Welcome to the Neighborhood (A Chuck Wendig Challenge)

Posted: March 29, 2017 in chuck wendig challenge, cyberpunk, Fiction, Science Fiction
Tags: , , ,

This week’s challenge: going against authority. Man this story could be another two thousand words longer, couldn’t it? Anyway, highly appropriate that Tom gets to come out and play on this one. and yeah, Sunny’s there, in the background, even if she doesn’t get screen time. Alas.

As always, comments are appreciated.

Tom stood at his window, frowning down at the neon streaked asphalt below. A cop wagon sat parked across the street, its squat armored form a rare and unwelcome sight in the neighborhood. The driver stood leaning against the open door, a wisp of cigarette smoke drifting into the sky. His three partners, clad head to toe in reactive armor, opaque faceplates, and assault rifles held in rest position were having a spirited discussion with a thin woman. Tom scratched the back of his head with his flesh and blood arm. The woman wore a stained apron, and a pair of goggles rested on her head. Some more words were exchanged, then the woman handed something over to one of the cops. They piled back into their wagon and tore off into the night, not wanting to stick around any longer than necessary.

“Something wrong?” Shari asked from the bed. She stretched her arms out from underneath the thin sheet, reminding Tom of what exactly she wasn’t wearing.

“You know about a woman recently moved into the neighborhood?” Tom asked. “Metro Police don’t usually come into this part of City for anything short of a riot.”

“You’re telling me I’m here, naked, and you’re looking at other women?”

Tom sighed. “It’s not like that, Shari. Seriously, though, nothing?” He turned to watch her shimmy out of the bed and slide on her leopard print thong.

“Yeah, I heard something the other dancers were talking about. Some new clinic that just opened up. Nothing strictly legal, mind you. But what is around here?” She finished dressing as Tom watched.

“Maybe I should go talk to her.”

Shari sighed and shook her head. “I’d tell you not to do something stupid, but we both know how that’ll play out, won’t we?” She picked up Tom’s jeans from the floor next to the bed and rummaged in them before producing a pack of cigarettes. She slid one out and placed it between her lips before tossing him the rest of the pack. “Give a girl a light?” she asked, a wicked grin twisting up the corners of her mouth.

“Are you working tonight?”

The grin vanished. “Mama’s got bills to pay, Tom, and well, you’re not making it as a dishwasher are you?”

Tom shrugged. “I could find other work…”

Shari chuckled, rested her hand light on his bare, scarred chest. “I think I prefer you without bullets in you.” She pulled the cigarette from her lips, pressed them against Tom’s. “Be safe, okay?”

Tom waited for Shari to slip the cigarette between her lips, lit it off the finger of his titanium and chrome arm. “Yeah.” He watched her leave, wondering if the extra sway in her hips was for him or part of Shari being Shari.

#

Tom knocked on the door, titanium rattling against steel. The camera above the door whirred as it focused on him. He tried smiling.

“We’re closed.”

Tom tilted his head. “Yeah?” He reached into his pocket, produced a flat credstick. “What if I can pay?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“What isn’t?”

Tom heard the sound of locks being disengaged and the door swung open with the hiss of pneumatics. Stepping inside, his eyes adjusted to the sudden bright lights of fluorescents and garish pop art covering the walls. The woman from the street stood in the middle of the room, still wearing her stained apron, her drawn face and the bags under her eyes telling the tale of the strain she was under. The gun she had pointed at Tom didn’t waver, though.

“I run a clinic not a mechanics’ shop.” Her eyes locked on Tom’s arm. “And I already paid protection to the local police, so you better not be looking to shake me down.”

Tom nodded, keeping his hands up and his hands open. “I’m not looking for trouble. Though I couldn’t help but notice it found you. Most of the time LEO stays the hell out of here unless they are coming in full force. And we don’t usually see combat medics around here.”

The doctor sighed and rubbed her eyes. “Former combat medic.” She lowered the pistol. “How’d you know?”

Tom tapped his arm. “That’s a Mark 10 pistol. Standard issue for military police and docs. You don’t look like an MP.”

“That doesn’t look like the kind of arm regular army would give you if you caught a bullet,” the woman said.

Tom nodded. “I worked for Defiant Strategies. Bodyguard and extraction work. Do you mind if I put my hands down?”

“Yeah, I guess you aren’t here to hurt me.”

“So what did they cops want?” Tom asked.

The doctor holstered the pistol and waved her arms around her. “What does anyone want? They wanted a cut. They got wind I was running a grey clinic here and wanted their slice. They called it a franchise fee.”

“Can’t you get work at a regular clinic?”

The doctor slumped into a chair. “I’m not licensed. Spent all that time patching up kids, but it doesn’t count for shit back in the world. Opened this place up, thought I might do a little good.”

Tom nodded. “Yeah, I get that. You’ve got a name?”

“Nadia Owens.”

“All right, Doctor Owens,” Tom said, making sure to emphasize the title. “You keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll have a chat with the police.”

Nadia looked at him and blinked. “You’re going to what? Wait, why? What do you want?”

Tom shrugged. “Consider it a welcome to the neighborhood gift. When are they coming back?”

“They said they’d be back in three days to collect.”

Tom smiled. “Plenty of time.”

#

Grayson peered through the windshield of the police wagon, navigating around the rusted frames of vehicles long abandoned and gaping pot holes that threatened to swallow the truck whole. Wheeling sat in the passenger sheet, eyes fixed on the screen in front of him, giving it a tap now and again.

“You think she’s going to pay?” Grayson asked.

Wheeling snorted. “Of course she’s going to pay. Did you see the look in her eyes last time we were here? Scared shitless.” He tapped the screen again. “Worthless piece of shit. We’re supposed to have camera access in this part of town, right?”

Grayson nodded. “Yeah, assuming the cameras aren’t broken. Why?”

“I’m getting fuck all. Worked fine last time we were out here.”

Carson, the sergeant, leaned over Wheeling’s shoulder. “Problem?”

Wheeling tapped the screen again. “Looks like we don’t have camera coverage.”

Carson sucked in his lower lip. “That’s a problem for the city techs. Looks like the clinic is right-”

Whatever he was going to say next was lost when a cinder block smashed down on the windshield. The reinforced glass spiderwebbed out from the impact, but didn’t shatter and Grayson spun the wheel and hit the gas hard. Carson slammed back into his seat, and Grayson heard Fergus curse.

“Get those guns hot, Wheeling,” Carson barked. “Grayson, get us out of here.”

Grayson aimed the big wagon down the street and Wheeling switched on the mini-turret on the wagon’s back. He sped down the street, peering around the cracks in the windshield.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck.” A barrier had been set up down the street, trash piled high and set on fire.

“Think you can drive through it?” Carson asked.

Grayson shook his head. “Doubt it. No idea what’s in all that smoke. Looks like they set tires on fire.”

“Think it’s meant for us?”

“I can’t-”

“Incoming!” Wheeling yelled. Something rocked the wagon, hard enough to spill Carson from his seat.

“What was that?” Carson shouted.

“Don’t know, but whatever it was it took the turret off-line,” Wheeling replied.

“Get us out of here, Grayson. Now!”

Grayson threw the wagon into reverse as something crashed onto the windscreen. Fire erupted from the canister, covering it in flames. Grayson kept backing up, eyes locked on the rear camera, then slammed on the brakes.

“What are you doing?” Carson yelled.

“We’re boxed in.” Grayson pointed at the screen. Behind them, a barricade had been pulled out of an alleyway, all twisted metal and hard rebar. From somewhere behind it, a hunk of concrete was lobbed, falling a few feet to the left of the wagon.

“Screw this,” Fergus said, slamming open his door and running toward an alley on the side. He managed four strides before a bullet took him in the side of the knee and he fell, screaming.

“Ram the barricade,” Carson said.

“But Fergus-” Grayson started to protest.

“That’s an order!”

Grayson hit the gas, trying to steer toward the side of the barricade where he hoped it would be weaker. He caught sight of a canister tumbling through the air toward them, braced as it exploded out, shattering the windshield completely. Blinded, he accelerated, then slammed forward against his restraints as the wagon came to a sudden stop, pieces of rebar sticking through the undercarriage. Grayson looked around, blood streaming from his face from numerous cuts. Wheeling looked out with unseeing eyes, throat cut open by a shard of glass. Looking out the front, Grayson saw Carson on the ground, trying to crawl forward. A figure came out of the smoke, bandanna pulled up to cover his face. It didn’t break stride as it put two bullets in Caron’s head.

“Y-you won’t get away with this,” Grayson said, every breath a struggle. It felt like a couple of ribs were broken at least. “They’ll send someone out here to look for us.”

Grayson heard the man laugh. “You’re not supposed to be here though, are you? Bet you never put it on the log where you were going. We’ve got the cameras spoofed,” he said. “And there are places in this city where four more bodies won’t go noticed.”

“We’re the police-”

The man shook his head. “You’re parasites. We get something nice and you want to trample it into the mud. Sorry, not this time. And police?” The man raised his gun, light glinting off his titanium arm. “We don’t need the police.”

He pulled the trigger.

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