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Excerpt from MnS

IT CAME FROM THE SEWERS

The sting of the acid rain should have been hard to ignore, but the gun in Marlowe’s face made it easy.

I’m sorry, but you know too much,” said Toulene. “My new identity, the DNA profile I’ll be assuming, and my route of escape. You provided all of them. I can’t be found. The City isn’t the only party trying to locate me.”

These meetings always go sour, thought Marlowe. Everything seems to be going fine, and then someone jams a gun in your face. He put on his most winsome smile, which wasn’t saying much. “You mind if I put my hat back on? I just got this face lifted recently, and I’d hate to void the warranty.”

Interpreting not getting shot in the face as assent, he slowly reached down for the fedora hissing in the caustic puddle at his feet. The bubbling of the acid-resistant coating on the hat caused it to wobble. “Weatherman said it would be a 6.2, maybe 6.1,” he said conversationally. “But I think the pH dipped to 4.9 or so. What do you think?”

Toulene said nothing, but the gun wavered in her hand. Amateur, thought Marlowe. But geneticists can hardly be expected to have street smarts. “What do you think of the face?” he asked as he shook the excess water off the hat. “Recognize it?” He checked on Teddy’s hiding place using the low light implant in his left eye. Teddy’s heat signature, centered on a pile of discarded boxes, lit up the back of the alley. “Nothing to be embarrassed about if you don’t. It’s modeled on an old movie icon from the 1940s. That’s Big Fed Calendar, nearly two hundred years ago. Even the surgeon didn’t know who it was.”

Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail, but a thick strand had broken loose and plastered itself onto her forehead. She brushed it back, her brilliant green eyes never leaving Marlowe. He didn’t think she was admiring the face lift. She had a pasty complexion due to the thick coating of acid block, but aside from that and the gun, she wasn’t entirely unattractive.

She wore what had been the height of fashion: a black Gore-Tex pullover turtleneck with stealth vents, crushed velvet Mood pants that changed color, and high-riser clomping boots made of synthetic raccoon hide. Streaked with dirt and imbued with an unpleasant odor, they had exceeded their utility and fashion expiration date by about three weeks.

The same clothes she’d been wearing when she first found her way into Marlowe’s office, three weeks ago. Then, the Mood pants had been color cycling, jumping from dark rich blues to pastel yellows, but now they were stuck in forest green.

A one-sided conversation wasn’t going to do, so Marlowe tried a different tack. He eyed the gun. “That hardware’s a Kristoff Mach 7, right?” He let out a whistle, trying to sound nonchalant even though the plasma pistol easily exceeded the rating of his plasma-resistant armor. “Those are hard to come by these days. How’d you get it? You don’t look like a veteran.”

Just shut up and hand over the goods,” said Toulene, finding her voice again.

Now hold on just a second,” said Marlowe. “You need a permit for that, and you don’t look to me like you’ve got one. If you’re willing to flaunt our very strict firearms regulations, what’s to stop you, once you no longer need me, from using that gun to fatally mess up my new face? That’s hardly an incentive to, as you put it, hand over the goods. We need to find a middle ground, a position of mutual trust.”

Toulene’s eyes hardened and the gun no longer shook. The rain had stopped, thinning down to a corrosive mist. Tiny beads like a blanket of miniature pearls clung to the surface of the gun, fizzing like a can of soda pop as they interacted with the weapon’s protective coating. “I don’t have time for this. The City finding me is the least of my worries.”

Desperation had taken hold and given her the courage needed to make her dangerous. Time to end this, thought Marlowe. “Teddy.” He said the name lightly, but the response was immediate and cataclysmic. Teddy’s gruff voice screamed from behind them. “Freeze! Show us your hands. You’re surrounded!”

That’s right, don’t move,” called out another voice to their left.

I have you in my sights,” a third shouted.

Toulene looked shocked. She raised her hands, pointing the pistol away from Marlowe. “You lied. You turned me in.” Her voice was faint, almost inaudible.

No, I took precautions.” He relieved her of the gun and cycled out the plasma cartridges.

Her eyes welled up with tears. “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t take any chances-”

Forget it. You were watching out for yourself. I know the type. I deal with people like you all the time. Did you bring the money?”

So robbery then?” She had nerve enough to look defiant.

Unlike most people in my line of business,” said Marlowe, “I have integrity. Just like it says on my card. If you have the money, we’ve still got a deal.”

 

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