A Close Shave

Snipez hated hanging around, it was by far the worst part of being a courier. Whizzing through dense urban traffic on his hovercycle thrilled him, but waiting for appointments was a drag, not to mention a security risk. Nomad couriers accounted for a large amount of high-value drop offs in Cyber City, making them an easy target for anyone with knowledge of their routes.
Snipez huffed, his impatience growing with every breath of the City’s filthy air. Japan Town had a nice vibe to it, but the air was horrid, a trait the district shared with every inch of space in the dystopian metropolis.
He felt a vibration, the frame of his AR goggles rattled against his temple. A quick shake of his head welcomed a translucent avatar into his peripheral vision.
“I’m late, be there soon,” came the voice from the headset’s nano speaker.
“You have five minutes, not a second more.”
Snipez had another delivery to make and couldn’t afford to be late yet again that week. He stretched his arms then checked the time on his AR goggles. Five more minutes and he’d be gone, deal or no deal.
Suddenly, a zapping sound whistled past, skimming his ear lobe on its trajectory. Whatever it was, it hurt! He noticed a red dot dancing around on the ground as he nursed his sore ear. Zip! This one hit the body of his hovercycle, right above his knee. As he ducked to check the damage, another laser pulse shot straight over his back, cracking a nearby pane of glass.
“Three shots and I’m still standing, sucker!”
Snipez started his hovercycle and sped off, high-value briefcase still intact, magnetically charged and connected to his arm. Meandering between oncoming traffic and terrified pedestrians, he raced out of Japan Town and continued onwards to the City’s outer limits. He soon found himself in the badlands. Snipez was home.
Tucked away between two jagged rock formations was the entrance to a cave. As he approached the entrance, a stern-faced woman emerged, pushing a large wheelbarrow filled with heads, arms, legs and torsos, each unique body part terminating in a mess of cables and loose circuit boards.
“Hi Snipez. The leak’s getting worse. We need to get out of here. What are you doing back so early?”
“I ditched two drop offs, Red.” The Nomad courier’s face showed signs of relief and worry.
“Kenny’s not going to like that. Did you cover your tracks?”
“No. I came straight back. My ear’s on fire,” he said as he turned his head to show the close encounter he’d had with the laser beam.
“Looks fine to me,” she said.
Snipez lowered his hoverbike, dismounted and took a moment to take in the view of Cyber City’s daunting backdrop. Then he looked at the arid patch of land beside the cave entrance.
“Is it worth it? All this?” Snipez gestured to the deserted land, a burial ground for Cyber City’s forgotten cyborgs and failed experiments. The Nomad’s very own treasure trove.
“Remember why we’re here, Snipez. Don’t ever forget that.” The dipping sunlight glimmered in a tear drop that was forming in the corner of her eye.
“Yes, Red, I know. But since when is it all about the tech? We wanted to get away from all this, remember? Do you even realize what we’re doing these days? I didn’t sign up for this. I swear, these drop-offs are getting stranger by the day. And more dangerous.”
“Red Nile, Snipez,” Kenny greeted his fellow Nomads as he emerged from the cave crevice. A quick scan of the situation was all it took for their leader to suspect something unusual. “What’s wrong?”
Snipez cleared his throat and faced his reckoning. “Got ambushed, Kenny. Mercs I reckon.”
“Let me handle this.” Kenny lifted his arm and placed a call on his comm set. “Curt? It’s me, Kenny.”
Back in the cave, Kenny Waste stood at the end of a long table, ready to address his fellow Nomads. They had gathered in the Green Room to listen to his urgent debrief. A pack of cybernetic guard dogs ran playfully between their legs as they sat and waited patiently.
“Listen up guys and gals. They got to Snipez today, while on a job in Japan Town. I managed to talk to Curt. I reminded him of our truce. He says it was retaliation for the previous Tyger deal. I don’t dig it.
“I refuse to drop to their level, we’re Nomads, not bandits. But I won’t stand for this. For the next few weeks I want you to travel in pairs. We’ll combine drop offs, handle our biz, but no first strikes.
“I repeat. No first strikes. This needs to calm down.”
Kenny pressed a button and a large holographic map of Cyber City elevated above the length of the long meeting table. He was about to expand upon the logistics of his plan when Red Nile burst into the room, covered from head to toe in a protective hazmat suit.
“We need to leave,” she said. “It’s time.”
“But what about the cyborgs, Red?” a concerned faction member voiced his concern.
“We still have so much equipment to filter through,” came the objection of another member.
“We’ll take what we can,” said Red Nile, “but that toxic sludge is getting worse by the day. It’s eating away at the cave walls. It can’t be safe. We need to find somewhere else to call home.”
A deep cracking sound suddenly shook the room, triggering a piercing alarm. All eyes diverted to the security monitors on the side of the room. The Mercs were here.
“Arms!” Kenny ordered as his team mates dispersed in all directions.
Snipez dashed to the cabinet and took his favorite weapon, the long-range multi shooter. He would take the ladder straight up to the platform above the cave and keep look out over the burial patch.
Red Nile removed her protective helmet and whistled instructions at the guard dogs. Their robotic eyes switched from brown to red as they bolted though the cave’s passageways in search of unwelcome impostors.
Kenny waited for the room to clear and took a moment to think back to his childhood: summer holidays at the beach, school trips to the forest, camping trips with his father and long bike rides along the river with his first love. Kenny took two guns from the cabinet and woke up his cyber sentinel. Then he paused again to think about his time in the City, working as a cybernetic engineer for the evil Corpos. He witnessed levels of greed and destruction that he never thought possible from another human being. It was enough to make him leave the City, and vow to bring justice wherever justice was due.
Those pesky Mercs were nothing but a nuisance. Kenny Waste had bigger fish to fry.