Peter Ellis was a broken man and, ever since the First Ares New World Bank took his left kidney, not in the best of health.
That was sixteen years ago, just seven months before they repossessed his wife and unborn child to clear an unpaid overdraft. Bailiffs came in the middle of the night with a signed warrant to take her away. The accusing, forgiving look in her eyes still haunted him but he never saw her again; sold into slavery because of his debt.
A nose bleed; the trickle dripped onto marble tiles that were as cold as the manager’s smile, shockingly bright on such a dull day. His pulsed raced as a young cleaner in shapeless coveralls slip between customers, invisible, never once making eye contact. For the customers’ part, they never notice the young man and it had always been that way. Ellis noticed, though, as his own blood disappear in a swirl of warm water and detergent.
“All better now, Sir,” the cashier said with bright crystalline disinterest. “What can First Ares do for you this morning?”
“Just a deposit.” He forced himself to stay calm, to slide the pink acetate slip across the counter as retinal and facial recognition scans verified his identity. The red eyes of security camera set into each wall scanned for any sign of malicious intent. Going into any branch with the wrong type of thoughts triggered lasers set to kill, for the management had a shoot first and don’t bother with questions later policy.
“Thank you, Sir.” The cashier was efficient, impersonal, only doing her job as she cancelled the enforcement order that would have sent two large male nurses to his house to collect the other kidney. One more payment and he would get to keep his remaining organs until the next time he fell behind. There would be a next time; easier if the bank had taken his heart and put an end to their particular brand of debt management. Ares was still an outer frontier world and FANWB owned most of it, rewriting financial law and ethics in its own image.
The girl behind the triple enforced security screens gave another smile, polite only because it was written in her job description. She talked to him in a tone that suggested he had just crawled out from under a stone and needed stepping on. Her fingers danced across the air screens, calling up account details, recent amendments to the file and a direct instruction from the manager.”We have an opportunity tomorrow – 08:00 to 20.31. One day’s work to clear a little more of what you owe. No excuses accepted. No alternative dates available.”
“Right,” Ellis said, hoping he sounded enthusiastic. “I will be there.”
The air outside was scrubbed of all impurities; triple filtered but still scented with faint, barely there top notes as riot gas wafted over from the next sector. Three days had already left two hundred and fifty dead, and another hundred would face the firing squad because of it. The bank financed the firing squad — relatives of those executed made to pay for every bullet.
He walked back to his one room rented icebox through a neighborhood that died years ago, all life sucked out of it so that First Ares New World Bank could pay its senior staff bonuses. Sleep did not come until early morning; a few hours snatched before the alarm summoned him to a twelve and a half hour shift. His only time off in the nine day week, but he had no options, except a final revenge.
He rubbed his arm. Injected emotional suppressants would cheat the security lasers long enough to get close to the senior manager’s office. Even as he walked through streets no better by day than by night, domed shields, badly in need of a cleaning, kept Ares from killing everyone on its surface. In the early years after settlement, the skies had been blue and full of promise but color filters cost money. Now the simulated sky was a muddy gray, reflecting his mood as he walked up the marble steps. Imposing columns on each side of the entrance could have been from a temple to the ancient God of War; massive polished ironwood door bore the legend ‘We only exist to serve our customers.’ He paused by the blatant lie and forced all negative thought out of his mind so they did not betray him.
One of the clerks tapped in some details; the balance dropping to more manageable levels. It floated over his head for a moment in large bold type, given both form and substance by myriad nannobots circulated by the air conditioning system.
“We are making some progress, Sir,” she said as the cleaner appeared out of a cupboard with dark blue coveralls; three sizes too large, as shapeless and badly made as his own.
The clerk looked down her nose, treating Ellis with the same disdain by proxy. The bank treated everyone like that anyway, as if it was one of their mission statements. He breathed deeply, counting down from ten to one until he felt calmer and the desk mounted sensor faded from a threatening blood red to its normal color. His stomach growled, bitter acid bubbling in his throat until he swallowed hard, battling nausea. Must have been something I ate, stomach flu or tainted concentrate – he insisted and almost believed his own argument. He was already sick of his new job, unable to imagine doing it again the next day and the day after that. One shift was bad enough.
“How do you stand this place?” he whispered, well away from the listening spy-ears. “They treat you like dirt.”
The other man shrugged. He had never known any other life, never had a family to lose. It was all taken away before he had been born and he knew better than to answer the question.
They finished mopping the floors just as the first customer marched in with muddy boots. Ellis did not move quickly enough but the young cleaner was used to dealing with people who just wanted to vent their bad mood. The fat man with a red face and impressive handle bar mustache was no exception. He lashed out with his cane to make the point, used a sense of his own importance as a weapon. “Get out of my way”
You don’t speak to customers unless they speak first. The cashier had been specific. Keep what you say to a minimum, four word or less, and never raise your voice; if they want to hit you – let them. Anything goes except permanent damage and then they have to pay.
“Apologies, Sir.” The cleaner did not flinch when the stick cracked down across his shoulder. One more bruise added to the collection and this one taken for a stranger who asked too many questions but did not know how to be invisible. Mr. Mustache pushed back into the queue and forgot about them as he found out how much money he had made that morning.
Ellis felt sick again, a nervous flutter in his belly as his carefully horded capsules he’d swallowed earlier dissolved, warning him he did not have much time. Waves of nausea passed as the morning dragged by, hard, repetitive work that went unnoticed; unvalued as the trash bins they emptied together. He was tired already, tired of customers who rarely noticed him and the bank staff treating him like crap scraped off a shoe. As he watched the younger man without even a name of his own, he sent a silent prayer out to his own lost child.
The chief cashier, a stern faced, power crazy martinet who scared even the manager, called Ellis into her office in the early afternoon just after he had snatched a break. Ten minutes between unblocking the staff toilets and scraping vomit and feces from the floor of the final warning office had not helped.
“How are you enjoying your time with us?” she made a false attempt to sound friendly and interested.
He managed a rictus grin even as acid bubbled up in his throat and his stomach reset itself on spin; kept the expression as a lie detector in the pot plant beeped accusingly.
“Fine,” he said.
She did not bother to acknowledge the obvious exaggeration. “I have been instructed to offer you another day next week – an easy way to clear another hundred off your balance.” Her finger hovered over the button that would call security for an instant revocation of rights to his remaining kidney. Having just helped to scrub down the in-house operating theatre after a complete organ harvest and disposed of the corpse afterwards; Ellis had every reason to avoid a return visit. He answered the loaded question, forcing himself to sound grateful.
“Of course; I will be there.” The lie detector did not make a sound as he picked up his bucket and left, the doors closing silently behind him.
Aware of how late he had left it, he went in search of his unwilling mentor and found him down in the bowels of the building. In the safe deposit room, a cavernous space lined with thick laser cutter proof steel and lead, the listening devices and spy-eyes had only limited efficiency. Hundreds of boxes lined each wall; the contents of just one would clear any outstanding debt if they could be opened without the owner’s retinal scan.
Not that it mattered anymore.
Discomfort started and he clutched his belly, unable to bite back the groan of pain. A thin crimson rivulet trickled down his chin; internal bleeding was only the start of a carefully planned revenge.
“Stay here; I will finish off upstairs.”
Somehow, the young cleaner sensed that Peter Ellis had no intention of completing his shift. He nodded goodbye and watched a dying man walk up the stairs with a strange, almost envious look in his eyes.
Ellis had been stockpiling personal micro-explosives for months; buying them singly from a supplier who smuggled them from Earth and did not ask what he wanted them for. Triple layered gelatin capsules made them easy to swallow with half bottle of true spirits, the best he could afford. Soon the conspiring action of stomach acid would dissolve one final layer, timed to the bank’s quietest period. Some innocents would still die. He had wrestled with his conscience and fought it to a no-holds draw, trying not to think about the people who did not deserve to die.
Ten capsules offered massive explosive potential but only limited range, easy then to take out the bank and everyone in it leaving the rest of the street untouched.
First Ares New World Bank had taken everything he had ever loved.
It was time for it to repay that debt with interest.