Tyler felt himself hit the floor hard, but that was nothing compared to the concussive impact he felt burst against the wall behind him. As he pulled himself to his feet, he felt the discharge crackling, making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. His dreads rained about him, as he stumbled, trying to get his boots to take purchase on the floor.
“Go live fire!”
Fuck. Worst luck ever. Tyler crashed through the door that took him into the fetid stairwell. Why the hell would the Black and Whites be after him, and more than that, why would they be authorizing live rounds on a punk like him? This was about to get a whole lot thicker, he realized. He almost broke his ankle on the first few steps as he bound down them three or four at a time.
“Citizen Tyler Burrell! Stop or we will open fire!”
The voice carried easily down the stairwell. Tyler could barely see, making the conscious thought to bring up better vision through his wetware. His surrounds flickered in shades of lowlight and then failed altogether. He cursed, barely having the time to give it too much thought before a deafening boom shook the crusty surrounds. Concrete exploded above him from the shot, showering him in chips.
Dare not go back online. Not now. Stay ghost. Stay low.
Tyler could hear the men on the stairs. He just hoped that his blind panic took him to the ground level and out. Sense dictated that the ground level would be swamped with more Blacks and Whites. He tried to think of a more cunning way from the building than out the back door, or straight out the front. He pulled open the landing door as he passed the third floor, letting it bang open sharply.
“Check third! Check third!” came a cry above him, as Tyler tried to let his feet fall more lightly on the steps. He cursed, speeding his flight as he heard the rest. “Rest of you continued down.”
Tyler broke out onto the ground floor, half expected to see his capture there. Instead he just saw the grotty surrounds of the tenement he half called home. He was just one of hundreds here, one of the masses. He hadn’t really even given much thought to an escape route because of the fact. No one should know he had a safe haven here.
‘Think hard, Tyler,’ he thought as he darted along a corridor lit by the garish light of vending machines. ‘You’re always the one with the rep of being a slippery lil fuck. This is what you do.’
Tyler caught sight of a door, Custodians office, if he remembered rightly. He risked the spike and alarms, already staring at the door panel as he dashed at it. It took a few more deadly seconds longer before he felt his wetware overwhelm it, and the door unlocked with a sucking sound. A sharp pain shot through his head.
‘Hope the bastard ain’t home,’ Tyler thought, faltering as the pain passed.
Custodian James Ash had a taste for the gunja. He and Tyler had shared a few blunts. Nothing wrong with making a few crucial friends. Friends enough to get invited in to his meager, yet cramped home to sit on the couch and jack off watching free to air porn, and getting high. Long enough to scope the place enough to know there was a loose window in the toilet.
Tyler thought he heard a shout of surprise, his dreads showering about him like a wild octopus as he vaulted the junk piled coffee table in the center of the room. Something crunched underfoot. The room was as dark and cramped as he remembered, smelling like a bachelor pad. He slammed the bathroom door behind him, dancing up the wall before putting his foot straight against the window frame. It shattered outwards.
A few more seconds and he was out into the freezing cold night. Tyler scrambled against the ground, thinking his faux leather jacket to black, and the thing faded to an off, dark blue. He felt a huff of heat against his bare body underneath, as the jacket at least sensed the cold and tried to compensate.
‘Stop, drop and roll. How did that old song go?’ Tyler thought. It was close enough to his escape plans. Stop running. Drop into the crowds, and roll with the flow. Tyler pulled his dreadlocks up into a topknot as he broke the foot traffic and tried to blend.
Above him and behind, Black and Whites surveillance drones were waltzing in the air, strobes cutting the crowd like a disco. Tyler tried to keep his head down against the night, and keep the pounding from his head.
* * *
“Fuckin’ bad wetware is your problem, mate,” Fuzz remarked. Tyler hadn’t known where else to go right now, and the bar was as good a place as any. “You aughta get that shit sorted straight. Else next time you try and put through a call your gonna have a brain bleed or some shit.”
“Yeah,” Tyler replied, hunched at the bar. He tried to cut through Fuzz’s bullshit banter. “Know all that stuff. Sort of just have to use your back room for a moment. Five minutes and I’m out.”
Fuzz regarded him with blue in blue eyes. Tyler knew the big man was a big sci fi fan, but he couldn’t remember what it was he had said about those eyes. All Tyler knew was it freaked him out more than his almost ever changing buzz cut. Blue one second, red the next, like some strange lava lamp of color.
“Not even gonna ask, mate. You could be watchin’ keebler porn back there for all I care.”
“So let me in already. This is sort of urgent.”
Fuzz was slow on the uptake, calling over to one of the other bartenders as he lumbered down the length and let himself out. Tyler pushed off from the bar, giving a meager glance to the midnight crowd. Or was it mid morning? He had a shit sense of time with his wetware down. He followed Fuzz up a short flight of stairs. The door unlocked as the man approached, and he turned to head back downstairs, putting a hand on Tyler’s shoulder to stay him a moment.
“Take longer than five, mate. Fuck knows you could need it. You know I ain’t ever gonna pry in your own private shit, but I do know you only ever come up in here when you on the run from something.”
Tyler nodded, trying to push passed, but Fuzz’s hand stayed heavy. His voice was quiet. “And I know you ain’t stupid enough to lead anything back here. I known you long enough to know that shit, mate. So take a few hours to get your shit sorted. Smoke some dak for your headache. Top draw.”
Fuzz let him pass this time, and Tyler walked low, keeping his head down. He didn’t relax until he was inside, and the door was locked. He did it the old fashioned way, not wanting to chance more spikes or sharps. He pulled at the lone dreadlock that kept the whole lot up. They showered down, falling loose with the wires braided easily amongst them. Tyler fumbled for the lights, rubbing at his head.
Tough, wirey lil shit. That’s what he was always known for, but hell if this bullshit wasn’t dragging him down. The lights came up slowly, holding on low, illuminating the small, but serviceable living area of a man who almost never lived there. Tyler slipped his jacket off, his ropey chest bare as he headed straight to the hardline. He risked using his wetware to scan for ears, but came up none, and few another throb of pain for his trouble.
“Manly. Fuck this shit. I thought I was off duty?”
The man on the other end of the line looked barely awake, but dignified enough to be about himself, “You are. We have the tech department inquiring official records onto why there might be a warrant out for you. You haven’t been doing anything illegal, I’m guessing.”
“Hell no,” Tyler replied, sore that Manly would ask. Manly looked strange in the harsh light of the line. Everyone always did on a hardline. “I been staying low. Just like Agency policy. And then I have the Blacks and Whites banging on my door. That and my fucking wetware is acting up again.”
Manly gave an introspect glance, his lips pursing. “Go to point 60. We will have to get that sorted. I’ll have a tech on spot. We might need to do a full extraction.”
“What if I don’t make it to point 60?”
“Well, I’ve never known you to have trouble getting in or out of a place before,” Manly remarked, frankly. Tyler rubbed at his temples and wondered about getting stoned. “If anyone can operate ghost, it’s you.”
“Get the Agency to send me to Tonga next downtime,” demanded Tyler tersely. He gave Manly a resigned glance and cut the call. The silence of the room swamped his senses, right before he heard Fuzz clear his throat.
The man was standing in the doorway, big enough on fat to block it. Tyler wondered how he had missed the man knocking, until he realized that he hadn’t. The look on Fuzz’s face suggested that all the pieces were finally coming together. All the time they had known each other and walking in on this made it all fit.
Tyler worked for some corporate special force.
“Sorry mate. Bunch of men down here want to have a word with you. Money was too good to pass up.”
Tyler stiffened, standing up from where he had been sitting. He felt the sharp pain of betrayal. Maybe his number was finally up, and this was one situation he couldn’t somehow squirm his way out of.