8th May 2021
Saturday night has rolled around again and I’m logged on to Meet.
Time for the next part of Matakishi’s Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Neon City.
Another Neon City morning; I spent it flopped face-down on my futon from the night before, an acrylic blanket pulled over my head in a futile attempt to shield myself from the world at large.
Those few wage-monkeys lucky enough to have gainful employment had long gone for the day, leaving the listless no-hopers, jobless and nihilistic dead-enders still roaming the high-rise. As the day’s punishing heat rose, so did the city’s cacophony; frustrated and yelling neighbours were getting ready to murder each other while thumping distorted basslines pumped out of tortured, underpowered speakers, local gangers and street thugs came and went, stomping along the corridor outside, jostling, jeering and shouting at each other, jostling for a showdown.
Behind it all was a low buzzing whine in my head and a handful of dust in my mouth; fallout from last night’s binge.
I rolled out of bed at lunch time, pulled on my Harbiefs, grabbed my Verskeit duster and checked my .45s before heading out. The seemingly mindless crowds on Hikage Street somehow navigated each other on auto-pilot, shuffling along and preoccupied by whatever probably meaningless task drained their time. I hit up some no doubt unlicensed steamy street cart food-vendor hawking his wares for a waxy paper carton of indeterminate off-brand ramen, along with a can of self-cooling Kaia when I met with the others.
Between monosodium glutamate infused mouthfuls, it took all the effort I could muster to concentrate on Bill’s voice. I listened as he told us that Silai Granskina had abruptly dropped four hundred large into his account. Not so long ago Bill had lent Silai a couple of million bits to repair his hacked-up nose that Bill never expected to see again, but now, he was suspicious how Silai had managed to pay a sizable chunk so quickly?
Bill pinged a call to Silai and got voicemail.
We decided to dig deeper.
I jacked into the GLOWNET and slipped out of the material reality, sensing it shrink away as Neon City’s multicoloured radiant info-vista flew up to engulf me in gleaming angular motes of data that sped through the constantly recycling cubic landscape while seemingly millions of user bio-images flitted from data-image to info-vault to chat-stream on whatever business or diversion concerned them.
Undistracted, I launched a hunter/searcher algorithm, watched its sleek polygonal geometry follow my instructions as it accelerated into a nebulous blur that disappeared into the vanishing point, pursued only by its own ephemeral light-trail.
Once the algorithm had done its work, it delivered me what I needed; access protocols to Silai Granskina’s financials.
The info-vista became a series of undulating colours as moments later, I was in his accounts, quickly I saw that someone called Su Chuai had deposited half-a-mill into Silai’s account. Soon after Silai had forwarded four hundred grand to Bill.
Staying in the GLOWNET, I searched for Su Chuai and immediately got a hit; he was some sort of loan shark that operated out of Hikage, he even had his own data-vault on the GLOWNET. Whatever he was, it was probably bad news for Silai Granskina.
Bill put in another call to Silai, this time pinging his land line and got a hit, Bina, Silai’s wife answered.
She sounded worried, explaining to Bill that thieves had broken in and stolen all their furniture, when asked about Silai, Bina said he wasn’t around but some man was hanging at the apartment, looking for him!
Bill carefully steered the conversation towards money, Bina told him that Silai had recently gotten a promotion, his bonus had been delivered in cash and now as a consequence, he was hardly home, working too much, doing too much overtime.
It was clear that she had no idea about Silai’s debt.
The conversation had raised all the flags, Bill wanted a word with Silai and we agreed.
The Grankinas lived in what passed for a better part of Hikage Street, the high-rises were a slightly cleaner shade of drab depressing concrete grey and moping no-hoper street gangers gave you a slightly less threatening sneer when you passed their turf.
When we arrived at the apartment, camped outside was a young Chinese man casually leaning on a low wall, wiry framed with spiked, dark hair, he wore a well-cut beige Gaongha two-piece lounge suit complemented by a purple-black Shaguaifu dress shirt and gave us a thin, tight smile as we approached, subtly sizing us up as we went in.
The once over-furnished apartment was now bare, carpeting and chintzy decorations were gone, even the patterned wallpaper had been stripped. Our footsteps reverbed distinctly as we strode into the empty rooms.
Bina was jittery and obviously nervous, she was also upset that she had no way to serve us tea. She told us the man outside was intercepting anything that was being brought into the apartment.
Back outside, we confronted the young man and he seemed unfazed by our questioning. He explained that he worked for the Su Chuai Loan Facility and pulled a badge on us. As per Neon City regulation, he was a legally recognised debt collector and the Su Chuai Loan Facility was a licensed loan shark outfit.
We asked him what would happen if Silai Granskina defaulted on his loan. The young man smiled again and told us that Su Chuai’s policy was to not lend someone more money than the worth of the borrower’s internal organs.
He didn’t know much more, it was apparent he was street muscle and nothing more; it was time to hit up the source of the problem.
Wasn’t far to the Su Chuai Loan Facility, close by on Hikage in fact, predators never wanted to stay too far from their prey.
Hikage Street was predominantly a residential district and the loan facility was located on one of the sporadic retailer strips that dotted the neighbourhood and usually took up the ground floor space at the base of the many high-rises.
The loan facility’s shop front was adorned in a shaped polymer replica wood frame, an obvious attempt to confer an air of tradition and authority on the premises, when we entered a tinny ringing bell jingle played out of a tiny Senonable speaker screwed to the wall. The faux wooden theme continued inside with reproduction floorboards and imitation fittings and furniture.
In one corner was a shabbily dressed youth on a chair and table, slouched over a drawing slab, chewing gum and drawing manga. Eyes flicked up from the slab for milliseconds to register our presence.
Our attention was drawn to an older man though, with thin, grey, wispy hair, he sat at a central desk and was dressed in a traditional looking red and gold changshan. A widening smile deepened his wrinkles as he watched us stride up to his desk.
We introduced ourselves and asked for the manager, the elder man gave an acknowledging gesture, introduced himself as Su Chuai, reached for a data-slab, smiled and asked if we needed money?
Bill explained that we were not here to borrow money but on business and inquired after Silai Granskina’s account. Bill explained that Silai also owed Bill money and this account took priority.
Su Chuai scrutinised his slab, sifting through the stored information. He looked at us and coolly informed us that Silai’s account had acquired a significant amount of interest, admin fees and a sizable one million bit late payment fee. He added that he could not defer on the account.
Su Chuai and Bill entered into some sort of heated legal discourse that was just jargon to me. From the drawing table, the youth looked up again at them for a moment before returning to his attention to the slab and his gum. The discussion ended in an impasse, Bill couldn’t get Su Chuai to even freeze Silai’s account nevermind defer it. We left without any success.
Finally Bill got ahold of Silai Granskina, he told Bill that he was at his office, when Bill pressed him about his debt to the loan shark, he got flustered and quickly said that he’d have his next payment soon, it was the brush off and we knew it.
After Silai quit the call, we decided to give him a visit.
Silai Granskina worked in the Transport Authority, situated in Neon City’s vast, brutalistic edifice to governmental bureaucracy; the Metropolitan Building.
It was an oppressive ride over on the over-warm and stifling tram network, a cruel early afternoon sun hung in the blue-white sky, blazed through the tram windows, overwhelmed the inadequate aircon and multiplied the heat of crammed commuters within to a higher magnitude of discomfort.
We exited the transit stop in sight of the looming Metropolitan Building, a gigantic cubic shape distorted by a crown of wavering heat and overbright sun-haze, which might’ve described anywhere in the district and headed over.
Bill did the talking after we encountered the reception, we’d been in the Transport Authority’s offices previously and his smooth talking got us past both the reception and the uniformed rentaguard who shuffled along on their sedentary patrols through the slowly decaying, time-stained corridors of dwindling power.
The Transport Authority’s office was quiet, employees lingered in cubicles partitioned by two metre high neutral grey, transparent acrylic topped plastic partitions and stewed away at the futility of their efforts.
Silai was found lurking in his cubicle, shabbily dressed in a plain off the shelf wrinkled Kuabha suit and peering into a desk-slab, haggard and weary looking, lines ran their course over a tired face drained of colour and vigour as he turned to face us, he’d lost weight since the last time we’d seen him.
He didn’t look particularly pleased to see us and we didn’t care, Trigger promptly convinced Silai to join us for lunch; no one in the office cared to look up as he grabbed Silai with a steely grip, dragging him off, even Silai didn’t bother protesting.
Out on the busy street we’d found a nearby food vendor with shaded seating and ordered some Ahoumo noodles while an endless flow of lost humanity rolled past. The vendor fished the noodles from a discoloured, steamy aluminium pot and shoved them into cartons.
Silai was looking nervous as he stirred the food we’d given him and we explained that we were in no rush to get our cash back, advising him to deal with the loan shark he’d embroiled himself with. He shrugged and told us that we should get our second payment from his wife soon, he told us he preferred that we got the money instead of Su Chuai. There wasn’t any more we could get out of him, he kept tight about how he was getting the money to repay us.
“Best you didn’t know,” Silai told us and made his excuses to leave.
We weren’t done though, after Silai had slouched back to his office, Koko sent Kevin buzzing up to the windows of theTransport Authority’s office. The little drone sat on the ledge and watched through the grimy and water-spot stained window, pushing out a video feed to Koko’s control tab while we sat waiting and made our noodles last as long as possible.
A little time passed and Kevin showed us that Silai had gotten a personal call, it was over too quick for me to hack, but the lipreading algorithm on Koko’s slab had picked up some of Silai’s half of the conversation
“Another one will be at the waterfront terminal at eleven forty-five tonight,” he’d said.
It was a few hours until eleven forty-five tonight but we didn’t have to wait long for something to turn up.
Jordan Tian was a suit at Chou-Nata, over our media-slabs he told us that we’d come recommended and he needed us to get his daughter back and didn’t trust anyone in Chou-Nata. Turned out that corporate security contractors at Chou-Nata had been lax or paid to look the other way while Yasmin Tian had been kidnapped. It’d looked like a pretty standard exec ransoming squeeze-and-grease, the demand came and Jordan had paid, so far, so good.
However, Yasmin hadn’t been released, so Jordan had sicced a couple of private detectives on his daughter’s trail, only now they’d gone radio silent. A worried frown creased Jordan Tian’s face, marring the otherwise impeccable, surgically perfected features displayed on our slabs.
Naturally he offered us a big payday and we agreed to find Yasmin. Before we left he pinged us details on Yasmin and the address of Suchet & Sea, the agency he’d employed.
Suchet & Sea operated out of Shinjuku Station, a small rented corner office located in some drab, anonymous office complex on the fringes of the district. It was fronted by a hardened polymer door which had been painted to resemble an old wooden panel door, Suchet & Sea had been printed across the door’s top half In bold letters that crawled across the surface in a half circle.
Lights were off, looked like no one was in, Trigger’s thermals told a different story though, two heat signatures from inside were coming through clear as day.
After knocking on the door, we waited and got nothing, we knocked again, this time louder, more insistently, again nothing. Third time; we hammered on the door, rattling it in its frame, that got an answer.
The door opened and on the other side we found two nervous looking men in colourful but dishevelled suits, both wiry-framed with long faces, they shared similar features and could almost have been brothers! The pair introduced themselves as Barry Suchet and Paul Sea, they both clearly followed an old, obscure Shinjuku street fashion called Chuckleo-hito that demanded they sport enormous implanted spiked mullets and bushy, bristling moustaches.
We told them that we’d been sent by Jordan Tian to pick up the case of his missing daughter.
The look of nervousness evaporated from their pale complexions as they realised we weren’t a threat.
The smaller one, Barry, gave a wide, enthusiastic grin, explaining that they had deduced that The Flesh Cartel had kidnapped Yasmin.
“To me,” said the other, Paul.
“To you,” replied Barry.
Paul elaborated, went on and told us they’d subcontracted to some female investigators to infiltrate the cartel and locate Yasmin. Now those subcontractors had also gone radio silent.
Suchet & Sea had halted their investigation at that point. They didn’t admit it, but it was plain that they were well out of their depth dealing with these gangers and couldn’t hide their relief when we announced we were handling the case.
The Flesh Cartel theory was a solid one. They were a known violent criminal outfit who operated out of Kabukicho, a sex trafficking ring and sleaze merchants who peddled in prostitution, drugs and more. They were known to grab girls off the street and addict them to the most potent brain-jacking narcotics street-chems could cook.
There was little information that Suchet & Sea could provide us, however, they had managed to hook up a GLOWNET feed from the subcontractor’s optic circuits and showed us the footage they’d archived.
Erratic and silent with fluctuating resolution and washed out colour, the feed swayed and bobbed as showed the subcontractors at work, viewpoints darting from one person to another as they interacted with street ashigaru, night-walkers and dealers. Towards the end, the footage briefly flashed across a room, showing Yasmin, obviously being held prisoner, alone and tied up.
We grabbed a shot of the image and left.
The Flesh Cartel was an unknown factor, something we’d never crossed paths with. There was no easy in with them and there was only a single avenue we could think to follow.
Miguel Fernandez was a rentacop out of Shinjuku precinct.. He’s spent time working The Flesh Cartel undercover and had flirted with going native. His captain had paid us to extract him - and after some ups and downs we’d done it!
Right now Miguel was flying some desk-slab, filing parking violations or something in a cubicle in the precinct. We pinged him and he was happy to help.
It didn’t take him long to give us something. Yasmin was being held in a room that he recognised as part of The Flesh Fountain, one of the Cartel’s illicit holdings in Kabukicho.
The Flesh Fountain was an old style tower, constructed in elaborately patterned brown brick, it sported rows of under-lit, high arched, thin-framed, tall windows and had been a hotel with a carpark on its ground floor in the early days of Neon City at a time when personal ground transport had still been considered a thing.
One time it might have been a giant, dwarfed now, by steel and glass-fronted neighbours. With glory days that were gone and closed to the public, lower windows were boarded or bricked up and half the external lighting was gone. The gate into the carpark had been replaced by a clumsily indiscrete, steel-grey aluminium shutter-roller.
Koko worked the lock and soon had it open. The roller shutter was huge - and heavy, a rasping, rattling, metallic voice screamed its protest as we forced the roller shutter up enough to allow us to squeeze under.
Dim, regularly placed lighting dotted the carpark’s ceiling, revealing a windowless, dull, concrete, mostly empty interior to us. Rows of long unused parking bays were uniformly partitioned by fading yellow lines, looking around, there was little to be found in the carpark save some supplies that looked earmarked for the brothel here. Soon we encountered some elevators and a bare utilitarian stairwell.
Checking the stairwell, we saw it spiralling its way up and down, but like so much in The City of Electric Dreams, downwards is where we were headed.
With caution, we slowly proceeded in silence, the carpark’s surface level receded behind us as we descended, Koko sent Noodles to scout ahead and the diminutive drone darted speedily into the gloom, soon he encountered a landing on the second sub-basement and
Koko watched as Noodles navigated the corner and registered two threats ahead. The feed showed two armed guards outside a door; had to be what we were looking for.
Dressed casually in Dogenzaka Hill knockoffs, cheap bling and tats, they were packing cheap Rekhang Pophma machine pistols and stood about listlessly, distracted by media-slabs.
Koko manoeuvred Noodles to the far side of the door and had the drone make a noise.
The guards scrambled to face the distraction, dropping their slabs and putting their backs to us. It was a mistake, Trigger was round the corner in a silent blur and hit one and then the other with a stun-baton, they managed to get a few screams off before flopping helplessly to the ground. In a few hours, they’d regain consciousness, only their biggest headache wouldn’t be the stun-baton side-effects when they realised whatever they were guarding was gone.
Neither guard had a keycard to the door, so Koko made short work of the lock. Past the door was a weakly lit, undecorated and unused storage room, a dozen girls dressed in tiny cocktail dresses, mini-skirts and boob-tubes, hot pants and bikini-tops and so on were slouched on mattresses and blankets. Lethargic postures and restless, unfocused gazes betrayed how strung out they were.
Yasmin was there, pallid, apathetic, as zoned as the others and to our surprise, Pixie Skull and Vanilla Goth were also among them. The two Ikebukuro Muscle Gurlz told us that they had been put on the case of missing girls by Suchet & Sea, when they’d been wrong-footed and woke up in this cell. Fortunately, their enhanced circulatory systems had rapidly metabolised the drugs they’d been fed, however, they hadn’t managed to find a means of escape.
The brief throwdown with the two guards risked bringing reinforcements, wasn’t time to hang around and swap stories. The quick escape didn’t go as hoped though, getting the girls out of the basement was a laborious task as they slowly tottered upstairs on the fifteen centimetre high white stilettos they’d been fitted with.
Caught a break though, no more Flesh Cartel thugs came on to the scene.
It was darkening by the time we all got topside and a blazing orange sliver was all that remained of a massive setting sun against the western skyline as day began to wane, the rain wouldn’t be far behind. Once they were out from under the weak lighting, most of the girls looked shocked, reeling from the gold-lined gigantic dome of nimbus clouds above.
Koko had called the flier, it was cramped with everyone inside and I could hear the turbines spinning to maximum thrust as I felt the tug that came with the defiance of gravity.
Once we were up, Koko banked us round and set a bearing to the closest precinct, she switched over to stealth and we hastily put the girls down on the roof pad and were gone before anyone realised.
Yasmin Tian, we returned to her father and then before we dropped off the Muscle Gurlz, I gave them my business card, looked them in the eyes and told them to look me up if they ever needed help with anything, anything at all.
Later; when Silai Granskina left the Transport Authority’s office at the end of his workday, we were there, in the rain, watching from the blackening sky above.
Swallowed by the pressing churn of wage-monkeys.as he strolled out into the busy, drenched streets that ran the perimeter of The Metropolitan Building, Silai might easily have slipped into anonymity hadn’t Koko tagged him in the flier’s spook-tech. The algorithm had no problem tracking him through the intermittently dark streets, gleaming streetlight-lit rain and fidgeting crowds.
Silai didn’t head straight home, instead he made for Chou Street and for the newly rebuilt Potato Palace. Switching to thermals on the flier’s external cams, we watched as he went in, watched as he exchanged bits for a bag of some kind and then left.
Koko instructed Kevin to trail Silai and the diminutive drone accelerated off with machine efficiency, the rest of us went into Potato Palace. Not so long ago it had been the target of a firebomb attack against the Russian Mob but renovations are swift when municipal code can be ignored. The interior was back to almost looking like an authentic rustic mom-and-pop eatery, filled with plastic replica furniture and decoration. The simple charms belied the deep pockets of Russian mob money behind it.
Inside, the staff recognised anyone associated with Yennav Rybasei and they quickly greeted Koko and then the rest of us. They were only too happy to accommodate us when we asked about Silai.
They told us that Silai had made use of their landline and made a quick call.
Something about a meeting at the waterfront, on schedule, delivery to Russia and a Neon City Train. It was only the one-sided bits and pieces of a conversation but it was starting to come together.
Koko’s control-slab pinged unexpectedly, she checked it out and swore. Looking up, she told us that the feed from Kevin had been interrupted and so had the control link.
Koko’s control-slab had been archiving Kevin’s feed, so she quickly reviewed the last few seconds the slab had received. Before the cutoff there had been a blur, she reviewed those last seconds again, slowing the feed until it hit single frames frames per second, until the feed became a picture book telling the story of a soaring, engulfing, urban sprawl-scape decorated in the glinting city lights reflected through a million, frozen, shining raindrops.
It was blurred and only half in-picture but one of those last frames showed some sort of micro-net small enough to snare a tiny spy-drone like Kevin.
Despite the link being lost, Kevin was still pinging out a satellite driven locator signal; Kevin was heading south.
Koko called the flier down and quickly, we boarded and strapped in. Lifting off, I felt the slight tempo change in the flier’s hull vibration as we surged skywards, I watched the city rock sideways and drop off as Koko banked south, punching maximum thrust.
The flier powered through Rokkaku-Dai Heights, rivulets of rainwater streamed left and right off the front viewports as Koko threaded through the swathe of residential towers that dotted the district.
Kevin’s signal kept moving south and Koko kept following.
As we made ground on Kevin, she entered the Fortified Residential Zone and so did we. A splattering of red lights flashed over Koko’s console, anti-air defences for the exclusive area had locked on to us. Koko veered, skirting the walled off neighbourhood with its high-end, gardened luxurious homes rolling past as we continued our chase.
As we exited the district and entered Asakusa-cho, we had gotten close enough to Kevin to get a zoomed-in visual fix using the fliers front viewers. Somebody had attached a small box to the drone’s underside and she appeared to be following a sky-taxi?
We started making ground, the sky-taxi couldn’t hope to match our speed, as we drew closer, the sky-taxi landed on a lower roof and a door swung, a Chinese man leaned out in a cheap two-piece Evoda lounge suit, a pistol gripped in one hand. He emptied it in a blazing staccato of gunfire, seemingly into the air before diving back into the sky taxi which took off in pursuit.
I followed his line of sight upwards, through the pouring rain, he’d been aiming for a rider in roller jet blades who was grinding some balconies as she powered along.
Almost immediately, a second sky-taxi swooped into view? I took a second to assess the situation, the second sky-taxi was pursuing the first, which in turn was pursuing the jet blader. Kevin was also in pursuit of the first taxi
Roller jet blades comprised a pair of tricked out knee-high boots that combined two technologies: A hyper-compressed fuel cell, that when vented, provided enormous amounts of forward thrust and a hybrid kineticizer blade that generated increasingly stronger magnetic grip the faster the blade went. Combined, they allowed riders to traverse large distances, leap wide spans and even scale vertical planes
Jet blades were a curious holdover from a couple of decades ago, a forgotten fad that had injured most users and had slipped into obscurity, except with the few riders that had persisted, for them, it had become something else entirely.
Experienced jet bladers were capable of gravity-defying manoeuvres, skyscraper walls and archaic power lines became arcing grind-lines, high altitude comms clusters provided launch points and the rooftops became their bounce pads as they roamed the sprawls. Neon City had become a playground to them and rolled past below as they unhesitatingly hurled themselves from building to building.
Beyond that though, some had found a way to earn a living; even in Neon City there was still an urge to transport hardcopies or physical items and that’s where jet blade couriers came in; capable of circumventing even aerial traffic, blazing through the tightest spots and easily getting in and out of buildings, they could navigate the city faster than almost any civilian vehicles.
That’s who this jet blader was, we could just about make out some artificially cheerful courier branding on her boots.
I jacked into the GLOWNET as we followed this aerial procession. The second taxi was an Abco sky-taxi and easy enough to hack.
Even as the flier soared after them, I soared further. Material reality tumbled away, rolling into physical oblivion, a void replaced by the garish primary colours of Neon City’s angular info-scape that expanded to meet me. Gleaming orthogonal data-lines flowed into the horizon, criss-crossing from data-vault to data-vault and pulsating with content and information.
A quick search found me the Abco cab’s franchise data-image, an exaggerated, cartoonish sky-taxi drenched in oversaturated iridescent yellow light. A nanosecond passed or so it seemed and then I was in its archive structure and before me; a stack of infinitely thin window-panes smeared with radials of statistics waiting to be sifted through.
A datafile told me that the sky-cab had picked up a passenger it recorded as Peanut not so long ago; I continued sifting. Next I found myself a partition that housed the sky-cab’s autonomous protocols, looked like the stack of call priorities had been re-coded about the same time that Peanut had got picked up, work of a hacker and they had control of the cab now.
Wasn’t the right time to tangle with another code-monkey, so the sky-taxi’s data-image was dumped as I quit the system, my senses were assailed by the info-scape’s vast quantity of data movement which flooded into my slab.
Switching focus, I moved my attention over to the other sky-taxi, bypassing the security was as easy as the Abco. It listed a sole passenger as a Chao He-Biao, as the name appeared on my system, it was flagged.
Quick search showed me Chao He-Biao was a con, out on parole from The Black Dolphin Gulag today. Didn’t get to go deeper, Koko pinged me in the GLOWNET.
We were close to Kevin and she was still getting a diagnostic stream from her, the drone’s power cell was critically low and flight systems were about to go offline. Once she lost flight, the tumble to street level would shatter Kevin into a hundred broken components, Koko wasn’t happy with the situation.
Kevin’s data-image was a dot of incandescent code in the swirling storm of flight-algorithms that connected Neon City’s autonomous sky traffic to the municipal travel information hubs through the GLOWNET.
Access codes didn’t get me into Kevin’s drives, they’d been changed, the hacker again.
I didn’t experience it, but later I was told that out in the mundanity of material reality, Koko had yelped when Kevin’s power cell finally gave out and I didn’t feel the lurch when she put the flier into a steep powered dive, chasing a plummeting Kevin to the narrow street below. Turbines had rattled, pushed beyond their performance envelope, threatening to break their housings as the flier matched altitude with the drone.
Then, it had taken Trigger swinging through an open hatch, gripping a line to catch Kevin, following that he’d got yanked hard, almost skimming the street and pulling a few Gs as Koko had levelled the flier before managing to pull himself back into the cabin.
In the Abco cab’s command logs, it showed the sky-taxi had landed, I jacked out and the overriding inputs of the GLOWNET evaporated as the reality of the flier’s starkly lit interior began solidifying, filling my awareness.
Koko took us up and I lurched to one of the consoles, gripping its sides. As we gained altitude, I punched instructions into the command pad and the screen showed that the chase had taken us to Ninety Ninth Street, the jet blade courier had taken a hit, she was slumped unevenly on a junk-ridden rooftop, surrounded by steamy aircon vents and routing pipes. Chao He-Biao was on the rooftop’s far side out of his sky-taxi and opening up at her, Trigger put a few rounds his way, bullets riddled the sky-taxi as he lunged for cover.
A savage blast of air whipped the rain sideways as the second cab came down, billowing in the steaming haze of heated raindrops.
A young woman flung the door open as the taxi settled down, dressed in drab olive work overalls, she’d had a full optic replacement by Kuaijing implants, her eyes glittered a soft blue through the raindrops and were Quanngh models, users were given some access to the GLOWNET without exiting material reality. In her hand she gripped a Preaavar Curnuka MQ-6 data-slab, a line ran from it to what must have been a subdermal connector in her neck; the hacker, had to be.
“Run Toy Li,” she’d shouted as she began sprinting across the puddle-ridden rooftop.
Trigger had meanwhile exited the flier and was also sprinting across the space, powered by his augmentation implants, he was a blur in the downpour as he closed on Chao He-Biao, he tagged the man senseless with a stun-baton and the fight was over, the rest of us went for the jet-blader.
For a moment, relative calm settled around us as rain drummed on to the now otherwise still rooftop.
Only for a moment though: Toy Li had caught a bullet, checking her over, a Jijuiuan trauma med-patch was applied to the point of the bloody bullet wound, activating a steady, regulated flow of painkillers, stimulants and anti-infectants into her system, triggering its diagnosis protocol which calculated her injury wasn’t critical. A few moments and the blader would regain consciousness, a few moments after that and she’d be able to stand.
The hacker introduced herself as Peanut and told us Toy Li was her friend. Peanut explained that she’d gotten pinged by Toy Li, who was being chased by a sky-taxi while she was on a routine delivery. Peanut had then hacked a sky-taxi and started heading for Toy Li, lacking a drone, she’d spotted and then jacked Kevin to track the other taxi, Peanut turned to Koko and apologised.
Peanut had no idea why Chao He-Biao why trying to get at Toy Li
By now Toy Li was sitting up, a Chinese woman with slender limbs in a two-coloured single-piece lycra outfit, pain was etched across her youngish face, meds had taken the edge, but the pain was still there.
Between slow, wincing breaths, Toy Li told us she had no idea why she’d been chased, maybe her package?
There was only Chao He-Biao left and Trigger had him, we slapped him back to his senses; he spluttered, blinking and shaking the rainwater off his face. As he was dragged to his feet by Trigger, his pistol slipped out of slack fingers, a single piece Rekhang pressed metal knock-off of a Chinese 9mm Ngaohun fitted with a suppressor that were favoured by Neon City’s triads; a low-cost imitation even by Rekhang standards and that was saying something!
At first Chao He-Biao was belligerent, glowering and swearing, refusing to give us any answers and futility trying to break free of Trigger’s grip, a firm shake from Trigger changed all that. He explained that after he’d gotten out of the Black Dolphin Gulag, he’d gone to the Big Circle Boys to join the gang.
Being some sort of triad gang, of course the Big Circle Boys had their initiation ceremony; to show his loyalty and worth, Chao He-Biao had to get blood on his hands and enter their conspiracy of guilt, a target was picked for him to kill and that target was Toy Li.
That was the Neon City way; it never needed a reason to indiscriminately target someone for death.
Chao He-Biao had failed his initiation, he’d never be accepted by the Big Circle Boys and he knew it too. He tried to worm his way into our graces, playing the victim, telling us he’d mend his ways, trying to convince that us that maybe he had some worth to us but it was unconvincing, less than a day back out after his stretch and he was looking to commit murder, we had no use for thuggish gang footsoldiers and left him for the local rentacops.
Toy Li was now gingerly back on her feet, with Peanut’s help, the delivery could be completed.
Before we left, Koko rushed over to the flier and rummaged through the storage lockers and came back with a couple of her older drones, she handed Hector and Fifi over to a gracious Peanut.
We hit midnight as we climbed aboard the flier.
Another day in the City of Electric Dreams had come round, all our media-slabs pinged. Yaroh Uron, who had been convicted of murdering Doctor Hsu Rou-Taib was getting his appeal was today. We’d be there in the morning.
Whatever was going on with Silai Granskina had happened fifteen minutes ago but still needed investigating and there were still hours of night and rainfall to navigate as we headed back to Hikage Street.
Outside the Granskina’s apartment we found another Chinese enforcer loitering close by the front door. The suit was a different cut and colour, but the thin, tight smile and attitude was the same.
Bina answered the door and let us in, she told us that Silai had gone to bed after returning with a Potato Palace doggy bag full of Rubles. Somehow, he had slipped the cash past the watcher outside.
Was he involved with the Russian mob, it could be bad news? We got Bina to wake her husband and bring him over, Silai came out in his faux silk Eilbon pyjamas and sat on the apartment’s bare floor, there was hesitation in his eyes when he looked at us.
We refused to buy what Silai was selling and after some questioning we got him to spill his guts.
Turned out that Silai had decided to offload city trams to the Russians for some serious bank, his position at the Transport Authority allowed access to the relevant databases where he could ghost the trams out of their system. Then he would supply overnight storage locations and security codes to the Russians, who in the rainy small hours would quietly get busy disappearing trams.
Silai theorised that the trams were being shipped from the waterfront out of Neon City.
It was a solid plan, who in Neon City would have any idea that trams were going missing? Even if they did and got someone to listen, the digital trail had been deleted. Looked like Silai would stay clean.
Silai got up from the floor, retrieved his Potato Palace doggy bag and thrust a bundle of rubles into Bill’s hands. Bill looked at the wad of poly-cotton weaved sheets in his hand, a brief look of irritation crossed his face. Sure, it would cover the loan to Silai, but I was pretty sure he had no idea what to do with actual cash money!
Then Silai headed outside to the Chinese man. He still had enough bank in the doggy to square with Su Chuai’s enforcer and clear that debt.
That night was spent sleeping in my streets, hopefully a dreamless evasion of the city rain pattering against the tarp that shielded one face of the one-bed. Wasn't bothered about changing, especially since I knew the next morning would come soon, rain clouds evaporating while the day’s heat would begin its inevitable march from too hot to intolerable, I had to drag myself out of the futon early, no time for breakfast.
Instead I headed for the roof and waited beneath the sickly blue-white morning sky to catch my ride with Koko, watching as the descending flier materialised out of the wavering overbright bloom, battering the rooftop with jet wash. One-by-one we were all collected and headed for the RV and Jinny Stoyer, who we’d stashed there a while ago. Jinny was a key witness in Yaroh’s appeal, she’d skipped the original court case and we weren’t about to let her skip the appeal.
She was waiting for us at the rendezvous, dressed respectably as possible, which meant thigh-high faux-leather Oltrantes, a tight pink strip of cloth that passed as Fassus miniskirt, half-unbuttoned, undersized and fairly transparent Dunner white blouse with layers of cheap makeup and displaying all her fruit-themed tattoos.
From there it was a quick flight through Neon City’s sky-congestion to the roof pad at the courthouse, our passenger gave us priority landing rights and soon we found ourselves walking through featureless, dully lit corridors to again be in Judge Wyatt Lavanchy’s familiar courtroom with its beige walls, replica wooden panelled fixtures and furniture, all coldly lit by the ceiling-hung globe-lights. D4-VID was already there waiting for us, the diminutive botcaster had evidence of his own to present at the appeal.
Yaroh Uron was brought out as the appeal commenced, shackled in his oranges, convicted of murdering Doctor Hsu Rou-Taib, the employee of monstrous multinational corporation Protobase Global, he looked sullen and broken.
We knew Hsu Rou-Taib had been rubbed out on the orders of Protobase Global’s head of ethics Benedict Twistom and knew it had been pinned on Yaroh Uron, the dot’s just weren’t connecting though.
Again Magistrate Wyatt Lavanchy was presiding over affairs, he’d convicted Yaroh of murdering Hsu Rou-Taibin seventeen minutes during the original case, it didn’t make us feel any better.
With good reason too.
First, Magistrate Lavanchy allowed Benedict Twistom’s wife, Annabel to give evidence against Yaroh.
Then he allowed Avery Kiani, a rentacop on the Protobase Global payroll to do the same.
Jinny J’s witness statement got discredited because she was a working girl. Character assassination pure and simple.
Following that, D4-VID’s statement was then dismissed as irrelevant.
Yaroh Uron’s appeal had collapsed and he was hauled back to jail. He wouldn’t be leaving Black Dolphin for a long time unless we did something else.
Had to be a link between Lavanchy and Twistom, we’d dug into Lavanchy and he looked clean, had to be something out of sight, something we’d missed, did Twistom have his foot on Lavanchy’s neck? Time to go deeper.
Later I ran automated hunter/seeker protocols on Wyatt Lavanchy with the widest parameters that were manageable and used an algorithm to cross reference all the hits it got. It came back with a single positive that we’d not encountered before and dumped a vid-file on my Nonohiki.
Long range security footage from a while ago displayed an open, green space, one of only a few in Neon City, showing Wyatt Lavanchy and Benedict Twistom together, the pair of them in pastel, cream, orange and salmon coloured pants, polo necks and cardigans. An image-match on the sprawling background skyline identified its location as somewhere in the Fortified Residential Zone; a golf course, where they were playing golf together. We’d have to check it out further.
That night my media-slab pinged, the little algorithm I’d left squatting on Falcon Lockley’s desk-slab system had just booted itself, woken by keywords I’d instructed it to track, it had pinged me cloned messages of Falcon and his hunting party’s plans to go back out into The Wilderness in a week with the intention of bagging another prize, he was determined to get his stuffed bear.
We made sure that Urus Konicek and Neidzwiedz would be waiting.
1st May 2021
Another Saturday night and I’m logged into Meet on my PC.
Time for the next part of Matakishi’s Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Neon City.
Nursing a hangover, eating Paheheu Pops and watching vintage old-time vid-feeds on the wall-slab was the way to spend a morning. I was ignoring my media-slab while it continually flagged up the newsvines, eventually the little chiming jingle got the better of me and I reached for it, all the down-streams were reporting the same thing. I sat on my futon and crunched on the crisped synthetic rice cereal as I read on; The Snot Robber had been apprehended.
The feeds stated that rentacop had finally caught up with The Snot Robber, who was now incarcerated in the Highway Zero precinct.
We’d had encounters with some of the victims and had never gotten a handle on The Snot Robber, so that was that, or so I thought.
It didn’t take long for our media-slabs to ping. Baking champion Martha Woldt had called, she’d been a competitor on the Rokkaku Dai Heights Bake off when we found someone was trying to stack the competition in favour of one of her rivals. We’d also recovered her son who’d almost become a dish on a cannibal menu.
Now she was telling us about her brother? Wilheim Woldt had been arrested under suspicion of being The Snot Robber, Martha believed differently, adamant that he was innocent. We didn’t believe anything, but agreed to look into it.
One hot, crammed tram ride took us into Highway Zero, where typically narrow streets gave way to asphalt roads wide enough to accommodate Neon City’s overpass network at street level, the only district in The City of Electric Dreams to do so, resulting in an unending, low, dull, background rumble that saturated the air.
Midday was getting dangerously close when we reached the rentacop precinct, a brick-fronted corner unit with a heavy glass and steel door situated in a block of businesse locations. Brutal waves of heat hadn’t deterred the scores of news-vultures from gathering outside, ten deep. The Snot Robber had been just weird enough to catch the public’s imagination and the press knew when they were on to a good story.
D4-VID’s diminutive, silver-grey, brushed poly-aluminium frame could be seen in the jostling, hollering mob, so we made ourselves known to him.
The bot-caster came over to us and explained that they were expecting rentacop to release a press statement within the hour.
We told D4-VId that there might be something else to this arrest and asked if he was in? He agreed instantly, if there was a different angle, he knew a big exclusive could be scored.
With some effort we worked our way round the gathered journos until we reached the way in flanked by two jacked-up rentacop uniforms, they regarded us through their standard issue mirrored Poviat shades.
Bill stepped up and spun them about us being Wilheim Woldt’s legal counsel, worked and to be fair, was probably as close to the truth that he could get, we pushed through the sturdy door.
Inside the precinct, it was quiet, insulated from the heat and noise outside the walls. Ggently humming aircon cooled the reception, while subtle, diffused wall lighting gave it an air of calm, as designed, no doubt by some committee of psychologists. We crossed the polished stone floor to a reception desk, more hardened polymer bunker than anything else, with a sheet of thick reinforced transparent acrylic separating us from the desk sergeant.
A stocky man in an ill-fitting rentacop mock uniform, he dragged his eyes away from the slab he was fixated with to watch us close in with a slack jawed, surprised expression.
“Legal counsel for Wilheim Woldt,” Bill stated, leaning into the acrylic.
The desk sergeant couldn’t conceal a scoff.
“That one’s going down,” he replied. “Open and shut, a waste of your time. He was caught with all the noses!”.
Bill didn’t skip a beat and leant into the screen again.
“Legal counsel for Wilheim Woldt.”
A uniform strode deeper into the precinct after being summoned by the out-of-sorts desk sergeant and we followed. Behind the corporate facade of the precinct’s front was a complex of plain and dull grey, workmanlike corridors that interconnected various different rooms and were lit by bleak, white striplights.
Wilheim was sitting on a shaped plastic chair, waiting for us in an interview room when we came in. He was a thin-faced man that appeared gaunt under an unflattering spotlight embedded in the ceiling and wore a miserable, almost shocked expression. After the uniform was gone, we got him to give us the low-down while D4-VID filmed.
Wilheim actually had a job, working as a landlord managing a number of properties throughout Rokkaku Dai Heights. Yesterday he was in a vacated apartment, prepping it for a new tenant when he came across a package that had recently been delivered and was addressed to the previous tenant.
It had split open, spilling its gruesome contents; a handful of bloody noses now scattered across the bare floorboards. Naturally, he had called rentacop, who, when they arrived, promptly arrested and charged him with being The Snot Robber!
Kuto Shiko had been the previous tenant, Wilheim told us. The name was somehow familiar to us….
Wilheim went on, explaining that Kuto Shiko had been his tenant for a year before she vacated the apartment about a month ago.
It had been about a month ago that The Snot Robber had first struck, two threads were now tying them together.
There wasn’t much more that we could get out of Wilheim, and as he was led back to his cell deeper within the precinct, we spoke with the lead investigating officers, they seemed very confident in the strength of their case.
As his legal counsel, we had to be given access to the evidence. Another uniform led us into a different part of the precinct and to a chilly, locked viewing room, it’s climate lowered to zero in order to preserve the evidence. The precinct had no morgue facilities.
Being residents of Neon City, we weren’t acclimatised to this cold, our breath billowed in steamy clouds ahead of us and we could feel the slight burn of cold air biting on exposed skin.
The cold room lacked furniture, save for a table with a box containing the evidence which was being kept in a transparent polythene zipper back.
Pulling it out, we examined it. It wasn’t the chilled noses we were interested in, it was the burlywood coloured packaging. Kuto Shiko’s name and the apartment address had been handwritten.
“That looks like a woman’s style of handwriting,” piped in D4-VID, staring at the package. It looked like he gave the robotic equivalent of a shrug and continued. “It matches parameters stored in my archives, I’ve seen this sort of thing before,”
Other than the handwriting, the packaging contained the post stamp of the delivering courier.
Something to work on at least and we were starting to feel the cold, time to leave. Returning the evidence to it’s box, we exited the room back into reasonable temperature and made our way out of the precinct.
With the clamour outside the precinct behind us, we got out of the unforgiving sky in a small greasy eatery that was the kind favoured by the transportation workers who rolled into Highway Zero and went about following up our leads.
Contacting the courier got us nothing, they had picked up the package from one of the multitude of anonymous self-service postal drop-lockers that dotted Rokkaku Dai Heights.
So next, we turned to Kuto Shiko and immediately got something. I’d been scouring her MyFaceSpace account and had gotten a hit.
We’d seen the name Kuto Shiko before, encountering it when we’d crossed paths with her ex-girlfriend, Royla Ovalev. A while back we’d found a maniacal Royla and stopped her trying to torture Yaroh Uron to death.
“I’ll get her!” Royla had feverishly screamed back then and struggled while Trigger had dragged her off Yaroh.
At the time, in that candle lit room, thick with heavy incense, it’d meant nothing.
But now, my mind went back to the creepy shrine adorned with a blood splashed photo of a young woman and in that dim, flickering yellow light, I remembered the photo had a name; Kuto Shiko. We’d even seen Kuto Shiko working as a waitress at Pie-in-the-Sky, a restaurant here in Highway Zero
How did I remember this? Kuto’s MyFaceSpace account had the answer. I’d been scrolling through her profile’s timeline and seen the last few posts from Royla.
There’d been a series of exchanges between the two: Kuto had dumped Royla and Royla had taken it badly, Kuto had mocked her about this and it only intensified Royla’s erratic emotional state.
The final two exchanges between them had read:
“Seriously Royla you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face,” Kuto had said.
“I H8 U!” was Royla’s reply.
“Srysly? You go gurl,”
“I’ll show you what nose cutting really is,”
Too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence, Kuto’s old address must have been getting the noses delivered from Royla, she had to be The Snot Robber.
Rolya Ovalev’s apartment was in The Heights, we’d been there before and rushed over on the overcrowded tramline. She had to be stopped before she struck again.
The apartment was situated in one of The Height’s social-housing graded, dull grey and under-maintained high-rises, Trigger’s thermal sweep showed no heat signatures inside.
No time for subtly, for a second time Trigger kicked the door open.
Inside, it was a mess, the apartment was in disarray, refuse had been strewn across the apartment floors, broken crockery was scattered everywhere,as well as utensils, clothes, upturned shelves and more. Long chunks had been repeatedly gouged out of the stud walls and broken furniture, most likely a large knife was the cause. It looked like the knife had been put through a wall-slab as well.
In the living room we found a large hardcopy poster-map of Golden Gai draped from a wall, Royla had drawn a pentagram on the map. It consisted of a number of spots that had also been marked on the map; she'd drawn lines between those spots and these lines had formed the shape of the pentagram. Abruptly, we realised that those spots were locations where The Snot Robber - where Royla had struck. Looking closer and crossing data, we realised there was a pattern; according to the dates, attacks were taking place around the pentagram in a clockwise pattern.
Not only that, on the map, next to the location where each attack took place, there were two smeared ticks in what looked like dried blood, except one, which had only a single tick. There was a lurch in my gut, the location of Royla’s next attack, that had to be it?
Time was tight, but before we left, we searched the rest of Royla’s apartment. There was nothing that would help us find her but amongst the carpet of trash in the kitchen area we found the same burlywood coloured packaging we’d seen back at the Highway Zero precinct, the final nail in the coffin.
Royla had to be stopped.
It was a quick ride and transfer to and from Shibuya Terminal to the Corporate Monorail, the comfortable, smooth ride into Shinjuku Station belied our uneasiness. The day was wearing on and in a couple of hours Golden Gai would be flooded by the evening crowds, meandering tourists, suited wage-monkeys and run-of-the-mill Neon City revellers, a plentiful hunting ground for The Snot Robber and a nightmare for us, Golden Gai’s topographical maze didn’t help
In the east, the cloudless blue-white sky was beginning to fail, inextricably consumed by the hungry rise of a darkening canopy as, on the final leg of our journey, the tram rumbled into Golden Gai.
As day acquiesced to night, the temperature would dip modestly and tumultuous soot-coloured rain clouds would gather, soon after the night-long downpours would begin.
An abundance of drinking venues populated the particularly narrow and unpredictably branching streets of Golden Gail which convolutedly crossed other thoroughfares like an erratically spun web spread throughout massive concrete canyons.
Looking around, we found some vantage points and settled in to observe, Koko grabbed her control-slab and instructed Kevin up high to sweep the area with advanced optics in a slow circular patrol.
Time passed, street lights ticked and hummed into flickering life as we watched wasted wage-monkeys mixing with surly street goths, no-hopers and flamboyant fashionistas in the latest Desullo, Shaguaifu and Hysteric Mini Seibu lines. Over comms, Koko told us that Kevin was tracking someone that met the drone’s search parameters, she fed visuals to the rest of us.
He was a burly man, decked out all in black; a voluminous high-necked black cape was layered over a black Tremeita Hiaki greatcoat which was in turn layered over a three-piece black Gaongha suit. The look was finished off with some sort of tall top hat and he carried a black walking stick tipped in a faux-silver heel and with a replica ivory handle and a imitation leather Mahakam suitcase fashioned in the style of a old-school doctor’s bag
We watched as he flitted somewhat unconvincingly from shadow to shadow? This didn’t look like Royla, was she in some kind of disguise?
Before we could assess the situation, Kevin’s motion detector picked up something, it was moving fast. An ephemeral distortion seemingly surrounded Top Hat man as somewhere from above, the featureless profile of a ninja had dropped down, no time to think or even react! With a single swing, the ninja’s Ninjato flashed over Top Hat’s face and he flopped to the sidewalk with a cry, holding his bloodied face.
The Snot Robber had struck again.
Trigger had left his spot and was running towards Top Hat now, but seemingly The Snot Robber had vanished in the moment it’d took Trigger to get there? Trigger immediately switched to thermals and spotted The Snot Robber slinking away, he lunged and hit out with his gunblade, landing a solid blow, the air rippled and ninja reappeared, a long split in the ninja-yoroi’s silhouetted profile exposed the paper-thin, elaborately complex microcircuitry beneath, stealth-tech - and it’d been compromised!
Koko sent in Sylvester and Felix to attack and Roderrick also unloaded the now visible Snot Robber, the explosive flechettes were too much and they went down.
Quickly, we checked Top Hat, he’d taken a serious injury the face, but wasn’t in a critical condition and to prove that Neon City never lost its sense of irony, we discovered that Top Hat, who would be The Snot Robber’s final victim, was actually Doctor Grippen, the cosmetic surgeon we’d heard about who’d been making so much bank from the attacks!
Next, our attention was turned to the ninja, the mask was peeled away and Royla was revealed, The Snot Robber had been stopped.
Rentacop at Highway Zero had announced the capture of The Snot Robber in the morning but hadn’t given the press a name, which was fortunate for Wilheim Woldt. Later, he was quietly released without fuss allowing rentacop to retain the mote of credibility they had before they issued a press statement identifying Royla Ovalev as The Snot Robber.
Before we had the chance to call it a day, Bill’s media-slab pinged, caller ID told him it was Mister Blank, which is why Bill was surprised when he found a Mexican woman on the other end.
She was unsettled, crying and on the verge of hysteria. Between gasping breaths, she explained with a shaking voice that she had been told to call Bill and he needed help right now?
Bill tried to make sense of it, asking the woman to elaborate, but there was only a moment of overloud, distorted clattering as something collided with the media-slab, followed by silence.
“No, don’t go,” Bill heard a voice, muffled and distant say.
Then, more silence.
The line to the other slab was still open. I quickly jacked into the GLOWNET, it’s vividly coloured, angular, pulsating info-scape replacing physical reality before my eyes, I searched the thousands of constantly updating data-flows closest to me, Bill’s media-slab connection was easy to find and I launched a tracing-protocol that allowed me follow his connection to Blank’s slab, got a fix on the location; western Akihabara.
The flier powered through the furious downpour and Neon City’s nighttime sky-traffic, Koko navigated high-rise cubic silhouettes, delineated only by grids of window lights and which formed the cityscape.
The fix on Blank’s slab had led us to a nondescript and inadequately lit Akihabra back alley, its sparsely placed street lights seemed to weakly illuminate nothing but gleaming raindrops caught in their hazy, semi-spherical light scatter.
In a flurry of turbine driven rain and wind, the flier set us down and then, with a deep engine-hum lifted off. The fix got stronger as we went into the thoroughfare, a few small shop fronts and businesses were dotted throughout the alley with customers backlit against the night as they came and went. Following the fix took us to the doorway of a shady looking back street surgery, lights were on but it looked closed for the night and that was unusual? These kinds of unlicensed street docs made most of their bank during the hours of darkness, plying their trade on clients who didn’t appreciate any questions.
I couldn’t help but notice that someone had broken and ripped up the corner of a paving stone close to the wall so they could piggy-back off of the city’s juice. A heavy-duty insulated and rubberised cable ran from the exposed junction box and had been squeezed under the surgery’s door, it wasn’t locked and inside was a reception.
Empty; nobody was in the meagrely furnished reception, nothing of note either and the desk-slab was cold. The rubberised cable snaked its way out of the room, so we followed.
It wound its way down some steps that led down into the basement, at the foot of the stairs there was some dim light.
As we crept down, the basement came into view, the steps opened up into what we’d come to recognise as a back street doc’s surgery; an undecorated and grubby out-of-the-way room, equipped with dated Saengdal medtech.
Our attention was drawn to the contraption that dominated the centre of the room, suspended in some sort of polythene and gel harness was a skinless man, he was still alive and several tubes had been inserted into various parts of his body, pumping various fluids around. It was then that we realised that he was missing multiple organs and the tubes were keeping him alive! The work of organ jackers. Eyes from an unrecognisable face stared at us through spectacles.
“Help me’” came the plea from a lipless mouth..
I felt my gut lurch when we caught on to who it was; Mister Blank!
His media-slab was on the floor here, next to an old fashioned mop and bucket, bubbly water still filled it.
A call was put into a trauma team, Mister Blank had good credit and it’d only be a few minutes before they got here.
Mister Blank’s speech was barely recognisable, but he informed us that he’d failed to win over Olivia, the love of his life and she still didn’t have any feelings for him. He thought it might’ve been his skin condition, so he came here to Doctor Zephyr’s surgery for a skin replacement. Zephyr took his skin off, but instead of supplying new skin, he helped himself to Blank’s organs, hooked him up to this ramshackle life support system and left!
When the cleaning lady had arrived, she’d shrieked in shock, Mister Blank had managed to convince her to call Bill before she fled in horror. He seemed regretful of his decision to have a skin transplant.
Soon after this, the trauma team arrived and carted Mister Blank off to a med-tech facility.
It didn’t take long to get some contact details on one Doctor Xavier Zephyr, time to check him out.
Bill pinged him but only got voicemail, looked like Zephyr had already skipped town on the bank for Blank’s organs and hadn’t given a return date, probably never.
Just in case though, Bill left a message saying he was looking for inexpensive organ upgrades.
It had gotten late into the night and in the thundering downpour, we headed home.
A new day brought old problems because the City of Electric Dreams never did know when to quit it. Bad news was the pulsating lifeblood of Neon City and the newsvines obligingly pumped it out and circulated it through every sprawling prefecture and crowded district.
Bigfoot had been spotted in the streets of Akihabara if the vines were to be believed! The story wasn’t what caught our attention though, it was the address: A few days ago, at the behest of Mister Blank, we’d relocated some retro-tech, off-the-grid squatters from his property to that same address.
The situation was unclear and we took a ride back out to the address in Akihabara, with the elevator still out of order, headed up to the loft by foot.
There was no indication of the music that the squatters liked to blare out loudly so much as we walked up to the loft, other than Neon City’s typical dull, background murmur, it was quiet.
Initially the loft, partially lit as it was by hazy, rectangular spots of sunlight that streamed through skylights, seemed empty, unoccupied. Then we saw dried patches of blood, accumulated in puddles on the old dusty carpet or smeared across walls, an unmistakable, pungent odour of wet fur hung in the air. There were no bodies here, they must have been carted off, were there any survivors, it looked unlikely? It was a harsh fate; putting them here had taken them out of Blank’s sights and the reach of any thugs he might hire. But the truth is; when Neon City wants to put you in the dirt, she’s going to put you down.
Carefully avoiding the bloodstains, we searched the loft and in the detritus we found torn, brown wrapping paper labelled in Mandarin as traditional Chinese medicine, it looked out of place amongst the personal belongings of the squatters who’d been here? The wrapping paper gave us an address; Doctor Wei Bao-Bi in Akihabara.
Looking further, we found the large bloody paw prints throughout the loft that must have belonged to some massive animal; maybe Bigfoot?
Almost subconsciously, I lightly brushed my fingertips reassuringly over the textured grip of one of my .45 ACPs.
The footprints led close to a wall and up to the loft’s roof access.
We clambered out of the loft and under the cloudless, glaring blue-white sky with it’s pummelling heat and scanned the undulating rooftops. In some shade we spotted a bear! It had been sleeping, but as we had gotten up, with a low growl, it had stirred and began rising.
Enormous muscles rippled under its fur as it manoeuvred to its feet, bared teeth and swore at us, another uplifted bear! Quickly Bill spoke to it and calmed it down.
‘Old Ben’ was his name, he told us.
Ben went on to explain that he was tired, just wanted to sleep and needed to get to a forest. He had no memories of his current predicament, just a vague recollection of being shot?
Then Ben had woken in a strangely smelling darkened room with a small man screaming at him, reflexively, he’d struck out at the man, grabbed some of the packaging from the room and fled.
He had wandered the streets of Akihabara in a disorientated fugue as the panicking crowds had peeled away from him. In this state of confusion he had gone into the loft and encountered a lot of angry, young people there, his memory wasn’t clear but he’d gone into a rage.
Ben didn’t seem a danger right now, leaving him here risked the authorities, or even worse, Rentacop finding him, that would spell trouble for him. We decided to move him to our RV. Koko remotely pulled the flier over and we took Ben and met up with the RV in one of Highway Zero’s vast asphalt parking lots.
It worked out well, the RV was currently empty, RAM Rat was nowhere to be found and the Party Favours that we’d stowed here were taking a break from their activities.
As we sent the RV off on its automated route, we knew that Ben couldn’t stay there long, he’d told us he needed to sleep and the only forests that could be found in Neon were constructed of concrete and glass.
We could only see one course of action and contacted Urus Konicek and Neidźwiedź from the outsider settlement; The Enclave. There would be space enough for Ben in the extended wilderness beyond the walled confines of Neon City. Urus told us that they would collect Ben late tonight.
An unforgiving sun had passed its zenith over Neon City and the day’s heat had begun to wane, though it was still at the limits of toleration. Thanks to what Ben had told us, there was a Chinese medicine shop in Akihabara we had an inclination to visit.
The Wei Bao-Bi shop had a small and traditionally styled, glass fronted faux-wood facade, the once brightly coloured signage that announced it sold traditional Chinese medicine had now faded, it was also shut and in Neon City, nothing was shut in the day, something was wrong.
Lights were off in the shop and nothing could be seen through the windows, Trigger’s thermals also gave him nothing. It was easy for him to jemmy the old lock open and unhesitatingly enter, he became immediately aware of a stink that he associated with the stench of death, the shopfront looked clear and the rest of us entered.
The shelves were packed with scores of jars, boxes, drawers and packets, practically from floor to ceiling and all labelled in Mandarin. Behind the glass counter, a door led to the backrooms, we searched a couple of them, a store room and an office before we came across the body of a small Chinese man slumped awkwardly in a pool of his own dried blood with a row of bloody scarlet wounds gouged across his face and throat, clearly the cause of his demise. Laying in the dried blood and clutched in one twisted hand was some sort of pumping apparatus.
Old Ben had definitely been here.
We looked around, it took us a moment to realise that this room was different to the others, it was mostly empty, no stock or supplies here. Rows of strange tools filled a rack along one wall and beneath it was a functional, plain steel table, along another wall was a small desk and behind the stink of the man’s death was a peculiar pickled smell?
The Jinonghua landline on the desk was winking a red LED at us, we went over and jabbed the ansaphone playback stud, a tinny speaker spouted out a crackling audio message from a man who called himself Falcon Lockely; something about going out on another hunting trip?
Usually, on the desk was also some actual ‘paper’ paperwork, an invoice from Doctor Wei Bao-Bi for taxidermy service to Falcon Lockley at the Margorba-Golina Global Corporation, for stuffing one bear! Looked like Old Ben had escaped a darker fate.
There wasn’t anything else to be found here, so we headed out.
Daylight was failing, the diffused globe of red light that was the sun began slipping behind Neon City's soaring western skyline and shadows lengthened as we rolled into Hikage Street.
We never got home though as our media-slabs pinged.
Neon City wasn’t done with us yet.
Captain Ocano was the name given by whoever was on the other side of the line, told us he had a job and to meet him at the Shinjuku Precinct for a briefing.
Another day, another precinct, Ocano had to be rentacop.
Going to Shinjuku meant going back to Shibuya Terminal and hitting the Corporate Monorail to the Shinjuku-Cho prefecture. The workday had ended, but you’d never have guessed from the monorail; a world away from the crowded, noisy, overheated tramlines. Adaptive climate control kept Neon City’s harsh temperatures at bay and the seats were comfortable and well spaced, even then, it was never more than partially full, only the top percenters and corporate execs had access to the monorail, and of course us, thanks to Porter Sladek. With our ripped denims, suspiciously bulging fatigue jackets or cracked and worn black leather dusters we kicked back and had our combat boots up on the deep, well upholstered seats while the other commuters with their designer Gaongha business suits gave us the sidelong stink-eye and kept their distance. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
The nightly downpour was well underway by the time we’d exited the monorail and navigated the narrow, busy footways to the precinct. Outside it was typically a rentacop bunker, the featureless brick-fronted facade had a single steel and glass door that led into a sparse reception. A quick conversation with the desk sergeant behind his screen got us through security and upstairs and into the precinct’s hub. Originally an open plan room with beige walls and worn, stained grey carpeting, it was now populated by acrylic-walled cubicles and dividers, occupied with uniforms, suited rentacops and numerous civilian contractors.
Justice didn’t only come here to die, it came for the long doughnut break too.
A uniform led us along one beige wall to a row of actual offices, one of which was emblazoned with the title; Captain Ocano.
He was a tall, burly and dark-skinned man with short, greying black hair and a moustache so out-of-fashion, it’d come back into fashion and gone out of it again decades ago. He wore a mismatched brown Kuabha jacket and grey Shaguaifu suit trousers, somehow neither of which fit, a creased, undersized eggshell coloured Jala shirt and a particularly drab Ecohio tie? There was an irritated scowl on his face when he rose from his desk to greet us and he spoke in what could only be described as an outside voice.
Halfway through explaining to us that we’d been recommended by Juicy J, he interrupted himself and took the opportunity to shout through the glass wall at some random rentacop.
Ocano went on to tell us about Miguel Fernandez, a rentacop from the precinct who’d gone undercover to infiltrate the Kibukicho Flesh Cartel.
Ocano had sent someone from the precinct to bring in Miguel from the organisation, during the extraction, Miguel had recognised the rentacop and fled, yelling something about rentacop trying to kill him.
Ocano was worried that Miguel had gone native during his time undercover and wanted outsiders to bring him in, Miguel wouldn’t see us coming. He then filled us in about the Flesh Cartel.
It operated out of Southern Kibukicho and was known for its involvement with pimps, the ‘skin-trade’ and other exploitation. The Flesh Cartel was headed by Usman ‘Emir’ Kasim, a canny leader who styled himself as ‘The King of Pimps’. Ocano also gave us some intel of their turf and hangouts, as well as photos of the gangers - including Miguel Fernandez.
We took the flier to Kibukicho, it effortlessly powered through the driving rain and soon we were in stealth-mode, hovering over one of Neon City’s few small open spaces and well known Flesh Cartel haunt
Pedestrians and passer-bys streamed through the area and several smallish groups loitered around, Koko flipped the external cameras to infrared and swept the square, almost immediately, the facial recog got a hit, Miguel was down there. Now we needed a strategy to get him out.
Jokingly, I told Trigger to use a bungee cord to drop down and grab Miguel.
I was in the flier’s washroom for only a couple of minutes but when I came out, the floor access hatch had been slid open and Trigger was in the process of securing a bungee cord he’d sourced from a storage locker around his ankle. Dumbstruck and before I could explain anything, he’d jumped! We stood by helplessly as the coiled and elasticated cord was speedily dragged through the hatch into the night.
On the flier’s screens we watched Trigger plummet, then rapidly decelerate as he closed in on the ground and Miguel; for an infinitesimal moment he seemed to have stopped moving altogether and simply hung in the air as the cord had reached its maximum elasticity. Trigger’s arms flailed awkwardly as he completely missed the mark and was yanked skyward by the contracting cord. The Flesh Cartel gangers collectively yelped when they saw Trigger bouncing back up, pulling pistols, they began shooting at him!
The bungee reached the top of its upward trajectory and Trigger was now headed back down again, only now through a hail of gunfire, this time he’d get Miguel, but no, it was another flailing miss and Miguel had decided to run for it. Trigger was yelling instructions through the comms and Koko eased the flier in the direction of the fleeing man.
“I’ll get him this time!” I heard Trigger doggedly shout over comms optimistically.
Now also swaying alarmingly, Trigger came diving back down to try and grab Miguel for a third time - and failed again!
The other gangers had continued firing on the moving target that was Trigger and he caught a round. It was all enough for him and he cut the bungee cord, dropped to the ground and chased Miguel on foot. Maybe multiple bungee jumps had left Trigger disorientated or it was the greasy rain-covered terrain, but, despite his augmented speed, he couldn’t keep up with Miguel, losing both his footing and sight of him.
The attempt to get Miguel had failed spectacularly, we picked Trigger up and retreated out of sight.
For the next few hours we lurked in the black, rainy skies above South Kibukicho, patrolling, watching, waiting. Eventually facial recog caught Miguel Fernandez showing his face again, he was alone and looking skittish. A vulnerable but tricky mark.
While we’d been waiting, we’d discussed our next move and had come up with a new strategy.
Bill was already down on street level, ready and waiting when we pinged him. Nanite implants and vocal augments allowed him to disguise himself as Usman Kasim and he moved to intercept his mark while Koko landed the flier close as possible. Approaching Miguel, Bill managed to convince him that he was Usman, then he convinced him to come into the flier.
Miguel was shocked to see the rest of us there as he came in, I could see he was thinking of running, but with four of us, no chance of getting away and he knew it..
Bill then tried calming him down, told him that Ocano had no bad intentions for him, he said that the Captain just wanted Miguel brought back in. Miguel seemed to relax, but we kept an eye on him.
The flight back to the Shinjuku precinct was uneventful and we escorted Miguel back to Captain Ocano.
As thanks, Captain Ocano gave us one of his business cards.
“Use this if you ever get in trouble with the cops,” he shouted.
It was the small hours, rain hadn’t let up, never did; we left Shinjuku and dodged through the graveyard traffic, rushing to pick Old Ben up from the RV in Highway Zero. At night, the sight of the unending flow of three hundred KPH grid-locked congestion blurred into seemingly unbroken gleaming lines of red and silver.
From Highway Zero we went to southern Hikage Street, the commercial end of the district was home to the massive steel and concrete pipe system that managed part of Neon City’s infrastructure. A tangle of above-and-below pipes and tunnels that was impenetrable to the unprepared, Urus was a master at moving through them, adept at avoiding any installed security measure. It gave him free access in and out of Neon City.
Under the shelter of a large arching pipe we found Urus and Neidźwiedź waiting for us out of the street lights.
It turned out that Neidźwiedź and Old Ben knew each other and Ben was happy to go with them.
Ben had no memory of what had occurred before waking up in Akihabara. Neidźwiedź explained that it was likely a hunting party composed of pampered execs led by professional huntsmen had come out to the wilderness looking to bag something, Old Ben had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We told them about Falcon Lockley and his intention to come out on another hunt, Neidźwiedź shrugged his massive sloped shoulders and said. “We’ll be waiting this time,”.
As a parting gift, Urus and Neidźwiedź gave us a couple of baskets filled with fresh food and took Old Ben into the maze of underground pipes and tunnels, eventually out of Neon City and into the wilderness, hopefully Ben would find what he needed there.
Last thing I did that night was to jack into the GLOWNET, finding Margorba-Golina Global’s brightly incandescent data-image, I had to go beyond the public facing and sanitised branding. A cracking algorithm got me through the security protocols, peeling the layer away, I journeyed into their data-vault, from there finding personal information on Falcon Lockley was easy, now I had his personal media-slab contact details and the server-vault they resided on.
Margorba-Golina Global fell away, reduced to a point of light as I travelled the pulsating data-flows of Neon City. The server-vault that managed the personal data-vault of Falcon’s media-slab was easier to crack than Margorba-Golina Global, I replicated a small parcel of data into the vault, it would monitor Falcon’s usage and when it got hits for hunt or wilderness, it would temporarily archive the data and ping it to me.
The next time he made a call about hunting, we would know.
Another day came, bringing with it a blaze or urine-coloured light that shone through my one-bed’s missing wall. I’d crashed on the futon still wearing my street clothes in the early hours and didn’t get up until my media-slab began its merciless pinging after lunch.
We’d gotten a call from The Accountant; the brain-in-a-suitcase we had discovered, then liberated from Yennav Rybasei and who had then assumed both the body and the identity of a cookie-cutter wage-monkey named Hayden Weyer. Last we heard of him, he was in convalescence and being cared for by Ashaglaya.
“We have a problem,” he said and pinged us his location; a warehouse in Akihabara.
Back to Akihabara, third time in as many days!
For a warehouse, it was a fairly nondescript building located in a small, anonymous and underutilized business park that was outside the retail centre of the district. The busy streets, bustle and colour of Akihabara fell away as we entered the drab business park and strode across to the warehouse.
The doors were unlocked and inside It was a surprise to find the warehouse was nothing more than a steel skeletal shell with a skin of polycarbonate cladding that lacked any interior features; no reception, visible office or stock, nothing. It was unlit save for a number of indistinct shafts of sunlight which weakly lanced through the stained and unmaintained skylights above onto the bare concrete floor.
There was a single person here, Hayden Weyers.
Hayden Weyes, The Accountant was sitting on the floor with a despondent expression on his face and gripping a media slab contemplatively in one hand.
He watched us approach and explained what was going on when we asked.
At lunch time, Hayden had gone out to get a protein shake when someone had approached him. She had the appearance of a ten year old girl and wore an enveloping shiny red vinyl coat and was chain-smoking Huhani cigarettes, it was a popular brand and Hayden had recognised its particular pungent aroma.
The girl told him that he had been activated and pressed a tiny screen-slab into his palm before briskly slipping away into the crowds. The readout was displaying a map, it showed the warehouse in Akihabara.
So Hayden had come here, found the warehouse unlocked and empty, came inside and found the data-slab.
“I don’t believe Hayden Weyer was ever a real person, I think it was a cover for someone else,” he said, looking from one of us to another. “And I think this slab has something to do with it?”
It was obvious that the media-slab was a dead-drop burner, a one way street for communication. We didn’t have to wait long for it to ping.
Hayden switched the slab to speaker and we all listened to the call. It was a male voice, curt and guttural.
“We are coming down now. Meet us at the terminal at sixteen-hundred hours. Don't be late.”
The call went dead, that was it.
When he had referred to coming down and terminal, it had to mean The Sky Tree, it couldn’t be anywhere else.
The City of Electric Dreams was connected to the Glitterband thousands of kilometres above via the engineering superstructure that was The Shinkansen Link, an enormous space-elevator which was anchored to Neon City at The Sky Tree. Whoever this was, he was coming down from the Glitterband.
The Sky Tree was located in Asakusa-cho prefecture, not far from Akihabara. Koko called in the flier and we headed over.
Constructed of steel, concrete and glass, with smooth, featureless, almost minimalist silver-grey exterior walls and dramatically angular edges, The Sky Tree was a monument to modernism and a colossal edifice, maybe the largest structure in Neon city. Even from kilometres away, it loomed over the horizon menacingly and dominated the skyline, dwarfing its surroundings.
The Shinkansen Link itself was a massive cord of thick, poly-carbon alloy, high tensile hexagonal cable that rose directly upwards, seemingly dematerialising into the haze of the blue-white sky and ultimately ending at the Glitterband. Each face of the hexagonal cable was wide enough to house a vertical railtrack which carried traffic and maintenance pods up and down the link. However, the behemothic luxury shuttle which served Neon City’s ultra wealthy citizens curled around the link entirely and was heavy enough to require all six vertical railway tracks to ascend or descend.
As Koko navigated the heavy aerial traffic around The Sky Tree, it expanded to fill the forward view ports, Koko circled round until we found a suitable landing pad, from there we took an elevator into arrivals.
The interior was also vast, a high vaulted ceiling rose up a score of metres, decorated in the same silver-grey colour as the exterior and janitorial robots smoothly moved around arrivals, diligently maintaining the highly polished porcelain coloured faux marble floor. Natural lighting and climate control lent it a calm, airy ambience.
There was only one reason this much bank was ever spent on anything - rich people. The Glitterband was the most exclusive location on or off Earth and The Shinkansen Link served this new aristocracy.
Because of this exclusivity, terminals were sparsely used and we watched the wealthy few coming and going, with their elite trend-setting fashions and perfectly bio-sculpted bodies, accompanied by their jacked-up personal security and bodyguards. We also noticed the high level of rentaguard that discreetly patrolled the perimeters. None of this told us who to expect.
At sixteen-hundred, on the dot, we were approached by two individuals, a well dressed, olive skinned man with an unreadable face who wore a ultra-tech blended alloy Uchike katana over a Evoda trench coat and was accompanied by a slim young woman with blue hair and almost elfin features, save emotionless, almost unblinking dark eyes.
Ignoring the rest of us. the pair made for Hayden Weyer, or so they thought! We’d told Hayden to go home and that we’d handle it, Bill was now disguised as Hayden and would have a better chance of dealing with this, hopefully they wouldn’t be suspicious enough to blow Bill’s cover.
The man spoke with the familiar guttural voice from the media-slab.
“I am Oni Tokugawa and this is my apprentice, Gemini Benedict,” he informed us. “You must immediately take us to the womb north of Neon City.”
Briefly, we all flicked suspicious glances at each other, this was no coincidence.
A while back, beyond the northern confines of Neon City and in the green expanse that was the wilderness, we’d encountered a shuttle crash, the survivors were a child in a exowomb and his mother. The woman was Avril Heywood, daughter of Barnabas Haywood and citizen of The Messenger hab on the Glitterband, Avril was adamant that her father had been behind the attack on the shuttle and them. Currently Avril and her son were cloistered away in The Enclave.
Oni Tokugawa had to be looking for the exowomb, we asked Oni who we were searching for and he confirmed our suspicions.
What did he want with it? If he represented Barnabus Haywood, that would pose a serious risk to the boy and Avril, if not, then why was he looking for them? Asking Oni who he worked for posed too great a risk of breaking Bill’s cover.
We brought the pair of them up to our flier, lifted off and set a bearing for the wilderness. Oni provided us coordinates of what he told us was the last place the exowomb’s signal had been detected; which led directly to The Enclave.
The flier’s rumbling engine-note changed pitch as Koko took it to full speed and Neon City’s varied cityscape rolled by like undulating waves of architecture. Soon we were approaching the limits of the city and beyond that, the wall.
Oni and Gemini rebuffed any attempts we made at chat or conversation as we flew north.
An alarm pinged on Koko’s console, she looked at Oni and told him that we had no authorisation to cross the wall and began to slow the flier. The wall’’s aerial defenses were supposedly to prevent intrusion from outside but they didn’t discriminate.
“What happened to the vehicle you were provided?” Oni asked, turning to Bill.
“In the shop,” Bill replied without hesitation.
Oni gave a small exhalation of breath, I saw his eyes rapidly flicker across the components of the co-pilot’s console, barely focussing and processing some internal calculation, something I’d seen before but only rarely and likely the result of an implant that in some way altered or enhanced his behaviour, most likely analytical skills or awareness. He then took the co-pilot’s seat and began punching commands into the console.
While Oni was distracted, I took the opportunity to quickly warn Urus that trouble might be coming the Enclave’s way.
A few moments later and the alarm on Koko’s console died, she scrutinised her console and saw the flier’s transponder code had altered, a small row of red readouts winked green, access to cross the city wall had been granted and Koko picked up speed.
With Neon City in the rear, the Wilderness’ verdant landscape unfolded ahead of us, our previous foray had been at ground level and we couldn’t appreciate its vast richness this vantage point now afforded us. Long rippling grasses extended across the rolling plains, wavering forests spread over hazy, distant and steep hills and in the lowering, afternoon sunlight glimmered off faraway lakes and rivers.
As the distance to The Enclave continued to diminish, our screens showed The Enclave’s defences coming online, wall mounted gun turrets swivelling to face us. Oni instructed us to prepare weapons. His attention wasn’t on The Enclave though, he’d angled one of the flier’s external cameras skywards, searching for something else? I saw his gaze go distant for a second, the implant was processing.
“They’re here!” He announced, looking up with a hint of finality.
Before we could respond, sudden turbulence rocked the flier, we had to brace ourselves to stay in our seats and Koko fought to retain control.
There was a tremendous roar as whatever had passed us landed close to The Enclave, throwing up immense quantities of dust and smoke. After training a camera on the object, it was switched through thermal, infrared, night vision and real time image enhancement until we saw what it was; something we’d only ever seen on screens.
The massive flat-bottomed teardrop shape was the profile of a Qiuonriji Tihu class dropship, designed to rapidly deploy ground troops from an orbital point of origin. It was a serious piece of military hardware and it hadn’t come from Neon City.
A split suddenly appeared in the side of the convex teardrop and a gangway dropped open, slamming into the ground.
Immediately; Shock Troopers in Tzedesp combat armour swiftly disembarked out of the dropship in combat formation, streaming directly for The Enclave. It was unlikely that The Enclave had the firepower to repel them, even so, gunfire erupted from both sides.
“They’ve come to kill the child, “ Oni said grimly. “Set us down close to their dropship and protect him.”
As Koko complied with the instruction, I ran a recog algorithm on a symbol on the dropship and got a hit. The symbol was attributed to The Messenger habitat, Barnabus Haywood had made his move.
We didn’t know anything about Oni and Gemini but it was a case of the enemy of my enemy, at least for now.
Before the flier had touched down, both Oni and Gemini jumped the final metre to the ground and strode purposely in the direction of the dropship.
Fighting was fierce and the Enclave’s walls had been quickly breached and that’s where we headed.
Our two pronged attack was effective and the Messenger shock troopers hadn’t expected an attack on their flank from outside the walls. Our assault put them on the back foot and drove rearward as we fought our way into the Enclave’s complex and towards the hospital. Oni and Gemini meanwhile, had struck hard at the rear files of soldiers, their enhanced melee combat abilities allowed them to drive a wedge through the enemy’s formation, causing chaos.
All discipline collapsed, the Messenger’s vanguard was forced to retreat into their own troops who were in a state of disarray and communication had broken down. Sensing victory, the Enclave defenders pressed their advantage.
The shock troopers then routed, fleeing into the wilderness, abandoning their dropship. A silence settled on the small battle site as the outsiders counted their casualties, fortunately we were unhurt, as were Oni and Gemini.
Oni demanded to be taken to the exowomb, so we did. It was of course empty, Avril and her son were safely hidden away from here. Oni looked at us implacably as we explained that the exowomb had already been found and the child had been safely extricated, now both mother and son were somewhere safe.
I could see Oni’s eyes unfocus for a moment again, calculating the situation, assessing variables, he knew they were unlikely to find the boy alone, he also realised that we’d interacted with his mother, he was aware of the questions to ask us but had probably also computed the answers. In the end he settled on a direct approach and turned to Bill.
“Contact Avril Haywood,” he said. “And tell her that Michael Leander wants to take his family to Emptiness,”
After we explained the situation to Avril, she was happy to return to the Glitterband with Oni, Gemini, Avril and the boy. It was probably the safest place for him.
We said our goodbyes to the outsiders and returned to Neon City. It was dark when we left and night had draped a starry sky over the wilderness, without the rain clouds, the empyrean was decorated with constellations and nebulae. Meanwhile, the landscape that rushed past below the flier had been consumed by the void, a darkness so encompassing that it would be unimaginable in Neon City with its seemingly endless lines and grids of lights.
Red gloaming light pollution rose over the horizon as we neared Neon City, light rain began splattering on the flier’s roof, intensifying as we closed in and by the time we passed the wall, it had become the familiar heavy torrent we knew so well.
Must’ve been past midnight by the time we’d reached the landing pads at the Sky Tree. After that we escorted everyone down to departures, it was another vast well maintained high vaulted terminal with a faux marble floor.
Before going their way, Avril turned to us and thanked us for what we’d done, then told us that should we ever be up in space, that we should meet up with her.
The four of them went through check-in and out of sight.
It was well past midnight now, enough time to hit happy hour on the bars at Dogenzaka Hill.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.