The Wake-Up Call


Chapter 38: Vision

The red light crossed back and forth, hunting down a new target of interest. Hetch remained motionless and aching from his recent wounds from the case's explosive defence system. The possibility of someone witnessing the events through the narrow window was remote and so too was the likelihood that anyone in the city could give a damn and try to help him. It was more likely that they would lie in wait for the hit man to finish him off before snatching any valuable items from his corpse.

Hetch's mind raced through every fuzzy pirate holo flick he had ever seen playing and fast forwarded past the sex scenes and paused on the 'hero escapes from certain death' end scenes. But this wasn't a flick; it was real. Those dirty needles covering most of the bathroom floor and bleeding body wasn't props. It was a future crime scene. Decades of bunking off work detail to grab a brief rest watching a damaged projection beam broadcast hadn't equipped him with the means to escape it only reminded him that every series had to end somehow, the curtain had to fall and characters killed off in some improbable gun scene slaughter to boast falling ratings. The damn Global News channel 57-39 dubbed his thoughts. His mind created its own version of Hetch's own death, as Matt Hemlock would report it in a mixture of insincerity and corporate attitude designed to appeal to the largest projected demographic audience group.

Hetch stared at the closed wooden door.

It would be stupid to remain in the room for much longer. The dead low life would be missed by one of his drug-fuelled hookers or long-term gambling associates. Hetch could not wait this one out. The sniper could be waiting for him to be discovered or simply providing a diversion for others to storm the room and finish him off. He was trapped inside the room like a terminal patient waiting for the final visitor.

Every possible action crossed his mind. Using the body, as a shield would be impossible, it was too heavy and those sniper bullets cut through the sleazy hotel owner like lava through ice. The furniture in the room was bolted to the walls, no doubt to prevent it being stolen or used as weapons when the owner came to collect the rent. The ventilation system was ancient, some strange mixture of minimalist plumbing and recycled rust covered metal tubes. No way to squeeze through the gap, there was barely enough room for the waste products to flow through. He could set a fire and hope the smoke would act like a cloak and mask his escape, but the burn on his side persuaded him otherwise.

It was a taster of what to expect at the south border crossing and having to dodge the stings of sniper bullets. He wished for another chance to go back and get tooled up with some heavy body armour.

He pulled at the case and clawed his fingers through the piles of burnt credits, all black and melted like ashes in a grate. A bullet would have been worth it to escape with the 150,000 but now it was all totally useless, not even good enough to pass the flaky inspection from a vending machine serving cheap junk food at a passenger terminal. The explosion had in an instance smashed his dreams. He was alone in the world with a few credits in his pocket and knew crossing the border would be impossible without the resources required.

Twenty agonising minutes passed away before he heard the voice of a hooker calling out for the fat owner. He thought it must be time for another hourly hit of polluted narcotics and a regular dose of violence for not earning more credits from the steady stream of punters looking for her 'human entertainment'. Those hundreds of workers from the mines and construction sites would be a means to escape thought Hetch, to go unnoticed in the crowds and get near to the safety of a freight tram. The first task was to escape the room without getting a lead implant from his captor across the street.

"Hey honey, where are you? Mummy needs another spoon of sugar" came the slurred voice from an wretched looking creature covered in tight cloths holding an empty needle in her bruised right hand. The cigarette burns and scratches splattered across the rest of her body instantly told her story.

Hetch watched the target beam move back and forth. It did not react to the sound of the hooker's voice. A was a little piece of good news. The sniper wasn't using a listening device.

"In here." yelled Hetch.

"Where honey? You want a good time?"

His fist held the case so tight that his knuckles turned white. A few drops of sweat escaped from his forehead.

There was a knock at the door before it crept open. He felt his heart smashed against his ribs with anxiety. Blood coursed round his muscles as he tensed up, ready to pounce. He had to time it just right. The sorry looking hooker stood in the doorway peeking around the moving door. Hetch's eyed were fixated on that small red dot on the floor.

"Hey what the fuck have you done to Rolly?" she screamed, seeing her dead ex-boss on the floor.

The red dot moved, Hetch threw up the metal case in the air and jumped towards the doorway. A heavy series of stabbing sounds preceded the cloud of dust and burnt credits from the broken case. The sniper was unleashing all his ammo into a split second of action. Hetch reached the hooker and pushed his way half past her before the second series of bullets spilt the window and case still further. The hooker fought back by jabbing the needle into Hetch's artificial arm as she kicked and bit him on the ground. She tore at his leg as a stray bullet cut into her hand. As if by perfect timing it broke her grip of his leg and Hetch stumbled into relative safety along the corridor. He took a second to catch up with his breath and didn't know whether to kiss or kill that hooker for helping him to escape. His answer came immediately.

She screamed her lungs out and hurled a shoe in his direction with her uninjured hand.

He pulled the building down with his hands as he climbed back up onto his feet. The squalid interior gave no clues as to a suitable exit, in fact every direction led into another smoke filled trail of obscurities and danger. Her screams would not go unnoticed for too long, even in a flea-pit like this so Hetch continued in the direction he was facing and ran like a man possessed through the maze of small corridors, steps and dead ends. Dodging the occasional stack of illegal goods and unconscious hotel bums sleeping in the back rooms he made his frantic route toward the back of the building. His sense of direction was as lost as the barricaded fire escape exits and cramped elevators that grew in volume with each new corridor. He ran and ran until his head pounded with exhaustion and was forced to stop by a large road sign crudely bolted to the front of two double doors.

It was hard to think if he was in the same city, let alone the same hotel. His breathing faded back into the smog filled scenery. The concrete surroundings convinced him that he was outside but the distant sky above him fifteen or more storeys gave little indication where he was. His head snapped around from doorway to doorway looking for any sign that someone had followed him. A few thundering engines and faint hum of power supplies used to power massive building complexes helped calm his nerves back down from critical to mild paranoia. His cupped hands filled with the condensed water vapour from a nearby heat exchanger and his dry mouth was replenished enough to gulp down a drink of clean water. His fingers dragged the damp hair from his face and he stood up straight ready to take on the world, or at least ready for its next brutal punch.

He was back to the beginning: square one, the origin. His pockets contained nothing but junk, he had no credits or plan and worst of all he was in an unfamiliar part of the city.