Author:  Julian Miles, Staff Writer

I land with a crunch that tells me the remaining organic ribs in my left side need replacing.

“I bet that hurt, Shields.”

Fast footsteps betray his next move. I brace, left arm tight. Sure enough, Manny lands a running kick that would have driven shards of those ribs into my lung.

“I bet that hurt, Shields.”

Manny does the silent and deadly thing, all dressed up in custom leathers. No-one had the guts to tell him he only looks sullen and silly before tonight. He’s taking it badly.

At the top of the enhanced human food chain is the bioengineered soldier. Of course, down on the streets, there are many who want that sort of power. Without the inconveniences of dedication, training, and a lifetime commitment.

A fast grab-and-throw: I take the short flight back across the street.

“I bet that hurt, Shields.”

The reason why Manny sounds like his audio’s stuck is a side effect of Doctor Clifford Lomax’s answer to a poor person’s bio-enhancement cravings: Rooster, available in syrettes that let you hop yourself up from unbalanced to crazed whenever your self-esteem needs a boost. You get super strength, super speed, super resilience, random aneurysms, and a craving for Rooster.

“Going to kill you now, Shields.”

Rooster users are tough targets, but I can usually tame ‘em. Manny’s ex-service, like me. He’s more than I can handle – on my own.

“No. You’re not.” The voice comes from a medium-tall gent in a virulent purple shirt, barefoot below spotless, razor-creased cream chinos.

“Okay, mister loud shirt, you first, then Lincoln.”

Manny makes a move so fast I can’t track it. He misses. The gent taps Manny on the shoulder.

“Try again, punk.”

Manny spins about and launches a vicious something that stops with a wet ‘snap’. His upper arm forms a right-angle. Manny screams. The gent smiles.

“Manny, meet Don.”

“My arm!”

Manny seems to be having trouble getting past his bendy humerus problem.

“Don wanted to meet you, seeing as you’ve been touting yourself as bio-enhanced. He wanted to see if you have what it takes.”

Don’s smile disappears.

“If you don’t, he’s going to take what you have.”

His moves are a blur. The impacts sound like a fast stick-on-stick rhythm. Manny’s eyes go wide while his mouth forms a perfect ‘O’. The noise stops and Manny drops, shattered in his skin

A hand grabs my collar and brings me upright, leaning against the wall I bounced off.

“Thanks, Linc. Another city closed to Lomax’s legacy.”

Don’s the real deal. Bio-enhanced from the age of fourteen. We met when he saved me from a nasty death a decade ago. Since then, we’ve helped each other out. This little to-do is the usual set-up: I do the finding and luring out, he does the stopping. Doesn’t usually hurt this much, though.

“Don’t call for at least two months.”

Don laughs: “Deal. With Manny ended, Lomax will be running again.”

“Shame I couldn’t lure him out.”

“Never a chance. He always gets a power-hungry fool like Manny to front for him. Gives him time to flee.”

“High cunning and low courage. Never a good combination.”

“Too right. But, he’s running out of cities to disappear into.”

“I’ll keep an eye out. He’s the sort who might try to double back.”

Don nods: “Appreciated. Let’s get you to hospital.”

“So you can leave ‘em your payment details and head off while I’m in surgery?”

“Affirmative. I have a renegade deserter mad doctor to hunt.”

“Next time, the ribs are on a plate, and on you.”