Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 17

In which Jones' new boss finally gives him some instructions

Jones picked his way towards the door in the dim light, then paused. He heard voices snaking down the hall. On instinct, he backed into the shadows. A few moments later, two figures appeared in the open frame. Jones could see the outline of goggles over their eyes. They scanned the murky room. One of them stared right at Jones. He shrank further into his dark corner.

“What’s that?” the figured asked. “See that red blob? Someone’s still here.” The other figure reached up and switched on a headlamp. Jones raised a hand to shield himself from the glare.

“Halka, that’s rude,” one of them said. The beam of light sank to the floor. Jones blinked, trying to clear the milky blindness of the sudden light.

“Er, hello,” he said, edging even further against the wall. “I am looking for my wallet. You haven’t seen it, have you?” His vision was starting to clear. He was looking at two uncertain cyborgs. 

“We are doing that too,” Halka said. Opaque mirrored lenses in her goggles picked up the light from her headlamp and bounced it away. Jones saw the shadow of an exoskeleton holding her spine upright.

“Quite a mess,” Jones offered. He couldn’t get a sense of what mood the cyborgs were in. He wanted to avoid violence at all costs. Halka ignored him, and gestured at her companion. “Go ahead,” she said. “Where did you last see it?”

The other cyborg edged into the room, crossing into the beam of the headlamp. She wore the same mirrored lenses as Halka, and was wearing a tank top and technical pants. An armadillo tattoo splashed across the breadth of her chest. She started kicking at a pile of papers with the toe of her combat boot.

Jones took a deep breath and edged towards the door. “Can’t find mine,” he said. “I’ll wait until the lights go back on.”

Wordlessly, the cyborg called Halka stepped aside. She dragged the beam of her headlight across his path as he slid by.

“Have a good one,” said Jones. He tripped over the door frame and fell into the hall. Scrambling to his feet, ran out of the building. 

In the pedestrian mall, the moonlight took him by surprise. He’d missed an entire afternoon and sunset. The sky was clear, and the moon cast a blue glaze over the tiled walkway. Jones rubbed his eyes. His phone buzzed. The number was blocked. After some hesitation, Jones answered. It was Agent Moss.

“Did you find the military grade quantum supercomputer?” He heard her clattering at a keyboard.

“No,” he said. “It’s not here.”

“You looked everywhere? Every possible location?”

Jones ignored this. “Mad Crab is here, but the supercomputer isn’t. A woman named Fran, who is a cyborg and seems to have some influence in the organization, said so on the phone. I overheard her. She came to town to steal some proprietary technology from Virtual Vegas. I got into a fistfight with a customer and the head of security banned me from the premises. There’s a major power outage. There is no internet and lots of dehydration. It’s a bad scene.”

Agent Moss didn't stop typing. “Fine,” she said. “Let’s regroup at your office. I’ll meet you in a few days. There’s a lot of problems I need to take care of. Good news is - the migration to the Next Economy is suffering some technical difficulties.”

“Where should I meet Marvin?”

“Marvin will meet you,” Agent Moss said. “Push the button on the transponder.”

Jones blinked. “What transponder?”

On the other end of the line, Agent Moss stopped typing. “The transponder in your duffel bag. Hal didn’t show you how to use it?”

“I didn’t know it was in there,” said Jones. “And um, I’m not sure what happened, but I lost the duffel bag some time ago.”

Agent Moss was silent. 

“It’s very hot here,” protested Jones. 

Agent Moss started typing again. “Well, your cell signal is shit. Wait, you’re not actually in Death Valley, right?”

“No,” said Jones. “I’m outside an unmarked grey building in Virtual Vegas.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” said Agent Moss. “You wouldn’t be conscious. It’s 142 degrees there today! Global warming, am I right? It doesn’t matter. I can’t send you a commercial vehicle. The entire car network is down. The fuses blew at the data warehouses up in Redding and they can’t find anyone civic minded enough to fix them for free. There’s no service between Provo and the Pacific.” She clicked her tongue. “You’ll have to take a commercial flight.”

“How do I get to the airport if the car network is down?”

“Common sense. I’m sure there’s a bus.”