- Book Six* in the Vinestead Anthology
- Years Covered: 2018
Danny “Guns” Montreal,
Gordon “G” King,
Megan “Tanzy” Riley,
Johnny San Vito,
Julius “Jape” Parker
Johnny San Vito is dead, and it’s up to Danny “Guns” Montreal to find out why. To solve this erotic cyberpunk mystery, he’ll need help from I.C.E-1 cipher den leader Megan “Tanzy” Riley, the infamous Gordon “G” King, and even the Lady of Kaos herself, Kaili Zabora. Together, they will follow the clues Johnny left behind, and no-one will be surprised when they lead right to Vinestead International’s doorstep.
Who would kill one of the world’s most famous celebrity hackers?
What did Johnny discover?
Join Guns and Tanzy as they dig into what might be the largest corporate conspiracy the world has ever seen.
A steel beam of rotted red flesh popped into being in front of Danny’s face. He ducked, going to a knee on a small patch of white plastic. Tanzy wobbled in place beside him, put a hand on his shoulder for support. As the construct settled, he stood and took in the matrix of broken beams.
“Some kid’s nightmare about jungle gyms,” suggested Tanzy. “Although that would have to be one big kid.”
Danny put a hand on a nearby beam, felt his fingers warm before his Syzygy locked it down. Rust came off in large clumps, ashes of some primitive virus. It coated every surface. Throughout the endless matrix of cubed beams, flakes of white hung at odd angles, irrespective of gravity or any sense of up-ness.
“Lattice,” said Danny. “That’s the word I’m looking for.” He looked over at Tanzy, but she was fiddling with her sliver. “Let me guess. You have no idea where we are.”
“Oh I know where we are. We’re just not where we want to be.” She frowned, shook her head. “Off by one again. No way I did that wrong twice in a row.”
“I have to say I’m rather disappointed.”
“Do you have to? Really?”
“I’m compelled,” said Danny, walking the perimeter of their egg shell island. “So what are we looking at here? Garbage construct?”
Tanzy looked up from her sliver. “You honestly don’t know?”
He shook his head.
“Alright,” she said, sighing, “but we really don’t have time for this.”
Her hands went up in a flourish, like a conductor on the threshold of beginning a grand symphony. Wisps of white smoke flowed from her fingertips, coalescing and joining into a thick ribbon that wound itself around the nearby beam. It jumped to another, contracted, and pulled them together. As the ribbon split over and over again, the groans of aged metal filled the construct. Beams that had fallen out of place rearranged themselves, first into an endless chess board, and then into a more curved outer edge as the far sides bent backwards.
White flakes now aloft in the construct gravitated towards the beams, forming walls between the cubes, folding to the outside edge like the rounded edges of corn still on the cob. There was only enough material to do a small patch, about five cubes across and three up. Their island stretched towards the grid, wearing thinner in the center to provide a darker color.
“I smell oranges,” said Danny.
“No. You’re just crying, you big baby.”
He wiped the tear from his cheek and sighed. “This is not just someone’s guesswork, is it? This is the real thing.”
“It feels like it. The code is very old. Clunky, I’d say.”
“I never thought I’d see a homedir again,” said Danny, watching the grid column spin slowly. “I mean, you remember something, and when you see it again, it never quite looks the same. But this… this is 1998, Tanzy. This is our childhood. Vintage Net.”
“Who do you fight for?”
Kaili groaned and looked away. The lights in the clouds continued to dance.
“I asked you a question.”
“Who do you fight for?” she spat back. “Who gave you the right to shoot an unarmed woman in the street?”
The man tapped the emblem on his shoulder—an ornate 5 encircled by an uppercase C.
“Calle Cinco,” he replied. “We’re taking back everything from the coast to the Rockies, town by town.”
Kaili studied his face, tried to figure out if he were lying or not. He couldn’t be part of Calle Cinco; there weren’t any dens this far north.”
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Kaili Zabora,” she seethed, tasting blood. “The Butcher of Burbank. Veteran of the Reaping.”
Flores turned his head and spit on the nearby synny. He scanned the surrounding streets.
“Sorry we had to meet like this, Kaili Zabora of Burbank.”
“You don’t know me?”
He shook his head, crushed out the cigarette.
“Calle Cinco de Mayo? Perion Synthetics? Ring any bells?”
“Of course I’ve heard of Perion Synthetics.” He patted the synny on its head. “Who do you think we’re out here fighting?” His eyes drifted to the belt slung over her shoulder. “Look, I’ve got to get back to the grind. How about you toss me that belt and I leave you to die in peace?”
“Suit yourself.” Flores sprang to his feet, rotated the rifle in the air, and brought it down hard on the bridge of Kaili’s nose.
Stars exploded, forcing her head backwards.
Blood flowed over her lips, but the pain never came.
She watched in a daze as Flores tried to rip the belt from her. A knife came out; he cut the zip ties on her arm. Fire ants scurried beneath her skin, but the tingling was almost pleasant, and the ants never sunk their mandibles into her.
Kaili watched his smile fade.
“You’ve been juiced,” he said. “What’d they give you? Nanites? Stim pack?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she screamed.
He grabbed her bicep and pushed the stump into her face. “This! You should be dead by now.”
Kaili examined the clotted mess at the end of her arm. Though some blood still oozed, the majority of it had pooled just under the skin. It would have to be drained if she lived for a few more hours.
If she lived.
Flores shook her by the shoulders. “What are you, Kaili Zabora?”
She waited until the heat in her legs was unbearable.
Show him what you are, said Anela.
Kaili smiled, reached out with her good arm to grip Flores’ uniform, and pulled him close. She wrapped her legs around his lower back and squeezed, keeping the pressure on until she had drained every click and crack and pop out of his spine. When his face came into range, Kaili sunk her teeth into his nose, his neck. Scraps of flesh collected into her mouth.
She choked, spit.
His screams echoed down the street, but Kaili kept up the attack until she had chewed through his jugular. When the spray splashed over her face, she knew she’d gone far enough.
He spasmed. She held tight with her legs.
“Look at me,” she said, putting her face in front of his.
Flores gurgled in response.
“Kaili Zabora. Say it.”
“K…” Blood bubbled from his lips.
“The Butcher of Burbank.”
His eyes widened; he was going into shock.
“Veteran of the Reaping.”
He coughed, convulsed. Globs of blood spilled onto her chest.
“And the last fucking face you’ll ever see.”
Kaili imagined her muscles tightening to a crush point; her augments responded accordingly.
Flores winced, went rigid.
Kaili pushed him to the side, rolled onto her hand and knees, and threw up a mixture of blood and bile. As she retched, an uncontrollable laughter took over her body.
“A Zabora,” she sputtered, sitting back on her heels. “A Zabora never fucking breaks.”