The light of the city hovered in the distance as the train sped on, the soothing rocking motion had already put two of the passengers in the cabin to sleep, but the click clack of the old line and the well worn seats meant that two other passengers kept a wary vigil. It was past midnight and the overnight train from Zagreb to Belgrade was twenty minutes behind schedule and they were not even halfway to their destination.
The border of Croatia and Serbia would be reached within an hour, so Will decided to stay awake, at least until then. Chen looked like he was ready to sleep, but the train which was likely built in the 1970’s, whilst still functional was a little uncomfortable. The other two passengers, a middle aged man and a younger woman, both appeared to be locals found no problems with the comfort apparently and had dosed off not long before departure.
It had been a long day, last night’s successful raid of the hive had opened up a can of worms. The creature that Will had taken hostage had stayed bound and gaged and unconscious for over an hour, which had given him enough time to drag it back to his stolen van. Chen had volunteered to wait in the van, but Will had declined stating that he needed him watch Meat, the little creep that had attacked them two nights prior. It was getting a little too heavy for Will and Chen, they didn’t often take captives, it was usually just a quick interrogation and then disposal, so watching two of them could be difficult to juggle.
Will was pleased to see his friend sitting quietly, legs crossed and drinking a cup of tea with cigarette ash in a tray next to him. Meat, still tied up seemed to be unconscious when he walked into the small, old house they had commandeered for the night. It had been abandoned as was common in the country side, as younger people moved to cities and older people died, the Balkans were seeing the start of a major shift in dynamic, but the result was a small farm-house about ten minutes drive from the nearest town, it too was starting to fade into obscurity.
Meat stirred, having been apparently asleep and looked up with its big black eyes, groggy like a child. Will dragged the creature which was slightly bigger than him, it’s gangly arms secured behind its back.
He had warned it not to use its powers in any way or he would take off one of its hands.
Even these animals can learn a fearful obedience.
The creature had stirred only once upon awaking and had remained compliant ever since. Will dropped the new guest next to the old and sat down, pouring himself a cup of tea.
‘Rough night?’ Chen asked having only just looked up once from a book he had sitting in his lap. It was in Mandarin Will observed, although he couldn’t read it he could distinguish it from Cantonese which Chen also could read and speak.
‘Somewhat,’ Will replied grabbing a bottle of water and downing it in one go before sitting in an old dusty chair with padding ten years past useful. The décor of the place was drab in its heyday, with 1960’s colour sets, but with the dust and occasional vermin, it wasn’t exactly a holiday home. ‘Nevertheless I’d rather raid one of their businesses. At least there I can steal something of value and we can afford something lavish, like a place with no holes in the roof.’
‘Tsk tsk, picky.’ Chen gave Will a closer look, Will guessed he looked terrible, he was tired and no doubt covered in dirt, had a scratch across his cheek which would need some antiseptic, but he realised also that his clothes had been cut up rather badly by the new captive. ‘Geesh, what happened?’
‘I broke my night vision goggles.’
‘I can get a new pair.’
‘We’ve only got one spare, I thought you like to have two.’
‘That pair’s yours, I dont’ need them anymore.’ Chen frowned at the cryptic remark, but left it alone. ‘Also,’ Will continued after a sip of tea, ‘I’ll need new armour, this one’s cut to shreds.’
Chen sighed, ‘yeah, I think we should get a discount, might as well order a shipping container of them. Looks like you need a new shirt as well.’
Will slid off his long sleeve black shirt, one of a dozen he had for staying hidden in the dark, he threw it away, took off his suit of light body armour and gave his body a quick check. It was dotted with scars, but there was nothing new this time.
Well that’s a surprise.
‘Well now, what should we call you?’ Will addressed the new captive in Serbian. The creature merely glared at him. ‘Come on, this will go much better if you talk, trust me on that.’ The creature looked at Meat, who stared back at him. ‘No no, he can’t help you.’ The creature had no doubt put two and two together, this was the little creature he was supposed to contact at the hive, he had given up the location to Will, their sworn enemy. Meat looked away self consciously, a very human gesture which looked perverse on such an inhuman form.
The larger creature turned back to Will, its face a mask, giving nothing away. ‘Sergiv,’ it said.
‘Well Sergiv, as you are close to Derrick, I’m sure you understand who I am and what my relationship is to him, therefore I’ll cut to the chase. If you tell me where I can find him, it will help you considerably. If you don’t, you will die horribly.’ Will was well aware that his reputation preceded him. He had not crafted it on purpose, but it had occurred nevertheless and he would use it to his advantage.
‘Well Sergiv, what will it be?’ Will spoke without passion, he was merely stating facts, he casually took a sip of his tea and put it on a nearby table which had at least been cleaned whilst he’d been away.
‘I don’t see anyway I can get out of this alive,’ the creature replied in Serbian. His pronunciation was rough, his face was, like all creatures, contorted with the fangs that were held within and he could therefore only speak with a strange pronounciation that Will struggled to understand.
‘Do you want an example of the pain that awaits you?’ Will waited a calculated three seconds for him to answer, not long enough for him to do so, but long enough to make him start the thought process. He stood up and walked the two steps to the captive, rolled him over and by using only a fraction of his power he sliced of one of the creature’s fingers. It grunted in pain, but that was the only reply. Will rolled him back before retrieving one of his serrated hunting knives. ‘It will be more painful with this, that was just a warm up.’ The creature stared at him, but its will gave in as the look wavered.
‘Belgrade, he’s in Belgrade.’
‘Good man,’ said Will, standing and sitting back in his chair, retrieving his tea, ‘well not really, but good all the same. What’s the precise address?’
He got everything he needed from the creature, Derrick was holed up in an old factory, he’d moved there to help manage some of the organisation’s goings on, and Belgrade was a good centre with highways and train lines connecting all major cities in every direction of the compass. His security was high, very high. He never left the factory, he sent out his runners to pass messages, he was rattled by Will no doubt and his state of mind had decreased in the past week. It was like he was a different man.
Will chuckled at that last point.
So I’ve rattled him have I?
Still, that could make him more dangerous and unpredictable. A man who was too unstable could do whatever it took to try to stay alive, drastic measures that could harm the people in the city. He had to be careful.
‘How long until word of the hive’s destruction and your capture reaches Derrick?’
‘The hive’s destruction will be known and sent to him within twenty four hours, as for me, I wasn’t supposed to check in until after that.’
‘True, but he’ll know that you are possibly spilling information to me once he learns of the hive’s destruction, he’s no fool.’
The creature said nothing. ‘We should pack and go immediately Chen.’
‘Packing’s easy, but we wont get a morning train. It just depends if you want to travel by light or dark.’
‘Dark would suffice, but we must be expedient, before Derrick knows of the fate of his messenger here.’
‘We can be in Beograd within twenty four hours even taking a night train.’
‘That should be ok, can you make the preparations?’
‘Sure.’ Chen disappeared into the back room and began sorting their things.
‘Now, as for you two, I have one more question, and a special prize goes to whoever answers first. So Meat, apparently your mission was to come here, but you weren’t supposed to kill me, so what were you doing here?’
Meat’s eyes bulged even wider, if that were possible. He looked at his companion, it was Meat’s turn to be put off. ‘Well? Why would Derrick, not want me harmed?’ Will’s finger traced around the lip of the cup. He drained it and put it down whilst the room waited in silence. He picked up his knife and began picking at the sharp point meaningfully. After another moment without a response he got up and walked over to his captives, crouched down and held one of Meat’s long fingered toes as if holding a rotten vegetable from the bottom of the crisper.
‘I don’t know!’ Cried Meat, his voice a rough growl.
‘What were your orders?’ Will’s tone became menacing.
‘To locate you, to report back your location, if I could kill your friend there would be a bonus.’ His speech was broken but Will got the meaning.
‘Why leave me alive?’
‘I dont’ know, I swear!’ The creature squirmed, apparently deathly afraid of pain.
‘What about you?’ Will moved to the other captive. When he got no response he rolled him over and sawed off another finger, this time the creature rocked back and forth in pain.
‘I don’t know!’ The creature growled, ‘we never know. We are like cells, we follow orders but the orders are not explained. We are happy to do the bidding of our superiors, we don’t need to know.’ Will let that sink in for a moment, that was very plausible, many of the creatures were no better than drones, and that would help stop too much information coming into the hands of ones enemy.
‘What was your mission?’
‘To find Meat and take your location to Derrick.’
Will stopped to think it over. It was plausible, very plausable. So what now? If it was true he couldn’t get anymore out of them. A thought occurred. ‘Were you supposed to meet Derrick directly?’
‘No, his second, but it would be at the factory I told you about.’ Could he use this creature to his advantage? He dismissed the notion, he couldn’t send him back with a message and trust him to deliver it. He just had to move quickly, it would be hours before they returned to Zagreb, a few hours wait for the train in the evening, he could get some sleep then. When was the last time he had a full eight hour sleep? He couldn’t remember. Once Derrick was dead, he would shout himself twenty-four hours of rest, go soak in a tub. No, he couldn’t think like that yet, he had to get to Derrick first and finally win out against this evil man. He would have his revenge for what he had done, and just as important, the world would be a better place without him.
It was time to move, time to tie up loose ends. Will decided that the creatures had both done what he had asked and had earned their painless deaths. A slice of energy to each neck did the trick. Meat looked up at him, the equivalent of a sad dog, which he had just put down.
Will helped Chen pack, by the time they were ready to go the bodies had dissolved into a powdery ash. He retrieved the ropes and ties that had bound them, they could be useful.
Now twelve hours later and Will stared out the window as the train came to a halt at the Serbian border. Guards rummaged through the carriages waking the population of the train. Tickets were checked once more, passports were stamped and life went on. Will’s mind had already moved on to the next problem. The extra security around Derrick. Could he bomb the whole building? No, he wouldn’t get close enough and stay hidden long enough to have a go at it.
Could he sneak in and confront the man? No, last time he’d done that it didn’t work out so well, besides, whilst it was tempting to see him face to face one last time, that was his ego talking, perhaps there was another way.
Two and a half hours later the train rocked and rolled into Belgrade without incident. Will had even slept for around half of that time, he had slept only two hours before the train arrived and was beginning to run on empty, but he was nearly there at the end.
Disembarking in the old train station in central Belgrade, Will hailed a taxi that was eager for business despite the early hour. The sun was just giving hints of its impending arrival and the streets were eerily quiet. The old communist era buildings had a depressing look to them. Much like the housing estates in new developments in the US, the idea of cloned buildings gave off an unatural vibe, rather uncanny valley. The difference here however was that the buildings were larger, concrete structures, they were dirty and decaying and they showed signs of the mini empire that now in ruins.
They checked into a hotel on the other side of the city, in a more plush freshly renovated area, not far from the shopping district. Commercialism and capitalism had leached their way in and life was changing here as it was through the Eastern bloc. Goods were on display that fifteen years ago would never have been imagined. Various fashion clothing shops, choices, glorious choices, electronics, technology. But outside this small central hub, the city was still in the last century, and there it would stay for some time. The hotel was small but pleasant, if all went well they wouldn’t stay in it very long. Will and Chen rented a car, using the fake passes that Will’s friend Marius had tracked down for them. Then, they drove over to the location given to them by Sergiv. The place was indeed a factory, it was now defunct and it sat as a testament to the dying industry of the country. The manufacturing district sat to the south of the city, the building in question stood out as it was the only place within the block that had a hive of activity going around it. There was tape up and men walking around as if assessing the building. They looked at the area and took photos, but Will’s keen eye spotted two or three that were in fact shapeshifters. It was a clever ruse.
They waited in the shade of a tall building on the next block, the heat of the day having already picked up. Watching for two hours they saw various men coming and going with purpose in their stride.
‘What do you make of it?’ Chen asked for the second time since their arrival.
‘Not a bad setup. There must be twenty men in the grounds at any given time, and at least half as many inside. Always one coming or going with a package or message of some kind. An attack during the day wouldn’t work, I couldn’t get on the grounds to save my life.’
‘You’ve got into worse.’
‘Maybe, but they weren’t expecting me, they may not look it, but they’re on high alert, in fact I think it’s time we drove around the block and tried a different place.’
‘So night time invasion?’ Chen asked as they parked an equal but opposite distance and vantage point.
‘I guess so. Not sure of the best approach, there will be more creatures around, hiding in the shadows, but that may not be too big a deal.’ He looked up with a pair of binoculars and scanned the windows for the umpteenth time. This time with success. ‘Ah, finally, the man in question.’ Will mumbled.
‘You see Derrick?’
‘Yep, he’s looking out the window, looking down at his empire, now sliming his way back into cover.’ Will put down the binoculars but looked up at the building overhead. It was taller than the one that Derrick was in, it overlooked the factory perfectly. ‘If I were him, I would have some guards in the building as well, I’m going to check it out.’ Will slipped out of the car and walked around the larger building, a defunct office building, no doubt once working as admin for the surrounding factories. Will made his way inside easily enough by forcing a door before climbing the steps to the second level. At this point he was just below eye level with Derrick had he shown his face once more. He decided to take a risk and scanned the building with his mind’s eye. He picked up faint traces of half a dozen nameless in the building, they appeared to start in the floor above him.
He disconnected and walked back to the car. So he was right, he couldn’t just raid the place, there were reinforcements in the building right across the road. So what could he do?
Chen looked at him questioningly.
‘Chen, we need to go get some of our supplies.’
‘Our stash we left here last time?’
‘Yeah. There something specific you’re after?’
‘Yeah, I think I’ve got an idea.’
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Nameless Saga’ 2016