27th March 2021
Saturday night again and I'm logged into my PC on Meet.
Time for the next part of Matakishi's Wire Neon Cities Campaign.
Location: Neon City.
Morning had come and with it a hue of urine-coloured sunlight! Filling my one-bed as the blazing early sun filtered through the yellowish thick polythene tarp used to cover the missing wall that had been blown out by Protobase Global black baggers.
The municipal authority responsible for managing universal credit housing had informed me that the request for sanctioned repairs had been inputted into their system but it was estimated that work wasn't expected to begin for one to twelve months.
Late last night, Neon City celebrity fashion guru Hika Taki had pinged us, explaining that he was presenting yet another of his fashion previews to buyers and media-reporters for his latest clothing line; Colours of Chrome, Own the Chrome. Like last time, he wanted us running security.
This time it would be different though, at Ikebukuro Hika Taki had his own boutique, Hysteric Mini Seibu and it would be the show's venue instead of some hidden location.
Somehow, Lucy had overheard me talking about the show and insisted upon accompanying us, she wouldn't take no for an answer. For her it was a dream to be at an exclusive Hika Taki fashion show, she would have bragging rights amongst her peer-circle for years!
Fortunately, as part of the compensation package from Thetatec for apprehending Ghost Radical, Porter Sladek had sponsored our access to the high-soaring exclusive Corporate Monorail System that rode above The City of Electric Dreams. Fortunate because without it, there was no way of getting from Sunshine City and Neon City proper to Ikebukuro.
The monorail was a different world from the tram or the metro. Commuting execs in their designer neutral grey Shaguaifu suits gave us the sideways stink-eye as from one of the elevated stations we boarded a gleaming rounded cuboid cylinders in our trench coats, hoodies and grimy combat boots. Let them stare.
Inside, the coach seating we were used to had been replaced by individual cabins with climate control, reactive tinted windows and plush interiors upholstered in faux cream-coloured leather.
A glass sliding door opened into our cabin and we sank into our soft seats before the train noiselessly accelerated away from Sunshine City. It was a smooth ride to Ikebukuro, isolated from the crowded narrow streets far below, we watched the city roll past as we enjoyed the complimentary sushi.
It was busy in Ikubukuro: The workday had ended and the wage monkeys were out in force, nosily spilling out on to the streets and either commuting home or on the hunt for cheap thrills.
Threading these crowds, we arrived at our destination and it was no surprise that Hysteric Mini Seibu was a brilliantly presented and stylish boutique nestled in the middle of Ikebukuro's fashion row with an elaborate large window display of Neon Noir; Hika Taki's previous fashion range. The boutique exuded flurries of activity as people came and went.
Inside, at the centre of the churning squall of people busily working away was Hika Taki and it was no surprise that he was stressed to verge of hysteria. The thick-framed old school spectacles he wore served to magnified his eyes and only added to his overemotional appearance. He was a tall, thin man and of course impeccably dressed, he was also pleased to see us.
Momentarily pausing from screaming and shouting at the work crew he waved us closer. Over the hammering and drilling he explained that in two hours he was expecting thirty buyers along with their plus ones as well as their staff, there would also be catering staff on site and of course the models. Breathlessly he told us we would be responsible for ensuring no uninvited guests appeared or unwanted recording devices were used.
It was time to get to work and we checked out the venue.
Floor space displays in the boutique had been cleared away to make room for the show. A work crew were hastily putting the finishing touches on the runway that ran from the edge of the room to the centre and seating was being set out for guests. The front entrance was the only way directly into the floor space.
Hika Taki's office had been turned into an impromptu dressing room, stuffed with racks of incomprehensively garish clothing and tall, skinny bio-sculpted models getting their outlandish make-up applied and excitedly chatting amongst themselves.
A storage room had been converted into a kitchen, catering staff were laying out spreads of typical Neon City fare for visitors later. A service door led into a dimly lit back alley from the catering room. It would need to be secured. Gratify You Tongue was the name of the company catering the show, we checked them out; a small local outfit that looked legit.
Our setup was going to be similar to the last event we ran security for Hika Taki. Koko would use Kevin to scan anyone coming into the show, she should pick up implants and augmentations. Trigger would man the entrance into catering area and the rest of us would be ready to provide back up.
By the start of the show, darkness had spread over the city, awakening buzzing streetlights and stirring the exuberant nightlife. With it came the rain; a seething ocean of umbrellas bobbing past Hysteric Mini Seibu rippled nosily under the weight of the downpour.
Guests began arriving, exec buyers with staff, social influencers and select journalists granted exclusive access, mostly they came with hulking stern-faced bodyguards who typically wore faux-leather Tremeita urban armour who were flagged up by Kevin as displaying extensive body-rigging and implants. Roderick was also monitoring them and didn't detect any immediate threats or anomalies. There was little we could do to exclude them, just keep an eye on them. Trigger was watching the catering staff, all normal so far.
After a short speech from Hika Taki, lights dimmed and the show got underway, sweeping coloured lights swam across walls and ceiling, music pounded out of a Senonable sound system, spotlights were focused on runway as models began appearing, swaying along and doing their thing while Hika Taki's commentary blared over the speaker system, drowning even the music with his slightly high pitched and stressed voice.
Lucy was having the time of her life, squealing and hopping up and down at every new outfit revealed, the rest of us just found it a loud, colourful headache.
The show ran its course and was reaching its conclusions, the last few items of Hika Taki's latest range were being displayed, the catering staff were quickly beginning to clear up their equipment having laid out all their food.
Back at the show, one of the guests convulsed, stood, doubled over and puked! They were followed by another and another!
Koko punched at her control-slab and bought in Tonkatsu, a modified Suayo MKVI gun-drone, armaments and payload had been replaced with bio-scanners, a customised and automated micro-pharma production med-tech and various medical tools and implements. I had even re-written it's coding, Tonkatsu now had an autonomous diagnostic algorithm that meant that she could recognise an ailment and immediately create bespoke meds as required for the situation, Koko instructed Tonkatsu to administer emergency aid to guests.
"Never trust the catering," commented Bill. "It was the salmon mousse!".
He had to be right.
Trigger checked on the catering staff, a moment ago they'd gone out to load gear into their catering sky-van, he strode out to the Gratify You Tongue branded Benlato Hochall sky-van, no one was there?
Back at the show, more people were succumbing to what was in the food, it was too much for us to deal with and too much puke! Hika Taki was a mixture of livid, manic and frantic! We put the call out for emergency medical aid. In the chaos I lost sight of Lucy, the last I'd seen of her, she had her back to me and was bent double, heaving. There was no time to try and find her, I'm sure she'd make a full recovery! I could also see Captain Noodles looking like he was about to bring up the world's largest fur ball, guess he must have had the food too?
After Trigger had told me the catering staff had disappeared, I went and scoped it out. The sky-van was parked in a designated landing spot, looking round, I spotted some external security cameras that were pointed in this direction.
I jacked into the GLOWNET, entering the maelstrom of ceaselessly swirling clustered data-images and vaults that constituted Neon City's info-vista.
I'd hacked camera servers so many times that it'd become child's play. I quickly found and cracked the server holding the footage from this camera and scrubbed through it to the pertinent timestamp.
It showed the catering staff exit into the badly-lit back alley behind Hysteric Mini Seibu and immediately dump whatever they were carrying, then they rushed to the edge of the camera's view, I could just about make out that they had boarded some sort of white sky-van before fleeing, no way of identifying it, there were a million of them in Neon City. We needed a deeper check out the caterers.
The GLOWNET opened into a endless plane of pulsating star-fields that quickly led me to a glowing pair of gigantic red lips frozen in a moment of ecstasy; Gratify Your Tongue's data-image. Somewhere behind it was the company's data-vault, no doubt stored on a standard security server somewhere in Neon City, wouldn't hold vital data so they'd have no need for heavier security.
As expected, circumventing the security was easy, their records confirmed that someone from Hysteric Mini Seibu had booked catering service with four staff from Gratify Your Tongue for the show tonight. Digital memories haunted my consciousness as I kept searching the data, barely distinguishable from real memories, creating identical chemical pulses that travelled my brain.
Gratify Your Tongue had a smallish staff roster but typically kept records on its employees, along with ID photos for security passes, I cross referenced the photos with documentation on the booking; photos of the staff didn't match the faces of the staff who had been at the show: They hadn't been the staff from Gratify Your Tongue.
I told the others, our only lead right now was the caterers, we agreed to head over since it was quite close. We left Hika Taki to deal with the people, sure that he could manage! As we made our exit, several Perayu Spasba sky-ambulances with their emergency LEDS flashing were dropping out of the night's miasmic precipitation down to the boutique, making an uncharacteristically rapid response.
Gratify Your Tongue was situated in a commercial zone along a narrow rainy and busy Ikubukuro street, amongst a strip of retailers and service providers, unlike most of the neighbouring commercial units, it was entirely unlit?
We scouted the rear of the premises, it had a fenced off yard with spaces allotted to their small fleet of branded sky-vans, one space was empty. Approaching the rear entrance, Koko made short work of the lock and we were in. Inside was a kitchen area used to prepare foods by the looks of it, we continued on into a short corridor with several doors. One led to a aluminium shelved storage room filled with cooking appliances, cutlery, kitchenware and kitchen clothing, it was here that we found the staff.
They'd been knocked about, gagged, tied up and dumped here, after being freed they told us that some seriously juiced and chromed Yardies had burst in through the kitchen a few hours ago and taken them prisoner, after that they had stolen some uniforms and one of the sky-vans.
The premises had been equipped with numerous security camera but they'd clearly been disabled, hacking them would be a waste of time, no way of getting images of the attackers.
However, juiced and chromed Yardies was a description that matched Noise Tank, the Highway Zero street gang that frequently ran as muscle for the cryptic anarchist Prophet Wei. Last time Hika Taki had put on a show, Noise Tank and Wei had hit it, then they'd hit a store selling Hika Taki's Neon Noir range. Looked like Noise Tank and Wei had moved against Hika Taki again. Was looking like we'd have to move against Noise Tank again.
Before we could discuss our next step, Hika Taki pinged us. He told us that the models had gone missing? They'd been taken away in ambulances for observation, he'd called the hospital but the ambulances carrying them had never turned up.
Hika Taki said that twelve of his models had gone, he was sure they'd been kidnapped. Now we had a new problem but also a new angle to work.
Trackers were used as standard on sky-ambulances, we could use them to zero-in on the ones used to pick up the models.
Returning to the gleaming neon architecture of the GLOWNET, I launched a hunter/searcher algorithm and it got a hit the local hospital's data-vault; an anonymous and featureless slab by GLOWNET standards. After circumventing the vault's security protocols I searched for ambulance records.
The records had data on all the ambulances' movements and activity, the system had logged the call we'd put in and several ambulances had been dispatched to Hysteric Mini Seibu to deal with suspected poisoning.
I continued searching.
Further records showed that the sky-ambulances returned to the hospital, none of the patients admitted matched the models? They hadn't picked up the models?
It didn't match what Hika Taki had told us.
Running through the security camera feeds at Hysteric Mini Seibu again showed four ambulances picking up the models but something was off, something was wrong?
Seemed strange that the paramedics were attending to no one but the models but then I realised: They were putting three models into each of the four ambulances, no paramedics or trauma-docs would cram three people into a single ambulance. We needed more info.
It was a short tram ride to the hospital, a concrete, behemothic, cuboid high-rise that, save for row upon row of lit windows above us that gleamed in the falling rain would be swallowed by the inky night.
A large pair of automated glass doors marked then entrance, beyond, an abundance of humming strips lights over-lit the interior lobby with its polished linoleum floors and beige walls. Numerous signs pointed the ways to various departments and wards. A network coloured guide lines crisscrossed the floor .
A grid of plastic seats were bolted to the floor and positioned close to the doors, they were mostly filled with dejectedly silent people. A colourful vending machine filled with overpriced snacks was placed next to the chairs.
In one corner was the reception, its curved semi-circular counter was topped by reinforced transparent polymer screens, behind it said a disinterested looking woman in some sort of medical get-up who was jabbing at her media-slab.
Her eyes flicked up as we approached.
"Can I help?" She asked putting the slab aside.
We asked her if we could speak to the hospital's sky-ambulance staff.
"Out of the question," Came her reply.
Luckily Bill could be persuasive, especially when a few bits passed hands through an opening in the screen. Follow the orange line we were told.
Spreading a few more bits around us found the hospital wing and the staff room with the ambulance crews we were looking for.
We convinced them to speak to us: They all confirmed pretty much the same story.
They had been dispatched to Hysteric Mini Seibu to pick up poisoned patients but when they arrived, several ambulances had already landed and were picking up patients. These ambulances took off and headed towards the hospital but halfway there they peeled off and went along a different heading.
None of the ambulance crews knew where the other ambulances had gone. We asked if this seemed out of the place, we were told that sometimes, if there was a high of demand, the system might divert extra ambulances assigned to other hospitals to an particular incident.
The van and the ambulances had probably returned to Noise Tank turf in Highway Zero. Koko remotely brought in the flier and we put it up in the sky to run a high-altitude sweep of the district but got nothing.
Traffic tracking systems were positioned throughout Neon City, theoretically I could search through footage or analyse data-points, it was an enormous task and would take an age though, coding an algorithm to do it would take just as long, we needed someone to do the heavy lifting.
One person we knew might've be able help; Silai Granskina, low-level exec who for the Neon City Transport Authority, maybe he had the juice to pull in some manpower and get a result.
Half an hour after pinging him, he got back to us. He'd gotten hits on all five vehicles in the same area; south-western Highway Zero, known for its now mostly unused commercial and business parks. Silai pinged us some aerial photos of the area.
There was something we recognised; Prophet Wei's warehouse, where Noise Tanks had previously bought the stolen clothing and boutique customers. Thanking Silai, we set out for Highway Zero in the flier.
The commercial park was as dismal and empty as the last time we had been here. Large pools of rainwater had formed, flooding the neglected empty yards and parking lots, their dark rippling surfaces providing distorted reflections of Neon City nightlights far above.
We knew what we were looking for and sent Kevin to scout out the Noise Tank warehouse. The PVC corrugated roof had mostly collapsed in on itself after the sky-trucker Lady Zero had launched her sky-freighter through it, exposing the warehouse to Neon City's harsh natural elements. Even though the shroud of night and the downpour, Kevin's optics gave Koko a good image of the interior.
Four ambulances and a white sky-van were all parked inside. Kevin continued scanning, we saw a number of gangers in Noise Tank colours scattered throughout the warehouse, we also spotted some medical gear piled up in one dry corner.
Then, close to the gear, we saw the models; from Kevin's feed, none of them looked ill, no puking or convulsions. Must've gotten treated with the gear, wouldn't be Wei's style to harm them. We also noticed that they weren't wearing any of Hika Taki's fashion range?
In a deluge of jet wash driven lashing rain, Koko put the flier down in an empty parking lot and span the turbines down. Noise Tank gangers had congregated at the warehouse's open hangar doors to stare at the flier, impatiently shifting guns around and watching us approach with stony faces.
Walking up, we saw that they recognised us - and so they should have, considering how many times our paths had crossed. A particularly massive Yardie loaded up with muscle enhancements, visible facial replacements and chrome limb augmentations stepped forward; must've been in charge.
"Your too late," he said with a thick Jamaican accent. "The dresses have already been redistributed,".
It was probably true, Hika Taki's originals were no doubt already on route to knock-off sweatshops throughout Neon City.
We told the Yardie that we were here for the models, he laughed and his facial implants animated, he told us they were free to go. There was no point in taking things any further with Noise Tank, none of us had anything to gain.
Hika Taki was pleased that we'd found the models and sent rides to pick them up. Unexpectedly, he wasn't too emotional when we told him his clothing was gone and didn't blame us, commenting that our job was to prevent secret filming of the show - which we'd done.
Walking through the rain and the shining puddles, we returned to the flier and headed for the neon lights of Ninety Ninth, it was late but not too late to knock back some drinks.
Later, back home and Lucy pinged me, she'd just been discharged from observation at the Ikubukuro hospital and excitedly told me it had been a great night out and she now had a story to tell her girlfriends, even with the projectile vomiting, she said, it had been totally worth it!
Another urine-coloured dawn had rolled around, the morning was spent languishing on my futon, a thin cotton sheet pulled over my head to keep the light away. Eventually I had to get up, rolling to my feet, I sifted through the junk in my one-bed for some food. A can of self-cooling Huntudi and a carton of Niaiwo noodles did the trick, got to love that sweet and sour flavour!
For a while it looked like it the day was going to be a quiet one but a pinging media-slab ended that. Antin Grover, urban trash-art kinetic sculptor and resident of Rokkaku Dai Heights, whose work was growing in popularity was in trouble and we were the people to call!
For an extended stretch of time Antin had been separated from his wife and children, during this time he'd entered into a fleeting and meaningless relationship with Lina Arkov. He had ended it before his family came to Neon City.
We knew of Lina Arkov, she'd been girlfriend of the now deceased hackerrist Ringo Chrome.
Now however, Antin was telling us that Lina was blackmailing him, supposedly she had intimate photos of the pair of them and was presumably after something? Antin excitedly explained that he had a cunning plan in mind! He told us that he had contacted Lina and arranged a date at Itadakemasu in Sibuya Terminal, while he distracted her, we should break into her apartment and locate the safe containing the photos, hopefully it would contain the master copies.
It was a straightforward plan, we already knew where she lived, our hunt for Ringo Chrome had concluded at her Rokkaku Dai Heights apartment.
Antin told us that he would ping us again at the start of the date, that wouldn't be until the end of the day.
Our media-slabs pinged again later in the day: Lady Zero, sky-trucker who worked out of Highway Zero was in trouble, she spoke rapidly and there was panicked edge to her voice as she told that while making a routine delivery to The Skyscraper District a sky-car had begun following her, then the car's pilot had begun leaning out and shooting at her!
No time to waste! Koko called the flier and we piled in, Lady Zero had fed our media-slabs with her location when she'd pinged us and we headed directly there. The narrow streets city and tall high-rises rolled by as we raced to our destination.
It was exactly has she had described, against the diffused blue-white cloudless sky an individual riding a sky-car with a missing door was leaning out, submachinegun in one hand and shooting the cargo on her sky-freighter with incredible accuracy. Lady zero's freighter couldn't out distance the sky-car, but neither vehicle had the performance to match our flier. Koko easily caught them and put us between the two of them, we heard shots bounce of the armour, it was unlikely that small-arms fire could damage the flier.
Then the situation changed; as we were assessing the sky-car's threat from a rear-pointing camera, a needle thin lance of red-yellow light had flickered out from it.
Having looked at her readouts, Koko turned to us and said we'd taken a hit from a laser. On screen we saw that the sky-car's reinforced transparent multipolymer windscreen collapsing into steaming, heaped goop, liquified by the laser's heat and leaving a hole.
It meant the kind gloves were off. A few well placed shots from our turret into the car caused it plummet. trailing smoke. It veered wildly and crashed into a busy street, sending screaming pedestrians flying! The car grinded along on it's side and crumpled against a wall, it's power cell exploded and a font of smoking orange flame splashed the street. Banking the flier, Koko circled back round to the crash site.
The remaining door was flung clean off the car and a tall man dressed in a bomber jacket, black cargo pants and tellingly, a pair of black Harbief boots pulled himself out of the fiery wreckage seemingly unharmed. As we lost altitude, we zoomed in and got a hit on facial recog: Joe Montero; former mercenary and wanted war-criminal. We'd encountered him before but never in person.
Even before the flier had touched down, Trigger was out, leaping to the ground and closing to melee.
Joe Montero was no easy mark though. As Trigger and he traded savage blows, Trigger watched Joe's code-black military spec implants in action, watched as nanite-rich blood flowed back into wounds as they began to knit themselves closed, as bruising simply evaporated off Joe's skin. The kind of tech we could only dream about. Even a heavy strike from Trigger took Joe's arm off, he wasn't slowed down. Koko ran in and struck Joe with her Waukgasuki puke-prodder, he immediately recovered as his nanites and bio-regulators adapted to and compensated for threats in real time.
Enhanced strength, speed and stamina, pain suppression, predictive reflexes, improved cognitive function, Joe probably had the lot. Koko retreated and went with a different tack, snapping up her control slab and stabbing at it, she quickly brought Nermal into play and hit Joe Montero with a tight beam EMP pulse.
He went down hard but we could see that he wasn't going to stay down long, his implants would quickly reboot. Without delay we pounced, immobilising him before he resist.
Lady Zero pinged us and we told her the situation was under control, as she thanked us we could hear the stress in her voice. We got her to explain what was going on?
She had been hired to deliver two sets of data-cells to a Octavia Croyle at The Skyscraper District Library when the attack had occurred during the first delivery. She had no clue why?
The result of the attack wasn't good. Checking the management protocol that monitored her cargo told her that those data-cells had been critically damaged by the gunfire.
She'd also just received a report that her second consignment had exploded at its current storage facility at the waterfront. Both data-cells were now lost. Her job was a bust now.
Both consignments of data-cells destroyed? Lady Zero wasn't some random victim, Joe Montero had targeted her because of the cargo.
Joe Montero had recovered enough that we could talk to him.
The merc was talkative enough but didn't give us anything, sneering at whatever we said, only thing he admitted was he wanted some records on the data-cells to go away?
We asked him what had happened to Daron Zavaleta, whom he had kidnapped. Joe laughed and said, "Daron's no longer around,".
He wasn't going to give us anything, time for a different approach.
The data-cells were intended for Octavia Croyle, she was a historian and archivist employed by DIA Media Global and specialist in military history, when Joe Montero had referred to records, did he mean his own military records, ones that marked him out as a war criminal? Looked like there was only one person to talk to. Loading Joe Montero into our flier, we took off and headed to The Skyscraper District.
The exterior of The Skyscraper District Library was clad in imitation limestone and fronted by a row of faux Greek columns, a set of wide steps led up to the entrance. It represented an attempt to give some gravitas to the facility which was entirely lost on most of Neon City's populace.
Without a doubt, the library was the biggest repository of paper still left in the city. Inside the library proper, rows of unused books ran from floor to ceiling, diligently catalogued and organised in fake wooden shelving. Our footsteps seemed to echo in the quiet as we walked along a polished granite floor to a neutrally coloured counter and asked for Octavia Croyle.
She was a tall woman, with grey-shot dark hair and getting on in her middle years, her clothes were deeply unfashionable and clearly timeworn. She took us into a discreet meeting room and provided us with some refreshments and we told her about the loss of the data-cells, she was disappointed to hear it.
Octavia explained that the data-cells were considered to be highly valuable historical documentation that had been lost some time ago, but they had been found in a storage block during repairs following a flood. When they had been discovered, it was immediately decided that the data-cells should be archived in the library.
It would be improper to inquire after the data-cells contained but that had never stopped us in the past! Octavia revealed that they were the only known remaining source of information on events that occurred during the Kashmir Emergency. It was all lost now.
Not all of it, we explained. We told Octavia that Joe Montero was responsible for destroying the data-cells, Octavia knew his name and was of the opinion that it was to hide his atrocities. We also explained that we had the war criminal as a prisoner in our flier.
Octavia had a passion for her specialisation, you could tell, most people - even Neon City people would have questioned why we had him prisoner, but she was just interested in speaking to him! She also told us that we would be paid a finder's fee for him.
We asked Octavia if she had known Daron Zavaleta? He was a passing acquaintance, she told us and fellow employee at the library but not one she knew personally. We told her he had also been present at the Kashmir Emergency and also a wanted war criminal! Octavia was particularly disappointed at having missed the opportunity to speak to him.
Ensuring he was still securely bound, we brought him into the library and put him into Octavia's custody, no doubt she would get a DIA Media Global security team to guard him. She was pleased to see him, commentating that she half-expected him to be wearing his notorious Necklace Of Ears!
After that we bid Octavia good luck with her research and went back to our flier.
Two-and-a-half hours passed, day shrank had before the onset of night, an over-bright sky gave way to a cloudy moonless darkness as vast volumes of rainwater cascaded on to Neon City's crowded streets.
We were at The Copper Kettle when Antin Grova pinged us: Go Go Go had been his message.
Lina Arkov lived in the alabaster white high-rises that were ubiquitous throughout the residential quarter of The Heights. They tended to be higher quality and more exclusive than typical Neon City homing, they were only marred by the presence of the unmanageable sprawling rooftop shanty town that had developed above.
It was no trouble for Koko to get through the lock into Lina's apartment.
Since we had caught up with Ringo Chrome little had changed inside, only the carpet had been replaced, stains of the past removed but not forgotten. The remainder of the apartment with it's furniture, decoration and fixtures were pretty average.
Antin Grova had told us to look for a safe somewhere in the apartment, Trigger's thermals, but got nothing. We continued eyeballing the apartment until we came to a painting in the bedroom, an out of place looking, fairly cheap replica of an old master?
Behind it we found the door to a multi-layered, polycarbonate Rialydr wall safe, luckily Koko was able to get through the locks easily.
Upon opening it we found only a small faux black-stained cherry wooden box tied up in a shiny pink ribbon, Trigger unwrapped the bow and opened the box. Inside was a single sheet of folded paper, it was a handwritten and signed note from Lina Arkov to Antin Grova, it taunted him and his attempt to acquire the incriminating evidence. That wasn't the end, she boasted that our break-in was being filmed and the footage would soon find itself in the hands of the local rentacop franchise.
It was a set-up. Lina Arkov had out-played Antin Grova and we were in trouble, we had to work fast!
Furiously, we turned the room over, dresser searched, wardrobe emptied, bed flipped, nothing. We continued looking, then we spotted it: Opposite the door and in the corner, the almost invisible pinhole lens of a tiny camera, it was too small to hold the data locally and had to lead to storage somewhere else.
I jacked into my Nonohiki, then into The GLOWNET. I didn't have the luxury of admiring the shining, pulsating and holistic data-streams that flowed in and out of Neon City's data-graphical info-vista with its ever reconfiguring data-structure. Instead I interfaced with the camera, it allowed me to follow an incandescent trail that was its GLOWNET connection to a destination, a Preaavar Atyadham server.
Atyadhams were top-of-line Malaysian secured servers, a challenge for many hackers, but for someone like me, it was my bread and butter. After launching a couple of bespoke coded incursion algorithms, I was in.
A large number of files populated the server-drive, searching by timestamp I found the file that was compiling a record of our break-in real-time and killed the feed, then deleted the file. Next I searched for videos of Antin Grova; it appeared that Lina Arkov undertook encounters with many people and had recorded videos of all these interactions, including with Antin Grova and Ringo Chrome.
I downloaded all the files to my data-slab's storage partition and deleted every file off the drive, finally I ran a shredder protocol on it to ensure the data could not be recovered.
Jacking out integrated me back to physical reality and with it came a moment of disorientation and surge of nausea, no time to recover though, we were out of Lina's apartment and away into the night.
Back at the flier, Koko took us up through the beating rain and set a heading back to Hikage Street.
We didn't get far, breaking news came through the GLOWNET news-vine and on to our media-slabs: A gun-wielding woman had shot several people and taken hostages at a restaurant in Shibuya Terminal. We all glanced at each other, even without looking at the story we all knew The City of Electric Dreams wasn't letting us off easy that night!
I stabbed at my media-slab to watch the accompanying footage, it was blurry security camera footage but even so, it clearly showed Lina Arkov shooting several customers and training the gun on Antin Grova.
Koko changed heading for restaurant.
Itadakemasu was located in one of the narrow busy streets of Shibuya Terminal, mostly surrounded by tall anonymous glass-fronted office blocks. I'd taken Lucy on a date there a while back, like most our social outings it had ended in an unrestrained spree of violence and gunfire that almost wrecked the restaurant. Word was that it had only just recently been renovated and repaired after that gunfight.
The restaurant had been surrounded by rentacop, isolated and cordoned off by barriers and parked cop Korazna sky-cruisers. The heavy rain hadn't deterred crowds of Shibuya Terminal workers from pressing up against the barriers and staring, it never did.
From the looks of it, rentacop was more concerned with maintaining a grip on on the gawking crowd than dealing with the hostage situation inside, which is were we came in.
The chief rentacop flat-out refused to let us into Itadakemasu, citing safety concerns. Bill stepped forward, with confidence and authority ringing in his voice as he explained that we were civilian negotiation contractors assigned to manage the hostage situation. You could see the little self-serving cogs whirring in the chief rentacop's brain, if we took ownership of the crisis, then he was off the hook! We saw him smile.
Entering the restaurant took most of us past the shattered glass door and windows, it was quiet inside except for the quiet moans of injured people slumped up against overturned blood-smeared furniture or lying on the food-littered floor.
Chief rentacop told us that the perp had retreated into the kitchen area, out of range of his officers, it looked like he was on the money, the interior had been riddled with bullet holes but there was no Lina or Antin.
After we took defensive positions behind some cover, Koko called in Tonkatsu to begin administering first aid to the victims while we assessed the situation.
A muffled voice could be heard coming from beyond a set of double swinging doors near the restaurant's reception. Kitchen? Had to be. Bill pursed his lips for a moment before getting to his feet. He knew the score, he was the face. No one would be better at talking Lina down.
Save for Lina and Antin, the kitchen was empty. Stainless steel utensils and appliances had been scattered across the floor by the staff in their evacuation. Amongst this mess was Lina, looking stressed with bloodshot eyes, dishevelled and holding a 9mm Ngaohun pistol to Antin's sweating neck, barrel just touching the skin. Her voice was becoming coarse from all the shouting but it didn't stop her.
Bill tried to calm her down and explain that he was here to help and how he was her only friend right now. It was both a lie and the profound truth. Lina wasn't buying though.
"If I can't have him," she yelled. "No one can!".
I guess Antin had made quite the impression.
Bill remained as neutral and unthreatening as possible, trying to keep Lina's attention on him, trying to think of an angle to work.
"If I'm going to die today, then we'll die together!" she promised.
During this time, Trigger had circled round, finding the waterlogged dim back alley that led to Itadakemasu's rear entrance, it had been left unlocked by fleeing staff. Pushing the door open a centimetre and shifting position, he got eyes on Lina, she had her back to him, fully focused on Bill.
Slowly he widened the gap in the door until it was wide enough to admit him. As Lina continued her rant directed at a passive Bill, Trigger slipped in and patiently crept closer.
When Lina had said, "then we'll die together," Trigger jabbed her with a stun-baton.
It didn't go quite to plan, the sudden jolt made Lina convulse and her trigger finger contracted. A single round hit Antin in the neck at point blank, somehow it must have missed his vocal chords as he let out a short scream when blood fountained out of his neck and collapsed.
Outside, rentacop had taken the retort as sign that matters had deteriorated and indiscriminately opened fire on the restaurant, wrecking even more of the bullet-scarred business. Our low positions in the dining area meant the bullets flew overhead before slamming into the wall and fixtures, the others in the kitchen were relatively safe from gunfire.
Once rentacop had emptied their clips, relative silence once more descended on Itadakemasu.
Bill kicked the pistol away from the semi-conscious Lina and Koko sent Tonkatsu straight towards Antin to assess the injury. We gave the word to Rentacop and now they came running in with paramedics on their heels.
Antin Grova's injury was serious and would require intensive reconstructive bio-surgery, all the customers were still alive, Lina was unharmed and taken into custody.
It was a good result and was time to leave. Like ghosts lost to the ether, we made our exit into rainy night before anyone could ask awkward questions.
Later a news-vine story came in on the GLOWNET. It had reported that Antin Grova had been taken to hospital and was stable, he was expected to make a full recovery.
Rentacop had then presented themselves at the hospital and arrested him.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.