Danny stood in the saferoom doorway and looked up at me, brow furrowed. "Why can't I be just a normal kid?"
"I'm sorry, Danny," I said. "It's the way things are now."
"Yeah," he said. "I know. I'm sorry, too."
Then he plunged his fist into my chest. The impact rocked me back a step and my sternum parted with a shriek of metal
I gasped. Blinked.
And Danny was standing in the middle of the Shack's living room, head down, his arms coated in blood. A pile of cyberlimbs lay at his feet, twitching like fish out of water.
He looked up at me from beneath lowered brows. "Please make it stop," he said.
Then someone screamed--
I bolted upright in bed, drenched with sweat and gasping. I clutched at my chest, felt a wash of relief when my hand didn't find a gaping hole.
A lamp flickered to life across the room.
Mouse was sitting up in bed, looking at me. "You, too."
Statement. Not question.
I brushed hair out of my eyes and nodded.
"Doc gave me some pills this morning," she said.
"Started the day after. After it."
"Do they work?"
"Haven't tried yet." She reached toward her nightstand and grabbed a white plastic bottle. Popped the lid, shook out a pill into her palm, closed it, and lobbed it toward me.
I caught the bottle, did the same, and swallowed the pill. "Hope they work."
"Me, too," said Mouse. She turned off her lamp.
I set the bottle on my nightstand and lay back.
Light from the alley outside crept in through the edges of the shutters and threw weird shapes against the wall and ceiling.
One of the shapes started to morph into a figure.
Then it went fuzzy.
And everything became dark and quiet.
* * *
22 August 2042 - One day later
"What do you think?" Michelle said over the phone.
"Both of them," said Jade, leaning back on the battered couch in her flat.
"It's what the lady ordered. Invitation only, too. She looking for the best of the best."
Jade scratched her chin. "Twenty million?"
"Yup. Easy twenty for you, girlfriend. Minus my fee, that is. High-powered rifle. Hit 'em when they ain't looking. Bam! Kat and Mouse be outta your hair for good. Ain't that what you want?"
She looked down at the pair of SIG SAUER P250 .45-caliber pistols on the cluttered coffee table in front of her.
"Jade?" said Michelle.
"No," said Jade.
"Tell them no."
"But don't you want those two out of commission?"
"Then I'm signing you on--"
"I said no."
"But you just said--"
"My way, Michelle. I'll do it my way. They die when I say they die. And it's gonna be slow. And it's gonna be painful. And I want to hear her scream."
* * *
A few miles south of the San Luis Obispo city walls, the rented white ChrysFord sedan came around the bend of Highway 101. Past the low-lying hills ahead, Sakura could see the skyline of Northwood, the buildings of the airport and, in the near distance, Bay City and San Marino Bay.
Forty minutes later, Sakura stepped out of the bathroom of her Ascot Arms suite wearing a thick cotton bathrobe, a towel wrapped around her head, her cell phone to her ear.
"Yeah," said Simon.
"I'm in town," she said.
"Already? Thought it wasn't until the weekend?"
"Decided to come in early. Meet me in downstairs in twenty minutes at the restaurant. Veronica's. I want an update."
"Sure. Be nice to eat good food for a change."
* * *
Simon slurped from his wine glass and smacked his lips. "Now that's some good stuff."
Sakura shook her head. "Manners, please." She patted the base of her neck.
Simon glanced down at the red cloth napkin hanging from his front collar. "Oh," he said, pulled it down, and placed it on his lap.
"Much better," said Sakura. "What's the story on our punkergang friend?"
"Haven't heard anything recently. But I'm checking into that tomorrow."
"Have you heard back from Miss Vittorio?"
"Called. Vmailed. Emailed. Personal visit to the house." He shook his head and speared a piece of steak. "Zip."
Sakura took a sip of her wine, then said, "Spread the word. I'm bidding."
Simon stopped with the piece of steak halfway to his mouth. "But I thought--"
"I am. This will ensure nobody else gets in the way."
"And if Miss Vittorio disagrees?"
"She'll have to take it up with me."
* * *
23 August 2042 - One day later
Kincaid said, "A piece of advice, friend--"
The dreadlocked WyldBoy looked up from examining the weapon, bared his teeth, and growled at Kincaid. "I'm paying for goods, not advice. Friend."
Kincaid shrugged. "Fair enough."
"One week. And half the money in one hour."
"Don't worry," said the WyldBoy. "You'll get the money." He looked down at the weapon again, sleek black death on three legs. He stroked the long barrel like a pet and grinned. "Then the bitches will die."
He flashed a grin at Kincaid, turned, and sauntered out of the warehouse, dreadlocks bouncing against his shoulders.
Kincaid watched the WyldBoy leave. When the door closed behind the ganger, he shook his head. "Boy's gonna die a horrible death."
"You think so?" a voice rumbled next to him.
"Yes, Dwayne. I do."
"Even with that thing?" said Dwayne.
"Even with that thing." Kincaid turned to Dwayne and smiled up at the big man. "He picked the wrong ladies to tangle with."
"No way," said Dwayne. "You owned them. I was there when you gave them the deadline."
Kincaid clucked his tongue at him. "You gotta learn this, son. That was biz. They knew that."
Dwayne's brow furrowed. He gestured to weapon. "And this?"
"Is not biz," said Kincaid. "This is that boy's death sentence."
* * *
Sakura recognized the number on her cellphone's display. She smiled and thumbed the TALK button.
"It's me," the voice on the other end said. "We are complete."
Sakura sat up in bed. "Everything? Done to my specs?"
"As you ordered."
"Excellent. I'll want a look, of course."
A chuckle. "Of course. I expected it. How does tomorrow morning sound?"
"At the site," said Sakura. "10:00 hours."
NEXT TIME: "With Cat-like Tread"
NEXT TIME: "With Cat-like Tread"