The door suddenly swung open, revealing Tachi’s face. For a fleeting moment I saw sadness in his eyes.
Wait? What the hell?
Rembrandt’s heavy booted feet strode on inside, flanked by our guards. He carried his big M240 on a pair of magnets mounted on the webbing across his back. The guards trained their carbines on us. Rembrandt carried a set of stocks in his hands. Unlike their wooden, medieval counterparts, these stocks looked like they’d been made of heavy stainless steel plates each as thick as a phone-book.
If a cyborg with Tachi’s strength took those stocks in his hands and worked at it for a while he could bend them a little. From the limited angle one could get once the stocks were on… not going to happen.
“Ah got good news and bad news for y’all.” Rembrandt said as he opened up the stocks. “The good news is Patriot Rap and your friend Kitty don’t want you to die no more. The bad news is we’s gonna take y’all out to the edge of town and kick yo asses out. We got a bag for y’all with a little money, food and a letter that should be good with any of the hovercraft pilots to take you anywhere you wanna go. After that, yo faces being given to every man, woman and child that’ll listen to our people, we ever see you again, you DEAD. Get me?”
“We understand.” Tachi said. “I assume those are for me?”
“That’s right. Good assumption.” Rembrandt chuckled. “And you can assume the position while yo at it.”
Tachi snorted angrily but did as he was told. He bent over so that Rembrandt could fit the stocks around his neck and close them over his wrists. When they were securely locked up, Rembrandt let Tachi straighten up on his own.
“What did you have planned for me?” I asked.
Rembrandt pulled out a normal set of handcuffs for me.
I held up my one hand. “You’re kidding right? What exactly do you think that’s going to achieve?”
He’d handcuffed me to Tachi.
They led us out to the quadrangle, which was now serving as the motor-pool. A Humvee was waiting in the middle for us. I had to hold my hand up to Tachi’s neck level. The driver of the Humvee was a flesh and blood soldier, decked out in a basketball singlet over salvaged US military armour.
Kitty waited beside the door for us. She lowered her eyes when she saw us from afar and wouldn’t bring them up again until we were right in front of her.
“Hey Tachi, Dust.”
Neither of us answered.
“Look.” She said, turning her eyes away. “I know you’re not really fond of me right now. But for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. Alright? I didn’t really want it to turn out like this, but Atom doesn’t want to be sold off to a new owner and you didn’t really give us much choice.”
Atom sent me a chat request. I accepted.
[What’s up little guy?]
[I wanted to say ‘Goodbye’ Dust. ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Thank you’.]
[What’s the ‘Thank you’ for?]
[For getting me out of Kawada. And for showing me the world outside for the first time. But most of all I want to thank you for always being open and to the point with me, even if you weren’t ever on my side.]
[Yeah.] I said. [Don’t expect a lot of that from this mob.]
Atom was quiet for a moment. Then said [I’m not.]
Kitty looked up at me with her soft brown eyes. “For what it’s worth. I talked PR down from having you both killed. I don’t like you and we had to stop you selling off Atom, but you didn’t deserve to die just for doing your job.”
Kitty was either forgetting or didn’t care that I was still going to die when RCF caught up with me and what Tachi faced pretty much amounted to enslavement. Provided our deaths were off-screen I guess that didn’t matter to her.
But I’d learned that yelling at Kitty never helped anything. Instead I pretended to put on a brave face.
“It’s okay Kitty.” I said. “I don’t blame you.”
“Thank you Dust.” She breathed.
“Take care of Atom.”
Tachi nudged me with his foot. “It’s time to go lover boy.”
Kitty and I groaned under our breath.
Twenty minutes later Rembrandt kicked us out of the Humvee at gun-point, threw a sports bag at us and drove away.
“Fucking bastard.” I growled as I watched them go.
At least they’d unjacked the inhibitors from our plugs before kicking us out. Otherwise we’d have to find a backyard shop here in Flint that wasn’t going to kill us for Tachi’s prosthetics.
The edge of Flint had clearly been struggling with urban renewal for over a decade. Grass broke through cracks in the asphalt everywhere and the abandoned buildings smelt of mud that hadn’t had the chance to dry in the sun. Even the homeless didn’t live out here.
“That’s it.” I turned to Tachi, an ever-so-slightly mad grin emerging on my face. “We. Are. Fucked. And not the good kind with soft lighting and Barry Manilow. No! This is your prison bars and Vaseline situation.”
Tachi said nothing, knelt down where the sports bag had landed and opened it up.
“I mean, at least if we’d sold Atom we’d be stinking rich, even giving Kitty and PR a 50% cut we’d have money to hire protection and send enough of our own scary cyborg assassins to their gruesome deaths to convince RCF that fucking with us was no longer a good idea. And we’d still have more than enough to retire on. What the fuck have we got now?”
Tachi pulled out a small brown paper bag. “Two weeks’ worth of rations, an envelope, presumably PR’s letter and maybe three-hundred US dollars in crumpled bank notes.”
“That’s it? That’s all it took to calm Kitty’s guilt over killing us? Three-hundred bucks and some M.R.E.s? Wow Kitty, good thing you didn’t lose any sleep over that one!”
Tachi shrugged. “Maybe she believes that at least this way we have a chance.” He looked out across the open fields of semi-rural Michigan. “We could hit the road, live off the grid for a few months until our trail runs cold. I may have to give up my love for the finer things but without rent or utilities fifty-thousand could last us a couple of years.”
I locked my manic stare on Tachi’s face. “The two of us? Moving from town to town, a pair of mysterious desperadoes, righting wrongs and rescuing farmer’s daughters from getting tied to rail-road tracks?”
“I meant ‘Living like vagrants and staying out of people’s way’ but your idea sounds much more appealing.”
“You like that? I’ve got a better one. We hit-up civilisation for the best body-armour and weapons we can find then go back to PR’s little wonderland and start shooting everything that moves until his Deadmen take us out. Suicide by ungrateful cyborg asshole. Of all the shitty options we’ve got left, that one I like.”
Tachi pursed his lips to one side. “It lacks a certain something.”
“S’matter? You want to live forever?”
“You’re an angry boy today aren’t you?”
I got right in Tachi’s face and unloaded both lungs at him. “YOU THINK?”
Tachi punched a finger into my sternum. “Keep yourself to a respectable distance. And for Pete’s sake man relax. You’d think we were out of options.”
“What do you mean? Of course we’ve got options. We can wait for Kiru to slice us into fillets or we can go out in style. Oh wait, she’s not going to kill you is she? So I guess it might seem like YOU’VE still got options.”
“Are you quite done?” Tachi glared at me.
I looked at Tachi and caught sight of something in his eyes. “You’re about to hit me again, aren’t you?”
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