I stepped out of the door from work, onto the concrete and into the rain. Most of my colleagues were inside, waiting it off. It’d been pouring down and pooling on the sidewalk for hours now, but the clouds had broken and it was clearing up in time for the sunset.
A perfect Friday evening, at least for me.
I stood for a while, looking at the high-rise and neon, as the city slowly filled with lights. Soft glow of corporation’s logos and advertising fought the sunset and lost, for now. They’d break through eventually, strong, bright lines eclipsing the softer moonlight. Something about the effect had always made me feel at home.
I turned around and pulled my car door open and slid in, kicked my shoes off. My feet clicked as they sat in their ports, cables plugged in. My work arms and legs weren’t the high tech or particularly expensive and the batteries were dying. Having to look vaguely human means not much space inside. Turns out appearances are important in customer service, especially government work. “Least possible offence.” It still frustrated me.
I leaned back, let the car do it’s thing, the last splatters of rain sliding off the windshield. I shut my eyes and dozed off as the car took me home.
I dreamt of running.
Home was there all too soon. It was a third floor apartment. Not too large, not too small, insides messy with electronics and screens. More of a nest than a home, truth be told. Opening the door pushed some assorted junk aside, and the screens around the house flicked into life as I stepped inside, keys and parts of my body identifying me to the house. The usual was on, bad news and worse attempts to hide it. Some parts of Matsushima Heavy Industries was up for corruption and bribery, but no-one wanted to agitate the Suntree owners. Raven Microcybernetics had issued a statement, yet again, that their tech was perfectly safe. The rest faded in a soft static buzz as I cooked dinner, mind wandering elsewhere. Microwave noodles mixed with whatever I had on hand to make it palatable. Wasn’t exactly rolling in it.
The reasons for that were sitting on the only clean bench in my house, and I stared at them as I ate, trying to think of ways to improve them. Glossy black and blue with the silver of the mechanisms showing underneath, they were my pride and joy. Originally Cambrian-made, top-of-the-range-when-I-got-them, they’d undergone so many modifications and changes that only the cover was recognisable and even then only in rough shape.
My racing limbs. Two arms, two legs.
I’d always leant towards the razor-blade, light weight styling, but some of the tech I needed for my Specials had broken that silhouette early. Silver ports were clustered at the back and I’d given up on keeping them compact.
I adjusted some of the surface plates, trying to get them to re-enforce the ankles and wheels. They’d had a little too much give last time I’d taken them out. I sat there until nearly midnight, fiddling, just kinda whiling the hours away.
It was finally time to get ready. I had the Spider, a multi-armed robot hanging from the ceiling, remove my current arms. Left, then right. My racing arms went on in the same order, clicking into their sockets and catching onto the re-enforcing anchors throughout my skeleton. The first couple of people to try this, the racing, had rapidly realised that even if you replace your limbs, running them way over human capacity had a tendency to rip them off. Messily. So I had a metal spine and anchors all throughout my skeleton, to spread the forces out.
Next was the legs. Same thing, left then right off, left then right on. I ran a basic check, then stood up. The minimal check was somewhat of a point of pride amongst Runners. If they’re right, you don’t need to check. Next was my Masque, the Horned Queen.
She was pretty simple; old, black motorcycle helmet, with short silver antlers attached in a way that made it look like they’d grown through. Camera. Black leather ending as the limbs began. Silver deer skull over my chest.
I slid open the back window and leapt into the night, my legs pistoning up with a snap. That first step was always the best, the first rush of being more, of running and jumping harder and faster. Onto the roofs, skipping down the side of buildings.
Running was somewhat of a legal grey area. They were looking to push laws through against it, but they weren’t quite there yet. What did happen, and happened often, was charges for trespass and industrial espionage. The courses had become more and more wild over time until finally breaking into Company places was part of the game, part of the Run.
I slowed down before I reached the meeting place. No wheels, no running. It wouldn’t do the break the Masque. Quiet, distant, cold.
I turned into the starting area and flicked the camera on. I wasn’t the first, but I was definitely in the upper half. Only three Runners were already there. Torrent, Glass and Mr. Tock. The usual early crowd. Glass, limbs encased in clear plastic and helmet crafted in a way to almost give away her face, waved and shouted a greeting. Torrent just waved, green-on-green lightning catching the light as his huge arms moved. Mr. Tock didn’t react. He usually didn’t. Glass slid over, wheels murmuring. Torrent was on the phone now, talking animatedly to someone.
I just nodded. Part of my Masque was talking to the other Runners only very rarely. Mr. Tock was much the same, but even more severe. You could see Glass’s grin beneath her helmet.
“Talkative as always, I see. Any idea where the others are?” she said.
I shook my head this time. It wasn’t that unusual to be late, so I guessed she was just making conversation. Torrent hung up with a sigh and spoke up.
“The Westies aren’t coming. They run into a Dog patrol on the way over.”
The Dogs patrolled the Company-owned suburbs. Four-legged and low to the ground, the resemblance to dogs basically ended there. They were quick, brutal and a pain in the ass to deal with.
“So I guess it’s just us four for tonight, then?” said Glass.
Torrent nodded. “Yeah.”
I walked over to the start line and took up my starting stance, legs bent. Torrent and Glass strolled over and Mr. Tock was there in one of his weird bursts of movement. He had his camera attached, but I knew he didn’t have many dedicated viewers. His style was too unsettling to be in the perspective of and his Specials were… odd.
We all checked in and the HUDs in our helmets started the count.
The soft genderless voice of the helmet spoke.
Torrent shifted, weight even more further forward than usual. Had he bulked up his arms even more?
Glass and Mr. Tock were solid and unmoving. The initial burst of speed was important to both of them.
I had slightly more leeway. I accelerated harder then either of them, part of the advantages of the light-weight build.
A slight crackle was in the air and I got what Torrent was doing in a snap.
He’s just going to drop a Special at the start.
I sprung on the word, not forward, but straight up. Glass and Mr. Tock were out of there, Glass’s clear plastic making her hard to see, just waves of reflections. Mr. Tock’s brass was much easier, but he was moving faster. Torrent hadn’t moved, but jammed his hands onto the ground and shotgunned three bubbles of electricity, ball lightning. Glass got hers right in the back, Mr. Tock in the leg. My catching on to what was going had helped me dodge mine, but now Torrent has started his Run and I was behind. As I landed, I kicked my wheels into gear, legs pumping.
I accelerated harder, but Torrent had higher top speed and the other two were recovering. As I passed Mr. Tock, I saw him judder and within a second he was ahead of me, one of his massive accelerations. I sprinted as we reached the first corner, leapt a fence the others had gone around and landed on a wall, just ahead of Torrent. I jumped again, landed forward again. I considered for a second and then
Why not? Everyone else has burnt theirs.
The vents in my arm moved into position and fired compressed air backwards, giving me a short boost at the same time as throwing Torrent’s balance off as he tried to turn another corner. He barrelled into it and bounced off, Mr. Tock skipping over him and right behind me.
I was down on the road again now, up to 70 kph. Momentum was becoming an issue. I leant into a corner like a motorcycle rider, and immediately slammed on the brakes. Four red dots, sat into a circle, looked back at me, before their owner pushed it’s split forelegs on the ground and pounced right at me, a static howl filling the air.
The Dogs were here.