[Sunday | 8 December 2266]
My head was still pounding from Mittens’ little operation. My brain was barely recovering from the insertion and removal of the first relay chip, and now it had just had another chip shoved into the wound. Knowing that Her Eminence could start making demands at any moment wasn’t the best feeling. I’d have jerked one out to relieve a little stress, but I can’t say I want Her Eminence running commentary that, either. Shit, I wonder how many fucking times she watched before I knew about the chip in my head.
Glistening raindrops surrounded me as they pelted to the ground, exploding as gravity told them their last joke. Neon lights lit the sky; their light refracting around the drops, and giving the rooftop a neon tinge. Red, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, white. Red, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, white. Red, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, white. Of all the things to be etched into my head from that night, it had to be the lights’ fucking pattern.
Through the cacophony of rain, I heard the rooftop’s door slide shut. And there he was. Mikel—no, the Slumlord—was standing before me. His cape and robes flapped violently in the wind. The mask was reflecting the rain and lights. Red, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, white.
“Who are you!?” I forcibly asked through the rain. Mikel’s script could have done with some extra work, but hopefully, Her Eminence would buy it.
I extended my cybernetic arm and aimed it at the Slumlord. I fired an energy blast at him. And another. And another. And one more, for good measure. Again, I was just following the script, and I hoped Mikel was right about his defences.
He was, thankfully. Before the first shot landed, a hard light shield covered the Slumlord’s body. Now, it was my turn to time my defence correctly. The Slumlord leapt back and drew an energy katana from within his robe. I have no idea how he managed that without losing any of the fabric. Katana in hand, my ex-boyfriend rushed me. He slashed the sword towards my face, and I lifted my cybernetic arm to block the attack. As anticipated, I kept my face, but lost my forearm: the Slumlord sliced it clean off.
Nursing my cybernetic stump, it was time for the big reveal. I lifted my arm and plunged the stump through the mask’s visor, shattering it. Over the rain, I heard a crunch and knew that I went too far. Upon withdrawing my arm, I could see the beautiful Mikel standing there, blood gushing from his broken nose.
“Get closer, Bakker,” I suddenly heard in my head. It was Her damn Eminence. “In this light, I can barely see him.”
I stepped in closer. Mikel stepped back. I get that after keeping his identity secret for so long he didn’t want it revealed. But we agreed; this was the best way to resolve our mess with Her Eminence. Let her identify him, let the secret out. Before long, he could lay low while someone else took on the mantle.
I stepped in closer again. And again, Mikel stepped back. Shit, he was jeopardising this entire act. So I moved in closer, and he darted back. Shit, he was close to the edge of the roof, so I ran to him. As I approached, he stepped back, one foot off the rooftop.
“Mikel Matrox,” Her Eminence confirmed. For the first time since she initially contacted me, she expressed an emotion: happiness. “Got it.”
By the time Her Eminence’s words were vocalised, Mikel was plummeting from the top of the building. I rushed to the edge of the rooftop to see him collide against the ground, blood exploding from his broken visor like a rain drop crashing on the ground. I… I couldn’t believe he slipped.
I scaled down the building—all thirty storeys—in what I am certain was record speed. Yeah, I’ve had to chase a number of people down buildings before, but never somebody I loved. By the time I reached the ground, Mittens was looking over Mikel, tears trickling down her cheeks. Paz was on his knees, the uncontrollable tears streaming from his inconsolable self as the pouring rain washed Mikel’s blood into the gutter.
“Hey, uh, Bobo, it’s me. Mikel.” Like I wouldn’t recognise his voice. “I’d asked Mittens to let me record a message that she could upload onto the chip in the event my life signs went dead. Looks like they did go dead, so I guess I’m dead.
“Look, Jon, I loved you. Shit, I still do. Or did. Please don’t tell Paz; it would destroy him to know my heart was split in two. Instead, please just reassure him that I loved him. Please be there for him.
“Hopefully, not too many people have identified me by this point; I don’t imagine my visor will be looking too great.” The visor looked like shit and Mikel looked worse. But from what I gather, only Paz and Mittens recognised him. “I’m so sorry for doing this to you, Jon; I’m sorry I couldn’t even tell you. Her Eminence’s next instruction surely would have been to execute me. I wasn’t going to put you in the position of having to decide between killing me, or Her Eminence killing you. I suspect you would have chosen the latter choice, so I took the decision out of your hands. Hey, it’s my prerogative; I’m the Slumlord.
“Well, Jon, I was. I have a uniform stored in the penthouse I just fell off. I think we both know it’s yours.” No, I didn’t think it was. Not at all. “But first, I’ll need you to do me one last favour. Dispose of my body before too many people see me dead. The Slumlord must be protected.”
The sun had now risen, Mikel’s body was no more.
“Bakker.” It was Her Eminence. Of course it was.
“Congratulations on identifying the Slumlord.”
“Thanks. So I get my life back?”
For the first time in my life, the sound of laughter made me feel physically ill. “Hell, no. You see, Bakker, I know you saved those Animalz at the warehouse. That, I could almost understand. The weak willed really do crumble when children are part of the losses. But you also murdered Counsellor Adrit. Finding a suitable replacement will take time and resources.”
Fuck. “Then why not just arrest me? Why not just have me thrown in a reeducation camp for life?”
“Oh, Bakker. It was a lot more fun to have you kill your lover boy.”
“Yeah, him doing it himself stripped me of a tiny bit of fun. But we both know there were witnesses, Jonny Boy. Witnesses who know that Jon Bakker, or Bobo, or whatever the fuck they call you, murdered their beloved Slumlord. Don’t bother leaving the Slum, Bakker; your face is plastered everywhere. Have fun living it up with those seeking revenge for your ex.”
“You should really hope our paths never cross, Your Eminence.”“Trust me, they won’t. We travel in very separate circles.” Is this because I’m living in the Slums? Or is she just this much of an elitist around everybody? “But you never know, Bakker. With that little relay chip in your brain, we could still become BFFs.”