The Ghost Lotus Society stacked up bodies in five countries with an enthusiastic disregard for life. In my four years tracking them, I picked up a shrapnel wound from a grenade and lost my left hand in the ocean courtesy of a GLS smuggler playing pirate. Today, I brought in Yang Kai Li alive.
Kai Li runs the sea and spaceports, so he ranks higher than anyone else we’ve captured. I chased him through the sewers and took a slug in the leg. My cybered left hand torqued his right shoulder with two tons of pressure before he dropped the gun. He passed out from the pain, and I blacked out with the blood loss. The doc tells me I almost died, but now we have a trump card in the big game. We just have to play it right.
Tony Cho, the first GLS enforcer we arrested, ran head first through a courthouse window to crack his skull on the pavement. Xing Qi Fei had a micro grenade implanted in her chest that scanned as a pacemaker. She grabbed the prosecutor in a bear hug and splattered both their rib cages into pulp. My agent-in-charge, Lou Martinez, approved a fresh approach. We won’t arrest Kai Li. We wire him into a holosim of the real world, and we wake him up…now.
Kai Li opens his eyes, or his brain believes that’s what happens. His body lies in a vat as we follow him through a guided tour of GLS he doesn’t know he’s giving. The AI building the world his mind perceives can pull details from his own brain—it shows him what he expects to see. We use our contacts to fake the rest. We’ve called every source, pulled every favor, checked every form of surveillance to make our illusion perfect.
His POV detector shows that he sees my dead body back in the sewer. He believes he escaped. He spits on my head. “Goodbye, Agent Kirk.” Those few words tell us something we didn’t know—they have my name. We locked up our investigation tighter than an accountant’s ass, so they must have a mole. Kai Li returns to a restaurant GLS owns and gets his shoulder put back together in the medical bay under the Koi pond. Then his crew throws him a welcome back party with a full-lipped welcome back boy. Backslaps and booze all around.
Kai Li wakes up the next morning and gives us a flush on the river. He tours three smuggling drops we didn’t know about, then schedules a meet with his boss, 489. Senior scumbags don’t bother with names.
Back in the real world, we move on the smuggling drops. I want to hold back, but Martinez shows me intel on high-value targets GLS plans to import from off-world.
“They have three containers worth of Martian free zone girls? And 48 crates of railguns?” I ask.
“Let’s take away their toys.”
We saddle up with full exos and tac-drones. Thirty-five GLS dead, two in custody, and only one of our own took a scratch. Martinez and I put the evidence in our secret lock up, so no locals get the sticky fingers.
GLS chatter increases. I love when the scurrying starts. Seven-year-old me tasted that fear when different gangsters came by my parents’ store selling protection. I saw my dad pay in little paper bags, but the money did not stop the dread.
In Kai Li’s naptime kingdom, he flies in a shuttle to meet 489. In the middle of an orbiting graveyard of decommed satellites, Kai Li opens an airlock and steps into a ten-by-ten room with 489. The techs told us the sim might break here because of unfamiliar terrain, but Kai Li’s beautiful brain fills in the details fast enough. Then they talk shop, and I want to run naked through the waterfall of intel—names, dates, admissions of guilt on a dozen felonies. Ghost Lotus meet RICO.
The adrenaline high won’t quit, so after work, I make sure I’m not followed and head over to the apartment where we stashed Fan Chun Tao. She used to belong to Tony Cho. The GLS burned half her face and put two slugs in her. She must be the toughest ninety-pound woman on Earth because she pulled through and agreed to testify. I knock three times, pause, bang two more times. I hold up my ID card, not my badge, to the camera. She opens the door.
“Hey,” she says. Her natural skin gives way to chrome on the right half of her face, but the entire oval shimmers.
“We got them,” I say. “With your testimony, this entire branch will do life in a super-max orbit pen.”
She nods, then she cries. I hold her. I know how it feels to dream of safety. She shudders in my arms. I shouldn’t, but I brush my fingers along her cheek. She looks up and… melts. Her face falls apart in a cascade of pixels as the holosim shuts down around me.
Kai Li opens up the vat as the fluid drains off my skin. I thrash against the shackles, but they’ve disabled my cyberhand. “Thank you, Agent Kirk. We silenced your sources and burnt your evidence stash. ‘We took away your toys.’” He puts a gun to my head and holds up my ID card, not my badge. “I’ll give Chun Tao your regards.”
About the author:
David Far studied economics and philosophy. As a national champion debater, he enjoyed discussing hypothetical worlds featuring wizards, robots and moral quandaries. Now he writes about those topics. David lives in New York City. He enjoys listening to his children spin stories from the secret places adults have almost forgotten. You can find out more at davidfarbeyond.com.