2-for-1 Snippets! “Ghosts”

A snippet, then, because…why the hell not?

Ghosts

“Jesus Christ, Connor,” Sonthi said with a lopsided grin, “close your goddamned mouth.  You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

What the hell did you say to that?

“You are a fuckin’ ghost.  What the fuck are you doing here?” Connor spluttered, fought to focus his mind.  Off-balance was vulnerable, and he did not want to be vulnerable in front of the curacek behind that desk.

Try as he might, however, he could not wrap his mind around what he saw.  The last time he had seen Sonthi had been to hand over the datastick that had touched off all the insanity tearing apart both Dockside and the Station.  The time when Sonthi had told him about Oz.

Shit.

A smile from the shorter man, then, an effort to put Connor at ease.  Connor was used to the ex-cop in a police uniform; the tight-fitting, dark suit that seemed de rigeur for those working in that ridiculous office tower looked decidedly odd on the older man.  Expensive or not, those clothes did nothing to help his look.  Several inches shorter than Connor, Sonthi’s hair had turned from salt-and-pepper to completely gray over the past year, and his paunch had grown more pronounced than when he had been a sergeant in Dockside’s corrupt police force.

The ghost of a wink, then, from the shorter man as he turned to face the desk.  “Sir, I’ve sent you my update on the kid’s file.  I’d suggest a minute or two to read it while I get Connor clued in a bit as to what he’s doing here.”

A nod from the svine behind the desk even as he began to read from his screen.  Sonthi grabbed Connor’s arm in a grip that was almost painfully tight as he guided him to the large, comfortable chairs arranged to maximize the view out over the dark towers of the city.  Heavy clouds had rolled in, brought with them the winds and rain that were beginning to lash the glass.

“Do not fuck around with this aho, you stupid motherfuckin’ ikiryo,” Sonthi hissed as they sat, his voice for Connor’s ears alone.  “I worked too fuckin’ hard to get your ass out of that shithole prison to watch you fuck it up now.  You smile and nod and say yessir to whatever the hell Chapman wants.  Don’t try to scam him, not yet.  You don’t know the rules, chiima.  Until you do, you’ll just screw yourself right back into that hole you just crawled out of.”

Connor thought about that.  He thought about it very, very hard.  Those thoughts, much to his surprise, were interrupted by a half-full tumbler held out for him.  Chapman had brought him another drink?  Just when was he going to understand what was happening?

“In case you missed it, Connor, Mr. Chapman is the CEO of LRC Exploration,” Sonthi explained with a nod for his boss.  “He hired me to head up his security department about nine months ago.  He and I have been discussing some, ahh, options for the business that call for a skill set very different from your average college graduate.”

Every bit of his voice was different from what Connor remembered.  Very little of Dockside clung to Sonthi’s tongue as he talked.  Very little accent, and even less vocabulary.  Instead, the ex-cop was more formal and more precise…and far more irritating.

Connor’s stare was direct.  He would dance and play with Chapman, at least for a while.  Fine, Sonthi was right about the need for that.  But with Sonthi himself?  Connor was a thief and a liar, but Sonthi was just as bad in his own way.  There was no way Connor was going to let some crooked cop patronize him.  Even if he did owe the man.

Saishei tanmei, mappo, but no one loves me.  We were chara the second I handed you that stick.”  Connor’s voice was not friendly.  The hostility was a reminder for Sonthi; a reminder of just where Connor came from, and of how little he had to lose.

“I don’t have time for this,” Chapman barked, a hand raised to forestall any reply from his security director.

That hand was not needed, however.  At least not so far as Connor could see.  Sonthi’s face may have been unreadable to his boss — just what the hell did a CEO do, anyway? — but to Connor it was an open book.  A book of guilt, and a hint of shame.

Dockside rules still applied to the pair of them, even in that office, and those rules said Connor had made his point.  He gave a tiny, sharp nod to the ex-cop then turned to fully face Chapman.  He needed to focus, and to read everything he could from the man’s face and body language as they talked.  His life might very well depend on that reading.

“I have all the information in the world, Mr. Spogelse,” Chapman explained.  Lectured, actually.  “What I lack are viable means to act on that information.  Oh, I can use what my agents dig up to carry out certain negotiations and decisions, but I cannot act proactively with it.

“The five companies that founded this colony hold all of the cards, not to mention most of the power, and I’m tired of having to toe their line.  I need operatives who can act on my information, when and how I tell them.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

The boredom that had begun to displace Connor’s anger disappeared, replaced by a certain amount of interest.  The idea had possibilities.  Almost as many possibilities as it had problems.  He could get ahead with this…if he was careful.  If he was very, very careful.

“None of your spies are willing to risk their ass for you,” he answered, meeting Chapman’s stare with one of his own.  “You need someone willing to get his hands dirty.  Someone with nothing to lose.  But that ain’t the real problem, boss.  There’re a couple million people over in the Haze and the Camp who’d stab their own mothers for a few grand.  If even I know that, you better fuckin’ well be aware.  Let’s not worry about the job itself, not just yet.  You’re looking for something pretty specific in all this, so the first question is why me?”

Sonthi answered for his boss, “You’re a ghost, Connor.  What little trace remains of Connor Spogelse is so buried and lost in the system, no one will ever find it again.  You can be whoever, or whatever, the situation calls for.”

Connor arched an eyebrow at that, but didn’t say a word.  Let the kamo talk themselves into the scam.  His entire day up to that point might have been a major fuck-up that had his head spinning, but this?  This was a scam.  This was what he did best.

A moment of hesitation while Sonthi glanced at his boss.  A wave from Chapman and the ex-cop continued, “That could never be true of someone from Redux, Connor.  Everyone here is implanted as a child, for one thing.  Even more, however, everyone has a detailed ident entered in the databases from the get-go.  Even in the Haze and the Camp…especially in the Haze and the Camp.”

Chapman cleared his throat to interrupt.  Both Connor and Sonthi turned to stare, but the executive remained quiet, let the silence build for several moments.

Overdramatic aho, Oz laughed.

A moment more of silence, then Chapman spoke, “Mr. Sonthi assures me you are the best he has ever seen at cracking networks and security.  I need that skill, Mr. Spogelse.  Almost as much as I need somebody who can disappear at will.  Rest assured, you are physically quite safe.  You are not in this office because I want you to be my…what is it you people call them?  Oh yes, my baita.  You — very specifically you — are in this office because I need an operative that I, and Mr. Sonthi, can trust and control.”

Connor’s irritation was back.  Very, very back.  Just how the hell did this idiot think he would control Connor?  He had no doubt Sonthi had primed the man with that crack about being a baita, and that made him even angrier.

His voice was cold when he replied, “You need an awful lot, Mr. CEO.  What’s in it for me?”

“Money, for one thing.  You will be well compensated for your efforts, I assure you.  Your freedom, for another.  You were not released from prison, Mr. Spogelse.  You are currently being, ahh, transferred back to Port Oblivion.  Whether that transfer remains lost in the bureaucratic shuffle, or the authorities become aware of your escape from prison, is entirely up to you.”

{Musical Note — although this song isn’t the soundtrack I had in my head when I wrote the scene, it nonetheless fits. It fits the mood, the characters, and where things are going. And, yes, there is allegory and subtext involved…}

Edit — I am adding a “scene” blow. Although I wrote the scene above, and this one I am adding, at very different times and in very different places, they are in fact a single scene. Here’s a challenge for you: see if you can spot the difference in tone and thematic elements that came with the weeks between creating the two…

Ghosts” (continued)

“I will let Mr. Sonthi give you the details,” Chapman continued after a moment for the threat to sink home, “but it is important that I know you understand what it is I want of you.  You will be a weapon, Mr. Spogelse.  A weapon aimed at my adversaries.  Whether you are a sledgehammer or a scalpel is something we will have to see.”

Did the man never shut up?  Connor had met, and scammed, any number of arrogant aho in his life, but never had he met someone so in love with the sound of his own voice.  He’d never liked or trusted any takie — a sudden memory of Nat’s face, and a rush of loss, both quickly repressed — but Chapman was quickly moving to the top of his list of those he most despised.

Nothing said Connor had to like the man, however.  He just had to take his money.

“We will, of course, have to start slowly,” Chapman was still talking, and Connor still taking note of anything he could use to his advantage.  “Mr. Sonthi has already made certain arrangements for you, and he will be your primary point of contact.  My instructions will come through him, and you will do whatever he says.  Whatever he says, Mr. Spogelse, and in the manner and time he directs.  Those instructions will have come from me, and you will treat his words as if they were my own.”

Connor shifted his glance between the two men before he answered with a sharp nod.  The arrogance and conceit in Chapman’s voice should have had Connor’s anger and resentment on the rise, just as the threat of prison should have had him worried and stressed.  But neither of those things was happening.  Why not?

You’ve got nothing to lose, Spog, that’s why, Oz observed.  Just remember to feed these baka what they expect.

Chapman would expect him to be angry and resentful, so Connor made sure those emotions were evident on his face, and in his reply.  “No one owns me, Mr. CEO.  No one.  You got my ass out of that shithole prison, and I’m grateful, but gratitude ain’t gonna buy you shit.  Better men than you have tried to fuck me over.  The worst of all you pretentious aho is currently fighting like hell to keep his own ass out of prison because of me.  No, you better fuckin’ well paint a picture that’s a hell of a lot prettier than just using me as your own personal bataya.”

Connor leaned back after that little tirade, as insolently as he could, and took a long gulp of his drink.  How Chapman reacted would tell him a very great deal.

That same flare of irritation, that same self-satisfied smirk.  Oh yes, Chapman took confidence to a whole new level.  Connor could almost admire his self-possession.  Almost.

“Connor…” Sonthi warned, his voice quiet but insistent.

Chapman stopped the interjection with a sharp motion.  His voice was cold and emphatic, his words rapid-fire, “It really is very simple, Mr. Spogelse.  You will be whatever I tell you to be.  Escape from prison means an extra fifteen years on your sentence.  To date, the criminals from what you and your ilk call the Families have been kept away from Redux’s prisons.  That can change very, very quickly.  Never forget the name on the front of that prison you so conveniently just left.”

Chapman Penitentiary.

Well…fuck me, Oz whispered.

Connor agreed.

The anger wasn’t feigned this time, at least not completely.  “You piece of shit kuroko.  What the fuck don’t you own?”  Connor’s knuckles were white on the expensive crystal tumbler as he downed the rest of the liquor.

“Not much, Mr. Spogelse.  Not much,” Chapman answered, a sneering laugh under his words.

Fifteen more years in prison?  Did it really matter?  Connor would be free or he wouldn’t.  He would live to see the sun rise again or he wouldn’t.  The fundamental truth was that he’d always known he would die young.  Just like the ikiryo he truly was.  Who the hell really cared, anyway?

I do.

Connor squelched that voice.  It was too good to hear; too comfortable…and far, far too disturbing.  He couldn’t afford to listen to Oz.  Not yet.

No, it was no time to let free that particular demon.  He had work to do.  Chapman’s threats might have been pointless to Connor, but the job he offered had definite possibilities.  If Connor couldn’t turn the situation to his own advantage, he would deserve to end up back in that prison.

The silence hung in the air for several seconds, but Chapman seemed content to wait quietly while Connor worked through his thoughts.  Worked through his fears, Chapman would assume.  Connor could all-but read the executive’s thoughts; could almost hear the self-satisfied laugh undoubtedly echoing in the man’s head.

He leaned forward and stared hard at Chapman, intensity and bitterness portrayed with every bit of the skill a life on the streets, and Oz’s coaching, had given him.  “So it’s die in prison, or work for you?  That’s a hell of a choice.  Ask Sonthi what happened to the last hum noi who tried to force me to work for him.”

“I’m well aware of your recent history.  And of what happened to your last, ahh, employer.  I think you’ll find I’m no Kazuo.  Just as I am not William Hendricks.  Relax, Mr. Spogelse, all is not bad.  As I said before, working for me will prove lucrative for you.  Very lucrative, if you’re anywhere near as good as Mr. Sonthi insists.  I may not be an easy man to work for, but I am a generous one.”

Sonthi reached out, touched Connor’s knee hesitantly.  “C’mon, Connor.  It’s a good deal, and you know it.  Hell, it’s the only deal you’re going to get after all the shit that’s gone down.  Trust me on that.”

Trust?  No, never that.  Not again.  Trust had died a year ago, in a pool of blood.  Just like love.  Just like family.

Trust he would not, but use he would.  He would always use.  The rules never changed, no matter where in the universe you were.  And when the price came due, as it always did?  Shou ga nai.

Connor blew out a breath, then, and leaned back in his chair.  The picture of defeat, and of resignation.  But still the anger and resentment.  Oh yes, still those.  Chapman — and Sonthi — would expect them, and Connor hated to disappoint his kamo.

A moment to look between the two, then he focused again on Chapman.  “You win, boss.  Just like you knew you would.  You’ve got me nailed to the wall, and you’ll get your operative.  We both know I’m never goin’ back inside, not if I have any choice in the matter, so you’ll get my best effort, too.  That you can be sure of.”

{Musical Note — why the hell not? It’s all 2-for-1 today!! And with Oz gaining in presence and importance (yay!), its time for a song that characterized the boys in the “good ol’ days”}

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