‘I hate this job!’
Marcus and Carl walked towards the Maglev station exit after their shift ended. They were still wearing their overalls.
‘Yeah, the autobots were shits today,’ said Carl. ‘That stupid kid throwing up on the platform like that! Then his mother rushing off like it wasn’t her brat doing it?’
The autobot supervisor had humiliated them both in front of the passengers waiting to board the train. The passengers had given the mess a wide berth, so it was already obvious the kid had chucked up all over the place. Then the autobot had called Marcus and Carl up specifically to deal with it, in front of the staring passengers.
Marcus had never before wanted to push so many smug bastards onto the track, and Carl had nearly come to blows with the autobot when it had told him to hurry up.
They passed through the environmental force field that protected the station and pressed their gel masks to their faces.
‘I don’t know what to tell you, Carl. People are shits.’
‘If I hear another word about how lucky we are to have this job, I’m gonna kill someone.’
‘I’ll give you the fucking gun, Carl.’
Marcus was tired of working for others, even if those others were hunks of metal with programmed AI personalities. Six months ago, he and Carl had sat an aptitude test set by the World Government. The government machine had churned out their most suitable job: cleaner. Marcus and Carl had grown up in a bad neighbourhood in Hunts Point, New York. On the stoop of Marcus’ apartment block, they’d dreamt of bigger things, what their lives would be like when they got older. They’d done everything together since they were eight years old, even took some jobs for the gangs running the streets. But the pay was shit and, at the age of twenty-five, Marcus needed a place to live after the World Government had listed their entire street as condemned. The cleaning job was the first thing Marcus wished Carl had done alone.
‘So when are we gonna pack in this shit?’ said Carl. ‘I’m nobody’s lackey.’
‘Fucked if I know.’
The job came with a government-owned apartment, a replicator and clean air guaranteed. Without a job, they would be kicked out onto the streets to live a life of unpredictability.
But that’s exactly what Marcus craved. Predictability kept him under the thumb. Unpredictability gave him chances he would never get on the slow, safe route.
They stopped off in a nearby bar. Marcus still had enough credit left over from the week before to afford one real drink. Not replicated shit; the bootleg stuff. He would make it a good one. Carl ordered his own drink and Marcus caught sight of his credit as he pressed his thumb to the payment panel. Carl had ten times more than Marcus.
Marcus ordered a triple-distilled whiskey and they both sat down in a dark-wood booth near the matching bar.
‘Hey, Carl, where the hell did you get that credit from?’
Carl took a sip. ‘This is good stuff. Really takes the edge off that pile of steaming shit we call a job.’ He looked at Marcus’ glass, untouched. ‘You gonna drink that?’
‘I asked you a question.’
Carl took another sip. ‘Around.’
‘This and that.’
‘Well, fuck, Carl. I could have guessed that. What, exactly?’
Carl struggled to suppress a smile. ‘Okay, but what I’m about to tell ya goes no further. Right?’
Marcus nodded and leaned forward. ‘There’s this fella called Enzo Agostini. Met him at one of the strip clubs over on East? Well, his daddy is some big name in the black market. He says the World Government is gearin’ up to leave this hellhole and us behind.’
‘And the extra credit?’
‘Doin’ jobs fer Enzo.’ Carl necked the rest of his drink and grimaced. He turned to the bartender and pointed at his glass. The bartender poured another.
‘Why haven’t I heard of this crowd?’
‘Been keepin’ it a secret to see if it turns into anythin’.’
‘So get me some work with this Enzo. If you’re making more than the cleaning job, why are you still even there?’
Carl smirked. ‘Didn’t wantcha gettin’ lonely in there all by yerself.’
Carl got up and paid for his second whiskey at the bar. He returned and sat back down.
‘Fuck you, Carl! You had a better job offer and you didn’t share it with me?’
Carl tried to calm him. ‘Relax, Maaarcus. I was always gonna tell ya. Enzo only had a few jobs for me to do, so I didn’t wanna share. That’s all.’
Marcus hated it when Carl elongated his name. He leaned back. ‘And now?’
‘Well, Enzo says his daddy’s gearin’ to make a move when the World Government makes its mind up. There’s a bunch of factions planning on comin’ in from outta town. The ones who run the black market in New York and beyond, they’re gettin’ nervous. The Agostinis need to make sure there’s no outsiders gettin’ in when the time comes. They’re recruitin’ now, gettin’ their numbers up.’
The black market was an illegal operation that sold contraband goods to people under the World Government’s nose. Stuff like real liquor, failed World Government prototypes from Nanoid Valley. Their most lucrative business to date was facial reconstruction and identity/security chip replacements.
But there were rumours the government had a vested interest in keeping the market alive, that they used it to control the criminals who were deemed too difficult to manage. Marcus’ father was a regular trader at the market that would operate in various locations in the city. It acted like a pop-up market of sorts. His business kept him away from home. Marcus never knew what he traded in; he barely saw him. His mother had died when he was three years old.
A dipshit and a liar. That’s what the others had called his father when Marcus, at age twelve, had gone looking for him at the market that he’d spent three whole days trying to find, after his father had been missing for a week.
One of the men had told Marcus not to look for him again.
‘He must be an important man, your father, if he’s away from the home so much. But how about you come see me and I’ll fix you up with a few jobs?’
Marcus had declined the offer and relayed his conversation to Carl.
Carl had made a noise. ‘Fucking liar! Your daddy’s dead, Maaarcus. Like mine is. Hasn’t been home for a month now. No mothers worth mentionin’. At least yours had the courtesy of dyin’. Not like mine who ran off with another fella. It’s just you an’ me now. Better get used to it.’
The factions were divided up according to families; blood was thicker than water in this business. There were three factions ruling New York that had set up the black market operations in the area. Some had close ties with the World Government, most did not. But on an operational level, everything was run fairly. There was no hierarchy sitting above the black market. It was accepted that control of the market in the area went hand in hand with control of the region.
But if the World Government was leaving, the order of the factions, whose cloak and dagger operations were repressed under a powerful government, would be blown apart. And if new factions were coming in from out of town, there must be something big to this move.
Marcus didn’t want to be left on the sidelines when those changes started happening.
‘Carl, get me a meeting with this Enzo. How soon can you arrange it?’