Author : Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Mark waited just inside the shadows of the alley. Outside, people bustled past with their heads down. Nobody made eye contact with passers-by. Lens readers and the urban legends about malware being zipped into your headware by opti-flash kept everyone down. The real threat of eye-poppers seemed to be less terrifying. Mark often thought about that. To be brutally blinded scared most people less than having their data raped.

His puzzling was interrupted by his target wandering into view. The man moved with the furtiveness of a long-time resident in the low-end, but Mark knew how to tail a paranoid, because he was one.

For twenty minutes they wound their way through the low markets and the shanties of the London that the tourists never saw. They avoided groups of people engaged in whatever business caused their hostile stares and ignored the struggles in the darkness off the main drag, because to be curious was to be drawn in to an uncertain fate.

Eventually, the man darted through the awning that hung down into the water, the flash of light from within sudden and gone nearly fast enough to make you think it had been a passing aircar. Mark stopped to check his GingGam Ten. It had been his sidekick and protector for too long for him to take it for granted.

Looking both ways and then up, he darted for the awning, the blades on his gauntlet slicing it away as he moved quickly within, gun levelled. The rent-a-thug sitting by the door to the premises took one look at the size of the piece and rabbited out into the night. Mark grinned. Cheap protection was always a waste of credit. Without pause, he kicked in the door of the shop and charged in.

His target was standing with his back to the door, peering at a screen held by a fat woman in a colourful kaftan. Both straightened as Mark stormed in and he saw the matte-black case open with wires running from within to the display.

“That’s all I need, people. Unplug and hand it over.”

The target came round fast, spinning while drawing from a shoulder rig. The GingGam fired, the ‘boom’ deafening in the confined space. A crater appeared in target’s forehead and the fat woman got sprayed in bits of skull and brains.

Mark knelt to retrieve the late target’s Ruger Automag without moving his aim from the fat woman. Standing slowly, he pocketed the gun and smiled: “The gun’s good for me, you can have what’s left. Except the case.”

The woman pulled the wires from the case and snapped it shut, then slid it down the counter to him.

“It’s useless without a reader, gunboy.”

Mark nodded. “I know. And I ain’t no gunboy.” He shot her in the face, reached over and grabbed the scrip behind the counter, took the target’s wallet and picked up the case. Stepping over the bodies, he exited through the back of the shop as faces started to peer in through the shop windows. The place would be stripped bare before the plod arrived. He was free ‘n’ clear. Again.

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