The Grammarian has been trying to crack the case of a series of high-tech crimes. He fears that the fate of Lexicon City hangs in the balance. Now, we join our hero in hot pursuit of his best lead yet...
The Grammarian sped down rain-slick streets, the tires of his motorcycle sending a spray of oily water behind him. The car in front swerved to avoid a collision, but didn't slow even a fraction. Throttle wide open, the Grammarian closed the distance with every passing second. The three men robbed a jewelry store, having disabled the alarms with a set of high-tech sonic negator probes. It was like using a jackhammer to crack a walnut, and the Grammarian knew that he was onto something big. This was the third set of criminals using technology way, way above their station, and he wanted to know who was behind it.
From the rear window of the car, a shot exploded, sending a gout of yellow flame backwards. The superhero swerved, anticipating that the shot would go wild to the right. He stretched out his left hand to send a stream of sentence fragment memes forward, but releasing the brake caused him to skid on a slick spot in the road.
Under his breath, the Grammarian cursed the necessity of using a motorcycle for this kind of pursuit. The rain didn't bother his eyes or breathing - his projection field took care of that - but it made his traction less than reliable. He reached down and sprayed a cloud of metaphors at his tires. Instantly, the tiny packets of energy adhered to the rubber, causing them to stick to the pavement much better. Good thing sticky imagery is a transferable property, he thought. With a grin, he revved the engine higher and the bike leapt forward.
Another shot from the gunman in the backseat of the getaway car, this time easily avoided. He was getting closer. Within another minute he'd have them. They were headed toward the docks, and there would be nowhere left to run.
With a tremendous crash, the car slammed through a nine foot chain-link gate, snapping it off its hinges. A jagged edged flap of galvanized wire arced towards the Grammarian, pivoting off the roof of the car. He reflexively augmented his strength as it sliced downward, gripping the fence and pushing upwards, forcing the wire away from his head. The Grammarian felt his skin tear as a sharp edge dug into his palm.
You rotten jerks are going to pay for that, he thought, as his motorcycle slid under that torn fencing and spun out against a concrete pole. The Grammarian flipped through the air and landed in a tight rolling somersault, ending up on his feet ten feet from the bike. He ran to it, righted it and sped off after the car. His head throbbed with the effort of readjusting his balance of raw strength with agility and intelligence. The car pulled up at a warehouse near Pier 12, one of the disused smaller piers from the bygone age of stevedores and break bulk cargo. With a roar, he approached the car and skidded to a stop. He leapt off the bike and landed in a fighting stance.
He took a moment to survey the scene. Rushing into an ambush was a rookie mistake, as was entering the building the way the bad guys expected you to. Twenty-five feet up, a row of large windows, mostly broken and boarded up, looked like his best bet. He ran around the side of the building and withdrew a gas gun and climbing rope. The auto-guided projectile hooked a line onto the roof on the first shot; he climbed upwards until he was parallel with the line of windows. The Grammarian forced his breathing into a regular pattern as he rappelled over until he could get a clear look in, taking care not to be silhouetted against the light.
Within, all was quiet and dark. His quarry had the good sense to lay low and wait for a chance to flee. If he went in with all weapons blazing, that might be enough of an opening for them to escape via another entrance. From one of his vest pockets, the Grammarian took a handful of screamer mines. Each one was only about the size of a pea, but they would shriek at a hundred and fifty decibels if anyone passed by them. He scattered them in front of the doorway below, and the large loading dock doors, the only ways in or out of the building.
He climbed higher so he could come into the window from above. The decrepit window would have moaned on its hinges had he not turned on his sound suppression field. It was an old trick, one of his standbys; this wasn't his first time breaking into a building. Once inside, he deactivated the field and listened. Under the right conditions, his super-hearing allowed him to discern a man's heartbeat from a hundred paces.
These conditions were terrible. The rain on the roof drowned out everything, even the tick of the car's cooling engine was barely registering. He upped the night vision resolution of his visor until the scene before him was, if not as bright as day, at least navigable.
There was no one in evidence. The warehouse was partly filled with large crates, newly packaged in green wood and fresh plastic. He dropped down from the ledge around the window frame.
In mid-air, a hail of bullets ripped at him from the far part of the loading area. He spun, twisting his body to present the smallest possible target. One projectile tore the heel off his left boot, several tore through his cloak, tearing the stealth circuitry and sending showers of sparks in the darkness.
Even before he was on the ground, the Grammarian sent a concentrated ball of memetic energy zinging through the air towards the corner where his assailants lay. The energy packet expanded mid-flight, becoming a huge net of interlocked subtending clauses, intermeshed and interwoven in a complex, tangled trap. Bullets passed through it as it flew, doing no damage at all. With a sound like a can being crushed, the net fell onto the machine gun nest.
The gun kept firing, wildly now, up into the air, against the wall of the warehouse. The Grammarian crouched, nursing his torn hand and left ankle, twisted by by the force of the bullet's impact. His verbal trap should have rendered the gunmen unconscious, bewildered by he complex linguistic memes of the net. The fact that the gun was still firing told him that it was, at best, a remote controlled weapon, or, at worst, an automated decoy that he'd fallen for.
High above him, near the roof, he could hear footsteps on the catwalk, moving fast. He ran across the floor, leaping and dodging around the thrashing weapon with its hail of gunfire. At the steps, he raced upwards three at a time.
There! The three men were ducking out onto a balcony. The Grammarian shot a beam of syllogisms, but missed. The verbal energy ray splashed against the wall, lighting it up like the fourth of July.
"You can't escape! Stop!" It was always strange to say such things, but he was frequently surprised by how effective it was while in pursuit. Criminals never stopped and let themselves be captured, but they often tried to call back some taunt or insult. Turning people's words against them was a specialty, but in this case, he had no luck. Either the men were naturally less talkative than most criminals, or they'd been trained to avoid saying anything where the Grammarian could use it.
At the balcony, he looked down, just in time to hear one of his screamer mines go off. Mixed with the shrieking cacophony, he heard the three men cry out in pain and surprise.
Ha! I've got you now, he thought. Zeroing in on their utterances, the Grammarian sent a shockwave of feedback racing back down towards the source of the speech. In a moment, they would have to eat their own words and, with the wind knocked out of them, picking up the pieces of this robbery would be simplicity.
With less than a second to spare, he sensed that something was wrong. Whether it was a sudden drop in volume of the screamers or the sensation of a pressure wave building in front of him, his fighting instincts took over. He flipped upwards and over to the right, leaping out into the darkness, trying to coil into a tight ball.
There wasn't enough time to complete the move. A roaring blast crashed past him and slammed into the warehouse, tearing the balcony apart and sending the old high-lift crane spinning backwards through the roof of the building. The barest edge of the blast caught the Grammarian's side with the force of a baseball bat swung by a pro. He stifled his cry of pain, but the shock of the impact disoriented him for a crucial instant. Lifted high into the air by the blast, spinning wildly, the Grammarian lost his orientation and could not tell which way he was falling.
Through the tearing agony, he estimated that he had three seconds, perhaps four, before he slammed onto the pavement. In free fall, with nothing to project against, he could not slow his descent by adhering onto a wall or lamppost. He had only one option left.
Desperately, he sent a cloud of allegory shooting from his gloves. The dragging air pulled on the cloud, giving him the barest possible moment to see the ground rushing up to him. He set his chest projector to wide beam and blasted out a single verb at maximum energy density. The word-sense meme "shove" pounded into the ground and sent him slanting sideways, tumbling and crashing along the concrete. He pushed up on his good hand and tried to control the tumble with a judo move. He was only partly successful, landing on his feet, but still badly disoriented.
In front of him, Professor Verbosity stood, holding a long gun of some kind, silver and black and bulbous, an ugly, unfinished looking thing hooked up via cables to a large wheeled box.
"So, it seems that you've interrupted my henchmen just as they were in the middle of a an important job for me, ruining a certain amount of planning that I had, not only for the jewels they were supposed to be bringing back, but for them as well!" The evil villain curtailed his flow of words with a blast from his weapon. A beam of reddish light flashed forward, surrounded by a nimbus of crackling memetic energy.
The Grammarian made a staggering leap to the side as the incandescent pulse smashed into the crates behind him. Wood splinters exploded outward, stabbing through his cloak and showering him with debris. He flipped into a tight somersault and landed more or less on his feet, blurry-eyed and dizzy. When the hell had Professor Verbosity gotten so damned powerful?
He looked up and saw that the Professor was aiming the weapon at him again.
(to be continued...)
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