What Malarkey is This?(AKA Ergo: I’ve Been Kidnapped by Idiots)
Updated: Mar 4, 2022
Now, I want you to imagine for a second you’re sitting in a cell in an oddly well-lit basement, cold concrete slowly turning your legs and butt numb, while your two captors argue about what to do with you. You watch them with the same kind of faint amusement you get watching someone who acts like they know how to ride a hoverboard, except they’re very obviously doing it wrong and you know that, inevitably, they will fall. This is the situation I currently find myself in.
Now that you’ve imagined this, I’m sure you can understand why I’m sitting there trying very hard not to laugh. I wouldn’t want to damage their egos (a very dangerous thing, to damage someone’s ego when they’ve got you locked in a cell with your hands tied together with maleno zip-ties, shitty as those things may be). Mostly because it’s the idiots that’ll kill you accidently or on a sudden spur of emotion. Because, let’s be honest, anyone smart who goes through all the trouble of getting past your traps (that you set up specifically to prevent this) and breaking into your apartment and waiting for who knows how long, so when you open the door they can kidnap you in the middle of the night? They aren’t going to kill you. And if anyone smart wants to kill you, well then, you’d be dead, not sitting on a floor in a basement with a layer of dust so thick you can see the skid mark on the floor from when they threw you in the cell.
But both luckily and unfortunately for me, I’m pretty sure these two are idiots.
“Okay, so we move her. But where?” Kidnaper One asks his accomplice.
Oh yes, what are you going to do with me? Do tell, I’m only right here.
Kidnaper Two frowns. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It’s not like we can keep her here. Whoever’s basement this is, is going to come back eventually, right?”
“I have no idea. Should we just bring her back?”
“I don’t know! It’s not like the guy was super specific.”
Now, I hear you say, “Well, you’re the one who got kidnapped, so who’s the real idiot?” To which I say, that is a fair point for which I have no rebuttal. However. The thing about the particular particle field (the faintly blue and mostly see-through kind) making up the front of my lovely little cell for the night is that it gets a lot of use in the underground community because it’s not only portable (“Turning any room in any building into an escape-proof cell! Yours to own, for only five thousand credits up front!”) it can also sound proof said cell and… Yeah, I can hear every word they’re saying, so they set it up backwards.
Ergo: I’ve been kidnapped by idiots.
Either that, or they’re new. But at least if I’m going to kidnap someone, I would know how to set up a portable particle field, for fuck’s sake.
“Fair point, fair point.” Kidnaper Two starts to pace back and forth in front of the cell. I’d say like a caged animal, but they really just look like someone waiting for a room at a robo-bordello for the first time. “Shouldn’t we just bring her to him? That seems like it would make the most sense.”
Kidnaper One rubs his eyes. “Okay, say we’re gonna just bring her to the guy. But where is he? I don’t think he’s just going to be waiting around at his same club like last time.”
I straighten at that. There are only so many individuals who both own clubs and send people out to kidnap other people (about five at the moment, although that’s subject to change) and while I work for one, there is another one who would probably be quite content to have me delivered to his doorstep. And that, as you can imagine, would become a bit of a problem if he’s the one who sent these two.
“Oh, fuck… How are we going to find him again?”
“We got lucky once, didn’t we?”
On a whim, I inch closer to the particle field, but while they may have set it up backwards, the hair on my arms and legs stands on end when I get too close, so they did manage to turn it on properly. Meaning this is a far as I can get until I can figure out how to put my head through a particle field without giving myself a brain aneurysm.
“Not to mention,” Kidnaper One continues, massaging his temple now, “this is Cane we’ve got here. I don’t think she’s going to make it easy on us to move her.”
Kidnaper Two looks at the cheap blaster on their hip (a poor choice, really – if you want a cheap weapon, zapper gloves are the way to go). “Maybe we should have bought better weapons.”
Really, how did these two get past my traps? Maybe I’ll keep them around for a bit after to find out, so I can stop anyone else from doing it.
“From where? Assuming we could afford them in the first place, Cane owns half the sellers. She would’ve probably known we were coming.”
Now, it’s not like I haven’t been in this kind of situation before (I mean, what kind of honest criminal for hire hasn’t these days, am I right?). It’s just that usually I know who it is that’s dragged me out of my bed or slipped something in my drink or paid a very pretty looking woman (or an animatronic that passes well enough, if they’re cheap bastards) or just plain grabbed me off the street (if they’re really bold or stupid). But these two?
Squinting, I look them over again.
Yeah, I got no clue.
No tattoos or patches toting any gang affiliation, no augmented reality tattoos when I blink the reader over my eye, either. Not even so much as a vague colour scheme between the two of them to tell me who in the whole criminal underground they could be.
Kidnaper Two nods along, but then frowns. “How would that have worked?”
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it past her to put trackers or something in everything she sells. The cops and the cronies pretending to run the city can do it, I’m sure she could.”
Kidnaper One and Kidnaper Two look over at me.
Hands still conjoined by zip-ties, I wave (just for show). If either of them notices, they don’t react. Now, that said, I’m not convinced they actually notice it.
Kidnaper One flicks something on the outside of the particle field which normally would turn to sound-proofing off. “Anything to say for yourself?”
I shrug. “Now that you mention it, I’ve been meaning to tell you: you set that up backwards.”
They both straighten and stare at the particle field.
I give them a crooked grin. “I take it you two are new to the city.”
Kidnaper One tenses, and Kidnaper Two shrinks. Busted.
Nodding to myself, I grin. No wonder they don’t recognize me. “Where’d you learn to disarm all those traps I had around my apartment, then?”
“Funny story, actually–”
Kidnaper One smacks Kidnaper Two’s shoulder. “Don’t answer her questions.”
Frowning, I look off to the side, something from earlier in their conversation just clicking. Squinting, I slowly raise my hand, holding one higher than the other as much as I can.
“What are you doing?” Kidnaper One asks.
“Haven’t you ever been to school? I’m raising my hand because I want to ask a question.”
Kidnaper Two puts their head in their hands, muttering to themselves, “He didn’t say she was crazy. Why does she have to be crazy?”
Kidnaper One scoffs, almost smirking. “You’re not really in a position to be asking questions–”
I sigh. “I’ve been listening to you two bicker about not knowing what to do with me for ten minutes now. If your goal was to intimidate me, you failed at that a while ago.”
Kidnaper Two looks at their partner in poorly-executed crime. “She’s got a point.”
Kidnaper One grinds his teeth. “Just ask your damn question.”
Lowering my hand a fraction and still squinting at the pair, I ask, “By ‘Cane’ do you mean Xu-Li Cane? Head of the largest cartel in the underground and arguably the most powerful woman in the city?”
Kidnaper Two looks me up and down. “Not that you’re bragging or anything.”
My eyes go wide and my eyebrows jump up. “Oh,” I point a finger at my chest, “you think I’m?” I throw my head back, cackling. Now, I knew they weren’t the brightest, but this? Oh boy, this is just too good. Laughing so hard I can barely breathe, I wheeze and fall over backwards. Whoooo, did these two really fuck up tonight.
“The fuck is so funny?” Kidnaper One demands.
“Her computer’s short a few circuits, isn’t it?” Kidnaper Two mumbles.
Taking a few breaths, I finally stop laughing enough to say, “I hate to break it to you, but I’m a D-list thug for hire at best.”
Both their mouths hang open, which kind of makes them look like a pair of statues kids might put their hands in the mouths of as they walk by for good luck or something, don’t you think?
Kidnaper One shuts his mouth long enough to ask, “Who are you, then?”
I raise an eyebrow. “I just said I’m a D-list thug for hire at best.”
“What were you doing in Cane’s apartment?”
I chuckle again. “It’s… not her apartment, it’s mine.” A relic I kept around from when I really was just a D-list thug for hire (on another note, I’m going to have to track down the snitch who gave them my address after this, too). “And second of all, if you think Cane would be living in that little thing in the first place, let alone that you two would be able to get in there if she was, you’re dumber than you look. Did you not vet your snitch? Consider they were lying? Or the information was old?”
Kidnaper Two looks at Kidnaper One, paling. “Do you think maybe we reached too high too soon?”
Kidnaper One snaps, “Forget about that, we’ve already done it. What are we going to do now?”
Standing (not an easy feat with the ties), I steeple my hands (as much as I can anyways) in front of my chest. “Well, the way I see it from my very unique position, you can either do your job. Or. Let me out, so I can do it for you.”
In unison, they ask, “Huh?”
Holding my hands out and meandering back and forth across the cell, I continue, “You let me out of here, I help you with your short-circuiting robot chase, and your boss never has to know.”
Kidnaper One snorts, crossing his arms. “Yeah, right. Like you won’t attack us both the second we turn off the particle field.”
I stick my bound hands towards them. “Attack you with what?” Mimicking a boxing stance, hands in front of my face, I raise an eyebrow. “These? Plus, I don’t think anyone’s been in a straight fist fight in fifty years.”
“Then what do you get out of it?”
“Uh, well I get out of here.” I give them a sly smile. “And in exchange I get half of whatever they’re paying you. Who is paying you to try and kidnap Cane, anyways?”
“Um, Devonte Kin, but it’s not for money. We’re trying to get in with him–”
Kidnaper One smacks Kidnaper Two’s shoulder. “I said stop answering her questions!”
Kidnaper Two pushes the hand away, gesturing to me. “What’s she going to do?”
I grimace. Yeah, now the thing about that is: if that piece of work is telling you go kidnap Cane of all people for an initiation, that roughly translates to “Fuck off, I don’t have use for you” and, honestly, you’re probably better off listening. But then, it’s not me trying to get mixed up with Kin and his gang, it’s two idiots who kidnapped me in the middle of the night (if it had been in the middle of the day, maybe it would be a different story, but I’ve already been at the club towers for more than a few hours and I was really looking forward to going to bed). Plus, these two might not recognize me, but Kin most definitely will and then I won’t be the only one in a sticky position, and Kin certainly has someone who knows how to use a particle field (also better weapons).
Kidnaper Two turns to me. “You really think you can help us?”
I smirk. “Now, but of course.”
Kidnaper One gives me a scrutinizing glare. “Didn’t you say you were just some nobody thug? And you think youcould kidnap Cane?”
Grinning, I tilt my head down and lean forward. “What, like you two could do it?”
The two exchange a look.
“You got any other ideas?” Kidnaper Two asks.
Through his teeth, Kidnaper One says, “Not really. But– Hold on.” He pulls Kidnaper Two out of the room, and while the particle field soundproofing doesn’t work, another concrete wall will do just fine.
I sigh, resisting the urge to pace. These two need to be dealt with quickly. If word gets out two actual nobodies got me alone in a basement, I’ll never live it down, not to mention what it would do to Xu’s reputation. Or the kind of mess it would put her in if they do decide to take to me Kin (you know, the kind where it would be easier to clean up a molecular energy plant explosion than to fix) because I’m pretty sure he’s still mad at Xu and me for offing almost half of his best lackeys last year.
The door scrapes when the two goons open it. Neither of them say anything.
“Well?” I ask. “Do we have a deal?”
Keeping his eyes on me and his hand on his cheap weapon, Kidnaper One turns the particle field off. “Yeah.”
Still grinning, I hold my hands out for them to unbind. “Alright. Let’s go find Cane.” C’mon, you’re gonna love this next bit, I promise you’ll get a real kick out of it–
Before I process Kidnaper One’s pointing his shitty blaster at me, there’s a white-hot pain in my leg and a crackechoing through my head as I drop to the ground. Swallowing a cry, I inspect the hole in my pants and burnt gouge in the side of my leg. I hiss (and it’s more to myself than either of them), “Now, this isn’t going to work very well if I can’t walk.”
Kidnaper One rolls his eyes and pulls me to my feet, keeping a hand around my arm. “I didn’t hit you that bad–”
“You sure about that?” I say through my teeth.
“This is just so you can’t run off before you hold up your end of the bargain.”
“And if nothing else, you’re better than showing up empty-handed.” Kidnaper Two gives me what I think is supposed to be an apologetic look, but the faint whiff of pride around them like cheap booze around a drunk makes it seem fake.
New. New, but smart. Not idiots. Noted (I told you they might be new, didn’t I, and sometimes I really hate it when I’m right).
I eye the blasters on their hips, but my gaze lands on the two cubes that make up the particle field as Kidnaper Two pockets them. “The shot hurts, but the fact that you don’t trust me hurts more.”
On the street, I give directions from between the pair, steering us from the mostly dark towers of apartments and broken streetlights to the south of the city – lit up with neon lights and spotlights, the metal buildings glistening like static streams of water reaching into the sky. If anyone notices our strange and partly captive trio, they’re either too drunk, high, or smart to do anything about it. Once inside the boundaries of the glowing buildings, the music seeping out of the walls and the rise and fall of voices mixes with the metallic smell of the fuel used in hovercars until the air around you is electrified, like a bunch of stray neurons bouncing around someone’s brain.
I stumble and crash into Kidnaper Two and they’re too busy wondering, “Did you really have to shoot her?” to notice how I’m now keeping my hands in fists around something.
The pair goes along with me until I turn them towards one of the club towers.
“Hey, hold on,” Kidnaper One says. “Isn’t this one of Cane’s clubs?”
“Well, we’re not going to find her in one of Kin’s clubs, now are we?”
Kidnaper One eyes the building, then says to Kidnaper Two, “Why don’t we just forget this and take her to Kin? We’ve already got her. Are we really going to kidnap someone else?”
I stiffen. “Now, that’s a bad idea. I’m just going to come out and say it: that is a bad idea.”
Kidnaper One pulls me back, away from the club. My stumble isn’t fake this time, and I end up on the ground again. “Why? Because it ends with you getting the short end of the deal?”
“No, because it ends with all of us getting fucked over.” Pushing myself into a sitting position, I continue, “I’ve worked with Kin before, and if he says he wants Cane, he’s going to be insulted if you bring him some random woman off the street. And then none of us are happy because we’re dead.”
Kidnaper Two sucks in a breath through their teeth. “I’m kinda on her side with this one.”
“How do you know Kin?” Kidnaper One asks.
“Do you know what ‘thug for hire’ means?”
No one moves. Then, reluctantly, Kidnaper One grabs my arms and he and Kidnaper Two walk me through the club doors. I let out a breath. There’s a quiet beep as we walk in, but I stumble again, this time to tap the doorframe twice, and nothing happens.
“Kidnaper One glares at me. “Are all ‘D-list thugs’ such drama queens?”
“You’re the one who shot me and kept my hands tied together. If I’m stumbling, it’s your fault, not mine.”
Here, the music is louder. The automated cocktail shaker that is the club blends the shadows of the patrons and the exotic dancers up on their stages alike with the technicoloured lights and alcohol, until it’s enough you could get drunk just by breathing too deep. Only the best for Xu-Li, and that means no robot dancers here. Animatronic waiters and waitresses move between the crowd, their programming keeping them from being hit by drunken dancers.
I don’t have to check to know the other two are looking like open-mouthed statues again (although, between you and me I don’t think you’d want anyone in here’s hands in your mouth, good luck or not).
“Head for the elevator in the back of the club.” When we’re inside, I pull away long enough to hold my thumb up to the button labeled “Top Floor: VIP Only.” Another quiet beep. The button flashes green. We start to shoot up, up, up into the sky.
“‘VIP,’ huh?” Kidnaper Two remarks.
I shrug. “I’m a returning customer.”
Kidnaper One scoffs.
I shoot him a mock-offended look over my shoulder, fiddling with the settings on the cubes in my palms. “Is that judgment I’m smelling over the booze?” And don’t you judge me either, you’ll probably figure out what I mean before he does.
Before he can answer, the elevator dings and the doors slide open. They reveal a very similar scene to the one on the first floor (just less crowded, with security standing around the edges of the room): music, dancers, drinks, and seated at the center of it all on an icy blue sofa in a matching suit with eager faces crowded around her–
“That’s her, isn’t it?” Kidnaper Two whispers, nodding to the woman.
“And how exactly are we going to get her out of here?” Kidnaper One hisses.
“Now, you don’t need to worry about that.” I nod them forward. “C’mon.”
There’s distinctly more hesitation this time, but two sets of footsteps follow after me as I approach Xu-Li (and damn if she doesn’t look as good as always, in the kind of way that gives the impression she could unhinge her jaw and swallow you whole if she wanted, you know what I mean?).
Now, here’s the thing about maleno, and maleno zip-ties in particular: maleno is supposed to be a better version of plastic (stronger, more durable, less toxic, yada, yada, yada), but it’s not really what zip-ties are made out of that matters. Because (with a few notable exceptions), no matter what they’re made of, zip-ties are very easy to get out of if you just…
Xu-Li brushes a strand of black hair out of her face and flashes me her teeth. “Hey-hey, there’s my girl!”
The footsteps stop dead in their tracks.
Twisting so my hip’s jutting out, I bring my wrists down against the bone, hard. The zip-ties snap at the mechanism that prevents them from opening, and the fall to the floor with a quiet tick. In the same motion, I toss the stolen particle field cubes across the room.
… Do that.
The cubes switch on when they hit the wall, shooting a blue field to the opposite one, trapping the two goons on the other side from me along with a few startled patrons.
I shake out my hands, rub my wrists and brush off my coat. “How’s it going, Xu?”
I raise my eyebrows at Xu-Li with a grin. Over my shoulder, I say, “Now, did I forget to mention the part where I work,” I widen my grin, “very closely with Xu-Li?”
I click my tongue. “Oh, silly me.”
Instead of running, Kidnaper One demands to know (like he’s in the position to demand anything, I mean really), “You said you were some nobody!”
Thumbs hooked in my coat pockets, I spin to face the pair. “Ah, yes. Have you heard of this marvellous thing called ‘lying’?” I splay my fingers. “Like I was just going to ignore the fact you were trying to kidnap Xu? No, no, no. That kind of thing doesn’t get to slip by that easily.”
They reach for their blasters and point them at the people trapped on their side, but when they pull the trigger, nothing happens. Faces rapidly paling, they stare at each other, then me.
“Yeah, no weapons allowed in here,” I say. “Those were deactivated the second you walked in the door. I only stopped the alarm because I thought for all your trouble, you should at least get to meet the woman you tried to kidnap. Besides,” my grin turns dark, “Xu and I haven’t had any new toys in a while…”
Xu-Li snaps her fingers.
Two security guards disable the particle field and grab the two goons before they get the chance to bolt or do anything else even more stupid tonight. Kidnaper Two has the common sense to look scared, but Kidnaper One just glares at me as I limp backwards until I’m sitting next to Xu-Li.
She frowns at my wounded leg, then runs her fingers through my hair absent-mindedly while she considers my two would-be captors. Her eyes grow teeth and eat up the futileness of the pair struggling against the arms holding them. “So, Lin. How did you get yourself into trouble this time, my girl?”
Leaning in close, I drop my voice to a murmur, “Now, it seems these two rookies took Kin seriously when he told them to kidnap you as an initiation and someone gave them my address when they were looking for yours. Grabbed me before I even got the chance to go to bed.”
Xu-Li’s eyes narrow. “How rude.” Then she smiles and Kidnaper One finally seems to grasp the idea he should be wide-eyed and quaking like Kidnaper Two. “But this is good timing. Especially if there’s a snitch on the loose. I haven’t had anyone to make an example of for a bit…” She turns to me. “But you’re tired, aren’t you?”
“Barely keeping my eyes open.”
Xu-Li shakes her head and hooks a finger under my chin, turning my head to look at her. “We can’t have that.” She waves her hand. “I’ll deal with them tomorrow.”
“Hey– Hey what’s that supposed to mean?” Kidnaper Two shouts as they and Kidnaper One are dragged out of the room.
Xu-Li just gives them a jaw-unhinging-worthy smile.
I lean back against the sofa. “Now, I’m sure you can use your imagination for that.”