When men rushed to mine the asteroids, the corporation built a network of space stations to process the ore and to provide respite for the miners. But the miners proved unruly, needing a guiding mind to keep the peace and ensure that the ore continued to flow in…

Backlit by the harsh neon that edged into this desolate spot, grimy flakes of snow danced in the air before settling on the rapidly cooling corpse. The body sprawled against the newly-built fence that blocked the alley. The only sign of violence was a thin trickle of blood congealing at the base of one nostril and the fingers still desperately clutching through the wire loops of the fence. He had come so close to freedom and yet succumbed. That really sucked.

I looked again. Why here? Why now? Who was this desperate soul fleeing from a fate he couldn’t escape? Where were the defenders of law and order when you needed them? Oh yeah, right, police still patrolled the main thoroughfares from the safety of their heavily armoured vehicles. Everything else had gone due to the savage cuts in expenditure. Now you didn’t brave the back streets at night unless you had a very good reason or a small army at your back. If you came up against one of the regular turf wars that scarred the face of the city you would end up as collateral damage, if you were lucky. This poor sod had taken a short cut that turned out to be fatal.

As project enforcer, my brief wasn’t policing the city. I didn’t care who ruled the streets; all the gangs knew well enough to leave me alone. No, I simply needed to find our missing psychic and return her to the labs. This was the third time Laetitia had struck in exactly the same way, causing a massive brain haemorrhage with her powers. The project backers were pressing me to deal with the problem and for that I needed information fast before she fried another poor bastard’s synapses. I needed to know how she selected her victims and why she had surfaced here, so close to the labs that had ‘enhanced’ her. She could have moved on to another city in the sprawl where she could kill in anonymity. Killing here was tantamount to taunting her masters and maybe that’s what she was doing. I wasn’t convinced though. There had to be more to it than that. She must be doing more than just thumbing her nose at the labs which shipped all of her kind up to the space stations.

She had slipped her leash a few weeks ago. Since then, there had been no sign of her until she emerged and started killing. Someone with connections to the underworld must have been sheltering her. Given her oriental background, I knew just where to start asking my questions.

I headed over to one of the high rise tenement blocks in the seedier end of the city. Quietly letting myself in, I listened for a minute in the stairwell, before stealthily starting my ascent of the crumbling stairs. The lifts in this block hadn’t worked for years, not that I’d use them anyway. No professional repairmen could be enticed to work here. The landlord had stopped trying to get the lifts fixed after someone who thought they knew what they were doing botched the repairs. He didn’t want to pay any more blood money. All the traffic within the block had to come up and down the trash strewn stairs. None of the lights worked in spite of the protective grills around their bulbs, so those using the stairs did so cautiously. My silent approach ceased as I kicked in the door at my destination. Sometimes the lab enhancements came in handy.

Standing to the side of the shattered door, I waited. As expected, the first to break the silence was the Chinaman. He had no illusions about me; we’d had dealings before.

‘What you want now, Simeon Cyborg? How you expect me to keep my business going when you come breaking down my door every five minutes?’

‘Where is she?’ I growled. ‘Where’s the psychic bitch who’s filling up the morgue?’

‘You going to pay for my door first, Tin Man?’

In the gloom I could see him standing there, arms folded, inscrutable. I held the advantage for now but as soon as his goons came to turn in their profits for the night, I was dead meat. We both knew that I needed answers quickly. Question was, if he wasn’t sheltering her, did he know who was? And what was it costing them to keep her concealed? I couldn’t see how sheltering a fugitive from the space project could benefit any of the gangs. They knew that I would come after her.

‘Come on, old man. You know I have to bring her back. Why would you hide her?’

‘Perhaps to see justice done?’

The icy voice from nowhere shocked me. Had she breached my shields to speak in my head or had she actually spoken out loud? I whipped my head around. Laetitia stood there beside me, smiling mockingly. The Chinaman grimaced and took himself off. He didn’t need or want to be in on this discussion. Either his unwanted guest would leave with me, or he’d have to get a clean-up crew in. However it went, he knew enough to make himself scarce.

The dainty psychic spoke again,

‘What can I offer you Simeon, to let this play out before you return me? What will it take?’

There was a quiet kind of desperation in her voice and I began to wonder.

‘An explanation would be a start, but not here. That would be an invitation the locals could not decline and neither of us wants that do we? We’ll talk somewhere less exposed.’

I started down the stairs evidencing my good faith by turning my back on her. I wasn’t worried; she wanted something from me or she wouldn’t have shown herself. She followed at a distance, all the way to Sami’s Burger Bar. I guess she was convinced that I would hear her out, and maybe that was all she wanted. Over coffee so strong that only wooden stirrers could survive its bite, and burgers that had never been any part of a cow, Laetitia said her piece.

‘I didn’t ask to be part of this project. I didn’t volunteer to have my identity stripped from me, and to be renamed for the space station that would be my prison. My psychic gifts were enough to make a living on the cards and still have enough to pay the Chinaman. But then I refused to let some visitors into a game. They were slumming; I knew they didn’t belong with the rest of us. I was wary of them because I thought they’d be sore losers. Unfortunately I was right; they lay in wait for me after the den closed. After they’d finished with me, they brought me in to the project as a probable psychic. You know the rest… the tests, the so-called training, the stripping away of everything you ever were or hoped to be.’

Her voice which had been rising indignantly tailed away and she brushed her short cropped fringe out of her eyes as she looked at me wearily.

‘Doesn’t explain what you’re doing now though, does it?’ I said harshly. ‘If I have to watch while you destroy everyone who’s ever slighted you, I’ll be failing in my job won’t I? And you of all people should know what that will mean.’

‘Isn’t it enough that it’s only the underclasses who get pulled into the project? You, yourself Simeon! Did you choose this path?’

‘I couldn’t afford the military grade replacement arm and legs after the bomb in Afghanistan. The project offered me this chance and I jumped at it. There’s no point in living half a life using NHS prostheses. With these babies, people don’t even know I’m augmented unless I choose to show them.’

I glanced around the burger bar then leaned across the table, grasping her chin delicately between my fingers and thumb.

‘Don’t even think of trying to fry me.’ I whispered menacingly. ‘I could snap your neck faster than you could get through my shields. Now, let’s have the rest of it. How do you choose your victims?’

She considered for a moment. I didn’t release my grip. So long as she didn’t move she’d be OK. To the rest of the denizens of the shabby eating house it would look like we were lovers having a slight disagreement and solving it in the time-honoured fashion with the bloke throwing his weight around and the girl giving in.

‘I read my victims before I fry them,’ Laetitia said. ‘I allow anyone with any shred of human decency to return home with just a few missing hours to explain to themselves. I’ve been very careful. I don’t prey on my own class; why would I? Until now I’ve been concentrating on the scientists who think they’re doing a good thing for humanity. They believe the space stations are there for the benefit of us all, that the psychics are all volunteers. I’m gradually removing the ones who subvert the project for their own benefit. If I have enough time…if you allow me enough time, the only scientists who’ll be left will be the ones who do have our interests at heart.’

‘And you think a trail of corpses will be beneficial to the project do you? Your selected scientists won’t even be strong enough to deal with the public outcry let alone go against the will of the project backers. God, I’d have thought a psychic would have more sense! Don’t you know who’s driving this project?’

‘Of course I do! I was saving the pleasure of dealing with Wladinski for last. I want him to see his dreams crumble before his eyes and to know it’s because he wrecked my dreams. He needs to know that I am out there and I will come for him. Tonight’s victim, his lover, Pietro, is Wladinski’s wake-up call. But Pietro had the same chance that I gave the others; I read his mind first. He was happy to cheat on his lover, especially with a woman. Wladinski despises us but Pietro; he had a sneaking admiration for us. He knew that we hadn’t volunteered for the project, but he never stopped to consider why so many of us were female. He never thought or cared that it was because women are less susceptible to burn-out and, if they survive, can be used to breed more psychics.’

‘Tonight was different though wasn’t it? Because he was running from you wasn’t he? He couldn’t have known that the alley was fenced off; that fence only went up a few days ago. But you knew, didn’t you?’ I paused for a moment.

‘You were playing with him like a cat plays with a mouse. You baited the trap, with what – an illusion, hmm? Then you made him run. That doesn’t chime with the scenario you’re trying to sell me.’ She shifted uncomfortably.

‘You’re in this for vengeance aren’t you? Pietro was one of the ones who raped you!’ I concluded triumphantly.

She didn’t answer so I met her gaze. They say you should never look a psychic in the eyes, but courtesy of the labs, I have so many protections laced into my shields that it doesn’t bother me. I knew now that she’d been stringing me along all this time. She was no better than the others who’d run before her. I curled my robotic fingers gently around her neck beginning to squeeze. She rasped out,

‘Oz’s Tin Man didn’t have a heart either!’

She didn’t take long to die. I guess to her it was better than going back.