Part five: "Understandings"

16 Dec 92 06:53:14 GMT

Article: 1117 of alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Subject: Silk and Steel 5 Date: 16 Dec 92 06:53:14 GMT Lines: 455   Silk and Steel, Part five: "Understandings" Copyright December 1992 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved   -------------------------------------------------------------- It was well past dawn now, but Spinner and the other two bikers could hardly tell by how light it was. The roiling thunderclouds blocked the sunlight, keeping everything under a twilight gloom. Half an hour ago, the fast moving storm had broken with a vengeance. Rain cascaded down from the black mass of clouds in a torrent heavy enough to cut visibility to less than 10 meters. The gutters and sometimes entire streets were awash with a flood of water, raw sewage, trash and empty syringes. Where the storm drains were blocked, which was more often than not, the intersections were lakes or rivers of churning filth, at least ankle-deep.   Spinner could barely see the other side of the street, much less the length of the block. He urged Lance and Skrag on through the storm, seeking shelter. Skrag was limping again, from the wound in his hip. Spinner grabbed Lance under one arm with Skrag under Lance's other arm, and they headed downhill, towards Puget Sound. He wanted to get them to the warehouse district on the waterfront, where their go-gang kept a small safe-house setup. There was no shelter for them here. In this part of town, there were no overhangs or recessed doorways to take shelter under. They were on the edge of a 'good' section of town, where there were damned few abandoned buildings or empty storefronts that they might be able to break into. The few parking garages all had security gates firmly closed, and would open only if an authorized vehicle and driver was spotted by the security guards. The rest was little businesses crowded side by side, intermixed with nightclubs and bars that wouldn't re-open until at least 11 AM. They walked onward.   Most of the businesses were still closed, and wouldn't open for another hour. There were a few small fast-food shops beginning to open up, but they'd have to buy something to stay in one. Lance and Skrag had no money. They had nothing but the sweatsuits and sandals that they now wore. Spinner had money. He had three credsticks, worth 1000 nuYen each. They had been wrapped in the packet of clothes that some Jap muscleboy had, for no apparent reason, thrown to him back in the alley. Right now they were in the pocket of his sweats, with the note that had in the package with them. A note in Japanese, that of the three of them, only Lance could read. Spinner had wrapped the note and two of the credsticks in some of the plasticized wrapping paper that had held the clothes. Then he had crammed the packet and the other credstick into the bottom of the pocket in the sweatpants. He had the credsticks, but he didn't want to use them, or even admit to his chummers that he had them, till he had some answers from Lance about what the hell was going on. And he damned sure didn't want to draw attention to the three of them by paying for a 3 nuYen bowl of noodles with a 1000 nuYen credstick. Not when the only weapon they had between them was his temporarily repaired set of Nunchaku.   By now the three bikers looked like drowned rats. Their hair was plastered flat to their skulls. Their sweatsuits were completely soaked through, lying sodden and cold against their otherwise naked flesh. They waded across a lake at an intersection. Lance stumbled, losing his footing in a swirling cross-current, cascading down the hill from a side street. When they got to the far side, just before they reached the curb, Skrag suddenly yelled out wordlessly and plunged downward. He stopped waist deep in the bone-chilling water, having stepped into a storm drain that some joker had stolen the grating from. When his chummers pulled him out, one of his sandals stayed stuck in the muck and filth at the bottom of the clogged drain. Something in the hole had slashed the strap, and cut Skrag deeply on the side of the foot. He began to limp, but stayed with them. They slogged on without a word.   They were near the waterfront now, but neither Lance nor Skrag were in any shape to go much further. Spinner had to admit that the wound in his thigh was beginning to burn like hell too. They all needed to rest, needed someplace warm and dry where they wouldn't be asked too many questions. Besides, he was damned near lost. Everything looked the same in this downpour. A faint light was visible through the gloom. They headed toward it, and realized they had arrived at the Chatsubo. The broken neon sign flickered in the rain, half it's letters remaining dark.   By Spinner's best guess, the bar wouldn't be open for another half hour. But Ratz and his staff should be inside by now, preparing to open up. He pounded on the door. "Ratz! Hey Ratz, it's me, Spinner. Ratz you one armed bastard, open up! Dammit we're drowning out here! RATZ!". A small security camera in a bullet-proof lexan hemisphere swiveled down at them. A slightly amplified voice with a German accent called to them. "Ya, ya, I hear you. I know you herr Spinner, you und your soggy friendz there. I know you owe me money! You owe Lonny Zone money too! Why should I let you in here, eh? You going to bust up my place like you and your friendz did the last time? You going to put another of Lonny's girlz in the hospital? Nein! You und your friendz are not welcome here until you pay me 500 nuYen. For damages from the last time you vere here, ya? Ve are not open. Go! Rause!!"   Spinner looked at his pals, and made a hard decision. "Hey Ratz! Dammit, I can pay you. Right here, right now. Let us in you egg sucking kraut!" The door opened, and a meaty fist grabbed Spinner and yanked him inside. Ratz grabbed him by the throat with his prosthetic hand, shoving him hard against the wall next to the door, the servos whining and clicking quietly as the hand slowly tightened. Ratz spoke quietly, with menace dripping from each word, as Spinner dripped water on the floor. "You don't look like you got money, herr Spinner. You look like you lost everything und got thrown out on the streets, eh? Where's your leathers, eh? Where's your -bikes-, herr Spinner? When'd you und yer chummers take to wearing cheap sweatsuits, eh?" Spinner gasped for breath, and held up one of the three credsticks for Ratz. The hand stopped tightening. "Glaah! Here Ratz, here! This is worth twice what we owe you man. I swear it's legit, certified 'n' everything." He swallowed and tried to catch his breath. "An hey man, I'm sorry bout Lonny's girl, Julie. How was I s'pposed to know that bastard could duck that fast. I didn't realize the poor slittie was behind him till he ducked, an then it was too late, right? The rest, well, that's a damned long story. And I ain't so sure I know all of it yet. Cummon man, we gotta deal? Let my chummers in so's we can dry out and figger this biz out."   Ratz took the credstick and tossed Spinner toward the door. "Get yer friends, herr Spinner. I go check this out. If it's good, I take what you owe Lonny Zone an what you owe me. If you try to pass some cheap counterfeit scam on me, you wish I leave you outside to drown." Ratz walked back over to the bar, and examined the credstick, then slotted it into a data terminal at the bar. Spinner called in Lance and Skrag, and they went into the washroom in the back to wring out their soaked clothes. When they came back out, damp but no longer soaked, Ratz was smiling. Spinner started breathing again. The big German handed him the credstick, and pointed to a table near the back. "Is okay herr Spinner. Paid is paid. 500 nuYen I take. Stay out of the way, and don't bother the morning crowd when I open up. They ain't the class that's usually here when you come crawling in."   Ratz went over and unlatched the door. Time to feed the lunch crowd. During the day, it was mostly low-level salarymen, a few odd sailors from the docks nearby, and a few locals that would never leave the neighborhood till they died, no matter how rough it got. At ten fifteen on the dot, an elderly Japanese woman came in with a young escort. The regulars knew her as Obaasan, 'Grandmother'. She came in every day, regular as clockwork. Her escort, one of a changing array of young Japanese men often assumed to be children, grandchildren or nephews, would order tea and something for lunch, using precise English, and would chat quietly with her in Japanese. Each day, she would leave precisely at twelve fifteen.   After six PM, the mercenaries, hookers and street types would start to filter in, and the locals usually made themselves scarce. But every night, Obaasan would return at precisely nine PM, escorted by a mercenary. She would signal Ratz silently for a pot of tea, and quietly sit there sipping tea, until precisely eleven PM, seemingly oblivious to the nature or activities of the night crowd. There was usually at least one street samurai near her table before she arrived. On rare occasions, one or two of these would approach her, talk in whispers, and leave swiftly. The folks at night, if they noticed her at all, left her alone. The only time someone had tried to bother her, it seemed half the patrons in the bar stood up and made it clear she was off limits. The word got around fast enough. 'No one touches Grandma.' Ratz wouldn't talk about her, and just encouraged people to leave her alone. -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus grabbed his Cyberdeck and tossed it into a satchel with the rest of the gear he had kept in the apartment. There wasn't much there. He had kept most of his and Shadowcat's possessions in the van, in case he had to move quickly. He checked the clips in his weapons, went over the place once more to make sure he hadn't left any obvious clues that he had been there, and headed for the stairs to the parking garage. He jacked into the mini-deck in his jacket pocket, and sent one of his cyber-rat rigger drones down the stairs ahead of him, to make sure the way was clear. When he got down to the garage level, everything was still clear. He activated the remote link to his main rigger panel in the van, and ordered it to do a security sweep of the vehicle's systems as he approached. All clear. No sign of intrusions or bugs. Then he started the engine with the remote starter. When nothing untoward happened, he got into the van, jacked into the rigger port, and drove out, into the rainstorm.   It was slow going. The cold, heavy rain damped the infrared vision provided by the vehicle's sensors, so he had to rely on straight visuals to navigate. Argus started to relax. Not too likely anyone could tail him through this mess. Just to be safe, he took a somewhat circuitous route, and parked in a secured garage two blocks from the Chatsubo. He sat at the rigger board in the van for a few minutes, as he sent two of his rats scurrying on ahead. The cyber-rats ducked into the alley behind the Chatsubo. One stayed under the dumpster behind the bar, where it could watch the back door. The other scurried up the back wall and entered the building by way of a sewer vent on the roof. It came up through a toilet the washroom of the Chatsubo. Someone could have had a very rude surprise if they had been using that stall at the time. But the washroom was unoccupied. The mechanical rat swam around in the bowl a minute to wash off the worst of the filth, shook itself off, and wandered into the storeroom to wait. Outside, the rain was just starting to let up. Argus pulled on a black topcoat, turned up the collar against the waning storm, and pulled his Greek fisherman's hat on tight. On the way out he paid the usual bribe to the garage attendant to ensure no one would disturb the van or block it in. Sometimes a bribe like that was even worthwhile. Then he walked the remainder of the way to the Chatsubo through the rain. -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat was shaking when she jacked out. "Damn! I never agreed to be part of an assassination contract on a bunch of Yakuza bigwigs. That bastard Aki must have planned for us to take the fall in this all along. All that double-talk before the meeting. He knew what was going down. He must have." She got up, grabbed her duffel bag, and went into what passed for a bathroom on this floor of the building she was holed up in. The perimeter alarms would squawk if there was an intruder, so she could take some time to alter her appearance. Argus seemed to think there was a good chance of heavy trouble, and that such precautions were necessary.   She carefully placed a gun on the counter where it was in easy reach. The silk leotard, stockings, and other fancy clothes that she had worn to bait the rapists she removed and stowed carefully in the bag. Then she got out her makeup kit. She didn't have much makeup with her, but it would be enough to change her appearance in case somebody was really after them already. She'd learned a lot about makeup when she was learning to work the simstim biz. That was back when she wanted more than anything to be a glamorous simstim starlet, just like her big sister, Cherri Howe. She washed off her old makeup and looked at herself in the cracked mirror. Her well-endowed figure and shoulder-length brown curls were two of the best things going for her appearance. Sighing, she got out a pair of scissors, and went to work. -------------------------------------------------------------- Spinner was accosted by Skrag almost as soon as they sat down. "OK 'chummer', spill it. Where'd you get the scratch to pay off Ratz? You holding out on us pud?" Spinner barked back. "Mebbe ya oughta ask Lance here about that. See if he can tell us sumpin about this here note that was with the credsticks and sweats." He threw the note and credsticks onto the table. Lance shrunk back into his chair. "Whatza matter Lance? Why you so quiet huh? After that ronin bitch aced us, somebody took everything we had man. Our bikes, our weapons, even our damned clothes. Left us buck naked and unarmed. But somebody also patched us up. And then some muscleboy Japper throws us these clothes and three grand in credsticks, and a Japper note that only our 'buddy' here can read. Whatsit say Lance? What the hell d'ya know about this shit, huh? TALK dammit!" Spinner and Skrag glared at Lance.   Lance squirmed uncomfortably in his chair and looked around. The room was pretty empty. There was Obaasan with her grandson (or whatever he was) having tea, two corp programmers shoving a Cyberdeck back and forth, while grabbing an early lunch and minding their own business, and three sailors starting to nurse a brace of early beers. There was nobody else there but Ratz, and he was all the way across the room. "OK, OK, keep it down pud. Uh, look, I dunno about no muscleboy, or any o' that other shit, see. The bitch, OK. I was gonna split witcha puds, honest. Three ways even, like always. It's like this see. Yesterday, some old Japper he calls me. Sez he's got a sweet little mistress that's gettin too uppity. Wants me an a few of my puds to put a scare into her, right? He gave me a description, matched that bitch list night jus' fine. Said she'd be at a club over on 10th and Manson, right where we found her. Said if we roughed her up and raped her, wit'out doin' anything perm'nent, he'd pay each of us 500 nuYen. Said to keep it quiet till the payoff. But we was all had chummers. He didn't say nuttin bout her bein armed. Hell, he said she couldn't fight. Like, I figgered, if we found her, it's easy cash an a little playtime for my pals. If we missed her, we'd just party with some other slittie and I wouldn't hafta mention it. The rest, I dunno man. Mebbe the note sez sumpin. Lemme see it."   He reached over and unwrapped the packet, taking out the note. He flattened it out, and read. He started to get pale and shaky. "Shit. Ohhhh shit. Damn! Yeah this explains it all right. It was a setup all along man." He held out the note, and pointed to a symbol in one corner. It was some sort of stylized flower, drawn carefully with parallel lines. "You ever seen this sign chummers? Maybe painted in bright blue spray paint over in Northside, South of the U District? Or done up pro on the doors of warehouses, the ones none of the gang's ever try to touch? That's the Sons of the Neon Chrysanthemum, bub. Yakuza. The Japper Mafia, right? Not the types we wanna mess with, no fuckin way."   Spinner had had enough. "So what's that gotta do wit anything pud? What's the Yaks gotta do with last night, huh? What's that damned note say?" Lance took a deep breath. "It sez, 'You have been paid. Forget the girl. It never happened. Forget last night, or forget tomorrow.' an it's got that damned Yakuza symbol on it. That's what. Nobody signed it, but I figger it's gotta be from Aki, the Jappo that hired me. The bastard must be a damned Yak. He never said that when he hired me. If'n he had, I woulda steered clear, had nuttin to do wit that biz. Nobody'd be dumb enough to use that symbol without bein' Yakuza. They'd have his hide in a minit if he was a fake. I dunno what he wanted man, but we been told - in spades. We pry into what happened last night, or hunt down that ronin bitch, he'll prob'ly have us all killed."   They were all silent for a minute. Then Lance said. "There was what in the bundle? Three grand? That's twice what he was gonna to pay us. I say we split it and call it done." Spinner thought a minute, and said "Hell, I don't like it, but that's enough scratch to replace our bikes and gear, even after payin off Ratz. I'll go for it. What you say Skrag? " The third biker grumbled. "Like we gotta choice? Sure puds, it didn't happen. But if that bitch jus' happins ta cross my path, I ain't gonna hold back on her. I ain't gonna hunt her, right? But I see her, she's hash. Jus' a random mugging, right? Happins alla time. Shee-it. Lets grab us sumpin here to eat an a drink, and lets get the hell out and get new gear. I want sumpin hot in my gut and sumpin dry on my back." He signaled to a Chicano kid that was waiting tables, and they ordered lunch. Spinner took the note, got a pack of matches from the bar, and burned the damned thing in an ashtray. -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat washed her hair with a chemical rinse that took out all of her curls. Then she cut her hair short, at about two inches above her shoulders, and used another quick-set chemical rinse to dye it black. When it dried, she would have a very low-maintenance hairstyle, currently popular with the college girls and young office types. She flushed all the hair clippings down the toilet, except for one lock which went into her makeup kit. With luck she hoped she could get a wig made later to match her original color and length. She toweled her hair dry, and did her makeup while it finished drying. Then she combed her hair into order, and got out a small metal box and some fresh clothes. She put on a black silk bodysuit with a wraparound yellow miniskirt, and over that a knee length wraparound skirt in royal blue, with a white blouse and yellow vest.   The vest was tailored to hide two sewn-in holsters. One held her Narcojet Lethe tranq pistol and the other a small, two-shot handgun with two huge barrels that Argus had given her. He had warned her not to use the two-shot unless she had to, because it had a very heavy kick that was likely to severely injure her wrists if she wasn't braced just right. Each of the two barrels held a full-charge, 14 gauge shotgun shell, with special handloads that Argus had prepared.   She got out blue jacket, a tan topcoat, a wide-brimmed crushable rain hat, and some flat-soled shoes, and put away everything else except the metal box. The staff, broken down into its two sword and sheath units, was just able to fit in the duffel, along one side. If she needed the swords, they would be fairly easy to pull out of the bag. She sealed her Cyberdeck in a padded carrying case with a waterproof seal, and packed everything else inside the duffel around it. Then she took out the contents of the metal box and stowed the box in the duffel, sealing the bag and adjusting the straps. There were pockets on the outside of the bag that held colored covers to change it's appearance.   She put on the straight, shoulder length, honey-blonde wig that had been in the metal box. It was one she had ordered custom made for her years ago, with the intent of wearing it if she ever faced down her sister's killers. She adjusted it into position and got it firmly attached, then put on the rest of her clothes.   When she stepped onto the street, she was a dead ringer for Cherri Howe. -------------------------------------------------------------- Things were getting busy in the Chat. Argus arrived just as the lunch rush really hit. There were the usual low level corp types, Gramma Obaasan, a couple tables of sailors, and three guys in the ugliest green sweatsuits that Argus had ever seen. They pushed their way out of the bar as he went in. Argus turned in the doorway to watch them go. He realized he recognized them as the bikers from last night, and wondered where the hell they got the tacky clothes. Of course they had no way to recognize him. He was glad they were leaving though. Didn't want to take the risk of having Shadowcat run into them. Argus had the cyber-rat in the storeroom slink in from the back, to a position where it could see most of the bar from under one of the back tables in the shadows. He kept the displays from both rats active in his vision, linked by the mini-deck in his jacket pocket. He went to the bar, and tossed his topcoat on one of the barstools. "Hey barkeep, how 'bout a beer and some sorta sandwich." Ratz brought him a beer, and signaled one of the kids that worked day shift to fetch the sandwich. Argus peeled off several crisp nuYen notes to pay for his lunch.   One of the sailors, working on his third beer, decided to hassle this 'newcomer' to the Chatsubo. He tried to sneak up behind Argus, a knife in one hand poised to cut the Decker's Cyberdeck cable, where it ran up the back of his neck to his Cyberlink implant. The sailor expertly angled his attack so the Decker would not be able to see him reflected in anything behind the bar. Argus calmly watched him on the display from the cyber-rat in the back corner, and drank his beer. When the sailor was standing right behind him, Argus casually reached back with his right hand, as if to scratch his neck. As he did so, he exposed a wrist-cuff with a small lens and a 6mm opening at the back of his wrist, in line with his arm and pointed at the sailor. The sailor's face snapped into sharp focus a new pane of Argus' vision, framed in a crosshair sight. There was a sneezing sound, and the sailor collapsed with a tranq dart in his neck, the knife clattering to the ground.   Argus turned to the sailor's buddies, and said quietly. "Looks like your friend's had one too many. Better take him back to the ship to sleep it off, OK? Oh, you might also want to tell him it's not a good idea to try to sneak up on Argus. Got that? He'll be OK, just get him out of here." The other sailors nervously eyed the bar, trying to see if Argus had a partner who had tipped him off or taken out their shipmate. There was nobody else in the bar who showed any open indication of being armed, or even interested. As the sailors dragged their pal out of the bar, Argus turned back to Ratz. "Really now, herr Ratz, you gotta watch these guys. Getting falling down drunk and threatening other customers like that. Why, it could give this place a bad name." he grinned at the thought. "But he'll be back to spend more of his money here. He's only tranqued." Ratz laughed at that. "You know how it is, herr Argus. Until you get a rep around here, the established customers got the right to try you out, see if you really got the stuff." Argus picked up the sailor's buck knife, and put it in a pocket. "Yeah. Well, they'll learn soon enough. He and his buddies won't even know what hit him this time. Next thing you know, there'll be people claiming I'm some sorta street shaman, able to knock out attackers with no weapons at all."   In the corner, Obaasan smiled, apparently amused by the encounter. -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat walked over to the Chatsubo. The rain had almost stopped. As she approached the bar, she saw the three bikers leave. She slowed to a stop and studied a window display at a pawn shop while she waited for them to go away. Fortunately, they went the other direction. She entered the bar and stood in the doorway, looking for Argus. She spotted him at the bar talking to Ratz, and headed toward him.   Obaasan looked at her, and said something rapidly to her companion. Before Shadowcat could cross the room, she found her way blocked by a very earnest looking, young Japanese man. "Ah. Excuse me, please. My employer requests just a brief moment of your time." He gestured toward the smiling old woman. "A minor matter, but it will please her if you come and speak with her. Just for a moment. You will come please?" She looked imploringly at Argus, but he was inspecting something Ratz had just handed him. She allowed herself to be guided to Obaasan's table. -------------------------------------------------------------- Ratz quietly tapped on a small packet he had just given to Argus. "This came by courier this morning, before we open up. Courier says 'it's for Argus'., and gives me 100 nuYen to see you get it. You want it?" The packet was a carefully folded piece of colored paper, enclosing some small objects, and sealed with a gold foil seal, stamped with a Chrysanthemum. "Yeah. I been expecting something. Thanks Ratz." Ratz took the cue, and went to the other end of the bar to mop up some nonexistent spill. Argus glanced at Shadowcat as she was led to Obaasan, and kept the cyber-rat looking at her. If anything happened there, he'd see it. He took another sip of his beer, and opened the packet carefully. -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat sat in front of Obaasan. The old woman looked surprisingly healthy and alert, for all her age. She spoke to Shadowcat in Japanese. The woman's voice was quiet, steady and strong. "Ohayo gosaimasu. Ogenki desu ka? O-wakari desu ka?" /Good morning. How are you? Do you understand?/   Shadowcat blinked a moment, then warily replied "Ohayo gosaimasu. Hai, wakarimashita. Genki desu, anata wa?" /Good morning. Yes, I understand. Fine, and you?/   Obaasan smiled. /Very well thank you. Your Japanese is excellent. You may call me - Grandmother. And this young man is Takuo. What are you called child?/   Shadowcat thought to herself. Grandmother? She's certainly not -my- grandmother. Who is this lady? Why is she interested in me? She considered opening a comm link to Argus, but no one was really threatening her. Just a pleasant old woman who apparently wanted to chat. She composed herself and said. /I am called Shadowcat, honorable grandmother. Takuo-san said you wanted to see me. May I ask why?/   /Indeed? Shadowcat? A name of the Streets, not a name for a young woman. No matter. It was a minor fancy, nothing more. You resemble someone I was once fond of. An actress who's work I appreciated. You might even have called me a fan of hers, many years ago. Have you ever heard of Cherri Howe?/ Shadowcat jumped slightly. Obaasan noted it and continued. /Ah, I see that you have. I have a collection of every vidchip or simstim she was ever in, even the tragic ones at the end of her career. She died many years ago, or so I have heard. Yet you look a great deal like her. I thought, is this a coincidence? It must be, because Miss Howe had no known relatives. Yet you look so much like her, I had to meet you. You should see these films some time. The resemblance is quite remarkable./   /Perhaps I shall, honorable Grandmother, some other time. I have seen some of her simstims. I liked them too. Ah. It has been very nice meeting you, but I really must go. My friend at the bar is waiting for me. I have seen you here before, I think. Do you come here often?/   /Yes child, I come here often. Go to your friend. We shall talk again sometime. Indeed we shall. I shall see you later./   "Hai, dewa mata nochihodo. Domo arigato gozaimasu." /Yes, see you later. Thank you very much./ Shadowcat politely disengaged herself and went to join Argus at the bar. -------------------------------------------------------------- Text, all characters (especially Obaasan, 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 5. Part 6 should be out in another two to three weeks, maybe sooner. What do you think? Any new comments?   Shadowcat

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