Anya didn’t remember making it back to the park’s entrance. She recalled a terrified, awkward sprint back through the trees, falling once, and then she was back near Flatbush Avenue. Her hands were covered in scrapes and welts from where branches had whipped at her as she ran past, but they vanished as she stared at them. The tiny cuts and welts healed in moments until there was no sign they’d ever been there at all.

Regeneration’s a hell of a thing, Anya thought. The alien must have it too, or something like it.

“Fuck! Jesus Christ, Carl,” Anya said. She couldn’t waste another second. The cops needed to know. She dialed 911 but stopped before she pressed send.
Even if the cops sent a full SWAT team, they might not be able to kill that thing. Carl had shot it straight through the chest with advanced alien technology and the creature had shaken it off and slapped Carl’s head into mush. What would a bunch of ordinary firearms do? Probably next to nothing, or worse, just piss the thing off.

“C’mon boy, do your stuff,” a bored voice said nearby and made Anya shout in surprise. A man in several thick layers held a leash attached to a fluffy white dog near the park’s entrance. He jumped back at Anya’s shout and the dog barked at her.

“Geez lady,” the man said. “Give a guy a heart attack.”

“You need to leave,” Anya said and approached him. She glanced over her shoulder but couldn’t see or sense anything. She should’ve sensed the man and his dog but she’d been so focused on getting away from what was behind her.

“You own the park now huh?” the man asked and shook his head. He held up a plastic blue bag and nodded at his dog. “Not like I wanna be here. As soon as his highness has his evening walk around the block and takes a shit, we’ll be——”

“Get out of here or you’re going to die!” Anya snapped. The man regarded her with widening eyes and reached into his pocket.

“Look, just back off, okay?” the man said and took a step back. The dog barked at Anya again. She looked behind her at the dark trees beyond the carousel. How fast was the puppet alien? Was it still behind her at all, or had it moved to one side to flank her?

“Get out!” Anya shouted and her fear and temper flared. Fire roared out of her mouth, the palms of her hands, and swirled around her feet as she lost control of her temper. The man screamed and ran, dragging the dog after him as he fled. Anya swore. At least he was gone. One less person to worry about.

Anya looked around her again and clenched her fists. The park might be clear for now, but everything beyond it was filled with people: apartments, cafes, restaurants, the subway, townhouses, and more. She stood at the edge of Prospect Park, her feet itching to run and to keep running, which she knew was also a good tactical move. She knew next to nothing about her enemy save that it was strong and could regenerate. Best to stay away until she could further adapt her skills and do research on the enemy.

At the same time, if she left the alien now, there’s no telling what it would do. If it left the empty park, then what? It could terrorize the neighborhood, or kill somebody in its efforts to get to her or another host. It would find her eventually, as well, and she might not have as much warning as she had tonight. She couldn’t just run forever, couldn’t hide out in her apartment for the rest of her days.

If she ran now, people might get hurt and the alien could just find her again later.

If she stayed, she would probably die just like Carl had.

“God dammit,” Anya said. “Felix, use my free weapon tokens to find me the best spear or halberd or whatever you can.”

“You have seven stat points. For skills you have nineteen physical, twenty-one mental, and eleven other points available.”

“Found a pretty good weapon for you, but it will require both tokens!” Felix said.

“Show me,” Anya said. Her menu appeared and displayed a long staff tipped with an elegant blade on one end. The staff was a deep red color, with gold designs, and a red jewel near the bottom of the blade. The blade was a dark gray, about as long as her forearm, and with a slight curve to it. The menu identified it as the “SOLAR GLAIVE” and explained that it was made of some rare metal, and that the jewel near the blade could amplify heat energy or store it for later use.

There was more, a lot more, but the back of Anya’s neck was tingling with paranoia that the alien was right behind her. “It’ll do,” she said and the solar glaive appeared before her. She caught it before it hit the ground and felt heat rush into her. The jewel, or ruby or whatever it was, embedded in the weapon flashed red and a tiny point of light appeared inside of it.

Anya walked away from the park entrance, around the carousel, and deeper into the woods. She used her heat sense to try and detect animal movement like she had before, but it seemed Carl’s earlier gunshots had scared everything away or into complete stillness. Nothing moved.

“Felix, ping it,” Anya said and clenched her glaive tightly.

“Okay!” Felix said. Anya brought up her map and saw a wide red circle approaching her bright orange dot. It was a hundred yards away or so, and not moving too quickly, but it was moving directly at her. “It’s somewhere around there. Can’t find it exactly.”

“Close enough,” Anya said. She pointed at the trees and dry winter grass around her and ignited them. She was far enough away from the entrance now that it would be a while before anybody saw the flames and called the fire department. In the meantime, the flames would spread and grow and give her an expanding heat resource with which to replenish herself in the coming fight. It would also let her see better, since the alien couldn’t be detected by her heat sense.

Anya crouched down low at the edge of some unburned trees, back in the shadows, away from the direction the alien was approaching from. She took several low, deep breaths. Both of her hearts were hammering in her chest, but her hands were steady. She kept her eyes on the area of the park ahead of her and waited.

She didn’t have to wait long.

A shadow separated itself from the mass of darkness at the edge of the trees across the street. Anya froze.

The distant light of the burning grass and trees reflected off a pair of baleful eyes as the puppet alien emerged from the dark and onto a wide expanse of open grass. It swept its head around the area, stared at the fire, then turned to look in her direction and moved forward.

“Fucking shit, here we go,” Anya hissed through her teeth. She didn’t want to let that damn thing get near her. She raised her hand and summoned an orb of fire that blossomed to life above her palm. She pushed more heat into it, her sun’s heart channeling more energy and making it swell. Anya clenched her teeth and pushed even more heat into the growing orb of swirling flames, more, more. She clenched her fingers, condensed the heat into a tighter area. She felt the energy surge as she did, become more volatile as it was forced into a tinier volume, even more eager to burst forth.

The puppet alien had closed the distance between them to half, its gait awkward and steady.

“Burn,” Anya said and released the ball of fire. The fire rocketed away and struck the alien head-on. A huge explosion shook the frigid, quiet evening and caused nearby trees to bow backward. Anya shouted as the force of it knocked her back against a thick oak behind her and turned the center of the grassy area into a blazing inferno.

“Felix, is it dead?” Anya asked as she stood up. “Ping it!”

“You got it!” Felix said in her ear. “Uh, no.”

Anya gaped as the mutilated figure of the puppet alien emerged from the fire. Its purple fur and huge chunks of its body had been blown off and now exposed all of its remaining flesh. One of its eyes was missing, the other one bloodshot and locked onto Anya. Its fur regrew and its eyes repaired themselves as she watched, and it even gained a third eye. The rest of its body grew back within moments, along with a couple more limbs. Flames continued to lick at its fur, but it didn’t seem to mind these.

“My favorite color is blue,” the alien said.

“Damn,” Anya said and she retreated into the trees and moved to the side, closer to the flames she had caused. That fireball had taken quite a bit out of her. She waited until she was close enough to the burning woods to start drawing energy back in and getting as much as she could.

The alien finally reached the edge of the trees, and Anya figured the crowded woods would slow it down even more so, give her time to recharge, retreat, and attack again. Her eyes widened as the alien used it stretchy, ropey arms to grab the trees nearby, and swung between them like a monkey. It closed the distance between them in seconds, and now the terrain worked against Anya. She stumbled back over a root which allowed the alien to get close enough to take a swing at her head.

Anya used the momentum from her stumble to fall back into a roll and dodge under the deadly arc of the alien’s attack. It swung at her again and hit her leg. Anya screamed as it broke and bent sideways at the knee.

“Fuck!” she screamed. She had to get out of the woods. The puppet was too mobile here, too quick. She felt her leg repairing itself, her regeneration kicking in and knitting her shattered bone and torn muscles back together.

Anya rolled away from another attack and sprang up with her good foot, then leapt forward to avoid another swipe aimed at her head. She blasted out a wide fan of flames at the creature and set it alight. The alien reeled back, stunned, and Anya thrust her glaive at it. She pierced it through its head, then withdrew her weapon. The attack split the alien’s head in two and it fell away, still burning.

She didn’t stay to watch. Instead, Anya hobbled to the burning trees ahead of her, each step becoming more sure and more steady as she healed. Her regeneration took a lot out of her, however. She was out of breath by the time she reached the flames she had set earlier, and drank in their heat greedily. Her wind came back to her, her leg fully repaired, and she was almost back to full power. She had absorbed everything though: the flames she had set earlier and the fire in the grass from her first attack. The only remaining flames were those that clung to the puppet alien behind her.

It was back up, but Anya noticed that it stumbled. She narrowed her eyes at the creature as she left the trees and got as far into the center of the open field as she could. The puppet swung from the trees again until it reached their edge, and Anya watched it closely. It might have just been wishful thinking, but its movements seemed more sluggish, a little off. If its regeneration was similar to hers, then maybe the attacks were taking a toll on it after all.

“Cake is my favorite food,” it said as stood at the edge of the trees.

“Well, all you’re gonna eat is shit,” Anya said and blasted it with another huge fireball. The creature stood in front of the approaching ball, then grabbed the branches above it, and shot itself up into the air like a slingshot. Anya’s fireball exploded against the trees, setting them ablaze once more. The force of the explosion pushed Anya back and made her wince.

She looked around and up into the air, but she’d lost sight of the alien.

“Oh fuck,” Anya said. She heard a whooshing sound and a thump behind her, and immediately threw herself to one side. The alien had thrown itself up and over her fireball and landed behind her. Her dodge was quick enough to avoid getting her head knocked off like poor Carl, but not to get out of the way entirely. It struck her in her left side, right on her ribcage, and Anya’s agonized scream was lost in a wet gargle as blood filled her lung and throat and mouth. All of the ribs on her left side were shattered, her lung punctured, god knew what else.

The puppet alien hit her left arm and Anya only just managed to pull away and turn the strike into a glancing blow. It still shattered her arm, but if she hadn’t moved, it might have severed it completely. Anya slashed out with the glaive, and the weapon sliced neatly through the alien’s arms as it attacked for a third time.

The alien’s stumps sizzled and smoked, the blade having cauterized them completely in a fraction of a second. The alien regarded its stumps curiously for a few seconds, as if curious why it wasn’t regenerating faster.

Anya tucked that information away as she limped away, gasping for air, coughing up blood as her body healed. She was better than she was a few seconds ago, but she was recovering from what she suspected would have been a fatal attack to a normal person, and she was exhausted. She knew she couldn’t survive another hit like that, and probably could only summon one more big fireball, even if she absorbed all the fire from the burning trees from her previous attack.

The alien wasn’t going to give her any more time to let fires spread. Anya glanced behind her and saw it was already coming for her again, and its arms were almost done regenerating.

That was when she heard the sirens.

Police sirens wailed at the edge of the park, probably already at the entrance. She would have heard them sooner if not for the various explosions ringing in her ears.

The guy with the dog had probably called them. The multiple explosions would have drawn attention as well, but it was too soon for that to have drawn the cops, unless they were nearby already.

“Shit,” Anya gasped and took her first clean breath. Her lung was fixed, but she was almost dead on her feet. She had to lean on her glaive for support. She was dizzy, winded, shaking from adrenaline and fatigue. The alien wasn’t doing too well either, judging by its limping, but relentless, gait. Patches of its fur remained burned off and didn’t regrow, but it was still coming.

Then Anya sensed four new heat sources come into her range: humans, their light bright and steady. The police, no doubt.

“Fire over here!” one of them shouted, his voice carrying to her from towards the Flatbush entrance of the park. Flashlights bobbed in the dark, their beams cutting through the night and drawing nearer. Anya tried to make it as far as she could on her shaking legs, to get out of sight and off the field, but one of the flashlight beams fell on her, another on the puppet behind.

“You! This is the NYPD! Freeze!” one of the cops shouted. He was tall, with short gray hair and a thick black mustache.

“What the fuck is that?” Another asked as it approached the puppet, hand on his gun. He was young, dark skin and black hair.

“Eyes up, Ramierez! She’s got a weapon!” a third cop, this one short and stocky, yelled and another flashlight shone on Anya and her glaive.

“Drop it! Drop the weapon!” a fourth officer demanded. He was huffing a bit, the last to arrive, his gut swaying with his hurried steps. Anya squinted as the flashlights hit her face, but she could see enough to know that the officers had their weapons out.

“Eat y-youuuurrr v-vegetables after e-e-every meeeaaalll,” the puppet alien said far behind Anya, adding its voice to the confusion. She didn’t miss that it sounded different than before, like a slowed down audio recording. Its voice fluctuated pitch and speed, as if unsure or unable to moderate it.

“Higgins, get the weirdo in the costume or whatever it is on the ground,” the tall one with the mustache said to the stocky officer.

“No!” Anya shouted. “Don’t go near it! It——”

“Ma’am, you need to drop the weapon and lie down on the ground right now,” the young cop said.

“Look, you guys need to——,” Anya tried to say.

“Taze her,” the tall cop said and there was a pop and click sound, something poked Anya in the stomach, and then she was twitching on the ground. Her teeth clenched together and her body went rigid. She tried to fight it but there was no getting around the lock the tazer put her in. She was barely aware of anything save for the pain and the rapid clicking sound as electricity was pumped into her.

“Hey, whoever’s in the costume, get down on the ground now,” Higgins, said as he drew closer to the puppet. Anya was only distantly aware of the cop’s voice and tried to tell him to get back, but her jaw remained clenched.

“Alway-ways say puh-puh-lease and thaaaaaaaaaaank you!” the puppet replied as it whipped one of its arms to the side in a purple blur of movement. Higgins was launched into the air as the puppet alien’s furry arm struck him in the side. broke his arm, and snapped his spine in half. He didn’t even manage a grunt or a scream as he flew across the clearing and landed on his neck with a loud crack.

“Holy shit!” the fat cop shouted. This was punctuated by a hail of gunfire, pops, booms, flashes of light, and smoke. Almost all of the shots connected with the puppet, tore it apart and sent chunks of meat and fur and gore splattering onto the ground behind it.

The terrible clicking and the pain that paralyzed Anya stopped at once, but it left her in a panting, shaking heap. She removed two tiny metallic prongs from her belly and rolled away with a wince.

The hail of gunfire was over within seconds. Anya glanced to the side and saw the three remaining cops, one of them with a shotgun, all facing the puppet alien. It was a pile of purple fur and ragged meat now.

“Officer Brown to dispatch, officer down. Repeat, Prospect Park Flatbush Avenue and we have an officer down. Hobbes, go check on him!” the tall officer with the mustache snapped into his radio.

“Jesus, it just…” Hobbes, the fat cop, said.

“Now!” Brown snapped. Hobbes lowered his shotgun and ran over to where the first cop had fallen. He knelt beside him, checked his pulse, and swore.
“What the fuck was this?” Brown said as he turned to Anya. “What’s going on here?”

“I-I-I——” Anya stammered. Her body had repaired itself from the minor damage of being shocked, but she was more worn out than ever. Her vision was blurry and she could just prop herself up on one elbow.

“You need to explain what’s going on right now,” Brown snarled at her. Anya opened her mouth to reply when something moved behind Officer Brown.

“Oh shit,” Anya said.

“Hobbes!” the young cop, Ramierez, shouted.

Hobbes had approached the puppet alien remains, but turned to look at Anya and Brown. The puppet alien had pulled itself back together behind his back. Not completely, but enough to stand. It looked less like a typical puppet with some extra arms and more like some misshapen horror that had pasted puppet parts onto itself. It had extra legs, a second, fetal head that grew from its shoulder and drooled some kind of liquid that hissed and smoked when it hit the ground. Its purple hair was patchy and thin now and gave way to corded sinew and more bone thorns. Its original head remained the same, save for the third eye on the side.

“You…you need…to look both…ways,” the puppet said with its main head. The second one spat the hissing liquid out and it arced through the air and hit Hobbes in the face. He stumbled back, screamed, clutched at his face. Anya saw a glimpse of his features as they began to melt and drip from his skull. She didn’t need to see any more.

“Fuck!” Brown shouted and he and the remaining officer fired at the alien again until their guns clicked. Anya took a deep breath, got up, and blasted the hateful thing with a narrow lance of fire from her fingers. It sapped her endurance and she almost fell over as she tried to retreat, but kept her feet under her.

“The fuck was that?” Brown shouted. Before Anya could even respond, the alien hurled itself at Brown and landed with two of its many fuzzy feet on his shoulders. It bent over and bit his head off with an eerie delicacy, then swallowed it in one gulp. Blood gouted from the exposed hole of the officer’s neck and soaked the puppet alien’s face and fur as the body collapsed.

“No!” Anya shouted.

“Back up!” Ramierez into the radio at his shoulder as he backed away and reloaded. “We need back up! Officers down!”

Anya didn’t think. She grabbed the young officer by his arm, then yanked him away from the puppet alien. It was on fire again, but she could see it still regenerating, though much, much more slowly than it had before.

“We have to go or we’re dead,” Anya hissed at the officer. He looked at her with huge, panicked eyes. Christ, he was probably younger than she was. But he nodded and she leaned on him as he helped her away. The puppet hobbled after them. Some of its limbs were no longer moving, just dead weight, but all of its remaining arms and legs worked together to pull the hateful creature forward.

“Oh fuck, fuck, fuck,” Anya panted as she shambled along with the help of her glaive and Officer Ramierez as support.

“What the fuck is that thing? What the fuck is happening?” the officer asked, hysteria creeping into his voice. To his credit, he didn’t abandon Anya and bolt, but continued to pull her forward and act as a brace whenever she faltered.

“Don’t forget to floss,” the puppet said behind her. It was already catching up.

“It’s a fucking nightmare,” Anya said. She had gotten turned around in the confusion of being tazed and knocked down. She looked around the park and saw they weren’t far from where Carl had died. She could still vaguely sense the last vestiges of heat from his corpse…

And the white hot core of his plasma pistol.

“We gotta get outta here! The squad car’s this way!” Ramierez said and gave Anya a tug towards the entrance of the park. She shook her head and a wave of nausea overcame her. Her vision went dark along the edges and everything else became blurry. She was on the verge of exhaustion.

“No,” Anya insisted when Ramierez tried to lead her toward Flatbush Avenue. “Gotta kill it.”

“We shot it like a hundred times and it’s still…” Ramierez glanced over his shoulder. “Oh fuck it’s still coming.”

“Gotta get there,” Anya pointed. Carl’s body was just visible now at the edge of a yellow pool of lamplight. Anya sensed the puppet approaching behind them, still aflame, still slow, but still coming. They might make it to Flatbush Avenue and the squad car, or going through the trees could give the puppet alien all the advantage it needed to close on them more rapidly. Even if it didn’t, it would still be alive and might be able to fully recover and come after her again. But now, everything about its speech and movements told her it was weak.

She just had to get to Carl’s pistol and the wellspring of energy within it.

“Ma’am——” Ramierez said and Anya tightened her grip on his shoulder enough that he winced. It was most of the strength she had left.

“Get me…there or we…die,” Anya panted. Ramierez nodded and pulled her along. He was several inches shorter than her, but the officer managed to haul Anya to Carl. They weren’t fast enough to out-pace the limping puppet, and it was closing.

When they reached Carl’s body moments later, Anya threw herself to the ground. Ramierez tried to pick her up but she slapped his hand away and reached for the plasma pistol.

“Shit!” Ramierez screamed and jumped to one side as a hissing spray of acid shot between him and Anya. She rolled to one side to avoid the spray and snatched the pistol up as she did. She fumbled with the futuristic weapon, searching for any kind of eject button and stared at the approaching monstrosity.

The flames on the puppet alien’s body had gone out again, revealing its new horribly mutated form. There were more mouths now, all of them gnashing at the air and sucking in hungry breaths.

Ramierez fumbled with his gun as he tried to reload. Anya found a small recessed button near the back of the plasma pistol and pressed it. A tiny glowing cylinder that flared with the light of the sun ejected from the handle and into her palm. She gripped it tight and smiled.

“I wa-waaaaannnnt to buh-buh-beeeee fri-eh-eh-ends,” the mouths said in chorus. Some of the voices were sweet and lilting, while others were wet and deep and hungry.

“Fuck off,” Anya said and pulled every last drop of heat from the plasma core into herself.

The heat surged through her, both of her hearts swelled, and she raised her hand, palm out toward the alien. It leaped toward her and extended its limbs, its numerous eyes bright with the anticipation of ripping her apart.

There was a loud gasp as all of the oxygen around Anya was sucked into the white hot point of light in the center of her palm, no bigger than a golf ball, but hot enough to ignite the brittle grass and dried leaves at her feet and make the air around her shimmer.

Anya laughed as the energy went through her and out in a blinding ray of light and flame that lit the entire park up and turned it into a sunlit field for an instant. The ground in front of Anya and the alien all ignited at the sudden expulsion of such volatile heat, and anything directly in the path of the blast was roasted and turned to cinders and thrown into the air.

The light engulfed the alien, sent it blowing backward end over end in the torrential flame and turned its amorphous sinew to charred black crust. Every one of its mouths let out a shriek and it fell to the ground and lay still, reduced to a smoking, quivering pile of meat.

“Holy god damn,” Officer Ramierez breathed beside and slightly behind Anya.

Anya dropped her hand and the release of energy stopped. She fell back and let out a long, low sigh. To her surprise, she didn’t pass out, though she really wanted to. She managed to prop herself up on her elbows, vomited a little, and then used a smoking tree nearby to pull herself to her feet.

“Whoa, hey,” Ramierez said and put a hand out to steady her.

The park around her was a mess. The grass and trees on the opposite side of the field looked like they had been blasted with a jet engine. Fires every where burned and spread amongst the dry winter wood. Anya pulled at the heat there and absorbed the fires until they hissed out. It wasn’t a lot of energy, but it was enough to steady her and keep her on her feet. It was also a good way to make sure the fire didn’t spread to the rest of the park.

She wondered how much energy had been in that plasma pistol. Carl had said it was enough to last for years, and she’d spent it all in a matter of seconds.
The smoking pile of alien remains twitched and drew her away from her thoughts.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” Anya said and raised her hand to blast it with whatever she had left. Ramierez finally managed to load his gun and leveled it at the creature.

The charred puppet twitched again, sprouted some fresh purple hair, and then deflated. It emitted a hissing sigh, and its remains spread out, away from it, losing consistency and cohesion until it was little else but a puddle of roasted ashes and rotten smelling meat.

“God damn,” Anya said as she waved a hand in front of her nose. She sighed with relief and then nearly screamed when her right ear beeped.

“You got an update!” Felix said in her ear. “You completed your first primary objective! Congratulations!”

“It’s really dead?” Anya asked.

“It looks that way, but I dunno,” Ramierez said. He could neither see nor hear Felix. “What the hell was it?”

“Yes!” Felix said. “Great work!”

“Yeah it’s dead,” Anya confirmed for the officer beside her. He began to lower his pistol.

“It killed them,” he said, a tremor in his voice. “It almost killed me. What the hell was it? What was that thing you did? Who are you? What the fuck is going on here?”

“Aliens, fire magic, just somebody from Brooklyn, and also aliens,” Anya said in response to his hurried questions.

Ramierez blinked at her, then scowled and reached for his cuffs. “You’re coming in with me. Put your hands behind your head and——”

Anya punched him. There was a flat whacking sound as her fist connected with the young officer’s chin and he flopped to the ground on his back, out cold before he even landed.

“I’m so sorry,” Anya said, “but I am in no mood.”

“You have a new side objective, by the way!” Felix said in her ear. Anya pinched the bridge of her nose.

“Felix I don’t——” she said.

“Examine the alien data stream!”

Anya paused. “Data stream?” Now that Felix confirmed it was dead——and the ashy puddle in front of her definitely looked several shades beyond dead——she felt comfortable getting closer.

“At the second the alien died, it transmitted some kind of huge data stream and the menu picked it up! Well, picked parts of it up. I’m trying to sort through it now,” Felix replied. Anya heard more sirens approaching, firetrucks along with police squad cars this time, but she spared a moment to look down at the alien remains.

“Fine, do what you need to do, but we need to go,” Anya replied. The sirens had stopped blaring behind her on Flatbush, but their lights still flashed above the trees. There were shouts to accompany them now, and flashlights that swept and bobbed through the dark. She couldn’t let the cops find her here like this, not with three dead police nearby and one unconscious rookie. He was actually snoring now, so Anya figured he would be okay as soon as his fellow officers found him.

But she damn sure couldn’t let them find the plasma pistol.

Anya shoved the weapon in her coat pocket and cast one last sad look at Carl’s headless body.

“Sorry, Carl,” she said then dashed away and left him to the uncaring winter night.

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