Dust: Chapter 18 Part 1

Chapter 18: The Main Event


I stared dumbstruck for a moment. Did he really do that?

Whether this was all part of some elaborate ruse or he really did just up and leg it, I’ll never know. The stupid bastard ran right in between Kiru and the Machete-Swinger.

The big Texan took this chance of put some distance between himself and his svelte opponent. He went back into a kickboxing stance and I saw that the armour around his forearms were criss-crossed with tiny scratches and missing pieces, Kiru had clearly been going to town on him.

She stopped when her disciple got in the way.

Crocman also hesitated when he realised where he was. He looked at Kiru pleadingly. Making the fatal mistake of holding up his arms in defence. Kiru looked directly at his missing hand and narrowed her lips into a thin, murderous, slit.

Kiru moved towards him and Crocman cried “Iie.”

Kiru stepped up and side-kicked Crocman right out of his shoes, firing her piston-heel into him out of spite if nothing else. Crocman flew across the room until he was caught at the shoulder by the big Texan and impaled on his monomachete. The Machete-Swinger threw Crocman back at Kiru as she strode towards him and she roundhouse kicked her assistant out of her way without breaking stride.

Crocman’s prosthetic body hit a server tower and sprawled onto the ground like a rag doll.

Kiru kept striding towards the Machete-Swinger.

He raised the blade for a strike and Kiru threw her wires out at it.

The Machete-Swinger immediately changed tactics and retreated at step. Kiru took another step towards him and he advanced. Only for Kiru to wave at him with her other hand. The Machete-Swinger pulled back again, then jumped back two steps.

Kiru recoiled her wires and then the Machete-Swinger threw the blade at her.

Quickly Kiru pulled her head to the side and it sailed passed her, in the next moment the big Texan had closed with her and threw a hook punch at her. Kiru stepped back and parried this punch, her dainty prosthetic hands were tiny next to the armoured behemoth she was turning aside.

The Cyborg Kickboxer twisted his hips back the other way and threw out a roundhouse kick of his own at Kiru’s head. Their height difference made it easy for Kiru to duck under it and step around. But as soon as he’d finished his rotation the Texan lashed out with a lunging side-kick at her. Kiru changed directions and the Kickboxer’s heel punched straight through the next server tower.

Kiru took this chance to wave both of her hands at his head. Thinking fast the Kickboxer brought up his left hand and moved it into the wires’ path. The lines coiled around his utility-pole sized forearms and dug in a few millimetres into the armour, before Kiru retracted them and thinned it down by a few strips.

The Kickboxer retrieved his foot from inside the server tower and came at Kiru again. For a second the two of them danced around each other before the big guy came in with another wide-hook.

Kiru ducked under this, but where she was expecting to get another hit in on him she found his other hand grabbing the side of her head, before he slammed his knee into her face.

It sounded like a car ramming into a tree as the knee found its target.

The Kickboxer brought his knee down and rammed it up again, this time to be intercepted by Kiru’s crossed forearms. She caught the knee before it could reach her and began to push back down.

The Kickboxer moved with her, getting his leg out of the way so he could push down and drive Kiru into the ground.

Kiru pushed forward as he brought her down and dived out of his grasp and into a roll. The roll ended with her feet slamming into one of the few remaining server towers and she fired her heels.

The force of the twin pistons threw the balled up Kiru into a backwards roll that took her passed the Kickboxer as he tried to stomp on where she’d been a moment before.

Kiru rolled back onto her feet and immediately threw herself into a back-bridge as the Kickboxer thrust his heel at her in a sharp back-kick. Kiru jumped around onto her feet again and pulled her head back as he circled around and tried to catch her with another roundhouse kick. When that missed he continued the rotation into a spinning-heel kick.

Kiru skipped back another step and landed in a relaxed pose. She raised her hands and applauded his efforts. Politely. The way one would at the opera, or a golf tournament.

Ya think this is funny?” The Kickboxer spat. “Let’s see you laugh this off.”

The Kickboxer dropped into a gridiron crouch and sprinted at Kiru. Covering the distance between them in a fraction of a second. Kiru fired her heels and just barely managed to get out of the way before the Cyborg Quarterback trampled over the remains of a few sever towers and busted right through the wall.

Kiru turned around in mid-air and landed facing the Texan’s improvised renovations. She also landed right in front of the door we came in through. So I couldn’t exactly use this chance to sneak out and look for Kitty.

In the next moment Kiru bent backwards at the knees, catching herself with her hands and narrowly avoiding a piece of wall the big Texan tossed back at her.

The piece of wall smashed into the empty doorway and crashed down onto the Hair Guy’s limp prosthetic body. If he wasn’t dead before it was pretty safe to write him off now.

Kiru fired her heels and flipped back over to right herself again. Her opponent lumbered back in through the hole, grabbed the trampled remnants of one of the server towers and hurled this at her as well. Kiru jumped out of the tower’s way and it smashed into the wall beside her.

The cyborg quarterback grabbed another broken tower and Kiru sprinted at him. She dodged aside as this second tower hurtled passed her and kept going.

With nothing else within reach the Texan gave up on projectiles and rushed at Kiru with his fist cocked high. They closed and he hurled that shoebox sized hand at head height while Kiru spread her arms wide. And ducked.

The big cyborg’s hand swung high over Kiru’s head and she ran at him again. Stepping up on his knee, then his shoulder, she planted her heel square in the middle of his face.

Then she fired it.
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I assure you we’re open

I hadn’t realised it for ages, but almost none of the buy buttons I’d set up on the Booktable page have been working for at least the last two months, possibly longer. Unfortunately, because I happened to change jobs at the same time and the developer of the software I was using are having difficulty replicating the problem, I never got around to fixing the problem.

Well now I have, and I’m a tad annoyed at myself. I spent upwards of $50 on that software and yet today I managed to shit out a ‘not spectacular’ but certainly workable store page in barely an hour.

ebook copies are available from most popular ebook sellers. Hardcopies need to be bought through CreatSpace and anyone wanting a signed copy of the first edition of Dust of the Earth (complete with the odd spelling error that managed to slip past fifteen different drafts) can order them through my Etsy shop. Buttons for all of these options can be found Here.

Dust Chapter 14 Part 5

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.

[Yo

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.
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Dust Chapter 14 Part 4

Uh-huh.” Doc Clarkson said, the thin wisp of a smile forming on his mouth. “And if something happens between now and then?”

Well if your Deadmen can’t handle it I guess cybertech’s not that hot after all.”

I resisted the urge to lick my finger and mark a tick on an invisible scoreboard. So I did it in my Neupro instead.

When Tachi was finished helping Doc Clarkson we headed over to the main school building and took over one of the old classrooms. Most of the rooms up here had become either administration offices, planning centres, barracks for the soldiers without families or storerooms.

PR apologised for not being able to join us, but he had the whole operation around us to run and had been away too many days as it was. To make up for it, PR gave us the use of his war room to conduct the debrief. A large gas-station map of Flint took up an easel brought in from the art department. It had current patrol routes highlighted and marked sections designating certain districts as the territory of other slum lords. In the glance I got before I went to work I was impressed with his people’s organisation.

Kitty took Atom and her deck out of her backpack and we all plugged in.

Alright.” I started as soon as we had all logged into the Catcave. “The John Meadows job. How does everyone feel that went?”

Kitty sighed and looked up at me. “It could have been better.”

Every job could be done better.” I immediately corrected her. “What specifically was wrong with this one?”

Kitty scrunched her delicate hand into a fist. “Well Noodles is dead.”

Exactly.” I turned to Tachi next. “Tachi why is Noodles dead?”

Because his biopod accidentally found itself in the path of my younger sister’s signature weapon.”

We’re getting warmer. Yes she killed him, but we’ve got reason to believe she didn’t want to. So how did it happen?”

Atom, still in his leather jacket and shades avatar, spoke up in a confused voice. “Well she just walked in on us?”

I pointed out my finger at it. “We’re getting very warm now. Who wants to take us home and tell me how that happened?”

Kitty indignantly shrank back an inch. She tensed her shoulders like she was getting ready for a fight.

Tachi sighed and looked down.

Moe-Moe pitched her ball on its access, managing to look confused.

No-one? All right, let me paint you a picture. There are two things every successful job needs: Thorough planning and team work. What this job had was five people sitting around with their hands on their collective cock playing ‘Leave it to Atom’.”

Atom began to speak, but Kitty shot to her feet and slammed her hands on her desk. “You’re blaming Atom?

I’m blaming all of us.” I said. “Far as I’m concerned the only people who did their jobs right were Rembrandt and Duke. No matter how you slice it if Atom hadn’t been on the team that job would have gone down very differently.”

Actually it wouldn’t have happened at all.” Moe-Moe spoke up. “This many days in we’d still be hunting down email addresses. Gaining access to their system would still be almost a week away.”

In the meantime.” Tachi spoke up. “Dust and I would be concocting the break-and-enter plan, reconnoitring the grounds and gathering other forms of intelligence. Network access would actually be the last element to be put in place. But more importantly, with the extra time we’d require to devote to the task we would have more opportunities to look over the intelligence we had gathered, contemplate the possibilities and be struck by sudden inspiration. For instance, one of the questions we likely would only have asked ourselves if given enough time would have been ‘How often do RCF visit Noodles and at what times?’”

Tachi and I might even have discovered that staking the place out while you guys were doing the legwork online. But there’s something we haven’t touched on yet.”

Kitty rolled her eyes. “Great, so now how have we failed?”

Even considering the job as it went down, there was a critical moment where someone wasn’t doing their job and no-one took over from them.”

When was that?” came Atom’s confused voice.

When you took your eyes off the security cameras.”

What?” Atom stared dumbfounded. “But you asked me to help you with the biopod?”

No.” I said. “I did not ask you. I just put it out there, anyone on the team with hacking talent could have done the job.”

Not as quickly as I could.”

Then why didn’t you use all the extra time you’d be saving to ask Moe-Moe to take over from you?” I folded my arms at him.

Atom didn’t answer, the super-fast, hyper-intelligence was struck silent.

I’m waiting for an answer Atom.”

Atom glared at me. “I don’t have one. I didn’t think of asking Moe-moe to take over. I wanted to show you what I could do.”

Kitty took her eyes off me and they immediately softened. She stared at Atom.

It made a mistake?” She whispered.

So what if I did?” Atom he turned angrily towards her. “You guys make mistakes all the time.’ To err is human.’”

Kitty shot me a look that could cut ice.

We all make mistakes Atom.” I said evenly. “Mine was letting our hacker trio run free on this gig. Tachi or myself should have been watching their preparations more closely.”

Kitty flicked me the finger.

What’s your theory then Kitty? If you could go back and change one thing so we could bring Noodles back alive what would it be?”

Well seeing as that’s impossible I guess I’d rather focus my efforts on what I can do now in the real world.”

Which would be what exactly?”

Right now we’re building off what we’ve learned Atom is capable of and seeing what else he can do.”

Yeah. See, that’s another thing I’m really not comfortable with and it relates to the first. Atom, adorable as it is…” I looked at Tachi. “…is our hostage. It’s not a kid we all get to play with and it is not a member of our team. Need I remind everyone that in three weeks we’re handing it over to Sinologic and getting paid?”

Is that really all that matters to you?” Kitty said. “We have the single most-important scientific marvel ever created by humankind. It can think, feel, it just admitted it can make mistakes for god’s sake. And all you can think of is how to sell it?”

That’s fantastic. I assure you.” I said. “But it’s not going to mean jack when Kiru-no-yubi jumps over that fancy wall with those compressed-air rams in her heels and starts murdering left and right.”

Kitty rolled her eyes at me. “She can’t fight everyone herself.”

She doesn’t have to. All she has to do is draw our attention away from her mates, who blast in with demolitions. If they start shooting the place up while everyone was looking the other way a lot of people are going to find themselves shot in the back. RCF has managed to double-dip from the ‘element of surprise’ bowl and PR’s got a two-pronged assault to fight off in his own backyard. If I was in their position, that is exactly how I would play it.”

Then I had another idea. “Hell, if she lands amongst the demountables you might not even need the second prong. Just start slaughtering the civilian population until too many Deadmen show up, then run. PR’s army would be so pissed they’ll saddle right up and hit the street after her, leaving only a token force behind. A platoon of cub scouts could walk in and take over. PR’s boys would have to assault their own complex from the outside. Even if they win they’d be limping along after that. Best case scenario is they get absorbed by another Slum Lord. Peacefully.”
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Dust Chapter 14 Part 3

Kitty whipped her head around and giggled.

Oh him? That’s one of PR’s Deadmen. Can’t remember his name?”

Likely it contains the word ‘gold’ somewhere. It’s not real is it?”

Of course not.” And I knew Kitty was giving me the ‘idiot’ look again. “It’s aluminium, he’s just gone over it with a lick of paint.”

He does know C3PO was needlessly effeminate right? Or is that what passes for ghetto-chic around here?”

Kitty giggled a little at the Star Wars reference. “You should see a guy who calls himself ‘Master Flash’. His chassis has a disco-mode.”

I stared up at Kitty. “Disco-mode?”

Kitty nodded knowingly. “Disco-mode.”

I was about to press Kitty for details when Atom sent me another blue-tooth chat request. This one I ignored.

Where did you say Tachi was again?”

Kitty cocked her head in the direction of a large building on the other side of the complex. From its size I guessed this was where the actual schooling used to take place.

Your boyfriend’s this way. They built the chop-shop in the old swimming centre.”

The swim centre was easy to spot. The entire west wall was covered in a mural of a sexy (but not slutty) black woman dressed as the statue of liberty giving the viewer the eye. The backdrop was (naturally) the stars and stripes and in black letters beside her were the words ‘Lady Liberty Wants You.’

Hot.” I said.

Very.” Kitty agreed.

The fabled ‘Deadmen’ were everywhere around here. Like Rembrandt and Duke they were in your face about being cyborgs. Golden-rod outside was just one example of how someone with a bit of money and talent (but not taste) could embrace their transhumanity.

Everyone else deferred to the Deadmen, if only so they could gaze admirably as they walked past. Except the children, who ran headlong towards the cyborgs and touched them everywhere they could reach, asked to be picked up and carried and bombarded them with questions.

Couldn’t blame them, if I’d grown up with real-live superheroes strutting around I’d have annoyed the shit out of them too.

The swim centre had become the one-stop-shop for all of PR’s mechanical needs. The north wall comprised mostly of a folding window that had been tucked away to allow for vehicular access. Most of the ceiling above it was window as well, barely any artificial lighting was switched on.

Reinforced steel plating had been stretched out over the deep end of the Olympic pool to increase floor space and a wooden riser snuck underneath so mechanics could get to the underside of any vehicles they brought in. At the moment a battle-damaged Humvee carcass was being cannibalised for parts to repair another Humvee right next to it. The battle-damaged one was blue with the word ‘Police’ stencilled on it. The fixed up one had been painted yellow and had a body-kit set aside for it to make it look civilian.

I could smell their steel smelter from the other end of the pool. Scraps and leftovers no-one else could use were melted down into component metals and fed into the 3D printer next door to be turned into useful items.

We found Tachi in the shallow-end of the pool where the cybertech lab was located. Far enough away from the mechanics so that they weren’t tripping over each other, but close enough to share equipment.

To my surprise Tachi was actually making himself useful. He could hold Rembrandt’s severed head at just the right height indefinitely while the tech welded the spinal pole back together and added an armoured sheath over the repaired section.

How the mighty have fallen.” I yelled over the sound of angle-grinders tearing the Humvee apart.

Tachi Kojiro performing manual labour. Never thought I’d see the day.”

Tachi turned his head to look up at me while keeping his arms and shoulders completely immobile.

I stopped when I saw his face, more specifically, the eye. The eye had been completely replaced with a perfectly human-looking eyeball. Which stood out on his heavily burned and scarred flesh.

Tachi opened his mouth to blast me with some witty comeback, but when he saw me he interrupted himself to laugh. “A Dr. Kimble called. He said he was very interested in meeting you.”

I don’t get it.” Kitty said.

Tachi just won the obscure reference trophy.”

I was drawing attention to Dust’s obvious deficiency.” Tachi sneered. “Suggesting perhaps some less-than-mighty had in fact fallen much further.”

Me?” I laughed. “You’re the one who looks like he’s jogged across mercury wearing a thin layer of tanning oil.”

The tech extracted himself from Rembrandt’s insides. He flicked off the pin-torch and pulled up his welding mask. “Thanks Tachi. He should be fine now.”

He was a small man with a smiling, boyish face smeared with grease and soot. The welder’s mask and smock over a set of denim overalls gave him a junior mad scientist look.

You’re welcome Doctor.” Tachi replied. “If I may interrupt your work, I’d like to introduce you to my friends.” Tachi indicated up to us. “The cripple in the chair is Dust, the young lady lumbered with him is Kitty. Dust, Kitty, this is Doctor Timothy Clarkson.”

Dr. T Clarkson beamed up at me. “So what brings you to my humble workshop Mr. Dust? Are you interested in letting me replace that missing arm of yours?”

I looked at Tachi and sighed. “Why do I get the feeling you already know the answer to that?”

Tachi looked innocently up at me. “The man’s a licensed Cybertechnician, the subject naturally arose in conversation.”

I slit my eyes. “I’ll bet it did.”

Kitty nudged me. “Don’t be mean. Your friend was concerned for you.”

That did not help my mood.

Doctor Clarkson put the spool down and walked towards my end of the pool. “I assure you Mister Dust, I may be in a bush-league workshop but my work is first rate.”

Yeah I know.” I said. “I’ve seen it strutting around in all the colours of the rainbow.”

Clarkson chuckled at that. “I can’t say anything for the Deadmen’s taste.” He reached up and brushed his own cheek. “But I can tell you I saved my best work for myself.”

Kitty cocked her head to one side “So what, you’re wearing a prosthetic too?”

Doc Clarkson beamed at her. “Exactly. You know this is actually my original face, I copied the cranial configuration from my own skull and grafted the skin in place before letting the Realskinn grow around it. Tomorrow we’re going to start work on replacing Tachi’s damaged Realskinn with some fresh samples from the gene bank.”

Isn’t that stuff expensive?

It is.” He said. “But Patriot Rap insisted that I extend every courtesy towards you during your stay.”

I sighed and muttered under my breath. “Because there’s no-way that could possibly bite us in the arse.”

Kitty nudged me again.

Well let’s just say ‘Thanks Doc, but no thanks.’ Plan of attack right now is to lie low out here where Roxorgh would need an army to find us, wait until Sinotech’s got their courage back and make the sale. After that I’m going to sign on with a biotech firm for their full coverage and have a new arm grown for me.”

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Dust Chapter 14 Part 2

The soothingly constant beep of a heartbeat monitor brought me from the darkness. My eyes stung at first but quickly adjusted to the light. I saw an old fluorescent tube, alone in a space meant for two, next to a ceiling panel that was missing. Allowing me to see the electrical conduit running along the steel girder.

Ah.” said a soft voice, reminding me of a young mother. “Looks like you’re up and about.”

I tilted my head forward and saw her. Not a young mother, but a young doctor. She had dark cocoa skin and her long curly hair tied back behind her head, a pair of stylish tech specs with clear lenses shielded her eyes. She smiled and raised the tech specs up above her forehead.

She was easily hot enough to be the minority love-interest on a prime-time medical drama.

I let out an exasperated sigh. “Another bloody hospital.”

The Doctor smirked and shrugged. “It’s unavoidable in your profession. I see so many of your kind in here, coming back again and again, it’s a mystery you aren’t better tippers.”

I regarded the Doctor with my impassive stone-face.

That one usually gets a laugh.” She remarked.

I imagine your audience is usually so happy to be alive that just the invitation is enough.”

The Doctor muttered under her breath. ‘Damn it he knows my secret.’

Then I laughed.

Doesn’t that feel better?” The Doctor asked.

Yeah.” I nodded. “It does. How am I doing?”

It’s a miracle you’re alive.” She said off-handedly.

I looked down at my body. “We talking the arm or the gut shot here?”

Gut shot? Pfft! Niggah please. Those AP rounds went right out the other side. Textbook stuff. No your problem was you forgot all about the round that winged your left arm, it was still bleeding out on you the whole time. I’m guessing you’ve got some good pain-editing hardware mounted somewhere in that skull of yours.”

Spot-on Doc. Good work. What happens now?”

I’d prefer it if you’d stay in bed, your chest wound may not be fatal but it will reopen if you exert yourself. You’re free to move around the compound if you want, but I’d like you to borrow a wheelchair.”

Keep the torso immobile, check. Anything else?”

That’s where you’re pretty lucky, well we both are. That pain editor in your head means I won’t have to prescribe you any of our dwindling pain medication. All you need to do is rest up and heal.”

This is where you hand me the bill right?”

She smiled. “Because keeping your ass alive ain’t worth nothing once you’re back on your feet. Don’t worry about the bill, you’re Patriot Rap’s guest so this one’s on the house.”

Really? He’s got that much pull around here?”
“He’s the only person who’s in charge of anything that’s actually trying to make things better. The other ‘Slum Lords’ are just thugs with guns and money and the PMCs like to stay cooped up in their bases until they need to go kill somebody.”

But PR’s different?”

Stop flirting with the sexy doctor.” Kitty stuck her head around the doorway. “I’ll tell Tachi.”

Kitty strode in wearing a big puffy black jacket over a short skirt and black tights. With the backpack slung over one shoulder she looked like a Japanese schoolgirl who’s into punk.

Oh?” My doctor said. “You’re already with someone and felt it was okay to be cute with me?”

Tachi’s only my partner in crime.” I told the doctor, then I tilted my head to look at the approaching Kitty. “Damn it woman, you’re scaring her away.”

The doctor blinked a few times and smiled. “Excuse me, but I’m a married woman.”

Damn it Kitty.” I said. “Now look what you’ve done. You made her married.”

Now it was the Doctor’s turn to laugh.

Kitty parked her arse on the corner of my bed and crossed her booted legs. “How’s he going doc? Will he live?”

He’s fine. If he promises to be good from now on he might even avoid a return stay in our accommodations.”

Then I’d better make sure I stay a bad boy….”

Oh shut up Dust.” Kitty groaned. “Let the poor woman go.”

Do you mind? I’m trying to score here.”

The doctor smirked again. “We’ll it’s good to see you’re up and around Mr Dust. Patriot Rap likes to ensure his guests are feeling well. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have other, less entertaining, but no less important patients to look after.”

Bye.” Kitty waved. “Thanks for putting up with him.”

Bye sexy doctor-lady.” I waved as well.

The doctor returned our wave and glided silently out of the room.

So.” I said to Kitty. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Kitty slung the bag off her back and reached for the zip. “Atom missed you, he wanted to say ‘hi’”

Can he hang on a minute?” I asked. “I want to debrief everyone over how the Meadows job went down.”

Atom sent me a Bluetooth chat request. I denied it. Kitty wrinkled her nose at something.

Where’s Tachi?” I asked.

He’s getting fixed up at the chop shop?”

They can fix cyborgs here?”

They’ve got a skeleton-crew hospital on-site, compared to that a cybertech chop-chop is nothing.”

Shit!” I looked dumbfounded at Kitty. “How big is the set-up here?”

Kitty smiled, slipped Atom’s bag back on her shoulder and stood up. “It’s huge. Let me show you around.”

I got the idea when Kitty pushed me from the infirmary to the cybernetics shop.

This whole compound used to be called Jamestown multi-district high school.” Kitty explained. “I looked into it while you were out. The board of education decided that building one massive super school would be more economic than a half-dozen district schools. PR even went to high school here.”

That much was clear from the stars and stripes everywhere you looked. Equally clear was how much they’d modified it since taking over.

Now this place is a fortress.” Kitty pointed at a stack of abandoned cars that lined the side of the baseball field, which had been turned into a vegetable garden.

The car wrecks make this place impossible to break into without a tank. On the other side of the wrecks is a chain-link fence topped with razor wire. There’s also a single strand of monofilament hidden amongst it, every now and then a pigeon slices itself in half trying on land on the razor wire.”

Guard towers made out of scavenged building materials had been placed evenly along the edge as well. Only a few of them were occupied right now.

I shrugged. “A cool wall is nice, but unless it’s covered by rifle it’s just an engineering problem waiting to be solved.”

The wire has just enough current going through it to alert the guards should anyone try to cut their way in. So there’s no way past it by stealth. And if someone did just try to blast their way in it’d be hard to miss the sound. You’d still have an army to fight off as soon as you set foot inside.”

Can’t argue with that.” I said. “How big is the population here that they can sustain their own doctor and cybertech clinic?”

Don’t know the exact numbers.” Kitty said before pointing out to a series of demountables out on the parking lot. “But the majority of the civilian population lives out there.”

Really?” I asked. The demountables were stacked two high, a faded elementary school logo on the side of one of them suggested they had been moved here from elsewhere. They were arranged in a semi-circle that took up the entire parking lot, leaving only a single demountable sitting in the middle of the courtyard that resulted. “What? Do they just cram a family into one of those and tell ’em, ‘that’s your home now’?”

Kitty gave me an amused look. “Not just one. And they don’t cram them in there from what I can tell. People move around until they find a spot with neighbours they’re comfortable with.”

She pointed at the demountable in the middle. “That one’s the school house.”

I had actually stopped paying attention at that point. Not because Kitty was losing me, but because a robot made of solid gold strutted right passed me like he owned the place.

What. The. Fuck?”
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Dust Chapter 14 Part 1

Chapter 14: Quiet on the home front

I don’t know what Flint, Michigan was like back in its heyday, if in fact it had a heyday once. But I took one look at it and was convinced I’d be safer back in Port Moresby.

PR’s people met us at the Hoverport, which like the one at Dalhart was a couple of derelict warehouses on the outskirts of an abandoned town that had been converted into hangars. Which just went to show how organised the underground smuggling and transport network was. If you wanted to get anywhere or move anything within the martial law states and you didn’t want the military in on it, you went by hovercraft.

My wounds were light enough that Tachi hadn’t had any real trouble stabilising me. A quick application of spray-skin and a tightly wrapped bandage kept me from bleeding out. But I had still lost a lot of blood. Fortunately the Bag-o-Doctor also contained some plasma pills. I remembered when those things were first introduced half-way through the Austral-Indo war. You know you’re living in the future when the stop-gap measure for massive blood loss is to pop two pills and wait for them to stimulate your bones into producing a rapid increase in fresh blood (that and keep drinking your orange juice kid).

In the meantime I was still feeling very woozy. A visit to a real doctor was still in the cards.

PR’s personal Humvee was a little something else. It would have looked less out of place in an RnB music video or as the ride of an African despot. This thing had been stretched out to include a pimped-out shag-upholstered interior and the exterior was all metallic stars and stripes with the presidential seal on the hood.

The roads here were worse than Port Moresby. Maintenance had obviously ended with civilian justice in this state. The highest burned-out vehicle per square mile ratio (some of which were still on fire) wasn’t doing them any favours either. But on top of both of those was the amount of debris on the road. Not just old newspapers and tin cans, but fucking house-bricks in some places. We saw more than one shanty-town made of corrugated steel and cardboard built amongst the ruins of what had been shop-fronts and office buildings, back when they had all four walls and a complete roof over the top.

And then there was…

Oh my God.” Kitty said. “That child is defecating on the side of the street, ohmygodthat’sdisgustingwhereareherparentsI’mgoing tothrowup.

Yeah. There was that. That happened.

[Why is that child doing that?] Atom asked. [Why does it upset Kitty so much?]

[Probably because she’s going in the gutter on the side of a busy street.]

Atom thought about this for a second. [That sounds sensible enough, it should get washed away next time it rains. Why does she object to it?]

[Probably because two states ago we were walking the halls of a top-flight medical clinic and within the same country we have a little girl who doesn’t even have access to a working toilet.]

We encountered an armed patrol on our way. They may have painted the Humvees blue and slapped the word ‘POLICE’ on the side, but the armed soldiers in fully-enclosed armour weren’t fooling anyone.

As one every visored face turned to glare at PR’s motorcade. Whichever force this was hadn’t learned that when you’re conducting peacekeeping ops friendly faces and a human appearance are more important than air conditioned comfort and gas protection. The gunner on the remote turret up top swung the heavy barrels of a pair of .50-cal machine guns in our direction. PR gestured to one of his Deadmen, a cyborg with a grotesque skull mask for a face. Skullface opened up a panel in the back revealing an M72 light rocket launcher.

But nothing happened. PR’s motorcade sat tight and the patrol rolled past. PR glanced at Skullface and the rocket launcher was stowed away again.

I looked at PR. “What the fuck are they up against that your cops need all that gear?

Me.” PR smirked. “Me and the other slum lords. And they ain’t cops, they US Army. Under all that armour they’re still flesh. That’s why they didn’t go rock ‘n roll on us. They know better.”

Really?” I asked. “Because those twin .50’s looked ready to go.”

Oh they’d rip us a new asshole. No doubt.” PR said. “But then the whole street would know it was on. Word travels fast when you’re unemployed and your kids got no school to be at. Soon everyone with a gun and a grudge against The Man would be popping off shots at them and running away. They’ve got the weapons, but they don’t got a bullet for every man, woman and child in the ‘hood.”

“That.” PR went on. “And the army boys and girls have wised up. They know that whenever they tangle with the ghetto, it always gains something. Guns, ammo, food, these Humvees, even my Deadmen, all that shit gets picked up by some kid or somebody with a tow-truck and sold onto someone who can use it. The Army knows that now, so they try and keep their action to a minimum, lest we be strutting around with their gear next time they see us.”

That was interesting, obviously the policy of ‘denying the enemy’ by burning everything down with thermate wasn’t working that well out here.

Tachi looked over from where he’d been sitting. “But the PMC’s are another matter?”

The smile retreated from PR’s face. “Yeah. They are.”

That was something else I hadn’t heard of. South-East Asia is my normal theatre of operations, so I’d managed to miss what was going on in this hemisphere.

Still, a counter-revolutionary war against their own citizens, prosecuted by private military forces with no independent oversight did not sound like it was going to end well and sure as shit didn’t sound like it was going to end soon.

Dust?” Tachi nudged me. “Are you okay?”

I realised I’d closed my eyes for a few seconds without meaning to. I snapped my eyes open and took a breath. “Yeah I’m fine.”

PR looked out the window, but didn’t seem to be focusing on anything. “The PMC’s move around by helicopter. They drop their teams right on top of their objective and just start shooting anything that moves. They mostly go after the other ‘Slum Lords’, that’s what they call people like me. People who are just trying to pull Flint up by its bootstraps.

The distant sound of an AK emptying its magazine at something interrupted him.

Course, the authorities ain’t the only problems out here.”

At least they’re still conducting proper patrols.” I said. “Good to see the US Army hasn’t completely forgotten its field craft.”

PR shook his head. “That weren’t no patrol. Only unmanned drones patrol these streets. They’re either bomb disposal or there’s someone they want a word with.”

How’d it get this bad?” Kitty asked.

Everyone’s got their theories. Right-wingers say the Daniels Administration was too soft on crime. Lefties point the finger at the dismantling of state welfare. Me? I say we were on this track when we first went libertarian. Things keep going this way and we’ll see a lot more of this all across the country.”

I didn’t know enough about the political situation around here to comment on that. But my mind flashed me an image on the back of my eyelids of the fortified border around Oregon. It felt good to close my eyes, so I decided to keep them that way.

I’m almost afraid to ask.” Tachi began, “But exactly how bad is it out here compared to other states?”

PR though about it for a second. “You got Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee and Mississippi. They all declared martial law over the past four years. And things have only gotten worse since. There’s no civilian government, no cops, no schools, no postal service, hospitals you can only visit if the army has a cot free and nobody doing anything about keeping the streets clean or…”

Man it felt good to have my eyes closed.
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Dust Chapter 13 Part 4

[Get the doors.] I told Tachi. [Sooner or later one of those rounds is going to find Kitty or PR.]

[Some already came close.] PR informed us. [We got us a holy-windshield now.]

[Well a second ago he was trying to make the van a convertible.]

Tachi waited for SS to change mags then dashed out and grabbed the doors. A couple of bursts got him square in the face before he got them closed. SS emptied ammo wildly into the back of the van after that. PR’s words were a bit late, the van was already pretty holy.

We gained a lot more ground on SS before we reached the Marina. I could still see him in the distance, once we brought the van to a halt that distance would shrink rapidly.

The thunder of a massive engine told us the hovercraft was on its way. Kitty darted her eyes around. [Where’s the hov…]

Then our pilot screamed in from the river, mounted the ramp and spun the craft right around so that the wide side door opened up in front of us.

PR jammed on the breaks. [Everybody out.]

[Don’t forget anything important.] I said, holstering my PD9 and grabbing the 240.

Kitty grabbed Atom from the cabin, threw open the passenger door and legged it for the craft. PR followed her.

Tachi grabbed Rembrandt and guided him to stand.

[I got him.] I said [You keep Seriously-pissed-off Sentinel off our backs.]

Tachi opened the back door and stepped outside. Sliding both swords out of their sheaths as he touched pavement.

[Can you hear me Rembrandt?] I asked.

[I hear you. You been shaking me around a lot, what’s going on?]

[I need you to stand and follow me out, stay low-though, you’re still in the van.]

Guiding Rembrandt out of the van was annoyingly awkward. I had to lead him by feel.

[Who’s that?] Rembrandt suddenly asked when his foot slipped on Duke’s shin.

[Just keep going. Company’s on the way.]

I kept alternating my view from Tachi, to the entrance to the Marina and to the hovercraft. My mind told me that at the first sign of SS to just let Rembrandt go and leg it for the exit.

Then I saw Psycho Sentinel jump down from the roof of the boathouse and land a few metres from Tachi. Tachi dashed towards him.

[Shit, he’s here.] I exclaimed, and put my arm around Rembrandt’s back and pushed him. [Move it mate. We gotta go.]

SS snapped up a pistol at Tachi and pulled the trigger.

Tachi was already slicing the gun in half, separating the slide from everything beneath it.

SS responded by palming Tachi in the face with the hand holding the pistol before Tachi could take his next swing.

Tachi was forced back a step while SS followed up with a gut-punch. Then he opened his fist, dropped the broken pistol and grabbed a handful of Tachi’s fatigues before firing his in-built taser on its overcharge setting.

The crackling burst of electricity fried every circuit in Tachi’s fatigues. They were already full of holes form the rounds he’d taken, but the overcharge shot off-lined the entire unit, his fatigues returned to their native black, the section SS had been holding gaining a glassy tint from the excessive heat.

Tachi himself suffered third degree burns in various places on his Realskin. It added a hint of fried chicken smell to the air.

Tachi dropped to one knee, a sword dropping from his grasp.

I froze mid-stride, while Rembrandt heedlessly ran on.

Tachi!”

Silver Sentinel looked up at me, the retractable mouth-shield he’d raised to protect his ‘community policing’ face had been damaged somewhere along the way, allowing me to see the grin he flashed when he saw me.

I dropped the empty 240 and reached for my PD9

SS snapped up his pistol and squeezed a burst into me.

I hadn’t even gotten the gun out of its harness.

At first I’d thought he’d missed, then my pain editor blanked out all feeling entirely, leaving me completely numb. I felt my shoulder sag involuntarily and my legs became weak.

I gasped. And tasted blood. I must have bit my tongue.

Then Tachi put his head up, grabbed the Sentinel’s ankle with his free hand and sliced his shin in half with his sword.

The smile disappeared from the cyborg’s face.

A quarter-ton of cyborg hit the ground before I did.

Tachi stood up and planted his heel on SS’ gun wrist, before it too was sliced off. Then he turned back towards the hovercraft and saw me. He baulked.

Dust?” Tachi exclaimed. Ending the longest round of Marco-Polo we’ve ever played.

He dashed over to me, completely forgetting about his other sword, grabbed hold of my rescue strap (what the hell did we have to do before they added them to fatigues?) and snatched me off the ground. He sheathed his sword and transferred me to a proper cradle position.

No.” I mumbled. Completely disregarding the very real chance I might bleed to death. “This isn’t homo-erotic at all.”

Fortunately, internal monologues are exactly that. Tachi got me inside the hovercraft and laid me down on the space between the chairs. PR hit the button for the doors to close behind him.

[Strap yourself in.] PR told Tachi. Outside the pilot was already taxiing us out of the marina and into the open water. Inside it was far too loud for ordinary conversation. [We need to hit the jets and get out of here.]

[He needs medical attention.]

The pilot jumped into the cype. [There’s a Bag-o-Doctor in the back by the bunk. If you can wait until we’re over state lines you can treat him then. If you can’t then when we’re all arrested maybe Night Watch can drop him back at the same hospital you ripped off.]

[But he’d get medical attention?] Tachi asked.

[That was supposed to be sarcastic. I thought you could tell.]

[Don’t be an idiot Tachi.] I said [Just strap me in so we can get out of here.]

Tachi growled under his breath and did as I asked, before he strapped himself into the furthest chair and looked away.

[Alright.] The pilot began [Now that the seat belts are fastened and the tray tables are up we will proceed to our destination at something approaching the speed of sound. Sit down, shut up and hang on.]

Then she hit the after burner.

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Dust Chapter 13 Part 3

I stuck my head out the window and saw. High above us, hanging from a zip line was our Scratch-and-dent Sentinel. He wasn’t in a hurry to go home tonight.

Air One moved over the highway and came in low, following right behind us, but also dangling Night Watch’s toy cyborg in Templar Protection’s face.

A smirk tugged at my lips. I pulled my head back in.

[How’s the eye Duke?]

[Gone.] He replied, attaching another belt to the one already loaded. [But the other one works just fine.]

[Good. I need you to have another go at shooting down that helicopter.]

By the time Duke got the back door open and hung himself out the side, Templar Protection had added another couple of squad cars to our tail.

Tachi grabbed hold of the bench seat with one hand and the webbing crossed over Duke’s back with the other, steadying the big borg as he did his best to aim.

Duke’s tactic for compensating for his lack of depth perception was to deliberately aim off to the side of Air One and sweep his fire across target.

Air One banked away as the tracer crept closer, swinging around the sentinel underneath.

Duke noticed a better target as he did so and unloaded the rest of the belt at and around the tail-rotor.

A couple of rounds must have done the job as Air One swung violently back the other way and eased off the throttle after that. Seen-better-days Sentinel snapped his head up and gestured angrily at the pilot for a few seconds, when it became clear the pilot was going to bring her down, SS let go.

Even over the roaring sirens the sound of 250 kilos of armour and cyborg hitting the pavement still made Kitty stick her head out the window.

What the hell was that?”
I already had a clear view out the back door. “We’re about to see his top sprinting speed.”

What does it think that’s going to achieve?” Tachi asked. “If it had the speed to catch us it would have done so in the suburbs.”

SS didn’t seem to care, he dropped down into a sprinter’s crouch and took off after us. Behind him Templar Protection gunned their engines again. They’d backed off a little when Duke opened up on the helicopter, now that both of their objectives were on the ground in front of them they manned up.

SS’s thighs opened and he had his pistols out and blazing an instant later.

I crouched down tight behind Rembrandt again, who was still sitting perfectly upright, cradling his head in his hands. God only knows what he thought was happening this whole time.

Tachi turned to one side and covered his chest with his arms as the barrage tore through the van.

Duke ignored it and went back to reloading the 240.

Then one round punched through a crack in Duke’s armour and pierced his biopod. The belt dropped from his fingers as his body immediately stilled. His eye locked forward, staring at the exact point he’d been looking at the moment the bullet went through.

It was only when the vibrations from the engine caused his body to topple forward like a statue that any of us became aware he’d died.

Tachi reached out for him and managed to catch hold of the rescue strap on his left shoulder as he fell out. Tachi had to drop down to his knees to catch him and Duke’s body still hit the road. Tachi reattached the carbine in his other hand to the magnet on Duke’s back and got his other arm around Duke’s waist.

The rubber on Duke’s boots had already begun to grind away as Tachi heaved with all his strength to lift him back into the van.

Out on the road, SS had speed-loaded both pistols and had resumed his barrage. Tachi stood Duke up again and held him up as a shield. Snatching the carbine off his back to return fire.

I did the same with my PD-9 behind Rembrandt.

SS rushed through our fire undaunted. The high-velocity 9mm and armour-piercing 5.56mm bouncing off harmlessly. It wouldn’t have been out of place for him to puff his chest out and smile.

Then Atom’s voice appeared in my head.

[Why don’t you shoot at the cars behind him?]

I hesitated, my finger hovering over the trigger. [Good idea mate. Tachi, shoot at the cars behind him.]

Tachi loaded another magazine from the stash hanging off his shield and did just that. I turned my SMG out to the massive wave of squad cars and squeezed off a long burst. We swept our fire back and forth, until the rounds caused one of Templar Protection’s people to freak out and swerve right into the squad car beside them. Spreading out only three ranks wide and several ranks deep now worked against them. As the front row were forced to a sudden stop the next rows slammed on the brakes.

Night Watch would later get in the ear of one of their news affiliates and ran a report claiming over a dozen cars rammed up the back of each other, bringing the entire pursuit to a standstill.

All except their Somewhat beaten-up Sentinel, who continued to lose ground to our van’s roaring engine.

PR took us down the last off-ramp and towards the marina. I breathed a sigh of relief. We out-paced SS on the highway and used that to gain a lot of ground. If he’d been chasing us in the twisting streets of upper-class suburbia he could cut across spaces we couldn’t and move directly towards us while we had to follow the roads.

I leaned back in my seat and glanced out the window looking up at the highway.

And saw a tall, dark figure vault off the side of the wall and plummet down into the gap between the highway and the not-so affordable housing.

[He’s still on us.]

[It.] Tachi and Atom corrected in unison.

[Oh for the love of… Do you really think now is the time?]

The resounding NO answer came in the form of a loud metallic ‘THUMP’ and the entire van swaying to the right suddenly.

[Oh Shit!] PR yelled. [He’s on our back.]

Tachi looked in the direction of the thump and saw it. A set of chromed metallic fingers had punched through the van’s soft bodywork and dug in for grip.

Tachi pushed Duke’s body into the seat behind him and drew his swords. He stabbed both of them back through the body of the van and with a quick circle separated the one piece SS was holding onto from the rest of the van.

SS came away from us and fell to the road, bouncing and rolling as he forcibly decelerated. Miraculously he corrected his roll, stood back up out of it and resumed sprinting after us.

[This may be redundant, but he’s, still, after us.] I told PR and Kitty.

I holstered my SMG and picked Duke back up. Tachi joined me as Smashed-up Sentinel got his guns out and started peppering the van with ammo again.
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Dust Chapter 13 Part 2

Kitty’s vidwindow appeared next to my head. [Templar Protection are closing in.]

[How far off are they?] I asked.

[They just turned down our street.]

Duke let rip on Silver Sentinel. At the same time SS snapped up both his pistols and returned fire.

The first burst tore a chunk out of Duke’s head, destroying his right eye. Tachi had already ducked back inside the van to reload.

Duke kept pouring on the lead, but it was barely making a dent. When SS closed to ten metres he put his pistols back in his thighs. Duke tossed Tachi the 240 aside and got down into a low wrestling stance.

[Oh you’ve got to be kidding me. Duke get in the fucking…]

I didn’t even get to finish the sentence when the two cyborgs collided. Everyone in the street heard that crash. With a grin on his face a kay wide Duke hurled himself at SS at the last moment. For a fraction of the second they remained in my line of sight I couldn’t help but wonder if they were reliving their high school football days.

Regardless, Silver Sentinel just had too much weight (and run up) on Duke and took him down.

Tachi drew his monofilament swords and jumped out.

I yelled after him [For fuck’s sake we’re trying to get away.]

The blaring sirens outside told me Templar Protection had arrived before Kitty could update me.

[You want I should just hit the gas and get us outta here?] PR asked.

[Don’t tempt a tired man.]

Kitty was less happy. [Templar Protection are almost on top of us. Get moving.]

Silver Sentinel must have had the same rear-mounted cybereyes Kiru had. He interrupted his ground and pound on Duke as soon as Tachi got anywhere near him. Pushed down on Duke’s chest to free his legs from the mount and half-cartwheel away. He landed in a low stance, ready to shoot for a tackle.

Tachi sized him up, keeping his swords loose and ready to move.

Then one of Templar Protection’s heavily armoured squad cars rammed straight into Silver Sentinel.

Atom’s voice came over the cype. [I told Templar Protection that one of Night Watch’s sentinels went rogue and there’s a bounty on him.]

[You did what?] I blinked. [Good work son].

Tachi wasted a precious second blinking as it registered that his second biggest problem just took care of his first. Then he sheathed his swords, hooked his arms under Duke’s armpits and dragged the borg back into the van.

I yelled at PR “Punch it!”

[Too late.] Kitty said. [They’ve cordoned off the area, they’re deploying road spikes…]

[Don’t worry. I see a short cut.]

PR stepped on the pedal and the poor, slave-driven van roared in protest as it got moving. PR aimed her away from Templar Protection’s cordon, away from the road entirely, mounted the curb and took us out over the soccer field.

Out the back door I saw Silver Sentinel pull himself out from under the squad car, grab hold of it by its bumper and flip the whole thing like a tractor tire at a cross-fit gym.

Which was good, because it drew all of Templar Protection’s small-arms fire away from us. SS ignored them and stared out at our retreating form for a moment before breaking into a sprint after us.

Close that door.” I shouted.

Duke grabbed the handle and yanked the door down. The rounds Templar Protection missed SS with punched into the back of our van. I got down behind Rembrandt and curled into a ball, trying to make myself as small as possible.

A stray round slipped through and pelted into my arm anyway. My pain editor told me to just ignore it.

[Almost there] PR said [I need someone to shoot out the emergency barrier.]

Tachi stuck his head out the window. He saw the low, red emergency barrier padlocked shut. He levelled the carbine and fired. When that round missed he tried two more times.

[Stop if you have to PR.] Kitty screamed down the cype. [Don’t you dare try and ram it.]

[One moment please.] Tachi said like he was checking his watch.

Tachi fired his last shot, paused to admire his work and pulled himself back inside.

A second later I heard the skirts of the van scrape the curb as we re-joined the world of asphalt roads.

Scratch-finish Sentinel had gained a little distance on us. Now that we were back on a surface the van was built to handle the tires found purchase and rolled the machine back up to 90.

[So now what?] PR asked.

[Get us back on the highway, head straight for the Lakeway Marina. Let your pilot know we’re on our way and we’re expecting guests.]

Kitty added her two yen. [Silver Sentinel’s recalling Air One. He’s still on us.]

[And we’ve still got Tachi and Duke.] I said. [Let’s handle one problem at a time.]

[It might not be enough.] Kitty replied. [Night Watch’s formally offering their assistance.]

Templar Protection lacked a lot of the resources that Night Watch boasted. Air units and Robocops being key examples, they also lacked sufficient patrol units on the ground to respond to situations like this. For normal everyday policing I’m sure they were fine. But as soon as a major emergency like us propped up the cracks began to appear. They had to pull a lot of units off their regular patrols to deal with us. We were a problem that required a widespread police response. A municipal police force can call on units from other precincts to take over regular patrols while they pour everything they have into an emergency.

We got an idea exactly how large this response was when we got onto the highway. More Templar Protection squad cars joined our pursuit at every on-ramp we passed.

[It’s like something out of a three-stooges sketch.] PR said, glancing at the number of flashing lights in his mirror.

[They’ve told Night Watch where they can stick it.] Kitty said.

[Maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll recall the Sentinel.] I said, expressing an optimism I didn’t feel. [If Templar Protection’s puffing their chest out, it’s in Night Watch’s best interest if they fail.]

Kitty pointed to the sky. [Tell that to him.]
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