The first chapter, the rest will be located at jimmyagent007.wordpress.com/
|Cockroaches scuttled around in the life pod. Not the worst thing he had ever had to share a bunk with but he met them with his boot whenever he saw them. It was the cheapest ticket off-world there was and he could hardly afford it. Of course, being guilty of desertion, he could hardly afford ‘not’ to get off world. The colonial government had botched countless operations against the much smaller ‘agitator’ forces. All his friends were dead and he had nobody left. Switching sides wasn't an option. The ID chip in his skull marked him as government forces and defecting never went over well. Plus, they were as guilty as his own people for the loss of his friends. The merchant ship offered him a life pod, their extra shielding keeping him safe from any security scans. He was stuck in the thing until after the jump out of the solar system. It was big enough for a dozen people, but those who didn't need to hide were elsewhere on the ship.
A klaxon sounded to warn everyone of an imminent FTL jump. Having only done one once before, he braced his body and his stomach. There was a brief pause where it felt like time was slowing down and speeding up at the same time, then a sudden lurch that didn't happen the last time he had done a jump. Another klaxon sounded and suddenly he heard the release clamps on his pod. He felt the jolt of being fired away from the ship and a shift in the force of gravity. He looked at the control panel nearest to him, seeing only the words ‘landing sequence, please remain seated’. The troublesome part of that was that an FTL jump was supposed to take place well outside of the gravity well of any planet. For the safety of the ship and the planet. There would be no way he could have already arrived since, if somehow the jump had flung him towards a planet, he would have done so at the speed of light and been dead already. Instead, he noticed the altitude counter dropping at a safe speed. When it reached the last ten meters he felt the landing thrusters fire, landing gear deploy, and the pod settle on the ground safely. Confused, he relaxed, wondering what odds he had just beaten.
Getting to his feet he heard a bang and a hiss as the emergency release on the main hatch. The door was jammed and he could hear shouting, someone was angry about it being stuck. He was about to help push when a bloody knife the size of his arm came through the crack in the hatch to pry it open. His training kicked in and he tore open his kitbag for his rifle. Thankful for just how much trouble they seemed to be having with the hatch, he was able to load his weapon and sling his ammo belt over his shoulder. Aiming at the hatch, he saw as someone looked in. Blood filled eyes, where he couldn't even see the pupils, looked in at him. He took the shot the moment he saw the mouth was frothing with a green foam. There was a lot more shouting outside the pod and he readied himself to fire another small bolt of plasma at the next crazy who came at him. The door gave way suddenly and four figures rushed into the pod. A quick flick of his thumb switched his rifle to automatic and he sprayed his shots at the tightly packed attackers. Their dirty clothing lit on fire as the plasma bolts hit them and burnt craters into their flesh.
Things seemed quiet, he could almost hear some voices outside the hatch over the sound of the pod and his heart. Although not expended, he popped out his plasma flask and replaced it with a full one. He was glad he hadn't traded his expensive weapon away. A small canister hit the wall opposite the hatch and burst with smoke. He ripped the cover off the survival gear locker and pulled the mask over his head. It was old, but rated for all kinds of atmospheres, so it could handle smoke. It lacked the enhanced optics he was used to having but didn't fail to notice another figure slipping in through the smoke. He sent a few shots to where he had seen it and tracked to where the figure was going. Knowing that leaving the pod would expose him he remained inside, looking for anything in the grey air. He felt something touch his back and lashed out with his foot but hit nothing. The sound of his ammo belt hitting the floor made him look down to see it had been cut before seeing it slide away. He fired behind him, then backed up against the bulkhead, switching his weapon back to single fire. A flash of silver knocked his rifle down, he knew where his foe was from where the sword had struck from and where it wanted his gun aimed.
The one thing his commanding officer had taught him that wasn't total crap was that professionals are easier to predict than idiots. So if you are fighting a professional who knows you are one as well, then mix it up with something stupid. In this case, that meant lunging at the figure with the sword instead of drawing a pistol or knife. His gambit certainly caught his opponent off guard with a hard punch to the face, smashing the mask, but the butt of the sword struck him in the gut. Regardless if the strike was intentional or not, it also hit him with a large jolt of electricity. He stumbled over and took a moment to recover, before reaching for his knife and lashing out. Two pops, and he suddenly found it was hard to move. His hands were stuck, he could feel a slime running over his chest, hardening quickly. He had seen riot police use similar stuff on protesters back before the military replaced them. Whoever he had been fighting stepped over him and grabbed him by the collar. He was dragged out of the pod and dropped just off the ramp, facing the ground. His head was stuck and could only look at the strange blue metal it was made out of. He felt a wave of cold come over him as the yellow slime started to liquify.
“Well now, that wasn't expected,” a voice behind him stated in amusement. “Normally, nobody even dies. Then you go and get a solid hit on the wife. That's remarkable!”
“You think me hitting your wife is remarkable?” He responded angrily.
“What? Oh, no. Not my wife. Just ‘The Wife’. That's what we all call her. Don't know how she got the name, don't care. It’s just the first time I ever saw anyone catch her like that. Of course, she is still scary enough that I won't be telling anyone about this. As for you, I think I can safely extend a job offer for you. Not often we get a pro like you. Military I assume?”
“I just got away from the military, what makes you think I want anything to do with you after this?”
“Look, I… actually, you might want to actually look. I’m loosening it up so you move again. You will want to roll over and look up. Might give you some perspective on your situation.”
He could see a few large figures in heavy boots from where he was laying and knew he wasn't going to catch them off guard by pretending to still be stuck. Rolling over, he suddenly forgot about anyone standing near him. There was no sense to what he was seeing. The strange metal was everywhere, rising into the sky, with familiar metals clinging to it filled with people. Scrap made buildings covered everything, with little or no logic to their placement. Paths and bridges ran between them with cables hung everywhere. It was as if every slum he had ever seen had been stuck to the strange blue metal. Buzzing through the air were all kinds of drones and vehicles. Then he began to notice details, while he was sure he was looking upwards, he could see people walking at odd angles, as if looking through a crooked mirror. As his eyes looked beyond, he could see a huge curve rising up in the distance, like a big wave of the blue metal, frozen. On it, he could see buildings, but not just on the top side. The underside of the big metal wave was full of lights and buildings as well. The whole place was alien and unlike anything, he had ever seen.
“Weird right? I've been here for ten or so years and I still have a hard time processing it. Now, I know you got questions but any straight answer I give is going to sound a lot like ‘I don't know’ because nobody really does. Only thing we know for an almost certainty is that it's something to do with a messed up FTL jump. And, if someone has figured a way out, they haven't come back to tell us. So, this is where you live now, you're not going anywhere, let's talk about your future.”
He rolled away from the view and looked at the man who was talking. He wore a grey suit with a black shirt and a pristine white tie. An older fellow who looked like he had seen his fair share but kept himself smiling in good humour. He was holding what looked like an electro wand only it seemed to be pulling the goop off him and dripping it into a bag he was holding.
“Seems like you got a nice suit. Don't you have someone to do things for you? Like a flunkey?”
“Well, you met The Wife, not really into the ‘literal’ cleaning jobs. The men you killed were junkies frothing at the mouth, not really the type you have do this. Then, well, look at the thugs I’m with. Slabs of muscle before we layered on more vat-grown muscle. You think I should ask the guy named ‘meat-head’ to do this?” The mountain of muscle holding the giant cannon of a gun grunted when he heard his name. “No, didn't think so. We weren't even here for you, just saw you land. But I don't mind, found a new friend, got to play with some goop, it's just like being a kid again. How about you?”
“On the ground, surrounded, being talked at by some guy who thinks he can grow a moustache, yeah, seems familiar.”
Resuming his work after a hard laugh the man in the suit introduced himself. “The name is Louie. I like you kid. What should I call you? Keep in mind, you can make up whatever name you want.”
“Call me Dis, so what's the deal?”
Louie helped the man to his feet, handed the bag of goop and the wand to The Wife, and then put his hand on the shoulder of his new friend. “Well Dis, the man calling the shots in these parts is named Mr Anzee. He likes people who can handle themselves. You are one of those people, so you can work for him if you want. Or you can go it alone. We will even give you your gun back.”
Dis took the rifle back from the thug who had been holding it, along with his cut ammo belt. “What was with the crazies?”
“Oh, it's what we do with new arrivals. Tell some junkies they can fix if they bring out all the people alive and unharmed… ish. Helps us sort through quick who the fighters are. Gotta work quick before scavengers show up. Though, to be honest, we don't normally have this much muscle on hand so they will be keeping their distance until we are done. You are the only thing of real value here.”
“So, important enough to have this kind of help but not so important that you don't get sent on errands. Please tell me I won't end up as middle management like you.”
Louie laughed again, coughing a few times. “Hell kid, you can work with me. Make me look important by having you get your hands dirty. I can certainly tell you are going to be a better conversationalist than the rest of them here.”
Dis looked at The Wife, “You going to take that from him?”
Louie got a surprised look on his face, “I meant the thugs!” He glanced over at the woman in black armour, tubes and wires running through the suit that covered the lethal woman, wondering if she was going to make an issue of it.
“Hah!” she scoffed and turned away.
Dis looked at Louie whose eyes were wide in shock, “What's the matter?”
“I thought you may have killed me, then she laughed. She never laughs, she never talks, You punched her in the face and then made her laugh. I am never going to stop buying you drinks.”
“You know, I think I might just like this place better than home.”
“Welcome to the CubeSphere son, I’ll explain the name at the bar.”
Resting the crosshairs on the new arrival, the hunter observed his conversation before he was lead away. Although listening in would have been interesting, The Wife would have undoubtedly detected a laser microphone, regardless of the damage to her visor. Unless, of course, the shot went into said visor. The problem with that largely being that although The Wife was dangerous, she wasn't a monster, and enforcers who weren't monsters were rare. Too rare to be killing them.
It was all a distraction anyway, the pod and flown right in the way of the game trail. In this case, though, the game trail was just the favoured path of the mass of drones that flew through the air. Despite each having their own owners and instructions, they flocked together out of a quirk of their programming that made them safer in groups. Specifically from hunters like the one targeting them at that moment. They scatter and jink, manoeuvre amongst themselves, all while trying to use the other as cover. A chaotic mess but eventually one splits from the flock to complete its mission and that's the moment a shot is fired.
The vacuum tube at the end of the rifle silenced the shot as the heavy calibre round flew through the air, curving along a few different gravitational pulls until it slammed into the nose of the drone in its way. A fine shot, one that took a lot of planning to get right. Each gravity field had to be measured beforehand, a course plotted, and even a few sims on trajectory. Even then, a healthy dose of skill and instinct is required. Hours of work for a single instant. Of course, the gravity of any given piece of the panel was consistent unless there was a major shift, so keeping notes was also important.
Now, there are a few ways to go about making money on hunting drones. There is the simple way, unleash a lot of bullets or whatnot into a flock and have some friends ready to grab the falling debris. Of course, the drones generally have armour to protect them so you would probably need to mount weapons. The downside is that the setup is generally more expensive than the haul and the drones never go near that area again. Also, they know to look for that kind of ambush. The more intelligent method is to hide and hit them with net traps, EMP pulse guns, or clog their engines with something, then hope you can get to their crash site before someone else. However, the best method by far was to fire a hard round into the armour that carried with it a remote hack array that would just tell the drone to fly somewhere else. A failed shot meant the waste of a very expensive bullet, a successful one meant a payday with no mess unless someone else decided to shoot the drone. The method also avoids alerting the other drones so they don't stop flying the supposedly safe path.
The dozen bullets that had been in the magazine were expended, six had hit targets, if they all made it back to the one controlling the bullets, it was a big payday indeed. A fifty percent ratio was rare, even for a hunter of supreme skill. Climbing out of the nest after packing up the rifle, the hunter skulked past the figures huddled around the fire pit who had been unaware of anything going on while cooking some inkfish. The mask kept out the smell and kept the hunter looking like a regular scavver. A hop out a window lead to landing on a walkway running vertically downwards until it curved to meet the base of the panel that had its own gravity. It was a chaotic mess to orient oneself, even if you were born there and had the blue skin to prove it. You could tell how new someone was by how they held their heads. New arrivals marvelled upwards, then switched to staring at their feet trying to ignore everything. Once you got used to it, you could tune out the noise and focus on memorized paths you walked. For someone who had been born in the cube, under the panels that slid across its surface, it was easier since you were used to it but each panel was different. You could maybe understand a single panel well enough if you lived on it long enough.
Picking up a webbing of rusted metal from inside a loose wall piece, the hunter used it to hide the more expensive gear, now that the nest was far enough away to be done with stealth. The press of people made hiding hard enough anyways that you were better off in plain sight. To anyone bothering to look, there was just another figure in the crowd, looking for any bit of anything to sell. Ragged clothing, bits of rusted salvage, an old gas mask to hide their identity from enemies, a ragged walk from old injuries. Of course, the strange walk was just because a gun case is hard to manage under so much crap. Thankfully, it could all be set down on the small quad wheeler kept hidden in an old container off the road. Scavver suit bagged up, fisher kit in its place, looking like someone just hauling a load of inkfish. Another mask to protect from the smell of the rotten inkfish kept in the lockbox, to discourage anyone from trying to steal anything. While most people do like rotten food to use in planters, not many try to steal it from vehicles.
Driving along the road, a ninety-degree twist in the middle making it look like half the traffic was walking on a wall, it didn't seem like anyone was following. Of course, most of the countermeasures taken were unnecessary but you never really knew what ones, so if you were smart, you kept doing all of them. The drive was short, if you kept up your speed and clipped anyone who were stupid enough to think they didn't need to get out of your way. Eventually, there was a turn that lead down towards a gap in the panel that would, in turn, lead to the cube itself where the fisheries were. However, the hunter turned midway into the solid wall of the panel that was actually a privacy shroud imitating the blue metal leading to a garage.
“Four of the six Miss Kilp,” called a voice over the intercom.
“Damn it,” she swore, ripping off her headgear. “I hit six, they all looked like good shots. What went..OW!”
Kilp had yanked her facemask off and it brought some of her hair with it. The pure white strands dangled before she threw the mask to the ground. Angrily, she struggled with getting the rest of the costume off.
“Careful, you do tend to get tangled up when you cover yourself with that crap,” the voice commented.
“I know that!” She shouted back. “This is why I need something I can wear all the time to keep me invisible. No more of ‘this’ crap!”
“And the moment I get one to sell you, I will let you know. Until then, you need to keep this up.”
Kilp had finally finished stripping down to her sleeveless top and work shorts and picked up the bucket in the corner. “Can you at least tell me what the deal is with my hunt today?”
“Yes, but you can use the shower, I got it working. Also, you know I have cameras in the garage right?”
“I reek of rotten inkfish, I assure you, I don't care about cameras. That being said, a shower sounds better. So, the hunt?”
As Kilp turned around to enter the hallway that connected the garage to the shop, the voice continued. “Four landed fine, I’m still fighting with one so it can still happen. The other ploughed into some idiot’s floating sign and they both went down. I actually got some impressive footage of it so it wasn't a total loss but it won't be landing here.”
Kilp grunted in annoyance. Missed shots happen all the time, even for her, but once you make a miracle like that it was always frustrating that it was for nothing. Impressive footage was a small consolation. She stripped out of her clothing after entering a door mid-way through the hall and threw it in the bin beside the shower. While the bin got to work cleaning them, the shower started blasting water. Although it had been made to pressure wash metal parts, it had been rigged to clean people without killing them. The pressure was almost painfully high, and the soap mixed with the stream stung almost as bad, but it left her feeling clean when it was finished.
“Pressure is still high, but it’ll do. Do you have cameras in here as well?” Kilp asked, letting the sonic pulser dry her off.
“Well yes, but they watch the inventory, not the cleaning corner.” Kilp eyed the empty bay. “Just because there isn't any inventory in there now doesn't mean I moved the cameras.”
“Then how did you know I was looking?”
“You are a sniper, I assume you are always looking.”
“Fair enough,” she shrugged.
After putting her clean clothing back on she continued her way down the hall, holding her hair in her hand, wondering when she could finally grow it back in her own colour. The soap to get the smell off her had turned it white, though thankfully left her blue skin untouched. She hated the long, tiresome, ritual of stealth. Just inside the shop, at the end of the hall was her locker where she retrieved her skirt and jacket. Both made from black leather that helped her blend in at her cover job.
Deeper in the shop was a wall full of screens that would display his best pieces. The other side, past the security fence covering a large curved desk, her friend road a massive mechanical arm that moved him about his shop. He was far to fat from the mechanical implants he had to move under his own power. Also, his power requirements were too high to not have a direct power feed into his body. So the hydraulic arm with the many joints from all the different machines he used to make it, moved him to where he wanted to be. At that moment, he was inspecting the four drones that had made it to him, while looking at the racks of parts behind him to see what gaps were in his inventory.
“The two that didn't make it were at least the runts of the litter. One is a genuine hunter drone of some kind. Military grade. I’m going to take my time with that. Two are hardened delivery drones, still working on their package locks. The last was a roving signal booster. Some hacker must be very upset. Idiot probably was so concerned about a remote hack he didn't think of a direct one. Well, they are all ours now.”
“Fantastic, what about the pieces from my students?”
“Ah yes,” he brought himself up to the desk to lean his heavy form close enough to hand her a paper note while he took a glance down her top. “A few good bits, mostly junk, but everything is worth something.” He set the bills down on the desk, forcing Kilp to lean forward to collect them.
She knew what he was doing of course, but ignored it. He was a man stuck in a junk shop and if some illicit glances kept him happy enough to give her good deals then she wasn't going to fight it. Kilp grabbed the stack of polymer covered gold foil bills and quickly counted them. Each one marked what fraction of a gram worth of gold they contained. It was the usual assortment, smallest being one tenth, or one ‘dec’. She teased her friend more by stuffing them between her breasts.
“When will you be done fondling these new drones?” She asked, her word choice intentional.
“Hmmm… longer than normal, that's for sure. But I will pass it on to Barney when I finish.”
“Fine then, later Gunz! Remember to make me more bullets if you want more drones!”
Kilp left the shop using a private exit, crawled up the ladder that stopped and switched to a moving track on the other side the tunnel due to a shift in the gravity. She exited, from a hidden opening, right into an elevator that ran horizontally to the shaft but the gravity still made it feel like she was moving upwards. At the end, it let her out onto an overlook, that lead either somewhere else or down to the bar on her right. Had she not been born into such a confusing environment, she would have gotten sick every time she walked anywhere. There was never any shortage of new arrivals losing what little they had eaten to the constant shifts in gravity. Second to them were those whose minds simply couldn't handle the insanity of the architecture and snapped.
She emerged into the bar from a door hidden by an optical illusion that, if anyone knew about it, people suspected was some kind of VIP lounge. She gathered looks, as she always did when she entered a room without her hunting cover, from the patrons and her boss. Barney watched over his bar like some benevolent god of alcohol, leading many to adopt it as an unofficial religion. He always talked with those who seemed troubled, angry, or lost. There was never any need for him to have a bouncer since he always knew what to say to anyone. Nobody ever drank themselves to death or even beyond their ability to pay. After some words with him, people just seemed to be able to smile enough to face a new day.
“Hey Barney, I miss anything?” she asked, sitting at the bar.
“I think the patrons are the ones who missed you. I appreciate a smart girl like you going over my books but sometimes I think you are too thorough. People like seeing you serving drinks, not bent over my desk. At least not with my papers.”
“A woman's gotta do what she has to when dealing with a man whose grasp of math is so… tenuous.”
He made an odd face of denial as he turned away, cracking a slight smile after doing so. Kilp got her bum off the stool and started to greet some of the guests. Her conversation with Barney doing the job of keeping her cover for anyone listening. The next few hours were spent serving drinks and slapping away hands that got too close for her comfort.
Kilp loved the burgundy dress she had, she tied the sewn-in corset tight and let her hair flow over the knot. It was far more elegant than the salacious outfit she wore to amuse her customers at the bar. She had donned it after finishing her shift and stepped outside to take the least convoluted route in her day. The view of the sky was wide open, she could see all the traffic in the sky, the flashes of new arrivals, though the clouds covered any clear view of anything beyond them.
Like usual, she attracted a lot of attention, it was rare to see a cube native dressed like she was. Though anyone who knew about her, kept a respectable distance. Some enforcers belonging to Mr Anzee patrolled the streets, grunting at anyone who looked too long at her. Not that she had any special protection, their orders were to keep any trouble from happening, and if it did, to crush it with ruthless force. The dumb muscle just knew from experience that pretty girls always needed extra protection. The trip had been more perilous in years past, before Mr Anzee had extended his influence so far down past the wave. The wave was a massive protrusion from the panel that looked, like a giant metal wave. However, prior to being called that, it was referred to as the tongue.
Mr Anzee hated the name and had worked hard to rename it like he had renamed his private club. It was located right at the end of the wave where the gravity of the top side bent around to the underside. The original name was called ‘The Tip of the Tongue’ but was abbreviated to either ‘The Tip’ or ‘The Tongue’. Of course, when it had been a brothel, that was fine, but not once he had taken over. He abhorred prostitution, enough so that he wouldn't take any cuts from those who still practised it on a personal scale. Though he understood people enough that he couldn't ever get rid of it. The compromise was to keep it unorganised.
Kilp could see her home, upside down from where she was standing, hanging from the underside of the wave. She caught a ride with a bus that ran all along the underside. The giant enforcer at the front giving her a nod, like most did when they wanted an excuse to look at her. His presence almost unnecessary other than to mark the bus as being under protection. The giant gun slung over his shoulder simply adding to his needless threat. Nobody made problems on the wave, not anymore, she hadn’t had to knife someone in years. Off the wave, things were more dangerous, random muggings and worse happened often. Though, not so much when enforcers were nearby on business, Mr Anzee was quickly expanding throughout the panel and everyone knew it. It was just a matter of time before the remaining gangs left the panel entirely. It all just depended on when they shifted and what new panels came alongside.
The bus rang its bell when it got to her home, the driver knew her well enough to know where she lived and smiled when she paid a little extra, plus it was a landmark for many. Stepping off the bus she looked at her schoolhouse, it had been an armoury at some point but after putting some desks in it, she made it a place of learning. Over the years she added a clock tower, though the clock was actually on the front of the school. It was a fortified building to keep her and her students safe, though again, redundant now that things had gotten so much safer.
“Miss Kilp!” A tiny voice called from inside.
She could see the slit in the door close and the locks being slowly disengaged. When the door finally opened, an excited young girl greeted her with a tight hug around her hips.
“Miss Middy, so good to see you. Keeping an eye on the school for me?” Kilp asked, trying to walk inside with the girl latched onto her.
“Yes! Also books, but I kept an eye out for troublemakers.”
“Good! Can you lock the door back up while I get settled?”
Middy rushed to complete her task, allowing Kilp the freedom to cross the classroom. She passed the students desks and saw the books on the floor near the bookcase behind her desk. It made her smile, a mess made by learning was never a bad thing in her school. In the back room, she scooped the bills from under her cleavage and stuffed most of them into the lockbox. Some she kept on hand, or rather back in her bodice, just for personal use. Then she noticed that her bed had been slept in.
“Did you sleep here Middy?” Kilp asked, suddenly very annoyed, but not at the young girl.
“Yeah, well I don't like sleeping alone at home and ma was out. She came to the school to check up on me before going into work though.”
“When was this?”
“Just a short bit ago. She seemed sorry.”
Kilp bit her tongue, then grabbed her keycard and stormed out of the back room. “I’ll go find her. Please make my bed and clean up those books before she comes to get you.”
“It’s really okay Miss Kilp, you don't need to go get her,” the little girl pleaded.
“Trust me, I do. Besides, class won't start for a long while, I’ll be back in time.”
Kilp used her keycard on the side door, opening the magnetic lock. She looked up the wave to the very end where her destination lay. The private club, The Wavefront, wasn't a long walk from her school. As much as she wanted to get some sleep in before classes, other things were more important. The bus was only now just starting its long journey back down the wave and would take too long to get back to her. A sad reminder of when the bus drivers brother, who drove opposite to him, was killed when his bus was hit by a stray missile some lunatic had fired into the sky for some reason. As she walked, she could see almost the whole panel above her, it was an impressive view but not quite as good as the one at the club, or her sniper's nest in her supposed clocktower.
She reached the club and flashed a smile at the enforcers at the door, one held out a palm reader that she caressed before it flashed green. Inside she ducked into the service corridor and made her way to the women's locker room where she caught Vif getting into her red vest. Her kilt was on wrong and she was fumbling with something in her hands.
“Damn it Vif!” Kilp shouted, startling the woman.
Vif turned around in surprise, dropping an empty injector. “Just levelling off! Please, don't be mad.”
Vif had bags under her watery blue eyes, bloodshot from chem use, her golden curls of hair in a bit of a mess on her face. Kilp pushed her against her locker with an arm across her chest. “I don't give a damn your reasons. Your daughter just spent another night at the school because she was too scared in her own home because her mother wasn't there for her.”
“I know, I saw her there before coming in. Please, you know…”
“Yes!” Kilp interrupted. “I know you love her. I do too, as well as you. But she is growing up and has no memories of her mother with her that don't involve you passed out with injectors laying about. Someday she is going to find you dead on the street or in some chem den with someone stealing your organs and shrug it off because it’s one less thing for her to worry about.”
“I’m allergic to the cleanser chems,” Vif mumbled, defeated.
“I know that!” Kilp slammed her fist onto the locker near her friends head. “I know better than you how biochemistry works! But I also know that people could get clean before they were even invented so if you weren't banned from excuses I'd tell you to find a new one.”
“I still have a shift to work.”
“No, not anymore.” Kilp pulled out the bills she had. “Here, this is pretty much what you make a night. Go home and spend it, and your time, on your daughter. I will work your shift and I expect to get a wonderful story from Middy when she gets to class afterwards. Understood?!”
Vif took the money, ashamed, and started to undress to put her street clothes back on. Kilp helped her before starting to redress herself after Vif helped with her dress. The Wavefront was one of the few places where everyone could be given the same clothing as uniforms. Hers came with a white blouse under the red vest but she always skipped it. Technically, a white lacy bra was within the dress code and was good enough for her. The extra tips it brought in made it worth it even if she didn't enjoy showing off. Her pleated kilt matched the vest and, just as she was putting it on, the door opened. She thought Vif was leaving until she saw it was someone else coming in.
“I heard you showed up. Seems I missed the best part though.” He said, eying Kilp as she fastened her kilt around her hips.
“Seems like you also missed the time Mr Anzee had a woman's only sign hung on the door.”
He backed off a bit, before looking at his feet. “It’s alright, I'm outside the room. I can't help it if your beauty travels farther than that.”
“You could close the door, but I know how much you like me doing all the work.” Kilp walked over, put her hand on the door, and slammed it shut.
A loud scream and the sound of a falling body preceded some painful wails from the other side of the door.
“I’ll wait until he goes away before making my exit,” Vif commented.
“I just wish he would go away forever. I don't know why he always wants to be on my nerves like this.”
“I think he wants to be on top of more than just your nerves.”
“Please, it was only twice and I was always on top. Lazy bastard.”
“Tilton still thinks that all a man needs is to have slicked back hair and confidence in spite of logic. Why did you sleep with him?”
Kilp sighed, “Because he was eying you up all the time and cringed whenever you talked about Middy. I just planned on distracting him but I had been on a dry spell and forgotten why I wanted to be. The second time was the masque party and didn't know until I recognised his smell.”
“Oh, well thank you. I don't see you looking out for me as often as you do, do I?”
“No, but it’s alright. We are friends. Just because you need kicks to your ass doesn't mean that's going to stop. People I trust are limited in number. Now go, he should have whimpered away by now.”
Vif checked the door, then gave the thumbs up to Kilp before leaving. Kilp shook her memories from her head and focused on her job. Much classier than the bar Barney run, the most expensive comforts and luxuries that ever landed on the panel ended up in this club. Kilp walked out into the main area, rubbing Vif’s name off the screen and putting her own.
The topography of the club was unusual. It curved around the leading edge of the wave, so everywhere ‘up’ was a glass ceiling that held the best view of the panel and beyond. Kilp could see other panels, shifting in the distance, yet none were ever known to have any protrusions as high as the wave. The only part that wasn't connected to the rest of the club, was a private meeting place. It was built into the ceiling, so high that it actually sat beyond the gravity of the wave and was pulled down towards the panel proper. It could only be accessed by an expensive column of sparkling air that moved people to and from the private area. There was a private dining room attached to the meeting area that sat empty. Its purpose was twofold, when Mr Anzee was at the club, it's where his meetings were. Aside from that, it was used, regardless of when Mr Anzee was using it, as a VR spot. Cameras were placed about the club and digitised to provide atmosphere for the virtual reality club that gathered there. The only thing they couldn't see was what was happening in the real space of the exclusive view.
Kilp was plenty aware that anyone could be watching her at any time while she was on the floor, having seen enough pictures that found their way into the hands of the older students she taught. She was on the short list of people who were allowed to serve that area. So that made it much easier for those in VR to spy on her. The only thing that really bothered her about it was that the simulations were real enough that anyone could record enough to create virtual constructs of her easily and simulate any interactions with her they wanted. Not to mention that anyone could reach out and feel her simulated proxy without her knowing. Thus why she prefered to work regularly for Barney, and not at The Wavefront unless she had to.
For most of her shift, she could put it from her mind and focus on serving drinks and food. Most of the clientele either worked directly for Mr Anzee or held other profitable businesses on the panel somewhere. She could tell who most were, water cleaners, chem cookers, vat-farmers, and all sorts on the production side of the economy. Some of the most successful salvagers as well, though if Gunz attended, he did so through the VR. Probably the one most likely to lay hands on a virtual version of herself. When she was just about done her shift a loud noise shook the whole club and everyone looked to see a shuttlecraft fly by, desperately trying to decelerate before impacting on the panel below. Soon enough, everyone settled down, close calls being normal enough that nobody bothered to panic. Though it did seem odd that there were no protective measures preventing it. Mr Anzee was not someone who scrimped on protection so the shuttle should have been shot down and any debris would have been deflected by shields before they touched the glass. Instead, Kilp could see a figure in a flight suit, struggling to grip onto the outside of the ceiling, while a parachute dragged the panicked soul across.
Everyone watched as the torn chute pulled harder before getting caught on an external protrusion. However, instead of saving the person, it kept its wearer dangling high above the panel, the wind slamming the body against the window. Some of the wires connecting the chute were already severed, though the body still moved so at least it wasn't a corpse yet. Kilp could see up into the private lounge near where the body kept striking the window and rushed to the gravity tube. She pushed off to move faster, ignoring what onlookers might have been thinking. The windows needed replacing often enough before the newer defences were put in place, despite them not doing anything at the moment, that removing them was simple. She leapt over the railing that separated the lounge from the glass floor, or ceiling if you were in the main area, and dashed over to the section of glass the person kept getting slammed into. Locks on the glass were easy to turn, even with her tiny frame, and soon the one side was free. Each impact helped push the glass inwards, as Kilp struggled to lift it just enough so a body could fit through without dislodging the whole section. It wasn't quite there yet when an arm suddenly came through as the angel rolled the body towards her. She switched her grip and didn't let go.
Kilp lifted her skirt, drawing a knife she kept strapped at her thigh, groaning at the view she must have just given the VR viewers, and cut the last cables from the chute that could have dragged the person away from the only chance at rescue. Kilp put the hands on one of the disengaged locks, then putting her own hands over top so she could put her shoulder into lifting the glass wide enough to fit the flight helmet through. Once that was done, the rest was easy, soon she had the crumpled up form wheezing beside her. Before Kilp could check on anything, she had to secure the glass back in place. Thankfully, one of the enforcers had arrived just in time to step on the glass and let it pop back into place. Kilp wasn't sure if his actions were intentional or he was an idiot who would have doomed her efforts. Quickly locking everything back in place, she unfastened the flight helmet and yanked it off.
A tangled mess of rusty red hair spilt out and a freckled face struggled to take deep breaths, despite the pain her body was in. Kilp waved at the enforcer to pick the woman up and carry her away. She followed, thankful he wasn't stopping where the VR crowd could ogle the beautiful woman on her first day. They went through the tube and into the staff break room where Kilp shooed everyone out, including the enforcer once he had put the woman down on the sofa. Kilp took some chems from the first aid kit, painkillers, tranquillizers, and something to keep the swelling away. Once administered, the woman was breathing normally and looked at Kilp in surprise.
“So,” Kilp started. “Welcome to the CubeSphere.”