Welcome To The Machine.
Vetra Machine looked down at the ground as the rain fell. The dome above kept the worse of the acid rain out, but she could still remember the hissing noise it had once made. That was when she had just been Vetra and not The Machine, all those years ago; how times had changed for her. For the world, the more it ticked on, the more it stayed the same. She took a long drag on her cigarette, long banned, but she didn’t give a shit, and blew the smoke out in small circles. The smoke popped from her black lipsticked lips. You could get anything, banned or not, if you knew the right people. Her long spindling mechanical fingers crushed the butt of the smoke, and then she threw it to the ground. The replacement augmented right arm slipped back out of view as she leaned against the brick wall. She kept it hidden at times, not through shame or embarrassment; it was because it made her easily identifiable. Her short dress barely hid the stocking tops; this was by design. She was undercover. The long four-inch heel of her boot joined with the ladder in her right stocking. This was no stairway to heaven; it was a rope bridge directly to hell.
Wall leaning outside a club like Shorties was about forty-nine steps down from curb crawling in cardboard city. You curb crawled if you were decent; you wall leant if you had nothing to offer. It was for the degenerates and truly hard up. She knew it was safe; nobody wanted a woman like her; she was lower than the lowest and could handle herself. Still, she smiled, buck teeth on display for all, she’d have given them one hell of a ride, and lord help them if they stiffed her. Machine had her ways, and even at her petite five-foot-nothing, she could, and often would, give anyone a fight. She tapped a metal finger on the wall and scraped it along the mortar; bits of piss, puke, and blood-soaked cement crumbled away. The rank smell escaped from the crumbling brickwork and penetrated her sinuses. She shook her head and tried to shake the memory of parties and abuse that joined with the odour. It was no use; once the flood of memories started, no dam could stop them.
Filling in time.
Machine grabbed her long black hair and slipped the scrunchie from the back of her head. This was a habit and something she often did when trying to pass the time and distract herself. Some (still) smoked; she’d already done that. Many drank; that was for later. For her, she would remove the scrunchie and then put her hair back up into a tight ponytail. She had formed the habit when she was young; it had stuck even now, even after all this time. Machine pushed the scrunchie tight against the back of her head and then forced her hands to her sides and waited; she – once again – slipped the mechanical arm out of sight. Vetra Machine was just about to rework the ponytail again when the door to the club opened. Finally, she thought. Machine stiffened against the wall. Her heart rate dropped, and her breathing steadied. She looked ahead and tried not to call any attention to herself. She let her head remain looking forwards while using her eyes to look to the side. She looked at the three people who had left the club, and there he was, Dave the Dentist.
Dave was known as ‘the Dentist’ because he had a nasty habit of pulling his victim’s teeth before death. She gave absolutely zero fucks to what he had done to deserve the price upon his head. Crime, and the police, were a joke; Machine was here because of the bounty, nothing more, and nothing less. Many thought this made her someone who could be paid off, but she stuck to it once she accepted a job. Dave’s bedraggled greying hair flopped forwards over his face as he wobbled from the doorway and said something to the other two. The door slammed shut behind him, and Vetra smiled; that was perfect. The scar that tore from just below his left eye and down to his upper lip was the final proof that this was her target. Machine didn’t need the hair, nor the scar, to tell her this was who she had been looking for. She felt it down in her gut, a tightness of feeling that told her to play it quick and safe. She smiled at the thought of playing it safe. “First time for everything,” she muttered quietly enough so that nobody heard.
Vetra stepped forwards and sideways like the knight on a chessboard. She wobbled as she did so; this was part of the act. She wanted to seem like a drunk, drugged up, broken whore. Nobody looked twice at the downtrodden, well, not unless they had business with them or thought they could take advantage. Machine faked another stumble and used her normal arm against the wall as if steadying herself. She kept the metal arm well hidden, for now. She did not want to give the game away. She mimicked a sidestep, and then it appeared she would lose her balance. Machine adjusted her weight, and, when happy, she pounced. The mark, Dave, came first; the mark always comes first. Die on the job, sure, but get your target first. She leaped into the air and brought her left fist down on Dave’s head. He staggered slightly, not much, but just a little. Before he had time to register, Machine had moved once more.
Machine’s right mechanical arm was next. She had positioned her metal fingers into one long triangle-shaped mass and then drove it up and into the Dentist’s lower jaw. Jumping, punching, landing and then striking with all her might; Dave didn’t know what had hit him, and it was all over for him before it started. Driving the steel fingers up and through the soft tissue of the low jaw was quick and easy. The fingers slipped through the skin like a chainsaw through a jam doughnut. Blood dripped down Machine’s arm like oil down a dipstick; then she added the finale. Vetra extended her four penetrated fingers, and the Dentist’s lower jaw exploded. Bone, blood, gristle, and teeth flew out in directions as Vetra withdrew her hand. By the time Dave’s companions were aware of what was happening, they were picking bits of Dave from their faces. From start to finish, the whole attack was completed in under forty seconds. Step one in the three-step dance was done.
Dave fell to his knees, almost in a position of prayer. Praying to god? To the devil? Or, maybe, to Machine? Vetra had already turned her attention to the second of the three. She moved quickly and grabbed the man with her left arm. She pulled her arm up tight around his neck and moved behind. She clasped as tightly as she could, pulling her arm tight around his neck. He struggled and elbowed her in the ribs; she could feel every blow of his long bony arms as they connected. That would bruise in the morning; she pushed the thought to one side. She reached to her back with her right hand and lifted the dress. The breezy fabric lifted evenly and with ease to reveal her black underwear and tucked inside the back of the knickers a gun. She pulled the gun and fired off three shots in quick succession. The bullets ripped straight through her captive; blood trickled from the three holes in his back and gushed from the three new craters in his front. She released the now dead weight of his body, and it fell to the floor in a flump. Dave, still kneeling but now praying over his friend’s body. Machine raised a foot and kicked Dave to the ground, buddies and bodies together as one. She then turned her attention to the final comrade.
One minute and fifty-three seconds, she had to be quick as the gunshots could have alerted anyone. Vetra walked forwards toward the final man. He stood unsure of what to do; she’d soon take any choice from him. Why didn’t you just run? She thought, but it didn’t matter; what was done was done, and he would be dealt with. He held his hands up in front of his body; what did he think that she was the police? Ha! Not bloody likely in these parts. Machine split her metal fingers, folding the middle one and leaving the index and wedding to poke forwards. She then rammed them deep into the man’s eyes. The creamy goo of eye juice and blood trickled down his cheeks. It made a reddy-clear, large teardrop tattoo of misery under the black holes that had once been inhabited by eyeballs. His last vision was a pair of metal fingers approaching fast. The fingers scrambled his brain as they had pushed through; even had he lived, he would have been just another of the braindead living in the slums. Maybe death was too good for him, but it was too late now.
She loved to drive in her Jaguar.
Machine grabbed Dave the Dentist by his hair and started to drag him along the ground. A gurgling groan escaped the mess that had once been the lower part of his face. The skin and tissue hung and flopped freely with the tongue and dripped its moan along the path. “Shut it,” was all Machine said as she struggled with his weight. Vetra dug her feet into the ground and heaved with her well-muscled legs. The stockings stretched around the calves as they tightened. She moved the body slowly but with purpose, inch by inch at first, then foot by foot, and finally, she was at the car. Two minutes and thirty-one seconds was how long it had taken to capture her mark; it had taken over three minutes for her to get him to the car. The 2020 Jaguar F-Type was parked at the end of the passageway. Its red paint job was unblemished, spotless, and glistened in the moonlight. It was the type of car you’d expect to have been stolen, but it was also the sort of thing that a thief might look at and then consider who owned it. Steal it, and you might be laughing for a few days, but the type of person who drives a car like that in the slums would ensure your gains were short-lived. If you were lucky, they’d kill you quickly. The roof was down, and Machine caught her reflection in the chrome trim around the windscreen as she popped the boot.
The boot was empty, and Machine grabbed the Dentist under his arms and bundled him in. He was almost twice her weight, but he was finally deposited with a push, a shove, a roll, and elbow grease. “Urgh, mrgh, spurg,” he groaned and moaned. Machine took no notice as she slammed the lid. She felt his head hit the boot as she smashed it down, fuck it, don’t care. She made her way to the car’s driver’s side and got in; she threw the gun into the passenger seat before turning the key and revving the engine. The car roared down the street, and Machine made her call. She tapped the side of her head, and the implanted communicator did the rest. She could have upgraded it, and it wouldn’t have even needed the tap, but what if it called someone at the wrong time? She liked control of these things; she could have been screwing and thought of calling a previous partner; it would have been inconvenient and maybe even embarrassing. “I’ve got him,” she said as the call was answered.
“Vetra? Got him? Who?” the voice on the other end replied. Machine rolled her eyes; she had a lot of jobs, but the boss should have known who she meant. “The damned Dentist,” she said with a tone that threatened to kill if she was asked another stupid question. Like clockwork, the next question followed, and it was, in her opinion, equally stupid. “Alive?” the boss asked. Machine turned the wheel, and the car took the corner at speed; the body in the boot thumped against the car’s side. “Well, he was. I doubt he will be for much longer,” she answered.
“You know when it says dead or alive that you get paid more if they are alive,” the boss said.
“Yeah. Yeah,” Machine replied; she then stopped and paused for just a moment. “I’ve gotta go; I’ll be there asap,” she said and tapped the side of her head before the boss could reply.
It was just a glimpse, a fleeting flash of colour in the chrome surrounding the windshield that caught her eye. It took a microsecond for her brain to register and react; it was too quick for her to realise consciously what was happening. Her brain had seen, thought, and reacted before she could comprehend. Her body ducked to one side; a flash, she thought and realised what she had seen was the muzzle flash; she had finally caught up with her subconscious. The bullet ripped through the windscreen in the area where her head had been a second earlier. The bullet hole splintered with a spiderweb of cracks, and Machine looked back over her shoulder. A car was gaining on her, a black-boxed hunk of shite car, but it was gaining. Clutch, gear down and turning the wheel, the car screeched around the corner. It sounded like a banshee at a pissup as the tyres held the road. Her foot jumped from accelerator to brake as she clutched and shifted back up through the gears, expertly managed even in the heels.
Machine slowed the car as she straightened from another corner. She watched closely in the rearview mirror. She reached into the passenger seat and grabbed the gun; she was an old-fashioned gal and used a six-shooter. Three shots were fired and left her with only three remaining. She cursed at not reloading; she knew Dave would have had friends, but she had hoped to be out of Dodge before they came looking. The big black hunk of crap car flew around the corner with all the grace and subtlety of a blind elephant running down an alleyway in a rush. Vetra held the wheel firmly and moved in and out of traffic as she watched it gaining ground. “All part of the plan,” she said to herself as she watched in the mirror. Machine guided the car around others, and then when she was on the wrong side of the road, she slammed on the brakes. Dave rolled forwards with a thud. “Sorry Dave,” she said with a grin. Her foot was already on the clutch, and she jammed it into the carpet and shifted into reverse. With her other foot jumping from brake to accelerator, she hit the bite point like a pro as she lifted the clutch. The car grunted as it was forced from going forwards, then into a stop, and finally reverse in one quick movement. The car started smoothly and rolled backwards.
The two goons in the black shit-mobile had seen what was happening but were powerless to stop it. They tried, of course; the brakes were pushed hard, and the car had started to slow, but it was no match for Machines tuned Jag. The red Jag hit the black box, and they joined in a crumpled mess. Machine had braced herself for impact but was still thrown forwards and backwards. Dave was crushed, and the goons were battered and bruised; things were about to worsen. Machine jumped from her seat and, in one motion, was standing on the seat and facing the black car. She winked at the goons as she pointed the gun. A sly smile formed upon her lips. She aimed calmly, took a deep breath and held it, this all took seconds, but to both the goons, it seemed a lifetime. She then squeezed off a shot. Goon number two watched as goon one’s head exploded. The bullet cut through the windscreen and landed slap bang in the middle of his forehead. His head ruptured and decorated the inside of the car with goon brains. Vetra then turned to goon number two, the driver, and shot twice, once in the chest and once in the head. With goon goo decorating the black car Machine sat back down into her Jag’s driver’s seat. She threw the spent gun into the seat beside her and shifted into first. The car purred as it set off, even with the damage to its rear.
The boss sat and waited; he saw the battered red Jag pull up outside and groaned inwardly. This was going to cost him, again. “More expenses?” he asked as Machine pushed the door open. The blood and eye goo on her metal arm dripped to the floor; the boss just looked and thanked Christ that he had lino flooring. “You shouldn’t offer if you ain’t gonna pay,” Machine said.
“You are good Vetra,” the boss replied, “but don’t take the piss.” The boss leant over and opened the drawer on his desk; he wrote a note and signed it. The world had changed, but what he had written was a cheque. Vetra would take it to another place and cash it in; sometimes, the old ways are the best. Vetra threw the keys to the boss, and he caught them without a blink. “He’s in the boot,” Machine said as she took the slip of paper and turned to the door. “How the fuck am I meant to get him out?” the boss asked. Vetra just shrugged and walked away into the night; her work was done, and she was going for a drink.
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