Patsy

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“Oh for god’s sake, not again.”

It’s only the fourth time I’ve thrown up in the last hour. As I reach for the towel, everybody in the room tenses. They relax after I wipe my mouth and sag back into the chair.

“For a killer, he doesn’t show much.”

The burly one is right. I show very little of the dangerous composure my kind is supposed to have.

“That’s what makes him effective. Appearing to be harmless.”

The skinny one passes comment in an attempt to appear wiser than he is. He’s the junior of the team.

“Whatever. He’s worth a fortune. Plus we get upgraded just for finding him.”

The leader is the longest serving. For all his experience, he has no idea what he’s captured. Or I hope he doesn’t. I may have screwed up this time.

“Can I have some water?”

“No.”

The reply is unanimous. They have no idea why I’m rated as an unstoppable, highly-trained threat to their employers, but they are cautious. Too many have died trying to take me.

“You can have a drink when they get you where they want you to be. When the interference lets up, I’ll report in and everyone will be a lot happier. In fact, I’ll go up to the roof and call in.”

They watch their boss leave and miss my shoulders drooping in relief. I thought I had been caught for real this time.

Burly and Skinny are just getting worried about Leader when two loud thuds herald my deliverance. The air distorts in front of them and slams them into the wall so hard their bodies leave tracks in their own blood.

The door swings open and a familiar figure strolls in with a tray of food in one hand, a steaming compressor-pulse shotgun in the other.

“Room service, Mister Jennings?”

Fleming always makes me laugh. His deadpan delivery and ability to imitate any accent is just so refreshing after moments of utter terror.

“Thanks, John. And say thanks to Sally and Spitz too.”

“And Charlie. He’s been supervising the ‘atmospheric’ interference and his eyes may never uncross.”

Eight years ago I was a junior accounting clerk. One morning I found myself arrested for serious crimes across the country, all corresponding to places I had been at the relevant times. After a lot of shouting and screaming, I was resigned to my life being over. That night, a man came to my cell. He explained that I had been set up to cover for an operative of Asylum, a company that worked internationally for the highest bidder. They had even corrupted governments.

But this man’s bosses only employed those whose lives had been damaged or destroyed by Asylum. If I wanted, they had a lunatic plan for me to strike back at Asylum. That was the night I started working for Exile.

The next day I daringly escaped during a prison transfer; there being no traces of me having had any help.

Asylum think that when they framed me and it drove me to discover hidden talents. They want me dead because I obviously know a lot from interrogating everyone they send after me before I kill them.

Actually I know nothing and have a team of the most dangerous people I know, and who I believe to be the most dangerous people on the planet, making sure I always get captured and never get kept.

Professional killers really shouldn’t be this much fun to travel the world with. I’m having the time of my life.

 

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Field Test

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

The moonlight is cut off by drifting clouds as I hurdle the wall and drop into the shadowed mess that comprises the unfinished foundations of what will be the Chibakan headquarters when they finally find some new backers.

Behind me I hear the too-rapid crunching of my pursuers using assault speed, trying and failing to get me before I disappear down below and their advantages shrink again.

“There’s no use running, you little puke! Flesh can’t outrun cyber!”

Nice mister cyberpsychosis is technically correct, but all the adverts show hapless escapees running through open malls and down streets. Of course they get taken down by the cheetah-like cybergoons.

I used infra-dense smoke to waste their heatsight and pepper-fleck to trash their sensors. Personally I thought the ten litres of used motor oil was a genius touch on the fire escape, but the screaming profanities as they skidded and in some cases failed to stop before the eight storey drop let me know my talents were unappreciated yet again.

I scoot down the unfinished stairwell and drop further into darkness, sticking another infrasmoke bomb to the crossbeam I pass just before I land. Its little beep as it sets itself for massed circuitry is reassuring. I run left and drop off another ledge into what I presume will be the sub-sub-basement and grab the aerosol I left behind a couple of days ago.

I spray the freespace-rated instabond generously across where they have to land, then do the nearest uprights and scaffolding too. Never know when someone’s going to brace themselves to get the ultraglue off their shiny cyberfeet or boots. As the crashing above indicates my fan club has arrived, I orient myself, take three steps backwards and jump up into the ducting that starts here and extends all the way to the storm drains on the other side. I leave a bodyheat radiator in there, swing out and grab the scaffolding as a pop and a hiss tells me the first winner is about to land.

Climbing the poles in pitch darkness validates my weeks of practice. At the top is a workman’s sling and I wrap myself completely in the totastealth sheet before settling for a doze. Nothing to do until the cybersupermen discover they’re not so super after all.

The shouting and yelling lulls me into a light, refreshing sleep. The silence wakes me.

Sticking my arm out I scan for life using the specialised sensor built into my gauntlet; nothing.

The cyber and nano crazies have their uses, but the archtyptural ‘street samurai’ are a joke. While cybertech has advanced beyond belief, battery technology and similar energy sources have not. Most cybergoons have solar charger pads integrated into their armour and even their tattoos. Put them in the dark and make them angry enough to believe their own hype and they will literally kill themselves as the technology overwhelms the body’s ability to power it when stored energy is exhausted. It’s actually a very short time from out of juice to out of body potentials.

Half an hour later I have a floatrolley loaded with fifty kilos of tech and ten kilos of organs. The scavengers are already gathering beyond the circle of my guardfield.

By tomorrow I’ll be set for another couple of months and Chibakan will be down another four idiots. I’m doing them a favour and they pay me handsome scrap values for weeding out the fools.

 

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Scrap

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

I look at the disc embedded in the tree by my head. I’ve just avoided the embarrassment of being beheaded by the greatest hits of the 1990s. The slotgun is an innovation that embodies the creed of the scrappers, using society’s discards to provide their needs. While I agree with the theory, the inevitably parasitic nature of the scrapper way is something they choose to ignore. If they achieve their goal of toppling the ‘military-industrial complex’, they will have no discards to live off.

Another near miss returns me to the situation at hand. Media discs with sharpened edges travelling at a couple of hundred kph are not something you should daydream around.

Lucy skids into my cover, pursued by a hail of crap music, redundant software and C-movies.

“The buggers have upped the rate again.”

I point at the tree. “Yup. The edging machines have been improved too.”

Clicking my handset to the speaker channel, my attempted call for reasonable behaviour emerges as feedback, crackle and hum. Our speaker shields have been shredded.

“Damn fools. They seem determined to force our hand. Do they really want to face armed response?”

I shake my head. “They haven’t thought that far. In America they’d be using and facing machine guns. Thanks to our firearms laws, they can get away with this idiocy.”

“So what do we do, boss? I have kin in there. Last thing I want is Special Patrol Group or Domestic Army blitzkrieging rioters and civvies alike.”

The ground shakes and Lucy looks about frantically, expecting to see the telltale smoke column of an improvised bomb.

“Easy, corporal. It’s just my cunning plan moving up.”

The building on the corner crumbles as a Metro Police blue chunk of Stillbrew armour over a wide segmented track crashes into view. The firing stops as everyone pauses to gasp at the four metre long barrel that traverses through the ruined first floor of the crumbling building. I see the demolition has scratched the paintwork, letting the urban camo show through. But the effect is not reduced. The scrappers were smugly chopping up our patrol cars and us. Now they’re looking down at the word ‘POLICE’ written in half-metre high lettering across the front armour of a long obsolete but still terrifying Chieftain tank.

I grin at Lucy. “Remember Sergeant Evans who retired last year? He collects militaria. Spent his end of service lump sum on that Mark Eleven. I’ve hired it for a week, paid for the Metro colour scheme and for putting it back to original state.”

Lucy shook her head. “Doesn’t matter if it’s out of service. It’s still a frackin’ tank. The scrappers have nothing that can keep it out or take it on.”

I nod. “Precisely. I think relations will improve now they realise we finally have the means to back the will to tear their house of cards down.”

“Clever wheeze, boss. How did you come up with it?”

I look over toward the gates as the sally port opens and the scrapper chiefs come out with a parley flag raised.

“Scrapper creed: ‘Use what others have abandoned’. Seemed appropriate.”

 

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The Art That Keeps

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

“A Tamborda Eleven-Ess-Two should never be underrated. Treat each one as if it just came off the production line.”

Master Needle’s words are soft-spoken yet carry upward to all in the gallery. On the dojo floor, his whipcord frame stands in an attitude of relaxation amongst the wreckage and rubble that simulates a city street. With a teeth-grating hiss, the mechanical doom that is a Tamborda-11S2 strides into view, its hatchet profile swinging as it searches. With a low whine, it locks onto the Master and moves swiftly in a standard intimidate-and-subdue protocol, the result of which should be another dead human.

Master Needle waits until it looms over him before moving. He hooks his right leg over the extending left arm while pushing off with his left leg. The Tamborda is still selecting proximity subdual protocol when the Master’s right hand shoots forward and round to touch the base of the skull at the spinal junction. With a crackling whine, the Tamborda ceases to move. Master Needle dismounts as the juniors applaud until cuffed into silence by their mentors.

“That is the way. Decision and precision are the true weapons of a Kochola practitioner. When you possess both in such quantities as to allow you to know every joint and seam in every model the Federati send against us, then you might return from your grading. Until then, you study.”

Everyone bows to him, founder of the martial art that allowed us to survive. Where South America fell and Africa capitulated, Europe only staggered. Who would have thought that acupuncture combined with an exhaustive knowledge of the robots sent to slaughter us would mark the start of a renaissance in us, the Resistors? Master Needle took a motley crew that spent more time running and hiding than resisting and fashioned a force to save us, using dojo and biker gang principles.

As we start to turn away, his voice carries a last admonition: “Do not push the robot over to celebrate your victory. Every one taken undamaged is another warrior for free humanity the following day.”

We pause to be sure he has finished the lesson, then carry on.

“Patch-bearer Grace. You are ready.”

Those words electrify me. Without thought I leap the gallery rail and land crouched before Master Needle, head bowed. To think I had come to this day. From scavenging the wastelands of London to the grading challenge that will either prove me a Kochola adept or leave my corpse lying unmourned.

If I survive, I will go out to spread the Art That Keeps for as long as I can survive. The Federati do not like us and have taken to carpet-bombing areas where we are establishing chapters.

I take from Master Needle a leather roll of needles so fine as to be almost unseen, yet strong enough to drive through sealant and polymer, conductive enough to short-circuit delicate systems. These are mine until he comes to take them from my body. Acolytes we have plenty of. Piercing needles are more precious than flesh. I see that the roll has eighteen coloured threads wrapped through its seams. I am to take a roll with provenance.

My dread switches from passing the graduation to not adding enough coup-threads. I feel a burden lift and look up to see Master Needle smile a knowing smile.

“Save your trepidation for avoiding the robot’s masters, Grace. Now take the Art That Keeps and make sure it keeps you riding, counting coup and teaching for a very long time.”

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A Day in the Office

Author : Jae Miles, Staff Writer

It's dark when my ears finally stop ringing. I lie deathly still and carefully inventory my corpse.

“Not such an unstoppable bastard now, are ya?”

Docherty is still here. That explains the pain in my jaw. He put one in my head, two in my chest, smashed my teeth, gouged out my eyes and snipped my fingertips off at the first joint. The only way to identify me will be by DNA. Which would come up blank, but he doesn’t know that.

Now to earn my keep. I click once and echomap.

“What was that?”

Ah, Samuel is here too: enhanced hearing. Oh well, nothing for it except to click again on a lower band to echolocate.

“He did it again.”

“Did what?”

“High frequency clicks.”

“It's just his cybergear winding down. He's dead, we're rich.”

My guns have been left where they fell. I push a lot of adrenalin and endorphins into my bloodstream, along with extra clotting factor. Cybergear is good; I'm better. Bioengineered to be more than these peasants with their implements grafted in, taking immuno-suppressants, psycho-stabilisers, steroids and antibiotics with breakfast for the rest of their lives. My brain resides in a keratinised tissue shell sitting in the left side of my pelvis, with my spare heart on the right. My ribs form natural maximillian plate and I can consciously use ninety percent of my muscle capacity. The improved bat sensorium in my brain and echo chambers in my cheekbones are personal refinements to the build.

I've killed enough time. Time to kill.

I click to update the echomap as I sit up like my upper torso is being pulled by strings, truncated fingers grabbing my trigger-less guns. They interface via neural pads and are live by the time I level them at my two erstwhile killers.

“What the frack?”

As last words go, they leave nothing for posterity. They're also surprisingly common from unfortunates facing me.

I lay back down and safety my guns. A subvocal mike in my throat links to the transceivers woven into my scapulae.

“Robin! Where the hell have you been?” Janet's voice is husky with genuine concern.

“Sorry, darling. I got kidnapped and assassinated again.”

“Oh, for the love of Pete! That's the second time this year. How bad?”

“Proper job this time. Going to need a cranial rebuild, phalange implants, a cardiac replacement and a left kneecap.”

“A kneecap? The bastards.”

“They used a Labrador gun.”

“Oh, the poor thing. Did they shoot it afterwards?”

“No, I did. That's how they got the drop on me.”

“You really have to work on that soft spot for strays, Rob. Medtechs will be with you inside five minutes.”

“Thanks, darling. I'll stay away until my face is on properly so Tabitha doesn't have nightmares.”

“That's one of the reasons why I love you, Robin Summerson. See you soon.”

“Kiss her goodnight from me. Love you.”

“Love you too. Hurry home.”

“I will.”

With that, I relax and wait for the medical team. Now that’s a hell of a way to make a living, flying all over the place to pick up the pieces. I couldn't do their job.

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