It’s the first time when I see the giant robotic arms move. Racter is facing away from me, concentrating on giving commands to the hands. There is smoke in the air, not the kind that comes from his cigarettes; the hands are soldering a small circuit board.
I know that I shouldn't disturb him as he works. He hasn’t told me to go away, though, so I sit down on the stairs and watch. The scene reminds me of an operating theatre – maybe because I’ve seen similar equipment in Ambrose’s clinic.
Koschei has noticed me. He keeps staring at me, in a shadowy corner. I can see his multiple eyes glowing in the darkness.
Doesn’t this scarceness of light bother Racter at all? I can understand that Gaichu wouldn’t need a light bulb in his small corner; however, the reason for that is Gaichu's impaired vision.
Perhaps Racter has cybernetic enhancements in his eyes?
It would explain the strange coldness in his stare.
The robotic arms finish their task. Racter gives them the command to tidy up their surroundings, after which he turns to look at me.
“Ah, my friend. My apologies for making you wait – I was in the midst of working, as you saw”, he says. I note that he isn’t smoking. A curious sight – he seems to have a tobacco burning at almost all times, except when he is, ehm, trying to aim with his pistol.
“It’s okay. It was interesting to see those arms at work, actually”, I reply. His smile widens.
“They are a work of art, wouldn’t you agree?” he asks. Clearly, it’s only a rhetoric question, as he doesn’t wait for me to answer. “Now, I wouldn’t like to be impolite, but I still have some tasks to fulfill. Thus, I’d ask you to skip the formalities and get straight to the reason of your visit.”
Oh. I was prepared to go through that topic, but I was hoping to warm up a bit before bringing it up.
“I have a request for you. However, before I tell you more details, you’ll have to promise to keep them just between the two of us”, I say. Racter tilts his head, curious.
“Oh? How mysterious. Very well, then, my friend. You’ll have my word”, he says.
“It’s about… Something about me. I haven’t told even Duncan about it – to be more precise, he is the last person I’d tell about it”, I start. “Did you notice anything strange about me during our last run?”
He keeps looking straight into my eyes.
“Something strange? Hmmm. You were perhaps a little distracted by something; you didn’t perform as smoothly as you usually do.”
“Yes. You are correct. Well. The reason for that is because my... Cybernetic arm started malfunctioning all of a sudden.”
He seems a little surprised by that.
“You have a cybernetic arm?” he asks at first; then, he adds: “I assume that you are going to show it to me?”
“Yes, that is inevitable”, I sigh. With my left hand, I undo the buttons of my shirt, then shake the clothing out of the way.
My right arm reflects the surrounding red light. I remove a white glove that has been hiding its unnatural, mechanic appearances.
Racter regards the arm with an intensive preciseness.
“A decent workmanship”, he says with a nod finally. “Nothing fancy about it; it is just a basic prosthesis that tries to mimic the normal actions of a hand. You said that it’s malfunctioning?”
“Yes, it doesn’t–“
Suddenly, Racter moves closer. He asks while keeping his stare on the arm:
“Is it appropriate if I touch it?”
“… You can do that”, I reply, and he starts bending the fingers, testing their joints. “As I was about to say – this arm doesn’t move like it should. It has lost its capability of fluid movement.”
“It twitches?” he inquires. He slips his hand into mine. “Would you try to shake my hand?”
“How do you know that my fingers wouldn’t crush your bones?” I ask. He smiles at me.
“Because of the model. It’s obvious that this wasn’t designed to be extraordinarily powerful or destructive. Besides, I remember our past discussions crystal clear: you are against cybernetics because they force people to compete in upgrading their vessels. Surely, you wouldn’t have superhuman cybernetic parts yourself – unless you are the greatest hypocrite I’ve ever met?”
Funnily enough, I’ve noticed that Racter can be a hypocrite at times. I skip the remark, though: I’m not here to pick up a fight; I’m here to ask for his help.
So, I try to shake his hand. My fingers twitch and curl around his hand in a robotic motion. No finesse; just sudden pressure. Racter chuckles and frees his hand by force. My fingers continue their way into a tight fist.
“I see! So – you are asking me to fix this issue of yours, yes?”
“You are on the correct tracks about that. I would pay you for doing that, naturally”, I say.
“Mm-m, nothing is free in this world. I’ll have to open up your arm and check whether some parts are broken. I have some general parts in my corners, but it may be that we’ll have to make an order. They cost dearly; moreover, it may take time to even find the correct parts. The usage of my know-how isn't without its price, too, of course”, he says. “However – since you are a friend – perhaps we could do this: you'll pay for the potentially needed parts, and I'll help you in an exchange of favors?”
There is something sly in his words. There must be some sort of a trap in his suggestion.
On the other hand, I am running short of nuyen. It will be hard to get more money without a functional hand, and I have far too much pride to ask Duncan to give me a tiny loan.
“… Perhaps”, I say. “What kind of a favor do you have in mind?”
He points his index finger at me.
“Now, now – we will get to that later, yes? We should get your arm examined first”, he replies, and it’s damn close that I groan in frustration. He takes a stool and places it next to the giant robotic arms.
“You can sit here.”
Thus, I take the former place of the circuit board. The arms move with a graceful smoothness, opening the casings with a careful touch. Racter sits a bit further in front of a monitor. I can see the contents of my arm exposed on the screen, in an enlarged scale. It would hurt to be opened up like this, but Racter detached my sensors before he dived deeper.
“So… Would you like to enlighten me of the background of this prosthesis?” he asks, suddenly. I startle but manage to keep my arm still. I see that a line of smoke rises close to him – he has lit a cigarette without me noticing.
“I understand if you do not want to talk about it, though”, he adds when I do not answer right away.
I keep staring at his figure. The level of trust between us is… complicated. I trust him, in a way, yet I do not trust him at all. Yet, there is something about him which makes me reveal certain things, some unsaid things. It may be because he doesn’t react like most would do.
“… There was an accident”, I say.
“Figured as much”, he replies, in a manner which prompts the other person to continue.
“As you know, Duncan and I grew together. However… I left a couple of years ago, which resulted in the two of us becoming separated. There was a friend who needed my help. It turned out that she had gotten into a much worse trouble than I had estimated. My arm became torn apart. I woke up in jail without it”, I say.
“Interesting”, he replies. “Which hand do you use primarily?”
“I used to depend on my right hand before that happened”, I answer.
“When did you receive the prosthesis?”
“After I was freed.”
He keeps his eyes on the screen, but he seems thoughtful.
“You survived in the jail without one of your arms, then”, he states. “Your primary one, on the top of it. It’s quite remarkable, really – I doubt that there is a single jail which provides its inmates a bulletproof security against each other.”
My mind pushes up… unpleasant, distant memories.
“The guards weren’t nice either”, I say.
“Oh, you are right. They probably weren’t”, he says. He doesn’t ask what they had done. He isn’t outraged that the guards would do something disgusting, just because they could. He isn’t sad or concerned at all.
This is why it is easier to talk to him.
He doesn’t force me to feel sorry for myself.
The robotic arms work all the while we talk. They start to pack the prosthesis back together, until every piece has been clicked against each other.
The sensory data comes into my brain as a sudden, dizzying surge. When I get over it, I test the hand.
It moves fluidly again.
“Some wires have been damaged. I managed to make a temporal solution to your problem, but I’m afraid that I’ll have to make an order”, he states. “Otherwise, I cannot guarantee that this won’t happen again soon.”
“All right. I’ll give you cash for that, once you know how much it is going to cost”, I say. “Now – I know that you have a favor in mind. Tell me.”
His grin is wide and full of sharp, predatory teeth.
“It’s nothing too complex, my friend”, he assures in a relaxed manner. “I’ve been informed that, ah, a past friend of mine is paying a visit to this town.”
Koschei scuttles around the room. His legs hit the floor, creating metallic clangs.
“You might, perhaps, recall the name Lucky Strike?”