26th December 2020
It's Saturday and Boxing Day! Evening has come and I'm logged on to Skype on my laptop in the living room.
Time for the next part of Matakishi's Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Dogenzaka Hill.
Last night, Binary Johnny had dropped us all an email: After our run into the Benten job had been worked out, he was happy to recommend us to his associates and contacts.
Johnny was well known and must've had a long list of people he knew, hopefully this would play out well for us.
But that was yesterday. Today; I'd spent the entire morning crashed in bed, drifting in and out of foggy sleep because; what else was there to do?
By noon though, I'd had enough.
Neon City's searing sunlight was peaking through the edge of the blinds and I watched as it slowly crawling across the wall, another hot one no doubt.
I sat on my futon, elbows on knees, sipping a can of Huntudi Lager I'd foraged out of the jungle of garbage in my one-room apartment. Breakfast beer was the best, or was it time for liquid lunch now?
There was little to do here, the Senonabe wall-slab was barely worth powering up; other than the barely-disguised corporate advertising that passed as programming, half the content pumped out were trashy Neon City reality shows dramatizing people's lives in manufactured product-placed situations and the other half were even trashier talk shows hosted by vacuous, surgically-perfected ever-grinning presenters laughing at those people.
If you looked hard enough you could find streams of old stuff, stuff made when someone cared about this kind of thing.
Now of course, the old stuff didn't matter; in this connected saturation of instant gratification, grumbling about the unattainable was so much better than thinking about the world around you.
I threw the can at the recycler, got dressed and walked out.
Meeting with the others we headed to the Chou-Nata Corporate Mall in the Dogenzaka Hill shopping district.
The climate-controlled excess of imitation polished marble floor, chrome-plated fittings, glass fronted boutique stores, colourful designer speciality shops and high-end exclusive franchises that was the mall provided a respite from the street.
Insulated from the noise and heat beyond, it allowed delicate music to be piped throughout the tranquil atrium.
Most people who lived on street level would never even contemplate walking into a mall like this, out of their price range with goods that that were as obtainable as smoke.
For us; a good way to idle away hours in meaningless window shopping, all the while ignoring the indignant glances thrown our way from rentaguard.
The bubble was broken though, when a chocolate brown Great Dane came trotting up to me. The dog looked me in the eye and told me to contact an email address!
Augmented animals were unusual but not unheard of. Generally a mixture of implants and genetic resequencing would give them enhanced attributes, new skills or improved cognitive function.
Before leaving, the dog pressed a wet business card into my hand from its drooling mouth.
Dog & Bone Messaging: new tricks for old dogs.
The email address was a burner and it belonged to one Hika Taki.
We contacted him: A recognised Neon City fashion designer, he was something of prodigy and a diva. His new high profile range - Neon Noir he told us, was premièring tonight at the Ramen Ritz to an exclusive audience of buyers and fashion gurus.
Taki was looking for someone to handle security.
Previously at other shows, his designs had been somehow copied. Sweat shop knockoffs had then flooded Neon City before his ranges did. It had cost him - and his buyers big time. It was something he wanted to avoid this time.
The show began at twenty hundred.
Before the show tonight we had a to kill a day, but of course Neon City had other ideas. It was instead, a day to kill us!
Not long after the Hika Taki gig had been set up, we'd left the mall, exposing ourselves to Dogenzaka Hill's tumultuous crowds, thrum of the street sellers and the wafting steamy smells of food vendors. All under the burning afternoon heat.
Koko received a text message on her media-slab. Opening it, she only found an email and a phone number.
So she called the number and at the other end was Ignacy Naro.
Ignacy told us he was a member of the Planetary Guardians Defence Force.
Humanity had taken its first steps into space a long time ago but there had been an extensive pause before the next ones were taken.
Eventually some off-world colonies consisting of research stations, science labs and mining facilities had been established on the outer planetary bodies and The Glitterbelt had been built.
The Glitterbelt was an orbital ring habitat that circumvented the entire globe. At certain times of the day when the sun was lower and there might actually be blue in the blue-white sky, it could sometimes be seen: An almost ethereal, hazy, washed out, twinkling silver-white band that spanned over Neon City like a forgotten colour of the rainbow.
Designed to cater to the wealthy and influential, it represented paradise, the ultimate echelon of privilege. Luxurious housing and opulent communities in an artificially created perfect environment filled with the kind of technology and benefits that street dwellers like us could only dream of.
It had represented a significant fiscal investment from the world's governments on behalf of its favourite sons and daughters.
Which is where the PGDF came in. An extensive multi-corporate backed lobbying campaign had convinced the world's governments that these off-planet investments needed protecting from an hitherto unknown extra terrestrial threat.
Highly lucrative government contracts were awarded to the aforementioned corporations to create and manage this threat, which they still did to this day.
This had led to the creation of the PGDF, with it's crowd-pleasing colourful militarisitc logo, stirring anthem and depiction of the brave young men and women of the PGDF - here to protect you, chiselled from the very rock of the earth.
It was branding that was out this world.
There was even a sanctioned kid's cartoon, Planetary Guardian Heroes was carefully curated to have maximum demographic appeal and be as inoffensive yet jingoistic as possible. With its appropriately diverse cast of teen Planetary Guardian Scouts protecting the virtuous people of the world from the insidious and subversive plots of a fictional alien menace and other enemies of earth. All the while wearing their Planetary Guardian khaki and black uniforms - official merchandise available of course.
What all of this have to do with Ignacy Naro?
Ignacy had gone absent without leave from his enlistment at the PGDF.
The reason? He told Koko that he was planning on eloping with his girlfriend Leska Pedova, currently they were holed up at Love Capsule Nine on Hikage Street and he heard that we could help the pair of them to escape.
Before he could explain any further, he frantically started yelling something about a tracer and we'd led them to him. Then he ended the call.
Koko turned to me, she was concerned about what Ignacy had said. I connected her Jinonghua J9 Kuuaudiao media-slab to my Nonohiki and ran a malscan.
Quickly the scan picked up something suspicious: It was the text file that Koko had received. Hidden in the file's code was a tracer subroutine that launched itself when the file was opened. It waited until Koko made a call and ran a trace on both ends, then sent the data somewhere. Fairly straightforward, but effective.
I made sure to delete the text file and the subroutine from Koko's media-slab, it was as clean as anything got in Neon City.
Whoever had the numbers, would soon have our locations, if they were good, they'd have our locations already.
Moments later, drowning out even the clamour of Dogenzaka Hill was the thundering harmonised whine of quad-turbines, the ceaseless noise reverberating off the tall buildings to fill the air with pummelling sound waves.
Then it appeared, gliding into view like a colossal malicious wasp, big enough to blot out the sun; a Oruhba Gakosmarat. The Gakosmarat was a full-bore top-of-the-line mili-spec VTOL personnel carrier. It slowed to a hover, soaking the panicking, silenced shouting crowd below with the full output of its engine wash, stalls and were knocked over, anything small was blasted in a strange flurry of hats, bags, paper cups etc. Accumulated piles of detritus and litter in neglected corners of Hikage Street were whipped into a stinging, whirling ochre smog.
It hovered for a couple of seconds, enough to send the crowd running, clearing space to land. As the Gakosmarat descended, we got a look at it's insignia; the PGDF.
They were very good.
We ran as the VTOL's doors slid open and it regurgitated heavily armoured soldiers. Kitted out in Efoluta Caartaha combat armour. A composite inter-layered impact-resistant ceramic and multi-weaved kevlar made it tough armour, but it was unpowered and meant for wading into the battlefield, not for pursuit.
It was our only advantage.
We headed into the Dogenzaka Hill park, trampling across the grass and into the mall. As we ran over the polished slippery floors, we could hear the PDGF behind us. Gunfire broke out as they encountered the rentaguard. I doubt it went well for the rentaguard.
Diving into a shop, we hoped lose sight of the soldiers, blundering through shelves and displays, sending whatever crap the store sold flying and ignoring the screaming sales assistant. We then came up with a possible plan.
Out through the rear of the shop into storage rooms we went and then out fire exit as I hit up a sky taxi service. I ordered a pick up from the mall to the other side of Neon City.
Exiting the mall, we ran for the sky taxi but as we got close, instead of getting into the taxi, we hid round a corner and waited.
It was a bait-and-switch move. I was banking on the PGDF monitoring our GLOWNET activity and picking up on the sky taxi order.
When the PGDF soldiers came running in sight of the taxi, I instructed it to take off. Hopefully, whoever was back-at-base running this would've put one-plus-two together and got four; then informed their goons that we were escaping in the sky taxi, hopefully it would lead them on a merry chase through the skies of Neon City for a while.
The soldiers stopped, from their posture we could see they were on comms as the taxi gained altitude.
Seconds later; a thin streak of orange flame flashed through the hazy sky as a blurred projectile cut through the air and a sonic boom punished our eardrums. Faster than thought, it had struck the sky taxi with another boom that then ballooned into a fiery mushroom, raining shrapnel and debris in a wide radius on to Dogenzaka crowds, the immolated wreckage crashing to the ground.
The PGDF soldiers didn't stay long enough to confirm the kill and shuffled off back to their Gakosmarat, maybe they were on a tight schedule?
It wasn't quite how I saw it going, but the result was similar. If we stayed off the grid they would assume we were dead, at least for a while. We had some breathing space.
If they'd traced us, they would've traced Ignacy Naro and his girlfriend.
On the way over to Hikage Street, news crawled on to the GLOWNET that the Hikage branch of Love Capsule Nine had exploded, there was no initial report on any casualites.
A dense, babbling crowd of Hikage Street gawkers and rubberneckers had gathered at the hotel, even for Neon City this was an event. It was impossible to see through the mob, even so, we could see the building was no longer there and above it hung a dark pall. There was an orange hue on the rising column of smoke and glowing red embers slowly spiralling upwards on the heat like lazy circling fireflies.
The crowd, a congregation at the cathedral to destruction, they huddled round, moving close as they dared. Media-slabs; their religious icons in hand. We elbowed our way through.
The old brick building was gone, reduced to blackened skeletal remains, a few corner sections still stood as well as some of the stairwell and elevator shaft. The rest had mostly collapsed into a mound of smoking rubble, dancing flames still licked the air and within the mound, a deep red glow was radiating out.
It seemed whatever had happened here had not resulted in any known deaths so far, rumour had it that everybody had gotten out before the soldiers visited.
As we watched, a strange looking bearded man running back and forth in front of the gawping onlookers shouting something about money and waving a high end, slick looking Irubobe vidcorder with a glossy metallic finish.
Turns out he was known as Firestreaker, a YourTube Influencer. His YourTube channel was ultra-niche and catered to the naturalist/pyromaniac crowd, pretty weird even by Neon City standards. He paid people to run around naked in front of burning objects, which he would film and upload to his channel for the enjoyment of his subscribers.
Firestreaker's antics were garnering a lot of attention from the crowd. However Trigger had caught the eye of an attractive young lady in short skirt and tight fitting t-shirt, she smiled, beckoned him to follow and walked towards a nearby alleyway?
Trigger, never one to pass up an opportunity or in fact think twice, followed. The alleyway ran between two of Hikage's towering structures and was draped in shadow. She led Trigger to a waiting tense-looking man, he introduced himself as Ignacy Naro and the woman as his girlfriend Leska Fedova.
After the rest of us joined Trigger, Ignacy led us through a side door that went down a short unlit corridor and into a disused open retail unit. Pinpricks of daylight shone into the dim, quiet room through the lowered security shutters, lancing through swirling dust that we'd disturbed and on to the messy, dusty floor, littered with discarded shelving, cabling, random fixtures and old signs.
There was nowhere to sit, for a moment we all stood staring at one another's half-lit, half-hidden faces in this silent, almost remote room before Ignacy spoke.
He explained that he was a Specialist Third Class Information Technology Decipher Clerk in the PGDF which meant he was enlisted for a number of years, including a ten year off-world deployment.
He had encountered Leska, who was one of Neon City's many street-walkers a little while ago and began a relationship with her. Ignacy decided to go AWOL and elope with Leska once he discovered she was pregnant.
Now they were on the run from both the PGDF and Leska's pimp Alejandro Rova who went by the street tag Flashdaddy A and was now searching for Leska.
Finally, Ignacy explained that he needed to get to access to a high-level corporate GLOWNET terminal, he could use it to create new identities for Leska and himself.
He needed us to get him this access and keep them alive long enough to use it. Ignacy estimated that he had twenty-four hours before one or the other caught up with them. They had barely managed to evade the PGDF in the hotel just now.
It was true that Neon City had a habit of keeping a watchful on her citizens and eventually, on street level, some system somewhere would pick us up and tag us, then the PGDF might realise we were not dead!
There was a place we had been, where we knew the spidery threads of the GLOWNET did not extend, where we would truly be off the grid: The Pipes in Southern Hikage Street.
Mingling into the heaviest crowds, keeping our faces down and staying off the GLOWNET, we made straight for The Pipes.
Unbothered, we entered a damp tunnel through an ignored entrance we had found, followed the downwards slope for several hundred metres into the unknown inky distance until we lost connectivity with the GLOWNET.
We were safe in the city's under-underbelly. These tunnels had never been popular with us and it was an uncomfortable shelter, only our personal light sources kept the surrounding darkness at bay and a slight but noticeable, constant niggling breeze whispered along the tunnel. There was only a grimy, rusting curved floor to sit on.
Now that we were relatively safe, we had find access to a corporate GLOWNET terminal, easier said then done.
These weren't typical the run-of-the-mill data-terminals. For starters they were specially built pieces of hardware. They incorporated Sanonio Technologies' highest level of end-to-end encryption available and each one had its own bespoke data-pipe connection to the GLOWNET. None of this could be easily hacked. They couldn't be hijacked, logged, cloned or spoofed.
Generally, only execs had access to these kinds of high-end terminals and here was only one exec we were on good terms with; Katsuko Nakamura from Chou-Nata.
This would mean getting a favour from him - unless we had something to trade.
After some discussion, we realised might have something worth trading.
During our run into The Benten Tower, we had seen the model from the Oshin Amalgamated office, it displayed parts of Neon City being under water. We did not know if this was prediction of the future or some plan, but it had included Highway Zero. We also knew that Chou-Nata was making a significant investment in Highway Zero, namely their massive drivethru. If Highway Zero was flooded, it would represent a significant loss for them.
Contacting Nakamura meant returning to street level. We left Ignacy and Leska behind, Koko had tagged both of them on her control-slab and put Felix into bodyguard mode and instructed the drone to guard them.
It was early afternoon when we exited the tunnel. It was a shock going from that cool black sanctuary on to the surface. Distant air wavered hazily in the heat and at this time of the day, Hikage Street's tall structures provided limited respite from the sun's furious glare.
Nevertheless, we found some shade and made the call to Nakaura and put our proposition to him. He thought about it for a minute and seemed agreeable. He told us not to go to the Chou-Nata corportate headquarters, we would use his home terminal.
Our pair of fugitives agreed to go to Nakamura's home. Avoiding the bustling public transport network was necessary, so I quickly created a spoof burner GLOWNET profile, dumped some untraceable bits into it and used it to order a sky taxi.
Rokkaku-Dai Heights was mostly known as a housing district that was more upmarket than neighbouring Hikage Street and designed to cater to the corporate set.
The high-rises were stylishly angular in alabaster white as opposed to the dull, square industrial grey social housing of Hikage. There were less apartments per floor and they were roomier too, each one featured a modernistic balcony and view.
This was Neon City though and the Neon City street level - despite the aspirations of city legislation - liked to remind you of just where you were.
Tower rooftops in The Heights were collectively also a home to a ramshackle, haphazard elevated shanty town.
Each rooftop sported a small cluster of shanties, sometimes more than a storey high, with ladders, climbing ropes and teetering ledges that sloped up and down. Constructed from anything the inhabitants could acquire, corrugated sheets of rusting iron, flapping tarpaulin, plank boards and drywall, re-purposed tents and wooden crates. Reinforced and insulated by layers of cardboard and all precariously held together by cord and nails, even mud when it was avalable!
Individual rooftops were interconnected to each by a soaring latticework of wooden and metal suspended walkways that criss-crossed the sickeningly high gaps between shanties like a confounding aerial maze that linked them into a single sprawling shanty community.
A web of black cable spanned across the entire shanty town, the work of some colossal spider, it threaded and wound its way through the shanties, dangling across the divides between towers, providing hijacked juice to the inhabitants.
In the early days of the city, it was planned that The Heights would also contain a commercial and warehouse quarter. However they were Neon City plans, which meant in the end, they never went to plan.
The swathe of business parks and warehouse estates that had been intended for The Heights had only ever been half ever finished before being abandoned. Some buildings and warehouses had been completed, some had been left as empty lots or were nothing more than a slowly eroding frames of iron, many were somewhere in between.
Neon City was the great recycler and a use was found for the abandoned warehouses, becoming a home to the transient and homeless, the forgotten and those who wanted to be forgotten. The space between the cracks
It was also a home to a flourishing and lively craft market, too lo-tech and low-profit to attract serious attention from the gangs or corporations, it had become a dash of colour in a sea of utilitarian grey.
Like-minded craftsmen and artists gathered to hawk their wares, as with the shanty-dwellers, they worked with whatever they could get their hands on. Creating a wide variety of expressive and artistic works, attracting both creators and buyers from across Neon City.
None of this mattered to us though as our sky taxi dropped us off at Nakamura's tower block. We took the elevator to his top floor apartment.
He happily greet us, invited us in and offered us tea.
Nakamura's apartment was extravagant compared to what we were used to. Insulated walls kept the drama of the world outside away and efficient climate control kept Neon City's heat at bay.
Fixtures in the room looked expensive, there were a few high quality pieces of furniture and sparsely positioned artwork and photos. Otherwise it was a clean minimalist look, with many unadorned smooth, polished surfaces and worktops.
Nakamura also seemed happy enough when we passed our information on to him. Ignacy explained that he would require an hour to create new identities.
Unlike most slabs, it looked like a fairly anonymous small and slim brushed aluminium flight case with curved edges. There was no external marking or branding, nothing except for the tri-lock - a numerical pad with a mic. It required a manual code input which simultaneously performed a bio scan and finally voice authorisation.
Once Nakamura had unlocked and unfolded the terminal, he led Ignacy to it and left him to it.
We made polite conversation for the hour, Nakamura's view out his apartment was impressive. A wide stretch of Rokkaku-Dai Heights was laid out to observe, it would be easy to be drawn into watching the march of life go on along tiny streets below go.
From up here, it all seemed somehow free of the grime, graffiti, crushed dreams, edge-of-poverty and threat of violence that so encapsulated the Neon City experience.
Perhaps there was a filter of some sort on the window?
After a while, Ignacy came over and announced that he had new identities for Leska and himself. Their old selves were dead husks now.
We knew better than to ask anything.
As we all prepared to leave, Nakamura kindly offered to arrange transportation out of Neon City for the couple.
It wasn't often that someone could simply discard the weight of their past mistakes and begin anew. But this was the opportunity that the couple had been afforded and chosen. We wished them a good life and left.
In the hallway outside Nakamura's front door was a envelope with Trigger's name exquisitely scrawled across it?
The elaborate script continued on the letter within. it read:
Be on this rooftop at midnight.
The afternoon was rolling by and we had places to be. From Rokkaku-Dai Heights we went directly to Ramen Ritz.
Both outside and in, the hotel was decorated with brash posters brightly lit up by tubes of neon that confidently announced Neon Noir: The Brightest Black.
The hotel had been transformed since our last visit, although, with less than two hours to the preview, workmen and decorators were still rushing around, busily adding the finishing touches. Drilling, sawing and banging noises punctuated the air. The compère was running through his routine in front of an empty audience and staff were running around hugging bundles of clothing.
At the centre of this whirlwind was Hika Taki, a tall, almost emaciated man impeccably dressed in a perfectly cut Gaongha branded suit who was continually gesticulating wildly and snapping instructions off at any one who came close with an almost cracking voice that betrayed the stress beneath the well polished veneer.
Recognising us, he turned our way as we approached. He stopped talking, pressed his palms together, closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
Clearing his throat, he greeted us and went on to explain that he wanted us to handle security at the front door. Then after the show was under way, we were to observe the audience and watch out for anyone surreptitiously filming or recording any part of the show.
Hika Taki told us to expect thirty guests, but it was likely they would come with entourages.
We checked out the venue.
The front of Ramen Ritz was a wall of reinforced plate smoky glass, it had the illusion of being a single smooth sheet with only a pair of chrome rectangles to outline the double doors.
Outside it was brightly lit with a crackling neon sign and recessed pavement lighting. Rain was already cascading down on to the streets in silvery flurries and a canopy had been set up to provide shelter when the queue began forming, finally the classic red velvet rope barrier had been laid out beneath the canopy.
Bill, Koko and I would be here: Kevin II had been upgraded by Alex Chinsko to detect augmentations and implants and would buzz along the queue and feed me visual data which I would run through facial recognition.
In the meantime, Bill would put each guest through the security scanner and check them on the guest list before they would be given entry.
Once all the guests were in, doors would be locked and we'd all move to the presentation room.
The hotel's convention room served as presentation room, expansive with high class fixtures and a high ceiling, it was furnished with a thick carpet and rows of seats and the runway - which led to the behind-the-scenes dressing room.
There was a podium for the compere with a serious Utsuashu sound system and lighting rigs had been set up.
Professional catering was also here, working away to prep food and drink for the after-party.
Soon the workmen would have to leave, replaced by more serving staff.
Once the show began, Bill, Koko and I would be here, watching out for any filming, which might be done with a hidden camera or an implant or even wearable tech. If anyone was spotted, we had to manage the situation.
Behind the runway another room had been set up as the dressing room.
It was frantic and noisy in the dressing room, filled with racks of clothing as well as heaped piles dotted throughout the room.
Staff were occupied with moving stuff around, ensuring things were where they needed to be and so on.
The make-up artists were attending to the models with little brushes, lipsticks, cotton pads, combing and styling hair and so it went.
The models themselves were impossibly slender and impossibly tall, no doubt enhanced by some of Neon City's best flesh-docs. Their skin was flawless and perfectly toned and faces were as delicate as ancient porcelain.
Luckily, the dressing room was beyond our remit, so nobody was placed there.
Trigger had the lonely task of watching the fire exit, the only other way in or our from the street. He had to ensure that no one tried to leave this way, or - aided by an insider get inside.
That was the plan.
We were ready and none too soon either. Soon it was show time.
When opening time, the gathering line of people was larger than expected. Hika Taki has told us thirty buyers were coming, but that didn't include personal assistants, aides, bodyguards and hangers-on.
It didn't matter, we ran them all through facial recognition and scanned them. Most of them had augmentations of some sort, bodyguards were easy to spot, bulked out and loaded with cybernetics.
No red flags appeared.
The show was loud, glitzy and colourful. Hika Taki, the perfectionist that he was, had become even more stressed if that was possible. His gesticulations had become more frantic and his voice an octave higher.
As the show went on, we continued watching. Music thumped, the compere babbled his inane comments and humour as colourful swirling lights swam the walls and ceiling, the The models swayed and glided up and down the runway as waiting staff shuffled their way round the audience, feeding them cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.
As we were watching, Koko noticed one of the bodyguards acting strange, a large man, under his blue-grey two-piece Evoda suit he was visibly muscular, he was dark skinned with thick dreads. He seemed fixated by something on the wall to his left and constantly turned to face it.
Koko followed his gaze, but couldn't comprehend what was holding his attention.
Nothing else drew our attention and the show reached its end to a ripple of applause and cheers. The audience had been still during the show and now erupted into a burst of movement, stretching limbs, jostling in seats and standing up. The bodyguard smoothly got to his feet and made for the fire exit.
Koko let Trigger know over comms.
Trigger intercepted the bodyguard as he reached the fire exit. The man spoke to Trigger in a thick Jamaican accent, stating he just looking for a way out.
Trigger politely informed the bodyguard that he could not use the fire exit and had to go the other way.
He lashed out at Trigger but Trigger was no slouch and wasn't caught flat-footed, at the same time the body guard flung what looked like dark grey tennis ball into the corridor.
It gave a bang and began spewing out mind-bogglingly vast amounts of thick boiling grey smoke like a silently erupting geyser, it almost immediately filled the corridor and quickly began encroaching on the presentation room. Screaming and shouting began, barely audible over the sound system: Fire! Coming from the direction of the fire exit it went.
Trigger's thermal vision kicked in, otherwise the smoke would have blinded him, he exchanged blows with the bodyguard but neither gained the advantage.
Smoke was billowing into the presentation room, its expanding shape constantly morphing and eerily lit by the equally morphing lightshow. Koko and I began feeling our way through the almost unearthly smoke with its multi-coloured changing light patterns.
Bill had reached the podium, he found the mic and pumped the volume up, blaring orders out through the sound system, he told the increasingly anxious crowd to calm down and make their way to the front doors in an orderly manner.
Trigger was beginning to put the bodyguard on the back foot, so the bodyguard changed tack and burst through the fire exit and ran, Trigger gave chase.
As Koko and I reached the open fire exit, they were both gone?
Rain pounded on Trigger as he raced down the alleyway, he bought the bodyguard down with a finishing blow.
Koko and I caught up with Trigger as he was searching the man and was furtively stuffing a couple of small jars into his pocket....
Trigger finished his search and I.D'd him as Sky Juice, a Noise Tank ganger, in a pocket he had a hand written not:
Neon Noir belongs to the people.
-Wise Prophet Wei.
Strangest of all was the dead man's right ear! A small object had been jammed into the ear channel, it was a camera! His strange behaviour was explained.
The smoke bomb had been ejected from Ramen Ritz and only a low mist-like knee-level layer of smoke persisted. As dissipated as the sense of panic that had saturated this room a few short minutes ago.
The after-party was underway and in full swing.
Shouting over the booming music, we told Hika Taki what had transpired and handed over the ear-cam.
He thanked us with genuine gratitude and invited us to stay for the party.
We had to refuse though. It was only eleven at night and we had more places to be.
It was about ten to midnight when we reached the creaking shanties atop Nakamura's high-rise in Rokkaku-Dai Heights.
This far up, we were fully exposed to the elements and I pulled my trench coat tight against the furious wind-driven rain. It crashed down on the improvised homes with a thundering beat and a slippery layer of accumulating dirty rain water coated the rooftops, meaning that a simple mistake could be a deadly one.
In the pouring haze and spray, the city lights below were diffused and unfocused, the city felt strangely quiet, distant and disconnected.
As midnight come round, man middle-aged man joined us on the roof. He introduced himself as Antin Grova.
Antin explained that he had come to Neon City to pursue his ambition as a sculptor. Inspired by the inequality he saw, his art portrayed marginalised and forgotten communities throughout the world, using materials as discarded and abandoned as they were. It had to be said; coming here had been an inspired choice.
Even though Neon City liked to crush dreams, the last year had been a good one for Antin. His work had found its niche, word of mouth was positive and it passed hands for good money in the craft market.
Now that Antin was settled, he had decided to bring his family to Neon City. His wife, Saba and their three children lived in what was left of the United Kingdom; in a sealed habitat just outside of the Manchester Nuclear Fallout Exclusion Zone.
Antin had bought tickets for his family recently and earlier in the day, they had boarded the suborbital from England to Neon City.
A few hours ago, he had received a terrifying anonymous call: His family was being held hostage. His family would be dead in twelve hours if he did not pay six hundred and fifty thousand bits. He had no where near that kind of money and there was only six hours left.
When asked, Antim stated that he did not have any enemies or know of any reason why he might be targeted.
Antin explained that the supersonic passenger drone carrying his family had been somehow remotely high jacked and it's suborbital flight altered. The drone was now in a low fast moving orbit around the earth. It had enough life-support for six hours.
Like most things in Neon City, time was something against us. There was no time to lose.
Fast Flight Delight was the carrier his family had used, it specialised in rapid suborbital transcontinental flights on a fleet of Yushuy 272 Hayakai drones. A quick check on the GLOWNET revealed that it was a subsidiary wholly owned by old friends Oshin Amalgamated.
Further digging revealed that families of the other forty or so passengers on the flight were also being blackmailed. This was a big deal.
Publically at least, Oshin Amalgamated denied any responsibility for this, as did Fast Flight Delight.
The drone must have been hacked in some way, there was no way that the GLOWNET extended into orbit so another way of getting at its systems was needed.
I jacked into the GLOWNET. Physical space gave way to virtual space, my mind soared. The data-sphere of the GLOWNET appeared before me, the visual representation of knowledge contained within.
Quickly I learnt that communication between suborbital drones and ground control was achieved through very high frequency transmitters. In short we needed access to a transmitter capable of satellite comms.
The quickest way we could think of doing that was through Fast Flight Delight own cooms systems.
Still in the GLOWNET I sought out the digital constructs that might contain information on the carrier. I found the name of its chief executive officer - and his home contact details.
Jeremy Stiff was his name, he was very suspicious when we contacted him at one in the morning. He demanded to know how we had got his details.
We dismissed his outrage and bluntly put it to him that we knew about the blackmail attempt on Fast Flight Delight. Next we told him that we could help - if he gave us access to one of their transmitters and the stranded drone.
The call went silent but his hesitation was loud enough. After a few seconds he agreed.
Armed with the access codes, I logged on to a Fast Flight Delight server and it gave me telemetry data for the drone, the server also gave me remote access to a transmitter. A communication link was established with the drone after bouncing the transmission signal off of a couple of satellites.
I was in the drone's operating system now. It was pretty straightforward but I could not access the flight systems, even with authorisation codes, something was locking me out.
I had to search the code beneath the operating system. Looking into the flight controls partition, I could see some new code had been dropped in that removed all authorisation to access the controls - except for one user.
It was a familiar coding style. Ringo Chrome was up to his old tricks. The hackerist was a cold blooded extortionist and would not hesitate to sacrifice all the passengers for his own ends.
Working fast, I was lucky, not only had I managed to reverse his code and lock him out. I found a mistake he had let slip by.
Ringo Chrome needed a transmitter of his own to talk with the drone. Like our transmitter, his needed to bounce off the right satellites to find the drone and when the drone communicated back, it needed to know which satellites to bounce the signal back to source.
When Ringo had communicated with the drone, his signal contained packets of data that delivered technical hardware information about his transmitter, this included longitude and latitude. We had the precise location of his transmitter.
His transmitter turned out to be an antenna array on a tall rooftop, here in Rokkaku-Dai Heights! There was a chance he was closeby.
I instructed the drone to resume its original course, as I watched from my data-slab, I could see it plotting a new course that would bring it safely down to Neon City long before life support became depleted. The passengers would be safe.
It was nearly three in the morning but we weren't done yet. We had places to be and Ringo Chrome to deal with.
Even in the lashing rain it was easy to spot the antenna from our rooftop. It had been used as the anchoring point for several stories of shanties but nothing could obscure the rising steel cross-gridded square column shape that tapered off as it seemingly punctured the night sky.
"I know that place," commented Antin when we pointed it out!
We turned to him and he explained that one of the apartments on the top floor of that tower belonged to Lina Arkov.
Antin explained that he had been in an affair with Lina until a little while ago but had to break it off. Antin said that Lina was also begun a relationship with someone else. Antimn said that had met him once, he didn't get the name, but he remembered the man had a massive blue-black quiff.
He had gotten at the antenna through Lina Arkov. There was a chance he was at her apartment right now, waiting for his latest atrocity to pay off.
Trigger scanned the top of the tower with his thermal optics, he got several hits and it was inconclusive.
Then I used my Kuaijing Chaonon telescopic ocular implants to scope the exterior. Buzzing around the high rise were six drones in automated patrol patterns. Climbing or an aerial approach were out of the question unless we could deal with those. flying robotic guard drones.
It was suggested that we use an electro magnetic pulse to knock the drones out. Building one up here would be impossible, we didn't how long we'd have eyes on Ringo Chrome for. We needed someone with the know how to do it for us.
The Bric-a-Brack Shac boasted that it was open twenty four hours a day, time to put that claim to the test.
After contacting Alex, he told us he could put an EMP device together pretty quickish. He told us it would have a twenty metre range in a directed cone shape.
Next we called Roboy at Get That For You? and he sent a courier over to pick it up from the Bric-a-Brac Shac and bring it to us.
Within an hour we had the EMP emitter. It was a curious cube of packed electronics and circuit boards and attached to a weighty power cell.
Our plan was a two-pronged approach, Koko and Trigger would be on standby at the base of the high-rise, Bill and I would approach the top floor with our stealth implants activated.
Trigger's thermals hadn't picked up anything that looked like muscle but we knew that thermal signals wouldn't penetrate out of the centre of the tower, so we took the cautious, silent approach.
It was just as well, as we got close to the top of the concrete stairwell and peered round the corner to the top flight of steps on the top floor; we saw Ringo's goons.
Six geared-up bodyguards sitting on the steps with a lot of obvious cybernetic implants and tooled up. Worse still, they'd spotted us, thermals?
Bill and I versus six tanked up thugs weren't good odds. I pointed the EMP at them and triggered it.
Nothing appeared to happen, but five of the thugs immediately dropped and rolled down the stairs. Bill and I opened up on the last one and he went down quickly.
Over comms, Koko and Trigger told us that the six drones had plummeted out of the rainy sky, crashed into the ground, shattering into thousands of fragments. Ringo would have heard the shots, we had to move.
We rushed the front door, it gave Bill some trouble but I managed to hack it open. Outside, Koko and Trigger began climbing.
At the same time Bill and I burst into the apartment, Ringo came running out of a room. He was naked, naked except for those damned glasses and those damned lenses.
I felt the familiar pull, urging me into sleep, it would have been so easy to surrender, to drift away on a soporific sea but I gritted my mental teeth and shook it off. My vision cleared and Bill sprawled uncomfortably on the floor and naked Ringo Chrome was moving past me for the door.
I must have been out of it for a moment, he must have thought that his glasses had done their trick on me. It was a mistake he'd regret, I cold-cocked him with my pistol grip.
His glassed went flying, spinning off and bouncing against a wall, Ringo had crumpled into a foetal position on the carpet, wincing, raggedly sucking in breath and groaning.
From the same door that Ringo had entered, came a woman wrapped in a bed sheet. I turned to her and told her to shut up and get back the room. She wasn't in a position to argue with a man brandishing two pistols and fled, slamming the door. This wasn't the time to tread lightly.
As Bill roused himself, Koko and Trigger came in through a window. Trigger saw and immediately crushed the glasses.
"No! You philistine," yelled Ringo indignantly before .
I admit, I did wonder how much the tech in those glasses had been worth...
Now we had a predicament, how to deal with Ringo?
Rentacop probably wouldn't do anything, we'd heard that that Ringo had powerful friends, maybe powerful enough to get rentacop to look the other way.
We considered handing him over to one of the corporations he'd screwed with but considering the exceptional skill-set he possessed, it was likely they'd try and recruit him instead.
Ringo had heard our discussion and stopped whining long enough to swear to kill us at the first opportunity.
There was a loud retort from Felix. Ringo twitched for a moment before convulsing for a second and stopped breathing. A circle of blood expanding from his head and soaking the carpet,
"What?", said Koko as we all turned to face her. "It was a glitch in my control-slab that caused Felix tom fire off shot,"!
Well that was Ringo Chrome dealt with.... goodbye Odd Man.
Over the next twenty-four hours the GLOWNET newsfeeds announced the demise of Ringo Chrome; an event they accredited to a malfunction from one of his own gun drones.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.