“How’s it look out there?” Eames asked. He kept his voice down, though he doubted anyone could hear them over the drone of idling spacecraft engines and the heavy patter of rain.
“Like you’d expect on launch day. I see two uniformed security guards at the shuttle entrance, ten guarding the launch pad perimeter. I can’t tell if there’s more inside the shuttle itself. Take a look.” Arthur handed his binoculars over to Eames and pulled his head back into the rusty shed they were hiding in. It was the best vantage point they had on Fischer-Morrow’s private spaceport—a wide expanse of flat ground worth more than any of the four small shuttles resting on it. It was rimmed by a high, chain-link fence topped with tight coils of barbed wire, and patrolled by guards openly carrying automatic weapons. It would be near impossible to sneak in. Good thing they had an invitation.
“I’m not sure about this,” Arthur said, more to himself than Eames. “They’re never going to believe us.” He nodded towards the guard station, a small booth manned by a couple of guards.
“Look, it’s our best bet for getting me inside the gate.” They’d been over numerous scenarios in the hours leading up to their approach, and in the end, they’d decided that straightforward was the best course of action. Well, mostly straightforward.
“God, I hope you’re right,” Arthur said with a sigh. “Come on. It’s already 3:10. They launch in 20 minutes.”
Eames nodded, and followed Arthur back to where their stolen police spinner was parked. It had been risky, flying it back across the bay, but no one had spotted them. In the city, they’d blended in with the other spinners, and Arthur had kept mostly to side-streets to avoid being seen. They were banking on Fischer-Morrow’s private security not being linked into the SFPD network. If they were, it was going to be a short trip.
This time, Eames got behind the wheel of the spinner. He hadn’t flown one since he’d been on the force—
No. You’ve never flown a spinner before. The Eames before you did. It’s implanted, just like 90% of your memories are.
Eames closed his eyes tight, taking a deep, steadying breath. Focus. He had to keep his head in the game if he wanted this to work. It was going to take everything he had to get both him and Arthur on the spacecraft.
He drove slowly, using the road rather than the skies, his heart pumping faster as they approaching the barricaded gate. Eames could see the two guards, one smoking under the booth’s narrow awning, the other inside monitoring the screens. As he drove the spinner up to the booth, they both looked up. The smoking one held his hand out, indicating Eames should stop. Showtime.
As Eames rolled the spinner to a stop, he rolled down the window. He pulled out his VK license operator badge, praying to God that the guards couldn’t tell it wasn’t an official police badge in the dim afternoon light.
“I’m here to escort a guest of Mr. Fischer’s to the pad for the 3:30 launch,” Eames said brusquely. “We’re expected under the name Eames.”
The guard in the booth immediately began flipping through a ledger. The smoker glanced at Eames’ badge, squinting hard. Shit.
“Blade runner 35196, SFPD.” Eames let a tinge of annoyance creep into his tone.
“Blade runner, eh?” The smoker took a deep drag and waved Eames’ badge away. “You boys sure are busy tonight.”
What the fuck did that mean? Eames’ heart clenched, and he could feel the blood draining from his face.
“I have the name Eames in the ledger,” the guard in the booth said, “but it says here we’re only supposed to let your guest in.”
Eames gave a long-suffering sigh. “Can you come here? Look at this man.” Eames gestured at Arthur, who looks straight ahead, jaw tight. He was clasping the top of a metal cane, the length of it glinting between his legs. “This is Lieutenant Michael Todd. He served at Tanhauser gate, at Orion, and at the battle of Shanghai, where he almost lost his fucking leg. I’m not making this man walk a quarter mile in the fucking rain with his cane, and I sure as hell don’t think either of you can leave your posts to do it. So, just let me do a quick drive-by drop-off, and we all can be on with the rest of our nights, all right?”
“I’m sorry, but…” The guards looked at each other helplessly. “Does he have his military ID?”
Arthur wrenched up the sleeve of his suit jacket, and unbuttoned the cuff of his shirt. He brandished the his military service record tattoo on his forearm, his expression pure steel.
“That ID enough for you? Or do you want to see what’s left of my leg, too, sir?”
The guard blanched. The one in the booth muttered, “My brother served at Orion.” He hit the button on the gate, and the barrier slowly rose.
“Much obliged, gents,” Eames said, saluting with his cigarette clamped between two fingers. “Be back in two shakes.”
Relief had just begun to loosen the knot in his belly, and his foot was on the gas pedal when the smoking guard put a hand on Eames’ open window. Eames had to use every ounce of control he had not to simply floor the gas. Instead, he gave the guard his most placidly annoyed look.
“Do me a favor,” the guard asked, leaning in closer, “can you tell us what the hell your buddies are doing here? I mean, we hardly ever get cops stopping by unless we call them, and now we get three blade runners in one hour? Is there something Petey and I should be worried about? A skin job loose in the neighborhood or something? Should we be on guard?”
Eames’ mind raced. This…this was something that he certainly hadn’t prepared for. He could feel his hands start to shake, and he gripped the steering wheel even tighter to try to hide them. God, he had to think, to think, to think—
“Nothing you boys need to worry about,” Arthur said smoothly. “Eames here is an old friend of mine, called in a couple of his pals to play escort. I’ll bet they’re still inside the lot by the shuttle, yeah?”
The guard nodded, though he didn’t look convinced.
“We sent them on ahead of us,” Arthur said, nonchalantly buttoning up his shirt sleeve.
“But, blade runners?” the guard asked.
“Slow night,” Eames shrugged. “Might as well get paid to do something other than shuffle papers around a desk all night.” He looked at his watch, noting how the guard’s eyes gravitated towards the golden band. “Look, mate, I’d love to sit here and chit chat all afternoon, but launch is in less than 15 minutes.”
“Shit, George, let them go already,” Petey called from inside the booth. “If he’s late because of us we’ll lose our fucking jobs!”
George’s hand lifted off Eames’ car, and Eames nodded in thanks. Before he could ask any more questions, Eames rolled up his window and pressed down on the gas, driving away from the gate. One barrier down, but—
“What the fuck,” Arthur breathed. “Blade runners? Here? How the hell—”
“I don’t know,” Eames growled. God, he could barely drive, he was shaking so badly. He kept the pace slow, as much to stall as to look casual to any observer. “There’s only two people who knew we’d be here today. Fischer and—”
“No. She wouldn’t. Ariadne wouldn’t jeopardize me or the PASIV.”
“Fischer didn’t plan for me to make it past the gate,” Eames said.
“You said he knows you,” Arthur said sharply. “He knows how smart you are. He knows you’d find a way.”
Eames was silent. That was very well likely—Robert Fischer hadn’t gotten where he was without creating contingency plans. It certainly was more comforting than thinking that Ariadne had double-crossed them…well, him.
“Doesn’t really matter who sold me out, does it?” Eames said. “What matters is that we have a complication. Those blade runners know what I am, and they’re within their rights to shoot me on sight. And if they shoot me here, it’ll delay the launch. They’ll have to bring in the clean-up crew, take statements…” Eames’ words died off in a sigh. There was no way he was getting on the shuttle. No way he was getting out of the damn car. It was the only way to be sure Arthur got on and got away.
Goddamn it. So close. So fucking close.
“So, we make a new plan—” Arthur said.
“There’s no time!” Eames snapped. “The plan is I drive you to the gate, kiss you good-bye, and let you go.”
“Eames, I’m not leaving you here, especially with two blade runners waiting for you!”
“It’s the quickest, easiest way—”
“To die! And I’m not going to let you fucking martyr yourself—”
“Even to accomplish the mission? You’re a fucking soldier, Arthur. You know sometimes you have to leave men behind.”
“Stop the car.”
“In the middle of the—”
“Stop the fucking car!”
Eames put on the brakes. He was almost afraid to look at Arthur; he could feel the anger radiating off of him.
“Yes, Eames, I was a fucking soldier. And you know what? It was fucking hell. Watching good men and women throw their fucking lives away for nothing. Absofuckinglutely nothing. We weren’t fighting for peace or survival or stability. We fought to protect fucking corporate assets from other fucking corporations! To put down slave uprisings on the colonies! I did…I did shit that will haunt me until the day I die, and I am not—am not —adding leaving you behind to save my skin to that list. Do I make myself clear?”
“Arthur, I had no—”
“Do I make myself clear?”
“Crystal,” Eames whispered. He was shaking, but this time it wasn’t just his nerves. It was from the heat spreading through his chest, pricking at the back of his eyes. Never in his memory—lived or implanted—had anyone ever fought so vehemently to keep him. He could literally drop dead at any second, and still, Arthur was willing to risk everything to keep Eames beside him as long as he could.
If that wasn’t love, then Eames didn’t know what was.
“All right, then. What do you suggest?”
“One, start driving again. If they ask, tell them you dropped a lit cigarette in your lap.”
“We stick to the plan as best we can. Bribe the guards with everything we brought from the safe.”
“And if the blade runners are waiting?”
“Then we go to plan B.”
God. Eames really hoped it didn’t come to that.
As Eames pulled the spinner up to the shuttle, he noticed a group of four walking towards the shuttle. The two men in front wore white lab coats and carried cases not completely unlike the PASIV Arthur had hidden in his black duffel bag. The two men behind, though, were armed guards. Shit.
“That brings the guard count up…” Eames’ words died as his gaze flickered back to the doctor on the right. He was dark-skinned, black hair curling around his round face—a familiar face, though a few years older. It was his creator. Dr. Yusuf.
He was about to tell Arthur when he watched as one of the guards nudged Dr. Yusuf in the back with the butt of his rifle. Dr. Yusuf stiffened and quickened his step. So. Not here of his own free will. This was getting worse and worse.
“I think we maybe should just go to plan B now,” Eames said quietly.
“Why’s that?” Arthur asked. “Because of those extra guards?”
“It’s not a personnel transport, it’s a prisoner transport.” Eames watched as the other doctor—a tall, elderly man with pale skin and silver hair—reached a reassuring hand out to Dr. Yusuf as they climbed the ramp, and got a rifle butt in the back for his trouble, too. “They have no intention of letting you go, Arthur.”
They were seconds away from the shuttle. Time to make the call.
“You buckled up?” Eames asked. He steered the spinner carefully in line with one of the two men standing guard.
“Yup,” Arthur braced himself as best he could. “Let’s do this.”
Eames took a deep breath and floored the gas.
The car sped towards the guard, who didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. He tried to dodge out of the way, but the spinner hit his legs, sending him flying backwards. His head slammed against the side of shuttle, and he slumped to the ground like a sack of rice.
“That’s one,” Eames said. He reversed quickly, and yanked the controls until he was lined up with the second guard who was bringing his rifle to bear. The guard fired off a series of shots at the spinner, shattering the windshield. Beside him, Arthur had his pistol out, and fired off a volley of his own. The guard dropped before the spinner even touched him.
“Two,” Eames said, and stopped the spinner right in front of the entrance of the shuttle. If they had any hope of stealing it, they would have to move fast, before the other guards arrived.
He looked at Arthur, who nodded. He hit the release on the spinner’s door controls, and as the doors swiveled up Eames grabbed the pistol from the waistband of his pants. He ducked out of the door, eyes scanning the lot for the guards he knew were coming.
“Move!” Arthur called. He had his duffel bag slung over his shoulder, his pistol out and ready.
Eames scuttled backwards towards the shuttle, covering Arthur as he moved forwards up the shuttle’s ramp. They knew for sure there were two extra guards in there, and if they were escorting prisoners, then god knew how many more were waiting.
Eames heard Arthur fire another pair of shots as they stepped onto the shuttle’s ramp.
“Three!” Arthur called out.
Eames could see shadows of movement on his periphery, hard to count in the thickening rain. “Incoming!”
“Move!” Arthur’s footsteps quickened, thunking hollowly up the ramp.
Eames followed. He knew they were inside once he no longer felt the patter of rain on his head and shoulders. The encroaching shapes became clearer, and Eames saw the billow of coats, the flash of guns in their hands. Not security guards then. The blade runners.
“Hit the door controls!” Arthur ordered.
Eames scanned the wall beside the door, and found a square computer panel with a dozen different buttons on it. “Which one is it?”
“Pivot!” Arthur snapped.
Eames instantly moved to take point, feeling Arthur slide around him to take his position in the rear. It was strangely natural, moving in tandem with Arthur. It reminded him of the old days, of working with Dom, the security of having someone at your back—
Eames heard the swish of the door sliding shut just as another volley of gunfire came from outside. Arthur jerked hard enough to slam into his back.
“Arthur!” Eames’ heart stopped beating. He swung around just in time to catch Arthur as he slumped against him. Everything moved in slow motion—Arthur falling into Eames’ arms, the spot of red growing under Arthur’s right collarbone, Arthur’s eyes drifting shut.
“Arthur, hey, love, stay with me!” Eames was lowering Arthur’s body to the ground when Arthur’s eyelids darted open again.
“We keep moving!” Arthur gasped. He pressed his left hand to his wound, and gathered his legs underneath him. He stood up under his own strength and leaned down to pick up his gun. Eames wrapped an arm around his waist to steady him. Arthur tried to raise his gun, but gasped in pain.
“Leave the shooting to me,” Eames said. “Need you conscious to fly this machine out of here.”
“Don’t worry,” Arthur grumbled. “I’ll get us out of here if I have to fucking fly with my feet.”
“Now that is something I would sincerely like to see you try,” a smooth voice chuckled.
Eames looked up in alarm. He’d been so concerned with Arthur that he hadn’t noticed the figure that had rounded the corner. It wasn’t one of the two security guards. It was worse.
It was Nash.
One arm was nestled in a black sling, but his other was held out straight, aiming a Glock right at them. He stepped closer, but just enough to let two of his cohorts into the narrow space. They, too, were armed. Three guns to one.
“Drop your guns,” Nash said.
Eames hesitated. His gun was nowhere near close to being in position to shoot anyone, and Arthur could barely move his arm.
“You have until the count of one,” Nash barked. “O—”
Eames let go of his gun. It clattered to the ground, followed a second later by Arthur’s. They were caught.
“You’ve been giving us quite the merry chase, Arthur,” Nash said. “Who would’ve thought you’d find your way here, of all places?”
“What about you? Once Fischer-Morrow figures out that Proculus goons—no offense—infiltrated their spaceport—”
“Oh, you sweet, stupid thing!” Nash laughed. “We were fucking invited!”
Shock rippled through Eames in an icy-hot wave, and his mouth went dry. It had been Robert who had sold them out. God, Eames was a right fucking idiot for ever thinking he could trust that fucking man.
“Fischer’s not an idiot,” Nash continued. “He knew if Saito ever caught wind that he had helped someone who had stolen from Proculus, Saito would come after him personally. So, he did the smart thing—he told Saito where you were. And here we are.”
Eames’ heart was hammering, his body beginning to quake. Fear was making his adrenaline surge, tinging the edges of his vision in white. No…no, not now, not like this…
“God, he’s so scared he’s shaking,” one of the lackeys laughed.
“You gonna piss your pants there, asshole?” The other sneered.
Eames’ shaking increased, his body going cold. He could feel his knees weakening, threatening to give way. If he went down, then Arthur went down…where their guns were.
He squeezed Arthur’s waist tighter, hoping he understood the silent signal to be ready. Then, Eames began shaking in earnest, letting his entire body go into seizures. His eyes rolled up and he let his jaw go slack, and let out a strangled moan.
“What the fuck?” Nash said.
“Goddamn it, he’s having a seizure!” Arthur cried out.
“Tell him to cut it the fuck out before I—”
Eames dropped, hard. As he went, he rolled into Arthur, using his body as a shield and hoping against hope that Arthur would be able to grab Eames’ gun with his good hand—
They hit the ground in a tangle heap. Eames heard cursing, questions, confusion. From the outside of the shuttle, he could dully hear banging fists.
“Get them the hell up! Saito wants to take care of Arthur personally.”
“What about the other one?”
“He’s fucking mine. Going to have some fun with him.”
Eames gave another colossal shake to cover his shift, trying his best to keep his weight off of Arthur and his wound. His hand found Arthur’s gun. Now.
He rolled onto his back, bringing the gun up to bear. He squeezed off three quick shots. Besides him, he heard Arthur fire off two of his own.
The two lackeys crumpled to the ground, red splattering the beige walls behind them. Nash simply stood for a long, long moment, gun still aimed at Arthur. Then, he slowly sunk to his knees before falling forward onto his slack face.
“That went well,” Arthur murmured.
Eames was still shaking, and he had to use the wall to help get himself to his feet. “The guards will be on their way.”
Arthur was struggling to stand under the weight of his duffle bag, and Eames gave him a hand up. Arthur took it gratefully, reapplying pressure to his wound.
“We have to get that taken care of,” Eames said.
“Later,” Arthur said. “Now we have to get to the cockpit.”
“Lead the way.”
They stopped long enough to pick up the guns that Nash and his goons would no longer need, and rounded the corner towards the cockpit. Eames was glad that Arthur was in front of him; it gave him something to focus on through the white fog clouding his vision. God, when he told Arthur that he’d fucking crawl to the shuttle to make sure he’d get there safely…
“Don’t move!” a new voice called out.
Arthur froze, and Eames did the same. In the narrow confines of the shuttle hall, he couldn’t see around Arthur.
“We’re not going to hurt you,” Arthur said calmly. “Please, put that down.”
“You first.” The voice quavered, and was accented with a soft British accent.
“If you want off this shuttle, you’re free to go,” Arthur said.
The voice laughed bitterly. “Back out there with all the guards? We’ll take our chances trying to fly this thing out of here.”
“I’m a pilot,” Arthur said, “I can drop you off wherever you want.”
“The second I drop this gun, you’re going to kill us,” the voice wavered. “I know your type.”
Eames couldn’t take it anymore. He nudged Arthur’s good shoulder with his hand—keeping his gun down—asking him to shift over. Arthur complied as best he could. Standing in their way was Dr. Yusuf, a semi-automatic rifle pointed right at Arthur. It was obvious by how he held it he had no idea how to manage it, which made him even more dangerous. His white lab coat was spattered with red.
“Dr. Yusuf?” Eames asked carefully.
Dr. Yusuf’s eyes narrowed at Eames, then widened. “God, you’re—”
“Eames. Mod Alpha. Nice to see you again.”
Dr. Yusuf paled, his rifle sagging in his hands. “How do you…you’re not supposed to…those memories…”
“Amazing what a little Somnacin can dig up,” Eames said, giving Yusuf a little smile. “Your parents, are they all right? Did Fischer send them to the Argentine Mines?”
The rifle clattered to the ground. “Fuck me, it is you.”
“Yusuf, what’s going on out there?” A shaky voice with a different British accent called from an open doorway.
“It’s all right, Miles. I think,” Yusuf called out.
Arthur lowered his gun. “We need to get out here before the guards out there find a way in.”
Yusuf nodded, but he only had eyes for Eames. “How are you still even here? Your incept date—”
“Something I’ve been asking myself for days,” Eames said. “Though, I can definitely say I’ve felt better.”
“Are there any other guards on this transport?” Arthur asked, trying to bring focus back to the task at hand.
“Um,” Yusuf visibly shook himself. “Only the two unconscious in there.”
“You two took care of them?” Arthur asked, a note of admiration in his voice.
“We took the opportunity when you two presented a distraction,” Miles said, appearing in the doorway. “They’re secure. Won’t be waking up any time soon.”
Eames arched an eyebrow at him.
“I drugged them,” Miles snapped.
“Any other passengers?”
“Not unless you count the cargo,” Miles said with an odd little laugh. “There’s three unactivated Axioms in the storage bay.”
A shiver went through Eames. Cargo. Not passengers, cargo. That’s all he was.
Arthur was already moving towards the cockpit. “What about the pilot?”
Yusuf shook his head. “I don’t know. I don’t think he was on board yet, but—”
The door in front of them slid open, revealing a man in a black flight suit. He brought up a pistol to bear right at Arthur.
Eames didn’t think. He just moved.
He grabbed Arthur, ignoring the cry of pain as he shoved himself against Arthur’s wounded shoulder in the tight quarters. The pistol fired once, twice, three times, and Eames was dully aware of one, two, three impact strikes on his body. He kept moving, moving forward, closer, until he was able to grab the pistol in the pilot’s hand. The pilot fired once more, and Eames felt the bullet tear its way through his abdomen. It didn’t stop him. He was a Nexus 6. A machine. A thing. He fell forward, pushing the pilot back into the cockpit, pinning him to the ground.
He was vaguely aware of Arthur’s alarmed cries, of someone rolling him over, dragging him off the struggling pilot. It was almost impossible to see through the fog of white. It doesn’t hurt, he wanted to say, but his words came out in a wheezing gurgle. Above him, voices chattered, as distant as if they were carried by the wind.
“Fucking help him!”
“Miles, get the med kit!”
“We can’t patch that, Yusuf.”
Arthur’s face broke through the haze, pale and drawn. Eames wanted to touch his face, smooth away the worried creases, but his arm wouldn’t respond. God, they were in the cockpit. Why wasn’t Arthur flying the shuttle? Why was he wasting their escape on Eames?
Eames gathered all the strength he could muster, and forced his lips to move. “Fly, love.”
Tears pooled in Arthur’s eyes, his jaw tightening, and for one moment, Eames thought he’d refuse. Instead, he brought his face down, and Eames was aware of the warmth, the pressure of a soft kiss being placed on his lips.
“Hold on. I’ve still got to show you the stars,” Arthur said, his voice choked.
Then he was gone, leaving only the white fog. Eames closed his eyes, turning it grey-pink, and he drifted on a warm sea of semi-consciousness. He felt the floor begin to vibrate underneath him, and he knew it meant Arthur had started the engines. Eames should be sitting, shouldn’t he? Buckled up for take-off?
“Hey there.” Eames opened his eyes to find Dr. Yusuf’s face floating in the fog above him.
Hello, father, Eames thought.
Yusuf started, then gave a little half-smile. “I guess I am.”
Huh. Guess Eames had said that out loud.
“You know that we can’t fix this,” Yusuf said quietly. “I’m truly sorry.”
It didn’t surprise Eames at all. In fact, he welcomed it. No more questions, no more shakes, no more headaches. He knew what he was, and at last, he could have some peace.
“Can you save or transfer his memory?” Eames heard Arthur call out.
Yusuf looked up. “Not without the right equipment. There’s nothing on this shuttle that’s even close to—”
“I have a PASIV.”
Yusuf’s jaw dropped. “How do you—”
“Doesn’t fucking matter! Can you do it?”
“I…I’d have to see if we have the Mnemonicin, but—”
No. Eames wanted to say. No more memory transfers. No more being a broken copy of a damaged original—
“Please,” Arthur said, his voice soft and broken. “Please try, and I’ll give you anything in my power. Look at his wrist. See that watch? Real fucking gold. It’s yours. I have more money. Liquor. Secrets. Anything I have, is yours.”
Arthur. He could try for Arthur.
Yusuf looked down at Eames, and he tried to nod, tell him with his eyes, yes, yes I’ll do it for Arthur, but he couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. All there was was white, thick white fading into pink into red, red as blood, red as the Martian sky, where Eames stood naked and unafraid, buffeting by winds that smelled of spice, warm as the feel of Arthur in his arms, warm as his smile, as his breath on his neck as he whispered, “There’s no way in hell I’m leaving you here to die alone, Eames. I swear it…”
A warm gust of wind wrapped its tendrils around Eames, and with a laugh he let himself become it, to roam free forever on the surface of Mars.