Without a Yesterday
by Chris Knapp
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
Al-Fulan stared at Sylph, a remorseless and disapproving scowl on his hard lined, dark skinned face.
Something changed in Tojo’s voice when he introduced the final guest. “Salvio. A dear friend and business partner of mine.”
“Buona sera,” Salvio said. He was a suave-looking man, though his good looks were spoiled by his cybernetic right eye, an unblinking red orb. A bright red rose had been tucked into the breast of his coat.
“Buona notte, signore,” she said
Mr. Salvio looked surprised. “Parla italiano?”
“A little,” she said. Salvio smiled. She’d picked up a few words working the tables. Gifu hosted scum from the galaxy wide.
“Good. We’ll play soon. Hold ’em poker.” Tojo looked at his guests. “Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Moseley said.
“D’accord,” Possamai said.
“Agreed,” Al-Fulan said.
“Again?” Salvio chuckled. “Scusi, Tojo-sama, but couldn’t we play something else for once?”
“Play go fish on your own time,” Tojo said. Uneasy laughter. “Oh. One more thing. Hide.”
Hide stirred in his seat. “Yes, father?”
“Can you explain yourself?”
Hide smiled waveringly. “I... I don’t...”
“Do not compound your shame by lying,” Tojo said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Tojo turned his eyes onto Sylph. “Repeat what you told me.”
She bowed her head. “Last night I saw Hide-san enter Rodrigo-san’s suite. Curious as to why, I followed. When I asked Hide-san what he was doing, he told me I surprised him. I asked again and he instead told me his plans to kill you, Tojo-sama, and to have Gifu for himself. When I refused he raped me in Rodrigo-san’s room.”
The confident, seamless succession of lies and half-truths was only outdone by Hide’s silence.
“Well?” Tojo said. “Is there any truth to this?”
Hide hesitated. “No! None!”
“Keep your voice down,” his father said. “Liars are spiders, weaving their own doom. Why are you hiring hoodlums in my casino?”
“I... I’m n-n-not, they’re...”
Tojo sighed. “I have arrested five of your cohorts. All of which corroborate Sylph-san’s account with their own evidence. Can you explain that?”
Hide looked wildly at Sylph. “She must have hired them! You don’t understand...”
Tojo held up his hand. “I know you have been siphoning funds from Gifu accounts. No doubt you were looking for a way to steal from Rodrigo-san, my honored guest.”
Hide’s eyes went wide. “You sent...”
“I sent Rodrigo-san on his way home after our game and our minor misunderstanding. Will you admit to your crimes? Do not lie again.”
“I did steal from Gifu, but never from you.”
“I am Gifu.”
Hide’s lip quivered. “I did pay those men, but...”
“And you planned to murder me.”
Hide hung his head. “I... I...”
Tojo stood up and straightened his dinner jacket. “Our ancestors were samurai. We trace our bloodline thousands of years into antiquity, when men where measured by the steel they carried, in heart and hand. The samurai believed that by committing seppuku, a samurai could atone for their sins and shames. Gai.”
The shoji slid open. Gai entered, the same big smile on his broad face. “Hai, Tojo-sama?”
Tojo stepped over to a decorative set of daisho nearby on the tatami. He picked up the sword and knife. He dropped the knife in front of his son and said, “Slice deep through the abdomen and again the chest. Gai will await your signal and will behead you when ready.” He turned to his guests. “Let’s begin.”
Sylph rose with the others. She’d sold Hide’s plans to Tojo to gain his trust. She never glanced backward to see Hide staring at her.
“Two players.” Sylph dealt the cards. Only Tojo and Salvio were left in the game, Al-Fulan, Possamai and Moseley each reduced to spectators as the remaining players traded chips back and forward from their massive stacks.
She laid the face downs: the jack of clubs, the four of hearts and the nine of spades.
“Bet.” Salvio placed a 500,000 chip into the pot. He had politely removed his cybernetic eye to avoid suspicion of cheating. A hole lay where the orb had been, a well of darkness.
Sylph dealt the next card: the ace of diamonds.
Salvio cracked his neck left and right and winced uncomfortably. She normally would have called that his tell, but Salvio had been fidgeting in his seat all night, never sitting still even when holding the high hand. “Check,” he said. “You run a tight business, Tojo-sama. Though I thought it was a little... Severe, how you dealt with your son.”
“Raise.” Tojo tossed another 500,000 chip in. “Flagrant disobedience is not to be tolerated.”
Salvio called. “A casino that tolerates hoodlums and thieves is certain to fail.” His eye roved over her.
She dealt the next card, the two of diamonds.
Salvio looked at his two facedown cards and raised his eyebrows. “I heard an interesting rumor. It’s a very extraordinary tale, involving a certain Quintus Vant. They say he’s here. In Gifu.”
“Impossible,” said Tojo.
Salvio nodded. “Unlikely, at least. You can never be too careful, as they say. And no one wants a government agent around to complicate things. SHARPE is everywhere these days.”
She made a conscious effort not to flinch. Still she wondered, who was Quintus Vant? The old man had never said anything about anyone else infiltrating Gifu. Had he withheld information, or was Salvio misinformed?
“My organization is on the lookout. No doubt you will increase your security here as well,” Salvio said. He toppled over his chips, sending them into the pot. “All in.”
“The moment any agent steps foot in Gifu, I know.” Tojo pushed his chips in as well.
“Showdown, please,” she said.
Tojo flipped his cards: the ace of spades and the jack of hearts, two pair.
Salvio grimaced and folded. “Seems you’ve cleaned all of us out, Tojo-sama. You always win. Are you going to do something about Quintus Vant?”
“Gifu is impenetrable.”
“When can I expect my next delivery?”
“Soon. You’ll get your cut.”
Salvio bowed. He picked up his cybernetic eye and reinserting its winding spine into his empty socket. “Ciao,” he said.
“I should be going as well,” Moseley said, rising. “You’ve won enough.”
“Hardly,” Tojo said. “You can’t leave.”
“What are you saying?” said Al-Fulan.
Possamai swiveled in his seat. Gai stood behind him, a broad smile on his lips.
“Each of you will accompany Gai.”
“We don’t have to stay for this.”
Al-Fulan stood up abruptly. Gai’s hand shot out and seized his wrist. With impossible ease he shattered the man’s wrist.
“Escort them out.”
Gai led them away, leaving her alone with Tojo.
“Impressive dealing,” he said.
“Arigato gozaimashita, Tojo-sama.”
“Your Japanese has improved.”
“I endeavor to assist you in any way I can.”
“You’re ambitious. It’s your eyes. That’s not to be despised. You don’t want to be a dealer for the rest of your life.”
“My mother was a dealer.”
“What was your father?”
“A pit boss,” she said. She reached back for even the slightest memory of them. It felt like a lie.
“I have ambition. This is good. Ambition moves mountains and conquers doubt. Tell me what you know.”
“I know Rodrigo is dead.”
“No doubt you loosened my son’s tongue.”
She decided to gamble. “Your plan is big. It has to be, for you to kill so many bosses. I want in.”
“You want in,” said Tojo. “You see too much.” He stood and crossed his arms behind his back. “Have you ever been arrested?”
“Yes,” she said.
“Stacking the deck,” she said.
“Yes. Once. Every prefecture had its own gangs. Child’s play. Pickpockets and bullies. We fought each other more than the police. One day a friend of ours named Shozo crossed into Nemuro alone. We never found out why. They beat him. We gathered for a raid. For revenge.” Tojo touched one of the blossoms. “Someone talked. I wonder who. I realized it doesn’t matter.”
“We were brought before a judge. Charges of conspiracy to commit assault, illegal gang activities, illegal possession of weapons. The judge was a staunch supporter of the military. He let us choose decades in prison or the war. We all chose the military. And we all fought in the War.
“You’re too young to know. Mikio was disintegrated. Yutaka went down with the Kawachi. Ukichiro and I were together on the Hyuga. He died in a reactor fire. The others I lost track of.
“After Salamis my tour was up. I returned to school. The boryokudan, Yakuza, helped make me rich, and I helped them. I never forgot my origins. How stupid it seemed for the gangs to fight one another. Imagine what we could have accomplished if we had put aside our pointless feuds and worked together.”
“But gangs always fight,” she said.
“They have. Until someone strong comes. Some bosses will cooperate. Like Salvio. Others must be convinced by force. And those unwilling to cooperate must be sacrificed.” Tojo picked a blossom from a branch. “Great men have always been forced to kill. Alexander, Caesar, Nobunaga and the Taiko. There may be war. I will win. Imagine what trillions of criminals under my leadership could accomplish. I will create a dynasty.”
* * *
She cleaned and reassembled her pistol. The old man had insisted she bring one, citing that it was better to have one and not need it than the opposite. She’d become used to having it, and now couldn’t imagine being without it. She reattached the capacitor into the grip, smacking it in with her palm, then examined and reattached the coils to the rails, one by one. She’d never even held a weapon before in her life so far as she knew, yet knew exactly what she was doing.
She’d showered and changed since coming back from Tojo’s penthouse, choosing a less glamorous, more functional black tuxedo swing dress and a pair of patent leather pumps.
A series of beeps alerted her. An image of the old man appeared in her room. “Ms. Memry. You certainly look gorgeous.”
“Thank you.” She slid a round into the chamber.
His eyes glanced at the pistol. “Is anything amiss?”
“I assume you want your update.”
She told him everything she’d learned.
“One thing,” she said. “Who is Quintus Vant?”
“How do you know that name?”
“Salvio said he was here in Gifu.”
“Tojo said that too. But who is he?”
“Who was he?”
“One of our best agents.”
“Show me what he looks like.” The image of a middle-aged man appeared. Half his face was comprised of steely cybernetics, the other half fixed into a sullen stare. There was something undeniably familiar about his face, though she was certain she’d never seen him on the casino floor.
“And he’s dead?”
She loaded another round into her pistol. “It’s time I left.”
“Your mission is not complete. Assassinate Tojo.”
She laughed. “Is that a joke?”
“And how do I do that?”
The old man looked at the pistol in her hand.
“Suppose I refuse,” she said.
The old man smiled. “I think you will succeed.” The image flickered and went out. Sylph only then saw that the old man had used a public channel to contact her. Tojo’s spies had undoubtedly intercepted the message.
The door opened. Sylph raised her pistol and fired twice. Two men sprawled to the floor.
Her pistol was empty and the box of ammunition sat across the table. She reached...
Fire exploded through the room. She leapt aside as her table exploded into a splintered ruin. Rounds scattered across the floor. She crawled away and stood behind the corner.
The hitman cursed and stepped over the bodies into the room. Sylph swung the knife-edge of her hand for his throat.
He edged aside, just in time and grabbed her shoulders. She kneed him in the groin and twisted his wrist behind him, sending him to the floor. She knelt on his back and yanked his neck to the side. Bones crunched.
She caught her breath and stared at the dead men. Two were shot in the eye. The other lay in a tangle of his own limbs. She calmly gathered handfuls of ammo from the floor and filled her pockets. She took the rifle from the man’s corpse and found another clip in his jacket.
Why had the old man betrayed her? It couldn’t have been simple carelessness; the old man had known exactly what he was doing when he contacted her through a public channel.
Tojo would soon know his hitmen had failed. He would seal off Gifu. Escape would be impossible.
She dragged the bodies into her room. She stopped and slung her purse over her shoulder and stalked through the hall. People screamed and ran.
Tojo’s guards were out in force, black shapes in the glitz and glam of the crowded casino floor.
Sylph fired into the air. The casino screamed and all the guests stopped and ducked and ran in a sudden stampede. She threw herself into the crowd.
Someone else was shooting. An old man in a gray suit in front of her exploded. Terrified screams lashed through the mob. Sylph snuck onto one of the lifts.
Her mind warred. Half screamed in panic, half remained calm and calculating. She watched herself move without the slightest control.
She found the nearest service way, descending down through the unseen bowels of the casino. She navigated through a maze of narrow maintenance hatches. She was certain she was lost until she came to an entrance titled ‘ORBITAL CONTROL’.
The door bolted open. Gai smiled. She raised the rifle but he caught it and crushed the barrel into a pulp.
She grabbed his wrist and twisted, flipping him to his back. Gai stood and kicked her in the chest. She choked as her breath drained from her lungs.
Gai lifted Sylph by her throat and squeezed. She drew the pistol from her waist and shot Gai in the face. Gears and circuits and fluids exploded. He dropped her and raised his arm to hammer down on her.
She raised her arm. Gai’s hand crushed down through her arm. Bones snapped and punctured through the flesh of her arm.
She shot him again and again. Gai fell. His limbs grasped and twitched and reached but he did not rise.
A muzzy fog nestled in her eyes. She wobbled to her feet and limbed into the control center. She pulled the explosives from her purse and planted them. She left and walked back onto the casino floor. When Tojo’s guards found her she was passed out.
She woke. The sakura tree’s blossoms swayed and scattered petals. She was bound at the wrists and ankles.
“Where is Quintus Vant?” said Tojo. “He was your accomplice. Yes?”
“I warned you,” said Salvio. “I told you they’d find a way.”
“This woman did not act alone,” said Tojo.
“That’s no woman. It’s Quintus Vant. He slipped his body and passed through your cerebral toys.”
The floor rocked violently. Alarms wailed.
“This is the end of our business arrangement. Arrivederci.” Salvio’s hologram vanished.
.“You will kill many innocent people. That means nothing to you. Or me. I could escape. But without Gifu I am nothing.”
He unbound her. He pointed down a hallway. “My personal vessel. Use it.”
“I am sixty years old,” Tojo said. “Too old.” He walked over to a display case. “This once belonged to a daimyo named Matsunaga Hisahide.” He opened the case and removed a battered ceramic shard. “Rather than submit to Nobunaga, he grabbed a kettle that Nobunaga coveted and threw himself onto bags of gunpowder. This is one of the fragments.” He sat beneath the tree.
She woke naked, her flesh crawling and cold with the feel of metal against her back.
“You did very well.”
Sylph tried to stand. Her wrists and arms were bound.
“Who am I?”
“A valid question. You have been in a perpetual vegetative state for many decades. Medical science has come so far. Flesh can be regrown, bones and limbs and even memories reimplanted. But the spark of life is something science has not yet been able to recreate. Once it is lost, the subject is lost. Such was the case with you, Ms. Memry.
“Is that my name?”
“It was the name of the person who possessed your body before you.”
“Who is Quintus Vant?”
“You. So to speak. We are unable to recreate the spark of life but we have learned to transfer it. Vant’s is buried deep within your subconscious. He knew his mission. How to destroy the casino.”
“Will you give me my memories back?”
“No. We will revive Vant.” He pointed beside her where a man lay naked. His left arm, half of his chest and face were steel cybernetics. His eyes were were lifeless and vacant.
“Am I going to die?”
The old man nodded to someone. “Begin the procedure.”
Quintus Vant rose.
“The procedure was a success,” the old man said. “Welcome back.”
He ran his fingers down the steel half of his face and down his metal arm.
“Once you’ve rested it’s back to work,” the old man said. He left.
Vant looked at the table beside him. A naked woman lay there. Her eyes stared at him. Her body was bruised and battered and her arm was a ruin of broken bones. A deck of playing cards sat between them. He picked them up and flexed them back. The cards burst and scattered across the white floor.
Copyright © 2009 by Kristen Lee Knapp