X: Fortune

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Chapter X

Dominic answered without hesitation, “Nanomachines.” He had worked with men like Detroit and knew that he couldn’t afford to appear ambiguous, weak. “Unregistered and unlicensed. Two L-class crates full of them.”

Detroit’s eyes displayed his full attention; his face betrayed no emotion. “And in return?”

Dominic licked his lips apprehensively. Damn it. The smuggler was sure to have noticed that.

“I need an arm, sized for a male, approximately five foot ten, hundred fifty pounds.”

Detroit looked from Dominic’s dark eyes to his tense lips and twitching muscles. ‘Mind scan,’ he thought. If Dominic was hiding something he would—‘Scan Failed. Encryption level too high.’

I see… He couldn’t read the soldier’s thoughts. But there were other ways of finding out things that people didn’t want him to know.

“And that’s all?” he asked, “No specifications? Just an arm for a man, eh?”

“Nothing extravagant.”

“Well, Dominic,” he said, leaning forward and creasing his eyebrows together in mock contemplation, “I’d like to help, I really would, but I have a certain code that I do business by. And part of this code demands that I deal only with people who I can trust. So when someone approaches me with a trade like this—valuable nanomachines for a mere prosthetic—I begin to wonder about their true motivations.

“Now, part of me is saying that I should think of you as a good Samaritan. Someone who found a fellow man in need and is rising to the occasion as a champion of the better good, even sacrificing an opportunity for personal gain. But,” he continued, reclining, “that’s not you, is it?”

Dominic stared at him quizzically.

“No?” Detroit went on. “Well, that’s quite all right. There are few heroes and fewer saints. Of course, I have yet to see any evidence of either in this world.” A crooked smile drew at his lips. “But this begs the question… What are you, Dominic?”

“A fucking unicorn. What do I look like?”

“The answer is simple. It shows in the way you entered the room, the way you talk, the way you hold your rifle as if it were the lone tether tying you to life...”

Dominic stared at him gravely, demanding that he get to the point.

“You’re a soldier,” Detroit declared. “And with that identity comes some inexplicable sense of fraternity that causes you to place your ‘brothers’ even in front of yourself. Which means that you’re placing your brothers in front of me… so I must ask, which fellow of yours are you ‘picking up the pieces’ for? And why?”

“That’s a long story.”

“I imagine so. And if it’s convincing enough, then maybe we can do business…”

Dom’s eyes flashed to Berin, whose generally affable face was stern with a look that said he had better be careful. Had better tell the truth.

He nodded. “There was an accident. We encountered a creature… something from one of the rifts,” he lowered himself into a kneel, drawing level with the blonde haired man. “Whatever this thing was, it wasn’t natural. Shredded through my soldier’s BSE like it was paper. Same model as mine,” he said, indicating the tactical body armor covering himself.

“And so he lost his arm?”

“Yes, I… tried to reattach it, but it wouldn’t take.”

“It wouldn’t take?” Excitement stirred in Detroit’s chest; he could feel a wonderful mystery unfolding before him. “How is that possible?”

Dominic described the incidents to him. The medical reports; the strange liquid; the boy’s deteriorating state. And all the while, Detroit was completely absorbed.

“So you’re telling me,” Detroit said, leaning in close, “that whatever this stuff is… it destroys nanomachines? Outright? And as far as you know, amputation is the only way to stop it from spreading?”

“Seems that way.”

“Tell you what… I’ll take care of your friend. I have the best equipment and doctors available—you can’t risk trusting his health to anything less, not when he’s in such a ‘unique’ situation. And it won’t cost you a thing.”

Dominic considered the proposition. He didn’t like Detroit; in fact, he was afraid of him and what he might do with Sherrad and his nanomachine destroying ailment. But Berin trusted Detroit, and Dominic trusted Berin…

“That’s very kind of you,” he said, doing his best not to regret the decision. “What about the nanomachines?”

“What about them?”

“Don’t toy with me.”

Detroit tapped a finger on the floor, a wry smile drawing at his lips. “Or you’ll… what? Take your business elsewhere?”

“I’ve been straight with you.”

“You’re right. You deserve the same courtesy… Well, here’s ‘straight’ for you. Your nanomachines aren’t worth dick to me. Not unless you’ve somehow managed to smuggle them into the city, which I’m guessing isn’t the case…”

“They’re about an hour to the east, but in the quantities I’m offering them—”

“In the quantities you’re offering them, they pose a higher risk,” Detroit interjected. “Whoever they belong to is likely cause me problems, unless they really are yours. But I’m guessing that’s not the case.”

“They belonged to Apex. They were abandoned.”

Detroit startled at the name. “Apex?” he asked. “Are you sure?”

“Yes… But even if the nanos are only C-class, they are more than worth the risk.”

“I see… Give me the coordinates,” Detroit demanded, his eyes stern and unyielding.

“Fine. But I have a small favor to ask in return.”

“No favors. I’m not doing this for me—I have a civic duty to perform.”

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