Red City, Cascadia
New Territories of America
“Yer askin’ fer trouble, my friend!”
Adam looked across the picking line to Reg. “What do you mean?”
Reg snorted a laugh and shook his head. He snagged a soup can out of the trash conveyor chugging between them then threw it into the proper chute that sucked it away deep into the bowels of the Red City Recycling District, or Trashtown, as it was commonly known.
A grizzled veteran of the 2nd Civil War, Reg fought for the Loyalist Army until an IED blew off his leg. He’d spent some time in the Freelands before coming to Red City.
His was a familiar story, one that echoed Adam’s own with the exception that Reg was human infantry and Adam was a MECH (Mechanically Enhanced Cybernetic Human) his augments implanted by the megacorp MECHtech.
MECHtech recruited and augmented cybersoldiers; they were then leased to territorial governments, security firms, and the oligarchs that ruled most of the large cities in the NTA. Adam was the only surviving member of a six-member MECH crew from Cascadia in the Pacific Northwest.
“Big trouble,” Reg grinned.
Adam glowered at Reg and reached for a scrap of steel feeling the tingle in his augmented right arm as he switched the magnetic polarity to attract. The scrap flew into Adam’s hand and he pitched it down the chute.
Reg hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “I don’t even have to look to know who yer gawking at.”
Adam felt his face flush. “Oh yeah?”
Reg placed his fingertips to his forehead and closed his eyes, feigning deep concentration. “Let me see…Yeah…wait! Curly hair the color of a bright penny, sweet face sprinkled with freckles, big brown eyes…”
Adam rolled his eyes, picking another piece of metal from the line. Her hair was more a dark auburn, he thought, glancing again to where the girl sat waiting outside Belikov’s office.
She’d been coming out to Trashtown for the last few weeks. A runner for Tower Control, Adam guessed she was shuttling messages about the increased power needed for the big summit between the Lóng Sang clan who ran Red City and the Golden Triad who controlled the bay area.
A treaty would reopen the I-5 trade route. It would be good for business, and Caleb Masters, the new Dragon of Lóng Sang, was all about business. His predecessor, Vladimir Zoeng, was the one who swooped in and freed Red City from the grip of the tyrant, William LeBlanc.
White Willie, as he was called in the famous ballad penned in honor of his gory demise, turned Red City into a metropolis of violence. Drug dens, murder, and brothels had been the gross domestic product all of which lined the pockets of White Willie and his soldiers. Terrorized and desperate, the citizens had all but handed Red City to the Lóng Sang clan.
There was going to be an epic party at the Tower that night to welcome the delegation of Triads, thus the need for the extra juice. Trashtown was the place where Red City sent their waste but also where power was produced. Generators fed by steam from burning and hydroelectric from the river were all processed and maintained by the district.
“Zoom that bionic peeper ah yers on her ear, my man,” Reg said. Adam complied, his left eye reacquiring his plotted target and focused on the girl’s right ear. “Ya got a lock, dude?”
His Tactical Operations System woke up and processed the information—
SUBJECT: “TOWER GIRL”
DRAGON TATTOO SCAPHA OF RIGHT EAR
LÓNG SANG OFILLIATION MARKING
RED COLORATION INDICATES HIGH RANKING OFFILATE OR RELATIONSHIP TO HIGH RANKING OFFILIATE OF LÓNG SANG CLAN.
—It informed him cheerfully, dashing his hopes.
“Ya see what I mean?” Reg asked him. “Capitol T for Tower, and trouble.”
Adam shrugged. “There’s no harm in looking.”
“I wouldn’t even do that! Ya could wake up with yer nads in yer mouth!”
It was true; the aristocratic Lóng Sang did not mix with the common folks of Red City.
“Hey Grandpa! Back to work!” Belikov had come out of his office and was handing the girl her message. “You too Void-o!” he sneered.
The girl’s head whipped around and she looked right at Adam. He ducked his head avoiding her stare. His face turned scarlet with embarrassment.
A MECH’s memories were erased during the augmentation process. It made their insertion into the military hive mind easier and therefore a more stable product. Upon waking from the procedure he’d been void, who he’d been before was gone. From that day on he was MECH5030624.
Decommissioned now, folks were wary of a MECH like Adam. Unplugged from corporate control the general feeling was he might be a literal loose cannon, a weapon without a master. They were wrong of course but he wasn’t going to try to change anyone’s mind. He liked being left alone and was content to keep it that way, but the girl’s startled look made him want to shrink until he disappeared.
“Gǒuzǎi zi,” Reg whispered.
TOS translated: DOG WHELP!
Adam’s lips twitched in a near smile. He didn’t have many friends but Adam counted Reg among them. Slinging another chunk of scrap into the chute, he ventured a peek back up to the office. The girl was gone. He pushed away the disappointment he felt. Reg was right, he was just asking for trouble.