Strings of Retaliation – 21a – iDo It Again

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Djeb recognized me at first glance, which was both flattering and unsettling — a year and a half of playing dead hadn’t prepared me for this. “Good evening, sir,” he said with a butler-like nod, perfect except for his lopsided smile. “Should I call you The Knave?”
I froze for a moment while my brain caught up to the fact that he knew Lorelei as ‘Alice’, a nickname given to her by Djeb’s colourful chemist. “Alice trusts you with way more than my identity’s worth.”
It sounded true enough, even though I only showed my real face for lack of a better choice. My all-over-the-gossip-aisle Vincent identity would lead straight to Lorelei, and I didn’t have another full facial prosthetic. Besides, the slums being what they were, the real me would make faster friends.
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Vexx.” Djeb shook my hand, and then motioned toward a hallway to our right.
As we walked, the artificial lights occasionally flickered, readjusting as other people used or released power. We were deep in the bowels of the slums, too close to the ground for natural light and too lost in the in-betweens — between the city’s borders and the slums’ central power plant — to get a stable energy source. It made the hallway a bit creepy, despite its otherwise good condition. Even the hardest rain didn’t reach this level, being gradually collected several floors above us to be purified for human consumption; the absence of natural elements simplified maintenance.
“Alice called you when that pregnant woman’s uterus implant malfunctioned.” Djeb’s voice was as steady and self-assured as his walk. “They are both in excellent health.”
Taken aback, I muttered a ‘thank you’ that effectively killed any further conversation. I didn’t know what to make of him yet, and it bugged me. In a way, he was too sophisticated and smart for the slums. But then, maybe he was exactly what a successful black market merchant should be. Flickering lights not withstanding, I was used to shadier dealings in my hacker days.
“This is your apartment.” Djeb unlocked the door. The small room had the basic necessities: bed, desk with a top-of-the-line computer and a chair. My small suitcase was already on the bed. “We’ll bring you three meals a day.”
“Wow! Room service!” I chuckled.
“Only the best for Alice’s friends. If you would follow me, your patient is in the next bedroom.” Saskia was actually two doors down. A closet-sized space filled at ninety percent by a generator separated our rooms. “Dedicated to Saskia’s room and yours,” Djeb explained. He flipped a switch and the machine rumbled to life. The lights around us glowed steadily at their full capacity. The flickering returned when Djeb switched the generator off. “If it is not too much trouble, please use it only when you need extra power.”
I wouldn’t exhaust the nuclear core powering the generator even if I used it all day long, but it was a tricky piece to replace. It made sense that Djeb would preserve its power if possible. “No worries. I’ll need it for surgery and such, but I should be fine the rest of the time.”
The circuit was built to switch between power sources by itself, and the computer Djeb built for me most likely had an integrated battery to compensate for the unsteady feed of the main circuit. I would be fine.
“Per your instructions,” Djeb continued as he walked me to the next door, “we have given her the first injection as soon as she got here. Her vitals have been stable ever since.”
The syringe in question contained a specific mix of hormones I found in MerriTech’s files. It slowly brought the subject to a state of slumber after an artificial, nanobot-induced shutdown. The second injection would wake her up.
Saskia’s room was very similar to mine in size, but the bed had restraints and was currently in the middle of the room. The desk was pushed against the wall and a monitor showed the steady rhythms of Saskia’s sleeping body. A small fridge, wedged under the table, contained the collection of synthetic hormones I brought over from Lorelei’s.
“The smaller equipment is in that unit,” Djeb explained, pointing at a metal locker the size of a refrigerator with half the usual depth. He held a small set of keys by an hexagon-shaped key before dropping it in my hand. “We’ll bring the surgical supports upon request.”
The room would have been cramped if the full body scan, computer-guided laser and all the rest of the stuff I wasn’t sure I would use. “Thank you, Djeb. I’ll let you know if I need anything.”
“Understood, sir,” he said as he stepped back out of the room and closed the door behind him.
Saskia needed her second injection pretty soon. Her metabolism had been artificially slowed down for a long time. I double-checked the restraints first and found them nice, tight and padlocked. Jiggling the keys in my hand, I found the one for the padlock—the smallest of the bunch—besides the two I saw Djeb use to unlock my room and Saskia’s. Next came the hexagon he identified as the locker key, and one more I could safely assume was the fridge’s.
Lorelei’s restraints hadn’t been locked when we had her version of the upcoming conversation over a year ago. She had almost strangled me after freeing a hand, and she cared about me. I was a stranger to Saskia and, unwilling to give her a chance to wiggle out of this, I hid the keys on top of the locker after retrieving the pre-mixed syringe of hormones from the fridge.
After a deep breath, I stuck the needle in Saskia’s IV drip and squeezed. Breaking the news to Lorelei had been a live argument. I had had days to go over how I would ease Saskia into the truth. Days to grow more and more anxious about it. Lorelei should have been here, but the time frame screwed that up.
Saskia munched on air for a couple of seconds, generating saliva to fight her cottonmouth. Her eyelids opened and closed a couple of times, as if she was waking up from a peaceful slumber, before settling on my face. She arched her back in a suggestive stretch and moaned, then wiggled herself down against her pillow a crooked smile lighting up her face. “She didn’t say there would be entertainment.”

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About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles View all posts by Aheïla

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