A few hours later, Archimedes rouses Koko with a triple-shot cup of hydroponic espresso on a saucer.
Archimedes is dressed in a red cotton macramé thong and black rubber sandals and gushes a non-stop stream of indecipherable burbles and clicks, the gist of which suggests that a group of six CPB security personnel are downstairs in the main bar and very, very angry.
Koko rubs the heels of her hands into her eyes and sits up on sweat-soaked pillows. She takes the offered coffee from Archimedes’ trembling hands and downs the scalding liquid in a string of sharp, wincing slurps.
“What time is it?” she asks, stretching.
Archimedes takes the empty espresso cup and sets it on the saucer.
Koko’s eyes pop. “Six-fif-what? Goddamn it! Since when do CPB security clowns get their collective acts together before eight? The message on the prompts said they wouldn’t be here until nine. What the—”
Koko pushes Archimedes aside. Planting her bare feet on the broad planks of the bedroom floor, she searches for her discarded clothes and finds them draped over the arm of a nearby chair. Quickly, Koko yanks on a pair of khaki shorts and pulls a plain white tank top over the top of her head. She jabs her bare feet into a heavy pair of tan utility boots and jerks open her suite’s door.
On the upstairs landing, Koko finds a group of boywhores huddled and gazing down at the morning visitors in the bar below with awe and fascination. Koko stamps an impatient foot, and the young men quickly flutter back inside their respective rooms.
A voice calls up.
Koko edges forward and peers over the railing. Sure enough, six Custom Pleasure Bureau security personnel are fanned out in an inverted U pattern in the bar’s main dance area. Three men and three women. All are heavily side-armed and grim-faced to beat the proverbial band.
A tall blonde woman, apparently the group’s senior officer, breaks off from the formation and assesses her with humorless, gray eyes.
“SI Security. Can we have a moment with you, please?”
Koko sighs, turns, and takes the stairs, making her way down the steps two at a time. When Koko reaches the bottom, she draws back her hair and cinches it off with a rubber band pulled from her front pocket.
“What can I do for you this morning, officer?” Koko asks.
The tall blonde officer takes a few steps and speaks as though from a memorized script. “Koko P. Martstellar, you are hereby charged with the following violations of Vendor Operator Decree Measures of the Custom Pleasure Bureau: Article One, Chapter One; Article Six, Chapter Two; and Article 21, Chapter Three. Are you familiar with revised VDOMs for The Sixty Islands?”
Koko scratches her chin. Besides not getting enough sleep she’s a touch hung over, and it takes her a few foggy seconds to process the woman’s officious-sounding drivel.
“The VDOMs?” Koko brews her best pondering look. “Hmm, let’s see. Gee, to be honest, not really.”
The blonde officer glares disapprovingly.
“As a pleasure vendor on The Sixty Islands, you should be familiar with any and all CPB updates. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, you should have a complete list of VDOMs displayed for public view.” The blonde officer looks around the room as she clucks her tongue. “Where are yours, may I ask?”
Koko folds her arms. Koko is a pretty good judge of character and has gone toe to toe with plenty of uppity, by–the-letter authority figures in her past, but rather than push back on the blonde officer’s posturing she tries for an air of nonchalance and moves behind the bar. Picking out a key hidden beneath the register, she unlocks the cage on the good liquor bottles arranged on a tiered shelf behind the bar and grabs a bottle of good twelve-year-old beauty. Koko flips a clean glass from the stacks and pours herself a generous eye-opener.
“I guess I must’ve misplaced them,” Koko says. “But hey, I’m sure they’re around here someplace.”
“Are you being facetious with me this morning, Martstellar?”
“Facetious? Oh, no, not at all. I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Because this not a laughing matter, I assure you.”
“This time of morning, I’m sure it’s not.”
“Good,” the officer replies. “Very well, let’s get right to the specifics of the matter, shall we? It is our understanding that you cut down, by last count, two SI patrons several hours ago in a direct violation of CPB policy, is this correct?”
Koko nods. “That’s affirmative.”
“So, you’re not denying killing these tourists?”
“Fine. I appreciate your being so forthright with me. Now, then, if you did in fact shoot and kill these two patrons, where have you stored their bodies?”
Koko picks up her glass and a bit of the twelve-year-old beauty slops over onto her thumb. She licks the back of her hand and then motions outside.
“Well, after the Komodos had their fill, I just sort of went ahead and torched what was left out by the waste bins.”
The blonde officer’s head jerks back as though stung.
“You burned their bodies?”
“But why? Why would you even think of doing something like that?”
Koko bunches her shoulders. “Seemed sanitary.”
“But that’s not SI crisis protocol.”
Koko shakes her head and downs the rest of her drink. “No offense, officer,” she says, “but SI crisis protocol can kiss my ass. I greased those two troublemakers fair and square and in self-defense. Anyway, re-civ Kongercat truce agreements or not, CPB and SI HQ should have their heads examined, letting trash like that onto The Sixty.”
“Well, if you’d bothered to read the VDOM amendments relating to emergency management issues, you would have seen that engaging in any and all lethal means against paying customers, including re-civ Kongercats, is now strictly forbidden on The Sixty. And tampering with evidence on top of a violation like this? I’m afraid your actions are completely unacceptable. Have you any idea of how behavior like this can tarnish The Sixty Islands’ overall brand?”
Koko throws back her head and laughs. “Oh c’mon! Tarnish The Sixty Islands’ overall brand? Seriously, isn’t that blowing the public-relations slant on this a bit out of proportion?”
“CPB HQ doesn’t seem to see it that way.”
“Yeah, well,” Koko chuffs, “those two freakshows were threatening my staff. There were other customers present last night too. Paying customers too, mind you. Has CPB HQ even given a thought about their safety and vacation experience? Or to my own employees’ welfare, for that matter? Honey, I did CPB a favor.” Koko spins her now empty glass on the bar. “Look, I know you’re out here this morning just doing your job and all, so why don’t we cut the bullshit, all right? Contact Portia Delacompte over at HQ. Vice President Delacompte is an old friend of mine, and I’m sure she’ll find some way to take care of all this.”
The blonde officer throws a glance to the other members of the security team.
“You know, I’ve taken a good look at your file, Martstellar.”
“Yes. A fairly impressive career on the mercenary circuits for the multinationals before you downshifted to,” the officer looks around the room until she ogles Archimedes standing by the stairs in his red macramé thong, “the leisure industry.”
“I take it from your tone you don’t approve of what I do here.”
“No, I know such lustful pursuits are part of the SI’s overall appeal. However, I also know there are more refined ways to make one’s living on The Sixty.”
Koko scoffs. “Like what? Setting up massacre simulations so Dick and Jane Deep-Pockets and their spoiled, elitist brats can get their rocks off? Give me a break. You puckered types are all the same. Vacation extravagance in the realm of replicated hyper-violence is fine and dandy, but if someone wants to release her pent-up tensions with a little shift and shake you guys turn into a bunch of right-angled prudes. Anyway, if you say you’ve seen my file, you no doubt noted my employment recommendation. Like I said, Delacompte and I are old friends. I’d be careful where I was treading with that attitude of yours if I were you.”
“Well, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but we are here this morning on Portia Delacompte’s direct orders.”
The words sandbag her. Koko does a double take. “Wait. Come again?”
The blonde officer unfastens a pouch on her belt. She withdraws a data plug and wings it directly at Koko’s head. Koko snatches it from the air just before the data plug tags her on the nose.
Without taking her eyes off the officer, Koko jacks the plug into the bar register and opens the plug’s file on the projection prompts. She reads the file’s content twice just to be sure she’s not imaging things. It’s unreal. Totally indefensible corporate bullshit of the most bureaucratic order. In essence the file says Koko is finished as an SI pleasure vendor and is to be incarcerated immediately until a penalty hearing can be arranged. In addition, if she is not compliant, Koko is to be terminated—effective immediately.
A chill spreads out from the pit of Koko’s stomach. When she confirms the indictment’s authorization code she sees that the orders have indeed been encoded by Portia Delacompte herself.
Another one of the CPB security detail—a chesty, moon-faced female on the end of the formation—pipes up.
“It’d be better if you go quietly, Martstellar.”
Koko shoots the moon-faced woman a black look and then notices with some alarm that the other security team members’ hands have drifted to their holsters.
The peevish glint in the blonde officer’s eyes grows lean.
“Your whores will be reassigned, naturally…”
Koko eyes drift left. Archimedes is retreating backward up the staircase, and she can hear his sandals snapping at his heels like small, barely audible kisses. When Archimedes reaches the landing upstairs, he sidesteps over to the large wooden trunk set against the landing’s railing. No one in the group seems to notice his movements or even care. After all, Archimedes is just another boywhore. What threat could he possibly be?
Archimedes quietly slides the Belgian sub-cutter from the trunk.
A surge of warmth flushes through Koko’s heart. She can’t believe her young stud has read the deteriorating situation like a pro. Go, Koko thinks.
Go, boy, go…
A collective snigger passes among the security detail as they inch closer, and Koko, as casually as she can, slides her hands under the bar. Half a second later she finds what she is looking for: the stock of an MG-88-Ventilator. Koko installed the weapon almost a year ago because she was bored one rainy afternoon. Just like with the sub-cutter in the bamboo trunk upstairs, she never thought there would be a circumstance in which she’d actually have to use it. But like all long-shot wagers, sooner or later there you fucking are.
Like so many times before, the cold edge of hyperawareness narrows Koko’s world. The pulmonic tempo in her chest increases, and the details of her surroundings sharpen. Koko sees everything. The mist of perspiration on the senior officer’s forehead. The long golden shaft of morning sunlight pouring through the open window, a lone fly lazily sputtering in its beam. Koko can even hear each distinct, curling whoop of a troop of Gibbon monkeys clutched in the nearby Banyan trees. Archimedes raises the sub-cutter to his shoulder, and Koko sees the indicator lights winking that the weapon is now hot and ready to rock.
As Koko releases the Ventilator’s safety, a charge prickles beneath her hand.
The senior officer barks, “Hands where we can see them, Martstellar!”
Koko drops right, and the room explodes with pulse-gun fire.
Archimedes is a lousy shot with the sub-cutter. The first cerulean-colored blasts from the wide mouth of the weapon smash the floorboards and allow the CPB squad members to scatter for cover. Subsequent blue blasts fly clean, and Archimedes finally gets some. Two searing orbs of light catch the moon-faced officer just beneath the heft of her breasts and slam her backward into the far wall.
Meanwhile, on the rubber runner mats behind the bar, Koko pushes up, tightens her grip on the Ventilator, and starts blasting straight through the bar’s wooden skin. The majority of the bar’s siding is reinforced with steel except for a narrow slotted track that allows Koko to unload the weapon in a wide arc, and the arc covers the room.
Squeezing the trigger at will, Koko hopes she’ll hit someone, and she does—the blonde officer attempting a go-for-broke hurdle over the bar. The Ventilator round tears through the woman’s stomach and pitches her sideways into a table, smashing it to pieces.
Archimedes screams wildly from the landing.
“You mess with my Koko-sama, you die-die! You die-die!”
Archimedes returns fire at the remaining security personnel, but his aim is just plain awful. The heavy recoil of the sub-cutter is too unwieldy for his slight arms and black, acrid smoke blinds him. The remaining security detail remember their training. They triangulate their aims and eviscerate Archimedes in a grotesque gyration of sizzling flesh.
Koko peeks over the lip of the bar just as Archimedes’ jawbone flies across the room like a ragged, bloody bird.
Koko snaps the Ventilator off its mount beneath the bar and brings the weapon up. She targets those remaining and lets fly without pause.
FU-CHEW! FU-CHEW! FU-CHEW!
Dandelions of bone and bloody discharge patterning out.
Four shots are four kills, and the whole room is swallowed in flame.
Koko eyes sweep the burning area for signs of life before she charges up the stairs. Not looking at Archimedes’ crumpled body on the landing, she yanks open all the doors to the rooms, shouting at the boywhores to move, move, move. She hustles the crying and hysterical young men down the stairs, through the slaughter, and out the bar’s batwing doors.
In the sandy street outside, Koko uses the Ventilator to blast a perimeter to keep the Komodos away. In complimentary SI robes, curious onlookers from thatch-roofed cabanas and modular bungalows across the way have gathered outside to watch. They eat bananas and sip coffee, thinking the morning’s bedlam is just one more simulated part of their vacation experience. A few even pose for pictures, mugging and gesticulating to the burning building behind them.
Koko storms back inside the growling inferno. With no time, she knows what she has to do. The safe is in the pantry behind the building’s small galley kitchen in the rear. It takes a couple of wipes of her watering eyes to get a clean retinal scan, but once the safe pops open Koko grabs all the credits she can carry, a small stash of crinkle-flake, plus an extra bottle of aged forty-five-year-old beauty she’s been saving for a special occasion. What the hell, Koko thinks. She may not live through this, and now is as good a time as any. She cracks the seal on the bottle and chugs a huge gulp.
Smoke singeing her lungs, Koko scrambles to her feet and punches out the back door. Outside, she whips a camouflaged tarp off an escape pod half-buried beside the storage shed next to the waste bins.
Koko knows if she moves fast enough and gets enough altitude she can sail on through to the atmospheric orbital barges of the Second Free Zone before the SI security batteries can knock her from the sky. The sky barges and arks of the Second Free Zone are not the greatest places to lay low as a fugitive, but her life on The Sixty is all but a memory for her now.
Saddled inside the pod, Koko clips in and hauls the hatch shut on top of her. Four thrown switches later and the craft is online. Koko hits the primary ignition and a single fusion engine beneath her growls.
The pod shakes and shakes and shakes, but soon it’s free from the shallow rut in the ground. Hovering at fifteen meters, Koko engages the secondary engine and her organs practically flatten out as the liftoff booms her skyward.
As the escape pod climbs, G-forces wobble the skin back across Koko’s skull. Her teeth chatter, and she strains to take one last look to port. The burning building and the lush, tropical smear of The Sixty Islands recedes beneath her like a coiled, emerald serpent fixed in an impossible expanse of oceanic blue. A single thought creases Koko’s mind.
Man, she’s sure going to miss that boy.
Excerpted with permission of Titan Books