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
Back to Valhalla: A Military Fantasy
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.
The tumblers clicked and ticked in the dark. Only after a stiff clank and turn of the knob did the door open. Kiddo Volk stood in the threshold, the flickering fluorescents bending around her silhouette.
You couldn’t tell she was half Korean with skin as pale as a ghost and eyes as blue as glaciers. She wore a crimson pea coat and grey flat cap. A pair of tight blue jeans hugged her slender legs with jackboots that came up just before her knees. Her hands were squeezed by black leather driving gloves, the holes at the knuckles showing a glimpse of her prosthetics.
Kiddo placed the lock picks inside the silver case beside her e-cigs. Returning the case to her inside pocket, she pulled out her phone, and clicked on the flashlight. Kiddo made sure the door was locked behind her before moving on. On her belt hung a knife handle that swung against her backside as she walked.
The den’s floor was covered in raggedy Persian rugs. Kiddo probed the darkness with her light, finding a trio of server towers to her left. To the right was a small kitchen with a table for two. Cables from the towers were strapped into bundles, trailing across the floor under the rugs. She followed them to a nook at the back of the room, lined with vertical computer monitors. There sat two leather armchairs with a sliding keyboard on each armrest.
Kiddo returned to the front door to mount her cap and coat on a coat tree, leaving her with a tight sleeveless shirt. She was Modded with two polymer arms the color of ivory with black-grey mesh between the plates and her hair was fashioned into a pink undercut shaved close. At the nook she held her phone in her teeth to turn one of the chairs out, her arms making a quiet whine from handling the weight. When it faced the front door she put out her light and sat down.
As if on queue there came footsteps down the hall with accompanying muffled voices.
“…Gotta spend money to make money.”
“Says dummies who don’t know how to spend smart. The more negatives y’get, the lesser a positive sum accumulates.”
At a door came a jingle of keys.
“Malarkey. How do y’think the high-hats downtown got so big?”
“By not being stupid with money!”
“You’re too cynical. We did this job right, which means more guys like that cop will pay for our services. We’ll be the go-to grey-hats in no time. Y’get me?”
A key slid into the lock with a click of tumblers.
“Okay. But no more stupid spending or I walk.”
Ricky and Taro didn’t look like scum, but they fit the bill once you got to know them. Ricky was Flesh with all his fingers and toes. Taro was Modded with a jaw skinned in orange latex and a pointed chin that didn’t fit his face.
“To where, the poor house?” asked Taro making for the kitchen. “Where would we be without each other?”
Ricky flipped on the Christmas lights pinned along the corners of the ceiling. When he took off his jacket to hang on the coat tree, he saw Kiddo’s coat and cap on one of the hooks.
They were too small to be either of theirs.
“How’s it hanging, Ricky?” she asked.
He turned and shoved his back into the tree, knocking it over. Taro walked back to his partner with a bottle of meta-milk, the kind that keeps invasive-mods running. His expression was totally blank, but you could tell what he was feeling.
“Pinkerton?” asked Ricky.
“Nice mod, T. Better than the voice box the doc gave you after the op.”
“…I got high standards.”
“I bet. Expensive is the way to go, even if you can’t afford it.”
“Well, I could’ve. Did the hard work and everything like a regular Joe.”
“Best not kid yourself. They don’t call us thieves because we work hard.”
“We didn’t do anything wrong,” said Ricky.
“Oh, you did, but nothing serious in the grand scheme of things. This is a technicality.”
“We paid Cicero everything,” said Taro.
“You guys are pretty terrible at math,” she said standing up. “Last I checked, 6,243 bucks isn’t the same as eight grand. As hackers, you aught to be ashamed of yourselves.”
“We also told your gal we’d have the rest by the end of the month.”
“That kid’s a scrub we hired a week ago.” She came closer, pulling the handle off her belt. “Still learning the ropes. I’m here to finish the job.”
Taro couldn’t move, but Ricky made for the door.
“If you run this’ll get a whole lot nastier.” She popped a six-inch blade from the handle in an inverted direction. Along the thin metal strip were groves that ran parallel to the top edge like a box cutter. “How ‘bout you pick up that coat thing and fight for it?”
Ricky grabbed the shaft and swung it at Kiddo. Didn’t take much for her to lean out of the way. He swung again and came up empty.
“You’re killing me, pal. Gimme your best shot.”
Losing ground he backed up and charged with the coat tree like a spear and Kiddo stopped playing around. She moved in and cut the wood like it was nothing. Grabbing Ricky by the crotch she flipped him up, the ceiling low enough he made impact.
Kiddo left him groaning on the floor and continued to Taro playing statue by the door. She took his bottle, downing the whole thing in a couple gulp. After putting it back in his hand, she stood on her toes and clicked a knob on the inside corner of his jaw.
Taro’s eyes grew wide when the servos hissed and his mouth went agape. The latex skin slid away from his flesh before Kiddo pulled the mod off by the chin. His tongue drooped from his maw, exposing nerve sockets under his ears, and an anchor joint behind each cheekbone with myomer plugs. The upper portion of his neck would have been open without the skin graph keeping his throat and larynx in place.
Kiddo retracted her knife and hooked it on her belt, looking at the serial number engraved in the jaw’s aluminum armature.
“You have a week to make up the difference,” she said picking up her coat. “If you don’t, my boyfriend will sell your fancy mod on the sly for double what you owe. Then you’re in deeper with the Gorinnis.”
With her cap in one hand and the jaw in the other she made for the door. Kiddo stopped just before stepping out.
“Look at me.” Taro slowly turned, dripping spit on his chest. “If you want to be whole again, take your partner’s advice and stop spending like a moron. See you around, T,” she said with a smirk before moving on.
Seattle was always overcast. No matter what season, the city was in a constant state of grey and wet with damp moisture lingering in the air. The place looked more graveyard than city. The spires downtown were glass tombstones and the airborne traffic neurotic crows picking up the scent of corpses. At street level the people were ants in grass of brick and mortar stacks clinging on to existence as modernity began to take over.
You had to wait till dark to see all the color.
The monorail crisscrossed through the city like a concrete snake. The maglev tech used to run it had to be kept at a steady 35mph; weaving between buildings isn’t exactly safe, after all. Push to the maximum 55 and you risk derailing through an office on the eighth floor. Kiddo stood by the door holding onto one of the grips with the jaw in the other hand. She had on a pair of sunglasses with round lenses that fit her eyes just enough you couldn’t see where she was looking.
In her car was a microcosm of the people you’d find on the streets. Suits were fairly self-explanatory, businessmen and office workers frozen in starched pinstripes. Stiffs weren’t too different, only they didn’t have such high uniform standards. Then you had everyone in between; the people you couldn’t pin down based on how they dressed or where they worked. Everyone was either Flesh or Modded, but some you couldn’t tell had subtle, expensive implants. It’s easy to hide a neural port within the hairline or behind a collar. If everything but your head was mechanical, you could wear a full tracksuit and no one would be the wiser.
Kiddo’s anachronistic attire made her look like any old hipster. Wasn’t anything new in the Pacific Northwest, but anyone familiar with Seattle’s underground figured she belonged to a very specific group.
When the monorail’s breaks kicked in she leaned hard to the side, her foot lifting off the ground before the full stop. Kiddo stood firm and walked out onto the station. Not even a block away stood that brick triple-decker between two office buildings.
Le Speak was your typical jazz club. A big neon sign pointed down to the basement entrance under a red awning. It was lunchtime for the suits down in First Hill, packing the sidewalk on the way to their favorite pubs and coffee shops. Le Speak was not one of them.
What’s the point of a nightclub if it’s open before 10pm?
Out on the street three busboys unloaded cases of booze, limes, and ice from a ground truck. From the open cellar by the entrance emerged Lotch, carrying an empty cardboard box.
“Take the rest of the liquor and put it in storage,” he said.
“Sure thing, Mr. Potter.”
When he stepped onto the sidewalk, Kiddo was coming his way.
“Hey, Pink,” he said waving with his faux-iron forearm.
“Lotch,” she said with a nod. “How’s your better half?”
“Wants me to dye my hair. Say’s I’d look younger.”
“Kid doesn’t know how good he’s got it.” Kiddo walked backwards to keep eye contact on her way to the basement. “If you swung my way, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“Much obliged. Cici’s in his office.”
A short staircase brought Kiddo to double doors cushioned in red leather. They came apart into the walls when she was close. The club proper was dotted with tall round tables, hardwood stools stacked to the right. The bar stretched across the length of the long room on the left. In the back corner stood a modest stage with small amps standing along the edge. The door to the office was dead center at the back. Kiddo leaned by the doorknob and knocked.
“Come on in, Pink,” said a haggard voice.
The room couldn’t fit more than three people or it’d stink to high heaven. Behind a wide wooden desk sat Cicero Gorinni, a short bug-eyed guinea with olive skin. Behind him leaned Takashi Sterling, second in command. You could spot the guy a mile away with a left eye mod that glowed blue to match his three-piece suit.
They watched as Kiddo took the lone chair before the desk, taking off her hat and glasses.
“How’d it go?” asked Cicero.
“Reno,” she said putting the jaw on the desk. “Gave ‘em a week to make up the difference.”
“Good-good. We should keep ‘em on retainer. Make ‘em work off their debt.”
“There’re hackers all over the city, Cici,” said Takashi. “Better ones at that.”
“Sure, but now we got Ricky and Taro in our pockets for nothing. That’s how extortion works, my boy.”
“Is ’at why you filched Taro’s jaw, Pink?” asked Cicero.
“More or less,” she said.
“Can we fence it?” asked Takashi.
“If you need five bucks, sure.”
Cicero raised an eyebrow.
“What’re you talkin’ about?”
“You snatched a piece of junk for no reason?” asked Takashi like it was a big deal.
“Course I had a reason,” said Kiddo.
“Can’t say the same for most of the stunts you pull. Real expensive stunts too.”
“Let ’er explain, Tak,” said Cicero. “Don’t lose your head just yet.”
“That’s a mass-pro mod,” she said gesturing the jaw. “They were built for Vets returning from Mexico, who later traded up for the fancy stuff. Then, you got a surplus of equipment, which the government sold to hospitals and body shops. I had arms in the same model after my operation. In a decade they’ll be antiques and not much more valuable.”
“Then why take it?” asked Takashi.
“It’s icing on the cake. They’re gonna pay no matter what, but if Taro thinks he’s gonna lose his jaw a second time, he’ll be more inclined to make the deadline. Sure, the jaw ‘s worthless, but I scared him enough he’ll believe I can sell it five times it’s actually worth.”
“Natural as usual,” said Cicero. “Let’s keep the thing. Might have use of those boys pretty soon.”
“Trouble?” asked Kiddo taking out an e-cig.
“Yaks acting up,” said Takashi.
“Who needs to die, Boss?”
“Down, girl,” said Cicero, putting his hand up to her. “You know how Yakuza are about open arteries. We wait ‘til they draw first blood.”
“Who we kidding?” asked Takashi. “We should just set her loose and draw all of their blood before they have a chance.”
Kiddo made a grin with smoke that smelled of lavender curling from between her teeth.
“Wouldn’t look good on us, Tak. Got an image to uphold. So does the Shogun.”
“A little more dirt on my hands wouldn’t hurt,” she said.
“You want dirt-work, Pink?” asked Cicero with a smile. “Have Enzo appraise the jaw in case we decide to fence it.”
“Okay,” she stood and grabbed the mod. “Pointless, but I was heading there anyway.”
“Of course,” said Takashi. “Instead of dirt-work, you’re getting wet-work.”
Even bad puns can be funny, the three of them having a decent laugh.
“You bet,” said Kiddo making for the door
“Don’t be in too much a hurry,” said Cicero reaching in an open drawer and tossing her a roll of red dollars with Andrew Jackson’s face etched in black.
“Thanks, Boss,” she said pocketing the cash and tipping her hat.
“Invest wisely and use protection.”
Kiddo chuckled as she opened the door.
“Don’t need protection when you’re riding an Andie.”
The body shop was a few blocks northeast in Cascade, hidden in the shadow of the glass spires downtown. A sign of a green cross in the circle of a white gear stood over automatic doors that creaked open as Kiddo ascended the stoop. The cool air smelled like an electronics store with hints of chlorine. Her jackboots clicked on the linoleum floor as she approached the reception desk under a long glass window in the waiting room.
Staring at an old fashion computer monitor sat a chunky Flesh stiff in a white button-down and khakis. He peered up for just a second when Kiddo rested her elbow on the counter top.
“Figured you’d show up sooner, Volk.”
“Work stuff. You know how it is, Junior.”
“Don’t I ever. Enzo’s got orders to fill and lunch ended 45 minutes ago.”
“Gimme 15,” she said flicking a folded 20-dollar bill onto his keyboard.
Without looking he slipped the bill into his breast pocket.
“Need a little more time? 15 don’t seem like much.”
“Maybe you need more than 15, pal,” she said walking past the desk. Junior was too slow to give a retort when she stepped through the automatic doors to the shop.
Imagine a tattoo parlor, but instead of separate rooms for each artist, each gear-head had a cubical of nylon curtains on the wide-open floor. At each station they worked on mods in green coveralls, some with customers seated on adjustable chairs. At work benches the gear-heads repaired busted servos, replaced hydraulics, or mended faulty circuits with a variety of tools. In the back of the shop was the complicated work, where Flesh became Modded. That area was sanitized and exclusive to specialized personnel.
Kiddo walked between the cubicles at the center and stopped at the second to last station where Enzo van Gogh sat. He was an Andie, short for Android. They’re supposed to look human, but you could spot one in a crowd like a lit cigarette in a cornfield at midnight. Andies have skin that looks like wax with varying pigmentations, including those not found in humans if they choose to change it. Another dead giveaway is their hair of poly-fibers that shine like they’re saturated with gel. In Enzo’s case, he had skin in a shade of blue so dark it was almost black, and shaggy gold hair with matching eyes.
Enzo was immersed in his work, wearing a pair of magnifying goggles as he worked a pair of tweezers on an eye mod in a vice. He did not see Kiddo stop just short of entering his station, leaning towards him on one foot with a goofy smile.
“Got somethin’ that needs your attention, Mr. Repairman,” she said placing the jaw onto the desktop. Enzo smiled without turning to her. “You gonna fix me or what?”
The broom closet was standing room only. Their options were limited, Kiddo’s backside pressed to Enzo’s crotch. She gripped a tuft of his hair, making a high-pitch squeak of plastic-on-plastic. When she wasn’t biting her finger they kissed to keep quiet before he slowed to a gradual pause.
Enzo pulled up his coveralls.
“…Should’ve paid for more.”
Kiddo turned to face him, buttoning up her coat.
“I told Junior not to take your money.”
“Dough’s more convincing than your word, babe. I could’ve pulled his fingernails for free.”
“Please don’t do that,” he said zipping her pants and then himself.
Kiddo stood on her toes to kiss him.
“You’re worth it.”
With cap in hand the two stepped out into the shop. Kiddo walked past the view-window into one of the operating rooms at the back following Enzo. On a table laid a patient as a Bot attached to the ceiling slowly cut into their chest with its long arms.
“It’s like I said on the phone,” said Enzo. “The thing is glorified scrap, but somehow more worthless.”
“I said the same thing, but Cici insisted you appraise it.”
“That’s what I get for being in debt.”
“That was years ago, but you are dating a mobster.”
He chuckled before Kiddo took his arm to walk side-by-side. At the station Enzo sat at his bench and picked up the jaw as she held him from behind.
“See this?” he asked showing her the inside of the armature. On the ramus was a hawk’s claw in a circle engraved into the aluminum.
“I know,” she said. “It’s a TalSec mod from last decade. Same ones you put in me when we first met.”
“Mm-hm. We use them to train new customers and employees. The most I can do with this is keep it in a box. Sorry you wasted your time.”
“Wasted? Got my 15 minutes, didn’t I?” she asked kissing his cheek. “Wish you’d just quit so I can have you all to myself. I make money faster than you.”
“That sounds great, but we’d probably get sick of each other real fast.”
“Maybe… not if we have our plus one.”
He put down the jaw and turned his chair to face her. Kiddo sat on his lap, hands on his shoulders.
“A couple more weeks of extra work and that’ll be a reality,” he said.
“Feels like I don’t do enough.”
“I’d say you have the harder job. I sit here and fix people while you break them.”
“Not all the time, but I love it. And I love you.”
“Love you too.”
“I’ll get home a little late tonight,” said Enzo.
She made a sad frown then nodded.
“I’ll wait for you.” They kissed one more time before Kiddo left him to his work. On the way to the front of the shop, she looked back at him. Once she entered the waiting room her phone vibrated until she answered it. “Yeah?”
“Pink,” said Takashi, “big problem at the docks.”
“What kind?” she asked descending the stoop.
“The kind that needs your delicate touch. The kind that’s got Yaks snooping where they shouldn’t and making our guys nervous. Feel like doing some real work?”
Kiddo made a toothy smile.
“Just get ‘em outta our territory. No corpses.”
“You go it,” she said hanging up before bolting it down the sidewalk.
It’s easy to see Kiddo as just another hipster. The clothes and funny way she talked were the signs of a person who enjoyed living in the past with benefits of the present. Thing is, she and her fellow gangsters are a very specific kind of hipster.
For some, the 1920s were the pinnacle of fashion and style. Back then everyone had class and self-respect and wore it for everyone to see. Men were men and women were women and they made sure to dress like it. Bobbed hair, undercuts, three-pieces suits, double-breasted coats, flat caps; depending on who you talk to, that was the single best decade for clothing. Of course, a fedora means something else entirely to some, but that doesn’t stop Kiddo’s friends from wearing them.
The term for this version of hipster is “flapper,” derived from the ‘20s slang word for a rebellious woman. They dress the part, talk the part, and sometimes act the part. It’s really just a form of fashion that takes a little more effort, but guys like Cicero take it to the extreme.
Nothing more fitting for a flapper than organized crime, the kind that seems antiquated in a world of cyber crime and designer drugs. In Seattle there are a few gangs of flappers playing mobster, but all of them answer to the Gorinnis, Goris for short. If you’ve ever seen a gangster movie, you can imagine the kind of enterprises they had across town. One was at Pier 46 where Kiddo found herself after a short ride on the train and jog through Pioneer Square.
Dockworkers with hardhats crisscrossed between stacks of shipping containers. A few sat in the seats of forklift mechs, carrying containers across the busy paths with the beep of tedious safety sirens. Kiddo kept to the side, stepping clear of workers as she moved. They knew who she was and where she was going. As she drew closer the commotion got louder and crowd thicker. The dockworkers made way for her, keeping their attention ahead. Kiddo stopped just short of the clearing to get acquainted with the situation.
Between the stacks were two lines: one side were Goris in their flapper attire and the other were Yaks in black and white suits. Each line was sparsely armed with blades, batons, pipes, or just their fists. Some of the Yak carried wakizashis, real Japanese short swords. They were all tense and ready, but neither side could advance more than a yard before backing up, hurling insults instead of bludgeons.
“Yaro!” said a Yak.
“I’m gonna teach ya speak English with this pipe, buddy,” said a Gori.
“Like to see you try, white boy!”
“C’mere and put your money where y’mouth is, ya Nippon prick!”
You can imagine what else they might’ve said had Kiddo not stepped from the crowd. Both sides turned to her and suddenly went mute. That’s the power of reputation for you.
“What’s the problem, boys?” she asked the Goris.
“Got a call from the foreman these mooks were tryin’ to get into one of our boxes, Miss Pink,” said an older Gori.
“Is that so?” she asked with an obvious hint of sarcasm. She turned to the Yaks while hooking her glasses to the opening of her coat. “Bit early in the day for thievery. Y’know, when I stole from the Trotskys down in Renton, I did it at night so I wouldn’t be seen. And when I got caught, I ran away.”
“And yet, here we are, half-breed,” said one Yak.
“Oh,” she said through a smile. “Skipping down the Left Hand Path, are ya? As my dad would say, it’s the easiest route to reward, but not the most rewarding, if you know what I mean.”
“You’re one to talk,” said the Yak. “Word has it you’ve been itching for bloodshed since the Shogun ordered the expansion. We’d be happy to oblige.”
The Yaks smirked and chuckled, handling their various weapons like they were prepared to use them. It was enough to set off the Goris, the line surging at Kiddo’s back. She made a toothy grin and took off her hat, placing it in her back pocket.
“Can’t say I’m surprised a bunch of Japs are suicidal.” Kiddo waited for her boys to stop laughing. “I have orders not to kill anyone, but you’re making this so simple, I’m tempted to take you up on that offer. Let’s hold hands and follow the path together.”
With that she took her knife and popped the blade.
“Not if I have something to say about it,” said a voice from behind the Yaks. Suddenly their unfettered thuggery turned disciplined, each one putting up their weapons like they weren’t about to brawl. Shame was written all over their faces as the center of the line parted to the sides.
Strolling up the open gap came Monty Goichi in the same black and white Yak uniform. On his hip hung a katana with a black wrap over a grey handle and a silver cross guard. He was Modded with a pair of arms and legs that were longer than his Flesh torso, making him taller than your average Yak. They were fancy arms fitted with touch and temperature sensors underneath sectioned latex that matched his skin tone. Monty easily dwarfed Kiddo, staring down at her with green eyes as he stood within arms reach between the gap.
“Figured you’d try to start a fight,” he said with a clear American accent.
“Who says I’m starting the fight, Monty?” she asked. “Seems your boys were up for a scrap since they got here.”
“That may be, but coming from you that means a whole lot of nothing.”
“Least I’m honest. I know what I am and I know what I’m not. How about you take that slag stick on your belt and show me who you really are,” she said nodding towards Monty’s katana.
“Show a little respect,” he said grabbing the sheath under the cross guard with this left. “This is real tamahagane from the Home Islands. You’re trained to use one, but carry around a glorified box cutter. Your father would be ashamed–”
“He’d be proud I made it out alive. I bet he’s looking down on me from Takama-ga-hara hoping I open you up before your sword-hand grazes the wrap on that handle.”
“Hoping. Yes. But when does anyone get what they want?”
It got uncomfortable for both sides when Kiddo and Monty just stared at each other for the longest seconds of their lives. Neither broke eye contact nor blinked. They were standing so still you could’ve drawn them like nude models.
“Lenikaeru,” he said with wave of his hand to the side.
All at once the Yaks did an about-face and walked away. The Goris jeered at their backs.
“Show’s over, guys,” said Kiddo cutting them off. “Get back to work.”
The Goris dispersed, some telling Kiddo goodbye. The dockworkers went back to their business, sad that they didn’t get to see a fight and catch it on video. All that was left were the two of them locked in a staring contest.
“You’re wasted, you know? Putting on a stupid accent and cosplaying like you’re about to take a tacky family photo at an amusement park.”
“This ain’t cosplay. It’s just me–”
“Keep telling yourself that. From my perspective, you know you can do better. You know you put on this facade because you need a place to belong. You know you can go your own way and farther than ever before because there’s nothing to hold you down. You can be great, but you dress and talk like a delusional, regressive piece of garbage that belongs in a landfill.”
Kiddo took her time to smirk at him.
“…I chose this life. You were born in yours. And if you really knew me, you’d know I don’t give a damn about fitting in.”
She didn’t linger, leaving Monty to follow her departure with his emerald eyes. His hand around the sheath tightened for a just moment before he relaxed and went out the way he came.
The brass bed was an island in darkness, picking up the faintest sources of light in the loft. Kiddo lay on her stomach, her pale skin near as white as the sheets. Without her arms you could see the nerve sockets and myomer plugs implanted around her shoulders and an anchor joint bonded to her scapula. The pillow beside her was empty and the sheets disheveled when Enzo came to her side, dressed for work.
“Babe?” he asked rocking her lightly. “Babe?”
“I gotta go in early.”
She sat up on her own, moving her naked legs over the edge of the bed. Enzo was ready with her arms sitting in a padded case beside his knee. He started with the right and linked it to Kiddo’s anchor with a prang. Each of the six clamps around the deltoid of the arm had either a nerve pin or myomer link. The links connected to the Flesh muscle to enable movement while the pins interfaced with the nervous system for control and power.
The clamps twitched while Enzo aligned the pins and links with the sockets and plugs in Kiddo’s skin. She bit her lower lip as he rotated the arm into place. From back to front the clamps came down on their respective ports. An electric grinding sounded from the arm and Kiddo tensed up with a groan, her fingers twitching like the legs of a dying spider. It ended as fast as it started and Kiddo relaxed with an exhale. She made a couple fists, the mod’s feedback on point.
“We should invest in non-invasive,” said Enzo readying the left arm. “They run on batteries and all you need is an RC chip.”
“I’ll get used to it.”
“It’s been 8 years, babe–“
“’Cause it takes a while,” she said with a tough grin. “And I’d rather save our money for Fr’isco than to spare me a little pain in the morning.”
Kiddo straightened up and prepared for the next arm. When it was secured and both mods were in synch, she pulled Enzo on top of her to the bed. He had to get up, but didn’t try hard enough to get away.
“I love you,” she said between kisses.
“Love you too,” he said, feeling her grip loosen.
Kiddo watched him exit out the front door, letting in the dull light from the hallway.
“I’ll see you at lunch,” he called out before darkness returned to the loft.
It was a full three hours before Kiddo decided to get up. Wearing only a thong she stood by the end of a counter in the kitchen at the corner of the loft with her hand on a switch. With a turn of a knob the blinds covering the whole wall opened halfway, letting in the 9AM sun in thick stripes. Of course, it wasn’t much with overcast filtering the light.
The TV on the other side of the loft in the living room played the latest from a pair of painted up news anchors as Kiddo reached into the fridge. As she gulped down a bottle of chocolate flavored meta-milk they described a slew of world events and scandals like it was something special. Nuclear exchanges in Kashmir, another mass grave found in the United States of Mexico, and new Libertaire skirmishes against the Corporatist Europe Bloc.
Kiddo brushed her teeth at a sink situated on the back wall. Behind her was a freestanding tub with a little a drawer set and towels. She had to wear plastic gloves to keep water out of her hands, one of many flaws in cheap mods. After putting on her usual attire of jeans and crimson pea coat Kiddo made for the front door, cap and glasses in hand as her knife swung from her belt.
Dying bulbs on the walls lit the hall when she stepped out. After locking the door Kiddo walked to the elevator one door over. It opened the second she hit the button. On the other side stood a ginger in a sundress and denim jacket with a stack of books in hand.
“Morning, Miss Volk,” she said.
“Hey, Sally.” Kiddo came in beside her before the doors shut. “How’s your mom?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t know. She’s been out and about everyday since the operation.”
“Must be real happy she can walk again.”
“Yeah. I might have to go back to Portland now that she doesn’t need me anymore.”
The elevator stopped with a ring and opened to the lobby. The floor was tiled with molding around the corners and a wall of bronze mailboxes.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Kiddo keeping to Sally’s side as they walked to the front door. “Parents like having their kids around when they get old and ugly. At least, that’s what movies tell me.”
“Maybe,” she said as they came out onto the sidewalk.
Kiddo put on her cap.
“Stay in school, Sally,” she said before putting on her glasses.
“Thank you, ma’am. See you later.”
They parted ways in opposite directions, Kiddo stuffing her gloved hands in her coat pockets.
It was too early for Le Speak to prep for the night. For now it was a lounge for Gori soldiers and package boys waiting for orders. They congregated at the bar eating breakfast from foam boxes, each one of them with a wax coffee cup from the same joint. Lotch was behind the bar checking and cleaning glasses with a rag.
“Y’know,” said one Gori, “ya gonna spread whatever y’wipin’ from one glass to another usin’ the same rag.”
“Are you a bartender, Donny?” asked Lotch gesturing him with his mod hand holding the rag. “Could use some help tonight if you’re not too busy.”
“I’m just sayin’ that aint doin’ the glass much good or the customers that’ll be puttin’ their mouths on it.”
“Try working the dishwasher at a pizzeria and then tell me if this is sanitary.”
Kiddo came through the doors and made for a spot at the middle of the bar.
“Morning, Pinkerton,” said Lotch, the Goris giving their own greetings after.
“Hey, guys,” she replied taking her seat. ”Cici in?”
“Should be,” said Lotch.
“Door was shut when I got here,” added Donny.
“It’s always–“ before another Gori could finish his sentence, the office door burst open.
The whole bar turned to Takashi running out of the room with a thick book following him through the air. It wasn’t fast enough, hitting the floor with a thump. He faced the open threshold as Cicero staggered into view, looking all sorts of furious.
“What’d I say,?” asked Takashi. “What’d I do?”
“It’s what ya didn’t do, ya schnook!” answered Cicero walking toward him. “Do I look senile to you? Do I look beat?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Cicero turned to the bar.
“Boys, do I look old and stupid to ya?”
“Spry as a young man, Boss–”
“Ain’t aged a day–“
“Then tell me way Tak over here couldn’t friggin’ call me last night with some pertinent information? Here’s my friggin’ cell,” he said pulling his phone out. “It’s always on loud so my bum ears can hear it and I always friggin’ answer!”
Takashi caught the phone after Cicero threw it at him.
“Mind cluing us in, Boss,” asked Kiddo.
When he turned to her his expression got deadly serious. He gestured her to follow as he returned to the office, Takashi coming in behind. Inside they stood by while Cicero locked the door.
“Something tells me this is Barney,” she said.
“For sure,” said Takashi.
“’Member that new girl we sent to the hackers yesterday morning?” asked Cicero to Kiddo.
“Mitty got an alert on some Yaks the coppers’re surveillin’ and she was on the other end of a bugged line.”
“He told Tak last night and he didn’t feel it was important enough to tell me after.”
“I get it,” said Tak. “I screwed up.”
“She working today?” asked Kiddo.
“It’s ‘er day off,” said Cicero, “which is a perfect time to pull her off the streets before she squeals.”
“She’s probably told the Yaks a lot–“
“That aint the point, son! We get her outta the picture today. And whatever this stooly’s got on us, she’s got plenty on them. Nobody else knows about this except us and Mitty. We keep it confidential, she won’t find out from anyone else.”
“Want her live?” asked Kiddo.
“Exactly. Track her down, jump ‘er brain for information, and bring her to me wrapped up like a friggin’ Christmas present. Be gentle, Pinkerton. I mean it.”
“Won’t let you down, Boss.”
“Take Takashi with ya. He’s gonna help fix his mistake before it gets any worse.”
Next to hash parlors and cathouses, coffee shops took up what’s left of the real estate. If you know anything about Seattle, that shouldn’t surprise you. With so many shops you’d think the people have coffee for blood.
Like the next joint not even a block over, this shop was packed with vampires getting their daily dose of grande black. A line snaked before a display window of pre-baked pastries. It barely moved because every other suit took a dictionary’s worth of words to make their order. Among them was the Mark, a Japanese Andie with red eyes and a black undercut. She wore a silk vest over a dress shirt with suspender straps holding it all together.
At the bottom-left corner of the shop window Takashi held his phone with the camera looking inside. He leaned against a brick wall, keeping his body in cover while Kiddo watched the flanks. A cord fed from the phone to the back of Takashi’s right ear.
“Still in line?” she asked.
“Yes, for the second time,” he said with his eyes closed. “It’s past ten. Why are people still getting coffee?”
“Who knows? Lemme go in and pull her out the old fashion way.”
Takashi opened his eyes to stop her from getting past him.
“You wanna get made by some Yak spy? We’re out in the open, Pink. Use your friggin’ head.”
“At this point, why’re we holding back? Let’s snatch her and deal with whatever comes after.”
“This is my mess and we’re gonna clean it up however I damn-well want,” he said, looking at her dead in the eye. “You been here almost a decade and still act like you’re fighting for air and space.”
Kiddo backed off.
“Same fight, different city if you ask me.”
Takashi shook his head and went back to a lean.
“You’re impossible,” he said closing his eyes.
“And you’re always wound up tight as a virgin. If you relax and cut loose, maybe you’d enjoy yourself every once an’ a while.”
“I don’t need help relaxing–“
“Can’t do it here, boy.”
Suddenly Takashi stood up and quickly put his phone is his pocket. Kiddo remained casual, hands in her coat pockets.
The Copper sat on a quad-ped, a four-legged mech with proportions equivalent to a horse. It was fitted with a siren and lights behind the saddle and unit markings around the front shoulders. The Copper wore an armor vest and helmet with a tinted visor. It looked like one piece, covering everything except his chin, lips, and nostrils. A silver badge was fixed over his heart and on his right sleeve the TalSec claw was sewn under the US flag. A combi-pistol sat in a holster on his hip. It was like a regular shooter, but with a shotgun tube under the barrel.
“IDs, citizens,” said the Copper, craning toward them. Kiddo and Takashi held their ID cards facing out between their fingers. The Copper’s visor blinked blue before he looked to Kiddo’s card. When it blinked again, he sat up in his saddle. “Glad to see you’re naturalized, Volk. Immigration sure took their sweet damn time.”
“You ICE or something?” she asked.
“I’m a lawman doin’ my job and you weren’t legal for four straight years… Mind explainin’ why you two are loiterin’ on my sidewalk?”
“Oh, we’re just waiting for a friend to get her coffee,” said Takashi with a smile.
“You know how it is,” added Kiddo. “Rush hour.”
The Copper kept his visor directed at Kiddo, his mouth locked in a stubborn frown.
“We’ll be gone once she gets out,” said Takashi. “We’re not looking for trouble.”
“Why leave so soon?” asked the Copper, nudging his quad-ped. “I could use an excuse to clean house.”
They waited until he was out of earshot.
“Clearly someone’s not taking his bonus,” said Kiddo.
“Get his badge number?” asked Takashi.
“Text Mitty. Let ‘im know one of his coworkers was about to smear us.”
“I wouldn’t worry ‘bout it. He was just venting.”
“Yeah,” he said turning back to the shop window. “Wait ‘til that venting turns into a buck-shot lobotomy–“ Takashi’s eyes bugged out before he shoved himself against the window. “Where’d she go?”
“She dipped?” asked Kiddo. “Did you see where she went?”
“That friggin’ pig was distracting me,” he said pulling the cord from his neural port and frantically swiping through his phone.
Kiddo peaked into the window and threw up her arms.
“…Damn-it! Footage goes black before I could see.” Takashi pocketed his phone and the cord. “Take one end of the block and I’ll go the other. Call if you spot ‘er.”
They started going in opposite directions.
“And if I don’t?” she asked.
“Back here in 20.”
On her side of the block Kiddo jogged at a quick gate, dodging between pedestrians. She made sure to give each of them a good long look at the back of their heads before darting past. Kiddo looked back to make sure they weren’t the Mark.
At crosswalk stood a small crowd waiting for the green light. She took her time and walked to the front of the crowd, nearly stepping in front of a ground car driving by. The people didn’t pay attention to Kiddo staring at each of them, probably wondering what drugs she was on. When the crowd started to cross, they moved around her like a stone in a stream.
Kiddo turned on her heels trying to get the last of their faces before it was too late. She grimaced and pushed through the people, crossing to the next block, this time at a run.
Takashi wasn’t having much luck either. He walked fast down the block, keeping close to the curb to scan everyone to his right. Every now and then he sped up to a jog to get a look at the next set of people up ahead. When he came toward an alley, a black limo came in off the street, and blocked him from moving forward. Monty stepped out and Takashi almost fell backward.
“Get in.” He barely hesitated and sat on the other side by the window. Once Monty got in and shut the door the limo reversed back onto the street. In the opposite corner at the front end sat the Mark, sipping her coffee. “Real sloppy, Takashi. Real sloppy.”
He put on a smile to hide his terror.
“Hard to disagree, Monty. I could say the same for this dame here,” he said gesturing the Mark. “Ever heard of caller encryption, rubber-head?”
“Up yours, meat.” she retorted.
“That the best you–“ Takashi showed his true colors when Monty pushed him into the window with his sheath pressed to his neck.
“The Shogun’s getting tired of the back and forth. This little foul-up’s moved everything ahead of schedule. You and your half-breed partner are on borrowed time that’s quickly running out.”
“Half-breed?” asked Takashi, struggling to conceal his fear as sweat crawled down his forehead. “That’s rich coming from a white boy playing Yakuza.”
“Says a Jap playing Mafioso. Soon you’ll be replaced and Cicero’s operation ours. Got anything snappy on your mind, better say it now.”
Takashi hesitated to look away from Monty’s stare, and glanced to the Mark. He turned back and swallowed hard.
Takashi pulled a long drag from the cigarette. He leaned against the wall by the coffee shop window, staring off into nowhere as pedestrians passed him by. There came a repetitive click of boots heels to pavement before Kiddo came to a stop. She held herself up by her knees, breathing hard.
“You too?” he asked dropping his cigarette and crushing it underfoot.
“Gave the block a second go,” she said between breaths. “Nothing.”
“Could be on her way home,” he said coming off the wall. “Up for a stakeout or do you want to give up?”
Kiddo stood tall, forcing her breath to slow.
“Ready when you are.”
The apartment was an old brick building seven stories up in Ravenna. It was out of the way to say the least in a neighborhood on the edge of extinction, run down and neglected. It wasn’t filthy or anything; you could say it was fashionably desolate.
Takashi made the smart choice to park his hov-car just before the front of the building on the curb to the right. Kiddo sat in the passenger seat with her phone directed at the top of the stoop. She fingered the screen to zoom in on a polished steel panel next to the door. The panel had a screen close to the bottom edge and the glass bubble of a camera at the top.
“Yep,” she said bringing her phone down. “Biometric.”
“Damn-it!” said Takashi.
“Relax. All I need it my deck from home.” Kiddo leaned forward to look down the side of the building. “Could use the fire escape. Windows are easy.”
“And risky. All that clanking and shaking will spook the whole neighborhood.”
“Sure,” she sat back and pulled her cap over her eyes, “but it won’t matter until we see her.”
As she attempted to catch some zees, Takashi stared at the building. He didn’t know what to look at, scanning the brick in anticipation for movement at the one spot that mattered. He made a low sigh, closing and opening his fist like an annoying habit.
“Got a question for you,” he said.
“How loyal are you to Cici?”
“If he told me to kill you, I’d do it.”
“I think you’d do it regardless. What I mean is, if you’re so loyal, why are you seconds away from two-timing him?”
Kiddo pushed her cap up.
“Cici said no bloodshed and I hear you flashed your blade at the docks. He wanted this little stanch-‘n’-grab done quiet and you almost flew off the handle before we got started. Looks to me like you’re only loyal when you wanna stay in his good graces. When the chips are down, you’re in it for yourself.”
“If you were in my world, you’d get it.”
“Don’t think I would; I’m not a professional psychopath.”
“I mean doing what’s necessary. You don’t deal with savages with courtesy; you use worse savagery. As far as I see it, we needed to take drastic action months ago. Sitting on our hands hasn’t gotten us a damn thing. Cici needs me to take it further or we get swallowed, even if he tells me not to.”
“You screw up and kill someone you shouldn’t, it reflects poorly on him.”
“Y’think?” she asked turning to him. “I’m the kind of broad that does what decent folks can’t. I cut loose, of course it’s gonna look bad for the man in charge. But who’s gonna say anything if it gets us what we need? You think people talked about the civilian casualties in Mexico or over in the PCS? No, because it got positive results.”
“That’s real comic book thinking, Pinkerton.”
“It’s logic and rational. Everyone knows it, but they’re too busy shaking in their boots to say it. I reckon you want me to go into that apartment, wait till she comes back, and come out with her head in a bag. Easier to plug in without arms and legs fighting back.”
“Clearly you don’t know me.”
“True. But maybe you don’t know yourself.”
Takashi shook his head.
“I’m starting to think it was Barney having you with me.”
“Oh! Up for a little of your own insubordination?”
“I know Cici told you to stick around, but I still out-rank you. Take a little break, Pink. Almost lunch time at the body shop, anyway.”
Kiddo stared at him for a moment then nodded.
“I’ll send a footie in my place,” she said opening the gull door.
“Need cash for the train?”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said closing the door.
Takashi adjusted the rearview to watch her skinny frame walk down the sidewalk. It took a long couple seconds until she rounded a corner and a few more before he got out of the car. He crossed to the apartment building, opening his suit jacket.
Kiddo brought a sandwich stuffed with lettuce and chocolate meta-milk to the body shop. She sat on the stoop with Enzo, packed in with other gear-heads on lunch break. He ate a white wafer bar, the only thing Andies could and had to eat, lest they run out of blood to keep them running properly.
“I’m always careful,” she said.
“I know, but you usually end up overheating the servos and seizing the joints,” he said. “We’re lucky none of the m-cells have burst. Model Fs are too cheap to handle stress.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Kiddo looked at her palm and made a couple soft fists. “But that’s why I got you to fix me.”
Before she took another bite, she planted a kiss on Enzo’s cheek, making him grin like a fool.
“…Oh, yeah!” he said. “I almost forgot.” He dug through his cargo pocket for a small tablet. “I made a top ten list that needs your approval.” Enzo passed the tablet to Kiddo. On the screen was a list of faces with basic physical traits stacked to the left. She scanned each block of text, scrolling down with her finger. “What do you think?”
“…Can we meet them in person?” she asked. “I wanna make sure none of them are crazy. That stuff’s genetic.”
“I don’t know if the clinic will allow it. Some of these guys put a no-contact clause on their profiles. Might cost more to meet the ones that don’t.”
“I’m sure we can spare a few hundred. I’ll go through it on my own and pick the top three. That okay?”
Enzo smiled and put his arm around her.
“As long as they look close to me.”
“Of course they will. I want him to have your hair–”
“And your eyes.” Kiddo ignored the vibration of her phone as they held a long kiss. “If only humans were mass-produced,” he whispered close to her.
“We are. It’s called unprotected sex.”
As Enzo laughed as she put her phone to her ear.
“She’s back,” said Takashi.
Kiddo sat up straight.
“On my way.“
“No. We wait till dark.”
“And risk her getting wise sooner than–“
“Quit questioning me, Volk! We’re taking the safe route. Got it?”
She frowned and pocketed the phone.
“Everything okay?” asked Enzo.
“Just work stuff. Might need to stay late up town a bit.”
“Mm-hm… Sorry, babe.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said stroking her cheek with his thumb. “About time you started working hard.”
She smiled and rested her head on his shoulder.
The street lights weren’t much help. Only a few actually worked and most of them flickered. The best illumination came from a full moon hanging above the street. Kiddo stared at it as she walked. Cut across the ash-white surface where the dark lines and circles of the Luna Colony, dotted with lights from residences on the morning cycle and landing pads.
She moved carefully and at a smooth pace, bringing her whole foot to the pavement starting from the heel. Kiddo kept her head on a swivel, glancing over her shoulder at regular intervals. The street was deserted, but all it takes is one witness to get you pinched.
Most of the lights were on at the apartment, including one over the stoop. Kiddo stood just before the first step and looked around the front windows, scanning for silhouettes and even the slightest sign of movement. She turned to the street to her left and waved her arm. A Gori sitting in a car down a ways got out on to the sidewalk, leaving her with a wave back.
Kiddo ascended the stoop and stopped at the steel panel by the door. She gave her flanks a thorough glance before pulling a thick flat-head screwdriver from her coat pocket. She worked the gap between the metal and brick, prying the panel away. It came down on a hinge at the bottom edge, circuits and wires laid bare behind the metal. Kiddo pocketed the screwdriver and reached into her inside pocket for her deck.
To call it jerry-rigged would be an understatement. The deck was built from a police hand-scanner that you plug your phone into. From a hole on the front side where a lens should’ve been snaked a wrap of three individual wires tipped with micro clamps. Along the edge of the scanner’s box frame where Kiddo held on were ports for different plugs and a set of additional wire attachments for when they’re needed.
Kiddo put her phone in the slot to the right of the deck’s frame vertically. The screen blinked to a field of black before lines of white code scrolled down in rapid succession. As she unwrapped the wire, the code slowed to a stop, ending with the line ‘/ext?/’ in a font big enough for her to press with a thumb.
First she placed the clamps around the guts of the panel around the biometric scanner towards the bottom. Once they were set, Kiddo clicked the last line, and the code began to scroll. She watched it tick away, the lines getting smaller and smaller, checking her flanks again. When the door clicked, Kiddo quickly grabbed the handle, and held it open with her foot. She yanked the wires and pushed the panel back into place, making sure it was secure to the brick, and walked in.
The lobby was done up in an old fashion style. It had a thin carpet floor and a floral print covering the walls. Even the light fixtures appeared to be antiques, no doubt painted to look brass if you know your metals. The wooden stairs proved more inconvenience than aesthetically pleasing when Kiddo made her way up, creaking with every step. She took her time, moving up to the fifth floor on her tiptoes.
The door wasn’t far from the steps, situated on the left side of the hall. Kiddo peered round the corner before dashing to the other side, her gaze fixed on the door. She moved slow, keeping her back parallel to the wall. You could say she was being overdramatic, but better safe than sorry. As Kiddo drew closer, she reached into her coat for the lock picks in her e-cig case. When she looked up after picking out a pair of tools, Kiddo went statue.
The door was already cracked open.
She was twice as slow this time, putting the picks and case back in their place. Kiddo reached for her knife, but kept the blade retracted, and held it right side up. At the edge of the threshold she put her palm flat to the door and daintily pushed. As it swung open Kiddo started to get the simple layout of the apartment. It started with a pristine kitchen on the right side, as you’d expect from an occupant that doesn’t need one. Then there was a desk at the far right corner with a jacket hanging on the chair. Kiddo stopped when she saw the Mark sitting at a small table by the window, a giant hole where her face should’ve been.
She opened the remainder of the door, making sure the apartment was empty before stepping in.
The Mark was seated with her arms hanging to the sides. The hole wiped out most of her features with the smaller entry wound behind her right ear. On the floor in front of the chair was a stain of white blood where laid a pile of biomechanical guts that used to be the Mark’s brain. Kiddo tilted the head back, peering into the near hollow chamber of silicon bone. On the table sat a half-eaten wafer cake and a cup of cold coffee. Kiddo smelled the mouth port on the cup before pulling out her phone. She closed and locked the door as it rang.
“Moshi moshi?” asked Takashi.
“Girl’s got a hole in her face,” she said touching the bloodstain.
“Why’d you do that!”
The stain was dry, leaving white dust on her gloved fingertips.
“I don’t carry a gun, Tak. I just showed up and found her like this.”
“Oh, great. Just what I needed. Did you jump her brain?”
“Try anyway. That’s an order.”
Kiddo tightened her lips and rolled her eyes before standing up. She pulled a cord from her back pocket, plugged one end into the phone, and the other into the neural port in the Mark’s neck. A white wheel spun in the center of the screen for a moment before a line of text blinked ‘Unable to Connect.’ Kiddo yanked the cord and put the phone to her ear.
“Damn it… Alright, we’ll do it your way. Cut her head off and–“
“There’s no point anymore. Her short and long-term drives are mush. Even if I put all the little pieces in a baggie, we won’t get a thing.”
“Just because you’re screwing an Android doesn’t mean you’re an expert, Pinkerton.”
“Yes. It kinda does. I’m more interested in who clipped this stooly’s wings than–“
Whoever was climbing the stairs wanted Kiddo to hear them coming, their steps echoing through the apartment. She knew there wasn’t time for delicacy, shoving the Mark and the table to side as she darted to the window. Kiddo’s arms whined as she lifted it open, letting in the hard stink of the alley below. She peaked out and sitting at the bottom was a pile of trash bags with her name on it.
Kiddo didn’t think twice and hopped out, keeping one hand on the windowsill while the other pulled her knife. Just as there came a banging at the door she popped the blade and dragged it through the masonry on her way down. Kiddo angled her face away from the sparks and watched the bottom getting closer. At ten feet up she kicked off the wall and landed on her back.
Luckily, none of the bags burst on impact. She rolled to the side until there was solid ground under her feet. Obviously the danger wasn’t over, Kiddo making sure to not step in any puddles or the usual noisemakers. She hugged the wall of the apartment and worked her way toward the front end. Around the corner a dormant hov-car with police colors sat in the street.
“What’s going on?” asked Takashi, his voice a whisper from the phone’s speaker.
“Almost got jumped by some cops,” said Kiddo walking down the other end of the alley.
“What? In the apartment?”
“Somebody knew I was there.”
“Y’think a neighbor or a–“
“The blood was too dry to be recent. Someone set this up and sprung it the moment I stepped through the front door.”
“I’ll send someone to–“
“Uh, maybe you should take the night–“
“Be there soon,” she said before hanging up.
After coming out to a more friendly side of the block, Kiddo started to run.
The girl was rendered in three frames. The first started with a stand and a slightly raised knee, followed by a higher knee with her spiked heel out, and ending with her leg pointed to sky. Her dance blinked with every frame change in orange and red. Beneath her the real merchandise was on display. Against red curtains behind windows the women looked out onto the street, showing off as much skin as legally possible. They were Andies, Flesh, and Modded; every kind to fit any taste.
The hash parlor next door was bleached in green. Perched on balconies, grasshoppers took long pulls from hookahs and hand wrapped joints. The smoke drifting from their lazy maws was colored green by the sign bolted just below the roof. The rest of the street was lined with a garden variety of clubs and bars. There were the usual places mixed in with Goth ballrooms, oldies houses, Steampunk pubs, and pirate themed dives. They flashed their colors toward the packed sidewalks, painting the crowd in shades of neon.
Like I said: you had to wait till dark to see all the color.
Kiddo pushed her way through the drunks and oblivious hipsters, her face locked forward. Le Speak was painted in blue and white, the sign so big it lit the whole face of the building. The line waiting underneath was dressed up like flappers. They weren’t too authentic with designer prints and saturated colors fit for the modern aesthetic.
Takashi stood to the far right of the awning as a large Modded bouncer carded prospective patrons to the left. He was staring at the curb with a cigarette in hand, the paper nearly burned to the filter. Out of his peripheral he spotted Kiddo making her way his direction, the look in her eye like a spotlight in blackness. Takashi flicked the cigarette into the street and put himself in front of her.
“Pink,” he said with his palms out, “think real hard about–“
She walked past him like he wasn’t there, pivoting down the steps to the club beneath the awning. Kiddo almost knocked over a couple moving too slow before she reached the doors.
The kind of crowd that waited in line for hours to buy overpriced cocktails didn’t come to Le Speak for the typical nightclub experience. They couldn’t stand synthesizers, ear-bleeding bass, and pockets of young adults rubbing against each other on the dance floor. No. They came to Le Speak to sit at tall round tables under dim lights for the chaotic sax, bellowing trombone, and drums bashing out an incoherent tune.
The place had plenty of space for Kiddo to work her way to the office. Takashi caught up with her before she was ten feet away from the door.
“You gotta stop and think about what you’re about to do.”
When she tried to walk around, he moved to block her.
“You’re gonna get more trouble than you can imagine. The last thing you should do is jump to conclusions that Cici–“
Kiddo shoved him into the packed bar, making a patron spill on herself. Takashi was late on the recovery when she opened the door. Cicero was at his desk crunching the numbers in a book while glancing at a tablet. He looked up to Kiddo with a smile.
“Hey ya, Kiddo! Job done?”
“I don’t know, Boss,” she said taking the chair. “You tell me.”
One of Cicero’s sharp eyebrows went crooked before he put down his pen and closed the book. Takashi busted into the office, looking like he was expecting a scene from a horror movie.
“Tak,” said Cicero, “would you mind shutting the door and standing by? I get the feeling Pink’s got something on her mind.” Takashi swallowed hard and closed the door on his way to Cicero’s rear flank. “Okay. We’re all ears. How’d it go with the stooly?”
Kiddo leaned forward, resting her elbow on one knee and holding herself up on the other, her eyes daggers pointed square at Cicero’s.
“Someone got to her before me and put a hole in her face.”
Cicero didn’t move a muscle.
“Yeah. Couldn’t get a single line of code from what was left.”
“That puts us in quite a pickle. Now the Yaks have god-knows-what on us and we’re left with our trousers round our ankles. I take it you wanna know who pasted her, right?”
“I have an inkling.”
“Would love to hear it.”
“…Okay,” she said grabbing her knife. “While I was tracking down the stooly, you cut a deal with the Shogun. Maybe you got scared about what that Andie broad was going to leak and decided to bend the knee. Only problem is you knew I’d kill half our own boys before I bowed to friggin’ Japs. So, you staged a murder to peg me for the fall guy to get snatched by the cops. My guess is you told Tak to plug her and lie to me over the phone.”
Takashi’s face turned scarlet.
Cicero put up his hand to shut him up.
“Once I was outta the way,” she went on, “you and your new friends could move forward unchallenged. But here I am, Cici.”
“…And here you are, Pink.” Cicero had a smirk on his face since she started talking. It bent into a small smile when he took off his glasses and interlocked his fingers on the desktop. “’Member when we first met?”
She gave him a slow nod.
“I was checking on an arrival of pills at the docks from Nampo. The boys cracked open the box and out you came, biting at ‘em like a rabid dog. Somehow ya got in with the merch and survived the trip across the pond and put two of my people in the hospital. My first thought was to turn you over to the state an’ let ‘em deal with it, but when you looked at me, I knew I found someone special. Those wild blue eyes of yours lookin’ at me were like an epiphany from the Almighty.”
As he talked, Kiddo realized she’d done wrong.
“I had a use for a crazy Russo-Nork bitch like you. All ya needed was a bit of elbow grease. People called me nuts for how much I was spending on ya. Even this guy,” he said gesturing Takashi, “barely a hair on his sack at the time, was telling me you were a bad investment. But I took the time and money to sharpen you up into a proper Gorinni. I got ya good an’ clean, citizenship with a new name, and fresh arms right from the factory floor. That’s a lotta dough to spend on one person in a short period of time, more than I spend on my own kids, for Christ’ sake.
“Now let me ask you this: knowing how much I poured into making you my best bruiser, why would I throw that away to submit to the Yaks? Do you think I would ever make a deal with those jerks while I have the biggest chunk of the town and the cops in my pocket? Doesn’t make whole lot of sense, does it?”
Like flipping a switch she went humble, dropping the knife with bright red cheeks. Kiddo sat back in the chair, her eyes on the verge of spilling over.
“I forgive you, Kiddo. You were just following your instinct. That’s why I keep ya around.”
She wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
“But I came here to kill you.”
“Who hasn’t? The only difference is you bothered to say your piece and hear my side. You may be vicious, but ya got enough sense to think twice.”
Kiddo sniffled and returned her knife to her belt.
“I’m sorry, Cici. I’m so sorry.”
“No more apologies,” he said sitting up straight. “We gotta get to the bottom of this ASAP.”
She made a quick nod.
“Now, the only people who knew about our stooly problem was us and Mitty. Is that right?” he asked looking to Takashi.
He replied with a nod as he unbuttoned his jacket.
“There was that footie I sent to take over after I was relieved,” said Kiddo, “but I never told him what was going on. And we don’t give the lower ranks guns.”
“Was he keeping track of who was coming in an’ outta that place?” asked Cicero.
Kiddo touched her chin then dug through her pocket for her phone.
“Let me get him on horn. See if he remembers–“
The spray was near burning hot when it splashed across her forehead. To cooled instantly, creeping down her furrowed brow. The thump made Kiddo jump in her seat, but it was Cicero hitting the desktop that made her go statue. All she could see was his head lying on the desk, blood pooling atop the leather desk pad. Soon the whole picture came into view with Takashi holding a suppressed pistol where Cicero’s head used to be. He broke the silence with a sigh.
“Wow. I really screwed this one up.”
He holstered the pistol into his jacket before daintily picking Cicero’s upper body off the desk.
Everything but her eyes struggled to catch up with her brain. Kiddo’s lips started to quiver when she found the strength to speak.
“What did you do?”
Takashi looked only a tad guilty when he glanced from his cleanup.
“It was me. I cut a deal with the Yaks in exchange for Cici’s life. They agreed to let us keep our territory and operations for a 10% cut. I killed the stooly to get you snatched by the cops so I could keep you outta the way until I saw fit. Obviously, that didn’t happen.”
Kiddo kept her gaze on the bloodstain before a blue handkerchief wiped it up in long strokes. It gave her time to focus on him.
“When you escaped the guys Mitty sent over, I thought I could exploit that Pinkerton rage. Over the phone it sounded like you thought Cici put together the frame and were out for his blood. Seemed like I was on to something until he had you near bawling like a baby.” The only sounds she made came from whining servos as she held a pair of tight fists and a squeak of her gloves reaching their breaking point. “Usually some of the best outcomes come from botched jobs,” said Takashi taking the seat. “I was gonna ask when you were behind bars, but I don’t have much a choice. I need a good right-hand to help deal with whatever comes up. Someone who knows their stuff; preferably someone I know can get the job done no matter what. How ‘bout it, Kiddo? Wanna help me run the Family?”
The servos made a pathetic revving sound when she relaxed her hands, struggling to make the simplest of motions. Kiddo looked at her faux leather gloves, the material crumbled with a split seams. Her phone was sitting on her thigh, the screen facing up. She saw her bloodstained forehead in the reflection and her cheeks wet with fresh tears.
“What do you say, Kiddo?”
The blood rushed to her face.
“…You should’ve kept your gun out.”
Takashi was too slow when her chair flipped backwards. Kiddo launched herself over the desk and pinned him to the bookcase, knocking over the chair. One hand on his neck she drew her knife.
“Okay! Okay! Go easy, man–“
“Long past the point of easy, Tak. I would’ve liked the sound of your offer without the gunshot.”
“I had no choice! They wanted him outta the picture for good. No other option.”
“In Pyongyang there were plenty of options; just had to learn ‘em. I didn’t have arms, so I had to learn a lot.” With a stiff jerk Kiddo slammed Takashi onto the desk, leaning hard with her knee to his chest so he wouldn’t move. “You had every opportunity to fight back and it looks to me like you didn’t even try. They must’ve scared you good.” She made sure he saw the knife inverted in her hand before resting the edge on his throat. “The worst part is you didn’t think how this would destroy your honor.”
Takashi’s eyes darted back and forth, trying to find the right answer.
“Think about Enzo! Your trip to San Fran! How’re you gonna get your hefty bonus if you kill your boss?”
That last word was all it took. Kiddo’s eyes went wide as she bared her teeth in a hard grimace. Her other hand pressed to Takashi’s forehead, she twisted her body to raise the blade to the side, her aim fixed on his Adam’s apple. She would have sliced all they way through if her phone didn’t start to vibrate.
It’d landed on the corner of the desk when she dove. As it rang the screen was alight with the photo of Enzo smiling with Kiddo’s lips to his cheek. She couldn’t take her eyes off the image, still holding Takashi. You could see the fury slowly drain from her face, leaving a solid bleak mask. It felt like a hole was suddenly bored into her chest, like a piece of her spirit evaporated into nothing.
Kiddo’s body was stubborn, her knife hand shaking as it relaxed to her side. Takashi was bug-eyed when she pulled her other hand away to pick up the phone. With a tap of her thumb the vibration ended.
“Hey,” she managed with a low tone.
“I just got home,” said Enzo. “Long day.”
“…Yeah,” she said pulling her knee away from Takashi. “Me too.”
He dropped to his hands and knees, trying to catch his breath.
“Are you almost done?”
Kiddo looked down at her knife.
“Nearly, babe.” She retracted the blade.
“Okay. So, I went through the list and brought it down to three. They fit our preferences, but only one is open to meeting in person.”
As he spoke, Kiddo walked back to her seat, Takashi straightening himself out.
“That’s fine. I’ll take a look when I get home.”
“Are you alright? You sound a little lethargic–”
“Just worn out is all.”
“Okay. I’ll be waiting when you get back. Love you.”
Kiddo turned to Takashi putting a small ream of hundred dollar bills on the desk. She looked at Benjamin Franklin staring back and couldn’t say a word.
The echo in the alley made her labored breath sound mechanical, like the noise was fed through a mixer, and looped in a bad song. Kiddo supported herself on her knees, eyes to the ground. What remained of her gloves held on to her cracked fingers in tatters. When she reached to wipe sweat hanging on her brow, her hand was locked in a claw still holding her knee. The joints whined and the broken plastic plating scratched her skin.
Kiddo pulled her hand away and saw the exposed servos. The hand itself wasn’t overly damage, but the cosmetics were ruined. On the ground she saw bits of ivory polymer scattered by the wall she’d boxed seconds ago. Kiddo’s face scrunched into a grimace before giving her self a hard slap. The next strike to her left was harder and louder, leaving behind a pink handprint. Her lip quivered.
“Suka.” She sniveled. “Suka!” She gave herself a few more, trading up to punches with weak fists. It was all her hands could manage. “Suka! Suka! Suka!”
The last one nearly knocked Kiddo off her feet. She grabbed a dumpster on the side to stay up, her face red with crimson scratches on her cheeks.
“You coward,” she whispered before standing straight. Kiddo pulled the edge of her coat and wiped down her front side, trying to look as together as possible. “You coward.”
After picking up her cap she left the alley, taking it slow.
Enzo turned in bed to the door when Kiddo entered. She quickly closed and locked it so he wouldn’t see her face.
“Sorry I’m late.”
He crawled to the left edge of the bed to meet her, coming to his knees before a long kiss.
“No,” she said letting her coat fall to the floor. “I wanna go to bed.”
“Not before you have a bath,” he said kissing her neck and slipping a hand under her shirt. She was too distracted to stop Enzo from turning on the light atop the nightstand. “Oh my god, babe!”
Kiddo tried to cover her face.
He grabbed her hands and looked at them closely.
“Were you in a fight? The plating’s destroyed and the joints are seized.”
“I- yeah. I got into a scrape. I can still move ‘em.”
The whine of servos said otherwise and Enzo gave her a puppy-dog look. Kiddo turned her guilty face away before he got out of bed and picked her up like a baby. He was naked, his Android body traced with skin-deep lines around the shoulders, chest, hips, and neck.
He just smiled and carried her to the tub.
Kiddo didn’t have her arms as Enzo dabbed a cotton ball to her cuts. She winced as the disinfectant did its job before he applied a thin white bandage. Half her face was mended while he finished the other. He knelt on the outside of the tub with a first aid kit at his knee as she lay in soapy water.
“Did this guy have glass shards glued to his fists or something?” he asked.
“Probably just your sensitive skin. It’s not as awful as it looks. Swelling won’t be too bad. What’d this guy do?”
“Piss me off.”
“Not hard to imagine what he looks like, given what happened to your fingers. Should take me an hour to fix.”
“No. You have work in the morning.”
“It’s nothing. I can take care of it after I put you to bed.”
“Please don’t. I’ll manage. I can wear the Cs instead.”
“If you had a permit, then you could wear the Model Cs.” After mending the last cut Enzo approached his workbench where his bag sat. “Wanna take a look the top three?”
Kiddo grimaced to fight the urge to cry.
He knelt behind her and held the tablet in front. She was thankful he couldn’t see her face.
“See? All blonde and blue-eyed like we want, but only the last guy is willing to sit down and meet. You’re a better judge of character than me. What do you think?”
It felt like they were staring at her. Of course, they kind of were given the way their pictures were shot, but Kiddo could feel those static eyes judging her. They didn’t have to say a word to tell her the same thing she’d been thinking since leaving Le Speak with that wad of cash in her pocket.
“They’re perfect,” she said before burying her face in his arm.
She didn’t bother to hide anymore, her sob muffled when Enzo put his arms around her.
Suddenly he realized she wasn’t crying for joy, pulling her to his shoulder. He let her get most of it out.
“Is that why you were all beat up?”
“A hitman plugged him in the club,” she said between snivels. “I chased him down before he got far and… And–“
“It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.” He stroked her hair. “What can I do?”
She got a hold of herself.
“…Take me to bed.”
After putting on her arms Kiddo lay in bed while Enzo stepped into his coveralls. The lamp at his workbench was still on, his tools and broken parts from her hands scattered about.
“I’m going to leave early,” he said zipping up, “and come by the club. We’ll go home together.”
She was too tired to refuse.
After slipping into his sneakers Enzo sat on the side of the bed and took her hand, the broken polymer removed from certain sections of her fingers.
“Do you know when the funeral is?”
She shook her head.
“Might be working that out today. I don’t know.”
Enzo nodded and leaned in to kiss her. Kiddo made it last as long as she could, holding him close. He paused and rested his forehead on hers.
“Will you be okay?”
“…Yeah.” She gave him one for the road and let go. “I love you.”
Enzo half smiled.
“Love you too.”
Kiddo didn’t stay in bed once he left. With nothing on she went to her jeans and brought her knife to the workbench. Grabbing an Allen wrench from a set of small drawers she loosened one screw positioned on the narrow sides in the middle of the knife. The bottom half slipped away, revealing a cartridge holding a stack of thin, edged metal sheets inside. Kiddo set the cartridge to the side and reached into the bench’s main drawer.
Among random tools and spare parts sat a long cartridge. It added about seven inches to the knife for a total of ten. The long cartridge was fashioned into the hilt of a katana with a tsukamaki wrap in hard textured rubber. Kiddo took the cartridge and screwed it in place, turning her knife into a sword.
By the time she hung it to her belt it was hours past dawn. Dressed in her usual attire she descended the stoop outside, fresh bandages on her face and gloves to cover her fractured hands. Under her sunglasses she stared at Takashi standing by his hov-car at the bottom in a casual sharkskin suit with a red shirt, collar popped. His blue eye mod was switched to red to match his getup. Kiddo stopped a few steps from the sidewalk and watched him shake in his shoes.
“Start the car.”
Packed in like sardines you could cut the tension with a knife and sell the slices for a quarter an ounce. Takashi wore a headset as he drove the hov-car through a cloud. On the windshield vector graphics outlined his flight path and marked passing vehicles in the distance. Farther out it highlighted an oncoming rainstorm and buildings, the proximity scale counting down as he flew closer.
It’s stressful enough flying in Seattle weather, but Takashi had a whole lot more on his mind than safe driving. He couldn’t focus while sat next to an experienced enforcer itching to take his head. Kiddo didn’t look it with her cap and glasses, but he knew; he’d be stupid to think she was just swell after last night. He knew he had to say something.
“I didn’t wanna do it, okay? They didn’t give me an out. It was him or me.”
“If you gave a damn,” she said without turning from the windshield, “you’d given it up.”
“I’m not a friggin’ samurai, Volk. This is real life. Real odds. Real consequences. They would’ve wiped us out if I didn’t cooperate. It’s like you said, you don’t play nice with savages; you be more savage.”
“I didn’t mean to your own people… your own boss. Makes you less than a savage. You’re garbage.”
“Then why don’t you take out the trash? Huh? I lost enough face to earn me a spot beside Judas, Brutus, and all the other famous traitors. Yeah, I’m going straight to Hell, but I’m still breathing. I’m still kicking it like nothing happened. If you’re so much more loyal, more honorable than me, go ahead and do it. I dare you, Volk… You won’t lay another hand on me because you agree. This is real life with real odds and real consequences. Take my head and you lose that precious income. Raising a kid comes with a whole lot of expenditures. Most people are too scared of how much it costs to make babies. Only reason you’re doing it is ‘cause you can afford it…. But by all means; wanna kill me, now’s your chance.”
Takashi took his eyes off the road to see if she’d make a move. Nearly a whole minute she didn’t twitch, not one inch before he turned back.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”
What he didn’t see was her fist closed around her sword on the other side of the seat. Her hand shook, but not enough that the servos whined in reply.
When China started eating it’s guts after 70 years of peace, a lot of Japs set up shop on the West Coast. The fighting was separated by miles of saltwater, but it scared a good handful of expats and local businesses out of the home islands. America got a massive taste of the Nippon soon after, bringing over their customs, food, and gangs. For corporations that made the move, they had enough money to change the skyline of cities like Seattle.
The Kyrii Engineering tower was a perfect combination of glass and concrete. Sharp ridges and steep angles ran up the sides like spines, bending the late morning light onto itself. The broad sides of the tower faced the Puget Sound to the west and Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest in the east. The bottom third was a parking structure of dull concrete. Just below the tower proper were conveyer platforms extended outward, wide enough for a midsize hov-car.
Takashi followed the blinking lights to one platform as he came in slow. He lined himself according to the lines below and landed with a lurch, the thrusters kicking up dust before they went cold. The conveyer hummed to life and pulled the hov-car into the parking structure.
The interior was round and sectioned off into floors. It took up half the total structure, the bottom made for ground cars. In the center was a rotating arm with a wide wedge between two hydraulic clamps. Once Takashi and Kiddo got out the arm turned to their car. They moved to the right side before the wedge slid under and the clamps closed in snuggly around the vehicle. The arm retracted and lowered into the depths of the structure for an open parking space.
Between two empty platforms sat an elevator encased in concrete where stood Monty with a pair of Bots, your average humanoid automatons. They were naked without plating, showing off black myomer cells and servos attached to polished steel armature. All they had in the way of coverage was a yellow mempo mask and a basic red polymer head chassis. On their hips were telescopic batons where a steady hand rested, ready to be drawn on command.
The Bots’ movements were in synch and totally uniform, keeping the same distance and in step with each as they followed Monty at his rear flanks. They stopped when he met Kiddo and Takashi, his eyes fixed on the latter.
“I knew it.”
“What?” asked Takashi.
Monty dug into his suit jacket and tossed Takashi a black clip-on tie.
“Think this is a videogame? I expect flappers to dress like idiots, but you’re beyond the pale, Sterling. Put it on and try to look professional for once in your life.”
As Takashi turned down his collar, Monty looked to Kiddo.
“I said no weapons.”
“I was just about to say–“
“Waited the whole flight over, eh Sterling?”
“Shut-up.” Monty snapped his fingers and pointed at Takashi. “Sachi.”
The Bots turned their glossy camera eyes to Takashi before he spread his arms and legs. As they patted him down with their skeletal hands, Monty came face to face with Kiddo. He held a hand out and received her sword, his long fingers rotating and turning it over.
“Not a bad conversion,” he said.
“Any idiot can turn an Allen wrench,” she said.
“True, but nothing beats the real thing.”
“It’s just metal with an edge. What matters is how you use it.”
“That’s what they all say. What use is talk if you can’t back it up?”
He stared down at himself in the obsidian tint of her glasses. Kiddo took them off so they could have a proper conversation. Not long after the Bots stepped away from Takashi and faced Monty.
“Search complete,” said one in a metallic voice. “Subject clear.”
Neither broke eye contact when Monty returned Kiddo’s sword and did an about-face to the elevator.
“’Ey, that’s not a good idea, Monty,” said Takashi as the Bots followed. “I’m serious–“
“And I’m serious when I say if you two screw up this meeting, I’ll need an armed opponent.” He tapped the call button while Takashi and Kiddo caught up. “No hats or shoes in the conference room.”
With a ding the elevator opened to the conference room. Monty stood closest to the door, followed by his Bots, and Takashi and Kiddo leaning against the window looking out to the Puget Sound. The elevator was positioned at the far end of the room. It was wide open with a vaulted ceiling that set it apart from your average office space. Instead of plain walls and doors there were sliding rice paper walls. The floor was polished wood where stood a table that was so short you had to sit on your ass with cushions.
If you ignored our tepid trio in the elevator, there were only five people present in the room. Seated at the head was the Shogun, an old man on the edge of 80. He wore a business suit minus the jacket, hugging his skinny frame. Where his spine met his cranium an external drive hid under the curtain of grey hair. It had a slight curve, flush with his skull. To the Shogun’s left sat two box-standard Yaks, waiting for orders.
Opposite them was a suit and a not-your-average cop. The suit was about as basic as you could get when it comes to a salaryman; clean cut, young face, and a fresh two piece suit that put the Yak getup to shame. A portion of his hair on the left side was shaved and dotted with neural ports, one fitted with a translator chip by his ear. Next to him the cop wore a fancy double-breasted tunic of blue and silver. His stiff shoulder straps bore three stars with a badge and colored tabs over his heart. He looked old with a white flattop and goatee, but he was built like an athlete.
Everyone but the Shogun bothered to acknowledge the new arrivals, looking happy to see them.
“A moment, Montgomery,” he said from the other end of the room.
Monty and the Bots stepped out before they bowed.
The Shogun returned to the table.
“I trust we have an understanding, gentlemen?”
The cop nodded with a grimace.
“We do, but this isn’t over, Kyrii,” said the suit. “Plenty of variables left to consider.”
“Damn straight,” said the cop under his breath.
“Of course; battle’s over, but the war, and all that cliché nonsense. Think of this as an extended hiatus. We’ll lick our wounds and come back to the ring ready to start again. Agreed?”
The two nodded at the same time. The Shogun smiled and started to stand, the Yaks helping him.
“Have a good rest of your day, gentlemen,” he said with a bow.
The men bowed back and made for the elevator.
“Gimme 12 hours, access to R-‘n’-D, and I–“ said the cop with a conspicuous whisper.
“Save it for the car ride, Ira,” said the suit. “We have plenty of time.”
Kiddo, Takashi, and Monty were taking off their shoes when they passed. Kiddo caught the eye of the suit when she hung her hat on a hook above. It wasn’t much of stare, but enough she unconsciously logged his face in the back of her mind. The two broke it off when she had to move on into the conference room proper.
“A pleasure to finally meet you both,” said the Shogun. “Names and reputations can only get you so far.”
The Yaks helped him bow and everyone but Kiddo returned it. Takashi looked back at her standing with her hands in her pockets.
“Bow, you idiot,” he said under his breath.
One of the Yaks reached for a wakizashi on his belt before the Shogun waved him back.
“No need, Takashi-chan. Emotions are high enough thanks to your poor planning last evening.” The Shogun moved back to the head of the table. “Come sit. Let us talk business.”
The Yaks switched places and sat to the Shogun’s right. Monty was closest by the corner on the other side while Kiddo and Takashi stacked beside him.
The Shogun cleared his throat and clapped twice. The rice paper walls at the back of the Yaks slid to the side and out came a small troupe to join them. Five of the new arrivals carried something in their hands: a small ream of paper, a fancy raised cutting board, and three platters of nigiri. The platters were placed in the middle of the table while the cutting board and paper were set down by the edge.
“Feel free to indulge,” said the Shogun gesturing the platters. “Rest assured, none of it is poisoned.”
“I already ate.”
“Fair enough, Kiddo-chan.”
A short silence came to the table when the raw fish and rice was picked up and chewed whole.
“…So,” said Takashi, “shall we start?”
The Shogun smiled before he turned his back to the Yak by the corner. She pushed the old man’s hair out of the way and pulled the drive off, leaving behind a pair of old fashion neural ports, the kind that looked like headphone jacks glued to his skin. She replaced the drive with another that was more angular. The Shogun sat up straight, his eyelids quivering for a moment.
“Now we may start,” he said opening his eyes. “Firstly, what do they call you on the street, Kiddo-chan?”
She took what she could get.
The Shogun chuckled.
“I mean your nickname. I am afraid it is not in my backup, but I recall it is something consistent with the flapper terminology?”
Even if she wanted to kill the old man and his boys, she couldn’t help but feel a little humility in the presence of an elder.
“Aw! That’s it! Can you explain the meaning or is it in reference to your hair?”
“…Cici explained that a hundred years ago, when companies had problems with workers going on strike, they called the Pinkertons. They were mercs that cracked skulls, pulled security, and hunted people for the right price. I do all of that and with my hair he thought it fit.”
“Given your reputation, I could not agree more. Thank you for the in-depth explanation. Do you speak Japanese?”
“Not a word.”
“I cannot say I am surprised. Your heritage is Russian-Korean, two peoples Japan had treated rather unfairly.”
“Past is past.”
“True, but it is important to consider the faults of our ancestors when the need arises.”
“If that’s case, would you call the Rape of Nanking rather unfair?”
Everyone stopped eating and looked at her with calm shock. Takashi rubbed his eyes while Monty bit his lower lip and looked down. The Shogun pursed his lips and made a shallow grin.
“…Then I beg your pardon as I talk to Takashi-chan in Japanese. We may be American, but we mustn’t lose our language.”
“Don’t let me stop you,” she said grabbing a salmon nigiri, the table still looking at her.
The Shogun looked to Takashi straightening himself out.
“You did well,” he said in Japanese. “Your simple gambit saved lives that would have been lost had our conflict progressed.”
He inclined his head, digging through his memory for how to reply.
“Thank you, Kyrii-sama.”
“Instead, you sacrificed only two, one more than you were ordered to take.”
Suddenly Takashi knew he was in a bad spot.
“I-I didn’t see any other way.”
“That Android was my secretary before she was soul’d. And yet, after gaining her individuality, she decided to stay by my side. She made her own life and you took it for a ploy that was unnecessary.”
“I couldn’t get to Cicero if Kiddo was in the way–“
“So you devised a distraction to get her arrested in order to kill him afterward? The Trotskys and Deng Chi are morons, but they do not lack finesse in their various schemes. Not only that, but you defied our one condition; no one but Cicero Gorinni dies. Was Montgomery not clear in his instruction?”
Takashi was alone, the whole table looking at him as he searched for an answer that wouldn’t come to mind. He just sat there, red-faced with a sinking feeling in his gut. The Shogun nodded to the Yak with the cutting board before he pushed it toward Takashi.
“You are a proxy, but will pay for your mistake like Yakuza.”
Kiddo didn’t have to know Japanese to understand what was going on. For the first time that morning she was smiling. Then it felt like Christmas when Monty put a knife on the board.
“The small finger on the left,” continued the Shogun. “We will wait.”
With trembling hands he took his time to reach for the knife. Takashi shook even more when he saw his sweaty, scarlet face reflected in the perfect blade. He took longer to place his left hand flat on the board and angle the edge against the second knuckle of his pinky. He winced when the blade broke the skin, not enough to bleed much. Takashi’s shaking made it worse, widening the cut, and creating other scratches.
The whole table waited for him to do it. Kiddo looked like a maniac in a straight jacket, her teeth visible in a grin. Takashi breathed hard when he leaned into the blade. He growled to himself, but all he got for his effort was a deeper cut. Finally he worked up the courage for an old fashion chop, placing just his pinky on the board and raising the knife.
The pinky went spinning upward before rolling onto the polished wood of the table. Takashi did his best to hold in his cry, grabbing the remaining stump with a scrunched face. Kiddo watched him groan before taking another piece of nigiri, trying not to laugh. A few Yaks cleaned up the mess, picking up the finger and wiping the blood with white rags. Two stood and came around behind Takashi to pick up the blade and board, leaving him a cloth.
When the table was clear, the Yak with the ream of paper pushed the stack over.
“Your blood on the line will suffice,” said the Shogun.
Kiddo pulled the papers to her side and flipped through them, the text printed in English and Japanese on both halves of each page.
“Profit shares?” she asked.
“Only a 10% percent stake,” he said in English. “No more, no less.”
She put the ream back in front of Takashi. He pulled away the cloth and held his bloody hand over the bottom edge of the paper, a trio of neat crimson droplets hitting right on the line. Monty brought the ream before the Shogun.
“It seems our primary business is concluded. Is their anything more on the agenda?” No one said a word and the Shogun moved to stand. “Then I will bid you two farewell.”
The two Yaks helped him stand while the rest of the table got up. When everyone bowed Kiddo hesitated, her body working against what she actually wanted. Didn’t want to make a deal with the enemy, but she got to see Takashi in pain.
That alone made the Shogun worthy of courtesy.
Our trio returned to the elevator while most of the Yaks filed out of the conference room, Takashi wrapping the cloth around his hand. The Bots were still standing by the door like mechanical art statues. Kiddo slipped into one of her boots before she looked to the Shogun standing by the end of the table.
“I appreciate behaving your self, Kiddo-chan,” he said. “The Nanking remark was unwarranted, but when we are angry, people do what they can to relieve the tension, especially when we are compelled to stay our hand.” He put his hand out to the Yak at his side before he received a thick envelope. Kiddo caught it after the old man tossed it over. “A gang is not unlike a real family. There are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters working together to run a business. Keep in mind, when you feel the urge, that Takashi-chan is my employee, my new adopted son. Should he be parted with his head in the near future, then the Gorinni Family and it’s children will become the Kyrii Family. Understand?”
A bit dramatic for a threat, but Kiddo got the picture and nodded. The Shogun smiled and walked back to the other end of the table, helped along by his people. Before she put on her last boot, Kiddo peaked into the envelope and turned red.
The couch was pushed closer to the TV, making space for the carpet underneath. The corner was pulled over and held down by a portion of the floorboards nailed together. In the shadow of the crawl space sat a narrow strong box caked in layer of dust. Beside it was a square of dust where something had laid previously. Along the edge of the opening sat a plastic bag of money held in wads and a snub-nose revolver.
Kiddo stared at the ticker of the money counter at the workbench. As the machine counted a stack of 100s in the slot, her hand hovered over a pad of paper, pen ready. The paper was scrolled in numbers from top to bottom, the upper most sum increasing with irregular additions. Kiddo’s pen hung under the latest sum before the counter stopped. She scrolled the new total, added the values, and was nearly in tears.
The little tools and bits of circuitry hit the floor when Kiddo brushed them off the bench. In their place she lay on her back and pulled Enzo to her lips. It wasn’t much of a kiss because she couldn’t stop giggling. The other gear-heads around the body shop cheered.
“Get some, Enzo!”
“How much to lose the jacket, girl?”
They had to whisper close to hear each other over the noise.
“We did it,” she said.
Enzo got his answer when she grabbed his crotch.
“’Ey,” called Junior from the lobby door. “This ain’t a friggin’ cathouse! We got customers!”
“Why not give ‘em a show, Boss?” asked a gear-head.
Kiddo laughed aloud and stared at Enzo, nothing but joy between them.
“We’re having a baby,” she said.
“We’re having a baby,” he chuckled.
They kissed slowly, savoring every second.
Two duffle bags sat by the bed with Kiddo’s arms in their case. Enzo had on boxers as he dug through one of the bags, phone to his ear.
“San Francisco,” he said. “…I told you, just a week. That’s a fraction of the vacation time I have saved up. I deserve a little…” Enzo stood with a can of shaving cream. “Then put ‘Resa on it. She’s good. If not, then tell them I’ll be back in a week…” He walked to Kiddo soaking in soapy water and kneeled behind. “Junior, my clients know I’m going out of town, okay? This is pointless. You’re getting in the way of me packing… Okay, Junior. Good night.”
Enzo sighed before tossing his phone onto the bed.
“Every time we go on vacation, he gets like that,” said Kiddo.
“Thinks he’s going to lose me,” he said spreading a lump of cream on her temples. “Did Sally get back to you?”
“I gave her the key after I got home. She’ll check in after school.”
“Great,” he said putting a straight razor to her temples. “Let’s hope she doesn’t throw any parties while we’re gone.”
“So what if she has some fun, babe? It’s just an apartment.”
Enzo paused, pulling the razor away from his lover’s skin.
“…We should get a real house.”
“Yeah. Why not? Human kids need room and fresh air when they’re growing up. If they’re nose to nose in tight quarters for most of their lives, they’ll come out all wrong, like people born in zero gravity.”
Kiddo knew he didn’t mean anything by it, but the last few words hit a place that came through in her voice.
“How do you mean wrong?”
“Well, if you…” He realized what he’d done. “I’m sorry, I meant, uh–“
“No. I get it… If we want to raise our son right, he needs the right environment. Out here its all concrete and glass under gloomy skies, packed in like cheap caviar. Pyongyang was worse. There was nowhere you could go buried in a city under a city. You had to fight for space or climb your way out. Seattle’s not bad,” she turned to him, “but it’s not good enough for our boy. We’re moving out and going somewhere he can grow as soon as possible. After Cici, there’s no point sticking around. All I care about is us.”
He touched her face.
“Where did you have in mind?”
She managed a shrug and smiled.
“Montana? You could be a tractor mechanic.”
“And you a sheriff’s deputy.”
“I could start my own gang. That’d be fun.”
Enzo just smiled before she turned back.
“We have time to decide,” he said. “Maybe we go farther than–“
He just finished the back of her head when the phone cut in.
“Leave me alone.”
“Maybe he wants to bribe you.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me.”
They let it ring to the end, but it didn’t last long.
“What’s this guy’s malfunction?” asked Kiddo.
“I’ll threaten to quit.” He stood. “One sec.”
“No, babe. Just let it ring. I’ll break his collar bone before we leave in morning.”
Enzo put the phone to his ear.
“Junior, I told you–“
The sudden silence didn’t catch her attention; it was Enzo’s stutter that followed.
“You okay? Enzo?”
He faced her, the phone falling away. His movement was sluggish and eyes peeled wide, mouth half open. It was like he was learning to walk for the first time, each foot reaching random distances toward the tub.
Kiddo couldn’t move, watching him walk faster.
She got to one knee before Enzo put a hand around her neck. He pushed down, but Kiddo braced her self enough to force him to slide her to the other end of the tub. The faucet and nobs dug into her back while Kiddo jerked her neck slightly loose to scream.
“Stop! You’re hurting me!”
“Uh-uh-uh-suh-“ he said bringing the razor in a shaking hand toward her throat.
Fighting the cold metal pressing to her spine Kiddo pushed her foot into his bicep. The more she applied pressure, the harder he squeezed, and the closer the blade came.
“Please!” she gagged. “Why!”
One of Enzo’s eyes twitched and his grip gave way, not enough to let go.
“Suh-suh-top! Muh-me-ee!” Enzo’s face scrunched as his head twisted to the sides. “Stop me!”
His hand with the razor shook harder as he brought the edge to his other wrist. His blue-black skin broke with a gush of white blood, turning the tub water white.
“Don’t! You’ll bleed out!”
Enzo jerked himself backward, dropping Kiddo’s head on the faucet. She landed on her side, the little cut below her pink hair spilling crimson. Enzo was staggering away, sawing his wrist with a growl interrupted by the stutter. His legs didn’t let him go far, forcing him to kneel before dropping the razor.
Kiddo watched Enzo punch himself. After a couple licks his arms convulsed and swung away.
“Geh-geh-get the gun! Get the gun, babe!”
The word escaped her lips before she thought of saying it.
“You have to stuh-uh-”
He craned his head to the bags by the bed. Enzo staggered over, tiring to ground himself.
Kiddo ignored the hot blood crawling down her back when she leapt into him. Enzo hit the floor, but was already shambling upright.
“Sorry,” she said before bolting to her arms.
With her foot she flipped the case over and spilled them out. Only the left arm was positioned with the clamps facing up. Kiddo went to the floor and put her anchor into the connector. The clamps twitched as she attempted alignment. The way she was laying she could see Enzo getting closer.
Kiddo bit her lip when the clamps came down and squeezed her eyes shut, giving out a loud groan. When the pain stopped she shot up to a knee and grabbed the snub-nose just as Enzo brought it to her face. It was pointed past her right eye, fractions of an inch away from brain matter. His other hand, the one he’d sliced to ribbons, was pushing her in front of the muzzle by the shoulder. Tears streamed from his bugged eyes.
“–Let go of the gun, babe. Fight it.”
Enzo pulled Kiddo harder while her arm trembled with a whine.
“If I can get my other arm–“
“–You let go, yuh-uh-uh-die–“
“–Shut-up and fight!”
She was bright red, teeth clenched, eyes on the verge of leaking. Somehow, through the crazy mask over his face, Enzo looked content. He knew there wasn’t any other way except one. She could see it and it scared her to death and Kiddo realized the gun was turning on himself.
“No. No! Let go! Let go right now!” Her arm was too worn out to put up much effort, whining louder. Kiddo sobbed. “Don’t do this to us! I need you! Please!”
His hand on her shoulder kept her from pushing the sub-nose out of the way with her head.
“Stay with me! Enzo!”
The pistol was close enough that the gunshot came out as a piercing ring. Kiddo’s equilibrium was thrown out of whack, but didn’t move a muscle as Enzo fell with a hole above his left eye. Her whining arm still held the sub-nose before she dropped it. Kiddo looked at him slummed on the floor, the guts of his brain splatter behind. It didn’t seem real. This was a nightmare, a horror movie, and Kiddo was seated center-row. It didn’t seem real until she felt the white blood go cold on her face.
The ringing persisted as she struggled to cry, choking on her own breath. She reached for Enzo and fell on top of him. Kiddo stroked his hair and pulled his cheek to hers. She heaved on the floor, chin quivering, but nothing came out. Behind her Sally stood in the doorway with a phone to her ear and hand on her mouth.
Kiddo Volk will return…
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scott
Deus Ex: Human Revolution/Mankind Divided, Created by Eidos Montreal
Blade Runner 2049, Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Altered Carbon, Created by Laeta Kalogridis
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
R.U.R., By Karel Capek
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Westworld, Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan
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.