Dust: Chapter 06 Part 1

Chapter 6: And now we contemplate our navel

I caught my reflection in a shop window and for the first time in weeks I didn’t flinch.

Absently my hand brushed against my cheek, confirming that the face in the reflection was in fact mine. For me to look this good, the damage must have been horrendous why else bother with a full replacement?

It’s a scientifically proven fact that there is indeed a ‘perfect’ human face, the ideal ratio being 1:1.618 (thank you Ultrapedia). With the template being that easy to follow, biotech companies mass-produce faces to those proportions. The good doctor likely cut out key pieces of my skull and dropped the template into place as easy as swapping out an engine. It wasn’t the first time I’d changed faces, but it was the first time I’d looked this handsome.

Will you be joining us sometime today?” Tachi asked my reflection as he slid into frame beside me. “Or shall I leave the two of you alone for now?”

You jealous?”

Tachi cracked a sly smile. “Of course Dust. The question is: of whom?”

Then he winked and walked away. Sonuvabitch, he beat me at my own game.

I caught up with Tachi as we crossed the street, visoring my eyes with my hand to keep the rain out of them. Normally I’d pull my motorcycle jacket over my head, but the pack on my back containing my pet A.I. stopped me.

Kitty’s front door had twin deadbolts hooked up to keypad with a long input screen, like she needed a fun way to memorise her citizen identification number. When we approached the door a blue-tooth chat request blinked into my neupro.

Kitty’s PVC-clad avatar reclined on a leather couch, a long cigarette holder smoking away in her hand. She lowered the cigarette holder and looked me in the eye. [Do you have it with you?]

I pointed over my shoulder. [It’s right here in my backpack.]

Kitty took a puff and thought it over. [Come on in.]

The twin deadbolts snapped out with a loud authoritative ‘clack’.

Kitty’s apartment looked exactly like I expected a hacker’s home to look. Power cables and empty noodle cups lay scattered all over the floor, piles of manga and comic books doubled as furniture and sexualised anime figurines covered every flat surface.

Kitty on the other hand, looked nothing like I imagined. She may have been svelte and compact, but where I was expecting a barely-nourished, adorable mousy-thing with anime-inspired cybereyes, what I got was a purring alley-cat in pleather thigh-high boots and a crop-top.

I’m up here Dust.” Kitty purred.

I cleared my throat. “Sorry.”

Kitty reclined on the black couch in the corner of the lounge room, her laptop sitting atop her lap (as God intended). A couple of large faded cushions lay scattered on the floor around an arrangement of old desktop computers which stood in for a coffee table.

Kitty eyed us lazily as we approached. The door closing behind us on Kitty’s mental command.

Tachi put on his favourite smile and confidently strode up to offer his hand.

It is a pleasure to see you again Miss Kitty.” Tachi opened. “I hear your reputation has only grown more potent since the Hamilton Job.”

Kitty smiled warmly at Tachi and never broke his gaze. “Doitashimaste Tachi-san.” She said as she accepted his hand. “So has yours, from what I’ve heard.”

I groaned.

Hush you.” Tachi dismissed me with a wave.

Kitty laughed coyly.

She doesn’t want a cute pick-up line mate.” I told him, sliding the backpack from my shoulder. “She wants to see what the wizard has in his black bag for her.”

Kitty grinned hungrily and sat up as I placed the bag down on the make-shift coffee table and pulled out Atom’s biopod.

Now that’s interesting.” She said. “Why put it in a biopod?”

[That’s because I’m a bio-processor.]

[She can’t hear you mate. Give me a second.]

Tachi answered for him. “We found some organic components when we opened it.”

You’ve seen inside it?”

We needed to clip its wings.” I said, sitting down on the bean bag. “It turned the security system against us when we tried to get it out of Kawada.”

[Would it help if I said I was sorry about that?]

[Not really.]

Wah Lau.” Kitty breathed. Her smile got wider as I pulled out the tablet and Atom synched with it. Atom’s new avatar began to appear on the tablet’s screen. It had traded in the mall brat avatar for a Japanese Bunraku string-puppet. It’d basically turned the cartoonish, human-looking mall brat into a more robotic, string-puppet version, with visible joints at the elbows and knees. I kept expecting it to suddenly go into ‘oni-mode’, sprout horns and turn its eyes yellow.

Atom” I said aloud as his new avatar began to appear on the tablet’s screen. “May I present the newest member of our team: Her name is Kitty.”

Atom waved his little puppet-hand. “Hello Kitty.”

I smirked.

[What’s so funny?]

[Nothing. Just keep going.]

Kitty leaned in for a closer look. Her face lit up like a kid-in-a-candy-store.

Hello Atom.” she said in the voice people usually reserve for speaking to newborns. “Are you named after Mighty Atom?”

Actually yes.”

Wah!” She exclaimed again, her voice reaching the pitch only dogs can hear. “Did your creator tell you it was okay to call him ‘Otousan’ when he first built you?”

Huh?” I said, raising a brow.

My creator was actually a lady. So that wouldn’t really work.”

Oh my god, that’s amazing.” Kitty said, her eyes softening up like a teenage girl starring at a Tobias Wint poster. “Let me hook you up to my deck so we can talk. Those tiny speakers are going to drive me crazy.”

I hurriedly spoke up. “You sure? You’ve got no idea what kind of shit it can throw at you.”

Kitty smirked and gave me a knowing smile. “We’ll be fine. You don’t want to hurt me, do you Atom?”

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