4, 3, 2, 1...
The heavy bass thumped loudly in her ears, the noise-cancelling headphones sealing the world away from her. Not so much her away from the world though, but it did filter out the white noise.
The world was vivid in the night, swirling neons and pinpricks of natural light hidden far above the pollution. Sharp in contrast, her vision pulsed in time to the rapid, migraine-inducing tempo of the song blasting through her headphones. She was going to go deaf before she was 30 at this rate, but she didn't care.
There were other ways to hear.
"So you can be my shining star tonight~" She sang softly to herself, working her jaw as if she were chewing gum. She wasn't. She wished she was though. The buzz in her ears was from something more than the blaring music from her headphones. She was getting closer to her target.
Targets. A different pulse extremely close to the first one she had been tracking all evening. A lesser empath might have missed it entirely, but she was close enough, sensitive enough, to notice the slight blip in frequency. Her sneakers crunched on loose gravel as she altered course, going down a different side alley than the original route she had been following. It was better than walking straight into a confrontation with 2 crackheads doped up to the gills with the latest new drug. What did they call it again? Speed? No, that was last year's hit.
Whatever. She had to do her job. The music in her headphones changed again, altering from the mind-numbing dance tracks she had been listening to on the hunt to something slower, more wistful. She never had to put a finger to the next button. It was as if her player picked up on her subconscious thoughts and played something that fit her mood. Given the strength of her abilities, it wasn't completely far fetched. Especially with something that has been with her for years. Just as she has gotten used to the quirks of her player (the Play button only works if you press in a certain way, volume controls are stuck and only luck could help you jiggle them on a good day), so had the player come to terms with her. Most electronics didn't work right around people with strong Ability. It was a miracle this one had stuck with her for longer than a year and not broken down entirely.
She tasted fear in the air, but she was sure she wasn't quite close enough to be able to sense it off regular Class Two Ability users. So it was true that the new drug amped up their psych abilities. Interesting. She would have to file that in tonight's report, confirm the unconfirmed street rumours about the drug's effect. The department hadn't been able to get a hold on a sample thus far, which was fairly unusual. It showed an uncanny control over the distribution of the product, and tonight's case was their best lead yet. If she got lucky, she might have more than a couple of junkies to haul in. If she got hold of a sample of the drug for the lab heads to tear apart, maybe she could wrangle for a few days off. They hadn't let her go since they transferred her to the Psych Crimes Special Forces in Tokyo weeks ago. The capital sure was different from the provinces. There was always something going on.
There was an ugly ripple in the mindspace ahead, and she steeled herself, shoring up her mental shields on instinct as her mental feelers reached out cautiously. There was violence ahead, the air was heavy with it, and her gut churned as both her nose and mind scented the reeking stench of an ugly death. Shock and fear and desperation. She focused, tuning the extraneous input out with the help of her training as well as the screaming vocals in her headphones. She got a lot of flack for wearing those out on field ops, even more for acting alone all the time, but she was the youngest Spec Ops member with a certified class Seven on overall Ability, though if you narrowed it down to pure offensive capability she could probably rank a high Eight or a low Nine. That made her almost too valuable to be deployed on the field for ordinary cases. Eight was the minimum rank for Enforcer status, the ticket to solo work, since it was normally considered mandatory that the lower classes work in pairs. Once you hit level Ten, you were basically untouchable. Not that many people ever did. It took her almost 3 years to rise from Six to Seven, and that was considered exceptionally fast. Every level above Class Five took years of training to achieve, and only specialized agents took that much effort. Even then, Fives and Sixes were the bulk of the empath-capable force. Only the skilled and talented went further, or the really determined.
She turned a corner, then resisted the urge to gag. A homeless man (woman? thing?) lay gutted in a pile of cardboard sheets roughly assembled to form some kind of shelter. There were no flies yet on the seeping wounds, so this was fresh. So fresh that the edges were practically clean.
Vibro-blade. She had barely time to register the thought when a pre-cog vision kicked in, the same blade used to gut the poor homeless person jabbing into her kidneys as the illusion fizzled around the laughing madman while she was leaned over examining the body of the murdered street person. Abruptly she recalled the blip of a second person with the first on her radar, how similar they had been...
"Synchro?" She said aloud even as her training kicked into gear, reacting in full self-defence mode, her wide area search tightening into the immediate area while shepushed with her mind. Push was an understatement. Imagine a vice-like grip on everything with a psychic trail in her immediate vicinity, then add spikes on the inside of that grip. All kill was overkill with her, her old instructor used to say. She used to explode dummy psychic models in the early stages of her training whenever she got agitated. It took a while (a few years) before they deemed her safe to be let out against actual people.
Someone screamed. It might or might not have been the voices in her headphones. Her vision hazed, blurring dangerously as it reconfigured to re-process her visual input of the alley. It was a basic illusion even Class Ones could use, though Ones could only avert mildly curious eyes at best. To hide one person from sight without a trace took at least a Five, or a Four with training and an aptitude for the art.
Or, a couple of class Two junkies on synchro. She added dryly. Something else to go into the report. If they could blind a class Seven like her even temporarily, those drugs must be something serious. A pair of Twos working in synch normally could approximate the power level of a Three or a Four, but not enough to hide from her normal search mode. If they could slip under her radar, it was something approaching a Class Six ability. And that was not a good thing. At least it was something she could break though, once she was aware of it.
Although she had never heard of people without training working in synch. It had to be specially taught, although in some cases natural synchronization did occur, usually among highly compatible persons, like identical twins. Rare, but not impossible. She focused sharply, body and mind both in ready positions.
A skinhead with a vibro-knife was crouched a few feet away from her. He was bleeding from the eyes and ears, and he was screaming something as he stared up at her.Oops, did I squeeze too hard? Her lips curved into a smirk, though her voice was professional as she said.
"Drop the knife. You are under arrest for suspected drug peddling and murder. Any resistance will be countered with extreme prejudice, and will count against you in court."
Even as she spoke she scanned the surroundings for the second person. She could only see the one perp, but she was certain there was a second culprit. She had touched the guy's mind briefly in her crushing attack earlier, and he had to have a major migraine on top of the nausea from the backlash of a severed mind-link from the synch.
The cornered man howled, the blood streaming from his orifices looking a lot like tribal war paint as he lunged at her. His surface thoughts were the chaos of the truly psychotic, and she recoiled with a certain disgust as she swerved to avoid the clumsy strike, her hand snaking out like a serpent to lock his wrist and elbow the old-fashioned way, forcing the perp to the ground. There was no way she was going to dip her mind into his to lock him down psychically. Not only was it disgusting to sort through drug-addled thoughts, she couldn't risk being caught by the still-missing second suspect while she was busy in someone else's mind. Just because she had Ability didn't mean she had to use it for everything. That was what her first combat instructor had told her, right before he had tossed her onto her back with a judo flip after first warding against her initial psychic intrusion. She had taken it very personally, and henceforth always took care to spend some time honing her physical abilities on top of her mental ones.
Even as she disarmed her captive and reached for her cuffs, a tingle ran through her senses, and she barely had time to react before her suspect's face literally exploded in front of her, splattering her face and front with gore. She lashed out mentally from instinct, her inner bloodhound, as she liked to call it, latching onto the withdrawing psychic whiplash from the attack and chasing after the originator. She could taste the panic from the attacker, probably the second person she had sensed earlier, as he realized that she had caught on to his mental trail. He tried to shake her off, but she was not to be deterred. Her persistence on the chase was legendary even back when she was still a trainee in the provinces. You could beat her blue and bloody and she would still not let go. They still told that story back at the academy, to her embarrassment the last time she went back to visit.
And then, suddenly, nothing. She felt the sudden rush as she almost sank her mental jaws onto the fleeing psychic imprint, but the constantly mutating chaos of Mindspace suddenly went hollow as if everything in the vicinity was sucked inwards, and it nearly tore her pursuing consciousness in half as she snapped back to her body to protect herself from the backlash. She threw up over her headless suspect when she was back in her body, looked at the mess on her lap, then threw up again.
She must have lost time in between, because she could hear wailing sirens through her now very broken headphones, which were still stubbornly playing a last tune even as one side dangled helplessly away from her head. Damn, she liked that pair of headphones!
Weakly shoving the headless corpse to one side, she crawled away from the mess of blood and brain and tried desperately not to shake like a leaf. Violence was one thing, but the shock of nearly losing her mind from that powerful...whatever it was...shook her. Her hands would not stop trembling, and she had to ball them into fists on the grimy alley floor to hide it.
It took precious minutes before she could even stand again. By then, normal cops had already secured the area, and at least half a dozen guns were trained on her. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Norms didn't like psychs like her, but they made demands of her department every time they had a hard case to solve anyway. Then again, she surmised they had a good reason this time to be pointing guns at her. She did look like a pretty gory mess, and there was not one, but two dead bodies in her general vicinity.
"Hands up where we can see them!" The lead cop's voice boomed through his fancy helmet. Bubbleheads, her department called the new breed of street cops. With the intensification of Psych crime in recent years, state department had successfully lobbied for basic protective gear for their people, the norms who had no natural wards against psychic influences. The helmets were good against petty Ability users up to Two (or a weak Three), but were about as useful as pretty plastic in the face of a class Seven like her. Not that she was going to advertise that. They didn't like her already, she didn't want to give them a reason to shoot first and apologize later.
"I'm from Psych Ops, working on a case. Don't shoot, I'm reaching for my ID." She said slowly and clearly, moving very very cautiously so as not to excite any itchy trigger fingers. It was hard to get a clear read of their intentions with their helmets in the way, and the lingering wooziness from her psychic backlash earlier was affecting her ability to read in any case. She could barely pull herself together to send in a telepathic call to HQ in this state, though her distress signal should have warned whoever it was on nest duty. She could only hope that one of her own would come for her before things got stickier.
She could almost hear the mental gnash of their jaws the moment she mentioned which department she was from, and she could guess that they were thinking something along the lines of "damn spooks" or something entirely worse. Probably worse, considering how she was painted in gore at the moment. Not the most flattering look for anyone.
The lead Bubblehead gingerly took her spattered ID from her bloody fingers once she had gotten it out, and she was proud that she did not shake even once. Pride kept her from swaying on her feet, and she squared her jaw defiantly even with powerful halogen lamps blinding her physical vision. If pushed, she would see with her mind, exhaustion be damned. Her survival instincts were strong enough for that.
"Special Investigator Sayashi. You look a little young for the job." The voice was thick with suspicion as he eyed her contemptuously. Sayashi shrugged. Almost everyone in her line was young. Ability surfaced early in some, but most of it showed during puberty, and Psych Ops always needed new people. They didn't care if you were 13 or 30. There was never enough good candidates, and it was crucial to snap up powerful Ability users before someone unscrupulous got to them first. Once found, the strong ones like her could never really be free. She was ok with that though. She had a job for life if she didn't screw up too spectacularly. But her life belonged to the state. To the nation. It would never be her own, but there were worse fates.
"You can call my department for verification." She kept her tone neutral, not wanting to antagonize the guy with the big gun. She could feel the blood starting to coagulate on her, and it felt disgusting. She really needed a shower, but only if these norms would let her go. It was going to take her forever to get the gore out of her hair.
She had never been more grateful to hear the powerful whine of anti-grav engines, but what really calmed her was the steady presence of a pair of familiar minds. Her shoulders relaxed, and she saw a couple of the Bubbles twitch, their guns locked at her chest. Geez, jumpy much?
"What appears to be the problem, officer?" A cheerful voice cut through the edgy standoff. A tall figure dressed in outrageous style seemed to materialize out of nowhere, and Sayashi resisted the urge to snort. A simple blind to turn their attention while she slipped through the lines and onto the scene, but it looked as if she had just teleported in to the untrained eye. Still, it effectively drew half the guns pointed at her towards the newcomer, and if this had really come down to a fight, they would be able to take down the whole lot between the two of them. Not that it would, not today. They were on the same side.
"Who the hell are you?" Lead Bubblehead growled, one fist still clenched around Sayashi's ID. The newcomer waved nonchalantly, tutting disapprovingly as she took in the crime scene.
"Oh, don't mind me. Psych Ops, Ikuta at your service. I'm here to retrieve one of our agents on a distress call logged in about 15 minutes ago. It's on file if you feel the need to request it." Ikuta turned to regard Sayashi with a wry look.
"You look like shit."
"You should see the other guy." Sayashi quipped, their mental conversation hidden from the cops. Ikuta eyed the headless corpse lying a few feet away, grimacing at the sight as her nose twitched. The stench was getting pretty bad.
"Our department will be sending in a team to aid in on-site investigation here. I've already placed the call." Ikuta told the lead cop, who stiffened noticeably.
"This is our jurisdiction."
"This was our case." She pointed at the headless man. "That used to be a lead. We will be aiding with your investigations. Rest assured, Officer Morita, we will share information. We want to close the case too."
The man jerked visibly at the use of his name. There was no name tag on his uniform anywhere, so the only way Ikuta could have known was, well, by pulling directly from his mind.
"That was mean, Eripon." Sayashi laughed mentally as her fellow agent escorted her from the area to where their ride was waiting. Ikuta grinned.
"He irritated me." She raised her voice a little louder.
"And yes, I know I'm a damn spook. That's what they pay me to be!"
The cursing behind them redoubled in frequency.