The mall was a hub of activity at this time of night. The mechanical humming of cold fluorescent lights could make one forget that the sun had long since set and all sensible people were in their homes, their TVs blaring some obnoxious live broadcast. Garishly colored storefronts looked out into the atrium, silently hawking their wares of manufactured diamonds and cheap plastic toys. On one side, a store sold nothing but top-of-the-line sex toys, the cylindrical outlines of countless male members shivering a welcome to all who were brave enough to cross the threshold of their inhibitions. And on the other, a front of a more sinister nature, where tatted rat boys hunched over too-white operating tables offering up the newest in body mod trends.
Here, some juiceheads sat at a table bristling with folds of muscle so large that they barely looked human. And over there, fashion sisters, their frozen smiles and stretch-tight skin the result of too many trips to the laser salon. A schizo trolled the floor in faded hospital gowns, begging for credits or junk or whatever you had on you, deftly weaving between the tables more silently than any mental patient should be able. A pair of security guards rolled slowly back and forth on one-wheeled scooters, their lurid uniforms thinly disguising the mods encompassing their limbs that pulsed with the synthetic rhythm of black motor oil.
In the center of a café sat a woman, of only thirty or so, with the chestnut brown hair and olive skin of a mediteranneo, nursing a cappuccino. She was wrapped in black leather pants the shade of an octogenarian’s favorite easy chair, worn in just the right places, and a dingy white tank top under an equally loved leather vest. She carried no weapons here, as was the rule of all serious establishments. Not that it would matter, she thought, casting her sunglass-mirrored eye over to the juiceheads, many were themselves weapons these days. However, it still felt strange, she thought, to be away for so long from her anlace – a rapier that was part robot and rarely ever left her side, though she carried it more for comfort than safety. She tried to glance coolly around the room, projecting the demeanor of the stoic calm one can only manage just before some erratic act of drama.
The twins had told her that he would be here, on this night, getting into more trouble than he’d ever bargained for. She trusted the twins, they weren’t programmed to lie and even if they’d tried, she had other ways of keeping an honest cyborg honest. They lived in the alleys only a stone's throw from the old stadium and had enough street cred to be in the know for just about every interesting pair of feet that crossed their patch of asphalt. But Mara had more street cred, and she’d pulled some strings and flexed a few muscles – the right muscles – to lead her to this frozen heart of commerce in the Sink.
He was only fourteen and somehow much too young to be pulling off a heist of this magnitude. Mara could only conceive of how he’d planned it, how long it had taken him to devise a strategy that would actually lead him to this very spot on this very night. And she wondered even harder how he would manage to get out of this predicament alive. That’s where she would come in, she assumed, though exactly how, she really had no idea. Clenching her teeth, she forced herself to trust that the right opportunity would present itself.
A commotion arose on the second floor balcony and Mara looked up to see an achromatized pipe banister quiver in response to the sound of slapping feet. Size tens, she would have surmised, if she could’ve seen the scuffed boots with the frayed laces that now raced toward the edge. Her vantage point was such that, across the cafeteria, she had an almost perfect view of the long hallway with its custard-yellow walls scratched and faded from years of apathy. An adolescent with shaggy hair the color of sandpaper, was barreling toward the banister, heedless of bodily harm, eyes wild and breath pounding in and out like a bass drum. Following behind, almost unhurriedly, was a rotund, balding man in an obnoxious band T-Shirt from a decades-forgotten rock group. He wore an expression of boredom as if to indicate that this tourist had already seen the attraction and had found it lacking.
Mara stood up and downed the last of her lukewarm cappuccino in one frenzied swig, gagging as the undissolved sugar crunched between her molars. She froze. The kid had made it to the banister and reached out to it with one desperate hand, vaulting over as if he were at a track and field event. He seemed to hang in midair, his left leg tucked under him, his right thrust out, grabbing at an ethereal purchase that only he could see. The tourist held out his hand where Mara could see a shiny metallic square on the inside of his wrist. He now flipped that wrist toward the sandy haired acrobat and one rectangle broke off and flew with unnerving speed.
The boy’s face changed from an impetuous grimace of rebellion to a frantic O of surprise as his right leg just below the knee plummeted to the floor. The rest of him followed in a pallid heap of shock and fear. The silver rectangle recoiled into itself and a very faint iridescent thread shimmered in the artificial light. Razorwire. Mara whipped her cappuccino cup at the assassin with more force than her slight frame advertised, so that it not only crossed the linoleum desert of the food court, but shot straight up into the face of the tourist, shattering into a hundred unforgiving shards of cheap pottery.
She rushed over to Samson, for she knew now that it could be no one else, who was curled up on the floor in a convulsing heap, blood pooling around him. Ripping off a piece of her shirt she tied a tourniquet around Samson’s leg, the crimson spreading over it so quickly you’d think it conscious of its own intentions. Then she flung the now-unconscious adolescent over her shoulder, grabbed his escaped body part and began to slip out of the modish jungle as juiceheads, fashion sisters, rats, schizos and even security guards looked on with only mild curiosity as if something like a young vagabond being pursued by a highly trained, but innocuous-looking, assassin happened every day.
Down here in the Sink, the largest of the scrap cities, maimings, robberies and killings were just daily news. You didn’t get into anyone else’s business and they didn’t get into yours. However, if you happened to be determined enough to start a scuffle, then you’d best be prepared to defend yourself or the sociopathic citizenry could not guarantee what would happen to you.