Part VII

She remembered the depression. The impact of it under her hand stayed with her long after they landed. Bouncing along in Maria, she flexed her hand back against the tips of her fingers. After clearing away matted yellow stuffing, she had found a hole. Lines of discolored wrinkles marked where the metal had fatigued under the blow.

Painter swore as Maria hit a pothole. She saw the ditch of a sinkhole behind them in the right-side mirror that Painter let her adjust "'cause he didn't need it." She glanced behind them where Tiny and Whitehot rode behind them. The setting sun sprayed oranges and reds across the glistening waxed surface and deepened the blotchy artificial rust.

She tapped Painter on the shoulder to ask him to lower the window. He opened one eye and yawned as the window dropped down. The warm wind had the faint edge of salt water to it. The heavy air surrounded without opressing. It had the dense feel to it that gave her the impression that she could just lean back and let it carry her off to someplace entirely friendly and happy and simple and far too unreal.

In a few moments, the steadyness of her breath gave testiment that it had.

A crayon orange sky drifted hacky white clouds outlined in black. He had dropped down at the top of the ridge some time back. For a moment he considered how long he had been there. He glanced at the neon red chronometer in the corner of his visor. The time had rolled over. It had been a while.

The darkness of purple had crept into the sky from behind. With the five red dots, he didn't bother to switch to low-light, not that it would help. Each dot, tagged with a darker red set of numbers, moved across the landscape in randomized patterns of fast and slow. He knew the patterns. He'd designed them.

"Picking up sensor sweeps." The dots shitfed then halted, the signals dropping off as quickly as they returned after an "all clear." The place was quiet. If there were birds here, they did not sing. Only a few crows squacked about. It was disturbing.

A bird's-eye of the area narrowed down to the area around a yellow dot labled Alpha. The canopy of green obscured the buildings from view. He overlayed thermal and local sensor information. There they were, in the cartoonish computer generated sense of it all. "OK, give me a go, no-go."





They were right there. "Post, go no-go, you copy? Post?" He felt someone grab him. "Painter!"

He screamed.

He was screaming, but then again, so was she. Tiny was shouting something over weapon fire. Someone was knocking on Maria's systems. It felt like Whitehot. He took a look about. He decided. . . this was not good.

"I've got control." He had to shout over the thumping.

"'Bout friggin time!"

"You better be strapped in." He got a good grip on the induction pad and started sending commands through the palm-interface and activated the redundancy pickups in the seat. This was not a time to take chances. Painter's eyes got that insane tint as he looked over to Tam. "They should feel blessed. It's not every day you frag with millitary shit."

Whitehot's car started to whine a bit as he eased the flywheels online. Satelight overlay entered his vision as Whitehot scammed satelite imagry. He quickly anylized it. Eight heavy bikes, and three armored cars were attempting to maneuver them towards... too many industrial buildings for sensors. "Give me more of what's at one-thirty." The image shifted a bit. One bike skidded as Tiny capped the driver. One fixed rotor, probably command post, and... "They got a tank. Chopper's probably command post see what you can do brace for five-fourty."

"What's a..." She was cut off by Maria surging forward and left, pinning a bike and driver into a building. The bike looked like it survived. The driver did not. At the same time, Tiny and Whitehot slowed a bit then started a flat spin. The headlights flipped down , revealing four-inch tubes. The dual mechanical air-horns in the back kicked in, sending shockwaves towards the remaining bikers and cars. Five drivers lost control of their bikes as windshields ruptured from sound waves, sending broken glass into the driver's faces. One car wasn't able to avoid the soundwaves and had it's windshield shattered. Tiny managed to get a shot off and dropped the driver. Tiny and Whitehot had a good view of the last biker as they straitened out, going in reverse. The biker tumbled over the roof and onto the hood as he figured the little car could haul as fast in reverse as in forward.

One car decided to try Painter's maneuver with the bike on Maria, but only managed to nudge her into the wall. Unable to push off, Painter turned into the wall , catching the left front on it and whipping the back end about. Slamming into the car sideways prevented Maria from flipping over. A deafening snap resounded as the car's rear axil sheered, sending the car flipping away.

Off in the at one-thirty, a ball of fire erupted. Whitehot chuckled.

"Can't find the third car. You got 'em?"

Whitehot sounded pleased. "It tried to regroup with the tank. The chopper started leaking fuel and just dropped on the car."

"What's up with the tank?"

"Bookin' it."

"Keep an eye out. Care to check the wreckage, Tiny?"

She could hear the wide, toothy grin. "I'z hop'n ya'd ask."

They had told her to wait in Maria. Now she wished she had listened.

They stareted pulling over at a 'last stop' gas station. "Another bucket?" Tiny wasn't happy.

"Can it." She didn't hear the rest of the conversation.

The attendant was some semi-retired woman half asleep over a deck of cards. She startled as Tam knocked on the bullet-proof glass. "Restroom?"

The woman woke up enough to slide the key across through the glass to her. "Right around the corner, hun." Tammy was dry-heaving before she could unlock the door.

She nealt there before the dirt encusted toilet. Idly, she felt the chip-roughed surface as her hands gripped the remains of a seat. As the last few chunks of what could have been breakfast last week plunked into the blue-stained water she tried to concentrate on the moist smell of the cleaner. It went strait to her stomach, but it was better than the memory of the images floating about her head.

"Never trust anyone who can kill so casually that they might be buttering bread."


Painter may have had his eyes shut, but she knew he was watching her. In a way he was too much Maria. "Something Padre told me. It sounded better when he said it, but then again he always said it in Italian." She thought he was half smiling. "Told that to me the first time I saw. Used the scope on that ol' hunting rifle he passed down to me to target in the mortar fire. First volley took out both towers and just inside the gate. Had to come in from the sides to pull that one off. We landed those shells damn well -- clean friggin' frags, all of them. Sniped anyone else soon as they put a clean shot out. Done and over deal.

"The cargo took two to lift and I was too small at the time, so I held the door and kept watch. I got to stand there and see real up close what I thought I saw in the scope. There was the smell of powder and the heat residue from the inferno rounds. Some of the body bits had caught fire.

"Mortar blasts get real nasty." He wasn't smiling anymore.

The landscape shifted in an abrupt line between scrub and the level green green only possible in geneticly tinkered grass. First came the houses, then the townhouses, then the appartment complexes, and finally the office buildings and industrial complexes -- all of it white, sky blue, beige, tinted glass, and industrial steel. Tammy had lived her entire life amoung clones of this corporate town, its buildings owned by the corporation that everyone worked for, one way or another. "Which corp?"

Painter had donned an outrageously out of date tie-dyed shirt and shredded shorts. At some point he managed to instant-tan himself into a fairly convincing brownish hue while she slept. With the bleached bushing of his hair he looked like a beach-bum wanna-be. "Meraci. Mean anything to you?" She shook her head. "Meraci is one of the Big Boys, though few enough know it. They own rather impressive chunks of many international and at least two interglobal companies. Anything they want to get into they buy up bits of little by little until they own it. Some corps have teams of lawyers and console cowboys to keep tabs on Meraci."

"So what are we doing here?"

"Checking up on those two wilsons that got too friendly with you."

"That decker?"

"Yea, him."

 "Tiny says you're going to kill him."

Painter pursed his lips into a tight, colorless frown. "Tiny talks too much. Look," Painter shifted the subject like thumping into a lower gear, "when we do this you stay with Whitehot. No Ifs, No Ands, No Buts. Those boys aren't your run-of-the-mill rent-a-cop. These are corp rent-a-pigs. They may not be brilliant, but they are lethal."

"They're not carrying non-leathal?..."

He shook his head. "Never have, never will."


"Illegal?" He snorted. "It's only illegal if you get caught. 'One-horse' town like this noone's going to notice. Wouldn't be suprized if they had mil-grade drek in there. Feds ain't gonna be sittin' up and takin' notice either. Best if you stay with Maria and Whitehot." He flipped a switch. "You two ready to go?"

There was a snapping sound she was beginning to recognize as a clip slammed into an assault rifle... Tiny's assault rifle. "Gelz lockhed and loaded." That might have been a curse.


"Gel rounds. Strait stun damage, though enough of that will kill. Ares will tell you they manufacture to tightest tolerances and that's just not possible. Anyone whose done riot control can testify otherwise." Maria slowed to a stop. There was one building in what might have been the middle of nowhere. The door popped open. "Time to rock."

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