Rogue Agent, my first short story for Patreon, is now up! Tier 1 patrons get the complete story in Kindle, ePub, and PDF formats. Tier 2 and 3 patrons get an expanded edition with Bonus Content, including a Timeline and a Behind-the-Scenes afterword on the story’s origins. Tier 3 patrons get to vote on the genre of my next story. Below you will find the first 1,000 words, for free! I hope you enjoy.
“I can get you into Central Command,” Alejandro said to me one hot summer night on the balcony of a decrepit motel, a few miles outside the smoldering pile of rubble that had once been the Neo Angeles metroplex. “But you won’t like it.”
I swirled the bourbon in my glass, ice clinking.
It should have been impossible. The structure was located deep inside the Enclosure, nestled in a honeycomb of steel and reinforced concrete, protected by anti-aircraft guns and trip-mines. Body heat sensors lined every wall. Closed circuit cameras with facial recognition software would flag anyone who wasn’t in the Tech Corps executive database.
“How’s that?” I asked, leaning against the rusty metal railing. Fires burned in the distance. The sound of gunfire was abruptly cut off by the deep rumble of thunder. A searing bolt of lightning flashed across the sky.
“The only way in or out besides the usual checkpoint is through the morgue.” He took a drag on his cigarillo and blew out clouds of pale smoke. “There’s a conveyor that runs from the loading docks to a receiving bay.”
I knew the one he was talking about. I’d only been to Central Command a handful of times, and that was for my semi-annual memory dump. The dead were always brought back there. Their bodies were far too valuable to leave in the field.
“Only one problem,” I said. “They don’t let the living just walk in there.”
“Yeah, well, that’s the part you’re not gonna like.”
I caught a glint of sympathy in his eyes, and for a moment I almost felt something. But the conditioning wouldn’t let me explore it further. The moment some spark of emotion went off inside me, my glands secreted a cocktail of repressors to snuff it out.
“Ok, fine.” I tossed back the rest of my bourbon and felt liquid fire slosh through my veins. I couldn’t get drunk, no matter how much I imbibed. Still, I enjoyed the physiological reaction, even if there was no real pleasure to be gained from it. “I go in cold.”
Some people think we can’t die because our engrams are recorded and stored in secure Tech Corps servers. Like shooting us full of drugs to stop the heart can’t put us down for good. I’ve died more times than I can count, and no matter how often I come back, it never lessens the intensity of the experience.
Alejandro unpacked his gear on the filthy mattress while I stood by the window of the cramped room, staring out into the storm. A warm breeze blew across my face. “Are you sure you want to go through with this? We can still call it off.”
“No.” I turned away from the window and joined him by the bed. He’d removed his clawed prosthetic and set it on the scuffed wood surface of a side table. The raw stump of his right leg rested on edge of the ragged sheets.
“I have to go back for him. He’d do the same for me.” I couldn’t bring myself to say Xavier’s name. Just the thought of it sent my glands into overdrive, leaving me numb.
“Ok, then. Better lie down.”
I did as Alejandro said. He removed a hypodermic gun and loaded a vial. It looked innocuous enough. Not sure what I expected. Some sickly green liquid with three Xs or a grinning death’s head?
I clenched my jaw and closed my eyes. “Do it.”
A brief pinch, followed by a spreading chill. Like someone had spilled ice water in my veins. Heart rate slowing. Muscles relaxing. An all-consuming darkness, blacker then the blackest night, filled my head like a growing ink blot. A sharp, metallic smell lingered in the back of my nose. Then…
…consciousness returned like a crashing wave. I woke to the sound of a muffled voice and a dull pain behind my eyes. My mouth tasted like someone had stuffed it full of cotton balls. I shifted uncomfortably, joints aching. The darkness had not abated. For a moment, I thought I might be blind. Then the pod cracked open and pale blue light shone through from outside. The lid lifted, and gloved hands gripped my right arm.
“Got another stiff, boss,” a medtech in a blue uniform spoke into his communicator. Soft features. Patchwork of stubble on his narrow chin. He couldn’t have been more than nineteen.
My eyes peeled open, rimmed with congealed fluid. Glands squirted stimulants and synthetic adrenaline into my blood, which levered me back to semi-functionality. As the medtech leaned over me, I shot out my left arm and my wrist blade deployed, piercing his throat and severing the top of his spine. Death was instant.
His body hit the floor like a sack of wet clothes.
I climbed out of the pod, bare feet touching the cold, damp tiles. The sensation sent a shock of sobriety through me. Or maybe that was just the stims doing their job.
I crouched by the medtech and dipped my finger in the spreading pool of blood. Microsensors analyzed it, breaking it down to its molecular components, then fed the data to the neuroware imbedded in my skull. Now came my least favorite part: the sickening crack and pop of bones shifting. Muscles stretching and snapping. Tissues tearing.
Nanobots augmented the regenerative process, but it still hurt like fuck, even with the residue of the drug fogging my mind.
When the transformation was complete, I stripped the medtech down to his underwear and hoisted his body into the pod. I closed the lid and locked it with his—my thumbprint. As I pulled on his blue jumpsuit, which fit snuggly around my new frame, leaner and lankier than my previous one, his communicator crackled. “You need any help in there?” a voice asked through the static.
I adjusted my shirt and tapped the device clipped to my right sleeve. “I got it boss,” I said, modulating my voice to match the medtech’s exactly. “No worries.”
I took one last look around the receiving bay at dozens of cryocaskets, each containing an agent of death—not unlike myself—lost to battle. The corpses of my comrades, soon to be converted into biomass that would later be reconstituted in the next generation. I tugged on the medtech’s slippers, mopped up the blood from the tiled floor using a disposable rag I found on one of the decanting tables, and padded out of the room.
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