The Cyber Cyber West
The noise and vivid light that bled through the opaque plastic divide woke me around 6 A.M.
I shifted in the bed, alone, and the retinal display confirmed what my body already knew as it winked to life with the rest of my functionality; organic or otherwise. It was still dark outside, but the stain of sunlight was greying the night sky to the east out of an open real wood window. Pattering waterfall said Sarah was in the shower, steam rolling out the open door across the ceiling, and her cough was worse than last night even through the glass.
I sat up on the mattress that lay on a floor scrubbed as clean as it was ever going to get, and patched a cigarette to life. The flatscreen in the bedroom was clearly broken, and the disarray of the dirty clothing, coupled with the sheer lack of objects in the small space told anyone looking that it wasn’t going to get fixed anytime soon. Through the shut door and milky plastic, what must have been cartoons continued to sway and dance erratically across visual and auditory spectrum. I breathed the real tobacco deep in my lungs, and blinked the last bit of sleep away.
“Hey um… could you not smoke in here?” Came a tired voice over steamy air.
“Oh, yeah; sorry.” I looked around for an ashtray.
Why would there be an ashtray in a non smokers house?
Lifting myself from the bed and taking one more lungful of smoke, I flicked the butt into the colorless dawn, leaning on the open window.
“Sure. Again, sorry.”
“S’kay.” She gurgled. More coughing.
The window frame was probably pine. It was stained dark and it was very old. In the cleaned up sectors of New York or San Francisco, this kind of stuff cost a fortune; and it would have been new and treated to look just like this. I picked at an errant splinter, the fiber bellow was brittle and worn. It didn’t take any special skill to know this was aged with nothing more than time. When I entered the cafe the night before, I placed the building at late 1960’s, like a lot of the buildings in the downtown area. What was once called Worland Wyoming had been a military town when the old United States could keep bases up and running. No longer.
As the sun rose, I pushed my view out across the old cityscape, and into the hundreds of nipple like pre-fab domes that extend into the distance like bad acne spotted with a few tall blackhead corporate towers.
I had never been here, but the new name said it all: Milistown 22. Collapse fries the local economy, government goes belly up, and when the states break off, they don’t have the cash to get the little town going. Then comes uncle Militech to fix everybody’s problems.
New town, new jobs, new life for those who want it.
Militech is rebuilding the west! Ride off into the sunrise, California! A new Manifest Destiny awaits!
I let the sun keep rising on its own and poked my head into the bathroom. My pants were still over the toilet where I flung them last night, and my shirt was in the sink. Sarah was just stepping out of the shower.
Her real red hair and milky skin all beaded with water under nothing more than a thin hotel towel almost got me hard again; the girl was just a natural at it. But it was day now, and I needed to find a way out of this blue collar sewage.
“Hi.” She gave me a manufactured smile thats been used one too many times.
“Hey.” An awkward morning kiss followed, and she leaves quickly.
Times wasting, Hal.
I striped down and stepped in the shower, suck up most of the hot water in the first minute and then suffer the cold. She wasn’t saving any for me. I did a quick mental on the hardware; location, flashback memory and I took down the pain editor that had kicked on at some point. I have a mild hangover it seemed, so I let the program run. I hadn’t sunk too much of the local the night before, but I didn’t do a lot of drinking in Chicago so I was out of practice. The sex had been pretty good; she was clearly in need of a good, solid fuck but then again, so was I. Her slim body rising and falling with each thrust, my hand on her back and those soft, round breasts crossed my mind again, but I locked it down. Not time.
When the cold turned into freezing, I got out, dried as best I could with a damp towel and got dressed.
Black tac pants, black long sleeve with red stripe flanked by white down the left chest, military jacket with about 15 too many pockets all atop black brown boots that cost more than 3 months rent in this place. This far from Washington, I didn’t want anyone to wonder what kind of man I was; I wanted them dead certain.
In the mirror, my boyish face was wearing a 3 day beard, and my longish black hair sat perfectly messy. It was just as well; the nano cleaners had me looking like a fucking supermodel these days. At 38, I looked like I was 24. I never really noticed it in the field; we were always covered in mud and blood anyway, not like we were comparing notes on fashion tips. But a few weeks back, and the tech propped training fills you in; people turn their heads, guys get jealous and you just talk to a women and an hour later she’s riding you like a marauder bomb down a grav lift.
Except the eyes, of course. No tech, no scrubbers or new sheets of skin were going to cover that up. Maybe thats why the mornings were so awkward. Maybe thats when they saw me in the daylight, where I suddenly didn’t belong, and that was enough to tell them I wasn’t the guy they should keep around.
I stepped into the bedroom and the open door, cartoons coming in freely now. Making sure no one was around, I lifted the Kendachi 446 out from under the mattress, checked the load and stowed it in the small of my back.
The AMT I wore in the shoulder holster I had slung over a nightstand.
Ducking into the living room, I smelled some stale coffee reheating and took in Sarah sitting with Jake in her lap.
Jake DeMilo. Nine years old, good at math and loves dolphins. Goes to school at-
“You mind if I grab some coffee?”
She didn’t look away from the tv. “Of course not, help yourself.”
The kitchenette was small, but there was a lot more fresh foods than I’m typically used to stateside.
Farmers, Hal. They still grow shit out here, remember?
The coffee was only tepid, but theres were a few amphetamine pills in my pocket and I used it to swallow them down. It wasn’t Jazz, which would have been nice. Or CPR-23. But it was something chemical, and that would have to do.
I was about to make my goodbyes when Jake bumped into me, and only the speed-ware kept my coffee from spilling.
$50,000 government implants keep coffee in a cup? Super.
“Oh, sorry kid.”
He just stood there with brown eyes looking out through curtains of dark hair. He wore a Militech Made t-shirt fitted for a grown man, and worn flip flops.
“Jake? Jake honey its almost time for – koff koff koff” Sarah ducked into her room to sit out the fit before coming back. I knelt down.
“How long has your mom been sick?”
The boy shrugged.
“Does she shake when you two watch tv sometimes?
Still no vocals, but he nodded enthusiastically.
“Does she shake more now than she did last yesterday?”
Again, a child’s excited nod.
Shiver: bioweapon developed by Militech in the mid teens, created to shut down central nervous system in a matter of minutes. Antiviral resistant to a point, new anti viral are equipped to deal with it and it’s mutations. Antidote must be genetically administered prior to infection.
Only it didn’t work. Tests showed that a series of gene sequences bred into humanity long before we were tailoring viruses made something like 75% of the population immune. They tinkered, got nothing. Even those affected took months to show symptoms and years to die.
Decommission, destroy, cover up. They tagged the remaining samples harmless with some bioware that made it so normal immune systems could squash it; then the dumped it in the water supply and let the civilian population get rid of it.
Of course, .01% of the population couldn’t kill it.
Eventually, people would ride it out, and the human body would figure out how to adapt. Until then, people just died and suits sent flowers to the rich ones.
“Koff Koff sorry, Hal, right?” Her face was screwed in memory as she came up and placed her hands on her son.
“Right.” I stood.
A nice smile and some more silence.
“Well, Jake ugh…”
“I should go.”
I sorted out a generic grin and stepped around them and in two long strides to the front door. Now the last bit of awkward and I was out of these peoples lives forever. I opened the door, stepped through and then turned to see Sarah standing in the now half closed frame.
“Yeah I woke up last night and had a few things; some food and a drink or two. Let me reimburse you.”
A cold sheet fell over her face.
I pulled out my wallet.
“Here let me just – ”
“I’m not a hooker, Hal.”
“No, I know I – ”
I pursed my eyebrows together.
“Sorry. You’re right. Sorry…”
She smiled more genuinely.
“It’s okay… People always assume only a man can go have a fuck to blow off steam; why can’t a women?”
“What with you being liberated here in mormonland and all.”
A genuine laugh that fell off to a small fit of coughing. She excused herself and while she turned, I slipped a few hundred euro into a coffee cup by the door with some keycards and data sticks in it.
“You should get that looked at.”
“I have, they say it’s nothing; that it will go away.”
“I hope I didn’t give you anything…” She leaned her head on the door, and that fire red hair fell across her face like curtains closing. I just shrugged.
“I have some of the most advanced anti-viral and immune boosting nanos on earth swimming in here. If I do catch something, I’m going ask for my money back.”
She laughed again, more than she should but the moment was nice, and I knew she didn’t get many of those.
“You think I don’t know? There’s too much sly and waste going around here. Girls got to be careful. But…”
“But,” she continued. “You ex military, corporate ninja types are always loaded up to be clean as an anti-bac.” She eyes me up and down. “And you don’t look half bad.”
Another real smile.
“Didn’t I tell you last night? Thats why I joined up and went to south america; I wanted to get laid; then of course they told me a war was going on…”
Her hair fell around her when she laughed, dipping her head in a seductive manner that just came naturally to good looking women; some kind of genetic legacy left by our ancestors that replaced the males testosterone driven urge to kill. This was her survival method. The moment passed.
“Goodbye, Hal.” She said quietly.
I nodded politely, turned and stepped out of the dark hallway into the cold yellow light of dawn.
Outside, the streets were already stuffed with human traffic. The new corporate towns springing up all over the so called ‘west’ were close cousins to the mining towns and oil shanties that came before them. First, find a spot where you can do what you need to. Maybe thats because of available minerals or favorable tax laws or even governments that look the other way; maybe the regs just don’t exist. Whatever. Next, build a town, fill it with booze, sex and drugs. Then call it a paradise and import cheap labor from all over. What Militown 22 was doing was something I didn’t want to know. The presence of an old base meant a lot of underground so it could be chemical, or more likely cyber; although the recent downfall of the net told me that wasn’t it.
Maybe they were just carving people up to see how we work. Who knew? For that matter, who cared? Not the government; they were too busy sucking Militech’s dick for bailing them out of the last war. And certainly not Militech’s largest rival, Arisaka. They were too busy licking Militechs asshole for the same reason. At the end of the day, the sun set on a land with no more hero’s and no more justice. I didn’t subscribe to the whole “money is the root of all evil” hippism that said that the free market should somehow be fair. That was eurozone communism at best. But walking past these old buildings full of grown men downing smoke and strong drink at 7 A.M.; seeing 15 year old hookers on the corner and watching local company pats clean up the crumpled bodies of little kids in ally’s; that told me that somewhere, probably a lot longer ago than anyone was willing to admit, something went wrong. Somewhere, somehow we fucked up and while it was all coming apart at the seams, civilization just slid by on cum soaked marble floors and gold plated crack pipes.
Now It was closing time and everybody was looking for their wallet.
Don’t worry, the corporation will get you.
You didn’t sell your soul, not really. It was something else; it was you, the only self that you were ever going to have. Something worse, maybe.
I descended the dusty streets into the newer sections of town that were somehow dirtier than the old. What I need was an AV or a nomad convoy; I had a friend who owed me one, but I didn’t want to cash in a favor with the family unless I had to. I didn’t really have a place in mind, but now that Nightcity was hot, I would have to find someplace else to… well, do whatever it was I was going to do.
One step at a time. Keep moving, Hal. A spot will feel right when you get there.
I saw one of the classier pubs, complete with automated turrets and metal gear clad guards; this was for the jr. Exec and above, or so the ten story glass tower that crowned the place told me.
I stepped up and flashed my Special Operations badge, but probably didn’t have to. Most of the people in this town could have been fucking naked compared to me; I looked like I belonged. Hell, I did belong.
Yeah. For now.
The pub was nicer than I thought inside; real leather and fogged windows tied together with wood flooring and a polished bar top looked more like an upper west side bubble stop or even a London Tipper for that matter. I did a quick scan and marked the notable faces, mostly unknown kids climbing the ladder. 24 hour business could have made 7 A.M. punch out, or maybe, like most of us, they just had a conscious that needed killing.
I slid into one of the swivel chairs at the bar and ordered a coffee. I didn’t ask for the elderly barkeep to add the whisky, but I was glad he did; which I expected was the point.
“Cold out there.” I said offhandedly.
“Mmmhmmm.” The barman replied, still looking in the well. “Desert nights. You Spec Ops?”
I nodded behind a steaming mug.
“Hmmmhmmm.” He measured out, and then walked away.
I raised an eyebrow and watched him go. The fact was, Spec Ops weren’t much loved in the civilized world, which evidently this place passed for. In South America, we were quiet; they would chopper us down under a setting sun, unload us on a native population or enemy outpost, and when the sun came up, the news said that the Army had neutralized another enemy camp. Never mind the carnage or the torture. Never mind the mass graves and the mercy killings for families who got caught in a virus bomb’s shimmering wake. Back then, it was the government, or at least the news said so.
Not this time.
The Fourth Corporate War had been called on a t-shirt ten years ago; The Revolution Will Be Televised. And it had been; all over the world. Only the revolutionaries lost, and the media war did its best to smear the other side. Spec Ops became the artillery of that front. This time we weren’t fighting a drug war or fucking terrorists; we were fighting for a company that had pushed the president aside and started flying. They heard rumors that we were executing execs, burying company families and burning cures for cancer all in the name of reasonable return.
Now, Spec Ops on both sides were the focal point for business gone bad.
Deep down they knew it had always been that way. Deep down they knew it was orders and that the whole fucking war was run from a boardroom. But people had defense mechanisms that prevented them from unraveling, and denying that the world they lived in was this morally paper thin was one of them.
Militech, Arisaka; they made us monsters, and that media blitz had left residue on every citizen from Fairbanks to Miami.
I let the sun drag its way across the sky while I looked for a suitable mark. Out here, beyond the grasp of big city government or organized crimes shadow, there wasn’t a whole lot of subtly when it came to freelance work. The mercs would walk in a lay a gun on the table, pilots threw down gloves or maps. Guides used knives and nomads looking for people to transport usually walked in and ordered water. It wasn’t like that on the west or east coast; wasn’t like that across a lot of Europe or even Sovispace. The work was inherently illegal and usually dangerous and even in a world gone rotten, large clusters of humanity had to keep some half decent facade of order if only to keep everyone from tearing the whole thing apart. But in the great dusty in-between, in the corporate cities that were governed not by Americans, Asians or Sovi’s; hell not even Mormons ran these things; accountants did, it was profits that were law, and as long as people stayed away from the money machine, there was no reason they couldn’t flash their piece, make some money and move along.
But three hours in the place and I hadn’t found anything worth my time. The crowd was steady but thin, most entering the second set of ballistic double doors into the tower proper, and only the rich and lonely slinking in from the white winter light to drunk up and sit tight. I was finishing my second whisky coffee, and tipping the barkeep extra well so he didn’t throw me out, but I was running out of time and ready to be gone.
That’s when the trouble walked in.
They were both dressed in high fashion kevlar workforce jumpers; the kind of thing worn only by corporate bag men and solos off their regular beat. The suits would keep everything off the skin; dirt, bio, blood, while keeping everything else in. They made half decent stealth suits for those strapped for cash, but what they were known for, what sold them all over this country was a grimm task; wet-works disposal.
They both had the cowl lowered back, faces exposed. One had a short, well trimmed beard and the other was clean shaven. They were 30ish and had some degree of training dulled with an easy life inside the office by the way they walked. The mat black jumpers were powdered with fine white dust.
The nasal filter jumped to life, and the nano surgeon monitor beeped in my head.
“Bill, whats the good word?” The black haired greaser said falling into a chair at the bar. He regarded me with a smile and a nod before looking back to two full glasses of whisky from the top shelf.
“Same. You still dusting my bar with that talcum?”
A glance passes between the two, then a smile. Laughter.
“Na na, last day en all, innit? Stuffs all gone. And don’t worry, mate; stuffs all blight now huh?” he drank deep.
The filter stops, internal microns tell my nervous system I am immune.
Rage coiled somewhere in my gut.
“Yeah right?” said the clean shaven kid with sandy hair. “Not like its proper work anyway but a mans got to do wha a mans got to do, aye Pete?”
“Right you are, George; right you are. Ain’t none of us sinners here, darling.” Pete said with a wink in my direction.
The barkeep tossed me a glance then regarded the two others. Whoever this old man was, either decades of people watching, or a life that didn’t include a jigger lay behind him, because he could see what was straining inside.
“Just be careful, huh?” Was all the barkeep managed before moving back to the well.
The newcomers smile and drink, looking around the pub with exaggerated enthusiasm, disappointed by the thin crowd.
Black Militech tac, sinewy frame and cold eyes have them on me in seconds.
“What about you, gov? What brings you o’er these parts? Can’t be the cunny, can it?” Pete almost fell over with laughter; weak and cackling, a forced kind of laugh reserved for bad humor.
“Just passing through.” I said, laying down a few notes of hard currency. I let them see the wad in my palm as I do.
George whistles and Pete eyes him.
“That’s a lot of bread for a tolly innit? What type of work do you do, my son; if I may be so bold.” He said, hand extended in a gesture that was supposed to be friendly.
“Bio chemical analysis.” The lie falls past my lips like silver.
“Oi?” George winks at Pete.
“I imagine that is some good work there, my son. Working for the company, is it?” Pete picks up.
“Something like that.” I said flatly, and returned the cash to my jacket, and my posture to casual drunk.
“Find anything interesting?”
“Not really.” I say more to my drink.
“Well how about a little test then, my – ”
“Harlan. My name is Harlan, and I’m not your son as you don’t look like you have a whisper of a cunt between those legs of yours; though I imagine your dick is small enough that I couldn’t tell.”
The laugher evaporated like steam, and dead smiles fell off their faces in a sick manner.
“You want to be careful, my son. You are a guest in our bloody back yard.” Pete said, standing.
“Way I see it, this hasn’t been your backyard for almost 250 years, charva.”
Anger set fire in the greasers eyes at the slight, and he had his nose in my face inside a second.
“You want to say that again you fucking yank, you want to say that again!?”
Any chance this wont happen?
I hook his vision, and gave the man every ounce of S7 fear I know how to pour into a gaze. Immediately, he knows he made a mistake. Immediately, he knew it was too late.
I clamped an open palm to his larynx, and shattered his kneecap with downward jab of my foot. The speed-ware hummed happily to life, flooding my system with adrenaline and oxidyazopine. Time slows, and the booster guides my eyes with more accuracy than I needed to everything going on around me.
George is reaching for the Nanitech he has under his jacket, still a few seconds there. The rest of the room isn’t even up to speed.
George goes first.
I pushed past Pete’s gaging body, and the brit had a hand on the pistol when I got to him. I hook my leg around his, and my had falls into the open space between jacket and chest the sudden panic of proximity created by the move. I lay my hand over his and squeeze the trigger twice before I feel the explosion of blood stain the fabric of the jumper and the thrum of weapons fire rolls over me like water in the drug induced speed. Before he is even falling, I have the smart link on the Kendachi plugged into the socket on my hand, and the reticle winks to life in my vision. Raising the bulky weapon, I send three slugs into a table of two near the door, still holding coffee in hand and wondering what the noise is all about.
Behind me, Pete’s editor must have kicked on because he’s turning and reaching for the AMT on his hip.
Few seconds, get the other table.
George’s cries sound like a slow motion reel to reel tape under the euphoria of speed ware cocktail soaking my system, and the tinges of a smile tug at my lips.
The Kendachi wheels to the only other group of suits, their drunken laughter having been suddenly pulled away from them by the gunshots and fear smeared their faces like blood. I squeeze six muted shots, the samrtlink sends the slugs home and a pollock of red gore exploded over the back wall like water balloons and red paint and lifeless bodies collapse to the ground like fallen limbs from a tree.
Pete had the AMT out, more cyber-ware than I thought, but he’s not used to close formation.
Get in there, make it your own.
I dropped the Kendachi and sent and open palm into the weapon as he tried to level against me. My other hand caught the wrist and jerks hard. Pete has no idea where the fight is going, and may as well be limp for all the resistance he’s giving me. I attempted a lock but again I underestimated his skill. Pete kicked back with a metallic leg, the hydraulic hammer slamming against the plate in my chest and I had to let go to soak up the kinetic force. Falling back, I use the momentum to duck into a roll, arching my back and as the ceiling and floor wheel over me, I am on my knees with the dropped Kendachi somehow in my hand.
Pete was quick. I hooked up my arm just in time to catch a metallic fist aimed right at my head, and then blocked another low jab. Fast. Jab jab, haymaker push, the goon had me on my feet and wouldn’t let me level the weapon. I tried for a clumsy block and the impact sends the pain erupting up my arm, blinding before the editor kicks in what seems like an eternity later. The speed-ware is falling apart now, my liver cutting up the very thing that’s keeping me alive, but the booster shows me a table right behind me as I was backing up, desperately blocking the geared up hulk.
There you go.
At the last moment, I spun aside and Pete sent the cyber arm crashing through the real wood. In the seconds it takes him to realize it’s stuck, at least for the time being, I spin the monofilament in my right hand around the inorganic appendage.
“No-” was all he managed before I pulled hard.
The mono fiber cut through the cyber limb like a soft cheese; Pete’s screams accentuated by the silvery rain of slag that erupted from the mess. He must have had a pain editor, but his advantage was lost, and now it was mine. The bulk of the jumper had kept the cyber limbs from me; stupid, I should have looked harder, but oh well; no time to cry over spilt blood. Now that I knew, I hammered the remaining two slugs of the Kendachi into his chest, point blank.
Pete’s lungs exploded air and flecks of blood specked my face as he fell, gasping; the plate catching the rounds but the soft organs underneath shuddering from the impact. When he hit the ground, I sent a booted foot into his groin, and a lesser man would have cringed at the mushy gush and bony crunch of wet fabric that it left.
Pete certainly did.
“Wahaaa – ” He tried, but I turned him over before he could act, and unwrapped the mono fiber from my finger; the biopowder on his suit now lingering in the air all around us.
A quick check gave me a dead bar, and the barkeep gone; but there were no alarms and the guards outside were completely unaware. I bolted the doors, flicked off the Open sign, and returned to Pete just as he was trying to stand. I didn’t have to do anything but roll the loop of mono-wire over his head for him to know the score.
The molecule thin garrote didn’t choke, but he knew one wrong move, and he was dead.
“Who the fu-”
“Quiet.” I said evenly. “No talking unless I ask you do. Got it?”
“This powder, what is is?”
“The fuck do you think it is?” He said, the wet of tears forming behind his eyes. Pain edit or no, a ruined crotch is a mental hurtle thats hard to overcome.
“Bio weapon decommissioned; Shiver?”
“So you’re burying it under this town.” I flicked the filament and drew paper thin lines of blood to remind him it was there.
“Fine. Fine! Yes yes, orders and all, y’know? There’s these caves under ‘ere; we was just supposed to put the crates down there, they said they wasn’t any harm.” Strain in his voice, the strange mix of confidence and fear that borderline cyber psychosis brought.
“But there was an accident?” I kept the story going.
“Yeah. Spill, they said few was susceptible, y’know collateral damage and all, cost o’ business. We been at it for a few weeks, came in the afternoons for a bite then was out agin all night. Just got back; it’s all company sanctioned an all. What the fuck you ca-”
“A name; who told you to just keep going with the disposal after the accident?”
“What? Who bloody cares!”
“Pretend I do.”
He licked his lips and tried on a smile that didn’t fit.
“Look, look; man in charge is not someone I want to make an enemy of. ”
He was prone, and blood was pooling at the crotch very slowly; but the wire kept him in place. Just an inch off, a few ounces of pressure, and his neck was the red ruin of a smile.
“But you; you came into the dinner on main last night, didn’t you?” I said as recall started filling it all in.
He was Sarah’s other table; same suits but they had the masks on. Could have been one of a thousand; but the powder; the fine white powder.
“Right, right well way we saw it, those who was going to get sick were already sick, y’know?”
“Except that those who may have actually been fighting it off, if exposed to the raw virus will relapse. Dead in a few days.”
He attempted an uneasy laugh. “Look, orders said keep going no matter what, just wanted it all done. Not like you got it mate; it’s all right. No one important is ganna-”
The motions was smooth, like starting a silent motor with a pull chain. The filament circled the laced muscle like a serpent, glittering in the light until a gush of blood fell in crimson sheets. His voice box shredded, and the sound that came out of his open mouth were like a backed up toilet that frothed bloody bubbles.
I had the slice n’ dice stored before he stopped moving, the shock of fluid loss had kept him still, and Pete died face down in a crimson halo with arms spread like the wings of the fallen angel he might have been.
Stupid move, slick.
I wasn’t in any mood to start a standoff, and I had pushed my luck in the bar about as far as it was like to go. Eventually, somebody out there would want in, and I didn’t want to be there when they did. I circled the back of the bar, past the fresh corpses and was about to duck into the back when I saw the old barkeep leaning casually against the doorframe to the rear of the building. I froze, wondering if I was going to have to add another name to the list. In his hands, he was rolling a cigarette in thin paper, filling a small metal case open on the counter.
I moved my hand easily towards the kendachi in my belt.
“Seems to me a man who makes a mess of a prick like Pete has a mess a’ business with his boss.” He sighed casually.
I just narrowed my eyes.
“Dobson, Lyonol Dobson. He does cover up for the local, lives on a house up the hill, big white monster behind live wire fencing; you can’t miss it. He’s the fella you want if you have problems with Pete.”
“Why-” I started.
“Also, seems to me a man wouldn’t want to get caught before that, and I would guess that if he wanted to avoid that, he might need to scramble the security deck behind me.”
I shifted my gaze behind the old man and saw the dirty flat panel of a standard Miliarms security panel. It would be fed data from a half dozen cameras around the bar and outside it, but it was middle grade stuff; no external feed and no backup.
“Well?” The barkeep looked up at me.
I didn’t say a word moving past him, and the last sound I made before stepping out the rear entrance was shattering the screen and prying the hard-drive free with skin weave sewn hands.
I dumped it in a street incinerator on my way to the station.
Most of the gear I needed was already in the operations room. My badge was still good, and no one asked S7 guys what we were up to; they just looked down.
Why are we doing this?
I was good on weapons; years of infiltration and deep cover ops and taught me to conserve ammo and it was rare for me to get the itch for a full orgy of guns and grenades. I took a few plugs of C-6 but that was for plan D should all else fail.
Militech 66 Shadow suit with anti-scan pack and auto collection.
Data spike scrambler with phosphate rim and wireless incursion.
Electronic security detail pack grade 3; a grade 4 was preferable but they didn’t have one in this tower and I didn’t want to wait. The training told me that Dobson would be using a grade 7, 8 or worst case 9 LifeSign standard pack with live-wire custom and some anti personal slag-cus canisters.
Grade 3 would work.
In Panama, we hacked a grade 2 with a toothbrush.
Like I said.
The biggest problem was going to be the floor plan; Dobson worked as the firms fixer in this location and that meant dirty disposal and hot plate datanet access. He wasn’t going to be stupid enough to let his custom schematics out. Fortunately for me, a friend of mine was in the area, owed me a favor and said he could find them.
I leaned back in the flimsy petrol seat and breathed in a good puff of smoke. The thin umbrella above the table in the open air patio did it’s best to keep the setting sun off my back, and I was grateful for the raised platform the tables all rested on keeping me above the noisy street not two meters away.
“This place is a fucking shit hole.”
I glanced back and saw him standing there like a ghost in the fiery sunset; the windblown dust rising like smoke and his long coat moving in the cooling desert air.
“Then what are you doing here?” I leaned back over my whisky and waited for him to sit.
“Bailing you out, evidently. You’re lucky; Bill has me here another six weeks.” He moved with all the grace of the street tough he was and fell into a seat, legs and arms sprawling carelessly like sheets draping the chair. The illumination kicked it self to life as the sun sank lower, and white pearls of like burned through the dark in his eyes under his wide brimmed hat.
“Buy me a drink?”
“Fuck you, Richi – rich.”
He smiled lazy and long. “Don’t tell me you’re swan songing with no cash.”
“Who says I’m swan songing?” I said as casual as I could into the cheap amber drink. I was good at lying, but whatever life had prepared him for, Jack Dodge was just as good at seeing through them.
“Please. Plans for a mid level fixers house, and you checked out a shadow suit. Whats the score?” He asked, waiving a gloved hand in the direction of the waitress.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. Jack was apart of the true Cyberpunk generation; his schoolmates were rockers and political movers and shakers. They sliced the net (when it was working) and they advocated a mass upheaval of medieval proportions, a breaking free of the neo-feudal corporate overlordship and setting the people of the world free. Honestly, as a soulless mercenary even I could relate to the goal. But whatever bone deep drive that swayed his contemporaries, Jack Dodge had lost, sold or simply never had it. He loathed cybernetics, didn’t sport even one and he had made his name in Nightcity hunting down cyber psychos. Militech and he were pretty close, and after he got shanghaied by Arasaka and dumped in Panama, they were even cozier. I had met the cowboy (he dressed like it was the fucking 1890’s) when he hitched a ride back during the pullout. He was mad, soul mad that only vengeance could sate; or so I thought. Militech just wrapped their arms around him and all that anger melted away. These days, Dodge only went out on corporate gigs when he was bored as years of heavy company work had left the solo a millionaire.
But he had lived in Nightcity, and with the nuke, he must have lost enough to take on a contract with big brother all over again. Still, thats why I trusted Jack Dodge above all others; he had no loyalties except to his wallet, to his legendary parties and to the few favors he owed people.
I was calling it in.
“Why should I tell you? You might turn me in.” I said with little conviction.
“Whiskey, thanks.” He turned from the waitress and shrugged. “Hal, I don’t give a fuck what you do; for all I know this guy is another company stooge he needs a bullet to the head. I’m just curious.”
“Well, get un-curious. And If you tell Bill about-”
“Jesus, Harlan you ask for a favor then threaten me? Maybe I say fuck you very much and walk.” The smiled stayed, but his eyes told me to back off. It wasn’t that I was afraid of him; I had training and years on Jack Dodge, even if he had raw talent over me, but the last thing I needed was a gunfight in a public place. Plus, he was doing me a favor and I was being a prick.
“Just making sure. How did you get it? The plans, I mean.”
“Why should I tell you?” His whiskey arrived and he paid about 20 Euro too much, said some extremely flirtatious things to the cute waitress and watched her leave.
“Fine,” I said, draining my glass, “don’t tell me. What do I owe you?”
He let the gently swaying butt of the young women go and swung back to me. “You aren’t even going to check the case?”
“I trust you.”
“I need to move on this, Dodge…”
“Fine fine fine.” He threw up his hands in mock surrender, and kicked the case under the table to me.
“How much?” I asked, grasping the handle.
He coughed on the cheap vintage. “Koff koff jesus christ. Ah, nothing man; I owe you for that thing that one time. Bill got me the specs.”
Typical. They must have known.
I stood up and pulled my jacket tighter as cold rose from the dark sands of the desert floor. “Thanks. And not that this is the end…”
“… But I might be in touch again soon.”
“All things good are wild and free, man.” He waved the waitress down. “Now take off; I want to get laid before I got ice this psycho.”
“Stay plugged in, jack.”
“You too, Hal. Best of luck with your murder.”
I smiled and walked away while jack pulled the skinny girl to his lap. Before I could descend the platform stairs, he called out.
“Hey! Just out of curiosity, what did he do?”
I looked back and gave him a generic grin. “He killed someone I don’t even know.”
The cowboy laughed.
“Fuck Hal; you need to get those morals in for a tune up. Haven’t you heard? Thats what you guys do. ”
I turned without another word.
That’s what we do.
The sensor mask bumped into my thigh as I made my way up the rocky hillside.
Bellow, the shimmering lights of the town proper burned with a sunset glow of tungsten in contrast to the sea of LED white that surrounded it. On the mountainside, tall pines grew in random clumps that would increase the farther up I went; between the pale green groves the glimmer of large estates sat snugly in their bed of rock.
Dobson’s estate lay before me.
The house was boxy and pale white; flat windows that made up walls sat tick-tack-to like on the bulky structure looking out over the desert bellow. Encircling the house like a skirt was a tiered patio that looked to be made of real wood; the upper level was on the same ground as the first floor of the house, a second bellow housed a hot tub and sitting area with a dark fire pit, and bellow that was yet another sitting area. A stone path fell away to where I was crouched behind a large flock of boulders.
I placed my fingers on the mask chained to the belt of the suit and activated the baffle. The suit hummed for a second and I could feel charge coursing through it like blood. Every inch of me was covered in the mat black polysheen, except my eyes that sat behind dark electric melt glass. At my side was the kendachi, and on my shoulder the AMT. I brought the rest of the gear in a backpack slung over my shoulder.
Time to see if this works.
The live wire snake was thrown about in three uneven loops all across the southern reach of the estate. It glowed faintly in the moonlight and danced gently on its own electric current, pinging softly around itself looking for fleshy life to rend and destroy. I picked my way through the smaller rocks, and then entered the killzone.
Without the baffle, the live wire would have woken up, threw itself around me like garland and with a single squeeze emptied every ounce of my blood from wide gashed throughout my body. As I stepped over the buzzing razor, instinct leaped my heart into my chest. I had seen live wire massacres all over the world, and it wasn’t pretty. But the training locked the fear down, and the suit made me invisible to the high grade sensors.
Slowly I moved between the killzones, and the anxiety drained out of me when I was on the stone path making my way up the deck.
What was left behind was cold, even rage.
I sailed up the wooden steps, past the neatly gathered seats and the cold fire pit. The hot tub was covered and still, and I peered up above the final ascent.
The house was mostly dark, the only lights I saw upstairs. The floor plans said the place had 14 rooms, and standard procedure said at least half would be full of bodyguards. 7 was a lot, and if I was right in my reckoning, the kind of guy who shells out for live wire shells out for more than the standard amount of guards and at a higher quality. As if fate wanted to confirm my fear, two black clad gunmen walked into view across the stained wood.
They had sensor tacks on their wrist, but the baffle would mask that. I was just as visible to the eye as ever, but like most people in this modern world, the tech told them no one was here, so they didn’t pay much mind to their surroundings. It didn’t mean they were cut rate or any less deadly, but it did mean they were comfortable and reasonably sure that nothing was ever going to happen up here, which was good news for me.
I pressed against the steps until they slipped out of view up a stairwell cut into the mounting side that presumably led to the upper level of the front of the house proper.
With catlike speed and silence, I moved along the exposed window front and came to a side door leading to the kitchen. The lock was electronic but backed up with a physical bolt; this guy was cautious. Ironically, it was this kind of deserved paranoia that came from S7; he was afraid of what Militech had made. The electronic security spike took only a minute to shut down the alarm; I knew the system too well, then another 10 had the lock picked and I slipped inside just as the two goons rounded the corner they had earlier.
Inside the dark kitchen I crept along a wall of cabinets and into the walk in cupboard. Behind a few fresh produce storage bins was the security access panel, like I knew it would be. I let the bag drop and then attached the scrambler to the jack. Disabling the system altogether would have taken longer than I was interested in taking, but the data told me what I knew it would; parameters.
Three minutes later I stalked out of the kitchen like the hunter I was. The foyer was next; draped in rich carpeting and old wood decor, the bannister had been flown in from France and the neoclassical chandelier glittered quietly in the moonlight that touched it from the sloping window walls. I crouched down and closed my eyes, and the motion detector feed me intel; Three guards upstairs, and one on this floor. They were all sitting and reading, so I cranked up the audio enchainment to confirm that Dobson was in his room. The pitter patter of keyboard clicks sealed it, and I took note of the 7 other bodies that prowled the guards like stray dogs. Gun oil hung in the air, so they had rifles, and the lack of even casual conversation said they were pro’s.
I let a smile stitch itself together under the mask and then set the machine working.
Tap tap tap tap I knocked against the landing walls. Immediately, the muscle moves upstairs, digital clarity guiding them until my eyes take over. Gun raised at the top of the stairway. I muffled the audio; I didn’t need to hear what he’s saying into his radio, its already too late for that.
As he descended with military precision, I melt into the shadows between the stairs and the floor. Two more steps and he’s past me, on the floor and peering around the corner. I slipped up the railing like a ghost and drew the silenced kendachi. The other guard was at Dobson’s door; he won’t disturb his boss until he knows something is wrong. I glide down carpeted halls, past the guard reading alone in a study; easiest thing in the world to end these lives, easier than thinking, but the system knows their heartbeat and sniff’s hungrily after spilled blood.
Around the next corner was the short jog to Dobson’s door; I stashed the weapon, and in one smooth move wedged myself as high up between the two walls as I could go; the gecko grip gloves on the shadow suit made the job easier than walking up the stairs. After a few minutes I heard the radio crackle to life in my amped up hearing.
“Nothing, just my imagination I guess. All clear.”
The guard left the door and passed just bellow me back down the hall and with his compatriot, into the study.
I fell noiselessly to the floor.
Gently, I placed my ear to the wooden door. Inside, a soft lilting tune squeaked past some ancient speakers on what must have been a vintage radio set. There was a brief pause in the typing, then the chime of ice in alcohol, the thump of the glass set down and then the relentless march of keys resumed. The desk was facing out the ballistics window overlooking the mountain side; he would be facing away from the door.
I placed my hand on the wrote iron grip, gently applied pressure and without a sound, the door slowly swung open.
Light flooded warmly out of the room and the shadow suit tinted it softly. Inside, a four post bed dominated the center of the space with luxurious silken sheets and a dozen plush pillows. The darkly stained chests of clothing and the 72” flastscreen that was as black the the wood of the desk glittered merrily the light of the fireplace on the far wall.
And there, at his desk facing out the huge window sat Lyonol Dobson. He was drinking some kind of whisky and typing into a data terminal that he wasn’t jacked into. He wore a silken robe and his thin, grey hair that clung to the flanks of his scalp hung loosely. I moved slowly into the bed chamber and slid the kendachi from its sheath. The jack plugged in and the targeting dight winked to life in my vision. I moved in long, labored strides across the empty space filled only with soft music, and then I was on him.
“Hmmm. Hmm hmm hm…” he mumbled to no one.
I placed the cold ceramic of the suppressor to the base of his skull, and the typing ceased.
“Don’t make a sound.”
He obliged, and immediately his calm permeated my anger.
“Who are you?” he asked quietly, the tabor of his voice even with the confidence that comes from owning the world.
“Doesn’t matter. You know what I’m doing here?”
He placed his hands gently in his lap, his head never moving and his face still hidden from me.
“I assume,” he said very softly, “that this is about money?”
“May I stand?”
He obliged, rising slowly from the chair, and turned to face me. His eyes were beady under thin framed glasses and his face had an ancient sort of air to it, but he couldn’t have been more than fifty.
“How much did you want?” He asked.
“Everything in the safe downstairs.”
“Very well. I have guards, unless of course you killed them?”
“No, they are very much alive.”
He smiled and peaked his eyebrows in genuine respect.
“You are very good at what you do then. Perhaps we should talk about getting you a job.”
“Have you ever worked with-”
“I said I’m not interested.”
The movement was small, and if I hadn’t been looking I might not have noticed it as he touched his ring.
“Move.” I shoved him harshly through the door and into the hallway. We were a few feet from the stairs when the shadowy figures of the bodyguards emerged into the dim moonlight arching through the windows. Dobson smiled and turned to face me.
“You should have taken the job.” He hissed smugly, rage coiling tight inside his deteriorating calm. I put a stop to that.
“You and I both know what this gun is; I’m smartlinked to fire if I take even a flesh wound; your boys want to pull the trigger then I guess they have to collect money from your estate.”
The anger melted, but fear didn’t take its place; just the calm that had been there before.
“I see. And I suppose you still want me to give you that money?”
“That’s why your the boss; because you’re so good at figuring stuff out. Move.”
We descended the stairs into the waiting arms of assault rifles leveled before us, and the three more behind.
“You know,” Dobson mused as he slowly opened the wall safe in the foyer. “I am curious to see how you get out of this one.”
His hands gently tapped in the fourteen digit code into the glowing keypad; the green LED light splashing his face sickly.
“You have to put your gun down at some point.” He continued. “And when you do, you must know that my men will come after you.”
The safe popped open, and Dobson turned to face the suppressor while a wide grin stitched itself together on his wiry face.
“Now, I give you something for being so cooperative.”
“Oh? You’ve piqued my interest.”
I let my left had fall from the butt of the kendachi and then unchain the sensor mask.
“Whats this?” Dobson asked as I handed it to him.
“Slag and ash.”
His eyes bulged and he started to speak, but it was too late. I squeezed the trigger twice and the high caliber round blew the little box apart even as Dobson held it.
The nearest guard behind me slammed a rifle butt into the back of my skull.
WARNING; THERE IS AN INTRUDER ON THE PREMISSES. INTRUDER ON THE PREMISSES; DROP YOUR WEAPON NOW.
He dropped the shattered box and I felt the wet trickle of blood as I fell to my knees; the lightning reflexes of the guards brought them all around me, guns leveled.
“What was that sir?”
Confusion was smeared over Dobson’s features like smoke.
“Drop the gun, asshole!”
I handed Dobson the kendachi, and the clarity of what was happening hit him like frag.
“Oh.” The pistol hung loosely in his hands.
The world exploded. In the floor, puffs of air sent superheated metal frag sailing upwards with machine precision; The sheer force of speed tearing them into red hot strands of liquid death.
Dobson screamed as a piece shot through his legs, and the muffled grunts of several guards told me they were getting hit as well. For a split second, a piercing cry of human anguish, a chorus of dying men locked up the audio amplifier and I winced; but it didn’t last. There was so much metal flying that voice box’s were being melted and cut, the slag slicing through even bone lace and turning armor into putty. Inside, blood boiled away and the liquid cooled and shredded organs and bone alike; in a matter of seconds the bodies around me shredded into human streamers, blood exploding in quiet puffs of superheated air and flecks of powdered remains misted me and burning pieces of human flesh hung in the air like falling snow. The macabre display went on and above the quiet killzone only one sound echoed.
Despite it all, the flesh confetti that was covering me and most of the house I couldn’t help but roar like a lunatic.
It seemed hours after it sopped, I was still kneeling there in blood soaked splendor, the hood pulled back and I quaked and heaved with maniacal joy.
Slag and Ash, Hal.
My laughter rolled on through the night.
I shed the suit and the rest of the gear in the desert. The kendachi was a loss; once the alarm knew I was there, my modifications had made it so it killed anyone armed, left those of us who weren’t alone; but I couldn’t turn it off. I would have liked to burn the house, but again the security made a speedy exit out the front the best option. Besides, the suit held all my genetic detail and I have scrambled the video.
Intuition made it hard to leave it; it was registered to me, but that was the point. This was my letter of resignation, signed in the blood of a dozen men. When they found the scene, they would figure it out pretty quick, and then it would be a cost benefit sort of dance. How much good had I done the company over how many years, and was that offset by the death of these men.
It was almost sad thinking about it; I could probably go back and as long as I apologized and promised never to do it again, they would chalk it up to a bad day and let bygones be bygones. That was sort of par for the course with S7, anyway. We were molded into these killing machines, feeling sucked out and we didn’t ask questions. Eventually, you snap; everyone has a breaking point and its just sort of accepted that one day we’re going to take off. They hope you just disappear, but more often that not you leave a mess. The trick was keeping us sane long enough to get a return on their investment.
My time was up months ago.
I turned down the main street of the old town, passing several data terminals on the way to the apartment. Predictably, the scream sheets said nothing about the murder. Militech would probably sweep the whole thing under the rug and some kid would get the position and the place once it was cleaned up. Not that I cared.
An elderly man held the elevator for me and bemused the ‘unseasonably cold weather.’ I think he took my cue and didn’t press the issue.
The door opened and a few long strides brought me to the worn wooden door. I didn’t knock, but Jake opened it all the same.
He was in the same clothes he had been wearing yesterday, but he had a jacket and some things packed.
“You ready, kid?”
“Yup.” He said cooly, the youthful ability to adapt and change rolled the pain right off his back.
“Head downstairs, your mom will meet us there.” I stepped into the apartment.
Jake ran off, and a heavy fit of coughing hooked my attention to the bedroom. Inside, Sarah was sprawled out on the bed, half naked and drenched in sweat; her cherry hair painted to her pretty, pale face.
“Oh koff koff hey Hal, sorry is it… what time is it?” The delirium smoked through her eyes.
“Oh wow, really?” more coughing followed by a bone rattling shiver that looked more like a seizure. It passed, and she closed her eyes again.
“Sarah,” I said, sitting on the bed, “I’m going to get Jake over to the house, okay?”
“Hmm?” She shrugged though half closed eyes “What house?”
“The house Militech bought you guys for winning the lawsuit. Remember? You got all that money.”
“_Koffkoff koff_ Oh Oh! Right, I forgot. And they have a treatment, right? For the… for…”
“Right. For you. You and Jake will be okay.” I lay the bag on the bed and zipped it open.
“Go ahead at sit up for me, Sarah.”
Wearily she stacked herself into a sitting position and the sweat came off her in sheets; sunlight burned her wet brow like pearls of sand.
“What for?” She managed through a fit of shaking.
The suppressor turned the gunshot into clap of children’s hands, and blood exploded across the bed where Sarah fell. I was taking a risk with killing her; it made my resignation look more like a psychopathic killing spree, but I had seen the later stages of Shiver and no one deserved that curse.
I spent half an hour cleaning the apartment, erasing all traces of both her son and myself, and then made my way downstairs. On the street, Jake sat patiently waiting.
“Hey. Where is my mom?”
“She had to go to the hospital, but she’s going to meet you where you’re going, okay?”
“Okay.” He looked up at me with child’s eyes, and some part of me that used to hurt throbbed to life. Somehow, he knew I had just lied to him, but through either practice or some genetic coping mechanism he brushed past it. He probably didn’t grasp the fact that he would never see her again, but there was time for that later. All too much time.
I waited in silence for Joseph to show up. His vintage Indian came roaring through the weekend quiet streets like a wild animal, and the mangy, long haired brute straddling it only made the analogy more accurate. He slammed to a stop a few feet from us.
“Well well, Hal Maverick. Long time.”
He shoved a gloved hand into mine and opened a pearly white smile across his bearded face.
“This the kid?” He nodded in Jakes direction.
“Yeah. You still okay with this?”
“You still got the money?”
I pulled a receipt from my pocket with a data swipe.
“Money will go into safety deposit box 1242 in the Kansas City Bank and Trust on Washington Lane. Every three months, you show up, you collect 50,000 Euro. Assuming the kid is alright.”
“What, you don’t trust me?”
“What’s that then?”
Joe laughed, but I wasn’t really worried about him keeping up his end. Joe was the kind of nomad who kept the the old code of the waste; he was fierce in battle and dangerous in the best of times; but he valued nothing above his word, and that made him a rarity in this world. If he said he would take the kid into the family, then he would take the kid into the family.
“He’ll have a home with us.” He turned his eyes to Jake. “What’s your name, son?”
Jake just looked at me.
“Go on, tell him.”
“J-Jake.” He said with a quivering voice.
“Well son, you are apart of the Compano Family now, you got that?”
He clearly didn’t.
“But where is my mom?”
Joe knelt and placed his hands on the child’s small frame.
“She’s dead, son. Not coming back; best to forget about this place. You’ll be safe with us.”
The hard luck, inner city cool that had held the kid together since I first met him unraveled. His eyes closed and his mouth ripped open and he gasp heavy sobs; his fasts clenched and stuffed into his jacket.
“What you didn’t tell him?”
I just shrugged.
“I didn’t want to make the kid cry.”
“Jesus, Hal. You are some kind of ice cold mother fucker, you know that?”
“I have to go, Joe.” I said with a sudden urgency; whatever wave I had ridden after killing Pete at the pub two days prior had beached itself and wasn’t coming back. I wanted to be done with this situation and far, far away.
“Fine, fine. Money better be there.”
“And this squares us, this. The Family doesn’t owe you anything.”
“Hell of a debt, I’m fucking paying you.” I mocked anger.
“You think were a goddamn orphanage?” We send the back of his hands lashing out and Jake took it full in the face. He crumpled to the ground, and Joe had his on his feet before he knew what had happened.
“That’s enough crying now, you hear? You just forget all this business.” He looked up at me.
“This squares us, or you can take the kid. Or fucking shoot him, I don’t care.”
Fucking nomad politics. I threw up my hands in surrender.
“Fine, fine; we’re square.”
Joe tightened his lips and nodded. In an easy motion, he picked up jack and set his on the back of the Indian before mounting the beast himself.
“You take care now, Hal; and don’t worry about the little tike here; Compano’s have a lot of upward mobility if you know what I mean. These days, riding with us is safer than a corporate zone loft.”
That was true enough.
“Take it easy, Joe.” I didn’t want to, but I gave Jake one last look before tire kicked dust threw itself across my vision, and they both disappeared. Maybe it was the crying I was misreading, or maybe the factthat he was so young just had him confused, but there was little else those eyes could have been flashing at me as the bike roared off into the distance.
That kid fucking hates you, Harlan.
The bar at the convoy platform was noisy in the open air of the station. Smoke and dust blew in from every direction, and several hundred desperate people were all trying to get on, off or around the fifteen or so modified train cars. I was sipping what passed for whisky in this place and by the look of the empty cups that multiplied alarmingly, I was planning on getting hammered.
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
I lifted my gaze lazily at the bleeding corps of Jack Dodge.
“What are you doing here?”
He reached across the table and into my jacket pocket. I don’t know if it was the booze or the depression that locked down the training that wanted to cut his arm off, but something did.
“Need to bum one of these.” He said, clutching a three inch hole in his shoulder that was gushing blood like a faucet; half a dozen other lacerations or ragged wounds dotted his clothes like a macabre garden of human anguish. He snapped my Trauma Team card in two.
“Get you’re own.”
“I don’t think,” he mused in an offsetting manner given his state, “that they work when they get incinerated by a 50mm slug.”
I placed a cigarette in his mouth and patched it to life. He winked at me, and that set a cut above his eye to bleeding all over again.
“That looks like it hurts.” I said lighting my own.
“It’s not great.”
“And no pain editor.”
“Wasn’t born with one, no.”
“You ought to look at some skinweave, cowboy; you aren’t getting any younger.”
He waved his hand at me dismissively.
“You think that stuff makes you any better at what you do, Hal?”
“No, but it keeps me doing it.”
He hooked a judgmental gaze on me that I was too tired and drunk to even give back.
“Keeps you sloppy. Keeps you reliant on the tech. I mean, hell; that’s how they keep you S7 guys from going AWOL isn’t it?”
I shrugged. It was more true than I wanted to admit; the tech and the upgrades were the main perks of company employment. I certainly stayed longer than I would have without it.
“Nothing wrong with working for the King, Jack. You know that better than anybody.”
He took a long, slow drag on his cigarette.
“This is not the dark ages, Hal.” He gritted out like sandpaper. “You corporate ninjas think you can pull the strings of the human condition from up there on your fat fucking mountain. Well, guess what; you can’t. You swoop down from your corporate Valhalla and you subjugate people like fucking serfs; those too old or young play peasants and you knight the gun hands. You walk around with this free market rhetoric and the Home of the Brave emblazoned on every wall in town but you are a feudal fucking overlord; the bastard son of some great king who sent you here in the name of the damned to suck all you could from some place and leave bones in your wake.”
“Oh fuck you; look at you, right now; tell me you’re any better?” The crowd parted behind us as the flashing lights of the AV touched down.
Jack was still staring off at nothing.
“No. No I’m not any better, Hal. At least I stayed mortal; at least I feel the pain.” He looked at me with sad, vacant eyes.
The moment reminded me just how drunk I was as the armored medivacs sauntered up to us.
“Oh, hey Jack.” Said one of them.
“Hey Mike.” Dodge snuffed out the cigarette and they helped him to his feet.
“Thanks for the card.”
He slowly dragged himself towards the AV, but stopped before he made it even a few steps. Turning, he pulled a metallic disk from his jacket that I knew all too well. In an easy motion he tossed it on the table; the fire licked bones of the dead wreathed in the latin Scoria Cinterum et.
“Slag and ash.” I whispered hoarsely raising my eyes. “Who?”
“Don’t know his name. Don’t care, but he was S7 for sure.”
“What did he do?”
Jack pushed himself free of the medtechs and stumbled a little closer to the table.
“He woke up, put on a suit and a tie and then murdered his family. Then he went to the house next to his, knocked on the door and did the same. Then he did it again. Then again. Finally, I guess he had enough and he just wandered up the mountain. I found him in a cave near the Hyat Pass, fucking his daughters corps muttering hello princess with every thrust."
The moment hung between us like rotten flesh, the sounds of the busy station unable to pierce the bubble Jack had just made.
“So no,” he said finally, “I don’t think ill get that weave or an editor.”
He started to turn, but the motion was too much and he fell, the meditech catching him in time.
“Sir, we really should get you checked out.”
As they dragged Jack away, he shook his head and spoke to no one in particular.
“Nothing left. Nothing left in this country anymore except cheap pussy and blood money.”
I picked up the unit badge and wondered who it could have been that Jack had killed. The AV lit up and ascended into the rapidly darkening sky.
“Slag and ash.” I mumbled, painful memories sparking to life in my mind.
The train closest to me whistled departure, and before I knew it, I was climbing aboard. I had to be gone, I needed to be gone; the weight of Milistown 22 was crushing whatever conscious it had managed to bring back to life.
“Ticket sir?” Said a conductor blocking my way onto the train.
“Let me on this train or I will end you, right here; decide.”
Every ounce of S7 training went into it. Every ounce of ragged rage that I had built for the company, every ounce of love I had for Sarah or regret I had for the things I had done to innocent people all over the world. It must have been smeared across my features like wet blood, because the conductors face turned to frozen horror and he stepped aside.
I beached myself in an unoccupied cabin and locked the door, the need for sleep sudden and demanding.
The train pulled away, and I let myself drift off into a dreamless sleep as like a storm we thundered across the open plain.