Some mornin’s you wake up on top.
Some mornin’s… well, you just don’t.
She could smell it in the damp air before she’d even opened her pounding eyes. That burnt, chalky tang stuck in the back of her dry throat.
Stupid bastard’s been on the pipe again.
The stench of acrid, long ingrained sweat hung lank upon her itchy skin. Her head felt like one o’ them bruisers from the pit fights was trying to beat his way outta her skull. She was used to that, though. Well used to it.
It’s the pipe I can’t abide by. Not when I need his wits on him. Big dumb bastard’s the only thing keepin’ me breathin’.
She opened her eyes. Light stung them like red-hot needles as shadows swirled in front of her. She groaned, covered her face for a good while, and tried again. Finally, the room stopped swimming enough for her to see.
The glazed over sheen of the dead weren’t a new experience to her. A man releasing his bowels for all he was worth into her greasy bed weren’t something she’d never seen before. Vomit… well, she weren’t no stranger to that neither.
All three at the same time? She put a hand over her mouth and did her best to swallow a mouthful o’ sickness. No chunks in hers, not unless it was the linin’ of her stomach. Just whiskey an’ stomach fluid. Dirt cheap whiskey at that. Only way she could take being in the same room as him.
She could hear something vibrating. Something familiar. She fell to the floor, bare knees grazing raw, hands trying to find her clothes. Where the fuck is it?
There y’are, little bastard.
A small screen showed a tiny identity tag. Damn. Captain Gunry, thanks for callin’. Somehow, you manage to fuck up my day on a consistent basis and then chuck me a few hundred credits a week like you was raining solid platinum down on me.
Sucking foul tasting, slimy spit into her mouth, she opened the line.
“Corporal. Where the hell are you?” The voice was crackly with interference.
Voges looked at her wristwatch instinctively. At least that’s still attached to me. Couldn’t forgive myself if I lost dad’s watch. Only thing I own that’s worth a shit anymore.
“Getting my gear on, Cap. I’ll be there soon.” Soon as I get a triple shot caff. Fuck knows how else I’ll get through the next two hours.
“Soon?” roared the voice so loudly that it became lost in static. “I get a line on the Widowmaker and you tell me soon? He’s your childhood friend. You’re the one that begged to get on this case. This is your last chance!”
Voges held the piece away from her ear and looked back at the body lying slack-jawed on her bed. Half closed, lifeless eyes stared at her from the dark. Reckon I got a better line on him, sir.
“Let me be absolutely clear on this. If it wasn’t for your dad I’da busted you back to private long ago. Shit, if I’m being honest, I’da kicked you off the Force.”
“Appreciate that sir. Be there soon.”
“Don’t bother coming here.”
What the – “Sir?” There was a long crackle of static with an overlay of another person’s chatter ghosting through the background.
“The line I got was from an informant that lives only twenty or thirty floors below you. Guy reckons he saw Widowmaker heading up your way. I’ll send you a rally point. Be there in fifteen.”
Voges’ world stopped. Someone saw him. She looked over to the dead body. Someone saw him come here. To my apartment. Registered in my name.
“Shit! Fuck! Balls!” she screamed, flinging her phonepiece against the wall.
Almost as it left her hand, she reached out to grab it in vain. It shattered against the rusted brushed steel, pieces of cheap, government-issued plastic flying everywhere. Goddamn it. What was the point of that?
As she knelt over the destroyed phonepiece, trying to see what was salvageable, tears slowly worked their way down her cheeks. No way I can afford to replace it. Not now I’m off the take. Can’t afford nothin’. Not even a decent apartment.
Again she looked over her bony shoulder at her bed. Now that bastard’s dead, I ain’t got no one to protect me from the big underbosses. Big dumb bastard was the only one keepin’ me breathing.
Gunry gets here and links this body to me, I’m dead. Crooked bastard. Won’t be no cell for me. Just the wrong end of a burst from a snub-nose.
On the other hand, Underboss finds out his kid died in my room, he’ll pull his protection. Fuck, that’s the understatement of the year. More like he’ll pull my guts out through my mouth and make me eat ‘em back down again.
“Can somethin’ just go fuckin’ right? For fuckin’ once?” Her voice was a shrill scream, snot bubbling down her lip and adding a bit of salt to the wonderful tasting meal already lining the inside of her mouth.
She looked around dejectedly, panic and anger and horror twisting her guts viciously.
Her kit. A watch. An empty strongbox. A bed. A body. All of her worldly possessions.
First things first. Clothes. Then I gotta work out just what I’m gunna do.
Wiping her eyes and then her nose on her forearm, she reached out to the pile of clothes sitting atop the strongbox. Something about the touch of the material fed a little life back in to her. Something that spoke to her on another level. Something that said, Hey, I am about as messed up as they come. But I still stand for something.
Her Magistrate Enforcer blacks fitted snugly to her body. Her boots still had a pleasing bit o’ shine to ‘em. Her gun belt clipped on heavy and comfortable, hanging lazy from her hip. Her trench coat sat thick, but reassuring with its kevlar-mail inner lining, upon her shoulders.
The Widowmaker’s gear was in the corner, on the floor. His gun was sitting out in the open. A dull, blocky beast with a hexagonal magazine above the trigger-guard. A six shooter. A dead-set cannon that could split a man at the waist from twenty paces. Voges tucked it into a pocket.
She looked down at her chest and wiped her badge with her sleeve. How did I go from a starry-eyed rookie – she took in the room one last time as she laid her hand on the door – to this?
As the door slammed shut on her life, a roar of sound swept her up. Wind and stink buffeted against her. Fluorescent lights sunk into rotting concrete walls flickered artificial light in an epileptic’s nightmare.
A tide of human misery shambled on past her on the landing. Each person was lost in their own world of abject poverty, hands in threadbare pockets and foreheads crinkled in well-practiced frowns against the cold and those around them. An elderly man balked right before her. His eyes lit up in welcome.
“Karin?” Old man Kimble. From next door. Nice guy.
“Fuck off.” She shouldered past him.
Voges pushed her way through the crowd to the edge of the walkway and grabbed a hold of the rail. She swung her head down, squinting to see through the stagnant clouds of pollution that hung fat and heavy, choking the hundreds of levels below her. It was no use. She’d no chance of seeing the red and blue lights afore they arrived. How much longer? How much time I got? What am I gunna do?
She looked skywards for guidance. The pollution had a tinge of blue. Probably daylight a couple of kloms up. She coughed. Clean air too. For the rich, anyway.
“ – fucking Simeon. Threatened to boot me outta my place! Was only a coupla days late…”
The conversation passed her like a beacon of hope.
Simeon. Two floors down. One corridor up, then two rights. Thick glass protection. Small hole for money. Never liked him much, as a landlord anyways.
Stuffing her hands in her pockets and moving in to the traffic, she set off. A quick ‘vator ride down a couple o’ floors and some brisk walking brought her to a lonesome room stacked with grey-draped people in front of a glass window. A roided-up monster of a man sat behind it, staring down an old lady.
Witnesses. Too many witnesses.
Sweat beaded down the side of her face. Her hands itched and began to shake as she took a place in line. She unpinned her badge and stuffed it into her pocket. God, I need to piss. What do I…
Ah, fuck it.
She flipped up her collar, set her face hard, drew the hand cannon, leveled it, and walked around the line. People began screaming and running in all directions. Some fat bastard nearly slammed Voges from her feet in his efforts to get away. Behind the screen Simeon was smiling and reaching for a link.
A comm-speaker crackled. “Two feet of armourglass bitc – “
The Widowmaker’s cannon roared like a thunderclap.
The glass shattered white. Damn thing near broke her wrist.
A second blast turned it, and the room behind it, red. Voges charged and went shoulder first through the gaping hole. A jagged shard or ten of glass carved deep into her cheek and brow, just missing her eye.
Simeon was in meaty chunks. Didn’t even look like a person. Probably why she didn’t spew. Voges had no time to inspect the handiwork of the Widowmaker’s cannon. She jumped straight into the backless seat and used her palm to squeegee the gore from the viewscreen.
Only took her a few minutes to find her record and switch her place with some other unlucky bastard.
Done, she put a blast through the terminal. Sparks flew. Voges dove out as something caught fire and set off an alarm.
Gotta get home. Gotta piss. Gotta deal with the body.
As she burst from the ‘vator near her room, she hammered an elderly man from his feet to be trampled by the tide. People tripped and fell and broke and swore. Voges staggered and spun away, stumbling back to her room. Punching in her access, she slammed the door shut behind her. Somewhere, she could hear authoritative voices barking. Come on. Thinkthinkthink.
She spied her gas-heating element. Voges backed towards the door and opened it, pulling her coat over her head. She lifted the cannon and fired blind. The impact of the shockwave launched her back in to the throng of people behind her. Her skin burnt and her lungs screamed. People shrieked. The air was black with suffocating smoke.
Strong hands grabbed her under the arms and dragged her away, boots dragging over the dead and wounded. Voges looked up through sandpaper dry eyes, saw the hard outlines of body armour, the flowing tails of a trench coat and the dark glint of kevlar-mail inside. Safe.
She was laid on the ground and her savior leapt back into the smoke. Another face appeared before her. Gunry. Shit.
“Did I get him Cap? Did I get the Widowmaker?” she groaned, grimacing.
She was laying it on thick; her most injured performance. Wasn’t hard to do. Every bit of her roared with pain.
Gunry kneeled down and put his hands on her shoulders. “The Widowmaker’s in there? Christ Voges! What the hell happened?”
Voges smiled genuinely. Safe. “Some mornin’s you wake up on top, sir –“
Another wounded person was dumped unceremoniously beside her. His face was half burned away. Charred, fingerless hands clawed the air. Old man Kimble.
A black mouth worked to get a word out.
“Karin?” A whisper, naught else, before dying.
Gunry looked at Voges, a suspicious frown on his face. “You know him?”
Some mornin’s… well, you just don’t.