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by • August 24, 2017 • Flash Fiction, Kansas, SerialComments (0)

Kansas: Chapter 30

THAT OLD ARCHITECTURE

Durham was glad to be back above ground, particularly after spending so much time in the scanners of the black clinic. He had complained about being shuffled around, but now that it was over he was happy to be assured that none of his implants held any surprises. The Mizrahic had found a string of synthetic cells lining one of his neurojacks that’s purpose hadn’t been clear. Hypothetically, they could have been used to track him online. So he was glad to be rid of that.

He was not, though, any happier about being back in the company of the Butcher even if they had moved from the subterranean depths of Madrid to the top of some benighted arcology. Getting from the sewers to the peak of the architectural portmanteau had taken them through some extremely circuitous avenues but they had still seen some people on the way. Most of them had scattered like cockroaches in the sharp dawn of a room’s discharge lamps.

While the arcology had the appearance of yet another of Madrid’s abandoned municipal projects there were other signs it had been consumed by the Street. A few levels had booths and stalls laid out in tight patterns, daytime markets that weren’t yet open in the hours that Butcher was leading him up the spiral. Truly, though, besides the chronometer on his visual display Durham had no way of knowing what time it was. Once out of the ground he had been led through tunnels, then stairways, then hallways with blacked out or sealed windows. Near the top he had been led through a large archway, something that was grand enough that it had probably once led to the administrative offices. In raised letters, barely readable through the soot that came up from the fires below were the words, “The City in the Image of Man.” The phrase was ascribed to someone called Paolo Soleri. Durham wasn’t sure who that was, but he found the words oddly unsettling.

The top of the arcology had the layout of a solar thermal power plant. Rings of concentric stands surrounded a central tower, now missing their reflectors. The windows of what had been an enclosed trough system were blocked out by a dense lattice constructed out of some kind of industrial adhesive. With the mirrorless supports now rising up from the floor like teeth it the entire level gave the impression one was trapped in a proteinaceous sac.

Durham had looked the place over many times while Butcher and his compatriot “Dragon” processed Durham’s answers and try to determine what to do next. On first entering the place had the appearance of an arachnophobe’s nightmare. However, Durham had noted that some of the stands had been topped with chairs and the central tower was crawling with unlicensed wires and loudspeakers. Get a couple of decent bartenders or dispensers and you could have yourself quite a nightclub.

Butcher interrupted Durham’s entrepreneurial fantasy by coming at the same problem from the same angle again. “Could we get any information from the transfer characteristics of the last orders –“

“No.” Durham took his eyes off the black webs covering the windows to stare directly at the pair. He still thought of them as his captors, though now they were the only reason he was still alive. “That’s not possible. I told you, the Black Box is designed for complete plausible deniability. I can’t backtrace where mission orders came from even if I had them on hand, which I don’t.” He shrugged, feeling the Guzmán suit they had dropped him into fold around him like a parachute. “Hell, I doubt my login protocols still work. Whoever falsified the report must have gotten distracted before he had a chance to shut them down.” Durham wondered what on Earth could have possibly been distracting enough to prevent the opposition from doing something so elementary.

“Maybe you’re coming at this the wrong way,” the silhouette that was Dragon spoke for the first time that hour. Both Durham and Butcher waited for him to continue, but he didn’t.

“OK,” was the Butcher’s only response for several moments. Then, “GT didn’t just stumble onto me. They didn’t even know to be looking for me. What triggered the orders?”

“You mean the change in orders. We had been following a package with orders to retrieve it. When you got to Moscow the directive changed to terminate the courier. You.”

Butcher gave up more silence for a long time. Durham would have liked to be able to see him, to have some idea of what he had been thinking, but both Dragon and Butcher seemed to have something against light. Then again, Durham probably wouldn’t care about the ambient number of lumens if he had built-in night vision. He really should have gotten that upgrade by now.

“Before the change,” Butcher growled out of the dark, “what were the orders for the package after retrieval?”

Durham swallowed and tried to remember that his captors could probably see his hesitation through pulses in his heat signature. He had a good contract and the work for GT had been steady, but someone on the inside had burned him. He smothered the reflexive loyalty he felt for his erstwhile employer and answered. “We had a suborbital lined up. Durham was going to take it to Havana.”

Butcher sat up in the dark. Durham felt it like someone tensing a violin string. “Why Havana?”

Durham paused, unsure if this was a trick question. If Butcher didn’t know about Havana, he might be a skilled tactical operator, but he didn’t know much about the world at large. “The freeports of Havana. They’ve setup a series of special economic zones. Anything that makes it to one is considered in transit while stored there. Technically that puts it out of the jurisdiction of any sovereign government.”

Durham thought he could see the glint of Butcher’s smile. “I guess we’re going to Havana.”

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