Rembrandt directed me towards another pair of Deadmen I hadn’t seen before. These guys must have been new, the outer casings on their prosthetics still looked Caucasian. Some of the SS casualties must have been augmented. At any rate, their jury-rigged repairs clearly marked them as Deadmen.
We waited behind a door which led to the courtyard. Beyond the door I heard PR get on the mike and address his people.
“My fellow Americans.” PR began. A cheer rose up from the Jamestown side of the crowd.
Normally I would groan at the hideous cliché. But today I couldn’t. The cheer sent invisible spider-legs crawling up my spine and turned my body temperature way down. I bit down the quiet gasp that tried to slip out.
PR waited for his people to calm down. “First, I’d like to thank Joni Facineroso and her Steel Banditos for joining us here today. We have something we’re very excited to show you, something we hope will cement stronger ties between our communities and allow us to take the fight to our mutual enemies.”
There was a moment’s pause, possibly while PR and Facineroso shook hands, fist-bumped, or grabbed biceps, whatever their deal was. The crowd roared again. Louder this time. Some of the Steel Banditos must be cheering them on.
“We weren’t born into this word wanting to be outlaws. We were born Americans, and as Americans we were promised that we would be rewarded for hard work and enterprising thinking. That’s what they told us, but they showed us something different. They showed us that other people, who in past generations had done the hard work and the enterprise, weren’t interested in sharing anything with the others, no matter how strong or clever. They showed us that only power and ruthlessness will be rewarded. They showed us that we would have to fight for what we wanted. Unfortunately for them, what we wanted, was a little fairness. Something they would rather die than give us. Because to give us fairness means that they have to pay more in taxes for services they’re not using. Because when they need a doctor, they drop a quarter-million nuyen and get a genius. When they want their children educated, they drop a half-million and send them to Harvard or Yale, whichever one Daddy went to. When they want anything, they reach into their bottomless pockets and pay top dollar for the best, but they refuse to reach in, but a tiny bit further so that perhaps someone else, someone not allowed through the doors of their country club, can have even a fraction of what they have.”
Here the crowd booed on cue, PR definitely had the Steel Banditos eating out of his hand as well.
“My fellow Americans.” he said again. “We have suffered much these past few weeks. An invasion on our own soil, forcing many of our husbands, wives, fathers, mothers and children to lay down their lives so that the invaders may be expelled from our home. Still many more cannot be out here with us today but for their wounds. We have lost much and suffered greatly.”
PR let that settle for a few moments. “But we have rebuilt!”
“I stand before you here today on the very spot our greatest enemy set foot in our home. They fell from the sky like avenging angels and met our people to battle on the mortal earth. I am proud to tell our guests from far away, that meet them we did and we sent them to HELL.”
The next cheer was almost as loud as the Steel Banditos’ arrival.
Rembrandt’s hand closed around the scruff of my neck and he yanked me back to look him in his cybervisor. “We ’bout to go out now. You make one step I don’t like. Ah’ma smash yo goddamn head into the ground and stomp on you. Get me?”
I had been reminded, over and over again, of this ultimatum. But I nodded again as if this was the first I’d heard of it.
Rembrandt let go of me and pushed the doors open. I followed, afraid of igniting Rembrandt’s seething rage.
Outside the crowd were split down the middle, Jamestowners on the one side and the Steel Banditos on the other. The Banditos had actually parked their rides in the courtyard with them, so their numbers were a lot smaller than the space they took up suggested.
At the far end of the courtyard PR had erected a stage, on the wall of the building behind him hung an enormous flopscreen. The screen displayed grainy video footage of the Deadmen and the Night Watch Rangers having their shoot out in this very courtyard.
In front of the stage was the crater that stray anti-tank rocket had blasted in the asphalt. I had a creeping feeling I knew where this was going.
“My fellow Americans.” PR said, then he gestured towards me with his hand. “I give you the man responsible for our suffering. He alerted the authorities that we had acquired our new secret weapon and in seeking to claim it for himself, was nice enough to come here in person and be captured. All of our honoured dead, walking wounded and broken homes have this man to thank.”
The Steel Banditos booed at me, like I was the heel at a wrestling show. The Jamestowners were eerily quiet, their eyes burning with fury.
I made it about ten metres before the first of them spat on me.
This guy broke ranks, ran right out in front of me and hocked a wad of sticky, clear fluid onto my face.
One of the new Deadmen gestured for the guy to back off, but now the cork was out the bottle and there was no getting it back in. A middle-aged woman called me a murderer with more honest venom than any Vietnam protestor ever managed. A slim youth, barely older than sixteen, needed three grown men holding him back from rushing me.
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