Micro Manage Part IV

Most parts of New Cluster were more awake after dark and the lower regions south of the hub were no exception. Dregs wondered, too afraid of the vulnerability sleep brings to stop moving. Criminals of every sort prowled. Working women were passed by gangs of Bangers and thugs less organized.
A hundred scents mixed in their nostrils, the majority foul. New Cluster had long since let its streetlights go to rot and darkness reigned supreme. In this city, the people thought they had the choice of embracing the darkness or running scared. Talon had made a third choice.
He was the gray.

Talon

Talon

Moving through the masses like a ghost, he thought back to his plan. Sure it was not the most original of ideas, since Talon had learned more from movies than his limited education, but he was still hoping it would work. He remembered what Micro had said to Talon, when he had shaved off most of Micro’s hair. Talon had just left him a mohawk, like his own, for fun.
While Talon had glued the hair to his head, Micro had asked him, “so what do you think dressing up like me is going to do? Do you think you are going to fight your way through all of them?”
“Heh, I’m much more of a scamperer. Besides, what do you have to lose?”
“Plenty, if that program doesn’t reach the X.”

Micro

Micro

A group of hunting Rips snapped him back to the present. Without thinking, Talon ducked behind a group of homeless kids. After giving them all his change so they would not narc him out, he continued on his way. As he drew closer to the meeting spot, the Rip patrols grew thicker. They were always in groups of five. Perhaps that is as high as they could count, he thought with an internal smirk.
What did the X think about all this, he wondered, as he hopped over a low fence? The other gang must see all of these Rips around. He was half surprised that they were not attacking each other or keeping an eye out for Micro. “Maybe they don’t want your little toys as much as you thought,” he whispered to himself, while checking on the disc lying in his pocket for the seventh time.
He was trying to stay casual and keep loose, but a tightness ruled him. His hands clenched and unclenched. He was constantly wiping them clean of the sweat that was gathering there. Shaking his head, he tried to clear his stray thoughts and remain focused. One mistake, one piece of bad luck, and he could easily go down tonight. The Rips had no love for him and after the attack he made on them last night Ax might have removed his protection completely. If they got their hands on him, it would be all over… save for the pain.

Rippers

Rippers

A slow stream, more sludge than water, reflected the night before him. If he could cross it and make it down the alley, he would be nearly in front of The Joint and would only need to travel about thirty feet of the more major street, before he reached the relative safety of the bar. Something held him back. If he was looking for a sneak, this is where Talon would place his men.
Picking up a rock, he tossed it upstream. It made a sick plop. The noise brought two men out of hiding. They were here. He removed his bat from where it had been hiding under Micro’s jacket. Part of the plan was for Talon to show himself as Micro, so the real Micro would be able to sneak into the bar. He only hoped that he could do it without getting himself killed.
His free hand fumbled with the Personal that Micro had loaned him. Talon had a feeling his new friend was not going to be getting it back. He tossed it into a pile of leaves that had collected near the low bridge. With a remote, he started it. Their words sung out loudly dispelling the creeping silence.
“Hey Talon, are we almost there yet”

“Shut up. Do you want to get us caught? Keep up the blubbering and the Rips will find you for sure.”
“I got news for you little piggies, it’s too late.” Strang’s words burned into the air and, moving like jagged shadows, the Rips emerged form their dingy hiding places. Talon recognized a few of them. It was the same pack that had tangled with them the night before. “This big bad is going to blow your life down!”
Even as they rushed the recorder, Talon was moving towards the slimy stream. He was still twenty feet shy, when her heard the sound of metal breaking plastic. “Its some kind of- Wait, there he is!”
Talon did not even bother to look. Instead, he broke into a full sprint and attempted jumping the stream. He landed eight inches short and was rewarded with toxic green sludge filling his boots and staining his one pair of pants. After almost losing his footing, he continued mad dash for The Joint. He spied a few members of X pacing the street and he hoped that meant the place was safe.
The bouncers, both big fellows, named Booth and Primus, eyed him and were frowning as he ran past The Joint and straight up to a brace of X. These Bangers if anything were more bizarre than the Rips. Where the Rips were fierce and brutal, the X were just plain eerie. They dyed their faces and arms the color of crushed blueberries. There heads were kept shaved and without adornment other than the black X they had affixed between their eyes. For some it was a tattoo, while others favored branding or scaring.
“Hi guys.” He looked over his shoulder in time to see the Rips behind him hesitate, but then signal some of their fellows. If another five joined in the chase that meant two things. A, these X would not have much chance no matter how tough they were. B, he had a better excuse to continue with the original plan.
Before they had a chance to see through his disguise, Talon yelled, “There are too many of them!” He had found it all too easy to become nearly as hysterical as the role called for and bolted, not only the X, but also from the bouncers between him and the Rips.
Almost at once shouts, yells, and screams of pain followed in his wake. Before he had rounded the next corner, the sounds of other X taking up the fight had reached his ears. Strang was calling Micro’s name, but he just kept going. Where homebound Micro would have had little chance, a lifetime of hiding served Talon well. Strang and Tern had managed to pull away and gave him a good chase.

Glooms
Each time they got close, Talon would dash into a crowd. During one of these ditches, he pulled the tangled mass of Micro’s hair off his head. It hurt like hell, but after he lost the jacket, he looked like a whole knew man. Eventually, he was able to grab a bus on the Y line and get out of there unnoticed.
Sitting down on the grimy seats, he let out a long sigh. Micro might not be able to go shopping for a long while, but as long as the Rips never discovered his location he would be all right.

Learn more about the Chaos of New Cluster here!

Burning head

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Base Jumper

It became hard to keep from gawking like a kid in a toy store. Dak had seen his share of tech, but nothing compared to this. Large steel machines, shaped like opened coffins, gapped hallow and bubbling. He had already seen three holding half-formed people.

He thought about how his Erin had been forced to go through this and shuddered.

Mace, the man who he had thought was Fosters for so long, led the tour. Gone was the frame of the old detective. In its place a handsome young man stood. If Dak focused hard enough he could she some similarity in some of the mannerisms, but Foster’s fifty-year-old body was a far cry from this tattoo covered PR with a half shaved head.

Perhaps seeing his eyes lingering on the ink, Mace said, “Do you like the work? Tattoos are of course one thing that doesn’t pass with you when you Jump.” He smiled. “I figure this way I can get new work every year. Pretty wicked eh?”

Dak didn’t comment. Instead he took in a painting that illustrated a happy man jumping off a skyscraper rooftop. The figure’s right hand was raised over his head in a fist. “What’s this?” he said pointing at the painting with his smoke.

With a bigger smile, Mace said, “Base jumping. Our group’s founder was known as Titan. He was quiet found of base-jumping. Some even think this is where the name for our kind began.”

Holding his arm tight, Erin looked up at him her green eyes blinking. Her dress was a skintight strip of red cloth smaller than his towel. As always, her body was slim. Shapely. Perfect. “Titan tended to be more than a bit on the reckless side. But he was insanely wealthy. He would lose a leg in some failed stunt and just Jump into a new healthy clone.”

Pressing herself closer to him, she went on. “Back in his day we were almost accepted. Normal. He was only using his own body though. We would hardly even consider that Jumping now. He however, was the first of the immortals.”

“Until that parachute did not open.”

To his left two Grafters were helping an elderly man into one of their coffins. Noticing his gaze, Mace commented. “People will give all they have for a second chance.”

Nothing more needed to be said. It became very clear why these Jumpers always seemed to have almost unlimited funds. Having Erin finally be honest about her own wealth hadn’t been the worst thing to have ever happened to him. That along with the small sum he took from the Jumpers had definitely increased his standard of living.

Passing a middle aged woman as she stripped off her clothes, he managed to overhear her say, “Make sure I’m really pretty. I want to be really pretty. I’ll see if the prick is cheating on me first hand.”

Mace laughed, but waited until they were well pass to say, “Most people don’t want to leave their lives, but a weekend of Jumping can accomplish more goals than one can count. Athletes in peek form are selling their bodies so novices have a chance to play their favorite games like the pros. And of course there’s always the perversion factor, but you and Erin know about that.”

He felt his cheeks grow hot. “Is there a reason for us to be here other than for you to be showing of like some sort of punk priss?”

Chuckling, “You’re always so touchie Dak. It seems that even Evan I mean Erin-“

Dak moved quickly. A necklace was grasped and he pulled Mace’s face close to his. “I told you that you weren’t allowed to call her that.” Words spit from between his teeth. “I don’t care how many bodies you’ve been in, I can kick your ass. Insult my girlfriend again and I will.”

“Calling him by his name is an insult?”

He barely got the words out before Dak gave him a hard right hook into the jaw.

Erin gasped and rushed forward. “Dak, you shouldn’t” A reproach from Erin made him cringe. All around him Jumpers took notice. They dropped what they were doing and walked closer. Most had weapons. 

Mace stood erect. A pull of the arm drew a smudge of blood from his lips. He waved the approaching Jumpers back. “No it’s okay. He loves his Gender-Jumper. I think It’s cute.”

“Screw you Mace.” Erin gave him a glare that made Dak wonder how well they might really know each other.

“Shall we just keep moving?” Mace asked as once again he wiped his mouth free of blood. He shot Erin a glance which did nothing to soften the mood. “And yes you’re correct you were brought here for a reason.”

The butt of his cigarette still glowed as Mace threw open a wide set of polished steel doors. The insides of the room contrasted strongly with everything else he had seen at Base Jumper. He could have been stepping back three centuries. Bookcases lined the dark hued walls. Never had he seen such a collection of books outside of a museum.  Since the advent of the computer over two centuries ago, books had been coming ever rarer. Most publishing houses had closed within a hundred years. Books were now considered oddities and collector’s items.

Centered amongst the vibrate rainbow of book spines was a walnut desk that could have fit three people. Instead an annoyingly young blonde boy was just putting aside a folder. This was added with not great haste to an already considerable pile stacked to the left of him. The boy looked perhaps seventeen at the most, but Dak guessed that the mind within was by far his own senior. His crystal blue eyes had a tight glare that no youth of that age could have pulled off.

“This is The Doctor,” Mace began. “For lack of a better term, you may consider him our leader.”

“More of s spokesman really.” His tone was one of wisdom and experience, but as if from the lips of an angel. It came out musical and tinged with the strength of a fresh voice. Leaning forward, the youth said, “But please call me Maxwell.”

Dak nodded, he had no reason to speak. Erin gave a courtly curtsey, which was something he would have never thought he would see.

A slim smile spread. “I’m sure you consider your life as busy as mine and as my employees, I assume you are keeping yourselves active.” This wasn’t even worth a nod. “So I will be blunt and brief.”

“Someone has been hired to assassinate Jumpers.” He paused for a moment to let his statement sink in. “Whatever is doing this is a professional and very successful.” Erin’s nervous eyes met his and she trembled. “He has already racked up fourteen of us and those are just the people we know of.

Maxwell stopped. Keeping his voice even, Dak asked, “Do you have any idea who might be behind the attacks?”

“I think it’s the Major,” Mace answered for him.

The Doctor favored him with a stern look. Dak had a feeling he wasn’t used to being interrupted. “Yes, Mace thinks it is the Major and it well could be, but my years of experience have led me to believe that it is not always the most obvious choice. There are always the Nappies to consider.”

Dak thought on this. Nappies was a derogatory term for The National Association of Parents. The supposedly moral body of citizens had their hands in more than anyone considered safe. As a legislating body they could make or break elections. Dak considered them foul self-righteous censors, but working for the Public Enforcers he had often found himself being asked to bend to some policy they were promoting.

“It doesn’t sound like Nappies, they don’t hire assassins, they hire lawyers.”

A short chuckle escaped from Mace, and Maxwell smiled without humor. He addressed Erin first. “It seems you have been keeping your mate in the dark my dear. Dak works for…I mean with us now.”

“Dak’s knowledge has no shortcomings,” she said, crossing her arms under her 36cs.

Dak allowed himself a grin of his own. “I’ll look into it. So why am I here?”

Looking more serious than his young face should allow, Maxwell dropped his voice. “We are being hunted. I don’t like that. Both the assassins and whoever has hired them must be made to pay. We have ways of avenging our own. What I want from you is the legwork. You are a detective, you have the resources of the Public Enforcers behind you, go detect.”

He leaned forward to emphasize one final point. “I also do not need to remind you who you are sharing a bed with. You are involved Dak, whether you like it or not, unless you intend to throw Erin into the teeth of the wolves.”

Find out more about Dak and Erin and their Quest to preserve New Cluster Here!