Friend In Need

From the Story Arc: The Fading Flame

Previous Story in the Arc: Revenant by Seraphic Flame (Wednesday, June 20, 2007)

Next Story in the Arc: Friend In Deed by John Murdock (Saturday, July 07, 2007)

(posted Saturday, July 07, 2007)

Amicus verus rara avis. "A true friend is a rare bird."


John had only been in the Isles for a few hours, and he already hated them. There wasn't anything here that he hadn't seen before; he'd been to devastated cityscapes, ravaged industrial areas, to slums and third-world dictatorships. It was the way that no one seemed to care; it was the way all the inhumanity to man was taken in stride. Arachnos troops, gangs, and the "villainous" metahumans had free reign to do as they pleased. It took all of John's will to keep from doing something, anything whenever he witnessed some seemingly random act of brutality. A Wolf Spider soldier harassing a woman for her grocery money; a student being interrogated by a Mu Striker. Family goons openly beating some poor schmuck. And everyone just crossed to the other side of the street and looked the other way.

John could only grit his teeth and do the same. Any sort of reaction, any move to stop any of it, and he'd become the next target. He didn't have the time, nor enough ammunition, to deal with any sort of trouble. He was here for a reason, and he was not going to fail this time.

Getting to his destination wasn't exactly easy, but it wasn't a feat, either. Sticking to back alleys and toggling his stealth generator when absolutely necessary helped him get by easy enough; most of the people --if you could call some of them that-- that he would have run into were busy with their own problems, like beating someone up or getting beaten up. Arachnos troops were the real threat, them, and the Arachnos psions, the Fortunatas and the like. The psions were the worst. They could probably tell he was Kheldian despite his best efforts to mask his energy signature, and Kheldians didn't belong in the Isles. Still, he hadn't been harassed yet, so he could only hope that his forged papers would hold up to inspection. If they didn't, he had decidedly less civil means for dealing with a patrol.

But that would mean noise and attention, and he didn't need either; the term "silencer" was a misnomer. Sound suppressors, or "cans" as they were called in the industry, reduced noise, but didn't eliminate it. Especially if you weren't using subsonic ammunition; the supersonic crack of a round would still be heard . In a way, it was almost better when he went through "war zone" territory. Gunshots attracted no attention there. And there was more cover.

After what seemed like a long, tense trek through the urban landscape of Nerva, John arrived at the coordinates that Southern had made John memorize. He checked and then rechecked them through a handheld GPS device before he was satisfied; just looking at the "drop point" made him feel funny. To call it a crack house would have been paying it a compliment. It looked like it'd been gutted by at least one fire, and looted through plenty of times. Right outside of one of the many shantytowns that dotted the Isles, it didn't look out of place. Still...he didn't like it. Just the sort of joint someone might be squatting in, and he guessed that if anyone was in there that they wouldn't appreciate visitors. This being Nerva, squatters that didn't want visitors had many pointed, loud, or concussive ways to make their annoyance known. This wasn't like Mercy, where opposition folded like wet newspaper when confronted with someone like him.

Now or never. With a final sigh, John walked through the charred doorway --no door was left from whatever had ripped it off its hinges-- with his hand hovering imperceptibly above a "messenger bag" that he had slung over his shoulder; he'd wondered what the concealed carry laws might be like here in the Isles, at one point, before dismissing the question with a humorless chuckle. Surveying the main room, he was again surprised; this time, that the house hadn't collapsed after he'd taken his first step inside. All sorts of unmentionable and unidentifiable refuse cluttered the burnt floors, and there was some sort of vermin making rustling and scuttling sounds inside of what was left of the walls. Southern knows how to pick 'em. I sure as hell wouldn't have squatted in a place like this, back in the day. He only hoped that he'd gotten the right spot--and the Southern hadn't double-crossed him. There was a mutual respect between them, or had been, and Southern was a soldier. But he was a businessman, too. And he was also bug-out crazy. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness always came to mind whenever he thought of the old goat.

John only had to search the house for a few minutes before he found what he was looking for; a big, none-too-subtle "X" had been carved into the greasy and ash-covered floor in what had been the kitchen. He paused for a moment, becoming still and listening to make sure that he was safe. Once satisfied, John planted his boot through the rotting floorboards; ripping them up, he found his prize. A heavy-duty duffle bag wrapped in clear plastic, to keep moisture from getting to whatever was inside. Unzipping the bag, John found that its contents brought a mirthless smile to his face; some extra ammunition, maps, and a few other "goodies". He didn't know how much of it he'd need, but it was better to have something and not need it rather than to not have it and need it.

Shrugging the duffel’s strap onto his free shoulder, John left the dilapidated house without a glance backwards. Now, it was time to find what was probably his only "friend" in the Isles.

A hint of brilliant white among the low, grey clouds caught his attention. As he stared, it drifted down to land at his feet. A feather. A single white-and-gold feather. John bent down to pick it up, but then grimaced and thought better of it. He had to focus. Didn't he?