‘I don’t think this is a good idea,’ said Keeden.
‘You never think anything’s a good idea,’ replied Abaka. He watched, mezmerized, as Dade dropped his head to an inch above the table top. Eyes level with the rim of the coffee cup as he slowly rotated it. Microscopically he inspected the rim of the mug for signs of foreign bodies. Dade was one of life’s fussy consumers.
‘And I’m usually right,’ replied Keeden.
‘ What’s up with you this time?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, Dade! I don’t know what’s up with me! Maybe it’s cuz you took twenty minutes to order a coffee? Maybe it’s cuz we’ve had to get up at four to find this damn place? Or maybe it’s cuz I’m sat in this shitty diner waiting for some bloody gangster to turn up so we can get involved in a load of gangster shit?’
‘That’s three you owe the swear tin,’ said Dade quietly.
‘C’mon guys, I got a bad feeling about this one. Let’s get out of here and back to something we actually know about.’ Keeden’s voice dripped with pleading.
‘Get back to being skint y’mean?’ said Abaka.
‘We can’t’ bail now,’ said Dade. ‘We’ve spent a month building all the kit.’
‘Look, there’s a phone over there. I can call Murden and- ‘
‘Not this again!’ said Abaka.
‘It’s good steady work- ‘
‘Three months up to our knees in crap, breathing in dust with the vague promise of some kind of payment at the end of it all, is what it is!’
‘Opposed to the very specific promise of violence at the end of this shit you’ve got us into?’
‘Four,’ said Dade.
‘Don’t be so melodramatic,’ said Abaka, carefully spooning more sugar into the sludge like coffee. ‘It’s a straightforward gig- ‘
‘That’s what you said about Radio Tycho! Little bit of pirate radio you said. We’re bloody lucky not to be in an ORDA holding cell! ‘
‘Keep it down,’ winced Abaka. The volume of the conversation wasn’t really an issue. The rain drummed against the thin tin roof of the diner and filled the room with a constant white noise which, in turn drowned out the ambient chatter of the diner.
‘Keep it down is exactly what ORDA have done with your radio station!’
‘This is different. This is contract work. A one-off gig. Everything’s built, we get it done, we get paid, all’s well.’
‘It’s different cuz were gonna be doing it for a bunch of mean bastards. We’re out of our depth.’
‘Five,’ said Dade.
‘Shut up Dade. Look, we always said we we’re gonna stay under the radar. Keep it all manageable. Steer away from the risky stuff. And we’ve always- ‘
‘Aimed low!’ said Dade.
‘Been skint?’ said Abaka.
‘God damn it!’ said Keeden loudly before nervously glancing over his shoulder and dropping his voice to a hoarse whisper. ‘This isn’t playing some tunes over the radio or pirating some video games, sticking ‘em on audio cassettes and selling ‘em at a crappy market. This is a bloody broadcast signal intrusion. Across the whole of Tycho Crater. I’m telling you, somebody is gonna notice and somebody is gonna start asking questions.’
‘Pirate advertising!’ said Dade miserably.
‘We said we’d call it pirate advertising.’
‘I say we call it bloody trouble and have done!’
The three entrepreneurs glared at each other across the table. Dade hadn’t mentioned Keeden’s recent obligations to the swear tin out loud. Instead he’d made a small mark on his napkin acknowledging the recent two bloody’s. He figured he’d let Keeden off with the damn.
‘Y’know,’ said Abaka. ‘This gumbo ain’t too bad!’ He lifted a large spoonful of the congealing brown mess to his mouth and chomped down while Dade winced in horror.
‘Look,’ said Keeden. ‘At least let me phone Murden. Last week he still had five or six grids left on his next search. He’ll give us a good price- ‘
‘Mate,’ said Dade softly. ‘There’s no money in scavenging anymore. For the simple reason, those grids have been searched out.’
‘I know,’ replied Keeden. ‘But look at this.’ He cautiously checked his shoulders again while removing a square of tightly folded yellow paper from his leather messenger bag. He unfolded the paper to reveal a black and white orbital survey map of the south east area of Tycho Crater. In the bottom right hand corner, a grid of hand drawn red lines had been plotted out. The majority of the squares had been coloured with a pink highlighter pen. Keeden smoothed the paper down and weighed a corner with Dade’s abandoned coffee mug. ‘Here,’ he whispered conspiratorially, jabbing a finger at an uncoloured grid.
‘And?’ said Dade, leaning forward.
‘Grid seventeen A,’ Keeden leaned back slightly, a smug grin on his face.
‘And?’ repeated Dade.
Keeden switched his attention to Abaka, but he looked equally confused. ‘Seventeen A,’ he repeated. ‘Is right under the Barrachulish Spur!’
‘God’s sake, did either of you study?’
‘I know code,’ said Dade sulkily.
‘The spur is this gnarly ass peak on the crater wall, here.’ He jabbed a finger at the map. ‘This dark area just below it is the Tabula Rasa- ‘
‘The waterfall?’ said Abaka triumphantly.
‘Well done,’ said Keeden condescendingly. ‘In spring it’s a waterfall. Meltwater from the spur travels down this route and makes this bloody huge waterfall for three months. Then, over summer the resulting lake drains through subterranean channels which leaves this bowl. Here,’ Keeden’s finger traced the route of the waterfall from summit all the way down to the seasonal lake. ‘Which is right under grid seventeen A.’
‘And?’ said Dade.
‘Stop bloody saying “and”,’ said Keeden in frustration.
‘I don’t get it,’
‘Look, just let me explain ok?’ Keeden reached back into his leather messenger bag and rummaged around until his hand located his leather-bound notebook. He dropped it onto the table with a thud. The notebook was rammed well beyond its capacity with sticky notes, newspaper cuttings and a random assortment of extra paper. Keeden licked his index finger and flicked through the pages. ‘Here,’ he said triumphantly, spinning the journal through one hundred and eighty degrees and shoving it onto his colleagues’ side of the table.
Abaka leaned forward, placing a pair of wireframe spectacles on his nose before reading out loud. ‘Stendec 117.’
‘I found this in the archives of the library,’ the smug grin had returned to Keeden’s face.
‘An- errr, and what’s it mean?’ Inquired Dade.
‘According to this article,’ continued Keeden in hushed tones. ‘Stendec 117 was a military cargo plane out of the naval airbase at Mount Thumper, bound for South Tycho City airport. It’s supposed to have been a spoils of war flight. The inventory was always classified, but the reporter took statements from two of the ground crew who claimed the plane was carrying a bloody great sum of rich stuff- ‘
‘Rich stuff?’ said Abaka, leaning forward. Of the three entrepreneurs he was the one with the fondest longing for wealth and the quicker it came the better. ‘Like copper and stuff?’
‘Maybe,’ replied Keeden, his voice dropping in volume one more time. ‘But this is centuries ago. During the second terraforming war. Back when they had stuff.’
‘Like silver?’ said Abaka licking his lips in anticipation.
‘More than that I reckon. The stuff they were taking off those Indy’s back then was ridiculous. I’m thinking gold, gems, tech, all sorts of bloody stuff.’
Abaka’s eyes had glazed over.
‘What’s that got to do with scavenging in this grid?’ said Dade, taking up the slack for Abaka’s momentary personal reverie.
‘So, this article says the plane never made it to Tycho,’
‘It went down?’
‘According to the article, it made its last vocal contact with the tower at Tycho just before it passed over the Barrachulish Spur. It pinged one more time about thirty seconds later and then there was a brief unintelligible signal and that was it. Gone!’
Abaka and Dade exchanged glances.
‘They looked for it but never found any wreckage and concluded it had gone down way up the mountain. Since then, there have only been a handful of people who’ve ever climbed this thing because it’s bleeding deadly. So they just wrote it off. They said it had been covered by the avalanche it caused when it went down. They’ve never given out permits to scavenge on the crater wall cuz of the Indy’s who live up there, so no private guys have ever searched it.’
‘So, what makes you think grid seventeen A is the place to look? Its thousands of feet below on the crater floor.’
‘I know, but you remember Karkin?’
‘Captain Phantom?’ said Dade. ‘The guy who cracked Super Enhanced Speed Bunny Two?’
‘Yeah,’ said Abaka. ‘Nice guy, came into a bit of money and lives over the river now?’
‘That’s him,’ said Keeden. ‘He came into that bit of money two years ago, straight after coming back from one of Murden’s grids. This grid right here!’ Keeden’s finger thumped down on the map. ‘Listen, when that ice melts that waterfall is gonna bring a ton of material down off the peak every year. We had those heavy spring rains two years ago and I think Karkin found something in the wash off.’
‘If he’d found something he’d have gone back, wouldn’t he?’
‘Unless… he never declared what he found to Murden. Unless he got whatever it was out of the grid before Murden got to claim his percentage.’
The three partners glanced at each other. It made some sense. Murden was known to be an aggressive negotiator, especially when it came to valuing anything recovered from one of his permissions. To be fair, all three entrepreneurs would have to admit they’d have been tempted to be the same, were they ever in Karkin’s position. A good piece of salvage could go a long long way in South Tycho City.
‘I dunno,’ said Abaka, rubbing his chin and inspecting the journal. ‘It’s a long shot. What you thinking?’
‘It’s a bit of a reach, isn’t it?’ said Dade. ‘This was centuries ago. There’s not much chance anything will still be there?’
‘Yeah, and we’ve been here before haven’t we Keeden? Same as that haunted house thing you were obsessed with two years ago? What was it? A possessed grandfather clock you figured we’d be able to talk to with the help of some mad old psychic nutter from down on Parth Avenue. Thought this clock would be able to tell us were some god-awful family treasure was hidden.’
‘That was a good one!’ said Dade smirking.
‘Shut up Dade,’ said Keeden irritably.
‘Then, there was that nonsense about those damn flintlocks? Solid gold pistols from a nursery rhyme, you reckoned were buried near Mount Thumper cuz of something you saw in a magazine at the dentists.’
‘They were good leads!’ exclaimed Keeden.
‘No! They were good stories!’
Keeden’s fingers drummed irritably against the table top.
‘You tell them well, I’ll admit that. But, all they are is stories and stories are not gonna get us paid- ‘
‘They won’t get us killed either! Come one guys I’ve really got a bad feeling about this one. It’s got bad news written all over it. Let’s get out of here. Go take a look at Murden’s grid. I think it’s worth a punt. I mean, we’ve got the sledge. Dade reckons those improved coils will go a long way under.’
‘Damn right!’ said Dade. ‘I reckon they’d pick up your fillings from the other side of this room!’
Abaka, who didn’t have any fillings, shot Dade a poisonous glance.
‘We could be up there by the weekend,’ said Keeden. ‘Murden will give us a good price on that grid because the tight old git hates it when they go unsold.’
‘Okay,’ said Abaka. ‘I’ll admit, it’s kind of intriguing. But Dade is right, we’ve spent a month building all the kit for this pirate advertising thing. It’s kind of unique and if this job goes well we could really be on to something. Hell, this time next year we could be living over the river with Karkin!’
‘Or, we could be thrown in the river by a bunch of bloody gangsters!’
‘Point taken,’ said Abaka. ‘But at the end of the day we all voted on this thing and we should see it through. I vote we stay here and get this job done. See where it leads.’
‘And I vote we bail now! While we have a chance.’
Keeden and Abaka turned their attention to Dade for the casting vote. A man so indecisive he’d only moments ago taken nearly five minutes to select the most basic item on the menu for his breakfast.
‘Doesn’t really matter now to be honest,’ said Dade miserably.
‘How’s that?’ quizzed Keeden.
‘Your man has just turned up,’ replied Dade, casting a subtle nod towards the diner entrance. The other two entrepreneurs turned to see their prospective employer, a young man with greasy black hair, shaking the rain off his jacket.
‘Shit!’ said Keeden.
‘Ten.’ Said Dade automatically.
Moments earlier, at the opposite side of the diner, Revenge Boy had finished his eggy bread and sipped the last of his milk. He mopped the corners of his mouth with a black napkin and crossed his knife and fork in the centre of his plate. Satisfied with his breakfast, he shuffled along his bench and stretched his small legs to the floor before nodding a thankyou towards the big guy behind the counter and then heading for the exit.
Pulling the thin aluminium entrance door inwards he noted an old lady in a blue flowery dress, her umbrella angled to deflect the morning rain, heading towards the entrance with a group of equally old and equally blue colleagues. Revenge boy stood back and held the door as the Dearz of the North Quad Allotment 88 Crypts shuffled inside, umbrellas flapping.
‘Thankyou kindly young man,’ said the little old lady in the blue flowery dress.
‘Very kind of you young man,’ said a second grandma. She nearly pinched Revenge Boys cheek before some latent survival instinct suggested that was not a good idea.
‘You’re welcome,’ replied Revenge Boy, before moving to exit through the now clear doorway.
A young man with a greasy black hair was now approaching the diner. Relative to Revenge Boy, the young man was at an awkward distance. Probably far enough away for Revenge Boy to exit while still being close enough that it would be rude to not hold the door.
Revenge Boy waited.
Walking unevenly knuckles swinging, the young man with the greasy black hair strutted into the diner and past Revenge Boy without acknowledging or thanking him.
An extremely committed observer would have noted the way Revenge Boy had suddenly frozen. For a split second, an almost imperceptible change is his posture made him rigid, before he turned his head slowly and watched the young man with the greasy black hair shake the rain off his jacket.
Then Revenge Boy stepped out into the rain before finally disappearing amongst the hustle and bustle of the market.
Borsst shook the rain from his jacket and ran his fingers through his greasy black hair. He scowled as he scanned the diner before his gaze fell on the three losers he’d been sent here to meet. Three pitiful over-educated geeks for whom Borsst held nothing but contempt. As he weaved around the diner’s tables he felt a tinge of satisfaction. Knowing that he’d at least have the opportunity to cause them a bunch of misery after this job was finished to his boss’s satisfaction.
Borsst was an absolute bastard.
Indeed, there really wasn’t a better way of describing him. Certainly, no better way of describing him which wouldn’t result in a contribution to Dade’s swear tin.
Like many of the kids who’d been unfortunate enough to have been born and raised in one of the labyrinthian packing crate tower blocks in the Quads, Borsst had become involved in petty crime at a young age. In Borsst’s case this had been his induction into the street gang who ran the petty cons around his apartment block. What the kids had lacked in intelligence and resources they’d more than made up for with their inclination towards violence and thuggery.
In the melting pot of South Tycho City, Borsst’s particular brand of mindless violence had soon seen him rise to the top of the low life stew. Subsequently, ending up in the employ of The Bear and his crime syndicate. After that, with the relative protection afforded to him as one of The Bears enforcers, Borsst had ruled his tower block with a ruthless efficiency. All the while spreading misery among the block’s other residents. Racketeering, unsociable behaviour and dodgy dealing all became bywords for the block as it spiralled into squalor and chaos.
For his part, Borsst had revelled in the notoriety and prestige afforded to him by his position within the syndicate. Within a brief timeframe he’d not only enforced his reputation downwards, to his gang members and the unfortunate citizens of the apartment block, but also started to spread his sphere of influence outwards towards rival gangs in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Inevitably, this had led Borsst’s gangs into conflict with other sects of The Bears organization. Inter syndicate rivalry had always been positively encouraged by The Bear. Who above all, held the firm view that only by a constant shaking of the pot would the strongest rise to the top, while the chaff would inevitably, and sometimes brutally, be filtered out.
However, Borsst’s rise had not gone unnoticed by the lieutenants within the organization. Men who had achieved their position through equally questionable methods and since maintained their elevated positions by learning to recognise a threat when it appeared. And if nothing else, Borsst was certainly a threat. A threat that would need to be dealt with, certainly. But, in good time. Therefore, without realising it Borsst had ensured his survival. As long as his usefulness remained in excess of his ambition, The Bears lieutenants would allow him to go about his business. All the while more than happy to offer him any contracts which suited his particular skill set.
Hence, Borsst’s climbing of the career ladder had led him here. To sit in front of three nervous looking geeks at a grimy diner in The Quads. As he watched the three entrepanuers squirm under his gaze he realised he was enjoying himself.
‘Mister Borsst?’ said Dade nervously while extending his hand. Borsst stared menacingly at the offer of a handshake and Dade withdrew it quickly.
Borsst scanned the other side of the table. The guy who’d offered his hand sounded like the person he’d spoken to previously by phone. A total wimp. The second guy with the dark skin and wireframe glasses was the biggest of the three. Under normal circumstances Borsst would have considered him to be a guy who could handle himself. But the fact he’d let the wimp speak first told Borsst all he needed to know. The third guy, the skinny one with mousey slick black hair was struggling to even make eye contact with Borsst and he seemed the most nervous of the three. Therefore, Borsst chose to address him specifically.
‘So, I understand you can provide a service that suits my boss’s needs?’
‘Er, yes sir,’ coughed Dade. ‘As I under-
‘I was talking to him.’ Interrupted Dade sharply, his eyes never leaving the squirming Keeden. Dade sank back into his seat slowly. ‘Well?’
‘Yes sir,’ said Keeden meekly. ‘You contacted us about the possibility of staging a signal interruption- ‘
‘How’s it work?’
‘It’s not to difficult,’ replied Keeden finding his voice. ‘All that’s really needed is a powerful enough FM transmitter to overpower the signal being broadcast- ‘
‘So, if it’s so easy,’ said Borsst leaning forward towards Keeden threateningly. ‘Why the hell do we need you?’
‘It’s specialised kit sir,’ said Abaka quickly trying to draw attention away from Keeden’s rapidly whitening face. ‘We’ve engineered the equipment ourselves.’
‘You would also have to locate a suitable transmission site,’ said Dade.
‘And… have you?’
‘The transmission tower at the old Murdock Building serves three quarters of South Tycho City. We figure that’s the best site.’
‘We’ve done recon on the site,’ said Abaka. ‘We’re pretty confident we’ve worked out the shift patterns of the engineers and are certain there won’t be any in the building. That should give us a good five minutes broadcasting at an absolute minimum.’
‘Engineers?’ said Borsst.
‘Yeah, as soon as someone figures out what is going on, an engineer can manually switch the towers broadcast frequency. Switch back to the proper broadcast.’
‘We understood five minutes would be enough?’ said Dade.
‘Five minutes will be fine,’ said Borsst. ‘The Boss say’s that regardless of how many people see it, there’ll be plenty talking about it the next day. The Boss is pretty big on word of mouth you see.’
‘The boss said that purely by word of mouth you three would know who you were dealing with and what would bloody well happen to you if anything goes wrong.’ Borsst smirked mirthlessly at the three entrepreneurs who were now looking at each other nervously. ‘You understand?’ he said, rapidly leaning in Keeden’s direction. The kid nearly wet himself.
‘Understood,’ said Keeden hoarsely.
‘So, I take it you’ve thought of everything?’ said Borsst.
‘As much as we can,’ replied Abaka.
‘Well that had better be enough. Cuz the boss ain’t the forgiving type. And, on a personal note, I’ll have no problems breaking all y’all legs if you balls this up.’
There was a brief moment of very loud silence as the three pirate advertisers glanced at each of their colleagues. Without uttering a single sound Keeden somehow managed to clearly communicate the words “I bloody well told you so!” to his awkward looking partners who had very little in response except to shuffle in their seats uncomfortably.
‘So,’ said Dade eventually daring to break the silence. ‘All we need to know is a date, time and what you need us to transmit.’
‘Friday evening,’ replied Borsst. ‘Eight PM on the dot.’
‘Primetime?’ said Abaka.
‘Primetime,’ agreed Borsst, nodding his head. ‘Maximum exposure.’
‘And the transmission material?’ said Dade.
Borsst’s right hand dipped into his inside jacket pocket before producing a brown paper covered parcel. He held the object out in front of the three partners who eyed it suspiciously. ‘Pre-made,’ smirked Borsst as he slid the parcel over the table top towards Keeden. ‘You follow the racing, boy?’
‘Racing?’ said Keeden, a look of confusion flashed over his face.
Borsst looked at Keeden in disgust.
‘The pigeons?’ inquired Dade.
‘The pigeons,’ nodded Borsst, turning his attention away from Keeden. ‘The boss is… an enthusiast, shall we say? He’s entering a bird in the Grenade Annual next Sunday. One of his own birds. He’s reared it from egg to chick to bird. He bloody well loves that feathery little bastard. By all accounts the damn thing is like a missile. An absolute cert.’
‘And your boss wants to raise awareness of it?’
‘A grandiose self-promotion according to the boss. Fitting of a modern-day business man apparently.’
‘I don’t get it,’ said Keeden. Abaka kicked him under the table.
‘The boss is running a book,’ said Borsst. ‘And he would very much like to raise awareness of his bird. Get some money in from the more casual punter. And like I said earlier, if you can pull off the shit you said you can with this pirate advert, then a lot of people are going to be talking about it on Saturday. A lot of people are gonna fancy themselves a little flutter.’
‘But if the bird is so good… Won’t it win?’ said Keeden who couldn’t contain his curiosity despite another kick under the table from Abaka.
‘And your boss would lose a tonne of money?’ said Dade.
‘Yes, yes, it should win yes,’ said Borsst as an evil grin spread across his face. ‘Except for the fact that the Boss has arranged for an extraordinary amount of heavy weaponry to be waiting for the bird as it passes the Grenade.’
Keeden recoiled in horror. ‘You’re gonna shoot it?’
‘Shame really,’ said Borsst. ‘The boss really loves that bird.’
‘You’re gonna shoot it?’ repeated Keeden, one of the worlds true lovers of animals.
‘With the amount of weaponry we’re gonna be aiming at that bird, shoot is probably putting it mildly. The coverage is gonna show the boss’s bird way in the lead as it passes the Grenade and then that’s the last anyone will ever see of it. There isn’t going to be much left. Nothing you’d be able to identify at least.’
Another round of noisy silence washed over the table as the three entrepreneurs began to realise what they had gotten themselves into. It had also dawned on all three of them that, now Borsst had imparted the information, there was no way out for them. They were quite literally up a certain creek. Without a paddle. Or a boat.
‘Obviously,’ said Borsst recognising the partners discomfort. ‘If anything I just told you leaks out of this building then I’m gonna be paying you a visit. And I’ll bring a pair of pliers with me.’
Miserably, Dade reached across the table and scooped up the parcel. Carefully he peeled open a corner of the greasy brown paper to reveal the black plastic of a video cassette before shoving the package into his coat pocket. Abaka watched him before making a minute facial gesture towards him, encouraging Dade to ask the pertinent question.
‘And… The payment?’ Dade whispered.
Borsst reached into his pocket and tossed a brown leather wallet onto the table in front of Dade who nervously collected it. Borsst watched as Dade unfolded the purse carefully before peering at the contents. Ten silver coins glinted in the dim light of the diner. Dade’s eyes turned upwards towards Borsst.
‘Err, we said twenty?’ coughed Dade nervously.
Borsst sneered. ‘I hope you’re not suggesting that I’ve creamed a little off the top for myself?’ The voice was oozing with threat. ‘Cuz if that’s what you are suggesting then I would take that as an insult. And I don’t like being insulted. In fact, when I do get insulted I tend to respond disproportionally. You know what I mean?’
Abaka and Keeden had frozen in terror. Dade’s stare locked with Borsst’s for a brief second, before some subconscious survival instinct had kicked in. ‘Ten will be fine, Mister Borsst.’
‘Thought so,’ replied Borsst. He allowed himself a final glare at each partner before he stood up and lifted the collar of his jacket. ‘Foul weather,’ he said, matter of factly looking over Dade’s shoulder at the downpour outside. ‘So, I won’t be seeing any of you again will I?’
‘No!’ said Keeden rapidly, but with absolute certainty.
‘Unless something goes wrong, huh?’ said Borsst laughing.
The three partners watched miserably as Borsst strode out of the diner and into the crowd and rain. It was a couple of minutes before any of them managed to say anything.
‘So, what do you think?’ said Abaka.
Keeden told him.
‘That’s twenty you owe the swear tin,’ said Dade weakly.
The road maps of our lives are chaotic complicated documents. From birth, nurture and upbringing through to all the decisions we ever make and every opportunity we grab or miss. There is no way of knowing how things would have turned out if we’d been born somewhere else, made different decisions or tried to be better people.
Borsst was indeed a bastard.
However, if he hadn’t been a bastard born in a certain Quads apartment block, then maybe he wouldn’t have ended up working for The Bear. Perhaps, if he hadn’t ended up in The Bears employ then maybe he wouldn’t have ended up ruling his apartment block with a reign of violence and tyranny. Furthermore, if he hadn’t steadily climbed the ladder of The Bears underground organization, then maybe he wouldn’t have been sent to a run-down diner on the north corner of the Quads market one rainy morning.
Certainly, If Borsst had just said thankyou or acknowledged the kid who’d held the door open for him on his way into the diner that morning, the City Watch wouldn’t have found his mangled body in a dumpster behind the Quads theatre two days later.