|Ray Gun PI
Author: Michael Panush PM
Gabriel Starr is a hardboiled cyborg turned detective. Along with his secretary, Betty, he runs a detective agency in Tomorrow City, a retro-futuristic world of alien gangsters, beautiful dames, and blazing ray guns in a mix of sci-fi and crime noir.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Crime/Sci-Fi - Chapters: 2 - Words: 20,762 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 11-20-11 - Published: 11-12-11 - Status: Complete - id: 2969821
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Dame with the Iron Heart
I looked down from the driver's seat of my sleek hovercar, at the spires and towers of Tomorrow City. The city was like a sea of gleaming towers and neon signs, stretching out for miles and wrapped in a dark crystal fishbowl of super-strength and floating in even orbit around planet earth. Tomorrow City was a border town between the entire universe and the Terran states, kept just independent enough to qualify as a tax shelter and hideout for wanted criminals.
Tomorrow City was home to alien refugees, the galaxy's gangsters, smugglers, and those wealthy enough to want privacy and powerful enough to get it. The rich rule and the poor scheme. The cops could be bought for pocket change. Sin grows like fungus in a Venusian jungle. For a private detective, it's paradise.
My name is Gabriel Starr and I'm a private detective. I was born in a scummy Foundry City on earth, the kind of place where seeing the sky through the factory smoke is cause for celebration. I grew up rough, got in trouble with the cops, and when the Alphan Invaders poured in to conquer everything, I signed up for the Planetary Marines. Now the war is over and I'm a new man – in every sense of the word.
The girl in my passenger seat, legs folded and sporting a pair of square sunglasses for the artificial day cycle's gleam was my secretary, Betty Bright. She was the one who had arranged the job that I was now flying towards.
"There we are, boss," Betty said, lowering her shades. "The floating mansion of Arthur Caspek – dead ahead." Betty was a good girl from a good earthside family who decided to out to Tomorrow City and see the universe. Working for me, she got to see more than she bargained for. "Looks like he makes his home in the clouds." Betty was had darkly copper hair, cut boyishly short, and bright eyes behind her shades. She wore a jacket of dark tweed, over a thin gray sweater and matching slacks, a purse under harm.
"All the better to rule the gutters." I eyeballed Caspek's residence. It was a floating hunk of stone and steel, painted dark gold and hovering just above the crisscrossing streams of hovercar traffic. The upper half had been done up like a Roman villa, with high pillars surrounding a marble veranda and aqua blue swimming pool. Armored hovercars, looking like big metal bumblebees with attached turrets, slowly orbited the mansion. This was where Caspek called home. I certainly wouldn't look like I belonged. Then again, I didn't look like I belonged anywhere – especially not as part of the human race.
I'm a big guy, with broad shoulders and thick limbs. I wear a dark silver trench coat over a gray suit and vest, twin shoulder-holsters bearing ray guns tucked inside and a striped tie poorly knotted around my throat. My brown hair is cut brutally short. But it's my right eye – shaded by a fedora – that gets all the attention. My eye's made of metal, steell-rimmed and with a glowing red light blazing inside instead of a pupil.
And that ain't the half of it. In the war, I got torn to pieces in an enemy ambush somewhere on Venus. A bunch of eggheads from the Terran High Command got a hold of me and figured that what earth needed to beat the Alphans was an honest-to-god super soldier. They mixed man and machine and made me – a cyborg, built only to fight and to kill. I've got steel lining my bones and metal instead of muscle. My heart's a plutonium-powered nuclear reactor and my brain's mixed with a computer.
The problem was, I was finished just before the war end. After toppling the Alphans, High Command decided I wasn't worth the trouble to keep me around. It figured – government types are always heels. They cut me loose and with nothing else to put bread on my table, I decided to try my hand at private investigation. Being a shamus ain't easy. Being a cyborg's even worse. When you've got as much metal as flesh under your skin, you take what jobs you can. And when you get a case from a Tomorrow City crime lord like Arthur Caspek, you come running.
I spun the wheel of my hovercar, a sleek turquoise vehicle with swept-back tail fins and a rounded front. I angled the auto towards the front entrance of Caspek's mansion and pulled up alongside a long loading dock. Guards in shimmering golden tuxedoes were waiting for me, as magnetized clamps settled on the hovercar and held it in place. I slammed open the door and stepped out, my trench coat rustling in the aerial wind.
Betty hopped out next to me. She exchanged her sunglasses for a pair of round spectacles. We followed the guards in their sleek tuxes down the loading dock, through a high marble arch and into the courtyard. Betty glanced down at a mosaic made with glittering Jovian jewels, which shone as we stepped on it. "Nice place, huh, boss?" she asked.
"Sure," I replied dryly. "Let's move here."
"You don't like heights?" Betty wondered, as we stepped to the courtyard and stood around the pool. More guards lurked near the columns, all wearing golden tuxedoes. I noted the bulges under their coats. Caspek wasn't taking any chances.
I looked out at the floating manor. "Nothing wrong with living at a great height," I said. "Except there's always a bigger chance for a fall." My eyes – electronic and fleshy – moved to the end of the swimming pool. It was a wide expanse of deep blue water, dotted with fountains made to look like mythological creatures. Arthur Caspek was splashing around at the far end, like a bathing water buffalo.
Caspek's fat sat easily on him, like an overcoat against the cold. He paddled over to the edge of the pool. "Mr. Starr!" Caspek called, his voice a grumbling drone. "Good to see you! I'd ask you if you wanted to take a dip, but I was afraid you might short-circuit!" He had a few wisps of white hair topping his round dome of a head, and a confident smile above his double-chin. Caspek had a right to be happy. He ran a smuggling network that stretched from here to Pluto and was one of the most powerful men in Tomorrow City. He stood up, water dripping down his body.
A robot approached him and wrapped a silken Chinese robe around his shoulders. "You know Jimmy Irons, I bet," Caspek explained, slipping into the robe tightening its belt. He jabbed a thumb at the robot. "My associate and employee." I looked up at Jimmy Irons. The robot was a metal man with a face like a chrome jukebox and a pair of growing green eyes under a Panama hat. He wore a white suit and vest, folded neatly over his metal frame.
"I've heard of him," I replied. Jimmy Irons was Caspek's chief enforcer. Word on the street was that when Caspek wanted him to, the robot could come down like an asteroid. "I didn't think he was this shiny."
Irons cocked his metal head. His glowing eyes blinked. "Yeah, I got a nice sheen. See, I don't hide my metal parts under a costume of flesh." He took a step towards me, raising his steel fingers. He linked them together and cracked his knuckles with a sound like pistons running. "Unlike some cyborgs I could mention."
"Can you fellows give the cybrog cracks a rest for a minute?" Betty asked. She reached into her coat and withdrew a black datapad, about the size of a deck of cards. It blinked to life as her fingers danced on the surface. "Now, Mr. Caspek, you hired us because some object of great important was stolen for you, yes? And you want it back?"
"Damn right I want it back." Caspek settled into one of the deck chairs. A tuxedo-clad bodyguard brought him a neon blue drink, smoldering in a crystal martini glass. "And I picked you, Mr. Starr, instead of any other two-bit shamus, because of exactly what was stolen."
"And that is?"
"A cybernetic organ – the Iron Heart." He jabbed a fat figure at my chest, like he wanted to stab me with his fingernail. "Just like the ticker you got in your own chest, Starr. It's a prototype, a rare sort of dingus that's worth a lot of dough because it's so rare. I was gonna sell it to the Martians."
I tried not to show my surprise. "You work with the greenskins?" I wondered. I'd seen service on Mars during the war. It was a Terran colony but, when the Alphans invaded, most of the Martian clans rebelled. Now the Martian Crime Clans had carved out a piece of Tomorrow City's underworld – and they seemed like they wanted it to grow.
"What can I say?" Caspek shrugged. "Clan Father Sturu Nine-Claws makes a good deal – even if he's got hot blood under that green skin. But here's where I got the problem: right before I was gonna make the trade, my goddamn girlfriend swipes the heart and goes on the run." He shook his head as he sipped from the martini. "Twists – a guy can't trust them. They get what they want and they leave."
Betty looked up from her datapad. "You've got a name for this twist? A picture?"
"Both." Caspek nodded to Jimmy Irons. He slid a photograph from his coat and handed it to me. "Her name's Donna Day. I don't know much about her. She came from the moon, used to run with the gamblers there before she gravitated to me. But she's dangerous, Mr. Starr, like a blade out of its sheath. And she's smart." He finished his drink and stretched, making the fat on his arms wobble. Caspek's friendliness seemed to vanish like he had pulled off a mask. "Don't make my mistake, Mr. Starr. Get the Iron Heart back. I don't care what happens to Donna."
I scanned the picture of Donna. She was wearing a cream-colored shirt and tight duck white pants, her long dark hair flowing freely behind her head. Her neck seemed long and slim, like it belonged on a swan. Her face was smiling – but her pale blue eyes weren't. There was something familiar about those eyes. I had seen them before, though I couldn't place it. Getting mechanized had worked havoc with my memory – but those eyes weren't something you could ever forget.
I looked back up at Caspek. "How much?" I asked. "For the Iron Heart?"
Caspek grinned and named a sum that could have bought me a new suit, a new hovercar, and a new office – and still have enough for change. "And I already deposited an advance in your account," he explained. He tossed away his robe and started strutting back to the pool. Caspek turned to look back at me and Betty, almost as an afterthought. "So you'll take the case?"
"I'll find Donna Day," I agreed. "And the Iron Heart."
"Grand. I'll be in touch. Call me on the com system if you need anything." Caspek slipped back into the water. "And don't be upset I don't show you out."
With Donna Day's picture still in my hand, Betty and I left the veranda and walked back out to the pier. I pocketed the picture and wrapped my trench coat around me. High altitude winds whistled over my skin, making me shiver despite myself. I looked back at Betty. She also seemed cold and eager to leave. "What'd you make of Caspek, kid?" I asked, as we clambered into the hovercar.
"He's a pig," Betty replied.
"Yeah, but his money spends." I started the engine and the magnetic couplings released, dropping the hovercar into the sky. The engine kicked in and we soared away from the floating manor, arcing down to the skyscrapers below.
Betty stared at me. "And you think that's all there is to life, boss?" she asked.
The question made me pause. "No, but when you're part machine, it might as well be." I angled the hovercar around and started speeding back to my office.
I hung my hat in a rundown little office in a neighborhood sinking from rich to poor. My office was right below my apartment, all in the same slate gray building that squatted on Quartz Street like a bulbous tomb stone. After parking my hovercar in the garage on the roof, Betty and I headed inside. I pulled open the door, walked through the cramped waiting room and entered my office. I sat down at the desk while Betty turned on the large computer viewing screen that took up the better part of the back wall, right next to the window overlooking the street.
While Betty had the computer scan the picture of Donna Day, I set down my fedora and pulled open the bottom drawer of my desk and pulled out a tin case of what passed for my breakfast. The worst part of being a cyborg? Booze was off limits. The circuitry could only stand a little of the stuff. Prospects for food weren't much better. I opened the case and revealed little spheres of nutritional vitamin paste. I laced them with pepper and honey for flavor, but it didn't much help. I popped a pair of the little orbs into my mouth and chewed with metal teeth.
"So what's the plan, boss?" Betty asked. Her datapad was hooked up to the computer and she already had it in hand. "You think Donna Day's skipped Tomorrow City already? Or do we still got a chance of getting a line on her?"
"Sure," I replied. "Anything's possible." I sat down in my chair and swung both boots onto my desk. "Go on and pay the bribe to dispatch at the Tomorrow City Police Department. Get the footage from the cameras in their hovercars, and then do a quick cross-reference with the photo and see if anything turns up. Those cameras are always running, so maybe their scan of the streets picked her up." I grabbed another of the little vitamin balls. It felt like wax between my fingers. It tasted about the same. "Would that be tough to program?"
"A little." Betty grinned to herself as he fingers flew across the keys of the datapad. "But I can handle it."
The next couple seconds passed in silence as Betty did her research. I was never much good with computers, which may seem surprising given that I'm nearly a machine myself. So in our detective agency, I leave the technical details to Betty, while I focus on everything else. I watched her chatting with the police dispatch, talking only through anonymous text. She sent the bribe and he sent the footage. The computer did the rest.
I was surprised how little time it took. "Bingo, boss!" Betty smiled as she turned to face me. "Donna Day's still in town – and I've got her exact location." She tapped her datapad once.
A grainy picture of a sidewalk in front of a downtown dive bar flashed onto the screen. Betty zoomed in, showing the doorway. I recognized the bar, a Russian joint called the Vodka Palace. It was just down on Pyrite Street, topped with candy colored spires and decorated with icicles. It was practically next door to Greentown, the Martian neighborhood. And there was Donna, stepping inside. She was wearing a dark trench coat over her white skirt, a cigarette in a long, thin black holder smoldering in the corner of her mouth. Her pale blue eyes were flecked with fear. I stared at the picture for a while and said nothing.
"Boss?" Betty asked. "You want the address?"
"I know the location." I stood up and reached for my hat. "I'll take the car and go see her. You did a good job, kid. Stay here and I'll ring you if I need any help." I walked over to the door, stilling chewing some of those damned vitamin balls.
"Gabe." Betty's voice made me stop. I turned around slow. "What you said earlier, about how you don't care about much but making a living, that ain't true, is it?" Her voice was soft, with an almost girlish tinge to it. "I mean, you care about other things, right?"
I gave her my best grin. "Sure, kid," I said and walked out the door.
A couple minutes later I was in my hovercar, speeding down Pyrite Street, in the direction of Greentown. I stayed low, hugging the streets of Tomorrow City. This was where the poor of the city clung to life, far away from the glitzy casinos and swanky uptown nightclubs. I shot past rows of crowded tenements that looked like they'd topple over like a set of dominos in a strong wind, bars with busted neon signs that only projected half of their letters, and gambling halls and gin joints that sucked up their customers' money like mosquitoes suck blood. The streets were crowded with alien immigrants from a dozen different plants, bulky inexpensive robots on their daily errands, and the human poor. I fought for space in the road with other hovercars, and finally came to the Vodka Palace.
I parked my hovercar outside and stepped onto the sidewalk. I looked at the entrance, listening to the blaring jazz music that wafted out and hit the street like a bad smell. I set a cigarette into my mouth as I walked inside. It wasn't hard to remember what Donna Day looked like. Ever since Caspek showed me her picture, I hadn't been able to forget her.
The Vodka Palace was bathed with blue light. A band of Plutonians, hulking, fuzzy, pink and wearing matching blue tuxedoes, were strumming guitars and tooting on saxophones, at the stage in the far end of the bar. A red and black checkerboard design covered the walls and floor, mixed with more artificial icicles. I looked over the saloon and then I saw her – Donna Day was sitting at the far end of the bar, a tall glass of something green and bubbly untouched near her hand. I took a step towards her through the crowded, smoky bar. She didn't notice me. I couldn't take my eyes off her.
The picture didn't do her justice. It showed what she looked like, but not how she was. But that wasn't the picture's fault. Nothing could capture the curves of her body, the way her foot idly tapped in time to the jazz band, or the longing, far-off look in her pale blue eyes. A cigarette holder smoldered away in one of her hands, the smoke reaching up like a long white serpent. She seemed more familiar than ever, like an old friend with a name you can't recall no matter how hard you try. I walked towards her slowly, just as a blue-skinned Venusian in a cheap checkered suit and porkpie hat settled in the seat next to her, stinking of too much alcohol.
"Hello there, miss…" he slurred. He had the same hairless blue skin as any Venusian, though his cheeks were cherry red. He slumped down next to her. "You want some company?" He had a chirping, grating squeak of a voice like a songbird would make if it was set on fire. His brilliant compound eyes settled on Donna as he leaned closer. "I'll keep you company, miss…don't mind me."
"Buzz off," she said, without looking in his direction. Her voice was low, with a husky edge.
The Venusian boozehound didn't take the insult lightly. "Don't you tell me what to do," he muttered. He came to his feet. I saw his hand going into his coat. I started across the bar, gaining speed when I saw the black handle of a switchlaser poking out. The Venusian snapped it open, a glowing red blade of pure energy as long as my middle finger rushing to life. He kept it low, the point of the blade facing the floor. "Nobody gonna tell me what to do."
I caught up with him. "I think the lady wants to drink alone, pal," I said. "You've had a few too many. How about you beat it, before you do something you'll regret?"
"And what would that be?" He looked up and saw my metal eye. He grinned to himself. Even alien drunks could look down on a cyborg. "Or maybe you know regret, metal man – judging by the way you tossed away your eye." He raised his switchlaser. The crowd of the bar shuddered and stepped back. Donna was watching everything with wide, nervous eyes. "You got one ugly blinker, mister. Want me to take it out?"
He swung for me, the switchlaser slashing through the air in front of my face. I could feel the heat, like I was leaning in close to a roaring fire. I stepped back, letting the laser swing by my face. I waited for the blow to pass and then I slammed a fist right into his gut. My metal knuckles did their damage well. I could feel his bones and muscle contract. He made a noise like he'd swallowed a brick. The switchlaser came up again, so I grabbed his wrist and slammed it on the edge of the bar. He dropped the laser.
Still coughing, the Venusian sunk down to his knees. I cracked a right hook against his chin, sending teeth spinning into the corner of the bar. Then I grabbed his shoulder and hauled him to his feet. I let him look right into my glowing eye. "An ugly blinker?" I asked. "Still want to take it out?" He just gurgled in response, so I spun him around and pushed him in the direction of the door. He limped the rest of the way.
The whole fight had ended in a matter of seconds. The band hadn't even stopped playing. I sat down next to Donna, feeling my temper subside. My cheeks still burned with the Venusian's insult. When a bigwig like Caspek made his cracks, I couldn't do much about it – except save up the anger for some other dumb sap who thought he was clever, which was what had happened. But I knew picking a fight was still stupid - It was the action of a killing machine, not a man.
I didn't even notice when Donna leaned closer to me. "Well, I think I ought to thank you. You got a name, pal, so I can do it properly? And are you usually such a gentleman?" she asked. "Or do you only save damsels in distress in your free time?"
I returned her smile. "I'm a detective, sister. I don't save people – I spy on them. And the name's Gabriel Starr." I don't know why I told her the truth. Maybe it was because she was treating me like a human being – even if I wasn't. Maybe it was because I've always been a sucker for a pair of blue eyes with the right kind of sparkle. Maybe it was because I figured I had her and she couldn't slip away. One thing was certain – whatever the reason, I was underestimating her.
"Donna Day." She said her name slowly, like she wanted me to memorize each syllable of each word. "Gabriel Starr?" She looked at me, as if for the first time and then her eyes widened. "Gabe. My God, it's been so long." Donna smiled slowly. "You remember me, I'm sure – back in the Foundry, they called me Molly."
And then I did remember. It had been drifting back to me when I first saw her, but now the memories all appeared. I grew up in an orphanage and she lived across the street. Since we were both knee high, the two of us had run together, along with a few other kids from the neighborhood. We picked pockets and dodged cops and as we grew up, I began to see her as more than a friend. But then she moved away and I got pinched and had to choose between serving in prison or in the Planetary Marines, just before the Alphans turned our home into a warzone.
I leaned back. "Your hair was shorter then," I finally said.
"And I wasn't as pretty?"
"That's not true." I gave her my best smell. "You were always beautiful."
"So were you spying on me, Gabe" she asked, taking a long sip on the drink. "Before you beat down that drunk?"
"Donna, I'd spy on you in my free time." I motioned for the bartender to pour me one as well. "You're easy on the eyes." I tapped the metal side of my face. "Or eye, in my case. It's the war that's responsible for this, by the way. Life hasn't exactly treated me kindly. But how's it been treating you? Do you usually hang around in dive bars, bumping gums with alien drunks?"
"Sometimes I meet a nice guy." She set down her empty glass. "Or an old cyborg friend." Her hand inched out across the bar. It settled on mine. Her grip was light, but there was a steely firmness in her fingers, like she could hold me down if she wanted to. She swiveled her stool around to face me. "Something tells me this isn't a coincidence, Gabe."
"I'm here for the Iron Heart," I replied. "You got it?"
"So Caspek sent you, then?" She didn't move her hand. I could feel the heat from it.
I nodded. "He wants that Iron Heart back. He's planning to sell it to the Martians and he's—"
"He's an idiot, Gabe – as well as being a jerk. The same kind who used to run gangs of pick-pocketing kids, back in the Foundry. But I can tell that you're not like him." Her hand was going up my arm. The fingers were light, and I could barely feel them through my suit and trench coat sleeves. I didn't know where that hand was going. I couldn't wait to find out. "He hates me. We both know it. That's why as soon as the Iron Heart went missing, he blamed me. I had to leave, or Arthur would kill me – without even looking at the real culprit."
"Who is?" I didn't know if she was telling the truth. I didn't particularly care. All I did was look into those eyes and hope that she was right. Donna stared right back at me. I watched the way light played on her hair, how her eyes seemed half-closed, like she was tired of holding them open. Her hand reached my shoulder.
She pulled me close. "Jimmy Irons," she said. "Arthur's own robot bodyguard."
"That can't be true. He's a robot. They obey orders."
"Not Irons. He's got an independent streak. I know all about it." Donna pulled her head back and looked at me. "Irons swiped the Iron Heart, so he can sell it to the Martians himself and make a bundle. Then he's gonna leave Caspek behind and go somewhere else in the galaxy. I know all about it and now Caspek and Jimmy Irons both want me dead." She wrapped her other arm around my neck. "What do you want, Gabe?"
I kissed her. She pulled her body close to me and our lips met. She felt warm and living under my cold limbs. I felt her slim shoulders and wrapped another arm around her waist. Donna Day let me hold her. All those memories came racing back and I was a kid again, living for the moment and glad to be in the company of someone I loved. She gave me that taste of paradise and then she finally pulled away. Her high-heeled shoes clicked down on the floor. She turned up the collar of her coat.
"I gotta go," she said. "I'm staying at the flophouse, at the far end of Pyrite Street, right before Greentown."
"Should I visit?"
"Go ahead," she replied, already heading for the door. "I trusted you back then. I'll trust you now."
I watched her leave. Donna slipped through the doors like smoke escaping the tip of a cigarette. She was gone onto the street, leaving me sitting at the bar and wondering if I hadn't imagined the whole crazy thing. The bartender dropped a shot glass on the counter near my elbow and filled it. I picked it up and downed it, then tossed down a few bucks on the counter and walked to the door. I reached the sidewalk, but Donna was already gone.
Not sure where I was going, I started down the sidewalk. I told myself to think straight, even if my brain was dancing around like a guy stepping on the burning surface of the sun. Donna told me that she hadn't stolen the Iron Heart, but was framed by Jimmy Irons. Caspek wouldn't like that. Men in his position get there by filling their ranks with underlings they can trust and nothing's more trustworthy than a machine. But what if that wasn't true? After all, I didn't even know if I could trust myself.
I decided to dial up Betty. One good thing about being a cyborg is that you've got a whole communication right there in your head. I stepped into an alley and leaned against a brick wall, watching the passing people on the street. I thought about it and the computer in my brain did the rest. It dialed up the office. After listening to the com system ring for a little, I heard Betty's voice in my ear. "Hey there, boss," Betty said, sounding happy to hear from me. "What's up? Did you find Donna?"
"Like a moth finds a flame. Listen, kid, I don't think she's the one who five-fingered the cybernetic organ. I know her, from way back. And I think I can trust her. Donna Day's dangerous, all right, and smart, but she had an alibi and the name of who's really to blame."
"You sure she's not playing you?" Betty asked.
"I can't be sure of anything, but her story did make some sense." I looked out the street and then my eyes drifted to a patch of white. "And now it's making a lot more." It was Jimmy Irons himself. The robot was strolling down the sidewalk, a camel hair coat over his white suit. "Hold on, kid. Jimmy Irons is here – and I think he's here for Donna. I'm gonna go take care of him."
"Boss, I gotta tell you, that might be the case." Betty was talking fast. "You might like Donna and I'm sure she seemed swell, but I've been doing some research on her in a bunch of police files and surveillance records and—"
"No time to chat, kid." I walked out of the alley, heading straight for Irons. I switched off the com link. Betty's voice vanished.
Jimmy Irons was walking past a butcher's shop. Letters in Martian, Venusian and English on the glass window advertised a dozen different types of meat. Pig carcasses, spiky Venusian wolf spiders on long skewers, and scaled hunks of Martian firevores were on display. Irons stopped to look at me. His electric eyes glowed cool green. "Gabriel Starr," he said. "In the flesh." His electronic voice didn't change at all, but I could still hear the hate.
I stopped right in front of him. "At least I got flesh, instead of a sharp suit and a lot of scrap metal." I glanced down at his polished white shoes and then up at his thin metal fingers. They curled together to form a steel fist. "What are you doing in this part of town, Irons? Getting a tune-up?"
"Boss's business," he replied.
"Is that so? Sure it ain't business you're stealing from your boss, and now trying to sell to the Martians yourself?" I jabbed a finger at his chest. I felt the steel under his clothes. "And you can deny it if you want – but I know when machines lie."
"What the Hell is that supposed to mean?" Jimmy Irons cocked his head to the side. Then his eyes lit up, blazing yellow. "Oh. I know what happened. You've gone loopy for Miss Day! The boss should have known that would happen. The boss should have known that he can't trust organics who want to play at being robots."
My temper rose. I could feel it blazing through my veins and circuitry, like sparks leading for a forest fire. "You make one more cyborg crack and I'll—"
"You'll what, Starr?" Irons demanded. "You're made of flesh. I'm made of metal. You can't hurt me. You couldn't even try."
I grabbed his waist and lifted him into the air. He was surprisingly light. They must have used aluminum when they built him. In the space of a second I hoisted him up and hurled him through the glass window of the butcher's shop.
Glass shattered. He rolled over the counter and fell onto the linoleum floor. People inside and on the street screamed. I ignored them. I stepped over the counter and hopped inside. I looked down at Irons. He had overturned a big pot of dark, glistening sauce, which had spilled over his suit. He looked over me and his eyes glowed red.
"You ruined my suit!" he roared, his voice tripling in volume.
"I'll do more than that," I replied, and I reached into my coat for a ray gun.
But Irons wasn't having it. He sprang up and leapt at me, metal fists already hurtling through the air. My fingers were just touching the handle when he struck, delivering a quick sucker punch to my gut and a frenzied uppercut to my chin. I stumbled back, the world spinning around me. Red and white seemed to spill out of the walls. The pain echoed through my body. I struggled to keep standing and fight back. I could taste blood on my tongue, with far too much iron.
I looked back at Irons and lashed out, planting my boot into his knee. Robots can't feel pain, so I was gonna have to work extra hard. Taking out one of his joints would help. My leg crashed down and his broke, bending inwards and sending him reeling. I followed up with a rabbit punch to his chest. He fell back and hit the counter, sending stacks of plates to the ground. The butcher, some poor, purple-skinned sap from Jupiter, was wailing in his own language, but both of us ignored him. We just stared at each other, waiting for the next move.
"Rotten organic." Irons reached into his stained coat. I saw a flash of steel from a high-powered automatic. I threw myself to the floor, landing amidst the shattered plates at Irons opened fire. His first shot cracked at the linoleum near my nose. His seconds blasted past my shoulder. I heard the bullet's whine.
Then I drew out my own ray gun. I hit him square in the stomach, the blazing white bolt burning a gash right through his metal guts. I came to my feet, feeling the heat from the molten metal in Irons' chest. I ran towards him and crossed the space of the bar, then grabbed his wrist before he could fire again. My fingers may have been flesh, but there was metal inside – strong enough to break his grip. His automatic hit the ground. I kicked it away.
I looked around the counter and then I saw them – a trio of superheated steak knives, resting in a chrome case. I grabbed one, the light from the orange blade giving everything a soft glow. I jammed it into Irons' shoulder, pinning him to the bar.
"You're gonna regret this, Starr!" Irons' voice maintained its loud volume. "You're gonna regret siding with that loopy dame instead of Caspek, you stupid godamn cyborg!" I had already drawn out the second knife. This one I stabbed through his right leg. The final one went into his arm. I stepped back and examined my handiwork. I'd crucified the cast-iron gunsel.
I smiled. "This cyborg's only on his own side," I replied. "I'll phone up your boss and tell him where to find you." I walked out of the butcher's shop and stepped back onto the street. There were a few people, aliens and robots watching me, but I ignored them. I noticed a ringing in my ears. I thought it was still from the fight, but it persisted once the last punch had been thrown. Then I realized what it was – Betty was calling me back.
I let her speak. "Sorry for the delay, kid," I said. "I just had a little business to take care of."
"I hope it's not gonna be anything you regret." Betty sounded worried. "Listen, I just did some research on Donna Day. I ran her picture through a dozen intergalactic law enforcement agents. At least half of them gave me something back. It's not good, Gabe."
Her words struck like orbital bombardment. I started down the street, hurrying through the crowd. Sirens wailed behind me. That Jovian butcher had finally called the cops. They'd free Irons and then he'd be coming after me. "What did you find?" I asked, hurrying across the street. My hovercar was waiting for me. I decided it would be best to get some distance.
"She's a grifter, boss – a con artist." Betty spoke slowly. "She's wanted on a dozen planets and has pulled countless cons. And her MO is just like what happened with Caspek – she worms her way in, gets close to a guy and then rips him off and blows. And I'm wondering if that's what she did to you."
"You don't know that," I pointed out. "You didn't talk with her." I stopped by my hovercar and rested my hand on the door, unsure of what to do. A hundred thoughts clicked through my mind, a sped-up slideshow flashing back to what I had done. I'd listened to Donna and beaten up Jimmy Irons. I'd aligned myself against Arthur Caspek – and why? For a few kind words.
"I didn't," Betty agreed. "But I'm getting a good idea of how she operates. And it sounds like she operated on you." She paused. "You do anything stupid, boss?"
"Every day." I pulled open my hovercar door and sat down. I started the engine and prepared to lift off, when I noticed someone was in the passenger seat. Then he leaned over and placed a curved Martian warblade to my throat. "Betty, I'll have to call you back." I hung up before she could protest and then I looked at my new passenger.
He was a Martian, with muscled, mottled green skin, large ears, a flared nose and sharp teeth. His bug-eyed glare was getting hostile, as he slowly pulled back the warblade. He looked like a Rottweiler aching to bet let off the leash. "You're Gabriel Starr," he said, his Martian accent dragging out the words. "The private detective?" He wore a short leather jacket over an undershirt, a flat cap pressed low on his sloping forehead. "My name is Tak. I work for the Clan Father Sturu Nine-Claws. He wants to chat with you."
"Then who am I to deny him?" I started the engine and headed down the street, my eyes still flashing to that warblade. "How'd you greenskins find me?"
"This is our neighborhood, cyborg," Tak answered. "Start a fight and we will know about it."
I soared down the street. I kept my temper down. My emotions had only brought me trouble. Falling for Donna like I was some bashful kid, picking a fight over some dumb insults – it was lousy play after lousy play. And Donna was behind it all. I knew why, as I sped into Greentown. For just a few minutes, Donna had made me feel human – like I did before the war. I liked that feeling, but I knew that if I wanted to get out of this alive, I'd have to forget it for good and try my best to be a machine.
Tak had me park the hovercar outside of a Martian Clan House, deep in Greentown. It was a strange neighborhood, mixing modern tenements with adobe Martian houses painted red to give a feeling of home. Silver banners bearing Martians letters stretched across the street, flapping slightly in the wind. Tak hauled me out of the auto without a word, his warblade still at my back. He walked up the slope to the large double doors of the Clan House and pushed me inside.
The place was a temple, meeting hall and museum all at once – as well as a setting for the Crime Clans to operate. Various large, spiky and bladed weapons were mounted on the wall like animal heads and golf trophies in a suburban den. A smoldering fire crackled in away in a stone fire pit in the center. Standing before the fire, his back to me and Tak, was Clan Father Sturu Nine-Claws.
"You brought the cyborg?" he asked. "Leave him. We will talk." His voice sounded like boots trampling on gravel. He wore a dark Martian robe and a scarlet sash around his waist. He turned around slowly. My eyes darted to his hands and saw that one of them only had nine fingers. The rest of him wasn't in much better shape. His face was covered with scars, looking pink against the green. One of his ears was missing. He turned back to the fire, ignoring me.
I took a step towards him. The fire crackled away. There was no other sound inside, but the clatter of hovercars and wagon traffic in the Greentown street outside. "All right," I said, keeping my voice calm. "What do you want?"
"What do I want?" Nine-Claws turned slowly to stare at me. "A great many things, Mr. Starr. But right now, I want that artificial heart. It was promised to me by that pompous ape Caspek and I will not lose it." I saw his eyes dart to the metal part of my face. "The deal was done. The heart was as good as mine. But now the deal is slipping away from me, like it is a fistful of sand that runs through my fingers. I cannot have this. Do you know why?"
"Why?" I wondered.
"It is not the money. Well, there is a great amount of money to be had, of course, but the real reason is something more." Nine-Claws rested one of his green hands on his chest. "It is not easy to be a Martian. I suppose it is not easy to be a cyborg either, so you know of what I speak. The people of Tomorrow City doubt you – and then you begin to doubt yourself. So, when I demand the heart, I must have it - or those doubts remain. I cannot allow that. Do you understand?"
"I think so."
Nine-Claws' hand suddenly reached out and slammed onto my shoulder, knocking me down. I saw Tak walking back to me, his warblade at his side. I could have run or fought back, but I had the feeling Tak wouldn't let me. "Then understand this: when this day ends, I will have the Iron Heart. If I have to kill you, then you will die. If I have to kill Donna Day, or Arthur Caspek or your young secretary, then they will die. But I will see those doubts of my strength destroyed no matter the cost!"
He removed his claw and held it up. Tak froze in his feet, the warblade raised and ready to hack me apart. "Go now," Nine-Claws ordered. "We'll stay in touch." I listened to him, standing up and hurrying out of that hall. I ran down the stairs, listening to my heart pound. This case was dragging me down, pulling me in with a grip like a black hole and sucking me away into nothingness.
Now the Martians were involved. I should've known. I got into my hovercar and started up the engine. I hugged the streets and sped away, thinking back to Clan Father Sturu Nine-Claws' threat. One thing was certain - I didn't doubt his words. He'd kill me and Betty both to see the Iron Heart in his hands. Saving our lives meant getting him the heart – which meant turning against Donna. I spun the hovercar back towards Pyrite Street.
I could remember where she said her flophouse was. I'd visit here there and I'd leave with the heart. It didn't matter that she made me feel like a human being. I wanted to live – and more than that, I didn't want Betty to be hurt, not after she'd shown me nothing but loyalty and friendship. Because of that, I'd put aside my emotions. I'd be a machine – and get that heart back.
I sped back to Pyrite Street and found the joint where Betty was staying. It was a rundown tenement, the kind of place that asked no questions from its clients beyond getting their payment up front. It was a slate gray rectangle, looming above the street and right under a stream of hovercar traffic. I parked my hovercar outside and hopped out.
The bored Mercurial lizard at the desk gave me her room number in exchange for a handful of bucks. Donna was staying in what passed for the penthouse. I headed up the stairs, drawing my ray gun out of my coat and holding it tightly in one hand. The familiar weight of the weapon was comforting. I reached her door, kept the heater at my side, and knocked.
It pulled open. Light slipped out from behind the door and shone on my face. The door was open just wide enough for me to go inside, so I did. I slipped past the door and stepped into the room. It was a one-room apartment, with a bed in the corner and a stovetop and set of shelves that served as a poor imitation of a kitchen. Donna Day was already walking towards the cupboard in the back.
"Care for a drink, Gabe?" she asked. Donna had shed her short trench coat and now sported a long white dress, which reached down past her knees. A necklace with a shimmering jewel rested above her chest, gleaming like fallen dew. I knew exactly what she was but I still couldn't take my eyes off of her. I hated to admit it, but I was man as well as machine – and watching her let me know it.
I walked over to her and grabbed one of her arms. "I want some answers, sister," I said, spinning her around. She was close to me, and I glared down at her. "I know all about your history, Donna – after you stopped calling yourself Molly. You're a grifter. Normally, that wouldn't bother me, but you tried to pull your grift on me."
"Gabe…" she tried to pull away. I tightened my grip.
"Don't try to worm away. You ain't that slick – even if you think you are." I jabbed my finger at her. "You stole the Iron Heart from your husband and ran for it. You're staying in this dump because it's close to the Martians and you want to sell the Iron Heart to Sturu Nine-Claws. When I came around, you blamed Jimmy Irons. You saw me for a sucker and you played me off." I leaned close to her. Donna's eyes were wide and frightened. The skin of her wrist felt cool under my fingers. "Well, it didn't work. I just got away from the Martians and they want their heart. They even threatened my secretary. So I'm through with being played."
"Gabe, we can work something out," Donna explained. She pulled her hand away, sliding it from my grip. She stepped away from me. "You don't know what it's like, to be married to a man like Caspek – or to live the kind of life I had. I've got scars, Gabe, just as deep as yours. Things didn't get better for me after I left the neighborhood and when the Alphans arrived, a girl had to do whatever she could to survive. I'm not proud of it – but I won't apologize for it either." She looked over her shoulder at me. "That's why I kissed you in the bar. It's because under the surface of our skins, we're the same."
"Close your head," I replied. "I don't want to hear another word out of you except the location of the Iron Heart. You got it stashed around here, don't you? Tell me where it is, or I'll show you exactly how different we are."
Donna's eyes darted to the window. "Get down!" she cried, and threw herself to the floor.
A blast of machine gunfire tore through the window. I threw myself onto the stained floor, hearing the world rupture around me as streaks of lead and even a few plasma and laser shots burned through Donna's apartment. The bed burned. I smelled charcoal and gun smoke and coughed as I came to my feet. The ray gun was still in my hand. I pointed it out the window just as one of Arthur Caspek's golden tuxedo-clad goons vaulted in, a jetpack burning away on his shoulders.
There were two of Caspek's armored hovercars floating outside. They had descended from the stream of aerial traffic above us and landed right next to the window. A single question flashed through my mind – how had the bastards found us? It was replaced with another thought - -they'd think that I and Donna were working together, especially after I beat the nuts and bolts out of Jimmy Irons. They'd want Donna and me dead.
I looked back at Donna, the gunshots still echoing in my head. She was lying on the ground, coughing in the falling dust. She seemed like a bird with a broken wing, lying pathetically at the bottom of some tree, far from her nest. Caspek would kill her after he got the heart. He'd torture her first, probably more for kicks than anything else. I knew that I didn't want that to happen.
"He led us right to her!" The punk in the tux took a step towards me. I saw an atommy gun at his side. That submachine gun had a nuclear battery and fired uranium-tipped shells. It was heavy artillery and I wasn't surprised that he was packing it. Two of his buddies flew in through the smashed window, their boots crunching on broken glass and torn up carpet. "Just like Irons said." I could tell from his red, puffy face and blunted nose was a bruiser, the kind of ex-boxer who gets thrown out of the ring and goes into security because they can't do anything else.
"The robot?" I asked. "What he did do?"
"He put a tracking device on your coat, cyborg!" The mug with the atommy gun brought it to his shoulder. He let me look down the barrels. "Led us right to you – and your chippy. The boss should've known not to trust a cyborg. They can't even trust their own skin."
I grabbed the barrel of the atommy gun and pushed it up, so the muzzle faced the ceiling. Then I slammed the handle of my ray gun against his skull. He crumpled and I brought the ray gun and fired at one of his pals, blasting a burning bolt of energy through his shoulder and knocking him against the wall. The third punk raised a sawed-off plasma cannon and fired, the burning red bolts striking my side and knocking me down.
I hit the floor and tried to fire, but a heavy boot crashed into my chest and then another did the same to my face. I heard Donna scream.
"Take the woman and the cyborg freak alive!"someone roared. "The boss will kill us if we kill them!"
I lost my grip on the ray gun. I looked through the red haze of pain and saw more of Caspek's men, at least half a dozen of them, surrounding me. Their boots came down again. Even a cyborg can't take an infinite amount of damage. My consciousness clicked off like a light switch.
When I woke up, I felt cold night air on my bruised and battered face. Tomorrow City had gone into its artificial night cycle. I forced my eyes open and tried to move my arms. They were stuck to my side, lashed with a length of steel chain. I felt every wound and blow I'd taken during that miserable day flaring to life. The pain throbbed away. Even my metal parts hurt. I looked up.
"I'm sorry, Gabe." It was Donna. She was next to me, also tied to a wicker lawn chair. Both of us were on the veranda in Arthur Caspek's floating mansion. We were tied up, with a small army of hired guns in golden tuxedoes standing around and keeping watch. Jimmy Irons wasn't anywhere to be seen. Caspek wasn't there either. "I plotted this whole thing out. I think it'll work out okay, but you've got to trust me."
I rolled my head to the side and stared at Donna. She had a bad bruise on the right side of her face. "I'd never trust you," I replied.
If my comment stung, she didn't show it. I looked away from her, facing the doors as they automatically opened with a quiet rush of air. Arthur Caspek walked out, flanked by two bodyguards. He had a cigar smoldering in one hand and the lighter in the other. Caspek was fully dressed now, wearing a dark pinstriped suit and a tie covered with geometric designs. The designs were animated, shifting and moving as he walked. I watched them dance.
Caspek stood in front of us and shook his head. "Hello, Mr. Starr," he said. "I thought you cyborgs were supposed to be smart. You sure made the dumb play here." His fist lashed out, striking the side of my face. He hit hard and my vision spun. "Going dizzy for a dame, well, I can understand that. Beating up Jimmy Irons? Also understandable. That metal man's a real jerk sometimes. But betraying your employer? Turning away from me?" He knelt down in front of me. "How about you explain to me what your thinking was on that?"
"I wish I could…" I muttered.
"Don't worry." Caspek patted my cheek. "We'll be here all night."
Donna twisted her head to stare at us. "Don't hurt him! It's not his fault! Don't you hurt him, Arthur!" There was real emotion in her voice – or at least, I thought there was. "Sure, he beat up Irons, but only because I told him to. And you said yourself that Jimmy Irons is no good."
"You're right about that." Caspek walked over to Donna. "After he told me about the tracking chip he planted on Gabe's coat, the robot went and split. I still don't know where he is." He tapped Donna's forehead. "But let's not talk about me, doll. Let's talk about you – and where you hid the Iron Heart."
She stared up at him. Her eyes were cold. "I implanted it in myself," she said. "It's beating inside of my chest, right now. If you want, you'll have to cut it out of me." Her voice was defiant. "So go on, Arthur. Rip my heart out – you've done it before."
Caspek nodded to one of his bodyguards. "Go to the kitchen and get a steak knife," he ordered. The bodyguard left without a word. Caspek rested his hand on Donna's heart. "You say it's inside of you? I guess we'll find out."
"She's lying." I surprised myself when I spoke. I looked over at Donna. Her actions had gotten me beaten up, nearly killed and now strapped to a chair in a crime lord's floating mansion. But I still cared about her. It was the memory of our childhood and my impossible dreams for the future. "She's lying to save me. The Iron Heart's stored somewhere in her apartment. It's not inside of her. Cutting her open won't solve a damn thing!"
The guard came back, a long steak knife held in one hand. He handed it to Capsek, who held the triangular blade up to the light. "I don't know about that," Caspek said. "It might be cathartic. Even for you, Gabe." He wiped the flat of the blade against Donna's face. She shivered. Caspek laughed. "You should have known better. A beauty like this falling for a beast like you? What did you think would happen?"
I strained at my chains. My limbs ached with the effort, but I could feel them giving away. Another good part of being a cyborg? You've got a lot of strength. But I'd need time to break the bonds and that was what I didn't have. I saw Caspek grab Donna's shoulder and pulled back his knife. He was going to plunge it right into her chest and gut her before he ripped out her heart.
"You're a monster, Arthur," Donna announced.
"Stop playing the saint, honey. You're flesh and blood, just like the rest of us. And I'm gonna prove it." He pressed the tip of the blade against her dress. I heard her whimper and saw blood trickling down onto her white dress.
"You don't understand." Donna looked up, her eyes blazing. "My heart's not yours. There's a lot of other people that want it."
That's when a bullet cracked through the air, blasting into Caspek's upper chest. He stumbled back, the steak knife dropping to the cement floor. He looked up and so did I and everyone else.
A dark red hovercar was floating above his mansion, Tak the Martian was in the passenger seat and armed with a high-powered sniper rifle. He fired again, blasting open the skull of one of Caspek's bodyguards. More hovercars joined him, and they swooped down like birds of prey, firing a storm of lead down at Caspek's manor.
I didn't know what the Martian mobsters were doing there or who had invited them – but then I looked at Donna and saw her smile and I knew. She had called up Boss Sturu Nine-Claws and made her own deal with him. She'd hand over the Iron Heart if he killed her husband. But I got the feeling she wasn't about to keep her end of that deal either.
Right then, it didn't matter. I strained my arms and the chains finally bent, going slack so I could come to my feet. I got a grip on the chains and ripped. They tore open and I was free. I stared around the swimming pool at the chaos of the gunfight. Martians were leaping down, swinging their warblades and hacking down Caspek's guards. The human gangsters fired back, blasting the Martians and spilling their blood across the marble floor. Bodies tumbled into the swimming pool, turning the turquoise waters red. Expensive fountains and sculptures shattered in the roaring streams of lead and lasers, scattering fragments of stone and porcelain everywhere. It was pure chaos – and for me and Donna, it was just what we needed.
I started towards here, when one of Caspek's men moved to stop me. He was a broad-shouldered bum, with a thick moustache and slicked back hair that made his head look like a bullet. I grabbed the chair that I had been chained to and swung it up, slamming it into his chest. The wicker broke. The goon lost his balance and splashed into the swimming pool.
Then I reached Donna. I grabbed the ropes binding her and tore them apart. "Get to the loading dock!" she cried. "We've got to get out here!"
"And I'll call in some help." I opened a com channel to my office with a mental command. This time, the phone picked up on the first ring. "Betty," I said, helping Donna out of her chair. "Get in our extra hovercar and swing over by Arthur Caspek's manor. We're gonna need a ride."
"Boss, are you okay?" Her voice was panicked. "You haven't checked in and…is that gunfire?"
A Martian came towards me and Donna as I helped her up. He swung his warblade down, the curved steel slashing past my head. I broke his charge with a fist to the face, then grabbed his wrist and squeezed until he dropped his blade. I twisted his arm and broke it. He howled and I pushed the Greenskin away. "Now where would you get that idea?" I asked. "Just get over here, kid. As fast as you can."
"You got it," Betty agreed and hung up.
Donna and I ran past the pool, hurrying away from the veranda. I scooped a ray gun off the ground and cleared a path for us, hurling bolts of energy at the gangsters and Martians trying to stop us. I emptied the ray gun's power battery and hurled the gun away, and then I saw the end of the veranda and the loading dock ahead. Donna and I broke into a run – and then someone grabbed the hem of her dress and yanked. She tumbled down and I saw that it was Caspek.
Blood was pouring down from a hole in his shoulder. He held a long barreled revolver in one hand, and he had grabbed the steak knife. "Don't go, doll," Caspek snarled, drawing closer to Donna. "Don't take that heart of yours away from me."
There was no time to think. I slammed my boot into Caspek's chest, knocking him back. His steak knife slashed out and sunk into my leg. I gasped as the sudden, biting pain shot up my leg and burned its way into my brain. Caspek raised the revolver, but I didn't give him the chance to fire. I slammed down with my fist, driving a hard right into his jaw.
I looked past him. I saw Clan Father Sturu Nine-Claws, striding across the battlefield. An oversized warblade gleamed in its hand, bloody to the hilt. I raised my voice. "Hey, Sturu!" I shouted, grabbed Caspek's arm. "You want a reputation in Tomorrow City? Here's your chance to earn it!" Then I pulled up Caspek and kicked him in the direction of the Martian crime boss.
Sturu Nine-Claws played his part. He kicked Caspek down and raised his blade. There were a lot of ways to make a name for yourself in the Tomorrow City underworld. Slicing off your opponent's head has to be one of them. As Caspek's body and severed head hit the ground, Donna and I left the veranda and ran outside, hurrying to the loading dock.
When we ran out of floor, we stopped running. We stood together, Tomorrow City sprawling below us, the skyline a sea of neon against the darkness of night. We looked out at the skyscrapers and towers, all glowing in their own sets of color. Then I saw something speeding towards us, and cursed myself for not grabbing another gun. But Donna squeezed my hand.
"It's okay," she said. "I was counting on this." She waved to the hovercar as it drew nearer. I saw Jimmy Irons behind the wheel. He waved back. "I called him up before you arrived. We made a deal. Jimmy Irons is a machine who likes dough, if only to buy himself more threads. And he can get a lot of dough selling the Iron Heart on earth." Donna turned to face me. "Then, before you showed, I called up Nine-Claws and told him that Caspek was keeping the heart away from him and laughing about how he took his money. The Clan Father did the rest."
"So you had it all figured out," I muttered. "All the angles. Including me."
"Not quite." Donna reached out and took my hand. "You're a good man, Gabe. You stick by those you love and your friends, like your secretary. For that reason, I can't stay by your side." She pressed my hand to her chest, right where the heart was. "What do you feel?"
"It's hard as iron, baby," I said. "It's cold as ice."
Irons' hovercar pulled alongside the loading dock. Donna hefted herself over the door and landed next to Irons. She waved to me. Irons turned his head to face me. "Come see me again, Gabe!" He called to me. "If you want a rematch."
"Goodbye, Gabe." Donna was already turning away. "It was nice to know you."
"Sure, sister," I replied. "And maybe it was nice to pretend to know you too."
The hovercar roared past the loading dock. My trench coat flapped it the wind as it sped away. Behind their hovercar, I could see another vehicle approaching. This one was a neat silver number, with colored tailfins that could belong on a tropical fish. Betty was behind the wheel. She pulled over to the loading docks and opened the door, her eyes full of concern.
"Christ, Gabe!" she cried, as I slipped in. "What's happening back there?"
"The case being closed." I sat down and leaned back. "I don't think we'll get anything more out of Arthur Caspek but the advance he already sent over. You better get out of here, Betty, before the cops finally show up."
Betty hit the engine and we shot down, rocketing through the dark sky. Betty's eyes darted over my wounds. "You're hurt pretty bad, boss. Are you sure you're okay?" She was upset and she had a right to be. I'd tell her the whole story so at least she knew where I got the wound.
"I'll live. Best part of being a cyborg – you're easy to repair." I looked back at the manor. Flashes of gunfire and bursts of lasers occasionally popped out, like lighting against a dark background. "As for what happened, that's a little harder to explain. But let me just start by saying that a dame's behind it – and I should have known better. I should have known that you can't trust anyone, whether they're flesh or metal."
"Except me, boss?" Betty wondered.
I grinned. "Except you, kid." I let my eyes finally close and felt the wind on my face as we shot down into Tomorrow City. It's a heartless place. It's far from paradise. But for me, Tomorrow City is home. We roared down through the sky, back to my office, while the Dame with the Iron Heart made her escape.