That jetpack was a fascinating piece of technology. I suppose it had to be when developed for use in an atmosphere high in methane. Having embedded on the ground floor, so to speak, I’ve gotten a close-up look at the place. If not for whatever lost these people the Earth, this dimension might have been more advanced than my home dimension. They’ve built something fantastic here, but it’s lacking in certain ways. There’s not so much in the way of augmented reality, robotics, or cybernetics. I’ve seen people missing parts, or blind, and not begging. Relatively few beggars, all things considered. You know, why bother speculating when I have some people I can ask about that very thing?
I turned away from the window that looked out at the city. This food lab, Steel Tree Orchards, was a squat building, more of concrete they use on this planet. I went in expecting trees. I found a place where they clone fruits from templates. Snuck in through a vent. Had to destroy part of the vent to do it, but I found myself along an assembly line where people used syringes attached to tanks by hoses on the apples.
I walked up, grabbed one, and tore it in half. Kids, don’t try that at home unless you’ve got super strength and razor-sharp fingernails. The inside was blue. I suppose I could have done the police thing and given it a taste. Really, few cops do that because of the potential risks. Anyone who has ever smuggled capsaicin from a Thai chile warlord knows what I’m talking about.
“Hey, what’s this?” I asked one of the workers, who had on a pale green biohazard suit.
That worker didn’t look up but the next one along the line did and waved at that one. The one I addressed patted their chest with a glove, then pulled up their mask. “Who are you? You can’t be in here without a suit.”
“What’s this?” I asked again.
“That’s a blueberry apple, numbnuts. Get out of here.” He waved me away.
I rolled my eyes and pulled out a pair of swords I took on my last hijacked food delivery to the mothership. “I don’t wanna,” I told the guy as I hopped the conveyor belt and slowly approached him. He held up his hands, including one that was strapped to the syringe and hose. He started to unstrap himself, but I bonked him on the head with the butt of the sword and knocked him down. The next one, who first noticed me, got loose. I rolled over the belt and stabbed her through the foot. “Stick around.”
I pelted the next couple of workers with apples to knock them down. By the time the overseer came in to check on the floor, I had four of these workers trussed up with apples in their mouths to gag them. He walked in, looked them over, and asked, “What’s all this then?”
He looked up when I dropped an apple core on his head. “It’s banana flavor. Not my favorite,” I said, then dropped down on him. I added him to the collection and ordered him to inform on me. “Let your peace officers know I have all of you hostage.” He pulled out a cylinder that opened up at an angle and used a rotary dial on the bottom of it.
“You won’t get away with this!” he yelled at me, but I let him call out all the same, just long enough for him to report my intrusion. I grabbed the phone away from him and kicked him in the side of the knee, sending him sprawling.
“This is the hostage taker,” I said. “I want food and money delivered for me.”
“Is this a joke?” the voice on the other side asked.
“I could ask the same thing… I’m armed, angry, and willing to kill people.”
“She’s bluffing!” called the manager before I put a sword through his head. The other hostages screamed.
“One down. Food and money. Bring them out front of the building for Steel Tree Orchards.”
The voice on the other end directed people to me if it was smart. “Then what do you want?”
“Distribute the money and food to the crowd gathering there. If you do this, I will leave with no further loss of life. Delay, and this is going to get quite bloody. I have four more hostages. You have thirty minutes before another person dies. You storm the place, I take all their heads and anyone else you send in. These are my demands. Hope to it.” I shut it off, then laid down on the still belt to watch my hostages. “So, I don’t see too many homeless beggar types around here. Why is that?”
There were a few cameras to watch the outside of the building. Security was kinda lax, but I had enough of a view to keep an eye on the streets. Plus, there was a small window on the outer wall. It was too early for people to be storming the place anyway, so I focused on the confused hostages. The nearest one nursed her wrapped-up foot and asked me, “What are you on about?”
“Big ol’ city. Plenty of dark alleys… what happens when someone’s down on their luck? Loses their housing?” I asked
A different one spoke up. “Why would they lose housing?”
I raised an eyebrow. “Like if they lost their job and can’t pay for it. Am I missing something here?”
“Are you from the provinces?” one of them asked. Another guessed better. “You’re one of the invaders!”
“Y’all invaded us first,” I pointed out. “Based on the well-known principle of ‘you started it’, it’s actually right for me to go around and murder the whole lot of you. Not my goal, though.”
“Then what are you doing here?” asked the injured worker.
I smiled at her. “I was just asking where all the homeless people are.”
“There are none, barbarian,” another said. “We wouldn’t let people live on the streets like some sort of monsters.” Interesting. I really had a different expectation based on what I learned so far. Then he added, “There is always work to be done, even by the least capable. The Republic cares for its citizens; the citizens care for their Republic.”
“What if you’re too young, too old, too hurt or sick?” I asked, remembering all the disabled people I saw. “What if you’re mentally ill?”
“The Republic has a use for everyone,” he said again.
I waited for a better answer, then held up my hands. “That’s it? A slogan? Do you not know what happens if someone goes into a coma or something?”
“I know,” another guy said. “They use your body. You get melted down for nutrients to grow clones, or food, or the aristocrats bury you in their garden so you fertilize their flowers.”
The first one, the one with the slogans, yelled at the other guy. “The aristocracy perform the most vital functions of our Republic. Leisure is a reward for their service.”
“What, you guys don’t have leisure time?” I asked.
“Of course we do. We get time off work, barbarian. We aren’t slaves. Our great Republic knows we need days of rest,” said the sycophant.
The injured one spoke up, her head moving lazily toward the brown noser as if she was used to his schtick. “They have to give us day breaks as part of the employment constitution.” She turned back to me. “The bosses try to scare us into not taking them so they look good and earn more,” she nodded toward the dead overseer.
We stayed there, chatting back and forth. Outside, I noticed as vehicles stopped in front of the place. Two pulled up, carrying uniformed men. One pair stayed outside, keeping an eye out and talking to passers by. The other two ran in. I got up and moved over to the side of the main entrance to the room and waited as I heard people moving around. The door slammed open. “Desist!” yelled the uniformed man as he rushed into the room and looked around, a submachine gun raised. With him was an older, taller man in a uniform.
I pushed my sword through the cops’ spines. One collapsed, the other turned and I grabbed his gun away easily, then took hold of the sword by the blade and pulled it up, splitting the man open.
A minute later, I opened the window and tossed out a trio of heads belonging to the overseer and the two cops who showed. I heard gasping and screams when people noticed them rolling down the sidewalk toward the police. I smiled over at the hostages.
“Is this a game to you?!” cried the wounded woman.
I shook my head and took a seat. “Not at all. I don’t enjoy killing people. Not in the way I used to.” I pointed at my head. “Someone went in and fixed that little issue I had, so any satisfaction I get is for side reasons. Like how you now know they value your lives so little, they sent that pitiful little response in. I should go ahead and execute one of you to reiterate the seriousness.”
“Hey, no,” said the one who stayed mostly quiet up until then.”What if you run out? You need us alive. Won’t you need someone to escape with?”
“I like the way you think, stranger,” I said. I walked over and pulled him up. I dragged him over to the window and called out, “Do you care so little for your people’s lives? Is this the Republic caring for its people?”
With a swing, I took off the smart guy’s head, close enough to the window for anyone looking to see some splatter. Then I tossed that head out. In a game of homicidal chicken, they need to learn I’m not the one to mess with. The cries outside got worse, I think as more workers filed out. I hadn’t gone and taken the entire building hostage, not without minions. Besides, it’ll probably add to some of the dissatisfaction these people feel. Really drives in the notion that the people they rely on don’t give a damn.
I silenced my laughter enough to call back out, “I told you! Bring food and money! Enough for everyone standing outside! I better see some chicken and waffles out there or some motherplucker’s getting’ clucked in the ass!”
The cops outside were pushing people back, forming a perimeter that was joined by an armored personnel carrier and what looked more like soldiers. Meanwhile, I pulled out a little something that got one of the heroes into some trouble. Not the sort of plants that are supposed to be cloned in the middle of a war, or so Warman’s yells from half a ship away indicated. I lit up a joint and looked around, trying to see how better to defend the place. Then I smiled at the hostages and pulled out a bag of more that I’d pre-rolled. “Do y’all have a concept here called hotboxing?”
When the soldiers breached, they came in from two directions. I was standing by the door when I saw a camera on a stalk push underneath it. It probably couldn’t see so much with the smoke. The vent was broken and the window had been sealed again. I stepped to the left of the door. The kick that knocked it inward sent it swinging right at me, and I threw my body into it. The lead soldier in grunted and fell back. The ones behind him opened up on the door, but missed me.
Another soldier dropped from the vent I came through and stumbled on a pile of apples. I raised an arm and shot at him with the gun I took off the prior visitors I had. He dropped, probably not dead. The one that dropped almost right on top of him raised his rifle at me, coughing in all the smoke. I threw an apple and caught him in his dangling grapes. “How you like them apples?” I asked. When he raised his gun again, I used the confiscated police firearm to shoot his knee out. He dropped and slid over, banging his helmet against the floor.
I looked over as something fell into the room through the window I’d left open. The flashbang went off and my eyes and ears automatically adjusted to protect me. “For fuck’s sake, you’re letting all the stank out!” I yelled, motioning toward the broken glass for the benefit of no one but myself.
Three men burst through the door, one at a time. The lead one swung his gun around toward me as the second started to push past. I drove him down with the butt of a SMG stuck in his facemask. The second shot me in the face. It rung my bell a bit, but I brought the sword’s flat edge up hard enough to give him internal gonads. He fell to the ground, singing soprano.
The last swiped at my neck with a knife. It failed to penetrate, too, but this time it was due to armor instead of the skin I so lovingly crafted for myself. I grabbed his arm, broke his wrist, and tore the knife away. I slashed his chest. His tactical vest fell off. I stabbed him in each shoulder, caught him with the butt in the throat, and then uppercutted hard enough to knock him off his feet.
Another shot rang out, hitting me in the side of the head. It was a soldier down on the floor, holding his shoulder. “Ooh, looks like that’s been dislocated. Let me help you with that, buddy.” I said, giggling. I picked him up by his leg and slammed his whole body into the wall. All for nought, it turned out. “Oops, wrong shoulder.” Well now he needs help with both of them!
When I came back inside, the one with the pistol in his visor was just standing up. I pulled the gun out and kicked him in the visor hole. The first one down the vent hole groaned, then grabbed his radio, calling something into it. I walked over and grabbed it from him. “This is your hostage taker speaking. Let me make something very clear: the only way to win is to give me what I want. And what I want is not only a shitload of food, it’s two shitloads. Because here in a little bit, every one of these hostages, including the team you sent in, are going to be hungry, hungry hippos. And make sure there’s plenty of sweet stuff.” I dropped it and walked over to check on the hostages.
“What are you?” asked the wounded hostage as I walked over to her.
I looked at her, allowing my laser eye to glow, albeit harmlessly, and spoke in a monotone. “Series 800, Model 101, serial number 420.
“What-” she started to ask before I shot her.
After that, we got what we wanted. The local authorities delivered three entire trucks, which by that time was looking pretty damn good to my hostages. Once I showed them how a conga line worked, it was easy enough setting them free. As soon as they were all out the door, more soldiers rushed the door to confront me. All they saw was a silhouette smoking a joint before I threw it at the floor and disappeared in a Mary Jane smokescreen.