Re: The Show Must Go Off

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Herr D

The Show Must Go Off–part twelve

My StayNeur was noticing the big guy, Gibb. Gibb was not quite enraged at his two companions. Too ashamed. He’d been taught that he was stupid, and he believed it. He didn’t read stupid, though. Something else was going on with him. I wiped my hand on the back of my comasuit and patted him gently on the shoulder. He looked up at me, genuinely surprised at a kind gesture from a stranger. “Stick around if you like,” I said. I turned to Upclose, who was sharing laughter with Win at Gibb’s expense. I said: “Now. If you can be serious for a moment, I need to talk to you about what we’ll say.” The blood on my face was dry and itching, but I didn’t touch it.
Win smirked. Upclose gave me a haughty smile. “I don’t need to say a thing. I didn’t give a statement. I was laughing too hard to know what you told him. But when KF2 finishes filing the report, he’ll be back for you. You’re on file as declaring knives are okay for your fight. Lying to an Enforcer is a heavy fine.”
I looked at her like I had no idea what she was talking about. Gibb bristled. I turned to him. “What?”
Gibb frowned. “She knows computer stuff. She did something during your registration.”
I frowned at Gibb. “You mean, she somehow faked a computer record?” Inwardly, I laughed. Good grief–I’m winning Gibb’s loyalty. “I don’t believe it.”
Gibb nodded. “Check it out.”
I pointed at my bloody comasuit. “Well, I can’t right NOW.” And Chugger duck-walked out of The Big Screen, shooing away the hooker, locking in any customers he had. He saw me and raised his eyebrows.
“You need a doctor?”
“No thanks, Chugger. Almost none of this is my blood. Say! Would you mind checking something for me?”
He looked impressed. “Like what?”
I pointed at the kiosk. “Look at my postings about the fight I just had.”
Chugger somehow looked even bigger in the wide open hallway. He punched it up. “Wow. No cameras, no weapons, dispute settlement only. You can do that?” Win’s eyes bulged. Gibb’s eyebrows went up. Upclose sprinted straight at the kiosk and squeezed right between Chugger and the console. She frantically typed for several seconds, looking more and more upset. Chugger turned to me. “Look, I had wanted the room today, but if some guy was stupid enough to cheat, he deserved to die. What was that, a cherry bomb?”
“It was a knife!” blurted Upclose, “And it said right–YAAAHH!” She fell over Chugger’s left foot and jumped to her feet, pale as could be. I had just sent her a traceless instant message. To the console. The consoles don’t have publicly known addresses. The console had opened a graphic of a dripping red box that read: “I CAUGHT YOU HACKING. TO AVOID YOUR EXECUTION FOR CHEATING IN A FIGHT, PREPARE TO SUBMIT PAYMENT. –Y.W.N.” I was the only person maybe ever to have an untraceable radio modem in his head. It was the perfect alibi. As long as I wasn’t using the net visibly . . . the message was gone faster than Chugger could look back at the screen. He gave Upclose an odd look. “I’ll just take an extra day at the end, then?”
“Yes, Chugger; thank you for understanding. And I’ll throw in a last-minute cancellation for you as interest. For a possible second day at the end. One hour’s notice?” He smiled, nodded, waved. Then he unlocked the door and duck-walked back inside.
I gently beckoned at Upclose and added an edge to my voice, “For a third time, I need to talk to you about what we’ll say.” I had her past to peruse the last several seconds. Upclose had been partnered with Percival back when you could register in the Gladiator Games for fake fights. They would stage her dominating him. It was popular until somebody killed Percival. Then Upclose had adopted a noob, got her to choose her handle as Personal. Then Upclose and Personal took basically the same act but with tearing clothes off. They had paid Win and Gibb a part of the take to bodyguard them. They’d been drawing the biggest admission-paying crowds until fake fights were outlawed. Personal had went out mining that day. With a nearly empty airtank. On purpose, apparently. My experience was backing up what my StayNeur calculated–if I told her blackmail was something I’d never do she’d be suspicious of me sooner, or she’d assume I was ‘friends’ with her mysterious blackmailer known as Y.W.N. What a unique opportunity THIS was! Psychotic calm again. “I’m no idiot. You were the one on the kiosk when I was giving your old friend Yew notice that his life was ending. The acoustics in the room are one-way. No one can hear from out here. But inside? None of you walked around. I would have heard you. The fact that you didn’t even speak to KF2 meant you weren’t worried about being blamed for encouraging my opponent to cheat. I would have figured it out by now without Gibb saying anything. You’re the leader here, right?”
She made a face, “Yeah, so?”
“So here’s your chance to say that these two had nothing to do with it.”
“Win had nothing to do with it.” Win maintained a poker face.
“And Gibb?”
“He obviously knew. He hinted at it. He didn’t try to stop me or warn you.”
I turned to Gibb. “Well?”
Gibb looked surprised I asked him to speak. “I figured it out. But I told you so you could run or something.”
“Run from the Enforcers?” I gave Gibb a single raised eyebrow. Win and Upclose laughed at him again.
“I belong to them! She’ll probably be mad at me for a cycle just for talking.”
“Why do you belong to them, Gibb?”
“They keep me safe. They keep me from getting cheated.” Ah–over the next two nanoseconds, I accessed the records about him. Long story short? They’d taken him on as a brick for team fighting to help him work off debts incurred for poor mining, negotiation, and math skills–and bad judgement in general. My slow nod covered the time it took for my next calculations. I turned to Upclose. “He’s mine now.”
Her eyes flashed with worry, confusion, and rage. “No!”
“I’ll be happy to enter a dispute on the arbitration forum.” I tweaked the timing so every camera in the hall would pan right onto us, taking turns at random. Win’s eyes bulged out again. His eyes flicked to the nearest hallcam.
“Upclose?” he said.
She ignored him. “Gibb isn’t for sale.”
“I wasn’t asking,” I said with that ethereal calm in my voice, “You have my permission to walk through Yew’s blood, use my wallscreen, and lodge a complaint.”
“Upclose?” repeated Win. He was noticing the hallcams were pointed at us more than normal. His eyes, that was it. I checked his bio. The Enforcers had him logged as a Percep, a sensory upgrade that became illegal in ’48 or ’49. That was useful.
She ignored him again. “You can’t have him.” Gibb was beginning to look touched . . .
“Sheila!” hissed Win, “Mouth shut!” Many people suspected that the Enforcers read lips on the footage. They didn’t bother. They read peoples’ private chat online. It was easier.
Upclose started. She looked up at the cam pointed at her. I saw my opening.
“If anything happens to me, even an accident, you three will be brought in for questioning. Now listen to me.” I held a hand in front of my mouth and continued.” You cheated in a fight that cost someone their life. So did two members of your gang.”
“You just said that Gibb knew. You told — my OPPONENT — to use a knife. That makes two. The Enforcers won’t ask too many questions. Most likely they’ll kill him, too. And maybe Win, there, for good measure.” Win frowned, watching the hallcams, fidgeting. “So you owe the Enforcers three lives. My opponent is dead–that makes one. You owe, for justice, two more lives.”
Upclose’ face went hard and cold. “You rat on us someone will kill you FOR us without us asking.”
I smiled her. “I’m not going to be a rat, Upclose. I’m going to be a tapeworm. I’m going to feed on your success. I’m going to look up your records, Upclose. You’re going to bring me, over the next cycle, everything you’ve been willed by any of your gang members. You will continue until you have paid me enough for one person to live on for two-point-seven-nine-oh-six cycles. My transport guard was happy to inform me that that is how long the average convict lives. That will buy your life. Gibb is mine right now, as a down payment. His life is more valuable as it is now.” Upclose looked at me like I was completely nuts. And THAT was what I needed. Gibb would assume she couldn’t think of him as valuable. Mentally he would be GRATEFUL for me taking him on some level. My StayNeur caught his reaction. It was beautiful. His beginnings of a blush as I called him valuable, his eyes widening as he watched Upclose’ expression, his coloring and respiration reacting with anger as she said:
“All right. But I’m already being blackmailed by someone else. That will slow me down. A lot.”
“That’s not my problem.” HA! It actually WAS, since I was both of her blackmailers– “And you are going to make it known that I would have lost the fight until your employee decided to cheat and made me angry. You may laugh it off and say it kept you from having to punish him, if you like.”
“I liked punishing him.” Her voice was very quiet then.
“Then say you missed out. That’s not my problem either. The point is, I don’t want reckless glory-seekers chasing me down the hallways. I want people to think I only won because I got mad.” Win bristled.
Gibb openly stared, “Did you?”
“Get mad? No. There wasn’t time. He died too quickly. Wait here for me, Gibb; I think you’ll like working for me. Perhaps in time you’ll consider me a friend. Win? Upclose? You may keep in touch with him if you like.” Win snorted. Upclose frowned. They both showed it in their faces that they wouldn’t. And Gibb saw it. I continued with, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Yew’s blood is drying, and I haven’t much time to enjoy the feel of it on my skin.” I walked into my room and shut the door, leaving not a gang, but one loyal ally and one freshly freaked-out couple practically shivering as their poker faces failed.