Half-Gun looked up through the warehouse’s broken roof. Water poured through and pooled on the floor a couple feet from where she slept, a bedroll almost completely hidden by the crates. Each crate was heavy but hadn’t been moved in years, so most of them had become inconveniently placed furniture for the survivors who still lived here. A few areas of the warehouse were dry, but most had an inch or more of water. She supposed the crates would start rotting soon.
“The leak grows bigger every day,” Half-Gun said.
A short girl walked out from her hiding spot in the shadows. The crate she was hiding behind was extremely small, but somehow she was completely hidden until just now. Half-Gun turned to face her. Even now the girl stood with her hands in front of her chest, slightly crouched over, as if she was still hidden.
“You can’t stop it,” Possum said quietly, but with a confidence that defied her nervous mannerisms.
“I need more time before the flood breaks.”
“What do you need?”
“Knife is still poking around. I don’t think he’s trying to make things worse, but he isn’t me, and if he keeps trying to be, we’ll both end up dead.”
“I can only do so much. If he realizes you don’t want him involved, there’ll be no stopping him. I can keep you in the loop, but we’ve already been pushing our luck. If another of his informants has an accident, he might lose it.”
“If they don’t, Knife and I will be going to war. We might be able to make the home stretch without losing any more Sockets, and after that, Knife is someone else’s problem.”
“You want to make a madman completely unstoppable, then wash your hands of it?”
“He won’t be half as mad as most of them.”
“It’s your funeral, or lack thereof. You might want to show up at the cloning area today. I hear that the last clone is popping out.”
If Half-Gun is surprised, it doesn’t show on her face. “Really?”
Possum nodded grimly, “I guess they worked out whatever was wrong with the tube.” She thought for a moment, then shrugged. “That, or they just got lucky and took the credit.”
Half-Gun laughed unsmilingly. “I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore. That was the last of the biomatter right?”
“Until the war you’re starting picks up speed.”
Half-Gun didn’t have pupils, which made her gaze far more threatening. She seemed almost dead, and a dead person is twice as intimidating as a living one. She turned her full gaze onto Possum.
Half-Gun took a deep breath and sat down on one of the crates. She wasn’t really mad at Possum, but the situation was getting too grim for jokes. The black market bosses who owned them, Knife, the police, and Half-Gun were all nearing their endgames. If she let even something small slide now, the leak would drown her in her sleep.
“Time to go meet The Kid.”
Half-Gun walked out of the warehouse into the rain. She knew Possum would either follow her to the warehouse or meet her there, but the distinction was irrelevant. Possum had a skill for only being seen when she wanted to.
The city streets were full of muggers and drug dealers but these days she barely had to worry about them. She still made sure to have her twin pistols on her, but most people scrambled out of the way when she approached. On one hand, she was glad that walking down the street wasn’t the death trap it used to be, but, on the other hand, she hated eliciting fear everywhere she went. Her reputation was well justified, but she disliked the attention. And, after all, no one wants to be the villain.
She went down an alleyway and opened a secret hatch. Well, she thought, secret would imply that everybody doesn’t know it exists. I suppose it is more of an unused hatch, or a poorly hidden death trap. Almost everyone on the streets these days knows better than to open a door when they don’t know what’s inside. Especially this door. She slid inside. The ladder down was short, but the hallway was long, designed to ensure that the people who wander in are unable to see what is inside without stumbling deeper. She had only been there herself twice before, but she was programmed with every twist and turn. She hadn’t even bothered to bring a flashlight.
When she finally reached the end, she saw the cloning room. A Caldari corporation emblem could still be seen, but it had been graffitied and clawed at almost beyond recognition. There were countless cloning tubes, all broken after years of constant use and almost no maintenance. Except one. It held the very last clone that this facility would ever produce. Like the others, it fell apart years ago, but unlike most of the others, there had been visible efforts to repair it. Unfortunately for Half-Gun’s owners, whoever worked on this project originally hadn’t left behind anything that might make rebuilding the tubes possible, at least not without great expense. Honestly, it’s pretty obvious that Possum was right about them just getting lucky. Everything about the rebuilding process is sloppy, it looks like it was done in a night.
Half-Gun jumped as the tube began its ejection process. Even the owners didn’t know when the tube would open. They are short-handed, but not so short-handed as to let their product wonder about on its own. But if they didn’t know, how did Possum find out? More importantly, what should I do? An opportunity like this doesn’t come very often. A totally impressionable new kid, but also a potential danger. If they find out I tried to manipulate one of their own clones against them, it could collapse the whole plan. She still had time to hide, but if she did, he would just die the minute he walked onto the street. Organ selling is a big business, and the most valuable ones need to be taken from a body almost immediately after death.
The Kid began to get up, but it quickly became clear it wasn’t properly developed. It stumbled and collapsed, unconscious. Half-Gun untensed. Clearly, this was a problem she could leave for Seven-Finger.
“Possum!” she yelled.
Possum appeared, just as suddenly as before.
“You clearly know more than me about this cobbled mess of a cloning device. Is it worth taking The Kid home, or will it just die on me?”
The right side of her lip pulled slightly downward. “It’ll survive the movement, but not the crowd. You gonna call The Dealer?”
Half-Gun shook her head. “No, The Dealer won’t be back for days, and it isn’t like the old days up there. We just need a third person.”
Possum nodded. “I’ll get Seven-Finger then. You want Knife to hear about this?”
“Yes. You’ll tell him I assume?”
“Well, I need to stay in his good graces somehow. Or at least avoid getting shot at.”
Half-Gun pulled some wires from an old cloning tube. “Go get Seven, I’ll make sure The Kid doesn’t go anywhere while you’re gone.” By the time Half-Gun finished speaking, Possum had vanished.
Seven-Finger could not be any more different than Possum, which was exactly why Half-Gun usually called for him when Possum was around. He never looked the slightest bit nervous, and it had paid off for him. Maybe it was just projected, or maybe he really believed the story he always told about how the five fingers he lost contained all his bad luck. Seven-Finger had seen many a gunfight, just like her and Possum, but since he lost his fingers, every shot found a way to miss him.
“So this is the lucky soul chosen to join our ranks. And he’s already been kidnapped for the first time!”
Half-Gun rolled her eyes. “Well, it is difficult to lose unlucky fingers before even being born. Trust me, I’d have chopped off my whole **** hand.”
Seven-Finger stooped and threw The Kid over his shoulder.
Possum giggled creepily from just to Half-Gun’s left. Possum had done this many times before, but years of needing to listen for the slightest sound had left Half-Gun’s nerves completely on edge. She nearly drew her left pistol.
Possum wasn’t worried though. “I always forget you are stronger than you look, Sevens.”
Seven-Finger shrugged. “The Kid’s just light. Guess it still has a bit of growing to do.”
Half-Gun looked at Possum. “You aren’t so forgetful that you left behind your sniper rifle I hope.”
Possum shook her head and smiled, a bit too broadly. “It’s always around the corner, just like me.”
Half-Gun drew her right pistol. “Alright, Sevens, follow me, Possum, you’re cover as usual. We’ll leave it in Home, don’t want our very sharp friend getting the wrong idea.”
Getting back to Home was much more worrying than the path away. A few months ago Half-Gun wouldn’t even have tried it, but hopefully her name carried enough weight to get them through safely. Possum opened the hatch, looked out, then came back down.
“They know something’s up. No one is looking straight at the door, but every window is open, and the majority of the crowd is now right between this lab and Home.”
“That crowd ain’t movin’ till we do, Halves,” said a very unhelpful Seven-Finger.
“Let’s go quickly, Knife is due back sooner than The Dealer is anyway, and we don’t want to still be here when he arrives,” added Possum.
I don’t want to be anywhere when Knife gets back, Half-Gun thought, but she nodded. Possum got in position on top of one of the many broken-down buildings, and Half-Gun climbed out. Half-Gun wasn’t worried about the rain, Possum was more than capable of shooting through it, but she didn’t like the way the crowd parted for her. They did move out of her and Seven-Finger’s way, but the crowd closed behind them as they walked. As they waded deeper into the crowd, the circle around them slowly grew tighter. Like a noose, she thought. They were only about 15 feet from the entrance when they heard gunfire.
Half-Gun shot at the people in front of her. A few lay dying on the ground, but almost everyone ran for cover, which was her goal. Walking confidently clearly failed, so the two of them made a run for Home. The screams and chaos behind them told Half-Gun Possum was doing her job, giving her an opening. Half-Gun ran up the warehouse wall, a trick she learned recently to get inside faster, although it did make her an easier target for people with guns. Seven-Finger threw The Kid up to her. Half-Gun hurriedly slid The Kid across the roof towards the hole. Half-Gun stuffed The Kid through, and then slipped in herself. Seven-Finger walked through the front door, unhurt as usual, and locked it behind him. Honestly, the lock was less of a legitimate defensive measure, and more of a comforting feeling, since almost everyone around could pick locks, or, better yet, kick down the door. Still, Half-Gun doubted they would try to break in unless they absolutely had to. The three of them had the advantage here.
Possum was checking The Kid’s heartbeat. “When I said he could survive, I didn’t mean drop him headfirst from the roof.”
Half-Gun glared at her again. “It was a long shot anyway, but we need all the help we can get these days. Besides, if he can’t take a hit to the head, he wouldn’t make it far anyway.”
Seven-Finger smiled. “So which group decided to take on the Kings and Queens of **** with only their fists and determination?”
Half-Gun looked at Possum expectantly. Possum mouth twitched downwards again. She sighed. “They had guns.”
Even Half-Gun raised an eyebrow, “Both Seven and I were completely exposed, and they couldn’t even scratch us?”
Possum elaborated, “They each had pretty decent pistols, but I don’t think any of them had real world practice. The crowd, who they obviously intended to be there, body blocked almost every shot. I don’t think they were ready for the panic that goes along with gunshots and crowds.”
Half-Gun’s expression retreated to a cold poker face. “A well funded, untrained group with the desire to either kill us or get The Kid. Even at their level of incompetence, they have to see the problem with this attempt. Next time they come at us, they’ll have trained with those weapons quite a bit more.”
Possum moved on. “The Kid’ll be alright. Well, it’ll probably be all right. How long till your plan pans out?”
Half-Gun grimaced. “Two months. We have to keep things stable enough to survive for two more months, and we’ll have a one-way ticket to Godhood.”
Seven-Finger looked out the peephole and laughed. “If you want to get outta here before this district is a full-fledged war zone, I recommend leaving no later than yesterday. Knife’s back, and he looks MAD.”