by Joe Nelson
First chapter of a cyberpunk themed novel. A bounty hunter walks into a bar...
** Images For Use By Upgraded+ Only **
— Dead Or Alive —
Dead or alive means; dead nine times out of ten.
Take this fucking idiot for example; Miles Travis, or Spider to his friends. Nine shots under and tripping the light fantastic in some dive bar titty-joint in the slums of Praxis Vaal. Another flesh pit for the wannabe starlets and the down-and-outs, drenched in gaudy pink light and stinking of nicotine, Delirium, and lust. When Spider sees Echo in the crowd he panics, shrieks like a little girl, and pulls out an oversized magnum retrofitted for corrosive rounds. In seconds the whole seedy shit-hole is a hysterical mess, and Spider’s firing wildly like a blind epileptic in the midst of some seizure.
Blam, blam, blam.
Some poor stripper barely out of her teens gets one in the mouth. She can’t even scream as the bullet takes off her entire jaw, leaving her naked body to collapse in a punter’s lap, twitching violently in the throes of death as the remains of her head soak into his crotch. Not the kind of action one usually expects when paying good credit for a lap-dance.
And the gun jams, because Spider is a worthless junkie who doesn’t know enough about firearms to know that corrosive rounds have a tendency to leak, eating away at the firing mechanism and melting the gun from within. That’s why you never leave acid shells in the chamber, you only load them when you intend to use them. Those bullets had probably been in Spider’s gun for weeks, maybe months. Bad luck for him, but at least it means the other strippers get to go home with their jaws still attached.
He turns and pushes his way through the screaming crowd, shouting and swearing and threatening everyone in his way with a broken gun. Echo’s seen it all a hundred times. She fixes a lock on him with her bionic eye and draws her own piece; a compact Predator 2.0. Nothing fancy but a pistol that gets the job done. That’s all you really need in this line of work.
One shot and Spider’s down. The bullet hits him square between the shoulder blades, severing his spine and leaving him with the physical integrity of a rag doll. He flops to the floor, squealing like a piglet and bleeding out into a pool of spilled beer. The club empties pretty quickly. The horrendous bass still pounds in her ears. The light still flickers like it’s all a part of the show.
‘You’ve fucking killed me!’ Spider croaks, blood spilling from his mouth as the realisation hits him that it’s finally over.
‘Docket says dead or alive, Travis. You made the choice.’
‘Don’t call me that,’ he hisses, as if his name matters anymore.
‘Spider,’ Echo corrects herself. She doesn’t know why. Maybe she feels bad about ending him. But she shouldn’t. This isn’t her first rodeo and he had it coming. ‘I’d have taken you in.’
‘Fuck that,’ he breathes. ‘I ain’t letting those cunts get their hands on me. I grew up in the joint. You know what they do to guys like me in there?’
She could only imagine.
‘What’s my score?’ he asks. His voice is fading and his eyes begin to glaze over. Echo can’t tell whether it’s because he’s knocking on the door or the drugs have just kicked in. Either way this is Spider’s last ride.
‘Three-fifty,’ she answers. A measly sum, hardly worth the effort, but she’d been a little short this week and she knew Spider had been in the area. All things considered it had been less than a night’s work.
‘Fuck,’ he sighs, ‘thought... I was... worth...’ his voice trails off and away he goes. No more Spider.
Now comes the part that Echo hates most. She draws her katana and steels herself for the cut, clenching her teeth as she sums up the body. Spider was a weasel; small and wiry, but still too heavy for her to carry. With a single stroke she severs his head. A girl screams in the back. A man throws up. They’re nobody important, just some stragglers who were too scared to run when the shooting started, or who simply thought it was safer to hide.
She yanks at his greasy hair, tearing his lifeless head away from the corpse. There’s a hauntingly peaceful look on his face. Not the kind of expression one would normally expect to find on the severed head of a dealer.
The bounty would keep her going for at least a few days. Enough to buy some food and keep a roof over head. There would have been more if she’d taken him in alive, but in the end that decision had been Spider’s. The damn fool had forced her hand. Not that it mattered now. Dead or alive was all the same when the price was right.
Firmly holding his still dripping head, Echo turns to leave. The sound of sirens are already filling the streets outside. The Colonial Wardens are busy blocking off the sector, throwing up checkpoints and manning blockades. Nobody is going anywhere, but that shouldn’t effect her. She has a hunter’s permit, and when they see it they’ll have to let her pass.
She walks through the entrance and into the rainy street. Electric lights shimmer off buildings slick with water. A multitude of signs fill the night, each promising a world of sleazy pleasure. True to form the Wardens are everywhere, waving their pistols around and barking orders. She gently places Spider’s head on the ground and raises her hands slowly, clearly brandishing her permit as a dozen flashlights fall blindingly on her face.
‘Do not move!’ a mechanical voice yells at her.
‘I’m registered,’ she calls back.
Seconds later the Wardens lower their guns, swearing amongst themselves as they surge forth, rushing past her and into the club.
‘We still have to take a statement from you,’ the sergeant spits at her. He’s not happy, but she can’t blame him for that. She just nods politely and hopes that they won’t detain her for too long.
The crowd look on, held back by the Wardens. They are aghast and fascinated by all that is happening. It’s a free show in the slums. A carnival for all the family. They jostle amongst themselves, hoping for a better view and murmuring to each other.
‘She seemed like such a nice girl,’ Echo hears someone mutter.