Hunter

"Agent Spar, Ops." the face on the videophone answered, "Ah, Elite! I take it you've looked over the files I sent?"

"Yeah, I got them." Elite responded, "Are these things serious?"

"Absolutely. One of the Cabal vamps ended up on the wrong side of a crossbow, about an hour ago."

"No problem with that. But you've got the suspected hunter cross-referenced to upwards of 40 kills nationwide. Yet I've never so much as heard of him."

"No need. This guy doesn't seem to be a publicity-seeker. You know the policy--if they don't start screaming 'They Walk Among Us!' we don't care. But if he's going to hunt in Dallas, we may as well take the opportunity for up-close observation. And if you can, perhaps, persuade him to target elsewhere, well, gratitude of vampires around here can be useful."

"As long as he's just targeting Cabalites, I don't think any of us really care."

"Good point. You going to go out there now and take a look?"

"Nope. I'd need a full squad to get into Cabal territory right now, and I'd bet we'd do more fighting than investigating. I'll wait until daytime tomorrow."

*****

The next afternoon found Elite at the site of the killing--an alleyway next to a rather seedy bar. There was little of value to be found there, but considering that it had been a gathering spot for a group of extremely angry vampires the previous night, this was hardly surprising.

"Now," Elite thought, "if I were a hunter, where would I have fired from. It'd be an awkward shot from either side of this alley. But the roof of that convenience store across the street would be perfect."

Pulling out a billfold, Elite began to look through the contents. "Hmmm, let's see...CIA? No. ATF? No. KGB? Why is that even *in* here? Ah, FBI. That should do nicely."

Elite entered the store and approached the man behind the counter. "Excuse me," he began, flashing his FBI credentials, "I'm here investigating a commotion that took place across the street last night."

"Oh, umm, the night manager mentioned something about that. Do you need to talk to him?"

"Probably not--what I really need is to take a look at the scene from your roof. Could you show me the way up?"

The roof was indeed an ideal place for a sniper to set up. When Elite got to the spot that would give the maximum coverage of the street below, he found a white wad of gum.

"Well, it seems fairly fresh," Elite thought, poking at the gum, "maybe we can get some forensics data off of it."

Elite searched his pockets for a minute before sighing in frustration, "I'm going to have to remember to bring those little ziplock evidence bags with me next time." he muttered as he stuck the gum underneath the lapel of his trenchcoat. Finding nothing else of interest, he went back downstairs, gave his thanks to the manager, and made his way back to The Institute.

*****

"We've got another one for you." Agent Spar told Elite later that night.

"Another killing? Same guy?"

"I'm sure it is. Just happened--someone out of Brandy's group got dusted, but no real details yet."

"Brandy's group, eh? I'll head down there, should be safe enough."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, they know how we operate--if *we* had dusted one of them, we wouldn't be sending someone else to take a look."

*****

"You've got a problem." said Spar's voice over the speakers in Elite's car, "Police are on the scene."

"What are the cops doing there?" Elite asked.

"I guess someone called them. We're tapping the 911 database now."

"I'm coming up on the location now--yeah, the cops are set up. Damn. No way I'll get close to the scene now. Still, I think I'll wander around and see if I can hear or see anything. Keep an ear to the scanner."

"Will do."

Elite spent a couple of fruitless minutes wandering around the area, but he couldn't find any good locations for the hunter to have perched. Finally, he walked over to a newspaper vending machine, put a couple of coins in, then spent the next few minutes acting like he was having trouble getting the machine to open. His real objective was to overhear the conversation of the two officers standing about five feet away.

When their conversation ended, Elite grabbed his paper, and returned to his car. "I'm back." he said, "Spent the last five minutes listening to the cops talk a couple feet away."

"What'd you hear?" Spar asked.

"Couldn't make out a single thing. That trick *always* works in the movies. You get anything?"

"Yeah. A witness called 911 shortly after the killing. It seems our hunter committed the deed while driving past in his vehicle."

"A drive-by crossbowing? And I thought I was crazy. Details on the car?"

"None. The guy was pretty drunk, I think. Didn't even notice that the target dissolved, apparently. Police are assuming the shot missed, and the target ran off. They've got the bolt. Soon as they get it entered into their main evidence database, I'll put a watch on it, marked for retrieval when they stop the active investigation."

"Good work. I'm going to come in--not much of anything out here. The hunter's hit the Cabal and Brandy, I think I may spend tomorrow night in Wedge's territory."

*****

The next night, a giggling vampiress led a lust-stricken man out of a popular nightclub, and into a nearby alley.

She didn't notice the figure watching her from a nearby rooftop.

Neither of them noticed the third person watching them both.

The vampiress spent nearly two minutes in amorous foreplay before sinking her teeth into the neck of her meal.

Shortly after the vampiress began to feed, the first watcher fired a crossbow bolt, straight towards her heart.

Before the bolt made it halfway to it's target, it was shattered by the impact of a second bolt, fired by the other observer.

The hunter, panicked by his foiled attack, hit the ground and started running before the startled vampiress could react.

Elite was after him immediately.

The hunter had a good head start, but he was definitely on the scrawny side--good for short bursts of speed, but sorely lacking in endurance. It wasn't long before Elite closed the gap, with a tangler grenade ready.

Just after Elite threw the grenade, he was tackled from behind. Before he could react, he found himself face up, arms pinned, and looking into the face of a snarling vampire.

"Your luck's run out, hunter." the vampire growled.

"Ummm, I think you've made a small error." Elite motioned towards the hunter, still entangled in the grenade's silver wire, "You want that guy."

"Oh, we'll take him in too. Enjoy the next few hours, hunter-- they'll be your last."

"Why me?" Elite thought to himself, "Dozens of vampires in this town, and I get caught by an idiot." Aloud, he said, "Could you at least make sure not to do anything rash until Wedge gives the word?"

"Sure, hunter. I definitely want Wedge to see you before I kill you."

*****

Some time later, Elite and the hunter found themselves tied securely to pillars in an old warehouse. Elite's equipment and the hunter's crossbow was on a table well out of reach. The pair were alone, the vampires having left the room once the two were secured.

"So, hunter," Elite began, "what's your name."

"Encounter." the hunter replied, "First Encounter, if you're being formal."

"First Encounter?"

"Vampires don't get a second."

"Ah, I see." Elite rolled his eyes, "I'm Agent Elite, of The Institute."

"The Institute? Shit. I've heard a few things about that. Interesting..."

"So," Elite asked, "crusade or revenge?"

"What?"

"Your hunting. Are you trying to Rid the World of Evil Beings, or are you Making All Vampires Pay for the death of a loved one?"

Encounter laughed, "Is that all you can come up with as options? How fucking pathetic. I kill vampires because I can!"

"Because you can?"

"Damn straight! No fuckin' cop's gonna be able to bust me for killing vampires, now, is he? The only fuckers that could stop me are other vampires, and they're too damn insular and arrogant to group together. Either that, or the stupid shits band together into gangs, in which case I just pick off one out of every bunch."

"Ah, I see." Elite said, nodding his head, "A sociopath. And a foul-mouthed one at that."

"Sociopath? Yeah, a goose-stepping prick like yourself would classify me like that. To fuckin' cowardly to realize that is nobody's stopping you, you can indulge whatever desire you fucking want to. No, you'd much rather take a book of rules and regulations, stuff it up your ass, and think of yourself as protected."

"Maybe so. But in a couple of hours, you'll be dead, and I'll be alive. Not a bad consolation prize, if you ask me."

"We'll see about that. By the way, what the fuck is The Institute doing messing with me? I thought you didn't care about hunters, so long as they didn't try to inform the world, or some shit like that. God knows, I don't give a fuck about the general population."

"Yes, that's obvious. Anyway, normally, we wouldn't bother with you, but, much as I hate to admit it, you're damn good, and worth investigating. Plus, you're on our home turf. We rather prefer that hunters not run rampant in our backyard."

"Ha! I bet those bloodsucking sons of bitches just love it-- protected from the big bad vampire hunters by a group of humans."

Elite shrugged, "I really don't care if they like it or not. We get some damn good research done here, I won't have it screwed up by some crazy hunter if I can help it."

"Fine, fine. I'll just bag my quota of three and get the fuck outta here. I just wanted to know how closely I had to watch my back when I got out. Of course, it doesn't matter too much. I mean, how dangerous can you be if you're too fuckin' stupid to figure out how to conceal a saw blade." with that, the bindings around Encounter's wrists fell off, the ones around his ankles following in short order.

Encounter picked up a crossbow and another piece of equipment off of the table, said "Later, asshole." to Elite, then busted out of a window and started to run away.

Elite stared at the retreating form for a few seconds, shocked, then started yelling, "HELLO! ALL YOU VAMPIRES! YOUR HUNTER IS GETTING AWAY!!!"

A couple minutes later, the door to Elite's room opened, and three vampires walked in. The first was the same vampire that had captured Elite and Encounter. Behind him was the vampiress Elite had saved earlier that night. Behind them both was Wedge, a large, muscular, black vampire, and the leader of the group of vampires in this area.

"What the hell happened to the other guy?" Wedge asked.

"Concealed saw." Elite replied, "Cut his way out. May I suggest that, in the future, you store prisoners on a higher floor. Anywhere but ground level, actually."

"Awww, poor little hunter," said the vampire who had captured Elite, "upset because your little friend got away?"

"Ummm, Tom?" the vampiress began, "This guy is the one who saved me."

"Sorry about all this." Wedge said as he released Elite from his bonds, "Tom's just been turned."

"No problem, no permanent harm done." Elite replied as he walked over to the table with his equipment.

"Are you completely stupid?" Wedge asked Tom, "What were you thinking, tying the wrong guy up?"

"But...but he had a crossbow!" Tom sputtered.

"Of *course* he had a crossbow--he's Institute, dammit! We're OK with them. Believe me, if one of them is ever after your butt, chances are, I am too!"

"Crap!" Elite exclaimed, "He took my Magic Meter! And this isn't my crossbow!"

"Is there a difference?" Wedge asked.

"Hell yes! My crossbow was a prototype model. Capable of firing four bolts per second. Amazing targeting devices, too--not even I can shoot a bolt out of the air without substantial help."

Elite picked up his remote communications device and turned it on. "Spar, this is Elite, you there?"

"I'm here." Spar responded, "What's up?"

"I need an *immediate* trace of my Magic Meter. The hunter got hold of both it and my crossbow."

"Tracing now. Hey, don't you have one of the Absolution Class prototype crossbows? Boy, Luken's gonna paddle your ass when you get back. OK, got the signal locked."

"Send out my team after him."

"Mobilizing. Want them to come pick you up?"

"Only if I'm on the way."

"If he keeps on the current course, he will be. They'll be there in ten minutes, tops. Spar out."

*****

A short time later, Elite was in a van with five other Agents. "Daphiar," he asked the driver, "you have a positive fix?"

"Sure do." the Agent replied, "Looks like he's holed up in a nearby hotel. Should be there in a few minutes, depending on traffic."

Elite sat down as the van began to move out. The Agent next to him began to hum, "Dum Dum Dum, Dum De Dum Dum..."

"Ackarack?" Elite asked.

"Yes?"

"If you don't stop humming the 'Mission Impossible' theme, *you* will self-destruct in five seconds."

"Sorry. You know, I've always wondered--why don't our tapes self-destruct? I think that would be cool!"

Elite sighed. "Two reasons. One, the IMF was a secret government agency. That means it's budget was taxpayer-funded, and it was impossible to audit. We're not. Have you priced cassette tapes lately? They'd probably take it out of our paychecks.

"Two, the concept just doesn't make sense. Think about the message being conveyed. 'Mr. Phelps, we trust you to successfully carry out the most secret, most vital, most dangerous missions we can come up with. However, we don't think you're competent enough to keep this tape out of the wrong hands, so we're going to blow it up. Hope you didn't have a sneezing fit after starting the tape!'"

"Elite, we've got a problem." Daphiar called.

"What is it?"

"We've lost the signal."

"What?!? He must have destroyed the Meter. There's no way he could have found and neutralized the tracking device already. Hell, I don't think I'd *ever* be able to figure it out. How long until we're there."

"About two minutes."

*****

Two minutes later, the Agents were in the parking lot. Fortunately, the tracking data they did have was enough to pinpoint the room Encounter was in.

"Ackarack, Greaywa, to the left." Elite ordered, approaching the door, "Daphiar, Lafati, to the right, with me. Quaen, you have the honors."

Nodding his head, the six-foot-six-inch Agent approached the door, and knocked it in with one swift kick.

"FREEZE!" Elite yelled, as the Agents spilled into the room, crossbows drawn.

"Looks like he pulled out." Greaywa mentioned, surveying the room.

"But look at all the computer equipment he left behind." Lafati said, "All of this must have cost a *fortune*."

"Ackarack, Quaen, get on them." Elite ordered, "Maybe you can pull some data out of them."

"Mo Magic Meter, no crossbow." Daphiar reported.

"Damn, he must have taken them with him."

"I'm getting something." Quaen reported, "It says...'So Long, Suckers....three...two...'"

"Everybody DOWN!" Elite yelled as he dropped prone.

A bright light and a humming noise came from behind the bank of computer equipment, but that was all.

After a few more moments of waiting, the Agents figured that nothing else was going to happen, and resumed their tasks.

"I can't get *anything* now. Ackarack reported.

"And my instruments aren't working anymore." Lafati added.

"I was afraid of that." Elite sighed, "Electromagnetic pulse. Probably blew out every microchip within a block. Damn. Well, finish up, and let's head back. And I want everyone to get a medical checkup."

"Why?" Greaywa asked.

"You know those reports about people under high-tension lines getting cancer after 20 years?"

"Yes."

"We probably got half a century worth."

*****

The following night found Elite in Operations, speaking to Agent Spar.

"We've got the lab report back on that gum you found." Spar said.

"Really? Let's hear it!"

"Well, much of the gum seemed to be covered in some odd fibers, like from a coat or something. The lab is continuing it's analysis on those."

"Ummm, never mind about the fibers...what about the gum itself?"

"Well, it appears to be completely tasteless and odorless."

"Of course it was. That's why he spit it out."

"No, no--it was like that to begin with. It never had a taste."

"Hmmm, I guess that makes sense. Gives his mouth something to do on a long stakeout, while minimizing the chance of alerting the vampire's senses. Run a trace and see if you can find the source of that kind of gum. Low priority--it's a long shot, and he's not going anywhere, anyway."

"Sure thing--wait a minute, I'm getting another report. It seems your man has struck again!"

"What? He's still here?"

"Looks like it. Got another one of the Cabal."

"He did say he had his quota of three to meet. Hitting the Cabal again makes some sense, too--that's the least likely place I'd be able to find him. But you're *sure* it's him?"

"Reports say the vampire was hit by 12 crossbow bolts in a matter of seconds."

"Yup, that's him. Well, I guess there is a bright side--I never did get a chance to field test that thing at full auto. Now we know it works."

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