Monday, 27 December 2010

Project Rain 12

Chapter 9

As Petrova drove back towards her home I drifted into sleep. While I had paid to get my liver enhanced so that it would party harder than a hazardous chemical disposal plant my brain was not up for this kind of punishment. All the drugs that had enhanced my thought process earlier had left my synapses wasted. The sudden collapse of the chemical framework that had given them the power to work miracles caused some serious confusion. Neurons were waking up in in the gutter filled with suspiciously coloured spinal fluid wondering where they were and where they had left their trousers.
    As I slipped into the world of dreams I found my self again floating in the warm water that flowed under all of the infinite city of Europa. The only thing there apart from me was the long bridge extending into infinity in both directions. On top of a large round explosion slowly bubbled into existence in yellow and orange tones casting a warm comfortable light. High above me the sky was Jupiter again. There was nothing else in the heavens but the irate gas giant and its angry eye. The planets gaze filled me with cold dread. I looked around. I was no longer alone. Around me rough human shapes had floated into view. All of them dead. Limply moving along in a current which I could not feel. There was also movement now the pylons of the bridge. Here and there strange black clad people were moving along them like geckos. Casting beams of laser light from their eyes moving them around looking for something. Someone. But they never did get close to spotting me. Whenever they remained in one spot for to long they simply burst into little clouds of red mist. Staining the pylons and then drifting away enjoying their new found freedom.
    As these things happened I started to become aware that I was dreaming but despite this realisation I could not wake up. The cold terror that I felt squeezed a little bit harder. It must be the drugs, I thought. Next time I see Louis I will kick his shivering arse. For a short moment I saw his image flicker past me, unnaturally quick with enough steel in his eyes to provide a small army with swords. This was not getting better. I tried to concentrate. If was lucid there must be something that comes from the waking world. I listened. Where was the whine of the cars alcohol fuelled turbine? Not in my dream. There were just the whispering voices of the dead around me. Strange. They had not been whispering before and instead of the expected lamentations from beyond the grave they seem to have a rather civil conversation. Also one of the voices was female. As far as I knew there had not been any female casualties among my newly acquired fan-club. Casualties... when that thought crossed my mind all the shapes around me suddenly looked into my directions their mouths open. '...fuel. You can try it yourself.' Not quite what I expected. It was also clearly Petrovas voice. I could not move. But I could now smell the car again, feel the faux leather seats and part of the door uncomfortably pressing into my side. My face was resting against the cold window. I was awake. My eyes open. The real world fading into my consciousness while the dream clung onto the back of my mind not wanting to let me go that easily.
    'Are you trying to poison me Katja.' said a male voice I did not recognize.
'Of course not. I told you this car has a combustion engine and what a better combustible than some self made spirits? It fuels the car and it fuels me. Come on Evgeni I made it after my grandmother recipe. And I spent a fortune for getting a real earth yeast to brew it too.' while I did not dare to close my eyes again. The nightmare was still waiting for me to return. I also did not dare to glance towards the door. Outside I could only see a long street surrounded by darkness. We were on that bridge again. In front of us several Russian patrol cars blockading the street. Petrova seemed to have everything under control and I was not going to ruin what she was trying to pull off by stumbling into her conversation like the idiot I quite probably was.
    'All right. I guess making sure that your fuel is up to government standards is part of my duties.' the voice carried a big smile.
'See. I told you that was quality stuff, didn't I? I'm still offended that you thought I was trying to poison you.' I could hear that this was some kind of ritual. The exchange had a certain playful well rehearsed air to it.
'Well you said it was fuel...'
I could hear the eyes rolling in Petrova's face.
'Mid to tell me what all this impressive show of police power is about?' she asked the policman who was taking another swig from the 'fuel' bottle. 
'Looks like crime is getting a bit out of hand over in the European sector.' short pause 'Again.'
'And because of that you have to harass everyone crossing the bridge? What's happened have our criminals the week off?'
'No. But someone killed some high ranking Triad member here on this very bridge. With a bomb no less. Which has everyone nervous as you might imagine. Who ever did that obviously wanted to send a message and that message has been heard. Now we get to stop everyone passing the bridge to ask them if they by any chance happen to be criminal hit-men with a penchant for the dramatic.'
There was a bit of silence.
'This could be serious.' said Petrova.
'Yes. Very much so. the crime syndicates have been keeping a low profile over the last couple of years. But seems like someone got greedy and decided to kill the middle man. With a bomb. Damn I'm not getting paid enough for this...'
'You certainly don't. This is getting serious. But this has hardly anything to do with me hasn't it?'
'So can I pass now?'
'I'd say so. Only one question?'
'Who is the dead guy?' when the guard said that I felt panic rubbing its head against my heart.
'That one?' Petrova asked 'He's a friend. I showed him how to party like a Russian. He's till got a long way to go.'
'He's still got a long way to go.'
'Yeah. So. Anything else you need? Passports? Fingerprints? DNA profile?'
'It's OK you can pass. Have a good night.'
'You too. and if you need some more fuel just tell me and I'll give you enough to fill up your tank for a week.'

Not taking her eyes from the street in front of her Petrova started talking.
'What were you thinking blowing up the Triads anyway?'
'They were trying to take to some damp cold place where they would have tortured me until I had come up with a good enough story for them to believe followed by death.'
'That still does not explain the blowing up part.'
Come to think of it she was right.
'I was covering my escape?'
'What do you suppose would have happened after you jumped out of the window and down the bridge? That they sprout wings and come flying after you. You said that they weren't the people who were trying to kill you. Now you killed one of their bosses and publicly humiliated them. Were does that leave you?'
'I do admit that that wasn't the most clever plan I had but I was under a lot of pressure.'
'You were drugged and drunk. It's miracle that you came out alive in the first place.'
She was right. My chemical friends might have given me some confidence and made me think faster. But that way I just managed to do more stupid shit per minute. I took an upper out of my pocket and seeing that the 'fuel' was gone I put it in my mouth to swallow it dry.
'Did you just take another pill?'
'I'm still trying but its a bit sticky.'
'Spit it out.'
'What? Why?' the pill was stuck to my tongue and I could not produce enough saliva to unstick it.
'The last time you took drugs you turned an entire crime cartel against you, I don't want to know what you will do next.'
'It's just an upper to keep me going.'
'You will spit that pill out this very instant or I will kill you my self.'
'I just fell asleep. I was not even tired. I need all the help I can get.'
'You fell asleep because you took drugs in the first place you idiot. Spit it out. Now.'
I cranked open the window and spent the next minute spitting out the pill that had glued itself into my mouth.
'That's better.' she said. 'When we are back at my home we'll give you a strong coffee and a shot of vodka. That's all the uppers you'll need.'
I sulked for a couple of minutes until I remembered our luggage.
'What are we going to do with the large guy?' I asked.
'We will interrogate him to find out who paid him to get you. Then we'll get rid of him and be on our merry way.'
I did not like the sound of that. With each step I took trying to get my self out of this mess I seemed to just get myself into a position even worse than the one where I had started. From pianist, to escapee, to assassin of crime lords.
Suddenly being a burnt out musician in a third rate brothel sounded rather nice.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Project Rain 11

Chapter 8 continued

'The gravity dampers on my gun are detachable. It should be pretty easy to strop them to the plug-in. Then we just have to haul it to the car.' I suppressed the urge to add a 'Right?' at the end of that sentence. I felt that manly confidence was the best way to go.
'And where will the dampers get their power from?' Petrova made a point of examining the metal cylinder with great care.
'Power?' I had to control y voice to keep it from breaking.
'Yes. Power. Did you really think you get to break a fundamental law of nature for free?'
'I actually had never thought about that.'
'You do give a lot of things no thought, don't you?'
'That is a bit unfair. I am under a lot of stress here. It seems that everyone but the Triads are trying to kill me. Which isn't really helping my thought process. And really as long as it works' I gestured towards my gun that she was still hanging from her belt 'I really don't care how it works.' She rolled her eyes and started pacing up and down the pawn shops little vault. Two and a half steps up, two and a half steps down. Cursing under her breath pausing every once in a while to look at the plug-in and shake her head at me.
'How about this' I said 'I get us a couple of crowbars. We can use them as levers to get the plug in out. Then we just roll the thing to the car. Case closed.'
'Yes why don't we just drop a priceless cylinder stuffed full of fragile gears to the ground and roll it around in the dirt a bit.' her reserves of scorn seemed limitless.
    'Fine. I'm not a tech guy. But you are hardly helping, are you? I can be sarcastic all on my own I really don't need your help for that. I need your help with this.' I pointed at the plug in.
She cursed.
'You wait here I will go and look if I can't find something useful.' she turned around and stalked out of the vault.
'Wait!' I called after her. 'My gun.'
Another judgement by glances only this time she gave me a court nod and handed me my pistol. I pushed the deposit box shut. Which gave me an idea. I ran after Petrova to share my latest brilliant idea.

She was upstairs browsing through all the junk that was ready to find a new owner looking for something she might use. She was in a state of constant head-shaking. When it came to look utterly disappointed with nice dash general disgust she could have given my father a run for his money.
'I think I might have thought of something.' I said.
    'I admire your courage. What's it this time? Tiny helicopters?'
'No. I just noticed that the secure box which is holding the plug in is really easy to open and close.' One eye brow moved up and one corner of her mouth went down. 'No hear me out. When I dumped the plug-in into the deposit box it did not budge a bit. So I would guess that it has got its own gravity dampers.'
'Sounds plausible.' her eye brow and her mouth corner moved closer together again.
    'OK. Those things are built to take a lot of punishment from outside. But not from the inside. I mean' I dropped my voice a few notches, the owner of the pawn shop was browsing some magazine but I really did not want to risk him overhear my fabulous plan 'who ever opens a safe deposit box and then tries to steal it?'
'I see where this is going but there is still the problems with the...' now her face was almost neutral. Just her crossed arms needed some more convincing.
    'The energy I know. What ever reduces those drawers light is probably hooked to an external power-supply. But we could get a battery or something and hook it up to it. Right?' as manly as the class nerd eager to please the teacher.
    'Hmmm... Yes that might work. OK. You know this place better than I. I need a charged high power battery. Do you know where we can get one?'
    'Certainly. The Square of Desires is not 100 meters from here and on its market we should be able to get one of those without a problem.'
A tiny smile appeared on her face. 'Right let's go then.'

It did not take long to find a stall on the market selling all kinds of car related junk. Petrova had come up with a good enough cover story about a ridiculously overpowered quadrophonic sound system for her car which needed some serious juice. The vendor was all to happy to oblige her and was scuttling all over his stall like an over exited capitalist hamster unloading some of his choice morsels in front of her. She produced some kind of measuring device from her tool-belt. It looked like a cyborg popsicle with rainbow coloured wires for hair. She attached some of the wires to the first battery on offer. A solid silver ring the size of a small fist. She watched the data parade over the little devices screen while it made a rather sad noise that went from low to lower. Pertrova looked at the vendor, she sighed deeply and her eyes went to do their grisly work. They took the man's head and started to make a brain omelette.
    'I could have better performance using a potato and a lemon. This does not make me want to buy your shit it makes me want to set you on fire.' The man looked slightly nervous and started to tell her how that was actually a very cost efficient device, but Petrova just silenced him with a glance. Now she tried a smile. It was mostly a baring of teeth.
    'I am a reasonable person. So I will give you one more chance before I go somewhere else. Try and give me a really good battery. So far I am not very impressed with your performance.' her voice had gone from icy to malicious innuendo, 'So just try to think of what impression you are giving when presenting me with this tiny, useless, shrivelled piece of shit.' she opened her hand letting the battery fall down with an audible crash onto the stall, her eyes fixed into those of the vendor. The man had gone through some rather impressive colour changes in the last few seconds. A chameleon witnessing this would have probably turned green in envy and felt inadequate about that too.
    In the end he produced some below the counter batteries which elicited some slightly bored coos from the little device. Good enough.
We were walking back to the pawn shop when a large man stopped us. He was wearing a wide brimmed hat against the rain and a long coat to conceal his arsenal of weapons. Either that or he disliked leaving his house without his golf clubs.
'Piss off missy.' he was also very charming.
'And a good evening to you to.' I said while keeping an eye on Petrova who I was sure was already planning a murder.
'Shut up Kane. You're coming with me now. Nice and quiet and we will see that your girlfriend here goes home in one piece.'
'See I told you I was famous.' I told Petrova using this to have a proper look at her and see if there was someone behind us that might be a colleague of the large man. Petrova to my surprise looked terrified. But at least the streeth behind us seemed to be clear. There where only the usual patrons of Leftover street who now minded their own business with utmost concentration.
'Now missy do piss off before daddy gets angry!'
'Oh... OK... Just please don't hurt me... Sir.'
I started to believe that I had slipped into a parallel dimension. The new Petrova retreated hastily backwards almost falling down in the process.
'Now to you Kane. Are you going to come with me or do I have to beat you up a bit first?'
I answered that by pulling out my gun.
'How about you turn around and piss off mate?' I said.
I just got an ugly smile full of ugly teeth as an answer.
'Don't think I will shoot you.' as I said that I pushed the button that let the laser aim points light up for dramatic effect.
The large man was still not impressed. He pointed with one thumb over his shoulder saying: 'And you should not think that 'I have come alone to get you.' Taking a step back to avoid a surprise attack I looked up to where he was pointing. Far above the ground sticking to the wall like a strange bug was another person. Clad in black wielding a rather evil looking rifle. The sniper also turned on his laser sight for dramatic effect. That worked pretty well I had to admit. Then he exploded. Also very surprising but not as intimidating. The large man hearing the explosion turn around with one of his hands moving inside of his coat.
    That was all the invitation I needed. I covered the distance between us with all the sweaty nervous excitement that comes with an old fashioned rush of adrenalin. I raised my arm holding my gun high into the air ready to strike. The large man turned around to me again his eyes still wide in surprise. When he saw me coming he pulled his arm up with shocking speed intercepting the gun on its way towards his face. When the the practically weightless barrel was slowed down by the block it released its entire mass again. The gun broke through the bones pulverizing them and there was still enough momentum left to smash right into the large man's face sending him into the ground in an awkward pirouette leaving a spiral trail of blood spit and broken tears.

The passerbys had all frozen for a shocked second when they suddenly remembered that they had some pressing business to attend to far away. Petrova walked back to me her rifle leaning over her shoulder.
'Well done Kane. If a bit excessive.'
'Excessive? You just made that sniper explode!'
She shrugged. 'Explosive rounds tend to do that. He still alive?' she prodded the prone figure with the tip of her boot. There were some gurgling noises coming from the heap that had once been the large man. 'Brilliant. We'll take him with us.'
I had to agree with her 'Some answers would be nice for a change.' I could not shake the feeling that things were going more and more out of control with every passing moment.
'Can you drive?' she asked?
'OK you get the car then. You pack this idiot into the boot.' another prod with the boot. 'While I try to modify drawer in the pawn shop.'

I got the car. Shoved the still unconscious puddle of a man into the boot. Tied his hand and feet with the the car's jumper cable to avoid some unpleasant jack-in-the-box action later. That done I drove back to the pawnshop. Inside Petrova was working on the safe deposit box.
'Will it work?' I asked.
'I think it will. The dampers are integrated into the drawer itself and the connection to the mains is actually pretty straight forward. And the best part is that the boxes are actually made to be easily removed. Looks like we can leave the cover plate intact. No one will even notice that we took it.'
'Brilliant. I brought a tarpaulin to cover our new toy.' bought for one measly credit from this very pawn-shop.
'Good thinking Kane.'
    Five minutes later we were hauling out the plug-in with its new handy drawer. The gravity damping was not as good as with the carrying case, but at least we were able to get it out. I checked out my 'parcel' paying for the day it had been in the vault and because I felt guilty about demolishing the shop I had left 250 Credits behind the cover plate of my former safe deposit box.
Then we were of on the streets again with a failed murdered in the boot, a miracle of modern technology on the back seat and a goal before our eyes. Now we could finally go and teach a terraformer how to speak.

Project Rain 10

Chapter 8

Her shower was a shower-head with attachment for a large white metal bathtub with cast iron lions feet. Perfect. I was in no shape to stand for longer periods of time so I was happy to simply sit in the tub having hot water rain down on me slowly washing away the stench. I had a bush on a long handle one you'd use to scrub hard to reach parts on your back. I used it simply to reach parts. Moving the brush symbolically, leaving soapy trails on my skin. I watched how the soap tracks dissolve. Life was good. For a while.
    I could not stay here forever as nice as it was I, no, we had to keep going.
When I got out of the bathroom Katja Petrova was already waiting for me. She was the picture of a modern adventurer. With a long leather jacket, a tool belt full of gleaming steel and her pet rifle slung over her shoulder.    
    'So where is that plug-in of yours?'
'I left it in a safe deposit box in a pawn shop near Old Town back in the European sector. And where is my gun?'
She moved her jacket back over her tool belt revealing my gun hanging between a hammer and something that looked like the love child between a lighter and an anteater.
'I kinda need that gun.'
'And I kinda need to trust you first.'
'Fair enough. I guess.'
She turned around walking to the stairs.
'Follow me, we'll take my car.'
'Good I haven't bought mine yet.'

Soon after we were thundering back towards Old Town in her monstrous car. Most cars here were electric cars they were almost silent very powerful and there was a public power socket at every street corner. Electricity being one of the many products that the terraformers produced in almost limitless amounts. But Miss Petrova drove an enormous four seater with a combustion engine that burned alcohol.
'Isn't it expensive to run a car like this?'
'A combustion car? Not really. More expensive than free but I mostly drive for the pleasure. Public transport is everywhere and it is boring. So when I do get out for my free time I like to be either on my own or with the people I wish to travel with. Also just listen to it!' As she said that she floored the accelerator changing the low murmur of the cars engine into a high pitched turbine noise. It also left my inner organs in the boot. I had to fight the urge to undrink my coffee.
'Very impressive but could you go a bit easier. I am still not feeling that well.'
'You are doing pretty well for the state you were in yesterday. That's quite impressive.'
'Enhanced liver.'
'You were a soldier.' it sounded genuinely surprised which I found genuinely offensive.
'No, I was rich.'
'Really? So how comes that you did end up working on a train?'
'You said you were a conductor.'
She and my dignity were in a street brawl and right now she was bashing its face repeatedly into a brick wall.
'I was a conductor of an orchestra.'
'For one of the big ones?'
'The Addis Abeba Royal Orchestra.'
This did elicited a whistle. A hand was offered to my dignity.
'So how did you fuck that up ended drunk and wet at my doorstep?' and a straight to the chin.
'Long story.'
'Can wait. Open the glove box and hand me the bottle with the skull on it.'
'What's that?' it was filled with a clear liquid and sealed with a cork.'
'Fuel for the car. Another plus. I can make it myself. Bit of a hobby. And I'll need it. This is my favourite part.'
    She uncorked the bottle with her teeth as we turned a corner. Before us stretched the bridge back to Old Town. She spit the cork into my general direction and took a large swig from the bottle and made a satisfied roaring noise.
'Hold on to your internal organs Kane.'
She floored the accelerator again and then it seemed she pushed it right through the floor as the car just kept accelerating. As I started vanishing into my seat my life had a quick glance out of my eyes to see if it was time to wander up and down before my eyes again but just shrugged and went back inside. The lights of the bridge rushed by so fast that they turned into lines. We past the spot where the triad wagon must have exploded but there was only a bit where there were no lights. A short flash of darkness but nothing else.

Not long after we were standing in front of an open safe deposit box looking at the plug-in.
'What the fuck is that supposed to mean Kane?' Petrova gestured towards the glinting cylinder.
'That's the speech thing I told you about. Why? Is something wrong with it?'
'As far as I can tell it's fine. But where the fuck is its carrying case?'
'Oh that. Well I took it with me and then detonated it.'
'You did what?' her eye brows narrowed and went up a bit creating a small vertical wrinkle on her brow that looked like it could crush stones.
'I made it explode. To get rid of some Triads. I'm pretty sure that they were going to kill me.'
'And how do you suppose are we going to get that thing out to the car let alone to any terraformer.'
'I thought about carrying it.'
'Really. Have you tried lifting it?'
'Go on try it.'
I tried. It did not move. At all. It sat snugly in its safe deposit box, tipping it into it had been easy enough. But now it was the very idea of unmovable. Theologians would have used it on their god asking Him Her or It to move it to prove their divine power.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Project Rain 9

Chapter 7 continued

Not long afterwards I was slumped on a chair almost lying on the table before me, huddled over a steaming mug of coffee inhaling the steam rising from it. I made happy noises.
'So.' the woman that lived in the pair of boots said after watching for a while. 'To what do I owe the honour of being assaulted by drunk maniac in the middle of the night.'
    I was about to answer but she was just getting started.
'A drunk on drugs and wet like something that the cat dragged out of a storm drain. And.' Dramatic pause. Suggesting a humiliating punchline. 'Someone who seems to be training for the projectile vomiting championship.' OK that's a bit awkward. 'All over my entrance stairway corridor and in the end bathroom.' Shame strode boldly into the room and pinched me in the cheek, telling me how much I had grown. I let my glances wander slowly towards where the woman sat, but then they reached her slightly trembling fist got scared and hid behind the coffee mug again.
    'Look. I'm very sorry about that. I... I will clean up the mess. I promise. But it...' She just laughed without humour.
'You were knocked out for almost 12 hours. I had to do it myself and I was tempted using you as a rag.'
Silence settled over us.
I knew that it was my turn to say something but what did you say in such a situation? I tried to sip the coffee. It was still hot and very strong. It tasted almost real. My body reluctantly accepted it. I tried again to look at my host. There were the piercing eyes from the entrance. Almost black in a pale face. The mouth a smirk.
I gritted my teeth against the drills working their way into my skull when ever I spoke.
'Let me try again. Hello. My name is Hamilton Kane. I am a conductor. I came here because you can help me with something that I have to do.'
'And what would that be?'
'I have to enter a terraformer.'
She snorted.
'Why should I help you with that. I'm an architect.'
'You need to work on your cover Mrs. Petrova.' I heroically lifted my head to meet her hard gaze straight on. It was like meeting a train straight on.
'I beg your pardon...' her voice carried enough ice to turn a desert into a clever metaphor.
"If you want people to think that you are innocent then you should say 'How could I help you' and not 'Why should I...'" suddenly her pet the rifle was on the table its muzzle hungry for my life.
'You test my patience Kane. Talk. Talk in a way that makes me want to kill you less.' her look were what a hit-man's look wanted to be when it grew up.
'You were recommended to me by Bryce Franklin. He told me that you were the person I had to talk to about terraformers.'
'Franklin is an idiot.'
'Yes his knowledge seems rather limited.' I had read in a women's magazine at my hair-dresser once that people liked it a lot when you simply rephrased what they had just said.
'Absolutely. He is always talking about stats, theories, stupid numbers. God that man is irritating.' Wow. Thank you Solar Lady!
'Wisearse but without any grounding in reality.'
'Absolutely. He always quotes his stupid manuals. And quote official top secret documentation unquote. As if that would make his regurgitated book knowledge more true. It's simply not true. Terraformers are immensely complex machines. Probably the most complicated machines humanity has ever build. Once you set such a system in motion things change. You have to adapt to the reality of the machines. If you just follow the fucking handbook you will end up with a disaster on your hands. I mean just look what happened with Harumadis in the European sector in Old Town. A bunch of suits with handbooks and regulations and quote maximum yield for minimum expense unquote strategies walk right in and try to dictate their ideas upon reality. In the end the fucking terraformer broke in fucking half. A machine designed to last tens of thousands of years destroyed in two and a half years!'  She slammed her fist on the table sending the coffee mug and her rifle jumping in surprise and me in excruciating pain. I had created a monster. Thank you Solar Lady...

'I agree. He is not good enough. I need someone who knows how things really work. Which is why I am here. I need the advice f someone who actually knows how these things work.' that would had sounded better with me wincing.
'They work on their own. That's what they were made for. You stick them in the ground and they do the rest.'
'I know. But you can change them can't you?'
'I certainly can't.' she could not have distanced her self more from my implications if she had taken the next space train back to Earth.
'I mean hypothetically. There are functions that can be added. With plug-ins.'
'Actually it is more complicated than that. The terraformers are thousands of miles of analytical engines so their potential is almost limitless. The plug-in just tells them how to unlock a certain ability. You could theoretically teach them from scratch but...'
'Yes. Thank you. Fascinating.' And there was that icy stare again. She was like a cryogenic light house.

'I have a plug in.' there I said it.
She had her best Sunday poker face on but her eyes the little traitors were all round and full of stars.
'One that can teach a terraformer to speak.'
'How did you get such a thing?'
'Heirloom.' if my my deformed contact Kennedy could be a human this could be a truth.
'You inherited a Class A restricted piece of machine.' how dare that woman say that Kennedy was not a human!
'It's a long story and really not the important bit here. The important part is that I have this plug-in which I'd love to use.'
'What for?'
'I need help.'
'You seem to need a lot of that.'
'Yes. I do. People are trying to kill me.'
'Imagine that.'
'There is a price on my head. Hit men are after me. They all think I have some kind of vital information. But I have no idea what it is. I can't work it out myself. But with a terraformer to sift through what I know, to go through all permutations of possibilities... that way I might find something. My time is running out. Getting here was very hard.Everywhere I go there is someone already waiting ready to kill or torture me. I'd like to at least know why.'
I sat back. I was sick and tired but I was finished with snivelling.

'What you are planning is ridiculous. It is close to suicide.'
'I'm living on borrowed time anyway. I'd rather go down in flames than let myself being led to slaughter.'
She smiled.
'I like that.'
'Yes. Despite the way you look and act and smell there seems to be a man hidden somewhere inside you. Now drink your coffee while I prepare myself. Oh and feel free to take a shower.'
She got up and left me with my coffee. She paused when she was passing the door.
'And when I say feel free I mean do it or I'll kill you with a shovel.'

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Project Rain 8

Chapter 7 continued

I woke up to the worst hangover of my life. That was probably a lie as I was prone to some highly experimental freestyle partying when I was still young and successful, but right now I was pretty impressed by the constant super nova inside my head. I tried to sit up. A task which almost turned me into a puke fountain. But the cramps that ripped my insides apart informed me that I had already  done my share of reverse feasting while I was still mostly unconscious. That left me only with dribbling bit of bile out of the corner of my mouth and hyperventilating to pass my time. I passed out again and found myself lying on the floor my face pressing into the rough carpet the next time I came to again. My left arm still resting on the sofa from which I must have fallen. Somewhere far away in the corner of the room lay a blanket in a disgusted pile. It had probably tried to get as far from me as possible. The air in the room was stale and had the acid smell of old sweat. Lovely.
    The door opened sending in a wave of fresh air that mixed with that in the room somehow managing to smell even more offensive. Framed by the open door with dramatic back illumination stood a pair of dour looking boots. Staying close to the heels was the mean looking rifle barrel that had greeted me when I had arrived here. The boots move a couple of steps forward with the barrel jumping up and with to much enthusiasm for my flattened self took the lead. It had almost arrived in my face opening its large dark maw as if to sniff at me. I could smell a faint odour of CL20 the solid fuel that propelled its bullets. The boots restrained the over eager rifle.
'You are alive.' said the boots. Strange they had a woman’s voice. Still dangerous but more conspicuously hidden knife edges and less the ceramic capped shin breakers that I saw.
'Old habits die hard.'
'What do you want from me?'
'A coffee would be grand.'
'Do I look like a waitress to you?'
'No. You look like a pair of angry boots to me. But you asked and I thought it might be worth the risk. I had a rather rough night and went through some rather surprising lengths to find you.' I drooled a bit. 'I have different hangovers fighting a war of succession over my almost dead body. A coffee would be very nice.' Silence. 'I'd be your best friend forever?' I croaked.
    I heard a contemptuous snort. Then the boots turned around and walked right out of the room. The evil rifle following it but not with out glancing in my direction every so often. The door slammed shut instantly sending whole factory loads of rusty nails and screws into my head. A whimper crawled out of my throat into safety. I started to empathise with Europa herself who had been viciously skewered by thousands of terraformers to make her more habitable to man kind. I was still wondering if that meant that I was now a hospitable place for lice to live on when the door opened again and the boots came back in. This time without the rifle. Instead they brought with them the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. My stomach was preparing to give me another mime show depicting the angry washing machine but my hippocampus campus told it to shut up and with its best 'Let this be a lesson to you' expression released a tiny bit of joy into my bloodstream.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Project Rain 7

Chapter 7

Also someone has filled my lungs with broken glass and now an angry giant is squeezing them with all his force. I open my eyes. I try screaming but now sound comes out of my mouth. Just bubbles.
I'm under water. Above me I see my voice floating towards the surface.
Panic pays me a visit but I tell it to fuck off. I focus and start ascending towards the surface. The desire to breath start to become overwhelming. I grit my teeth. Trying to exhale what little air I have left trying to trick my lungs into patience. The more I exhale now the more I can inhale once my head is out of the water again. It almost works but not quite. I start sucking in water through my teeth while panic kicks in the door demanding to be heard. My strokes turn into wild flaying as I start to breath in water. Not yet. Just one more second. A few centimetres. Liquid reaches my windpipe. I try to cough violently. Not easy with empty lungs. As I start to breathing a large mouthful of water I finally break the surface. Air. Sweet delicious air. And water droplets. I breath and cough and flail. It is all very undignified but also very alive. I start to calm down getting my movements under control and my coughs turn into gasps and then into normal breathing.
    I'm alive.

Above me looms the open sky dominating by the impossibly large Jupiter staring at me with its one furious eye. Behind me the bridge extends seemingly into infinity vanishing in to the distant mist. High above the Triad wagon burns in silence. Down here I can only here the gentle patter of the rain on the water dyed in a warm flickering orange. I feel like shit. I grab into one of my pockets and extract a small plastic bag containing a choice collection of pills. As I open it most of the contents fall into the water. I don't care. The only important thing is that I get a couple of uppers. I know that its stupid to take even more drugs but with out them to keep me going the light less depths below me well get to have me to dinner after all. I'm not done yet. It only takes a minute before I feel wide awake and energized. I also hear my organs starting to write lengthy invoices. I will have to worry about them later. Now I have to get to the Russian sector. I start swimming with al the elegance of an otter, inside a sack of potatoes. I was never a great swimmer and time had not done my technique any favours. But it slowly got me where I had to go.
After an hour or so with only my guns awkward bobbing to keep me company I reach what goes for the waters edge here. A small platform built wearing the latest in algae fashion built around one of the Cyclopean pillars that holds the city securely in place. I spend some time slipping and falling on the slimy ground until I reach the ladder built into the side of the column. I grab hold of a metal rung and pull me up. Standing on the ladder I listen to my body. I tells me to go on. All is well.
    The crash following this will be horrible. I have to hurry. I work my way up. It takes forever. And ends a man-hole cover. It's locked. This can't be happening. Now even the City is trying to kill me too? I force my self to stay calm climb a few more rungs and press my back against the cover. Nothing happens. I only feel the large steel ridges pressing harder into my back. This doesn't work. I reposition myself and look down. Cold terror grabs hold of my heart and begins to eat a few chunks. Bellow me is only endless darkeners shimmering very faintly as the water below reflects the light of Jupiter. I look up again. There close to my face I only see the light coming through the holes in the metal plate above me. This can't be. These ladders are mostly here for idiots like me who may fall off the city into the water below and survive. It should, no it must open from below. I pull out my gun and turn on its electric torch.
A spring bolt. That does make sense. I slide it back and lo and behold the stupid man-hole cover opens. The lock is there to prevent idiots, drunk or otherwise mentally impaired just to open these things and plummet into their deaths. I crawl out of the floor feeling a wave of relieve now that I finally have solid ground under my feet again. I look around and find my self in a dark side alley but apart from me and my scary gun there is no one.
    I move towards the brighter lit end of the alley finding myself on one of the main streets leading directly to the local terraformer. I am actually genuinely lucky for a change as I find my self not three blocks from Kiev station. While I would have preferred the ferry instead of being Shanghaied by the Chinese followed by a refreshing swim in the planet light I was actually faster this way. I walked down the main street concentrating on my goal hardly noticing the local architecture. While the United Empires of Europe had been busy building enormous sky scrapers as if they could not wait to get off their freshly colonized moon again the Russians had first settled on the ground and then carefully built their high rise cathedrals around the existing colonial houses.
This looked actually like a real city. While the ground level was as dilapidated as the rest of Europa it had maintained its dignity. Much like an old lady who may be all frail and wrinkly now but would at the slightest provocation uses her bag filled with broken bricks and powered by indignation to beat some manners into you.
    After a bit of searching made more interesting by street signs written in Cyrillic I finally found the house of Katja Petrova. A nice cosy place. With two floors the first slightly elevated with a large faux wooden door holding court in the middle of the façade with eight stone steps as its throne surrounded by a halo of large windows, the ones in the first floor dark mirrors while the ones in the second floor were spilling warm light all over the street.
    I walked up the steps feeling a light quivering in my legs. The uppers were finally wearing off. I rang the bell. Nothing. I rang it again more insistently this time. Still nothing. I knocked on the door. First with my fist then for a more dramatic effect by kicking the door and ringing the bell again for good measure. This was answered by a female voice cursing loudly inside the house followed by heavy steps on stairs.
    The door swung open but there was no one standing behind it. There was a large rifle barrel resting on a counter that was behind the door at the side of stairs leading up, and behind that really very large barrel where a pair of furious eyes.
    'Who the fuck are you and what do you want?' demanded angry little eyes.
'Katja Petrova?' I asked.
'My name is Hamilton Kane and I am pleased to meet you.' now that etiquette had been satisfied I fell unconscious. Like a wet sack of potatoes. Without the otter.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Project Rain 6

Chapter 6

I was lead upstairs into a narrow but comfortable room housing a very nice very mahogany table which sat smugly between two leather chairs. There was also a small bar housing a collection of rare liquid treasures that almost made me squeak in excitement. Instead I just stared at them. My host noticed my discrete glances and actually asked me if I wanted a drink.
Of course I wanted a drink.
'Only if you take one too, Mr...' I raised my eyebrows and left a name shaped hole open in our conversation.
'Sun.' I hoped that that was his name and that he was not trying to tell me that he would divulge his name soon.
'A pleasure Mr. Sun.'
He turned around busying himself with glasses and bottles.
'Ice?' he asked.
'No. No ice.'
I waited for Sun to sit down and take his first sip before I allowed my self to drink. Paranoid? Maybe, but in the last few hours three different parties had tried to kill me for reasons that escaped me even more than fame and glory. I took my sip. It was heaven. Complex and peaty with a spectacular finish that went on for ever. Bliss.
'... would you not agree?'
It seemed that Mr. Sun had been speaking for a while.
'Yes...?' it was worth a try.
'But why are so many killers after you?'
'I have no idea Mr. Sun. I play the piano in a really low class brothel. One with whores. Not hostesses, not escorts and not companions. The only place that is cheaper than the one I work at is the street corner. And while I might not be the greatest of all pianists I am really not bad enough for people to want to kill me.'
'So it seems. But things are often not as they seem, are they Mr. Kane.'
I was talking to a fortune cookie.
'By which you imply...?'
'Since the word spread that you are wanted dead by someone in a position most lofty I took an interest in you. It is most peculiar. First of all no one actually knows who is paying so much money for your life. The people I got to' he paused here for a moment looking up at the ceiling 'ask about it could just tell me about middle men and tempting offers on the clandestine message boards where wet-work is distributed among the day-labourers of the underworld.'
'And it's not even my birthday.'
Sun gave me one annoyed look but decided not to have my legs broken.
'Digging deeper into your personal life I did find that you have been boosting your rather tragic wage with trading information to various low level peons.'
'See? Low level. Nothing serious.'
'And yet a very influential player wants you dead. This leaves me with only one possible conclusion. You hold in your hands information so vital that it might topple one of the greater powers of Europa. And if this is the case I want that information.'
'It's not the case. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that the person who wants to kill me is not with the Triads.'
'Why is that.'
'I'm sitting here. Drinking expensive Scotch and you haven't killed me.'
'Most astute. Yet this is hardly new to me. Look, Mr Kane, I am a reasonable man. All I want is the information that you are so zealously guarding.'
I saw where this was going and it was not a nice place. If at all possible it was a place that was even worse than the early grave that had been my destination so far.
'I am trying to give you a chance here. You can talk now. Or we will make you talk.'
I stood up walked over to the bar and poured me another drink. I fully intended to take advantage of the bar. My next drink would probably be a cocktail made from two parts blood and one part teeth. Thankfully the Übermensch was still whispering sweet nothings to my ego so that I kept my cool and my hand steady. Sun was a high level criminal wrapped in layers and layers of civilisation and style all in the hope to hide his rotten murderous core. But the monster he had turned into was looking at me from the depths of his eyes.
'You understand Mr. Sun that the information I am privy to is of a very delicate nature.' I'd play along.

I walked over to the window opposite to the table. A wonder of ceramics looking like lacquered wood and paper panes. I slid it open. No one protested. A bad sign. It meant that they did not really care if I saw were we were going.
'Every organisation needs its peons the henchmen the bouncers and leg-breakers. It is the foundation of every kind of organisation.' I turned around. Sun was looking at me the beast inside was now looking at me with deep fascination. Not quite sure if it was seeing a fellow predator or an exotic dinner.
'These people are the basis. The roots. Without them the entire structure would not hold. Do you know what I am Mr. Sun?'
Large eyes. No comprehension.
'What my job is?'
'I heard that you are a pianist.'
That one never stoped to sting. My temper flared as it always did when people called me a fucking pianist, third rate brothel pianist at that. Usually this made me bitter but thanks to my new pill shaped friends I felt indignation.
'I am a conductor.' My nose was so far up now that outside I would have drowned in the rain.
'10 years ago on Earth I went from one success to the next with the Royal Symphonic Orchestra of Addis Abeba. And one thing I understand above all other things is polyphony. When you take each instrument isolate it, listening just to its part of a symphony you hear nothing. Just some random noises. If I may give you a piece of advice later when you torture me just get one tuba player and let him play his part of a concert in isolation. I guarantee that after 15 minutes everyone in the room will admit everything.'
Dramatic pause. Sun regarded me with great interest now. Even the man in green was taking notice of me. Usually bodyguards only see empty rooms or people that need to be severely beaten.
'The magic happens when all instruments play together in perfect harmony. Harmony. A word from music theory. When you understand how all the bits and pieces fit together only then you unlock the magnificence of music! And do you know how I do that? The piecing together? Seeing if it all works?'
Sun shook his head very slightly.
'In my head!' eyes wide, index fingers pointing at my brow.
He recoiled a tiny bit. That filled me with immense pleasure somehow. It also meant that for now I had a rapt audience. Enough time to make an escape plan. I started to pace up and down the room gesticulating with my glass working on my escape without rousing suspicion.
'That. That is my secret. When I was in that shit Brothel listening to low-life lackeys talking about their work when drunk on sex, drugs and alcohol I pieced together the symphony of power in this city. True I did not had all the parts. But puting it together piece by piece I started to see a theme emerging.' The theme being that I was fucked. The green guard was blocking the stairs. The other doors just lead into dead ends and the window was suicide.
'If you listen very closely you see the underlying currents. After that you only need to fill in the gaps.' I looked out of the window again in what I hoped would look like another dramatic pause. I drained half of my glass. I felt how my ego enhancing drugs where starting to quiver. We were driving down a lone bridge one of the few parts of the city where the space between two terraformers had not yet been covered by buildings. To my left I could see Old Town vanishing into the fog while to my right the lights of the Russian sector where looming ever nearer. Funny. They really were going in my direction.
'So.' Sun started to talk again. 'You managed to piece together some vital information just by what the henchmen were saying?' his voice was laden with doubt but it was carried by hope. The hope that wants to believe in that perfect scheme, in the pheromone perfume that will make you irresistible that still believes that Santa Clause might be real.
I snorted.
'Of course it is not that easy.' I decided to pepper my story with a bit of the truth. Meanwhile a plan was born. A horrible, a stupid plan. As Sherlock Holmes once said if you eliminate all impossibilities from a situation what remains no matter how stupid, is your plan. Or something like that.
'No I alone could not piece it together. It was just to vague and there were to many variables. I needed to get rid of the chaff. So I rented a terminal with high priority access to the analytical engines of the terraformer Poseidon and let it do the heavy lifting.'
I let Sun soak in the implications. Leaning out of the window I could see that we were getting closer to the edge of the Russian sector, the first buildings standing guard at the end of the bridge casting their neon light into the water below us.  When I turned around no one was looking at me, instead all eyes where on my black carrying case.
'Inside that case is a storage cylinder which contains my information. I was still testing my predictions but it seems that what I had on my hands had enough of an impact to make someone very nervous. I had planned to analyse my data to see who it was.' Not the triads obviously. 'But then things got ugly.'
'Show it to me.' Sun was dribbling greed all over the floor.
'Of course Mr. Sun. I assume that you have access to high yield analytical engines?'
'It can be arranged' he said without his eyes still trying to stare open the case.
'Well.' I stepped forward. 'Let me show you my secret then.'
I opened the hidden compartment on the side of the case, dialed my code in and let the security system taste my blood. I stepped back from the clicking case while Sun moved closer.
I rested my hands on the window sill leaning out taking one deep breath. The clicking and clacking grew more agitated and angry behind me. That was my cue I jumped up, my feet touching the edge of the window and I leapt.

The edge of the bridge was a farther away that I had thought. The idea of crashing face first into the bridge opened the floodgates of mortal terror. My drugs stood valiantly against the tide but were washed away in a split second. Time slowed down as my brain stopped thinking about anything else concentrating instead on my brilliant plan that would either see me with a head like a post party piñata or plummeting into the depths of what was considered a favourite activity spot by the local suicides. I flailed around with my arms and legs trying to clear myself from the bridge. My life tried to pass before my eyes I tried to ignore it. I needed to see what was in front of me not my bleeding fingers when I was 4 years old. Bleeding from practising the violin all day long. And I certainly did not need to see the face of my father silently watching me, closing his eyes and shaking his head a tiny bit before turning around leaving a trail of disappointment behind him. I shook myself out of it. The edge of the bridge was now directly in front of me. I pulled my head up. Exhaled. Tucked my stomach in. Pulled my legs back. Everything to miss the bridge. I felt it scraping at my fluttering clothes.
And I was past it.
I laughed as I fell past it. I decided that if my memories would march me into the underworld I might as well remember the good times.
Haydn Symphony No. 94 in G major. The second movement. Conducting it before a full house of mostly bored politicians and dignitaries. I loved this concert. Most of these people could not tell the difference between classical music and what they had been hearing on the elevator. The opening very silent, like my fall and then a sudden fortissimo hit. The wagon above me exploded. The shock wave burst out of it like a furious bouncer. When it noticed me it garbed me and ran me with all its fury into the water below.

No more memories.

Just darkness.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Project Rain 5

Chapter 4 continued

Louis turned around busying himself with searching the bodies of the two would be murderers.
'No ID man. Just some money and some weapons.'
After he was finished he lugged them away.
'What are you going to do with them?'
'They hardly carry any dough. But the bodies are good and still fresh. I'm gonna cut my losses man.' He looked at the hole in the wall. I was slowly growing fond of it was quite artful. He then moved his gaze to look at me for a moment and with distaste accumulating in his face back towards the corpses.
'I think you are taking the word cannibalize a bit literally Louis.'
'Fuck you Hamilton.'

After Louis had gone I counted my money. I almost shoot another hole in the wall when the numbers came together. In a couple of hours I had spent more money than I had in the past twelve months. If I kept burning through my resources like this I could throw myself into a storm drain and look forward to a new career as recycled protein meat in one of Convenient Lee's shelves. For a short moment the picture of the old man sorting his food packets into the shelves flashed before my mind's eye. After shivvering a bit I decided to do something constructive, I ordered my things distributing my money in pockets, linings, socks and shoes. Followed by sorting my drugs stufifng them into my pockets. My high-tech gun case went into the bag that once held my riches. I took a deep swig from my whiskey bottle. Perfect.
With bag and plug-in in one and my new best liquid friend in the other hand I left Keller's Inn. I now looked like a rundown loser again. Apart from the black monolith with a carrying handle that I dragged with me.
Perfect time to enhance my thinking process. I took a couple of Mind-Flashes tiny flat black pills with day-glo yellow cartoon lightnings on each side and washed them down with a swig of rhye.
I had to find that woman. She would lead me into a terraformer. In being the important part. Walking up to them was easy. Entering one was a different story. But so far she might as well have been the Virgin Mary having encountered her only in rumors. I thought about praying but decided that that would only end in a 'Serves you right.'
I had to know someone who knew more about that woman. Where did I hear from her first? Who could know and would also talk to me?
Bryce Franklin. A semi-regular at the Nightingale who came there too blow off steam when his body's demands started to distract him from his purer more cerebral pursuits. He knew stuff. No idea what he knew as most of the stuff he talked about when he was drunk bored me to tears. It was always about terraformers, their programing what made them tick. He talked so much about it with such an enthusiasm that I concluded that he must know something. Next stop Old Town. The only thing I had left to do now was to get rid of the giant who was shadowing me.

I turned around and looked him in the solar plexus. He was a big guy. I looked up. Good. That that made it easier to turn my nose up at him.
'Look friend. It is called shadowing because you stealthily follow your target like a shadow. Not because you walk so close behind them that you actually cast a shadow on them.'
The giant blinked a couple of times and then rumbled 'How about I show you my definition of pulping?'
Not bad.
'Look. How about this instead.' I pulled out my revolver and took a step back not quite sure how far those trees he used for arms would reach. 'I will give you my definition of a really good deal.'
The monstrous man took a step back. Good. He believed that I would kill him in cold blood. That made us one. I blindly fished out a Credit note from my inner pocket. A 100 Credit note, damn. The giant man looked at it with wide eyes licking his lips with sudden hunger.
'My deal is, I give you this shiny 100 Credit note then I proceed not shooting you and we both walk our merry ways. How does that sound?'
The giant in front of me just nodded and made a step towards me.
'No. Stop right there. Here. I put the bill down. Right here. Now I step back. See. And now you can get it. Grand! No go and live happily ever after.'
I watched him walk away then turned around and mapped the best course into Old Town. A rout that would get me there as quickly as possible but without exposing me to too many curious eyes.
This day had made itself at home in my life and showed no intention of leaving.

Chapter 5

I left the drain returning to the dirty fringes of Old Town, entering the red light district through the aptly named Cheap Ass Alley. I averted my eyes so much I might as well have taken them out of their sockets and put them in my pocket to protect them from the sights. But that would have meant risking running blindly into the alleys more spectacular specimens on offer. The thought made me shudder. I walked faster with my next goal in sight. Only a few hundred meters more until I reached the Square of Desires. A large square covered by a 24/7 market that was constantly in motion. Where ever one stall closed and vanished another one took his place.  The narrow paths between the stalls were patrolled by street vendors with an unrivalled capitalist hunger attacking any individual that showed the faintest sign of interest in their merchandise. I had passed through here enough times to know how to get rid of most of them with a gesture or a hard stare.
I regretted now that I had distributed my money and drugs so evenly as every collision with anyone, any slight touch, sent my hands frantically all over my body to make sure that I had not encountered one of the squares many pickpockets. AS I walked over the Square of Desires I my hands flying around killing a swarm of invisible ants a path started to open in front of me as most people did not want to get near me. Sometimes looking like an insane hobo has its perks. The faster I got out of here the better. I made a short break to take another swig of whiskey to keep me warm and then hurried on into Leftover street. An almost cheerful street compared to the rest of the quarter which was lined by little food stalls and small restaurants offering meals for reasonable prices and catering to a wide range of culinary  tastes. As long as these tastes where happy with synthetic and recycled protein or if more quality conscious real organic rats. There were also a large number of pawn shops here all easily identifiable by their large shining neon signs and their heavily fortified doors and windows. The more upper class establishments going so as to cover the entire building in armour plates.

I entered one of the more high class pawn shops and came out a new man. I was prudent for a change I got rid of everything that did not directly help me reach my goal, the gun case being among them and used my newly earned cash to get me a change of clothes. Everyone who was looking for me was looking for me dressed in my usual cheap black suit and crumpled trench-coat that was more trench than coat. I bought myself a nice used suit. Dark blue with a metallic sheen and golden stripes down the side of the legs and on the cuffs draped over my shoulders I wore a long midnight blue coat with similar golden highlights. I looked like an overexcited ship steward with a terminal taste disorder. Perfect. I hefted the plug-in case over my shoulder and continued my trek towards the centre of Old Town.

Nothing could stop me now.

Something was not right.

I slowed my pace and started to think it over. The Mind-Flash was still working. I double checked by solving some maths in my head while going over some Beethoven. Yep. Easy Peasy. No problems. Then it didn't hit me at all. I was utterly confident and no one was going to stop me. I was sure of it. I was also sure that my Mind-Flash had been laced with another drug. Some Suit or Übermensch. It made me feel invincible. That would get me into trouble. But then I'd just go with the flow and things would turn out fine so far my plan was unfolding perfectly. I popped another downer into my mouth just to mellow things out a bit and washed it down with some whiskey.

Soon I hat left the cheap neon and filthy puddles of Leftover street and crossedover the Fringe where the houses turned more and more respectable. You could see a cop gradient walking towards the old centre changing slowly from no police to dour looking tufts of policemen growing in every nook and cranny.
I stepped into a clean puddle disturbing the reflections of expensive plasma lights. In this part of the quarter the names of the streets were less colourful but still descriptive. I was now on Southern Arcades which was one of the four main streets of Old Town. It was named after the ubiquitous column and arches style of the original setelment's nucleus which still carried its colonial early 21st century heritage with unbroken pride. I walked passed chipped façades that clung heroically to their upper class roots much like an impoverished noble clung to his title. I did not need to walk to far towards the centre of Old Town to find Bryce's house. He did earn a decent amount of money allowing him a decent standard of living. But he certanly was not wealthy. No normal middle-class guy would be caught dead in the Nightingale. Except maybe for a serious slumming fetish. Or in the case of Bryce because an expensive hooby. As far as I knew his real fetish were machines.
His apartment was located in the second floor of a three story fake-brick building that was so out of place between the monolithic stone pillars holding the high rise above it aloft that it looked a bit sheepish.

I had not yet even reached the door to Bryce's flat when his voice jumped out of a hidden speaker in order to come and meet me.
'Kane? What the fuck are you doing here?' it sounded like an accusation.
'Hello Bryce. I need some information.'
'Good for you. What makes you think that I am going to give it to you?'
'Well I am looking for someone who is seriously into terraformers and as you are considered to be something of an expert when it comes to them, I thought you would be the right person to ask.' my compliments were cheap but they did their work, just like cheap booze. I took another sip from my bottle to bridge the silence in which Bryce's brain got taken over by his ego.
'Good point actually. But before I give you any information wanderer you must do me a favour.'
'You shall go forth and get me eight treasures?' Up to this point I had always regarded Bryce Franklin as a slightly awkward geek who was a bit to obsessed with his hobby to have much time for such silly things like socializing. Obviously he was also rather insane.
'If you say so. And what would these eight treasures be?' crazy or not if he could tell me the name of the woman I was looking for I'd be happy.
'You have to walk out turn to the right walk three blocks and there to the left enter the golden palace. Once you are there all things will be clear. Now go. Time waits for no one.'
A turn to the right, three blocks and then a turn to the left later all became clear. The Golden Palace was a Chinese restaurant. Very funny. At least he was not as insane as I had thought.

10 dollars and 20 Minutes later I was standing in Bryce's living room. I square room with an attached kitchen. The kitchen had been ignored so long that it had committed suicide in the distant past leaving only a fridge to stand in grim vigil over it. The dead kitchen as well as the whole of the square living room was covered in paper. Articles, magazines, stacks of fan-paper full of tiny print. It was everywhere. The room was not a fire hazard it was a fire certainty.
It was dominated by a large faux-wooden desk on which stood three large mechanical telefax machines that where almost constantly punching tiny letters onto endless streams of paper which were laboriously regurgiated by them. They surrounded a large glowing terminal that connected Bryce directly to Poseidon the local terraformer giving him access to its endless calculating engines. Bryce sat behind all this eating his eight treasures reading the output of his telefax machines. Every so often he cursed loudly informing the world in general about the shocking stupidity of the authors of what ever it was that he was reading. I watched his little show while I was eating my own food. My fried noodles slowly disappeared and so did my patience. I dropped the carton to the floor. I cleared my throat.
'Bryce. I can see that you are busy. I only need an information, a name. After you give it to me I will be gone and you can go on with what ever it is you are doing.'
'Good why are people always so impatient? Just wait a minute OK? See this? he held up one paper stream in one of his hand.
'OK there is this guy who is talking utter bollocks about the calibration of nano-scale clockworks used in cognitive mechanisms.'
'So?' I could hardly contain how much this topic fascinated me.
'Well he is wrong. And I will not have any of this nonsense on the tele-feeds.' Bryce furiously hammered away on his terminal for a while. Cursing under his breath and shaking his head in indignation. His glanced over another fax feed and started cursing again.
I had had enough of this.
I stepped forward and grabbing hold Bryce's left shoulder pushed him away from his papers. I held a fresh crispy 50 Credits note between the fingers of my other hand.
'Look! 50 Credits! They can be yours now! If you tell me what I need to know.' or I rip your head off and sell your body to organ farmers in the Drain. The money did hold his attention. He licked his lips, glancing only for the shortest moment at my face concentrating on the money.
'So you want a name. 'kay. Whose?'
'There is a female expert on terraformers. One who tends to actually go to them to examine them close up and personal.'
'That's illegal.'
'Do I look like a give a fuck?'
'You could be a cop...'
'If I was a cop you would now be sitting in a cell and I would beat the answers I wanted out of you only remembering after an hour that I had not asked a question yet. Instead I bring you food and give you money.'
'So? I thought you were some kind of expert? And this woman seems to be rather well known among the terraformer fans.'
'I am an expert!'
I rolled my eyes.
'Perfect. Name. Now!'
'There are quite a few people who are crazy enough to risk a look at the terraformers and the only woman in this part of Europa that I know off who has a reputation for pulling shit like that is Katja Petrova. She works as an architect not 50 kilometres from here in the Russian sector. You can take the sub-stream towards Hermes. Get out at Kiev station. It is not far from there.' he ripped a small piece of paper out of document that was not entirely covered in print and scribbled an address on it.
'Here. It won't be to hard to find her she works and lives in the same building. Be careful though, breaking and entering into a terraformer is a capital offence.'
'No shit?' I shook my head and left Bryce in his paper nest.

Things were improving. This Pertrova woman was close enough to get to her in a couple of hours. All I had to do was to take a sub-stream ferry. The next station wasn't even far a way. I just had to walk back to the Southern Arcades and two blocks towards the centre. I was slowly sifting through all the information I had gathered in the past month or so trying to find some pattern. Maybe now under the influence of Mind-Flash I might remeber some detail that in the right hands could change the fortunes of a crime syndicate or destroy a highly placed government official. Nope. Still nothing. Ah well. I would get there eventually. I had almost reached the sub-stream station when I noticed that a large carriage had slowed down on the street and was now matching my walking speed. Looking up I saw that it was an enormous two story wagon that looked like a red and gold mobile pagoda. A door opened on its side revealing two men. One middle aged man in a red and golden suit in a style that was all the rage in the Chinese up-town sectors. I wondered if his wardrobe and garage were colour matched. Behind him stood a large man in a less ostentatious suit that was several shades of green. His intense look was already slapping me all over the place and screamed bodyguard.
'Mr. Kane. What a fortuitous event. I have been looking for you.' said red and gold man.
'Grand. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance and I'd love to stay for a chat but I have a ferry to catch.' the entrance to the underground was less the 20 meters away. If I could get there I could leg it and disappear in the labyrinth of tunnels of the large sub-stream station.
'Don't you worry we were heading into the same direction as you. It would be a pleasure to give you a lift in our unworthy wagon.' 10 meters.
'No, really, I am fine.' 8 metres.
'Oh but I insist.' as he said that he pulled a mean looking gun out of his large sleeves and pointed it towards me. The bodyguard tensed slightly getting ready to invite me in universal body language. 5 meters. The bullet was probably one of those that followed you around. And that bodyguard was probably in bodyguard good shape, while I was in burnt-out loser good shape.
I stopped in front of the steps drawing a deep breath. I exhaled slowly as I made my decision.
'How could I say no to such a gracious offer.'
I entered the wagon through the open door.
I would never pass through this door again.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Project Rain 4

Chapter 4

I was lying on my bed thinking about where to go next and who to talk to. I did know a couple of guys that were heavily into the terraformers. Most of them though where more of the rotund newsletter typing guys. But I did dimly remember one of my contacts mention a woman who was obsessed with the machines themselves. An architect by day and an anarchist machine worshipper at night. Now all I had to do was remember her name.
My door coughed and spit out a cloud of greasy grime as someone knocked on it from the other side. That would be Louis with my 'medication'. I'd not been doing many drugs lately but that was mostly because the dealers of Old Town liked to take the arm that was holding the money with them and the ones in Meat Street cut their shit with whatever they could find under their sink.
Another knock. More insistent now. My poor door buckled slightly under the enthusiasm on the other side.
'Jesus, Louis. I'm coming. Not need to kick the door in.'
During the third knock the door decided that it had had enough of the constant mistreatment it had to endure in this establishment and quit. With a disgusted glint on its doorknob it left its frame and sailed through the air in an elegant arc. The foot entering my private space did not belong to Louis, neither did the leg that followed it. Instead it was part of a bursting-through-a-door-with-a-gun man. The shock flooded me full of those hormones that made time go slow and encouraged a fast biography to pass before ones eyes. 'That is not fair, I have a plan!' I thought as I rolled down the bed and the man-through-door-with-a-gun aimed for where I had been lying.
The first bullet smashed into the bed causing an explosion of fibers and ceramic splinters. I crashed into the floor. My arm flung out to grab my new revolver. I missed it by hairs breadth instead knocking over the chair it rested on. The shooting man side stepped elegantly into the room checking it for more people. That gave me enough time to sprawl myself all over the floor. My gun wavered for a moment in the air as the gravity dampers evaluated the situation. Gravity gave them a dirty look which led the gun to decided to go full mass and fall to the ground with a loud smacking noise. Cracks like lightning blossomed out from the point of impact and the gun tipped over...
...away from me. Fuck!
Gun man, happy with the fact that I was alone took aim again while an associate of him peered into the room. A loud 'Hey!' from the corridor distracted them both.
The killer in the room just smirked and turned back to me. From the corridor I heard the shot from a gun. An inhuman hissing noise and then the thud of something heavy and damp hitting the floor.
'I can pay you!' I appealed to the man in front of me.
He hardly registered what I said. 'No thanks.'
I grabbed for my bag of money that I had put under my bed. Grabbed hold of a bunch of Credit notes and waved them in front of me.
'I can pay you quite a lot actually.' I repeated now talking to the shockingly huge muzzle of the gun he was holding. Somehow his face did not really hold my interest any more.
The killer simply snorted. 'How about this pal. I kill you. Take your lot of money. And. The bounty on your head?'
The corners of my mouth that had been valiantly putting up a panicked smile gave up. They would not survive me by long anyway so why keep up appearances.
I felt an air current passing my face. The wall behind me exploded. The debris hit the back of my head slashing open my scalp. In front of me Louis had appeared in front of the gunman pushing his weapon away with his left hand. While the hitman's face was still trying to act surprised Louis' other hand had brought up an evil looking stiletto and pushed it into the mans neck. He punched right through the voice box. The only noise the man made was a strange hissing noise. Louis pulled out the knife allowing the blood from the two severed carotid arteries to spray out of the tiny hole on the side of my would be murderers neck and welling out of his mouth. Louis turned around and was suddenly at my side. I hardly saw him move.
'Fuck, man. Are you OK?' his voice was steady and his body while tense was perfectly steady.
'I think my head is bleeding.' I replied before passing out.

When I regained my senses I was lying again on my bed. The door to my room was closed and two dead goons where arranged in front of my bed looking like an inappropriate gift from a very large or very enthusiastic cat. Louis was sitting in front of me still immobile. His right cheek twitching slightly every so often.
'You conscious again, man?'
'What the fuck was that?'
'The smart money says: two killers. I just saved your idiot arse and you owe me.'
'I know.' I hesitated whatever words of gratitude came to my mind sounded a bit insignificant right now. 'I owe you my life. Thanks.' Yep. That sounded pretty stupid.
'You also owe me money Hamilton. Lots and lots of money.' he twitched hard.
'Come again?'
'You trawled those two idiots into the Inn, man. And as much as I loath your stupid face I could not let them kill you. So I acted.'
My eyes were all large and round and innocent, giving Louis a hint that I did not have the slightest idea what he was getting at. He sighed. Shuddered violently and pulled out a pen syringe. A sleek thin cylinder, darker than black, hard to focus with the eyes. Optically slippery exuding aura of effortless menace.
'Military grade combat drug, man.'
I nodded one of those cautious nods that indicted my willingness to understand but my failure at doing so.
'Shit man. Did they hit your head?'
'Actually, they kinda d...'
Louis waved me off with an impatient gesture of his hand so fast that it cut the air with an audible snap.
'I'm a veteran Hamilton. I am... I was a tezhong budui.' and not bitter at all, oh no.
'Chinese special forces?'
'Yes and I was one of the idiots who volunteered for augmentation. They took my cells did some kind of shit to them and then reimplanted them. The Empire made me a super soldier.' Louis paused for a second and shivered again. His legs and his left arm started to twitch erratically.
'Turns out that after the Venus campaign went to shit and the war stopped they decided that the health benefits they had promised us were too expensive.'
'You need the drugs to function normally.'
'Yes man. And military grade drugs are very illegal and expensive. Hard to get you know. Also these little stunts', his arm vanished from view as he gesticulated towards the two dead men decorating my room, 'they make me really hungry.'
'OK I owe you a stash of classified Chinese combat drugs and dinner. I guess I can do that. How much do these things cost.'
'They tend to start at 5000 Credits, man.'
I let that number hang in the air for a moment. It did not go away. I reached for my money bag. The manoeuvre instantly sent a military parade of pain through my head. I fell out of the bed. Well at least now I only had to extend my arm to get the money. Still lying face down on the burnt floor I counted out 20,000 Credits and held them up.
'Here you go Louis. Buy yourself some of those sticks you like so much and get yourself a decent meal. And do get me an extra bag of drugs for the change, yes? Now with added pain killers? Oh and while you are at it I'd love a bottle of good rhye.'
Louis took the money. Counted it.
'Fuck man. You have this kind of money and wash up in the Drain. How much trouble are you in?'
'No thanks man.' A bag filled with pills coming in all colours and shapes landed near my head.
'Here take these. I'll get you some other meds and your booze. Don't run away just yet.'
'Yeah I'll try to stay put.'
Louis left with my consciousness trailing lazily after him.

When I woke up this time no one was trying to kill me. The most exciting thing was the little lake of drool that had appeared under my half open mouth. It had happily mixed with the grime on the floor turning it into a slimy ink. Maybe I should write my will? I decided against it. There were drugs to be taken. I extended an arm poking around in my new medicine bag. Nothing useful for now but I could improvise. The hallucinogens where right out. As long as my head was in its rebellious phase following its career as a church bell I would not take any boosters. I kept sorting. There were a few Nietzsches among them. To dangerous. Feeling like an invincible übermensch would just get me killed. Later when I was in some secure hiding hole they would help me think things through. Ah finally. Uppers. I took two red ones and an orange one. I swallowed them dry. Like a man. Then I took a friendly looking green downer to smoothen the ride a bit.
Five minutes later the drugs were telling my body and mind that all was well and I got up again.
My head still hurt but now that was constructive pain. That moved me forward.
I checked my belongings. My gun still lay on the ground with not a worry in the world. The plug-in lay in its velvet crib. I closed the carrying case and armed it again. Talking about armed. I took my revolver and decided to get better acquainted to my new bodyguard. First of all it would never by further away from me than my arm could reach. Furthermore I would try to see how effective a weapon it was. I took it and aimed at the wall. As soon as I touched its trigger five laser dots appeared on it, four green ones forming a diamond shape and a blue one in the middle. Wow the gun came with its own light show. I waved the weapon around a bit. The outer dots were steady while the blue dot moved around within the square they described. I thought that I should check the manual one of these days. I squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened. Obviously the gun was still secured. My thumb went exploring giving the big metal button at the back of the weapon a gentle squeeze. The gravity dampeners turned off and the weapon turned into several metric tons of metal.
Of course it fell on my foot.
I was already taking a deep breath in preparation of a suitably high pitched yet manly shriek of pain. But I just felt a gentle thud.
The dampers had turned on again. I sighed. Took the weapon and its handbook and skimmed it. OK.
Now I got it. One switch to arm it and one dial to set how many shots it fired at once. And another one for shot patterns or some shit. Those green laser thingies showed in which area the shots would land and they would would turn red when the weapon was armed. The laser show could be turned off for added discretion when murdering people. And revolver came with a built in flash-light. Neat.
I adjusted the thing for some wide spread shot, aimed it at the wall and just as Louis came back into my room, pulled the trigger. An angry hiss followed by an almost simultaneous explosion resulted in a new window.
Louis whose body was now visibly again sighed.
'What the fuck man?'
'Yeah sorry Louis. Put it on my tab.'
''s OK man. Just don't do that ever again, or I'll kick your ass.' This morning I would have laughed at the idea of Louis trying to kick me. Now the laugh was to afraid of him to come out.
'I brought you your whiskey and some additional meds. I got you some decent Mind-Flash, even if there is hardly anything to flash in that head of yours. Got you some Cobra for your reflexes and Juggernaut for them mighty thews of yours. The Cobra and the Juggernaut are street quality only and while I trust the dealer who sold it to me it will still be cut with some kind of shit or other. So try not to be a dumb-ass when taking them.' he watched me intently his body in the opening motions of his usual dance. 'And I know it is a great temptation for you man, but don't take them all three together just to see what it is like to be a normal human being. Kay?'
'Sure Louis.'
'No man. I mean it. No mixing this shit. Right?'
'For Fucks sake Louis. Yes. I won't take them all at once. Chill.'

Monday, 22 November 2010

Project Rain 3

Chapter 3

Being cautious had not worked for me so far. So I decided to be more straight forward. Instead of wasting my time by walking overly complex routes on my way to Keller's Inn a cheap hotel where you paid by the hour and no one asked any questions I just chose the fastest way to get there. Right from Razors Edge into the Drain. The name said it all. A sinkhole accumulating water and all the garbage and scum it washed in. It was a place where the people that had no where left to go went. But also where people who did not want to be found laid low. And it was a place where all kinds of unsavory and illicit activities took place under the cover of dirt and meticulously averted gazes.
The street changed from the ever present concrete into swimming planks tied to floating platforms mimicking streets and crossroads. Every step I took seemed to startle the synthetic floor which heaved and undulated in protest.
I took me maybe twenty minutes to reach Keller's Inn which was located inside one of Europas trademark skyscrapers which reached kilometers unto its black heaven. Above the one kilometer mark started a different world. One that was characterized by full environmental control, Earth-like lighting, organic plants and other things that down here were no more than legends. The upper class took their position very literally. Down here the building was mostly a bare concrete and steel hulk into which the enterprising people of the Drain had built a 'hotel'. It looked like a bored deity had taken a shanty town made out of planks and left-overs and stuffed it into the half finnished shell of a modern building. Then seeing that it was no good our hypothetical creator had kicked it a couple of times and left in a huff.
I stepped inside to find Louis on duty. A charming young man who had taken drug addiction to a level of artistry I could not fail but admire.
'Hey Louis, you repugnant freak. How is it going?' Louis a skeleton wearing fashionably baggy skin freaked out hearing my voice. His arms and legs and arms and legs, he moved the so fast and jerkily that I always had a hard time knowing how many limbs he really had, exploded into sudden motion.
'Oh!' the interpretative dance zeroed in on me. 'Hamilton you nauseating puke stain! Long time no see.' his mouth caterpillared into a smile grin laugh.
'I need a room. And some meds.'
'Sure thing Hamilton. 4-15 is free and totally clean man.'
'Really? What happened'
'Fire grenade. That'll be a credit ever 4 hours. If you stay 24 you pay 20 and get discount for the meds.' for a moment he stood there vibrating and shivering, his form of standing still. 'So what will it be?'
'Here take ten.'
Louis went through another wave of modern free dance.
'Two whole days? Really?'
'If you insist Louis I can take my money and go somewhere else?'
''s OK. Just strange. You hitting hard times again?'
'Not more than usual Louis. Keys.'
He flayed his appendages around and somehow my ten credit note vanished from the counter and the key to my room came flying towards my face. I tried to catch the keys which holding a carrying case in each hand ended with the keys hitting my face and then hitting myself again for good measure with the gravity reduced cases. Louis laughed. His laugh was deep and warm.
'Hamilton you spastic!'
'You're one to talk Louis.' I picked up the keys and discretely shoved my bruised dignity away with my foot.
'Yeah. I know what I'm talking about. You could teach me some new moves man.' he burst again into laughter. Ignoring him I went to the stairs towards my room for the night. Before I went up I paused and turned to the still giggling Louis.
'If someone asks for anyone that even looks remotely like me, you've never seen me.'
'What do I look like a help-desk?'
'Thanks Louis.'

The room was in an interesting state to say the least. The walls, the floor the ceiling, the ridiculous bits of furniture that dreamed of becoming a bed, a locker and a chair when they grew up, they all were blackened by fire. Someone had splashed several surfaces with cleaning alcohol and scrubbed symbolically at it with a mop or maybe had just rubbed a poodle over it and then for reasons best known to themselves, left. It was clean though in a free of parasites and bacteria way. I sat down on the bed which thanks to its robust synthetic nature was sooty but otherwise unimpressed by last nights entertainment. I took the my new rail revolver out of its case and fiddled around with its controls. I added to its mass so that it felt weighty but not heavy in my hands. Then I adjusted the settings so that it would release all its mass when swung like a club. I totally did not fall over repeatedly while doing that. Finally I loaded it with its metal clip and wished I had a holster. Instead I attached it to the inner pocket of my coat and hoped that it would be at least reasonably discreet. I stuffed the extra metal clips into different pockets and closed the case. Which as nice as it was did not really serve any real purpose. The onyl thing it would do was attract undue attention simply by looking expensive. I would sell it on the black market later.
And now to this evenings main attraction. My personal treasure. I opened a cleverly hidden compartment on the side of the case revealing a small metal dial plate. I dialed in a twelve digit code which resulted in a small cylinder gliding out of itd hidingplace. I put my finger on its end feeling a sharp prick as it drew blood. I waited sucking on my finger listening to the quiet clicking and whirring noises made by an internal mechanism which right now was trying to find out if I was really its rightfull owner or whether it should explode and kill everyone in a 20 meter radius. The contraption made and almost disappointed sighing noise and the case opened.
Inside embedded in a sea of velvet cushions lay a large, heavy metal cylinder made almost entirely out of clockwork mechanisms. This was my greatest treasure. A 'gift' I got from a rather intellectually challenged smuggler who decided to enter the ransom game. Things got complicated. Everybody died. And I got the spoils of war.
Priceless yet almost impossible to sell this was a long term project which I had wanted to convert into cash. But now I had an use for it. It was a plug-in. The casing identified it as an 'OlympOS S.VII Genesis Aude R.V'. A functional upgrade for one of the mechanical intelligences that resided inside the terraforming towers skewerin Europa. Usually these machine minds where just automatons driven by machine instincts which they used to keep the moons and planetoids they had been stabbed into hospitable. With the right modifications though they could be taught to speak. And my plug-in did just that. If I got inside the tower of one of the lesser silent terraformers I would be able to talk to it and all of the sudden I would have a mechanical brain filling a several hundred kilometer long tower on my side which using all the information I had could help me find out who the fuck was trying to kill me. Easy.
Now I only had to find a suitable tower. Find someone who could get me inside of one. Figure out how to actually use the plug-in. Convince the machine mind to help me out. Feed it the data. Hopefully find out what was happening and then er... stop it from happening.

How hard could that possibly be?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Project Rain 2

The rain outside had turned into a light drizzle it was taking a short break to contemplate my fate. I stood in the entrance for a couple of minutes watching Convenient Lee do his work. The old man did greet me with the briefest nod and then continued to stack his incredibly good value for money processed food into the shelves. He took one packet of 'I can't believe it's not organic! (TM)' Noodles with Duck, held it in one hand while staring intently at the shelve in front of him. He stroked his wispy bread a couple of times until he made a satisfied grunt and put the packet into its rightful place. This seemed a good moment to interrupt the old man in his work.
'Mr. Lee?'
'Yes, Kane-sensei?' he did not turn to me but took an Ethical Food (TM) Full Vegan Turtle Burger again regarding the shelve in front of him with the deepest gravity.
'I have come to withdraw a deposit from your vaults and while I am at it I would also like to purchase a few choice items.'
'Of course. Kane-sensei. I shall retrieve. Your item most rapidly.' he put the not really turtle back and shuffled back to his counter. Midway he pause and without turning around he added. 'Ah. Kane-sensei. The extra items. You need. Are they Special equipment?' The capital S and the eyes in the back of Convenient Lee's head looked meaningfully in my direction and waggled their eye-brows.
'Actually, yeah. I do need a gun... for self protection.' Wasn't even a lie.
'I see. A gun.' He shuffled on. 'And what kind of. Gun. Did you. Have in mind? Mr. Kane.' more wriggling metaphor eye brows and Lee's usual shift into another Asian accent.
'Hmmm. I was thinking of something fancy. Something that will hopefully impress a ruffian enough to see wisdom in pacifism and failing that will impress all his internal organs. But it should be small, robust and easy to use.' I thought about what I had just asked for adding 'And if magic wands are sold out I'd also take a pistol of some sort.'
'Ah. But Mr. Kane. I do have. Various. Guns that are very much like what you. Are looking for.' He passed behind the counter of his store. The sound of metal grinding on stone spilled over the counter and Convenient Lee began to, step by step, sink behind it. Only his head was still visible when he turned to me looking rather like a severed head. 'Please excuse my rudeness. But what price range where you. Thinking off. Mr. Kane?'
'Oh money. I don't care about money.' true as my empty bank account new all to well. 'The price is of no consequence to me.' the shop keepers eyebrows contemplated for a moment to move up the brow as a sign of pleased surprised but after some half hearted attempts decided to stay where they where. 'Very well Mr. Kane. Very. Well.' and the head disappeared.

While Lee was in his fabled vaults I paced through the store thinking of what I was actually going to do now. I did have a plan of sorts. One that was one step ahead from run like an overexcited idiot into the next group-meeting of professional leg-breakers. But so far it was mostly getting all my resources which consited of one very special container, buy a gun and then run away like a really nervous idiot. Whoever wanted me dead wanted it with a lot of enthusiasm. The Finnish Finish was one of the most expensive hit-men in the Solar system. But that was probably not all of it. According to Matikainen the security guards in the space ports where bought off. No reason to doubt that. By extension that meant that there was a bounty on my head. I knew enough about my official guide to the underworld to know that Matikainen always only took a small percentage of his money in advance and that he did not claim the money if someone got his quarry first. This meant that depending on how fast the news spread I would have most cheap leg breakers on Europa looking for me. If I was not very careful now I'd end up in a black sedan with a bag over my head only to get tortured to death tied to a chair in some abandoned warehouse.

I was still inventing colourful deaths when Convenient Lee's head reappeared, dragging the old man behind it. The dramatic trap door closed with theatrical noise while Lee put several black cases on top of his counter. One was larger than all the others. A massive black carrying case was longer than it was wide or high. That was my special resource. The others looked more or less like briefcases. The guns.
'Do you wish to check your. Deposit. Kane-sensei?'
'No. I trust you Mr. Lee.' that and the knowledge that tampering with my personal treausre would lead to a serious case of explosion.
'Very well then Kane-sensie. I have here several. Magic. Wands.' he divided the brief cases into three stacks. 'What do you prefer. Something classic. Perhaps. With the smell of cordite. And the tinkeling of spent cases?' he lay his hand on the left stack.
'What do I look like? The circus?'
'No respect for. Our cultural roots. Mr Kane?' his voice ladden with disappointment he shoved away the stack. of weapons.
'Yeah sorry about that. And before you ask I'll skip the cross-bows too.'
'Also. You are not funny.' I was also not impressed.
'How about something self propelled? Very high damage. Intelligent bullets. Once locked-on they will follow their quarry around corners.' he almost forgot his accent over this. 'Like blood hounds!' saved.
'Tempting. How is the rate of fire?'
'With guns as portable as this, low. But who needs rate of fire when bullets explode?'
'Nah. I think I'll pass.' it sounded nice but also like something that came with a thick manual.
'I want something quiet.'
And that was the middle stack gone. Another sad shake of the head.
'Well, I hope you like. The next choice.'
Me too if that last stack had similar drawbacks as the others I might have to resort to throwing almost real turtle burgers and hopping that my would be murderers where feeling peckish.
'Here I have weapons that are: fast, very quiet and robust. But also. Expensive!'
'Mr. Lee', being rich was like taking to many drugs, you never forget how to do it. 'Price is of no consequence. Give me the best you have.'
Lee regarded me for a moment. The moment drew longer as he considered my words, as it was growing all long and thin I started to worry that it might snap. I pulled out a bundle of Credits and placed them on the counter, letting the money and my meaningful glance do the talking.
'I see.' another one of those noodly moments.
Finally Convenient Lee pushed the third stack to the side and pulled out two other cases from behind the counter. One of them was made of what looked like wood. Like in dead trees. I tried very hard not to swallow. If that really was orgnic would the case alone was worth more than the entire building I lived in. I was suddenly not so sure if price was not a topic. At least the other case was just made of polished aluminum which gave it a sophisticated aura without suggesting a six figure price tag.
'Well Kane-sensei. Here we have a Steiner-Vargas Rail Pistol.' he put his hand on the wooden case. He opened it to reveal a long heavy looking gun that looked like a futuristic version of an 19th century duelling gun. A gun with a wooden handle, mother of pearl inlays and tiny brass gauges. The manufacturer's name was embossed into the barrel in an elegant cursive script. The weapon had such an high class air surrounding it that it would probably kill the poor and the unsophisticated with its disdain for their insulting existence.
'Made on Earth in Europe' Lee was now all infomertial his hands gesturing fluidly with each word 'With the barrel and the mechanical parts assembled by hand in Toledo. Just look! Kane-sensei. The barrel made of layer upon layer of different alloys to make it perfect. It has its gravity dampener enmeshed into the material. Very impressive!' Great. I bet it also read the Times every morning and could hold conversation in 5 languages. 'It uses liquid metal as ammo. Injected into the barrel and there hardened into preciesly the slug that you need. That very moment.'
'So how robust is it?' I asked.
'Quite. This is top Earth quality.'
'So if I shoot five murderers in the gut and then go and use it to clobber two rapists to death with the barrel and use it as a weight on the end of a rope to use it as a grappling hook? Would it still work?'
Lee looked at me and closed the case.
'I suppose the next. Weapon. Is more suitable to your. Style. Mr. Kane.'
He thumped the polished aluminium case with his fist. Opening it and revealed a huge hunk of metal to which someone had welded a pistol grip. If the gun had been a man it would have been one with ridges on his forehead big enough to shade his eyes from the summer sun. His head would be the tapered end of a missile shaped body. And his fists, as big as angry bowling balls would smash rock into sand.
It was perfect.
'Yes. Very crude. Very low-tech. But also very, very powerful. Very reliable. This is also from Earth. From the Russian Federation. It is a Chekhov. Used by law-enforcement. Military. And criminals. A like. Not very elegant. A gun like a tank.'
'And do you sell an enhanced soldier to carry it for me too?'
'Ah. Mr. Kane. You are still not funny. Also. This weapon is very well developed. Has slide-on gravity dampeners on the barrel. Take them off. No one will be able to steal your gun. To heavy. Put them on and they will make it as light as a feather. Modular built. One part breaks? Take out and replace. Want bigger calibre. Exchange barrel. This. This gun. This is what you search for.'
'OK. How much?'
'For you Kane-sensei. 15.000 Credits.'
'Deal. How much ammo has it?.'
'Has a metal bar that will provide 100 shots. It comes with two replacements. But this is a Chekhov, made for the field of battle. You can put most magnetic metals into the feeding chamber. The gun can convert them.'
'I'll take it. How much do I owe you for keeping an eye on my little treasure over there?'
'Two and a half thousand'

17.500 Credits later I stepped back into the rain.
In one hand I had the large black evil looking case with my one and only trump and in the other the briefcase with my new pistol. The drizzle enveloped me like a gentle undertaker, instantly covering with its cold sheet. I was almost instantly soaked again, apart from my right hand. I looked down and saw that the gun case was surrounded by a faint blue halo. It had an inbuilt rain shield. Damn. My gun had a higher standard of living than me.
It was time to find me a shifty hotel in The Drain and it was time to find myself a fallen God and teach it how to talk.