Personal Time.

Twenty four hours later and Cassandra Argento hits the streets hard, trading sole rubber for information and getting nowhere at the sort of speed that makes it hard to stay awake.  She wants her mind back, and if she doesn’t catch a break soon then motherfuckers are going to start dying left and right, hard and fast.

Her nostrils itch, dry from exhaust, coated in fry grease, and lit up with nanococaine that wasn’t coded properly and hasn’t been registered – but that’s what you get on strange streets where the walls look too tall and they lean in on you when you aren’t watching.  The buzz keeps replenishing itself, but each time it gets looser and more faded, spiralling down until it’s not there at all.  Pretty soon she’s gonna be out of gas and that’s all she wrote for Cassandra Argento, pretty little Carrie Sommers from out of Boise, Idaho before the clouds came down.

Her coat is wired with fully charged nusilicon fibre, throwing out an interference cloud for one metre in every direction, and her contacts keep switching screens, showing a random selection of stolen ret-scans so that the adboards can’t track her movements.  Nobody knows who she is, and nobody knows where she’s going.  She’s not even a blip on anyone’s radar, walking through the daylight streets of an unknown city like an electric ghost, Cassandra Argento looking for murder.

She checks her mobe, but that’s not keyed into the city yet, so it’s showing tourist shit and the same crap that flows in every city on the map.  She needs to drop a few levels and go Marlowe, dig the information out the old way.  She needs to find out where the bad boys drink.  The sanitised feed from the city shows by omission where she should head to get to square one on the real playing board.  She heads for the dark places on her map, following the closer, tighter alleyways where every other doorway holds a huckster or a knifeman and the smart graffiti on the old bricks is constantly overwriting rival tags, moving around and shifting colours like rainbow oil slick running up a beach.  She checks out Rumble Hoods on her mobe, finds them a gang she can deal with, because everybody likes money and everybody likes to kill a body they don’t know.

Three blocks down and a sharp, hard right and an incoming alert tells her that her travel insurance will be revoked if she doesn’t stay in the prescribed areas.  Prescribed/proscribed, it’s all to the wind, she’s only here on a fast track mimeo anyway.  Her real insurance is in a slick slide-grabber on her forearm and in her underarm holster.  Claims adjustments signed in red.

She’s still thinking of hot guns and slow revenge when the hot-mod low beam warning she’s illegally added to her mobe goes off.  It’s not enough time, and she didn’t think it would be.  She had to try.  But there’s never enough.  Still, she’s getting closer every time, and each time adds a piece to the puzzle.

Somewhere in the heavens, a company satellite microwaves her new work package to her and all the gun fun for today is off the table; she didn’t get all the cards, had a bad hand to start with, and somebody else just pulled four aces on her.  She claps her hands to her ears, looks like she’s in pain, but this is a painless transference.  For the last and most split second, she’s Carrie Sommers, who knows that the best and only way to stop hearing things you don’t want to hear is to cover your ears.  Maybe this time, the little girl thinks, maybe this time…

Next thing she knows, all she knows is that she’s Cassandra Argento on an errand and the timer’s ticking down.  She has thirty six hours to assimilate this information and get to Anton Ricard of Phoenix, Arizona, because someone, somewhere needs a bullet put in his brain, just another sap who signed the wrong paper or hired the wrong person.  If she doesn’t facilitate the bullet to brain interface before the clock ticks down, then she’s got a lobotomy bomb implant that will wipe the smile from her face forever.  She’s a company girl, a job for life, making easy money the hard way.  And she’s one of the best, fast and efficient, which is why she gets some down time after each assignment.  And every time she gets her mind back, she gets the urge to resign, signed, sealed and delivered with a bullet straight from the company gun.

So she’s Cassandra Argento again, for thirty six hours this time, and the sooner she starts, the sooner she finishes, and then her mind’s her own.  And then maybe, just maybe, she’ll get to finish this personal errand.  There’s no way she knows of to sort the lobotomy bomb, but just the joy of being the first to quit the job will be satisfaction enough.  She just needs to take this job and shove it, then they can wipe her clean for all she cares. 

To tell the truth, when all this is over, she could use the down time.

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Andrew Cheverton
Andrew Cheverton is currently the writer of the western comic West (drawn by Tim Keable) and the science fiction comic The End (drawn by FH Navarro), and the writer - and soon-to-be illustrator - of horror comic The Whale House. Thank you for reading.
Andrew Cheverton

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