One of the encamped strangers was disgruntled, "You cheated me. You fucking cheated me!"
"You're full of shit." The man with the mustache said, sitting in place and smoking a cigar.
The clean-shaven man threw his cards down, stood up, and brandished a laser handgun.
"What the--" The cigar dropped from the mustached man's mouth. He flung backwards from the blast to his chest.
Chains stood there in shock, while the sound of many footsteps emerged from behind.
The gang members approached in dark suits and strangely cut street cloth, some clean shaven and others with scraggly facial hair. But it was their eyes that were out of place, they seemed just a little too dark, and just a little too small.
The gang members dragged slaves shackled by the wrists and neck in some elaborate structure of metal and laser. Most of the slaves were children, some were older, in their teens or twenties. While the chains that held the slaves in place were almost rectangular, like the metal links that were wrapping around the short engineer's chest.
The gang's leader was in a black suit looking on with dark, murderous circles.
"Where did you come from?" He bellowed amidst his own heavy, drug-soaked breathing.
"Nowhere." Chains replied.
"Put him with the rest." The leader said.
“Hey Stock, there's blood here in the water.” One of the gang members said, dipping his fingers in it and smelling the red.
Stock looked into the bowels of the sewer, then back up at the clean-shaven man near the two-man camp who had finished packing his psy-cards away.
“Grey. What the fuck happened?”
“He pissed me off Stock.. I mean-- he threatened me.”
“He pissed you off then.” Stock replied.
The gang leader shot Grey twice in the chest, and he fell down into the bloody, artificial crook; his pack of psy-cards falling out of his pocket.
“One man kills another man without reason, they deserve the same fate!” Stock yelled.
Chains felt sick to his stomach as they chained him up with the other slaves. The older ones covered the eyes of the younger ones, kept the tears from running. The short mechanic felt somewhere in between the crying kids’ innocence and the teenage slaves’ detachment.
“What are these chains for?” One of the gang members grinned curiously, grabbing the chains wrapped around the short engineer's chest.
Chains decided to be honest, “They're to keep my heart from breaking my ribs.”
The man didn't let go of the metal links until Stock gave him a death stare, “Quit fucking around. Lets get to the surface before those MoP bastards find us.”
* * *
The group made their way through the sewer's mazes to the surface. The short engineer and mechanic could not help but think with fear of what awaited him, and whether it was even worth trying to escape again. Then Chains heard a gang member say something interesting enough to stop his train of thought, “The Company has been android hunting since the last quarter. Been rumors of rogue androids who know big secrets about the city. Secrets that could get a lot of people killed.”
“I've seen one of those machines go haywire years ago. Rip a small crowd of people apart.” said Weldan, the oldest man in the gang.
Stock spit out whatever he had been chewing on, it looked like spoiled beef jerky. “All the androids are dead.”
“The Company doesn't stand a chance against Tragedy.” One of the two women in the group rang out, she had choppy hair and her eyes were no differently genetically sunken than the others. “He's got the fuckers scared in their beds.”
“I'm an old man,” Weldan said. “I've seen far too many thugs to not get wind of a famous sniper crawling through Terracatra. If there are any chance that androids still exist, Tragedy is it.”
“Stop entertaining them with these robot ghost stories, Weldan.” Stock said. “If any androids still exist in this city, they only exist for someone's bed.”
“But I was going to say that it is more likely,” Weldan replied, “that it was just different people taking on the name for their own foolhardy politics..”
The group arrived to the surface not many turns far. The Ansidia Gang's hideout was dirty from the floor to the walls, but the ceiling was a beautiful skeleton of dark beams barely containing masses of electronic guts. The slaves were taken into a side room full of dog kennels, painted dark aqua with the color chipping off. Most of the cages were empty, but a handful of young people looked on at the new arrival of slaves with hopelessness and fatigue like drugged, starving dogs.
They threw Chains into one of the cages, with three other younger prisoners. One was a little boy with cybernetics implanted in his face, the silicone-doused metal wrapped over an eye he must've lost or been subjected to losing. He was deathly quiet, staring from the corner at the man who seemed much shorter than him.
“What is wrong with your heart?” The boy asked.
Chains paused before he spoke, “..the same thing that's wrong with your eye.”
Another child whispered to a girl who was older than him, “Someone is coming to save us.”
Chains sunk down into a corner not sure what to think of it.
A couple minutes later one of the female gang members jumped at something. She pulled out her gun, “Spider bombs!”
Mechanical arachnids the size of tarantulas crawled from the outside through the open ceiling. When Chains saw them he pulled the others into the corner.
Chains pulled one frightened little girl by the arm, “Come on. Get down.”
The short engineer had seen these robots before, usually they were small, walking grenades, only used by The Company to kill off members of the 'Plagues.
The spiders congregated on the ceiling.
“Everyone get back!” Weldan yelled.
The weaponized robots dropped down spraying orange gas everywhere. In the frantic seconds to follow, gunshots rang out followed by cursing.
“Don't fucking shoot if you don't know who you're shooting at!” Stock yelled, coughing and crawling on the floor. Whoever was shooting had stopped, probably writhing around in pain from the gas. There was loud crying but it was near impossible to see anything.
In the haze of the smoke, struggling to breathe, Chains saw sparks coming from some industrial cutting tool.. and further above, someone between skinny and muscular with a Mark 2 gas mask on.
When the little bars on the engineer’s cage were cut out into a makeshift doorway, the masked man went to drag Chains out of the kennel with all of his force.
“I'm only here for him.” The stranger said to the choking adolescents, his voice distorted from the mask's hacked vocal synthesizer.
“Target age 20 and up. Cancel target.” The rescuer said, pointing his bulky handgun Chains and then at Weldan. “Cancel target.”
Weldan seemed to cough on his own barely audible voice, handing over a card full of electro-currency to the stranger, “Leave the women alive.”
The stranger in the gas mask looked down at the old gang member like a cold machine, “I don’t let slavers live. You should know that.”
Stock injected himself with some heavy duty painkiller. It gave him enough pain tolerance to crawl through the thick chemical cloud. He left it empty in his neck as he crawled. With a great grimace, Stock pulled out the long needle from his flesh with one of his muscular arms and raised it at Weldan's throat. But the man in the gas mask caught sight of Stock’s outline in the smoke, and ended the Ansidia's leadership with a single shot.
After this frantic instant of death Chains saw a trail of the mechanical spiders crawling up the stranger's medium-proof suit and into storage compartments in the sides of his mask.
No sooner there was a cry rattling from outside the compound. The sound frightened everyone who hadn't passed out or suffocated. It was the last thing Chains heard before he himself blacked out from the pain in his lungs.
* * *
“Contact 3075. Sector 9. Section 7. Tabalt Road.” The soundwaves of a jumbled, robotic voice, the artificial breeze, and the chemical-induced headache all hit the short man at once in a groggy parade. He laid near a massive trash heap, trying to make sense of the urban shadows he was steeped in.
“Contact 3075. Sector 9. Section 7. Tabalt Road..” The man in the gas mask looked down at Chains with a menacing artificial face, eyes glowing green, and the microphone on his black and metal hand still up to his mouth. Beeps came from the dillapidated buildings around them, probably old monitoring systems less likely now to stop the vicious terrorists below.
A responding voice came through into the masked man’s ear, but Chains could barely hear it.
“Affirmative.” The stranger said.
The stranger unlatched his mask, it rolled around the side his face and clasped to the back of his neck, its eyes still cold and glowing. From behind the gas mask was a bony-faced insomniac with long white hair. He stared down at the mechanic with a glare somewhere between tired, warm, and nihilistic. “Did we not meet in your dreams?”
“Who are you?” Chains stumbled to get up, the gas still on its throes of wearing off, clasped to his nervous system like a dying parasite.
"Most of our dreams are lies.. but here I stand before you.” The assassin pulled out a long cigarette with something other than marijuana or tobacco and lit it. “Your dream was not a lie, the only lie was that there was not a nightmare in your dream. You’ll have to decide whether its me or Terracatra itself."
Smoke poured from the stranger's mouth, “My name is Tachyon.”
Chains looked down at the ground and put his hand on his forehead, his breath deepening to compensate for his waning headache. “How did you alter my dreams? What did you do to me?”
“We hacked the phone chip in your head.”
“But I disabled that phone chip over a decade ago.” Chains looked at Tachyon inquisitively.
“Our movement has some great hackers with some crazy theories. Two of them died for you.”
“I don't know what to say.”
“Neither do I, so we should just get going.” Tachyon dropped his half-smoked cigarette on the ground and stomped it out. “It’ll be quieter to go on foot.”
“Where are we?”
“Where will you take me?”
“To the slums.” Tachyon’s robotic speech synthesis droned, changing pitch mid-sentence like a crying monster.
“So I am another person’s slave then..” Chains murmured, rubbing his hand through his hair in a stressed motion.
The taller man unholstered one of his two metal-scarred pistols and held it out to Chains with the barrel in his palm, “Here, take this.”
Chains took the gun reluctantly, staring at the reflective parts sunken in the black chemical proofing of Tachyon’s hand.
Tachyon noticed, and his vocoder rang out in monotone reply, “You can’t tinker with it Chains, its all dead metal.”
“What is that you’re fighting for?”
“Abolition." Tachyon said, his mask rolling around his head to pull his humanity back behind the curtains of an artificial face.
* * *
“We’ll be at the South bridge soon enough.”
There was fear in Chains‘s voice, “How will we get past the tyrants?”
“That’s why I gave you a gun.” The abolitionist joked as they walked with quiet footsteps.
Tachyon’s tall, bony figure seemed like one of a dying man, but his voice was filled with youth and resolve for the dead. He stopped for a second, pulling out some form of monitoring device, and the two men took in their lonely, uniform surroundings.
“Monitoring the environment?” Chains asked.
“Only before I pollute it.” Tachyon replied with his mask off again.
“This place is unnatural for a city enveloped by civil war.”
“It is these abandoned places that are the safest. Where one can breathe in the unowned air,” Tachyon pointed. “See the cool glow of lines in the great walls that make up the sky. And from those cracks of light in the dark, they might almost forget the trauma in their lives.”
He touched the exterior of the building next to him, his fingertips running over dried, dimly glowing paint in the shape of childrens' hands, “This used to be school.”
“What happened to it?”
The taller man’s serious eyes stared down with a hint of sadness, “You don't want to know.”
There was a moment before the short engineer could think of words to break the tension, “Keeping the past secret is a lonely burden.”
“Yes.” Tachyon took out another smoke, lit it with his hand, and took a drag of it. “But its in the pain of isolation that people here will find their way to peace. And it is the questions within loneliness that will make them seek truth.”
“What truth exactly?” Chains asked.
“I’m still searching for it all myself.” Tachyon stood sharpened by his drugs, the green and white glow of corporate lights reflecting off his cybernetic suit. “Every day I can feel its pull.. like magnets hidden in the walls.”