[Original Novel] Metal Fever II: The Erasure of Asherah, Part 29

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Previous parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28

Nothing the intruder said gave me the impression it was Dave. It was entirely coherent, for one. The message informed me of an upcoming heist I was invited to facilitate. Leave it to a criddler to propose a collaboration with someone he screwed out of payment mere days ago.

Only, it turned out he hadn’t forgotten. “How’s the bike working out?” Of course. First thing out of his mouth is a reminder of what little compensation I did receive. “I had to repair it almost immediately. Did you think a two wheeled plastic jalopy would make me forget that you stiffed me?”

He made the kinds of superficially apologetic, platitudinous statements you usually hear from somebody that needs something from you but doesn’t want to admit any wrongdoing on their part. Indeed, he never did.

“Listen, it was your first gig. You’ve got to start at the bottom like everybody else who comes to me. But this heist, once I tell you about it, there’s no way you’ll turn me down.” I demanded half upfront. He played it off like I’d been joking.

“Half! That’s great. You’re a riot. I can swing ten percent, but really, you should hear me out. Even just the opportunity to take part in such a groundbreaking-” I told him to jam the pitch as far up his ass as he could and just skip to the salient details.

“…Right. Well, there’s a G-flex luxury apartment in one of the multi floor skyways over the canal. Acoustic imaging confirms there’s a safe inside. No way can we smuggle it out of the building without being caught. Even with panopticon disabled, we’d just be spotted by one or more of the tenants.”

I asked, half regretting it already, what his plan was to extract the safe discreetly. “Oh no, I never said it would be discreet. I’ll still need you to take down Panopticon for both of the buildings the skyway intersects with. What happens after that isn’t your business, but rest assured it’s foolproof.”

It would need to be, with Crazy Dave at the helm. I mulled it over, bringing up my SeaCoin price tracking app. Still in freefall. I sighed, and agreed to his terms whereupon he transferred a map of the buildings in question.

“Hang on, I recognize this one” I remarked. “That’s the cetacean embassy. If we steal from them, it will cause an international incident.” Dave assured me the apartment we were robbing belonged to someone uninvolved in the diplomatic world, a Norwegian fullmetal who bought the apartment flat out with oil wealth left to him by his late father.

“One of those climate fugitives you hear about on the news. The Norwegian government has been trying to extradite him for nearly a decade now. Right now he’s got enough dirty money socked away that he can ride it out here in style and comfort until the legal and social climate back home becomes more favorable.”

I wasn’t listening, still carefully studying the 3D cutaway schematic of the cetacean embassy. The core of it was a ten story tall cylindrical aquarium made of transparent spinel. Not like the decorative giant aquariums you’ll sometimes find at ostentatious resorts, but a means of transport.

Judging by how it was set up, with transparent spinel tubes branching off the central tank at different heights, visiting dolphin ambassadors could use it like an elevator to reach the different floors. At the end of the branching tubes were double door lockout chambers for transitioning from the fully flooded central aquarium and tubes to partly flooded hotel rooms.

On the ground floor were many rows of lockout chambers from which dolphins could exit the network of flooded spinel tubes and settle into those motorized carriers with little robot arms that they use to move about on land.

The pneumatic and hydraulic principles involved were mind boggling. They must’ve hired one hell of a plumber. I asked if Dave’s plan involved explosives. He then asked why I needed to know that.

“If there’s even a slim chance of shattering that aquarium, it’s not worth it. Not for one safe, I don’t care what’s in it. If you watch enough news to be aware of the ongoing hunt for climate fugitives then you also know how tense negotiations are with the conshelf territories right now.”

He assured me that no explosives would be utilized. I began to ask him to swear it until remembering how little the promise of a criddler is worth. “Besides” he added, “anything powerful enough to shatter spinel would bring the whole building down too. I’m not a butcher.”

That much seemed true. Crazy Dave is a shifty turd of a human being, on account of how quickly meth sucks every last trace of honor out of a man, but he didn’t strike me as a murderer. Then again, perhaps that’s only because it hasn’t yet been necessary in order to keep the meth coming.

He supplied the date, time and location. Tonight? In the canal? Just under the skyway apartment. What are you up to, Dave? No matter. With his floating chop shop confiscated as evidence, and most of his lackeys behind bars, he’s on shaky footing now. I should be able to squeeze actual payment out of him this time. If he thinks otherwise, he’s in for a rude awakening.

My stomach growled. Yet again, as if I’d eaten nothing. What’s in those dumplings? Styrofoam? I considered ordering a pizza, but pizza is fucking weird in China. They put heinous stuff on it. Stuff that probably appeals to the palette of somebody raised on traditional Chinese cuisine, but then much of traditional Chinese cuisine consists of the sort of edible nightmares you’d only put in your mouth on a schoolyard dare.

I did order myself a crabjuice, dimly recalling that I used to drink a lot of it for some reason when I lived with Aubrey. Upon cracking it open and getting a whiff of the contents, those memories came rushing back. “Oh, right” I muttered to myself before pinching my nose and downing most of the bottle at once.

I arrived in the ebike storage corridor to find it cleaned out. No ebikes, not even any dangling charging cables. At first I assumed it was simply because, unlike me, the majority of tenants had a job to go to during the day. Then I poked my head outside to see a small crowd of them giving statements to a police robot.

Asking one of them on the periphery of the group what exactly happened, he confirmed my worst fear: There’d been a mass ebike theft during the night. I asked him to repeat all of it. Not because I didn’t hear him properly, but because I desperately hoped I’d misunderstood.

No such luck. I haven’t even been here a month and my ride’s already been jacked. Could it be karma for the mass ebike theft I facilitated the other day? If so, it sure fucking kicked in quickly. I couldn’t even be mad because of it. Not without feeling intensely hypocritical.

Looks like I’m back to hoofing it. One step forward, two steps back. But crying doesn’t get anybody anywhere, so I filed it away as a problem to be solved when money and time constraints permit, and headed for the canal.

A few blocks from my apartment building, I began to notice clusters of makeshift shelters hanging off the sides of some buildings. Often two or more stories up off the ground, they resembled wasp’s nests but made from tarps, cardboard, coroplast, and scraps of mylar insulation.

I wondered what they could be for until I saw a criddler poke his head out from inside one of them. He coughed for a bit, then cleared his throat loudly enough I could hear it from ground level and spit a considerable wad of saliva and mucus that landed just a few feet from me.

I didn’t care enough to shout at him, lest I awaken any of the others I now knew to be tucked away in these bizarre suspended trash pods. They hung from a hook, which led me to suspect they were built around the portaledges that seasoned climbers often sleep on during a multi-day ascent of a cliff face.

Like the barges out in the bay, they’re presumably just enough of a hassle for police to reach that they don’t bother to. I imagined a documentary style voiceover explaining how the wild Chinese criddler nests high up in the concrete jungle to evade its primary pedators.

Wherever two buildings were near enough to one another, I also saw enclosed hammocks the likes of which I recall are intended for backpackers strung between the wall of one building and the other adjacent to it. Again, just high enough so that it wasn’t worth the time, effort or police resources to cut them down.

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