The Wake Up Call. Parts 1.03 and 1.04
Written by TAD
This is the 2nd part of the "THE WAKE UP CALL" story which I started back in Hugi #16. It revolves around a young, small time criminal who wants to make it big in the world, quickly. The environment that Hetch (the main character) finds himself in is one of corruption, bombings, hi-tech freaks and all the usual reglious clans, cults and mafia controlled city hives. The entire world is filled by overpopulation, disease, designer drugs and bio-tech weapons.
The story so far.
Hetch awakes aboard a long haul transit shuttle by an attractive stewardess who helps him to the main inquiry desk in an attempt to locate his missing arm and his metal case which contains some unknown and probably illegal items. This is the first real assignment for Hetch as a courier and he has yet to see any beginner's luck so far. The closest he has go to luck was being rescued from a drug craze cult gang who attempt to mug him in the grisly pit that the shuttle terminal calls "toilets" by the very security guards which Hetch was attempting to evade.
He is now standing in a morbid looking room with a few strangers who look equally as morbid as the staff behind the desk. A massive military operation is under way and after hearing about a major explosion earlier that morning at the station where Hetch was supposed to get off, he is understandably nervous. Having gone without sleep for too many days his mind is unclear, like the serial numbers on his concealed hardware will fill the pockets of his dirty trenchcoat.
Chapter 1.03: Collecting dust.
Hetch paced up and down the lost property department room, watching the troops below him through the corner of his eye. The dirty bubble windows gave glimpses of gleaming, metallic hardware being dragged by two lines of huge, armoured troops. He turned and press his face firmly against the glass. The sounds of heavy machinary and marching troops vibrated the windows enough for Hetch make out a few words, a few place names and realise that his face was now covered in black, sticky grime from the unfiltered atmosphere of the dirty room.
"You over there, get away from the windows!"
Hetch turned to see a rather overweight clerk gripping an electronic notepad in her chubby fingers as if it had grown out of her flabbly arm.
"What's your name?" growled the woman peering over her glasses.
Hetch dabbed at his eyes to wipe the specks of window dust from them. But after taking a second look at the drabbly dressed official he wished hadn't bothered to clear his view of her. She was bad tempered and ugly.
"You deaf?" she grunted, clearly impatient to get a reply.
Hetch glanced around the room, examined the miserable faces of the people dotted around him, then slowly walked towards the angry woman. He tried to play it cool with a mixture of rebellion and contempt. She was the type of official which everyone dislikes, rude, grumpy and more bothered about filling out paperwork than helping people.
"Oh" she said looking at his missing arm, "this must be yours. I suppose."
"Why, thank you kind lady." replied Hetch, grabbed his missing arm from her wrinkled, red fingers and waved it in her face. The prosthetic hand bobbed up and down to taunt her rudeness.
A few sniggers of laughter echoed around the room. The woman swagged back to the staff door and pushed her palm against the lock, some mumbled swear words followed and Hetch smiled to himself. It was a small, childish victory but it was a victory. It broke the dull tedium of waiting in the lost property dept.
"And..." called the fat woman now seated behind the bullet proof screens,
"... before you leave..."
Hetch stopped in his tracks and looked at the tempting exit before him. It opened for a moment and a security guard walking in and over to the windows.
"... there is the small matter of some identification and a signature."
Hetch sighed, officals! What is it with them and their petty paperwork? As he walked back towards the main desk the guard's radio burst into life.
"Delta 34-7. Report status."
"Yeah. Delta 34-7 here. Progress is nominal. Operation is smooth, I "repeat, smooth. Out."
Hetch threw his arm onto the narrow chrome counter and searched his pockets for some kind of valid ID card.
"Delta 34-7. Confirmed, smooth. Out." repeated the guard's radio.
"Don't tell me. Let me guess. You ain't got no ID, right kid?" grunted the woman, and with this she leaned over the desk which creaked under her weight.
"Yeah, 'course I've got an ID card."
Hetch did have an ID card, in fact he had about 30 of them, but most of them were either invalid or blanks ready to be used in his mini-clone machine.
"Read that notice on the board. Failure to produce proper identification "will result in all property being impounded and possible imprisonment." She recited all this from memory and pointed to the holographic board will scrolled small print faster than even a strobe light could handle.
Hetch sensed the guard approaching behind him. No doubt the guard would want to check out his ID card too, probably more closely than the official behind the desk.
"Do you need a HAND?" the guard laughed seeing Hetch struggling with his one arm.
Hetch turned and using his elbow pushed his prosthetic arm off the desk and watched it as it rolled across the floor and stop at the guard's boots. The guard bent down to pick the arm and Hetch grabbed at his chance. He swung his armoured knee up into the guard's ribbs then trapped his head under his one arm. The guard gasped for breath. Hetch pushed his tongue into the roof of his mouth, a small metal spring flipped out from beneath his front teeth. On the end of the spring was a tiny vial of green, narco-fluid. Hetch held the spring in position stabbed the tube into guard's neck like a vampire. The guard's limbs grew heavy and he collapsed onto the floor.
"What the hell are you doing?" screamed the woman behind the desk.
Hetch flipped the unconscious guard over and removed his side arm. The safety catch was tricky to disengage, especially with only one arm but he managed it. With a lightning fast sweep of the room he shot a couple of rounds into the palm-print door lock which the fat woman had used earlier on. This noisy and sudden outburst paid off. The security system locked all the exits in the room. This meant no-one could get out and also that no-one could get in. Hetch was safe for the time being. He gripped the barrel between his chrome plated knee-caps and loaded a fresh magazine of ammo into the pistol. He still needed to find a way out. Now more quickly than ever. The sound of the side-arm would alert the main enforcement barracks and a whole mob of troopers would soon be hammering on the door, quite literally.
"Oh very clever. Now you are stuck in this room. Nice plan moron."
"Just shut up. Shut up." screamed Hetch at the woman.
He knew that he had just taken a large step into the realms of being a major criminal, and to be honest, he was frightened. He was trapped with a security guard that could wake up at any moment with a huge military force mounting what seemed like an invasion beneath him in the cargo bays and by now a smaller army of troops were assembling the laser jackhammer on the other side of the doors, preparing to break in and storm the room.
"You know that you will probably fry for this."
"I said shut up you fat bitch!" and with this Hetch let loose another burst of shells into the protective screen over the desk. The screen fragmented but remanded in one piece to give a frozen-glass like effect to the thick, heavy screen. At least the woman was quiet for the time being, but the small crowd of frightened people in the room were starting to panic, fearing for their lives.
"Give me the case!"
"Just give me the fucking case will ya!"
The fat woman behind the desk frantically searching along the row of shelves. She grabbed a small blue bag then dropped it onto the floor, its contents scattered over the floor panels and were crushed under her clumsy feet as she continued to pull more items off each shelf until finally a chrome case came into her sight. She slid along the curved rails of the desk and tried to push it through the narrow delivery slot, but the case was too big to fit.
"It won't fit through the slot."
"Shit!" cursed Hetch.
"I can't open the staff door because..." she stopped, afraid to continue.
"...because some dumb kid just shot the palm-print locks!" added Hetch.
From behind the thick, solid doors the sound of a jackhammer could be heard. The high pitched scratching sound of its pistons grew louder with each cycle like the ticking of a timebomb. Thud. Hiss. Thud. Hiss..
From behind him a small child pleaded with Hetch:
"Please, mister. Are ya going ta shot me? Please don't." There stood a small goofy looking kid, his hair all messed up, his eyes awash with tears, holding a packet of his favourite tickle-fizz candy powder and a transparent straw for sucking up this sweet, confectionary treat. Both ends of the straw had been vigouriously chewed in order to make a funny farting sound when used to suck up the sugary powder.
"No Kid. I'm not going shoot you."
The little kid smiled and held out his tickle-fizz candy. Hetch stepped closer and took the half empty packet of powder from him.
"You have tickle-fizz and then you can't shot me."
"Thanks kido. What's your name?"
"Seven." the small boy replied, happy to hear that he would not be shot, but sad for losing his favourite treat.
"Thanks for the sweets, Seven."
Hetch guessed that the kid had confused his name with his age, but he had more important things to worry about, like a death sentence or ten to twenty in the mines digging ore for a major corporation.
The doors buckled and smoke began to pour slowly through the gaps as the jackhammer continued to tunnel its way through the many layers of thick composite panels. The guard on the floor also showed some signs of life, or atleast his radio did. A few bursts of noise and bleeps and then it joined its owner and fell silent again.
Hetch had an idea. It was a long shot, but maybe it would work. He didn't have time to create an alternative plan, so he rushed into this one. He threw the kid's tickle-fizz powder against the far wall near the broken palm-print door lock. The white and blue sugary treat hit the wall panels and drifted downwards like multi-coloured snow. The plan worked. A few seconds later the concealed ventilation fans in the wall started up. Their low volume motors were almost inaudible due to the jackhammer. Hetch searched each panel to find the extractor fan. He slid one of the advert plastic cards which he had picked up from the floor of the shuttle under the panel and it released the holding clips. He lifted up the rough square panel and proped it open with his prosthetic arm like the bonnet of a small car. Hetch squeezed himself into the tunnel and through the blades of the extract fan. He reached back, pulled to chain on his detached arm and closed the panel behind him. After placing a small tube of homemade nytrox explosives between the blades of the fan, Hetch contined to crawl along the tiny, dark metallic tunnel of the ventilation system.
Chapter 1.04: Fresh air
Hetch continued to crawl down the narrow ventilation shaft pulling his prosthestic arm behind him by holding the chain in his teeth. He came to a network of tunnels, some were vertical but most branched out in a nearly horizontal plane in six directions. His foot slipped. Down he fell into a lower tunnel which lead away from him in a clockwise direction. He couldn't climb back up the slippery walls if he wanted to, even after re-attaching his other arm. So he kicked and pulled himself head first along the spiralling vent tunnel.
Snap. Whirl.. Hiss.... BOOOOMMM !!!!!
Above him the security troops must have open up the ventilation panel and started the fan up which broke the container of nytrox causing a small explosion. Hetch looked up, heard some screams of pain of the injured troops and watched a hail of bullets and orange red flash light up the tunnel which he had fallen down a moment earlier. A shower of metal splinters bounced along the vent tunnel and then silence.
There he waited, unsure whether to remain motionless and risk being hit by a second hail of bullets, or to resume crawlling to freedom.
A sharp exchange of orders broke the silence and then came a word which Hetch feared the most.
A single grenade skimmed along the sides of the tunnel like a rollerblading lemming being pushed down an escalator and hitting each and every metal step on the way. Hetch reached into his trenchcoat and pulled out a small inhaler mask which fitted into into his mouth with two tubes that when up his nose. A second later the grenade detonated somewhere above him and the entire vent network filled with thick black smoke and a violent series of shakes as the old vent ducts buckled and groaned under the second explosion. Hetch buried his face in his coat. The ventilation system responded to this sudden influx of pollution and fire by extracting all of the air from itself. The vaccum it created extinguished the piles of buring debris in the network which the grenade had ignited. The climate sub-system jumped into its emergency state and the temperature dropped sharply down towards zero. Hetch's fingers grew blue with cold and soon frost covered the metal coffin which he found himself lying in.
The next few minutes stretched aggonisingly on and on and on while the fire-fighting systems checked their sensors. Once they were sure that all sign of fire had been correctly extinguished they restarted their heating systems. The temperature slowly rose back towards their original levels and Hetch knew it was now safe to remove his inhaler. The air was still thin and lacked the usual amount of oxygen, but at least he could now breath again. He stuffed the inhaler back into his coat pocket. It was probably the second most useful piece of hardware that Mewco had ever sold Hetch, or in fact, to anyone. The trash he normally sold would either kill its user or make them dependent on his cocktail of designer drugs and neural implants.
Mewco was a true low life. An escaped swipe-freak victim who now dabbles in every illegal substance, hardware or flesh fetish. Most see him as a parasite, a blotch on the arse of the poor, sucking their blood for profit, but to Hetch Mewco is a stepping stone to something and somewhere better. Many have tried to muscle in on Mewco over the years but his underground puppets are everywhere, in every dark corner and every squalid city hive. His pure narcotics and links to other syndicate lords keeps their undivided attention and loyality. There have been many rumours and myths about him being an ex-mercenary or corp-assassin because of the amount of implants and lack of real biological material which makes up his small, rat-like body. But Hetch believed none of it, except the amount of bio-tech hardware Mewco had. And it was a piece of his hardware which had just saved his life, without it would have suffercated to death.
Hetch continued down the spiralling tunnel. Soon he came across a tiny side door and he opened it. Right against the thin door was a tall row of shelves which looked identical to he ones which the woman had searched earlier on. Just beyond his reach on the floor was Hetch's metal case. The opening was far too low for Hetch to squeeze through. He could hear the sound of boots and radio noise so he knew that some troops were still close by, probably picking over the remains of lost property dept. Hetch pushed his fingers into the shoulder end of his detacted arm and pull out a thick optic-link wire which he plugged back into his shoulder socket. He pulled on the wire and it extended by a couple of feet in length. Using this grisly tool Hetch held the man-made arm in his other hand and managed to grab the handle of the metal case which was almost six feet away from him. The optic-link wire buzzed with visible data, turning nerve signals into bio-mechanical motion in the synthetic arm. The case slid easily across the deep shelf and finally Hetch had it the vent tunnel with him. After a well timed push, twist and pop his arm was snapped back into his shoulder.
"At least I won't have to drag this damn thing around anymore" he thought.
He continued down the spiralling tunnel until he came across an overhead grate which was soon opened and finally Hetch could stand up again.
He was in the women's changing rooms. A large circle of cubicles surrounded him. They were all brilliant white and almost too much for his blood shot eyes to handle. He pushed the corners of his eyes twice and his bug-eye shades changed colour to block out the bright light. This high-tec contact lenses can assume many different functions, they can change colour, provide a limited nightvision display and protection against many types of spectral weapons like blind grenades or sleep inducing strobe guns. Another handy gift from Mewco's military hardware storeroom, even if Mewco knew nothing about Hetch stealing a pair, he would be happy to know that they actually work.
After looking around for an exit to this maze of small lockers and doors Hetch noticed a familiar uniform hanging up on the wall. It was a stewardess'es uniform and this got his mind racing. He dug deep into his pocket and removed his scanner pen. Its small LCD screen displayed a barely visible menu of options. Hetch's bug-eye contact lenses again came to the rescue, this time the powerful macro-zoom gave a clear magnification of the menu. The blue lettering filled his right eye like a huge movie screen and Hetch scanned for the most recent entry.
entry 2933874 - time 13:29.52 personal ident: 24-7-02-Hu-9i-17
A few minutes later Hetch found the correct locker with the matching id code and began his usual by-pass routine. The blank ID cards were coated with a developing fluid which creates a temporary image of any security lock it is pressed into. This doesn't work for real high class locks, but for on these mass produced lockers they're 95% successful because only one single card is ever used to open its door, so this "curcuit burn-in" can be used by the developing fluid to pick the lock. Inside the locker were a few personal items like makeup, a change of clothes, some jewellery and a hand-held data recorder, the ones which are used to display holographic demonstration about where the emergency exits are, what to do in case of a fire and all the other boring stuff that no-one listens to until just before they crash. He couldn't find any maps or other useful items in the locker, so Hetch took the hand-held recorder and began to replay its video logs as he made his way towards what he thought was the exit.
Suddenly from around the corner stepped an attractive woman with long, dark hair and wearing some causal clothes which seems out of place for their current location and almost knocked Hetch over as he walked along totally absorbed in the audio and video logs.
"Hey. Wait, we meet again."
Hetch recognized that voice, the legs and then the face. It was the stewardess from the shuttle.
"Nice toy. I've got one of those too."
"Er.. Yeah. They're smooth and slinky."
Hetch replied, paused the data recorder and quickly slid it into his large coat pocket hopefully before could she realise that it was actually her property.
"Found your arm then?"
"I guess it is nice to have both arms again."
"Yeah. It makes reading those in-flight newspapers so much easier."
They both walked along the corridors of lockers and out through a side door which lead up to a lift and then upto the street level.
"Aren't you going to explain?"
"Huh? Explain what?"
"What you were doing in the women's changing rooms. You're not some kind of peeping tom or voyeur are you? Spying on women as they get dressed?"
"Nah. Just peeping for me case."
And Hetch slapped the side of the chrome case.
"I'm glad. There are so many freaks out there. I mean, you wouldn't believe what some people do during a 10-hour shuttle flight."
Hetch grinned to himself. After seeing some of Mewco's friends and hearing some of his stories, Hetch could believe anything.
"This is going to sound, well, strange.."
Said the stewardess looking at the case then directly at Hetch.
"... but, you're not working for a creep called Mewco, are you?"
"How do you know Mewco? And what made you think that?"
"A few years ago when I was younger, I needed some credits to buy a place to to live. Anyway, he tried to put the hard sell on me, if you know what I mean, but I managed to find this stewardessing job, thank God, so he had to take his grubby little hands elsewhere."
"That's Mewco alright."
"And it says Mewco on the side of your case. That's how I could tell."
Hetch looked, but there was nothing, no writing or any other marks on the case. He must have seemed like a right chump, an amateur courier still wet behind the ears, which in fact we was, from sweat and the melted ice from the ventilation tunnels.
"Is it that obvious?"
"Look, please don't think I am interfering here, but there has been news reports on all the vid-channels about your boss Mewco. Something about him being killed by a cargo transporter. He got trapped between two engines and was crushed to death."
The stewardess seemed to make a lot of sense. Mewco was probably trying to rip off some military supplies, these were in big demand these days so he was sure to grab a huge profit margin by selling them to the various clans and hive lords throughout his vile network of contacts.
"Do you know what's in the case? I mean, did Mewco tell you what you are carrying?"
"No. It's smart not to ask too many questions in my business."
Said Hetch, trying to sound like a big time courier, but he deep down knew that he was small fry, Mewco had played him like a fool, a young fool eager for credits and nothing else.
"I think we had better take a peek into that case, don't you?"
"Okay, but not here. Somewhere less public."
"My place is across town in the Eldora tower complex. It's about 5 minutes away by taxi."
"Okay, let's go."
Hetch agreed. This seemed like to best course of action. It was possible that the guards could still be looking for him. He needed some time to think things over and find out what he was carrying. The time limit for his delivery would soon be over and the shuttle ports were bound to be filled by thousands of military squads by now, anyway, that bomb explosion at Rhyson meant he could get back to find out if Mewco was really dead. It was also possible that Mewco was killed by an assassin sent by the intended recipient of the case. After hearing about the Rhyson bomb explosion and seeing the pictures of Hetch he probably thought Mewco had double-crossed him. and filled the case with a bobby-trap.
While Hetch and the stewardess were driven across town in the taxi pod, Hetch listened to some more of her audio logs on her data-recorder. As the taxi halted at the door of the Eldora tower complex Hetch heard some disturbing conversations which made him hit stop on the recorder. They both left the taxi and made their way up to her small appartment. As Hetch walked through the door he was hit across the back of his legs by the butt of a rifle. He fell face first onto the floor and the case was ripped from his hand. A large boot landed squarely in his ribbs followed by the cold, steel barrel of a gun being rammed into the base of his skull. Hetch felt something heavy fall across his legs but with the gun barrel forcing his face into the floor he couldn't turn his head to see what it was. The boot came down onto his hand, crushing his fingers and then stayed there so Hetch couldn't reach into his coat or move.
"Well, well, well. What have we got here?"
To be continued...