July 11th 2013
Knowing it was bound to go sideways, Gates went in anyway. Sometimes, stepping directly into a situation was the only way to salvage it. Beyond that, you had to be seen trying to protect your assets. If people learned your snitches could be hurt or killed with impunity, the price of information grew too great for a poor working man.
He sighed and resisted the urge to check his weapons again. The sensor blister mounted in the elevator ceiling was probably recording. And if they’re smart, Tiger Kitty has someone watching through the nets, so why give away any hints what I’m here for?
The tenement elevator creaked to a stop, door opening at a decrepit pace Gates found both annoying and symbolic of the general state of the planet and its vast populace of Civilians. Impatient, he turned sideways and slid into a hall marginally less dank and dark than most Civilian housing he’d been in during his near-fifty years working this kind of operation.
Lenses adjusting quickly to the dimness, Gates picked out details he would have just as soon miss: the carcass of a rat in the far end of the hall, hard by the fire door, stimstick stubs and less identifiable things littering the rest of the hall, the vacant hall.
No physical sentry? Not so smart, after all. It is late, but still, I thought Tiger Kitty smarter.
Gates walked past the door, put his back to the wall beside it and pulled the local-built compromiser out. He hated relying on local, untested tech, but in this case the possibility of leaving an electronic signature that could lead investigators to suspect an off-planet connection was not acceptable.
He needn’t have worried — the local locks proved less reliable than the compromiser, releasing their hold on the door in a few seconds. He put the compromiser back in his pocket and drew his sidearm.
The cheap door groaned along its tracks as it opened. He stepped inside, gun in the lead and sweeping the corners for targets.
Short entry hall, opening on the left for a kitchenette, another opening straight ahead.
He checked the kitchen: tiny, full of stinks, smears and discarded food containers, no threats.
Moving on, Gates entered the main living area. A female, snoring lightly, ass-up, on an air mattress laid out in the midst of what appeared to be an incongruously pricey entertainment system.
The grinding whine of a poorly-maintained waste recycling unit announced the presence of the other inhabitant and identified the room off the living area as the bathroom. Gates crossed the floor in a few strides, put his back to the wall.
The bathroom door popped open, his quarry shuffling out. Tiger Kitty had looked better in the booking vids.
Shortly, he would look a lot worse.
Gates kicked out, hard, into the back of his knee. Kitty went down, hard, head caroming off the entertainment console’s casing and activating the system. Sataball scores and standings scrolled through the air between them. Gates closed and snapped another kick into Kitty’s face as he rolled over. Tiger Kitty collapsed onto the mattress, waking the sleeper from her doped slumber.
“Wha?“ Doper asked.
“Angelique sends her regards,” Gates said, stepping forward and sending his boot into the woman’s groin. Doper wheezed, rolling into a ball in a belated attempt to protect herself.
Kitty was trying to shake the stars from his eyes. Gates put a stop to that by pressing the barrel of his pistol to the man’s bloody forehead.
“I have money.”
“I bet you do. Unfortunately for you, this isn’t about money.”
“I got dope.”
Gates tapped Kitty’s forehead with the pistol’s aperture, “Again, not what this is about.”
“What, then?” Kitty whined.
“You beat a girl bloody the other night, you and your friend here,” Gates sent a lazy kick at Doper, sending the wind from her again, “tuned her up real good, all because she had the nerve to come looking to buy from you, money in hand, no less.”
“She deserv–” Gates shut him up with the gun.
When Kitty was tracking again, Gates returned to his narrative: “Now, leaving aside the bad business practice of beating up customers willing to pay for their dope with cash instead of–of, what was it, again?” Gates asked, knowing the answer.
Kitty opened his mouth but Gates cut him off: “Oh, yes, you wanted her to get in bed with you and your friend here.”
Kitty’s only answer was the closing of his bleeding mouth.
“That particular girl, the one who resisted your advances? Her saying ‘no’ should have been enough for you, but it wasn’t. Now you have been made aware she has friends. Friends who would be terribly disappointed to learn she’d been harmed, refused service, or even spoken to with less than the utmost respect. Their disappointment will lead to another visit from me or someone like me. That visit will not be a polite conversation like this. In fact, very little would be said, beyond a bit of begging on your part, if the messenger was into listening to such before he blew your brains out the back of your head.”
Gates smiled, “Am I understood?”
Wiping his bloody mouth, Kitty nodded.
“Tell me I won’t have to come back.”
Kitty spat blood. “You won’t.”
“Can I trust that you speak for your friend here, too?” He gestured with his free hand at where Doper was still curled up and wheezing.
Too easy, part of him whispered. “You wouldn’t happen to be telling me what I want to hear, would you?” Gates asked.
Kitty shook his head, blood spattering the floor between them.
“Somehow, I don’t believe you.”
“Don’t know what I can say to that.” Kitty looked into Gates’ eyes. He read angry, sure, but there was a healthy dose of fear in there as well.
Gates shrugged. “Fair enough, I suppose.” He gestured at Doper, “Might want to get your girl to a medstation.” When Kitty looked at his lover, Gates backed toward the door. “Remember what we’ve discussed,” he said from the doorway.
Gates made his exit, but didn’t go far. A moment later he heard a clatter from inside followed by the sound of bare feet on the floor.
Stupid. Could have got off with a warning, kid.
Kitty charged out, cheap pistol in hand and a snarl on split lips.
Gates, kneeling just outside the door, put him down with two shots. Blood and bone spattered the lower third of the doorway, paired snaps of coherent light superheating cartilage and making a mess of the workings of the dealer’s knees. Kitty slammed into the floor, momentum sending him sliding across the hall to slap face-first into the apartment door on the other side.
Shaking his head at the stupidity of man, Gates headed for the stairs.
Doper’s screams started as the fire door snapped closed behind him. Gates barely spared her a thought as he mounted the stair. Kitty would survive if Doper would unlock from panic long enough to call emergency services.
Gates exited the stair on the top floor, walking out onto street level. This far into the planet’s sixteen-hour night, the streets were just beginning to return to life. He hailed a passing pedicab and boarded. “Central Station,” he said.
A few blocks from the station Gates reactivated his MobiGlas. The device immediately pinged with a number of alerts, including an incoming call from Agent In Charge Mitchi Oda.
Suppressing a sigh, he opened the channel, “Gates.”
The Advocacy Seal was replaced by Oda’s disapproving expression. “Where have you been, Agent Gates?”
“Serving my suspension, remember?”
“Your suspension ended last night.”
Gates covered surprise with a shrug, and a drawled: “News to me.”
“Wouldn’t be if you kept your MobiGlas on.”
Gates let it pass. She’s not half my age, has barely a tenth my field experience, and, frankly, isn’t worth arguing with. “I assume you aren’t calling to congratulate me on my reinstatement, then?” he asked.
“No,” she answered, lips twisting as if she found her next words distasteful: ”though I am required to formally lift your suspension for the record: Special Agent Arminius Gates, you are formally reinstated to your rank and privilege as Special Agent of the Advocacy.”
“Thank you, Special Agent Oda.”
She tossed her head. “Wouldn’t have happened, were it up to me.”
Again he let it pass, focused instead on what was important. Suspecting he’d be riding a desk, doing something boring like background investigations on potential civilian contractors, he asked her, “What assignment, then?”
He hadn’t thought she could look more bitter. “You’re going back to the Black Box: Special Action Division requested you return.”
He couldn’t keep a broad smile from creasing his lips. “Thank you, Special Agent Oda.”
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