One may readily be prepared to die.

Any punter can act bravely when faced with imminent death. Even the foolish among warriors can be willing to die for the most hopeless of causes.

Necroface knew this. He also knew that such fearlessness could potentially undermine a good, well-fought victory. So he decided to ramp proceedings up a notch. “Now we get to bounce this fucker,” he said from behind his infamous monochromatic skull mask.

One of the Scorpion grunts, known as Burnfish22, shot him a questioning frown. The goon wore no facemask, only the formal attire typical of the definitive bankster.

Stupid foreigner.

The other two goons snickered raucously as they dragged a battered and bleeding Alteus into the elevator. Having both his legs crushed, a result of being rammed and pinned up against a solid concrete pylon by one of their Cargovans, Alteus had passed out moments earlier. “My mistake,” Necroface said to the bankster. “I keep forgetting that you’re not from around these parts.” A taunt more aimed at amusing his minions and vehement fans following this event. Necroface cared little for the Scorpion lieutenant, some big shot goon, sent in to train up new recruits for the local chapter. His brain laboured over more pressing concerns.

How do you hurt a formidable enemy?

Necroface reasoned that the one thing a martyr would never anticipate would be the gut-wrenching fear of knowing, irrefutably, that they are moments away from departing this meagre life. Leave any half-intelligent human being alive long enough to ponder their impending doom, let it sink in, and panic sneaks up on them no matter how brave they pretend to be.

No matter what action you take.

You’re dead.

No matter what shit comes out of your mouth; you’re still a dead sucker. The big checkmate – a lame yet fitting expression often used by his peers. He hoped this Alteus possessed enough intellect to prove his theory. If not, a good bounce would sufficiently appease feeders and leechers the world over.

The elevator surged upward, stopping occasionally to scare the shit out of potential passengers. Burnfish22 broke the silence, “I know what a bounce is. I am no fool.”

“You sound convinced,” said Necroface.

“I don’t see why we need to waste time toying around.”

“Outsiders simply don’t appreciate how difficult it is to kill one of these Frogs.” Necroface could not believe this stupid, ignorant clubber. The dumb goon had personally overseen the operation. He had even taken part in stalking Alteus ever since his arrival at the International Skyport. All day they tracked the suspected leader of Leaping Frog and his team of minders across the vast City of Cities, until a suitable ambush opportunity presented itself.

The underground parking station battle itself lasted for several intense minutes, and had it not been for Raw$, the only one with the foresight to bring along his grenade launcher, the assault might have ended in utter failure.

The elevator heaved them to the rooftop level and opened its doors. Necroface followed his crew out into the pale-blue sky. He took a moment to marvel at the sights around him. Almost half a kilometre high, the Ascension Centre, positioned as it was, gave him an unparalleled view of the great City of Cities. The cerulean ocean, blemished by bright, white floating habitats, rumbled eternally to the south. A mesa of office towers sprawled out to the west. Towards the north, just below, he caught a glimpse of the luscious Sovereign Park gardens. Beyond them stretched the vast sparkling waters of Cyana Bay, with its commercial regions growing like crystalline fungi on its long shore. The iconic cylindrical skyscrapers, the Triumvirates, dominated his view to the east, each hosting massive, classically fashioned statues on their rooftops. Necroface could distinguish the detailed lines on Mercury’s stoic, golden face.

#You should interrogate first.# A synthetic voice crackled from the tiny fuzedrive embedded in his earlobe.

Necroface ignored it. He rarely countered his fake’s commands, but this time around, he decided the virtual-intelligent entity had failed to grasp the concept that Leaping Frog members simply do not talk; they die. Necroface looked down at the young Frog. Severely bruised and bloodied, Alteus appeared to have regained consciousness. “Not really a good time to awaken,” said Necroface.

Alteus glared back at his captors with bloodshot eyes. The two brutes, the sleek Raw$ and his grimy accomplice Acid, lifted Alteus up, each grappling one of his arms. Necroface wondered what grim thoughts burned inside the man’s head as the two bulky goons, complete with clownish ski masks, without effort, dangled him over the edge, ninety floors up off the Ascension Centre’s rooftop. Each time Alteus struggled to get free, the ruthless goons twisted his arms. Necroface could almost feel the tearing of ligaments.

“Time to check out, Alteus,” taunted Burnfish22, moving closer.

Necroface also approached, and grabbed the defeated slumlord by the ear. Alteus returned them all a look so filled with contempt it made Necroface cringe. “You seem upset,” he said.

Weak and coughing on his own blood, Alteus uttered. “Intercept the Wet Sparrow.”

To Necroface these words made no sense, “I’m under the impression I am bouncing the Wet Sparrow.”

#He is trying to communicate with Leaping Frog via your open wavecast. Kill him immediately.#

Make up your fake mind.

Necroface found solace in the knowledge that The Brotherhood would avenge Alteus’ doom, promptly and surely. There was no doubt in his mind that such a provocation would be enough to trigger a strong reaction.
He gambled on war. Being familiar with Brotherhood of the Leaping Frog mentality, a culture of loyalty and retribution, in which every affront is avenged and every foe is hunted down until the end of recordable history, he considered it a safe bet. Brotherhood policy, a blood oath taken the day you join, he recalled.
Necroface needed to make certain he hurt them deeply enough. “What’s the status on the R40?”

#Arrrives in thirty eight seconds.#

“I could torment you up here all day.” Necroface strove to kill the necessary seconds to make his calculations viable, “But I can’t have you miss your ride.” He gave his crew a slight nod.

Raw$, in his ultra-sleek outfit, along with the despicable Acid, swung the limp Alteus backward with enough force to build the required momentum to toss him over the edge. It pleased Necroface to see horror splash across the doomed man’s face, to see imminent death eating away at Atleus’s psyche, proving that even West Shore slumlords were not infallible and fearless as they were renowned to be. Sheer animal instinct seemed to take control of Alteus, writhing and snarling like a cornered slumcat. When they swung him forward and let go, the thrashing madman snatched Burnfish22’s arm with a tight death grip, knocking the Scorpion minion off balance, sending him out into the void and down the same fatal plunge.

“Oh crap,” Raw$ said.

Acid chuckled like an adolescent behind his grimy mask.

Necroface leaned over to see the two bodies free falling towards the distant street. He could have sworn he witnessed Burnfish22 locked in a screaming match with his fellow death-mate. He imagined the sight of absolute hysteria in the men’s eyes and could almost hear the hybrid hollering of streaming cool air and human vocals.

He felt the panic and terror seize him and revelled in it.

Four seconds.

For some inane reason, Necroface felt cheated, still craving an insight into Alteus’s thoughts, right up to his impact with the 10:35 autobus to Shelbourne Harbour.

excerpt from the novel A Hostile Takeover