Heavy rain formed rivers and lakes in the neon-lit back streets of Adamantia City. A blue light flickered on and off, moths hitting themselves against it in the humid summer air. The great ziggurats of steel and glass that formed the Upper Echelons rose high above the slums, signaling a world of clean rooms and minimalist fashion reserved for the wealthy. Down in the Lower City, the black markets and criminals made their trade amongst the desperate and the downtrodden.
Nobody noticed the body in the alleyway. Sodden like a sack of wet potatoes, she lay amidst the garbage, hidden in the shadow of a dumpster. She sat partially upright, having dragged herself to a sitting position in order to try and stymie the blood flowing from the knife wound in her side. With her head slumped, and damp hair falling into her face, there was nothing to differentiate her from the many addicts that frequented the red light district. Indeed, the dark circles around her eyes told the world that she’d dabbled a little herself; often, it was a necessity to dull the pain caused by black market gender reassignment.
Enhancements had their price, and it was a high one. Rejected by the immune system, they could kill without a steady stream of expensive drugs to suppress the body’s natural immunity. Yet, the grim experience of living a half-life in an alien body was worse to most, trapped in a cage there was no escaping until death. But the surgery’s high price consigned the Enhanced to a life of slavery, paying back a debt they could never hope to diminish even slightly.
An electric car hummed past the alleyway and came to a stop. A door opened, slammed shut. Heavy footfalls echoed against the concrete, boots sloshing through the puddles. The man stopped, looked around. A security light came on, illuminating his short, black, spiky hair and long coat, as well as the body he’d come to find. He cleared his throat and moved closer, kneeling down beside her. He lifted her head with two fingers, gently pushing the rain-soaked hair from her face. She was cold, too cold, her lips blue, face ashen. His fingers on her throat confirmed what he already knew and he closed his eyes.
Too late. Again. The anonymous tips were always too damn late.
No doubt the cops would get around to the scene at some point, but their chances of caring were low. He had time to comb the scene, and so he did. He followed the trail of blood and found the knife, serrated as to cause maximum pain. Whoever had done the deed had acted out of cruel spite: another fact that was grim to consider but easy to believe. The woman had dragged herself on hands and knees to her death place, probably begging for her life as he’d kicked her down, laughing.
A diamond-studded cufflink. He picked it up, looking it over before placing it back at the edge of the puddle it had almost fallen into. He could see the scene now, some rich young heir from the Upper Echelon, using his Enhancements to seek out easy prey. She’d probably stood on the corner with her best ‘come hither’ smile, hoping for a meal tonight, or at the very least a hotel room where she could be dry for a bit and have a warm shower. Her heat signature would have told him that she was Enhanced; likely he would have guessed the rest.
He probed no further. He knew the story; he’d seen it a thousand times. No need to relive the sordid details, making himself sick with the sheer monstrosity of it.
He knew what the sentence should be: a life for a life. He had enough traces to go on; now he could go to the Upper Echelons and find the son of a bitch who had done this to one of his own. He extended his arm blades, checking their sharpness; he had some Enhancements too, ones that could deliver justice and get him out before the cops arrived, leaving no trace of his existence. No shadow would be safe until the perp lay in a pool of his own blood, begging for his life.
And then, he would grant the perpetrator the mercy he’d never shown for his victims. He’d retract the blades and walk away, retaining the humanity that separated him from the fiends he hunted.