Part 0.2: "Prologue: First Contact"

19 Aug 1993 13:41:27 GMT

Article: 1658 of alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo From: (Jason Magnus) Subject: Silk and Steel 0.2 Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1993 13:41:27 GMT Lines: 523   Silk and Steel, Part 0.2: "Prologue: First Contact" Copyright August 1993 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved   -------------------------------------------------------------- Corporate security agent Diana Hawkin didn't know what had just been passed between her charge and that towel man, but she knew -something- strange had just happened. She dropped her binoculars on the bench and hurried out of the stands after Moritani-San, oblivious to the calls from startled or outraged spectators in her path. By the time she reached the arena floor, the towel man was nowhere to be seen, and Moritani-San was just entering the ladies' locker rooms on the other side of the arena floor. Running at full speed with her white braid flying behind her, Diana flashed her badge at the startled complex security guards who started to block her path, and charged into the locker room after her.   It took her a few moments to find Moritani-San in the maze of lockers, showers, toilet stalls and women in various stages of undress. The sight of her unholstered pistol cleared a wide path through them. In a back corner of the locker room, she found Misako next to an open locker, fussing over something on the bench on the far side of her. Diana tapped her on the shoulder with her outstretched left hand, while keeping her pistol firmly in her right, close to her body and aimed at Moritani-San. She wasn't going to take chances with a charge who was an expert martial artist with wired reflexes. Diana said sternly to Misako "All right, I'm with Corporate Security. What did you get from that joker on the floor? You know the rules prohibit giving or receiving anything between competitors or staff. Whatever you have there, hand it over right now."   The other women in the area prudently decided they needed another shower, or really needed to touch up their makeup, or otherwise had business elsewhere. They evacuated that end of the locker room to avoid being caught up in the potential conflict. Being on the other side of the ferroconcrete wall between the lockers and the showers suddenly held real appeal. In an instant Diana and Misako were alone.   Misako turned slowly, carefully offering no threat, her hands held close to her breasts. In her hands was a small black kitten. Its eyes were open, but otherwise it looked barely old enough to be weaned. It mewled quietly and began to purr. Misako looked as if she was ready to cry. "But it's only a kitten. Please, she was a gift. I've never had a pet before, and she's so cute. Oh please don't hurt her."   Diana holstered her pistol and held out her hands. "I'm sorry, but you know the rules. NO gifts, not even cute ones." She smiled at Misako, and her expression softened. "Hey, it's all right. I'm sorry if I scared you with the gun and all that. Come on. I'm just doing my job, OK? Your corp hired me to keep you safe. I promise I won't hurt the little critter. I'll even see to it she gets a good home. I have a niece who would love a pet kitty."   Misako reluctantly handed the kitten to Diana. It rubbed its head on Diana's palm and continued to purr, as she held it up towards her face to get a better look at it. "Hey there little one. It's OK. I'll take good care of you, just like I promised."   The kitten looked at her with wide blue eyes, and said "Meeooww - Ftttt!"   At the last instant she realized something was strange, and tried to flinch out of the way. Then Diana dropped the kitten and clawed at her face, where a dart from the gun barrel hidden in the mechanical kitten's mouth had struck her deep in the right eye. She tried to scream, but the toxins in the dart had already paralyzed her vocal cords. She collapsed, unconscious before she hit the ground.   Misako moved quickly, eyes wide at the unexpected blood on the other woman's face. Argus had assured her that the kitten-shaped rigger remote would not seriously injure anyone it attacked. She dragged the comatose woman into the open locker and stuffed her in. Then she used one towel to wipe up a bit of spilled blood, making sure none had gotten on her. Finally she wrapped the bloodstained towel as best she could over Diana's ruined eye before closing the locker door and locking her in. She looked around to ensure that everything looked normal. Seeing that it did, she swaddled the kitten in the other towel, tucked it under her arm, and walked quickly back to her room. Frightened whispers of the other women, uncertain if it was safe to come out of hiding, faded behind her.   Misako noted with relief that Kimiko was already at dinner. After the encounter with her 'watchdog', she was glad her young new friend would not have to be silenced. She gathered her belongings and turned to leave. As she went to the door, she noticed that her roommate had left the vidchip of her rooftop picnic in her workstation. She advanced it to the end of the program, and typed a few short sentences, followed by a complex line of machine language code. Then she left the vidchip on top of Kimiko's keepsake box before leaving the room.   The kitten ran down the hallway ahead of her. On occasion it darted ahead, to make sure the way was clear, and then returned to guide her. The route was complex, twisting through several levels. In many cases the automatic lighting systems failed to come on, and Misako found herself following a flickering blue light that bounced along the floor ahead of her in the darkness. Twice she encountered unconscious guards. She noted with some relief that neither of these had been struck in the eye, and sincerely hoped that the first incident had not been intentional.   At the doorway to the outside, she was met by Argus, who was dressed entirely in black. He handed her a black pair of coveralls, and gestured for her to put them on. She whispered quietly to him as she did so. He shook his head as if exasperated. The kitten ran back into the darkened hallways of the sports complex. When she was ready, they opened the door and ran off together into the night.   Almost an hour later, Kimberly returned to her room. She wondered where Misako had gotten off to. She hadn't showed up at dinner, and lights out was in just fifteen minutes. If she wasn't back soon she'd be disqualified. That would be a shame, given how well she was doing in the tournament so far. Well, whatever was keeping her, Kimberly hoped it was worth it. Hmmmm. Maybe? Yeah! She smiled as a thought occurred to her. She hoped that -he- was worth it. She wondered if it had anything to do with the guy she had seen Misako wrestling with. Kimberly was sure she had seen them whispering something to each other as they rolled around together on the mat. She wished them well.   Kimberly had just picked up the vidchip on the keepsake box and put it away when the quiet was split by a loud alarm. A voice came over the loudspeakers in the hallway. "Will all competitors please return immediately to your rooms. This is a security alert. Please return to your rooms at once. This is not a drill." The message repeated several times, in Japanese, English, and several other languages. She wondered about that. Surely they only needed Japanese and English to make sure all the competitors understood the message. Then she recalled that this had once been an Olympic Games complex, and decided the message was part of the standard security alert system.   Kimberly tried to open her door, but it was locked and would not respond to her key. The computer screen on her side of the room lit up. There was a young Japanese man on the screen, in the uniform of the sports complex security guards. "Shishi-San. Moritani-San. Check in please."   Kimberly walked to the appropriate place in front of the console, and activated the comm link. "This is Shishi Kimiko. What's going on?"   "Where is your roommate, Moritani Misako? We thought you were both in your room. Is she not there? Have you seen her recently?"   "Um, well, I don't know where she is. I haven't seen her for hours. But she has ten minutes yet until lights out. I believe she was scheduled to compete till almost dinner time. Maybe she is still taking a shower in the ladies locker room. I'll let you know when she returns. The last time I checked, she was still undefeated today, so I'm sure she won't risk being disqualified."   "She may have taken a far more serious risk, Shishi-San. There was a security agent assigned to protect her, named Diana Hawkin. A small Caucasian woman with a white braid. You have most likely noticed her. She was found in the locker room a few minutes ago, blinded in one eye and drugged out of her mind. She is in serious condition. Are you certain you do not know where Moritani Misako is at this moment? Are her possessions still in the room?"   "Look, I don't know anything! Let me check and I'll see if her stuff is still here." Kimberly opened the locker and the drawers on Misako's side of the room. She returned to the comm link, and was visibly shaken. "The only thing here is her key-card. Her stuff's gone. ... Oh my God! Do you think she's been kidnapped or something?"   "We are not sure what to think, Shishi-San. Touch nothing. We will have a team there in a few minutes to investigate. We apologize for the inconvenience, and will try to take care of this as soon as possible so you can get your rest for tomorrow's competition." The screen went black.   Kimberly sat down on her bed and tried to make sense of this. She reopened her keepsake box and slotted the picnic vidchip in her own deck. It had been left there as if Moritani wanted her to notice it. Kimberly was certain it hadn't been there when she left for dinner, 'cause she had viewed one of her sister's letters again before she left and locked it securely afterwards. That chip must have been left in the slot of the room's console when she showed it to Misako earlier. But why would she move it? She jacked in and started the vid, and saw nothing but a black void. She checked the counter and realized it was past the end of the recording. Before she could reset it, the view changed to white, and six words appeared there, visible only to her.   She read them silently "Wanna wrestle? Follow the kitten. MM".   A moment later it was black again. She backed up the recording and played it again. There was nothing there now. But she knew what she had seen. She reset the chip to the start of the recording and ejected it. After looking at it a few seconds, Kimberly wiped the vidchip off on her blouse, put it away, and resealed her keepsakes box.   The young man from security appeared several minutes later, with three other security agents. Two were Japanese women and the third was a blond Caucasian man. They carefully looked over Misako's side of the room, then Kimiko's side. "What's this?" asked a the blond man, holding her keepsake's box.   "That's mostly my diary." Kimberly said. "There's nothing in it but a Simsense deck and several vidchips and stims. It can't be opened without my thumb on the scanner. Here, I'll show you." She thumbed open the latch. "See? It was locked when I left and locked when I came back. Everything that is in it is mine, and was there when I came here. I'm quite willing to testify to that. You're welcome to read 'em all if you like. They go back to when I was four."   The guard looked in the box and poked through the vidchips and simstims stacked inside. "No thanks. I'll pass. Hey, there's a porno chip in here." He held it up and looked closer at it.   Kimberly just giggled and said, "Well, a girl's gotta right to have fun too, y'know? You got any problems with that?"   He looked at the explicit full color hologram on the chip. "Yeah, but 'Cherri High'? That looks like it's all girls."   Kimberly just smiled at him.   "Uh, yeah, right." He tossed the simstim chip on her bed. "Well Shishi-San, if you hear anything, let us know, OK? My name's Greg. And, uh, if you're not doing anything after the tournament, well..."   "No thanks," she said, "I'm not into blond men. Sorry."   The guard looked for a moment like he'd swallowed a live goldfish. "Oh, one of those, eh? Well, good night, Shishi-San. Hope ya don't miss your -girlfriend- too much tonight. Sheesh."   They left an hour or so later, after interviewing the other six women in the quad, but Kimberly just couldn't sleep. Misako had seemed so -nice-. She just couldn't see Misako intentionally putting another woman's eye out like that. It just wasn't like her. And what the heck had Misako meant to accomplish by leaving that cryptic message? It didn't seem to make any sense at all.   The next day Kimberly just couldn't concentrate. She washed out around lunch time, falling in the freestyle staff competition to a young man she should have easily beaten. Even then, with the points she had made earlier it looked like she would finish about seventh place in her division. Her corp would be sufficiently pleased.   She wandered around the arena looking for something to do before the closing ceremonies. At one point she idly checked one of the public computer kiosks for the VT Research team stats, and found the man she had seen Misako wrestling with the first day. He apparently had withdrawn from competition the next morning, after the first round, citing a malfunction in his cyberware. That was a tough break for his team, and would probably cost them a medal. From what Kimberly had seen, Mr. Schwartz had looked like a prime contender. He'd apparently been with their Chiba office barely more than six months, just long enough to qualify for the tournament. Sometimes a corp would transfer in a 'ringer' from some other office, just to win a competition. That was probably what he was. Well, that was a failed investment for them, it would seem. He'd no doubt get demoted and transferred back to their German offices, or wherever he came from, now that the competition was over.   Kimberly took a position standing near the end of one of the spectator's bleachers, so she could watch the final rounds. After a while she felt something tugging at the leg of her warm-up pants. She looked down, expecting a lost child or a young sports fan, and instead saw a small, black kitten. "Oh! Somebody lost their pet kitten. Who do you belong to sweetheart? Do you have an ID tag?" She knelt down to get a better look at it.   The kitten purred and looked right at her with wide blue eyes. Then it blinked, and its eyes had golden irises. Kimberly did a double-take, cocked her head to one side, and looked very closely at the kitten's eyes. No doubt about it, they were golden now. It blinked twice more, and its eyes changed to brown and back to blue again. "Just like Misako… ." Kimberly said quietly. She stared at the kitten, then whispered. "You're not real, are you? Misako said, 'Wanna wrestle? Follow the kitten.' Follow you? Is that it?"   The kitten took off under the stands at a dead run.   "Hey! Wait a minute! What's going on?" Kimberly ran under the bleachers, feeling silly for shouting questions at a kitten, but certain that it was somehow more than it seemed. Spectators in the stands above were cheering on their favorites. Her voice would be lost in the tumult above her.   The kitty stopped well under the stands and waited for her to catch up. When she bent over to try to touch it, the kitty took a swipe at her key-card and hissed angrily. Then it looked at her face and purred.   Kimberly looked at the kitty and took the cord of her keycard from around her neck. "Leave the card? Is that it?"   The kitty nodded and said "Mrrow!"   Kimberly nodded and hung the keycard from a bolt on the framework under the bleachers. As soon as she released the cord, the kitty took off again.   It ran through an unmarked doorway, and Kimberly followed. The door led to a stairway leading down. She entered, and jumped when the door hissed shut behind her. She tried it and found it was locked.   "Mrow? Ffftt!" The kitten's voice sounded from down the stairs.   "What have I gotten myself into now?" said Kimberly. "Oh all right. Don't get angry. I'm coming! As if I had any choice now." She trotted down the stairs. At the bottom she stopped cold as she took in the scene. The room was a small office with a single desk and chair, lit by a single desk lamp. Her attention was riveted on the sole human occupant, a uniformed security guard, who was slumped face down over his desk, unconscious and snoring. The kitten was standing on the desk. On the other side of the desk was a closed, windowless steel door, clearly labeled in seven languages 'No admittance - Authorized personnel only'.   Kimberly stood still. "Wha? How?"   The kitty opened its mouth and showed her the dart gun barrel that had fired the tranq dart. Then it pressed its paw on a control console, and the steel doorway opened. It jumped off the desk and ran through the doorway into the darkness beyond.   Kimberly shook her head and followed, after assuring herself that the guard appeared to be unharmed, though quite soundly asleep. Again the door closed behind her as soon as she passed through it. The environment was immediately confusing. The room was pitch dark, and smelled of machinery oil. It was also uncomfortably warm and humid. Some sort of blower system made a steady wash of white noise in the room. At irregular intervals a compressor with a rattling pump would fire up, only to subside to relative silence a few moments later. She was standing on a metal catwalk, and the air currents gave the impression that the actual floor was far below. A flickering blue light was on the decking a few feet ahead of her. "Mrow?" Apparently it was the kitten. She tried to approach it, but it slowly receded from her. She moved through the maze of machines, still following it. She held her hands out in front of her, but still bumped her head once on a low-hanging pipe. After a few minutes she was hopelessly disoriented.   Something touched her on the shoulder, and she screamed. She turned, ready to defend herself, but could see no one in the inky blackness. A rich baritone voice masked with strange overtones and distortions spoke to her from somewhere ahead and to the left, and she oriented herself on it.   "I'm sorry Miss Lyons. I didn't mean that as an attack. Nor did I intend to frighten you. These uncomfortable conditions are simply a security precaution, as was causing you to leave the keycard behind. They would have used it to track your location, you see. I assure you that I mean you no harm at all. I brought you here because Misako indicated that I should talk with you."   "Who are you? What are you talking about? What have you done with Misako?"   "Misako is fine." The voice was behind her now. She jumped and turned to face it. "She said I could trust you, and I hope for her sake that she is correct. It could be very bad for her if you talk to the authorities."   "I haven't told them -anything-, because I don't -know- anything! What's going on? Who are you? Her kidnapper? Corp security? Where is my friend Misako?" Kimberly strained to see anything at all in the darkened room. She felt air currents brush against her, but couldn't tell if it was because of the machinery or a moving person. The noise of the machines masked any sounds that could be made by people moving.   The voice came again, this time from above and to the right. She wheeled in the dark to face it. "I told you. Misako is fine. I can't tell you where she is, without jeopardizing her life and your own. She wanted out of her contract, wanted to travel. I made that possible. If you are her friend, you should be happy for her."   "I don't understand. What you're saying is crazy. A contract for a top researcher like her is unbreakable. The corp would never let her leave, not alive. They will kill her if she broke her contract." Kimberly gave up on trying to track the voice, and took to slowly rotating her position, seeking any sign of movement, preparing for whatever attack might come at her in the dark.   The voice spoke again, to the left and down. She didn't jump this time. "Only if they caught her. Only if they weren't compensated for the loss of her talents. Another corp wanted to hire her. Her employer refused. They had me extract her. Now they will negotiate with her former employer for compensation. In a few months, she will have a new contract with a different corp, as a vice president in charge of research. Her old corp won't like it, but they will eventually agree to let her go. They have to. They've done the same thing themselves to collect top talent. If they don't play the game, we go back to war, corp against corp. They can't afford to risk that."   "What's all this got to do with me? Why are you telling me this? I'm no top researcher. I'm just an apprentice simstim producer. I'm nobody."   The voice appeared in front of her, very close. Kimberly jumped backwards and bumped into a large metal duct. She kept her back against it. "Well, Misako shouldn't have spoken with you at all. She trusted you too quickly, too much. I had to be certain you wouldn't tell anything to the authorities, one way or the other. Do you understand me? But you won't tell them now, will you? If you do, you'll have to explain what you were doing down here, and what happened to the guard outside. It would not go well for you. Do I have your word that you will remain silent?"   "Yes! Yes! But why did you tell me this? I knew almost nothing before. I couldn't have even told them why she disappeared. Wouldn't it have been simpler to just leave me alone?   The voice was more distant now, and above her. "Actually, the simplest thing would have been to kill you. But I don't work that way, not if I have a choice. Besides, Misako also told me about your sister. She asked if you wanted to do something to avenge her death, even if it meant breaking your contract. You indicated to her that you did. So I'm here, offering you that choice. Now. I can make the necessary arrangements for you to be free to act. I can even assist you in your search, if you are willing to pay enough. Misako said you had money. Are you willing to spend it to avenge Cherri?"   Kimberly answered immediately. "Everything I have, everything I am, I owe to my sister. I would do anything to get her killers, -anything-! Name your price. I'll pay it. But how will you get me out of my contract? I still have two years to serve in my apprenticeship. And after that I'm expected to spend at least ten years with the corp to repay them for the cyberware and training they have given me. I don't have some big corp out there that wants me bad enough to buy them off my back. Like I told you, I'm nobody important. Not like Misako. And I can't afford to pay the penalty clauses on my contract myself. I've got a lot of money from my sister's insurance, but not that much."   The voice resumed, quietly and next to her right ear. She flinched away. "They won't look for you if they think you are dead, will they? It will take time, but I can make them think that, and can start you on a new life, with a new identity. In the mean time you would be free to act. I did some checking up on you, and I watched you perform in the tournament today. Your skills as a Decker are reported to be quite commendable. You can handle yourself well as a martial artist, with or without weapons. You have a number of salable skills. I believe I can get you placed somewhere, eventually. And when I do, that corp will also pay me a placement fee. Unless you have been far more creative that I am willing to believe, I have a very good idea how much money you have. You have done well so far with the resources at your disposal. I believe we can do business."   The position of the voice moved again, now several feet straight in front of her. The voice sounded like normal, standard English now, without distortion. "Here are my terms. 100,000 nuYen for your freedom to act and a faked death. 100,000 more for my assistance in your quest, for up to three months. 50,000 for a new identity when it's over, assuming you survive. Understand that your survival is in no way guaranteed, although I will do my best to protect you when you are with me. All fees to be paid in advance for those services you accept."   Kimberly replied, her voice now calm and cold as ice. "I can do that, as you are apparently aware. The money in my trust fund was bought with my sister's blood. If it can buy retribution against whoever is responsible for her death, it's well spent. I accept the full offer and the risks involved, pending your explanation of how you intend to pull it off. How do we proceed? I can't exactly write you a check, and a funds transfer of that size would not go unnoticed."   The voice remained in front of her. "You will return to your work, and unless otherwise instructed will act as a model employee. Over the next eight to ten months, you will receive several sets of instructions regarding investments, activities and associations you are to make. You will follow them explicitly, no matter what they say. Your reputation and finances will suffer as a result. You will spend 500,000 nuYen or more, and have nothing to show for it but a series of bad business decisions. 50,000 of that will honestly be lost, to establish the veracity of your 'financial problems'. 250,000 will be my prepaid fees and expenses, covertly funneled to my accounts. The balance of those investments, say, 200,000 nuYen, will be transferred to new accounts for your use after I establish your new identity. When I feel the time is right, I will extract you. You will have little to no warning, and anything left behind will not be recoverable. As of that point, Kimberly Lyons, registered citizen, will cease to exist. There will be no turning back. If my expenses exceed 100,000 nuYen, you will be liable for those expenses as well. You will have three months, with my full assistance, to track down your sister's killers and avenge her death. At the end of that time, I will place you in a new identity, or you will be free to go on your own way if you are not satisfied with our results in your sister's case. In either event, provisions will be made at that time for you to assume your new identity when you choose to do so. Are these terms acceptable?"   Kimberly stared into the darkness "One last question. I don't even know who you are. How do I know Misako sent you to see me? Who are you? For all I know, this could still be an elaborate trap by corp security."   "Fair enough. Misako said you watched a vidchip of a childhood picnic together the first night you were here, and then told her about your sister and her life before she died. She was worried that the room was bugged. It was not. I saw to that. If they had been listening, they would have had tighter security on her, and you would still be in custody as a possible accessory to her extraction. I'll tell you something that their security people would be unable to tell you, even if they had been listening to the conversations and watching what was happening in the room that night. Something Misako told me. When she asked if you wanted to avenge your sister, you hugged her harder with your left hand than with your right, and your right hand dug its fingernails into her ribs. Now, do we have an agreement? It's now or never, I'm afraid."   Kimberly said "Yes. I'll do it." The lights suddenly came on. Kimberly was momentarily blinded. As her eyes recovered, she saw a man in front of her. It was Karl Schwartz, Misako's 'wrestling partner'. At random locations around the room, she saw four spider-like observation remotes, which he had apparently used to disguise his voice and move it around the room. The kitten was on the floor right in front of her, with its mouth open. The small-bore gun barrel in its mouth was pointed at her. It closed its mouth as the bearded man stepped forward and extended his hand.   "You can call me Argus" said the man. "Karl Schwartz never existed before my operation to extract Misako-San, and probably won't again after the closing ceremonies tonight. The guard outside will wake up in an hour, convinced he fell asleep on duty. He won't remember the kitten, because the tranq mixture in the dart it shot him with causes a slight amnesia effect in short-term memory. Now, shall we go up for the closing ceremonies?"   Kimberly looked warily at him. "OK, the guard's just tranqued. But what about Misako's bodyguard? I heard she lost an eye. Did you do that to her?"   Argus looked at the floor. "An unfortunate accident. Yes, I did it, but not intentionally. I was aiming at her throat. But at the last instant she tossed the kitten slightly upward and flinched in just the wrong direction. My Tranq dart caught her in the eye. Most unfortunate, but I'm sure she can get it replaced. Her corp may even pay for it."   Kimberly took his hand and shook it. "Well, I guess we have a deal. So, how do we get out of here?"   Argus led the way. Each of the locked doors opened for them as he approached, with no apparent action on his part. When they re-entered the arena under the bleachers, he indicated she should retrieve her key-card. "If you see me again, we don't know each other" he said. They parted company there, and she didn't see him again until the closing ceremonies. Even then, he stared straight ahead as if he'd never met her before. Kimberly followed his example, and went home with her team that night, wondering when or how she would hear from him again. -------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------------- Text, all characters (especially Argus and Shadowcat), and the Virtually There chain of simstim/VR clubs, all Copyright August 1993 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved. Please use them only with my permission.   Comments, criticisms, and suggestions are requested. Please send them to me via e-mail at <> --------------------------------------------------------------   Jason Magnus

[On to Prequel 0.3] [Back to Prequel 0.1][Back to the index] [Back to Jay's Page]