Kitty whipped her head around and giggled.
“Oh him? That’s one of PR’s Deadmen. Can’t remember his name?”
“Likely it contains the word ‘gold’ somewhere. It’s not real is it?”
“Of course not.” And I knew Kitty was giving me the ‘idiot’ look again. “It’s aluminium, he’s just gone over it with a lick of paint.”
“He does know C3PO was needlessly effeminate right? Or is that what passes for ghetto-chic around here?”
Kitty giggled a little at the Star Wars reference. “You should see a guy who calls himself ‘Master Flash’. His chassis has a disco-mode.”
I stared up at Kitty. “Disco-mode?”
Kitty nodded knowingly. “Disco-mode.”
I was about to press Kitty for details when Atom sent me another blue-tooth chat request. This one I ignored.
“Where did you say Tachi was again?”
Kitty cocked her head in the direction of a large building on the other side of the complex. From its size I guessed this was where the actual schooling used to take place.
“Your boyfriend’s this way. They built the chop-shop in the old swimming centre.”
The swim centre was easy to spot. The entire west wall was covered in a mural of a sexy (but not slutty) black woman dressed as the statue of liberty giving the viewer the eye. The backdrop was (naturally) the stars and stripes and in black letters beside her were the words ‘Lady Liberty Wants You.’
“Hot.” I said.
“Very.” Kitty agreed.
The fabled ‘Deadmen’ were everywhere around here. Like Rembrandt and Duke they were in your face about being cyborgs. Golden-rod outside was just one example of how someone with a bit of money and talent (but not taste) could embrace their transhumanity.
Everyone else deferred to the Deadmen, if only so they could gaze admirably as they walked past. Except the children, who ran headlong towards the cyborgs and touched them everywhere they could reach, asked to be picked up and carried and bombarded them with questions.
Couldn’t blame them, if I’d grown up with real-live superheroes strutting around I’d have annoyed the shit out of them too.
The swim centre had become the one-stop-shop for all of PR’s mechanical needs. The north wall comprised mostly of a folding window that had been tucked away to allow for vehicular access. Most of the ceiling above it was window as well, barely any artificial lighting was switched on.
Reinforced steel plating had been stretched out over the deep end of the Olympic pool to increase floor space and a wooden riser snuck underneath so mechanics could get to the underside of any vehicles they brought in. At the moment a battle-damaged Humvee carcass was being cannibalised for parts to repair another Humvee right next to it. The battle-damaged one was blue with the word ‘Police’ stencilled on it. The fixed up one had been painted yellow and had a body-kit set aside for it to make it look civilian.
I could smell their steel smelter from the other end of the pool. Scraps and leftovers no-one else could use were melted down into component metals and fed into the 3D printer next door to be turned into useful items.
We found Tachi in the shallow-end of the pool where the cybertech lab was located. Far enough away from the mechanics so that they weren’t tripping over each other, but close enough to share equipment.
To my surprise Tachi was actually making himself useful. He could hold Rembrandt’s severed head at just the right height indefinitely while the tech welded the spinal pole back together and added an armoured sheath over the repaired section.
“How the mighty have fallen.” I yelled over the sound of angle-grinders tearing the Humvee apart.
“Tachi Kojiro performing manual labour. Never thought I’d see the day.”
Tachi turned his head to look up at me while keeping his arms and shoulders completely immobile.
I stopped when I saw his face, more specifically, the eye. The eye had been completely replaced with a perfectly human-looking eyeball. Which stood out on his heavily burned and scarred flesh.
Tachi opened his mouth to blast me with some witty comeback, but when he saw me he interrupted himself to laugh. “A Dr. Kimble called. He said he was very interested in meeting you.”
“I don’t get it.” Kitty said.
“Tachi just won the obscure reference trophy.”
“I was drawing attention to Dust’s obvious deficiency.” Tachi sneered. “Suggesting perhaps some less-than-mighty had in fact fallen much further.”
“Me?” I laughed. “You’re the one who looks like he’s jogged across mercury wearing a thin layer of tanning oil.”
The tech extracted himself from Rembrandt’s insides. He flicked off the pin-torch and pulled up his welding mask. “Thanks Tachi. He should be fine now.”
He was a small man with a smiling, boyish face smeared with grease and soot. The welder’s mask and smock over a set of denim overalls gave him a junior mad scientist look.
“You’re welcome Doctor.” Tachi replied. “If I may interrupt your work, I’d like to introduce you to my friends.” Tachi indicated up to us. “The cripple in the chair is Dust, the young lady lumbered with him is Kitty. Dust, Kitty, this is Doctor Timothy Clarkson.”
Dr. T Clarkson beamed up at me. “So what brings you to my humble workshop Mr. Dust? Are you interested in letting me replace that missing arm of yours?”
I looked at Tachi and sighed. “Why do I get the feeling you already know the answer to that?”
Tachi looked innocently up at me. “The man’s a licensed Cybertechnician, the subject naturally arose in conversation.”
I slit my eyes. “I’ll bet it did.”
Kitty nudged me. “Don’t be mean. Your friend was concerned for you.”
That did not help my mood.
Doctor Clarkson put the spool down and walked towards my end of the pool. “I assure you Mister Dust, I may be in a bush-league workshop but my work is first rate.”
“Yeah I know.” I said. “I’ve seen it strutting around in all the colours of the rainbow.”
Clarkson chuckled at that. “I can’t say anything for the Deadmen’s taste.” He reached up and brushed his own cheek. “But I can tell you I saved my best work for myself.”
Kitty cocked her head to one side “So what, you’re wearing a prosthetic too?”
Doc Clarkson beamed at her. “Exactly. You know this is actually my original face, I copied the cranial configuration from my own skull and grafted the skin in place before letting the Realskinn grow around it. Tomorrow we’re going to start work on replacing Tachi’s damaged Realskinn with some fresh samples from the gene bank.”
“Isn’t that stuff expensive?
“It is.” He said. “But Patriot Rap insisted that I extend every courtesy towards you during your stay.”
I sighed and muttered under my breath. “Because there’s no-way that could possibly bite us in the arse.”
Kitty nudged me again.
“Well let’s just say ‘Thanks Doc, but no thanks.’ Plan of attack right now is to lie low out here where Roxorgh would need an army to find us, wait until Sinotech’s got their courage back and make the sale. After that I’m going to sign on with a biotech firm for their full coverage and have a new arm grown for me.”