Pullback: Bioringer II

Sep 21, 2021 | Short Stories

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Pullback continues bioringer Ether Chain’s heisting in the underbelly of the Society. After the last tragic robbery, she has to build a new relationship with her brash employer, Blockchain. She’s still dealing with the comedown of DNA shifting and is uncertain if she can keep her wits about her with this business arrangement.

Enjoy the story in written form, the artwork, and audio through the podcast with improv music.

Pullback: Bioringer II

Knowing who you are at the core is a rarity. We can spend a whole lifetime attempting to come to some conclusion. The question “who am I?” does fall under the philosophical realm and can be influenced by your genetic makeup. Our bodies change over time as we get older, metabolisms alter which adjust our moods and so on. If you start adding DNA shifting to the equation, you’re in for a whole world of trouble. Perhaps that is why the government has regulated the invention to prevent people from modifying their own DNA. If someone doesn’t know the right mixture of Genetic Injection Dose Solution – GID Solution, or GIDS – to put in those damn syringes, the shifts are most unpleasant.

Ether Chain understands the side-effects of short-term DNA shifting. She’s lived long enough in the underbelly of the Society, doing anything to get some SCs to survive. Her last robbery was a perfect example. The Society certainly doesn’t like to acknowledge the fast-growing tumour below its ‘perfect’ utopia. Unfortunately for the Society, not everyone reacted smoothly to the government’s Conditioning Human Initiation of Transcendence, also known as the CHIT age. There’s another ridiculous abbreviation to remember. Techies and futurists love them, and the Society is ruled by the brainiacs.

The government isn’t aware of every biological makeup. The DNA shifts can be rejected; Ether Chain doesn’t know all of the histories that transcended humankind to the Society, only the gist of it. She has firsthand experience with rejected DNA shifts with the last heist she performed with her former partner.

Var is the one word that enters her mind. Damnit, she sold him off to the Society just for some social credits. She takes a swift drink of whiskey, finding it difficult to swallow. No. It’s not the drink. It’s the regret.

Would Var have done anything differently? Ether is uncertain, nor can she overthink it. She made it out with the GID Solution packets and is waiting to sell them to the businessman who hired her and Var to begin with. A businessman may be too polite of a word, but it’ll have to do because slave driver is too harsh of a choice.

The bar is poorly lit. It’s a hole-in-the-wall type of place. There are countless amounts of them within the underbelly of the Society. Thankfully the foundation of the city isn’t monitored by biomechs, allowing the scum to exist. There are too many people down here for the Society to eradicate all at once. And so, Ether is one of a dozen or so reject barflies sitting and drinking away their miseries. The others are much like her, mourning the loss of someone or soaking in the misery of existence itself, knowing they’ll never be deemed fitted to live within the Society. The bartender seems quite spry and energetic . . . He must be either too young to know the horrors of the Society or too naïve, obsessed with his silky dress shirt and tight black pants.

“Just one of you, huh?” comes a slur of a gravelly butch voice.

To Ether’s right is the businessman himself, Blockchain. He takes off his hat and sits at the bar beside her. His large size causes the stool to creak, his thick legs flowing off from the circumference of the seat. “Where the hell is Var?” he asks with a sneer, exposing the gold and green microchip tooth coated in transparent protection.

“He didn’t make it,” Ether says while taking another swig of her drink.

“That’s a shame,” Blockchain says as he waves down the bartender for his own drink. “How are you holding up?”

“Sorry?” Ether asks, unsure what he means by the statement.

Blockchain nods at her nails digging into her forearm beside her rolled up sleeves. She stops the compulsive activity, feeling the blood rush to her cheeks in embarrassment. Altering DNA also changes your skin, and you never find yourself comfortable in it anymore. Obsessive scratching is a common side effect of injections.

“DNA shifts aren’t easy, even if you are a bioringer.”

“Oh, yes. It’s a hell of a comedown.” That’s just scraping the surface. Ether doesn’t want a complete psychological analysis of her being right now, especially with a businessman like Blockchain, who is only ever out for himself. Ether has done plenty of DNA shifts in the past, as a bioringer does. She’s dealt with DNA shifting withdrawal in one way or another. Yes, it does completely rewire your genetic makeup, making you look and feel like someone else. It can be a real mind twist if you don’t have the stamina for it. She almost lost herself back at the robbery in the laboratory, where she lost Var.

“You live a dangerous life, kid,” Blockchain says. “I wouldn’t want it.”

“No one asked you,” Ether says. “Are we going to finish the deal, or not?”

“Right to business, I like that. Var was always a talker. This bar was his choice.”

“That seems fitting. He liked the dingy places.”

“You must, too, if you followed him around for all those years.”

“Well, times have changed.”

“Clearly. Looks like we will establish a new working relationship.”

“Fair enough.” Ether finishes the rest of her drink and taps the cuff watch – Var’s former cuff watch – that activates the seamless chrome hov-box from under her stool, floating up towards Blockchain. The lid opens from the top edge, sliding into the walls of the box. Inside the hov-box are the GID solutions Ether and Var stole from the government laboratory.

Ether gets a shiver, looking at those wretched GID solutions in the hov-box. It relapses her back to the robbery, with Var taking the DNA shifts disguising them as lab workers. She barely kept herself together then, and clearly, the drinks aren’t suppressing the comedown.

“Beautiful, you have done exactly as Var and I had agreed.” Blockchain grins from cheek to cheek of his broad face. He places a duffel bag on the table and reaches for one of the GID solutions, causing the hov-box to close its lid.

“The SCs?” Ether asks.

Blockchain chuckles. “Not one for trusting, I take it?”

“All or nothing.”

Blockchain reaches into his gunmetal blazer’s pocket and pulls out a small disc. Social credits. The two dozen or so GID solutions within the hov-box will give Ether enough SCs to survive on for the next couple of months. She’s in the clear.

Eagerly she reaches for the disc, but Blockchain pulls his hand back.

“Not so fast, kid,” Blockchain says.

“But we had a deal.” Ether says.

“Not quite. Var and I had a deal.”

Ether’s nostrils flare. She grips the empty glass tightly just as the bartender arrives with Blockchain’s drink.

“Another drink, missy?” he says in a chipper voice. Oh, he’d sing a different tune if he understood Ether’s anger.

“She will,” Blockchain says. “On me.”

“Of course,” the bartender says with a slight bow.

Blockchain takes a sip of his drink with pride. He didn’t even see Ether casually slide her pistol from the holster. She’s keeping it tucked under her trench coat while watching the man drink.

“We’re establishing a new business venture, kid. I’ll give you half now and the other half if you complete another project of mine.”

“Really?” Ether asks.

The bartender returns with her drink, and she takes a big chug of it, letting the harsh liquor burn down her throat.

“Really. You want to stay on my good side.”

Ether casually places her pistol on her lap, finger on the trigger, aiming right for Blockchain’s groin. “How about we stick to the original deal, and no one loses anything important.”

Blockchain chuckles, saying nothing.

The casual nature fuels Ether’s anger, and she cocks the gun. “Hand over the SCs.”

“Kid, you really don’t want to be doing that.”

“Yeah? No one in this shithole bar is going to care if a fight breaks out. This kind of thing happens all the time.”

Blockchain slowly pulls out a smooth chrome rod from his blazer and brings it to his mouth. The man takes a big inhale, sucking up the vaperizor and exhales the smoke, leaving a lethargic acrid smell. He stares at her as the smoke seeps past his computer chip tooth as if expecting her to add to her words. She didn’t expect this. He’s so casual.

Ether says, “and I’m not concerned about your goons. Or whatever web of influence you have in the underbelly. I’ve dealt with biomechs and scum my whole life. What’s another going to do?”

Blockchain sits upright and flicks his index finger casually, catching the bartender’s attention. The man turns to face the two, his left forearm splitting open, revealing circuitry and metal underneath the skin. The mechanical parts shift around, assembling a bullet chamber with a glowing orb inside, pointed straight at Ether. Great, the bartender had to be a cyborg with a plasma rifle. No wonder why he’s so chipper. He can destroy anyone at any moment he pleases.

The bar silences as guns raise in the hands of the barflies. About a dozen and a half are now armed with weapons pointed right at Ether and the hov-box. Only the twangy, outdated music plays as several moments go by.

Blockchain breaks the silence. “As I said, kid, we’re establishing a new business relationship.” He takes another mouthful of his liquor, finishing it and slamming it back down. “Var liked this bar, but he knew I owned it. He also knew that if he disagreed, his life would be on the line.”

Ether bites her inner lip, causing it to bleed. Frustration runs through the sweat now building on her skin – another nasty side effect of DNA shifting. Var shielded her from the details of the relationship with Blockchain, which doesn’t help her ballsy threat here. There’s a reason why she never did the talking and rarely came to the meetings unless it was to pick up the payments. Blockchain has the whole arrangement neatly wrapped up. Var and Ether were simply his employees and Var didn’t want her to know.

She could go out guns-a-blazing, maybe get lucky with using the hov-box as a shield. She’d lose the GID solution and maybe a limb, or maybe her life. Cyborgs have good aims, making the odds against her. She doesn’t like being cornered. If anything, she could eradicate Blockchain’s manhood and then join Var in the void.

Blockchain takes another puff from the chrome cigar and says, “now, you cant be frustrated with my sudden change in the deal. The prices for GID solutions fluctuate far quicker than you can imagine down here.”

“We met the deadline,” Ether says.

“Yes. I have no complaints, kid. You did well. But this is business.”

I should just blow this fucker away, Ether thinks. Reason counters: she’s still coming down on the DNA shift and is irrational. Her damn skin itches like crazy.

“We had a deal,” is all Ether can say. She’s trapped.

“We are making a deal now,” Blockchain says.

Ether thinks about her options one more time. She can put her ego aside and agree to Blockchain’s new offer. Or she can try and change their working relationship and go down in a good old-fashioned shootout in a bar. Her chances of survival don’t look too good. Blockchain is a big man, and she doesn’t think she can pull off a lethal shot in time. Thus, rendering her with only the single option of accepting the new mission. She needs to pullback if she wants to save her own skin.

Ether casually holsters her gun and downs the rest of her drink in defeat. She eyes the bartender, expecting him to morph his arm back and give her another, but he keeps the plasma rifle up, not moving. Damn cyborgs, so disconnected from reality.

“Good,” Blockchain says. He relaxes his posture, and the remaining people do the same. The bartender’s rifle conceals back into his arm, and he arrives with a new drink, acting as if nothing had occurred at all.

“What do you want?” Ether asks. I’m a damn coward, she thinks.

“This mission is a little bit different from the previous. I need you to infiltrate a transport device.”

“A transport device? Going through the underbelly?”

Blockchain puts the chrome cigar into his blazer pocket and then pulls out a bag containing a strand of black hair. “I’ll make it easy for you with this to DNA shift. You will function as one of the crew members transporting the device and steal it from them.”

Ether stares at the strand of hair in the bag. Var used to make the DNA shift for bioringing. Ether knows next to nothing about it and is unsure how to formulate the GID solution. Looks like she’ll have to learn fast, as Blockchain doesn’t seem sympathetic.

“That’s all?” Ether asks.

Blockchain passes the disc of social credits to her. “There’s half in here for the work you’ve done now. It also contains detailed data of what you need to do and where you will find this transport. Do not be late.”

“Great,” Ether says, taking the disk and sliding it into the port on her cuff.

Blockchain nods at the cuff. “Try not to lose that as Var did. The disc contains valuable info.”

“Yeah,” Ether says. She’s still pushing back the hate growing inside her. Goddamn Blockchain had to rub in Var’s death to her. She was responsible for it, just like she’s responsible for putting herself in this forced deal. She’s a coward, fearful of risks. That mindset isn’t going to help with this new mission.

She taps the cuff screen, opening the hov-box in defeat, letting Blockchain grab the GID solutions.

He says, “I look forward to continuing our working relationship and getting to know you better, kid.”

“It’s Ether Chain.”

“Right,” Blockchain says. He stuffs the remaining GID solutions into a duffel bag and gets up from the stool, causing it to creak. He buttons up his blazer and pats Ether’s shoulder. The weight of his large hand pushes down on her, despite her attempt to remain stiff.

Her new business partner leaves without saying goodbye, leaving her alone at the bar. All of the barflies continue on with their conversations as if nothing had occurred at all. Only Ether replays the frustrating encounter in her mind, reminding herself that she is indeed a weakling.

Well, she’s not entirely alone. The hov-box serves as a ghost of her former partner, Var. She has had no time to recover from the DNA shifts from the last heist, escaping the laboratory. This drink will aid in reminding herself that she is Ether Chain. Ether Chain is not a coward; it’s just the DNA shift comedown making her fearful. That’s all.

She may have lost her partner Var and the first arrangement with Blockchain, but the subsequent encounter will be different. Ether will take up the bioringing by herself, get whatever it is on that transport and redeem her name. All of that can be taken care of after this drink to supresss the DNA shift withdrawal. Well, maybe the following drinks will.

Author Konn Lavery

About Konn Lavery

Konn Lavery is a Canadian author whose work has been recognized by Edmonton’s top five bestseller charts and by reviewers such as Readers’ Favorite, and Literary Titan.

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