The Pick-upMature


I take Reilly’s eyes.

I do not like what I see.

The stinking cesspool of the lower city: trash, mountains of trash piled between the crumbling brick hotels and cracked stucco store fronts. Moldering rubbish, pulsating with microscopic life– larger life too; insects, vermin, subhuman filth

This is why I don’t go outside.

His words come over the neurocomm, echoing a little too loudly, letting me know he's still actually talking. I roll my eyes.  “Want my sense of smell, too?”

The thought alone makes me gag. “No. Get out of that garbage.”

Riding in his head, Reilly’s lurching is giving me motion sickness. I turn him down, tune him out, slide back to the Sanctum. Every surface glistens in the sterile light. Nothing is out of place. Everything is–

“Hey, Bright– something is up with my leg. I don’t think my wounds are closing right.”

Reilly. I’m staring into the bloody hole in his thigh, his pants ripped open around it. Fresh, pure, clean, hairless new flesh forming around the wound. The ‘machines are doing their job. That’s their beauty; they have a function to execute, and they do it. Tiny, tireless automatons working together to fix what humans have broken.

“Stop freaking out. You always freak out.”

“I’m serious Bright– something isn’t– it’s starting to hurt.”

“That’s because your tolerance for painkillers is astronomically high. I’ll take a look, if it’ll shut you up. Get me closer.” The augments in my visual cortex allow me to perceive microscopic detail, and I’m always thankful for a chance to watch the ‘machines in motion.

He leans forward, bringing his face closer to the wound, unintentionally transmitting a grunt of pain. I zoom in, and my entire vision fills with gore. My mind recoils, but I force myself to look deeper. There they are, like diamonds in the rough, the nanomachines. They’ve found the bullet. They’re working to expel it from his body. It’s nothing more than an over-grown splinter to them.

A shock. Reilly is right. Something isn’t normal. The machines lack their usual precision and grace– they move sluggishly, drunkenly. Their work is sloppy. What I would expect from their human host, but–

“What the
hell is in your system? Your machines are all screwy.” I doubt the malfunction is mechanical; it’s got be be something wrong with him. Knowing the crap Reilly willingly puts into his body, it makes perfect sense.

“You’ve got my vitals, why don’t you check?” he snaps. A quick look in his brain corroborates the pain in his voice. I scan his system.

Tox shows a grab-bag of psychotropics. “You’re…clean, except the usual suspects.” I shift my attention back to the ‘machines. Some of them aren’t even moving now. I hit them with a diagnostic, but it comes up with nothing...nothing. “Wait– there’s something.” I catch the tail end of an aberrant line of code as the results stream past. “I don’t recognize it, but whatever it is, it’s going system wide. I’m going to lose your link. You need to get back here, now–”

“Bright, I’m–” his words are choked off by an anguished moan, and the link goes down.

I react, physically, slamming my hands against the surface of the console in front of me. “Shit. Shit!” His visual feed is still there, the last seconds flickering like an after image in front of my eyes. I move it to the back of my thoughts, just barely there, so I won’t miss it if he comes back up.

He’s dead if he doesn’t get back here. That much I’m sure of. I’m struggling to process why it matters. One dead Reilly in an alley in the lower city. So what. I have other eyes and ears, other hands and feet.

I transmit to Tosh.

“I need a favor. I’ll owe you big.”


Things are good. Things are so good. Money in my pocket and dinner waiting home. I spin the wheel and the levtruck glides onto New Cienega. It’s hot in the ‘truck, but it's the end of the day. The heat doesn't matter. My bandanna is soaked with sweat, my t-shirt and utility vest stuck to my back. I lean forward as I roll down the window, and I can hear the fabric peeling away from the cheap vinyl of the driver’s seat. The air outside is no cooler, but at least it’s moving. I stick my head out the window like a dog, letting the wind blow my dreads back.

Things are good.

The blip in my brain tells me I’ve got a message coming in. Probably Polly, letting me know my food is getting cold. It’s okay, I’m twenty minutes away. I’ll take cold home cooking over a hot meal at the Transient Center any day.

It’s Bright.

Annoyance, more than the effort of concentration, takes my mind off the road as I think to her. “What kind of favor, Brightside?” I make up nicknames for her on the spot because she hates it. Anything to ruffle those chrome and ivory feathers.

“Need you to do a pick up for me and bring it back here. Pronto.”

“How long is this going to take? I got chow waitin’.”

“Pick up is in the lower city. Shouldn’t take you more that half an hour. I’m sending coordinates.”

I sigh and check the location, momentarily linking in to the ‘truck’s GPS. Looks okay– until I notice it’s a moving target. Moving slowly, but still moving.

“What’s the pick up?”

She doesn’t respond.

“I need to know what the pick-up is, Brightengale.”

“Human. One.”

I groan and let it transmit so she can hear my frustration. That’s fine, she should know better–

“All right. But like you said, you owe me. Big time.”

The End

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