Part four: "Turnabout"

7 Dec 92 15:59:21 GMT

Article: 1092 of alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Subject: Silk and Steel, Part 4 Date: 7 Dec 92 15:59:21 GMT Lines: 401   Silk and Steel, Part four: "Turnabout" Copyright December 1992 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved   -------------------------------------------------------------- Spinner shivered in the cold morning smog. It was almost dawn now. He'd been standing there in the mouth of the alley for an hour, shifting back and forth and trying not to freeze his ass off. He hadn't seen a soul all night. Not even a streetwalker. He had started talking to himself. "Damn. Why'd she hafta take all our clothes, huh? I'm gonna kill that ronin bitch for sure. Leavin' me an my chummers bareassed like that. Gonna kill me something. Yeah. Next bastard walks by gonna think he's in hell." A dull groan came from behind him. Skrag and Lance must finally be waking up, shaking off whatever drug she had used to knock them out. His own leg still hurt like hell, where that bitches drugged throwing star had caught him.   He heard a motor, and looked out cautiously into the street. A black van drove slowly towards him. Spinner couldn't see into the vehicle. It's windows were all mirror-tinted. No markings, and it had standard plates. Not a police patrol or corp cop, then. Looked more like something civilian. Maybe a delivery truck, or some pimp rounding up his street girls. Whatever it was, Spinner didn't trust it. He sure the hell didn't want to deal with it before he managed to get some clothes. He ducked back into the shadows of the alley, and tried to get out of sight. The van stopped at the mouth of the alley, and the side door opened, revealing a dark, empty interior. No sign of anyone inside that he could see. No voices from inside. Like hell he was going to accept that invitation. Who knew what the fuck he'd be into if he got in there. Probably get cold-cocked or drugged and chopped up for organ and limb transplants. No way. He moved further back into the shadows, grabbed his chucks tighter, and shouted "Fuck off!". The door closed, and the van slowly drove off. As Spinner looked after it and tried to figure out what that was all about, a figure wearing a black hood looked down at him from the rooftop above one side of the alley. The street samurai on the roof chuckled quietly, shifted to IR enhanced vision, and sized up the situation. He retreated to a position well back from the alley wall, and spoke quietly into a pocket comm unit, using terse, short sentences of Japanese.   Ten minutes later, and still no marks to jump. Shit. At this rate they'd hafta hide in this stinkin' alley all day. An even though dawn was breaking, it was gettin darker, as storm clouds began to roll in. "Shit. Bad enough bein' cold an' nakid. Now we're like to get drenched in a rainstorm, too." Then Spinner heard a motor again. He looked out, and saw another van, coming from the same direction as the last one. Looked and sounded like it might be the same one. He ducked back further, out of sight. The van stopped at the alley again. This time when the van's side door opened, a Japanese muscleboy with a submachinegun at the ready stepped out. The big ape said something quietly towards the alley in Japanese, and beckoned to Spinner. Obviously this guy didn't have any trouble seeing Spinner in the dark. IR enhanced eyes or sumpin. He said something again in Japanese. Short, harsh phrases. Spinner couldn't understand a word of what the street soldier was saying. Lance was the only one of his buddies that spoke any Jap, and he was still semi-conscious. Spinner stayed put. The muscleboy shrugged, and stepped back into the van. He picked up a small packet, about a foot long by six inches in diameter, and tossed it back into the alley in a high, arching loft. The van sped off while the packet was still in the air, and he heard a Jap voice laugh as the van vanished into the smog. Spinner shouted "Shit!" and dove face first into the muck between the dumpster and the wall, desperately seeking cover. He was certain that joker had come to finish them off, 'cause the way he tossed that packet and lit out had all the earmarks of some sorta bomb. He heard the package land nearby with a soft thump, and braced himself for an explosion. Spinner waited, fearing that any second now a timer in the bundle would hit zero, filling the alley with fire and shrapnel. One minute. Five minutes. Nothing. No explosion. Sweating, his pulse racing, Spinner looked fearfully at the object the muscleboy had lobbed into the alley. It had bounced and rolled to within arms reach of his head. He cautiously reached out with his chucks in his left hand, and poked at it. He winced as he did so, but nothing happened. Just a rustle of paper and what felt like something soft inside. Bracing himself, he went over and peeled off the paper that wrapped the object. Inside were three neon green pairs of sweat pants, matching sweatshirts, and some sandals. He was still freezing, so he scrambled to put them on. As he pulled on the warm clothes, three small objects wrapped in a piece of paper fell to the ground. He picked them up after he was dressed. The paper had some Jap writing on it. Spinner couldn't even tell which way was supposed to be up. He shoved it into a pocket in the sweatpants. The three objects it had wrapped he understood just fine, but he had no idea why they were there. They were credsticks. Unpersonalized, certified credit sticks, indicating a value of 1000 nuYen each. Spinner sat down, glared at his unconscious companions, and howled at the sky "What the -FUCK- is going on!?" -------------------------------------------------------------- In a megamall in the South end of the Seattle Sprawl, the area around the Virtually There franchise was lit up like a neon whorehouse. Vidscreens and Holotanks filled the wall facing the mall and the lobby of the franchise, where they declared the wide range of entertainments and services within. It was early yet, and foot traffic was light. Several young couples and other individuals watched the displays with interest, to select their entertainment.   One display listed a wide range of studio equipment and computers that were available for rental, which could be used by a client to record their own presentations in vidchip, simstim or other formats, or to create custom-made virtual environments. Several of the studios were also equipped to simulate a variety of physical environments, from sunny beaches to flooded rooms for underwater activities. They claimed to be able to reproduce any environment on the planet, with realistic sounds, temperatures, sights and smells. If the participants had the right implants, full sensory stimulation was possible, for live experience, playback or recording. Four kids in their late teens or early twenties watched in rapt fascination. All had cheap Hitachi cybernetic eye implants and Cyberlink jacks. The two boys showed a slight amount of bruising around their eyes, where the scars of the surgery were still healing. The girls had hid their bruises and scars with carefully applied makeup. They talked about how great it would be to produce their very own simstim. All were sure they would be instant stars, if they could just cut a great stim and get Experitech or one of the other big production companies to look at it. One of the girls grabbed a flyer about job opportunities with Virtually There and VT Research. "Hey, Lookit this! It sez if a chummer works here, they get free access time in the studios or for other services as a perk. Think any of us could get on here? There's an application form in this flyer." Her boyfriend shook his head. "I dunno Sal. I heard they only hire the best. Any of us ever manage to slot straight A's?" They looked at a few of the other displays, and walked off with stars in their mechanical eyes, as they tried to figure out how to talk their parents into footing the bill for studio rental. Sal kept the flyer anyway.   On another screen, an average looking Japanese man was being fitted by two technicians with a set of external electrodes on his head and neck. A female voice crooned about the care the technicians were taking, to make sure their customer would have an experience of unrivaled clarity and detailed experience, even if the client did not have a Cyberlink. The technicians left the room, and the Japanese businessman pressed a button on the arm of the chair. The scene switched to an orgy in progress, with a small inset of the businessman. A slave girl entered the scene and at once was grabbed by one of the participants, who bound her with cords, gagged her, and started beating her with a whip. With each lash on her young body, the businessman writhed in apparent ecstasy. The voice-over explains that the simstim construct can allow any fantasy, even a change of gender. It also assured the would-be patrons that no actual harm can come to them, as threshold cutouts on all the neural links prevent any truly painful or harmful experiences. A fat German businessman watching the display smiled, then made a show of looking at several more placid displays before going in. He commented loudly in broken Japanese to some stranger about the undersea diving adventure, and to another about the shop inside that sold VR interface software and peripherals. Then he glanced back at the first display. The slave girl was now being ravished by three young men at once. His upper lip trembled with excitement as he passed through the doors.   Another screen touted their ability to provide Virtual conference rooms. Any setting could be arranged for, from a corporate conference room to a beach at a tropical resort. Any number of other participants at any VT club could join in. For VT members, they could also participate from their own Matrix access anywhere around the world. And of course, all sessions, of any nature, would be conducted in complete privacy. Two older Japanese businessmen and two women, all very conservatively dressed, looked at this display briefly, ignoring the others. Then they quietly went inside.   In another display, a list of recent simstim titles scrolled by. A young man touched one of the titles, and the holotank next to the screen displayed a review of a recently released action show, where the simstim artist piloted a hang-glider off a cliff into the Grand Canyon, darting daringly among the spires of rock and through the treacherous updrafts. His girlfriend shook her head and whispered a suggestion in his ear. He touched another title, and a horror film displayed in the tank. A voice-over claimed the client could take the part of any of the actors in the film, experiencing the show from their viewpoint. It also claimed that multiple people in the same group could participate at once, taking different roles. The man smiled at his girlfriend, who hugged him as a female vampire ravished a helpless young man. The vampirella in the show had chosen a rather unique place to drain the blood from her well-hung victim. The young lovers smiled and the couple went inside.   Other displays showed clips from new features, or advertised some of the latest Cyberlink and simstim implants and external hardware recently released by VT Research. While the franchise clubs did not offer surgical implantation facilities, they could schedule such services, to be performed at the VT Research clinics in Chiba. Prices and products continued to be displayed, as the voice-over and text played back in Japanese, English, French, Spanish or German, depending on which button the customer pressed below the display, or cycling through the languages if no one made a selection.   A young Japanese man in workman's coveralls had been lounging around outside, enjoying a smoke. He picked up a small satchel and walked straight in, ignoring the garish display. He showed his credentials to the woman at the front desk, identifying him as a technician for the company that maintained their climate control system. She looked at them through the thick plasteel window, and indicated a doorway. The door clicked open as he approached. With a bored look on his face he walked through the scanners in the small holding room at the entry, as the woman examined the display. He was clean. No weapons, explosives, or volatile toxic substances showed on the expensive security scanner. Just keys, watch, a pocket radio, a few coins, tobacco cigarettes and matches, some small tools and an assortment of canisters that the scanner identified as cleaning solvents. She asked to see the radio, and made sure it was a functional, ordinary public band receiver. "Gotta make sure it isn't a two-way. Nuthin personal. Security, y'know." she said pleasantly. "No active transceivers permitted. Just personal radios and pagers." She tuned in a few local stations, and gave it back to him. "Just keep the volume low, OK?" Then she passed him through, having already seen him several times that week. Virtually There was very proud of their security systems, and rightfully so. Each of their clubs were equipped with better scanners than the government had at the orbital shuttleports. They knew their clients bodies were very vulnerable while their minds were off enjoying the entertainments, so they took great pains to ensure their clients physical security. Even the outside walls, floor and ceiling of the franchises were heavily armored. If a large bomb were detonated right outside the front doors, the only likely damage would be to the wall of displays outside the armored wall.   The young man walked through the VR boutique, and the sales clerk there examined his ID again. Then she opened the door to the equipment room behind the store. He walked in and started through the routine series of maintenance checks. The clerk watched for a few minutes, then went out to assist a customer. As soon as he was alone, the maintenance man went to a keypad and tapped in a security code that he wasn't supposed to know, disarming the alarms for the equipment room. He opened a panel behind him. The label on the panel read "Security Scanner - Chemical Sensors". He removed a small circuit board, and re-connected the cable he had spliced it into on his previous visit. He tucked the circuit board into an empty space in the back of his radio. Then he quietly replaced the panel, re-armed the security system, and resumed his work. He turned on the radio receiver, tuned it in to an obscure FM channel, set the volume low, and listened to a Japanese concert as he worked. -------------------------------------------------------------- It was about time for the meeting. Aki instructed Argus and Shadowcat as to last minute plans. "Argus-San, I have decided it suits me for the others to believe that Shadowcat speaks only Japanese, and is the only live participant other than the members of the Dark Brotherhood. You will both wait in the entry alcove, and she will greet each person and send them in. You will remain silent. Stay by her side. Make them believe you are one of the construct's AI-modeled security routines, a part of the ICE protecting Shadowcat." He turned to Shadowcat. "You will both stay in the alcove until I ring the small brass gong on the table. It has been arranged that the only sound that can penetrate the shoji screen between the entry and the conference room will be that gong. There is no reason for either of you to be present for the first part of our meeting, while we identify ourselves and discuss business. You will enter only for your presentation. I ring, you both enter. Neither of you are to address me by name at any time. When you begin, let nothing stop you. Some of the participants may behave in a manner that is incomprehensible to you, or may try to disrupt the presentation. They may even leave. Do not let them stop you. Do not speak to them, except to narrate your presentation. It is imperative that you give the full presentation." Aki turns back to Argus. "If I ring the gong again, the meeting is to end. You are to use the ICE in the swords you wear to send us back. All of us, including me. Then leave and dissolve the construct for this conference room. I will contact you soon afterward for your payment. Now, no questions. The time is at hand. Take your places and we will begin."   There was no arguing with Aki. They went to the entry as they were ordered, and waited. Argus watched impassively as the other representatives of the Yakusa's Dark Brotherhood arrived for the presentation, trying to give no expression on his face. There were thirteen of them, including Aki. Argus was a bit surprised that three of 'the Dark Brotherhood' were apparently women. Of course, appearances didn't mean much, here. In the Virtually There construct, the participants could choose whatever appearance they wished prior to entry. Four of the participants, apparently the more radical pro-tech faction, appeared as cyborgs or street samurai. One of these was a woman who had chromed implants covering her eyes, and nervously flicked nail-razors in and out of their sheaths, as if to make sure no one could be unaware of her enhancements. Five others, including Aki, chose a highly traditional appearance, either formal kimono or samurai armor. All five were stock images Argus recognized from VT's files. Argus surmised these must be of Aki's traditionalist faction. Perhaps the rest, dressed as normal businessmen, were as yet uncommitted. The last of the Yakusa lords to arrive appeared as a very old Japanese man, wearing a conservative business suit. He went directly to the head of the table, with an air of authority that spoke of someone who was used to unquestioned obedience. He signaled for the screen to be closed, and the meeting began.   Once they were alone, Argus said quietly to Shadowcat. "I don't like this. I can't put my finger on it, but something about this biz stinks. Aki's making too damned many last-minute changes for my liking, and I don't want either of us left holding the bag if something goes wrong. Why does he want -you- to be the one to make the presentation? That wasn't part of the deal to start with. Well, at least they won't have any way to recognize you from your appearance here. You're wearing a stock image, not something they can easily trace. Even your voice is a bit different here in the construct, higher and quieter because of the 'perfect hostess' image filters you chose." He slapped his hand to his forehead. "Shit! Did you remember to alter your voice in that vid?" She looked up at him. "Yes, I lowered it almost an octave, and added a slight random tremor that should fool an attempt at a voice-print match, if it comes to that. You said to disguise my image, and a voice is pretty distinctive as ID." Argus sighed and relaxed. "Good. Very good. Look, as soon as this is over, jack out, grab all your gear, get the hell out and meet me at the Chatsubo. Change your appearance along the way if you have time." She stared down at the floor. "OK. If that's what you think is best. You really think this is going sour? Everything looks OK to me?" The gong sounded before he could answer. Argus said "There's our cue. Lets go.", and slid open the screen. -------------------------------------------------------------- Spinner went back to his chummers and tried again to revive them. Skrag was already coming to, muttering "Whozat yellin? 'S cold dammit." He rolled over and blindly groped for something to pull over himself, like a blanket. There was nothing in reach but some trash. Spinner ignored him and limped over to Lance, who was the only one who was seriously injured. The patch someone had left on the spear wound in Lance's hip was holding, but he had still lost a lot of blood before he got patched up. "Common Lance. Wake up pud. I got us some warm clothes." He rolled Lance over and sat him up. That got a groan of pain from the wounded biker, as he came to. He slapped him on the face. "Hey pud. Come on, that's it. Wake up and put this on dammit." Lance opened his eyes and tried to focus on Spinner. "Hey chum. Izat you Spinner? Where'd you get the tacky threads? You knock over a bag lady or sumpin?" Lance looked down at himself. "Hey! Whatcha do wit my leathers, eh? Where's my clothes chummer? 'S not funny man." He moved and almost doubled over in pain. "Shit! What hit me? Waitaminit. That bitch in the red skirt. We been had man. Wasn't 'posed to be like that. Wha - wha happened to her? You get her?" Spinner tossed a set of clothes to Lance and glared at him. What the hell was Lance rattling about? Sounded like he knew more than he'd told his chummers about this mess. An then there was that damned note that only Lance could read. Spinner was getting pissed. "She damned near busted our slots is what happened man. Put those on before ya freeze to death. We gotta move, get some cover. Storm's comin' fast. We'll talk real good when we're someplace warm n dry. Bet on it."   The next thing Spinner knew he was flat on his back. Skrag had tackled him and was trying to beat the crap out of him. "Fuckin' coward! Turn your back on your chummers, will ya? Cut n run when the fightin starts? Damned bastard! We coulda been killed by that bitch, an you just turned tail and ran. I oughta kill ya, you little bag of shit!" He kept raining ham-fisted blows down on Spinner. He didn't stop until Spinner jabbed him hard in the solar plexus with his chucks, knocking the wind out of him. Spinner shoved the stunned biker off of him and staggered to his feet. "Dammit, what else was I supposed to do, Huh? That bitch was armed to the teeth and had taken out my only weapon. You think I'm gonna charge some ronin with a sword when all I got's my bare hands? I was gonna try to cut back through that building to the fire escape near the back of the alley, so's I could get to my gun and take her out. Out-flank her, dammit. Can you get that through your thick skull? I had to run around her, cause I sure the hell couldn't get past her to our gear. We got more important shit to worry about. While you two been drugged outa yer minds, somebody's been playin' cat n mouse with us. I think our good buddy Lance here knows more than he told us. He let sumpin slip as he was commin to." He kicked the remaining clothes at Skrag. "Put that on dammit. You look stupid as shit kneeling there bareassed and holding yer gut. At least I got ya sumpin to wear. Then help me with Lance and lets find us someplace safe n private to talk this out." Skrag pulled on the sweats and the three bikers stumbled and limped out of the alley. The sky rumbled, and it started to rain. -------------------------------------------------------------- In Virtually There, one of the technicians that had assisted in fitting the party of four Japanese for their 'business conference' looked in on them with a monitor screen. He glanced at a photograph of one of them, All were jacked in, their bodies helpless and flinching slightly in response to the stimulus they were receiving in the Matrix Construct. He smiled and told his partner "I'm going on break, OK? Be back in half an hour, after I get some breakfast down the mall." He calmly walked out of the franchise and down the mall towards the fast-food shop. He stopped at a potted plant near the shop, and reached into the moss covering the surface of the planter. The packet was waiting where he had been told it would be. He stuffed it into his pocket and placed an order, making sure to ask the teener behind the counter to leave out several things and add a few others. The girl scowled at the special order, and told him it would take longer. He took his coffee and went to a table in the back. There he opened the packet. Inside was a small box with an unmarked button on it, and an unpersonalized credstick for 500 nuYen. He carefully pushed the button three times, as he held the box in his lap. When his breakfast came he took his time eating, and the small box and photograph found its way into the trash with the wrappers and napkin from his meal.   Inside the equipment room at Virtually There, the maintenance man heard three, equally spaced bursts of static on his radio. He turned off the radio, and gathered up all of his tools and equipment except for two canisters marked as cleaning solvent. He placed these inside the ventilation duct for suite three. Holding his breath, he snapped off the tops so they started dumping their contents, and closed the cover on the duct. Then he quickly walked out with the rest of his gear. The binary nerve gas agent in the canisters would take several minutes to reach lethal levels, and then would disperse into harmless gasses after half an hour or so. He didn't care to be around for the process, in case the door to the suite was opened while the gas was still lethal. He left, telling the girl at the front desk he would be back again in a few days. -------------------------------------------------------------- The meeting started out politely enough. Shadowcat introduced the demonstration and darkened the room, bringing one whole wall to life as a vidscreen for the presentation. The first ten minutes she just let it roll, until the girl on the screen was demonstration the additional functions. Then she explained that there was also a blowgun in one sword sheath, and that the other had a chamber holding two hyposprays of antidote for the tranq or neurotoxin darts. She was almost through with the presentation when the four Brotherhood members in traditional garb, other than Aki, suddenly de-rezzed with a bright flash of red and a dark after-image. Aki sounded the gong, and Argus flashed into action. With wired reflexes made even faster by the unrestrained environment and supercomputer enhancement of the Matrix Construct, Argus dashed around the conference table, striking at each image with his swords. As each remaining participant was struck, they de-rezzed with a very brief, white flash. The last to be struck shouted something in Japanese about treachery and assassination, and then he too was struck down.   Argus turned to Shadowcat. "Damn! Something KILLED the four who disappeared in the red flashes during your presentation. That red flash and dark after-image was a warning that someone flatlined. Gods help us, we've been tricked into being party to a Yakusa assassination. Jack out Shadowcat! GO!" They both disappeared as they jacked out, and moments later, the construct for the meeting room collapsed back into blank space in the cores of the computers at Virtually There. -------------------------------------------------------------- Text, all characters (especially Aki, Argus and Shadowcat), and the 'Virtually There' chain of simstim/VR clubs, all Copyright December 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 4. Part 5 should be out in another two to three weeks, maybe sooner. What do you think? Lets hear some comments.   Shadowcat

[On to Chapter 5] [Back to Chapter 3] [Back to the index] [Back to Jay's Page]