Re: The Show Must Go Off

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Herr D

The Show Must Go Off–part eight

So there I was, facing down four possible combatants outside Billy’s, armed only with a bluff they couldn’t even see and a stupid smile. Why hadn’t I bought a gun? It’s really easy to reason your way out of doing something and distract yourself with regrets in the middle of a crisis. I hadn’t bought a gun because I’m a lousy shot and they don’t sell affordable automated targeting computers. That would become dangerous for the Enforcers, because four precise hits on the same spot on their armor should pierce. My smile WAS making one him and the her nervous . . . she broke first. But sounded casual enough.
“You put bloody linen in the machine without a pre-rinse?”
“Not linen, miss; my mining suit. Was that bad?”
She smiled, “Always ask a woman about getting blood out of your laundry before you make a mistake.”
Ee-eew. But practical. She’s the brains–lie best to her–“It was just traces. He died quick.” I fairly beamed at her, like I was remembering getting my favorite Christmas present instead of worrying about who would attack first.
“How long ago?” Yikes. I smiled extra wide as a stall tactic while I found a suitable record.
“He attacked between spotter shift and jumper commute. I would guess that was about RS1030.” Using rotation standard time would give me time to lie about which asteroid rotation I was talking about, and therefore it would give me time to pick my location. But nobody asked that. Why is all my best work unappreciated?
“Pirate?” The biggest guy asked. “Why didn’t he just fry you from orbit?”
I turned on him like it was the first time I’d noticed him, cocked my head and gave him a ‘you-alright?’ look. “Magnesium ore?”
The little guy laughed. “Yeah, Gibb! How could he steal it if he’d already blown it up?” He turned to me, “You poke his suit?”
“Nah. He came for ore. I gave him a piece of it.” I paused for effect and was rewarded by four confused frowns. “A BIG piece of it? . . . Through his faceplate and up his nose?” In the virtual world, one of my false identities had, after willing his belongings to a second, had turned pirate, which explained how much ore he’d been trying to trade. Then he’d gone mysteriously missing during my shift. As always, faking the timestamps was the hardest part. An entire life had begun and ended virtually. Trying to sound casual, I continued with, “It didn’t fit up his nose very well.” And smiled big again, this time for real, but about how badly they were falling for this. The little guy made a quick mental calculation and pushed it to the next level.
“You’re not registered for any fights. Do you know you have to register?”
“Yes,” how could anyone NOT know? “But right now, I’m only fighting for arbitration.”
“The rules of arbitration state that I can fight to settle a dispute if both parties agree. That counts as a fight once it’s over.”
Now everyone looked at ME funny. Shorty said, “why would you do that?”
I GameFaced a lofty-passionate-idealistic-and-slightly-deranged expression. “Because ending a life is an intimate act. My victims deserve privacy, and I have no intention of giving the citizens of Earth cheap thrills. They took my livelihood away and I will never see my friends again. I only fight off camera.”
The woman looked at me with admiration, which really DID scare me. Gibb said, “How?”
I pointed at an info kiosk. The four of them crowded around it. I talked them through looking up the specific rules while I monitored the kiosk in real time over an apped speedlink I’d hid in a bot shaft three meters away. She was good. She pretended to follow my instructions while she navigated almost directly to the rules in question and set up for a background check. At the right time, she asked me for my handle.
“It looks like an old style ‘off’ symbol. You know, back when they had ‘off-and-on switches’ on electronics?” She’d already checked to see my status, since I was the only one registered that way on the whole BMPS system, but she was playing the part well.
“It says you registered your pirate’s death remotely.”
“Yeah. They probably won’t even take a statement. They don’t have a mess to clean up.”
She smiled again. “He wants to fight you.” She pointed at Shorty. “Do we make up a dispute?”
I looked him up and down. “No need; just type in that he thinks he can win a fight against me and I disagree. That’s a dispute.”
Gibb spoke up again, “How much?” His group laughed at him while I looked at him sympathetically.
“No fees for this–Gibb, is it?” He nodded, liking me better than his group just a little. Hmmm. . .
She frowned then, “who pays fines for property damage?”
“Pro cleaner fee from challenger. I pay damages if we fight in my arena. Box in blue under my name.”
“You OWN an ARENA?” Shorty blurted out, “That’s not legal!”
“I own a room and use it as I please. That’s legal.” They held a quick, quiet argument.
“You can’t fire weapons in a room. The shielding will kill us both.”
“That’s why we’ll be fighting with no weapons.” I give them my biggest GameFace psychotic look-how-gracefully-I-can-hold-a-bomb-too-long look.
“No weapons?” Shorty looked genuinely surprised.
“And no armor. I’m already dressed, and my arena is free right now. Sync I.D.?”
Shorty went slightly pale. “Umm?” He looked at their group’s brain.
She smiled. “After I check the room and okay it.” They led the way, making me safer than I’d ever been in these hallways. She watched me shove the mattress into the shower and lock the door, looking with interest at my bedframe mounted over my wallscreen. Then I pointed out the toolclip in the door alcove.
“Check all weapons here.” Nods all around. She looked in the head, ran her hands around the walls a little, checking for burrs or protruding needles, I guess. Then she told Shorty she approved. I made a show of patting myself down and walked in, booted up my wallscreen with the remote. “Registration.” Shorty almost balked.
“No witnesses?”
“I don’t know you guys, so I’d have to say no to the possibility of extra opponents.” She gave Shorty a significant look and walked to a kiosk. Shorty came inside and registered and put his pro cleaner fee in a ‘bearer’ account with a voucher printable from my wallscreen only. Something was up! I powered down the wallscreen as my hidden hardware began reporting. He had a standard AdrenalBoost implant in his skull. His prosthetic fingers were hard but only counted as blunts. His top rib was a fake, looked like a repository for drug smuggling. He had a steel sheath over the netjack below his left ear. He had a metal cable mesh in his left elbow. Heavy hitter. But the big thing was he was cheating. Shorty had a knife hidden in his suit at his left hip. My StayNeur implant was practically roaring at me. The woman was doing a fair amateur job of hacking into my profile to fake my declaration that knives were okay for this one fight. I realized I stood no chance against Shorty. He would knife me and that would be IT. The only way I could get their brain caught for hacking was to show my secrets, and I’d still die before the Enforcers could get here. The fix was in, and I was doomed. I saw the only way out. I timed it close and gambled my life. I sent out a command to the far server as Shorty stepped blandly under my bedframe. I simultaneously powered down everything I could, trying for a poker face as I shut the door and locked it. He had time to see my scared face, draw his knife, smile in triumph, and frown with the realization that I looked scared BEFORE he drew his knife. Then the command I’d sent out traveled around the multiple servers, routers, and extra kms of cable and returned, connecting up the battery I’d hidden behind the wallscreen control panel with my steel bedframe.
I had planned to use the electromagnet for disarming cheaters. What I hadn’t planned on was killing them with it. It ripped his implants straight up out of his head and body, spraying half the room with blood. I was alive. And terrible danger waited for me right outside the door. If I survived the danger in my own head . . .