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Stalkers
By Matthew Rossi


I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me,
until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out,
far, far beyond the curb of her will

(Robert Duncan, My Mother Would Be A Falconress)

  Thomas was afraid to dream now. It had been two weeks, and every night had alternated between erotic and menacing, and he felt stretched. So he spent his nights in a haze of exhaustion doing what he was doing now, flying over Boston, looking for a reason to do anything.
  The military dreams weren't so bad...he'd spent years studying the Medieval Period, a little of it was bound to rub off. It was the strange romantic ones...Leslie was in them, but she looked completely different, made of millions of red dots that scintillated and shifted, and she also looked wild, and young, and they did...things. He felt himself sinking back into it, and shook his head to clear it. Where were they coming from?
  He never saw the bullets, until they slammed into his armor and flattened, throwing him off in mid-flight. "AARGH! Son of a bitch!" Regaining control before he smashed through a rooftop, he dropped his visor (thank God they didn't aim for my head) and looked around.
  TARGET ACQUIRED. A roaring sound THREE LIONS RICHARD RICHARD RICHARD and then a missile of some kind slammed into the castle wall Tom summoned. And began to pierce it. He was stunned for half a second, and then focused his will, and crushed the projectile in a fist that grew out of the wall. Still no one. Whirling about in the air above the brown and shade-dappled grey of the old house neighborhood he saw no traces of an attacker. Yet he was obviously under attack. But by who? Who would dare attack the King on his falconing expedition?


  PRIME Specialist Sylvester Grier leapt from the rooftops down to the waiting AV-4, his X-O unit jingling slightly. He had expected his barrage of bullets to throw the Patroller's concentration off—Intelligence reports from Boston had convinced Grier that Willrew was bonkers, so he'd assumed minimal tactics would be in order—but he'd been wrong. They'd only alerted him to the incoming SoftShell. DAMN!
  Grier reached out to enter the AV-4. Suddenly, the Hovertank was floating twenty feet above him...actually, it wasn't floating, it was resting in a mailed fist.
  "You tried to kill me." The Willrew freak was above him in that black armored field he prefered. Grier tensed himself for firefight conditions.
  "That will not be tolerated." The AV-4 crumpled in the field. "You will learn the folly of attacking the One True King, by God, St. Micheal, and St. George charged with distributing justice. My will be done."
  Grier looked through the HUD Crosshairs as they linked up on the freak's faceplate...that construct looks pretty porous. Let's see how you like...Teargas selection.
  The shell popped from the arm assembly in the midsection of the greyish black armor and slammed into Willrew's face. He lost control of the fist construct as gas flooded in through his eyesockets, and the metal sculpture that used to be an AV-4 slammed into the ground. Grier leapt over it and slammed into the midsection of the Patroller.


  Diana Halpern shook her waist length black hair impatiently as Fyodor finished getting dressed.
  "You could have waited outside, neh? Was it so vital to disturb an old man's rest?"
  "The meeting with Maverick and Karlson was set up last week...you said 7:00 am we head to Colorado, so here I am."
  "Diana..." Fyodor sounded older than stone in that moment. "I am in my seventies...could I not have had that extra five minutes?"
  She snorted, and he knew what she was thinking. No discipline. He looked at her ramrod straight back and wondered if any of the Patrollers on the reservation suited her. Not young Bryson...he was too flippant, too cocky...and he was better than her. She couldn't stand that, but there it was: Some people are skilled, and some talented, but Bryson was gifted. On him, the Gauntlet was his skin, his hair...he used it well.
  Herne, too silly. Fyodor, too old. There was nobody here she could respect...he sometimes wondered if she was waiting for him to die so she could take over.
  "Well, I suppose I am ready." He laid his palm on the carnelian pyramid. "Activate."
  The silvery blob, like glowing mercury, enfolded his hand, and he was wearing the Gauntlet. He'd given up on understanding it long ago.
  "So," Diana looked concerned as they walked out of Fyodor's room. "What's this meeting all about?"
  "Not much, just PRIME, Area 51, and other crypic references that Zafie gives me. And this robot...why did it attack? There are wheels within wheels, and we need to pool our information. Besides, I don't like this Karlson. I don't like him at all."
  "Then why meet with him?"
  "There is a saying, Stalin loved it, keep your friends close and your enemies closer...until I know which Karlson is, I'll keep him locked in my loving embrace."


  They tumbled end over end in the streets, slamming through a cement wall and landing in a homeless shelter. Bedraggled bodies leapt out of the way as Grier and the Patroller slammed in a heap on top of the stove, crushing it and sending a green froth spraying into the air. The cots were made slick with it.
  The Patroller rolled away and suddenly was surrounded in a ball of sparkling force. Grier launched another SoftShell at it as the Patroller wiped at his eyes, but the shell was deflected by a bludgeon that grew from the side of the globe.
  "I'll kill you that, Knave!"
  "Knave? What are you, King Arthur?"
  "I am Richard! Richard!"
  A huge fist came from nowhere...Grier barely dodged it as the floor was shattered by the impact. The armor the Patroller was wearing became more ornate, and a faceguard with no slits covered the eyes and mouth. He gestured, and suddenly Grier's systems went haywire.
  "Let's see how you fight, Knave!" Out of the globe the Patroller charged, waving a huge sword over his head. He swung it down, and sliced through one of the X-O's secondary arms.
  Grier realized that he was dealing with a serious nutcase.


  Fyodor crossed his arms and waited in the large lab-like room that Karlson's flunkies had directed he and Diana to. Soon he would meet one of the most powerful men on the planet. He was, despite himself, a little impressed by the opulence and taste of the man's ranch. You do not see things like this in Russia, not even now, he reluctantly thought to himself.
  "Quite the place, huh?" Diana's voice contained a slight trace of envy, an understandable emotion in a palace like this.
  "It is...adequate."
  "It should be...I paid enough for it." The two of them turned around as Karlson entered the room, a smile on his face that didn't quite reach his eyes. Those eyes were taking in every detail of the two patrollers...Fyodor wondered how carefully he and Diana had been watched during their wait. He probably knows my shoe size.
  "Dobry dyen." Fyodor fell back into the ignorant Russian sterotype, knowing that it often was a good camoflauge in these kind of situations...and sure that this time it wouldn't work. "I am Fyodor Tisharnovolk, and this is Diana Halpern."
  "Pleased t'meet yall." She extended her hand, and Karlson shook it. "Never mind Fyodor..he's an unfriendly cuss. This is quite a spread you got here."
  "Well, thank you." Karlson gestured to a table set in the center of the room. "Shall we sit? I understand from Janssen that the Patrol has some concerns about the release of Broadcast Power Technology."
  "Not the Patrol as such...I, personally, have some concerns. And also, if truth be known, I wanted to meet you." Fyodor sat down in a chair across from Karlson, and Diana sat next to him. "I wished to get an idea of what you are."
  "I don't know that you can get much from one meeting, but I'm willing to talk about your concerns. What, exactly, are they?"
  "One of them is a simple one. I suspect that the recent deaths in Washington of two Patrollers are connected to the American Government. I also suspect that they are using technology you provided." Fyodor watched Karlson carefully as the smile slipped a bit from his face.
  "That may be so. But the fact is, it would have gotten out anyway, and I can assure you that Karlmax has never knowingly built any kind of 'Patroller-Killer' weapons."
  "I'm an old man, Mr. Karlson. And to be honest, I at times question what I am in this for." Fyodor sat forward. "I believe that you would not do that...but I think there are things that you would do that have allowed it to happen. More than anything else, I just wanted to ask you if you could find out who might be behind this."
  Karlson looked thoughtful. "I could do that...but I'd have to be careful about it. My connections can't be exposed. And what, if I'm terribly blunt, will I get out of it?"
  "Two things: One, a clear conscience. Two, gratitude. That may not seem like much now, but I promise you, I do not forget. Neither aid or attacks. I will return the favor you grant me, with interest."
  "Not afraid you may be making a deal with the devil?"
  "Mr. Karlson, I am Russian. I make deals with the devil every day. And besides, there are other things we need to talk about. The robot, for instance."
  "Actually, that's something I'd like to discuss. If you'll pardon my presumption?" Karlson lifted a remote control and pointed it at a large screen behind them. "This is all the information on the thing that we have."
  Scenes of Hyperion's attacks in Boston and Las Vegas played on the screens. The robot's triangle-face glowed red as the scenes of battle replayed, even as the Janissary attacked him.
  "Who the other person attacking the robot is unknown...Pendragon's recharger has stated only that he isn't a Patroller, which leaves a lot of space open. Does he work for some Enemy of the Patrol's, or is a rogue agent of Civiliation? What's his agenda? But for now, he seems benevolent. The same can't be said for the robot...in Las Vegas he killed two Patrollers before the other drove him off. He seems very hostile to the Patrol."
  "I know this...what I don't know is how he survived. Bryson and I crushed him."
  "Well, according to the observations we've gotten from various sources, it apparently has some sort of self-repair function. People saw the Patroller in Boston smash it into wreckage and dump it into the harbor, but it was up and running again in less than an hour. I'd like to get a look inside..."
  "Maybe you will." Fyodor leaned back and exhaled, the pain in his chest tightening. How much time left? I can't afford to die now, how long can I hold on?


  Grier leapt through a hole in the wall made when the Patroller smashed out blindly at him, missing and tearing the plaster and wood as if it were paper.
  "Come back here, Coward!"
  Not bloody likely, to coin a phrase. Laying down a suppressing fire, Grier banked a left, not realizing as he did that he was also being watched, by eyes far above him. Three figures in green uniforms, holding intricate devices, crouched above. The largest, a woman with skin and hair a cafe-au-lait brown, spoke.
  "The Patroller will follow soon."
  "Broadcast disruptors on line."
  "Excellent. Fire at sight."
  "Attack me while exploring my realm, will you, knave?" Thomas/Richard was so focused on his revenge as he came out of the hole that he never saw the observers...until his armor began to shimmer, and then fade.
  "What in the name of Jesus?" Thomas concentrated, his brow lined with the effort as he tried to restore his covering. Grier was forgotten, and he didn't stop to question his good luck, or observe what was happening, assuming that the deranged man had simply lost intrest as he headed to a CIA safehouse in the hub.
  "Stage two. The Patroller is resisting the disruption."
  "Really? Interesting...I didn't know they could do that. Very well, set up a pulse interruption. That should do it nicely." The statuesque woman clipped her words. Hands flew over control pads. The night air seemed to go dead for a second.
  Thomas had just about restored his armor when it happened. A million ants ripped at his skin as the Gauntlet on his arm discharged a static burst. If he'd leapt into a tub with a radio he'd have felt better. His lips tightened against his teeth so hard that they split, and blood from them and his nose dotted his convulsing chest. He fell to the ground, an occasional hitching breath the only sign of life.
  "He's down...but the interruptors are all fried. If he wakes up before we get him to Area 51..."
  "He won't." She smiled a bloodless smile. "We'll make sure of that."


  Bryson Killaran woke up groggily, the body of his friend Herne laying sideways over his. Well, at least we're both dressed. While trying to move his head, Bryson realized his head was in a bush.
  "Herne..get the hell off of me."
  "Please, momma, I don' want to go to school. I hate ties."
  "Get Up!"
  Herne rolled off, not before driving his knees into Bryson's chin, and the tall Irishman got up. He rubbed at the week-old stubble, which was slowly forming a beard, and looked at the trees and grass around the two of them, as well as the Gauntlet-derived force cube with small holes on top.
  "Well, even drunk I guess I'm smart enough to throw up a shield when I sleep in Central bloody Park. Time to recharge, I bet." He pulled the olive NATO field pack holding his Recharger open, placed his silver-sheathed hand on it, and whispered "Deactivate."
  As the Gauntlet slid back into place, the Cube collapsed, and Herne, who had been leaning against it since rolling off of Bryson, began to roll down the slight hill. He was stopped by a tree.
  "ERRGK!"
  "Good morning, Sunshine."
  "Wha..wher' are we?"
  "Central Park. We were too drunk to fly, so we crashed here. I put up a cube, you put your Gauntlet in to charge."
  "Beau-ti-ful. I feel like I've swallowed a live goat that's still alive."
  "That's redundant."
  "What, now you teach grammar?" Herne got up and walked to the bag he'd been keeping his Recharger in and repeated the procedure that Bryson had just done, but in reverse. "Activate." The silver crawled up his arm, pins and needles. "So I'm driving now?"
  "Yup."
  "To Boston, then." Suddenly a red plane flickered into being underneath them, twisting until it took the shape of an ornate carpet, possibly Persian. Bryson looked at it, then at Herne.
  "A flying carpet?"
  "So I'm dramatic." The rug-construct lifted into the air and began to head off, angling for a last look at the City. "If you don't like it, you can always put your Gauntlet on and fly yourself."
  "By all means, then." They smiled, and then as Bryson sat down, legs folded in the lotus position, they picked up speed.


  Kaltion had not bathed, and had only stopped once, to recharge his Helmet. This had required him to waste time and return briefly to Boston, which angered him. Ever since he'd come to this world, newly discovered emotions had been tearing through him, and right now he was in the grip of two of them. Guilt, that he had failed to keep the robot from killing the mated pair of Patrollers, and Anger, that it had eluded him.
  He felt the Armor unit on his back, brought from Boston. Kaltion would not divert back to the city again until he had caught and destroyed the robot. After the better part of a day spent scanning thousands of emanations fruitlessly—The Humans have Broadcast Power! When did that happen?—he'd found what he was looking for...the telltale signal wavelength, unused in millenia, that heralded a Guardling. A machine of the First Empire, built to protect it from invasion, and other dangers. The Robot was one of them.
  Kaltion was tired, his eyes crusted with sleep, but he was following the signal. It had diverted once, to space, and then came back into the atmosphere. It was here, close now, somewhere in the region known as Colorado. He had to find it. He was a Janissary, and Janissaries don't ever stop hunting.
  And he was angry.


  Imagine being a human woman, still a girl, really, and then getting a device that allows you to be powerful, to make a body-shell and go out and do the things most people never get to do. Sounds pretty good? Imagine then having it go out of control and eat your body, leaving only the shell and your mind, never able to do any of the thousands of things we as humans take for granted.
  Still sound good? Astra knows what that is like, and even membership in the Machine didn't do away with that pain. Sure, she has friends, and a purpose, but is that enough to replace the lost humanity that a malfunctioning Gauntlet took from her?
  She flew above Karlson's ranch. Pendragon--Sam Lyons--and his wife Jenny were in town, doing that whole happy-together bag, and Greymask, while more bearable lately, still got on her nerves. And seeing him and Ted together...maybe she hadn't accepted that as much as she should have. Or maybe it was just that they, as well, could do what she couldn't.
  "Entity. Halt your forward motion."
  She stopped just in time to avoid striking the silver-red humanoid that had seemingly come from the air itself. It looked familiar, but she wasn't sure where she'd seen it.
  "Who are you?"
  "Alien influence. You must be cleansed." It pointed at her, and just then she remembered Karlson's lecture of the night before. There was a new Patroller-Killer out there...and this was it! Before it could do anything to her, she shot forward, as fast as she could fly, which still wasn't all that fast but fast enough to bridge the yard of distance between them, and smashed her fists, which were shifting into sharp shiv-like blades, into it. The impact, while it did no good for the machine, drove her one hundred and ten pound form back and away.
  "DAMN DAMN DAMN!"
  As she tried to stop her backward motion, the thing, apparently suffering a glitch from the punch, flew back as well, jerking it's head side to side. Then as she began to stop, it shot forward like a marionette dragged by an impatient puppetmaster, and yellow light ripped from its hands. The shot was poorly aimed, but she didn't want to depend on the next one being so. She toggled her communication device.
  "We've got an intruder up here."


NEXT ISSUE:
The Machine vs. Hyperion! Willrew discovers the nature of AREA 51! The boys party down in Boston! What side will Kaltion take? All this, and maybe even...THE Z'KAR!


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Copyright 1995, 1997 by Matthew Rossi