Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The bulb swings in lazy figure eights on its long cable. Somewhere in the darkness above, there must be a breeze. The shifting light is doing more to soften me up than the ministrations of the knuckledragger dancing round my chair like he’s fighting with someone who’s not tied to one.
I smile carefully because my face already resembles mushy steak: “Pick a topic.”
He hits me again: “What I asked!”
I straighten up: “Must’ve slipped my mind.”
He hits me again.
“Oh, that.”
And again.
“I came to kill your boss like I killed Wallace, Kitson, and Gadro.”
“If you hit me whether I talk or not, I may as well not.”
Once again.
“No more lies! They took their enemies with them in a blaze of glory!”
I look up at him: “No need to shout.”
And again.
Every time, a gut shot followed by a cross. It may be cliché, but it gets the job done. I’m going to be on a liquid diet for a week, even after a nanorebuild.
Spitting blood and teeth, I grin lopsidedly: “A real leader wouldn’t cower in an armoured hideout, too afraid of his enemies to venture out without a swarm of sacrificial bodyguards and drones.”
He doubles up on the hits this time. I go with arching backwards, then slumping forward and hanging limp. He backs off.
There’s a voice in my head: “Jimbo, you idiot. Did you have to get caught?”
I mutter: “Cara, how else was I going to get in so you could work via my cyberwear to hack the digital underside of the den of this cautious capo? He knows his rivals didn’t go out in blazes of glory. He’s hyper-paranoid because he’s terrified.”
“Give you that. So, I’m in and I have the trigger sequence. You ready?”
“Ready to collapse in a drooling puddle. Send Suzy.”
“That bad, eh? Okay. Cue your crazy daughter in three, two, on-”
High in the darkness, something breaks. My sparring partner steps across to stand by me, looking upward curiously. As pieces start to land, he dodges away from me.
A chunk of girder crashes down between us, barely missing him.
“Close!” He grins.
Something purple drops behind him and the blade she wields cleaves him from sweaty crewcut to the crotch of his baggy tracksuit. Without even two halves of a startled look, he goes down.
Suzy brings the blade up and performs O-Chiburui while her left hand picks a pale cloth from her sash, allowing her to flow through a deft chinugui before sheathing her sword.
She smiles, then frowns when she sees my stare.
After looking down at her graphene and latex bodysuit, she grins: “It’s comfortable, protects well, and lets me move properly.”
“You might as well be wearing bodypaint.”
She raises a hand: “We’re not doing this again. Say one more word and I will do the next mission wearing nothing but purple bodypaint, so you can get a close look at the differences – along with everyone else.”
I know when I’m beaten, so I shut up while she cuts me loose, secures the drop line, and gets us both whisked up to the already ascending gravsled.
“We’re clear, Cara.”
The building below us trembles as flames belch from its windows and other weak points. Seems like every criminal boss has their headquarters rigged to explode or implode. It’d be rude to not take advantage of all their hard work, and save public funds, by skipping the trial and going straight to execution.