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The Last Chip from Greenwich


A novel by Julian M. Miles


Copyright 2018 Julian M. Miles

Smashwords Edition


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Smashwords Edition, License Notes:
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

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Contents

October 29th

October 30th

About the Author

Connect with Julian Miles

Other Books by Julian Miles

Credits


*****


October 29th


For whoever believes that great advancement and new

benefits make men forget old injuries is mistaken.”


- Niccolò Machiavelli,

The Prince’.


*


17:00


Cat


Through the city deeps stalks a stranger. He’s not from around here, and the eddies in the crowd show it. Dressing for the low-end is only part of it: you need to move like low-enders do. This one’s too easy in his stride and quietly paying far too much attention to his surroundings.

The humans and neohumans down here know their own, mainly because they see them every day. No-one who’s slipped this far down has anywhere else to go and those born here rarely get lucky enough to leave for good.

Cat Black watches him come toward her, and an icy intuition makes her realise it’s not just his passage through the crowds that made her notice him. He clocked her way back. She taps a staccato beat on the street sign she’s perched upon. A ripple of awareness spreads through the crowd.

He pauses as the ripple passes him. An elegant, geared-up Steyr APS flechette gun appears in his hand, the speed of his cross-draw emphasised by the crowd reacting late: his speed-of-light versus their speed-of-sound. All the proof she needs of him being a top-tier ultimate.

She front flips off the sign and lands without a splash, despite the centimetre of dirty water that’s a fact of life in the low-end. Basements in parts of Inner London south of the river are scum-laden pools infested by rats and worse these days.

He watches her land through the gap in the crowd that opens between them. At least a dozen folk reach for their datapads.

Cat straightens up, tail flicking in annoyance: “No see I, people. Walk on.”

They do. She saunters up to him, admiring the subtle armour weave in his clothing and the smooth way he disappears his gun.

“Mean times.” His voice is quiet.

She hears the inaudible-to-humans strain in his voice. This neoman has already been through a lot more than most could survive, and the sun’s barely set.

“Only after midnight.” The correct reply elicits a short nod.

He reaches under his coat with the hand that hadn’t held the gun. It reappears with a brown packet about the size of a fat datapack. He scans the area and then holds it out to her. As she takes it, his voice reaches her on the subrange only ultimates and animorphs can hear.

“A kilo of scandium metallic, in lieu of introduction and by way of payment.”

She grins and makes the pack disappear: “Task me, shadowjack.”

He smiles: “Something got stolen. Has to come through here because the usual routes are blocked. It’ll be moving person-to-person, possibly not always by choice. Need it found and any moves that’ll get it out of the low-end stalled. I’ll handle the retrieval.”

“Contact?”

Her TACnet receives a transmission.

“That’s direct.”

She parses the link and stares at him. Untiered can’t have implanted TACnets. While ultimates – who make up the majority of the tiered - have implants and access to secure TACnets for missions, none are allowed personal TAChubs, as the potential for ‘unexpected interactions’ – being able to hear and do things you shouldn’t – is too high. For this neoman to have his own implanted hub means he has backing at the highest level, and, on top of that, has probably proven himself dangerous enough to be classified as something like an entire team.

Add in what’s just occurred downriver, him being here, and how he moves, there’s only one answer: this is Reinhardt of MicaTech. She blinks and grins. He’s skinnier than the stories say.

He grins right back, having read her perfectly – or read her mind: “For this, the limitation is I can only be in one place at a time.”

“Which is why you need us.”

“Yes. Animorphs on home ground, the only advantage I have. I’ll follow the trail of wreckage. You work out and action an intercept.”

“What if we can pick up the prize?”

All semblance of warmth disappears from his voice: “It’s a little packet of doom, neolady. There are others on the hunt. Do not attract them.”

A warning like that from one such as him is all she needs. With a deprecating flick of her ears that he grins at - revealing a knowledge of earsign, and raising her opinion of him again - she parkours up the nearest wall and takes off like she has drones on her tail.



Reinhardt


He watches her go, admiring her speed and precision. ‘Shadowjack’. He hasn’t been called that in eleven years. Like him, that felimorph has worked for at least one corporate or government SLD – special logistics division – frequently a cover for nasty operations being run by cruel people to achieve undisclosed ends.

Still fast and sharp, she clearly hasn’t let any edges dull since her last war. Then again, he suspects, who around here has? Any neohumans who want to stay above water keep their game up. Going off-game means being taken by the predatory thugs or hate gangs who lurk in the shadows, both loathing all the more because they have to wait for a neo to be weak before they can overmatch one.

He sighs; doesn’t relax into it. Tonight’s opening move slaughtered those he worked amongst. They’d been targeted because the raiders needed to slow him down. Knowing he’d dedicate his initial efforts to saving lives, they’d placed two car bombs in the underground car park. One would’ve been grim. Detonating them minutes apart started a massacre.

Since they’d wanted him fouled up – or better still, dead - as well, they waited until rescue operations had started before using a truck bomb to bring the building down.

By the time the real reasons became clear, the thieves had made their getaway.


He’d thought the days of counting bodies after an attempt on his life were over. It didn’t matter that the attempt had been a side event. This time, those about him hadn’t even been aware of the risk his presence engendered.

His enhanced ears can still pick up the distant howl of sirens. They’re converging about the subterranean conflagration in what had been a secure R&D facility, which now lay under the debris-filled crater that had been MicaTech Greenwich.


Tonight, he has a piece of equipment to retrieve and strangers to kill. Without a backward glance, he heads deeper into the low-end.



Among Thieves


“It’s done.”

“Problems?”

“Delegate Two was absent.”

“Delegate One?”

“Decided to stay behind.”

“Delegate Three?”

“Was rescuing people.”

“Then proceed as agreed.”

“Understood.”

The line goes dead.

Gaz grins. Keeping his tone professional on the way out is always difficult, especially when he’s overseen a blinder. There’s a bloody great rush that comes with pulling off the impossible. MicaTech! They’d busted in and out without a hitch and brought the house down on the evidence. What a caper!

“We’re going to be famous!” Ritchie’s ebullient.

“Anonymously.” Even Sandra’s caught up in it.

“Left.” Rudi’s smiling, but still on mission.

Gaz indicates, and the traffic parts for what they think is a Tactical Response Group vehicle. He accelerates across two lanes of the old A2 and heads down a side road so grimy it reminds him of home. The fake TRG cruiser got them out of Greenwich and across Lewisham without any traffic delays, but it’s time to change vehicles.

Rudi leans forward and points: “Take a right there, then dogleg left. Should see our new toy to the left, parked on some waste ground.”

“What if it’s not there?”

Sandra fields that: “Easy, Ritchie. If there’s no transport on the plot we leg it separately.”

“Shirelle takes the case?”

Rudi looks up from his datapad: “All the way to wherever-the-fuck it’s going. No matter. Even if there’s no bonus, we’re already up a quarter-million apiece from the advance payment.”

“We splitting up anyway?”

Gaz grimaces. Ritchie always has to have the details repeated to him over and over.

“Only to skip the country. The heat from this one is going to turn into cold grudges. We sidestepped a slew of people and killed a sight more. Only jobs in warmer climes from now on.”

Only Gaz catches Rudi’s whisper: “Killed too many. Bad karma.”

The area of open ground ahead has a single, shiny feature.

Ritchie whoops: “Six-by-six! Nice.”

Gaz swings the cruiser through the gap in the fence and around the AMG, admiring his reflection in the smooth expanses of its door panels. Tasty bits of kit, him and that motor.

“Everybody out! Get your arses in gear! We’re out of here soon as.”

The low-pitched cyclic whine of a gravtac unit announces Shirelle wheeling into view on a motorcycle like they’ve never seen before.

Sandra runs over and gives her a hug while she’s still rolling: “Classy ride, girl.”

Shirelle’s smiling as she pops her faceplate: “Black Banshee, on loan from a friend. Thought I might need the grunt.”

Gaz shakes his head. Always careful, even in a profession that prided itself on making paranoids. He waits for the girls to finish their whispering chat, then waves Sandra back toward where Ritchie is fussing around in the car boot.

With a sigh, he steps out of Sandra’s way, then moves over to Shirelle. Here goes nothing. He extends the small, matte-black case toward her: “Here’s the holiday fund. Don’t lo-”

There’s a loud ‘boom’. His head turns to mist as something passes through it without slowing.

Shirelle grabs the falling case then recoils, misted in blood.

“Fuck!” Ritchie is lifting something from the boot of the cruiser when a missile sweeps in from the right, impales him, and spears on into the car.

Rudi flings himself flat as shrapnel from the exploding car tears into Sandra, throwing her back and down. A fast crawl gets him to the AMG. He hears the Black Banshee accelerate as he opens the driver’s door. There’s a sizzling sound and he hears Shirelle’s muffled scream. This is no time to panic. He slams the door and grins a little as he turns the key, switches the drive mode to ‘All’, and presses the accelerator to the floor.

Six wheels bite and the AMG surges forward, tyres spitting dirt. A muffled explosion turns the interior into an inferno. The hulk rolls a few metres with windows exploding from the heat, then comes to a standstill. Fuel cells vent violently, their expelled contents flaring briefly into roaring plumes of flame.

Nothing moves for a few minutes after the plumes die out, then a pair of big drones descend to take station above the two figures that emerge from a derelict shed on the far side of the plot. A tracked weapons platform rattles into view from under a spread of guelder rose, monolaser buckled and coilgun smoking. The figures, drones remaining above, move toward it as a figure in a shiny duster coat strides through a gap in the fence around the waste ground, giving the burning AMG a wide berth. He pauses to smash panels on the motorcycle until the case is revealed and retrieved.

He waves it toward them: “We’re done. Send the fliers to the safe house. The tank has to go.”

The two nod in eerie synchrony and depart in the same direction as the drones fly off in. The third lingers at the edge of the lot until he sees the tracked drone burst into white flames. With a swift nod, he spins on his heel and departs, pulling out a datapad.

The one-sided conversation fades out of earshot.

“Jimmy? You said you wanted in?”

“I’ve got a job needs doing sharpish. Pull it off and we’re solid.”



Saunders


Wine bottles litter the floor and a pyramid of beer cans rise up the wall from the top of the AV. The room is thick with a smoky fog replete with the odours of a night-long debauch.

The door slowly opens. After a short bout of coughing, a beautiful woman in a blue and green bhāntānlan steps into the room. She smiles, composes her features to be stern, then starts shouting.

“Heavens forfend, you will kill the cat! Open a window, damn your eyes. How could you do this with my baby in the room?”

Peatrie rolls over, slides sideways off Stella’s ample everything and lands on the floor with a moan.

“To hell with the cat, woman. It’s only a pet. What of him? He’s a hard-working man. Give him a break.”

“Not when you’re living off our generosity, he’s not! He’s a sot and a lecher and I will not tolerate it!”

Peatrie sits up, clear-eyed and grinning wickedly.

“You’re his wife! Sort him out yourself. I’m only his brother.”

Asha throws up her hands in disgust and storms out of the room.

Nigel peers cautiously over the back of the settee.

“She gone?”

“Give it a moment.”

The front door opens. Even from the hall, Asha’s voice is loud: “Tell your brother I’ve gone to mother’s! I’ll only be home after he’s cleaned up the mess and thrown his good-for-nothing sibling out.”

The front door slams so hard the ornaments rattle on the sideboard.

Peatrie lights a marijuana cigar, taking his time to get it evenly lit. That done, he points a fist with two fingers extended mock-menacingly toward the door.

“Good for nothing? Right charmer, your missus.”

A redhead with colourful tattoos on her upper arms stands up from behind one end of the settee, looking about while absentmindedly braiding her hair. She’s wearing Nigel’s tie as a belt for Stella’s camisole. Peatrie bursts out laughing.

“Shame on you, Nige. In your own house, too.”

Nigel stands up with a shrug, naked and indifferent: “We both went into the marriage as a business agreement. You do know that Asha’s mum lives in Kathmandu?”

Peatrie sputters: “What?”

“His name’s Rullio and he’s a weight lifter. She oils him. Amongst other things.”

He busts out laughing: “Nige, you mean she’s off banging a Bangalore beefcake while you’re doing the horizontal tango with a glittery stripper from Latvia?”

“Albania. I am burlesque dancer, not stripper.”

Peatrie ignores Nigel’s frantic gestures for him not to argue the point: “You take your clothes off for money. That’s stripping.”

“She naked again?” Stella’s sleepily-slurred words are suspiciously well-timed to prevent yet another argument.

“Hello, angel. No, she’s got yours and Nigel’s clobber on.”

Stella sits up and grins at her: “Noosha, you cheeky mare, get out of other people’s clothing.”

Noosha smiles and wiggles out of everything. Nigel beckons her closer.

A datapad rings, somewhere amidst the debris.

“Mine!” shouts Nigel.

“Here.” Stella passes it to him.

Deferring to his hangover, he doesn’t transfer the call to mindware, instead holding the datapad to his ear: “Saunders.”

He looks startled.

“Response is Camargue.”

His brow furrows.

“I was indisposed. Had a rough night. I’m intending to come into work later on and work through.”

Nigel goes white.

“Good God. I-I don’t know w-what-”

He starts shaking: “Yes. Yes. I’ll expect a call tomorrow afternoon. Thank you.”

“Nige?” Peatrie’s worried.

Nigel drops the datapad, swallows hard several times, then turns to look at his brother: “They blew up MicaTech.”

“What?”

“MicaTech. It’s gone. Hundreds dead. Including Levon.”

For an instant, Peatrie looks confused.

“Girls, things have changed. Fuck off. We’ll be in touch.”

“You cannot be speaki-”

“Yeah, he can, luv. Let’s go.”

After cutting Noosha’s outburst off before it starts, Stella potters about getting their stuff together. For the whole time it takes her and Noosha to get ready to leave, neither brother moves or says a thing. Finally, Stella gestures Noosha toward the door with her head, pats Peatrie on the shoulder, and follows. She closes the front door quietly behind her.

Nigel’s still white as a sheet, but it’s no longer shock: “What went wrong, Paul?”

Peatrie glares at his brother but lets the use of his real name go.

“I dunno. How bad is this?”

“Levon opened up to me, I came to you, you found our mystery buyer. I designed a quirky chip so it’d be difficult to read without the right gear, and you found the obscure bits to make it and the machine that Levon used to load it. Now, Levon’s dead, the machine’s destroyed, MicaTech Greenwich is a smoking crater, and the chip is missing. I don’t know, Paul. How fucking bad is this?”

Peatrie stares at Nigel for a full minute, choosing his response carefully because his brother is already stressed enough to swear.

He purses his lips: “Do you know what’s on the chip, Nige?”

“No.” Nigel lies. Something’s not right. How did Peatrie know Rullio was from Bangalore? Plus, Stella. Supposedly still drunk but sharp enough to twice distract Noosha without the girl noticing, because she was still drunk.

“Can you rebuild the device?”

“If you can get me those exotic bits again, yes.”

“Do you know the encryption key?”

“No.” Another lie.

“Would you say that you’re the only one who knows what was used to load the chip?”

“Yes. I made the bloody thing for Levon. That was the point, remember?”

“Then we have leverage. Go make some coffee, get some bin liners, and start clearing up while I make a call.”

Nigel throws some clothes on and heads for the kitchen. As he’s about to leave the room, Paul’s call connects.

“Georgio? It’s Peatrie. Got something you might be able to help with.”

After getting some sort of positive response, Peatrie glances over at Nigel standing listening and taps his datapad against the side of his head, transferring the conversation to mindware.

Nigel shrugs and wanders into the kitchen. Who the hell is Georgio?

A couple of minutes later, Peatrie comes in looking smug.

“Fuck the coffee and fuck the cleaning. Bacon butties with Turkish coffee and tsikoudia chasers at my place.”

“What?”

“The shit has royally hit the fan. As you’re likely the sole survivor from MicaTech’s Greenwich R&D facility, there’ll be a lot of people after you. One quick nosey through your financials will be enough for even the dumbest plod to decide you’re worth interviewing.”

Nigel can’t argue with the sentiment, although others will have survived.

“Why your place?”

“Because I’ve a couple of places. The one you’ve visited is my gaff for public viewing. Where we’re going is where I live.”

It’s become an educational day. So far, none of it good. Enlightening, possibly useful. Definitely not good.

“Give me a moment, I’ll grab some clothes.”

“Leave every device behind, unless it’s got stuff relating to the chip. Bring all of that. We can chuck it all in the burner at the shop.”

So, one of Paul’s places has a burner – street slang for a transmission-proofed incinerator. It fits with his new definition of what this likable rogue, low-rent fence, and party animal actually is: a career criminal who still – or is that only? – happens to be his brother.



Cherry


She gets the call around the same time everyone else does: officers down! As she’s one of tonight’s small Tactical Response Group presence in the low-end, it’s more than enough to justify an immediate roll-out, calling in to update Home on the way.

Parking her gyrocar across the road from the entrance to the waste ground, she’s surprised there aren’t more officers about. The fleet of Mangins - drones carrying various light sources – are illuminating a largely deserted crime scene.

A familiar, solidly built man with a greying handlebar moustache moves quickly to meet her: “Good evening, Officer Fasslin. Glad to have your input on this little mystery.”

“Happy to help, Chief. A mystery? I thought we’d officers down.”

“Gentleman who called it in thought so. Looks like it’s some of the mob who hit MicaTech getting their just desserts early. Somebody hit them. Take a look. Tell me what they got hit with.”

“Can I talk to the gentleman who called?”

“Yes. He’s over there, back to us, next to the pickup truck.”

Cherry walks slowly across the way, looking about as she does so. Rundown area, lots of room for drone ops and ambush points, no-one would be bothered even with explosions and vehicles burning. Not down here. So, how did this gent come to be in this part of town?

She pauses a couple of metres from the man, sees he’s dressed in mechanic’s overalls. The pickup has a sign on its door: ‘Dawson Motorcycles – Race Preparation and Custom Work a Speciality’.

“Good evening, sir. I’m Officer Cherry Fasslin of the Tactical Response Group. May I ask how you came to be here in the first place?”

He wipes his eyes and turns, revealing an older man who’s obviously been crying hard.

“Life monitor. Someone cut my daughter open with a blowtorch. Didn’t even steal the damn bike.”

Cherry waves him toward his pickup: “I presume you’re waiting for confirmation you can take the bike?”

He nods.

“I’ll look into that in a moment. First, please tell me everything you know about this situation, even if it seems trivial.”

The rapid breathing slows, as her demand gives him something to focus on apart from the loss. He takes three measured breaths, using the time to gather himself.

“Shirelle Dawson is – was - my stepdaughter. She loved bikes. Studied hard, got good grades, served in the last war, came home a decorated rider. After that, bonded courier work was easy to get. Kept the garage afloat a couple of times, I can tell you.

She stayed in touch with the friends she’d made in the services. Can’t say I took well to a couple of them, but I put up with it because they were her friends, not mine.”

“What did your wife make of them, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Oh, she passed just before the war. Cancer. Still think it was that what made Shirelle sign up.”

“I presume the friends you didn’t trust are mixed up in this?”

He grins, then looks ashamed for doing so: “I think you’ll find the friends I didn’t trust are mixed up in the wreckage.”

“Go on.”

“Last night, Shirelle came out to the shop. She rarely does that these days. Looked worried, too. When I asked her what was up, she said the good pair and the bad pair – our shorthand for her four closest friends from the service – were doing something today and she thought it was going to be something dangerous, possibly violent. Said they’d asked her to act as a bonded courier for them. Paid her twenty grand in advance! Made her sure there was something suspicious going on. Asked if I had an old race bike she could use, as the package wasn’t very big and she wanted proper getaway power under her. She’s never asked for my help since she got back, not with any riding stuff. What could I do? I gave her the Banshee.”

Cherry couldn’t hide her awe: “You have a Black Banshee?”

He grins, momentarily someplace better: “Serial E-0009. Picked it up from Vincent last Christmas. Nearly died five times on the way home, never had so much fun.”

She smiles: “Let me go and see what’s happening. In the meanwhile, could you give that officer over there all the details you can remember about the four friends. Make sure he notes which are the good pair and which the bad.”

A blowtorch? Cherry makes her way over to the coroner’s truck.

“Hello, Edward.”

“Officer Fasslin. These are definitely from your end of the shooting gallery.” Edward Dunden waves his hands over the five body bags racked on shelves in the back of the truck, his expression one of singularly inappropriate joy.

“I’ve got explosive dismemberment, high-temperature immolation followed by vehicular explosion, cut to pieces by shrapnel and subsequently driven over, beheaded by a projectile moving at freakish speeds, and, the pièce de résistance, torso opened like a block of cheese hit by a white-hot machete. That last one being the work of what I can only conclude was a combat laser. Given the severity of the injury, I’d venture it was one of those single shot jobbies.”

“Monolaser?”

“That’s it.”

Blowtorch. Well, damn.

Cherry thanks him and goes to look over the scene.

She’d spent weeks on specialised weapons courses after coming out of the army. Since then, the interest had been relegated to a hobby. Fancy weapons are not usually the tools of criminals, especially in this part of London. But, right now, her persistence pays off.

“TRG010 calling Home.”

“Go ahead, Ten.”

“This is a category four alert. I have a baby Soratnik, think it was a BAS19, mounting a monolaser and, wait for it, a single-shot Gauss rifle too. It’s slagged down, but you better alert the military. Also, please prep all three REX.”

“What on earth are you expecting to happen?”

“This unit was part of an ambush that took down the fake TRG team who levelled MicaTech just to cover their getaway. The Soratnik was left behind because it’s slow and difficult to disguise when moving. Which tells me they’re an on-foot or small vehicle operation and they didn’t have anything to carry it away in. Personally, I’d go with walking. Easier to move about down here. Either way, they still have at least one aerial drone of unknown type which is big enough to mount an anti-vehicle missile. We’re way beyond hobbyist here. Need any more?”

“No. Category four logged and confirmed at 17:49.”

“Oh, get the watch teams to keep an eye on the drone spotter and hobbyist sites. One or more low-flying metre-plus drones should have attracted attention, even if they were being cautious and staying inside the layer.”

“Will do. Home out.”

The drone layer is a feature of every city. It usually extends between fifty and a hundred metres off the ground. Outside the layer, smaller drones are liable to be swatted. Big drones usually get left alone because damaging them leads to uncomfortable discussions with law enforcement or groups with shorter tempers and bigger guns. Which is exactly the reason why some people pay attention to the comings and goings of big drones.

Cherry signs off and looks about. To her left, a small group stands about a fallen motorcycle. She shakes her head and moves their way. Boys and their fascination with toys. Even in the warzones of Europe, fancy tech always drew a crowd and invariably took precedence over trivia like personal safety and tactical considerations.

“Gentlemen, I think we can safely say it’s lovely, we can’t afford it, and maybe we should let the rider’s father have the terribly rare motorcycle back now?”

There’s some uncomfortable muttering before one of the constables speaks up.

“Three panels were smashed. SOC lead thinks we should be cautious and hold it until searched for contraband.”

She sighs. Today’s senior scenes-of-crime officer is a well-meaning idiot.

“Prints?”

“Mister John Dawson, Miss Shirelle Dawson, no-one else.”

She nods: “Fetch me the evidence bag full of panel pieces, one of you knows where it is. Let SOC know I’m releasing this Vincent Black Banshee to its owner, John Dawson.”

Cherry helps John wheel the bike up onto his pickup. She hands him the bag of panel bits and gives him Shirelle’s locket, which had been found some distance away from the body, its chain having been cut by the laser. It’s clean and of no evidential use but could help a father with his grief. John thanks her without looking at her, gets into the car and sits for a while before starting the engine.

As the pickup works through the extended three-point turn necessitated by the sheer number of haphazardly parked vehicles, Chief Eli Sams comes and stands beside Cherry.

“At least he got the bike back.”

“I think he’d rather it the other way round.”

“True. I hear you’ve alerted the military because of the type of hardware used. What’s your next move?”

“I’d like to say catching Shirelle’s killers while waiting for the military liaison to arrive. Much as I hate to admit it, Chief, I don’t think we’re going to have much time to investigate this before things start to escalate.”

The Chief rubs his moustache and sighs: “And I hate to say it, but I agree with you. Get back on patrol. Be ready. I haven’t felt this nervy about a night shift in twenty years.”



18:00


Laurence


In a darkened office, where the oak panelling hides computer-controlled noise suppression units to muffle every sound that could penetrate, a datapad lights up. The figure behind the desk brushes a wrist against it to transfer the call to his mindware.

“Carpenter.”

He sits motionless as the news that will consume most of tomorrow morning’s newsfeeds is delivered, including a few details that won’t make publication. One of them he isn’t expecting.

“Ambushed?”

The voice on the other end of the line confirms the unwelcome news.

Laurence takes a deep breath. His mental tone is crisp with controlled anger.

“Find it. Someone’s trying to be clever and the leading edge of this rogue domino show is now being pursued by Reinhardt. So, feel free to be as creative as you like if it speeds things along.”

The call ends and the figure stares into the darkness. After a while, he starts placing calls to restructure his investments. While remediation stalks the night-time streets, he needs to be sure that salvation in the event of failure is in place. After completing that, he pauses, then makes a final call to establish evacuation options, covering the unlikely event of things becoming irretrievable: “Book me onto tomorrow evening’s orbital to Rio. Prepare my shuttle for launch.”

He ends the call and smiles. A man who truly plans well should always have one to hand, no matter what eventuates.

There’s a knock at the door. An extremely heavy knock for him to have heard it. Which tells him who it is. He reaches back and presses the door release.

The figure outside has to turn sideways to enter. As it turns from profile to face-on, the light from the room behind disappears. A bass grumble of a voice speaks in Ket: “You called, my chief?

Without turning, Carpenter replies, fluently: “I have lost a package, Uri. The one from MicaTech I mentioned. Get my property back, Uri. Do make sure that those who have it, regret it.

It is done. Time be my witness.

The immense figure turns sideways and leaves. As the door closes, Laurence looks at the ceiling, where the negative loop of his last night with Tamela runs forever in slow-motion reverse. He watches her arching for a while, contemplating the problem of his huge ursimorph enforcer. Loyal to a fault. Already knows too much about too many questionable or illegal activities. In several cases, he’d been the one who performed them.

It’s time: tonight is simply one secret too far. Since he’s going to be roaming the streets attempting a task he’s entirely unsuited for – more importantly, away from the safety of this secure complex - it’s an opportunity not to be wasted.

He makes another call. When it connects, a hissing silence is all he hears.

“Uri Kazmykstov of Carpenter Holdings.”

He ends the call. The Denrin are so theatrically overblown, only their effectiveness saves them from ridicule: one call, one kill, then one sizeable payment - or the next kill will be the caller.

Smiling into the silenced shadows of his office, he watches Tamela fall up from the bed and smash her face onto his fist once again.



Double Dealing


“Tell Carpenter I have his chip.” Georgio ends the call and waits.

The return call comes within five minutes. Given the ancient voice distorter he’d scrounged up from a used tech stall in the Old Paradise Market, he can’t resist opening with the clichéd line: “I have something of yours.”

The reply is unexpected: “Five kilos of gold bullion. Cabul Road in Wandsworth, down by the Mews. Fifteen minutes. Otherwise you can deal with what’s coming after that on your own.”

Georgio Kala isn’t a fool, nor is he easily intimidated. His gut reaction is to push for more and be rude about it, too. His instinct makes him stick to the plan. His will makes him rein in his curiosity and say nothing about the hint of other threats on the hunt.

“I’ll be there.”


The Mews are lit sporadically by laughably named ‘safety lights’. Only luck and architecture resulted in those that survive being installed higher off the ground than their kin on the walls or under the arches nearby. All of those are obscured, smashed or missing.

Dicky’s slight figure leans on the railings of what the locals call ‘Swampy Walk’, engrossed with his brand-new datapad. The man has shown him a picture of the carrier, says the bloke’s name is Georgio. He told Dicky to meet the carrier here, told him what to say, and told him to bring the drop to him. He’ll be waiting in the taxi on the street across the tracks.

“Where’s Carpenter?”

Dicky jumps, nearly dropping the datapad. A tall geezer with wide shoulders emphasised by a shiny new duster stands a few metres away, water lapping at his tooled cowboy boots. He stares at him for a moment, then nods in satisfaction. This looks like Georgio.

“Said he don’t do direct. Said we’re covered, so don’t try anything stupid. Says that briefcase has what you want.”

The figure steps closer, pulls the case off the wall, rests it on his thigh, braces it between waist and railings, then opens it up. Dicky peeks in and feels dizzy. There are five bars of gold, each serial number side up, set in separate niches.

“S’good. Here.”

The man pulls a small black case from under his duster and tosses it toward Dicky.

Who catches it one-handed and sprints off under the arches, the splashes of his flight receding into the distance.

Georgio closes the case and smiles, then wanders off, pulling out his datapad as he goes.

“Jimmy? You’re up.”


Dicky legs it along the path, up the steps, over the gate, down the road, and up to the taxi. He smiles at the man.

“Got your package, Mister Carpenter.”

“Who?”

The driver grins, taking the sting out of the words. He extends his hand.

Dicky gives him the case. As he does so, he notices the name on the cabby’s ID plaque: ‘Elliot Michaels’.

He looks at the man, then back to the plaque. Same face.

The driver’s smile disappears.

“Shouldn’t have said that name, kid.”

Dicky tries to look back at him, but there’s a bloody great gun in the way.


Elliot watches the expression of surprise as the back of the kid’s head explodes. The fresh corpse lurches backwards and drops from view.

He makes the call.

“I have it.”

“If Auntie Sam verifies it, bring it to me.”

“If she doesn’t?”

“Call me, burn it, vanish. You’ll be paid anyway.”

“Understood. Thanks.”



Cherry


She looks over the footage again. It had come from a downed drone tangled in the hedge that lined the MicaTech perimeter fence, a sheer luck find by a borough police officer.

The carefully-anonymised drone had been sending a live feed somewhere by tightbeam. Unless the watchers were stupid enough to turn the receiver on again with the same encrypted transmit/receive module, they wouldn’t be found.

Surprisingly, the drone had also been recording everything it saw with a 30-minute retention. As every serial number, bar code, and digital ID on every component had been carefully erased, no-one could explain why it had a recording device, especially as it too had been anonymised.

In a little display window on her screen, she watches the fake TRG cruiser pass through both MicaTech security gates and disappear down the ramp into the underground car park. All three vehicle bombs had arrived earlier in the day. She sees Richard ‘Ritchie’ Glengarren – one of Mr. Dawson’s ‘bad pair’ - in the front passenger seat and Sandra Roe on the left in the back. Likely Gary ‘Gaz’ Masterton – the other half of the ‘bad pair’ and likely team leader - had been driving, with Rudi Cadwell sat next to Sandra. The time shown is 15:12.

For some reason, she fast forwards instead of clicking on to 15:24, as she has been doing. Even so, she almost misses it. A white flash; something familiar. She goes back. 15:15. A white gyrocar exits the underground car park. Freeze-and-zoom. The picture blurs but she can just make out a pattern: bands of silver and black triangles. That’s a TRG iC-9! It’s at the wrong angle to see the tag, but it’s definitely one of theirs. Nobody else drives iC-9s. They were specified by and made for the TRG: quad gyros, armour, runflats, and sports bike performance. You even had to qualify for Category LP on your licence before being allowed out on patrol in one.

Who is it? There are four hundred TRG officers stationed in London. Fifty of them are LP cleared. Cherry feels cold. One of her closest colleagues is compromised. With a heavy heart, she instructs the techs to send recorder and drone, along with copies of all investigative data, to DPS, and flag it as ‘critical’. She copies the Chief on the referral and sighs. Eli doesn’t need this on top of everything else.

Back to the playback. 15:24:50. With ten seconds to spare, the fake cruiser exits the car park. Sandra’s driving and Richard’s in the seat behind. It turns right, towards the drone, heading toward the visitor’s car park. She sees Gary in the front passenger seat, then the car passes from view. Seconds later, the image goes crazy, as debris propelled by the first blast hits the drone and sends it careening into the hedge.

Something else catches her eye. This time, finding it takes longer. Going through the video captured by the crashing drone at anywhere near normal speed gives her a headache.

There! A spilt-second clear shot of another drone, somewhere in the skies around the front of MicaTech. A sizeable six-rotor headless rig. She can see a – presumably air-to-surface - missile on a belly-mounted launcher. They should have sprayed it with the same ‘hazy sky’ colour they’d used on the rest of the drone. She might have missed it completely if they had.

“Hello, slayer of fake police cars.”

With a grin, she extracts the image and routes it to Home, where those who really know their military tech – far better than a hobbyist nut like her – will be able to identify it.


She’s about to head out on patrol again when a call catches her.

“Home to TRG010. Got an update for you.”

“Go for Ten.”

“That image you caught. There are two Sandrassin Rapace in the shot. The second is slightly above and about a hundred metres behind, nearly hidden by the one in front. It wasn’t carrying missiles at the time.”

“Missiles? As in more than one?”

“Both have twin-rack launchers on 360-degree rotation turntables. Guess they wanted to ease the load on the active platform as it’s only carrying a single Cirit IV air-to-surface missile.”

“Considerate of them. For pity’s sake, we’ve got a pair of Québécois weapons platforms wandering about with operators who obviously have lots of noisy toys to decorate them with. What next? Bloody cyborgs from Mars?”

“Careful what you wish for, Ten.”

“Wasn’t wishing, but point taken. Dear gods, kindly ignore my last smartarse question.”

“Amen to that. Home out.”

As soon as the call clears, a priority request cuts in.

“TRG010, secure from Chief Sams.”

“Go for Ten.”

“Any idea whose iC-9 that was?”

“Got nothing, Chief. Otherwise I’d have brought it to you first.”

“I guessed that was the case. The Directorate of Professional Standards are having a terribly polite shit fit over this. Think we have maybe a day, two at most, before all hell breaks loose.”

“Can’t be too soon. Makes me nervous.”

“Speaking of things that make you nervous, our military liaison will be joining us here sometime tomorrow morning.”

“It only makes me nervous because it took two months and a formal reprimand to stop the last one asking me out on dates.”

“I remember. Still have the surveillance video of you tossing him over a patrol cruiser.”

“The caution for that is still on my record. It always comes up during my psych reviews, too.” Good thing the Chief can’t see her grin. That stalker’s lucky he only got a little of what she’d intended.

“My sympathies. You ride safe, Cherry.”

“Will do, Chief. Ten out.”

Cherry grimaces as she jogs easily out to her gyrocar. What next?


A figure steps from concealment in the changing room Cherry had thought empty as she departed. He mutters into the shadows as he clears personal effects from his locker.

“Good job they didn’t get my tag. After all this time I’m going to be outed because the girl guide got lucky? Verdammt hure! I told those bastards letting a woman into the TRG was a stupid idea.”

The clearance progresses swiftly and silently until partway through closing his kitbag. He stops dead, his voice incredulous.

“And who the fuck had a drone watching the place?”



Intercept


Jimmy waits just inside the shadows of the alley. Outside, people bustle past with their heads down. Nobody makes eye contact with passers-by. Urban legends about viruses being zipped into your mindware by opti-flash keep everyone looking down. The real threat of eye-poppers seems to be less terrifying. He often thinks about that. To be brutally blinded worries most people less than having their data raped.

His musings are interrupted by the target wandering into view. The man moves with the furtiveness of a long-time resident in the low-end, but Jim knows how to tail a paranoid, being one himself, and having had a lot of practice.

For twenty minutes they wind their way through the sporadically lit markets and shanties of a London the tourists never see. They avoid groups of people engaged in whatever business causes their hostile stares and ignore the struggles in the darkness off the main drag, because to be curious is to be drawn to an uncertain fate.

Eventually, the man darts through a heavy awning that hangs down into the water. It’s a practiced move - the flash of light from within is gone nearly fast enough to make you think it had been cast by a passing aircar.

Jimmy stops to check his JANZ Casull. It’s been his sidekick and protector for too long for him to take it for granted.

Looking both ways and then up, he darts for the awning, levelling the gun as he slides within. The rent-a-thug sitting by the door to the premises takes one look at the size of the piece and rabbits out into the night. Jim grins. Cheap protection is always a waste of credit. He looks up at the hand-painted sign over the door: Auntie Sam’s. With a shrug, he kicks the door open and charges in.

His target is standing with his back to the door, peering at a screen held by a fat woman in a colourful kaftan. Both straighten when Jim storms in and sees the matte-black case lying open with wires running from within to the data interrogator that runs the display.

“That’s all I need, people. Unplug it and hand it over.”

The target comes around fast, drawing from a shoulder rig. The JANZ fires, its report deafening in the confined space. A crater appears in target’s face and the fat woman gets sprayed with bits of head, while a shot from the target’s gun goes into the floor.

The target goes back and down, his involuntary shot loosening his dying grip. The gun falls, ending up on the floor between his outstretched feet.

Jim kneels to retrieve the dropped Beretta Px9 without moving his aim from the fat woman. Standing slowly, he pockets the gun and smiles: “The gun’s good for me, you can have what’s left. Except that case.”

The woman pulls the wires from the case and snaps it shut, then slides it down the counter to him.

“It’s useless without a reader, tier-zero.”

Jimmy’s ego is too fragile to take even a mistaken putdown: “I know - and I ain’t no tiered.” He shoots her in the face. After she falls, he reaches over and grabs the scrip from behind the counter, before turning to search the target for valuables and spare clips for the Beretta. That done, he picks up the case. Stepping over the bodies, he exits through the back of the shop as faces start to peer in through the windows.

He smiles as he heads out. Easy money and any evidence soon to be trashed: the place will be stripped bare before the plod arrive.



19:00


Fox Run


Billie’s reminiscing again, waiting for someone to find something and tell her about it.


She’d been born with the one thing canimorphs loathe: russet fur. Being tailed and short with it, varieties of the ‘fox’ nickname had come easily to every chat-up line, insult, and insensitive query aimed at her since the playground.

Her golden-furred mum had sat her down one day when she came in from school crying. Taking Billie’s hands in hers, she’d crouched down to look her daughter right in the eyes: “You listen good, young lady. This fox thing is going to follow you about, so you can either shave yourself, dye yourself, or own it. If you don’t, it’ll own you and you’ll never be happy.”

Every animorph has two surnames. The official one is rarely used, apart from in ID chips and on memorials. Everybody chooses a street surname or has one inflicted on them by friends. The ones from enemies don’t have to count unless acclaimed by your friends.

Billie took what her mum said to heart. She became Billie Fox, working charm, tech-savviness, and slippery-fast fighting into her repertoire. Too short for any branch of the military, she became a runner. Everybody needs stuff delivered. Couriers and the Post Office only take cash or credit.

Runners do it for food, favours, and fun. She’d been all about that, until the day it got taken away -


“On the bounce!”

The stallholder ducks as Billie comes down the wall, off the bin behind him, and clean over his stall, landing a single foot so she can hop-spring over the fence outside the school. Kids wave as she weaves her way across the playground.

“Package for Mrs Tees!”

The door monitor holds up his hands to catch the packet.

Billie throws it, turns, and is off again without stopping. She loves this. The wind in her fur, the melange of good smells the low-end has in its drier areas: life is good.

All it takes is one moment of carelessness. She realises it as her legs come off. She’s used this cut-through three times in the last fortnight. Someone had noticed and rigged it for fast fox.

She lands hard, skidding and rolling to lie in a heap. Staying very still, she waits. Once chance is all she’ll get. Hopefully, before she bleeds out.

“Whoa, dude. Look at all the blood!”

“Still alive!”

“It’s the fox. Oh, man, we got the fox. We’re gonna get patched for sure.”

“You kids get all hot about becoming gang members if you like. I fancy some tail.”

“Me next!”

Here comes the winner.

“Let’s see what’s under the fancy pants, foxy.”

He rolls her over.

A bang stick is a crude weapon for point-blank, desperate use: just a paper-capped steel tube with a bag of screws and nails sitting on top of a shotgun cartridge. If the safety cap has been popped off, the striker triggers when the sealed end is slammed into the ground.

Like now.

The would-be rapist recoils but her shaky aim is good enough to take his arm off at the shoulder, tearing up his chest and face in the process. The rest of the pack scream and run as he falls without a sound. She passes out before she can staunch her bleeding.


Three years rehab. Two years counselling. One year in solitary. Six years for using an unlicensed, home-made, concealed firearm to kill the ‘young man with a bright future’ who took her legs. She’s always suspected the animorphs who came to her rescue made sure the attempted rapist didn’t get his day in court.

There had been four other incidents in the days following the attack. Three beatings and a castration/murder. The media had tried to ratchet up the ‘street war’ angle, but after those four, it all went quiet.

It always does when animorphs close ranks. No hate group is going to risk combat-experienced animorphs coming down on their people in retaliation. Worst still, some of the veterans are ultimates, or have friends who are. Those sorts of neohumans you don’t provoke. It’s always been a sure-fire recipe for ending up dead.


When her mother wheeled her out of prison, a lady from Bock Dynamics approached them. They were looking to extend their animorph augmentation technology into the civilian sector. Not only prosthetics, but full cyberware. Billie had been sceptical. Her mum had only been terrified of the cost.

Bock Dynamics said they’d sponsor Billie. A runner service would be good advertising. Billie suggested staffing the service entirely with prosthetically- or cybernetically-enabled people, including as many animorphs as labour equality statutes permitted.

Two of the best years of her life followed. Then Bock Dynamics ran into trouble and had to cut costs. The company sold several operations to a venture capital firm.

With a single notification email from some legal firm on behalf of a ‘Carpenter Holdings’, Billie’s funding disappeared. Apparently, it had been noticed that runners didn’t necessarily work for cash. Carpenter Holdings did. Therefore, they had decided to focus their community efforts in areas that might actually generate a profit.

As a gesture of goodwill, she could keep her cyberlegs.


That same night, a felimorph came calling with a proposition. Cat Black didn’t let good folk go to waste, animorph or otherwise. Billie’s operation would still run. Just out of sight, and only for purposes Cat approved of.


The hiss of a line opening for an incoming call breaks her reverie.

“Fox?”

“Hai.”

“Got armed goons searching Battersea Park. That makes three parks we’ve seen it happening in.”

Tonight, the low-end is being criss-crossed by her runners, all looking to prevent a package being delivered. It should be an amusing turnaround, but there’s something about this that makes it more worrying than funny.

“Move on, Spike. They’re contracted teams from various corporate interests making sure our targets can’t get onto green space for a rest, to go to earth, or meet air support big enough to escape on.”

“Lot of goons looking unhappy, Fox.”

“I bet they’re not all goons. There’re people amongst the antimorphs.”

“You can’t hear what they’re saying.”

“Wouldn’t you be swearing? A late night searching every dark bit in the parks down here? That’s got to be… Icky.”

“You got that right. Makes for some unhappy locals, too.”

“I’m sure everyone’s deserving. Especially if they’re wandering around with guns and a mission.”

“Ain’t that a truth? Ay, hang on.”

A minute or so passes while he takes an update from a companion, then he’s back on: “As if that wasn’t enough, Tailor just got word that Uri Bloodbath is on the prowl. On that cheerful note, Spike out.”


“Fox?”

“Hai.”

“Just checking in.”

“Cat! How’s the night shaping up?”

“Going to be a free-for-all. Get a warning out to our own and allies: stay off the streets and dig in. There will be at least one war before dawn, I’m sure of it.”

“Telling you Uri Bloodbath is in the neighbourhood doesn’t challenge that opinion at all, does it?”

“Nope. However, knowing that, I’m thinking the warning goes to all allies, whether they’re on this week’s approved list or not.”

“Now you’re worrying me.”

“Good. Being wary is all that’s going to get us through the night. Well, that and a ready claw or two.”

Billie grins.

“I’m on the warnings. You stay in one piece.”

“Intending to. Cat out.”



Ozzie


“Those kids are freaky.” Deadeye has never been one to let his obvious cybergear and tattoo-outlined scars stop him from denigrating someone else’s appearance.

Ozzie nods: “That they are, but they’re very good with it. Don’t risk, don’t miss. This one has to go down clean.”

“Clean?” Ollendorf is chuckling.

“What exactly is clean about taking out the whole block?” Dreyfuss is with him.

Ozzie raises a hand: “Those freaks happen to be hypertechs - tech-specialised tier-fours. You don’t survive as a hypertech unless you’re smarter than every bastard trying to kill you.” Which is usually anyone you don’t work for and can’t count as a friend.

“Thought hypertechs were urban legend.” Deadeye sounds curious.

Which is a worrying new feature. Best not to encourage that.

Ozzie grins nastily and slaps him on the back: “You pull this off, they will be.”

“Oho! Extinctifier in the house!” Clare pats Deadeyes head.

“Is that even a word?” Gordel, ever correcting.

“Hey, people.” Ozzie never shouts. He’s proud of that. Even with just about every combat operative using mindware these days, it’s surprising how many bad commanders shout.

The group turn their eyes, both human and cybernetic, toward him.

“These two exchanged parts on two cars so precisely that weight checks didn’t register the changes. They sealed the explosives so well, detectors didn’t find them. On the performance car, they distributed the payload evenly, so the handling remained balanced. They left both vehicles fully usable. Yet, they loaded so much explosive, the first took out the ground floor and the second cracked the sub-levels. They did this on two employees cars, in their owner’s garages, in a single night, without alerting anything or anyone. The Drone Twins are dangerous, precise players of the remote murder game. Not one up-close kill, yet they’re ahead of some of your kill tallies. So, for fuck’s sake, please do this the way we planned without any showboating or ‘dynamic refinements’.”

There are grins. Everyone nods.


One of the fun things about working for big companies is the amount of gear you can simply requisition and wander off with. No questions asked, no checks on whether the request is ‘on mission’. Just go shopping in whatever the company has in stock. On the other hand, getting stuff bought in always causes problems, so Ozzie and his crew have learned to take whatever they can that’ll sell to fund the stuff they need or fancy.

Carpenter Holdings, their current employer, is a venture capital company. Ozzie hadn’t been sure what they’d have, expecting a worse than usual scavenger hunt looking for saleable crap to cash in for decent gear.

As it turns out, they have stuff from every company they’ve ever bought, just lying about in storage. A day spent wandering through their enormous warehouse complex in Dartford had yielded some valuable stuff. They also found the means to end ‘freaky’ Eno and Mia Usinagi – better known as ‘the Drone Twins’ – without tipping the paranoid and deadly little darlings off.

The operation is using a hijacked satellite to do the eyes-only, hands-off targeting, and a hastily converted old Van Hool bus as the platform.

Where Carpenter Holdings acquired the experimental Rheinmetall rocket mortar from, Ozzie hadn’t the faintest idea. Nor did he care. Firing a slightly bigger than man-sized projectile, it’s meant to use a baseline charge so big he’s not convinced the damn thing will do anything bar explode in situ. Which would be a desirable after-effect - reducing any evidence left at a scene to the smallest possible fragments is always a good idea – but he’d rather the deed get done as planned. If this fails, the only recourse will be more direct, more dangerous, and less likely to succeed.


Ozzie leans in toward Deadeye: “We good?”

He doesn’t even flinch, not wanting to disturb the tricky connections on the headset that’s giving him a satellite’s eye view, delivered by tightbeam to the dish antenna on the opposite side of the building from the target.

“Confirm Delegate Four.” Clare’s moved higher up, spotting using a telescopic sight sans gun.

One of the twins has entered the building.

“Confirm Delegate Five.” Gordel, one floor down - line-of-sight for his outrageously powerful cybereyes – spots the other twin.

Ollendorf glances at Ozzie.

Ozzie nods.

“Ready ready.” Everyone tenses.

Ollendorf grins and shouts: “Fire in the sky!”

He squeezes the trigger grip on the transmitter unit.


Stavro grins. Just like cousin Abel said, a great big bus run out onto the waste ground by the Greendale Memorial Field. Any people aboard probably gone to East Dulwich station. Just the driver standing by the hole in the fence made by the bus. Waiting for someone?

He grins again as he makes out a ‘Van Hool’ plaque. The better the make, the bigger the money – especially with old ones. Maybe the driver’s waiting for a discrete man with a big rig tow truck?

Turning the truck round in the T-junction isn’t as easy as it should be. A driver in a tiny hybrid refuses to back up. After a lot of gesticulating - to indicate to the little car it can’t go in the direction it wants to until the big-rig gets out of the way - he’s able to complete the turn.

Driving back toward the bus, he’s running through what to say when he sees a car pulled up by the gap ahead. Where did that come from? Nothing came by before he turned, and certainly nothing got by while he was turning. Must have come up the road and U-turned.

He’s slowing when he sees the bus driver hastily getting into the car, which pulls away fast, tyres smoking. Strange people, these British.

As he comes to a stop, the world explodes. Windscreen and passenger-side windows fragment, forming the shrapnel that shreds his upper body, while the blast crushes him into the driver’s door as it topples his vehicle.



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