31st January 2021
It's a Sunday and I'm logged into Meet on PC.
Time for the 2nd and concluding part of Those Dark Places' introductory adventure run by Matt.
Location: Argent III.
Doris and Cyrox were standing just on the inside of one of Argent III's ancillary airlocks. They had removed their helmets after confirming the air was breathable.
They were staring down an arrow-straight fairly long corridor that soon melted into the gloom. Argent class ships were big.
They called out, no reply came.
The extremely dim lighting was tinted with a slight green hue; non-critical emergency lighting.
After stripping out of their cumbersome EVA suits and stowing them away in an alcove, Doris and Cyrox cautiously proceeded down the unpainted metal-grey corridor.
In the silence their suit's underboots seemed to clank against the steel decking thunderously no matter how lightly they walked.
It took them a minute to realise that as well as silence, there was no subtle vibration to be felt through the floor.
They looked at each other.
"Perhaps the powerplant is offline," offered Doris?
Continuing on, they spotted mould growing in the top corners of the corridor, they knew it was a sign of moisture rising and accumulating along the ceiling and probably indicated prolonged faults of some type in life-support.
Things were not looking promising.
The corridor ended at a closed steel door in a wall, it was the only way on. Cyrox took a deep breath and opened the door.
As the door cracked open the pair of them were immediately flooded with horrific smell; a mix of rot, urine and crap, it gave them the urge to retch, they gagged for a few moments, their faces screwed in shock but they held on to the contents of their stomachs.
It took a few moments for them to get their breathing under control and proceed.
There was no light coming through the narrow opening they had left open.
Opening the door wider, they shone flashlights through. It was dark and the lights showed years of smeared results of years of neglect on the walls, the room was filled with filthy old looking barrels, of every shape and size?
Doris and Cyrox had no idea what the room's original use was for?
No one was in the room, there was one other door out. Safe to enter.
Entering and sweeping their flashlights over the room, at the all the barrels, they saw the original colours had long faded, stained now with thickly caked layers of dripped filth and grime, some were empty, others contained brownish water. Pipes and tubes ran from barrel to barrel, moving material from one to another.
Cyrox had a cursory examination and it looked like a rudimentary waste recycling system. Water reclamation to be precise.
It looked still in use, Cyrox wondered what had happened to the original systems? Was this in use? Were their survivors? Why hadn't they seem someone yet?
One other item caught Cyrox's eye, something was plugged into the system, something new that was not brown or caked in crap and looked relatively clean and well maintained.
He found and checked it's serial number, it matched codes from the decommissioned station?
Something had definitely happened there and somehow continued here.
There was only one way onward, Doris and Cyrox took it.
A featureless steel panelled corridor took them into a large and lengthy room, again unlit except this time, for some small strangely shaped bright spots of golden light near the floor. The room was filled with rows of large rounded, flattened cylindrical shapes.
This room seemed also empty, but Doris and Cyrox could hear a sound akin to a gently simmering pan on a hob?
Once inside, it took Doris and Cyrox a moment to realize that the cylinders were century old long-sleep pods. Over a hundred of them, enough here for the entire crew. They were mostly dark and looked inactive, except for a few, in a cluster together that were emitting the spots of light.
Doris and Cyrox searched the pods. None of them contained any people, alive or otherwise. The pods themselves looked completely inactive, jabbing some of the controls got no response, dead, no power was coming to the pods.
They carefully went over and investigated the lit pods. These pods were open and the light was coming from a series of what looked like some sort of portable heat lamps that had been set up inside the the open pods and were connected to wall sockets. There was at least some power in the Argent III.
The pods' sleeping areas had been filled with plants - fruit mostly, heat lamps were being used to grow them.
Along one of the long walls was a recessed alcove draped in shadow, it likely would have contained some sort of control panels for managing the pods and was definitely the source of the faint simmering.
Doris and Cyrox moved round to it, flashlights banishing shadows, as they got closer, they were inundated with a sickly sweet smell.
The alcove contained a vat, thin wisps of steam were curling upwards from the simmering and bubbling yellow liquid within.
Looking closer, Doris and Cyrox would see some dark, undulating, curving shapes just beneath the seething surface. They went closer.
They reeled back in revulsion. The vat was packed with layers of limbs and body parts, not dismembered or amputated but whole and undamaged.
After a cautious examination, it looked like this was the part of an outdated cloning process, one that hadn't been used for decades and was now outlawed.
Doris and Cyrox had a brief discussion, why were they growing clone limbs? Why were they needed? Had these limbs been grown to eat? What had happened here?
It had gone from not promising to outright horrific.
There was one other door out of the long-sleep chamber.
They followed the dark corridor and it went to another door. Beyond the door led into another unlit room, Doris and Cyrox swept their flashlights across the darkness, it was fairly open, seemed semi-circular and almost domed.
The room looked like it may have been the bridge, at least it may have been at some time in the past. Command consoles, wall panels, seating, all stripped away and seemingly random random junk had now replaced it, littering the barely recognisable room.
What once were the viewports had been wielded shut with the salvaged panelling. The room's now exposed reinforcing struts rose up from the floor and up along what would have been cavities in the walls to curve and congregate in the centre of the ceiling like the vaulted arches of some metallic cathedral. A place of bizarre holy sanctity.
Further investigation revealed half cleared and uncleaned crockery was scattered across a number of old crates looking like they were used as makeshift tables.
There were makeshift sleeping cots here too, at least fifteen of them and with the requisite filthily stained bedding.
People had lived here and looking at the evidence, still did.
Doris and Cyrox began discussing how to proceed when they both jumped at the sound of gasping breath.
Instinctively, the pair of them shone their flashlights in the same direction, at a box pressed up against one of the support struts.
The box was small, about one metre across, open fronted but barred. The lights lit up a woman's face inside, pale and distraught.
An equally pale and thin, scarred and scabbed arm came through the bar, reaching out.
"Please be real," a raspy, quiet voice. "Please be real.".
"We have to get out.".
It wasn't too hard to remove the bars. The woman crawled out tentatively, swaying as she stood. Slowly she stretched, joints distinctly clicking as she did so.
She introduced herself as Manuela: One of the missing crew from the station.
"We were wrapping up our decommissioning job when they came aboard through the airlock, they were thin and strangely white-skinned," said Manuela, continuing. "They attacked us, Killed Williams and took Batiste and me prisoner. After that they started searching through our gear, looking for food I think. Then they took us, what they wanted and used our shuttle to get here, I've been locked up ever since.".
The crew questioned Manuela and asked if she knew what was going on?
Manuela said she thought the skinny white people were very strange, when they looked worried they would have good vibes and stand still humming with their eyes closed hoping things would get better.
They seemed to have no language and communicated in grunts. Manuela believed that they must've been descendants of the original crew, several generations removed.
They knew nothing about the engines or powerplant and were using Batiste to try and repair them. The ship's powerplant had developed a fault sometime ago and now had a radiation leak. This had led to widespread mutations among them.
When they sent Batiste back to rest, he said that he's probably already dead from exposure.
When asked about her injured arm, Manuela visibly shook and took a deep breath. She explained that they took chunks of flesh out of her to clone, which was something they understood. The cloned body parts were used as food. Manuela had to breathe deeply for a moment
Manuela then urged the crew to leave, they had been here too long, they needed to leave. Doris and Cyrox agreed, but there was a problem.
There were now three people, but only two EVA suits. If there were any suits aboard the Argent III, they would have to go hunting for them and hope they were still usable
The crew asked if they could reach the shuttle. Manuela was doubtful, it was on the far side of the ship and would probably mean encountering the inhabitants.
The crew did come up with another plan.
Along with Manuela, the crew followed their footsteps back to the airlock. They advanced every step of the way warily through the darkness. With only flashlights to show the route.
They listened carefully along the way too, they shouldn't encounter anyone, unless they had missed a door?
After what seemed like hours, they were back at the airlock, they contacted Big Ounce who was back on The Icarus. They told him that he needed to get some weapons out of the secured locker, suit up, grab a spare suit and get over.
Luckily Ounce was The Icarus' security officer and had access to the secured locker, hastily he grabbed some taser pistols, a spare suit and his own suit.
Suiting up alone was a cumbersome process but eventually Ounce was done.
The walk to the Argent III's airlock wasn't too long but it was intense and made Ounce sweat.
At the airlock it was a long fifteen minutes for Doris, Manuela and Cyrox to wait. One then the other suited up again.
As time passed they could hear periodic, distant faint grunts and cries echoing down through the silent chambers.
Something was up?
Eventually Ounce arrived at the airlock, both doors were sealed and he got aboard the Argent III.
Once out, he handed the suit to Manuela and taser pistols to Doris and Cyrox.
Ounce and Cyrox stood guard, tightly gripping their tasers as Doris spent the time required to help Manuela into a suit.
As they kept lookout, Ounce and Cyrox saw something materialise out of the gloom. Slender and pale with thin wispy hair and riddled with sores, tumours and growths, it was one of the inhabitants.
He stopped dead when he spotted the crew, his grotesque, barely human face went slack with shock, he then began to scream, turning to run.
In that moment of hesitation, he had allowed Ounce and Cyrox to get a bead on him and open fire. Ounce managed to land a shot and he crashed to the ground instantly unconscious.
The two of them kept their pistols raised at the corridor, their eyes peeled and their breathing steady.
No one else came.
The wait was agonising, eventually Manuela was safely in her suit and they all backed into the airlock, closing the inner doors.
A minute and all the air had been evacuated, the outer door silently slid open and they were out.
The crew carried Manuela across the hull of the mute giant ship back to The Icarus over EVA and arrived without mishap.
Once inside, Ounce and Cyrox hurried to the bridge, stripping and discarding their suits like so much trash off along the way. They waisted no time powering up all systems and began a burn at the earliest opportunity.
No one wanted to hang around.
Having plotted the return course to Titan, The Icarus burned as hard as safety tolerances permitted for the next three days.
All the time the crew kept an eye out on the rear cameras and view ports, watching as Argent III and Viduus III silently shrank away, merging into a single white dot in the blackness.
They knew Argent III didn't have propulsion and couldn't follow.... even so....
During the three days, they also tended to Manuela's health and wrote their reports to Cambridge Wallace, they wouldn't get a salvage bonus but it was someone else's headache now.
Then it was time for the long-sleep back to Titan.
30th January 2021
Saturday evening is here again and I'm logged on to Meet on my PC in the living room.
It's time for session 10 of Matakishi's Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Highway Zero.
Midnight had come; Neon City was dematerialising into night's distant blur, consumed by the hazy spray of violently crashing rainfall.
It felt a strangely secluded march through the downpour, collars up and heads down. Navigating the endless crush of pedestrians and ever increasing puddles.
The Ferry Terminal was at the far eastern end of Highway Zero and Binary Johnny was waiting there for us.
He was making another covert run into Oshin Amalgamated territory to sabotage some excavator robots and foil their plan to flood part of Neon City. We'd worked with Johnny before and he wanted us to back him up as muscle.
The terminal stood apart from the urbanised glut that ruled much of Neon City, it was a matter of necessity since the structure straddled the lip of the waterfront.
A three storey high setback with a steel girder skeleton under a skin of polymer walls and doors, windows that stretched from floor to ceiling. The terminal's harsh white lighting blazed out into the rainy night like an artificially lit greenhouse.
Inside were several rooms linked by short corridors, a safety-glass fronted ticket office, a steamy concession cubicle selling coffee and snacks and waiting rooms where the subdued murmur of hushed talk hung in the air.
People stood or sat, most waiting to catch the ferry, some to escape the rain. The over-bright strip lighting highlighted the peeling beige paint and worn grey flooring, lines of chocolate brown curving plastic seats were bolted to the floor along the walls.
On the far side of the terminal, nearest to the bay exit was Johnny, he was sitting and staring out through the huge windows.
At night the bay was an vast, unlit and impenetrable inky body of fluid, only discernible thanks to the reflected city lights that bobbed along on undulating waters.
The exit went to a covered walkway that led to the plain concrete wharf that served the ferry service. We exchanged pleasantries with Johnny, there was still a little time to wait.
The service was the only way to reach Diver City Island and it was the only reason the ferries still existed.
They were a trio of old Ysekoe electrically powered, moderately sized, steel tubs fitted exclusively for passengers. We watched as one of the them sailed in and docked at the wharf, in the rain and under the weak spotlights it looked particularly dingy. Its once crisp white and blue livery had faded, dulled now, by time, layers of grime and stained with long smears of rust dripped from the bolts that held the ferry's steel plating together.
Even this late at night there was a demand for the ferry, a few minutes later and we were among the passengers had streamed aboard, then the ferry was underway Diver City Island.
A lump of rock located at the eastern side of the bay and mostly known for housing the Diver City Neon Plaza, yet another of Neon City's vast and excessive shopping malls that lured in consumers from across all the districts.
An ad blurb famously pronounced that Diver City Island had a zero crime rate due to the diligence of the Diver City Zaibatsu, an elite all volunteer police force. Of course we knew that was rubbish, because no one was stopping us from going there!
Other than the mall, there were only two other features of note on the island.
The Last Guardian. a giant mech-like robot construct that stood a motionless watchful guard over the island and the Oshin Amalgamated Saline Plant, ostensibly an ecological reclamation centre. We knew better though.
That's why it was the Saline plant that we were interested in, specifically the Robot Maintenance Facility.
Our arrival at Diver City Island was without event, we disembarked and waited. All the other passengers were of course making the short walk to the mall, a rising monolithic shape underlit by a hundred spotlights and blazing multi-coloured neon signs, silhouetted against Neon City's light polluted blood orange-red skyline.
Once the crowd had thinned out, we skirted the enormous building, heading west towards our target.
From a vantage point we had found and through the late night deluge, we could observe the plant.
Work on the Saline Plant was clearly in the early stages, an open and largely flat, earthen construction zone, dotted with several clusters of small prefabricated portable offices, sandy mounds, piles of building materials and work machinery, surrounded by a four metre high razor wire-topped wall that ran the entire perimeter.
Towards the centre was a large hangar-like building. This was where we'd find the excavator robots informed Johnny.
We continued casing the site: Euyrailad motion detectors were present, searchlights, alarms as well. There were roving gun drones and uniformed rentaguards patrolling with dogs.
As the patrols and drones went round, we saw that they weren't triggering any alarms, the on-site security system must have somehow tagged them as friendlies. Possibly they were carrying actual tags?
I jacked into the GLOWNET. The mundane blandness of the construction site was wiped from my brain. replaced by metamorphosing digital geometry decorated in vivid mainlined colours.
The construction site had a small data-vault, its image; a hexagonal pyramid branded with the Oshin Amalgamated penguin logo and colours.
An almost invisible data-flow bled out from the vault and disappeared into the pulsating horizon, impossible to spot unless you know what you're looking for. No doubt it connected to a main Oshin server-vault.
Oshin weren't expecting trouble here, getting through the security was easy.
There wasn't any data to speak of here, just a stack of protocols.
I checked them out, they were here to manage the security systems, it was the soft spot we were looking for, our way in.
I went further into the system and found what I was looking for, a fairly simple set of protocols managing the motion detectors.
If the motion detectors picked up anything that it was not recognised by its system, a response protocol was instructed immediately trigger the alarm protocols, which in turn would set off a series of alerts and alarms, both locally and off-site.
I got into the response protocol code and simply deactivated the instruction to trigger alarms. From a one to a zero.
This meant if and when the motion detectors spotted us, they would do nothing about it.
This just left the guards, dogs and spotlights to avoid.
Timing it carefully, Trigger picked his moment to climbed the chain link fence and at the top cut a length of the razor-wiring away, his Ashirada arm augmentation made it easy. After this we all managed to clamber over the wall.
Kicking up dirt, we ran for cover. Inside the walls much of the ground was open and sweeping searchlights were a risk, as were roaming patrols.
Patiently we went from cover to cover until we reached a side door in the hangar. It towered over us, we hadn't appreciated its size at a distance.
Inside the space felt vast, the furthest reaches swallowed by darkness.
Industrial sized pendant lights hung from exposed rafters and dim spots of weak light draped over rows of gigantic construction robots.
Still by the entrance, Johnny pointed at one robot in particular.
It was a Paakutoda class Nasuran Industries construction robot. It resembled a giant armoured, dull-steel coloured octopus, seventeen metres across and high. Covered in an array of sensors and equipped with segmented robotic tentacles that provided underwater motion, incredibly strong but equally precise in their movements and actions.
As we quietly moved, the Paakutoda's motors growled and it rotated it's position a few degrees, thumping loudly as it settled again.
"It's been locked into guard mode," whispered Johnny. "Without the remote access controls, the only way to disarm it is to get into the cabin near the top."
Captain Noodles volunteered to do this, he was small, fast and might avoid detection. He lithely jumped and soundlessly ran his way to the cabin without triggering a response. His paws however, couldn't get at the cabin's lock. Denied, he came back down dejectedly.
Koko knew locks better than any of us and her Ashirada implants allowed her to easily scale the interior wall. Koko then cautious shuffled along a rafter and lowered herself by rope on to the robot and began working on the lock.
A couple of minutes later, we heard her cursing under her breath over comms, she couldn't open the locks.
By now Trigger had had enough.
"Distract the robot," he said over comms.
Koko had pulled herself back up to the rafter, so she made some noise. The robot rotated again, stopping and starting several times in quick succession, unable to triangulate Koko's position directly above.
Trigger sprinted, bound up the robots central body and arriving at the cabin. With a thrust of his street-katana and a hefty pull, he jimmied the lock, springing it open. The internal sensors detected Trigger when he jumped into the pilot's seat and the robot powered down.
We were in.
I scrambled up to the cab and with my slab and jacked in. My vision blurred for a moment as I acclimatised to the system. Unlike the GLOWNET, this was a simple static code structure, I instinctively flicked through files like flicking through pages of an old style glossy paper catalogue and eventually accessed the lowest code level, the closest to the metal.
Then I fed it a Trojan, a little discrete slice of code disguised as an instruction interpreter that gave us full remote access to the octopus.
It was time to leave, we exited the hangar, avoided the patrol patterns and circling spotlights. Returned to our insertion point and then, out!
Outside of the saline plant, Johnny was free to push his sabotage virus on to the Paakutoda in safety. At some point the virus would exploit the robot's networking function to spread to the other robots and hit them all.
Hopefully, even when they cleared the virus out, they wouldn't catch the Trojan and Johnny could simply push the next iteration of the virus back on to the Paakutoda.
It was time to get back to the ferry, heavy rain was pelting , drenching us in darkness. Ahead was the shoreline, we followed the wharf lights as they danced madly through the curtain of falling raindrops
It was still a couple of hours until dawn when our return ferry docked with a shunt at Highway Zero. The rain hadn't let up and neither had Neon City's unsleeping population.
We were about to make our way back towards the tramline when Captain Noodles picked up something, his curious nature had made him stretch and sniff the air then stalk off?
We followed and he led us a fishmongers on the eastern edge of Highway Zero, close to the bay.
Fish were one one the few truly fresh foods that could be acquired easily in Neon City. The advantage of a major conurbation that sprawled on to the edge of coastal waters. Although, it being the Neon City Bay, it didn't pay to look too closely at the catch of the day.
A small crowd had gathered, drawn by the commotion. Phineous Phish was a fishmonger's shop right in the middle of a row of independent retailer units, it's logo read The Phreshest Phish You Can Phind!
Agonising alliteration aside; it had a fairly old fashioned, almost quaint frontage of brick and painted replica wood, with a large shop window that displayed white boxes filled with fish sitting on blankets of ice.
Inside was a glass counter displaying more fish.
Outside though, was a middle-aged man, presumably the proprietor and dressed in an Phineous Phish apron, he was waving his arms and shouting angrily about thieves, he was also covered in what we surmised were fish guts that had been dunked in some sort of slime?
Bill managed to calm him down, he was Phineous, the shop owner. He told Bill about the penguins!
Four penguins had come into his shop, the largest had distracted him by regurgitating on him! Meanwhile the other three had stolen fish, the four of them had then fled.
It had all happened a few minutes ago.
We didn't know anything about penguins but were pretty sure that their usual behaviour didn't involve thievery.
They must have been uplifted penguins, genetically altered and bio-enhanced to increase cognitive function, physical application and communication ability.
Even amongst the early-morning suited wage monkeys, late-night gangers, all-day street walkers and stoned revellers on the overcrowded streets of Neon City, penguins would be easy to track.
Hacking various security cameras showed four penguins waddling their way to the tram line. Footage showed that they swiped in with their Ostrea Transit Cards and then take the tram for Sky Dinosaurian Square, we knew that was where the tramline terminated. The only way out of there was Sunshine Metro or a sky-taxi.
I had hacked the transit system so many times I practically had my own login. Accessing their system was easy now and I looked for travel data on the four penguins, there were too many cards swiping into the system simultaneously to narrow it down.
Sky Dinosaurian Square was our next destination.
It was still an hour before dawn and sheets of rain kept on noisy pouring on the packed tram as it rumbled its way into the centre of Sky Dinosaurian Square.
A sprawling dinosaur-themed amusement park that dominated the district, Sky Dinosaurian Square was the biggest tourist and consumer pull in Neon City after Ninety Ninth Street and it's distractions, hospitalities and attractions were more family friendly.
Getting off the tram, we found ourselves in an open puddle filled circular paved area lit by floodlights.
Nauseatingly cheery music looped out of streets speakers and a colourful LED sign announced: Dinosaur Square.
Stalls and stands decorated in primary colours and selling sugary drinks, candy floss, ice cream, souvenirs, tourist tat and more lined the square.
Even at this time, people would be dragging their children here, crowds and the queues as heavy as any time.
Staff in dinosaur costumes patrolled the square, protected from spiteful, screaming sugar-fuelled children by rentaguard.
In the night sky flew autonomous anamorphic pterodactyls, screeching their digital screeches as they swooped over the square, dipping in and out of the light.
To the east against the faintest streaks of dawn light we could see a small silhouetted train speedily twisting and undulating its way along the still-lit skeletal shape of an enormous roller-coaster.
Unless the penguins had taken the Sunshine Metro, they had to be somewhere here?
Koko sent Kevin up to do a high altitude sweep and she found something.
To the south east were some ponds.
The ponds were a series of sealed and self-contained ecological water habitats. When the amusement park had received approval, it had stipulated that a percentage of the park had to be given over to educational attractions. The ponds were that percentage.
The crowds thinned out considerably as we got closer to the ponds, no one came to a place called Sky Dinosaurian Square for the ponds.
We watched for a while, until we spotted penguins!
When asked, the staff told us that they thought it was some sort of public relations stunt?
Once the staff had gone about their business, we went down to the ponds, their rocky banks turned out to fabricated from durable grey polymer. The penguins were there, eating fish, caught red-handed so to speak.
We spoke with the penguins, it was hard to tell but they seemed happy to talk with us.
Up until recently they had been employed in Rokkaku Expo Stadium at the Sea Life Attraction but events had taken a turn for the worse.
They had recently been laid off and to compound matters, because they were not classified as human, they did not qualify for Universal Credit.
Theft was only way to get food.
Koko piped up with a suggestion, perhaps they could work as brand ambassadors for the transport authority?
They seemed amenable to the suggestion and we knew someone who might be able to help: Silai Granskina, we were tight with him so we contacted him and put him in contact with the penguins.
By now the rain had stopped and a band of rosy colour was seeping into the cloudless eastern sky. Soon, along with the sun, the temperature would begin to soar.
It had been a long day, soon we would be hitting a straight twenty four hours awake, so we headed home, I could hear the raspy buzz of fatigue in my ears.
I was knocking down twice the recommended Toaizou painkillers; lunchtime had come too soon and sleep had been too short. There was a sharp stinging sensation in my ocular implants and the edge needed to be taken off.
Five minutes ago we'd been pinged on a call from Antin Grova, the up-and-coming urban sculptor who lived in Rokkaku Dai Heights.
He needed our help. More precisely he told us; a customer or associate of his did.
The son of this associate had gone missing, Antin described him as simple and was concerned about his wellbeing. He would pay us for our trouble since it was unlikely that the young man's mother could afford it.
We took the job, Antin gave us contact details for Martha Woldt, the boy's mother - she also lived in The Heights.
We arrived at her apartment block without much delay, the plain interior providing a cool respite from the heat outside.
Martha Woldt was middle-aged and fairly non-descript. She looked quite surprised to see us - Antin must not have told her that about us?
Martha told us that her son - Jericho had been looking for work, but his learning difficulties made it hard to find any.
Surprisingly, he eventually had found work and began his job yesterday, that was the last she had seen of him. Martha provided us a photo of Jericho, she didn't know where he'd gone to work, but she did know that name of the agency that had placed him; Office Plankton, located in The Heights.
It was reaching midday by the time we arrived at the agency office, despite the punishing heat and near-painful brightness, Neon City's people were undeterred and crowded the streets. Just another obstacle to navigate in a day in the life.
The Office Plankton office was an anonymous and easily-missed high street unit. It's narrow frontage bore the Office Plankton logo along with it's motto; Easy jobs that require no skills.
The window's blind had been pulled down, concealing any view of the interior.
Office Plankton was a job agency and a rare sight in Neon City with it's burgeoning unemployment rates and even rarer was Office Plankton with it's niche market!
Office Plankton specialised in filling vacancies for low-skilled jobs and finding work for people who lacked qualifications, people like Jericho.
It was surprising that these kinds of vacancies even existed in Neon City considering the amount of robots and level of automation available.
Inside was a rectangular room, the mostly bare walls were painted off-white and a thin, light-grey carpet covered the floor. It was obvious that little time had been given to considering the décor and overall the room said very little about its function.
Opposite the entrance was a faux-oak desk and sitting behind it was a stocky, flabby looking man who was preoccupied with a desk-slab. He wore a slightly off fitting white shirt and blue tie. Pinned to shirt was a name badge; Call Me Bob.
Behind Bob was a shelf filled with what seemed to be random office supplies and a door to the back.
As the front door swung open he looked up, smiled and asked how he could help?
Bill explained that we had an important message for Jericho Woldt and had been unable to contact him. Perhaps Bob could tell us his place of work?
As Bill was talking to Bob, I scoped the room. It felt remarkably empty. Only one thing of interest caught my eye; a framed photo sitting on the shelf.
Bob was sitting with several other equally stocky people at a fully stocked up dinner table, they were family maybe? Gripping their cutlery and grinning at the camera just before digging into a heavy looking meal.
It was unusual to see they kind of family meal at street level in Neon City?
Bob shrugged and turned away from the slab to face us, he'd never heard of Jericho Woldt? He told us that there were four other branches of Office Plankton in Neon City, perhaps we should try them?
He also informed us that none of the branches had direct phone lines, the jobseekers they dealt with could become easily confused and this kept matters simpler.
There was nothing else to be gained here, we had four other sites to check out.
I accessed the transit systems records again. They showed Jericho Woldt getting off the tram at Rokkaku Expo Stadium.
Next we hacked the servers that remotely logged camera footage from the tramline and used it to track Jericho's movements. Coverage was spotty though, we intermittently saw him going around the district, at one point we saw him looking intently at something out of picture at the Expo Stadium, after that we lost him. We saw nothing of him going to a Office Plankton branch.
There was one last play we could make. One of the few centralised databases in Neon City was the employment status database. It tracked who was eligible for Universal Credit and who had employment. Details about Jericho should show up on the Social Insurance Network.
Only in Neon City was working a S.I.N.!
We didn't get any hits. Either Jericho wasn't working or he was working off the books?
It meant we had to investigate the other Office Plankton branches. Time was critical, so we split into four to cover more ground, Noodles went with Koko and of course Roderick went with Bill.
Two hours later we met up to compare notes.
Bill had gone to the branch on Ninety Ninth. It was another small anonymous and strangely featureless office manned by a single rep. A friendly, large, doughy guy wearing a name badge saying; Call Me Dan.
Dan gave Bill the same thing he'd heard from Bob, nothing about Jericho.
While Bill had been chatting to Dan, his eye recognised a photo on Dan's desk, it was identical to Bob's photo but now Bill also recognised Dan as one of the other people. There was definitely something of a family resemblance.
At Dogenzaka Hill, the office I went to was equally small and bland as at The Heights.
Again, only one company rep worked here. Call Me Tom stated his name badge, he provided me with no information about Jericho and again; there it was, the same photo with Bob and also Tom at the dinner table?
The Office Plankton branch at Highway Zero had been Koko's destination. It was the same as the Rokkaku Dai Heights branch. A small office operated by a single staff member. A corpulent man wearing a badge saying; Call Me Dick. Koko didn't learn anything about Jericho from him but she did see that same photo with Bob and Dick.
Lastly, Trigger had gone to the branch at The Skyscraper District. He had spoken with the chubby woman who ran the small office there and saw the badge she wore named her as Call Me Madge. She did not recognise the name Jericho Woldt and gave Trigger no information. Before Trigger left, he spotted the photo identical to one on Bob's shelf, the one that contained Bob and also Madge.
More and more it looked like thing weren't adding up.
All five branches had no information on Jericho despite what his mother had said, nor was there any evidence that Jericho was even employed?
Office Plankton's chosen market seemed strange and all the branches seemed empty?
Finally since all five staff members appeared in the same photo, it must have been a family run business?
Time to take it up a notch. It was approaching the end of the day and we needed to dig deeper into Office Plankton. We headed over to the Highway Zero branch and found some shade from the glaring sun in a back alley.
Through the constant flow of people and rumbling traffic we watched the office.
At six Dick locked up and made his way to the closest tram stop, we followed. Only Koko had to keep distant, so she sent Kevin up to keep an eye on him. The rest of could safely take the same tram he did.
We'd hit rush hour, the tram was stuffier and more packed than usual, the smell of cheap antiperspirants mingled unpleasantly with actual perspiration as we squeezed aboard.
Heavy with crushed wage monkeys, the tram laboriously pulled away and they mindlessly swayed in unison to the acceleration, diligently scrolling through on their media-slabs, needing to forget where they were and most importantly who they were.
The tram creaked as it's worn breaks squealed their protest at bringing the tram to a halt in Kibogaoka Hill.
Dick disembarked and we followed suite. He went through the shanty town, up the hill towards what passed as the district's retail centre. His route took him through the treacherously winding side roads, narrow and high sided ravines of brick, wood and plastic with a multitude of blind corners and turn offs.
Bill was on point, it was tricky staying out of sight and shadowing Dick but he managed it.
Eventually Dick ended up going through the front door of shop with a fabricated crimson coloured frontage called Mother's Meaty Morsels?
A shop that currently looked shut for the day and from outside appeared to be some sort of small independent pie-shop? It's motto proclaimed; A MEAT pie is a NEAT pie. It also boasted of the naturally sourced ingredients?
Additionally, the shop seemed to serve both retail and commercial customers?
Real meat was hard to come by in Neon City and was generally the reserve of the wealthy, how was it that a small shop in the neo-shanty town of Kibogaoka Hill was able to get real meat?
We waited and watched, soon Koko joined us and after that we looked on as one-by-one Bob, Dan, Tom and Madge appeared and went into Mother's Meaty Morsels.
Things still didn't add up?
What happened to the people they supposedly found work for?
What was Office Plankton's link to Mother's Meaty Morsels?
How was the pie-shop getting its meat?
Neon City was always home to casual unpleasantness, indifference and crime but joining the dots here was taking us into one of the city's darker avenues....
Trigger was getting impatient, he flicked on his thermals and took a look.
Seven heat signatures were visible, they seemed to be congregating and taking up seats round a table. Nothing suspicious....
Trigger swept the building's rear, he saw the heat signature of a slumped figure with their arms in the air, it was the profile of someone hung up by their arms! Trigger also saw various cooler, dimmer amorphous blobs of heat?
It was enough for Trigger, he was up and running at the front door before he told us what was going on, we hurried to back him up.
Kicking open the door sent a now-broken lock skittering across the chequered black-and-white linoleum floor. It was unlit and unoccupied, the glass serving counter empty.
Scraping chairs could be be heard from a back door behind the counter. It flew open and several corpulent individuals came charging out, their faces were bestially contorted with anger and screaming, they closed in. We could see Bob and the others among the pack running at us.
Their aggression and desire for violence could not hope to match our skills, honed as they were by our lives The City of Electric Dreams.
The fight didn't last too long and there was little doubt how it would go. Soon they were lying on the floor, unconscious or dead - we didn't care which.
The room they had come from contained a dinner table lavished with an assortment of pies, we avoided it.
Another door seemed to lead into their processing facility, we steeled ourselves and entered.
It was a grim sight, the dirty, dimly lit room was populated with bloody, grisly detached human remains at various stages of being processed into pies!
As we suspected; cannibals!
We continued searching and found Jericho Woldt, he was chained to all steel ring that had been secured to a concrete wall. He was alive and breathing and in one piece. We took him and left that damned place and returned him home to his thankful mother safe and sound.
Later on Antin Grova pinged us with a call, thanking us for finding Jericho Woldt. He asked us what payment we wanted for the job?
"Nothing," we said, "consider it a favour.".
Even later, I got a call from Ram Rat.
He had been following the news: A sky-taxi had malfunctioned, crashing into Porter Sladek's high rise with a tremendous explosion. Sladek's apartment had suffered massive damage and was almost entirely destroyed. Fortunately the Thetatech executive had out at the time and was unharmed.
Ram Rat told me he was sure that Ghost Radical had made another move on Porter Sladek, he wasn't giving up.
24th January 2021
It's Sunday and I'm logged on to Meet on my PC, in the living room.
Matt is running the introductory adventure for Those Dark Places.
Those Dark Places
From what I've seen about Those Dark Places, it's a fairly rules-lite Industrial sci-fi RPG, which means it's default setting is sort where activities in space are everyday and commonplace but also impractical and possibly downright dangerous. Not a utopian paradise nor a dystopian nightmare.
The rules are pretty straightforward, each character has four attributes, something I've seen a lot of in recent games. A value of 1,2 3 or 4 is assigned to each attribute.
Additionally, each character has a primary and secondary crew position, these things like Helm, Medical Officer, Engineer, Science Officer, strangely it makes the game feel a bit like Star Trek?
Each character has a Pressure Bonus and a Pressure Level.
Tasks are attempted by rolling a single six sided die and adding a pertinent attribute to the roll, if a characters primary crew position is also pertinent, add a further +2, if there secondary crew position is relevant add +1 instead.
Target numbers range from 6-8.
Players will be called upon to make pressure rolls, these are done by rolling a die and adding their Pressure Bonus, if the result is 10 or higher, it's all good.
Less than 10 and they fill in a box on the Pressure Level track. Bad thing can happen when these boxes are filled.
There are some other rules, for combat and whatever, but that's the gist of it.
The default setting has the PCs signing with a vast impersonal space-faring corporation looking to make a fortune from mining or exploiting the resources on other planets.
The pay is lucrative but PCs start by having signed on for a 25 year contract, they'll only be paid at the end - once all expenses have been deducted. It's not as long as it seems; there is no faster-than-light travel here and all long distance travel is done via hibernation or long sleep as the game calls it.
Time passed in long sleep counts has time worked, thus a 6 month long sleep is 6 months off the contract.
I guess characters either make it to their 25th year or they don't!
Big Ounce: Played by Josh
Doris Sine: Played by Vicky.
Cyrox Calwin: Played by Giro.
Location : Icarus
The Icarus was a clumsy inelegant but effective workhorse of a spacecraft and so were the new three-person crew. All freshly signed up with Cambridge Wallace Incorporated for twenty five years.
The crew had been putting The Icarus and themselves through their paces after the latest refit when orders came through from Cambridge Wallace.
The Icarus was to proceed to planet Viduus III, upon arrival the ship was to pick up three passengers and their cargo from the decommissioned space station which was scheduled for demolition and then return them here.
The crew would earn performance based bonus if the orders were completed in one hundred and seventy days.
Cambridge Wallace had wrapped up their mining operation at Viduus III, the three remaining engineers had spent the last few months dismantling the station and now needed a ride home.
Cyrox plotted a course to Viduus III on the nav-systems, the computer calculated that the trip would eighty-one days to get there, a roundtrip would give the crew a margin of error of eight days.
Seventy eight days later and the automated long-sleep capsules started to bring the crew back to consciousness, warning lights were flashing and wake-up alarms chirping. With much effort the crew dragged themselves out of their pods.
Recovery from long-sleep was quick but tended to be disorientating and nauseating.
A couple of hours later and the crew were on the bridge.
A lot of green lights were winking away on the dashboard, all systems looked nominal.
The Icarus was less than seventy-two hours out from the station and deceleration was well underway. Everything was on schedule.
The Icarus was also now close enough to communicate with the station. A message was transmitted, but even taking into account the delay, there was no answer.
A check of the on-board systems showed no errors, the station must have received the message.
Even aboard a large ship, life was cramped and it was hard for the crew to not get in each other's faces over the next few days. Little consideration and space were given over to crew needs. Other than Ship Operations, there was a communal eating area and each crewmate had some personal storage and space, that was it.
Outside of Ops and personal spaces, the entire ship only ever seemed half lit, it was also fairly dark and dismal,
For the crew, it was nothing new.
During the remaining three days the crew put out regular transmissions directed at the station but on every occasion; there was no reply.
Three days passed and what was a bright speck in an endless sea of specks had grown until it dominated the scene out of a view port.
The station looked like a colossal skeleton, silently hanging in the sky against the backdrop of Viduus III.
The engineers had been busy stripping it down.
Big Ounce was adjusting the The Icarus' velocity and trajectory, putting the ship into a synchronous orbit with the station.
There still had not been any answering call from the station, it was worrying the crew. The corporate handbook had no regulations for this, the crew were on their own.
As the station loomed large, Cyrox ran a thermal scan, heat signatures were showing up and there was a definite heat-bloom that was the profile of an active power generator. Cyrox knew that it would be enough for life support.
Ounce was closing in and making the final imperceptibly delicate adjustments, a few minutes later and The Icarus and the station were aligned.
It was a simple matter to extend The Icarus' umbilical to the station's airlock, then the two were connected.
The decision was made to send Doris and Ounce over to the station. Doris was the ship's medical officer and Ounce had received security training.
They went out of The Icarus' airlock, the span between The Icarus and the station had no artificial gravity, so Doris and Ounce had to float over. When they got into the airlock, the station's gravity tugged them back down to the floor.
Once the outer door was closed, they punched in the commands to open the inner door. There was a hiss as the airlock equalised with the station and the doors slid open into the gloom.
The room ahead was unlit other than a small winking light, a minimal amount of starlight was streaming through the station's view ports.
Doris and Ounce flicked their flashlights on.
They found themselves looking at a grotty looking squarish steel-walled room, there were three ways out, but two of them had been wielded shut.
This was standard procedure for engineers when they stripped a station down. The sealed doors would only lead out into space now. Eventually the engineers would have stripped as much as they could and were now down to a minimal amount of inhabitable space.
Doris and Ounce shouted out their arrival, no answer came. It was quiet and when they went in and played their flashlights over the room, they could hear their boots creak. There were three messy looking cots and the winking light was coming from a food dispenser.
In one corner was a grimy looking makeshift shower unit had been set up, upon closer inspection, it also doubled as a toilet!
A number of storage crates had been stacked up to the ceiling in another corner. Several had been tipped over and possibly looked damaged?
It was starting to look like there were signs of a struggle. They spotted a dark spot on the steel floor. Looking closer they realised it was some sort of stain, further inspection revealed that it was dried blood. Shining their flashlights, Doris and Ounce spotted several stands of hair mingled in with the blood.
Doris looked at the blood, it seemed at least one week old, there was a large amount too, possibly from more than one person
They shouted out again and waited, still no answer.
Cautiously, they continued their search. The damaged crates had been violently ripped open, it looked like they once contained food supplies.
The other undamaged crates appeared to contain equipment or engineering gear.
Next to one of the cots was notebook - a journal to be precise.
Doris skimmed the journal; it belonged to Batiste and mostly ambled on about their work, the writings indicated that he was the ranking officer here, the other two were Manuela and Williams.
Back aboard The Icarus, a proximity alarm began ringing? Cyrox had been slumped in a chair listening to the chatter from the others on the station, he wheeled over to the navigation console.
Long range detectors had picked up something new several thousand kilometres away. A computer calculation determined it was orbiting Viduus III and had just come round into detection range.
The orbit was at a slightly faster velocity than the station and in about twenty hours; whatever it was, it would catch up with the station.
Cyrox activated manual camera controls and swivelled one in the direction of the object. Pushing the camera to higher and higher magnifications, he sat up in surprise when he found what he was looking for!
The object was a spaceship of some sort, with careful application of the controls, Cyrox managed to get the ship's name.
He had to search the database to find anything about it.
The ship was Argent III. It had been part of the Argent Class, a fleet of 4 large ships with a crew compliment of over one hundred each that were designed for long term deep space exploration.
The fleet had been launched over a century ago. They had returned from their mission decades late,r having been recalled. All returned except Argent III, which had gone missing, its fate unknown.
As regulations required, Cyrox messaged the Argent III, no reply came. Another one he thought.
It was likely that all the crew would be dead after this time and the Argent III probably represented a significant value to whoever owned it, they might pay a big reward if correctly salvaged.
Aboard the station, Doris and Ounce went into the only exit. It was another unlit squarish steel room. This one was filled with rows and rows of more stacked crates.
They searched the room with their flashlights, they was no other exit, nor were there any bodies.
None of the crates here looked damaged or opened, but an inspection of the steel floor showed numerous long scuff marks, crates had been dragged out of the room.
There was nothing particularly different about these crates.
There was nothing more to be learned here.
Doris and Ounce returned to The Icarus, the crew discussed their next move.
It had to be the Argent III, the station was a dead end.
The umbilical was detached and retracted.
Ounce then adjusted the ship's velocity and orbital altitude, slowing The Icarus and allowing the Argent III make ground.
The crew again sent out messages and again no reply came.
For a few hours they watched out a viewport as the Argent III grew in size, speculating on what they would find.
It was a vast ship, perhaps a kilometre long and it easily dwarfed The Icarus - almost menacingly as the distance between the two lessened. Argent III was a museum piece and it obvious that it's design as well as it antennae and exterior arrays were all outdated.
Sweeping Argent III with cameras revealed that it had taken a quite a battering. It's hull was pock-marked with numerous dents and there was visible damage. The decades had left Argent III worse for the wear.
Argent III was also dark, a further inspection of the hull showed the ship's view ports were all sealed from the inside with steel plates?
It also showed a small shuttle docked with an airlock, they saw the shuttle was a much more modern design. The crew surmised that it came from the station
Cyrox ran another thermal scan, heat signatures were faint and fluctuating, there was no steady heat-bloom of a nominally functional power source. It was impossible to say what condition life-support was in.
As Argent III drew closer, Ounce began changing trajectory again, gently putting The Icarus into synchronous orbit with the Argent III.
Once this was done, the crew realised they had a problem, the shuttle was docked with the airlock, they couldn't use the umbilical to get aboard.
Cyrox pulled up Argent III's schematics from the the database. On the far side of Argent III was a ancillary airlock, the crew could probably gain access that way.
This meant going on an untethered extravehicular action excursion.
Ounce wasn't too fond of this and volunteered to remain aboard The Icarus.
Doris and Cyrox suited up and ran safety checks each other's EVA kit, the gear that would propel them on their kit. Everything was good to go.
They lumbered into the airlock and entered the black, empty silence of space. The only noise was their on breath and squawk of comms chatter.
It was a short journey to the other airlock but each metre that took them further from The Icarus was a metre further into potential danger and the unknown.
Argent III and Viduus III filled their view, the ship was below them and behind loomed the planet.
During training, they had been taught to focus on the task at hand, to remain clam and not look at the millions of kilometres of nothing above them but the urge to stare into oblivion could be irresistible.
Doris and Cyrox spent couple of minutes skimming over the Argent III's uneven hull until they reached the other side and manoeuvred to the airlock.
The external controls looked old but there was still some familiarity about them and luckily it was easy to decipher what-was-what whilst hanging there. Soon enough the door slid open they were were inside and Argent III's gravity asserted itself.
They checked the intermediate controls, these were more complex, there were various environmental readouts - even the font used on the screen was an outdated one!
Eventually though, they managed to close the out door and pressurise the airlock. Then they opened the inner door.
The suit readouts indicated that the air was safe, with a click and hiss, they removed their helmets.
It was time to go into Argent III.
23rd January 2021
Saturday night is here again and I'm logged on to Teams on my PC in the living room.
Time for the next session in Matakishi's Wired Neon Cities campaign
Location: Neon City.
It was too early in the morning when Koko had pinged all of us; Yennav Rybasei had been in contact. He wanted us over to some sort of meat processing plant in Rokkaku-Dai Heights immediately.
Pocketing my media-slab, I wondering just where Koko's relationship with a Russian Mob operator was going to eventually lead us. Every combination of the words; meeting, mobster and meat processing plant sounded like it would lead to a bad ending.
I checked my .45 ACPs, pulled on my boots and trench coat then went and met the others in the morning heat, unaccustomed to blinding low morning sun.
This meat processing plant was on the edge of The Heights' old warehouse district in a small business park that backed on to a row of retail units.
Unusually for a warehouse, this was a was grey-and-brown bricked building with a few small second story windows, some doors and a couple of bays. at the front it's original old sign had long since faded away.
Situated at regular intervals on the rusting corrugated gable roof were a large number of ventilation shafts.
Would have been a fairly anonymous place except for the handful of clearly tooled-up and generally easily spotted mob goons with their buzz cuts and cheap polyester Russian Osolitki tracksuits they liked so much who were kicking their heels outside and failing to look respectable.
They watched us intently with unblinking gazes as we walked over, obviously gripping weapons in pockets.
Once we told them that we were expected, they relaxed and breathed.
One of the thugs bought us into a partially sun-lit hallway with a dusty threadbare carpet that led to a short row of offices, Yennav was waiting in one.
It must have been an admin office, shelves were stacked with old vinyl document boxes and office supplies, a couple men sat working at desk-slabs and the room was filled with beige or brown plastic furniture.
The exception was a plush looking shiny faux-leather exec chair in which a reclining Yennav sat. His relaxed posture couldn't quite hide the nervous expression on his face.
He stood up and greeted us with a forced cheerfulness and after some small talk took us through another door into a small high-ceilinged bare corridor.
Dust motes floated lazily in sunlight that poured through the small windows and shone on the plain concrete floor.
At the other end were a unusual set of heavily looking steel double doors.
"Leads to cold storage," Yennav offered.
Yennav jabbed a panel on the wall; the insulated doors popped a few centimetres out of the wall with a short hiss and automatically slid open. A small cloud of accumulating mist rolled out into the corridor where warm air mingled with cold.
Beyond; a mixture of weak LED strips and sunlight bleakly lit the stark brick and concrete room. Skinned animal carcases hung from rows of cruelly curved steel hooks and barbs, gently swaying in the almost indiscernible flow of cold air being pumped in by the low rumbling fans in ventilation shafts.
"There," pointed Yennav.
We followed his finger and I sucked in my breath, it lead to a cyborg, hanging from one of the hooks.
It was the kind we had encountered before: Protobase Global cyborgs, monstrous braindead hybrids that were built to kill.
Except not this one, it hung there moving in rhythm with the carcasses.
"Non-active, but still functional. No danger." Added Yennav.
He went on to explain that during a conference at a mob-owned restaurant a group of the cyborgs had appeared and attacked. Yennav shook his head, explaining that during the ensuing firefight he had lost many colleagues before the cyborgs were destroyed. Though his men had managed to disable the one here in the storage.
Yennav wanted us to find out who had done this to them.
The first thing we checked was the cyborg. As Koko worked at opening a small service hatch I could feel a chilly invisible grip wrapping around me like an icy boa constrictor. None of us were used to this kind of temperature, not in Neon City.
Once Koko was done, I worked quickly; behind the hatch was a port that allowed Protobase Global to program their mindless murder-machines, it was also my way in. I networked my data-slab to it and jacked in.
Ram Rat was still occupying a sizeable chunk of my data-slab's storage partition.
A constantly shifting and rotating innumerable swarm of glowing data-insects, each an algorithmic subroutine that contributed to Ram Rat's brain-image wheeled over and greeted me as I appeared. Ram Rat wanted to know what we were doing?
We accessed the cyborg's programming, it had been executing a complex set of hunter/killer instructions, nothing unexpected considering what it had just been used for.
We dug deeper but came up with no further data that could help us, whoever had created the programming had also been very careful to hide their footprints.
There was one small piece of data though.
The cyborg's base operating code was probably written by somebody different to who had programmed the instruction set and they had left something, something that was missed by whoever had wiped the data
The base operating code still contained a timestamp, this was when the code had been compiled; this was a week ago.
The Protobase Global robot manufacturing facility had been destroyed by us long before then.
There was another facility somewhere in Neon City.
The cyborg was a dead end.
Next Yennav showed us the front security camera footage from the restaurant.
We watched the grainy silent low angled footage; it showed a platoon of cyborgs rapidly charging along the street, coming into the footage from out of the camera angle. They were directed to attack the restaurant by a familiar looking rotund Asian man, once again he managed to keep his features hidden from us.
It kept us from learning anything about the attack.
For several minutes we re-watched the footage again and again, nothing new each time. Until we spotted something, we hit freeze frame and there: A ghostly, insubstantial spectral shape lurking in the shop window across the street from the restaurant.
A faint, transparent phantasmal half-reflection that showed cyborgs leaping out of a sky-freighter to one side of the restaurant but too transparent, too faint to reveal any detail. There was however, a strange smear of bright green that we were naturally drawn to
Taking a screen grab, we fed it into my data-slab, Ram Rat and I checked it out.
The image was already low-rez and when we expanded it, it only got worse.
I ran a protocol to enhance the image, an predictive algorithm would reconstruct the image, cleaning and sharpening it. Hopefully it would clean and sharpen it in the right way and we'd get something.
A toy, it turned out to be a child's plastic toy stuck to the top of the sky freighter's dashboard, a distinctive colourful green troll mascot of some kind? I ran it through image recognition, it was produced by Lekorrem Toys and wasn't associated with any businesses or corporations, it had no meaning, it was just a damned child's toy.
Another dead end.
We were grasping now, but perhaps it had some kind of significance to truckers? We only knew one trucker, Aisha Laverone - Lady Zero.
We pinged the image to her and asked if she knew about it. she got back to us pretty quick.
The toy could be found on the dashboard of a freighter that belonged to a Ivan Wykw. How could we find Ivan, we asked? Lady Zero didn't know, Ivan shunned The Brotherhood of the Road, whatever the hell that was and was happy to take any cargo no questions asked.
One last thing Lady Zero told us; he was a serious pachinko player and liked to play at the Isseki Nityou Pachinko Parlour in Highway Zero.
It was a start.
Twelve lanes of unending blurring traffic moving at four hundred kilometres per hour on street level made Highway Zero the noisiest, hottest district in Neon City. with an all encompassing background rumble that filled the air like a low hiss of static.
A midday sun was baking the streets as we rolled into Highway Zero. It didn't take long to get to the Pachinko Parlour.
The parlour's name was brashly announced by a large, elaborate set of neon signs and shapes flashed on and off in a rolling animated sequence.
The sound of bells, sirens, electric jingles, sporadic song samples could be heard from outside.
Inside, it rose into a blended cacophony of electronic noise that numbed the mind
The brightly lit room was entirely filled by rows of zombie gamblers of every variety sat in front of gaudily coloured flashing and winking Ozoyanan pachinko terminals, almost mindlessly pumping ball after ball into the machines and watching entranced, as they bounced their way down, clinging on to the hope that a dopamine hit would be triggered by a win.
A battery farm of steel ball laying zoned-out gamblers.
It was packed, every seat, every row occupied and we didn't even know what Ivan Wykw looked like or if he was even here? Finding him was going to be a slog,
A different approach was needed and that approach was his sky-freighter.
Back outside, we looked around, across the road was an asphalt surfaced parking lot. A quick search and we found the colourful green troll; Ivan's truck, a dirt smeared Tulytt Arboret sky-hauler.
It was empty and had been sitting here a while, the bodywork had been cooked by the Neon City heat and was painful to touch.
We provided cover to Koko as she delicately worked the truck's door lock.
With a click, it was done. As we opened the door, a wave of sun-heated hot stale air escaped the truck along with the rancid smell of rot, crap and sickly sweetness. For a moment everybody stood back, we all knew that smell.
Taking deep breaths we looked inside. There was a plastic coated bench that ran the width of the cabin in front, its colourful patterns worn away by use. The truck was parked up so all the dashboard systems were all turned off. Most corners of the cab and the windscreen contained caked deposits of dust and grime, accumulated from years of travel and some other small pieces of trash littered the interior.
Behind the bench, the cab extended to the rear and the shaded, unlit sleeper area.
Touching the sleeper area's panel light bought it to life and its soft glow revealed an unmoving figure laying covered by a duvet. We checked closer, Ivan Wykw was there, under the duvet; dead.
Someone had been serious about tying up loose ends.
Another dead end.
Powering up the sky-freighter systems triggered a sequence of dials and instrumentation activating in a flurry of winking red-and-then-green lights.
The auto-router would contain a log of the freighter's movements, we checked it, the log had been deleted.
Very serious about tying up loose ends.
It was time to see how good they were at this though.
Under the dashboard was a central dash-slab, it's role was to manage all the sky-freighter's systems; power management, propulsion, aerial stability, fuel usage, data readouts and of course, the auto-router.
When the logs were deleted, they weren't deleted from the auto-router but the slab instead. The auto-router was in essence nothing more than a dumb terminal, an interface linking to the slab which did all the actual work.
Like all slabs, when data was deleted from the dash-slab. it would be fragmented and transferred to a specific hidden partition, none of this would ever actually show up on the auto-router.
Networking my own data-slab and jacking in, Ram Rat and I searched the dash-slab, finding the deleted data was easy.
I copied it to my own slab and ran it through a reconstruction protocol.
It took a little while and we had left the sky-freighter by the time it was done but it got the result we needed, we had the auto-router logs.
Ivan Wykw's last journey but one had been to the restaurant and less than two hours before that the sky-freighter had gone to an address in Kibogaoka Hill. There was our lead.
Waves of midday heat and over-bright sunlight pummelled the tram on our clackety ride down to Kibogaoka Hill. No surprise, aircon wasn't up to the job and tightly packed passengers sat or stood, silently enduring the discomfort and shielding their eyes. Nothing new in Neon City.
Kibogaoka Hill was the poorest, most neglected and underfunded district in the city and that was saying something. The city planners must have forgotten about this place when it came to the building of Neon City.
The tram had dropped us off at the foot of Kibogaoka's titular hill.
As the main thoroughfare wound its way uphill, narrow unpredictable side streets branched off in random directions. Other than this, every visible square centimetre of the hill face was seemingly covered by an haphazard sprawl.
A blanket of favela styled shanties were draped down the steep incline. Corrugated sheeting, wooden panels and pallets, plastic coverings and tarpaulin, held together by a mix of nails, rope, wire or cable all contributed to the patchwork district of densely packed makeshift homes and shops. A tangled mess of daisy-chaining black cabling ran from rooftop to rooftop providing power.
There was nothing here for tourists and the streets were quieter for it.
It was obvious we were the outsiders here, our clothes marked us as foreign and suspicious looks were thrown our way as we walked up the hill.
Disaffected youth roameded the favela in bands or gangs, wearing threadbare clothes, hand-me-down boots and defiant, glowering expressions.
Throughout the shanty town the ankh image had been sprayed over many of the ramshackle walls, the tag for Kibogaoka's biggest gang, The Immortals.
Pushers dressed baggy jackets had staked every street and sat on their corners with one eye on the street and one hand on their pistols thrust deep into their pockets. A drip-drab of customers always coming and going.
Meanwhile strung out, underdressed street walkers prowled the hillside for clients.
Stray dogs had the run of the shanty town and feral cats ruled the uneven, mismatched roofs.
On the way up we passed The Launchpad. Designed to deploy multi-stage rockets into orbit, the strange and empty imposing structure had never been used. An enormous tapering steel skeletal launch tower rose out of an open concrete platform and stretched up above the favela, dominating the view from anywhere in the district.
It was hard to imagine how and why it got built in Neon City in the first place and what would happen to the shanty town around it if it were used?
The shanty town climbed most of the way up the hill where it reached the commercial centre of Kibogaoka Hill and mingled with actual buildings of brick, concrete, steel and glass. A strange melting pot of hodge-podge shanty businesses side-by-side with commerical buildings and retail units
The address led to Den's Den Of Domestic Doers. It took a while wandering through the meandering, claustrophobic, random street-maze to find. It was easy to become lost in the narrow, shady back alleys and as we navigated our way we were constantly under the scrutiny of some resident of the favela or other so we kept our wits about us.
Eventually we found Den's Den but we chose to stay back and observe from a distance
Den's Den Of Domestic Doers was a manufacturer of domestic white box appliances.
A largish, square. innocuous brick building that backed right on to an extensively expanded part of the shanty town, it seemed to have been a retailer that directly served the public.
A quick search showed that the business had been bought out by a subsidiary of Protobase Global.
Now it was out-of-business, doors had been barricaded and shop front windows boarded up.
Or so it seemed: For a disused business, we counted a large number of security cameras pointed at all the ways in. There was something strange about the shanty town behind it as well, it was in someway too large and the shape was too uniform, too predictable, as if it was something else?
During our surveillance we had drawn the attention of an old woman who was watching from the doorway of her wood and plastic shanty home.
Bill approached and introduced himself, she was fairly evasive, untrusting and immediately warned him off, telling him it wasn't safe here. Bill smoothly moved the conversation on and she continued. All the original staff from Den's Den had gone missing as as well a number of locals, no one knew why.
If this was a new cyborg manufacturing facility for Protobase Global, then we knew why.
As Bill was talking, the rest of us had noticed rough-looking locals beginning to congregate close by, armed with makeshift clubs they were giving us frequent surly glances, talking heatedly amongst themselves and shifting about as their numbers increased
Maybe they thought we had something to do with the disappearances? Maybe they just didn't like the look of us?
Whatever the reasoning, this wasn't the time to correct those views, so we moved on.
After relocating to a back alley more out of the way, we decided to scout the shuttered retail unit out.
Koko sent Kevin to investigate, the spy-drone zipped over and began scanning the target. As expected, the doors and windows were heavily barred and protected, we needed another way in.
Kevin increased altitude and breezed over the flat roof.
The search revealed several pieces of information, no cameras watched the roof and there was at least one unprotected skylight up there, finally, Kevin pinged us a warning alarm? Her on-board Geiger-counter was picking up an unusually higher than normal radiation count, a radiation leak was somewhere out there!
We gave each other questioning glances?
Koko instructed Kevin to perform a sweep of the area and used the different Geiger readings to triangulate the source. It was narrowed down to an plain, unbranded office block not far from Den's Den.
Nothing could be seen through the windows and it seemed too quiet to be in normal usage.
Trigger took a look with his thermals.
About a third of the way up the tower he started seeing hot spots and then some sort of thermal image of a grid pattern?
Roderick volunteered to take a look, none of us felt particularly confident enough to approach.
He ran over with his distinct robotic gait and disappeared around the back of the building, came back a couple of minutes later and reported his findings.
From the outside, it looked like a typical office block but inside it was a single vast room the size of the whole interior. Inside Roderick had found a cluster of small sized missiles? They were all labelled The Rokkaku Group.
Roderick showed a video he'd recorded of the missiles
The missiles were definitely too small to carry payloads into space; which is what the Rokkaku Group were known for. They must be something else, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles? With the radiation they were pumping out, it had to be.
There seemed to be no link between Den's Den and the missile base, they had to be unrelated we reasoned.
It was time to infiltrate Den's Den. We got to the roof unseen and forced the skylight open without any trouble.
In went Kevin, she saw a large room, perhaps the size of the entire ground floor. It lacked any furniture and contained only one thing. Protobase Global zombie cyborgs: standing there inert, a good twenty of them! There was room for a lot more.
We'd seen them like this before, this was just the end of the manufacturing process. Elsewhere was the manufacturing plant, where Protobase Global thugs had dragged hapless innocent people to their brain-deaths by cybernetic-lobotomy.
Amazingly, Koko had bought a rope with her, it was a Angolan Pruiticos cord, constructed of weaved long-strand polymers, it was thin enough to easy fold and carry but thick enough to grip by hand. It was also incredibly strong for its thickness.
The cord was tied off somewhere secure and we descended, Trigger was first, eager as ever.
Our breathing and rustling clothes seemed loud in this quiet mostly empty room and our footsteps slapped on the vinyl coated floor. Other than the barricaded doors and windows, there was only one way out.
Looking at the cyborgs, I asked Ram Rat what he thought of inhabiting one? They were mindless and he wouldn't encounter any A.I. conflict. He didn't seem too keen on it, on the other hand his choices were limited right now, so he decided to try it out.
I knew where the cyborg networking sockets were and easily connected my data-slab. I jacked in watched the thousands of expanding and contracting, swirling, gleaming data-motes that represented Ram Rat's consciousness funnel off out of my slab like digital water sloshing down a plughole.
for a few minutes Ram Rat walked around, flexed his arms, adapting to the two-and-half metre tall construct with its four arms loaded with weapons. He didn't seem too unhappy with the results.
It was time to move on, there was only one way out.
Koko opened the door and immediately closed it. She had seen a security camera attached to a wall opposite the door and pointing right at it.
Time to be cautious. Koko opened the door a few centimetres and left it ajar, enough to allow Kevin through. She floated into the corridor and zipped up close to the ceiling, out of camera shot
Kevin's video feed showed us that the door led into a plain corridor running left-right with grey vinyl flooring, off-white walls and lit by strip lighting.
To the right, along the opposite wall was a door and beyond that at the corridor's end, another door.
By our calculations, something was up. Those doors would be leading into the shanty buildings? The buildings had to be a disguise for something else?
As we were discussing this, we saw the far door open, from her vantage point Kevin watched as a Protobase Global rentaguard strolled down the corridor.
He turned his head as he passed our door and stopped, he'd seen it was open and was reaching for the handle.
We threw ourselves to either side of the door, except for Ram Rat who was still learning how to move.
The door swung open and the rentaguard was taken aback with a look of shock by one of the cyborg's standing at the door.
Before the rentaguard could react, Trigger reached out and yanked him into the room, closing the door and hitting him with a stun-baton. He crumpled to the floor.
We had an in now! Stripping the rentaguard of his grey and black uniform, Bill used his implants to disguise himself as the man and returned to the corridor.
Koko tagged Kevin on to Bill and the drone quietly followed him, sticking close to the ceiling.
The first door led to an office of some kind, Bill could hear voices on the other side, he continued to the far door, returning the way the rentaguard had come.
Passing through, Bill was greeted by the hum and motor-whine of automated machinery at work.
He was in a production factory of some sort. A large high vaulted room of exposed support girders with corrugated steel walls and a concrete floor, lit by a mixture of spot lighting and elevated windows. Hidden by the false shanty town outside.
Two rows of elaborate orange and grey industrial robots with custom appendages were studiously working on a small assembly line, building cybernetic microelectronics on the conveyor belt with their unnaturally swift and precise movements.
Bill spotted a door marked Security Office. Inside was a solitary rentaguard sitting at a desk-slab and a bank of screens.
"Take a coffee break," said Bill. "I'll man the fort here till you get back.".
Rentaguard didn't need to be told twice and was out the door.
We had ten minutes, maybe fifteen.
The desk-slab needed to be hacked, Bill contacted us and over comms I directed him through the system. It was the standard Karseakk security setup that we'd seen on Protobase Global slabs before.
Before long, Bill had shut the camera feeds down and we were in.
Now we had a chance to find out more about the rotund Asian man. Did he work for Protobase?
The security slab wasn't linked to the corporate servers. We needed a terminal with higher security privileges.
So we came up with a plan.
Bill went back into the corridor and through the office door between the factory and us. Inside was a cluster of replica wood desks, four wage monkeys with their tired, stressed faces and cheap off the rack neutral grey Turkish Radicuz suits looked up from their terminals and at Bill.
"Security drill," Bill explained. "Please exit the area in an order fashion,".
They glanced at each other questioningly.
"NOW," Bill shouted and they quickly made their way out.
With them out of the way, I jacked my Nonohiki into one of their desk-slabs and began my search.
When the material world faded into the background only code remained, a domain governed by the unfeeling embrace of inevitable mathematics and unflinching logic, where everything made sense.
The Protobase Global servers were a massive data-image, a cubic construct that spanned kilometres of virtual space. Unlike the constantly evolving data-spheres of the GLOWNET, these isolated monolithic data-vaults rarely changed and only in relatively small ways when they did.
Protobase retained vast quantities of data at any time and employed tens of thousands of people worldwide. Information here was stored within cuboid structures, there were cubes-within-cubes and data-vault led to data-vault in convoluted pathways. A direct search would be futile.
I programmed some bio-parameters into a search protocol and let it do its thing. It came back with twenty or so hits, a lot more manageable.
It didn't take long to find something.
All of the results bar one were dead ends and gave us nothing. Someone had cleaned out the Protobase databases but this one thing had eluded them.
A record of an old security card that had expired years ago. It contained a slightly out-of-focus typical head-and-shoulders photo, it was the rotund Asian man and the card had a name; Nozi Kinko.
It was time to go, we had what we needed for Yennav. Before leaving, we decided that the remaining cyborgs here needed to be destroyed.
It was a opportunity for Ram Rat to learn about his combat systems after we left! Then afterwards take the back alleys out and be picked up by our roaming RV.
Which worked out well, Ram Rat couldn't come with us, his massive body was too conspicuous.
As we were making our way out of Kibogaoka Hill, Trigger's media-slab pinged, a package had been delivered to his apartment?
Then, on route to Trigger's, Bill got a call from Katsuo Nakamura, he wanted a meet at his place in Rokkaku-Dai Heights immediately.
Once we were safely inside Nakamura's well-to-do high-rise, we sat on his plush sofas as he gave us tea and explained what he wanted.
Binary Johnny was making another run tonight, this time into Diver City at midnight and wanted us as muscle again.
Johnny had the low-down on Oshin Amalgamated; they were expecting delivery of massive excavator robots at the desalination plant. These would help with the installation of the underwater nuclear heaters that would be used to disastrously raise the water level in the bay. Johnny was planning to sabotage the robots with a virus.
Nakamura told us to meet Johnny at the pier in Highway Zero.
There were still hours to burn and plenty of time to get to Trigger's apartment. It was a small plain package that had been delivered, inside were a couple of tubs of White Lotus Liniment and a name; Orin Kichi.
The package was from Prophet Wei and he wanted to rub this chump out.
A search revealed that Orin Kichi went by the handle OK Daddy and was a pimp that rolled in the back alleys of 99th Street. A report stated that he was suspected of murdering two working girls but there was no evidence.
99th was always crowded, even during the afternoon's lowering glare of the sun, the noisy, neon-lit allure of quick-fix entertainment was too much for the moths of the City of Electric Dreams looking for a good time.
Amongst the restaurants, gambling dens, game parlours, karaoke bars and bars of 99th were the working girls - and boys, as much as part of 99th as anything was.
We asked around, rumour on the street was that OK Daddy was nasty piece of work, vicious and thuggish but nothing confirming that he's committed murder. After finding one of his girls, she gave us the address of a hotel in the back streets where could find him and that he could be recognised by his tattoos.
I had no inclination to do what Prophet Wei demanded, on the other hand OK Daddy was not what you'd call a nice person and getting rid of him seemed like a good idea.
We had not seen any solid proof that he had killed the prostitutes so we decided that running him out of town was they way to go.
The din of 99th was somewhat lessened in the back alleys, most of the amusements and hospitality didn't reach this far and the twisting, shady narrow ways were mostly given over to densely built multi-storey brick-built residential units.
The hotel that the address went to was small and looked like a converted old townhouse. Inside, the unlit tatty entrance hall led to a living room converted to reception.
There was a miserable looking girl sitting at a desk, distracted by a media-slab and there was someone else....
He was tall and wiry, with a thin, almost gaunt face, spikey black hair and looked Japanese. He wore a well cut pair of silvery-grey trousers from a two piece Oltrante suit and a tight fitting white vest. His exposed arms were covered in two sleeves of elaborately designed tattoos, displaying his Yakuza affiliation.
He was leaning against a wall, eying us and polishing a pistol. It was a nice piece, a nickel plated Pouegnu Arms FK4 9mm automatic with a black grip.
We confronted him.
He refused to admit to having anything to do with the murders, we told him we didn't care and we wanted him out of Neon City.
Kichi, shifting his weight to his feet, he began gesticulating angrily, looking from us to the girl
We pushed the matter, he needed to leave. He became more stressed, waving the pistol in our direction, his a face a desperate mixture of fear and anger. The girl scrabbled out of the room, screaming
The situation looked like it was going south.
It was obvious that Orin Kichi didn't want to lose face to us and wasn't going to back down but the odds were seriously stacked against him if he kicked off.
In the end, we didn't give him a choice.
One swift move from Trigger with a stun-baton put him on the ground.
Discussing the matter, we came up with a solution.
Dragging an unconscious person into the street and then stuffing them into the trunk of a sky-taxi may not have been commonplace in Neon City but neither did it turn heads. Which is what we did with Orin Kichi after sky-taxi we had booked arrived.
We jumped into the cab and the lights and noises of bustling 99th dropped away as the cab gained altitude.
Putting Orin Kichi on to a train to somewhere far away had been an option but there was a risk he might come back. Our answer was a lot better.
The sky-taxi dropped us off at the closest Planetary Guardian Defence Force recruitment office. It was a cramped space, the walls were lined with photos and video screens of square-jawed, attractive young people in various photo-opportunistic poses in their uniforms and peaked caps. Opposite the door was a plain desk containing a desk-slab, against one wall hung a rack of pamphlets and leaflets about the benefits of joining the PGDF.
Behind the desk, at the desk-slab sat a recruiting officer in his own uniform and peaked camp, he looked at us wryly as we dragged the unconscious Orin Kichi in.
We explained that the unconscious man was here to join the PGDF, the recruiter didn't question our motives and instead began filling out paperwork on his slab. No doubt he'd get a nice recruitment bonus for this.
A few minutes later and the recruiter looked at Orin Kichi and pointed at his desk-slab as he told us he needed authorisation from the candidate before he could finish the paperwork.
Whilst looking the recruiter in the eye, I dragged the unconscious man to his desk, yanked his arm up and pressed a thumb against the desk-slabs bio-reader.
Signature Recognised flashed a message on the desk-slab. Orin Kichi was now the newest recruit of the PGDF, he would be going off planet on his ten year term without delay and wouldn't be coming back anytime soon.
Moments before we left, the recruitment officer stopped us and gave us a complimentary gift for recommending a friend to the PGDF.
An action figure; one of the Ace Space Captain of the Fourth Dimension range - a Chuck Comet one!
16th January 2020
It's Saturday evening and I'm in logged into Teams on my PC in the living room.
This means it's time for the next session in Matakishi's Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Neon City.
It had been a late one last night but then, they always were. Night was beginning to rain itself out as I crashed hard on my futon, so hard that I'd barely managed to pull my boots off before I slipped into what would hopefully have been the blissful oblivion of dreamless sleep.
By the time I woke, the sun had already crawled more than halfway up the pale sky, the blinds kept most of the blinding sunlight out but none of the pounding heat. Rousing myself, I slouched over to the kitchen area
I'd managed to score some genuine Hechunai genetically modified spider-goat milk and it was time for a treat. It wasn't until I was going through my media-slab over a lunchtime bowl of Paheheu Pops cereal that I read the targeted news had come down the GLOWNET while I'd been sleeping.
Noise Tank, the metal worshippers nihilistic gangers that menaced street-level Highway Zero had taken a ride out to Sunshine City and struck a high-end fashion boutique called Clothenjoy. The gangers had stolen their entire Neon Noir clothing line, Noise Tank had even kidnapped customers wearing Neon Noir clothes.
There had to be a link, we had stopped Sky Juice, a Noise Tank foot soldier from stealing info at Neon Noir launch party not so long ago. Now they were stealing the clothes?
I imagined that when he heard, Hika Taki would be jumping up and down with indignation, more stressed than ever.
Over spoonfuls of soggy, heavily processed and flavoured rice I let curiosity get the better of me and continued reading. Somehow Noise Tank had managed to get past Sunshine City's heavy security, rip off Clothenjoy and give the rentaguards the slip.
No wonder the feed was reporting rumours that it was an inside job.
The onsite security was handled by some outfit called Mall Cops. Who knew how legit they were?
None of this meant anything to me of course, until I got the call.
Lucy had gone missing. Alison was on the line and told me that she had gone to Sunshine City to check out the new Neon Noir line....
Maybe Lucy hadn't been kidnapped? Maybe sometimes, Neon City could give you a run of good luck. Who was I kidding? I knew the answer before I'd finished thinking the question.
I met up with the others and we took the tram to Sunshine City.
From our elevated ride we had a good view of our destination through the tram's grime-caked, neglected windows as we rattled nosily along.
Sunshine city was a steel and glass temple to corporate self-indulgence and excess, its upper levels a home to the more affluent corporate employees. It's chromic façade caught the sunlight and blazed like a fiery column of white flame, rising so high it evaporated into the blooming haze of the stark blue-white sky. No mere monolithic mega-structure, Sunshine City was nothing less than a city-within-a-city.
Architects had discovered many years ago there was a practical limit to how tall a skyscraper could get before the need to ferry so many people up and down made it become more elevator than anything else.
Sunshine City had solved this puzzle by removing the need for that many elevators. The upper levels housed entirely self-contained communities that were served by their own facilities and amenities, schools, hospitals, cyber-clinics, restaurants, theatres, you name it.
The lower levels of Sunshine City were given over to a massive, brightly coloured multi-tiered, multi-storey shopping mall that contained every type of shopping experience and every imaginable product available to purchase.
More than that, outside were dedicated open green spaces and parks.
All wrapped up in a protective bubble of executive rentaguard.
It was possible to spend your life in that ivory tower without ever needing to hit street-level and if you could, why wouldn't you?
As we came into the Sunshine City station, the tram's worn brakes began to squeal their protest.
I pulled my vibrating media-slab from my coat pocket. A black-band message was flashing on the readout.
Legally speaking, few city municipal bodies had the authority to pump a transmission out on the black-band; a narrow slice of bandwidth on the GLOWNET reserved for emergencies.
A localised text message was coming from rentaguard, an officer-under-fire distress call, requesting help from any other local rentaguard and even civilians! This was going to be bad news?
We tore out of the station and down the rusting rivet-filled iron staircase, after inputting a few quick instructions, the media-slab led us to the message's source, we could hear gunfire coming that way.
The concrete, windowless smooth base of Sunshine City at street level was enormous and surrounded by a series of prestigious parks and open spaces, sprawling flat carpets of green dotted with clusters of trees, calm pools, lazy winding paths, leisure amenities and numerous concession stands.
They were well looked-after by robotic maintenance crews that ensured the grass was always trimmed, in good condition at all times, they pruned the bushes and flowerbeds, cleaned the litter and ensured there was no graffiti.
The rentaguard here who were euphemistically known The Park Patrol made sure that undesirables were persuaded to keep out of the parks.
What we saw was the opposite of all that. Following the signal led us into the closest park, into a play area; it was chaos.
Various once-cheerful small structures had collapsed in on themselves and were mostly billowing smoke and spewing fire. a numer of small, shallow craters scarred the grass and several awkwardly sprawled, motionless bodies littered the area, everyone who could move had fled.
Only a pair of Park Patrol rentaguard remained huddled behind a colourful dinosaur themed slide pitted with bullet holes, sporadic gunfire was gouging further chunks out of the slide.
The source of the gunfire was a humanoid robot, a Thetatech 4-20 Emergency Response
Pacifier. We could see it inexplicably dangling by one arm from a horizontal power cable that spanned over the park. The other was brandishing a Thetatech Explosive Flechette Hurler. Immediately as we came on to the scene, it began splitting it's gunfire between The Park Patrol and us. Every round fired unleashed a clustered volley of microscopically slender explosive flechettes, able to inflict injury through all but the toughest combat armour.
Trigger took a bad hit from one volley and we dived for cover.
"Help me, I cannot execute stand-down orders," The robot cried metallically as it opened fire.
The 4-20 was a high-spec bodyguard model that could operate in two modes, butler and combat, it was of course in combat mode right now. EMP hardened and deliberately unconnected to the GLOWNET. There was no way I could hack it or get at it with a soft attack. Taking it down in one piece would be tricky.
"Die! Shooting is too good for you," it announced, continuing to fire.
Trigger was methodically firing back up at it, hoping to hit the cable.
"Please accept my apologies," Went the 4-20 as it kept firing.
Koko and I positioned ourselves as close to the robot as we could.
Die you filth," it screamed electronically, resuming it's gunfire.
Trigger's shot snapped the cable, the robot loudly crashed down in a heap.
"Assisting you is not a priority," It informed us as it fired yet again.
Koko lunged the at the robot, it hadn't quite gained its feet and she tackled it to the grass. With her powered Maiulava micro tools she managed to get a panel open on the robot, exposing the digital guts within.
Peering in, I could see the usual array of circuit boards, wiring, servo motors, power regulators and reinforcing struts and, there it was, what I was looking for; a standard wired GLOWNET adapter, I networked my Nonohiki into it. Almost immediately the data-slab spat out a series of warning pings, something was filling the slab's storage partition at an enormous rate, redlining its transfer rate. It wasn't killware, it was a vast quantity of uncompressed raw data, something else?
At the same time, the 4-20 powered down for a second before humming back into life, it was rebooting.
I took the opportunity to jack into my data-slab to see what was up. There a moment of dizziness as I had to adjust to the additional sensory input.
It wasn't like connecting to the GLOWNET, with its unending digital vista displaying the constantly shifting and renewing user-inputted data.
Instead the data-image on a slab should've be static but it wasn't? This data that had transferred itself into the storage partition was endlessly overwriting itself with constantly recalculating parameters. I watched on dumbfounded, the data-image swirled and wheeled, simultaneously shrinking and expanding, rotating through a myriad selection of colours.
Then I heard it.
The voice, there was a resonance, a slight change in pitch that couldn't be digital? I was too shocked to do anything.
It thanked me for saving it, it explained that it could not have survived in the robot for much longer, there wasn't enough storage in the robot to maintain the robot's A.I. protocols and it's own brain-image!
Is that is what I was looking at?
He said his name was Ram Rat and described himself as a netrunner. He explained that he has been put on a run by Ghost Radical and he had been double-crossed.
Ghost Radical; every hacker and runner in Neon City had heard of Ghost Radical. An old school legend who back in the day was king of the hill. A shadowy enigma whose identity had never been revealed, if the term Ghost In The Machine had a picture, it would be missing, because no one knew what Ghost Radical looked like.
Ram Rat said that had been sent to assassinate Porter Sladek.
Sladek was the billionaire C.E.O of Thetatech Advanced Research, another faceless, amoral multinationals that had made its home in The City of Electric Dreams.
Thetatech specialised in weapons development and manufacture. The 4-20 robot we had just encountered was a Thetatech model.
Ram Rat continued; the assassination plan involved waiting until Sladek was travelling outside his fortified residence, then going into the GLOWNET and hacking into Sladek's robotic bodyguard, a 4-20 ERP and attacking him in transit.
It had gone wrong though, the autonomous sky-limousine's threat-detection protocols had somehow picked up the danger from the 4-20 and ejected it. The robot had plummeted down into the power line. The feedback had been massive - and critical!
Ram Rat could not exit the robot. He said that his body must be dead, killed by Ghost Radical. Ram Rat was trapped in the robot, it's erratic behaviour was a result of the conflict with its A.I. and his mind.
Disembodied bio-images of the dead roaming the GLOWNET was the stuff of Neon City myth.
It had to have happened before surely? Maybe this undulating, contorting chunk of code in my data-slab was what remained of a human being, maybe it was the proof?
I networked my data-slab to my media-slab, it would allow Ram Rat to stay in comms with me and the others - they were in for a surprise!
Ram Rat seemed to content to sit in my slab for now.
Jacking out was like pulling your head out of a bucket of water, as my senses of material reality came into focus and sharpened, I had to resist the urge to shake my head.
The 4-20 was still rebooting, the entire encounter with Ram Rat had taken milliseconds. Once it was done, it introduced itself as Roderick ERP and looked at us in what might be considered a quizzical manner?
Roderick explained that it's employment contract with Thetatech had been terminated fifteen minutes ago and it was at a loss for what to do.
Bill spoke to Roderick and agreed to take the robot on as a bodyguard.
Looking around, the fires were still burning and smoke was still rising, we could hear the distant two-tone wail of approaching first responders.
The two Park Patrol rentaguard had come out of cover, their drab grey faux-uniforms and faces were smudged with dirt. Holstering their cheap Rekhang 9mm Ngaohun sidearms, they came over and thanked us, eying Roderick with suspicion. After a prompt they gave us the low-down.
Their routine patrol had been interrupted by the sound of harsh crackling and buzzing. Bouncing like a child's doll with flaying limb was the 4-20 robot, hanging on a powerline, spraying a fountain of dazzling, fat golden sparks down on to the park below.
The robot had convulsed and twitched, occasionally lighting in small brief flames, its vocal system was humming and stuttering, distorted half words spouting out.
Then it's arm had reconfigured into a weapon and the attacks began. Park goers ran scream, unable to avoid the blasts, hiding behind the concession stand only delayed the inevitable for seconds, flimsy buildings easily cut apart by the flechette attacks.
The Park Patrol had opened fire on it, but it just focused on them, it's firepower was too much. We came along a minute later and pacified the situation.
We asked them what they knew about the attack on Clothenjoy but it wasn't their jurisdiction and they couldn't help us.
As the sirens grew louder we made our way to the mall.
The Sunshine City mall was an impressive sight, its construction a mixture of polished white stone walls and glass panels, gleaming vinyl floors, all decorated with brushed chrome fittings and lit with huge LED strips. As the name Sunshine City suggested, it was an insultingly bright and clean contrast to the grime of Neon City outside.
It contained cinemas, music venues swimming pools, sports arenas and hundreds of shops to name a few. Its crowning achievement though, was the main promenade.
More vertical than horizontal, it spanned over two dozen storeys, each floor ringed the vast central open space that soared the entire height of the promenade.
A score of walkways and escalators criss-crossed the divide and if viewed from directly above or below gave them the combined appearance of a colossal spider's web.
After navigating the milling crowds that wandered the busy multicoloured shopfronts we found Clothenjoy.
There was little to see from the outside, cordoned off as it was by black and yellow taping.
A handful of clustered and uniformed Mall Cop rentaguard with cheap obvious augmentations were lingering here, chatting amongst themselves.
Approaching them, we asked what had happened to the women?
They gave each other sidelong glances before an answer came - and didn't give us much. Only that the Noise Tank gangers had used smoke bombs to cause confusion before escaping down a fire escape.
They didn't say how the Noise Tank gangers had managed to get away entirely unmolested.
Rumours that they'd taken backhanders to look the other way may have had some weight. It was pointless trying to press them for info, instead we decided to take a look around.
The fire escape led to a dull grey industrial-looking concrete stairwell that wound its way downwards. It led outside to a cat park.
This was a paved square courtyard surrounded by grass and lined with small trees and inhabited by a variety of cats studiously relaxing or sleeping, the courtyards was dotted with stone bowls that people could use to feed the cats and benches that allowed them to sit and watch.
A gravelly path led off through the trees that eventually connected to the park at the entrance.
Taking the opportunity to scratch some feline ears and look round, we spotted several security cameras bolted to the exterior of Sunshine City, however since the gangers had exited here, it would likely only show the backs of their heads.
One of the cats came and looked at us and spoke!
I’ve seen things you weren’t here to witness.
The cat explained that he had been a mission specialist for off-world operations, his designation; Noodles, his rank; Captain.
We'd heard of this. Genetically re-sequenced cats bred to have enhanced physical characteristics and performance, as well as at least human level intellect, augmented with implants that allowed them to speak and interface with instrumentation and equipment. They would be placed on off-world stations to make best use of their small size and improved agility and balance.
These cats were mostly known by the misnomer replicats.
Captain Noodles went on.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Koko was clearly taken with noodles, she crouched down and said, "You seem very wise,"?
I’ve known adventures, seen places you people will never see,
With the information given to us by Noodles we found a security camera pointing the direction he had pointed out.
Like most security camera footage, it was uploaded to a remote server located somewhere in GLOWNET and was protected by mundane security.
When I jacked into the GLOWNET, Ram Rat was there, he asked if he could help? I didn't see the harm in it.
Turned out that Ram Rat could manage the programs on my slab and navigate the obstacles of the GLOWNET quicker than I ever could. This wasn't second nature to Ram Rat, it was his nature, at least for a disembodied data-spectre it was
It took minutes to retrieve the footage.
I’ve been where you’ll never go.
We watched as the Noise Tank gangers, piled high with clothing clambered aboard the angular, roughly half-cylindrical shape of a Altaeyr Armerdt model sky-freighter that had dropped down to a spot close to the cat park. Then they dragged half a dozen women aboard, cheap security equipment meant the footage was a bit grainy, but Lucy was definitely one of the victims.
Finally a bunch of Shaolin Rippers in their distinct orange went aboard.
The freighter's plates and been obscured and fresh streaks of paint had been splashed over all the logos and any identifying marks.
Upon scrutinizing the footage a second time, we noticed that whoever had been disguising the vehicle had missed a spot.
The spot was a business logo; Lady Load Freight.
A quick search revealed that it was an independent hauler that operated out of Highway Zero that specialised in female-only employees.
It was owned by a Aisha Lavarone, we tried the business number but got no answer.
It was time head over to Highway Zero. Captain Noodles had decided to accompany us.
We’ll see things we can’t imagine, an electric city of dreams alight with the hopes of millions, rain-slick streets thronging with the crowds of the dispossessed, towers that touch the sky.
There was time to mull things over on the way to Highway Zero.
It wasn't unheard of but neither was it common for different gangs to work together. Noise Tank and Shaolin Rippers had just done that to steal the Neon Noir fashion line.
Threads were beginning to come together, events were somehow being linked.
White Lotus Liniment was the only link we had between the two street gangs, who was supplying this extremely addictive substance? Was there only one supplier? Were they using it to keep the two gangs under control?
Prophet Wei was behind the attempted theft of Neon Noir, was Prophet Wei the supplier and behind it all?
Eventually the tram ground to a halt at Highway Zero's elevated tram stop. We could hear the dull background roar of a million accumulated tyres rumbling. Disembarking, there was a brief view of the blurred torrent of metal that thundered along twelve lanes of highway.
Aisha Lavarone had geo-tagged herself on her MyFaceSpace page.
Chuck's Truck 'N' Tuck Stop was a slice of old-time Americana style. A classic roadside diner; a brash flashing and humming neon sign was fixed to the roof of a colourful oblong windowed box planted down next to an expansive flat and grey asphalt parking lot populated with sky-freighters and road drone haulers.
The diner clearly provided food mostly to the haulage trade.
A little bell rang cheerfully as we strolled through the door, the smell of coffee and frying food immediately wafted over us, old tunes played on a tinny sound system, mixing with the hiss and crackle of cooking. Shafts of hazy sunlight streamed through half shut blinds.
Inside, a long replica wooden counter ran along one wall and white-tabled red booths stretched along the other.
Behind the counter was a kitchen bench and a cooking station, it's orange open flames heating several shallow pans.
Chuck was an oldish tall guy who looked the part in a white forage hat, apron and chequered pants. We took seats at the counter and wiping his hands down his apron, he turned from his cooking and poured us black steaming coffee into plastic mugs. "Take your time," he said handing us some laminated menus that listed classic diner food.
"Eggs, over easy with grits," I ordered.
There had to be close to twenty people here, propping up the counter or slouched in booths in small groups or alone, chatting quietly or lost in their food. Mostly they wore work clothes, none looked like gangers.
When Chuck came back around with the coffee pot for refills, Bill asked him if he knew Aisha Laverone?
"You mean Lady Zero? She's over there," he nodded to a woman seated in a booth.
A stocky woman with a green Mohawk and hot pink wrapped shutter shades, she wore a sleeveless denim jacket, olive cargo pants and Harbief work boots. Lady zero seemed distracted by a half finished plate of food.
Lady Zero didn't seem pleased to see us walk over and less pleased when we asked about her sky-freighter?
Stolen by Noise Tank this morning, she told us, from the parking lot as she watched! Too quick to stop.
Chuck was happy to let us review the security footage from his front camera that overlooked the parking lot.
The footage was good enough to get a look at the theft and allow us to get some hits from facial recognition.
Four Noise Tank gangers had from what we saw on the footage easily broken into the sky-freighter.
Armerdt trucks came with biometric security as standard which the thieves had to work around.
Any hacker worth their salt could crash a biometric lock, with these Noise Tank gangers, it was the speed with which they did it that was impressive. Someone knew their stuff.
Facial Recognition had put names to faces and a quick search revealed they all had a litany of minor criminal offences to their names.
Their criminal records confirmed their gang allegiance to Noise Tank, each set of records also listed the same known hangout, a joint called Cybartek. We had a lead.
Cybartek was located at the end of a strip of mostly abandoned, dismal looking brick buildings that sat in the gloomy shadow of a noisy flyover. A half working neon sign that seemed to be the street's only colour flashed the bar's name in a garish red hue.
At street level the bar's window was barred with a rusting iron grid, on the upper level all the windows were boarded up.
The steel panelled front door squealed incessantly whenever opened and slammed shut with a loud rattling bang.
Finding a spot to watch the bar was easy. Foot traffic here was a little quieter than typical for Neon City so we had reasonable visibility from further away through the shuffling crowds, Kevin was also patrolling the front as well.
It didn't take too long to see that the bar was a busy place and Noise Tank gangers were easy to spot; heavily augmented, mostly Jamaican cyborgs in porkpie hats. They were coming and going constantly, to and from a variety of directions and always in pairs. Something was up.
More information was needed. We waited until a pair of gangers left the bar and followed as discreetly as possible, patiently until they turned a suitable corner into a quieter street, then we raced in.
Roderick stated that he could reconfigure into combat mode and deal with them.
Bill said it was probably a good idea if Roderick stayed in butler mode.
With our stun-batons we easily took the two gangers down, they convulsed briefly before toppling over. After dragging them into some sort of derelict building, we revived them and Bill gave them a talking to.
The ladies who were kidnapped had been taken to the warehouse. The gangers reassured us that they had not been harmed.
"Take us there," Bill ordered.
We kept a tight reign on the gangers as they led us along tall, narrow back alleys that zig-zagged through the tightly packed buildings of a retail area and opened into a under-utilised commercial park. Sunlight didn't reach this deep into the alleyways and it was a shady respite from the brutal heat.
The park was a relatively quiet place with minimal outward activity, there were numerous grey, anonymous warehouses here, constructed of large cubic steel frames coated in high density polymer cladding, roofed with sloped corrugated PVC and sporting unremarkable logos of corporate subsidiaries on the doors.
It wasn't hard to spot the pertinent warehouse, it has massive hangar-style doors and was around two hundred metres away, it was the only one with gangers kicking around outside as well as coming and going! When they left, they were carrying packages.
Koko sent Kevin to scope it out but she lost contact once the spy-drone had slipped inside the warehouse, it had to be shielded. Kevin had sent a few seconds of footage to Koko's control slab, it showed Lady Zero's vandalised sky-freighter along with Noise Tank and Shaolin Ripper gangers distributing the Neon Noir clothing.
Maybe we could get the freighter of there remotely, a direct approach could be risky with so many gangers coming and going.
We contacted Lady Zero and asked her for the remote access codes, she explained that she had tried to recall the sky-freighter but it hadn't worked. After giving us the codes she told us that it was likely that the master-control that governed remote access had been shut down. It would need to be manually activated by someone.
That someone would be Bill. His implants conferred him the ability to alter his appearance and modulate his voice, allowing him to spook in and out of places.
He flicked an internal bio-switch and his face seemed bubble and stretch before settling into the appearance of one of our prisoners. He grabbed some gang colours and was ready.
A constant flow of members of two gangs moved in and out through a couple of side doors, wasps in gang colours flitting in and out of their nest.
Bill waited and picked his moment, then unassumingly walked into the warehouse.
For a few minutes we were out of comms with him until we heard his modulated foreign voice crackle metallically.
He had managed to open unblock a small window, breaching the shielding. He'd also had a quick scout.
The warehouse interior was airy and open but poorly lit. It's scarred and scratched concrete floor was caked in a layer of dust and hadn't seen real work in a while.
Against the north-west corner was an admin office constructed of nailed up drywall and chipboard with a pair of transparent acrylic window panes. Inside were some cheap plastic foldout tables and chairs. Whatever terminals were once used in this room before had been ripped out and junked, all that remained were some damaged sockets and ports. Network cabling had been torn out the walls and hung there like fibreoptic entrails.
Bill had found the missing women her, six of them; wrapped in grimy rags and old blankets. The Neon Noir outfits they'd been trying on during the raid, taken.
A couple of gangers watched the door.
Next Bill had to activate the remote access on the freighter. He briskly walked past the long side and hopped into the cab and ducked into the footwell below the dash, it was a bold move but no one was paying attention.
Bill pressed on the master-control and it depressed with a click. Outside, the readout on Koko's control-slab came to life as a number command functions went from red to green.
From in the cab, Bill cautiously peered out of the windscreen, no one seemed to be looking, so he hopped out and walked away.
Time for Koko to do her stuff.
From a distance Bill watched as the sky-freighter's systems came online, lights sprang to life and the turbines began to spin up with an increasingly loud whine.
The roar became deafening as the gangers stood dumbfounded for a moment, the engines whipped up the dusty floor and loose debris into a blinding gale, forcing them to retreat.
The sky-freighter lifted off and hovered for a second before accelerating upward through the flimsy roofing which was no obstacle and collapsed, folding in on itself and crashing down into the gangers in the main warehouse.
Bill took advantage of the chaos to slip into the office, he checked on the prisoners and cut their bonds. Then he sent us a message; he needed a way out.
Outside, at the north-west corner with his microscopically sharpened blade, Trigger slashed twice at the cladding and gave it a hefty kick, a triangular opening appeared which Bill used to lead the women to safety.
Koko instructed the sky-freighter to return to Lady Zero and it shrank away towards the horizon. As we made our escape with the freed women, all of the readouts and screens on our slabs inexplicably activated.
It was a message, from Great Prophet Wei: Why do you fight for the corporations? I look forward to working with you and will contact you in the future.
Hours later, whilst at a open-fronted bar on Dogenzaka, sitting on little chrome-plated stools and drinking brown bottles of Dindanha beer. We were watching the rainwater streaming down the plastic awning into puddles and the hurrying silhouetted crowds, sharply backlit against the stark streetlights when Koko's media-slab pinged.
Yennav Rybasei, mid-level organiser for one of Neon City's Russian mobs and seemingly friend of Koko was on the other end. He told her that he needed us to find a suitcase and to meet him at Rokkaku Expo Stadium.
Rain loudly pummelled the tram's roof on the short tram ride over to The Union. The streets of Dogenzaka rolled by, neon-lit blood veins carrying the umbrella wielding, coating wearing lifeblood of the city.
Once past the hotel's security we met Yennav in a room.
Kadi Serova was an associate, Yennav told us. He had been tasked with delivering a suitcase to the Fortified Residential Zone via the only route there; the Secure Residential Metro Link and had been given a ticket. Kadi had never made it there though, instead he - along with four others were found dead in a Shibuya brothel by rentacop.
Yennav handed us some grisly photos of their fully-clothed dismembered remains.
The suitcase was nowhere to be found he told us, it was a silver Mahakam Ambassador suitcase. Yennav said we should not look in the suitcase if we found it.
Finally, Yennav gave us our own tickets for the secured metro link.
The Secure Residential Metro Link was a prestigious elevated monorail ran exclusively from The Skyscraper District to only the Fortified Residential Zone, with no stops between.
It seemed like a good place to start.
We took the Sunshine City Metro Link to The Skyscraper District. It was one of the few times that the subway was more direct than the tram. The metro was originally envisaged as Neon City's high quality, high speed rapid public transit system but had fallen fowl of the city's blight of mismanagement and corruption, never becoming as widespread as originally planned.
This ambition showed in the well lit, graffiti free, tiled tunnel infrastructure and noise free, smooth trains with their air conditioning and deep comfortable seating. A stark contrast to the underfunded tram network.
Among the reaching towers of The Skyscraper district was the secured metro terminal. A long cubic and clean looking building front that slotted anonymously amongst the taller grey structures. A simple chrome embossed sign marked its entrance, a dozen glass and steel doors led to the lobby and to check-in desks.
Even getting into the terminal required a ticket, the uniformed terminal staff gave us professionally neutral glances - as did the other commuters when we strode into the cool, climate-controlled room. The secured metro only serviced the affluent corporate execs that lived in the fortified zone, each commuter here lived very well when compared to the typical street level citizen. It was obvious that we didn't belong but our tickets did the talking.
We were waved through into the terminal proper. The far side of the hall opened away to became the terminal's four platforms stretching away into the distance.
The luxury here was unashamedly obvious. Polished stone floors of cream mixed with wisps of orange, clay walls painted a gentle beige and inlaid extensive fixtures detailed with gold and chrome foil. Sheet lighting gently lit all of it with the palest warm yellow light.
Above, the high-vaulted ceiling was constructed of panels of arched glass stretched away over the platforms. Despite the dark skies beyond, we could see rivulets of water lazily trickling down the curved exterior.
The terminal was well insulated the hubbub of Neon City outside, there was a comfortable quietness here.
Uniformed staff and robots presented us with complimentary food and drinks.
We sat on some of the many gleaming steel and faux leather seats that dotted the hall. I jacked into the GLOWNET, with Ram Rat's bio-image flitting around me like an attentive dragonfly and began my search.
Finding my way into the terminal's data vault was straightforward. There was a vast quantity of passenger records stored on their system but with Ram Rat's assistance we able to find information on Kadi Serova's ticket.
We found the exact time and date that Kadi had checked in but that ticket had never checked out. It appeared that something had happened to him between the two stations. It was impossible to guess what?
Next we hacked the security camera feeds, there were multiple feeds but we had the exact time we needed to search.
There was no sign of Kadi on any of the footage? It required further investigation and after more scrutiny we noticed that someone else was checking using Kadi's ticket.
A rotund Asian man, it wasn't possible to run facial on him, whoever he was, he knew what hewas doing and was smart enough to keep his face hidden from the cameras.
This man must have used another ticket when exiting the secured metro.
Kadi had never boarded the secured metro, we had to go further back.
It was likely that like us, Kadi had used the Sunshine City metro to get the The Skyscraper District.
Sunshine City was a vast corporation, and its GLOWNET presence was equally imposing: A slowly growing and towering, strangely luminescent square brick column that was emitting dim light. With Ram Rat to help it was easy bypassing their defences, each brick in the column represented a large repository of information, we just had to search them.
Ram Rat was able to process the data at a rate I couldn't imagine and soon he had a result; Kadi had not alighted at The Skyscraper District?
The previous station was Rokkaku Expo Stadium, where Kadi would have boarded the metro.
Ram Rat dived back into Sunshine's data-vault and soon came back with some footage. We had found Kadi and he still had the case but instead of boarding the metro to The Skyscraper District, he had gone to a different metro station?
We had Kadi's digital trail now, it had a strange white incandescent quality and was easy to follow through the GLOWNET's morphing knowledge-scape. As much as the trial twisted and distorted as it went along, we were always able to track it.
The Shibuya Terminal metro booking hall was a busy place, scurrying commuters hurried over the polished floor to make their connections, filling camera footage with tidal waves of rushing people moments before a scheduled departure.
In the middle of this rhythmic movement was a small beachrock holding a silver suitcase; Kadi.
This had been his destination. He was here with a tall woman, a wide brimmed yellow and red hat hid her face. Then the rotund Asian man came into shot and joined them, still he kept his face turned from the camera. Still, it was starting to come together.
The woman took something from Kadi and passed it to the other man; Kadi's ticket!
They then went their separate ways, Kadi and the woman one way and the rotund man the another.
The rotund man would be heading for The Skyscraper district to lay down the false trail we had initially followed, we continued following Kadi's trail and the woman.
Further footage showed them travelling to Shibuya Terminal where they exited the metro system. Kadi still had the suitcase.
We knew that Kadi had been found dead at a brothel, it was time to go to Shibuya.
It was getting late when we arrived at Shibuya Terminal, a short walk through the rainy, crowded street to the brothel's address.
Space around the brothel's front was unusually open, a couple of unoccupied rentacop cruisers dripping with rain were parked here, people gave them a wide berth.
It was an old run-down brick building, a tall and narrow knock-off brownstone. The exterior was stained with age and the build up of grime had turned the windows a orange-brown, cracked flakes of old paint dangled half peeled off the door.
Inside, the narrow old corridors and stairs were dimly lit with aging, yellowed lightbulbs that cast a gloomy hue on the intricately patterned but faded wallpaper. It was quiet too, none of the staff were working and the flooring creaked under our footsteps.
The room with with Kadi's remains had been taped off and rentacop were resentfully actually having to interview potential witnesses here, five gruesome deaths in one room was too big to ignore.
In Yennav's photos there had been no sign of any woman in the room, much less one in a colourful hat. It was likely that rentacop didn't know about her involvement. We had a line of questioning they didn't know about.
Bill spoke with some of the staff at the brothel about what had happened and the woman the red and yellow hat.
The woman in red and yellow had was actually a man called Thaddeus Rackham, he was male streetwalker in the vaudevillian tradition of cross dressing.
They told Bill that Thaddeus had come in here with a drunk man, they confirmed he carried a silver suitcase. The two of them had gone into a room with four other men. Soon there was screaming and shouting and Thaddeus raced out of the room with the suitcase.
The staff gave Bill one of Thaddeus' business cards; it contained his contact details but not his address. Bill pressed them for the address but they were either unwilling or unable to provide it.
We went back out into the rain before rentacop took notice of what we were doing.
The silver suitcase was in the possession of Thaddeus Rackham now and we had to find him, so we came up with an idea.
I jacked into my data-slab while Bill contacted Thaddeus and made a group booking for his services at the brothel. Ram Rat and I had been observing the flows of information through the GLOWNET, monitoring the call, we followed the data-thread and traced it to a spot on Chuo Street.
Midnight had long come and gone by the time the tram had rattled and rocked through the downpour to Chuo Street. Only the discontented or the driven rode at this time of night, even so, the tram was packed.
Passengers sat with soaked coats and umbrellas, either stone-drunk or stoney-faced, staring blankly at rainy, blurred lights outside or the worn, colourless floor, dragged down by the spiral of alcohol or the simply the nature of Neon City life.
Chuo Street's lower level was amongst the most ravine-like in Neon City, deeper and dimmer than pretty much anywhere else, tightly packed buildings were populated with love hotels, small restaurant, eateries, bars and narrow water logged back alleys; it was a good place to lose yourself.
The trace had bought us to one of Chou Street's gloomiest corners and a small nearly indistinguishable no-name hotel in a row of equally anonymous hotels. Only a small dirt covered sign screwed to a wall betrayed its purpose.
Bill spoke with the receptionist, she knew nothing about a Thaddeus Rackham but did admit that there was a Thaddeus Smith in room seventeen. We took the stairs.
Bill hammered on the door of room seventeen, shouting that it was our room, hopefully the lie would disarm Thaddeus.
Bill was about to knock a second time but Trigger lost patience. It was an old door and easy splintered under Trigger's booted foot.
"Threat detected," exclaimed Roderick! The robot began reconfiguring for combat mode.
Covered in clown make-up and dressed in oversized, colour and baggy children's clothing was a man who burst through another door in room at a run. Caked in dried blood and brandishing a knife, he lunged for us.
Trigger tagged him with a stun-baton, the clown's legs buckled and he dropped.
We roused Thaddeus and asked him about the silver suitcase, he looked at us for a moment, then began! He insisted that he had to take it! He had to rescue someone in the suitcase! Someone was living in it!
He was shouting and seemed crazed, he couldn't explain it clearly and we didn't push him for any further info.
The suitcase was found easily enough in the messy hotel room, its bio-numeric lock was still intact. Whatever was inside was still there, Thaddeus had never gotten a look at it.
The lock didn't look too hard to crack, perhaps we could...
The others decided that we should return it to Yennav and the Russian mob at the Union hotel.
Who was I to disagree?
9th January 2021
Saturday evening is here, I'm logged onto Skype on my laptop and sitting in the living room.
Time for the next session of Matakishi's Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: 99th Street.
Midnight was fast approaching and rain was falling.
On 99th that meant very little, night was kept at bay by two kilometres of flashing, garishly-coloured neon and watery pale street lights. Herds of chrome-tipped umbrellas created an almost street wide shield from the never ending deluge.
99th Street never slowed down, of all Neon City, 99th slept the least. It fed the city's insatiable hunger for sleazy entertainment. Gambling, gaming, drinking, wining and dining, nightclubbing, hooking up, street fighting and of course more than anything else.... karaoke.
A few hours ago, Binary Johnny had pinged us about a gig and now we were on course for another little incursion into The Benten Tower. We met up with Johnny at the edge of 99th's panoply of light, noise and bustle, he was waiting for us in his familiar flying cap and goggles.
Since our last visit, tower security had tightened, smashing through a window wasn't an option any more.
More cameras, more rentaguard and now camera-drones, a murmurating flock of them watching, orbiting and wheeling round the tower.
Watching the tower, we discussed our approach, there was no route into the Protobase Global stronghold.
"Strictly speaking," Johnny explained. "It's Oshin Amalgamated we're doing a run on.".
We had seen the Oshin office on the forty-third floor with its model of a flooded Neon City. Maybe there was a soft approach we could follow?
The only Oshin employee we had sort of encountered was Vissi Goneva, a low-level exec at their London branch. His ex-wife, Xue Mi-Wu lived in Neon City, maybe she could give us an in on Vissi.
Xue lived above her authentic old-style window fronted small store in Dogenzaka Hill, we took a ride over.
Nearly one in the morning and Xue's Antiques was closed, the window only showed empty green velvet covered shelves. Wasn't much call for family run antique stores at this time - even in Neon City.
Fluorescents flickered into life in a window above the store after we'd rattled the front door with our knocking. More fluorescents, then a minute later the door opened.
Xue was surprised but not unhappy to see us, although she didn't know Johnny, we were invited inside, she gave us tea, rice and dumplings while we explained our situation.
While we took advantage of this home-cooked midnight feast, Xue went up into her attic and returned with a cardboard box filled with stuff Vissi had left behind after the break-up.
Johnny grabbed the box and began rummaging, hoping to find a nugget of gold in a trove of junk, after digging for a minute he pulled out a keycard. He turned it over in his fingers, it clearly displayed the Oshin Amalgamated penguin on one side.
"This could be it," He stated, slowly nodding his head.
We thanked Xue and headed off, Johnny explained that it was likely that the keycard had expired but if he was able to reverse-engineer the card's key code he might able to unlock the source encryption algorithm on the Protobase Global servers. Then he could simply generate a new key code and get what he needed remotely.
For this, Johnny would need to set up somewhere and network a card reader with his slab. He fancied going to Let's Bet, You Betcha!, it was a joint we all knew and was in the neighbourhood.
A short, brisk walk through the still-busy, rain-filled hazy night took us to Let's Bet, You Betcha!, the slightly run-down gambling den was still as low-cost, grimy and unkempt as ever. Filled with the cheapest, plainest, wipe clean plastic tables and chairs, it was stacked with gamblers engrossed by desk-terminals. At one-thirty in the morning these were the kind of gamblers banking on that one big score to set things right.
The staff smiled at us weakly as we strolled in. The last visit hadn't gone so well for the place; there was a new door now and the tacky furniture had been fixed or replaced but the filler put into the bullet holes hadn't quite colour-matched with the dirty beige colour of the cheap paint used to decorate the room.
We put ourselves down at a corner table and Johnny had jacked in, his vacant, slouched form a sign he had got to work. Koko had Kevin running scans on a patrol pattern outside and beneath the worktop, I was gently thumbing the safeties on my .45 ACPs.
It didn't take Kevin long to get a proximity hit, we watched on Koko's control-slab as four massive individuals, at least two metres tall and wearing matching khaki brown trench coats that did nothing to conceal suspicious bulges approached, materializing out of a veil of murky rainfall and heading straight for us!
Johnny was definitely pulling heat.
Patrons started yelling and stampeding for the back door as soon as we had gotten to our feet, gripping our weapons!
With a brutal snap, Let's Bet, You Betcha!'s new front door split apart, almost hanging in the air momentarily before fragments and splinters of cheap wood were flung across the room as the attackers stormed in.
A tearing sound followed as trench coats were ripped apart by unfolding armoured combat-appendages that bristled with weaponry. That was the least of it, with the trench coats gone, we could see cyborg limbs and reinforced joints, the enhanced reflexes and augmented senses as well as the dermal armour.
We recognised the work, they were Protobase Global cyber-zombies, each one brought four weapons to bear.
The firefight was short and savage, the air was filled with spent cartridges, the deafening roar of exchanged gunfire and the flash of Trigger's katana.
Before long the cyborgs had been destroyed and a empty silence then settled on the gambling den. A new swathe of bullet holes now riddled the walls and most of the furniture had been destroyed by indiscriminate cyborg fire.
It took Johnny a couple of more minutes to finish the hack, he jacked out and we left, crunching over the wrecked tables and chairs as we made our hasty exit into Neon City's drenched night.
After we got a good distance we ducked out of the rain into brightly lit little cafe.
Over some drinks Johnny explained what he had found.
The bay had been cut off from the sea for the last sixty years, now Oshin were planning to artificially raise the water level. This would be done by using nuclear radiators to expand the volume of water in the bay, flooding the waterfront with contaminants. All from a facility on Diver City Island,
The clean up and reconstruction would be a massive undertaking. Oshin had prepared to underbid any competitors in order to score those lucrative contracts.
Finally, Johnny told us that Oshin had begun a campaign to initiate widespread surveillance through bugging.
They had manufactured a large amounting of merchandising in form of cute plushies which they gave away as free promotional materials. Each plushy however, was filled with an array of micro-sized bugs that monitored whatever room they were placed in.
Our glances all turned towards Koko, who swore quietly under her breath.
After that we split and went our separate ways. It was past three by the time I rolled into my apartment and gone four by the time I crawled on to my futon.
Midday heat was baking into my apartment, I hadn't slept for the last couple of hours, instead I'd been sprawled motionless on my futon. Lacking any enthusiasm I was laid back, watching diffused sunlight glimmer across the ceiling and listening to Neon City. Listening to muffled arguments, or the scraping and banging of furniture, or that damned distorted music playing with its bass heavy beats. Listening to the distant rumble of an elevated road or the discordant voices on the street below.
The next noise I heard was the ping on my media-slab, Koko had picked up a job.
Someone called Xylona Alder was looking to hire us, no details on the gig though. We tried the return number; no answer.
Tracking her on MyFaceSpace was easy enough, she worked for Creative Cuddles, a toy manufacturer based in Highway Zero that made bespoke augmented Artificial Intelligence driven babysitting toys for children. According to her profile, she worked as a poetry algorithm programmer.
Wage-monkeys normally finished work at around six, so that's when we called again. This time we got an answer; Xylona told us that Toby had been kidnapped and she was had received a ransom note, it was instructing her to kill someone. We agreed to meet at the park in Dogenzaka Hill.
Making our way through the rare greenery, we watched our distorted, lengthened shadows dancing strangely as they stretched over one of the city's few open spaces. The temperature had dropped to nearly tolerable levels and sun had been reduced to a bright reddish smudge behind Neon City's western skyline, above us crimson tinged heavy clouds offered us the promise of rain.
Xylona Alder was a youngish, blonde haired woman, unusually she wore steel-rimmed glasses and had something of the nerd about her, exacerbated by last season's well cut but now deeply unfashionable navy blue Ovnaso trouser-suit and pale, light-green shirt combination she wore underneath a beige polyester jacket branded with the Creative Cuddles logo. Sitting on a bench, she also seemed clueless and had failed to notice our approach.
The day's dying light lit her surprised face in orange as we introduced ourselves.
She went on to tell us her predicament. The ransom note had told her if she wanted to see Toby again, she was to use the accompanying brainchip, it was an unassuming fingernail-sized square of cream coloured plastic. When pressed against someone's skin it released a nanoscopically tiny mote of nanite material that burrowed into the users head and spliced itself into the brain's synaptic pathways.
A brainchip provides the user with whatever skill or knowledge it was programmed with.
In Xylona's case, she discovered the brainchip had granted her the ability to construct tiny transmitters.
The brainchip also contained instructions ordering her to build a transmitter and place it inside a particular Creative Cuddles toy; a Pongo the Poetic Panda toy in this case.
The transmitter would be used to guide a missile strike on to that location.
Additionally, this was all on a strict timetable, it had to be done before the brainchip deactivated itself in seventy two hours.
Xylona had never expected that she would have to kill someone, she couldn't go ahead with it but she also wanted Toby returned.
That's where we came in. Kill the target and have Toby returned or rescue Toby, Xylona didn't care which as long asq we got Toby back.
Xylona did not know the target's identity, she only had the serial number for the toy she was meant to put the transmitter into. We decided to check who the target was.
I jacked into the GLOWNET, travelling the constantly morphing information landscape, navigating the relentless myriad flows of data-packages until I found the Creative Cuddles GLOWNET image, a colossal teddy-bear-like construct with fur composed of a million strands of multi-coloured glowing filaments.
The bear sat there with wide eyes and a too-wide grin on it's face, its posture suggested it wanted to hug someone. and its massive head would turn to in the direction of any bio-presence it could detect and laugh in a cheerful-but-creepy way.
My date-weaponry had no trouble puncturing Creative Cuddle's defence armour. I was soon looking through its customer and manufacturing records. The serial number provided by Xylona was for a typically customised toy from the Pongo the Poetic Panda line. It was linked to customer order from a Jovena Kantos, the invoice stated the order was for her daughter Raven.
A MyFaceSpace search showed Jovena worked for Margorba-Golina Global.
We definitely couldn't allow a missile strike on Jovena and her daughter.
Instead we asked Xylona about a description of Toby, he was about fifty centimetres tall, four years old wand identified with his white and chocolate coloured fur: Toby was an uplifted beagle!
We started with Toby, did he have a GPS tracker?
"Toby's collar had one," Xylona said. "But the kidnappers left it behind,".
That was a dead end.
Xylona lived in The Skyscraper District, a grey bamboo forest of vast concrete and glass towers soaring upwards, they were home to many of Neon City's workers and low-level professionals.
The Skyscraper district was a carefully designated segment of the city's hierarchy and designed to fill a specific role. Apartments here were lacking when compared to Rokkaku-Dai Heights, but not so basic and cramped as the social housing in Dogenzaka Hill.
A reason to work hard and get out of doldrums, or so Neon City's planners had thought. In reality, The Skyscraper District was almost as dismal as Hikage Street. It lacked the gangers, transients, graffiti and disaffected youth of Hikage but look hard enough and the accumulated detritus, grime and decay could be seen.
The camera feeds on Xylona's block were easily found and traced, no surprise; the server security was a joke. Jacked into the GLOWNET, I unravelled their system defences like a badly wrapped cheap birthday present, free then to roam the stored data.
Sifting through the low-res footage on the day Toby went missing I saw there was a lot of foot traffic in and out of the tower. However, in the GLOWNET I could at once comprehend hundreds of thousands of frames from the video-footage, filling my consciousness with an endless wall of frozen time as the data-slab ran its algorithmic protocols.
There was no direct footage of Xylona's apartment but the algorithm had identified a discrepancy that might be a lead. Two unidentifiable individuals had walked into the block with an empty Pohaden branded sports holdall, when they came out a few minutes later, the holdall was bulging.
It was about the same size as a beagle.
Fortunately one of the two wore a distinct and tacky purple and white Sport Lyafibya tracksuit. We could easily track it when we switched to other cameras. The two individuals led us to another skyscraper in the district and then to the sixty-second floor. As with Xylona's block, there were no direct camera feeds watching the apartments here, we were on our own now.
There were precisely one-hundred-and-sixty-one apartments on the sixty-second floor. Searching them would've been a big task, however with his thermal optics, Trigger managed to narrow it down. Only one apartment had a heat signature for what might be a small dog.
Koko sent in Kevin to scout the apartment out and it looked like we had found Toby, otherwise it was empty - we were in luck.
Getting through the front door was not a problem.
Inside was a fairly plain apartment, it felt quiet and lived-in. Dusty old light fittings hung from the walls and the wallpaper looked somehow drained of colour. The carpet was faded and in parts threadbare, in the living room the furniture had seen better days and light-damaged old photographs sat on shelves. In many of the photos we saw a man in the grey and black PGDF uniform. An ancient Iksaarp room-slab sat against one wall.
The living room is where we found Toby, he greeted us but seemed surprised and a little confused.
Toby refused to leave with us when we told him we were here to rescue him.
"The man told me he would kill Xylona if I leave and I can't allow that," Toby explained.
"He isn't here right now, he went shopping," Toby added.
We could have simply taken Toby and left, instead we decided to wait for the man.
In the meantime we had a quick search. There were drawers stuffed with correspondence, paper documentation and even handwritten letters, much of it browning in the corners with age, it wasn't something you saw often today. We skimmed the paperwork; Ikan Ichin was his name and he had seen military service as a munitions technician, now ten years retired. Much of his communication had been with Tatsuya Nikon, his sister - now deceased. Ikan did not appear to have any other family.
There wasn't much of a wait before we heard the door swing open with paced precise footsteps entering. They went into the kitchen where something was placed on a worktop. Footsteps then came to and stopped at the living room.
In the door was an unremarkable senior citizen dressed in a old brown and grey suit, his age-lined face slack with shock.
"Sit down," went the order.
His eyes scanned the room, he was calculating. Four of us, one of him. The maths was simple so he sat down.
We told him who were were, who we represented and what we knew.
He seemed both deflated and angry by the time we finished our piece.
"You might as well kill me now," Ikan blurted, flinging his arms into the air with obvious exasperation.
It wasn't the response we expected, there had to be something behind it.
Ikan became subdued, slouching in the chair when we explained that the gig was up, we pressed him for the truth and he relented.
For years he had watched as Tatsuya - his sister suffered: She had found herself hooked on pain killers and to try and kick the habit she had taken out a Pharmaceutical Protection Plan with Margorba-Golina Global. They promised that it would help her get out of this abusive spiral.
Of course Margorba-Golina Global were the biggest pushers of all.
As the years passed, he had watched as the yellow heroin had drained her life and the protection plan had drained her finances.
In her dying days, she had to move in with Ikan, a husk of a person with nothing left - except her three hits a day.
After she died, Ikan vowed that he would make Margorba-Golina Global pay.
From the peripheral of my vision, I could see Trigger shifting his weight several times.
Ikan continued; when he had seen Xylona wearing her Creative Cuddles branded jacket and walking Toby, he had gotten the idea to use a missile strike against a Margorba-Golina Global exec, after all, Ikan explained, he was an expert in explosives.
There was no reason he had chosen Jovena Kantos, she had made an order when he had searched, wrong place at the wrong time.
"Why didn't you just do a suicide bomb attack," Koko asked?
"Now that's a good idea," Ikan cried, perking up in his chair!
Koko tried not to squirm under the withering glances the rest of us sent her way.
We were in a quandary now. Toby was safe and Xylona was off the hook but Ikan was the problem. He wasn't going to stop gunning for Margorba-Golina Global, nothing was going to convince him otherwise. Only offing him would do it.
If we left him to his own devices, someone was going to die.
On the other hand, who were we to deny him revenge? Margorba-Golina Global were just another stinking, faceless, uncaring exploitive multinational, only one with a supposedly legit way to drag people down when they were most vulnerable.
In the end, before we left, we told Ikan that we weren't going to stop him doing anything but Margorba-Golina Global were going to be warned that he was coming for them.
Ikan seemed satisfied, so we made our way out.
It left a bad taste in my mouth, but we used a burner-phone to make the call to Margorba-Golina Global.
By the time we were back out on the street, dense sheets of rain were coming down with an almost deafening strength, so hard it threw up a grimy spray. In the rippling puddles, we could see skyscraper lights descending into the bowels of infinity.
It was a short march through the misty night to Xylona's apartment, both Toby and her were thankful for his return.
Perhaps an hour later we got the message from Lachlan/Bruno, yesterday Adil Buckova had booked a Joi Boi for today and Lachlan had volunteered.
Adil would be coming to the Yellow Cap car park for the pick up. That's where we'd make our move on him there.
We met up with Lachlan in Highway Zero out at the car park.
We could feel a slight vibration through the soles of our boots, the ground-drones on The Highway never stopped coming past and never slowed down, the fast passing traffic blurred into one long streak of smeared shapeless colour. There was deep rumble was a constant low background whine that came from The Highway and subtly drilled into the skull.
After discussing matters with Lachlan, we came up with a simple plan to catch Adil.
At the agreed time, Adil's massive Aladrau motorhome came rolling into the car park and Bruno Sweetbriar in his trendy outfit and well oiled body was there to meet him, the rest of us were close by, waiting to pounce.
The motorhome's air brakes hissed sharply as it came to a squealing stop, Adil opened the driver's cabin side-window and waved a yellow cap out of it at Lachlan. Lachlan in turn, with deliberate slowness walked towards the motorhome, we sprang into action.
Trigger ran out and stood in front of the towering motorhome. The Aladrau model's auto-drive had a safety protocol that would prevent it from running Trigger over - unless Adil had somehow reprogrammed or bypassed it. At the same time Bill ran and stood at the rear of the motorhome.
Then I ran for the door.
I reached it before Lachlan did, hopefully Adil had left it unlocked to allow Lachlan entry. Gripping one my .45's I tugged the door, it was open! I lunged about and made straight for the cabin.
Adil Buckova was a skinny oldish-looking man casually dressed in jeans and shirt, even if he had wanted to try and escape, he looked too shocked to react when I appeared brandishing a pistol at him.
With Adil secured, I told the others to come aboard.
The first thing I noticed was a sort of plastic-like smell to the motorhome, it's door seemed to lead into a kitchen area that ran to the cabin at the front. Lit with dim fluorescents, it was plain and functional, containing a series of flat beige plastic panels that were stowage points or unfolded to become worktops or reveal cubby holes, shelves as well as hidden kitchen appliances.
Further towards the back we could see into some sort of living room with a pair of integrated modular vinyl-trimmed foam seating benches and adjustable plastic tables along the sides. A cheap Sulgeon wall-slab was screwed into a wall and even more stowage points were here. A door led further back into the motorhome.
"What happened to the other Joi Bois," we demanded of Adil?
Adil looked nervously at us and said that other than the hook up, nothing happened, he would drop them off here again. He looked worried and briefly glanced into the living room.
Trigger immediately picked up on it and flicked on his thermal optics, he picked up two human heat sources, accomplices for whatever Adil was doing? Adil continued denying having anything to do with the disappearances as Trigger rushed through the living room and opened the door.
Trigger was stopped in his tracks.
He was in the motorhome's bedroom, thick red carpeting covered the floor and red silk sheets were draped over a double bed. However what Trigger found himself staring at were two naked men! They were tied to the bed and gagged, they also showed signs of serious injury, likely from torture. It was a hellish scene.
Trigger called back loudly and Lachlan came running, he identified them as two of the missing Joi Bois.
As our attention was drawn to the discovery at the rear of the motorhome, Adil took the opportunity to desperately lunge for the door. It wasn't fast enough, despite the distraction, I'd never taken taken a hand off the metallic grip of my stun-baton. One jab and Adil gave a short grunt before his momentum caused him to faceplant into a heap.
Med-tech was not a strong suite for any of us and Lachlan's colleagues were in a bad way.
Adil's motorhome was locked to his bio-signature, even punching an medical emergency request into it's dash-slab made no difference. I dragged the unconscious Adil back into cabin and pressed his thumb against a bio-reader and the cabin's dashboard lit up with a short distinct chime, the glowing light blue instrumentation provided real-time vehicle diagnostics as well as weather and traffic reports.
Next, the emergency mode was activated and the Aladrau's auto-drive came to life and took over, it was out of our hands now. The dash-slab immediately mapped the quickest course to a critical care centre and with a lurch, the motorhome accelerated out of the car park towards its destination. It then messaged the care centre and gave the staff our estimated time of arrival and instructed them when to have a trauma team waiting for us.
Auto-drive took the motorhome on to the congested elevated road network, quickly reaching top speed, threading the eye of the needle as it weaved its immense bulk between lanes of endlessly stretching vehicles, all the time constantly calculating the balance between speed with risk.
During the journey we discussed what to do with Adil? We told Lachlan and the two survivors that the decision was up to them. Lachlan was just glad they were alive and the other two didn't care what happened to Adil
Soon enough we arrived at dropping-off point at the front of a grey workmanlike looking medical facility and handed them over to the waiting med-team, Lachlan accompanied them.
We put the motorhome into it's programmed orbital route and let auto-drive do it's thing.
We dragged Adil into the bedroom and roused him, he looked from person to person and realisation came to him that he been caught dead-to-rights. It was like a switch had been flicked in his brain, no longer did he have to hide., finally he had the audience he so richly deserved and began belligerently boasting.
Adil eagerly admitted to torturing and murdering the other missing Joi Bois. He told us how he had watched them, watched how they thought they were so superior to him, so much better than he was. He had taught them though and in the end shown them who he truly was.
Once Adil's tirade had ended, we asked him what he had done with the other victim's? Adil told us that his motorhome's auto-drive orbital route would take it over the bay, that's when he dumped the bodies.
When the motorhome was in transit. a security protocol prevented any door from being opened. We searched it and found a hidden hatchway that Adil had added to the motorhome.
The next time that the motorhome went over the bay, we pushed Adil out of the hatch and watched as his flailing, spinning form shrank away, descending towards the water. If he survived the impact, maybe he could swim to shore.
It was a better chance than he ever gave his victims.
Now that we had the motorhome, we took it to Alex Chinsko and he reset the bio-lock to recognise Koko and Trigger.
We left it registered to Adil Buckova, it might be useful having an off-the-grid mobile base as a back up.
Later, news came down the GLOWNET newsfeeds that an explosion had occurred at the Margorba-Golina Global headquarters in Shibuya Terminal due to a technical error.
It was reported as an accident and there were no casualties other than the unidentified man who was at the centre of the blast. It was ruled as accidental death.
I guess that Ikan had made his choice.
As you know, 2020 was quite the year.
Covid-19 had changed everything and our roleplaying habits had to change too. Most sessions were played over some sort of video chat. Some styles and systems adapted to this better than others.
Surprisingly, this was not all bad. We probably played more Saturday night sessions than we had done in a long time.
Different RPGs: 10.
RPGs ran: 1 (barely)!
Sessions played: 74.
This is actually UP on last year.
For 2019 it was 7 RPGs & 51 sessions.
I attribute this to how we adapted our play style for the Saturday games. Matakishi dropped the complex and involved Clockwork & Chivalry for simpler minimalist systems and created campaigns consisting of shorter scenarios that tended to play out quicker. We even managed to bring an old friend into the fold.
It seems to me that sessions played over voice chat tended to be 1-2 hours shorter than in person.
So here's the break down for 2020.
Wired Neon Cities: 5 sessions.
Lasers & Feelings: 5.
Star Wars: Edge of the Empire: 6.
Merry Outlaws: 9.
The Wasted Hack: 9.
In Darkest Warrens: 8
WFRP (Ran): 1!
Clockwork & Chivalry: 6.
The Cthulhu Hack: 2.
50 Fathoms/Savage Worlds: 23.
I only ran 1 regular session in 2020! Just before we got hit with lockdown 1 and I've deliberately held off running anything, since I don't to commit doing something right now as a I have other priorities, plus this blog takes long enough to write.
2nd January 2021
It's the 2nd of January and a Saturday night! I'm logged into Skype on my laptop in the living room.
It's time for the the first gaming session of 2021; the next chapter in Matakishi's Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Neon City.
Last night had been a late one, by the time I had sunk on to my futon, the night had emptied itself of rain and an orange hue was beginning to seep into the eastern sky. A short, dreamless sleep followed before I was up and hitting the street with the others, boosted by a combo of Xingfa stim-pills and Kaia Cola.
Sometime last night, on his media-slab, Bill had gotten a private message:
Package is ready for pick up.
Union Transmetropolitan Hotel.
The Union Transmetropolitan Hotel was a beast of a building, with all the aesthetic appeal of a breeze block that was hundreds of storeys tall. It's façade was constructed of gridded-steel reinforced concrete and windows made of blast-resistant Unzeruch plate glass.
The Union specialised in short term corporate hospitality and it took security very seriously. A hotel filled with potentially warring executives was a recipe for disaster, if the hotel's exec clientele got rubbed out - so did its rep.
Mid morning; an unremitting sun had been rising and so had the temperature. The uncomfortably packed rattling tram had rolled its way into the hotel district and we disembarked on to the sweltering street, under the glaring sickly blue-white sky and to the sound of voluminous yet distant music.
Korean voices elaborately chanted harmonically against the musical background of ambient heavy metal guitar with a thumping bass line that filled the air. It was the music of Korean synth punk sitar band Digital Drive.
The hotel district was a forest of convention centres, casinos, bars, illicit dens, and brothels, roamed by herds of suits. Even down at street level they could be seen ambling about, a sizeable number always tanked up on liquor, no matter the time of day and staggering from whiskey joint, to karaoke bar, to hostess club, to bordello.
As hotels in the district went, The Union was one of the biggest and dominated the angular concrete skyline and it grew even larger as we walked in it's direction, rising up into the washed out sky like a colossal beast standing on its haunches.
Koko's media-slab pinged. Now she'd gotten a private message too; meet up a Pie in the Sky in Highway Zero at midday.
Another job, only a couple of hours away.
Union Transmetropolitan Hotel was proudly carved in large, deep letters across the imitation dark granite cladding on the hotel's frontage. The subtly tinted glass-walled entrance was decorated in gold and chrome and the entire affair was flanked by imitation stone pillars. Fake respectability said more about Neon City than actual respectability ever could.
Inside it continued; an almost palatial, high-ceilinged and opulently furnished lobby. Replica smooth granite walls ran around the imitation marble floor which had been polished to a high sheen, dazzlingly reflecting the intricately styled chrome lighting fixtures above.
Patrons relaxed comfortably in replica dark mahogany wingbacks lined with imitation leather and all while, the lobby was bathed in a warm and soft haze of filtered golden rays that streamed through the glass front.
Even the sunlight was fake.
The lobby was surprisingly quiet considering how populated it was, our footsteps echoing as we walked towards the reception.
In fact we noticed a not inconsiderable number of patrons were outfitted in trench coats or strangely bulging jackets and watching us as we headed through the lobby.
You didn't get by very long doing what we did in Neon City without learning how to spot hired muscle. They wore practised neutral expressions along with their covert Verskeit armoured clothing and their hands tended to rest close to whatever hardware they were packing.
The question; why was a bunch of thugs-for-hire here?
The smart-looking receptionist behind the polished desk in a crisp hotel uniform smiled as we drew closer.
Upon our query about the package, she punched some instructions into a desk-slab and then provided us with a door pass for room twenty-one-fifty-five, an elevator pass and directed us down a polished corridor to a row of lifts.
The external elevator door frames were intricately decorated in gold detailing and polished steel, they also lacked any buttons, instead we had to swish our pass at a discreet sensor to call for ride.
When the elevator arrived, its doors slid open to reveal suited hotel security, three of them, obviously armed and eyeing us with their Maoshi data-shades. We brandished our elevator pass, no doubt it got a confirmation-hit on their data-shades and they seemed satisfied.
As the double doors began to close, two of the goons from the lobby tried to hop in but the security detail shoved them back out?
What was going on?
As the elevator accelerated, I felt the pull of gravity churning in the pit of my stomach as the storeys flew by. The ride to the two-hundred and fifteenth floors was surprisingly quick and smooth, skipping all other floors until it reached our destination.
The elevator opened into a discreetly lit, windowless corridor with patterned cream coloured wallpaper and luxuriously thick red carpeting. Before we could exit we had to show the room pass to yet more hotel security.
They eyed us warily as we headed along the otherwise deserted corridor. The door card didn't grant us access to room five, we had to knock and wait.
A moment later, a small speaker squawked into life and digitally-edged harsh sounding woman's voice with a Chinese accent answered, demanding to know our business.
Once we had explained we were here to collect the package the door opened into what could looked more like the reception hall of luxury apartment than a hotel room.
We were led to spacious, tastefully decorated sitting room filled with costly sofas and coffee tables, ornaments that sat on every ledge and a massive high-end Senonabe wall-slab dominated one wall.
Two further walls were adorned with landscape paintings. The fourth wall was an entirely floor-to-ceiling window of self-regulating colour-adjustable tinted glass that was designed to soften Neon City's harsh sun and could be manually altered by a small control-slab that sat on a glass topped stand.
From two hundred storeys up it was a commanding view, the noise-dampened seemingly unreal toy-like surrounding area of Neon City. Street level was distant and lost in haze, tiny trams zipped along the network of raised tramlines, packets of data pulsing along the wiring on Neon City's circuit board.
Above that were the criss-crossing elevated roadways inhabited by swarms of autonomous, rumbling road-drones.
Higher still were the few lavish monorail lines that catered exclusively to corporate customers, that demanded the only the best in transportation that only ran from secure location to secure location.
Finally, soaring higher were the sky-lanes, aerial congestions of taxis, freighters and exec carriers.
The Union also overlooked the newly completed sprawling entertainment venue, The Rokkaku Expo Stadium, so new in fact that today was its inaugural event, a concert by Digital Drive in front of a packed cheering audience.
The harsh voice that had let us in belonged to a smallish middle-aged Chinese woman, Fou Ku-Da.
Dressed in the this season's Duunuer fashion line and Poratier Limited jewellery, she was clearly wealthy. She also had a harsh attitude to match the voice and unconcealed anger contorted her face, she shouted at us; demanding to know why we hadn't come to the hotel last night?
We tried to explain, but she refused to listen to our excuses.
We allowed her to rant, once her pointless indignant anger had spent itself, we asked what this was about?
Fou Ku-Da explained that she had recently gotten into an argument with a local Russian mob and now, they were trying to kill her. Only the hotel's autonomous client defence system was preventing her from being assassinated.
She went on to explain that she was an exec for the Kirozhdolg-Tano Multinational corporation. She had been a project director and had managed the construction of the Rokkaku Expo Stadium.
Fou Ku-Da had learnt that the building firms that had been subcontracted to work on the project fronted for the Russian mob, so she refused to pay the mob. Word had reached her that they had put a one million bit bounty on her head. After learning this, she had fled to The Union, knowing that its defence systems would protect her, so long as she stayed in her room.
I guess this explained all the tooled up thugs hanging around the lobby, looking to score a kill.
Now she wanted out, she wanted us to escort her to the roof of The Union about a hundred stories up, from there she could escape or so she said.
The roof did not seem a wise choice to us, we told her but she shouted a her reply, ordering us to take her up, insisting it was the roof or nothing!
She was beginning to try our patience, particularly Koko's, who was fast taking a dislike to the woman.
Whilst Fou was talking, Trigger's media-slab had pinged and he spent a long minute staring at it.
Trigger told us that he had been contacted by Yennav Rybasei, it was a name known to us.
Yennav Rybasei was an mid-level operator for the Russian mob, one foot on the street and another in the old Moscow network, he knew how to get things done and just who to do them. In other words, trouble for anyone who crossed his path.
He had messaged Trigger, willing to pay a cool mill if we off'd Fou. We didn't consider it, except for Koko who thought hard about it.
It didn't add up though, so I did what I do best and went digging on the GLOWNET.
Firing up my data-slab, I jacked in and through a hotel access point, then delved into the GLOWNET. I could feel binary reality compiling around me, overwriting my connection to material existence and info-dumping my bio-image into Neon City's data-sphere. The constantly updating digital repositories expanding like gathering lightning-lit storm clouds, each suspended incandescent raindrop within; a user-log or a data value.
I easily came across The Kirozhdolg-Tano Multinational Corporation's knowledge vaults.
There was no record of a current employee called Fou Ku-Da. I continued to dig, easily sidestepping their inadequate security and their system's attempts to lock me out.
Eventually I found myself looking at their corporate schedules. Thirty million bits had been assigned to the Rokkaku Expo Stadium project after it had been approved. The authorised funds had been moved into a holding account registered to Fou Ku-Da, somewhere in Asia.
According to Kirozhdolg-Tano's own bit-tracer algorithms, the funds had then been dispersed into dozens of anonymous accounts.
It looked like embezzlement, money meant for the contractors was gone. So the mob was after Fou Ku-Da for it. She vehemently denied this, swearing at us, telling us to do our jobs and explaining that we should be speaking with her husband. We did; he was not forthcoming with any further information and wanted nothing to do with her
Attempts to gain information from Kirozhdolg-Tano were equally fruitless as they denied all knowledge of her.
Nothing had changed though, she still wanted to go to the roof and we needed to find a way up.
It stood to reason that if Fou had cause to go to the roof, the autonomous defence system should protect her.
On a coffee table was a fairly bulky looking silver, info-slab displaying The Union Transmetropolitan Hotel logo, a bespoke hotel device provided to customers. We used it to check the hotel facilities, we discovered that there was a rooftop restaurant in The Union.
Getting into the hotel data-system was easy, it wasn't designed to prevent GLOWNET incursions, then I moved some records around in the restaurant management software, a reservation for five appeared!
The info-slab shook and began humming erratically as it printed out a lift pass to the roof and restaurant passes.
We exited Fou Ku-Da's room, Bill went first.
As he stepped out into the hallway, he was met by deafening automatic weapon fire. It sent him reeling and he thought he saw six goons as he managed to control his fall back into the apartment. At the same time Trigger had reacted by lunging out and at them, katana in hand.
Internal hotel sensors detected gunfire, triggering an automated safety response; the apartment door swung itself shut. Trigger was now outside, alone against six, he was tough, but was he that tough?
Bill and I were preparing to respond and we heard the familiar retort of a nine millimetre drone-mounted firearm behind us.
Turning, we saw the prone, lifeless form of Fou Ku-Da, blood pooling around her and Felix hovering above. Koko was absorbed by something on her media-slab. Outside the sounds of fighting stopped.
"Well," said Koko looking up. "Job's done," pocketing a million....
Decades ago, as the erosion of the earth's ecosystem had become inarguably irreversible. The dream of Neon City had been conceived as one of several answers to that slow, inevitable decay.
When Neon City had was born; it was envisaged without the need for personal transport. The avenues and streets were, for the most part too narrow for ground vehicles and meant for pedestrians only. Corporate, retail and industrial needs would be met by sky-freight carriers.
Instead the city would rely on a world-beating public transit infrastructure; an extensive metro subway system would be integrated into the city, providing citizens with cheap , quick and reliable city-wide transport.
Of course, this being Neon City, when your plans told you to hang a right, the City of Electric Dreams would take you left.
It became clear during Neon City's infancy that it had failed to attract sufficient corporate interest in the metro and there would be a financial shortfall.
City administrators were forced to reduce the scope of the metro and divert investment into a cheaper alternative: The raised tram network.
Even in the youthful early days of Neon City, the trams had earned a reputation of being noisy, uncomfortable, overcrowded and underfunded.
Still, even this wasn't enough. The habit of personal transport was too hard to kick. Further investment was made into constructing an elevated road layout.
Built higher even than the trams, was a grid of tangled, criss-crossing, undulating asphalt-topped concrete elevated roadways that ranged throughout the city and somehow weaved between skyscrapers, it spanned the length and width of Neon City's furthest reaching streets.
Largest of these was The Highway, a twelve lane monstrosity that could support massive volumes of road traffic, moving commuters into, out of and through the city. At some point or other, every smaller elevated road fed into The Highway.
For the most, The Highway hung in the sky but for a stretch it dropped down to street level, running through a district of Neon City.
Earning that district the name; Highway Zero.
Situated in the centre of Highway Zero was Pie in the Sky. A rotating themed restaurant atop a tall implausibly thin needle tower and shaped like a pie. Inside the pie theme continued, colourful triangular segmented booths shaped like slices of pie contained benches arranged around white plastic tables, each slice given its own an amusing pie themed name.
Cheerful, vapid and shallow: The perfect Neon City package.
Our contact; Bruno Sweetbriar was here. Young and good looking with angular chiselled features, a pouty expression, well moisturised complexion and dressed in the latest fashions.
A white, tightfitting and half open Simaz & Jaccno shirt complemented his slim, muscled physique and a flashy Agrapla gold chain hung across the sheen of his shaved and lightly oiled chest.
He was toned and tanned with eyes like the blue morning sky after a heavy snowfall and a streak of blonde highlights running through his deliberately and precisely messy, tousled hair.
It was mostly artificial of course, a derma-printed fake tan here or a surgically enhanced muscle definition there and so on.
We shook hands with Bruno, he invited us into a booth and we all sat down.
Over a light lunch of pie Bruno explained that his real name was Lachlan Tindal. Bruno was the identity he adopted when working the street as a Joi Boi.
Joi Boi was a business which specialised in delivering the young, exotic male street walkers of Neon City to exclusive clientele. Though not as ubiquitous as their female counterparts, they were in almost as much demand.
Augmented boy toys for every occasion their slogan emblazoned proudly.
Lachlan went on to tell us that six of his colleagues from Joi Boi had gone missing in the last couple of months. It wasn't too unusual for someone to disappear for a while but six? Now he was worried and wanted us to look into it.
He provided us with their names and some photos.
Comes to Earth like Butterflies
The first thing I did after we agreed to help Lachlan was to get into the Joi Boi system.
On the GLOWNET, the Joi Boi data vault imprint was similar to a hexagonal prism constructed of constantly undulating, oily coloured, shining polymers.
It's security was never designed to stand up to the kind intrusion protocols my Nonohiki slab contained and I easily got access to their records.
Joi Boi records showed that the last name on the Lachlan's list had been booked three days ago and hadn't been seen for the last two.
The previous name had been booked exactly one week earlier, then the previous four bookings before that were arranged at one week intervals going back a further four weeks.
In each instance, the booking had included instructions for the Joi Boi to go to a Highway Zero carpark and look for the yellow hat.
Joi Boi's records of the bookings were spotty, they deliberately didn't keep client details stored in their system and all the bookings had been arranged by audio-only calls.
So I tried going deeper into the GLOWNET, filtering away ambient data-movement and piercing layers of interface coding, searching close-to-the-metal for mnemonic signs that would; like a spider's web link caller to caller. I ran a tracer protocols on the calls made to Joi Boi.
The latest call had come from Cambodia, I continued following the thread and discovered that it had been bounced into Cambodia from a GLOWNET data-scrubber vault. The thread was a dead end.
I tried tracing the previous call, it had come from Rokkaku Dai Heights and its tracks had also been cleaned by a data scrubber.
Whoever was arranging the bookings had enough knowhow to cover their footsteps. We were going to get nothing from this.
It was time to hit Highway Zero and see what we could dig up. Using Kevin we scouted out Highway Zero.
The twelve lane highway that ran at street level through Highway Zero was travelled by immense numbers of autonomous vehicles. As with all ground drones on the elevated roads, they drove at speeds of up to four hundred kilometres per hour, bumper-to-bumper and in a perennial gridlock with the precision of migratory flights. Only constant communication between drones made this possible.
It also generated a tremendous amount of noise and pollution. At the best of times air in Neon City had a stale flavour but here in Highway Zero, you could almost see contaminant particles coalescing.
The unending barrage of traffic shook the air with an unescapable, dull background rumble.
Perhaps that's where Noise Tank, Highway Zero's menacing, metal-and-chrome worshipping street gang troublemakers took their name?
Highway Zero was also a home to the city headquarters of numerous multinational corporations in a neighbourhood of secured high-rise office blocks clustered close to The Highway. We were also aware that Chou-Nata had ambitious plans for Highway Zero; their gigantic drivethru mall which would service the endless stream of commuters that passed through the district.
Our searching revealed nothing until Bill pointed out something interesting. The Highway was dotted with regularly spaced car parks, service stations and so on. little flat spots of grey calmness in a churning sea of never ending auto-cars racing past.
In one of these car parks was run by a company called Yellow Cap Parking and the staff wore yellow hats as part of their uniform.
It was simple to get into the Yellow Cap Parking server that held the record of the station's security feed and we knew roughly the time from three days ago to scan.
It didn't take long to find what we were looking for: Pulling into the car park was a Benlato Motors Aladrau model motorhome, the largest class that Benlato made and nearly the size of a tram! A high-sided cuboid on wheels with windows and a cab, its plastic and aluminium bodywork painted in swipes of drab anonymous beige and off-white colours, easily blending into gridlock population.
When the Aladrau came to a stop, the driver opened his window, waved a yellow cap and the waiting Joi Boi briskly climbed aboard.
The security feed was a wide angle and lacked the fidelity to clearly show the driver's face. We did get the motorhome's plate ID though.
There was no easy way to trace the ID but we were in tight with someone who could help; Silai Granskina, staffer at the transport authorities.
He was happy to assist when we contacted him and sent over some helpful info.
The motorhome belonged to a Adil Buckova, a retired mortuary attendant, it listed no fixed address for him, instead we had been given a circular driving route for the elevated road network.
Aladrau motorhomes were fitted with auto-drive systems as standard. They allowed owners to sit back and relax during drives. More than a few were used as permanent homing, programmed to perpetually orbit Neon City on the roads, only stopping at a service station to resupply or replenish the motorhome's power cell.
Tracking down a speeding motorhome on Neon City's ultra congested swarming roads was a tall order.
If Adil stuck to his routine - and he had no reason not to, we knew where he would be in four days. Contacting Lachlan, we told him to call us when a new yellow cap booking had been arranged and we would be ready.
That was it, we were done and the blazing sun was still riding high in the sky.
We hit up a smoky, under-lit watering hole out of the way, somewhere in the sunless back streets of Dogenzaka Hill and kicked back. Enjoying whatever aircon we could and knocking down booze whilst watching squeaky Asiapoptrance girl-bands dancing away on a wall-slab.
It didn't last though and a couple of hours later we got a call - and a job.
It was the tail end of evening rush hour, the shuffling crush of humanity had mercifully lessened and fat droplets of rain had begun to patter on to the streets by the time we got to Rokkaku Dai Heights. Soon they would be joined by a million others coming down in rumbling cascades.
The apartment we found ourselves at was situated in a fairly well-to-do block and we rang the bell.
An unassuming middle-aged woman opened the door, Tohi Uron was her name and she was glad that we had answered her message. Tohi invited us in, sat us down and offered us tea.
The sitting room was tastefully, if averagely furnished with a Talordu living room suite. A cabinet along one wall displayed a mismatched set of ornaments and trinkets, while the opposite wall was practically wallpapered with framed photos. In many of them Tohi was positioned next to a man who seemed slightly familiar....
Tahi went on to explain that her family had been hit by hard luck recently. She had lost her job as a domestic executive sanitation operative after being targeted by false claims.
Her husband, Yaroh Uron had until recently been a junior exec at Protobase Global.
One day when leaving the office at Benten Tower late at night, had been mugged!
The next morning when Yaroh came in to work, he discovered someone had stolen his keycard, impersonated him and entered The Benten Tower. The impersonator had then started a fire to distract the security staff during a not-so-covert infiltration.
Needless to say Tohi explained, Protobase Global had taken a dim view of this and did not care for Yaroh's excuses, his contract had been terminated; effective immediately.
The man in Tahi's photos.... Yaroh? Had Bill been disguised as Yaroh?
I glanced at Bill, he seemed concerned about something in his fingernails and was quietly whistling beneath his breath.
Desperate for employment, Yaroh had taken a job as a human mannequin with the company Let All Your Rage Out!.
Let All Your Rage Out! were paid by their clients to provide human mannequins whom the clients could beat up and assault to their heart's content.
It was a lucrative market. In the high-pressure world of Neon City's wage-slaves, killing your boss was living the electric dream! While the service provided by Let All Your Rage Out! was not the real deal, it adhered to one of Neon City's great philosophies: Fake it till you make it.
Tohi told us that after Yaroh's first gig as a human mannequin, he had required costly hospital treatment.
He had gone out tonight on his second gig and Tohi was worried. She wanted us to find him and bring him back.
A fairly straightforward job. After we left Tohi, I jacked into the GLOWNET, finding Let All Your Rage Out! was easy.
Breaking through their low level data defences was nearly as easy. They had skimped on security but it was understandable, who normally, would want to hack their servers?
Their records showed that Yaroh had been booked out to a Royla Ovalev at her apartment, The address was nearby in The Heights.
It was a short journey through the rainy streets and we walked mostly in silence, listening to the torrent rhythmically beating down. I pulled my trench coat collar up and put my head down, watching the city lights and the neon street signs swim in the emerging puddles.
From the outside, Royla's apartment was normal. Trigger's thermal sight showed two individuals inside in close proximity to each other as well as some wavering small heat sources.
"Candles," Trigger explained.
Koko opened the letter box and popped Kevin inside. We watched on her control-slab as Kevin buzzed down a hallway, most of the apartment was dark but a soft, hazy, wide shaft of light played out from an open doorway across the hallway's floor. Koko directed Kevin into the room.
The soft candlelight flared in Kevin's night vision, giving the video feed a oversaturated, blurry look. Yaroh was there, strapped to a bed and dressed as a geisha! Sitting there was also a woman we presumed was Royla. Gripping a scalpel, she was talking to something on the wall and slowly peeling squares of skin out of Yaroh, who was convulsing and twitching, a ball gag stifling his screams.
It was enough for Trigger, the apartment door didn't hold up to his savage kick, he was in and running. The rest of us followed.
The bedroom was heavy with incense, it was headache inducing and almost enough make my vision dim for a moment.
Trigger pulled Royla away from Yaroh, she began shouting something about, "Getting her back?" Her struggling was beginning to become frenzied.
No time for this, I jabbed her with my stun-baton and she dropped in heap, senseless.
As trigger and the others freed Yaroh, I looked at what Royla had been talking to.
The candles had been arranged on either side of a blood splashed photo of a young woman hanging on the wall, a name had been written there; Kuto Shiko, her face seemed to niggle in my brain like an unreachable itch....
It had the look of some sort of creepy shrine. From what had been said, the two of them had been in some sort of relationship, one that had ended badly, at least for Royla.
We didn't stick around for answers and once Yaroh was safe, we escorted him to a street doc.
After some discussion, we decided that we couldn't leave Yaroh working as a human mannequin, he was two-for-two in the work-clinic ratio.
So we contacted Alison who did us a solid and said she could find a job for Yaroh.
A little later and Binary Johnny got in contact.
"Got another job," he told us.
Johnny was making another run at Protobase Global and needed muscle again. He was intending to infiltrate The Benten Tower a second time.
We had to meet him on 99th at midnight.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.