The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.
Leon ended the call. Somewhere deep in Omnet’s systems a hidden program birthed another that edited the record of the call, then ate it, then ate itself. He never used the same number twice and he never went through Omnet’s official channels. He never paid for his calls either, but that was just a fringe benefit.
Dorothy wasn’t thinking straight, delirious; although apparently as capable as ever – she had taken his men down with some speed. So he had set Scarecrow on the job, he just hoped she would still recognise her partner. They were a natural match; it was why he had put them together in the first place.
Years ago, Leon’s career as a field agent reached its natural end and he moved into operational control. He put together a solid core team: his old partner, the Tin Man, brilliant, calculating, tactical, and sometimes difficult to work with for those very reasons. Dorothy, rising star, great mind, great instincts, if impetuous. And Scarecrow, one of the only people to ever beat Dorothy in a straight up fight, reliable and skilled; he had brains, he just didn’t use them a whole lot.
They had been one of the best teams in the business, but the Tin Man had moved up, just as Leon had, and they’d never found a replacement. Leon’s own son, Simon, the Tiger, had seemed a good fit for a while, but Simon had ended up just another casualty in the long war with the General.
A war that should have been over, but seemed to have a few death spasms left yet.
Leon frowned, the older he got the more the past distracted him. So the General’s memory implant was missing. Leon scratched at his scalp. No, he realised, it wasn’t. He cursed.
“The thing about scummy places,” Munchkin said. “Is that they’re full of scum.”
“Our kind of people,” Fingers agreed.
To the west of the City’s redeveloped centre was an area known locally as The Blinds. It came up on planning committee agendas, but was never discussed; surveying inspectors who went there didn’t come back. The police made a very obvious job of going in, not stopping, and leaving as quickly as possible; the unwritten truce: we pretend we’re doing our jobs, you pretend everything is ok. Nothing to see here.
The tower blocks were old, first generation. There weren’t many other places in the City that weren’t built over the memories of that older city, or the villages and towns that had been its suburbs. It was altogether greyer than modern sensibilities allowed for. The original architects’ idea of green space had been a slabbed courtyard with corner bushes. The meagre greenery was all dead now and the slabs were uneven and rattled.
Fingers looked about, smiling nostalgically. He looked as if he was returning to an idyllic childhood home. In some ways, he was.
“Great place to hide, The Blinds.”
The five men looked around, they knew they were being watched, that was the way of this place, it watched you, it watched itself. And you watched it, as soon as you stopped trying to guess where the knife might come from, you were already dead. The neo-gangsters’ faces and dangerous eyes belonged here, their well-fitted suits did not.
“Whadda you see, Eyeballs?”
“Scum. Looking. At us. Violence. Decay. Don’t think she’s in these blocks.”
“Deeper we go, then.” Munchkin waved them on.
“Deeper. Dirtier. Darker. Doomed.”
Munchkin looked sideways at Eyeballs. He had lost his original eyes in a knife fight and the replacements were shiny black orbs with a broader range of function than biological eyes. They made more aesthetically pleasing prosthetics, of course, ones you could barely tell from the real thing, but Eyeballs had come out of the experience changed. He liked them like this; it unsettled people, put them on an even mental footing with him.
Fingers turned to their other two companions and raised an eyebrow.
“Doomed, eh? Us or them, you think?”
The other two – identical twins, down to the scars – looked at each other. Their mother had named them Smith and Jones and it was unclear if they themselves knew who was which.
They replied in unison. “Us and them, we think.”