8th May 2021
Saturday night has rolled around again and I’m logged on to Meet.
Time for the next part of Matakishi’s Wired Neon Cities campaign.
Location: Neon City.
Another Neon City morning; I spent it flopped face-down on my futon from the night before, an acrylic blanket pulled over my head in a futile attempt to shield myself from the world at large.
Those few wage-monkeys lucky enough to have gainful employment had long gone for the day, leaving the listless no-hopers, jobless and nihilistic dead-enders still roaming the high-rise. As the day’s punishing heat rose, so did the city’s cacophony; frustrated and yelling neighbours were getting ready to murder each other while thumping distorted basslines pumped out of tortured, underpowered speakers, local gangers and street thugs came and went, stomping along the corridor outside, jostling, jeering and shouting at each other, jostling for a showdown.
Behind it all was a low buzzing whine in my head and a handful of dust in my mouth; fallout from last night’s binge.
I rolled out of bed at lunch time, pulled on my Harbiefs, grabbed my Verskeit duster and checked my .45s before heading out. The seemingly mindless crowds on Hikage Street somehow navigated each other on auto-pilot, shuffling along and preoccupied by whatever probably meaningless task drained their time. I hit up some no doubt unlicensed steamy street cart food-vendor hawking his wares for a waxy paper carton of indeterminate off-brand ramen, along with a can of self-cooling Kaia when I met with the others.
Between monosodium glutamate infused mouthfuls, it took all the effort I could muster to concentrate on Bill’s voice. I listened as he told us that Silai Granskina had abruptly dropped four hundred large into his account. Not so long ago Bill had lent Silai a couple of million bits to repair his hacked-up nose that Bill never expected to see again, but now, he was suspicious how Silai had managed to pay a sizable chunk so quickly?
Bill pinged a call to Silai and got voicemail.
We decided to dig deeper.
I jacked into the GLOWNET and slipped out of the material reality, sensing it shrink away as Neon City’s multicoloured radiant info-vista flew up to engulf me in gleaming angular motes of data that sped through the constantly recycling cubic landscape while seemingly millions of user bio-images flitted from data-image to info-vault to chat-stream on whatever business or diversion concerned them.
Undistracted, I launched a hunter/searcher algorithm, watched its sleek polygonal geometry follow my instructions as it accelerated into a nebulous blur that disappeared into the vanishing point, pursued only by its own ephemeral light-trail.
Once the algorithm had done its work, it delivered me what I needed; access protocols to Silai Granskina’s financials.
The info-vista became a series of undulating colours as moments later, I was in his accounts, quickly I saw that someone called Su Chuai had deposited half-a-mill into Silai’s account. Soon after Silai had forwarded four hundred grand to Bill.
Staying in the GLOWNET, I searched for Su Chuai and immediately got a hit; he was some sort of loan shark that operated out of Hikage, he even had his own data-vault on the GLOWNET. Whatever he was, it was probably bad news for Silai Granskina.
Bill put in another call to Silai, this time pinging his land line and got a hit, Bina, Silai’s wife answered.
She sounded worried, explaining to Bill that thieves had broken in and stolen all their furniture, when asked about Silai, Bina said he wasn’t around but some man was hanging at the apartment, looking for him!
Bill carefully steered the conversation towards money, Bina told him that Silai had recently gotten a promotion, his bonus had been delivered in cash and now as a consequence, he was hardly home, working too much, doing too much overtime.
It was clear that she had no idea about Silai’s debt.
The conversation had raised all the flags, Bill wanted a word with Silai and we agreed.
The Grankinas lived in what passed for a better part of Hikage Street, the high-rises were a slightly cleaner shade of drab depressing concrete grey and moping no-hoper street gangers gave you a slightly less threatening sneer when you passed their turf.
When we arrived at the apartment, camped outside was a young Chinese man casually leaning on a low wall, wiry framed with spiked, dark hair, he wore a well-cut beige Gaongha two-piece lounge suit complemented by a purple-black Shaguaifu dress shirt and gave us a thin, tight smile as we approached, subtly sizing us up as we went in.
The once over-furnished apartment was now bare, carpeting and chintzy decorations were gone, even the patterned wallpaper had been stripped. Our footsteps reverbed distinctly as we strode into the empty rooms.
Bina was jittery and obviously nervous, she was also upset that she had no way to serve us tea. She told us the man outside was intercepting anything that was being brought into the apartment.
Back outside, we confronted the young man and he seemed unfazed by our questioning. He explained that he worked for the Su Chuai Loan Facility and pulled a badge on us. As per Neon City regulation, he was a legally recognised debt collector and the Su Chuai Loan Facility was a licensed loan shark outfit.
We asked him what would happen if Silai Granskina defaulted on his loan. The young man smiled again and told us that Su Chuai’s policy was to not lend someone more money than the worth of the borrower’s internal organs.
He didn’t know much more, it was apparent he was street muscle and nothing more; it was time to hit up the source of the problem.
Wasn’t far to the Su Chuai Loan Facility, close by on Hikage in fact, predators never wanted to stay too far from their prey.
Hikage Street was predominantly a residential district and the loan facility was located on one of the sporadic retailer strips that dotted the neighbourhood and usually took up the ground floor space at the base of the many high-rises.
The loan facility’s shop front was adorned in a shaped polymer replica wood frame, an obvious attempt to confer an air of tradition and authority on the premises, when we entered a tinny ringing bell jingle played out of a tiny Senonable speaker screwed to the wall. The faux wooden theme continued inside with reproduction floorboards and imitation fittings and furniture.
In one corner was a shabbily dressed youth on a chair and table, slouched over a drawing slab, chewing gum and drawing manga. Eyes flicked up from the slab for milliseconds to register our presence.
Our attention was drawn to an older man though, with thin, grey, wispy hair, he sat at a central desk and was dressed in a traditional looking red and gold changshan. A widening smile deepened his wrinkles as he watched us stride up to his desk.
We introduced ourselves and asked for the manager, the elder man gave an acknowledging gesture, introduced himself as Su Chuai, reached for a data-slab, smiled and asked if we needed money?
Bill explained that we were not here to borrow money but on business and inquired after Silai Granskina’s account. Bill explained that Silai also owed Bill money and this account took priority.
Su Chuai scrutinised his slab, sifting through the stored information. He looked at us and coolly informed us that Silai’s account had acquired a significant amount of interest, admin fees and a sizable one million bit late payment fee. He added that he could not defer on the account.
Su Chuai and Bill entered into some sort of heated legal discourse that was just jargon to me. From the drawing table, the youth looked up again at them for a moment before returning to his attention to the slab and his gum. The discussion ended in an impasse, Bill couldn’t get Su Chuai to even freeze Silai’s account nevermind defer it. We left without any success.
Finally Bill got ahold of Silai Granskina, he told Bill that he was at his office, when Bill pressed him about his debt to the loan shark, he got flustered and quickly said that he’d have his next payment soon, it was the brush off and we knew it.
After Silai quit the call, we decided to give him a visit.
Silai Granskina worked in the Transport Authority, situated in Neon City’s vast, brutalistic edifice to governmental bureaucracy; the Metropolitan Building.
It was an oppressive ride over on the over-warm and stifling tram network, a cruel early afternoon sun hung in the blue-white sky, blazed through the tram windows, overwhelmed the inadequate aircon and multiplied the heat of crammed commuters within to a higher magnitude of discomfort.
We exited the transit stop in sight of the looming Metropolitan Building, a gigantic cubic shape distorted by a crown of wavering heat and overbright sun-haze, which might’ve described anywhere in the district and headed over.
Bill did the talking after we encountered the reception, we’d been in the Transport Authority’s offices previously and his smooth talking got us past both the reception and the uniformed rentaguard who shuffled along on their sedentary patrols through the slowly decaying, time-stained corridors of dwindling power.
The Transport Authority’s office was quiet, employees lingered in cubicles partitioned by two metre high neutral grey, transparent acrylic topped plastic partitions and stewed away at the futility of their efforts.
Silai was found lurking in his cubicle, shabbily dressed in a plain off the shelf wrinkled Kuabha suit and peering into a desk-slab, haggard and weary looking, lines ran their course over a tired face drained of colour and vigour as he turned to face us, he’d lost weight since the last time we’d seen him.
He didn’t look particularly pleased to see us and we didn’t care, Trigger promptly convinced Silai to join us for lunch; no one in the office cared to look up as he grabbed Silai with a steely grip, dragging him off, even Silai didn’t bother protesting.
Out on the busy street we’d found a nearby food vendor with shaded seating and ordered some Ahoumo noodles while an endless flow of lost humanity rolled past. The vendor fished the noodles from a discoloured, steamy aluminium pot and shoved them into cartons.
Silai was looking nervous as he stirred the food we’d given him and we explained that we were in no rush to get our cash back, advising him to deal with the loan shark he’d embroiled himself with. He shrugged and told us that we should get our second payment from his wife soon, he told us he preferred that we got the money instead of Su Chuai. There wasn’t any more we could get out of him, he kept tight about how he was getting the money to repay us.
“Best you didn’t know,” Silai told us and made his excuses to leave.
We weren’t done though, after Silai had slouched back to his office, Koko sent Kevin buzzing up to the windows of theTransport Authority’s office. The little drone sat on the ledge and watched through the grimy and water-spot stained window, pushing out a video feed to Koko’s control tab while we sat waiting and made our noodles last as long as possible.
A little time passed and Kevin showed us that Silai had gotten a personal call, it was over too quick for me to hack, but the lipreading algorithm on Koko’s slab had picked up some of Silai’s half of the conversation
“Another one will be at the waterfront terminal at eleven forty-five tonight,” he’d said.
It was a few hours until eleven forty-five tonight but we didn’t have to wait long for something to turn up.
Jordan Tian was a suit at Chou-Nata, over our media-slabs he told us that we’d come recommended and he needed us to get his daughter back and didn’t trust anyone in Chou-Nata. Turned out that corporate security contractors at Chou-Nata had been lax or paid to look the other way while Yasmin Tian had been kidnapped. It’d looked like a pretty standard exec ransoming squeeze-and-grease, the demand came and Jordan had paid, so far, so good.
However, Yasmin hadn’t been released, so Jordan had sicced a couple of private detectives on his daughter’s trail, only now they’d gone radio silent. A worried frown creased Jordan Tian’s face, marring the otherwise impeccable, surgically perfected features displayed on our slabs.
Naturally he offered us a big payday and we agreed to find Yasmin. Before we left he pinged us details on Yasmin and the address of Suchet & Sea, the agency he’d employed.
Suchet & Sea operated out of Shinjuku Station, a small rented corner office located in some drab, anonymous office complex on the fringes of the district. It was fronted by a hardened polymer door which had been painted to resemble an old wooden panel door, Suchet & Sea had been printed across the door’s top half In bold letters that crawled across the surface in a half circle.
Lights were off, looked like no one was in, Trigger’s thermals told a different story though, two heat signatures from inside were coming through clear as day.
After knocking on the door, we waited and got nothing, we knocked again, this time louder, more insistently, again nothing. Third time; we hammered on the door, rattling it in its frame, that got an answer.
The door opened and on the other side we found two nervous looking men in colourful but dishevelled suits, both wiry-framed with long faces, they shared similar features and could almost have been brothers! The pair introduced themselves as Barry Suchet and Paul Sea, they both clearly followed an old, obscure Shinjuku street fashion called Chuckleo-hito that demanded they sport enormous implanted spiked mullets and bushy, bristling moustaches.
We told them that we’d been sent by Jordan Tian to pick up the case of his missing daughter.
The look of nervousness evaporated from their pale complexions as they realised we weren’t a threat.
The smaller one, Barry, gave a wide, enthusiastic grin, explaining that they had deduced that The Flesh Cartel had kidnapped Yasmin.
“To me,” said the other, Paul.
“To you,” replied Barry.
Paul elaborated, went on and told us they’d subcontracted to some female investigators to infiltrate the cartel and locate Yasmin. Now those subcontractors had also gone radio silent.
Suchet & Sea had halted their investigation at that point. They didn’t admit it, but it was plain that they were well out of their depth dealing with these gangers and couldn’t hide their relief when we announced we were handling the case.
The Flesh Cartel theory was a solid one. They were a known violent criminal outfit who operated out of Kabukicho, a sex trafficking ring and sleaze merchants who peddled in prostitution, drugs and more. They were known to grab girls off the street and addict them to the most potent brain-jacking narcotics street-chems could cook.
There was little information that Suchet & Sea could provide us, however, they had managed to hook up a GLOWNET feed from the subcontractor’s optic circuits and showed us the footage they’d archived.
Erratic and silent with fluctuating resolution and washed out colour, the feed swayed and bobbed as showed the subcontractors at work, viewpoints darting from one person to another as they interacted with street ashigaru, night-walkers and dealers. Towards the end, the footage briefly flashed across a room, showing Yasmin, obviously being held prisoner, alone and tied up.
We grabbed a shot of the image and left.
The Flesh Cartel was an unknown factor, something we’d never crossed paths with. There was no easy in with them and there was only a single avenue we could think to follow.
Miguel Fernandez was a rentacop out of Shinjuku precinct.. He’s spent time working The Flesh Cartel undercover and had flirted with going native. His captain had paid us to extract him - and after some ups and downs we’d done it!
Right now Miguel was flying some desk-slab, filing parking violations or something in a cubicle in the precinct. We pinged him and he was happy to help.
It didn’t take him long to give us something. Yasmin was being held in a room that he recognised as part of The Flesh Fountain, one of the Cartel’s illicit holdings in Kabukicho.
The Flesh Fountain was an old style tower, constructed in elaborately patterned brown brick, it sported rows of under-lit, high arched, thin-framed, tall windows and had been a hotel with a carpark on its ground floor in the early days of Neon City at a time when personal ground transport had still been considered a thing.
One time it might have been a giant, dwarfed now, by steel and glass-fronted neighbours. With glory days that were gone and closed to the public, lower windows were boarded or bricked up and half the external lighting was gone. The gate into the carpark had been replaced by a clumsily indiscrete, steel-grey aluminium shutter-roller.
Koko worked the lock and soon had it open. The roller shutter was huge - and heavy, a rasping, rattling, metallic voice screamed its protest as we forced the roller shutter up enough to allow us to squeeze under.
Dim, regularly placed lighting dotted the carpark’s ceiling, revealing a windowless, dull, concrete, mostly empty interior to us. Rows of long unused parking bays were uniformly partitioned by fading yellow lines, looking around, there was little to be found in the carpark save some supplies that looked earmarked for the brothel here. Soon we encountered some elevators and a bare utilitarian stairwell.
Checking the stairwell, we saw it spiralling its way up and down, but like so much in The City of Electric Dreams, downwards is where we were headed.
With caution, we slowly proceeded in silence, the carpark’s surface level receded behind us as we descended, Koko sent Noodles to scout ahead and the diminutive drone darted speedily into the gloom, soon he encountered a landing on the second sub-basement and
Koko watched as Noodles navigated the corner and registered two threats ahead. The feed showed two armed guards outside a door; had to be what we were looking for.
Dressed casually in Dogenzaka Hill knockoffs, cheap bling and tats, they were packing cheap Rekhang Pophma machine pistols and stood about listlessly, distracted by media-slabs.
Koko manoeuvred Noodles to the far side of the door and had the drone make a noise.
The guards scrambled to face the distraction, dropping their slabs and putting their backs to us. It was a mistake, Trigger was round the corner in a silent blur and hit one and then the other with a stun-baton, they managed to get a few screams off before flopping helplessly to the ground. In a few hours, they’d regain consciousness, only their biggest headache wouldn’t be the stun-baton side-effects when they realised whatever they were guarding was gone.
Neither guard had a keycard to the door, so Koko made short work of the lock. Past the door was a weakly lit, undecorated and unused storage room, a dozen girls dressed in tiny cocktail dresses, mini-skirts and boob-tubes, hot pants and bikini-tops and so on were slouched on mattresses and blankets. Lethargic postures and restless, unfocused gazes betrayed how strung out they were.
Yasmin was there, pallid, apathetic, as zoned as the others and to our surprise, Pixie Skull and Vanilla Goth were also among them. The two Ikebukuro Muscle Gurlz told us that they had been put on the case of missing girls by Suchet & Sea, when they’d been wrong-footed and woke up in this cell. Fortunately, their enhanced circulatory systems had rapidly metabolised the drugs they’d been fed, however, they hadn’t managed to find a means of escape.
The brief throwdown with the two guards risked bringing reinforcements, wasn’t time to hang around and swap stories. The quick escape didn’t go as hoped though, getting the girls out of the basement was a laborious task as they slowly tottered upstairs on the fifteen centimetre high white stilettos they’d been fitted with.
Caught a break though, no more Flesh Cartel thugs came on to the scene.
It was darkening by the time we all got topside and a blazing orange sliver was all that remained of a massive setting sun against the western skyline as day began to wane, the rain wouldn’t be far behind. Once they were out from under the weak lighting, most of the girls looked shocked, reeling from the gold-lined gigantic dome of nimbus clouds above.
Koko had called the flier, it was cramped with everyone inside and I could hear the turbines spinning to maximum thrust as I felt the tug that came with the defiance of gravity.
Once we were up, Koko banked us round and set a bearing to the closest precinct, she switched over to stealth and we hastily put the girls down on the roof pad and were gone before anyone realised.
Yasmin Tian, we returned to her father and then before we dropped off the Muscle Gurlz, I gave them my business card, looked them in the eyes and told them to look me up if they ever needed help with anything, anything at all.
Later; when Silai Granskina left the Transport Authority’s office at the end of his workday, we were there, in the rain, watching from the blackening sky above.
Swallowed by the pressing churn of wage-monkeys.as he strolled out into the busy, drenched streets that ran the perimeter of The Metropolitan Building, Silai might easily have slipped into anonymity hadn’t Koko tagged him in the flier’s spook-tech. The algorithm had no problem tracking him through the intermittently dark streets, gleaming streetlight-lit rain and fidgeting crowds.
Silai didn’t head straight home, instead he made for Chou Street and for the newly rebuilt Potato Palace. Switching to thermals on the flier’s external cams, we watched as he went in, watched as he exchanged bits for a bag of some kind and then left.
Koko instructed Kevin to trail Silai and the diminutive drone accelerated off with machine efficiency, the rest of us went into Potato Palace. Not so long ago it had been the target of a firebomb attack against the Russian Mob but renovations are swift when municipal code can be ignored. The interior was back to almost looking like an authentic rustic mom-and-pop eatery, filled with plastic replica furniture and decoration. The simple charms belied the deep pockets of Russian mob money behind it.
Inside, the staff recognised anyone associated with Yennav Rybasei and they quickly greeted Koko and then the rest of us. They were only too happy to accommodate us when we asked about Silai.
They told us that Silai had made use of their landline and made a quick call.
Something about a meeting at the waterfront, on schedule, delivery to Russia and a Neon City Train. It was only the one-sided bits and pieces of a conversation but it was starting to come together.
Koko’s control-slab pinged unexpectedly, she checked it out and swore. Looking up, she told us that the feed from Kevin had been interrupted and so had the control link.
Koko’s control-slab had been archiving Kevin’s feed, so she quickly reviewed the last few seconds the slab had received. Before the cutoff there had been a blur, she reviewed those last seconds again, slowing the feed until it hit single frames frames per second, until the feed became a picture book telling the story of a soaring, engulfing, urban sprawl-scape decorated in the glinting city lights reflected through a million, frozen, shining raindrops.
It was blurred and only half in-picture but one of those last frames showed some sort of micro-net small enough to snare a tiny spy-drone like Kevin.
Despite the link being lost, Kevin was still pinging out a satellite driven locator signal; Kevin was heading south.
Koko called the flier down and quickly, we boarded and strapped in. Lifting off, I felt the slight tempo change in the flier’s hull vibration as we surged skywards, I watched the city rock sideways and drop off as Koko banked south, punching maximum thrust.
The flier powered through Rokkaku-Dai Heights, rivulets of rainwater streamed left and right off the front viewports as Koko threaded through the swathe of residential towers that dotted the district.
Kevin’s signal kept moving south and Koko kept following.
As we made ground on Kevin, she entered the Fortified Residential Zone and so did we. A splattering of red lights flashed over Koko’s console, anti-air defences for the exclusive area had locked on to us. Koko veered, skirting the walled off neighbourhood with its high-end, gardened luxurious homes rolling past as we continued our chase.
As we exited the district and entered Asakusa-cho, we had gotten close enough to Kevin to get a zoomed-in visual fix using the fliers front viewers. Somebody had attached a small box to the drone’s underside and she appeared to be following a sky-taxi?
We started making ground, the sky-taxi couldn’t hope to match our speed, as we drew closer, the sky-taxi landed on a lower roof and a door swung, a Chinese man leaned out in a cheap two-piece Evoda lounge suit, a pistol gripped in one hand. He emptied it in a blazing staccato of gunfire, seemingly into the air before diving back into the sky taxi which took off in pursuit.
I followed his line of sight upwards, through the pouring rain, he’d been aiming for a rider in roller jet blades who was grinding some balconies as she powered along.
Almost immediately, a second sky-taxi swooped into view? I took a second to assess the situation, the second sky-taxi was pursuing the first, which in turn was pursuing the jet blader. Kevin was also in pursuit of the first taxi
Roller jet blades comprised a pair of tricked out knee-high boots that combined two technologies: A hyper-compressed fuel cell, that when vented, provided enormous amounts of forward thrust and a hybrid kineticizer blade that generated increasingly stronger magnetic grip the faster the blade went. Combined, they allowed riders to traverse large distances, leap wide spans and even scale vertical planes
Jet blades were a curious holdover from a couple of decades ago, a forgotten fad that had injured most users and had slipped into obscurity, except with the few riders that had persisted, for them, it had become something else entirely.
Experienced jet bladers were capable of gravity-defying manoeuvres, skyscraper walls and archaic power lines became arcing grind-lines, high altitude comms clusters provided launch points and the rooftops became their bounce pads as they roamed the sprawls. Neon City had become a playground to them and rolled past below as they unhesitatingly hurled themselves from building to building.
Beyond that though, some had found a way to earn a living; even in Neon City there was still an urge to transport hardcopies or physical items and that’s where jet blade couriers came in; capable of circumventing even aerial traffic, blazing through the tightest spots and easily getting in and out of buildings, they could navigate the city faster than almost any civilian vehicles.
That’s who this jet blader was, we could just about make out some artificially cheerful courier branding on her boots.
I jacked into the GLOWNET as we followed this aerial procession. The second taxi was an Abco sky-taxi and easy enough to hack.
Even as the flier soared after them, I soared further. Material reality tumbled away, rolling into physical oblivion, a void replaced by the garish primary colours of Neon City’s angular info-scape that expanded to meet me. Gleaming orthogonal data-lines flowed into the horizon, criss-crossing from data-vault to data-vault and pulsating with content and information.
A quick search found me the Abco cab’s franchise data-image, an exaggerated, cartoonish sky-taxi drenched in oversaturated iridescent yellow light. A nanosecond passed or so it seemed and then I was in its archive structure and before me; a stack of infinitely thin window-panes smeared with radials of statistics waiting to be sifted through.
A datafile told me that the sky-cab had picked up a passenger it recorded as Peanut not so long ago; I continued sifting. Next I found myself a partition that housed the sky-cab’s autonomous protocols, looked like the stack of call priorities had been re-coded about the same time that Peanut had got picked up, work of a hacker and they had control of the cab now.
Wasn’t the right time to tangle with another code-monkey, so the sky-taxi’s data-image was dumped as I quit the system, my senses were assailed by the info-scape’s vast quantity of data movement which flooded into my slab.
Switching focus, I moved my attention over to the other sky-taxi, bypassing the security was as easy as the Abco. It listed a sole passenger as a Chao He-Biao, as the name appeared on my system, it was flagged.
Quick search showed me Chao He-Biao was a con, out on parole from The Black Dolphin Gulag today. Didn’t get to go deeper, Koko pinged me in the GLOWNET.
We were close to Kevin and she was still getting a diagnostic stream from her, the drone’s power cell was critically low and flight systems were about to go offline. Once she lost flight, the tumble to street level would shatter Kevin into a hundred broken components, Koko wasn’t happy with the situation.
Kevin’s data-image was a dot of incandescent code in the swirling storm of flight-algorithms that connected Neon City’s autonomous sky traffic to the municipal travel information hubs through the GLOWNET.
Access codes didn’t get me into Kevin’s drives, they’d been changed, the hacker again.
I didn’t experience it, but later I was told that out in the mundanity of material reality, Koko had yelped when Kevin’s power cell finally gave out and I didn’t feel the lurch when she put the flier into a steep powered dive, chasing a plummeting Kevin to the narrow street below. Turbines had rattled, pushed beyond their performance envelope, threatening to break their housings as the flier matched altitude with the drone.
Then, it had taken Trigger swinging through an open hatch, gripping a line to catch Kevin, following that he’d got yanked hard, almost skimming the street and pulling a few Gs as Koko had levelled the flier before managing to pull himself back into the cabin.
In the Abco cab’s command logs, it showed the sky-taxi had landed, I jacked out and the overriding inputs of the GLOWNET evaporated as the reality of the flier’s starkly lit interior began solidifying, filling my awareness.
Koko took us up and I lurched to one of the consoles, gripping its sides. As we gained altitude, I punched instructions into the command pad and the screen showed that the chase had taken us to Ninety Ninth Street, the jet blade courier had taken a hit, she was slumped unevenly on a junk-ridden rooftop, surrounded by steamy aircon vents and routing pipes. Chao He-Biao was on the rooftop’s far side out of his sky-taxi and opening up at her, Trigger put a few rounds his way, bullets riddled the sky-taxi as he lunged for cover.
A savage blast of air whipped the rain sideways as the second cab came down, billowing in the steaming haze of heated raindrops.
A young woman flung the door open as the taxi settled down, dressed in drab olive work overalls, she’d had a full optic replacement by Kuaijing implants, her eyes glittered a soft blue through the raindrops and were Quanngh models, users were given some access to the GLOWNET without exiting material reality. In her hand she gripped a Preaavar Curnuka MQ-6 data-slab, a line ran from it to what must have been a subdermal connector in her neck; the hacker, had to be.
“Run Toy Li,” she’d shouted as she began sprinting across the puddle-ridden rooftop.
Trigger had meanwhile exited the flier and was also sprinting across the space, powered by his augmentation implants, he was a blur in the downpour as he closed on Chao He-Biao, he tagged the man senseless with a stun-baton and the fight was over, the rest of us went for the jet-blader.
For a moment, relative calm settled around us as rain drummed on to the now otherwise still rooftop.
Only for a moment though: Toy Li had caught a bullet, checking her over, a Jijuiuan trauma med-patch was applied to the point of the bloody bullet wound, activating a steady, regulated flow of painkillers, stimulants and anti-infectants into her system, triggering its diagnosis protocol which calculated her injury wasn’t critical. A few moments and the blader would regain consciousness, a few moments after that and she’d be able to stand.
The hacker introduced herself as Peanut and told us Toy Li was her friend. Peanut explained that she’d gotten pinged by Toy Li, who was being chased by a sky-taxi while she was on a routine delivery. Peanut had then hacked a sky-taxi and started heading for Toy Li, lacking a drone, she’d spotted and then jacked Kevin to track the other taxi, Peanut turned to Koko and apologised.
Peanut had no idea why Chao He-Biao why trying to get at Toy Li
By now Toy Li was sitting up, a Chinese woman with slender limbs in a two-coloured single-piece lycra outfit, pain was etched across her youngish face, meds had taken the edge, but the pain was still there.
Between slow, wincing breaths, Toy Li told us she had no idea why she’d been chased, maybe her package?
There was only Chao He-Biao left and Trigger had him, we slapped him back to his senses; he spluttered, blinking and shaking the rainwater off his face. As he was dragged to his feet by Trigger, his pistol slipped out of slack fingers, a single piece Rekhang pressed metal knock-off of a Chinese 9mm Ngaohun fitted with a suppressor that were favoured by Neon City’s triads; a low-cost imitation even by Rekhang standards and that was saying something!
At first Chao He-Biao was belligerent, glowering and swearing, refusing to give us any answers and futility trying to break free of Trigger’s grip, a firm shake from Trigger changed all that. He explained that after he’d gotten out of the Black Dolphin Gulag, he’d gone to the Big Circle Boys to join the gang.
Being some sort of triad gang, of course the Big Circle Boys had their initiation ceremony; to show his loyalty and worth, Chao He-Biao had to get blood on his hands and enter their conspiracy of guilt, a target was picked for him to kill and that target was Toy Li.
That was the Neon City way; it never needed a reason to indiscriminately target someone for death.
Chao He-Biao had failed his initiation, he’d never be accepted by the Big Circle Boys and he knew it too. He tried to worm his way into our graces, playing the victim, telling us he’d mend his ways, trying to convince that us that maybe he had some worth to us but it was unconvincing, less than a day back out after his stretch and he was looking to commit murder, we had no use for thuggish gang footsoldiers and left him for the local rentacops.
Toy Li was now gingerly back on her feet, with Peanut’s help, the delivery could be completed.
Before we left, Koko rushed over to the flier and rummaged through the storage lockers and came back with a couple of her older drones, she handed Hector and Fifi over to a gracious Peanut.
We hit midnight as we climbed aboard the flier.
Another day in the City of Electric Dreams had come round, all our media-slabs pinged. Yaroh Uron, who had been convicted of murdering Doctor Hsu Rou-Taib was getting his appeal was today. We’d be there in the morning.
Whatever was going on with Silai Granskina had happened fifteen minutes ago but still needed investigating and there were still hours of night and rainfall to navigate as we headed back to Hikage Street.
Outside the Granskina’s apartment we found another Chinese enforcer loitering close by the front door. The suit was a different cut and colour, but the thin, tight smile and attitude was the same.
Bina answered the door and let us in, she told us that Silai had gone to bed after returning with a Potato Palace doggy bag full of Rubles. Somehow, he had slipped the cash past the watcher outside.
Was he involved with the Russian mob, it could be bad news? We got Bina to wake her husband and bring him over, Silai came out in his faux silk Eilbon pyjamas and sat on the apartment’s bare floor, there was hesitation in his eyes when he looked at us.
We refused to buy what Silai was selling and after some questioning we got him to spill his guts.
Turned out that Silai had decided to offload city trams to the Russians for some serious bank, his position at the Transport Authority allowed access to the relevant databases where he could ghost the trams out of their system. Then he would supply overnight storage locations and security codes to the Russians, who in the rainy small hours would quietly get busy disappearing trams.
Silai theorised that the trams were being shipped from the waterfront out of Neon City.
It was a solid plan, who in Neon City would have any idea that trams were going missing? Even if they did and got someone to listen, the digital trail had been deleted. Looked like Silai would stay clean.
Silai got up from the floor, retrieved his Potato Palace doggy bag and thrust a bundle of rubles into Bill’s hands. Bill looked at the wad of poly-cotton weaved sheets in his hand, a brief look of irritation crossed his face. Sure, it would cover the loan to Silai, but I was pretty sure he had no idea what to do with actual cash money!
Then Silai headed outside to the Chinese man. He still had enough bank in the doggy to square with Su Chuai’s enforcer and clear that debt.
That night was spent sleeping in my streets, hopefully a dreamless evasion of the city rain pattering against the tarp that shielded one face of the one-bed. Wasn't bothered about changing, especially since I knew the next morning would come soon, rain clouds evaporating while the day’s heat would begin its inevitable march from too hot to intolerable, I had to drag myself out of the futon early, no time for breakfast.
Instead I headed for the roof and waited beneath the sickly blue-white morning sky to catch my ride with Koko, watching as the descending flier materialised out of the wavering overbright bloom, battering the rooftop with jet wash. One-by-one we were all collected and headed for the RV and Jinny Stoyer, who we’d stashed there a while ago. Jinny was a key witness in Yaroh’s appeal, she’d skipped the original court case and we weren’t about to let her skip the appeal.
She was waiting for us at the rendezvous, dressed respectably as possible, which meant thigh-high faux-leather Oltrantes, a tight pink strip of cloth that passed as Fassus miniskirt, half-unbuttoned, undersized and fairly transparent Dunner white blouse with layers of cheap makeup and displaying all her fruit-themed tattoos.
From there it was a quick flight through Neon City’s sky-congestion to the roof pad at the courthouse, our passenger gave us priority landing rights and soon we found ourselves walking through featureless, dully lit corridors to again be in Judge Wyatt Lavanchy’s familiar courtroom with its beige walls, replica wooden panelled fixtures and furniture, all coldly lit by the ceiling-hung globe-lights. D4-VID was already there waiting for us, the diminutive botcaster had evidence of his own to present at the appeal.
Yaroh Uron was brought out as the appeal commenced, shackled in his oranges, convicted of murdering Doctor Hsu Rou-Taib, the employee of monstrous multinational corporation Protobase Global, he looked sullen and broken.
We knew Hsu Rou-Taib had been rubbed out on the orders of Protobase Global’s head of ethics Benedict Twistom and knew it had been pinned on Yaroh Uron, the dot’s just weren’t connecting though.
Again Magistrate Wyatt Lavanchy was presiding over affairs, he’d convicted Yaroh of murdering Hsu Rou-Taibin seventeen minutes during the original case, it didn’t make us feel any better.
With good reason too.
First, Magistrate Lavanchy allowed Benedict Twistom’s wife, Annabel to give evidence against Yaroh.
Then he allowed Avery Kiani, a rentacop on the Protobase Global payroll to do the same.
Jinny J’s witness statement got discredited because she was a working girl. Character assassination pure and simple.
Following that, D4-VID’s statement was then dismissed as irrelevant.
Yaroh Uron’s appeal had collapsed and he was hauled back to jail. He wouldn’t be leaving Black Dolphin for a long time unless we did something else.
Had to be a link between Lavanchy and Twistom, we’d dug into Lavanchy and he looked clean, had to be something out of sight, something we’d missed, did Twistom have his foot on Lavanchy’s neck? Time to go deeper.
Later I ran automated hunter/seeker protocols on Wyatt Lavanchy with the widest parameters that were manageable and used an algorithm to cross reference all the hits it got. It came back with a single positive that we’d not encountered before and dumped a vid-file on my Nonohiki.
Long range security footage from a while ago displayed an open, green space, one of only a few in Neon City, showing Wyatt Lavanchy and Benedict Twistom together, the pair of them in pastel, cream, orange and salmon coloured pants, polo necks and cardigans. An image-match on the sprawling background skyline identified its location as somewhere in the Fortified Residential Zone; a golf course, where they were playing golf together. We’d have to check it out further.
That night my media-slab pinged, the little algorithm I’d left squatting on Falcon Lockley’s desk-slab system had just booted itself, woken by keywords I’d instructed it to track, it had pinged me cloned messages of Falcon and his hunting party’s plans to go back out into The Wilderness in a week with the intention of bagging another prize, he was determined to get his stuffed bear.
We made sure that Urus Konicek and Neidzwiedz would be waiting.
Reading, writing, playing and painting are the things that I do.