Episode 228: The Release of Death

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“Simon!” called Maccabee as Samara jogged off to find weapons.

“Sir,” said the other man, sliding down the ladder as Maccabee had just done.

“Get down to Czerney and Ashburn,” Maccabee ordered. “Get them out.” He fixed Simon with a hard stare. “I want them out of here before that hydrogen tank goes.”

“Crystal, captain,” replied Simon. He grabbed Maccabee by the shoulder and squeezed. “I’ll get them clear.”

“Ahanda,” said Maccabee, nodding to Simon before he turned away. “You’re in charge of Sabli.”

“Understood, captain,” the other man replied. He stooped and hauled Sabli up onto his shoulder, then started moving immediately.

“You’d better go too,” said Maccabee to Simon.

“Good luck,” Simon said. Then he turned and started running.

“You too!” Maccabee called after him. A part of him was sure he was making another mistake in chasing after Jo now. Better to look to his dead and injured, get them off this wreck. Even with Josephine sniping at them from her crashed ship, they could get clear, find someplace safe. Sort this all out before hunting her down for good.

But Maccabee knew that he wasn’t going to follow that path. He wanted this finished, one way or another. It had to be done. Now.

Samara jogged back, coming out from a different corridor than the one she’d disappeared into a moment earlier. Both she and Maccabee still carried the sidearms they’d had when they stormed Wasp—Infinite Justice, actually—hours ago, but Maccabee wanted something heavier, something with a longer range. Samara had known that without being told, and now she carried a plasma rifle in each hand. Tossing one to Maccabee, she turned and started for the way out, Maccabee following. He checked the charge on the rifle as he went: eighty percent. Not bad.

Samara and Maccabee went down another two decks before they saw that they could go no further; all the decks below this one had been smashed in the impact. Samara moved ahead of a group of the crew that was helping wounded out of the ship, following their line to an emergency hatch that someone had managed to blow open on the port side of the ship. The shattered glass façade of a building was visible just outside the ship, only five meters away. Obviously, this was not the side that Jo was shooting at. It was also too damned close to the ship for anyone to survive if the hydrogen tanks did go off.

“Keep moving!” shouted a familiar voice: Sel. Maccabee waved to the other man, and Sel jogged over.

“Where’s the sniper?” Maccabee asked him.

“I don’t know, sir,” he replied. “Mister Russ is on the other side of the ship, sir, trying to direct out the rest of the crew.”

“We need to move them further from the ship,” pointed out Maccabee. He glanced at the chrono on his wrist. Assuming the mystery engineer was right, they had only seven minutes at best to get clear.

“Understood, sir,” said Sel, “but as soon as we move into the open, we come under fire.”

Maccabee swore. Looking around quickly, he jumped at the only other option. “Through there,” he said, pointing at the building. “Move inside and through, there’s got to be a back door, but even if not the bulk of the building should protect you.” The hydrogen blast would be spectacular, but not impressively powerful. The skyscraper was at least four kilometers tall: it’s structural integrity would be correspondingly great, and fire resistance was a standard feature of such buildings.

“And you, sir?” asked Sel.

“I’m going to get those snipers,” he replied.

Sel nodded, threw Maccabee a sharp salute, then turned and rushed off to start moving the crew into the building. Maccabee watched for a moment, his chest filled with a pain unrelated to his injuries as he watched the bedraggled remains of his hand-picked crew stagger away from the second ship he’d lost in just a few short hours. Then, he turned and started moving, heading towards the stern.

“Russ,” he called over the com. “I’m coming around the stern. Samara and I are going after the snipers. Be advised, I’m having Sel move the crew inside the building on the port side. I want you to move your people there too, if there’s time.”

“I don’t know if there is, captain,” came Russ’s reply. “But I’ll try.”

“Good,” said Maccabee.

He slowed to a stop at Wasp’s shattered stern. Her emergency thrusters still glowed a dull red, and he could feel the heat radiating off them in waves. The pockmarked armor, cracked and holed in several places, testified to the terrible barrage the little ship had endured. Maccabee caught a glimpse of one of the assault shuttles his crew had used to land aboard Wasp, now hardly more than a tattered piece of ceramasteel around the docking mount, the rest of the shuttle torn away completely. Some sort of hydraulic fluid was leaking from the smashed lower half of the stern, and the extent of the damage made Maccabee wonder that the ship hadn’t blown as soon as it touched down.

On this side of the ship, there was a good fifteen meters of open roadway, and directly to starboard another street met this one in a T, the corners rounded out to provide a sort of open plaza. If not for that particular bit of bad luck, Wasp would have been safely hemmed in on both sides by the massive buildings that lined the street for kilometers in either direction, but the intersecting boulevard was even wider than the one the ship had crashed on. Tall, arrow-straight trees lined the center median, fading into the distance. The night was not dark here at street level: lights cast an almost-natural glow over the roads and sidewalks, much in contrast to the light of distant fires in the sky and somewhere on the ground. Like leaves fallen scattered across the ground, abandoned ground cars littered both roads.

The immediate area was quiet, disturbingly so, but distant sounds filtered down to the street. Sonic booms from the battle above thundered out frequently, some louder than others, but all of them muted—the fight was moving on, in orbit, to another part of the world. Nearer, the booming of explosions was recognizable, but it was hard to tell where the sounds were coming from, or how distant they might be. The tall skyscrapers reflected and redirected any noise, turning the city soundscape into broken terrain. Maccabee turned his head this way and that, trying to get a better impression of just what was going on around them.

Then, he heard and saw a plasma rifle shot. The blue-white bolt screamed out of the night, hurtling down the intersecting boulevard and smacking into Wasp with a dull CRUMP! Backtracking the residual heat glow in the cold night air, Maccabee followed the trail of the incoming round up the long boulevard, to a building perhaps a kilometer away. There, a fire was burning merrily some fifty or more meters up from street level, marking the spot where Josephine’s gunship had crashed. The little craft was easy to recognize, just from its outline against the flickering flames. Then, whoever was in there fired again. Maccabee blinked. It looked like the shots were coming from somewhere above the crashed gunship. A logical move. There’d be little point in staying aboard a burning ship.

“Spotted them?” he asked Samara in a low voice.

“Yep.” Her voice was cool and even. As though she did this sort of thing every day. She used to, Maccabee reminded himself.

“I need to draw fire away from Russ,” Maccabee said. “Let’s provide a diversion. Target Jo’s location, full auto, but low power.”

“From here?” she asked.

He glanced around. “There,” he said, pointing to a large piece of the ship that had fallen some ten meters behind the stern. “I’ll move up to the boulevard, to the first trees. Then I’ll take over and you move.”

“Leapfrog,” she said, nodding her understanding. “Let’s do it.”

“Russ,” said Maccabee, keeping his voice low and talking over the com. “We’re about to provide a distraction. Move as soon as you can. There is no other option, even if this doesn’t work.”

“Crystal,” replied Russ. “We’re ready.”

“Now!” Maccabee ordered.

He started running before the word was out of his mouth, and at the same time, Samara shouldered her rifle and depressed its trigger. Dozens of rounds lanced out from the weapon, but Samara just walked calmly towards her cover, keeping her target in her sights. Even as he ran, Maccabee noted that she wasn’t firing at full auto, but a staggered setting. The rifle still poured fire downrange, but paused every three shots, saving its charge. Good thinking.

It was a full five seconds before the first return fire came at them, a single, high-power shot rolling down the boulevard, coming right at Samara. She dove behind the rubble Maccabee had pointed out, tucking in her feet as the plasma round slammed into the twisted piece of ceramasteel. Blue fire splattered across the armor and through the air. Maccabee couldn’t see if Samara was safe, but that was a lower priority than getting himself to cover. The streetlights clearly illuminated the roadway, and though he was dodging from car to car, trying to keep in the shadows, there weren’t many of either. The second incoming round howled right at him, and he had to dive to the left, rolling across his shoulders and to his feet as the blast hit only two meters away. Bits of road and blue fire hit him in the back, but he was running full speed now, not bothering with evasion, moving as fast as he could for cover. The trees, each one two meters thick at the base and well over a hundred meters tall, were now blocking the sniper’s line of sight.

More blue rounds lanced overhead, this time from Samara, and Maccabee’s heart skipped a beat as he realized that she was still alive. Then, he reached the tree and came to a stop against it, his chest heaving, his ribs aching, his broken wrist sending flickering bolts of pain up his arm and through his shoulder.

“Russ?” he asked over the com. “Status.”

“We’re almost there, captain,” came the reply. Another round of plasma streaked over Maccabee’s head and hit Wasp’s flank. He heard a scream over Russ’s com. “Shit!”

“Keep moving!” shouted Maccabee. He slid his way around the tree, braced the rifle against his shoulder, and fired off a full-power burst. The three rounds faded into the distance, then crashed home just above the gunship; probably below the sniper, Maccabee guessed. The shots had the desired effect however, as the next sniper shot came down into the trees, bouncing between their trunks before dissipating its energy well short of Maccabee’s position. He smiled. The trees would provide good cover for most of the distance to the gunship. To Jo.

“Samara, get up here,” he ordered over the com.

“With pleasure.”

Maccabee ducked out from behind the tree again and started shooting at a lower power setting, a single burst, wait a second, then two more, then duck back again. Another answering blast came his way, then another, but neither was near to hurting him, even when the second one hit the tree he was sheltering behind. He felt the solid trunk shiver slightly, and that was all. The things were better than armor plate.

Looking back, he saw Samara moving towards his position, running in a low crouch, moving much more easily than he had. She’d covered half the distance already. Maccabee ducked out and took another shot at the crashed gunship, and yet again the gunner up there targeted him, the shot scorching the side of the tree. He glanced at Samara again, saw her vault the hood of an abandoned ground car, slide across it, and drop to the other side. Then, Wasp blew up.

The fireball was huge, nearly blinding Maccabee as it roared into the sky. Then, just a fraction of a second later, the shockwave and blast front hit him full in the chest, slamming him back against the bole of the tree. Samara flew forwards, knocked off her feet just in time as the fireball ballooned over the top of the car. Maccabee threw up an arm to shield his face from the heat, then realized he couldn’t hear anything. The initial blast had deafened him. Pieces of the ship were falling around him, now, and he scrambled around the side of the tree, putting it behind him, then crawled to the next one, ten meters further on. No shots came from the sniper, who’d presumably been a bit surprised by this turn of events. A chunk of armor plate two meters on a side slammed down just a few meters behind Maccabee, it’s edges glowing, and he looked up to see the spiraling trails of other debris curling through the air. Nothing big was coming his way, it seemed.

“Simon?” Maccabee called over the com. “Sel? Is anyone out there?” He couldn’t hear himself, not even in his head, but the com was jacked right into his brain, so he heard Simon’s reply.

“Here, cap,” he said, sounding tired.


“She’s hurt, but the Doc says she’ll pull through,” replied Simon. “She’s fucking hard as nails.”

“How many are with you?” Maccabee went on. He still couldn’t hear himself, and the conversation was like listening to half of a com signal, but the wrong half.

“Don’t know. Doc Monteux is here, Sel is here, Ashburn, me.” Simon paused. “Looks like they got out most of the wounded, but I think Russ went back for more . . . before.”

Maccabee stared at the burning wreck of the ship he’d named Wasp, and felt another hole in his chest. It was hard to believe that anything could still hurt at this point, but somehow it still did. Each stab of guilt and sorrow was like a new wound. He wanted to curl into a ball and leave the world behind.

“Captain,” said Simon, “I also can’t send you any help, not quickly. The whole front of this building just collapsed in on itself. We’re looking for a back door, but I don’t know how long we’ll be.”

“Take care of yourself,” ordered Maccabee, his voice dead. “Samara and I will be fine.” Assuming she was still alive. “Right, Samara?”

“Well,” said Samara, and Maccabee felt another shock as he heard her voice flutter. “It’s not that I want to argue with you, Mac,” she went on, “but this car that landed on me kinda makes the whole thing a bit more difficult.”

Maccabee felt his body respond to the words, the words that his mind refused to accept, even as his heart started beating faster and his tired system pumped more adrenaline into his blood, pushing him on for one final effort; his eyes widened and his breath came in quick, sharp gasps. “I’m coming to you,” he said, pushing off from the tree at his back.

“No!” she shouted. He heard her gasp, even without the com. The city’s eerie silence had returned, only the soft sound of the burning spaceship floating on the night breeze. “Don’t you fucking dare!”

He stopped, despite himself. “Don’t be stupid,” he said. “I’m coming to get you.”

“Maccabee,” Samara said, her voice low and urgent. “I will live. Do you get me? I need you to go finish this. If you come back here and pull me out and that bitch gets away, I will never speak to you again. Clear?”

“Samara,” said Maccabee, his mind swaying this way and that like a drunken sailor.

“Go,” she said. “Please. Finish this.”

“Simon,” Maccabee called, turning his back on his friend, his love, his comrade. “Did you monitor that?”

“Yes, sir,” replied the other man, his voice showing no hint of what he thought of the exchange.

“Then get someone out here, God damn it!” shouted Maccabee. “I’ll be back.” And then he cut off his com system, shutting it down completely, so that it wouldn’t give him away to anyone who might be listening.

He kept to the shadows, what shadows there were to be had. Between the trees, the median rose into small hillocks, and he kept these between him and the crashed gunship as much as he could. As low as they were, and as high as the gunship was now, they wouldn’t provide much cover, but he was hoping that Jo had finally decided the game was up. Of course, he knew that was a fool’s hope. She’d be waiting for him, or coming to look for him. Jo wasn’t going to run any more than he.

This part of Halley was apparently a financial or business district; Maccabee saw no store fronts, no restaurants or apartments, just skyscraper after skyscraper, some architecturally interesting, others simple spires, none shorter than a few kilometers. All had corporate logos of various levels of inepititude emblazoned across their facades, in some cases hundreds of meters high, structures of steel and glass and light. At least one, deprived of its normal power, had crashed to the ground, the only visible evidence in this area of the fighting overhead. That, and the bits and pieces of Wasp that had blasted this far from the wreck.

The building that Jo’s gunship had hit was part of a larger structure that shadowed the next cross street, two towers on opposite sides of the street twisting together over the roadway, spiraling around one another and then melding into a single, many-tipped turret that jutted high into the night sky, far higher than Maccabee could clearly see. Only the flashing strobe lights that marked the top of the skyscraper gave him an idea of its height. Several kilometers at least. Lights were on in parts of the building, shining through rhomboid windows on various levels, but the area around the gunship was dark. The fires that had marked its impact were starting to die as well. Either this was simply coincidence, or someone was still alive in there, working to extinguish the lights and the flames. That seemed most likely.

At the base of the two towers that joined into one, a reverse taper led down to a tiny footprint, overshadowed by the much-broader body of the building. The lobby, walled in by arches of glass, was only some ten meters on a side; twenty floors up, where the gunship was, the building was at least fifty meters square. A column sheathed in black stone, round and half as broad as the building’s footprint, housed both the lifts and the spine of exotic structural material that had to somehow be supporting the upper structure. To Maccabee, it smacked a bit of technology for technology’s sake, the sort of ego-driven silliness that led to much grander visions like the Spire. Here, the effect was needlessly busy.

The last stretch to the nearest of the building’s two foyers was a near-hundred-meter run across completely open terrain, well lit road with only two cars in sight, one of them an aircar crashed into the median. Maccabee huddled close to the ground behind the last tree he’d dared reach. Moving to the final three trunks would be impossible without being seen. There was a chance he’d already been spotted, that Jo was just waiting for him to come out in the open, but he thought not. She wasn’t one to play games like that. If she saw him, she’d take a shot. For now, then, he enjoyed a small advantage of surprise; Jo and whoever she had in there with her had to at least doubt that Maccabee was alive, maybe even expect that he was dead. A hundred meter run. Fifteen seconds in top form, probably double that as he was.

Taking a deep breath, Maccabee gathered his legs under him for the run. Then, he spotted movement in the near foyer, and dropped back onto his belly. It was a person, probably a man from the way the figure moved, clad in black combat gear and carrying some sort of rifle. The man stepped out of the lift and moved to the front desk, a single slab of grey stone, perhaps marble or granite. Scanning slowly back and forth, he checked the lobby and what he could see of the exterior, then put his weapon on the counter and sat behind the monolith, his head nearly disappearing behind it. That desk, guessed Maccabee, gave access to the building’s security system. It would be the perfect spot to monitor for anyone approaching the foyers.

“He doesn’t have the code yet,” Maccabee said, giving voice to his only hope as he slowly got to his feet, slid around the back of the tree trunk and peeked around the other side. The man was still at the desk, his eyes still down. Why didn’t he have backup? Jo, or some other gunner was probably monitoring from above, but now Maccabee realized that his run out of firing range would be relatively short. Once he was under the main building, he’d be covered from that fire. Only the man in the foyer would be able to stop him.

It was time to go.

Maccabee broke from cover and started running. He was down the small slope from the median and past the crashed aircar in six long strides; then he hit pavement, bolting across the sidewalk and leaping from the curb two meters into the street, his arms pumping at his side, his body ignoring the pain of his shattered wrist, of his bruised and broken ribs. Half-way across the street, the first shot came down from the building above him, but it was poorly aimed, not leading him at all, and it blew up pavement behind him, showering his back with bits of road and nothing more. Maccabee ducked left, then back right, and the next shot was just wide as well, nearly throwing him off balance, but he kept running, kept his legs pumping.

Ahead, the man in the foyer was on his feet, reaching for his weapon, but moving like he was in slow motion, at least to Maccabee’s eyes. Another plasma shot slammed down into the street, but Maccabee was so close the angle from above was nearly impossible, and he leapt onto the sidewalk, took another dozen strides, and was under the edge of the skyscraper. The man in the foyer was aiming at the door now, waiting, knowing he was safe behind the heavier ceramaplast walls of the lobby, unless Maccabee was carrying something bigger than the rifle slung over his back. The doors would be the weak spot. The man would wait. Let him.

Maccabee ran right on by the foyer, not getting closer than about twenty meters, not even seeming to look at the man standing there, now stupidly pointing his weapon at the still-closed doors. He realized a moment later what was happening: Maccabee was heading for the other foyer, was already a quarter of the way there, entering the street that ran between the skyscraper’s two legs. The man swore, opened fire with his rifle, and starred the door with two dozen railgun rounds before realizing that this weapon was not going to do the job. He scrambled back around the desk, tossing his gun on the counter there and frantically trying to override the security system, to let himself out before Maccabee let himself in.

Maccabee was breathing hard now, but he knew he’d made it. Even if the man in the other foyer opened the doors now, Maccabee was too close to stop. Another twenty meters. He ran all the way, then skidded to a stop in front of the sealed doors. Raising his plasma rifle to his shoulder, he fired a full-power shot into the double, swinging door panels. With a thundering BANG!, the two doors blew off their hinges and flew across the floor, smashing into pieces when they hit the central column. Maccabee laughed. Almost too easy. Then again, why would anyone build something to withstand military weapons in a peaceful city like Halley?

He ran forward into the foyer and around the column until he saw the lift doors on the other side. The destruction of the doors might have activated some sort of security alert, but if so, it was now deactivated; the man from the other foyer was opening the doors there, starting to race over to this one, not realizing what a stupid mistake he’d just made. Maccabee stepped into the open doors of one of the lifts, hit the button for the first connecting floor—the first one where the two towers joined together, several hundred meters above the ground—and leaned against the side of the lift as it shut its door silently and rushed upwards.

The ride took only five seconds. Maccabee raised his rifle again as the door opened, but the hall beyond was empty. He stepped out, let the rifle drop to his side on its strap, and pulled out his sidearm. With only one hand and in close quarters, the two millimeter railpistol would be a much better weapon. Circling the level, he soon found his way to another set of lifts, this one leading back down the other leg of the building. Windows across from the lifts showed the leg flaring out of the side and then dropping away. Maccabee took a moment to look out at the sky, but the battle had moved on now; only a few, burning trails marred the darkness of space above him. Lowering his eyes, he caught sight of the wreck of Wasp, and marveled that anyone had managed to get out alive. It looked much worse from a distance, somehow.

Turning back to the lifts, Maccabee took a deep breath. They’d be expecting him, of course. He’d have to be more clever than that. He pressed the call button and waited, his gun raised. When the lift arrived, he fired a few shots into it before the door was open more than ten centimeters, but the thing was empty. Stepping inside, keeping a leg out to make sure the door didn’t close again, Maccabee holstered his pistol, pulled the rifle off his back, and started removing its safeties. Having done this task a thousand times before, it took him no more than a handful of seconds. There was still cord in his combat vest, and again he tied it to the rifle’s trigger, wedged the weapon into the corner of the lift, and then made a loop at the end of the line. He carefully tested the length, looking at the door mechanism, then hit the button for his best guess for Jo’s location, stepped back, and let the door close. Just before it shut, he let the cord drop. He saw it catch on the door and then the lift disappeared.

Maccabee turned, pressed the call button, and got into the next lift down. Holding his pistol calmly in his uninjured hand, he used the barrel to press the button for a floor ten levels above where he guessed the gunship to be, then let the door close. The lift dropped down, though he felt no hint of motion past the gravity plating in the floor. Less than three seconds later, he was at his destination. Stepping out, he just barely felt the hint of an explosion shiver the floor beneath his feet, and a blast of light flared through the windows. The thunder of the blast was muted, but clearly audible. The booby trap had worked. There was no way to know anything more. Not until he got down there himself.

A minute’s search produced the entrance to the emergency stairs, and Maccabee started down them, trying to still his ragged breathing, silence the tattered thoughts that played across the surface of his brain, steady the minute trembling of his gun hand as he followed the barrel of his pistol down the spiraling stairs. Back and forth, half a floor with each flight, then turn, then the rest of the level in one shot, then back again. Two floors passed, then five, and every second, every step, Maccabee was expecting the sound of a plasma rifle firing in close quarters, the distinctive whine loud in his ears, even with his shattered eardrums, and nowhere for him to go.

Eight floors past. Maccabee slowed to a crawl, his back against the wall, hardly daring to breathe now. He paused at the door for level twenty-three. The view from outside and a rough guess told him that Jo would be on level twenty-two. That was where he’d sent his little makeshift explosive. Swallowing, trying to wet his dry throat, Maccabee stepped past the door, started down the next flight of stairs, then stopped again. He glanced back at the door above him. Something was arguing against his logic, against his calculations. Hell, they were nothing more than rough guesses, not calculations. Carefully, quietly, he moved back up the stairs, stopped in front of the door and reached out his hand.

Still holding his gun, he pressed down on the door handle, yanked the door open, and stepped backwards, giving himself a clear shot. There was no target. He stopped the door from bouncing back closed with his foot, stepped quickly into the hall beyond, and checked left and right. Nothing. Then, the sound of a railgun close at hand sent him diving to the floor. Just a hair too slow. Two bullets caught his bad arm, tearing away flesh, but he was spinning as he fell, his gun arm coming up, his finger squeezing the trigger. The pistol was set for fully automatic fire, and twenty rounds hammered down the corridor, catching the shooter in the shoulder and face. The man—it was the man from the foyer, or someone dressed just like him—screamed and clutched at the wounds, and then Maccabee fired again, and another stream of bullets tore the man’s chest open, bounced him off the wall and sent him to the ground.

Breathing hard, Maccabee rolled over, pushed off the ground with his good hand and staggered across the corridor, fetching up against the far wall. He raised his gun, checked that direction, turned, checked the other: nothing. No one was responding to the sound of gunfire. Was Jo already dead?

“It’s over,” she said suddenly from behind him. “Drop it.” He didn’t move. “Don’t make me shoot you in the back, Maccabee.” Her voice was firm, in control, as it always had been. “Drop the weapon.”

Maccabee let the pistol slip from his limp fingers. It hit the carpeted floor with a dull thud. “You’ve killed a lot of my friends today, Jo,” he said, his voice sounding raw even in his ears. Inside the silence of his head, he activated his com again, called out to Samara. Please answer.

“Kick the gun towards me,” she ordered. Maccabee hesitated. Was there just a hint of fear in her voice? “Do it, now.” Back in control, without a doubt. “I’m going to kill you, Maccabee, but I don’t want to shoot you in the back.”

“Then don’t shoot me,” he said. He raised his leg, readying to kick the pistol, while in his head, he heard Samara’s voice, tired but ready. One last chance.

“Last chance,” Jo said. “Kick it now.”

As the last word was leaving her mouth, a dozen full-power plasma rounds slammed into the building five meters behind her. Blue fire exploded down the crossing corridor, and Josephine shouted in surprise, but Maccabee was already dropping, his hand closing around his pistol as he rolled across the floor and came up in a crouch on the other side. He fired, but Jo was also moving, and his shots caught her in the left hand. The plasma rifle she’d held flew from her grip, and she staggered backwards. Maccabee shifted his aim slightly, saw her go for her sidearm in its holster with her right hand, and pulled the trigger again. Three bullets hit her in the right arm, shattering bone and spraying blood against the walls. She screamed again, tripped herself up, and collapsed in a heap on her back.

Maccabee rose slowly to his feet, his gun still trained on Josephine. Her face was twisted with rage and pain, her breath was coming in short, panting gasps, but she was still alive. Could still survive, if someone treated her before she bled to death. Regenerate the flesh and muscle of her arm, fix her hand, even remove that angry scar that marred her beautiful face. Maccabee took a step closer, then two more, so he stood over her, his boot against her holster, making sure that she wouldn’t try any last-ditch effort to retrieve her weapon.

“Why?” asked Maccabee, not even noticing the tears that were streaming down his face. “I loved you, Jo. Why’d you make me do this?”

“You son of a bitch,” she gasped, trying to get her arm to move, writhing on the floor. “You . . . you fucking . . . shot me!”

“You said you were going to make the universe into something better, Jo,” said Maccabee, trying to summon the will to finish what he’d come to do. “You can’t do that by killing people who’ve done nothing wrong but live free. If you can’t bring order without bringing death, then you don’t deserve to try.”

“Don’t kid . . . yourself . . . Maccabee,” she managed. Blood was pooling beneath her, now. He needed to end this, stop torturing her. “There is no order without death.” Her body jerked sharply, an involuntary spasm, and she let out another scream, short and ragged. “Oh God!” she cried. “Oh Maccabee, it hurts! Please. . . .”

“Jo,” he said. “Jo, I’m sorry.”

“Please,” she said through teeth clenched against the pain. “Please.”

He pulled the trigger once, shooting her through the heart with half a dozen bullets. She jerked once, but she made no sound. As the light faded from them, her eyes never left his. Finally, her body relaxed into death.

Maccabee staggered backwards, hit the wall, and slid down it to the floor. Then, unable to tear his eyes from Josephine’s corpse, he began to weep.