“They have to find us first.” Kitty said. “Wasn’t that the whole point of the job in the first place?”
“I thought the whole point was to get Noodles back.”
Kitty exploded at me. “That wasn’t our fault!”
Tachi raised his hand for quiet. “Can we not go over that conversation again?”
“Yes please.” Moe-Moe added.
Kitty sat back down in her chair and fumed.
“How about we leave it there for now?” I suggested. “Everyone go and have a think about it. If anybody comes up with anything, let me know. It’s not like I’m super-busy while we’re here.”
As soon as we were back in the real world Kitty gathered Atom up and left without a word.
When the door closed behind her Tachi stretched out in his chair like a cat. “Do you think you could have managed to make her more enraged?”
“Oh yeah.” I said, still looking at the door. “I could have asked for Atom back.”
“Hmmm.” Tachi replied, sitting up. “Now that would have been a good idea. Why did you refrain from that?”
“She’s pissed at me enough.” I said. “Maybe you could try asking her but she’ll probably see right through that.”
“She may well attempt to take Atom from us before the deadline. You must have noticed how much more loyal she is to Atom than us.”
“I’m never been famous for my perception, but yeah, that I picked up.”
“So, in the end, what difference would taking Atom make?”
“Well by that logic we should just grab it and get out of here.” I brought my hand up to hold up my chin. “Only then we’ll have J. Random hacker working against us too. There aren’t too many places we can hole up while we wait for the deadline. Not with that much talent against us.”
“Hmmm.” Tachi said again. “You might want to have mentioned your respect for our hackers’ talents during your debrief.”
“If I didn’t trust her, I wouldn’t have asked her to help me commit grand larceny. I’m not going to serve my criticism in between toasted slices of flattery. Besides, I said we were all at fault and I meant it.”
“I don’t believe she sees it that way.”
“I don’t believe I give a rat’s arse. She’s a big girl, if can’t take a little criticism how does she expect to get better?”
My Neupro told me PR had sent a message. From the way Tachi suddenly tilted his head to the side, I guessed he’d received one as well. I opened it up.
Sorry I missed the debrief. But there’s something I want to ask you. Can you and Tachi catch me out in the courtyard for a minute?]
“Gee, I wonder what he wants?”
“Doubtless he has his own two yen to add to the conversation.”
“I can’t wait.” I sighed. “Can I get you to push me? It’s not really something I can do with one arm.”
“Mmm hmm.” Tachi said this time. The corner of a grin forming on his mouth.
“Not now.” I said. “I’m not in the mood. Just push me. Please.”
Tachi kindly pushed me all the way around the building until we reached the disabled ramp and led me down. Just as poor Kitty had pushed me up on the way in.
We got out into the courtyard, which was bustling with its usual activity. Though I noticed there seemed to be less children than usual. School must be on.
PR was in the middle of the courtyard, addressing a squad of his Deadmen who stood at ease. They nodded at something PR said as we approached and as one turned and left.
“Shit Dust, you look like a refried corpse. You getting enough rest?”
“I’m fine.” I said. “You wanted to talk about the job?”
“Nah, not the job. Just Atom.”
[Here it comes.] I cyped to Tachi. “What about it?”
PR softened his eyes at me. “Is there no way I can persuade you to let it stay with us?”
Tachi smirked. “Only if you can wipe Roxorgh’s upper echelons and Righteous Chrome Fist from the face of existence. Anything less than that would be suicide I’m afraid.”
PR nodded again, twisting his lips into a disappointed grimace. “I suppose you can only try and ask.”
Then he sighed and looked at me.
The next moment I felt a flicker of red light flash into my vision. I felt Tachi tense and turn around behind me, but I already had a sinking feeling I knew what was coming.
PR’s Deadmen had surrounded surround us. Assault Rifles, machine guns and ludicrously over-sized pistols trained on our bodies. Up on the rooftops snipers were zeroing in on our faces, they’d switched the range-finder lasers on their rifles to ‘day visible’ to make their presence known.
I looked disdainfully at PR. “You bastard.”
PR shrugged. “Amongst other things. I’m sorry to have to do this to you boys. I got dreams of uniting all of Flint and making the city safe and prosperous again. With Atom on my side, they stop being dreams and turn into plans. You may have seen the Meadows job as a failure, but I saw nothing but opportunities.”
“Oh?” Tachi asked. “What for?”
“With the right guidance Atom will be the most powerful hacker in the world. If I can get him into the Army’s TacNet I can take control of their drones, feed them false information that will have them taking out my enemies for me, let me take over their territory, give Flint a chance to become a functional community again.”
“Indeed.” Tachi said. “And then what?”
“Then we reach out to the other martial states, by then there’ll probably be more of them. We carve out a new territory, grabbing enough land to make one unbroken border and then declare independence.”
“And you reckon the rest of the country’s going to let you do that?” I asked.
“No.” He said. “But we’ll be as reasonable as they’ll let us. Now step away from the chair Tachi, get down on your knees and put your hands behind your head. You may be able to take a few hits before you close with my boys, but Dust will be shredded to a fine red mist before you take ten steps.”
“Now now. There’s no need be so dramatic. I will comply.”
“Good.” PR said evenly. Then he turned to one of his Deadmen. “Take them to detention.”
I put my hand up. “Can I ask one question?”
Tachi groaned. “Go with a little dignity Dust.”
“Dignity? You want dignity? Here it goes.”
I gripped the side of my chair for support and pushed myself up, stretching out with my legs to take my weight. I had to concentrate on my balance without my other arm to support me. If I fell flat on my face right now they’d never take me seriously.
“PR? When you offered us sanctuary was this already part of the plan or were you waiting to see if we’d die in Texas first?”
PR looked at his Deadmen. “Take them away.”
By luck or design Rembrandt approached me first.
I wanted to remain composed and quietly defiant. But when he approached me with a pair of signal inhibitors in his hands my boiling, impotent rage burst from the knot in my stomach and vomited out my mouth.
“You piece of shit.”
Rembrandt’s eyes did a fast zoom-out, which enlarged the lenses and made him look like a sad, puppy-robot.
“You’d be rotting in a cell if not for me.”
His hand hesitated for a second, the inhibitor still between his fingers. Then he pressed onwards, gripped me tight around the arm and jacked it into the interface plug on the back of my neck. The signal strength icon in my Neupro turned from a dot with waves coming out of it into the Bluetooth rune, telling me that was all I had left.
[Great]. I messaged Tachi as Rembrandt took hold of the handles of my chair and led us away.
Want to read the whole thing now? Buy it here