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Authors: Ioana Visan

Tags: #espionage, #science fiction, #genetic engineering, #cyberpunk, #heist, #world war, #circus, #genes, #prosthetics

Broken People (18 page)

BOOK: Broken People
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Everything froze inside the room. No one
moved, and no sound came from across the threshold, either.

“Ain’t gonna happen!” Spinner blurted
out.

“I know, I know …” Renard waved both hands
in a calming gesture. “But
he
doesn’t need to know it.” He
raised his voice again. “You’re
not
going to tell him, are
you?”

“Not my problem!”

Renard rolled his eyes as if he’d expected
that answer. Spinner kept glaring at him, so he asked, “What? You
don’t like it?
You
go and talk to him then.”

“Nick, please …” Anya squeezed his arm.

“Right.” Renard glanced at Dale. He inhaled
deeply and put on a smile when Cielo brought him a cup of coffee.
“Thank you, darling. Now, the
good
news is this gives us an
opportunity to bring Mr. Armstrong’s friend into the Hrad. He can
pass for a performer.”

“I suppose we can teach him some tricks once
he can stay awake longer,” Spinner said, scratching his chin, but
he sounded doubtful.

“You do that, just in case…” Renard nodded.
“I doubt anyone will keep track of who’s performing and who’s not.
We’ll need some helpers, too.” His eyes turned to Dale. “He’s not
on any wanted list, is he?”

“Not on those that will be screened there,”
Dale said. The security feeds checked for big-time criminals who
posed a physical threat. Most municipalities didn’t have the time
or means for searching databases larger than that. And Cole didn’t
qualify. He had never been caught.

Next to Spinner’s elbow, a tablet came to
life. The skeleton of an eight-legged machine appeared on the
screen. Spinner used his finger to rotate the tri-dimensional
image. “Oh, yes. I can work with this. Great call!” A grin split
his face. “With a few adjustments and decorations, I’ll make him
the life of the party.”

Dale raised his eyes from the tablet and
looked past Spinner. At the end of the other room, Rake studied the
same image on a larger screen mounted on the wall. He made some
adjustments while Aurore tapped her golden fingers against the side
of the machine keeping her left leg prisoner.

Rake tilted his head and took a step back to
admire his work. “He’ll need a mask.”

Cielo’s soft gasp echoed inside the
room.

“Well …” Renard lowered his head and stared
at the floor below his feet. “It itches like hell when you put it
on, and it’s a bitch to have it removed, but …”

“If he needs a mask, he needs a mask,” Anya
said firmly, as if it was her decision to make.

But it was Dale’s decision, and he’d already
made too many on Cole’s behalf. “Will it interfere with his
recovery?”

“No,” Spinner said. “Like all surgeries,
it’s not risk-free, but it’s a totally different technology so it
won’t interfere with what we’re doing. And the advantage is we’re
keeping him numb anyway.” He paused and wrinkled his nose. “I
wouldn’t do it right away, though. The masks have a tendency to
close over the face if they receive contradictory commands, and
he’s slipping in and out of consciousness a lot right now. I would
wait until we’re closer to finalizing this stage of the procedure.
He won’t need more than a couple of days to master basic control of
the mask.”

Given that he didn’t know the technology
that made the masks function, Dale could only agree with the
suggestion and hope they knew what they were doing. It hadn’t
worked that well so far.

“Since we’re settled here …” Renard left his
chair and nodded for Dale to follow him out of the car. “Walk with
me?”

Dale’s eyes drifted towards Aurore, but Rake
hadn’t finished the evaluation. The tubes, wires, and cyber muscles
were displayed on the screen as the knife thrower’s big hand moved
along her leg, holding a device resembling a remote control. An
unexpected pang of envy over those hands rushed through him, but
Dale pushed the feeling away.

With her chin propped in her hand, Aurore
studied the specifications, but when her gaze glanced back and
noticed Dale watching, her lips turned into a thin line. She didn’t
want him there. She didn’t need him. She never had. She had only
brought him along to protect her future gain. Dale shook his head
and followed Renard outside.

The cold air enveloped them, threatening to
freeze their lungs. Dale gave in and adjusted his body temperature.
He’d avoided using his enhancements lately, other than running the
maintenance routines, but the magician meant business, and Dale
wanted to be able to focus.

Renard raised the collar around his neck and
wrapped the coat tighter around his body. His face was paler than
usual, but he didn’t stumble while he walked towards the car. “So,
now you know…”

Dale figured he was talking about his
actions during the theater incident. “It was quite a display.”

“I wish it wasn’t needed, but—” Renard shook
his head, “—it was either that or let all those people die, so I
chose the lesser of two evils.”

“Do they know?” Dale asked, referring to the
circus people.

“Some of them do. The rest suspect
something, but it doesn’t matter. We’re a tight group. We have to
be since it’s us against the world.” He paused in his walk and eyed
Dale pensively. “But no one else knew until tonight. So you
understand my problem.”

“What about the other members of the
audience?” Dale was only delaying the inevitable. The real problem
was
him
.

“Oh, I’m not worried about them, Mr.
Armstrong. The majority were too taken with Riella and her
fireworks to notice anything else. And those who did, well … I took
care of them. A small jolt sent to the cortex here and there, and
they won’t remember the slightest suspicion. It didn’t work on you,
though. I tried to enforce it all night and failed. I know when it
doesn’t work. You have been trained to resist such
manipulation.”

He didn’t answer. Renard was, of course,
right. Dale couldn’t be corrupted. His superiors had made sure of
that. However, he was shocked to discover how powerful Renard was.
The man was a real magician and, for this conversation, he’d
dropped the mask.

“I can’t force you to keep my secret, and
I’m against making people disappear. I just want to be left alone.”
Renard rolled the walking stick between his fingers. “The way I see
it, we can be of help to each other. So this is what I’m proposing.
We hit the Hrad and then part ways. The question is can you keep
quiet until the circus leaves town? And will you?” He gazed at Dale
with narrowed eyes. “Is what you’re looking for inside the Hrad
more important to you than the reward if you turn me in?”

That was an easy question.

“It is,” Dale said. “I’m not at liberty to
disclose any more details, but it’s of crucial importance to many
people. More than you can imagine.”
All of them.

“I see.” Renard nodded. “All right. I’ll
give orders for you to be left alone. I’m not convinced an ambush
would be successful anyway. Rake suspects you were military, and
I’m tempted to agree. He should know. He used to be one.”

“Well, we all have secrets it seems …” While
he refused to discuss his background, Dale had a curiosity. “How
did you escape the drafting?”

“My family had connections. A source
informed us about what the government was planning. I took off
before the drafting committee was even formed. I’ve been running
ever since.” Renard swallowed hard and swayed on his feet. “Now, if
you’ll excuse me, I need to go and lay down. I had forgotten how
exhausting this could be.”

Having no intention to spend any more time
than necessary in Renard’s presence, regardless of how intriguing
he found him, Dale gave a short nod and headed back. He ran into
Anya on his way to the factory. The ballerina threw him a glare and
rushed in the direction Renard had gone, holding onto the light
coat covering her bare shoulders. Well, maybe Dale had his share of
guilt in what had happened at the theater. He’d come with the
request, and they had put on the show to accommodate him. Or
something like that. Dale wasn’t sure how that worked, but it
seemed to be mandatory for the success of their operation.

“There is an undercurrent, but nothing
else.” Rake’s voice.

Dale stopped in the doorway to listen.

“When did you start feeling something
unusual?” Rake asked Aurore.

“Tonight. At the theater. I felt weird the
whole time I was there, especially during the show when lighting
rushed through my prosthetics several times.”

Dale winced, remembering the way her body
had curled and how hard she’d squeezed his hand.

“Did it correlate with anything onstage?”
Rake’s strong fingers moved along Aurore’s bare arm. Her wrist
looked fragile in his hold.

“It’s hard to say. It was a big shock to
have them react like this. They never … umm … hurt before.” Aurore
scrunched up her forehead as if in deep thought. “The lights were
brighter, I think. Don’t you agree?” She turned to Dale.

With his presence acknowledged, he stepped
farther into the room. “Yes, the lights were brighter when it
happened.”

“But that can’t be the reason, can it?”
Aurore asked.

Rake’s gaze traveled to Spinner and, in the
silence that followed, the answer became obvious.

“Actually, it might …” Spinner scratched the
back of his head. Something whined in his shoulder when he raised
the arm, and he grimaced. “You see, we have an alternative power
source, and we re-routed some of it through the theater’s
electrical system during the show. Our acts needed more power than
was available, but we didn’t want to leave the city in the
dark.”

“Yes, yes, I know that.” Aurore waved her
hand impatiently. “But why would it affect
me
?”

“It’s a
different
power source,” Rake
said, “like nothing you’ve ever seen. Your prosthetics weren’t
tested against it.”

“I see …” Aurore looked down at her hands.
“I’d better leave then. It’s getting uncomfortable.”

Rake stepped back to let her fix her
clothes. “Mr. Armstrong can give you a ride back into the city.
We’ll need … one day?” He checked with Spinner.

“One day if we work through the night,”
Spinner answered.

“One day to get the transportation ready,”
Rake said to Dale. “Then we’ll need you here when we test it. I’m
sure you’ll want to supervise the progress, and it will make it
easier on the patient, too … assuming he
is
your
friend.”

“If that’s what I think it is—” Aurore
nodded at the eight-legged machine image lingering on the screen,
“—he won’t want to have anyone around to stare.”

“But he’ll be the life of the party!”
Spinner said. “We’ll add a disco ball, tinsel, and feathers …”

By the time he got to feathers, Dale knew
Spinner had to be joking. “I’ll be here.” He held up Aurore’s cape.
She gave him a surprised look. Apparently, she was used to being
obeyed, not helped.

 

36

A small crowd had gathered on the left side
of the train, away from the dormant fair. Around Cielo, the dancers
shuffled their feet on the frosty ground. It was too early for the
sun to give any real warmth. Even the air felt chilly. As if
suffering from the cold, Anya leaned against Nicholas’s arm and
whispered something to him. Riella glared at them from the end of
the line where she stood next to Serioja. The rest of the
aerialists were missing as they wouldn’t perform at the Hrad, but
the stilt men were there, walking around on their elongated legs,
careful to avoid Rocket Girl’s jumps.

The clowns tossed each other colorful rubber
balls, annoying everyone. At some point, Cielo counted two dozen
floating in the air. The wall of the car they were facing slid to
the side, turning their attention back to their reason for being
there. A pink ball brushed against Cielo’s temple.

“Oops, sorry!” Jacko grinned sheepishly at
her.

Cielo waved a hand, signaling it was
nothing. She was more interested in what was happening inside that
car, but the darkness prevented her from seeing anything. She wiped
her hands on her sea-colored skirt, realizing how nervous she was.
The knife throwers hadn’t let her see the patient in two days,
claiming there was nothing she could help with, and while she knew
the final outcome, she dreaded it a little. There were good reasons
to go through such drastic transformation, and then there were bad
reasons. She wasn’t sure which one this was.

What was so important to make such a risk
worth it? Armstrong wouldn’t say, and Cole couldn’t because he was
still not speaking. Since he spent so much time under the influence
of strong drugs to manage the pain, she had to wonder if his mind
was clear enough to understand the situation and whether he was
aware of the consequences
, if
the decision was indeed his.
Armstrong seemed to be the one in charge, and each time she glanced
at his folded arms and stern face, she struggled not to frown.

The sound of gears engaging came from inside
the car, and then Rake and Spinner emerged. With tools hanging on
their belts and a remote in Rake’s hand, they jumped on the ground
and positioned themselves on both sides of the opening. Cielo gave
a small shake of her head. They surely liked to make an
entrance.

Rake held out the remote and pressed a
button. A portion of the car’s floor slid out, bringing something
big and menacing with it. Only when the platform lowered to the
ground and the sunlight hit it did it become clear what kind of
machine with which they were dealing. Made mostly of shiny metal,
the elongated machine looked like a boat, if boats ever had eight
articulated legs. Cole sat on top of it, his legs trapped inside
the body of the machine, his arms covered by regeneration cases.
Only his upper body was free, his neck stiff because of the
orthopedic collar keeping his head from bouncing around.

BOOK: Broken People
6.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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