Sam was dizzy and Dan had to hold her as they entered the reinforced door behind the trash containers. It was a dark and shabby ally that smelled of urine and waste. Even if somebody would somehow stumble their way down here, they would not expect that the oval shape in the wall would lead to their hideout. Their clothes were drenched in blood, dripping all over the floor and leaving a small trail. A large portion of it was their own.
Dan unlocked the door after he had checked the security footage. Sam limped onto the large chair that was used for operations and sat down. The chair had dried blood all over it and would now get covered with a fresh layer. Above her, the six small arms with operating tools whirred up as she moaned and laid down. While she was preparing the chair, her trans-clothes changed into underwear.
The rectangular room had industry brown metal walls hidden behind towers of boxes with emergency supplies. The room was off-grid, security cams old and analog. Nobody could get access from the outside. The red light from the lamp on the ceiling made them both tired.
Dan was in the back of the room and prepared the backup program, their failsafe for the worst case. Was this their worst case? Probably not, but they had no choice. Another encounter would not end in their favor.
Sam was screaming up as the small needles pierced into her shoulder. They were removing the shrapnel and cultivated her cells. Another arm injected a sedative and her screaming stopped. It would take a while to remove the bullets and metal fragments.
Shortly after taking care of their Japanese followers from the market, several others had gone after them. Neither Sam nor Dan noticed them until it was too late. One young Korean woman was standing behind a stand selling fishcakes. She was staring at her phone and as they passed, she moved her hands into a bag behind her and took out an automatic gun. She blasted half the magazine in their direction and managed to get two hits on Sam. Dan jumped to the side as he heard the first bullets and raced towards the woman. Before she could adjust her aim, Dan kicked her through the back of her stand and into the seafood boxes standing behind it. Freed from their prison, the fish jumped away, and the crabs started running over the market, trying to get away from their owner as fast as possible. They made sure to first poke the unconscious woman several times in gratitude, as she was now occupying their water boxes.
A street further, they were attacked by a mercenary group wearing silver metal suits. The suits behaved like scales, covered every part of their body, and retracted and expanded to their movements, making them extremely agile and flexible. Long blades were integrated into their forearms, which ran from the elbow down to their fingers. The metal knights were protecting the leading distributor of synthetic drugs in the city and rarely showed themselves with their suits in the open. Although it was exciting to meet them, it was definitely under the wrong circumstances. Dan took out the foldable assault rifle from his backpack and emptied the entire magazine into one of them. The bullets were sliding and bumping off the armor without showing any effect.
Both had received deep cuts from the swords and broke their hands on the hard metal armor. They were coughing blood and got pinned into a corner. The knights were slowly wearing them out, and even their best technique was overpowered by sharp swords and thick armor. After a few more hits and slices, one of Dan’s kicks showed a visible impact on one knight as he tumbled back and moaned. When the armor expanded, some parts were thinner and therefore less dense. It made it easier to transfer force at those spots and even bend the metal.
They had to find an opening while hitting the right spots with maximum power. Both their feet were augmented and able to hit the armor with extreme strength without breaking their legs. They synched up their fighting style. One was making the target move, attack, and expand the body in the way they wanted; the other hit the weak spot with full force. Their new fighting approach showed impact as the knights were visibly hurt by the hits, but it took a bit of finetuning and cost them a few more cuts before they knew the optimal angle and power needed to bend the armor inwards. They continuously ran it through their AI chips to calculate and optimize the best fighting style against their overpowered opponents. They changed their stance and used the motion of both their bodies to gain additional momentum.
The first kick that landed perfectly was a direct hit on the extended chest. It popped the knight’s ribcage and lungs with a loud crack that all of them could hear. When he fell to the ground, blood was flowing out through the scales of his armor. The rest of the fight went by faster than they had expected. The knights became nervous as they saw their impenetrable armor turning from a strength into a weakness. They fought more defensively, slowed down their pace, and it cost them their lives.
After the small alley was filled with blood and bent bodies, they collapsed in the middle of it. They looked like living corpses with all the cuts and blood over their bodies. The two adrenaline shots Dan had stored in his pocket saved their lives. After he injected them, they got up and managed to limp their way through shabby and empty streets until they smelled the familiar stench.
Sam was starting to relax as she received additional blood through her port. The sword cuts, one after another, got cleaned and closed by the arms above her. What a day it had been. She was slightly in delirium from all the sedatives.
Dan hit the keyboard dramatically and two large horizontal pods in the wall blinked up and activated themselves. They slowly moved out of the wall, pushing over several boxes standing in the way. Their frame was out of metal, but the top had a glass cover. They were large enough to sleep in but were already occupied. Inside were two naked bodies. One male, one female. Fully built and equipped with all the upgrades Sam’s and Dan’s bodies were rejecting. If they stripped away the thick layer of metallic enhanced silicone skin, both bodies would look more like robots than humans. An energy core in their chest, bones replaced by reinforced materials, able to bend and reshape, and nanomachines flowing through the vein-like tubes of the body. Wires, implants, and modules connecting everything.
The skin above had a layer for sensory feedback and was more precise and sensitive than human skin. Both bodies had completely new identities and looked very different from Sam and Dan. Both were bald and extremely fit as if they had worked out until their hair fell out. All exteriors of the body were modifiable; Skin and hair tone, facial and body structures. If they needed to, they could shape themselves into different people and create new identities. Most of the gadgets and tools they had been using were integrated in some way into the body. The tablet for connecting to all kinds of devices was replaced by the powerful brain implants that could connect wirelessly with different ranges and wavelengths to all sorts of electronics. The brain was partially brain matter, chips, drives, and liquid. All materials were neither purely electronic, mechanic or biologic, but a mix of all. It made them resilient against all kinds of biological and electronic attacks. These bodies were the secret project they had worked many years on. It was time to put them to the test.
Sam got up and they switched seats. Now Dan was the one moaning while getting stitched together. He had some deep cuts on his arms that went all the way down to the bone. Sam made herself ready for the body swap and connected several cables onto her temple.
“Wake up Sam. Wake up.”
It was the same memory again. It was relaxing and comforting, but irritating at the same time. She had to bear with it for a few hours till the memory would vanish into the back of her head again. She could still talk to Dan, but he was busy fixing his broken hand while the arms closed the cuts on his body.
It felt like an eternity since they had started working together. Before the inner city had any gates, and the slums were only half their current size. Back then, maybe 20 instead of 50 million people lived in the slums. Far more manageable. They both got into the implant underground scene early on, as it was growing rapidly alongside the explosion of implant sales. They chatted over a darknet forum for many months before meeting in person. Sam had turned 16 and was living with a few friends in a small flat while fixing augments and chips for a small shop, occasionally installing new and illegal ones on customers and herself. The shop was in bad condition, and she was not making a lot of money, but she enjoyed every moment working there. Dan was more of a software guy and not as good with the hardware as she was. He had helped her with code for implants and chips and one day needed her help. He had never been in the slums before. His parents were middle-class and could afford an apartment in one of the more polished parts of town. Not anywhere close to the standards of the inner city, but less crime and more opportunities.
After they had successfully upgraded his implants, they became friends offline. He was the first and only one she considered a true friend. Everyone else who called themself her friend was either out for a favor, or only stayed a friend as long as she would help with their problems. When she was not available, they would drop her like a hot potato.
He was different. He did not expect anything in return. He just enjoyed the time with her, but it also kept him away from the misery that awaited him at home. His parents were married but behaved like two tribes at war. They were not giving each other the option to talk and were not eager to listen either. Their egos had gotten the better of them, and the longer they despised each other and avoided talking about it, the more they drifted apart. Dan did not know much about relationships, but he knew they needed help. He looked up advice online and became a part-time therapist for his parents. They both seemed to listen when talking to them on their own, but once together, nothing had changed. He contacted several therapists and managed to take his parents to a meeting without them knowing, but as soon as they understood the intentions of the meeting, both turned on him. Soon after, he left his parents and showed up at Sam’s apartment with his belonging. He laid down on her bed and fell asleep while she was tending to the bruises on his face.
A few weeks later, his parents were found dead in their apartment. His mother had shot his father several times in the chest and then herself in the head. Dan felt bitter and it took him some time to move on. It felt like it was his responsibility and fault, but if he had stayed with his parents, he would have shared their fate. He went to their apartment and collected the few things needed, then received the money from his parent’s accounts a few days later. It was enough to rent a small apartment for a few months, so together with Sam, he did.
They started working full time in the shop together. Over the months they could afford some new upgrades and experimented with them. Then they turned 18 and immediately were in debt. 251k for her, 151k for him. His parents had given him a head start, but it was not much. A few months later, the shop was busted by the police and both barely escaped. Someone had talked too openly about the illegal upgrades they were offering.
They stayed off-grid in the slums and did dodgy business to stay afloat: hacking, data extraction, robbery. It was easy and brought them rent and food. Their debt was rising day by day, but they could not do anything about it.
Once they had enough money, they paid off several corrupt police officers who cleared their logs, and they could get back on the grid. Small scale crime was happening so much in the city; nobody would notice if they would no longer be suspects.
By then, they had enough expertise in the criminal underworld and continued doing the same job on the grid. They could have gone legal, but illegal work was multiple times as lucrative and numbed their moral responsibility.
They had their fair share of problems in the first years, but the better they got, the faster they climbed the invisible ranks of the crime world. After a decade, they had become the most known unknown net-runners of the city, doing jobs exclusively for highly trusted clients and only accepted new ones by recommendation. Their debt climbed down from two million to under 200k. They had built themselves skill and prestige, but the ladder was now coming crashing down. They had to give up their identities and start anew to survive. Being there once before, they knew how to get back up again, but first, they had to figure out why they got screwed over.
Sam gasped out loud; she was now in both bodies at once. Her awareness expanded. It was a strange new feeling, but it faded very quickly as she was getting used to it. It felt like having two arms, two legs, both operating independently yet inherently connected. Her new body had opened its eyes and was looking outside the glass window at her. Her eyes met. She would have to stay for several more hours in the pod until the swap was complete. Dan had started the same procedure in the operating chair. The chair had gotten sticky from all the blood, and he was looking around, trying to find something to wipe it with.
They had explored their sexuality together when they were young. It was pleasant and appealing but felt weird and awkward. The more they did it, the better they got, and the negative feelings around it faded. If they wanted sex, they had sex. If they wanted to fuck somebody else, they fucked somebody else. They were open about their sexual endeavors and did not feel guilty or jealous. Still, after all those years, they always gravitated back to each other. They had bound themselves together to work and survive; they had become much more than family or partners.
Dan gasped the same way Sam had. He was now also aware of both his bodies. Sam looked over to him, and he knew exactly by her look what she wanted to try once they could control all four bodies.
It had taken almost an entire day to synch and move their consciousness and memories to their new bodies. Now their old human bodies were only running on commands from a direct connection to their new ones. They essentially behaved like zombies and could be cut off at any moment. It was already past noon when the four parted ways. Soon there would be only two of them left.
The trans-clothes were old and a security risk. Their code could not be wiped from the bendable memory chips inside the clothing. But as soon as the owner would die, the chips would start to scramble themselves, erasing the notion that they had ever been anything else than regular clothes. They would wear them in honor until the very end.
The way down to the lower city was easy; the way back up was hard. Around the corner from their hideout, a broken canalization tunnel was leading directly down into the old city. There were many entrances throughout the slums that had opened up over the years: damaged tunnels, fallen in buildings, or parts of the concrete that had collapsed. They were small enough not to get noticed by the government and big enough to get through with a car or small quadcopter.
After walking and sliding down the wet tunnels, they entered another world. Old, cold, empty, forgotten. The houses and complexes were falling apart, with most of them having already shed their painted facade, reveling their grey concrete. The noise from the upper city faded once they reached the streets. They walked along the empty streets of the old civilization. Only the leftovers reminded them that somebody had once lived here.
Torn clothes and trash on the streets. Rusty and broken signs and billboards of once opened shops. Everything had long been destroyed, looted, and taken back by nature. Plants were growing around the walls and inside the buildings, small patches of grass poking out of the asphalt under their feet. Birds were chirping from the upper floors of the vacant houses where they had made themselves nests. An empty park had turned into a large field of grass and flowers. Several rabbits looked at them as they passed.
Puddles and streams of water in the streets flowing back into the sea; the leftover of yesterday’s tide. They could see how high the water was getting from the dark marks it had left on the buildings. As they slowly descended through the streets, the marks started to ascend. They were getting closer to the pier. Closer to the end.
An old friend would come for them. A person so charitable, he would give them 80% of their own bounty. They knew Hagger for many years but had split ways long ago. He was a competitor in their business, once on top and highly respected. When he realized their potential, they became a threat to him. He gave them the impossible job he could not pull off himself and was sure they would fail and die. When they finished the job against all odds, doors to filthy rich clients opened up. They took over his place, and he ended up with routine work that was barely enough to cover his bills until even those were taken from him. His confidence and cockiness had kicked him off his throne, but he made them responsible for his situation. He hated them with a passion for all the misery of the past years; silent, painful hatred. He had not managed to get close to them ever again to make them pay for his suffering, but now, magically, he could.
An anonymous contact had initiated an exchange. For 80% of the bounty, he could get them both. He would receive their location and they would be unarmed. It was too good to be true and sounded like a scam until the client who issued the bounty messaged him. He had an additional task for him and would pay the moment the job was finished.
Hagger activated the video-feed of his retina while driving on his motorcycle. On the highway behind him, his friends were following on their bikes. They were ready to go anywhere for the 100k he had promised each of them. The highway vibrated from the sound of the loud machines. He connected the feed to the server of the client and started to smile. It would not give him back what they had taken, but it would give him closure, or so he thought.
The grey pier stretched out before them and gave Sam flashbacks of her memory. What had become of this place was remarkable. In just a few decades, everything had changed, but the structures remained the same. The once vibrant pier with dozens of boats, shops, and visitors had vanished. The docks, wooden planks, and pavement around them had cracks and holes all over, and parts of them had already disappeared in the ocean. It was depressing but beautiful in its own way. What a poetic way to end it here. Dan was standing a few meters behind her.
‘I really loved these clothes. You think we can get a new set?’
She smiled at the ocean. She had never been sentimental, but something triggered in her and she shed a tear, a silent melancholic tear.
‘It was nice working with you, Dan.’
‘You already have a new name?’
The noise of motorcycles broke the silence. Five bikes, seven riders. Sam kept looking towards the ocean. It was a strange feeling. She knew she would not die, yet she knew that a part of her would. An outdated part, replaced by a new one.
She could hear Hagger approaching, leading the small group. He always had a slight variation in the way he walked that made him identifiable. He probably never knew it being the reason he had ended up in jail several times. Identification by unique personal motoric was proof in court. She felt pity for him. He had been a miserable and toxic person all his life, and he must hate them above everything else. She had never given a second thought about him when they took all his clients. He was simply not good enough. They were not responsible for how his life had turned out, or what he had done with it since, yet she felt like they could have given him an option, an opportunity for redemption and change. Like he was giving them now without knowing.
The impossible job he had given them had never been impossible. They only had to think outside of their usual pattern of slum crime and data extraction. They had never told him how they finished the job and he had never asked.
They were pushing Dan to the ground, and his face laded in muddy water. She heard the movement of an arm, then the click and whirring of strings in the air. Electricity waved through her body, and she fell from the bench. Dan was screaming up in the background, then she saw him. He enjoyed this moment; he had not changed, neither his look nor his personality.
“This is all your pain, your suffering, the result of all your actions.”
That’s all he could think of. The pain and suffering of the years since he had met them. The decisions he had made himself but was not brave enough to face. He wasn’t talking to her; He was talking to himself. He just did not realize it.
He lifted her arm and injected the syringe.
“Sleep tight bitch.”