Chapter 16: Waiting and watching
I closed Sakazato’s journal and lay back in my chair for a second. “That little bastard.”
Tachi remained reclining on the couch, moving only his eyelids up at my outburst. “Find something interesting?”
“Atom’s not the scarred little kid we think he is.”
“No.” Tachi said. “It’s not even an A.I.”
“He’s professor Sakazato’s father.”
“Really?” Tachi sat up. “She said the same in her journal? She wasn’t doing a good job of keeping that a secret.”
I filled Tachi in on some of the highlights of Atom’s development history.
“He was willing to hold the entire project hostage?” Tachi asked.
Tachi thought about things for a moment. “The way he manipulated Sakazato’s assistants… sounds a lot like the way he behaves around Kitty and the other hackers.”
“So ‘it’ is a ‘he’ now?”
“Turns out ‘it’ always was.” Tachi said, ignoring the bait.
“How long do you think it will be before he’s the real power behind PR’s throne?”
“After PR’s little speech, I believe he already is.” Tachi said. “Patriot Rap wants to build an empire on Atom’s shoulders. After that, if his patriotism is more than just a controversial name, it’s likely he’ll hold elections. It would come as a surprise to no-one if PR also made himself a candidate.”
I looked Tachi in the eye. “That arsehole is not becoming president. Not after we gave him the means to do so. If anyone’s going to make money off that little shit, it’s going to be us.”
Tachi smirked at me. “Let’s start planning.”
My favourite part of this plan was the bit where I had to spend 8 hours in a box again. On the upside we didn’t need to pass as empty prosthetic bodies, so we got to spend the entire trip fully clothed, I didn’t need to starve myself and if I ever needed to I could just piss into a colostomy bag.
The next best thing was that these boxes were a lot larger than the ones we’d used for Kawada. So there was space in here for my new Heckler & Koch PD-9 with all the trimmings, a backpack containing two week’s rations, a thousand rounds of ammo, survival knife, bedding, cooking utensils and enough tools and equipment to establish a small comms tower.
My only complaint was that I couldn’t use the matrix while in the box. The wireless transmissions would have been something the army could track which would have given the hovercraft’s position away. So I played games in my own head and tried to reread Sakazato’s notes to pass the time.
When the roar of the jet engine behind us finally died down, I knew we’d reached Flint.
Tachi seemed to know it too, he blue-toothed a chat request my way.
[Hey mate.] I answered when his vidwinow popped up. [Looks like we’re here.]
[So it would appear. Unless our host is lying low to avoid detection. It might be for the best if we stay off the net a little longer, just to be sure.]
[Glad you said that mate, I was just about to check my emails.]
[Yes, well.] Tachi said. [I’m sure you’ll survive without reading about new and interesting ways you can enlarge your manhood for a few hours longer.]
I grinned at him. [I’ve been a bad influence on you, haven’t I?]
Tachi ‘Hmphed’ at me (as he does).
Then the sound of the hovercraft engines died down completely and we heard the cargo hatch being opened. The muffled sound of workmen yelling and joking at each other played out around us for a while before I felt my box being lifted off the hovercraft’s deck and moved around. From the slow yet steady way I was swung about I guessed these boys had access to one of the old wheeled forklifts rather than a humanoid loading frame.
The beeping sound of it reversing clinched it for me.
Then we were loaded onto a truck and driven around for a bit. I tried to get my body to relax and did some stretches, grateful again that I didn’t have to be packed away in foam padding.
Even so I was still sore all along my back, especially my arse, which was flat as a pancake now.
After a while the truck brought us out to the vacant lot we’d elected as our destination and set us down. Just to be sure we’d made up a stencil and painted ‘Do not stack’ on these boxes as well.
When the sound of the truck’s engine grew so distant we couldn’t tell it from the other sounds of traffic, Tachi and I opened our lids and took a peek outside.
We hadn’t been delivered to a vacant lot. We were at the threshold of Shantytown, population: two dozen families.
Even after everything I’d seen I could scarcely believe we were in the middle of what still proclaimed itself to be the greatest super-power on earth. These people didn’t even have shipping containers to live out of.
Homes were cardboard boxes and sheets of corrugated iron, rags hung from extension cords stretched between two posts to afford the inhabitants some privacy. The grass had grown up thick and was then trampled down when this lot moved in. I could smell their toilet from here and was grateful I couldn’t see anything.
The inhabitants themselves I couldn’t tell you about. They scattered the moment they saw two uniformed men emerge from a pair of mysterious packages dropped at their feet.
My instincts argued with each other. Some wanted me to sling my weapon to appear less threatening, the others refused to take my fingers off the pistol-grip.
“There goes the neighbourhood.” Tachi said flatly.
“Let’s just get our stuff and get out of here.” I loudly replied.
Then as I cautiously reached down for my backpack Tachi yelled. “Sniper.”
Next thing I knew I heard a shot and something pushed me from the side, knocking me right out of my box and into the muddy grass of the vacant lot. My pain editor wasn’t reporting anything worth worrying about, so I knew I hadn’t been hit.
Gunshots rang out around me, I rolled onto my back and turned my PD9 in their direction.
Just in time to see Tachi catch the young shooter square in the face with his next shot.
I rose to one knee and scanned around for new targets. The shooter had been a shabbily-dressed youth with an AK. Without a better look it was impossible to tell if he was one of the Slum Lords’ minions or just someone who lived here.
Some curious faces poked out of their boxes to see if the coast was clear and just as quickly shrank back.
“Let’s just get out of here.”
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