Prologue - Miami 08:54 [-5hrs]
For a few seconds, smoke hung in the air; remnants of the presence of a stolen Lamborghini Veneno. Then it disappeared. Only to reappear again several metres ahead. It followed the car round a park as it made its way eastwards to PortMiami where a Venysian Ship was waiting.
“ETA in t minus ten,” The driver said through the car’s communications. No reply came, but the driver didn’t expect one. He knew the Venysians at PortMiami would have most definitely received his message. After all, they had upgraded this car with their systems and the communications was a different frequency to the ones they sold. That, and Banks never gave replies he deemed pointless.
The car carried on down the final stretch of road and entered the port. A quick turn to the left and he would see his awaiting ship. It wasn’t as grand as one of their warships but the cruiser was still equipped with technology yet to be attained by the rest of the world.
As he reached the ship, the car slowed to halt. The response was instantaneous. A loading bay on the side of the ship opened up and extended out to the ground. The driver drove the car into the ship and once inside, he exited the vehicle and turned to face the group waiting for him at the top of the ladder to his right.
“Works a charm,” they said.
“Supreme Leader Forel is hosting a meeting, General Alesay. You’re late, it’s already started,” Banks said. He was a big man, tall, dark skinned with several gold chains hanging from his neck and second in command to Forel once Sergio had been murdered by AU.
The general nodded and didn’t wait to watch Banks disappear. He hurriedly made his way silently to the ladder and up it. It was never a good thing to be late. Especially if it was being held by Forel.
Luckily for him, though, the room he was supposed to be in wasn’t far. It was only down one or two corridors and he got there just as Banks was opening the door.
The first thing he noticed was that all the available generals, of various ranking were in the room. There was the Five-Star General Banks of course, then the other two Five-stars, Generals Antatuta and Flaycon. Both scarred veterans of several Venysian raids. Then, apart from him, there were two other Four-Stars, Generals Beiqudon and Excelero. They were all at the front, by the screen from which the Supreme Leader could be seen. Then, mixed in among the crowd, were the four Three-Stars, five Two-Stars and the six Single-Stars. The only one among female was the Three-Star General Kadamé Ured. If information was correct, she was being assessed in upgrading a rank. And that meant one of the Four-Stars would be relegated. ‘Which means I can be relegated,’ General Alesay thought. He would have to do his best to outperform the others then.
He took one of the free seats left for him near the front and nodded to Forel. “Supreme Leader.”
“General. You’re late.”
“My apologies. I was testing the latest vehicle systems before installation on the fleets.”
“And your results?”
“I have yet to begin the report. I just got back before Banks called.”
“Very well. I expect your report within an hour of this meeting’s conclusion.”
For General Alesay, the best thing about the Supreme Leader was that he disliked the Highness and Eminence crap. Things should be told as they were. And the Supreme Leader was simply the Supreme Leader. No other jargon about it.
“Now. I will start from the beginning again for General Alesay’s sake,” Forel said. “I’m putting forward to you all a reward for the one who catches AU. He’s been in hiding for three years now and has slowly been harassing our operations in Thyston. I want him found and brought to me alive. Dead gets no pay. Is that understood?”
“Is that it?” Banks asked.
“Of course not. Banks. You are excluded from this operation as I have a bigger task for you to do. I’m waiting for you here. For the rest of you, the reward is an increase in rank by two. If that’s not possible, it’ll be one rank up and a yacht of your own. Or another full-scale fleet at your command, Generals Flaycon and Antatuta.”
“And there are no other conditions? Any force is permitted?” Kadamé asked.
“Of course. This is the world’s most wanted man in the world. You’re authorised by every government in the world to use any force necessary to apprehend him. ALL of you have been assigned this operation and any current duties of yours will be passed on to your Sergeants to deal with. I want AU brought to me as soon as possible.”
“What about the other one? The female assassin who’s with him?”
“Yes I want her brought in too. I thought that went without saying.” Forel said dismissively.
“And what of the boy in Northern Serene?” Kadamé asked.
‘Someone’s been doing their homework. How old are you? Twenty-Six? Twenty-Seven? The second youngest here. I’m not letting you take my place.’
“Do with him what you will, I care not for him.”
“Have all of you understood this message? Do whatever you can. Now I must go. And you all must go.”
The screen went blank and the Generals looked at one another. The message was clear. It was a race between them. Who would catch AU first? More importantly, who here would kill him if he got to AU first? There was no loyalty between them. Of course there wasn’t. They only had their loyalty to the Supreme Leader. ‘Anything goes. And I’ve got a stupid report to write first. No matter, I know a friend. I’m going to get there before you, Kadamé. You may have your weapons, but I have more wisdom. A race… So be it.’
* * *
“If you’re successful.”
“If I’m not?”
“Well, Captain, I don’t believe that’s an option. I’m only offering this until I get there. If you don’t catch him by then, you get nothing.”
“And my men? They may lose their lives.”
“They are men. They are replaceable. Now is that a deal?”
“Deal. I expect twenty thousand in my account within the hour.”
“I’m watching you from here, Captain. I can see everything. I can see you approaching the hotel right now, the explosive in your hand. I can see the guard coming towards you.”
The reply was a few seconds late. “I get it, you can see me. Then watch me blow this hotel up.”
“I am watching you.”
He saw the captain place the explosive and walk out of the building, detonating it behind him as he emerged from the glass doors.
“In a fee seconds, the clusters will activate and the building will come crashing down. The boy will be dead and I want my payment now.”
“I want to see the boy’s body, captain.” The building exploded again and came crashing down.
“You happy? Boy’s-”
He watched the captain pause as a big vehicle passed by him.
“Captain. I think that’s your boy there you wanted me to pay for.”
The captain swore back at the General.
Chapter 1 - Northern Serene 14:34
“What’s that?” Carmen asked from over his shoulder.
“What’s what?” Davnan frowned as he pulled away from the hug they were sharing and turned around to face the window. They were in the penthouse of the hotel, surrounded by floor to ceiling windows to celebrate Carmen’s birthday. Davnan couldn’t make out much. There was a shape hurtling towards them, getting bigger as it came closer. “I… don’t know. I can’t make it out.” He squinted at it. It looked like a triangle.
“Away from the window!” he yelled as the triangle he saw split into two triangles. But Carmen wasn’t listening to him, she just approached the window to see for herself. Davnan put an arm to block her from getting any closer. “Away! Away! Away! It could be a bomb and it’s heading straight for us!”
Carmen swore and looked at Davnan, her mouth hanging open. “How are we going to get out of here?”
“The stairs. Quickly!”
She bolted for the stairs just as the window smashed behind her, glass splinters cutting her face and embedding themselves in her skin. She screamed in pain and looked towards her boyfriend, but he was covered by someone with a hang glider on their back. She heard Davnan yelp as the intruder crashed into him and they rolled together to window opposite and shattered the glass, falling through the other side.
Barely a second before she could register what had happened, strong hands gripped her waist and tugged her in the same direction as Davnan had fallen.
The ground whizzed past her, a grey blur, where just a moment ago, she and Davnan had shared a kiss. Then the window was there and then nothing.
“Stay calm!” She heard over her scream. The ground was rushing towards her, the hotel fountain getting bigger. But still she screamed.
And screamed until the ground as no longer getting rushing towards them, but they were gliding towards it.
“There! See!” It was a woman’s voice. Carmen wanted to say something but air filled her lungs and her breath caught in her throat. Instead all that came out was a whimper. Frantic, she searched the skies for Davnan and saw him a few metres to her right. She tried to shout out his name but, again, she could not find her voice.
In seconds they met the ground and rolled along the hard pavement. Another scream erupted from her mouth, this time accompanied with tears, as she felt herself get bruised all over.
“Get up! There’s no time!” The woman said, hauling her off the ground. Carmen could swear she had only just touched the ground. How could she be expected to get up after that!
An explosion to her left shook her and she turned to face the hotel she was just in. More glass shards flew everywhere, this time accompanied with other types of debris.
Davnan saw it too, his eyes opening wide. A giant ball of fire went up in smoke and the tower bent slightly to one side.
“We don’t have time Davnan! This way!”
Those were the first words his captor spoke and he recognised the voice easily. “AU?!”
“Of course!” AU said, removing his black hang-gliding goggles and mask. “Who else is going to save you from the Venysians?” He threw the items on the floor and immediately broke into a run. “This way!” he shouted. Davnan followed, not sure what else to do. He looked back to check that Carmen was alright. Apart from the glass in her face, she looked fine. But still, his heart ached to see her in that state.
“Stay with AU!” Candy shouted at him. “I’ve got her.”
Davnan nodded, his training instincts kicking in. AU was heading down the road and leaned right, into an alley. Davnan followed him but stopped at the turn, his jaw dropping again. He swore. “No way! This can’t be happening! A monster truck!” It was there, before him, facing him, ready to launch onto the street. The red and yellow paint of the Emenikz smothered it and on the bonnet, spray painted on, was the black and red spade logo of the Criminal Empire.
“Davnan, go!” Candy shouted from a metre behind him, jarring him into reality. AU was already in the truck, firing it up. Then he opened the door and hopped out just as Carmen and Candy arrived.
“Candy, you drive.” He tossed her the keys and ushered the pair pf lovers inside.
“Wait!” Carmen said.
“Shut up and get in!”
“I don’t care. Davnan, get your girlfriend in. We don’t have much time.”
Carmen looked like she was about to protest but another explosion turned their heads and they watched the hotel collapse. AU watched Carmen’s face go ash white. “Get in! In the back!”
This time, she obeyed wordlessly. As soon as Davnan finished helping her up, AU entered last and slammed the door behind him. Before he even had time to sit properly, Candy slammed the throttle and, with a growl, the truck lurched forward onto the road.
Candy guided the vehicle round the remains of the hotel and onto the main street, past a fleet of black 4X4s, all emblazoned with a Venysian logo on the side.
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon! Faster!” she urged the car, tapping the steering wheel with her finger. The Venysians had seen their vehicle now and began giving chase. “We’ve got company, AU!”
“Already on it,” he replied. He removed his gun from his back and scooted in between Davnan and Carmen.
“Is that a gun?” Davnan and Carmen said simultaneously. AU ignored them and aimed the weapon at the first Venysian car. He fired, cracking the rear windshield and popping a hole into it. He saw the Venysian car swerve as his aim held true, blowing the tyre. The screeching was enormous, echoing all around them. AU aimed again at the next car in line.
“Are you crazy?!” Carmen yelled.
“Shut up!” AU said, taking aim. “Candy. How’s she holding up?”
“Like a charm. Shame all these cars are in the way.”
“Don’t crush them!” Carmen interrupted, yet again.
“For heaven’s sake, will you shut up, girl?!”
“Easy, AU. She’s already had the scare of her life, don’t make it worse.”
AU simply grunted and too aim again. Through the same hole he fired through last time, he shot again, his bullet penetrating the Venysian windscreen. “Ha!” he said, as he watched the car spin off and crash into the oncoming lane. But to his dismay, another Venysian car took its place and this time the passenger was half out, pointing a machine gun at them. “Everyone down!”
Glass rained, the rear windshield bursting into millions of pieces. Carmen screamed. The foam in the seats became exposed. But still, Candy kept driving. Once the hail of bullets stopped, AU climbed over the seats and into the carriage bay of the monster truck. He switched his sniper to machine gun mode and rammed a cartridge into the gun. With one hand he held on to the truck’s bars and with the other, he aimed the gun at the Venysian and fired. Flashes of light appeared in his eyes, accompanied with a sound like a drill and before he knew it, the cartridge was empty and two more Venysian cars had smashed into the oncoming lane, exploding on impact. “I think that’s it!” he shouted to Candy as he climbed back into the car and into his seat.
“For now,” Candy replied.
“Good,” Carmen said. “Now can someone please explain what the hell is going on!”
“Not yet. We’re still not safe,” Candy said.
“I thought y-”
“Don’t you listen, girl? She said we’re safe for now. You think a few explosions will go unnoticed by the government? And what about the Venysians? You think they’re that weak?”
“-And I don’t care,” AU cut in. “When we’re safe then I’ll explain everything. Candy, any call from CK yet?”
“Goddamn it, where is he?”
Candy shrugged. “I don’t know. But we’ve got a news helicopter pursuing us at two ‘o’clock.”
AU sighed. He drummed his fingers against his thigh. The helicopter would just attract attention and show the world where they were going. And he could do without that.
“I’m going to blow it up,” he said.
“What?” Davnan asked.
“Are you crazy?” Carmen asked, not for the first time so far. “Those are innocent people!”
“Davnan, if you don’t shut her up, I will!” Then he glared at Carmen and made his way again to the monster truck’s bay. At the far end, held down by bars, were tarpaulin covered box. As quick as he could, AU loosened the bars and removed the cover, revealing a box of weapons. He opened the crate and removed a rocket launcher. Then he pointed it at the helicopter and fired. Smoke filled his vision and a second later, an explosion followed, the air suddenly lit a bright yellow. The pieces of the helicopter fell to the road below. People screamed but their sounds were drowned out by the strong thrum of the monster truck and the burning embers of the helicopter.
Sirens too joined the fray and accompanied with them, several police vehicles. Not willing to waste his time, AU climbed back into the truck. “Police are on our tail. How long till we reach out rendezvous?”
“About ten minutes.”
“Lose them before the Venysians arrive.”
“Do you want to drive this thing?”
AU didn’t answer. He looked in the rear-view mirror and saw Davnan watching the scene behind. Carmen was glaring back at him, her arms folded. Shaking his head, he turned to look at the road. Candy was skilfully weaving the truck round the other cars.
“Company up ahead,” she said. AU saw it too. More Venysians. They had formed a blockade, their cars all lined up nose to tail across the width of the road.
“Smash into them.”
“Don’t need to be told twice,” she said with a grin. “Everyone, brace for impact!”
AU saw the Venysians get out of their cars and aim their guns at their truck. He ducked, expecting the bullets to whizz into the cabin. But they were aiming for the car’s tyres. Not that that would do much. They had already thought that part through. The tyres’ material had been supplied by some of The Ace’s friends who had them supplied to them by the Venysians. But that wasn’t to say the bonnet was safe. The force from the bullet was too much for it and it tore apart, flying over the car’s heads. But that was all the damage they could do before the truck was upon them, ramming into two of the Venysian cars.
Metal crunched. Glass broke. Carmen screamed. Bones broke. Davnan whooped. And flames flew on either side of the car, scorching AU momentarily, but as quick as they appeared, the disappeared, left behind with the remains of the Venysians blockade.
“Hell yes!” Candy shouted.
“There’re more,” AU said, pointing to their right at another fleet of Venysian cars.
“CK’s here!” Davnan shouted. AU turned in his seat, straining to see the Emenikz sports group. There were five of them, driving some of his previously owned sports cars, painted yellow or red.
“So we’ve got the cops on our tail. The Venysians and now these guys!” Carmen shouted. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why can’t this nightmare end?”
AU contained himself. He fought the urge to whack her unconscious. Why did she have to complain so much? “These guys are on our side,” he shouted over the roar of the monster truck and the surrounding sports cars. They’re going to divert the Venysians away from us.”
“And how are they going to do that?
The sound of guns firing echoed in their ears. “Like that.” AU turned to Candy. “How long?”
“A minute at this pace, maybe two.”
“THIS IS THE POLICE. YOU ARE UNDER ARREST. CEASE VEHICULAR MOVEMENT IMMEDIATELY.”
AU looked up at the sky. A police helicopter was coming towards them. But it was still a bit far away. AU looked at Candy. Candy looked at AU. And they nodded, a hidden understanding passing between them. Candy skidded into the right turn, the tyres squealing in heavy protest. AU was thrown to the side, jarring his elbow but he paid no attention to it. He watched as Candy slammed her foot down on the accelerator and headed straight for the scaffolding. AU readied his gun and kept his gaze on the rear-view mirror, watching the helicopter catch up to them.
He felt the monster truck collide with the poles and he knew in a few seconds, he’d have to fire his one chance shot at the pilot. All around them metal clanged against metal, ringing loudly in ears, but AU ignored it as best he could. He had to concentrate.
The first moment he felt the car bump into the wall, he shifted his gaze from the mirror to in front of him and imagined where the helicopter would be. He held his weapon in place as the monster truck went up the wall and flipped backwards. As the truck was halfway to landing, the helicopter came into view and AU fired, not knowing if he had missed or not. But once the vehicle was in the ground and going again, he looked back, just in time to see the copter touch the ground and blow up.
He nodded to Candy and released his breath, not knowing that he had even held it. He heard Davnan utter some foul words behind him in amazement. Carmen, too couldn’t suppress her herself. She was staring open-mouthed at the wreckage behind them.
“You… monster. That was an innocent person trying to uphold the law, which you’re breaking!” she said. AU grit his teeth and looked away. He watched the city pass, listening to the chaos around him.
“Just need to lose these guys, then we’re clear for the rendezvous,” Candy said.
“Here, take the wheel,” she said. “My turn to bust some Venysian heads.”
Candy climbed to the back of the car and into the carriage bay. She picked up the rocket launcher AU had left there and pointed it at the Venysians. “See ya guys in hell!” Then she made a rude gesture at them before firing. The car blew up instantaneously and flipped in the air, showering sparks onto the gravel below. Candy placed another rocket into the launcher and pointed it at the next Venysian car. Then an idea suddenly struck her. She put the gun down, picked up the grenade launcher and ducked her head quickly into the monster truck cabin and shouted to AU. “Swerve and drive!”
AU didn’t question it and did as she asked. Then, she sat squatted against the truck and pointed the launcher into the air. “Die, Venysians! And take Forel with you!” She fired the grenade launcher multiple times in succession, screaming crazily as she did so, not even marvelling at the size of the explosions she was causing. The grenades sent of chain reactions after chain reactions. As the monster truck swerved left and right, the grenades went left and right, exploding on the ground, all over the road behind the truck, leaving massive destruction in its wake. The Venysians were decimated, one after the other exploding, acrid fire everywhere, the choking smoke causing more cars to crash into eachother. Blissful heat swallowed her. All of it built up into one huge blockade of wreckage that prevented any one else from following them. Candy stood up and swore at Forel’s name once more before she entered the monster truck.
“They’re dealt with,” she said. “We should easily make it to the rendezvous now.” AU nodded.
“Take the next right. CK said there’d be a jump just before we get there.”
“Is it that by any chance?” As the car turned, AU pointed to a huge ramp in the middle of the road angled to the left slightly.
“What the hell?! Don’t tell me we’re going up that!?” They heard Carmen say.
Candy looked at the ramp then at AU. “CK’s slowly taking after you.”
“In what way?” AU smirked as he accelerated the truck towards the jump.
“You’re both crazy!” Candy said over the increasing volume of the monster truck.
“Nice to know I’ve got a signature then!” AU said as the truck hit the ramp and went up. It flew into the air and suddenly they were airborne.
AU could see the houses disappear below the windscreen as the monster truck leaned backwards. He couldn’t see where they were going. He was only aware of his grip on the truck door, the engine noise and Carmen’s screaming. Before he knew it, he felt the truck bump into the ground and the front end of the vehicle slammed to the ground. For a second he thought the tyres would give way and buckle, but instead, the front end of the car bounced up again and suddenly they were driving on two wheels. And all AU could see was the sky. And all he could hear was Carmen’s scream, which had increased in pitch.
But he couldn’t deal with her now. He had a truck to get under control before they crashed into something.
He furiously alternated his pressure on the pedals and pulled the handbrake for the rear wheels, making the car skid to a stop. For a few seconds there was a loud screeching noise as the wheels refused to stop and smoke built up around them. Then the truck slammed on all fours again and they were all jarred by the impact.
AU took a deep breath. “Finally.” He said, switching the engine off. The car had finally come to a stop. The smoke was clearing away. They had reached the meeting point. And best of all, Carmen had stopped her screaming.
They stayed seated in the car, all the passengers catching their breaths.
Once the smoke had fully cleared, AU looked around. It was a small street with trees on either side, lined all the way down the road. CK and someone else in another car were parked slightly ahead.
“Alright,” AU said. “Everybody out.” He waited for Candy and the teenagers to get out before getting out himself. The truck was a total mess. The front end was smoking, the bonnet ripped off. The sides were scorched and dented. The windows smashed in and the rear was black and bullet-ridden, the paint all but gone.
“That was one hell of a ride,” he said to CK once he arrived at his side. AU gave a quick glance in Candy’s direction. She was opening a door to one of the houses and was telling the lovebirds to go inside.
“And still not in too bad a shape for another ride.”
AU tossed him the keys. “She’s all yours.”
CK caught them and placed it round his finger. Then he pointed to the car he had come out of. “Your Lykan rode nicely. Kevin’s given Candy the keys for the Nemesis. When will I see you again?”
“When I call you,” AU said. Then he left CK to go into the building. Before he left he took one more glance at the monster truck and watched it leave. Then he looked at his yellow Lykan Hypersport. That is a much better car. Then he looked to the door of the building he was about to enter and took a deep breath. A lot of explaining would need to be done and Carmen wasn’t going to make things easy. “Why, Davnan? Why her?” Then he pushed the door open, bracing himself to face the eighteen year old girl.
Candy had them sitting down in the couch. She herself was at the other end of the room, leaning against the wall, relaxed. Davnan’s arm was around Carmen when AU came in, but whatever he was whispering to her, he didn’t care. Carmen was glaring at him and he sneered back.
“Right. There’s a lot of explaining to do, Davnan. Carmen needs to go.”
“What? Why? Sh-”
“Because I’m about to tell you what I never told you three years ago. And you’re coming with me wherever I go from this moment on.”
“But where will Carmen go? I can’t just leave her alone.”
“Of course you won’t. Wherever you go, I go, you promised me,” she said.
“She’ll slow us down too much, Davnan. And her constant whining is going to drive me crazy. We’re leaving her here.”
“Then I’m not coming with you.”
“You don’t have a choice. I told you to lie low and you disobeyed me. The government have been spying on you and even the Venysians know you’re linked to me. They’re not going to stop hunting you down now that they’ve got your scent.”
“I did lie low!”
“They just tried to kill you, Davnan! You did not lie low. You went and showed off your skills to the world trying to impress this girl right here.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about-”
“Yes you do and I will show you the proof soon enough. But for now I need you to tell your girlfriend goodbye.”
“And what if she gets killed?”
“Whatever happens to her, you’re coming with me.”
“I’m eighteen now, AU. I can make my own choices.”
“I don’t care how old you are. You’re still making stupid decisions.”
“Like your girlfriend for one-”
“And messing round on the street and stealing and beating up other guys for no reason.”
“I had a reason!”
“Davnan, you’re coming with me, whether you like it or not.”
“I will come with you. I’ve missed my training, but Carmen comes with us.”
AU shook his head. “No. I’m not taking a whining baby with us.”
“I’m right here! If you have a problem with me, say it to my face.”
AU glared at her. “Fine, I will. I have a problem with you. Happy? Now, Davnan-”
“Davnan’s not going anywhere without me,” Carmen said. “I’m not going to just leave him with a savage like you.”
“A savage?” AU frowned.
“Are you deaf? Or are you a parrot? Or are you both? Yes, you’re a freakin’ savage. You just murdered countless of people just now. And what did they do to you?”
AU blew air out of his nose. “You don’t need to know that. Davnan does.”
“And the innocents? What of them? You just killed the news pilot for no reason.”
“If I hadn’t had done that, we wouldn’t be here right now. Don’t you use your brains girl?”
“I’m the one who doesn’t use my brain? You think it’s ok to kill people! And if the world were full of people like you, we’d wipe ourselves out as a race.”
“I’ not here to argue with you, girl. I do what I must because I must.”
“My name is Carmen.”
“And my name is AU, The Ace of Diamonds. Army Slaughterer, The Mighty Fine Warrior, The Nightmare Instigator, The Feared Assassin and many more titles I’ve gained over the years.”
“I don’t care about your titles, they just show how much of a lunatic you are!”
AU growled. “I’m not going to waste my time. Davnan, get up.”
He made to get up but Carmen’s hand shot out to his chest. “Davnan, stay.”
AU slid a knife out from his Diamond belt slowly. “Say that again,” he said extremely quietly.
“I-I-Yo-You’re not going t-to kill me. I-I know you won’t.”
“And why wouldn’t I?” He stepped closer to her. “Didn’t I just kill all those innocent lives? What makes you any different?” He could see the fear in her eyes as she looked at the metal in his hand. It wasn’t even pointed at her, but still her chest was moving up and down rapidly.