24th April 2021
Saturday has rolled round again, I'm logged on to Meet on PC.
Time for the next session in Matakishi's Wired Neon City campaign.
Location: Neon City
Nosily searching through the accumulated yellow-hued junk in my one-bed after I woke from last night's chemically fuelled excess got me nothing; no food, nothing. Time to hit Hikage Street, pulling on my Harbiefs and trench coat, I pocketed my .45 ACP Blockbusters before heading out.
Midmorning and the day was already too hot and it was only going to get worse, the climbing sun rose into a blue-white and cloudless sky, emitting uncaring waves of heat down on to Neon City, only compounded by the dense passing crowds of Hikage Street no-lifers that shuffled along the busy, grey concrete roads. Something was different on the street though, sure, unusual for me to be out this early but that wasn't it, couldn't put my finger on it.
Wasn't until I was coming back from the convenience store, having blown the last of this month's universal credit on Niaiwo Noodles, a six-pack of Huntudi Lager and a pocket stuffed full of Savka choco-sticks that I figured it out: The Poison Jam graffiti tags that had been ubiquitously sprayed throughout Hikage Street had been covered by another tag.
'Magical Girl is coming.'
Never heard of Magical Girl? Maybe they were another of Neon City's many street gangs I wondered as I sank my teeth into a bio-genetically-flavour-enhanced, endorphin-triggering choco-stick, feeling the chemically-driven slight electric tingle cascading down my spine.
Were they planning to move on to Poison Jam street turf or was it something else?
Whatever it was, someone had put their foot on Poison Jam's neck, things were going to get hotter still.
Last night a message had been dead-dropped into the pocket of Bill's exquisitely crafted Executive Excess coat, looked to be from someone called Viper Joe, told us to meet him at Freak Pit, a well known underground combat venue where augmented fighters fought it out, Freak Pit had big-time streaming viewership and even bigger gambling numbers involved, too big for authorities to shut down.
Freak Pit could be found in the Senkawa Aqueduct neighbourhood, it meant riding the crammed, noisy tram into Sunshine City, transferring on to the luxuriously exclusive and well maintained corporate monorail service to the Toshima-cho prefecture, then forgoing it's comfort to transfer again, this time another low grade tram to the Senkawa Aqueduct.
Disembarking at our destination, we were greeted by the sight of an expansive red glow from the setting sun silhouetting Toshima-cho's angular western skyline which cast long shadows that inexorably climbed up taller eastern buildings and consumed the day's red-orange dying light.
Senkawa Aqueduct was an unwelcoming grey and grotty neighbourhood of anonymous sprawling industrial asphalt, sporadically populated by strips of mostly featureless buildings of unknowable purpose. The view was dominated by the imposing concrete block which constituted the Black Dolphin Gulag, Neon City's supermax correctional facility which supposedly housed the most dangerous individuals in the city or in reality, people who had crossed the paths of the wealthy and powerful.
Street lights had begun flickering into buzzing life and shone down on the swathe of bobbing umbrellas raised against the oncoming and unrelenting nightly downpour. The crowds began to thin out and eventually melted away as we turned into a neglected and barely lit road that led to Freak Pit.
The fight venue looked to be situated in a dismal and mostly unlit building site, cadaverous remains of an unfinished commercial park, one of many that dotted Neon City, abandoned as a cost-cutting measure by some corporation or other no doubt.
Makeshift spotlights ringed Freak Pit, soaking it and the milling, cheering crowd in a glaring blaze of harsh light while music thumped out of a massive sound system, Senonable wall-slabs hung above it all, brightly displaying footage of the combat below.
We found Viper Joe somewhere in the crush, he was a large guy and a frequent spectator in the arena fights who favoured dark denim and carried a pair of Prosya Grosto magnum-load revolvers, he shivered and twitched as he greeted us, making a point of not shaking our hands, his nose also ran profusely. Noticing our stares, Viper Joe explained he suspected that his running nose was the result of a recent lung transplant that had gone awry.
Pepper checked Joe's implants and ran a diagnostic, shoddy components in the augmentations were causing Joe's problems, it was unavoidable. Pepper also told us that Joe's behaviour suggested he was a hypochondriac.
Joe was a middle-man, a street-trader who dabbled in weapons and made dollar by supplying the pit.
We got Joe to explain why he had called us. He was pretty blunt about what he wanted, he wanted us to kill someone!
He took us to a nearby building, told us to "keep to the shadows," and led us in. It was busy with numerous large open rooms given over to the medical gurneys, bio-slabs, med-techs and of course, jacked-up fighters
"Neon Suspect is his name," Joe explained, pointing into one room, at skinny man working at a desk who wore beige slacks, grey coat with a round face and a buzzcut, he was arched over a Preaavar Muanma model data-slab he was fiddling with.
"He's a hacker who works for Doctor Ishimura and codes the combat algorithms for her fighters," Joe went on. "He's my rival for her attentions and is trying to worm his way into her affections!".
Viper joe twitched as we looked at him.
"I've not told her how I feel," he abruptly blurted, almost apologetically!
He went on to explain that Neon Suspect was an expert at bio-interfacing software, coding algorithms that interacted with both higher and lower brain functions, managing behaviour and even conferring the recipient various skills. Joe was convinced that he was doing this illegally?
Despite the life we'd immersed ourselves in, we weren't the habit of just blindly rubbing out people for money, we agreed to look into it.
Dr Ishimura owned a stable of Freak Fighters that operated out the pit, she had a background in the med-industry and used old insider contacts to provide her fighters with augmentations required to stay competitive, she also supplied Joe with his replacement organs. Word was that the fighters' implants were as equally cheap as Joe's. She was also known for her garish fashion sense, germaphobia and chain-smoking.
Ishimura's fighters had suffered a long streak of losses recently and her rep was currently trash. Joe suspected that Neon Suspect was sabotaging her fighters in order to get close to her. We decided to speak with her.
Middle-aged, stocky and easily identifiable by the fluorescent canary yellow poly-blended leisure suit she wore. Dr Ishimura had just ended a conversation with Neon Suspect as we approached and was lighting up a Diria branded Mahawd.
Bio-engineering had made it possible to reverse the addictive changes that nicotine made to brain chemistry, but people just kept smoking regardless, living for the buzz and hoping that somehow they'd have the bank to fix or replace the damaged organs later.
Dr Ishimura's eyes flicked our way and she didn't seem particularly pleased to see us when we introduced ourselves, one of her fighters had just lost another fight and she wasn't taking it well or maybe it was just her general demeanour?
With a cigarette hanging from her mouth, she pulled a small, nanite, antibacterial gel applicator from a leisure suit pocket and dowsed her hands with it.
We told her that Viper Joe suspected that someone was sabotaging her fighters as she took a long draw and listened. Once we finished explaining the situation, she exhaled and no amount of cleanliness could disguise the stink of tobacco, she rolled the cigarette between yellowed fingers as she considered her response. After moment she agreed to grant us access to her gym.
It was a dismal sight; the sour, stale stench of body odour hung in a weakly lit room littered with substandard, decade-old and failing med-tech. Several morose fighters sat slouching on benches, bristling with combat augmentations and implanted muscle packs that glistened in the underpowered strip lighting. Dr Ishimura took the opportunity to shout insults at them, voice thick with unconcealed venomous contempt.
Neon Suspect gave us a lengthy sidelong glance from the desk as we walked over to one of Dr Ishimura's sullen fighters while she was lighting her next smoke and applying more gel.
Only way I'd be sure if he was the saboteur was in the scripting of his combat software, he'd know I knew too. If it all went south, it could kick off.
I checked the fighter over, there had to be a connector of some kind? Found it! A tiny, discrete Xideti dermal implant under a small fold of grafted skin that was equipped with a networking port. Connecting my Nonohiki; I jacked in.
Swirling vectors of gleaming data points seemingly orbited me before coalescing into a stable, constant shape, a basic workman-like, almost default cubic data-image. Beyond it, on the glowing info-vista, a pale, distant horizon pulsated rhythmically, was it some kind of non-indexed vault being updated? A check showed it was simply the fighter's biometrics being fed into a data-vault.
There was a directory on the data-image's vault that pointed at a implanted micro-slab and listed the series of algorithms housed on it which interacted with the subject's brain.
After navigating over to the slab's data-vault, going through Neon Suspect's algorithms, I launched an algorithm of my own, a search algorithm and began sifting through the stacks of data that rolled past.
Pain suppressors, reflex enhancers, situational assessment, threat prioritization and more, they were sophisticated algorithm's and all functioned nominally, no erroneous code in any of them. If Neon Suspect was the saboteur, he was sticking the knife in another way.
The info-vista faded as it spiralled away, taking the data-image with it and seemingly imploding as I jacked out, experiencing the usual infinite-moment of disorientation.
Koko and Pepper checked out the fighter's combat upgrades and weapon implants, they quickly discovered that not only were they the cheapest, lowest grade Rekhang knock-off weapons available, they'd been sabotaged!
Weapons were Viper Joe's responsibility, was someone targeting the weapons to get at Joe, or was it something else?
Neon Suspect strode over as we were discussing our next move, which was convenient because we wanted to talk to him. Pointing, the hacker explained that the fighter we'd examined was up next in the pit, he shuffled past and made for him. We watched as he networked the Muanma into the fighter's firmware, no doubt making adjustments and checks. Moments later, we saw the fighter's countenance change, his expression hardened and his back straightened, Neon Suspect's work was having its effect.
When Neon Suspect was done, we asked him about the weapons and he shrugged, telling us that they weren't his department and they should've already been fully functional.
It was nothing Koko couldn't handle though, soon she had them online and working, working as well as they could at least.
As the fighter headed off to the pit, Neon Suspect gave him a slap on his bio-sculpted butt cheek.
Neon Suspect turned back to us and explained that from now, no one would touch the fighter until just prior to the match, then the competitors would be scanned to ensure they didn't have any unsanctioned enhancements, it was all out of his hands now he added.
We had more questions and asked him about the nature of his relationship with Dr Ishimura, he looked at us quizzically and from his answer it was apparent that he had little interest in women.
He did take a shine to Bill though and made a point of calling him William, Bill showed no interest in reciprocation.
Trigger then stated that he had an interest into entering a match in the pit.
"I look forward to working with you," Neon Suspect purred coolly, sizing Trigger up.
Beyond the confines of the building we could hear the thundering clamour of the crowd at the pit, the collective gasping, shouting and baying for blood. It continued for a while, then there was a moment of silence followed a prolonged roar; the match was over.
A minute later, with blood and sweat, Dr Ishimura's fighter, slick with sweat, blood and numerous wounds came back victorious.
Taking the opportunity, I jacked back into his firmware, the algorithms used to alter his personality had increased aggression, spatial awareness, reflexes and so on, Neon Suspect had done his job well. No evidence that he was sabotaging fighters.
Only one variable could had changed between this fight and the previous ones; weapons, Joe was responsible for weapons. Had someone been targeting Joe? Was it someone else? Or maybe it was Joe? What would be his motive?
The Freak Pit proper was an actual pit, harsh, unremitting white light form spots above flooded the rectangular, earthy and concrete depression which was supported by a perimeter of steel reinforcement struts leftover from the abandoned construction here and bounded by a rim of barbed wire fence which was lined with hollering spectators, we went out to join them and watch the next fight.
It was Viper Joe we needed to talk to now and he was out there in the crowd watching the next match. No-hopers mingled with wage-monkeys, corporate execs and the occasional vid-celeb. Neon Suspect had also joined us, we noticed that he was staring intently at Joe with a faraway look, pretty sure now that he was actually more interested in Joe than Ishimura.
Time to check Viper Joe out.
I jacked in and the mindless roar of the crowd evaporated as the GLOWNET enveloped my consciousness, almost threatening to overload my awareness. To the uninformed observer, the localised info-vista and ensuing traffic would look normal for Neon City, but for me, the cascading flow of passing data-clusters couldn't mask the irregularity surrounding the Freak Pit's bogus data-image which seemingly led nowhere but to a dead construction company. However, beneath the dead company was something, the fight organisers had hidden data-vault of their own, those in-the-know could use it to access the fight's stream and bet on the outcomes.
Hacking the data-vault was straight forward and sifting through it's data logs, I found a record for Viper Joe. I could use it to trace and hack his credit activity. From there I saw frequent movements of bits in and out of the account, looked like payments for Joe's repeated cheap organ replacements, but nothing sizable enough to be something like a bribe.
Viper Joe was having a nose bleed and suspected he was on the verge of experiencing a major organ failure when Bill had shuffled through jostling spectators to reach him.
Bill went and told him what we'd found, told him how Neon Suspect's combat scripting was fine, how weapon's had been Dr Ishimura's problem and how we knew that he was involved. Only thing we didn't know was why?
Joe paused for a second before dabbing at his nose and taking a deep breath, he then admitted to sabotaging the weapons, he was hoping to discredit Neon Suspect to get him sacked and get closer to Ishimura.
Then Bill told him how it had all been unnecessary and how Neon Suspect was more interested in him that Ishimura! Joe's obsession had blinded him. Joe told Bill that the sabotaging would now stop and the matter could be considered closed.
Bill wished him good luck with managing his implants and left.
After greasing some wheels with the organisers, we managed to get Trigger a match despite being an unknown fighter.
Bookies were running long odds against Trigger, we bet heavily on him.
The Pit thrummed and we felt it through our feet, the distorted, raspy blaring of an old Iksaarp sound system announced Trigger's entry as he jumped into the Pit brandishing his gunblade.
His opponent came in from the other side, a bare-chested giant of a man dropped into the far side of the pit, bio-sculpted muscles squirmed beneath grafted and repeatedly reconstructed skin as he flexed, striding forward. Gone were the weaknesses of flesh, bone and muscle, replaced by the resilience of reinforced carbonate. Grimy and unclean, dull coloured metallic flails sprouted from the giant's wrists. He glared at Trigger with an unhinged, drug-fuelled expression!
"Ultimate Hobo," blasted the speakers and the giant raised his augmented arms, the crowd responded with a bellow.
The clamour reached a crescendo once the announcer started the fight.
For a moment, Trigger and Ultimate Hobo weighted each other up, slowly circulating one another; then the fight began. Ultimate Hobo was strong but Trigger was fast. Blows were exchanged and Trigger got the better of his opponent, one of Ultimate Hobo's augmented arms flopped to the dusty floor, the giant wasn't slowed, a mixture of bloodlust and pain management software kept him going, Trigger could see coagulants injected into his blood by an implant were already stemming the flow of blood.
With a howl that almost drowned out the screaming crowd, Ultimate Hobo pressed his attack with a series of wold swings, but Trigger saw it coming, easily sidestepping the telegraphed swipe and counterattacking.
Ultimate Hobo's other arm flopped to the floor, after that, Trigger easily cut him down and was victorious. Spectators roared their approval as Trigger glowered defiantly at them.
Senonable wall-slabs above the arena repeatedly replayed the killing blow, from a variety of angles and in slow-motion.
Ultimate Hobo's corpse was carted off, he was dead for now, the technology to revive him existed, it was the matter of dealing with brain damage would be an obstacle and for Ultimate Hobo that wasn't really an issue, he might well soon be back in The Pit!
But otherwise, some use would be found for his remains no doubt.
Trigger meanwhile, was hailed as victor when he exited The Pit, he was then gifted a aluminium badge that said: 'I beat U.H.!'.
The rest of us had made serious bank on his win.
The nightly deluge was waiting for us as we exited Freak Pit, nosily pattering on to the asphalt around us as we went into the gloomy rain, collars turned up against the downpour and the black sky above.
We had hardly begun the return journey when Pepper's media-slab pinged; he checked the message, illuminated by it's soft glow, his face showed surprise?
"It's a Yokai trainer!, he exclaimed, turning to us.
A script running on his media-slab had detected another trainer's media-slab and they'd communicated, setting up match. Pepper said he'd catch up with us and went off to find his opponent. Later that night, he would come back, telling us that he had won the match and captured a new yokai called Megura!
On the way back to Hikage Street, another call pinged in, this time for Koko. The modulated, disguised voice of Yennav Rybasei was on the other end.
"Hello my droogs,"!
A Russian mob owned distillery, The Glass Face Vodka Distillery on Hoppi Street had gone dark and Yennav wanted us to check it out.
It was getting late by the time the rumbling old tram had dropped us off in the centre of Hoppi Street and happy hour was in full swing! Or so it seemed, as every hour in Hoppi Street might have been happy hour.
Located within the Asakusa-cho prefecture, Hoppi Street crawled with the neon-lit bars and themed pubs, smoky watering holes and shady drinking dens it was known for. Its sidewalks teemed with unending dense, lively crowds; tourists, serious drinkers, wage-monkeys and down-and-outers, all drawn by lure of dozens of drinking establishments.
Navigating the staggering and sodden revellers, we arrived at The Glass Face Vodka Distillery.
We had smelt it before we saw it, that was a bad sign; an acrid and bitter odour that hung in the air, recognisable for what it was, not simply the smell of smoke, but the smell of a burnt building.
By the looks of it, an explosion had reduced the distillery to a heap of still heated slag that smouldered in the hammering rain, vapour mixing with smoke. Orange embers cheerfully twinkled in the ruinous piles of charred debris and small patches of spluttering, tenacious fire continued consuming whatever was left of the building.
Numerous blackened and contorted bodies littered the site. Drunken passerbys gawped incomprehensively at the wreckage as they shuffled past, too inebriated or too hardened to life in The City of Electric Dreams to care.
In true Neon City fashion, the municipal first-responders had taped off the collapsed building and done nothing else.
After climbing through the yellow and black tape to examine the rubble, I could feel that heat seeping up through the soles of my Harbief boots as we trod on the remains of the distillery and the acrid smell, now at its most intense, filled my nostrils. I was tempted to activate my internal rebreather.
Then, over the drumming rainfall we heard something, quiet, an indistinct voice, but still something. Following the voice led us to a shocking discovery.
Among the corpses was a Protobase Global zombie cyborg! Constituted of an assortment of cybernetic components and weapons held together by a cage of flesh that was once human and networked by their nervous system, it was designed with only one purpose: to mindlessly, unrelentingly kill.
Protobase Global routinely and clandestinely kidnapped those on the fringes of society or in the underclass; the poor, the dispossessed, the transient and then hollowed the humanity out of them until only a biological chassis for their polymer, steel and chromed up cyberware and weaponry remained.
Twice we'd encountered their secretive production facilities and twice we'd shut them down.
This cyborg though, seemed different, it twitched unpredictably, sparked violently in the rain and spoke? Zombie cyborgs never spoke, we'd encounter them several times and without fail, they were utterly silent.
Cautiously, we moved in.
Koko checked it over, there were clear signs of severe trauma to its head module. Zombie cyborgs could soak an enormous amount of punishment and only damage to its brain stem could put one down immediately and reliably. This one should have been dead, but somehow it clung to life by the thinnest of slivers.
Looking even closer, Koko noticed that the sparks were actually tiny but intensely bright and powerful arcs of crackling electricity jumping between capacitors and circuits. Damage that should have done for the zombie cyborg was being repaired and the biological components were being preserved. The short-circuiting firmware had bypassed the disconnected brain stem in some unpredictable manner and triggered an autonomous repair protocol.
When the zombie cyborg spoke, it was a faraway whisper.
"Brenda Callahan," she said her name was Brenda Callahan and she was asking about her family?
Did the zombie cyborgs retain their memories? Personality?
It didn't bear thinking about.
We asked Brenda what her last memory was? She told us that she had gone into Den's Den of Domestic Helpers, looking for a washing machine.
Den's Den had been located in Kibogaoka Hill, it had been a front for the second production facility. It didn't take any stretch of the imagination to figure out what had happened.
A quick search revealed that Brenda Callahan of Kibogaoka Hill was married to a Phillip, we tried pinging him but got nothing.
A further search revealed that Phillip and Brenda Callahan and their four children had been reported as missing by their neighbour in the Kibogaoka Hill shanty town. Rentacop would never have made any effort to investigate the report. Wasn't any point in looking further into this, grimly, we had to accept that they had met the same fate as Brenda.
Softly, in an almost trance-like way, Brenda kept asking about her family and where she was? We all looked at each other, her state was precarious, telling her might make matters worse.
Thanks to our experiences with RAM Rat, we also knew that eventually her biological components would begin to decay, Protobase Global zombie cyborgs weren't build to last. We had to try and find a solution to her predicament, but first, she had to be moved out of here.
None of us knew of anywhere that might off-the-books have the kind of facility needed to treat Brenda, none of us at least, until Pepper spoke up.
"I know a guy," Pepper piped in. "His name is Cheeky Bob and well, he's veterinarian! But he might be able to help.".
Nobody had any better alternative.
Pepper pinged a call to Bob, they seemed pleased to see each other, at least it was promising. Once the situation was explained, Bob agreed to see Pepper's unregistered patient.
Cheeky Bob's practice operated out of Rokkaku Dai Heights, Koko remotely bought in the flier and Brenda was carefully loaded in and ferried over, he instructed us to bring Brenda through the tradesmen entrance and was waiting for us as we slowly lowered her to street level.
Cheeky Bob was an unshaven, corpulent man with messy hair in a tatty and worn lab coat smeared with grease stains and other fluids, he looked surprised to see his patient was a giant cyborg. I could see from his expression that he was about to complain, but looking at us, thought the better of it.
Brenda was moved into one of the practice's examination rooms and put under a bright spot light, all the while asking about her family. Bob checked her over, humming as he did so. He hit her with a sedative and she slipped into voiceless sleep. He turned to us and explained that he could give Brenda a cocktail of injections that would inhibit necrosis, she would be stable for about six months, but after that, loss of biomass would be inevitable and irreversible.
Six months to solve the problem, better than the alternative. We agreed and Cheeky Bob did his work, he also gave us a stash of sedatives to help Brenda cope with her situation.
Brenda needed a chance to recuperate and had to be stashed somewhere safe. It was easy to find an anonymous, small no-questions-asked lockup on Hikage Street that was paid for through one of our ghost accounts.
It was the dead of night in the crashing rain when we moved Brenda again and Neon City was as quiet as it ever got. Ensuring that no one had eyes on us we took her through the downpour to a puddle-ridden side street at the edge of the residential quarter where the lockup could be found. The aluminium roller door opened with a metallic rattle, revealing a bare and undecorated concrete and corrugated steel cube; basic, but it would do, it would have to!
Brenda was made as comfortable and secure as possible before we left, the roller door came back down with another metallic rattle and clunked shut as the auto-lock engaged.
With our heads bent low against the relentless precipitation, we began the return to our apartments, The City of Electric Dreams had other ideas though and didn't let us go so easily.
Our media-slabs started pinging, Roboy was on the line.
Roboy was a trusted contact and robotic owner of a courier service staffed entirely by robots which confidentially boasted that their couriers could deliver almost anything, anywhere; a resource we'd made use of more than once.
Unsurprisingly, Roboy had a problem that needed dealing with.
Recently, several of Roboy's smaller employees had been targeted by unknown thieves in the Senkawa Aqueduct area, so he'd hired a couple of Muscle Gurlz to investigate and resolve the situation. Now they'd gone missing too and Roboy needed us to investigate and resolve the new issue! Find the thieves, find the gurlz.
Ikebukuro Muscle Gurlz; a name we recognised, it belonged to some sort of bodybuilder's bar that we'd never visited. Roboy's description of the two Muscle Gurlz was of pair of cybered up, martial arts, bodybuilding, goth chicks.
It was into the small hours of night when we returned to Senkawa Aqueduct, a subdued time, gone were the drinkers and fun-seekers, only the lost, disparate and night-workers now rode Neon City's public transit network, I wondered which we were? Driving rain slammed against the elevated tram as it noisily laboured its way onwards while we watched the panoply of passing city lights become distorted, rippling smears of multicoloured light sprawled across rain-splashed windows.
The search to find one of the missing delivery drones was straightforward, Roboy had provided us with a code to trace it's tracker on our media-slabs, it was so straightforward, it made us wonder what the Muscle Gurlz had encountered?
It led us to some narrow, detritus littered, half-lit alleyway and a dented, scarred dumpster. Inside was the drone, the tracer on my Jaunkeu confirmed it. It had suffered serious damage, I watched as exposed actuators and servos twitched and buzzed, the drone hadn't given up trying to recover. Once the drone was out of the dumpster, Koko checked it over, the source of the damage was undiscernible.
Behind a panel was connector, I used it to network the drone with my data-slab and downloaded it's entire recent telemetry data. First thing I did was to pull down and review its archived camera feed.
We watched the footage.
At first it showed the drone navigating its way through Neon City's sky-lanes, then abruptly, it's view lurched sideways, the world rotating as the ground raced up to meet it. The drone bounced and skittered several times before skidding to a halt at an uneven angle, almost instantly, the seemingly frenzied, half silhouetted figure of woman with baleful, glowing red eyes lunged for the drone, leaving crimson trails of light on the footage as she moved! The video feed ended.
I tried to run facial recog on the silhouette, but the image was too blurred, too badly lit for the search algorithm to get a hit.
I was about to try another tack when Roderick interrupted me, the robotic bodyguard informed us that he was receiving some kind of transmission? It was a message and Roderick described it as an artificial but kindly woman's voice and repeated the message to us.
“New meat, my children, Mother is deciding when to serve it.”
The message went on further.
“Keep your eyes peeled my children, search the skies, one of the drones is carrying our prize.”
Our hackles were up, we took sidelong glances into the poorly lit alleyway as it stretched away, swallowed by distant night. Somehow the message related to the drones and maybe the Muscle Gurlz? Who was Mother and who were the children? Did this represent a danger for us?
We soon got an answer.
“More enemies are here my children, watch for them, kill them.”
"Another message," Roderick told us that a video feed was also being transmitted on a different channel, which he then relayed to my data-slab.
All of us watched it; it was grainy, slightly out of focus footage from a higher angle and poorly lit, but undeniably, it was us in the feed, standing there in the alleyway. Somebody waved an arm, a second later the arm waved onscreen; live footage from a street cam somewhere close to the alley.
Trouble was coming.
Out of the rainy haze materialised the attackers, ten of them frenziedly running at us and all ten had the same baleful glowing red eyes.
In seconds the red-eyes would be on us, the odds had to be evened. The eyes had to be some sort of implant. Koko frantically punched at her control-slab and Nermal sprang to life, servos hummed into action, rotors span, the drone rose into the air with a robotic purr. Koko instructed Nermal to trigger its targeted EMP pulse, if the attackers were wired up, it might give us an edge.
About of half their number stumbled to a halt, gawked about blinking and stumbled off. Looked like they were being controlled? The others though, kept coming, screaming and charging in with flailing arms.
We were hesitant to fight them, were they innocent victims of some kind of brain-jacking? It was enough to make us hold back.
They attacked with ferocious, unhinged strength, hitting hard.
Koko jabbed one with her puke-prodder; no effect.
Trigger landed a telling blow on one; no effect.
None of it was working, there was no choice but to use whatever force we could bring to bear. Even so, the fight was a hard one and we were left nursing our injuries, they unflinchingly soaked up massive injuries before they went down.
Quickly, Kevin scanned one. Results showed they had some kind of interconnected implants in their brain, spinal column and nervous system, it didn't reveal any enhancements or augmentations to physical performance or endurance, nothing to explain their strength.
No time to speculate either. Roderick interrupted us again, matter-of-factly informing us that more enemies were vectoring in on our position. We looked a each other, none of us wanted to continue this.
Koko remotely called in the flier.
No way to take one alive, nothing to be gained from fighting more of them. So time to bug out, we just had to wait for our ride to get here. Thirty seconds is a long time when you know an unrelentingly, seemingly psychotic mob is closing in on you.
The flier's turbines whipped the falling rain into a localised stinging hurricane as it dropped into a hover at street level. We dragged a body aboard for further investigation as we made good our escape, we weren't done with this.
I was flooded with relief as the flier pulled away, for once, the sensation of gravity tugging at my guts was a comfort as I watched the streets fall away.
It wasn't over though.
Roderick told us that he'd gotten another transmission.
“Our meat is escaping the larder my children, hurry now and recapture it.”
Did it mean us? Tactical showed nothing in the vicinity of the flier. Using external cameras, Koko swept the streets below, infrared picked up scores, maybe hundreds of the red-eyes storming through Senkawa Aqueduct like an swelling flood of bodies. Ahead of them; their prey, two sprinting individuals, straining to keep just ahead of the baying mob, the two ducked into an apartment block, the red-eyes close behind.
As we watched, even more red-eyes appeared from seemingly everywhere, converging on the apartment block and in streaming in like so much water emptying down the drain.
Koko circled with the flier and waited; the two individuals burst on to the rooftop. The horde would be seconds behind. We dropped a line down to them, without any delay, the two of them leapt for it and we pulled them to safety as the red-eyes came spilling on to the rooftop.
Once they were reeled in, they introduced themselves as Pixie Skull and Vanilla Goth. The pair of them were scantily dressed in almost matching black outfits, admirably showing off the low-percentage of their body fat and well defined, possibly surgically improved muscle definition. They also both possessed smooth porcelain skin, the result of either applying a lot of skin toner or some dermal, melanin alteration treatment, heavy and dark make-up completed the goth aesthetic.
Muscle Gurlz, had to be, they confirmed it.
We told them that we had been sent by Roboy to investigate their disappearance, in reply, they explained that had been tracking the missing courier drones when they were attacked and forced to flee into an abandoned office block, to hide amongst the discarded trash that had been left behind and littered the interior. For a time, they had avoided detection and carefully observed the red-eyes who wandered the rainy streets listlessly.
Then abruptly, the red-eyes had all run off in the same direction, attention drawn to something else, probably us! The pair then took the opportunity to make a break for it. It didn't work out and more red-eyes appeared! So they made for the apartment block and the roof.
They thanked us for our timely intervention and provided us with some cards that gave us free drinks at the Ikebukuro Muscle Gurlz bar.
Once the Muscle Gurlz were dropped off well away from Senkawa Aqueduct, we contacted Roby, explained the situation to him and how it was too dangerous, even for hardened street samurai to wander the district.
It was apparent even over the voice call that Roboy's synthetic voice couldn't disguise his unhappiness. He would have to suspend deliveries into Senkawa Aqueduct for the time being.
For us, what was left of the night was over, time to hit Hikage Street and home.
Later, Koko and Pepper would thoroughly pore over the red-eye body that we'd brought back, their findings were not quite what we expected.
For the most part, the implants were designed to receive carrier waves, trans-process the data into sensory inputs and relay the results into neural pathways to the brain.
None of the implants were wired into higher brain functions at all.
It was likely that the transmissions which Roderick had intercepted were instructions meant for the red-eyes. Furthermore, it was clear that they hadn't been brain-jacked at all and were willingly following these instructions.
Further examination revealed the red-eye's blood contained an extraordinarily highly concentrated blend of performance enhancing designer poly-amphetamines, which explained their behaviour. Judging by the concentrations, Pepper estimated that these amphetamines were administered to the red-eyes on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, I'd been scouring the GLOWNET info-vista, even the most remote data-vaults for any information or chatter on the sinister activities in Senkawa Aqueduct and constantly running search-algorithms.
Every time a name a came up, it was always one name.
The name was associated with a nebulous cult that went by the name Children of Saika that had seen an increase of activity recently. The cult itself was linked with an equally nebulous organisation known as The Church of Redeemed Sinners.
It wasn't much to go on, but it was something we'd keep an eye on.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.