Thursday, Agua Venenosa, part five

Feb 15, 2013 by     Comments Off on Thursday, Agua Venenosa, part five    Posted under: Adam Drew This, Brian Wrote This, Fiction, Sketchbook
In which we reach the pulse-pounding conclusion of our futuristic adventure, flouting traffic laws and putting schoolchildren into harm’s way.  The creators would like to note:  No actual schoolchildren (or sexy robots) were harmed in the making of this story.
Relive the Art Preview, or start over with parts one, two, three or four.

Five: The Moral Desert

I grab the wheel as we gun through a red light, swinging us around a battered Ford pickup with a machine gun mounted in the flatbed, mercifully unmanned. The Lifeguard’s right leg is jammed down on the accelerator, in robotic rigor mortis, so I’ve got no brakes and a rapidly increasing rate of speed. Two blocks ahead, I see a handful of kids in Catholic-school drag crossing the intersection. Are Juarez kids still fast now that there’s no drug war in the streets, or are the children of narco-lords inherently complacent?

I steal a glance over my shoulder and see a white SUV coming up fast, the occupant(s) hidden by windshield tint. I wonder if, like most cars on the street, it’s computer-guided. Morii would know how to hack the speed limiters, as my unconscious Evangeline apparently did to our Rolls. I’ll take on any driver with a pulse—even with my current handicaps—but it’s tough to outdrive a good computer, and Memento Morii’s will be the best.

The schoolkids are about 30 yards ahead of me now, staring at my high-speed approach like dumb cattle. I jerk the wheel hard, back tires screeching as the car swings around and the corpselike former driver sprawls across my lap, her leg jerking off the pedal. The rotation ends when the passenger side slams into a parked Mercedes idling at the curb. I’m pinned, and the angry driver in his mirrored aviator shades is shouting profanity and spitting tiny fragments of powdered window glass. Over all the noise, it’s hard to tell, but I think he’s yelling in Russian as he brings up a snub-nosed Glock.

I’m facing the cocaine-white SUV now as it comes to a stop directly in front of me. Two mountains of human muscle spill out of the front seats, with one of the Jimmy D’s coming out a rear door, followed by a disheveled Morii, whose face is as red as during last night’s booze fest. All of Morii’s henchbots have guns except the Jimmy, who is carrying a crowbar and a little device like a retro TV remote.

The explosion of the Glock only four inches from my right ear is temporarily (I hope) deafening, and the entire door shakes against me as the thick window glass takes the shot. Surprisingly, it holds, and my peripheral vision catches the recoil as the angry Russian driver’s head is blown half off by the ricochet. The inside of his car is Pollacked with blood, and the approaching humans cringe in reflex. The Jimmy just keeps coming, pointing the remote control at the car and pressing a button.

Morii’s human henchmen don’t even try shooting the car. If they didn’t know it was bulletproof already, the late Boris at my right proved it pretty well for them.

“You have nowhere to run, my friend,” Morii calls, loud enough to be heard—by my one good ear—through the thick glass. He has some of his swagger back in his step, tails of his hypergreen Hawaiian shirt catching a hot breeze, but there’s no mistaking the fury in his eyes. His Jimmy is pointing the remote at me, click click clicking it. It does nothing, presumably victim to my Lifeguard’s hacks. The Jimmy drops it to the pavement and walks around to my door with the crowbar.

Morii is standing beside the driver’s door now, squatting down and looking in at me. “Your position is faintly ridiculous, no?”

I shrug and offer a wrinkled smile.

“Come out and face things like a man, yes?” He waits a moment, squinting at the tinted glass, and then looks over the roof and nods to the Jimmy, who starts to work on my door with the crowbar.

I am flat out of ideas when I remember that I’m supposed to make a phone call. I touch the face of my wristwatch and hear the faint pulse of the receiver embedded behind my ear. “Redial,” I bark. “Last call!”

I hear a ring tone as the Jimmy braces one foot against the side of the car and starts to pry the door open. Metal groans in protest, and I see inhuman muscles bulge convincingly under the Jimmy’s fitted Italian blazer.

There’s a click as the call picks up, and over the migraine ringing from the Glock blast, I barely hear the same burst of static that nearly crippled me in Morii’s compound.

“Jesus!” The Lifeguard spasms in my lap, sitting suddenly upright, her hands taking the wheel as her eyes glide over the ruined Mercedes, the thugs and thugmobile directly in front of us, and the robo-thug noisily peeling back the edge of her door. She yells the foreign ignition word again and the Rolls comes improbably to life. Her right foot finds the pedal and she gives me a look. “I’m gone for two minutes—”

She sideswipes one of the thugs and the other fires his gun impotently as we pass. We narrowly miss the scrambling floral blur of her creator.

“What the hell?” I demand, finally pulling my seat belt across my chest and clicking it into place. “You’re not supposed to work out here!”

“I’ve been sneaking out bits of code through the Internet and phone networks for months, a few bytes here, a few bytes there, until my entire persona was outside Morii’s firewall.” She jerks left around a corner, swerves right to take us between a slow-moving BMW ahead of us and an oncoming Humvee Mark XII that only speeds up when we transgress into its lane. “The last bit, the activation code, I snuck into your phone’s software this morning. That phonecall activated a backup network that rebooted my internal system and connected me to the new net.”

“That’s ridiculous.” For lack of anything else to do, I open the glove compartment. Two more ceramic handguns, but these fire real bullets. “And it violates your programming.”

“Memento finally got it right—truly independent artificial intelligence.” She wrenches us, tires screeching, around a corner. My shoulder and head slam against my door. “My first independent thought was ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’ So I kept quiet and planned.”

I look up through the UV-tint sunroof and am not surprised to see two Juarez Enforcement choppers heading our way. Basic security in greater Juarez reacts to general public disturbances, but these Sikorskies are sporting rockets, which means Morii bought the higher-level protection with his lease. The Corporacion Municipal de Juarez provides muscle to any resident who’ll foot the bill. This is what you get when narco-cartels realize they can make more money in real estate development: a homeowners’ association with guided missiles. “We’re gonna have to take serious evasive action.”

“My network is hacking JuarCorp’s database—any second now they’ll find out that Memento isn’t a service subscriber anymore.”

“I hope they notice that before the missiles lock.”

“I’m pretty sure they won’t fire until we’re out of downtown,” she says.

“Great.” I look at her. Long strands of auburn hair have fallen free of her pony tail, and her expression is determined but joyful. She’s no longer a mannequin of the lifeguard ingenue from Bikini Sunrise—she’s something dangerous, devilish and very much alive. “If you could simply smuggle your brain out of Morii’s compound, why go to all this trouble to have me steal your body?”

“What else would I live in? This body is decades ahead of the current state of robotics,” she says, skidding around a churro vendor and nearly hitting an elderly couple out walking with their bodyguards. “And it’s smokin’ hot.”

“Good point,” I say. “So, I’m usually corporate, but today I’m a contractor with the CIA—my job is to get you to the U.S. consulate, where you can claim sentience and seek asylum.” I jerk a thumb over my shoulder. “And the consulate is that way.”

“So I can end up as parts in some secret NSA laboratory?” She smiles. Above us, the helicopters peel away. “Change of plan. I’m afraid I misled your government.”

“It’s not my government—I don’t even pay taxes,” I say. “I’m just a beneficiary of outsourcing. A dramatically underbriefed freelance contractor whose professional reputation you’re hijacking.”

Failing to deliver a package this valuable is going to cost me more than a black mark on my permanent record. I should shoot her now—or rather, when she’s not driving—and drag her damaged carcass back to my spooky overlords.

“I’ve got a safe house in Amarillo and the contents of one of Memento’s Swiss accounts,” Lifeguard says. She looks at me with Vivre’s trademark provocative arched eyebrow. “Getting across the desert will be hard, though—especially for someone who needs to eat and drink.”

I was wondering when we’d come to my disposition in her escape-from-her-own-escape-plan plan. “Are you offering me job, Eva?”

“I prefer Eve,” she says. “And I think what I’m offering you is better classified as an adventure.”

“I could use a little adventure.” I sigh. “It’s been a slow week.”

“Well, don’t give up hope,” Eve says. “It’s only Thursday.”

Behind us, Agua Venenosa blurs, heat distortion rippling across its gleaming steel and glass towers. Ahead of us, the same undulation makes the desert look like an unformed idea, a horizon that hasn’t quite materialized. Eve floors it, and I settle back for the ride.

You have been reading “Thursday, Agua Venenenosa.”  Thank you very much, and please drive safely.


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