I stumbled down the alley in the predawn feeling the burning of my broken ribs. I lean against the wall of the building beside me and rest for a moment, looking up at the skyline. Between all the buildings I could see the barriers that held the atmosphere in our section of the city. The thought of those barriers made me cringe; I looked down to my watch and realized I only had about six hours left to stop what was coming. But no one wanted to believe me, in about six hours one of the barriers is coming down; a mix of explosives and old, faulty construction. The insurrectionists are planning a new uprising. But no one wants to believe that war is starting again, it's been twenty years since the last one ended; the insurrectionists were pacified, the colonies were purged of revolutionary thinking and the Terran Expeditiary Conglomerate was still in control of everything in three star systems. But things didn't change out there, once you leave the core worlds, things get grim; people are starving, jobs are scares, resources expensive, and medical supplies are almost nonexistent. The corporations keep the people out there oppressed; they keep them producing a high amount of raw resources to be shipped to the core worlds and receive almost nothing. In return the core worlds look the other way and go on with a higher standard of living, living off of the broken people of the rim worlds.
I stagger away from the wall and continue down the alley, pretty much my only friend in this city lives at the end, and I'm hoping he can help me out, or at least let me rest. Eugene was a friend from the war, although we only met after it had ended. I was just a petty officer on a Navel carrier orbiting Titan, he was a Recon Sniper on the surface. My job was communications, his was killing, he sent status updates every day, I received and responded. About a year after the war ended I took my retirement from the navy and about the same time he was discharged from the marines as an extraneous expenditure. And not just him, close to three thousand GeneMods were released into the worlds on permanent inactive duty without pay. We ended up at the same spaceport on Mars maybe a month after we were both discharged, his genetically amplified hearing recognized my voice as I was getting my documents cleared. He introduced himself and that was that, we became pretty fast friends.
I got to the end of the alley and knocked on the huge metal freight door that stood before me. A moment later it swung open and Eugene was standing in front of me, looking up at me quizzical with his huge brown eyes, small, toothless mouth, and round, featureless face. One of the strangest things about him is that he has no nose, his face looks boneless and shapeless. His light blue skin is mostly hidden by a hooded cloak and his old military jumpsuit, probably the only thing he has that fits him as clothes are not normally made for GeneMods, especially ones as strange as Eugene.
"And what do I owe this unexpected rendezvous to?" He spoke in his normal electronic monotone, his voice is actually created by a small device that is implanted in his throat. Without teeth or a tongue he can't actually speak, but the device does it for him, linked to the neural pathways of his brain, the speech center goes down to the small voice box making him sound like a drive through Chinese restaurant. I keep expecting him to ask if I want a spring roll with that. His attention shifted down to where I clutched my right side. "You are wounded, come in, let me set the bones for you." He steps out of the way and leads me into his empty warehouse. There is almost nothing in here past a large very solid looking metal storage unit, a futon mattress and small computer sitting on a small desk. There is no chair with the desk, and even if there was I'm not sure Eugene was actually tall enough to use it properly.
"Have you ever set a rib before?" I asked, wincing at the pain and sitting on the futon.
"Many times during the war," he said while pulling some supplied out of the desk. "Although usually it was setting them into a position similar to your current situation." He turned back to me with a face that looked so innocent that I find it hard to believe he killed as many people as he says. "Now take off your shirt and let me see."
"You always just want to get me naked don't you? You know I'm not into other men right?" I said jokingly while taking my shirt off and cringing at the exertion of lifting my arms above my head.
"That was funny maybe the first couple dozen times. You need to try harder; you know I don't have any genitalia." He gingerly examined the ribs on my right side, looking at the bruising and the strange shapes in my side. "Breath out slowly please." I did so and as I did he pressed into my back and the left side of my chest at the same time, sliding the broken bones pretty close the where they were originally. I'm not too proud to say it, I screamed like a little girl having her fingernails ripped off. A concept I hope never to have to actually experience. He placed several hard pieces of plastic onto my side and wrapped a lot of bandage around my torso. He patted me on the shoulder and said, "You should have been a GeneMod like me, our bones don't break."
"I like being human, thanks."
He looked sad, a feat for not actually having any facial features, "I'm human too, if you prick my skin, do I not bleed?" he asked.
"No, your skin is two centimeters thick."
"My genes only differ from yours by about two point five percent."
"And a monkey by only about one point eight percent."
He made a harrumphing sound that was the closest thing to actually speaking; he blew air out of his mouth and shaped it past his thin, almost useless lips. "Luckily our species is accepting."
"Right," I said, "which is why you live in an abandoned warehouse and have no job."
"And so kind of my only friend to remind me every day that I am a lesser human."
Now I felt bad, "You know that's not what I meant, I'm sorry," I hesitated for a second, "I just hate the world we live in."
"Then join the Insurrection." He paused dramatically and looked thoughtful, "Oh wait, we killed them all."
"You know your jokes might be better if you used a different voice, maybe something with emotion in it."
"That defeats the purpose of most of my jokes." He walked around to the other side of the desk and I heard something open, he pulled out a jar of sour crème and an unlabeled jar of what I knew to be bacon grease. He opened the jar of grease and breathed into it, heating is quickly with his incredibly hot breath, he then stirred in some of the sour crème and started drinking it. "You want some?" He asked while drinking, something no one with a normal voice could ever do.
I shook my head, "No, and I can't understand how you drink that stuff. Or even where you get bacon fat, that stuff is expensive."
"It's delicious, which you would know if you tried it. And I have connections to get it."
"And how do you pay for it? You haven't had a job since you got out."
"I have connections for that too." He finished drinking it and threw the jar into a box next to the desk. "So, you want to tell me why you're here? I'm pretty certain that it's not my award winning culinary endeavors."
"I need help, no one will believe me." He nodded under his hood for me to continue. "The insurrectionists are back, they are planning to take down one of the outer barriers."
He looked at me and for the first time I think I saw actual shock on his face, then it changed to something more gleeful, which is actually rather chilling to see. "That would mean a new war. War is good; it means I have gainful employment again."
"It means billions of people would die when the atmosphere escaped."
"You're crazy, it would be more like a couple hundred million, billions is way too much."
I blinked at him, stunned, "You would let millions of civilians die for a way back into the marines?" I asked after a pause.
He made a sound I can only assume is a sigh and reached back into whatever is on the other side of the desk and pulled out a bottle of some brown liquid. "Have a drink with me." He pulled two chipped glasses out and poured a couple fingers into each.
I took the one he offered me and we raised them in honor and both took a mouthful. The liquor tasted horrible. It may have had a brown caramel colour but it was in no way bourbon, it tasted like rubbing alcohol mixed with a little dirt. "That is the worst thing I ever tasted." I said, setting the glass onto the desk.
"Really?" he asked, "I quite like it, I mixed about two tablespoons of bacon grease into this whole bottle of ever-clear."
Gods, one hundred percent alcohol mixed with bacon fat; I felt my stomach churn at the thought. I shook my head to clear it, "I need help to stop them."
"Okay, what proof do you have? What do we do?"
"Well, that's sort of the problem; I don't actually have any proof, or know who is involved, or which barrier they are targeting. But I do know that it will happen at noon."
He looked at me with his big eyes, analyzing what I just said. "You don't have a who, where, or what, only a when?"
I nodded, "Yeah, will you help me?"
He made his sighing sound again, "I must be crazy." And walked over to the large metal locker and punched a code into the front. It opened up and I could see what was inside. Somehow it looked like he had gotten hold of all of his gear from when he was deployed. There were several types of rifles, side arms, and other devices I don't know what are. He pulled out a box and started piecing on his field combat armour, "Tell me what you do know."
"Well," I started, "You know I work at the records office right?" he nodded, I think, so I continued, "Well, about a month ago a guy came in and requested information on all of the barriers, construction blue prints, schematics, material compositions, inspection data. All of that information is considered public safety so it's available to anyone who requests it and bothers to fill out the paperwork."
I paused for a moment to make sure he was still listening; he nodded and motioned me impatiently to continue, "Well, to me it seemed odd, so I did some checking on this guy. Called in a favor with a friend at the CPD and found that the guy had been charged a bunch of times with arson, vandalism, and murder, but surprisingly he was always acquitted. He was trained as a demolitions expert by the Navy then discharged dishonorably for reckless disregard for human life. His file also said he held a grudge against TEC for the death of his sister while on a rim world." I paused for a moment, "Now what I'm thinking is that he hated the government enough that he sought out the insurrection and helped to develop this scheme to bring down one of the largest cities in the tri-system."
"Not bad, that's a lot more then you claimed, let's go talk to this guy." He said, pulling an assault rifle out and snapping charge-pack into the side of the stock.
"Well, that's kind of the other problem, I went to question him, found the front door of his place kicked in, he was dead on the floor and there were three men scooping up documents, and equipment. I heard one of them say that everything had to be finished by noon, that's when the fireworks were to start."
He clipped the rifle to a slot on his back and pulled out a folded sniper rifle. This one looked to use solid projectiles. Kinetic rounds are purely military, illegal to own, it makes sense that a recon sniper has one. "Well, you got a look at these men right? What did the criminal protection database say about them?"
"Well, I got a look at them alright, but only while they were kicking in my ribs and face, I don't remember what they looked like, or have a picture, or a name, or anything at all."
"Did you check the areas cameras?" He asked, somehow condescending in his monotone electric voice.
"Yes, because a records clerk with broken ribs has access to search the city CCC net work."
He shrugged, "I don't work for anyone and I have access." He walked over to the computer, punched a few keys and brought up the cities closed circuit camera network; he also brought up the CPD network.
I started looking for the men that beat me up while Eugene went back to checking and putting on his gear. "You know I had to call in a huge favor to get one guy looked up in the CPD, and you just happen to have access?"
"I have a connection," was all he said.
"Right, next you'll tell me you can get fresh strawberries and honey."
"Bottom shelf of the fridge, I'm probably not going to eat them."
I didn't believe him, they are a controlled commodity and way too expensive. I didn't really want to check because I didn't know what I would do if they were actually there. So I looked at the camera feeds. I found the three men pretty quickly and punched them into the database. It didn't turn up much, only one of them had a record, or at least looked enough like himself now for the system to identify him. The one I found was not that bad a guy, theft, assault, battery, breaking and entering, and a little vandalism. Grew up on the outer rim, came to Mars on a sports scholarship, the guy is apparently an all star climber. But he got thrown out of school for rigging the other teams climbing harnesses during a match, two men were paralyzed. His favorite hangout is local, only a couple blocks away. "We have a location, shall we go see if Mr..." I looked at the record again, "Chainy Valeza ... odd name, anyway, let's see if he wants to talk."
I transfer the file to my PDA and we walked to the bar that was listed. We find that the bar is as run down as the rest of the area we're in. The sign over to door, in fading electroluminescent paint, says 'Rim Water' in a script that went out of style at least ten years ago. "Alright," I said, "let's get in there and see if our man is there."
"You mean to say," he started, then reached up to his throat and changed his voice to something that is surprisingly similar to my own, "Eugene stay out here because that is a Rim Worlders bar and they hate GeneMods and you're armed to the mouth hole so you'll just make things worse anyway, so I'll go in alone." Then he looked at me in his innocent but patronizing way.
I cleared my throat and tried to look nonchalant, "Right, that's exactly what I meant." Eugene hunkered down next to a parked vehicle and waved me on. So I went in alone.
I opened the door and immediately felt out of place. I'm currently wearing a long coat and standard, untailored, and slightly bloody, business wear. Every other person in here is wearing working man's clothes, dirty, solid shirts, durable pants and shoes that look to have ceramite plates built into them. I have no doubt that the eight people here, possibly even the bar tender, were working in one of the factories or possible the ferrous mines last night. And everyone is looking at me. I try to ignore the gaze of the people and walk over to the bar, I order a beer and when the bar tender brings it over I pull out my PDA and the picture of Chainy, "You seen this guy anytime recently?" I ask, as cool and smooth as I can.
He looks at the photo then glances at the people at one of the tables behind me, I see him give a slight nod. "What's he to you?"
I had a feeling this wasn't going in my favor so I did what any good, honest person would do, I lied. "I'm an old friend of his, heard he liked to hang out here and wanted to drop in on him?" I turned in my seat to face everyone, "Anyone here seen my old friend Chainy around?"
Everyone stood up, glaring at me. I sensed motion behind me and before I could stand up I heard a bang and the bar tender screamed. Turning to see what had happened, someone yelled, "Get the prot!" and they jumped me. I had a brief view of the bar tender holding the bloody stump where his right hand used to be. Then the seven men were holding me down, beating me. I tried to push them off and kept trying to tell them I was not a protectorate, but they just kept hitting me anyway.
Then the door blew open and Eugene was standing there holding the assault rifle. "Nobody move." He said in his monotone way, and I saw a new look to his face, one of stern disregard for human life. Of course when you tell people to not move, it only works for a brief second before they process what they see. And what they saw was a blue man only 137 centimeters tall holding a gun that was very illegal to own. Most people hate GeneMods because they are so different, Rim Worlders hate them because they are a symbol of oppression, a symbol of everything wrong in our worlds. And that hatred threw these men, that were already high on adrenaline, into a frenzy. They stopped beating me and jumped the couple meters at Eugene, who promptly started shooting.
Two of the men barely started moving before they hit the ground with burns in their torsos, but the other five made it to him. One of them managed to knock the weapon down where it scorched the floor. Eugene sidestepped a bit and flipped the gun, using the butt to smack the man in the face hard enough to make him pass out. He spun around and kicked another in the chest, that man went flying through a table, groaning and holding his chest, it look like he was having trouble breathing. There was more fast movement and I really couldn't see what was happening; I think I was starting to black out. Everything was really blurry.
I opened my eyes to find myself still lying in the floor, Eugene standing over me shaking his head. "You passed out, got a bit of a concussion I would guess. You really are bad at fighting."
"I'm almost fifty years old, of course I'm bad at fighting. How long was I out?" I asked, my mouth feeling like it was wrapped in gauze.
"A couple hours, I didn't want to move you, and I didn't think calling a hospital was a great idea either."
"Yeah, especially since you killed those men." I said sitting up and looking around.
"Killed? Are you insane, do you know what they would do to a GeneMod that committed murder? No, everyone here is fine." He looked over his shoulder and said in a slightly louder voice, "Right guys? Where all just friends here?
There was a series of groans as I looked around Eugene to see all eight men zip tied to chairs. "What happened? I saw you shoot those men..." I trailed off, my head felt like I was still being punched in the skull.
"Stun riffle, shoots high charge EM pulses, causes some burning but nothing that won't heal."
I look at the bar tender who was missing his right hand. "And him?"
"He had a gun, I saved you're life," he looked contemplative, "twice actually, huh, I should keep score, this could be fun."
The bartender yelled out, "It wasn't no gun, you gods forsaken gene freak!"
"Well, I thought he had a gun, spec-optics aren't perfect. When I was outside, I saw you through the wall, you had your back to him, and he raised something that looked like a gun from under the counter, so I shot his hand." He paused for a second, "I actually had to aim for your head to account for the drift the wall would cause to the slug."
I looked at him in surprise, "What if the wall hadn't done what you thought it would?" It was a little hard to breath, which really hurt with broken and freshly reorganized ribs.
"But it did, so why argue."
"What. If. It. Didn't." I asked again, slow and purposeful.
"Then you would be dead and I would probably feel really silly about over estimating the wall. But it all worked out, so don't worry about it." He reached into a small pouch on his belt and pulled something out, "Here, suck on this."
I took the thing that looked like candy from him and put it in my mouth, "I'm not sure candy is what I need, maybe a doctor isn't a bad idea."
"It's a pain killer, we used them in the corps anytime one of us got wounded." He looked thoughtful for a moment, "You know those are designed for our increased metabolism, try to eat it slowly."
The candy was definitely working, I could barely feel my ribs anymore and my head felt like I was just smacking it against a cloth wall instead of ceramite. Why would a wall be made out of cloth?
I shook my head to clear some of the haze of the drugs and concussion and stood up, slowly. "You learn anything from them?"
"Only that they are all part of the insurrection, none of them are really talking."
I walked over to the men, "Where are the bombs planted?" They all stayed quiet. I picked up a leg from the broken table. I asked again, "Which barrier are the bombs planted on?" No one said anything, so I started on the man on my left; I swung the table leg into his ribs so heard I heard cracks. He screamed. My chest started burning again from the exertion, but only as a background sensation, the painkillers are numbing me a lot. I moved to the second man, and said, "I'm not a Protectorate, I don't have to follow the 'code of ethics' that they do. I was trained by the navy, we want results, we don't care about the cost." I paused in front of the second person, "What do you know about the bombs?" he spat at me, so I cracked the leg against his knee cap, there was a sickening crack and the man screamed. I stepped up to the third, "Do I have to repeat myself?"
"We ain't sayin' nothin' to you." So I cracked him in the shoulder. He managed to grit his teeth and only let out a low groan. So I hit him again in the ribs. Everyone should know what broken ribs feel like.
I stepped up to the fourth person, and before I could even open my mouth, "At the freight docks, there's a storage container, that's all I know. East side, big blue thing, hard to miss. Please don't hit me." He was almost sobbing.
"Alright. Eugene can you stun them all?"
"Sure thing." And he fired around me, it's a little unnerving but the man is an amazing shot.
I picked up the phone behind the bar and called emergency services, I told the dispatcher to send an ambulance and some prots to pick up eight insurrection sympathizers. And we left the bar.
"So, we need to walk all the way to the east side of the freight docks." Eugene said.
"Why don't we just call a shuttle?" He looked up at me, patronizing me, "Right, you're blue and carrying lots of guns. See, I'm learning."
"You take a shuttle, I'll meet you there in an hour, I can run faster without you."
I looked at him like he was joking, "It's a forty-five minute drive there, and you think you can run there in an hour?"
He spread his arms as to show off his physique, "These awesome reverse joint knees and this impressive runner's body aren't just for show and catching the ladies." I don't think that he has ever been on a date, or been with a woman, not that he needs to be, he was designed to not actually need companionship. But he is still human at the core which is why he still needs friends.
Eugene ran off at a full sprint; I have to give it to him, the guy is fast, really fast. I walked over to the corner and hit a call panel for a shuttle. A couple minutes later one pulled up in front of me and I got in. The shuttle was not extremely new, but not in terrible shape either. There were dents and dings in it, the gleaming white paint scratched in spots, but it is clean, which is more than I can say about a lot of shuttles. "East entrance of the freight docs please." The valet pulled out and we started heading on our way.