Turn About (Part Two)
The day after I killed Alex Valin, I went to the office in a sour mood. No, I wasn’t feeling remorse for my actions, rather I was pissed that the bastard tricked me. Failure was new to me, even a partial failure, and with the datafiles still floating around in the world my boss would hardly be looking to give me a bonus.
Speaking of bonuses, I had gotten a hefty credstick for my troubles, all I needed was to get a slick hacker to crack it open. Most people would be in for a rude awakening if they took that to a freelancer and expected him to make good on that much, but my rep was good enough that no one would double cross me.
My boss? Nope, he didn’t care about stuff like that, all he wanted were results.
I went in to the office that morning to keep suspicion down. Being out on the day someone turned up dead was likely to be remembered, even if there was no way to connect the two things. In my work I rubbed elbows with a lot of corporate types, and what was worse is that I couldn’t kill them unless they fucked up. Going through my day involved a lot of false smiles, mind-numbing conversation, and the constant hope that some of these bastards would hurry up and do something to let me kill them.
After all, that was my real job, and I loved my job.
The other VPs on my floor were already in their offices when I arrived. Getting to work late is one of the few joys in my life, and luckily everyone else thinks I’m well-connected enough to keep it from being a problem. If only they knew how right they were.
I keep myself from looking at Alex’s door by sheer force of will. Being nonchalant after killing someone is something that takes constant vigilance, and quite a bit of practice. Back when I first started, after a kill, everyone thought I’d gotten laid. Time had taught me the value of being a little more discreet. This time I walked to my office, casually ignored my secretary’s greeting, and closed the door behind me.
My desk is a solid, comfortable weight in front of me as I sit down. Something most people do not realize is how important a desk is to somebody who works in an office environment, and that list includes everybody worthwhile. It’s a workstation, a foot rest, and a communication center. Everything you do flows through the desk, and nearly every moment of the day is spent near its comforting bulk.
I keep guns in my desk. Not just a handgun in a drawer either, I have anything and everything I could possibly need stored in hidden compartments. In addition I have installed two .50 caliber swivel-mounted computer-assisted machine guns in the forward compartment, and a transparent plate of telescopic Plexiglas with an interactive holodisplay.
My desk looks needlessly large, but in my world a person’s desk is a statement about how important they are. Few people in the entire company have a desk that can compare with mine, and I’d bet bullets to pens that none of them are fully loaded.
There is a gentle knock at my door, and then almost immediately after my secretary walks into the office. She has a habit of doing that, knocking and then entering before I answer. I imagine what it would be like to turn on the guns and spray her across and through the walls. Naturally, she has no idea why I stare at her with a bemused smile when she enters.
“Sir, I have a memo for you,” she says.
Instantly I sober. There is only one person who sends physical memos, only one person who cares about security enough to do that. She sits the rectangular black box on my desk and then walks out of the office. I hardly notice her go, as I stare at the dark box. It is eight and a half by eleven inches, the exact size of paper, another rare throwback to older times.
The black box has a reader on the front that performs fingerprint and retinal scans before it opens. I hesitate only a moment, and then I put my palm on the shiny surface. It only takes a moment to scan, and then the display changes to a small box. Then I put my eye in front of it, and a light runs up and down. A small click sounds, and then the box unlocks.
Inside is a single sheet of paper. It is crisp and white, and on the top of the sheet is printed ‘EmergiCare’. I recognize it as the name of a hospital corp that operates out of the area. Then there are a list of names running down the sheet, a patient admittance sheet. Near the end of the list is a name that sears itself into my brain.
On the back of the sheet is a simple message, “Finish the job.”
Like any corp, EmergiCare has its own security force. Naturally the more important and wealthy corps have a more impressive force, but EmergiCare was solid enough to be trouble. It only made sense, people pay high premiums to have a medical service that would go into firefights to pull out a wounded client. Their ambulances are built more like tanks, only whiter, and the paramedics wear body armor and carry automatic rifles. Their hospitals are even worse. If somehow a client were killed under their roof, business would take a significant dip.
I know my work, I love my work. The problem is that my work needs to be quiet. No one can sneak past the security in buildings anymore, between passive wall scanners every ten feet and robotic drone patrols, it would be suicide.
So I wait. Once Alex is discharged, he’s on his own.
A bribe gets results. No one who works at EmergiCare is going to risk the backlash of getting a client killed on the premises, but he’s more than willing to call me when that client is being discharged. They let Alex go sooner than I anticipate.
He steps onto the street, and walks away at a relaxed pace. Something feels off about him. I move ahead in the crowd and covertly snap a few holovids shots of his face. Even before the computer returns the analysis, I know the answer. No indications of surgery on his face, there is a 99.3% match between his company picture and him now. Considering that we all look a little different from day to day, there is usually a 2.8% margin of accepted variation.
I check my equipment as I follow him. My gun is in the holster this time, I had counted on intimidation last time, and it didn’t work. So this time I’m packing a nonlethal sidearm as well. That will help me disable Alex if he runs, and let me go to work on him until he reveals where he hid the datafiles. Finally, the most important piece of my arsenal, my monofilament edged ceramic knife. I love my guns, but I love using my knife even more.
Alex leads me to a building in the slums. It looks like a low-rent warehouse, probably used to store bulk items that are too big and too common to steal. Graffiti decorates the grey plastic walls, and the thick layer of dirt on the doors makes me think it’s rarely visited. Before he goes inside, he looks around amateurishly, and then seems satisfied enough to go inside.
I look around for another entrance, first rule of tailing somebody, never use the same entrance as them if possible. Luckily it’s a warehouse, so I find tons of entrances, and the security here is nonexistent. How fortunate for me that Alex chose such a remote place to die.
The warehouse is even more desolate on the inside than I thought. It looks like the place has been abandoned, and that makes me start to wonder why Alex would go there.
I walk as silently as possible, but the few sounds I do make echo in the silence. Old-fashioned metal catwalks creak under my weight, and the wind blows through broken windows high overhead. The light from the setting sun casts a hazy blanket over the entire place, especially when contrasted with the old yellow lights that streak piercingly across the space.
Now that I’m off the street, my gas-powered dart gun appears in my hand. The darts are diamond tipped, able to pierce most types of body armor, and the toxin should cause paralysis in seconds. It feels a little unusual in my hand, the weight is different from my gun. The form fitted body armor underneath my suit flexes with me as I kneel behind a stack of old crates.
Where is he? I close my eyes, but my ears fail me. There is not a sound in the warehouse, and again I am wondering things.
My confusion makes me more cautious than usual, and I move from cover to cover, not wanting to be caught in the open. Did Alex hire someone to ambush me? Otherwise, why did he go to a remote warehouse in the slums?
A tactical retreat is the right move. Back off, get some back up of my own, and take him out. I start retracing my steps when the lights go out. The light from outside is growing dimmer by the second, and with high narrow windows, it does little to reveal the area around me.
I freeze and put my back against one of the crates.
Moments later I hear the sound of footsteps, loud on the old cement floor. They trod across the floor with volume and inevitability. I let go of the dart gun and reach for the real thing, I feel the rig attached to the bottom of the barrel. A small tactical flashlight.
I aim towards the steps and snap on the light an instant before firing. Almost faster than I can perceive, a blur speeds out of sight. I try to track his movement, but between the darkness and his speed, there is no chance. My gun spits two more rounds, not much louder than the snap of a finger thanks to my silencer, but the sound carries in the empty warehouse.
“Are you here to kill me,” Alex says in the darkness.
I turn and fire, but he’s gone.
“Let me guess,” he says from somewhere above, “here to finish what you started?”
I aim overhead, this time I catch sight of him. Then he leaps away with inhuman agility, swinging along the metal struts until I lose sight of him.
When Alex moves, and he must be moving, I hear no sound. Something is very wrong. I start running along the rows of crates, all pretense of stealth gone. He must be able to see me somehow. Along with that he’s also able to move faster than I can see, and keep from making a whisper of sound until he wishes.
I’m too far from the rear entrance, so I run towards the front. The light from my gun jumps as I run, but spreads far enough to keep me from running into anything. I stop as the door suddenly appears in the darkness, heavy chains numerous locks holding it shut. It looks like a twisted reflection of how a sane person would chain a door.
Briefly I consider trying to shoot the chain, but the links are huge, as are the locks. Instead I put my back to the wall and start checking for any sign of Alex. My movements are steady, even though my heart beats wildly in my chest.
Alex appears again, and I shoot at him. Then again. Again.
His face is locked in a feral grin that is chilling in the crisp blue-white beam of my flashlight. I feel my composure slipping, and start loosing more rounds into the still darkness. The gun clicks empty, and I reload, firing angrily.
“Get your ass out here, Valin,” I sneer through gritted teeth.
The lights in the warehouse flicker and then flare to life, banishing the darkness. I look around and catch sight of Alex in a control room overhead. He peers at me, and then leans down to speak through a device of some sort. Then his voice sounds from speakers on high, “You’re Williams comma Chase.”
I fire at him, but the shots are off-mark. Considering the distance, I’m not surprised. He doesn’t even duck as the bullets impact the wall behind him, instead he just keeps reading from a datapad.
“You were my number one suspect, I figured you out before you came after me,” he says absently, “I mean, come on, ‘troubleshooter’? Does your degree say your major was assassinology?”
I run across the warehouse floor, roll into cover, and squeeze off two more shots. They fly through the air previous occupied by Alex. He doesn’t even look up as he sidesteps my aim, and the old microphone is still in his hand.
“So who put you on this job,” he muses, “an ambitious underling, a threatened colleague, or a wrathful superior?”
This time I fire again, and immediately shift my aim to his right and fire again.
“Stop that, would you,” he says as he avoids both shots. Then a gun materializes in his free hand and he fires without looking. A sound like an angry hornet flying at Mach 2, and then a searing heat through my right hand. My gun goes skidding away and suddenly I’m injured and unarmed.
He drops the microphone and datapad, and then walks down from the control room to the catwalk above me. Without missing a step, he hops onto the railing like a bird perching, and then drops the twenty-five feet to the floor and keeps walking towards me. I’m a little stunned, but I go for my gun anyway.
Somehow he covers the distance before me, and picks it up between two fingers and with a negligent toss sends it flying across the warehouse.
“You are the same one, right? The one who shot Alex, me?”
My answer is to awkwardly rip my dart gun from the holster with my left hand. He seems unconcerned as I draw the weapon, and doesn’t make a move. I’m not the type to question good luck, and squeeze off three shots into his chest. My left hand is steady, and the shots all hit.
He doesn’t even flinch.
“How did you…” I trail off, stunned as he casually plucks the darts from his chest.
“Gene therapy, DNA splicing, genetic engineering…whatever you call it, they built me to last. Ignore little things like toxins, and be able to take care of situations like this,” Alex grinned, “didn’t you ever ask Alex what he was working on? Digital brain imagining and transfer, perfect genetic duplication.”
I stand up and stare at the man standing in front of me. I’ve worked with Alex for a few years, and he looks exactly like him.
“You’re a…copy? Not just a clone, but an actual copy?”
“Close, but not exactly. I’m an enhanced copy. Same mind, same looks, but all put into this very special body,” he smirked at me, “I had the body on the outside, but the files and info were still in the building so I had to smuggle them out, inside my own mind. I used the program to scan my own brain and DNA, then when I reached the train station I met my golem. He was operating on a digital intelligence that was fairly advanced, but erased when he absorbed my genetic material.”
“Basically, he turned into me, just before I died. Let me tell you…strange seeing myself dead.”
My hand drifts around my back to the sheath where I keep my knife. Super clone or not, my knife can cut through steel, it’ll get the job done. I notice he stopped talking, so I try to stall, “You want to know why I was sent after you?”
“I know why, someone wanted my research.”
“No,” I say loudly enough to get his attention off my hands, “I know the truth. Don’t pretend with me, Valin. You sold out to another company! That’s why you had the body built already, in exchange you were going to give them the digital brain research you were doing.”
Alex grins at me.
“We know you were going to sell out the company! That’s why I’m after you, just trying to even things up. Traitors die,” I slide the knife from its sheath.
“What do you expect me to say? This body is immune to every known disease, five times stronger and faster, heals faster, and the lifespan…I’ll be around at the end of the world having tea with the roaches. Who wouldn’t trade their secrets for that?”
I take the knife in a reverse icepick grip, and palm the bottom of the handle so it’ll be hidden behind my arm. If he’s being truthful about his abilities, I’ll only get one shot at taking him out.
“Keiretsu, the corp is our family, the family is our life, we give our life for the family. What happened to you, where’s your sense of corporate loyalty?”
Valin shakes his head, I can tell that he’s getting tired of playing with me. He’s going to come in for the kill any second now. He’s fast, strong, and smart, but he doesn’t have experience in this sort of thing. You don’t kill people with words, and when you kill people too many words get in the way.
“Time to die, Chase,” Alex lunges at me faster than I’ve every seen anyone move. Luckily I know what he’s going to do, amateurs have a limited understanding of killing.
He predictably uses both hands to strangle me, and I don’t even try to stop him. Not a chance I could pry his hands free. Instead I stab the knife into the right side of his neck, and then rip it out to the side. Arterial blood sprays over my face and body, shooting out in pulsing crimson geysers. The knife is so sharp that it takes him a moment to realize what I’ve done, and then he recoils in horror and tries to stem the flow of blood.
“Carotid artery,” I choke out, “cut at an angle, you’re dead Valin.”
He keeps stepping backward as he clutches at his neck. The fact that he’s still standing is pretty damn impressive to me. Inevitably, he does fall to his knees and gurgles a few times before hitting the floor.
I massage my bruised throat, luckily for me he went for an air choke instead of a blood choke. I hack a few times, and realize my trachea is bruised but not crushed. Then I pull a bandage from the tiny first aid kit I keep on my calf, and wrap it around my hand.
My phone buzzes inside my skull, and I activate the display. A pulse digitally sent through my optic nerve shows me the boss sitting at his desk.
“You saw, sir,” I wheeze.
“I got it all,” he says with a dry smile, “did you mean all that about keiretsu?”
“For both of our sakes, I hope so.”
The holophone is cut off, and then I set about getting Valin’s body ready for extraction. Looks like Christmas is coming early for the R&D department. As for me, I think I’ll take tomorrow off.