The older blond holstered his pistol as he stepped over the ruined body of the female Inzini. In so doing, he avoided looking at her romped face. Despite the threat she had posed to him, Cardenas could not.
“Nasty business, this.” The blond smiled encouragingly at Cardenas. “You can put your hands down, mate.” As the Inspector lowered his arms, the newcomer nodded in the direction of the other lifeless Inzini. “Those two wankers won’t bother you anymore.”
“Thanks for your help,” Cardenas replied guardedly. “I was in a bad spot.” His tongue moved over the second molar, but did not push. Not yet.
“Strewth.” The blond mustered a ready laugh. “Lucky thing for you me and the boys happened to be around.”
“Interesting coincidence,” the Inspector observed noncommittally.
“Too right, mate. ‘Course, you’re probably thinkin’ right now that it weren’t much of a coincidence.”
“The notion had occurred to me,” Cardenas said. He indicated the artfully embellished tube the eldest among them carried. “What is that thing? And who are you people?”
“Us?” The blond embraced his companions with a sweep of one hand. “Why, we’re the Ooze from Oz, mate. Visitin’ your great Namerican Southwest, we are, and couldn’t hardly leave without seein’ that eminent engine of world commerce, the Montezuma Strip.”
“You’ve been following me,” Cardenas said accusingly.
“Not at all, mate, not at all.” The blond pointed to the two dead bodies lying motionless on the alley paving. “Dinkum, we’ve been following those drongos. Won’t have to do that any longer.” His gaze returned to search the Inspector’s face. “Won’t have to follow anyone much longer, I hope. Want to get back home, we do. But first we’re charged with finding and having a chat with a certain sheila and her kid. You wouldn’t know anything about how we might go about doin’ that, now would you?”
“No, I wouldn’t.” Nothing to lose by trying lying, Cardenas determined.
It didn’t work. Gesturing with one hand, the blond beckoned his younger counterpart forward. The skinny foreigner held the painted tube firmly in both hands. “Now this here is what we call a didgeridoo, mate. Back where I come from, it’s a traditional Aboriginal musical instrument. Not what you’d call real hitech-complex, like. You blow in one end, music comes out the other. These two beauties here, however, they’re amplified. When they’re charged up, you blow in one end, and a ball of sound shoots out the other. More like a shaped sonic wave, actually.” He indicated the back wall of the nearby building.
“Bloke who knows what he’s doing with it can blow a hole through concrete. Just depends on the level of amplification you specify. When it’s boosted enough, the mechanism sort of becomes more of a, well—a didgeridie.” A glance singled out the dead Inzini. “Bone doesn’t stand up to it real well.”
He nodded slightly and the younger man raised the tube. Putting the smaller end to his lips, he aimed the other at the Inspector’s forehead.
“There’s this traditional roo-tune we’d like to play for you, policeman. It’s up to you whether we play it on the sidewalk—or on your head. You know something about where the Mockerkin sheilas are fled, or these two yobbos wouldn’t have been tracking you. Tell us and we’ll call it a fair go.” When Cardenas continued to hesitate, the blond favored him with a smile anyone else would have believed genuine. “C’mon, mate. We don’t mean to hurt the ladies. It’s just business. And unlike these two wankers lyin’ here, we really will let you go. Got no interest in vaping a Namerican cop. We’ll never see you again, and you’ll never see us. Once we’ve had our high tea with the sheilas, it’s back to the Never-Never for us.”
Cardenas, however, was not fooled. The blond was good, but not good enough to fool an intuit. The Inspector knew that once they had the information they sought, they would kill him as unhesitatingly as any Inzini.
“Okay then, I’ll tell you.” He indicated the younger man. The leader nodded, and his companion lowered the ominously gaping end of the didgeridoo. As he did so, Cardenas’s tongue pressed against the other upper molar. Like its orthodontic counterpart, the tooth responded by bending slightly outward, in the direction of the Inspector’s inner cheek. When both teeth were internally aligned, a circuit closed.
Imperceptibly woven into the substance of Cardenas’s windbreaker were hundreds of highly conductive metal threads. These in turn were linked to a battery composed of similar material. Adjusting the two complementing composite teeth in his upper jaw allowed Cardenas to release the full charge stored in the flexible, woven storage cell.
The result was the invisible flaring of an electromagnetic pulse powerful enough to fry any unprotected electrical circuit within ten meters. Since every modern weapon relied on an electrical trigger coded to its owner’s biochip, whether the latter was implanted or worn externally, this silent blast of energy rendered not only the pistols held by the men confronting Cardenas ineffectual, but also their musical instruments-cum-sonic thumpers. It also wrecked any communications devices they had on their person, right down to wrist chronometers, muse lenses, and even simpe watches. In addition, the lights on the buildings that weakly illuminated the service alley promptly crackled, sparked, and went dark. Only Cardenas’s pistol and spinner, equipped with integrated police shielding, were spared the wave of electronic destruction. After the now-demised female Inzini had inserted her illusion gram in his spinner, she had slipped the neutralized device back in his inner jacket pocket. Unfortunately, his service pistol remained out of reach on her body.
The sudden onset of darkness within the alleyway, coupled with the actinic stink arising from their wave-fried weapons and other gear, distracted and disoriented the four Oozers just long enough for Cardenas to dash past them. He had to kick the last one standing between himself and the street hard on one patella in order to dash past. The man let out a groan and collapsed, clutching at his injured knee.
“Get ‘im! Get the bloody cop!” Screaming imprecations, the blond raced in pursuit of the fleeing Inspector.
A glance back showed something in the foreigners hand catching the light. It was a very large, folding blade. Despite the desperation of the moment, the irony of it did not escape Cardenas. Here he was, an officer of the law operating in the midst of contemporary late-twenty-first-century surroundings, being chased by a man wielding a knife. Though he could not yet see for sure, he suspected that the blond man’s companions were equipped with similar primitive supplements.
If he slowed even a moment to activate his spinner, he risked losing ground to his pursuers. What he really needed was a couple of minutes’ respite. Otherwise they were likely to fall on him and cut him to pieces even as he was shouting into the vorec for backup. He had to lose them for at least a little while.
Now all the recreational jogging he indulged in along the artificial green belt that flanked his codo complex began to pay off. Despite his age, he was in excellent shape. If he could just stay out of reach for the duration of the sprint, he was reasonably confident he could outrun his pursuers over the long haul. If they had been somewhere like Olmec, strolling cleanies might call help for him. But this was a pleasure xone, stacked with gloomers and congals. Those citizens observing the chase moved to the other side of the street and concentrated on minding their own business.
Though he was breathing hard, he still felt good. A second look back showed that he was slowly but perceptibly increasing the distance between himself and the pursuing Ooze. Another three blocks would bring him in sight of the induction tube station. If he could reach it, a shout should be enough to alert transport security. The arrival of an armed guard or two might not be enough to discourage the dedicated professionals from abroad, but it should give them pause. At least Cardenas would have a uniformed ally. Realizing that the alarm had been raised with local authority might induce his pursuers to back off.
Two blocks to go. A masked couple shouted in surprise as he barreled between them, then ducked into a doorway to avoid the men coming up from behind. Ahead, he could see the soft, welcoming overhead lights of the tube station. As luck would have it, a taxi was unloading passengers destined for the pleasure xone and boarding those already surfeited. If he could make it to the autocab before it closed its doors, his escape would be assured. He would not even have to alert security. The public transportation would whisk him to safety before the Oozers arrived. Once the vehicle was sealed, he could safely make faces at his pursuers as it boosted down the street. With their weapons rendered inoperational, they would not be able to touch him.