Friday 27 January 2012

The Dorothy Delusion - part 9

Previously on the Dorothy Delusion: .1. .2. .3. .4. .5. .6. .7. .8.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

In Leon’s experience, it came down to who you could trust. The City’s intelligence organisation, run by the Tin Man, had been compromised, to what level he couldn’t say.

His own organisation may have been compromised too. And it made him feel like the Tin Man to admit that, to make the decision to go alone. Teams were key, teams provided balance.

Scarecrow had located Dorothy, he had bugged the vehicles at the original location, but he hadn’t reported in since and there were dangerous men in the City. Playing pieces not usually on the board. Leon feared the worse.

Leon had followed one of Scarecrow’s trackers to this warehouse. He soothed the building’s security network, kept it calm, wrapped it around him like a warm blanket. It wouldn’t tell on him, he was its invisible friend, its secret.

He nearly tripped over the first body, concealed in the shadows behind a fuel reserve.

The corpse wasn’t local security caught in the wrong place at the wrong time; it was a mercenary, hired by the enemy, which meant there was someone else here. Leon asked gentle questions of the security, not wanting to push their friendship too far. But all he got back was a ghost, as if he had cast a shadow into his own future. A shadow with wetwork skills.

He found another two guards on the way up to the roof. Their uplinks were still feeding active data, a video loop of a patrol pattern, a heartbeat that no longer existed. It was high level stuff, but the internal security must be skeletal to miss this trick. Or distracted.

The next body was tucked in a corner on the rooftop. Not dead, but breathing raggedly, on the edge of consciousness, on the precipice of death. He recognised the face beneath the black streaks of masking make-up.


“Hey, Boss.”

Dorothy blinked. Everything was blurred, everything felt out of sync. She remembered shadows, dreams and ghosts. Bloodshed and bloodlust. A darkness nesting in her soul.

The bright lights shimmered above her, painful, piercing. Her head felt as if it had been cracked open and driven through with nails.

Her last clear thought was the General in front of her, on his knees. Then, nothing, a long night full of demons. Someone was looking down at her. She tried to move, she was lying flat, straps at her arms and legs, a firm cushion beneath her.

She blinked rapidly, trying to focus.

“She’s waking. Well done, Doctor, it seems you succeeded on both counts. You really are a wizard.”

Dorothy knew that voice, she had hunted that voice for years.

“General.” She managed to slur as her vision swam and cleared.

And there he was, looking down at her, head bandaged, but smiling horribly.

“Siberian, come and say hello.”

The Siberian. She had heard rumours of the General’s shadowy, left-hand man.

Another figure stepped into her vision. Dark eyes gazed coldly down at her from a face she recognised.

“No,” she choked.

He smiled, baring his teeth. It was not pleasant.

“Simon.” She had seen him die, had cried at his funeral. “Tiger.”

>goto 10

Friday 20 January 2012

The Dorothy Delusion - part 8

Previously on the Dorothy Delusion: .1. .2. .3. .4. .5. .6. .7.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

Scarecrow rolled beneath Munch’s oversized fist. He felt the air shifting past his face, as it might with a passing freight train.

These were not your average thugs. He remembered seeing a file on them many years ago, suppositions without evidence, unproved theories, trolls unseen beneath burning bridges. Up close they were every bit as dangerous as he had imagined. Big, fast and coordinated. He’d never come up against anything quite like it.

But they’d never come up against anything quite like him.

Combat was a dream to Scarecrow. His body did what needed to be done while his mind, separate, observed, calculated, advised. Time seemed to slow. The agency scientists had packed his head with all kinds of software and hardware, but if he was honest, fighting had always been like that.

The big one, Munchkin, was his primary target. And while the two of them were engaged the others stepped up only to knock him back and keep him close to those deadly slabs of fist. Munch’s team were too experienced to all step in at once and muddle themselves. They read the fight and kept it ringed, kept it dangerous.

Scarecrow’s flow faltered for a moment as he dodged a stamp from one scarred ugly, then vaulted over the leader’s kick and came face-to-face with the same scarred ugly, who couldn’t possibly have moved so fast.

A fist thundered into his back and ploughed him face first into Ugly’s chest. Twins. His mind caught up. He had to start taking these people down. As the man in front went to grab him into a crushing bear hug he scythed his hand upwards with fingers straight and braced, wrist twisting.

He tore the man’s throat out.

Twisting away from the spray of blood, he felt it wash down his back as he dived and curled. There was a roar from behind. Twins. Perfect. The second Ugly lumbered straight at him, blood-raged and clumsy, careening into Munchkin and throwing them both down.

Scrarecrow slipped under the kick of a man with disturbingly onyx eyes, prosthetics. But in a fight you needed narrow vision, seeing too much only confused matters. He jabbed at the back of the man’s knee, in just the right spot, crippling him for months, if not permanently. The same move brought him towards the fifth thug, his other hand knifing for the man’s crotch.

Number five caught his hand, had been watching his hands the whole time, Scarecrow realised too late. Before he could shake him free the man flexed his strong fingers just so, and Scarecrow felt two of his own fingers dislocate. With another twist, splintering bones burst through the skin of his little finger.

He grunted as he pulled free and danced back, free from the circle, but not from danger. Two down for the loss of one hand. It wasn’t good.

Twin number two – number one and only, now – was up again, and charging.

The Siberian held a memory implant, sealed in a sterile pouch, in front of Dorothy’s face.

“I was going to keep this as a trophy, but now I think I’ll put it back where it came from.”

He slapped her, but it did nothing to bring her back from her sweating, moaning state; her eyes rolled and her eyelids fluttered.

“Oh, I know, you’re not yourself. Well, not to worry. We’ll have the General out of your head soon enough. Then we’ll put you back together. And when I kill you, I’ll make sure you’re dead. Which was more than you ever did for me.”

Leon stood in the General’s cell. The General’s empty cell.

The Tin Man finished talking to one of his men and walked over.

“They had insider knowledge. Some of the information was outdated, but with a little inside help it was enough to get him out and vanished.”

“How many down?” Leon always thought of the losses.

“Four dead, two critical, two missing.”

“Assume the missing two are your traitors, there’s no reason for hostages.”

“My thoughts, too.”


“Disabled. Including the official backups, and my own backups.”

“Someone knows you, Tin Man.”

 “Someone does.”

Leon noted the suspicion in those grey eyes. So the Tin Man had involved him to keep an eye on him. Or to make Leon believe he suspected him, to draw suspicion away from himself.

They had trusted each other once. The game certainly had changed, it had changed both of them. Sometimes it didn’t matter how well you played; against an equal opponent, it all came down to the endgame.

>goto 9

Friday 13 January 2012

The Dorothy Delusion - part 7

Previously on the Dorothy Delusion: .1. .2. .3. .4. .5. .6.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

“Hello, Dorothy. So nice to see you again.” The Siberian’s smile was cold as the tundra.

Dorothy was strapped into a wheel chair but that didn’t stop her from twitching and bucking. The Siberian took hold of her chin and looked into her eyes. Something was happening in there, chaos, confusion and pain, a conflict the General himself would have been proud of. Would be proud of, when he was back.

“That was quite inconvenient of you to run away before you were delivered to your proper destination. But no matter, you’re here now.”

“Si-, Si-” Her voice was breathy, delirious.

“Siberian. Our money.”

He looked up at Munchkin and his neo-gangsters. They seemed very much at home in this shadowy, under-lit warehouse. The Siberian pulled one of his encrypted accounts into his vision, he made a few gestures and the balance blinked to nothing. With another gesture an automated program deleted the account.

“Thank you, Gentlemen, Munchkin. You have been exemplary, every bit the equal of your reputation.”

He waited patiently while the huge man gestured to himself, confirming the transfer.

As Munch was finishing, an urgent, red signal blinked across the Siberian’s display. He expanded it. He watched a tiny loop of video showing the back of a man in a black insertion suit vaulting a high fence. The intruder had almost avoided the camera, had definitely avoided several others and two alarm systems.

A pause and zoom showed tufts of blonde hair sprouting from the edge of the black headgear. Scarecrow.

“If you don’t mind, Gentlemen.”

They looked back at him.

“One last job, for a little spending money?”

The Tin Man’s office was on the thirty third floor of a non-descript tower block. The first ten floors were offices for hire; anyone could hire them, after a deep audit and assessment. Nothing above those floors was accessible from the lobby or stairwells of that building. To get any higher you had to enter through the considerably stronger security of the building across the street, use the heavily-guarded private subway and take the other lift.

His office could only be entered by way of a waiting room, replete with comfy wall seats, stylish tables, secretary and an exceptional, combat-experienced security team. There was a long corridor ending in a door with a keypad, full bio-scan and virtual handshake that would only admit the Tin Man. No one was ever allowed in the corridor with him. Guests had to be admitted by him, and only when he was already in the room.

The Tin Man entered. His suit was just the right shade of grey to compliment his silvering hair, it was subtly expensive: the material, the cut, the tailoring. He was, of course, perfectly turned out. He sat at his desk and, for the first time, he did not power up all the hardware; he did not call taskings and messages and operational summaries into his retinal displays.

Instead, he leant forward, his elbows on the desk, his chin resting on his interlaced fingers. The network of fine creases across his face deepened with intense thought. He did not shift for several minutes.

“You are getting rusty, Tin Man. Look at you, stuck there.”

The Tin Man did not startle easily. He barely moved. His thin lips stretched in a slow smile.

“And you have gotten bold, Lion.”

Leon stepped through the recessed doorway from the en suite bathroom. He walked slowly over to the chair on the other side of the desk and seated himself.

“You went to see the General.”

“Huh. I knew you would be thorough.” The Tin Man nodded, respectfully. “I had to see him for myself. I thought I might kill him.”

“I don’t know if I would have been so restrained. A man never forgives the murder of his son.”

“I know. But his chip is missing, it isn’t The General in that room.”

“That, I know.” Leon levelled his gaze at the Tin Man, “Dorothy has the chip.”

The Tin Man twitched, his eyes widened. “How...? And why go rogue? Why this game?”

“I believe someone has removed her chip. And replaced it with his.”

>goto 8

Friday 6 January 2012

The Dorothy Delusion - part 6

Previously on The Dorothy Delusion: .1. .2. .3. .4. .5.

The year is 2032. This is the City, centre of world politics.

Leon settled against the bow of an ancient oak tree. The breeze stirred a chill through his suit; a feeling he would have enjoyed when he was younger, but now it made him feel cold, and old. He rubbed his eyes, before implants that would have taken the world away, with an implant there were the datafeeds you saw without looking, ever-present.

The General’s video feed had been tampered with. Not the fake feed that would fool most prying eyes, but the genuine feed. A segment had been replaced with a loop, hard to spot in the General’s catatonic-like state, a very professional job. Even the backup archive had been fixed.

But there was a fourth redundancy, one the Tin Man had installed that no one else was supposed to know about. Now Leon had the missing minutes of video.

He opened the file.

The General stared blankly at his cell wall, smiling his infuriating, oblivious smile.

Leon rubbed his temples. Most people’s brains stored memories randomly between biological and hard memory space, between the brain and their implant. Once the implant was installed and connected the brain didn’t seem to differentiate between grey cells and the bio-silicate.

Early in The General’s life he had been caught in an explosion when his home town was shelled. His parents were killed and he suffered severe brain damage. Before implants he would have had no life at all, no memories, no thoughts. Medical technology had changed that and Leon wondered if this one saved mind hadn’t caused more misery and pain than all that was prevented elsewhere. Maybe the world had to be balanced... But if he believed that, he wouldn’t be trying to make the world a better place, every day.

Without that implant The General was nobody, a ship with no captain, a bomb with no boom. Not a bad thing, on the whole, Leon thought, except there was no justice in that. The General had to be brought to account for all he had inflicted. He didn’t deserve such sweet oblivion.

On the lost minutes of video feed the door to the General’s cell opened and, preceded by the flick of his cane, the Tin Man walked in.

She awoke from a vision of beating a man until he couldn’t tell her what he knew, even if he wanted to. As the images of his lumpy, broken face seeped from her mind she rolled over and vomited.

The geriatric building grumbled and wheezed around her. It had seen a few things, forgotten most of them. Her shaking, sweating body and shattered mind was nothing new. It huffed about the cracks in its walls and its broken windows. It groaned about its infirm foundations. It mumbled to itself about its lousy tenants as they moved and lived and shouted around inside it.

She listened as it talked to itself. It was a comfort. A doddering, old spirit holding her in its arms.

And so she heard its querulous muttering at the strangers in its belly. Newcomers, as she had been, but these weren’t trying to hide, these were making themselves known, they were intruding and enquiring.

And she knew what they were looking for.

The window wasn’t a viable option here. The outside of the building was as likely to drop her as save her. It was old, crotchety and crumbling. Once, she would have known exactly where she was going, would have had escape routes and exit strategies. Now she was running on instinct and fear, and confusion.

Down the corridor was an end window with a corroded fire escape, still clinging to the building by cracking, iron finger nails. As she ran to it something huge loomed across the open window. A large man in a dark suit climbed unsteadily in. The fire escape shook and let out a creak of relief as he stepped off and into the corridor.

He caught sight of her and grinned.

“Well. Look at this.”

She ran at him. The surprise on his face was gone in a second, and the grin was back, darker.

A part of her tried to fight with strength she didn’t have, had never had. Another part of her tried to fight with a speed and skill that was second nature to her, when her body wasn’t so run down and strung out.

The heavy was fast for his size, and brutal with his strength. He wasn’t relying on all his strikes connecting and she landed several of her own before she caught a hammer blow to the ribs that slammed her sideways into the wall with a rattle of plaster. He was on her instantly, the next punch rocketing at her head, but she twisted and his knuckles crunched into flaking paintwork.

She landed a few hard, targeted jabs while he was over her, pressure points and an eye. He howled and crumpled in on himself.

She twisted out from beneath him and registered heavy footsteps thundering towards them from the stairwell. Time to go. She dashed for the open window and the shaky, unsure deliverance of the fire escape.

Something heavy closed about her ankle.


A warm, meaty fist held her in place. There was a pained chuckle from the man on the floor and as she looked back another suited man, bigger even than the first, threw himself at her.

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