The Hidden Cost of Business (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: June 29, 2016 in cyberpunk, Fiction, Science Fiction
Tags: , , , , , ,

This week’s challenge, pick one of five story seeds, or go with a random one. I had “an accident that might not be an accident.” the accident ended up being a lot more in the backstory than front and center, but I’m still pretty happy with how it came out, and I got to give Sunny her own story for a change.

As always, comments are welcomed and encouraged!

The waspish buzz of her phone going off next to her head woke Sunny up. She groped for it, her hand closing around it. She dragged it to her ear and muttered a hello.

“Sunny? I need your help.”

Sunny’s eyes shot open. “Fred?”

“Uh-huh. Look, I’m sorry, and I know I told you not to call me, but I really need your help.”

“Okay, okay, slow down, will you? What exactly is wrong?”

“Err, can I come to you? I really don’t want to talk about this over the phone.”

“Fine. Where are you?”

“…Across the street.”

Sunny ground her teeth in frustration as she pulled a t-shirt over her head and pulled on a pair of shorts. “You’re at Jerome’s, aren’t you?”

“Uh-huh. Look, can I come up?” Fred’s voice took on a distinct whine.

“No.” Sunny grabbed her go bag and slung it over her shoulder. She paused at her door, slipped her personal defense device into her pocket. “I’ll come to you. Ten minutes.”

“Sunny…”

“Ten minutes.” She thumbed off the phone, fitted the aural implant into her left ear and put on her goggles.

The elevator hadn’t worked for as long as Sunny could remember, so she skipped down the eight flights of stairs, past the unblinking eyes of the security cameras ostensibly there for her protection but really to keep out any squatters not paying the proper amount to the landlord.

She pushed open the security door, out into the humid air. She pulled her face mask up, designed to keep out the worst of the pollution. She’d splurged and bought the one that made everything smell like lilacs. She circled around the block, eyes open for anyone that didn’t quite fit. Homeless with shoes looking too new. Longtime residents suddenly making eye contact. People wearing anything more recent that the fashion two years ago. She didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but that didn’t stop the back of her neck itching. She placed a few objects around the areas, then walked through the doorway of Jerome’s. A few people lounged against the bar despite hour, no one that Sunny was familiar with though. She spied Fred closer to the back, looking nervous with his hands clutched around a glass he hadn’t touched otherwise.

“You’d look less obvious if you actually took a drink,” she said, sliding into the chair across from him.

“Oh, thank God you’re here. I didn’t know where else to go.”

Sunny raised an eyebrow at him. “What happened and what do you think I’m going to do about it?”

Fred stared down at his beer. “I… I think I killed someone Sunny.”

Sunny stared at Fred. Fred stared down at his beer.

“What?”

“It was an accident, I swear. My buddy Dingo came over to play some VR, and well, he decided to test a batch of synthetic I had in the hopper.”

Sunny squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to breathe calmly. “So your buddy… Dingo? Did I ever meet him?”

Fred shook his head.

“Okay, so Dingo OD’d. Probably didn’t have anything to do with anything you did or didn’t do.”

“Yeah, but now I’ve got a dead body in my apartment.”

Sunny blinked at Fred. “Call. The. Police.”

Fred stared hard at Sunny. “I’m running an illegal drug lab in my apartment. I cannot call the police.”

Sunny stared hard at Fred. “So what do you expect me to do?”

Fred opened his mouth.

“Do not even suggest calling my brother-” Sunny paused. She blinked, her eyes large through her goggles. “Oh you stupid little shit.”

“What?”

Sunny shook her head, getting up from the table. “Don’t ‘what?’ me, asshole. Who’d you sell me out to?” She pulled the personal protection device from her pocket and pointed it at Fred.

“They said they wanted to talk to you about a job,” Fred said, raising his hands, his voice quavering.

“Shit, shit, shit.”

She pressed the button on the device, launching two darts at Fred. They stuck in his cheek. He stood up, wavered, reached for the table and fell. She checked the feed from her goggles, the cameras she planted around the neighborhood giving her an idea of the opposition. At least an eight man team converging on the diner, cutting off her exits. Sunny sprinted toward the back, past a startled bartender. She hit the emergency exit with her hip, taking stairs two at a time.

“Call Tom,” she hissed into her collar, the mic embedded there picking up her vocal order. “Come on, come on, come on pick up.”

“Hey Sunny.” Tom’s voice sounded slow and groggy.

“Are you drunk?”

“No. Maybe. A little. What’s going on?”

“My idiot ex sold me out.” She tapped her goggles, bringing up a map of the building. She knew if she kept heading up stairs she’d be cornered on the roof with nowhere to go. Instead, four floors up she exited the stairwell and into a hallway. The paint peeling off in long strips, the flickering lightbulbs spoke of disrepair and dissolution. The ever present stink of urine didn’t help.

“Fred?”

“Yeah.”

“Where’d he find the balls to do that?”

“No idea. But… I think I’m in trouble here.”

“Yeah, okay. Shoot me the address. Can you find a place to hold up?”

“Working on it now.” Sunny paused in front of a door. She fished her jack box out of her backpack, fitted it against the electronic lock. After what seemed like too long, the lock clicked open. She pushed into the apartment, thankful that her data was current and it was unoccupied. She verbally sent the directions to Tom.

“Fuck.”

“What?”

“I’m hallway across town, Sunny. It’s gonna be a minute.”

Sunny sighed and nodded. “Okay.”

“Any idea whose after you?”

Sunny rewinded the security feed from her cameras. This time she zoomed in on the security gear they were wearing. “Janus Corp.”

“Not sure I know them.” She heard rustling in the background. Tom getting dressed and ready she guessed.

“Genetic engineering mostly. Engaged in some shifty experimentation practices on indigent populations.”

“English, Sunny.”

“Right. They were testing new products on poor people. Poor people who did not ask be tested on. I… may have hacked their systems and passed some information along.”

“Sunny…”

“And I might have signed off on the data steal with my sig.”

“So they put a bounty out on you.”

“Yeah. They were trying to make it out like it was an accident that there material got out into the world. So I found and pushed out their internal memos from the vice president of R&D how they needed a real world test. I couldn’t let them do that, Tom. They were killing kids with this shit.”

“Yeah, all right, all right, I get it. Can you hold tight for half-an-hour?”

“I’m going to have to, aren’t I?”

“Yeah. Just, be smart, all right?”

“All right.”

Sunny signed off from the call, looked around the apartment for anything that could help her. Nada. Even the windows had bars over them. She stepped back from the door. The downside of using the jack box was that it shorted the lock out, so it wouldn’t reengage. Still. The building was big enough, she figured she’d have a while before they found her.

While she waited, she reloaded her tranquilizer gun with two needles, checked the feed from her cameras, and wondered when Tom would arrive. She tried to access the cameras in the building, but there was no access point to get into them, and the building manager had decided to keep the antiquated hard wires connecting the security to an offline mainframe, which meant no wireless to hack.

She heard footsteps in the hallway, hoped it was one of the other residents. The door to the apartment creaked open, and she shuffled back into the darkness, tranq pistol at the ready. A figure stepped into the room, and she pulled the trigger. The darts hit skin and she smiled, until a second figure stepped over the body.

The man grinned at her, light gleaming off his chromed teeth. “Nice little single shot you got there.” His own pistol was leveled at her, and she had no place to go. “I’d say next time maybe you don’t stick your nose in where it don’t belong, but I don’t think you’ve got a next time coming.”

She saw a figure behind him, saw the gleam of a metal arm. “Any last words?” she asked.

“Huh? Isn’t that what-”

He never finished the sentence as a titanium hand grabbed his skull and slammed him into the doorframe. The gun went off, breaking a window behind Sunny, but then he was on the ground, a big man over him, the man’s boot breaking ribs, arms, and nose with wet cracks.

“Tom, he’s down,” Sunny said, placing her hand on his shoulder.

Tom grunted. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Wouldn’t have minded you getting here a bit quicker though. Anyone else out there?”

Tom shook his head. “No. That makes eight, not counting your ex downstairs. You need to get stuff at your apartment?”

“Huh?”

“You need to leave, Sunny. These kind of people, they don’t  go after you only once. Come on, I’ll help you pack. You can crash with me for a bit until your back on your feet.”

“At you place?” Sunny had nightmares of Tom’s vermin infested abode.

“Just for the short term.”

“Yeah, the very short term.” Sunny sighed. “All right, let’s go.”

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Comments
  1. quintessentialeditor says:

    Awesome sauce! I love Chuck Wendig and I really enjoyed your writing. Good stuff, keep it up.

  2. Really like this one! Although you started with the ringing of a telephone… the tension’s great. And I love the detail about the lilac scent from the pollution mask. Something about it just solidifies the scene.

  3. moteridgerider says:

    Fast paced with snappy dialogue. Really in the scene as the drama unfolds. I like the way you used Sunny’s dialogue to drop in small snippets of back-story and tech details. This avoided overload expertly. Only thing I’d criticise is perhaps one too many references to the mc blinking in the first section. Otherwise, masterful job.

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