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Next of Kin, Chapter 27: 27%


  02:09:00 pm, by Nic Wilson   , 1241 words  
Categories: Next of Kin

Next of Kin, Chapter 27: 27%

Twenty-Seven, 27%

I couldn't sleep.
When I noticed Jenel was in the chat, I opened up a private window. My typing was bad enough that she realized I was still hammered. ?This is the closest anyone's ever come to drunk dialing me,? she said.
We chatted idly. I didn't believe Jim, that she had anything to do with John's death. He'd screwed over more than his fair share of women, and none of them had tried to kill him. But implausible as it seemed, I couldn't ignore it, either. It kept our conversation in this strange limbo between friendly and official.
Perhaps that was because my mind was on other things. Martens' talk about Tara and Max had only added to my paranoia. Every time I closed my eyes, I saw them in a scene from Les Miserables, and ridiculous as that was, it made me feel guiltier, still.
I opened a call to her, and was about to hit send on her name. But it wasn't the kind of conversation you had on the phone. Worse, I couldn't shake the feeling that Martens might have sent someone there, someone she wouldn't be able to tell me about.
I tapped out my concern to Jenel. ?You should check on her,? she wrote. I wondered if she could pull up cameras, or even hack her interface, but the moment I thought it I realized that it would have been shifting my responsibility onto her, and possibly violate Tara's privacy in the act.
I was sober enough to drive by then, so I started up my car. It was only once it was running that I remembered that IA had it last, and that if they wanted to put a bomb in it, that was their opportunity. But they were on camera picking me up, and the officer was almost certainly on camera in possession of my car. No, they'd have to be more subtle than that.
Still, I tested out some diagnostics on my new interface. The car was running fine, but it did detect a few extra protocols running in the car. It routed all GPS and destination data to IA directly, and would try to connect with the interface of the driver and relay that information, too. A message popped up on my interface. ?Law enforcement has tampered with this vehicle, and is attempting to access your interface. Should I: Provide unfettered access, or Provide them with a clean access, essentially emulating a stock, standard interface?? I chose the emulation. A second warning appeared. ?Are you sure? Emulation can take as much as 10% of your operating resources.? It then listed the memory requirements. The 10% required for emulation was more than the total available memory on my old stock interface. I chose emulation.
It was late enough the chat was largely dead. Nobody was putting on a sext show tonight. I noticed a particular message. ?DukeGagger: Musak?? I'd forgotten I still had a receiver. I'd gotten used to having one only sporadically, usually when I knew I was going out and might want the option to play music with someone.
I tuned the receiver to a pop station. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but it wasn't just for me. ?DukeGagger: TY?
It settled my nerves a little. It was late enough I felt badly for showing up on Tara's doorstep. But I needed to know she was all right. I wanted to apologize, too, but my guilty conscience could have waited for morning. My anxiety couldn't.
I parked outside her apartment. Because of the identical construction, it felt a lot like coming home. I felt nervous, walking up the sidewalk, though I couldn't place the reason, exactly, other than feeling like it didn't have to do with my overarching paranoia.
A scream from inside pulled me back to reality. ?Override,? I said at her door, and removed the gun from my waistband. I flinched when I saw it glint in the light coming from a streetlamp, because the last time I'd looked at it, it was spitting fire and metal through me.
I checked the safety, made sure it was off, and stepped inside. The lights were all on. I heard some kind of kitchenware shatter from the next room. Then the lights went out. I recognized it as an emergency override, something residents could use in the event of a home invasion- or that somebody operating a pirate interface could use.
Then somebody ran into me, with enough force to tell me they were trying to get away, but not trying to buffalo through me. I got hold of their shoulders, they were shorter than me, and not as broad. Her shoulders were feminine.
My lenses tried to compensate, but the windows blacked out with the lights, so there wasn't enough light coming in to amplify. The woman didn't like being caught. I felt her twist from side to side, trying to break free. Then she reeled back, and I recognized too late she was taking a swing at me. It hit me in the chin, and we both swore together.
?Who's here?? I asked.
?Jim?? she asked.
My interface was a step ahead of me, smashing through his GPS trickery, and locating his IP to within a few feet. He was still somewhere in the kitchen in front of me. ?It's Conrad,? I said. ?You can raise the lights.?
?Give me a second,? she said, and slowly, the lights came back on. The kitchen was empty.
I was holding the gun Chase gave me. I scanned the kitchen with it.
?He was right here,? she said.
?I know,? I said. ?But why?? I asked.
?I'm not sure I could explain any of it. He burst like a dam. Said he loved me. That he loved John, too, but knew it could never happen, but that me, and Max, we were the closest he could hope to come- especially now.?
One of the spaghetti straps on her shirt was torn away. ?Are you okay?? I asked.
?He didn't hurt me. I don't think he wanted to. He was- he'd been drinking, I could smell that much. But he seemed more confused than anything. He wanted- he seemed surprised when I didn't welcome him with open arms. He grabbed me, and tried to kiss me, and I screamed.?
Max burbled from his room, and she ran down the dark hallway towards his room. I was a half a step behind her.
I realized the folly a second too late. Out of the hall bathroom stepped Jim as I passed, and threw a punch that caught my face against the wall. I hit hard enough that the wall was slick as I slid down it. I tried to catch myself before I hit the floor, but my hand was full.
The gun. Jim brought up a big foot and was about to cave my head in with it. I got the gun raised as high as I could and pulled the trigger. The shot hit him in the guts, and he was off balance enough he went stumbling back into the bathroom. He grabbed the shower curtain as he fell, and wrapped himself up in it, tearing it loose from its curtain.
?Conrad?? I heard quietly from the end of the hall, as I staggered to my feet.
?I'll live,? I said.
?That kind of depends on what I hit.?

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