new short story in progress
I tripped over my own feet coming to the gate; my body stopped to let the surveillance mast read my chip the same instant my mind remembered I didn’t need to do that anymore. Everything was faster these days. Smoothed into the NKPD Net. I’d probably been scanned and approved a hundred meters back. The pause was an old habit – the muscle memory from other summer nights a decade gone.
This stretch of wall had gone up in ’46 at the height of the water riots. It was a hot summer, a bad summer. Protestors had taken over the entire Shìchǎng district. The mayor’s council was worried the demonstrations would spread through the rest of the lower city, so the wall was constructed: a hundred-plus kilometers of interlocking ferro-crete slabs, five meters tall, topped with cameras and sonic turrets and loops of writhing live wire. Every secondary street was closed off and the main avenues sprouted checkpoints and steel gates overnight. The district went from street markets to triple max prison overnight. On top of that, half a dozen concealed access points were installed so undercover teams could outflank the barricades and conduct what officials called ‘containment operations’ to secure public safety and prevent civilian casualties.
Not that the protestors had killed anyone. Sure, there were the usual torched cars and smashed shop windows, but mostly it was regular line up of popular demagogues, opportunist celebrities, day-swarms of idealistic cause groupies all hitching a ride to the moral high-ground on the backs of thousands of sick, thirsty, low-tier workers and their families who couldn’t afford another rate hike for clean water.
This particular access opened into an alley at the south end of Shao-Bei Street. My squad had used it every night for three months to slip in and do things I’d rather forget. Back then, the neighborhood was all cheap noodles, puppet brothels, and pachinko parlors. Now it’s shops and micro-apartments, tea houses and boutique knock-offs. LNK’s version of gentrification.
I pulled the hinged slab shut behind me, felt a shudder as the bolts thunked back in place. The turrets and wire were long since removed but the alley looked the same. Less trash maybe. I wiped slime and grime off my fingers, shook off a clutch of ghosts, and was back in Shìchǎng.
The night was young so the passage was empty, which was good because I was running late and this put me five blocks closer to where I needed to be. Plus it let me bypass a serious bar fight, an in-progress robbery, and a full blown raid. The bar fight was just another drunken brawl, police drones were already on scene at the ramen stand, and the raid… the raid was an omnishambles presided over by Captain Lee himself.
None of them were my concern – there were no bodies – but the system would log me going through the perimeter, so I would need an explanation.
The bouncers would get the fight under control before it turned serious. It was highly unlikely someone would get killed in the ramen stand hold up. Fēng Niú, the local Red Pole, took a dim view of anyone messing with the revenue stream in his territory. Everyone in Sector Nine knew it and any junkie stupid enough to slot a shop owner would be dead before I ever chased them down. All I’d get was a courtesy email telling me where to find the body. So no real pressure there either.
The raid was a thing to avoid for a lot of reasons, most of all because it was nothing but dick swagger. Our fearless leader had requisitioned two tac-teams in a Norinco 6-wheeler to pay a visit to a new, gray market cyber-ware clinic. Lee’s official reason was the place might be a front for HK separatists. In reality, our district captain was killing two birds with one sledgehammer, intimidating a new business with a welcome wagon while reminding everyone on the street he was still a big kid in the neighborhood.
Hunu, one of my CIs, said the clinic was mostly legit, specializing in geisha-mods and copycat Faberge cyber limbs. That it was backed by the Macau Triad, no less. Then again, she insisted one of her regular johns was an alien from the Andromeda galaxy, so on the off chance she wasn’t full of shit and ‘Phoria, Captain Lee might lose serious face – and maybe a finger depending on who he pissed off. If not, he’d be a few thousand e-Yuan richer when the doctor paid the ‘licensing’ fee to operate in this part of Lower New Kowloon.
Maybe I’m thick, but it seemed to me twelve heavily armed ninja trolls backed by a Pacification droid was a bit over the top for a chop shop micro-surgeon and a pair of cloned nurses fresh out of Chiba City. A polite ‘meet and greet’ at the station would have sufficed. But what do I know? I’m just a homicide detective with just enough sense not to stick my hand in the middle of that mess. Either way, smart money said the clinic would reopen this time tomorrow.
The captain would grill me at roll call in the morning, but I had reasons – seven, bloody, dismembered ones – that would save me the worst of his scorn. Even he realized he needed to get ahead of this mess before the stink reached higher up the chain of command. Or worse, the newsfeeds got wind of it. Between the noxious election rhetoric, the latest SARS outbreak, and rumors of another hike in electric rates, tensions in the poorer districts of Lower New Kowloon were high enough. No need to add ‘serial killer panic’ to the mix.
I needed to get ahead of it too. Not to preserve my reputation – too late for that – but because it was my job and so far I had seven bodies, not a single, solid lead, and only a really bad idea on how to get one.
There was a chill on my neck. The wind off the South China Sea had finally reached under the Terrace. I cursed for forgetting my umbrella, turned up my collar and started down the alley.