Chapter 4: The Thrill of the Chase
I got my lazy, tired arse back to the pod hotel as fast as humanly possible. Catching a taxi had been tempting, but at peak lunchtime I wasn’t going to chance it being any faster.
If they’d already caught Noodles and ‘approached’ Tachi (whatever that meant) it was a safe bet they were closing in on me. Plan A was: Get back to the hotel. Grab Atom. Rendezvous with Tachi at Central station. Disappear. That last one was going to require breaking out the false identity that Noodles didn’t help set up.
I dialled in my room code at the front door, flew up the stairs and charged down the corridor. I froze, my door was open. Either the cleaners had ignored the ‘do not disturb’ sign (for the first time since I got here) or the mysterious they had gotten to Atom already.
My sweat chilled, like someone turned the thermostat in my body down to zero.
Then I heard the sound of a bag zipping shut and my heart started beating again. Someone was still here. I slipped my only weapon out of the sheath on my ankle. A seven-inch, double-edged, throwing knife made of high-density ceramic. I crept towards the door, reversing my grip on the knife to hide it behind my arm.
I watched the shadow in the doorway. For the first time since I checked in I was grateful for the obscenely small size of my room. I could tell just from the shadow’s size that the thief was standing over the bed. It was too far to rush in, so I waited by the door.
I heard the thief sling the bag over their shoulders and watched their shadow grow in time to their footsteps.
I exploded around the corner. Before I could even get a clear look at my opponent I locked his neck into a clinch and smashed my knee into his gut. The impact was solid, like I’d rammed my knee into an Ikea cabinet. Before the pain could even register with my editing software, I transferred into throw stance and slammed my opponent into the floor before dropping down and pressing my knife up against his throat.
That was when the knowledge of my opponent’s prosthetic body finally caught up with my brain. I could only tell by the weight of it, the prosthetic was easily of the same quality as Tachi’s.
I also recognised the backpack he was holding. Before I could draw my knife away from his unbreathing throat he punched me in the face.
Damn it! I just had that fixed. I literally took the bandages off THIS MORNING!
I rocked with the impact and collapsed onto my arse.
My opponent flipped around to his hands and feet with incredible speed and I got a good look at him at last. If he hadn’t just broken my nose I would have laughed. The guy looked like the bass player from a Guitar Wolf cover band. Crocodile leather the colour of Irish beer and a pair of black designer jeans covered his body and installed in his face was a cybervisor styled to look like wraparound monoshades.
Crocman dived onto me. I got my feet up in time to catch him and kicked him over me. Catapulting him across my tiny room before crashing into the wall.
I shot to my feet and spun to face him. My pain editor keeping my head from swimming from the agony in my face. I could feel blood dripping down onto my shirt.
Crocman got upright real quick, his backpack flailing around on one shoulder.
He glowered at me. I glared right back. I tried to figure out a way to cross the bed without exposing myself to counter-attack.
Then Crocman did the last thing I expected him to do. He ran.
Without taking his eyes off me, Crocman shattered the window of my room with his elbow then dived head first out the opening.
The hell? We were on the second floor.
I hurdled over the bed and looked out the window. Crocman had landed on the roof of a station wagon, caving it in. The backpack containing Atom prevented him from landing in a shoulder roll. Then he slipped and fell off the edge, braking the window of the car next to his.
That slip was my only decent break in all of this. I put my knife between my teeth, pirate style, climbed out the window and grabbed onto the drainpipe right next to it. (This was exactly why I’d chosen this room, though at the time I thought I’d be the one running away).
Just in case you were wondering, climbing down something as flimsy as a drainpipe is not fun. Trusting all of my weight to what was clearly the cheapest length of PVC at the hardware store would have made me piss my pants if I hadn’t already sweated it out on the run back.
I was about a metre down before the pipe gave way, fortunately the bonnet of the station wagon caught me before I hit the bitumen. I bit down on the ceramic knife, feeling the edges cut into my cheeks. My oft-mentioned pain editor and my ukemi training joined forces to let me claw my way back to my feet. I spat my knife back into my hand and took off after Crocman.
Crocman revved up his enhanced prosthetics and took off down the street, leaving me behind like a bullet from a shell casing. I pushed myself harder, a clenching in my chest told me a stitch was on its way.
It wasn’t long before we ran out of open street. Further up a crowd had formed between a convenience store and a bus harbour. Heedless Crocman ploughed right into the middle of the group, knocking several people on their arse before he got tangled in the limbs and went down with them. Hope lent me a bit more puff and I rushed to catch up.
The bus everyone was waiting for pulled in as Crocman extracted himself from the heap, losing an extra second when he realised he’d dropped Atom’s bag and snatched it off the pavement.
One big guy got in Crocman’s face and roared at him, letting him have it for not looking where he’s going. I raised my knife to plunge it into Crocman’s neck while he was distracted. But Crocman nutted the bloke in the face and pushed passed him.
I lowered my knife and rushed through the aftermath. Crocman was already gaining ground on me.
Then I finally caught a lucky break.