District 2

The gun goes off in the middle of the market and everybody kinda flinches. Just a little flinch, an involuntary ducking of the head. Nothing more.

Of course not. This city used to be the worst of the seediest of the vilest in all of Ess-Eee-Ay. Playground of the rich and dangerous, this city. War made it, and War suckled it as it grew. There are old people here who remember live grenades in baskets of fruit – exploding children in the middle of barbed-wire zones. There are Cambodians here – you can pick them by their coffee-dark skin and cast-down gazes – who remember the prison schools, the thousands of portraits of people who went in and never came out.

That’s the very old. The young ones remember 2015, the last mad march of the old, old Communists, and the screaming hell that Angkor became. Napalm and banyan trees and a racial memory of burning.

This city doesn’t duck for fucking bullets. This is Neo-Saigon we’re talking about here.

The bullet blows the head off a sitting Buddha statue three feet from my own skull. My custom Glock’s already in my hand – Say what you will about the Russian IP cartels, they certainly supply the hardware – but now where the fuck do I point it?

To put it finely, I can’t see shit in here. Cloth and canvas hang from the ceiling. Dim light from dozens of incense burners. The smoke from a hundred cooking pots obscures my vision, and the constant flow of shadows and bodies continues unabated, oblivious to the goddamn gunfight going on.

The whole place smells like fish sauce and fear. Mostly fish sauce.

Another gunshot – everyone flinches – and a carved ivory horn explodes directly in my eyeline. My hand goes up to my face, reflexive. The movement probably saves my eye.

There are cuts on my hand, and the sleeve’s sodden. My cheek burns wet-red fire. I wipe the blood away from my mouth, and then I start to run.

What I’m not getting is why. These aren’t the kind of guys that set you up. These guys, they’ve got good relations with my employer, relations they’ve been careful to build up over time. We had a perfectly sweet deal in place – I take their money, then I wire them the data. They’ve got nothing to gain by shooting the messenger. Unless…

Unless they know what I’m really carrying.

Ah, shit.

That’d explain the android with the old familiar face. That’d fucking explain it. They didn’t pull the data down from my brain – the bastards have been in there all along. Who knows when the implant was placed? Who knows how they made it through my neural security?

Who knows which of a dozen people sold me out?

I sure as hell don’t know, and anyway, no time for that now. Now’s the time to run.

I holster my Glock, keep my head as low as I can. I sprint through the market, slide through the crowd, step in something indescribable, keep on running. I can feel them behind me, but I’m adding distance. Gaining speed.

I’m just a fixer – I’ll run your meatspace packages, talk for you face-to-face. That’s what I do. They don’t pay me for firefights, and there’s no goddamn way I’m going to die in a junk market in Neo-Saigon. I can feel it all around me now – a long, proud tradition of suffering and death. But it’s not going to catch me.

I’ve outrun history before.

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Xander Bennett rearranges words for fun and profit. Read a preview of his new book at www.cagescomic.com.

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