1st May 2021
Another Saturday night and I’m logged into Meet on my PC.
Time for the next part of Matakishi’s Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Neon City.
Nursing a hangover, eating Paheheu Pops and watching vintage old-time vid-feeds on the wall-slab was the way to spend a morning. I was ignoring my media-slab while it continually flagged up the newsvines, eventually the little chiming jingle got the better of me and I reached for it, all the down-streams were reporting the same thing. I sat on my futon and crunched on the crisped synthetic rice cereal as I read on; The Snot Robber had been apprehended.
The feeds stated that rentacop had finally caught up with The Snot Robber, who was now incarcerated in the Highway Zero precinct.
We’d had encounters with some of the victims and had never gotten a handle on The Snot Robber, so that was that, or so I thought.
It didn’t take long for our media-slabs to ping. Baking champion Martha Woldt had called, she’d been a competitor on the Rokkaku Dai Heights Bake off when we found someone was trying to stack the competition in favour of one of her rivals. We’d also recovered her son who’d almost become a dish on a cannibal menu.
Now she was telling us about her brother? Wilheim Woldt had been arrested under suspicion of being The Snot Robber, Martha believed differently, adamant that he was innocent. We didn’t believe anything, but agreed to look into it.
One hot, crammed tram ride took us into Highway Zero, where typically narrow streets gave way to asphalt roads wide enough to accommodate Neon City’s overpass network at street level, the only district in The City of Electric Dreams to do so, resulting in an unending, low, dull, background rumble that saturated the air.
Midday was getting dangerously close when we reached the rentacop precinct, a brick-fronted corner unit with a heavy glass and steel door situated in a block of businesse locations. Brutal waves of heat hadn’t deterred the scores of news-vultures from gathering outside, ten deep. The Snot Robber had been just weird enough to catch the public’s imagination and the press knew when they were on to a good story.
D4-VID’s diminutive, silver-grey, brushed poly-aluminium frame could be seen in the jostling, hollering mob, so we made ourselves known to him.
The bot-caster came over to us and explained that they were expecting rentacop to release a press statement within the hour.
We told D4-VId that there might be something else to this arrest and asked if he was in? He agreed instantly, if there was a different angle, he knew a big exclusive could be scored.
With some effort we worked our way round the gathered journos until we reached the way in flanked by two jacked-up rentacop uniforms, they regarded us through their standard issue mirrored Poviat shades.
Bill stepped up and spun them about us being Wilheim Woldt’s legal counsel, worked and to be fair, was probably as close to the truth that he could get, we pushed through the sturdy door.
Inside the precinct, it was quiet, insulated from the heat and noise outside the walls. Ggently humming aircon cooled the reception, while subtle, diffused wall lighting gave it an air of calm, as designed, no doubt by some committee of psychologists. We crossed the polished stone floor to a reception desk, more hardened polymer bunker than anything else, with a sheet of thick reinforced transparent acrylic separating us from the desk sergeant.
A stocky man in an ill-fitting rentacop mock uniform, he dragged his eyes away from the slab he was fixated with to watch us close in with a slack jawed, surprised expression.
“Legal counsel for Wilheim Woldt,” Bill stated, leaning into the acrylic.
The desk sergeant couldn’t conceal a scoff.
“That one’s going down,” he replied. “Open and shut, a waste of your time. He was caught with all the noses!”.
Bill didn’t skip a beat and leant into the screen again.
“Legal counsel for Wilheim Woldt.”
A uniform strode deeper into the precinct after being summoned by the out-of-sorts desk sergeant and we followed. Behind the corporate facade of the precinct’s front was a complex of plain and dull grey, workmanlike corridors that interconnected various different rooms and were lit by bleak, white striplights.
Wilheim was sitting on a shaped plastic chair, waiting for us in an interview room when we came in. He was a thin-faced man that appeared gaunt under an unflattering spotlight embedded in the ceiling and wore a miserable, almost shocked expression. After the uniform was gone, we got him to give us the low-down while D4-VID filmed.
Wilheim actually had a job, working as a landlord managing a number of properties throughout Rokkaku Dai Heights. Yesterday he was in a vacated apartment, prepping it for a new tenant when he came across a package that had recently been delivered and was addressed to the previous tenant.
It had split open, spilling its gruesome contents; a handful of bloody noses now scattered across the bare floorboards. Naturally, he had called rentacop, who, when they arrived, promptly arrested and charged him with being The Snot Robber!
Kuto Shiko had been the previous tenant, Wilheim told us. The name was somehow familiar to us….
Wilheim went on, explaining that Kuto Shiko had been his tenant for a year before she vacated the apartment about a month ago.
It had been about a month ago that The Snot Robber had first struck, two threads were now tying them together.
There wasn’t much more that we could get out of Wilheim, and as he was led back to his cell deeper within the precinct, we spoke with the lead investigating officers, they seemed very confident in the strength of their case.
As his legal counsel, we had to be given access to the evidence. Another uniform led us into a different part of the precinct and to a chilly, locked viewing room, it’s climate lowered to zero in order to preserve the evidence. The precinct had no morgue facilities.
Being residents of Neon City, we weren’t acclimatised to this cold, our breath billowed in steamy clouds ahead of us and we could feel the slight burn of cold air biting on exposed skin.
The cold room lacked furniture, save for a table with a box containing the evidence which was being kept in a transparent polythene zipper back.
Pulling it out, we examined it. It wasn’t the chilled noses we were interested in, it was the burlywood coloured packaging. Kuto Shiko’s name and the apartment address had been handwritten.
“That looks like a woman’s style of handwriting,” piped in D4-VID, staring at the package. It looked like he gave the robotic equivalent of a shrug and continued. “It matches parameters stored in my archives, I’ve seen this sort of thing before,”
Other than the handwriting, the packaging contained the post stamp of the delivering courier.
Something to work on at least and we were starting to feel the cold, time to leave. Returning the evidence to it’s box, we exited the room back into reasonable temperature and made our way out of the precinct.
With the clamour outside the precinct behind us, we got out of the unforgiving sky in a small greasy eatery that was the kind favoured by the transportation workers who rolled into Highway Zero and went about following up our leads.
Contacting the courier got us nothing, they had picked up the package from one of the multitude of anonymous self-service postal drop-lockers that dotted Rokkaku Dai Heights.
So next, we turned to Kuto Shiko and immediately got something. I’d been scouring her MyFaceSpace account and had gotten a hit.
We’d seen the name Kuto Shiko before, encountering it when we’d crossed paths with her ex-girlfriend, Royla Ovalev. A while back we’d found a maniacal Royla and stopped her trying to torture Yaroh Uron to death.
“I’ll get her!” Royla had feverishly screamed back then and struggled while Trigger had dragged her off Yaroh.
At the time, in that candle lit room, thick with heavy incense, it’d meant nothing.
But now, my mind went back to the creepy shrine adorned with a blood splashed photo of a young woman and in that dim, flickering yellow light, I remembered the photo had a name; Kuto Shiko. We’d even seen Kuto Shiko working as a waitress at Pie-in-the-Sky, a restaurant here in Highway Zero
How did I remember this? Kuto’s MyFaceSpace account had the answer. I’d been scrolling through her profile’s timeline and seen the last few posts from Royla.
There’d been a series of exchanges between the two: Kuto had dumped Royla and Royla had taken it badly, Kuto had mocked her about this and it only intensified Royla’s erratic emotional state.
The final two exchanges between them had read:
“Seriously Royla you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face,” Kuto had said.
“I H8 U!” was Royla’s reply.
“Srysly? You go gurl,”
“I’ll show you what nose cutting really is,”
Too much of a coincidence to be a coincidence, Kuto’s old address must have been getting the noses delivered from Royla, she had to be The Snot Robber.
Rolya Ovalev’s apartment was in The Heights, we’d been there before and rushed over on the overcrowded tramline. She had to be stopped before she struck again.
The apartment was situated in one of The Height’s social-housing graded, dull grey and under-maintained high-rises, Trigger’s thermal sweep showed no heat signatures inside.
No time for subtly, for a second time Trigger kicked the door open.
Inside, it was a mess, the apartment was in disarray, refuse had been strewn across the apartment floors, broken crockery was scattered everywhere,as well as utensils, clothes, upturned shelves and more. Long chunks had been repeatedly gouged out of the stud walls and broken furniture, most likely a large knife was the cause. It looked like the knife had been put through a wall-slab as well.
In the living room we found a large hardcopy poster-map of Golden Gai draped from a wall, Royla had drawn a pentagram on the map. It consisted of a number of spots that had also been marked on the map; she'd drawn lines between those spots and these lines had formed the shape of the pentagram. Abruptly, we realised that those spots were locations where The Snot Robber - where Royla had struck. Looking closer and crossing data, we realised there was a pattern; according to the dates, attacks were taking place around the pentagram in a clockwise pattern.
Not only that, on the map, next to the location where each attack took place, there were two smeared ticks in what looked like dried blood, except one, which had only a single tick. There was a lurch in my gut, the location of Royla’s next attack, that had to be it?
Time was tight, but before we left, we searched the rest of Royla’s apartment. There was nothing that would help us find her but amongst the carpet of trash in the kitchen area we found the same burlywood coloured packaging we’d seen back at the Highway Zero precinct, the final nail in the coffin.
Royla had to be stopped.
It was a quick ride and transfer to and from Shibuya Terminal to the Corporate Monorail, the comfortable, smooth ride into Shinjuku Station belied our uneasiness. The day was wearing on and in a couple of hours Golden Gai would be flooded by the evening crowds, meandering tourists, suited wage-monkeys and run-of-the-mill Neon City revellers, a plentiful hunting ground for The Snot Robber and a nightmare for us, Golden Gai’s topographical maze didn’t help
In the east, the cloudless blue-white sky was beginning to fail, inextricably consumed by the hungry rise of a darkening canopy as, on the final leg of our journey, the tram rumbled into Golden Gai.
As day acquiesced to night, the temperature would dip modestly and tumultuous soot-coloured rain clouds would gather, soon after the night-long downpours would begin.
An abundance of drinking venues populated the particularly narrow and unpredictably branching streets of Golden Gail which convolutedly crossed other thoroughfares like an erratically spun web spread throughout massive concrete canyons.
Looking around, we found some vantage points and settled in to observe, Koko grabbed her control-slab and instructed Kevin up high to sweep the area with advanced optics in a slow circular patrol.
Time passed, street lights ticked and hummed into flickering life as we watched wasted wage-monkeys mixing with surly street goths, no-hopers and flamboyant fashionistas in the latest Desullo, Shaguaifu and Hysteric Mini Seibu lines. Over comms, Koko told us that Kevin was tracking someone that met the drone’s search parameters, she fed visuals to the rest of us.
He was a burly man, decked out all in black; a voluminous high-necked black cape was layered over a black Tremeita Hiaki greatcoat which was in turn layered over a three-piece black Gaongha suit. The look was finished off with some sort of tall top hat and he carried a black walking stick tipped in a faux-silver heel and with a replica ivory handle and a imitation leather Mahakam suitcase fashioned in the style of a old-school doctor’s bag
We watched as he flitted somewhat unconvincingly from shadow to shadow? This didn’t look like Royla, was she in some kind of disguise?
Before we could assess the situation, Kevin’s motion detector picked up something, it was moving fast. An ephemeral distortion seemingly surrounded Top Hat man as somewhere from above, the featureless profile of a ninja had dropped down, no time to think or even react! With a single swing, the ninja’s Ninjato flashed over Top Hat’s face and he flopped to the sidewalk with a cry, holding his bloodied face.
The Snot Robber had struck again.
Trigger had left his spot and was running towards Top Hat now, but seemingly The Snot Robber had vanished in the moment it’d took Trigger to get there? Trigger immediately switched to thermals and spotted The Snot Robber slinking away, he lunged and hit out with his gunblade, landing a solid blow, the air rippled and ninja reappeared, a long split in the ninja-yoroi’s silhouetted profile exposed the paper-thin, elaborately complex microcircuitry beneath, stealth-tech - and it’d been compromised!
Koko sent in Sylvester and Felix to attack and Roderrick also unloaded the now visible Snot Robber, the explosive flechettes were too much and they went down.
Quickly, we checked Top Hat, he’d taken a serious injury the face, but wasn’t in a critical condition and to prove that Neon City never lost its sense of irony, we discovered that Top Hat, who would be The Snot Robber’s final victim, was actually Doctor Grippen, the cosmetic surgeon we’d heard about who’d been making so much bank from the attacks!
Next, our attention was turned to the ninja, the mask was peeled away and Royla was revealed, The Snot Robber had been stopped.
Rentacop at Highway Zero had announced the capture of The Snot Robber in the morning but hadn’t given the press a name, which was fortunate for Wilheim Woldt. Later, he was quietly released without fuss allowing rentacop to retain the mote of credibility they had before they issued a press statement identifying Royla Ovalev as The Snot Robber.
Before we had the chance to call it a day, Bill’s media-slab pinged, caller ID told him it was Mister Blank, which is why Bill was surprised when he found a Mexican woman on the other end.
She was unsettled, crying and on the verge of hysteria. Between gasping breaths, she explained with a shaking voice that she had been told to call Bill and he needed help right now?
Bill tried to make sense of it, asking the woman to elaborate, but there was only a moment of overloud, distorted clattering as something collided with the media-slab, followed by silence.
“No, don’t go,” Bill heard a voice, muffled and distant say.
Then, more silence.
The line to the other slab was still open. I quickly jacked into the GLOWNET, it’s vividly coloured, angular, pulsating info-scape replacing physical reality before my eyes, I searched the thousands of constantly updating data-flows closest to me, Bill’s media-slab connection was easy to find and I launched a tracing-protocol that allowed me follow his connection to Blank’s slab, got a fix on the location; western Akihabara.
The flier powered through the furious downpour and Neon City’s nighttime sky-traffic, Koko navigated high-rise cubic silhouettes, delineated only by grids of window lights and which formed the cityscape.
The fix on Blank’s slab had led us to a nondescript and inadequately lit Akihabra back alley, its sparsely placed street lights seemed to weakly illuminate nothing but gleaming raindrops caught in their hazy, semi-spherical light scatter.
In a flurry of turbine driven rain and wind, the flier set us down and then, with a deep engine-hum lifted off. The fix got stronger as we went into the thoroughfare, a few small shop fronts and businesses were dotted throughout the alley with customers backlit against the night as they came and went. Following the fix took us to the doorway of a shady looking back street surgery, lights were on but it looked closed for the night and that was unusual? These kinds of unlicensed street docs made most of their bank during the hours of darkness, plying their trade on clients who didn’t appreciate any questions.
I couldn’t help but notice that someone had broken and ripped up the corner of a paving stone close to the wall so they could piggy-back off of the city’s juice. A heavy-duty insulated and rubberised cable ran from the exposed junction box and had been squeezed under the surgery’s door, it wasn’t locked and inside was a reception.
Empty; nobody was in the meagrely furnished reception, nothing of note either and the desk-slab was cold. The rubberised cable snaked its way out of the room, so we followed.
It wound its way down some steps that led down into the basement, at the foot of the stairs there was some dim light.
As we crept down, the basement came into view, the steps opened up into what we’d come to recognise as a back street doc’s surgery; an undecorated and grubby out-of-the-way room, equipped with dated Saengdal medtech.
Our attention was drawn to the contraption that dominated the centre of the room, suspended in some sort of polythene and gel harness was a skinless man, he was still alive and several tubes had been inserted into various parts of his body, pumping various fluids around. It was then that we realised that he was missing multiple organs and the tubes were keeping him alive! The work of organ jackers. Eyes from an unrecognisable face stared at us through spectacles.
“Help me’” came the plea from a lipless mouth..
I felt my gut lurch when we caught on to who it was; Mister Blank!
His media-slab was on the floor here, next to an old fashioned mop and bucket, bubbly water still filled it.
A call was put into a trauma team, Mister Blank had good credit and it’d only be a few minutes before they got here.
Mister Blank’s speech was barely recognisable, but he informed us that he’d failed to win over Olivia, the love of his life and she still didn’t have any feelings for him. He thought it might’ve been his skin condition, so he came here to Doctor Zephyr’s surgery for a skin replacement. Zephyr took his skin off, but instead of supplying new skin, he helped himself to Blank’s organs, hooked him up to this ramshackle life support system and left!
When the cleaning lady had arrived, she’d shrieked in shock, Mister Blank had managed to convince her to call Bill before she fled in horror. He seemed regretful of his decision to have a skin transplant.
Soon after this, the trauma team arrived and carted Mister Blank off to a med-tech facility.
It didn’t take long to get some contact details on one Doctor Xavier Zephyr, time to check him out.
Bill pinged him but only got voicemail, looked like Zephyr had already skipped town on the bank for Blank’s organs and hadn’t given a return date, probably never.
Just in case though, Bill left a message saying he was looking for inexpensive organ upgrades.
It had gotten late into the night and in the thundering downpour, we headed home.
A new day brought old problems because the City of Electric Dreams never did know when to quit it. Bad news was the pulsating lifeblood of Neon City and the newsvines obligingly pumped it out and circulated it through every sprawling prefecture and crowded district.
Bigfoot had been spotted in the streets of Akihabara if the vines were to be believed! The story wasn’t what caught our attention though, it was the address: A few days ago, at the behest of Mister Blank, we’d relocated some retro-tech, off-the-grid squatters from his property to that same address.
The situation was unclear and we took a ride back out to the address in Akihabara, with the elevator still out of order, headed up to the loft by foot.
There was no indication of the music that the squatters liked to blare out loudly so much as we walked up to the loft, other than Neon City’s typical dull, background murmur, it was quiet.
Initially the loft, partially lit as it was by hazy, rectangular spots of sunlight that streamed through skylights, seemed empty, unoccupied. Then we saw dried patches of blood, accumulated in puddles on the old dusty carpet or smeared across walls, an unmistakable, pungent odour of wet fur hung in the air. There were no bodies here, they must have been carted off, were there any survivors, it looked unlikely? It was a harsh fate; putting them here had taken them out of Blank’s sights and the reach of any thugs he might hire. But the truth is; when Neon City wants to put you in the dirt, she’s going to put you down.
Carefully avoiding the bloodstains, we searched the loft and in the detritus we found torn, brown wrapping paper labelled in Mandarin as traditional Chinese medicine, it looked out of place amongst the personal belongings of the squatters who’d been here? The wrapping paper gave us an address; Doctor Wei Bao-Bi in Akihabara.
Looking further, we found the large bloody paw prints throughout the loft that must have belonged to some massive animal; maybe Bigfoot?
Almost subconsciously, I lightly brushed my fingertips reassuringly over the textured grip of one of my .45 ACPs.
The footprints led close to a wall and up to the loft’s roof access.
We clambered out of the loft and under the cloudless, glaring blue-white sky with it’s pummelling heat and scanned the undulating rooftops. In some shade we spotted a bear! It had been sleeping, but as we had gotten up, with a low growl, it had stirred and began rising.
Enormous muscles rippled under its fur as it manoeuvred to its feet, bared teeth and swore at us, another uplifted bear! Quickly Bill spoke to it and calmed it down.
‘Old Ben’ was his name, he told us.
Ben went on to explain that he was tired, just wanted to sleep and needed to get to a forest. He had no memories of his current predicament, just a vague recollection of being shot?
Then Ben had woken in a strangely smelling darkened room with a small man screaming at him, reflexively, he’d struck out at the man, grabbed some of the packaging from the room and fled.
He had wandered the streets of Akihabara in a disorientated fugue as the panicking crowds had peeled away from him. In this state of confusion he had gone into the loft and encountered a lot of angry, young people there, his memory wasn’t clear but he’d gone into a rage.
Ben didn’t seem a danger right now, leaving him here risked the authorities, or even worse, Rentacop finding him, that would spell trouble for him. We decided to move him to our RV. Koko remotely pulled the flier over and we took Ben and met up with the RV in one of Highway Zero’s vast asphalt parking lots.
It worked out well, the RV was currently empty, RAM Rat was nowhere to be found and the Party Favours that we’d stowed here were taking a break from their activities.
As we sent the RV off on its automated route, we knew that Ben couldn’t stay there long, he’d told us he needed to sleep and the only forests that could be found in Neon were constructed of concrete and glass.
We could only see one course of action and contacted Urus Konicek and Neidźwiedź from the outsider settlement; The Enclave. There would be space enough for Ben in the extended wilderness beyond the walled confines of Neon City. Urus told us that they would collect Ben late tonight.
An unforgiving sun had passed its zenith over Neon City and the day’s heat had begun to wane, though it was still at the limits of toleration. Thanks to what Ben had told us, there was a Chinese medicine shop in Akihabara we had an inclination to visit.
The Wei Bao-Bi shop had a small and traditionally styled, glass fronted faux-wood facade, the once brightly coloured signage that announced it sold traditional Chinese medicine had now faded, it was also shut and in Neon City, nothing was shut in the day, something was wrong.
Lights were off in the shop and nothing could be seen through the windows, Trigger’s thermals also gave him nothing. It was easy for him to jemmy the old lock open and unhesitatingly enter, he became immediately aware of a stink that he associated with the stench of death, the shopfront looked clear and the rest of us entered.
The shelves were packed with scores of jars, boxes, drawers and packets, practically from floor to ceiling and all labelled in Mandarin. Behind the glass counter, a door led to the backrooms, we searched a couple of them, a store room and an office before we came across the body of a small Chinese man slumped awkwardly in a pool of his own dried blood with a row of bloody scarlet wounds gouged across his face and throat, clearly the cause of his demise. Laying in the dried blood and clutched in one twisted hand was some sort of pumping apparatus.
Old Ben had definitely been here.
We looked around, it took us a moment to realise that this room was different to the others, it was mostly empty, no stock or supplies here. Rows of strange tools filled a rack along one wall and beneath it was a functional, plain steel table, along another wall was a small desk and behind the stink of the man’s death was a peculiar pickled smell?
The Jinonghua landline on the desk was winking a red LED at us, we went over and jabbed the ansaphone playback stud, a tinny speaker spouted out a crackling audio message from a man who called himself Falcon Lockely; something about going out on another hunting trip?
Usually, on the desk was also some actual ‘paper’ paperwork, an invoice from Doctor Wei Bao-Bi for taxidermy service to Falcon Lockley at the Margorba-Golina Global Corporation, for stuffing one bear! Looked like Old Ben had escaped a darker fate.
There wasn’t anything else to be found here, so we headed out.
Daylight was failing, the diffused globe of red light that was the sun began slipping behind Neon City's soaring western skyline and shadows lengthened as we rolled into Hikage Street.
We never got home though as our media-slabs pinged.
Neon City wasn’t done with us yet.
Captain Ocano was the name given by whoever was on the other side of the line, told us he had a job and to meet him at the Shinjuku Precinct for a briefing.
Another day, another precinct, Ocano had to be rentacop.
Going to Shinjuku meant going back to Shibuya Terminal and hitting the Corporate Monorail to the Shinjuku-Cho prefecture. The workday had ended, but you’d never have guessed from the monorail; a world away from the crowded, noisy, overheated tramlines. Adaptive climate control kept Neon City’s harsh temperatures at bay and the seats were comfortable and well spaced, even then, it was never more than partially full, only the top percenters and corporate execs had access to the monorail, and of course us, thanks to Porter Sladek. With our ripped denims, suspiciously bulging fatigue jackets or cracked and worn black leather dusters we kicked back and had our combat boots up on the deep, well upholstered seats while the other commuters with their designer Gaongha business suits gave us the sidelong stink-eye and kept their distance. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
The nightly downpour was well underway by the time we’d exited the monorail and navigated the narrow, busy footways to the precinct. Outside it was typically a rentacop bunker, the featureless brick-fronted facade had a single steel and glass door that led into a sparse reception. A quick conversation with the desk sergeant behind his screen got us through security and upstairs and into the precinct’s hub. Originally an open plan room with beige walls and worn, stained grey carpeting, it was now populated by acrylic-walled cubicles and dividers, occupied with uniforms, suited rentacops and numerous civilian contractors.
Justice didn’t only come here to die, it came for the long doughnut break too.
A uniform led us along one beige wall to a row of actual offices, one of which was emblazoned with the title; Captain Ocano.
He was a tall, burly and dark-skinned man with short, greying black hair and a moustache so out-of-fashion, it’d come back into fashion and gone out of it again decades ago. He wore a mismatched brown Kuabha jacket and grey Shaguaifu suit trousers, somehow neither of which fit, a creased, undersized eggshell coloured Jala shirt and a particularly drab Ecohio tie? There was an irritated scowl on his face when he rose from his desk to greet us and he spoke in what could only be described as an outside voice.
Halfway through explaining to us that we’d been recommended by Juicy J, he interrupted himself and took the opportunity to shout through the glass wall at some random rentacop.
Ocano went on to tell us about Miguel Fernandez, a rentacop from the precinct who’d gone undercover to infiltrate the Kibukicho Flesh Cartel.
Ocano had sent someone from the precinct to bring in Miguel from the organisation, during the extraction, Miguel had recognised the rentacop and fled, yelling something about rentacop trying to kill him.
Ocano was worried that Miguel had gone native during his time undercover and wanted outsiders to bring him in, Miguel wouldn’t see us coming. He then filled us in about the Flesh Cartel.
It operated out of Southern Kibukicho and was known for its involvement with pimps, the ‘skin-trade’ and other exploitation. The Flesh Cartel was headed by Usman ‘Emir’ Kasim, a canny leader who styled himself as ‘The King of Pimps’. Ocano also gave us some intel of their turf and hangouts, as well as photos of the gangers - including Miguel Fernandez.
We took the flier to Kibukicho, it effortlessly powered through the driving rain and soon we were in stealth-mode, hovering over one of Neon City’s few small open spaces and well known Flesh Cartel haunt
Pedestrians and passer-bys streamed through the area and several smallish groups loitered around, Koko flipped the external cameras to infrared and swept the square, almost immediately, the facial recog got a hit, Miguel was down there. Now we needed a strategy to get him out.
Jokingly, I told Trigger to use a bungee cord to drop down and grab Miguel.
I was in the flier’s washroom for only a couple of minutes but when I came out, the floor access hatch had been slid open and Trigger was in the process of securing a bungee cord he’d sourced from a storage locker around his ankle. Dumbstruck and before I could explain anything, he’d jumped! We stood by helplessly as the coiled and elasticated cord was speedily dragged through the hatch into the night.
On the flier’s screens we watched Trigger plummet, then rapidly decelerate as he closed in on the ground and Miguel; for an infinitesimal moment he seemed to have stopped moving altogether and simply hung in the air as the cord had reached its maximum elasticity. Trigger’s arms flailed awkwardly as he completely missed the mark and was yanked skyward by the contracting cord. The Flesh Cartel gangers collectively yelped when they saw Trigger bouncing back up, pulling pistols, they began shooting at him!
The bungee reached the top of its upward trajectory and Trigger was now headed back down again, only now through a hail of gunfire, this time he’d get Miguel, but no, it was another flailing miss and Miguel had decided to run for it. Trigger was yelling instructions through the comms and Koko eased the flier in the direction of the fleeing man.
“I’ll get him this time!” I heard Trigger doggedly shout over comms optimistically.
Now also swaying alarmingly, Trigger came diving back down to try and grab Miguel for a third time - and failed again!
The other gangers had continued firing on the moving target that was Trigger and he caught a round. It was all enough for him and he cut the bungee cord, dropped to the ground and chased Miguel on foot. Maybe multiple bungee jumps had left Trigger disorientated or it was the greasy rain-covered terrain, but, despite his augmented speed, he couldn’t keep up with Miguel, losing both his footing and sight of him.
The attempt to get Miguel had failed spectacularly, we picked Trigger up and retreated out of sight.
For the next few hours we lurked in the black, rainy skies above South Kibukicho, patrolling, watching, waiting. Eventually facial recog caught Miguel Fernandez showing his face again, he was alone and looking skittish. A vulnerable but tricky mark.
While we’d been waiting, we’d discussed our next move and had come up with a new strategy.
Bill was already down on street level, ready and waiting when we pinged him. Nanite implants and vocal augments allowed him to disguise himself as Usman Kasim and he moved to intercept his mark while Koko landed the flier close as possible. Approaching Miguel, Bill managed to convince him that he was Usman, then he convinced him to come into the flier.
Miguel was shocked to see the rest of us there as he came in, I could see he was thinking of running, but with four of us, no chance of getting away and he knew it..
Bill then tried calming him down, told him that Ocano had no bad intentions for him, he said that the Captain just wanted Miguel brought back in. Miguel seemed to relax, but we kept an eye on him.
The flight back to the Shinjuku precinct was uneventful and we escorted Miguel back to Captain Ocano.
As thanks, Captain Ocano gave us one of his business cards.
“Use this if you ever get in trouble with the cops,” he shouted.
It was the small hours, rain hadn’t let up, never did; we left Shinjuku and dodged through the graveyard traffic, rushing to pick Old Ben up from the RV in Highway Zero. At night, the sight of the unending flow of three hundred KPH grid-locked congestion blurred into seemingly unbroken gleaming lines of red and silver.
From Highway Zero we went to southern Hikage Street, the commercial end of the district was home to the massive steel and concrete pipe system that managed part of Neon City’s infrastructure. A tangle of above-and-below pipes and tunnels that was impenetrable to the unprepared, Urus was a master at moving through them, adept at avoiding any installed security measure. It gave him free access in and out of Neon City.
Under the shelter of a large arching pipe we found Urus and Neidźwiedź waiting for us out of the street lights.
It turned out that Neidźwiedź and Old Ben knew each other and Ben was happy to go with them.
Ben had no memory of what had occurred before waking up in Akihabara. Neidźwiedź explained that it was likely a hunting party composed of pampered execs led by professional huntsmen had come out to the wilderness looking to bag something, Old Ben had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We told them about Falcon Lockley and his intention to come out on another hunt, Neidźwiedź shrugged his massive sloped shoulders and said. “We’ll be waiting this time,”.
As a parting gift, Urus and Neidźwiedź gave us a couple of baskets filled with fresh food and took Old Ben into the maze of underground pipes and tunnels, eventually out of Neon City and into the wilderness, hopefully Ben would find what he needed there.
Last thing I did that night was to jack into the GLOWNET, finding Margorba-Golina Global’s brightly incandescent data-image, I had to go beyond the public facing and sanitised branding. A cracking algorithm got me through the security protocols, peeling the layer away, I journeyed into their data-vault, from there finding personal information on Falcon Lockley was easy, now I had his personal media-slab contact details and the server-vault they resided on.
Margorba-Golina Global fell away, reduced to a point of light as I travelled the pulsating data-flows of Neon City. The server-vault that managed the personal data-vault of Falcon’s media-slab was easier to crack than Margorba-Golina Global, I replicated a small parcel of data into the vault, it would monitor Falcon’s usage and when it got hits for hunt or wilderness, it would temporarily archive the data and ping it to me.
The next time he made a call about hunting, we would know.
Another day came, bringing with it a blaze or urine-coloured light that shone through my one-bed’s missing wall. I’d crashed on the futon still wearing my street clothes in the early hours and didn’t get up until my media-slab began its merciless pinging after lunch.
We’d gotten a call from The Accountant; the brain-in-a-suitcase we had discovered, then liberated from Yennav Rybasei and who had then assumed both the body and the identity of a cookie-cutter wage-monkey named Hayden Weyer. Last we heard of him, he was in convalescence and being cared for by Ashaglaya.
“We have a problem,” he said and pinged us his location; a warehouse in Akihabara.
Back to Akihabara, third time in as many days!
For a warehouse, it was a fairly nondescript building located in a small, anonymous and underutilized business park that was outside the retail centre of the district. The busy streets, bustle and colour of Akihabara fell away as we entered the drab business park and strode across to the warehouse.
The doors were unlocked and inside It was a surprise to find the warehouse was nothing more than a steel skeletal shell with a skin of polycarbonate cladding that lacked any interior features; no reception, visible office or stock, nothing. It was unlit save for a number of indistinct shafts of sunlight which weakly lanced through the stained and unmaintained skylights above onto the bare concrete floor.
There was a single person here, Hayden Weyers.
Hayden Weyes, The Accountant was sitting on the floor with a despondent expression on his face and gripping a media slab contemplatively in one hand.
He watched us approach and explained what was going on when we asked.
At lunch time, Hayden had gone out to get a protein shake when someone had approached him. She had the appearance of a ten year old girl and wore an enveloping shiny red vinyl coat and was chain-smoking Huhani cigarettes, it was a popular brand and Hayden had recognised its particular pungent aroma.
The girl told him that he had been activated and pressed a tiny screen-slab into his palm before briskly slipping away into the crowds. The readout was displaying a map, it showed the warehouse in Akihabara.
So Hayden had come here, found the warehouse unlocked and empty, came inside and found the data-slab.
“I don’t believe Hayden Weyer was ever a real person, I think it was a cover for someone else,” he said, looking from one of us to another. “And I think this slab has something to do with it?”
It was obvious that the media-slab was a dead-drop burner, a one way street for communication. We didn’t have to wait long for it to ping.
Hayden switched the slab to speaker and we all listened to the call. It was a male voice, curt and guttural.
“We are coming down now. Meet us at the terminal at sixteen-hundred hours. Don't be late.”
The call went dead, that was it.
When he had referred to coming down and terminal, it had to mean The Sky Tree, it couldn’t be anywhere else.
The City of Electric Dreams was connected to the Glitterband thousands of kilometres above via the engineering superstructure that was The Shinkansen Link, an enormous space-elevator which was anchored to Neon City at The Sky Tree. Whoever this was, he was coming down from the Glitterband.
The Sky Tree was located in Asakusa-cho prefecture, not far from Akihabara. Koko called in the flier and we headed over.
Constructed of steel, concrete and glass, with smooth, featureless, almost minimalist silver-grey exterior walls and dramatically angular edges, The Sky Tree was a monument to modernism and a colossal edifice, maybe the largest structure in Neon city. Even from kilometres away, it loomed over the horizon menacingly and dominated the skyline, dwarfing its surroundings.
The Shinkansen Link itself was a massive cord of thick, poly-carbon alloy, high tensile hexagonal cable that rose directly upwards, seemingly dematerialising into the haze of the blue-white sky and ultimately ending at the Glitterband. Each face of the hexagonal cable was wide enough to house a vertical railtrack which carried traffic and maintenance pods up and down the link. However, the behemothic luxury shuttle which served Neon City’s ultra wealthy citizens curled around the link entirely and was heavy enough to require all six vertical railway tracks to ascend or descend.
As Koko navigated the heavy aerial traffic around The Sky Tree, it expanded to fill the forward view ports, Koko circled round until we found a suitable landing pad, from there we took an elevator into arrivals.
The interior was also vast, a high vaulted ceiling rose up a score of metres, decorated in the same silver-grey colour as the exterior and janitorial robots smoothly moved around arrivals, diligently maintaining the highly polished porcelain coloured faux marble floor. Natural lighting and climate control lent it a calm, airy ambience.
There was only one reason this much bank was ever spent on anything - rich people. The Glitterband was the most exclusive location on or off Earth and The Shinkansen Link served this new aristocracy.
Because of this exclusivity, terminals were sparsely used and we watched the wealthy few coming and going, with their elite trend-setting fashions and perfectly bio-sculpted bodies, accompanied by their jacked-up personal security and bodyguards. We also noticed the high level of rentaguard that discreetly patrolled the perimeters. None of this told us who to expect.
At sixteen-hundred, on the dot, we were approached by two individuals, a well dressed, olive skinned man with an unreadable face who wore a ultra-tech blended alloy Uchike katana over a Evoda trench coat and was accompanied by a slim young woman with blue hair and almost elfin features, save emotionless, almost unblinking dark eyes.
Ignoring the rest of us. the pair made for Hayden Weyer, or so they thought! We’d told Hayden to go home and that we’d handle it, Bill was now disguised as Hayden and would have a better chance of dealing with this, hopefully they wouldn’t be suspicious enough to blow Bill’s cover.
The man spoke with the familiar guttural voice from the media-slab.
“I am Oni Tokugawa and this is my apprentice, Gemini Benedict,” he informed us. “You must immediately take us to the womb north of Neon City.”
Briefly, we all flicked suspicious glances at each other, this was no coincidence.
A while back, beyond the northern confines of Neon City and in the green expanse that was the wilderness, we’d encountered a shuttle crash, the survivors were a child in a exowomb and his mother. The woman was Avril Heywood, daughter of Barnabas Haywood and citizen of The Messenger hab on the Glitterband, Avril was adamant that her father had been behind the attack on the shuttle and them. Currently Avril and her son were cloistered away in The Enclave.
Oni Tokugawa had to be looking for the exowomb, we asked Oni who we were searching for and he confirmed our suspicions.
What did he want with it? If he represented Barnabus Haywood, that would pose a serious risk to the boy and Avril, if not, then why was he looking for them? Asking Oni who he worked for posed too great a risk of breaking Bill’s cover.
We brought the pair of them up to our flier, lifted off and set a bearing for the wilderness. Oni provided us coordinates of what he told us was the last place the exowomb’s signal had been detected; which led directly to The Enclave.
The flier’s rumbling engine-note changed pitch as Koko took it to full speed and Neon City’s varied cityscape rolled by like undulating waves of architecture. Soon we were approaching the limits of the city and beyond that, the wall.
Oni and Gemini rebuffed any attempts we made at chat or conversation as we flew north.
An alarm pinged on Koko’s console, she looked at Oni and told him that we had no authorisation to cross the wall and began to slow the flier. The wall’’s aerial defenses were supposedly to prevent intrusion from outside but they didn’t discriminate.
“What happened to the vehicle you were provided?” Oni asked, turning to Bill.
“In the shop,” Bill replied without hesitation.
Oni gave a small exhalation of breath, I saw his eyes rapidly flicker across the components of the co-pilot’s console, barely focussing and processing some internal calculation, something I’d seen before but only rarely and likely the result of an implant that in some way altered or enhanced his behaviour, most likely analytical skills or awareness. He then took the co-pilot’s seat and began punching commands into the console.
While Oni was distracted, I took the opportunity to quickly warn Urus that trouble might be coming the Enclave’s way.
A few moments later and the alarm on Koko’s console died, she scrutinised her console and saw the flier’s transponder code had altered, a small row of red readouts winked green, access to cross the city wall had been granted and Koko picked up speed.
With Neon City in the rear, the Wilderness’ verdant landscape unfolded ahead of us, our previous foray had been at ground level and we couldn’t appreciate its vast richness this vantage point now afforded us. Long rippling grasses extended across the rolling plains, wavering forests spread over hazy, distant and steep hills and in the lowering, afternoon sunlight glimmered off faraway lakes and rivers.
As the distance to The Enclave continued to diminish, our screens showed The Enclave’s defences coming online, wall mounted gun turrets swivelling to face us. Oni instructed us to prepare weapons. His attention wasn’t on The Enclave though, he’d angled one of the flier’s external cameras skywards, searching for something else? I saw his gaze go distant for a second, the implant was processing.
“They’re here!” He announced, looking up with a hint of finality.
Before we could respond, sudden turbulence rocked the flier, we had to brace ourselves to stay in our seats and Koko fought to retain control.
There was a tremendous roar as whatever had passed us landed close to The Enclave, throwing up immense quantities of dust and smoke. After training a camera on the object, it was switched through thermal, infrared, night vision and real time image enhancement until we saw what it was; something we’d only ever seen on screens.
The massive flat-bottomed teardrop shape was the profile of a Qiuonriji Tihu class dropship, designed to rapidly deploy ground troops from an orbital point of origin. It was a serious piece of military hardware and it hadn’t come from Neon City.
A split suddenly appeared in the side of the convex teardrop and a gangway dropped open, slamming into the ground.
Immediately; Shock Troopers in Tzedesp combat armour swiftly disembarked out of the dropship in combat formation, streaming directly for The Enclave. It was unlikely that The Enclave had the firepower to repel them, even so, gunfire erupted from both sides.
“They’ve come to kill the child, “ Oni said grimly. “Set us down close to their dropship and protect him.”
As Koko complied with the instruction, I ran a recog algorithm on a symbol on the dropship and got a hit. The symbol was attributed to The Messenger habitat, Barnabus Haywood had made his move.
We didn’t know anything about Oni and Gemini but it was a case of the enemy of my enemy, at least for now.
Before the flier had touched down, both Oni and Gemini jumped the final metre to the ground and strode purposely in the direction of the dropship.
Fighting was fierce and the Enclave’s walls had been quickly breached and that’s where we headed.
Our two pronged attack was effective and the Messenger shock troopers hadn’t expected an attack on their flank from outside the walls. Our assault put them on the back foot and drove rearward as we fought our way into the Enclave’s complex and towards the hospital. Oni and Gemini meanwhile, had struck hard at the rear files of soldiers, their enhanced melee combat abilities allowed them to drive a wedge through the enemy’s formation, causing chaos.
All discipline collapsed, the Messenger’s vanguard was forced to retreat into their own troops who were in a state of disarray and communication had broken down. Sensing victory, the Enclave defenders pressed their advantage.
The shock troopers then routed, fleeing into the wilderness, abandoning their dropship. A silence settled on the small battle site as the outsiders counted their casualties, fortunately we were unhurt, as were Oni and Gemini.
Oni demanded to be taken to the exowomb, so we did. It was of course empty, Avril and her son were safely hidden away from here. Oni looked at us implacably as we explained that the exowomb had already been found and the child had been safely extricated, now both mother and son were somewhere safe.
I could see Oni’s eyes unfocus for a moment again, calculating the situation, assessing variables, he knew they were unlikely to find the boy alone, he also realised that we’d interacted with his mother, he was aware of the questions to ask us but had probably also computed the answers. In the end he settled on a direct approach and turned to Bill.
“Contact Avril Haywood,” he said. “And tell her that Michael Leander wants to take his family to Emptiness,”
After we explained the situation to Avril, she was happy to return to the Glitterband with Oni, Gemini, Avril and the boy. It was probably the safest place for him.
We said our goodbyes to the outsiders and returned to Neon City. It was dark when we left and night had draped a starry sky over the wilderness, without the rain clouds, the empyrean was decorated with constellations and nebulae. Meanwhile, the landscape that rushed past below the flier had been consumed by the void, a darkness so encompassing that it would be unimaginable in Neon City with its seemingly endless lines and grids of lights.
Red gloaming light pollution rose over the horizon as we neared Neon City, light rain began splattering on the flier’s roof, intensifying as we closed in and by the time we passed the wall, it had become the familiar heavy torrent we knew so well.
Must’ve been past midnight by the time we’d reached the landing pads at the Sky Tree. After that we escorted everyone down to departures, it was another vast well maintained high vaulted terminal with a faux marble floor.
Before going their way, Avril turned to us and thanked us for what we’d done, then told us that should we ever be up in space, that we should meet up with her.
The four of them went through check-in and out of sight.
It was well past midnight now, enough time to hit happy hour on the bars at Dogenzaka Hill.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.