Eschew

The pair sat at the end of the wharf. The woman was dressed in finery, and had a large paper bag with her that she was pulling a wrapped burger out of. The man’s jacket was in tatters and the shirt underneath was in just as bad a condition, and his cyborg arm was bare to the world, fresh scratches in the matt black paintwork. It was early in the morning in Hong Kong and a luxury cruise ship, the MV Arcadia, provided the backdrop to their conversation away from the activity on the ship.

“Here you go, Hero.” Elettra Caylao smiled as she offered the burger to him. “One halal, flame-grilled Angus burger.” She passed over a bag of fries and a cup of Century Cola before getting her own snack out. “And sides.”

“The fact that at 3am you can get real meat for takeaway just shows how Hong Kong is.” Ameer Anwar grinned, holding the burger in his good hand as the cybernetic one removed the wrapper. He took a large bite, swallowing happily before speaking. “And thanks.”

“You saved my life, Ameer. Least I can do is buy you dinner. And make sure it isn’t vat meat or flavoured, human-grade insect meat that you might have to eschew.”  The blond woman replied while reclining against the bench they had found with little care for her expensive silk, mesh and gold dress. “And I’m sorry I swore at you.” She added, a hand held  up in apology.

“You were surprised, no need to.” The UNPF officer smiled, taking another bite before speaking. “After all, I -did- kick the woman you were talking to in the stomach with no warning.”

“How did you know she was an assassin?” Elettra asked with genuine interest, pointing the end of a fry at him before nibbling on it.

“She was using an EDB to get past the security checks. That’s an Electro-Damask Blade.”

“Similar to synthetic muscle tissue, right? Flexible till a current runs through it, then it becomes solid and if cut and designed correctly, sharp?”

Ameer nodded. “That’s right. They’re hard to check for, but the fact you need to be up close usually lets security intervene.”

“And she was -very- up close. I thought she was just the touchy-feely kind. You still haven’t explained just -how- you knew.” Elettra smiled. “Keeping secrets is a woman’s pejorative.”

“I used to work Signals in the United Nations Armed Forces. An accident gave me this arm and some other cybernetics, but I was augmented before then. It takes a lot of power to prime an EDB, and I picked up the spike from her. If I was wrong, I’d have apologised, but I didn’t have time to do anything other than kick her clear of you.” Ameer paused, washing down his food with a slurp of drink before chuckling. “And I think Detective van Bergen would have words with me if I kicked her friend.”

“Words, yes.” Elettra laughed. Away from the crowds of fellow artists and critics she’d loosened up a bit, and it was easier for Ameer to see just how a world-famous cybernetic artist would get along with an often over-serious detective.

“Once she got up, the blade was visible, so I did the thing I was hired for.” Ameer concluded the story with a shrug.

“You put her in a headlock and choked her till she blacked out. Points for style with the arm, definitely a military takedown.” Miss Caylao praised him, reaching out to touch the arm. He gave a slight flinch as the rudimentary pressure sensors kicked in.

“You pick up a few things in the ‘AF. I’ll get it in the neck from the top brass, they get anxious when vets in the police force fall back on military training.” It was slightly disconcerting to have her lavishing attention on his arm.

“No offense, but this is seriously out of date.” She said with a tap on the elbow joint with her carefully manicured finger.

“I wasn’t one for fashion.” Ameer shrugged, finishing off his burger with some regret. He would save up to treat himself, but the portion to cost ratio always made him a little sad once the meal was done.

“The casing is fine, but this is twenty years old. It’s been maintained well, but…” She traced her finger up to his shoulder and tutted. “Oh, this is just a travesty. Whoever put these mounting points in was seriously old-school. The mounting might be good for a basic prosthetic at best, but something like your arm?” Leaning in, she tapped her finger against the scar tissue surrounding the points it was bolted into his body. “You’ve already got some upper tissue damage here from past over-exertions in the body to prosthetic stress points, and it probably goes deeper still.”

After a few moments of clicking her tongue against her teeth, she looked up with a bright expression on her face. “I know. A proper repayment. For saving my life, I could get you something top of the line to replace it. A proper job through and through. Stronger, more efficient, greater control, less stress on you. How about it?”

Shaking his head, Ameer felt a little bad at her suddenly crestfallen expression. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice gesture, but… would you mind if I asked for a rain check instead? This arm… I’d rather not part with it yet.”

“Sentimentalist.” Elettra said with a roll of her eyes, before patting the arm. “Alright, the offer will stand for if you ever want to take me up on it. Did you at least enjoy early morning fast food?” She asked hopefully, reclining back against the bench now she wasn’t lavishing attention on the arm.

“I did, thanks.” Wriggling his metal fingers a few times, Ameer slumped back and looked up at the miasma of orange light that hid the stars from view. “I’ve got a question for you now. Most people who get attacked often want to know -why- they were, but you haven’t said a word on it.”

“Of course I haven’t. That mystery will come out in the police investigation. At the moment?” Eletrra shifted her position to rest against the arm, eyes closing. “I wanted to know what to look out for in the future. I’ve got the idea she won’t be the first who tries to off me.”

“Fair enough. What did the Detective have to say when you touched in?” Ameer asked curiously.

“Huh?” Elettra blinked, before bolting up. “I thought you were going contact Astrid?”

“… She is going to kill me.” The male officer sighed, sinking his head into his hands.

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