The Fatal Engine

My hands were covered in blood again, but this time it was my own. And it was green.

“Mister Martin sends his regards, London,” the lady with the .45 shouted through the broken windows of the tea shop. “Says he would love to take you apart one piece at a time, but he can do it just as easy if you crash first.” Her partner followed up with a volley from his Uzi, tearing holes in the counter I was crouched behind, and the corpse of the waiter I’d used as a shield.

Martin. I thought I’d killed him, and his backups. I must have missed one. I had to get out of there and warn Thea.

The shop had a back door, but a quick scan told me it also had a half-dozen jacked-up Crazy Dragons in the way. I was caught between a gun and a knife place, and I’d already discharged my stunners.

I’d take my chances with the blades. My bionic left eye cast a green glow on the shards of pottery scattered over the floor. Glass crunched behind me as the hired guns advanced. Time’s up, I thought, launching myself at the swinging door to the kitchen.

Shots followed me in, and the Dragons flanking the door waited for them to stop before pouncing. The back door was ten paces away. I sidestepped one knife and grabbed a nearby kettle to parry another, splashing a third banger with the boiling water inside. Seven paces. A fourth banger got a face full of flame courtesy of the gas stove. Six paces.

I felt the skin of my left shoulder part, blood spraying onto the gold-papered wall. Then the guns were there, and I dove sideways, landing on the burning Dragon. The girl who’d sliced me took a slug to the gut, another to the chest, and suddenly I wasn’t the biggest piece of chum in the shark tank. The Dragons converged on Uzi-guy, distracting him just long enough for me to sprint out the back door, lady goon cursing like a spacer.

I fumbled with my com as I ran as fast as my modded legs could go toward the end of the alley. I had to reach Thea. If Martin was alive, then Operation: Snow Crash was still active. A massive, coordinated series of EMP strikes, designed to fry the circuits of any borgs in the capital, which was pretty much everyone, including me. And Thea.

I was almost to the street. My com buzzed as it called Thea, and on the sidewalk ahead I heard the first few notes of Ode to Joy. But that would mean…

I couldn’t stop quickly enough, barreling into the waiting arms of two goons with muscles like gorillas. And next to them, lips puckered like she’d French-kissed a lemon, stood Thea.

“Sorry I missed your call,” she said. “Bit busy tying up loose ends.”

I couldn’t speak. Thea. How could she? We’d been trying to bring Martin down for months. I’d left her this morning, sleeping and naked and beautiful, to finish the mission once and for all.

“Are you going to cry?” She laughed. “That would be swell. It’s nice to see you bleeding, but some waterworks would really ice the cake.”

That didn’t sound like Thea. “Martin, you son of a bitch,” I growled. “How long has Thea been a backup?”
“That’s my little secret, London. But did you really think Thea was going to screw you without some… Encouragement?”

My gut twisted. The goons dragged me toward a waiting van, and I rapidly considered my options. There was one more hit of nerve gas in my left boot, and I might be able to manage a quick shock if I could get my com close enough to–

“Take it easy,” Thea–no, Martin–said with a grin as he patted my bleeding shoulder. “Now that I’ve got you, we can finish what Thea started while you were sleeping.”

“What are you–” Inside the van, I glimpsed a mobile Proteus unit. No, I thought numbly. She couldn’t have. I would know…

“Time to reboot, London.” Martin watched the goons strap me in, struggling and slick with green. I searched her eyes for the tiniest spark of Thea in there, but I knew it was pointless.

“If I ever get restored–”

“Don’t worry, chief, you won’t.” The faceplate dropped and I got one last glimpse of my face, bionic eye glowing, human eye wide with terror. “But you’re going to love being me.”

* * * * *
For Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge for June 21.

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