Angela and Graham
“Oh… crap!” John cursed. “Sonufa–!”
John took time to look at the now gaping wound in his stomach. He’d managed to tag the “target” with a 40mm HELLHOUND grenade and watched as it took it standing though losing an arm.
“Control, I can see my intestines, and my vision is blurring, I’m about to die and I want you to know I hate you.” John watched stoically as the Kodiak loomed over him and brought one of its massive paws down upon his head and turned his face into a stream of ribbons and pulpy mess. And as he died he knew they’d not listened to his advice. It would be another death in a long series of them at this rate.
John sucked in a mouthful of air and groaned. His body felt as if it were on fire. Opening his eyes he saw no bear. Groaning, John shifted his body right and saw a small tanned human arm lying upon the ground. Not far from the arm lay a disgusting mess of hair and flesh. Flashing in the mess was his comm. the noise couldn’t reach his ear but he knew it’d be control checking to see if he was up again. Struggling to sit up, he cursed under his breath, spitting out a lungful of red gunk.
“John, speak up if you’re alive.”
“John here, Control.” He picked up the arm of his killer scanning it for any identifying markers. “Control, you can add a name to the target. It’s Angela.”
“Angela? How can you be sure?”
“This arm has the same tattoo of known Angela in the Stealers database,” John explained reaching into his jacket pocket and pulling out a cigar. Grumbling, he put it in his mouth and began searching for his lighter. “Phoenix clan,” he said, lighting the cigar. “This ain’t her M.O. though. Attacking a small campsite here in the Yukon without a gal to be seen.”
“You’re not to worry about her M.O. John; you’re supposed to stop her.”
Clicking his comm. onto mute he spit out a few of his choice curses in his native language of K’iche’. Switching the volume back on he spoke. “We’ve been hunting Angela for nearly a century, Control. You find her M.O. and you can anticipate her moves, I’ve told you a thousand times about any Stealer.”
“Don’t tell us how do to our job and we won’t tell you how to do yours. Control out, rendezvous with Crew.” The comm. went silent as control cut the connection. Taking a pull on the cigar, John stood up wiping the blood and grime from his black leather biker jacket.
“Funny,” John said blowing smoke from his nose in irritation. “I thought you always told me how to do my job.” Brushing his jeans he looked over at the mess that had been his head and sighed. “I liked that head. It’s going to take weeks to get my mustache just right again.” John still held onto Angela’s arm continuing to examine it. “Where are you going to go, sweet pea?” he mused. “Arm’s young, and looks Asian, and no blemishes accept the branding tattoo you go out of your way to display. Pretty pretty Angela so worried about your looks, you’ll swap bodies as soon as possible, can’t go running around without an arm, can you?” he said to himself.
Massaging his neck and headed over to his bike. “Jump the Stealer, it’ll be a simple smash and bag,” John said sarcastically, stowing the arm. There wasn’t any point leaving evidence for local law to find. “Things were so much simpler when Control was planetside, or when you didn’t have to worry about the casualty rates of humans.” John took a second to clear the comm. of gunk before putting it back in his ear. As he did so he noticed the stray blood on the streamers of his Harley. With another sigh he shook his head. Looked like he’d have to get another set of streams to remind him of his daughter. Kick starting the bike, John dialed up the GPS system, looking for the location of Crew.
Smiling to himself John began his road trip to the rendezvous point. “GPS navigation, the greatest invention since bourbon and cigars,” he chuckled.
Angela sighed down at the packed mini mall from her perch upon the roof, the bird watched the women as they went about their business. Several of the women were by many rights breath taking. Tall and slender, luxurious hair and toned calves any would do. However the specimen that caught her eye was an atypical woman, she was, hardly out of her teens, but her beauty was more radiant than even the others. Even with her dim sparrow vision she could tell! The bird observed her with a cold calculating eye, knowing this would be her next target she was perfect!
As the woman came out of the gas station the bird dove streaking at her. Despite its tiny sparrow body the bird had the fierceness of any falcon on the hunt. Diving towards the woman it snatched at her pretty bleach blonde hair.
“Ahh!” the woman screamed, swatting at the bird, unable to hit the tiny thing. And just as quickly as it attacked, off streaked the bird with a few strands of golden hair in its tiny claws. It landed upon a high perch and watched the woman dash away in panic to her car. She was gone and away from the gas station in no time at all.
Angela looked at the strands of hair for a few moments seeming to contemplate them. And then as simply as she attacked she discarded the hair. Slowly shifting and changing as it watched the blue Porsche roar back to the main road. The sound of a massive motorcycle engine blared past the gas station heading south at the same time. The eagle’s keen eyes followed the motorcycle for only a minute. Its vision went back to the blue Porsche.
Taking wing it would need to keep the car in its keen vision so it could stalk the car from the air. It would catch the girl; of that it was certain, just as certain as it knew it would eventually find the true means of longevity and youth it so sorely sought. A curse upon the ever immortal, ever youthful John Graham, it thought.
“It should be easy to find Angela,” John said into the comm. As soon as he was upon the road he had pinged Bruce’s channel.
“If it was easy to find her you would have found her by now,” Bruce responded with a bubbling laugh. “I mean there are only six billion people on the planet. How hard is it to find one Skin Stealer who’s interested in outer beauty and youthful perky boobs?”
“Thanks for keeping things in perspective,” John bit back, chewing on the end of his unlit cigar. It was next to impossible to smoke a cigar while traveling 70 miles an hour on a motorcycle; but he could still savor the taste; lit or not.
“If you wanted a completely biased opinion you wouldn’t have called me,” Bruce responded back over the comm. to his near human friend. Bruce like John wasn’t human, unlike John however Bruce couldn’t function as a field agent. His alien appearance made it impossible for him to be seen in public. Bruce was a strange mixture of squid and eel combining the worst features of both.
“So any insights into her M.O., Bruce?” John finally asked into the silence. He’d revved his engine on the Harley back till it was almost idling along the highway again.
“It’s a mystery to me, friend,” Bruce responded after a moment of beak clipping. “If you could get me something that was originally hers I could try an image reading of it, try and make sense of it.”
“You know as well as I do that Skin Stealers hide their first body better than ex-KGB operatives hide weapon caches,” John said, spitting his cigar out of his mouth and into the freeway.
“Are you speaking from former experience?” Bruce chuckled in that odd bubbling noise that issued from him in moments of mirth.
“I’ve led a long, interesting life.”
“Neither of which is a lie,” Bruce admitted. “So… how’s tricks for an immortal Mayan warrior these days?”
“Same as always, Bruce. Last of my kind, collection of little nano guys and constantly wondering if I’m really me an not just a bunch of little cells pretending to be human.”
“But, John,” Bruce laughed. “How does that make you feel?”
“I swear, what are you? Some self help guru or somethin, Bruce?”
John didn’t have many friends; being one of the few dozen beings abducted for “Rebirth Procedure” many thousands of years ago. John had been a normal Mayan warrior until he was snatched up for the procedure. He never saw the face of his captors but they injected something into his body that recreated it from the ground up, completely dissolving his old form and rebuilding it using advance alien technology.
It hadn’t been until the creation of B.A.D in the early 1800’s that he discovered his entire body was composed of nano-machines now. The procedure thousands of years ago had turned him into a living collection of robotic creatures. It had taken one hundred years to realize he’d never really be hungry he was only following the basic programming for “human appearance” when he’d needed to eat and while his body could reconstitute itself he had no real control over regeneration and rebuilding his body. He still couldn’t get his mustaches to come out right.
“Still I wish I could just get inside her head, even for a brief second,” John mused.
“I wouldn’t mind getting elsewhere,” Bruce responded back with another bubbling chuckle.
“That is utterly disgusting, Bruce.”
“I’m only human, John.”
“That speaks volumes on humanity.”
“Ain’t it the truth though? I live to mess with humans.”
“But you know it’s impossible to track a stealer until right when they make their move,” John continued, ignoring the change in topic.
“And Angela can’t sneak up on her favorite annoyance because of your nano sensors. What we need is a tempting target.”
“You know any teen boppers you think Control will let vanish?” John asked, half-heartedly.
“I’d get rid of Vicki,” Bruce came back quickly. “She always burns the coffee.”
“Hardly a reason murder her,” John laughed.
“Have you tasted that sludge?”
The eagle had followed the blue Porsche back to a small condoplex, a few cars parked here and there in the subdivision but with the night fast approaching people were coming back from work. Landing lightly upon the front porch, Angela felt her body shifting once more, this time into a larger figure, wings reshaping as the bones filled in and the feathers turned to fur. Slowly the stance of the eagle changed till it was that of a medium sized canine. With an ear-piercing yowl she cried and began to paw at the door, hoping to attract the attention of the woman inside. The door opened slightly and the young woman’s head appeared, looking around. Finally her eyes caught upon the dog.
“Shoo,” she called, barely opening the door. “Shoo, go on, get.”
Undeterred, Angela continued to yowl and scratch at the glassed outer door. Her goal was to get inside.
Finally her moment came. The woman’s naked foot came out from between the glass door and jamb, soaking wet to try and push the dog away. Angela took only a moment to slip through the opening and charge past her towel-covered victim. “No! Bad dog! Get!” the woman screamed, leaving the door open and chasing after the mutt. Angela quickly cut right and into a room and began the near instantaneous shifting to the form of a mouse.
The woman hot on her tail came around the corner and into the empty room, searching high and low for the dog that suddenly wasn’t there. There wasn’t any place for a dog to hide in the room. There was barely enough room to maneuver because of the stacked boxes.
The woman glared this way and that. Retracing her steps, she closed and locked the door before starting the search in earnest. For a furious thirty minutes she searched the condo. Nothing! Not even a stray hair to show it had ever been there.
From her hiding place, Angela could hear the woman talking on the phone. The voice sounded near hysteria. She couldn’t make out the words but she could make out the tone and knew someone would be coming to assist her. She would have to work quickly.
After not being able to find the dog, the woman returned to the shower, muttering darkly to herself. Angela smirked in her tiny mouse form. Once the sound of the water began she shifted her form again.
That form would have been considered glamorous if not for the gory end of her shoulder. Where that arm had been was a twisted stump. Her left breast was horribly burned. “A thousand poxes upon the house of Graham,” she thought, looking at her shoulder. “A thousand curses upon the man and thorn in my side for the past hundred and fifty years.”
“No matter,” she chortled aloud. “To matters most important.” Angela held up the homing beacon Crew had given her and pressed the button. What better way to test his allegiance than putting him at the scene of a crime?
“Yes, she’ll do nicely, pretty,” she thought turning her thoughts back to the blond.
Angela stalked into the bedroom and towards the woman in the shower. It would only take a moment to subdue her prey. Slowly opening the door to the bathroom, Angela spied the woman with her back to her, shampooing her long golden tresses. “Perfect,” she thought. Taking a step closer and sliding silently into the bathroom, Angela pressed her single hand against the glass for a second before opening the shower door.
The sudden sound of the opening shower door caused the girl to spin and catch sight of her one armed assailant. “How?” she asked before Angela’s mouth was pressed against her own. To the unobservant it would seem as if Angela were only kissing the blond. To those with knowledge about the thieving Skin Stealer they could see she was imprinting herself into the soon to be husk.
The blonde’s death was quick and none would be the wiser. For there was never a body left lying around to discover later. All memories were absorbed by the stealer to help impersonate their host body until they moved onto their next victim.
The body drained, Angela smiled at the gray skinned corpse that now lay at her feet. A second to switch from her current corpse and Angela was flying into her new body filling her lungs with air. No sooner had the lungs filled than Angela let forth a strangled scream. “Fake! I cannot reside in a body filled with… inferiorities!”
A second later the one armed corpse rose to stand before the body of the woman. “You are not a woman,” Angela spat. “And nothing about your body is real! I’ve been had!” In an act of rage Angela reached for the tiny scissors and began to mutilate her victim.
“That one not to your liking?” a smooth male voice asked. “She looked pretty enough.”
“She was inferior, Crew,” Angela spoke in a tone of contempt, the word inferior seeming to almost cause her physical pain. “What of John?”
“He’s being taken care of, I made him question his actions and words from the campsite.”
“He must have much to answer for.”
“He constantly questions and searches himself,” the man laughed. “Wondering if his callous nature is a result of his long life or the nanobots he is made of.” Crew sighed, looking down at the victim. “It’s a shame you mutilated that one, Angela. I would have liked to see you playing dress up.”
“Perhaps later,” Angela said, looking back to the suited man. “For now I must find another form. Already I feel this one dying.”
“It must be a unique experience,” Crew said stepping up to Angela and running his hand along her back. “To wake up in one body and then slip easily into another.”
“Does that excite you?” she cast back with an impish smile upon her features.
“Wouldn’t it excite everyone?”
“How did you ever get recruited by B.A.D.?”
“Technical SNAFU. Everyone makes a mistake, only their mistake is your benefit.”
“We’ll see,” Angela responded. “You bring me John.”
“And I get to fulfill my wishes,” Crew countered. “As long as you’re not caught.”
“Then I suggest you let go, Crew, so I may leave.”
“John, wake up,” a voice stated from above. “We’ve got to go.”
John opened a bloodshot eye, staring at the empty bottle of wild turkey before him, and focused upon the cold smooth bar. Sitting up, the large man drew in a deep mouthful of air. “Where?”
“Just south of Prince George,” the voice responded. “Come on John, there’s been a sighting; Control wants us to check it out.”
John nodded and stood up, his joints all popping as one. “Crew,” John responded, pulling a cigar from his leather jacket pocket. “What’s the sitrep?”
“Stiff found in a condoplex,” Crew said guiding Graham to the door. “For a construct of nano machines why do your joints pop?”
“And this concerns B.A.D. how?” John asked, rubbing the back of his head. The two were an odd sight, John dressed in typical biker gear and Crew dressed in a conservative three-piece business suit. Though both wore sunglasses the effects were for different reasons; John’s shades were to protect his eyes from the sun. Crew wore them to look cool; and make use of the constant streaming data the Bureau sent to his shades. “I’ve had more then 3000 years alive as a nano machine and barely 200 knowing I was one. You don’t mind if I pretend to still be human do you?”
“Is that why you still leave pieces of yourself behind when you get killed?”
“Yes,” John said turning to stare at Crew.
“And how come you always look the same after you die?”
“Nano reconstruction works on a limited memory, don’t ask me how it works. I don’t got the brains to figure it out. I can’t even alter my mustaches like I.” He stopped at the door and looked Crew over. “You got any other questions you just gotta ask now?”
“Um, no no I guess I not,” Crew said. Clearing his throat, he reached for the notepad he kept with him and began to recite the facts. “The stiff is a 19 year old college student whose name was Bethany,” Crew continued stepping out of the bar and moving to the lone car. “Bethany was a recent transgender,” Crew went on. “And is now a legitimate stiff.”
“Legitimate stiff?” Graham parroted. “As in?”
“Her brain’s smooth, John.”
“So a Stealer got to her?”
Crew nodded and handed John a manila folder. “Yep, seems that way. Control wants us over there ASAP.”
John nodded and swung a leg over his Harley; synching the helmet onto his head. “Yeah, go ahead, I’ll follow ya,” he called bringing his chopper to life.
Crew nodded and ducked into the sedan backing it out and into the street.
“So,” John said staring at the victim in the shower. “She came in here, swapped spit; sucked the victim’s life out; tried to jump into the body, found it wasn’t pure and then jumped out again.”
“How do you know it’s a girl?” Crew asked, his face impassive as he stared at the victim.
“Because it was Angela; this would have been as far away as she coulda got before her body died on her. She probably saw this girl earlier an’ decided this one would do for the switch,” John said kneeling down. “Only Angela didn’t know our boy here liked being a woman more than a man.”
Crew flipped a sheet in the folder he was holding. “Says here Bethany has been on hormone treatments since she was twelve; so I guess it was the plumbing that upset Angela,” Crew finished.
“And the contacts and the silicon,” John responded without looking up. “So… little sweat pea’s a purist, huh?’ he mumbled to himself. “Figures, vain stuck up bitch like Angela would have to be all or nothing ‘fore she switched bodies.” John put his finger to his ear, touching the comm. “Control, any satellites in the area last night?”
“Sorry; they were elsewhere, John,” Bruce bubbled in his ear. “Why?”
“I think Angela’s still in the area or at least close by. She’s gotta have switched soon after leaving this corpse. If we can find her old body we might find her.”
“I’ll see what can be dredged up,” Bruce committed over the comm.
“Come on,” John said, standing up. “We’ll dispatch a clean up crew to this; make it look like she committed suicide.”
Crew stood there for several moments. “No,” he said pulling his side arm and pointing it at the corpse. “Stand her up in the shower, we’re going to give the body some dignity.”
John arched an eyebrow but did as he was asked, holding the body so it was standing more or less straight. The explosion of the gun shot sounded deafening as John let the body fall to the ground. “Happy?” he asked, reaching for a cigar.
“I am now,” Crew said, holstering his smoking gun. He picked up the casing and walked out of the room touching the comm. in his ear. “Clean up crew; we’re going to need someone to make it look like a robbery gone wrong; victim is dead lying in the shower. Clone her, put a bullet in her head exactly where it is in this one.”
As the two stood outside of the apartment John put his hand upon Crew’s shoulder. “You want to talk about it?” he asked in as gentle a voice as he could project. Emotional support was not something he was good at; but he could fake it, he supposed.
“My best friend committed suicide when he couldn’t afford to get the money to do a TG Surgery,” he said. “She was murdered in there, John. I was not going to have her lying there as if she had committed suicide. Her family and folks will mourn her but remember her in a more positive light.” Crew turned towards John his jaw still clenched. “If we’d had Angela’s M.O. long ago we might have avoided this,” he continued angrily.
“Ease up, Crew,” John responded, lighting the cigar. “We’ll catch Angela. We’ve got an entire agency of crack shot employees workin’ it. What does she have?”
“The ability to jump bodies,” Crew responded.
“A constantly shifting identity and the knowledge of all her past kills.”
John sighed and fixed Crew with an annoyed look.
“Well there’s been a lot of talk about odd jobs being committed lately all over the continent. Every person who has broken into stores and electronic companies equipment. Criminals with no memory of committing the theft or having a past history of any sort of criminal activity.”
“Yeah, I know; I read the reports. But yer fergettin’ one thing, Crew,” John said, taking a long drag on that cigar. “Stealers when they take a body they don’t give it back.”
“That’s what doesn’t make sense, Boss. If it was a Stealer they’d be corpses like the stiff at this scene. Not able to sit and talk to any authorities about the crime. They’d just be daisy food.”
“Right,” John agreed. “Why? You think somethin’s changed?”
Crew nodded. “Yeah, I do. I just don’t know how. No one knows where the stealers came from. Most just snatch a few bodies a year, the worst cases a few bodies every month. Angela’s the only one who acts like a psychopathic serial killer. She’s always on the move. Preying for bodies; mostly females but she’s taken some men if they struck her fancy.”
“Alright; say yer right,” John began. “Say all these mysterious thefts and people turnin up are a sign that Angela’s working on something big. What do we do about it?”
“I don’t know, John,” Crew responded. “I don’t know.”
“John, Crew,” Bruce piped up over the radio. “Angela’s dropped off the grid again. No new reports of any bodies being reported found and no one’s getting even a hint of a stealer energy signature.”
“Thanks Bruce,” John mumbled. “Guess we’re back to waitin on the ole girl to make her move.”
John sat staring up at the hotel room ceiling where Crew and he had decided to crash. It wasn’t that John needed to sleep; his nano machine body drew energy from the environment around it. Turning air molecules into power to keep him up and awake. Even when he mentally signed off he was still aware somehow of what went on around him.
The door burst open and Crew came stumbling in. “She’s here!” he said, hurrying to the other double bed. Not glancing at John he threw open his suitcase.
“Who?” John asked, sitting up. “Angela?”
“Who else do you think would make me come get my molecular entrapment system?” Crew said.
“At the swimming pool! There’s a girl that has a fresh inked Angela tattoo lying out and tanning.”
“Finally, her vanity and pride got her,” John said. Popping open the drawer next to his bed he reached for the only weapon there, a Walther p38.
Out of the corner of his senses he felt a woman coming. And he heard the click of the entrapment go off. “Got ‘em Honey,” Crew laughed.
John felt sick to his stomach as his fingers wrapped around the weapon. He knew that was wrong but he couldn’t place why he felt it. The world began to tilt slowly out of focus as his limbs failed to respond.
“Angela made me a deal you just can’t compete with.”
“I’ll remember that when I cave in yer face,” John responded before his vision blanked.
When John’s senses came back to him he found himself in a basement. His senses told him that Crew was off to his right and a woman was directly behind him. “Angela.”
“John, a pleasure to finally speak to you,” she responded in a charming English accent.
“So what are ya plannin ta do, girl?’ John asked. His nanos probed outwards to determine what he could of the surroundings. He registered he was in a vacuum-sealed container. He couldn’t see beyond ten or so feet.
“The same thing I’ve been planning on doing for the last hundred years,” Angela purred from behind John. “I plan to take your body for my own use.”
“But you left that transgender,” John said. “What makes ya think I’m any better? Or did Crew not tell ya I’m not natural?”
“Oh he did, and that’s why we’ve been testing our machine on rewriting brains and brainwaves.”
“All just simple tests. We’ve been working on this for decades, John. Crew helped me.” Angela laughed. “I give him back his best friend’s body.”
“You sold us out over a dead body, Crew!” John raged.
“You’d have to if you had her.”
“And it helps that he’s the one who murdered her,” Angela laughed. “He wants to murder to his heart’s content. Again and again and again, and I can give it to him with your body.”
“Yer a bitch!” John snarled, slamming his hand against the glass. “An when I get out–!”
“When you get out,” Crew responded, “I’ll be killing you.” He laughed. “Over and over and over again.”
“Well,” Angela said, clapping her hands together. “Let’s get this show on the road.”
John gritted his teeth as he watched Angela step over to a similar tube. It hissed closed with a vacuum sealing sound. As soon as her tube closed his popped open allowing him to go free. Crew stepped over to Angela’s tube with a smile. “Really, did you expect we would let you attempt it?” he asked.
“You set me up?” Angela screeched, slapping the glass.
“Just as you wanted me to set him up,” Crew laughed. “Clean up, we have her. The M.O. analysis worked, she was stealing equipment to take over John’s nanos.”
“You’d think perps would watch more TV, this had ta be the oldest trick in the book,” John grinned, reaching into his friend’s jacket and pulling out a cigar.
“You can’t get close to me, no matter your form, an I can’t get close to you cause I can’t detect your signature,” John continued lighting the cigar. “We had to have Crew set you up.” He glanced at Crew. “Did you really kill your girlfriend?”
“Well… she was a bloodsucker, John.”
“You killed a lawyer?” He laughed.
“Um… no she actually lived on blood plasma, Type O plasma is apparently a delicacy for her species.” Crew cleared his throat. “And why do you hate lawyers all of a sudden? I went to school to be a legal consultant.”
“Well,” John drawled, puffing out a smoke ring. “Let’s just say I’ve been meanin’ to ask one on the meanin’ of humanity. Figured they’d know better than anyone else what pretending to be human was like.”