Strike stands mesmerized and puzzled by the nothing she and her Cat Clan army now find themselves staring at.

Moments ago, she had the upper hand.

As the leader of preeminent criminal army, the Cat Clan, and being a female irregular cheetah at that, she had their foe surrounded. It had been a pitched battle. She’d give credit where credit was due. The young human female, Robin Wallace, lead two other irregulars, a coyote named Rio, and a tiger, Felis, into an unknown location, facing unknown numbers of well-trained warriors. The surprise arrival of Hellrex, an irregular Tyrannosaurus Rex that was once Cat Clan property, almost tipped the scales in the girl’s favor.

Almost.

Strike didn’t gain her skills and experience playing Halo. She was trained by the first leader of the Cat Clan, who also happened to be her lover. Her inherent speed and quickness had only been enhanced during her transformation from feline to irregular. She was a master of all weapons put before her. She was vicious and agile in body and mind.

Yet, here she stands in a vacant room, surrounded by her Cat Clan, looking at the place were her foes disappeared.

A voice speaks up, jarring Strike’s thoughts. She turns towards where the voice came from. “What?” she asks irritated.

One of her Cat Clan sheepishly steps forward. “What should we do?”

Strike turns back to the vacant space, feeling as if her head were a rattle and every time it moved, it felt odd, different.

She turns to face her Cat Clan soldiers, gaining some sort of authority. “Fan out through the building and Pen Alpha. Track them down. Show them no mercy!”

The Cat Clan roar their bravado, raising weapons and clawed hands.

Strike does the same as they tear out of the room, seeking out prey that she suspects are long gone from this building, perhaps the city.

Strike turns back to the vacant spot, remembering one of Robin Wallace’s saviors that teleported in. An irregular raven, carrying a sphere, a device that teleported them out.

A device.

A switch goes on in Strike’s mind and she races out of the room. She charges down hallways, up stairwells, towards the offices in the top of the building.

She bursts through the doors leading into the main offices. “I want answers!” she roars.

She looks around the typical office layout, consisting of a maze of cubicles. All of them, empty.

She jogs her way towards the offices that line the outside of the floor, with their window-views of the city of New York. She heads to the most important looking office, the one with mirrors walls for privacy.

She kicks open the door. “I want answers!” she roars.

The office, with it’s ultra-modern look of steel, glass and marble is also empty.

She snarls silently as she looks around, her eyes falling upon two large doors to her right.

She kicks open the doors. “I want–” she stops in mid-sentence, her anger and ferocity quickly deflate when she sees it’s a conference room, and it’s also empty. “Answers.” she finishes, dejectedly.

She grabs the closest chair and hurls it at the conference room windows. It bounces off, crashing into other chairs.

“Where the hell is everyone?” She whispers to herself.

She turns to walk out of the conference room when something catches the corner of her eye. She turns to see a hidden door slightly ajar. She goes over and opens it, discovering a set of private stairs going up.

A realization alights in her mind. “The penthouse!” she says aloud before racing up the stairs.

She comes out of another hidden door, into an extravagant lobby, with a private elevator and large security desk where someone usually always sits. A heavily-armed someone, usually watching monitors with access to thousands of cameras, and equally heavily-armed back-up never far away. By now, she’d be killing those heavily-armed guards.

But it too is deserted.

Ahead of her, heavy, ornate wooden doors, crossed with braces of wrought iron, like the gate of a castle. She approaches them, places her hands on them and pushes.

They move. They open. She walks in.

She has been up here only once before, when she first came to New York City. When she entered Shingen Kawaga’s penthouse, she felt as if she’d traveled back in time.

Beyond the doors stands a mansion that looks more like a Buddhist temple than a base of operations for a twenty-first century criminal organization. On closer inspection, it becomes a mix of ancient and modern. It’s hand-carved exterior panels stand alongside mirrored glass windows and security cameras. It is capped with a deep red clay shingles. Three sets of balconies look over magnificent gardens, trees taller than the mansion, and even a pond.

It is only when Strike looks beyond the beauty and history that she remembers where she is. The entire compound, the mansion, trees and pond all take up the top six floors of Kawaga’s AmeriShin Building. Massive, heavy glass panels frame the entire compound. Looking up, beyond the mansion’s roof and the tallest trees, the slanted glass top of the skyscraper. If you look carefully, between the trees and gardens, you can see the glittering lights of the New York City skyline.

Now, like she was when she first saw it, Strike is awe-struck.

She refocuses and heads for the main doors of the mansion and finds them open and unattended.

She walks briskly through the formerly secretive halls, past previously off-limit rooms, and up sweeping, grand staircases, all looking as elegant as the exterior.

She eventually finds the place she seeks, Shingen Kawaga’s office. She enters unheeded. It is like the rest of the mansion, only more so. Only the desk doesn’t match. It’s ultra modern, with computers built right in. The only access, a Tablet PC.

She sits at the desk tries to activate the Tablet PC, but it’s locked out.

“Damnit!” she yells and goes to toss it, when her enhanced senses pick up a scent. She holds the Tablet PC close to her nose and sniffs.

Human sweat and fear. Someone was here recently.

She gets up and follows the trail, ignoring everything around her, focusing on the scent.

It leads her to the opposite side of the mansion. When she exits, she finds a glass door to a helicopter landing pad that can be extended out from the skyscraper.

On the landing pad, barely seen against the night sky, is a man in a suit with a briefcase.

Strike steps out. “Who are you?” she asks with menace.

The man turns around. Strike doesn’t recognize him. He looks rather plain, dull even. The most remarkable thing about him is just how unremarkable he seems to be.

“Jared. Lane. Jared Lane.” he says as he looks at Strike with puzzlement.

“Well Mr. Lane,” Strike says as she stalks towards him. “I want some answers, and you’re the only one around. So you better answer them, or jumping to your death will seem like bliss.”

Lane’s puzzlement fades to dull indifference. “What do you want to know?”

Strike grabs Lane by the shirt. He drops his briefcase as Strike picks him up and holds him out over the edge of the platform. “Who the hell saved that girl and her merry band of heroes? I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter about devices and such. That irregular raven had a device that looked too far out for our brain trusts to whip up. If something big is going down, how come I’m not with Kawaga, leading the Cat Clan? And how come this building feels like a ship after the rats have deserted it?”

“They purposely kept you out of the loop.”

“What?”

Lane starts to giggle. “No loop for you!”

Strike stumbles back, letting Lane go. He falls back onto the landing pad, giggling like someone at a wake.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Strike asks, her fur beginning to tingle, like when something is very wrong, yet can’t be identified.

Lane gets his giggling under control as he grabs his briefcase. “I’ve had that stuck in my head for months.” He slowly gets to his feet and looks at Strike with sympathy. “You aren’t the only one whose been out of the loop.” He turns away from Strike and looks out over the city.

“Kawaga has gone mad. Or went mad. It happened a few years back. But when your rich, they call it ‘eccentric’. But recently, he officially walked off the deep end, at least that’s the consensus. We even had a pool going.” he pauses and glances over his shoulder.” Shit, I’m out fifty dollars to boot. I had ‘syphilis’.” He laughs and turns around, shaking his head. “I don’t have syphilis! I meant Kawaga had syphilis. I thought that might have made him crazy. If untreated, it can affect your brain. I saw these pictures–”

“Stop!” Strike yells, cutting off Lane’s rambling, clearly unnerved by his words and thoughts. “Tell me what I want to know or I’ll gut you where you stand!” she threatens, but it doesn’t have her usual bite. Something is unnerving her.

“Go ahead. We’re all gonna die anyways.” Lane says, matter-of-fact. “And I don’t mean in the ‘circle-of-life’ way. I mean soon. Tonight. Everyone.”

Strike has smelled fear on Lane since she found the Tablet PC. He reeks of it. But it’s not of her. It’s the same thing that put her on edge. The world is changing and it may not survive.

Lane turns back to look out over the city. “Whatever the cause, Kawaga wasn’t the same. Some say he wasn’t the man he was. They’d see flashes of red in his eyes one minute, then poof, everything is normal the next. But one thing everyone agreed on was his obsession with the device.”

“Device? Like a teleporter?”

“No one really knew for sure. He kept that extremely hush-hush. That’s why he kept only those he could trust close to him. Dr. Lo. Savage and his mercenaries, and newly created Cat Clan that would only be loyal to him. Everyone else, he sent away.”

“No.” Strike says quietly. “That’s a lie! I was his choice to lead the Cat Clan. I was loyal. I am loyal!”

“Did he tell you about the device?” Lane pauses, then glances over his shoulder, waiting for an answer. When he doesn’t get one, he looks back at the city. “Didn’t think so. Guess your…” his tone changes, sounding official, like he’s reading a press release. “Misadventures in the desert, almost getting killed, then kidnaping the wrong irregular for sentimental reasons have cast serious doubts on your loyalty to the Cat Clan.” He glances over his shoulder, returning his voice to normal. “That’s from an internal memo.” He pauses before adding, “Personally, I think you’re doing a bang-up job.”

“Why?” Strike says, her menace and anger faded to disillusionment. She almost sways as her mind begins to reel. “Why would he need to keep it secret?”

Lane looks out at the skyline. “Because he knew it would end the world.”

Lane’s words at any other time, even a mere hour ago, would sound ridiculous. Impossible. But now, after what she’s heard, what her senses have been telling her, she fears his words are true.

A lifetime seems to pass between Lane and Strike as she joins him at the end of the landing pad.

“Were you going to escape?” she asks.

“In a way.” He replies. He crouches down and opens his briefcase. In it, a pistol and pictures of a woman and two children, all of whom look happy and full of life. “I came up here to look at my family, enjoy the view, then blow my brains out.” Tears start filling his eyes as he looks at the gun and the pictures. “I want to do it. I thought I could do it. But–”

Strike cuts off Lane’s words by grabs his head and twisting. His neck snaps and his body goes limp. The pictures and gun fall from his hands. The pictures drift off into the night, while the gun falls with a metallic thud. She release his head and his body fall forward, off the landing pad and makes it’s long way to the street below.

Strike sits on the edge of the landing pad, her legs dangling over. She looks out at the city, thinking about all that Lane said. She’s torn up inside, churning with bewilderment and anger. All the years she thought she had a place among the Cat Clan, along side Kawaga. She betrayed her lover for Kawaga! She would have done anything for Kawaga. Killed anyone. She was a loyal soldier.

Her train of thought come to a full stop. She was loyal. It was those she was loyal to that were without loyalty. Where she would have fought to the death for them, they would have left her to die, if it meant saving their own skin.

She doesn’t notices the tears that trickle from her eyes and down her face. She just stares out at the city.

Along the horizon, she sees something odd. Lights, rolling and bubbling. Behind it, darkness, total and complete.

“Guess this is how it ends.” she says aloud to no one.

She closes her eyes and remembers a time before she was an irregular. She remembers racing across the African Savanna. Her muscles burning, the wind washing over her body, her prey getting closer and closer. She remembers that freedom.

Strike doesn’t notice a Q-shaped energy signature flash behind her, nor the irregular rabbit wearing ragged clothes that stands where the energy signature was.

“Am I too late?” The rabbit says in a hurried, exhausted voice. “I’m too late!”

Strike comes out of her thoughts as the blackness comes closer, leaving destruction beneath it. She turns around, puzzled.

“Maybe you can help!” the rabbit says and grabs Strike.

Purple energy in the shaped of a large “Q” appears around them both and quickly vanishes, missing the incredible destruction of New York City beneath a wave of black.

 

Tales from the Infinatum Copyrighted © 2011 Mark James MacKinnon. Any use of these characters, without permission, is strictly prohibited. Any similarities to individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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