I joined Malone’s crew for the free mods. When you’re born in the lower slums of a hive city, you don’t have many options for advancement. Those that live above were more likely to shoot you on sight than give you the time of day.
Malone was different, he always said that he was a humanist, and he proved that by hiring anyone for his crew. You had to pass the entrance trial, though, and only the toughest street kids could survive.
By the time I got to run the trial, I was already sixteen and had stolen my first couple of mods. The first mod I got was an adrenal enhancer that had to be installed directly onto your spine. My second mod was a bone density modifier that would send nanobots into my bones to slowly strengthen them with carbon nanostructures. I stole both from a mid-level boutique that made the mistake of allowing a filthy street kid to browse.
Backyard mod installation shops were common, but it was risky too. Most mods require some level of invasive surgery to install. I had been lucky, never catching gangrene, the same could not be said for some of my friends.
Malone offered more than free mods, he also had a professional modder on staff, and you’d get creds for completed jobs. Being modded is the only way to move out of the slums, and I have to move out.
The trial was brutal, seven applicants were sent into a building infested by vipers. Our goal was to reach the top of the building alive, and if you managed to kill a viper on the way, it would count in your favor.
When the trial began, I was the first one to make it to the stairs leading up. There were already several vipers waiting to ambush us just around the first bend. My adrenal enhancer kicked in, flooding my body with the powerful chemical as I placed my foot against the side wall and launched myself over the vipers to grab onto the railing of the next flight of stairs.
Before the vipers could turn to pursue me, the other applicants arrived on the scene. I didn’t wait around to see what would happen, thankful for the distraction as I sprinted up. Their screams echoed up the stairway after me, and I wished that I had an aural modulator installed to mute them.
My ascent was soon blocked by a collapsed flight of stairs. Jagged rebar stuck out of the crumbled concrete overhead as I stopped to weigh my options. I was fit and strong, and with my mods, I could jump pretty high, but the rebar was higher than I had jumped before.
My thoughts were interrupted as a snarling viper burst from the loose rubble in front of me. The mutant tackled me backward down the stairs, and we fell several meters before impacting the concrete. I was confident that my bones weren’t broken, and I struggled to my feet quickly as the mutant flailed wildly.
The adrenaline flooded my body again as I laid into the viper’s gnarled face. Black teeth tore the skin from my knuckles, but I refused to stop. Eventually, the viper stopped struggling, and I stood shivering as the adrenaline burned out. Blood and black ichor dripped from my hands as I turned to survey my options.
I knew that I had to be close to the top of the building by now. The collapsed staircase was the last one by my estimation. My only other option would be to take the elevator shaft, I decided as I set off on shaking legs.
The hallway beyond the stairs was littered with filth and the leftovers of human habitation. I reached the silver portal leading to the elevator shaft, the doors claimed long ago by scrappers. I peered up into the darkness of the shaft and saw light pouring in from the floor above. Beyond the light, I could make out the top of the shaft, from which hung the elevator cable.
I took a deep breath before leaping into the black void and grabbing the cable with my ruined hands. My fingers were slick with blood and I nearly lost my grip on the oily cable. Using my legs, I was able to shimmy my way up the cable to where I could see into the next floor.
The elevator still hung at the bottom of the taut cable and as such, I was unable to swing to the opening. I would have to jump for it, hopefully, I still had enough adrenaline left to make it. My body was once again flooded by the icy grip of adrenaline, and I knew it was now or never.
I pushed off of the cable using my arms and legs, twisting while I careened through the void and grabbing onto the lower lip of the elevator’s door-track. Several terrifying moments passed before I found the strength to pull myself up and over the ledge.
Immediately, I was surrounded by Malone’s thugs, all armed with assault rifles and heavily modded bodies. I was lifted to my feet by metal hands and stood facing a man wearing a dark purple suit.
Malone smiled warmly at me and extended his golden right hand, “Welcome to the crew, kid.”