Calen often rode the mag-lev from the first station to the last. Today, he sat beside a patchwork of steel that resembled a humanoid. It stood motionless in its designated docking bay. A Justicar, it was called. Calen—as well as everyone else—knew them better as tinheads.
The thing finally jolted to life, something Calen was waiting for for hours now. That was his cue to earn some chits. He followed the robot as it thumped down the train. Mag-lev, he corrected himself. Trains were only a fragment of his dad’s old stories. Stories of when policing was still done by humans, with much more compassion.
A commotion in the third car promised Calen exactly what he’d hoped for. If all goes well, a suppressing would be in order.
He didn’t mean that in a bad way, of course. It broke his heart every time he saw someone go through entire phases of suppression. Benefitting from other people’s pain wasn’t what he’d hoped to do, but Calen had no choice.
The guilt does go away with every administration of the serum, even if his clients call him an extortionist along the way. Anything’s better than seeing his fellow man suffering the maximum pain a human body was designed to endure.
“Leave me alone, you fuckin’ tinheads!” said a scruffy man, his shoulder length hair swaying he turned from one Justicar to the other. “I shouldn’t be paying no fuckin’ full price for a ride. I have worker’s status, just like everyone else!”
These early-model Justicars weren’t as advanced as their modern counterparts. What was once the main force of policing has today become relegated to gutter work—small infractions and low-priority areas. Every time one of these things spoke, it seemed to require every bit of processing juice beforehand.
A long whir, then: “Please provide Wristjack for inspection.”
“Good. That’s right. Run the damn thing so you pieces of shit can leave me alone.” The stranger stuck out his wrist.
The Justicar extended its metal hand, out of which emerged a wand, a flood of green light shining wherever it waved. Green lasers bathed the stranger’s wrist.
Another whir. “Worker status… terminated. Tier-two infraction incurred. Penalty… suppression.”
The stranger’s eyes, framed by the hair stuck to his sweaty forehead and cheeks, widened so much that Calen was worried they’d pop right out.
“N-no. T-they said my pass would still be valid till I got home! Termination’s not official yet… I-I’m still a worker!” He yanked his hand from the Justicar, staggering backwards from his effort.
“Please cooperate… or harsher measures will be implemented.”
“No please! It’s Cycorp’s fault! Check their systems, they would know! They should know! O-or run the scan again!”
A tier-two infraction for just a little misdemeanour? Calen welcomed money in the bank, but this seemed a little much. Someone should look into reprogramming these tinheads. Slum-workers were still human after all.
“Please, no. I’ll pay. I’ll get the money. I’ll get it by the end of the week, please.”
“Please cooperate… this is your second warning.”
“C-c’mon. There’s no need for—ow!”
The light stick was replaced by a syringe, which was already sticking in the stranger’s Wristjack. A brief hiss punctuated the silence in the cabin. Those who hadn’t initially left the car were now starting evacuate. The stranger screamed, the squeals of the mag-lev an oddly apt backing track.
Having done its job, the Justicar backed away, pivoted, then clanked its way back to its docking bay. A little whimper followed the sound of steel doors closing behind it.
Calen looked at the stranger. He had a long two days ahead of him once the drugs kick in.
The man crouched, his fists tight, himself on the verge of hyperventilation.
“I can help you.”
The stranger turned around with a start.
Calen nodded at the man’s Wristjack. “I can help you with that.”
A sneer. Somehow, he still managed a sneer. “Whaddaya want?”
“You’re crazy. You’re all fuckin’ crazy. Three chits? I’ll sit through the entire suppression before I give you three fuckin’ chits.”
It was easy to tell how much to charge someone. First-time offenders paid the most, because they’ve yet to know the true meaning of pain. Had he been a repeat offender, he would’ve bargained at the sight of a dealer.
This guy didn’t know it yet, but he’d give Calen as many chits as he wanted—and more. He fished around in his jacket and produced a black card.
“For when you need me.”
“You even want me to pay for a cryptocall? Huh. What do you take me for? Hey, asshole! Where you going?”
Calen left the cabin and returned to blend into the rest of the crowd. He wasn’t proud of his vocation, but it was this or slaving away at the tinhead factory. That was an easy choice. He had to get into the big leagues once again, but that would require saving up for an EMP slug.
He had a taste of major pharmaceutical runs once, until he spent his only slug on Darlene. Calen still had no clue if it was the best decision he’s ever made. He hasn’t seen her since. It wouldn’t be half bad if she didn’t want to talk to him. But he’d be devastated if she couldn’t.
The only way to know for sure was to head on to New Central and see if he could find her again. Getting there would mean money. Lots of it. And the only way to get that much money was through upscaling his pharmaceutical operations again.
The mag-lev jerked to a halt and Calen got off at the stop. There was no need to continue riding the mag-lev today.
He strode through the tunnels, the metallic smells a stark reminder of where he was—the underbelly of the Sprawl. Surrounded by more tinheads than humans.
Maybe he should just move on. Forget about Darlene. Maybe getting to New Central was a terrible idea. Was living among humans really worth all the trouble? For all he knew, tinheads made better neighbours. They were always well-behaved and seldom caused a ruckus. Well, at least until they had to impose laws on you.
His Wristjack vibrated. Those thoughts would have to wait. Right then, he had another potential victim—or client, whichever way you wanted to put it—just three blocks away. A few chits at a time would have to do for now.
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