The overground magnerail train Rick rode on was smooth, sleekly designed. Seats lined the edges of the train cars, facing inwards. Poles in the middle of the train cars were spaced every few meters, for people to hold onto if they were standing. This wasn’t much of a problem these days, since the population in Toronto wasn’t high enough that metro lines became crowded. Instead, it was a deliberate design choice, harkening back to the old metro system: the underground Toronto Transit Commission rail systems. Those were lost to the lower levels, however.
Rick wasn’t old enough to remember what old Toronto must have been like, but he did know the lower levels. Working where he did, it wasn’t uncommon for him to venture into the abandoned city levels. The lower levels, or Old Toronto, was the aftermath of the third World War, and it was dangerous. For most civilians, the area was completely off limits for their own safety. For Rick, it was often a pain in the ass. It was a great hiding place for all kinds of thugs and bastards, which made Rick’s job more difficult.
New Toronto, or Newtee, was built on the ruins of Old Toronto. The area was still perfect for trade and economic growth, even with the fallout of the war plaguing it. Because of this, the Canadian Government, once it had been stabilized, spent an incredible amount of money rebuilding the economic powerhouse of Canada. It was a city of the future: Magnerail transit, incredibly new architecture with built in state of the art technologies powering almost every facet of the new city. It was a jewel in an otherwise massive, mutated wasteland.
Rick’s ride to work was about twenty-five minutes from his quarters. When the train stopped, he strode off the train, and walked into a white, four story building. Graffiti scarred the sides of the building, but the front was a polished surface. The only thing marring it was a garish, out-of-place, red paneled automatic sliding door. The Guild meant for the door to be easy to find, a welcoming sight if lost or in need of help. All Rick could see was a blinding red that looked more like one of the designers had let their kid colour the blueprints in.
The building was built with the idea that people were to meet on the first floor. The central hub area was a massive, open expanse with a ceiling that extended to the fourth floor roof. It was easy to see the upper floors, rings upon rings of rooms extended upwards. A light in the middle of the uppermost ceiling radiated light all the way down to the floor, illuminating a circular booth in the middle of the ground floor area. Also known as the information desk, the booth was stacked high with computers and readouts, where information was easy to see and access from a distance. A solitary android worked the desk: she, or he, was equipped with a great deal of technology to help people coming to the guild; everything from simple computational software to complex facial chameleon technologies that allowed the android to appear lifelike and human. The job was so well done that it was easy to confused her, or him, with a real human if one wasn’t paying attention.
“Mornin’ Lex.” Rick gave a halfhearted salute to the droid working the desk.
“Good morning Rick,” The androgynous voice from the phone answered, “your appointment is in room 345.” Lex grinned. Though it wasn’t quite human, it was close enough that it was a softening gesture, rather than an uncanny and threatening one.
“Thanks Lex. Order me a sandwich and a coffee for after.” Rick knew it wasn’t a big deal for Lex: the computing speed of Lex’s processors meant that the job had already been finished, and had already been working on the next logistical problem.
Much like the passing meeting rooms, Rick’s mind was a blur. Questions about who he was meeting, the details of the mission, and the pay rocked around his skull. One thought stood out: the Canadian Biotech Institute had requested the job. This really didn’t make any sense to Rick.
The Guild was made for people that could barely pay for food. Where publicly funded police and securities had collapsed under the social burdens of a new age, a crowd built, city wide group called the Guild, was founded. Members of the Guild, called hunters by most, frequently were asked to maintain borders, resolve disputes, and solve common crimes. The business worked because hunters were hired by the Guild, which in turn was paid for directly by the public: technically, no government in the middle. In the early stages of rebuilding the parliament of Canada, the stresses of public safety were too much for the fledgling organization. Politicians quickly put a system in place where smaller petty crimes were dealt with on a city-wide level. From there, certain ambitious individuals took the lead, and formed the core of these groups.
This didn’t always work; some Guild leaders created awful problems with the power at their disposal, everything from extortion rings to outright rebellion. Despite these rare instances, most Guild leaders were actually attempting to make the cities they took care of better places to live. The war had left an indelible scar on Canada. Most people really did try for a better world.
People were right to distrust Parliament though, Rick thought, and this case was no exception. The Canadian Biotech Institute, and Biotech as a whole, was heavily stigmatized. Most people blamed institutions like these for causing the war on some level. The fact that even large banks and other corporations had crumbled, and biotechnological based institutions did not, made the public uneasy about them. Conspiracy theories abounded, the next one wilder than the last; what everyone agreed on, however, was how little they cared about most people.
This was factually untrue in a lot of cases, since the Canadian Biotech Institute had basically created the majority of the now working cities. Without their influence and technology, Rick concluded, we’d still be stuck in Old Toronto. Still, the power they as a group could wield was always an uneasy proposition, as was why on earth they would bother with the Guild for anything. With all the resources they had, why use the Guild for anything other than a practical joke?
Rick reached the meeting room. He quickly punched a code into the number pad next to the door, a security feature to keep meetings private, and stepped through the sliding door, which swooshed behind him.
In front of him was a roomy, circular room with several chairs, a wide table, and a pleasantly warm glow that came from the lights in the walls of the room. Two people sat in the chairs in front of him. One was a man, and in a word he was handsome. Early forties, jet black hair. A little bit of stubbled dotted his wide, defined jawline and strong chin. The man’s curiously grey eyes inspected Rick as he entered the room.
“There you are. Hello, welcome, please sit down.” His voice was higher than Rick would have expected, but he was definitely the man who requested the job over the phone. The man’s voice rolled out of his mouth in a soft, quiet stream of words. Despite the consistent pace of his speech, the words never felt rushed, or thoughtless; every syllable seemed carefully thought out before he said it. The man gestured towards a seat on the opposite side of the table, as if the table were the man’s desk.
“My name,” he continued, “is Royce. It’s not important, honestly, but hopefully you find it useful.” He made a motion towards the second person in the room. “This lady is…” he paused. “She’s a mystery, you see? We don’t know her name, she refuses to tell us; but we do know a story.” Royce’s eyes inspected Rick once more. “Please, do sit down.”
Rick was barely registering what Royce said. His full attention was on the woman Royce had just introduced.
She had short, wavy red hair, which barely made it past her long, pointed face. Her blue eyes pierced through him, brilliantly cold and icy. She was otherwise normal, with two exceptions. First, her right arm was a prosthetic, and a high tech one at that. Displays had been rigged to her new wrist, and her flexing hand betrayed the level of technology that was at play: her new fingers drummed on the table with an articulation that betrayed none of its artificial nature. Second, she was covered in the same mesh jumpsuit that he wore, from her feet all the way up past her neck. This was rare. Only hunters and government agents wore them due to the difficulty of creating the material post-war.
An oddly smooth voice came from her direction. “Stop staring.” She frowned at Rick.
“Sorry. Wasn’t trying to be a shit,” Rick apologized,”it’s not every day I see a government funded scientist and an otherwise normal girl with a ton of high tech, hard to get gear.”
Rick sat down, and looked back at Royce. “So, what is this job? I reserve the right to call bullshit if you don’t give me anything detailed.” His job detail was to do the risky business; Rick knew that. He didn’t like taking unnecessary, stupid risks, which explained perfectly why he’d been so lucky to this point. As far as Rick was concerned, being ‘not dead’ was about as lucky as lucky gets.
“I’ll explain, I’ll explain. It’s not a long story, as stories go.” Royce paused for a moment before beginning.
“As you know there’s a lower part to Toronto, the ruins. Rumours go that bad, bad stuff goes on down there. From what we actually know, gangs and turf wars have started with, criminal elements, getting up and running.
“These are expected. In the ruins of old things, criminal factions and gangs will inevitably start up to take advantage of those who go down there. You’ve… been down there yourself, or so I understand.” Royce paused.
“Yeah. It’s a part of the job. Happens often enough. I know most of this, so let’s get to the part where the girl comes in.” The woman glowered at Rick, but settled back in her chair.
“Yes. Waste of time to do otherwise, makes sense.” Royce rubbed his chin thoughtfully for a bit, then started again. “Where the… woman… comes in, is her current state. Could you please move your mesh away from your throat, please?”
The woman flashed a look that betrayed no small measure of anxiety. It didn’t dissipate as she moved the fabric away from her neck, revealing complex cybernetic gadgetry instead of human skin. She kept the mesh away for a few seconds, before putting it back. She relaxed once the mesh was back on.
“As you can see she suffered some serious injuries. Not counting the prosthetic arm and cybernetic throat, which was our handy work,” Royce’s voice took an edge of pride, “she also was victim to a large gash on her back, which nearly severed the muscles in her left arm. All the injuries bored closer injuries to large, jagged edges.
“Even with the gangs and other criminal elements, these injuries are incredibly rare, and have never had a survivor. This woman was incredibly lucky, and ran close enough to a group of hunters before nearly dying. It’s a wonder that she’s still alive.” Royce sat back in his chair.
Rick nodded. “Yeah. She should be dead,” he looked her way and hastily added, “no offense, but you’re a little too alive for someone with a missing throat. How’d that happen?”
Royce shook his head. “She’s in no mood to talk about that part of her accident, it seems. When the hunters who found her brought her to the hospital, they said they had found her that way. They salvaged the mesh from they own suits and some resin kits, and created seals for the blood. Had they found her seconds later, she would surely be dead.”
The woman had looked away over the course of the explanation, clearly uninterested in revisiting the experience. Once Royce had finished, she looked dead on at Rick.
“What matters is what did this to me.” The oddly smooth voice must be coming from her new mechanical throat. It was weird because although she had a… voice… her lips didn’t move.
She continued, glaring at him. “What matters is that, what did this? Wasn’t fucking human.”
End of Part 2