The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.
Scarecrow rolled beneath Munch’s oversized fist. He felt the air shifting past his face, as it might with a passing freight train.
These were not your average thugs. He remembered seeing a file on them many years ago, suppositions without evidence, unproved theories, trolls unseen beneath burning bridges. Up close they were every bit as dangerous as he had imagined. Big, fast and coordinated. He’d never come up against anything quite like it.
But they’d never come up against anything quite like him.
Combat was a dream to Scarecrow. His body did what needed to be done while his mind, separate, observed, calculated, advised. Time seemed to slow. The agency scientists had packed his head with all kinds of software and hardware, but if he was honest, fighting had always been like that.
The big one, Munchkin, was his primary target. And while the two of them were engaged the others stepped up only to knock him back and keep him close to those deadly slabs of fist. Munch’s team were too experienced to all step in at once and muddle themselves. They read the fight and kept it ringed, kept it dangerous.
Scarecrow’s flow faltered for a moment as he dodged a stamp from one scarred ugly, then vaulted over the leader’s kick and came face-to-face with the same scarred ugly, who couldn’t possibly have moved so fast.
A fist thundered into his back and ploughed him face first into Ugly’s chest. Twins. His mind caught up. He had to start taking these people down. As the man in front went to grab him into a crushing bear hug he scythed his hand upwards with fingers straight and braced, wrist twisting.
He tore the man’s throat out.
Twisting away from the spray of blood, he felt it wash down his back as he dived and curled. There was a roar from behind. Twins. Perfect. The second Ugly lumbered straight at him, blood-raged and clumsy, careening into Munchkin and throwing them both down.
Scrarecrow slipped under the kick of a man with disturbingly onyx eyes, prosthetics. But in a fight you needed narrow vision, seeing too much only confused matters. He jabbed at the back of the man’s knee, in just the right spot, crippling him for months, if not permanently. The same move brought him towards the fifth thug, his other hand knifing for the man’s crotch.
Number five caught his hand, had been watching his hands the whole time, Scarecrow realised too late. Before he could shake him free the man flexed his strong fingers just so, and Scarecrow felt two of his own fingers dislocate. With another twist, splintering bones burst through the skin of his little finger.
He grunted as he pulled free and danced back, free from the circle, but not from danger. Two down for the loss of one hand. It wasn’t good.
Twin number two – number one and only, now – was up again, and charging.
The Siberian held a memory implant, sealed in a sterile pouch, in front of Dorothy’s face.
“I was going to keep this as a trophy, but now I think I’ll put it back where it came from.”
He slapped her, but it did nothing to bring her back from her sweating, moaning state; her eyes rolled and her eyelids fluttered.
“Oh, I know, you’re not yourself. Well, not to worry. We’ll have the General out of your head soon enough. Then we’ll put you back together. And when I kill you, I’ll make sure you’re dead. Which was more than you ever did for me.”
Leon stood in the General’s cell. The General’s empty cell.
The Tin Man finished talking to one of his men and walked over.
“They had insider knowledge. Some of the information was outdated, but with a little inside help it was enough to get him out and vanished.”
“How many down?” Leon always thought of the losses.
“Four dead, two critical, two missing.”
“Assume the missing two are your traitors, there’s no reason for hostages.”
“My thoughts, too.”
“Disabled. Including the official backups, and my own backups.”
“Someone knows you, Tin Man.”
Leon noted the suspicion in those grey eyes. So the Tin Man had involved him to keep an eye on him. Or to make Leon believe he suspected him, to draw suspicion away from himself.
They had trusted each other once. The game certainly had changed, it had changed both of them. Sometimes it didn’t matter how well you played; against an equal opponent, it all came down to the endgame.