"You are late." The case shifts between one hand and the other, in the summer heat of the beach town a black suit jacket is probably not the best clothing for the weather. Then again he isn't sweating. I wonder if they're implants? Some kind of neutral fluid replacement. Half a pint of the oxygenated liquid coursing through his veins is worth twice what I make in a year. Worth twice what is in the case.
"Traffic." Smiling, I gesture toward the chairs around the scarred plastic lawn table in front of the sand blasted green on white hut near the boardwalk. The proprietor has strung an old parachute from two posts stuffed on the other side of the boardwalk to the eves of the miniature square house. Paint peels from the menu in long slivers, lining out prices of things he shouldn't have without a license anyway. Then again this is why we're here and not in New York or somewhere like that. Too many regulations, too many prying eyes. He ignores the lame excuse and goes about business, I apologize anyway. "Sorry."
"You are still late." From beneath the wraparound sunglasses I catch a slight flicker of movement, two lenses moving in tandem to survey the situation. Good to be a little zealous about your job. "You are armed as well."
"You knew I would be."
"This is most irregular." He spits, stiffening while sliding his free hand beneath the jacket. Something I don't particularly want to see clicks twice and then whines, the sound muffled by at least a half-inch of second generation kevlar-carbon. "They would be most displeased."
"Who did your eyes? Tanaka?" Gunfire flashing blue-white in the darkness of Singapore sewers, escaping into the rain and running until something blew in my right knee. Laying broken and bleeding fluid in an alley under a gray sky. Two hours to make the hop to Mexico City, four days pulling around Guatemala with a blown cover and a bum leg until I found a mechanic with a surgeon's grip. Sogo was blind the last time I saw him, firing and fumbling in the dark for a second clip that I took with me.
"Do not change the subject." Sogo shifts in his chair to withdraw his hand from the coat. The whine lingers on the background like the tepid breeze stirring the ratty nylon parachute overhead. "We are here to discuss your return."
"On what terms?" A taste of the old venom causes him to shift in his chair momentarily. Seconds pass as a vacationing couple dawdles at the steps to the sun grayed wooden deck above the boardwalk. They move on and we both relax slightly. "I wasn't aware I was still welcome."
"Rand, it has been four years. Things...have changed since Singapore." Touches of the old Sogo are still there, the penchant for understatement an obvious marker. More mods and a few new upgrades still didn't erase the human being I left a Detroit orphanage with some years ago. Both of us were pushing far more but still looked twenty-five. "With Sing came a reevaluation of the old orders."
"Sogo." I pause to stir at sand collected by the wind in the dimples on the table. One of the girls working in the shed walks out of the green-trimmed side door bearing an icy bottle which is deposited in front of me. Crumpled bills are traded for the brief smile of a well tanned face framed by blonde hair and green eyes. She turns and walks away and I notice the bar code over the base of her spine revealed between the gap of her denim shorts and white tank top. Escapee from somewhere. Probably sold off out of a prison and then an unlicensed runner, wound up here serving cheap beer in battered bottles just to avoid being noticed. She is beautiful save the thin scar running from her forehead down to the jaw line. The pause has lengthened into one of the uncomfortable times, I let it drag on long enough to light a cigarette from the sweat softened pack. "You let me go before, I'd hope you'd drop it again."
"Not possible. They are very adamant about your return."
"We could get a pizza." There is a lengthy silence interrupted by the flapping of the parachute that reminds me of moments in old John Woo movies. Before the digital copyright thing got out of control and the industry was sued into oblivion. Somewhere along the idea curve it became mathematically impossible to come up with an idea that someone had not already thought of and written down in mass storage. The lawyers had a field day and the benefactors built more movie studios with the profits and now everyone is re-releasing everything forty-eight thousand times a day on twelve thousand channels. It is so hard to find decent entertainment in this day and age.
"You know I cannot digest. It would be an uneaten pizza."
"If I refuse?" Changing topics comes far easier than I thought it would.
"You will go." He looses a sickening grin to reveal a mouth full of expensive impact-resistant ceramic. "There have been several mandates issued for your return."
"How many followed you down here?"
"I am uncertain."
"Fuck a bunch of that, how many?"
"Three teams that I was to be made aware of through the normal channels, two more that I was not supposed to know about." The grin fades and the face returns to the usual dour stone.
"Why?" I sip gently from the beer and then pursue the original question. "No bullshit."
"Oh." This was all I need to know, if the man had ordered it then I would go back either in pieces or voluntarily. "So why the used car deal?"
"We knew you would not refuse."
"You knew?" I snort and take a long drag on the cigarette. Things were supposed to be easy when I woke up this morning. I should have known better just based on the size of the cockroach in the rust stained motel bathroom. They still had enough space down here to build hotels, I took the opportunity to take full advantage of that space. "You knew I'd still want to go back."
"All of us are. It is genetics." He has a point with that. "Try not to sound so embittered."
"Try not to sound so convinced, Sogo." Stretching I can feel the sore spots between my shoulders where the mountings once existed. Where I used to be connected to the things that I thought made me who I was at the time. I learned in Singapore that you could be many people at the same time. I disconnected and walked away. The scars were only now beginning to heal from the dark scarlet of before. "I can't go back. I don't think he'll go for it."
"There are fewer and fewer of our number these days." Saying this brings an almost imperceptible frown to his face. It fades a short second later, momentary twitches of the facial muscles provide a souvenir of the effort required to produce such a display. "The fine line between excellence and mediocrity in our line of work is now clearly defined."
"Excellence is defined by mediocrity, Sogo." I laugh cynically at the backhanded compliment forcing another frown from Sogo. My mouth dried from the fear of the reaction to the last line, I pull the remaining contents from the bottle and motion to the girl for another. She ceases trying to clean the sand from the porch, a thoroughly artificial form of lunacy. I can almost dictate chapter and verse from the reform program she was given in prison from watching the actions. "I hate this soy beer."
"Return with me then." Sogo says with almost wretched honesty, I have always hated that about him.
"God does not take back the fallen." I whisper as the girl's perfume floats by on the breeze like words in the dark from a nameless lover. She drifts behind it and deposits the second bottle on the scarred tabletop after collecting the first, a trace of something that I cannot place washing over the exquisitely tan face. Something like shock or disbelief.
"You never fell, Rand." For emphasis he removes the sunglasses and allows me a look at the almost white irises of his eyes. The blue so light you would think that they were nothing more than solid white.
"Don't give me that master plan shit. He doesn't know what he's doing." I watch in almost abject horror as he pulls the briefcase to the table and thumbs it open. From where I am sitting the contents of the space are almost totally obscured, forcing me to wonder momentarily if he is planning on firing through the lid of the case. He does not. Instead the hands move from inside the case gently cradling a flat green rectangle. I can see the edge of the mirror from the cut out tab on one side. Deftly moving thumb extracts the glass from the cover and places it where I can see what I knew was coming.
"It is time to return to the fold." He speaks quietly as I watch the remaining color wash from my eyes, the sound of a thousand voices just beyond the edge of perception ringing in my hearing. "Time again to walk in the path of the one."
"Sogo you shit." Tearing and breathless, I jam my eyes shut and hunch over to finger the scars at my shoulders in an asylum inmates embrace. There I can feel the first stirring of bones and tissue beneath the flesh where the roots have begun to regrow. "I never thought I would be forgiven."
"Mercy is in again, Rand." Again smiling slightly, Sogo rises from the table and motions with the hand not occupied by the briefcase for me to follow. "Shall we?"
"Will they come back?" I ask desperately, watching his deeply polished shoes glide like liquid across the weathered boards. "Like before?"
"Yes." Pausing he half turns to speak to me over one shoulder. It is then that I notice the single iridescent feather drift from beneath his pant leg and across the deck. Eyeing the shimmering dance in the light breeze, he smiles in a way that is so complicitous and yet so innocent at the same time. "Angels without wings are quite useless you know."