Turns out you can resurrect the dead.
The Macbook is back and alive, and I’ve managed to do some writing today! Hooray. It’s been fun – but hard – writing the new story. Getting my head shifted out of the old one has felt like stumbling along after surgery; something’s different, and it’s been harder to get into the groove.
Despite that, I wanted to share with you the short I wrote today. Targets are down – goal is still 2,500, but I only clocked in 1,500 today. Try not to hate me too much for that, and enjoy this (raw and unedited) slice of work in progress.
The green neon flickered behind the bar, as tired and listless as any of the patrons. The bartender watched him, one chromed arm working a dirty rag over a dirtier surface. His eyes were underlined in a smatter of hanzi, the phosphor blue of the logograms giving off a soft bioluminescence. A couple of ganguro teenage girls were making out in a dark corner, the pastel of their eyeliners garish with the green from the bar. Their bright clothes whispered as they rubbed against each other.
“Hey. Pal.” Mason put a faded photograph down on the bar. “Seen this guy?”
The bartender didn’t look at the photo, his gaze flicking to the bottles stacked up in front of the flickering neon. The dirty rag paused. “I never heard of that mix. Been making drinks a long time now.”
Mason tapped his finger on the photo. “It’s not a popular drink. Not the thing you’d get in this part of town.”
The bartender nodded. “Drink like that, might be expensive.” The rag resumed motion, the bartender’s chromed arm picking up the green light and pushing it around the bar top after the rag.
Mason saw the hanzi under the bartender’s left eye flicker, the glow stuttering before coming back on clean and smooth. He pressed some greasy notes down on the bar next to the photo. “I understand. Maintenance. Got to keep the kitchen in working order.”
“Exactly.” The rag stopped moving for a moment, then started its motion back up. Mason caught a reflection in the the chromed arm as a man walked in from the street. A sharp gust of night air followed him in, the faintest hint of sewerage mixing with the acrid scent of the rain. The bartender nodded at the newcomer. “It’s killer out there.” The photo and the money were gone, whisked off the bar as if they’d never been. The bartender moved further down the bar, filling a cocktail shaker with dirty ice.
The newcomer sat down next to Mason, a hit of too-strong Davidoff cologne hanging around him. “Mind if I sit here?”
“It’s a free country.” Mason didn’t turn, taking in the expensive suit cuffs out of the corner of his eye.
“That’s the biggest lie I’ve heard this week.” The man shook water from his coat, throwing the heavy jacket over a vacant barstool. “Hasn’t been free since they invented the credit card.”
“You don’t seem to be suffering.”
The man chuckled. “Business is good. What can I say?”
The bartender pushed a glass tumbler in front of Mason, the ice nestled in around a rich amber liquid. The algae in the liquid sparked a bright pink, flecks of light flashing in amongst the amber and ice. “Your drink.”
Mason nodded his thanks, taking a sip. The liquor was rougher than he was expecting. He coughed. “Christ.” He saw the splash of white on the bottom of the glass as he set it down.
The man next to him gestured at the bartender. “Whatever he’s having.”
“You really don’t want to do that. Last time I order the house speciality, that’s for sure.”
“I can handle it.” The man put some cash down on the bar. “It’s probably too much to expect they’ll take chips here.”
“At least it’s quiet.” Mason took another swallow of the drink, then looked again at those immaculately tailored cuffs. He looked back down into his drink, reading the note stuck to the bottom of his glass before looking back up. “It’s probably as good a place to die as any.”
There was a heartbeat of silence before the pressure built in the air. Mason grabbed the edge of the bar, heaving himself over the top of it as the blast wave hit. He felt himself get tossed against the back wall, glass raining down from the shattered bottles of liquor above the bar. His optics flicked as they adjusted contrast, first to the flash of light then to the shadows dancing in the bar. A single neon filament flickered above Mason, stuttering out the last of its life in refracted green before the bar went dark.
“I’m glad you appreciate your situation.” The man’s voice came from the other side of the bar. “No offence. Like I said, business is good.”
“None taken.” Mason planted his feet against the bar, bracing himself in the narrow space. He unholstered the Tenko-Kensai, the whine of the weapon soft in the darkness as it came to life. The nose of the weapon tracked the sound of the man through the bar in the darkness as if it had a mind of its own. “Reed Interactive?”
“Good guess. But no – Metatech. Apsel?”
“Yeah.” Mason swallowed. “What are they like?”
“Metatech?” The man paused. “They sure as shit provide better backup than Apsel.”
Mason’s smile glinted in the darkness. “What makes you think I need backup?”
The man chuckled, the sound moving towards the door. “Buddy? You look fucked to me.”
There was the sound of the door opening, followed by a thud as the grenade rolled in the door. Mason rolled away from the door, scrambling to the back of the bar. He hit the door to the back kitchen as the explosion went off, tossing him across the kitchen and into the short order stove. He fell to the floor hard, then pushed himself upright. His optics flickered in the darkness – fucking EMP – then switched into thermal, the intense bright square of the Tenko-Kensai’s energy pack picked out against the cool dark of the floor. He picked up the weapon, feeling the link come back as his palm gripped it.
Only an amateur would rely on a combi grenade. Or someone who really did have enough backup to make such a clumsy approach effective.
“Now’s not a good time, Carter.” Mason walked back to the door out to the bar, his optics adjusting back to visual light as the heat from the fire in the bar scored the centre of his vision with white. “I’ve got a bit of a thing going on here.”
“That’s what I’m calling about.” She paused. “Don’t go through that door.”
“You checking up on me?” Mason looked through the small window set into the door. He could pick out parts of the bar, the jumble of tables a mess of plastic and wood veneer. “I didn’t know you cared.”
“They used energy weapons. The signature is quite clear from here.”
“I think so.”
“Jesus. You get cancer from those things.” Mason edged the door open, the snout of the Tenki-Kensai pushed out ahead of him.
“You were lucky.” Carter sounded annoyed. “And careless. You’re not going to be alive long enough to get cancer.”
“Like I said, now’s not a good time. You can hector me later.”
“Why not just go out the back?”
“Two reasons. First, they’ll be expecting that.” Mason stepped through the door, his feet crunching on the broken glass of fallen liquor bottles.
“The second reason?”
“The bartender did me a solid. Gave me a lead, stuck a note to the bottom of my glass. Damnedest thing, a bartender who can actually write. He’s in here somewhere.” Mason cocked his head. “What. No snappy comeback?”
“It’ll be expensive.” Carter sounded doubtful.
“Put it on my tab. Are there some budget cuts I missed the memo on?”
“I’ll call a medivac.” The link went dead.
The bartender was in the middle of the room, sprawled backwards against a broken table. His chrome arm was gone, the stump smooth and pale – cheap work without anchoring. Or maybe the guy just didn’t want to get that close to the metal. Mason did a scan, his HUD picking out the injuries. He knelt down next to the bartender. “Hey. Pal.”
The bartender coughed, the sound soft and wet. “Didn’t you get my message?”
“I got it.” Mason nodded at the door. “It’ll keep a few minutes longer.”
The bartender grabbed at Mason’s bicep with his flesh hand. “You don’t understand. They’re killing us.”
“Yeah. I understand. The rain.”
“That animal. He’s responsible for it. For -“ The bartender coughed again. “Will you -“
“That’s the plan.” Mason stood up. “Who was it?”
“Who did you lose to the plague?”
The bartender looked up at him, the fire light playing across his features. The blue had faded out of the hanzi, leaving grey marks like scars. “My sister.”
Mason nodded down at him. “Try not to move. A medivac will be here shortly.”
“I can’t afford that.” The man’s eyes widened slightly. “I – just leave me here. I’ll be ok.”
“Don’t be stupid.” Mason looked down at the Tenko-Kensai, the weapon’s hum a gentle touch against his hand. He moved towards the door. Before he stepped out onto the street, he looked back. “It’s on the house.”
“Which house?” The bartender pushed himself upright. “Who’m I gonna owe for this?”
Mason didn’t reply as he walked outside into the burning rain, the door scraping shut behind him.