39. The Showman

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Most residents of San Lazaro had no idea that the Cistern Club even existed. It was an exclusive venue which showcased cutting edge music, film, virtual reality and art. The performances and creatives on show were unusual, yet few were as unusual as the venue itself. After the Great San Lazaro Fire of 1903, huge cisterns had been created below the city to store water in the event of another conflagration. Many had since been filled in but the club was housed in an accessible example close to the surface. Converting the underground space into a luxurious club hadn’t been cheap but the owners had wanted something unique.

Johnny ‘Cyborg’ Sinclair-Ariza loved the Cistern and was happy that his new audio-visual experience was being unveiled here. As usual, he arrived late and stood at the back, close to the bar, wearing a hoodie. This enabled him to watch – undisturbed – the rapt audience enjoy a thirty-minute maelstrom of music and imagery. His new piece married a variety of world beats with photos of distant galaxies and drone shots gleaned from every corner of the globe. When it ended, the two hundred or so occupants of the Cistern responded with cheers and applause.

Cyborg was tempted to remove the hoodie and enjoy the acclaim but that seemed self-indulgent. As it happened, his disguise didn’t last long anyway.

‘Even if I can’t see the eyes, I’d know that metal arm anywhere.’ Hank the bartender put down a coaster and a bottle of Nihono. ‘Nice going, Cyborg. Looks like another winner to me.’

‘Thanks, Hank.’

‘How are things up top? I’m well into a ten-hour shift.’

It seemed to Cyborg that the crisis was all anyone talked about now.

‘Still a lot of Army and National Guard around. My father’s pretty concerned. All this uncertainty is bad for business.’

Hank scratched his beard then nodded at the crowd; with the show over, many of the club-goers were now talking and getting up from their tables. ‘We’re getting a full house almost every night. I guess maybe people need a break from all the stress.’


The numbers at the bar were rising and Hank was one of only five staff members.

‘Excuse me.’

‘No problem.’

Just then a very striking woman with a mohawk walked past. Cyborg also noticed the implants in her hands and he was about to follow her when a familiar figure arrived at the bar.

‘Hey, Cyborg.’

‘Hey, Lucky. Long time, no see.’

The pair had known each other for several years, having first met at a homeless benefit put on by one of Cyborg’s fellow artists.

‘Been busy,’ said Lucky, who was a little taller than Cyborg (most people were).

As usual he was clad in a ragtag yet somehow stylish collection of second-hand clothes. Cyborg had tried to help Lucky out financially on a few occasions but Lucky was too proud to accept. As someone who had grown up in comfortable surroundings, Cyborg had always admired Lucky’s positive outlook. In the past, the pair had shared a few romantic moments but it had never turned into anything permanent. They remained good friends.

‘Me too,’ said Cyborg. ‘Crazy times, eh?’

For once, even Lucky seemed concerned: ‘Things seem to change every day. Lot of frightened people out there.’

‘You want a drink?’

‘No, I just came for the show. Wouldn’t miss one of yours. Awesome, as usual.’

Cyborg could see at least two other people gravitating in his direction. Though he’d been pleased at the response to his new piece, he wasn’t sure he wanted to make small talk. His evening would be better spent catching up with his old friend.

‘Just one drink?’

‘I’m due at ATS but sure – one can’t hurt.’

‘Why don’t we go around the corner to O’Neill’s?’

‘Okay, cool.’

With a wave to Hank, Cyborg took a single, long swig of his Nihono. He received several greetings and compliments on his way out but they were soon through the crowd. At the bottom of the staircase, a guy holding a bottle of wine waved his free hand upward.

‘Some cop’s hassling Dino. Man, I hate cops.’

Dino was the Cistern bouncer and Cyborg knew him well. He was a gentle giant; not one to make trouble.

Exchanging a concerned look with Lucky, Cyborg led the way up the stairs. He was first through the door and was astonished to find the burly Dino rolling around on the sidewalk, wrestling with an equally big cop. They were fighting for control of the cop’s gun.  

‘Help!’ yelled Dino, his voice shrill with panic.

‘What the hell?’

‘He just attacked me! He’s crazy!’

As the battling pair rolled over again, Cyborg saw the cop’s eyes. Even though he was clearly fighting with all his strength, his gaze was utterly lifeless.

‘Come on!’ implored Lucky.

The two of them grabbed the gun and between them managed to pull it free. The manic cop punched Dino then scrambled to his feet and threw himself at Lucky, who had the presence of mind to fling the gun away. Dwarfed by the big cop, Lucky retreated towards the street.

Knowing he had to end this encounter before someone was seriously hurt, Cyborg tapped two of his fingers together, activating the strength booster within his cybernetic arm. Just as the cop went for Lucky, he clubbed the aggressor across the back of the head. Knocked out cold, the cop went down hard and lay still between two parked cars.

By now, Dino had just about recovered himself. ‘Thanks, guys, I thought I’d had it there.’

‘What happened?’ asked Lucky.

‘Just walked up and drew his gun. I went for him and we ended up on the ground. Oh no.’

Dino was now looking past Lucky and Cyborg, who turned to see two female cops approaching, both holding automatics.

‘It’s okay,’ said the older of the two officers, pointing at the downed attacker. ‘It’s him we’re after.’

‘Guy tried to kill me!’ said Dino.

‘We know,’ replied the cop while her partner cuffed the unconscious man. ‘Tried to kill us too. Worst thing is he’s not the only one. We’ve got reports of people going postal across the city. Something is wrong. Very wrong.’

Cyborg had expected that he and Lucky would have to give statements or go with the cops but the two officers called for support and departed quickly with their deranged colleague. By this point, a small crowd had gathered on the street.

Lucky took Cyborg to one side. ‘This is getting serious. Gadget might know more about what the hell’s going on.’

Cyborg knew that Gadget and their other friends at ATS would be as well informed as anyone about the strange happenings.

‘Good call,’ he replied. ‘Let’s go.’

Next Story: 40. Spar Wars