One Week Later.
‘Slum Street’, as it was called, was really more of sub-city than a single street. An area of omega, stretching almost twenty blocks in any direction, for people and things that had been thrown away. Even from far, the stout and grimy buildings let up puffs of smoke in parts, and ringing cries in others.
And here, in the depth of it all, a club called Redemption. It was not a fitting name.
From the outside, it was nothing. A grey door in a grey wall with a neon sign above it, two bouncers on either side. you couldn‘t tell, just from looking, that the space inside took up the entire old apartment block it was built on, as well as spilling out across alleyways and into the surrounding structures. There were little windows, and the ones that did exist were boarded up, but in some of the older covering you could see thin bars of neon colour slipping out the cracks.
But aside from this pinpricks of colour, and the mellowed but still thumping sound coming through places where the walls were thinner, there was nothing to speak of what happened inside. Aside, of course, from the half block long queue extending from the single, simple door. A queue I’d been waiting in for the past half an hour.
For all their money and training and resources, the Alliance insisted it couldn’t get me to the front of the line. Or even get me through a backdoor. Apparently, according to Vincent, that’d be drawing unnecessary attention.
So, that meant I had to spend an ungodly amount of time, shuffling forward inches at a time, pressed between a pack of far too rowdy synthetics in front of me and an ever encroaching line of even more rowdy women from the back.
The crowd only got more and more restless as I got closer to the entrance. People got more antsy, tired of waiting, eager to come in. And, when the bouncer turned about half of them away, they tended to get angry. Not an hour passed without the echoes of a fight passing through the line, grunts and complaints carried back like a game of chinese telephone. Except, now, I was close enough to the entrance to see the scuffle for myself.
A group of humans. Young guys, probably my age. Already drunk, or high, or both. That wasn’t an uncommon way to spend a night here. In the better parts of town, they’d cut you off at a point. but here, in mostly placed, they’d keeping selling you and selling you until you died, or you killed somebody else. As long as you kept on handing over the money. That was the general rule in this place, but apparently they hadn’t gotten the notice that Redemption was different.
Even in the better parts of town, Redemption would’ve been high class. The lower end of high, to be sure, but it was definitely a few steps up from any other place down here. The only reason it wasn't more popular, that people form the city didn’t come down here, was that most of them were too chicken shit to make it through the streets to get here.
There was a sudden movement at the front, and I realised that one of the guys had tried to make a swing.
His hit was sloppy. Badly aimed and floppy. The guard, a synth, sidestepped it. He was a military model, judging by the heavy plating around his chest. Plus, they Ex-Army ones normally took most of the physical labour heavy jobs.
And there was a reason for it.
The guard hit back, grabbed the offender by his sides and in the next moment they were both on the ground. The synth on top, knee joint pinned down, digging into his chest. One of his friends came up behind, but the guard sprang up and swang around, landing a hard clobber to his ribs. He reeled back, weight tossed into free fall, and landed in the middle of the rest of the group. they scattered back, avoiding the impact, and he crashed to the asphalt.
The guard turned to the first man. Still lying down. Winded. With the line suddenly quiet, I heard every exhale. Every breathe. Every rasp that ripped it way up his throat, wheezing and spluttering as the guard bore down harder.
People stared. Eyes locked on the conflict, none moving. His friends had all back off, and some were already starting to turn tail. There were only about three people between me and the action, and as things started to escalate they started to part away, peeling off to either side and taking a few steps back.
The guard didn’t stop hitting him, and suddenly the mood changed.
The thuds got loader and loader, and the man's breathing got moe and more frantic. Each new hit landed with a sickening thud, and it just didn’t stop.
“Fuck.” I heard someone whisper from behind me, as it stretched on for longer and longer. I kept on waiting for someone else to step in, the other guard on duty maybe. I searched for him, but found him just a few metres behind the first, watching. If anything, he looked about ready to jump and join in.
After what felt like an eternity, the guard stopped. There was blood on his, its, blue plating. Around the metal hands. Stuck between circuitry. So much liquid I was surprised it hadn’t fried something yet. Fucking synths, they never knew when to stop. The guard rose. I could hear the mechanical hiss of movement. The second guard approached, and they looked at eachother. A silent exchange. That was fucking creepy, too. Some of the military models, if they were meant to work together in any capacity, could talk without making sound. Not telekinetic, really, just some kind of weird private internet. Their wires synced up, like a shared consciousness. It was weird.
“They’re gonna close it down, K.” Came the voice. The earpiece, discreet, hidden mostly by my hoodie. They were both in my ear, but Alan was the one talking now. “They’re gonna stop letting people in, shut the club down for the night. If you want in, you gotta get in now.”
“Okay.” It was probably too soft for them to hear over the bad connection. My eyes flickered to the door. Both guards were turned away from it, looking between the man on the ground and each other. There was still the matter of the people in front of me, cooing at the scene and craning for the best view, but if I could just get to the door while they were looking away.
There was another look exchanged, and one of them stepped forward with its hands held forward. It stopped in front of the line and I could hear a metallic settling as it locked into place.
The group on front of me backed up, and I stood still as they parted around me. Soon, I was at the front, and Alan spoke again. “Now, K.”
There was no way. These model might not have been the most agile, but there was no way I could get past the one right in front. If only I’d moved before. I only they’d turn away again…
There was a scream, and a flurry of hands, and the man had got back up and was quickly thrown back down. He tried to wrap his arms around one of them, but they threw him off and into the middle fo the street.
And I did.
Everyone else fixed on the show, the already broken man getting further destroyed, I ran for the door. If any of the other potential patrons noticed, they didn’t say anything, and none of them tried to follow me in either. I grabbed the handle and turned, almost fearing and alarm as I cranked it open. The music immediately got louder, and I glanced back when I was halfway inside, sure someone must've heard it. But no-one was looking. With an inaudible click, the door closed behind me. The last thing I heard was the man screaming at them to stop.
“Alright, the contact is on the second floor. The stairs are in the next room, there's a door to your left.” It was Patricia this time. Even over the constant thumping of the music, that only got louder with each moment, her voice was still stern and steady.
There was another synth leaning against the wall. A ‘greeter’, of some sort, in this...foyer, I guess? But, from the way he held himself, I guessed he wasn’t in the mood to do much greeting. He looked me up and down and gave a small nod, before returning to his bored position.
I nodded back, and stepped through the last barrier between me and the main building; a plastic door curtain that stuck a little on my skin when I stepped through it.
The room wasn’t as busy as I’d expected it to be. There were some people on the dance floor, but most of them were either at the bar or broken off into small conversational groups. What they were talking about, I’d rather not speculate, but it couldn’t be good.
I followed Patricia's direction and scanned for a door. Sure enough, there it was, grey metal made alive by the patterns and spots cast on it from the changing lights. I made a beeline for it, and slipped into the next room without much fuss.
From there, I made it to the staircase, nearly slipping on a spot of something left over the second top step.
“You’re close. On this floor, look for the first bar. It should be right in front of you as you enter.”
I glanced around to make sure the stair well was empty, that no-one could hear me, and said. “How will I know which one he is?”
“Take a seat. He’ll find you.”
I opened the door and stepped into the next room, much quieter than the previous two. Both in the literal sense (the only music playing was muted, and decidedly more relaxing), and in the atmosphere. The lighting was toned down, but not seedy. Clear enough to navigate around without much effort, but enough to make you feel just a little obscured. Just a little safer. I wondered if that was a conscious decision by the owners: to make people feel like they were veiled when they made whatever sort of deals were made here.
Then again, I wasn’t one to talk.
I headed over to the bar and took one of the seats towards the far side. An empty seat next to me for the informant when he came, and a three seat buffer from the next nearest patron. I called the bartender over with two fingers and pointed at something on the wall shelf behind him. It didn’t really matter what, so as I didn’t look out of place.
“Where is he?” Alan said, but it didn’t sound directed at me.
“Should be there soon.” Patricia answered.
The bartender returned to me, and I was pleased to see that it didn’t end up looking that exotic. I was reluctant to start drinking it, not being sure of its strength or potency. The last thing I needed was to fuck up my first assignment because I couldn’t hold my liquor.
Still, it had been a while and my boredom was starting to show. The occasional glasses from the nearest customer weren’t going unnoticed, either.
Reluctantly, I took a sipl. It burned. But then again, maybe I just wasn’t used to it. Despite how I’d spent most of my shoreleave, believe it or not, I’d never been much of a drinker. Especially not the hard stuff. And this was definitely hard. I probably should’ve looked what I was ordering.
I heard a shift beside me, and glanced over to see the seat had been filed. I turned around, ready to greet him, but stopped short. They hadn’t told me much about the informant, but I knew that he was a synth. I had the brief urge to tell this guy to get lost, to find another seat, but that would attract too much attention. So, I settled on my drink again, and waited for Alan or Patricia to tell me how to deal with it. It wouldn’t be great to have to abort the first assignment so early, but I’d do it if they told me too.
“Kalahan.” Alan said. I didn’t respond; anyone would hear me if he talked. “K, he’s there.”
I frowned to myself, and looked as subtly as I could in either direction. No-one new had arrived.
“To you left.” He said. I looked again. Only the same human patron who’d obnoxiously taken the seat next me.
“That’s him, K.”
“What?” I said, unable to stop my verbal reaction. The informant was a synth, and this was- this was…
“Kalahan.” It wasn’t one of the voices in my ear. Numbly, I nodded. He knew who I was, so that must mean…
My eyes darted to his throat, that shifted and bobbed with his speech and breath. To his eyes, dark and calm, wracked with micro expressions as he studied me back. I couldn’t see him very clearly with the dimmed light, but I could swear I saw a scruffy layer of stubble. Synths didn’t grow hair. Useless process, much too hard to implement. Harder maintenance, too. Any hair they had was artificially implanted at creation to make them look more ‘normal’, and I’d never known anyone to bother with adding facial hair.
“Take a picture.” He says. “It’ll last longer.”
“Sorry.” I say. “I just, I was expecting…”
He raised an eyebrow. “What? More metal?”
“Don’t worry.” He said. “I get that a lot.”
“So, you are-?”
“It’s a new era, Kalahan. Science can do marvelous things. You can’t be sure of anything anymore.”
He gave me a strange look. I couldn’t place it’s meaning, but the power behind it made it stand out. He was right about one thing, though, I sure as hell didn’t feel sure anymore.