Well, there was a familiar face. Marcus slowly stood up, the hydraulic joints implanted in his legs creaking, as he bade Nicolas to come closer. His face was crinkled in a leathery smile, eyes brightening in recognition.
“ Nicolas.” He stuck out a scarred hand to shake the Filipino’s own. “ Nice to see you’re caught up in this mess too. Just don’t make me burn my own pay like I did for you in Vietnam, okay?”
He ended it with a firm squeeze in his handshake, giving the Black Yangtze gunman a smile, before patting him on the shoulder genially and sitting back down. Nicolas was a little greyer around the hairs the last time he worked with him but the Black Yangtze gunman’s stony countenance was unmistakable. You had to have a certain self-assured confidence to survive New Malacca, enough to push without getting pushed back but not to the point where you made too much attention. Some learned that lesson by force whilst others never took it to heart.
After Del Rosa settled himself down, several more came behind him, each more annoying than the last. One of them was a Russian that smelt of seawater and port rust. That Toma girl. His eyes met hers with repricatory acknowledgement, of the past they had with one another. The next came in a blur. A walking rainbow that looked more like a glamour girl than a professional mercenary. A girl that was young in both age and experience. A man built like a brickhouse who was relaxing in the corner, cigar fumes wafting from the blunt in his mouth like a lit fuse. Marcus’s jagged cataracts flickered back and forth each new arrival that passed through the doors of Suraiboshen. He remained passive, his chin angling towards them as they sauntered into the quiet hall that was quickly filling with chatter by the second. Marcus counted eight in total. You had to have a certain self-assured confidence on you to survive New Malacca, enough to push without getting pushed back but not to the point where you made too much attention.
Eight people. Eight complications. Eight potential guns pointed at his back when he would be least expecting it. The money it would take to finance an operation like this, though…...The former cop frowned. The client had promised 500 grand. Simple arithmetic brought the figure to 4 million asyuan in total, split between the 9 of them. The only people who could afford to burn that kind of money on the underground black market were the type whose shadows stretched across the canals, the kind of people you tended to avoid the footsteps of. CEOs,drug lords, federal executives, industrial magnates.
Who could throw that kind of money around without making a big splash in the pool?
He mulled on that for a second. And then another. Marcus shook his head, clearing away the doubts that were floating to the top of his mind like pond scum.
No time for regrets. He took the job and he’d deal with the newcomers, damn the consequences.
For the next couple of minutes, nothing happened other than the odd bit of chatter. Marcus thought about striking up a conversation with Del Rosa and decided against it. Marcus sighed and then, unclipped a thermos from a magnetic strip on his belt. The silence of the waiting hall was broken by a pressurised hiss followed by the sound of an 80 year old throat slurping down spoonfuls of something that smelt like mouldy socks.
“ Look at you. ” Marcus stopped drinking and looked up to see who had spoken to him. The cocky little shit across from him, the one with the longcoat, was lounging on his chair, legs crossed together. The edges of his lips were curled in contempt, the toothpick tucked in between waving back and forth. He then leaned forward and glanced at him in amusement. “ I mean, what’s an old guy like you doing in a place like this? No offense but the nearest retirement home is three blocks from here. I can take you there if you want, hell, call a cab for you given your…” Marcus noticed his eyes flickering down at his prosthetics. “ condition.”
“ I needed rent.”
“ Well -” The merc guffawed. “ Never heard of a hab block that cost 500,000 to stay in.”
Marcus was beginning to hate him already. He merely shrugged his shoulders and continued to sip his soup. The merc didn’t take a hint and proceeded to chatter on about crap that Marcus couldn’t care less about, his accolades, various jabs taken at how old he was and other things that the taste of ginseng soup helped him weather through. Eventually, the one-sided conversation reached the point where the merc drew back a sleeve of his jacket and revealed a sleek cybernetic arm that looked more like a teenage girl’s birthday gift fashionware.
“ Check this out.” The merc flexed his right arm and grinned at Marcus’s unimpressed face. “ Titanium alloy actuators. Custom inter-neural gel relays in the millisecond. High broadband Deep connectivity. Plus - “ He twisted the elbow to the right and a wicked barrel unfolded from under the palm of his arm. “ Don’t get me started on the integrated weapons systems. What about you?”
“ Couple of hip replacements.” Marcus paused, taking a sip. “ Vitamin supplements. Hearing aids. ” He patted the side of his leg and detached a part of the exoskeleton. “ Built in walking stick.”
The slick haired merc shook his head in mirth before his gaze darkened. “ The way I see it, we need the best for this job. Not some old geezer.” His hand then wandered towards the inside of his coat. “ How about we make the pay bigger for everyone?”
His eyes were still focused as he took a long draught from his thermos. It was only after he took a swallow that he realised his hand had moved towards his holster. The bastard had gotten under his skin. He then wiped an oily smear off the corner of his lips before speaking.
“ I’ve lived this long. Can’t say the same about you.”
There was only the industrial puff of air conditioning, the hallway growing more cramped and small by the second. He stared back calmly at the blonde haired punk while the merc grinned ,egging him on. For a moment, it looked like a gun fight would break out within the five star restaurant. The doors broke the din of silence as they opened, revealing a pale emaciated waiter. His cheeks were gaunt and he barely filled the black yukata that he wore. A large metal orb replaced his left eye, dancing around excitedly as it spastically twitched around whilst the other eye remained looking forward. He gave a cough and then, spoke quietly.
“ He’s waiting. “ He stepped to the right and bowed his head slightly. “If you would follow me, please.”
Marcus let the others go through first, sitting in his seat until he was the last one behind. The slick haired lan jiao, meanwhile, flicked his toothpick at him while he was passing by, bouncing off his cheek and onto the floor.
As he stood up and made his way behind the group, Marcus swore that he would ram the next toothpick he saw into the man’s uvula.
The first thing that was disconcerting to him were the glass walls, ceilings and floors that surrounded him as he followed the waiter. The tunnel branched off like an ant farm into several smaller rooms that were blocked off from view by smeared plexiglass. Cages of bleached coral hanged, multicolored schools of fish swimming in and out of them. If they could be called fish. They were more crude hybrids, caricatures of the time he went out fishing in the Andamans during his childhood. Tuna the size of pygmy whale sharks, the heads of freshwater fish stapled onto their saltwater relatives, crabs with more than a dozen claws. Out further past, he could barely make out the murky forest of high tension cables and struts that anchored New Malacca to the sea floor. As the waiter led them down a transparent staircase, the water darkened, looking more like a hungering void.
The group stopped at the furthest edge of the tunnel, where it led into a rocky outcrop. A pair of paper doors laid in front. Marcus could make out muffled shouts from the inside that made him slightly cautious, The waiter didn’t seem to mind, lifting his sickly hand out underneath a laser scanner. The machinery whirred before a needle protruded out of the wall. It pricked the palm,a tiny bead of red fading from sight. The paper doors shuddered and then parted, folding into the floor and ceiling.
The sound of rushing water greeted him. In contrast to the wooden makeup of the entrance, the sushi bar was downright industrial. The rock the bar was built in had been sheared, moulded, melted and polished into a perfectly square interior, free of cracks or jags. The walls weren’t stone, though. They were water, falling endlessly. The pools they rested in were bereft of life, of lily pads, of the koi fish you usually see in tourist places to invoke some cheap sense of orientalism. It just flowed and flowed, never resting in one place as the water reflowed back up.
Shame the scream broke the ambiance of zen the architect was trying to go for.
In the center of the room was a circular bar in the middle of the room with mounted stools surrounding it like the spokes of a wheel. From far back, Marcus could barely make out one man sitting on the stool flailing his arms around like an angry child while the other, standing in the centre, paid him no attention. He did manage to catch one part of the argument as the man sitting on the stool screamed out in harsh Cantonese.
“ - This was not part of the deal!”
Arguments were as common as oxygen in New Malacca. The man sitting on the stool was corpo, much of that evident from his Cheffron suit to the Malaccan Pewter watch on his right hand or the barely visible surgery lines on his head that spoke of next-gen cyberware, only available for those of top societal pedigree. However, corporate skin therapies couldn’t cover up the fact that he looked like he was a man on the run from the law. The top right quarter of his forehead looked as if it had been charbroiled. His clothes were tattered at the sleeves and ridden with dried sweat. His eyes were bloodshot and his breath stank of sake.
He stabbed a pudgy finger towards the chef in the centre. “ You think these are acceptable terms?”
The chef was the bigger of the two. Half of his stocky body was draped in a white yukata that was stained with blood, draped diagonally across his sternum. The other half was tattooed, an intricate drawing of Kali on his belly and a dragon skirting across his chest. Keeping in line with the fashion code of the establishment, his hair was tied in a bun on his back. The only thing cybernetic about him was the cybernetic arm that gripped the head of the fish by the gills, myomer fibers pulsing in the bicep, and those eyes. Well, what was left of them. They were replaced by red lenses surgically inserted into his skull, never blinking, constantly open. He didn’t seem to pay any attention to the man yelling at him, focused on the large flounder he was currently descaling.
“ You should have been more specific in the terms of your contract, Mister Chan.”
“ I’m the one paying you!”
That was the moment when the chef cut off the head of the flounder with a single stroke, gumming up the corpo’s mouth. He paused before speaking slowly.
“ You think your...money gives you any authority here?” He set the knife down, wiping the grease of fish fat with a towel. “ You came to me. I didn’t come to you. I have resources that you require, contacts that only I can acquire and the mind to make your wishes reality. If you want our partnership to prosper, Mister Chan, I suggest you be more respectful.”
“ There will be time for introductions later.”
It was then they both noticed the band of mercenaries that had arrived in the midst of the argument. Marcus stayed quiet as he gave a bow of deference.
“ Irasshaimase. I apologise for the introduction of your client.” The corp moved to speak but was silenced by the pupiless glare of the chef. “ For now, please, relax. You all must be famished after travelling here. Please sit, we have much to discuss.”