Back to the same old place
Sweet home Chicago
The look out of the window barely changes with the foul weather. They call it the Windy City for a reason, she thinks, tucking herself deeper into the labcoat. It's nearly been six months, six months since she moved here. Hurt, disappointed, angry. Harborview was her turf, she made it what it is. And then DocWagon came, took her own turf from her. Offered to keep the post, they did, but who could consent to it? They do everything for profit, and Catherine Cutty taught her daughter well. Great-grandmother Alice would have smiled at that. So she built herself anew, this complex is her brainchild, and she has no regrets. Yes, regrets no longer.
A commlink startles.
"Chicago State Hospital," she drones out mechanically. "Cutty on the line, what do you-"
"Good evening to you, Lisa."
She wonders how much a man can change. He doesn't look the slightest the way he did a year ago. The pitiful scared creature she... persuaded to work for her? Gone, long gone. The commlink camera's view shows him on a bed, it's the room at The Garage, she reckons, splayed out in a bizarre pose. She knows she ought to remain serious, but curiosity takes the better off her.
"Why are you keeping your hands in buckets?"
His expression could sour milk. "Because I can gather blood for Breo."
"...Next question, why are you bleeding? Put some bandages on."
He gives her a puzzling look. "Do you know why I hate high heels even more fiercely now?" he asks. "Because the alpha bitch stabbed me with stilettos apparently equipped with injectors. I can't stem the bleeding and my hands are nearly unresponsive, so to save myself cleaning and be useful for Breo, I've buckets."
"You made it all out, yes?" A cold lump settles in her throat. They usually don't engage others. What happened? Are there safe? Screw Horizon, did they make it?
He nods, the face much paller than usual. He looks anaemic. So much blood lost. "Sorry I didn't call. Had to stay behind and get rid of evidence. The others did well, mind you," he adds with an unreadable expression. "But going off what you ordered me to haul to them, you had already known that."
"Imagine this - I didn't," she chuckles. "I recall Akino's parents. Used to work for my mother. Finding info on Crash was quite easy. He's got good references. Blue should do well, Chepí and Rift, I know through you. And that biodrone job. Thank you for playing their butler. Needed that."
"You only told me what's for each of them," he mutters. "No specifics. Like for Rift, 'Spells and reagents... Mostly spells and reagents,' you said. You have a bizarre definition of 'mostly'."
"She is a combat mage," she agrees. "She needs some other preps since her kit is predictably limited. A hidden vault of ages felt perfect for her."
"Not just for her, you know." There's a cold edge to it.
"What do you mean? Chepí and Blue received the smuggling pendants. They felt more flexible."
"I'm saying you knew perfectly what would help the most."
"My job," she makes a light shrug. It's a good feeling to hear she chose well. The difficulty of fixing remotely is that she has to rely on others to supervise directly. But for that, she has Zachary, Gael, Asuka, Maciej, Rory... Breo. She shudders at that.
"Tell me what I did wrong."
At first, it's so disjointed, she assumes she misheard that. She focuses back on him, taking the worn form in. She's no longer the wageslave she appropriated. He doesn't shrink away so much. The hair is simpler, less boyish, his posture less that of a bullying victim.
The big blue eyes have a sharp edge right now. How strange.
"Did wrong? You take care of the safehouse and kept the team together."
It's the benefit of friends back home. They can help her. He grew into the role most amiably. She no longer has to pay through the nose to keep tabs on things. It's not so far away, her Seattle from Chicago. She still feels at home in Seattle, but the Chi proves lucrative.
"I clearly pissed you off. First you're sending me there to clean up, then having me walk there with a random assortment of packages, turns out the contents are for them and I can't wrap my head round the fact you get that but can't toss a single nuyen to Żółty's leg fund after he got them blown off and ended up on a manual wheelchair for half a year before we collected enough money. That's an example."
She takes a deep breath. This is novel.
"Do you recall the first run you got me?" he asks with audible impatience with her prolonged silence. She nods, smiling a bit. This is safe grounds. "I do. Of course I do. Such a trainwreck."
"Glad you know it!" The voice is sardonic. "The job you coerced me into taking for the first time nearly killed Zee and you never even helped him secure a single bloody program. Reaper's malfunctioning knee and arm are our own issue, same with legs for Żółty, drones for him and Pumpkin, foci for Blackbird and Breo..." he enumerates, growing quieter. "Treating Breo..."
An unpleasant feeling settles in her gut.
"How is Breo doing?" she asks softly. It's a miracle he's still alive. The virus is a terrible curse, she reckons. But they're in the barrens. It's slightly easier to hide there than in Seattle Downtown. "I should have called more often."
"While you are at it, consider calling Alba. He's still not living in here and he planned it. Eh. Have you ever helped him? With a trainer? Got him spell formulae?"
"...No, what do you mean here?"
"You had us outfit Dex, yes? Asked for Zeta's deck here. We took good care of him." There is a poignant pause. "You never helped him out."
"Helped him out? Dex? You did."
"I'm talking about Zeta! You ensured him deckless and we had to jump through flaming hooks to afford a replacement. Does this ring a bell?"
"Zeta's a good man."
"Please do not change the topic."
"...I did not meant to do it," she backs down, feeling a bit less confident than usual. "They got lucrative handouts, you didn't, but you made it. I never had to tempt you. What is wrong? How does he get involved?" She sees him almost scoff, make an effort to stand up, only to plop back down with a pained hiss. "Truly? You do not get it?"
It hits her she's losing her control.
"Do you have money, Lisa?" he inquires, the tone cold and detached. "I see you nod. Perfect. So you invest in people. People like Blue and Chepí. And you safely afford it. Is this right?"
"Yes, it is."
"Do you notice the cognitive dissonance in this? In unequal treatment?"
"What is it?"
"Fine. Let me break it down for you." She wonders what happened to make his voice so steeled. "Every time he goes limp into coldsim, I fear he won't wake up because the deck he's riding, his grandmother wouldn't use. That an enemy spider will kill him, spike him into oblivion, because his hardware just won't be quick enough. You somehow easily afford blowing forty grand apiece on five people, but pretend you do not know Zee. I don't get why you value anyone so much higher when he's run for you for years and never let you down."
"I told you not to call me that." She doesn't understand how he got rid of the introvert young man she recruited, the one terrified to the core when she mentioned she knew he was down on his luck and buying supplies to make do. He's changed, changed and she barely noticed, and now there's something desperate and hungry in there.
"Ducks, I can explain, I..."
"Have a good night, Lisa."
Back to the same old place
Sweet home Chicago