Dust: Chapter 19 Part 1

Chapter 19: Smile for the Gun-barrel

The storeroom door opened and the meagre light spilling in from the gymnasium blinded me. I flinched and turned my face away from the light.

“Yo ready to die?” Rembrandt’s voice called from beyond the blinding glare.

Rembrandt came into my cell and knelt down to undo my restraints, he had a pair of handcuffs in his other hand. Those cuffs went right around my wrist as soon as it was free and before I could ask Rembrandt closed the other cuff around his own wrist.

He hesitated for a moment. “The hell is that smell?”

I rolled my tired head towards him. I’d been in here for days, what did he think that smell was?

Rembrandt turned his prosthetic face up at me in disgust. He turned to one of the Deadmen behind him. “Get some spare clothes. This cracker needs a bath.”

That eliminated ‘wait until his wounds go septic’ from the list of ways they’d try to execute me. I’d been worried for a while there.

Rembrandt took me through the gymnasium to the locker room where they gave me some soap and let me out of the cuffs. I hit the shower at gun point and was finally free of the camouflage fatigues. I’d worn the exact same suit every day since I mailed myself to Flint. On a better day I’d imply Rembrandt was enjoying the view as I washed myself. But on a better day I wouldn’t be washing faecal stains off my arse and thighs. No-one was having fun here.

When I towelled off the other Deadman handed me a neatly folded stack of clothes. I’d already gotten the pants on before I realised they were the undersuit one of the dead Security Solutions mercs had worn beneath his armour when he’d attacked the compound. Clearly PR didn’t want me to be popular.

I briefly wondered if they’d give me a haircut and shave before my execution. When I caught myself thinking that I stopped immediately. A chill ran through me. Killing all the warmth I’d enjoyed in the shower.

Rembrandt cuffed me again and we were back on our way through the gymnasium.

It looked like a disaster evacuation centre in here. Jamestown had converted the large-open space into a temporary infirmary for the wounded. I couldn’t know if Kitty’s figure of 100 casualties was accurate, but the wounded were definitely at least three times that many. I guessed from the depth of their ranks, arranged as they were on row after row of emergency cots.

Some were missing limbs either sealed with spray-skin like I had or their comrades had been forced to improvise other means to staunch their bleeding. Some of them may have had their lives saved, but their quality of life remained depressingly uncertain. The general wailing as fresh wounds acted up here and there told me that even something as simple as pain killers were at a premium here. Replacement cyber organs were not likely in strong supply and you could forget cloned replacements.

Even with the armoured plates removed from my borrowed uniform the SS patches on the shoulders marked me as ‘the enemy’. I drew burning, hate-filled eyes from everyone I passed.

Then out of nowhere this massive black momma burst from a crowd and smacked me in the face with a hand as big as a tennis racquet. I felt my broken jaw get knocked loose in my chin. The bolt of pain flashed through me so fast I blacked out.

I came to a second later. I was face-down on the cold floor, my jaw throbbed with agony. I tried to stand but my head felt like a goldfish after a smart-arse kid puts its bowel on a paint-shaker.

A firm, metallic hand grabbed me by the upper arm and yanked me up.

I saw Rembrandt standing before the woman who’d hit me.

“…Don’tchoo take that tone wit me boy.” She barked. “Ah been around since before you wassa spring in yo fatha’s step.”

“And if that counted for anything, you’d be runnin’ the joint.” Rembrandt shot right back at her. “You ain’t. Now move.”

Affronted, the big momma turned and left, the crowd parting to let her through. They stayed parted for the three Deadmen and their semi-conscious captive to continue on their way.

I fought to stay awake. Anything to keep them from dragging me. Tears trickled down my cheeks and the throbbing pain only got worse the longer it went on, but I tried with everything I had left to keep standing. If I was going to die I wanted to die on my feet.

Then my foot gave way beneath me. In the swirling mess what was my head I thought I’d put all my weight down at the right moment, but it slipped to the side without warning and kept going.

Fortunately my other knee broke my fall.

However much the army spent on my pain editor all those years ago, it would have been a bargain at twice the price.

“Aww fuck dis.” Rembrandt finally said. He knelt down, scooped me up and threw me over his shoulder.

Sometime later I was lying on an operating table in Doc Clarkson’s cybertech lab. I knew this because I recognised the boots and fatigues the body lying on the table was wearing. Despite the sheet over the subject’s face the fact I was seeing this whole scene from a high vantage point with low-resolution told me I’d been patched into the theatre cameras again.

Doc Clarkson looked up from a monitor to his side. “How’s that Dust? Can you see me? Can you hear me?”

[Loud and clear Doc.] I cyped back. My vidwindow appearing beside the workbench. [You want to tell me what I’m doing here?]

“I thought I’d pick your brain a little while I worked. PR wants you whole again so we’re printing out a new jaw for you.”

[Why’s he want me whole again? Isn’t he just going to top me after this?]

Doc Clarkson seemed to think about this. “He said something about how shooting a one-armed cripple with a face at right angles looks too much like kicking a man when he’s down.”

[So my execution’s just a public relations stunt?]

“All executions are publicity stunts. Yours will give your victims a sense of closure. Help them return to their lives.”
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