Apex Universe

Chronicles - Chapter 3

SALAMANDER

by Giulliano Penatti, Camila Guedes and Fernando Kornijezuk

I was just an infant when the terrorist strikes by GOTA completely changed the world. My parents died within the first months after the collapse. All I remember from my mother is her tender blue eyes; I inherited my ebony skin from my father. The only reason why I survived was because my elder brother – a private army soldier – came back to pick up the little things that were left in the estate, and I was one of them. He never cared about family, however I don’t think he was prepared to leave a helpless small girl behind. Together, Igor and I left Washington, and our memories became old photos in abandoned frames. Mementos of a life that no longer existed.

My brother’s skills were more valuable in the new world than before. At least this was what he repeated every day while swallowing his hypercaloric protein ration, or cleaned the blood from all his pliers, scissors, knives, and other working tools. His laughter reminded me of a choking pig,

 “HAHAHA... squeak, squeak, cough, cough! That’s it, sis! People like you and me were born to live among this filth here, and not in that hypocrites-laden little world that existed before!”

Indeed, I have no reason to disagree. We survived, didn’t we? And there is more. We had our own place, in one of the Conglomerates. It is nothing like the mansions occupied by the Alphas – the lucky ones chosen by the Corporations for some important job in the city-state – but still better than what 99% of the population those days had. At that was what the ads hammered, every friggin’ day!

At first, when Igor left for work, he’d leave me by myself. Like any stupid child, I cried until I became purple. This bothered the patrol. So he put me in day care first, and later in a public school. I was expelled. From both. They said I was too violent. People were extremely cantankerous there. The head of the patrol gave my brother an ultimatum: either Igor found a solution, or we would be thrown out of the Conglomerate. That was when he had the great idea of leaving me with our neighbor, Ethel, an older woman, with remarkable strength in her eyes and arms. She owed my brother some favors, apparently related to an abusive ex-husband who – after a conversation with Igor – never returned to pester her again.

That’s how I wound up at the New Baltimore Advanced Engineering Center. Ethel was the “cleaning crew leader” for the water reservoirs they had there. She worked alone. Those giant labs were my playground, and anything I could grab without the old woman noticing would become my toy. That was how I became interested in electronic devices. I would dismantle, assemble, and improve every kind of device. That was my pastime.

Ethel didn’t have one single cell in her entire body enabled for motherly love. The only things that woman showed some kind of sympathy were her pets. The one day I recall when she showed some slight affection for me was when she captured a salamander. She sealed the animal in a jar, and gave it to me saying, “You two have the same eyes. Amphibious.”

That life lasted for a while, time enough for me to grow breasts and bleed for four days every month.  However, in one of the missions my brother went, attempting to capture GOTA agents, he lost one leg. Crippled people are deemed useless by the Corporations.  So we were ousted from our home, and from the Conglomerate. We moved outside, to live in the ruins with the rest of the population.

Yes, things became difficult, and every day spent alive and unblemished was something to be celebrated. Especially when UNITY spies were present in every bar, every alley. The truth is that having been thrown out of the conglomerates was the best thing that could have happened to me. Of course, life inside there was much more comfortable, but I was a prisoner. It was only here, outside, that I managed to see myself as a product. A marketable product, and an expensive one, baby, very expensive. No, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t turn into a hooker. Of course, that had always been an option, but what I have to offer is worth much more than my boobs and a cunt.

I can fix things in a world where everything is broken down. And that, baby, is worth gold!

I can’t tell exactly how I developed this skill, maybe because I grew up in a high-tech engineering center, but my mind is capable of understanding how machines operate. Generally, I know how things work. This is within me, like the instinct for survival. I look at that pile of metal and, well... it’s as if we made love, can you get it? We connect.

At my store, my workshop, I used to fix everything, accepting payment in Credits or anything else that I deemed valuable. But that was not enough for me, I needed more. And this was what Cedric and the Apex Truck Racers offered me when they stepped in on that day. I didn’t even bother to lock the door. I didn’t care to look back.

I am the one who fixes everything that gets spoiled in the truckers’ missions. No matter what, they bring things to me, and I ensure they get it back fully functional, often better than it was before. When I have time and patience to spare, I try to pass on some of my knowledge to the mechanics team. They are good, some would say they are very good, but nobody connects to the machines like I do. The magic is mine alone.

The only person who really understands me is Cedric. We make a good team. After having stolen and worked on so much cyber technology together, we developed a bond. Cyber implants may be useful to help racers endure the stress of managing their precious magic cubes, but for me and Cedric they represent interconnectivity between our brains and with the machines. He conceives, and I build them almost at the same time. When we work together it’s as if we were one.

Sometimes the racers need me to go with them on a mission. I’m expected to locate the resources and stealthily enter the Conglomerates, pick security door locks, thwart tracking devices, hack and steal data. The basics, right, baby? The basics. The advantage of being good at it is that I can set my own terms. And as I said, my services are very, very expensive.

I don’t like to be challenged, so none of the racers outranks me when it’s about technology. They race and I take care of the machines, each one to their turf.  Though my part of the gains is less than what I think I deserve, we agreed that any and all technology developed or stolen during a mission is mine. The truth is that, without me, they have no clue on what to do with it.

It was in one of these races when I had my best idea, my masterpiece. And the best idea from someone like me is no shit! We had just broken into a top-secret Hallstat Reborn facility, as you know, one of the five major Corps. While hell broke loose outside, I got into an omega-level server, and downloaded the data from a new building maintenance system they had running on nanotechnology. This was when I saw the light. It was exactly what we needed to keep the trucks running. An intelligent, automated, and self-sufficient maintenance system. Racers needed a sidekick. They needed a drone.

That’s how I created our first drones. I won’t indulge in false modesty, baby. They were perfect from the start. Nanotechnology and ingenuity perfectly matched within a small flying robot that fixes trucks during the races, and act as true co-pilots. This is the work of a genius. And it changed the entire game. Before I stepped in, the racers were a joke. Today we pose a hazard to the corporations, and that’s why they hunt us.

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!

Oops! It’s my time. Unfortunately, this conversation must end now. The racers are nothing without my skills, if you catch my drift, baby. I am indispensable. What are we doing tonight? You are curious now, right? So I’m gonna tell you this little secret. Tonight we’ll do what we do every night, as the group leader would put it, we’ll be stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Maybe we’ll also snatch some juicy new machine from the corporations for me to strip down. When shall we meet again? I don’t do encores, baby, but sex was quite good. Not comparable to whisky, of course, but good enough.

Of course I’m on the hit list! You don’t seem too bright, baby, isn’t that right?  No, of course not, nobody will track your name and connect it to me just because we had a quickie. I won’t be the last fuck in your life, don’t worry. Also, it’s not that easy to find me, unless I want you to. Ah, Igor? Someday I’ll tell you what became of him. Of course, if we ever meet again, right? I wouldn’t bet on it. For now, I’ll let you pick up the bill. This should be an honor for someone... How can I put it in a more polite manner? ... for someone as common as you. My name? I thought you had guessed it already. My eyes should remind you.

 

You may call me Salamander.

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