Part IX

They were planning in a way that she was not privy to. From the smirks and grimaces she was sure that some of it was about Painter's lack of clothes and herself. She was sure that it was over some radio link, probably encrypted to just beyond the point of paranoia. They were planning and she was sitting as her future was decided for her.

It was time to make a decision.

"Where will I get a gun?"

They stopped planning.


"A gun. And a shooting range. I will learn how to use one."

They all looked at her cautiously. Underneath was the uncertainty. "I know you understand what we use weapons for. You will want to rethink this." Tiny and Whitehot were almost nodding.

"I have thought about this. I'm going out now. You can help me or you can stay here."

There was a moment of silence before Whitehot looked over and said, "No Harold, you can't shoot them."

Tiny accompanied her through the daytime city with a dance of a stride. The dance slid people aside smoothly. Cleanly. Effortlessly. It was a rhythm that people saw and understood instinctively. There was the raw primal violence coupled with the polished edge of chrome and circuitry and biologicals that could only be glimpsed. She thought 'so much the better.'

Streets were lost before her as they traveled in what could have been circles or squares or stars. She took note of the people as they passed. The street vendor with a little fan to blow the smell of his seasoned soy-base dogs. The razor gang jivin' to each other. The little girl with a stained paper bag from some store she couldn't even step into reorganizing the groceries within. The courier dodging cars and pedestrians alike as she peddled with some corporate package wrapped in red candy-cane shipping tape. She thought she could smell the pungent odor of synthetic-mud construction, but discovered it only a memory. For just a moment she saw a bulky angular shadow start to step from just past a window well, but it shrank back as Tiny switched to that side. She shook off the shiver when it groaned from a side kick that didn't break Tiny's dance.

Then they were there.

'Well, somewhere,' she thought when Tiny opened the door for her.

The place was clean, neat. The smell of oil and steel roamed about to surprise her when she least expected it. A man with a handspan-beard carefully inspected a piece of wood before taking a long shaving off with a knife. He sat on a backless steel stool that gave the definite impression of having been chromed too many times. It was a slow moment before his inspections carved another sliver. The sliver fell behind the olde maple tongue-and-groove counter and into a galvanized pail. She could see his toes flex in grayed tennis shoes. This became a tensing in legs behind black corduroys and shoulders behind faded denims. Taking an emery board, he turned over the pail and sighted along the length of what she realized was a rifle stock. The finest curve of his hand caused powder to flow down from the stock to the pail... each and every granule. He did this thrice before laying the stock on a pink hand towel. He nodded as he ran his fingers over the surface. She wasn't sure that he knew they were there until he turned to her.

"Hon', wahatta donin' hangin' 'bout this serry excuze fer a chummer?"

"I'z tolz h'r therez zomeone uglierz th'n me an' she hadda zee fer herzelf."

"Tiny! Ya ta good now ta be seein' the likez a me? Wher' ya been boy!"

 Tiny shruged in a way earthquakes do. "Herez, therez, 'bout ya know. Doin' tha bodyguard gig no'."

"Rheally? Howz da' goin'?"

Tiny motioned over at her. "Shez still 'live."

He peered closely at her. "Th'n why she here?"

"She wanz a gun."

She had to help him get up off the floor, but he was still laughing.

Gabriel (Tiny finally introduced them) had watched for several minutes as he had her move about, pretend to fire her finger, and wave her hands back and forth. He went over to a locked metal chest and removed a pistol and two clips. "Lady'z Zpecial here. I'z a custom job I m'de tha hada be returned. Should beh abou' yer style. Clip lhoads li' dis." He draged through the motions of ejecting and loading a clip then had her do it. Grabbing a box of bullets, he lead them to a firing range in back. There he proceeded to show her how to use it.

"Na' ba' fer a greenhorn."

The pistol was nestled against her chest and bounced lightly as they went along. Tiny occasionally had to nudge her, reminding her to walk normally. After a while he didn't have to remind her so much.

It was odd at first -- the feeling of the weight bouncing against her side. Gabriel had helped her adjust it as much as possible, but she wasn't too comfortable topless with him, so the final adjustments were left to her. Painter's bulky shirts concealed the holster well enough for casual eyes, but she'd have to make some adjustments to wear anything more form fitting.

The weight was becoming more familiar. She pressed an arm against her side to press the pistol against her. Wiping something from the corner of her eye masked the motion. Tiny's eyes frowned at her from the merest corner, but she ignored it. The puff of air from underneath the shirt smelled of leather and oil and powder and nothing unpleasant.

She had to admit that she liked it.

He was there, rummaging in the fridge, rather muscular albino skin in just a pair of cutoff blackened jeans and what might have been the remnants of a shirt. He bent low over at the waist like some acrobat to get a good view of the bottom drawer only to give her a good view of his backside. She found herself looking down on her tippy-toes when a large, mobile mass backed into her. The floor, as she discovered, was harder than it looked.

Tiny was apologetic as Painter lent her a hand-up. Painter turned about just before she elbowed Tiny hard enough that he actually felt it. Whitehot was off in his own little computer generated world and ignored it all.

There was The Dead Man next to him.

He had looked vaguely like the corpse, which is why the corpse was chosen and certainly why it was burned. Now he looked very much like the corpse, probably down to the dental records. By now they may have even replaced deep-DNA records, possibly even tweaking the parents and grandparents DNA records if they went back that far. The government may only check the DNA of the individual, but corporations had been known to check the parents as well to make sure the child could have been born of the parents. To look at this man raised from the dead was unnerving in a way she hadn't expected. It wasn't the resemblance that got her as she had been warned about that. It was the edges of scars that she saw, or thought she saw, as she looked away. Probably, she told herself, it was just the 'trode-net and the lighting playing tricks.

This was The Dead Man just as she was Tammy, or Tam for short. They hadn't been introduced and to look at him she was pretty sure she didn't want to be introduced to him. Where Whitehot slid into an uncomforting glazed over mask as he went about his work, The Dead Man generated a look that was poised and hungry. It was not the Edge of Tiny's walk or Painter's maniacal driving. It was the look of someone who had gone past that finest of lines and managed to survive -- at least physically.

She turned on the tap to let it run a moment before getting a glass of water. It hissed a bit as she found a green plastic glass with a melted indentation that looked like a thumbprint, probably from some solvent when Painter was working on Maria. She waited for the bubbles to clear before taking a drink. It was a bit metallic, but not bad for an apartment above a garage on the outskirts of the downtown sector.

There was a package on the bed in Painter's room. It was tied up in rice paper using linen string  more for carrying than to hold the paper on. She flipped over the tag to read a little calligraphy "Tam." The paper felt delicate in her hands as she gently pulled one way then the next until the entire wrapping undid itself before her. Inside were clothes that looked her size. Closing the door and setting the glass down on the night stand, she stripped down and sat upon the bed, ruining the eerily smooth surface that would have been Painter's doing.

Four sets of clothing, and all of their combinations, lay before her. Three pairs of long white tube socks and one black, two pairs of blue jeans (one of which was black), one pair of khaki semi-casual pants, one wrap-around dark navy-blue skirt, an ivory long-sleeve shirt in a renaissance style, one long-sleeve maroon knit, one hunters green sweatshirt, one sleeveless black body suit, four each bras, panties, boxers... all off-white. She sighed and risigned herself to give them an 'A' for effort.

She tried on the various combinations and was not entirely displeased. The sizes were close enough for the moment, though it was not clothing she would have necessarily chosen for herself. It felt good to have clean clothes that she didn't have to borrow anymore. Tammy selected the blue blue-jeans and ivory shirt for now, adjusting the holster to fit better underneath.

After a knock at the door, she opened it to find Painter there with his eyes shut. "Closing your eyes doesn't really make a difference, does it?"

"Well, no."

"I'm dressed. You can open them. Thanks, by the way." She turned to go in only to hear a low whistle from behind her. Whirling the evil eye about she caught a glimpse of Tiny sneaking away and Painter trying to suppress a smile. Painter took his arm from behind his back to reveal a jacket which he handed to her.

"I forgot to leave this as well. Should hide that pistol. a little better."

It was suede leather died a rich mahogany and lined with fleece. She brought it up to her face and smelled it. It had the new-leather smell that reminded her of a new car. Running her fingers inside then out she could feel the softness of the suede and fleece and the stiffness of the bullet-proof mesh underneath.

It was that moment that Tiny hurled himself into the doorway, catching the frame to stop himself. "Whitehot zayz we got some vizoterz."

She had to ask. "What kind of visitors?"

Tiny gave her both a delighted grin and a serious frown at the same time. "Ze unwelcomed kind."

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