Read Broken People Online

Authors: Ioana Visan

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

Broken People (5 page)

BOOK: Broken People
10.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Anya didn’t seem to fully believe it as she
stood there, trembling in the cold. At some point, they had stopped
walking and turned to face each other. Her eyes were full of
anguish. This wasn’t an act.

Nicholas shrugged off his coat and placed it
on her shoulders. “You will be great, as always. And you can do any
number you want.” He wrapped the coat tighter around her. “How
about Giselle? I’ve always thought you’d make a terrific
Giselle.”

“Actually, I’m thinking of
Swan Lake
.
I feel a bit more dramatic in that.” She let out a short laugh, and
then her grin turned smug. “And I can also wear better
costumes.”

“I feel sorry for poor Cielo already,”
Nicholas deadpanned and resumed walking.

Anya pretended to pout for a second, then
grabbed hold of his arm. Her long fingers smoothed over his white
dress shirt. “Nick?”

Oh, boy …
What did she want now? Anya
only shortened his name when she badly wanted something. “Yes?”

“Do I have to do the butterfly act?” Her
voice had turned into a whine.

Ah, that was it.
Anya hated the
butterfly act, and for good reason. While Nicholas didn’t care one
way or the other, saying “no” would make Anya insist on showing her
gratitude, and that was not the kind of complication he needed. So
far, he’d managed not to form any attachments inside the circus, so
he could disappear without leaving anyone heartbroken. Pleasing
Anya and letting her thank him in return came too close to changing
that. But then again, Anya didn’t offer anyone else that kind of
thanks.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s a hit with the crowd
everywhere we go. It will be one of the highlights of the show
here, as well.”

“Yeah, I bet it will be,” she muttered with
a glare. “They’ll all want front seats to watch the horror.”

Nicholas deemed it wise not to comment on
that. Anya’s grip on his arm had tightened.

“Everything I do after that loses its
value,” she said. “They don’t see me as a human being anymore. All
they see is tubes, circuits, and wires. And it’s not fair. These—”
Anya pointed at her legs, “—are real. I work hard at it, harder
than I would have to otherwise, and no one appreciates it.”

She was right. This
was
the type of
reaction she was getting, and for an artist, it was heartbreaking
and demoralizing. Nicholas, who was basically a fraud, wouldn’t
have cared. It didn’t mean he didn’t understand her frustration,
though. His arm slid around Anya’s slender waist, and he pulled her
towards him in a comforting hug.

“Are you sure I can’t change your mind?”
Anya played with his necktie. “When can I stop by your car, Mr. Art
Director?” she asked with a playful smile. “I’m free every
night.”

Now
would have been a good answer,
but Nicholas held his ground. “Fine, you can do the ballet number
first.” He brushed his lips against her temple. Okay, it was shaky
ground.

“Really?”

Her eyes shone with happiness. No way could
he take the words back now, but he didn’t plan to.

“Yes. They’ll feel cheated when it’s over,
but who cares? It’s one show. And we can have an animal number in
the first act for comic relief.”

“Thank you.” Anya pressed her lips against
his cheek and let them linger there.

When she pulled back and returned his coat
with a victorious smile, Nicholas knew he’d been had. She had never
planned to drop out of the show. She’d obtained exactly what she
wanted. Still, it was nice to see her smile.

“I’ll let you give them the good news,” she
said, nodding towards the car they were approaching and patting his
shoulder lightly. “Don’t let them grill you too hard!”

Anya winked and sauntered away while
Nicholas veered to the left, shaking his head at the thought that,
although he was closer to his forties than thirties, he was still
sensitive to pretty ballerinas with cute dimples. Well, maybe not
just
any
ballerina …

 

9

The screech of metal being cut came out
through the open door, along with dark clouds of smoke as Nicholas
walked up the steps. Bent over a long workbench, Rake and Spinner
molded a delicate piece of machinery. Their “factory”, a hybrid
between a laboratory and a hardware store, smelled of
coagulants.

The fans worked overtime and still couldn’t
keep up with the smoke coming out of Rocket Girl’s robo-suit. She
paced behind the knife throwers, the helmet preventing her from
suffocating. With her face covered, she looked rather scary, hidden
inside the two-ton walking bot that towered over everyone else in
the car.

“Take a mask.” Spinner gestured at a shelf
near the entrance. “Fei Lin busted a few wires while practicing her
jumps.”

Nicholas pressed a square filter tissue over
his nose and mouth. Fei Lin’s determination to improve her already
outstanding act and earn her keep often ended up with some kind of
malfunction—solid proof of why the robot had been abandoned.
Despite Rake’s and Spinner’s efforts, they managed to only
partially salvage it each time.

“How did it go?” Rake asked.

“It went as well as expected.” Nicholas’s
voice came out muffled through the mask. The knife throwers didn’t
wear any, but he preferred not to risk his health. “The mayor was
so impressed with his thirty percent, he forgot to ask for an
advanced fee for booking the theater, so we don’t owe anything to
Aurore.” The five percent he failed to mention would go straight
into his pockets as compensation for his trouble.

“Good, good.” Spinner nodded and set aside
the piece he was working on. Fei Lin stopped behind him and peered
over his shoulder.

“The downside is,” Nicholas said, careful
not to get in her way, “they’ll send tons of agents to snoop around
the place, and there’s no way to keep them out.”

“We have nothing to hide,” Spinner said,
wiping his forehead with a dirty cloth, and picked up another metal
part.

Yeah, right
. They made a point of
hiding them in plain sight, but there were still secrets.

“If they have agents to spare, we can use
them to tighten our security,” Rake said, though it was hard to
tell if he was serious. “I’ll make some new masks for them.”

If they agreed to wear them … but the masks
also stood for tickets and were mandatory to access the circus
grounds. After their yearly visits, the locals knew they couldn’t
enter without them.

“Anything else?” Spinner asked.

“The building is old,” Nicholas said, “and
while it’s maintained and in good shape, it won’t easily
accommodate our acts. Our stage workers will have to work non-stop
to have everything ready in time.”

“They will.” Rake didn’t need to say more.
They could count on the auxiliary personnel to do their work.

Rocket Girl—Nicholas had trouble thinking of
her and using her full name when he couldn’t see her inside that
mountain of metal—stopped on the other side of the table with her
hands on her hips and watched them, obviously unhappy with the
interruption.

“What’s the prognosis for the client?”
Nicholas asked. “I saw him outside, and he didn’t look well.”

“He’s not,” Spinner said. “Whoever he pissed
off did a good number on him.”

“Any chance you can fix him?”

Both Rake and Spinner stared at him. Anyone
else would have winced under those glares.

Nicholas held up his free hand. “Don’t look
at me like that. I’m the one who negotiated with Armstrong. That
man is a gunner. If we don’t deliver, he’ll come after all of us,
guns blazing. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not get shot.
Tailcoats are expensive, you know.”

Spinner adjusted the dials on a plasma
cutter. “It’s true that he’ll be pissed if we fail. But the arms
are busted. It was done by someone who knew what he was doing. The
damage was tailored to affect the use of his hands … and cause as
much pain as possible.”

“So it can’t be done?” Nicholas asked.

“Don’t underestimate us—”

“Spinner.” Rake gave the smaller knife
thrower a pointed look.

“Okay …,” Spinner said, aggravated. “We can
control the pain, and we can restore the muscles … to a fashion.
It’s the nerves of which we’re not sure. All of the paths we’ve
tested are shot. If we need to re-grow everything from the
shoulders down, we’ll need a whole month for the client to regain
the use of his hands, longer for proper fine motor skills.
Obviously, that won’t do. If we can find some paths still working,
we might be onto something, but even then, we need to make sure the
re-grow speed is fast enough to meet our deadline. We need at least
a day to figure that out.”

Robot Girl tapped Skinner on the shoulder
and pointed at the digital clock on the wall. She spoke little
English besides the gibberish they had identified as a Mongoloid
dialect, and she didn’t speak at all while wearing the
robo-suit.

“Yes, we need more time.” Spinner nodded
with a smile.

She shook her head and probably rolled her
eyes inside the helmet. She hadn’t meant time for the patient, but
for herself.

“You should also tell him we’ve never done
anything like this before,” Rake said. “And we can’t count on Big
Dino’s guidance, either.”

“There’s also that.” Spinner let his
shoulders drop.

Nicholas took a long look at the arm and
hand molds hanging all over the wall.

“So, we’ll know tomorrow if we’re doomed to
fail Miss Aurore’s expectations,” he said. If they failed Aurore,
Big Dino would be disappointed, too … when he regained
consciousness. “Good to know.”

 

10

After delivering Cole to The Nightingale
Circus, Dale hadn’t dared leave the attic. There hadn’t been
obvious witnesses at the scene, but someone was bound to notice
something, and people talked. It was better not to draw the
attention of the police or the lowlifes in the city. But being
confined in the attic didn’t work for him, either. Having a
contingency plan would have helped, except he had no connections in
the city. Betting everything on Cole had been a huge mistake, but
he’d had no other option at the time.

Since going over it again and again was
bound to give him a headache, he forced himself not to pace along
the windowed wall. His steps would be heard from the floor below,
worrying Mrs. Potec. She already had given him the evil eye this
morning, a sign she was aware of his past night’s activities. Thank
God his superiors weren’t. The last note sent to inquire when he
would be ready to report back to work had nothing to do with that.
But he was due another month of sick leave after the last repairs
and upgrades made to his enhancements, so he was good.

With the radio volume turned low, Dale only
half-listened to the news. Lacking inhabitants, this wing of the
building wasn’t wired for most purposes and, therefore, had no
cable. Dale could do without a TV, but the slowness of the clock
hands on the wall drove him mad. A quick glance told him it was
past three in the afternoon. A couple more hours left until the
circus opened its gates. They had told him not to come back and
bother them, they would keep him informed of their progress, but he
fully intended on going back.

A light flashed in the corner of his eye,
and he followed the bright spot moving on the cracked wall before
turning to look outside the window in search of its source.
Something gleamed on the balcony up the street. He reached for the
binoculars and focused on the culprit. A necklace with a big stone
hung on the window handle, reflecting every ray of sunshine in the
street.

This was an unusual sight in the city, even
knowing the window belonged to the biggest jeweler in town. In the
two months he’d been there, he had never seen the Golden Lady hang
her jewelry out to dry. Someone had placed it there on purpose,
making sure the light reflected into his room. A signal of some
sort—or so he told himself. He owed Aurore, and he wanted to get a
feel for her so he wouldn’t be caught unprepared when she requested
her payment.

Dale snatched his jacket and headed out.
Although sunny, it was colder than he expected. He started up the
street, the cold making him feel alive. He inhaled the fresh air.
It was too early for the food stands to cloud it with their blasted
smoke. A portly housekeeper argued with a vendor over a knitted
basket. Everything felt normal in the world.

Little Rosie held out her hand when Dale
passed by her corner, and he dropped a coin in her palm. No use to
try and keep a low profile now. The kid reported to Aurore
anyway.

He
was
expected. The guards stationed
at the building entrance, without bothering to search him, let him
in and signaled him to go upstairs. He found Aurore seated at her
desk, a few dozen precious stones spread on a velvet cloth in front
of her. The necklace from the window lay discarded in a box on top
of a pile of folders. Dale had never seen a crystal so big, but
gems weren’t his trade.

“I don’t appreciate being used as your
secretary, Mr. Armstrong.” Aurore’s blue-gray eyes shot him an
annoyed glance.

Since he didn’t know what this was about,
Dale preferred not to say anything. He’d felt less anxious the
first time he met her because he had nothing to lose then. He did
this time, and the presence of his guns failed to comfort him.

“Nifty things, these.” Aurore wiggled her
fingers, and their tips sparkled under the bright light of the desk
lamp. “One doesn’t have to wear gloves to handle the stones.” She
pushed the magnifying glass away, turned off the extra light, and
laced her fingers on the desk. “Do you wear gloves in your line of
work, Mr. Armstrong?”

“Not lately,” Dale said, wondering where
this was going.

“Neither do I. I find it more productive if
you give people things straight up.” She paused and locked her gaze
with his. “So, what the hell did you tell them to make them believe
they were doing
me
a favor?”

BOOK: Broken People
10.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Futuretrack 5 by Robert Westall
The Anybodies by N. E. Bode
Through the Door by Jodi McIsaac
The Virtuous Assassin by Anne, Charlotte
Operation Chimera by Tony Healey, Matthew S. Cox
Una Pizca De Muerte by Charlaine Harris
Race Girl by Leigh Hutton
Double Fault by Lionel Shriver