By Jesse DeStasio
Rex was, as per usual, buried in his phone walking down the hallway of Pizza Shunt HQ. He was buzzing with energy and felt very cool to be wearing his sunglasses inside. He’d taken to wearing a suit lately, calling it his “super hero outfit”. The staff seemed to react favorably to this fashion choice.
So consumed with the emails flying in front of him, it took several calls before he looked up at who he was passing in the hall.
“Earth to Rex!”
Rex lost his composure for a moment, the feelings he had for CyMa rushing back instantly.
She looked happy to see him, but Rex was suspicious. “I just got done with my meeting with Fred, he has some freelance work for me. Nice suit, by the way!”
“Thanks!” Rex smiled, still a little stunned.
“Hey,” She shot him a mischievous look, “Let me buy you a drink.”
Rex knew to skip the flashy, futuristic cafeteria at Pizza Shunt HQ and instead head to a pub in nearby Sunnyside. They sat in the back, Rex reaching up to mute the news on a nearby TV.
She ordered a bulleit whiskey (neat) and he ordered a can of Rift cola, much to CyMa’s amusement.
“So how do you reconcile your anarcho politics with working for an “evil-corporation”?” Rex asked in an opening volley. He was half kidding, but definitely baiting her. Shots fired.
“How do you reconcile yours?” She shot back, unphased.
Rex sipped his can of coke, recognizing he was now on his backfoot. “No clean hands in a dirty world...”
“Damn straight. I have to work to live. The bar keeps getting shuttered and reopened, it hasn’t been a steady source of income in years. So I freelance and sell intelligence to corporations looking to pants each other. I take their money and I fund my causes.”
“Fair enough.” Rex offered in concession, the mood serving to avoid impact.
She offered a smile, buttering him up. “What’s Fred’s position on Marson? He looking for an alliance?”
Rex exhaled, knowing he was being trawled, but not quite uninterested in playing along. “The official policy for Fred Foods is to welcome new collaborations where not prohibited by sanctions or law.”
“Unofficially, this is just my take- I think he recognizes a threat....but he wants the technology and the business that comes from a Trilobyte Kindgom partnership.”
“I’m assuming you know about the race at Turbo Atoll, a public facing for Marson in the spirit of universal competition. I’m also assuming you know Fred wants me to race my Zoner capsule in it.”
“Given you’re the only person on this planet with one....yeah. Makes sense.”
“You also know Marson tried to kill me? In the Vector?”
“Yeah. Gives you good motivation to want to beat him in the race.” Rex offered.
CyMa studied his face. He looked much older since they had first met a few years back in L.A. Slightly more craggy, but more handsome too. She changed the subject.
“You served, right? What branch?”
“Ha! Space Force. 18 year old enlistee. Came back planetside and got into PMC work. I’ve dealt with Martians before. That’s how I got this.” Rex tapped through his dress shirt to a dull metallic echo.
Cyma continued, hiding the fact she was impressed. “So you have no love to Marson or his martian ilk.”
“Correct.” Rex offered flatly.
“I want you to come with me to Turbo Atoll, be my security detail.”
Rex’s eyes widened at her proposal.
“Why don’t you just bring an army of Bugmen with you? Overwhelm him with force?”
She looked pained, turned away for a beat.
“In truth....I haven’t been to the Vector in weeks. It’s hard for me to be around the bugmen.”
“I don’t understand...”
“You think of my creations like characters in a video game. I create them, set them on their path, they live, they die. If you are an outside user, it’s inconsequential. But they are not just characters on a stage to me. I feel every death. They just love me so much, they’ll march to sure doom for me. At a certain point....the grief is overwhelming. So I stopped creating them. I left them be. I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
Rex knew CyMa was not one for honesty, and she was being vulnerable now. He liked it.
Instinctively, whether a manipulation or a genuine gesture, she reached out and put her cybernetic hand over his. The surprisingly warm steel depressing his flesh.
She leaned in, as if to whisper.
“I can offer you something in return. Your boy Vaughn has popped back on radar.”
Rex moved his hand in disbelief, shaking his head at the news. Last they had met, Vaughn had become a twisted being, promising an all-out war in which he’d serve someone claiming to be the long dead Alexander the Great.
“Fred’s people are already enroute to him. They are going to debrief him at HQ. You should make a play, cut a deal with Fred, and make sure Vaughn’s not harmed.”
“Fucker!” Rex hissed to himself, slamming his fist into the table.
“In exchange for that, I ask you and Vaughn come with me to Turbo Atoll. Keep me safe from Marson....or help me pinch him if he makes a move.”
Rex looked to his left, focusing on nothing. The veins in his neck were tight. He exhaled and turned back to her.
“Ok. I’ll talk to Fred.”
She smiled, ordered another round from the waiter. He had never actually seen her quite so exuberant.
“Cheer up,” She scolded, “This is going to be fun!”
Rex released his shoulders and leaned forward. Despite all the trouble Vaughn had caused him over the years, their friendship was unbreakable. Vaughn’s nose on the other hand....
Rex looked up at her and gave a half smile. “You looking to have fun later tonight?”
She put the fresh glass to her lips and smiled, “Sorry, you know I only date virtual men.....but let’s revisit after the race...”
TO BE CONTINUED IN TURBO ATOLL