Hannox, Chapter 2

Link to Chapter 1

(More cyberpunk. I want to let the story get moving a little before wandering around in the coming weeks. If you are wondering about the pace, consider this a book excerpt)

It was a little early but his contact would be up.  He didn’t go there enough to really worry; still, varying the times of day he made his visits was good form.  He stopped by a local vendor and made a couple of insignificant purchases; a bottle of water and a nutrient bar.  From there, he went almost directly to his destination.

     The trip almost took him to the outer rim of the city.  The middle rim degraded steadily as he progressed outward, further from the city core and inner rim.  His apartment was situated in the middle rim, but far enough from the outer rim to be quite nice.  The farther from the middle of the city the more run down and neglected everything became.  The general repair of buildings and streets were the easiest signs to notice; after these, more graffiti, general vandalism and litter were big signs of troubled areas.  The outer rim was far worse.  Business very rarely took him out so far, and Hannox was thankful for that.

     He circled the building once, looking for potential problems or signs of trouble, before parking out front.  The place hadn’t changed much over the years.  Max’s was a fairly popular bar, considering the proximity to the outer rim.  Age had not been kind to the building, inside and out, but the relative popularity held.  It had just turned 1040 when Hannox approached the door and pressed the buzzer.  Nothing happened at the bar until after 1200, at earliest.

     It was nearly three minutes before he got a response.  The exterior speaker crackled to life with the less-than-joyous voice of the proprietor: Max.

     “What the fuck do you want so early?” Max blurted out.

     “I don’t know, old man, how about a martini?” Hannox shot back.

     “This is a shitty time.  Why don’t you come back later?”

     “I hate this place during business hours,” Hannox said, trying not to smile.  Max was a crusty old fuck, but proud of his bar.  It was a front, like Hannox’s security company.  The difference was that Hannox took no special pride in the business itself; his pride in the business was its quality as a front.

     “Too fuckin’ bad,” Max returned; a little bit of hurt pride showing through, despite the half-friendly nature of the exchange.   “The place ain’t any prettier before I open, either.”

     “Then I’ll close my eyes,” Hannox said.

     “Ah, fuck,” Max growled.  Hannox could tell, even through the crackling speaker, he was in.  The automatic door slid open and Hannox stepped into the quaint interior of Max’s.

     The place smelled of old tobacco smoke, with a hint of cleaning fluids.  It had the look of a pre-Shift establishment, even if there were some oddities.  There was a lot of wood, or synthetic wood, making up the furnishings and panelling.  The bar had a mirrored back wall, polished obsidian top and brass rail; pool tables, dart boards and dimmed lighting added to the ambiance.

     Max was behind the bar, as usual.  He always seemed a bit bigger when he stood back there, even though he was a fairly small guy.  By appearance, he was in his middle sixties, though Hannox suspected he might have been older; the few wisps of hair that clung to his head were pure white and he was quite wrinkled.  Max was far from ready for his day, sporting a dirty tee shirt and plaid, flannel pants.  He looked a bit angrier than usual.  Contributing to his angry look was his false eye, a retro hack-job that Max was apparently attached to.  It was a cylindrical socket that stuck out of his face, where his right eye had been, capped with a blue lens.  The lens glowed with a faint light, occasionally flickering and threatening to wink out.  Max always refused to discuss it, but the rumour was he lost the eye in a fight, years ago, and got the artificial one from a low-tech street med; the price being the big consideration.  Despite the eye’s ongoing glitches and Max’s improved finances, he stubbornly refused to upgrade or replace the terrible thing.  Worse, it made him look that much angrier.

     “You got shitty timing, Hannox,” Max said, no happier than before.

     “Yeah, and a busy schedule,” Hannox said with a smile.  “Residential and commercial security is a fast-paced and growing industry, you know.”

     “It’s a shitty fucking business,” Max grumbled.  “You should’ve opened a pet shop or something.”

     “That would make it a lot harder to explain house calls.”  On paper, Max had purchased a security system with a full maintenance package.  It was an easy way to justify the sporadic visits.

     “Maybe you could deliver shit like parrots and snakes?  Specialty shit for rich fucks,” Max said, smirking.  “How about that?”

     Hannox liked Max.  The old man was a zero-bullshit character, and a dying breed; one of the few people in the business he could relate to.  It was highly likely that Max was far more connected than anyone knew.  In the contract killing business, he was an independent distribution contact.  There were still a few, like him, doing business in person, but they were rare.  The underworld of independent killing had changed over the years, with more and more business conducted over the network.  According to Max, the go-between job had bounced between digital and personal contact over the years, usually taking the path of least resistance with respect to the authorities.  Hannox preferred the personal touch, even if it added complicating elements not present on the network.

     “I’ll think about it,” Hannox laughed.  “Anyway, you called me awfully early, so you must have something good.”

     “Oh, yeah,” Max said, like he had forgot about it.  “Another shitty thing that woke me up.”  He shot Hannox a dirty look, complete with a flicker of light from the fake eye.  “I got a call on a job, a fuckin’ monster and a half.  A hell of a payoff, by the sounds of it, but the details are pretty slim.  Sound like something you want a shot at?”

     Hannox was not used to this approach.  Sometimes, if the contract was sensitive, certain details were kept secret until the deal was accepted.  Usually, these details weren’t as foggy as this, and Max wasn’t one to dick around with offers and information; after all, he got a small cut for completed jobs.

     “Max, I know it’s early, and I woke you up, but get serious here,” Hannox said.

     Max gave him an odd look and sighed.  “Sit down, Hannox.”

     Hannox almost felt like arguing, but decided to see what the old man was up to.  He sat down at the bar while Max poured them coffee.  Max’s drinks were standard fare, but his coffee was strong and bitter.  Max always added extra cream to shut the coffee critic up.

     Max sat down across from Hannox, giving him the same, odd look.

     “Alright, Max,” Hannox said, growing impatient, “spit it out.  You’re getting freaky.”

     “Listen, Hannox,” Max said, sounding serious and calm.  “I forget you’re half a kid, so I’ll let you in on the kind of deal this is, unless you’re too good for that?”

     “You have my attention,” Hannox said.

     “Good, now shut up until I’m done; it’ll go faster, that way.  I don’t get business at calls at seven in the fucking morning, just so you know.  When I get a call like I got this morning, it’s not small potatoes.  You won’t be doing some small-time fuck for ten or twenty thou; and it won’t even be some medium-time fuck for a quarter mil.  I ain’t got a call like this for, hell, more than ten years.”

     “So, what are we talking about, then?  A big-time job for a mil?”  Hannox was genuinely intrigued.  Max was never this serious with him, unless he was pissed off.

     “I doubt it will be that low,” Max said, slurping his coffee with a wince.  “No, this one will be big; an absolute fucking monster of a job.”

     “But you have no details, yet,” Hannox said.  “How can you be so sure?”

     “I just know,” Max said, a displeased edge creeping into his tone.  “The last time I got a weird one like this, shit, it was a fucking jackpot.  Money’s changed a little, since then, but that fucking shit paid a couple million.”

     Hannox was starting to wonder if Max hadn’t lost it, somehow.  A few million creds for a job was unthinkable money; enough to retire on, if you didn’t live a flashy life.  What kind of job paid that kind of money?

     “I don’t want to sound like an asshole, Max,” Hannox said, “but why would a job pay that much with no details?  There must be a catch?”

     “I’m guessing the details are given to you, private-like, before you accept.  Then, you say yes or no.  There are probably two catches.  The job is probably a doozy, a major-ass player or something.  The second catch is that once you know who the target is, even if you turn down the job, you’re on a list until the dust settles.  It’s probably not the best list to be on.”

     “Wait a minute,” Hannox said, suddenly concerned.  “This contract is through standard channels, right?”

     “Before you get your balls in a knot, just fucking listen, okay?” Max piped up, finally sounding angry again.  “It’s on the level, mostly, but deals like this have exceptions.  You can’t expect it not to, anyway, even in this business.  The reason they have to know who sees the name is to avoid word getting back.  Sometimes, the price for squealing to the target is worth more than the contract, and easier to get away with.  By knowing who sees the name, they can backtrack.”

     Hannox sat back, tapping his thumb on the handle of his coffee mug.  “Okay,” he said, still running things through his head.  “Why would you offer this to me?  What makes you think this type of job is even in my league?”

     Max gave a rare smile.  “Why?  Because you’re hungry for the money, and you’ve got guts.  I don’t think you’ve ever turned down a job from me, even tricky ones.”

     “And you think I can pull it off?”  Hannox asked.

     “I have no idea,” Max said.  “I’ll never know who the target is, anyway.  Like I said, money and guts is always a solid bet.”

     “So, if you don’t have anybody else looking into this, I’m the best gun on your list,” Hannox mused out loud.  “You don’t get a cut if the contract isn’t completed, so you wouldn’t send your second choice.”

     “Those are some long shot ideas, if I ever heard any,” Max snorted.  “Listen, I got some slick-ass fucking guys on my list, as you put it; guys that are high-powered, psycho death machines that could fuck up any target you point them at.  If you were their target, you’d be royally fucked.”  Max took a swig of coffee and went on, Hannox was content to listen.  “Thing is this: you may not be the best I’ve got, but you’re the best shot to pull off a job like this.  Sorry to bust your bubble.”

     “So, if I’m interested, what then?”  The idea of being put on a list of has seen the name of target was not appealing, but equal parts curiosity and interest made him ask.

     “I can’t say exactly, but I make a call and follow instructions from there.  Chances are you get a name and basic terms offered to you.  You probably won’t get much time to decide, after that, so be ready to make it quick.”

     “This sounds pretty fucked to me, Max,” Hannox said.  “I don’t like working outside of the standard system.  What you’re saying sounds risky.  I haven’t kept a low profile for nothing.”

     “Deals this big are always fucked,” Max said.  “The pay is about more than the job, it’s the whole ball of shit you deal with.  It’s up to you.”

     “How long do I have to let you know?”

     “I can’t wait long,” Max said.  “This offer is probably out to a few other guys, right now.  If I don’t make contact in a few hours, someone else will have the job.  You want another coffee?”

     Hannox looked at his empty cup, not realising he’d finished.  “No, one was enough, thanks.”

     “You don’t want the job, do you?” Max said, taking both their mugs to the cleaning unit.

     “The way you acted when I got here makes me think you don’t want it, either,” Hannox said.

     “You woke me up,” Max said, turning back to Hannox and looking him square in the eye.  “Besides, if I didn’t want the fucking job, I never would have offered it.  It doesn’t mean shit to me, one way or the other.  You’re a reliable guy, so I’d rather not toss you into a deathtrap contract, if that means anything to you.  I think you like your safe little contracts and comfortable life too much to take the job.”

     “You’re dead right, Max, you old bastard,” Hannox said, standing up.  “My gut reaction says this job is trouble waiting to happen.  I’ve worked too hard to jump on thin ice.  I assume you don’t have anything else, right?”

     “Nope,” Max said, turning back to the cleaning unit and replacing the mugs under the bar.  “That’s been the first thing to happen in over a week.  Anything else, chickenshit?”

     “I’m good, Max,” Hannox said with a smile.  “I’ll see myself out.”

     “Good enough, maybe I can catch some sleep, now,” Max growled.  “Call me if you grow a pair in the next few hours.”

     “Screw you, too, Max,” Hannox said, as he stepped out the door.

Hannox, Chapter 1

(After what feels like too little thought, I am going to post up some chapters of a long, long story I wrapped up several years ago.  These will be put up, here and there, just because.  It is future science fiction, cyberpunk flavour)

Hannox could have sworn his morning alarm was louder than usual.  He didn’t recall adjusting the volume, but the thing chirped at him with gusto.

     “Alarm stop,” he said, being intentionally loud; there was no point in having the voice system miss his command.  He lay there for a few moments, trying to shake his fatigue.  The wall display showed the time at 0901.  He didn’t have much to do, but he never let himself get up later than 0900.  It was good to stay busy, if only to keep up the front.

     “Home system, voice activate command,” he said, exaggerating his enunciation for the program.  At least, he could stay in bed for long enough to check messages.

     “Home system responding.  Security code, please,” his ancient, home network responded through the wall speakers.

     “Security code, alpha 4-6-7-2-9 epsilon hummingbird, end code.”  He spoke back to the bedroom receiver, planted in the ceiling.

     “Home system activated.  Good morning, Gerald.”

     “Good morning, program,” Hannox replied.  The good morning bit was, in fact, the third layer of security for the program.  Voice pattern recognition and the basic code could be worked around, but the specific reply to the program greeting would be far harder to figure out.  The system was designed to be an all-purpose, home assistance aid.  It was intended as your message taker, home security, network facilitator, file storage, door opener, etc, etc.  The original launch for the product, Allhome, was nearly two hundred years ago, and product support ended twenty years later.  Allhome was the flagship product of the Home Tech Corporation; they released a few upgrades and some parallel products, but the failure of Allhome was the end of them.  Now, a full-blown Allhome installation was impossibly rare; as far as he knew, Hannox might have the only one in operation.  The approach was security through obscurity.

     “List new voice messages,” Hannox commanded.  He was already sitting up, despite his early intent to keep resting.

     “One new voice message.  Today.  0734.  Maxwell Henderson.  Two seconds.

     Hannox knew what that was about.  There was no need to actually check the message.

     “Delete new voice messages,” Hannox said.

     “New voice messages deleted.

     “Activate agenda,” he kept on.

     “Agenda activated.”

     “List entries, current day,” Hannox ordered.  The agenda was more of a backup, really; it was rare that he forgot about anything.

     “Entry one.  General reminder to review account statement activity…”  The program paused to allow him to modify or delete the entry.  He let it keep going.

     “Entry two.  1045.  Follow up with price quotation at 6978 Filnom Street, Middle Rim…”

     “Expand entry two,” Hannox commanded.  It was an old quote, and he was sure it would amount to nothing, but keeping active with the business was important.  After all, a front was a front.  Hannox couldn’t remember the specifics of the quote; the agenda entry would have the basics he needed to remind him.

     “Entry two expanded.  Price quote for Tyton Star 905x.  Full installation, with and without service.  Two bedroom bungalow, city lot, no interest in package upgrades, no interest in alternate systems.  Original quote of 23,000 credits, five percent discount not offered.  Aldo and Melissa Whitman, retired corpers, middle sixties, sole occupants.  End of entry two…

     The quote was over a month old, meaning it was practically dead in the water.  Better for them, really; Tyton Star was a low-end brand of systems that made a business of renaming obsolete tech to make it sound impressive.  The markup wasn’t ridiculous, but still on the high side.  Aldo had been focussed on a low-cost option, even though he could probably have afforded much better.  Guys like that were more interested in winning the price negotiation than getting value.  Usually, they would bite when the price dropped enough to brag to their friends.  Considering the sale was going cold, five percent was a last ditch offer to close the deal.  The listed price was 23,500, but Hannox always knocked off five hundred for first time customers.  The five percent figure was explained as a Tyton Star rebate that would only be available for a few days.  Even with five percent off, the system still made reasonable money.  Hannox was fairly certain the Whitmans would pass on the offer.  They had either purchased a competing product or decided to stick with a non-automated security system.

     “Entry three.  1400.  Contact Winston.  Discuss apartment maintenance…

     Which was Winston’s way of doing house calls without suspicion.  His real business was arms and ammunition.  Hannox had a Magnus 1400 rifle that used a rare type of ammo; Winston was the only reliable supplier that Hannox knew.  His supply of ammunition for the Magnus was fine, but he planned on spending some range time with it in the coming weeks, so a top up was in order.

     “End of entries.

     “De-activate agenda.  Exit home system.”

     “Home system exiting.  Have a nice day.

     “You, too,” Hannox said.  It was another security prompt for the system.  The security portion of the program had a ton of features that were set to notify him automatically, so there was no point in looking into the security log.  His apartment was in a decent area of the middle rim and there had never been a serious security problem.

     The time was almost 1000 before Hannox finished washing up and eating.  The joy of running a security sales and consulting business as a front was lots of easily-explained down time.  The 1045 call to Whitman was flexible, so there was plenty of time for the real job.  A trip to see his main contact was in order, even if it was a little early.

     The apartment took up the entire second floor of a two story building; the downstairs occupant, a retired accounting executive, was quiet and inconspicuous.  Hannox had thoroughly checked his background after he moved in.  The building was owned by Hamitomi Corporation’s property holdings division.  They owned a lot of buildings in the middle rim.  The choice of a Hamitomi building was intentional; it meant he had no specific superintendent.  His unit was just a number, in a large list of numbers.  The yearly inspections were a farce, a double check that the building was still standing and in good order.  Hannox had made a few interior modifications that weren’t on the books, and though they were technically allowed in his rental agreement, he preferred to keep them to himself.  In six years, he made sure that any repairs and maintenance were done without the knowledge of Hamitomi; and he was sure they didn’t mind.

     The building had an attached garage that was exclusive to him.  The other tenant didn’t own a vehicle, which was perfect.  The garage had also been slightly modified to improve security.  Hannox entered a complex code into the security lock and confirmed with his voice signature.  The lock requested confirmation of the code, and Hannox entered the same code with two characters transposed, opening the lock.

     The car was an older model Honda-Tirudachi 1100 series.  They were reliable, had great longevity, and remained common enough to blend in with traffic.  Like so much else, Hannox had made changes to the car.  The 1100 series came with a one hundred and eighty horsepower engine, which was more than peppy enough for civilian use.  There was an 1100x package that upgraded a few things, but mainly bumped the engine to two hundred horses, and that was downright quick.  Sure, there were bigger engines and faster cars, but very few that weren’t monitored with extra care.  Hannox had made enhancements that would attract no immediate attention, and they were all legal enough that a fine would be his worst punishment, if he ever got caught.  The motor had been adjusted to put out two hundred and fifteen horsepower.  The 1100s also used an old-style power train and transmission, which had been enhanced to give the car maximum acceleration from slow speeds.  Most situations where speed was needed in the city meant getting off the mark quickly; top end speed was rarely a worry because there were very few places it could be reached.  The vehicle had a silicon-based coating that made it resistant to casual ballistic impact and other blunt damage.  The tires had an interior coating to make them self-sealing and nearly wear proof.  He had also installed his car’s transponder into a remote control toy car that he could deploy from the undercarriage.  He had never used it but if he ever got in too deep with the authorities, it would make a great, short-term decoy.  And, like his apartment, there were a couple of hidden compartments for stowing hardware.