preloder

Book 1 / defrag

Chapter 3

Think, dammit, think.

Glitch hunkered down under a desk, out of sight. Her muscles shook now that she wasn’t moving. Biospace was a bitch that way. It was possible the other team wouldn’t sweep the floor and find her, but that sounded suspiciously like luck. Even if they didn’t, there were a hundred and eighty-nine floors between her and freedom.

Fuck. Damn. Drek.

None of her favorite colorful expressions seemed to paint the disaster of the situation adequately. She could sneak down the stairs (low probability) find a change of clothes (even lower probability) and then slip out through the ranks of wage-slaves (virtually impossible, given her people skills). She didn’t know any pilots, and even if she did, getting one to agree to come pick her up would be like trying to coax a cat into oncoming traffic.

Glitch pulled out her phone and started scrolling through her coded contact list. Time to see if the favors she’d accrued over the last two years were any good when it mattered. She stopped at an entry listed as “[ _ ]” and hit call. It rang twice, and then Handle picked up.

“Glitch? Hey, how are you?” said a cheerful man on the other end. She heard bedsprings creak and remembered belatedly that it was the dead of night. In the background, a woman’s voice made an inquiring sound. Glitch cringed. She probably owed him just for picking up the phone.

“I’m kinda in the middle of something right now,” Handle went on, “Can I call you back?”

She took a breath to steady her voice. “I’m on a run on the hundred-and-eighty-ninth floor of an intel building called ‘Eyes in the Sky’,” she said as quickly as possible without stumbling over the words. “It’s gone bad. There’s another team of Runners in the building. Got the drop on us with a frag. My crew’s dead.”

“Fuck. Are you ok?”

She heard bedsprings complain loudly and covers slide to the floor.

Glitch swallowed. “…I’m next.”

“Fuck.”

Glitch hunkered down a little further under the desk of the cubicle she was hiding out in. She could feel shock setting in, making it hard to focus. It was like watching herself through a thick pane of glass. She tried to keep her mind in the game, but kept being distracted by the idea that she really ought to be feeling something right now.

“Look,” she kept trying to find a pitch for her voice that was low and professional, “I know it’s a long shot, but you owe me for the -.”

“I know,” Handle cut her off. She could hear him typing furiously on a keyboard. “Stay hidden. I’ll see what I can do.”

Glitch closed her eyes.

“…K.”

She ended the call and pressed the screen of the phone against her chest so the light wouldn’t give her away. With her other hand, she rested her beretta against her knees and ran a thumb along the smooth handle. She studied the glint of black metal in the gloom and considered her options afresh. Calling Handle was a long shot, his many connections as a Fixer for Runners notwithstanding. Then again, so was getting in a shootout with, minimum, two other Runners. Guns were Jones’ specialty. And Jones was dead. Fuck.

Her mind skipped away in search of another angle. Where was security? They had offices every ten floors, so it seemed impossible they hadn’t heard the blast. But N4n0bytes had said something about them being called away, probably on account of the Runners that had just taken out her crew. And if N4n0bytes’ camera loops were holding, then even if someone had heard the disturbance, they would have to search each floor one at a time. N4n0bytes ended up covering for her after all. N4n0bytes was dead. Fuck.

Something inside her was cracking. Or boiling. Or –

Focus. Focus.

There were almost two-hundred stories between herself and the ground. Only eleven floors back to the roof, but what to do once she got there? She couldn’t fly the chopper. That was Wingz’ job, and Wingz was-

Glitch grit her teeth. She pressed both hands to her head against the static hum building there. Her phone vibrated against her chest. Glitch started, then swore at herself. She took the call and pressed the phone to her ear.

“Ok,” said Handle’s voice. “I’ve got something.”

Glitch released a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding.

“I know someone on the other crew. Another Fixer. Her name’s Syntechie. I’ve arranged for her to get you out. Just stick with her, and you’ll be fine.”

The glass wall inside her – the shock, or whatever it was – shattered as suddenly as if Handle had put a bullet through it.

“What?!” the word fired from between Glitch’s lips. “That team just fragging turned my crew into hamburger!”

“I’m not telling you to fuck any of them,” Handle replied coolly. “And your crew’s not in a position to hold it against you.”

“Is this a joke to you?” Glitch snarled. She slammed one, clenched fist into the underside of the desk. Her anger flooded up and spilled out of her. It felt good. Better than being afraid.

“Do you hear me laughing?” Handle replied dispassionately. “Do me a favor and let Syntechie know the deal is off before her team kills you, k? It’ll save me a phone call.”

“Handle,” Glitch snapped. She breathed in. Tried to ride the anger instead of letting it drive her. Exhaled. Focused on pronouncing each word carefully and clearly. “You’re not listening. They. Killed. My. Crew. You can’t-”

“No, you listen,” Handle overrode her. “This isn’t your gaming team anymore. Your crew are not your friends. You gave up that kind of luxury when you hung up the keyboard and headphones. No one cares about you, and you don’t get to care about them. You’re a Runner. Act like it.”

He let that sink in for a moment, and then continued. “Here’s the facts: your crew is dead. You’re not. You called me and I gave you an option. As far as I’m concerned, we’re even now.”

Glitch closed her eyes. Swallowed her anger. Tried to disconnect again. Recreate the glass wall.

Focus.

She successfully overcame the impulse to hang up on him.

“…I…understand,” she managed. “I’ll make it work.”

“You’d better,” Handle growled. “I’ve got better things to do with my time then edit my contact list. Shoot me a message in the next day or two so I know I won’t have to go to the trouble.”

That might have been a subtle way of him saying he was still willing to call her for jobs, but she wasn’t sure. It could even be what passed for concern. Either way, it left her feeling cold, and empty. She wanted the anger back.

“I’ll be in touch,” she said.

“Good. And in case you’re shell-shocked enough that it’s still a question: ditch the job. Tell the client it didn’t work out. Shit just happens sometimes.”

Glitch tried hard not to picture the dwindling numbers in her cred account. “Take care, Handle.”

“Good luck, kid,” said Handle.

He hung up.

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