Short Story – The World Thereafter #2

17 Jul

Tennyson was a large, balding man. Well, balding is wrong — he’s a vatter after all. The Australian cartels had been working Afghanistan hard for a generation, and Tennyson was an example of their concern for security. What they do is take any old DNA sequence and start growing tissue at an accelerated rate, something like the cloning equivalent of a mold or a blueprint. Tennyson here started life at forty five, and hasn’t aged a second. Loyal as all hell too, they make sure the right switches are switched, and all that. It doesn’t make him not a devious bastard, of course, he just knows who his daddy is.

His den is the sort of spartan box you’d expect a cloned arms dealer to live in. Besides an old oak desk, there were nothing but numbered boxes stacked floor to ceiling. Bullets, guns, a-thetamine, cocaine, ammunition; only Tennyson knew what was in each one. That’s the way his parents liked it.

Occa didn’t want to know how the crazy vatter would have reacted if that asshole Zemar had ripped him off.

“Where’s it at then eh?” Tennyson mumbled as he snorted a line of something pale blue. You could press most anything into a patch these days — only addicts and clones still stuck needles, sniffed powder.

Occa approached the desk and dropped the bag of blue a-thetamine on the desk, which Tennyson took and, looking down his nose, still set aback from the stim rush, picked out three pads and tossed them to the edge of the desk.

“You got the Lion bloody hot on you, you’re gonna need those,” he said and waved for the thug in the back to come over. He was a Japanese, covered in tattoos and carrying a numbered box. Covered in tattoos, but definitely not a Yakuza. You could tell from a glance he was an ersatz from the way his skin looked not quite lived in, and the way he didn’t really look at your face but always into your eyes, studying. More practically, you could tell he was a cybernetic because of the way he opened the box of flechettes without a crowbar.

The only difference between a vatter and an ersatz is that at least the vatters are cloned humans. Their brains might be all fucked sideways, but they have brains — they’re still sort of people. The ersatz have crystal-lattice hard storage instead; means they can think faster, move faster, remember more. But hell if their personality wasn’t just a simulation running in the background. It was like a living doll, and he didn’t like looking at them.

Occa and the Turk grabbed ammunition. Felix, though, just kept sitting on one of the boxes. Occa stopped and gave him a stare, see why he wasn’t digging in, and then he got it. The rough Caucasian had heard a lot of shells drop from his time in the service, and Occa knew the stare — trying to listen, not sure of it yet. But if you were trying to listen for shells dropping, that was probably good enough cause to get the fuck out from under wherever you were.

Tennyson’s little abode was buffered somewhat, but if the Americans were making a run on Kabul tonight, this little shithole would turn into a fresh grave pretty quick.

With his pouch full, he clipped it closed and started for the door “Gotta go Tenny, Lion’s waitin’, y’now.” The man nodded with a bored look. A man doesn’t live in a bomb magnet and not know when the bombs are dopping. Not like he can leave shop though. Maybe literally, being a vatter. The Turk snatched the AT from the desk and gave Tennyson a wink, and the ersatz held the cellar door for them as they climbed out.

The lazy market scene was gone now, replaced by the frenzied selfishness of the scramble for shelter. He couldn’t tell if it was some mechanized artillery battery or night-black drones somewhere in the sky, but it had started. Smoke in the distance backlit by a raging firestorm. The Turk pressed one of the blue pads to his neck and held the other two between the knuckles of his outstretched hand as he took in the high. Occa took his, and the sudden surge of epinphrines hit his nervous system like a truck. His heart rate jumped as his blood vessels contracted and he released a sigh as his windpipe loosened.

They ran through the battered grid of Kabul, pushing their way through the thick crowds. Stepping by shops where the Pashtun were busy murdering shopkeepers and looting.  He heard the bombs hit like stones dropping in water, heard them plunge through thin adobe and felt them expand, felt it in the ground. This was good stuff.

They’d have to make it out of the city before either the Americans followed up, or the local Pashtun remembered they got fucked before the firebombing started.

The crowds were too thick, so the Turk unslung his rifle and fired into the air as he ran. The crowd thinned, but only to reveal two white pickups blocking the street. Occa tried to make a left, but the thin alley was plugged with people. “It’s him,” he thought he heard Felix say before the shooting started up.

The old machineguns mounted in the back of the technicals started to rip through the crowd when Felix pushed past Occa and started shooting low through the alleyway. The people that hadn’t made it out of the alley fell with bloody legs, and the party rushed over them. Occa tried not to look down as he ran.

The shooting stopped and engines ingited, but were lost in the crash of the bombs and the roar of a nearby fire that lit up the main street they approached. Car alarms screamed and whined. Picking up a stone the Turk did a hop-skip and threw it into the driverside window of a Toyota hatchback. Fought with the lock and shifted over head forward in a grimace to the driver’s seat and started ripping out wires.

Felix went around smashing all the windows with the butt of his junker; firing ports. The engine started and Turk unlocked all the doors “Fuck fuck, get in”. Occa unslung his rifle as he got in the backseat beside Felix, who was trying to brush the broken glass onto the floor of the car before he sat down. But the Turk was off in a flash. In the flickering firelight a white truck made the corner behind them.

As the Toyota bumped and rattled Felix stuck his junker on his knees and got his rucksack off. He pulled out a little oblong white thing, shaped just like an egg but with an attractive sheen. It had a little LED light in the center and a ribbed ring running all the way around. He leaned forward and slung the pack again, put it in his breast pocket.

As they made their way out of the city another technical rolled onto the main road to join the first. In the back of the lead truck a man with an exposed metal plate in his head squatted and cocked the old RPK machinegun and started firing in bursts over the cab.

Tracers flew by Occa’s side of the hatchback. He pulled his rifle out of the passenger window and turned around in his seat, now wishing Felix had left the fucking glass on the seat as he kneeled on sharp glass, resting the barrel of the junker in the rear window. Felix did the same beside him as the Turk seemed to hit every bump in the road. His head roared as the a-thetamine pumped more blood into his brain, too much. He shook his head and blinked. Felix slapped him on the back and with one knee on the seat started firing.

The Chechen’s optical implants allowed him to see the driver of the first truck under the flashes of the machinegun, but the Toyota was lolling too much for him not to become seasick while zoomed. He dialed back and started taking single shots, adjusting after each one — sparks flare up over the windshield of the truck in pursuit.

7.62 rounds pattered across the back of the hatchback. Occa reaches for one of the pouches at his waist, shakes the magazine in his junker as he fumbles for the release in the dark. He slides the magazine in the waistband of his pants and loads a magazine from the pouch. Flechette rounds might not even pierce the windshield at this range. Bullets would.

He tries to line up the aperture sights, but the barrel pops up with every rock and roll of the car. Fuck! A thick line of sweat is visible on Felix’s brow as he swaps out magazines. He shakes his head as more bullets ping the car, one embedding itself in the windshield, making the Turk jump and the car with him.

“Slow the car down,” the big Chechen says with his head behind the driver’s seat. The Turk doesn’t look back or slow down. “Slow down the fucking car!” he screams, reaching into his front pocket for the little egg. “What are you fucking crazy, they’ll rip this thing in half, we slow down!” Trying in vain to line up a shot, Occa slides back down without firing. “Just do it Turk, trust me just do it.”

The engine starts stepping down as the Toyota slows and the pickups gain, the rear truck matching speed beside the other now. Felix fiddles with the device, twists it so the LED lights up red, then looks at the door. “I’m going to have to open the door to do this. You got my back Occa?” A nod. I hope he knows what he’s doing, Occa thinks. I hope that thing’s some fucking grenade.

The big man carefully opens the car door as tracers bounce off the road beside him and ping off the roof of the car. Occa keeping hold of his rucksack, he leans out with one hand gripping the frame. He throws the little white egg like someone would throw a boomerang, then ducks back in the hatchback with Occa leaning back in his side of the car as an anchor. “Drive!”

The little white grenade bounces once on the pavement and the LED flips to green. The Turk hits the gas as one of the white technicals drives over the egg, a thousand razor thin lines of metal telescoping out of the device, propping it up and driving through the undercarriage. The driver screams as he’s pinned to the roof of the cab. The second pickup screams by and leaves the passengers of the first to bleed out, skewered in the now-standing truck.

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