Check out Part 1 here if you haven’t already, so that you can understand the story in its entirety. Hope you enjoy this piece as much as I did writing it!
Calen exited the underground and was greeted by air he’d learned to tolerate. A strong undertone of steel wafted wherever he went in the Sprawl, and that was when the occasional miasma—garbage, oils, human refuse—wasn’t among the blend.
The odour still assaulted his senses, even after having lived with it for so long. The more privileged would at least be able to seek refuge in their homes, because these homes often had filtered air-conditioners installed. For Calen, fresh air was never an option.
He made his way through Market Street, making sure to give a wide berth to stores with casters out front. The Wristjacks that every citizen had to have fused onto their hands were fully accessible by these shit cans.
It didn’t matter if you were on an urgent call, these things would force a hologram display out of your Wristjack, and you had to watch whatever that was being peddled. Fortunately, these things had a short range, so they were fairly easy to avoid. Still, the ads from other passers-by in range of the casters lit up the otherwise dark alleyway.
“Drink Ethon and speed through your day! The only energy drink to br—”
“Too much smog at home? Careway can help. No filter change nee—”
“Meet willing partners in your area, for when you want consens—”
Calen had thought of hacking his Wristjack once. But he hadn’t found someone good enough that’d leave him undetected. Get caught with a tinkered system and you were looking at harsh camp sentences, or even capital punishment.
There was talk about people in the Alliance with this set of skills, but he barely knew anyone other than his supplier, who was just a Sprawl rat himself.
Hacking would have to wait. He was just around the corner from the location his informant had sent him. Today was a good day indeed. He stepped off the street and was greeted by a lone figure convulsing on the ground. No Justicars, no other police presence, just one person gurgling.
As Calen approached the stranger, he’d get a glimpse of the latter’s malady. This skinny woman, with rags of cloth too big to fit her, had bulging veins all over her face and neck. Black veins. That could only mean one thing: a death sentence.
Calen rummaged through his jacket, fumbling through vials that clinked as he ran his fingers through them. He squat down beside the woman and tilted her head to the side, so that she’d be able to breathe through the white foam spilling out her mouth.
He pulled out a handful of vials, each glistening in different colours under the neon lights. Green. He was looking for green. He flicked through them in his palm, when one rogue piece rolled away and fell to the ground with a crack.
“Damn it! Shit!” That would’ve covered a month’s worth of groceries.
He continued sorting the mess in his hand and found what he was looking for. In one swipe, he yanked a miniature gun out of his jacket, loaded the vial into the chamber, and jabbed it into the stranger’s Wristjack.
It was mostly a prevention-based serum. One you’d take before facing capital punishment. Calen hoped that the manufacturer’s instructions were just for eventualities rather than fact.
“Please. Please work.” He held the woman’s cropped-cut head in his hands. Within seconds, the woman stopped trembling, and Calen let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
The glaze disappeared from the woman’s eyes, and she looked at Calen as if seeing him for the first time.
“I didn’t do it,” she said.
“Do what? Who did this to you?”
“Justicar… I didn’t touch no Justicar.”
A death sentence for touching a Justicar? Granted, it was a criminal offence, but it didn’t warrant a punishment this harsh.
“Don’t worry. You’re going to be fine. I just gave you—”
Her calm breaths reverted into gurgling, and every muscle in her body tensed, as if she was trying to win an arm-wrestling match. She grabbed Calen’s hand, muttered a few unrecognisable words, and sputtered blood all over his jacket. Then her eyes rolled back, and she was gone.
It wasn’t Calen’s first rodeo with death, but his other experiences were definitely less distressing. He pried his arm out of her surprisingly strong grip and just sat there for a moment.
Capital punishment in the streets? The usual MO was to take criminals back to headquarters, then impose death if they had to. What was becoming of the policing today? He swivelled his head to see if there were any Justicars—or worse, Enforcers—around. Still none.
Then self preservation took over. He’d just lost a substantial amount of funds for nothing. That would definitely set him back a bit. Calen needed a solid plan to get back on track, but before he could get into damage control, his Wristjack vibrated, tugging him back to reality.
That’s weird. Surely, the long-haired man on the mag-lev hasn’t started his symptoms yet. The caller ID was blank, so it was a crypto call. And Calen had used this number for just a week, so there were no other potential callers. He tapped ‘Private’, so that the call would go directly to his earpiece, instead of sounding out through his Wristjack’s speaker.
“I didn’t think you’d call so fast.”
“Uh… hello? I need to pass you something, mister.”
A child’s voice. When was the last time he’d seen a child?
“A friend. That’s what the lady told me to say.”
“How’d you get this number?”
“I can’t say, but I have to tell you this: ‘No good deed goes unpaid.'”
“This isn’t the time for games, kid.”
“I’m serious, mister. Please come to Ko Industrial Pier so I could pass you some stuff. Please? Or else I won’t get paid. I’m wearing a yellow—”
The line cut off. Figured. Calen didn’t even know children could afford cryptocalls. It certainly had been an interesting day. He was tens of chits short, and he was certainly in the mood to accept gifts.
Calen looked up Ko Industrial Pier on his Wristjack. On any other day, he wouldn’t even entertain the thought. But today, he was prepared to see how deep the rabbit hole went.
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