In the old Grid, if you wanted to get somewhere in a hurry, you Hopped; dove into the fabric of the Grid and shot through the code like a fish through plumbing. You’d be there in milliseconds.
Weedly, apparently, didn’t want that happening on his watch. Lyan had tried Hopping when he’d first arrived, and it was like swan-diving into a sandbag.
So he was going to have to get used to normal transportation, like the back seat of the taxi he huddled in now.
He ground his molars together as he scanned the traffic through the windows. They were one-way–clear from the inside, murky and impenetrable from the outside–but he still felt exposed, way too visible.
A black sliding panel separated him from the taxi driver in the front. He’d asked for it shut–maybe a simple taxi program was harmless, but then again, maybe every AI in this new and bustling Grid was eyes and ears for Weedly.
He wondered if there was some way to hack this thing, speed it up or maybe turn it into a flying taxi and just zoom across the top of the city. Could he do that? He really didn’t know what was possible here, with his hardware, and part of him really wanted to flex that muscle, see what happened. But Quint had been adamant about that being a bad idea.
The taxi was so freaking slow. Outside, traffic shot past them, and Lyan started to lean forward, pound on the barrier and tell the AI to hurry it up. Then he realized they were pulling over to the side of the street, slowing to a stop.
Lyan froze. That shouldn’t be happening.
Through the other passenger side window, a brown suit came into view. The door slid open, and the owner of the suit ducked through the opening and folded himself into the passenger seat next to Lyan.
Adrenaline shocked his stomach, and Lyan groped out with his cerebrals, trying to key his door open. It didn’t respond.
The other door shut, and the taxi pulled back into traffic.
Lyan looked over at the other passenger, stomach burning with adrenaline.
The other man was tall, skinny, with floppy brown hair and a nose like a beak. He stared forward, hands on his knees, as if he was alone in the car.
Lyan thought about either punching the side of his face, or asking him who he was, but he couldn’t seem to find the muscles for either of those actions.
The man cleared his throat. “I have a message. It’s from the men who are holding your body hostage. Your physical body.”
“Have you been following me?” Stupid question, but it popped out.
“You will accompany me, please,” the man said. “Just for a conversation. If you don’t–” He paused for a moment. “They’ll begin taking things. Starting with your fingers.”
Lyan tried to swallow the lump of panic growing ine his throat. It could be a bluff, couldn’t it? There really wasn’t any way of knowing if there was any truth in what this guy was saying.
But then he thought about waking up strapped to a table or something, with fingers snipped off.
“What kind of conversation?” His voice stayed pretty level, considering.
“At the end of this street, please stop the vehicle,” the man said.
The taxi must have been moving faster now, because the end of the street came before he could formulate an escape plan.
Lyan triggered the window in front of him, and it slid up. “Stop here,” he said, his mouth like a dry rag.
“Have a great day, mate,” the driver said. A sleek notice popped up in the corner of Lyan’s vision, letting him know how many points were being deducted from the credit account Quint had set up for him.
The stranger’s door slid open, and he looked at Lyan for the first time. His eyes were dark and piercing under drooping eyelids. “We need to move quickly. We’re being followed.”
He exited the car, yanking his jacket straight. Lyan followed, his brain stuttering over the man’s words. Followed, by someone other than this guy he’d been running from ever since he’d arrived in the Grid?
Suit man wasn’t looking back for him. Apparently he felt pretty good about the power of his threat. Lyan jogged a few steps to catch up. “Who’s following?” he asked, his voice cracking with adrenaline.
Suit kept going, brisk strides across the walkway toward a tower checkered with different shades of lavender. He slowed almost imperceptibly, allowing Lyan to come alongside him.
“I had to shift some code to stop your vehicle,” he said, his lips barely moving. “There are two citizens coming for us. We have to incapacitate them quickly.”
They reached the tower entrance. In front of them, a giggling young couple with intertwined limbs paused to key in a floor and stepped through, disappearing mid-step. Suit stepped into their place and stared hard at the entrance, keying it transparent. “Quickly,” he repeated.
The club was dark and pounding with frantic music. Silhouettes moved around them, bouncing to the pulse. Colored strobe lights flashing unbiased through the crowd, illuminating grinning, tiny-pupiled faces in millisecond-long snapshots. Just above head level, holographic advertisements circled and dipped, hawking drinks and drugs.
“Look toward the entrance.” Suit’s voice came close to Lyan’s ear.
Lyan turned, blinking, trying to re-orient himself toward the front of the club. Someone staggered into him from the side, and groping fingers spidered down his chest. He recoiled, swiping them away.
“Two citizens will be coming in and walking straight toward us.” Suit spoke quickly, every word outlined in surgically-precise diction. “Do not use your cerebrals or effect the code in any way..”
Lyan squinted into the churning mass of club patrons, his head pounding with the music. He could just make out the dark glass of the entrance.
Then two new silhouettes appeared against the doors, pushing forward through the crowd with a stolidness unaffected by the growling bass line. A stuttering green strobe lit their faces for a frozen second—a stocky, big-haired man and a woman with a shaved head. Both with blank, phased-out expressions that had nothing to do with any of the products on the overhead adverts.
“They have guns,” Suit said matter-of-factly, and stepped to meet them.
Heat washed up through him, surging him forward to meet the silhouette on the left, the woman. Her hands were coming up, pointing a dark object—he didn’t really think, lashed out with his left hand, his movements uncoordinated and big with adrenaline.
Her gun hand flung away from him, and he whipped the side of his other arm into the side of her neck. She folded without a sound.
Lyan spun to the side, just in time to see Suit’s fist crashing into the big guy’s temple, his gangly body driving his arm like a hammer. The big guy staggered, took another hammer-fist to the cranium, and went down. A few stray shrieks split the dimness around them, but the rest of the club danced on, oblivious.
“Good job,” Suit said, and strode back toward the doors, massaging his right hand with his left.
Lyan stood for a moment, panting, hands shaking. What the crap had actually just happened.
He stepped over the woman he’d just knocked out, and pushed his way to the door.
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