Horns and screeching tires yelled at him from behind as Rick Macey counter-steered, sliding the silver Lexus sideways before nearly sideswiping a cab. He tuned his neural net to the local traffic satellite, its overhead image minimizing in the corner of his vision as he careened through another intersection in the turbocharged sedan.
Pouring rain turned the city streets into tar-black mirrors. Traffic signals and holographic billboards reflected in a disorientating array of flashing neon and laser light. He forced his eyes to see through it as he neurally shifted gears, plowing through a hazily reflected red light—rain pounding his car top in a snare drum roll.
Artificial adrenalin heightened his senses. He warned slower vehicles with a constant blaring of the horn, weaving restlessly behind them like an Indy car driver waiting for the pace car to pull away. Finally he spotted open roadway ahead on the traffic-sat. He punched the gas, wiper jets barely maintaining visibility as the methanol engine roared and his speed increased.
No way was he letting the killer get away.
Not this time.
Not when he had the location pinned.
Macey locked his comm onto the police band, scanned the channels for confirmation of the kill. His neural net queued up a series of transmissions and he let them play, his AI ciphering through and discarding the impertinent bits according to his search algorithm. A cacophony of voices relayed their various pieces of information.
<20mm shell extracted from wall forty mete…>
Two miles. That sealed it. It was the Streetwalker Sniper for sure.
The traffic-sat marked his destination looming ahead of him, a building towering a hundred stories into the stormy night sky. Macey downshifted and slid the Lexus to a halt at the entrance of the Liberty Tower Complex. He sprinted through the downpour toward the glass front doors.
A lone security guard sat loafing at a duty desk within but Macey couldn’t wait for a proper entrance request from HQ. He gazed upward at the mammoth citadel as rain peppered his eyes. It was nearly a thousand feet tall, multi-terraced and cylindrical in shape—like some giant wedding cake with a cheese grater exterior of widows mapping its outside. Climbing the thing was out of the question. Besides, there were easier ways to the top.
He took a two-step run up and vaulted himself to a first-story window ledge, clinging to it by his fingertips before hoisting himself the rest of the way with a mild grunt. He was already soaked, his hair dripping and matted, water penetrating his trench coat to his shirt, tie, and slacks beneath. He endured the discomfort as he braced himself within the window ledge for safety and bowed his head in concentration.
He accessed the web through his neural net, searched for the building’s security system through the data window in the corner of his vision. In seconds he found it and used his encryption keys to gain full access.
He sent an interrupt signal to the security system at the same moment his elbow smashed the heavy glass. It shattered like a piece of rock candy but stayed fixed to the laminated backing, clattering onto an office desk in a single sheet. He rolled inside after it and tumbled off the desk, his wet shoes slipping on glass shards and office papers before coming to a stand. He sent a fake all clear signal to the security system right before it registered the breach.
Easy so far.
The internal security system proved even easier. He bypassed it by hacking the device controllers directly. In minutes, he opened the office door, neurally forced the security cameras to scan in the opposite direction as he passed, and hailed an elevator.
As he rode it skyward, Macey drew his Mauser M5 automatic pistol from his shoulder holster, and chambered a round. With luck he’d never use it, but at this stage there was no sense being ill-prepared.
The elevator doors opened with a pleasant bing, and Macey stepped onto the top floor. The schematic in his internal view showed that two flights of stairs lay between the top floor and the roof. He hit the stairwell at a run.
As he climbed he kept close watch on the Sniper’s position on the internal map. Still stationary—was he seeking another target? Macey doubled his speed.
There’d be no more deaths tonight.
Hurricane-like winds and rain beat against the door to the roof as he forced it open. At a hundred stories up the rainstorm screamed in a banshee howl. Solar panels and satellite arrays rattled with each gust, threatening to break loose from their knee-high mountings and ruin the maze pattern they formed on the roof. A massive sat-dish stood between him and the sniper’s position.
He paused to access his remote memory device, retrieving more data on the case. It hadn’t occurred to him until now, but the previous occasions the Streetwalker Sniper had struck boasted similar weather conditions. It made sense. At each crime scene, 20mm rounds had been found—and a 20mm rifle made one heck of a bang. Using a silencer would be out of the question as it would lower the accuracy and muzzle velocity, not to mention be ultimately useless as the round itself was supersonic and would cause a sonic boom. A storm provided the perfect cover for the sniper.
Cover Macey would now take advantage of.
He stalked through the whipping rain, which began to abate, forming a stinging mist as he edged closer to the sniper’s position. His internal mapper showed a red triangle just around the sat-dish. As Macey shuffled around it, a figure came into view, hunched over the side of the roof’s safety wall.
The sniper looked small—under five feet. But Macey didn’t let himself underestimate this guy. He’d proven to be a formidable hacker, having accessed the skyscraper’s roof most likely in the same way he had. He would also certainly have some military training, judging from his skill, and possibly access to other military weaponry he hadn’t yet revealed. On top of that, he was methodical and patient.
The previous rainstorm had taken place over a month ago. The sniper was no raving lunatic on a killing spree. He was an assassin, a rational executioner with a well–thought-out plan of action.
And from the looks of him now that Macey was closer, he was about fourteen years old.
Macey stood for what felt like a minute, gazing at the scrawny white kid decked out in a black jacket, fatigues, army boots, and a baseball cap turned backwards. He stood shouldering a tripod-mounted Barrett 20mm cyber-rifle, leaning on the safety wall. The weapon looked twice his size. His white-knuckled hands clenched the pistol grip and trigger while a wire ran from the base of his neck to the Barrett’s targeting scope.
Macey took a few steps forward to bring himself within earshot. He blinked away the rain, drew his pistol, and raised his voice above the level of the wind: “Let go of that rifle, son.”
The boy jumped, his head turning back to give him a who-the-heck-are-you kind of glare.
“It’s over,” Macey said.
The kid’s lower lip curled into a snarl and he turned back to the scope, tensing for a last shot.
Macey fired a single round from the Mauser. The bullet severed the rifle’s control cable with a spark, sending the sniper into a fit of screams as he clenched the back of his neck.
“Coward!” He yanked what was left of the cable from the head. “You’re supposed to kill me. Don’t you even know that?” He backed against the wall, his young face twisted with all the menace of a high school bully. The stock of the Barrett fell to the floor and dangled from the tripod affixed to the wall.
“Kill you, huh?” Macey kept the Mauser trained on him as he inched closer. “Unlike some I could mention, I don’t make a habit of killing people. Especially not kids, even ones as sick as you. Lie down with your hands behind your head. The cops are on their way.”
He slowly shook his head. “How’d you find me anyway?”
“Think it takes a genius to figure out a two mile headshot requires a cyber-rifle, smart bullets, and targeting satellite support?”
The kid snorted. “So you hacked the satellite.”
“No, but I knew you would.” Macey stepped around a solar array. “I gotta admit, you were pretty good when you hit the sat. Quick in and out, just long enough to acquire your target and get your shot off, but…” He tapped the neural port on the nape of his neck. “…long enough for me to plant a trace.”
“Nice one.” The kid flicked what was left of the control cable from his hand like a cigarette butt. “Guess you think you’re smart, then. Bet you think you’re righteous too. Bet you think it’s your righteousness that keeps you from killing like I do.”
“I don’t know what you’re—”
“You just fear death more than God.”
Crazy little punk. “Just get on your knees.”
“I killed those whores in God’s name.” He tugged at his jacket. “Gave them a chance to repent, but they didn’t listen. So I sent them to the judgment—before they can drag any more souls to hell with them with their tempting lusts.”
“How can a kid even think like that?” Macey stepped toward him more forcefully as the kid kept tugging at his jacket. Was he hiding something underneath? “Just shut up and hit the floor. I won’t kill you but I will shoot you if I have to. And you’ve seen I’m a pretty good shot.”
“Go ahead,” the boy said and his jacket flew open. It flapped in the wind, revealing a crucifix dangling from a leather strap about his neck. His torso was packed with what looked like plastic explosives. Perfect. And in his hand he held a trigger, already depressed, a dead man switch.
Macey backed away, lowering his Mauser and raising his free hand. “Calm down, kid. No one else has to die today.”
“You do,” he said with a piercing stare, “and so do I.” He looked behind Macey toward the door to the staircase. “I thought there’d be more of you when it finally came to it, but if it’s just one cop then that’s the way God wants it.” He leaned his elbows against the wall as if it were a bar and he in a club, the trigger still in hand. “I’ll give you the same chance I gave those whores. Will you repent before you die, pig?”
“Why are you doing this?” The kid had gained the upper hand, but there were ways to change that. Subtle ways. “What do you hope to accomplish by all this?”
“Look at you.” He smirked, shook his head. “Still so afraid to die, aren’t you?”
Keep talking, kid, just a few seconds more. “I guess you’ve got me all figured out.”
“I know where I’m going, man, do you?” The sniper taunted him with a wave of his crucifix. “This is your last chance, little piggy. Repent before God or burn forever in Hell.”
“Repent, huh?” Macey holstered the Mauser and strode forward, seized the boy’s wrist. “I’ll show you repent.”
The kid staggered backward, eyes wide, mouth ajar as he sank to the rooftop. His arm shook spastically as he tried to let go of the trigger, his jaw grinding like a vice.
“What is thish?” he said between clenched teeth.
“You’re paralyzed.” Macey studied the crude detonation device about the boy’s waist and quickly disarmed it. “I hacked your neural net while you were busy running your mouth. Don’t worry, I just froze your gross motor control. I’ll release it as soon as I get a proper cyber-lock plugged into your neural jack.”
The kid laughed—as much as he could laugh with a clenched jaw anyway. “You are ferry good.” His laughter faded, and despair contorted his features until he sobbed gutturally in jerky breaths. “Preez jush kill me… I don’t womma liff in dis world no more.”
“And just what do you know about living?” He grabbed the crucifix about his neck and showed it to him. “Only this and your hate?”
The boy didn’t respond, just kept on crying.
Macey rose with a deep exhale. Kids killing hookers in the name of God. Could it get any worse?
The rain had died almost completely now but the wind still gusted. The police units he had called would be arriving shortly, but he wasn’t in the mood for the lengthy explanations they would want from him if they found him here.
“The cops are coming for you. You won’t wander off, will you?” He turned from the temporarily paralyzed boy and headed toward the stairwell. “Oh, and just so you know, since you seem to believe in all that stuff…repentance alone won’t bring you salvation.”