderful, filled with clubbing, trips around the city, and hours of pure goofing off instead with her roommate of studying. It had been so much fun Alexa hadn’t even noticed the darkness in city... nor that Jade had picked the wrong time of day for them to go out to explore the city and the wrong part of Central Park to check out. She’d heard of gangs before, the kind that wore biker jackets with sharpened spikes, but she didn’t know they’d be so animalistic. And she’d heard that those kind of gangs would do bad things to women they caught, but it hadn’t prepared her to be forced to watch Jade get violated before being mutilated. She would’ve been next if it hadn’t been for those weirdos with the baseball bats and gun; she didn’t even stick around for the aftermath, she bolted the first chance she had and went right too the police. That had been the second mistake she made that night.

The desk sergeant did nothing to help Alexa. All he did was take down her name and address before kicking her out of the precinct. But before she got back to the dorm to call home, she was approached by one of those freaks with a baseball bat, a man named Charlie. He was the one who told her that the police were on the same payroll as that gang of homicidal maniacs that’d killed Jade, told her that a trap would be waiting for her back at the dorm so she could be silenced from telling anyone else what happened, and proved it to her by eliminating the two thugs who were waiting to spring it. But, most importantly, Charlie was the one who introduced Alexa to her new family now that her old life was shattered and lost.

Everyone in Alexa’s new family had been affected by Klaus, the man who controlled the gang that had changed her life forever, along with the rest of the underworld along the eastern seaboard; about half of the legitimate business in New York City, and god knows how many secretive occult sects Alexa never knew existed. Charlie was a veteran of the Gulf War who’d come home to find his wife and toddler murdered by a pair of hitmen who were using his brownstone for a place to hide out. Jack and his lover Nathan had not only been outed in their conservative Connecticut home but had been framed for countless sex crimes against neighborhood children. Ben didn’t talk much about what’d been done to him; Ben really didn’t talk that much at all now. Somehow Charlie knew what’d happened to Ben, he might’ve even saved Ben from whatever Klaus’ minions had been doing, but he wouldn’t even talk about it. Richard had been an engineer with a local consulting firm that was the victim of brutal corporate espionage and countless frauds by Klaus’ own pawns; Richard had uncovered the truth and his life was shattered in return. For these six people, the only left in their lives was each other and vengeance against Klaus.

For two years they worked together to slowly undermine Klaus’ powerbase; crippling gangs, exposing corrupt corporate structures, and flat out elimination of lynchpins in Klaus’ vast organization. Everyone found their niche in the group and it wasn’t long before they were a well-oiled machine: Jack and Nathan had invaluable business and people skills that let them cut through everything that obfuscated Klaus’ power structure; Ben managed to dig up more than a few useful leads out of nothing and had some sort of insight into the truly disturbing occult rituals the group had found a few times; Richard’s intuitive grasp of mechanics and electronics gave the group a technological and support advantage they would have never realized anywhere else, especially considering their solid status as outlaws; Charlie’s military experience made him the perfect leader for the group; and Alexa found her place in the most unexpected way. The group had managed to make some contacts of their own, including fences and doctors that would look the other way and help them for a price, but Keiji helped Alexa out of gratitude. She’d saved the old Japanese man from two thugs with guns and he, in return, taught her how to move like he did when he was young, how to loose herself in a dance that would leave a path of destruction for anyone who got in her way.

All of them had been Alexa’s family, the only people who understood her pain and knew the same terrible truth about the darkness lying beneath the surface of the world, but somehow Richard had wormed his way even closer to her heart. He always seemed to have a kind word for her, time to listen to her problems, and just the thing to help her out the next time she got in a fight. When she had been caught by Klaus’ men and was forced into sick, blood-based experiments he was the first to comfort her… and he was the only one who knew those experiments had left her addicted to the taste of blood, especially the enhanced blood kept at Klaus’ most secure locations. And even when the addiction caused Alexa to lead the group into a trap that nearly killed them all Richard said nothing, keeping her darkest secret and betrayal from their family. She knew their bond was closer than what they shared with everyone else, but they never acted on it. “We’ll have plenty of time together once Klaus was dealt with” she told herself time and time again, secure that one day they’d get their chance.

In fact, things had been going so well the last six months it looked like it’d finally be over. Tonight, everyone was going together to break into a high rise office building that was the main data storage center for Klaus’ empire; the information Richard would be able to drag out of the databanks would be more than enough to expose Klaus to whatever uncorrupted authorities were left in the world and to clear the names of the entire group. It was such a routine and simple “in and out” mission profile, Alexa had even felt confident enough to catch Richard before everyone loaded up in the van. “I need to talk to you later,” she had whispered to him when the others couldn’t see, hesitantly slipping her arms around his waist in a way that made her heart pound harder than it ever had while watching those beautiful, deep blue eyes, “Just you and me when we get back.” Just a break and entry, a data grab, a ride back home, and then she could finally get that little slice of happiness she’d been missing for so long.

The breaking and entering of the high rise wasn’t much of a problem: Ben had secured an access key for the exterior loading dock. With Jack and Nathan watching the entry point, the rest of the group rode the freight elevator right up to the 20th floor and the data center and the access key paved the way for them to get inside. It was all so routine; Alexa felt safe enough to steal a few glances at Richard as he plugged in the laptop to the network and started to copy the information. She even let her mind wander a bit, wondering how he’d react when she told him how she really felt… about what she wanted to do to him and what she wanted him to do to her… Unfortunately, she was so engrossed in the thought that she didn’t even notice that Nathan and Jack stopped checking in.

The freight elevator, or more accurately, the ear-shattering explosion that comes shortly afterwards, blowing open the doors to the datacenter and dropping the room into darkness that finally breaks Alexa out of her daydream. Her hearing and vision recover quickly from the explosion – they always had since those experiments had been done on her – and she knows immediately they’ve been had. Five riot armor clad men swoop into the datacenter through the gaping hole made by the explosion just as the emergency lighting fires up, immediately spraying the room with the submachine guns each of them are carrying. She’s already rolling across the raised flooring before the first man is all the way into the room, finding cover behind whatever she can. Thank god Richard is back behind some of those terminals, he’ll have more than enough cover until they can find a way out. If they can find a way out.

Sliding back to her feet, Alexa takes a quick assessment. Between the emergency lights and the muzzle flashes, she can see Charlie already found cover and is frantically returning fire. But Ben… his lifeless body is already lying still on the floor, blood leaking out of countless bullet holes and slipping between the cracks between the tiles of the flooring. He’s gone and Jack and Nathan have got to be dead already if there’s an assault team up here… They’re killing her family, she needs to stop this and get everyone out of here. Please, don’t move Richard, just stay hidden and protected.

Even with the surprise and Ben being perforated, Charlie and Alexa still manage to slip right back into old habits. Using the shadows of the darkened datacenter, she starts to flank around the men in riot gear while Charlie does his best to keep them occupied on his own. The assault team even makes it easier for her when two of them start to try the same flanking maneuver on Charlie. Too bad for them their backs are to her. The first man in riot armor barely makes a noise loud enough for anyone else to hear over the firearms when Alexa drives the polished k-bar knife into the side of his neck and through his larynx. Blood, that hot and sweet nectar of her enemies, spills out with a gurgle from the man’s neck, splashing over the dark riot armor and over her own clothing as she lowers the choking man onto the floor. She wants to keep slicing the man apart, carving up his body with the flashing blade in her hand while guzzling down her enemy’s blood, but there’s no time. That first one was for Ben and now Jack and Nathan deserve retribution too.

The second man in the riot armor does make a much louder sound than the first when Alexa’s k-bar finds his groin and femoral artery, right up until her vice-like fingers squeeze tight around his windpipe. Unfortunately for her, the man’s loud cry is enough to draw the attention of one of the other men shooting at Charlie. And, unfortunately for the man turning to look at Alexa and her prey, that distraction gives Charlie enough to put a bullet right though the man’s skull. Ducking behind another rack of servers, she lets herself grin just a bit; three of the assault team are dead, one for each of her family that was killed, and she and Charlie can easily can clean up these last two. Then they can get Richard and go home and grieve… and she can grieve with Richard… her Richard…

Too bad that wasn’t what fate had in store for her. Alexa leans around the corner of the rack to flick the flashing knife at her next target just in time to see a spray of red explode from Charlie as a bullet enters and exits through his chest. Her knife had flown true, embedding into the neck of another the men, leaving only one of the assault team left, but now Charlie was down, if not dead, and the man with the machinegun was focused on her. In the back of her mind she keeps wondering how things could’ve gone so wrong as she dives again for cover from the spray of automatic gunfire, how they could’ve made such a dumb mistake and walked into this situation. She can handle this last guy, she just needs to keep making him waste his ammo so she can get up close and personal to finish him off... to get even the smallest bit of vengeance and to indulge that dark part lying deep inside of her.

Back against yet another server rack, a flash of motion in the flickering light catches Alexa’s eye; it’s Richard, crawling across the debris and blood covered floor towards Charlie’s prone body. Why is he doing that, he’s no fighter, why isn’t he hiding? Please stay hidden, oh god, please go back and hide, Alexa silently pleads at Richard, Get behind something and I’ll draw the gunfire… god, he’s so sweet for trying to help Charlie… Turning away from the last of her family, she shoots out from behind the rack and rushes to the next rack closer to the last man in riot armor, moving so blatantly there’s no way she will be ignored. But instead of hearing the clang of errant bullets tracking her movement, she hears a loud crash back towards the bodies of her family. Skidding to a stop at the next server rack, Alexa looks back to the source of the crash to see a stunned Richard staring at a pile of loose routers spilled across the floor all around him, Move, damnit, move! With an image she’s getting too used to seeing, blood explodes into a red mist around Richard as a three round burst drops the quiet engineer to the floor.

Alexa doesn’t even realize she’s moving until she feels her foot slamming into the last assault team member’s chin, sending the man sprawling downward as her counterbalancing hand reaches down to snatch up her thrown knife from the man’s throat in which it was imbedded. She doesn’t even realize she’s screaming at the top of her lungs as she dives onto the man she’s just laid out. Despite the riot armor, she can feel his sternum buckle under her knee as she slams down on him and the red haze of rage clouds her vision even before her knife drives through the man’s throat, neck, and up into his brainstem with a sickening crunch. No, please, not him too, I can’t lose everyone. She gives the knife a final twist, her hand giving into the dark impulses deep inside her core, even though her first thrust was so brutal her victim probably can’t feel a thing anymore. I can’t lose him just before I finally get him, please let it be a flesh wound, please

Leaving the last of the killers to rot on the floor, Alexa rushes over to the remains of her friends. Ben is definitely dead, lifeless and still oozing thickening blood and Charlie’s body has stopped moving as well… he died so quickly the round must’ve hit his heart or aorta. Richard’s chest, on the other hand, was still slowly rising and falling in labored breath as she moves to him. Oh thank god, he’s alive! I just need to get him out of here and patched up. I’ll just grab the laptop, we’ll spread the word, and then… then… then…

The white tiles of the raised floor beneath Richard seem to have disappeared into the shadows surrounding him, the poor illumination of the emergency lighting making his blood look a dark and rich crimson cloth that’s slowly spreading out from his body, matching his stained and destroyed t-shirt. He looks so pale… Alexa can her the blood bubbling in his lungs as he struggles to keep breathing, trying so hard to keep those beautiful blue eyes on hers, “S-Sorry… I j-just…” I’m losing all of them… [size:1]every last one…

“Shhh, don’t say anything,” Alexa says quickly, trying to hide the despair welling up inside, “Save your strength, I’ll get you out of here and fixed up in no time.” Both of them knew she was lying, Richard would drown in his own fluids long before she even got him out of the building, but she’s determined to help him leave this world with something good to carry him on his way to a better place. “I was going to tell you how I felt,” she murmurs to him, trying to smile through the tears rolling down her face – the first tears she’s cried since he listened to her after her accidental betrayal – “I should’ve told you so long ago how important you are to me… how much I love you…”

Those wonderful blue eyes light up just a little bit for Alexa’s words, a bright but final flare of life just as Richard's voice gurgles one last time, “Gimme some sugar, baby.”

*****

“You did not just say that!”

Quiet snickers fill the air around a bright, sunlit table littered with papers, figurines, countless empty glasses and cans of soda, and even more different types of dice. On one side, Katie buries her face and fading scars in her hands while Dan tries to hide his grin behind his own remaining hand. Next to them is Todd, who’s nearly exploding under the pressure of not laughing out loud over and over while Mike, sitting at the head of the table, does little to hide his scowl from behind his Storyteller Screen – after all, the climactic finale of his game was being delayed. On the other side of the table from the other players, Harry blushes a bit under Carver’s incredulous statement and look, a tiny smile starting to slip out. But before the nova can answer the woman with flashing eyes, Jared pipes up from his spot next to Harry, “Oh come on, that’s a great pick up line! Your characters have been swooning over each other for weeks!”

This time Todd doesn’t hide his sarcastic laugh. “Whatever,” he snorts before taking a huge gulp of Mountain Dew, “You’re just pissed off that you never got to nail that hot street doctor who kept patching you up.”

“Are we going to finish this already,” Mike asks, his irritation starting to show.

Ignoring question, Jared just keeps barreling on to the whole table, “See, this is why I need to get a girlfriend who games. There’s no way in hell my characters ever end up with someone but these four here always have characters that get together and have wild monkey sex all the time. And just because there was a gay couple this time don’t make it any different.”

“Hey, this was Carver’s first long-term game,” Katie butts in, dropping her hands back to her lap, “And it’s not like Alexa and Richard ended up together right away. I thought their side interaction was great; both of them came to each other with doubts and secrets and they just accepted each other for who they are, faults and virtues together. And, God, between that dark dark dark tone and buckets of blood Mike was using and all of Alexa and Richard’s missed chances to be together and always putting off telling each other how they felt just made this whole deathbed confession of feelings even more sad and tragic… I think you’re just a little choked up over all of the emotion so you’re lashing out.” A broad grin starts to spread over her lips, “That and I know you’re still pissed that Alexa’s little slip-up that put Charlie in traction and made it so Ben had to take the doc out on a date!”

The table erupts into loud laughter and shouted, albeit playful, back and forth insults, joined by everyone except Carver and Harry. He’s ignoring everyone else except her, giving her that blush and soft smile of apology with “sorry, I wasn’t being serious” practically written across his forehead. And as the rest of the group continued to spiral into chaos, their hands quietly find each other under the tabletop, fingers knitting together effortlessly as they start to share the same smile and thought: thank god we never missed an opportunity to say "I love you."

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