I28: Boltholes

Hi all, let me just preface this by saying we’re sorry how much we’ve sucked of late on the update front. Real life, as it does on occasion has caught up with us all. But now things seem to be settling down – on with the regularly scheduled programming… 

Radul was late. Nothing new there, his habitual tardiness was one of the reasons I hated relying on him, but Rourke wouldn’t be ready for another ten hours and we needed somewhere to lay low. We’d ditched the Arbite wagon on the other side of Augustina, just out of the governance districts, and headed on foot to the wharf areas surrounding the star ports, dodging Arbite patrols and walkers alike. The rain still fell like gunshots from the sky and we were soaked to the bone. Quinn hadn’t said a word since we ran, just stood there with her arms wrapped round her slender frame and red hair plastered to her face like ropes of blood. Throne alone knows what was going on inside that head of hers, but if she couldn’t pull it together Rourke would be carrying a cargo of one.
We lurked in a dank alley off the main strip in Shaketown, the salubrious entertainment district closest to the star-ports; air thick with the smell of rancid alcohol and cheap narc-tubes. Populated almost entirely by bars, joy-girls and gang-heads, it got its name from its reputation for cleaning out newly arrived longshoremen and freighter crews, freshly paid and looking to party. The name came from the joke that once you entered, you’d be held upside down and shaken to get every crown out of you. Girls, drink, drugs, it all flowed through Shaketown and Radul and his White Paralt crew took the biggest slice of it. Despite the mutie troubles and the walkers roaming the favelas, Shaketown was still busy, safety assured by the groups of stimmed-up gang-heads roaming the streets in place of the polished Magistratum and Arbite forces of more classy districts. Shaketown might be a shithole, but it was the safest shithole I could think of right now and I was hoping the clean-up at the palace would keep Tenenbaum and his boys busy long enough for us to slip out unnoticed.

So, here we were, one Ordo info-sys adept and one killer. Stuck in a vomit-stained alley behind some cheap tumble-house and even cheaper bar, waiting on some low-rent gang-knuck who thought he was big time and dodging the very people we’d been working for. Something about the way things went down in the palace was playing on my mind, the neural-chem conditioning worrying at it like a canid with a bone. I pushed it to one side, had more important things to worry about, like where the frak Radul was and how I would stop myself shooting him in the ten hours we had to endure his company.
A low whistle from the alley opening pulled me from thoughts of knifing Radul. The neural-chem, still twitchy from the gunfight at the palace, flared to life, putting the Jackal in my hand before I even realised it. There was an unpleasant hot scratchiness to it, an ache behind my eyes that told me I needed to dope up soon before the synaptic enhancers burnt out. The mass of vat-bred muscle at the end of the alley moved closer, swagger in every action he made and the sneer in his eyes. The stitched threads of the spider sewn into the side of his face and neck, symbol of the White Paralt crew, twitched as the knuck-head looked down at us. His voice was a back-alley medicae enhanced growl, laced with canid threat samples and designed to intimidate.

“You Frayne? Radul says you and the Ordos owe him”

Frakking Radul, couldn’t keep his mouth shut. We went back a few dozen years, to when he was a low-end narc and gun runner in-system. I’d set him up for the Ordo’s, played him into several deals and tapped him as a source of information. He was one of the few who knew I was both Ordo and independent, was supposed to be keeping that shit to himself instead of trading on the rep of being in with an Ordo man. I bit down on the surge of irritation and holstered the Jackal. The knuck-head grinned wider, thinking he’d scored a point over the little man in front of him, not registering either of us as a threat. The neura-chem twitched again, eager to drive fingers into his throat and break that grin off his face.

“Radul should know better than to advertise that he’s in bed with the Ordos. Where the frak is he?”

“Taking care of business, Ordo man. He says to take you to his club, safe there”. Eyes moved sideways to take in Quinn, the grin became a leer. “You can bring your girlfriend as well”.

Still no reaction from Quinn. That was worrying. I nodded and the Paralt turned away, muscling his way through the crowds on the main strip with the arrogance of the criminal underworld. We followed in his wake, me scanning the wharf-hands and dockers spilling across the strip for anything that shouted danger and Quinn keeping her unfocused gaze on the ground. I had a nasty suspicion about where we were headed. I had been hoping it was a quiet little hab-block close to the ports and far from scrutiny but something in the knuck-head’s swagger told me that wasn’t gonna be. The Paralt muscle came to a stop, sweeping his arm out like some circus showman and grinning like a frakking idiot. The club in front of us boomed with music so loud the bass was a vibration you could feel in your bones while strobe-lights stabbed the sky above. Joy-girls draped themselves on balconies and pulled in customers like the Sirens of myth, drinks and narcs appearing in hands like a conjurers trick. It was the loudest, busiest joint on the strip, advertising an ‘end-of-the-world’ celebration that spat in the face of the troubles across the rest of Augustina. Lurid red letters blazed above the doors, bathing the scene in a crimson wash uncomfortably like blood. I felt Quinn flinch with every drop of the pounding bass.

“Here we go Ordo man” the ganger bellowed, “Carpathia. Radul’s inside, waiting for you. Nice and safe and quiet no?” Guttural laughter bubbled out of him as he pushed his way inside.

Throne help me, I was gonna kill Radul.

 

From the shielded suite three floors above the body-packed club floor and bar, the pounding bass was just a faint reverberation that registered at the edge of your hearing, like the heartbeat of the club itself. Polarised plex-glass windows kept the worst of the strobe-light flickers out and knowing Radul, nothing short of an Astartes bolt round would penetrate them. The suite was a generous size for guests, a large living space abutted by three bedrooms and an oversized wetroom containing a large shower and cast-iron bath roomy enough for several. The living space itself was furnished in thick cream carpets paired with dark mahogany brown chaises, strangely tasteful for a gang-head like Radul. Presumably he accommodated various non- criminal acquaintances here, hoping to impress them with his urbane and civil nature and the attentions of several choice joy-girls from downstairs. Opposite the large windows, a long bar stocked enough local and off-world alcohol to make a thirsty man very happy while discreet bowls of various substances sat within reach. I’d already claimed a long-necked bottle of malt-liq and was currently four fingers down, the gentle warmth of the liq blending nicely with the cool hit of the three rapid dump serotonin patches I’d stuck on my neck. The neura-chem had shivered happily when the ‘tonin hit and the scratching on my nerves was gone. The synaptic enhancers made me react a touch quicker than the average man and improved intuition and abstract thinking, but they weren’t the smoothest augments, relying on regular doses of serotonin to make up for the insomnia-induced deficit. Quinn had opined several times that the lack of sleep probably wasn’t the best personality trait for an already unlikable Pariah like myself, but it was a small price to pay for the benefits.

I stretched out across one of the unfeasibly comfortable chaises, stripped to the waist, bottle of malt-liq and the holstered Jackal within easy reach. The shallow wounds on my leg stung, but they’d keep – more worrying was the wound in the meat of my left arm. Raduls pet medicae, who I’d lifted the ‘tonin from as he looked on in tight-lipped disgust, had dressed and cleaned the wound, but the round he’d pulled out looked like nothing I’d seen before. It sat in a glass in front of me, a gnarled lump of metal shot through with what looked like bone or, more disturbingly, teeth. Tanenbaum was looking more and more suspicious by the minute and I suddenly felt an unlooked-for surge of anger regarding the smug bastard. Thinking back, he’d been far too eager to take charge and far too happy that something daemonic was at the heart of this. Don’t get me wrong – I couldn’t give a gilded frak about what happened to Mortlock or Lockharte, but Tanenbaum had made it personal by stabbing me in the back. The urge to find him and wreak bloody violence on him was only just beaten back by the colder voice of reason counselling flight from this Throne-fraked mess.

The gentle susurration of falling water filled the suite. Quinn had shut herself away in the wetroom for the last hour and I assumed she wasn’t getting out anytime soon. She’d looked like shit by the time Radul let us into the suite, near-dead on her feet and her already pale skin almost chalk-white. The medicae had simple blamed shock and left a few shots of morphiates for her but she’d refused to take anything. Radul hadn’t frakking helped, trying to force various drinks and drugs on her while she shied away from the loud gang-boss. I’d used her as an excuse to get out of the club itself, the VIP section Radul greeted us in thronged with gang-heads, joy-girls and moneyed nobles and merchants thrilled with themselves for slumming it in such colourful company. Radul had winked ostentatiously at me as he introduced various forgettable faces, most destined to wake considerably poorer and some unlucky few considerably in debt to the White Paralts. Extortion and blackmail, two of Raduls favourite hangover cures. He’d played up mock-disappointment at our leaving the party early, but underneath there was an uncharacteristic steel note – an implication that I was expected to come back and make nice with the gang-boss, to explain this sudden appearance on his doorstep. I didn’t know where Radul had suddenly found his balls from, but if he thought this put me in his debt, he was gonna be very surprised. I promised to come back down in a couple of hours once we’d got some rest. The protective arm I threw around Quinn gave Radul and his hangers-on the wrong idea, catcalls and lewd comments advising they all knew ‘rest’ wasn’t what we were going to be doing for the next few hours.

My chron beeped softly, marking five in the morning local time. The pounding beat of bass still pulsed through the walls – Carpathia wasn’t the kind of place to close until the dockers stopped coming off their ships. The place would stay open till early morning, throwing stripped-poor revellers out into the cold morning and shutting doors for clean-up until the whole rancid merry-go-round started again around early evening. Give it another few hours and the Paralts would start the lively process of rousting drunk and blessed-up workers from the premises, presumably helping themselves to any unspent funds in the process. Rousing myself from the chaise, I pulled on the blood-stained undershirt I’d been wearing and slipped on the Jackal’s holster rig. The sidearm was a reassuring weight under my left arm, the smaller Hercuter back-up piece lying abandoned on the floor next to my stained and tattered longcoat. I padded softly to the wetroom and cracked the door an inch; swirling clouds of steam breaking the glimpses I caught of Quinn – slender and long limbed, pale skin unbroken save for discreet brass dermal jacks and a purpling bruise over her ribs where Farsen’s maul had caught her. I closed the door quietly, fighting down the fingers of arousal that curled in my gut. She’d been sobbing softly into the fall of water from the shower, scarlet hair a curtain of blood covering her face. Life as a Pariah makes personal connections hard, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had contact with a woman that hadn’t been bought and paid for, but still. This wasn’t the time, or the place. Quinn was damaged, not just physically but mentally, and I wasn’t enough of a bastard to make a play on her.

I pulled a bent tabac-tube from the battered pack and touched it to my ignition-key. The tip flared to life and I sucked in the bitter smoke, felt it curl round my lungs. Right. I was dosed up, gunned up, and ready to do damage. The wetroom door pulled my gaze back for a brief moment, and then I pushed the thoughts of slender pale limbs from my mind. Thinking any more on it was a bad idea. The thick padded door to the suite snicked shut behind me, the pounding hammer of the club-music suddenly amplified in volume. I could already feel my rising irritation with Radul and his gang-lord posturing. He had better tread carefully; tonight was not the night to frak me around.

 

Martin

By day a mild mannered Web Designer from Swindon, by night a horder and shaper of bits in his mad kit bash laboratory.

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