The bike stopped in the safety lane. The rider got off and placed his helmet on the seat. A few cars honked as they passed. He climbed up the concrete barrier and looked around. This part of the highway, leading over and through the slums, had not been modernized in decades. While all the others had safety barriers and emergency exits, none existed here. He could have jumped off the highway if he wanted. He would fall for a few seconds, then splatter on market stands and vegetables. He smelled something spicy from below, and a slight hunger emerged in his stomach. He should get some food before the stands would close.
A multi-cart e-truck honked behind him. An older woman, the age of his mother, yelled outside the window.
“Get back down here son. You’re going to fall if you are not careful.”
The woman seemed concerned, but her face was rather annoyed as if this was not the first time she had seen people on top of the highway. He looked below for a moment, then turned around and got back on his bike without giving attention to the woman. She was following him with her eyes.
“Do you need any help?”
“I’m fine. Not here to kill myself. At least not today.”
He started his bike, and its loud motor drained out the woman’s response. She looked after him for a while until she resumed the autopilot and the truck accelerated again. The man reminded her of her son, and although he did not seem to be suicidal, he must have other demons he was fighting with.
The spicy noodles were so good, he ended up getting a second and third bowl. It was one of the last stands still open as the evening approached. He was the last customer and the owner happily gave him today’s leftovers while having his meal with him.
The neon curvy “J-Implants” sign turned off its light, meaning the shop would close down any moment. He had scouted its security before and was impressed. They were prepared for an invader, but only one that would sneak in, not one that would come in guns blazing. A customer left the store, and he could see a few more sitting inside. He would wait a bit longer.
He loaded his pistol and readied the jammer. He took the last pill from the container the doctor had given him for his leg and threw it on a pyramid of trash that had piled up next to one of the stands. He got out another container and took out one of the rainbow-striped pills, reserved for special occasions. He still remembered the high from the last time. Seeing them both dead on the dirty pier. Fuck, that was good. His pupils widened, and his senses were working overtime as the pill was absorbed in his stomach. A smile grew all over his face as he walked towards the shop. He pulled out his gun and turned on the jammer. The loud screeching became music in his ears.
The door smacked open, and Lap looked up from behind the counter. The last customer had left a while ago, and he had just finished sorting today’s orders. He recognized the smiling face with its wide-open eyes. The jammer blocked outside connections, but the new transmitters he had set up still worked. Shana and Julio could still get his message and video feed. Lap was about to leap forward towards the emergency button under the counter as a bullet in his shoulder stopped him. It seemed like the sound from the gun arrived way later that the bullet did, or was it the sound from the second bullet? Lap’s body got heavy and he fell against a shelf. Several boxes full of implants dropped over him and got smeared in blood. It took him by surprise, but the bullets did not hurt him; they calmed him. Sudden tiredness waved through him.
Hagger was laughing as he pulled the trigger again and again. With every shot, the pain in his leg vanished, and the world became brighter and more saturated. His life was going by in slow motion, and every bullet turned into fireworks. The cabinet of a human was already dead after the third bullet, but he kept going until his hunger was stilled. The young woman had run off behind him while he was in a trance, but he did not need her anyway. He jumped over the counter and spit on the body. The splatter of his saliva splashed on the skin, and small droplets flew through the air. The new door they had installed upstairs was secure against all kinds of shenanigans, except good old explosive charges.
He stuck two on the door, happily slid down the railing of the stairs, and got into cover. One charge would have been enough, but today he felt charitable. The outer walls of the apartment blew open alongside the reinforced door. The concrete was falling into the street and on the market below. Nobody got hit, but the few people still on the market looked over to the building covered in dust and smoke.
Hagger took three steps at a time and walked up the stairs like a clown. Debris were sparkling in the air as if he was walking through glitter.
“I’m back motherfucker!”
When Julio had gotten Lap’s feed, he had just enough time to lock the door. He pushed the emergency button just before it was blown out of the wall alongside its electronics. Being only a few meters away from the door, he was catapulted over a chair and against the kitchen boards. The debris had hit him all over his body, and the wound from his last encounter had opened. His face swole up, and he could no longer feel his right hand. Lying in the dusty kitchen, he sensed him approaching, but could not make out what he was saying. His ears were still ringing from the explosion while blood was coming out of them.
Hagger pulled him up and placed him on the kitchen chair that had survived the explosion. Julio sat folded like a bag of rice and did not move. Hagger saw the blood on his head and legs and noticed the missing right arm. It had been cut clean and was barely bleeding. He looked around the room but could not find it. Hagger pulled up Julio’s head and ripped the implant from his temple. Julio was not fully conscious, and there was no expression in his face. Both eyes were swollen to the point where he could only open and barely see through them. He had cuts over his cheeks with his lower lip swollen as well.
Hagger connected the implant to his tablet and was happy with what he saw.
“Perfect. The first thing you did after I visited was to hide the wallet. You did not even bother to check your implant for any virus or fraudulent code.”
Julio did not react. Hagger walked happily over to the fridge that had not gotten a single scratch from the explosion and pushed it over. The door popped open, and milk spilled all over the floor and mixed itself with dust and blood. Behind the fridge, a small black box was taped next to the evaporators. It looked like it was part of the refrigerator until you took a closer look at the little strips of tape at its edges. Hagger pulled it off, placed it on the kitchen counter, and used a piece of concrete from the floor to break open the lock. He hit it a few times till it gave in and exposed the small drive that was wrapped and taped in several plastic bags. Hagger tucked it into his jacket and was ready to leave. He now had what he wanted; Four million Eurodollars would turn his dreams into reality: A penthouse inside the inner city, luxurious cars, and fancy food for the rest of his life.
Julio dropped from the chair as Hagger walked out of the kitchen. He had passed out from the blood loss. Hagger walked downstairs as if nothing had happened. He was today’s last customer of J-Implants, and they had provided him with excellent service. Several curious people from the market were peeking inside the newly established construction site. Hagger walked past with a smile on his face and disappeared in the crowd. Several drones flew above and circled the building, while sirens approached on the streets.
While indulging himself in small dumplings and sweet bread, he watched the police and ambulance block off and enter the ruins. They took out one body on a large stretcher. Instead of two, four people had to carry the massive body to an electric cart. The crowd then slowly dispersed, which was his sign to move.
The small side alley ended on a large intersection. There was a bar close by he was looking for. He had been there several times, and its private rooms were the perfect place to wind down. He scanned the codes on the large glass monitor and reserved himself a room on the upper floors. Several TVs were flickering on the wall of the room, and electronic rock music was playing in the background. He switched the playlist several times, then sat down on the large sofa and peeked through the window over the street and buildings close by. The window was transparent from his side but looked like concrete from the other. Nobody knew about it if they had never visited this place.
A small hole in the wall opened, and his drinks and snacks rolled onto the table until they stopped right in front of him. He took a sip of the beer and tried some fried snacks and crackers until he put his attention on the packaged drive. He copied the wallet, then copied the keys from his online backup.
It took a few seconds, and he noticed how the effects of the micro were slowly wearing off. The snacks and beer started to taste less exotic, and the wine-red furniture received a darker color. His heartbeat, which had been his background music for the past hour, faded.
The wallet opened, and he had access to 3.95 million Eurodollars. The few seconds of waiting and refreshing stretched themselves as if they were hours. The numbers slowly changed on his accounts, and relief overcame him. Finally, after months of pain and regret. He made several more transactions to settle the debt he had with the government and several banks, then ordered himself more food. The drug had made him hungry beyond belief.
While eating through a feast of several large steaks, fries, glass-noodles, potatoes, several kinds of fried and unfried vegetables with dozens of sauces and dippings, he glanced over to the bunch of implants laying on the sofa next to him. One was his, one from the boy, the others from his former colleagues. Their small gang had worked together for several years and performed small gigs around the slums. They were not particularly well-known, but they had their customers. They took care of gang-related jobs the gangs themselves did not want to. If they needed to cut a loose end with some third party, they would hire his crew. Most of their jobs were done publicly so that witnesses could confirm their doing. Several of his members had died over the years and were replaced.
About two years ago, a smart kid entered the gang. He was too young for grunt work but handy with implants. It allowed them to gain some additional income from the implants of their victims. Hagger had gotten close to the kid over time. He would do the dirty work, and the kid would stay back and take care of the implants. It felt like he had a geeky little brother.
After a particularly good job, the gang decided they all needed to upgrade their implants. The kid knew the most about implants, so he took care of it. They went on with their business but had not expected the kid to build a backdoor into their implants. From then on, he had access to their accounts but waited for the perfect moment to strike. It came with the four million offer.
The only mistake he had made was his lack of patience. He had transferred the money to one of his accounts before and not after he disappeared. He was on his way to the subway as one of the others found him. Of course, he did not admit what he had done and was the first to die. The rest of the gang met in the lower city to find the traitor among them. Everyone suspected Hagger because the transactions had run over his account, but it would make no sense for him to show up or keep in contact. The most trigger-happy started shooting before they could agree to trace back their transactions and IPs.
Hagger was the last one standing. He was pissed and glad that he got rid of the incompetent bunch. After copying the data of their implants, he spent days trying to find the wallet before remembering that the kid was the one who bought them their implants.
1B made it more uncertain that he would ever find his implant, but he eventually traced the ownership through several IPs. Weeks and many bodies later, he visited J-Implants for the first time.
The steaks, alongside most of the side dishes had disappeared into his stomach. He let out a loud burp and laid back on the sofa. He started a VR tour of a house he had bookmarked. On his retina, an attractive young brunette was guiding him through the house while accidentally showing him her cleavage. He turned down the transparency and dove into the house tour.
The housing company was one of Kaiser’s clients and had adjusted its advertisement accordingly to the desires of its customers. Hagger was transfixed, but the house was getting the least of his attention. The VR tour was about to finish, and the woman was walking around him, whispering the contract details into his ears. His dream home was only one click away for the absurdly cheap sum of 900k Eurodollars. In his mind, he was not buying a house, but more pleasure from the woman circling him. Hagger’s mouth was drooling with salvia as the woman bent over with the contract in her hands. He was looking down towards her chest and could see her well-formed breasts. She did not wear a bra, and if he leaned forward a little bit more, he would be able to see her nipples, but simultaneously sign the first part of the contract. It would guarantee the company the first deposit, whether he would cancel the agreement or not.
The door of his room burst open, and he jumped back onto the sofa. The woman in the VR tour was startled and looked towards the door as well. He shut down the tour to her sad expression. Instead of the brunette, a bald man with a dark-brown leather jacket and several tattoos on his arms and a woman with side-cut, black baggy pants, and yellow vest were standing before him.
He did not know these blokes, but by the look of it, they knew him, and most people who knew him wanted him dead.
“You haven’t changed at all, have you? Did not even learn how to open doors without blowing them up.”
Hagger pulled the gun and pushed himself over the sofa to put distance between them. They were both moving as if they already knew. The guy jumped on the table and kicked the pistol out of his hand. A loud crack filled the air. The bald man lifted and threw him across the room against the wall. He gasped for air after he fell on the floor. He could see the woman picking up Julio’s implant that was still lying on the sofa.
“You nearly killed the only kid in town who understands these things. You also destroyed his shop and killed his employee. Don’t you think you could at least give back the money you stole?”
Hagger looked at her, slightly confused but enraged at that idea.
“Technically and legally, this is not your implant and never was. Even without the black-market reselling, Julio reset the entire thing and imprinted his ID. You can’t make it more obvious than that. And everything that was on it also belongs to him, including the money you lost.”
Hagger got up and lunged himself towards her. She changed her pose, tilted his arm slightly, and he fell head first into the plates on the table and shattered them. She put her fingers on his temple while the bald guy held him on the ground. He tried to move with all his strength, but they had full control. Electricity was flowing through his forehead, and he saw the implant acting by itself. It took all the money and sent it out to different accounts. It only took a few seconds.
“Was nice meeting you again. Always good to get reminded that people like you still exist. We’ve put you in the government database for serial child rapists. Your GPS will now be in constant connection with the police. You try to pull something shady or do some dirty work, and you will end up in prison for the rest of your life. You remove your GPS and the police will be after you.”
She took the box of pills out of his jacket, while baldy picked up his pistol. They left him lying on the floor and put on their sunglasses.
“Maybe we will see each other again, maybe we won’t. See this as the first day of your new life.”
They noticed the explosion before they could hear its shockwave. They entered the camera feed and saw Hagger walking towards the shop. Was he working for Kaiser again? He had come for Julio before they had, which was a bad sign. The streets were too crowded, so they took the roofs. They climbed up the wall of a building like two monkeys and delighted nearby passengers; some even clapped. Jumping the eight meters from roof to roof was no problem for their bodies.
As they ascended the smoking building, they saw the large slum hillside glittering in the afternoon sun. They stayed low in the smoke and dropped through the freshly made hole on the roof. Everything was covered in dust and Julio was lying face down in milk and blood, next to one completely unharmed kitchen chair. They saw his non-existent arm. V grabbed him and tucked him over her shoulders, while Z had already jumped up again, going ahead to prepare the operation. She was about to jump, as the young woman in a red-white dress came through the smoke.
“Julio.” she gasped.
“What are you doing with him? Is he alive?”
V did not look like police, ambulance, or killer to Shana, but rather like some military professional. V looked at her for a brief moment till she had figured out who she was, then send her the coordinates they were heading to. She jumped into the smoke above without saying a word.
She traversed as smoothly as she could so he would not lose additional blood. Z had already woken up the doctor and prepared the surgery. They opened the door when she came in sight. Salim was fully clothed in sterile surgery clothes, and they started to cut Julio’s clothes and cleaned his body. He had several cuts in his chest and the obvious loss of his arm. The stump was beginning to bleed heavier. V opened a port on Julio’s other arm and injected the drugs prepared on the counter.
After the stump was cleaned, Salim started stitching it together. Several small robot arms above them automatically cleaned, sterilized, and brought new supplies. Salim was sweating heavily from the sudden emergency. He had not had been in such a situation in many years. While he was focusing on the stump, several more arms were inserting tubes into Julio’s body to keep him breathing and his organs from collapsing. The last cuts and bleedings around his crouch and legs were given attention by V and Z. The door opened as Shana approached.
“We need your hands.”
Shana was startled, but after seeing the familiar environment, she cleaned herself and got to work. Most of the smaller injuries could be treated with a small laser device that was regenerating tissue and cells, but the long cuts on his chest and his stump needed proper time to heal. Even with the addition of nanobots, he would still need several weeks to recover. The swelling on his face was mostly gone, but the blue and green color on his skin remained. Salim and the arms continued operating while Z explained Shana what happened.
V was busy tracking down their old friend. He was not working for Kaiser but had been betrayed by his own gang. She found the death reports. All implants were missing. Julio must have gotten the implant and therefore became Hagger’s target. Hagger’s ID had just checked into a bar nearby and she pinged Z. The least they could do is get Julio his money back and go through Hagger’s implant. They had not expected him to become an issue, but somehow, he had found a way. Now they had to take care of him.
They left Shana with Salim, who was exhausted and covered in sweat. He took off his clothes, and half-naked drowned a bottle of water in front of her. Shana was baffled but amused by the strange sight.