>mr_sandman24.exe

Chen groggily sat up in bed, crawling to the hatch at the foot of his coffin box. He slid out legs first to lessen the drop. He was in nothing but boxer shorts as he fell. The hallway his bed let out onto was obnoxiously cramped. Not just by foot traffic, either, but by chatting loiterers and all those who couldn’t even afford a pod.

He pushed his way through.

On both sides, walls of sleeping pods stacked four high rose up to meet the roof. They were marked occupied, mostly. Sleepers in their movies.

He could hear heavy foot traffic coming through the ceiling. Cars going over. They were tucked just below the ground, here. Moisture penetrated the concrete floors, the air hot and humid. He had to try not to slip.

With one more turn, he came to the open doors for the shower rooms. Steam filled the room. A naked man went walking by but he paid him no attention as he approached and opened his locker.

Chen made sure no one noticed the gun tucked into the bundle of clothes he withdrew. He caught his own eyes in the mirror of the locker. Dark and tired.

He headed out. There was somewhere he needed to be.

//////////

The subway tunnel was barely lit. Rows of lights had gone out. As he departed the train, Chen looked for his meetup, finding him in the shadows beside a defunct escalator. A blue-haired man in a trench coat. Not hard to spot in this deserted place.

Chen greeted him, “Hāi, lǎoxiōng.”

“I don’t speak that shit,” they replied.

“Báisè de húndàn,” Chen spat. “Do you have your piece?”

Blue nodded. He flashed a handgun. “The advert said to come armed, so I did. We’re doing a credit lift or…?” He left the proposition hanging.

“We’re sandmen today.”

For a second the man seemed conflicted. But it quickly passed. “…Then you’ve got the details?”

“Shì.”

He grimaced. “Well then, let’s fuck em.”

//////////

The music was a background thought. All his focus was on the needle.

Behind him, party lights filtered through the stage stairs. His cot sat beneath it, too shallow a space to even stand. Above him, the platform shook with the beat.

The band playing made his task all the more difficult.

The lower body of a sexbot rested in bed beside him, cut off at the naval, half covered by dirty sheets. He hadn’t been able to afford the rest.

Her pale legs twitched.

There were no sounds from any crowd, just the echo of the K-pop concert performed for no one. Like singing arcade animatronics, the routine carried out in its perfect pattern every time.

He knew it by heart.

Skrimp clenched his hand a few more times searching for a vein he couldn’t find. He swore under his breath.

The pattern broke when suddenly, gunshots rang out.

Christ on a bike.

He scrambled for cover as fast as he could, tipping the cot over with a crash. The last noise on a tail of silence following the music’s abrupt halt.

Dead stillness reigned.

The needle sliding away on the tile held his eye for a hopeless moment.

He threw the cot’s blanket off him and surveyed the room. His gun had been beneath his pillow, he realized. His bugged eyes darted.

Where the fuck had it gone?

“Check in back!” Skrimp heard one of the men call.

Panic struck, he crawled low, searching for his pistol.

Not today, he thought. It’s too early. He was supposed to still have time.

The silence burst when the androids on stage managed to strangle out a few more blaring lyrics to the sound of a screeching instrumental meltdown. Five more thunderous shots put them down for good.

He stretched his arm underneath the standing dresser and recovered his revolver, almost shouting for joy. Tilting to check, he squinted in the shifting lights and counted. Three rounds.

“Oh, fuck,” he whispered.

He had frozen, watching the walking ass from his bed rise and carry herself straight out the room, beneath the low platform. The patter of bare feet on cold tile faded into the backstage. That was, for only a moment. Two more shots sounded.

Skrimp pulled himself up. Crouched, he made his way to the back exit of his room.

He quickly turned the corner and saw nothing one way. Turning the other way he was immediately greeted by the barrel of a gun zeroing in on him. They’d heard him the moment he stepped out.

Skrimp dove. His shoulder slammed into the ground and he squeezed off what ammo he had.

The Chinese man dropped down.

“Hey!” someone called. “Chen!?”

Skrimp ran to collect the dead man’s gun. As quickly as he had palmed it, he threw the thing away. Biometric alarms blared, putting on a veritable light show.

Gunshots whizzed by his head.

He ran like hell. Plasma rounds buzzed through the air in green streaks as he ducked on to stage through the curtains.

Skrimp jumped into the expanse of the concert hall, cautiously glancing back as he ran.

He saw the blue-haired man emerge onto the stage. They stepped around lifeless animatronics to line up a killing shot.

Skrimp could only turn his back as he put full steam into sprinting for the exit.

Each trigger let out an explosive jolt behind him, nearly stopping his heart.

The doors flew open as he burst into the alley. He ripped the keys off the string about his neck.

His friends flashed through his mind.

Twitchy fingers fumbled to unlock the chain and start his bike. In one swift motion, he finished and mounted, throttling madly.

He didn’t look back.

 

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