Reggie buzzed the comm to Gris’ building, still riding the adrenaline rush from watching his conversation with Stahler. If he managed to pull off the job he was given, it would be his last. He’d have earned enough money to have a cydoc remove his cybernetics before they broke down and poisoned him. Freshly cloned eyes would replace the mechanics that now resided in his head.
He waved his wrist over the door scanner, the implanted ID chip letting Gris know he had arrived. When the door buzzed and popped open, Reggie stepped inside, immediately aware that that he lived in a slum.
This building was well maintained, and though not everything was state-of-the-art, it was a far cry better than the place he lived in. Jefferies was being good to her if she could afford this place, it seemed.
He took a few steps down the hall, clinically white walls gleaming from the overhead lights. The lift doors opened as he approached them, and a short Asian man hurried out. Chu nodded a quick greeting to Reggie as he shuttled past, an unwashed stench assailing his nose. Chu lived somewhere on the floor above Gris and always acted furtively, a false paranoia brought on by extensive stim use. Reggie watched him go, tempted to shout, “Boo!” but the stimboy was a decent enough guy when he wasn’t doped so Reggie remained silent. The lift doors began to close, so Reggie hopped in.
“Six,” he said. The lift jerked into motion.
“Stim” was a catch-all word for the variety of corporate sponsored drugs that kept the pharmas in business. It was a highly addictive stimulant, often causing hallucinations, seizures and paranoia in heavy users, like Chu. It was legal to obtain virtually world-wide, and put a severe wrench in the works of drug cartels. The older, illegal drugs, like cocaine and marijuana, could still be found, but a small amount of those could cost the average person a year’s worth of credit. They had become “novelty drugs” afforded by only the extremely wealthy.
All of the stims were used with an inhaler, entering the blood stream through the lungs. Different brands offered different types of a high. Purple Pleasure caused a feeling of euphoria while Red Death could put a user into near catatonia. In most cases, you could tell which stim someone was using by looking at their eyes. All stims temporarily changed iris color. Chu’s were usually green from Emerald Envy.
The lift jolted to a stop, and the doors shushed open. The corridor outside was the same sterile white as the lobby, but here there were a number of small vidscreens spaced along the walls that displayed works of art: paintings, sculptures and photographs, each ‘screen changing the picture every ten seconds. Brushing his hair out of his eyes, Reggie went left from the lift and silently counted doors, none of them were numbered, until he reached the eleventh on the right.
He squared himself in front of the door, pulling up the right sleeve of his olive drab jacket to expose the ID chip in his wrist. The door popped open before he had a chance scan it and a thin arm shot out, crimson-nailed fingers grasping his shirt, yanking him inside the dark room.
He stumbled in and found himself violently slammed into a wall before the door even slid shut behind him. Pain laced up his back; he grunted as a small body plowed into him, pinning him to the wall. He instinctively tried to reach under his jacket for a handgun that wasn’t there, but small hands closed around his wrist in a vice-like grip and pulled his arm away, shifting him and pinning it to the wall next to his head.
Lips mashed into his and a hand grabbed his crotch, kneading his cock. The pain threaded with a lance of pleasure that shot straight to his gut.
When she pulled away, he inhaled deeply, savoring much needed air but wishing she hadn’t stopped. She took a small step back from him, a short, petite woman with brilliantly orange hair. With her eyes steady on his, she slowly lifted her sleeveless t-shirt over her head to reveal small, perfect, almost pointed breasts. He grew harder, with a smirk and a grimace as his jeans restrained him. She shimmied off combat-style pants and stood there naked, white and sultry. What looked tough and hard in her military clothes just looked lean and tempting without them. She crooked a finger at him over her shoulder as she sauntered to the bed in the corner of the one room apartment, swaying those boyish hips like a snake charmer.
He complied, his grin spreading wider as he shed his jacket.
Later that afternoon, she busied herself at the food printer while he lounged on the bed, nursing a synth-beer. Her vidscreen was playing and old movie from the turn of the century, an adaptation of a graphic novel about superheroes.
“I don’t know why you like that old stuff,” she scoffed over her shoulder.
“I grew up with my grandparents. They watched this stuff all the time.”
“So you’ve said before,” she turned, a plate in each hand, eggs, bacon and toast steaming.
Reggie sat up. “Smells good. I’m starved.”
Gris smiled, her eyes lighting. “Least I can do.” She dropped down on the bed next to him, handing over a plate. Reggie jammed a slice of bacon in his mouth, chewing noisily.
“So,” she said around a mouthful of eggs, “where were you last night?”
Reggie stopped chewing, eyed her sideways. “Out.”
Gris glowered and her body began to hum, cybernetic muscles and sinew powering to life. Reggie’s eyebrows shot up and he leaned away, knowing it would do no good if she decided to attack, but he ran on instinct rather than logic.
“I got a new job from Stahler,” he said quickly. The hum ended and Gris seemed to relax, but Reggie decided it would be best to stay on his guard. The sex earlier was just that; sex. There was no love here, only a camaraderie born from battle. Gris called to “show him something” when she needed him. It was what his grandfather called, “being friends with benefits.”
“You shoulda stuck with the Rogers, Reg,” she said as she shoveled eggs onto her fork, all sign of impending violence gone. “Look around,” she waved her hand, taking in the entirety of the apartment, “the jobs pay well. You’d think Stahler’d be more free with his credit.”
“You know why I left,” he mumbled.
“Christ, Reg, are you still hung up on Sarajevo? That was three years ago.”
Reggie slammed his fork on to the plate. “He killed innocent people, Gris!”
“He says he didn’t know.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” he stood up quickly, dumping the plate over onto the bed, eggs and toast crumbs spreading. He jammed a thumb into his chest, eyes blazing. “I called it in! I had eyes on scene!” He threw his arms wide. “There were women and children there!”
“Intel reported only Stolovich and his cronies,” Gris was patient. This was an old argument.
“I know what Intel said and I know what I saw!” He began pacing the room, breath coming heavily. He stopped and turned to her. “I could have ended the whole operation with one shot,” he said as he poked a finger between his eyes. “But no! Mister High and Mighty Jefferies had to call in an air strike! A fucking fire-bombing!” He deflated then, eyes on hers, pleading to be understood. “Those kids didn’t have to die, Gris.”
Gris flashed a close-lipped smile, eyes sad. Sad for him. Sad for the truth. “I know, Reg.”
“Yeah?” he directed sudden anger at her. “Then why are you still with them?”
“Fuck, Reg,” she let her anger rise too, “Jefferies may be a prick, but Skitch and the others are realz. They’re brothers, just like you and me. I can’t walk away from that.”
He stood silent, looking down at her. She held his eyes for a moment then whispered, “I’m walking a tightrope, Reg.” Her eyes drifted down. “It’s hard.”
Reggie sagged, drained. This was an old argument, but it had just taken a new and unexpected turn. He looked down at this small woman; his comrade-in-arms, his lover, his friend. Her plasteel shell had shattered, one he didn’t know she had, and he saw a woman, small and afraid, lost and torn between two warring worlds: his and the Rogers.
He knelt beside her, took her hand, his thumb caressing. “I’m sorry, Gris. I didn’t know.”
A sad smile flowed across her face. “S’ok.” She looked into his eyes, trying to thank him for understanding without having to use words. She reached up, placing a hand on his cheek, sliding it to the back of his neck. “C’mere.” She pulled him down.
The story continues with “The Last One.”