Part two: "Preparations"

1 Nov 92 21:07:10 GMT

Article: 1006 of alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Subject: Silk and Steel, part two Date: 1 Nov 92 21:07:10 GMT Lines: 445   Silk and Steel, Part two: "Preparations" Copyright October 1992 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved   -------------------------------------------------------------- In part 1, Shadowcat demonstrated the use of Aki's "Monks Staff" by luring an attack from three would-be rapists from a go-gang, and using the staff's hidden weapons to defend against them. Her partner, Argus, recorded the whole encounter to videochips with a set of Rigger remotes. --------------------------------------------------------------   -------------------------------------------------------------- Rats scurried down the streets of the Seattle Sprawl. At every alley or doorway, they paused, sniffing, looking, seeking something, but not finding it, and moving on. Eventually three of them entered a dead-end alley. There was movement there. In the warm glow of cooling engines on a trio of cycles, two go-gang members were going through their saddlebags. There was more movement, and the rats dispersed as a third biker entered the alley, and the humans hid themselves. The rats also hid. One rat climbed into the dumpster. Another rat climbed a pile of crates up onto a fire escape. The third rat buried itself in trash at the back of the alley. The rats began to wait too, and watched their human counterparts. -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus sat in the back of the Nissan-Plymouth minivan, parked outside one of the clubs in the Seattle Sprawl. All the windows were darkened to full-opaque. The tally lights on his Rigger console provided the only light in the vehicle. A thin black cable of optical fibers, about 5 mm in diameter, spanned from a jack on his console to the Cyberlink on the back of his head, under his short queue of dark brown hair. What he saw was split into six panes, like looking at a channel preview on an entertainment centers main screen.   The first view, in visible light, showed a young woman from behind. The camera angle was very low to the ground, almost touching the pavement, and was slowly moving to keep pace with her. She was about five and a half feet tall, with curly shoulder-length brown hair. Her clothes were a skintight, black silk outfit with a scarlet silk wrap-around miniskirt. Argus thought to himself "Shadowcat, you sure know how to pick an outfit. You look like a fantasy girl straight from the House of Blue Lights." She was also carrying a featureless black staff that was as tall as herself and about an inch and a half in diameter. The staff was the product that their arms maker and current client, Aki, was so proud of. It was the weapon he had hired Argus and Shadowcat to demonstrate for the Yakusa.   Three other panes showed a filthy, litter strewn alley, illuminated by infrared light. In the foreground of one was the edge of a full dumpster, beyond which he could see the head of a go-gang biker. Another pane, at ground level and partially obscured by a piece of trash, showed a view from the back of the alley, revealing two more gang members and their bikes. The next pane, which was apparently at or near the source of the infrared illumination, showed the scene from above, through the floor grid of a rusty fire escape.   The fifth pane showed him what the girl must be seeing, as it moved smoothly along at head-height, bobbing only slightly as she walked, and turning with her gaze. She was now approaching the alley where the Bikers were waiting in ambush.   The sixth pane showed Argus' own view of the Rigger board in his van and it's controls. His hand reached out to brush a slider, and the view from behind the girl rushed forward, as the mechanical rat ran right over her foot. This was their pre-arranged signal that they had found an appropriate group of assailants, who looked as if they would attack. The view tumbled and righted itself as she knocked the remote away from her, to a position at the head of the alley. That was to be her signal that she understood, and was aware of the probable direction that the attack would be coming from. They had both agreed not to communicate directly until this part of the mission was over.   He touched another control, and the visual panes unlocked. As his attention shifted from one view to another, the panes shifted in position and size. Each one always showed him what the remote saw, but they moved constantly to center and enlarge the views that he felt mattered most.   He thumbed the contact for the scrambled communication line to Aki. "OK, Aki-Sama, it's going down. Can you see everything OK on your screen?" Aki's calm voice sounds in his inner ear. "Hai, Argus-San. The screen you set up appears to be working well, but is rather confusing. You really see things this way? Unbelievable." Argus understood the arms merchant's discomfort. After the operation for his Rigger wetware, the first time Argus linked his vision into several moving remotes at once he puked his guts out. Motion sickness. It took him a month to get to where the shifting view didn't bother him. It took another year of training to be able to walk and behave normally while the images from his remotes shifted in his vision. Most people found it extremely disorienting. "Hai. You get used to it. After a while you even miss the extra information when you aren't jacked in. The vidchip recorders are getting a stable view from each camera remote, so we can edit them as we choose after the fact, to present them to your clients." Aki now sounded slightly nauseated. "Ah, eh, Argus-San, could you re-lock the positions of the images on my screen?" Argus just chuckled. "Sorry Aki-Sama, that's a direct feed from me, and I work best this way. If you want to watch, you'll just have to sit back and enjoy the ride." -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus observed and directed his remotes as Shadowcat acted willing to give in to the sexual demands of her assailants. She unsnapped the wraparound skirt and tossed it in the face of the biker with the rifle on his back and a machete in his hand. "Well, that ought to distract him for a moment." mused Argus, as he adjusted his remotes for a better view. "Hmmm. And the crotchless leotard with her legs spread like that will definitely distract the other two." Shadowcat flashed into action at last, as the would-be rapists dropped their guard. Her staff whipped up, catching the one with the rifle squarely between his legs. Argus chuckled to himself. "Right on cue. Good choice. Get the one with the gun out of the action for a while first."   She speared one rapist with the German-switchblade spear point hidden in the tip of the staff, disarmed the other with one of the two swords concealed in the other end of the staff, and nailed that one in the leg with a drugged shuriken as he tried to cut and run. Meanwhile Argus kept a wary eye (quite a few of them, in fact) on the third biker. As the man recovered and unslung his rifle, Argus opened the mouth of the rat-shaped remote closest to the gunman. Argus aimed the tranq dart gun barrel in the mouth of the remote toward the biker, and the camera view for that pane gained a cross-hair sight, centered on the biker's left eye. But Argus held his fire, giving his partner a chance to finish the job without interference from him as a backup. The pane with Shadowcat's view spun to face the remaining biker as he shouted for her to drop her weapon. Argus saw the aiming laser from her sword paint a dot on the gunman's neck, and relaxed, closing the mouth on his remote when he saw her dart hit home. Then he had to make the remote scramble out of the way to avoid being fallen on by the last thug. -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus said to Aki, "Well, they weren't very good, were they? Sorry 'bout that. She hardly raised a sweat." But Aki sounded pleased. "No matter. They were deceived by my staff, and underestimated how well she was armed. That is what I wanted to demonstrate. She is to be commended for obeying my orders to hold back her rage against their kind and not kill them. If they had died, it would have cost the Yakusa much more to keep the local officials quiet." Argus had to grant that Aki had a point there, but he was still uneasy about the decision. "Do you think your clients in the Yakusa's Dark Brotherhood will buy your proposal based on that simple a demonstration? We could find a more challenging target." "Hai. If presented well, they should indeed 'buy it', as you put it. No further combat is necessary. Contact me again when you are ready to make the final presentation." A slight click indicated that Aki had severed the connection at his end. -------------------------------------------------------------- Aki reached over and turned off the vidchip recorder that he had attached to his monitor. He said quietly to himself "Yes, Argus-San they will 'buy it'. If all goes as planned, your final presentation will be the final thing they see in this life." He held up the vidchip and examined it. "And this small recording shall ensure your silence as to my part in the matter." -------------------------------------------------------------- As Argus filmed the cleanup, he made a list of the bikes, weapons and other resellable equipment, and called in a salvage crew to take everything of value from the site. On a whim, he ordered the crew to even take the biker's clothes. If they survived the night, unarmed and undefended, there would be a lot of embarrassing explanations to be made to their fellow go-gang members. If they didn't it would not be traceable to them. He also focused a visible light minispot from the remote on the fire escape onto the faces and tattoos of each of the three go-gang members, and recorded close-up images for further reference, if needed. Who knows, it might prove useful someday to know who those vermin were. -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat turned the staff into a scaling ladder, climbed the wall at the back of the alley, and turned back to face Argus' cameras. Drawing up the monk's staff, she danced through a kata on top of the wall. A good dramatic finish for their presentation. Finally she laughed, resheathed the swords, and touched the spot in her mind that opened the comm.-link with Argus. "Well partner, how did it look? Your little friends down there get a good view of the show? Think our clients will buy the product?"   Argus had the rat closest to her make a clumsy attempt at a bow. "Good show Shadowcat. Got it from four angles from my remotes, plus a personal view from the minicams in your hair clips, in both IR and visible light. But I still say if you'd go for a set of Zeiss-Icon eyes, we could make a good haul on the simstim market too. You'd be a knockout!"   She snapped back, suddenly cold and angry, "We already had that argument. No go! I told you, I draw the line at the Cyberlink, head-phone and cellular modem I need to run my Cyberdeck and communicate with you. No more implants! I like my body just the way it is."   Argus chuckled, "OK lover, OK. Aki says the Brotherhood will undoubtedly be pleased. We'll show it to them at Virtually There, as soon as I alter the video chips to disguise your identity. Now clear out of there and get jacked in. The clean-up crew's already on the way to pick up the scumbags bikes and other gear for resale. Any need to call in the ghouls for terminals?"   She looked down again, calmer now but still with a chill in her voice. "I don't think so. One of them has a pretty bad gash in the groin, but his buddies should wake up in time to get him help. Assuming, of course, no one offs them while they're tranked. Well, that's their problem. Good karma for them to be the helpless ones for a change. OK, I'm out of here. Meet you at the Chatsubo, on Friday?"   "Will do Shadowcat. See ya there. Argus out." -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus jacked out of the main console and snapped the connection from his Cyberlink into place on the Rigger jack in the dash of the van. As with the smaller remotes, the controls and sensors of the van, once connected to the computer interface surgically implanted in the back of his head, became extensions of himself. As he drove the van out of the neighborhood, he stopped once, briefly, a few blocks down from the alley. Four large rats darted under the van. They were not there when he drove off. He reached out with his mind and turned off the short-range recall beacon that they had homed in on. When he got back to his base, he would get them out of the wire racks hidden under the deck of the van. -------------------------------------------------------------- As he drove back, he pondered over the details of this contract. Should be a simple enough piece of biz. Argus had dealt with Aki twice before, to purchase weapons from the old Japanese man, and the hardware Aki had provided on both occasions had been flawless. Shortly after Argus had teamed up with Shadowcat, Aki approached him with this job. He said that the Yakusa's Dark Brotherhood, an organization similar to the legendary Ninja, had split into two factions. One wanted to abandon all traditional weaponry, such as the swords and shuriken, in favor of firearms, explosives, and cyberware. The other faction insisted that traditional weapons and non-enhanced martial artists still had a place in the shadows. Aki was of the latter faction. He said that chemical sniffers, metal detectors, and other weapons scanners could still detect the minute amounts of explosives in the ammunition. Most cybertech shows up easily on a scanner or a visual search. For truly undetectable attacks, well-trained, normal martial artists, without cyberware, armed with variations of the traditional swords and other weapons, made of polycarbon with monomolecular filament edges, were the true heritage of the brotherhood. Aki said Shadowcat would be perfect for the demonstration. She was a black belt in several styles, had no cyberware combat enhancements, and was unknown in the Sprawl. If she could take on several random opponents in a live encounter, armed only with Aki's staff and traditional weapons, that would give Aki the leverage he wanted to convince the dark Brotherhood to adopt his updated traditional weapons. As a cost saving factor, and to emphasize the traditional approach, her staff was to be equipped with high-quality Japanese laminated steel blades, rather than the new monomolecular filament edged ones.   Another factor in offering them the job was that Shadowcat and Argus also both had Cyberlinks, and Argus had -business contacts- at 'Virtually There'. They were to use these contacts to present the demonstration vids to a council of members from both Yakusa factions. Aki said this was to eliminate any bias from the factions for his involvement. He would not be identified as the originator of the staff or the proposal unless his faction won. As a secure and neutral meeting place, the presentation would take place in the Matrix construct for the 'Virtually There' VR/Simstim clubs.   'Virtually There' had been founded in the last decade of the twentieth century, when the first virtual reality interface hardware and software for computers became readily available. The early interfaces were crude compared to today's standards. You accessed the computer generated, animated simulation of combat games or science fiction adventures by strapping on a heavy helmet with video monitors in front of your eyes, putting on a set of headphones for audio feedback, and wearing gloves and other devices that allowed you to control the virtual environment. The animation was often crude, and the response time slow, but you could do things in VR that were impossible anywhere else. Clubs sprang up in malls and arcades where people off the street could rent access to equipment they could never afford. When the first surgically implanted Neuro Sensory Transmission VR interfaces became available, the market went wild. Anyone with an NST jack could directly access simstim, the simulated stimulation of a complete sensory experience, with a fidelity impossible with non-surgical, strap-on interfaces. You could now see, feel, smell, hear and fully experience what a simstim actor or actress had done, right down to the emotional overtones of the experience. Then the Cyberlink was invented, and the interface became two-way, with the ability to reach out and control the shared illusion of the Matrix and other computer generated environments directly with your mind. With the necessary training and 'wetware', implanted software modules added to the increasingly complex surgical interface, you could plug yourself into the controls and sensors of any vehicle or telecheric remote, 'Virtually There' was part of it from the start, and rode the tidal wave of success, offering the latest tech and entertainment offerings at prices any chummer could afford. They also kept up with development in external VR interfaces, offering the virtual world to those who couldn't afford or refused to submit to the surgery necessary for implanting an NST jack or a Cyberlink. Many of the commercially available interfaces for vidchip players, simstim players and Cyberdecks, surgical or non-surgical, came directly from their pioneering research.   Now 'Virtually There' had clubs in most of the Sprawl cities, where anyone could, for enough nuYen, plug into a secure access port for the Matrix or access studio-quality simstim. If they didn't have a Cyberlink or an NST jack, they could rent top quality strap-on VR interfaces, and even secure the services of a Decker, who was a trained computer operator with a Cyberlink, to ride with them as a Matrix pilot. This would also allow Aki to include in the meeting several high-ranking Dark Brotherhood members who were overseas, or who had no Cyberlinks.   The Matrix construct at 'Virtually There' was their greatest selling point. You could access it from any of the 'Virtually There' clubs worldwide, or members could access it with their own surgically implanted pass-key wetware from anywhere with Matrix access. Without that wetware key, the Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics, referred to by Deckers as ICE, prevented unauthorized access. It was even rumored that they employed some highly illegal Black ICE, which could kill the Decker that tried to circumvent it. They were -very- serious about the privacy and security of their clients. The only way in from the Matrix for non-members was the 'front door'. There you underwent intense security checks, even more so than in the clubs, and had to pay for the services by direct credit transfers. As at the clubs, there would be no questioning of who you were (or weren't), or as to the nature of your chosen services, but it was made very clear that -nothing- would be tolerated that could harm a legitimate member or guest of the club.   Once inside, the Matrix Construct included customizable environments for many kinds of interactive encounters. Anything from a business conference, to a formal Japanese tea ceremony, to a Roman orgy, to a 'live' interaction with fictional characters could be arranged for, with any number of participants. All with full sensory feedback. The participants could have their own appearance, or could appear in any form or gender they wish, to hide their identities or experience their fantasies. Members could even retain their own special spaces within the construct, if the right price was offered. A less well-known function of the clubs was the providing of -very- descrete meeting places for discussions of a -sensitive- nature. That was why Argus and Shadowcat had paid the stiff membership fees. It gave them a secure place to do biz with high-class clients that would never dream of leaving their corporate arcologies or the heavily patrolled safe-zones in the better districts of the cities. The Club always charged a 10% handling fee for -business- transactions made there, but asked no questions as to the legality or nature of the deal. But the high-end clients they could only do biz with there also paid a hell of a lot better, so the fees were worth it.   All in all, this contract should be a simple enough bit of biz. Demonstrate a product, film it on vidchips and make a business proposal. Hell, it was almost legit. Do the work, collect a whopping fee and go home. We don't even have to kill anybody. Still, something about the deal just didn't feel right to Argus. He was worried that Shadowcat was too overconfident. She was new to the shadow-world of street samurai and Matrix cowboys, and still didn't grasp what the gritty underside of society was really like. It was all just a glorious game to her. He also thought there was a chance that the punks she fought or the losing faction in the deal might want to get back at her. That's why he planned to alter Shadowcat's appearance in the vidchips, before making the presentation. Just in case. And he was edgy because he had never dealt this closely with the Yakusa before. He knew enough about them to realize he and Shadowcat could be in a world of shit if anything went wrong. They paid great for good work, higher than any other client he had ever had. But the price of failure could literally be murder. Well, Aki was the client, and he seemed pleased so far. Probably just getting jumpy, but you couldn't be too careful.   He pulled up to a covered garage, keyed his access code, and drove in, the heavy steel doors closing behind him. Time to get to work on phase two. -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat settled in on a futon next to her Cyberdeck, and got ready to jack in.   As was usual for her since the day two months ago when she dropped her legit identity, the image of her that others would see in the Matrix was not her own. Instead they would see the image of her blonde-haired older sister, who had performed under the stage-name Cherri Howe. It showed her as Cherri had appeared at age 20, in a simstim she had starred in about a year before she died. Cherri had played the part of a tough lady private eye in that one. Sure, it was a grade B production, but it was a start to what her agent kept insisting was a career that 'would really be going places.' Shadowcat had liked the show, even if it was corny and unoriginal. She had adored her big sister, who had been eleven years older than Shadowcat. More than anything else in the world she had wanted to grow up to be a glamorous simstim starlet like her big sister. Today no one even remembered Cherri. Her vids never got wide distribution, and her simstim roles were not the kind that stuck in the mind of the public. But someday, someone was going to react to that image, and she might be able to get a lead on what or who really killed Cherri. Cherri's family life was not a matter of public record, so there shouldn't be much to connect her with Shadowcat. Her parents had disowned Cherri when she gave up the secure corp contract her family had arranged for, to seek a career in simstim. Cherri created a new life, and her only contact with the family after that was with her little sister. As far as her agent or anyone else knew officially, Cherri was an only child, and an orphan. The money and vidchip letters she sent to Shadowcat had been set up to go through a series indirect deposits, sealed courier drops and blind accounts, 'to protect her investments.' If anyone questioned Shadowcat's Matrix appearance, she just claimed to be a die-hard fan of the little-known starlet.   She didn't really know much yet about what happened to her sister. Thirteen years ago, she knew her sister had run into the less beautiful side of a simstim career. Before that, Cherri had always worked the 'dry dreams' market, strictly non-pornographic material. Shadowcat had a complete set of those vidchips and simstims, which her sister had sent to her. Then the bastard that was her agent talked Cherri into crossing over into the 'wet-dreams' market. The first few roles Cherri had in porn-stim apparently weren't all that bad, and the money was better. Cherri was able to increase the deposits she was making to the trust fund she had set up for her little sister, to pay for her education and buy her a Cyberlink when she was old enough. She also set up a life insurance contract with Shadowcat as the sole beneficiary. Shadowcat finally got her hands on one of Cherri's porn-stim years later, after Shadowcat turned 18. She wasn't shocked, but she couldn't understand how Cherri had ever been convinced that this would help her simstim career.   A year after Cherri went into wet dreams, Shadowcat was notified that 'her benefactor' had died. There were no details, just a death certificate stating something vague about a 'work-related injury' and a two million nuYen settlement from her life insurance, which went straight into Shadowcat's trust fund. A few of the local shock-news programs made a poorly substantiated claim that Cherri Howe had been raped to death, but dropped the story for juicier news after a few hours. Shadowcat thought they just might be right. She didn't believe for a minute her sister's death was an accident, but she couldn't prove anything. She was only ten years old, and felt very alone.   When Cherri died, Shadowcat was being groomed for a corp job as an Artificial Intelligence programmer. To get into the AI field, you had to start early. Cherri had always told her that the real money in simstim was in being a tech/producer, using custom AI software to enhance and edit the raw simstim cuts, and you couldn't do that without damned good skills as a Decker. Now Shadowcat knew she had another use for those skills, that if she was ever going to learn the truth about how her sister died, she would need to be a top-notch Decker to ferret out the real information. So she had thrown herself into her classes with a will, and soon rose to the top 10% of her class. She also had a hunch that the people who caused her sister's death might play rough once she started asking serious questions, so she started training in the martial arts, giving that as much attention as her classes. In school and in the dojo, they had complemented her on her determination and dedication. They didn't know what drove her.   Last year, she decided she was ready. She had earned black belts in Kung-fu and Ninjutsu. When she earned her Black belt in Ninjutsu, her Sensi called her Shadowcat, because she moved silently, and with an almost feline grace. He said she reminded him of one of the Nekoji, the cat-people of Japanese legends. She liked the name, and kept it when she discarded the rest of her identity. She had enough skill as a Decker to write and plant a data worm that would erase all records of her existence within the corp she worked for. She tracked down an extraction expert named Argus, and hired him to 'make her disappear.' In the high visibility of her corp job, she could never find the information she wanted. She had to get outside the system, so she could work on the same level as the shady characters that she believed had killed Cherri. Two months ago, in a flurry of activity that was still unclear to her, Argus had pulled it off, and left evidence behind that she had died in the extraction attempt. They even found a body with dental records that matched hers in the wreckage. She never knew how Argus had arranged for that, and wasn't sure she wanted to know.   She felt a rush of excitement wash over her. It was just like in the action/adventure simstims that Cherri had made. Here she was, a lone girl in the shadows, seeking revenge against a faceless foe. Argus always said she still had stars in her eyes. But hadn't she just bested three thugs all on her own? She laughed. After this job, they would have plenty of funds to pay for her search. She jacked in and joined Argus in the conference room they had arranged for in the construct at 'Virtually There'. --------------------------------------------------------------   -------------------------------------------------------------- Text, all characters (especially Aki, Argus and Shadowcat), and the 'Virtually There' chain of simstim/VR clubs, all Copyright October 1992 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 <> --------------------------------------------------------------   Well folks, there's part 2. What do you think? Lets hear some comments.   Shadowcat

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