tagSci-Fi & FantasyA Casual Exchange of Gunfire

A Casual Exchange of Gunfire


Big Mama asked me: "Are you gonna have a problem with killing a friend of yours?" "Depends on which friend."

"A Yakuza gang member on the management fast track."

"It's not a woman, is it? I've got enough contracts out on me without the government getting in on the act." The Government of Greater Good frowns on killing females, but men are fair game.

"C'mon, Aaron, you know the only place the Yakuza has in its ranks for a woman is as a bed warmer."

I smiled, "They're not as liberal as the Organizatsiya." Quite the contrary, the Russian mafia employs women the way the KBG used to carry a large roster of femme fatales.

Big Mama twisted the cap off a new bottle of Dasani water. Her pronounced neck muscles worked when she tipped it back. She set it down on her desk half empty. I swallowed dryly.

"Aren't you going to offer a guest any of that?"

I drink all the chemical beer I want, but these days you drink all the fresh water you can scrounge.

She snatched up the bottle before I could reach for it. "You're not a guest, you're an employee," she reminded me.

"Part time at best," I sighed. "Which one of my friends needs to be rendered null and void?"

"It's not a woman. It's a dirt bag who thinks he's a ninja."

I chuckled, "You must mean Goro, the most famous ninja in Neon Town."

"I know you know him, that's why you were my first call, but---" she let her statement trail off.

"Put your mind at ease. Goro and I have worked together a few times, as you know, but we're not friends, just acquaintances."

She drew a finger across her neck when she asked, "So bringing in his head, no problemo?"

"No problemo," I echoed, "Goro may be a good man to have your back in a street fight, if he happens to be on your side that day, but tomorrow he's liable to stick a knife in that same back."

Big Mama said, "Loyalty don't mean much here in Neon Town."

"Well, not loyalty to a Yakuza killer like him. You can rest easy, Doris."

"That's just what I wanted to hear."

Doris is the Big Mama at Bosom of Joy, LLP, a girl farm. They're a smaller facility than Western Vaginal or Bitch & Broad, the Pepsi and Coke of the girl farm conglomerates. The Bosom of Joy Limited Liability Partners specialize in weaned babies, toddlers and children. Western Vadge and B & B handle teenagers and women. Despite all precautions females are inevitably stolen from these fortresses, usually in the form of a guerrilla raid. The end result is plenty of people die defending the precious females. The Government of Greater Good claims they're the hope of the new world, but that's the GGG for you, their agenda is a confusion of contradictions.

In the remaining metropolitan areas every third male baby born is put to death. Half of those left are relocated to survival camps. Females are prized and often taken away from their parents and installed in 'facilities' called girl farms. Children discovered with health and mental issues are subject to euthanasia. How this is supposed to benefit mankind is beyond me, but because the GGG controls all the firepower nobody questions GGG policy. And lives long.

Certainly not a freelance hired gun like me. Nor the Yakuza, Cosa Nostra, the Organizatsiya, the Tong societies or any other underworld shadow governments that flourish in Neon Town. If you want to operate here you obey the GGG rules and pay the freight. Taxes are naturally going to be high in areas that can furnish electricity and running water and a semblance of law and order, like Neon Town. I make the big bucks tracking down the vermin who abduct and plunder.

Like religion, prisons are a thing of the past. Criminals are executed without last rites or a last meal. Feeding convicts is considered wasting food. In such a violent society the dregs of humanity are the lowest of common denominators.

The prices for these bastards' heads are literal. Since bartering is the name of the game I can trade bloody canvas sacks containing heads for all sorts of currency: drinking water, ammunition, gasoline, cigarettes, nubile flesh or good old-fashioned credit.

Money isn't worth the paper it's printed on since it can be stolen. Neon Town is on the credit system. The way it works is people turn over assets to banks in the private sector in exchange for a plastic credit card with their thumbprint encrypted on it. If a card is stolen, it's worthless; lost cards are replaced. The system gives back to the community via interest paid on the card; it keeps crime down and keeps government out. Gold and silver is still viable, of course. Diamonds remain a girl's best friend, dazzling trinkets to pamper the pretty ladies. These are constants in a world of change.

If I can fulfill a couple of contracts each month I can afford my luxury apartment uptown, eat steaks and drink wine, dally with beautiful women and bathe on a regular basis. I'm twenty-four and entertain no illusions of a thirtieth birthday, but while I'm still quick, it'll be someone else who's dead. My short life expectancy is due to occupational hazards. Exterminating the worst elements of modern society is a hands-on gig, not suitable work for just anybody.

"This place is buzzing like a madhouse, Doris. Security was freaking out about my sword. What's the deal?"

"A one man strike, he stole a baby girl. It went down less than an hour ago, three of my guards butchered, a fourth sliced to ribbons, he'll be lucky if he lives till midnight. He says the intruder wore black pajamas and a mask and cut everybody up with a Samurai sword. The Partners figure that's ninja modus operandi. In ancient times ninja hid their identities. Goro advertises ninjutsu as his gimmick. You think he did it?"

"Dunno, anybody can put on black jammies, but not just anybody can waltz in and out of a girl farm either. Goro's an A-1 candidate. What's the job pay?"

"The LLP authorized a thousand credits. And you'll get to double dip, the GGG price on Goro's head will pay your taxes for the next two years."

"Is there a bonus in the contract rider if I bring the baby back alive?"

When Big Mama's laughter subsided she pressed a button on the intercom on her desk. "Have Orsolya come to my office, Shirley." Then she said to me, "Sorry to laugh, Aaron, but you know kidnap victims are almost never found. Or survive."

While we waited I began negotiating a better deal. "A thousand credits is a lot, Doris, but Goro is one bad dude. I want something under the table."

"Like what, you chiseler?"

"Don't 'like what' me, you bitch," I said affectionately. "I want a week of steak dinners, with vegetables."

"Okay, but that's it!"

"That's not it, you can take that out of Bosom of Joy petty cash. The LLP will never miss it."

Doris blew a raspberry. "What else do you want?"

"A case of Dasani bottled water and a hundred 9mm rounds." A GGG-funded girl farm has access to that kind of government surplus. My request was well within the bounds of reason.

"I could always bring Blake in for this caper," threatened Doris.

I stood up to leave. "You know good and well Blake couldn't even find Goro, let alone take him."

"Alright, dammit, but chicken dinners, not steak!"

I agreed and sat back down.

A knock on the door interrupted our negotiations. Orsolya. Big Mama told her to enter. A breathtaking girl with thick blonde braids, long legs and knockout tits that her uniform failed to hide strutted into the office. She and I appraised one another like young members of the opposite sex will do.

"Whaddya think, Orsolya?" the Big Mama asked.

"He cute."

"So is your Russian accent," I said, admiring her ass.

"Zip your lip, Aaron," Big Mama said. Then she and Orsolya had a quick conversation in Russian. Orsolya nodded several times with a wide grin on her face.

She knelt in front of me, giggling as she unzipped my pants. "Hmmm," she commented to Big Mama when she bared my erection. That should have embarrassed me under the circumstances but it's a strange time in which we live. Nobody quotes Dickens' best of times, worst of times much anymore although I wasn't having too bad of a time just then. Orsolya's head bobbed over my lap for a few minutes like an efficient machine. The blonde sucked hard enough to cause a dent in my forehead. In record time I came, with a gasp. The girl efficiently disposed of any telltale evidence of what she'd done with a swallow and stood up with a bounce, smiling. Big Mama jerked her head toward the door and Orsolya left.

"Cheeseballs," Big Mama leered at me.

"Where did you get HER?"

"I'm in the girl farm racket, remember? Don't forget to thank me for the freebie."

I did and added, "I'm impressed."

"I knew you would be, but don't count your chicks just yet. Do I think you can bring in Goro's head? You wouldn't be here if I thought otherwise. Do I think you can bring the baby back? Well, let's just say the chances are infinitesimal."

I hated to admit she was right but Orsolya brought a powerful inducement to the table. "But if I do?"

"If you do, my cocky friend, Orsolya gets a weekend pass. You and she can work on improving Soviet-American relations. Deal?"

"Throw in a bottle of Dasani and a 17-round clip, up front," I told her, "and we have a deal."

She pitched a bitch: "You just had a courtesy blowjob!"

"Which I appreciate, but now that you've taken care of my dick I'm going to have to watch out for my neck."

She knew Goro had a tough guy rep in a town full of tough guys, knew she'd have to pay top dollar for a pro up to the challenge. I'm a pro, time would tell about the challenge. Big Mama grumbled some more about labor costs but finally we shook on it. She rummaged through a desk drawer and gave me a 9mm clip. I thumbed three cartridges onto her desk blotter for inspection. The brass was dull.

"These are reloads!" I complained.

"Take 'em or leave 'em, Aaron."

"What about the water?"

She rotated in her protesting swivel chair and opened a compact refrigerator behind her desk. She pitched me a blue plastic bottle. I caught it in one hand. The seal on the screw-on cap had been broken.

"Do you have one that isn't a refill?"

"The case of water will have unbroken seals. Take that one or leave it."

I took it. It fit in a pouch on my belt.

Our pact made, Doris called Orsolya back in the room and instructed her to escort me out of the building. We navigated through the maze of secure corridors and frequent checkpoints. Like food farms and fresh water reservoirs, girl farms are locked down the way prisons used to be. If Goro penetrated the security here he would not be an easy score. Nothing I didn't already know.

Once outside the walls Orsolya asked, "You have cigarette?"

In the pouch on my belt I had a pack of Marlboros. "Sure, baby," I grinned at her.

She grinned back, "No try to sweet talk. Big Mama tell me you must work before you get some of this."

I gave her a cigarette and set off on foot for the Ginza district.

Orsolya said to my back, "Be careful. I see you later I hope."

Me, too.

Taxis have been expensive throughout time, and still are. Horse drawn carriages and rickshaws are the cheapest way to the Ginza but, as usual, I operate on a tight budget and leave those modes of transportation to senior citizens and expectant mothers. For obvious reasons bicycles are popular except they have an alarming tendency to disappear, even in the best of neighborhoods. So I'd left mine locked up in my living quarters.

Along the way I opened the Dasani and had a swig of water. Not too bad, it barely tasted of purification chemicals. It was the same purified water they brewed beer with now. I stowed the bottle back in my pouch on the belt next to a stiletto. I'd arrived at Bosom of Joy already dressed for action. My own Samurai sword hung on the left side of my belt. A 9mm pistol rode in a shoulder holster under my left armpit. I wore motorcycle pants because the leather reduces the sting of a whipsword. Sewn outside each of my boots is a sheath, tonight these contained two of my favorite Bowie knives.

Except for my arsenal my most important piece of gear is my flak jacket. Essentially it's gray plastic plate armor, articulated like the scales of a reptile. The plastic is a polymer that will stop a bullet under .45 calibers, unless it takes a point blank hit. The mobsters in the Organizatsiya like those big bore guns. The plastic armor also affords protection against bladed weapons. Some of the Yakuza had Samurai ancestors who'd handed down ancient swords. These can behead an elephant with a proper stroke. The armor plates of my jacket are not impervious to a true Samurai blade and is nicked and cut in many places. It's only a matter of time before the statistics side against me. A man in my profession can't dwell on odds or he'll lose his edge, or his head, before his time.

A helmet with a faceplate and a canvas-and-plastic piece that fastens between my legs to protect my loins came with the jacket. Both are uncomfortable and I seldom wear them unless I know I'm likely to be in a gang fight or going up against the ax handles of a bunch of strikebreakers.

My first two stops in the Ginza proved fruitless. No one had seen Goro, or admitted it to me at any rate. The search continued. On a deserted side street I found an alleyway I could use as a shortcut to where I wanted to go. That's when things started happening. A rat the size of a tomcat screeched at me from the mouth of the alley. Viscera stained the formidable set of sharp uneven teeth and dripped from its jaws.

"God knows what it is you're eating," I said softly, watching its red eyes blazing in the darkness, "but I have no wish to steal your supper."

Rodents haven't learned to speak any human languages yet but the damned things have evolved into very large creatures. At the turn of the century a rat would've fit in the palm of my hand. Not anymore. I've seen them as large as young pit bulls. Fortunately pit bulls can't grow as big as ponies. Yet.

Rat or no rat, I wanted to cut through the alley, so I took a step toward it. The rabid monster screeched another warning, which failed to stop my approach. When I took another step it launched itself at my face. In a heartbeat I moved aside and slammed its body away from me with the back of a forearm. The blow sent the thing spinning through the night to thump against a wall. I heard its claws skittering on the littered concrete. It would take more than a polite smack like that to deter the beast.

I had options: vivisect it with my Samurai sword or draw my pistol and fire a prohibitively expensive 9mm bullet. I hoard my ammunition for larger prey. The big rat squealed once when I slashed it in two, the halves shuddering violently in death.

Behind me someone said, "You're pretty fast with that thing."

I whirled to face three youths with spiky hair, naked to the waist. Each wore baggy shorts and Nike shoes. Tattoos decorated their lean mean bodies. Each carried a ludicrously long sword strapped diagonally across his back. One of them, with a pierced eyebrow, asserted himself by stepping forward and striking a menacing pose.

I asked, "Am I supposed to be scared because you're making a face at me?"

"Keep a civil tongue in your head when you address a Ginza Sword, gaijin."

"Ginza Sword, huh? I thought the sword gangs in Neon Town ran in bigger packs. You boys lose a few members?"

One of them laughed a bitter laugh: "He thinks we're boys!"

The spokesman sneered, "I can handle you all by myself. Now just hand over that sword nice and peaceful-like and we won't hurt you too bad."

"I got dibs on his coat," the second one announced.

"You can have it, I want his boots," said the third one.

I yawned with exaggerated unconcern. Teenagers these days! Give them a sword and a few running buddies and they get delusions of invincibility. Just the same I felt relieved I'd bumped in to only three of them. A small group like this, in their late teens, raving on amphetamines, can still be pretty fierce.

"I hear mama-san calling. You boys are up past your bedtime."

"He disrespects us," the spokesman said over his shoulder.

One of them said, "Teach him some manners, Jimmie."

He took a courageous if foolish step forward.

No use wasting any more time talking to these jerks, I had work to do. Before Jimmie got his steel unsheathed I leapt to meet his advance and broke his nose with a downward smash of my left fist. An instantaneous gush of scarlet flowed down his face. He spat curses and blood. I shoved him off his feet and faced the other two. Simultaneously their blades sprang from their scabbards, long enough to be ridiculous. They're called whipswords because the steel is narrow and thin enough to be flexible. They're as popular as switchblade knives and are not toys to be trifled with. They have an edge and in the right hands can lop a man's head off.

Despite my bravado I have a healthy respect for the gangs in Neon Town. I'll kill a rat but I don't kill teenagers, dangerous as they might be. Maybe an asskicking would do them some good.

The one who coveted my jacket made a desperate slash at my neck. I got inside his swing, struck his blade above the handguard with unnecessary force. It snapped just like I hoped it would. The inertia of his stroke threatened to send him toppling to the ground. I grabbed his wrist, wound it brutally up between his shoulders, danced him around like a puppet. He made an effective shield between the third swordsman and me. He urged his friend to be careful not to cut him, begged me not to break his arm.

I wanted to finish this before Jimmie regained the presence of mind to rejoin the fight. "Drop the sword and make yourself scarce," I warned the last one, "or I'll break laughing boy's arm off and spank you with it."

"Do it, man, do it! Drop your sword," wailed the one with the soon-to-be broken arm.

I maneuvered him over close to Jimmie, all the while keeping him between me and the guy with the sword; who let his blade drop an inch looking back and forth at his two friends. I used his uncertainty as an opportunity to deliver an unsportsman-like kick to Jimmie's ribs. Scratch one opponent. The swordsman moved in then and I surrendered to the inevitable. The bone in my captive's arm made a sickening pop. I rammed his body into the one charging at me. With a frantic side step I dodged the whipsword. It struck flat, bounced off my sleeve. We traded a few sword strokes then before he tripped backward over Jimmie.

I had him then, touched my point to his throat.

"Do you still want my boots?" I asked him.

He shook his head quickly, eyes agog with fear.

"If I were you I'd drop that goddamned whipsword, pal."

His hand opened immediately. The sword clanked on the street. I picked it up, went over to Jimmie's moaning prostrate form and collected his too. The thin steel snapped easily under my heel as I broke both blades. No need leaving weapons lying around, someone might get a little bit hurt.

My attention returned to the alley. I stepped over the remains of the rat's last meal. Not looking down at the grisly feast I placed my steps with care through all manner of detritus. The trash collectors in Neon Town are lax in their duties, making their rounds less than once a fortnight.

Murder-for-hire, giant rats, sword gangs, half-assed trash pickup: all typical in a world gone bad.

Neon Town is the new Los Angeles, now located in what used to be the southeast corner of Colorado. Sixty years ago an enormous earthquake on the West Coast reduced California to a few islands above sea level. Utah and Nevada ceased to be, now hundreds of feet underwater; not much of Oregon, Wyoming or Arizona is left either. Not surprisingly no one builds within miles of coastlines anymore, not major cities anyway. Stretching west from Neon Town to the new Pacific shoreline are outposts and villages, but they're as lawless as the old Wild West, not that the new City of Fallen Angels is exactly tame.

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