Authors: John Shirley
Copyright Â© 1979, 2016 by John Shirley.
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published 2016 by Start Publishing LLC. All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Start Publishing LLC, 101 Hudson Street, 37th Floor, Jersey City, NJ 07302.
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to The Blue Oyster Cult & Patti Smith
It wasn't actually being followed that made Ben Rackey nervous. He was used to being followed. It was
was following him.
Because when he glimpsed the four of them, out the back window of the cab, saw them riding the motorcycles side by side on the gleaming metal streets through midnight Denver, he found it hard to believe.
In the course of a long career he had been followed, trailed, watched, dogged, tailed, harassed, bugged, systematically observed, and pursued by short men with knives, tall men with guns, dwarves disguised as children, dark greasy men with needlers, policemen with gas-guns, cybernetic drones, trained dogs, beautiful women, brutal women, and, once, by a dolphin. In nine years as a burglar, in twelve years as the foremost Professional Irritant within the Barrierâhe had been chased by them all. Until now. 'Til now his pursuers had been men of this era, thoroughly modern products of the twenty-second century.
Never before had he been followed by men who'd died one hundred twenty-five years before, who rode vehicles supposed to be as extinct as dinosaurs: motorcycles with internal combustion engines.
“What the hell is that?” the cab driver muttered, peering into the rearview mirror.
“I'm glad you see them, too,” Ben said.
He looked over his shoulder again, squinting to see past the glare of the cycles' headlights, past the glow of the transparent pipes of luminous fluid discreetly lighting the somber, narrow street.
Ben's passion was history. Not only did the three men and the woman following him dress in a studded black leather style one hundred thirty years out of date, and not only did they ride monstrous Harley-Davidsons fueled by a substance missing from the earth for a century ... as if that wasn't enough, he recognized one of them. From the history books; more specifically, from the Criminology Hall of Fame's holographic rogues gallery.
“Oh. . . no,” said Ben Rackey softly. “Fuller the Slayer.”
“What?” asked the cab driver nervously. “What'd you say?”
“Never mind. Pull over here.”
The cab driver shrugged and pulled back the steering stick. The air-car slowed, sighed, settled with a faint bump onto the street. Ben handed over more than enough credit chips.
Ben could have lost them if he'd wanted to. But he ducked into the Peristaltic Club hopingâassumingââthey'd come in after him. The door of the club was formed in flexilon replicas of two huge fleshy lips; some of their red coloring had worn off around the interior edges. Ben yanked the tip of the slightly protruding rubber tongue, and the lips opened for him; the tongue lolled. He climbed onto the tongue and permitted himself to be sucked down the damp, rubber tube, deposited upright on the resilient orange floor of the club's rosy interior. Scents of candle wax, incense, lust-musk, beer, a faint reek of vomit from the tubes leading down to the restrooms. He felt at home, he had once owned this club as a cover. The only light ghosted upward from transparent tabletops, and seeped dull-red from behind the curtains drawn over privacy booths. Drone trays maneuvered cautiously through the small crowd.
Ben found a table and told it he wanted a mescool. Instantly a tray arced smoothly from the wall-slot and set itself on the table, extended a drawer for credit chips, coughed up the change, and dilated an aperture in its glass dome. Ben reached in for the bulb, bit off the nipple-end and sucked, letting his eyes wander anywhere but over the four figures stark against the light from the alley door. After a moment he looked them over while he pretended to stare speculatively into the unlighted chandelier overhead.
They sauntered into the small ring of light cast by his table; they had given up playing it covertly.
As the four approached, Ben slid over to let one of them sit down beside him, but kept his eyes on the chandelier. One sat next to him, on his left, three across from him, hunched like tumescent leather swells in the close booth.
Ben glanced at the one beside him. It had to be Fuller. Carleton Fuller. The ice behind Fuller's gray eyes, along with the circumstances, gave him away--and Ben's skin crawled. He was the only one of the four not wearing mirror shades. The four of them were solid, real, and ludicrously antiquated, dressed in late twentieth century overstatement. He could smell their sweat and the sour steamy leather, the gasoline on their heavy black boots. Gasoline?
Ben swallowed a little more mescool and looked at the three seated across from him. His gaze was met by three pairs of mirror sunglasses and his own miniature image in sextuple. The men wore shoulder-length black hair; one of them scratched his matted beard. The woman's face was pallid, gaunt, her cheeks pockmarked. She was smoking a cigarette burnt down to the filter. Ben glimpsed her white skintight T-shirt under the unzippered black leather edged in silvery studs. The tall man beside her wore an antique Levi jacket, shiny from wear, sleeves raggedly ripped away, his exposed biceps like knots of mahogany. He smiled, and through the bush of his red beard gleamed a single gold tooth. The other, shorter man wore white pancake over all his face, with blacking around his eyes and lips and shading the hollows of his cheeks: a skull-face. He was clean shaven down to the edge of his chin where a black beard grew from the underside of his jaw and his neck. There was an old nightstick dent atop his bald head. “TMC” was tattooed on his wrist. Transmaniacon Motorcycle Club.
“Drink?” Ben offered lamely. As one, the mirror-shades nodded. “Mescool?” Three shrugs. Fuller grunted, “Yeah.” Ben spoke to the table, the four drinks arrived, the four drinkers chewed the tips off their bulbs and tilted their heads back. The woman coughed, made a face, tossed the bulb onto the floor. The man with the skull-face drank deep and rumbled: “Thash pretty al-riiiiiiiight.”
Ben had been reviewing what he knew of Fuller and things began to make more sense. Said to have been closely linked with the American Luciferian Order, Fuller and his motorcycle club had been the terror of the Northern California coastal highways until he was captured in 1986. He had tried to rescue Charles Manson as he was being transferred to another prison; in the ensuing debacle he lost half his MC and his freedom. Fuller shot five cops dead that sultry afternoon. But that was nothing, for him.
He was also said to have sacrificed a hundred waylaid hitchhikers in the ALO seasonal rites, their bodies later found bobbing face down in the surfâ¦
Ben glanced at Fuller out of the corner of his eye. There was the Sign, tattooed on his left cheek. Also, he was missing the index finger of his right hand. Fuller and three of his Transmaniacon Motorcycle Club had been convicted of first degree murder more than a century before. The four of them were convicted three hours after the cryogenic clemency law went into effect; hence, they were given the option of permitting the government to freeze their bodies for the day when future scientists
be capable of restoring them to lifeâ¦ Why awaken a murderer? Because it was hoped that the future might provide a foolproof psychological cure for chronic homicidal mania.
No such cure had been found, as far as Ben knew. Nor had anyone searched for such a cure since the civil war sixty-eight years before. There were other priorities.
“Who brought you back, Fuller?” Ben asked nonchalantly.
The three across from him started. He sensed their eyes narrowing behind the opaque lenses.
What he could see of Fuller's face was Latin-handsome; it would have been a genial face if it weren't for the dormant enmity haunting the limp lips.
“You're nicely educated, Rackey,” Fuller said with genuine admiration.
“I doubt if it was intended to be a secret. Whoever woke you sent you here knowing I'd recognize you. They could have dressed you up in modern clothes. I guess I'm supposed to be impressed.”
“He bribed some people, bought us from the vaults. New York.”
“Who brought you here?”
“You wouldn't know him.”
“I know them all, Fuller.”
“No,” Fuller insisted softly. “He's not a pro. He's straight on the outside. He likes to have other people do it for him. Doesn't muss his makeup. He's talented.”
“I see. You don't know his real name, either.”
Fuller smiled, shrugged. “Good guess. But--his creds were good. There's an object he wants stolen. He wants you to steal it.”
“What object? From where? And Most importantly, why should I?”
“You find out the what and the where after you agree to it. He'll tell you himself. The
is money and survival. You'll be paid magnificently, and we won't kill you.”
Rackey was not surprised: “You'd kill me if I didn't agree?”
Fuller simply nodded.
“Suppose I agree nowâ¦but change my mind later?”
“You couldn't get away with it. We'll be there. Right beside you, the whole time.”
“That's not an efficient way to go about getting shit done. And as for money, I don't much need it.” But Ben cleared his throat and asked, “How much?”
“Ten million chips plus unlimited Denver credit for ten years.”
Ben Rackey was already a wealthy man by most standards. He owned a good slice of Denver, Fallon, and the other city-states. He had, in fact, accounts and credit sources in each of the major non-sieged city-states. But ten million? At once? For one job? If he had not been faced with the improbable specter of Fuller the Slayer slumped in solid reality beside him, he would have believed he was hallucinating, enjoying a vision in a Denver dreamsmoke parlor.
But he yawned, and asked, “Ten million? You're talking about intercity negotiable chips? EconTreaty standards?”
“Ahâhow do I know he'll pay it?”
“We can give you the check tonight. You can put it in your pocket. When you see what bank wrote itâone of his frontsâyou'll know it's good. But since we'll remain with you till the job's doneâ¦”
“Like I said before, I couldn't do it with you people hanging around me.”
“Stop playing games. Will you do it or not?”
Rackey frowned. “I've retired from this sort of thing. I'm no longer a Professional Irritant. And I haven't done any
for eight years.”
“You're only thirty-eight, Rackey. Too young to retire.” He mimicked Rackey's frown. “You want to go on living--or not?”
Ten million credit chips. “I'll do it,” said Rackey with a sigh.
Slightly stoned, his voice quavering, the man with the skull-face grinned crookedly and belched, then blurted, “Hey Carl 1 tol' you heâ”
Fuller silenced him with a glare.
They stood, and Ben followed them out of the club.
Outside, Racket insisted on blindfolding him. He rode with Fuller.
They rode the rackety old bikes with roars and rumbles through the city night, and they did not remove his blindfold until they were in the huge empty garage.
Shaky after the viciously rapid journey, Ben got off the bike and numbly walked ahead of them to the elevator.
During the ascent, Ben reflected on his own motives. It wasn't the money that had forced his agreement. There was always a concealed drawback to the acquisition of so large a sum, especially when it came overnight. No, he had to admit--it was the threat. He'd made a point of reading about the nastiest bad-asses in history. And maybe Fuller being there--but then, he could kill Fuller, if he didn't do it in a fair way.
No, it was something else. Curiosity. Maybe curiosity most of all.
They emerged from the elevator into a deserted, dimly lit hallway, followed the plush flesh-cilia carpet to a black door. The other doors along the hallway had been numbered, their values diminishing toward this end of the hall; and the final door, white-lettered, was
Fuller opened the door, said something Ben couldn't hear, and a croaking voice bade them enter. Fuller preceded them. Within was a dark chamber, circular with a domed ceiling, night-dark but picked out in gradually traversing pinpoints of light. A small planetarium. No visible projector.