“Not much of a man,” I say as I stand and shake my head clear of dust and rubble in the middle of the demolished room.
It’s full of dead bodies, but only one of them counts.
I look down at him laid out on the floor, half his face torn off by the blast that ripped through here, a sullen look of detached sadness on the half that remains.
He saved me.
I stare at him and breathe, the dust and smoke still settling, my heart still hammering. The monotone ring in my ears and the taste of ash and soot clinging hard to the back of my throat.
Blue and purple neon hues crawl through the broken window off to my right and cut through the ash as I watch it. Millions of little particles, swirling and spinning and finding their way to the place where they now belong.
His dead body on the ground in front of me, it’s found a new place in the world. “Not much of a man,” I say again. “I wasn’t much in the first place, without you I’m nothing at all.”
The ringing in my ears lifts, and the silence of the room comes screaming in around me. I breathe and watch the air twist and turn, and all those particles move off to their new home. Time for me to move off now too, to somewhere out there. That city that goes on ticking the way it always has, always will. Major Prime, a couple of billion people crammed down and shoved into what was North America, now…I don’t know. It’s some thick mess, human meat, neon, concrete, all mixed in and bound. Where am I supposed to go in the middle of all that?
“I could do with some answers, Mitch,” I say and blink a tear that rolls real slow, caught in the soot and ash on my cheek.
The half of him that’s still here looks up, sad and tired. “Being hard isn’t about fighting, being hard is about carrying on,” he’d tell me, something like that.
“No, not much of a man,” I say, and I try to move, but my legs won’t give. Fixed on the ground, his body next to them, the rest of the fuckers that came at us in bits scattered across the room. Can’t walk away, not yet.
I look up and into the light pushing its way through the broken window, the neon tones of the world out there waiting for me.
“They will come for you now,” he’d say. “Get out while you can. Get under the radar while they’re still wondering what the fuck went down. You run now, you’ve got a chance. This ain’t no life worth living.”
Yeah, no life worth living. Not now, he’s gone. I know what he would want me to do; I know he’d want me to save myself.
I sniff and shake my head.
That will not happen.
My feet move, then my legs shift. “Never was much of a man,” I say to him, “You tried to make me something better, show me something better, but I can’t let this one rest.” I bite my lip and shake my head. “Without you, I’m nothing anyway.”
I breathe, bury down the ball in my throat.
The ash and smoke are gone now, the neon from that world out there radiating with all its potential, my jaw pulses and fists grip.
“Dial: Kat Hammer,” I say to my HUD, and her avatar appears in my peripheral vision for a few seconds.
“Mag,” she answers, eyes going wide as my HUDcam streams to her. “What the fuck’s happened, Mag? Where’s Mitch?”
“What the — ”
“Lizard Gang. Hard strike, unexpected,” I pinch the bridge of my nose, squeeze the last tears out of my eyes and rub the soot and dust off my face. “He saved me.”
“I’m going after her,” I say.
“Blackstone? You’ll get yourself — ”
“ — Doesn’t matter, he’s dead, I got nothing else now.”
“Mag, you think Mitch would want that for you?”
“This is a mess, Kat. Fucking Lizard Gang? It’s amateur hour over there, this was a botched job whichever way you look at it, and now Mitch is dead, and I can’t let that ride.”
“Get out, Mag. Get the fuck out now, or you’ll end up dead too.”
“Listen, I need a re-up. Send a drone to my Pill Street locker, full kit, no more talk, do it,” I say as I turn and leave the destroyed room and start making my way down through the building. People out in the corridors staring at me, eyes forget to blink, watching me with a quiver as I pass.
“Mag, I don’t have that — ”
“Fucking do it!” I snap and see her pull back in the vid-feed, wide eyes, bad vibrations. “I gotta do this, Kat.”
“It’ll be there,” she says. “I’ll send the drone now.”
The vidfeed goes dead as I make my way out of the apartment block, back out onto the streets. The world hangs in front of me, glittering the way it always does. The lights casting their neon glaze over the layered roads and sidewalks that reach up into the sky between the towering buildings. That thickness to the air, I can rub it between my fingers. The humidity that mixes in with the pollution and sweat down here on the street level, penetrating me, polluting me, every part of me. People walk their walk, eyes squint and track everything, hands twitch, ready for something bad. Major Prime…
My HUD draws up its augmented reality layer over the top and my noise-cancelling kicks in. Takes the edge off one reality, invades my senses with the other. Commercial Space, layers and layers of shit from the corps tailored to whoever it was we hacked this HUD from. All the, “Change your life with this!” and the, “Imagine the possibilities with that!” bullshit, but at least I’m kept off the grid. It’s whoever the fuck, ‘Shigeaki Ishiguro,’ was that the commercial modules embedded in every nook imaginable track.
I march into the throng, thick with every type of citizen, criminal and outlaw Major Prime offers at this level. Twisted T>O<X addicts, veteran Acid Commandos, tattooed gangbangers of every colour of the fucking rainbow, the lot.
I push into, and through them, the world moves for a man who knows where he’s going, and that I do. Three things now.
Get to my locker, pick up what Kat has delivered. Pull a speed-cycle to the Lizard Gang bar, lucky for me those ballsy fuckers hide out in the open. Get in, hit it, hit it hard.
I turn the corner to Pill Street, quiet little place, all violet neon haze and old-time Japanese restaurants. Those who know, know, those who don’t wouldn’t assume anything untoward happens in this place. Shadows cast by the hulking skyscrapers all around, rain falls. Ground level old school city infrastructure works its way overhead. Might even be worth a snap to a tourist if they happened to be down here amongst the dregs on the ground level.
It’s a facade, a mask that covers what happens down here. The criminal underbelly of this sector of Major Prime doing their deals and working away at trying to secure their own bit of the swathe.
As soon as I’m a few yards into the street, I catch two thug looking types in the corner of my eye. Big fuckers, leather vests, chains, spiked red mohawks, the usual drill. I eye them and offer a small nod, one comes back my way. Yeah, right, keep your distance fucker.
I come to the locker bank, look into the retinal reader at the end, and the door to mine pops open a few yards down.
I’m loading up the gear Kat has left for me when the tap on my shoulder comes, and there they are, the two big fuckers. “I thought you guys might have some sense,” I say, turning and looking up to meet their gaze.
“Well, we didn’t know it was your birthday,” one of them says gesturing at the locker and flashing a toothy gold-plated smile.
“You think you’re able to mug me…now?” I look down at the massive Colt-Canon in my right hand and then over to the Nano-webbing I’ve pulled over my left, then back up again. They both turn to each other, realising their mistake. “Not the quickest pair are you?”
“Wai — ” One manages before I bring my fist up into his big jaw. The Nano-webbing turns to steel around my knuckles and electrifies at the same time. It connects, the big fucker goes ridged with the shock as his jaw smashes and he flies backwards.
The other comes at me, but I’ve pulled out my Colt-Canon with my free hand. Arm shifting under the other I pump a round and his chest explodes, he screams and gargles, and they both hit the wet tarmac at the same time.
I step back, grimace and nod. At least I know this gear works.
I check over everything. Nano-webbing gloves are good enough to mash up any street level hoodlum. Two Colt-Canon-Nine-Nines with tac ammo that’ll do about anyone underneath some platinum-rated Corp Sec. And Kat came home for me with this last treat, a belt of reaper-grenades that’ll take a big stinking piss on any parade below military.
I walk around the bodies and push my way back into the throng of the main street. Finding a speed-cycle, I step over it, pull its helmet out of the casing in the body, push it down on my head. I shoot it a command, “Popskull Sports & Entertainment.”
I sit on the chunky one-seater as it pushes itself off the sidewalk. It moves and finds its way in, through a hoard of cars and delivery trucks and everything all doing their bit to keep the city running as usual.
I dial-up Kat and she greets me with a scowl as her vidfeed pops up in my HUD.
“Get what you need?” she says.
“You came through for me,” I say. “I owe you one.”
“Like I’ll ever have the chance of cashing that in,” she says, leaning back in her chair. “Fuck it, thought it was the least I could do after all the times you and Mitch dragged me out of the shit.”
“Right,” I say, a flash of his half-destroyed face running through my mind, the rain coming down hard now, highlighting all that neon and purple. No, not much of a man.
“Thank you, Kat,” I say, lifting my head up, nodding as the speed-cycle buzzes through the streets. I turn off the feed before she has another chance to try to convince me that what I’m doing is suicide.
I know it’s suicide, but what the fuck, nothing else left to live for now. He’s the one that took me in, showed me the ropes. He’s the one that pulled a barely functioning T>O<X addict whose only saving grace was a sharp eye for the game, out of the gutter and turned them into a pro, like him, and then, a lover too.
That was one thing I never thought would happen. That steel exterior, hard-man of the streets, a hacker, robber, thief, outlaw, whatever the fuck you wanted to call him. He didn’t take shit, and he would fuck you up at the drop of a hat, but somehow, we became close. Time and pressure will do that to you, I guess. Pull you in and reform you, it creates bonds, and we went through some good times, but more of the bad. It’s not easy being an independent, up against the gangs, bidding for jobs, working a reputation out of nothing, and that’s without all the other shit. Without the Major Prime PD breathing down your neck, without Corp mercs after your ass. Without the fucking Agency agents and double agents and their AIs trying to pull you apart from the inside out whenever they get a chance.
No, no friends around here, let alone lovers, yet somehow we made it work. We pulled something out of the rot, something purer than I’d ever experienced, and when we found it, we knew we never wanted to let it go.
Well, now I’m here, and he’s gone, and I’m not much without him, but I reckon I’m enough to make sure his death doesn’t slip away in the night’s dark. Doesn’t become another statistic in a tsunami of data that some vast AI tries to correlate and pull into actionable tactics for the MP PD fuckheads. No, heads will roll, if that includes my own, then so be it.
The bike weaves in and out of the traffic with the speed I need, keeping itself upright and powering along the mainlines. Through the rain, through the hue, through all the shit and horror in the hulking buildings all around, taking me to my own sweet spot.
It comes growling up to the club, steam evaporating up off its engine with each raindrop that hits it. I pull off the helmet, and I step off, looking up at the giant flashing neon sign where the Lizard Gang host their HQ, they’re not subtle these fuckers. I guess if they were, I wouldn’t be coming to knock on their door right now.
I knock with a reaper-grenade from across the street. Pull the pin, throw, kneel and count.
Three, two, one.
The door fucks itself inward at the speed of sound, and an explosion rips out into the street flinging rubble and body parts.
I march up, throw a Nano-cam through the smoke and get about a half a second of footage before some countermeasure flames it.
Enough to count fifteen of them, all armed to the teeth, staggering about in the dark, half tore up by the blast. Always outnumbered, never outgunned. I click through my HUD and select incendiary rounds on the Colt-Canons, a blaze of glory.
I step over the demolished threshold and into the hallway, long and narrow stretching out in front of me. Some old-school arcade machines still alive flicker halfway down where the blast didn’t reach. Lizard Gang thugs down at the end, big, ugly brutes, modern-day savages, and fucking disorganised. Things are about to get messy.
Messy is good.
Both Colts raised, the incendiary rounds flare and the rows of arcade machines erupt in flames followed by half a dozen Lizard Gang thugs as the screams roar alongside the fire. I push forward and down the hall into the blistering confusion. The ones left are halfway to getting their shit together when I land in the middle. Nano-webbed knuckles with two-foot steel spikes extending out of my swinging fists. I rip and tear through the bodies and screams. Blood fans out from split arteries, limbs drop to the floor, the fuckers slip and tumble in the dropped guts and viscera of their comrades.
What, twenty, thirty seconds? This shit’s always over way quicker than it feels and I’m left standing, panting, the gurgling cries of the rest of them at my feet. I pump a few rounds into the ones that are still alive and sync a hack with my HUD to get through the next door.
It slides open to the main bar area where I’m greeted with heavy thumping beats. Hundreds of people hammering the T>O<X, losing their minds and seeing their own version of God with each new dropped bass line. Lights still spin and reflect, lasers dart through the dry ice still pumping out across the club floor.
I push my way into the pulsing throng, let the Colt-Canons do the talking for me. Taking out a line of lights high above I turn and spin as the people scatter and debris falls, and the music stops dead.
Me and my panting breath and the low hum of servos moving lasers. The sounds of screams and running going dead as the last of the ravers leave.
“Where’s that fucker, Blackstone!” I yell as I walk onto the main dance floor. The dry ice flows around my ankles, the purple and pink reflecting off the walls of mirrors, glinting off the unused dancing poles.
“Ah, Mag,” she says as I turn and spot her on the ring of balcony high in the club’s ceiling.
“You fucked up, Blackstone.”
She leans forward on the rail, her sour old face caught in the spinning lights of the club looking mean as ever, “Wrong,” she says.
“What the fuck do you mean,” I say, stepping back, watching my peripherals.
She shakes her head and wipes her hands off against each other, starting to walk around the balcony, eyes fixed on my guns still raised and pointing at her. “What did you think, Mag, that your debt from your time on the street would just evaporate the minute you get a little of protection, you think we’d let that slide? You have a history, and the Lizards, we have a long memory.”
“We cleared that debt, and you know it,” I shout up to her guns pointed, fingers itching on triggers. “The Widow, she said I’d paid my dues.”
“The Widow’s reach is far and wide, but she doesn’t tell the Lizards what to do, or when people who owe them are clear. We’re in charge of our own destiny.”
“So you come after me for some fucking credits owed, and now Mitch is dead? That right?”
“We came after what you owe us, it’s the principle of the thing, we let one slide, we have to let them all slide. We knew the two of you were inseparable, hard to get to you when your sugar daddy is around. So, we bribe a few people, break a few knee-caps, the usual, so we can get you when you’re at home, and he’s not around. Less messy that way. We send some boys down to go get you, bring you back here, but they fuck it up, get their hands on some T>O<X along the way. Shit, by the time they get there, they’re ripped out of their God-damned minds and don’t notice he’s already back. Next thing they decide to fucking nuke the place. Mitch dies, saving you blah fucking blah,” she stops and looks down at me. “Hell, I’d prefer not to have lost the personnel, but still, the same result, we’ve got you now, and you’ll give us what we want.”
“Like fuck — ” I let the Colts rip, but she’s down and below the balcony rim before I can get a decent shot.
I crouch, starting to reload as doors open all around me and hulking Lizard Gang fuckers pile through. One arm pointed out in front, one arm at my right flank, trigger-happy. High-explosive rounds take off limbs and open up heads, but there’s too many of them.
I get jumped from behind; I throw one of the guns as my Nano-webbing draws out a blade and I swing back and into the skull of the fucker. More and more, diving in, I pull around and tear the jaw clean off one as they pile in and pin me down.
Soft panting on the open floor, immobilised in the visceral mess, a hack grinding its way into my HUD, she comes walking up to me, head-to-toe in leather, out of the dry ice and soft disco hues. “You’ll pay now, Mag.”
“Not much of a man,” I say with a whisper.
“What was that?” she couches down and leans in.
“I said, I’m not much of a man,” I look up to her, spitting blood and smiling through what teeth I have left with a hint of a laugh that builds and builds into hysterics.
She’s crouched there, laughing with me, looking up at her hoodlums and raising her arms and getting them to laugh. Everyone’s turning and laughing and pointing like it’s some big joke. Yeah, the trick’s the count-down for the three reaper-grenades I have left underneath my body suit.
I watch the counter tick down to zero in the peripheral vision of my HUD.
No, not much of a man.
Not without you.
There’s a click and then some heat and then nothing.
The void opens up, and out of the darkness, I rise in the neon cosmos. We found each other before, we’ll see each other again now, here on the other side.
Artist: Beeple_Crap AKA Mike Winkelmann
Artist Bio: A graphic designer from Appleton, Wisconsin, USA. His short films have screened at onedotzero, Prix Ars Electronica, the Sydney Biennale, Ann Arbor Film Festival and many others. He has also released a series of Creative Commons live visuals that have been used by electronic acts such as deadmau5, Skrillex, Avicii, Zedd, Taio Cruz, Tiësto, Amon Tobin, Wolfgang Gartner, and Flying Lotus and many others. He currently releases work on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint.
Artist Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beeple_crap/
Artist website: http://beeple-crap.com
Writer: Richard Galbraith
Writer Bio: A science-fiction writer with a penchant for cyberpunk, neo-noir and existentialism, Richard hails from the UK and currently lives in Denmark working for LEGO while hammering away at short stories and his latest sci-fi manuscript.
Writer medium: https://medium.com/@ricgalbraith