Nanoshock (SINless #2)
Being a mercenary isn't all it's cracked up to be. Especially when Riko's hard-won reputation has taken a hard dive into fucked. Now she's fair game for every Tom, Dick and Blow looking to score some cred.
In this city, credibility means everything -- there's no room for excuses. She still doesn't know what she did to screw up so badly, and chasing every gone-cold lead is only making it worse. Without help and losing ground fast, Riko has a choice: break every rule of the street on her search for answers... or die trying.
Due to necrotech interference (and the effects of longterm brain-meddling, i.e author's oversight), MetaCore, Inc's name shows up in first print physical copies as "MetaCorp, Inc"—which is rather too firmly on the nose.
The digital editions of this have been corrected, but I humbly ask readers to squint when they read "MetaCorp" and mentally translate it to "MetaCunts", as Riko intended.
More Riko for Your Face
You haven’t lived until you’ve fisted a nun under the cheap light of a neon Jesus.
With the material of her full-coverage habit shoved to her waist, back plastered to the gritty wall and vivid color streaking her sweaty, flushed face – goddamn, it’s an experience. Her filthy lips wrapped around words I think are forbidden in the usual Catholic vernacular.
I have serious authority issues. I like a willing pussy, especially when some other bastard stakes it as sanctified ground. There’s no way I’d pass it up when it’s offered so sweetly as this one was. Wrist-deep in wet flesh, pressing the sister’s shaking, writhing body against dank, humid-slick wall, I got off on making her beg as she rode my hand.
She came, too. But it wasn’t to Jesus.
The torn remains of her underwear drifted to the muck at her feet. I grinned as the nun gasped for breath, pleased with the cooling slick of spunk on my hand. Wiping it on the back of my black fatigues, I imagined the stuff would leave a crusty smear when it dried.
Perfect. It’d leave crispy little cumflakes all over my employer’s expensive desk when I sat on it. My little gift to him.
Grinning ear to ear, I left the sister dazed in my wake. If she noticed that her shaking knees fell open – revealing the wet, reddened flesh I’d so thoroughly schooled – she didn’t rectify it. A nice little send-off.
If I had a tie, I’d straighten it smugly before sauntering off into the depths of Trinity Square.
My views on religion notwithstanding, she was probably a real nun. I mean, assuming the Judeo-Christ figure masqueraded as a pimp on the side. The testicular gangrene that run this zone call themselves the Good Shepherds, and they’d taken that whole bow to God religious thing to the wrong sorts of extremes.
My bar isn’t exactly high, so if I’m calling it wrong, it’s six kinds of revolting.
Their district is a putrid little pustule forgotten by everyone but the junkies gargling their own vomit and the scavengers that feed on that sort of thing. People too poor and desperate to live outside the Shepherds’ care don’t necessarily make it here as come crawling out of the filth they spawn in. The sickos aren’t the worst.
Since most SINless worth an ounce of the junk we install in our bodies wouldn’t be caught dead in places like this, much less claim it, the Good Shepherds get the run of the place. Not that it deserved anyone better. Places like this need a good old-fashioned fire. What it had was mutated syphilis in the shape of egotistical babyfuckers – and a whole lot of love for spreading the gift.
The earpiece attached to the curve of my ear crackled. A less than subtle cough. “You done, Riko?”
“I’m done,” I replied cheerfully.
“That was disgusting.”
I chuckled. I’d done worse to better. And better to worse. “Don’t hate ’cause your porn subs don’t play.”
He choked. Not in the kind of laughter caught in a cough sound, but like he choked.
Poor delicate meatflower.
He deserved it. Thanks to his boss, I’d been tasked with strolling into Shepherd territory like it’s no big deal, all in the name of meeting a source claiming to have information I’d bet a dead dog’s dick didn’t exist. Nobody down here could possibly have anything worth knowing. It was that kind of place.
I don’t like wasting my time with useless errands. Too bad I didn’t have a choice. Jobs had been hard to come by since I’d lost my hard-won reputation, which wasn’t something I’d had to deal with for almost a decade. Ten years to build it, five months to break it. The past three weeks alone had been hell, and I needed to get my credits where I could.
Which explained why I was running a corp level errand with a corp level stick up my less-than-corp level ass. Or in this case, in my ear.
“Now that you’re back on task,” the operator said, clipped to the bone. “Maybe we can, I don’t know, work?”
Heh. “When’s the contact supposed to show?”
“Twenty minutes ago.” A little ice. A whole lot of effort to get back to level professionalism. “The contact point’s not far from your location.”
Back to wasting my time.
I strode back to the open street, determined to see this through. If nothing else, I’d get to gloat about it later. And by that nun’s holy vag, I would so gloat. I’d gloat my street level ass off, rub that gloat all over my employer’s desk.
Gloat and crusted nunjuice. I’m a benevolent motherfucker.
From cracked asphalt all the way up, hugging every wall and frame and rotting façade, virtual signboards and vids filled every available space. There were so many advertisements infecting the bandwidth that my filters could barely keep up; didn’t help most rolled on freqs a few years out of date. Meatspace lights lit up the rest in a haze, making it worse – the usual stuff in busted letters: flesh to wares, food to booze. A whole hell lot of religious iconery.
In short, a clusterfuck.
The fact I saw the bandwidth version of scabies torqued me on the regular. Normally, those of us without Security Identification Numbers invest in individualized tech – onboard apps to block the ads and bounce the bandwidth, optics with all sorts of special tricks; even our big-time tech gets scrubbed and reprogrammed to suit our personal needs. What blew my goat was that my chipset had gone cockrot sideways three weeks ago, and my mentor and personal streetdoc had tossed me out before I could get it overhauled. His cred, skyhigh compared to mine, would’ve dropped like a hungry twink on Ni-chrome’s Stud of the Year if he hadn’t. Cred wasn’t a one-runner thing, unless you chose to run solo. Most of us need support.
I’d lost mine.
It sucked. It sucked in so, so many ways. When I needed repairs and check-ups, all I had was a corporate doc on somebody else’s payroll. That meant filters that blow when it comes to shitholes no suit would ever go.
The least of my problems, I’d admit, but an aggravating one.
My jaw shifted. I hooked my thumbs in the loops of my belt, rolling my shoulders like it’d help shed the baggage.
Despite all advisement, I’d come down without anything heavier than a tactical jacket and a skinsuit to help regulate the cooler temperatures. One gun, a cheapie, was holstered in a stock rig under my jacket, and two serrated interceptors were sheathed at my hip and in my boot.
Just in case I had to get close and personal in somebody’s guts.
I didn’t expect to need anything more serious. My job on this glorious shitting day was to meet with a Trinity Square source about locally situated corp activity. And while I’d rather lick a hobo’s crusty balls than come back to this shithole, any job with the MetaCorp brand in its crosshairs got my attention. They’d been fucking me since I got out – didn’t even spot me dinner first. I didn’t like that. Didn’t know why they kept interfering in my business either, which pissed me off. Chasing them down, instead of the other way around, wasn’t turning out as easy as I’d figured.
Chasing them down here? No way. Nothing of importance happened in Trinity. Ever. Worthwhile activity in this shitzone made less sense than tits on a fire extinguisher. This wasn’t the kind of playground anybody worth dick played in, and especially not MetaCorp, whose capital chews up most corporations and craps them out again for funsies. There are only a handful of companies that could rival them, and not one of them would roll down here.
I grumbled under my breath.
The operator took that as cue to preach. “Now remember, the key here is tact.” He stressed the word. “We need the intel, and I’ve been warned about you.”
I snorted a laugh. Tact? Not even on a good day. I had a linker for that.
Well, used to have. Dammit.
“MetaCorp will be deep underground, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t eyes everywhere. Be ready to coax the source with the credspikes we sent you with.”
“Mm.” If I didn’t make off with them first. Punching the truth out of any source was my usual go to. Bribery is boring.
“We don’t expect resistance. The source asked for you by name, so negotiation should be–”
“Whoa, time the fuck out.” I stopped mid-step. An ad ghosted in front of my eyes – obedience to Our Lord’s sacred appetite brings joy! eat at Jacob’s Barbecue! – and flickered out. I tucked one finger behind my ear, where the comm clipped in. “The contact did what?”
“Asked for you by name. It’s a solid in.”
I gritted my teeth. I would have facepalmed, but my instinct was to do it with my left hand. Since that entire arm had been blown off and replaced with a nanofactory diamondsteel tech arm, I’d learned to be more careful. I hit too damn hard these days.
“By name,” I repeated. I almost shouted, but managed to zen it at the last second. I didn’t need to announce my presence to the zone at large. I took a deep breath. “Oh-kay.” I drew the word out. “They asked by name, and you didn’t think ambush?”
When I got nothing back, I flicked the earpiece hard enough to send a feedback loop through the signal. It screeched. The operator tore off his own headset by the sound, his curses muffled.
My fists clenched. Unclenched. I took a deep breath, the mingled odors of rot and putrescence slicing through my nose. It only sort of helped.
I’d adopted a mantra. One I’d learned at my mentor’s side. Lucky had pulled me off the street when I was barely out of the anglo res that didn’t want me; a genetic throwback to the mixed blood that happens in a spunkpot like this city. I came out not white enough. Not prettily designed enough. Even though she’d gone through all the right channels, recessive genes can roll out anyway.
My mother was horrified. My father, whose ancestral genes I’d inherited, didn’t care one way or the other. As in, at all. About anything.
I’d dicked out the moment I could. Got real, real lucky when a streetdoc named, ironically, Lucky scooped me up. Fucked if I know why, but he’d saved my life. Taught me how to run the street, how to be part of it – how to bend, maim and give better than I ever got instead of break.
Whenever I lost my shit, he’d stare at me with his sharp, no-bullshit stare. Zen it, he’d growl. If I didn’t listen, I’d eat the floor. Took me a long time to realize that zenning it meant pulling my head out of the emotional part of my ass; focusing on the moment instead of rage and what-ifs.
Hard stuff. I needed anger management apps. Preferably ones where some digital voice told me how great I was doing while I punched the piss out of somebody else.
I whirled in place, searching the gloom. Hard to see much between all the meatspace and bandwidth chaos. Not that anything would help it look better. Everything sagged in the Square, even the cross lit by a spotlight somewhere to the east. Too much smog and filth to see fully in any direction, which made a perfect setting for an ambush.
But by what? MetaCorp?
Too subtle. All they need to do is run a corp raid to get what they want. No law restricts corporate militia, and they hit the streets whenever they feel like it. There are thousands of obscure laws nobody’s heard of, and guaranteed everyone is breaking at least five at any given moment. Makes it easy to claim any number of violations and ignore probable cause. Discretion isn’t corporation credo.
It had to be something else. The last of my creds were very much on whoever my contact was supposed to be. A second player in this game?
A whistleblower from MetaCorp?
“Don’t,” the operator snapped when he’d settled again, “do that again,”
“Eat a dick,” I said tightly, squinting. “I need that kind of info before I go out. It changes everything.”
“You weren’t briefed?” A verbal shrug in his tone sent my heartrate skyrocketing into pissed. “Take it up with Mr Reed.”
“Mr Reed,” I snarled, “can go fuck himself.”
Again, he said nothing.
Which meant I was aware of a whole lot of nothing around me. A lot of silence and dark and cold and ratruns where anybody and anything could hide. Now I didn’t just feel like I wasted my time – I felt like bait.
Malik Reed lorded over the Mantis Industries branch that funded the freelance runs I’d signed on for. He was a corporate shark and gaping asshole extraordinaire, determined to ride my shit all the way to the ground. Different than MetaCorp, at least – he had a buzz up his dick about them too, which was the one place we aligned.
Sort of aligned.
He didn’t like hearing the word no as a rule. I relished saying it as often as possible – even though we both knew I needed the creds I wasn’t getting from street-level jobs. And if any SINless runners learned I was freelancing for Mantis, I’d have more bullets jammed up my ass than I could handle. Only suicidal mercs sign up on corporate payroll.
I wasn’t suicidal. Wasn’t a traitor, either. I just needed to clear my cred before it cracked down to the bone. Playing gofer for a fuckmeister of the highest degree had to suffice for now.
Hearing that some source on the street had gone through Mantis Industries intel to ask for me by name? Not good. I’d made damn sure Mantis had no red tape to tag me with. My business was privileged fucking information, and doubly fuck off were Reed’s irontight nondisclosures. Nobody had the guts to talk outside department lines. Far as I knew, not a single fixer had that info to sell. The only person I’d told was Indigo Koupra, and only because he’d been my linker – and closest thing I had to a friend – for six years.
Also, because I’d killed his sister.
Nanji’s death weighed on him so much more than it did me, and I only kind of felt guilty for that. Mostly, I felt guilty for not feeling guilty, which meant I overcompensated by feeding Indigo corporate intel when I had it. It wouldn’t make up for my part in it all, but I hoped it’d buy his silence long enough for me to fix whatever it was I’d broken.
I had an inkling. We both did. Rumor had it that I’d walked away with my girlfriend – Digo’s precious little sister – and convinced her to tech up so fast she’d converted.
We call it going necro; pus-filled monstrosities that occur when you hit your tech threshold – the amount of machinery your body and brain can handle – and then scream past it. Something happens, hypes up the processing until the tech takes over the computer that is the brain, reprograms nanos, kills the meat it infects, and then tries to splatter everything around it for shits and giggles. Necrotech.
The second path to mobile meatsack is nanoshock; a lesser form of tech corruption. Not a deal breaker, if you catch it early. Nanoshock can be halted, your nanos recalibrated. Let it go too long, implant with more than your body can assimilate, or get rolled too hard for your nanos to deal, and that fever turns terminal. Full on conversion.
It’s a smart merc’s greatest fear. Even I watch my integrations. Every human has a different threshold, and there’s no way to tell until you step over it.
Nanji hadn’t just stepped over it. She’d been pushed. I’d watched her convert down in the lab we’d both been imprisoned in. When I went back, intent on burning the motherfucking place to the ground, Indigo and I found evidence that I’d sold Nanjali and other established runners to corporate interests.
Interests that had claimed me, too.
I didn’t know. Couldn’t remember. Somewhere along the way, something in my brain broke; those memories were wiped out.
When I’d finally came to, I’d escaped.
Nanji didn’t. Her last words to me had been silent. I’m sorry.
Nothing else made it through before the overwhelming amount of tech installed in her spine finally shot her into braindead. Once the stuff had finished reprogramming her brain, Nanji was gone, leaving a corrupted system wearing her flesh like a dress.
My one regret was that I hadn’t put the bullet in her myself. I should have. Instead, I got nailed with the blame.
These were my problems. Nobody else gave a damn about anything else but the fact I’d turned my back on one of my own, and Indigo had every reason to doubt my innocence. He also had every reason to sell me out to the highest bidder.
The only thing that kept my shit in line right now was that I knew for a fact the Shepherds couldn’t possibly be the highest bidder. Or even the best resource for revenge. I’d messed with them once before. They’d jumped me and the unit of Kill Squad I was running with while we’d been hunting down some of our strays. The Shepherds had the numbers, but that was about it.
Ten years is a long time to hold a grudge. I wasn’t even part of the Squad anymore.
Besides, Mantis Industries and the Good Shepherds were as far apart on the social scale as an ocean and a drop of piss. Any crossover should have been impossible.
I fumed in silence, making my way to the designated meetup. The irritation that had filled my thoughts before now leaked into a puddle of nerves that pissed me off more.
Knowing what I’d just learned, I altered my approach to buckled down and fucking angry. When I made it to the right coords, no real light filtered past the crumbling edges of the bridge overhead. No sign of life, either. The place was wet, dark and freaking eerie. I rubbed my cold flesh hand against the back of my cold tech one. The damp in this pisshole was beginning to condense on the diamond steel, making it slick.
“What do you see?” asked the operator.
“Eat a dick.”
My jaw locked. “Nothing,” I said through my teeth. “Fucking pause.”
“Maybe they left when you didn’t show.”
“Maybe they left because your intel sucks,” I snapped. Not that I believed that. This was too much a setup to miss because of a few minutes. My lips tightened. In the optics wired into my left eye, I watched numbers spike when I fisted my tech hand. The shadow remnant of my missing arm didn’t hurt today, which meant the only feedback I got came through the implant that registered pressure, make up, and grip strength.
That was nice. It wouldn’t ache when I punched somebody. And oh, would I punch the living fuck out of somebody today.
We both fell into an uneasy silence. One in which I leaned my back against the farthest support wall and pretended like I wasn’t surveying my surroundings, feeling like a target with crosshairs locked on.
I didn’t have to wait long.