*Author's note* Sorry for the long delay in submitting this chapter. I have been writing stuff out of order and it took me a while to get around to chapter 4. But here it is finally!
He wanted to take her to China, of all places. Adam had a lead for an address in Hengsha, and he had to follow up on it as quickly as possible. So that meant dragging her along, if he was going to stand any chance of keeping his promise of getting her out of trouble. Li was not convinced that the plan was going to work in her favour; she had never applied for a passport and even if she had one, the Border Agency did not approve visas to countries that allowed augmentation.
So they found themselves creeping along a different but equally unsavoury part of town as they tracked down an address of a local forger. A dismal smudge of grey light was beginning to smear the horizon, and Li's body clock was telling her that she was way past due her bedtime. Her tiredness did nothing to improve her anxious mood, especially when Adam was showing no signs of weariness at all.
The approaching dawn was worrying her. Adam was good at sticking to the shadows and staying out of the way, so in the dark it had been relatively easy to hide his augmentations. But morning was fast approaching, and although the local weather rarely got any better than a sullen drizzle, there would be enough light for Adam's glasses to draw attention. Even if SpecOps hadn't been out to get them, an augmented person could be shot on sight.
"It's getting light," Li murmured as they rounded a corner and started down a narrow alley. Adam glanced at the horizon and nodded.
"We're almost there," he replied. "I'm guessing it will take a while to get the passport and the documents together. We'll lay low until it's dark again, and you can get some sleep."
"I can?" Li said, frowning at Adam's choice of words. "What about you?"
"I've got some things I need to do before we leave," he said, slowing to a halt as he studied the ground of the alley in front of them.
"But what about the daylight?" Li asked. The conversation suddenly seemed a little absurd, as if he was some kind of vampire that would dissolve or even spontaneously combust under the light of the sun.
"It won't be a problem," Adam said, then stepped forward another couple of paces. Li did not follow, so he turned to look at her. She stared in confusion, and he smiled grimly before he spoke again. "The guy we're going to see," he said. "I'm afraid he's down here." Adam crouched onto the ground, pointing at a metal grate beside his feet.
"But that's a sewage pipe," Li replied, feeling her face tighten into a grimace as she realised that they were really going down there.
"Yeah," he agreed. "There's more or less a whole extra town down here, and that's where I need to go. But don't worry, you'll be safe until I get back."
"Safe," she echoed. "I don't want to think about what we're going to smell like by tonight."
Adam lifted the drain cover from its frame and slid it aside. He stuck his head down the hole and looked around, checking that it was empty before he held out his hand to help Li inside. Trying her best to breathe through her mouth, she stepped down onto the slimy ladder and began to descend into the darkness.
The forger could not get Li into Hengsha. As she had suspected, visas to get into China were absolutely prohibited, but Adam would not be dissuaded so easily. So they were going to make two sets of documents for her; one which said that she was a UK citizen travelling to Canada to get her out of the country, and one which said that she actually was a Canadian citizen so that she would be able to enter China. Canada didn't officially allow augmentation technology, and so the UK government grudgingly allowed travel there, but anyone returning from Canada was thoroughly scanned and searched before they were allowed entry back onto UK soil.
Once they were out of UK airspace, they would discard her British passport and travel straight to Hengsha. It was the fake paper trail and masses of computer records that would be needed to back up their bogus itinerary which was going to take the time. Convincing Immigration Control within several different countries that your imaginary journey had actually taken place was hard. And if they were stopped during any of the random document searches, they would be screwed. It was no wonder that Adam had ended up coming in hot and entering the UK illegally, but he did not want to take such drastic measures with her in tow.
Li spent then next couple of hours being poked, prodded, scanned and fingerprinted by the forger. Adam stayed with her while all of the biometrics were being taken. The room was small, cold and dimly lit, but there was a comfortable sofa that she would be able to nap on until Adam's return.
"Sorry it's taking so long," the forger said, lifting his glasses to rub his beady eyes. "I have to take your biometrics and alter them in opposite directions, just enough so that we have two sets of data. They need to be different enough from each other that they could be different people, but close enough to your real biometrics that you would still fool most scanners."
"Most?" Adam questioned, leaning against the wall with his arms folded as he watched the forger work. Li looked between Adam and the man scanning her retinas, concern furrowing her brow.
"Most is the best you'll ever get," the forger replied. "You're basically trying to pass her off as two different people using her own biometric data. It's more or less impossible, which is why it takes so long." He sighed as the retinal scanner beeped disapprovingly, and lifted the device to Li's eye to start again. "Of course, it would be quicker if you would sit still."
"Sorry," she replied meekly, feeling the same sort of embarrassment she always felt at the optician when a stranger stared straight into her face. The next scan was thankfully successful, and the forger told them that he had all of the biometrics that he needed.
Li spent the next couple of hours napping as the forger worked, and Adam headed off into the shadows of the underground town. She had considered asking what he was up to, but figured she probably didn't want to know.
Adam stepped into the dimly lit passageways of the sewer and headed towards the centre of the underground town. He did not like the idea of leaving Li alone with the forger, but he had no choice if he was going to be able to pay for the documents. For a moment he wondered whether she would run while he was gone, but it seemed unlikely. There was nowhere safe for her to go; him falling into her life from the wreckage of a burning V-TOL took care of that.
It was weird, though. If they only suspected the girl of having helped an aug, then SpecOps were throwing far more fire-power after finding the girl than he would have expected. The current UK government was pretty fanatical in their hatred of all things related to augmentation, but sending search parties, choppers, APCs and hoards of soldiers after just one girl who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? It didn't add up.
Right now, though, Adam did not have time to think about the SpecOps situation any further. He had a job to do on behalf of one of the drug runner gangs in the upper city. He didn't like doing dirty work for scum, but the money was good and he didn't have the luxury of time to look for something else. His tracking aug warned him of a person standing watch around the next corner, so he bent into a crouch and crept to the edge of the wall before carefully checking the way ahead.
One man stood facing Adam's direction, and he did not look like he would be turning around any time soon. Damn. Backtracking through the maze of shit smeared corridors would take more time than he cared to spend on this mission. He looked at the wall to his back; it was damp and crumbling and would easily give way beneath his fist, but it was close enough that the guard would hear him. The thought of having to eat a Cyberboost bar down here with the stench of ten year old human waste in his nostrils ended that line of thought completely.
Calculating the distance of the guard from his current hiding place, Adam drew his stun gun, rounded the corner and stunned the guard before he had the chance to make a sound. He grabbed the unconscious man by the leg and dragged him into the shadows before checking his pockets. It never failed to amaze him how many people kept a record of important codes and passwords in plain sight; more often than not in a message or email entitled "password". He was beginning to understand why Pritchard subjected all of the employees of Sarif Industries to his regular, sarcasm-fuelled security reminders.
After satisfying himself that the guard was hidden well enough that nobody would stumble across him, Adam crept along the corridor, stopping behind a large crate while another guard walked past oblivious to his presence. It did not take long to find the room where his target was located, but there was a problem.
The entrance to the room was booby trapped with a proximity mine. Adam would not have time to disarm it before the guard came back within sight. Cursing, he backtracked to the crate while he considered his options. As he crouched in the darkness, he noticed a slight glint of metal behind the crate. An access shaft sat directly behind the wooden box. Adam slid it aside and crawled inside the small space, making his way past the proximity mine and entering the target room from a shadowy corner.
Two guards stood inside the room, their backs to Adam as they kept their eyes trained on the door. As he sneaked up behind them, he slowly rose to his full height, grabbed each guard by the head and slammed their heads together. The noise seemed loud in the gloom and for a moment Adam stood motionless, listening hard for any signs that the patrolling guard had heard anything amiss. Nothing happened, so he rifled through the guards' pockets before moving in to hack the computer terminal glowing in the corner of the room.
Damn. The password that he had lifted from the first guard was not valid on this computer, so Adam had no choice but to attempt to hack it. It was not a particularly high security device, but there were hundreds of nodes scattered haphazardly through the system and hacking always seemed to give him a headache.
Within another few minutes, he downloaded the info that he needed from the computer and headed back out of the gang controlled territory. All he needed to do now was to find the exchange point, hand over the info and get paid.
Adam hadn't even seemed concerned as he handed over an obscene amount of money in exchange for the passports and documents that would supposedly allow Li to leave the UK. Her heart was pounding in shock and her hands trembled as they climbed back up the slimy ladder and out into the cool evening air.
"How do we know that they'll work?" she asked, and Adam smiled as he slid the drain cover back into place.
"The guy knows what the consequences would be if they didn't," he replied, and Li wished that she hadn't asked. They walked back towards the centre of the city, sticking to quieter streets in the hope of avoiding SpecOps patrols. After a couple of moments, Adam stopped walking suddenly as he turned his head to listen behind them.
They had been followed after they had left the sewer. Three scrawny men appeared from the depths of the shadows, and Li shrank behind Adam as the attackers all aimed guns at their heads.
"Hand over the passports and no one gets hurt," one of the men spat as they stepped closer. The three men had all circled ahead of them, within Adam's field of vision, and did not appear concerned that they were dangerously close to touching range. Adam gently pushed Li until she took a couple of steps backwards.
"Turn around and walk away," Adam countered. "And I might let you keep all your limbs."
"Thinks he's calling the shots!" the scrawny leader said to his friends, and they sniggered. Adam did not waste any more time. Quick as lightening, his hand snaked out and grasped the gun in the leader's grip, pulling the man closer so that the gun was aimed to the side while he smashed his fist into the scrawny man's nose. He threw his opponent to the ground, the gun falling uselessly beside the unconscious body. As he turned to deal with the other men at his sides, Li sensed movement to their right.
A fourth attacker was advancing on them from the shadows, and Adam was still busy fighting off his remaining two opponents. As the two men slid to the ground beside their leader, the fourth attacker cocked the barrel of his gun right against Adam's temple.
Li moved without thinking. Grabbing the gun, she twirled and slammed her fist into the man's nose, using momentum to help her knock him to the floor. Adam reached into his coat and brought out a device that looked like it might be a weapon, but Li had never seen anything like it. He aimed it at the downed man's head and pulled the trigger, causing sparks of electricity to envelop his body. As Adam turned back towards her, placing the weapon back beneath his coat, Li realised that she was shaking.
"Thanks," he murmured, sliding his hands to Li's shoulders to ensure that she was ok. She tried to smile, but she could feel her eyes welling with tears. "Where did you learn that?"
"I just copied you, I think," Li replied, rubbing her right hand. It was starting to feel very stiff.
"Quick learner," Adam commented, and Li nodded.
"I'm a dancer," she explained. "I've got to be able to pick things up fast. What did you just do?"
"Stun gun," Adam replied. "He'll sleep for a couple of hours, long enough that he won't be bothering us again. Probably wake up with a headache."
"Pretty handy," Li said, wincing as a stabbing pain began coursing through her fingers.
Adam frowned as he studied her, looking down at her hand and staring for a moment. "You've broken your hand," he said, reaching out to lift her aching palm gently.
Panic rose in Li's throat and turned her voice into a high pitched parody of itself. "Of course I haven't!" she insisted. "It's just a bit stiff, I've probably just sprained it." It was a lie, and they both knew it. "Anyway, we aren't exactly going to be able to walk into a hospital around here, are we?" That was true, at least. "It will have to be ok until we get out of here."
Adam did not look convinced, but there was little he could do to argue right now. Ensuring that they had not dropped any of their documents, they turned and headed onwards towards the city.
Li's stomach was rumbling so loudly that Adam would not have needed augmented hearing to be able to hear it. She hadn't eaten all day, and as far as she knew, he hadn't either. She was never a good person to be around when she was hungry. Noticing a noodle bar on a quiet side street to their left, Li slowed to a stop. "We got time to eat before we carry on?" she asked.
Adam looked over, following Li's gaze to the shop. He took a moment to study it before he replied. "Sure. It looks pretty quiet in there."
They entered the shop, and Li sent Adam to the back of the seating area while she ordered and waited for their food. Two bowls of steaming noodles in hand, she returned to Adam and placed the food on the table before sliding into the seat gratefully. It was not until she was snapping her chopsticks apart and digging into her own bowl that it occurred to her to worry whether he could manage the implements with his augmented hands.
Li had already started to blush deep red in embarrassment before she managed to open her mouth to begin an apology. However, she needn't have worried as Adam mimicked her earlier movements and began eating his noodles without any difficulty. She sighed in relief, and he looked up at her, a hint of a grin at his lips.
"They aren't exactly the real thing," he commented. "But they do the job I guess. For most things."
"You don't sound overly pleased with them," Li said, finding it hard to keep her eyes off the soft sheen of Adam's fingers. He shrugged.
"They have their uses. Punching through a wall with an organic hand can get a little messy."
Li frowned as she looked back at Adam's face, trying to somehow fathom what he was thinking from behind his glasses. "But..." she started, then did not know how to finish. "I'm sorry if this is rude, but obviously I haven't had much experience with augmentations before. I know all the stuff the government puts out is probably just propaganda and bullshit, but, well, I kind of got the impression that augmented limbs look pretty clunky and, well, shit. But yours, they look a lot more sort of human than I would expect. They aren't exactly typical, are they?"
Adam shook his head. "Top of the fucking line," he replied as he stared at his hand. His voice was dark with anger.
"So," Li went on, pausing for a moment to slurp a noodle and chew on a mushroom. "You're obviously not happy with them? What happened? Is it a really bad case of Buyer's Remorse?"
Adam's hands stilled at Li's question, jaw tightening as he ground his teeth. Li flinched and wished that she had not tried to push the issue further, but there was no turning back now.
"I never asked for this," he spat, turning his free hand palm up and then slowly making a fist with the synthetic digits. "Someone broke into the labs where I work. Bastards killed Megan Reed because of the research she was doing. Killed her, all of her team, and tried to kill me too."
"Oh!" Li replied, shocked by the venom in Adam's voice. "I... I'm so sorry, I shouldn't be so nosey. I just hate being so ignorant about an issue that so obviously important in the rest of the world."
Adam nodded, and settled back into eating his noodles as Li asked another question. "So, did you get the augmentations to save your life?" It had never occurred to her that people might get augmentations for any reason other than vanity.
He grinned again, but there was no humour in the expression. "Some of them, not all. Basically most of my internal organs and one of my arms got minced when I got thrown through a pane of safety glass. My boss decided that I would be more use to him if they also augmented my other arm and both of my legs."
Li choked on her noodle soup at that. "They just cut off healthy limbs?" she asked, and he nodded. "Didn't they need your consent for that?"
"Built into my employment contract," Adam replied. "Sarif could have chopped off my head and transplanted it onto a chihuahua if he had wanted."
"Chuffing hell!" Li exclaimed. "That's pretty brutal. And you're still working for him?"
"For now," Adam agreed. "I need to find the bastards that killed Megan."
"Were you," Li began, worried that she would make Adam angry again. "Were you close?"
It took a moment before Adam replied. "Yeah," he muttered, setting aside his chopsticks and running his hand through his hair. "We were."