DETECTIVE MOXLEY, Part 19: “We’ll Talk”
The male caught his eye. The female was right behind its partner. As Moxley watched, the male synthoid reached out, picked a man in a pan hat who wandered across his path, and jerked the man out of the crowd. Mox felt his jaw drop as the synthoid snapped the citizen’s neck.
The body fell to the street. People screamed. A gun opened up from somewhere in the throng, but if it was aimed at the synthoids, they didn’t notice. They started running, shoving people out of the way, smashing men and women alike into the pavement as they hurried after Moxley.
In the riot of traffic and fleeing pedestrians that followed, a hydrogen cycle careened into the pair, drew sparks on the pavement, and exploded in an orange-white fireball. The female managed to throw herself aside, but the male went down under the doomed machine. Moxley had time to see the female tearing into the cycle rider’s throat with her bare hands. He turned and fled.
Run, he thought. Run or die.
He wasn’t going to make it the Redlight. The Lion Arc it was, then. Shifting to his right, he did his best to put distance between himself and the crowd, opting for more narrow alleys that let him switch back left and right, doubling over his own path. The synthoids were fast, but they could not know Hongkongtown like he did. His knowledge of the city’s warrens was the only thing keeping him alive.
The Goop lockup was on Lung Wo, not far from Gunpowder Heights. Traffic around him was as impenetrable as ever. The sidewalks teemed with pedestrians, some wearing the wide pan hats that had become popular in the last year. The rain was in an acid cycle. Weather Control at Peak Tower claimed it was cyclical, but they always said that, just like Structural Engineering claimed the artificial atoll on which Hongkongtown was built was most definitely not sinking back into the Gulf.
He nearly flattened a panhandler as he tried to watch his back and cross the street. The beggar squalled when Moxley grabbed the man’s shoulders to keep him upright. Mox flinched; he knew that sound. Adhesive bandages covered the man’s arms and neck, but there were bone-deep burns on his face over both cheekbones.
“Sorry, buddy,” muttered Mox.
The begger punched him in the stomach.
Mox stumbled, coughing, and kept going. The poor bastard had been a Sleep cook. Moxley had seen plenty like him since Sleep emerged in Hongkongtown. While he was no expert in the process through which the drug was made, it was common knowledge that the process produced incredibly corrosive, often volatile fumes. Cooking Sleep was like defusing a bomb wearing mittens. Sooner or later, you were going to wish you hadn’t.
Overhead, countless drones buzzed and hovered and flitted. The skies were dark and thick with clouds. Street vendors cried for attention, doing a brisk trade despite the threat of rain. The hash stands were always busy. There were soy vendors and noodle barkers, too, most of which smelled wonderful and even as their heavy spices burned Moxley’s nostrils.
Lung Wo receded behind him. He could hear the traffic it bore. Hydrogen lorries barreling for the Gulf Bridge slideways pushed smaller cycles and pedicabs out of the way. Ground cars and their drivers maintained a steady din with their horns. There was a speed limit in Hongkongtown, but as far as Moxley knew, nobody had reached it. As he made the edge of the Lion Arc, dodging this way and that among the nonplussed pedicab traffic, he once more patted his pockets.
No joy. They had given him his gun back empty at the Goop station, but had kept his reloads. He had to have a weapon. There were gun shops in the Lion Arc. There was everything in the Lion Arc. But he had no cash to buy one. Where did that leave him?
A few drops of rain stung the skin on the back of his neck. Moxley ducked into a noodle joint, dodged the obsequious robot that tried to show him to a table, and managed to push through the throng of dice players at the back. His lungs burned and he was developing a stitch in his side. Too many vape tubes. He was not built for running.
There was a fire door at the back of the shop, which he slammed shut after running through it. The alley behind the noodle joint opened into a cross-work of narrow passageways.
Inside the noodle joint, the screaming started. The synthoids had to be there, ripping through the poor bastards inside, killing anyone between them and their quarry.
Mox fought the urge to close his eyes. He ran on. He needed corners. He needed tight spaces. He could not outrun the creatures in a straight line. He would have to out street them. He had no idea how much time the cycle accident — and the lives of those people in the noodle shop — had bought him, but it couldn’t be much.
He was surrounded by hiding holes. Every block of the Lion Arc was cluttered like this. It was the most popular tourist area in Hongkongtown, boasting every shop and pastime a visitor or local could want. It had to look good, had to be picturesque, to capture the tourists’ imaginations. That meant all the maintenance access and shipping docks, the employee entrances and garbageways, the hooker hoses and the ultraviolet decon bays, were crammed into a warren of alleys behind the storefronts. If he was going to lose his pursuers, he was going to do it here.
The two agents had busted him from Goop custody for only one reason he could think of — the same reason the Sheb imitation had tried to acquire him. They wanted to kill him. That could only mean he was getting close to something—
The female was suddenly just there. She smelled of smoke and looked like she had crawled through a chimney to reach him. He had not even heard her close in. One minute he was squeezing through a metal security gate that did not quite fit the passageway it blocked; the next, his arm was on fire. He looked down and saw the female’s fingers curled into the fabric of his coat above his bicep.
“Harold Moxley,” she said, her voice sweet, almost sultry. “I’d love to speak to you.”
“Dance card’s full,” Mox said, hoping he didn’t sound as scared as he felt. He tried to pull away. She dug in harder. Mox screamed as her fingertips pierced his skin. The sleeve of his coat blossomed crimson as it soaked through with blood.
At the far end of the alley, the male reappeared. He was walking slowly but picking up speed. He was also on fire. Tendrils of flame rose from his shoulders and what was left of his scalp. The creature’s expression was as blank as ever.
Moxley had to get away. He’d never fight them both off.
A bolt of lightning shot across his vision. The pain was that bad. The female was digging her fingers in again, trying to pull him back through the tight opening between the gate and the wall. She was using her other hand to dig into the building behind her, anchoring herself, buying time for her partner.
Moxley snatched his empty revolver from his belt and jammed the barrel through her right eye.
The sound the creature made was not a scream. It was a wet, mechanical sound, completely alien. Her grip loosened and Mox wrenched himself free, leaving a good portion of his bloody coat — not to mention a several hunks of his flesh — in her fist.
Moxley ran for his life.
It was a setup, all of it. He wasn’t sure how Garrison’s security had been compromised, but obviously, it had been. When he had emerged from lockup at the Goop station and the two agents identified themselves, he had felt the urge to run even then. While Jensen or Detweiler — whichever one was the skirt — tried to explain how they had come to spring him, Moxley was already listening for verbal tics. They had heard the report of his apprehension on the LEO band, the pair said. They had queried Goop headquarters, obtained the location, and made haste to free him. Moxley was a hero, they said. He had prevented the assassination of a council member, they said.
Except that they had no way to know that. Only Moxley could have known that Sara Lindsey was a target. Nobody else was looking for that connection. To the Goops, Mox looked insane, even murderous. Unless a piece of the real Siengold turned up, that wasn’t going to change quickly. He had been prepared to cool his heels for a few days until he managed to convince the authorities that he wasn’t part of the problem. But now Jensen and Detweiler were patting him on the head and telling him it was going to be all right? He didn’t buy that for a minute. That was why, the moment they had cleared the Goop building, he had brought his empty gun up and into the bridge of the male agent’s nose. Then he had bolted.
He risked a glance over his shoulder. He saw no one, but he could hear them. Their footfalls were fast and loud in the warren of the Lion Arc’s maintenance alleys.
As he ran, he tried to focus on what had tipped him. How had he known they were synthoids and not the two Human Services agents Garrison had sent? Something in their expressions. The way their eyes had rolled over him without ever really stopping on his. Yeah. That was it. Their faces had been completely blank. Not angry. Not curious. Not intent. Just utterly, totally blank.
He managed to stumble through a salon offering laser scarification and piercings, pushing past the back door, knowing that it would be unlocked.
“Lynn,” he said, breathless, tipping his hat with bloody fingers. His whole arm was soaked. “Honey, you’ve got to run. Run for your precious life.”
“Mox?” said the pretty blonde behind the counter. She was half his age. Her skin was covered in black whorls that made her look like a zebra. “What are you—”
“We’ll talk!,” bellowed Moxley. “Now run or you’re going to die!”
She blanched and hit the front door without another word. He followed her, deliberately turning in the opposite direction once they were in the next alley. The door slammed behind him and clipped his wounded arm as it did. It didn’t hurt. He was starting to feel a little light-headed from blood loss.
He ducked a low-hanging steam pipe that was set at neck-height in the next alley. The humidity curled the hair on the back of his neck. There was no back door to the pocket distillery; it had been bricked up. Mox skirted the structure and passed between it and a PornPod, past a Lotus Club — opiate fumes tickled his nostrils — and into the front door of the haberdashery he frequented.
“Harold?” said Hogey. He wore a fedora twice the size of Moxley’s. A long-barreled pistol was strapped across his chest in a ballistic holster. He was chewing on the end of a well-gnawed plastic straw.
“Get the hell gone, Hogey,” said Mox. “Either get outta here or hide behind your counter. Trouble’s coming and it’s looking for blood.” He went for the back of the shop. The magnetic curtains parted as he jogged through them, putting him in the storage and felt-forming room at the rear of the shop. Behind a stack of felt rolls, he found the exit. “Go, damn you!” he called back to Hogey.
“Up yours, Harold,” called the hat-maker. As Moxley closed the rear door, he heard Hogey say, “Hey, watch it, that’s my door. You two can’t just barge in here and practically tear the place—”
The last word became a terrible scream. There were gunshots.
Sorry, Hogey, thought Mox.
By the time Mox was a hundred meters from the storefront he wanted, he already had his phone stuck to his face. His breath now came in long, ragged gasps. He could feel his sides cramping and grinding. His face was burning hot and probably blood-red. Didn’t blood loss make you pale? Should he feel cold instead of warm?
“Yeah,” said the voice on the phone.
“Moxley,” whispered the detective. “Jimmy. The favor. I need it.”
“Now,” said Mox. He couldn’t look back. The footfalls were close on him. The synthoids were gaining ground again
Don’t look, he thought. Go faster.
“Like today, now?” said Jimmy.
“Like now, now,” said Moxley. “Run, Jimmy! Get outta the store!”
“Are you Sleepy?” said the voice. “Why would I do that?”
“Just do it, Jimmy!” shouted Moxley. He hit the front door of the shop at a dead run, with all his weight behind it, and practically cracked the yellowed plastic of the front counter when he finally stopped. He saw a plaid sleeve disappear into the back room.
Go, Jimmy, he thought.
The top of the countertop was hydraulic. He wrenched it open. The door slammed shut behind him, driven by the momentum of his charge. The synthoids would be here in seconds.
Be loaded, he thought. Be loaded because Jimmy has no concept of safety.
The rotary barrel crowd gun was illegal throughout Northam. Moxley bled all over the thing as he picked it up in both hands and turned to face the door. The model had seen use only once, during the Steamway Riots. The drill-bombs it fired were not merely explosive; they also bore an electrical charge. Used on Augments, whose bodies were more than a third cybernetic by definition, the weapon’s effects had been… pornographic. Ogs struck by the rounds had been incinerated from within.
The door slammed open.
“Shop’s closed,” said Moxley, and jammed his thumb on the trigger bar.
* * *
On Vega Avenue, outside Madame Ov’s, a trio of girls stood leaning against the side of the building, watching traffic along the outer ring of the Redlight. They shared vapor tubes liberally dosed with speed or tranqs, as was their wont. Business was slow this afternoon, following the recent raids. It would take some time for the bribe money to trickle down, time for the brothel’s clientele to drift back and resume their normal habits. There would be more than a few dead spots like these. The girls had learned not to complain.
The one named Triica turned to the one who called herself Gaj. The one with the rose tattoo on her face, whom everyone called “Lilly,” shook her head. Triica passed her vapor tube to Gaj, but not before taking a long pull from it.
The paving beneath their feet began to vibrate.
“What the holing—” said Gaj.
“Enviro quake?” said Triica. “Another gimbal imbalance?”
“Look,” said Lilly. She pointed toward northwest. A dense plume of black smoke rose into the sky.
“Something blew up,” said Gaj.
“Something blew up big,” said Triica.