A sleek, elegant-looking sports car slowed at the road construction cones that blocked off the quiet, otherwise empty street. The orange lights atop the ‘detour’ sign flashed repeatedly in the darkness of the post-midnight hour, illuminating an arrow pointing toward a nearby alley. A sign next to the alley itself insisted that it would lead around the construction. For a moment, the driver seemed to be considering their options, before putting the car into reverse, pulling back a few feet, and then following the ‘detour’ instructions by pulling ahead into the alley.
Only once the car had made it halfway down the alley did its headlights actually reveal the truth. There was a wall at the opposite end, with no way of actually getting through. Nor was there room in the alley to turn the car around. There was barely room to open both doors.
Just as that became clear, a large van pulled backward into the open alleyway, blocking the exit. Immediately, the back door of the van opened, and four men wearing red and black masks and dark jackets with various years written across the back and (in smaller lettering) over the front pocket, emerged. The years were all different, but each was 1999 or earlier. Of course, because these were members of the Ninety-Niners gang, those who only allowed members who had either lived (or had family who lived) in the city prior to the year 2000. They tended to boast of how long each of their families had lived in Detroit. The further back you could trace your family connection to the city, the higher you were regarded and the easier it was to be promoted.
Each of the four Ninety-Niner men who hopped out of the back of the van carried a gun. Two had pistols, while two had shotguns. They split into pairs, one of each weapon type, and advanced. Two moved to the driver’s side, while the other pair moved up on the passenger side. All four glanced toward the license plate on the car. It was an out-of-state plate, of course. That was what had made this particular vehicle such an attractive target. Fucking outstaters coming to their city, reaping the benefits of what people whose families had actually lived there had earned? Hell no, not anymore. The Ninety-Niners were going to make damn sure that didn’t happen. Especially with some rich, spoiled cocksucker who thought they could come here in their fancy sports car. Detroit was for Motor City natives, not some Johnny-come-lately.
The driver of the car hadn’t moved once the men emerged. They kept sharp eyes on the reverse lights while raising their weapons, making it clear if the person tried to reverse into them, they’d be hit by a hail of gunfire. But the driver gave no indication of doing anything of the sort. They simply sat there, as though waiting for the gunmen to approach.
Reaching the back of the car, the two pairs of masked figures briefly exchanged glances before starting around. The two by the passenger side carefully used small lights attached to their weapons to check for anyone crouched or laying in the back on that side, but found it empty. The car’s only occupant was the driver, whom they could now see was a blonde female.
The two on the driver’s side glanced at each other once more. Then the one with the pistol, who was in the lead, tapped his weapon lightly against the roof of the car. “Open the door,” he ordered. “Put your hands out first, then step out slowly. Do it now and you won’t get hurt. We want your car and any money you’ve got on you, that’s it. After that, you can run off, call the cops, report to your insurance, whatever. Not like some rich cunt like you can’t afford it.”
There was no response to his words, only the very faint sound of whimpering. The blonde girl’s head was down, and it sounded like she was crying, obviously in shock. She gave no indication that she had even heard what he said, seeming lost in her own terror.
Great, it was going to be one of these. People who screamed and cursed them were one thing, but the criers were really annoying. Grimacing behind his mask, the man sighed and steadied himself before knocking a bit louder with the butt of his gun. “Hey!” He raised his voice. “You hear me? Just get out of the car and you’ll be fine. I–” He cast an annoyed look back to his partner before leaning down to be even with her open window. “Look, just fucking cooperate and we’re not gonna hurt you or anything.”
“I know,” Paige Banners replied, no hint of emotion in her voice. As the man reacted to that, eyes widening, her hand snapped out through the open window. She caught hold of his jacket and yanked hard, slamming the man’s forehead against the top of the car. Twice in rapid succession, she repeated the same move, shoving the man back and then slamming his head against the car, all before any of the others could react. His arm with the pistol came up, and she caught it with her free hand, yanking his dazed and barely conscious body partway into the car in order to force his own hand to point toward the opposite side as she made his finger pull the trigger, shooting the pistol-armed man who stood by the passenger door. Silenced as it was, the weapon made almost no sound. They hadn’t wanted to attract police or Touched attention if this went wrong. Which it was, but not in a way they could ever have imagined.
The first man’s partner with the shotgun was trying to get a clear aim, but Paige was using his buddy as a personal shield, blocking his view. Smoothly, she stripped the pistol from the man’s grip, lying backward across the seats with him on top of her as she pointed the weapon backward, firing a single shot that hit the other man on the passenger side right between the eyes. He dropped, his own shotgun clattering to the ground.
Finally, the man with the shotgun on the driver’s side took quick aim, desperately trying to get a shot at the girl herself. Before he could see anything other than his own buddy’s flailing body, however, Paige released said buddy’s jacket. Her now-free hand snapped up and flicked to the side, prompting a small silver dagger to jump into her palm from her sleeve. Another quick snap of her wrist sent the blade through the open window, where it rebounded off the nearby brick wall before stabbing itself firmly into the back of the remaining man’s neck.
He collapsed to the ground, gun clattering loudly. Finally, Paige used her foot to kick her door open, emerging as the barely conscious figure of the first man fell to his knees on the alley floor when she pushed him out of the car with her. He jerked just a little bit while making a sound. It could have been a curse, a protest, a plea, she didn’t care. The hand with the gun she had taken from him simply pointed that way and she shot him through the side of the head, leaving his body to collapse.
Everything had transpired in the span of just a few seconds. Short enough that the driver of the van barely had a moment to realize just how terrible things had suddenly become. As Paige looked that way, the van shifted into drive as the driver panickedly began to flee. Rather than chase him, however, she pivoted toward the door of the nearby building. The van started to tear out of the alley, while Paige fired a single shot from her borrowed pistol at the doorknob before shoving her shoulder into it. The door opened, and she sprinted through the closed and empty shop, vaulting over a couple tables and counters on her way to the front.
She reached the main door, firing another shot that shattered the glass so she could leap through it, just as the van came out of the alley and around the corner. The driver barely had time to notice the figure emerging into view before she sent one more shot into the side of his head. The van kept going for another twenty feet or so before coming to a slow stop as the now-dead driver slumped over.
Looking one way then the other up and down the street, Paige checked for anyone paying attention. But the Ninety-Niners had chosen their ambush spot for a reason. There was no one around. Satisfied, she walked to the van, yanking the door open before pulling the dead driver out. Letting the body fall to the ground, she examined him critically, turning him over with her foot.
“Between the five of you,” the girl muttered darkly under her breath. “I sure hope one has clothes that actually fit me.
“Otherwise this really was a waste of time.”
An hour later, the Ninety-Niners van pulled through another alley and stopped at the rear entrance into a laundromat. Paige, dressed in the clothes, jacket, and mask of one of the men she had killed (which did actually fit, to her relief), parked the van, turned it off, and stepped out with a shotgun held loosely in one hand.
A whistle from the doorway drew her attention to the similarly-dressed gang member who had previously been hidden out of sight. “Yo, you by yourself tonight?”
When Paige spoke, her voice came out sounding far deeper than it did naturally, matching that of the man the clothes had actually belonged to. “Lost a fucking bet. They get to grab food at Dino’s, I get to bring this shit over.”
“Hah, figures.” The man pushed his way away from the door and moved to the back of the van. “Let’s get it over with. You get a good haul, at least?”
Paige, in turn, waited until the man yanked open the rear door of the van and was confronted with the sight of his five dead fellow gang members. Just as he started to react to that, she drove the butt of the shotgun into the back of his head, knocking him senseless. Casually, the girl shoved him up into the van, grabbed the keys out of his pocket, and shut the doors once more while muttering, “Mostly trash.”
With that, she headed for the door of the laundromat, unlocking it with the keys she had grabbed before stepping inside a short hallway. As she passed through the doorway, she heard a simple beep. To most people, it wouldn’t have meant anything. But Paige knew that the single beep was the sound of the Ninety-Niners’ security system verifying that the jacket and mask she wore contained the hidden microchips tagging her as one of their own members. If it had detected her entering without those microchips, the alarm would have sounded immediately.
Straight ahead the hall opened up into the main room where the machines were, while a single door to the right was labeled ‘restroom’ and a door to the left read ‘staff only.’ The sound of a loud television and a man chuckling came from that latter door.
For a moment, Paige simply stood and listened, head cocked to the side. Two people. There were two people in that room. And, from the sound of things, one further off in the main room, doing something with the machines. There was an occasional bang and curse as he was apparently having trouble with his work. Three guys upstairs. More downstairs, she was sure.
Rather than open the door to the office where the two men were watching television, she simply produced a small, matchbook sized silver box and pressed it against the doorjamb. It stuck in place, remaining there while giving a soft, barely audible beep to confirm it had been armed. That done, Paige walked swiftly and silently past the door, heading for the main room. The man working there had his back to her as he leaned over one of the washing machines, fiddling with it. Paige, in turn, moved right up behind him. He sensed her presence at the last second and started to turn, but she caught the back of his neck and shoulders with both hands and forcefully slammed his forehead down into the top of the washing machine twice. Then she shoved his dazed form down, lashing out with a kick that put him down.
She paused, listening just in case. But there was no movement from the office. They obviously believed the bangs they had heard were simply more examples of their companion’s annoyance with his work.
Satisfied, Paige stooped to grab a badge off the man’s belt and moved to an unlabeled door on the far side of the room. It was barely visible, intentionally positioned and painted to blend into the wall. If you weren’t looking right at it, and sometimes even then, you’d have no idea it was there. At most, anyone who didn’t know what it was would think the door led to a small supply closet or something.
But Paige knew better. She had spent months researching to know better. It had taken that long to work out what she needed for her plan to succeed, and to find out where it actually was.
There was no obvious place to put the badge that she had taken from the unconscious man’s belt, which was also intentional. But Paige, again, knew what to do. She held the badge up against what appeared to be a simple stain on the wall next to the door. After a couple seconds, there was a click, and she hauled the door open with her other hand, keeping the shotgun tucked under one arm.
Stairs lay beyond, which the girl quickly started down. So close now. She was so close. Just a little more and she’d have what she so desperately needed.
A man emerged from a door at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at her in clear surprise. “Hey, what’s going on? Is something–”
Paige shot him. There was no time to waste, no way she was going to risk losing out on her goal when she was so close. The shotgun blast took the man directly in the chest, making him collapse to the floor while Paige hopped over him, landing in the doorway he had come out of. It was a sterile lab, where the Ninety-Niners mixed their drugs. A dozen men and women in plastic cleanroom suits jerked upward from their work at the tables, but Paige simply held the shotgun up, watching as they jerked their hands in the air and went still.
Drugs lined the tables, and the people clearly expected her to take them. But she ignored those. Instead, keeping the shotgun raised and trained that way, Paige made her way across the room to another door. Just as she reached it, a man came rushing out, pistol in hand. He would have fired, but Paige had already reacted. Even as the door was still opening, before the man had actually emerged, she snapped her free hand out, producing one of her knives before throwing it. The blade whistled through the air, driving itself into the man’s throat the instant he came into view. He never had a chance to so much as fire a shot before he was already falling.
That prompted a lot of screaming, with one man from the cleansuit brigade bolting toward the stairs. Paige let him go, and the rest followed suit, scrambling to escape.
She didn’t care. They didn’t matter. All that mattered was in that room. She stepped over the dead body, entering what looked like a small storage area filled with the supplies and equipment the people in the main room needed to put the drugs together to be sold.
There. In one corner of the small room was a locked metal cage, about four feet high and four feet wide. Paige murmured a word of thanks under her breath before crouching. Her hand found the padlock, and she gripped it tightly and took a breath before yanking hard. It took a couple tries, but the lock finally snapped, and she tossed it aside before opening the cage.
There. A small green and silver tank, just like one that would hold oxygen, sat there alongside several more just like it. But this one didn’t have oxygen. Technically, the Ninety-Niners used small portions of it in some of their drugs. But that wasn’t why Paige needed it. She had… a different use in mind.
Grabbing the tank, the girl straightened and turned. She quickly made her way across the main basement room and up the stairs. Emerging into the laundromat itself, she found the main door hanging open where the workers had all fled. To the left, she saw the hallway she had come in through. The door to the manager’s office was open, and the two men who had been watching television inside lay slumped on the ground where the device she’d attached to the doorway had left them when they triggered it on their way out.
Satisfied that there were no more surprises, Paige pivoted and walked out through the open front door. More Ninety-Niners would be on their way shortly, but she would be long gone by the time they got there. They would have no way of finding who had ambushed their men, infiltrated their facility, and stolen their equipment.
Quickly moving down the street, Paige found her way to a small parking lot beside a diner. The car she had left there earlier, before any of this started, was still waiting. Opening the back door, she carefully stowed the stolen tank, then stripped out of the jacket and mask, tossing them into the nearby dumpster so she couldn’t be tracked.
That done, the blonde girl gave one last look around, then stepped down into the anonymous sedan, started it up, and pulled away. In the rearview mirror, she saw three vans full of Ninety-Niners come screaming up to the laundromat before dozens of armed men went storming inside.
But they were too late. Paige had what she needed. She was ready for her birthday party.
She was ready to deal with Cassidy.