Quince drummed his duritanium fingernails nervously, not caring how they scarred the old wood of the desktop. The safe house he’d set the meet up at wasn’t exactly furnished by Neo-IKEA anyway so he couldn’t give a shit less how it looked when his business here was concluded. He just wanted to get things over with and get back into the urban forest he belonged in. Being out of the city and exposed made him testy.
His jaw thrummed with an unexpected electrical jolt that left his mouth feeling dry and coppery. Doc had warned him having his teeth replaced with the same impenetrable duritanium as his nails would be…inadvisable as the potential for conductive feedback through his ocular implant was considerable but Quince hadn’t listened. He was paying for that oversight now. His tongue was numb and the muscles in his face twitched slightly.
He had nobody to blame but himself, he admitted. While Slinks might look like the hairless, bastard offspring of the unholy union between Gollum and a house elf, there wasn’t anybody you wanted more than them to fit you with the latest augmentations. Knowing that didn’t ease Quince’s mind…or his jaw any. Fact was he flat out hated having to admit when the greasy, little misanthrope was right. And so, he would suffer in silence rather than ask the Slink to check it out…for now.
Growling low in his throat, Quince checked the chronometer in his heads-up display. His contact was late. That didn’t bode well. He wasn’t all that happy about having to add a Witcher to his team but it was becoming increasingly unavoidable. Making a decent living as a Slumrunner was getting harder all the time and he had to stack the deck however required to come out ahead. If that meant adding a psi-freak to his gang then so be it.
The city was a battleground and the battles never ended. On top of it all were the Credited and the Citizens. The Creds and the Cits did their best to pretend the world was still what it had once been despite all the evidence to the contrary. They wanted to make believe humans were still the dominant force in the Metroplex Networks but that was nothing more than just that…make believe. Humans were the diminishing remnants of a civil order that would never return.
Corporate greed, scientific mishaps and a whole lot of just plain illegal research had transformed the cities into something forever different. Ogres, Dwarves, Elves, Slinks and Witchers were the five most prominent mutant strains. There were a myriad of different and often disturbing variations of that basic pentagram but nobody liked thinking about them very much. For humans who chose to live outside the regimented structure Citizenship mandated survival was a matter of becoming one of the Augments.
Quince had a total of 17 different artificial enhancements that had, to date, kept him alive and mostly intact. He needed a good deal of upkeep and replacement parts but the alternatives were less desirable. To stay upright and out of sight he and the other humans in his gang had to have the latest upgrades sooner than the competition. Access to the storehouses and laboratories of the Metroplex had once been a matter of sheer force and determination. More and more, the Witchers were providing the Creds their psionic services to bolster security. Quince found it expedient to fight fire with fire, so to speak.
Reluctant to trust a possible Cred-infiltrator inside his network, he typically contracted out for the arcane assistance he needed. That had proven…problematic. His last Witcher-for-hire had been a crusty old Elf who went by the name Fladnag. When the bastard had gotten himself and three of Quince’s best raiders toasted by a volley from a laser emplacement he had failed to detect, their brief association was burned away as well. It wasn’t until after he’d managed to get the bedraggled remnants clear of the Cred’s guard force he’d had time to appreciate how ass-backwards a version of Gandalf the late and unlamented Fladnag had turned out to be. Calling in some markers he’d rather not have been obliged to, Quince got the name of a likely candidate…Psyrena.
Given this Psyrena was nearly 30 minutes past the meet time and not showed Quince was stowing his gear to head back in-city. What a waste of a day, he thought, Wonder what happened to the bitch? He nearly pissed himself at the unexpected response.
“First off, Tin Man, I don’t particularly like being called a bitch. Second, your little obstacle course test took me a bit longer than I expected. Three tripwires, a thermo-mine, a scanbeam emitter and the half-dozen other annoyances weren’t especially taxing but I’d have normally just triggered the last one and rode it out behind a psi-shield instead of disarming it. I assumed, for the purposes of our security, you’d have frowned on that. Satisfied, asshole?”
Holstering the plascannon he hadn’t even realized was in his hand, Quince turned slowly around, “You got quite a pair on you, Witcher, talking to me like that. Do you have any idea who I am?”
Though he did his best to sound every inch the tough Slumrunner gang boss, he was unaccountably distracted. Looking the woman up and down with a lecherous eye he noted she did, in fact, have quite a pair. They were firmly encased in a tight-fitting synthleather jumpsuit of gleaming black. He knew just enough symbology to know the gear just might have withstood a plascannon pulse. Impressive. This wench did seem to have some skills.
She was not much over a meter and a half tall and compactly-built. A hooded burgundy cloak concealed much of her but what he saw he liked. Even if she didn’t prove to be much more use than Fladnag had, at least she smelled better and was a lot easier on the eye. She endured his inspection stoically…almost as if it was a regular occurrence. Her patience wore thin at last.
“If your implant has stored enough jack-off fodder for your tastes, can we get the Flinx out of here? I don’t guess you thought that far ahead but the residual power signature of all those damned traps way out here in the sticks is gonna draw the Cred-cops like flies to feces. Let’s jet!”
While Quince did admire her pluck, he wasn’t all that taken with her insolence. He was the man in charge and she needed to –
“Down!” she yelled, her arm describing a tight arc that threw him into a tangle of limbs in the corner. Shaking his head to clear the cobwebs, he heard the harsh snarl of power guns and vibro-swords interspersed with shouts, splashes and inexplicable gouts of force. He stumbled to his feet, his ocular implant glitching in the backwash of psionic energy only to see Psyrena bolt for the door, “Make sure those slogs are out. I got a transport to catch!”
Scanning the room he saw what, he imagined, an explosion in an abattoir must look like. Gooey bits and pieces of, what must have been, a dozen or so heavily-armored Cred-cops littered the floors, walls, and even the damned ceiling. Not a single body was intact and not a one of them seemed to have died easily. Cursing under his breath, he followed her outside.
She stood, hands clenched into fists at her temples, facing a Cred-cop armored transport in full-acceleration mode headed for the city. Quince’s implant fritzed again as the craft vanished in a blossoming ball of flame. As his vision cleared, he saw Psyrena down on one knee, lungs puffing like a bellows. In answer to his unvoiced question she replied in a ragged voice, “No, I’m not hit. I’m fine. But taking out that transport’s gonna leave me with a Flinx-kicker of a headache. Oh…and you’re welcome.”
Quince stood, for a moment nonplussed and awed, before bursting into a raucous laugh, “Damn, bitch! You’re hired. Pay is twenty creds a week plus room and board and you keep an extra half share of the haul from each job you survive. Deal?”
“Forty-five creds a week, two extra shares a job and I told you I don’t like being called a bitch…asshole. Deal.”
Quince helped her to feet, surprised she didn’t object, and the two jogged back towards the city knowing the Cred-cops would be back in force…soon.
This story was written for the Friday Frights website's monthly flash fiction theme: witches.