Playing The Odds: An Excerpt
Updated: a day ago
Ten minutes later we arrived at Jiadan Prosthetics. To say the sprawling office and manufacturing facility was huge would be a lie. It was a city within itself, occupying six klicks of land.
“Somebody’s paying a helluva lot of tax cryptos,” I said.
“You can afford it when you make all your workers,” Michelle answered.
The Rick pulled up to the entrance then rolled to a stop as the security cams scanned us.
“Here we go,” Michelle said.
The cams lifted and the gate slid open. I did a quick check of my systems to make sure Jiadan security didn’t disable anything. When I was done, I gave Michelle a wink.
“You’re good,” I said.
“You haven’t figured that out yet?” she answered.
“Makes me wonder about you being a junk jockey. What did you do before?”
“A lot of stuff,” Michelle replied. “Nothing worth mentioning.”
“So how did you learn all this?”
Michelle shrugged. “You’ll be surprise what people leaving laying around when they underestimate the help. I’m naturally curious.”
“Which means you steal a lot of shit.”
“Something like that,” Michelle replied. “Never thought I’d get to use most of it until you came along.”
The Rick jerked for a minute then resumed its course.
“Do not be alarmed,” a pleasant voice spoke. “For your convenience we have assumed guidance of your transportation. You will be taken directly to your destination. Thank you for visiting Jiadan Prosthetics.”
I got a worry bubble in my gut and looked at Michelle.
“We’re okay. Trust me,” she said.
I don’t trust anybody.
The Rick stopped in front of a one-story building located in the center of the complex. Meatbags walked in and out of the building, the only ones we’d seen since entering the complex. Apparently, Ms. Liu didn’t trust the dolls with the important stuff. She must know people like Michelle. I laughed at the thought.
“What are you laughing about?” Michelle asked.
“Nothing,” I replied, then laughed again.
“Remind me to check you out when we get back.”
“If we get back,” I said then winked.
A receptionist met us as soon as we entered the building. The tall woman wore a tight-fitting jumpsuit with the Jiadan logo on the left breast. She smiled and bowed.
“Welcome to Jiadan,” she said. “I am Yu Yan, Ms. Liu’s assistant. She asked me to take you the confer-ence room. She’ll meet with you momentarily.”
“Thank you,” Michelle replied. “We appreciate her seeing with us on such short notice.”
“We are honored,” Yu Yan replied. “It’s not of-ten the media shows an interest in businesses like ours. We provide a necessary service, but what we do is not sexy.”
“That depends on if you’re a doll or a meatbag,” I said.
Yu Yan gave me a scolding look.
“We do not allow such language on our premises, Mr. . . ?”
“Smith,” Michelle said. “John Smith. I’m Jane Doe.”
I glared at Michelle. She rolled her eyes.
“I apologize,” I said. “My assignments usually deal with the darker side of our society.”
“You are forgiven,” Yu Yan said with a smile. “Now if you will please follow me, Ms. Liu is waiting.”
We followed Yu Yan down the long corridor to the CEO’s suite. Yu Yan opened the door, revealing Ms. Liu sitting at her desk. She was a stunning woman, tall, with long black hair and an engaging smile. She stood then gestured to the chairs before her desk.
“Miss Doe, Mr. Smith. Welcome to Jiadan. Please sit down.”
I followed Michelle to the chairs, and we sat.
“So, I think we should begin by being honest with each other,” Michelle said. “My name is not Jane Doe, and his name is not John Smith. I’m Michelle Carter, and this is my friend, Carlos Mejia.”
It took everything in my power to keep from punching Michelle in the side of the head. She gave me up! Ms. Liu’s eyes narrowed as she studied me, then she looked at Michelle and laughed.
“That was obvious. I guess now you expect me to be honest.”
Michelle smiled. “Of course.”
“What do you wish to know?” she asked.
Michelle leaned forward. “What does this manufacturing facility really do?”
“We make cybernetic limbs,” Ms. Liu said. “As a matter of fact, we made Mr. Mejia’s limbs, if I’m cor-rect.”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I got these bad boys in Windy City.”
“They may have been installed there, but I’m certain they are Jiadan made. Ninety-eight percent of all prosthetics are made by us or our affiliates.”
“What about other parts?” Michelle asked. “Torsos, skulls, brains, organs…”
“I know what you’re seeking, Ms. Carter, but you won’t find it here,” Ms. Liu said. “UC regulations forbid the manufacture of pure symbiots. We are many things at Jiadan, but we are not lawbreakers.”
Ms. Liu stood, indicating the interview was over.
“I must say, I’m impressed by your boldness,” she said. “Most scandal casts try to hack us. You walked right through the door. I’d love to take you on a tour of our facility to prove to you that we’re quite legitimate.”
“Why would you do that?” Michelle asked. “You could have thrown us out at any minute.”
“I could have,” she said. “But you amuse me, and Mr. Mejia is quite interesting.”
“It seems we’re out of time,” Michelle said. “An-other day, perhaps?”
“Of course,” Ms. Liu said. “I look forward to it.”
Ms. Liu led us to the door.
“Yu Yan will see you out. It’s been interesting.”
Yu Yan appeared moments later. We followed her to the exit; our Rick waited for us.
“What was that all about?” I said. “I thought we were going to be discreet.”
“I changed my mind,” Michelle said. “Besides, I learned everything I needed to know.”
As we entered the Rick a tiny object flew inside then landed in Michelle’s palm. She looked it then grinned. My eyes went wide.
“That’s a Tacdrone,” I said. “Hi-security shit. What the fleek are you doing with that?”
“I work the gray market,” Michelle replied. “How do you think I got it?”
The Rick lifted then cruised for the gate.
“So, we were just shooting the shit while little bit did all the hard work?”
“No,” Michelle replied. “I wanted to force her hand. I figured if I suggested that we knew what she was doing and I dangled you in her face, she would act.”
“But she didn’t,” I said.
“Not . . .”
The Rick jolted then spun, knocking us around like a blender. I did my best not to crash into Michelle, but her squealing let me know that I failed. Battle tech kicked in; we’d been hit by an EMP. The Rick crashed and we were enveloped by shock suppressers. I kicked the door open then pulled Michelle free. I thought she would be injured. Instead, she was pissed.
“That bitch!” she screamed.
“I thought you didn’t like that word,” I said.
“Only when someone calls me one,” she replied. “For her it fits.”
My battle tech went into high gear. Thirty security thugs were coming fast. We were only a half a click from the gate; if we could get in the street the thugs would have to back off. Michelle had already figured that out; she was halfway to the gate before I started running. With my enhanced legs I caught up with her in seconds. Luckily for us there was no one stationed at the gate. I lowered my shoulder and powered through; the gate hit the street, skidding into traffic, and causing a mess. We took a sharp left then ran down the down the middle of the street.
“This was a bad idea,” I said.
“You didn’t have a better one,” Michelle replied.
“Yes, I did. You didn’t ask.”
A bolt struck my shoulder, knocking me off balance. I caught myself then spun about. The Jiadan security jocks decided the rules weren’t shit. They were coming for us. I grabbed Michelle then threw her up on my shoulders. I ran full out, streaking by EVs that swerved to avoid hitting me.
"I told you this was a bad idea!" I shouted.
"Shut up and run faster!" Michelle shouted back.
I was about to throw her into a dumpster when a shadow passed over us. Battle tech kicked in, freezing my legs. I skidded to a halt, holding onto Michelle to keep her from flying off my shoulders. Something landed a few feet in front of us, breaking the asphalt and showering us with dust. When it cleared, my heart dropped.
"Oh shit," Michelle whispered.
"Tell me about it," I replied.
The A.I. stood about my height. It was fully armored with a head bristling with video and audio sensors. It crouched then extended its right arm. A laser blade extended from the end of its arm.
“It’s got a sword,” I said. “A fleeking sword!”
“You have one, too,” Michelle replied.
I look at her with a grimace.
“Since I put one in you.”
Battle tech flipped on. My guns emerged and I fired in automatic mode. That damn A.I. blocked almost every shot with that sword. What it didn’t block its shields absorbed.
“That’s not going to work,” Michelle said. “Let me handle this.”
“What the fleek are you…”
Before I could finish my sentence, Michelle scrambled up my back then sat on my shoulders. She swiped her forearm and a holo controller appeared before her. Suddenly I couldn’t feel my arms and legs.
“Michelle, what’s happening?”
The A.I. rose from the pavement then streaked for us. I was helpless; or at least I thought I was. A long beam emerged from my right arm; an elliptical energy shield formed at the end of my left arm.
“What the fleek?”
My shield lifted and blocked the A.I.’s swing. I countered with my sword and the fight was on. Except I wasn’t fighting. Michelle was. And she was doing a damn good job. She and the A.I, stood toe to toe match-ing blow for blow. The problem was a small army of security thugs were closing in on us and this fight was about to become uneven.
“Give me my legs,” I said.
“No,” Michelle said.
“Give me my legs, dammit!” I yelled. “I can end this!”
“Fine!” Michelle said.
Feeling return to my legs. This time when the A.I. stabbed at us I pivoted to my right. The A.I. adjusted, swinging at my chest. I jumped back then shuffled to my left.
“Excellent!” Michelle shouted.
With some of my body control back battle tech kicked in, giving me an analysis of the A.I. A pattern of red flashing lights indicated stress points and vulnerable spots.
“Go for the neck!” I said to Michelle. “That’s the weak spot!”
“Check!” Michelle yelled.
I danced and Michelle fought. Each blow to the neck weakened the juncture. A meatbag would have picked up on the strategy and altered their defense, but this was an A.I. playing out logical patterns and focused on taking us out. After slipping another sword thrust, I jumped at the A.I.
“Now!” I shouted.
Michelle knocked the A.I. sword aside with the shield then hit the sweet spot. Its head dislodged, hit the street then skidded into a food cart.
There was no time to celebrate; a bolt hit me square in the back, knocking me face first into the street. Michelle managed to jump free then shoulder rolled to her feet. How the hell did she do that?
I clambered to my feet then pivoted about. My nose was broken, but I didn’t have time for that. Two large battle sleds had joined the security troops. Where Jaidan got them, I had no I idea. Ms. Liu was sitting there lying her ass off big time.
I grabbed Michelle’s arm and pushed her behind me just before the shooting started. My shields took the brunt, battle tech decreasing about 35% before recharging.
“We got to get out of here!” I said.
“No,” Michelle replied. “We stay here until I’ve seen it all.”
“All of what?”
“Everything they got.”
I was getting pissed at her hard-headed ass.
“I can’t go on the offense,” I said. “It’s taking all I have to protect us. We got to jack!”
“You handle the sleds,” she said. “I’ll handle the goons.”
Michelle answered by jumping out my shield and sprinting at the goons. She slammed into a group of them, arms and legs punching and kicking. By the time they realized what was going on she has a blaster rifle in her hand and was gunning them down. I added my firepower to hers and the guards scattered for cover. But the sleds kept coming.
I took another direct blast from one of the sleds before beginning evasive movements. Shields were down 45% and coming up slower than before. I could feel the nanos working overtime, my body hot from their activity. I dodged a bolt from the second sled then jumped, soaring the final thirty meters between us and landing on the closest sled. I gripped the hatch with my left hand, ripped it open then jammed my right arm in and lit it up. Wrong move. The sled exploded and sent me airborne. I crashed into a nearby building then slid down the wall onto the pavement.
Battle tech flickered then steadied. Shield down 66%. I looked up to see the other battle sled cruising my way. I looked for Michelle; she was pinned down behind a concrete wall, the security team creeping closer. I couldn’t take another direct hit, at least not yet, but I couldn’t leave Michelle pinched. So, I lay there, hoping my timing would be perfect.
The battle sled fired. I rolled; the blast missed, gouging the wall. I targeted the security guards then sprayed them, taking out five and sending the rest fleeing for cover. Michelle gave me thumbs up then popped over the barricade, taking down three more guards before they could hide. That woman was good; as a matter of fact, she was too good.
I jumped to my feet then ran, using the Mech to keep from getting shot. But then I zigged when I should have zagged and a bolt hit me square in the chest. The world went black; when my vision returned, I was looking at the pavement and a fuzzy battle tech screen. Shields were down 75% and decreasing; vitals were slipping faster than my nanos could repair. It’s one thing to know you were dying, but it’s another thing to watch the stats. Someone grabbed me then flipped me on my back; it was Michelle.
“Hang in there, doll boy,” she said. “Back up is coming.”
A squadron of UCS EVs passed overhead then explosions shook the pavement.
“Back up?” I croaked. “Who the fleek is back…”
My screen flatlined, and so did I.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt. The Playing The Odds paperback novella officially drops November 26, 2021, but you can preorder now directly from MVmedia and receive a signed copy. If you just can't wait, the ebook is available now.