The Fat Man
Levi Storm watched the constant stream of daily commuters enter the café as he sat back against the wall, facing the door. Running his hand across his face he felt the two-day old stubble and tried to remember the last time he had managed to make it to the shower. As his appointment approached he recognised the rising tide of his own body odor and flinched as the speaker above him rattled contesting happy morning music with the female baritone of the barista as she mechanically repeated the orders of coffee being fired at her from the prettier front counter assistants. Although the café was busy supplying the first coffee of the day, most were drop in and there weren't many people seated. Those that were seated were in the same ten meter space around Levi. Diagonally opposite him on the same table a rabbit faced man sat deep in conversation with his croissant and between their table and the door two business women, obviously Highborn were deep in conversation. Mistakenly he had caught the eye of one of the pair and wished he hadn't. He assumed her reaction was just something to do with his unkempt state, or then maybe she was just acting to form with a hatred for kind just like a true Highborn.
For no apparent reason the staff had suddenly decided to don odd shaped hats provoking rabbit face sitting opposite to utter under his breath.
“Looks like they are celebrating Monday's, not fucking sure why.
What's so fucking great about Monday. Bastards.”
Levi grunted something like agreement, careful not to offer too much in the way of response in case he got roped into a conversation he had no time for. He always seemed to attract the crazies and there was a time that he had thought it was something to do with his crumpled good looks and easy attitude. But lately he was starting to think they felt akin to him recognising the same madness. Besides which before his appointment arrived he wanted to finish his “Proper porridge”, a grey white paste that tasted like grey white paste freshly made in a per-prepared pot with the label “Proper Porridge”.
His appointment was with the Fat Man or more accurately Salas Macropolis who professed to have information Levi wanted.
As Levi greedily scooped the last helping of porridge from the plastic pot a large man in a size too small sweat stained suit filled the café doorway.
Keen eyes flashed under a set of bushy eyebrows and scanned the interior of the café. With a small glint of recognition his eyes found what they were looking for and checking the half full tables a second time he cautiously approached where Levi was sitting.
Levi didn't stand or shake the Fat Man’s hand as this was not a meeting of equals and the last thing he wanted to do was give the impression they were anywhere near friends. Quietly the Fat Man sat down opposite Levi and next to rabbit face with his back toward the two women on the next table.
Without a word of welcome Levi looked impatiently at the Fat Man
“So, what do you have”
A line of sweat slowly rolled down the Fat Man’s face and Levi Knew before he spoke that there was going to be a problem.
“Well there's a problem, somebody updated the security AI and blocked my access to the virus hive”
Levi looked at the man opposite and wanted to slap him.
Realising that his plan to negotiate an extra settlement fee was never going to work with this Skum, Salas brushed the sweat off his chin and blurted out.
“But I did manage to get was this”
With amazing dexterity for a hand full of fat fingers he palmed a silver object the size of a bullet out of the sleeve of his crinkled suit and passed it quickly across the table to Levi.
Intrigued, Levi was just about to ask what the object was when the Fat Mans chest exploded toward him in a cloud of blood as a close fired sonic hit him from behind.
Already leveling their shock pistols at him the two business ladies weren't even bothering for a clean shot as they opened up blanketing the table where he was sitting. In a shower of splinters Levi Grabbed the wet blood-soaked bullet and threw himself bodily across the aisle and behind the main counter. Colliding with the baristas he bolted for the toilets at the rear of the café that also provided the fire exit into the service alley behind the building. The last glimpse of the café was rabbit face sitting open mouthed trying to work out where the table and the rest of his breakfast croissant had gone as chaos exploded around him.
Screaming in agony the barista with the deep voice fell behind Levi as a sonic round took her at hip level shattering her pelvis and legs.
Then Levi was at the door to the toilet only to see the red engaged flag. Without breaking pace, he slammed his shoulder into the door and was relieved as the door gave way throwing him into the cubicle and straight onto the lap of a suited lady sitting on the toilet. Offering a muttered apology and leaving the lady trying to retrieve her underwear Levi rolled off her and picking up momentum aimed himself at the emergency exit at the rear of the cubicle just as another sonic round came through the door and shattered the toilet system sending crystal splinters and water everywhere. Hitting the exit at speed the door started to open then sickeningly halted with just enough space to get an arm through. In desperation and with the knowledge that any second his assailants would come bursting into the toilet cubicle Levi threw himself at the door again and again gradually forcing the opening wider until there was just enough space for him to squeeze through into the ally beyond. Quickly running the opposite way to the door opening Levi gulped down the cool air and turned the corner into a busy thoroughfare filled with slow moving tourists. Almost flattening a party guide who was waiving a bright yellow flag Levi kept moving and instinctively ducked as the whoosh of a sonic tore into the tourists sending bags and bodies in all directions. A shrill blast of sirens announced the arrival of the security services, another group of people Levi definitely wanted to avoid.
Weaving around people who had stopped and where now looking backward to where a cacophony of screams and yelling had broken out Levi ducked in and out a shop and then down into the sub tunnels that ran under the city. A century ago there had been trains in these tunnels but now there were only the express travellators or scalators for short that carried close to a million citizens a day under the City of London.
Jumping the orderly que that were carefully stepping onto the slowest of the Scalator bands Levi missed this one out and leapt onto the next rapidly moving pale green band. Then miraculously restoring his balance moved quickly across the other coloured bands picking up speed as he went.
Eventually reaching the crimson coloured high speed bands Levi let out a deep breath and glanced over his shoulder.
There was no sign of his attackers.
Relaxing slightly, he tasted the familiar smell of rubber, oil and sweat in the air. It had been a good two hours since the height of the rush hour that saw over two million people pass through these tunnels but their residual smell still hung in the air regardless of the straining fans and coolers.
Of all the places in London Levi knew these tunnels the best as he had spent a good portion of his youth amongst the tunnel grunts and speeder addicts that owned the subterranean world by night. Now as he nimbly stepped across the scalators picking up speed he knew there were few that could keep up with him. As he reached the Crimson scalator he still felt the same old thrill of moving in excess of eighty meters a second without a thing around you.
There were rules of coarse.
Don’t miss out a Scalator as the speed differential could be fatal.
Don’t ever try and grab hold of any guard rail or bumper.
Don’t touch other and travelers.
And finally, always allow enough time to drop your velocity to make your exit port exit safely.
But that one was for only guidance really, which could be witnessed by gouges and dents in the elastic impact walls surrounding every exit port.
Levi had broken all these rules many times, as apart from being a totally addictive, the rush became even more so when the gang races began after the daily city exodus. These were illegal of coarse but happened regardless and were regarded as rite of passage for any Sleeper youth.
Levi had been good, in fact the undefeated champion for an entire season until he been drop charged by two different gang members who had privately agreed it was time his reign ended. It had taken him a long while to heal in the bone suite of the local infirmary but as his Skeleton mended he decided it was time to look for more profitable ventures to fill his days and nights. After all you have have grow up sometime, right ?
It was there as he recovered, that he met the first of the Ghosts who would eventually recruit him. At first, he had refused to even acknowledge their existence as it was safer. But they were persistent and had a way of invading one’s virtual and physical life and in the end to he agreed to just talk with them.
Who were the ghosts?
Well that was a good question and the first he asked. One was for sure, they certainly weren't misplaced souls or vapid apparitions. They were solid as the walls passing by him at eighty meters per second and were also a little upset regarding their status that existed somewhere between the two sects of modern society, the Sleepers and Wakers.
They were the in between that had once been Wakers but had fallen. Some jumped and some unable to maintain their status were pushed. But regardless all were fallen.
However, their arguments had been persuasive and little by little Levi had come to understand their plight and that of their kind and how in actuality it affected everyone. They had also offered him a large sum of money, more than he had ever actually seen, which in itself was persuasive for one of his kind. Just another Sleeper Skum, an intellectual and social under citizen and throw back from the time before Everwake.
Then it was there, the familiar flash of danger that had kept him alive so many times when he should have by rights been dead and buried. It was the microsecond warning that alerted him moments before a sonic discharged in the distance behind him.
Sonics only had a limited range, and it sounded a long way off. Relaxing Levi concluded it was a ruse to see who acted differently when surprised. So, letting his natural reaction take control he ducked and prayed that it was only a ruse and he hadn’t been spotted.
Up ahead the exit ramp for West Ham approached at eighty meters per second and Levi wondered if he had lost any of his hard earned skills. Red exiting or skipping the slower speed scalators was all about crash deceleration and timing, and any moment he would find out by either successfully jumping, rolling and running or by slamming into the exit wall and dying in the process. Giving himself no time to consider the consequences Levi jumped, lightly skipped the slower Scalators and made what was by his standards executed a scrappy exit. Most importantly though he was alive and after hitting the ground and rolling was now running flat out in an attempt to shed his momentum. Finally getting control, he flattened himself against the exit corridor wall watching the expressway for his new best friends.
It wasn't hard to differentiate between the morning traffic and his adversaries as two Highborn women in business attire carrying Sonics wasn’t exactly an everyday picture of normality. Pressing himself into the wall Levi watched them as they moved by the exit looking forward seemingly oblivious to his presence.
Making his way out of the exit, Levi had two things on his mind and that was deliver the smooth metal object in his pocket and get his money and disappear for a while. Well that was three actually but who was counting. He hadn't anticipated the last one but the scanners would have his face connected to the deaths at the café by now and the police would be chasing hard trying to acquire him.
The smell of the damp spring rain embraced Levi’s senses as he walked along Old Spring street. It reminded him of his childhood and the good days before his mother became ill. The money from the Ghosts had helped with securing the med aid, but he wasn't bought in to their plan to remove the division. That was their deal and he was just a paid employee with certain skills outside of the system. He was not going to be a hero for anyone’s cause.
Only what just happened with the Fat Man worried him, it was supposed to be a simple job. Get the information, get out, drop it at the agreed location and get paid. But with the Fat Man dead all he had was the warm bullet shaped object in his pocket that contained who knows what. The question was, did he take the chance and just drop it as per the deal, or did he come clean and admit that the drop contained something other than the agreed package.
Against the voice in his head that warned about being just to honest he touched the stud on his left earlobe and opened the encrypted mind tap to his contact within the Ghosts organisation.
The gentle purr of the access request continued for a few seconds longer than normal, then there was an abrupt flash as the call was accepted and connected to the thoughts of his contact. Only instead of the steady metered conversation that was a basic skill on par with reading taught to more or less every inhabitant on the planet the thoughts coming across the connection were confused, angry and completely unintelligible. Then suddenly there was a split-second silence and then three clear words” Run they're coming.
“Directly after this there was a high-pitched sound that could only be likened to a scream. Then nothing, nothing at all.
The tap was still open but there was nothing.
This never happened as there was always some residual thoughts that created a form of noise even from the most disciplined mind.
Only once before had Levi experienced this and that was when on his tenth birthday he had called his uncle only to learn that he had died earlier that day. The reason that day for the silence was simply because dead people don't think.
Levi stopped and felt for the nearest wall.
Fighting the urge to retch Levi realised what he had just heard. It was the sound of someone's mind dying.
His contact and only way into the Ghosts was gone.