Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Tzen sat on the third floor of the abandoned building in near darkness. Only those streetlights that remained unbroken filtered light through shattered windows and draped plastic into what was once an active construction site.

The money to be made in this part of the city wasn’t going to be in condos, or retail stores. It was only in drugs, and violence, and death.

From somewhere nearby, voices raised above the wind-noise and the distant traffic. Men were bragging at volume, the smell of narcotic-laced sweat filtered up and through the stink of the city streets into Tzen’s olfactory sensors.

Time to power up and move.

Navigating his way through the construction waste with a grace and agility that belied his bulk, his massive boots made nearly no sound on the dusty concrete. At the open edge of the floor he stopped, surveying the alley below.

Seven men clustered in the shadows between the buildings, jabbering over one another in Quikspeak as they examined the contents of a backpack that lay on the ground between them. Tzen focused and picked out the partial label of a well known medical supply company. They had quantity. Not users then, but traffickers.

And a little girl.

She sat off to one side, back against the wall, head down hugging her knees and rocking gently back and forth, keening.

Tzen noted the slung weapons of the dealers, and gauged the best possible vector for descent, then stepped out from the third floor into space and dropped, a tonne of unwelcome heavy into the party.

He landed with one boot each on the head of two of the closest dealers, driving their skulls down through their own bodies into the pavement. Tzen’s lower extremities telescoped into themselves to absorb the impact, the result being no more sound that the wet squelch of compressing and redistributed flesh.

The remaining men were stunned, drug packages still in hand. They stood immobilized, weapons left slung at their sides, unable to rationalize where their comrades had disappeared to, and how this mechanical monster had replaced them.

Tzen raised both arms, elbows cocked at ninety degree angles and turned his hands in automatically to clear the barrels as a volley of flechettes erupted into the two unfortunate souls in their path. In an instant their torsos were spread across the alleyway beyond, hips and legs crumpling where they stood.

“One, two, three, four,” Tzen grated in the closest approximation of a sing-song voice his hardware would allow, “can I have a couple more?”

The man to Tzen’s left was the first to react, bringing the barrel of his weapon up already firing. A steady stream of shells struck Tzen’s chest-plate at an angle. Tzen turned until the angle of their ricochet intersected with the man on Tzen’s right, sending him staggering gurgling backwards to drop in a heap. Tzen swung an arm in a swift fly motion, catching the gunman under the chin and knocking him off his feet with an audible crack as his spine dislocated from his skull.

The remaining man ran screaming, the bag and the drugs forgotten at Tzen’s feet.

It would do well to have stories told of the monster in the darkness. Fear is a more effective deterrent than even violence.

As he collected the drugs from the ground, the soft sobbing sounds bubbled up to the forefront of his attention, and he turned and lumbered over to where the girl sat, still curled in a ball but eyes now wide and watching him.

He reached out an armored hand slowly, and she considered the blood-spattered monster who stood before her, and the apparent gentleness of what had only moments ago dealt death without hesitation.

“Come, little one. Let’s get you home.”

The girl reached out and let Tzen pick her up and cradle her into the crook of one arm.

As they trudged out of the alley into the night, he remembered carrying his daughter home like this, in another time, in another body.