One stone at a time, he told himself. Don’t look at what’s left. Just one stone at a time.
He glanced to his left, about three hundred feet left. His hand began shaking. Why couldn’t he do this? He could assemble a Karovan L-R D-342 with nothing more than a screwdriver. He’d taken apart and fixed locks with nothing more than his claws. So why couldn’t he build this cursed wall?
His shaking hand almost made one of the stone already in place tip over.
One stone at a time. He took a breath and forced his hand to settle. He put the stone in place and picked up another one.
His hand was shaking again. He felt the anger bubbling up.
How long had he been wasting his time at this? When would it be over?
He had trouble breathing. He needed to do something else. Run, burn the anger off.
No. He needed to feel his claws sink into flesh. He needed to rip something apart. There were people around. He could kill someone, tear them apart. He looked at the clearing, but the training was done for the day. He saw the herd in the distance, but there was no satisfaction in killing an animal, he wasn’t hungry.
The town. He could find someone there to—Alex’s screaming at him floated out of his memories and he winced. He screamed back, glared at the wall. Alex would stop him. What right did Alex have to tell him what to do? He almost kicked the wall, but a thrumming reverberated in the distance.
He looked over the forest.
Something was coming.
The noise grew louder. It was the anti-gravity field of a hover flying too close to solid objects. The rustling of branches and leaves. He saw it. Too far to make out details, but Approaching.
His hands were shaking, his breathing was coming faster. Attackers, coming from his side of the town, so Alex wouldn’t be able to keep him from this fight.
He could make out the model now and his hopes were dashed. It wasn’t a military hover, just a passenger one. An old Camirlan bus.
Tourists then. It slowed as he flew over him. High enough he didn’t feel the anti-gravity field and it no longer made any sounds. He screamed at it. Watching it land halfway between the House and the town. A door opened on the side and people poured out.
The movements were orderly, controlled, not the chaos of people cooped up for too long. Their clothing was stiff, heavy, and they carried...
They were armed. Armed attackers.
He ran at them as they ran for the town. They were fast, but Tristan was motivated. He needed to get to them before the others. He wasn’t going to be denied this fight.
He roared. And one of them heard him, glanced over his shoulder and stopped.
Tristan wove left and right and the shots missed him. The armored woman realized he was too close now, she let the gun fall and reached for her knife, but she hadn’t realized how fast he was. He sunk his claws in her neck, between her helmet and armored vest. He felt the warm blood flow over his fingers, smelled the metallic tinge added to the air, and he smiled.
He raised her in the air then slammed her down. He heard bones break at the impact. Her eyes were filled with incomprehension, fear, pain. She’d thought herself a predator, a killer, someone who would never be a victim.
Tristan smiled. Everyone was his victim. He ripped her throat out and straightened. He ran for the town, ignoring the gun and the knife. Blaster shots sounded among the buildings. Ardiez Carbines, by the sound of it, as well as smaller powered Kentrics. She’d carried a handgun version of the Pisteron, the HH-12. And now he heard the distinctive cycling of the power between silent shots.
One of the attackers had his back to him, using a building as cover from the incoming shots. The townsfolk had the Kentrics. He grabbed the man by the neck and slammed his head in the wall hard enough the helmet broke apart and his head embedded itself in the wall.
He wanted a fight.
He stepped between buildings and saw five of the attackers, their back to him. Between the building he saw Samalians firing in their direction. One of them, a youngling with eyes wild with fear saw him and yelled something.
Tristan roared in answer and the attackers turned. He gave them the time to get over their surprise, waiting for the guns, three HH-12, a carbine, and a Virtek Sleek, to be raised in his direction before launching himself at the closest.
He felt the shots pass close. The Sleek burned his shoulder, but by then he had his hand on the man’s vest and turned, putting him between the shots and him. The man let the carbine fall; the strap making it tangle at his side. He reached for the knife, but Tristan grabbed his wrist and crushed it.
The scream sounded sweet. He pulled on the arm as he ran toward the other attackers. He felt it pull out of the socket, then heard the flesh tear amidst the scream. He impacted a wall, planting his shoulder in the man’s chest and crushing it.
He dropped him and threw himself at the closest attacker. He grabbed her vest and ripped it open. She struck him, but humans had no claws and he barely felt her fists impact. He sunk her claws in her flesh, pleased she didn’t have armored skin.
He felt a slashed on his back and spun, using her body to smash the man who’d knifed him. Both were broken beyond recognition by the time he was done smashing them together.
No one else around him, but there was more fighting further in. He ran toward it, jumping in the middle of the firefight, Grabbing hot guns and using them to cave in faces. He broke arms, legs, necks. He ripped limbs out of torsos. Blood covered him, and he couldn’t be happier.
Then there was no one left to kill.
He let the silence soak in. He breathed in the blood. He felt calm. He could see how to fit each stone so they would stay in place. He finally knew how to finish the wall.
Steps, close by.
He opened his eyes. Samalians were watching him, keeping their distance. He prepared himself for another fight, but it wasn’t wariness in their eyes. It was admiration. Then they were all talking at once, coming toward him.
He barely understood what they said. Different dialect to the one he was familiar with, but there was no threat in the tone. His arms were squeezed and released as people moved around him. He saw and smelled the arousal and dismissed it as a normal reaction to the fight. It had taken him years to gain control over it.
Loud voices came from further in and the people around him moved in that direction. Some looked at him, unmoving and said things he didn’t understand, then motioned for him to follow.
Curiosity pulled him after them. They sounded joyful. Not contented, as he felt after a good fight, but happy. They reached the center of the town and more of the townsfolk were out. They were celebrating their victory.
Of course, for them this was an extraordinary event. They’d taken on a corporate attack team and won.
Seven dead Samalians were stretched side by side at one end of the large space. People stopped by them, solemn, but then rejoined the celebration. People pointed at him, mimed fighting, tearing bodies apart.
He should take part. He should blend in, avoid attracting attention by standing there, watching intently, but he didn’t know how. He couldn’t form a mask that would fit this, and he didn’t understand why.
He’d partied before. He’d played the part multiple time to get a job done, so why couldn’t he do it now? Someone handed him a large mug. He sniffed it, alcohol, and downed it. He barely felt the burn. Was something about this different?
Music came, and the sounds stirred ancient memories. Him and his mother in a market, musicians, laughter. He shook them away. The past wasn’t something he spent time on.
Or was he the one who was different now? He was, he needed to admit that, his brother’s torture had done something to him, his father’s occasional presence was proof of that, but that wasn’t where it had begun.
He felt a hand on his chest, smelled the blood flake off his fur. People were dancing to the music, or dancing privately, in twos and threes in shadowed corners. Words before him made him look down.
A woman, young, but an adult. She had silvery fur with black highlights. She repeated the words, running her hands through his chest, making more of the blood flake off, creating a small cloud of reddish dust around them. He stared at her. She had light blue eyes.
She canted her head and repeated what she’d said.
He didn’t react.
She said different words, and he understood one, in spite of the thick accent. “Strong.”
He nodded, and she smiled. She rubbed her head against his chest, and when she looked up, he finally understood what he was seeing in her eyes. Desire, lust. She wanted him.
The idea that this slim and fragile person might want him when he hadn’t done anything to engender that reaction, felt strange. It had never happened before. Tristan had made people want him, even when they didn’t realize he was doing it, but he’d just been standing, watching, and somehow she’d decided he was desirable.
He could play the part. He could be a lover. He could take her to a dark corner and have a private dance with her. But why? She had nothing he wanted. She wasn’t a job. Sex was a tool, nothing more. A thing other people wanted, and he used to control them. Sex wasn’t something he wanted.
His head snapped up.
He searched the crowd, looking for Alex.
He moved through the people, ignoring the woman’s distressed calls.
He wanted Alex.