Terminal Velocity

rating: +114+x

The room swirls into your view, colored purple and pink. The bed is plush and smells like sex and bad decisions. A naked boy lying to your left runs his fingers down your chest.

"Hey. Rookie. Wake up!"

You blink and roll over in a haze, but a pair of soft hands shoves you onto your back. The boy's twin sister plants herself on your chest and pokes your nose. "Wake up! Something big is going down."

"…something big?"

"Heist big," the boy answers. "The train came early. I don't know how I missed it, but I did. I'll get you your tools. Meantime, hop in the shower, quick one, five minutes. You smell like sex and bad decisions."

It's too early to be thinking about anything except what the bed is best at. It's painfully inviting, as are the duo lounging on it… but greed wins out over lust.


You push the girl off, roll out of the bed, stumble into the shower and let it wash away the previous night's decadence. Dry off, throw on your clothes, and check your pockets. There's still two pills in the pocket of this bike jacket. Drink from the tap. Swallow them both. Hangover's gone, vision is sharper, mind racing and everything smells like smoke but it's a sweet sickly smoke that fills you with euphoria so bolt from the room, vault over the banister -

- and land behind the wheel of a yellow Trans Am. Where did it come from? How did you get the keys? Who put your gear in the shotgun seat? The answer, as always, is the Inside Man. Your goal is fixated firmly at the forefront of your thoughts - probably his doing as well, he knows you hate it when he does that so it must be do or die time.

The key slides smoothly into the ignition and you revel in the throaty hum of the Trans Am's souped-up engine. You roar out of the alleyway and the speedometer hits 100 km/h in barely a second. But that won't take you where you need to go. Not yet.

Swerve through traffic. Pull your satchel open. Take out the baggies of chartreuse powder. Take out the baggie of tangerine powder. Spread them in a mix on the dash. Snort the mix of crushed demons in a single go. Your foot hits the clutch. Your hand wraps around the stick. You shift into gear with a satisfying click and then slam both feet on the accelerator.

The engine howls as it mashes up and digests the cocktail of sex, drugs, and demons inside your brain. The transmission turns from metal to bone and cackles as it shifts into calcium-enriched gear. The driver's seat is a spinal column. The exhaust is screaming in pain. The tires are bleeding. The steering wheel is blinking. The Am is damned.

There is nothing left on this world but blood and guts, and your ride wants more. It can sense its prey at the point where the horizons meet. The Trans Am's metaphorical claws cut through the mesh between realities and it thrusts itself into the underbelly between worlds. Your vision fills with the colors of the rainbow and then they're gone, replaced with the colors of a steel road into the sky.

In the distance, a single silver railway cuts through the steel earth. On it, a chrome machine cuts a bullet-like silhouette against the orange sky at hundreds of kilometers per hour. It's the lovechild of a Rolls-Royce and a fighter jet designed by someone with a hard-on for Julius Caesar. There are even fins on the top.

This is the Phitransimun Combine, unfettered by the constraints of time and distance in any one universe. It is an artery between the world of parascience and the world of Alexylva, ferrying men, machines, precious metals, and magic beyond one's wildest dreams.

You want what it has. The Am wants what it is. And you will both push yourselves past the limit to seize it.

There is no oxygen in the underbelly of the universe. But that doesn't matter. The real engine is in your chest, below your left lung: a fist-sized, blood-red sphere pumping gasoline through your veins and regulating the fiendishly toxic substances that you down like candies. It fuels both your body and your vehicle. You are running on hellpower now - the sky is the limit.

Wind buffets your leathers as the Am tears across the plain, tires squealing for purchase on the smooth metal. You reach towards the passenger seat and wrap your fingers around a black carbon-fiber repeating crossbow. Its magazine is translucent and filled with purple flechettes. There is a red button on top of it.

The Am pulls level with the train and you lean out the window, taking aim at the cargo car. The wind threatens to tear the crossbow from your hand, so you'll have to work quickly. You empty the clip into the side of the train car - there's surprisingly little recoil, but it's enough to rip the weapon out of your grip anyways. You spare a moment to watch it disappear far behind you.

Luckily, you still have the magazine in your hand.

You hit the button.

The flechettes glow with a violent violet shine and immediately cease to be affected by all motion in this plane of existence. With a violent screech, the walls of the train buckle and tear themselves to shreds as they try in vain to bypass the flechettes trapped in space.

The roar of an ordinary metal engine makes itself heard over the throaty growls of the Trans Am. You spot them in the rearview: a pack of jeeps, each bearing a Roman insignia. Alexylva has apparently updated its cavalry for the modern age. Despite the Am's best efforts, the Cavalry catches up in no time.

There isn't time to figure out how - the jeep directly on your right has a mounted turret, and in the mirror you can see something climbing onto it. In the next moment, your brain rattles with the datdatdatdatdat of half-inch shells jonesing for your blood. You hit the brake and swerve to the right, dodging a fusillade of gunfire while fishing around the passenger seat for something to return the favor.

Your probing fingers wrap around the barrel of a shotgun - there's an MP3 player mounted on a dock above the iron sights. Where the drum magazine should be, there's a brain in a jar. There's no way in hell you can shoot this with one arm, but that's what the Atlach-Nacha pills are for. Then you remember that you're flat-out.

So you improvise.

The Trans Am squeals as bullets riddle its flesh, but it keeps moving. You shift gears, slam on the brakes, and drift perpendicularly towards the jeep with the turret. The gunner isn't expecting this, and his aim lags. Seconds away from colliding with the jeep, you complete the turn, shift into reverse, and hit the gas.

With the turret now on your left, you release the wheel and lean out the window, both hands on your shotgun. You spare a brief moment to pick a song and then fire twice. The gunner - a bronze-colored legionnaire in bizarrely anachronistic Roman armor - looks surprised for a moment before the psychic slugs embedded in his subconscious tell him that he is supposed to be a salmon. He lets go of the gun and starts wiggling around in the mounted turret like a fish out of water.

The driver, wearing the same antiquated armor, looks surprised when the gunner stops firing.

So he improvises.

The Jeep veers to the left and slams into the Trans Am, knocking you for a loop and throwing the shotgun into the backseat. You feel a tire blow as the Am spins out of control, its pained screech echoing through your brain. The tire would be a problem even if the Am weren't alive; as it is now, your 305 demon horses are running with shattered legs. You're able to wrest back control from the spin, but the Am is crippled now. It's your only ticket off the steel earth - if the Am dies, so will you.

Nobody lives forever. Certainly not your alternate selves. You reach down at the satchel for the good stuff. At the bottom, buried beneath the baggies and pills, is a modified autoinjector filled with tiny buzzing neon locusts that flap against the plastic. There's no time for anything fancy - you pop the autoinjector open and jab it into your neck.

Your vision goes quadruple; your limbs become a blur. Hopefully that means it's working, but there's really no point in worrying about it now. Either it worked or you're all dead. As the Express races farther and farther away, you reach into the glove compartment and retrieve a utility knife.

You slit your own throat.

At the moment the blade touches flesh, your body splits itself into four Rookies simultaneously occupying the same space, violating basic quantum mechanics through the wills of hell. One of you gargles and spasms with blood pouring from her carotid - the rest of you desperately force the body out of the driver's seat and into the shotgun seat. Then you get to work forcing her arm into the gaping maw in the center console. The Am perks up as fresh blood and gore seeps into its engine - not enough to heal the tire, but enough to keep it going.

You work the clutch and fight with the brakes and wheel, all the while keeping one hand on the door and one feeling for the closest gun - an M1911 - that your hands can find. The Am pulls up level with the lead jeep and the three of you lock eyes with the passenger. Then you kick the Trans Am's door open and leap towards him. The wind hits you like a hammer — but you're able to grab the doorframe and brace your feet against it.

You look through the passenger window and shoot the cyborg in the face. Nothing happens.

The driver spares a glance at you and returns his focus to the steel road. The passenger stares at you, raises a rifle, and then starts twitching. The bronze falls away from him in flakes and chunks. Within seconds, a pale, naked man sits dumbfounded in the passenger's seat. The rifle is at his feet.

You don't waste the opportunity. One of you punches him in the face. One of you pulls his door open. One of you grabs him by the collar and yanks him out of his seat, throwing him under the wheels of the Trans Am. Then you swing into the vehicle. The driver takes six engineering boots to the face, knocking him clean through the door and out of the jeep.

You slide into the driver's seat and floor the gas, pulling ahead of your trusty Trans Am and accelerating towards your target. Half-inch shells rattle against the jeep, but it's built to last. Within seconds you are neck and neck with the train. In your wake, the Trans Am follows - dragged along by your body as it tries to reunite with you.

The hole in the train looks just big enough to jump through. So you kick the door open and throw yourselves towards it. The wind throws you back and you scrabble for purchase on the jagged metal edges of the hole, shredding your fingers to bloody ribbons. You manage to yank yourselves up and take a moment to suck the blood off of your fingers - it burns like hell but some booze will clear that right up. As one, you unclip the flasks on your hips and take a swig. Then you look around.

The carriage is empty, with bare metal walls. You scan the room once more and then dash ahead through the sliding door.

As soon as you enter the next car, a pair of knives embed themselves in your brain and drop you to your knees. Through squinted eyes, you can make out an auto-psyker at the front of the train car. They gaze at you patiently through lidless blue eyes, embedded in the wall from the torso down. Their brain hangs suspended in a jar of green liquid mounted above their pale, emaciated face.

Your head feels like it's about to burst so you yank your helmet off to relieve the pressure. In the back of your mind you can feel the psyker working their will on your body. They want you to submit. To give in. Surrender is easy. Surrender is bliss. Surrender is ecstasy. As if by itself, your arm moves towards the gun in your back pocket.

The psyker continues to whisper into your mind, filling your head with pain and pleasure in alternating bursts. The pain is squeezing your brain until it feels like gray matter is dripping out of your ears. The acrid iron taste of blood fills your mouth. The psyker whispers to you once more, filling your thoughts with a single word: surrender.

But you're not the surrendering type. You're a pissed off powder keg packing heat - and psychic links are two-way. Your hand comes up with a black plastic Derringer, and you put it to your head. Then you fire.

The bullet that comes out of the Derringer melts into the side of your head, becoming a hyperactive surge of electricity zipping through your neurons until it finds the electromagnetic rail between you and the psyker and returns to sender. The psyker's eyes widen as a .41 caliber bullet bursts out of their brain and bounces around the inside of their shatterproof jar, pulping what's left.

Truth be told, you were saving that one for the Inside Man.

You look down and realize that your symptoms weren't just psychosomatic. One of you is lying sprawled on the floor of the train car. There's something grey leaking out of your nose and blood is oozing from your glassed-over eyes.

You avert your gazes and take two swigs from your flask. Then you put your helmet back on and push into the vault car.

The vault car is laden with riches. Priceless paintings hang in the spaces not plastered over with lockboxes. The boxes themselves are transparent crystal, filled with gold and jewels. Massive metal shelves dot the room, lined with invaluable grimoires. The sheer wealth on display coats the car in a faint golden sheen. You feel unclean just standing in the middle of these riches.

You and your duplicate smash a few lockboxes and relieve them of their treasures, but they aren't really what you came all this way for. You're after something much more valuable - information. The shelves are swept clean of their contents, and in the far back of the train car, you find a row of computer servers. It's much easier to simply shove them all into a hammerspace for the Inside Man to sort out later than try to download anything yourself.

It's only after you've cleaned the vault car of its goodies that the adrenaline wears off and you remember something important: the Trans Am has lost a tire. There's no way it can move two of you - especially not two of you - out of the Phitransimun's underbelly.

The utility knife enters your gut before your brain catches up with your reflexes. You stagger and realize that you've disassociated fully - your clone just tried to kill you. While she tries to get to the Trans Am, the real you has to deal with the blade in her belly. Assuming, of course, that you are the real you. Of course, if you kill yourself then you won't have to worry about being the real you. But you already knew that - that's why there's a knife in your gut.

You drain your hip flask and give it a moment to drown your sensory nervous system. Then you snap the utility blade off at the point where it's buried in your stomach and start running.

The Rookie has only just made it out of the vault car when you tackle her from behind and try to pry off her helmet. She rolls, throws you off, and knocks the wind out of you with a kick to the gut. While you wheeze for breath, she books it to the end of the psyker car and yanks the door open.

On the other side of the door, standing on the car connector, is a small army of cyborg legionnaires. The two parties stare at each other for a moment before the Rookie scrambles up a nearby ladder onto the top of the train car. The legionnaires are about to follow when you appear in the doorway. They stop in surprise; you see the ladder and take advantage of it.

The roof is a polished pearl material whose edges curve downwards like a bullet. Fat metal fins dot the roof, their wedge-shaped bodies cutting into the brutally cold wind hitting you like a hammer. The Rookie is already up there, crouched low behind the flat sides of the fins and dashing between them to avoid getting swept off the roof. She turns and spots you; the reflection of your helmet is visible on hers.

A lot of people can attest to hating themselves, but they probably didn't mean it this literally. You bum-rush the bitch and dive at her waist. The two of you slam into a fin and you see stars. The Rookie has it worse, though - she took the full brunt. While she lies back in a daze, you straddle her chest and work your fingers around her neck.

She punches you in the gut, right where the blade is still lodged, and the world goes white. When your vision comes back, the tables have been turned - the Rookie is now straddling your chest and trying to wring your neck. Your breath catches in your throat and your vision narrows.

Plasma bolts lance through the air, slicing in front of the Rookie's face and forcing her off of you. The two of you look to the back of the train car, to where a few cyber-Romans have climbed the ladder and are now taking potshots at you with energy rifles. The Rookie shares a glance with you - if anyone's going to kill you it's going to be you. But at this point you're down to whatever's in your pockets.

You duck around the side of the fin and fumble with the pockets of your bike leathers. Your hand closes around a small epinephrine injector filled with dark purple sludge; with a few quick taps, the sludge rises up into a man with a dog's head and a scorpion tail. You and the Rookie shake your injectors to reduce the chimeras back into a violet sludge and jab them into your necks. Then you throw a punch.

Your hand takes a shortcut through another universe, dipping into a hellgate and then popping back out to connect with a legionnaire's face. The legionnaire stumbles back and topples right off the train, taking two of his comrades with him. You snatch his rifle from the air and try to avoid thinking about how your arm looks like a strand of spaghetti on the trip back. The instant the rifle hits your hands you spin and take aim at the Rookie, only to be met with a plasma rifle in her hands as well.

More plasma bolts arc through the air and you make an unspoken agreement with yourself to focus on the other bad guys first. The two of you start firing from the shadow of the fins; with the wind at your backs and in their faces, you make short work of Alexylva's troops. The instant the last cyborg drops, you spin at the Rookie and point the trigger.

The gun beeps but does nothing else - and a spatially tesselated fist sends you spinning out from the shelter of the fin. The wind catches you and sends you tumbling end over end. Desperately, you throw your arms out and manage to latch onto a rough edge of the otherwise smooth roof.

The wind rages at you as you hang suspended in empty space, your hands scrabbling for purchase five meters away on the train. The Rookie approaches cautiously - she's crafty, and she knows it. She stops less than a meter from your hands and is about to stomp on your right hand when you hear a familiar roar.

The Trans Am has finally managed to catch up to you - and it's racing along your side of the train. Its tire is even looking good as new; it could probably actually carry both of you home. But you're way past the point of cooperation at this point and you know it. The Rookie doesn't even hesitate - she takes a flying leap off the roof at the same moment that you release your death grip on it.

The two of you collide in midair and that's when you pull out what's left of the utility knife and drive it into the side of her neck. The two of you crash onto the roof of the Trans Am and you kick her off. She flops onto the steel road, scrabbling at her throat, while you hang onto the Trans Am for dear life. Once the Rookie is out of sight, you slide into the front seat and give the steering wheel a rub. The Trans Am blinks and emits a satisfied purr. All that's left of the corpse in the passenger seat is a half-dissolved skeleton in biking leathers.

With its own belly full, the Trans Am pulls away from the Phitransimun Combine. There are still a few jeeps in the rearview mirror, but they're of little concern to the living machine. The Am's metaphorical claws cut through the mesh between realities and it hoists itself out of the underbelly between worlds. Your vision fills with the colors of the rainbow and then they're gone, replaced with the bland grayness of an asphalt back road under a cloudy Earth sky.

It's thirty minutes later that you stagger into the hideout, coming down off your high and acutely aware that a utility blade is buried in your belly. The Inside Man is, as usual, parked on the couch watching some brainless action flick on the television. He pauses the movie and turns to look at you when he hears your footsteps.

"So? How'd it go?"

You tear open the lootspace close to the ground and a pile of computer servers tumble out. The Man looks pleased.

"Lekkeeeer. Lekker lekker lekker. I know a lot of people who will cough up a fortune for the stuff in these discs. Knew you could do it, Rookie."

You don't have the patience to correct him, especially now that the effects of the hip flask are wearing off. You just want to collapse on the floor but there's too much to do - you need to appease the thing living inside your chest engine, you need to refill your satchel, and you need to fix your gut. That's going to take all night.

But hey. That's just part of the fun.

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