Victor stared at what was left of his living room.
It felt like hours before he could move.
His hands were numb.
The sectional had been flipped onto its back. The lamps at either end were smashed to pieces. The coffee table was broken in two. Curtains had been ripped from their rods and windows shattered. Glass fragments glittered nervously in the sun on the balcony. There was blood on the carpet.
Blood. He was used to it but the thought of it being Kiri’s made him shake.
He’d never seen her bleed. Not so much as a shaving cut.
Someone spilled his fiancée’s blood on their carpet.
Then fear turned to rage and the feeling in his fingers slowly returned.
Where was she?
Movement once more. One simple question got him going. The back bedroom. He had to get in there. The pictures in the hallway, the ones they’d hung together last Valentine’s Day, were on the floor. Frames destroyed. The bedroom wasn’t ruined just messy. She hadn’t straightened up. The bed was un-made and her makeup supplies were scattered all over the dresser but no signs of violence.
So they took her from the living room.
Did they come in through the balcony? Had to be. The front door was unmarred.
He parted the clothes in their closet and dropped to one knee in front of the safe built into the back. He’ll have to change the code again just to be safe. Behind the beige door was the control deck for their camera system. The login screen stared back at him. The unit had rebooted. The door was locked so maybe some kind of Mini-EMP? A Scrambler…?
He keyed back in and loaded the most recent footage. Sitting on the floor, inside the closet, in front of the tiny screen he watched two men and a woman smash in through the living room windows. He left the sound off. They were all in black and wore Blur Masks. Their bodies were in focus but their faces were distorted as if someone smeared Vaseline on the lens.
Kiri was watching television when the glass started flying. She remembered her training. She got the biggest one to the floor first by taking his legs out. The other two were skilled as well and had her pinned against a wall moments after.
And still she fought. The second guy went down hard from a knee to the groin. The woman proved more formidable. She and Kiri exchanged blows, matching each other’s strikes as they slid and leapt around the living room.
The Big One ended it with a Taser Rod to the back of Kiri’s neck.
Victor’s fists clenched as he watched them tie her up and carry her out through the broken windows. Before leaving, the woman turned and held a thin rod up in the air. The video skipped frames, shivered, and went black.
Victor backed the video up onto a Micro-drive.
Gotta see Bosh, he mumbled aloud.
The drive went into his jacket pocket as he hurried out the door.
I’ll find you, babe. He tapped the Call Button for the lift several times, his fingers hitting the little plastic dome harder each time until the doors parted.
He could feel the other Victor pushing forward behind his eyes as the doors closed and the lift descended to the street.
Most people thought by 2075 cars would be clogging up the sky.
Never happened. The first Vertical Take Off- Hovermode vehicle crashed and burned on Presentation Day, killing the test pilot and two pedestrians from the crowd of onlookers. No amount of spin from Matsuda-Jennings automotive would convince drivers to try the next model. The company went bankrupt from a lawsuit filed by the test pilot’s family and an organization sprouted up in his name for test-drivers injured during vehicle beta testing; The Dover Rosario Foundation.
Victor never owned a car. Cars could be traced and the type
of work he took made that a liability. Kiri had offered to Ghost him on the
DMV’s network but he never wanted her involved. He never wanted anything to
happen to her because of him. And yet...
He was sure it was because of something he did to someone at some point.
He crossed as soon as the Street Sensor allowed. A blue field of light shimmered in and out of view indicating the PPF had dropped allowing pedestrians to move. No one looked at each other when crossing. You had 80 seconds to reach the other side or you were stuck on the cement island at the midway point for three minutes until the SS dropped the Pedestrian Protection Field once more. Police, firefighters, EMT’s, Secret Service, and ranking agents from any one of the Alphabet Agencies had access to the control panels on SS poles.
The PPFs saved hundreds of lives on numerous occasions since being implemented back in 2046. The media made sure to let everyone know each time it happened to remind people how much safer they were when walking New York City streets. Safer from out of control cars and bad drivers anyway. If need be, the PPFs could be locked down and the streets turned into a maze of force barriers where non-drivers, or just those that preferred walking, could be herded one way or another like lab rats.
It only happened once so far. Fall of 2055 during the Second 9-11 when terrorists attacked and collapsed the UN building. The fields went up, the military dropped in, and all Hell broke loose in Manhattan. Only one man was killed failing to get behind the barriers in time. An armed gunman shot him in the back as the man tried to flee for safety. The corner where he died was re-named to Hau Ming avenue. His children’s children visit once a year on the day of.
Thunder overhead drew Victor’s attention skyward momentarily. Regardless of the time of day the Manhattan skyline was blinding. So much neon, so many holograms. He hadn’t seen the stars since he was a child living upstate. Some past mayor had a thing for Laser Sculptures. He’d paid several artists to design holo-statues in an attempt to beautify the city. In Midtown anyway. He didn’t seem to care about Downtown. None of his major supporters lived there.
Impossibly pretty women smoked E-Cigs while Stepford
children played on swings and slides in midair over Midtown traffic in a promo
for The Bubble. The ads didn’t call it that but everyone on the street who
couldn’t afford to live there did.
A sectioned off segment of Manhattan running from Sixty-Sixth and Third avenue to Ninety-Ninth and Fifth re-dubbed Kokyu-iriguchi, “Breathing Entrance” because of the way the entrances operated. A polarized Air Field surrounded The Bubble. When the field parted it sounded like some invisible giant inhaling and exhaling. The designer of the shield; Harada Matsuda, heir to the Matsuda-Jennings fortune, came up with the name some years before his unfortunate suicide after his parents company went bankrupt from the VTO-hovermode debacle.
Users of Internet-Black still joke about it to this day.
Victor arrived outside of Bosh’s place sixteen blocks and eight alley turns later. He rolled up the sleeve on his right arm and flashed his tats at the scanner hidden in the wall by a rusted door dented at several places by weapons fire. Three seconds the door pops loose and swings open on noisy servos.
“Come on, Vic” An electronic monotone barked at him from invisible speakers overhead. “You’ll let the flies in.”
Victor glanced around before entering the doorway making a mental note of the extreme lack of flies in the alley regardless of the piles of garbage bags lined up and down it.
Steampipes criss-crossed overhead as Victor threaded his way downstairs. The detail Bosh put into his holos was stunning. From the grit on the floor, to the graffiti on the walls, to the dust bunnies in the corners. Photorealistic. He’d long since forgotten what the place really looked like underneath all that electro-glamour.
Bosh was working a deck as always when Victor stepped through a beaded curtain that doubled as a weapons scanner. The Heavy Glock Victor carried showed up on a floating screen on the far side of the cluttered mess that was Bosh’s office.
“You on a job…?” Bosh moved a rebellious dreadlock away from his eyes without looking up.
“No,” Victor grabbed a folding chair from a pile leaning against a bank of servers, snapped it open and sat down with the back facing front. “Why do you always ask that?”
“’Cause you always are…on a job.” Bosh typed a line of code on a deck made of light. His fingertips made little flashes in the air.
“Not always.” Victor replied sullenly. “Just wrapped a gig earlier but not on one now.”
Bosh scratched at his long scraggly goatee. “Yet.”
“Whatever. I need you to check some vid for me, man.” Victor fished the drive from his jacket and showed it to Bosh who barely glanced at it. “Serious shit.”
“What’s on it?” Bosh finished coding and swiped the keyboard out of existence.
Bosh’s Thousand Yard Stare always left Victor cold.
“Kiri.” Victor flipped the drive over to Bosh who caught it one-handed.
The Fixer raised an eyebrow.
“Nothin’ dirty, man. She’s been taken.” Victor’s voice changed. He couldn’t keep the edge off it. “Two dudes and a chick in Blur Masks. Fuckers broke in and snatched her. I need to know who they are.”
Bosh nodded and slotted the drive into a small Blacknet unit on his desk sitting atop a stack of old school tablets. A screen popped into view before him. They watched the home invasion in silence. Victor gripped the top of the chair.
Bosh swatted the screen out of the air. “Gonna take me a few.”
He fingered his deck back into existence and started typing. “Go eat something.”
Victor left him to his work without another word and stepped into the kitchen. The fridge wouldn’t open no matter how hard he pulled.
“Dude,” he called out. “Unlock the fridge. What the fuck…?”
There was a soft click and the door swung open revealing enough food to feed a small army. Victor went for sandwiches and bottled water. Less thought involved. Chips too. Sandwiches needed chips.
Bosh entered the kitchen just as Victor finished washing his plate. He went to the fridge, peered in, leaned back out and frowned. “You eat my chips?”
“You didn’t specify.” Victor toweled the dish off and set it in the rack. “You unmask those cunts?”
“No.” Bosh grabbed a beer from off the fridge.
“Your video equipment is new but their masks are newer. They operate on a frequency I haven’t come across yet. Maybe some military tech, maybe corporate. My money’s on corporate these days.”
“So whuddo I do now?” Victor dried his hands with a damp rag before throwing it on the counter angrily.
Bosh popped his beer and took a drag. “You gotta talk to MOGGG.”
“Fuck. Why?” Victor leaned back against the counter as old memories flooded his mind. Memories he’d buried ages ago.
“Any new code out there, he’ll know about it. Shit some of it he’s created, but if it’s one and zeros he’ll know something about it.” Bosh drained half the bottle, belched, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Your mods runnin’?”
“No.” Victor rubbed the back of his neck absently. “Haven’t had ‘em on since Kiri and I became a thing.”
“That long?” Bosh finished his beer and tossed the bottle in a garbage can by the fridge. “Never understood that. I mean she writes apps, codes, all kindsa shit. All of which are used in mods.”
“She thought only people who really needed them should have them. People in accidents, paraplegics, that kinda thing. She was always against bod mods. Didn’t even like tattoos. We argued about it all the time in the early years. A Code Queen who hated artificial enhancements. Felt it was unnatural and a form of cheating. Closest she ever came to using any sort of mod was when she switched from glasses to contacts and that was only ‘cause the company that made her glasses stopped making them and went strictly lenses.”
“So you can’t turn ‘em back on. You walkin’ ‘round with a couple thousand dollars worth of switched off gear in your body.” Bosh moved a dread from in front of his face and tucked it behind his ear. “Kinda like carrryin’ a gun with no bullets uh?”
“Yea.” Victor looked away. Bosh had a way of looking through a person. “And the bitch about it is I’m gonna need them working to get her back, I know it. She’s the one that knew how to switch ‘em on and off. She could work hardware and software. My thing is strictly software. Hacking, upgrades, cracking, shit like that. Kiri had that golden touch. Anything digital was putty in her hands.”
“I can turn ‘em on again.” Bosh studied Victor silently.
“How much…?” Victor knew there would be a price. A gig most likely.
“I need you to do something for me.” Bosh croaked. “Need you to get something for me actually.”
“What and from where?”
“Got a gun, the kind coded to the owner’s palm print. Nasty fucker. Owner’s dead so the piece is useless. Nice looking paperweight. Wanna Jailbreak it. MOGGG has a code that can do any piece. Get it from him for me and I’ll have those arms and legs of yours back at full capacity…” Bosh snapped his fingers. “…just like that!”
“How long ago you have this planned, Bosh?” Victor folded his arms and frowned. A small part of him wanted to laugh but it was better to keep that reaction from someone like Bosh.
“Few minutes into watchin’ that video you brought.”
“You’re somethin’ else, hermano.” Victor threw his hands up in defeat. “I give.”
“I’m a businessman, Vic. You know me by now. Always ask for a favor instead of money whenever you can, kid.”
“Any idea how I can get this code from MOGGG…? He probably still hates me.” Victor glanced up at the light tubes on the ceiling that were probably more than just light tubes.
“No probably about it, Vic.” Bosh walked back into the other room and sat behind his deck.
“You spoke to him…about me?” Victor followed Bosh. He couldn’t help but marvel at the organized mess that filled every inch of the room. Everything from business cards to Sky Drives to Ghost jacks. One wrong move and you’d wind up buried beneath it all. Bosh navigated his area like a ninja. Effortless and precise. Victor imagined The Fixer could do it with his eyes closed.
“Not recently. But he manages to bring it up now and again when we bump heads.”
“That shit was so long ago though.” Victor remembered the explosion that killed MOGGG. Back when he was Louie. Some people just carry the past around with them forever.
“How am I gonna know what I’m looking for IF I can get it?”
Bosh keyed up a long string of numbers on screen. “Here…” He gestured at the code floating in the air. “I’ll do you one for free only because it’s useful for the job.”
He walked over to a pile in the corner near the front door and rummaged through boxes for a few minutes before stepping back and presenting a handheld device closely resembling a sniper scope.
“Sit.” He waved at the chair by his desk. “And look up.”
Victor did as told. Bosh leaned over him and lit the device before aiming it into Victor’s right eye. An orange beam dove into his pupil.
“Shit.” Victor grunted as Bosh moved the unit around three times before flicking it off.
“There.” He stepped back. “Now look at the screen again.”
Victor squinted and blinked several times before doing as asked. A greenish-blue tactical overlay, one he hadn’t seen in years, sprang to life over his field of vision. Concentric circles and columns of data popped into existence dead center before reorienting themselves along the left hand side of his line of sight. Date, time, temperature, and a list of active net hubs presented themselves to him. The DALTRIX Industries logo faded in and out of view quickly after the primary apps had loaded fully. Victor blinked the Welcome screen away.
“Why’d you bring the eye online?”
“Record the code. There’s no way you’ll be able to memorize that. Set up an alert so you’ll know it when you see it in MOGGGspace.” Bosh tossed the device onto a pile of discs.
Victor stood, reached into the air before him and keyed up an alert. The tracking software in his eye followed his fingertip perfectly. “Alert set”, blinked in the center of his field of vision twice before disappearing off to the left as it transformed into a tiny alarm clock.
“Got it. Any suggestions as to what spot might be the best to meet MOGGG?”
“If I were you, I’d go someplace public.” Bosh was back in his chair typing away. “You don’t want him spiking your IP.” He ended their conversation with a dismissive grunt.
Down on the street Victor played with the different optic settings, familiarizing himself before the action started. Thermal, Standard Enhanced, Enhanced, XRay, Night Vision, Infared, and Starlight.
This is gonna be a bitch, he thought sullenly. I just know it is.
There’s a healthy level of paranoia Street Mercs develop very quickly if they intend on having lengthy careers. Victor developed his while in the service. Where he’d met MOGGG; Louie.
The name came back to him suddenly; Mobile Optimized Genetic Graphics Generator. The first functional projector designed and built for the military to use in open combat. One soldier could appear as his own army by creating multiple holos of himself. Every grunt got one and it inspired the evolution of the full helmet. Having the face exposed defeated the purpose of creating multiple illusions. A helmet that covered the face completely just made sense once the MOGGG’s entered into common use. Proved more intimidating as well. Louie Santana was the first soldier to use one and came up with the idea of covering the face completely. Most likely the reason he chose the name over his own.
Victor wove his way through several side streets and alleys before winding up at Helga’s. It was his favorite spot. Real German beer that cost an arm and a leg. The bartender was older than wood and twice as coarse. No one bothered you at Helga’s or they got their ass kicked and it was usually by Helga herself. She stayed in the back mostly, doing whatever she did, while Bangkok Eddie tended bar.
He got the name because of his implants. Bangkok sold the cheapest and newest gear. Whether or not it lasted was another matter but if you wanted a hot knockoff that was the place to go and Eddie had gone sixteen times. At least that’s what people said when Eddie wasn’t around. No one talked about him when he tended bar because he could hear a mouse fart eight blocks away.
Tourists would never find Helga’s. You had to know the right alley. The Drone proof one. Rumor has it Helga had relatives in the old country who helped Jews hide from the Nazis and got them out of Germany back in the Bad Ol’ Days when some, one-balled, failed painter convinced a shitload of Germans to kill a lot of people he felt didn’t fit The Mold. That history is why Helga had the alley lined with Scramblers and Whisper Nodes before she even started renovation. She hated snooping and spying and anyone that intended on violating the rights of her customers.
Victor exhaled upon stepping inside the bar. He didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath. A sigh of relief escaped him once the door swung shut. It was a home of sorts. The place reeked of real cigarettes, stale beer, and Bratwurst.
He nodded at Bangkok Eddie who stopped polishing a glass long enough to raise his chin in acknowledgment. The place was half full, or half empty...depending on your point of view. Victor caught the beer Eddie slid over and grabbed a seat in the darkest, emptiest corner he could find. Every table had a micro-deck bolted onto it, a salt and pepper shaker, a red plastic ashtray with Helga’s very German logo on it, and a napkin dispenser.
Victor downed his beer and signaled for another. Eddie didn’t notice. As Victor rose from his seat, a set of breasts and blond hair appeared with a round tray in hand and smiled with a mouthful of newly purchased teeth.
“I got ya hon. Whaddaya need?” She was one surgery away from being a model.
“’Nother beer…uhhhh…miss…?” Victor pushed the empty mug over to her. She plucked it from the table and set it on her tray like it was her absolute favorite thing to do.
“Betty. What kind…?” How much did those teeth set her back? And there was no way those tits were paid off yet.
“Eddie knows, Betty. Thanks.” She shrugged and sashayed over to the bar.
He tried to steady himself and wondered why he was so anxious about talking to Louie in the first place? It had been years for sure but he wasn’t even alive anymore. Which, when you really thought about it, made him deadlier than almost anyone. He wasn’t ready yet. A few more drinks would give him roots.
Betty came back with his beer. Eddie knew what kind. Japanese. Death Note, named after a popular old anime. “On your tab, hon. Need anything else?”
“Just this socket opened.” Victor gestured at the deck on the table.
“How long you need, hon?” She fished a remote from her apron.
“Open-ended. Tab it for me, willya?” Victor popped the tiny door on the back of the deck open and removed the plastic octopus-like head gear from inside.
The waitress tapped some buttons and aimed it at the deck. A small green light winked on. “There ya go, hon. And I turned on Privacy Mode for ya. Need anything else, just wave.”
“Thanks Betty.” Victor noted the purplish light that fell down around him from above like a cone of protection. That was new. Not a real surprise though, Helga being who she was. One of the many reasons people came back to the hole-in-the-wall again and again.
Victor downed his beer in two gulps. His head buzzed and that I-don’t-give-a-fuck feeling good strong German beer gives you came rushing in with open arms and a vicious grin. He checked his cell to see if the field was working. No signal of any kind. Might as well turn it off and conserve the battery.
The head gear entered this world in service of the CIA. Agents used to wear it under their wigs for surveillance jobs. Some of the crazier ones had it sewn into their scalps and grew their natural hair over it. The New Wire. Once counter-agents figured out how to detect it without a pat-down or Wand Sweep, the Agency let it go public and cashed in on the millions of people that bought it to replace their Smartphones.
A phone that worked by thought, one you never had to hold and could use anywhere in the world, even underground in a train station? Who wouldn’t want one? Daltrix put their logo on it and had a bunch of Malaysians build them for six bucks an hour, charged $1500 bucks, and sat back while the money swam up to their doors and begged to be collected. Eventually The Squid became web-friendly and out went the laptop along with the Smartphone.
Prolonged use brought about some odd medical issues after a few years which is why Victor kept his cell rather than become a Squiddy, or a Sigmund as some of the older generation referred to those addicted to the gear. The name was taken from an ancient children’s show about a friendly, octopus-like, sea monster where the actors dressed up in felt costumes with several bouncing tentacles sewn onto the sides.
He fit it in place atop his head and thumbed the deck on. No
holo-display. Check. Audio set to Private; check. Personal Mode; on. On The Fly
encryption…of course. Roaming; on, HD Max; on. Archiving; off. Do you wish to
enable any personal apps? Sure. Victor hot-linked to his Personal Space and brought
up his custom protocols. Any trouble from MOGGG or anyone trying to McGruff his
conversation would trigger an alert and Victor could dump anything important into
his PS and the external at home, simultaneously.
No time like the present.
Victor blinked and selected the big green YES floating in front of his face.
The bar exploded backwards into itself until it became a screaming vortex of oranges, blues, and greens.
So Old School, he thought. He was used to the instant Avatar Jump. All black armor and glowing swords strapped across his muscled back. The helmet covered his face completely. The last batch of upgrades gave him ninja swiftness and silence when he moved. He looked around at Neon Manhattan and waited for the servers to render the buildings. Two seconds exactly. New Net was faster where I-Black was private.
Glowing outlines faded as ones and zeroes became bricks and glass. He didn’t walk in the web. Noobs walked. Surfer Trash backstroking through NuWorld constructs safely hidden by personal ICE and layers of redundant safety protocols. He just teleported into Chinatown and streaked down a few narrow side streets until he reached The Lion statue in the middle of the park. The park was full, as always, but no one was paying attention…as always. A million conversations happened simultaneously but if you tried to listen in all you heard were garbled whines and electric-babble. The language didn’t become language until you received an invite.
MOGGG found him in an instant.
“Heard you was comin’.” He looked like his old self. Five-foot-six, two-hundred sixty pounds of retired muscle, buzz cut, beard, and those brown eyes that weren’t always brown. “You got a lot of nerve, asshole.”
“Louie listen man…I mean, I don’t even know where to start.”
Victor had the AI by two inches. There was something about MOGGG that called
for respect which you gave spite of yourself. Had to be something in his code.
He’d tell anyone who’d listen about what happened to him when he was flesh. Didn’t care if they wanted to hear it or not. MOGGG said what he wanted to say when he wanted to say it and it was usually about himself. He paid no mind to what you wanted to discuss unless he found you interesting or on his level. And most people were not on the level of a fully-realized Artificially Intelligent construct with delusions of humanity.
“You fucked up!” MOGGG barked.
And here we go, Victor groaned internally. “Louie I…”
“Don’t call me that!” For a split-second MOGGG was a giant head outlined in gold. It was all Victor could see. He blocked out everything, every building, every cloud, every driverless car, and Victor thought he would die right there. He tried to steady himself. MOGGG could consume his avatar, the way one would a green grape, and not think twice about it.
He could eat code and assimilate it. The giant head loomed for a moment before snapping back to its original form.
“You don’t get to call me that after what you did.” MOGGG instructed. “And what gives you the balls to think you can just come here, into MY space uninvited? If I can’t walk in your world whenever I want, you can’t walk in mine without permission!”
The small man raised a palm and Victor could feel himself being pushed out.
“MOGGG wait…! Let me talk to you…it’s an emergency…please!”
The ground felt solid once more and stopped sliding underneath his feet. It was the please that worked.
“Three minutes…” MOGGG waved a digital timer into view. “…in Real Time. Start.”
If Victor could sweat in cyberspace he would’ve been dripping. He removed his helmet and set it down on the ground. MOGGG was like stone.
“I apologize for not coming to see you sooner, but…well…I was ashamed.”
“Of what…?” MOGGG lifted off the ground into the air like a Genie and began to circle Victor.
“Of exactly that…not coming sooner. I should’ve checked up on you after, you know…” Victor gestured in the air anxiously.
“Pretend I don’t.” MOGGG folded his arms and hovered in front of Victor. “After what…?”
“C’mon man.” Victor whined. “I did the best I could think of at the time.”
“You took me to Daltrix instead of a hospital. That was the best you could think of? That’s the first thing that came to mind after you let your supposed best friend be blown to fucking pieces? By a kid!” MOGGG swooped in and shoved Victor across the park into a tree with one hand.
Before he could react MOGGG had him pinned him to the tree with a hand around his throat.
“We separated, Lou…MOGGG! Remember? You said we should split up and come at the guy from the East and West. You said!” Victor couldn’t free himself.
MOGGG smashed him through the tree. There was nothing left of it save for a few bits of binary that drifted to the ground like dust mites. Victor lay on his back. Better to look submissive for the time being and suppress his rage. He had to be diplomatic which was hard after years of shooting people for a living.
The alert Victor set in Bosh’s place flashed for a second.
It’s in him, he thought. I have to piss him off to get what I need?
“You remember it your way and I remember it the right way!”
Victor got to his feet.
MOGGG’s eyes were pools of black flecked with microscopic flashes of bluish lightning. “Really. Let’s see what you remember!”
He reached into Victor’s brow and the park fell away like puzzle pieces in a strong wind.
Eleven years ago. The Bronx.
Like all projects, Co-Op City was mostly brown. Every dozen feet or so stood a shrub, a weary looking tree, and some knee high fencing that was white many years beforehand but had long since come to look like rows of rotting teeth. It was a joyless, dangerous cluster of coops stacked high and wide, like some massive anthill filled with angry, nervous people. Police were completely unwelcome even when needed. Even the air had a brownish tinge. Gray cement and hard people living in a social experiment that began in the 1960’s and continued indefinitely with no worthwhile results. Gunshots replaced birdsong at night along with screams of pain and warning whistles alerting local drug dealers of approaching police cruisers.
That’s where their target was. Nestled in the center;
Chato Rivera, neighborhood kingpin, the most dangerous man in The Bronx.
At the time.
They entered the area at night dressed in black Whisper Armor.
Guaranteed to bounce camera signals back upon themselves, bullet and blade resistant,
fire proof, and could supposedly re-direct taser blasts. Supposedly.
Victor and Louie stepped out onto the roof of a building 15 meters from Rivera’s stronghold. Louie surveyed the site with a small pair of Nightvision goggles. Victor screwed a silencer onto his 9 Mill.
“Four on this side, plus the six we spotted on the other. That’s just on the outside at the entrances. Thugs with guns. No military. Local wannabes. No way to know who’s walking the halls until we’re in.” Louie glanced over his shoulder at Victor. He was ready, focused, and tense.
“What about Thermal?” Victor holstered the pistol and stepped over to Louie at the roof’s edge.
“Doesn’t discriminate between guards and tenants. I get the shapes but not who’s who.”
“Shit. What about the roof?” Victor squinted over at their destination.
Louie switched the settings on his goggles and checked. “Four. Armed. One at each corner. Grapples are a no go.”
Victor slapped his gloves together. “No worries, brother. Got the Wall-Crawler option with these suits.”
“That’s gonna take forever.” Louie groaned miserably.
“You got a ghost chopper in your backpack we can use to hover above the roof and drop down?”
Louie sneered; “No, asshole.”
“Didn’t think so.” Victor pulled the Velcro cover from his wrist and typed on the small deck woven into the fabric. He conjured up a holo displaying the distance between the two buildings.
“Thirty-eight feet.” He turned to show the image to Louie before tapping it out of existence.
“Got it.” Louie pulled the cover off his wrist deck and
keyed in the distance. The armor figured out the right amount of thrust PSI his
legs would need to get him across.
Victor slapped his gloves together and rubbed them vigorously. “Fire ‘em up, Lou.” He patted Louie’s lower back just above the bullet pouches and lock picks.
Louie did the same. The gloves crackled excitedly for a moment.
They both took a few steps back, stopped just short of the roof access door, and dropped into runner’s stances.
“Steady.” Louie added.
Victor took a breath. “Go!”
The strength in their legs provided by the armor was stunning. It felt effortless as they leapt off a twenty story building towards a thirty story building. A group of teens in big coats took no notice of the two dark figures sailing through the air overhead. Victor and Louie hit the side of the building with a hard slap and clung to its skin like spiders.
“Pull your hand too far back and you’ll lose the connection.” Victor advised.
“I read the fucking manual.” Louie grunted irritably.
“You can read?” Victor began his ascent, scuttling slowly upward like some giant black crab.
“Hilarious.” Louie scuttled up alongside Victor effortlessly and quickly passed him by. “Keep up, fat ass.”
“Keep your voice down. Fuckin’ noisy midget!” Victor struggled to keep up.
They climbed ten stories in utter silence. It proved wiser to conserve their breath. Just before reaching the roof and the armed guards posted on it, they split apart and each took a corner. Victor clung to the wall just under a tall, fat man in Timberland boots and waited. Louie moved into position beneath a lean Latino carrying a military issue shotgun while sucking on a lollypop. He released his palm from the wall long enough to key in some commands on his wrist deck before quickly slapping it back against the wall.
A blue light pulsed on Victor’s deck.
Simultaneously, they reached up, grabbed the ankle of their target, and yanked them over the edge. The men fell too fast to react. The only sounds made were their bodies exploding against the concrete. Louie and Victor moved as one, up and onto the roof, drew silenced pistols and shot the other two guards in the backs of their heads. The unsuspecting men crumpled like wet paper in a rainstorm.
Victor dragged the bodies off to the side while Louie scanned the roof access door.
Victor hurried over. “What we got?”
“Nothing major. Keypad. They must have just started their
shift. Scanner’s got heat sigs on the buttons most recently used.”
Louie keyed the code and the door popped open. “After you, miss.”
“Dwarf.” Victor drew his pistol once more and stepped into the stairwell.
“Cameras.” Louie whispered as he touched Victor’s arm and stopped him midway down a second set of stairs.
“Ignore them. The suits will take care of it.” Victor continued on down.
“You sure…?” Louie followed with a look of concern.
“They’d better or Bosh and I will have words.”
Bosh had been right. The cameras took no notice of either man.
Four flights from the roof they stopped at a gray metal door. Victor edged it open quietly and peered into the hall. Two armed men stood at the far end; one large enough to be a small house and one average height, lean and angular.
Victor pulled back and kept his voice low. “You take Jabba an’ I’ll deal with the Street Ninja, cool?”
“Why you always give me the big ones?” Louie peered out into the hall for a moment before popping back. “Jesus Christ, dude. The fuck are you thinking…?”
“The big one will be slow. All power moves. He’ll never be able to grab you. The little one will be faster than me but weaker. I can smash his head into a wall and be done with him.”
“Nice and I’ll be fighting that fat fuck for an hour before he goes down. You know how much noise that’s gonna make, dumbass?”
Victor scratched his chin. He actually hadn’t thought of that. “Shit. Ok just shoot ‘em both.”
They stepped out into the hall, Louie crouching low, Victor
standing high, and fired in unison. The large man and his partner fell atop one
another like dominoes. Victor shot out the lights above the corpses. Louie
checked his deck, pointed at the corner then jerked his thumb to the right.
“You sure…?” Victor whispered.
Louie ignored him, and moved around the corner. Victor hurried after him, weapon at the ready. At the far end of the hall were two large metal doors flanked by apartments.
“We can’t shoot through those.” Louie pointed. “And explosives would kill the neighbors.”
“They’re probably working for him, you know?” Victor steadied his gun.
“Doesn’t mean they have to die. We’re not serial killers.”
Victor lowered his gun and stared at his partner incredulously. “Were you on the roof with me…?“
Louie glared up at him. “They were armed. Guaranteed to start shooting if they spotted us. I scanned the apartments. People watching tv and eating. Kids too.”
“So what then, Mister Compassion…?” Victor leaned back against the wall and folded his arms petulantly.
“We go in from the East and West. There are windows in his place on either end, big ones. He’s got five guys in there posted up; one in each corner and the last by his desk. I blinked the layout to your deck.”
Victor checked his wrist. The apartment blueprints and its
occupants expanded outward from a blue point of light like some electric
origami magic trick. He told the suit what needed to happen and it calculated
how much power his arms would require. Louie had already juiced his armor and
Victor flexed, feeling the rush of artificial adrenalin, and drew his pistol once more.
“Emergency stairs on the East and West,” Louie pointed them out. “We each take one, wall climb to the windows and go in fast. Take out the corners first then deal with Rivera and the last guard.”
Victor nodded. He took West.
Louie opened the door to the stairs and ran into a small boy, about twelve. Blond hair, green eyes, dressed in a Batman tee and jean shorts. He wasn’t wearing shoes, just white socks and six ounces of C4 wired to a remote detonator around his waist.
Victor was halfway out the window when the fiery shockwave knocked him out the of the West side stairwell.
The flames turned blue, crystallized, then shattered into
billions of bits of pulsing code that quickly reformed into the Chinatown park.
MOGGG’s expression was unreadable. Victor reconstituted his avatar and got his bearings as trees sprouted up from newly formed cement and bloomed in seconds behind the AI’s shoulders. Clouds re-formed and people popped up like weeds growing in fast forward. Buildings lurched up into view and solidified.
“I told you, man.” Victor’s synthesized voice was rough. Something in his code had been corrupted.
“Why’d you come here, Vic?” MOGGG was solemn, contemplative.
“I got this girl, Kiri…” Victor sat on a bench.
“I know about her.”
Victor shouldn’t have been surprised.
“She was taken,” he croaked. “Three hitters in Blur Masks. I need them identified.”
“Take it to your boy, Bosh.” MOGGG gave Victor his back. He was lost in thought.
“Already did, man. He sent me to you.”
MOGGG glanced over his shoulder. “Bosh couldn’t decrypt Blur masks?”
“Said he couldn’t. Said they were newer than his wares.”
Victor rested his elbows on his knees and stared forward not really focusing on
anything. He watched a Chinese family stop and stare at some ducks hanging in a
restaurant window with a cardboard sign that said Fresh Duck in Mandarin.
“He’s bullshitting you.” MOGGG gave Victor his full attention once more. “Since when does Bosh use anything outdated? He probably lied about those suits we used being camera proof. Rivera must have seen us on screen and sent that Kid-bomb into the hall…”
It had been awhile since he needed Bosh’s help. At least eighteen months. The idea of that old Fixer messing with him never crossed Victor’s mind.
“Why would he…?” Victor began.
“What he ask you to do?” MOGGG studied his former friend closely.
“Nothing. He didn’t…” Victor spread his hands wide, palms up.
“I can see you lying, Vic.” MOGGG tapped the center of Victor’s brow with one hard, fat finger.
Why didn’t he make himself taller? Victor wondered. Why look like his old self when he could be anything?
MOGGG snapped his fingers. “Tell me the truth.”
Victor stopped trying. In the net he’d never be able to bullshit an AI, not one of MOGGG’s caliber. It probably looked like lightning across his face every time he tried to come up with one. An AI reading code was like a college professor reading Clifford The Big Red Dog.
“He wanted this.” Victor showed him the code he’d snagged during The Rewind.
“When’d you snatch that?” MOGGG wrinkled his nose at the data as if disgusted he even had it.
“Patted you on the back before we jumped rooftops.” Victor held his hand out with the code on a sheet of paper.
“You always were a sneaky fuck. Keep it.” MOGGG smirked self-righteously and waved dismissively.
“Really…why? I mean…thanks but…why?” Victor absorbed the sheet of paper into his hand like water.
“You must need it in exchange for something Bosh can give you.”
“So what…we’re good now? After all this time…?” Victor
didn’t know if a smile would be appropriate.
“I don’t know yet, but Bosh pisses me off with the games he plays. You weren’t lying about what happened to me and I gotta accept that. Just not right now. Not all the way. You wanna make it right?” MOGGG took a few steps closer to Victor. “Wanna help me out?”
He knew it wasn’t a request. Not really. “How?”
“Bosh’s space is walled off to me, if you can believe that. Get me in and we’re solid. Clean slate.” MOGGG smiled but only with his mouth. It never touched his eyes which studied Victor the way one might a snail on glass under a microscope.
“You said I didn’t lie. So why do I have to make things right?”
“Make up for all the time you left me thinking otherwise about my death.” MOGGG sat down next to Victor on the bench and watched for code that lied.
“Oh. I guess so. Gotcha. How do I do this?” Victor felt trapped. He made his helmet appear and clamped it back on.
MOGGG rested a hand on his shoulder. “I’m having someone deliver it to you at that bar now. It’ll be there when you jack out.”
“You know where I am?” Victor’s eyes went wide. “Damn.”
“Helga’s. ‘Course I know. You never really dealt with someone like me before, uh?”
Victor almost said “An AI” and caught himself. “No, never have. Not really.”
“Take what’s there and leave it in Bosh’s place somewhere. Somewhere he won’t notice for a bit. That’s it.” MOGGG removed his hand from Victor’s shoulder, got to his feet and took a few steps.
“What happens when Bosh finds the thing, whatever it is?” Victor got to his feet as well.
“You might need a new Fixer friend.”
“Shit.” Victor walked up alongside MOGGG and caught his gaze. “What about the video? Can you help?”
Victor handed him a small disc the size of a shirt button. MOGGG tossed it in the air and made it expand into the video displaying Kiri’s abductors. He wiped away the glowing white distortion over each invader’s face the way one would wipe a smudge from their window. Victor stared at the trio who’d taken his fiancée. MOGGG smirked, glanced at Victor, and tapped each one of the three on the forehead making their images ripple. Their dossiers popped into view alongside their headshots. Each one worked for Seraph International, a subsidiary of Daltrix Worldwide. Seraph. The name bothered him for reasons he couldn’t put a finger on. Deal with it later.
Their codenames were Ko, Merry, and Set.
Ko, the shorter of the two males, was a Korean Ultimate Fighter. The Taller guy was Set; handguns and Kung Fu. The woman went by Merry. Street Ninja with a penchant for wearing a Smiley Face mask. She didn’t have one on when they snatched Kiri.
He knew who they were now, physical stats, places of interest, known affiliations…the whole nine.
Victor reached out for the floating files and clapped them out of existence. They were on his home drive now. “Thanks man. I don’t know what to say.”
“Just do what I asked and we’re good. Tabula Rasa.” MOGGG folded his arms and offered that programmed smile once more. Did he think it worked? Registered as genuine?
“And we start fresh again? Partners or something…?” Victor encrypted the dossiers using a sub-routine while eyeing MOGGG.
“Okay.” Victor reached up, grabbed at the top of his head…
…removed the Squid and set it on the table. Helga’s was a
blurred mass that sharpened, second to second, as Victor shook the data fuzz
from his mind.
On the table, next to an empty beer mug, was a small pin with a Four-leafed clover on it and curving along the top, in a clumsy cursive font; “Kiss me, I’m Irish.” MOGGG had an odd sense of humor. If it was humor and something an AI could indeed posses. Victor shoved the pin into the collar of his jacket and left the table.
Betty appeared almost on cue. “We all set here, hon?” She smiled and cocked her head to the side. Victor knew what it meant “Pay your tab, asshole.” So he handed her a Black Chip. “Take twenty percent, kay?”
“Well aren’t you just a generous old thing?” She swiped the card past the reader on her belt and handed it back in one smooth, continuous motion. She wasn’t new at all. She’d been in the service industry awhile with a move like that. Victor watched her float over to a crowd of Japanese businessmen drinking their faces off. She’d make some serious tips off those guys. They had money to burn and loved getting wasted on the company dime.
Outside it was raining. Victor’s mood worsened with each block. Everything was starting to annoy him. The PPF stopped him on a corner as some noisy rollers rumbled past. He found himself surrounded by a sea of umbrellas and shoppers. It made his skin crawl. He knew what was pissing him off. His girl was kidnapped by three corporate assholes with jolly pirate nicknames, his long time Fixer-friend may be lying to him, dealing with MOGGG brought back memories he thought he’d buried successfully years ago, and he still needed his limbs powered up which meant going back to the guy who could be playing him like a Noob.
He hated headgames. Much easier to punch someone in the face if they got out of line or blow their head off if they really tweaked a nerve. He wasn’t used to making deals and running back and forth moving pieces into place. This was fairly new territory. A step up from “There’s money in your account, recue this person or shoot this one in the heart.” He needed to plant MOGGG’s device in Bosh’s place, give Bosh the Wake Up code he needed for those weapons in order to be powered back up or he’d never be able to get Kiri back. Maybe he’d been a pawn in the past but this time around it was obvious, like the players didn’t care if he knew. Didn’t fear him, didn’t respect him.
He almost shoved a guy carrying boxes out of his way when the PPF dropped and the crowd rushed across the intersection. A whirring from overhead drew his attention. Carrier Pigeons, as they’ve come to be known, buzzed back and forth with small packages to unknown targets clamped between metal tongs. Birthday gifts, software, hardware, shoes, pizzas…whatever you wanted. If you had the creds to burn you could have anything sent anywhere at anytime in the mechanical grip of a moth-shaped micro-copter.
Victor knew they collected user data and catalogued the location of every area they visited. A decade ago Daltrix bought Google and soon birthed Drone Delivery and Pick Up, putting an end to messenger service over night. No more bikes in the streets weaving between cars and pissing off pedestrians. Fuck ‘em, let ‘em work somewhere else. People wanted what they wanted in a half hour or less. Who gave a shit if some twenty-year old kid couldn’t pay his rent anymore?
Victor ducked under an awning out of the rain as thunder made the holo-ads flicker across the sky. Some giant head smoking an E-Cig shuddered and became an Asian woman smiling as she presented a bottle of hand cream like it was the greatest product ever in the history of things. Victor wiped rain from his face and stared at a woman shoving herself and half a dozen bloated plastic bags into a squat yellow cab.
He had to return home.
The walk back seemed longer than it should have. He didn’t clean the place up and dreaded seeing it again. The rain beat down like an insult. Thunder and lightning chased one another overhead, hiding behind buildings and leaping over clouds shaped like bruised turtles. Victor swiped his card past the reader at the front door. Aggravated buzz as it opens open and swings back. The stairwell was full of echoes. His footsteps chased him all the way up to the apartment he and Kiri shared.
The mess made his stomach turn. So many broken things. He dropped heavily onto a chair and just stared until the need to drink overcame him. Bottle of Bacardi in the fridge and enough soda for two drinks maybe three if he was careful and measured. He polished off three rum and cokes while wandering around the apartment replaying the video in his head.
He pulled a deck down from a shelf in a bedroom closet and flipped it open. No Squid. He wanted to be aware of his surroundings just in case. He laid the deck flat and flipped the projector on. The micro drive with the dossiers found its way into a slot on the side of the deck and he finger swiped them into the air before him.
Which one would be first? The tall one…Set? Ko, the Korean fighter…? Or Merry…? Something told him to leave her for last. The way she moved on the video made him think she was hot-wired. Could be a black market job from China or Japan. Maybe Brooklyn. Some rules never changed, like the ones for women. They could fight any kind of crazy way they wanted. No one would hold it against them if they bit your arm or clawed your eyes. They could kick you in the balls or stab you with a kitchen knife but men had to use technique. A chick who was hot-wired could do both if she so chose. Merry moved like a martial artist and struck with the ferocity of a street ninja. She’d be a handful for sure.
Hit the big one first and scare the others. Old school housing projects thinking lifted from jail culture. Take the biggest one down first to earn respect in the yard and no one would fuck with you. If you survived. Set’s dossier said he was an expert with handguns. Decent with the Kung Fu as well. Victor wanted to break him in half. Just thinking of him putting his hands on Kiri made him want to smash a hole in a wall but the apartment had enough damage done to it, no need to add more.
Victor ran Set’s mug through Facial Recognition software piggy-backed onto the city’s CCTV network. Kiri helped him set the system up months ago. She was better at keeping someone’s web presence hidden from ICE and Corporate Grippers than he was. He remembered how she giggled when he gave in and let her help him. He missed her smell. Missed nuzzling her neck while she ran code as effortlessly as one might make an online purchase.
Three minutes and Set was pinged at an Extreme Fighting arena downtown in The Dustpan. Used to be known as Alphabet City. Dirty co-ops, lots of dive bars with no signage, and every kind of food you’d want to try. Hipsters and thugs, cops and criminals, tourists and predators, all mingled in The Dustpan like it was alright. It was one of the few spots left in New York that felt like old New York. Lots of reddish brick surfaces, graffiti, grimy doorways, homeless, and kids’ sneakers hanging from power lines. Somewhere around 2019 a group of German land developers bought several blocks worth of homes, destroyed them and fenced off the giant lot that was left with the intention of building a convention center-casino combo. Rumor has it one of the guys liked cocaine more than business and the deal never saw the light of day leaving a huge square lot of dirt and dust as a reminder of what could have been. The dust from that area found its way to Alphabet city, covering every inch of it and so…Dustpan.
Victor needed to see Bosh first. Get powered up. Having guns wouldn’t be enough if Set’s file was correct. Video clips of the guy testing out weapons on a range somewhere showed how fast and accurate he was. He would go down first. Fuck his speed. Disarm him, make him use his combat skills, take the advantage. Take out his hands at the wrist so guns became impossible. Then…break his neck.
He slipped the deck into a backpack along with a Magnum Falcon and a SIG Sauer he hadn’t used since he and Louie-MOGGG worked together.
He stopped in the doorway, took one last look at the
wreckage, and gathered up his rage into one big hot ball he’d carry in his
chest until Kiri was back in his life.
I’ve never done what’s right, he thought angrily. The reality of it made his stomach turn. Only what was best for me. Now I have to do what’s best for her.
Victor locked the door behind him and went to see Bosh.
Then he’d go see Set.
Bosh caught the micro-drive, one handed, in midair.
He and Victor exchanged silent stares. They took the measure of one another. Bosh raised an eyebrow and swept a dread lock from in front of his eye.
“How’d you get it?”
“Does it matter?” Victor wandered around the cluttered room
for a few moments before grabbing a metal chair and unfolding it. He sat down
heavily and locked eyes with The Fixer. He wanted to smash the chair over his
head but knew better. He needed him even if he was a lying piece of shit.
“He tell you who the dudes were that grabbed your lady?”
Bosh shrugged and slotted the drive. He nodded approvingly at the code floating in the air before swatting it out of sight and turned to Victor offering the slightest of smiles.
“My turn, right…?”
“Yea.” Victor rose from the chair and slid it against the wall with one hand. “Your turn.”
“You okay?” Bosh was an expert at never looking worried. Victor, however, knew him long enough to recognize the slight shift in his shoulders and the way he flexed the fingers of his right hand as signs of worry. He knew he had to relax or risk giving himself away.
Victor remembered poker games during his time with the military. Remembered small dark clubs in Dubai where he’d sat at round tables covered with Black and Red cred chips. On the other side of the table, dangerously wealthy men in shiny suits and wrists heavy with platinum chains. Those men would never lift a hand against him but one nod at the right shadow and someone in shades would take his head off before gun cleared holster. It’s what inspired him to get augmented later on.
Louie had taught him how to Poker Face his way through tight situations without looking like he was doing so.
It all clicked at that moment. Bosh saw something but couldn’t be sure what it was.
“Running into MOGGG brought back memories I didn’t wanna face again.” He looked away as if ashamed and spotted a pile of books he could stick the pin behind.
Bosh accepted the false look of regret. “You guys had history.”
“Had is right.” Victor walked toward the pile of books but turned abruptly and fingered a stack of plastic files. “Why you still have shit like this laying around?”
He glanced over his shoulder. The Fixer shrugged. “I can wipe ‘em and re-use.”
“No one uses Bump Sheets anymore.” Victor picked one up, pretended to examine it, and tossed it back on the pile before moving over to the stack of books.
“If that were true I wouldn’t have ‘em.” Bosh replied before waving his screen back into view. He turned his back to Victor who quickly plucked the four-leafed clover pin from a pocket and shoved it behind the books.
Bosh turned suddenly.
Victor grabbed the topmost book and flipped it open. “And these fossils…? You’re gonna tell me people use these too?”
“No.” Bosh bent down and opened a fishing tackle box. Ferroplex tubes, assorted cables, and several different types of Micro welders popped up like springs. He grabbed one of the welders and righted himself. “I like physical books.”
“Why? You can put a hundred thousand on a sky drive and still have room for fifteen-thousand full length holos and a small city worth of porn.”
“We like what we like.” Bosh flicked the welder on. A blue light blinked to life at its tip.
“You gonna weld something?” Victor put the book back on the stack.
“Not with this.” Bosh tapped some buttons on the side of the device.
“Isn’t that a welder?” Victor wondered what MOGGG was doing right at that moment.
“It was. Re-purposed it. It’s a Catalyzer now.” Bosh glanced up at Victor. “You ready?”
Bosh gestured at a seat near him. “Take a seat. This might hurt a lot.”
Victor sat down next to Bosh. “Does it have to?”
Bosh touched the unit to the inside of Victor’s right elbow. Pain, a freezing burn, shot and down up his entire arm.
“Ahhh goddamn man! The fuck…!?” Victor tried to sit forward. Bosh pushed him back into the chair with his free hand.
“Limbs like yours aren’t designed to be shut down and
re-started like some old desktop. I’ve never met anyone who had them shut
down…de-powered. You must really love that girl. The gennys have to be brought
back from a long ass sleep and the apps involved are gonna feed off your
bio-electric energy until they’re back up and running fully. To quote an old PC
Wizard…this may take a few minutes. You ready for the other arm?”
“Yea…fuck it…do it!” Victor rubbed his arm. The pain traveled from wrist to shoulder like an electric eel beneath his skin.
Bosh stimulated his other arm. More pain, mirrored agony tried to shred his muscles before re-energizing them. Victor gritted his teeth and rocked back in his chair. Purple flashes exploded behind his eyes. His groin hurt, stomach twisted in on itself as his knees locked.
Shaking violently he grunted; “Do the legs. Don’t ask, just do it!”
Bosh touched the Catalyzer to each of his knees and ankles. There was a crackling sound followed by a high-pitched whine. Victor screamed and passed out.
He’d first seen her sipping coffee by a large window at a
Starbucks in the East Village. She was lost in thought with a holo-deck open
and purring on the table in front of her. He couldn’t remember what was on her
screen only that it was set to private so only she could see it clearly. All he
got was blue fuzz from his point of view.
She was gorgeous in a simple way. No makeup he could see but she had to have some on. Still, that long black hair teased with blue at the tips hung like a silk sash as she turned her head towards him. He didn’t realize he’d been staring. She frowned and stopped sipping. He’d crashed her Zen. Then, all of a sudden, she started laughing. She was laughing at him, at his expression. She hid her smile behind the lip of her Styrofoam cup and his heart sank. He needed to see it again. Victor moved toward her on Tin Man legs.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare.” He fumbled.
“Sure you did.” She giggled and took another sip.
“Can…can I ask your name?”
“You can. Doesn’t mean I’ll tell you.” She glanced up at him playfully. He had to know more about her. He took a seat next to her. She tapped the holo display on her deck off. Victor found some footing.
“Government secrets…?” He smiled his Military Smile.
“You NSA…?” She set her cup down and brushed hair from her forehead. “Don’t you guys have anything better to do than spy on young women?”
“Not when they’re as pretty as you.” Victor offered his hand. “I’m Victor.”
She paused a moment before shaking it.” Kiri.”
“Pretty name.” He made himself let go after a few shakes. Her hand was warm and soft and thin. “Mind if I buy myself a coffee as an excuse to sit here with you for a bit?”
She laughed. “I like that. Sure…free-ish country and all that.”
Victor rose. “Free-ish?”
She smiled and brought the cup to her lips once more. “Freedom ain’t free.”
Victor went to the counter and asked the Hipster in the smock what kind she’d ordered and got the same. He sat down next to Kiri and made her believe they liked the same coffee. The relationship started after that first lie.
“Military man, huh?” Kiri smiled and sipped.
“How’d you guess that?” Victor took a sip and tried to by himself some time. He wasn’t used to friendly banter.
“No guess.” She pointed at her eyes.
“I don’t get it.” Her eyes were unspectacularly brown.
“See Me lenses.” She opened her eyes wide so he could see the rim of her contacts.
“Oh, I read about those. Heard they weren’t due for another three months.” Victor relaxed and sipped some coffee. He didn’t care for it much but she did so he made every effort to convince his taste buds this particular brand of coffee was now his favorite.
“They’re not out for another three months.” She finished her coffee and examined the cup almost sadly.
“So how do you have them?” Victor set his cup down. Maybe if she was done he wouldn’t have to finish the rest of his.
“I designed the apps. Been testing them out on passers by.” She glanced at a young man with fire engine red hair walking past carrying a backpack. “That guy’s in a rock band that’s probably never gonna get signed.”
“Whys that?” Victor watched the guy trot across the street and hop onto the sidewalk seconds before the PPF popped back up.
“Looks like he’s got something going on with the girlfriend
of the guy who owns the label that wants to sign his band.” Kiri waved a hand
dismissively past her eyes and returned her attention to Victor.
“You got in his emails?” He didn’t know whether to fear or admire her, but he sure as hell was interested more than he’d ever been in a woman before. He’d only ever seen them as sex partners. His looks made it easy. Strong jaw, hazel eyes, black head stubble, and the Latino clichés worked in his favor. Kiri was something else, something new. She was attractive and smart and he couldn’t fully process it. He didn’t have the measure of her in ten minutes the way he usually had with other women. She was a challenge.
“One of the reasons I’m field testing these things. I’m out to regulate how much they see. Obviously, as it stands, they see a little too well.” She frowned down at her deck. “I don’t like that.”
“What exactly…?” Victor pushed his coffee further towards the center of the table. The smell was getting to him.
“Privacy. I don’t like invading people’s privacy. It’s one of the reasons I took this job, to make sure the lenses didn’t dig too far into the subject.” She eyed him sideways as if expecting some snark.
There was something there. The privacy issue. Some unspoken thing flashed between them that neither recognized. It was too soon. They were too new. Privacy meant something to him because of his work. He had to keep certain cards close to his chest. He respected her respect for privacy. He’d never respected anything about a woman before aside from her body.
“Bet it pays well too, huh?” His smiled crumbled quickly beneath her disappointed stare. He started to sweat a little. He didn’t want to blow it with her. Not her.
“I know money’s important, I’m not a hippie, but someone
else could have taken the job and not cared about the privacy issues.” She ran
a finger along the lip of her coffee cup absently, lost in thought. “They’re
easy to ignore in the corporate sector. I almost never take corporate work for
just that reason but this one compelled me.”
“May I ask why it’s such a button with you?” Victor did his best to sound sincere. She seemed to appreciate the effort. Whether she believed it was another matter. She’d made her face unreadable, too calm, like a Goddess weighing a heavy decision.
“It’s a little personal and we just met.” She lifted her chin slightly and refused to meet his gaze.
“My bad.” Victor choked down some coffee without even thinking about it. “What about the company? Who’s putting those See Me’s out?”
“Seraph International. Ever heard of them?” She glanced away at a woman carrying several shopping bags across the street towards the Cube Statue; Astor Place’s pride and joy. Some teens were turning it on its axis and laughing. They ran faster and faster, each of them pressing a hand against the giant tilted cube, making it turn with them...
“You back yet?” Victor opened his eyes to a face full of
Bosh. The Fixer’s scowl was framed in dreads as he leaned over and snapped his
fingers several times. “Ahh there we are. Now that you’re back you can get up
and get out. I have things to do.”
“SERAPH!” Victor bolted upright. He was on an examination table covered with a blue cloth.
“The hell…” Bosh took a step back. “…is wrong with you?”
“I forgot she’d worked for them in the past! Kiri, worked for Seraph! They’re the ones that took her! Hired those three merc assholes. That’s how they knew where to find her. Must have had her on file! It’s been bugging me for a while now.” Victor swung his legs over the edge of the table.
The room spun and he nearly flipped backwards.
“Slow down, slow down!” Bosh put a hand out. “Let the software do its thing. You just came out of it. Stuff’s still new-booting. Been so long its’ like the first time for them all over again. Just sit there and explain what you’re talking about.”
Victor struggled to maintain a sitting position. He felt tiny shocks in his elbows, shoulders, and knees.
“Back when we first met she’d done work for them.” He closed his eyes and waited for the room to stop spinning. “I’d forgotten. She hadn’t worked for them in a few years. She hated them, regardless of the money they threw at her. About a year ago they started reaching out for some big project. Said they needed her ‘cause she’s one of the best.”
“Is she?” Bosh poured water into a glass and handed it over.
“One of the two best in the world, brother, you’d better believe it. Kiri’s magical with code.” Victor sipped some water.
“So what they start asking her for?” Bosh leaned back against the entryway to what Victor realized was a cluttered mess of an operating room slash home viewing theater. One entire wall was a monitor with a half dozen plush recliners set up in front of it. A trio of servers lined another wall complete with Air Casters and a surround system with speakers hidden in every corner. There were boxes all over in knee high piles.
Victor drained the cup and handed it back to Bosh who tossed it into a small garbage can in desperate need of emptying.
“Some shit about Augmented Reality.” Victor wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“What…VR?” Bosh returned to his spot on the wall.
“No…AR, different shit. You don’t need head gear for it. You Get fully immersed right in your own home. Go anywhere, do anything type shit, but they couldn’t get it right. They hounded Kiri week after week. Tried to bribe her every kinda way there was. She turned ‘em down every time.” Victor rubbed the back of his neck and gazed down at his knees not really seeing them.
“Why not take the work? Seraph’s got deep pockets.”
Victor threw a hand up in frustration. “Kiri don’t give a shit about money really. Never has. She didn’t trust Seraph NOT to fuck people over with her work so…that was that. Guess they got tired of asking.”
Victor’s face darkened. Something inside him was snarling, ravenous…furious. He lifted his gaze toward Bosh and the Fixer twitched.
“So they took her. They took my girl to make her work for
them. That has to be it!” He hopped off the table and landed nimbly. The memory
returned quickly. He could feel the strength in his limbs again. Movement was
becoming effortless as the software reconnected with his mind and ran tutorials
on high speed behind his eyes. Another few minutes and he’d be back up to date.
Bosh walked into the next room and left Victor to calibrate. The Dread sat at his desk, swiped a screen into the air and got to answering Blinks. He’d let them pile up during the day and had over 450 to go through. Every one of them thought they were the most important one and needed his attention immediately. Almost all of them were desperate, some demanding, those got dumped, and others tried to be friendly. He hated the ones that beat around the bush while leading up to their agenda. He had no interest in friends, only business. He always answered the ones that got to the point right away.
“Bosh…” He turned towards Victor who looked fit to kill.”…I need ammo.”
Direct, like that.
“How much…?” Bosh returned to his Blinks.
“Enough so I never have to worry about running out.” Victor examined his fist. Flexed the fingers and rotated his shoulder. Bosh took it as a sign that a discount might be a good move…this time.
He swung around in his chair. Victor’s eyes were cold. Hate, rage, that’s what was coming off him now. He was holding back before, biding his time until his limbs were powered back up. Smart man. Bosh approved privately, even though it pissed him off.
“That much is gonna run ya, kid.” Bosh got up and walked over to a metal filing cabinet pushed up flat against a wall between some old flatscreens and twelve packs of warm soda.
“Let’s start a new tab. I’ll be coming back here…again.”
He could feel the merc’s eyes on him as he lifted some ammo boxes down off the top shelf and set them on the floor. Shredders, Dum Dums, Mercury Tipped, and a couple boxes of Cutters. He turned casually and gestured at the boxes.
“That enough for ya…?”
Victor pulled his jacket on.” Yea, looks good.”
Bosh didn’t like the look on his face. Didn’t like that he
was having trouble making it out. “So how much…?”
The answer didn’t surprise him, not really. “All of it.”
Set was no longer at the fights.
Dustpan had long since exhaled and covered the doors with gray dirt. Victor kicked garbage aside at what was once the entrance to an illegal fight arena; a battered, smoke-filled warehouse with all the windows smashed in. He pulled the dented metal door open and peered inside expecting to find nothing useful. Footprints in dust. Search anyway. He blinked and switched to Thermal. There were some birds up in the rafters but nothing else. Blink back to Standard Enhanced Vision.
Where’d Set go?
Victor scanned the broken bleachers and swung his arm with the Sniffer Bosh sold him over the seats, picked up glass bottles and touched them to the Flex-Screen wrapped around his wrist. No beeps, no alerts. Keep looking. Get lucky. Set frequented the fights so he’d have had a seat somewhere. A Special spot. Where would the VIP section be?
Victor glanced up towards the ceiling. A ladder in the far corner led to a small office overlooking the main floor. Good a place as any to check. The ladder shuddered as he stepped up into the abandoned space. A black leather couch had been left behind along with a small powerless fridge. Empty champagne glasses sat in a pile in one corner next to cigarette butts and empty syringes. This was a party room. Victor swung his right arm around and the screen blinked green. “Pre-loaded DNA Signature detected.”
No shit? Victor called up Set’s file. His angular face hovered in the air like a threat. Bright brown eyes, perfectly trimmed goatee, thin layer of stubble…the look of a tough guy trying to appear corporate. Once the Sniffer had Set’s DNA sig it could track it anywhere up to 25 meters. Victor tightened the filters and blinked until his eye connected with the Sniffer’s signal. A thin blue-green grid swept over his field of vision. Icons popped into view before darting off to the far left. Set’s profile shrunk itself and slid off to the right as a floor plan for the warehouse drew itself into the center. Victor blinked the opacity down to 50% so it wasn’t so disorienting.
The trail was four hours old. Fifty-thousand invisible
tracer dots filled the room mapping Set’s movements. His prints were on the
armrest of the couch, half the glasses on the floor, and the handle on the
fridge. A glowing green dot formed in the section of the warehouse map that
represented where Victor was standing then stretched itself out through the
building. Victor slid down the ladder back to the warehouse floor and made his
way to the exit Set used. If he’d been looking for it without the Sniffer he’d
have never found it. A green line drew itself around a loose wall plate that had
to be pressed in order for the back door to slide open on gears that hadn’t
been oiled in days.
Set’s trail led down the alley to Seventh Avenue and took a sharp right. On Seventh, Victor paused and slid the Spread to max. The flex-screen battery wouldn’t last more than two hours but by then he’d be closer. He ran up Seventh towards St Marks. Every step made his heart beat faster. He wanted a fight.
The sky opened up by the time he’d hit Fourteenth Street.
The Sniffer led him to a whorehouse disguised as an holo-cade. The place was full of skinny, wired kids with pierced faces and limp hair who saw themselves as edgy. Blue, red, and yellow lights played across their mood-stabilized faces as they stared after him. He hurried past them towards a door at the back of the room. Someone mumbled a vague threat. He snapped a glare over his shoulder and they became suddenly very interested in game loading screens and wads of gum on the floor. Victor shoved the back door open and smiled menacingly before disappearing behind it.
The signal grew stronger as he ascended stained metal stairs and pulled a fat ugly gun from his jacket.
The green trail vanished through a door with no number at
the end of an empty hallway. The sounds of sex belched and grunted and giggled
from every room as he made his way towards the end. He blinked on XRay mode and
looked through the unmarked door. One very tall green skeleton was humping
another smaller skeleton of the same color while one more sat by a window
Set’s bets must’ve paid out well.
Victor kicked the door in and scanned the room with the barrel of his gun.
Set turned in mid-stroke and glared. The girl underneath him
gasped and slapped her hands over her breasts. The woman by the window froze, turning
into some kind of odd nude statue holding a cigarette and flash lit by
“Who the fuck…?” Realization settled in slowly. It melted into his face from the mouth up. The eyes narrowed, the jaw tightened. His guns were on the nightstand a meter away. Victor kicked the door shut behind him. His hands never shook. Anger kept them steady. Synthetic muscles hummed. Movements from those in the room slowed. They were snails in tar on a hot day.
“Yea, that’s it, that’s right. You know.” Victor stepped sideways keeping his weapon trained on Set’s head.
“Kill me and you’ll never find her, man.” Victor couldn’t place the accent hidden under all the Bronx in tha black man’s tone.
Victor waved the barrel of his gun at the girl on the bed. “Get your shit and get out.” He glanced at the naked, sweating statue by the window. “You too…fuck off.”
Set slid off the blond in his bed as she covered herself with a sheet and ran from the room babbling about being a stripper. The woman by the window dropped her cigarette and followed suit, never bothering to clothe herself. She slammed the door shut behind her. Set stood across from Victor by the bathroom, all six and a half feet of him, naked and fearless. He raised his hands and smirked.
“Mind if I put some pants on…or you wanna watch me swing a little longer?”
Victor made a small gesture with the gun toward a pair of jeans on the floor. Set dressed slowly. He wasn’t worried. Victor took a deep breath through his nose and calmed himself. Set pulled a black shirt on.
“So how’s this work, boyfriend? You wanna threaten me for a bit? Demand information? I plead with you not to kill me?”
“No, actually.” Victor growled. “You can just die.”
Set was faster than the file indicated. Even with a MoCap app running, the big man moved like a gymnast. He made perfect use of the space around him. The MoCap tracked him and extrapolated using Precog software, feeding Victor moment to moment speculations as to where Set would move to next, but the gunman was skilled, practiced, and always a half step ahead.
Victor’s first round tore into the bathroom door leaving a hole the size of a silver dollar. The storm covered his shot with a thunderclap like it was on his side. Set rolled right next his guns. An elbow against the table sent them into the air where he caught one in each hand.
He smiled and fired back.
MoCap sang nervously in the upper right corner of Victor’s eyesight. Fed him angles and trajectories in real time. The best possible predictions were in bright orange. Victor moved where Orange suggested and wound up near the window. Rain banged against the glass anxiously. Victor dodged to the left as Set’s guns blew most of the window out into the alley below. More predictions, more moves, follow orange, always orange, ignore green and especially blue. Blue would get him killed.
More shots. Keep moving. Return fire.
Set seemed to slip between the slugs and the wall paid the price. A look crossed his face. Anger…? He wasn’t used to missing perhaps. Victor was almost a foot shorter and maybe that made a difference, but really MoCap was keeping him alive. Set was used to targets in his height range and that worked in the shorter man’s favor but the software was running triple time and hitting the mark when it came to dodging. If he’d have taken the time to track Set, study and record his movements, MoCap would have been dead on when it came to targeting, but Victor was impatient and wanted revenge. The wait had been long enough.
He fired again to keep Set off balance. Chunks of wall cascaded through the air as a lamp exploded against the floor. Lightning cracked the darkness. Their movements were staggered like black and white key frames in a piece of animation. Rain puddled on the sill and dripped onto the carpet. Harder to aim. Set yelled out in frustration. The storm was on Victor’s side, for the moment anyway. Set fired again at a shadow and missed. Victor barreled into him. The impact flipped the bed on its side. They fell against a wall, arms and legs flailing. Victor tried to take Set’s head off with an uppercut. The big man stumbled to the right and countered with a roundhouse that missed by a few centimeters. Victor kicked him in the chest. Set shrugged it off. Adrenaline had him. He threw himself at the little man and sent them towards what was left of the window, guns still in hand.
They rumbled out into the rain and wind, grappling and grunting and gnashing their teeth like wild dogs. Two angry men crashing onto a green dumpster, never once stopping to acknowledge the pain. They rolled onto wet cement and traded blows. Victor’s were more frequent, Set’s did more damage. He’d managed to hold onto his guns and used their weight to his advantage. They traded blows for thirty seconds straight. Set focused his attacks on Victor’s mid-section, slamming the butt of his guns into his ribcage and chest over and over, while Victor concentrated his strikes on the taller man’s arms and wrists, trying to weaken his grip on the guns. Every time Set’s weapons came close to Victor‘s head, he fired and Victor blocked. Shots exploded in the air around them. Bullets tore into brick and cement. They circled, attacked, countered, circled, attacked, and countered again. Their egos had checked in fully. Neither was going to give in.
After a full two minutes they separated, bloody and breathing heavily. Set raised his guns with arms that felt like lead. Victor spun and kicked them from his hands.
One clattered out towards the sidewalk as the other disappeared into a pile of rain-slicked garbage.
Set connected with a right hook and knocked Victor back against a wall. He attempted a front kick, but Victor spun sideways and landed a shot to the groin. Set doubled over as Victor pressed the advantage by hooking an arm around Set’s neck and swinging himself onto the giant’s back where he began pounding on his neck wildly. Set fell forward, face first onto a beer bottle, and broke it with his teeth.
He roared in pain as blood spilled from his lips. Victor hopped off and kicked the back of Set’s head, laying him out flat.
Victor fell back against the dumpster gasping for air. His cybernetic limbs quickly recalibrated. Set threw a fistful of glass into Victor’s face and caught him on the left temple. Victor squinted reflexively as Set followed with another right hook. Victor saw stars. Purple and orange flashes blinded him. Set snatched him up around the waist and slammed him face first, into a wall.
Blood poured from Victor’s nose, over his lips, and down his shirt.
In the instructions that come with newly purchased cybernetic limbs, on the inside front cover next to a yellow triangle with a lightning bolt cutting through it, is the warning; “CAUTION! Suggested power levels according to FCD regulations are 45 – 50 % of the maximum output range at 136.51 MHz. Users attempting to increase power levels beyond the aforementioned “safe zone” will be in violation of Safety Regulations Section 3, sub-section 13 and void the User warranty. The User may also experience symptoms similar to a heart attack, panic attack, aneurism, Restless Leg Syndrome, and / or brain hemorrhage. If this occurs…”
Victor thought of a number; “Seventy-five,” before spinning on one heel, and kicking Set square
in the side of the head. Teeth and blood splashed against a wall. Set dropped to
his knees, head rolling around on his shoulders like a spinning top. Victor
punched him in the mouth, followed with an elbow to the jaw, high knee to the
forehead, another kick in the face, and a palm strike to the nose. There was a
small cracking sound. The large gunman’s eyes were wide, confused, as he fell
back into a dirty puddle. Water splashed up around him as he landed. The rain
tried to fill his lungs.
Victor defied fatigue. He’d become a chain of unbroken purpose. One end linked to him and the other to Kiri, where ever she might be. He would find her and take down anyone who stood in his way. He thought; “Sixty” and felt the hum in his arms decrease. His heart was racing. Struggling for breath, he staggered back against the dumpster. Lightning slashed the sky in two. The rain was relentless. His gun was gone, lost in garbage.
Set coughed wetly.
Victor struggled to his feet and stumbled over to the big man. The man who’d invaded his house, tasered his woman, and took part in her kidnapping. The man who’d tried to kill him. He was the reason, one of many, Victor was in an alley, bleeding and exhausted. Kiri was so far from him. Set stared back helplessly. His neck was fractured. He couldn’t move.
Victor noticed the broken bottle collecting rain water and picked it up tenderly.
He leaned over Set and emptied the water onto his face. He turned the bottle over in his hands a few times, studying the razor sharp edges, and remembered his training from over a decade ago.
His instructor was a broad, gray, angry man who’d survived three wars and admitted his time in the service had eaten his heart. He screamed his lessons, pounded ignorant students ruthlessly when they failed obstacle courses, and made them repeat his personal Battle Mantra over and over and over again.
Victor held the bottle by the bottom and repeated those words for the first time in six years; “Don’t wound what you can kill!”
And shoved the jagged edge into Set’s right eye as far as it would go.
The big man tried to scream and instead produced a bloody
gurgle. Victor got to his feet and loomed over his enemy. He swayed dangerously
but his legs were recalibrated and running on their second back up charge. Tomorrow
he’d be in agony. It was going to be a long day.
One Set would never see.
He lifted his leg high, took a breath, and stomped down on the bottle.
The sound was not unlike the kind made when stepping on a cold egg.
Victor slipped, fell backwards, and landed on his elbows.
The pain was worth it. He managed a weak grin.
“One down,” he croaked, rolled onto his side, and struggled to his feet by using the wall for support. He spat blood and started for the street ahead.
On his way out of the alley, lightning flashed once more, and Victor found his gun.
Seemed the storm was out to help him after all.
He’d cleaned the apartment from top to bottom and still
couldn’t sleep in their bed. Like some cliché from a pop song, it was just too
empty without her, so Victor slept on the couch. The windows had been replaced
and reinforced, the security system upgraded with a Sniffer app should another
break in occur, and weapons had been tucked away in every corner.
Sleep came in fitful bursts over the following week. His body had recovered within forty-eight hours but his mind was electric and angry, anxious and worried. The quiet filled his ears and he found himself tapping on things whenever he’d start to imagine what kind of condition Kiri was in.
Ko would be next. The vines Victor set out bore no fruit for close to two weeks. A Pigeon from downtown reached out through I-Black and reported on Ko’s whereabouts. Word about what happened to Set got back to Ko fast so he dug in with his own. Surrounded himself with one of the local gangs; The Gou-Zhànshì. Dog Warriors. Vicious and expensive, they’d been in control of Chinatown for over a decade. They prided themselves on loyalty and believed money was merely a formality. If you didn’t meet their standards your creds would prove worthless.
The pigeon’s friends said he looked comfortable. Felt safe.
That was good. That was okay. Safe made people stupid…thoughtless…careless.
Safe would work in Victor’s favor.
Two to go.End
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