I sat in my dark blue shorts with the sleek gleam of two metal calves hitting my strained eyes in the dim comfort of Taina’s apartment. The metal met the flesh just above the knee, and plasteel plates served as knee caps and covers for the hyper fiber weave of artificial muscles the had been propelling me away from my main task for the past few weeks.
Some yuppie doctor who seemed a little too concerned with me for her own good gave me her details if I ever needed anything and explained that my legs had been taken care of via some anonymous benefactor. I figured it was Rider judging from the last words I had heard after some of The General’s goons had cornered me in the confusion of the military police raid.
“Don’t worry, Sal. We’ll take care of you.”
I sighed and took a drag on my e-cig, listening to Taina hum in the shower closet as she washed up after her holo-cast. I didn’t know who “we” was, but I had a feeling it contributed to the problems that came up at the bar with the MPs declaring it an insurgent stronghold. I could hardly remember some of the things I’d read about Rider, but I knew I’d come across his connections with anarchist dissidents in Crokia. If The General and his boys hadn’t have been there, things would have still been hot enough to at least warrant a few PMC mercs to come down and take a look. Thus I was here.
Taina had been the one to pick me up in a cab. She was wearing a white sleeveless dress and a black proxy-leather jacket, a red holo-band held her dreadlocks out of her face. She didn’t talk much. Just gave me a gentle hug and helped me wobble on my new legs to the car. The ride was peppered with sparse talk.
We were entering our neighborhood when she said it.
“I wish I didn’t tell you about Rider,” she said through crimson painted lips. “Everything’s going to Hades soon because of that Crokkie bastard.”
I remember looking down at my fibre woven chrome limbs, seeing my reflection in their surgical sheen and wondering in that moment what the fuck was wrong with this society. This sick fruking world that ran off of blood and credits. I felt a silent scream build in my head and ring inside my mind, peaking around my jack.
“It’s fine.” I said in my mother’s voice.
The air in her apartment had been tense, and the sex had been anxious and halfhearted as if the anger and oppression of the streets was bearing down on us like the heat wave that was baking the black and grey neon skin of Durik City. I stood as she came out of the shower, a cheap white proxy cotton towel clinging to her wet skin. Taina bent over to begin brushing her hair by her mirror, the news streams from the city flowing holographically over the right side of the gaudily cut glass. I stood behind her silently, my bare metal feet clanking on the rotting tile.
“Things aren’t looking good.” I said, my eyes scanning the reports of checkpoint contacts from the feed one of my hacker buddies had set up for the working girls in the building.
“Twenty seven armed contacts in the past ninety eight hours.”
Taina’s Glinkan wood brush broke through a tangle in her purple hair.
An alert popped up on the feed.
“Shit.” I muttered at the blinking icon.
“What?” she asked.
“KIA on the Lady’s Road.”
“The Governor’s Road,” she corrected.
“Whatever.” I said, “Gods dammit.”
Taina looked up through a tangle of hair.
A stream of red blinking contact icons blazed through the feed. Skulls for KIAs. Flames for explosive detonations. Crossed blades for firefights. My eyes could hardly keep up with the electro sigils as they popped up on the screen. I hardly noticed Taina slowly looking up, a look of horror I hadn’t seen on her face sine we were kids plastered the mirror. My ears pricked up. Gunshots. Explosions.
We both rushed to the window without thinking. Hazy orange thunder clouds roiled over the city, low and boxing us all in like the stage of some fruked up play. Flashes lit up the horizon as we leaned out the window together. Slowly our arms crept around each other’s backs as the city erupted all around us. Hot and cold wind swept through the streets like a vacuum fever carrying scents of charred flesh and burning plasteel.
“What is happening?” Taina said.
I swallowed hard, the barely noticeable artificial touch of her shoulder under my fingertips.
“I’m not sure.” I said honestly.
I had always expected another flare up, but I didn’t expect a sudden explosion akin to Gaemiria Isle. I knew it would slow down soon, but for that nanosecond, that split moment, we were both just over the age of ten, watching the C-Fed bombardment from the window of my mom's apartment during the first few hours of the V'Halsen Wars, scared shitless, thinking this was the end of all we knew.
Then we were assured that things could get worse.
Now, at least I knew, that it could hardly get much worse. "Pax Gaia" as the Hifflon Corp analysts had put it, had ended. The carefully built peace on the streets was crumbling before our very eyes and the itch at my neck port had me certain that the firefight at the bar had been the spark on the foundations. I was just at the right place at the wrong time, I thought to myself as a convoy of street samurai in trucks and vans went speeding down the street to the neighborhood barricades.
I didn't pick the fight. I finished it, but I didn't pick it. The General's guy just wanted to cause shit.
"Sal," Taina spoke up as she leaned out of the window, "I think we got visitors..."
I looked to the sidewalk to see five of the Shogun's hard men, bristling with autocannons and electroblades, walk up to the first floor of the building.
"Oh fruk." The words came tumbling out of my mouth to below.
"They probably want to keep you out of-"
"They probably want to serve my head on a platter," I snapped.
The mirror bleeped and a screen came up, the ugly mug of Takeshi Brand staring into the room.
"Sal, the Shogun requires you to be present at the barricades."
I froze. My mouth was too dry to form words but my mind was running at way too high a rate to do anything but reach for my gun and my bag at the foot of the bed and stand up.
I smiled at Taina with the kind of smile that hadn't been dusted off for a long time.
"Sorry, Tak." I raised my gun to the screen, barely holding it in my hand. "I'm solo."
With that I jumped through the window, curled into a ball with my arms covering my head, my grip tightening on the bag and the pistol. I hit the ferrocrete and it cracked under my adamantine heels. The hard men were right behind me in a moment. Thank Hera for the extended magazine in the pistol because with a sweep of my arm a line was drawn as soon as Takeshi's oni mask was shot away. I ran and could almost feel their targeting HUDs tracking my every move. I jumped again and landed on top of a dilapidated building that began to collapse underneath my feet by the time I pushed off into the air. With each jump I collapsed another building, broke another street, and sure as fruk confused every street fighter or looter that saw me. I was twenty blocks away from Blue Shijuni territory and could see the city devouring itself with each jump.
My legs still hurt and my jaw was clenched with pain. I had no choice but to keep moving. Night was falling and I watched whole sectors be only lit by burning vehicles, buildings, and flashes of explosions. I could find no refuge anywhere but for a warehouse nestled in a low tech freeman district. No one was around when I made the jump in; no one except for bodies. Hundreds of bodies. It was like the streets here had been paved with blood. The freemen often did not arm themselves and if they fought they resolved it quickly and with no mess. But this? This stunk of a purge. It was the V'Halsens work. I could see that fact as easily as I could see the bodies in the street.
I tried not to step on any of the dead and tried not to lose my chips. Exploring the capabilities of my new tech that Dr Farrone had installed for me had left me exhausted and in pain; the sight of so many corpses was not helping. At least I was alone. I walked around to the back of the warehouse through the alleys. A formation of Wareagle choppers blasted overhead. I ran for a door and with a grunt,
Deep orange light filled the warehouse. It was an old warehouse that had been used during the clan wars a few years back; one I that I had helped set up as a safe haven before I had gone to Kleria. I walked around in the dark and let my eyes adjust. It was hard to tell whether or not it was night or day outside, even more than usual due to all the fighting. The ancient windows and their glass panes had been shot out in a few places by what I could only guess was the Vannies hoping to get any of the freemen who might have run inside.
I did a check around the building to see if there was anyone around and found a few old glow orbs and a stash of ammo and food packets. I tapped the glow orb and walked to the back rooms. Nothing had really been touched and I leaned against a wall and got a vape-out pen packed with preserved K that someone had left there. I set the glow orb down next to me and took a long drag on the pen as I slumped against the wall. My body shook with fatigue and the new legs began their self-charging cycle. I could barely hold the pen to my lips after the third or fourth pull.
My eyelids hung low.
I knew there was hardly any hope of finding her now. If she was even still alive there was no way to find her now. I was finally on my own again.
Falling into sleep, I tried not to dream, but the dreams came anyways.
When you wake up to a ceiling being shot apart, you know you're in for a bad day.
I don't know how long I had been asleep for. Things like that tend not to matter when twelve millimeter high explosive rounds are blasting your hideout to bits. I scrambled to my feet, grabbing the bag, my gun, and in a moment of adrenalin induced lucidity, a bag of protein pills. Running out into the main body of the warehouse I saw the ceiling open and burning. The Wareagles suddenly ceased firing and their hatches opened up, the hydraulic hiss absent in the wake of destruction.
Out came the C-Fed troopers in black body armor and geometric angled helmets. A stun blast hit the girder I was standing on from out of nowhere and I went into a wall. The troopers' hover packs flared to life and their helmet lights shone brightly on me.
"Give us the bag!"
My ears were ringing and my head was pounding.
"Give us the bag! Give us the bag or we will fire on you!"
I looked around and saw the bag five feet to my left. I stood slowly, leaving the gun on the floor and my hands in the air.
"You get it!" I shouted.
One of the troopers looked to the other and then glided past me. Two others landed next to me and another stood directly in front of me, gun lowered. The helmet's geometric plates slid apart and revealed a hardened face of a male soldier. A scar ran across his face and an augmented eye peered at me.
I recognized this face. I had seen it on Deronium's vidcasts.
I had to be sure. Maybe the fumes were getting to me.
"Who are you?"
"I'm the one who bought you those legs, Sal." His grin sent a chill down my spine that not even the Shogun could ever hope to achieve. "I am Ulrich Mikael."