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
still with us?" the agent asked.
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
me, Mister Walks-Quick
do I have?"
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 baseballshe 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 hoursyesif 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 thatmarket
dependent, of course."
dependentFrazier swallowed. "Sure."
hours and" the agent ran a finger over his neck, a
slicing gesture. An ancient-old gesture that Frazier understood.
* * *
Serdin had told him, the night they came to his farmhouse.
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.
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.
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.
you want along the way.
wish you took more.
* * *
lights bright, on Alpha Boulevard.
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
all the way down
down to the walls
the final food court
find a little oyster-bar called A-HizK^Sêe-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
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'
* * *
sent me," Frazier said.
bartender bobbed his little hat, and said, "Follow me."
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.
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
legal when approved
need?" the micro said.
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.
heavy," Frazier said.
jus' lookin'?" The green-girl's eyebrows arched, and she
glared at Frazier from behind the counter. "You browsin'?
You shoppin'? You know? Timetime is something? Time."
words were lost on Frazier.
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.
The green-girl raised a meat-cleaver above her head; in her other
hand: the pointed tube, pointed at Frazier's forehead.
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 curiositya 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 satisfactionall supposedly a new take on
he had to know more. "Tell me about everything
you have. Start anywherebut tell me everything
took one very small measured step back. He looked a little more
alert for a moment. His eyes shifted, left to rightand 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-subliminatershere we have
some warfare manual info-discs, dream patterners
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 rackthe micro-human grew impatient.
"What are you after?"
disappeared. Vanishedand all of his desires for explanations
seemed of little importance. He felt closer to normal now: exhausted.
The next target; the final contracthe 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
Rad, projectile, plasma, anything particular?"
heavy. Anti-armor, maybe something versatile
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
that'll put a big hole through six inches of General Alloy Twelve?"
swallowed, and pointed. He jumped off his seat.
the green-girl suggested. Three of her hands polished the meat
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
yeah?" Walks-Quick said, appraising the rifle.
a freelance synth smith made this piece of work
was Chrome-Carver, made stuff out of war-salvage in the back of
" 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."
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
to know that soogie?" Green-girl said.
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."
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 dothis,
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 veneerlights too bright, noises
too loud, strangers hostile, with facial expressions that didn't
make senseand 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 tingledinside; 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
for some littletime free op on Askons
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
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
* * *
Deck Five?" the youth said, bouncing up and down, on a pogo
was packed with people. Frazier had flagged someone down: His/her
hair was long and shimmered like oil on water; it was knotted,
profuselyclumped in sections, greasy. The silver cords bounced
heavily on his/her shoulders, as she/he disembarked the pogo-bouncer.
Frazier Walks-Quick said.
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
trying. But no one would help:
can you tell me where Flight Deck Five is?"
where Flight Deck Five"
--not even a glance...
to get to Flight Deck Five," Frazier tried again. "Can
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 youbut there was
someone; someone had stopped to listen to him
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, whateverand those
eyes flitted about, nervously
Deck Five," Frazier repeated.
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
something I don't know," Frazier said, confused. He scanned
the crowd for anyone else.
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 pallorthe complexion of a corpse.
A burrowing, steady gaze; necrotic, dead and driedrotting
flesh 'round those buggy eyes; teeth a jumble of jagged, rough
little uneven things, some darker than his trench"yurFraz'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,
a problem. Everything began to spin.
at'cha, ya!" Laughter. "Not even a brain cun'dum."
The little box
in the man's hand bleeped again.
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 adornedbut 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."
Frazier said. Frazier smelt something strange and sneezed.
"Caraway. Sneezey stuff, fur some peoples."
it, or yeah hadn't?"
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'urtha's jus market'tun
Good for you." Frazier tested the restraints. The wires were
strung tight. No give.
who I am?" The man sipped the new beer. ("Not
really," Frazier mumbled). "My name's Abraham Lincoln."
not to express anything. He didn't want to encourage him. "Yeah."
A paroxysm fit
shot through Lincoln. His face spasmed. His left arm jerkedstraightened
The jerks passed.
"Not going to waste ya Frazor, relux,"
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,
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."
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. "Soya 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."
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 nowthe chair was lightand 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..."
nevar see a cat here."
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
nothing in common."
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."
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?"
killed me, Shakespeare. You're talking to a dead man."
"You must be upset about that."
"Whur going ta kill'em."
His arms felt numb, now. "Right."
get'em? Serdin? He hur, you know? On Simon-Samson. Wanna kill'em?
strugglingthe 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."
* * *
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 collateralbusting into his pad one night
with gun-bearing goons, a score to settle, and a Klef copper-cultist
heard of anyone stealing a soul before," Frazier said.
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
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
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:
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
your soul, Lincoln? Where is it exactly?"
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."
up to a fission cell, un' half-a-tube of Sam Greavies biometric
paste, um guess'un
* * *
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?"
Frazier said, and studied the three-dimensional schematics in
front of him.
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
of operations was on the uppermost level of Simon-SamsonLevel
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 armsa cover business. Serdin's real money came from
anarch-free market death.
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 shotand someone, sometime, would collect: standing
over whatever bits of you were left; collecting teeth or hair
for proof of a contract's completion.
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'emfinish'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."
I'll call Serdin, tell'em were coming," Frazier said.
get y'ur wifey Shakespeare
On the way to
the factory Frazier felt a depression overcome him. Like a black-hole
in his brain.
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.
an amphetamine pill.
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.
werds? Eh?" Lincoln said. "Muh
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
* * *
out of the cab.
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
Frazier said, sullen.
tapped a square of plastic over his ear. "Cunt seem to connect
with ya, Shakespeare," he said.
nothing," Frazier tapped the side of his head, "up here."
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
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?"
his head. "So
the plan gets dumber."
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.
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.
drunk burped. "Sa, blah, no not that one
" he mumbled.
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 nowa 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
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.
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.
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 cannonFrazier 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.
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 youlet me know who you areI 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"
My tight-wound synthetic friend
everything is finelook,
I have an appointment. My name is Frazier Walks-Quick, I'm a business
associate of Serdin'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?"
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,
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!"
buddy, tell me about your day or somethingstop 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 familyhis thoughts came slippery right now, swimming in
a warm, fuzzy twist of relaxation and exultationbut 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.
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.
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 somewhatunsteady, like he was being pushed
somehow by waves Frazier couldn't see. "Frazier Walks-Quick!"
Walks-Quick," a deep voice said, coming from somewhere behind
him. "How nice to see you again."
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 contractis 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."
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
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?"
for me family."
One of his eyebrows arched. "How much gold you got?"
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.
agent moved towards Frazier'sand out in his peripheral vision
Frazier watched the silver synth bend down to pick up the backpack.
another step forward, looking confused and angryhis teeth
were barred and they were black, crystal capped things; around
which, a few drips of blood dotted his lips. "That's too
badlast 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 himsomething 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
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
back on the silver synth's arm. Bullets trailed his thoughts.
The 89-b-86 chattered. More bullets, more bullets
of the synth's tube-like leg gave awayhe 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
back and turned. Nearby him was an automatic cartit 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 backFrazier hit the floor hard,
on the far side of the cart.
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 suddenlythe synth shot
out its half-arm but was unable to sturdy himself and he collapsedhis
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.
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.
for his gunbut it wasn't close.
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
burningand 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.
Serdun!"it was Lincoln. The sound of gunfire rang out
over Serdin swearing.
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!" 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.
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
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-thuda
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:
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
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.
Lincoln put the baggie into his jacket and kept his eyes on Frazier.
soulwas it always yours?"
nut exactly," Lincoln smiled. "Did I say that b'fur?
I must'a meant it's mine soul 'cuz
it's now, right?"
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.
my family?" Frazier said.
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
into his backpack. He took out a fistful of gold rods. "Enough
we'ull gotta pay off o'ur debts, eh Shakespeare, dun't we? Ya
know 'ull 'bout collect'tun debtsdon'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
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
skinwarm against his face; Frazier embraced his wife. He
squeezed her and held her tight. Cindy kissed him quickly on the
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
Getis said, his voice flat, his lips chapped, his little hand
searching for his fathers'.
back to see if Lincoln was therebut 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.
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.
contract," Frazier said. One more contract. One more contract
for a reworked brain; one more for his son's soulyes; that
would do it, just one more