“Did you know?”
“What the fuck are ya talking about Corrine?” Charlie was once again sitting in his stool, Korehammer standing behind him with his arms folded while Caldera paced in front of him, waving her Magnum back and forth in front of his face.
“Did you know?” Caldera’s voice rose with each word.
“I swear to ya, I have no fuckin’ clue what you’re talkin’ about!”
“Did. You. KNOW!” Caldera leveled her Magnum at Charlie’s right temple.
“KNOW WHAT?” Charlie screamed, almost to the point of tears. He rolled the stool back away from Caldera only to hit Korehammer’s legs. He gave him a pleading look, desperate for someone to calm Caldera down, but Korehammer just shrugged his shoulders like he had absolutely nothing to do with the situation.
Suddenly, Caldera was slowly lowering the Magnum, placing it back in the holster. “Well? What do you think?” she asked Korehammer without taking her eyes off Charlie.
He shrugged his shoulders again before responding “He sounds sincere. I think the fat load of crap is telling the truth.”
Charlie looked back and forth from Caldera to Korehammer, a confused expression on his face. “Truth … truth about what?”
Caldera walked over to a workbench that was against the far wall, covered with burned out cybernetics and other odd bits of tech. She grabbed a chair that was sitting next to it and carried it over, placing it directly in front of Charlie. She sat down, leaning forward so her face was only a foot or so away from the ripperdoc. The man was sweating profusely and his eyes continued to dart between her and Korehammer.
“The truth about this eye you implanted in my skull ten years ago. The one designed by BioCyber and obtained for me by some friends at Hachisuka Corp.”
Charlie slowly leaned forward, some of the terror leaving his eyes as the conversation turned to technology, his favorite subject. “You’re fuckin’ with me. You got that from the assbags at Hachisuka?”
“Yes. I used to be a part of the Sutoraiku and I called in some favors to get the tech so I could upgrade my vision.”
A bit of the fear crept back into Charlie’s face. “You … you used to be Sutoraiku?”
Caldera grinned ever so slightly. “Yes Charlie. I was Sutoraiku.”
Charlie leaned back, the back of his head bumping into Korehammer’s stomach. “You never told me any of that.”
“Why would I? You didn’t need to know and I’m not in the habit of spilling my guts to a degenerate lardass like yourself.”
Caldera looked Charlie in the eyes and continued. “I was recently told that before the eye was given to me, Hachisuka implanted a bio-tracer in it. So they could keep track of me in case they ever needed me again. Since you are the one who installed the eye, I had to know if you were aware of the bio-tracer when you did it. Because if you were, well, it wasn’t going to go well for you.” Caldera gestured to the corpse of the nameless kid still lying on the floor, a pool of blood congealing around him. Charlie glanced over quickly and then focused on Caldera again.
“I swear to fuckin’ God, I didn’t know shit about any bio-tracer. And if I did I sure as hell would have told you.”
“Fuck yeah! I have a reputation to keep and I’m not gonna let those shitholes at Hachisuka fuck that all up for me.”
Caldera looked up at Korehammer, who nodded his head in agreement. “I believe him.”
Charlie glanced back at him. “Thanks man.”
“Go fuck yourself.”
Caldera got up and walked toward the gurney that still had blood stains from the teenager now lying on the floor. “So here’s what’s going to happen Charlie. You are going to figure out how to get this bio-tracer out of me, even if it means removing the whole eye and replacing it with something else. You are going to do this free of charge because we’re old friends now and let’s be honest, Korehammer will kill you if you don’t.”
Charlie chanced another look at Korehammer, who was simply nodding his head.
“Okay, but I need to see what I’m dealing with. Bio-tracer tech has come a long way in the last decade. Nowadays they just inject you with nanites and the only way to get rid of them is to do a complete fuckin’ blood exchange.” Charlie got up from the stool and walked over toward the gurney, pulling a filthy rag from his pocket and wiping the blood off before gesturing to Caldera. “Hop on up here sweetheart.”
Caldera stood and walked over to the gurney, giving Korehammer a silent look as she did that said If he tries anything, put a bullet between his eyes. He just nodded, his eyes unreadable behind a pair of mirrorshades.
As Caldera laid down, Charlie grabbed a couple of tools from a cabinet before rolling the stool over and placing it next to the gurney, close to her head. “Close your eyes and keep ’em shut,” he said as he used one of the tools to release the magnetic screws that kept the eye and its housing in place. She heard a soft hiss and then felt the incredibly bizarre sensation of part of her head being lifted from her face.
After a few minutes of feeling Charlie’s fingers probing inside her skull, he whistled softly. “Wow. Those fuckers did not mess around with this thing. The bio-tracer is hardwired into the main memory board of the hardware.”
“Meaning if I try to remove it, it’ll fry your brain. You’ll suddenly have an awful lot in common with that poor fucker lying on the floor.”
“Shit,” Caldera said softly.
“Can you replace it?” she heard Korehammer ask.
“Her eye dumbass. If we can get a new one, can you take that one out and replace it?”
“Hmmm.” Caldera could practically see Charlie scratching his chin as he thought it over. “Yeah, probably. It would take a while to do and the Helix would have to come out too. But it’s doable.”
“The Helix plasma detonator I implanted in her ample chest when I installed the eye. If I take out the eye it has to go too.”
Caldera heard Korehammer take a few steps in her direction. “You have a goddamn Helix implanted in your chest? Seriously?”
Caldera smiled. “It seemed like a good idea at the time. Plus, given the type of people I’ve been dealing with the last few years, it felt good to know I had a failsafe just in case.”
The three of them were silent for a moment before Charlie spoke up. “So what are we doing here? Cause even if I ain’t getting paid, I still have a fuckin’ business to run. And the sooner I get you two out of here, the sooner I can resume charging people for my services.”
“Overcharging you mean,” Korehammer said.
“Greatness costs money buddy.”
“Let me make a few calls. See what I can come up with.”
“Wait a sec. Now that I think about it, I may have something in the back that would do the trick. Hold on.” Caldera heard Charlie get up off the stool and walk away, heading toward one on the other rooms in the shop.
A few minutes later she heard a pile of what she had to assume were assorted broken cyber parts crashing to the floor followed by Charlie saying “Fuck” more time than she could count. He returned a short time later, clearly out of breath and frustrated. “Fuckin’ bullshit. I gotta hire someone to clean this shithole up.”
His frustration seemingly vanished as he said “Here ya go. Got this for a client who, unfortunately, didn’t live long enough to use it. I told him not to get involved in a land war in Asia but no, would he listen?”
“Damn,” she heard Korehammer say. “Is this what I think it is?”
“Yep. A Jora-Te Neurobotics E-40S military-grade optic enhancement. It should do everything the one from BioCyber did and a hell of a lot more.”
“This isn’t cheap tech to come by.”
“You can say that again. Lucky for you, the dumb fucker paid for it in advance.”
Caldera spoke up. “And you’re just going to give it to me?”
“Well, you and your partner here were nice enough not to blow my fuckin’ head off. So there’s that. Plus I feel like I owe you. I’m the one who installed the original chrome, I feel responsible for not takin’ a closer look at it before I put in in ya.”
“You keep talking like that and your reputation is going to take a hit. It almost sounds like you care.”
“Shut the fuck up Corrine.”
“She’s right.” Caldera heard Korehammer say. “Before you know it your clients are going to think you actually give a shit about them.”
“Never gonna fuckin’ happen. If you tell anybody I’ll deny it.”
Caldera heard Korehammer laugh, for the first time it what felt like a very long time.
“So how long is this going to take?”
“Eight hours minimum. Putting in the E-40S is simple, even with all the flesh I’m gonna have to grow and graft on. The complicated part is takin’ out the old tech and the Helix.”
“Then I guess you better get started.”
Caldera turned her head toward where she heard Korehammer’s voice. “You should go get some rest. Come back later when Charlie’s done.”
She could almost hear Korehammer shaking his head. “No way. If you think I trust this fat piece of shit any farther than I can throw him, you’re got a touch of psychosis. I’m going to sit right here and make sure our friend does exactly what he’s supposed to.”
“Thanks for the love Korehammer.” Caldera heard Charlie say as she felt him press a hypospray against her neck and heard the telltale hiss as he administered the anesthesia.
The forest was quiet. No birds, no motion, just fog and darkness as far as she could see. The trees seemed to go on forever above her as she wandered, trying to find a way out and back into the sunlight.
She heard a rustle of branches behind her and quickly turned to see what caused it. When she saw nothing she kept going, quickening her step ever so slightly. The fog seemed to be deepening, she could almost feel it on her skin, cold and damp, like it was trying to envelop her and steal her away.
She heard another noise behind her, this time closer. She broke into a run, branches brushing against her cheeks, cutting her bare legs and arms. The chill felt like it was seeping into her bones as it became harder to breathe, the air feeling like daggers in her chest every time she took in a breath.
She turned her head to look behind her as she ran, to see if he was there. She saw nothing but fog and mist but ran faster anyway, sure he was there somewhere, watching her, following her.
Suddenly he dropped out of the tree branches above her, landing mere feet in front of her. The Pale Man, his skin sallow and grey, his eyes sunken in, his white hair falling to his shoulders as he reached out to her.
She couldn’t stop her momentum in time and ran into his arms. He squeezed her tight, his embrace like iron, his skin cold. She struggled to get away but it was useless. She tried to scream but no sound came out of her mouth, just a cloud of vapor that disappeared as fast as it had formed.
The Pale Man leaned forward, his face inches from hers. He opened his mouth, his cracked swollen tongue licking his lips as he said “You must find the Shadow Parliament. It is your only hope.”
The words came out in a whisper. She wasn’t sure she heard him. She looked into his eyes, black pools that seemed to go on endlessly. “Wha … what?”
“The Shadow Parliament,” he said again, barely audible to her ears. “You must find the Shadow Parliament. It is your only hope.”
“I … I don’t understand. What is the Shadow Parliament?”
Suddenly the Pale Man began to scream. It seemed to come from everywhere at once and intensified by the moment. When he let go of her she covered her ears but it didn’t help. The scream got louder and louder until she thought her head would split in two …
Caldera’s eyes flew open. Her breathing was coming in quick gasps as she looked around, remembering where she was and why. She tried to sit up and a sudden pain in her chest made her stop and lay back down. She reached down and felt with her fingers, finding a small bandage that covered where Charlie had cut into her chest to get out the Helix.
She turned her head on the gurney and saw Korehammer was still here, just as promised. He was sleeping in a chair, his feet propped up on some kind of hovercar engine assembly. He was snoring ever so slightly, his chest rising and falling as she watched.
Caldera thought back to the dream, trying to remember as much as possible before it disappeared forever. The Pale Man had finally spoken. After all these years of the similar dreams that would all end the same way, he had finally said something to her. But what is the Shadow Parliament? And what did it have to do with her? Was it just something from her subconscious that had been dredged up because of everything she had been through the last few days? Or was it something more? Was someone trying to tell her something?
It didn’t matter. The dream and whatever information it was trying to convey would have to wait. Caldera tried to sit up again, slower this time and managed to get her legs over the edge of the gurney. She didn’t make any attempt to stand since she didn’t want a repeat of what had happened last time she was here, but instead reached up to her face.
Where she expected to feel cold chrome and metal instead she felt warm flesh. She also realized she could feel the air as it blew over her left cheek and temple and that for the first time in ten years, when she blinked she was blinking with both eyes. It was a bit disorientating and not what she was expecting.
“Well, well, well, sleeping fuckin’ beauty has awoken at last.”
Caldera turned to see Charlie walk into the room. He had a big smile on his face as he wiped his hands with a dirty rag. “How are ya feelin’ sweetheart?”
“Fine, I guess. How long did the operation take?”
“Over nine hours. Removing the old tech was a bitch and a half. Took me fuckin’ forever. And then I had to crack your chest to get the damn Helix out. Made me wish I hadn’t done such a great job of installing it in the first place.” He sighed. “But once that was done putting in the new eye was a snap. Even with all the skin and bone I had to grow and graft on to your face.”
“Where is the old eye?”
“Over there.” Charlie pointed to the table at the rear of the room. “I have the old eye and the Helix all hooked up to a bioenergy generator. I figured you and Korehammer wouldn’t want Hachisuka to know you removed it so I have it running off that for now.”
“Turns out you’re not as dumb as you look.” Korehammer said from where he was sitting. Caldera turned and saw he was looking at the two of them, his arms folded and his feet still propped up.
“Thanks for sticking around.”
“Not a problem.”
Caldera looked down at the floor, not sure how to ask the next question. “How do I look?”
“Why don’t you see for yourself?” Korehammer got up with a grunt and walked over to the table where the Helix was. He picked something up and then walked to where Caldera was sitting and handed it to her.
Caldera never considered herself a vain person. Replacing her eye and covering the left side of her face with metal was a choice she made and she would do it again. However, she would be lying if she said she didn’t care at all how she looked now that it had been removed and replaced with something else.
She held the mirror up and took a good look at her new face.
“Holy shit …”