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Dead Man RisingA Dante Valentine Novel
By Lilith Saintcrow
WARNER BOOKSCopyright © 2006 Lilith Saintcrow
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe cavernous maw of the warehouse was like the throat of some huge beast, and even though it was large and airy claustrophobia still tore at my throat. I swallowed, tasted copper and the wet-ratfur reek of panic. How do I talk myself into these things? "Come on, do a bounty, it's easy as one-two-three, we've done a hundred of them." Sure.
Darkness pressed close as the lights flickered. Damn corporate greed not putting proper lighting in their goddamn warehouses. The least they could have done is had the fluorescents replaced.
Then again, corporations don't plan for hunters taking down bounties in their warehouses, and my vision was a lot better than it used to be. I eased forward, soft and silent, broken-in boots touching the cracked and uneven floor. My rings glinted, swirling with steady, muted light. The Glockstryke R4 was in my left hand, my crippled right hand curled around to brace the left; it had taken me weeks to shoot left-handed with anything like my former accuracy. And why, you might ask, was I using a projectile gun when I had two perfectly good 40-watt plasguns holstered in my rig?
Because Manuel Bulgarov had taken refuge in a warehouse full of plastic barrels ofreactive paint for spreading on the undersides of hovers, that's why.
Reactive paint is mostly nonvolatile-except for when a plas field interacts with it. One plasgun blast and we'd be caught in a reaction fire, and though I was a lot tougher than I used to be I didn't think I could outrun a molecular-bond-weakening burst fueled by hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons of reactive. A burst like that travels at about half the speed of light until it reaches its containment edge. Even if I could outrun or survive it, Jace certainly couldn't, and he was covering me from the other side of the T-shaped intersection of corridors faced with blue barrel after blue barrel of reactive.
Just like a goddamn bounty to hide in a warehouse full of reactive to make my day.
Jace's fair blond face was marred with blood that almost hid the thorny accreditation tat and the spreading bruise up his left cheek, he was bleeding from his shoulder too. Ending up in a bar brawl that alerted our quarry was not the way I'd wanted to do this bounty.
His blue eyes were sharp and steady, but his breathing was a little too fast and I could smell the exhaustion on him. I felt familiar worry rise under my breastbone, shoved it down. My left shoulder prickled with numb chill, a demon's mark gone dead against my flesh, and my breathing came sharp and deep, ribs flaring with each soundless gasp, a few stray strands of hair falling in my face. Thank the gods I don't sweat much anymore. I could feel the inked lines of my own accreditation tat twisting and tingling under the skin of my left cheek, the emerald set at the top of the twisted caduceus probably flashing. Tone it down, don't want to give the bastard a twinkle and let him squeeze off a shot or two.
Bulgarov didn't have a plasgun-or at least, I was reasonably certain he hadn't had one when he'd gone out the back door of the PleiRound nightclub and onto an airbike with us right behind him, only slightly slowed down by the explosion of the brawl. After all, the PleiRound was a watering hole for illicits, and once we'd moved and shown we were bounty hunters all hell had broken loose. If he'd had a plasgun, he probably wouldn't have bothered to run. No, he would have turned the bar into a firezone.
I'd almost had Bulgarov, but he was quick. Too quick to be strictly normal, though he wasn't a psion. I made a mental note to tell my scheduler Trina to tack 15 percent onto the fee, nobody had mentioned the bastard was genespliced and augmented to within an inch of violating the Erdwile-Stokes Act of '28. That would have been nice information to have. Necessary information, even.
My shoulder still hurt from clipping the side of a hover as we chased him through nighttime traffic on Copley Avenue. He'd been keeping low to avoid the patrols, though how you could be inconspicuous with two bounty hunters chasing you on airbikes, I couldn't guess.
It was illegal to flee, especially once a bounty hunter had identified herself as a Hegemony federal officer. But Bulgarov hadn't gotten away with rape, murder, extortion, and trafficking illegal weapons by being a law-abiding jackass who cared about two more counts of felony evading. No, he was an entirely different kind of jackass. And staying low meant a little more time without the Hegemony patrols getting involved in the tangle, which made it him against just two bounty hunters instead of against full-scale containment teams. It was a nice move, and sound logic-if the two bounty hunters weren't an almost- demon and the Shaman who had taught her a good deal about hunting bounties.
My eyes met Jace's again. He nodded curtly, reading my face. Like it or not, I was the one who could take more damage. And I usually took point anyway; years of working bounties alone made it a tough habit to break.
He was still good to work with. It was just like old times. Only everything had changed.
I eased around the corner, hugging the wall. Extended my awareness a little, just a very little, feeling the pulse thunder in my wrists and forehead; the warehouse was magshielded and had a basic corporate security net, but Bulgarov had just walked right in like he owned the place. Not a good sign. He might have bought a short-term quickshield meant to keep him from detection by psions or security nets. Just what I'd expect from the tricky bastard.
Concentrate, Danny. Don't get cocky because he's not a psion. He's dangerous and augmented.
My right hand cramped again, pointlessly; it was getting stronger the more I used it. Three days without sleep, tracking Bulgarov through the worst sinks in North New York Jersey, taxed even my endurance. Jace could fall asleep almost instantly, wedged in a hover or transport seat while I crunched data or piloted. It had been a fast run, no time to catch our breath.
Two other bounty hunters-both normals, but with combat augments-had gone down trying to bring this guy in. The next logical choice had been to bring a psion in, and I was fresh from hunting a Magi gone bad in Freetown Tijuana. From one job to the next, with no time to think, perfect. I didn't want to think about anything but getting the next bounty collared.
I would be lying if I said the idea of the two extra murder charges and two of felony evading tacked onto Bulgarov's long list of indictments didn't bring a smile to my face. A hard, delighted grin, as a matter of fact, since it meant Bulgarov would face capital punishment instead of just filling a prison cell. I edged forward, reaching the end of the aisle; glanced up. Nothing in the rafters, but it was good to check. This was one tricky sonofabitch. If he'd been a psion it would have made things a little easier, I could have tracked the smears of adrenaline and Power he'd leave on the air when he got tired enough. As it was, the messy sewer-smelling drift of his psychic footprint faded and flared maddeningly. If I dropped below the conscious level of thought and tried to scan him, I'd be vulnerable to a detonation circuit in a quickshield, and it wasn't like this guy not to have a det circuit built in if he spent the credit for a shield. I could live without the screaming migraine feedback of cracking a shield meant to keep a normal from a psion's notice, thank you very much.
So it was old-fashioned instinct doing the work on this one. Is he heading for an exit or sitting tight? My guess is sitting tight in a nice little cubbyhole, waiting for us to come into sight, pretty as you please. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Sekhmet sa'es, he better not have a plasgun. He didn't. I'm almost sure he didn't.
Almost sure wasn't good enough. Almost sure, in my experience, is the shortest road to oh fuck.
Jace's aura touched mine, the spiked honey-pepper scent of a Shaman rising around me along with the cloying reek of dying human cells. I wished I could turn my nose off or tone it down a little. Smelling everyone's death on them was not a pleasant thing, even if I, of all people, know Death is truly nothing to fear.
Whenever I thought about it, the mark on my shoulder seemed to get a little colder.
Don't fucking think about that, Danny. Nice and cautious, move it along here.
A popping zwing! made me duck reflexively, calculating angles even as I berated myself for flinching. Goddammit, if you heard the shot it didn't get you, move move move! He's blown cover, you know where he is now! I took off, not bothering to look behind me-Jace's aura was clear, steady, strong. He hadn't been hit.
More popping, clattering sounds. Reactive paint sprayed as I moved, blurringly, much faster than a normal human. My gun holstered itself as I leapt, claws extending sweetly, naturally, my right hand giving a flare of pain I ignored as I dug into the side of a plastic barrel, hurling myself up, get up, and from there I leapt, feet smacking the smooth round tops of the barrels. My rings spat golden sparks, all need for silence gone. The racks holding the barrels swayed slightly as I landed and pushed off again, little glowing spits and spats of thick reactive paint spraying behind me as lead chewed the air. He's got a fucking semiautomatic assault rifle up there, sounds like a Transom from the chatter, goddamn cheap Putchkin piece of shit, if he had a good gun he'd have hit me by now.
I was almost under the floating panel of a hover platform. Its underside glowed with reactive paint, and I could see the metal cage on top where the operator would guide the AI deck through manipulating the dangling tentacles of crabhooks to pick up five racks at a time and transport them to the staging area. A low, indistinct male shape crouched on the edge of the platform, orange bursts showing from the muzzle of the semiautomatic rifle with the distinct Transom shape. He wasn't aiming at me now, he was aiming behind me at Jace, and this thought spurred me as I gathered myself and leapt, fingers sinking into the edge of the platform's corrugated metal and arms straining, the deadweight of my body becoming momentum as I pulled myself up as easily as if I were muscling up out of a swimtank. Almost overbalanced, in fact, still not used to the reflex speed of this new body, proprioception still a little off, moving through space faster than I thought I was.
Don't hit Jace, you motherfucker, or I'm going to have to bring you in dead and accept half my fee. Don't you dare hit him, you piece of shit.
Gun barrel swinging, deadly little whistles as bullets clove the air. A smashing impact against my belly and another against my ribcage; then I was on him, smacking the barrel up. Hot metal sizzled, a jolt of pain searing up my arm from the contact, then faded as my body coped with the damage. He was combat-augmented, with reactions quicker than the normal human's, but I'd been genetically altered by a demon, and no amount of augmentation could match that.
At least, none that I'd come across yet.
I tore the Transom away and grabbed his wrist in my cramping right hand, setting my feet and yanking sharply down. An animal howl and a crunch told me I'd dislocated his shoulder. Fierce enjoyment spilled through me, the emerald on my cheek giving one sharp flash, the kia burst from my lips as I struck, hard; ringed fist ramming into the solar plexus, pulling the strike at the last moment so as not to rupture fragile human flesh. My rings turned my fist into a battering ram, psychic and physical power wedded to a strike that could kill as well as daze. The oof! sound he made might have been funny if I hadn't felt hot blood dripping down my ribs and the slight twitching as a bullet was expelled from the preternatural flesh of my belly. Ouch. It stung, briefly, then smoothed itself out, black blood rising and sealing the seamless golden flesh. Another shirt ruined. I was racking up dead laundry by the ton now.
Of course, I could afford it. I was rich, wasn't I?
Knee coming up, he struggled, but he was off balance and I shifted my weight, hip striking as I came in close, he fell and I was on him; he howled as I yanked both arms behind his back, my fingers sinking into rubbery, augmented muscle fed by kcals of synthprotein shake and testos injections. Gonna have to pop that shoulder back in so he can't shimmy free of magcuffs. You've got him down, don't get cocky. This is the critical point. Just cuff him, don't get fancy. He bucked, but I had a knee firmly in his back and my own weight was not inconsiderable, heavy with denser bones and muscle now. The quickshield sparked and struggled, trying to throw me off; it was a sloppy, hastily purchased piece of work-all right for hiding, but no good when you had an angry Necromance on your back. One short sharp Word broke it, my sorcerous Will slicing through the shell of energy-a Magi's work, and a good one, despite being so hurried. I snapped the mental traces aside, taking a good lungful of the scent; maybe we could track down whoever did the quickshield, maybe not. They hadn't done anything illegal in providing the shield; quicks were perfectly legal all the way around. But a Magi this good might have something to say about demons, something I'd want to hear.
"Jace?" I called into the warehouse's gloom. The sharp smell of reactive paint bloomed up, mixing with dust, metal, the smell of human, hot cordite, sweat, and my own spiced fragrance, a light amber musk. Sometimes my own smell acted like a shield against the swirling cloud of human decay all around me, sometimes not; it wasn't the psychic nonphysical smell of a true demon, but the scent of something in-between. "Monroe? How you doing?" Jace? Answer me, he was aiming at you, answer me! My voice almost cracked, stroking the air with rough honey. My throat was probably permanently ruined from Lucifer's fingers sinking in and cracking little bits of whatever almost-demons had in their necks. I sounded like a vidsex operator sometimes.
Apparently I could heal from bullets, but demon-induced damage to my throat was another thing entirely.
"You're so much fun to hang out with, Valentine," he called from below. I tried not to feel the hot burst of relief right under my ribs. The bitter taste of another hunt finished exploded in my mouth, my heart thudding back to a slower pace. My left shoulder prickled numbly, as if the fluid mark scored into my skin was working its way deeper. Don't think about that. "Got him?"
Of course I've got him, you think I'd be talking if I didn't? "Stuffed and almost cuffed. See if you can find the control panels and bring this sucker to the loading dock, will you?" My lungs returned to their regular even task. My tone resumed its normal, whispering roughness. Most Necromances affect a whisper after a while; when you work with Power wedded to your voice it's best to speak softly. "You okay?"
He gave a short jagged spear of a laugh, he was rubbed just as raw as I was. "Right as rain, baby. Get you in a second."
My right hand clumsily fumbled for the magcuffs. Bulgarov mumbled a curse in some consonant-filled Putchkin dialect. "Shut up, waste." I sank my knee into his heaving back. Short squat man, corded with heavy muscle and dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and jeans under his assassin's rig, a long rat-tail of pale hair sliding out from under the kerchief he'd tied around his head like a kid playing minigang. "Unlucky day for you."
The magcuffs cooperated, and I had to hold him down while I popped his shoulder back into the socket with a meaty sound, eliciting a hoarse male scream. The cuffs creaked but held steady, and just to be sure I dug in my bag and retrieved the magtape, spent a few moments binding the bastard's elbows, knees, and ankles; I gagged him too. I was ready when the hover platform's control board lit up, I kept the man down and watched him cautiously while the platform jolted into life and began to glide on its prearranged path. Bulgarov had escaped last year from a seven-person Hegemony police unit that had him down and cuffed; I didn't want to underestimate him.
Excerpted from Dead Man Rising by Lilith Saintcrow Copyright © 2006 by Lilith Saintcrow. Excerpted by permission.
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