Prompt: duplicator; membership token
The café had its own transportation tube station, so when St. Thomas pushed his half-finished drink to the center of the table, the three of us converged on it. To an outsider, it just looked like three strangers sharing a tube to some other part of the city. That was the point, of course –three’s a crowd. St. Thomas looked old enough to be father to either of us. Bowder and I were close enough in age to be a couple. Throw us together in line for a tube, though, and we didn’t look like anything. Just more people in a city full of them.
While we waited, Bowder stared down at his shoes, no doubt trying not to look suspicious and failing pretty hard. St. Thomas watched the illuminated capsule tracker over our heads. I could tell he wasn’t really looking at it but using the reflective screen to watch the café crowd behind us. I watched them. I was more afraid of my co-conspirators than I was of whatever government guns might come for us in that moment.
We were the only ones headed to the Copper District, but the camera in the top of the tube capsule kept us bound to our charade. We split up for the final walk to the safe house. My path kept me parallel to Bowder, so I could keep an eye on him. He kept catching my eye and smiling. We would get separated by secondhand stalls and people hawking synthesized food as a cover for black-market trades in fresh, ground-grown produce. Then I’d see that smile again and I found it impossible not to smile back.
St. Thomas reached the safe house first. His path should have been the longest and I wondered how he always managed to reach places before anyone else. As we walked through the door together, Bowder mumbled, “Hi, Rella,” which was just the sort of careless stuff that made him the least likely spy ever.
“Shut up and tell me no one saw you,” St. Thomas said. To me, he growled, “Wipe that smile off your face, girl.”
Bowder paced in the middle of the shabby room. The lone cleaning bot trundled after him like a fussy crab, sucking up every spare fleck of dirt and flake of dry skin. “I was very careful. No one will even know I went into that wing of the building today.”
St. Thomas nodded and held up his hand. “Let’s see it then.”
Bowder fished in the inner pocket of his coat. He took out a little envelope lined in micro lead sheeting so scanners couldn’t get a read on what was inside. It was the same kind of lining that allowed St. Thomas to hide a gun barrel in his prosthetic left arm and still walk freely in public. He opened the envelope and tipped the contents into St. Thomas’s hand. It looked like a brass button with squiggles of engraving on one side. It matched the one clipped to Bowder’s lapel.
“I programmed it for my access level. If I tried anything higher, it would’ve needed a supervisor’s check. Besides, the next level is diplomatic and they get more scrutiny than any of the others. This will get you into most of the building without a second glance.”
St. Thomas turned it over in his hand. “And it’s entirely passive? Everywhere?”
Bowder fidgeted. On the floor, the cleaning bot kept squeaking at us. I lifted one foot, then the other, to let it scuttle around where I stood. I felt bored listening to St. Thomas verify things for the tenth time. But then, he did not have a single conviction or even arrest, so he must’ve been doing something right. It made Bowder nervous, though, and his voice got higher as he said, “I swear, no pass codes, no scans. This is all you need. As far as the security system is concerned, if you have this, you are one of Angel’s own. But… are you sure you can duplicate it?”
“The new MX line can duplicate whole prosthetic limbs with a 99.7% accuracy rate. We’ll be able to make as many as we need.”
Bowder nodded jerkily. “And you’re sure –”
“I’m sure,” St. Thomas interrupted, “that Angel itself will sit up and take notice when we’re through with this attack.” He clapped a hand on Bowder’s shoulder in an unusually friendly gesture. “You’ve done good work.” Then he moved his hand six inches over and the gun in his arm fired.
Bowder stumbled backwards, bowled over by the force of the shot, and slid down the wall with slow theatricality. I swallowed hard and gritted my teeth to keep from screaming. Bowder’s eyes stared deadly, but his smile stayed frozen in place, suddenly gruesome.
St. Thomas walked over and plucked the brass button chip from Bowder’s jacket. “And that’s two,” he said with cold satisfaction.
“What about the duplicator?” I asked. I tasted salt and realized a fine spray of blood covered my cheek and jaw. I scrubbed furiously with my sleeve to get it off.
St. Thomas’s mouth twisted in an annoyed purse. “You’ve tasted of the rubbish that comes out of the synthesizer in the kitchen. If we could afford a new MX, do you think we’d still be eating that shit?” As St. Thomas turned away to plan the next stage, the cleaning bot began sucking up the pool of blood forming under Bowder’s body, as cold and efficient as its owner.