Dust: Chapter 21 Part 1

Chapter 21: Now it’s a party

I was still staring at my hand three days later. I closed my fingers then spread them wide, then I did it again two more times, trying to spread them faster each time. I brought each individual finger to touch the base of my palm and for the first time in my life my ring finger didn’t try to sneak down with my little finger. I touched each finger to my thumb in turn and then reversed the order.

Then for shits and giggles I rotated my wrist 720°. Never done that before.

My new right arm responded to my mental commands immediately. The neural pathways in my body had only been severed a few weeks ago and had barely begun to atrophy. The more I used it, the more normal it felt.

Its appearance was anything but. Like Duke I’d taken the casing off and had the exposed metal plated with chrome. My new arm shone like skyscraper glass in the sunlight. Diamond knuckles like Duke had installed would have been perfect, but there hadn’t been time to order them in.

I was sitting on the ground floor of what used to be the Ocean Pearl shopping complex on the artificial island of Rapture. Now they call it the markets.

Rapture’s markets were the floating city’s number one tourist attraction. I was in the middle of the food court, where the street vendors served up fish, noodles and mystery meat dishes that were as good to the nose as they probably were to your bowels. On the levels above me stall owners hocked everything imaginable. Sweatshop-made dresses, jeans and fashion-label knock offs. Pocket PCs that would likely melt on their first recharge. And any surplus weapons the Chinese People’s Army has ever lost and enough ammo for it to keep you shooting till the end of time itself.

Tactically they were a densely-packed mess full of civilians who were likely armed. A lot of balconies and upper-levels overlooked the main floor, giving us too many sniper positions to keep track off. On the floor it was shoulder-to-shoulder with the great unwashed. If I actually cared about walking out of this alive I’d never have agreed to this job.

I snapped my wrist back to its regular position and looked up. [Any movement from our Chinese friends?]

[Only twitches]. Joni replied. [Their head guard looks like he’s about to get his murder on if another random tries to shake them down for cash.]

Joni was talking about Sinotech’s ‘plain clothes’ operators. The three of them sitting uncomfortably in the middle looked like research staff. The other six were carbon-copies of Yoriki’s people in Kawada. Right down to the exact same design of briefcase.

Joni was sitting comfortably in our command and control centre which we’d set up in the entertaining space on the hydrofoil we’d hired. With her was Jay, who was coordinating with his contacts within Sinologic, Dr Tim Clarkson as cyber-maintenance support, Joni’s two electronic warfare operators and Kitty.

Kitty was handling everything in the digital world. Working on the main thrust of our plan. The part I wasn’t involved with.

[What about you Rembrandt?] Joni asked. [Any action where you are?]

[Nuttin’.] Said Rembrandt. He was upstairs overlooking a pair of suspicious individuals. Two more of Joni’s boys were watching another four of them. Their callsigns were Edger and Slice and their very existence convinced me I’ve been living in a G.I. Joe commercial since I took the Kawada job. Edger was the ‘defensive tackle’ (or whatever the Yank-ball term is) wearing the punk-decorated leather jacket with machine-gun belts crossed over his chest and a neon green mohawk that glowed brighter the more excited he got. He had a bulky prosthetic arm that looked like it came off a loading frame and a big glowing red cybereye. He looked like he’d been on the opposite side of the explosion that had caused Joni to be augmented the same way. He carried an FN-MAG 15 with a six-shot 20mm air-burst grenade launcher mounted underneath. The rejected OICW concept taken to its logical extreme.

Slice actually had a stolen or salvaged Silver Sentinel body painted black. Which was about the only thing I liked about him. I wouldn’t really say he had tickets on himself, more like a season pass and he was recording all his games on TiVo.

Slice had made some modifications, swapping out the standard legs for a pair of kangaroo jumpers.

He had a monofilament machete on each of his forearms and could shoot them out to five metres. His thighs still had the built-in holsters and he’d put in a request for Four-arms’ secondary limbs when they were repaired.

Both of them were martial law veterans, but from the army’s side. Our arrival on the island was cleared with the top people because Joni had agreed to run a gun shipment their way.

A few crates of rifles and machine guns that had gone missing from a US warehouse a few months back now sat in the loading dock of one of the Island’s leaders.

We could tell the suits were working with Sinotech because we’d intercepted their wireless data. We’d come late to this party and hadn’t been able to set up our own surveillance. Luckily Joni’s people knew a thing or two about electronic warfare and had managed to find military-grade encryption on a few wireless frequencies in the area. Cracking them gave us access to the footage from the mercs cyberyes as well as Sinotech’s operatives.

We could tell they weren’t Sinotech employees mostly because they were a mix of races, while the Sino’s we’re all, appropriately, Chinese. The next most obvious hint was that their gear was mostly Israeli, with some American stuff thrown in, at least from the glances Joni had got from the footage. She’d seen one of them check under a cardboard box for a sniper-rifle they had set up under there and at least once one of them had surreptitiously checked a pistol they’d drawn from their thigh, where there was no holster on their thigh to draw from. Suggesting they were using digital camouflage fatigues.

So they weren’t just any mercs. These guys were expensive. Expensive suggested successful. Successful strongly implied professional. And professional made it likely these guys were actually good.

[He’s made contact.] One of Joni’s EWOs announced.

[How can you tell it’s him?] Joni asked.

[It’s pretty easy to tell. There’s no way we’re cracking that kind of encryption. Not this century anyway.]

[So you’ve got no idea what he’s told them?]

[One moment boss…] He paused a moment. [They’re chatting about it. He’s actually apologised that he’s running late and won’t even be on the island for another two hours.]

[He’s fucking what?] Joni asked.

[He’s pulling a Miyamoto Musashi.] I explained. [He wants them to stew on it, get impatient and annoyed. My money says he’s either going to be even later than he said or he’ll surprise them by being half an hour early without any warning. Hell, for all we know he might already be here, watching the same stream we are.]

[Fucking wonderful.] Joni said. [Alright everybody, relax, but stay alert.]

I leaned back in my chair, put my feet up on the table and ordered a beer. I was the only one down amongst the street vendors, may as well make the most of it.
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