Dust: Chapter 19 Part 4

I didn’t have the slightest idea how to respond to that. Obviously Doc Clarkson hadn’t had the courage to listen to Sakazato’s notes or he had but didn’t share it with PR for whatever reason, or PR hadn’t believed a word of it because it came from me. Now that I thought about it, if he’d been made aware of Atom’s behaviour towards Sakazato, even if he hadn’t believed it, he’d have mentioned it to me by this point. I wondered for a second if I should try and let PR know that Atom wasn’t what he thought it was. One glance towards Kitty told me that plan simply would not work.

So I just said. “Um… thank you. I guess.”

“I know. It doesn’t mean shit to you. But that’s what it’s like out here. I need to know that you won’t rock the boat because of the people I’ve got coming down. They’re a biker gang, call themselves the ‘Steel Banditos’. We’ve worked with them a few times and they’re not interested in joining us, but they’re one of the largest organised forces anywhere in the martial states. If I can show them what Atom can do, I maybe I can get them on our side. With Jamestown, the Steel Banditos and Atom working together, we can really make a difference.”

I thought it odd that PR would talk about Atom like that and yet he wasn’t present for this meeting. What could Atom possibly be doing that was so important he was missing this, and why wasn’t Kitty with him if it was such a big deal? Unless she was hitching with him, which would explain why she’d been so quiet this whole time.

PR kept talking, of course. “So the plan for when they arrive is: I’m going to start my welcome speech, talk about how Jamestown has survived a vicious attack, blah, blah blah. Then you’re going to be brought out in front of everyone. Fair warning: everyone hates you. Kitty’s box of knives suggestion was pretty popular amongst my lieutenants, but you will reach the stage unharmed.

Joni Facineroso, the leader of the Steel Banditos will be up on stage with me. I’m going to thank her and her people for joining us and then I’m going to unveil Atom. We’re going to start with a demonstration of Atom’s power. He’s actually hacking his way into the Army’s drone network right now. When Atom reports that he’s gained access to the drones, we’re going to set up this whole event. Because I’d love for the demonstration of Atom’s power to be the hijacking of an Army Raptor drone. When Facineroso sees us turn their own Hellfire missiles against them, she’ll know that we are the ones who are going to win independence for the martial states. After that the two of us are going to cement our new alliance by executing you together.” PR said that as off-handedly as if the two of them were going to get coffee and donuts afterwards. “That’ll show them that we’re ruthless with our enemies and give my people some closure over the attack.”

I took a breath to steady myself. The whole discussion threw me for a loop. “And if I ‘go off script’ at any point. Your boy Rembrandt’s gets to hog all the closure for himself?”

“That’s it.”

I felt my heart rev up. Heating up the engine in case my body needed the blood flow. I tried to control my breathing as it too went up a gear. My body knew the stress I was under and obediently prepared for action.

But action was the last thing I wanted right now. So all my awakened sense could do was constantly remind me just how cripplingly frightened I was.

Then a thought quietened me. This is what I’d been reduced to: Choosing between a quick death on my knees or a slow death on my feet. And right now, the former was looking too good to resist.

My defiance would make no difference to anyone. My compliance would make all the difference to me.

“I’ll do it.”

I was returned to the storage locker, which had finally been furnished as if they expected a person to stay in there. By furnished I mean a clean cot and a chamber pot had been put in here, thankfully on opposite ends of the room.

Days later a firm hand gripped my shoulder in the meat world and shook me awake. I put fifty imaginary nuyen on an imaginary table and bet that was Rembrandt.

I opened my eyes and won my own bet. Not that it was a huge surprise, Rembrandt was one of the few Deadmen who’d survived the attack and it seemed PR had assigned him to be my handler.

Rembrandt impatiently stuffed the handcuffs through my belt. He’d already locked the first one around my wrist and was less-than-gently closing the second one on me.

“C’mon, let’s get this moving.” Rembrandt said as he stepped away from my cot.

I didn’t move. I knew I should have, part of me even wanted to, the part that didn’t want to beaten into cranberry sauce, but I just couldn’t move.

Oh God. I thought to myself. I’d been ignoring how I really felt for the last week, gently pushing it aside with the promise to get to that ‘later’. Now the boss was back and saw that it was getting close to knock-off time and insisted that ‘later’ was getting done ‘now’.

“MOVE MOTHERFUCKER.” Rembrandt exploded at me. His metallic hand grabbed a fist-full of my shirt and pulled me right out of the cot. I quickly flattened my feet on the floor and let my legs take my weight.

“Okay, okay.” I pleaded, the desperation finally breaking through the glass and seeping into my voice. “I’m up. I’m going.”

Rembrandt shoved me towards the door and I stumbled. I tried to balance myself, but my bound arm made that difficult. So I steadied myself by using the doorway as a decelerator.

After colliding with the wall I needed a moment to steady myself. Rembrandt wasn’t in the mood for that either and yanked me by my shoulder strap and made me stumble out the door.

I sorta got the hang of correcting my pace unassisted and let Rembrandt led me on.

Outside it sounded like a football game was about to kick off. I knew PR’s guests had arrived from the deafening roar of over a hundred Harley engines. They may be shit for fuel economy, but I had to admit they had got a good note on those pipes.
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