Chapter 7 - Full Fledged Member


Art by Seo Kanori



Nike put her lessons to good use and she never had to use her blade often. With credit chits secured in her pocket, she strutted down the street munching on a steamed bun. The meat filling was salty and peppery, just the way she loved it. Burger trotted alongside her hopefully. He whined and she looked down. The mutt was good with using his big brown puppy dog eyes on her. She chuckled. With two fingers, she tore off a generous chunk and tossed it to him. His mouth stretched wide and snatched it out of the air.

“Good boy!” she laughed, licking her fingers clean of the juices and wiping them down the leg of her shorts.

“Girly!” a raspy voice said. “You’re back.”

The familiar voice jarred her from her good mood. Nike cast her eye around and saw him. The grin slid off her face. Burger pressed against her leg, sensing her shift in mood.

Miller was sitting in his chair as usual. The brown crude tourniquet stark against the almost corpse like grey of his skin. It was barely midday and he was at it already. Nike’s jaw was set, she remembered how he had scared her that first time. But she was different now, she was a new person. Months of food had filled her frame out, training made her sure in her stance.

He turned his attention back to what he was doing, ignoring her for the moment. His finger tapped against the filled syringe. It was the same red-pinkish stuff. Nike knew what it was. Multiple trips to the Underbelly had acquainted her well with it. Her mouth twisted as Miller plunged the needle into his arm. He sighed with contentment as he undid the tourniquet.

Just another Red Sand addict in a city filled with them.

Nike narrowed her eyes and tried her best to put up a veneer of disdain. She gave him a wide berth. Burger walked between her and the road as she made her way to her next stop, putting her nearer to Miller.

“Don’t be like that girly,” he said, putting his rotting teeth on full display.

His hand shot out just like it did the first time. Nike was ready. She wasn’t the scared little girl anymore. There was no hesitation. One quick motion, she bent and pulled her little blade out. One quick flick and it was deployed. She wasn’t tall, but she didn’t need to be to reach him, he was seated. Before he could regret his action, Nike stepped into his space and slid the blade between his ribs. It was textbook, exactly how Cutter showed her. This was a lesson he needed to learn once and for all.

Miller gasped, his grip on her hand loosened. His eyes were wide and wild, but he had a grin plastered on his face. His eyes rolled backwards into his head as he started laughing. The edges of his mouth just stretched and stretched. It went so wide she was afraid it might split his face. She shuddered, a chill sank in her bones as she pulled her hand free. She wiped the steel against the leg of her pants but kept a tight grip on it. The red patch against his chest grew, but he didn’t seem to care. It was like he didn’t feel a thing.

A hard tug against her shorts broke the spell. Burger growled and pulled again. “Right,” she said shakily, “Good boy.”

At Burger’s insistence she walked away. His grin seared into the back of her eyelids.

Nike hated the way Miller’s face was dogging her the entire day. She needed something to take her mind off it. And she knew just the thing. Her feet took her to her favourite place.

The building was old but well maintained especially for the Slums. A giant billboard dominated the exterior. Curling discoloured posters from years past stood proudly in their display cases. These were real antiques, most of switched out to electronic display panels years ago. Real paper posters like these were rare.

Nike looked at them, these she had scanned and learnt their names a long time ago. She ran her hand over the clean cases, reading the titles she had committed to memory. “Die Hard, Love Actually, Aliens,” she read out loud.

She was still inordinately proud to have learnt the words. Her foot steps echoed with Burger’s nails a close second behind as they entered. The tiled floor was worn but clean. The place smelt entirely of fresh popcorn. She smiled. Meg must have done a fresh batch. That only meant one thing, Love Actually was on.

She climbed the defunct escalator up to the second level. One of the massive doors was slightly ajar. Through the slim slice of light into the darkened interior, Nike could see Meg’s outline. The older woman, in all her dreadlock glory, usually would camp outside the theatre, selling tickets to movies so old most wouldn’t have heard of them cheaply. It was only when romantic movies played that she watched along.

Nike wasn’t one to question how did Meg kept the place going, she just accepted the place as her shelter away from the streets and the boys for what it was. She smiled, remembering Meg’s kindness after her first run in with Miller. Even though she had the credits for a ticket, they didn’t belong to her. She looked at her omni-tool. There was still time for her to catch whatever was left of the movie.

Muffled dialog drifted out of the darkened theatre as she inched towards it. Oh it has started! Burger ventured ahead, his nose twitching at the wonderful scent of popcorn. As much as she knew Meg wouldn’t mind her around, she didn’t want to be social right then. Plus she had no credits to actually pay for a ticket. She just wanted some time alone with her thoughts and not talk about what had happened earlier.

Nike bent down and pulled Burger close. “You see that lady there?” she whispered into his upright ear.

Burger snorted softly. “She has popcorn. If you are beg her politely, she will share,” she went on.

The dog grunted and started forward. “Wait, wait. You have to let me hide before you go to her.”

He grunted and stilled as if understanding her words. “Good boy,” she said, releasing her grip on his fur before giving him a good scratch on his chest.

Nike sneaked towards the side, knowing exactly where there was a small staircase that took her directly to the projector room. She peered over the corner back at Burger. Their eyes met and the mutt launched into action. Stealthy feet made their way up the steps. She was ready to pick the lock on the door, but she found it unlocked.

That’s unusual.

Gingerly, she turned the door knob and peeked inside. It was empty. Nike heaved a sigh of relief and entered. She dragged a chair towards the projector, making sure she didn’t accidentally step into the beam and let the cat out of the bag. As she sank into the chair, she smiled a little.

Men and women, young and old, hugging, kissing and falling in love. It reminded her of the Suncorp ads she loved. She hugged herself, drawing her knees to her chest as the theme music soared.

One day, I will find something like that.

Nike made sure to be out of the projector room before Meg came up. Burger didn’t wait for her outside but that’s normal for him. After all, he had scraps to eat, rubbish to sniff at.

All in all, it was a good day, despite her encounter with Miller. She made her way back to base. Music playing from her omni-tool, her voice clear as she sang along. Her red sneakers kicking a can down the streets all the way home.

“Where have you been?” Scars yelled as soon as she entered the sleeping quarters.

There was a flurry of activity. She ignored his question, instead she asked, “What’s going on?”

“Tenner got a lead on a little job we can do,” Cutter replied.

Frank entered with a few submachine guns in his hands, handing one to Scars and Cutter each. They looked different from the pistols she was used to seeing on the boys’ waistbands. Her eyes widened. “What is this job about?” she asked.

“Here,” he said as he turned to her, “This is yours.”

He pulled his pistol from his waistband and tossed it in her direction. She caught it without trouble. The pistol though compact in his hand, was large in hers. It weighed heavy with potent. Frank holstered the SMG in its place.

The Reds was a small outfit. They ran a protection racket. The Dowager parcelled out territory to gangs who would pay her tithe. The territory was theirs to do as they please. The larger the gang, the more they have to pay. This helped to keep the gangs from working to overthrow the Dowager, that and the Dowager had muscle, off world muscle to boot, to back her up. Those who earned her favour got prime real estate closer to the Underbelly. The Reds being on the outskirts of the Slums were among the lowest of the low.

“Things are going to change for us tonight,” Frank said. The confidence that shone in his eyes had the rest nodding along. Nike couldn’t help but grinned.

“Damn right!” Tenner said as he holstered his own SMG, “We had better make some damned credits after buying these.”

Frank turned to look at Tenner. Their eyes met. Perhaps she was the only one who saw the dangerous glint in his eyes. It was more than just ambition. There was a hunger there she had only seen the day Frank recruited her. Cutter and Scars were gearing up for whatever they were planning for the night.

“We will,” Frank promised.

“What are we doing?” she asked again.

The leader of the Reds grinned. “You will earn your amp and implant.”

“There,” Cutter whispered, pointing.

They were clustered in an abandoned building across from the Razors’ base. She eyed the others. Cutter had a rare eagerness to his actions, anticipation radiating off his frame as he cradled the beaten SMG like his baby. Tenner was, as usual, busy with his omni-tool, constantly tapping away on it. Scars bit his lip as he paced, the SMG held awkwardly in his hand. Frank beckoned them over as he sketched a rough map on the dusty floor.

“So Cutter, Scars both of you will be our frontal team,” he said, pointing at the boys and indicating where they would breach the Razors’ base.

“Tenner and I will come in from the rear while they try to escape your onslaught,” he said.

All of them nodded like it made sense to them. She looked out the empty window and then back at the crude map. The Razors’ base wasn’t large, but who knew if they had more people than the Reds did. Fuck, there are only five of us. I am sure they have double that.

“What about me?” she whispered, not quite wanting to hear the answer.

“You will be our ticket in.”

She didn’t like the sound of it at all.

Taking a deep breath, she couldn’t help the backward glance where Cutter and Scars were hiding. Her hands feeling the loss of the pistol even though she was completely unfamiliar with how to use it.

Why the hell did Frank give it to me if he wasn’t going to let me use it?

Cutter nodded at her while Scars made shooing motions with his pistol. She jerked her head back to the front. Nike took a deep breath and took the first steps towards the Razors’ base.

“Just go up there and knock,” Frank had instructed.

“It’s that simple?” she asked, she couldn’t keep the incredulity from her voice.

“They are Snatchers,” Tenner said, “they won’t hesitate if you go up to their door.”

A chill ran down her spine. Snatchers snatch kids, cut them open, rip them up. All for the bloody bits inside. It’s no wonder they are called the Razors.

As she crossed the darkened street, the chill never left her bones. And it wasn’t because she was cold. There was a lone light just next to the door Frank had indicated. A low hum came from it as it flickered on and off randomly. Nike stopped before it, sweat beading across her bead in the muggy heat of Singapore. She raised her hand to knock when the door opened on its on accord.

A girl her age was on the other side. Nike blinked. Now what?

“Who are you?” the girl asked, her voice slurring. “Where is this?”

Nike frowned as she looked at the girl. She was thin and wearing a loose dress that came up to upper thighs, hardly long enough for her height. It reminded her of how she used to look before having access to regular meals. The girl’s eyes were a little glazed over, her gaze unfocused.

“I…errr…” Nike started, but the girl turned and walked away without waiting for her to finish, muttering questions under her breath.

Ok, I guess it worked?

This was highly irregular even for lax security. Nike stifled the overwhelming urge to look back. Instead she entered cautiously, taking care to make sure the door remained ajar.

The front foyer was small and dark. A single light bulb hung above. It swung on its wire, casting dancing shadows across the walls and floor.

Her heart thudded, wishing Burger was with her. She felt braver with him around. Step by step she walked. The girl was shuffling ahead, unsteady in her gait but sure in her path. She led Nike deeper into the home turned base. Old mouldy furniture stacked in haphazard piles in rooms with no doors. Light and ventilation were precious commodity in the Razors’ base. Sweat was trickling down her back even though she did nothing but walk into the lion’s den.

The girl brought her to a narrow flight of stairs that led downwards. Nike ignored it. Instead, she looked for the back door. She knew the plan. If she could get that unlocked, it would go easier for the others. And she would be able to get out of here quicker. Her skin crawled like a million insects lived under her skin.

The girl went down the stairs without a backwards glance. Nike decided it was safe enough to break away. Hunched, she slung away just in the nick of time. A voice harsh and gruff called out from the bottom of the narrow stairway.

“Hey, one of your girls is loose again!” the voice said, “what did I say about letting one of your experiments loose?”

“I was just trying to get the dosage right,” another voice called, that one muffled.

“Get her secured. We have quite a few deliveries to make tonight,” the first voice said, “I’m going to make sure she hadn’t left the door open again.”

Nike slipped into the nearest room without thinking. She pressed herself against the wall, praying it was dark enough to keep her hidden. There wasn’t a door to put between her and discovery. She held her breath as the boots stomped past.

Her mouth went dry, her palm sleek with sweat. There was no time to think, the plan was rapidly falling apart. She had only two choices, go after the man and make sure the front door stayed open somehow or search for the back door and hope Frank wouldn't kill her for deviating from the plan.

She ground her teeth together, her heart threw itself against her ribs as seconds ticked by. Frank didn’t assign her to the back door, her job was the front door so that Scars and Cutter could distract the Razors. Nike took a shuddering breath and pulled her blade free from her shoe.

The trip into the base wasn’t long, but sneaking behind the man felt like an eternity. The man was burly and tall, bigger than Cutter and older than Frank. His mop of long oily hair hung loose. His footsteps heavy as he clomped down the darkened hallway with boots unlaced. Nike pressed her back against the wall, praying she wouldn’t step on any creaking floor board.

“What the fuck!” the man exclaimed when he got to the foyer. “Your girl left the door open again!”

She had hoped Scars and Cutter were already there to deal with the problem, but no such luck. Her blade felt too small in her hand as she tightened her grip around it. She had to do something but what?

The man’s back was facing her. There was only the darkened hallway between them. Once through there was nowhere to hide. If she wanted to act, this was the time. His thick muscled hand reached out towards the door. Throwing caution to the wind, she did the first thing she could think of.

She ran.

Her blade led the way. Her shoes stomped on the floor broads, they groaned in protest. The man turned as she leapt. His eyes bulged, his mouth gasped open and Nike slammed the blade into his half-turned back. The blade acted like an ice axe, biting into his flesh. He roared. Using it as a hand hold, she pulled herself up, scaling the man like a mountain. One hand tugging on his hair to maintain her grip as she sat on his shoulders. Her thighs clamped around his neck.

“Who the fuck are you?” he roared.

Her head connected with the swinging bulb with a solid thud. It made the orderly shadows launched into a dance. Eye-searing brightness alternated with the deepest of darkness as the bulb swung. She squeezed her eyes shut but it was too late. Her night vision was shot. The after image of the bulb throbbed behind her eyelids. Back and forth the bulb swung, hitting her at times, tangling her up with the wire at others.

Nike didn’t bother answering. She was busy trying to keep her seat. His hands scratched and pulled, trying to dislodge her. The blade was stuck, pulling at it with one hand wasn’t doing the job. It was her only weapon and she loathed to let go of it.

The man twisted violently and she slipped. A pair of hands gripped her ankles and yanked. One moment she was seated atop high, the next she crashed onto the floor. Air rushed out of her lungs in a whoosh. She scrambled to her feet. Panic and fear making her move faster than she thought possible.

My blade!

It was still sticking out of the man’s back. It was hard for him to reach so he ignored it. His lips curled into a snarl, his eyes promised death. Nike lunged towards it only to be met with a foot against her torso. She fell again, winded and sore.

“I don’t know who are you but you attempted to steal from the wrong house, girl!”

He bent and pulled her up roughly by her arm. She screamed. Gunfire exploded over her head. Something wet and warm splattered against her face and chest. The man groaned as Nike yelped. The grip on her arm loosened as he doubled over.

A familiar pair of laughter rang out from behind her. “That was a rush!” Scars crowed.

Cutter snorted in agreement. The alarm was raised. The element of surprise was lost. There was no time to lose. Both of them entered the base, splitting up at the narrow flight of stairs, leaving her standing alone at the foyer. The bulb was still swung. She stood in the light, then shadow and light again. The growing puddle of blood reached her shoes as she stared at it.

Nike felt jittery as tears welled up in her eyes. She couldn’t explain why she felt like crying. She survived, she won, She shouldn’t be crying. Angrily, she blinked the tears away and looked for her blade. The handle of the blade was still protruding from the man’s back. Her hands trembled as she tried to retrieve it. The man groaned. Nike flinched.

He’s not dead. Why isn’t he dead?

Fear fuelled her limbs. Planting one foot against his man, Nike pulled with both hands. Ignoring his groans, ignoring his batting hands that couldn’t quite reached her, ignoring the hammering heart that threatened to jump out of her mouth, she tugged and yanked. When the blade came free, she stumbled backwards and fell.

This was different. There was no Cutter ready with an approving smile, telling her she did right. This was just a pure raw need to defend herself. Her throbbing torso reminded her what a single kick did.

The man groaned and turned onto his back. The scent of iron filled her nose. With wide-eyed horror Nike watched as the man levered himself in a sitting position. Blood pouring from two distinct holes on his chest.

Art by Seo Kanori

“Stay away!” she shouted as she held the blade out in front of her

Gunfire rang out from the direction Cutter and Scars went. She jerked violently at the noise, her blade pointed haphazardly at the perceived sources. The man grunted with effort as he stood. Their eyes met as he bared his teeth. Dread stiffened her body as her grip tightened on the little blade.

Knuckles white, eyes wild, she attacked.

With the blade held straight out in front of her, Nike rushed at the man. The blood foiled her. She slipped. Her chin struck the floor so hard she bit her tongue. His foot caught her stomach. She winced and coughed as she fought to gain her feet. But his kick wasn’t as powerful as before. Teeth gritting, blade firmly in hand, she scurried around to his back. He, made slow by his wounds, couldn’t keep up.

Art by Seo Kanori

Without hesitation, Nike launched herself onto his back again. She rode him like a wild bucking horse. One arm around his neck, the other attempting to stab the blade downwards. She was past caring where she swung the pointy end as long as it found flesh. His hands frantic as he yanked on her hair. His efforts only made her more determined.

He gasped when the sharp end finally found purchase. Every inch she dragged her blade, from right to left, brought forth more warm, thick liquid. It coated her arm and made it hard to hang on. The man shuddered as she slipped onto the floor. He fell to his knees, his arms slack by his sides.

Nike panted as he slumped face down. Adrenaline felt her shaky and jumpy. Boots thumped loud down towards her. She jerked over, the blade held in a death grip.

“Woah,” Scars said. “Look at you.”

Relief washed over her, she was crying in earnest now. Hastily she dashed them away, smearing the blood all over her face. Scars raised his eyebrows at her. “You took down the guy?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she replied, her voice quivering as she forced her arms to relax.

“Well, we’ve softened him up for you anyway but you got your first kill,” he said. “Come on, let’s go see how the others are doing.”

Nike walked through the basement. There were cages, all of them small and squat, lining the room. Wire mesh so fine she could only fit her fingers through the holes. The bottom of the cages were all stained brown and yellow, and how they stank. Gagging, she tried to hold her breath. The cages stood empty and waiting, claws sheathed and hidden.

It set her teeth on the edge as she turned resolutely towards the curtained-off area. Cutter emerged from behind the plastic sheets that hung from the ceiling. “What happened to you!” he exclaimed when he saw her.

Her entire front was coated with blood. It was drying and rapidly turning sticky. “She finished the big guy up there,” Scars answered.

Cutter grinned. As he walked past her, he clapped her on her back. “Good job! But you got a good teacher,” he shrugged.

Nike nodded, allowing a small sense of pride to ease the numbness in her chest. She pushed forward through the plastic sheets and froze. There, lying on a metal table, was a body. The harsh bright light seared the image into her brain. The girl she had seen earlier was lying on it, naked. There was no doubt she was dead. Her ribs were splayed open like tiny stunted wings made of white bone. Blood flowing down the drain built right into the table.

Nike’s guts clenched as she rounded the table. Red pieces of meat floated in stasis boxes. Frank was there with Tenner. “You’re sure you can get a good price for these?” he asked, his hand gesturing at the stasis boxes.

“Leave it to me,” Tenner replied. “I’ll need make some calls.”

“Get it done,” Frank said.

She took a shuddering breath, as heat bubbled up form her guts. Her jaw tightened as her fists clenched. Nike was angry.

This isn’t right. We are not organ farms to be harvested from.

“What happened?” she asked.

Frank turned and saw Nike. His eyes held the same hunger though it was somewhat abated. “We caught them with their pants down, it was a skeleton crew here today,” he said, “Tenner’s information had been good.”

She nodded, eyes lingering on the morbid scene before her. The plastic sheets ruffled behind her. “Holy fuck,” Scars exclaimed as he gagged.

Frank ignored the younger man and stepped over the dead Razor. His boots squelched in response. “You had your first kill?” he asked.

Nike nodded, a low grade anger burning in her chest. He smeared the blood across her face.

“And now you’re a fully fledged member of the Reds.”

Nike grinned, the numbness replaced by a burning anger at the people who had done this.