Scott Slemons : The City Was QuietThe city was quiet, dark, but they ran. Leaping across rooftops at an incredible speed on high rise apartments, hundreds of feet in the air, Blank and Joe ran with a fury that no man could possess. You ok? Blank shouted at his partner in crime. Joe stood for a moment and watched as the tubes laced through out his skin began to surge with a light blue fluid. I am now! The two ran on with dogged determination, their Juicer Suits rhythmically pumped all manner of steroids, uppers, tranquilizers, and other highly toxic and illegal drugs through surgically placed tubes and I.V.is that were attached to every major muscle in their bodies. Blank knew that staying on the rooftops was a bad idea. This was only emphasized when the huge bulk of a hover tank rose from the street to greet their retreat with an earth shattering crash from its main cannon. I guess the police are tired of asking criminals to put their hands up, Joe thought for a second as he, in one fluid motion, leapt into the air and spun 180 degrees to level off his Samson-Made particle rifle at the hulking piece of air born armor. A rush of deep green tore across the left side of the tank, and for an instant Joe could see the confused, horror stricken face of the tank's commanding officer. The tankis fusion driven core, now exposed, blew, sending out a shock wave that shattered the surrounding windows of the buildings below. Joe landed on his feet, turned, and ran on, wildly laughing with delight at the carnage. His suit rewarded him with a dose of amphetamines that would kill a dog. Blank, hoping to avoid another encounter like this began to climb down a nearby drainpipe. Joe followed. After the two descended a few hundred feet, Blank reached for the bars covering a nearby window and peeled them back as if they were made of rubber. Punching his way through the bulletproof glass Blank slipped into a dark, dank, dirty bedroom and remarked, iThey paid extra for bars and reinforced glass to protect this place? To each his own, Joe replied as he crashed through the window with the grace of an ogre. For a split second, he detected the slightest wince of pain from the glass now embedded in his arms and legs. More drugs coursed though his suit and he began to feel euphoria mixed with aggression as the pain dissipated as quickly as it came. Man would you stop doing shit like that! That crap flooding your veins isnit free, you know. Blank watched as Joeis eyes glazed over, his wounds stopped bleeding and the tissue repaired it self almost as fast as his eye could follow. Oh, come off it! We just stole plans for the most dangerous energy source on the planet, and youire worried about paying for our next fix! After tonight weire going to be rich, damn it, and Iim going to lose this suit.i Well, I hate to break up your little reverie, but we havenit gotten away yet. Besides, you love that crap too much. I see the look you get on your face every time it loads you up on who knows what mix of meds. Youire a Juicer through and through, and you will be till you tox out.i Thatis big talk from someone wearing the same death trap of an outfit as me, and donit you tell me what I will and wonit do. When I say Iim going to lose my gear, I mean it. Donit think I need this suit to kick your ass.i They were both right really, and sadly they both knew it. They went in together to get their bodies augmented, by the Body Doc, with the plastic and metal they were now trapped in. Ever since that day they were basically dead, just running and gunning until their number was up. A body could only take so many meds until it couldnit live without them. Blank could feel it, too, when he sat at a bar and his stomach refused food and took the tasteless protein supplement provided by the pump attached to his esophagus instead. Letis move,Joe gruffly ended the conversation with that and turned to the door that he hoped would get them out of this putrid excuse for a residence. They found themselves in a hall, a few sleeping drunks and piles of trash were all that saw them get into the elevator. The lift started its rickety drop to the street below. iLet me see those data banks.Joe handed Blank the two black plastic blocks he had been keeping under his vest. I canit believe how easy these were to get.Blank pulled out his suitis data jack and plugged it into one of the blocks. His visor flashed a message ENCRYPTED BY THE CONFEDERATE GOV So did we get the right blocks? Joe stood, tapping his foot anxiously. Think so. Itis encrypted by the right government, which is a good sign. Here you try.Blank passed the cube to him. He snapped his data jack to it and began to read the streams of code through his head link. Joe interfaced with the data block directly through the small computer implanted at the base of his skull, trying to decode the cube as fast as he could think. iAny luck?Blank thought the idea of brain hacking as disturbingly uncomfortable, iJoe, whatis it say, are they the right plans?He knew that trying to talk to him was useless right now, but he couldnit help but be nervous. Suddenly Joeis concentration broke and he looked Blank in the eye, iOh, god, help me.Joe grabbed Blank with a bone-crushing grip. His eyes began to bleed, his teeth bit down on his tongue and his whole body shook as his knees buckled. Joe, Joe, oh man, no. Shit man, come back to me! No please donit do this to me now man!The lift began to slow to a halt. iJoe, what is it? Break your connection!Joe didnit answer. His grip loosened, his mouth filled with foam and he fell to the grimy floor. Blank reached for the black box and ripped it from its interface in a last ditch effort to halt his friends pain, but it was too late. The virus that protected the data block had spread from Joeis head link into his brainstem and the effects were gruesome. Joeis cyber mods, with their CPU destroyed by the invading virus, began to function independently. Blank watched as his friendis muscles flexed, trying to increase his circulation. He could feel his heart race under the power of the drug pump. Joeis implants were going into crash mode, in a vain attempt to save his life, but it was to late. The virus that began with crashing his head link had now transferred over to his nervous system and no amount of meds could fix that. Blank was holding his companionis shaking body in his arms when the lift stopped. He pulled out his laser cord and slashed the tubing running across Joeis now still frame. Blank stared into his brain dead eyes as the green and blue liquids of the med pump spilt onto the ground. Then he took his gloved hand and punched it into the center of the already withering body and wrenched out the blood-soaked drug mod attached to his heart and dropped it into his pocket. iLive fast, die young,he whispered to the corpse as the elevator doors slowly crept open. Throw out the data blocks!a voice cried out from a megaphone. Blank looked up to see the rundown lobby of the high-rise filled with a brigade of Confederate troops. iCome out with your hands over your head.Blank reached behind him and grabbed the rail gun he had strapped there. He turned it on the lobby and unleashed a hail of bullets that ripped through the ranks of soldiers. He flexed his powerful legs, tucked his head into his shoulders, and jumped straight up into the air, smashing his way through the tiled ceiling of the elevator. He landed and heard the thump of grenades as they were thrown into the lift. They broke open with a crack and gas began to fill the elevator below. His jaw involuntarily clamped shut as he felt his throat being closed up by a wire that had been surgically wrapped around it for just such an occasion. A valve leading to his lungs opened and he felt them fill with liquid oxygen. His eyes closed themselves, he pointed his rail gun at the wall of the shaft and fired. The ultra dense magnetically accelerated bullets punched their way through the concrete wall. He heard the footsteps, no the heart beats, of troops as they cautiously approached the elevator below. He dropped two of his graviton grenades and they exploded, sending out a pulse of false gravity. The approaching soldiers flew thirty feet back landing on the men behind them. Blank laughed as he imagined this sight. Finally, he heard the bullets stop ricocheting of the wall, he had broken through it. He bent over and charged the hole he made in the shaft and barreled through it. The shoulder pads of his armor cracked as he busted the concrete to fit his massive frame. He fell ten feet to the street. Landing on his feet with a thump, his eyes opened and the liquid oxygen drained out of his lungs. He looked down the street and watched as the tanks that had their guns pointed at the door of the building turned, lifted off the ground and started on him. Even his rail gun was no match for the three Legion Class hover tanks. They flew at him, firing their ion cannons, disintegrating the surrounding buildings. Rubble rained down on Blank as he helplessly returned fire and bolted across the street. The tanks halted their fire. iCease fire damn it! We need those data blocks!an officer called over a speaker. A wave of troops, hungry for revenge, poured out of the high-rise, and charged down the street with a cry for retribution. Backed against a wall, Blank felt powerless. A volley of tranquilizer darts showered down on him. His med pump was working overtime to counteract their affects. Then he saw it: an open sewer pipe, with a small steady stream of sludge flowing out of the duct. It looked the right size, perhaps not very inviting, but better than staying out here on the street. It was fifty feet to the pipe, and there were twenty confederate soldiers between him and it. He felt his blood boil with a fresh double dose of steroids. His eyes blazed and he rushed the men. He pulled out his plasma pistol. He knew that the blue surges of energy would dissipate once they contacted on their rubber-coated steel armor, but the force of the charged particles would be enough to clear him a path through the mob of angry militia. The troops were knocked to the ground with each pull of the trigger. Blank ran through the crowd, punching, kicking, and shooting his way to the open channel. He dove the last seven feet and slid through the narrow opening of the pipe. He began to crawl as fast as he could. The tube was narrow but the sides were slippery. Blank guessed that was a good thing, but really he just tried not to think about it. After going forward for twenty feet or so the pipe took a straight drop into a darkness that even his excellent night vision couldnit penetrate. He looked for another way, a totally hopeless cause, considering his location. His hesitation was ended by the sounds of bouncing grenades and bullets that sliced through the air. He had no choice. It was darkness or capture, which would be quickly followed by a painful death. He grabbed the edge of the tube and slid into a fall of uncertain height. He fell for an excruciatingly long time; his heightened metabolism made the few seconds seem like hours. Finally he came to an opening of the pipe and landed in a body of water, or at least liquid. How much was actually water was up for debate. He felt his lungs fill with the cold thick fluid oxygen again, and his pores contracted, stopping the muck from seeping into his skin. He pushed thoughts of his surroundings out of his mind, and brought up his city schematics on his heads up display. NO RECORDS AVAILABLE ON CURRENT LOCATION, a voice read the flashing message echoing inside his head. Suddenly the voice screeched and turned to a high pitch whine; quickly, Blank turned it off. Radiation interference,fantastic, Blank thought to himself he looked around. He was treading water in the middle of a lake that was at the center of what looked like a stadium-sized cavern. He started to swim to the shore of this lake of slime. An object floated in the water up in front of him. It was red and spotted, bloated. It looked like a fungus of some kind. It was a few moments before he realized that it wasnit bobbing along, but moving in a planned direction, directly toward him. It lifted up out of the water as it came at him, a massive eye blinked open as it rose up into the dim light of the huge grotto. Blank jerked his head back and reached for a weapon, he pulled out his plasma pistol, but thought better of letting loose a stream of charged plasma while covered in slime. As he madly fished around in his vest for something more appropriate, but sufficiently large enough, the monster continued to rise out of the sludge. Now standing a full ten feet out of the water, the creature opened its jaws, revealing rows of shark-like teeth. Its neck extended as it bent over and bore down on the tiny morsel of food thrashing frantically in the water before him. Blank at last found what he had been searching for, a slender long pistol, sleek and black, with perfect balance in his hands. He pulled the trigger and let loose a red flow of energy that melted through the monsteris scaly skin and sliced off one of its four arm-like appendages. The thing howled in agony, dove backward into the lake and swam off in pain, Blank hoped, for good. Not wanting to wait for its return, Blank swam on, keeping the laser pistol in his hand, just in case. He stumbled his way onto the shore and rested for a moment, leaning on a ruin of some long-forgotten sign that still had randomly blinking lights that read iOpen 24 Hours A Dayi. He eyed the opening he fell through some fifty feet in the air over the lake, too far away for even him to reach. He waited, listening for sounds of approaching soldiers who may have been dumb enough, or had been ordered, to chase in after him. The cave was silent. He remembered for a moment the elevator, the last few moments he spent with Joe, the hum of the lift as he locked in the data cube to his head link. He fingered the two blocks now in his pocket. iHow the hell did this happen?They were so easy to get, in and out through the ventilation system. They got the plans for the building from a street punk, and blowing through the vault had been a snap. He gritted his teeth. Joe was gone. He held his med pump in his hand and popped it open. He pulled out the canister that housed the various fluids that had kept Joeis body running. Then he reached for a tube from under his chest plate, screwed it onto the cylinder and started to fill up with the fluid from the canister. His own depleted med pump ravenously accepted the liquid. It was the greatest feeling; for a moment he forgot his dead friend, the sewer, the Confederate Army above. But all of this faded away as the last drops from the canister emptied into the tube. He started to move again, threw down the wasted canister and heart pump, slipped the black data blocks into his pocket and headed into the darkness. The dank underworld of the sewers was alive with the noises of derelict machines still running on some unknown power source. Rats and other creatures scurried about in the darkness as Blank stumbled aimlessly about in the endless gloom of the sewers. After several hours of dead end tunnels and circular passages ways that brought him back to where they began, Blank finally heard the sounds of street noises. He stood for a moment, turning his senses to the sound, trying to pinpoint where they came from. Then he saw a dirt-encrusted grate in front of him; a small shaft of sunlight broke through the grime. He ran to the grate and pulled it apart. Grabbing the sides of the hole, he pulled himself up to the street. Blank found himself alone in some alleyway. Thankfully an alley and not a highway he thought to himself. The sun was now hidden behind some clouds and it began to rain. The steady drizzle washed away the coating of slime he had acquired from his trip through the sewers. His lungs drained, pores opened up and the mechanisms in his body relinquished their control, for the time being. He took a breath of the relatively clean city air. He brought up his city schematics again, hoping that they would tell him where he was. He was twenty miles from where he began, not very far when you thought of the size of New Asia City, but still along way to travel. He had no one to call, no one to help him. With Joe dead, he was alone. He fumbled with the data blocks in his pocket. He had to finish the job, for Joe, and for the money. His body was drained from the brutal environment of the sewers. He had run out of most of the major meds he needed. Even the re-supply from Joeis canister was almost gone. If he ran into any Confederates between here and the Body Doc he would have a tough time making a get away like his last one. He brought up the drop off point on his map display: fifteen miles. Too far to walk on the open streets, he had no money to pay for a shuttle. There was only one thing to do; steal a ride. He stood up, turned to the end of the alley and stepped out into the street. He was in what looked like a lower-class anti-Confederate neighborhood. Most of the bums and punks walking the streets were covered in implants and cyber mods. Blank fit right in. He would have a little more trouble trying to jack a car from one of these people; you never really knew what you were getting into when you messed with a body-jacked person. This, however, was a risk Blank had to take. He slowly strolled down the street, keeping an eye open for an easy target. Finally he found what he had been looking for. An elderly man was fumbling with the keypad lock on his transportis door. Blank glanced around the street; no one would notice a little mugging in a locale like this. Black was now directly behind the man, who was still blundering with the keypad. After a few more tries the dooris hydraulics hissed and opened for the man. Blank quickly shoved the man into the car and jump into the driveris seat. iSorry old man,Blank said with a smirk, i just wana barrow your ride. Not as sorry as youire guna be.The man turned a small, ancient revolver on Blank and fired. The bullet dug in to his neck where is lodged its self into rock hard muscles. Ouch, you crazy old fool. Thatis really going to take a lot of meds to fix!The car was speeding along at about fifteen feet above the ground. I was going to give you the car back, but you can forget it!Blank reached for a door release button on the steering column, iSee ya old man,Blank pressed the button and kicked the poor man out of the craft as it pasted over a dumpster. iHeill be alright,Blank thought to himself iBesides, the auto-drive system will return the car to him when Iim done anyway. He brought up his map; he would be at the drop point in five minuets. For the first time all day things were looking up.