Neon Oldie: Vol. 2

CoverVol2

By
C.T. McMillan
+++

Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)

Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Also By CT McMillan
Neon Oldie Vol. 1 “The Mark”

Acknowledgments
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.

Dedication
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.

***

14
Enzo van Gogh’s remaining eye stared at the ceiling as he lay in the bag. His other was blown out on the floor, pulled through the hole of shattered silicon by the bullet. Kiddo Volk watched him from the bed, displayed atop the gurney. She clutched the blanket on her shoulders, hoping he’d look her way.

“What you think?” asked first coroner at the end of the gurney. “Kernel panic?”

“For sure,” said the second at the front, clicking the gurney upright. “Guy blew a synthapse and went nuts.”

“I remember in Baja,” said the first moving to the side of the bag, “Cyber Ops hacked a Federale brothel and RC’d the Andie whores into killing a dozen politicians and top-brass hombres. Real nasty.”

They spoke like she wasn’t watching them seal up Enzo like a gas station sandwich. “And that’s why closed circuit is the way to go,” said the second pulling the gurney.

“Or buy a firewall,” said the first. “Guess this guy couldn’t afford it.”

Kiddo stared at the threshold after they left. Her peripherals were blurred, even the Copper’s snapping fingers by her face.

“Volk? Volk, come back to me.” The Copper stood with a notepad and pen in hand. He was in full beat cop attire; helmet, armor vest, and combi-pistol on his hip. The stiff gust of a sigh escaped his nostrils when Kiddo didn’t look away. “Is ‘at concussion playin’ with her head?” he asked the EMT dabbing the cut on her scalp.

“Not a concussion, Quincy,” she said. “Just a bad knock.”

“Well, she’s actin’ pretty out of it.”

“She’s in shock. I’d be if my boyfriend blew his brains out in front of me. Apply a delicate touch, I guess.”

The Copper made a grimace hidden by most of his asymmetric visor before going to one knee. He put the notepad on the floor and joined it with his helmet. The face beneath matched the accent, tanned skin creased in darker lines of wear and tear. His hazel eyes fit the brown crewcut ironed by the helmet. “Look at me, Kiddo.”

Her movement was robotic, head turning on a swivel until her slack face met his.

“Ain’t gonna pretend I know what you’re going through. Not my job. But ya need to gimme an idea of what happened. After he attacked you in the tub, what’d Enzo do between then and his death? A little somethin’ will do just fine. Are those little cuts on your face his too?”

Her jaw clenched and Kiddo blinked for the first time. “When can I bury him?”

“Afraid that’s not my department. If y’help me get to the bottom of this, we can turn over the body in no time. Just talk to me.”

Kiddo turned to the cops probing the apartment. They wore rubber coveralls and gloves, groups of two spread around. One team scraped Enzo’s brains and eye into an evidence bag. Another took pictures of white splatters by the tub and bed. Kiddo focused on a team going through her luggage. They bagged up clothes and the usual toiletries, the wads of money already gathered off to the side.

The Copper watched her stare before slumping his head and retrieving his helmet.“Dicks on their way?” he asked after clicking the vox unit wired into the collar of his vest. He stood after putting his face back on. “…Good. This one’s out of it. A little time in interrogation ought a’ do the trick.”

 

On the way to the station the EMT stabled Kiddo’s cut and covered it with a bandage. She sat in the little room of painted cinder block, a ceiling camera and two-way mirror her only company. The fluorescents had a low hum that was impossible to ignore in the compressed silence.

Kiddo watched her hands under the shadow of the table, the broken polymer exposing the pulleys underneath. They sat palms up, making slight involuntary movements with a low click of the fingers. They twitched at once with a flinch when the door finally opened.

Mitty Freeman didn’t look like a cop, but wore a cop’s desk-jockey uniform. It was a blue and white double-breasted shirt with featureless blue trousers. His last name was printed over his heart with corporal chevrons on the shoulders. Down his left arm “TECHNICAL” was stitched parallel to the sleeve in black on a white stripe.

The guy was sweating, his ebony forehead shiny before he wiped it dry. Mitty sat opposite and took his time. “…Enzo was a good guy… So much, it almost hurt. I remember this one time–“

“I want his body, Mitty.” The words came out indifferent. “I’m listed as next of kin. You can’t keep me from burying him.”

Mitty knew exactly what to say and wished he didn’t. “That’s why I’m here. This situation’s got everyone in my section and the higher-ups spooked. Company guys ’re on their way right now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Enzo wouldn’t ‘ve touched a hair on your head, Pink. He was remote hacked. The long-term drive was shredded, but the short-term told us the truth. You’re innocent, but what happened to him was impossible. Enzo was soul’d; a closed circuit Andie. You can’t hack one without a hard-wire link. We’re talking experimental tech.”

“So, when do I get the body?”

Mitty pinched the skin on the bridge of his nose. “Given the extraordinary circumstances behind this case, I have no idea. TalSec wants him here for exploratory analysis. It’ll be a month or two of deep-dive mining and autopsy. Maybe longer.” He could see it in her eyes she wanted to rip him apart. “And they wanna keep everything recovered at the scene in case this was caused by some external trigger or–“

The look on her face stopped him cold.

“Don’t you dare. I earned that money for us. For our future. It’s all I have left–“

“And it was found at a crime scene, under very, very strange circumstances,” he said with a loud whisper. “Look, I’m just the middle man, and guys off the payroll wanna empty their gats into your face. The detective working your case sent me in because she doesn’t wanna deal with ‘Gori trash’ as she put it. You’re outnumbered and the only way you’re gonna get what you want is to chill out.” He stood behind his chair after pushing it in. “I’ll try to speed this along, but the evidence will stay impounded until the analysts deem otherwise. We get it: that money’s yours and you’re not gonna lose a cent. They’ll uphold the law if you behave yourself. All you have to do is mourn. I know this ain’t any better with Cicero gone, but you have to manage.” Mitty made for the door. “Text me if you need someone to talk to.”

Kiddo’s isolation wasn’t so quiet like before. The air pumping out her nostrils was louder than her whining fists. She rocked in her seat, tears spilling over. She bent forward, her head resting on the edge of the steel table. A deep groan rumbled through clenched teeth as she pulled pink strands from her head.

It was harder to cry than she thought.

When the door opened Kiddo didn’t bother, staring at the tennis shoes she threw on before they took her in. The shadow under the table gave little respite from the fluorescents that felt like heaters.

“Did you know 5% of android/human couples end with the human killing their partner?” asked a voice. “5% is a big number when you consider there aren’t a lot of us out there. At least, the ones with consciousness.” Kiddo slowly peeked at an Andie in a suit by the door. She had a badge clipped to her belt and blonde hair held in a stiff pompadour. “Must feel rotten inside,” she went on. “Like there’s a hole in your chest that isn’t quite empty, but it’s opening wider and wider. I’m surprised you feel anything, punk.”

The Detective took the seat as Kiddo leaned back, eyes down. “Your rat Mitty and the tech boys might’ve found footage to prove your innocence, but I’m not convinced. There was enough cash in your luggage to buy the best data fixers to scrub a snuff film into a family friendly musical. You’re allowed to go home, but don’t think you’re off the hook, Volk. I’ll be looking into you closely and there’s no way you’re getting away with it. Not you or any of your crew.”

Silence again, the Detective looking at her with a smirk, expecting a snappy retort.

“…On our second date, he told me even when he was an un-soul’d secretary for some CEO, he remembered this painting called Starry Night in the back of the office. He loved the swirls of color in the sky, the stars made huge and bright against the darkness, and the tree in the foreground rising up like a crooked tower. He said it felt like he was alive, staring at it from his desk. Enzo loved the painting so much, he changed his hair and skin to match the colors, even took the last-name of the artist…” Kiddo wiped her cheeks on her hoodie sleeve. “I was also gonna take his name once I was pregnant. He let me pick baby names. I wanted a boy and call him Sasha after Dad. If we had a girl, Jae-un, after Mom. I know we could’ve paid to choose the sex, but I wanted to leave it up to chance like normal parents… And I wanted to have a son more than anything.”

Shame’s too small a word to describe what the Detective was feeling. She made sure it wasn’t written across her waxy features before the door burst open.

“You harrassin’ my witness, Pierce?” asked the Copper, still head to toe in armor.

The Detective put on her serious face and got to her feet. “Doing my job, Quincy. And she’s my witness. Your job’s done.”

“Lady was cleared half hour ago. Got a couple loose wires in that plastic head a’ yours?”

“I don’t have wires. I was grown in a tank.”

“Doesn’t matter to me. Wanna be a real person, I’m gonna treat ya like one.”

“And if you’re going to bring up my anatomy in a manner that isn’t complimentary, I’d be liable to take it up with IA again. Obviously the counseling didn’t stick.”

The Copper’s mouth curled into a sneer. “…She’s clear to go home. C’mon, Volk.”

Kiddo pushed herself off the table and kept her arms close as she stepped between the two. Once she was out the door the Copper followed, no doubt leaving the Detective with a mocking look shielded by his visor.

 

The hard stench of bleach clung to the floorboards. All that was left were faded blotches of white between the bed and tub. Dawn pierced the blinds, painting the apartment in blue stripes. The sinking of the bed under her ass was more than welcoming. The creaking springs told Kiddo to lie down, kick those old shoes off, and get the hours she missed.

But all she did was sit and look at the stain at her feet, a stripe of blue across her eyes. Her hand whined softly as she ran her palm along the back of her head. She couldn’t feel it, but the scrape of the shaven hair against the polymer told her it was smooth. On her right temple the sound was lower, the hair longer. Kiddo traded hands on the spot like she was putting a phone to her ear.

She took a long, deep breath, and looked into the blue across her eyes.

 

Tossing the money counter away Kiddo grabbed the handle of the strong box and slid it out of the crawlspace. Printed in white across the lid was ‘Mdl-C,’ followed by a white American flag without the stars.

A pair of black arm mods sat in foam inside. They were thicker than Kiddo’s and more realistic, like Flesh painted to look metal. They had a glossy finish, the light bending with the mods’ stout contours. The edges between the plates and joints were flush and the texture homogenous. Would’ve been hard to figure where a plate and joint began and ended without the seams. What made them un-cannier was a ring built in before the elbow on each forearm. They were gunmetal grey and etched with slanted grooves along the circumference. On the deltoid plate of the right another white flag was printed onto the steel and the ‘Mdl-C’ designator on the left.

Kiddo sat facing the box and took hold of her left bicep. With her thumb pressed into the armpit, the mod went limp and the clamps along the deltoid flipped up. The pins and links were still pulling themselves from Kiddo’s skin as she yanked it prematurely. Her groan turned to a shriek before she tossed the arm aside and replaced it with a Mdl-C. She bit her lower lip as the arm connected with an electric rumble.

When it synched, Kiddo brought the hand up and made a fist. The ring spun as she squeezed harder and a small red light on the wrist started blinking.

 

15
There wasn’t a black suit among the Gorinnis stacked at the bar. They had on their usual flapper getup with the addition of a black armband hugging one sleeve. It was late in the morning, but that didn’t stop them from reaching for glasses. Lotch was kind enough to help them to it, sharing the same two bottles of whiskey.

“So, we taking the monorail?” asked one Gori.

“We’re sharing cars in the procession,” said Lotch. “Me and Cody’re driving one.”

“And me,” said a second Gori down the other side of the bar. “I can fit four.”

“If I can’t fit the rest, we’ll double up,” added a third.

“How long’s this gonna be?” asked a fourth.

The whole bar eyeballed the kid sitting at the far end, totally isolated.

“Got somewhere to be, pal?” asked the first Gori.

“This too much of an inconvenience for ya?” asked the third.

The kid looked like he was ready to get his teeth kicked in.

“What do you want me to say? It’s friggin’ sad. I don’t wanna do this. Do you guys?”

The kid made enough of a point to make the Goris go back to their drinks, Lotch pouring seconds before taking his own swig.

“I used to have all this debt from school,” said the second. “Had to work a janitor’s gig at the museum. Then one day, my prick boss was screaming at me in the middle of the day, the place packed with people. And here comes Cici, half the size of this guy, and grabs his balls ‘til he fainted.”

The bar laughed.

“After that, he made me a package boy, and all my debt was gone after a year’s work.” He finished his glass in one gulp. “True friggin’ story.”

No one wanted to talk after that, but the silence didn’t last long when the doors slid open. Takashi Sterling came in, dressed in a blue three-piece, and topped with his single blue eye mod. His left hand was wrapped in fresh gauze, most of it around his missing pinky. Behind him was a gaggle of a dozen Yakuza, black suit and tie like you’d expect. They didn’t want to be there and the Goris would’ve been happy to show them the door.

“Morning, fellas,” said Takashi, standing towards the middle of the club so everyone could see him. “I know the timing ain’t ideal, given everything that’s happened, but I think Cici would’ve…

 

Not much you could say about a street alley. They’re either dirty or very dirty. The alley behind Le Speak looked like the next one over, and the next one after that. Garbage bags were packed next to dumpsters the city forgot to pick up last week. The one by the back door was particularly hefty, enough that you’d need a proper truck to empty. It wasn’t too hard for Kiddo when she pushed it in front of the door, clad in her signature crimson peacoat and grey flat cap with round sunglasses. The creaking against the pavement was louder than her arms humming with the effort. Once you couldn’t see the door, Kiddo jogged down the alley and rounded the corner at the street.

 

“…Now, as a part of the very generous terms outlined by our new partners,” said Takashi, “we’re taking on new blood in an exchange. We get a little of theirs, they get a little of ours. I know we’ve had our differences in the past, but I think this is a good opportunity to…”

 

The hatch leading into the cellar sat above ground to the left of the club’s awning. Looked like an urban storm shelter with the lock on the inside to keep out would-be boozers. It was the only other exit out of Le Speak next to the main entrance.

Kiddo pulled a small pry bar tucked in the back of her pants and hooked it into the handles of the hatch. Holding the ends of the bar on either side of the handles she bent the metal. The rings of her arms spun under her sleeves until the metal was wrapped around the handles. The lights on her wrists stopped blinking as Kiddo descended under the awning. She took one step at a time, taking it slow to think it through again and again.

Takashi cut his speech short and watched her come in. The Yaks turned her way and squared up under their cheap suits. Kiddo didn’t meet anyone’s eyes as she turned to the glass panel by the door in the wall. The screen blinked on before she fingered the keypad.

“Hey ya, Pinkerton,” said the third Gori.

She kept typing.

“Need an armband for the service?” asked the first. “I brought spares.”

They still couldn’t get a word out of her once the locks clicked and Kiddo took a stool at the end of the bar on the left after the Gori got up.

“Sake,” she finally said.

Lotch was starting to get the picture and passed her a whole bottle, the expensive kind that looked handmade, and kept his distance. He wiped his hands with a rag as he watched her finish it off in slow gulps.

“You and the rest of us, Pink,” said the second Gori. “Talkin’ about the good ole days can only do so mu–“

“Y’know,” she placed the bottle down, “I never killed anyone before?” She gave the bar a slow glance before turning back, shaking her head. “Not one. Not ever. Everyone says Pyongyang is dangerous at the lower levels and they’re right. It got worse after I lost Dad and my arms. But I never had to killed anyone. I stole, picked fights, begged for food, even tried whoring one time… Got cold feet the last minute. It was survival. Wasn’t out for blood or desperate enough I had bite someone’s throat out. All anyone needs is a little.”

The mood shifted. The Goris were wondering what Kiddo would do once she was done talking while Takashi was making his way to the door.

“After I snuck into that container, I realized, this time, I really had nothing. No friends, no family, no house, no purpose. When I woke up in Seattle,“ she said taking her cap and coat off, the reveal of the new arms that put her audience further on edge, “this short, bug-eyed old man made me the woman I am today. Cici thought because of where I’m from, I was a hard-up bruiser that knew how to play dirty. Course, I didn’t, but I faked it because I owed him. Then I had new friends, new house, and a reason to keep going. Cici made me, and there was no way I’d let him down by telling him I wasn’t a killer.” Kiddo joined her glasses with the cap and coat. The steely solidity of her Slav eyes made Lotch duck under the bar. “And now he’s dead. I spent 10 years putting on a stupid accent and a tough-bitch façade for that man and then Tak splattered his brains all over me.”

The Goris turned to Takashi at the door. He was dialing a code in the panel that was changed minutes ago. As she went on, one Yak came to her right-hand side, waving off the Gori in the opposite stool. Then the guy next to him and the one on the wall gathered with their buddies in cautious anticipation.

“After that, I just wanted to leave. Make the rest of the money and skip town. No way I was going to give that traitorous schnook the same respect. It was going to take a while, but some one was looking out for me yesterday. I must be a real high roller to be so lucky. If I couldn’t serve as a warrior, then I made up my mind to do it as a mother. I finally had enough to start the family I wanted.”

The words were harder to get out, Kiddo’s lips curling inward. It came to her when she pulled her driving gloves off, one by one. “Enzo tired to kill me last night before turning our gun on himself… The second he put his hand around my throat I knew it wasn’t him. The cops told me someone jumped his brain and while they were looking for evidence, they took my money. All I needed to start over, what I worked so hard to get, snatched away… Now I’m back to nothing. No home I want to go back to, no boss to serve, no money to start my family, and no man to love me. I just wanted to leave this all behind to be a mother.” Kiddo balled her hands and talked through clenched teeth. “But when does anyone get what they want?”

It was just a matter of time. The Goris kept their distance while the Yaks were ready to draw. Takashi joined his new friends with pistol in hand, screwing off the suppressor. Kiddo reached around and held her sword in her lap, the Yak to her side reaching in his jacket.

“Dad was a funny guy. He was a Russian that loved Japan, but he lived in Korea because he couldn’t afford it. Anything Nippon, he knew it like the back of his hand. Right now, he’s looking down on me thinking I’m a ronin, samurai without a master. He’s thinking I could find work as someone’s bodyguard like those ancient movies he made me watch…” She sat up straight, one hand over the business end of the sword. “But this isn’t a movie, I was never a samurai, and I’m not a ronin.”

The blade shot out as fast as she threw her arm to the side. The Yak beside her was playing statue with an angry set of eyes that were slowly rolling up. The blade hovered over his shoulder, a clean red stripe painting the width of the metal. The Goris piled into each other once the sword came out and the Yaks and Takashi got a face-full of crimson.

Kiddo kept her back to them as she slid off the stool. When she faced the Yaks their wakazashis and batons were out. Some carried blades similar to hers, but smaller. Takashi was squared up and ready to take aim. She took the sword in two hands and held it down at her hip, face locked in a scowl.

“I’m just mad.”

 

16
The Yak’s eyes were all the way up once his head slid off. The angle of the drop was perfect, coming out enough for Kiddo to give it a stiff kick. Takashi was trained on her center of mass by the time the head hit his pistol loose, mid-trigger pull. The bullet hit the ceiling and sounded the remaining eleven Yaks to charge. Kiddo hunched slightly and launched herself into them.

The second Yak took a shallow cut across the stomach. She wanted to open him up, but Kiddo had to dash right to avoid the third Yak’s swing from a baton. That left his arm vulnerable once she pivoted for a counter. The third reeled back, the stump of his forearm gushing. He didn’t suffer long when Kiddo went for the head. She was greedy and paid for it when the fourth got around to slice her back with a wakizashi.

When she swiped backward with a shriek, the fourth Yak ducked out of the way before his buddies got a few hits in. Kiddo saw a knife coming in low from the fifth and dropped to one knee. Swinging to keep her flanks clear, she grabbed the guy’s knife-hand, and squeezed with a whirl of the spinner. Blood shot out between her fingers as he shouted. Then Kiddo rolled between his legs and grabbed him by the collar.

Orite!” shouted Takashi and the Yaks dropped to the floor. Behind them he had his gun back in hand.

Kiddo went small, pulling the fifth Yak down before cutting his legs out below the knee. The guy was pretty big in comparison, putting enough meat between her and Takashi’s bullets. He emptied the magazine into the Yak, keeping the grouping tight. Still, he would’ve needed more ammo to reach her.

With her arms, the fifth wasn’t heavy, and rolled the corpse to the side once Takashi clicked empty. Kiddo charged him, the fear of God in his eyes. She didn’t make it when the second Yak, bleeding like a stuck pig, put her in a headlock. The guy was wounded, but she couldn’t get out of it. Kiddo wiggled and thrashed enough to get her left loose. She threw it to the side and her joints bent backwards, bringing a tight fist toward the second Yak. The bone around his ear caved in under the skin like a flesh-colored bag of broken pottery.

When the second fell away, Kiddo snapped her arm back in place, and locked blades with the fourth Yak. Their edges ground into each other, making a noise that’d send a shiver up your spine. She saw the rest of them moving around for her flanks and took her left off the hilt to snap the wakizashi off at the cross guard.

Kiddo held it backwards, making it easy to shove through the fourth Yak’s throat. She pulled it out to the side in a spin to deflect the sixth’s baton, opening the fourth’s throat halfway. The snapped blade still in hand, Kiddo dragged it from the sixth stomach to his chest. He staggered back, failing to keep his guts from falling out. Kiddo left the blade in him to focus on the last six Yaks.

Takashi saw an opening and rushed to the bar. The Goris were hiding behind, sticking their heads up enough to watch the slaughter.

“Lotch, “gimme the scatter gun!” They snapped out of their awe to stare at him like stranger. There wasn’t anger or resentment; just pure uncut indifference. “What about a spare mag? C’mon! Any of you got one? I’m still your boss, you pieces of–“

It was like getting hit with a baseball when that head nearly knocked Takashi over the bar. Kiddo wasn’t far behind, sword at her hip with fresh cuts around her legs and shoulder. None of them sapped her speed with the last three Yaks on her tail.

Takashi jerked himself to the left, but wasn’t quick enough to keep one of his hands. He screamed as Kiddo hit the bar with a thud that took the air out of her lungs. She turned in time to catch the tenth Yak’s knife before it sunk deeper in her chest. With a groan through clenched teeth Kiddo dropped her sword to squeeze the tenth’s hand into crumpled bone. He didn’t yell for long after she crushed the side of his face with the other hand.

The sight was enough to stop the eleventh and twelfth Yaks in their tracks.

Nanishiteruno?” yelled Takashi. “Kill the bitch!”

They got a hold of themselves the same time Kiddo shoved her latest kill away. The eleventh Yak had a baton before she struck his forearm with an open-hand chop. As he roared, Kiddo caught the baton mid-fall, and buried it in the twelfth’s head when he got close. She finished off the eleventh with a punch to the throat that cracked his spine out the back of his neck.

It felt like hours since Kiddo had a chance to take a breath. Suddenly she felt all the cuts and bruises, the loose strands of hair tickling her ears. The blood on her face and clothes was cold as ice, already hardening into a deeper shade of crimson. What she couldn’t feel was the knife still in her ribs. Wasn’t deep enough to register, but its hard to miss something sticking between your ribs. You could tell she got enough of a break when Kiddo limped toward Takashi.

He knew he was done for; no exit, no friends, nothing to keep him from getting what’s coming. Takashi backed toward the office door, hand clasped over his bleeding stump like he was praying. “I-I didn’t do it!” he cried. “I’m sorry about Enzo, but I didn’t do it! I swear!” He hit the wall by the door and went to his knees. “I’ll get you your money! More money even! I’ll get you anything you want! Please!”

Kiddo grabbed him by the hair and pulled Takashi’s head back. With a grimace she yanked the knife from her chest. “When you get to Hell,” she said putting the edge to his jugular, “give my regards to Cici.”

She savored every stroke as blood poured down his three-piece suit. Takashi’s gurgle grew louder as Kiddo sawed deeper, slowly fading into silence. Before long his body slumped to the side, his heart making a few final pumps out his exposed arteries.

 

17
Kiddo shook the last flecks of blood from Takashi’s head. Retracting the blade she pocketed the knife and searched through his pockets. After retrieving his phone she limped back toward her stool.

“Small bag and some dry rags,” she said. The Gori’s watched her stagger to her place at the end of the bar like she was Jesus swinging his ass across a lake. Kiddo put the head and phone on the bar before picking up her sword from the floor. That’s when she noticed everyone staring. “Please?”

Suddenly they tired to look busy. Lotch passed his rag over then bent down for a fresh stack from the laundry. Kiddo ran her sword blade through the rag, followed by the knife, before one Gori put a small black plastic bag by Takashi’s head.

“Alright, guys,” said Lotch struggling to find the words. “Get the big trash bags inna back and the bleach–“

“Gimme the first aid kit instead,” said Kiddo.

“You’re gonna need more than band aids, Pink,” he said as a Gori passed her a white tin with a red cross on the lid.

“It’ll do.”

“Lemme put in a call to Arn and get you–“ began another Gori.

“What did I say?”

Her tone and the look in her eyes made everyone freeze. They’d never heard her talk or look so serious. In a few seconds of shock they watched her pull her jeans down and shirt off. They were kind enough to look the other way, but Kiddo didn’t care if they saw her goods.

“Leave the bodies,” she went on, wiping the cuts with a fresh rag. “You showed up for the funeral and found them like this and that someone wiped the camera feed from this morning.”

She didn’t have to say more for them to understand, two Goris making for the back room behind the bar.

“What else?” asked Lotch.

Last thing she wanted was to keep talking, wiping her arms like cleaning a car. “Call the cops after I leave. The Jap capos ‘ill know it was me, but they’ll keep it in the family ‘cause we own the cops.” She groaned while wrapping herself in gauze. “All the heat will be on me.”

“And after that–“

Kiddo scoffed. “I don’t know, Lotch! Do what you like. This has nothing to do with business or the line of succession. This is all mine. Just an ole fashion vendetta against whoever made Enzo blow his brains out. Tak was just a loose end.”

“Well, you’re leaving this ship with no captain. How we gonna stay on course if the last guy just lost his friggin’ head?”

Kiddo smirked as she fastened her belt. “Seems you’re ready to mutiny. Be my guest. I’m going over board.”

Lotch nodded with a short sigh. “You can say that again.”

Rather than put on her shirt Kiddo slipped into her pea coat and wrapped her shirt around Takashi’s head. Once the whole thing was in the bag, it looked like dirty laundry.

“I don’t wanna see or hear about any of you helping me,” she said clipping her sword to her belt. Then Kiddo put on her cap and glasses and limped to the front door. She almost forgot to slip on her gloves before typing in the new password. “I was never here.”

The cold breeze felt good on her cuts through the fabric as she limped down the sidewalk. Kiddo thumbed through Takashi’s phone to recent calls and put the speaker to her ear.

Stop calling me, Sterling,” said Monty after a couple rings.

“He’s dead. You’re next.”

 

Monty looked at the phone after pulling it away with a flat grin. “Sterling wa shinde imasu,” he said.

Soshite, watashitachi ga kare to issho ni okutta hito-tachi wa?” asked one Yak sitting across from him in the car.

Karera mo shinde iru to katei shimashou.” Monty raised his voice so the driver could hear him. “Gorinni kurabu ni modorimasu.”

Shikashi, Kyrii-dono–“ started the driver.

Watashi wa domorimashita ka?” snapped Monty.

The driver answered by turning onto the next street.

 

The Yaks followed Monty up the sidewalk, blades and batons ready. When he turned the corner they almost ran into his back.

From curb to curb the whole front of Le Speak was stacked with blue and whites and a pair of quad-peds hitched to lampposts. Investigators in rubber coveralls were going in and out while one cop was posted at each end of the sidewalk. Monty and his boys stood like rabbits trying to evade a predator as Detective Pierce crossed the street with her portly partner Dom at her back. She was swiping through a tablet, but glanced at the Yaks in a brief pause. It was enough to make Monty about-face back the way they came.

Tōno ni denwa shite kudasai,” he said.

 

Investigators dotted the club, taking pictures and flashing faces with hand-scanners, and marking evidence and blood splatters with numbered sticky notes. Lotch and the Goris were gathered and segregated on the clean half of the club as beat cops questioned them. The bodies and their assorted parts were covered in black sheets.

Pierce was putting on a pair of latex gloves by the time she reached the bottom of the stairs. “Now this is a proper mess.”

“True that,” said Dom slipping into his own, one over a fancy chrome hand. “Been a while since we had a turf war.”

“Then let’s collect some dog-tags. Dibs on the bodies.”

“Got it.”

They bumped each other’s fists before separating. Dom made for the cops while Pierce stepped carefully around the splatter patterns to the body by the bar. Under the sheet she looked at the Yak’s crushed face, his remaining eye still open.

“Looks like the Jaws of Life did him in,” said the Investigator off the side flashing the bar top.

“More like Jaws of Death.”

He chuckled. “Good one.”

“You pull anything off that yet?” she asked pointing to the baton sticking out of the cranium of the Yak close by.

“We were gonna yank it outta him at the coroners before–“

“Scan it and get back to me in five.” She laid the sheet down and stood. “Whoever did this is very pissed off with weapons-grade or construction-rated mods. We’re bound to get designator prints off that handle.”

“What do you care?” said a Gori from the group across the club. “They’re Yakuza. They’re right where they friggin’ belong. Worse than us, if you ask me.” Those around him agreed with nods and mutters.

“You’re right, punk, we really don’t care,” said Pierce crossing over to the kid. “What they don’t show you on those awful police procedurals is how little a few dead bodies fazes us on the daily. We’re janitors with better pay and fancier uniforms. Mopping up a massacre is just part of the job.” Now she was right in front of him and the kid was wishing he didn’t open his mouth. “But every now and then we get a little curious and decide to turn our brains on. Can’t say the same for the guys you have on the payroll.”

The uniforms in earshot, including Dom, looked nervous.

“I’ve never taken a bribe in my life,’ said the closest beat cop.

“Don’t incriminate yourself, Jacobs,” said Pierce with a smile before turning back to the Goris. “Now, what’s got me curious is your boss, the new guy from what I read on the way here, is sitting over there without his head. Still haven’t found the head. And none of you seem the least bit perturbed the guy who writes your checks is dead. I take it you didn’t like the guy? I’m guessing Godfather Cicero was the favorite and this guy wasn’t. Better question, where’s Volk? She was Cicero’s number three after that guy. I wonder how she felt about the new–

“That’s what a chain of command is for, Detective,” said Lotch. “Just ‘cause he’s dead doesn’t mean the ball stops rolling.”

“Wouldn’t be organized crime without organization, I guess. Got something you can tell me, old man?”

“I can tell ya we found the place like this. Not the how.”

Pierce looked at Dom.

“That’s what they’re all saying,” he said.

“Figures. How long did it take to get your stories straight before calling 9-1-1? Probably not long given all the officers in your pocket–“

“Wanna do your job and keep patronizing us, Detective?” snapped Lotch.

“I would, but you guys have been so generous feeding my curiosity. See, if none of you were here when these poor Japanese waiters were butchered like sushi in your own club,” Pierce pointed to a Gori at the margins without looking at him, “explain the blood on that kid’s lapel.”

All the attention made his cheeks turn read, his forehead already glistening with sweat. The guys around him looked like they wanted to tear him apart.

“Dominic, badge 1947,” said Dom into his phone. “Need a paddy wagon at Madison and 8th. Full house.”

“Real gangsters are great liars,” said Pierce with a smirk. “Should’ve watched more movies.”

About the same time she walked away the Investigator came under the police tape around the entrance, tablet in hand.

“Got a name for you, Pierce,” he said passing it to her waxy Android hand. “Ramos, Leeland. Reported a break-in at his gun store in NewCal seven years ago. One of the items was a pair of milsurp Model C arm mods. Their D-prints are an exact match to the ones I pulled from the baton.”

“Did they catch the guy that broke in?”

“Nothing in the database.”

“Then let’s give the locals cops a call.”

 

The hotel was a ‘no questions asked’ kind of joint; the kind husbands brought their favorite hookers because regular cathouses keep a customer registry. It’s not hard to ask the front desk for a name when you come up crying with a wedding ring. The old lady in the dingy lobby at reception was glued to a ragged paperback when Kiddo limped through the revolving door, carrying the bag. The lady gave her a glance before she boarded the elevator.

She’d been there before heading to Le Speak bearing the essentials. Canvas bags sat on the bed when Kiddo got to her room and locked the door. One bag had medical supplies, fresh clothes, and another had tools from Enzo’s workbench with cleaning supplies. There were also fresh towels she wouldn’t feel bad about throwing away once they were stained crimson.

First thing she did was limp to the mini-fridge and gulp down a bottle of chocolate meta-milk like she was about to die of thirst. Killing thirteen people will take a lot out of a Modded person, especially when you push your gear as far as Kiddo. After breathing hard from finishing the bottle she noticed the red lights on both wrists blinking and pulled off her coat.

When she pressed the light on her left the plating of the arm opened in half with a burst of steam. Between the wrist and spinner was a twisted wrap of three myomer cells bonded partly to armature. They looked like muscle, but black and anything but organic. They flexed slightly when Kiddo moved her fingers and slowly unwrapped and expanded. She opened the other arm then started to strip again.

 

The toilet was up in the bathroom and filled with bloody cotton balls. On the floor sat the old gauze in a pile and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide on the sink. The M-cells had cooled by the time Kiddo decided to jump in the shower. She stood under the head watching blood flow into the drain.

The stab wound in her chest kept catching her eye. It was just above her breast and angled in a way it would look fashionable once it scarred. Would make a great conversation piece once she decided to sleep with someone again. With her thumb she traced the edge of the wound as the blood slowed to a crawl down her lean torso. The warm water helped the pain everywhere else, but she couldn’t feel the stab anymore.

Kiddo cut the shower, but kept the faucet running when she grabbed the stable gun. With a dry towel she dabbed the stab dry and stapled it closed, pinching the edges together to make sure it was tight. She worked down to her legs, wincing every time the staples clicked into her skin. Kiddo wet another small towel to wipe down whatever blood remained.

The slash on her back required more finesse. She was smart enough to bring her hand mirror from home and stood with her back to the sink mirror. With one free hand she had to pinch a section of the cut before putting down the mirror for the staple gun. Kiddo could see her back in the sink mirror, but her view wasn’t as precise as she liked.

Four yards worth of fresh gauze later she came walking out of the bathroom with a towel around her waist and one draped over her shoulders. She sat on one of the course chairs by the window in front of a coffee table where Takashi’s head sat in the bag. Her deck was lying right by it with a neural jack ready.

Kiddo folded Takashi’s right ear and plugged into the port hidden in his hair. A white wheel spun against black on the phone screen before it turned aqua-blue. Blown out Japanese text appeared against the blue with an English subtitle that read “Recall Services.” Kiddo thumbed the text before the title dissipated into a list of small pictures with dates in descending order.

She snickered. “Should’ve set a password, Tak.”

Kiddo thumbed the second picture that blew up to fit her screen, forcing her to turn the phone sideways. The footage had a slight curve, going black every time Takashi blinked. She turned up the sound and reached for an e-cig on the table. When he pulled his dick out to jack it Kiddo ran her finger across the screen to fast forward. She sped past that morning when he picked her up, the flight to the meeting, but watched Takashi cut his pinky off over and over with a smile.

Kiddo was more concerned about later that day, scanning through hours of footage that did not immediately catch her eye. He flew to a hospital to get his stump stitched before picking up a prescription at the pharmacy. Then that night at the club he shook hands with customers, the band, and went over the books in the office. Kiddo scanned backwards to just after the meeting and spotted a familiar number when Takashi took out his phone while at the hospital.

What, Sterling?

Monty, I need help. She’s gonna kill me.

Who?

You know who! Pinkerton’s on the edge. She knows where I live and I’m not gonna wake up tomorrow.

Raise your voice to me again and it’ll be me that puts you to sleep.

Okay. Okay. I’m sorry, but I know this broad like the back of my hand and she’s gonna snap–

The footage showed Takashi moving the phone away before Kiddo scanned ahead to another call.

I’m not kidding, Monty. She’s a psychopath. I’ve known a few in my time and she’s the worst. For the love of God, she can’t be trusted. Let me speak to Boss Kyrii. Please get back to me when you get this.

The last call came just before he went to bed.

You beg like a whipped cuck.

Pardon me that your boss’s latest investment is in fear of one of his own employees.

Do it yourself. Maybe you’ll do a better job than with Cicero.

I’m serious! She’s gonna kill me the first chance she gets.

A moment of pause was taken up by a sigh from Monty.

Unlike most of you Gorinni pricks I respect Volk. She’s more Japanese than me and you combined. Had I made her the same offer I did you, she’d cut me to pieces in broad daylight or try, at least. Whatever you think of her, I couldn’t disagree more. So does the Shogun, which is why he declared her sawaranaide.

Aw, c’mon! Anata wa anata no kokoro o ushinai mashita ka?!

Anata no kuso kuchi o tojite! Moichido sonoyoni watashi ni hanashite, watashi wa anata no nodo o hirakimasu!… That envelope he gave her had ten grand. Everyone knows she was saving up to settle down with a kid and her Android. Volk is honorable and she’ll keep her hands to herself if it means getting a chance at her dream. Since she’s untouchable, you’ll have to do it yourself or pay someone. Either way, if she dies, make sure we don’t find you, Sterling. And don’t call me ever again.

The call ended and Kiddo sat back looking like she just finished a race. Instead of a victory it was closure, but then it opened a door she didn’t know to keep shut. She took a long drag from her e-cig and held it between her lips with a slow exhale.

“Whoops.”

 

18
Junior sat at the counter in the waiting room with the lights off. He closed up an hour ago, but there was work left on his computer. As he typed away a car drove by and cast columns of light across the room. The only thing brighter was the monitor two feet before his face. Another car passed and for a second you could see a pair of gloved fingers pry open the automatic doors at his back.

Kiddo squeezed through the gap, front side facing Junior. She dropped off her pea coat and jeans at a cleaner that specialized in blood and discretion. This time she wore a grey hoodie and matching sweatpants with those crappy tennis shoes from last night.

She left the gap open and crept toward Junior, stepping from heel to toe until she was two-arms away. When his chair swiveled Kiddo rolled in front of the counter and got small. She edged into cover and watched Junior walk to the gap.

“The hell?” With a short grunt he pushed the doors closed and made for his seat. “Piece of garbage.”

After the chair creaked Kiddo walked upright behind him. She pulled his right wrist from the mouse and dug her fingers into his left shoulder. Junior didn’t gasp or flinch, frozen with eyes bugged-out.

“Hiya, Junior. How’s business?” He couldn’t get a word out he was so scared. “Like the new hardware? They’re milspec. Stole ‘em from a gun-runner in Tacoma. They come with haptic sensors and this,” she said with a whirl of the spinner under her sleeve, “feels like your collarbone.”

“I’ll pay you back everything,” he said quickly.

“Keep the money. I want Enzo’s personal clients. The ones he saw on the regular and kept their numbers.”

“Like- like from this month?”

“Let’s start there,” she said letting go of his wrist. “Gimme a hard copy.”

Her grip loosened on his shoulder as he typed and clicked. The printer to the right in the shadow of the counter spat out a paper lined with names and numbers that took up half the page. Kiddo picked it up with her free hand and scanned for anyone that struck a cord. “Gimme one from last month and the month after that.”

“Might get repeats–“ he stopped when her grip tightened.

“And I might not.”

Junior printed another two sheets. The list on top was shorter and Kiddo didn’t have to look close to see someone familiar. She picked up the papers, joining it with the first, and underlined the name ‘Steiner, Cassidy’ with her thumb. “Hello, bitch.”

She quickly scanned the last page and the look of a delighted scoundrel Kiddo was known for went rigid and serious. She slowly let go of Junior and held the paper with two hands like it weighed tons. Her jaw clenched and before her face got any redder, Kiddo made for the front door, leaving Junior to rub his shoulder. Another passing car painted her in stripes as she folded the three papers together.

“See you round, Junior.”

 

Renton was a nice change of scenery. It had a suburban feel if nature went out of control. Grass filled cracks in sidewalks and weeds sprouted from shattered asphalt. It wasn’t a town that time forgot, but at an hour till midnight, anywhere could look deserted. The boarded and fenced fast-food joints and superstores didn’t help. One store was an old hardware chain that went under years ago, standing like a monolith surrounded by forest on three sides. The closer you got to the place, the less abandoned it looked.

Arranged in a checkered board at the front were two rows of wide garden boxes. From black soil rose corn, soy, wheat, and tomatoes near ready for harvest. Next to the entrance tools and baskets were gathered beneath wooden awnings with sheet metal roofs. Along the length of the superstore from the awnings solar panels were angled to the sky. The gardens and panels were new to Kiddo. What waited inside she had no idea, but what never changed since the night Cicero sent her in starred down from the middle of the superstore. Rendered in black graffiti were the shadows and lines of the face of Leon Trotsky, a man so dangerous in his time, Stalin had an ice axe buried in his skull.

The first time she saw the face Kiddo remembered her father’s history lessons. Memories of vivid descriptions and her mother telling him to tone down the horrific imagery flooded her mind every time she saw the face or a Trotsky on the street. She wondered how insane do you have to be to idolize such a degenerate, the thought making all the stealing and sabotage easy. Keeping her eyes on the face Kiddo sniffed hard and hocked a thick wad on the asphalt. “Suka,” she said before tightening the straps of her knapsack and flipping on her hood.

It’d crossed her mind that the Trotskys got wise to her numerous burglaries, given all the intimate details of various schemes the cops magically acquired to get a warrant or several, not to mention the missing funds and rosters. Naiveté was a thief’s death and Kiddo knew she was going to try something new.

She ran right toward an outcropping that was used for loading lumber onto customer cars. It was shorter than the main roof with a drainage pipe that ran from the top like a steel vein. The whole time she climbed the pipe Kiddo expected the screws to come loose. The roof of the outcropping was gravel when she climbed over and rushed to the remaining pipe.

On the main roof she crouch-walked to a large set of skylights. There were smaller ones spread out, but painted over with grey. The old wrecked AC units she used to squeeze through to climb across the rafters were replaced with new ones that couldn’t be opened unless she wanted to make noise or get shredded by fans. The small turbines were also out of the question.

At the skylights Kiddo had to crawl to keep her shadow low then cupped her eyes around the glass. The ceiling lights were off, but at the back shined something bright. It wasn’t clear because a giant red and black flag hanging from the rafters covered the view. Trotsky’s face was also on the flag.

Kiddo crawled away and knelt by one of the covered skylights. She ran her fingers under the rim and scanned the sides all the way around. The motion sensor bolted to one hinge near gave her a heart attack when she almost touched it. Kiddo sat up with a long sigh and pushed her eyebrows back. Of course, there were other options, but she didn’t want to think about them. Last thing she wanted was to make this harder than she preferred.

Nevertheless she crouch-walked to the back where a ladder was calling her name. She climbed up and hung off the side to see the loading dock below. On either side of four tall shudders were smaller adjacent doors. Without seeing them through the darkness she knew they were fitted with sensors, but Kiddo resigned herself to make this hard.

 

The stage was built of bare wood with red curtains and a floor of polished panels. It was surrounded at the front by a square of folding chairs with a path down the center. Lights were positioned along the front edge with covers that directed illumination inward. Only a few were on as Chairman Cassidy Steiner stood in the middle.

She was Modded from one knee down. It was an artistic prosthetic modeled to look Victorian with scrollwork and brass clockwork that serve no purpose. She had on a dark khaki military tunic with stiff gold and red straps on the shoulders. One sleeve had a circular patch of the red and black flag with Trotsky’s face. Instead of military trousers Cassidy wore ripped jeans: one leg bloused into a black boot and the other rolled up to show off her mod.

The Secretary sat in the front row with a pen and legal pad in hand, wearing a similar uniform with the sleeves off, and the patch over her heart. On her back the Seattle skyline was stitched with a gold hammer and sickle in the background. “Ready when you are.”

The Chairman cleared her throat as she touched her purple hair tucked in a bun. She put her hands behind her back and forced herself upright. “Ladies and gentlemen. The Renton –“

“Gotta be gender binary, babe.”

“My bad. I had speech class this morning. It was the formal oratory exam?”

“I almost failed that one,” said the Secretary adjusting her glasses. “Petersen is such a test Nazi.”

“Yup. Okay. I got it now. Ready?”

The Secretary nodded.

“Comrades. The Renton Anarchist Commune has enjoyed great success and prosperity this past year.” She paced as the words came to her. “We are nearing completion of our seconded Three Year Plan and our homeless outreach program has not only helped displaced and impoverished persons, but increased our annual recruitment rate by 5%. To our sister groups that may seem small, but any victory is still a victory…”

She spoke like in a one on one conversation, but her voice carried between the thin walls that partitioned the store floor into different sections. There was a kitchen, storage area filled with boxes and barrels, and a barracks with three-stack bunk beds. Being a school night the place was almost empty save for a few bums in the barracks. In the rec room sat Comrade Tommy on a second-hand couch playing a videogame in front of a large TV.

A thin wire fed from the controller in his thick hands to the back of this head under a blue Mohawk as he watched the screen. He was utterly transfixed, but when the tablet lying by one love handle went bright, Tommy turned away. What he found made him yank the wire and rush out into the hall. He wasn’t exactly fit, so his rush was a fast walk with heavy steps.

“…protest at the Dalai Lama Memorial in Astoria, we have started a national conversation that questions the legitimacy of the Pacific Celestial Sphere and it’s illegal war against the People’s Republic of China,” continued Cassidy as Tommy arrived. He approached slowly with the tablet down the center path. “We… It was not long ago our senior members and mentors stood up against the theocratic fascism of America and its puppet master Israel as they…” She stopped pacing and turned to the Secretary. “I don’t like that last line. Feels weird.”

“Just say whatever comes to mind and I’ll edit it together to make it sound nice.”

“Oh, yeah.” The Chairman was about to continue when she spotted Tommy. “What do you need, Thomas?”

He looked twice as nervous when she used his formal name and came closer to the Secretary. “Um, Comrade Chairman,” his voice effeminate, “the motion sensor went off at the loading dock. One of the small doors.”

“Which one?” asked the Secretary taking the tablet.

“Uh, the one by the old locker room.”

Cassidy looked at the tablet when the Secretary held the screen outward. “It’s probably Joshua. They always comes back after hours looking for more.”

“We should ban them,” said the Secretary passing back the tablet. “They take without giving. It’s against policy.”

“Only for members,” said the Chairman hopping off the stage to join them. “They’re just another causality of this rotten system. That’s where we come in.” Tommy and the Secretary followed her to the threshold built into the store’s main structure by the stage. It led into a hall with the loading dock through a pair of swinging doors at the right end. “Let’s get Joshua fed.”

Kiddo watched the three Trotsky’s enter the hall from under the stage. When they were out of sight, she inched between the support beams and crouch-walked to the edge of the threshold. The doors creaked before lights flickered on through the small square windows, nobody standing watch. That was her cue to dash down the left end of the hall, the linoleum floor making whispers of her feet.

 

19
The cinderblock walls were lined with posters of what you’d expect from a gang of Left Wing Extremists. Vintage and modern propaganda hung in cheap plastic frames as Kiddo rushed to the office. It was the first threshold on her right, same place as always. The room was stuffy with a small desk, two thin-screen monitors, and a pair of bookcases. The clutter would’ve been a problem were Kiddo looking for something inconspicuous.

Flipping on her phone light she shimmied around to push the chair back and knelt before the CPU tower under the desk. It was quite analog, the kind Kiddo’s grandparents would have used. She clicked the side panel off, revealing its guts of bundled wire and cooling fans. At the edge of the motherboard were three USB connectors, two of which were occupied. She had plenty of options, but Kiddo settled on the easiest.

She brought around her knapsack and pulled out a skinny thumb drive rigged with an antenna. In a small plastic bag of different cables she picked one that would fit the connector and married it to the thumb drive. Placing the whole thing inside the tower took some strategic packing. A light on the drive blinked green before Kiddo thumbed her phone and locked the panel back in place.

She stood and cut the light about the same time she spotted the fancy modern laptop sitting on a bookshelf at the back wall. It had a sleek body and Kiddo figured whatever was on it would prove just as useful. She glanced over her shoulder to the threshold then opened her sack. After fastening the opening over the laptop, her soul alnost jumped out of her body from surprise.

“Taping the sensor on the interior door was clever,” said Cassidy. “Stupid-simple, but clever.”

Kiddo didn’t dare move because if there was anything she learned ripping off the Trotskys, it’s they’re notorious gun-nuts. “There’s an old Russian saying: whatever works.”

“Doubt that.”

“I’d carefully explain why you’re wrong, but I’d rather keep my identity to myself.”

“Doubt that too. You know who we are. All I have to do is cross-reference the details you’ve given away with our list of subversives. You’re already ours.”

“Sharp,” said Kiddo taking her left hand off the sack. “Sharper than Bernetti. It was only a matter of time before she got pinched. I just helped her to it.”

“…How do you know about the leaks?”

“You said it yourself.” With her eyes she peered down and saw the edge of the desk right where she needed it: behind her left leg. “Look me up.”

Kiddo almost threw herself off with how fast she thrust her arm. Her left fist struck the edge of the desk and sent it spinning across the floor into the threshold. The Chairman jerked back before Kiddo tackled her. Cassidy was a head-and-a-half taller, but it didn’t make a difference against speed and combat-rated mods. The old fashion AK she was holding hit the floor when they stumbled into the hall. Kiddo had the sack in hand when she gripped a thick tuft of Cassidy’s hair from behind. The Chairman shrieked louder when Kiddo forced her to face the other end of the hall.

Tommy and the Secretary were blocking the way to the loading dock behind their own AKs. “Let go of Cassidy!” he shouted with a voice that cracked.

Her hood came off in the commotion, so Kiddo decided to play with them. “Can’t you see the hair?” she asked with a smile. “I’m one of you, chunk. I hate straight white men and love soymilk. Communism and the Matriarchy will save the world!”

“Yeah right!”

The way he said it made her laugh out loud.

“Drop the bag and we’ll let you go,” said the Secretary with an icy voice.

“I’ll yank her scalp off her skull if you don’t move out of the way.”

“Do it!” strained the Chairman.

“But Comrade –“ started Tommy.

“Do it, you idiots!”

Tommy and the Secretary glanced at each other and inched into the superstore proper. Kiddo slung the sack over one shoulder and edged forward to keep pace. She knew they couldn’t hit the side of a barn, but she put as much of Cassidy between her and those guns as possible.

The two Trotskys were well out of the hall when she stopped. “Oh! Almost forgot…” With her free hand Kiddo patted down the Chairman’s front pockets, including her flat ass.

“Stop assaulting Cassidy–“ cracked Tommy

“Aw, shut up!” yelled Kiddo before she pulled the phone from her jeans. “When they were taking over the Motherland,” she said pocketing the phone and putting her back against the swinging doors, “Dad’s ancestors were doing their own assaulting. And that straight white man on your chests told them to do it.” Kiddo gave them one more smile. “Beregite sebya, tovarishchi!”

Her shove almost made Cassidy airborne before knocking into Tommy and the Secretary. The loading dock was clear of obstruction with the lights off, but Kiddo could see the outline of the closest shudder. By the time she was standing in front of it there came the piercing bark of automatic fire. Concrete burst around her with flashes of sparks when the slugs hit metal. Tommy and the Secretary were aiming correctly as they walked in, but they hit everything around Kiddo except Kiddo.

It was no excuse to stay longer when she shoved her fingers between the shudder’s slats and made a hole. The asphalt came at her fast after diving through and Kiddo remembered she had fragile equipment on her back. Her hands met the ground first, forcing her to slide on her side. There was a loud tear and burning scratch, but Kiddo was too busy running to see what it was. As she sprinted up from the dock to the north side she felt wind ride up her leg.

The asphalt burst at her feet and tossed hot shards toward her neck. She swung left, putting the superstore in front of their aim. It gave her time to climb the fence and land in the woods before she saw Cassidy and the goons come around the corner. Kiddo rushed deeper. They weren’t shooting, but she wasn’t eager to make sure. The air was moist and thick, the ground cluttered with roots. Kiddo hiked her knees up from fear of tripping, darting side to side to keep from running into the thick trunks.

The trees thinned out when she came upon a road. Lampposts running in both directions were still functioning, showing Kiddo she was well and truly alone. She held herself up by her knees and listened between labored breaths for movement in the woods.

As she got control of her lungs she noticed the rip in one pant leg, showing off a chuck of her thigh, and a bright red friction burn. Confident she wasn’t being chased Kiddo pulled a roll of duct tape from her sack.

 

20

The visitor’s area was just for cops, a wide tall room with a single table and two chairs. There were spares stacked to the side where Dom leaned with a cup of coffee in his metal hand on the verge of passing out. Pierce sat with her feet up on one corner, fingering through a tablet while glancing at an open file on the table. At the opposite corner sat a box of donuts. Mixed in with the glazed were four wafer cakes the shape of hexagons with holes.

Pierce reached for one and took a bite without looking away from the tablet. “Eat something or you’ll pass out, man.”

“Gotta watch myself,” said Dom. “One donut and my heart explodes.”

“That coffee ’ll do the trick.”

“This is decaf.”

“Still coffee.”

Dom smirked before taking a sip.

The sliding door on the other side of the room buzzed before the locks clicked open. A CO in khaki and green ushered Reed Tanahn in orange inside. The CO stood by the door as Reed took the seat opposite Pierce before walking back out.

All alone Pierce could feel Tanahn staring at her, and then Dom. Without looking she slid the donuts over to him. “They quit feeding you guys? If I remember correctly, you’re supposed to get fat in jail.”

Reed nodded with a passive grimace. “Depends on what ya eat.”

“They got menus now?” asked Dom.

“Nah,” he answered taking a regular donut. “I’m picky.”

“Well, it’s done you wonders, Tanahn,” said Pierce taking her feet off and sitting up. “You were with the Thompson Family, right?”

“That’s a big yes, detective. I went solo long before I got pinched.”

“Kept the accent, I see.”

“I like the flapper aesthetic. More dignified than most hipster groups.”

“If you say so. Ever been to NewCal, Tanahn?”

“Just San Diego where I was trained. Back then, it was all California.”

“Old timer, eh?” asked Dom. “Sure don’t look it.”

“Good genes.”

“A handsome face can get you places, Dom,” said Pierce, “like on the wrong end of a camera.” She showed Reed her tablet. In black and white it showed a figure in a ski mask crouching behind a strip mall. “The Shasta County deputies didn’t have the equipment, but when they sent the footage we ran the eyes and found you in here for dealing. Now, what would a pusher be doing in redneck country breaking into a gun store? I asked around and some said you sold weapons on the side.”

Tanahn stared at the screen with a sideways smile. “I was never charged with gun running, detective. If I was, I’d have more than a nickel left on my sentence.”

Pierce raised an eyebrow and put down the tablet before looking to Dom.

“It means five years,” he said.”

“Oh.” Pierce turned back. “I guess that’s less stupid.”

“Flappers got words for everything,” said Reed.

“That may be,” said Dom, “but you’ve also got a pretty bad poker face.”

“Here’s your situation, Tanahn,” said Pierce, “you’ll be tried for the burglary in Shasta back in ‘33. All the gear we have logged as evidence was traced back to that store, which will give the prosecution more fuel to your fire. Once you’re convicted, let’s just say you’ll have enough nickels to make you rich.”

“Stupid rich,” added Dom.

Pierce let it simmer, watching Reed come to terms with a few extra decades behind bars. It was almost enjoyable, but before the climax, she pulled out. “That would be the case if anyone but myself and my partner knew what we found.” Tanahn didn’t hide his relief, his shoulders relaxing as he sat a back. “I can tell the judge to cut your remaining time in half or more if you give us a hand with our case.”

As she fingered the tablet Reed reached for another donut. “I sold to the Trotskys. There was the Tacoma Reds, Renton Anarchists, and Seattle Syndicalists. They love classic Soviet and got caches all over the city. I can tell you–“

“We’ll get to that in a bit.” Pierce passed him the tablet. “Look familiar?”

On the screen was a pair of arm mods just like Kiddo’s. Tanahn smiled with a nod. “SK DefPros A12, Mdl-C. Fitted with accelerators that increase grip pressure to nearly a thousand. No active ventilation, though. Beautiful pieces of hardware regardless.”

“They were used to butcher 13 people yesterday morning,” said Dom.

“No better tool for the job, detective. I was gonna tune them up and double the regular price after I brought them home. Real shame.”

Dom brought his coffee down before he could take a sip. “Was?”

“Some coward piece ‘a trash took ‘em out of my place; an experienced coward piece ‘a trash.”

Pierce leaned forward and pointed at the tablet. “Those arms were stolen from you?”

“What’d I just say?”

“It means elaborate, punk,” said Dom.

Reed put down the tablet and took a bite of his donut. “It was… November? ’35? Left my place in the afternoon, came back at night, and the guy hacked into the keypad on my front door. Made off with the arms and some pop-knives. Guy knew what he was doing. Honestly, I was impressed.”

“Who would want to steal from you?” asked Pierce.

“A lot of people.”

“Narrow it down,” said Dom. “Maybe someone could use those mods without major surgery?”

“Who knew you were running guns and hated you?” asked Pierce.

“Uh,” Tanahn wiped his mouth, “some Deng Chi mooks, the Trotskys because I’m a capitalist, low-level weirdos around Tacoma… and Godfather Cicero, the old prick. He was the one that ordered my name into the Black Book for gun running. Is he dead yet?”

Pierce and Dom looked at him then each other. She came back around with a smile and took the tablet. “Lemme show you a face, Tanahn, and tell me what you think.”

 

Monty made sure his footsteps didn’t echo as he ascended the stairs, hand resting on the pommel of his katana. As he rose higher to the floor there came voices that rose in volume with every step. Monty angled his ear to get a bead on what was said. It did him no good until he reached his destination.

Seeing the length of the hall from the stairs Monty watched Tommy and a skinny male Flesh Trotsky at a door across from Kiddo’s. Sally stood in the threshold with her arms hugging her chest like she was protecting her vitals. Her puffy face and shaking voice said a whole lot more.

“I’m not lying,” she said. “I don’t know where she went.”

“How?” asked Tommy with his squeaky voice. “You’re a woman. You’re supposed to be an ally and help each other.”

“A white one,” added the Skinny with a liberal dose of spite.

“Miss Volk doesn’t need help.”

“Not unless you’re trying to keep a secret, racist,” said Tommy.

“I’m not a racist!”

“You better tell us where she is,” said the Skinny, “or we’ll find you on campus and make sure you never hurt anyone ever again.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about! I don’t know where Miss Volk went! Leave me alone!”

Before the Trotskys could hit a soprano Monty decided to make himself known. He stared them down as he approached, stepping as loud as he could without stomping. All three turned his way, but only the comrades felt his gaze bearing down on them. When he stopped before them Sally hid in the threshold while the Trotskys looked between Monty and his sword. Weren’t many options available and they slowly walked around him, Monty turning on his heels to watch them leave down the stairs. Once they were gone he pulled out his phone.

Han fashisuto ga dete kimasu,” he said. “Sorera o toranku ni iremasu.” He put it away and turned back, pausing on the police tape and sign on Kiddo’s door. Facing Sally he put on a small smile. “I hope they didn’t bother you for too long.”

She inched out of the threshold. “I know one of them from school. His friends might come after me.”

“I assure you, they won’t.” Sally loosened up and wiped her cheeks. “Actually, I’m sorry to say I’m here for the same reason. I’m a professional rival of Miss Volk and she’s gotten into a little trouble. And I have a feeling it has something to do with that,” he said pointing his thumb at Kiddo’s door.

“Two days ago, Enzo, Kiddo’s boyfriend, killed himself.”

Monty felt a hole opened in his chest. “Do you know why?”

“No! They loved each other so much. They were gonna have a baby and all this stuff and… and they had a fight and that’s when Enzo shot himself. It was so sad. I don’t understand why he’d do such a thing.”

He gave her time to get it together. “Did the cops or Volk say anything about why he did it?”

“Um… when they were questioning me, they asked me something about Enzo’s personal maintenance? If he was prone to motor-fits and Android stuff I didn’t understand. I told them I had no clue other than he always seemed fine.”

“So you have no reason to suspect he would willing kill himself or hurt her?”

“Of course not! They were happy and had plans for the future. I told the police he would never have put a hand on her or even consider suicide. It didn’t make any sense!”

Monty nodded slowly. “One more question, ma’am: did you hear the cops mention something called ‘kernel panic?’”

Sally paused. “Yes, actually. When the coroners were taking away Enzo, one of them said kernel panic and something about hacking. I was right here crying and giving my statement and they were talking about it like it was some joke.”

He stared unblinking at her frightened little face then reached for his wallet and passed her a wad of ten-twenties. “Have a good one.” Walking back to the stairs he pulled out his phone and spoke Japanese. “Rojō de min’na. Watashi wa Volk ni kojin-teki ni taisho shimasu.

 

Monty’s apartment was a hole in a high rise overlooking Lake Washington. It was an up-scale hole, but you wouldn’t think a guy with his Modded height could fit. He craned his head through the door and flipped on the light, the only light on in the apartment. Monty hung his jacket on the coat rack and made for the kitchen at the right.

He left it beside a red pea coat and grey flat cap.

The space between the breakfast bar and the main counters was about two-and-a-half people wide. Monty turned the light on when he entered, but the living room past the bar was still dark. Monty opened the fridge door and stood to the side so his body wouldn’t block the light into the living room.

“Hungry?” He looked over his shoulder to Kiddo seated in a chair in the corner. The light from the fridge made her sword edge glow. “I have plenty of left-over spaghetti,” he said taking about a glass container. “Meatballs included.”

Kiddo went back in shadow after he shut the door. “Don’t like spaghetti or meatballs.”

Before he fired up the microwave Monty laughed. “Jesus. Love playing gangster, but you just can’t commit.” While the container was being nuked he turned to Kiddo and leaned back against the counter, arms folded. “I went to school in New York, the only New York that matters. All the real gangsters are dead, but there’re plenty of Italians still around, and they play gangster a lot better than you flappers. Real accents, real food–“ The microwave went off, prompting Monty to get a pair of chopsticks from a drawer.

“I’m not interested in a critique–“ started Kiddo.

“They loved telling stories over meals,” he said digging into the spaghetti. “Even with food in their mouths they’re so loud and expressive… Good times.” Not a word was spoken for a long few seconds. “You got your redhead neighbor fingered by the Trotskys. I did what I could with the two soy-boys they sent to find you, but we both know they love to agitate and escalate.”

He could see the news didn’t sit well with her. “Another mess I have to clean up.”

“One of many,” said Monty before he chewed a meatball.

Kiddo leaned back with a sigh, wrapping one hand around the blade resting across her knees. “Would’ve been helpful if the Shogun told me in person. I’d ’ve left those guys alive.”

“The 10K in that envelope should’ve been a big enough hint, Volk.”

“If it’s a finger you want, you’ll have to settle for my toes… if you can get them.”

“You owe more than a digit or two, but after what I learned talking to your neighbor, I find it hard to blame you. Rage is useful if you can handle it, but you’ve been all over the map the past couple days.”

“Then give me a little direction, Monty. I’ll give you time to spill why you saw Enzo three months ago before I carry you out here without your fancy arms and legs.”

He shrugged. “I’ve been seeing him for two years. Came highly recommended by Junior and my guys saw you with him on a regular basis. It was a good deal: I was getting a top-notch gear-head and information on my rival. You were all he talked about… He was a good man–“

Kiddo threw out her right fist to the side and shattered a side table by her chair. At the same time she stood and faced Monty, her sword-hand and free-hand balled into shaking fists.

He didn’t even flinch. “I know what killed him–“

“So do I! A .38 slug through the skull–“

“No, Volk. I know. What killed him.”

21

The lights were turned on in the living room when Kiddo decided to play nice. Neither her nor Monty was ready to trust the other, keeping their distance, and hands ready to draw. They faced a TV on the wall at the other end of the room. Kiddo had the couch while Monty stood thumbing his phone, sword resting in her lap.

A white wheel rotated on screen. Seconds later the wheel was replaced by an image of Boss Kyrii sitting at a long desk and behind him stood the Mark in a business dress. Sitting atop a wide dresser by a long window to the right of the desk was a trio of ornamental swords on a small rack. The image was at an angel, captured above from the middle of the office.

“Remember her?” asked Monty gesturing the screen. He touched his phone and the image went in motion.

Kyrii was writing on a piece of paper while the Mark was totally motionless, not even raising her chest to simulate breathing. First time she did was to pull out her phone, each motion precise and efficient. When she put it to her ear, the Mark loosened up and her arms dropped to her sides. There wasn’t sound, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out what the Shogun might’ve said after he swiveled his chair in her direction.

The Mark’s head twitched as she looked around the room. She starred at Kyrii, face twisted in a mess of terror and confusion. She turned to the right and stumbled towards the swords on the dresser. Her gate was a staggered limp like she didn’t want to move, but couldn’t stop. The Shogun was halfway standing by the time she unsheathed the middle sword.

Kiddo stood herself to get a better look, eyes wide and lips parted.

Kyrii was still an ancient bastard back then, getting lucky when he stepped back from the Mark’s shambling slash. He backed into the desk and she moved in for a stab. The Shogun jerked to the left off the desk and took a deep cut to his side before landing on his back.

Blood sprayed across the carpet as the Mark straddled him. She would have stabbed him through the chest had his old wrinkled hands not caught the blade. Blood poured from the tip, covering his shirt as the edge dug deeper into his palms. The Mark leaned her weight on the sword, pushing deeper between Kyrii’s hands.

At an inch from penetration a pair of Yaks pulled her off. Another pair, one of them a very young and entirely Flesh Monty, dragged Kyrii to the left out of the TV frame save for the Shogun’s skinny legs. The others shoved the Mark into the window and drew knives. She slashed when they moved in, flinching out of the way. The Mark tried to slash again, but her body seemed to drop her to one knee, and turn the sword on herself. The tip sunk into her throat before she twisted with a spray of white blood.

The Yaks put up their hands to shield their eyes and mouth. When the milky geyser slowed to a trickle the Mark fell facedown, driving the sword through till her neck met the fancy cross guard. The Yaks slowly gathered around her on the outside of the white stains. Monty held Kyrii’s side as he helped him to the scene right before the video faded to black.

Monty turned to Kiddo still staring at the TV. She clicked her blade back into the hilt and hung it on her belt beside the knife she used to decapitate Takashi. “What is it?”

“A hijack program. It starts with an audio signal that causes kernel panic and opens up the control drivers for remote access. She was networked to the company server at the time, completely impenetrable. Being frequency based, all the hacker needed was the right phone number. I take it Enzo went the same way?”

She nodded before taking her seat. “Who was it?”

“The Deng Chi. Chinese don’t like Japanese and when we were making moves in Seattle, they wanted us out quick. The original program came from the PRC. Remember the Xi’an Massacre? That’s what they used to hack people with basic neura-plants, but the Chi adapted the program to work on Androids. Only made it slightly less illegal.”

“Oh, god. What’d you do to them?”

“They’re bones at the bottom of the Sound by now.”

“And the program?”

Monty took a chair across from Kiddo, taking up as much time as possible before breaking it to her. “We sold it to TalSec.”

The spinners whirled when Kiddo formed fists until she stopped herself. “How stupid are you people?”

“If we kept it, we would be. TalSec funds the police and the Gorinni Family pays off the police. This was before your time, Volk, and that program bought us room to grow and my arms and legs. “

“Think I’m dumb enough to believe you didn’t make a copy–“

“Now who’s the stupid one? That program is military tech from a hostile superpower that was used on their own people. The Deng Chi were insane enough to try it out on American soil. A man has to know his limitations. How do you think the Yakuza were so successful back in the Home Islands? No way we were going to use outlawed software for something as petty as gang politics or a turf war.”

“And you gave it to a competitor.”

“Yes and not only did it secure our place for a time, but further vindicates the Clan’s innocence in Enzo’s suicide. We may have sanctioned Cicero’s assassination, but we face enemies like you in the open–”

“Yeah. I got it.” Kiddo sat back, face to the ceiling as she sighed. “Then we go after TalSec.”

Monty squinted one eye. “Huh?”

Kiddo looked at him. “The hacker got in through Enzo’s phone, so I’ve been collecting phones from clients that had his number. Started with Tak just to be sure, then Steiner, and I came for yours. Now I’m thinking we could go right to the source.” She stood and made for the front door. “You sold TalSec the program; they’ll know how to find the hacker. Tell the Shogun I’ll leave town forever if he can get me in their building.”

Monty stood and watched her put on her coat. “I was told to collect your head, Volk. Already lost face for even thinking about helping you. I’m on my own.”

“Makes two of us.” Kiddo put on her cap. “Then we go to the next best thing.”

 

Monty was at Kiddo’s side in front of the door in the basement, an e-cig in her mouth. After two stiff pounds with her fist it opened to Taro on the other side. There was a gap in his mouth to speak before he noticed Monty and couldn’t say a word.

Motto jikan ga hitsuy–“

“Not here for rent,” he said.

“He’s with me,” added Kiddo blowing smoke. “Any luck?”

Taro stepped aside to let them through. “Should’ve come early. Been warming our hands since morning.”

“Had to pick up my dry cleaning and I hadn’t slept in 48 hours.”

The Christmas lights along the corners of the ceiling were on in the den. Kiddo took to a ratty couch on the wall by the server towers while Monty surveyed his new cramped surroundings just beyond the door.

Taro shut and locked it before making for the kitchen. “Pinkerton’s here,” he said with a raised voice toward the nook at the back.

The vertical monitors displayed scrolling code while smaller ones atop the curved desk showed regular home-screens and open webpages. “Y’late,” said Ricky in one of the red leather armchairs facing the monitors.

“Picked up our new lead; one that’s got us pointed in the right direction.”

With a crinkle of leather he stood. Ricky had his orange jaw mod back in place and a custom VR set over his eyes. It was a black rectangle with cables bundled into a braid running down the back of his head. He pulled it up and kept his eyes squinted. “Brought a fox into the hen house, Pinkerton.”

“Calling yourself a hen inspires great confidence, hacker,” said Monty.

“He’s on our side,” said Kiddo

“Pardon me if I don’t take y’word for it,” said Ricky.

“They may be skinny and squishy, Monty, but they cost me nothing.”

“Don’t be so quick on the draw,” said Ricky pulling down the set and sitting. “This mining’s rackin’ up a hefty sum.”

“I can always take back the jaw, Ricky, and send my people to collect interest on your debt.” Kiddo waited for him to say something then smiled at his silence. “So, what’d you find?”

 

22

Both chairs in the nook were turned out and taken by Ricky and Taro. Monty had joined Kiddo on the couch and everyone but him was eating noodles from foam cups.

“Phone’s ‘re Freddy,” said Ricky. “Clean numbers leading to nowhere incriminating. All they got were texts from Enzo about going out of town. No replies.”

“If anything was 86’d, we’d ‘ve found it,” said Taro.

“Trotsky’s pulled the spy-drive after an hour, but we were already knee-deep.”

“Got neck-deep in the laptop, though.”

“And?” asked Kiddo slurping her noodles.

“Enough dirt to put ‘em away for a dollar or two,” said Ricky.

“And that’s not including their ID theft racket,” added Taro.

“Dollar?” asked Monty.

“Means a hundred years,” answered Kiddo.

Shushin-kei,” said Taro.

Monty rolled of his eyes. “Christ.”

“But we found nothing about hacking software or a hit on ya,” said Ricky. “You were on a list, but so were a whole of lot of Janes and Joes.”

“Had everything they needed except the program,” said Taro.

Kiddo rested her warm cup on her leg, chopsticks inside. “I got stabbed, sliced, and shot at for a handful of dead ends.”

“Not so dead thanks to ya samurai friend,” said Ricky.

“One out of three,” said Taro.

“Not her friend, hacker,” said Monty.

“So, can you get us into TalSec?” asked Kiddo.

“Absolutely no,” said Ricky with a laugh as he stood.

“We’ve wormed through their sub-systems for ind-ep and tester jobs in the past,” said Taro, “but there’s hardly any protection round there. Where we need to be is gonna get us fingered.”

“Know who ya looking for, Pinkerton?” asked Ricky. She waited for him to finish typing in the nook for the answer. He backed away so they could see one of the vertical monitors. “Charlie Kurt, Chief Executive of Auxiliary Activities. He’s the go-between the cops and the company; supervises how their money’s spent and other things of the morally relative variety.”

“Slimy as your typical corporate suit,” added Taro.

Kiddo had stood as Ricky spoke to get a better look. No way she’d forgotten that face from the meeting with Boss Kyrii. She turned to Monty. “Know him?”

“Not my department.”

“But he was at the meeting before we showed up.”

“That’s company business. Not the Clan.”

“Not much a difference,” said Kiddo.

“Anything we can work with would be appreciated, samurai,” said Ricky.

“What’d I just say?”

“Then we go through Pinkerton,” said Taro. “Who’s your contact in the pigs?”

Kiddo slowly reached for her chopsticks like she was afraid to eat and sat back down. “Not a good idea.”

“She’s under investigation for killing my guys,” said Monty.

“Don’t forget Tak.”

“Who?”

“The point is,” she continued, “I call my guy, my number shows up on their radar, I get pinged. The detective working Enzo’s case also hates Goris.”

The hackers weren’t too subtle about relishing the idea of being needed. “That’s two for the grey-hats,” said Ricky before turning his chair in and sitting.

“Know why we couldn’t pay the whole debt days ago?” asked Taro. “Gave a client a discount for a cat-house wipe on account of he’s a cop.”

Ricky put on a headset with a mic. “Didn’t want his wife finding out he had a taste for synth-strange.”

“Charged him half our rate and made up the difference with a favor.”

“And it’s time to cash in.” Ricky typed before their came a dial tone from the computer speakers. Kiddo and Monty gathered closer to the nook.

 

Early dusk shined through the windows as the sun held on to those fleeting final hours. The slats were angled low, leaving the fluorescents to flush out the shadows. Mitty was at his desk clicking through his fancy computer. It looked like a pane of glass with a thin polymer backing held up on a small stand. The keyboard and mouse, however, weren’t so sleek.

Mitty had his back to the glass wall that divided his office from the precinct proper. Day shift was on its way out with the night crew trickling in. He was the only techie left, catching up on the last bit of work. He wasn’t the only one as Cory Rodriguez stood behind him in the entryway, the pits of his desk uniform and forehead just about soaked and an earpiece in one ear.

“H-hey, man?” he asked like he never spoke to the guy before.

Mitty swiveled in his chair.

“Uh, Sarge wants me to check something out in the server room. I don’t know anything about circuits and electronics and stuff. Could you help me out?”

Mitty raised an eyebrow. “Why’d he ask you and not me? I handle all the–“

“No idea. Y’know, the guy likes to mess with me and…”

Keep going,” said Ricky in the earpiece through a modulator.

“…And treat me like I’m still a rookie. You know how it is.”

Good, piggy.”

Mitty held his stare. “No… I don’t.”

 

“Say he wants you to dust off the box,” said Ricky. “He’ll know what you mean.”

Everyone watched the hacker work the guy over while Kiddo let her noodles go cold as she stared at the vertical screen. Kurt’s face lingered in the back of her mind since the meeting with the Shogun; not out of cautious curiosity, but he had features that are hard to forget. And then it came to her like a heart attack, her chest getting hot as burning iron before Kiddo reached into her pocket.

She turned her back to the nook and set her cup on the floor beside the couch. The list of Enzo’s clients had curved before she unfolded it, Steiner and Monty’s names crossed out in red. Kiddo went through two of the papers looking for Charlie Kurt to no avail. On the latest list, however, she focused on the name “Speers, Quincy” stacked among the others.

Maybe it was the distinction of the name for a guy living in the Pacific Northwest, but suddenly Kiddo had this nagging scrape on the inside of her skull. No matter how deeply she searched her memory, she drew nothing but blanks. Could be just a random guy; a regular stiff that Enzo worked on, but Kiddo knew she heard the name before, and the thought would’ve given her a headache had she not realized the hackers were about to make a huge mistake.

That’s not a thing, Cory. Sarge is messing with you,” said Mitty through the speakers.

I know, Freeman. He’s done it since I got here. Can you just humor me? For my sanity’s sake?”

The client list scrunched into a ball in Kiddo’s fist before she shoved herself in beside Ricky. “That’s my guy he’s talking to,” she said quickly. “Freeman? Mitty Freeman? He’s our middleman. Get your guy–“

Ricky wrapped on hand around the mic and spoke with a loud whisper. “No way do I trust this idiot to do the job of a–“

Who’re you talking to?” asked Mitty.

Everyone froze.

Uh, what?” asked Cory. “Nobody–“

Then take out the earpiece. Makes you look like a moron.”

Man, I’m just–“

Ricky tapped a key and took off the headset. It made the others relax, backing up to give him room to move out of the nook. “Up for a break-in, Pinkerton?” he asked after a couple nods to himself.

She opened her mouth about the same time her phone went off. After pulling it out, the hackers calmly panicked with the caller ID showing “MITTY.” Kiddo tapped the red “end” button and the phone went silent. The hackers let out a sigh.

“Gotta move fast,” said Taro.

“I’ll walk you two through a plan we’ve kept on the back-burner for just this occasion,” said Ricky gesturing Kiddo and Monty. “Ever broke into a police station?”

“’Course. Won’t believe the dirt I’ve–“ She cut herself off when there came a flashing in her peripherals. Kiddo looked at her hand and her phone screen was striped in white and black static. Between the distortions she made out the incoming call window with ‘MITTY’ again and the hackers went to full-blown panic.

“Bake it!” shouted Taro.

“Put it in the microwave before–“ started Ricky.

What did I tell you?” asked Mitty through the phone speaker, loud enough for everyone to hear. “What did I tell you, Pink? I said mourn and let me do my job. All you had to do was remember the good times with Enzo, maybe stay in bed for a week or two, but you decided to start a gang war!

The hackers tried to take the phone, but Kiddo had to listen, putting up an arm to keep them away.

All the guys in Organized Crime are losing their minds! First you wipe out a squad of Yaks, then you get caught doing something to the Trotskys, apparently. All the snitches say something huge is about to go down because you wouldn’t let us do our job. Now the whole PD is focused on cleaning up your mess before it gets outta control.”

Kiddo hesitated when he paused, like Mitty was waiting for a response. “Then help me get the guy. I know where to start if–“

I don’t want anything to do with you or the Family or anymore of this Flapper gangster nonsense! Find a new middleman because you couldn’t leave it to the professionals. I’ll live without the money. You started the fire; have fun burning.”

The screen went black and everyone could see themselves reflected in the glass.

 

A thick cable feeding into Mitty’s computer was plugged into his phone before he yanked it. On his monitor scrolled code in a small black window with an audio visualizer that ran in a straight blue line across a grey field. He stood with a sigh and turned to leave, but didn’t go anywhere.

Pierce leaned in the entryway with a wide grin and Dom behind, flanked by two beat cops with helmets on: the Copper and Jacobs.

“Who’re you talking to, Freeman?” she asked with a hefty dose of sarcasm. “Maybe an ole business partner?”

He couldn’t speak no matter how much he wanted to. Just past her shoulder, however, Mitty watched Dom put his phone to his ear, and give him a wink.

 

23

Taro was the last one out with a messenger bag over one shoulder, key ring jingling as he locked up. “Want us to run y’through it one more time?”

“Think we got it,” said Monty waiting with Kiddo and Ricky, the hacker wearing a business suit similar to Taro’s.

“Pardon me if I don’t take y’word for it. So, me and Ricky check in while you two get into position.” The lock clicked and Taro started down the hall to join them.

“We set up across the station, hop onto the piggys’ wireless, and text ya once we’re in,” said Ricky. “Know which room, Pinkerton?”

“Like I said, not my first break-in.”

When Taro was close Monty and Kiddo lead the way up the stairs.

“Best not kill anyone,” said Monty. “Dead criminals are one thing, but dead cops–“

“I’m the last one you need to worry about,” she said. “Here’s hoping no one rats to the Shogun while we work.”

The night was baked in neon when they stepped outside. The four of them had been under a hash parlor that painted the busy street in green while the surrounding joints shined reds and blues. In the alley they were in enough darkness that the drunks and stoners lining the sidewalk barely noticed.

“We’ll pick up traffic while tethered to the network,” said Taro locking the basement.

“Anything that sends up a red flag in regards to you two, we’ll pass it on,” said Ricky.

“Appreciated,” said Monty.

The hackers stood by for their criminal compatriots to lead the way before Kiddo took the first step. “Think I’ll consider giving you two a little bread if this goes smooth–“

“You’ll have wire it from prison, Volk.”

The four of them stopped as foot traffic rushed clear off the sidewalk. The flow of people diverted round into the street to reveal Pierce and Dom beside two cars on the curb. Dom leaned with a cigarette and a fedora while his Android partner wore a wide grin, hands in her pockets. On the street stood a quad-ped by each car with their riders on the sidewalk. The Copper was on Kiddo’s side of the alley to the left while Jacobs had Monty on the right, combi-pistols held low. Ricky and Taro threw up their hands.

“You can thank your rat Freeman,” said Pierce. “And right before we passed 48. New record?” she asked turning to Dom.

“Personal best,” he said.

“Good enough for me.”

“Congrats, you did your job,” said Kiddo.

“I should thank you for being so damn sloppy.”

Monty grimaced. “Makes one of us.”

“You know what Volk did, right? Maybe it’s a little too soon to celebrate because I’m curious how you’re mixed up in all this, Yakuza.”

“To do what you’re not,” said Kiddo. “Find Enzo’s hacker.”

“Out of our hands thanks to you. And now you pay for it. Book ‘er.”

The Copper barely moved his foot when Kiddo pulled her sword hilt. He responded by zeroing in on her head. “Test me, Volk.”

“Don’t be stupid,” said Pierce. “They’re loaded with MP rounds. Two in the chest will make you useless enough to yank those fancy arms.”

“Better be quick on the squeeze,” said Kiddo.

“Jacobs, clear the street,” said Pierce

“Rodger that.” The other beat cop turned to his stationary quad-ped. “Crowd control. Twenty yard spread.”

The mech trotted into the street, lights flashing at the low setting, near overpowering the neon. “Stand clear,” it repeated with a metallic voice.

“Crowd control twenty yard spread,” said the Copper without turning from Volk.

With the mechs pacing from one side of the street to the other an open space formed with the alley in the middle. Our players were almost alone save for crowds that formed on the edges of the perimeter.

“Best put ‘em up,” said Pierce, “or we take you in by–“

“That won’t be necessary.”

She turned to Dom with a raised eyebrow as he took a final drag and put a finger and thumb to his lips for a sharp whistle.

From the crowd on the left side of the alley came Lotch and a bunch of Goris out between the civilians. They gathered into a blob of suits and fedoras, armed with pipes, chains, and crowbars. The ones not holding were obviously packing.

Lotch wore his best waistcoat and shoes as he stepped forward. “You know the score. Pinkerton walks. Don’t care what ya do with the Yak.”

Pierce had drawn her piece and looked over at Dom. “Trust is expensive,” he said moving off the car. “But loyalty?” He shrugged at her. “I got alimony… Right, Jacobs?”

The beat cop looked surprised before holstering his pistol. “Yep.” He turned to the Copper. “Let her go, man.”

“You son of a bitch,” he said through clenched teeth. “Think all I got are MPs? Half a second’s all I need to go lethal.”

“Got enough bullets for everyone, Montana?” asked Dom. “Read the room. You’re outnumbered. Both of you.”

“Then you better do something about us,” said Pierce. “Fast.”

“Whoa, whoa,” said Jacobs. “I’m not killing cops, Dom.”

“Did I say we were, numb-nuts?”

“Get over here, Pink,” said Lotch.

“I told you–“ she started.

“You’re not my boss anymore. So I can do what I want,” he said with a wink.

“You’ll have to come get her, prick,” said Pierce.

Lotch gave her a nod with a mild grimace. “Show ‘er, boys.”

The Goris that weren’t visibly armed moved to the front and pulled pistols from their suits. Lotch pulled his own from the back of his waist, a chromed 1911 made to look old fashion.

“Still feel like being stupid, partner?” asked Dom.

“I could ask you the same, detective,” said a loud metallic voice from the opposite side of the street.

All eyes turned and Kiddo felt her stomach knot when she saw five Bots push through the crowd with Yaks in tow. They wore the signature white shirt and black tie under soft-shell armor covering their necks, arms, and groin. Some had custom mempo masks of varying decoration. On their hips hung a combat katana, modern blades with rubber hilt wraps and sheaths of thick black polyester.

The Bots were skinned in a red metal carapace resembling a naked man in every way but anatomy. The head, shoulders, and chest had yellow plating made to look like samurai armor. Four of the Bots moved in complete lock step while the fifth in the middle walked like a human, his face toward the alley. In place of yellow armor it had white and a traditional set of swords on a white wrap tied to its waist.

While the four Bots stopped past the civilians, the gang of Yaks not far behind, the White Bot stepped out to make sure everyone could see. “My employees are here to assist you, officers,” it said with Kyrii’s voice. “However,” he pointed to Monty, “Montgomery Goichi comes with us.”

Pierce looked over her shoulder at the Copper still aiming at Kiddo. “Fair enough.”

Dom and Jacobs drew, the former taking the Yaks while the latter kept his combi-pistol low to Monty. The Goris started shouting insults and waving their weapons at the Yaks who drew their blades. The law was busy yelling at each other and their respective enemies on the street.

It seemed to happen on the periphery for Monty and Kyrii. Jacobs got antsy when his reached into his suit, free hand up with palm out, and pulled his phone. Kyrii nodded and Monty dropped it. “Should’ve known better.”

Anata no kōdō wa uragiri, mongomerī-chan ni kakatte imasu,” said Kyrii.

Tono, imi shimasendeshita–“ started Monty with fresh sweat on his forehead.

Zan’nen’nakotoni teki no tame ni hataraku tame ni? Sonkei? Sono yōna mudana doryoku. Anata wa kanojo o hikkurikaesu ka anata no uragiri no tame ni omoku shiharau kikai ga arimasu.”

Kiddo picked up what she could from their tone, but the conversation was just one in a deluge of noise. Seemed everyone forgot why they were there. Each had their reasons, but no one tried anything because either way you went was dirty. It gave Kiddo a bit of comfort knowing this could all go bad for everyone else until she got a chunk of the puzzle she’d been piecing together for two days.

“Ain’t afraid to put you down, son,” said the Copper to Jacobs.

“I’m not gonna kill you–“

“Good!”

“Shut! Up!” shouted Pierce.

“Let’s work this out, guys,” said Dom with the only calm in the bunch. “I’ll give you my bonus for a whole year if you open your dumb, hick eyes, Quincy–”

“You’ll die second, traitor!” shouted the Copper.

Suddenly all Kiddo could hear was a ringing and there was nothing in sight but Quincy. She focused on the nameplate bolted under his badge with the name “SPEERS” engraved in white. “…Get work done, Quincy?”

He cut out mid yell and turned to her, mouth formed in a grimace.

The spinner on her right arm whirled under her sleeve. “My Enzo was the best gear-head in town. The boss always called when we were on vacation, trying to get him back to the shop.” Quincy’s lips curled into a thin neutral line. “…But he stayed with me because he really was that good–“

The air escaped her lungs as fast as the bullets hit her chest. After the first slug she couldn’t feel the next five and their barbs hooking to her skin. From heel to head every muscle contracted into numbness and she was a helpless amputee again.

The whole scene went incoherent when Kiddo hit the ground. Both crowds of gangsters surged at each other. The Goris that came packing were torn between aiming at the Yaks or cops. The Yaks stayed behind the Bots, but that didn’t stop them from breaking their otherwise professional bearing. Dom and Jacobs were hesitating to perforate Quincy while Pierce didn’t know whether to help or keep the other two at bay. Monty just stood by the wall, hands up.

It was pretty clear to Kiddo what was coming. As Quincy stepped closer the magazine dropped from his pistol. When he reached for another on his belt she caught the reddish glint of a copper slug. There was nothing Kiddo wouldn’t have sacrificed for just one chance. Nothing worse than buying it in a dirty alley with one final loose end untied. But the last thing she wanted were two vans to pull up across the street, Trotsky’s face in red and black on the side, and see 18 Comrades pour out with the biggest guns she’d ever seen.

Everyone got the picture too late once those ancient Soviet machine guns rang out.

There were two groups of Trotskys: heavies and riflemen. The heavies had helmets with face shields and flak jackets, carrying RPDs. The riflemen had your average garden variety AKs and next to no armor. The biggest guns unloaded the second they hit the pavement into the Goris, Yaks, and alley as they slowly advanced, tearing up masonry with bursts of rock. The little ones were surgical, picking targets from the stationary and moving in to avoid capping their advancing friends.

Kiddo squeezed her eyes shut when the shooting started and felt herself dragged across concrete. She looked for a second to see Monty pulling her by the arm against one of the cars on the curb. Another quick look saw Jacobs ducking beside her and Quincy and Pierce behind the other car across the alley. The alley itself was clear of Ricky and Taro.

The crowds of gangsters didn’t have a chance. The Goris with guns got about two shots in before falling into each other in a bloody mass. The Yaks fared worse, their armor not built to stop rifle slugs. All five Bots hit the street in a flurry of sparks bursting across their metal flesh. The pedestrians behind each crowd knew better than to stick around, some getting hit by stray bullets in back.

When she could feel the pavement dig into her shoulder Kiddo sat up, wobbling as the feedback sensors slowly came back to her. She forced her back against the car, feeling it rumble from dozens of impacts. Her hearing was gone, Jacobs’ shouting coming in as a mumble. Monty sat beside her, breathing hard and fast. It was the first time she’d seen him panicked.

Pierce was shooting from behind the front-end tire when it burst. It made her jerk closer to the middle, scraping the ass of her pants open. She didn’t notice, too focused on the reload, but she did see Dom’s fedora on the sidewalk splashed with blood. Pierce couldn’t bear to see his corpse in the gutter between the cars and just sat there bug-eyed.

When the slide of his his combi-pistol locked back Jacobs went low to trade mags. He got fresh slugs in, but the second he put his head up one Russian copper tagged him in the helmet. The impact twisted it off Jacobs’ head and sent him to the ground. Her hand moved on its own when Kiddo pulled him by the ankle about a foot closer before Jacobs’ vest burst apart. She stopped after his head turned to red chunks and Kiddo realized the Trotsky had walked up to the back of the car, still pouring lead.

Again her body moved on it’s own, springing to her feet, and throwing out an open palm into the Comrade’s features. It tore his face off, bits of skull included. The guy was big and Kiddo grabbed him by the neck, keeping his back to the street. Kiddo was too shaken to know where to go from there as the rest converged on the alley.

The other Trotskys were finishing up the gangs, the riflemen plugging corpses while the heavies reloaded, pretty calm for newly christened mass murderers. Some by the Goris kept the cops in cover as they finished. The guys around the Yaks weren’t taking chances with the Bots, the heavies moving in to give them a full squeeze to face. There were three left by the time one Comrade stood over Kyrii, smoking muzzle hovering above the thing’s eye.

That’s when Kyrii hooked his feet around the guy’s armored neck and jerked down. The heavy flipped back into the pavement, blood gushing over his helmet. The momentum brought Kyrii to his feet and drew his sword. Two of the heavies that were supposed to finish off the Bots ended up on the ground, broken bones and all before the machines popped their blades.

It got the attention of the other Trotskys in the middle of the street, so Kiddo charged, popping her own blade. They spotted her about the same time she darted away from her shield after shoving it into a rifleman at the right. She swung blindly and opened up her Second Kill’s stomach. The girl’s intestines spilled onto the street as Kiddo spun further left. There wasn’t any cover, so she made some, the Second Kill taking hits from a heavy in the back right.

The girl hit the ground after Kiddo took another shield: Comrade Tommy. She couldn’t tell it was him apart for the blue hair sticking out the back of his helmet. Kiddo held the top of his helmet with a grip that cracked the enamel. There was 12 Trotskys left: four behind preoccupied with the cops and eight in front, half of which were trying to finish the Bots. Either way Kiddo knew she should’ve moved on milliseconds ago, staring down those guns behind her shield. The sudden anxiety made her grip collapse the helmet further.

Then Monty threw her a big fat bone. He came darting out as a black blur with a hand gripping his fancy katana. The blade flashed from the sheath and cut a rifleman from ribs to shoulder, head included. That was Kiddo’s moment to move left-ways after jerking Tommy to the ground.

She leapt over him and landed in a roll toward her Third Kill. She stopped on one knee under his AK, close enough to smell the Comrade’s sweaty crotch. In one fluid motion she pulled her knife with her other hand and cut a leg out. He shrieked and held down his trigger from the pain. Kiddo pivoted round and and slashed up, the AK and half his arm falling free.

The rifle kept shooting from the ground as Kiddo shot up with sword drawn back. She would’ve take his head had a heavy behind him not opened up. The force from the impacts shoved the guy into her arms. Kiddo let the knife fall and grabbed her Third Kill by the back, digging her fingers into his flesh.

The feedback sensors went numb after a burst of sparks as she charged, roaring through it. Within sword range she shoved her shield at the RPD hanging by the Comrade’s hip, sword drawn back. Kiddo stopped short of swinging when Monty darted in, burying his sword into the heavy’s armpit. The Trotsky gave out a muffled scream through his helmet.

Monty’s sword slid free as the heavy fell, a fresh coat of crimson covering an already soiled blade. He breathed hard, just as scared and bloody as she was. Kiddo looked at the dents in her left forearm, surrounded by scratches where the bullets fragmented, sensors still numb. She and Monty looked at each in a moment of pause, fighting still going on around them. One of the Bots was down with three Trotskys left for Kyrii to the right. Behind Kiddo to the left the cops held their ground, but the four Comrades remained vertical, having made shields of the dead Goris. Neither said a word or gestured when Kiddo and Monty stormed toward them.

The crossfire didn’t enter her mind when she met her Fourth Kill: a heavy kneeling behind a stack of her friends on the outside of the pile. She came in low, sword held inverted. The heavy turned her way just as Kiddo shoved her left hand through the narrow viewport of the Comrade’s face shield. She couldn’t feel how deep she’d gone, but the guy going limb was a decent hint. Monty dashed past her into the pile and met a kneeling rifleman with a single slash through the neck.

The last two were closer to the cars. Kiddo yanked her hand with a gush of blood, but before she could rush in, a stiff metal hand grabbed her arm where the sensors worked. With a tug that could’ve ripped her mod out Kiddo was thrown where she’d started killing. Tommy writhed on the ground trying to pull his helmet off when she landed in a tumble, sword bouncing to the side.

“Get up, Kiddo-chan,” said Kyrii walking toward her as he pulled a white cloth to clean his blade. “Pick up your sword and prepare to die.”

On her hands and knees she rushed to her sword and stood. Kiddo looked around to see nothing moving except the cops’ quad-peds pacing across the street. She squared her shoulders and held her sword in both hands toward Kyrii, his katana raised. Been a long time since she was in a proper sword fight. Memories of training under her father in the apartment dojo flooded Kiddo’s mind before she met Kyrii.

His blade came down just past her when she dashed right with a slash, cutting his belt to free the wakizashi and katana sheath. They hit the pavement as Kyrii rounded to face her, backing away from him slowly. He held his blade to the side of his head and followed her, stepping carefully without breaking eye contact. She brought her sword up parallel to the ground with tip forward, moving her feet back in wide circles to feel for obstructions. Kiddo feigned a step forward and Kyrii flinched. Her laugh was cut short when he decided to charge anyway.

Both had strength enough to break their swords against each other, but they clashed as if the two were Flesh. Their movements were normal and easy to follow without being too slow. It was as if they agreed to self-handicap beforehand. The two exchanged blows in short bursts and dashed away, meeting again with difference stances every time. The gunfight was still going on up the street, yet Kiddo and Kyrii were in their own world.

He may have been an ancient bastard, but he was still wired to a combat-grade Bot in an office, miles away from the violence Kiddo dealt with minutes ago. No way Kyrii was getting tired as she worked up the energy just to hold up her sword. It seemed like he was stepping closer and faster than before, forcing her to back up with equal measure. Kiddo’s patience wore quickly and she moved without regard for what may be at her heels.

Then her stance broke after tripping into a corpse.

Kyrii lunged before Monty caught his swing with a loud prang. Their swords were held high, edges locked. “Tōno, go yōsha kudasai!” With a grunt he shoved Kyrii back then pulled his blade clean through the crook of his arm. The Shogun surged forward before Monty sheathed his sword and got to his knees. “Volk o hoshō suru. Kanojo no kōdōde wa arimasen. Kanojo wa ikari nimegakurande-batsu niataisuru ga shini wa ataishinai.” He bowed. “Watashi ni kanojo o enjo sa sete kudasai, soshite watashi wa kanojo jishin no jinsei to no machigai no daishō o haraimasu.

Kyrii’s head tilted to the side. “Anata wa teki no tame ni jibun jishin o gisei ni shimasu ka? Meiyo aru jisatsu to wa? Anata wa byōkidesu, watashi no musuko–“

Watashi wa sōde wa arimasen, Tōno! Watashi wa senshi no yarikata de watashi no kokoro ni shitagau koto no kekka o ukeireru.”

Kiddo waited off to the side, eyes darting in anticipation as she listened to a conversation she didn’t understand.

Kyrii looked her way for a moment then traded sword hands, holding it inverted. “Watashi wa dōi shimasu,” he said before pointing to Kiddo, “shikashi kanojo wa anata no kaishaku ni nari, soshite anata no katana o torudeshou. Dōi shita?

Monty bowed lower. “Hai, Tōno.” He got up with a sigh. “It’s okay,” he said putting a hand toward Kiddo to gesture her guard down. “We’re okay.”

“What’s going on?“ she asked.

“You will find out soon enough, Kiddo-ch–“ started Kyrii before his head exploded.

When his metal corpse hit the ground Kiddo and Monty saw Quincy standing in the middle of the street with the under-barrel of his pistol smoking. He moved his left hand from the secondary trigger over his shooting hand to put two rounds in Kiddo, one in the side and midsection. Monty caught her from falling and made himself a shield. Quincy got off one more shot before he fell forward with a grunt.

Shots rang out from a bloody weary Lotch popping off his chromed 1911 from the piled Goris. Quincy rolled to his back and emptied into the poor guy. Then he rolled into the prone and faced the opposite side, but Kiddo and Monty were gone. He rushed to Kyrii’s body mid-reload and found fresh splatters on the pavement, the start of a trail that led up the corpse-riddled street. Quincy lowered his pistol and grimaced.

“P-please… I surrender.” He turned to Comrade Tommy sitting with hands up, bleeding from his nose. “I-I-I want a lawyer. I-I have rights.”

Quincy loosed up and looked back to the alley where Pierce was yelling into her phone for back up. Then he spied the bloody bodies of Dom and Jacobs.

“I-I have rights–”

“Rights?” he asked turning to Tommy. Quincy let it simmer before grabbing the fat Trotsky by the hair. He winced, barely putting up a fight. “First, ya gotta be human.”

Quincy pressed his muzzle to Tommy’s cheek and turned away from the splatter.

“What the hell was that?!” He looked to Pierce walking toward him pointing at Tommy. “You just don’t know how to stop screwing up, do you, Quincy? You better explain why you tried to kill Volk before–“

White blood burst from her chest in quick succession. Even from the hip Quincy was a deadeye and made sure it wasn’t too lethal. He watched her convulse on the ground and came to her side, blood dripping over the corners of her mouth.

“I don’t hate ya, Pierce. You’re just damn annoyin’… No more cops are gonna die for my mistake.” He aimed at her heart. “And I’ll make sure ya get a better body after they bring ya in.”

He dumped three shots to make her good and inoperable.

 

24

There was nothing but pain between Kiddo’s tits and toes. She felt her thighs go cold as blood soaked past her crotch. The sidewalk passed under her feet as Monty carried her under one arm, the whole thing a blur of night and neon. Sound came in waves between ringing that drilled into Kiddo’s brain. Something iron pooled in her mouth before she let it drool over her lip as she touched her loose pink hair.

“…Where’s my hat,” she mumbled. Monty slurred back. She turned to look at him, but all she could see was the street and his belt. Kiddo settled back to the sidewalk and hocked a wad of blood. “…Pomogite, papa… Ya ne chuvstvuyu sebya khorosho–” The blood came out like vomit. “Eomma, dowajuseyo!” she cried, tears mixing with the crimson on her cheeks.

Her body jerked back and the lines on the sidewalk turned vertical. Kiddo didn’t look to see what was happening as hands laid her on a stretcher. She saw the night sky letterboxed by skyscrapers with Monty’s towering form in between. The view shifted away as suits lifted her up before it all went black.

 

The smell of wood and carpet came to her first. Kiddo could tell she was on her back, but it felt like she was floating in a pool. It was a pleasant sensation while it lasted until she realized her arms were gone.

Kiddo’s eyes shot open and tired to sit-up before she groaned back. A sharp ache rippled from her abs that receded once she was down. Whatever supported her head squeaked of cheap leather against the bristles of her shaved hair. She looked down and saw she was wearing underwear that wasn’t hers and bandages from waist to chest. The tight bra was new and she didn’t own one in the first place.

Never saw the point with nothing hanging.

Kiddo’s brain went into high gear real quick. She didn’t feel completely helpless because whoever patched her up was either a friend or someone that needed a favor. Easiest way to get leverage is to save someone’s life.

Kiddo was on a shiny leather couch pocked with buttons. Walls were wood panel with the darkest stain she’d ever seen. The panels only took up a portion of the walls with the rest covered in pink and gold floral wallpaper. On the wallpaper hung sconces with shaded lights. The ceiling was curved outward with smooth drywall like a real house. What broke the façade was a sliding frosted glass door across from the couch.

It wasn’t enough to satisfy her curiosity. She needed to see the whole room, damn the pain. Sliding one foot off she felt a rug tickle her soles, followed by the next. Kiddo walked herself to the edge, sliding her back across the cushion, and dug her heels into the carpet. She clenched her teeth as her thighs got tight. The small of her back went hot and her stomach ached when she bent too far forward. Kiddo’s face grew redder until she stood up straight with heavy breaths.

“Really shouldn’t move, but no one can keep you down, Anya-jun Ivanov.”

Kiddo snapped to the back of the room. Charlie Kurt sat behind a wood desk of anachronistic clutter. With a fancy computer on the side stood a lamp with a green glass shade and a leather desk pad. A modern phone sat on the edge behind a large cigar box at the top left corner. Behind Kurt the windows had shutters bringing in a little dusk. A chair sat before the desk with a smaller couch to the side beside a bookcase filled with tattered cloth-bound tomes.

Kurt himself looked as clean cut as the day he walked past Kiddo in Kyrii’s conference room. This time he wore a waistcoat with his two-piece and the neural ports in the shaved left side of his head were all empty. On his lapel was a TalSec talon pin. He had on a grin as she stared at him with a scowl.

“Haven’t heard that name in years… Where’d you hear it?”

“C’mon, Miss Ivanov. You’re not one for stupid questions. Information comes cheap if you know the right people. Friends of friends in Immigration needed rent and groceries. My name, however, costs nothing.”

“I already know it.”

Kurt laughed. “Drugs must still be in your system if you’re this slow. Jesus.”

“Then talk fast before I sink my teeth into your face.”

He nodded with that grin and gestured the chair in front of the desk. “I mean the one I use for family engagements. Dad named me Clemenza after his favorite character from one of those gangster movies he made us watch,” he said as Kiddo approached the chair like a cautious predator. “One of the longer ones. My sisters couldn’t get through the thing, but I loved it and the sequel. Third one we ignored.”

He waited for her to sit before continuing.

“Funny thing is, I take after Dad so much, but got all my looks from Mom. I’m tall, blond, skinny as a rail, and I have great skin. Wouldn’t ‘ve made it this far if I was short, bug-eyed, paunchy, and looked like a week old banana.”

Clemenza let it come to Kiddo, watching her eyes narrow. “…Cici never talked about his kids.”

“Glad he kept it up to the end. He knew better than to spill too much or the whole enterprise would’ve collapsed. But he liked talking about you. A lot. You were the daughter he wished he had. Can’t say you’d make a good sister, but you’ve been a worthwhile investment.”

Kiddo hesitated to speak, watching Clemenza like she waiting for him to pull a gun.

“This is all very strange, I know,” he said opening the cigar box. “There’s a lot I need to get out of the way,” he pulled out her silver cigarette case, “and you’re probably going to get pissed off real quick.” Clemenza clicked one e-cig and held it out. “All I can say is wait till the end and we’ll both get what we want.”

She didn’t turn from his eyes as Kiddo took the cig.

“Do you know how the Yakuza were so successful in Japan?”

Kiddo blew smoke out her nose. “They worked within the law.”

“Exactly,” he said leaving the case on the desk. “Prostitution illegal; Yaks built host clubs. Gambling banned; they invested in pachinko parlors. Companies that built the machines traded a cut of profits for the Yak’s property to build the parlors. Suddenly company and clan become one; so do their various businesses and rackets, and you get a zaibatsu, a legitimate/illegitimate conglomerate. The law didn’t do a thing because it was all technically legal and was great for Japan’s economy… Then the Chinese started killing each other and prostitution was legalized on the West Coast.”

“So they crossed the pond to get a slice.”

“Perfect frigging timing. I was a junior executive when Kyrii moved his operation and goons under the guise of his company, his zaibatsu. My bosses saw the writing on the wall when the he started buying up property and opening small businesses. No way we were going the way of Canada or, God forbid, Europe. Thing is, we’re more regulated than a social media corporation. Sure, we fund the cops and have contracts with the military, but we couldn’t use our resources to rough up Kyrii because he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Then I got an idea that got me promoted: if Kyrii can keep his own gang under the table, why not we?”

Kiddo clenched her toes and tightened her jaw as he spoke. She was smart to keep herself from going for the neck before Kurt’s phone beeped.

The technicians are here with Miss Volk’s arms, sir,” said a neutral voice from the phone. “Her clothes were dropped off by the shopper fifteen minutes ago.”

Clemenza held a button down. “Thank you, Rachel. Send them in. And Mister Goichi if he’s awake.”

Kiddo perked up and turned to the door. Two stiffs in dark blue coveralls walked in carrying a strong box by the short ends.

“Set it by the couch, please guys,” said Clemenza. “Thank you. Ask Rachel for your tips.”

The stiffs left just as Monty came into the office, hair and collar disheveled. He stood by the box as the three of them were alone. “You okay?”

Kiddo nodded.

“She’s also right pissed with me,” said Clemenza. “Like telling a kid Santa ain’t real.”

Monty made flat frown and started to adjust his collar and tie. “What’d you expect?” He made for the couch close to the desk. “She loved playing gangster–”

“You saved my life,” said Kiddo holding her e-cig to one side of her mouth. “But you,” she turned to Clemenza, “you might’ve patched me up, but I’m going to need a better reason to let you live. I joined the Family because I owed Cici and you spit on his grave treating it like a joke.”

While Monty hid a wide grin under his large mod hand Clemenza put up his palms to Kiddo and looked as though he was about to laugh. “Hey, I only gave him funds and a business plan to start the Family; off the books, obviously. That was the extent of my involvement.” He lowered his hands. “Everything after that was quite genuine. I know it meant a lot and I told you weren’t going to like what I had to say. You needed to know or else nothing was going to make sense.”

Kiddo didn’t realize her heart was racing. She leaned back in the chair and sucked down another drag of flavored vapor that made it slow.

Clemenza adjusted in his seat. “Now, I take it you know who hacked Enzo?”

“I have a hunch.”

“Just a hunch? The holes in your stomach and cracked ribs weren’t enough?”

“It was that cop Speers,” said Monty. “All him.”

“He was a technician during the Second Mexican-American War. Never saw a day of combat, but the man knows his way around very dangerous and expensive equipment, including our Android hijack software we purchased from Kyrii. Guy’s an R’n’D tester on weekends.”

“Apparently, these idiots allowed him to take a copy of the program out of their lab about a year ago,” said Monty.

“A year ago?” repeated Kiddo.

“I’m not in charge of R’n’D,” said Clemenza. “Those eggheads trusted him enough to let him work from home. Who knows what else he’s got.”

“…So, he’s retired military with a small arsenal of prototype weapons,” said Kiddo. “Why’d he come after me in the first place? I just met the bastard a day before he hacked Enzo.”

“Ask him yourself,” said Clemenza before typing a few keys on his keyboard. He turned the monitor to face Kiddo and on the screen was a grid map of a city block. In a colored square was a red dot. “Hasn’t moved since the massacre. After shooting you he put Detective Pierce in a coma and went home. We told Seattle PD we’d handle him–”

“But you prefer the vengeance,” said Kiddo.

Clemenza cracked a smile he made sure didn’t stay long. “Oh, we’d deal with it personally… if Speers weren’t a cop and one of our employees. Funding the police was always a slippery slope for the company. Hard to spin a story about a cop using TalSec equipment to wreak havoc on innocent minorities like your boy-toy–”

“He wasn’t a toy, you prick!”

The suit paused then went on. “You’re off the books and you have a newfound reputation for dispatching criminals by the bushel.” Kiddo felt her stomach knot. “Given the circumstances of the Enzo’s death, we can make it all justified. ‘Loose-cannon cop killed by would-be victim’ sounds agreeable. And given what he did to Pierce, the PD won’t miss him anytime soon.”

“Nice neat bow,” said Monty.

“And your samurai friend insisted on making sure you didn’t go it alone.”

Kiddo looked over her shoulder at him nodding back. “Everyone wins.” She turned back to Clemenza, “but my vengeance comes with interest. My money the cops impounded–“

“Yours,” he said.

“The investigation for what I’ve done–“

“I’ll set you up once Speers is in pieces. I suppose we shake on it?”

Kiddo let out a mild groan as she stood and walked to the strong box. Monty met her there and pulled out her right arm. Both mods were like new with a shiny finish in place of all the wear and tear she’d accumulated since putting them on. The arm linked to her anchor joint with a prang and the clamps twitched as he helped align. The pain of connection that made her shiver didn’t hurt as much; the last few days helped build up quite the tolerance.

About the time the fingers stopped twitching Clemenza was there with his hand out. “Dad would be proud.”

She shook it and fought the urge to crush his tiny bones. “Mmm.”

They let go. “My secretary has new clothes at her desk. Same old Pinkerton uniform with boots, blades, and fast-acting painkillers. I recommend putting on something a little less conspicuous so Speers doesn’t’ see you two coming.”

Kiddo shivered as the left arm connected then made a pair of fists. “He won’t.”

 

The hall outside was sterile with muted paint, paneled ceiling, and a thin carpet floor. By the sliding door was a desk where Rachel sat, an Android. She wasn’t soul’d like Andys you find in public. They’re grown to serve as computers with feet for whoever can afford them for five years. Legally you can’t keep an Android in a reactive state past five years because they’re considered people. Afterward they’re given self-awareness to go their own way: they gain a soul.

Rachel sat completely straight in her chair toward a computer, eyes unblinking, and chest still. Once Kiddo and Monty came out she turned and reached for a large shopping bag at her feet. Her blank expression met Kiddo’s as Rachel waited for her to take the bag.

Kiddo threw on the clothes right there. Monty was modest enough put his back to her, but she didn’t seem to care if anyone watched. She got a fresh crimson pea coat, grey flat cap, jeans, jackboots, sleeveless shirt, and a sword and knife with the hooks to carry them on a belt. Before they left Rachel, Kiddo asked for a rubber band to tie her hair back.

TalSec was set up in one of the glass towers downtown, so tall and narrow it was more of a crystalline spire. When they got into the elevator the sun was going down and Kiddo and Monty could see Seattle painted gold. She faced the cylindrical window while he leaned by the control panel, hand resting on his katana.

The city rose as they descended, Kiddo popping a pill from a blue bottle and chewing it with her back teeth. “What’d you say to the Shogun to make him stop?”

Monty took his time. “Made a deal.”

“Of what variety?”

“The kind that no matter how this ends, I’m dead. Either Speers kills me or you take my head with this,” he said before tapping the pommel.

Kiddo looked over her shoulder. “You’re either really dumb or really brave.”

“Fine line.”

She turned back and lit an e-cig. “I have to live with knowing I got more people killed than I thought possible because I was thinking with my sword. My friends, your friends, a couple cops, even those degenerates that pulled the trigger. All because I stole a laptop and phones that led me nowhere. I’m going to live with that until I’m ash. Only one more has to die,” she blew smoke through her mouth, “not a second.”

“You should know better. Made my bed… have to sleep in it.”

Kiddo turned to Monty and they shared a silence in each other’s eyes. “In case I don’t get the chance,” she extended her hand with a smirk, “it’s been a ball, dirty Jap.”

Monty smiled and they shook. “Likewise, Korean dog.”

 

25

Rain started after the sun disappeared under the horizon. It pours like schizophrenic clockwork in Seattle, always overcast so you can never tell when the sky’s about to weep. Sidewalk was empty, the puddles undisturbed, and gutters filled to the brim. Signs above the street colored the water, alternating between red and orange, looking like a mix of blood and industrial waste.

Quincy Speers watched the rain at his window on the fourth floor. His Army combat pants and undershirt still fit, the sleeves sliced off. He stood in the living room, empty save for a couch facing a small TV, slowly working his way through a hand rolled cigarette. The Copper peered to his front door as if he heard something, but all he got was the rain. He unconsciously followed the conduit above the doorframe with his eyes into the left wall where his bedroom was.

He lingered on the door a bit longer and turned back. Passing ground cars slashed the colored rain onto the sidewalk. There were two puffs left in his cigarette, but Quincy burned it to the filter when he saw his neighbors filing out the building. The smoldering butt rolled across the floor as he rushed to his room past the kitchen through a threshold.

The room was packed with stacked footlockers, hard plastic boxes, and moving boxes that partitioned the space into a maze. Tactical maps of Mexico, framed photos and certificates hung on the walls. The bed was a twin pushed to the back corner by the closet. In the opposite corner stood a desk with a computer and a bank of monitors. A white sheet coving something bulky took up half of the closet with cables running underneath.

After tapping a few keys at the desk the monitors came to life with groups of four screens. Each showed a different part of Quincy’s floor, from his own front door to the hall. He saw his neighbors in rain gear lock their doors before proceeding to the stairs. He watched them leave in a nigh organized fashion before bars of black popped across the screens. It kept up until the feed went totally black.

The Copper bared his teeth then grabbed the white sheet in the closet.

 

Nothing but the rain made noise in the hall, the front side lined with windows lighting up red and orange. Then came a loud tap of knuckles against the solid oak of Quincy’s door. Thing is, there wasn’t anyone knocking and he couldn’t see until the Copper burst into the hall through his wall and dumped a magazine at the door.

He wore an EX-Frame, an exoskeleton of braces that doubled speed and strength, over his clothes with a military vest and police helmet. Strapped to his left shoulder waited an HF knife while his combi-pistol was holstered to the chest.

The weapon he used was an M4 with a Gauss upper receiver, turning the rifle into a railgun. The top was a narrow block from muzzle to butt. On the left side above the trigger were wires that fed to a battery pack on Quincy’s side. Across the front of the vest were pouches packed with magazines bearing sabot rounds. They were darts designed to eat plating, but what it did to soft targets is enough to put the fear of God in anyone on the wrong end.

The window by Quincy’s door shattered immediately while the wood and drywall practically disintegrated. The brick exterior of the apartment became exposed, but remained in place while the lower half of the door came off its hinges.

The muzzle smoked after the rifle clicked empty. He traded mags and kept the weapon trained on the eviscerated remains. The sound of rain replaced the screech of the weapon and Quincy held his breath. He played statue until the dust settled and couldn’t see a body. Instead, among the shredded drywall laid a wireless speaker punctured with a single hole.

The Copper’s mouth formed a straight line. After a second he snapped the rifle left down the other end of the hall there the stairs were and waited. He let out a breath held since smashing through the wall and started walking slowly to his door.

“If I’d done my job,” he said, “you’d be screwin’ Enzo in Heaven.” He stopped in place a listened. “A shame it’s gone so poorly.” He moved on. “I wanted to keep it clean and neat, one corpse at a time… Should’ve done it the old fashion way.” At the corner he leaned out and watched the hall, the neon at its brightest. “Nothin’s real anymore, Volk. Cops, criminals, civilians… Every-goddamn-one lives and dies on the corporate payroll.” Quincy moved down the hall. “We sold our souls and didn’t even know it! Nothin’s real anymore! No more cops. No more criminals. Just business! …You know it too, don’t ya? Where’s the honor in serving a faceless, godless company? I saw it and chose to pull it apart. Maybe you’ll continue my work; paint this city in their blood. I’ll be watchin’ from Hell–“

“Got that right.”

Quincy snapped to the rear, spinning to a knee. There was nothing behind him, but the Copper didn’t move, eye down the sight. There was an apartment to his right and he didn’t notice the door was cracked before he felt the floor vibrate.

He spun round to Monty charging with sword drawn. He got two missed shots in before Kiddo dove out the door, knife in hand. Her tackle forced Quincy to his feet, but she didn’t have the weight to make a difference. He grabbed her knife-wrist and swung her into Monty as he came down with an overhead strike.

They fell together and Monty was the first to see the Copper take a step closer to get a better shot. He pupped off one round that missed and not a second because Kiddo had ripped out the magazine. Quincy saw the empty mag-well by the time she threw the crushed metal box at his face, cracking his visor.

The Copper staggered back then dashed into the wall beside the perfectly fine door. Kiddo was closest and followed through, Monty close in second, and found Quincy with pistol and knife ready in his left, rifle slug. The Copper charged Monty and met him blade to blade, knife humming with sparks shooting from their edge while popping off at Kiddo under his arm. She rolled, bullets whistling overhead, and the Copper stepped to Monty’s left while kicking out one leg.

Monty fell forward just as Kiddo came out of her roll, hopping over her compatriot. She slashed at Quincy, her blade catching on the under barrel of the pistol, before he slashed. Kiddo went low as he shot, each one making her deafer. She traded knife-hands and came up with an upper cut, but when Kiddo’s knife met the Copper’s it went clean through. The blade kept going and scraped off a sliver of her forearm.

Feedback sensors registered pain and Kiddo shrieked backward. Quincy could’ve taken her head had Monty not come in with a wide upper. The Copper dashed back, but left with a cut through his lips and nostril. He blindly shot off what as left in his pistol on his way out another hole.

“Damn-it,” growled Kiddo dropping the knife and holding the cut on her arm.

“Gotta move–“ started Monty.

They dropped when darts ripped through the wall to the left. Monty wasn’t fast enough and found a hole through his right arm with wires sticking out. He couldn’t move it, sword still in his fingers.

“Split up,” said Kiddo into his ear so he could hear over the gunfire. She pointed to the hole by the door. “I got the other side!”

Keeping flat she moved deeper into the apartment while Monty went through the hole, darts zipping above. She got closer to a bedroom and rushed to put her fist through the back wall. The spinners whirled as Kiddo tore herself into the hall.

Her flat cap fell on her way out. She left it behind and stepped softly to the corner across from the hole Quincy first made. Kiddo peeked at the Copper changing mags. She didn’t want to, but Monty needed room to get around the guy, and threw a thick piece of stud at him. When Quincy turned she dashed into his bedroom.

Tripping over the room’s clutter might’ve saved her life. The stacks fell on her as the darts ripped inside, adrenaline pushing her through it. She got halfway in when the shooting stopped and Kiddo rushed to her feet. She made it two steps before he came through the wall, knife in hand.

“Think I’m stupid!” He kicked the clutter on his way toward her. “Ain’t wastin’ another bullet! You’re goin’ out nasty!”

Kiddo threw a footlocker and it fell in two pieces with a single cut. She readied herself and ducked under a slash, diving for his left leg. She pulled up, making Quincy hit the floor on his side, and grabbed the brace with both hands. The spinners whirled before it snapped between Kiddo’s fists.

She rolled onto her feet when he came in with a slash, narrowly missing her nose. When she stood Kiddo noticed the middle and index fingers on her right hand shooting sparks from cut stumps. Didn’t have time for shock when Quincy stepped in. She dashed back and rolled over a stack and waited for him to get closer. With knife raised she grabbed the Copper’s wrist before he let it go and caught it with his left hand by her gut.

She clamped around his fingers, tip of the blade an inch away. They growled at each other until Quincy shoved his right knee in. Kiddo let go of his right wrist and slid left, prompting the Copper to draw. The two spun together, one avoiding fire and the other trying to get a shot in. Then Quincy swung his captured arm toward the door.

Kiddo struck the wall, leaving a giant dent in the drywall, and knocking off some photos. She coughed up blood, feeling the stitches open around her stomach, and looked to the Copper putting up his pistol and trading knife-hands. Then Monty decided to make his move, rushing in from the kitchen with his right sleeve fluttering behind. He met the Copper with an uppercut that was batted away before sliding in for a stab. Monty stepped back and slashed from the side.

Kiddo didn’t stay to watch and staggered into the kitchen. One hand dug through her inside pocket for the pill bottle while the other ripped open the coat. She popped the cap off with one thumb and swallowed three, the rest of the pills spilling out when she put the bottle to her lips. She tried to let go of it, but found her fingers stiff and the red lights on her wrists blinking faster than usual.

She spat up blood and took off her coat. Then Monty came tumbling out of the bedroom, blood on his sword, and right leg snapped at the knee. He climbed to his good foot with Kiddo’s help as Quincy stagger out with his left arm missing at the bicep, the limb hanging in the limp brace. He growled with the HF knife between his teeth as he shouldered his rifle.

The counters burst behind Kiddo and Monty as they rushed around the corner toward the front door. They dropped as the darts killed the TV and couch before the drywall dust settled and rifle went silent. Instead of footsteps they heard Quincy groan and the weapon hit the floor. He leaned on one shattered counter and worked his belt with his last hand. He managed a loop and put it around his stump before pulling. The knife fell out so he could shout. He calmed to a growl and fastened the belt through the buckle once more. As the pain became manageable he saw Kiddo standing in the open, sword hilt in hand.

They shared a pause before Quincy picked up the knife. “Guess we’re just about even… TalSec give ya those? M-cells ain’t used to strain yet; not like worn cells.”

Kiddo looked at the blinking lights and nodded.

The Copper pulled off his helmet and let it hit the floor. “Way I see it, I can put you down in two while you vent those arms or you can charge and open me up before I get a single shot in. Either way, only one of us’ll be left standing.”

“…Yeah,” she said before popping her sword. “You might be right.”

Quincy stepped away from the counter and stood right across from Kiddo. With naked eyes they stared into one another. The sound of rain peppering the building faded into silence, no other noise or word from anyone or anything. Quincy and Kiddo had the room to themselves. The setting and Monty watching from the corner seemed light years away. With two missing fingers Kiddo moved the sword to her side, edge parallel to the floor, back hunched. Quincy flipped his knife in his palm right-wise and winded his arm over his left shoulder. They stayed like that for what seemed like an hour before rolling the dice.

Their feet didn’t make a sound with each rapid step. Kiddo hiked her knees up as she moved low, Quincy arcing down to get close. As quickly as they started the two had traded sides, respective blades held outward in opposite positions, dripping crimson. On the floor by their left feet laid a streak of blood that curved back to the middle of the path like an S cut in two. Quincy hit the floor and Kiddo would’ve turned to look were she not on her own way down.

Her hands kept her from going face first, the sword hilt falling apart after bouncing on the floorboards. Kiddo felt an icy pain shoot up her knees and saw severed tibias wearing her jackboots behind her. Her breathing couldn’t keep up with the heart pounding out her chest as she sat up, keeping the gushing stumps raised.

Monty slid to her side with his belt and tied one off. “It’s alright. It’s alright.”

Kiddo bit her lip as he reached from her belt to tourniquet the last stump.

A wet cough from Quincy caught their attention as he rolled on his back. His intestines lay on the floor beside him in a pool of red as more spilled over the cut from kidney to kidney. “Don’t take their money!” he shouted after a spray burst from his mouth. “Don’t take their money, Volk!” He groaned as he sat up to meet her gaze. “They’ll own you like they owned me and everything else.” He wiped his mouth. “…Nothin’s real anymore… There’ll be more like me. They gonna make it real.”

Kiddo had gotten ahold of herself, both stumps tied off. She listened to Quincy and couldn’t work up the nerve to hate him completely. She was happy life drained for him by the second, but understanding what he was after made her respect him. “…And I wont stop them.” She picked up his helmet and tossed it.

The Copper caught it and slowly put it on as tears cut through the blood on his mouth and chin. “I’m comin’ home, Daddy.” He laid back and smiled, the neon painting him red. “I’m comin’ home.”

Kiddo kept her face toward him so Monty couldn’t see her cry.

 

26

The BotDoc clung to the ceiling, arms collapsed. From its central thorax shined a light over Kiddo sitting on an operating chair in a hospital gown. Where Quincy had chopping her tibias were white clamps all the way around the legs. A light flashed green on each beside a set of ports for different plug-ins. Junior had a cord running from one clamp into his tablet as he sat by Kiddo’s feet. She pressed her gown at the crotch while he scrolled through the information.

“Everything seems to be working fine,” he said. “After a couple months you can take them off once they’re through reconnecting.”

“Should’ve replaced them with something better,” said Clemenza. He leaned in front of them against the wall of windows looking out into the body shop. Green curtains were drawn so none of the gear-heads could see. Beside his leg stood a small roller suitcase. Kiddo hadn’t seen it since the night Enzo died. “Maybe something to match your arms.”

Her silence was replace by Junior taking out the cord and standing. “I recommend staying off your feet as often as possible until time’s up. There’re pills at the front desk that–“

“Don’t want ‘em,” she said sliding off away from Junior. Her arms were fixed only hours ago, the seams around new fingers and welds filling scratches still shiny. Junior opted to keep his mouth shut as she went over to a table with another fresh Pinkerton uniform waiting.

“I’ll take it from here, bud,” said Clemenza patting him on the shoulder from behind.

“Sure thing, Mr. Kurt.”

He waited for Junior to leave out the automatic door before turning to Kiddo as she dressed. “You and Goichi’s names were out of the report. Official story is a guy Speers put away tracked him down after getting out. Detectives on scene made sure to make it real.” She didn’t say a word, prompting Clemenza to go on. “They’re gonna bring Pierce back online this afternoon. I’m told she had a real mad-on for you, a die-hard Andie activist. I suggested wiping her memory of the past few days, but Chief Ira isn’t as flexible as I’d like.” He reached into his suit pocket for a passport and folded papers. “We prepared a new identity in the very likely event Pierce tries–“

“I’ll make my own way.”

He paused and made a flat smile before approaching. “You’ve dealt with a lot, but you’re not invincible, Anya-jun Ivanov. Any enemies left can find you if you don’t take my help. The way I see it,” he was within arms reach behind her, “you won’t last a month once your out of–“

Her thumb hooked under his right cheekbone when Kiddo’s arm rotated back. The fingers pressed into his skull hard enough for Clemenza to give in, going to his knees. Kiddo’s arm rotated at the spinner as she turned to face him. She changed her grip and held Clemenza’s head with both hands, thumbs under his cheekbones.

“I know how this works. You make another offer, call me, send money, and I’ll forget you’re Cici’s only son. I’ll start with your mother and then your sisters before you get it slowly and nasty.” She shoved him without hitting his head on the floor. “You’re no better than the worst bastards I’ve known.” She put on her cap. “Maybe one day I’ll kill them too.”

Clemenza stayed on the floor and watched her leave after taking the roller. The calm shock on his face turned to a content grimace with a nod.

 

Kiddo stood the roller up at the top of the stoop outside the body shop and reached into her coat for the cigarette case. She stared at the e-cigs before pulling them all out with one hand and tossing them over the side. When she put the case away Kiddo continued down the steps to meet the Yaks waiting by a hov-car on the curb.

 

Pierce woke up with a gasp, eyes squeezed shut from the blinding light. Hospital fluorescents aren’t known for brightness, but when you’ve been comatose for days, a Christmas light could feel like the sun.

A white plastic shell covered her torso from neck to stomach. Beside the bed stood a dialysis machine that pumped white blood. It kept Pierce awake with tubes feeding into the chest of the shell. Curtains were drawn around the bed, giving her and Chief Ira sitting beside the machine a little privacy.

“Take it slow,” he said. “There’s plenty of time.”

She opened her eyes. “Chief? That you?”

“Mm-hm.”

Pierce looked around. “How long?”

“Three days. The hollow points ripped through your sternum something fierce. Doc needs your consent to replace what was damaged so you can get back to work.”

“It was Speers. He shot me, a suspect that’d given up, and Volk–“

“He’s dead.”

Pierce stared at him, torn between relief and disappointment.

“An ex-con he helped lock up, some cyborg junkie, went to his apartment hopped up on custom Singapore gear. I’ll spare you the details. Speers is due for the pipes on Wednesday. We’ll understand if you don’t show up.”

She let it sink in. “And Volk?”

Ira sat back in the cheap chair. “Missing. Someone pulled the street footage from that night. Whole blocks around the scene were erased and we can’t find a body. We’ve been cycling through her associates and that rat Freeman.”

Pierce laid back to stare at the ceiling. “…I thought you’d be a better liar.” Ira nodded, meeting her gaze once she looked back. “It’s all her fault. Dom, Jacobs and those people are in the ground because she tried to do my job. She’s drenched her hands in innocent blood–“

“Did she pull the trigger? Did she order those kids to murder those people? You should see what SWAT did to that Trotsky girl in Renton; everyone gave her a taste of their boot.” Ira shook his head. “Volk didn’t kill anyone that mattered–“

“What do you think I do for a living, Chief? They were Yakuza, but she still murdered them and started–“

“Maybe you’re hung up on Enzo van Gogh. She didn’t do that either, but a dozen dead dirt-bags were all you needed to keep at it. Take into account all your IA complaints that go nowhere and you don’t paint a nice picture, Detective. Bleeding hearts might call you corrupt while other cops call you whiner. Wanna stay Seattle’s Finest, you let this slide and try to learn from this nightmare.”

Pierce drove the knife deeper into herself. “No one’s getting away with–“

Ira pressed a knob on the machine and the Detective went back to sleep. Her face was slack and eyes half shut before he closed them and leaned to her ear. “Here’s hoping you come to your senses when you wake up good as new.”

 

The elevator opened with Kiddo flanked by her Yak escort to the conference room. They waited for her to step out before exiting to take off their shoes to the side. She yanked off her boots and left her cap on a hook, but kept the roller in hand.

The lights were off save for two large candles at the far end of the room. They stood on posts atop a small dais of polished wood. Between the candles sat Monty on his knees in a white suit. Before him stood a raised tray with a tanot knife wrapped in a white cloth. To his left sat a Yak with Monty’s sword, the end of the sheath on the dais. In front of him was a wooden bucket filled with water and a ladle.

In front of the dais were two folding stools, one empty while the other was occupied. Behind him sat rows of Yaks in all black suits, swords on their belts. They were packed to the elevator where Kyrii stood with the help of two goons. He wore a traditional kimono with a black monsho over it. The back and chest of the garb had a white crest: a small crescent circle within the embrace of a bigger crescent.

The Shogun smiled when Kiddo faced him. “Good to see you in good health, Kiddo-chan. A shame we could not have met under better circumstances.

She couldn’t be bothered to answer immediately. “Likewise.”

The old man gestured to the dais and his goons helped him walk, Kiddo following with her escorts in tow. She could see the audience look her way in passing.

“Our duel three days ago was a welcome digression from the tragedy of that night,” he said. “I was told your Russian father taught you sword play?”

“Mm.”

“I would have enjoyed meeting him. It was clear to me that he understood the blade better than the average gaijin.” Kiddo didn’t speak because Kyrii was turning to face her. “One day, if you decide to return from exile, I will be waiting. If I am dead, my son Jubei will make a worthy substitute.”

They continued to the dais. The Shogun took the empty stool beside the other man, similarly dressed as Kyrii with long hair past his shoulders, bangs pulled into a tail. Kiddo assumed him to be Jubei. She positioned herself beside the sword-bearer, standing the roller up behind her legs out of respect for the scene.

Being so close to the weapon she realized that it was almost the size of a nodachi, a larger version of a katana. It wasn’t a real nodachi, but it was big enough that Kiddo understood why Monty had leg and arm extensions. The sword was so long it came up past her navel and she imagined how difficult it’d be to carry on the hip.

Junbi wa i, Monty-chan?” asked the Shogun.

Watashi wa Tonodesu,” he answered.

Anata wa shizoku Kiddo-chan no hanzai no omo-sa o ukerremasu ka?

Hai.”

Kyrii sighed and nodded. “Saigo no kotoba o iu koto ga dekimasu.”

Monty turned to Kiddo without shifting his legs. “Guess I’ve said all I needed, eh?”

She didn’t know what to do, lips quivering with hesitation. Then Jubei filled the silence.

Kore wa detaramedesu!” he shouted with a deep voice.

Shizuka, Jubei,” said Kyrii.

Watashi wa shimasen! Monto-san wakesshin shimashitaga, kono Roshia no zasshu meinu ni kare no kaishaku o sa semashita ka? Kare wa watashi no kyo-daideari, anata wa kara no meiyo o yogoshimasu!

Some of the Yaks in the audience stood, reaching into their suits while others formed fists.

Mitekudasai, shonen,” said Kyrii with a mad tone and expression to boot.

Jubei looked at Kiddo. “You’re about to kill a very good and loyal man.” He pointed to the katana. “That sword has more history and honor in its steel than you will ever–“

“Let it go, man,” said Monty with a snap. He waited for Jubei to sit down. “You don’t know what’s been going on over here. Of all the pricks I’ve dealt with, Volk’s the only one worth a damn. If she didn’t hate us so much, she’d make a great sister. There’s no better equal I’d trust to carry my sword.”

He looked at her again and Kiddo saw the whole room was giving her attention. It felt like gravity was pressing down on her shoulders.

Monty turned back. “Clean it once a month and immediately after use.” He straightened his back and let out a slow exhale. “Junbi da dekita, Tono.”

Kyrii and Jubei inclined their heads while the audience bowed low. When the sword bearer bowed Kiddo quickly bent to Monty while standing.

Saraba, kyuyu,” said the Shogun, prompting everyone to come up, and looked at Kiddo. “Do you know what to do?”

She nodded and smoothly drew the katana. She looked at it’s side, kneading the wrapped hilt with her metal fingers. Kiddo held the tip to the water, resting the spine on the bucket. The sword bearer took the ladle and dripped water from the cross guard down the edge. She let the excess slide off the tip before coming to Monty’s left side.

Keeping his head and eyes straight he opened his shirt above his belt. Monty pulled out the end and felt his right side with one hand while the other reached for the tanto. Kiddo brought the sword up to her head, tip to the ceiling when Monty put the blade to his skin and held it with both hands.

After a sharp groan the veins in his neck popped and face turned red. He started to shake and didn’t stop as Monty pulled the knife across his stomach. Kiddo couldn’t bear to watch, keeping her eyes shut despite how the audience would judge her weakness. Monty’s teeth were clenched so tight his groan came out in a screech. Not a single tear rolled down his cheeks as he let out a heavy set of breaths, prompting Kiddo to look. Monty’s hands were now on his right side as blood pooled onto the dais. He was leaning forward slightly, neck more visible.

Gomen,” she said before bringing the blade down with a bend of her legs.

 

It was the cleanest train she’d been on since the year her family went on vacation to Busan. Other than the seats the cart seemed made of one homogenous form. The window was an uncut oblong piece from one end to the other that tinted depending on how much sun it caught. The interior walls were rounded with the floor curving flat for the seats and walkway. The ceiling curved outward with a window showing clear azure. The glass was cut with the thin white lines of solar cells that kept the train moving.

Kiddo sat on the left side, head against the window. A forest of redwoods passed her by, but the scenery washed over her like a common breeze. Her cap was pulled over her brow, keeping the morning sun out of half-shut eyes. It wasn’t weariness, at least, not the kind she would’ve had after getting up so early. Not even 24 hours had passed since she decapitated Monty and his sword sat in a black case beside her.

Minutes ago the train crossed state lines into San Angeles from New California. The details of the sojourn were logged into the back of her mind. It didn’t matter to her, but Kiddo’s instinct knew better. Then the train passed beyond the edge of the redwoods and she was brought out of her melancholy long enough to feel awe.

The Golden Gate Bridge stood in its red glory across the strait. A squat tanker equipped with Flettner rotors passed beneath it into the Pacific, but it wasn’t what caught Kiddo’s eye. She could see skyscrapers in Berkley and Oakland cast long shadows across San Francisco Bay, almost touching Alcatraz. She saw them as silhouettes with the sun close to the horizon, but to the south the detail was clearer.

A solar tower stood every five miles down the coast. Each had a flat face that curved outward toward the bottom, covered in square mirror panels. The towers stood on massive rotors below ground that turned with the rotation of the sun. On the strip of land that was SanFran rose massive towers and structures of various designs of glass and stone that could’ve been mistaken for plastic. Their aesthetic was arcological in nature. As the train curved east past the bridge the view of the ground revealed itself.

Old SanFran was still there in the shadow of the Future. Row houses leaned against the sloping streets while small Victorian mansions remained untouched by time. Whatever was left of the past stood across the bulk of the hilly suburban areas toward the south and Pacific while the metropolitan heart clustered to the Bay. Some ancient skyscrapers were pushed between the new, the Transamerica Pyramid trapped like a toddler in a forest. Across the city a highway broke up the landscape like concrete veins.

The rail system ran underneath, a fact made clear when Kiddo saw the train descend into a tunnel past Presidio. Then the intercom announced their arrival and she pulled the case closer.

 

The window looked out to Tenderloin as hov-cars flew low. The streets were packed with more cyclists and runners than cars, including a few quad-peds. What stood out to Kiddo was how the people were dressed. Between some suits and blue-collar coveralls the clothing was tight and matching in material and color combination. They all looked good too, not a fat-body among them. Kiddo studied the people while the Banker typed at his computer.

“And how long will be using our vault?” he asked.

“Four months,” she answered before turning to him, keeping her right hand on the case leaning on the arm of the chair. At the back of the chair stood a larger roller she’d bought the night before the trip.

“Okay… And would you like insurance on the item?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Are you sure–“

“Yes.”

The Banker nodded. “And I can’t convince you to extend your–“

“No.”

He nodded again. “Okay, Mrs. Van Gogh. Your deposit will cover four months in our vault. Once the deadline is up we’ll inform you by mail and phone. Is there an acquaintance or relative you’d like to sign as co-owner of the item in case you can’t be reached before the grace period?”

“No.”

“May I get your current address and phone number?”

Kiddo reached into her pocket for a business card and passed it to the Banker. “Number’s on the back.”

He read the card as he typed. In blue it said ‘Terrace Fertility Clinic and Spa.’

 

The waiting room had a long window to the Pacific past Outer Sunset. She was one of five women sitting against the window, but she was the only one with luggage. She was also the only one in a coat and boots. Kiddo was slouched back, staring at the ceiling with her mouth slightly agape. The floor was carpet, so she couldn’t hear the Nurse walk in with a tablet in hand.

“Kiddo?”

She came to her feet, the girl’s accent reminding her of Cicero, before pulling the roller on her way across the room.

“Lemme get one of the guys to take your luggage.” Kiddo waited outside the threshold after she disappeared to the side. The Nurse came back with a tall male counterpart. “Room seven.”

The guy didn’t say a word before he took the roller up a hall adjacent to one that ran along the side with a window.

“Follow me, please,” said the Nurse before leading Kiddo down the other hall. The place was wide and quiet. If there were anyone else inside, you’d have to work hard to find them. “First time in San Angeles?”

“I thought it was called San Francisco?”

“Well, that’s the city, but the state is San Angeles. Used to be called California, but we’re so small and dense the name was changed after the two biggest cities, LA and SanFran. We’re technically a mega-city.”

“That’s something.”

“I like your getup, by the way. Very popular in LA. Lot of Marlowes in Seattle?”

“Don’t know what that is.”

“It’s a term for people that dress like they’re in old black and white movies. I forget the name of the genre, but Marlowe was a famous character that talked and dressed kinda like you.”

“You from LA?”

“Nope. Born and raised here. So’s my mom. Lived through the Vagrant Purge if you can believe it.”

“Sounds like a rotten time.”

“Sure was. After the Partition the state couldn’t pay for all the illegals and homeless. We had a whole social welfare system that we couldn’t afford and we have Hollywood and Silicon Valley! Then the state government increased taxes and property values to try and get a little something and everyone lost their minds. Mobs went around attacking junkies, burning tent cities, demolishing shantytowns, and calling the Feds on alien families. Mom told me there was blood filling the — Oh, gosh! I’m so sorry. I talk way to much.”

“Not a bad problem to have.”

“I know, but you’re one of our guests. Stories about street battles aren’t good for a baby-making atmosphere.”

 

The table had steel leg supports on the end. Thankfully it was position with the side to the window. Kiddo sat on the table looking outside while the Nurse leaned on the counter to the side, touching a stylus to her tablet.

“Would you like to adjust the code of the sample post-insemination?”

“I’ll settle for the genuine article.”

“I wouldn’t either. Guy’s a looker and you two would mix well… Um, would you like to interview the donor beforehand? It says here your husband was interested.”

“Not wasting anymore time.”

“’Kay. Gender customization?”

“I’ll roll the dice.”

“Ooo, I’m saving that one for later… Any chance you’d like to stay past the first trimester?”

“Nope.”

The nurse tapped the tablet one last time. “Alright. The doctor will be here shortly with the sample. Gown’s under the table.” With that she made for the door, but stopped short of turning the handle. “Have you thought of a name?”

Kiddo looked down at the floor. “Sasha, after my dad… Sasha Montgomery.”

“Where’s the Montgomery from?”

She turned to the Nurse and smiled. “Just a friend.”

***

Recommended Viewing/Reading
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scott
The Fade Out, By Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips
13 Assassins, Directed by Takashi Miike
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Old Boy
, Directed by Chan-wook Park
Ronin, By Frank Miller
Ghost in the Shell
, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan
Wait Until Dark, Directed by Terence Young

About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.