The Cure For What Ails You

Some people can find more ways to fuck up than you would believe. He was a hobbled nothing now – oh, hadn’t it all been so bright! He was in the league of cure for cancer – that bright and sunny and full of possibility. And now? Now he wasn’t worth shit. He deserved it. He had to deserve it, didn’t he? For it to be happening to him there had to be some effect he was pushing into the universe? He was so unsure of himself that he was even less certain about the environment around him, and how it might be impacting upon him. He sat down at the bar and ordered the house whiskey. The guy was genuine Irish, which surprised him. Wasn’t it an odd world when being served by an Irish man in a so-called Irish Bar was enough to cause some dissonance and psychic stress. The whiskey wasn’t Irish though; it wasn’t good either – the warmth almost disguised it, but not quite. Did any of the bar staff drink here? Probably not. That wasn’t a good sign.

He was looking for some kind of job; some kind of work that a low rent scumfuck like him would be able to hold down. There were certain kinds of job that he went for and they took one look at him and they didn’t even have to ask him a question – they knew that they didn’t want him; it was all conveyed in the momentary sneer that soured their whole face. When he was being entertained by employers who were a small half-step above him in the pondscum rankings they were a little less judgmental. Why? Because they knew what it was like to be coming from where he was coming – they had visited that very location themselves only recently.

Parmenter had a bad reputation as an individual, but he was supposedly a good employer – he paid what he promised and he paid it on time, and that was good in anyone’s book. Joel sat down opposite him and when Parmenter offered a smoke he took it – the brand was Zero Skull, which he liked because they were high tar.

‘So, what’s the gig?’

‘Something noble, Galahad. I know you like the Robin Hood shit, so what I have for you, come to me from a very reliable source, is that some bastard has a cure for cancer but is holding it hostage.’

‘What, and we’re gonna break in and steal it?’

‘In one, my friend.’

‘Where is it?’

‘Eight Gates Laboratory.’

Eight Gates was notorious for the way that it dealt with people who tried to break into it, and people tried to break into it on a regular frequency. Why? Because they had things like cures for cancer held there, that was why. This couldn’t be a coincidence, could it? That a man who had once stood alongside those scientists was now given an opportunity to liberate something that would help as much as the inventions which he had failed to deliver when he had worked there. How the mighty have fallen, and how those broken crippled phoenixes might rise.

They picked him for his inside knowledge, and he did not fail to deliver. He had to admit that until he saw it – until he read the specs and the lab results on the screen he had though that they were on a wild goose chase. When he read that report though he was so happy – it was real, and the best thing was was that he discovered some small part of what he had done when he had worked here had proved useful – he may not have made the intuitive leap necessary to formulate the cure but he had surely built part of the launch platform. In that moment it was fair to say that some of the fight went out of him – that he felt a satisfaction he had never known before. As the guard moved in on him, weapons hot, his knowledge that there was a cure for cancer cured something in him that had been broken long ago. He died a happy man.

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Mr Shuffle

For Bram

The cold was biting, breath in the air, making him think of the cigarettes he had given up. The romance of the thought spiced his saliva with a wonderful analogue of nicotine – fuck the vapour from the electronic dick he had to suck to get his fix … it reminded of everything else that had gone south in his life. Synthetic alcohol that gave him a half-hour kick before the government sanctioned nano-purge rendered all that wonderful buzz generating drug out of his system. How long before even the vapour was kiboshed? You had to be a fucking miracle worker to tie one in Glasgow anymore.

Man, some people were dicks; some people were dicks in private; other people were private dicks. He was the latter, wondered lately with the nicotine cravings if he was being the second to his long suffering cohabit fuck-buddy, and feared he might be becoming the first just by default.

So, what was he digging into today? What pile of shit had his assistant floated across his desk this week? He breathed into the little tube on his hand-held and the screen flashed into life.

‘Fuck the Maskbook updates, skip the Shitter-feed, and just give me the work-notes.’

A face popped up – not the fresh-faced poppet he was expecting or wanting – nope, not even close … this dude looked like he’d sell crack to kindergarteners. Who the fuck wanted this bastard found? Everyone is someone’s dad always seemed such a lame cliche but if he didn’t find something to hook his interest on then he’d be about as much use as an e-cigarette to a nicotine addict. And there he went – reach in pocket, pull out Thomas The Tank Engine’s Tiny Inadequate Penis as he had come to think of it, and puffed on it. It wasn’t working properly. Shit, maybe gum was better after all, he’d looked like a freak wearing all the patches.

He clicked the tab that came in the document about old stony face and accepted the job, got a new message that told him the money had already dropped, then got a second one that gave him a meeting place for the contact. It wasn’t far to walk – a brisk walk … how fucking jolly.

He sat down in the snug and he waited. What sat down opposite him was not what he had been expecting. His hope for some kind of cute female presence in this story, of whatever kind, seemed to be on a hiding to nothing. A bloody artificial clunked itself down – some pre-war rust-bucket that he was surprised was still working. He didn’t like it – an old man as his quarry, a meeting with an artie piece of shit; didn’t bode well; made him tink that first money drop was a fluke and the rest of the case would be as dry as a nun’s snatch.

‘So, what’s this all about?’

‘I, Mr Shuffle, am Centurion, and my owner, Mr Clavicle has gone missing, as you might say, and his daughter provided me with the funding to ensure he is found. She loves him very much.’

‘I’m sure she does. What, if I may ask, does Mr Clavicle do? If you don’t mind me saying, your appearance, and his both lead me to believe he is not necessarily kosher.’

‘Hence coming to you, Mr Shuffle, with your not so sterling reputation. That aside – his business? The finest Cuban cigars, Marlboros, and whiskey.’

‘Now, I know you have to be kidding.’

‘I haven’t used my sense of humour since before the war. Here is more pertinent data that you might need.’

He was glad to bid goodbye to the hunk of rust, and then he dug into the file. Ten seconds of synthetic alcohol buzz, a puff or two of vapour, and a vague glimmer of interest. This case should not take too long to work out. Clavicle had to be discreet – there weren’t too many places where he could talk about his wares, let alone sell them. Narrow it down further by the fact that there were not that many people with the pocket change to buy any of it. Shuffle knew a doorman at the Hilton and it would get him in long enough to speak to someone before the inertia of a shit-heel being in a rarefied atmosphere crashed into him and some unfriendly fucker showed him the door.

Gary was glad of the funds. Shuffle was glad of the Irn Bru he decided to drink instead of wasting his time for once. It cost a bit but it tasted good; gave him faith in something at least. Shawn the barman didn’t give a fuck what he said or he said it to – he was gossiping in the ten minutes before Shuffle approached him. Shuffle showed him the picture of Clavicle.

‘Oh yeah, I seen him.’

‘In here?’

‘Yeah, two nights ago with some big cheese.’

‘You have 360 cams in this place?’

‘It’s a bar, what do you think?’

So, then, the question was, how does someone pull off a deal with contraband in even this place?’

‘Can you get me a print of this guy and his guests?’

‘Sure, it’ll cost you.’

‘Doesn’t it always?’

The print was one of those pictures that is worth way more than a thousand words. Clavicle looking uncomfortable, Government Contraband Enforcer Smythe looking unctious and eager to please the third man in the picture, and who was that? Why – none other than Belsley Tincture, E-Cigarette and synth-hol magnate. He smiled. What fucking use was this data? Who was going to prosecute these bastards? It was obvious Clavicle met a sticky end.

He scanned the picture into his hand-held, dictated a long illustrative piece which he attached to it, sent one copy to Centurion and his owner’s daughter, explaining what he was doing, and one copy to Bump his editor friend. Bump would run the story as a speculation dot-the-dot provocateur piece, and it would do what it needed to do – get the right people looking in the right direction. Shuffle hoped it might sink the whole synth-hol and E-Cigarette business too.

He reached in his pocket, pulled out his least favorite thing in the world, and launched it into the cold night. Know what he was going to do? Find a pack of real cigarettes and inhale deep.

data packs it

a cup of disease; fresh brewed and steaming like dogshit on a pristine lawn. he tears the newly developed photograph in half and understands that there is a special quality to this polaroid camera that all the digitals in the world don’t possess. for a second that has since passed into oblivion he caught her image.

they had been trying to get him to drink infopack won for weeks and he had refused – he was, so he said, allergic to datawater, and could only drink brand onezero. all the nanites in his bloodstream have been infected with a reception blocker so his IQ booster wasn’t adhering to the personality software they had grafted onto his existential base meme.

he was moving through the supermarket consuming vast quantites of free samples which on a purely symbolic levels were the agreggated physical metaphors of an alien language. indoctrination into anything in this day and age was very rarely an overt act – it would usually come at him like the subtext of a dream.

the ascension gate was disguised as a newspaper stand and the binary access codes were hidden in the structural atomic coding of the peanuts of a snickers bar. he chomped on the peanut chocolate goodness and felt the buzz on his tongue as the programming spiralled through the double helix echo-chambers of his material plane body.

kennedy was old as dirt, and he had lived in places that were not like this in the least – total absence of technology; very little in the way of advancement. he had been here for about a hundred years he reckoned and he could say straight up that technology never made life easier … it just made it faster.

he had first made this group’s acquaintance when he had been hired on a simple recon job. as he was sat there, camera in hand, he was being watched. he was prancing around like he was all secretive and stuff and they were walking behind him hidden in shadows just waiting for a good time to tap him on the shoulder and wake him up.

they had paid him for the film he had already taken, told him they would take care of his employer (which he didn’t like the sound of), and gave him a retainer to do basically whatever they asked him to do. so here he was – poking his nose into other people’s business in the employ of someone who would kill him if he stepped out of line.

kennedy hadn’t lived this long without learning a few things though – sure, it looked like he was backed into a corner but he was a data-rich seam and there was very little means of looking at what he was without taking some of what he was away with you. now people have just thought about that in terms of an infection that could be purged, but kennedy had no tech on him that was purely destructive – he saw no point in having something that didn’t bring him something in return. so programs that were loyal to him were operating remotely – sure, sometimes he stumbled into situations where he was unprepared for what happened, but there were always failsafes in place to provide him with back up plans.

the datapackets from the remote systems came in haphazardly, sneaking out in whatever signals they could compress themselves without suffering too much data loss. he knew they would know he was getting communications from somewhere but the volume of traffic on his communication lines would make any filtering system apart from the one he had custom designed choke up pretty quickly and pretty severely.

the retainer and the jobs he was given were bullshit, which suggested to him that either his initial investigation was getting somewhere, or that he was the person being scoped out.

so, what did he know? ex-military industrial complex private army on a agent provocateur program to destabilise new regimes. now why would they be interested in him and stopping his work? he accessed the back ups of the data his new employers thought they had removed from his grips and, seeing that he had pretty much been sent to locations to film things which corroborated their claims that their client was straight, and he could see how that might mess with the agenda of someone who was out to cause instability.

he set up an autoburst protocol in his data buffer so that when the next datapacket came in he would respond to it with a viral that would farm all the data for him, harvest their personal data and transmit it to their enemies, and wipe their own records. he knew his remotes would have the whole system mapped by now aand this would be a rapid movement.

his left eye involuntarily winked as the datapacket arrived, and he began to register new info uploading, and his employers systems going crazy and revealing all of their locations. it would soon be over.

kennedy set his personal security system to a rotating burst of emp and snowcrash viral as he walked away from the whole thing – pushing the data from his initial investigation (the thing which had started this whole mess) out to where it needed to go. out into nothing – an evaporating absence of information. kennedy was gone.

Grit: Takeaway

Grit was pissed – pissed as much about the need for him to be pissed as about the thing which got him there. Fucking people – the bastards always let you down. Whenever someone else let him down he actually felt more let down by himself – annoyed that he hadn’t seen how something was going to play out; fed up that he had not judged someone’s character right.
When you’re running different scams and you bring someone in to help out in the management of one of them you should be straight up and lay it out there who it is that a person is getting into bed with. Now he finds out, when he’s neck deep in the shit, that he’s dealing with the Triad and that his ex-partner, whose body is now scattered across numerous takeaway dinners, has left him with a debt that he can’t afford to pay.
Barney was a numb nuts and had saddled him with someone who seemed to have read the handbook on stereotypical inscrutable oriental gangster. Cho was still knee high to a grass-hopper but it was rumoured he had the legendary death-touch at his command and plenty of people could testify to the one inch punch. Cho was a name that, when it was dropped, stopped someone dead in their tracks. No one knew the real meaning but in the thesaurus of hard bastards it had pretty much come to stand for insanely dangerous motherfucker.
Grit was perturbed – what was it with him lately? Cursed? That didn’t even begin to touch it – if he’d opened a pyramid and stuck his cock in the Pharoah’s  favourite he couldn’t have been more cursed.
As soon as he saw that little bastard’s tattoos he knew he’d trod in the biggest pile of shit he’d ever been near in his life. He didn’t ever do too well in circles where sense of honour was a factor – business was the be all and end all for him and he knew that didn’t cut it with some people.
What he would normally do was to just off the problem, but that wasn’t an option here. So, how to take out a problem without appearing to be the one who is taking out the problem? It was a tried and tested method – he found someone else to do the job, and who better than another Triad?
He started to seed rumours that Cho was weakening and ripe for the picking, and then he also started to push rumours that he had been bad mouthing his contemporaries: a perfect recipe for causing anger at the man.
Some might think it was cowardice to operate in this way, but Grit thought it was smart to be an invisible component in this whole machine. He saw a low fire burning in the network of Triad gangs, so he put some tit for tat killings on the fire as fuel.
Weeks of low level fighting began to build, began to take on form. Grit knew what was coming next – the slow burning fuse had to eventually reach the charges and Cho’s world went up in flames.

Grit: Complications

‘Complications.’
‘Huh?’
‘You heard me. I know you did.’
‘Everything’s a complication.’
‘Grit, why do you have to be such a wiseacre all the fuckin’ time? It get’s boring, you know?’
‘No, I don’t. Keeps me amused; and as far as I’m concerned that’s the most important thing. So what’s the news? What has you wetting your draws?’
‘We were given bad info.’
‘And, what have we done?’
‘Killed someone on the wrong day.’
‘Early or late?’
‘Early. They didn’t get to sign something they needed to.’
‘And the repurcussions are?’
‘A contract on our heads.’
‘Fuck me; I knew this was amateur night the moment I stepped through the door and saw you were on the crew.’
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘It means, Colin, you dumb fuck, that I wouldn’t trust you adding one and one together.’
‘Fuck you, Grit.’
‘No, fuck you, you fucking liability.’
The gun was in hand and discharged the second the sentence had ended. Shit, he thought – might have paid to find out exactly who’s been sicced on us. Still, that wouldn’t be that complicated.
He picked up the phone and called his present employer.
‘Fred?’
‘Is that you, Grit, you cunt?’
‘Yes, Fred, it’s me – what is this bullshit? We carried out the job as per instructions and now we’re dodging bullets ourselves?’
‘You did it early.’
‘I was told a time and I did what I was asked to when I was asked to do it. Colin fucked up his part of it and he’s dead.’
‘You killed him?’
‘Yes, does that concern you?’
‘Course it doesn’t – I paid to have both of you put down.’
‘OK, look, if I take out the other person responsible for the fuck up are we square?’
‘Yeah, we’re square, but that doesn’t mean the guy who’s out to kill you is gonna stop.’
‘Why not?’
‘Because I wired him the money up front and he maintains radio silence up until he has a confirmed kill.’
‘If I put a bullet between his eyes is that going to be a problem?’
‘He’s just a hired hand, so no – not really.’
‘Can you give me a name?’
‘They call him Stack.’
‘OK, well you know who the other fucker I’m after is – don’t you? Bennett – the intel man.’
‘Grit, do you have to? He’s useful a lot of the time.’
‘Sorry, Fred, he has a debt to settle. Is this something you can live with?’
‘I don’t have much choice, do I?’
‘No, you don’t. I mean, I want to be cool with you, but this has to go down a certain way.’
‘OK. I’m sure we’ll speak soon, Grit, when you’ve done what you need to.’
‘I’m sure,’ he said and hung up.
Bennett was a cinch to find – well, at certain points in the day he was a cinch to find because he was trying to make some money by selling the information he had come by. When he went to ground to dig up intel he was the hardest fucker on earth to find. Grit knew his window of opportunity and he took it.
Bennett was a brown-nose, especially when he thought you wanted to buy what he had to sell, so getting him to go outside was the easiest thing ever. When Grit pulled the gun on him he wasn’t necessarily surprised; he wasn’t pleased but he wasn’t surprised. He must have known that the info he had provided last time had somehow got fucked up – usually it didn’t come to this, but if it was going to end the promise of it ending this way had always been there.
When they found him the police pretty much instantly gave up on any chance of finding the perpetrator of the crime – grasses and intel men were never short of enemies and they had better things to do than waste their time tracking down who it was that had finally grown tired and offed the bastard.
Grit wasn’t keeping a low profile at all, and if the person hunting him had any smarts at all he might have wondered at that; might have wondered at the perverse lengths Grit seemed to be going to to draw attention to himself. Stack seemed to miss the clues though – hadn’t spotted that he was walking into a bloody great trap.
The room was dark and Stack thought he was sneaking in – that was outfoxing someone.
‘How,’ said Grit ‘Did a dumb fuck like you ever get such a good reputation?’
‘Um.’
Um was not an answer that was going to impress Grit – his gun had a much more to the point remark to make. Stack died with a look of surprise on his face – for Grit that pretty much said it all.

Grit: Stupid Shit

‘Punch the cunt in the face – don’t pussyfoot around it; get in there and do some damage.’
‘If you don’t shut the fuck up I’m coming after you when I’ve finished with this mug.’
‘Shouldn’t have told his mum to go fuck herself.’
‘How was I supposed to know that old bag was his mum?’
‘Fucked if I know. I suppose if you’d seen him without his beard you might have seen the family resemblance.’
‘That old bitch has a thicker beard than he does.’
The drunken buffoon that was trying to teach Grit a lesson got a lucky punch in – landed it square on his jaw and he nearly bit his tongue off.
Grit had been going soft on him because he was sober and he knew he could take the idiot apart if he wanted to and, after all, he was defending his poor old mum’s honour. The hit to the jaw and the blood flooding into his mouth from biting his tongue changed all that though – a quick left-right combination and aan uppercut to the jaw and the bozo was on his back sparked out in less than thirty seconds.
‘Still got it, eh, you old bastard?’
‘Yeah, so watch out, numb nuts.’
‘Who you calling numb nuts?’
‘So, Berry, why am I up here in the land o’ the jocks?’
‘Because, my old china, some stupid kilt wearing cunt is trying to muscle in on Big Terence’s business.’
‘Which is?’
‘Why do you need to know? You never used to be so curious.’
‘True enough. How much am I being offered to carry out this little task?’
‘50% above your usual asking fee.’
‘Not bad. he must really want him out of the way.’
‘You’re a bright one sometimes, Grit, anyone ever tell you that?’
‘I don’t speak to many people.’
‘Funny.’
‘Anything special want doing with this one?’
‘We don’t come to you for special, Grit; we come to you to get the job done. We don’t like loose ends and you very rarely leave them.’
‘OK, so when?’
‘Go to the desk, ask for a key to your room. Find on the bed a laser-sighted rifle, and observe your target across the street having lunch.’
‘Really? All this done this quick and simple?’
‘You’d prefer it was complicated?’
‘No, course not.’
‘Then get to it, man. Neither of us have all day to sit around here flapping our lips, do we?’
‘No.’
Grit followed the instructions he was given and found the rifle exactly where he had been told he would find it. He lifted it, sighted the guy, and bang, dropped him.
Seconds later he was back downstairs. Seconds later he was asking himself exactly who it was that he had just offed – and that face kept rolling through his head. Shit – he had better get out of here as quick as he could. He’d just put a bullet in someone who he had been sworn off of; someone connected to his own crew; a personal friend of his boss. How fucking stupid could you be?
He swung the car round in the drive of Berry’s house, got out, walked up to the door, knocked on it, and when Berry opened the door smiling like a fucking idiot, he plugged him full of holes.
‘Fucking idiot,’ he said, and he meant himself as much as Berry.

Grit: Thinking

How often have you wanted to punch someone in the mouth? A lot? How many times have you wanted to shoot someone dead? Again you say a lot. Grit had wondered about those things all the time when he was younger, had stopped wondering and started doing when he was a certain age, and had spent just as long thinking about why he’d done them. Regrets? He had a few; but not as many as some might think. When you did what he did for a living that kind of thing would have you crying into your beer every goddamned second of the day if you let it.
He had never been much of a philosopher – that kind of thing could slow you down and make you indecisive. But he wasn’t averse to thinking – that kind of attitude would get you killed. Like most things in this life you had to try and strike a balance. He knew he held a role in his own life – he did not believe in fate; did not like the idea that some abstract pair of notions were resolving themselves through him. He did not want to be an avatar of good or evil – he was a man and he expected there to be plenty of both in his make up.
Gary liked to talk, but there wasn’t much thinking behind it, so Grit occasionally had to school him in the art of keeping his mouth shut and using his head a little more. Gary had a thick head so it often took a second to beat the idea into it. Grit didn’t exactly enjoy it but he didn’t exactly lose sleep over it either.
Gary’s relationship with discretion had gotten him in trouble before and it had got him into trouble now. If he weren’t universally known for the stupidity that was his stock in trade he would surely be dead by now – his well known idiocy got him a beating instead of a bullet in the head. Those who sponsored the beatings hoped and prayed that one day he would learn – they hoped and prayed that others would learn not to talk to him about anything.
Johnny was nursing a pair of broken legs and a wired jaw for his part in fucking up a multi-million pound deal. Grit’s knuckles were skinned thanks to the lesson he had given Johnny.
Thinking – seemed like it came natural for some, but for others it might always be out of reach.