6th February 2021
It's a Saturday, I'm in the living and logged on to Meet on my PC.
This means it's time for the next session of Matakishi's Wired Neon City's campaign.
Location: Neon City.
A week had passed since our last job, I'd spent the free time in a gluttonously indulgent blend of narcotics, intoxicants, euphoriants, depressants and stimulants.
Why not? The City of Electric Dreams didn't have anything much better to do.
During daylight the apartment was relatively cool and blinds kept the harshest effects of the sun out but even so, hazy and filtered bright sunlight filled the one-bed.
Daytime found me slumped on my futon, sprawled out while drifting in and out of sleep. Hours were spent watching dust motes swirl in the light crawling across the walls, listening to the neighbours alternately playing music that rhythmically thumped through the wall and screaming and shouting at each other.
Night brought rain, constant, heavy and droning. Outside the window, a million city-lights gleamed in the nocturnal precipitation. Hitting the streets with the others, we made a nightly ritual of our sodden journeys, rolling from bar to drunken bar, hours of darkness vanishing into a foggy blurred black-hole of excess.
Inevitably, the call for work came and I rolled off the futon to reach for my media-slab, head full of broken rattling glass, mouthful of sawdust.
Martha Woldt, our last client had reached out and pinged us?
She had ambitions that we'd never have guessed, baking ambitions to be precise.
Martha was a finalist in the annual Rokkaku Dai Heights Bake Off competition. One of the many inane reality shows that bombarded Neon City viewers, albeit the most popular.
It's format was simple, contestants competed in weekly baking challenges and every week one baker would be eliminated until only five contestants remained, then the show would hold a week long grand final to determine the overall winner.
Winning a season offered myriad lucrative opportunities, including but not limited to product deals, licensing, authorship deals, sponsorships and even video show hosting roles.
Stakes were high and competition was stiff to say the least, eliminations came thick and fast, often not in the way expected!
Last year's competition had resulted in fourteen murders.
How could we help?
Martha explained that she had ordered ingredients for the first challenge; a birthday cake over the GLOWNET several times but the delivery drones kept getting shot down by sniper fire!
Martha wanted us to deliver ingredients to her at Rokkaku Dai Heights
A simple task except for the sniper: It meant that one of the other competitors was making an off-the-camera play at winning.
Finding basic information on the vid show was easy.
The show had three judges:
Chiara Tameron: owner of Cheeze Dreemz, maker of exotic cheese.
Armand Philipe: owner of Lorenzo's Cuisine Français, a well known establishment in Shibuya Terminal.
Hideki Naganuma; famous composer.
As well as Martha, there were four other contestants:
Rahool Mandal; a scientific researcher, early favourite to win.
Jeffery Cake; owner of the Copper Kettle café in Dogenzaka Hill.
Annabel Twistom; winner of last year's Rokkaku Dai Heights Bake Off competition.
Sushi-Go Matto; robotic chef who ran a bakery stall at Kibogaoka Hill.
In theory, any of them could've been fixing the competition.
Dogenzaka Hill was busy and hot, heated even further by the endless churn of humanity crowding the streets, looking for an escape by indulging in mindless consumerism.
Working our way through the ever changing maze of bodies and under the midday sun, we made our way to a couple of colourful street-marts and picked up what Martha needed, then headed over on the tram.
As the packed tram came into Rokkaku Dai Heights, we expected that the delivery would be tricky and we weren't disappointed.
Brakes protested with a skull-piercing shriek, dragging the tram to a halt at the tram stop.
If you knew what to look for, you could spot them, loitering on the low platform; half a dozen stern-faced, shaven-headed foot soldiers for hire, bulky nylon Tremeita jackets or suspiciously voluminous faux-leather Gosiyi trench coats concealing their weapons of choice.
As commuters poured out and on to the stop's sheltered platform, they were aggressively stopped and searched by the foot soldiers. Someone had been thinking ahead.
We lingered back for as much as we could but eventually we had to disembark. They turned to us and tried pushing us about but it didn't go as they expected.
The firefight was short and one-sided, by the time it was over the platform had emptied of screaming, fleeing passengers but was littered with dead or unconscious guns-for-hire.
Moving into Rokkaku Dai Heights was a risk, Martha's address took us into a dense cluster of the district's tall alabaster-white apartment blocks.
Worse still was the shanty town that had built across those rooftops, the erratic and unpredictable buildings that filled provided any number of good vantage points for an opportunistic sniper.
Rokkaku Dai Height's angular skyline was profiled against the stark over-bright blue-white sky as we squinted at it, hoping to find evidence of a sniper. There was something maybe, we had spotted a twinkle of reflected sunlight, perhaps caught by a rifle scope? Hard to be sure.
Koko sent Felix up to investigate while we watched on the control-slab. His journey was cut short as he abruptly jolted to one side, followed a fraction of a second by a short thundercrack, a supersonic boom.
A high powered round had struck the drone. For a couple of seconds Felix spiralled in a uncontrollable freefall, destroyed in a shower of spinning debris after hitting the ground.
There wasn't the luxury of delaying under cover of the platform shelter, we had to move. So we did, quickly and hugging the towers blocks, hoping to minimalize exposure.
Either it worked, or the sniper was looking watching for aerial targets. Irrespective, we made it to Martha's block.
The stairwell up to her apartment stank, but the cool concrete kept the interminable temperature at bay as we climbed the dirty, worn steps
As we turned the final corner to Martha's home we were caught on the back foot.
Six more hired thugs had been watching her apartment and waiting. Their eyes met with ours. A moment passed, imperceptibly brief where we all looked at each other motionlessly.
Then the moment was over; amongst the yelling and shouting, augmentations were triggered, people dove for cover and hands grasped for weapons.
The loud, enclosed firefight was again short and one sided. It left six more unmoving crumpled figures in the corridor.
We were taking stock of the situation when movement caught our attention.
Popping out from another corner came a smallish, short bipedal robot. An Otocha Botcaster class vid-corder robot from Shiaosha Robotics.
It introduced its designation as D4-VID.
On his head was mounted the distinctive Kuaijing telescopic lens used for all visual recordings. The Otocha's were more than just fully autonomous video recording robots. D4-VID contained the ability, software and processing power to fully edit footage in virtual real-time. He was able to create news reports and upload them to news streams in minutes.
His head turned to stare at each of us one at a time with mechanical preciseness, if robots could express excitement, D4-VID was doing it. He knew he's stumbled on a potential story.
Martha got to baking once we handed over the ingredients. We were at a loose end until the next challenge.
A couple of blocks away we found ourselves sitting in the front space of a local dive bar, shaded by large threadbare cloth umbrellas, imbuing a liquid lunch of Etiptka beer from frosted glasses.
D4-VID had followed, he knew he had a story here.
News had reached us that Rahool had taken an early lead in the first round's scoring.
It was likely that Martha would remain a target for whoever was trying to fix the competition.
There was some time until the next challenge, an opportunity for us to look into matters.
I jacked into the GLOWNET.
In the GLOWNET, arteries of data pumped through the news-feeds and chat-streams, endlessly changing twenty-four hour data trends. I flowed from vault to vault, hunting for information.
Annabel Twistom was last year's winner, it was unusual for anyone, let alone a previous winner to enter the competition a second time.
Public records showed that Annabel was married to Benedict Twistom, he was Vice Chairman of the Ethics Committee at Protobase Global, a fulfilling role no doubt.
Strictly speaking Annabel lived in the Fortified Residential District along with all the high level exec families.
She maintained a second residence in Rokkaku Dai Heights which made her eligible for entry into the competition.
Annabel took it very seriously and obviously had a lot invested in it personally. We watched a number of her vid-interviews. A forgone conclusion she thought and seemed very confident that she would win. It revealed a nasty little streak of entitlement and superiority in her.
Of course maybe she expected to win because behind the scenes, it was Protobase Global stacking the deck?
It was not an entirely convincing argument. Underhand and exploitive as Protobase Global were, making a move into the world of bakery didn't seem like the kind of thing the makers of killer zombie cyborgs would do?
Moving on to Rahool we saw he was an early favourite with the bookies, it was possible that someone was trying to push him as the winner.
He was the target of our next search.
There were files on his past, employment records, MyFaceSpace history and the rest. It all looked uniformly regular.
Which meant it was fake, had to be.
A person's GLOWNET presence might overall leave normal footprints, but dig deep, look closely at individual footprints and something, somewhere will be always be off-kilter or swing to left-field, something hidden? Something unusual?
It wasn't weird, it was normal, that was people.
When it's all normal - it's weird.
When I ran a search with heavily specified parameters on Rahool Mandal's footprints, they all looked very normal.
Unsatisfied, I went down through layers of foundational code for the data and until I reached the metal. I could see inconsistencies, irregular timestamps and inexplicable code alterations.
Stories about this sort of thing were rife on the GLOWNET, the stuff of legen but the theory was sound enough.
Someone had seeded the GLOWNET with a algorithmic acorn.
A piece of coding that grew and spread and branched off, generating and falsifying all the requisite data and information required to create a person, at least a person that might exist digitally.
The algorithm's creative ability had its limits though, limits beyond which the nature of the falsified information could be unravelled.
Up until two weeks ago Rahool had been less than a ghost, not even a figment of imagination. His existence was the product of the union between a programmer and a mathematician somewhere.
All the data created by the acorn had by necessity contained shared lines of code, if only a few but it was enough. Step-by-step it could all be led back to where it had all started. The search had uncovered who was responsible the seeding: The Soy Green Corporation.
One of Neon City's biggest manufacturers of processed foods - and they were potentially involved in rigging a baking competition? Too much of a coincidence.
Staying in the GLOWNET, I travelled digital avenues of data, followed the right-angled, swerving pulsating lines of radiance until they led me to Soy Green's colourful and friendly public-facing data-image. Behind this glowing façade was their vault.
Their security measures were easily bypassed by the protocols on my slab, then I was in.
It was a pretty standard setup for a corporation. Various partitions of memory stored information on hiring, security, payroll, financial performance, fiscal projections and so on. I put Rahool's name through a search protocol and got hits from publicity and manufacturing.
The publicity partition had the proofs and mock-ups on a range of bakery products that had been branded with Rahool's name and image as winner of the Rokkaku Dai Heights Bake Off.
Records in the manufacturing partition showed that manufacturing time had already been allotted in Soy Green factories to producing the Rahool bakery product line.
Soy Green were making the cakes before the competition was even over.
So we now understood who had skin in the game and were rigging the competition but how, was another matter.
It was time to turn our attention in the judges.
Chiara Tameron was the owner of Cheez Dreemz, an independent business that produced and sold exotic types of cheese throughout Neon City's high streets.
Cheeze Dreemz GLOWNET data-image was a translucent orange triangular prism filled with modules of customer facing data, a constant movement of consumer bio-images came and went from the image.
What we needed would be stored in a vault deeper within the data-images memory modules.
Hacking through their pretty standard defences proved no problem and soon I was sifting through their records. Latest Financial report showed on their balance sheet that Cheeze Dreemz had received an influx of sixteen million bits in operating capital two weeks ago. No source for this influx was shown on the records.
I would need to get into their banks accounts to begin getting more info on this. That would be a serious hack that would take time.
For now, what we had would have to be enough to work with.
While I was in the GLOWNET, Trigger had been pinged on his media-slab with a message. A package from Prophet Wei had been dropped off at his apartment.
Next we turned to Armand Phillipe; he was a well known celebrity chef in Neon City and the owner of Lorenzo's Cuisine Français, originally an Italian establishment that he had bought from the titular Lorenzo.
Hacking Lorenzo's systems were easier than Cheez Dreemz, they had a smaller GLOWNET presence and lower security. Their data-vault was equally small, barely containing any information other than menus, inventory etc.
There was one block of data that was out of place, a relatively small video file.
Opening it revealed that it was slightly grainy and washed out short clip of footage recorded from internal security cameras, it was the only piece of security footage in the vault.
Watching through the footage, nothing happened for a few seconds, then it showed an argument between two men, it quickly escalated and one attacked the other, resulting in his murder. Even though the footage low quality, it was still very clear.
Putting both faces through facial recognition showed the attacker was Armand Phillipe and the victim, Lorenzo.
I guess Armand's take over of Lorenzo's had been more hostile than expected.
There was no way that Armand would simply leave evidence like this sitting on the server, particularly since there was no other footage.
Someone else must have put it there after editing it from the original, someone had been sitting on this for a while. maybe I could find proof of that?
Deep in the memory partition were the data movement logs, they showed that the video clip simply appeared on the system two weeks ago, no user was logged as dropping it in, nor was a source location listed. A dead end?
Someone had been altering the logs, someone who knew what they were doing. Another hacker.
The only reason to send the video to Armand was to blackmail him.
Two of the judges had been gotten at, one was left to investigate.
Hideki Naganuma was the last judge. Going back into the GLOWNET, I journeyed the ever-variating data-vistas, navigating the obfuscating, randomized constructs and hazards, looking for data on Hideki.
A search with directed protocols instructed to focus on unusual events and inconsistent behaviour surrounding Hideki for the past four weeks got zero hits, nothing was flagged up as unexplainable or erratic.
Hideki Naganuma seemed to be exactly what he seemed to be; a popular and well known composer who lived in Neon City.
Without more time, investigating Hideki would also have to wait.
We took the short trip to Trigger's cramped apartment and D4-VID stuck with us.
Unsurprisingly, his package contained a couple of jars of White Lotus liniment; also an address that led to Kibogaoka Hill.
Guessing Prophet Wei's angle was always hard, he floated in a grey-space somewhere between gang-leading pusher and cryptic anarchist.
Why had he given us this address? What was his deal?
For now we were content to let Wie pull the strings.
Kibogaoka Hill was home to Neon City's poorest people and biggest shanty town; the crowded makeshift settlement that dominated the hill was constructed so densely that it was figuratively built on top of itself.
Most homes were erratically sized cuboids put together from whatever materials were to hand.
Wei's address led us to something that looked altogether different.
Fenced off in a large open yard and away from the rest of the shanty town was a single isolated building. Larger by far than anything else close by, it had the mosaic look of a shanty with metal sheets, plastic panels, wooden planking and more. All the mis-fitted windows had been boarded up.
Something was off though.
A small steel-framed chicken-wire covered gate was the only way in and it had been secured by some kind of cut-price rentaguard that also patrolled the perimeter.
Before deciding to go in, Koko sent Kevin to scout around. She also patched D4-VID into Kevin's feed.
Kevin went high, circling from a distance, giving us a high angle view. Unlike the gravelly unpaved paths that meandered through the shantytown, much of the the yard was covered with suspicious dark mud that had been baked dry and scarred with cracks by the fierce sun. One side of the main building that faced into the yard was furnished with a pair of loading bays.
Parked up were a couple of Cheeze Dreemz branded sky-freighters, a pair of workers with augmented muscle-frames were busy loading them up with shiny stainless steel two hundred litre milk vats?
Along one side of the fence ran a number of smaller boxy grimy looking sheds and something akin to a stable.
Several penned off squares of land containing animals dotted the yard.
It was looking a lot like Kibogaoka Hill's idea of a farm yard. A milk production plant for Chiara Tameron and Cheeze Dreemz.
Whey then, were there women here....?
As instructed, Kevin dipped to a lower altitude and we got a better look at those outbuildings. The pens did indeed contain animals, as did the stable. Horses, cows, pigs, goats, cats and dogs, even exotics like camels and llamas?
Was milk being farmed from all these animals?
There wasn't much we could see in the outbuildings, glimpses of glass, plastic and steel apparatus through the patchy walls.
Trigger gave the entire place a once-over with his thermals, the results were surprising.
He counted about sixty people, mostly women judging by the profiles of their heat signatures, grouped together in threes and fours throughout the building, seemingly in different rooms.
How was Wei involved with the bake off competition? Is that why he had sent us to this place?
They was a way we could possibly get info on the occupants. Quick as I could I went into the GLOWNET and hunted down the deliberately anonymous Universal Credit data-vault, a low profile blank granite brick of a data-image, unfriendly and unwelcoming.
Despite this, bio-image traffic was typically heavy as users bitterly fought the faceless behemoth for their rights.
I avoided the traffic, looking to go deep into the system. The hacking protocols on my data-slab circumvented their security cycles easily and I was into their memory-modules .
Their data-modules existed in a fairly well organised structure and I quickly found that about forty women had their Universal Credit addresses registered here. Time to find these women.
Rentaguard didn't try and stop us going through the steel-framed gate into the yard, they weren't paid enough to tangle with us. We went across the yard to the building.
The dried out and cracked mud snapped and broke under our steps like the crisp chocolate coating on a cake under a spoon, except underneath was nothing sweet. The disgusting stink of crap vented into the air as our boots sank into the mire beneath.
Inside the main house it was as dilapidated as it appeared outside. Wooden planked flooring filled gloomy, windowless corridors that connected to locked rooms, within which were dim lit by thin streams of dazzling sunshine that poured through irregular wall gaps.
It felt somehow strangely empty, wood creaked under loud echoing footsteps, yet nearly every room was occupied by incarcerated women in shabby loose clothing?
They seemed happy to talk to us.
These women were mostly being kept here against their will, whoever was running this place - and it looked Cheeze Dreemz was; they were collecting the women's universal credit payments and leaving them imprisoned without access to their accounts.
They explained why they were held captive here, turns out it wasn't just the animals that were providing milk to Cheeze Dreemz....!
We told them that we could find temporary housing for them if they wanted to leave and once out of here, they could then regain control of their Universal Credit accounts.
About half refused.
I returned to the Universal Credit data-vault and found the data on the twenty women who were currently unwilling to leave the milk farm and after some alteration of the records, control of the accounts returned to their rightful owners.
Jacking out, we turned to the women and showed them they had control of their accounts now. Ten more were convinced to leave.
That left another ten or so women still unwilling to leave, no amount of convincing or talking would persuade them to leave. Time to cut our losses.
Koko pinged Yennav Rybasei, her Russian mob contact, in his day job, Yennav ran The Grand Union Tran Metropolitan hotel, he would have more than enough spare room to put them up for a while.
Koko got Yennav to send a bunch of his guys to collect the women up and ferry them to safety.
D4-VID had been diligently recording all of it, he seemed very happy with the results.
It was also ammunition we were going to have to use against Chiara Tameron.
We had leverage on both Armand Phillipe and Chiara Tameron, only Hideki Naganuma was left.
The investigation into Hideki needed to be continued. Was he also getting squeezed by Soy Green? How?
We widened the search to include family. His only family in Neon City was a sister.
Okan Ikomi lived in a pretty unremarkable life The Skyscraper District, somewhere among the dull, concrete forest of characterless tall grey corporate towers.
Finding her address was easy.
Knocking on her cream coloured UPVC door got no answer.
Security camera coverage in The Skyscraper District was generally good - and we'd hacked their storage servers before. Getting into their system was easy.
I downloaded all the relevant footage I could and jacked in, got a search algorithm running through the footage at intervals in high speed while I observed.
It worked, there was a hit.
Fine detail was lost in the dimly lit, typically grainy, slightly out of focus footage with washed out colours. It didn't matter though, we saw enough.
Earlier on, a pair of individuals in yellow two-tone corporate-styled windbreakers with matching caps had gone to Okan's apartment.
I watched with virtual eyes flicking over the silent footage; the door was opened by who must have been Okan, dressed in joggers and a sweater, the two men then rushed forward, shoving her back into her apartment and out of camera shot.
A minute later they walked back out looking left and right, carrying an unmoving person-sized package.
We had a timestamp for the black-bagging and now knew when to look.
We managed to track them back to a nearby asphalt delivery pad and a small, yellow two-tone Nguayng Oianong class sky freighter branded with Eggybread.
Eggybread; The Snack Food Of Champions was a line of processed snacks produced by The Soy Green Corporation.
So they had been putting their foot on Hideki's neck.
They lugged their bundle into the back of the Oianong, climbed in and powered up.
Once the small freighter had lifted off in a cloud of kicked-up dust, it banked round and headed up for the sky-lanes and despite our best efforts, we couldn't keep track of it for long with.
The black-baggers - or their bosses had gotten sloppy though, there was a lead to follow.
Okan was safe at least until the bake off was over, they would have her stashed somewhere safe but it had to be off the books, somewhere that didn't leave a paper trail back to Soy Green so easily.
Jacking into the GLOWNET again, I returned to The Soy Green Corporation data-vaults and began sifting through their documentation and finances
Running a search algorithm got us the info we needed.
Recently Soy Green had taken out a very short term lease on a small property, I looked at the address; we were going back to Kibogaoka Hill.
The day had nearly passed and thanks to Neon City's weird microclimate, coffee-black clouds, thick with moisture had been menacingly accumulating in the darkening sky for the last couple of hours.
Avoiding the last dregs of rush hour we took the tram into Kibogaoka Hill. Night was stretching out, blanketing Neon City as rows and banks of city-lights buzzed and flickered into life.
By the time we arrived the nightly deluge was underway.
Nowhere else in Neon City was the rainfall louder than in Kibogaoka Hill, it thrashed down into the makeshift steel and plastic roofs with the drone of a thousand mistiming drummers.
The back alleys of Kibgoaka Hill spread out unreliably across the hill. Narrow, tall and unlit, at night they turned into a network of black water channels, fed by endless rivulets of rainwater streaming off every rooftop in every overpacked alley.
Halfway up the hill in one of these encroaching back alleys is where we found the address, an unremarkable shanty house wedged in a row of unremarkable shanty houses.
This close to the address had left us with no place to hide and observe. No time for subtly; Trigger ran his thermals over the address; seven signatures.
One prisoner, six guards, had to be.
These hired goons seemed to operate in sixes.
Trigger was happy to prove the theory right: Splashing through the puddles he took the door down with a flying kick and stormed in, we waded in behind.
Under a roof the thundering rain was even louder! In comparison, the screaming and shouting seemed somehow subdued, giving the fight a otherworldly quality as it spilled into the different rooms.
Soon all six thugs had been dealt with and we freed Okan, the slight Japanese woman with glossy black hair and dressed in the same joggers and sweater gave us a fearful look with wide eyes.
Bill smoothly calmed Okan down, she was persuaded that we were here to help her and was genuinely grateful. She asked to be taken to her brother.
Hideki was also grateful to see his sister and thanked us profoundly for rescuing her. Then Hideki gave us a note that had been delivered to him, telling him to vote for Rahool. Now that his sister was free, he would vote for who he thought should win.
One judge down, two to go.
We had dirt on Armand but we needed to know it was legit.
I contacted Binary Johnny, he was more plugged in than most hackers and might have the low-down on who had hacked Lorenzo's.
He did and gave me a name: Steel Witch. I told Johnny to get her to contact me
Soon I was pinged by Steel Witch and asked her for on the footage she had planted on Armand Phillipe's system. She was only willing to talk at a face-to-face, we arranged a meet at The Copper Kettle.
Located in the bustling retailer quarter of Dogenzaka Hill, The Copper Kettle was a throwback to a bygone era, a time past imagined to be elegant and tasteful. Inside it looked like a piece of history with chintzy themed fixtures and fittings, round tables covered in lacey tablecloths and decorated with fake silverware and fine replica China crockery sitting on elaborate doilies were surrounded by faux wooden upholstered Windsor chairs.
A counter stacked with trays, cups and kettle pots ran along one wall.
By a peculiar turn of coincidence, Jeffery Cake, competitor in the bake off was the proprietor of The Copper Kettle.
Chairs scraped on the replica tiled floor as they were pulled out and we sat, ordering some genuine replica snacks. Outside, raindrops trickled their weaving paths down the large front windows as crowds hustled passed in the streetlight-lit downpour.
A few minutes later Steel Witch came in.
Steel Witch was young and skinny, to the point of malnutrition. She had purple hair, wore a black and white top with voluminous mash sleeves, tight black leggings, heavy boots and a black choker. A lighter shade of foundation gave her face a paler complexion contrasted by thick eyeliner, black lipstick, various facial piercings and tattoos.
Every hacker that ever lived sat somewhere on a sliding scale, at one end was cause, the other, cash.
I reckoned she slanted towards the cause end of the scale.
She knew who we were, joined our table and ordered some tea.
We spoke over drinks about the footage of Lorenzo's murder that she had acquired and Steel Witch admitted that she had kept copies for herself and her employer whom she did not divulge.
Then we explained that D4-VID was going to release the footage on to the news streams, she and her employer would lose their hold on Armand.
Steel Witch shrugged, sipping her tea, she told us she had been payed and was okay with it, too bad for her employer she added.
D4-VID put the footage of Lorenzo's murder on to the GLOWNET news streams then released his expose on the Cheeze Dreemz human milk farm, ensuring that Chiara Tameron was correctly implicated in it as the owner.
Rentacop couldn't ignore Armand's murder of Lorenzo, it was too high profile. He was promptly arrested and charged.
In the ensuing trial, it was revealed that he had murdered Lorenzo over a mayonnaise recipe.
After news of the human milk farm had begun to circulate, a few hours later producers of The Rokkaku Dai Heights Bake Off had no choice but to remove Chiara from the show's panel.
We couldn't prove that she had been bribed but proving she was involved in forced human milking was enough.
We had sabotaged The Soy Green Corporation's attempt to sabotage the show. There was no reason for them to be involved anymore. The roving gangs in Rokkaku Dai Heights disappeared, as did the snipers.
Rahool did not make any further appearances in the competition, it was explained that his absence was due to visiting India to see his sick grandmother.
Rahool was not seen in Neon City again.
The show proceeded with Hideki left as the only judge and ran it's full course.
A week later the results were announced.
First prize went to Sushi-Go Matto.
Second was Jeffery Cake.
Third was Martha Woldt
Annabel Twistom took to MyFaceSpace to unironically complain that the competition had been rigged!
The night wasn't over for us though.
Vlegei Kreshoma, itinerant Neon City gambler we'd first met as he was being mugged pinged us a little later.
Last time we saw Vlegei, he'd been cleaned out so hard in a game that he couldn't pay us for the bodyguarding gig we'd just done for him!
He was pinging us to pay us our dues - and to hire us as bodyguards again.
A high stakes game had rolled into the Fuku Bakuchi Casino in the Fortified Residential District, the casino was run by Yakuza gang; The Golden Rhinos, it was said that their boss Red Tongue Suko would be playing.
"It's an opportunity to make a lot of money," Vlegei informed us cheerfully.
Or, it was an opportunity to get himself killed....
Later that night we had one last call.
Antin Grova, trash-art sculptor who lived in the Rokkaku Dai Heights was pinging us to make an announcement.
His latest work, a kinetic statue had been completed and was currently on display to the public at a park in The Heights.
Antin told us that the sculpture was of us! Anyone who knew us would readily recognise the subject matter.
He had called it; Heroes For Hope.
Maybe it would've been more accurate to call it Heroes For Hope - and a big payday.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.