by Kevin Spiess
forum: Kill-Market
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

......... ....... ..... ..  



         The veins in the agent's neck bulged like garden hoses and his eyes were shifty and beady, the color of weather-scarred concrete. "You can do it?" Frazier Walks-Quick nodded. "Yeah." It was the same agent, again, in the same office: the same bushy eyebrows, almost touching, like some furry thick worm quivering. The same demeanor (business between friends), the same strange smell, (like industrial-strength cleaner and woodchips, combined); the same score of copper chains, hanging heavy around the agent's neck, swaying, brushing the bulk of big steel briefcases, making little metal-on-metal scratching noises, the sound of pocket-change rattling—

         "You're still with us?" the agent asked.

         No answer.

         "Mister Walks-Quick?"

         "Yes," Frazier said.

         On the desk was a gold bar. It was stamped. 328 oz., Au. The agent had pulled it out of a leather and fur bag, patched with copper wire weaves.

         "Stay with me, Mister Walks-Quick…"

         "How long do I have?"

         "Well," the agent said, as his spindly, long fingers tapped the gold bar, "Mister Walks-Quick, this is yours, if you can do it in less than five hours." The agent blinked, eyelids falling over eyes as big as baseballs—he was a macro-human, a massive man: his genetic code reverberations from a war one hundred and twelve standard years before; his voice was so loud it knocked over a half-empty bottle on the desk. "Between five hours, and," here the agent waved his humongous hand, as if in illustration, causing a breeze, "say, ten hours—yes—if you kill'em under five hours, the contract reward will be three hundred troy ounces of gold. If you kill him in over five hours, but under ten, then, well, let's say, we'll give you half of that—market dependent, of course."

         Kill-market dependent—Frazier swallowed. "Sure."

         "Over ten hours and—" the agent ran a finger over his neck, a slicing gesture. An ancient-old gesture that Frazier understood.

* * *

         Nothing personal, Serdin had told him, the night they came to his farmhouse.

         Nothing personal but we're going to turn you into one of ours, one of our killers, and you're going to hunt down these targets. Follow these instructions, to the letter, and for every lost hour, we won't drive a nail into your kid.

         Nothing personal. It's just business.

         We are going to have to work on your mind, though, a slight catch. It just makes things easier for us and for you, trust me. I know a guy. He'll give you the mind-set of a killer for 3800 frinks. We'll foot the bill; on us.

         Don't worry too much. You got top-notch construction, good code, you'll be fine. Security will mostly pre-comprised. Don't worry about that. And everyone deserves what they get.

         After you do this for us you can go home. The faster you work, the sooner it'll be over. Standard contract.

         Take anything you want along the way.

         Later, you'll wish you took more.

         Always happens.

* * *

         Cold night, lights bright, on Alpha Boulevard.

         Frazier found a coin-operated terminal. He fed a two dollar frink coin into the slot. The terminal beeped and a dirty panel slid up. A silver shaft of light flitted from the terminal; found Frazier's eye. Frazier retrieved the latest message from Serdin. The terminal shot into his eye in a soft light, a little pink English:


you gotta go to the Simon-Samson         its a cheap ass neighborhood         floats between here moon         take shuttle/take/elevator/remote there         whatever          go to Level Six         PortAft Corner         go to Obons Stretch          walking all the way down          down to the walls         the final food court          find a little oyster-bar called A-HizK^SêeŸ-E          look for a wooden sign that's about a meter tall          it jumps around and waves its arms          actually one arm doesn't work          it'll wave one arm at you          enter          hold your breath          place smells bad          take table D          D is in the far corner if youre wondering which one D is just say D and itll light up         if its working          an IPOCEdition micro will come up          in a brown octopus-smock          and maybe a hat          big hat          anyways he wont look like he works in a shitty oyster bar          tell him 'the universe sent me'—

weapons shop—

* * *

         "The universe sent me," Frazier said.

         The micro-man bartender bobbed his little hat, and said, "Follow me."

         Frazier followed the bartender through a doorway in the back of the bar. Up an elevator and around a bend, then down some stairs, and Frazier found himself in the middle of a circular room. A network of tube-lights swayed above, an intelligent Sales-Chandelier, throwing light on different weapons. Frazier's eyes scanned the walls. Weapons upon weapons; racks lined the walls and complex killing devices hung from the ceiling, held by webs of pink plastic.

         "Welcome to Serious Stu's Weapons and Ammo Store, Franchise Fourteen: Kill-Market, Simon-Samson city," a disembodied voice said, coming from above. "Invitation accepted Frazier Walks-Quick, establishing credit link… legal when approved…"

         "Whatcha need?" the micro said.

         "A rifle," Walks-Quick replied. There was a third person in the weapons shop: Frazier's eyes locked on a semi-human tweak behind the counter. She had green skin, four arms, and looked like she was from out of town. She watched Frazier. One of her four hands held a long slender tube. It was pointed in his direction. She had a slight little nose. A nose-nub thing. Frazier studied it. She didn't really have nostrils.

         "Something heavy," Frazier said.

         "Hey soogie—you jus' lookin'?" The green-girl's eyebrows arched, and she glared at Frazier from behind the counter. "You browsin'? You shoppin'? You know? Time—time is something? Time."

         The green-girl's words were lost on Frazier.

         "Soogie…" she said, a little softer this time, watching him not respond; she watched Frazier stare at the weapons intently, like he was seeing long-lost family connexions between barrels and by triggers; Frazier reached towards a grenade.

         "Whoa-la!" The green-girl raised a meat-cleaver above her head; in her other hand: the pointed tube, pointed at Frazier's forehead.

         But Frazier noticed nothing. He was concentrating on everything that he touched. Curves of plastic fascinated him. Hypnotized him; transfixed him...

         What began a moment ago as a thought about weapons developed into a very acute, intense curiosity—a curiosity much stronger than Frazier had ever felt. Frazier thought about his mis-wired brain, that slip of the slight-light scalpel days ago… but then nothing remained but a craving. A craving for more knowledge, more answers, more schematics, and questions and weapons before him like unopened gifts promising satisfaction—all supposedly a new take on killing… he had to know more. "Tell me about everything you have. Start anywhere—but tell me everything… everything!"

         The micro-human took one very small measured step back. He looked a little more alert for a moment. His eyes shifted, left to right—and then his shoulders dropped. The micro-human waved towards a black shelf labeled PYSCHOLOGICS. "Here we have various multi-species mind-fucks, ah, let's see," the micro-human began pointing out different weapons, "a thought shifter box, derts, poisons… ahh, auric dissipaters, aural-subliminaters—here we have some warfare manual info-discs, dream patterners… and over here.. Koroblic mandalas, and packets of unstable math for the synthetics," the micro-human pointed in another direction entirely. "Ultra-high frequency emitters, pain inducers, seizure cannons, blinders, and a V-H-A Craze-Cube." The Craze-Cube gleamed. It looked recently polished. A blue light pulsed from it. Fingers tapped on the rack—the micro-human grew impatient. "What are you after?"

         Frazier's curiosity disappeared. Vanished—and all of his desires for explanations seemed of little importance. He felt closer to normal now: exhausted. The next target; the final contract—he needed a weapon and that was all. "I'm sorry… I know your time is valuable," Frazier said. "I had surgery, and," Frazier stumbled over the words for a moment; then gave up—"I need a rifle."

         "Rifle? Rad, projectile, plasma, anything particular?"

         "Something heavy. Anti-armor, maybe something versatile…"

         The micro-human ran a tiny hand through his hair. Adjusted his sampan; exhaled; composed his little self. "We don't have anything too heavy." He pointed towards a far rack. The rifles. "Most of our stock right now is from the Klef Commune and you know..." his voice trailed off.

         "Anything that'll put a big hole through six inches of General Alloy Twelve?"

         The micro-human swallowed, and pointed. He jumped off his seat.

         "Go plasma," the green-girl suggested. Three of her hands polished the meat cleaver.

         The micro shook his head. "This here is special stock, not Commune stuff," the -human attached a floater to the base of the weapon, and pulled it off the rack. "It's surplus plasti-head, from Amba." The rifle was a meter long. It was thin, but wide. Pliant, tubular duel-barrel protrusions extended from a gray box. "Call it an 89-b-86. The '89' mode fires super-heated copper shells, crystal tipped; the '86' mode," underneath the micro's sampan Walks-Quick made out a smile. "The '86' mode is deadly. A real something. Multi-frequency microwave. Heats up things quick." He handed the rifle over to Walks-Quick to inspect.

         The rifle didn't look like much, aesthetically. It was basically rectangular. Gray plastic. It was heavy. No trigger; just an interact-touchpad on the side.

         "Android; yeah?" Walks-Quick said, appraising the rifle.

         "No… a freelance synth smith made this piece of work… his name was Chrome-Carver, made stuff out of war-salvage in the back of a tow…" The micro-human had a distant look in his eyes like he was reading some displays or reliving the past; then he snapped back: "Don't worry," the micro-human said, his mouth reworking a piece of gum. "She's hacked."

         Walks-Quick brushed the touchpad and a beam flitted out of the weapon's gray plastic and found his left eye. Now a targeting reticule superimposed wherever he looked. As long as he was touching the rifle, he could control the targeting, the zooming, with his mind. There were no other targeting features. "Why copper shells?" Walks-Quick asked.

         "We supposed to know that soogie?" Green-girl said.

         "Yeah," Walks-Quick said.

         The micro-human nodded a few times. His sampan fell off, floated to the grimy floor. "Nobody knows what the fuck the plastiheads are building these days." He coughed. "Especially Ambas."

         "Right. How much?"

         They haggled. Walks-Quick was out-maneuvered, out-bargained. Walks-Quick bought the rifle for a small fortune. Three hundred and eight ounces of gold.

* * *

         Now he needed another five hundred ounces of gold, to save the life of his son and wife; five-hundred and ten ounces of gold to pay off Serdin, and the rifle set him back. But there wasn't much he could do—this, after all, was the last target; and long ago he could have turned back, if he wanted to, when the choice was available, but he did not; and now nor could he anymore anyways: so, there wasn't much he could do, it was time to kill again. Another target. Another stranger. A day like the last four. Up all hours, not sleeping, wired on their illegal amphetamines they forced him with; this gave everything a delusive veneer—lights too bright, noises too loud, strangers hostile, with facial expressions that didn't make sense—and his heart pounded, he could hear it, feel it thumping in his chest; his responses felt quick and sloppy at the same time, and he could feel this pressure in his veins, like they were almost going to burst, suddenly, explosively; his spine tingled—inside; his neck hurt, and he thought he was going to throw up whenever he saw the black cold empty of space out of the thin, Economy-class windows of the cheap shuttles he'd been taking, crossing the system: back, forth, through the towns and villages and planets and stations and ships, tailing targets, waiting for them to slip up, waiting for the right time to kill them.

         Lately it never felt like the right time anymore.

         Now he just wanted to kill them quick.

         Now he had his rifle and it was time to kill a stranger again, and he was just about to know exactly where she was.

         He reached into his pocket, pulled out a red gel-cap pill. Gave it a squeeze. Popped it; and he heard emulated voices in his brain, bits at a time, speaking to him over white noise bursts:


you watch out with this one Mr. Walks-Quick          this girlies a killer          not a civilian          this won't be like wasting that banker eight hours ago          shes craft          business girlie          works for some littletime free op on Askons          drug smuggler          mostly bitz and ganja          she killed one of ours          not long ago          one of our border guards         whack her          you whack her good          F-W-Q          don't let up          messier the better          ***cash bonus***          important          her ship has a Delton18 lepton smasher          its the dishtype thing portside          easy to spot         _destroy it_          its fragile          the things worth a fortune          thats why shes in her ship all the time          and she-ll be there          in

* * *

         "Flight Deck Five?" the youth said, bouncing up and down, on a pogo bouncer.

         The promenade was packed with people. Frazier had flagged someone down: His/her hair was long and shimmered like oil on water; it was knotted, profusely—clumped in sections, greasy. The silver cords bounced heavily on his/her shoulders, as she/he disembarked the pogo-bouncer.

         "Yeah," Frazier Walks-Quick said.

         "Piss off, zef," the young multi-sex said, and climbed back aboard his/her bouncer. She/he hopped away, all the while, showing Frazier Walks-Quick one long, well-ringed bouncing finger; exited the market like a grasshopper.

         Frazier kept trying. But no one would help:

         -"Hey, hey… can you tell me where Flight Deck Five is?"


         -"Know where Flight Deck Five—"

                  --not even a glance...

         -"Excuse me…"




         --"Could you—"


         -"I need to get to Flight Deck Five," Frazier tried again. "Can you help?"

         No luck.

         Pedestrians flowed around Frazier like schools of fish skirting a rock in a stream, and the overuse of neon here hurt Frazier's eyes; everything seemed too bright, like there were too many things for sale, and he could hardly see who he was talking to you—but there was someone; someone had stopped to listen to him—

         "Juh—" Blank expression; nothing but a vague semblance of acknowledgment snuck over his Cro-Magnon brow. The man (scruffy, skinny, short) turned, and the first thing that struck Frazier was this glassy gleam in his watery, red, sore-looking sunken white-pupil eyes. The passerby looked crazy. Mad, insane, whatever—and those eyes flitted about, nervously—

         "Flight Deck Five," Frazier repeated.

         The stranger spoke. "I gutta stury for ya. List'un. " Flatline voice; monotone pitch; unaffected. Blue-black tar smudges offset his gray cheeks and a mash of code-scars, stars'n'spirals, that marred the pale canvas of his forehead, recording stories that Frazier couldn't decode.

         "Tell me something I don't know," Frazier said, confused. He scanned the crowd for anyone else.

         The stranger stayed. Stared. "I kne'o ya," he grinned, and his tattooed lips tightened. The man was haggard and stooped. A strange bearing, a weird attire; his clothes were shabby, dirty, mismatched. A long, rain-cloud gray non-intelligent trench coat, torn and burnt, hung on his hunched shoulders, ensconcing his frail frame. His wrists showed; his wrists were barely thicker than bone. "I jus' read ya, slavey," he said. "Jus' now, eh?" His face was clefts and zags and scabs and a nose like a pig snout; all of it a lifeless, gray pallor—the complexion of a corpse. A burrowing, steady gaze; necrotic, dead and dried—rotting flesh 'round those buggy eyes; teeth a jumble of jagged, rough little uneven things, some darker than his trench—"yur—Fraz'or Walks-Quick, eh? Eh?" The crazy man laughed like a hyena. Something in his trench coat buzzed, and he pulled it out: a tonal bleeping, blue light emitting, little box. The stranger shook his head slowly. "Fucking fate it culd only be fucking fate, look at'cha..."

         Frazier had a problem. Everything began to spin.

         "Zab! Look at'cha, ya!" Laughter. "Not even a brain cun'dum."

         The little box in the man's hand bleeped again.

         Frazier felt that something was in his brain, and it was moving. Like a gnawing, burrowing, little worm. He felt the something in the top of his head. It wiggled and seemed to suck up his thoughts. He tasted electricity. Everything turned shades of red. Frazier's legs gave out and he collapsed. The last thing he saw was a dented plastic boot, and the last thing he thought was murder.

* * *

         And when he awoke, slowly, one eye before the other, he thought he might as well be dead; as perhaps now, was his son and wife. He was constrained. Bound by pink wire around his legs and arms, to a lounge chair. It looked like he was in an apartment. Reasonably large, reasonably furnished, expensively adorned—but a mess; things everywhere, things overturned, torn papers littered the floor. Stuffed mammal heads hung from the walls: pig, horse, dog. Their respective severed tails hung below them. One dog-head was underneath a conical fur hat. Trophies adorned a cabinet: glowing cups and holographic plaques; a bust-sized projection of a King of Hearts playing card rotated on the mantle place, beside a big wooden poker chip, painted in pastels, resting against the dirty, maybe moldy, cruddy walls of the stranger's apartment.

         The door slid open. Crazy-Man came inside. He was wearing a brown bathrobe. "Ah. Frazor. Wakey-wakey." He took a plastic can from his pocket and cracked it open. His head went back. He drowned the entire beer in one swig and threw it over his shoulder. It clanged off a pig's head. "Rise'n'shine time now."

         "Yeah," Frazier said. Frazier smelt something strange and sneezed.

         Crazy-Man motioned. "Caraway. Sneezey stuff, fur some peoples."

         "Yeah," Frazier said.

         "Yeah had it, or yeah hadn't?"


         "Flavor—flavor seed 'uff. I," he motioned to a softly bubbling, glass still, "I brew beer t'outta pulps. Caraway beer." The hunchback sat down on a stool opposite Frazier. "Krink's Caraway Cream Beer," the man opened another beer. "Name's nut Krink howev'ur—tha's jus market'tun…"

         "Yeah? Good for you." Frazier tested the restraints. The wires were strung tight. No give.

         "That's really great."

         "Wonderin' who I am?" The man sipped the new beer. (—"Not really," Frazier mumbled). "My name's Abraham Lincoln."

         Frazier tried not to express anything. He didn't want to encourage him. "Yeah."

         A paroxysm fit shot through Lincoln. His face spasmed. His left arm jerked—straightened out.

         The jerks passed. "Not going to waste ya Frazor, relux,"


         Lincoln stood. His robe parted. Frazier could make out a pair of boxer shorts spangled with orange and blue carrots. The carrots clashed with his gray, hairless, dying skin. "That all you say Frazor? One word answurs? Right? Yeah? That's it? Gotta any mur' werds, zef?"

         "Yeah—yeah I do! I got more words than Shakespeare, you dirty zef'in micro-sodimizer!" Frazier struggled against his restraints. "Who the hell are you anyways? Whatt'ya bring me here for?" Frazier's heart started pounding, again, the familiar sickness sunk into him. "And yeah, I'll give you hundred ounces of fresh-chunk gold if you let me go."

         Lincoln looked serious for a moment. Air seeped out of his gape-mouth. He looked at the floor; his tattooed lips parted, and a brown, scaly tongue flicked out, whetting his lips. "So—ya talk, eh?" He tightened up his robe. "Shure Shakespeare, some ansurs for ya. I'm Abraham Lincoln. Remember that? Two sec's ago? Yeah?" Lincoln sneered, and pointed at Frazier. "You a slave of Kill-Market. Me, I brew caraway beer." He nodded, slowly. "But ya'gotta diversify y'ur means. Sumtimes. Sometimes I free rentals. Like yor'self, rental-example number one."

         Frazier looked at the wires binding him to the chair. He could only see his bound kneecaps. "Yeah, you free rentals? Of course. You're doing a great job. Thanks." Frazier wiggled. Furiously. The chair rocked. Lincoln looked amused. Twisting with the momentum, Frazier struggled. The chair tilted. The wires tightened. Two legs were off the ground now—the chair was light—and Frasier pushed against the floor with his foot. The chair leaned further back. Toppled over. Frazier crashed into a couch behind him. He fell on his side. Frazier sighed. "Yeah, this is freedom, alright," he said, from the floor, his nose touching black imitation leather. "Freedom smells like leather..." Frazier sniffed, "cat piss...and caraway beer..."

         "You'd nevar see a cat here."

         "Great. I hate cats."

         In his peripheral vision, Frazier could make out the brown robe coming towards him. Lincoln was close. "Eh alright, luck. We got sumethan more in common."

         "We got nothing in common."

         Lincoln grabbed a handful of Frazier's clothing and pulled him upright. Frazier could make out each strained blood vessel pumping through his bloodshot eyes. "Stop being yur'self." Lincoln brushed something of Frazier's shoulders. He smelt like booze. And rot. "We both hate cats," Lincoln said, quietly, "we've both been boondoggled by Serdun."

         "Right." Frazier Walks-Quick closed his eyes. Tried to displace his entire life somewhere else. But it didn't work. There was still an ugly hunchback talking to him, and he was still tied up, with his feet and lower legs growing numb, from lack of blood. Frazier watched the hunchback. "What he do to you?"

         "Serdun killed me, Shakespeare. You're talking to a dead man."

         Frazier swallowed. "You must be upset about that."

         Silence. Then: "Whur going ta kill'em."

         Frazier blinked. "Who's whur?"

         "Me. You. Us."

         Frazier wiggled. His arms felt numb, now. "Right."

         "You wanna get'em? Serdin? He hur, you know? On Simon-Samson. Wanna kill'em? Eh Spear-shakes?"

         Frazier stop struggling—the chair held him tighter than before. "Yeah, maybe I do," Frazier said, the chair's binding digging into his chest. "I bought a nice gun, dead man."

* * *

         Lincoln untied Frazier and they talked. Lincoln talked of gambling highs and lows. Highs like not having your skin rotting, and being up 30,000 frinks, and buying better things: taking luxury cruises into the Eleysian Fold, drinking champagne, eating fresh fruit, chasing women, calling the secretary every once in while to check in on his brewing business. Lows being collecting massive gambling debts, then borrowing money from Serdin, becoming divorced; lows being not being able to make payment on those debts, and Serdin stealing Lincoln's soul for collateral—busting into his pad one night with gun-bearing goons, a score to settle, and a Klef copper-cultist to collect.

         "Never heard of anyone stealing a soul before," Frazier said.

         "D'zun happen too much in farm-town, Shakespeare," Lincoln said, grinding out another cigar on the side of bottle, both his hand and bottle shaking; both looking like they were going to shake loose. "Evurybody steals'em now a-days… get'um sucked outta ya by a Klefer, run'em out over to sum dirty Veeb outta system, one-two-three karma-flush and thur ya go, a soul for sale…"

         "And who buys?"

         Lincoln looked up from his cigar. "All surts, Shakey, all surts," he said. He reached into his pocket and took out some sort of hypodermic needle. He jabbed the needle into his skull, his temple; pushed the plunger; blue fluid disappeared into his head and he said: "Ahhh… wull… most of'em bought up by freemen 'droiders, any of'um with no scruples 'n decent hardware, ex-pensive peco-crafty brains and they cun just—" Lincoln tapped the needle against the side of his head, "—poof, fuse a soulie to der' neural netwerkz and thus then thur legally synthetics, 'refugees under distress', is what some enclaves call'em… take'm in 'cuz der' strong… sumetimes strongs souls gut picked up by artie-i's over Sys-Net, sumetimes those are the worst, they go for godhead, nevur had a body befur', and give us humes a bad name; upset the treaties, upset the transcend'r alliance…"

         "How about your soul, Lincoln? Where is it exactly?"

         Lincoln's flesh began to move over his head like it was reshaping itself to his skull. His flesh looked a little tighter; gained a splash of healthy pink color. "My soul?" He blinked. Looked confused for a second. "Serdun has it in his jac'git."

         "Okay," Frazier said.

         "Huk'ed up to a fission cell, un' half-a-tube of Sam Greavies biometric paste, um guess'un…"

* * *

         "Um 'most certain these hur are your sunny and wifey," Lincoln said, pointing at two glowing blobs of warmth on the infrared schematic of Serdin's base of operations. "These hur ar' others, probably," he said, pointed at more blobs of warmth, encased in small rooms of cold plastic, "but we won't worry 'bout 'em. Get us a wifey and a sunny and mhuy soul and wur outta there, 'right?"

         "Right," Frazier said, and studied the three-dimensional schematics in front of him.

         "Listen up, nut much time. Aftur Simy-Samson readjusts itself we go. The city wull shake. Thur's six of 'em, right, but thur's a way…"

         Lincoln had a plan.

         Serdin's base of operations was on the uppermost level of Simon-Samson—Level 6. Most of Level 6 was zoned for manufacturing. Hardly anyone lived 'up' there; mostly only mechanical things and slaves, toiling for distant masters. Serdin owned a factory on Level 6 that made android arms—a cover business. Serdin's real money came from anarch-free market death.

         Assassinations—supply and demand kill-contracts offered by the Syndicate. Kill-Market franchises sprouted up into poorer parts of population centers like malignant tumors, and the city of Simon-Samson was no exception. Some of the profits went to Serdin. The actual Kill-Market was in semi-shady sectors of Sys-Net, but each franchise needed an overseer. Here, Serdin was the overseer: open bid auctions; a person's life for the highest bidder. If you could afford your own life, you'd live; if you'd pissed off too many people, you'd probably be shot—and someone, sometime, would collect: standing over whatever bits of you were left; collecting teeth or hair for proof of a contract's completion.

         Lincoln's plan, delivered through cigar-smoke and over caraway beers: "Thu way I see it, they cun track you right, all the time, not much way around that. So ya tell him wur coming, and I'll snuk thru the ruf," Lincoln shook his dark-skinned, moiled arm around in the air. "Ya tell'em, yu'r out, ya got all your guld and ya came to beg for your sonny and wifey. Start shootin'em all up soon as ya get in to the fuctory, start blowin' everything all up, I'll come thru the ruf right behind'em—finish'em all up, splut-splut-splut, dun in no time..." Lincoln's voice left him. Then he coughed and coughed and coughed and Frazier thought that was it: Lincoln was going to die right then, right in front of him, before they even got the factory.

         But the coughing fit lapsed; and Lincoln looked up at Frazier and winked. "So thut's the plan. Um goin'a smash Serdun's skull in with what'var the hell cuntainer he has my soul in."

         "Fine. I'll call Serdin, tell'em were coming," Frazier said.

         "Yu'll get y'ur wifey Shakespeare…"

         On the way to the factory Frazier felt a depression overcome him. Like a black-hole in his brain.

         Frazier's foot rested against his 89-b-86 in the back of the taxi. Lincoln sat opposite him, looking out the window, looking like he wasn't going to make it; his flesh gave off a mild, morbid stench. For awhile Frazier was too sad to roll down the window, but Lincoln smelt like a dried-up fish.

         Frazier popped an amphetamine pill.

         Lincoln's gray eyes stirred, and his mouth moved like he was going to say something but nothing came out. Saxophone music played in the back of the cab, soft and slow and static-heavy, difficult to hear over the myriad sounds of the city.

         "Any lust werds? Eh?" Lincoln said. "Muh… rental friend?"

         Frazier had no energy for words. He stared at the picture in his hands. Tried to focus on it. Every second that passed was a little bit less that he cared about anything at all. He needed something to remind him why what happened happened, and what he was about to kill for, again. The picture looked fragile in his hands. He gripped it tighter; worried that a strong gust of wind from the open window could tear that picture away from him and it'd all be over for sure.

* * *

         They climbed out of the cab.

         Frazier pulled the 89-b-86 out of the cab. Lincoln pointed at it: "'Mumber eh? Donut punch too muny holes with that thing huh! Def-luntely don't'a wanna any guv-folk cumin' to see whas cookin' up…"

         "Right," Frazier said, sullen.

         Abraham Lincoln tapped a square of plastic over his ear. "Cunt seem to connect with ya, Shakespeare," he said.

         "I have nothing," Frazier tapped the side of his head, "up here."

         "Rully? Ah, shit, a link woulda helped." Lincoln motioned with his hand. "Cum here, mister organic, fullow—"

         They were standing on the curb of a wide street. It was automatic traffic only here, in the industrial quadrant of Simon-Samson, and most of it consisted of slow-moving flat-carts, floating along electro-magnetic tracks, shuffling around raw materials factory to factory. There was hardly anyone around. Just a sole android janitor collecting trash, and a tiny micro-human, wearing a torn brown smock, lying comatose beside empty bottles, by a scatter of foam bricks. Serdin's factory was across the street, and there wasn't much to it: just a big front gate (that was closed) and a smaller side door, human sized, that hung by one hinge, wavering slightly with every vehicle's passing.

         Lincoln pointed to that side door. "Eight min'nuts, go in. Talk'em up fur a bit. 'unce the engines fire, and everything gets shuk-up, I'll get to wurk upstairs. You hear sumethin' then you go ape-shit cruzy, sturt blowin' evurythin', dun't wurry 'bout wifey and sunny, they'll be wired fur death but you kill Serdun right away and no-un 'ill care 'bout'ems, jus' try to save 'emselves, right?"

         Frazier shook his head. "So… the plan gets dumber."

         "Will'nut find any surt'a guarantees in thus life, Shakespeare." Lincoln turned around and left. Hobbled across the street, dodging a slow moving automatic cart filled with unlabeled barrels, driven by headless square of plastic and arms.

         Frazier sat down by the tiny micro-human drunk and waited. A few tears washed away the last stabs of his depression, and he felt himself slowly get back to normal: which was feeling nothing, nothing at all.

* * *

         A long tone emitted from the ubiquitous speakers above. It was a signal from the city: five minutes until Simon-Samson's engine would ignite. Enough thrust to overcome the strong gravity created by the city's continuously rotating torus. Enough to shake the whole city up for a few seconds.

         The micro-human drunk burped. "Sa, blah, no not that one…" he mumbled.

         Frazier got up. The gold was heavy on his back; three-thousand, one-hundred and seventeen ounces. His body was tired. His mind was blank and clear as a fresh-formatted hard drive. He warmed up his rifle. He tapped the interact pad. The rifle blipped in response. Tendrils of steam curled from its long top barrel and everything Frazier saw could potentially be destroyed now—a little reticule over whatever, and wherever he looked: the reticule ran over the one-hinge hanging door, and Frazier walked into the factory. A brief hall led into a wide open space. Ceiling was about three stories high. Machinery groaned and jerked everywhere; vats lined the walls and a conveyor belt moved clear plastic jars to overhanging shelves.

         Frazier had a problem.

         His whole mind state started to change. He began feeling very, very friendly; jovial, like he wanted to tell jokes, hang out with some friends over beers. It was his mal-wired brain. It was going off again; another emotional surge… he didn't feel like killing and as he stepped deeper into the factory, a pleasant, warm-fuzzy surge of wellness descended on Frazier, and everything he saw now had a warm ethereal glow to it. A strange taste of vanilla was in his mouth and he licked his lips.

         Frazier heard movement. By the stairs.

         A silver played synthetic moved towards Frazier, from the opposite side of the factory. Small for a synthetic: about five feet or so; walking weirdly, almost limping. The harsh industrial lights of the factory made him gleam like he was a polished, newly constructed thing. He only wore a bandolier, nothing else, and the glare forced Frazier to shield his eyes.

         "Hey!" Frazier watched him.

         There was no shooting. Not yet.

         Slow, the synth ambled towards Frazier, a little lopsided: one of his legs was a short, pliable tube-like thing, probably a temporary replacement. One of his forearms was a cannon—Frazier couldn't make it out, because it was gleaming so much, but it looked like some sort of saw-cannon, or maybe a welding-torch. The synth's hand gripped a pistol; a little handgun with blinking lights. The pistol was aimed at Frazier's head.

         "Chill out, my silver brother!" Frazier said, relaxed and limber.

         The synth closed the distance between them, moving slow, like a cripple, hobbling on his replacement leg, all the while keeping his pistol trained on Frazier. The synth spoke; the voice sounded foreign and forged: crackly with static, rough with cheap algorithms bought in backwoods black-markets: "Who the fuck are you you have ten seconds to let me know who are going to get shot really soon man if you even shake that little gun of yours man you should not be here at all you—let me know who you are—I am thinking of raising this gun and shooting you if you should not be here let me know so I do not shoot you right now you stupid monkey this area is very much off bounds hombre monkey man—"

         "Hey, relax! My tight-wound synthetic friend… everything is fine—look, I have an appointment. My name is Frazier Walks-Quick, I'm a business associate of Serdin's."

         The synth's head was a blank sheet of curved silver, save for a little imbedded circle of glass. In the glass Frazier could see a little ball of light. This ball of light turned from blue to black and span around, inside the center of the silver synth's face.

         The synth began again: "Right fine Frazier Walks-Quick you have an appointment and I have made Serdin aware he will be down soon very soon and he is very curious as to your presence and he would like to know have you brought all the gold you have thus far collected knowing that it is not yet an acceptable amount and that you will probably have your bodily fluids taken just for fun you stupid monkey?"

         "I may die, synth, but that's not your problem, is it?" Frazier grinned. He motioned to a nearby crate. "How about we take a load off? Chat before I'm blown away!" Frazier sat down on the crate. "Tell me about… ah..." Frazier said, "some… stuff."

         The synth didn't move. "I do not feel much like relaxing and I do not really need to relax very much Frazier Walks-Quick you crazy hopeless slave that will soon be very much dead I cannot believe you brought all the gold here thinking you may be able to talk yourself out of this you and your wife and son will die and I will use your meat-sauce to lubricate my new leg once I pick it up tonight save myself the price of lubricant!"

         "Whatever, buddy, tell me about your day or something—stop being such a pig-fornicating killjoy." The mention of his son and wife reminded Frazier of the picture he had in his pocket. Frazier had a smile like he'd won the system lottery, but it twinged at the edges when he recalled that he had a picture, that he had a family—his thoughts came slippery right now, swimming in a warm, fuzzy twist of relaxation and exultation—but that picture nagged him, and he pulled it out of his back pocket, as the silver synth went off again about how his death was certain and a craving for beer washed over him.

         Frazier stared at the picture, sprawled out on the crate. He thought of the sax music in the taxi ride over, and he looked at the picture, and it glared in the factory's fluorescent light, but Frazier made out his wife's dark curl of hair and … he remembered why he was there. The 89-b-86 hummed. Sounded like a sleeping pet beside him. Noise came from the stairs.

         Serdin. His sizable bulk lumbered down the stairs, one unsteady foot carefully planted before the other; one hand was gripped tight on the guide-rail, and he wobbled somewhat—unsteady, like he was being pushed somehow by waves Frazier couldn't see. "Frazier Walks-Quick!"

         "Mister Walks-Quick," a deep voice said, coming from somewhere behind him. "How nice to see you again."

         Frazier felt his brain-surged joviality fading fast. He stood. He took a step back from the silver synth then spat on the floor, trying to get rid of that vanilla taste that still lingered. He turned to see where that voice was coming from.

        There was a giant in the corner of the factory, and he looked unhappy; his voice sounded like a business transaction: "But you haven't completed your contract—is this a problem? Do we have a problem here?" It was the same agent, again. The macro-human took up a portion of the factory. He was almost twice Frazier's height and almost triple his weight; the nameless agent dressed like a banker and had fists like small asteroids; arms like tree trunks. "I thought you were with the program, Mister Walks-Quick."

         Serdin made it to the bottom of the stairs. Red hair, completely dark-blue eyes, no shirt, and his baseline body looked frail: just skin and bones underneath a dolphin-skin coat. "So… you got some sobby story for me or something? Lost your balls?" Serdin belched. He looked down to his pants; loosened up his belt. He still wavered a bit; wobbled a little on his feet. He started walking towards Frazier. "You can talk to me, Frazier," he drawled. "What's up, chumpy?"

         "I came for me family."

         Serdin scoffed. One of his eyebrows arched. "How much gold you got?"

         Frazier appraised the situation. Everything was clear. "Three thousand, one hundred and seventeen ounces, Serdin," he took off his backpack, and slid it over to the silver synth's feet.

         The macro-human agent moved towards Frazier's—and out in his peripheral vision Frazier watched the silver synth bend down to pick up the backpack.

         Serdin took another step forward, looking confused and angry—his teeth were barred and they were black, crystal capped things; around which, a few drips of blood dotted his lips. "That's too bad—last time I checked, your family was up to four thousand some odd ounces. Seems someone's contracts are gettin' expensive in Kill-Market. Maybe it's inflation." Serdin laughed. "Whatch you got isn't going to cut it, I'm afraid."

         The synth tossed the backpack. It landed with dull thud and a little clank, right by Serdin. Serdin reached behind him—something in the back of his belt.

         There was a low rumbling roar. Like a waterfall outside the factory. Everything started to shake. Rubber crates fell of a shelf. Serdin stumbled back. Frazier dropped to both knees. Somewhere above he heard a hiss like steam from a kettle. A loud scream from above echoed throughout the factory. Frazier telepathically communicated to his rifle: FIRE, FIRE! and the rifle jerked in his hands. The top barrel of his 89-b-86 spat shells. The pistol and parts of the synth's hand shattered, sending metal and plastic fragments flying. Frazier twisted; a piece of plastic deflected off his forehead—

         The agent was bolting towards Frazier; footsteps shook shelves and android arms, hanging from racks. Frazier shook his head to clear the haze. The rifle beeped twice. Radiation from the bottom barrel of the 89-b-86 spewing out; the air shimmered in the heat and Frazier felt a warm gust of air on his face while the macro-human's shoulder singed, then exploded. Little blood-jets and macro-human chunks of flesh flew through the air. Frazier rolled. The agent twisted and collapsed; a new fountain of blood, flooding the factory's floor.

         Frazier focused back on the silver synth's arm. Bullets trailed his thoughts. The 89-b-86 chattered. More bullets, more bullets—

         The rigidity of the synth's tube-like leg gave away—he dodged the incoming onslaught. The synth brought up his torch. It belched a puff of white flame. The synth swung the torch at Frazier and cackled modulated static. Frazier dodged one stab of the white-hot torch flame. The flame caught the end of his 89-b-86. A puff of black smoke burst off where the flame—

         Frazier jumped back and turned. Nearby him was an automatic cart—it hovered a little, suspended by an electromagnetic field from the factory's floor. Frazier ran towards the cart, feeling heat on his back. The cart came up to about Frazier's waist. He hopped on. The cart was long enough that he was able to take two steps before he felt a lick of flame singe his back—Frazier hit the floor hard, on the far side of the cart.

         "Nowhere to go, baseline," the synth said, wielding the torch flame, on the far side of the cart, opposite Frazier. The synth's tube leg stiffened. The synth swung its double-jointed good leg onto the cart's side. The tube leg bent suddenly—the synth shot out its half-arm but was unable to sturdy himself and he collapsed—his thin, silver cylinder torso clanging loudly against the floor. He got up and applied his torch to the cart. Metal groaned and the far side of the cart began to liquefy, dripping into a gray, metallic slush. Black smoke billowed.

         Frazier looked up and saw the shoulder-less macro-human running towards him with a forklift in one hand. Ready to pound on Frazier like a sledgehammer.

         Frazier went for his gun—but it wasn't close.

         The macro-human roared. The giant brought the forklift swinging down, blocking out the lights above. Frazier rolled. He made it underneath the automatic cart as the forklift swung down. The forklift smashed against the cart's frame. The cart buckled, and part of the cart's undercarriage jarred loose, falling on Frazier. His head knocked against the floor.

         He came to and he tried to move but he was pinned beneath the cart. Beside him, growing, was a puddle of melted metal. Frazier could hear the roar of the sythn's plasma torch. The gray liquid metal steamed and Frazier could feel the heat on his face. Then he smelt something burning—and it smelt like hair.

         He saw his gun close by, just out of arm's reach; he stretched as much as could; wiggled against the engine pieces pinning him. His fingertips brushed the barrel… beside him he saw the agent's gargantuan feet coming to a stop. Blood was falling down like a heavy rain; some blood splashed into the liquid metal pools and puffed into steam. Frazier squirmed, tried to get out of the way of the shimmering growing metallic mass that was inching towards him; hand stretched out, trying to grab on to the 89-b-86.

         "Hey 'dur Serdun!"—it was Lincoln. The sound of gunfire rang out over Serdin swearing.

         Frazier's fingertips brushed something. Something beeped.

         A massive gloved hand gripped on to the underside of the automatic cart. The macro-human grunted then flipped the automatic cart into the air; the cart flew. It clanged off a conveyer belt, then came twisting down towards the stairwell. Lincoln took two quick steps and jumped before the cart broke against the wall behind him, taking out half the stairwell with it.

         "Die die die die!" The synth screamed static white-noise at Frazier. The welding torch flame burnt the air; black bubbles of blood boiled and popped on the gore-drenched surface of the factory floor as Frazier watched a macro-human getting ready to stomp him, the falling foot as long as his 89-b-86.

         Frazier targeted his rifle.

         The macro-human agent stared at Frazier, a gaze of death. The macro-human's one arm dangled, hanging from thick threads of twisted cloth and muscle ligaments; his chest white from lack of blood. The 89-b-86 buzzed. More radiation streamed forth from the gun. The air shimmered. Ozone smells in the air. The concentrated heat hit the macro-human in the chest. The giant fell back. His shirt ignited. His skin turned brown then black then split open, length-wise. The 89-b-86 cooked his organs as he screamed. Liver then kidney exploded as his arms shot out. The massive body tumbled over a desk and fell into a motionless, smoking heap on the factory's floor. Frazier couldn't see anything else. His face and eyes were too covered in gore.

         Cracks and bangs rang out close by; a gun fight by the stairs. Frazier shook his head; wiped blood off his face. A jet of flame, star-bright, was coming at him. Frazier aimed his gun, a reflex reaction: thud-thud-thud—a stream of shells spat from his 89-b-86 towards the silver synth. The shells cut through the stellar torch-flame and rang off the dome of the silver synth's head. The synth's head took two shots then snapped back. Sparks sprayed out its nub stalk of a neck as the flames died down, the factory dimming slightly; the synth slumped on his temporary leg, took a step, then fell into a plastic box filled with half-completed android arms.

         A faint electric-engine whir. A short series of zaps. Then from the box:

         "Naaaaaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhh you know how much that will cost me you are going to pay but let me live let me live I have done nothing to you and you will never see me again promise I can see half my brain Klef save me provide your divine repair…" The synth's voice faded into static and pops.

         The factory was saturated with the smell of short-circuit synth and microwave death, and Frazier retched.

         Serdin was sprawled out, unmoving; a little pool of blue blood beside him. Lincoln was rifling through Serdin's jacket. Frazier walked a bit closer. He took a closer look at Serdin. He saw the vacant look in his all-blue eyes and could recognize it. Frazier retched again. Lincoln pulled out something from Serdin's jacket and laughed. Lincoln held it up: in a plastic baggie there was a quartz-crystal cube with little wires poking out of it; the wires moved like they were alive. Lincoln's hand shook as he held the baggie. The cube jiggled a bit a bit in a blue-tinged gel. "I huv'it, I huv'it," Lincoln stared at the baggie. "Thus s'ul so lucky Shakespeare! I cun feel it, so lucky…" Lincoln licked his lips: a brown scabbed tongue over rotting pink.

         There was a clicking from the silver synth's torso, like broken gears mangling themselves upon another. Emergency lights came on overhead; sprinklers extended but didn't come on. The emergency light was a shade of red similar to the pools of blood on the factory's floor.


         "Shakey?" Lincoln put the baggie into his jacket and kept his eyes on Frazier.

         "That's soul—was it always yours?"

         "Na na, nut exactly," Lincoln smiled. "Did I say that b'fur? I must'a meant it's mine soul 'cuz… it's now, right?"

         Frazier said nothing.

         Lincoln walked over to Frazier, face all grin, like a drunk. "A lucky-lucky soul my s'urces tell me… Serdun gut it two-days 'go… going to gut me snakey-eyes 'n flushes and high ag'un, will nut'cha?" Lincoln patted his jacket pocket.

         "Where's my family?" Frazier said.

         Lincoln was grinning like a maniac, the yellow and gray stains of his teeth showing, even in the dim red light. He reached back into his pocket and Frazier thought he was grabbing the soul-packet but out came a gun. Lincoln didn't point it at'em, but it was kind of pointing off to the Frazier's left, like a suggestion. "Um ah goin' to be needin' one mure thing, ah Shakepseare, if ya culd maybe help me out, for ol'ive dune for ya, friend its bun fun here an all…"

         Frazier reached into his backpack. He took out a fistful of gold rods. "Enough for you?"

         "Fine fine… we'ull gotta pay off o'ur debts, eh Shakespeare, dun't we? Ya know 'ull 'bout collect'tun debts—don't'cha Shakey… " Lincoln's laugh was short and sharp and there wasn't any humor in it. "Thur upstairs," Lincoln said, his happy countenance fading fast, "upstairs, green-door rum at the end'o a hall…"

         Frazier ran. He had to jump to reach the bottom of the broken stairs. He tried to pull himself up. He couldn't make it; his muscle screamed at him; he grunted. He strained and sinews in his arm contracted; he swung one leg over the ledge and pulled himself up.

         Past a large office there was a hall. Trash littered the corridor; old clothes and containers of food were piled on a long table. Frazier saw a green door and he ran to it.

         The door was kept locked by a plastic bar held by a pair of clasps. Frazier undid the clasps. The plastic bar fell to the floor. There was a knocking sound coming from inside the room. Frazier opened the door. Each inch the door went back revealed more of his wife.



         The long dark curls, the big brown eyes, the full lips; her chocolate brown skin—warm against his face; Frazier embraced his wife. He squeezed her and held her tight. Cindy kissed him quickly on the cheek.

         "Where's—" Frazier began, but he felt something tugging at his belt. He looked down. It was his son. But his son looked different. Not so healthy. His skin was grey, and hung loose around his small frame. His eyes were black-veined and bloodshot. He moved slowly; had an uncomprehending look on face; Frazier stared.

         Cindy left his embrace. She looked like she was about to cry. She patted her son's shoulder. "Getis isn't feeling very well…"

         "Daddy?" Getis said, his voice flat, his lips chapped, his little hand searching for his fathers'.

         Frazier ran back to see if Lincoln was there—but he was gone. The carnage of the factory's floor remained; three corpses and an ocean of blood, but no Abraham Lincoln. Frazier's first thought was of numbers and specifics; his second: what shape the new contract might look like.

         "Yes," Frazier said, to no one. One more gamble in the Kill-Market; one more try to get everything he would need to set right his mistakes right; one more try to get something like his old life back: long peaceful days on the soy farm, under the twin moons of Kohn… sipping lemonades with Cindy, on his porch, spotting ships light up in low orbit, holding her under the stars; playing catch with Getis; watching him grow up… he had so much energy… a little firecracker… all those days that seemed so far gone, Frazier could hardly even remember them anymore.

         "One more contract," Frazier said. One more contract. One more contract for a reworked brain; one more for his son's soul—yes; that would do it, just one more…



copyright 2007 Kevin Spiess.

Kevin Spiess:
Kevin Spiess is currently finishing up a long-drawn-out academic career at Simon Fraser University, where he is an English major, in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.  Post-graduation, he hopes to find employment in the field
of Technical Communication.  Additionally, Kevin is a fairly massive fan of S.F literature, and has been writing in this genre for a handful of years now.  Kevin Spiess has had two previous works published; appearing in Demensions and The Sink; also, he is currently writing and directing a radio comedy series called 151 Proof Radio, and the current website for this effort can be located at:  Kevin invites you to go there and download episode one.