“They never had this Illusion thing going on, back in the good Earth times.” The swords Markus juggled almost reached the ceiling. He kept his hands raised a little bit above his eye level, more for dramatic effect, than anything else, I suspected.
“Thinking you’re an asshole who’s messing with us makes me feel more at peace than knowing you’re a part of this alternative history fad.”
“Why are you even after McSorrow?”
“Infinite availability, how does that sound? This Illusion thing used to be free. They put a price on it as soon as common people could exploit it.” I used what I had left in the old bank to shift the crystals on my face into a prettier pattern and then replaced it with the one we had just stolen.
Ads blinked and jingled in a cacophony that broke your will, sooner or later. Markus and I made a bet over how long I could last without lenses and earplugs. He had the ones that blocked the ads altogether. Crafted by underdog artisans, there was no way he could afford a subscription. He’d get maybe a year or two in a colony, should they catch him and the prospect left me somewhat hoping.
“Earth was a lot different than this mess,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah. Is this why you’re after McSorrow? You believe he made all this from scratch and ruined your fun.” I loaded my baby and fondled its steel pipe.
McSorrow wore sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat. Such a pimp. I couldn’t tell how many of his guards were flesh and bone. Too bad for Markus, who had to get close to the guy. We went in.
They said these were genuine musicians who played genuine Earth instruments, and that McSorrow only came here to hear them perform. I couldn’t tell the difference between a real band or a fake band, but at least I didn’t pretend to be a connoisseur.
He had stubby little fingers, with dark hair patches on and a narrow forehead. McSorrow had clearly not created anything other than a bunch of new extortion techniques.
After a few dances with the ladies, Markus put on his “we’ve been married for fifteen years and I installed a bank under the bed, which I use to turn you into a nineteen-year-old nurse thrice a month” guilt face and gave me the rose. He had either rehearsed this, which was highly possible, or he had indeed been married at some point.
Blades flew at everyone’s heads and we had enough in the banks to play make believe and panic everyone until I got a clear aim. And I pulled the trigger and we then somehow survived the stampede.
McSorrow’s guards took everyone down, including the band, who were indeed real and who did play Earth instruments. We dangled from the iron beams, above all the slaughterhouse cabaret that went on in the hall.
Once done with everyone — you wouldn’t always have this many casualties, but you’d have to be prepared for it — McSorrow’s men pointed their guns towards their own temples and shot. They fell, like broken golems of flesh.
I’d never seen this trick.
We swung a bit more in the air to make sure everyone was toast and we descended. Funny, we must have looked like saviors.
McSorrow’s body was a lot smaller and a lot less hairier than I remembered him to be. The face wasn’t quite right. I’d never seen this trick either.
“What now?” I swiped the blood off my pumps.
“We try to hang around and see who comes by to clean this place up and we try not to get killed. Or sent to a colony.”
“At least we know some of the cards he holds up his sleeve. How the hell do we find the real McSorrow?”
“We don’t. We just need to find out if he commands Illusion through space, and possibly time. And we’ll start from there.”
“You’re not going there again, are you? He’s on this very planet, rotting in a grotto, somewhere, too much of a chicken to stick his head out. We’ll find him, eventually.”
“What if there’s still an Earth to go back to, have you thought of that?”
I’d envisioned Earth more like a potential retirement project. Some place quiet, we may or may not actually be able to live on again, where weeds gobbled up skyscrapers and wild animals copulated all over the place, but maybe I wasn’t the first one who’d think of it this way.
“So, you think McSorrow’s been on Earth all along?”, I said and positioned my crystals in a more playful pattern.