A few minutes later, Alexis and Ian returned to the main floor of Club Heavy with two injectors: one of Gold GYW and another of a supplement Froakie said would allegedly make sure ‘Natasha wouldn’t have to eat more than usual to keep her Gold-provided powers active. They left the dealer with almost two thousand dollars in old, paper currency.
What Froakie didn’t know was that more than a dozen of those bills were tagged with microdots that reacted to a specific radio frequency, making them passive homing devices to people with the right equipment—for example, a network of transceivers located all over the city originally meant to conduct astral transmissions.
“Let’s go to the bar.” Alexis said in Ian’s ear while pretending to nibble on it. They were crossing the dance floor. “It’ll look better if we’re still in the building—if, for example we need to use these identities again.”
Ian wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. “Good idea, baby.” He said both in and out of character was ‘Vlad’, “I need a drink after all the cash I just dropped.”
Together, they sidled up to the bar. Ian nodded to the bartender, a thin, pale man who was wearing a vest made of synthetic scales and no shirt. “Rum and coke.” He ordered, unsure of if that was something people ordered in the club scene, “and my girl wants an amaretto sour.”
The bartender gave him a dismissive look that suggested he’d picked wrong, but set to work making the drinks anyway.
Alexis bounced on her toes and squealed excitedly, clearly having fun with her role. “Oh m god, this is going to be so shiny! I’m gonna fly baby. Oh!” Her eyes widened and she started searching the pockets of her skirt for her palmtop. “I’ve gotta post this to Quintessence right now.”
While Ian waited for their drinks, she found her palmtop—a cheap device they picked up at the convenience store across from Freeland House. It wasn’t good for much more than surfing the internet and sending texts—it wasn’t even capable of making voice calls—and sent a message to an account Laurel had set up and ready.
Fifteen minutes later, Detective Rodgers came in with her badge in full view, hanging from a chain around her neck. All business, she went straight to the back of the club where the owner’s offices were located.
Most of the club-goers didn’t pay her any mind, and she had to force her way through a crush of dancing bodies on her way, but up on the balcony, Alexis, saw the woman on lookout take notice of Rodgers and disappear from her post.
“Looks like I’m not the only one that’s gonna take flight tonight.” She said in her’ Natasha’ voice. Then for effect, she giggled shrilly. “Did ya hear that, baby? I’m a poet an’ didn’t know it.”
Ian suppressed a laugh at how much she was hamming it up. “Oh really? Well maybe we better get outta here and get you in the air before they use it all up.”
She sipped her drink and gave him a saucy smile. “That sounds like a great idea, Vlad. Let’s go!” With that,s he once again grabbed his arm and dragged him from his seat at the bar.
“You were really enjoying yourself, weren’t you?” Ian asked as they hit the street again, walking in a random direction just in case someone was watching.
Alexis looped her arm in his and leaned into him. “Of course. I didn’t stop going because I didn’t like it, I just didn’t have time. It’s like flying: I forgot just how good it makes me feel.” Her eyes shone with light that wasn’t just the reflection of the streetlights, then dimmed as she thought about something more.
“I understand why people by that stuff—the Gold. Having powers isn’t just about what you can do; it’s about how it makes you feel. If I haven’t just happened to be born with the power to fly, I could see a younger me lying, cheating and stealing to pay for just one shot at that opportunity.
“It’s a dream, Ian. They’re selling these people something they dream about, but then it turns around and makes them sick. I bet some of them might think it was worth it even now.”
Ian pulled her closer. “Can’t say I disagree. If it wasn’t for how they got this stuff, I wouldn’t be opposed to a safe version being out there—even if you just know some idiots would use it for crime.”
Something about what he said made Alexis frown. “Just… like everyone we know that used the Gold so far. The kind of people who know how to get hooked up by guys like Froakie, maybe that makes sense… but Helen Chalmers attack us and the Housing Association members’ cars. Why?”
“Hmm…” said Ian, “It’s possible the Helen Chalmers isn’t your typical nice little old lady to begin with, and the HOA assholes did deserve it, but you’re right: it’s got to be a property of the Gold itself. Only that doesn’t make sense either. The whole reason we’re on to this whole thing is because everyone involved went on a bender with it. The healing version Shine used didn’t make her more crazy, so why make this designer superpower drug with a bonus of t instantly getting every user arrested?”
Alexis thought on that for a few moments, then shrugged. “There’s no point to it at all. There’s also no point in making it so they starve to death. If you’re a drug dealer, you want repeat customers—you don’t kill them. That ‘supplement’ Froakie sold us sounds like a hot fix for that problem so…”
She reached up behind her ear and switched on her ‘undercover’ comm, a bone-conduction mic and speaker concealed beneath a flesh-colored patch. “L, are you there?”
“Right here.” Laurel confirmed. “The plan worked perfectly: as soon as Detective Rodgers showed up, Froakie bolted with our nice big wad of bugged cash in hand. Looks like he went out the back and got in a car. I’ll let you know when he stops moving.”
“Actually, I think I have a better lead.” said Alexis, motioning for Ian to switch on his comm too and join the conversation. “Did you finished the chemical analysis of the Gold sample we got from the Chalmers’?”
Over the comm, they heard Laurel rolling her office chair over to another console. “Yes I did. It’s a bit technical to read out to you over the air though. What’s your lead?”
“We’re looking for something that messes with someone’s brain.”
“Right.” Alexis confirmed, pretty sure she’d heard that word used for what she was describing. “We were talking about how everyone we know who used the Gold became criminal and/or violent under the influence and I’m not so willing to buy that this is because people are inherently evil.”
Laurel began scanning the chemical readout. “Nothing here that would do that on its own but this compound is filled with various drugs: to keep the immune system from rejecting the retrovirus, to accelerate the process, and yes, at least a dozen neurochemcial agents, presumably to simulate the natural triggering of descendant powers so that you never get a ‘dud’ injection.”
“Nothing like I’m describing?” Alexis asked, crestfallen.
Staring at the various compounds, Laurel shook her head. “Not by themselves but… let me try something.”
“Like what?” asked Ian.
“Drug interactions.” replied the genius, fingers flying over her tablet screen and then the screen of the console in front of her. “An upstanding physician is going to be very careful about what he prescribes and run the patient’s entire drug history through the FDA Known Interactions Database. A street chemist with some talent thought? He might not even think of checking FDA-KID.”
Several minutes passed, with Ian and Alexis finding a bus stop to stand in and shelter from the chill breeze. Finally, Laurel came back. “Alex, you are a master detective. Taken together, these drugs can cause manic-depression, reduced inhibitions, and violent episodes. The FDA-KID says these might develop over weeks of use, but the Gold compound is designed to be metabolized rapidly.”
“You should probably let Doctor Chase know about that.” Ian pointed out.
“He might be interested in my next question too.” said Alexis. “What would you need to counter those effects?”
The smile was evident in Laurel’s voice. “Already ahead of you on that. You wouldn’t be able to prevent those side effects completely, but you could mitigate their effects with another battery of drug treatments. Considering the chemical soup the Gold already consists of, there’s a limited number of components you can use that won’t just make things worse. I’m compiling a list of medicines that might fit the bill now.”
“Great.” said Alexis, “Once you have the list, pass it on to Dr. Chase and have Detective Rodgers put the MPD on alert that someone might try to steal from local producers and distributors.”
“Done and done.” Laurel replied. “Hmm… the signal split.”
Alexis blinked. “What?”
“The money.” explained Laurel. “It looks like Froakie either spent from of the money we gave him, or handed some off. I’m getting two distinct signals: one inside the five hundred block of Chapel Drive and one moving east from the same location. Too fast for someone on foot, but not fast enough for a car or pod.”
“Bike messenger.” Ian guessed. “Froakie’s sending his supplier or boss their cut.” He inclined his head toward a nearby alley and asked Alexis, “Shall we?”
Joey Garth knew that the kind of things he ran back and forth across the city weren’t legal. He was pretty sure some of them were probably dangerous enough to put him in the hospital or the morgue if he didn’t handle them with the proper respect.
He didn’t care though; there was a reason he was paid ten times what a legit bike courier would make for the same route, and because the underworld of Mayfield knew him and his boss, he was allowed through territories where a normal courier might find himself beaten and robbed.
Breaking the law didn’t worry him. What was worrying him was how his boss what breaking some unwritten laws that might mean Joey’s guaranteed safety might not be so guaranteed for much longer.
For years, any real criminal enterprise ran through one man, the unknown, but all-powerful Master of the Mayfield Underworld. In the past couple of years, however, that started changing. Gangs were starting to act more independently, and a new mastermind was starting to creep in: Eduardo Vorran.
Now, for the first time, Vorran was making use of Joey’s bosses’ services and Joey was getting worried that the top dog of Mayfield might see that as a slight or political statement. It wasn’t unheard of in other cities for the foot soldier to be made examples off in those kinds of fights.
He was on one of those jobs that screamed ‘Vorran’ at the moment: the normal Mayfield pushers didn’t deal in cash; they were too well established and too high tech. The guy Joey had been sent to make the pick-up from, Froakie, was up from Atlanta, one of Vorran’s low level men with aspirations for carving out a new territory, and hadn’t blinked at the stacks of paper money he counted off.
Joey was blinking. The money in his bag made him feel like the biggest target on the planet was he pedaled his way through City Central. As he made his way to the drop-off destination, he didn’t realize just how much of a target he was.
“The building he’s going into is owned by Nimbus Health Services LLC.” Laurel reported through the comms. “It was a children’s clinic until earlier this year when NHS bought it, lock stock and barrel. They kept all the original equipment and paid for all their remaining medial stock, and yet never reopened the place. Looks like the water and power were never turned off though.”
“Can we say ‘front’?” Chaos asked.
“We certainly can.” said Darkness. “Anything we can give the MPD that they can use for a warrant?”
Laurel was quiet for a moment, then said: “Nothing. Since we didn’t actually see the money change hands, we can’t even connect Froakie here. The mayor and Detective Rodgers might not like it, this one is going to be all us.”
“Us?” asked Darkness.
“I’m on my way to do.” Laurel said. “If the Gold is being produced there, the data on how it was created and clues to where they got the genetic template might be there too, and I’m not going to miss a single byte of it.”
Trey Phan’s left forearm was split open along the center line from the back of his middle finger to his elbow, revealing the servos and computing nodes that controlled it and the embedded photosynthetic mass emitter in his palm. He was seating his newly minted targeting chip into the emitter’s control system when one of his assigned flunkies, Barr, came in with a manilla envelope.
“Just got payment from one of the pushers. And a note saying he’s out of TTK.”
Until he had the chip slotted, Trey ignored him, so Barr busied himself counting the bills. “He also sent word that he had to bug out early; some cop nosing around his place. Not a bad take for half a night though. This shit is gonna make you and the boss rich.”
Finally, the chip clicked into place, causing a confirmation to flash up in the Heads Up Display in Trey’s optical implant. He flexed muscles he no longer physically had and the compartment in his arm closed and sealed.
In the months since leaving Belle’s Interfacers he’d gotten himself extensive upgrades beyond the full replacement of his arm. Now he had a row of six biochemical regulators running in series from the nape of his neck to the base of his spine. Two more connected to his kidneys and the one that used to run directly into his heart was now integrated into a plate bolted into his sternum, where he’d mounted his power core. He still didn’t know how the core worked, only that it had been salvaged from technology stolen from Vincent Liedecker and the five individual crystals were each basically a battery with a finite output, but apparently infinite life.
With the core, he was able to run his cybernetic enhancements indefinitely, including keeping his muscles and organs constantly supplied with his homemade chemical supplements. He still looked like a skinny lab rat, but he was stronger, faster, and had better reflexes than any of the men his ‘boss’ sent to guard him.
And that was before he brought his offensive weapons to bear.
When his eyes landed on the stack of money in Barr’s hands, they set off numerous warnings in his HUD. ‘Unknown EM Field Detected.’
Trey leapt from his chair and snatched the money out of Barr’s hands. “Where did you get this?”
Confused, Barr temporarily forgot before replying. “Uh… the courier: Ryan’s guy. He made a deliver from one of the street guys.”
A series of lenses slid down out of a compartment above Trey’s eye socket and focused on the bills until he located one of the microdots. “This isn’t something the cops use…” he pondered.
Trey threw the bills to the floor, giving no thought for how they scattered. “Shut up and get downstairs. Tell everyone to get ready for visitors.” His eyes grew hard as he added, “And tell them to take their medicine.”
Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.
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