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Eve of the Hurricane

CHAPTER THREE

Beck stood on the balcony of his 'VIP suite', staring into the simulated night under the dome of the Paradigm Group.

"Why does it feel like I swallowed one of my balls?" he asked no one in particular.

It was simple enough - work for Rosewater or fry like an onion ring. When that freaky clown-face guy showed up with the ultimatum, Beck had little choice in the matter. He had hung around the underworld long enough to identify a monster when he met one.

But Rosewater knew he had unaccountable memories involving Megadeuses ... His genius was well-known throughout Paradigm City; of course Rosewater would come to him concerning anything in relation to a Megadeus ... especially since his henchmen accidentally popped old Wayneright several months back ...

A cord suddenly wrapped around the railing of the balcony.

"What the hell?" Beck muttered, leaning over the rail. "Dove, T-Bone? You guys there?"

The last person he expected to see rise up the cord was Roger Smith.

Beck stepped back and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Well, if it isn't Crow Boy. Whaddaya' want, clockwork kisser?"

Roger climbed over the rail and smoothed back his hair. "Is that any way to greet me, Beck old friend?"

Beck turned his nose in the air. "Make it quick - my 'masters' are a paranoid lot."

Roger folded his arms and shook his head. "It pains me to see you reduced to this, Beck, really."

"Yeah, you're cryin' your eyes out. How'd you find me?"

"Wife's got a link going on with Paradigm's computer. What does Rosewater want with you?"

Beck turned his head away. "Got any cigarettes? I'm dying for a smoke."

Roger made a face of disgust as he tossed a pack and lighter at Beck. Beck caught both, quickly lighting up and sighing with relief. "God, I needed that. Okay, Crow Boy, why you wanna know what I'm doin' with His High and Mightiness Lord Pole-Up-His-Ass?"

Roger put his hands in pockets and leaned against the railing. A low-level smirk appeared on his face. "See, Beck, my wife and I are very interested in the presence of the Megadeuses in Paradigm City, especially ones not created by Timothy Wayneright. We think Rosewater may have hired you to work on a Megadeus."

Beck snorted, taking a drag on the cigarette. He blew the smoke in Roger's direction. "Listen up, blackie, I don't build Megadeuses, I ... adjust their attitudes."

"Exactly, Beck," Roger agreed. "So, what are you adjusting an attitude on?"

Beck frowned, flicking the synthetic cigarette's ashes on the wind. "Something that I don't want to have anything to do with, Smith." He sauntered up to the rail and leaned his elbows on it. "Rosewater sent his gigglin' li'l buddy to get me out to work on it. Either that or fry in the chair. So, I've been lookin' at it and doin' some figuring - it needs a memory core."

"So, it's a Megadeus?"

Beck nodded, not looking at him. "One that I've never seen before, but I seem to know every circuit in that thing." He put the cigarette in his mouth. "Rosewater wants me to get a memory core for him. There's only one thing in this city that has what he wants."

Roger raised an eyebrow.

"Listen, Smith, I don't like you and you don't like me - we've worked that out. I'm your arch-nemesis and I demand nothing less than your ultimate defeat." The corner of his mouth cracked a frown. "But I refuse to allow some other creep to muscle in on my turf - you and everything around you are my turf, Crow Boy, including your dutch wife and the Megadeus. Only I get to play with you, no one else - "

"And Rosewater wants something of 'mine', right?"

"Right. Thing is, he wants it on his terms. And unlike that little blonde dippy maid from our last meeting, Rosewater has the ability to kill me. Frankly, being dead is the pits."

"Yes, it is. Are you giving me a warning?"

Beck cackled. "No way, Crow Boy. He mind-scans me, my ass is as good as fried. And he can, too - his tech-boys managed to copy some of a Megadeus' pilot-scanners, and they can scan organic brains like they were robot brains. I'm just thinking out loud - if you pick up something from it, that's hardly my fault, is it?"

"Can you really lie to yourself so directly yet fool a electronic mind-probe with it?"

"Watch me. Damn I am so good."

Roger nodded, a grim smile crossing his face. "Sure. So you think there may be something happening soon?"

Beck finished off his cigarette and flicked the butt over the balcony. He lit up another one and stared out over the domed city. "That Negotiator thinks he's hot stuff with his Megadeus - well, he's got another thing coming when the drones show up at his place Tuesday night and take his vaccum-cleaner-wife ... " He winked without looking at Roger.

Roger demonstrated his almost superhuman self-control by not removing Beck's teeth. "And how would you know when such an attack is taking place?"

"What, do you think those ham-fisted clods on the payroll programmed the drones? They might be able to program an automated cheese grater - but I wouldn't trust it." He snickered and sat down, putting his hands behind his head. "Yup, the only way to fix the memory core of Big Fau is to pull the memories out of Wayneright's robot daughter."

Roger coolly tapped his finger against his chin, his eyes closed. The idea of someone tearing Dorothy's brain out of her body made him shudder, but he focused on his mission. "Of course, Beck, there is still the question of where the real memory core of Big Fau really is."

"Oh, simple," Beck replied. "It's lost. And I can see why it got lost."

"Yes. Who would lose it, though?" Roger looked up, his narrowed brown eyes meeting Beck's puzzled green eyes. "Could it have been its Machina?"

Beck leapt up, the cigarette hanging off of his lip until it finally fell to the floor of the balcony.

"ALL RIGHT, SMITH! GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"

Roger nodded and offered his hand. "Thanks, Beck."

Beck turned his nose in the air. "Get out, now, Dominus."

"Going."

Roger disappeared over the ledge and into the night. Beck snorted in half-anger and half-amusement.

"The Machina is dead," Beck muttered, as if to reassure himself. "Get over it."

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