Punisher vs. Predator: Blood Summer

"This is Eye on N.Y., with Alyssa Cage. Tonight, bloodshed in the streets as the infamous Street Dragons Triad clash with Russian mafia troops in a violent struggle for control."

In the darkness of his warren, the man they called the Punisher moved. As he busied himself with his preparations, the old portable television resting on the worktop beamed out the evening news, its bright screen almost the only illumination in the otherwise black room.

"With the city's SWAT teams committed elsewhere, the law is powerless to halt the brutal rampage of these criminals. Four currently unidentified patrol officers already number among the dead."

Red warning lights set into the ceiling bathed boards filled with knives in a crimson hue, like a skein of blood already staining the metal. With seasoned aplomb, Frank Castle selected his weaponry. He removed a twelve-inch, serrated blade from its setting, testing the feel and the weight, before sliding it neatly into a sheath buckled to his shoulder. He selected two more daggers, securing them to the belt around his waist. Other knives he chose at random, hiding them wherever they would fit - anything that would give him the edge in battle.

"In what many are describing as the N.Y.P.D's darkest hour, the civilian body count is now approaching thirty victims, as police stand by unable to assist those caught in the senseless crossfire."

Guns of all makes, models and manufactures lined the walls, their matt finishes glowing dully in the various hues of the monitor. He took a Desert Eagle, holstering it at his waist, and a pair of custom 9mm Berettas, one on each thigh. Then, he chose a Colt .44 revolver, sliding it into the harness under his arm. Next on his list was the sawn-off shotgun resting on the workbench; he picked it up, evaluating it, preparing it, and then slipping it into a pouch strapped to his lower back. The last part of his arsenal was his favoured M4 assault rifle, a compact grenade launcher fixed to the mount on the underside, the strap of which he slung around his broad shoulders.

"Pressure is building on both the Mayor and the Chief of Police to bring a timely and effective conclusion to this battle, before even more innocents are killed."

He made his final preparations quickly, filling every pocket with ammunition, every satchel and hip pack with various explosives - frag grenades, smoke bombs, and claymore mines.

"Thank you, Alyssa. And in other news, temperatures once again peaked at a record high today in what has been one of the hottest summers in living memory..."

He wrapped a gloved hand around the cord coming from the back of the television and jerked it free from its socket. With that, he turned to the door of his underground hideout, his sanctuary, where he had planned his private war against the criminal element for years - a war the people of New York only read about in tabloids. As he made his exit, faint red light illuminated grim features, dark eyes brimming with intensity, black boots, equipment harness, and tactical vest. Emblazoned on his chest was the symbol of a skull, turned blood crimson in the glow.

He was the Punisher, and the city needed his help, even if they would never ask him for it.

-x-x-x-x-x-

The staccato crackle of gunfire ripped through the air, echoes carrying the noise for blocks in all directions. Bullets punched through the door of the squad car parked less than a hundred metres from the chaotic standoff between the Triads and Russians as Officer Clarke ducked back into cover. The two measly rounds he had managed to squeeze off from his sidearm had only succeeded in denting the armoured S.U.V the former gang had been using for transport. That was all he'd had time for before both sides turned their attention to him and hosed his vehicle with lead death. Despite how much they hated one another, they hated cops more.

Beside him, Officer Farley was lying prone on the concrete, hands clamped around the ragged wound in his stomach where a bullet had punched through his belly. His sweat-slick face was gradually turning white, moans of pain escaping his lips as, with each second, he slipped further from consciousness. If he didn't get medical attention soon then he was as good as dead. Unfortunately, they were pinned down at the edge of a war zone, with no way out, and no way for support to get in. Right now they needed more than support; they needed a miracle.

Clarke picked up the wing mirror that had been knocked off the side of his car, using it to glance back at the ranks of the two gangs, using their own transports for cover as their pitched battle continued. There were at least a dozen on either side, all of them carrying automatic rifles and semi-automatic pistols of varying designs, and all of them wearing body armour the like of which he'd only seen on S.W.A.T. He was out of his league, just like every other cop out there.

"Don't worry, man," he said to Farley, leaning over and clutching at the other man's shoulder, "we're gonna get you out of here."

The wounded officer responded with a groan, and his partner let out a curse, slamming his fist into the car's chassis.

And that was when all hell broke loose.

There was a roar as a powerful engine came to life, and then the overlapping rattle of machineguns firing on full-auto. Tyres screeched, people screamed, and Clarke made the decision to peer out from behind his vehicle just in time to see an unmarked black Transit, heavy iron bars welded to its bodywork, charging the Triad line. The van's front end pulverised the first car, mangling it across its extended front bumper, even as a hail of bullets ricocheted from its armoured exterior.

One gangster was dragged under the damaged four-door and was turned into a bloody smear on the concrete beneath. Another was thrown up into the air and landed on the bonnet of another car nearby, his body bouncing sickly on the windscreen. Metal slugs stitched across the blacked-out windscreen, leaving a trail of impact craters in the bullet proof glass as their comrades returned fire.

A group of armed and armoured Orientals moved around the parked vehicle, weapons at the ready, obviously looking to flank the driver. The side door opened before they could reach it, however, and a dark shape leapt out. The shotgun in its right hand barked, both barrels erupting, a hail of lead ripping off one man's head, and tearing another's arm off at the shoulder. The pistol in its opposing hand fired a sharp, three-round burst that left a trio of bloody puncture wounds in the skull of a third, sending him toppling limply to the ground.

In an instant, the others had scattered, seeking out cover in the face of the newcomer's sudden assault. A fleeing Triad lackey took another burst of 9mm slugs to the back, throwing him to the asphalt, as another of his comrades ducked behind a crippled metal bus shelter. Securing the shotgun on his back, the lone soldier slipped a small blade from a pouch on his hip and hurled it at the mutilated criminal, where it sank into his throat. Clutching at the knife's handle with his remaining hand, he dropped to his knees and then onto his face.

Even as the man removed a second Beretta from its holster on his thigh, Officer Clarke realised who it was that he was looking at. Grainy surveillance stills and old file photographs didn't do him justice. He was built like a tank, and equipped like one to boot.

"Hang in there, Jack," he said to his bleeding partner, "Punisher's here."

As he watched, the black-clad male unloaded his pistols in rapid-fire bursts into the cover where his latest prey was cowering. When the weapons ran dry, he knew it. Without wasting a second, he slid them back where they belonged and pulled a long, razor-sharp hunting knife from his shoulder. The Triad rounded his bullet-pocked barricade, only to find the broad form of Frank Castle bearing down on him. In a split second, the other man had knocked aside his machine pistol, moments before the handle of his blade smashed the teeth out of his mouth.

Ramming his forearm under the criminal's jaw, the vigilante forced his target back against the wall of the shelter, thrusting the blade into his sternum, time and time again. Blood gushed, thick and red, from each new wound, pooling around his feet, spraying across the armour worn by his killer. As he let the practically disembowelled man slump forward over his own gore-slick entrails, the Punisher swung around, bringing the assault rifle hanging at his hip to bear on the remaining Chinese gangsters.

Meanwhile, their Russian counterparts retreated into a building nearby. Clarke recognised it as the structure where the fire fight had first started, what looked, to all intents and purposes, to be a textile factory, same as any other. He didn't understand what had led the two crime syndicates to clash so violently, and in plain view, but it had drawn them into the crosshairs of the lone vigilante and now they were paying for their indiscretion. They should have known that this kind of open conflict would bring the Punisher.

Frank Castle was wanted for more homicides than any murderer in history. Official departmental policy dictated that he should be arrested on sight. At that moment, he was the only back-up that the scattered officers caught in the middle of the battle were liable to get. Even if he disagreed with the man's methods, he was having trouble seeing him as anything other than one of the good guys right now.

He turned his eyes back to the Triad lines and realised that the vigilante killer had vanished from sight.

And then a screaming man drenched in gore, wearing the armour of the gang, burst out from behind a parked car and bolted across the road. A bullet slammed into the back of his skull, throwing his limp corpse onto the bonnet of another vehicle, where his punctured head shattered the windscreen. Blood flowed in a thick, crimson tide over the interior beyond the glass.

The black-clad soldier stepped out into the open, striding purposefully towards the building where the Russians had sought refuge. As he did, he exchanged the magazine in his assault rifle for a full one. His grim features were streaked with red, his clothing stained with it also. As he reached the centre of the intersection, he turned to glance each way, catching sight of the crouching Officer Clarke as he did so. Dumbstruck and more than slightly nauseated, the cop could only offer a nod of recognition by way of gratitude, swallowing hard when he realised that he'd come face-to-face with a mass murderer.

The sound of sirens drew his attention away, both of patrol cars and E.. Word of the Punisher's attack had obviously reached the units who had been parked a block away, unable to enter the battle zone for fear of being fired upon. He glanced over at his wounded partner, who looked up at him, still breathing, still clinging to life for all he was worth, as surely as his fingers were clutching tightly at the wound in his gut. If they could get him medical attention now, Farley might live through this.

He wondered if maybe the department would be interested in setting up a tally of the lives Castle saved, versus the lives he'd taken. Maybe it balanced out in the long run.

He turned back to look out into the road, but the vigilante was already gone. Maybe he'd pulled out when he'd heard the sirens coming, assuming that the cops would handle the rest, or maybe he'd gone after the remaining criminals. The customised van still sitting at the roadside suggested the latter, and if so then the Russians were in big trouble.

-x-x-x-x-x-

"Tonight, we do what no one has ever done," Nicholai told his men, as they gathered up their armaments from the storeroom, "we kill Frank Castle."

The Orientals had brought the Punisher's wrath on them by attacking them in broad daylight, and in doing so had provided them with a unique opportunity. No doubt the vigilante would not hesitate to follow them into the supposed textile factory into which they had retreated, little knowing that it was, in fact, a weapons warehouse. Now, outnumbered and outgunned, they could end the threat of the lone man once and for all, and hang his corpse above the streets for all to see.

He supposed he had to thank the Triad leader, whose untimely demise had sparked this sudden and unrestrained retaliation. Without his sacrifice, they would never have been granted this chance. And to think, his superiors had called the hit rash and impulsive.

He held his AK-47 assault rifle at the ready, braced against his shoulder, waiting, stony-faced and patient, for the arrival of their unwelcome guest. His discipline, and that of his followers, did not waver for a moment; they all knew that any failure on their part would lead to death, but there was an undercurrent of excitement in the air also. The Punisher was a legend in the city, a man who had been killing criminals for as long as Nicholai had been alive, and no one had ever managed to end that legend. The rewards for doing so would be great, and they all wished to be the man to lay claim to the title.

Nicholai was supremely confident, in both his own abilities, and the abilities of his men.

Suddenly, Viktor let out an animal howl of fear and pain from the back of the room, and they spun in unison to see him flailing wildly as he was dragged skywards, blood streaming in thick rivulets from his throat. They brought their weapons up, searching for their target, but there was nothing - nothing but their comrade, his struggles growing less pronounced as he rose.

"Is that you, Castle, you mother fucker?" he yelled out, saliva flying from his mouth, his thick, Russian accent turning every English syllable into a mouthful of spit, "you want to dance, you fuck?"

Several of his soldiers forgot their restraint and began to fire into the rafters. He let them, taking the time to scan the ceiling. He saw something shimmering high above, a disturbance in the sunlight shining in through the broken ceiling, like heat haze rising from hot metal, and then he began to fire too.

A heavy weight landed atop another beam overhead, shaking loose splinters and dust as it settled. Though he could still see nothing, he continued to fire, watching as his bullets broke against the rippling air in flurries of sparks. Something screamed through the air towards them, a metal disc with a serrated blade affixed to its edge hurtling downwards, like a motorized saw blade. It split one man's head in half, before changing direction with a will all its own, punching through another's back and bursting from his chest, effectively eviscerating him.

In the second it took him to watch his followers die and then look back to the roof, the strange haze had vanished. A moment later, there was a thunderous boom as something colossal slammed down upon the bare boards of the floor, splintering them beneath its mass. A great cloud of dust flew up around the immense figure, and electrical discharge flowed across the shield of displaced air it wore like a shroud, before its camouflage vanished entirely.

Had it been a man then it would have been a giant, no less than eight feel tall. Instead, its sinewy body possessed an inhuman pattern to its skin, mottled dark in places, speckled light in others, and covered in sparse bristles. Its misshapen face was hidden behind a mask of dull metal, and thick dreadlocks of coarse, wiry hair were tied behind its skull with heavy steel rings. It wore armoured plates on various parts of its body, as well as equipment harnesses almost too numerous to count. Across its torso it wore a bandolier of what looked to be human skulls.

It turned on the nearest of the mobsters, ejecting a pair of razor-sharp blades from a gauntlet locked around its wrist and impaling him through the ribcage with one swift stab. Even as he slumped to the ground, blood welling in his throat, the beast grabbed the individual standing beside him and lifted him into the air, bringing him down with a sharp crack over its outstretched knee. The man's scream ended with an abrupt, choking gurgle, and he rolled to the floor limply.

It spun on its heel, bringing around a spear of some kind, and hurling it across the room at Nicholai's sole remaining follower, even as that man attempted to reload his weapon. The staff impaled him through the chest and carried him backwards, pinning his corpse to the wall behind. He slumped forward over the stake holding him aloft, his slack right hand dropping his weapon, the other losing its grip on the fresh magazine it had been attempting to insert.

The creature rounded on Nicholai next, the last man still alive in the room. The leader pulled the trigger of his AK-47, but it simply gripped the barrel of his weapon and twisted it aside, his remaining rounds punching holes through the wall before the gun clicked empty. Letting it take his rifle, he grabbed a knife from his belt and charged forward, roaring his defiance.

It swung its claws around and severed his arm at the wrist.

Screaming, he slumped to his knees, remaining hand clutching at the bloody stump just below his elbow. The beast grabbed him by the throat and hauled him into the air, bringing him close to its own masked face. His pained wail died down into a growl, and he narrowed his eyes at his attacker. He could think of only one thing to do, and so he did it. He spat in its eye, his face twisted into an agonised snarl.

"Fuck you," he grunted, "go ahead and do it."

It cocked its head, regarding him, almost as though it were curious, letting out a slow, rhythmic clicking noise. Then it slid its claws into his chest, puncturing his heart and lungs. His head snapped back, the shriek rising inside him choked out by the sudden surge of blood up his windpipe. It broke from his lips and ran down over his chin, even as his body began to twitch and quiver in its death spasms.

The last thing he saw was the monster, still watching him, still studying him, as he died.

-x-x-x-x-x-

With the Triads dispatched, that left only the Russians to deal with before his job was done - for now, at least. In time, the seething criminal element would bubble over once again, spilling out into the streets, where more innocent lives would be lost. It was inevitable, and no matter how many of them he killed, there were still others who thought they could escape his notice. At times, he wondered if there would ever be an end, but then sense prevailed - of course there wouldn't.

The Punisher was not a deterrent to crime; he was the answer to it. His mission went beyond personal vengeance. It was justice - the most raw, brutal retribution there was. He took a guilty life in restitution for every blameless one that was taken. It wasn't just about him, and what had been done to him, though that had been the beginning. New York had been wanting for revenge for so long, and they could no longer rely on the police or the courts to get it for them. Unlike them, he didn't have any limitations, no rules, except one - an eye for an eye. The best intentions in the world couldn't make the world fair, but he could.

There was no resistance as he entered the building. The staff that worked the front operation had already fled when the fire fight had begun, leaving only the Russians to face his wrath. That was the way he preferred it. He moved upwards through the sweatshop, clearing each floor thoroughly, sweeping every angle with his assault rifle as he made his way closer and closer to the uppermost level.

The smell was the first thing to hit him as he reached the top of the stairwell - the stink of hot, freshly-spilled blood fused with the sulphur stench of weapons discharge. People had been shooting, and dying, up there.

The heat was oppressive, despite the fact that the daylight was gradually waning, its orange afterglow shining through the window opposite. Sweat trickled down his furrowed brow, and lined the inside of his bulky combat attire. Ignoring his discomfort, he stepped into the corridor, cocking his head to listen for movement, but he heard nothing but the sound of gentle creaking from a room on the right. Bracing his weapon against his shoulder, he moved slowly along the passage, keeping his footfall as light as possible.

Cautiously, he moved up to the entryway, listening for any sounds that might give away the positions of his enemies, but there was nothing. The door was ajar and, with the toe of his boot, he tapped it open, cupping one of the smoke bombs attached to his waist in a gloved hand. However, the flurry of bullets that he had been expecting did not come, and he moved to peer around the frame. What he saw within brought his grip away from the explosive; he wasn't going to need it.

The Russians were dead to a man, their corpses stripped and hung from the rafters by thin metal cord entwined about their naked legs. Their heads had been sawn away from their necks, leaving gory stumps to bleed across the floorboards beneath them. At the centre of the gruesome arrangement hung one final body, flayed down to muscle, its exposed sinew glistening in the fading light streaming through the broken ceiling above. Its right arm was missing below the elbow, though its head was still attached; flies were already nesting in the hollows of its eye sockets and in the various splits in its bare musculature.

Even as he took in the sight before him, a dark shape moving at the periphery of his vision drew his gaze up towards the ceiling, where something huge darted through the shadows between thin shafts of dying sunlight. He lifted his assault rifle, focusing on the potential target above. He registered a vaguely human figure, moments before it spoke to him, its oddly distorted voice drifting down with the dust from above.

"Issss that you, Ccccastle, you motttther fuckkkker?"

It leapt down from above, landing almost on top of him and forcing him to dive aside. His assault rifle slipped its strap and clattered to the floor in his wake. In a fluid, almost reflexive, motion, his hands grabbed one of the customised Berettas at his hip and brought it around. The monster stood before him in all of its grotesque glory, taking in the sidearm aimed at its head from across the room, and dropped to its knees, pounding its gauntleted fist into the weakened boards beneath it. The floor fell away and it plunged down to the level below, causing him to miss as it dropped out of his line of sight.

He rolled quickly away as the creature, whatever it was, opened fire beneath him. High-velocity slugs punched through the floor, leaving smoking holes in the dusty wood, a trio of glowing, infra-red beams tracing his movements as he rose to his feet and started to run. The unknown weapon's powerful payload continued to dog his heels as he leapt forward, into the hole his new opponent had created.

He dropped down on top of it, landing on the shoulder opposite to the cannon. Before it could stop him, he reached to his waist and grabbed a blade from his belt, plunging it into the strange device. It died in a shower of sparks, but before he could strike at the monster itself, it threw him bodily into the wall. The plasterboard collapsed under his weight and he rolled through into the next room in a shower of dust and debris. It took him a moment to realise that his hands were empty, his pistol and blade lost in the struggle.

He snatched the Desert Eagle holstered on his thigh, whipping it up and aiming it into the enemy's face, only for its bulky hand to swat the weapon from his grip. Twin blades ejected from its other wrist, and it thrust them at his face. In an instant, his combat knife rose in his hand, clashing with the jagged spikes of metal descending towards his head.

His other hand brought up the second Beretta, a rapid-fire burst of three bullets impacting on its gut. Fluorescent green blood sprayed from the perforated flesh of its muscular stomach. It jerked away with a pained roar, throwing its head back, thick dreadlocks rattling about its mask, and then slapped that gun out of his hand as well.

He rolled away, avoiding its attempt at decapitating him, and drew a second blade from his hip. He had no intention of engaging this opponent in close combat; with its weight and size advantage, such a battle would hardly be fair. However, even as he rose back to his feet, it side-stepped, almost as though it were sizing him up, preparing for hand-to-hand. He did the same, keeping his weight low, his daggers poised to attack. That was when it spoke again, in the same awkward drone as before, as though it wasn't speaking English so much as mimicking it.

"You wwwwant to dancccce, you ffffuck?"

It leapt forward, quicker than should have been possible for a creature of its considerable size, and kicked him firmly in the stomach, its huge foot connecting with the padding of his combat gear. The blow still succeeded in knocking the wind out of him and threw him backwards into the wall, which sent him bouncing back towards it. It lunged for him with an impaling strike, and he blocked the attack with one blade while lashing out with the other, slicing a line of green in its side.

It grunted, backhanding him stiffly with the bulky bracer around its forearm. He staggered away, ducking a decapitating slash of its talons and cutting another groove in the meat of its thigh. With a snarl, it swung for him and though he dodged away, the tips of its claws cut through his armour, cleaving apart the skull on his chest and drawing blood. He staggered into the wall, knowing he couldn't spare a moment to examine the burning injury on his torso. Instead, he went on the attack, lunging for the monster, slashing right, then left, meeting the metal of its wrist guards each time.

He stabbed for its stomach, only for it to catch his combat knife between its blades, snapping his weapon with a sharp twist of its wrist. He let the broken shards fall away, even as he brought the dagger in his other hand around and sliced a bloody line across its chest. It let out another howl, responding with an uppercut that would have seen him impaled through the underside of the jaw. Instead, he dove away, rolling in the dust from the collapsed wall and bringing out his Colt .44 in one smooth motion. The monster bore down on him, snatching the long barrel of the magnum and twisting it away, drawing back its arm to plunge its blades into his throat.

He brought up the Desert Eagle he had retrieved and kept hidden in his free hand, putting a .50 calibre slug in its stomach at point-blank range.

The recoil was enough to almost break his wrist, but the effect it had on his enemy was immediate. It sent the hulking beast staggering backwards across the room, slamming into the wall opposite. In the time it took it to reach the other side of the chamber, he had tightened his grip on the pistol with both hands and put a further three bullets in its gut. Fluorescent ichor gushed down its front, even as he put a round in each of its knees, blowing apart the joints. It slumped to the ground with a hoarse groan, lying slouched at the base of the wall as he started to approach it.

Its bowed head did not move, but its hand moved to the bracer on its other arm, opening a panel to reveal a kind of portable console inset with flashing red symbols. It started to tap something onto the keypad, but he simply removed the shotgun from his back and blew both the device, and its arm below the elbow, apart. This time it let out a wail, rolling its head, and then sat, breathing heavily, remaining hand clutching at the gaping wound in its belly.

He cracked the shotgun, looking down at his defeated enemy as he replaced the spent cartridges with fresh ones. Even as he did, his mind went back to the dead criminals above, the Russian mobsters slaughtered and hung up like grisly marionettes from the ceiling. Given the opportunity, he'd have done the same. He hesitated, wondering what the creature's motives were. He decided to ask it.

"Why?" he said gruffly, "why attack the Russians? Why attack me? What are you?"

It didn't answer. It simply stared pointedly at the gun in his hand, and then turned its eyes up, not quite meeting his gaze. That was when he realised it was looking at the symbol emblazoned on his chest, the skull that had become his mark, a symbol of what he stood for - death, murder, punishment. He looked back at it, at the real skulls hanging on the bandolier across its own chest. They were trophies, he realised. It was a hunter; that was why it had seemed almost eager to challenge him - it had been looking to test its mettle.

He'd wondered, for a moment, if maybe it was like him, some kind of vigilante, killing killers, but now it seemed it was simply there for the sport of it.

He reached forward, unbuckling the mask from its misshapen head and slipping it away, revealing a grotesque face beneath. Its mouth was composed of mandibles around pointed, yellow teeth. Coarse hair protruded from around its features in thick clumps, and its eyes were sunken and narrow. It glared up at him even as he looked down on it.

"Uglllly motherrrr fuckkkker..." it breathed.

"I've seen uglier," he told it, pressing the barrel of his reloaded shotgun into its face.

"Go ahhhhead and do itttt."

He nodded, pulling back on the trigger once again.

-x-x-x-x-x-

Major Jennings moved through the halls of the textile factory that his target, and the Punisher, had turned into a killing zone less than an hour before. It had been easy enough to pull rank over the beat cops outside, given that they had a pile of dead Triads to busy themselves with. All he'd had to do was tell them that the Russian warehouse had been used for international gun-running, which it was, and he'd been able to secure the building for his O.W.L team.

The only problem had been posed by a Detective named Soap, who'd insisted that he was a part of the N.Y.P.D's apparently-incompetent Punisher Task Force. He'd tried to claim that an investigation of the warehouse was necessary for his continuing hunt for the vigilante, and almost followed him inside, nearly compromising the area. Jennings had managed to conjure up a few eyewitnesses for the other man to question in the mean time, and promised him free reign once he and his men had finished their business.

In all honesty, Soap was an oblivious idiot. He hadn't even thought to question how none of the dozen police officers and E. present had seen Frank Castle, and his van, depart once the massacre was done. All of them had apparently suffered from collective blindness in the moments following the fire fight.

He reached the upper floor, where his subordinates had cordoned off the room in which they'd found the body. They had been hunting the Predator for weeks now, chasing it from district to district, looking for a pattern in its movements. Jennings had done his best to help matters along, leaning on some of the criminal factions, egging on others, trying to create situations conducive to drawing out their quarry.

Unfortunately, that strategy had also drawn out the Punisher. Still, if the tech was still intact then that was the main thing. They didn't need it alive to learn from it.

"Major Jennings," his second, Lieutenant Willis, greeted, as he entered the corridor, "I'm afraid we have some bad news, sir."

"What the hell do you mean 'bad news'?" his superior responded sharply, "we've got it, don't we?"

"Uhm, yes and no, sir," the other man began to explain, as men in haz-mat suits moved around behind him, cataloguing each small piece of evidence they could find.

"Is the body here, or not?" he snapped.

"Oh, it's here," Willis told him, even as his subordinates wheeled out a gurney, on which was resting the body of what could only have been the Predator, its immense frame sealed inside an airtight bag, "but the tech isn't. It's all gone."

Jennings blanched, gaping wordlessly for a few moments, and when he spoke again his voice was several octaves higher than he'd intended it to be.

"What?"

-x-x-x-x-x-

"...so then I said, that wasn't my brother, that was my dog!"

Raucous laughter filled the smoky air of the social club's back room. John Marconi sat back in his plush, leather seat, letting his cigar hang between his fingers as he savoured his subordinates' reaction. His men flanked him on sofas around the veneered table, which bore a peculiar array of tumblers filled with whiskey, ashtrays and automatic weapons. At its centre was a large briefcase stacked high with money, some of which had been spread out in front of the group's leader.

"Another good investment," he said, taking a puff and blowing a thick, ululating smoke ring into the air, "you'll all be getting your cut."

"Hey, all the grunt work in the world doesn't make money like this, am I right?" Russo, his right hand man, responded, picking up another fat wad of bills from the case and slapping it down on the pile.

The others agreed whole-heartedly, even as the second-in-command lifted his glass, gesturing for the others to do the same.

"Let's hear it for "Golden" John Marconi, eh boys?" he asked, and they toasted their boss as one, throwing back the golden liquid in unison.

There was a screaming noise, metal grinding against metal. Before any of them could react, something that resembled a Frisbee with a serrated edge flew through the oak double doors, smashing a wide hole through the wood. The four men to Marconi's left met a sudden and grisly end as the disc sliced their heads from their shoulders and then flew past him, whistling past his ear. Even as their decapitated craniums toppled onto the table in front of them, and their recently emptied glasses dropped to the carpeted floor, the whirling saw blade flew back in the opposite direction. It sheered the heads from his remaining four lackeys - including Russo - who hadn't even had time to reach for their weapons.

The bizarre discus slammed into the doorframe, coming to a complete halt. The ivory skull motif emblazoned at its centre shone in the light from the crystal chandelier. Then a figure dressed all in black, with the same symbol stencilled on the chest of its bulky body armour and another odd device attached to its shoulder, slammed into the room.

"What the fuck?" the blood-drenched Golden John asked, even as three pinpoints of red light appeared on his forehead.

-x-x-x-x-x-