A metal eye was fine for the carbonfibre labyrinth and spotting pixies before the little bastards shocked you with their needle lances. But Deadfall kept his original on ice with Wolverine because Sarah didn’t want him back without it. “Too creepy,” she’d said when he left for Anthraks, showing off his shiny new kit. He’d been all bravado then, boasting of riches.
He shuddered, a dry, explosive laugh deepening to a cough. A million tiny scythes slashed up from the depths, scoring him anew. The ever-present carbon dust ate the lungs, settling deep. Deep like the tight spaces they delved for alien treasure. He coughed blood. Deadfall’s body had been slashed, broken, stitched back together twenty times now. Even light grav made him hurt. But that was nothing to the pain of this decision. Anthraks was a place that knew how to deal defeat. Final, devastating, crushing. It was funny, in a sardonic way, but he put the screws to those thoughts. Laughing hurt.
Deadfall had blown his reserve to outfit for the last run and barely made it back alive, the exoskel venting gas and weeping blood. Emtpyhanded. There was no way back if you went broke. Without the ’skel, you were trash labor on Anthraks, and like trash, you died here. A steady tide of broken bodies pushed delvers’ leavings to the edge and when they coughed their last breath, their bodies joined the drift that washed outwards along the slope of Anthraks’ hull. An anthill, growing around the gateway.
He had to have table stakes. There was no other way, the eye had to go. He slammed his ID against Wolverine’s Judas gate. “Open, damn you.” It was a croak.
A screech, light blinding; he was in mist, the air blasted out hot and dry, smelling of dope, beer, roasted nuts. “Who the piss? Deadfall, look, your kit—it isn’t worth a pawn. Go.”
Deadfall shook his head, “No pawn, sale, and not the kit. I need fixed. The eye.”
“You want to fix your eye? What happened?” Peering, Wolverine’s GlasLinqs swirled.
“God fuck,” Slamming his head on the steel. “I need to sell the eye, you fuck, to fix the ’skel.”
It was a slow, sleepy smile crossing Wolverine’s lips. “Naw, you don’t, that’s your ticket home. You lose that, you die here.”
“I die here anyway if I don’t make the game. You know what happens to the shitpickers.”
“Yeah but they ain’t got no ticket home, deadman. Come back tomorrow, I’ll trade it for your chit home. Lucky Lucy’s due in—”
He was still wearing his delve boots, and he made the steel door ring. “The eye, and damn both of yours. Cash transfer tomorrow, I’ll sign.”
“No I’m not gonna—” Deadfall was quick, and he got Wolverine’s shirt before the Judas slammed shut on his bicep. Something hard smacked his wrist, he released, yelling an animal noise at the pain. The Judas opened, Wolverine well back.
“You crazy fuck, what do you think you’re gonna do? Make one, two more runs, a couple hundred maybe? And you’ll be back here. Kidney’s next, right? I’m doing you a favor. The chit.”
Deadfall shook his head. “No, you’re wrong.” He rubbed his arm, shaking his head. “I’m going for the big one. I’m going in the helix.”
“The bloody helix?” Wolverine laughed, an edge of fear tinged his derision. Only the insane ones tried the bloody helix any more. It was a sign, on Anthraks, that you were beyond hope. “Okay, I see where you’re at. Hand me your ID.” The deal was done.
Deadfall timed his drop for middle of the second shift—little traffic—but he still got hecklers. Shutting off the ’net helped. His gear looked jank, he knew, patched as cheap as Kinte could do it. The hot glue wouldn’t stop a needle lance but he had flechette rounds for his forearm gun tube. That would show the thrice-damned pixies. Just one expander bag, since whatever was down there would be creamy, pristine. He wouldn’t need much to make his nut. The only splurge was a hit of scopalocybin, taped to his drink tube.
When dropping into the gateway, everyone knew to jink hard, because dead center was the Helix, thirty-six micron blades turning within a twenty-meter-wide tunnel. Some blades were broken loose or always loose—who knew—flailing in the wind of a long-dead imagination. Blades stained by the blood of the careless, hopeless and drunk. He stared. His doom.
Deadfall spent a tenth of his oxygen watching, biting hard on the drinks tube in concentration. Slick Richa had dropped in when she’d gone metastatic and narrated; Deadfall had her script memorized. It was all rhythm and she’d lost it after thirty meters. The screams didn’t last long. Deadfall was looking for the rhythm, and he wasn’t seeing it. He breathed hard, tongued the drug-tab and waited. When his breath went three-d he started cycling through his playlist, waiting for the pulses of the migraine hallucination to sync with the blades. They looked like grass in the wind, seagrass in a whirlpool. Blue shimmers danced along their edges, the migraine coming on.
Into of the corner of his eye a suit puffed close. He aimed his flechette cannon at the figure, and it left. Meson D’Arc was riffing on watermelons when it all clicked in; he grinned, set the tune player on repeat and jetted into a blossom of death.
He was the only one without a bouquet or fancy bottle. No one to meet him. Not so the ex-Marine beside him, she had a Red Johnny resting on a curiously solid leg. She wore a sleeveless blouse, broad shoulders showing off her combat tats. “Too far, too long?” The usual excuse.
“Nah. She didn’t want a ’borg.” He tapped his eye.
“What? Aftermarket’s cool. My girl thought she knew all the tricks, ’til I showed her this!”
They had a good laugh. His first, not the last.