Spirit Breaker
him in its grip, but the booze was taking the edge off his emotions, dulling them somewhat. Feeling a bit dizzy, he headed into the bathroom and splashed some water on his face. When he looked up…a hooded skater punk stared back at him.
    Before he could scream or turn on the intruder, the Taser’s 50,000 volts rippled through his body. Benson hit the floor in a twitching mass.  


    NIGHT HAD FALLEN, and a thick fog shrouded the crumbling Regional National mall.  
    Talon lurked among a row of trees that faced the sprawling wasteland of the mall’s lot. In addition to the Ka-Bar strapped around his leg and the Glock in his holster, the Heckler & Koch machine pistol hung on a strap from his shoulder. He was garbed in skintight combat black and perfectly blended in with the nocturnal landscape. The spectral green of his night-vision binoculars revealed no sign of life. This desolate temple of capitalism remained forgotten by the world at large.
    Talon zoomed in on the entrance of Sears. The tinted glass of the doors gave no hint at what might be going on inside the immense structure. There was no way around it. He’d have to enter the mall to determine if the copycat cult had found sanctuary within its decaying walls.
    For a moment he debated if he should hold off his inspection until the morning, but if the enemy were here, he would be active at night.
    There was a prickly sensation in his neck, and a sensation of ice in his gut. Shivers tracked the length of his spine. He couldn’t shake the pervasive feeling that he was being watched.
    Talon slipped the binoculars into his backpack and dashed across the deserted parking lot. His boots made no sound as he flitted toward the three-story structure. Cloying condensation wrapped around him; the fog was growing heavier by the second.  
    Moments later, he reached the department store’s doors. All of them were locked. He removed a lockpick and went to work. Within minutes, the door gave way to his concentrated efforts, and he slipped into the Sears. He donned his night vision goggles, and ghostly green light drenched the store. A landscape of empty racks, shopping carts, and mannequins confronted him. The place was as silent as a tomb.  
    Talon inhaled the musty air and advanced deeper into the structure. He crossed the main floor and found an arched entrance that led to the mall’s main concourse.
    Moonlight shafted down skylights that pierced the length of the large hallway. The mall boasted two more floors with balconies running along the upper levels. Picking up his pace until he was moving at a light sprint, he passed rows of caged-up shops and restaurants that had long ago gone out of business. His senses became attuned to his environment, probing the yawning darkness for any signs that he might not be alone. All throughout, his fingers never wavered from the trigger of his machine pistol, its steel barrel leading the way.
    He followed the moonlight. Based on maps and floorplans he’d checked out earlier online, he was headed for the main plaza of the mall where the food court was located. So far, it appeared as though no one had set foot in this place for ages. But Talon knew better than most that appearances could be deceiving.
    The forsaken mall stirred strange emotions inside of him. He had a soft spot for malls. Even though he’d traveled the world as a kid, his father had made sure to let him spend his summers in the States with his uncle. He might not have been able to offer him a traditional American childhood, but he wanted Talon to have a taste of what life back home felt like, at least for a few months out of the year. Most days his uncle, who worked security at a local museum, would drop Talon off at an air-conditioned mall in the morning and pick him up at the end of the day after work.  
    He’d spent much of his summers roaming the local shopping center, catching movies in the multiplex, reading comics off the rack at Waldenbooks,

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