Author’s Note: Another #MachinaeMonday post, inspired by the music of the Swedish SID-Metal band Machinae Supremacy. This one follows on from the events of last week’s post, Origin (Part 1). This took a rewrite to get going properly, but could definitely do with more edits. Still interested? Click the cut to get started.
A punch to the face had to be Steve’s least favourite form of greeting. Reeling from the blow, he staggered back with a hand brought up to cover his now-aching cheek.
“Sell-out.” Spat techno-punk singer Malady, her hands clenched into fists and her manner seething with rage.
“Your comment’s noted.” Steve said with a flash of a smile, regretting coming to the Hot Legs club that evening as a kick to the back of the knee sent him to the floor.
“I think I heard him say ‘Gimme More’.” Chuckled a burly brute of a man, pressing his foot down onto his chest.
Spluttering under the force applied to him, he was still able to quip, “Thanks for the feedback.” The breathy chuckle was cut off by a solid kick to his side, blasting all the air from his lungs as another woman stood over him.
“You’re not welcome here any more. I don’t know why you sold your soul to those corporate bastards, but you’re not one of us. Get out and stay out.” She hissed, and he found himself being lifted and hauled out of his old haunt.
Gritting his teeth as he stood, he tried his best to ignore the throbbing pain coming from cheek, chest and side as he shambled towards the passenger elevators. Any parting remark he could make would be wasted with none to hear. When he fell into the elevator car he was thankful no one was around to see him nurse his wounds, probing with his fingers to check his ribs.
“Every time they turn the lights down,” The advertising system in the elevator started up with. At the sound of his voice, his guitar playing, his fingers dug into his side. Grimacing, he tried to shut out the advert he’d worked on.
“-just wanna go the extra mile for you.” It was insane how much he had been paid for one advertising campaign, for perfume of all things. Handsome men and gorgeous woman pranced about on the screen to his work along with artful shots of of droplet dispersal from the bottle. Even with his eyes shut, it appeared on his visual display. The advertising let elevator travel be free, as opposed to some other cities.
“Gimme More, the new fragrance for Men and Women.” The advert declared at the end, various links hovering in his eye line to the product, reviews of it and to a full length music video and purchase link. It hurt more than the beatdown he’d just received.
“Steve, what happened to-” Anya started, sitting up in her hospital bed. She looked better now she had most of the tubes removed, and was shaking off the effects of the induced coma.
“I had a bit of a falling out with my peers.” He said, flashing a weak grin as he fell into the chair besides her. “Where are the kids?”
“The café, getting some food.” She replied distantly, her sight locked on him as she brought forth the power of a mother’s observation and insight. “Is it about what you did for us? You didn’t have t-”
“Yes, it was, and yes, I did have to cover your healthcare.” Steve replied, sitting up a little. “Don’t argue with me on this.”
She was a stubborn woman though. “You did the one thing you said you’d never do, you’re getting beaten up by people who should be your friends, and for what? I could have-”
She paused as he held a hand up, his face serious. “You know what Alton said to me when I first saw him after you were brought in?” She shook her head, and he continued. “He was worried about money, about how much it would cost to get his mother better. He’s just a kid, he shouldn’t have to worry about things like that.”
“But nothing! You’ve been like family to me. I had a way to make money to pay for you to get better. I had a way to make money to get a place to live for us.” He saw her eyes widen at that. “So I did it. I sold out.”
“You had your principles though!” She spoke quietly, looking down at the bed covers.
“What good are they to orphaned kids though?” Steve snapped. “’Oh, sorry about your mom, you two. But hey! At least I’ve got principles!’ No. Things will work out, I’ll sort them some how. For now, you just need to concentrate on resting up.”
Silence hung in the room for a bit before Anya spoke. “You said about a place?”
“Yeah. Two bedroom apartment. You can have one bedroom, the kids another, I’ll take the couch.” He replied, idly toying with the cable to the bed controls. “And I did have to. I lost my place too.”
A gentle smile spread across her face. “You’re a good man, Steve. Thank you.”
Pushing himself up from the chair, he placed a hand over hers. “Family, remember? Or as close as.” He smiled, before running his other hand through his hair. “Rest up, they’ll be letting you out soon. Say hi to the kids for me when they get back?”
“Where are you off to?”
He grinned. “I need to find a place to drink where I won’t get punched in the face.”
Blue Waterfall was not his kind of club. But seeing as Hot Legs wasn’t welcoming he thought he’d give it a go. Situated several levels up from where he would usually reside, the large nightclub was built around an artificial water feature set over three levels. And from the looks he was getting as he strolled to the bar, he was the centre of attention.
“You’re that Steve, right?” The bartender asked, her status as a gynoid showing on a closer inspection. “Welcome to the Blue Waterfall. What can I get you?”
“Just a beer for now, please. Stormcloud, if you have it.” He replied, seating himself on one of the available stools.
“We have it.” The gynoid smiled, crouching down to reach into one of the fridges. A shadow cast behind him made him tense up.
“Didn’t expect to see someone like you here.” A woman spoke from behind. Turning his stool around, he came face to chest with a rather tall woman. Her light brown hair was braided, interwoven with darker brown streaks, and her dark blue dress was rather clingy.
Looking up, he offered a smile. “I hope that’s a good thing rather than a bad thing.” He was acutely aware of the bruise forming from the earlier punch. From the glance she gave with her big, hazel eyes? She was too.
“Good thing.” She said, slipping onto the stool besides him. “I’m Vara.” She glanced to the gynoid and pointed at the bottle, before holding two fingers up. She nodded and went back under to grab another.
“Nice to meet you, Vara. I’d say I’ve not seen you here before, but it’s my first time.” Steve smiled, placing his hand on the counter to pay digitally. In-vision, the amount of two beers was deducted.
“Thanks. And no, I’m new in town. Here on work from the Concrete Garden.” She took her beer with a nod of thanks, clinking it against Steve’s before taking a long sip.
“How is it? I remember there was some trouble a week or so back? Hacking attack?”
She nodded. “Things were getting back to normal when I left. Didn’t affect the rail links, thankfully.” Flipping one of her braids back, she raised an eyebrow. “The Wired, huh?”
“Yeah.” He chuckled. “I understand some of what they do, but things like that just… don’t seem constructive.” A shudder ran through him as his song started up in the club.
Vara smiled at him, leaning in close. “It’s a good track, you shouldn’t be ashamed of it.”
“That’s not what my peers and fellow musicians would say.” He laughed, pointing at the bruise. “They’ve been very… demonstrative in their views.”
“I’ll admit, it was surprising.” She said, running a finger around the top of her bottle. “I’m not going to hit you for it though.”
“Appreciated.” Steve smiled, taking a long pull from his bottle. He had to admit that the nightclub wasn’t too bad. The waterfall in the middle of it added a nice bit of background noise when the music lulled, and it was much cooler than Hot Legs, even with more of a crowd in.
“I might ask you to dance though, in a bit.” She winked. “Once we’ve finished these drinks.”
Steve looked to her and just raised his glass in toast before drinking. She laughed warmly, joining him in draining their bottles
It was probably safe to say that he was not the centre of attention this time. He could dance, nothing spectacular but he didn’t look foolish. Vara didn’t move. She flowed with grace to the beat, completely at ease on the dance floor. And from the way her body brushed against him, personal space was not an issue for her.
Even as he danced with her though, a small part of his mind was very analytical. Her build and features suggested genetic engineering. The citizen ID tattoos on her body suggested she’d been born over in Empire territory. The phenotype was certainly attractive, though that little voice urged some caution. It was after all usually found in the descendants of Empire soldiers.
Her arms slipped around him as the track they’d been dancing to came to an end. “Another drink?” She asked hopefully, a glance cast towards one of the bars.
“I could go for another.” He smiled, moving in that direction carefully as she followed, draped over him. Holding up two fingers to the bartender, he touched his palm down to pay for the drinks.
That drink was followed by another dance, followed by more drinks and more dancing. And at some point, she had whispered wicked things in his ear, her hands teasing and breath hot against his neck. A darkened corner of the club was not private enough, not even pressed tightly against the wall by her. A throaty chuckle escaped her as she suggested her hotel room, situated not far away.
It was very hard to say no to that. So Steve said yes.
Vara was hardly out of breath as she laid back on the covers, a satisfied smile on her face. Steve was a little worse for wear, still not quite over his trip into a burning building. Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he carefully cleaned himself up before collapsing onto the bed taking deep breaths to fill his lungs.
“I didn’t do that, did I?” She asked, tracing a finger over the bruise on his pectoral, before running her hand down to the nastier purple welt on his side. “I’m rough but-”
“It wasn’t you.” Steve panted, mopping his hair back. “Objections to my change in career.”
Quirking an eyebrow, she shuffled closer to him. “Can I ask why?”
“Well, Malady might be a singer, but she’s not one for words when it comes for sensible debate.” Steve joked, wincing slightly as her fingers probed the bruise.
“You’ll live.” She chuckled. “But I meant… why go to work for the AdverNet Agency?”
Alcohol and euphoric exhaustion had loosened his tongue. “My apartment block burned down recently.”
“Aaaah, no insurance?”
“Oh, I had some. Enough to get kitted out again but not enough to-”
“Get a new place?” Vara asked, her arms drawing him in to rest against her.
“More… help my neighbour out. She was trapped inside. I managed to get her out, but the medical bills… she’s got kids, and…”
“She must be pretty special for you to do advertising work. I’ve seen your rant posts online.”
He shook his head. “It’s not like, well, she’s special. But more family than anything. Nothing like that.” He chuckled. “Some companies had been after me for a while. AdverNet being one. So I called all six representatives together and got the best deal I could. Got a deposit for a place for them to stay, paid her bills, got the kids some stuff.”
“That’s rather sweet.” Vara smiled, letting her hands stroke upwards to the back of his neck. “So sweet, in fact…”
As she slipped her hand into his, her contact details popped up in-vision. Blinking, he looked at her curiously.
“Just in case I forget in the morning. I’m in the city for a few more days.” She winked before pulling him in close. “Another round?”
Spread out on the bed, Vara carefully set up the secure communications programs she kept stored in her head. Steve had left ten minutes ago, and she wanted to report in before she showered. The encrypted signal would be bounced around Dark City’s wireless access points and through other systems before reaching its target.
“Edward?” She sent the text through the link.
“Vara. How did it go?” The reply flashed up in the middle of her vision.
“Made contact. I think we can use him, we’ll need some information control first. This ‘Gimme More’ thing really damaged his reputation.” She replied, slipping out of bed to gather her toiletries.
There was a delay before the reply came. “Send me what intel you have. If you think The Wired can use him… let’s make an invitation known.”
Next Time — The Wired