So I was in this accountantís office on the 21st floor, trying to figure a way out of the situation. The fact that she was smoking didnít help; it gave me a headache the size of a kegger. I guess thatís what I get for shooting her.
The old Humatons are impossible to negotiate with. I hadnít expected to get any useful dirt out of her to begin with, and she was rude anyway--first thing she said was: "Good lord, that tie is loud!"
"So is the barrel of my gun," I pointed out.
Their wireless network was conveniently down so she attempted to run to the manual switch and trip the security alarm. All she tripped was herself, assisted by my foot.
The metallic clank covered up the gunshot to her battery, which unfortunately also started roasting the oil sump. Iíve been spoiled by the newer models, which, like my hair, are permanently lubricated. The only time Iíve seen more oil burn was my momís last cooking experience.
I had less time than a leaking hourglass before somebody pulled a fire alarm.
The file cabinet proved to be quite valuable: not only did it have the papers I needed, but one of its drawers was quite efficient at shattering the window. It was a bitch and a half to get the drawer out of the cabinet though.
I stepped through the window frame and directly into the waiting taxi. The door slid shut with a grind and a clunk as the contraption coughed itself back into traffic. The whole thing smelt like cheap cologne and booze so cheap youíd be better off drinking the cologne. This is where I spent most of my time.
"You called?" said Bub, the worst driver in the city.
I looked down out the back window but it was as dirty as a five-credit whore. "Did that file cabinet drawer hit anything?"
"I think it hit some greenery near the entrance of Callup and Company. But the vegetation destruction is worth it, if you got the stuff. So, did you get it, Fisk?"
"Of course I did. I always do, donít I?"
"What about the calamari incident?"
"That was not my fault." It wasnít. "And no I didnít grab any hard drives; everybody at this place uses those desk-integrated computers that are a bitch to open up."
I took a glance at my newly acquired paperwork, and realized I would want to have a closer look later. "Bub, turn on the Parrot."
Some flat machinery folded out of the back of the front bench seat. I started scanning in the papers.
"Say Fisk, thatís a nice tie," Bub said, looking in the rear-view mirror at me.
"Go to hell."
"Come on," he said, gesturing with both hands (which were not on the steering wheel). "Itís this wide and it looks like wallpaper by Picasso--"
"Shut up, Bub, before I jam this gun up your battery pack and pull the trigger." I laughed. These verbal abuse sessions with my robotic cabbie were always relaxing.
"Iíve got a backup battery anyway."
"Sure you do. Now where can I find Alex Miszing."
"My sources tell me heís most likely to be found at The Alien Noir."
"Your sources? Iíve gotten better info from a magic eight-ball. But I think youíre right this time, so that is where we shall head."
The Alien Noir was a cultish haven for hardcore goth geeks and scummy roleplayers. The theme was black, shiny if possible. Obviously I would have to take off my tie before setting foot there.
"Oh yeah, Bub, while Iím at The Alien Noir, get this junk pile some plastic surgery."
"My plans exactly," said Bub, landing with all the grace of a rhino with an umbrella.
Although the chassis and frame were rusty and rotting, we occasionally replaced the body panels as the venue required: sometimes it was a cab, sometimes it was a pig wagon, once it was even a pizza-delivery car.
The Alien Noir was full of young people. I detested young people, even though I still thought of myself as young. I also thought of myself as experienced, but some of those kids were "dancing" to beats I would never understand.
Black lights and strobe lights lit whatever interpersonal activities were taking place. The joint was well-named--it was full of teenagers that made themselves really look like aliens. The lack of constant illumination hid my passage to the back room. Every joint has a back room, and apparently this one was Alex Miszingís new headquarters.
Miszing didnít look as happy as I hoped heíd be to see me.
I smiled briefly and sat down across from Miszingís ancient hardwood desk in a plush red leather armchair with buttons the size of my balls.
I whipped out two hanging-file folders. "Hereís the hardcopies of Douglas Whitelawís missing accounting records. The rest were obtained from the primary archival vault in Callup and Companyís basement."
"Hmmm . . . yes this looks right. What doesnít look right are your accounting records with me."
"I thought this job would even the score."
"Ahh, but there is this little thing called interest, and at this point in our transactions, it is not so little. You still owe me . . . letís see . . . 3K."
"What!? Jesus Christ--"
"Money is not cheap you know. I want the rest by Saturday."
I counted to 10 in hexadecimal. He was ripping me off, but I deserved it for dealing with him in the first place. Debts are a bitch. "No problem," I said.
"By the way, I hear you set Callupís building on fire."
"Naw, just a little smoke on the accounting floor."
"Heís pissed, and he knows it was you."
"Damn. Just what I need on my back, a rich guy with a grudge."
"Donít worry about your back, worry about that space between your eyes, 'cause thereís gonna be a red dot there."
"Thanks for the warning." As I got up, I added, "And I will get the rest of your money by Saturday."
"I know you will, Fisk. I know you will."
"What do you have there? Incriminating photos of the ex-wife in newsworthy situations?" said Bub.
"No, just the copies I made earlier of those papers we stole for Miszing."
"I see. Anything interesting?"
"You might say that. For starters, they arenít account records at all."
"What are they?"
"Apparently documentation of some kind of electronic device--I think itís a weapon. All these pages are headed with "Project Diabolical" and the name of our best friend in technology."
"Thatís right. Letís go pay him a visit."
"Well, if it isnít Mr. Fisk. How are you? That car still running right?" said Leon Grammachikoff. He was a rogue ex-military electronics engineer for contract that pissed so many people off that only criminals would hire him now.
"Fine, fine." I said. That was as much small talk as he was going to get. "Why did you hire Alex Miszing to get accounting files of Douglas Whitelaw? And what is Project Diabolical? Is it some kind of weapon?"
He looked surprised, offended, and indignant all at the same time. I could tell he wanted to ask me how I knew that information, but he didnít. "Callup and Company provides much more than just Financial Services. They own banks, real estate companies, satellite subsystems, senators--you name it, theyíve got it."
"And now youíre going to tell me they tried to buy you?"
"Correct. They forced me to agree, but I had no intention of carrying out any of their plans. Unfortunately, they raided my laboratory and my apartment and stole all my Project Diabolical files, on computer and paper."
"Who is Douglas Whitelaw?"
"I donít know, is that the name associated with the files stolen from Callup?" So it was Leon who hired Miszing to get the files.
"Yes, thatís what Iíve heard."
"In that case, this Whitelaw person does not exist. One of the ways Callup and Company carry out secret activities is to make an identity, give him records, do business for him, do secure transactions, and so on. But in reality, they are transferring sensitive data that has nothing to do with his revenue and taxes. My files were hidden in Whitelawís files."
"So behind their backs you hired Alex Miszing to get the files back, is that it?"
"Well, yes, at least the paper documents, but I was told it would be done secretly. He would have one man steal the designs and notes, then Miszing would personally duplicate them onto some kind of electronic media, and then another man would place them back into Callup and Company without stirring a mouse."
"That doesnít make any sense. Why wouldnít Miszing just hire a corporate spy to infiltrate, photograph the notes right there, and then leave?"
"Because there are hundreds of pages of related documents, drawings, schematics, test results and so on. I was told it would take too much time to copy every page while still in the Callup and Company building."
The only thing missing from Leonís story was chips, but I couldnít quite put my finger on what was wrong with it. "You really think Callup isnít going to find out about this?"
"Alex Miszing is supposed to be good."
"Yeah, well the men he hires arenít always."
"What do you mean?"
"I heard that one of his people was snooping around in the Callup building on the accounting floor, and started a fire. Almost burnt the whole place down."
"Are you serious!?" He put his face in his hands. "Just great. Great!"
"Calm down, Leon. What are you going to do? Are you going to give in to Callup, or are you going to run?"
"Do you still think I have a chance to make good with Callup?"
"Not really. But werenít you planning on running anyway?"
"Not exactly." He stretched his neck with a crack. "Well, all is not lost. I still have my unique method of defense, which should keep me alive for some time yet."
"You actually built the weapon?"
"Well, Iím working on a prototype which will be functional very soon."
"How does it work? I went to school for electronic engineering, you know."
"You? School? Thatís funny."
"It wasnít too funny when I stole the principalís car my freshman year, lit it on fire, and then parked it in his office."
"Right. As I was about to say, what youíre using right now is the street standard magnetic propulsion pistol using metal projectiles."
"Yeah, so who doesnít, besides Mr. Lead?"
"Whoís Mr. Lead?"
"Itís an alias of a big mean man that Alex Miszing employs to settle overdue accounts. They call him 'Mr. Lead' because he packs old-fashioned gunpowder guns--his favorite is a seven-shot .357 Magnum revolver with a 12-inch long barrel. At least thatís what Iíve heard."
"Oh my. Well, I already paid Miszing in full, so I wonít be seeing this Mr. Lead. Now, what I was saying is that I am almost at the point of actually making a handheld device that can emit focused high-energy waves to a target."
"And pointed at a person it would do what, electrocute them?"
"No, no. Weíre talking 2000 volts at half an amp, thatís one megawatt, resonating at a frequency of 1.4 terahertz, which is 1000 terajoules per cycle. After all the resistance and loss from being transmitted, it should hit a person in a 30-meter range with the power of about 4.2 kilograms of TNT."
"Thatís sounds like itíll blow up a small building."
"Maybe. Itíll definitely vaporize whoever you point it at."
"Jesus--how is this possible, and how in such as small package?"
"This project was inspired by new light that has been recently shed by the quantum mechanics theorists on the nature of wave-particle duality. And it is made possible by the advancing state of nanoelectronics and synthoprotein integrated circuits."
"You learned a lot at BioLogic Systems before they fired you, didnít ya?"
"You could say that."
"Iíve got to see this thing."
"No. Absolutely not."
"Come on, Iím your friend."
At that moment somebody starting knocking on the door. I could tell that it wasnít the neighbors looking to borrow a cup of sugar.
"Follow me," I said. We proceeded all the way to the window at the side of the building. I figured the goons had the emergency exit in the back covered. I threw a piece of antique furniture through the window.
"What are you doing?" Leon said. Meanwhile the knocking turned into pounding.
"Trying to get a ride out of here before we both get our faces rearranged. That shitcan cabbie is supposed to be watching."
"You think thatís Callupís thugs at the door?"
Amid shotgun blasts to the front door locks, Leon shouted, "Why are they after you, too?"
"Wait--I hear angry honking, he must be coming." And come Bub did, at high velocity. Bub yanked on the steering wheel and slammed the side of the "Building Inspector" car into the brick wall.
I pulled Leon up from the floor and pushed him into the open door of the car. It sped away almost before I got in.
"Bub, drop Leon off at--"
"No. I must go to my laboratory."
"Theyíll be waiting there for you."
"I have another laboratory, a secret one. Iíll tell you where it is."
After we dropped Leon off in an alleyway in the bad end of Chinatown, where I refused to join him, we went to a chop shop. All we allowed them time for was a quick repaint. Now we were just normal commuters in the busy city. The next stop was a cheap motel.
We didnít actually rent a room, we just followed a freighter in and hid behind it in the parking lot. "Iím going to catch a little shuteye, Bub."
Bub, naturally, remained "on" to watch guard. I curled up in the luxury of the smelly, frayed back seat. But I couldnít sleep, and it wasnít the spring poking into my hip. I kept thinking about that new weapon.
Maybe if I had followed Leon into that dank alley, I could have got a glimpse of this super-gun. If I had that gun, I could rule the city, or at least cover my own ass on the way to the liquor store.
Of course, if I really wanted to protect myself--if I had any survival instinct whatsoever--Iíd haul booty out of the city immediately. No money, no time, and no more favors left to use.
But why bother leaving--itíll only delay the inevitably bad ending that Iíve been working so hard to earn. I took the last sip of vodka and dozed off on the plastic bottle.
Bub woke me up with an alarm that sounded like a woman screaming. The sun was barely starting to illuminate the smog. We were at a refueling station.
"So whatís the plan Fisk?" He transmitted payment, casually tossed the stolen card out the window, and took off. "Who was after you at Leonís apartment? Was it Callupís men? Whatís the deal?"
"I donít know. Iím just cruising for some poontang right now, Bub."
"Sure thing man. Digital or analog?"
Of course I donít need hookers to get some. Itís just with such strict laws and stricter pigs, doxies are basically nomads. So itís hard to find a particular one. I was after a dish named Regal, who was anything but, and happened to be my girlfriend.
"So howís that lying, cheating, and stealing thing working out for you?" Regal said with all the harshness she could add to her menthol voice.
"Good, good. And howís selling your body to every dirtbag in the city going?"
"You donít deserve this, Fisk."
"Oh Christ, deserve what?"
"Itís Christmas, idiot. It will be tomorrow, anyway. I got a present for you."
"You shouldnít have." I opened the box--it was the expensive silencer Iíd been meaning to steal and hadnít got around to yet. I was flabbergasted.
"Thanks Regal," I said. "I got a little something for you too." I handed her a bus ticket out of town. "People are coming to get you. For your own good, I urge you to leave now."
"What? Why? Itís because of you, isnít it?"
"You bastard! You run away from your loose ends and then I get tortured for information? Is that how it is? You complete son of a bitch!"
"By the way, can I borrow some cash?"
"No! Get out! I hate you!"
"Can I at least have some food?"
She started throwing things at me.
So I left. Broads. Sometimes I donít know why I even bother.
I spent the rest of the day hungry, trying to scrounge up some cash. About all I collected was dust. I must be slowing down. I crawled to a stop in the back seat I call home, and fell into a deep apathetic substitute for sleep. It was interrupted by that awful screaming alarm clock.
It was now Sunday, and I hadnít paid back Alex Miszing and I had a sprained ankle. The injury was sustained in one of many hasty escapes from thugs hired by Callup. I didnít have any word as to whether they got Leon yet. At this thought, he called.
The picture was fuzzier than my neck, but it was definitely him. "Leon! Glad to see youíre still alive."
"Alex, you son of a bitch. You lied to me. You were the man Miszing hired to steal the Whitelaw files. And you are the imbecile who burnt down the building!"
"I didnít burn down the building, it was just a little smoke on the accounting floor. And you lied to me too. There werenít hundreds of documents, just about thirty total. You wanted the hard copies for some other reason than the content. Thereís something about the paper itself, isnít there?"
"Nonsense . . . I just had stuff on paper that wasnít anywhere else, thatís all--"
"I donít believe you."
"Where are you Fisk?"
"Iím in the Ritz Carlton on Fifth Avenue. Why do you care?"
The connection died. Maybe I was overreacting about his lying, inconsistency and secrecy; after all, Iím the same way. But whatever the case, I had to start running.
"Bub? Wake up!" I slapped the On button on the side of his head.
"Okay, weíre in the air. Where are we going, exactly?"
He never heard my uncertain reply, because an explosive drill bit passed straight through the windshield and buried itself in his torso. Bub had enough processing time left to press the divider button. The protective transparent shield rose up from the bench seat and sealed the rear portion of the cabin from the front.
The drill must have exploded, because battery acid was spraying out of Bub, burning at the control panels. His hand was still stuck gripping the steering wheel, but the dead weight of his arm caused the wheel to tilt downwards.
Normally, that would make the vehicle angle upwards, but Bub had the setting reversed for his personal preferences. So our altitude of 150 feet started to fall rapidly, and I could feel us starting to spin. The front windows were shut, so there was nothing I could do but jump before we crashed. I flicked the manual override switch, and slid the door open.
I landed on a bake sale.
This was a residential area, and there was an old-fashioned fund raiser outside a church that had "ARC" painted on the front. It was a warm day for Christmas time. I would have forgotten that time-surviving holiday if it wasnít for the large pine tree adorned with lights and decorations outside the church.
I stumbled away from the table that I broke in half, surrounded by a bunch of suburbanites not quite sure what to do. My other ankle was now sprained too, making walking painful. The peopleís attention was drawn from me though as my car, with its emergency automatic systems doing their best, made a rough landing on the road.
The wheels were still retracted though, and it hurtled towards the crowd trailing sparks and making a sound more terrible than my alarm clock. "Move you suburban yuppies!" I shouted, and they did.
The car slammed into the trunk of the pine tree and stopped. I was about to sigh relief when it burst into flames. The tree, of course, also lit on fire. The tree then proceeded to fall over onto the church, lighting it on fire as well.
I hope they raised a lot of funds.
The ensuing confusion would serve to cover my escape from imminent authorities, so I took the opportunity, stole a car, and left faster than Elvis chasing a hotdog cart.
The rest of the day was spent being chased by Callupís thugs. At least I assumed they were Callupís; I wasnít sure who else in black high-speed utility vehicles would be trying to corner me. Mr. Lead was probably after me too. And my ankles were really starting to swell. So I assumed one of my default identities and entered a medical clinic.
After several hours, I finally got to see a nurse. She was not pretty and had bad news. I had a fracture in my right leg or something like that. Another hour passed. I then got to see a doctor, a small Mexican-looking man. He closed the door and stabbed a needle into my arm.
I started to say, "Itís my leg you--" before I went unconscious.
I woke up in a large blank room with a low ceiling and drains in the floor. I could hear music thumping above us. A man dressed in primary colors was in front of me. I presumed he was the one who tied me up.
"Who are you?" I said, not expecting an answer. I noticed a grinding noise in the background.
"I work for the Association of Retrocatholic Congregations. Iíve got a bone to pick with you about a certain church incident you were involved with."
"Jesus--that news has spread already?"
"We like to keep tight lines of communication."
"Are we below The Alien Noir?"
"Good guess. But that luck wonít help you now. You burned a church on Sunday on Christmas!"
"It wasnít my fault. Why are we below the Alien Noir?"
"Because the owner will rent space to anybody. Itís just one of those basements that gets sold for a night to the highest bidder with no questions asked, as long as you hose it down when youíre done. Now shut up, you blasphemous pyromaniac!"
"I lost a good friend in that fire, you know."
"I heard there was a Humaton in that car. So you lost a talking tin can, big deal. Youíre about to lose your head."
"Isnít this against your religion?"
"The church has adopted more aggressive means in the last decade to maintain itís patronage. You wouldnít want our membership to dwindle, now would you?"
"No, of course not. Iíll do anything you want."
"I want you to shut up. I need some duct tape. Murry! Are you done yet? Letís get this over with."
"What is he doing?"
"Sharpening the execution weapon."
I was about to object when Murry walked in. Murry was wearing a ridiculous black mask and carrying an archaic battle axe. They placed my head on the block which Murry had dragged from out of the shadows and locked my neck in place.
Usually people say prayers at this point, but I just tried to keep my mind from harping on the inevitable. I thought of an hourglass shattering, its contents spraying into the vacuum of space for eternity.
Then I heard two yelps, a couple thuds, and the axe clank to the floor. My neck was released. And there facing me was Bub, charred, but functional.
"I told you I had a backup battery," he said, untying me.
"Where have you been?
"I was running around trying to find you."
"You son of a bitch. I suggest we disappear, posthaste."
"Oh come now, wonít you stay, Fisk baby?"
We spun around. The voice belonged to Alex Miszing. He had in one hand a Magpulse MP480 and in the other hand an old but sweet Glock 18, undoubtedly set for fully automatic firing.
"Here I have Mr. Lead looking all over the city for you, and youíre right below me the whole time!"
"Iíve only been here for a few minutes, actually."
"Well youíre going to leave even quicker. You promised me by Saturday."
"Alex, I copied the Whitelaw papers."
"No you didnít."
"Oh yes I did. Didnít I, Bub?"
"Yes, he did," said Bub.
"Where are they?" said Miszing. I didnít answer because the truth was they burned up in the car fire.
Miszing raised his gun. An explosion threw me to the concrete floor. I thought he had shot me, but I soon realized that Miszing himself had exploded. Nothing was left of him at all. Just some faint red spray on the surroundings.
"Pretty amazing, isnít it?" said Leon Grammachikoff.
"Where the hell did you come from?" said Bub. I wondered the same.
"Well I came to see Miszing and overheard that he was down here with Fisk. I barged my way through Miszingís lackeys, snuck down the stairs, and tested my new favorite gun."
It didnít sound very likely. "Tell me the truth Leon. And how did you get that gun working so quickly?"
"Well, after Miszing here gave me my paper files back it was possible. You see, one of those documents had a microscopic circuit sheet embedded in it. That was how I stole it several years ago from NanoIO Corporation, where I worked when Biologic Systems bought them out."
"Iím glad to see youíve got that marvelous feat of destructive technology working. So weíre friends after all, right? I suggest you go use that thing on Mr. Lead before he gets both of us."
"Friends come and go. As for Mr. Lead--" He raised the gun and pressed the fire button. Nothing happened. "Damn. I must have fried the capacitor bus again. Oh well."
As if it wasnít shocking enough that he just tried to kill me, he pulled out a revolver the size of a meatball sub.
"Leon--what the hell is wrong with you?"
"As I was about to say: I am Mr. Lead."
"Youíve already seen my homicidal capabilities, Fisk. As my engineering revenue became nil, I had to support my research somehow. I learned how to kill way back in my first years in the Army."
"Okay, I believe you. Youíre good at it. So why, my friend, are you trying to kill me? Surely not from your bossís orders--your boss that you just vaporized."
"No, no. Itís just that too many people have become involved and know about Project Diabolical. I donít want anybody to find me."
"Where are you going?"
"Iím going to take over a small island somewhere, as far out into the ocean as possible. I will then declare my own country and set up a defense system the likes of which nobody has seen. Itíll be great. You want to join me? Your Humaton can come too."
"Nah, Iíll take a rain check," I said, without really considering it. The whole plan sounded ridiculous. I wonder what his plans really were.
"Well then I have to eliminate you."
He fired that incredibly loud hand cannon at me.
The first two shots hit Bub, who was trying to protect me.
I had tried to run when I saw Leonís finger pull the trigger but my ankles were weaker than a penitentiaryís oatmeal and I fell to the floor, rendering the next few bullets barely too high.
A bunch of gas canisters rolled down the stairs.
I heard some more gun shots but they didnít hit me. I wish that few moments would have lasted forever: lying there on the cold hard floor, going unconscious, almost no visibility, my legs going numb, and blissfully ignorant of the terrible ways of the world going on around me.
So it turns out that the federal government wanted the dangerous technology Leon developed. Theyíd been trying to catch us for a few days now. As you can imagine, there were plenty of charges to be pinned on Leon, Bub and me.
Bub was dismantled, and as far as I know theyíve forced Leon to work under contract to develop the technology for the military now.
They put me in a maximum security prison in the middle of a desert. It would seem that my luck had run out, just like that leaking hourglass ran out of sand. But Iíve always got a few tricks up my pant leg.
Actually, the oatmeal there wasnít too bad; itís a shame I had to burn the place down.
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