It was just before midnight on a rain soaked street, hov-cars sitting empty along the curb, and the sidewalks just as desolate. Standing in the distance were spires of glass; monuments of wealth and corporate architecture. The dark sky was lined with traffic carving trails of red against the black.
Kiddo “Pinkerton” Volk walked beneath twitching neon signs advertising rooms, whores, and clinics in English and Japanese. She had a Prohibition crew cut tucked into a grey schoolboy cap, the same color as her eyes. It matched her pea coat of maroon, buttoned all the way to her slender neck, and blue jeans with suspenders that hung like folded wings. The hem of her pants was bloused into black jackboots.
She smoked an E-cig that smelled of ozone with her hands in her coat-pockets and head inclined before she stopped and looked up.
The apartment rose from street like a tombstone to a past reborn. The front door was the only evidence of the present; the directory a tablet of glass with names etched in light and an electronic lock.
Kiddo ascended the stoop and pulled a black book from her pocket. On a recent page was a name and address beneath others that have been crossed out. She looked at the directory and pocketed the book.
She faced the door and pulled from her coat a hack-tool. The device was a tangle of wires, a dial, and a motor connected to a magnet and a trio of needles. Kiddo put the tool on the lock, the needles in the keyhole, and twisted a dial. She watched the sidewalk for witnesses as it ticked. When it stopped she walked in, taking the tool.
The interior was a call back to a century gone by, a disguise shared in Kiddo’s fashion. The floor was wood beneath a beat carpet of an ordinary pattern and the walls were plain with one color like a uniform.
As she walked Kiddo pulled an aluminum case from her coat and slipped the E-cig into its slot. On the other half of the case were lock picks. She took two before putting away the case and walking upstairs.
At the fifth floor her steps went quiet. She counted off the room numbers and fixed her gaze to the left side of the hall as she drew closer. Kiddo stopped when she saw the door already open.
She listened for nothing but silence and drew her razor from the waist of her trousers. The blade came out in sections, each piece locking into a pointed knife of six inches. Kiddo put her back to the wall and stepped to the door. She turned into the threshold, pushing the door open, and stopped halfway.
The room had a single bed, a tub and toilet out in the open, and a table by the window opposite the door. Sitting there was a man, his head and arms limp. He wore suspenders with a wife-beater, his face lined with streams of white blood that flowed from a hole in his forehead.
Kiddo sheathed her blade and walked in, looking around for anyone else inside. At the body she found half-eaten wafer bars on the table. They were white with specs of silver, tucked into a wrapper that said “Bishop Bars” in Korean. She dug through his pockets for a wallet stuffed with bills of holographic pictures of dead presidents. She read the ID and stared at the man that was her Mark.
There came footsteps from the hall. Before they grew louder Kiddo shoved away the table and opened the window, pocketing the ID. She cursed at the lack of a fire escape and pulled off her gloves, her hands plas-ceramic prosthetics that looked like pale doll parts. Blades popped from her fingertips and Kiddo climbed out, the blades dragging through the masonry as she slid down.
Five feet from the ground she hopped off and walked down the alley. Kiddo put on her gloves pulled her phone, a 2×1” tablet of black. Its halves slid open and projected a screen. Kiddo selected the CONTACTS tile and scrolled to the name TAK. She touched the photo, the screen disappeared, and she pressed the phone to her ear.
The dial tone went on as she peered around the corner to flashing lights of red and blue. Her call was answered and Kiddo ducked back into the alley.
‘Moshi Moshi?’ asked Takashi, the sound of jazz in the background.
‘It’s me,’ she said.
‘Hey, Pink! How’s it hangin’?’
‘Got a problem. Pigs on my ass. I need to talk to Cici.’
‘Oh shit. Get down here before they spot you.’
‘Okay. See you in a bit.’
She hung up and pocketed her phone.
* * *
A line of people snaked down the sidewalk, dressed Classic in suits and dresses with some Modern in tight ripped jeans, leather, and dyed hair. There were Artificials with skin too smooth and featureless, their hair a fine plastic that made wigs look authentic. They waited before a large bouncer with prosthetic eyes. Behind him was the club entrance under the street. On the building above a sign read “Le Speak”.
Kiddo walked along the line, past the bouncer, and down the steps. The brass and strings were muffled until the front door slid open with a creak of gears.
Speak was small but wide-open with a bar at the left and a corner-stage at the back wall. The band was mostly human as they played real instruments without the aid of speakers. Kiddo took off her hat, revealing her neon-pink hair, and made her way through the crowd, eyeing all the people in Modern. It was not long before she reached Takashi, leaning beside a door.
He had a black high-and-tight, the side of his head cut with scars that snaked to a pupil-less blue eye. He wore a black suit, grey vest, and white shirt as he smoked a cigarette before Kiddo came up.
‘He in there?’ she asked.
‘You bet.’ He opened the door. ‘Were you followed?’
‘Not a chance. And what’s with all the scrubs outta dress?’
‘At the cost of making this joint look like any other.’
Kiddo walked in followed by Tak.
The office was Classic with a wood desk and chair in front of it. A brass lamp of Atlas with a green shade lit the room. At the back were bookcases shelved in leather tomes. Sitting in a leather chair behind the desk was Cicero, a cross-eyed man with olive skin. He stood up and smiled when Kiddo walked in.
‘Pink! I’m so glad you’re safe. Tak, make sure Mitt scrubs the cop servers.’
‘Did it the moment she called, boss,’ he said moving to the back as Kiddo and Cicero sat down.
‘So tell me what happened. Did you nab the data?’
She took her time.
‘I owe you a lot, boss. You paid for my gear, I met Enzo, and you gave me this job. I try to control my temper, but when you do some comic-book shit like this, I don’t give a damn how sore I get. The Mark, that snitch for the Date,’ she pulled out the ID and tossed it onto the desk, ‘I found him with a hole in his head just before the pigs marched in.’
Cicero examined the card.
‘Kiddo, the guy was a stoolie; he could have been working all sorts of angles and made all kinds of enemies.’
‘Yeah, that’s usually how it goes. But do you know what I think?’
‘…I got an idea.’
‘I think you pegged me for the fall guy. You clipped the Mark to get me pinched. After that, the Shogun wouldn’t have come after you knowing his man’s killer was in a cube. You tried to fuck me, Cici, and without my permission.’
The boss shook his head.
‘Never in my life would I set you up, Pink. Like you said, I gave your life back when nobody could bother helping a homeless, amputee street rat. You think you’re not worth the time and money I’ve spent getting you back on your feet? I’d rather burn this town before screwing you for the fuckin’ Date.’
Kiddo’s hate waned into guilt.
‘I understand you’re pissed, but you gotta calm down; you make shit up and can’t think like you do when you’re cool… Wanna smoke?’
She paused and reached into her coat for an E-cig.
‘I’m sorry, Cici,’ she turned the switch and took a drag. ‘I just… saw the guy, heard the pigs, and I put it together. Guess I over thought a bit too much. Shouldn’t have snapped at you.’
The boss chuckled.
‘Believe me, you can’t be in this business without this kind of shit.’
‘I should use my brain more than my fists.’
‘Well let’s use it now and save them for later.’ Cicero leaned forward, his fingers interlocked on the desk. ‘Now, the only people who knew the details of this job were you and me. Tak, you didn’t know anything until the night before, right?’
Kiddo took a drag and exhaled out her nose.
‘The Date wouldn’t needlessly sacrifice one of their people; it’s either give a finger or suicide with them. On top of that,’ she pulled the cig out and rubbed her eyes, ‘they don’t use gu—‘
The thump of a suppressor made her jump, the cig falling from her lips. As it hit the floor, Cicero laid his head on the desk with a hole behind his ear, Takashi holding a pistol. Kiddo stared at him with wide eyes as he holstered the weapon.
‘Sorry you had to see me do it,’ he said lifting the body onto the floor. ‘Would’ve been easier the other way.’
‘W- wha- what did you do?’
‘I set you up, to set him up. Thought you’d stay pissed to kill him on sight.’ Takashi sighed. ‘Obviously I was wrong.’
‘…The fuck were you thinking?’
‘Clearer than this old schnook. The Date are bigger than us, Pink; hitting ‘em would have started a one sided fight for our people. So I called the Shogun, told him what was going down, and made peace under the condition Cici dies.’
Kiddo could not speak, her hands balling into fists so hard her gloves ripped.
‘It was last minute, but it worked out, all things considered. Had to kill the Mark, but I got a story for that.’ Takashi pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the blood off the desk. ‘We get to keep our territory in exchange for 10 percent. Tomorrow we meet the Shogun to set it all in stone.‘ He sat down, the chair still warm. ‘So how ‘bout it, Kiddo; wanna be my second in command?’
Tin Man’s Touch
Kiddo starred forward with red eyes, her lashes clumped by tears. Her anger remained in hurried steps past sleeping bums and drunken hipsters, her hands balled into fists with the gloves ripped at the seams.
Three blocks later she slowed and leaned against a store window of manikins in a winter setting. She took a liberal drag from a cig, the smoke curling from her lips upon gentle exhale. Kiddo stared at her gloves and tossed them into a trashcan.
The walk home resumed, hands in her coat-pockets, and head inclined.
* * *
The monorail stood a landmark of I-beams and art deco sculptures holding the tracks above the street. She ascended the winding stairs to the platform, the ground still wet under lamplight. It was not long before the bullet train arrived for Kiddo to board. The interior was well maintained with carpet floors, thick seats, and televisions in the headrests that played advertisements on a loop.
She held onto the railing by the exit, staring out to the town below crossed in greens, blues, and purples. In the distance stood the darkly Space Needle, dwarfed by the gargantuan spires in the city like a stump in a forest of giants.
Kiddo lingered on the landscape and looked to the side at a bum in a seat at the end of the car. He clenched onto a blanket over his many layers as he slept.
From a few cars down came two cops in black and blue; one human and the other Artificial. They wore helmets with transparent visors over their eyes and motorcycle jackets with armor in the chest, back, and shoulders. On their belts were combi-pistols and telescopic batons.
Kiddo watched them approach the bum. He looked up, the blanket and hoods revealing a face of synthetic skin and a hollow eye socket. The cops stood the bum up and walked to the exit. She made room, stepping to the side. Kiddo eyed the Artificial. He was large, built for brawling, the iron on his hip useless compared to his fists. When he turned she met his gaze, his featureless mouth forming a smile.
‘Evening, ma’am,’ he said, his voice laced with static.
When the train stopped, the cops walked the bum out before the doors shut.
* * *
Cicero lay on his back with Kiddo straddling Tak to the side. Her face was red, the pink strands of her hair disheveled as she held her razor to his neck. His hands were up and eyes wide as she rocked back and forth.
‘Give me a reason,’ she said through her teeth. ‘Give me a reason why I shouldn’t open your arteries, chertovski suka!’
* * *
Kiddo leaned to the side of the elevator console as she was taken up. It stopped with a lurch, bringing her to a dingy hall with half-working florescent lights. From her pant’s pockets she pulled a key and approached a door. She was quiet upon opening and closing, making it three steps in before a voice stopped her.
‘I didn’t mean to wake you.’
‘It’s okay,’ a lamp on the night stand turned on, revealing a bed with brass frames in the middle of a studio apartment, ‘I was waiting for you.’
Enzo was an Artificial with blue skin so dark he was black. His hair was blonde, the color of his eyes, and physically thin with pronounced muscles.
Kiddo took off her hat as she approached.
‘You didn’t have to; you have work.’
‘So do you.’
She perched her hat on the frame-post. Enzo got on his knees and embraced her with a long kiss.
‘I missed you,’ she said, her hold on him tight as she rubbed her cheek to his.
Enzo kissed her neck as he moved down, unbuttoning her coat to a spandex undershirt beneath. At her waist he pushed up the shirt and tongued her navel. Kiddo shut her eyes, holding his shaggy hair.
* * *
‘You’re job,’ said Takashi, ‘the money… you’re life? I’m keeping the Date from making this town look like Vancouver. Wanna lose any of that, Pink?’
‘You think I care about a thick wallet? You think I care if I’m alive? You people invest too much in shit that means nothing. You know what really matters in my book?’ He shook his head and Kiddo came closer. ‘A body-count.’
* * *
‘You need a bath,’ said Enzo between licks.
Kiddo waited to speak so he would not stop too soon.
‘It’s late… need to go to bed.’
‘It’s never too late for a bath.’ Enzo slipped out of bed and carried her. Some feet away he put her down and switched on the lamp over the tub. It was freestanding with a stool to the side and a sink against the wall.
Kiddo undressed, her undershirt sleeveless, while Enzo drew her water. Her prosthetics replaced both arms and shoulders with the rest of them covered by the shirt. As the tub filled he sat her on the stool and pulled off her boots.
‘What happened to your gloves?’
‘Oh. I punched this guy a little too hard and,’ she sat up to he could take her pants, ‘and they ripped.’
He moved down between her legs.
‘Aw, I’m sorry.’
Enzo parted the crotch of her panties and Kiddo pulled him closer.
* * *
‘I know how bad you wanna kill me, but you need to understand that clipping Cici prevented the deaths of everyone. It’s better than war—‘
‘You know what honor means? It’s not sneaking around your friends making shit deals; it’s challenging your enemy head-on in bloodshed. The Date have none if they use stoolies like you. What makes you think I’m going to work for them?’
‘You’ll work for me; don’t even have to see ‘em. You don’t have to see me neither. I’ll text you jobs and have a courier bring you cash. It can work, I promise.’
Her grip tightened on the razor, her face and eyes growing redder.
* * *
Kiddo’s breath was a steady rhythm as she sat naked on the stool, Enzo kneeling to the side petting her back. Her prosthetics were connected to her torso by clamps above her breasts, along her collar bones, and over her shoulder blades.
She gulped and nodded, squeezing her eyes shut.
Enzo held the bicep and pressed a button up in the armpit. Kiddo tensed, her lips curling as the clamps turned up and the arm went limp. He pulled, nervlink wires snaking from where her flesh-arm used to be. They came out, retracting into the arm, and Kiddo relaxed, breathing a sigh or relief. Enzo carried the limb to his workbench in the corner and laid it among a mess of tools before coming back.
‘Are you okay?’
She shivered and Enzo held her.
‘Fuck, that hurts.’
‘Old tech malarkey. These days you don’t need a hardwire… Sorry.’
‘Don’t worry about me.‘
‘But I want to.’ He kissed her. ‘Ready for the next?’
* * *
Kiddo paced at the front of the desk, holding the razor in a shaking hand as Takashi got on his feet, straightening his suit and correcting the chair.
‘It’s gonna get better—‘
‘Shut the fuck up and put him where he belongs.’
He bent down to Cicero and dragged him into the seat. She came round, sheathing her razor. Takashi kept his distance as she placed his hands in his lap and squared his head. She stared at him then eyes Takashi as tears poured down her cheeks.
‘If I see you in his chair again, I’m taking your fucking head.’
* * *
Kiddo laid in the tub with Enzo on the edge washing her leg.
‘I wish I could touch you;’ she said, ‘feel you with real hands.’
‘And I always say, you don’t need hands to feel.’ He traced his finger on the sole of her foot and she giggled. Enzo set her leg down, running his fingers up her slippery skin, and coming round behind.
‘I wanna show you something.’
He walked to the bench and returned with a tablet, swiping through the screens to a column of photos. He touched one and it enlarged with a profile to the side. He knelt behind Kiddo and held the tablet in front of her.
‘He’s 5.11”, brown hair, and blue eyes, but not as nice as yours. The rest of him looks acceptable for a pretty decent price. What do you think?’
She read a list of dominant/recessive genes.
‘We should meet him to make sure he’s not squirrely; that gets passed onto kids.’
‘…I wish he looked more like you.’
‘If only humans were mass-produced.’
‘We are. It’s called, unprotected sex.’
She angled her head and kissed him from behind. He reached to grip her breast. Kiddo stopped to catch her breath as bad news came to mind.
Enzo paused and held her in an embrace.
‘Oh, geez… I’m sorry babe. How’d it happen?’
‘Iron to the head.’
‘Did you find the guy?’
‘…I got him. Tak’s taking over the business.’
‘When’s the funeral?’
‘I don’t know. We’ll work it out tomorrow.’
‘Anything I can do?’
She sniveled and looked at him.
‘Take me to bed.’
* * *
Kiddo wore a towel in Enzo’s arms. The lights were off, but the one by the bed.
‘I need to adjust the servos in your fingers; they seized up over compensating.’
‘Can it wait for tomorrow?’
‘I have work, but I can stay in bed for a little bit. How long do you want me?’
As he came to the bedside, Kiddo brought her legs around, the towel falling off, and held onto Enzo between her thighs. Face to face she made a toothy grin.
‘Till I pass out.’
‘Not for you,’ she said before biting down on his shoulder.
Enzo squeezed her rear. He turned and fell back onto the bed, pulling Kiddo’s damp hair. She moaned and brought his mouth to her breast.