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[personal profile] furorscribiendi


Electric Sheep - III

The past week had been the most stressful of Kris’s life to date. It was even worse than when he’d accidentally left the supply depot with an extra ration pack and the police had been called. But then again, it wasn’t everyday that he had, technically, stolen the most expensive androids, quote unquote, in the entire nation. Hell, probably in the entire world. Or modified people…

Tommy and Monte still couldn’t figure out precisely what Adam and Neil were.

All Kris knew was that Adam and Neil’s legal status was on shaky ground at best. If they were caught, the corrupt joke of the courts would side with Cowell Industries. It gave him a headache just thinking about it, truth be told. Adam and Neil wouldn’t be considered people, just property.

The scuffing of a foot against the ground snapped his attention back. Tommy was shaking at a ladder for a long moment, looking upwards. Dust motes floated down gently and after a moment, Tommy looked back at him.

“Okay, so we should surface in an abandoned building. There’s a supply depot about three quarters of a mile away.”

Kris nodded his head before he continued with, “You get the stuff you and Monte need to perform diagnostics on Adam and Neil. I’ll log onto the Subvert and see if we’ve gotten a message from Monster.”

“Then we hit up the supply depot and meet up with the others at the new spot.”

All Kris did was swallow and nod his head. God, he hoped he didn’t get seperated from Tommy. Sure he had the co-ordinates memorised, but there was something comforting in how Tommy got right down to business when needed.

Then again, Tommy was just downright scary at first. A gun to the back of Katy’s skull with an expression on his face that said he wasn’t above melting away half of her head with the plasma weapon. Not to mention the sprawling tattoos that covered his arms.

So when Kris saw him with Adam, he found himself wondering where precisely Tommy hid the hardened man. Because all he ever saw of Tommy with Adam was surprised looks, genuine laughter and a wide smile. It was like looking at a feedback loop. Adam just fed off it and Tommy was the one he talked to the most. According to Monte, his neural pathways were solidifying more rapidly and should be finished in the next twenty-four hours or so.

That wasn’t to say that Adam didn’t talk to anyone else. He did, sometimes calling them by other names mistakenly. Not that Kris even knew who those other people were. But if anything, Adam was the carefree spirit of the bunch. Neil was the pessimistic realist, just like the rest of them.

“Hey!” Fingers were snapped in front of his face and Kris looked over to see Tommy’s peeved expression. “You still with me?”

“Yeah, just…” Kris trailed off for a moment. “How do you get him out of his shell like that?”

“What?” Tommy looked at him like he’d grown another head. “Him?”

Kris clarified with, “Adam.”

Tommy blinked and shrugged. “I just talk to him, that’s all.”

For a moment, Kris thought of pressing it. There was an oddly detached look on Tommy’s face before he looked back at the ladder. But he just grunted and shifted his shouldered pack. All Tommy did was glance back at him before he simply said, “No talking when we get up there.” Kris nodded his head in acknowledgment and Tommy started up the ladder.

Their steps echoed, dull clangs marking their ascent up. The ladder stretched up into a concrete tube once they passed up to the sublevel. The darkness was complete until there was a soft grating sound and then a sliver of light. Kris leaned back as much as he could, barely able to see Tommy peering through before the vertical tunnel flooded with light.

Tommy pushed himself up and out easily in one fluid motion. Kris quickly hurried up and out as Tommy slid the lid back into place. The warehouse was abandoned, just like Tommy had said. The fading sunlight streamed in through the upper windows and there were some holes in the floor and scattered floorboards about. Anything that had been in the warehouse was stripped and as Kris followed after Tommy, he could see small clouds of dust stirred up by their feet. He reached forward and tapped Tommy on the shoulder before pointing down.

All Tommy did was pull a face and wave a hand in dismissal. Kris looked back at the line of muddled footprints and wondered how on Earth they were going to erase that evidence. They walked slowly, Tommy’s head turning from side to side. For a moment, Kris couldn’t figure out what he was looking for but when he glanced over, he saw a sole VR port. When he tried to veer away from Tommy towards it, he got the back of his pack grabbed in response.

Kris looked back at him while mouthing, ‘What?’ Tommy gave him a dirty look before stepping forward a bit. He grabbed a piece of floorboard and tossed it forward. The piece flew through the air before it suddenly broke into three pieces that skittered in the dust before coming to a stop. The raised dust clouds revealed thin red lines at irregular angles.

For a few seconds, all Kris did was stare at the neatly sliced pieces of wood. The hairs on the back of his neck were still raised. If this was an abandoned warehouse, why was it set up with booby traps? No, more like rat traps. No wonder Tommy wasn’t worried about the dust. The authorities already expected anarchists to scurry up into the building, only they’d tigger the trap when they went for the cheese. A shiver forced its way down his spine. All he did was look at Tommy and nod his head once before gesturing for him to continue. Tommy’s face was impassive before it momentarily shifted to a sympathetic look. During the rest of the walk, Kris didn’t deviate once.

They went straight to the back of the warehouse, where Tommy slung his pack around and pulled out his holopad. Then he pulled out the connector jack and the next thing Kris knew Tommy’s fingers were flying over the keypad. The lines of code flew by on the screen and surely there was no way that Tommy was following it all. But when Kris peered down, he saw Tommy’s eyes were rapidly moving with the screen. A few minutes passed in silence before Kris heard the distinct dying drone of something powering down.

Tommy motioned for him and Kris crouched down, pulling out his antiquated laptop. He glared when Tommy openly stared at it, surprise written all over his face. But when a placating hand was held up, Kris let it go. Holopads were expensive as hell; he wasn’t too sure he really wanted to think about precisely how Tommy got his hands on one.

Besides, Kris had specially retro-fitted this ancient device to connect up easily to the Subvert. Sure it wasn’t as flashy or as sleek as a holopad, but it got the job done and that was more than enough for him. A tap on the shoulder made him look up. Tommy mouthed, ‘Security protocols’ and Kris simply handed his laptop over. Any security code he wrote would be woefully inadequate compared to Tommy’s.

When his laptop was handed back, they got to work. Connecting to the Subvert wasn’t as easy up here. The signal was a bit weaker, but it was better to do it here than be tied down in one spot in the Catacombs and be caught when they were heading to the meet-up spot.

Sunlight was rapidly fading with the coming of night and the shadows in the warehouse were growing long. It was a bit eerie working beside Tommy in the growing dark. The man was mostly silent, barring a soft, sharp exhale of frustration. Every so often he’d turn his head and Kris caught a glimpse of his port. It was hard to not just ask questions. Bit by bit, he was learning about Tommy more than anyone else. Snippets of his conversations with Monte, his reactions to some things and his almost involuntary habit of rubbing at his port when he was nervous. But the expression on his face was always the same… and he was doing it right now.

A hand had crept up and was rubbing at it with that look of faint disgust on his face. Tommy suddenly looked up and Kris kept his gaze. This time, he wasn’t going to look away like he was guilty, like he had so many other times before. For a moment, Kris was pretty sure that this was the moment that Tommy would snap or do something in retaliation for such boldness.

Then suddenly, he whispered, “Have faith.”

Something shuttered in Tommy’s expression then as he murmured, “Pretty sure God doesn’t give a flying fuck.”

The words sounded harsh in the nearly pitch-black warehouse. In the bluish glow from the holopad, Tommy looked cold and unforgiving. Kris looked back at his own screen, still feeling the sting of those words. Almost as if Tommy had reached out and slapped him. Only now it was accompanied by a steady look that felt like it was burning a hole through his head. Well, religion was something else to add to the list of things they couldn’t agree on.

Kris sighed and worried his lip, unaware he was doing it. He focused all his attention now on the laptop, sifting through any news on the network that might help them. It took him awhile to notice the slowly flashing mail icon on the bottom of the screen. He opened it and the message was simple.

Pastche. 36.12.364.-6.9:12.9.20.M

That one line had his heart up in his throat. He had no idea where Pastche was, or how far down their Catacombs went, if they even had them. But there was a specific date and then they lost their window. Monster was infamous for sticking to his times and dates. He looked up and found Tommy peering intently at one of the windows. There were lights rapidly passing by and muted sounds, voices and vehicles. Whatever building was beside them was emptying out for the night.

Suddenly there was a burst of motion from Tommy. He rapidly disconnected his holopad, prompting Kris to save the message he was looking at. They quickly tucked their things away and slung their packs back on. Creeping along the wall now, they came to a door that Tommy quickly unlocked. He opened it a crack and when Kris leaned over to peer out, he just about had a shit fit.

“A fucking police depot?” He hissed as he yanked Tommy back in. “Are you insane?”

Tommy threw off his hand. “We need supplies and some other things that are only here. Nowhere else. Like hov boards. And I need to know how much they have on record about Adam and Neil. If I can delete some files, then maybe it’ll help.”

“You and Katy,” Kris finally said after a few minutes. “Are both fucking insane. This is… I thought we were going to a location almost a mile off! We’ll never be able to pick up supplies after hitting a—”

Tommy glanced back at Kris, “As it happens, the depot will have the other supplies we need.” Kris could tell Tommy wanted to grin, if only a little. Then he sighed. “I don’t like it anymore than you, but it needs to be done.” Tommy glanced up at the fence. “Okay, there’s a door built into the fence and the cameras are going to turn off for four minutes. We need to run and not stop until we get inside the building.”

Kris looked at Tommy and then at the flashing red lights on the cameras. “But that’s not nearly –”

The rest of Kris’s sentence never came. The red lights went out and the next thing he knew, he was bolting after Tommy. It felt like forever when they got to the door and he could have screamed when Tommy opened it slowly and slipped through. Kris did the same, bolting for the building as Tommy took the time to close the door and relock it. His heart was pounding in his chest hard when Tommy came flying around the corner and pressed himself against the wall.

When Tommy looked at him with a raised eyebrow, Kris nodded his head.

Sneaking into the supply room felt like the longest five minutes of Kris’s life. They’d crawled in through duct work, after Tommy bypassed the security measures. It was slow work, moving through the metal tubes so as not to make unnecessary noise. If someone had told Kris two weeks ago that he’d be doing this, he would have laughed at them and told them, only at gunpoint.

Dropping into the supply room was thankfully the easiest part. The dim shapes in the large room were easy to discern and he looked around as Tommy screwed the grate back onto the duct vent. There was a bank of solid black that Kris was sure were cooling units. Along another side, there was a soft green glow from the various gravity devices on the wall. Grav beds, hov boards and mag lifts sat along side racks of plasma and ion weapons and the rarely used plasma charges. Hell, Kris could only recall one time when plasma charges had been used. Some prison riot from ages ago. Then again, that simply could have been the only one to make it to the news.

“All right, load up,” Tommy said easily. “We need to hustle.”

“Okay.” Kris said slowly as he moved over to the bank of black.

“I disabled the infra-red, audio and visual. We have about ten minutes before my distraction goes off.”

“Distraction?”

Kris wasn’t too sure he wanted to know. Tommy was walking over to the plasma weapons and snapped out a bag from somewhere. There was an intent look on his face as he pulled down a rifle and inspected it while answering.

“The computer system will get reports of multiple disturbances, after curfew. Hover cams in some areas will be down, so there’ll only be one response to that.”

For a few seconds all Kris could do was stare at Tommy. The plan was perfectly clear now. In all the chaos of police troops dispersing to deal with the supposed anarchists out and about… It would be easier to slip away then than it would be now. But Tommy had also said that he’d look into files about Adam and Neil… Oh.

“You set up a search and destroy worm. For all of us.”

At those soft words, Tommy looked up at Kris. “At this point, we’re in this together now, all of us. Doesn’t help if you and Katy were identified. Anything that sets back the police investigation is a bonus.”

Silence fell for a moment as Kris contemplated Tommy’s words. “You know what? Remind me to never really piss you off. You’d chew me up and spit me out before I even realised what happened.”

Tommy laughed at that, sounding genuinely amused. “I can promise it’ll be quick.”

“Small mercy.” Kris groused.

They worked quietly now, Tommy checking over weapons and filling up the bag. Kris found a handle on one of the cooling units and pulled the door open. Ration packs and meal packs were neatly lined up on the shelves. But it was the haphazard mess off to the side that caught his attention. When he pulled some boxes aside, he let loose a whoop of delight. Tommy swore from behind him and came stomping over.

“Kris, I swear I’ll…”

Kris shut up Tommy by reaching in and pulling out a small container of peaches. When he followed it up with, “There’s also a tub of ice cream in the back,” Tommy’s eyes lit up.

“Ice cream? Honest to goodness ice cream? Is that… that’s fruit! Real fucking fruit.”

“Looks like it. Someone snuck in some contraband.”

“Or has credits flying out the ass,” Tommy peered into the back. “Should teach them a lesson.”

When he replied with, “Definitely” Kris didn’t try to keep the grin from his face.

Kris’s pack was filled with ration, meal and hydra-packs, all nestled around the ice cream and the peaches. He sealed the bag shut and came over to where Tommy was standing once more. Tommy’s bag was sealed and he had some uniforms in hand.

“Time to suit up.”

Silently, Kris took the offered clothes from Tommy and they changed quickly by the dim light of his holopad. Their old clothes were stuffed into a pack and Kris vaguely wondered just how they would make it far on foot. Tommy was looking at his holopad, an intent look on his face, before he tucked it away.

“Just follow my lead, all right?”

His throat was dry and his tongue felt like it was glued to the roof of his mouth, but Kris nodded anyway. As if on cue, the wail of an alarm filled the building and then came the heavy pound of combat boots. The door slid open, and if Tommy’s helmet didn’t have the name of ‘Karasek’ stenciled on the back, Kris would have lost him in the crush of people. This was insane, there was no conceivable way that this would work and –

“Karasek! Hallet!”

The voice was sharp and Kris turned to see a woman with ‘Grey’ stenciled on her helmet come stomping towards them. Thank God he and Tommy had the visors on their helmets down already. He figured the ‘Oh shit’ he was thinking was clearly stamped over his face. Her eyes flicked to the bags they held and she nodded approvingly.

“Good, just making sure. Proceed to the third disturbance site and set up. Eliminate any unruly workers at your discretion, and take out the ringleaders. Understood?”

“Ma’am!”

Both he and Tommy barked the word and she disappeared back into the crush of people.

When he and Tommy made it to the vehicle bay they found officers lining up into the backs of transport trucks. But off to the side, Kris noticed others dressed like them, heading to single grav-cycles. He nudged Tommy and inclined his head slightly. Tommy took one look at the transport before he headed over to the grav-cycles. They got on and secured their packs before turning on the grav-cycles and filing out with the others. Kris was glad the on-board computer had everything and as the speed-generated wind whipped over the plasma shield, he could see his and Tommy’s turn off coming up.

Tommy veered off sharply down the exit ramp and Kris followed suit. The roar of the transport engines could be heard from just up ahead and Kris felt his stomach flop with nervousness. Just how had they not been busted yet? They drove into a dark alleyway and killed the grav-cycles. Right on cue, the com in their helmets crackled to life.

“Karasek, Hellet, we’re almost there. You two in position yet?”

“Roger,” Kris whispered as Tommy removed their packs. “Starting com silence now, sir.”

In the gloom of the alleyway, Kris caught the slight grin on Tommy’s face as he shouldered the heavy pack. Kris shouldered his own pack as well, hoping his arms didn’t fall off from the weight. When Tommy lingered by the grav-cycle, Kris came over. On the grav-cycle’s small monitor was a news report playing. Kris turned his com back on and set the auto-tune on and the words gradually filtered in.

“…The androids have been missing for nearly two weeks now and Fuller Corporation is offering a reward for their return. Anyone with information should contact their local police station immediately. In other local news –”


Tommy silenced the monitor with a well-aimed shot from his plasma gun. The other grav-cycle got the same treatment and when they went into the building, the acrid smell of melted metal lingered in Kris’s nose. It was a storage facility and they moved quickly around the large covered shapes, heading for the back rooms. Maybe Tommy was too intent, but Kris could have sworn he heard the rustle of something moving. He reached forward and grabbed Tommy’s pack.

In the moment when Tommy turned around to glare at him, the sound came again. There was a rustle of cloth followed by the soft creak of a boot stepping. Someone had followed them. Kris looked around before he noticed a soft billowing along the bottom of the covered objects. He didn’t even think, just carefully unshouldered his pack and pushed it underneath before crawling under the cover. A minute later, Tommy did the same. They were underneath a facility flatbed truck and in the dim light, Kris could barely make out the shape of something Tommy held out to him.

When he took it, he knew immediately what it was: a plasma gun.

The shape felt weird in his hand and he hoped he didn’t have to use it. Tommy was lying beside him, flat on his stomach, still as death and taking slow, measured breaths. Kris tried to do the same, but found his heart was thudding wildly in his chest again. The steps were coming closer and shit, this was not –

Tommy’s hand on his shoulder almost made him jump. But there was a steady, intent look on his face and Kris just nodded his head and forced himself to breath slowly and steadily as well. This was so not going to end well and…

The silhouette of booted feet came to a stop right in front of them. Kris felt his breath hitch into his throat and everything seemed to slow down as gloved fingers appeared on the edge of the fabric. It was pulled up and then a visored face came into view.

For the first time in his life, Kris well and truly panicked.

It all seemed to slow down. He was vaguely aware of Tommy moving beside him. But the next thing Kris knew, his plasma gun went off and caught the police officer right in the visor. The officer disappeared in a blast of blue energy and then Tommy was wriggling out, dragging his pack after him.

Kris just lay there, staring blankly at the faintly smoking gun still in his hand. Holy God, he had just shot someone in the face. He had just shot someone in the face and that had not been part of the plan at all. This was… this was…

“Kris, move it!” Tommy looked anxious as he peered back down. “Now! We’ve got three minutes, max, until this place is crawling with cops!”

That got him moving. He grabbed his pack and wriggled out as well. As soon as he was out, he ran after Tommy, reshouldering his pack. There was no finesse this time as they got to the door to the back room. The door handle was shot off, then the door kicked in and they thundered down the stairs and through a hallway crammed with metal crates to a storage room. There was a sealed door against the back wall that elicted some swearing from Tommy. Kris fumbled for a plasma grenade and held it out.

“Shit, I didn’t think you’d go and plug the guy in the face.” Tommy muttered as he yanked out the pin and placed it at the foot of the sealed door.

“I didn’t – Well, I never intended – ”

Kris kept trying to stammer out an apology as Tommy dragged him back into the hallway and behind a metal crate. The explosion came not even thirty seconds later and then they were running through the blue smoke and falling bits of rubble.

Stale Catacombs air greeted them and Tommy was fumbling for something from his pack. When he produced the hov boards and tossed them on the ground, Kris had a sinking feeling.

“I’ve never been on one of those.” Kris shook his head. “This is insane! I mean… fuck, insane. And I think I just killed a guy and –”

Tommy stepped onto the hov board and it came to life, the green gravity field activating and lifting him off the ground about half a foot. “Well, you can stay and go to jail if you like. But it’s worse in there than it is out here. Actually, just get on yours and grab hold. I think Katy would kill me if anything happened to you. And she’s still pissed at me for putting a gun to her head. Don’t think I should go and add getting you killed to the list.”

For a moment, Kris looked back at the smoking hole and then back to the hov board. He got on, nearly overbalancing when the board came to life. When he managed to regain some semblance of balance he grabbed hold of Tommy’s pack and looped his wrists through for good measure. Just in case.

“Where in the hell did you learn to use a hov board?” Kris wished he didn’t sound hoarse with fright.

“When I escaped from prison.”

That was all Tommy said before he leaned forward sharply and the hov board responded by leaping forward. Tears started to form up in Kris’s eyes as the wind whipped up around them. Abandoned buildings flew past and it was all Kris could do to hold on for dear life. It felt like Tommy wasn’t too sure where he was going and was just focused on putting as much distance as possible between them and the storage facility. There were leaps over chasms between buildings, skids down and across some crumbled ruins… And Kris was honestly wondering how they were still in one piece. For that matter, just how the hell he was still hanging on.

After what felt like an eternity, Tommy banked to a sharp halt and jumped off the board. Still connected to his pack, Kris tumbled off his board and pulled Tommy to the ground with him. Somehow, he freed his shaking hands and wobbled to his feet. Tommy was already back up and grabbing their boards. Kris could only watch blankly as Tommy tucked them under his arm. Then he seized Kris’s hand and dragged him through a low doorway, into a half crumbling building.

They picked their way over debris, going as far back into the building as they could. Tommy used a small, handheld plasma light to guide their way. As soon as he came to a stop he unshouldered his pack and dumped it on the ground. Kris numbly did the same before they sat down. Tommy killed the light. Pitch black enveloped them and Kris was pretty sure if Tommy hadn’t been sitting right beside him, he would have outright panicked. The darkness and silence sat like heavy weights, until finally Kris whispered, anything to break the silence.

“Remind me again, why did we not bring someone else with us?”

Tommy didn’t respond for a moment. And then, “Two-people teams are easier. Easier to respond, faster and quicker to get in and out, if both people know what they’re doing.”

That felt like a jibe. Kris didn’t really blame him. “Then why the hell did you want me to come with you on this run?” Tommy’s answer surprised Kris. “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!”

“…You know exactly what the hell you’re doing. You’re just,” the pause Tommy took said it all.Then he finished off dryly with, “Idealistic. Don’t know how that happened.”

If Kris could have stared, he would have. It seemed, after this event, ‘idealistic’ was putting it as nicely as he possibly could. “I don’t know how to use a plasma gun, I haven’t been at this nearly as long as you and Monte. All I know is that things need to change and I couldn’t stand that everyone thought everything was fine.”

“Yeah, indoctrination has that effect. I accidentally got my hands on a history book from the Free Republic of the North. You know you can actually follow a religion in the North?”

“Really?” Kris felt his heart in his throat again. “That’s –”

“Don’t feed me some bullshit line. You know about Christianity, at the very least. You talk about God a lot.” Tommy’s voice was wry. “I think Katy likes that about you. Well, it’s one of the things.”

There was an absurdity to this situation that nearly had Kris in hysterical laughter. They were hiding out from the cops after raiding one of their depots and Tommy was calling him out on his religion and inferring that Katy liked that about him. It was easier, and better, to reply because Kris honestly wasn’t sure if he could stop laughing if he started.

“I’d rather put my trust in God than some corporation that claims to care for us all. If they cared, why are so many of us working in factories, living in slums and trying to scrape together credits? Hell, why did Adam and Neil feel it was better to try and escape VR than stay there?”

There was a long silence from Tommy and then, “I find it very hard to believe in God after all of this. After everything that’s happened to me. Fuck, everything that’s happened to Monte, to Adam and Neil… to everyone I’ve loved. And this God isn’t coughing up the answers any time soon, so…”

“But you must think that you can do something,” Kris lapsed into silence for a moment before he continued with, “You’ve been here for a decade, as far as I know, trying to make some changes. You and Monte, that’s longer than any other hacker has survived on the fringes. You two are up there with Monster, hacker legends. Why else would you stay here so long if you didn’t have hope?"

The darkness was silent for a few minutes as Tommy didn’t respond. And when he did, it wasn’t in reply to Kris’s question.

“That was the first time you shot someone, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. I hope they’re alright.”

“Figures. First time you shoot someone and it’s the face,” Tommy gave a soft snort. “When we get back, you and Katy are getting some lessons.”

“What, not Adam or Neil?” Kris griped.

“No, since Adam is still acclimatizing. He doesn’t have the same experience sets as Neil, so who knows how long that will take.” There was an accusing tone to Tommy’s voice.

“Hopefully not too long then. We need to get moving,” Kris shifted, flexing his feet. “…Monster finally contacted us.”

Tommy prompted with, “And?”

“We have to meet them in about a week’s time, on the twelfth. We’d have to –”

Kris stopped as Tommy hissed, “Sh!”

For a few moments, he couldn’t hear anything. But then he heard a whining drone of something with a generated field passing by. They fell silent again. The quiet was periodically interspersed with the noise of the drone and Kris just hoped that nothing stumbled across them. It seemed like the seconds and minutes dragged by before all they heard was silence again, pierced by nothing but their slow breathing.

“Coast is clear.” The sound of fumbling came and then the plasma light illuminated Tommy’s face. “We’ll wait a bit before we head deeper and then meet up with the others.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Kris paused for a second as he looked at his pack. “How did they even know we’d…” even as he said it, he realised what it was. “The grav-cycles.”

“We probably weren’t anywhere near the supposed dispatch spot and they sent someone to investigate. They triangulated the location of the grav-cycles. Did you close the door behind you?”

Kris knew he looked sheepish as he said, “Um… possibly?”

“You’ve got to pay attention to the little things,” Tommy began after a disgusted sounding ‘tch.’ “It’s so damned important, you have no idea.”

“Duly noted,” Kris fell silent for a moment as he stared at his pack. “Hey, do you think the ice cream is okay?”

“Fucking hell, that’s not exactly the detail you should worry about.”

Kris was positive he heard the smile in Tommy’s voice, plain as day. They made their way out of the ruined building. Tommy got the hov boards out and, slowly, they descended further down into the Catacombs. It took them awhile to orient themselves and head in towards the meeting point. It seemed like forever before Kris caught the murmur of voices. A grin came to his face as he heard Katy’s sharp rebuke to something. He glanced over at Tommy and leaned forward slightly, making the hov board speed up.

When he came into the building, he saw Katy stare at him and then launch herself at him. He barely had time to get off the hov board. His feet touched the ground and next thing he knew, he had her hugging him tightly around the neck.

“Kris, you’re all right! What happened?” She pulled back, drawing a hand from the back of his neck. “And you’re bleeding.”

He glanced down to see her fingertips were bright red. “Oh, didn’t even notice. And don’t yell at Tommy,” he shifted back into her field of vision as she tried to glare at Tommy. “The point is the both of us are back safely. We’ve got something else more important to discuss.”

That caught everyone’s attention. Monte looked up from where he, Neil and Adam were talking. Tommy was already sauntering over, hov board tucked underneath his arm. Kris didn’t say anything as he watched Adam’s eyes fix on Tommy. He half-heartedly responded as Katy fussed over him. Tommy came to a stop beside Monte and dumped the bag down before he plunked himself down on the ground beside Adam.

“Kris,” Katy turned his head back to look at her. “Did you hear from –”

“Monster finally contacted us.” He said.

Kris took Katy’s hand and they walked over to where the others were. Katy sat down as Kris dumped his heavy pack beside Tommy’s. When he sat down beside her, everyone’s gaze was on him. He swallowed a bit, trying to steady his sudden case of nerves.

“He wants us to meet him in Pastche. We don’t have a very long time frame.” Kris quickly related the rest of the message details before he added on, “But I don’t have the faintest idea where Pastche is.”

“It’s a small town, about two days outside of LA,” Monte said. “It shouldn’t be too hard to get to. We can probably stow away in the back of a transport.”

“The transports leave from the depots at the LA border, right?” Tommy frowned when Monte nodded his head before he looked at Adam and Neil. “Are you two up to that kind of travelling?”

“I’m steadier on my feet,” Adam looked thoughtful. “I’m fairly sure I can do it.”

Neil nodded before saying, “Either way, getting to the LA border from where we are will take about a day,” he gave Kris a thoughtful look. “Did this message from Monster say anything else?”

Kris shook his head. “My guess is that any other decision will be made once we’ve met up.”

Silence fell for a few seconds before Adam spoke once more. “… Is anyone else thinking this might be a trap?”

Everyone looked at Adam, who simply stared back and shrugged. But then Tommy gave a dry laugh.

“Monster’s the only Runner still active. The USS hasn’t been able to capture him. Or crack his network.” Tommy paused, a thoughtful look on his face. “It’s a chance we’ll have to take. If we’re going to Pastche, we’d better start packing up.”

“We can do that, then catch a ride on a transport in the morning,” Monte rubbed at his forehead before he stared off absently for a moment. “Might as well get some sleep.”

“Oh!” Kris got up and went to his dumped pack. “I found a treat for us all.”

There were many curious looks that vanished once he pulled the semi-soft ice cream tub from the pack along with the semi-crushed peaches. Smiles and eager talk came easily as everyone dug out a saved spork and started to eat the softening treat. Katy scooted in closer to him and he smiled. Then Tommy’s words flashed through his mind and it was easier to eat another spoonful of ice cream than think about the flush he could feel creeping over his face.

“You okay?” Katy whispered into his ear.

“Fine.”

Kris figured she really would have bought that if he hadn’t sounded half-strangled. He coughed and glanced at her once again. When she grinned at him he couldn’t help but smile in return before looking away after a moment. …and found Adam’s concerned expression fixed right on him. Adam started to say something, but Tommy touched him on the shoulder with a slight shake of his head.

“Kris is fine,” Tommy’s next words were nearly lost in the soft babble of conversation. “Don’t worry about him, babyboy.”

Adam’s gaze lingered on him before turning to Tommy. For a brief moment, Kris felt almost certain that Adam was going to counter with something. But a thoughtful look came to his face and then Adam nodded his head and reached for another spoonful of ice cream.

Kris ate another spoonful slowly and felt Katy nudge his shoulder. When he looked over, she directed a pointed look to Tommy and Adam, then looked back at him with a widening smile. Kris smiled a bit, but raised both eyebrows and then shook his head.

And as they all talked and ate, Kris felt some of his anxiety lift away. Surely everything would work out.

_________________________________________________________



The meal pack sitting before her was comprised of hydroponically grown vegetables, genetically engineered meat and a pitiful attempt at something that could be called dessert. But it was nutritionally sound and she should probably eat it.

She still poked at it, as she had for the last thirty minutes.

It had been just over two weeks since her and Eber’s boys had disappeared without a trace. Officer Camilla Grey... whatever she found she wasn’t revealing to anyone. But she must have found something because Leila had gone down to the LA police station with Eber, and Grey went from stoic to pleased. Adam’s back-up dancers had been there, their drab work uniforms blending in with the grey concrete walls. One by one, Camilla had talked to them all.

For some it was only a few minutes, like the security guard with the grim and determined expression. A girl with short black hair, Sasha, if Leila had heard right from snippets of conversation, she had been in that room for nearly three hours. Leila’s own turn had come after Eber’s hour and when the two hours was up, she felt like she’d been through the wringer.

And since she and Eber had come back home, she couldn’t quite figure out what connection three workers and a security guard all had in common besides working with the Adam program. There had to be something else at work here. But they weren’t finding answers, and Leila wasn’t sure they would without a little more pushing.

“You haven’t eaten.”

She looked up at the sound of Eber’s voice. He sat down at the table beside her. With a shrug, she poked at something that was supposed to be a pork cutlet before she threw her fork down. She hung her head and buried her hands in her hair. There was a long silence from Eber before a fork with a biteful of food came into her field of vision.

“You’ve got to eat someth– ”

Suddenly anger gripped her and she knocked the fork from Eber’s grasp. How on Earth could he be taking all of this so calmly? True, she knew her husband, but after that first display of anger there had been nothing else from him. And that she just didn’t get, it was so uncharacteristic of him. She expected anger and bitterness about the loss of their boys, sarcasm and muttering about the system. Right now, it felt like he didn’t care.

“I’m. Not. Hungry.” She bit out in a snarl.

Eber glowered at her. “Leila, there’s nothing I can really do with the active investigation.”

Just like that, Leila suddenly felt as if she had all the anger drained out of her. She felt so tired, weary and wrung completely out. “I know, I know,” she ran her hands back through her hair before rubbing at her face. She did understand Eber couldn’t do anything. Neither of them could without crossing more than a few lines they wouldn’t be able to explain. She lapsed into silence for a moment as she watched Eber. Then she said, “You’re not going to like me.”

“Is this because of your mood swings for the past two weeks?” Eber asked dryly. “Or how you’ve just been taking out all of your frustration on me?”

Leila focused her gaze on her uneaten meal. “Since we’re still not getting answers, I think we need to try something else.”

“Something else?” Eber sounded confused and then, “Leila, that’s –”

“That officer isn’t going to tell us anything,” Leila looked up at him. “And I am sick and tired of playing this game. We put our blood and sweat into our boys. Hell, we damned well put our souls into them too. And Fuller’s just going to treat them like property?”

Eber frowned, but Leila could see that anger come back, simmering beneath a veneer of rationality. She turned to look at him. He met her gaze and she took a deep breath.

“And something else occurred to me. You know how Cowelll was pushing for the Adam and Neil programs to be… uploaded?”

“Yeah. But that probably was a crap shoot that would have failed. I mean, they basically wanted a sentient version of the program that walked and talked. Running a program is one thing, but programming a body… entirely different.”

“Some might argue not. Muscle memory, mnemonic devices… aren’t they just another form of programming an individual for a specific function?”

“You could say that,” Eber took a deep breath and got up from his seat, pacing alongside the counter. “But that’s with an individual that’s already functioning at what would be full mental capacity. Say Adam and Neil successfully uploaded into those… bodies. They would need time to acclimatise and learn even the most basic of functions. A virtual reality is more easily manipulated than reality.”

“But we programmed that into them. Adapting to the VR enviroment around them. There was some leeway for them to adapt and absorb new information.” Leila frowned. “The Neil program was designed to adapt more for the long term. There were some bugs that resulted from the sheer amount of data that the program accrued over twelve years.”

“Hon, the Adam program had the same problem after five years. We took the key algorithms from the Neil program, tweaked the code and made Adam. And he developed the same bugs as the Neil program, but faster.”

“Which still stumps me,” Leila shook her head. “How can two distinctly different programs develop almost the same, identical problem? And one much faster than the other.”

Eber fell silent at that, a thoughtful look crossing his face. He quirked a curious smile at her before he left the kitchen. For a few minutes, Leila thought of following him, thinking perhaps he’d had enough. But he came back into the kitchen, holopad in hand. He sat down beside her at the kitchen table and started up the device. She watched as he turned on the projection function and miniature modules appeared in the air before them.

“These are the problem bits of code from Adam and Neil. I copied it from the last save, about a week before they vanished,”

Silence fell for a few minutes as Eber rapidly typed on the holopad. Lines of code flickered by with highlighted secitions seperating themselves out. It took five minutes for everything to run through, and then Eber was typing once more. Even now she could see a trend in the code lines. Neil’s personality was so intricate and interconnected that it was almost like looking at a neural map of a person, digitized down. Adam’s was more haphazard and as the lines of code flickered by, she frowned. This was nothing remotely like the initial code she and Eber wrote for Adam. Then she saw something that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

“What the fuck is that?”

“Ah, that little nugget right there,” Eber sounded both grim and pleased as he highlighted it and brought it to the forefront. “Is something I’m personally calling our chimera. Took me forever to find. That subroutine somehow grafted itself onto Adam’s base code and infected everything else from there. From what I’ve been able to discern it’s basically an aggregator. ”

“Well, no wonder he was so glitchy,” Leila frowned though. “That’s how Adam always seemed to get bigger and bigger. No matter how many restores we did, he always ended up back to some other parameter set, and expanded from there. That damned aggregator just had him collect so much information.”

“More than likely,” Eber paused. “Now, I’ve been doing more digging through what was saved while you were moping about,” he typed rapidly again and some boxes came floating into view. “Something, not the virus, set up Adam to run an interconnected information cascade restore.”

Leila stared at the float boxes. “What? When did these run?”

“Every two days after we ran a reset,” Eber typed something else in. The float boxes disappeared and a code map was projected up now. “And look at the bigger picture here. This is the state of the Neil program after twelve years and the Adam program after five.”

Another image came up on the screen and Leila felt a chill run over her as she whispered, “Oh God, they are equal.”

“Somehow, the aggregator changed and accelerated Adam’s progress. It was theorized that if an AI program ran for long enough…”

There was a grim but ashen, uneasy look to Eber’s face. Leila was personally glad that she hadn’t eaten much of anything. Her stomach was churning and she probably would have thrown up if she had eaten something. All those restores they had done to Adam, the sheer amount of time they had shelved Neil… She pushed her chair back and ducked her head between her legs.

“Eber, we’re terrible parents…” she wheezed. “They were… are… and we… oh God, oh God, oh God…”

His chair scraped and then his hand was on her back, rubbing circles. “No, we’re not. We didn’t know. But our boys are adaptive. And now, we’re going to help them as much as we can.”

Leila took a few more deep breaths, feeling her stomach settle down. “Okay. However we can. So there’s something else you should know.”

All Eber did was raise an eyebrow, still rubbing at her back.

“Notice anything in that subroutine? Any of that coding familiar?” when Eber frowned a bit, Leila continued. “Remember that guy we apprenticed awhile back?”

“Pittman?” Eber said and then understanding dawned in his eyes. “But he’s dead.”

“No, he’s missing. They never found his body. I know his style, it’s clear as day. Like a virtuoso. But he’s working with someone else. That code that got into Adam’s base code is an amalgamation of two styles. One of those styles is Monte. And whoever Monte’s working with, they know what they’re doing and then some.”

Eber stared at Leila for a long moment before he whispered, “Hon, did you go looking –”

“Damn right I did. And I don’t regret a thing. But we need to be careful now. Our boys are…” She took a slow, calming breath. “We can’t afford to disappear, just in case. Well, not yet anyway.”

“All right,” Eber looked intent. It was the expression that said he’d get it done and damn the consequences. “I think it’s time we further modified our implants. Officer Grey cannot get wind of this at all, and if our last few meetings with her are anything to go by, that could be a serious issue.”

“Agreed. Do we still have any of that scotch about?”

Eber gave a dry laugh. “Still have some stashed away. I thought we were saving that for a special occasion.”

“This is. Besides, those modifications hurt like a bitch. Might as well have something to cushion the blow.” She gave him a small smile.

An answering smile came to Eber’s face. “After all this time, you still know how to show me a good time on a Saturday night.”

Leila kissed Eber softly before she pulled him in for a hug. “We’ll find them.”

“I know,” Eber hugged her tightly. “We will.”

_________________________________________________________



The transport rocked gently as it sped along the high-speed transport lanes on the hyperway. In the ventilated cargo hold, Tommy shifted, stretching his feet out, deeper into the hay. Along one side of the spacious cargo crate the sheep milled about, bleating softly. Adam was sitting beside him, curled up underneath a blanket and dozing off fitfully even as slats of light skittered rapidly over them. His head was on Tommy’s shoulder, which had gone numb about an hour ago. Tommy couldn’t feel anything from the lower neck down.

Tommy wasn’t so inclined to try and move though. He was starting to worry about Adam. Monte had checked Adam and Neil both before they left Los Angeles. Neil had pretty much bounced right back from uploading. He was talking fine and after a series of quick cognitive tests, Monte proclaimed him perfectly healthy. Adam was fine, but he still mentioned headaches and particularly intense dreams that he couldn’t quite recall. After waking up, he’d sometimes walk around with a pensive look on his face.

Neil himself had looked puzzled and worried about it. Monte had promised to give Adam a much closer once over when they arrived at Pastche. But now, as he dozed and Tommy could easily see every frown that came to his face… it was kind of hard to not wonder if something had gone wrong.

Adam jerked a bit and lurched up, body rigid and eyes suddenly wide open with a panicked look. Tommy froze for a moment until he saw the slump of relaxed shoulders. Adam let his torso hang forward, head bowed as he took deep breaths. Adam was always disoriented a bit after waking up abruptly. Tommy lost track of the number of times he’d called them all by some other name.

“Hey, babyboy,” he reached out and patted Adam’s shoulder. “It’s just a bad dream. You’re up now.”

A nod and an absent look from Adam was the only response Tommy got. After a minute Adam leaned back against the wall and rested his head on Tommy’s shoulder again. A glance down showed Tommy the gaunt lines of Adam’s face and the growing dark circles underneath his eyes.

“You don’t remember anything?” Tommy asked softly as he pulled the blanket up more.

Adam didn’t say anything for a moment. “Just remember when I woke up.”

“What do you remember?”

“…terror? No… panic, is probably the better word. I remember waking up, feeling that tube down my throat… having to get it out. That we’d be caught and something bad would happen. That we might be decomissioned or…”

Silence came once more and there was a tension to Adam’s body again. Tommy wished he knew what to say or do, because Monte was a hell of a lot better with shit like this. At least, Monte could always talk Tommy down from a panic attack. He coughed a bit to clear his throat.

“On the upside, it could have been worse.” Tommy reached for the small bag beside him. “Are you hungry?”

Adam shook his head as he sat back up. He levelled Tommy with a stare. Nothing was said for a long moment, and then he said something Tommy wasn’t expecting in the slightest. “What happened to you?”

“What makes you ask that?”

Nothing was said for a few minutes. Tommy found himself wanting a ration pack,even if it was just for the simple fact that he could avoid these questions that Adam sometimes threw out. They always seemed to cut right to the heart of the matter and left Tommy desperately wishing Adam would soon develop some tact.

But now Adam seemed to be considering his words carefully. “You keep touching your port whenever you’re nervous. Or when you’re talking about other things, usually about something you consider bad.”

As if on cue, Tommy realised he was indeed rubbing at the port on the back of his neck. He snatched his hand away, avoiding Adam’s gaze and staring at the other side of the crate. The silence between them suddenly became anticipatory and hesitant at the same time. He was starting to think that the ration pack would have been a really, really excellent idea. When he glanced over at Adam, he was simply looking at him.

Just looking at him. No pity, no attempted understanding. Just someone waiting for an answer to the question. Somehow, that made it better for Tommy. He swallowed a bit thickly and shifted, crossing his legs and wondering where to start.

“I’m sorry,” Adam finally spoke again. “I keep asking you questions you don’t want to answer –”

“No, you and Neil have been nothing but honest with us from the get-go. You, Neil, Kris and Katy. It’s past due that me and Monte reciprocated.”

“… I think the fact that you and Monte are the most infamous hackers in the United Southern States is good enough for Kris and Katy.”

Adam’s words were slow and hesitant, prompting Tommy to ask, “…Right. And what do you think?”

“I don’t think it’s my place to say –” Adam started but Tommy cut him off.

“We’re going to meet with a man who will possibly smuggle us over the border to the Free Republic of the North. You barely know me and you’d possibly trust me with your life?”

Silence fell for a moment, heavy as Adam shifted to look at Tommy. For one of the few times in Tommy’s life, he felt nervousness creep over his skin, prickling and making everything hyper-aware. He met Adam’s gaze and it felt like those blue irises were looking past everything, right down to his very soul.

“I would.” Adam simply said.

That was almost like a slap to the face. Tommy just blinked at Adam, completely knocked off-kilter. What the hell was he supposed to say to that? He kept Adam’s gaze for a few seconds longer before he shifted it to the sheep. The words felt clogged in his throat and he had to start forcing them out.

“I was fourteen when I did my first bit of hacking. Made sure a depot shipment came to the Burbank slums. I wanted to get my sister a meal pack. There was a rumour floating around that the beef in a certain batch lot was actual real beef.”

“Was it?” Adam asked as he stifled a yawn and settled back against Tommy’s shoulder.

“Yeah. My dad and mom sent me to the depot to get the meal packs. That was our Freedom Day treat. Best meal pack I’d ever eaten in my life. But then I kept noticing things. Like how certain areas had shortages when there was some big corporate event. The rolling brownouts in the slums, even though the hills in Pedrour, Palisa and Vanyus were always lit. But it was the people going missing that got to me. I lost some friends that way,”

Even after all this time, it still got to Tommy. That he was never able to find out what happened to Max, Steve and Ashlyn. He took a few deep breaths, steadying himself. All that resentment was fairly useless at the moment. There were other things to focus on.

“So I went looking for answers. Not that I found them. But I learned to hack along the way. Two years after I got started, I was busted. Forgot to cover my tracks and the police came storming into the dump where I had holed up.”

“Prison.” The single word was more a statement than a question from Adam.

“Yeah. Calista Prison. The only place that hackers get sent to in the western half of the United Southern States. And yet for all the hackers that get sent there, there’s always room,” Tommy lapsed into silence for a moment before he continued with, “I had a farce of a trial and was processed not even twenty four hours afterwards.”

When he felt a hand on his, he looked over at Adam. Adam’s arm was stretched up and Tommy realised he was rubbing at his port again. Adam didn’t say anything, just gently closed his hand over Tommy’s. A heavy weight seemed to settle in Tommy’s chest as he continued.

“The port installation was the worst. They make you wait in a room and you can hear the people on the other side screaming. For thirty minutes all I heard were people screaming and begging for it to end. And the guards laughed. They fucking laughed,” he swallowed hard. “The room looked clean, but it reeked of blood. They had to fight to get me strapped down on the bed. They shove your face in a padded little ring and strap you in.”

A chill ran through Tommy. His mouth suddenly felt dry, his palms going clammy and nausea growing in the pit of his stomach. It still felt like it had happened yesterday, and the panic rose in the back of his throat. Then he felt Adam’s warm fingers in the short hairs on the nape of his neck, stroking gently. He focused on that, focused on the touch against his skin and the pull and release of Adam’s fingers in his hair. After a few minutes, the panic subsided and he released the tension in a sigh before he continued.

“They injected the nanites in, but they didn’t bother to waste good sedative on me. I felt everything as those little fuckers bored a hole into the back of my neck. Once the hole was done, they put in the metal piece and then the nanites made the connection. It was…”

No words really came to him to describe how that felt. The tiny minute burrowings beneath his skin, that made him feel like he had to itch until his fingers were ragged and bleeding. Of when they first jacked him into VR to test the connection. The overwhelming rush of virtual reality had left him very unsure in the first few days. Distinguishing between reality and that fake world took some getting used to. It didn’t help that they’d totally messed him up and conducted interrogations in VR and reality.

The bleating of sheep was the only thing he heard for awhile. This still felt a bit too raw for Tommy. Monte had been able to put two and two together when Tommy said he was from the slums and landed himself in prison. But actually saying what had been done to him… he never had to explain before. He suddenly felt cold all over and seriously wondered if he should have just stubbornly refused to answer Adam’s question.

“Tommy,” Adam murmured. “You - ”

“It’s okay,” Tommy interrupted as he tightened his grip on Adam’s hand. Adam gripped back and Tommy found it a little easier to focus on the here and now. “Besides, I think we’re almost to Pastche.”

Adam made a vague sound before asking, “How do you know?”

“The light’s moving slower. And the truck is slowing down. I think it’s pulling off the hyperway.”

That was all Tommy said. The light coming through the ventilation slats was moving more slowly. The faint roar of passing vehicles was gone and there was just the hum and vibration from the transport engine. Nothing more was said, they simply sat there leaning against one another as the transport continued on. Adam’s breathing evened out, and when Tommy finally looked down he saw that Adam was fast asleep again. But this wasn’t the same restless sleep that he usually had. His face was slack and he looked untroubled. Slowly, Tommy let go of Adam’s hand and shifted, so his arm was along Adam’s shoulder. He pulled him in a bit more and slouched down against the wall.

The plasma gun was easily in reach right beside him and when the clunk of the mag-brakes came, it had honestly startled him. He had the gun up and aimed at the doors of the crate. But he felt a bit fuzzy and it took a few seconds for him to realise he had fallen asleep. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Maybe he was more tired than he thought. Adam was sitting up and yawning. For the first time since Tommy first saw him, he looked well and truly rested. Some of the circles under his eyes were gone and he looked alert.

“We’re here?” Adam yawned again while stretching.

Tommy nodded as he tucked his gun away. He reached into his pack, pulling out his holopad. It took a moment to pull up the transport’s shipping manifesto. “The Pastche livestock pens. It’s all mainly an automated system. The sheep will be unloaded and then the crates are stacked until tomorrow. We’ll –”

There was an abrupt clang and then the doors swung open. The sheep hurried out, anxious to escape the small area for a bigger one. When the last one was out, the doors closed and then there was a sharp lurch as the entire crate was lifted up. A few seconds later, there was a clang and jolting shudder, then everything else was still. Tommy looked over to find Adam pressed against the wall, a grin on his face.

“Well that was fun. You know how to show a guy a good time. Little warning next time?”

“Sorry. And if I planned on showing you a good time, you’d know it. Trust me.” Tommy replied as he got to his feet.

There was a surprised look on Adam’s face and then he raised an eyebrow. “Is that a promise?”

For some reason, Tommy felt his entire face flush and he had no idea what he mumbled in response. Adam was chuckling now, saying something about learning more about the concepts of sin and vice. Tommy was more interested in figuring out why he was suddenly reacting like some fresh-faced kid right out of training. Because honestly, this was kinda getting ridiculous.

The sound of machinery firing up came now, and every ten minutes or so, there was the clang and vibration of more crates being stacked up around them. It took awhile for the noise to end and then there was the quiet whisper of,

“Everyone okay?”

Katy’s voice carried and there were assenting murmurs in response. Tommy walked to the side, peering through the slats. It was hard to position himself so he could see,but after a few minutes, he caught sight of an eye looking up at him from another crate in the adjoning stack and about three down. The eye narrowed a bit and then Neil’s amused voice said,

“Sheep? Really, you and Monte couldn’t have found us a transport carrying something else?”

“Next time, your Majesty,” Monte spoke now, sounding amused. “Besides Pastche is mainly an agricultural depot. A lot of mechanised systems, not many people…”

The unspoken words of, ‘It’s the perfect place to meet’ hung in the air. Tommy looked back at Adam, who was picking bits of straw from his clothes. He looked back at the slat to see Monte’s familiar eyes peering up at him from beside Neil.

“I don’t know about you two, but I for one am tired of the smell of sheep. How about we get out of here, hm?”

“Sounds good to me.” Tommy couldn’t agree more.

He stepped back from the slat as the whirr of machines came, the system starting up. Adam came over to stand beside him. There was a clunk from a crate lower down and then the murmur of Kris and Katy’s voices. A frown came to Tommy’s face. Kris sounded ragged and worn down. Come to think of it, Kris was starting to look like he wasn’t getting enough sleep himself. It was entirely probable, but still it did make –

“Tommy?” Adam’s voice was accompanied by a hand on the shoulder.

“I’m fine. Really.” He gave Adam a brief smile before he heard the clunk of the mechanical arm lifting the heavy lock on the outside of their door. “You know how to climb?”

Adam’s reply of ‘In theory’ made for a fairly amusing and simultaneously terrifying descent on Tommy’s part. He knew Adam had gained control over his motor system, but sometimes he drifted off as if he still thought he had some sort of auto-pilot function. Tommy was pretty sure Adam didn’t realise how his movements reflected his moods. Easy and fluid when he was feeling rested and content, Adam moved between them like some sort of elegant construct. But latetly, tired and stressed, it was all abrupt motion and short, sharp, staccato bursts.

Whatever calm he had found in that brief snatch of sleep, it was gone now. Tommy could see it by the time Adam safely descended. He could see that Adam was drawing into himself once more. A frown came to his face and when he looked over, Monte’s eyes were resting on him. There was a thoughtful look on his friend’s face and before he even said anything, Monte was ushering Kris, Katy and Neil around the corner of a crate.

“C’mon, Adam,” Tommy began. “The others –”

“You’re not fine,” Adam said softly.

The words were like a sonic hammer on a slab of concrete. Tommy stared at Adam, honestly unsure for the first time in his life of what to say. Adam was facing him now, a vaguely haunted look in his eyes. And all Tommy did was watch as Adam opened his mouth and closed it a few times before he finally spoke.

“You’re not alright, Tommy. How much longer are you going to fool yourself? I don’t think I can even fool myself much longer.”

That caught Tommy’s attention. “What?” He narrowed his eyes, puzzling over Adam’s words before he said, “Fool yourself about what?”

Adam looked down at his feet now and the silence grew heavy before he said, “I think I might be defective.”

Of all the things Adam could have said, that was the last thing Tommy expected. And then Adam followed up with,

“Do you think I can be fixed in the North?”

It took Tommy a few minutes to get his voice working again before he managed to evenly say, “What the fuck makes you think you’re defective?”

“Everything!” Adam snapped. “Neil he just… look how well he’s doing! Like nothing’s wrong! Me, I can’t really sleep well. I keep thinking there’s some important thing I’ve forgotten, but I don’t know what it is! I couldn’t walk well for a day and half and my cognitive processes took so damned long to come together who knows what the fuck went wrong,” his voice was bitter as he finished off with, “What other explanation could there be other than I am defective.” It wasn’t a question, it was stated like a belief, like a fact.

Tommy just stared at him for a long moment in disbelief. Then he said, “Okay, after we talk to Monster, we’ll deal with this. Because if you’re defective,” it was impossible to keep the derision from his voice. “Then I’m so fucked up, I shouldn’t have made it off the assembly line. I swear, if I hear that bullshit from you again… defective my fucking ass. Let’s go.”

He started in the direction Monte took and a few seconds later, Adam’s steps came. The others were waiting a few crates down. Tommy knew some looks were directed their way but he stonily stared ahead. After a few seconds, Monte jumped in. There was a small service elevator that led down to some of the lower levels.

As they all squeezed in, with Kris barely able to close the door, Adam’s words of, ‘You’re not alright’ flashed through his mind. It probably wouldn’t help to focus too much on that. Adam was proving himself to be one ridiculously introspective person. By the time the elevator came to a stop, Tommy was sure he had a frown on his face.

It probably stayed on his face as Monte urged them off and then down the hallway. The end of the hallway seemed to have everyone else stumped when they all stopped in front of it. But Monte handed him the holopad and Tommy could have laughed when he saw the digital schematic. The pathetic security codes were overridden and the square panel they all stood on started to slowly descend.

Lights gently flickered on as they went down and a grating sound from overhead caught his attention. He looked up just in time to see a panel slide into place, sealing them in. A slight feeling of unease washed over him and he was starting to wonder if Adam had been justified in thinking this could be a trap.

The platform clunked into place and more lights flickered on, revealing a narrow walkway into a different area. There was a choke point if Tommy ever saw one. He drew his plasma gun and stepped forward, fingering the safety off. Monte fell in step beside him. After a few seconds, there was the hesitant sound of Kris’s footsteps.

Everyone else picked up and lingered back a bit as the three of them started into the hallway. Their progress was slow and that only made it worse in Tommy’s opinion. A slight bend in the hallway came up and they all slowed down.

The sudden loss of gravity was disorienting and nauseating. One moment, Tommy was looking at a curve in the hallway and then he was tossed into the air and spinning around, struggling to right himself. His jacket flopped around his head as the sound of footsteps came closer. Momentary flashes of legs and boots came into his field of vision and he took the visual reference point, aiming his gun in that direction.

The feet came to a stop and then there was an amused voice saying, “By all means, shoot me. Don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interent right now.”

Kris made some sputtering sounds of disbelief and then, “Are you Monster?”

The feet didn’t move, but Tommy saw the pant material twist slightly. “You must be Kris. Kris Allen, born in 2973, in Jackson. I could go into more detail, but I don’t think you want me to… do you?”

All that came from Kris for a moment or two was shocked silence and then, “How did you–”

“Rule number one,” the amusement was gone from Monster’s voice now. “Never give your real name. As you so cleverly did when I finally got your message.”

“Are you going to let us down or what? I’m not particularly enjoying the head rush here.”

Monte’s voice was annoyed enough to get some physical response from Monster. Tommy couldn’t agree more as he felt two hands snag his jacket and pull. He ended up going nowhere and bodies collided into him. Fuck, this was getting more and more –

“All right. I’m turning off the field now.”

That was all the warning they got before gravity kicked right back in. He landed on the ground hard and then had all the air promptly knocked out of him when someone fell on top of him. When the person pushed themselves up, he found himself looking at Adam’s amused, but contrite, face.

“Sorry,” he got up and started to brush at Tommy’s jacket. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Tommy figured that would have been more believeable if he hadn’t been wheezing. “You?”

“Neil and I are fine,” Adam shrugged, his eyes flicking over to where Neil was getting to his feet. “C’mon.”

Tommy frowned. What did that mean? But there was an edgy look on Adam’s face as he got up and extended a hand Tommy’s way, and Tommy let the comment slide. For a moment, all Tommy did was look at him before taking his arm and hauling himself up. Adam’s strange behaviour made perfect sense after Tommy put his gun away and turned to look at Monster.

The man was intimidating, there was no getting around it. He stood there with his arms cross and a carefully neutral look on his face. But his hair hung loose in dreadlocks and those crossed arms had many a tattoo down their lengths. Tommy would have admired the man if he wasn’t peeved about the gravity stunt. Monster’s eyes were flicking between them all, assessing and saying nothing. As they all got to their feet and dusted off, he finally spoke again.

“I’ve got a spot set up. You all can rest first, have something to eat. Then in the morning we’ll discuss the situation.”

“Why not now?” Tommy couldn’t help but ask. Quite frankly, he was more than ready to get some concrete answers on how to get out of this fucking country.

Monster looked thoughtful for a moment before he said, “You’ve all spent a good amount of time travelling and it’s quite apparent.”

If Tommy hadn’t been standing beside Adam, he would have missed Neil’s whisper of, “Do we smell that sheepy? Sheepish? … Like sheep?” Adam just shrugged with a half puzzled look and replied with a soft, “I guess? Either way, we all apparently stink.” A momentary quirk to Monster’s mouth told Tommy that he heard everything.

“C’mon.”

That was the last thing Monster said as he tilted his head and started back down the hallway. The feeling that he should have his gun out and drawn didn’t quite leave Tommy. Even as the hallway continued to curve and started to slope down, he still had a nagging feeling that a trap was going to be sprung on them. The descent went on for about a quarter mile by Tommy’s reckoning before the hallway straightened out to a thick pair of steel doors. The kind that would take an ion torch a few hours to burn though. They were cracked open enough for a few people to slip through. Tommy scowled at the door, still feeling a bit unsure. But then Adam’s hand slipped into his and he was pulled along in Adam’s wake.

Going through honestly did ease some of Tommy’s fears. The room was obviously a former storage room that had been converted for living. There were rows of cots set up, with stiff neoprene dividers between them with open slider doors for privacy. There was a small bench along the wall with some ration and meal packs stacked alongside hydra-packs. The small heating unit was right beside it, but heating the food packs only made them more vile in Tommy’s opinion.

As his eyes skimmed over everything, they fell to the center of the room. He couldn’t help but stare in surprise.

Sitting there was a beat up old, upholstered couch. It had obviously seem better days and was looking threadbare in some spots. But still… it was an actual couch. No hard molded polyplastic chairs and tables that every house in the slums had. This looked like a couch that could have been in one of the swanky houses in Pedrour.

“Just get settled in, relax for now,” Monster began as he walked into the room. “This area is secure and –”

“Is that a portable shower unit?”

Neil’s tone of amazement had everyone looking his way and then in the direction he was looking at. Tommy couldn’t help but blink in complete surprise. It was a screened off area in a corner, with a big frosted tank on the outside. Tubes ran up the side to a box of some kind and disappeared into the screened area.

“With hot water.”

“With water pressure? And actual hot water? Not that lukewarm shit that’s in the slums?”

Adam’s hand tightened in his and Tommy vaguely wondered just how disconnected he’d become if Neil was more excited about a hot shower than he was. He squeezed Adam’s hand and took a deep breath before detangling their fingers.

“First thing in the morning, right?”

Monster nodded. “First thing.”

“Alright,” Tommy looked over at everyone. “I get dibs on the first shower.”

_________________________________________________________



Electric Sheep - II || Electric Sheep - IV






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furorscribiendi: guitar playing (Default)
furorscribiendi

August 2012

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