This will take everyone to the end of my editing. This is a long arc, 7000+ words. Next up wrapping up this first tail. 🙂 Enjoy.
1 Second Try
“It’s here!” Puddles shouted with excitement.
Walking into the office, Whiskers found Puddles holding a large brown box, Cheshire cat grin on her face, and a Zippy Delivery driver exiting. Before he could ask, Puddles set the box on her side of the desk and tore the box open. Reaching inside, scattering packing peanuts all over her side of the desk, nobody would notice he thought, Puddles brandished a new frying pan.
Eyebrow raised, “That was fast,” Whisker said.
“I had them shipped express.”
“I ordered a set of them. Figured I might need more than one.”
“You could give your Mother one of them.”
A thoughtful look flashed over Puddles face, “I could.”
“But you will not,” Whiskers mumbled returning to get his coffee.
A loud metallic crash informed Whiskers that Puddles dropped the box from her side of the desk onto the floor. Returning to the office with a cup of coffee, the mess of packing peanuts did not surprise him. Sitting on his side of the desk, he pushed packing peanuts back onto her side.
“Who do we know that could pass as a patient?” Whiskers asked.
Puddles stopped practice swinging her frying pan, “Who don’t look like us? Nobody.”
“What the tonnan!” Chuck shouted from behind the front door that Puddles struck with an errant swing.
She put the frying pan down and held the door open, “Sorry.”
Whiskers waved a greeting and returned to the computer, clicking through their contacts. Puddles leaned over to look at the list.
“Nobody what?” Chuck asked on his way past the desk to get coffee.
“Whiskers thinks we need someone who looks like a ganger to get past the receptionist.”
“Hey, that’s a good idea,” Chuck shouted from kitchen. “Have you tried Eth?” he asked returning with a cup of coffee.
“Eth is cymean and so not a ganger,” Puddles sarcastically retorted.
Shooting her a glare, “Not as a ganger, because he knows gangers.”
“Excellent suggestion,” Whiskers said.
2 Making Arrangements
“Why noodles?” Eth asked as he pointed at his bowl of noodles with his neon pink chopsticks.
“What’s wrong with noodles?” Chuck retorted around a mouthful of noodles.
“Don’t point with chopsticks,” Puddles said while pointing at Eth’s chopsticks with her chopsticks.
“I said, what’s wrong with noodles,” Chuck repeated after swallowing.
“Not that,” gesturing with his chopsticks Eth said, “the chopstick thing.”
“Heard it somewhere,” Puddles answered.
“I like noodles,” Whiskers spoke up setting down a neon orange with red swirled cup.
“Every time?” Eth asked. “Every single time we meet, we meet at a NiHo’s. Why?”
Puddles slurped down a chopstick load of noodles, Chuck looked to Whiskers, and Whiskers took another sip of tea, “Cheap, healthy, and best of all who is going to come here to listen in on any conversation?”
Looking around, “Good point,” said Eth.
Returning to his bowl of noodles, Eth ate in silence for a few moments.
“Anyone want to share some dumplings?” Chuck asked.
Puddles held up her chopsticks. Using the tabletop holo-menu, Chuck ordered dumplings. Eth set down his chopsticks and put his hands together in front of his face looking thoughtful.
“What is on your mind, Eth?” asked Whiskers.
“Shouldn’t that be my question to you?” Eth responded gesturing at them with one hand.
“You look like you have something to say is all.”
“Number two dumpling platter,” the waiter announced to the table as he set a large steamer full of dumplings in front of Chuck.
“Thank you,” Chuck mumbled around a mouthful of noodles.
“I need you to do something for me,” Eth said talking over the waiter and Chuck.
Looking up from her bowl of noodles, Puddles said, “From us.”
“In exchange for what?” Whiskers asked.
“My usual fee.”
Puddles, Chuck, and Whiskers exchanged looks, “Must be important to you,” Puddles said.
“It is, but not just for me, some friends. Deal?”
“Deal,” Whisker responded.
“Great what do you need from me?”
“Just two? Not a whole gang?”
“Just two and they need to want mechanical augmentation.”
“Long story, we need to get into a doctor’s office. They only take gangers who get augmentation…or at least we think. We can’t get inside.”
Whisker slide his tablet across the table, “Our information.”
Eth spent a few minutes reviewing the information before sitting back, hands in front of his face. “I think I can find a few gangers for you. It will take a day or two.”
Puddles said, “That’s fine. What do you need from us?”
“I need you to find Red Twist,” he said with some finality.
“Head of the Red Hands?”
“Still no clue,” said Puddles.
“Wait, the bike gang?” Chuck asked.
“Is he lost?” Whisker asked sarcastically. “I would think you would be able to find him,” he said to Eth.
“He’s hiding from some friends of mine…”
“And you owe them,” Puddles interrupted.
“Something like that,” he shot back.
“We just need to find him?”
“That’s all, find him, and keep an eye on him until my friend arrives.”
“Since we have a couple of days of waiting, we can get right on that,” Puddles said looking to Whiskers and Chuck.
3 One Hand At A Time
“Can you see this?” Chuck whispered into his phone.
Sitting in Whiskers’ car, vid-feed from Chuck’s camera displayed across the interior of the windshield. The feed panned to the right, a battered front door with a sign in gromathi, followed by piles of garbage and a shot down the alley.
“Clear feed,” Whiskers replied.
In the passenger seat, Puddles fiddled with her new frying pan, glancing at the feed every few seconds.
“Did you find a spot to hide?” she asked Chuck.
“I think so, moving there now.”
On the windshield, the feed bounced and moved erratically as Chuck moved. Chuck reached for another handhold in the wall of the building across the street, finding a handhold he pulled himself up onto a ledge. Nice to see the City keeping up on buildings and repairs in Lower Stroud, Chuck thought sarcastically looking around at the debris, exposed wires, pipes, and garbage on the ledge, every building he could see, and in the alley. Chuck spotted a better observation spot a few feet to his right.
The feed stabilized and centered on the alleyway and door.
“Now we wait,” Whiskers said.
“What’s our next step?” Puddles asked Whiskers.
“We wait to see who goes in and out of the chop shop.”
“No,” she began with an irritated tone, “not this favor, with finding the fake Doctor Marlowe.”
“Eth should come through for us,” Chuck whispered.
Puddles shook her head, “Don’t blow your hiding spot, Chuck.”
“Chuck is correct, after Eth finds some gangers to do the work we need, we follow the trail.”
“So…” Puddles paused for effect, “you don’t know any more than I do.”
Two hours passed, “I can’t feel my feet,” Chuck whined for the fifth time in the last few minutes. “I know don’t move,” he finished testily.
“You ready ang?” a rough voice asked somewhere in the alley.
“Come on the doc is down here. He does all our hands,” another rough voice said.
“Hurt?” finished the first rough voice. “What do you think?”
“If you are lucky he will soak your arm in ice first.”
“Ice!” the third voice exclaimed.
Laughter boomed down the alley. Three gromathi, spiked heads, walked into view on the feed. Two of the gromathi, as they walked into view wore Red Hands leather jackets made for gromathi, spaces over the shoulders for their spikes to show. On the back of each jacket the Red Hands logo, a bloody fist clutched and unclutched with each step they took. Both of the Red Hand gangers had the gang’s trademark mechanical augmented red right hand. The third, younger gromathi wore a red shirt and spent a lot of time looking at his right organic hand.
“Alright kid, we will wait for you in the waiting room,” the first rough voice said as they walked into the building.
“Did you see that,” Chuck whispered excitedly.
“We saw it,” Puddles responded.
“If Eth’s information is correct, an hour from now they should leave,” Chuck said, “Can one of you take my place?”
“I will be there in a few minutes,” Whiskers replied.
4 An Hour and 10 Minutes Later
“Ready?” Puddles asked over the comm-system.
“I feel better,” Chuck replied.
“Not about your bathroom break!”
“Quiet!” Whiskers commanded. “They left and are almost out of sight.”
Leaning over the edge, Whiskers watched the three gromathi gangers continue down the alley.
“Chuck bring the car around and see if you can find an upper floor exit,” Puddles ordered.
“Will do,” Chuck replied. “This place looks pretty self-contained; I don’t expect to find anything.”
“I will remain outside in case any clients arrive.”
“Sweet, let’s do this,” Puddles said with glee.
Whiskers watched Puddles stride into the office, cup of coffee in one hand, frying pan hanging from her belt, and pistol on her hip. Whiskers dropped into the alley ready if she needed assistance. The largest, ugliest, and very unconvincing receptionist sat behind a prefab desk covered in the “appropriate” amount of office supplies. Security she thought to herself, approaching the desk. The only other thing in the room than the desk, offices supplies, and “receptionist” a door she hoped lead to the doctor. Hopefully the doctor had the information they were after, she thought.
“I need to see the doc,” she said.
At least he pretended to type on the holo-keyboard. Puddles was positive she could see the gears in his head turning, very slowly. Setting her coffee on the desk, she leaned forward and coughed, twice. He turned, did she hear gears grind as his head turned she thought with a smirk, and glared at her.
In a deep voice he said, “There are no available appointments.”
“But,” coughing again, “I’m sick.”
“You can make an appointment for another day,” he replied not missing a beat.
Coughing again, Puddles turned and took a step towards the door, “I’m sure the doc can see me. It’ll be quick. We’re old…”
“DO NOT,” he emphasized each word and stood up, “take another step.”
“Fine have it your way,” Puddles replied pulling her frying pan off her belt. “I hope the doc can see you afterwards.”
5 Tracking Down Leads
The frying pan, bent in the middle flew across the room when the mook shook his mechanical-augmented arm.
“I just bought that!”
Puddles was positive she heard him form a metallic fist. Ducking under his powerful swing, Puddles rolled past the mook, popping up she fumbled with her holster. The mook pivoted much faster than she expected, wired to the gills no doubt she thought, and kicked her in the chest, knocking her against the wall. Her breath explosively left her lungs, leaving her holding out a paw, her other arm wrapped around her chest, and gasping for air.
The mook did not wait; grasping her outstretched arm, with a single yank he threw her to the opposite side of the room over the desk, scattering office supplies. Rolling to a stop amongst office supplies and her cup of coffee, Puddles tried to stand, still gasping for air. With two long strides, he grabbed the desk and threw the desk at her. His aim off the desk exploded against the wall, showering her with desk parts. Puddles scrambled away from the wall, fumbling with her holster and looking for something, anything to give her an edge.
Mook grabbed her ankle, but before he could get a good grip, Puddles slipped her foot out of the boot and rolled onto her back as she drew her pistol. Her first shot blew her boot apart that he had reflexively thrown at her, her second and third shots put large holes in his thigh and gut. With a monstrous backhand, he knocked her pistol out of her paws. Puddles scooted backwards as he fell to one knee. Her paws landed on the familiar shape of her frying pan she swung with as much force as she could, cracking the mook across the face rocking his head to the side.
For a brief second she thought he was going to continue the fight; then he fell over onto his side. Puddles sat down against a wall. One breath, two, and three. Other than breath the mook had not moved. Standing, she retrieved her pistol and searched the mook. Bingo, she mentally cheered, pulling an identcase from a pocket. She waved his identcard over her watch accessing public data, nothing other than a name and top-level membership with emergency services. Before leaving the office, she punched in an emergency and dropped his identcard by his head.
“Figures,” she said to herself.
Looking at the frying pan, bent and nothing she could do about that, even better the person she wanted to see was gone. Empty office, at least this desk was intact, she thought ruefully. Puddles sat down and pulled up the holo-monitor.
“Let’s see what the good doctor was hiding.”
6 Emergency Boots
“Office is clear,” Puddles informed Whiskers and Chuck.
“A coffin rocket is roaring in your doing?” Whiskers asked.
“Yeah, can you intercept them?”
Closing the office door, “Chuck meet me in the doctor’s office I need your help searching his files.”
“On my way.”
Jumping down from his observation post Whiskers waited next to the door. Lights flashing, backwash from the emergency extraction bus scattering loose garbage and debris. A gold and white colored emergency extraction bus landed, before the bus settled, three technicians leapt out. The technician in the lead following the identcard signal with a wrist mounted scanner.
“Over here!” Whiskers shouted waving his paws. “Over here!” Whiskers opened the door, “He’s in there!”
“What happened?” The lead technician asked.
“I…” feigning shock “I found him when I got here for my appointment.”
“How long ago was that?” Lead asked, consulting information on a holo-wrist display.
Behind them, the other technicians started urgent care.
“Maybe five minutes ago,” Whiskers stammered, allowing his tail and ears show his “shock.”
A non-committal grunt from the lead, “Dispatch have emergency ready, include an augment team.”
The two techs rolled the secretary onto a collapsible hoverboard shouting medical jargon into their comms as they rushed out of the office and down the alleyway. Without another word, the lead tech followed. Less than two minutes later, the extraction bus roared off.
“All clear,” Whiskers reported.
“Good, get in here,” Puddles replied.
“I think I found the files we are looking for,” Chuck interrupted.
Stepping over discarded medical waste Whiskers entered the doctor’s office, “Any luck?”
“Take a look,” Chuck said triumphantly as he spun the holo-display to face Whiskers.
Puddles stepped past Whiskers. Whiskers touched her arm as she passed, “You okay?”
“Sore, missing my boot, and looking for coffee.”
“You won’t find any of them in there,” Whiskers replied. “Copy the data and we’ll get coffee.”
“New boots too.”
Chuck flipped the screen back and started the copy process.
“Looks like the surgery was completed two weeks ago,” Chuck announced. “I have an address for the doctor, a number of his supplier, and checkup appointments.”
“That makes sense, but he isn’t going to have them here,” Puddles said returning with the remains of her boot.
“File saved,” Chuck said.
“Coffee and boots,” Puddles announced heading for the door.
Merging into Lower Stroud flying traffic a few minutes later, Whiskers read the data on the windshield display, “Who wants first shift watching the doctor’s office?”
“Why bother?” Chuck asked from the driver’s seat.
“Because there is a chance he will return and we can follow him from there,” Puddles replied from the backseat. Checking over her body, she winced at a few sore spots and picked some bits of desk out of her fur.
“Oh. I’ll take first watch.”
“I will watch his house. Puddles you get some rest.”
“After boots, right?”
Whiskers sighed, Chuck laughed, “Yes, after boots on the company card.”
7 The Long Watch
[Part of the job.]
[Three hours of nothing.]
[Watch this vid, you’ll love it.]
[I think you meant Puddles would love that vid. Nothing?]
[You didn’t like the cute finsi’s? Other than some Red Hand initiates and homeless.]
Looking down from his observation post, three stories above the alley, Chuck wished for the hundredth time, that the doctor would be strolling to his office without a care in the world. Chuck would leap down behind him and with a deft move or two subdue the doc, call Whiskers, and two hours later have the information, complete the case, be a hero, and eat some noodles. Instead, the same garbage, the same large rats, and foul odors. Bling.
Checking his phone a reply from Whiskers, [How many Red Hands?]
Mentally counting, [Five. Why?]
[I have an idea, if your stakeout does not pan out.]
[Do you want me to follow the next Red Hands?]
[I will let you know.]
Chuck rested his back against the wall, pulled his tail close to him to avoid any of the unidentified pools of liquid, and tapped his favorite word game. A few swipes later, Chuck was trying to remember how to spell door in gromathi.
Across the city, sitting in his car at the edge of the 100th floor of a parking garage with an excellent view of the doctor’s carport, Whiskers thought, planned, and flipped through the data Chuck recovered from the doctor’s office. On his windshield, three zones, in the center the master file, to the left information to research in detail, to the right junk. Another swipe to the right and another sigh, too much junk in the file; did the doctor need to keep everything?
Tapping the upper right corner with a claw, Whiskers pulled a live feed window down over the junk. He watched various vehicles fly past the doctors carport before touching the feed and using his claw to adjust the view; nothing new with the doctor’s residence. Sighing, he reset the alarm, and pushed the live feed window to the upper right corner. Taking a long drink from his coffee, Whiskers thought about the potential dangers of following Red Hands.
[The letter word using the letters A, I, L, N, S.]
Whiskers opened a new file, invoices for replacement augment hands; based on the amount and number of entries, the doctor did a lot more surgeries for the Red Hands than expected.
[Begins with A, I, or L.]
Ignoring Chuck’s texts Whiskers continued to read the invoice file; three manufacturers, seven different styles of hands, and a range of prices. The doctor had quite the business in hands. The latest invoice due in three days. Swirling his coffee cup around, Whiskers wondered if there was a way to use the information to find the doctor.
[Found it. What are you doing over there?]
[Not playing a game.]
[I’m bored and it smells.]
[I want you to follow the next Red Hands.]
The live feed window flashed red twice before Whisker noticed. Pulling the window down, he reversed the feed hoping to see the doctor arrive home. A delivery truck stopped at the carport for a few seconds before entering traffic and driving off. Whiskers resumed the live feed and went back to reading.
8 Have A Seat
Peeking over the edge Chuck looked down on two Red Hands banging on the doctor’s door. The larger Red Hand cocked his augmented fist, punching a large hole in the door. Both of them laughed at the hole, Chuck shuddered. Laughing the entire time the Red Hands punched several more holes in the door before tossing the door to the side. The Red Hands walked into the office where Chuck could not hear their conversation. Based on how fast they left and ran down the alleyway his guess of their conversation revolved around a problem. Chuck sent a vid of the Red Hands to Whiskers.
[We have a problem.] He texted.
[Apparently. Follow them.]
Chuck dropped into the alley, making his way to his car. The Red Hands bikes roared down the road racing past Chuck as he reached his car. Following them was easier than he expected, they rode in a straight line to a bar. Chuck circled the block, parking on a side street, cuing the vid-feed on his windshield he called Whiskers.
“They stopped at a biker bar. I’m not dressed to go in.”
“Understand,” Whiskers replied, distracted. “Puddles should be to you in a few minutes. Together you can…”
“Sorry I found more information that may assist us in finding the doctor.”
“As I was saying, hopefully Twist is at the bar. Puddles should be able to blend in.”
Chuck watched a large cluster of wageslaves from a nearby factory walk by.
“I have an idea. I will contact you later,” he said in a rush, disconnecting the feed and exiting his car.
The wageslaves oblivious of Chuck walking closely behind them, chatted away about work, bosses, wages, and their desperate need to get some beer and food into them before returning to work. As Chuck hoped, they walked to the bar and entered without hesitation. While the wageslaves pulled several tables together, Chuck found himself a table with a good view of the entire bar. Pulling the holo-menu up, Chuck looked busy while looking for the two Red Hands. The wageslaves creating the best distraction possible with their numbers, obtuseness, and massive order.
[Where are you?] Puddles texted.
[I have a table in the bar. Want me to order you something.]
[There in a sec. Starving.]
Not finding noodles, Chuck input an order for drinks and wings. Between the large group of wageslaves he followed in and several other groups of wageslaves, the bar was packed. A knot of Red Hands sat glowering at everyone in a darkened corner of the bar. Unfortunately, from Chuck’s position he could not tell if the two he was following were among them.
A battered serv-o droid with red hands, slammed drinks in front of Chuck, splashing him. A platter of wings nearly flew across the table as the droid seemed to try to skip the platter onto the table. Before Chuck could ask for anything the droid rolled away on one wheel, slamming drinks onto tables along the way.
“What is that things problem?” Puddles asked as she sat down.
“I’d be the same way if I worked here,” Chuck responded as he wiped beer off him and the table.
“True. Where are they?”
“I think over there,” Chuck indicated with a nod and ear point.
“Its the only thing that looked safe.”
“They should fry these things enough to kill anything harmful.”
“Makes sense. Let’s eat and watch. Maybe we’ll get lucky.”
9 Other Lines of Inquiry
Thinking about Chuck’s word puzzle Whiskers thought about other ways to find the doctor. Swiping a claw across the windshield display, Whiskers pushed the data to a corner, and found the city information services search bar. Milliseconds after sending the request the windshield filled with new files. Looking at the wealth of data Whiskers was excited for a brief moment, then looking closer at the scale of the data search his ears folded down, a long night ahead.
“Directions,” he said to his car.
“Destination?” the car responded.
“Nearest open coffee shop. Auto drive.”
“Gallon O Cafe, three blocks away, estimated arrival, ten minutes.”
“Thank you,” he said to the car, not that he needed to, but manners mattered.
While the car lifted off and maneuvered through the parking garage, Whiskers resumed sorting the files. Personal data stayed in the center of the windshield, family information to the right, and business, school, and licensing to the left. With three “reasonable” stacks of data, Whiskers opened the personal data file.
- Doctor Epsan Mill, recent graduate from Stroud Medical, address on file matched address Whiskers was watching, and two contact numbers.
Returning to the City Information System window, Whiskers entered the doctor’s personal and business numbers. Dialing the personal number, Whiskers did not expect an answer.
“Hello?” a male voice said questioningly.
“Hello, is this Doctor Mill?” Whiskers asked enthusiastically.
“Yes, who is this?”
“This is,” Whiskers thought fast, “CAH Augments and if you have a few moments I would like to discuss our new line of augmented hands and forearms.”
Whiskers listened for any background noises or identifying features while the Doctor responded.
“Uh…” The Doctor stalled.
“Is this a bad time?” Whiskers interjected.
“Yes, yes this is a bad time,” Doctor Mill jumped for the offered lifeline. “My, uh office, is being remodeled, can we…”
“I am in town for the next few days,” Whiskers offered another lifeline hoping Doctor Mill would take the bait, “perhaps we could schedule a face-to-face meeting over dinner?”
“That would be great,” Doctor Mill responded enthusiastically. “Can I call you…”
“Can my secretary reach you at this number?” Whiskers jumped in.
“Yes she can.”
“I will have my secretary contact you tomorrow with some times.”
“That would be great.”
“Thank you Doctor Mill, I look forward to seeing you in a few days. Have a good night.”
Elated, Whiskers disconnected the line and let out a whoop of joy. Several people walking past looked his way before entering the Gallon O Cafe shop. Swiping the files into a save bin, Whiskers sent the files as a backup to their office. Windshield clean and proud of the work, Whiskers sat back for a moment. Next step get his “secretary,” Puddles was going to get mad about that, to contact Doctor Mill. Amused at the thought of Puddles as secretary Whiskers sent her and Chuck a text.
[Found the doctor.]
[Excellent] Puddles responded.
[That’s great!] Chuck responded.
[Still watching at bar.] Puddles sent.
[End surveillance in a few minutes and meet me at Gallon O Cafe.]
10 Two Days Later
A phone call from “secretary” Puddles to arrange a meeting with Doctor Mill. Another phone call to make reservations at Middle of the World, an expensive restaurant located on the 160th floor of the Frost Spire downtown. Then two days of waiting. Puddles and Chuck continued to follow Red Hand gangers around the city, unsuccessfully. Whiskers spent the time listening to their tales, researching Doctor Mill, and concocting their plan.
Ten minutes before their meeting they pulled into valet parking. Wearing a dark business suit Whiskers exited their car swiping his issta-stick over the kiosk. Puddles wearing a matching suit and smart glasses exited from the passenger side and joined Whiskers waiting at the door. Chuck exited last, wearing a light gray suit and carrying a large case of samples.
“Ready?” Whiskers asked.
“We’ll be the best CAH augment sales people we can be,” Puddles replied sarcastically.
“Can’t we just stun him?” Chuck asked for the hundredth time.
Rolling his eyes, Whiskers turned and headed to the restaurant. The doors opened automatically as they approached. Inside, a gilded serv-O droid, greeted them, “Welcome to Middle of the World. How can I assist you?”
“We have reservations for four,” Whiskers answered, “Under CAH.”
“One second,” the droid made a pantomime of searching through a ledger even though all reservations were in the droid’s memory. “Ah,” pointing at a page, “here you are. Reservations for four. One moment,” the serv-O droid snapped its fingers summoning another serv-O droid. “If you will follow Charles, he will direct you to your table. Apparently, one of your party arrived early. Enjoy you meal.”
Charles, slightly less gilded, with a monogrammed towel over one of his thin arms, bowed, “If you will follow me. Today’s specials are…”
Chuck nudged Puddles, “We are way out of our element.”
All around them businesspeople carrying on as if this was a daily event for them. Everywhere any of them turned signs of extreme wealth, from the mem-ware clothing flashing customized corporate logos, personalized designs to the holo-displays from watches and tablets displaying just about anything that any of them could think about. Everywhere they looked a clear view of Middle Stroud unobstructed by the “Cloud” or lanes of traffic, nothing but clean buildings and advertisements.
“I think I saw the latest Kira Designs Smart Watch over there,” Chuck whispered excitedly to Puddles his tail slashing through the air with nerves and excitement.
“Try to act like you have been here,” Puddles replied as cool as she could, her tail twitching.
“…pairing that with our in house red wine,” Charles finished as they approached a table near the rear of the restaurant. “Your table. I see one of your guests, Doctor Mill, is already here. Allow me to pull out your chairs. May I get you any drinks?”
Seated at the table, his back to the restaurant, Doctor Mill sipped from a glass of red wine, while reading the menu. At their arrival, he stood up and extended his hand out between all three of them. Whiskers, grabbed his hand with a paw and shook, “Doctor Mill, a pleasure to meet you.”
11 Dinner Conversations
Puddles watched Doctor Mill try to conceal his surprise at the sight of them, three cats in suits, tails waving lazily behind them.
“Not what you were expecting?” she asked as she sat down.
Sitting down Doctor Mill, “I…I was…”
“We get that all of the time,” Chuck said as he sat down, putting the case next to his chair.
“CAH takes an unconventional approach as you can see,” Whiskers gestured to the three of them. “You were probably expecting a team of cymean technicians.”
Taking a sip from his wine, “Yes. I mean, that is who always shows up at these meetings and…”
“They prattle on for hours about the technical specs,” Chuck interrupted.
“Exactly,” Doctor Mill enthusiastically agreed.
“We won’t bore you with details you can research yourself or better yet, read the brochure,” Whiskers said with a toothy smile.
Doctor Mill laughed, and then they all shared in that laugh.
“Shall we order dinner?” Puddles asked when the laughter died down.
While waiting for their orders, “How did you find me?” Doctor Mill asked.
Puddles looked at Whiskers, “That’s easy,” Chuck replied, “you are one of the top twenty Doctors in Stroud who order augment arms and hands.”
“That makes sense.”
Whiskers tail relaxed. Puddles breathed a quiet sigh of relief into her wine as she took a sip.
“So, what do you have to offer me? Other than a fine dinner,” Doctor Mill said with a laugh.
“That’s a good one Doctor,” Whiskers replied. “I think you will like our wares. Our chief technician will give you the details,” Whiskers finished gesturing to Chuck.
Setting the case on the table, Chuck opened the case towards Doctor Mill. Resting in custom padded compartments, three augmented hands, and a selection of chips. Lights in the case illuminated all of the hands causing the chrome to shine bright, casting little rainbows across the case and table. Doctor Mill leaned forward inspecting the hands.
“These don’t look that different. Nice chrome job, but standard augments,” Doctor Mill indicated with some disappointment.
“Oh crap,” Puddles muttered into her glass.
“Excellent eye Doctor. These are indeed standard augments, manufactured by other companies,” Chuck jumped in. “Before you say anything allow me to point out the chips.”
“Yes, chips. CAH does sell augments, but what CAH specializes in is modifying chips.”
Doctor Mill’s face lite up. Chuck closed the case, returning the case next to his chair as several serv-O droids appeared with their food.
“I’ll explain after the meal,” Chuck said.
An hour later, sitting back from their dinner, serv-O droids clearing away plates and filling wine glasses, Doctor Mill resumed the conversation, “Can you tell me about the modifying chips?”
Setting his glass down Chuck smoothly replied, “Easy enough, as you are aware all augments come pre-programmed.”
Doctor Mill nodded.
“How many times have patients asked for modifications such as stronger, fine motor control, or something more exotic?”
“And the only option you have is to use a different augment, if there is one available.”
“And there aren’t that many options.”
“CAH has quietly been testing modifying chips, to allow doctors such as yourself to have more options to meet patient requests.”
Whiskers made a show of looking at his watch, “I’m sorry to interrupt Doctor. Unfortunately, we have other appointments this evening. We would love to show you how our chips work, do you have a patient who might be in the market for a chip of ours?”
Doctor Mill thought for a moment, “I do have a patient. Can I send you the details?”
“That would be great. Thank you for your time Doctor Mill we look forward to hearing from you and showing you the nearly limitless opportunities of our chips.”
Riding in their car back to their office.
“I can’t believe you,” Puddles said to Chuck.
“What?” Chuck said with mock surprise.
“All of that modifying chips stuff.”
“You can thank Whiskers for that.”
Both of them looked at Whiskers in the driver’s seat.
“I found an article while researching how best to approach the doctor,” Whiskers replied, “Chuck is the best at telling stories.”
“I tell good stories,” Puddles retorted with a smile.
“Good stories if they involve pummeling someone,” Chuck said with a laugh.
“What do we do now?” Puddles asked.
“We wait,” Whiskers. “Doctor Mill will send the details and then we act. Until then everyone should get some rest.”
“Is everyone ready?” Whiskers asked.
Puddles nodded, checking her pistol one last time. Chuck fiddled with the chip case and shook his head affirmative.
“We’re ready,” Eth said over comms.
Puddles smoothed her suit jacket out, “I hope this goes smoothly.”
“So do I,” Chuck replied.
“This does not look good,” Whiskers said pointing at a row of Red Hand bikes outside the address Doctor Mill sent them.
“Shit,” Puddles and Chuck said at the same time.
The car settled to the ground with a thump. Lower Stroud always dark, was darker here due to the number of burned out and broken lights. Parked outside of a warehouse six Red Hand bikes in a row and Doctor Mill’s luxury car. Puddles stepped out of the car scanning the darkness for trouble. Whiskers and Chuck exited the car and headed for the warehouse door. Two Red Hand gangers stepped out of the shadows blocking the door.
“You the techs the doc is expecting,” one of them mumbled.
“I certainly hope so,” Puddles replied with a smile.
“We need to search you before you can go in.”
“We have nothing to hide,” Whiskers replied.
With rough hands the two gangers quickly patted down each of them, “What’s this?” the ganger patting Puddles down said when he found her pistol.
“Personal protection is all,” she replied ignoring the looks from Whiskers and Chuck.
“You can get it when you leave.”
“I’ll take your word,” she replied with a smirk.
A ganger opened the warehouse door and stepped aside. Puddles lead the way into the warehouse looking for trouble.
“Looks like the doc set up shop here,” she said aloud. “There is enough equipment arranged around a chair for us to do our work. Doctor Mill looks scarred. Ah, I see four more Red Hands and lots of guns. That would explain the Doc.”
As soon as Chuck’s tail passed over the threshold, the door closed behind him, “Those are some nice augments each of them have.”
Doctor Mill shouted, “There you are. I was telling Twist about your chips. You did bring the chips?” he finished an octave or two higher.
“Yes Doctor Mill, we brought a small sample of chips,” Whiskers shouted back.
“Targets down,” Eth said over the comm-system.
“That is good news,” Whisker replied.
As soon as the door closed, the gangers relaxed, one of them leaning against the wall, the other lighting up a stick. Leaning against the wall, he took a long drag on the stick, exhaling a moment later.
“How much longer?” He asked the other ganger.
A shrug was his response.
Another long drag, another exhale.
John dropped into the alley as soon as Puddles began talking to the gangers. He was in position to take both of the gangers out by the time the search was finished. Now he waited, listening to Puddles description of the inside the warehouse over comms. Satisfied with what he heard, he edged to the corner and peeked. The smoking ganger blew out another cloud of smoke as John stepped around the corner and fired four times, the first two dropped the smoker, the third and fourth shots dropped the remaining ganger.
13 The Deal
“Damnit Eth, do your share and help me get these two into the alley,” John snapped at Eth as he struggled with the ganger’s legs.
“I’m doing the best I can. I don’t want this suit ruined.”
“I’ll buy you a new one.”
“That would make four you owe me,” Eth testily replied, “I’ll go with working slower.”
“Fine, let’s get the second one before shit goes South inside.”
Puddles cracked a smile listening to John and Eth bicker. Walking past Puddles, Chuck drug a wheeled tray next to the chair, placing his case on the tray he waited. Whiskers extended a paw to Red Twist in greeting.
“Are you are guinnea pig?” he said with a smile.
Doctor Mill let out a nervous laugh.Twist grasped Whiskers paw with his red meme-tattooed augmented fist, the meme-tattoo flaring red before flames burst from the knuckles along the back of the fist, a gentle pressure before releasing.
“That is awesome!” Chuck shouted.
“That is a very nice augment,” Whiskers said.
“Custom made,” Twist growled, “I understand you have chips that may make our jobs easier.”
“I think we do,” Whiskers eagerly replied.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Puddles said, “is there a bathroom?”
A ganger with a silver augment pointed to the back of the warehouse, “Over there.”
Stepping between the gangers, Puddles made a mental note of their visible augments, and holstered guns, “I will be back in a second.”
“As I was saying,” Whiskers resumed, “we at CAH have developed several chips for testing, which is ongoing. If you are willing, my technician,” pointing towards Chuck who smiled and opened the case, “will install a beta chip of your choice provided you are willing to meet with again in a month so we can gather the data.”
While Whiskers spoke, the scowl on Twist’s face turned into something resembling interest and ending with suspicion at least that is what Chuck thought, gromathi faces are so hard to read.
“Install them into them first,” Twist growled, the meme-tattoo briefly flaring.
“Into them,” Whiskers stuttered looking to Chuck. “We came prepared to…”
“Them or no deal,” Twist growled with finality.
“Can’t you accommodate Twist and his men?” Doctor Mill practically whined, looking ready to bolt. “I told him you would be ready to sell.”
Chuck stepped around the table one paw on the case, “Sell? That is a bit more than we discussed Doctor. However, we can install chips in your men and you, if you would like. Our accounting department might not be happy, but our tech team,” Chuck smiled big, “will be ecstatic at all of the information.”
Doctor Mill looked at Twist. Twist put his augmented hand to his chin, the mem-tattoo flames dancing as he thought. Snapping his fingers, the three gangers stepped forward.
“Them first, then me,” Twist growled, “If nothing goes wrong we can discuss another meeting.”
Whiskers stuck his paw out, “Deal.”
Stepping into the bathroom, Puddles keyed her comm, “Are you two done bickering?”
“John?” Puddles interrupted.
“Here. What is the situation?”
“I’m in the bathroom. Twist brought three more with him. Augmented hands and heavy pistols,” Puddles said quietly while flushing the toilet.
“You weren’t kidding about the toilet,” Eth said.
“I’m in position by their bikes,” John replied, “give the go phrase if I can take him down inside.”
14 Goes Down
Strolling back to the meeting, tail swishing, humming a tune, Puddles watched as a ganger sat in the chair, put his augmented arm onto a tabletop built into the armrest. Chuck, maintaining his role as technician, made a show of pulling out several tools to open the back of the ganger’s augment. Twist stood behind and to the right of the chair watching Chuck work. Doctor Mill stood off to the side near the edge of the lighting talking in rapid-fire whispers to Whiskers.
“This will take a few minutes,” Chuck said with authority. “Open this port and connect this and…”
“How is the operation goin’?” Puddles asked as she slide next to Twist.
Twist glared at her for a moment, Puddles smiled back, “Your men are in good hands,” she said with a wink.
“Good hands,” Chuck repeated with a laugh, “that’s a good one.”
The gangers and Twist started laughing.
“Hold still for a second,” Chuck ordered the ganger as he pushed a few buttons after slotting the chip in place. “See, green lights, everything is a go. You should notice a difference in the next few hours.”
“Check him,” Twist ordered.
Another ganger pulled out a square object and waved the object over the other ganger’s augment. A series of bleeps and tones sounded before a light in the center turned green. The ganger held the screen to Twist, who nodded.
“What’s that?” Puddles asked pointing at the device.
“Nothing you need to be concerned with,” Twist replied with a growl, Puddles took a step back.
“Who’s next?” Chuck asked.
Twist pointed at a ganger who sat down in the chair. When Twist turned away, Puddles walked over to Whiskers and Doctor Mill still deep in conversation.
“I am not sure I understand,” Whiskers whispered at Doctor Mill.
Sweating with panic in his every move, “You don’t understand who they are. He will kill all of us if your chips don’t work!”
“Doctor, please calm down,” Whiskers replied putting a paw on Doctor Mill’s arm. “What exactly is the problem?”
“I owe a lot of isstas to…”
“Him,” Puddles interjected, “I would guess.”
Doctor Mill nearly collapsed, Whiskers’ held him up, “Is this why you have done so much replacement work for him?”
Doctor Mill shook his head.
Puddles leaned closed to his right ear, “Trust me Doc, this IS under control.”
He looked at her as if she was crazy.
In Puddles ear John said, “Three clear signals. Get the fourth and we are good.”
Whiskers nodded to Puddles and walked over to Chuck. Twist sat in the chair with a heavy thud, watching every move Chuck made.
“Everything coming along?” Whiskers asked Chuck.
“Of course,” he replied, “and done.”
Twist stood up, waited for the green light, flexing his augment the entire time, “Feels good.”
“Then we have a deal?” Whiskers asked.
“Yes we do.”
“Four clear signals,” John said into Puddles ear.
Whiskers handed Twist a holo-card, “In three weeks, call this number for the follow up. If you do not call, the chips will cease functioning on their own.”
Twist growled, “You will hear from me.”
15 Dinner For Five
“Nothing better than a bowl of noodles after a job,” Puddles said while running her tongue over her teeth.
“Eth, John join us,” Chuck greeted the new arrivals.
Smoothing his memware suit Eth strutted across NiHo’s to their table. John took off his wrap around smart glasses, put them into an interior pocket of his black jacket, and scanned the restaurant as he stalked towards the table. Eth sat down and immediately pulled the menu up. John sat down with a thud and a sigh.
“What’s wrong with him?” Puddles asked Eth.
“Long night,” John replied with a grunt.
“Him, he was hoping to take Red Twist down tonight,” Eth replied at the same time.
Facing the table, John pulled up the menu and placed his order before slumping back in his chair. Whiskers leaned with both elbows on the table, intent on the tablet in front of him. Eth flipped through a few holo-screens before settling on dinner.
“What’s so interesting?” John asked pointing at the tablet.
“Tracking information,” Whiskers replied without looking up.
“I wanted to ask how you fooled their signal tracker,” Eth said.
Chuck set his drink down, leaning towards Eth, “That was easy.”
“Yes, easy. I told them what they wanted to hear.”
“And what was that,” John interjected, picking up his drink.
“I told them that each chip was collecting data, part of collecting data is sending out bits of data,” Chuck explained with a smile, “thus when they used their signal tracker it told them what they expected that some signal was broadcasting.”
Smiling with understanding, Eth slammed his drink down. A serv-O droid rushed over to refill his drink and top off the rest. John’s brow furrowed, he steepled his fingers in front of his mouth.
“You hope Red Twist believes that,” he said flat toned, “because if he doesn’t he will find you three.”
Whiskers looked up from the tablet, “That is assuming you do not fulfill your contract and arrest him,” Whiskers held up his right paw stalling John’s retort, “Of course if you cannot before the follow up meeting we can coordinate together to arrest him then.”
“I’ll get the job done,” John replied testitly.
“Okay Eth, we took care of our part, now you do yours,” Puddles shot at Eth.
John shot Eth a glare. Eth held up his hands in mock protest.
“Two gangers is all we need and the sooner the better,” Puddles pushed on.
“I’ll find you two,” Eth answered. “Won’t be hard at all.”
Whiskers pushed the tablet over to John who picked up the tablet studying the information intensely. Two serv-O droids rolled out to the table and served hot bowls of noodles.
“This is accurate?” John asked pointing at the tablet.
“Within a few feet,” Whiskers replied.
John sat back, eating and studying the tablet.
“When do you want the gangers?” Eth asked.
“A day or two,” Puddles replied.