Author : Jay Knioum, Featured Writer

Yellow emergency lights make Chrys look like an elf as she gazes up at them, her eyes flashing with reflections.

“Shut that shit off.” My voice is robotic. Still not used to it.

Merlin’s already at the panel, jacked in through the conduit in his temple. The yellow flashing turns to yellow ambient, the sirens are silent. I can hear Chrys’ heavy breathing.

“Just a couple more floors, babe.” She doesn’t say anything, just squeezes my hand. I know she did that because the pressure registers across the display in my retinas. I turn and look at her. Vitals are going apeshit. She’s gonna pop at any time.

Spider pounds up the stairs behind me, grim look in all six eyes, slamming fresh ammo charges into his gun harness. I heard him unload downstairs. If he’s empty already, then the company jackoffs are serious about this. His pacer drones whirr behind him, past us, then ahead, barrels smoking, lasers fanning the stairwell above and below.

I’m getting Spider’s readout from the cloud synch now as he squeezes past me and Merlin to clear a path upstairs. He aced about eighty bad guys downstairs, but more are coming.

JASMINE cuts in. “Four floors left. Extract is two minutes away.”

I’m gripping Chrys’ hand in new plastic. She printed it for me yesterday, her own design. Subdermal sensors tell me she can’t go much further. “Hang on, babe. Deep breaths.”

“He’s coming, Penn,” she says, “He’s coming. Don’t know if I can…”

I squeeze with my plastic hand, taking her vitals through sensors woven into the palms. “You’ll make it.” I wish I could hold her hand in my real one. “Come on, Chrys, one step at a time.”

She does it. Pulse climbing. One foot, then the next. My girl is a fucking superhero.

The cloud gives us recon from Spider’s drones. Four hostiles. I can hear the drones firing. Then they start disappearing from the feed. One by one by one, but not before giving us intel. JASMINE boils it down for us, but Spider gets there first.

“Ninja,” he says. Spider folds up his guns, draws out filament blades in all four hands. “Expensive.” He starts up the stairs. “Not as expensive as me.”

“Shit,” Chrys says in between groans. “Shit.”

Her vitals are spiking. Our son is coming.

Our son. I don’t care who paid for him. I’ll pay more. We all might.

“I’ll carry you.” I put my plastic arms under her, draw her back gently.

“You dumb shit,” she says, “You aren’t rated for the weight.”

“Then I hope you didn’t skimp on materiel.” I’ve got her in my arms.

Not my arms. The arms I’ve got there, with her.

“Extract is approaching,” JASMINE says. Quicker than we thought. Merlin turns from his panel and gives me a thumbs up. “Hacked the nearby weather beacons,” he says, “Got a fix on our position, and sent out a bogus emergency clear-sky. Soon as Spider clears the landing pad, we’re off this bitch.”

Spider is advancing up the stairs. I can hear rotors thudding through the structure.

I hear a lot of nothing.

The cloud synch is going batshit. Spider’s vitals light up. They go soft.

The drones open up, firing at ghosts.

I can hear the shell casings hitting the stairs from the drones, but what I’m seeing is Merlin’s blood.

It hits the floor before his head does.

Last message from Spider on the cloud synch: I GOT THREE.

This was number four.

Chrys squeezes my hand. “I love you,” she whispers. I don’t hear it. I see it in the cloud feed.

My hand is a detonator. My body is a bomb.

All four ninja are gone. So are the top four floors of the building.

So am I. So is Chrys.

The window goes black, CARRIER LOST in green letters.

I cancel the window. Pull off my headset. Grab a tissue, wipe my nose.

“The fuck, Penn, ” Carl is yelling from the couch, his eyes glued to his show on the wall. “We gonna order Thai or what?”

I’ve got one thumb. I use it to toggle the stick, turn my chair toward him. “Yeah. Yeah, Carl. Thai’s okay, I guess.”

My chair’s wheel knocks over a stack of papers as I turn. Statements from Southside Genetic Repository. I’ve been a loyal donor. They paid for this place. They paid for a lot of things.

Good thing one piece of me works.

I wish I could have met Chrys. She sounded like a superhero.

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