Big Money, Lotta Dust

by Jon RC Roller

The sharp crisp morning spread itself over the northwestern wall of Chicarco and I breathed a sigh of relief. The bloodsucking hipsters had all retreated to their secret organic human farms far away, hidden deep in the blank spaces between the arcologies of Neo-Illinois. A few stragglers would be making their way to the yoga studios and head shops beyond the walls of civilization. Lucky for them, that morning my clothes had just run out of juice. Otherwise I’d have followed them. And I’d have fucking dusted them with such joy they’d hear my happiness all the way straight down to hell.

Of course there was no hell. No heaven. Just those fucking mutant hipster vampires that plagued the world.

I went into a little grocery, freshly opened for business and grabbed myself a Ginger Sleep Cannasoda and plugged into an outlet to recharge my clothes. I checked myself out at the holoscanner while a chipper young blonde girl annoyed the shit out of her co-worker, a woman about my age. They were re-stocking the shampoo and she was cracking jokes about how old the woman was.

“Do you remember cash money dollars?” she said snapping gum. Animated fish tattoos swam across her cheeks and down her neck. The holoscanner beeped in front of me. The woman grumbled yes.

I left the store. It was a nice morning, which just pissed me off all the more. I was tired. I figured I wouldn’t be awake for most of that gorgeous day.

Hell, I can just barely remember cash, too. It seems like a long time ago. I was just a kid.

I have managed to survive this long hunting the most vicious creatures ever to walk this earth by adopting some of their habits. Mostly sleep during the day, be active at night. Those who hunt monsters become monsters themselves, or something like that. On a normal day I would ride the maglev home, drink my drink, and pass out for a few damned hours. I had to. Because when I would wake up it would be fight time. The time I went out to hunt down all the hipster mutant vampire scum of Chicarco and turn them into fucking dust.

But that day was different. It was the day that lead me to being the man that took on Boss Hipster and lived to tell the tale. Truth told, I could never have done it alone.

It all began before I was even born. The hipsters in those long ago days weren’t vampires. They were just fucking annoying loser shits that bitched and moaned about “the governments and the corporations” or what the really old and useless ones called “The Man”. They had got the notion from some mass-murdering eco-terrorist that food was bad for you unless it was grown in the absolute most fucking retarded way you possibly could grow something, like that if you grew food the way the cave men did it was magically in tune with their spirit guide or the Holy Soul of Earth Gaea mother or somebody. I never understood why anybody would listen to a person that would strap a bomb on and run into a crowd and kill a bunch of little kids over bushels of fruit, but people weren’t too swift back then. They insisted that they didn’t trust “the governments and the corporations” one damn bit, but the hipsters still demanded that food have labels saying which was the regular style and which was the old magic cave man power style. I also never understood how they could hate The Man so much and yet trust The Man so completely as to believe whatever stickers The Man slapped on their fucking apples. But like I said, everybody of that generation must have been a fucking idiot.

The “governments and the corporations” conceded and the cave man style food became super popular with the rich hipster crowd. All the rest of us regular folk ate normal stuff that had been eyeballed all up and down the line by 18 dozen or so biology grad students at the bio-food arcologies. If there was even one watermelon that came out looking a little bit too round, they’d all get a boot right in the credits. We were safe.

The hipsters, though, they kept growing their own food or else buying up the old stuff which anybody could grow any damn way they pleased. Of course, hipsters are stupid fucks that make no sense. They had no fucking idea how to grow tomatoes. They would pray to the plants. Talk to them. Water them when they felt the juju mojo move them to pour water on them. Lucky for all of us, most of them just straight up died of malnutrition and starvation. But then, unlucky for some of us, some of them started coming back.

I rode the maglev back to my place, staring at my boots the whole way and trying not to attract too much attention. I guess I’m not such a big guy, about 177cm and 68kg, and I can really ghost when I need to in the dark. But after that night I was still shaking hipster ashes out the sleeves of my electric brown leather duster. That tends to catch the eyes of the morning shift.

Officially, the last of the undead joined the Anarcho-Texan Republic (ATR) in The Second to Last War and were used up as all-natural, organic weapons against the New United Nations (NUN). Officially, that war was over. Unofficially, me and a few others knew there were plenty of hipsters still lurking out there, kidnapping and feeding on humans. Hunting down hipster mutant vamps without a license was slightly illegal since there weren’t supposed to be any left. I guess it just made the big-wigs over at NUN look like they’d missed a spot on the dishes, and they just didn’t like that. There were some good people in the system, though. People I knew I could trust to have my back in case I got in over my head. Dangerous as shit but I had my reasons I kept going out every night. Personal reasons.

And I usually got paid pretty good, too. Somebody’s kid went missing, they wanted to know the full details. I got that info, killed the killers, and got a couple of credits to keep the war waging till every last one of the fuckers turned to dust.

I shook as much of the vamps’ remains off me as I could during my maglev transfers. That early the passengers weren’t quite awake yet anyway, sipping their reanimates and waiting for the next maglev chute to pull in. The 3D holovertising darting around the Albert Einstein transfer line kept the young distracted, and the old had better things to worry them in their HUDs–flashing multicolored displays telling them their arco-mail, their arco-meeting arco-schedules. Hoodies with all the computer junk sewed in. Hood up, you’re on; vice versa. A couple of the really old folks on their way to the gym that morning still had the old style glasses HUDs. I sneered at them. I always thought those looked like shit. My own HUD was a black cybernetic cowboy hat made of the new Floopy brand goat-spiderweb material that you could shape however you damn wanted and could even have electronics put in. Those sewn circuits projected everything directly in front of my eyes when I tapped a connecting sensor in my left, gloved hand. It actually worked pretty good in a fight, too, let me see behind and was light, bendy and fucking damn near unbreakable.

I kept scanning around me with the cameras in my hat to make sure everyone was distracted by some flashing holovert while trying to shake, rattle and rub as much dust off of me and onto the tracks as possible. The stuff was worse than beach sand. I was right up on the edge of the platform stamping the ashes off my boots when a Chicarco MagLev employee tried to wand me back across the yellow warning line. I tapped off my HUD, and tried to give the fellow a polite smile, when I felt a great paw of a human hand land on my shoulder and spin me around.

“You’re covered in ash again, I see, Spencer!”

And fuck me it was my old army buddy and current Peace Officer In Charge, Detective Raymond Wyatt.

In that moment I figured I was in for a day in jail.

A few hours later, I got out of the holocalm closet and felt refreshed. There’s nothing like emerging from isolation. Soothing music, therapeutic gasses, reformational light shows and just plain being cut off from the world. I felt renewed. So calm, focused, centered and refreshed I just about hated myself. Psychosonically enhanced ocean waves and guided meditation voices echoed in my brain. It was sure as shit better than the “free work” movement they had when I was down in the Anarcho-Texan Republic anyway. Thankfully, that shit has passed and people have wised up a little.

I was in the out-processing center when Therapist Officer Zil Joanne gave me my hat and cannasoda back. I cracked open the can and sipped as we chatted for a few minutes. She offered me a brownie, fresh baked from home. I declined. She was sweet. All the people at the station were like that. Hand selected to be the most nicest people you could ever hope to have administering some social justice to you. The idea was that people that had broke the social contract had just messed up a little, and here Zil Joanne was trying to figure out just what had happened and see if the re-braining from the holocalm closet had really taken.

So there I sat chatting with Therapist Officer Zil Joanne about my feelings, about the weather, about how I would save a fucking turtle if I found it flipped over, about the latest celebrity gossip. These people were nice, but they weren’t fools either. They knew if the holocalm didn’t take they’d have to put me back in for another hour. I didn’t care. Most people in out-processing don’t. Residual side effects of the re-braining.

But the echoes of synthetic ocean waves just reminded me more and more of my dad and my brother and the war against the hipster vampire scum that took them. I thought that war wasn’t ever going to end. Not for me.

By the time me and Therapist Officer Zil Joanne had got on the topic of last year’s atrocious trends in animated tattoos, we were laughing like old friends and she decided the effects of the holocalm had worked. We hand printed our mutual consent of social contract reinstated and time served and I was free to go. I’d passed the test.

I was just about to walk out the door of the station when Raymond stopped me.

“You want a job, Spencer?”

Raymond was a great big bear of a man, bald with dark brown skin and soft disarming eyes. He didn’t look much older than last I’d seen him–probably had some mandatory work done to comply with peace officer standards.

“Nope. Already got one.”

He put his giant hand on my shoulder and leaned in close. “This one pays better.”

The night in jail would mean a pretty steep fall in my credits. “Thanks for bringing me in, Raymond. But you know I’m ready to get back…”

“To merc work?” he whispered. “Chicken shit. This is the big score, Spencer. Big money, lotta dust.”

I wasn’t expecting that. I looked around like a dumb asshole as he slipped a business card in my pocket. “Meet me in 20 there.”

I slapped him on the back and said, “Well, maybe I’ll think about it, Raymond.” And smiled really big to him and everybody in the room that wasn’t paying any attention to us.

“Good. Need more guys like you out there, Spencer.”

We shook hands and I walked out of the reformation station. The shining maglevs, floating holoverts and cold silent hum of the mile-high downtown smart-spires greeted me. I looked at the address on the card, then checked my credit account through my HUD.

“Fuck me” I said out loud to nobody.

I walked through a fine mist of rain and holograms towards the bar, Raymond’s words pushing the soothing ocean sounds out of my head and a sick lovely feeling of getting even rising in my gut. Big money, lotta dust.

In a small town in the Anarcho-Texan Republic the local consensus drive volunteered me for a 90 day job after I gave some burritos to a pack of homeless kids. They never did quite manage to stamp out the word ‘help’ but they got damn close. Spent 3 months on a private road works project with guys who had tried to start an underground soup kitchen, and some guys left-over from the Non-Profit Insurrection. Mostly people that had been on the wrong side of the border when the ATR pulled out of the New Union Act. They had us out building a road for some rich dipshit’s neo-plantation house, working us like mules. When I got out of course I used the contacts I’d made with the illegal soup kitchen boys to get the hell out and joined up with NUN. That’s when I met Raymond. If there was anybody else on the planet that hated vampires as much as me it was probably him. He told me about how he was in Atlanta when the ATR secretly moved in with squads of vamps setting up designer coffee-shops and artisinal yoga studios for dogs. They were an advanced force and when the time was right, the vamps attacked. They smashed any remaining businesses that weren’t part of their little club, and dragged all the people in his neighborhood into a cul-de-sac. They of course then had a consensus decision making session and after many hours of fair, participatory deliberation unanimously agreed to kill just enough of the humans as they needed to and let some go. They ate Raymond’s wife and baby daughter in front of him. He was just 21.

I went to the address on the card he’d given me. It was a right shitty old dive. The holograms outside were glitched so the smiling, happy people in the ads flickered and had eight legs and glasses of cannabeers growing out of their heads. The flat screen sign had so many pixels fried out I could just barely guess the word 'bar’ at the tail end. But the address was right. Good old post office, putting shit in metal and stone.

I saw Raymond over at the bar. He didn’t say hello or nothing. In fact, he looked goddamn annoyed that I had shown up.

“I guess I’m gonna hafta pay for your drinks, hunh?” he said

“Yep.”

Then he smiled. “What the fuck, Spencer? Can you believe we’re still alive?”

“Nope.” I ordered a glass of draft cannabeer and the one-eyed bar keep asked me for an ID scan. I complied and he got me a tall glowing mug of green, bubbling liquid.

“So this is gonna be big, Spencer. NUN has found a cure.”

“Says who?”

“Says a turncoat.”

“Fucking bullshit, Captain…” I got up to leave.

“No, wait hang on” he said “This is legit. Just hear me out, OK?”

I sat back down. I thought about my old man and my brother. They got themselves killed by trusting a so-called turncoat vamp. As long as I live I’ll never forget the smell of their blood staining the wood slats in our old barn.

Then Raymond told me NUN had found a special case. A girl.

“That’s it. Just a special case. From a West Coast arcology. Look I don’t know much but if I can get you in on this we can hit 'em and hit 'em hard. But if we’re gonna go, we gotta go right now.”

I finished my cannabeer and ordered another.

“They’ll clear us for a pretty big budget, too.”

“Well, in that case,” I said and downed my cannabeer in one big gulp “I’m gonna charge you ten times as much as normal.”

I remember when we got to the NUN HQ in the southern section of Chicarco everything in it was super clean and polished. Everything so sparkly clean with plush red carpets all nice and vacuumed to perfection. A bunch of NUN workers in their slick dark blue uniforms walked around doing official shit at their computer terminals, holochatting with other advisers across the world.

Raymond lead me to a secure room in the back. He told a terminal on the wall we were there and ten minutes later she walked in. She was a short, pudgy Asian girl with pigtails. She looked out of place in the blue uniform, but I remember I liked the fractal tattoo designs she had flashing across her face.

“I’m Nancy Slack,” she said.

“Good for you,” I said.

Raymond slapped me on the arm. “I’m Raymond. This is Spencer.”

“All right, gentlemen” she said sitting down “Let’s get you caught up to speed.”

She waved her hand at the white wall and it brought up a video display.

“Should I have brought snacks?”

She laughed. I like it when girls laugh at my jokes.

“Promise this won’t take long” she said.

A holographic time line projected from the wall.

“So this is what we know,” she began “the virus laid dormant at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. We don’t know how long, but something like 100 million years.” The wall showed an evolutionary chart and some animated ocean scenes. I rolled my eyes.

“Do we really need to go over this?” I asked “I mean we’re not exactly new recruits.”

“Bare with me. It’s important.”

Raymond leaned back in his chair. I put my hat on the table and rubbed my eyes.

“The virus woke up. It spread through the plankton, fish and other marine life. It was unique in that it skipped from plant to animal without hesitation.”

The wall showed us people eating the crap that would infect them.

“Bio-food arcologies in the New Union caught it pretty early on, but there was no way to screen it from the localvores, macrovores, and other dietologies prevalent in the Anarcho-Texan Republic. Socalivada and The Dallacostin Corridor were hardest hit.”

“No shit? You know I was there when they took over and started sucking the blood out of everybody’s faces.”

“I didn’t know that. I’m sorry” she said and I could see on her face she meant it. “I’m from Hall Arcology, used to be called San Diego. Ever been by there?”

“Nope,” I said.

Raymond sat up straight, “Well, I have, Spencer. Before and after the war. It’s goddamned amazing how they’ve come back.”

Nancy continued. The wall switched from scenes from the war to the present. A convention center had been converted into an arcology with flat 2D paintings of some kind of weird old costumed gods decorating the walls. It looked nice.

“We lived off of rations and just kept tight in the big hall watching vids and reading. When NUN finally punched a supply line through we started trading old entertainment files for real bio-food. Uninfected. But we had a lot of science guys in there, computer types and biologists. So NUN put us to work on studying the virus. There were just enough vamps around for us to catch a few samples.”

“Fucking bullshit, Captain” I said to Raymond “She’s infected!” I stood up to storm out.

“Mr. Spencer!” she blocked my way. “I assure you. I am not a vampire. I have never done yoga in my life, and I hate all genres of rock music. I think irony is cruel and not the least bit funny.” She was dead serious. “Did you lose family in the war? Well, you weren’t the only one.” She turned away from me and crossed her arms. “They took our ancient paper books and magazines. Said they were unnecessary corporate propaganda. But to us those old stories had become almost sacred. Anyway. They had a big meeting where they all took a vote and used them as fuel…to cook my parents.”

“I’ll never forget that smell,” we both said a the same time. We locked eyes. I felt bad for giving her a hard time and sat back down.

I cleared my throat. “It’s just that I’ve heard this song before. NUN captures some infected fuckers and tinkers with them. Every damn time the science guys get infected and have to be burned. And they never learned anything anyway.”

“Well, we’ve managed to learn to quite a bit out in Hall.” She waved her hand and brought up the next holoimage. It was a white guy with a shitty beard and a badly dyed mohawk hair cut dressed in horn rimmed glasses and the skinniest pants I’ve every seen.

I recoiled in horror. I saw Raymond reach for his sonirifle. We’d fought so many of this kind of monster in the war. It was just instinct. We eyed each other.

“This is Prescott Mansfield. He was a promising science guy before he got turned. Was working on a new strain of edible squid plants when he realized his girlfriend was a vamp and had been feeding him whole foods.”

“Mercy,” whispered Raymond “These fuckers…”

“He managed to get a stake into the concentrated center of the infection in her chest area. I’m sure you guys know all about that.”

“Yeah, the bug lives around the heart” I said showing I wasn’t just a pretty face. “They live around the heart and brain and turn the dead human into a kind of ship. They just steer it around. Looks and talks like the old self, but starts listening to shitty music and wearing dumb clothes. But you stab one right in the heart or cut its head off they die. Fire’s good, too.”

“Yes, the virus can’t live long outside of a body. They have to bite someone or feed them infected whole foods to spread. Prescott Mansfield here helped find that out. Once he realized he was infected he knew he didn’t have much time until he turned. So he did all the research he could.”

She brought up the next holoimage. “Guys this is the cure.”

It was a picture of some chemistry shit that was way beyond us.

“This polymerbot uses quantum verisimilitudes of wood cells to bind to the virus and inserts a mod code that basically shuts it off.”

“No fucking way,” I said.

“Yes,” she said “And it works. I’ve seen it work on a dozen vamps outside the Hall Arcology. Of course once the virus is turned off, the victims molecular structure disintegrates.”

“Turns 'em to dust?”

“Yes, just like taking out their control nodes in the heart and brain.”

She waved her hand and brought up some holovid of the cure in action. A whole blank space valley between arcologies in the distance filled with vamps. A peacer tossed a sonic grenade into the crowd. All the vamps turned to dust in a flash of light.

“Well, shit” I said “Let’s go.”

“Problem” said Nancy “Science guy turned and took all the tech with him.”

“Fucking shit,” I said.

“We know where he is, Spencer” said Raymond.

“Look, Captain. If this is the real deal I’m on.”

Nancy waved a wrist bringing up a map and said, “Prescott Mansfield is here in the Chicarco. He’s looking to mutually consent to a fair trade agreement with Boss Hipster.”

“That motherfucker,” I said.

“We know where he is and we know where the deal is going down” said Nancy “The three of us go in and get him before he can move the tech.”

I laughed. “The three of us? No offense, miss, but … ”

And then she straight up disappeared and I found myself pinned to the ceiling with a stake over my heart.

Raymond laughed. “Like I said, Spence. Special case.”

“I’m not just some cosplayist pretending to be a bad-ass,” she said reappearing with her body stuck at some impossible angle pinning me up against the ceiling. “I’m high-tech. Cybergenetically modified organism.” She dropped me to the floor and I fell ten feet. She caught me right before I hit the floor. “I got the strength of ten people twice my size, I can turn invisible and I’m fast.”

She disappeared and reappeared with three sonirifles and a bag full of sonigrenades.

“Let’s go get 'em” she said. And we were off.

We rode in a NUN cruiser to a spot a few blocks from where the deal was gonna go down, deep in the abandoned blank spaces outside the wall of the urban arcology. A bunch of old buildings were all around falling apart along with a bunch of rusty old automobiles. I set my HUD for combat. Raymond was kitted up with full NUN body and face armor. Nancy said she had to change and came out of the cruiser dressed in a black and teal combat uniform with a cape and a mask across just her eyes.

“What the fuck?” I said.

“Don’t judge me,” she said “I fight better in this gear than the NUN shit.”

She did her disappearing trick and her voice piped in my comm, “Kay. I’m on point. I’m going to go in and cause a whole heck of a lot of destruction. While they’re distracted, you guys grab Prescott Mansfield and the cure. We don’t have much time. Let’s hustle.”

I saw a few blurs of light in front of us. Raymond switched to private message mode in his HUD and said, “Impressed, yet?”

“I will be when we get this guy and get the hell out of here.”

An explosion of orange and half the block of abandoned taco joints was on fire.

“Guess that’s our cue” Raymond said and we ran toward the flames.

I pulled my lucky stake out of my left pocket and my cowboy hat instantly formed a holoshield around my face. I tapped my glove and electric lights sparked out of my hands. I formed the holographic light show into an electric sword in my right hand and rounded the corner. There were 15 vampires on shitty bicycles wearing dumb sunglasses in the middle of the night for no fucking reason.

They rushed us. I couldn’t see Nancy anywhere. I cut the first one from his skinny-jeaned crotch up to his purple ascot and he exploded in a cloud of dust. My HUD warned me there was another vamp right behind me. I spun around and cut his head off with my holosword. Just then I saw Raymond getting flanked.

“On your 9!” I yelled into the comm.

It was too late. Two hipster vamps jumped him before his sonirifle could recharge.

Nancy re-appeared and threw one of them up in the air. Raymond shoved the other one off and blasted the guy in the air with a sonic shot. I rushed the one on the ground and stabbed him in the back. Dust everywhere. The other one fell to the ground and Nancy stomped his head off with her boot.

“Goddamn. Ok. I’m impressed.”

She shook the dust off and went invisible again.

“Prescott’s not here!” she yelled into our comm.

“What?”

“Sweep the area! He might have gotten away!”

Six vamps surrounded us, all fangs and faded band T-shirts. Raymond tossed a sonic grenade in the air and they dropped after the big boom. I cut the heads off of two of them. One of them tried to take a bite of my leather duster and got a damn good shock.

“Haha. Electric cow skin not organic enough for ya?” I yelled, and punched the hipster vamp in her face before stabbing the stake in her heart.

I felt a brutal spike of pain in my back and saw red. My HUD warned me but I was too busy cracking jokes. Stupid. I had one of the fuckers on my back.

“You should totally chill out, man!” he groaned “These corporations have totally misaligned your chakras!”

“Get. Off. My. Back.” I tossed him over my shoulder. A blur of light and Nancy was there. She crushed his head in her hands and shook the dust off her cape.

“Spencer!” Raymond was yelling in my comm. He was pinned down behind an abandoned car by the rest of the vamps. They were scratching and biting into his armor.

“Hit the deck!” I cried and charged up my whole kit.

“What are you doing?” yelled Nancy. But there was no time to explain. I fired a concentrated burst of holotricity at the vamps. They screeched and arched their backs. I ran to his position and pulled out my lucky flask.

I heard Nancy’s confused voice, “Holy water? Spencer…that…doesn’t even…”

“Not holy water,” I said dousing the stunned vampires “Gasoline.”

My kit had just enough juice left for one little spark, but that’s all I needed.

The rest of them fwooshed up into balls of fire and screamed before turning into piles of flaming dust.

I looked around.

“Where’s Mansfield? Where’s the tech?”

Nancy ran up beside me. “I told you. He’s not here. It was like…they knew we were coming!”

“How..?” said Raymond. And just then we heard the rest of them show up.

“Raymond, how’s your suit? I’m still charging.”

“It’ll be back up in a few seconds. Got some more sonigrenades. Sonirifle’s gonna take a little longer to re-charge. Nancy?”

“What was that burst trick you did?” she said “I think it fucked up my circuits. Can’t go into stealth mode.”

“Sorry” I said. And I really was, because we had just barely taken out 15 hipster vampires and a troupe of 30 had just shown up.

Right in the middle stood Prescott Mansfield and right next to him was Boss Hipster.

“Like. You guys.” he whined “Dubya tee eff, amirite? You like. Are totally impeding on a fair consensual trade. Like. What gives?”

He was shorter than the rest with a green mullethawk, a faded game T-shirt and skinny cut off jean shorts. His glasses were square and brown like the others, but the look in his eyes. So vacant. So hollow. I steeled myself. I just needed a minute to re-charge my kit. He bared his fangs and growled.

“Seriously” said Prescott Mansfield “I’d like to call for a vote that we like…I dunno…eat these guys? Or like…should we just kill them? I dunno, man.”

“Prescott!” Nancy yelled. “Listen to yourself! You didn’t used to talk like that! By Kirby, you were a science guy! Think about it! You resisted longer than anybody else!”

“Don’t go getting soft on me now, tough girl” I said.

“Just trying to throw them off, cowboy” she whispered under her breath. And she flashed a look at a megafire grenade in her hand at me. It shimmered.

Prescott spoke up “Yeah, that was like…before I realized how the governments and the corporations have like…totally messed everything up, man.” The crowd groaned in unison.

Boss Hipster spoke to his gang, “All right guys. We have a motion to take a vote. All in favor of killing these guys.” They raised their hands and twinkled their fingers up.

“OK. The people’s will has spoken,” Boss Hipster chirped. “Get 'em!”

Nancy gave us a nod and me and Raymond ducked behind a car door. She tossed the megafire grenade and covered us with that cape of hers. The whole world was sound and fire for what seemed like forever. My HUD counted down 30 seconds. 45 seconds. One minute. I tapped Raymond and Nancy on the shoulder. “Let me loose, guys.”

They pulled away and the place was a fucking nightmare of hipster vampires running around half on fire and screaming. I ran to the middle where Prescott and Boss Hipster were trying to come to a consensus on what to do, flashing hand signs at each other.

“Fuck the rest of these guys!” I yelled into my comm. “Let’s just grab Mansfield and fall back!”

“That was the fucking plan in the first place” Nancy shrieked.

“Yeah, so let’s stick to it” I said and grabbed Mansfield by the neck and sent a stun shock through him. He went limp and I slung him over my shoulder and rushed back out of the crowd. Boss Hipster took a deep lunge at my throat and I twisted out of the way.

Nancy was on us fast. She lifted me and Mansfield up with one arm, then sped over to Raymond and lifted him up in the other. She took off and I felt the g-forces crushing us all together. We musta been doing 100kph before she stopped hard and we were next to the cruiser. Nancy collapsed. Sweat was pouring off of her face.

I searched Prescott Mansfield for the cure tech.

“It’s not on him! Dammit!”

“Gotta go back in there. Boss Hipster must have it on him…” She stood up and stumbled “Gotta go…gotta get…”

Raymond helped her up. His helmet was cracked across the face. Shreds in his armor sparked. “We need to fall back. Can we contain this vamp at NUN?”

“Captain, what the fuck are you even talking about?” I slapped Prescott Mansfield across the face to wake him up.

“Where’s the tech, Prescott?” I screamed at him. Raymond put Nancy in the cruiser. A dozen flaming hipster vampires were peddling toward us on crappy bicycles.

I gave Prescott another slap. “Wake up you skinny piece of crap!” He started coming around.

“Like, that is so aggro man. Are you into metal? 'Cause I so love Shirt Cocaine…you probably never heard of them…” he was delirious. I slapped him again.

“No goddammit! There’s more important things in life than fucking bands, you undead piece of shit! Now where. Is. The fucking. Tech?”

Raymond yelled from the car, “I’m setting the cruiser for a jump, Spence! Either dust him or bring him along for the ride!”

Nancy got out of the cruiser and put some kinda hologram rope I’d never seen before around the vamp’s neck. It charged up.

Another dozen vamps had put the fires out and were rushing around the corner.

She pulled her mask off. Sweat rolled across her animated face tattoos. Her pupils disappeared in a violet glow.

“Sorry, Prescott. We need the truth.” The rope glowed. The vamp’s back stiffened.

It’s voice got all weird. It didn’t sound like Prescott. It was more like a chorus. “We do not have the tech, homo sapien scum!”

Nancy tightened the hologram rope around its neck.

“Truth, worms!” she screamed.

“We…do not…have it…but neither does…Boss Hipster…We hid it….”

I’d never seen a vamp do that shit before. He was trying to resist whatever truth-tech was in Nancy’s rope and she was fighting it, forcing it to tell her the truth.

“We hid it. Location on this smart card in pocket.” It reached down into the crotch of its skinny cut-offs and handed it to me. I gagged and took it. Didn’t think to check the thing’s front package. Stupid.

“Free us, mortals! Free us! You have the …”

And Nancy pulled the rope tighter and tighter till it popped Prescott Mansfield’s head off and he exploded into a pile of dust.

Nancy pushed me into the cruiser just as the hipster mutant vampires jumped on top of the cruiser’s hood. The door slammed shut and Raymond screamed for us to buckle up and hold on.

I absolutely fucking hate sonic flying jumps. I don’t even know how the shit works. But it goes real far and real fast. The cruiser shot up like a grasshopper into the night sky. My stomach dropped into the bottom of my boots as I juggled the belts into their holsters and strapped me and Nancy in. I managed to get a look out the window to see the boom knock the hipsters off the cruiser. They hit the ground with a splat and got up again. Damned if it didn’t decapitate at least one of them.

The g-forces were crushing my cowboy hat into my skull. I saw the fractures in Raymond’s helmet spreading out like spider webs.

“Captain! She can’t take this shit! She doesn’t even have a hat on!”

“Hang on! We’re heading to a safe house! Just gotta hang the drop!”

The cruiser was rocking. I checked Nancy. A small trickle of blood was coming out of her nose. Then her eyes opened.

“Mask…” she mumbled “Wanna die…with my mask on…”

“What? You’re not fucking dying” But I managed to get her mask back over her eyes. It sparked to life and a force shield covered her head.

One hundred and fifty seconds and we were damn near in orbit. Raymond tapped the console and we careened over the sparkling lights of the North American arcologies. The cruiser slammed to a stop mid-air and we started falling.

“Raymond! I fucking hate this part!”

That’s the last thing I remember saying before I blacked out.

When I woke up Raymond pulled me out of the trashed cruiser. We were on top of a building. Nancy was up and looking better than I felt. I shook as much mutant hipster vampire dust off me as I could and asked where we’d landed.

“Chicarco’s compromised” Raymond said “Must be. Some kinda leak. They knew we were coming. Had to get us far away.”

“Welcome to Hall Arcology, Spencer” said Nancy.

My head spun from dropping out of low-orbit.

I looked around and I saw owls flying around everywhere. I saw grass growing on the sides of smart-spires and metal statues of some crazy looking people in weird outfits kind of like Nancy’s.

“Engines are fried” Raymond handed me a backpack “I’ll head over to the local NUN HQ and tell them about the leak. That card says Mansfield stashed the tech here. Looks like he never was gonna trade it at all.”

“A double-cross, then?” I mumbled. Then I bent over and puked. Great big clouds of vamp dust came off me.

“Go to Nancy’s place and clean up” Raymond said “We’ll meet up at Mansfield’s stash point.”

He tossed his ruined helmet into the smoking, sparking cruiser. Nancy lead me over to a maglift.

“I live in this section of the arcology. It won’t take long to get there.”

The maglift took us down the side of the smart-spire to her place. From the window I could see more of the crazy statues and people dressed in colorful uniforms with capes, sometimes with masks. I asked and she told me it was all part of cosplayism. Back when Hall Arcology was just Old San Diego the people got holed up. The only thing that kept them going through the war years were these old stories about heroes. Good guys versus bad guys. It became their working philosophy.

“When the old internet got cut up it just sort of grew like this. Not surprised you haven’t heard of it. There’s so much infoblast on the new arconets these days. Things can get huge and nobody’d notice, I guess.”

I asked her about her invisibility and speed. She said she’d signed up for redesign as a teenager because she thought it would be a good way to fight the vamps.

“Anybody wants to dust the fuckers is fine by me,” I told her and she smiled.

We got to her place. It was decorated in more of the 2D hero pictures. She said they preferred it that way as an homage to the original format the stories were printed in.

“But you don’t think this shit is real do you?” I asked.

“It’s better than real, Spencer. It’s fiction. It doesn’t matter if a guy really, literally could stick to walls or run faster than the speed of light. It gave us ideas. And with a little CGMO tech a few of us got to make it kinda real. But there’s something more important…”

She showed me a case that she had in her living room. It was filled with small statues.

“See this blue guy? He was the most powerful of the heroes. But he didn’t use his power to do bad stuff. He did good stuff with it. He was a leader, too. He showed people how to take the high road, even when it was super hard.”

That really got to me. I realized that in all those years killing mutant hipster vampires I hadn’t thought about anything but the next fight. I was just out there for revenge and some credits. But Nancy was different. She had something bigger she was fighting for.

I went and took a shower, dumped my kit in the instaclean unit. When I was kitted-up again, Nancy took her turn and we were ready to head out.

We called Raymond and told him we were on our way to Mansfield’s stash point. Nancy told me more about cosplayism on the maglev ride. Stories of heroes and villains where the good guys usually won. A lot of people we passed were dressed as their favorite heroes and walked around in capes. Nancy was in her cape and mask, but here she didn’t look strange or out of place. I decided I liked the Hall Arcology. It was weird, but it seemed right.

Raymond was waiting for us in a new cruiser at the maglev stop about a mile from the stash-point.

“NUN knows about the rat. Apparently some guy who’s wife got kidnapped by the vamps. He tipped them off on our way over there.”

“So are we just gonna go blazing into Mansfield’s place?” I said.

“Couldn’t risk telling them any more than I did. I got peacers here on stand-by in case we run into trouble. But I didn’t dare risk letting them know our location. It’ll be a couple minutes before they can cavalry if shit hits the fan.”

Nancy spoke up, “We’ve pushed the vamps completely out of the main Hall. New detectors are in place in most of the smart-spires. But this place is pretty far out, close to the wall. There could be a few stragglers on the inside.”

“Ok, so you go ahead, tough girl. But this time just recon and come back” I said. Raymond parked. Nancy got out and disappeared up the street.

It was an ancient sub-urban cul-de-sac covered over in grass and weeds. I saw the look on Raymond’s face.

“Looks like Atlanta”

“Don’t think about it, Captain.”

Nancy was back in a few minutes. She told us the whole place looked deserted. We went back up with her nice and slow trying to act like we were just a peace officer, a guy in a cowboy hat and a girl in a cape taking a casual stroll in the country-side.

The house was covered over in moss and flowers. I pushed open the door. It creaked open and we went inside.

Raymond tossed a light sticker onto the ceiling. In the glow we made out what had once been a vampire’s nest. Old alcohol bottles were laying on the floor and real, organic, artisinal rolled tobacco cigarettes sat in ashtrays. Round shiny black disks littered the floor half out of their square containers.

“We got vinyl,” Raymond barked. My HUD force shield’s went up. Raymond charged his sonirifle and turned his new helmet on.

“What is all this shit?” Nancy asked.

“Turn that shield in your mask on” I said “Vamps prize these things. Used to be some way of watching vids we think. Lost tech from long ago, but they just hoard them and stare at them.”

Nancy’s holoshield shimmered in a grid across her face, blending with those fractal face tattoos of hers. “How did we not hear about these?”

“Field work. Probably a detail the science guys wouldn’t have cared about” I whispered into my comm. “They wouldn’t have just left these. There’s gotta be at least one in here.”

Raymond made for the kitchen.

“Be careful, Captain.”

The most dangerous place in any mutant hipster vampire den was the refrigeration unit in the kitchen. The bug infected the food and lived inside it, breeding. I’ve seen refrigeration units eat men alive.

We approached slowly. There was no hum from the unit, so we figured it wasn’t rigged with electricity. Raymond motioned us back anyway. We stood next to the front door and he tossed a sonigrenade in just to be sure.

The boom knocked the door open. Nothing inside but dead beers.

We went into the basement. That’s when we heard the growling. Raymond tossed another light to the ceiling. We saw one vamp chained up against the wall.

Nancy ran toward him and slapped him across the jaw “Where is it?”

The blow knocked his head to the side and we saw that he was just mid-transformation. Half his face looked to be about 50 something. The other side the bug had retarded its growth back to around 20 something.

“Please. I don’t know anything” it croaked “These guys they jumped me. Kept me down here and just kept feeding me kale.”

Nancy took a cold look at him. “Stage 2 of 4. Looks like the reverse aging process has fully taken hold. Recording.”

“You want to record this shit?” I said. “Let’s put this guy out of his misery and find what we came here for.”

“We can still learn some shit from this” snapped Nancy. “The science guys know this for a fact: Hipsters can’t grow up. But the virus doesn’t just hold a person’s age in place. It forces them to revert to adolescence where they get stuck.”

“Who fucking cares?”

“There still might be a way to reverse it, if we find that tech.”

“Hey, buddy” I said sparking up my holosword and readying my stake. “These kale guys. Did they say anything? Like about some tech or…a cure…a deal? A transaction of some kind?”

“I dunno. They kept the kale in that big white thing over there.”

Raymond went to the back and found an old refrigeration unit. Electricity on.

“Do we blow it open?”

“I’m so thirsty” said the guy chained to the wall “You guys got any coconut water? or like maybe some blood? Yeah, I could go for some blood right now. All-natural. Life’s most basic. All-natural. Why not?” He started laughing. His face mutated. He snapped free of his chains and lunged at me, fangs out.

Nancy was on him quick. She ripped his head off with her hands. Dust flew everywhere.

We all turned and looked at the refrigeration unit.

“To hell with it” Raymond shot the unit with his sonirifle and the lid popped open.

We looked inside. Samples of the tech cure and some paper schematics.

“Well, all right” I said “That wasn’t so hard.”

Then the house started to rumble.

Nancy grabbed us and the stuff from the unit and covered us in her cape. The house exploded. Plaster and bricks were every where. We looked up and we could see the night sky. Boss Hipster in a stolen cruiser had landed right on top of us.

Raymond was yelling in his comm “Wyatt to NUN at Hall Arcology! We need that back up! Get everybody you can to my position!”

“How fast are you anyway?” I said to Nancy.

And in a blur Nancy had carried us and the cure-tech up to the street. She was sweating again.

“Pretty fast” she huffed “But not fast enough. I’d burn up before I could get out of here.”

And then Boss Hipster and his gang started preaching at us.

“We’ve all gathered here today, to take back what is ours!”

The vamps echoed him.

“All the true people have consensually gathered in this free space to free the people! with freedom!”

The vamps echoed him again.

He said some shit about how they consensually agreed to offset the cost of using the cruiser by planting some orange trees in Africa, and then the hundred or so henchmen he brought along with him repeated it back. Then he demanded we give him the tech. And the henchmen repeated him. It was an old disorientation tactic. I saw Nancy getting confused.

“Why do they keep saying the same bullshit over and over again?”

“Don’t listen to them” I said “Block it out and start dusting them. We’ve got to survive long enough till back up gets here.”

And then we fought.

Nancy zipped around in stealth decapitating vamps left and right. Raymond was picking them off from a distance with sonigrenades and sonirifle rounds. All the ones he stunned I rushed and stabbed and sliced. Soon the whole cul-de-sac was big bowl of dust.

But Boss Hipster and his henchmen kept moving in. We fell back toward our cruiser. They just kept coming. Nancy was wearing down. My kit was close to running out of juice. We just reached the cruiser when we saw another wave of them come down the road.

Pinned against the cruiser, mutant hipster vampires everywhere, we saw the lights of the Hall Arcology peacers come speeding down the street. They jumped out. All of them were dressed like Nancy. Capes and masks. They blasted sonirifles and tossed megafire grenades at the vamps.

All I can remember from that point was a bunch of explosions in the darkness. There were some blurs of light, vamps turning to dust. Fangs scratched my cowboy hat. I saw them feeding on on the defenders of Hall Arcology. The caped kids were putting up one hell of a fight, but there were just so many fucking vampires. They kept coming. I was swinging blindly with my stake, holotricity juices running low.

“Can we use the cure tech on them here?” I asked Nancy “Just you know…stab 'em with it?”

A Hall peacer in a red and gold costume dropped dead in front of us. In her lifeless arms sat a bag of megafire grenades. Nancy grabbed them. “I’ll hook a vial up to one of these and we’ll try it!”

“Out of juice, Spencer!” Raymond cracked a vamp across the head with his blaster.

“Me too, Captain. Nancy…?”

“Uhhh….I don’t know if this gonna work…”

Sonic rifle blasts were going off in every fucking direction through the smoke and dust. I punched a hipster in the face, staked him and two more came at me.

Nancy flipped a switch and tossed the rigged grenade in the air.

Perfection.

The dust settled and we looked ate each other. We were caked in dust. But the mutant hipster vampires had all melted away. No stupid haircuts or preachy messages. Just the remains of shitty band T-shirts and ugly pants.

NUN troops and Hall Arcology peacers were closing in.

“Did we do it?” I said

“It fucking worked!” Nancy yelled.

Then we started laughing our asses off.

Teams came in and blew the dust off our kits and holoshields. My electric brown leather duster and black Floopy cowboy hat were scratched to sparking little bits. I took the coat off when they gave the all clear and tossed it and my hat into a hazard unit. There was no sign left of the vamps. The whole area was swarming with peacers and NUN troops, disaster clean-up teams and a few arconetters trying to get some quotes for the next day’s infoblast. Nancy scanned the schematics for the cure-tech and gave it to one of the arconetters.

“Get that up on the feed and get it out to all the systems you can. This is the real deal. For all to synthesize and stop the mutant hipster vampire plagues.”

We fired up the cruiser and headed over to meet Nancy’s science guys. She gave them a couple of vials of the cure-tech to synthesize and uploaded all the schematics to the arconets herself just in case the netters thought her quote was too long.

Raymond grabbed a couple of vials and told me to meet him on the roof.

“Not going back just yet, Captain”

“Do what? You know there’s more vamps out there.”

“Yeah, but I don’t feel like doing low orbit twice in a day. You take that stuff back to Chicarco and sort it out. You’ll do fine without me.”

He shook my hand. “So was this our last mission together, Spence?”

I thought the war would never end for me, but right then and there it did. “Yes,” I said “I think I’ll stick around here for awhile. Shit. Maybe I’ll start wearing a cape. I’ll see you again, though.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I just sent you my bill. I figure I’ll have to show up and collect that in person. See you in a couple weeks.”

Raymond laughed and bolted up to the cruiser to head back to Chicarco and spread the cure tech across Neo-Illinois.

HQ was in a bustle so me and Nancy slipped out the back and headed to her place.

“Wow,” Nancy laughed. “We were like. We were like the heroes! We were like…real heroes!”

I had never felt like that before. I was always just some angry motherfucker. We put a vial of the cure-tech in the display case in Nancy’s living room next to the blue guy. Real heroes, I thought. And I wanted to know then what that meant.

“I feel good,” I told Nancy and I asked her “Is this what it means? To be a hero? Is this what being a hero feels like?”

“Ah…well you probably shouldn’t be charging credits for it.”

“Oh, well. Damn. I’m hungry”

“Me too,” she said “There’s a cafeteria three floors over that has some amazing burritos.”

“Well, shit” I said “Let’s go get some burritos.”