Psychedelic Electrons (Part 1 of 4)
By Will Greenway
New Angeles, 10 a.m. Tuesday, November 7th, 2079
Polymer alloy humming in her bones, Kath sat up on the icy steel table and yanked the sterile-white blanket off her naked body. The lab tech mumbled something about waiting but Kath ignored him, caught up in a storm of new electronic sensations. She felt the adrenaline surge as the wires came alive. They’d made her into a weapon, one that would plunge into Brackham’s heart. The murderer would pay.
She wrinkled her nose at the caustic smell, strengthened by the neural enhancers. It was a standard nine meter square recovery cubical; stainless steel slab, counter, drug cabinet, chair, chart rack and examination panel. Apart from the furniture, little different from a morgue.
Down the hall a man bellowed in pain, the sound abruptly silenced. Probably cyberware rejection shock. Kath hated shadow clinics, the disregard for life, the mercenary attitude and the clinic’s disdain for its customers. The shadow elite and the cyber-surgery outlets existed in a volatile balance. Those who needed power and those who provided it. The only mitigating factor was the number of credits in your pocket. It didn’t matter where the money came from. To compete in the shadows, you needed an edge.
Kath’s hands trembled as she felt herself getting sharper by the instant. Every tactile sensation grew more distinct; the sound of air sighing from a circulating vent overhead, the swish of the technician’s lab coat as he picked up a clipboard to make some notes on a chart, the constriction of the pores in her skin reacting to the cold.
Razor sharp. Sharp enough to dice the corporate bastards who had stolen the lives of her family. Shadow wisdom held that revenge was the motive of amateurs. The moment you let emotions pull you out of the groove you were meat waiting to die; not Kath ‘The Cat’ Hershel.
“All the prelims look on the green,” the tech said next to her. The phospherized light reflected off the old fashioned wireframe glasses he wore. His scribbling on his clipboard never slowed. Something about him irritated her.
“Doc Shears’ new prototype cyberware is real wiz stuff, no sign of rejection symptoms or inflammation. One of the best graft-overs he’s done— trés chic.”
Kath ran a hand up her flat stomach, long nails brushing distended nipples. She shuddered at the intensity of the sensations. Her probing traveled to an itchiness in her scalp. Hyper-acute fingertips encountered only a smooth pate where her long space-black curls had been.
The startling discovery combined with the hyped aggression factors now simmering in her blood evoked a reaction.
Kath’s hand snapped out. A crack went through the room as steely fingers shredded a thin barrier and clamped around a human neck. She felt the thunder of the tech’s blood through his jugular and aorta, detected the jiggle of his adams-apple as he swallowed convulsively.
“Where the frag is my hair?” she snarled.
The tech made wheezing sounds. Kath saw her scowling angular face reflected in his glasses. His unshaved face paled and his dark eyes bulged. “Not— done— yet.”
Drawing a breath, Kath relaxed. “They said I’d keep my hair. Paid extra for it. I want it done before I’m out of here.” She pushed him back against the counter.
The man staggered away, gripping his neck. The aggression response had been hotter and more abrupt than she’d expected. She stared at her arm now ringed by the clipboard. Her hand had punched through it on its way to the man’s throat.
They called the response enhancement Mortallis; killer instinct on a chip. Linked to a network of neuromuscular augmentations, autonomic and endocrinal reflexes, the cybernetics maximized combat efficiency. Combined with increased sense awareness and endoskeletal reinforcement, she could deal with the roughest encounter. The street elite called it chromed-to-the-max.
She opened and closed her fingers, watching tendons pulling in polyteflon coated sheaths. Kath stopped, noticing the pinhead-sized H.W.I. embedded in the center of her palm. She wouldn’t have seen the human/weapon targeting interface if she hadn’t already known it was there. The tech was right, Doctor Shears did fine knifework. The scars of the invasive surgery weren’t even visible.
The cybertech lingered in the room, eying her the way a mouse might peer at a snake.
“Are you still here?” She pulled the clipboard off her arm and tossed in on the counter. “Jet it, kid. If someone isn’t here in a couple shakes to do my hair, that clipboard won’t be the only thing with a hole in it. You scan?”
He left. The door hissed shut. Down the hall, someone screamed in pain.
Lovely places, shadow clinics.
She found her clothes folded in the chair. After pulling on her underwear and jeans, she settled again on the slab with the blanket around her. Craziness, all of this, hyping herself with experimental cyberware so she could take down Brackham.
After a few minutes, Doc Shears himself came in carrying a large silver biotransport case. The cybersurgeon’s graying hair and beard contrasted with his otherwise youthful looking skin and smooth hands. His smock was stained with at least ten distinct shades of red and an assortment of yellow, brown, and green splotches. Kath didn’t care to speculate where they came from.
After setting the case down, he turned and studied her, pulling on his whiskers. Doc Shears’ gravelly voice was the only thing that went with his hair. “I hear you’re terrorizing the techs already.”
“Little sycophant pissed me off. He stank.” Until she said it, she didn’t realize that the tech had smelled bad; cigarettes and cheap aftershave.
The doctor pulled a compupad from his belt and made an entry with the stylus. “You’ll be hyper-sensitive for a while. The neural networks take time to stabilize. Don’t put this hardware under a sustained load for a week. Otherwise, you run the risk of a psychotic episode.”
Kath snorted. “Yeah, right. About my hair?”
“In the box. Take about twenty minutes for the graft.”
“Let’s do it.”
He nodded, put the box on the counter and opened it. “I didn’t tell you during the review, but I knew your father.” He pulled out a scalpel and examined the edge.
“Oh?” Her tone sounded flat. She didn’t like the memories discussions about her Father evoked; happier times, ones she’d never have again.
“Met him at a medical convention after reading his paper on adaptive synthogenetics.” He pulled out a syringe and put a needle into it. “His wetware designs were the first of their kind. Very revolutionary. He was a monumental loss to the genome research community. Everyone was profoundly affected.”
“Yeah,” she growled. “You could tell how choked up they were by the way they tore into his patents to steal his work in progress only an hour after the bureaus released news of his death.”
“It was debacle, I must agree. Did they ever find his body?”
Kath stared at him. Shears had a knack for questions she didn’t like. “No. The cops found blood and traces of a fight. They think he got broken up for parts.” It surprised her that she could say it so easily. The last couple weeks had made her numb. Ugly thought, someone you knew and loved being dissected, their organs and limbs auctioned off on the black market.
Shears blinked as if stunned by her answer. He swallowed, apparently realizing he’d probed where he shouldn’t have. Clearing his throat, he turned and pulled out a clear container in which lay a shining mass of black strands. He picked up the scalpel. The blade glinted in the phosporescent light.
An hour later, Kath hit the street twenty kilos heavier and a million credits lighter. The money didn’t matter. No-one remained definably alive in her family to spend it anyway. With the bone lacing, muscle and tissue changes she now weighed in at an even 80 kilos, heavy enough to hopefully break the backs of Brackham and his cronies.
Sheets of fetid rain belched from gunmetal gray clouds churning over the Westminster suburb of New Angeles. Kath walked down the grimy sidewalk past barred windows and doorways. She hunched her shoulders, leather jacket pulled tight against the downpour; a rotten day to start becoming accustomed to her augmented senses. She felt every raindrop, smelled and tasted each smog corrupted splash. The street had recently been sanitized, the jaundice-colored tendrils of disease-killing gas writhing along the ground.
Foul weather, foul mood, it seemed fitting. Doctor Shears didn’t tell her about the downside of Mortallis. After the artificial adrenaline rush passed, you came down— hard.
Black Tuesday had taken on a whole new meaning. She felt like a spent bullet, nothing but powder burns and emptiness. It worsened the haunting of the specters of her dead sister and brother, her mother brain-damaged beyond repair. The hospital would be calling her soon to fill out the euthanasia forms.
Kath shuddered. If she had a place to go, she might be curled up, nursing a hot stim-brew. It made her wonder what good the vengeance served. The only legacy she’d leave behind would be the stacked corpses of corporate raiders. Her own body would likely crown the pile.
She might have moved on, found a different way if it weren’t for Mother. The bastard who pulled the trigger deliberately aimed to cripple, to produce a slobbering mass of human flesh that couldn’t feed or clothe itself. She’d never hear her Mother’s laugh again or be able to listen to her tacky jokes. Momma Hershel wasn’t the best parent that ever lived, but she deserved better than a bullet.
The thought brought anger searing to the surface again. “Brackham, you’re meat!” Kath slammed a fist into the slimy brick wall.
Chunks of stone and mortar shattered. Inside the building, a woman yelled in surprise.
Kath trudged on. She had the cyberware. Time to hunt up some weapons to make the raid possible. The media would call tomorrow, red Wednesday.
New Angeles, 11 p.m. Tuesday, November 7th, 2079
The Watts warehouse stank; dust, rail oil, and urine. Rain pattered on the aluminum sheeting overhead. Rotted century old beams shuddered dangerously as a fully loaded freight train clacked by outside.
Kath tensed in the darkness, sensing bodies in motion. The rats had come in out of the rain to keep dry— both species. She shifted to get her back against one of the timbers used to support the decaying roof, careful not to trip over the cracked cement. Her hand went to the haft of the 40 centimeter survival knife she purchased in preparation for this deal.
Kath felt the Mortallis kick in. Her heart picked up and a cold knot hardened in her stomach. “Mace, you there?”
“Present I am,” said a thick, vaguely cockney accent.
Kath oriented to her right, only a few meters away. “I have the credits.”
She heard the smile Mace’s voice. “Pleased I am to hear that.”
Kath saw the whites of his eyes in the faint light from outside. She made out the silhouettes of at least six more men flanking Mace, bruisers by their size.
“Did you get everything?”
“Get them I did; special forces milspec, bright, shiny and new. Curious was I, about what be goin down?”
Kath’s hand tightened convulsively. “Brackham,” she growled. “Brackham’s goin down.”
New Angeles, 12 a.m. Wednesday, November 8th, 2079
At Olive Lawn, the weight of Heaven’s judgment made the waterlogged armor-jacket hanging from Kath’s shoulders feel even heavier. She set the gold foil box down and sat next to it on the sodden grass. Ignoring the moisture soaking her jeans, she regarded the three bronze placards with the rifle across her lap. The mortuary in La Mirada was quiet and still, the city sounds only a faint hum in the distance. The downpour had subsided and a waning moon now peeked through rips in the overcast.
She ran her fingers across the bronze placard. Devoted husband, loving father. “Dad,” Kath said in a husky whisper. “If only you’d still been with us, it might not have come to this. Mom didn’t have your strength. Rick didn’t have the street savvy to see the sharks coming. Wouldn’t listen to me; same old cocksure, long-nose, Phi-Beta-Kappa attitude. I tried. Shouldn’t have let him piss me off. I could have protected them.” She tightened her grip on the stock and barrel of the assault weapon. A lump hardened in her throat. “Mom will be with you soon.”
Kath bowed her head and caressed the spot where her mother would be buried. The blades of grass felt cool and tender. Mom liked picnics in the park and lying in the sun. Soon she would lie down in the grass one last time.
“She never said so, but I think she really wanted to be with you anyway. She still laughed, but her eyes never shone like they did for you.” Shaking, Kath pressed the icy metal of the rifle against her forehead. “Rick, Dawn— what can I say? I messed up. Wasn’t there when you needed me. Damn it, wasn’t there.” She rose to her knees. “I was the hard ass, the one with blood under my nails and dirt on my soul. Shoulda been me.”
She reached over and pulled the lid off the gold box. “It isn’t much, troops, best I can do. I never had your smarts, Rick. I never could forgive like you, Dawn. Never forgave a goddamn thing in my life. All I know is shadows and street justice. I’ll have that scag Brackham’s bones for a funeral bier. Cold fraggin comfort, I know. It’s something though. Better than nothing.”
She pulled the roses one at a time from the box and placed them on the graves. It felt as if she lost a shard of herself with each flower. When there were four blossoms on each grave, she stood and took a deep breath. The crimson blooms glistened red as blood on the wet lawn.
Kath grew cold inside. She looked to the sky, pulled the rifle’s bolt back and chambered a round. “Lord, I don’t need forgiveness, just understanding and a whole lot of ammunition.”
She shouldered the weapon and headed for the wall and the van waiting on the street. Still a long night ahead.
New Angeles, 3 a.m. Wednesday, November 8th, 2079
O’Hares was buzzing, the regulars still giving the bar-top a steady elbow polishing. Beer bottles clinked, men muttered and an all-day sports network blared on a one meter tri-video. The odor from five brands of smoke, three kinds of sweat, wet leather and synth blended in a hellatious reek.
Kath wanted to vomit.
Swallowing hard, she edged past tables and unconscious patrons, avoiding eddies of drug laden fog. The smell always made her queasy, but not like this. The boosted senses would be annoying until she learned to control them.
She never liked O’hares much. Best place in town for connections though; drugs, prostitutes, black-market arms and mercenaries.
A drunken sea-sec grabbed for her and fell out of his chair when she sidestepped. Kath headed for the clearer air toward the back. A dozen men and women lounged in the booths, decked in worn leather and blasé poise; O’hares’ shadow contingent.
A tall lady with frizzy hair and a dark complexion waved to her with a gold anodized prosthetic arm. “Hey, Kat, heard ’bout the shake up. Hang tough, you hear?”
Kath flashed her a thumbs-up.
None of the big muscle appeared to be here tonight. Her loss. She didn’t have the funds for a team; only one back-up with some smarts.
She went to a short broad-shouldered negro who sat in the corner wearing faded army ODs and a stained brown beret with a special forces insignia pinned through it. He looked up from an ancient .45 he was oiling, mirrored cyber-insets where eyes had once been. “Mademoiselle Kat.”
“Jazz— you seen Apollo?”
“Zee big fellow, two meters, hundred kilos with scar under heez eye?”
“Non, ain’t zeen him.”
Kath frowned. “Old joke, older than that gun.”
“Zey only get better with age, cher.”
It happened too fast for her to stop herself. She felt the air disturbed by someone reaching for her neck. The Mortallis kicked in. Rap-rap-rap, she machine-gunned a back-kick and three punches belly-high into the space directly behind. The bulletproof paneling of a lined-coat screeched under the force of her attacks.
A huge form looming over her groaned and toppled. He thudded to the floor, swirls of dust and smoke puffing around him. Wheezing he tried to suck air, obviously without success.
Heart thundering, Kath braced in a fighting stance, ready to go for the gun in the holster under her arm.
Applause and a couple of whistles came from different parts of the bar.
Behind her, Jazz laughed. “Zee Apollo, cher, I zink you have found him.”
Kath winced at her own stupidity, she needed to keep a lid on the Mortallis. She clobbered the guy for what had probably been meant as a pat on the shoulder. Kath rubbed her knuckles and focused on cooling the Mortallis; slowing to where she wasn’t ready to rip everything within reach to shreds.
Coughing, Apollo rolled to his knees and clutched his middle. She reached to help him up but he brushed her away. Face red, he glared at her with silver-gray eyes.
“What the frag did you hit me with?” he growled.
“Mostly my fist,” she answered. “Accident, man, I swear. Got a new edge and I’m still squirrely.”
“Your fraggin fist?” he demanded, square jaw tight.
She shrugged. “Yeah, well, with my foot too.”
“Your foot too, great.” He rose with a groan and rubbed his chest. A shudder went through his burly frame. He looked like a tank with arms and legs, howitzer included in the form of the assault pistol holstered on his side. “Felt like a sledge hammer.”
“Shouldn’t have snuck up on me.”
“I’ll know better now. Frrrag!” He rubbed his stomach. His lined coat had blunted her attack. Without it, she might have killed him. “What the hell kind of edge did you get?”
“Full suite of Mortallis augmentations.”
“That Gamma series kludge?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Worked on you, didn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he muttered. “Screamin stuff. How long before it tears itself or you apart?”
“Zip it, huh? I got ten-thousand credits for some reliable backup on a one-day run. Can’t be trigger shy. Gonna be heat. Can you turn me onto some good muscle?”
“Ten-K?” Apollo rubbed his face, then gestured her toward a seat in an empty booth. She went and sat. The big man took his time following, obviously still dizzy. He settled with care, wincing and rubbing his bruised stomach.
Kath wanted to say she was sorry, but knew better. In the shadows, you never apologize. Still, she hadn’t meant to give him grief. Apollo had been straight with her in the past. That was worth a lot. Brackham had flushed her life into the sewers. She didn’t need to drag someone else in with her.
“So?” Kath asked. “You know someone?”
He nodded. “Yeah.”
“For 10K, I’ll do it; need the creds.”
Kath raised an eyebrow. “Thought you stopped running and only set up jobs.”
He shrugged. “Long story, Kat. What’s the deal? I heard Brackham was after your family.”
Kath gritted her teeth, fighting to keep her face composed. “Already did it, Apollo. He—” She choked on the words, unable to say them. It was one thing to admit it to herself. To speak of it would make it more real. Ready to explode, she clenched her hands into fists.
Apollo’s face hardened. “Oh man, Kat. I hadn’t heard.”
He didn’t say sorry, couldn’t, but Kath heard it in his voice. It made the rage in her gut burn hotter. “Frag that. You in, or not?”
Kath stared into his eyes. “Brackham.”
Apollo slid back in his seat. “You’ve lost it. I know this johnson needs it in the head, but you can’t touch him. Revenge doesn’t work, it gets you—”
“Stow it! In my van, I got a dozen AP-6 incendiaries, two suits of Achilles armor, two maxed out M22A2 assault rifles, guardian heavy machine-pistols, and enough Quicksilver armor piercing ammo to make Brackham’s headquarters look like Swiss cheese. I can get to him. If someone has the balls to back me up.”
He met her stare, brow creased and jaw set. A muscle in his cheek twitched. Kath had made it a challenge and immediately regretted it. She needed his help, not to piss him off.
He leaned across the table, gray eyes narrowed, his huge fist and forearm shoving against hers. His breath smelled of Vodka. “Ain’t in this for family, Kat. I got all the balls you need. Also got brains. Ain’t interested in suicide missions.”
She swallowed and calmed the anger seething in her body. “It’s not suicide. Two runners can do it with my data and the gear in the Achilles armor. Between that, the AP-6s, and the heat we’ll be packing, it won’t be easy, but it’s doable.”
Apollo relaxed. He rubbed his nose and regarded her warily. After a moment, he bellowed at the bar. “Hey, TJ! Get us a pair of drafts!”
A muffled response came back and soon a couple of mugs of dark brew were placed in front of them. Apollo said nothing, he sipped his beer and studied her.
Kath took a sip and put the ale aside. She’d tasted few beers she cared for. The neural augmentations made the bitter concoction taste like sewer water.
Apollo downed two thirds of the mug before he spoke. “So, where the hell did you get all this milspec bang-bang?”
“Called in some favors. I’m shooting it all on this one. After this, won’t be any more shadow running for me.”
Chin on fist, he spoke. “You’ll die to get Brackham, won’t you?”
Kath kept her gaze level. “You in or not?”
Apollo swirled the dregs of the beer around in his mug. “I’m in.” He gulped down the last and clacked the mug on the table. “I hope Brackham’s insurance is paid up.”
(… continued in part 2)
This is cyber-punk in my own style. Tip of the hat to another William, mister Gibson broke new ground in terms of style and content in the science fiction genre.