At first Darius headed in the general direction of the apartment block in his dream, not quite knowing if or how he would find it. As he came closer to its location, instinct began to take over. A strange kind of muscle memory carried his legs through the streets.
The neighbourhood wasn’t exactly a slum but it was far removed from the gated communities and luxurious penthouses he had grown used to. Someone with a somewhat stable low to mid level salary job could live here relatively happily, and if they had the street-smarts, stay out of trouble for the most part. But there was still a sense urban decay here; tired-eyed young men and women stood at street corners outside boarded-up convenience stores waiting for cars that rarely came by, homeless people huddled together under the shelters of grey, dank old buildings, in the distance sirens could be heard, with the occasional dulled pop of a cheap ballistic pistol. There were several more rings of hell to this city, each one getting progressively more derelict and with the outskirts of the city being virtual wastelands—resembling the ruins of a decadent, ancient civilization. Few lived there. Few could survive there.
Ride of the Valkyries rang suddenly in Darius’ ears and a shining violet window appeared before him in augmented reality.
“Cole Calling. Answer? Yes/No.”
Darius extended his hand and punched the invisible no button that hung in the air. He then selected a “silent” option to avoid further interruption. Cole was a worrier. It was his job. It wasn’t just his job security that he worried about though, he genuinely cared for Darius’ well-being. The men had known each-other for the better part of thirty years, had fought side-by-side in the same squad in The Great War and continued watching each-others’ backs in the Emancipation War that followed; a much quieter but no less horrific and grueling event for all involved. They were family, and much like family, though they would always be there for each-other, they would interminably argue and disagree with one-and-other.
In his ruminations Darius failed to see two oncoming pedestrians and slammed into them, causing his sun-glasses to fall off and shatter on the ground.
“Shit, sorry,” he uttered, half to himself. Without looking at them he proceeded onwards. They did not simply continue on their path. He heard the footsteps of booted heels thud against the wet ground. Their pace grew as he walked faster. He was nervous and somewhat afraid, which in this situation was an alien experience. He had faced worse situations of more certain danger before and more stoically, now he had been infected by some primal fear. He turned quickly into a dark alley and turned around, his hands trembling slightly.
Before him stood two men in parkas, their icy cold breaths tentatively clouded around their heads. One of them reached into his pocket.
“What generation are you?” the man on the left droned. “Fucking rusty.”
“Them eyes. God, them eyes. He’s a second gen. They all had them orange eyes. Their parts aren’t worth that much—much bigger take on the final gen rusties,” the man on the right added, stirring his hand in his pocket.
“Move on, guys. I’m not here to cause any trouble, just minding my own business,” Darius said as calmly and assertively as he could.
“I don’t take orders from no rusties. Inhuman piece of shit!”
The men each produced a super-charged taser from their pockets, but within the fraction of a second before they could fire a storm of electric bolts at him, two swift flashes of solid red light had turned their skulls into flaming lumps of meat. Darius felt a gag-reflex and cursed as he hunched over, dry heaving. He stuffed his gun back down his pants.
He thought for a moment about what he should do. He could call it in to the police but that would be a hassle. Anti-cyborg sentiment on the force was rife (many of them had been malcontent veterans of the cyborgs’ guerilla war) and they would cause him no end of trouble—although his lawyers would eventually see him free. There was scandal containment to consider too; a CEO of a multi-billion dollar enterprise gunning down two thugs in the street would be plastered across headlines for weeks and make business difficult. He stepped over the corpses and moved on, it seemed the most straightforward thing to do, though he did not do it with pleasure.
Outside the alley a homeless man stared in disbelief. Darius handed him a few generous credit chips and walked away briskly, not turning around.
Darius knocked on the steel door to Julian’s apartment for several minutes without answer. He considered kicking it in, it would take some applied effort but his powerful legs could manage the task. He decided against it, this night was proving to be too much of a mess already and he wished to draw no more attention to himself. He walked some meters down the corridor and knocked on Julian’s neighbour’s door.
After some moments the door slowly grated open, revealing an old woman in a wheelchair who held a kitten to her chest. Her face was a cantankerous grimace. Gilda; he knew her name.
“Julian… Armitage? I have some business with him, is he home?”
“Haven’t seen him in weeks. The bum. He owes me rent,” she replied caustically.
Yes, the landlady. Not always this bitter, mind you.
“He has some friends that are worried about him. Have you called the police?”
“Cops don’t know shit, don’t do shit.”
“His partner, Isabelle. Have you seen her?”
“Nope. She’s gone too.”
“Mind if I have a look inside, I’m prepared to settle his outstanding rent bill.”
Her head perked up and she wheeled away for a minute, returning with a keycard. Darius handed her credits to the tune of five-thousand dollars.
“Six,” she stated simply.
“That’s not what I remember.”
“Nevermind,” he said as he handed her the additional credits. He then noticed that underneath her blanket was the outline of only a single leg. “Flack Industries runs a programme for those who are missing limbs, you might be eligible for a free prosthesis,” he said with a compassionate smile.
“I don’t need charity from your kind. I liked you rusties better when you fought the enemy, not us,” she uttered vindictively before shutting the door in his face.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.