Awake. Cold steel under my back. The clinical, clipped speech of a Direct Action sleeve-tech as icy hands clad in reactive latex move over my naked flesh. I’ve been reincarnated. Again.
The light’s blinding, even if dim by most peoples’ standards. The masked man looks down at me, his words grating on my eardrums even when they are subvocalized.
“The client is awake.”
I groan, stretching slightly to rise from the table.
“Yeah, you’re very observant,” I grumble.
Then I realize again that I am naked.
“Where’s my clothes?”
The tech points to the corner of the room. A folding chair sits there, my clothing folded over its back. A NuFeng Smartsuit, complete with Lotus coating, same as always. They made this getup a little more colorful than I normally like them, gray being not only neutral but often unassuming and overlooked. There’s a bright red tie with it. As I rise and stagger over to it, the tech holds my arm.
“Can you tell me your name, Sir?”
“Johnathan Michael Taggart,” I growl, reaching for my suit.
There’s only one reason I’d be in this resleeving centre in Nectar. I’m dead.
The last thing I remember was being sent to Mars. I’d backed myself up just before I left.
The deal I’d made was one for freedom, in a sense. Now that I’m back in Nectar, I’m not sure if I am free.
Something must have gone wrong. It was supposed to be a simple job. Sure, like I’ve heard that more than a few times since I joined this outfit.
My target’s name had been Faustus Rhime. He was the kind of guy who liked to think that he was safe, shifting between morphs and identities as soon as any authority came close to touching him. That’s where I had come in.
Direct Action owns me. I’ve done their dirty work for three years now, tracking down the worst of the worst and bringing them in. They wouldn’t have much use for a washed-out former cop other than as another piece of meat to hire out, except for the talents I’ve shown since they brought me online again.
Before that, I was trapped in an even worse situation. The Fall… it wiped out everything. My body had perished in the conflagrations that left Earth a shattered remnant of my former home, but I had been fortunate enough to draw the lot for upload. Not so with my wife Beryl and our son Jeremy. They’re gone now, along with everything else I knew.
The worst is behind me. I keep telling myself that. But so is the best. Now, it’s only this in-between. It’s all I have left.
Something about this whole thing doesn’t set right with me, though, as I think about it in the here and now. That name keeps on ringing some bell, but I’ll be damned if I can remember it. Faustus Rhime. Who the hell is he really? I get the feeling I know him.
Dressed, I pick up my shoulder rig with the Gorgon Defense Systems Penetrator that I always carry. Best gun on the market. I sling it on as that loose rattling feeling inside of my head I always associate with resleeving slips away.
“Are you certain you’re ready to leave already, Mr. Taggart? Here, have some smart tea. It will clear your head.”
I brush the tech’s hand away, irritated. I can’t remember why I should be, but I am.
“Let’s just get down to processing, okay?” I grumble in response.
The tech nods to me, and leads me on the way.
Before I even arrive at processing, I know she’s going to be there. Her look when I arrive says she isn’t pleased.
“Welcome back, Taggart,” she says, her husky voice speaking to me on a more primal level than her body language.
I know her, but I can’t remember her name. She’s part of the job. Part of the reason I went to Ashoka. She has something to do with Faustus Rhime.
I watch her closely, the well-tailored business suit aligning itself closely with her curves, her auburn hair threatening to escape the pins that confine it and tumble down her shoulders, her green eyes alight with a spark of… anger?
And that pin on her lapel. It’s a Direct Action service pin.
Yeah, this must be my boss.
I square my shoulders, and get ready to get chewed out.