By Jamie Marriage
Sick green light bathed the underside of the club’s cracked table. Abrasive beats rattled the furnishings to a painful extent, sliding unattended drinks across the bar, muting out the bleat of the brick of a work pager.
The club was essentially empty. A couple of insomniac plug-runners sat, cross legged in the centre of the dance floor, nursing an increasing pile of ultra-strength energy drinks. Their neurological ticks obvious as they shouted programming language at each other. The bar was run mostly on an honor system although it would continue to be stocked by the hacker crowd as long as nobody actively tried to shut it down.
Leah snatched the glowing block of plastic out of its leg strap and scrolled through the details of the job. As per usual no real information was provided, a pickup, a drop off, a time frame and a payment summery. She never knew what she moved from place to place and she didn’t care anyway, knowing too much only got you in trouble. The pickup location was only a dozen doors down and the clock was starting in five minutes. She tabbed down to the compensation screen and had to double take. Stabbing the little yellow button before someone else got close enough to take the assignment she ran across the floor and vaulted the bar, boosting a pair of energy drinks, and elbowed her way through the door to the back room.
She had the first drink opened and to her lips before she had kicked off a shoe.
By the time the second drink was working its way into her gut she had her blades on and her sneakers and jacket stowed in a locker behind a stack of drink boxes. Sliding her way out around the bar she signaled the guys on the floor and held up a pair of fingers, the drinks added to her tab, a bald kid younger than Leah nodded at her and turned back to his conversation. The chunks of outdated computer hardware dangling from his ear shining brightly for a moment under the strobe lights. The sounds of the club fading away the moment she hit the pavement. She plugged in her ear-buds and turned the music up.
Slicing down the riverside at ninety kilometers an hour, Leah checked the satchel strapped to her hip again. The bag was a courier special – Kevlar with ‘Pact Pads within – but the straps wouldn’t last forever, especially with such a heavy package.
Taking the corner at seventy-five, she screamed into the main street, diverging onto the tram tracks to avoid the pedestrian horde on the footpaths. She kicked the blades up another gear and shot past a car full of burger-gorging enforcers at over one hundred and accelerating. The cops were too preoccupied with their food to be bothered by a lawbreaking courier.
Cutting through the market – closed this time of night, and occupied only by the homeless and terminally junked-up teenagers – her wheels jammed on an empty hypo, forcing her to slow while the blades recalibrated. Hitting the ground wasn’t a safety problem – her clothes were packed with ‘Pact Pads like the satchel – but it would slow her down too much to get to the client on schedule. Her reputation, job and, on occasion life, depended on her making the handover on time. This job especially. Double pay plus expenses, wear on the gear counted as an expense too, which was good because her blades were overdue for a service.
The delivery AI spoke up over her headset, muting out the harsh lyrics of her music, giving her an update on the delivery. Muttering obscenities into her mask, Leah extended the claws from her padded gloves, dragged one around a lamppost and whipped around the corner without slowing.
Urban streets provided more risks than the city center did. Community groups set up security measures to keep out strange vehicles. Even the police steered clear of most of the upper class streets and wouldn’t even think of following someone into the slums, whose methods of privacy control were brutal and less discriminating.
Crouching low, she cleared the gate barring entrance to the street. Leah knew a dozen different ways to clear the security systems – most of which were set up to only stop cars – giving her that extra edge over the other couriers. The houses that flanked both sides of the tree-studded traffic island glittered with security lights. One double level had a small turret built onto its fence, or maybe it was the mailbox; it swiveled to follow Leah as she passed.
A flare lit up in the centre of her goggles, several others dotted around her peripheral vision, some old granny had probably turned on her contribution to the neighborhood watch scheme. Leah hopped onto the guttering along the traffic island and tried to keep her balance on one foot as the Prox mines glowed with power.
She muttered another couple of hexes against the human race and thumbed at the controller strapped to her belt. A map of the area traced itself in the corner of her vision, and destination lines linked up her current position to the drop-off location. An expensive program for her visor, but worth it for the seconds it shaved off her runs.
Rolling off the island gave a decent line of approach at the barricaded rear entrance to the neighborhood. Without pausing, she charged the barricade – the steel barring her way too low to duck and too high to jump – and took a deep breath.
Crashing to her back, Leah slid under the barricade, sparks screaming up from her blades and Kevlar scraping away to the padding on her bodysuit.
Pushing hard against the ground with both hands, she managed to bounce upright, her speed barely slowing during the slide.
Looking down at her side, she saw she had even managed to rip apart the Pact Pad over her left leg. Impact gel mixed with blood oozed sickly down the outside of her suit, sticky and wet.
Another countdown echoed in her ears. Leah bit down on her tongue to drown out the pain in her leg that hadn’t been flushed out by the adrenaline. The satchel seemed even heavier, but at least it was still there.
Wind attempted to suck her off balance as she crossed another set of tram tracks, barely avoiding being flattened by the tram. Before her stood the impressive bulk of the Case Hotel, all glass and pulsing light. An easy target.
Grinding her toes into the front of her blades suppressed the coils in the wheels; her toes rested on the trigger switches.
A black Low-rider swerved around the corner in front of the Case, accelerating hard. Its ground-hugging frame was designed to gain speed faster than even the enforcer cars. Leah growled at the encroacher on her business. Low-riders were either Draggers or Couriers; the former not her problem, the latter competition.
Another courier company could easily grab payment for the delivery if they held the package. It didn’t matter who accepted the contract as long as it got where it needed to go.
Holding the satchel tight to her hip with one hand, she bent at the knees – cringing at the pain on her left side – and counted down from three. On one, she triggered the recoil in her right blade and hopped onto the bonnet of the car, dragged the claws of her right hand up the windshield, ripped off the antenna above the deep gashes now scored up the glass, and jumped off the back.
Rubber burned as the driver tried to swerve back towards her. Leah screamed into her visor as she landed on the tough ‘Crete of the road. The client would be paying for her Medi bill as well as all the equipment she had trashed. Even her glove now had broken claws.
The stairs of the hotel loomed before her. Triggering the recoil in her other blade, she hopped the railing and skidded to a stop at the door. She reached for the handle with one hand and stuck up a digit at the pissed off driver behind her with the other.
A voice echoed through her headset. Leah grinned beneath her visor.