"Collateral Damage" - Part Three

Eddie sat atop the old steam pipe, leaned back against the cool stone wall, and watched the pair of flashlight beams dance along length of the tunnel toward him. A flickering flourescent lamp sat near the ceiling less than a meter above his head, throwing weird shadows along the opposite wall.
   
Ten meters above him was the shop's bathroom where his watchers were being treated to the sound of "Eddie" doing his duty in a stall and singing at the top of his lungs to the soundtrack of an old vid.
   
He grinned as the flashlight beams resolved into a pair of figures. The first was a twentysomething female, petite and willowy, red hair falling across her face, looking as if she'd just stepped out of the shower, wearing a gray shirt under a hip-length black leather coat with an upturned collar, skull-and-crossbones eyepatch fixed over her right eye.
   
Valkyrie. Fellow 'Netjockey.
   
Her companion was a fiftysomething barrel-chested black man with close-cropped curly white hair, an old pair of spectacles perched low on a wide nose, and a large paunch hanging over his beltline, slightly hidden by a dark brown canvas coat.
   
Doc. Streetdoc. Carrying a large black equipment hardcase.
   
"Hello, mates," he said and sketched a salute.
   
"What the hell kind of a place have you got us crawling around in at this ungodly hour?" Doc said in his richly sonorous basso voice. "Almost killed myself climbing down a ladder."
   
"Part of the old city steam tunnels, Doc," said Valkyrie.
   
"You remember them, don't you?" Eddie said. "Built back in the early TwenCen."
   
"Don't you sass me, boy," Doc said, shining the flashlight into Eddie's face. "Especially if you're looking to get help from me."
   
Eddie squinted, threw up his hands to ward off the glare, and chuckled. "Ease off, Doc. Just trying to keep things light."
   
Doc grunted. "Considering your situation, that's good thinking. Now turn around and let me see."
   
Eddie turned his back toward Doc and swung his feet onto the pipe. He took off his labcoat, set it next to his feet, and yanked up the back of his shirt. He heard Doc set his equipment case on the ground, pop the latches, and pull out gear. A moment later, he heard tapping on a keyboard.
   
He craned his head to look back.
   
Doc was typing on a medtech scanner unit he'd set atop the pipe.
   
Just behind him and to Doc's right, Valkyrie played her flashlight beam at his lower back.
   
"Nice toy, Doc," Eddie said.
   
"Yes, it is," said Doc, plugging the probe cable into a port in the side of the unit. "Now turn around and let me work."
   
Eddie nodded, let out a long breath, and turned away.
   
After another moment, he heard the snap of latex gloves, then felt Doc rub something warm and gel-like onto his lower back, on either side of his neural processor "switchbox."
   
"Here we go," said Doc. "Stay still."
   
Eddie felt the scanner probe touch his skin and tried to think about something other than the bomb inside his body. He stared down first at his black high-top sneakers perched on the huge pipe, then out into the darkness on his side of the tunnel. It took him a few seconds to realize Valkyrie had asked him a question.
   
"Say again?" he said.
   
"I asked," said Valkyrie, "how you managed to get away from your eyes?"
   
Eddie smiled. "Those wankers think I'm in the loo singing to an old music disc."
   
"They can't see you?"
   
"Not in the corner stall," said Eddie.
   
"How do you know?"
   
"I gave it a few minutes before I went down the ladder. Got a recording of meself singing along to the songs from the disc."
   
"And when they didn't come busting through the door after a few minutes, you were good?"
   
"Bang on, luv."
   
"Done this before, have you?"
   
"Aye. And it worked like a charm back then, too."
   
"So how's Mouse?" said Valkyrie.
   
Eddie swallowed, then caught himself. "Mouse? What--what about her?"
   
"Give it up, Eddie," said Valkyrie. "Everyone knows you've got it bad for her."
   
"I haven't the foggiest idea what you're on about. Mouse and Kat are me colleagues. We have us a professional relationship."
   
Valkyrie snorted. "Benny down at VidWorld says you've been in there twice a week combing through all his pre-sim stuff so you could burn old vids for her."
   
"Benny is a right git who hasn't the faintest idea what film classics are languishing in his back room."
   
"So you have been burning discs for Mouse."
   
Eddie clamped his mouth shut and went back to staring into the darkness in front of him.
   
"Mouse and Eddie," sang Valkyrie with a slight giggle, "sitting in a tree..."
   
"I hate you, said Eddie, "you know that?"


*   *   *
   
"Well, Doc?" said Eddie, pulling his lab coat back on.    
   
Doc closed the lid of the medtech scanner unit and frowned. "They weren't kidding around," he said. "Bomb's there. Charge attached on either side of the switchbox. There's also a secondary charge attached slightly above the main charge."
   
Eddie turned to Doc, his brow furrowed, and felt his gut tighten. "Secondary?"
   
"Yeah," said Doc. "I've seen it before. Essentially a cortex bomb. Mini claymore mine."
   
"I know what a cortex bomb is," said Eddie.
   
"Then you know what it can do," said Doc. "This one is angled upward. Blast will take out your lungs and heart. That's at least half a second after the primary charge severs your spine at L4 and L5."
   
"Bloody fuck," said Eddie.
   
Valkyrie gave a low whistle.
   
"Both charges are linked," said Doc. "And from what little I can tell, it's likely they're tamper-proof."
   
"Meaning?" said Eddie.
   
"Meaning," said Doc, "that if I open you up and go in there to poke around, they go off. Both of them."
   
"Fuck," said Eddie. "Fuck fuck fuck."
   
"Remote detonation, too?" said Valkyrie.
   
Doc nodded. "Receiver's near the main charge." He narrowed his eyes at Eddie. "Who'd you piss off, son?"
   
"Hell if I know," said Eddie. He gritted his teeth, rubbed his face with both hands, then ran them through his spiky-short hair. "But someone's got it in for me. Whoever this suit is. One who told me about my little implant."
   
"You recognize him?" said Doc.
   
"Never saw him before today."
   
"Known enemies?"
   
"Only on the 'Net."
   
"Could someone have tracked you down?" said Doc.
   
"If they did," said Eddie, "they're good. Top class. Better than me or Val."
   
"Anybody you know like that?"
   
"I know of two."
   
Doc turned to Valkyrie. "You?"
   
"Same two," she said. "Plus another."
   
"Would any of them turn on you?" said Doc. "Either of you?"
   
Eddie and Valkyrie looked at each other and they both frowned.
   
"Janus," they said at the same time.
   
Doc nodded. "All right. Does this Janus have any reason to sell you out?"
   
"For enough money he would," said Valkyrie, disgust wrinkling her features.
   
Eddie nodded. "She's right. He couldn't care less what we did to him, if anything. But for the right price, he'd spill the proverbial beans."
   
"Does he have beans to spill?" said Doc.
   
"He can always find something," said Eddie.
   
"About you specifically?"
   
Eddie thought for a moment. "Dunno. Maybe. I haven't talked to him since..." He frowned.
   
"Since?" said Doc.
   
Eddie shook his head. "Nevermind."
   
Doc turned to Valkyrie. "Any way you can find out if Janus is the one?"
   
Valkyrie's brow furrowed for a long moment. Then she said: "I'll see what I can do."
   
Eddie looked at Doc. "Can you get those things out of me and replace my link?"
   
"Won't be easy," said Doc.
   
"But can you get them out?"
   
"I'll need to talk to some folks who know more about this," said Doc. "See what they say. But I can't promise you anything."
   
"I'll take my chances."
   
"Might take a while."
   
Eddie gritted his teeth. "I can wait."

"Collateral Damage"
Part 1 | Part 2Part 4

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