Wired Neon Cities - Session 23
29th May 2021
It's a Saturday night and we're logged into chat for the next part of Matakishi's Wired Neon City campaign.
Location: Neon City
Like for the last few days, I spent the morning avoiding the newsvines, my media slab was in the corner of my one-bed, where I’d hurled it a while ago, it sat next to the edge of the urine-coloured, flapping polymer tarp which stretched across one demolished wall and all the while intermittently issued cheerful little chirps whenever it synched with some news-server and pulled the latest bulletins.
Didn’t matter though, news was all the same, only three stories were running.
Someone had made a move against Porter Sladek, it was big news. Somehow his security had been ninja’d and during a board meeting he’d gotten taken out by an explosion. Sources stated that he was alive but in critical condition and wired-in to some exec-level med-facility; he certainly hadn’t shown his face since.
For Thetatec, the incapacitation of its totemic chief exec proved a disaster, triggering loss of confidence in the multinational and a run on it’s shares, market value tumbled and Protobase Global swept in like some sharp-eyed scavenger, using its deep pockets to suck those plummeting shares up.
Soon, with most of the board rubbed out, Protobase Global had a controlling interest in Thetatec.
It was about as bad as it could get.
In another story; war had broken out between two Neon City’s numerous bands of religious nutjobs.
Open conflict between The Church of Redeemed Sinners and a new player called the Children of Saika was playing out on the wreckage-littered, bloody streets of Senkawa. As gangs of the warring factions clashed, spontaneous explosions would toast them and anyone close by out.
Finally; The Magical Girls concert had been announced, turned out they weren’t some new street gang looking to muscle in on existing turf, just another manufactured Chi-synth band. GLOWNET wraith-algorithms infested Neon City’s info-vista, hitting up every verified bio-image they could trace, pumping hype out with targeted sublims and nudgers.
It’d worked too, keeping the event fresh on the vine and on people’s lips, it had definitely done a trick on Lucy, having her call me, demanding I take her to the concert tomorrow. I muttered my acquiescence, it was a mistake I’d regret.
The day finally kicked off when we got a call from Viper Joe, shady grey-market weapons dealer from the Freak Pit, one of the city’s best known thug-grinders for juiced up fighters. Joe was a known hypochondriac who’d slowly been replacing all his organs with bio-engineered alternatives. He’d done this on a budget though and it had been a bad move, those cheap unendorsed implants had a failure rate far beyond Joe’s original organs.
Last time we’d spoken with Joe, he was treading water, burning through all his bank to barely keep his body in a functional state, living from hand-to-implant and, hoping his next score would stave off multi-organ failure.
Something must’ve gone south, he wouldn't have contacted us otherwise.
Joe was at the Freak Pit when we caught up with him, he’d come up with a drastic solution to his implant dilemma. The old Viper Joe that had bristled with augments and implants was nowhere to be seen, who stood before us was a newly rebuilt man. Joe’s full body replacement began with a smooth and chrome-trimmed Quaozh Kahe torso chassis which contained critical life-support systems, a Shiaosha Robotics leg pak and Ashirada Atbu arm module rounded out the package.
The only remaining biological component was Joe’s head and it wasn’t a very happy head.
This kind of total body chop job cost a stack and if Joe didn’t have the bank to replace implants, how the hell did he have the bits for this?
Joe explained that he’d joined the faithful at the The Church of Redeemed Sinners and they’d settled the balance but he soon found there was still a serious cost to pay.
The chassis had been rigged with a bomb: Anytime they wanted to, The Church could spread him over a twenty metre radius as a chunky chrome iridescent and red mist.
Joe wanted it dealt with.
Koko checked out Joe’s new body-frame, got nothing, couldn’t scope any trace or sign of any bomb, thermals and infrared didn’t help either. Koko turned to us and said that the bomb was probably integrated somewhere directly into the frame, it would require a complete rebuild of the chassis to even find.
“It’s a big job,” Koko said, shaking her head and sharply sucking air through her teeth dramatically.
We’d tried the hard approach, now it was time for the soft one.
A quick search found the chassis’ diagnostic connector, I networked my Nonohiki to it and jacked in, finding myself floating in a static, rudimentary, green and black data-vault isolated from the GLOWNET. System menus were unprotected and open to perusal, so I listed all of them.
Protocols managed the chassis’s powercell while subcommands operated additional systems such as the limbs; there were also algorithms that regulated Joe’s vestigial biological functions and requirements.
None of it was what I was looking for, I had to get closer to the metal, go deeper, past the blunt function shell. The code had been written by someone who wasn’t ever expecting a hacker. A simple cracking algorithm got me deeper into the system, the shell faded, giving way to a simpler interface prompt, only the dim sparseness of vault’s default environmental lighting remained.
There it was; an isolated directory which had a couple of protocols running.
The first had an instruction set connected to a soft-timer which launched when the timer hit zero, it pushed a command to some sort of hard-wired micro device. Reading the instruction told me that micro device was listed as ‘bomb’, the’ device would ‘activate when it received it’s input from the instruction set. Detonation protocol, had to be.
The second protocol had a pair of instruction sets; the first set connected to a GLOWCHIP, passively waiting for some sort of input from the GLOWNET which it would relay to the second instruction set.
That second instruction then linked directly to the timer. Reading this second instruction told me that when it received an input from the first it would operate some sort of decoding algorithm, if the result matched a randomised parameter, it outputted a command to the timer which would be set back to its default time. A sub-command looked like it would set the timer to zero if something tampered with the algorithm. Had to leave it alone, too risky.
I opened the timer and watched, when it reached fifty nine seconds, it abruptly reset to six minutes.
Viper Joe, it turned out, was now living under a virtual Sword of Damocles thanks to The Church of Redeemed Sinners. That timer on the explosive would never stop counting down, only a reset code pushed out to the GLOWCHIP every five minutes, presumably by The Church was keeping him in one piece.
I had a plan though, I accessed the GLOWCHIP and waited, a few minutes later and a reset code downloaded, resetting Joe’s timer, six minutes of breathing time. Immediately, I cloned the code to my data-slab and got to work.
The reset code was encrypted, luckily its data-string was short; it needed to be in order to be reliably transmitted to bomb carriers and whoever created it probably weren’t expecting hackers to come in this way.
By analysing the encrypted string against the decrypter, I created a new algorithm that would generate strings to match the randomised parameter.
Then I dropped the protocol into another part of the hidden directory and connected it to the soft-timer. Finally I added an instruction to generate and push the reset code to the second instruction in the second protocol.
It wasn’t elegant but it would do for now. The decryptor wouldn’t differentiate between the real reset code and my spoof code, each one would reset the timer. If the Church of The Redeemed Sinner cut their code now, mine would continue to work. Joe had the time needed to get some to remove the bomb safely.
Luckily, despite the clusters of outdated, failing and decrepit bio-tech that inhabited it, The Pit was a good place for Joe to be, its gladiatorial stables were populated with chop-jockeys and shady street docs who plied their trade in body mechanics during fight nights.
Neon Suspect was someone that Joe knew, a combat-algorithm programmer and expert on bio-engineering, good choice to permanently shut down all the protocols introduced by The Church.
Joe had considered Neon Suspect a love-rival at one time, although that hadn’t panned out the way Joe had expected and instead, it was revealed that Neon Suspect was sweet on Joe.
Neon Suspect was, unsurprisingly, happy to work on Joe’s Frame and his Maiulava microtools buzzed quietly as he uncoupled Joe’s outer polycarbonate skin. Then Neon Suspect got to work peeling away a nervous system constructed of uncountable, impossibly fine fibre optic cabling, followed by a circulatory system consisting of power lines connected to all manner of servo and sensor arrays.
Eventually, after he’d gotten deep into the frame he gave a grunt of surprise, he’d found something unexpected.
Spherical and about the size of a fist, it could only be the bomb.
With a surgeon’s precision, Neon Suspect circumvented the anti-tamper system and soon the bomb was extracted from Joe’s frame, Neon Suspect pointed out that there was a small label on the globe that read: Warning - plutonium as he rolled it around in his hands and grabbed a handly geiger-counter, it’s harsh crackle intensified as he swung it towards the bomb.
“Well, I can definitely find a use for this,” Neon Suspect gleefully remarked, grinning as he lobbed the bomb from one hand to another before pocketing it.
Judge Wyatt Lavanchy was on our menu today, the judge had just sent Yaroh Uron, a down on his luck acquaintance of ours to prison for a murder he hadn’t committed and also denied his appeal. Lavanchy was the target of my deep dive.
The dullness of material reality drained away, replaced by compiling polygons of neon and the angular light-struts of the GLOWNET. Streams of data dominated the city’s info-vista and surged between the gleaming horizon of data-nodes, pulsating in slow rhythmic patterns like the leviathan's heartbeat.
I launched a hunter/searcher algorithm programmed with a specific instruction set and watched it merge into Neon city’s churning data swarms then waited while it harvested information.
Lavanchy looked so clean, he sparkled in sunlight, no inexplicable increases in his bank accounts, no unexplained wealthy assets registered in his name, no change in his spending habits, nothing.
I went sideways and targeted Delia, his wife. I got some quick hits, she was a contestant in A Song For Neon City finals a few days away and was representing The Fortified Residential Zone.
Some further exploration told us that Captain Noodles was also entering the contest, representing Sunshine City with his rendition of Rocketman.
Again nothing that would help.
Next, I went further sideways: I put Avery Kiani in my sights, a rentacop from the precinct in The Heights who, along with Delia he’d testified against Yaroh.
Didn’t take long to uncover the two hundred large that had been deposited into one of his accounts, it was a sizable chunk of change and no way did some law-and-order chump like this get that much dollar in a single hit.
Records showed that the bits were transferred from some small limited company registered in Dogenzaka Hill. I hit up its GLOWNET profile, zero profits, zero losses and zero expenses. A phantom construct, a shell company to hide who was really moving the bits around, probably an exec using corporate funds to bankroll and create the shell company. It had gone midnight by the time I’d finished digging.
The climate’s routine transition from searing, overbright day to thunderous, rainy night was lost on me. Deep in the GLOWNET, I’d found the shell had been financed by a ‘former’ Protobase Global employee. The strings were invisible, but Benedict Twistom was definitely pulling them, just needed to connect the dots.
Time for us to tug on those strings and see what happened.
I logged back into Averi Kiani’s account and disappeared the mystery two hundred kay, when the rentacop realised what had happened, it would provoke a reaction and there had to be eyes on him when he did, so I contacted D4-VID and gave the journo, botcaster droid the exclusive on the Avery Kiani and told him to keep the rentacop under surveillance.
Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.
Lucy’s pretty face filled my blurry vision like a leering giant while peroxide blonde bunches dangled from her cat’s ears, swaying and brushing my face?
Squirming on my futon, Lucy gave me a firm shake while I fumbled for my media-slab.
Three in the morning! I’d barely slept, in a sunless sky, washed out street lighting barely penetrated the translucent tarp which protected a side of my one-bed from the constant stream of night rain that splattered noisily against the polymer sheet.
Lucy practically pulled me into a sitting position.
“Come on, come on,” Her voice was laced with urgency. “We’ve got to get to the concert!”
The concert? The concert! The Magical Girl concert, that was tomorrow. No, that was wrong, I realised it was now, in fact, tonight.
Even so, it was still over twelve hours away, Lucy kept yanking my sleeve, inwardly, I groaned.
“We got to go, we got to go,” Lucy insisted.
Swivelling out of my futon and standing, I could feel the blood coarse through my temples in one second pulses of agony and drumming in my ears.
With as much concentration as I could muster I got dressed and pulled my boots on. Lucy was dressed in an elaborate, frilly, Baisnimi pink maid’s outfit, along with a cat’s ears headpiece and a pair of fluorescent glow sticks.
Date nights with Lucy always ended in enormous amounts of carnage, wasn’t expecting anything different at the concert later, checked the kevlar plates in my Verskeit trenchcoat and packed both my .45 ACPs, took full reloads too. Before leaving I stuffed some cans of Kaia cola and Savka choco-sticks in a pocket.
Predawn was still a couple of hours away when we set off for Rokkaku Expo Stadium, I watched Neon City’s canyons of gleaming night lights convulse and undulate their way through the streaming rain-splashed water droplets which crawled across the tram’s windows. The carriage’s dismal, inadequate lighting drained the colour from its contingent of commuters: A subdued, strange intersection of last night’s dying dregs of over-inebriated revellers perilously saundering their way back to wherever they lived and this morning’s earliest rising wage-monkeys, decked in their cheap Kuabha suits and slouching their way into whatever corp-owned cubicle filled hellhole they called a workplace.
As we walked the final rainy leg to the stadium the muted beat of a distant rhythmic bassline thumped across the ground and electrically vibrated through the air. Neon City’s claustrophobic sprawl thinned out and gave way to the almost open airiness of the expansive steel and concrete oval which marked the perimeter of the stadium. Rokkaku Expo Stadium has been designed with an eye towards a multitude of events and inside, its centre was a multi-blended fabricated flat open space grassy-like green sports pitch. It was ringed by seating which could host hundreds of thousands of visitors. Within it was the dull, shapeless but expansive roar of thousands of urgent voices.
Despite the hour, Ashaglaya and Koko were waiting for us among the press of fans at the stadium. Ashaglaya was dressed in matching PVC canary yellow Desullo-styled boob-tube and mini skirt, finished off with her favourite Prantodi whitel stilettos. Like Lucy, she brandished a pair of fluorescent glow sticks.
I settled in for the long slog as Lucy, Ashaglaya and Koko got to excitedly chatting about The Magical Girls and all the while, the party atmosphere grew in intensity as did the clamour, more and more people were congregating inside the stadium.
Magical Princess Kinky Komi and Milky Angel Creamy Momo were The Magical Girls I learned from the conversation, and their backing dancers were The Punishment Posse.
Eventually Bill, Trigger and the others arrived as the stadium was packing out and the concert was beginning to ramp up.
Even D4VID had found his way into the concert, An on-the-ground, as-it-happens Magical Girls story was too ripe for him to pass up. He barely paid us any attention, eagerly filming the pre-show activity and hype
A little later and a grating rumble filled the stadium as the reinforced polymer retractable panelled roof slid open. Night had melted away and so had the rain, an orange band swam across the eastern skyline, announcing dawn. Soon, it too gave way to the Neon City blue-white skies while the temperature rocketed.
One-by-one, support acts materialised on the multi-tiered raised stage in the centre of the pitch, outfitted in garish outfits and gimmicks they blasted out their sets, above them, an enormous Senonable wall-slab mounted on the stage’s superstructure replayed a larger-than-life feed of each act’s performance.
Energy was reaching fever pitch, hyping the crowd, raising tension and expectation. Once the final support act had been shuffled off stage, the giant Rotefleck soundsystem blared out The Magical Girls’ signature tune, rows of fireworks inexplicably erupted, suddenly the wall-slabs were displaying slickly produced montages of them performing in various situations.
Then, The Punishment Posse decked out in shocking pink onesies came bounding on stage and began their dance routine, the crowd frenzied, hollering for the girls. A deafening roar that shook the ground.
Then in a perfectly timed moment of showmanship, The Magical Girls appeared on the stage’s highest tier, briefly silhouetted against a backdrop of dazzling fireworks, posing and gazing down on the crowd from their perch. One of the numerous vid-caster drones had pushed a zoomed in view of girls to the wall-slab, larger than life faces with delicately sculpted features and exquisite make-up filled the screen.
Magical Princess Kinky Komi wore a colourfully repainted form-fitting stylised Ulkang armoured combat-shell, these things came equipped with micro-missile launchers and a harness mount minigun as standard. She also wore matching faux-leather knee-high pixie boots and a giant pair of intricately detailed, iridescent butterfly wings.
Milky Angel Creamy Momo meanwhile wore a cream-white chiffon Kunoichi outfit trimmed in light-shifting orange and gold LEDs, the layers of flowery clothing couldn’t hide that she also wore Ulkang armours, finally a massive bow of matching colours was attached to her hair. These were all the kind of costumes seen on old style anivids where heroic girls battled transgressing hyperdimensional demons or something.
While The Magical Girls belted out some favourite tunes to the delight of the crowd, Trigger had been suspiciously scanning the sky, his thermals found an unrecognisable heat signature lingering above the stadium. Over the din, Koko leaned close to Trigger and explained it was probably The Strawberry Shake Shatter Show; The Magical Girls’ personal attack chopper! It looked like the chopper was the source of the aerial fireworks show.
The set continued for twenty minutes or so until the music dropped tempo and switched to instrumental tracks as the vid-montage made a reappearance on the giant slab, The Magical Girls had disappeared; for a costume change Lucy told me.
A few seconds later though and they had reappeared. Abruptly, the music ended and the wall-slab went black, a moment later and the number one hundred million had flashed up on screen along with a twenty minute timer.
Abruptly, Kinky Komi’s artificially modulated squeaky girlish voice thundered out of the sound system, her announcement informing everyone that they collectively had to pay one hundred million bits into The Magical Girls BitBuddy account in twenty minutes or… everyone dies! The timer began counting down.
I knew it!
The effect was immediate and profound! The once ecstatic hollering and cheering went up an octave as it morphed into screaming and yelling. Panic churned through the audience that seethed like boiling water as most people began blindly thrashing around, it was followed a few seconds later by a concerted effort to reach the exits but it just made matters worse.
The harsh staccato of automatic gunfire cut through the clamour as a swathe of fans crumpled to the ground, injured and dying. The Punishment Posse was now living up to its hyperbolic name and bristled with firearms, indiscriminately cutting down anyone they thought were trying to escape.
Direct confrontation had to be avoided, The Posse was too well tooled up and too numerous to have a chance of winning a straight up gunfight, we needed options.
The Magical Girls had resumed singing, encouraging their fans to pay the ransom, while the dancers waved their guns at the audience rhythmically, it may have been working, the hundred million figure was dropping. Members of the audience who were packing took potshots of the girls, it did nothing. Transparent polymatic acrylic barriers had risen between the performers and the audience.
Meanwhile a pair of massive balloons shaped to represent The Magical Girls in their distinctive outfits floated and swayed their way above the stadium, gigantic and strangely roundish faces staring at the audience.
Very soon, the numbers had dropped halfway, then the countdown sped up into blurs of rapidly changing shapes until they instantly stopped when the timer hit zero. The giant wall-slab switched to a feed of the two balloons, green gas was visibly billowing out of the balloons, expanding into voluminous clouds and gently descending on the stadium.
Ripples of fear shock-waved their way through the audience as The punishment Posse continued sporadically firing into the crowds.
Smoke, screams, flurried panicking, gunfire and more; all of it shrank away. I was trusting the others to protect my material body as I jacked into the GLOWNET; as one reality retreated, another expanded to fill the dataless void left behind and then, I was in.
Neon City’s dynamic info-vista, with its haphazard mix of morphically shaped data outputs inundating my senses.
Stealth tech made the chopper invisible in material reality, In the GLOWNET it might not be the same story.
The iridescently edged, cubic landscape blurred beneath me and I found myself staring at Rokkaku Expo Stadium’s data-image. A fluorescent landscape of seething, everchanging, kaleidoscopic imagery, animation and sound, the nebulous result of so many bio-images unpredictably interacting with each other.
A tidal wave of dataflows surged in an out of the stadium as people paid money to The Magical Girls or posted vids of their impending doom on MyFaceSpace
None of that interested me, there was a needle in the haystack here and I had to find it. Luckily I had a top-specced heuristic hunter/seeker algorithm at my disposal, one-by-one and at blistering speed it eliminated data-flows outside the parameters I’d given it until it got a hit.
A data-flow that led to an anonymous data-image situated in the space above the stadium, whatever was being transferred between the two was heavily encrypted, cracking it would take time.
If it was the chopper, it was likely chatter between the crew and whoever they were coordinating with on the ground.
It was what I needed, didn’t care about the encrypted data, just needed a ride into the chopper’s systems. Cloning the authenticator, I mingled my bio-image into the flow and found myself staring at a rudimentary set of menus.
Flight systems were locked, no easy way in there.
Maintenance systems; there were submenus inside, scrolling through the list, I found something that might help.
I put the engines into diagnostic mode, that would shut the chopper down, but it wasn’t enough. The chopper’s safety protocol responded, it knew the chopper was in flight and immediately sent a cancel-command to the diagnostic system, but I killed the cancel-command before it got there.
The engines died along with the stealth-tech.
Lurching through the GLOWNET, I piggy-backed the stadium’s media feed and watched the chopper’s spiralling descent, it plummeted down on to the stage and on to Magical Princess Kinky Komi who was frozen in shock. As it was struck, the multi-tiered structure instantly buckled inwards, collapsing on itself a moment before it was engulfed by a blossoming fireball.
Magical Princess Kinky Komi and The Punishment Posse were gone, consumed by the explosion which also licked the front few rows of the audience.
Green gas continued to vent out of the balloons and lazily fall on the stadium.
The chopper’s systems had vanished, as devastated as the stage the chopper had crashed into and I found myself hanging in the GLOWNET. Beneath was the stadium’s default data-image, a cheerful fluorescent amalgamation of roided up sportsmen and stylised imagery of the venue. Behind it would be the data-vault, quickly I launched a cracking algorithm, it allowed me to peel away the corporate facade.
Inside the data-vault, I searched the directories for whatever protocol managed the roof panels. The safety protocols were easy to hack and I executed the roof command string. Out there in material reality, the panels groaned into back life as massive servo motors began extending the retractable roof and soon, the last sliver of overbright sky folded away as it finished closing, automated emergency lighting then activated. The descent into dim twilight had not done much to help the panicking audience.
The green gas was now rolling off the stadium roof and settling in the surrounding neighbourhood, it would become diluted but still inflict casualties, but it would be less than
what would have occurred to the audience.
With a nauseating jolt I was out of the GLOWNET and back in the cage, a few moments passed before I could resync with material reality.
Milky Angel Creamy Momo, the remaining Magical Girl had survived the conflagration and was currently exchanging sword-strokes with Trigger, he was too strong for her though and she fell to his unrelenting strikes.
Trigger was grimacing after the fight, breathing heavily and slouching while leaning on his sword, his skin was taking on clammy pallorous white quality. They were symptoms we’d seen before; Trigger had been poisoned, Milky Angel Creamy Momo’s weapons must’ve been laced with something.
Koko didn’t hesitate, grabbed her control-slab and activated Tonkatsu, instructing the med-drone to diagnose Trigger. It smoothly buzzed up to him and did her work, soon he was stabilised and we were ready to move.
Underlit by the orange flames, voluminous black smoke billowed upwards from the burning stage and choked the emergency lighting, throwing a hellish red tint across much of the stadium as we advanced on the closest exit and navigated the panicking crowds.
More gunfire broke out, this time coming our way and we were forced to hit the stadium’s synth-turf. Some of The Punishment Posse, surrounded by dead fans had spotted us and were determined to stop us leaving.
The exchange of fire didn’t last long, Despite the poison they employed, The Posses’ numbers had been diminished and they couldn’t match us. Before exiting the stadium we saw that beneath their pink onesies, The Punishment Posse wore Poison Jam colours. It started to make sense, The Magical Girls had hired them as muscle.
With nothing to hurl an obstacle our way, we joined the fleeing audience and managed to exit the darkened stadium into the safety of the day’s dying light. The girls were unhappy and unimpressed with The Magical Girls concert, Koko called it ‘a disgrace’!
However, they were all happy to be alive and took some cheerful selfies against the glowing orange backdrop of the burning Rokkaku Expo Stadium.
D4VID went off, explaining that he had to post his story.
The rest of us decided to hit up a burger joint.
There was almost always a liminal instant that occurred daily in Neon City just as the last blue-white stretches of sky receded into night. A momentary lull when the palpable change in air pressure summoned energetic twilight winds that blustered and whistled through the city’s concrete landscape while a small dip in temperature heralded the oncoming nightly torrential downpour.
The rain was seconds away when we’d wandered into a Hazhiwa Burgers fast-food franchise joint and ordered our burgers from a small booth decked out in plastic fittings; decorated in gaudy colours unable to disguise the grime and neglect.
What had served as parasols above the outside seating and had sheltered customers from a punishing sun during the day now shielded them from the nightly deluge.
I listened to the rhythmic, soporific drumming over my head until our food arrived. Vat-grown syntheef Zhedenzho Brute Burgers always tasted so good, pressed into a vaguely burger-shaped form, the manufactured protein mass was laced with bioengineered flavour enhancers that stimulated all the right brain receptors and was packaged in a bread-substitute which always sloshed with modified spices and sauces.
There was barely time to enjoy the meal when our media-slabs pinged. Thaddeus Rackham, vaudevillian transvestite sex worker, assassin and street entertainer was contacting us.
He’d been working his usual pitch at Sky Dinosaurian Square and decided to explore the unfinished Rokkaku rollercoaster construction site which had intrigued him. He was exploring the half finished structure when he discovered it stunk of vomit. We sat up when he said that. Thaddeus had continued exploring and spotted a strange grey-skinned creature.
Somehow Thaddeus had managed to creep up on the thing and kill it.
This somehow tied in with Protobase Global and Rokkaku and the problems Thetatec were having. We knew that Porter Sladek would be interested in the creature.
After speaking with Thaddeus we agreed to broker a deal with Sladek.
Porter Sladek was convalescing in a secured, private med-facility in the Ohkubo Hospital and there were now several layers of private security between him and us. We recognised the sort; high level corporate ronin, decked-out Gaongha branded black-suited silhouettes with bulging implanted muscle packs and expressionless faces hidden behind Maoshi data-shades, no doubt they also sported other tactical enhancements as well as internal comms.
It took some time and effort to get a face-to-face despite personally knowing him.
He was fully conscious when we reached him, albeit laid up and wired to a small row of slim med-slabs, an organ-management system and a nanite regenerator, in a undecorated, white and glass walled, faux marble-floored cube smelling of antiseptic. Hardware kept him alive while sinew, bone and skin were being knitted back together. What couldn’t be repaired was replaced, it wouldn’t be too long before even the scars faded. Benefits of being a billionaire.
A wall-slab was blaring out the inane content that Neon City was so well known for and he looked visibly relieved when a distraction came walking in - us!
After some quick negotiations, ten mill is what he was willing to pay for the creature, a sizable amount but he was smart enough to know that it was from Rokkaku and might prove useful.
He told us to deliver the creature to an address in Kibogaoka Hill, a man like Porter Sladek didn’t keep all his eggs in the Thetatec basket, he had to have off-the-grid resources and facilities dotted all over Neon City and this was one of them.
Thaddeus squealed with delight when he learned we’d scored him a cool ten mill, we took the flier to Sky Dinosaurian Square to meet him and landed on the far side of the rollercoaster. The creature, with its grey skin and stalks-for-eyes was definitely the same kind of thing we’d encountered roaming the Rokkaku tower.
It was wrapped in a semi-opaque polyurethane sheet, didn’t help much though, the gag-inducing stench of vomit lingered. I triggered my internal air recycler, pretty certain the others did the same. We dragged it back to the flier, Koko grumbled all the way, she’d be scrubbing the smell of puke out for hours.
The delivery went smoothly, Porter Sladek’s address took us to the edge of downtown Kibogaoka Hill, the shanty town's strings and clusters of myriad lights were faint and distant in the pummelling downpour as they rolled past and we arrived at an anonymous warehouse manufactured of grey corrugated steel plating in an anonymous little industrial park. Koko delicately put down on the unlit roof pad as I watched the downdraft blast the accumulated rainwater into a hazy mist on one of the flier’s screens.
The darkness split open into oblong yellow light as a door swung wide while we were unloading the creature, Porter Sladek’s muscle was waiting. Wordlessly they took the creature and hefted it the way they had come without a backward glance, disappearing from sight as the yellow light folded in on itself. We didn’t hang about either and in seconds the flier was powering through the rain.
It didn’t take long for our slabs to begin pinging again, before we’d gotten back to Hikage, Pixie Skull and Vanilla Goth, the Muscle Gurlz we’d encountered a couple of times before were in trouble. Now they were laid up after restorative surgery at the Kyukyoko No Hospital. The night wasn’t done with us, Koko banked the flier round and headed over.
It was getting late or maybe early when we arrived at Sugamo Jizo Dori Street, there were still hours of rain left and this was as subdued as it got. The district was quieter than most, being the centre of Neon City’s senior citizen housing; fewer people roamed the neon-lit, drenched streets here.
The hospital was a maze of weakly lit, mostly deserted beige-walled, linoleum-floored corridors filled with quietly ticking striplights that eventually led us to the small ward occupied by the two Muscle Gurlz, the familiar smell of antiseptic hit as we went in. They were hooked into the med-slabs and were sporting several bandage-packs and dermal sealants each.
The last few gigs the pair of Muscle Gurlz had taken had all gone south or fallen through and their bottom line was looking light on the bits. They’d needed bank and so had taken jobs as organ surrogates.
The demand for naturally-sourced bio-inventory and organs was always high amongst the rich and powerful and Neon City always found a way to fulfil those kinds of demands. Numerous med-tech facilities had sprung up to cash in on this exclusive market.
For a price, organ surrogates allowed cloned bio-data to be attached to spare spaces in their bodies and being thin and muscular, the Muscle Gurlz had plenty of space.
Coupled with some sequence code re-writing allowed the data to quickly grow into actual organs. Once they had reached maturity, the organs would be transplanted into the clients.
Except, for the Muscle Gurlz; this simple transaction had gone south. They’d been organ mugged, spleens they’d been contracted to grow were gone, they were down a kidney and eye each into the bargain to boot.
The Gurlz told us they’d gone for a routine check up with their employer, Doctor Xavier Zephyr, they had no memory of what followed and had then woken up having been organ mugged; now they were in in recovery It got worse; they were liable for the loss of spleens and the fee for defaulting would leave them seriously out of pocket..
It didn’t add up, why would The Gurz get marked in a hospital? I could think of a thousand easier locations in Neon City to organ mug someone. Why had the spleens been targeted? Why had it occurred after their visit to Doctor Zephyr?
The hospital’s security systems were second rate, there was little profit in it for the shareholders. It didn’t cover much of the hospital and the Kyukyoko No Hospital’s secured server-vault couldn’t hold out against my cracking algorithms and I quickly found myself sifting through their file-structure until I came across their archived security footage, from there I ran it through my recog protocols and got a hit.
Doctor Xavier Zephyr was a tall, slight and sallow faced individual, we tracked him as he exited the hospital, the timestamp told us that he’d left a little after his meeting with the Muscle Gurlz and we watched as he took the Harajuku High Road, heading for the south terminal
The Harajuku High Road was a suspension monorail built to accommodate the district’s older citizens and the service primarily ran from the central residential hub on Sugamo Jizo Dori Street to the Kyukyoko No Hospital at the north terminal.
Designed to avoid the heavier traffic experienced on the tram network and its crumbling infrastructure, the monorail operated at an even greater altitude than the trams. At this height the grimy, usually crowded and noisy streets shrank away to a safely distant hive of thoroughfares delineated by Neon City’s erratic and dim street-lighting.
It was time to follow Zephyr’s route so we rode the Harajuku High Road. Inside it was relatively clean, seating was plusher than expected and mostly free of soiling, the interior was furbished in dull, neutral shades of cream and brown. The monorail moved at a sluggish pace compared to the trams below as it ponderously navigated its way through the array of colossal Senonable wall-slabs that decorated the city’s sky rises and which flashed various types of media, current affairs and product placement. It allowed an increased proportion of targeted adverts to hit the senior citizens. My media-slab began spontaneously singing out jingles while displaying logos and artificially cheerful faces. I watched a couple of them while waiting for the dedicated ad-killer I’d launched to kick in; the ads were all aimed at the elderly demographic.
Eventually the train reached the southern terminal, we disembarked into the residential hub, the few people we saw wandering here were the district’s senior citizens, on whatever business drove them or enamoured by the advertising. There was no respite from it here, Fluorescent stalks creeped across building fronts and ad boards, supporting a swathe of advertising wall-slabs and incandescent signs. It was impossible to miss the promotions for the Zephyr Clinic.
Tacky ad copy boasted the Zephyr Clinic was a new ultra-modern clinic that serviced the elderly, promising the highest quality replacement organs at cut prices, the address was plastered or transmitted everywhere and led us down twisting, puddle fiddled back streets until we encountered a neon-signed retail corner unit with shimmering signage that announcing the clinic.
Someone was working late, yellowish light bled out of frosted windows, caught in the raindrops and undulating in the downpour.
Bill sent Roderick to cover the clinic’s back door and we entered, its decor was the familiar bland grey and off-white we’d been seeing all night.
Unsurprisingly, even the receptionist was a centenarian. She wore powder blue scrubs and looked at us from behind her eggshell coloured desk, the deep lines and wrinkles on her face shifted while her sparkling, implanted heterochromic eyes closed a touch when she smiled thinly,
The colours of those mismatched eyes seemed familiar to us.
Behind her were some doors. They were locked, we could see the keycard panels and numberpads attached to the walls next to each one.
Asking to see Doctor Zephyr got us nowhere.
“He’s in surgery,” she informed us, making a show of consulting her Karfseakk desk-slab.
There was nothing to do but wait.
Suspicious looking certificates and the doctor’s shady qualifications in cheap frames hung from the otherwise plain walls, as well as photos of who were presented as supposedly satisfied elderly patients, grinning inanely while posed in curiously unauthentic situations.
It took a small amount of patience until an opportunity presented itself. The receptionist left the room for a moment and we pounced, she had gone through one door, we went for the other.
The numberpad was a standard Noskurit secupad, the cheapest kind of security tech generally available, employed by companies who didn’t care or need to worry about security. I wondered which one Doctor Zephyr was?
This was a cakewalk for Koko, the numberpad’s cover was off in seconds, exposing intestinal wiring and circuit boards within, there was a flurry of microtools and the authorisation code-string was made to bypass the security protocol.
The magnetic lock disengaged and the door clicked open a centimetre; we were in.
Beyond the door was an empty corridor in the familiar grey and off-white colours, the temperature was noticeably lower. Four plain white, windowed doors lined the corridor here, including one that led into a cold storage room which was stacked with shelves of subzero boxes and containers. Opposite were the consultancy and pre-op room, adjacent was the operating theatre.
Through the window, in the centre of the starkly lit white room were two masked figures in wrinkled mint-green scrubs. Under intense spotlights, they hunched over an unmoving third in a white robe who was reclined on a surgical table and hooked into a busy looking med-slab and life-support tech, concentrating on the bloody slash in the patient’s abdomen.
Leaving them undisturbed, we watched as they worked: Algorithmically-driven prehensile microtools meant surgery was rapidly completed and soon, a crimson drenched fleshy mass was extracted and dropped in a subzero box, it was then soaked in some sort of chemical fluid and rinsed free of blood.
While the surgeon who must’ve been Doctor Zephyr got on with inserting a new organ into their patient, the other organ in the subzero box was taken through a side door into the cold storage room and filed away.
None of us had med-skills but we knew something off? Waiting for the patient to be wheeled off once the surgery was done, we moved in. With the mask peeled away, Doctor Zephyr, with his sallow features and thin frame was easy to recognise.
He was caught flat-footed and immediately cornered; we wanted answers.
With some defiance, Doctor Zephyr wasn’t very compliant at first. However, after observing Trigger not-so-subtly run an index finger along the length of his Wanametosu’s textured hilt, he, like many of his patients; had a change of heart.
It was a typical Neon City story he told us, sordid and full of corruption, criminality and immoral behaviour.
Turns out Zephyr wasn’t giving most of his patients new organs, just cycling through their aged organs time after time. Taking a kidney out of one patient and storing it, then putting it into another, then storing their kidney to put into yet another patient and so on.
It was a neat scam, getting bank for nothing and keeping his clientele coming back for more work. It had a flaw though, all these decrepit organs still had expiration dates and could only be recycled so many times before exhibiting total failure. Zephyr occasionally needed to source fresher organs, that’s where the organ surrogacy came in.
He’d sucker a couple of easy or desperate marks into being organ surrogates and as part of the suitability and compatibility tests, he had the opportunity to check out the health of their other organs. Then during a routine examination he’d take what he needed, like it was a all-you-could-eat salad bar.
Zephyr was smart enough to know the gig was up, his furtive, sweaty glances told us as much. It didn’t take much persuasion to get The Muscle Gurlz organs back and after some screaming from the reception room, Zephyr’s assistant returned all the stolen goods back to us in one of their subzero boxes.
On the flight back to the Kyukyoko No Hospital through the rain, we pinged D4-VID and gave him the lowdown. His expose would kill Zephyr’s scam stone cold.
The late rain, ephemeral and fading, seemingly evaporated before a band of growing light in the east, even then, Neon City wasn’t cutting us a break, We were practically in sight of Hikage Street when our media-slabs pinged, it may as well have been a million kilometres away.
Katsuko Nakamura, a Chou-Nata mid-level suit we knew was calling, Turned out that a buddy of his had bitten the dirt, Katsuko told us that the ‘authorities’ - that would be rentacop were investigating but were ‘stumped’, he wanted our eyes on it.
Koko had wheeled the flier round and headed north towards Itabashi-cho and the Jorengi Temple.
It was located at the far northern edge of both the district and the city, within sight of the monstrous, towering, polycarbon reinforced concrete city-wall which either kept outsiders out, or kept us in. Pretty sure I knew which was which.
Jorengi Temple was a squat, pagoda-roofed and seemingly real-wood structure painted in red and black, ringed by a band of greenery and populated by a giant gold buddha. A tiny pinprick of colour surrounded and dwarfed by anonymous, grey, soaring concrete and glass multi-floored edifices to corporate hegemony, A fleeting moment of calm within the unrelenting background roar of the City of Electric Dreams.
Koko circled until we found a roof-pad.
Katukso Nakamura had pinged the temple ahead of our arrival; we had immediate access. I'd never have taken a soulless exec for faceless corp having a spiritual side, but his dead friend was the temple’s abbot, Abbot Kannushi Chiro. We were taken to the murder site.
A strange smell; sweet, earthy, heady and vaguely familiar waited for us as we arrived at the location of the killing. It was taped off and inattentively patrolled by a couple of rentacops who hardly checked out our credentials before letting us past.
The body had been located in one of the gardens, by the looks of it, someone had actually imported swathes of real dirt and deposited it around the temple, then planted real grass on it somehow, This island of greenery in an ocean of asphalt and concrete was lined by a perimeter of varied, colourful flowers, no wonder it had seemed familiar, it was a scent we’d encountered before, but only in the wilderness.
It was a strange sensation, grass quietly crumpling underfoot while the earth beneath gave way to our heavy boots as we looked around the garden. There was little to find here, the remains of Abbot Chiro had already been removed and I ended up staring at the bright, flowery petals.
Neon City had more than its fair share of cockroaches and bugs, but nothing quite like the bees that unerringly floated and flitted from flower-to-flower. It was something I’d only ever seen on the GLOWNET.
The monks at the temple, flapping about in their voluminous, simple, sackcloth coloured robes and plain sandals seemed more agitated than we would have expected, heatedly discussing some thing or other.
The death had put some annual event called the Flower Festival that celebrated The Spring Goddess into disarray, without the abbot to preside over the celebration, it could not proceed, this would mean cancelling the Petal Market, a seasonal street market that ran for a limited time and attracted local traders, mom ‘n’ pop stores and other small businesses that hadn’t yet been swallowed up or hegemonized by franchises or corporations. For many of them, it was the highlight of the year, without the Petal Market, many of them risked going bust. The monks explained that electing a new Abbot would take a month, too long for the Petal Market to wait.
Bill took the opportunity to chime in, he smoothly recommended that they have candidates anonymously write poems and place them on a wall. Then they should decide on the new abbot by judging the poems. The monks seemed satisfied by this.
The rentacops here told us that the Abbot had died from a single blow to the back of the head, to us it sounded like the handiwork of a pro. They’d also spoken with the monks who resided here who had provided little help, they did not know the exact time Abbot Chiro had last been seen, nor could they think of why anyone would do this
Finally, they told us that the killer had left a figurative calling card at the scene, the evidence was currently in the possession of Captain Ocano at the Shinjuku precinct. Time to pay him a visit.
It was close to mid-morning by the time we landed at the Shinjuku precinct, descending out of the stark blue-white sky and setting down on to one the bunker-like structure’s myriad roof-pads. Security was easy to clear, we were tight with Ocano and it got us through their protocols with no trouble.
The precinct was filled with its usual bustle, mostly rentacops hanging out in their beige cubicles and pulling busywork out of their case files, anything to avoid hitting the broiling streets of Neon City - unless it involved personal gain of course.
Captain Ocano could be heard before seen, a booming voice transmitted out of his glass-walled corner office which overlooked an intersection of the city’s concrete canyons and into the central office as he roared into his Preaavar desk-slab.
He stood as he saw us approach, unconsciously trying to smooth the wrinkles in his mismatched suit while opening the door, the clamour of the precinct faded into a distant burble as it clicked closed behind us.
Ocano handed us a small, transparent polyurethane bag which contained the calling card. It showed a stylised red chess piece - a King against a traditional black-and-white chequerboard.
Turning it over revealed some text
King takes Bishop - check.
Bishop must have been a reference to the Abbot at the Jorengi Temple, whoever this was, they were boasting about killing the Abbot. No idea what it meant though?
There was nothing to go on right now, the onset of morning marked the end of the day for us and without self-medicating some stims it would be hard to go on. Finally, the city was giving us a chance to hit the sack.
Later, we saw on the newsvines that the Jorengi Temple had appointed Shima Kenaoya as their new Abbot by using the time-honoured ancient method of writing poems on The Wall of the Gateless Gate.
The Flower Festival and the Petal Market would go ahead as planned.
Later still and something else caught our attention appeared on the newsvine feeds, it read:
A pawn promoted to bishop but the Peony pawn has been taken, signalling the endgame. THE RED KING advances on the Queen unhindered. Mate in five.
Whatever this was, it wasn’t over.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.