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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