A news-vid blared on the television. It was an old, tube type. Manta wasn’t even sure how it got signals in the digital age. She didn’t need to be. It was like her; it did its job, no questions asked, and that was that. It was currently saying something about Aries Security Corporation’s CEO being missing. Manta turned over on the tattered old couch, groaned with a hangover, and tried to sit up.
Beer and whiskey bottles cascaded off of her and clattered onto the floor. Manta’s head was saved from the brain-melting noise by a series of fast food wrappers dampening the ruckus. It wouldn’t have been a problem were it not for the damned, vat-grown liver she’d been given after an accident. She’d been on retainer then with a corp, off-the-books of course, and when she wound up in hospital, the corp footed the bill. Auto accidents were a rarity these days. Few cars filled the roads, even fewer manually piloted.
So she’d been drunk, big deal. Locust Group still had had no right to go rooting around in her organs. Though if they hadn’t, she’d be dead of cirrhosis, or something-else alcohol related. That would’ve been fine by her. Billions of dead creatures over the years and not a single one had ever complained. Meanwhile, ten dentists couldn’t agree on what kind of toothpaste to use– although you could be certain it would be made by the corp that owned them, and the most expensive of the choices at that.
She sat upright, then fell forward in a hunch. Her head rang. Goddamn vat-grown organs. They could be engineered and catalyzed to literally grow overnight. In the morning, they’d be more robust than any natural-one that’s ever existed. Still, she wouldn’t wish it on her worst enemies.
She couldn’t get drunk, or rather could, but only with great difficulty. She could still smoke cigarettes, grass, and take pills– as long as their ingredients weren’t metabolized in the liver– and she’d get high, no problem.
If she wanted to get drunk she had to spend damn near all her creds on beer and whiskey. Nightly. Forget trying to go out, that was a one-way ticket to the poor-house. The only thing that had somehow remained the same, or rather grew proportionally, was the morning-after hangover. It was like having an 18-wheeler roll half its wheels over your head, turn around, then do it again with the other half.
“Bastards,” she muttered habitually.
The corps had no right to go rooting around in her organs– or they shouldn’t have had one anyway. L-G, ASC, and the other head-honchos, managed to get all the rights of various state citizenships with none of the responsibilities. Manta had heard years ago of a “new world order;” this was it. Corps. Slang for corporations. In other words, big, hydra-like entities with more money and brown-nosing than a stripper’s asshole at a fetish-party.
Manta begrudgingly cursed life and her still-functioning organs, drug herself to her feet. Wading through the liquor bottles that covered the flat’s floor, she swayed, eyes half-closed, to the kitchenette. She went about the excruciatingly noisy process of making coffee– real coffee, one of the few luxuries of being used by one corp against another. It was always in her contract, at least since L-G’s “mandatory” organ replacement.
She leaned back against a counter, closed her eyes to open a comm-channel with her in-built augments. Another gift of the corps, this one a necessity even to her. Internal comms were encrypted to user specs, could be changed with one good session at a PC. Plus, when she wanted it, she got a HUD with everything imaginable. If something she could imagine wasn’t there, she’d just spend another session at a PC creating and uploading it.
A tone like a phone’s sounded. Then, a man’s voice, “Yeah?”
“Where d’you want the package?” Manta yawned.
“I’ll transfer a set of coordinates. Be there at Noon.”
The comm went dead and Manta knew he was gone. She flashed her HUD on to check the time. “10:28” was sequestered in a lower corner with a few, monitored vitals. It wouldn’t be long now. A small mail icon flashed in the HUD’s upper-left corner. She opened it mentally, linked its info to her GPS software. A mini-map appeared below the mail-icon. Waves of light rolled across it over a line that appeared, directing her through the city from her present location.
She sighed, downed a cup of coffee, then weaved through the bottle-filled floor for a door off the kitchen. She opened it to a small, cramped pantry. Instead of shelves of non-perishables and snack boxes, a man was curled up. He leaned to one side, hands bound, eyes covered by a swatch of cloth, and mouth duct-taped.
Manta nudged him with a foot, “Hey.” He jerked awake, yelling into the tape in a muffled attempt at intimidation. Manta shook her head, jabbed him with a booted toe, “Look, I don’t care what you’re saying. I’ve gotta’ job to do. You’re wanted across town, and I’m to deliver you there.”
The man cursed loud enough, that even muffled, Manta understood him. She jabbed him with a toe again, “Shut up and stand up. I’m too hung-over to pick you up.” The man slowly clawed his way up the wall. “Don’t worry, I can still kill you pretty easily. Benefits of augs and all that.”
He sneered a little beneath the duct-tape. She pulled him forward, got behind him to direct him. A few minutes later they were sitting side-by-side in a black, Hyper-Dyne sedan. The alley was empty, but its windows were tinted black to hide them from passersby anyhow. Manta keyed up her location, started the engine manually. They rolled out onto a main street. She wished for a working radio, but the corp-sedans never had them; it was extraneous, not cost-effective.
Instead she reached sideways, tore the duct-tape off the guy’s mouth. He instantly shouted, “You’ll never get away with this!”
She winced, blinked hard, head throbbing from the volume, “Christ man! I get it. You wanna’ be freed. I can’t do it. Sorry. We’ve gotta’ make our creds. All of us. Me included.”
“You’re going to kill me,” he growled angrily.
“No,” she countered reassuringly. “They might, but I won’t. Not part of the job description. There’s only one person I want dead most days– two when I’m really feeling my self-loathing.”
“You’re a nutjob.”
“And you’re an asshole, elitist, corp-CEO. D’you know what I could get for the bounty on you?” She asked pointedly. “I can guarantee you it’s a fuckuvalot more than what I’m getting for this job. But see, I’m not nuts, and wouldn’t do this without another corp covering me.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that?” He asked crassly, though Manta detected morbid curiosity.
“You know as well as I do what’d happen to someone that just flies off the handle and starts taking out high-ranking corp execs.”
“No. I don’t. Enlighten me,” he said with an acidic tone.
She rolled her eyes, “The same thing the corps do to any threat they can’t buy off. Even if I managed to duck on corp-sec, I might as well be dead. None of my contacts would ever wanna’ work with me again. They’d be too afraid to be put in coffins themselves.”
She paused as she made a wide turn into an empty parking lot. The car rolled to a stop.
“So like I said, I won’t kill you. It’s them you gotta’ worry about.”
There was a momentary silence as he contemplated her sincerity. He was suddenly curious, casual, “Who are they?”
She cracked her window, lit a cigarette, shoved one in his mouth and lit it too. She exhaled a large plume, “I don’t know. Might be L-G. Maybe Arc Systems or Guardian L-L-C. Hell, it might even be someone in Aries gunning for your spot. I don’t know. I don’t care. I just do the job, get paid, and drink. No questions asked.”
A black van appeared beside them. It rolled to a stop and its back doors opened. A few, large men appeared. One moved for Manta’s window.
She snuffed out his cigarette. “Ride’s here.” The door opened and he was pulled out. “G’luck.”
She rolled down her window enough to be receive a usb-stick. It would be filled with a bit currency routing number to receive payment from. She’d slot it once she got home, get the other-half of her paycheck. The van’s doors slammed shut and the man at the window disappeared. The van rolled away.
Manta stayed long enough to finish her cigarette. For a moment she wondered what would happen to the guy. It wasn’t long before she remembered it didn’t matter. She didn’t ask questions, ever. She just did the job, got paid, and got drunk. It was the same indifference the corps used, and she didn’t mind emulating it, especially against them. Seeing as the first two acts of her mantra were complete, it was time for the third.
She started the engine, headed for the liquor store.