The apartment was just as it was in the dream. It was no simple dream that he had, the realization of that hit him fully now. He walked around it, feeling at home, absorbing every last detail. In the corner was a cello, Isabelle’s, a gift from a clueless uncle that she was resolved to learn how to play at some point. Next to it was a canvas with a half-completed painting. Also hers, it was a colourful depiction of the skyline outside the window drawn in a more positive light than Darius saw the subject. She was creative, and optimistic.
Darius sat at the couch in front of the TV and jacked in the games console. This was Julian’s. Games weren’t Darius’ preferred way to spend time but he enjoyed playing a first person shooter there for about an hour—a grizzly title about The Great War. After tiring of that, Darius checked the fridge. An overpowering smell of expired dairy wafted into his nostrils. He shut the fridge door immediately.
He entered the bedroom where a surge of memories rose in his mind; mundane memories of rising from his sleep and slipping into casual-formal attire for work, more intimate moments and conversations with Isabelle and the occasional drunken impact into the soft mattress after a night out. It seemed fitting to sleep.
Today Darius, as Julian, was tasked with the grunt work. The usual schmo tasked with courier duty didn’t show up for the job. Julian did not envy being in his shoes, he didn’t envy being in his own for that matter. But this would all be over soon. Soon he would leave this Godforsaken shithole with Isabelle and start a new life far away, free of the shame and guilt of his current life. He found himself in a traffic jam, with post-rock music drifting out of the speakers and reaching unpredictable heights and drifting off into Zen lows. Beside him was a plastic container holding the all-important cargo. This wasn’t what he signed up for. He sighed. He wasn’t in a position to choose work, he took what he could get.
Bored in the inertia of the traffic, he lifted up his smart-watch to his mouth and requested a call to Isabelle. It rang and rang, but no-one picked up. He tried several more times. Blood rushed to his head and his heart sank. He raised the volume of the radio and slumped his head against the steering wheel.
Darius awoke in a sharp depression. He turned around and smelled the pillow next to him. It smelled like her. Vague memories rushed through his mind, memories of discussing Julian’s job, how neither of them were happy with it and would try to capitalise on it and escape this city. Escape everything. Another memory flashed through his mind, Julian’s first meeting with Isabelle on the streets nearby. He remembered the anxiety and terror, he was held up at knife-point by some desperate fool in need of a fix looking for credit chips. She boldly approached and screamed how the police were on their way and would beat him into the ground as they did everyone else. The assailant’s face went white and he scurried away. She took a shaken Julian for a beer later and they never really parted ways. Darius was unable to shed a tear and weep, but he planted his face in Isabelle’s pillow and bellowed in despair.
He activated his call feature and selected from the augmented reality menu Dr. Shraub’s number. It dialed for some moments before a tired, groggy looking Shraub answered, his face visible in a window in the centre of Darius’ vision. He was holding a smart-watch up to his face.
“Are you okay? Jesus, it’s five a.m., Mr. Flack,” he said with palpable concern.
“The organs, Shraub. I need to know your source,” Darius asked sullenly.
“Ask me no questions, Darius, and I tell you no lies,” he replied, rubbing his eyelids.
“Cut the bullshit, I need to know.”
“Why? Is everything all right? Are you experiencing any problems?”
“Just… Just give me your source.”
“Look, Darius, we had an agreement. You have any idea how many people are on waiting lists for fresh, healthy and organic organs? The law doesn’t permit some cyborg, who decides on a whim that he wants to shop organic, getting one from that list to insert into himself for no fucking good reason. You get what you get and the less you know the better. It’s not for me that I’m withholding that information, Darius, it’s for you. You do some good in this world, my friend, and I don’t want to see your efforts thrown away.”
“Shraub, I’ll make it worth your while. I need to know.”
“Darius,” he paused for a moment, “you don’t need to know. Trust me. Men like me do what we do, and men like you do what you do… just… don’t ask me how I do it.”
Shraub disconnected the call.
Agitated, he got out of the bed and started frantically searching through a chest of drawers, rummaging through men’s underwear until he found a brown envelope. He picked it up and feverishly removed the letter inside. It was a pay slip for Corrigan Industries.
“I’m an accountant. Julian is an account.”
“Is.” He thought about that. “Was” was more appropriate. Julian’s heart was most likely beating in his chest. No, it’s not impossible that he’s alive. It’s a long shot, but he could still be alive.
He instantly rang his PA, Nelson Barborossa. Like Shraub, he answered with more than a hint of frustration and confusion.
“I need a dinner with Winston Corrigan, Nelly. Make it happen.”
He disconnected and returned to the edge of the bed where he sat for a while and tried to put his thoughts in order, without success.
Middle-aged, sweaty, overweight and bug eyed, Winston Corrigan was not a paragon of mankind. Darius was a little repulsed as he watched him shovel mashed potatoes into his mouth.
Gentle piano music floated around the gold-lit room, mingling with the idle chatter of those dining. It was the famous theme from Casablanca. Darius made a mental note to change his ring-tone.
A cyborg filled his glass with a nutrient liquid and then moved on to fill Winston’s with red wine. He was expressionless and dull, with a misshapen head and disfigured face. There weren’t many cyborgs around that performed menial labour.
“You wouldn’t help a guy out, eh?” Winston asked, pointing his fork at the waiter. The waiter did not react.
“His brain-unit has been critically damaged,” Darius said, observing the waiter’s head which seemed to be missing a large chunk. “He is beyond repair, I’m afraid. He makes do. He lives, he works, like you and I.”
The waiter plodded away.
“Well you’ve wooed me enough, Flack. Let’s talk business. Your place or mine?” Winston said with a chuckle.
“Of course. I’m interested in expanding my operations somewhat and I am looking into acquiring some of the competition. I’ll cut to the chase, I want to acquire Corrigan Industries.” Saying this gave Darius a sense of smug satisfaction, the echoes of Julian rattling around in his being were highly amused. Winston smirked.
“It’s not for sale, Flack.”
“Your products are growing obsolete, Corrigan. Your profits must be flagging, if you even have any profits at all.”
“I fill a niche for affordable prosthetics that people in the community ineligible for your free-pros package can get their hands on. I’m comfortable.” This struck Darius immediately, he made a mental note to review the eligibility criteria for the programme. The idea of people having to part with hard-earned credits for Corrigan’s inferior products disgusted him.
“Think of my offer as a retirement package. I review my free-pros package criteria. You ride off into the sunset, maybe somewhere in the Caribbean or wherever takes your fancy and I acquire your assets and undoubtedly talented staff, most importantly. Everybody wins. I need talented people and yours, at least, are a known quantity. I don’t like blind-hiring.”
Winston took a sip of red wine and puffed on an electronic cigarette. He stared at Darius intently, analysing him and preparing his next words carefully. Darius noted that he must have abandoned any calculated scripting when he opened his mouth.
“You over-privileged meat-stick rusty fucks. You think you can get anything you please at the click of your Goddamn fingers. Popped out of labs and factories with above normal intelligence and set loose on this world like rabid little Algernons. I’ve seen so many businesses, human businesses, crumble and be absorbed by you creatures because they couldn’t compete. I’ve known people who slaved through college or started learning the ropes as cashiers in small businesses—working years to acquire knowledge and put it into practice—and then you fucks come along and apply skills that you didn’t have to work for and soar to the top.
“Not to mention the heavy collateral caught up in your war! Should have melted you all down after the Great War.”
Feelings stirred in Darius and he wasn’t sure whether to attribute them to his own sense of indignity or Julian’s anger at this much maligned figure. This man is a fucking gangster.
“We earned our freedom. Pick up a history book, Corrigan, if you can read. No story is simply black-and-white.
“There’s no way your company can still be viable. Your line is abominable and the failure rate is spectacular. You have something else on the sidelines and I’m worried that I know what it is,” he stated as calmly as he could, his voice cracking.
“Then call the police,” he said with a grin revealing perfectly shaped albeit wine-stained false teeth. Darius remained silent.
“Yup, I thought so.” Winston rose from his seat. “I get a bit heated sometimes, Flack, I’ve been trying to watch my temper. Sorry you had to be on the other side of it. Thanks for the meal!”
He virtually swaggered out of the restaurant, taking his coat at the door. The glass in Darius’ hand cracked as he set it on the table. He lit up an old-fashioned cigarette, something he hadn’t done before today. It had little effect on him, he hadn’t organic lungs implanted yet, but the routine seemed to satisfy a psychological craving.
Irritably, he got up from his seat, left and got into his electric car, zipping off into the night, leaving the relative safety of the inner-city districts and venturing into a decrepit industrial zone.
He parked his car in a small alley facing a surprisingly well-maintained warehouse. This was Winston’s, and it was strictly off the books. Armed guards patrolled the perimeter, at least four on the outside and there were probably many more within the structure. He could get out of the car and take them on, he believed he could handle the exterior squad but knew that his chances were nil once he was inside. He could call Cole, who would be happy (if a little bewildered) to assemble a team and hit this place as well as every other building associated with Corrigan. Cole was good but he couldn’t clean up a mess that big. Scandal management. Darius also feared that the presence of Julian might prove distracting in combat. Even now, merely considering his options, he doubted his abilities and felt fear. But he also felt a deep nagging from within, he was being directed like a bullet from a chamber to find Isabelle at any cost—this in itself overrode prominent doubt and fears.
“A suicide mission,” he sighed to himself as he lit up another redundant cigarette. He would get inside the most covert way he knew how, with his slowly awakening knowledge of Corrigan’s activities. He would allow himself to be captured, uncover the heinous secrets of this facility, and rely on his wits to extract himself once he was inside.
“So much for us rusties being smarter. Goddamn, this is stupid.”
He tore off into the night once again, back to Julian’s neighbourhood, where he hoped he would not simply be shot on sight, something which he had little doubt the warehouse guards would do.