A New Tune (draft)

Sequel of the previous story "Killing Strangers". Altær and Colt go to a park expecting a meal, but find something else. Something that means trouble. (This story is still a draft and might be reworked.)

Sometimes you go to a park expecting to meet a friendly lady from the internet that you are planning to turn into meatloafs later,... but what you find instead is the sharp-toothed grin of some Leopard-headed dude who looks like he's very bad news.

Altær the leFH-head and his new buddy and flatmate Colt were caught off guard by this fact for sure. The Leopard, however, just looked amused.

"Greetings, drušiky," the stranger said with a heavy accent that wasn't really like any accent Altær had heard before. The Leopard slowly lowered his turret to its default position where it covered his face again, and tilted his head. "Now, you look like you're seeing a ghost," he complained.

Altær finally managed to regain his composure enough to speak.

"You just looked much hotter on Facebook is all," he said sourly, but his voice was lacking a real bite. He was too dumbfounded.

The Leopard chuckled.

"And you need to work on your subtlety. Seriously, how the hell haven't you been caught yet?" he retorted with an audible sneer.

"Seems like I have been," Altær replied.

Colt suddenly spoke up.

"Fuck off, what do you want?" he asked the Leopard, his voice bristling with hostility. Well, at least he cut to the chase.

The stranger looked at him, but seemed unruffled at the harsh words.

"I just want to let you two know that things will be a bit different around here from now on," he said coolly. "You're no longer the only hungry mouths in this area. Luckily for you, I'm a generous man. I'm willing to share my prey, but not for... free."

They didn't need to see his face to guess his ugly grin at the end of the statement.

At least for Altær, there was no doubt what they were dealing with here. The way the stranger talked and his accent gave him away - he was a phase 3, but not the same kind as them. He was one of those who had never been a phase 2, never returned... He had come straight from their dimension. He had never forgotten who - or what - he was. One could say, other than them, he was a 'real' phase 3. Altær had only heard of those folks before, but never met one.

"What if we don't want to share?" the leFH asked tentatively. He didn't know if it was a good idea to challenge this guy without knowing what he was capable of. But he also didn't want to make himself seem as helpless in this situation as he felt.

Instead of answering right away, the Leopard slowly stood up. Despite the fact that Altær was actually as tall as him, it felt like he was towering over the leFH as he stepped in front of him. Altær froze. He didn't like this. The Leopard got so close that Altær instinctively leant back and turned his head to the side to avoid their turrets bumping into each other. A quick glance showed that Colt also seemed to be rooted to the ground.

As he finally replied after looming for what seemed like an eternity, the Leopard's voice was friendly and threatening at the same time; it was hard to tell if his words were purred or growled.

"Oh, you're acting dense on purpose, aren't you? I've been watching you closely, Altær. You've been taking more than you should, and we both know that you can't afford to let anyone find out about it. It's not a question of you wanting to share. You will."

He raised a hand and grabbed the lower edge of Altær's head. The leFH was too flustered to put up any resistance as the stranger forced him to look straight ahead again - at least as straight as was possible since his cannon barrel bumped into the side of the Leopard's head quickly. Altær felt like screaming, but he couldn't even seem to whisper in that moment.

"Do you understand?" the stranger asked.

There was a sudden movement to their right, and it seemed like Colt had decided to throw himself at the Leopard. The only problem was that said Leopard reacted so quickly that it looked like he had anticipated this - his free hand darted up and caught the T67 by the throat, which resulted in a surprised gasp from both Colt and Altær. Colt struggled against the hand pinning him and choked out curses, but it seemed pointless. The Leopard's grip didn't falter, and he commented snidely.

"Tsk, no need to cause a scene like that. Look, people are already staring."

He was unfortunately right; a little way off, some passersby had stopped and were trying to figure out if their civil courage was required.

"Stop," Altær hissed, hoping that both of the other tankheads would feel addressed. The last thing they wanted to do was catch anyone's attention.

Luckily, at least Colt seemed to feel the same. His flailing, both verbal and physical, ceased. The Leopard let go of him, and of Altær as well as he stepped back a little. The passersby moved on.

Altær resisted the urge to dust himself off.

"So, what exactly do you expect us to do?" he asked soberly.

"You see," the Leopard said sweetly enough that the following words could only be unpleasant, "We're in the same boat. I need to live, like you. I need to eat. But other than you, I don't take particular joy in the trappings of obtaining my food. That's where you come in."

"You want us to... do the killing for you," Altær stated plainly.

The Leopard nodded.

"And there's a lot of killing to be done..." he agreed, his tone now deadpan.

"Well, awesome," Altær replied in the same tone. "When do we start?"

"Immediately," the Leopard said. "You have my number already. Let me know when I can come pick up my meal."

Altær nodded with gritted teeth.

"Understood."

The Leopard started leaving. He looked over his shoulder as he reached the entrance of the pavilion.

"Don't keep me waiting for too long," he said, "If I don't hear from you in three days, I'll assume you bailed."

With those parting words, he walked off.

Altær slumped and let himself flop down on the benches inside the pavilion. He immediately and hastily pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pockets. Colt had watched the Leopard leave and then turned towards Altær.

"What are you doing?" the T67 asked.

Altær's turret lifted and he clung to a quickly lit cigarette instead of replying.

"Idiot, someone will see you," Colt went on. He stepped towards his flatmate and tried to kind of shield him from any possible looks by standing in front of him.

"Freaking hell, this is so bad...," Altær mumbled to himself.

"What the fuck even happened here?" Colt asked. "Are we actually doing what that asshole says?"

"We have no choice, I guess," Altær replied wryly. "I wasn't supposed to kill that many humans. I don't know how he found out, but if he has proof and tells anyone about it..." He trailed off with a distressed "ugh", but didn't need to finish the sentence.

In the short time Colt had spent in their home dimension after his death as a phase 2, he most likely had been told to not take more than his share of human victims. Any sort of greed at this stage endangered the existence of all tankheads on Earth, and was punished harshly. But even if the stranger just did it the 'trivial' way and went to the human police to reveal who was behind all the murders, it would be a disaster. No matter what the intentions and consequences were, Altær was screwed. In a way, he had to be grateful that this Leopard was apparently more concerned with not getting his own hands dirty than snitching on the leFH.

"The curse of competence..." Colt murmured with an exasperated sigh.

Altær couldn't really follow the train of thought that led to that statement, but nodded anyway. He somehow felt it to be very on-point.

"Can't we just kill him?" Colt went on.

"He'd just come back again and be very pissed, I think."

"We'll just keep killing him."

"Actually..." Altær went on after a moment of affected silence, "It's not 'we'. You have nothing to do with all this. You don't have to help me."

"And what else am I gonna do? Sit at home and play housewife while you get to do all the fun stuff?" Colt retorted with a dismissive gesture.

Altær looked up to him with slight concern, but couldn't help but smile.

"Well, alright."

He finished his cigarette and stubbed it out on the bench, then stood up.

"Let's go back," he said defeatedly. "We'll need to figure out some stuff. Most importantly, a way to kill more people, faster."

Colt nodded. The two of them started walking, leaving the pavilion and making their way back to the bus stop.