Book 1 / defrag
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Glitch spun through open air on the end of the tether. The colors of the city swirled together. Wind howled past her ears, drowning out any sound. The cold made her eyes blur. She saw the darkened forms of other vehicles in flight pass below her as the helicopter climbed higher and higher into the dead sky. Every fiber of her being screamed for the moment to end.
Her back collided with the hard metal siding of the helicopter, sending a fresh wave of pain through her already taxed senses. The whine of the blades was now infinitely louder. The harness hauled her up into the chopper. The winch that had been reeling her in uttered a shrieking complaint and then powered down.
“Close the door and strap in!” Nero yelled from somewhere nearby.
Both those things seemed like reasonable ideas, but Glitch’s body wasn’t cooperating. She tried once, twice, to stand, and then gave up.
“Geez, I gotta do everything around here,” Nero complained.
He got up, still trailing his jack-in cable, and came around to punch a button by the door. It slammed shut and the noise outside reduced to a low roar. Glitch looked around. The chopper was similar to the one she’d come in on, maybe even rented out of the same place. Syntechie and Nine were both strapped in. The only place left for her was the co-pilot’s seat, the one Jones had occupied on the way in.
Best not think about it too much. She wasn’t sure she had the energy to get to it anyway. Too hard to reach it anyway. Just stay on the floor.
“Hang on!” Nero yelled. His faceplate displayed a pixilated little monkey dangling from a tree branch.
The chopper banked sharply. Glitch grabbed onto the nearest seat and clung to the armrest. When they leveled out again, she stayed on the floor, curled up into as tight a ball as she could manage, holding her head in her hands. Everything – everything – hurt. So much for being a professional on this job. When this was over, she was never coming out of the Matrix again.
A hand settled on her shoulder.
“You okay?” Nero asked.
“Don’t touch me!” Glitch snarled.
She lashed out at where she thought his head might be. She misjudged the distance and it only clipped the surprised pilot across the jaw. The chopper pitched violently to one side. Glitch was flung back against the far wall. Nero caught himself and kept his feet.
“Hey, I’m driving here!” he yelled at her over the noise. His faceplate flashed the “fasten seat belt” sign. “Geez, when did we skip to the violence and the screaming? It’s like we already dated!”
Right. Maybe taking a swing at the guy wired into the chopper was a bad idea.
Glitch found that she was shaking too hard to stand. She stared at her hands and willed them, futility, to stop jittering like an addict between doses.
“Just get us on the fucking ground!” she yelled back.
Nero smirked at her, rubbing his jaw with one hand.
“Not a fan of heights, huh?” he gloated. “You need someone to hold your hand, princess?”
Glitch put her arms up on her knees and rested her head between her hands.
“Fuck off,” she muttered, though it was doubtful he could hear her.
“Yeah, well, you’re gonna wanna get strapped in,” Nero said over his shoulder as he returned to his seat.
It took her a few moments to get her biology up and moving again. The turbulence did nothing to help. Glitch got to the co-pilot’s seat, sat down, buckled in. Nero handed her a headset without comment.
“You got a name?” he asked after Eyes in the Sky was out of sight. “Cause I was thinking of calling you Lil’ Miss Sunshine, but it just didn’t quite fit, you know?”
Glitch gave him a sidelong look. “I’m Glitch, and I swear if you make a joke about it…”
“Nice to meet ya, Glitch,” he replied. His faceplate displayed a pair of hands shaking.
Glitch folded her arms and didn’t return the greeting.
“You punch like a girl,” he added after a moment. The faceplate changed to a little “Kapow!” image.
“You fly like a drunk DDS9000,” she retorted, naming a delivery drone notorious for its buggy software.
Nero laughed. “That so? If I were a nerd, and knew what that meant, I’m sure I’d be crushed right now.”
“It means you’re a pilot that interfaces poorly with your ride,” Glitch replied. She glared at her knees so she wouldn’t accidentally look out the window at the drop below.
“Actually, I’m not a pilot,” Nero replied easily.
Glitch’s body twitched involuntarily.
“You’re what?” she demanded. Her voice peaked against her will.
Nero stretched and leaned back a little further in his chair. “Cyberware’s amazing, ain’t it?” he said cheerfully.
Glitch gripped the armrests of her chair. “Not that amazing. The cyber interface is supposed to be interchangeable between all different vehicle modes in theory, but in practice its suboptimal at best since the UI in cyber-vehicle implants is native to the user, not the machine. And on top of that-.”
Nero ran his fingers through his pompadour and looked at her. “Anyone ever mention you talk a lot when you’re nervous?” he asked.
Glitch snapped her mouth shut with a little click of her teeth.
“How long till we land?” she asked. “And where are we going?”
“You didn’t think to check before you booked your flight?” Nero grinned at her. “We’re gonna ditch this bird and then get Syntechie to a hospital. Nine can walk it off.”
Glitch wrestled the wakizashi off her back.
Nero glanced at her. “You know, Nine’s not gonna like you messing with his gear,” he commented. “The guy’s touchy about his stuff. Also psychotic.”
“Yeah, I know,” Glitch muttered into the headset. She set the wakizashi down on the floor, and then put his gun next to it. “Make sure he gets these when he wakes up, will you? I don’t want him thinking I owe him something.”
Little balloons played across Nero’s faceplate. “You’re not sticking around for the afterparty?”
Glitch looked out the window. Neon signs bathed her face in red, green, blue, and yellow. She shoved both hands in her hoodie pockets. Her fingers came up against Wingz’ watch. She turned it over in her fingers, feeling the grit of dried blood.
“No,” she said. “I’m not really much of a people person.”
Nero didn’t reply. The chopper banked between two skyscrapers and disappeared into the void of the dead sky above Neosakka.