Dust: Chapter 24

Chapter 24: Let the games begin

We stared at each other. Kiru with her bullet wounds in her shoulder, lower ribs and back and me with only one eye and clothes that still stank of saltwater.
Kiru became preternaturally still. Turning off her simulated breathing, pulse and any others functions that helped her pretend to still be flesh.
I kept mine on. I wanted the subtle movements. The tiny, barely perceptible shifts that would make telegraphing my attack that little bit harder.
But Kiru moved with impossible speed. Blending instantly from absolutely stillness to explosive movement.
I grabbed the tip of my right index finger and pulled it off. Spreading my arms wide I caught Kiru’s string and it wrapped around my forearm. I kept coming, closing a bear hug around her shoulders and drawing my line across the back of her neck.
I brought my foot up to kick her away and Kiru knocked it aside. I tried to pull my arms back but Kiru held them out. The servo-motors in our arms straining against each other.
Then I went with her force, turned my arms down to the small of her back and pulled my shoulders back hard.
The line met resistance at first, but soon cut through. Slicing into her casing, her chassis and soon through the biopod. Kiru’s mouth fell open as my line reached the softest resistance yet.
Iie.” She gasped.
I stopped before I could draw the line into my own belly. And Kiru fell into two neat pieces.
For a moment I just stood there and stared at her. Somehow she looked too stiff to be a dead body.
I let go of my fingertip and withdrew the line to my hand.
I still had to find Atom.

I went back out onto the deck to find my Tri-Star, if only I could remember where in all the chaos I’d lost it.
The main deck was a shambles. Cardboard was still everywhere, but now there were scorch marks and a profusion of bullet-holes. It looked like a SWAT team had hit the place.
I found the penis-extension of a handgun by the BBQ area and checked it over. The finish was marred, but overall the hunk of steel looked like it would still shoot.
“Well.” A voice called out from behind me. “Wasn’t that exciting?”
I whipped around and put an armour-piercing bullet at dead centre-mass.
Tachi’s body looked down at the small hole in his solar-plexus. He looked up. “Ummm, OW!
I fired again, but the first shot must have been dumb luck because this next one went wide.
So I pretended it was a warning shot. “I got one left Atom, don’t push it.”
Course, if he did push it I still has some spare rounds on my webbing.
Atom shrugged. He was leaning in the doorway to the lower decks. As advertised his right arm had been severed just below the elbow and his left leg was gone above the knee. Now that the excitement was over I could sort of remember something leg-shaped in the wreckage on the deck, where his arm ended up was anyone’s guess.

In his left hand Atom held onto a broom, his posture suggested it was the crutch that got him around.
“Wait.” I said. “I forgot. You’re not Atom anymore, are you?”
“No.” Atom said and for the moment a slight smile returned. “I’m between names at the moment. I was hoping to choose a new one after all this was over.”
“Why not just go back to Yoshino Sakazato? It’s got a nice ring to it. And it comes with a brilliant roboticist of a daughter who’d give up anything in the world to help you.”
“I see you’ve read the research notes.”
“Not just read. I’ve given them to a talented cybertechnician and everyone in J.Random Hacker. Even on the Banditos budget you won’t be anything special in another year.”
[That’s not something we’ll have to worry about either.] Kitty’s voice appeared in my cype. [It’s over, Atom’s beaten. We owe a small army of hackers new decks but that’ll be a drop in the ocean after today’s haul.]
[Glad to have you with us Kitty. What kept you?]
[I only had to out-hack the fastest-thinking creature on the planet, nothing much. After that I had to locate this tub and break into its satellite uplink. It’s been a long day.]
I cocked the hammer back on my Tri-star. “Good thing it’s over now hey Atom?”
[Indeed.] Atom said. Invading my head.
I put a second round into Atom’s torso and blew a chunk out of his left shoulder. The whole prosthetic lost its grip on the broom and fell face-first onto the deck.
[Don’t bother Dust, you can’t actually hurt me. I was never foolish enough to put myself in danger.]
I opened up the cylinder and checked the rounds, they were all spent. I dumped them and loaded my three last rounds.
[You can shoot that body all day if it makes you happy. I’m not actually in it.]
Kitty’s voice perked up. [Say what?]
[My biopod is sitting in an undisclosed location somewhere far away. I abandoned Tachi’s body shortly after I left the states. When I was ready to put this operation into motion it made for a convenient distraction.]
[Damn it. I knew this was a trap. Ask Moe-moe.]
[Whatever.] Kitty said. [He lost, just get off the boat before he blows it up or something.]
Atom laughed over the cype. [Oh no, I’m not going to blow it up, that would defeat the purpose.]
[How would blowing up the boat stop you from stealing a billion nuyen? What kind of bullshit master plan is this?]
[Ahh but that’s exactly it. This isn’t my master plan. This isn’t even the opening move. This is more like the new transfer student walking into the shogi club and asking if anyone would like to play. I had no idea who would be sent after me when I setup the meeting with Sinotech and I needed a way to feel them out. The chance to achieve two-goals with one job and net myself a fortune to establish my position was merely a bonus. Now it seems that advantage has gone to you. Interesting.]
I’d had enough by then, this conversation wasn’t getting me anything. I emptied the last three rounds from my Tri-Star into Tachi’s old head, hoping I’d hit the network card and walked away.
[Moe-moe, jump into this boat’s GPS and plot me a course back to Bō shì fēiyuè. Tell Facineroso I’ll meet her at the docks.]
Atom’s murmured laughter followed me. [It’s going to be an interesting game. I’m looking forward to it.]
I reached into my Neupro and disabled my network access.

I parked my virtual arse into the digitally rendered booth and put my feet up on the table.
‘The Gentleman Loser’ pulsed all around me as J. Random Hacker threw their victory party. It looked like the adults only night of a pop-culture convention. Monsters and anime girls and heroes and wizards and cartoon polygons Oh my!
Kitty sat down opposite me, her sexy-leather catsuit creaking noticeably as she slinked her way across the bench seat.
She slipped a cocktail my way and raised her own glass. “Here’s to being prisoners together.”
I caught the glass and raised it to hers. “To ten years’ service.”
We clinked and I took a sip of her digital mystery booze. It tasted like a margarita, party food.
Kitty pulled the glass away from her lips. “So what’s our fearless leader got in store for you?”
“Downtime.” I said. “I need a head-swap before I can go out into the field again. Some of the lieutenants are murmuring that I should be sent out as is until I earn the repair. I’m arguing that I already have.”
Kitty nodded. “I’m getting stuck with R&D. Clarkie wants a prototype of one of Atom’s smaller components built in eight weeks. Moe-Moe’s crossing the pacific to join us.”
“A PvP and a B and E working in artificial intelligence research. What’s it like to be respectable?”
“I’ll let you know when I’m back to being
respected. The Jamestowners still hate me on sight.”
I raised my glass again. “To self-made pariahs.”
We did the clink and drink dance again.
“So have you chosen a prosthetic yet?” I asked.
“No.” Kitty replied. “I don’t think I will.”
“Really? You’d stay in the pod your whole life?”
“Just because you walk around in a shell doesn’t mean you’re not still in a pod Dust. Besides, I think Facineroso would prefer to keep me under the gun. Sorta like the hot-wire she installed in your pod.”
I took a drink without a toast. Facineroso had a kill-switch on hand in case I ever went rogue. Keeping me alive was risk enough, giving me guns and sending me out with limited supervision would be suicide without it. Or so her advisors told her.
Kitty also took a drink and looked out across the crowd. Absently she said. “I wonder if they’re doing the same thing to Tachi.”
I didn’t say anything.
Kitty looked at me.
I looked back.
She frowned.
I raised my glass to her. “To lost friends.”
All right, you’ve made it this far, I deserve at least something right?

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