Hard rain’s gonna fall.
White Prince, Black Prince, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 923
The rain was falling hard over the streets of Baltimore, making every step Holly took a treacherous one. But she had to keep running. Had to keep moving. No time to look back. Look back and you’re dead.
Dead like Ray, she sobbed inside her head.
That brought her to her knees. Holly let out an anguished cry and hugged herself against the rain. She didn’t care what the water might do to her data lenses. Let them burn out. What good was she now without her partner?
Ray Farr had been everything she needed to get by: her guardian, her government liaison, her link to the outside world. She’d still be a reclusive Net-surfer if not for him. And now his body was lying in a ditch ten miles south, riddled with bullet holes.
“Get moving,” he’d told her. “I love—” And that was the last thing he said before the front of his head exploded.
Holly couldn’t bring herself to move. She wanted to die. She could access data from any point in the US, but she couldn’t bring herself to do anything but run and cry like a lost little girl.
That’s all I am. Those fucking feds never let me grow up.
Seven years of online detective work. Seven years of keyword searches and file reconstruction for the Department of Justice. All from the comfort of a subsidized apartment on Constitution Avenue. Over a thousand cases and no social life apart from her middle-aged legal guardian.
It would be easy to text back to Washington. DOJ Priority One. Please help. Currently located at corner of…
Easy, but futile. Holly couldn’t go back. No–she wouldn’t go back.
The rain had begun to soften up. Holly awkwardly got onto her feet and took in her surroundings. She was outside a closed-up bakery on West Lombard. A Net scan through her glasses gave her more to work with. Franklin Square Park was less than a mile west. If she hurried, she might be able to find somewhere to camp for the night. A hotel room would be better, but she needed to stay anonymous, even if it meant squatting on public property.
She took a few steps in that direction, but stopped when she felt a pair of gloved hands grab her from behind.
One of the hands clamped over her mouth, stifling her scream, and she felt hot breath on her ear as her abductor whispered, “Gotcha, girl. One more sound outta you and you’re dead, got it?”
Holly could only nod, petrified in his grip. She knew this man. He was the blond gunman who’d put a bullet through Ray’s head. He and his gang. Maybe they were CIA or part of some private military group. Holly didn’t know or care which. They were trained to be lethal and they wanted her alive. Nothing else mattered.
She heard a deep-throated growl and closed her eyes. But the brute didn’t do a thing except scream. His hands let go and she fell to the ground, trembling in terror.
Holly couldn’t believe her eyes. She lifted up her glasses just to be sure it wasn’t a sim.
An orange tiger had appeared from out of nowhere and was currently ripping out the man’s throat in its massive jaws. It looked up from his still-twitching body and licked its lips. There was an intelligence behind those eyes.
Holly gasped when she heard a soft chime. She grabbed her datapad from her pocket and read the screen.
It was a Quicknote. From the tiger.
You’re welcome, Miss.
Footsteps trod the pavement behind her. Holly turned around and saw a tall man in a frock coat with silky black hair. He knelt down and offered his hand.
“Sorry if we scared you,” said Clark Michael Hill. “We’ve been tracking you for two miles now. Unfortunately, so was that guy, or I’d have dispatched him sooner.”
The tiger was purring as it walked over to Holly’s side. To her surprise it didn’t bite her. Just nudged her with its head.
“Holly, meet Hu Lin. He’s a Cerebrally Augmented Tiger, formerly in the service of the Detroit Police.” Clark helped her onto her feet and gave her his coat for protection from the drizzle. “We’ve been partners ever since that time you almost cornered me in Jefferson County.”
For a moment, Holly stood there in silence. Then, when Clark’s words finally registered in her head, she leaned into his chest and whispered, “Why?”
“Why are they doing this? Why are you helping me?”
Clark’s hand lifted her chin up. He favored Holly with a sympathetic smile. “I don’t know why they’re after you. But just because we’re professional rivals doesn’t mean we can’t help each other now and then. No need for us to get political like them.”
The way Clark said political made it sound like a curse word. Holly wanted to ask what was political about armed thugs kidnapping her, but she couldn’t bring herself to argue. She didn’t care. She was exhausted. She wanted to go home, even though she never could.
“I need a place to stay,” she whispered, fighting back more tears. “Just for tonight.”
“For as long you want,” Clark replied. He turned and nodded to Hu Lin. The tiger growled and moved to stand by his side.
Then Holly buried her face into the chest of her archenemy as he snapped his fingers. In a flash, his teleport beacon activated and they disappeared without a trace.
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