Strings of Retaliation – 23a – First Night Out

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The Lotus Arts and Technology Center stunk worse than my old digs in the Glades. Eight years, I had lived in a shoe-box near the Everglades’ floor, smack in the middle of civil engineering’s biggest failure. The ever-wet bowels of the city ate up the sewer system, leftover greenery and animal carcasses, and farted through the manholes when it didn’t build up in a corner to blow a hole in the street. The slums over here were paradise in comparison. And the sickening fragrances of the rich and obnoxious were hell.
Must be a Dubai thing.
Thanks to Vexx’s chip, I didn’t have to smell anything I didn’t want to.
I waved my fake ID in front of the sensor, all the while concentrating on blocking my sense of smell. The machine beeped a welcoming green and asked me to step through security. I half-hoped my dress sported too many metallic highlights for the guards to let me through; it would give me grounds to choose my own clothes next time. Unfortunately, the man smiled and waved me forward into the perfume cloud of the guest in front of me.
Damn it!
I had a hard time reaching the proper meditative mindset to trigger my nanobots without a place to sit in silence, but I would get better if I practiced. By the time I reached the top of the grand stairs, I couldn’t smell a thing.
Much better.
Dom stood by the door to the middle balcony. His tall and broad frame drew a few wary glances from the women walking past him. Vexx had done a great job replacing Dom’s low quality enhancements for natural-looking ones; a half-metallic body was perfect for intimidating other cage fighters, but would have clashed with the suit and tie. He was still a massive hunk of a man, though.
Besides the cosmetic work, Vexx had deactivated Dom’s remote control and self-destruction failsafe. Dom had refused the other changes. “I can’t afford to lag,” he had answered when Vexx offered him a chip like mine.
As a generation 8 SSW – was anything in my life not MerriTech? – Dom’s body couldn’t live without the nanobots. I wondered if that knowledge had played a part in his unconditional acceptance of his tech.
Dom looked me up and down with a wry smile before I entered the theater. Translation: “Material in place.”
It was a roundabout way to do things, but the perimeter security for this evening made sneaking in look like suicide even for me, and the screening at the entrance wouldn’t let me in with anything that looked like a weapon. Dom had used his contacts to get hired as security and smuggle my stuff in hours earlier. Downside? As security, he would be stuck by the door until things went bang. He had been bitching about that for the past week.
As I took my seat close to the exit, calm washed over me and settled in the pit of my stomach. I was built for this. The bittersweet thought strengthened my resolve. I also couldn’t wait to see the Pretty next to me pee his tuxedo.
I didn’t have to wait long before the lights dimmed and the room fell silent. The Pretty shifted in his seat. There was no clapping or excited cheer, but the excitement electrified the air. By now, the attendees knew what to expect. Third on the list of the most influential techno-cities, Dubai was the third city Lorelei visited, as per her marketing strategy. Tokyo, San Francisco, Dubai, Seoul… Only someone with a couple of shuttles and endless plasma supply could afford to hop along her tour without taking geographical proximity into account.
Cy walked up to the center stage in his Sunday’s best to recite the same old canned phrases. Thanks for being here. Best tour ever. Blast to work with. Yadi yada, round of applause.
The live orchestra kicked things off with a soft melody and a single follow spot lit Lorelei, looking all fragile and innocent in her flowing baby pink micro-dress.
As she slowly danced about the stage and seemed to hit invisible walls, other lights gradually revealed the cluttered stage and the music built up in ominousness. Figures appeared among the skewed buildings. “Like a small army of judgemental men,” was how Lorelei described it to me. That was my cue.
While Miss Diva twirled, I slipped out of my seat to do the hard work. The light from the hall blinded me for a second. Dom turned to me: “May I help you, ma’am?”
“Bathroom?” I said, pointing the small corridor at the far right of the mezzanine.
“Yes,” he replied. Not that I hadn’t known; we spent a few hours studying the layout of the place. The upstairs women’s room was next to a restricted access door and the shape of the corridors hid me from the bulk of the guards. One stood by the forbidden door and flashed me a smile when I walked past. I tripped myself in the length of my dress and stumbled into his arms. He steadied me with both hands.
“Careful.” He searched my face for signs of intoxication, but I gave him a blush and a weak smile.
“Sorry. I told my designer to shorten the train, but she wouldn’t listen.” I subtly plucked one of the beads off my dress and pressed its active side against the back of his hands. “Our secret.”
His eyes rolled and closed, and his legs gave in. I wrapped one arm around him to hold him up against me.
Angel, I thought after turning on my communication chip.
Vexx’s chuckle rang in my head. I’m walking you into a heap of trouble.
You’re seeing me safely through, I countered. Is the relay okay?
Yeah. I need about 5 more s–
– The door’s lock clicked. And here I was, doing it the hard way for years.
Dom says another woman is heading your way.
Plenty of time, I thought as I opened the door and dragged the guard through.

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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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