Kyle Willey

Babylon’s Echo, Part 1

“Got a job for you, Smith. Three wire-heads stole some prototypes out in the deadzone, didn’t have enough sense not to take them across the border.”

“Who’s the client?”

“Feds.”

Smith plants his hands on the table in front of him. Three deep breaths. “You know I don’t work for the feds.”

“Pay’s good. Remember that cycle you’ve been lusting after?”

“Yeah.”

“It’ll cover the difference between what you’ve got and what you need.”

“How far?”

“That’s the best part. They planted themselves in the same place you’re staying.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“If it weren’t easy, I wouldn’t have called you for the feds. Check it out for yourself. I’ll send the details straight to your eye.”

The spider goes silent, lets Smith read over the job description. Smith knows that he’s working with another client and juggling lines. The merc has a hard time getting into the text. Standard boring text. Invoices for transfer from some no-bid contractor he’s never heard from. Most of the details are redacted, ‘cause the feds don’t want to let people know exactly what their people lost.

“These guys hit the feds?”

There’s a few moments of silence, then the other end of the line picks up. “Nah, contractor was doing the shipping. Skimped on security.”

“Got lucky, then.”

“Might have been an inside job, but that’s not our problem.”

“I understand. Let the client know I’ll take the job.”

“Got it.”

“Thank you, Augen.”

The blue connection icon blinks out of existence in the peripheral of Smith’s vision. The fixer measures time in commissions, and even passing courtesies cost money.

This reminds Smith that every word Augen says is programmed for a response. The spider probably made up psych profiles for each of his mercs, figured out exactly what he needed to say to get them into things. It makes him the best at his job.

Smith’s always preferred the life of a mercenary. Working at his own pace suits him. He handles the local details. Casing places, listening in, catching anything that doesn’t make its way up to the net. That’s his wheelhouse.

That and a lot of muscle.

He worries that he enjoys it too much, knows that there’s a point of no return. He’s good at it, too. He was already at the top before the nukes in Shenzhen sent him to get shiny new parts. Tungsten-carbide fists. Eyes that can see fifteen colors. A third dose of neurachem, back before they knew there was a 5% three-year survival rate.

He’s got the devil’s own luck. When everyone around him dies out or gets wire-burned, he just keeps on ticking.

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