‘Yes, I killed my wife. But it was forty years ago, and I went to jail, and I did my time. In the eyes of the law, I’m clean.’

He was wearing a new sleeve, one of the fashionista models that had only just rolled out of the bio-vats. The eyes kaleidoscoped through a dozen different fractal patterns, green to red to yellow to an azure that was like no ocean left on Earth, all combing to making holding his gaze impossible. Tafs own sleeve had seen better days. The knees were shot, his own eyes were a muddy brown and he could feel the old biological impulse to stuff organic matter into his mouth like a sickening compulsion.

“The fuck you want?” Vanquist said.

Taf closed the door behind himself, dropping a recursive into the lock that would piss off security until they dropped the feed or blew the door. A twentieth century Tsar would say the room was opulent even for them, but Taf found it so ostentatious, especially after crawling from the bacteria-rain streets of the bairros below, that he wanted to throw up whatever was in this body’s digestive tract.

Vanquist extricated himself from the prostitute on the bed. The young boy rushed to the corner of the room, taking shelter in the arms of an older woman who was similarly cowed. Vanquist didn’t bother with a gown, he stood, the vat-borne physique amplified by the rouge lighting. Taf thought about putting the whores out of their misery, but the establishment would just re-animate them and sell them to snuff-collector.

“Hey, pillock, I’m fucking talking to you.”

Grounders didn’t get many choices. You might get to decide between feeling a knife stick you in an alley for your rad-rations or a knife slit your throat in your bed for your shoes. As a kid, claimed by a foster family, Taf had chosen the least dangerous path and joined the auxiliary forces. They’d took him and turned him into a half-human killing machine. And when they were done? They stripped every bit of wetware they could and sent him packing with a chit and this shit sleeve. Well he’d cashed in that chit, he’d got back a few of the perks.

The knees were shot because he didn’t have the lower-leg bone augs to handle the nano-fibres in his muscles. He covered the ten metres from the door to the bed in a heartbeat. The ceramic plates in his hands knitted together and sent Vanquist crashing against one of the posts of the bed. He coughed, bloody and painful, and Taf wished his old eyes could tell him how many ribs had cracked.

“Fuckin…”

Taf knelt, knee pressed against Vanquist’s chest until his screaming subsided and the distended veins in his neck began to bulge. Taf would have liked to have used his hands, but the plates under his skin made squeezing difficult. Eventually Vanquist tapped out, fractal eyes rolling back into his perfect skull.

“Do you remember Maya-Ann?” Taf asked, slowly.

Vanquist probed his chest gingerly, wincing as he went. Taf knew he knew. You didn’t pay for grey-clusters without backing up everything.

“What about her?” Vanquist said.

“What happened?”

“To Maya? She was a fucking whore.”

Taf broke the wrist of Vanquist’s probing hand, eliciting a scream.

“What happened?”

“What’s it to you?”

Taf grabbed the wrist, Vanquist stammering out his desperations.

“She was my wife! Third or fourth, I don’t know. Must have been turn of the century. Goddam whore got under my skin, made me think she loved me. That fucking bastard child…”

Taf slowly rotated the finger he still held, feeling the gnawing pain as the small bones in Vanquist’s wrist ground over each other.

“You killed her.”

“Yes, I killed my wife.” Vanquist’s eyes seemed to shift at the same rate as his wrist. “But it was forty years ago, and I went to jail, and I did my time. In the eyes of the law, I’m clean.”

Taf dropped the finger. Vanquist clutched it to his chest like a wounded animal. The strong jaw trembled as he bit back tears, not daring to meet the eyes of his attacker.

“You paid a slum rat a month’s rations to sit in the cube for you.”

“How do you…”

“Your man Ewe didn’t even kill the kid. You know that? Of course you don’t.” Taf slapped Vanquist about the head, keeping him from drifting into unconsciousness. “You get a man, who lost a kid to cholera the same age, and tell him to butcher a little boy? What did you think he would do?”

“But he said…”

“He said what a pretentious twat like you would want to hear. But instead of putting another rat through the city belchers, he took it home and raised it. Taught it how to fight, and when to wait.”

“But. You. How?”

Taf took out the small scarf his mother had wrapped him in all that time ago. It bore the stylised V of the Vanquist empire, embroidered into a corner that had turned yellow with age and red with pain. He began slowly working it into Vanquist’s mouth, open-fist punching him when he refused.

“My mother died and you didn’t even have the decency to pay for it.”


Prompt originally posted by In_Cold_Blood on reddit and received 1 upvotes.

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