The world flowed around him like water through a river, he was nothing more than a rock beneath the surface, a conduit for the smooth laminar flow. He watched as photons of indistinguishable origins warped before his eyes, a streak of red here, a dash of blue there, perhaps a questionable dosage of x-rays or gamma rays if his route had been miscalculated, or his information had been wrong. God he fucking hoped not, that would be at least a week in a medichamber, if not more. But the odds were slim to none.
The visual world was always first to come during runs, something about the sprinters seemed to turn on the occipital lobe first, working memory came second. Sight before sound, plenty of trips abound. Sound before sight, a runner’s fright. Or so the old sayings went. It was a relic of the old days, when sprinters were still in their youth, full of bugs and faulty parts, before the engineers who’d designed them knew the proper ways to switch back on a human brain after transversing spacetime like a ship parting the waves. But still, the saying persisted, and even in his dumbfounded state, the saying echoed within his skull.
Slowly the world grew more and more viscous, like the arrow of time pointing in reverse on a paint mixer, the streaks of light began to slowly unblend from each other. Gradually they began forming coherent shapes. A tendril of light whipped back and forth above him, like a snake whose head was caught in a mouse trap. At first it moved erratically, trying to escape the mechanism, but with each beat of the whip the the bright white serpent moved slower, and slower until the trap had sucked all the life out of it. The white snake let out its final tremor until it keeled over, and rigor mortis kicked in, stretching it into a long white florescent light hanging above him.
Sound had returned, he could hear the faint buzzing of the light above him, a faint rattle of the dead snake. Beyond the buzzing a faint machine hummed. A thud banged from somewhere within the space he was emerging into. He wanted to look towards the origin, but his face was still locked in place while the sprinter carried on with its work, indifferent to any outside stimulus.
Sense began gradually returning, each one a little more quickly than the last. Touch, he could feel the cold surface his body laid upon. His vestibular system was next, he could now tell exactly where was in space. He knew the cold surface was down, and the bright white light was up. Then kinesthetics, without looking he knew his hands were where they should be and his feet too. Finally, his organs, he felt his stomach growl, his heartbeat, his lungs fill with air. He was now a fully functioning human being.
A buzzing sound came from his right, odd, he had expected a gentle chime. Must be a different kind of sprinter, he thought to himself, best to play it safe. He waited for the chime, but it never came. He took a deep breath and sat himself up.
He shivered, he looked down at his barren body. Why was he nude? He didn’t remember ever taking off his clothes. Sprinters could transport almost anything, from the fabric of his clothes to the cellular makeup of his body. The practice of removing clothes before a quick sprint was long abandoned, only those too old and stubborn (or paranoid) sprinted naked. He dug deep into his mind in search of his reasoning why he had sprinted naked, he couldn’t find it. Give it a minute, he thought to himself, mind’s still unwinding.
He looked around the room, preferably for something to cover himself up. The room reminded him of the cramped apartment he used to rent in the Dynamo Ward in the lower levels of Wintermute. Oh Wintermute, the city he had made a name for himself. He remembered bits and pieces of his time there what he didn’t remember is why he had left it.
Never mind, that didn’t matter, he had to figure where he was now, and more importantly, why.
On the far side of the room sat an empty terminal, the screen dark. Behind the terminal a wall of black boxes and flashing LEDs, like the twinkling of stars from above. To the left of him sat a maroon lether couch, the cushioning ripped through various incisions and lumps. Flashes of rotting flesh came to mind, bodies lacerated and burned, vital fluids leaking through the incisions and white pus erupting through the blisters. Tas. Why did that word ring so strongly in his mind? He closed his eyes, the gaping wounds hung in his minds eye. He looked to right. A light board hung on the wall. Written in radiant green light were the words “Welcome Saz!”
He cocked his head and squinted. Saz, that was his name, but who wrote that?
The machine he sat in buzzed. A deep purple plasma began spewing from the upper corners of the metallic coffin, the plasma poured off the edges flowing a centimeter or so down before hitting an invisible barrier, and trickled atop the force field.
“Shit,” Saz said. He pulled himself out of the sprinter and hurdled over the edges. His right leg made contact with the plasma, his peripheral nervous system kicked in and quickly pulled the leg backwards. His left leg wasn’t prepared for such a sudden change in his balance. His torso, now just over the edge of the sprinter, was overtaken by gravity and he was pulled towards the ground.
He rolled onto his back. All his limbs were clear of the sprinter. On his right shin sat a pink mark where the plasma had contacted his flesh. He sighed and let his body relax.
“Fuck me,” he groaned.
Saz stood up and watched the sprinter. It was completely covered in the purple plasma, like fog across a pond on a cool morning. There was no safety shielding between him and the plasma as you would find on most legitimate sprinters, but then again, he didn’t typically spend time with those in a legitimate business. Flashes of white light glistened across the hazing barrier, like fireflies in the heat of the summer. The process continued for only a second or two until the machine buzzed again and the plasma retreated back into the edges of the machine.
In the middle of the machine sat a large black duffel bag. He yanked it out. He didn’t recognize the bag, but he assumed it was for himself. He unzipped the bag. He took a step back, and nearly tripped once again. Inside the bag sat loads and loads of paper bills. Each of them gleaming with that soft cyan luminescence, with that large C stamped in the middle. Case City bills, thousands of them.
Another thing caught his eye in the bag, wadded up on one of the ends was a piece of clothing. He pulled it up, gently pushing the cash aside as not to soil their elegance. He unwadded the cloth, it unraveled into a plain gray t shirt, within the shirt a pair of red shorts and underwear.
Tap, tap. He jumped. Tap. He looked towards the source of the sound, a metal door outfitted with a wheel in the center, like a weather tight hatch in a freight ship. Another tap. Saz scanned the room again, looking for anything that could be make shifted into a weapon. He picked up the shirt beside him, held it between his hands lengthwise and twisted either end around his hands, and dashed to the hinge side of the door.
The wheel spun. The door creaked open.
“Saz?” A woman’s voice said. Hoarse, as if she were parched, “have you changed yet?”
The door swung a few degrees more, Saz added tension to the shirt between his hands, and gave it one more twist.
“Saz?” The grainy voice said. She walked through the doorway. She wore a long black dress with light bands flowing from her torso to the hemlines, like neon rain drops running down a window contouring around the fluffs of the outfit. Her chalk white hair held up in a bun. “Fuck not another trip,” she stomped.
Saz lunged from behind the door and lassoed the woman with his shirt. He tensed his arms, pulling her closer to his body and constricted her throat.
“Saz, is that you? You’re just unw-” She gagged. He pulled tighter until she no longer could speak.
She kicked him in the shin, Saz hung tight.
“How do you know my name?” He asked.
She coughed and pointed at her neck. He loosened his grip, giving her enough slack to barely take a breath.
“I intercepted you,” she croaked.
Shit, who’s he piss off this time? Or was just a simple mugging? He quickly looked over his shoulder towards the hatch and kicked it closed. His rubbed his elbow against the wheel and attempted to turn the latch. The wheel didn’t budge, not enough leverage.
“Why?” He said.
“You paid me to,” she said.
“Liar,” he raised his voice and pulled the shirt tighter.
“Well this was nice while it lasted,” she said.
“What?” His muscles tensed all at once, then all fell limp. The shirt slipped through his fingers and draped across the woman’s neck; his legs could no longer hold. His body returned to the cold hard floor. He wanted to reach out and grab the woman, but his limbs no loner listened to him.
She removed the shirt from her neck and tossed it aside. “Glad to see you too,” she said. “Nice job ruining my dress,” she inspected her elbows. Small metal spikes ruptured from the black fabric and into her skin. She kicked his stomach, the air shot out of his lungs.
“My rates just went up, an extra five percent to cover damages,” she leaned down and looked him, “both material and psychological.” Her face was efflorescent and white, like she had stuck her whole face into a bag of powdered sugar and called it a day with her make up. She pointed her right elbow towards him and fiddled with the severed fabric. “This dress ain’t cheap,” she said. The metal rods retracted into her flesh, “that’s five bucks a thread. I’ll have a bot add it all up.”
She walked away from him and squatted down at the duffle bag. She began lifting the wads of cash out and stacked the beside her. She formed six piles of five stacks and brought them to her desk. She kicked at something and leaned over, then stood back up. She sat on the chair beside the console and watched Saz from across the room.
Saz could feel his motor control return to him, first with a slight twitch of his fingers. He lay there focusing on moving his hands.
“You should have your full range of motion back in a few minutes,” the woman said. “Supposed to give the victim enough time to flee the scene and then some so you can’t trail her. Fucking men,” she rolled her eyes. She returned to her console and began typing away at a set of holokeys.
Saz lay there watching her. If what she said was true, she was on his side, at least as much of his side he bought from her. If what she said was true, she was on his side, at least as much of his side he bought from here. He searched his memory for her face, her face reminded him of those wicked witches from children’s stories, but as for her, he drew nothing but blanks. His memory still rewiring in the back of his brain was like an ever shifting maze, wandering it was futile. Best to let it settle first.
“What do you think?” He heard a woman’s voice, it wasn’t the witch’s, it was younger, stronger and it came from all around him “Fully augmented memories,” her voice continued, “no more wind up time. Just sprint, and,” she snapped, “you’re all there. What do you think Saz?”
“Huh?” He groaned and got up.
“Oh you’re up,” the witched turned spun in her chair. She stood and walked to him, she picked up the pair of shorts on her way. “Now would it bother you to get dressed?” She tossed the pair of shorts towards him.