6

The Hive was the same expensive dump it always was, crawling with Tong's Harvesters and working girls that didn't speak a word of English. Adam had been sitting at the bar, nursing one of Bobby Bao's famous Shanghai Gut Punches for near half the night. He was beginning to wonder if he'd missed something in Taggart's communication. It seemed to him that Taggart was a pretty subtle guy who seemed particularly bad at cloak and dagger games. It probably wouldn't be long before the UN caught up with him and he disappeared. Adam hoped he wasn't already too late.

Adam finished off the drink and tapped Bobby on the shoulder to order another. "No more drink for you, Laowai. Tong see you in office. Now."

"I'm not here to see Tong," Adam growled back. He'd never liked the chipper way Bobby Bao called him "Laowai".

"Too bad for you, Laowai," Bobby said with a disgusting smirk. "Tong ask for you personally. Might have work for you. Might shoot you in head. Who knows? I just serve drinks. Now, you go downstairs, Laowai, and see Tong."

Adam pushed away from the bar, noting the three Harvesters slowly gravitating toward him. He decided it would be best for him to show himself to Tong's office rather than show up with Tong's Harvester escort. Being proactive always put him in a better bargaining position so he made for Tong's office in the basement and pushed inside, the heavy bass of the Hive's main floor fading to a dull throb. But it wasn't Tong waiting for him in the office. It was Bill Taggart. By the look of him, Hengsha had chewed him up and spat him out. Somewhere along the way, he'd lost his glasses, shaved his head and opted for an outdated sweater vest that stood out like a sore thumb but there was no mistaking those shifty eyes and nasal voice when Taggart rose to meet him. This was Bill Taggart, the one and only. "Mr. Jensen," he said extending a hand to Adam. Adam was half tempted to take it and break it but he ignored the impulse and, eventually, Taggart dropped his arm limply. "I see. Well, at least you're here. That means something."

"Cut the crap, Taggart," Adam snapped. "I didn't fly halfway around the world for small talk. Tell me what you know about White Helix."

Taggart sank back and sat on Tong's desk, his ugly sneakers resting on the chair he'd been sitting on. "All in good time. I need something from you first."

"I can't retract my statement about Humanity Front's involvement in Panchea, if that's what you want."

"The retraction would only get buried anyway," Taggart said with a shifty shrug. "The U.N. wants me to disappear and they'll get what they want, regardless of what you say. That's not why I called you here. I have a task that needs doing that only a man of your…situation…can do."

Adam crossed his arms. "This better not be a waste of my time, Taggart. I'm not going to hack anything or sneak into anywhere for you."

"I wouldn't dream of asking you to do that, not for me."

"Then I'm listening."

Taggart cleared his throat. The effeminate way he did that always made Adam feel a little uneasy, like whatever he was about to say next was going to end very, very badly for him. "I've been offered asylum somewhere in exchange for some of Mr. Darrow's data. I have the data, Mr. Jensen, but once I hand it over, I'll have lost my last bit of bargaining power. I'll have nothing and be of no use to anyone." He leaned forward, the artificial lights glistening on the top of his polished head. "I'm certain they're going to kill me, although I shouldn't be surprised. I don't think any of us expected to leave Panchea alive, not after Darrow activated the chip."

"I'm still waiting for a reason to care, Taggart."

"Because," snapped Taggart. "Once I die, the truth about augmentations will die with me. The voice of reason will die. You and your companies will go on, pretending to be gods, all the while creating idols in the image of the machines that ought to be serving man instead of man serving them. Once I'm gone…Once my ideas, my voice is gone… There will be no one left to stop this madness unless I can ensure that someone else has access to the truth." Taggart lifted a data chip from his pocket and held it out to Adam. "Take it."

"What is it?"

"The truth. Everything I know about your filthy little company, you, your boss, your scientists, White Helix…I want my conscience clean when I go to meet God. Maybe you'll find what you're looking for in there."

Adam hesitated. This had to be a trick, a trap of some kind. "You're just going to give it to me? Without asking for anything in return? And after everything I did and said?"

Taggart sighed and his outstretched arm fell a few inches but he still held the chip out to Adam. "You think you're responsible for my situation? Perhaps. If not for your damning words, I might have gotten my way. The Augmentation industry would see the regulation it so desperately needs and the world would be a better, brighter place. I assure you, however, that the Illuminati would have killed me anyway once I ceased to be of use. All you've managed to do is alter the timing and method of my death. This information is freely given, Mr. Jensen. I think that it will do you some good. Once you see where this path leads, perhaps you'll rethink where you stand on the issue. And when you do, I believe you'll have the power to do something about it in ways I never dreamed were possible."

He thrust the chip at Adam again who hesitantly took it. Adam felt more than a little guilty over what happened to Taggart now. Sure, he had it coming. Sure, the guy was a fanatic lost on his cause but wasn't everyone? Was he really any better than Serif or Darrow or Megan? Was he really any better than Adam himself? Adam stared at the chip, cleared his throat and slipped it into his pocket. "I never asked for this," he reminded Taggart. "To be what I am, to live like this. I didn't have a choice."

"None of us chooses to be born, Mr. Jensen," Taggart said, a far off look in his eyes. "But it is always in our power to choose to live. We choose, each of us, whether or not to embrace life or tiny bits of plastic and metal that imitate life. Those things hooked into your nervous system…They aren't you, not really. The more and more you use them, the more of the beast you awaken. How many will you use, how many upgrades, how many praxis kits will you buy before you realize that, with each and every one of them you install, you're displacing your own soul? For each piece of yourself you surrender, Mr. Jensen, your humanity dies a little more. You think those augmentations make you better than human?" A smirk crawled up on his lips. "You are no better."

Adam left Tong's office and let the door slam shut behind him, knowing full well that Bill Taggart fully intended to take his own life and probably splatter his brains all over Tong's office wall. It was his last attempt at sending a message. When they found the body, he hoped Tong's Harvesters would be all over the news right alongside him, illustrating the worst augmented humanity had to offer. Hengsha's tight association with Tai Yong Medical would probably also be dragged out into the daylight, the city's open attitude toward augmentation questioned. But the average citizen was already over what happened in Panchea and, if these Illuminati knew what was good for them, they'd play this down or else risk having their involvement exposed.

Adam fingered the datachip in his pocket. Adam didn't really care about all that. All he wanted was to put all this behind him, to see the world come to some sort of consensus about how to handle people like him. The world couldn't move on, he couldn't move on, until people stopped hounding him for his DNA. And he couldn't put a stop to that until he was certain he knew why…and that White Helix would never be able to make another copy of him and his abilities. Ever.

The shot rang out just as Adam slid back onto his bar stool. His augmented ears barely picked up the noise above Tong's terrible taste in music, though no one else seemed to notice. Bobby Bao's pale green eyes rolled over him suspiciously as he polished another glass. "You want another Shanghai Gut Punch, Laowai?"

"I feel like celebrating." Adam slipped him twenty five credits and a nice, fat tip. "Better make it a Golden Phoenix Sling."