The Wake-Up Call
Chapter 1.32: Cholo
Two shadowy figures crossed into the bright neon lights of the city's crowded streets, their precisely measured actions and long, black, armoured suits shouted out the fact they were government service enforcers kitted out with some of the most deadly firepower to come out of a military research lab. The chaotic streams of citizens all fighting to gain another desperate foothold on the wet, squalid concrete sidewalks noticed this fact, or so they thought, and gave the pair some fearful respect. Packed transporter carriages, lethal looking taxi pods and the occasional troop carrier added to this man-made maelstrom. Conversions, overshadowed by booming face recognition ad-boards, swirled along, dragged along by their creators like upset children. These intense marketing devices caused many a pedestrian to become a victim, distracted by the promise of their most wanted desire in electronic form.
Mobs mixed with innocent pedestrians and were eager to ply their criminal pick-pocketing skills, mugging behaviour or more violent means to gain a pocket full of untraceable credits. The quest to 'get-by' had long since given way to pure survival and these torrid streets were prime examples of this most basic human instinct. The cutthroat world had become literally that. Sudden stabbings were rife. The cold, silent approach of death was ready to invite any unsuspecting victim into its bloody lair. Drug fuelled clans and gangs control the city blocks with a bloody thirst for revenge killings. Their sole purpose is that of cutting yet another death notch on their own brutal history sticks.
Personal feelings were something best left outside criminal transactions. Even sworn enemies could quickly become useful if you're up against some more powerful clan leader. Individuals are often used for barter. Some innocent victim would be 'selected' to be snatched off the street and used to please the sadistic sense of humour of a rival clan. The slave trade and the addiction for fresh body parts by 'mizers' and swipe freaks were closely linked to countless random killings. The invasive, holographic ad-boards sentinels would frequently scan out another new missing child photo, flash news report or some subliminal corporate message designed to mind fuck people out of their life savings. With those high intensity beams of colour came control. Control of the 'lower-order' citizens, the down and outs, those of low IQ, the rebels, the young tearaways, the freedom fighters, and basically anyone with enough balls to make a stand and say "No!" to the constant streams of 'mind pollution' that every damn board-cast station spewed out. Horrific news events of the latest block wars or prime-time murder scenes were intermixed with adverts for new security devices or attempts to justify some new law to avoid costly trials and increase jail sentences for minor offences. Killing was repackaged, re-branded, given some trendy 'throw-away' phrase and force-fed down the hungry throats of its citizens. In this world the population had become hungry consumers, devoid of all but the most basic human instincts.
Crime: that was the great equaliser in this foul pool of pond life. No matter who you were, where you lived or how many credits you had; the basic truth was that you could become its next victim. Assassinations were the stuff of a romantic past. In these strange days entire blocks were devastated by transporters packed with nano-nuke devices or death squads employed by some ruthless corporation. "Making a kill" was not restricted to the stock market.
The deafening noise from a thousand bars added to this abusive environment. All the senses were overcrowded by the sheer weight and ferocity of this densely packed, concrete grey scene from hell. Fear gripped the mind of each citizen. An unexpected look from a stranger was the fuse for a sudden outburst of violence. The stench of this vile city scene perforated the skin, and soaked the very soul of all those who tasted its polluting smog. Broken glass bottles littered the sidewalks like random jewels, perhaps cast down after some unprovoked attack or during yet another street fight. The red ruby stains of blood mixed with spent ammo cartridge cases added to the uneasy night air. The city was a place where no one slept, and for good reason, the fear of waking up dead. Few had nightmares, because no one felt safe enough to sleep. Rest was a thing of the past, now drugs and paranoia were the only means to survive till dawn. In place had crept cheap, mass produced "ez-narc" or "blaze-kip" drugs for the masses. Sure they could fry your brain, hell, even the warning on the packaging told this fact in silver embossed letters, but it was the only release from the mind-numbing effects of the city's violence.
The two figures forced their drunken paths through the increasing waves of obstacles and headed for a small, narrow entrance. Above the doorway hung a faded neon sign. It seemed to mirror the attitude of the customers leaving the club. They had both seen better days. Prostitutes approached the pair clearly impressed by their expensive looking clothing. In places like these corruption was an asset and no doubt the owner instructed all his girls to pay close attention to law enforcers or important looking mafia types.
The clients of these countless clubs and bars were there to either purchase some illicit product or to sell it.
Inside the bar the absence of light grew even more pronounced and for good reason. Deals were done in near total darkness. The inky screen of the dark only helped to reveal the synthetic silver glow of vision enhancement. The retinal nerves coated with light amp material gave a spooky atmosphere. Smoke mixed with tension as yet another illegal ID duplication took place. Drugs were used in enormous qualities. Anything from simple stimulations up to military grade bio-tech enhancement stablizers switched hands for varying amounts of ill-gotten credits. Forgotten vending machines supplying ammo were ignored by all but the most inexperienced criminals, their often dud ammo was notoriously deadly. The two strangers melted into the pack of dealers at the far end of the bar. Their arrival was only really noted by the old 'narc' addict who sat next to a small door below the exit sign holding a dirty cup in his shaking hand. A fight broke out on the opposite side of the club amongst a group of gamblers. The dealer leapt up and raised his muscular arm towards the throat of a second. Before his overly developed fingers had had time to take purchase round the gambler's neck a burst of low frequency gunfire cut him in two. The lifeless corpse sank back into his chair, head tipped to one side, his tongue slumped from the side of his mouth and a pool of warm blood grew through his clothes.
"Basic mistake, gambling without body armour" said one of the figures to the other.
"Why are we here?" the second one asked.
The taller figure nodded his head in the direction of the gambling killer who was gathering up all the dead man's credits into the middle of the table. The killer clawed up the last remaining credit chips with his fat, muscular fingers. His long, dirty nails screeched out on the stained table surface. The unmistakable silver glow of vision enhancement looked back across the room at the two figures.
"Stand up slowly and don't make any sudden moves." Said the tall figure.
The gambler paused to scan his surroundings once again and flipped a credit towards the barkeeper. In a split second his coat was thrown back and two pistols were pointing directly at the two motionless figures. People began sinking into the recesses of the bar and pushing their way through the numerous hidden exits. The gambler's heavy boots pounded out a measured path round the small metal tables and approached them. The silver reflections from his vision enhancements grew bigger with each seconds.
"Trade" muttered the tall figure, clearly not impressed by the gambler and his show of marksmanship. "Sure hope you can trade better than you can aim!"
The gambler kicked the table between them making a tray of dirty glasses rattle across it. A pool of cheap alcohol cast a broken reflection of the fearsome looking gunman. His fat fingers and overly developed arms pressed the still warm gun barrels into the chests of the two motionless hostages. He was clearly eager to triple his body count.
"It has been a long time."
"Nearly eight years and five months" replied the tall man.
"Who the fuck is this?" asked the gambler.
"We're on a mission."
The gambler laughed, lowered one gun, grabbed a fresh bottle of gut-rot from the bar and took a mouthful.
"From God, the Devil or the McKaffs?"
Near the entrance a drunk was being badly beaten by a pair of street punks his cries went almost unnoticed, except the gambler's enhanced hearing picked out a few words.
"You look old and tired." Said the tall figure.
The gambler thrust the open bottle towards the second figure: "I still don't know who the fuck you are!"
"Don't you get Global News Channel 57-39 down here?" said the tall figure.
The tall figure leaned across the table.
"Hetch" said the second figure looking up at the gambler.
"So, you're the little demolition expert at Rhyson station? I lost 50 kilo of tech when your little fucking bomb..." the gambler paused then jumped forwards and pushed the two figure over backwards behind a stone pillar "Take cover!" he screamed.
Two blinding lights exploded through the narrow entrance and concealed exits followed by teams of riot troops. The atmosphere flipped in an instant; as the drugs den become a chaotic scramble for cover. The lines of troops kicked over tables, punched customers and filled the air with a tornado of bullets. Glasses smashed, neon board advertising triple-x services exploded and corpses began to pile up on the floor.
"Corporate fuckers!" cursed the gambler reloading his guns.
Hetch felt a hand grab the back of his jacket and physically drag him across the floor towards the cellar stairs. He turned around to see Splice was holding a metal chair in front of his head like a four-legged shield. The metallic "ping" sound and blue streaks of fragmentation shells filled his senses with a strong desire to hide. He couldn't tell which way the danger was coming from, simply because it was coming from every direction. The bar keeper was taking random shots at the approaching lines of troops before ducking behind cover to refill his semi-automatic with another magazine. Hetch watched as he mistimed the reload and got shot in the arm by a stream of bullets.
"Get to the container pod out back!" screamed the gambler as he hid beneath a growing pile of dead bodies.
Smoke grenades bounced into the corners of the room as the troops picked their way slowly through the dead and the dying on the floor and seats. A blast of gun fire made sure each customer was dead before the line moved forward. It was clear they were searching, slowly and deadly for something, or someone.
Hetch and Splice half fell backwards down the cellar stairs before their battered arms and legs took a firm grip on gravity. "Fuck!" "Been hit?" "No, but this body armour kicks like a bitch" replied Hetch holding the side of his chest.
Splice closed the cellar door and exhaled as the security locks clicked into place.
"Try these." said Splice offering Hetch some more painkillers.
"What about upstairs?"
Hetch listened to the muffled battle above them. The deafening gun battle now seemed more distant. The occasional sound of a grenade and screams faded.
"Ex-military?" asked Hetch
"More..." Splice grinned and looked at him, "... more... of a mercency. One of the demolition crews Mewco used to hire on a regular basis."
"We just leave him up there?"
"He 'owns' this block and most of its inhabitants. It shouldn't take long before he knocks."
In the distance a faint siren approached and the sounds of a mega-phone shouting orders at the housing block of criminality above it.
"He's a really resourceful character, can find his way out of anything! Him and Mewco used to go way back. When Mewco's little military scams helped to fund his underground network. That's one thing I miss, his ruthless desire for profit."
Hetch sat on a box and looked around for something eatable while he listened to Splice.
It seemed strange, thought Hetch, once you die everyone forgets all the shitty stuff you used to do to them.
"One thing is for sure, those McKaffs would be in a tech-box six foot under the ground if Mewco was still here."
"Used to go way back? Why, what happened?" asked Hetch.
"Who, you mean."
"What has she got to do with it? Was he jealous? A fight in Mewco's club or something?"
"No. Worse. She was, I mean is, Wheeler's sister."
"Crap!" exclaimed Hetch.
"True. After Mewco's military career was ended, due to his expanding drugs and bio-tech business, he and Wheeler started the Tek Emporium and few other underground schemes. In those dark days they had to make a reputation for themselves. Along the way they both got hooked on their own drugs." "Carena?" "She followed her brother and tried to pay off his debts and get him off the drugs" "One night a rival gang stormed the Money Shot Club and left Wheeler half dead and Mewco badly beaten. With his military contacts Mewco fitted them both out with a shit load of biotech enhancements and sent Wheeler off to try and control this side of the city."
"Why didn't he go back to Mewco and his sister?"
"She was kinda like down payment on Wheeler's combat implants, besides he was busy keeping this city's scum in their place, cracking skulls and building up his own little empire."
"Why didn't he buy back his sister?"
"I guess loyalty", replied Splice.
"Some messed up loyalty!"
"We need his help. In those dark, early days survival was based purely on numbers. The more muscle you had, the more hardware, the more respect. Pure and simple."
"Unsure. He used to trade flesh with Dakk, import a few hundred girls in exchange for the latest hardware and medical tech."
"There is one possibility", said Hetch standing up.
"Wheeler iced Mewco in revenge for what he did to his sister."
"He bought her", said Splice, snorting up some powder and pinching his nostrils.
Those three words stabbed at Hetch. There it was again, a moment of emotion. He knew her past and the circumstances surrounding her employment with Mewco, but it did not make things easier to understand or accept. Maybe it was a moment of guilt, he told himself. That accident on the fire escape flashed back across his mind as Splice moved through the basement and climbed down a metal ladder.
"It's a really shitty world out there kido!" said Splice pressing his ear against a wide sliding door then opened it just enough to squeeze himself through.
Hetch sighed. His body wanted to sleep, crawl up deep inside a dream tube and sleep. The chance the escape the horrors of day-to-day survival, but her knew, sleep would offer no rest from his thoughts, he would be haunted by the nightmare images from the past few days. Or was it a week? His mind was scrambled, a skull filled with static. His only purpose now was to kill the McKaffs or wait in a fearing-induced limbo while they caught up with him and snuffed him out like a cigarette stub. He didn't plan on being washed down the gutter like all the others.
Splice was right, they needed as much help as possible, but this would mean tons of credits and going head to head with the psychotic McKaff brothers meant they would need ten times that amount.
There before Hetch stood row after row of stacked cargo barges all in need of major repairs. The entire scene looked like a junk yard where metal giant transporters go to die. Rust and twisted surfaces blocked almost every path. People chased rats in order to eat and dogs barked furiously and snapped their chains at every slight movement.
"What makes you think Wheeler will face them?" he shouted at Splice.
"Cholo!" replied Splice.
"Who the hell is Cholo?"
Before he could get an answer Splice leaned inside a mangled taxi pod skeleton and pulled a lever. The door on a dirty grey container jerked open.
A crowd of angry looking homeless people began to chase Hetch and pulled at his coat. Their hands barely had the strength to hold on. It was clear most of them had been eating from the garbage and trying to survive amongst the burnt out wrecks that littered the yard. Many had disfigured features or body parts missing – no doubt traded for a few credits or lifted by a swipe freak. The crowd began to push Hetch as he tried to climb across the obstacle course of junk and rotting garbage. They were hungry for his clothes, his wallet or anything that could help keep out the cold. Hetch was battered from side to side as he tried to find the dull grey container that Splice had disappeared into a few seconds earlier. Now every container seemed dirty and grey. The flickering spikes from a dozen tiny fires blurred across his retinas as something blunt struck the back of his head. He felt his body melt into lead. He heard his knees sink into the cold, wet mud before he lost consciousness.
To be continued...