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Different Times (Installment 8)


The walkway stretches to the air-train station. Two police avatars loiter nearby. Augs from Great London, Kojak knows. Star slows her pace, scrunches her brows in concern.

Kojak shrugs. "Can you zap'em?"

"Keep them occupied." Star reaches into one of her many cases that seem to unfold from somewhere. There's a click and a buzz. Kojak turns his attention to the police avatars, ignores Star's fiddling.

"Bagsy," one police av says to the other. Their forms fade in and out as if they have a bad connection. They move closer now.

The second copper takes in Star. His eyes linger a second too long. Star glances at Kojak, "He likes you," Kojak replies.

"Hey Mates," Kojak says as the police avs approach, "how's it going?" Kojak stops short.

One av cop looks to the other. The short one speaks. "You two out for a stroll?"

"A breather," Kojak replies.

"After lock-down?" His smile isn’t genuine, if not fuzzy.

Kojak looks down. "You gonna work your magic?" he asks Star in a whisper. She gives him a subtle nod.

"Mate, I'm talking to you," the short copper av says.

Kojak looks up. "We'd thought we'd take a gander." Kojak answers. "You know how us augs get...bored and all."

"Augs trying to escape? Is that what you're on about?" It's the second one. A squarish avatar with a sparkling uniform and huge heeled shoes.

"Escape? To where?" Kojak asks.

"Tired of the hanky panky, are we?"

"A tad," Kojak says. "She's had enough." He motions to Star. This time Star ignores Kojak's comment.

The tall cop av cocks his head. "Wanker noob giving it to you rough then?" he asks Star.

Kojak tenses. Wishes he could wrap his hands around their necks. "Pretty tough for an avatar," he says.

The tall one flips his view. For a moment his head is facing Kojak, but the rest of him is facing away.

"Well, well, sounds like these need a bit of re-education then." It's the short one now. His head circles as he talks. It's disconcerting, given his tall black hat with silver stars.

The taller one nods in agreement. "Re-education sounds about right," he says. He turns to the shorter one. Tries to focus, but can't. "Your head, Mate."

The shorter one's head stops circling now. "Sorry," he answers, "glitchy interface. Need an upgrade."

"You need a mod, that's what," the taller one jibes.

"As I was saying, we're going to have to arrest you two for--" the taller one freezes. There's a flash and one of Star's drones, the butterfly, flits about.

"What's that now?" The short cop-av asks. He looks at taller one. The tall av is paused?

"Hello?" He steps closer, waves his hand in front of the taller one. "Mate?" The taller av winks out in a gray puff.

"What?" the short av starts. He turns. Looks at Kojak. "Where'd he go?"

Kojak waves bye, with a certain finger.

"You..." The second copper says, and pops out of existence. Gray puffs evaporate.

Star retrieves her drone.

"Hurry," Star says and begins to run--the wrong way.

"Where?" Kojak asks, as he paces her.

"The slums."

At an intersection the lights go red and Star pulls up short. Her attention is in the net now. "Oh no," she says.

"What?" Kojak asks.

She doesn't answer. Instead she suddenly jabs herself with an ancient looking syringe. She tosses it away now and fishes out another. Her pack is bottomless. She grabs Kojak's arm.


Star jabs.

"Ouch," Kojak says, quietly. "What the hell?"

"They're flooding the tubes with a viral load," Star answers. “We need to go to ground.”



"I hate the slums."

Dark clouds, like oily smoke, are coming from the floor. Kojak grabs Star's kit. Pulls out her body bag--survival suit. Rips the cord. The thing inflates.

"Get in!" he yells. He shoves her in as he grabs his own. By the time Star's sealed, Kojak's in his.

"Now what?" he asks.

Star kneels as the body suit deflates and forms to her body. Then she places a small coin-looking device on the floor.

"You gotta be joking. You're going to blow a hole in the walkway? We’re over a kilometer--"

"Not exactly," Star interrupts.

They both hit the deck as the tiny saw begins to rip a hole in the walkway tube. Sparks fly. Smoke pours in from outside. Around them the tube changes color again: purple.

A moment screeching and a round hole appears in the floor of the walkway. Then the small saw goes insane, as far as Kojak can tell. It begins to carve out more circles.

"Now what?" Kojak asks. "Are we going to repel?” he yells over the intense squealing of the tiny saw.

"Are you kidding?" Star opens one of her packs, searches in a case. A miniature drone pops out. The butterfly hovers for a moment.

"That's all you got?"

The butterfly unfolds. Wings grow. In the thickening purple haze, Kojak sees that the wings are still growing.And growing.

Star hops onto the butterfly. She waves to him.

For a second Kojak hesitates. "Damn, you have some neat toys.”

“Get on!”

The butterfly grows as the floor begins to drop away. Chunks of meta-steel. Kojak jumps, lands behind Star in a saddle of sorts. It's firm and warm and growing even more. Kojak grabs onto the now oversized drone's backside. He wants to ask Star how the thing works because he's never seen one. But the world rises before him as the drone plunges into the smoke filled night. Above them the walkway is breaking apart, the mini-saw still hard at work.

They dive into the slums, the butterfly moving swiftly. For a moment Kojak thinks if the now over-sized drone is intelligent. It seems to be following a predetermined path. Then his eyes go to Star. She's concentrating, head down, gripping glowing wiry handles in front of her. She's tracking their progress, no doubt. Maybe even flying this nearly transparent mini-aircraft with its swept back wings.

Kojak checks his pack. It's secure. So are Star's packs, which the robotic creature-drone has somehow grasped with its long tail--in transit. Her packs whip like kites in the gusts of smoke. Debris rain down now and Kojak cranes his neck to look. The broken pieces of the walkway tumble into the curling banks of fog below.

Without warning, they are landing. It’s smooth compared to an air-train, nearly silent. Only their footfalls break the odd quiet as they hop from the drone. The ground is frozen, slippery. The butterfly-drone collapses in on itself now, folding, and at the same time, evaporating.

"That's a neat trick," Kojak says through his survival suit. His mask makes is voice sound like a frightened bird.

Star puts the drone-butterfly back in its case as it shrinks. "It's the same tech as the energy-domes but with some stolen avatar systems too."

"Never saw one." He shakes his head. “Could’ve used one a few years ago, though.”

"They're short range."

Star stands, takes in their location. Ahead is a wall of rusted vehicles covered in ice. The night dome of Great London casts a weak pallor over everything. The snow is black and swirls around the petro-slime encrusted icicles.

The sound comes from above now. It's snapping noise, electric. "What's that?" Star looks into murk above.

Kojak grabs her by the arm, pulls suddenly. An energy pulse vaporizes a large section of the wall next to them. Bright sparks. Kojak pulls Star to the ground now, drags her into the maze of walls. Twisting debris and the mangled industrial equipment. But the pulse beams continue their assault. Probing. Slashing.

There’s a terrific explosion from above. The nuke, Kojak thinks.

© 2020 Jack Shorebird