27th March 2021
Saturday night again and I'm logged into my PC on Meet.
Time for the next part of Matakishi's Wire Neon Cities Campaign.
Location: Neon City.
Morning had come and with it a hue of urine-coloured sunlight! Filling my one-bed as the blazing early sun filtered through the yellowish thick polythene tarp used to cover the missing wall that had been blown out by Protobase Global black baggers.
The municipal authority responsible for managing universal credit housing had informed me that the request for sanctioned repairs had been inputted into their system but it was estimated that work wasn't expected to begin for one to twelve months.
Late last night, Neon City celebrity fashion guru Hika Taki had pinged us, explaining that he was presenting yet another of his fashion previews to buyers and media-reporters for his latest clothing line; Colours of Chrome, Own the Chrome. Like last time, he wanted us running security.
This time it would be different though, at Ikebukuro Hika Taki had his own boutique, Hysteric Mini Seibu and it would be the show's venue instead of some hidden location.
Somehow, Lucy had overheard me talking about the show and insisted upon accompanying us, she wouldn't take no for an answer. For her it was a dream to be at an exclusive Hika Taki fashion show, she would have bragging rights amongst her peer-circle for years!
Fortunately, as part of the compensation package from Thetatec for apprehending Ghost Radical, Porter Sladek had sponsored our access to the high-soaring exclusive Corporate Monorail System that rode above The City of Electric Dreams. Fortunate because without it, there was no way of getting from Sunshine City and Neon City proper to Ikebukuro.
The monorail was a different world from the tram or the metro. Commuting execs in their designer neutral grey Shaguaifu suits gave us the sideways stink-eye as from one of the elevated stations we boarded a gleaming rounded cuboid cylinders in our trench coats, hoodies and grimy combat boots. Let them stare.
Inside, the coach seating we were used to had been replaced by individual cabins with climate control, reactive tinted windows and plush interiors upholstered in faux cream-coloured leather.
A glass sliding door opened into our cabin and we sank into our soft seats before the train noiselessly accelerated away from Sunshine City. It was a smooth ride to Ikebukuro, isolated from the crowded narrow streets far below, we watched the city roll past as we enjoyed the complimentary sushi.
It was busy in Ikubukuro: The workday had ended and the wage monkeys were out in force, nosily spilling out on to the streets and either commuting home or on the hunt for cheap thrills.
Threading these crowds, we arrived at our destination and it was no surprise that Hysteric Mini Seibu was a brilliantly presented and stylish boutique nestled in the middle of Ikebukuro's fashion row with an elaborate large window display of Neon Noir; Hika Taki's previous fashion range. The boutique exuded flurries of activity as people came and went.
Inside, at the centre of the churning squall of people busily working away was Hika Taki and it was no surprise that he was stressed to verge of hysteria. The thick-framed old school spectacles he wore served to magnified his eyes and only added to his overemotional appearance. He was a tall, thin man and of course impeccably dressed, he was also pleased to see us.
Momentarily pausing from screaming and shouting at the work crew he waved us closer. Over the hammering and drilling he explained that in two hours he was expecting thirty buyers along with their plus ones as well as their staff, there would also be catering staff on site and of course the models. Breathlessly he told us we would be responsible for ensuring no uninvited guests appeared or unwanted recording devices were used.
It was time to get to work and we checked out the venue.
Floor space displays in the boutique had been cleared away to make room for the show. A work crew were hastily putting the finishing touches on the runway that ran from the edge of the room to the centre and seating was being set out for guests. The front entrance was the only way directly into the floor space.
Hika Taki's office had been turned into an impromptu dressing room, stuffed with racks of incomprehensively garish clothing and tall, skinny bio-sculpted models getting their outlandish make-up applied and excitedly chatting amongst themselves.
A storage room had been converted into a kitchen, catering staff were laying out spreads of typical Neon City fare for visitors later. A service door led into a dimly lit back alley from the catering room. It would need to be secured. Gratify You Tongue was the name of the company catering the show, we checked them out; a small local outfit that looked legit.
Our setup was going to be similar to the last event we ran security for Hika Taki. Koko would use Kevin to scan anyone coming into the show, she should pick up implants and augmentations. Trigger would man the entrance into catering area and the rest of us would be ready to provide back up.
By the start of the show, darkness had spread over the city, awakening buzzing streetlights and stirring the exuberant nightlife. With it came the rain; a seething ocean of umbrellas bobbing past Hysteric Mini Seibu rippled nosily under the weight of the downpour.
Guests began arriving, exec buyers with staff, social influencers and select journalists granted exclusive access, mostly they came with hulking stern-faced bodyguards who typically wore faux-leather Tremeita urban armour who were flagged up by Kevin as displaying extensive body-rigging and implants. Roderick was also monitoring them and didn't detect any immediate threats or anomalies. There was little we could do to exclude them, just keep an eye on them. Trigger was watching the catering staff, all normal so far.
After a short speech from Hika Taki, lights dimmed and the show got underway, sweeping coloured lights swam across walls and ceiling, music pounded out of a Senonable sound system, spotlights were focused on runway as models began appearing, swaying along and doing their thing while Hika Taki's commentary blared over the speaker system, drowning even the music with his slightly high pitched and stressed voice.
Lucy was having the time of her life, squealing and hopping up and down at every new outfit revealed, the rest of us just found it a loud, colourful headache.
The show ran its course and was reaching its conclusions, the last few items of Hika Taki's latest range were being displayed, the catering staff were quickly beginning to clear up their equipment having laid out all their food.
Back at the show, one of the guests convulsed, stood, doubled over and puked! They were followed by another and another!
Koko punched at her control-slab and bought in Tonkatsu, a modified Suayo MKVI gun-drone, armaments and payload had been replaced with bio-scanners, a customised and automated micro-pharma production med-tech and various medical tools and implements. I had even re-written it's coding, Tonkatsu now had an autonomous diagnostic algorithm that meant that she could recognise an ailment and immediately create bespoke meds as required for the situation, Koko instructed Tonkatsu to administer emergency aid to guests.
"Never trust the catering," commented Bill. "It was the salmon mousse!".
He had to be right.
Trigger checked on the catering staff, a moment ago they'd gone out to load gear into their catering sky-van, he strode out to the Gratify You Tongue branded Benlato Hochall sky-van, no one was there?
Back at the show, more people were succumbing to what was in the food, it was too much for us to deal with and too much puke! Hika Taki was a mixture of livid, manic and frantic! We put the call out for emergency medical aid. In the chaos I lost sight of Lucy, the last I'd seen of her, she had her back to me and was bent double, heaving. There was no time to try and find her, I'm sure she'd make a full recovery! I could also see Captain Noodles looking like he was about to bring up the world's largest fur ball, guess he must have had the food too?
After Trigger had told me the catering staff had disappeared, I went and scoped it out. The sky-van was parked in a designated landing spot, looking round, I spotted some external security cameras that were pointed in this direction.
I jacked into the GLOWNET, entering the maelstrom of ceaselessly swirling clustered data-images and vaults that constituted Neon City's info-vista.
I'd hacked camera servers so many times that it'd become child's play. I quickly found and cracked the server holding the footage from this camera and scrubbed through it to the pertinent timestamp.
It showed the catering staff exit into the badly-lit back alley behind Hysteric Mini Seibu and immediately dump whatever they were carrying, then they rushed to the edge of the camera's view, I could just about make out that they had boarded some sort of white sky-van before fleeing, no way of identifying it, there were a million of them in Neon City. We needed a deeper check out the caterers.
The GLOWNET opened into a endless plane of pulsating star-fields that quickly led me to a glowing pair of gigantic red lips frozen in a moment of ecstasy; Gratify Your Tongue's data-image. Somewhere behind it was the company's data-vault, no doubt stored on a standard security server somewhere in Neon City, wouldn't hold vital data so they'd have no need for heavier security.
As expected, circumventing the security was easy, their records confirmed that someone from Hysteric Mini Seibu had booked catering service with four staff from Gratify Your Tongue for the show tonight. Digital memories haunted my consciousness as I kept searching the data, barely distinguishable from real memories, creating identical chemical pulses that travelled my brain.
Gratify Your Tongue had a smallish staff roster but typically kept records on its employees, along with ID photos for security passes, I cross referenced the photos with documentation on the booking; photos of the staff didn't match the faces of the staff who had been at the show: They hadn't been the staff from Gratify Your Tongue.
I told the others, our only lead right now was the caterers, we agreed to head over since it was quite close. We left Hika Taki to deal with the people, sure that he could manage! As we made our exit, several Perayu Spasba sky-ambulances with their emergency LEDS flashing were dropping out of the night's miasmic precipitation down to the boutique, making an uncharacteristically rapid response.
Gratify Your Tongue was situated in a commercial zone along a narrow rainy and busy Ikubukuro street, amongst a strip of retailers and service providers, unlike most of the neighbouring commercial units, it was entirely unlit?
We scouted the rear of the premises, it had a fenced off yard with spaces allotted to their small fleet of branded sky-vans, one space was empty. Approaching the rear entrance, Koko made short work of the lock and we were in. Inside was a kitchen area used to prepare foods by the looks of it, we continued on into a short corridor with several doors. One led to a aluminium shelved storage room filled with cooking appliances, cutlery, kitchenware and kitchen clothing, it was here that we found the staff.
They'd been knocked about, gagged, tied up and dumped here, after being freed they told us that some seriously juiced and chromed Yardies had burst in through the kitchen a few hours ago and taken them prisoner, after that they had stolen some uniforms and one of the sky-vans.
The premises had been equipped with numerous security camera but they'd clearly been disabled, hacking them would be a waste of time, no way of getting images of the attackers.
However, juiced and chromed Yardies was a description that matched Noise Tank, the Highway Zero street gang that frequently ran as muscle for the cryptic anarchist Prophet Wei. Last time Hika Taki had put on a show, Noise Tank and Wei had hit it, then they'd hit a store selling Hika Taki's Neon Noir range. Looked like Noise Tank and Wei had moved against Hika Taki again. Was looking like we'd have to move against Noise Tank again.
Before we could discuss our next step, Hika Taki pinged us. He told us that the models had gone missing? They'd been taken away in ambulances for observation, he'd called the hospital but the ambulances carrying them had never turned up.
Hika Taki said that twelve of his models had gone, he was sure they'd been kidnapped. Now we had a new problem but also a new angle to work.
Trackers were used as standard on sky-ambulances, we could use them to zero-in on the ones used to pick up the models.
Returning to the gleaming neon architecture of the GLOWNET, I launched a hunter/searcher algorithm and it got a hit the local hospital's data-vault; an anonymous and featureless slab by GLOWNET standards. After circumventing the vault's security protocols I searched for ambulance records.
The records had data on all the ambulances' movements and activity, the system had logged the call we'd put in and several ambulances had been dispatched to Hysteric Mini Seibu to deal with suspected poisoning.
I continued searching.
Further records showed that the sky-ambulances returned to the hospital, none of the patients admitted matched the models? They hadn't picked up the models?
It didn't match what Hika Taki had told us.
Running through the security camera feeds at Hysteric Mini Seibu again showed four ambulances picking up the models but something was off, something was wrong?
Seemed strange that the paramedics were attending to no one but the models but then I realised: They were putting three models into each of the four ambulances, no paramedics or trauma-docs would cram three people into a single ambulance. We needed more info.
It was a short tram ride to the hospital, a concrete, behemothic, cuboid high-rise that, save for row upon row of lit windows above us that gleamed in the falling rain would be swallowed by the inky night.
A large pair of automated glass doors marked then entrance, beyond, an abundance of humming strips lights over-lit the interior lobby with its polished linoleum floors and beige walls. Numerous signs pointed the ways to various departments and wards. A network coloured guide lines crisscrossed the floor .
A grid of plastic seats were bolted to the floor and positioned close to the doors, they were mostly filled with dejectedly silent people. A colourful vending machine filled with overpriced snacks was placed next to the chairs.
In one corner was the reception, its curved semi-circular counter was topped by reinforced transparent polymer screens, behind it said a disinterested looking woman in some sort of medical get-up who was jabbing at her media-slab.
Her eyes flicked up as we approached.
"Can I help?" She asked putting the slab aside.
We asked her if we could speak to the hospital's sky-ambulance staff.
"Out of the question," Came her reply.
Luckily Bill could be persuasive, especially when a few bits passed hands through an opening in the screen. Follow the orange line we were told.
Spreading a few more bits around us found the hospital wing and the staff room with the ambulance crews we were looking for.
We convinced them to speak to us: They all confirmed pretty much the same story.
They had been dispatched to Hysteric Mini Seibu to pick up poisoned patients but when they arrived, several ambulances had already landed and were picking up patients. These ambulances took off and headed towards the hospital but halfway there they peeled off and went along a different heading.
None of the ambulance crews knew where the other ambulances had gone. We asked if this seemed out of the place, we were told that sometimes, if there was a high of demand, the system might divert extra ambulances assigned to other hospitals to an particular incident.
The van and the ambulances had probably returned to Noise Tank turf in Highway Zero. Koko remotely brought in the flier and we put it up in the sky to run a high-altitude sweep of the district but got nothing.
Traffic tracking systems were positioned throughout Neon City, theoretically I could search through footage or analyse data-points, it was an enormous task and would take an age though, coding an algorithm to do it would take just as long, we needed someone to do the heavy lifting.
One person we knew might've be able help; Silai Granskina, low-level exec who for the Neon City Transport Authority, maybe he had the juice to pull in some manpower and get a result.
Half an hour after pinging him, he got back to us. He'd gotten hits on all five vehicles in the same area; south-western Highway Zero, known for its now mostly unused commercial and business parks. Silai pinged us some aerial photos of the area.
There was something we recognised; Prophet Wei's warehouse, where Noise Tanks had previously bought the stolen clothing and boutique customers. Thanking Silai, we set out for Highway Zero in the flier.
The commercial park was as dismal and empty as the last time we had been here. Large pools of rainwater had formed, flooding the neglected empty yards and parking lots, their dark rippling surfaces providing distorted reflections of Neon City nightlights far above.
We knew what we were looking for and sent Kevin to scout out the Noise Tank warehouse. The PVC corrugated roof had mostly collapsed in on itself after the sky-trucker Lady Zero had launched her sky-freighter through it, exposing the warehouse to Neon City's harsh natural elements. Even though the shroud of night and the downpour, Kevin's optics gave Koko a good image of the interior.
Four ambulances and a white sky-van were all parked inside. Kevin continued scanning, we saw a number of gangers in Noise Tank colours scattered throughout the warehouse, we also spotted some medical gear piled up in one dry corner.
Then, close to the gear, we saw the models; from Kevin's feed, none of them looked ill, no puking or convulsions. Must've gotten treated with the gear, wouldn't be Wei's style to harm them. We also noticed that they weren't wearing any of Hika Taki's fashion range?
In a deluge of jet wash driven lashing rain, Koko put the flier down in an empty parking lot and span the turbines down. Noise Tank gangers had congregated at the warehouse's open hangar doors to stare at the flier, impatiently shifting guns around and watching us approach with stony faces.
Walking up, we saw that they recognised us - and so they should have, considering how many times our paths had crossed. A particularly massive Yardie loaded up with muscle enhancements, visible facial replacements and chrome limb augmentations stepped forward; must've been in charge.
"Your too late," he said with a thick Jamaican accent. "The dresses have already been redistributed,".
It was probably true, Hika Taki's originals were no doubt already on route to knock-off sweatshops throughout Neon City.
We told the Yardie that we were here for the models, he laughed and his facial implants animated, he told us they were free to go. There was no point in taking things any further with Noise Tank, none of us had anything to gain.
Hika Taki was pleased that we'd found the models and sent rides to pick them up. Unexpectedly, he wasn't too emotional when we told him his clothing was gone and didn't blame us, commenting that our job was to prevent secret filming of the show - which we'd done.
Walking through the rain and the shining puddles, we returned to the flier and headed for the neon lights of Ninety Ninth, it was late but not too late to knock back some drinks.
Later, back home and Lucy pinged me, she'd just been discharged from observation at the Ikubukuro hospital and excitedly told me it had been a great night out and she now had a story to tell her girlfriends, even with the projectile vomiting, she said, it had been totally worth it!
Another urine-coloured dawn had rolled around, the morning was spent languishing on my futon, a thin cotton sheet pulled over my head to keep the light away. Eventually I had to get up, rolling to my feet, I sifted through the junk in my one-bed for some food. A can of self-cooling Huntudi and a carton of Niaiwo noodles did the trick, got to love that sweet and sour flavour!
For a while it looked like it the day was going to be a quiet one but a pinging media-slab ended that. Antin Grover, urban trash-art kinetic sculptor and resident of Rokkaku Dai Heights, whose work was growing in popularity was in trouble and we were the people to call!
For an extended stretch of time Antin had been separated from his wife and children, during this time he'd entered into a fleeting and meaningless relationship with Lina Arkov. He had ended it before his family came to Neon City.
We knew of Lina Arkov, she'd been girlfriend of the now deceased hackerrist Ringo Chrome.
Now however, Antin was telling us that Lina was blackmailing him, supposedly she had intimate photos of the pair of them and was presumably after something? Antin excitedly explained that he had a cunning plan in mind! He told us that he had contacted Lina and arranged a date at Itadakemasu in Sibuya Terminal, while he distracted her, we should break into her apartment and locate the safe containing the photos, hopefully it would contain the master copies.
It was a straightforward plan, we already knew where she lived, our hunt for Ringo Chrome had concluded at her Rokkaku Dai Heights apartment.
Antin told us that he would ping us again at the start of the date, that wouldn't be until the end of the day.
Our media-slabs pinged again later in the day: Lady Zero, sky-trucker who worked out of Highway Zero was in trouble, she spoke rapidly and there was panicked edge to her voice as she told that while making a routine delivery to The Skyscraper District a sky-car had begun following her, then the car's pilot had begun leaning out and shooting at her!
No time to waste! Koko called the flier and we piled in, Lady Zero had fed our media-slabs with her location when she'd pinged us and we headed directly there. The narrow streets city and tall high-rises rolled by as we raced to our destination.
It was exactly has she had described, against the diffused blue-white cloudless sky an individual riding a sky-car with a missing door was leaning out, submachinegun in one hand and shooting the cargo on her sky-freighter with incredible accuracy. Lady zero's freighter couldn't out distance the sky-car, but neither vehicle had the performance to match our flier. Koko easily caught them and put us between the two of them, we heard shots bounce of the armour, it was unlikely that small-arms fire could damage the flier.
Then the situation changed; as we were assessing the sky-car's threat from a rear-pointing camera, a needle thin lance of red-yellow light had flickered out from it.
Having looked at her readouts, Koko turned to us and said we'd taken a hit from a laser. On screen we saw that the sky-car's reinforced transparent multipolymer windscreen collapsing into steaming, heaped goop, liquified by the laser's heat and leaving a hole.
It meant the kind gloves were off. A few well placed shots from our turret into the car caused it plummet. trailing smoke. It veered wildly and crashed into a busy street, sending screaming pedestrians flying! The car grinded along on it's side and crumpled against a wall, it's power cell exploded and a font of smoking orange flame splashed the street. Banking the flier, Koko circled back round to the crash site.
The remaining door was flung clean off the car and a tall man dressed in a bomber jacket, black cargo pants and tellingly, a pair of black Harbief boots pulled himself out of the fiery wreckage seemingly unharmed. As we lost altitude, we zoomed in and got a hit on facial recog: Joe Montero; former mercenary and wanted war-criminal. We'd encountered him before but never in person.
Even before the flier had touched down, Trigger was out, leaping to the ground and closing to melee.
Joe Montero was no easy mark though. As Trigger and he traded savage blows, Trigger watched Joe's code-black military spec implants in action, watched as nanite-rich blood flowed back into wounds as they began to knit themselves closed, as bruising simply evaporated off Joe's skin. The kind of tech we could only dream about. Even a heavy strike from Trigger took Joe's arm off, he wasn't slowed down. Koko ran in and struck Joe with her Waukgasuki puke-prodder, he immediately recovered as his nanites and bio-regulators adapted to and compensated for threats in real time.
Enhanced strength, speed and stamina, pain suppression, predictive reflexes, improved cognitive function, Joe probably had the lot. Koko retreated and went with a different tack, snapping up her control slab and stabbing at it, she quickly brought Nermal into play and hit Joe Montero with a tight beam EMP pulse.
He went down hard but we could see that he wasn't going to stay down long, his implants would quickly reboot. Without delay we pounced, immobilising him before he resist.
Lady Zero pinged us and we told her the situation was under control, as she thanked us we could hear the stress in her voice. We got her to explain what was going on?
She had been hired to deliver two sets of data-cells to a Octavia Croyle at The Skyscraper District Library when the attack had occurred during the first delivery. She had no clue why?
The result of the attack wasn't good. Checking the management protocol that monitored her cargo told her that those data-cells had been critically damaged by the gunfire.
She'd also just received a report that her second consignment had exploded at its current storage facility at the waterfront. Both data-cells were now lost. Her job was a bust now.
Both consignments of data-cells destroyed? Lady Zero wasn't some random victim, Joe Montero had targeted her because of the cargo.
Joe Montero had recovered enough that we could talk to him.
The merc was talkative enough but didn't give us anything, sneering at whatever we said, only thing he admitted was he wanted some records on the data-cells to go away?
We asked him what had happened to Daron Zavaleta, whom he had kidnapped. Joe laughed and said, "Daron's no longer around,".
He wasn't going to give us anything, time for a different approach.
The data-cells were intended for Octavia Croyle, she was a historian and archivist employed by DIA Media Global and specialist in military history, when Joe Montero had referred to records, did he mean his own military records, ones that marked him out as a war criminal? Looked like there was only one person to talk to. Loading Joe Montero into our flier, we took off and headed to The Skyscraper District.
The exterior of The Skyscraper District Library was clad in imitation limestone and fronted by a row of faux Greek columns, a set of wide steps led up to the entrance. It represented an attempt to give some gravitas to the facility which was entirely lost on most of Neon City's populace.
Without a doubt, the library was the biggest repository of paper still left in the city. Inside the library proper, rows of unused books ran from floor to ceiling, diligently catalogued and organised in fake wooden shelving. Our footsteps seemed to echo in the quiet as we walked along a polished granite floor to a neutrally coloured counter and asked for Octavia Croyle.
She was a tall woman, with grey-shot dark hair and getting on in her middle years, her clothes were deeply unfashionable and clearly timeworn. She took us into a discreet meeting room and provided us with some refreshments and we told her about the loss of the data-cells, she was disappointed to hear it.
Octavia explained that the data-cells were considered to be highly valuable historical documentation that had been lost some time ago, but they had been found in a storage block during repairs following a flood. When they had been discovered, it was immediately decided that the data-cells should be archived in the library.
It would be improper to inquire after the data-cells contained but that had never stopped us in the past! Octavia revealed that they were the only known remaining source of information on events that occurred during the Kashmir Emergency. It was all lost now.
Not all of it, we explained. We told Octavia that Joe Montero was responsible for destroying the data-cells, Octavia knew his name and was of the opinion that it was to hide his atrocities. We also explained that we had the war criminal as a prisoner in our flier.
Octavia had a passion for her specialisation, you could tell, most people - even Neon City people would have questioned why we had him prisoner, but she was just interested in speaking to him! She also told us that we would be paid a finder's fee for him.
We asked Octavia if she had known Daron Zavaleta? He was a passing acquaintance, she told us and fellow employee at the library but not one she knew personally. We told her he had also been present at the Kashmir Emergency and also a wanted war criminal! Octavia was particularly disappointed at having missed the opportunity to speak to him.
Ensuring he was still securely bound, we brought him into the library and put him into Octavia's custody, no doubt she would get a DIA Media Global security team to guard him. She was pleased to see him, commentating that she half-expected him to be wearing his notorious Necklace Of Ears!
After that we bid Octavia good luck with her research and went back to our flier.
Two-and-a-half hours passed, day shrank had before the onset of night, an over-bright sky gave way to a cloudy moonless darkness as vast volumes of rainwater cascaded on to Neon City's crowded streets.
We were at The Copper Kettle when Antin Grova pinged us: Go Go Go had been his message.
Lina Arkov lived in the alabaster white high-rises that were ubiquitous throughout the residential quarter of The Heights. They tended to be higher quality and more exclusive than typical Neon City homing, they were only marred by the presence of the unmanageable sprawling rooftop shanty town that had developed above.
It was no trouble for Koko to get through the lock into Lina's apartment.
Since we had caught up with Ringo Chrome little had changed inside, only the carpet had been replaced, stains of the past removed but not forgotten. The remainder of the apartment with it's furniture, decoration and fixtures were pretty average.
Antin Grova had told us to look for a safe somewhere in the apartment, Trigger's thermals, but got nothing. We continued eyeballing the apartment until we came to a painting in the bedroom, an out of place looking, fairly cheap replica of an old master?
Behind it we found the door to a multi-layered, polycarbonate Rialydr wall safe, luckily Koko was able to get through the locks easily.
Upon opening it we found only a small faux black-stained cherry wooden box tied up in a shiny pink ribbon, Trigger unwrapped the bow and opened the box. Inside was a single sheet of folded paper, it was a handwritten and signed note from Lina Arkov to Antin Grova, it taunted him and his attempt to acquire the incriminating evidence. That wasn't the end, she boasted that our break-in was being filmed and the footage would soon find itself in the hands of the local rentacop franchise.
It was a set-up. Lina Arkov had out-played Antin Grova and we were in trouble, we had to work fast!
Furiously, we turned the room over, dresser searched, wardrobe emptied, bed flipped, nothing. We continued looking, then we spotted it: Opposite the door and in the corner, the almost invisible pinhole lens of a tiny camera, it was too small to hold the data locally and had to lead to storage somewhere else.
I jacked into my Nonohiki, then into The GLOWNET. I didn't have the luxury of admiring the shining, pulsating and holistic data-streams that flowed in and out of Neon City's data-graphical info-vista with its ever reconfiguring data-structure. Instead I interfaced with the camera, it allowed me to follow an incandescent trail that was its GLOWNET connection to a destination, a Preaavar Atyadham server.
Atyadhams were top-of-line Malaysian secured servers, a challenge for many hackers, but for someone like me, it was my bread and butter. After launching a couple of bespoke coded incursion algorithms, I was in.
A large number of files populated the server-drive, searching by timestamp I found the file that was compiling a record of our break-in real-time and killed the feed, then deleted the file. Next I searched for videos of Antin Grova; it appeared that Lina Arkov undertook encounters with many people and had recorded videos of all these interactions, including with Antin Grova and Ringo Chrome.
I downloaded all the files to my data-slab's storage partition and deleted every file off the drive, finally I ran a shredder protocol on it to ensure the data could not be recovered.
Jacking out integrated me back to physical reality and with it came a moment of disorientation and surge of nausea, no time to recover though, we were out of Lina's apartment and away into the night.
Back at the flier, Koko took us up through the beating rain and set a heading back to Hikage Street.
We didn't get far, breaking news came through the GLOWNET news-vine and on to our media-slabs: A gun-wielding woman had shot several people and taken hostages at a restaurant in Shibuya Terminal. We all glanced at each other, even without looking at the story we all knew The City of Electric Dreams wasn't letting us off easy that night!
I stabbed at my media-slab to watch the accompanying footage, it was blurry security camera footage but even so, it clearly showed Lina Arkov shooting several customers and training the gun on Antin Grova.
Koko changed heading for restaurant.
Itadakemasu was located in one of the narrow busy streets of Shibuya Terminal, mostly surrounded by tall anonymous glass-fronted office blocks. I'd taken Lucy on a date there a while back, like most our social outings it had ended in an unrestrained spree of violence and gunfire that almost wrecked the restaurant. Word was that it had only just recently been renovated and repaired after that gunfight.
The restaurant had been surrounded by rentacop, isolated and cordoned off by barriers and parked cop Korazna sky-cruisers. The heavy rain hadn't deterred crowds of Shibuya Terminal workers from pressing up against the barriers and staring, it never did.
From the looks of it, rentacop was more concerned with maintaining a grip on on the gawking crowd than dealing with the hostage situation inside, which is were we came in.
The chief rentacop flat-out refused to let us into Itadakemasu, citing safety concerns. Bill stepped forward, with confidence and authority ringing in his voice as he explained that we were civilian negotiation contractors assigned to manage the hostage situation. You could see the little self-serving cogs whirring in the chief rentacop's brain, if we took ownership of the crisis, then he was off the hook! We saw him smile.
Entering the restaurant took most of us past the shattered glass door and windows, it was quiet inside except for the quiet moans of injured people slumped up against overturned blood-smeared furniture or lying on the food-littered floor.
Chief rentacop told us that the perp had retreated into the kitchen area, out of range of his officers, it looked like he was on the money, the interior had been riddled with bullet holes but there was no Lina or Antin.
After we took defensive positions behind some cover, Koko called in Tonkatsu to begin administering first aid to the victims while we assessed the situation.
A muffled voice could be heard coming from beyond a set of double swinging doors near the restaurant's reception. Kitchen? Had to be. Bill pursed his lips for a moment before getting to his feet. He knew the score, he was the face. No one would be better at talking Lina down.
Save for Lina and Antin, the kitchen was empty. Stainless steel utensils and appliances had been scattered across the floor by the staff in their evacuation. Amongst this mess was Lina, looking stressed with bloodshot eyes, dishevelled and holding a 9mm Ngaohun pistol to Antin's sweating neck, barrel just touching the skin. Her voice was becoming coarse from all the shouting but it didn't stop her.
Bill tried to calm her down and explain that he was here to help and how he was her only friend right now. It was both a lie and the profound truth. Lina wasn't buying though.
"If I can't have him," she yelled. "No one can!".
I guess Antin had made quite the impression.
Bill remained as neutral and unthreatening as possible, trying to keep Lina's attention on him, trying to think of an angle to work.
"If I'm going to die today, then we'll die together!" she promised.
During this time, Trigger had circled round, finding the waterlogged dim back alley that led to Itadakemasu's rear entrance, it had been left unlocked by fleeing staff. Pushing the door open a centimetre and shifting position, he got eyes on Lina, she had her back to him, fully focused on Bill.
Slowly he widened the gap in the door until it was wide enough to admit him. As Lina continued her rant directed at a passive Bill, Trigger slipped in and patiently crept closer.
When Lina had said, "then we'll die together," Trigger jabbed her with a stun-baton.
It didn't go quite to plan, the sudden jolt made Lina convulse and her trigger finger contracted. A single round hit Antin in the neck at point blank, somehow it must have missed his vocal chords as he let out a short scream when blood fountained out of his neck and collapsed.
Outside, rentacop had taken the retort as sign that matters had deteriorated and indiscriminately opened fire on the restaurant, wrecking even more of the bullet-scarred business. Our low positions in the dining area meant the bullets flew overhead before slamming into the wall and fixtures, the others in the kitchen were relatively safe from gunfire.
Once rentacop had emptied their clips, relative silence once more descended on Itadakemasu.
Bill kicked the pistol away from the semi-conscious Lina and Koko sent Tonkatsu straight towards Antin to assess the injury. We gave the word to Rentacop and now they came running in with paramedics on their heels.
Antin Grova's injury was serious and would require intensive reconstructive bio-surgery, all the customers were still alive, Lina was unharmed and taken into custody.
It was a good result and was time to leave. Like ghosts lost to the ether, we made our exit into rainy night before anyone could ask awkward questions.
Later a news-vine story came in on the GLOWNET. It had reported that Antin Grova had been taken to hospital and was stable, he was expected to make a full recovery.
Rentacop had then presented themselves at the hospital and arrested him.
20th March 2021
It's a Saturday night and I'm logged on to Meet on my PC.
It's time for the 1st session in season 2 of Matakishi's Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Neon City.
It had been quiet since Ghost Radical's takedown and we were making the most of the downtime, burning through days in a haze of intoxicants and euphoriants Neon City style. It never lasted though and The City of Electric Dreams had a way of crashing you back down to earth, pulling those electric dreams further away and trapping you in the this life.
News had reached us from the GLOWNET feeds that Yaroh Uron, a perennially down-on-his luck wage-monkey who we'd made an acquaintance of after he'd got caught in the crossfire between Protobase Global and us had been arrested by rentacop. He'd been marched to the Ninety Ninth Street precinct and charged with murder?
We had no choice but to check it out, he would need the help.
It was a hot afternoon tram ride to the Neon Mile, unrelenting sunlight glared through the dirt-smeared tram windows and shielding my eyes, I wondered what could have happened to Yaroh Uron.
Even at this time of day, Ninety Ninth was busy, raucous crowds of fun-seekers roamed the street. navigating gambling dens that blared out electronic jingles, bar and restaurant touts hawking for customers, street performers and street workers plying their trade.
Unsurprisingly, the rentacop precinct was a lifeless grey steel-reinforced bunker at one end of the Neon Mile, utterly in contrast to the garish, loud vibrancy that defined Ninety Ninth.
Initially rentacop refused us access to Yaroh; no visitors allowed they had resolutely stated. Made me think about Yaroh's wife, had they also denied her access? What was their game plan? What trouble was Yaroh Uron in?
Bill was having none of it, without dropping a beat he got in rentacop's face and told him that we were Yaroh's legal team, he threatened have their plastic faux police badges for desk ornaments if they got in our way. I had no idea if that was truthful or not but it did the trick, despite the fact everyone else mostly looked akin to miscreant street brawlers; we got in to see Yaroh.
Rentacop took us to a interview room deep in their bunker, a single door led inside the square windowless space furnished with plastic chairs, a table and little else. The floor was coated with dulled and stained beige coloured linoleum, walls had once been painted blue-grey.
Then they led Yaroh Uron in, he was dressed in prison-orange and there was a faraway resignation on his thin long face with its shock of blonde hair. He dejectedly slumped down in a chair on the far side of the table and eyed us through his polymer Khcapi goggle-specs, for a moment there was silence and humming from bleak strip lights grew to fill the air.
The room looked clean, hopefully nobody was monitoring us: There was little doubt he was innocent but we got Yaroh Uron to tell us his accounting.
Yesterday at around five in the afternoon, a woman had approached him on Ninety Ninth Street and without provocation scratched his face before fleeing. Yaroh described her as tall with a strawberry tattoo on her hand.
Then today, he was arrested by rentacop, bought here and charged with the murder of Dr Hsu Rou-Taib.
Had he upset anyone recently? No. Any enemies? No.
It wasn't much to go on.
Once our meeting was over, Bill spoke with the rentacop heading up the case and got some info out of him.
The victim: Dr Hsu Rou-Taib, a proponent of controversial life-extending theories and specialist in longevity treatments. She had been bankrolled by Protobase Global, The name seemed familiar, something to check out.
Dr Hsu had been brutally murdered on Ninety Ninth close to Eat With Joy, footage had been provided that showed her exiting Eat With Joy, heading off then rounding a corner into an alley, then slipping out of camera shot.
An unidentified witness had called it in on the Ninety Ninth Street scratch-card snitch-line. Four hours later the body had been found in that alley. Bill got rentacop to ping him a recording of the call.
On a hunch we got Yaroh to listen to the recording. He recognised it, knew who it belonged to! Benedict Twistom; his old manager.
It was a name known to us, he was husband of Annabel Twistom, participant in this year's Rokkaku Dai Heights Bake-off competition and was Vice Chairman of the Ethics Committee at Protobase Global.
I ran a couple of quick searches and some business insider info-publication on the GLOWNET news-vine had an article announcing that he had recently been promoted to Chief Executive Officer of the Protobase Global; Neon City branch.
The article came with one of those corporate headshot photos against a neutral blue-grey background with perfectly combed hair, flawless surgically sculpted skin and teeth, vapid expression and shit-eating grin. Beneath, the quote was 'I'm looking forward to overseeing Protobase Global's expansion into Neon City.'.
Somehow Benedict Twistom was involved in all this? Yaroh had worked for Protobase Global, how was it connected?
An initial forensics report of Hsu Rou-Taib's remains had found foreign DNA on her body which matched Yaroh, there was little else in the way of evidence.
Bill then got rentacop to let Yaroh out on bail, for now he was free, although when he checked his media-slab, he'd been pinged by his employers, former employers to be exact, he'd been let go from the job Alison had gotten him. Yaroh's streak of bad luck kept stretching on.
Yaroh went on his way after we assured him we'd look into it.
First thing I did was run Dr Hsu Rou-Taib through the memory-logs on my Nonohiki and that got me two hits.
The name got a mentioned as a project manager in files we'd copied from the hidden Protobase Global lab here on Ninety Ninth, where smooth talking conmen had been pulling old folk into some sort fake karaoke bar, taking them prisoner and extracting bio-data from them, looking for some sort of secret in the swirling spirals of bio-information.
My files also had the name listed as a project manager for the Chinese medicine shop in Highway Zero which had been a front for another secret Protobase Global clinic involved in using Galapagos tortoises to extend lifespans.
We'd interfered with both clandestine undertakings, which had also somehow both involved Dr Hsu. Too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence, especially regarding Protobase Global, especially in Neon City.
Our main lead was the woman with the strawberry tattoo; out on the Ninety Ninth Street it was hot, body heat of a thousand crammed passer bys only intensified the cruel afternoon heat. we approached street performers, touts, bar staff, stall owners and hawkers, asking questions.
Seems there was a working girl on Ninety Ninth with a liking of fruit themed tattoos, went by the name Juicy J and turned tricks locally, Bill did some more questioning, learnt that she operated out of a nearby hotel.
The walkways of Ninety Ninth were wider than Chuo Street and the buildings not so cramped and encroaching, so the hotel was easy to find since there were less of them. We camped out on a suitable corner and watched people come and go. Except for the neon hotel sign it was a bland, featureless, grime smeared concrete building that went up for several storeys and was nestled at the end of a strip of neon-lit bars and noisy pachinko joints.
We saw a tall slender woman, mid-twenties with heavy make up and dyed blonde hair in a skirt that went very high, a top that went very low and clicking heels striding towards the hotel, with my Chaonon telescopics I could distinctively see several fruit-themed tattoos on her arms and neck; looking at her hand; a strawberry. We'd found Juicy J.
Surreptitiously we followed as she went through the smoky glass door in the concrete façade and led us upstairs and along a dusty, unmaintained hall to her hotel room, she had not been accompanied. A quick thermal sweep from Trigger found no other heat signatures in the room.
After knocking on the door, she opened it a crack with a suspicious, half-curious expression. Bill asked her if she would be willing answer some questions, she wasn't interested.
We invited ourselves in, along with the door, her objections were quickly pushed aside. Stepping back, she looked nervously from one to another of us.
Bill explained that nothing bad was going to happen, we just needed some answers.
Still nervous a little, she silently nodded her compliance.
Juicy J admitted that she had scratched Yaroh Uron's face yesterday, an anonymous man had paid her to do it over a call, he'd also paid for a sky-taxi to pick her up and drop her back off.
We pressed her about the DNA, she knew nothing, no one had collected the DNA from her nails. Wherever Yaroh's DNA had been taken, it was wasn't from Juicy J.
After some general questioning we learnt her real name was Jinny Stoyer. She told us that her boyfriend was OK Daddy and that she was saving up to leave Neon City and go to the Moon to be with him.
OK Daddy was another name we knew; once he'd been a pimp running working girls out of Ninety Ninth and reputation of being heavy-handed with them. Now he was on a ten year term being all he could be with the Planetary Global Defence Force after some encouragement to join up from us.
I guess he was stationed on the moon; that's where Juicy J wanted to go.
Maybe there was a way we could help each other. We told Juicy J that we could help her get to the moon, if she could help us with the Yaroh Uron case, it would mean testifying.
Juicy J's guard dropped and she warmed to the deal when she heard it and quickly agreed to help us.
Before we left, we played Juicy J the recording of Benedict Twistom's voice on the snitch-line.
The voice was identical to the man that had hired her, she was sure of it.
Benedict Twistom had slipped up, he had arranged the murder of Dr Hsu and framed Yaroh for it. Now we just had to prove it.
It wasn't too hard to acquire the residential address of the next lead; victim Dr Hsu Rou-Taib. She had lived aloft the grey forest that constituted the cluster of concrete high- rises that was The Skyscraper District which typically homed corporate execs.
Koko got us into the anonymous apartment without trouble. Despite entering quietly, our footsteps distinctly reverbed on the laminated plastic replica hardwood floor in the entry hall, echoing into nothingness, the sound of an empty home. Searching confirmed it; the apartment had been vacated and cleaned, all personal possessions stripped away, only the generic fixtures and fittings remained, plain faux wood tables and chairs, a desk, a bed, fibrewood shelves and so on.
A Karseakk desk-slab had been left behind. I networked it with my Nonohiki and jacked in, found nothing, accounts unlogged, emails and data erased, now a clean system. I ran an algorithm to recover fragmented data but there were none. The slab had been cleaned by a pro.
The apartment had been a bust.
As we left, we got pinged by the coroner's office, an autopsy report had been delivered to our media-slabs. We scanned the results, it changed everything.
Dr Hsu Rou-Taib's time of death was three hours after she had been seen in Eat With Joy, it directly contradicted the snitch-line call which had called in the murder almost immediately after she'd gone down the alley. She was still alive when the call was made.
Furthermore the autopsy showed that Dr Hsu had died from toxic poisoning, injected with a lethal cocktail of chemicals, also directly contradicting the report that she had been brutally murdered.
Matters had taken a turn for the complicated, Yaroh needed proper representation now and we searched for something we knew nothing about; a lawyer. Found a guy on the GLOWNET called Finn Kinton who took on the case
By the time we found someone for Yaroh, it was the end of the day. Nothing to do now but wait for the preliminary hearing.
Boiling clouds, pregnant and black were accumulating above, lined in gold from a yellow-red giant sun as it sank behind the silhouetted western skyline by the time I had returned to my one-bed in Hikage Street.
It was pretty crowded now, with Lucy and Ashaglaya waiting for me but it didn't matter, I didn't care, I lugged my boots off and threw my trench coat into a corner, grabbed a tall cooled can of Huntudi and kicked back.
It didn't last for long.
Halfway through the can and the exterior wall imploded! For an infinitesimal moment I watched as cracks in the cheap paint sprang into existence on the wall, running along the lines of the brickwork just before the concussion wave hit, filling the room with flying bricks, masonry and dust. Hurled to the floor, my eyes stung , ears rang and throat choked.
A dozen ghostlike silhouettes materialised, corporate soldiers garbed in fully enclosed matt black Haanut armour, wrapped in the enveloping cloud which had billowed inward and backlit by a search-beam that flooded the room with diffused light. They silently glided at us through the settling haze.
Two of them stared through tinted, mirrored visors and wordlessly levelled 7.62 Kirzaks assault rifles at me while a third tied my wrists behind my back with a zip tie lock. Helplessly I watched with blurred vision as they secured Lucy and Ashaglaya, the girls appeared to be unconscious as they were carried off, others seemed to be hastily rummaging through my one-bed?
Lines had dropped from a flier outside and they retreated, pulled into the darkening sky above. All of it had taken less than thirty seconds.
I was freed by the others once I'd managed to use voice-command on my media-slab to contact them.
The corporate enforcers has been hunting for something but I had nothing of importance or value here. We surveyed my apartment, everything had been knocked to the ground or tipped over and was now coated in a layer of dust.
We continued searching and found something out of place; slipped underneath the spare folding bed was a silver Mahakam Ambassador suitcase. I didn't own a Mahakam suitcase! Looking at each other, we all knew someone who did though.
It had been the possession of Yennav Rybasei, contents a mystery, we'd seen the Russian mobster execute two men over it.
Vaudeville street walker and assassin Thaddeus Rackham had killed a roomful of gangsters for it. Why and how was it here? What was it? If we knew the contents, maybe it would answer questions.
Koko was unwilling to look inside the argent polycarbonate suitcase though, it had been forbidden by Yennav on pain of death that we'd personally witnessed. The rest of us were too curious to care. The suitcase was opened. It wasn't what we expected inside.
Our attention was immediately drawn to the glass case in the centre, inside that glass case we could see that floating in a liquid was a brain! A human brain.
The glass case was surrounded by wiring, circuitry, some Sainohon processors, a small readout and a miniscule power cell, it was also networked to a small speaker and microphone as well as a tiny Senonable camera, servo motors hummed quietly as the camera panned to face us.
"Hello?" said a digitised voice from the speaker!
The brain introduced itself as The Accountant. It had no memory or knowledge of its past or origins. The Accountant only knew that Yennav Rybasei used it as a kind of biological data-vault, a library or repository of Russian mob information. The Accountant had contained sensitive records on mob finances and holdings, laundering operations and more, sensitive enough for Yennav to kill to protect.
The situation had changed now explained The Accountant, Yennav had shut down all his assets in Neon City and gone into hiding. The Accountant hypothesised that Yennav would regroup, consolidate his powerbase and finances, then resume activities within six to eighteen months.
The Accountant also told us how it had met Thaddeus Rackham who had promised to get him a body. The Accountant was still waiting.
Finally The Accountant told us that he had been having extensive conversations with Ashaglaya Lova. She had told it that Yennav had entrusted the suitcase to her, instructing her not to open it, driven by curiosity Ashaglaya had of course ignored those instructions.
She must have brought the suitcase here. That's what the corporate goons had come here looking for, they didn't find it, so they took her. We knew that Protobase Global wanted the suitcase, must've been their goons.
We couldn't let this stand. Protobase Global had moved against us, now we had to move against them, time to play some hardball.
Like all the top execs that lived in Neon City, the Twistoms resided behind the opulent Fortified Residential Zone's thick heavily protected toughened polymer walls and well out of reach but we had another angle to work. Annabel Twistom had twice been a competitor in the Rokkaku Dai Heights Bake-off, rules of the contest stipulated that only Rokkaku Dai Heights residents were eligible to enter, she had to live somewhere in The Heights.
If we found her, it meant we could take Annabel Twistom.
Finding her address in the GLOWNET was straightforward, unsurprisingly she lived in the penthouse at one of the districts many alabaster high-rises.
Early the next morning, we took the flier to our destination and cased out the penthouse. Trigger's thermals showed two heat signatures on the top floor, one male profile and the other female, they were almost always at opposite ends of the penthouse. Using the flier's external camera's we continued scoping it out.
The male individual seemed to be lingering by the balcony, he had the glass door open and was outside, leaning on the rail and distracted from boredom by the hustle from the district below his vantage point. He wore a black Evoda two-piece suit with white shirt and black tie. The suit looked a little tight on him, he was stocky, possibly the result of strength or bulk enhancement. He also wore some Ozykus data-shades, no doubt feeding him situational data: A bodyguard, had to be.
The female was at the other end of the penthouse; Annabel relaxing in a lounge by the looks of her heat signature.
We couldn't linger above the high-rise too long without the risk of drawing attention, our plan was a simple one and relied on speed.
After Koko repositioned the flier directly above the penthouse, Trigger was carefully lowered on a line until he was adjacent to one of the windows. Fortuitously he had become quite adept at quickly getting through windows and was no obstacle.
Voices could be heard by Trigger as he entered, staged and unnatural they must have come out of a sound system and grew louder as he cautiously stalked through the well furnished apartment with its thick shagpile cream coloured carpeting, exquisite expensive looking gold trimmed fixtures and lavish Alasjaqi furniture. No slumming it here, the Twistoms had spent a small fortune on making Annabel feel comfortable.
Trigger reached the lounge without stirring anybody, Annabel was relaxing on the sofa, dressed in a cotton pink Fassus tracksuit and cradling a glass of wine, entirely distracted by some overdramatised realty vid playing out on the large Senonable wall-slab. One hit with a stun-baton and she went out soundlessly. Trigger hefted the unconscious woman into a fireman's lift and quietly returned to the window, got out and we were away.
The bodyguard had noticed nothing, we'd just black-bagged the wife of major corporate C.E.O. and now we had some leverage to trade for Lucy and Ashaglaya.
We ran some scans on Annabel, there were no trackers on her person and we took away her media-slab.
Koko took the flier up, weaving through the busy sky-lanes, as we headed to our RV we hit Annabel Twistom with a mild stimulant that immediately roused her. She looked around the flier's cool blue interior, taking stock of her situation then set her jaw and instantly began complaining!
She demanded that we set her free, we refused.
She demanded that she be allowed to speak with her husband. we refused.
She demanded her media-slab back, we refused.
She demanded that we allow her to get some appropriate clothes to wear, we refused.
She demanded that we increase the heating in the flier, we refused.
She demanded that we give her a more comfortable seat, "take your pick," we said.
All of us were contemplating giving her a second jolt with a stun-baton but we convened with the RV in a parking lot before it came to that. We took our prisoner over, she didn't seem any less unhappy at being pushed into the RV.
Inside, it was quiet, Ram Rat was gone, the RV was empty, it'd been running on autopilot.
A cold half eaten meal had been left on one of the little foldout plastic tables that dotted the RV. Ram Rat needed to maintain his biological components, what had made him leave in a hurry? Pinging him got us no response.
Ram Rat would have to wait, we contacted Protobase Global and got through to Benedict Twistom, Bill ran the negotiation for us.
After Bill explained that we had his wife and wanted to swap her for the girls, Benedict Twistom also demanded the suitcase. We had been correct, it confirmed that Protobase Global was behind the attack on my apartment. Bill convinced him that we didn't have the suitcase, it be a trade; Annabel for Lucy and Ashaglaya.
There was a pause, silence from Benedict, we knew what he was thinking: Was it worth it, did he want her back? She probably complained to him as much as she did to us, more even! On the other hand, losing his wife to some low-life operators such as us would make him look weak in the eyes of his enemies and competitors, make him a target, blood in the water.
The pause ended, silence was broken and he agreed to the terms.
A exchange was arranged near the Benten Tower on Ninety Ninth at lunchtime, it wasn't exactly neutral ground but it would have to do.
With Annabel back in the flier and complaining, we rode over to Ninety Ninth, the midday sun blazing down on the Neon City sprawl as it rolled by beneath us, the flier's adaptive screens and climate control divorcing us from the glare and the heat.
The Benten Tower was a monolithic concrete and glass temple to Protobase Global's power and influence, soaring above the teeming crowds and colourful attractions of the Neon Mile like an unavoidable looming threat.
As Koko bought us in to touchdown at an open space next to the tower we swept the area with the flier's external cameras, no threats were detected. Benedict was waiting accompanied by a Protobase Global security team in their matt black Haanut armour along with Lucy and Ashaglaya. Disembarking with Annabel, we slowly headed towards them under the pitiless sunlight.
Twenty metres from Benedict and we stopped, despite their tinted mirrored visors we could make out his security team sizing us up, gauging how much of a threat we were, could they take us? We were ready if they tried.
There were no pleasantries before the exchange took place. We sent Annabel over and they sent Lucy and Ashaglaya, the girls sluggishly shuffled their way to us, no doubt the result of being sedated. Maybe Protobase Global were on to something, we could have done with shutting Annabel up!
Once we safely had Lucy and Ashaglaya with us, we warily retreated to the flier, eyes shifting, watching for their move, it was the riskiest moment but nothing happened, no trouble. Koko took us up and away.
Ashaglaya was delighted to be reunited with The Accountant, they got on like a house on fire and she kept the brain entertained with her inane conversations. Protobase Global would still be searching for the suitcase though and that put both of them at risk.
Our solution was to take the pair of them to The Skyscraper District and put them into Ghost Radical's now vacated, sparsely decorated but spacious off-the-grid two-bed apartment. Protobase Global would have trouble finding them there.
Before we left, we spoke with The Accountant, and said we'd check in with Thaddeus Rackham and get an update.
Thaddeus Rackham could usually be found working the Sky Dinosaurian Square, it was getting dark as we arrived, temperature had dropped a couple of points and street lights were buzzing into life. Crowds never let up in the square, drawn by the amusements and distractions, jingle-blaring garishly lit attractions, concessions and rides that seemed even brighter and more enticing against the incursion of night.
We headed for The Circus and found Thaddeus, typically resplendent in his vaudeville outfit and pale make-up, working at his stall. The sign read 'Sweets, services, gambling and assassinations available'.
Thaddeus was happy to talk to us about The Accountant, he turned his stall over to his equally vaudevillian assistant and walked with us.
He admitted that he had encountered some obstacles in acquiring a body for The Accountant. Initially he planned to get one from the hospital crematorium next to the Soy Green food manufacturing plant but they were always too far gone to be useful.
His plan now was to use a contact, Astiek Steva at the Ohkubo Hospital to get a fresher cadaver but this might take some time.
The conversation was interrupted when Trigger's media-slab pinged, retrieving it from his pocket, he looked at the message, one word: Help.
It had come from Ram Rat?
I networked with Trigger's slab and jacked into the GLOWNET. As it unpacked before me, I watched as the digital landscape's attributes were constantly rewritten by the endless flows of commuting data and migrating information. Eventually it settled into a cohesive vista, Ram Rat's brief message was a drop of water in a rushing white-water but at least I had the message's identifiers so I could track records of its server reroutes. The initial transmission had been automatically resent several times from experiencing significant packet-loss, a weak connection caused by heavy interference or shielding.
A cluster of resends led me to Robot Factory in The Bay.
We had gotten what we could from Thaddeus, we told him we'd speak with him again, said our goodbyes and headed for Robot Factory.
There was a clandestine route we knew of that would lead into the heavily protected Robot Factory. Rain was falling in its nightly deluge on Hikage Street and the crowds thinned the further south we went on Hikage into the drab commercial district.
Beyond business parks and warehouses, this part of the district was dominated by the massive grey pipes that rose through the asphalt and wound around each other like a tangle of massive ferro-concrete snakes before plunging back down. In one of the pipes' sloped supporting blocks was a security door we had found that led to an unnamed and unused underground metro-station.
Something had changed though, the door had been wielded shut, the security system removed, rendering the security cards useless. Even so, the door was open, something had torn the wielding off, something strong.
Past the door, stairs led downwards into darkness. More changes, last time the station's inadequate dim strip lights inexplicably functioned, now the station was unlit.
Under our flashlights it was uniformly grey with unpainted concrete surfaces everywhere, it lacked any ticket booths or any other amenities. When the financial backing for the metro-line expansion had collapsed this station must have been half finished and hooked to the power-grid, it had since become a ghost, a forgotten terminus with a single line that only led where nobody wanted to go, nobody but us.
The workman's carriage that we rode to Robot Factory was gone and the live monorail, now dead, it's incessant electric hum replaced by subterranean silence. Since our last incursion through here someone had been here, making changes to prevent its use again.
Without the carriage it would be long trek through the inky black tunnel to Robot Factory. Luckily, there was an alternative, the tunnel was big enough to fit our flier!
We began searching, there had to be some sort of service access point here that allowed large objects such as the carriage to be brought in. Then we found it.
A large vertical ventilation shaft exited to the surface amongst the glut of tunnels above, clearly designed to double as an access point. We then found the controls to open the venting at the top of the shaft. Fortunately it's power supply was unconnected to the station's and ran directly off the city grid, soon we could get underway.
Crashing rain thundered down and echoed the length of the exposed shaft as it fell, quickly forming gleaming puddles on the station floor that that reflected our flashlights. Koko bought the flier down, battering the rest of us with engine wash that whipped raindrops against the grey walls. Reclosing the vent, we set off for Robot Factory.
With spotlights fully focused forward, Koko engaged whisper mode and took the flier into the tunnel. A slow, strange, silent journey into darkness began. Beyond the flier, only the tunnel ahead in existed in its lights, oblivion consumed all else.
Soon the tunnel walls began to gleam in the lights, we were now under The Bay and soon after that we arrived in the other unfinished metro-link station, from there on we would have to go on by foot. The door out of this station had also been wielded shut and also ferociously torn open.
Past this station was a security post and some prison cells, we approached it cautiously but it was empty, unmanned, unused. From here a security door would lead into the actual production facility, it too had been brutally torn open. We continued along the grey featureless corridor
The previous iinfiltration into Robot Factory had taken us into an isolated research and development wing which was being used to secretly produce Protobase Global's killer cyborgs. Following this trail of destruction instead led us on to the main industrial manufacturing floor.
It was enormous with a high ceilinged roof that disappeared into the gloom, there were numerous busy and constantly rolling conveyor lines here, the noise was immense, a blend of whining servo motors, grinding tools and rumbling conveyor belts completely enveloping us. An army of fast moving Nasuran Kaarlalth robot arms were busily constructing and assembling a wide variety of components into robots. The place was devoid of people and dimly lit, these robots had little need of vision or in fact visual receptors.
The unending blur of mechanically precise robotic activity made it hard to spot anything, it was clear that this room wasn't designed for humans. Eventually we noticed something out of place, remains of a Protobase Global cyborg slumped on the ground on the far side of the manufacturing floor next to some machinery. Crossing over was too hazardous and out of the question, instead we had to skirt the walls until we reached the remains in a roundabout manner and saw that the cyborg body was missing all of its bio-components?
That wasn't all, some sort of nearly metre long strange robotic woodlouse was unnervingly feeling over the robotic remains, pumping it's angular metallic legs up and down as it moved and waving several silvery probing antennae? Had it been responsible for removal of the bio-components? Why was there a killer cyborg here anyway?
We looked for anything different or out of place. Most of the plant utilised prefabricated supplies that were being put together but this corner of the room was different, it housed a cutting edge Mannikten nano-replicator, we could see it was steadily constructing some sort of bipedal or humanoid body.
Koko gave a yell, the robotic woodlouse had shifted and jabbed at her foot, she had kicked it away reflexively and flipped it on to its domed segmented back, appendages pointed upwards and waggled uselessly in the air for a few seconds before a recovery protocol kicked in.
Moments after this a new distinct buzzing sound joined the noise, a trio of Aliraiyo Patrolmen gun drones came flying into sight, they weaved through the busy room and headed our way. Somewhere, an alarm must've started ringing.
Trigger grasped his gunblade and readied himself for trouble Roderick switched to combat mode, I turned to the remains and checked them out, these components seemed familiar?
The three drones opened fire on us, Trigger and Roderirck intercepted and quickly destroyed them. Abruptly the silvery woodlouse robot scuttled over to where the drone had crashed to the floor and began repairing one. Worse still, we saw another trio of gun drones on approach.
I quickly sifted amongst the components, it was the tiny Mesbuh hard drive I recognised. It was Ram Rat's hard drive! I had transferred his persona from my data-slab into it, these disarrayed robotic parts were what remained of Ram Rat!
The hard drive was a bespoke design which had been meant to work in conjunction with a human brain's bio-chemical signals, integrating everything to create a single cohesive and stable neural net. Without the bio-component, the hard drive couldn't maintain the incredibly intricate data-pattern that was Ram Rat's consciousness for long. There was no other choice, I networked the hard drive with my Nonohiki and began transferring Ram Rat back into my data-slab
The transfer rate was agonisingly slow though, in a combat situation and without an external power source for the hard drive it would take forever to get him back on my data-slab.
Meanwhile the others were battling a growing swarm gun drones, considering we were in the middle of a robotic manufacturing plant, it was always going to be a losing proposition, we had to retreat.
Under fire we ran for it, persistent gun drones harried us as we dodged the robot limbs working away and left the flurry and rumbling factory behind and headed for the security post, it was a precarious dash as I was left holding my data-slab and Ram Rats hard drive as we fled.
At the security post we closed the damaged security door as best we could, it was a bottle neck and might delay the drones for a while. It seemed however, that they had been instructed not to leave the vicinity of the factory though, as none pursued us this far out.
Back at the flier, I connected Ram Rat's hard drive to a power outlet in the cabin as Koko took the flier out of Robot Factory and back to Hikage Street.
The transfer was then sooon completed and I jacked into the Nonohiki, Ram Rat was waiting for me there with the swirling multi-layered data-image of his consciousness.
He explained that back at the RV, his internal systems were beginning to break down and without addressing it, his neural net would soon collapse. The problem Ram Rat told me was that the bio-components of the body had begun rapidly degrading, it was unlikely that these killer cyborgs had been created for any long-term usage.
Ram Rat said he couldn't think of any other solution other than to try and acquire another robotic body from Robot Factory. He hacked their systems and initiated a unique prototype black-book project, then he created a tailored body for his needs and instructed a nano-replicator to construct it and headed over to transfer into it but the Robot Factory security drones caught up with him and attacked, it was at this point that his remaining bio-components began to degrade and he became non-functional, no longer a threat the factory systems considered him junk had been in the process of stripping Ram Rat's old body down for recycling when we arrived on the scene.
When we were out and flying over the surface of Hikage Street in the rainy night, we headed for The Skyscraper District. I transferred Ram Rat into another mostly unused data-slab and networked him with The Accountant, the two of them could entertain each other until we figured out how to get them bodies.
I was back at my one-bed, the municipal housing authorities had already been busy, sending a robotic repair crew to fix my apartment's wall. It resulted in a large translucent and urine-coloured polymer tarp being stapled over the hole! The tarp flapped loudly in the wind and the constant rain nosily splattered against it.
Then late that night we were all pinged, I looked at my media-slabs screen; Hika Taki was calling, told us he wanted us as door-muscle again, at another one of his secret fashion shows tomorrow.
Hika Taki explained that his new line was called Colours of Chrome, Own the Chrome.
We couldn't wait!
13th March 2021
Saturday night at home in the living room and logged into Meet on my PC
Time for the next part of Matakishi's Wired Neon City campaign.
Location: Neon City.
I woke to my my media-slab was pinging somewhere out of reach in the shady half-light filling my one-bed. Static hissed in my brain, light stabbed in my eyes and muscles ached as I dropped out of my futon and worked my limbs, scrabbling around I found the damned thing. Sitting back and rubbing my face, I squinted and waited for my eyes to focus, checking the readout before answering.
Eight AM. Yennav Rybasei? He had pinged all us? Eight AM! What the hell did he want?
Yennav spoke, his voice half yelling and urgent, we'd never heard him quite like this before. Muffled, distorted staccato of gunfire played from somewhere at his end as he told us that at three AM, the Irma's two shops on Ninety-Ninth Street had exploded, killing all the foot soldiers he's stationed there on stakeout. We asked Yennav if the unconscious subject in Irma's Implant's basement had survived, he had no idea.
Again more gunfire?
Yennav went on; Potato Palace and Beetroot Palace had also been destroyed and every one killed. He'd also gotten word that the meat processing plant in the Heights had been hit and wanted us to check them out. Finally he pinged us links to security camera footage to all three.
Gunfire seemed to be getting louder. We asked what the hell was going on?
Astiek Ikov, we were told was a captain in the Russian mob, currently he was leading a revolt against Yennav, who was now fighting for his life!
“I knew I couldn’t trust him, he’s a Cossack!" Was the last thing we heard Yennav say before the line went dead.
We'd been counting on Yennav getting his hands Nozi Kinmo, now we had lost him and possibly the subject? It was all bad news. No time for food, had to meet up with the others.
Sunrise had been a couple of hours ago and the morning was relatively cool, the blinding sun was still low in the sky and long shadows stretched across Neon City as we made our way to Chuo Street. Smack bang in the middle of the morning rush hour, the overcrowded trams were stuffy, the noisy tram contrasted with commuters silently contemplating their day ahead.
Crushed up against wage-monkeys in their bland suits the ride to Chuo Street was almost intolerable. I spent the journey engrossed in my media-slab, drowning out the world, watching Yennav's footage, we all did.
All the footage was similar, displaying catastrophic structural damage occurring to the buildings followed by shocked survivors seemingly falling over dead but there was something else.
At first I thought it might have been some sort of video artifacting distortion due to errors in recording or compression? The distortion however, flickered across the picture in a methodical almost predictable manner? I paused it, the artifacting was too ordered and too clean to be encoding errors, it was actually a blur. Something was moving in the footage, moving so fast that it was too quick to get full exposure on the footage even at thirty frames per second. Something was moving and killing people too fast to be caught on camera.
Whatever it was, it was deadly.
Potato Palace had been reduced to nothing more than a burnt-out hole in the row of retail units that faced the narrow alleyway, a blackened gaping wound in the old brick building, putting this whole segment of the block at risk of collapse? Unconcerned throngs of people paid no attention as they walked around the cordoned off soot covered detritus which had spilled out on to the walkway.
Trigger's thermal sweep revealed nothing alive in the rubble. The inside was utterly destroyed, furniture, counters, fixtures appliances had all become barely recognisable scorched, twisted and mangled wreckage, the explosion and ensuing fire had done their job. The was nothing of use here.
Rentacop had come and gone and first-responders had taken the bodies.
We went on to Beetroot Palace and it had endured the same destruction as Potato Palace. Again there was nothing to be found here but a dismal mess.
Next was Rokkaku Dai Heights and the meat processing plant. Mercifully, the rush hour crush was beginning to subside and we only had to deal with the normal overcrowding on the trams.
The meat processing plant was located in a half disused, fairly open business park that skirted the edge of one of Rokkaku Dai Heights' retail spots. It had not fared the attack well.
Debris had been flung across the business park's open lot, scattered by the force of the blast. The warehouse itself, which had been an old-style building was now nothing more than piles of scarred bricks and rubble dotted with the crushed remains of the interior. Again a thermal sweep showed no one alive here, if their had been survivors, emergency services would have taken them.
Looking around the park, we spotted some external security cameras bolted to the exterior of one of the other buildings in use here. Tracing it's feed to a holding server and bypassing the security looks was simple and soon I had access to this other building's cameras. I flicked through all of them, found a camera over a side door that was partially facing towards the meat processing plant and gave a partial wide-angle shot of the front.
I scrubbed through the footage until around three in the morning, looking until I found something. The silent and blurry desaturated night-time video showed a VTOL drop down, it was a Qiuonriji Yexingzhe SFS-70 Night-Flier. Identical to one we'd captured from black baggers who'd been hunting down ex-military cyborgs and taking them to Irma's Implants, we knew there had to be at least one other night-flier operating in Neon City. This must've been it.
As I watched, I saw the footage tremble then washout into white for a couple of seconds, overexposed by the off-screen explosion, when the picture returned I saw the blur moving off from the flier and come back a few seconds later before the flier took off.
The destruction of the mob holdings, attacks on Yennav and the Irma's businesses were all linked, Nozi Kinmo must've be behind it all and behind him, Protobase Global? They were moving on the Russian mob.
It wasn't much to go on but Koko pinged Yennav with our findings, time was critical and he would want to know immediately. Koko got no reply, her call was just directed to voice mail.
Midmorning and things were heating up, an unforgiving sun was climbing the blue-white sky, could almost feel the temperature rising minute-by-minute. We were about to find some shade and cool drinks when our media-slabs pinged again. Turning out be to be a busy day.
Ram Rat was calling, he'd been permanently camped out on Ghost Radical's hidden slush fund on Hikage Street, sitting on it and watching for Ghost Radical to make a move. That move had just happened. Told us that a sizable amount of money had moved to an branch based in Kibogaoka Hill, pinged us an address.
The clock was running.
Ghost Radical had hired someone, probably another hacker and once their work was done, Ghost Radical would have them rubbed out. We had to beat him to it.
Bill's media-slab then pinged, Porter Sladek was calling. He told Bill that Thetatec's funds were draining. A banking alert had warned him that his corporate account was logging unusual activity. Now all he could do was watch the money flow away, locked out of his system.
Ghost Radical had been gunning for Porter Sladek for a while, it couldn't be a coincidence that he's hired someone and the hack had happened at the same time. Kibogaoka Hill was our next target.
Luckily we had a new card of our own to play; our flier, the Yexingzhe SFS-70 we'd captured. Koko quickly began punching instructions into her control-slab.
Somewhere on a roof-pad in Hikage Street; a dashboard sprang to life, flight systems quickly activated one-by-one and ran through self-diagnosis routines, autonomous protocols launched themselves and turbines rapidly span up to speed.
"Give it a couple of minutes," Koko explained.
Two minutes could be a long time in Neon City.
I jacked into my data-slab, my surroundings dematerialised, replaced by a somehow distant neon-yellow erratically blurred and indistinct horizon in a sky of blue, the horizon grew in size and sky darkened into starless night. The erratic line came into focus, settling into the shapes of a thousand morphing data-images, at the centre was Thetatec's towering GLOWNET data-image; pyramidical smoked glass orbited by a dozen almost sun-like glowing orbs.
One of those orbs expanded to fill my view and gave me access to Thetatec accounts. The data-vault contained trillions of data-points organised in an unimaginably complex three dimensional array which were currently being swallowed in vast swathes by a enlarging polygonal circular void.
I ran a hunter/searcher algorithm on this abyssal hunger and watched as it fed stacks of data. I recognised the code structure, I'd seen the signature before; Steel Witch. Ghost Radical had hired Steel Witch to raid Thetatec.
I pinged her, sent her a message, she needed to stop, her life was in danger. Got nothing.
I jacked out of the GLOWNET, disorientation swam through my consciousness in the liminal moment between realities before the effects of gravity, light and heat reasserted themselves over me. The others dragged me to my feet and we ran for a clear spot.
Wind buffeted the entire area as the weirdly angular yet somehow sleek jet-black flier settled on the ground.
We climbed the small recessed handholds that ran up the flier's side and went through the roof's circular access hatch into the interior. It was a utilitarian space, angular and ordered, practical and uncomfortable, spacious enough yet cramped? We sat down and Koko settled into the pilot's seat.
Designed for stealth it was lit by a single dim blue strip light ran the length of the cabin casting a disconcerting blue-black hue over everything. The dashboard's various control panels were also backlit in the same dim blue lighting. Koko hummed quietly as she familiarised herself with the controls.
Seconds later the flier smoothly surged skywards as we felt the pull of vertical acceleration and watched the ground fall away, Koko banked round and set a heading for Kibogaoka Hill.
Being a stealth vehicle, the flier's quad-turbines were whisper silent and it was a surprisingly smooth ride, additionally we didn't have to obey the codes of Neon City's sky roads and Koko could punch in a ad-hoc course directly to our destination.
We were making good time when Koko said that she had seen a momentary, strange echo behind us on the tactical readout then nothing, she ran a visual sweep of the aft using the fliers' bank of micro-cameras.
We all watched the feed, at first there was nothing but then we spotted something behind us: A featureless black silhouetted profile was flying low, using the city's undulating skyline for camouflage against the stark blue-white sky and matching our heading. Zooming in and using video enhancement didn't help, if there were any details, they were indiscernible, no navigation lights, no markings, then we realised why.
It was the other SFS-70, the other night-flier and it's stealth-tech rendered it as invisible to our systems as any other. Someone was watching and now it was following us to Kibogaoka Hill, we needed to get rid of it.
Tactically, we were evenly matched in performance, firepower and armour, any exchange between us would likely result in near identical results, we need something to push the odds in our favour and that something would be Trigger.
Wrenching the hatch open exposed us to violent swirls of air flowing through the cabin, using his Ashirada climbing implants, Trigger climbed up so he was close to the flier's roof. Meanwhile, Koko had eased off the throttle, allowing our pursuers to make some ground on us, Trigger's trench coat flapped frantically as he climbed on the roof,
"Here we go," warned Koko, waiting for the right moment and hitting maximum airbrakes for a second, strapped up in our seats we involuntarily squirmed as we felt our guts swish sideways, Trigger resolutely gripped the roof with his implants. Almost instantaneously, we were level with the other flier.
Without wasting a moment Trigger made his move and leapt over from our flier to theirs, when he hit the bodywork he bounced, a stone skipping off the sea, then for a moment he slid over the roof but his augmentations found purchase and he hauled himself on to the roof.
Whoever was inside knew something was up, the flier's turret had slid up and was rotating round. Trigger knew the score, he'd been here before, again dismissing the turret's threat, he went for the hatch instead and putting his gunblade's tip under the hatch and giving it a forceful twist. It popped open and Trigger jumped through.
It was the same as first time Trigger had been in this situation, there were four soldiers in fully enclosed Haanut smart armour and armed with serious military firepower.
The fight more or less went down the same way, Trigger's nano-edged sword gave him an advantage in close quarters but their numbers gave them the edge, he was put on the retreat and was fighting hard just to stay on his feet. Desperately, Trigger took out the pilot who then slumped on the dash, the flier unexpectedly veered sharply, everyone was flung off their feet as it was losing altitude. Trigger had some breathing room. One of the other soldiers dragged himself into the pilot's seat, pulled the unmoving pilot out and took control, trying to level off but he never got the chance.
Again Koko had sent in Sylvester and Felix into the other flier to turn the tide, in the ensuing chaos the new pilot caught a stray round and that was that.
Too late to regain control now, the other flier was already too low. Koko followed it's descent as closely as she could, pulling up as it came down into a busy street at the edge of Rokkaku Dai Heights, it had crashed nose-up, scraping and skidding along, ploughing through scattering crowds and street fixtures until it crashed through a shop front, finally rocking to a stop at an angle.
Koko landed our flier close as possible, we had to navigate pandemonium, panicking and screaming people swarmed everywhere, some fleeing, others rubber-necking the disaster. Scores of people had been left unconscious or dead in the flier's wake as it had scraped along flattening streetlights. An alarm was ringing above the clamouring
As we reached the downed flier Trigger flopped out of the roof hatch and slid down, landing in a heap, smeared in blood. It took him visible effort to haul himself to his feet, blinking, swaying and looking round; concussion and probably worse. No time to check though and it was nothing that couldn't be taken care of by a short walk - and an extremely powerful med-stim!
Unbelievably, one of the soldiers was still alive, we secured him in our flier for questioning later.
Back in our flier we lifted off before any first-responders arrived and continued on to Kibogaoka Hill. I pinged Steel Witch again, this time she answered but I couldn't convince her to reverse her algorithms.
From above the sprawling hotchpotch shanty town was a mismatched colourful patchworked quilt draped over a hill and covered in little dots going about their business.
The address given by Ram Rat led to a densely packed neighbourhood that lacked any landing space. Bathed in downwash and with flapping clothes, locals gathered to watch the flier hover above as we had to drop down a line to street level.
Somewhat reluctantly Steel Witch let us into the squat after we had continually banged on the stringed up acrylic panel that passed as a door, the interior was a cluster of rooms constructed of various sheets of material and fabric with an uneven ceiling and a makeshift floor. Thick power cabling had been fed through a hole in a wall and was hung like bunting that daisy-chained from room to room allowing numerous other thinner cables to lead off to various appliances and items.
Steel witch went into a room with some low tubular foam cushions in front of an equally low table built out of a fibreboard pallet, resting on it was her data-slab, a glassy smooth flat cuboid; a Monaozko Technologies PDTTb model. She dropped down on to the cushions at the table, crossing her skinny legs in their tight black denims, she also wore a loose black t-shirt but lacked her trademark pale makeup today. Looking at us, she explained how she preferred to work from her home.
None of us, not even Bill could convince the hacker to return the money, she had been paid to do a job and that was to stick it to man. We knew what was coming, maybe that would change her mind, only thing was; we didn't know how it was coming!
Koko had put the flier into some sort of surveillance mode and it was monitoring local traffic, everything seemed normal, threat assessment; zero threat detected. We readied ourselves, gripped our guns, steeled ourselves and took up defensive positions in the shanty, then we waited with eyes peeled.
What happened next was too fast to entirely comprehend and there was no chance to respond. Checking the flier's scan logs later would reveal what occurred: A white van drone in one of Neon City's many higher sky lanes above had sharply veered out of lane and dived, picking up speed, fractions of a second before crashing into the shanty town it had levelled off, back doors springing open.
Consequently; there was no warning when a crashing thud boomed above, shaking the entire structure, instantly the ceiling disintegrated, showering us in debris and dust and exposing the blue-white sky. Whatever landed on the roof had effortlessly torn through the makeshift building, flinging chunks aside as they dropped down to ground level. Immediately they were on us.
Before we could react or even mentally process the situation, we smelt them. Forcing us to gag and burning our eyes was an unimaginably intense smell of vomit, it sent us reeling. Those of us lucky to have a Mesbuh Nafalm Internal Recycler System implanted triggered them, allowing us to turn off our breathing! It helped but it came too late to help enough.
There were four of the things; obviously bipedal with elongated forelimbs, they easily moved on either two or four appendages and as they did so, large muscles shifted beneath strangely smooth shining grey skin that dripped some sort of oily secretion? Their bleak visages were a parody of the human face with twisted and haunted features and where eyes might be, strange multi-strand stalks projected out of gaunt eye sockets.
Their bio-chem enhancements had put us on the back foot and it was a hard battle. Fortunately, Roderick was unaffected and bought his firepower to bear on them, turning the tide.
Steel Witch had been knocked unconscious during the battle, we found her slumped over her data-slab, she looked unharmed, probably just the damned smell. We revived her and she looked at the devastation of her home, crumpled weird corpses and the lingering smell. I could see the fury in her eyes as they flickered left to right.
She turned to us and said that when Ghost Radical had initially contacted her, she'd quietly ran a tracer algorithm on the message, it led to an address in Rokkaku Dai Heights. Then she added that she was going to reverse the flow of money out of the Thetatec accounts.
Ghost Radical; if we were lucky, we would get him.
One hour past midday in Rokkaku Dai heights and it was as hot as it gets, an unforgiving sun saturated Neon City from its zenith with a punishing glare.
Even so, The Heights were still busy, the district's wage-monkeys had filed out, crowding the streets for lunch as the unemployed shuffled along meaninglessly and gangers took a respite from fighting each other.
We had gone from one shanty town to another. This time though, the shanty town sprawled interconnectedly across rooftops of the district's densely packed cluster of alabaster white high-rises. Looking up through the wavering heat revealed an industrialized spider's web that hung from the high-rises, colossal and silhouetted against the pitiless blue-white sky.
Ghost Radical was too dangerous to just take down head on, we needed an approach. Safely watching from a distance we scoped the address. The shanty home had been built around the base of one of the multitude of satellite dishes that dotted the rooftops.
That couldn't be a coincidence.
Otherwise it was nondescript in every way, a typical makeshift shanty home. No defences, no drones, thermals showed no heat signatures, nothing. Koko sent in Kevin to take a look, the drone flew up to the shanty and quietly moved around the exterior, buzzing at a makeshift windows, again nothing.
Koko took the flier down and dropped Bill off, he climbed the high-rise and cased the neighbours. They knew very little, only that someone lived up there and that he minded his own business but nothing else, although one small detail they did provide; they noticed he ate a lot of pizza, frequently ordered from Hamza's Pizza and Gritz Emporium on Ninety-Ninth.
Maybe we could get at him through the pizza delivery? Bill pinged Hamza's and gave Ghost Radical's address. The emporium recognised the address.
"The usual sir? Medium sized liver and sprout pizza with a side of melon balls?" Inquired a voice.
Bill paused only for a moment, possibly contemplating who would want a damn liver and sprout pizza? "That would be perfect,". Maybe this would draw him out of the woodwork.
"Usual payment method?" Inquired the voice.
Eighteen minutes later and pizza arrived, set down by the delivery driver who knocked on the door and immediately left. We waited, nothing. There was nothing else for it; we had to go in.
Koko got us through the lock without a hitch.
The door opened to a single room, an undecorated collage of exposed materials, musty, dim and shaded against bright Neon City days. Our attention was drawn to the thick steel grey tube that ran from floor through ceiling; the base of the satellite dish above. Otherwise the room was mostly empty, a grubby cot in one corner and a irregular stack of Hamza's pizza boxes alongside it. It didn't look like Ghost Radical lived here, perhaps spent some time here though?
There had to be a reason why Ghost Radical had chosen this location and the dish must've been it. There was nothing unusual about the tube but we saw that the screws on a maintenance panel were clean of the general dirt streaked over the rest of it. Opening it up, we looked inside.
There it was, the reason.
A steel box, smaller than a pack of smokes had been taped to the inside of the tube. Several copper and fibreoptic wires ran out from it and had been spliced into the dish's transmitter/receiver wiring as well as the its power supply. Ghost Radical was piggybacking off the dish, using its massive volume of digital traffic to disguise the data packages he was pushing out or receiving. Since he was at least one step removed from the dish, without monitoring more data movement through the box, it would be impossible to track down Ghost Radical.
We had to wait.
Our media-slabs pinged again, Yennav Rybasel, still alive but sounding more desperate than the last time.
The Russian starting shouting down the line over the sounds of gunplay and told us that he had to escape and needed help now, he was in room fifty-seven sixty-eight at the Union Trans Metropolitan.
Ghost Radical would have to wait.
Fastest way to Rokkau Expo Stadium was on the flier. I watched narrow teeming streets and cuboid concrete structures rolling by below as we navigated through endlessly flowing sky-lanes of traffic and discussed our next move. Yennav was on the fifty-seventh floor and appeared to be in the middle of firefight, just getting to him would be dangerous.
The Union Trans Metropolitan was not an easy hotel to get into, a bunker designed to resist assault from even the heaviest weapons, our flier's firepower wouldn't dent its reinforced exterior and there was no way in from an aerial route. We would have to go in at ground level, through the front door and probably through whoever was mounting the attack and work our way up to the fifty-seventh.
The Union Trans Metropolitan Hotel was a vast rising cylindrical structure that dominated the skyline for kilometres around, we saw it growing over the deepening afternoon horizon, looming up as we approached.
Before Koko landed, the flier's external cameras showed us a number of sprawled bloody bodies littering the empty walkway outside the hotel's long set of chrome and gold, smoked glass doors, it was almost strange to see Neon City's famously dense crowds missing. Rentacop had cordoned the area off but hadn't bothered intervening, they weren't about to put themselves at risk for some corporate bloodletting unless ordered differently, instead they kicked back, sucking down Dengken' Doughnuts and watching. At least it made it easy for us to get in.
When the flier had touched down, we tooled up before carefully disembarking, this could go south quick!
Quickly, we examined the bodies, they looked like Russian mob foot-soldiers or enforcers, all of them had clearly died from some kind of slashing wounds. None of us had forgotten Yennav's footage from this morning, the blur, the killing.
Whatever the blur was, it had to be here and following the destruction of Irma's Implants, we had no confirmation that the unknown subject had perished in the explosion. We only knew that he was being fitted with an extraordinary amount of implants. Was this Subject X the blur?
It was too risky going in this blind, we didn't know what we would encounter, we needed an edge. Fortunately, Koko had been working on something.
Nermal was a heavily modified Suayo MKVI gun drone, weapon mounts had been replaced with an EMP generator, auxiliary power cell and a directional emitter. Typically EMP generators created a spherical area of disruption, Nermal however, generated a tightly focussed beam that could strike a single target, it meant that crucially, we would be left unaffected by his attack. The attack depleted a significant amount of energy from the power cell and beyond the first shot, further attacks could be unreliable.
Koko instructed Nermal to autonomously target any very fast moving and threatening object it detected, if we did encounter Subject X with all his augmentations, Nermal might give us the edge we needed.
Above the entrance, the hotel's name was carved out of the faux stone is large letters and as we approached, it was impossible to see through the tinted glass panes. We halted when automated doors slid open and peered through, even from outside we could see bodies, otherwise it looked clear. Cautiously, with guns in hand, we entered.
Scattered throughout the lobby were more bodies, mostly Russian mob guys but a few staff and clients, crumpled in their own drying blood that had pooled on the once shiny replica marble floor. It was a grisly site. Thermals showed no signs of life, the lobby locked secure, so we headed for the elevators.
We walked in eerie silence, the Metropolitan was usually a busy twenty-four hour hotel in a busy twenty-four hour city, with celebrities, conference crowds, execs, street workers, travellers and of course gangsters coming and going. Now, nothing. The hotel was the base of Russian mob power in Neon City, at least it was until now. There was a crisp ping when the gold-foil trimmed elevator button was jabbed and doors opened with a swish, someone had disabled the security protocols, at least it still worked.
Inside, three walls of the elevator were decorated with high quality intricately designed and classically styled replica gold fixtures and the forth contained a mirror, we rode it up, weapons in hand, watching the red light jump from floor to floor until it settled on to the diode for the fifty-seventh floor.
There was a ping and the doors slid open.
For a moment, we stood still, from within the elevator we could see blood smeared across the elaborate fancy wallpaper opposite from us. Stepping out; it was even worse. A charnel house.
A layer of torturously contorted and blood soaked bodies filled the long straight hallway, the once luxuriously thick carpet was soaked in gore, arterial sprays and bloody stains marred the walls and doors.
As we were taking stock of our surroundings, we felt a slight breeze ripple along the corridor?
Before we could assess the situation, Nermal had rotated without warning and fired his EMP shot? At that instant the blur was there, somehow directly in front of us and only a metre away. The exchange between Nermal and the blur had taken milliseconds.
He was no longer a blur though, he was standing there looking shocked as his all implant systems and augmentations were trying to reboot themselves. We recognised him from Irma's Implants, it was Subject X. He was burly, dressed in non-descript black clothing and armed with knives.
Luckily we recovered quicker then he did and unloaded on him, pouring it on, we couldn't allow Subject X any chance to recover, he was to dangerous. Between all of us we managed to put him down before he could attack us. Lucky!
Pressing on; we avoided thinking about the squelching carpet underfoot and kept on cautiously searching for room sixty-eight until we found it. It took some banging and shouting to get Yennav to open the door, the relief was clear to see although he looked worse for the wear, his Duuna suit was dishevelled, dirt-stained and split at numerous seams, in his thick fingers he held a Russian made Boucushki pistol, a .50 Yandeb finished in gunmetal black with a pearl grip, a real hand cannon with it's distinctive octagonal shaped barrel.
"I am impressed you got here my droogs," He exclaimed. "Now we need to deal with Astiek,".
Yennav told us that Astiek was holed-up in one of the secured ground floor rooms, he explained was a essentially staff quarters and similar to a guestroom, when it was locked down, it was almost impenetrable.
Returning along the corpse littered hallway, we rode the elevator back down to the ground floor and Yennav led us to Astiek's hiding place somewhere in the back rooms of the hotel, a plain black door in a concrete wall. Yennav explained that the walls, the doors, they were all lined with embedded toughened steel plates and reinforced with polycarbonate rods.
Force was out of the question, somehow we had to find another way to get the door open?
Whilst the rest of us stood back, Bill approached and spoke loudly to the door, hopefully Astiek was listening on the other side. It was all over Bill told him, he'd lost, no way out, surrender was the only option.
"What do you want?" Came a voice, maybe Bill was getting through.
"Not the case!" Said a second voice, Astiek wasn't alone?
A while back, we'd recovered a suitcase for Yennav, he was very protective of it, was that what all of this death and destruction about? The suitcase?
"Asti, give the case to my droogs and you will not be harmed, I will let you leave alive. I promise," Offered Yennav.
There was some more negotiation and eventually Bill coaxed Astiek into handing over the suitcase.
With an audible, solid metallic click the door opened a fraction, Astiek was a tallish man with a long face, darkened eyes and short well trimmed thick black beard, he wore navy blue Evoda trousers and a white shirt. Stepping out he looked from Yennav to Bill who was standing next to him, pausing a moment before handing the familiar Mahakam Ambassador suitcase.
Bill didn't even have time to flinch; the bullet from Yennav's Yandeb struck Astiek's head before we knew what was going on, he was dead before he crashed to the ground. Such are the promises of a Russian mobster.
Blood pooled around the unnaturally splayed remains of Astiek when we noticed who was also in the room behind him.
A short rotund Asian man; Nozi Kinmo, we had him.
Nozi Kinmo looked agog, speechless, eyes flicked from one of us to another, trying to assess the shift in dynamics, how he'd gone from relative safety to immediate danger, searching a way out, an angle to play, maybe he didn't realize it but there was none.
Before he could move, we pounced and he was restrained, questions needed answering. Yennav came over and retrieved the case from Bill, still gripping his hand cannon.
No matter how much we pushed him, Nozi Kinmo was resolute and refused to give us any information or answers, professional enough to hold on to his cards. We had theories about Protobase Global but nothing concrete and Nozi Kinmo wasn't helping any.
Eventually questioning got round to the assault on the Metropolitan: Was it only the suitcase he was after? What was in it? Astiek and he must have looked in it?
For the second time, the deafening report from Yennav's pistol filled the room as he shot Nozi Kinmo.
"The suitcase is not anybody's business," Yennav said coldly, lowering his pistol.
The rotund man had crumpled to the floor and our answers died with him. What was it about that damned suitcase? For a moment we considered getting it out of the Russian, ultimately though, it wasn't worth it.
After a couple of seconds, Yennav seemed to cheer up and holstered his pistol.
"Good work my droogs," he said, tapping away at his media-slab as he made payment to us. "Now I must call in Russian Cleaning Contractors, they have much work to do,".
Finally he turned to us and said. "Goodbye my friends, now I must disappear for a while until all accounts are settled,".
It was late in the afternoon when we exited the carnage of the Metropolitan and as we walked back to the flier, my media-slab pinged; Lucy was calling.
"Your dinner guest has arrived," she announced. "Why didn't you tell me you were going out?".
I turned to the others. "There's a problem at my apartment," I told the others. "We better head back,".
During the flight back to Hikage Street I gave the others the low-down, none of us had any idea who this could be? What they wanted?
After landing I rushed up to my one-bed with the others on my heels and only slowed to a walk when I reached my floor, there was no one suspicious in the corridor, only the usual wandering drunks slouched against the walls or sat on the stairs. Reaching my door, I took a breath, swiped my key card and entered.
Inside were Lucy and Ashaglaya, there was also one other person. He stood and gave me a quick bow. Couldn't put my finger on it but I'd seen him before?
Japanese, tall and athletic, his smooth motions betrayed a man who knew how to handle himself. Unflinching eyes observed us from a triangular face topped with thick black hair cut short, he wore a three-piece perfectly cut slate-black Gaongha suit.
He introduced himself as Woody Invincible, explaining that he was a Travelling Storm, a contract killer in the employ of the Ikebukuro Gumi yakuza. He then told us that he wished the pleasure of our company for dinner tonight, he had taken the liberty of reserving a table for all of us at House of Bamboo.
House of Bamboo was one of the most exclusive restaurants in Neon City, we'd all heard of it, Lucy interjected.
"Can we come as well?" She asked.
"Everyone is invited," Woody Invincible replied with the slightest of nods.
Lucy and Ashaglaya ran off to their rooms squeakily giggling.
I invited Woody Invincible to sit down, we might be in for a long wait.
Lucy had eventually settled on a Fassus white cocktail dress with matching Oltrante shoes and Ashaglaya was in a Simaz & Jaccno combination of flared red trousers and a halter top with a plunging neckline.
Woody Invincible had also taken the opportunity to provide us with a smoothly curved glossy black Benlato Kauru stretch sky-limo, once we had all settled into the lush faux cream leather interior it surged skywards and on to The Fortified Residential Zone.
House of Bamboo was located within the tall walls that divided the district's wealthiest citizens from everyone else. Home to Neon City's most affluent sons and daughters and a prime piece of real estate. All of which made the restaurant even more impressive, a two storey detached building set in small surrounding grounds decorated with a Japanese styled garden, complete with what looked like real conifers, bamboo, stone lanterns and a winding stone path.
An equally opulent interior awaited us inside with authentic wood panelled walls, furniture and lighting, elaborate and traditionally dressed staff led us to our seating at dark stained actual wooden table.
During the meal, Woody Invincible revealed that he was aware that we did not attack The Crazy Bees when asked to do so, that's where I'd seen him; with The Crazy Bees.
Finally he admitted that he was aware of who had sent us, there was a pause as he let the comment trail off before changing the subject.
The meal went well and concluded when Woody Invincible gave us a small porcelain lucky cat statuette.
"This is a Maneki-Neko," he explained. “It will bring you luck, just once if you smash it. Decide carefully,”. With that he rose from the table, bowed and made his exit.
The rain was falling by the time we left, staff escorted us out with umbrellas to the sky-limo which had been left at our disposal for the remainder of the evening.
We heard the downpour tattooing loudly on the limo's roof when it silently rose into the sky. As it banked round for the return trip to Hikage Street, out of the window and through the oddly gleaming raindrops we saw a peculiar dull and hazy distant glow emanating somewhere from the south-west.
The only place we knew there was the Fuku Bakuchi Casino run by Lucky Suko who had ordered the attack on The Crazy Bees....
On the return journey I could see that both Lucy and Ashaglaya couldn't hide how impressed they were that I had such a high ranking contact in Woody Invincible and moved in influential circles.
"It's nothing really," I said as nonchalantly as possible and leaning back into the plush seating.
The night still wasn't over though, by now Ghost Radical would have learned that his attack on Steel Witch had failed, we were getting closer to the hacker, now was not the time to let up.
Our only remaining possible lead was the pizza restaurant.
After jacking into the GLOWNET, I navigated through the collective digital-topography to Hamza's data-image; a large segmented glowing red circle topped with a flashing sign that red Hamza. Running a few incursion protocols got me through their data-vault's defences and into their system.
Hamza's was a small family run Moroccan business, I searched through their records, they didn't maintain a GLOWNET database of names and addresses, not that Ghost Radical would use that name. Switching tact I looked at their order records, the records showed that liver and sprout pizzas were only ordered by two customers on a regular basis.
Even in Neon City it didn't seem plausible that two different people could exist who both liked liver and sprout pizza. Was this Ghost Radical getting pizza delivered to a second address? Time to pay a visit to Hamza's emporium.
The lights of Ninety Ninth twinkled merrily in the falling rain, it was as busy as ever and we had to work our way through the densely packed shining streets to the pizza emporium.
It was a fairly average establishment, a large brightly lit window looked in to a plain open interior decorated in off-white walls and flooring, behind a glass screen a chef was flipping pizza bases and a neatly dressed receptionist watched us from behind a counter. There were several customers on the plastic tables and chairs.
When we asked about liver and sprout pizzas, the receptionist raised her eyebrows. Once we explained that we were interested in where they delivered liver and sprout pizzas to, she refused to help, customer's privacy was too important.
Bill leaned forward and smiled, putting a hand on the smooth white counter and sliding it forward.
"I'll think you find this customer is always right!"
Some bits exchanged hands and we left with some addresses.
There were two addresses, one was Rokkaku Dai Heights but the other, the other was for The Skyscraper District. Was this it?
I ran a profile algorithm on the address and got back some strange results? The address seemed to exist but it wasn't registered as part of its skyscraper, had no owner and no tenant was listed for it, nor did anyone provide power or water to it or GLOWNET access either. Off the grid and perfect for a ghost!
At the address, Trigger ran thermals, they showed a solitary individual hunched over something: Time to go in.
We knocked on the door.
It was answered by a skinny man with a pale complexion and long thin face, he wore a nervous expression, for a second he was taken aback and shook strangely, obviously not what he was expecting.
In that moment of hesitation we pushed our way in and he reeled back, shocked.
The shocked expression became a callous sneer as he recognised us.
"It's inconceivable that you found me," he spat contemptuously, his arm noticeably trembling."
Perhaps that word didn't mean what he thought it meant; because we had found him.
"You don't understand what's going on here!" He continued, still shaking. "My brain is stronger than your brawn!".
Bill struck Ghost Radical with a stun-baton, he spasmed briefly before keeling over with a thud. That was it, we'd gotten him, now what to do with him?
There was a short discussion; in the end we pinged Porter Sladek and explained the situation to him. He told us to hang tight, he would send a security team over. We also called Ram Rat who whooped with joy and rushed to join us. Ram Rat's body had been destroyed by Ghost Radical's betrayal and he wanted to be here to see him taken away
As we were waiting we checked the apartment out; fairly spacious with two bedrooms, a separate kitchen and living space, it was certainly a step up from our one-bed. It was also sparsely decorated with little furniture, there was a minimalistic quality with plain white walls, light grey carpets and simple spot lights. An impressive view out of the balcony windows displayed the arrays of city lights that delineated the outlines of the district's many skyscrapers through the night rain.
We made sure to to collect the key cards, other than Ghost Radical no one knew of its existence, it had served Ghost Radical, now it might be useful for us.
Ram Rat had already arrived by the time the Thetatec team reached us and was gloating as they took Ghost Radical into custody, his fate was in the whim of Porter Sladek now.
The campaign against Porter Sladek and Thetaec by The Rokkaku Group had been stopped, at least for now and the threat of Ghost Radica eliminated.
We'd also dealt with the threat of Nozi Kinmo and put an end Protobase Global's plans for the Russian mob, although that was a dubious benefit! Protobase Global still had other deeper plans though and while Yennav Rybasei was out of the picture but he was sure to return after rebuilding his powerbase.
All in all, a reasonable result.
There was still time enough to hit a bar on the neon mile, kick back and enjoy a cool bottle of Dindanha beer, it had been a long day in Neon City.
End of Season One
6th March 2021
Saturday night is here again, I'm in the living room, logged on to Meet on my PC.
Time for the next session in Matakishi's Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Neon City
Another hot stuffy day in Neon City, aircon down again and the apartment's shade did nothing to prevent waves of midday heat pounding down. I half-sat, half-sprawled on my futon, movements kept to a minimum, sipping away at cans of Kaia Cola, praying my supply would hold out until the rain came and listening to the growing arguments in the high rise. Rising temperatures meant rising tempers.
Then my Jinonghua began pinging, calling was Ashaglaya Lova, working girl and former puppet of the Russian mob. Her boyfriend/pimp Rostii Biniva had turned up dead recently and she'd been cut loose. Since then she'd managed to find gainful employment in the role of a Party Favour at a business promisingly called Coke & Whores.
Listening to Ashaglaya's voice, it was an octave too high and she was speaking a touch too fast, clear indicators of stress, something was worrying her. She told me that a friend, Valaya Dova had turned up dead, supposedly fallen to her death after getting drunk. Ashaglaya didn't believe a word of it, convinced it was murder and that she was next! I got her to calm down and tell me more.
Valaya had also been employed as a Party Favour for Coke & Whores, last night the two of them had been working the Goji Tower. It was a big party on the hundredth-and-fifty-sixth floor. Ashaglaya told me, a lot of important people - including Goji Rokkaku himself had shown his face.
During the night Valaya had dragged Ashaglaya into the women's toilets to tell her something; she thought it was some kind of gossip but Valaya said had seen something strange in one of the side-rooms attached to a bedroom she was working that didn't make sense, Valaya said she was going back to have another look.
It was the last time that Ashaglaya would see her friend, the next morning Valaya had turned up dead three districts over from the Goji Tower.
Ashaglaya didn't feel safe, so I told her come over to my one-bed in Hikage Street while we went and checked things out.
Two strange encounters in Goji Tower in a short time, not a coincidence, not in Neon City?
Time to investigate the remains of Valaya Dova.
Unless you were a member of the ultra-rich set, Neon City had no space and in fact no time for burials, Valaya's remains would soon be off for the recycler, plenty of demand for healthy body parts and the City of Electric Dreams always got its pound of flesh or liver or pancreas or whatever in the end.
Finding the morgue with Valaya's body in Hikage Street was relatively easy, it was equally easy for Bill to talk us in to seeing it, despite the ineffectual protestations of the administrative staff.
Located on a basement level below a grotty, small and underfunded municipal community med-centre was the morgue, a modest complex of dull grey polished faux stone-floored rooms and corridors. Isolated from the bustle of Neon City, a cold and quiet place, unflatteringly lit by weak LED strips.
Other than us, only staff could be found shuffling around the corridors here, mostly in scrubs and going about their depressing work. We were led into the room containing Valaya's remains, like some kind of morbid wallpaper, a grid of square doors entirely filled one wall of the room.
We were left to our own devices: The door to Valaya's tray opened with a low hiss, almost immediately the smell of vomit washed over us. It was not a good sign, a sign we knew, it meant something bad was going down at Goji Tower.
The tray holding Valaya slid out of the wall smoothly. She had been a good looking girl in life, now another almost forgotten pale and mangled icicle on a shelf in Neon City, it's what waited all of us. A reminder of where our choices inevitably took us, either the high road into rarefied heights of Neon City or the low road into some crappy morgue.
Her death certificate indicated that she had fallen to her death at a back alley close to somewhere walled Clean Convenience Hotel on Chuo Street in the small hours of last night. We searched her remains for any evidence that suggested otherwise but came up with zero. Returning Valaya back into her temporary resting place, we headed off.
It was a short clattering tram ride to Chuo Street, we disembarked under the afternoon sun and into the crowded maze of narrow alleys that stretched throughout the neighbourhood.
The oldest and lowest parts of Neon City tended to have been constructed of old-style brick, buildings here typically rose no more then about ten stories, dwarfed by their younger concrete cousins. Chuo street, being lower than most districts, was no different. One such building was the hotel; the site of Valaya's plunge, found on the corner of a under-lit back alley.
Clean Convenience Hotel was six storeys high, entirely unremarkable and indistinguishable from half-a-dozen competitors that lined the alley, its brown-red brickwork barely discernible beneath an accumulated lifetime of dirt, grime and general pollution.
Straining my neck I looked up, squinting and shielding my eyes against the strangely angled shape of a cloudless blue-white sky masked by the encroaching silhouette of Neon City's soaring skyline.
It seemed to us that with our layman's understanding that Valaya's injuries were not consistent with the distance it was alleged she had fallen; six storeys was not high enough.
Valaya's body had been found near to the hotel's service entrance next to a fire escape, any physical evidence that could have lingered had now been obliterated by Chuo Street's passing traffic. Rentacop didn't care enough to cordon it off, in fact they just didn't care.
The death certificate had also claimed that Valaya had struck a part of the fire escape during her fall; something to investigate.
The fire escape stairs were a steel construction of a series of rails, bars and slats bolted to the hotel's exterior wall. We managed to pull down the ladder to ground level and went up. The steel framed clanged and creaked threateningly as we climbed.
We checked the railings, black paint was sporadically bubbling and flaking away, revealing naked stains of rust but there were no recent signs of any impact, nor was there any evidence of blood to be found on the fire escape. We kept climbing and checking, still nothing. Eventually we reached the top floor without any result.
Using his Ashirada climbing augments Trigger got on to the roof and hauled us up.
It was a typical drab flat rooftop, dotted with some ancient straining aircon units and some old half-filled water tower, half-filled because they all were nowadays.
Six storeys down and the back alley had a become a distant thin erratically shadowed line that lost its way into the urbanised maze that was Chuo Street. Evidence of Valaya's demise had been reduced to memory as an unending procession of pedestrians obliviously walked by.
Up on the roof it was different though, quickly we had found something: Close to the top of the fire escape and directly above the site of Valaya's death the smell of vomit was faint but distinct, exposure had lessened but not eradicated it.
Looking further we found a thin oily film coating the rooftop and parapet too, same stuff from Hida Masu's apartment. Somehow Neon City's heat hadn't evaporated it nor had the rain washed it away. What was it?
Finally a significant amount of blood had congealed into a caked and dried brown stain on the rooftop here.
Searching more of the roof revealed nothing more.
In the hotel lobby half functional panel lights only provided dim lighting, it was as grubby and unkept as the exterior, decorated with threadbare carpets, peeling faded wallpaper and dusty fixtures. A receptionist lounged behind a faux stained-oak counter and some questioning revealed that he had found Valaya's body at the end of his graveyard shift.
Holding one hand outstretched, the receptionist told us that he had found the event very traumatising, too traumatising to talk about in fact. Luckily over the years Neon City had developed several cures for managing traumatic memories, in this particular case a handful of bits.
It was effective, the receptionist seemed to happy to talk now.
He told us that when he had found Valaya, she had been naked with a smell of vomit coming off her, he told us there was nothing else strange. Finally he said that he had taken some photos for personal reference. After some quick convincing he pinged us copies. We checked them out, they showed the twisted and crumpled body of Valaya, we noticed that there was practically no blood on the street around her.
The evidence was looking clear. Valaya had been murdered by those creatures and it had taken place on the roof. after she had been killed her remains callously tossed off. Ashaglaya had been right to be suspicious.
The creatures likely originated from Goji Tower, it would need further investigation.
Before we had a chance to discuss our next move, my media-slab pinged again; Ashaglaya.
She had absconded to my one-bed but something was up; I answered, Ashaglaya told me that a woman called Lucy had come in and was glaring at her, Ashaglaya said it made her nervous.
I should never have given Lucy a key-card to my one-bed!
She also told me that a dog from Dog & Bone Messaging had arrived and was waiting for me? I told Ashaglaya that we would be over soon.
It was a short tram ride over to Hikage Street and soon we were at my apartment. Ashaglaya was looking nervous, Lucy was looking furious and a dog was looking expectantly!
The dog messenger delivered their message to me, it had a name; Xylona Alder, someone we'd helped before and her number?.
Next I cooled Lucy down, I told her "It's not what it looked like!".
I could see her eyes move from Ashaglaya to me and back as she internally calculated whether to believe me or not. Having Ashaglaya in my apartment did look pretty bad on the hand it's not like we been caught red handed in a tryst.
After a few moments Lucy looked at me and hesitatingly said. "I suppose so...".
"Good!" I said quickly, putting my hand on her back. "You go home babe, this is all a work related thing I need to sort out. I'll speak to you later," with that I nudged her out of the door and shut it quick!
I pinged Xylona's number, it was answered by Toby, her bio-engineered and uplifted pet dog.
Toby told us that Xylona had gone to Sky Dinosaurian Square on a date with her new boyfriend and hadn't returned, He was worried. He had good reason to be, this new boyfriend was an unknown quantity and could represent a serious risk.
Daron was the boyfriend's name Toby informed us, he worked in the library at The Skyscraper District which is where Xylona had met him. Realising that we were calling in an archaic old landline, we got Toby to give us her media-slab's number, got no answer from it.
We had an idea on how to trace the slab though and I jacked into the GLOWNET.
Sensory telemetry streamed in, overriding material chemical receptors and flooding my consciousness with a multitude of data-rushes, I watched info-vistas cohere into polyhedral struts of multicoloured light as Neon City's unstable endlessly mutating data-topography filled my view.
I ran a hunter/search algorithm, arming it with whatever information we had on Xylona's media-slab and got some of hits back. Sifting through the results I found the encoded data-feed her slab routinely pushed out to the GLOWNET. I put the data through a decrypter protocol and checked the results: It showed the media-slab was currently located close to the Sky Dinosaurian Square tram stop.
Sky Dinosaurian Square was a short trip away but lacked a direct tram route from the Skyscraper District, instead we had to ride the Sunshine City Metro Link. Originally conceived as Neon City's main form of public transit, the elevated train network had its scope was seriously pared back by a funding scandal, as a result significant portions of the city did not join the city metro link.
Metro link trains were one of the few public services adequately maintained and still rode quietly and smoothly despite their age, they even remained hermetically sealed against Neon City's inhospitable climate. It would have made our trip a pleasant one but nothing be could be done about the overcrowding, end of the day was approaching, wage-monkeys and commuters were cramming on.
Eventually though and with a hiss the doors slid open, we escaped the crush of the metro link and right into the crush of Sky Dinosaurian Square Station.
The theme park was busy, only blaring inane attraction jingles drowned out the rumbling crowds of people emptying into the park and being drawn almost moth-like to the brightly decorated rides, we allowed ourselves to be pulled out of the station with them. My data-slab was still tracking Xylona's media-slab and it led us the short distance to a first-aid station beneath the steel latticework of an elevated tram stop.
Staff in cheerful theme park uniforms manning the station hadn't seen Xylona, double checked the signal, definitely coming from inside.
Bill spoke with one of the first-aiders, explaining that we were part of the municipal safety committee, here for a spot check. It was convincing enough.
Inside the station it was the antithesis of the exterior with an exposed grey concrete floor and unpainted walls. A couple of small cramped rooms were here, one was a supply room for the first-aid station, the other contained an assortment random items and personal effects, clothes, media-slabs, bags and the like.
That's where we uncovered Xylona's phone.
A staff member told us the second room was a lost and found room,.
"Nina bought it in," said the staff member when we showed them Xylona's media-slab.
Nina Chinova; a cleaner who worked the attraction; Dawn of the Day of the Zombie Apocalypse Fright Night Jamboree. First-aiders told us that she had come in with the media-slab and injuries to treat, notably some burns?
Wending through the drifting visitors we eventually got to the zombie attraction, its exterior decoration an eclectic mix of grimdark imagery and happy colours schemes. After asking some staff we found Nina Chinova; a heavy woman approaching middle years, we also noticed that she had been treated for burns and a wrist support was wrapped around one forearm.
Nina told us that she had witnessed a very tall man kidnapping two people. She had spotted him exiting the zombie attraction through the western service access door carrying them.
The tall man turned to face Nina when he realised she had seen him, his eyes grew red and beams shot out of them, Nina was burnt by the blast and felt terrified but instead of fleeing, Nina ignored the pain and charged in, tackling him! He was incredibly strong though, shrugging her off like Neon City water droplets from a raincoat and sent her flying then escaping. Finally Nina told us that during the brief tussle he had dropped a key card! She brandished it proudly like the gold medal for a hundred metre dash, we convinced her to hand it over to us and reluctantly, she did so.
Nina didn't mentioned it but seemed disappointed at the loss of the key card, her proof of her attack, we said we could get it on the record and called D4-VID, he was happy to interview her.
The key card was branded with Warm With Love Hotel, which turned out to be a hotel situated on Hikage Street.
It was back on the trams for a familiar shaky, crammed and creaking ride. Rush hour was in full swung now and even though few people in The City of Electric Dreams had anything like full-time employment, they still managed to pack out the trams.
Back on Hikage Street it was always busy; most populated district in Neon City and it showed. Wage-monkeys were beginning to slouch back home, the dissuaded and unemployed wandered thoughtlessly looking for cheap thrills and the loitering youth got ready to hit the neon mile on Ninety-Ninth, all lit by a gold-orange nimbus of sunsetting light.
Warm With Love Hotel could be found at the southern end of Hikage Street, where the grey high-rises met The Pipes and the crowds actually thinned out as residential space began to give way to commercial usage. In the day's lengthening shadows the hotel looked low rent - even by Neon City standards. inside was no different, the key card told us which room it unlocked so we headed straight up.
The door we were looking for was as drab and anonymous as every other door here.
Swiping the card, the door magnetically unlocked with a click.
Pushing it open, we looked in with caution. The carpet was a fading brown and the walls painted in a cheap beige colour, we could see some sort of electronics on a dressed, then, as the door swung further we could see three unmoving children sprawled ungainly across a drab hotel bed.
Trigger's thermals indicated that only the children were in the rooms. a physical sweep ensured the room was all clear.
Street kids in their tattered dirty badly fitting clothes, not even teenagers, they looked unharmed and a quick check confirmed that they were unconscious.
Koko checked the gear, it was a hotchpotch of elaborate micro-electronic repair kits, she told us it looked like they had come from some sophisticated cybernetics. Crumpled by the dresser was a Bric-a-Brac Shac bag, someone had been shopping and close by too, Bric-a-Brac Shac was short walk away from here.
We were able to rouse the kids with some basic stims, they came to with confused fearful looks, street-rat eyes darting for possible ways out.
We calmed them down, they seemed less agitated and composed enough to question.
All of them were homeless orphans living on Hikage Street, an anonymous part of its transient population, those who slipped though the social net and were forgotten or more likely ignored.
None of them had any recollection of how they got to the hotel room, their last memory's before blacking out were of being alone.
What did this tall man want with Xylona, why was he targeting street rats on Hikage. what did he need them for?
A long shot but we checked who the room was registered to: Joe Smith, not much to go on if it was even real.
Koko had an idea; contact Alex Chinsko - owner of Bric-a-Brac Shac. She pinged him at his shop and gave him a description of the gear she had in front of her. We got lucky, Alex recognised the tech, told us he'd sold it to a tall man yesterday. Alex didn't have any firm info on the man but he did ping us some camera footage. The tall man was tall, well over two metres tall, was it implants?
Before ending the call, Alex told us that the work on the Qiuonriji Yexingzhe SFS-70 night-flier we'd acquired was done, ready for pick up.
Facial recog got a hit on the tall man: Joe Montero, a chromed-up mercenary with high spec military implants, some of which looked code-black. A stone killer with a lot of history under his belt, wanted for war crimes and atrocities committed during the Kashmir Emergency of Forty-Seven.
Most of his company had been killed during that infamous incident, only one known living associate remained: Daron Zavaleta.
I guess Daron hadn't always been a librarian. A check on him revealed that he was also a wanted war criminal, somehow he'd gone from from a bloody warzone to a library.
Was it possible that Joe was searching out Daron, not Xylona?
After we had let the street rats go, we decided to stake the room out and took up position, if Joe came back, hopefully we'd get the drop on him. Several hours passed, the remaining day faded away into a black-red night, we could hear the near-torrential rainfall battering the room's dirt crusted window as we waited.
Our media-slabs pinged, Toby was on the line, Xylona had returned and he told us it was OK! The ambush looked like a bust, Joe was smart enough to realise he needed to burn this hideout once he'd lost the key card. So we headed into the rainy night and back to The Skyscraper District to speak with Xylona.
Xylona explained that she had groggily woken up in an alley close to the International Rail Link Hub, without her media-slab she had no way of contacting anyone, so she walked her way back home.
Now Xylona was worried about Daron, during the zombie jamboree it seemed that he was having some sort of episode.
"He's a timid soul struggling to deal with issues from his past," Xylona elaborated.
She told us as they went to leave the jamboree everything went black, we knew that's when Joe had struck.
As Xylona had woken up close to the rail hub. it looked like Joe Montero was skipping town fast.
Jacking into the GLOWNET, it was simple to hack into the security cameras servers at the international rail hub. I instructed the Nonohiki to sift the recent recordings for anyone who had a height of two hundred and ten centimetres.
Joe Montero was easily and quickly found on the footage, the cameras caught him catching a train out of Neon City carrying a massive holdall, big enough to carry a body. It looked like he had been hunting for Daron Zavelata....
Xylona was extremely upset at the fate of Daron, we decided to leave her in peace and head for home for the night.
Daron might have been looking to get a fresh start to escape a past he regretted or maybe just looking for a place to hide from his crimes. In the end it never mattered, in Neon City your past had a habit of catching up with you.
Another sweltering day rolled around in Neon City with a blazing sun and big heat. Our next step we had decided, was to get into Goji Tower, investigate whatever was happening there.
We had an angle to get into the tower too; Rokkaku employee Hida Masu who had encountered strange creatures and feared for his life had turned to us for help. Now he could help us. He agreed to lend us his security pass, he worked on the thirty-ninth floor and his card would get us there.
At sixteen hundred hours we made our move, it had given us time to formulate a strategy. Using his disguise implants Bill infiltrated into Goji Tower, once past the security door, the lobby had an air of almost subdued silence, Bill saw no rentaguards or corportate footsoldiers, seemed to be zero security presence and no visible camera setup either? His designer Oltrante shoes clicked as he crossed the impeccably polished faux marble floor and headed for the rows of elevators embedded in the beige coloured wall trimmed with chrome fixtures.
As expected, the elevators were set up in banks according to which floors they were restricted to, Bill could only go to the thirty-ninth story with the security pass but it was good enough. The ride up to was smooth and quick, the elevator was unoccupied apart from Bill and Hida Masu's reflection in the mirror.
With a swish the elevator doors slid open on the thirty-ninth to a mostly open plan office, diffused panel lights gave the office a soft light and low partitions separated workers into semi-isolated cubicles, the working day was drawing to a close, only about one-third filled of the cubicles were filled with suited staff mostly hunched over desk-slabs.
It was relatively quiet with a low background murmur, no staff paid any attention to Bill crossing the room with instructions to head for a certain cubicle and sit down then log on to the Rokkaku system with Hida Masu's credentials.
Our original plan had called for Bill to call in some external facilities support for floor thirty-nine and we would come in as the support staff. This was a problem as all facilities were fully automated and Hida Masu lacked the privileges to override them, so we had improvise.
Security had looked surprisingly lax when Bill had come in so after we had hastily discarded our anonymous grey boiler suits and donned an approximation of business suits, he was able to just swipe us in with Hida Masu's card.
Our search was limited to the thirty-ninth floor, we soon realised during our search that the floor was very much self-contained, there were breakout rooms with cushioned chairs, meeting rooms with smooth reflective tables, corner offices for execs, cafeterias, even a dormitory! Nowhere was off limits or seemed hidden and there was no evidence of anything strange or out-of-place.
A different approach was needed, physical searching had turned up nothing, I sat down in an empty corner cubicle and jacked into my Nonohiki and connected to their intranet system. It lacked the sensory interface of the GLOWNET, feeding only a static hierarchical structure overlay into my cognitive flow. I began by using a hacking protocol to probe the system's security settings, hoping to find the protocols that would get us off floor thirty-nine. Rokkaku's internal security wasn't so strong and I started seeing a filename I recognised; Akumu Accord, Hira Masu had mentioned it.
I noticed something else, the directory change log stack had abruptly begun flowing at twice the rate from a second ago. Other activity this deep in the intranet was causing it, some other independent process was active, another user?
I checked what this activity, without the GLOWNET's sensory input or its data-image algorithm, it looked just like code, still it was code I recognised: Black ICE, I'd encountered identical ICE at Executive Excess, designed to trace and attack any unlisted user it found in whatever system it was defending. I had no idea how it would with interact with me in this intranet and what the consequences would be. Luckily I managed to exit the system before the ICE could affect my connection.
It was from the same coder, had to be Ghost Radical's code.
Something was happening? A moment of disorientation followed after I jacked out of my data-slab. I had barely recovered as seconds later we felt an intensifying rumble and then a grinding screech. The ceiling above split apart along multiple lines, flinging out clouds of fragmented debris and folding in on itself. Crashing through came a number of massive thick steel panels, slamming down and crushing anything and anyone beneath, several Rokkaku staff were caught unware and killed.
By the time the rumbling had ceased we were surrounded by an assortment of steel panels, they ran from ceiling to floor with no way over them. A voice then sprang out of a speaker system, harsh and electronic yet mocking, taunting us to escape the maze. A faint almost unnoticeable smell of vomit hung in the air - and was growing stronger, irritating music began blaring out of the speaker system. To the voice it was a game but to us a trap, a steel labyrinth haunted by oily, vomiting, eyeless minotaurs.
Dancing to another piper's tune is always a bad idea, particularly in this situation. We couldn't risk being mice in the maze, we had to swing the odds in our favour.
We had to take it sideways or in this instance, downwards.
Standing back, Bill instructed Roderick to blast the floor with his explosive fletchette rounds. The robot worked through an entire magazine breaking through layers of the floor until a portion of it collapsed in on itself downwards. Like the entrails of some artificial beast, exposed networking and power cabling dangled and swung gently in the hole as aircon chutes spilled out from the underfloor cavity.
The hole was big enough for us to slip through to floor thirty-eight. As we made our escape we heard the voice on the speaker complaining, hearing its indignation. It was normal on the thirty-eighth, we didn't know if the labyrinth would extend down here, no time to delay, we didn't want to find out and needed an exit strategy.
Looking around, like the the floor above, this floor was about a third full of staff. They had been perturbed by the rumbling and thundering noise. We found the closest Rokkaku employee and snatched his security card, it would be needed to get into the elevators.
We ran for it, successfully getting into an elevator and reaching the ground floor. With a chirpy ding the doors opened, from there we dashed for the main entrance, Hida Masu's card still worked and we were out.
Another risky incursion into a corporate tower successfully escaped! We had left with more questions than answers unfortunately and at some point we would probably need to return.
Although it was also probably a good idea to advise Hida Masu not to.
Wage-monkeys were pouring out of the corporate towers in Rokkaku Dai heights, the work-day was ending and steady ant-like streams of suits headed for the trams, going home or hitting the bars. With Goji Tower behind us we were looking forward to kicking it back for the night ourselves but Neon City never lets go that easy.
Trigger's media-slab began pinging, it was an unknown ID, on the other end was Tsuka 'Lucky' Suko.
Lucky Suko; head of The Golden Rhinos, a yakuza outfit that operated out a gambling joint in The Fortified Residential Zone.
We'd crossed paths with him just once before when a client of ours had burnt Suko to the ground at mah-jong so hard that he cleaned out Suko twice!
To say Suko hadn't taken it well was putting it mildly, he ordered a bunch of goons to rub out our client, which we put a stop to.
We'd just been doing our job, did Suko take it personally? We were going to find out.
Suko told us that he had been impressed with our skills and had a proposal for us, a job?
"State your business," we replied neutrally with hesitant caution.
Lucky Suko explained that a violent street gang called The Crazy Bees was making trouble, in particular targeting Japanese people and businesses in a part of The Skyscraper District. One of their Japanese victims was an insurance business owned by his wife's cousin and called Shou Ga Nai Insurance. Suko told us that he had offered to deal with the situation but his cousin-in-law refused wanting nothing to do with any part of the yakuza.
Suko continued, telling us that he would pay us well to persuade The Crazy Bees to lay off the insurance business. He offered us six hundred thousand bits to get rid of the gang plus two hundred thousand per Crazy Bee gang member killed.
Finally Suko said that his cousin-in-law was to never find out that we were being paid to look into the matter.
As neutrally as possible we told Suko. "We'll look in it,".
Ethan's Eats was a sushi bar located in The Skyscraper District, it was here that we would find The Crazy Bees Suko had told us. Even though most of the district was dedicated to housing much of the city's workforce, ground level still contained large clusters and strips of retail units. This included Ethan's Eats; pretty unremarkable and much like a thousand other sushi bars in The City of Electric Dreams. The once-bright plastic signage at the front had faded, its primary colours drained by ultraviolet damage during the day and corrosive rain at night, a large subtly tinted window gave passing pedestrians a glimpse of the customers within and conveyor belts of food that enticingly circled round. Ethan's Eats described itself as selling Authentic Kosher Cockney Sushi and Jellied Eels.
Night had come and with it the rains, city lights awoke, appearing to cascade into existence throughout the district and delineating high-rises against the darkness. Finding a suitable dry vantage point, we waited and watched.
Despite the murky rain, gleaming interior lights bled out on to the slickly reflective street making it easy to view.
Many people came and went, including a good number in distinctively black-and-yellow clothing, had to be street colours for The Crazy Bees. We kept watching.
The Crazy Bees congregated in and around Ethan's Eats. They were young, a lot appeared to be skinny teenagers and many looked Japanese? We continued watching, they were rowdy and rude, jostling and bantering amongst themselves until their leader, an older looking man came on to the scene. Tall, lean and better dressed, he moved with a measured, calculated pace and they clearly all deferred to him.
This wasn't what we were expecting from the description given us by Suko. It was time to dig deeper. Information about them was readily available on the GLOWNET, rentacop reports, public forums, local newsfeeds and so on: General consensus was that The Crazy Bees were a pest more than a menace, they were considered juvenile delinquents more than gangers.
More than one than one report claimed that they bred giant North Korean genetically altered killer bees which they employed in scuffles with other street gangs!
For a while they hung out, grabbing takeout from Ethan's Eats in little cardboard boxes with disposable chopsticks and shooting the breeze. Eventually they split up, leaving a mess of empty discarded cartons behind. We followed a group of some twenty Crazy Bees as they went on their way, they exhibited signs of anti-social behaviour, minor acts of vandalism and external property damage, noisily spraying graffiti and gang tags on any free surface they could find and so on. They didn't seem to be targeting anyone, Japanese of otherwise, same with businesses.
This area included multiple Japanese or Japanese-themed retailers amongst the shops, among them were an anime-styled model-kit shop, clothing stores, gaming stores, even a Pouchebeast shop!
Entering the model kit shop, we spoke with the staff and asked them if they had experienced any trouble with The Crazy Bees, threats, extortion, assault?
They told us they never had trouble with The Crazy Bees, otherwise they'd be banned from buying the latest imported kits!
It didn't add up. The Crazy Bees weren't some hardened gang of criminal thugs in need of some Neon City street justice. Something was wrong so we took a chance.
Shou Ga Nai Insurance was our next destination, a large blind masked the front window of a dull looking shopfront. Inside it was inoffensively decorated in beige and eggshell white with a grey carpet. There was an occupied desk and several upholstered faux wooden chairs. The man at the desk looked up at us as we entered.
Luckily the owner was in when we asked to speak to him. An average looking guy, he looked at us with confusion when we asked about his cousin's husband, he told us his cousin wasn't married, we elaborated, he'd never heard of Tsuka Suko! Apologising for the confusion, we beat a hasty exit.
A set up, it was clear that Lucky Suko had set us up. Maybe he wanted rid of The Crazy Bees, maybe he wanted to make trouble for us, maybe both?
We thought about pinging him and calling him out but we didn't bother. Eventually he'd find out his ruse had failed. Let him stew.
Time to hit the bars, Neon City never slows down and we could do with some Dindanha beer.
Later we got a message from D4-VID, the interview with Nina Chinova had been a success, D4-VID told us that Nina scored well with focus groups and test audiences. Looked like she might be getting something on a network.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.