Part six: "Conflict"

1 Jan 93 16:28:21 GMT

Article: 1145 of alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Subject: Silk and Steel, part 6 Date: 11 Jan 93 16:28:21 GMT Lines: 465   Silk and Steel, Part six: "Conflict" Copyright January 1993 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved   -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat left Obaasan's table in the Chatsubo and walked over to the bar, where Argus was perched on a barstool and sipping at a beer. She put her duffel bag next to him, nestled under the black topcoat on the barstool at his right, and placed her own tan topcoat and rain-hat on the stool as well. "Hi there, big guy. Mind if I join you?" she said lightly as she sat on the barstool at his left. She hugged him with her right arm, briefly. "This place sure is different in the daylight. I never would have expected to run into a nice little old lady like Obaasan and that polite young man with her, Takuo. Y'know what? She thought I looked like Cherri Howe. Said she was one of Cherri's fans. Invited me over to see all her vids and stims, even. Who would have expected to meet nice folks like them here?"   Argus chuckled. "Well, get to expect it, at least with her. From what I hear, Obaasan's a -regular- here, both day -and- night. The other time you were in here with me, we left just as she was arriving. You didn't get a good look at her 'companions' then. I did." He took another sip of beer, glanced at Obaasan and her companion, and looked back at Shadowcat. "That 'polite young man' is almost certainly a bodyguard, and in all likelihood is armed to the teeth. Her nighttime 'companions' are usually mercenaries and street samurai. I haven't figured her out yet, but I'll bet my last Yen she's into more than quietly sipping tea. She seems to have taken a liking to you. That's probably a good thing, cause she seems to command a lot of respect from the crowd here. But I'm worried about her associating you too closely with Cherri. Did you tell her anything in particular? About yourself or Cherri, that is."   "Only that I also liked Cherri's films, and that I had seen a few of them. She seemed to know a lot about her though. Like the fact that Cherri had no known relatives. But a die-hard fan might remember something like that, even after twelve and a half years. And I -do- look a lot like Cherri Howe with my hair like this. But you said to change my appearance, and this was the only change I was prepared for. You think we can trust her? If we can, it might be useful to see what she can tell us about Cherri. At least we could see her last stims, and look for clues." She looked around for Ratz or one of his hired helpers. "That sandwich you have looks good, and I'm starved. What is it, a reuben? We have enough time for me to eat?" -------------------------------------------------------------- Over at the dockside, several drunk sailors carried the limp body of their shipmate onto the freighter 'Melody Lee'. They sputtered something incoherent about a big guy with a ponytail, wearing a black cap. One of them said "Billy jus, walked up behin' him, an the bashtard dropped 'im. Jus like nuttin. Gotta get Billy to the docs!"   Two sailors just going off duty saw the limp form of their buddy being carried into the ship. Billy didn't even groan when his shoulder hit the side of the hatchway as the drunk sailors stumbled while carrying him. One of the two called out after them "Hey, where was ya!". A voice sailed up from the depths of the ship. "Bar in town. Called the Chatsubo." The two sailors ran off the ship, angry as hell. "I know the place." one of them said. "We'll get 'im for ya, Billy!" -------------------------------------------------------------- Ratz came out of the kitchen, and Argus ordered a sandwich and a beer for Shadowcat. When Ratz had left to get them, Argus passed a thick envelope bound with string to Shadowcat. "Here. This is your cut from what we got for the biker's gear we collected last night. 500 nuYen in cash and the keys to a new, tricked out cycle. There's a note in there telling where and how to pick up the bike, when and if you need it. If we need to work separately, you'll need funds and transportation." She took the packet and tucked it into an interior pocket in her vest, low on the right side.   He finished his beer, and ordered another when Ratz brought Shadowcat her lunch. After the one-armed barkeep had brought him his beer and left again, he continued. "As to weather we can trust Obaasan with the information about Cherri, I don't know. Maybe. But I'd rather wait till we have a new ID for you that can pass more than a cursory check. The papers I gave you when I extracted you are OK for a quick traffic stop, but we still need to build a serious new identity for you. Once we're clear of this biz with Aki, I'll see what my contacts can come up with for you. After we track down Cherri's killer, you -will- need a new life, and there's no going back to your old life now."   "Not that I'd ever want to" she said with a shudder. "Last thing I want is to be just another corp flunky, like my parents. Pathetic sheep, happy to throw away their own daughter to please the corp. 'Can't make waves', dad said. 'Too close to retirement'. Humph. I'll show 'em waves. All I want right now is to track down the bastard that did in Cherri. My own parents didn't care. Damned authorities didn't give a shit. So I'm gonna have to do it myself. With your help, of course." She attacked her sandwich as if she hadn't eaten in days. Or maybe like she was trying to bite the head off Cherri's killer. "After that, I don't know. Maybe make a new life, like she tried to. Maybe stay in the shadows, like you. I think I could get to like the independence. What's in that other packet? That from Aki?" -------------------------------------------------------------- The two sailors got to the Chatsubo. Along the way one of them had yanked a length of rebar out of a dumpster. The other one ducked inside the bar for a minute, then came back out. "He's in there all right. Chatting up some cute skirt at the bar. This is the only way out, other than a locked door to the alley. I tried getting out that way once before, when a brawl broke out here. It's kept locked tight, to keep out looters. We hang out here, we can nail him when he leaves. Looked to me like they were just finishing their lunch." -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus slid the red packet over to Shadowcat. Inside were three vidchips, unmarked except for the numbers 1, 2 and 3 on their labels. "I think so. Had a Chrysanthemum seal on it, like the Yaks use. Thing is, that -should- have been our payoff, or rather, proof that the 100,000 nuYen had been deposited to the account of the front company we specified. Then the funds would have been laundered and eventually deposited to one of our accounts. But it would only take a note to tell us that, not three vidchips. I haven't slotted them yet. Figured we can both take a look at then when we get back to the van." She nodded and scooped up the chips, then put them in her outside vest pocket. The paper they had been wrapped in remained on the counter.   "Sounds good to me. Soon as I finish my lunch, OK?" In a few minutes she was done, and they put their topcoats back on. Argus stopped her with a whisper as he helped her with her coat and handed her hat to her. "Just a minute. Let me check outside first, to make sure the way's clear." He sent a command to the Cyber-rat rigger remote that he had left in the alley behind the Chatsubo. With just one or two remotes to control, he could do it with just the combat mini-deck in his jacket pocket, and mental commands. He'd only need his full-sized deck and manual controls for coordinating more than two remotes at once. The rat scanned the alley, relaying what it could see to a frame in Argus's vision. There was a gang of about a dozen street kids out back, ranging in age from maybe six years old to a few in their late teens. Most were armed, and they appeared to be trashing the dumpster for food scraps and resellable junk. Nothing out of the ordinary for this neighborhood, but they wouldn't be leaving that way, unless they wanted to risk having to kill a bunch of kids.   He sent the rat scurrying to the crack between the Chatsubo and the building to the left of it. There was a fire-break between the buildings. A narrow opening all of four inches wide between two cinder block walls, with no windows and a few illegally placed vent-pipes on the walls in the gap, As the lifelike mechanical rat darted out from under the dumpster, three ragged kids shouted 'Fresh meat!' and tried to grab it. One gunshot from a low-caliber handgun hit the wall above the remote as the rat made it into the gap. The kid closest to the remote yelped and swore at the kid with the gun, as a flying chip of cinder block thrown by the bullet's impact grazed his cheek. He could hear shouts of disappointment that the rat had escaped, but the crack was too narrow for any of the kids to follow the remote.   The Cyber-rat scampered down the fire-break to the street side of the building, and he had it peek out towards the front door of the Chatsubo. There were two sailors outside, one on either side of the door. One had a leather covered sap in his hand, and the other held a meter-long iron bar behind his back. They didn't appear to have any firearms, and they kept the weapons hidden as a couple programmer types left the bar to return to work. Probably some more friends of the idiot Argus had tranked earlier when the sailor had tried to attack him in the bar. Obviously they were waiting for -someone-, not just any target. Probably for Argus, 'cause he got the better of their shipmate.   He considered a moment. He -could- just trank them both with the remote. They'd never know what hit them. But they'd also never learn their lesson that way, and they'd keep on pestering him and trying to get even until they realized they were outmatched. "Cat, put down your bag and wait here a minute." he said quietly. "Looks like we have some unfriendly company waiting outside. Couple sailors who don't know when to leave bad enough alone." He grinned at her. "May I borrow your 'belt'?"   She smiled and handed him the thick gold cord with the large tassels that she had wrapped around her waist. It was surprisingly heavy, unless you knew what it concealed. Wrapped within the silk covering of the belt was a 30-inch steel chain, weighted at each end inside the tassels with a one-pound, cylindrical steel weight. The manrikigusari was primarily a defensive weapon, actually legal in most areas, and good for infighting or against bladed weapons. He had given her the silk-covered manrikigusari when he had extracted her from the Corp she worked for, a few months ago. He took one end of the weighted chain in each hand, and stood just inside the doorway to the street.   Next, he sent the cyber-rat outside scurrying straight up the outside wall, about a yard inside the fire-break. It's metal claws dug into the cinder block, making for an easy ascent. The rat jumped onto the roof, and ran over to the front edge, where it could look down at the sailors from right over the front door. Then he cranked up the volume on the rat's external speaker, and piped his own voice from his head-phone comm-link to the remote. The result was that his voice appeared to be shouting on the rooftop. "Hey! You two morons! Why don't ya go back to your ship and swab the decks!" They looked up, searching for the source of the taunting voice. "Yeah, you! Ya been on KP so long ya got potato peels for brains." While they were distracted, Argus quickly pulled the door open, and attacked.   He lashed out with the back of his weighted left fist, catching the sailor with the sap squarely in the throat. The one with the iron bar yelled and smashed down at Argus with an overhead strike. Argus raised the manrikigusari, stretched taught, and caught the bar on the chain. He shoved back, hard. His hands came around both sides of the bar, catching the man on either side of his head with the steel weights in a stun blow. The sailor crumpled to the ground, out cold, the bar clattering on the concrete sidewalk.   As the second sailor fell, Argus saw in the Cyber-rat's overhead view that the other had recovered behind him. That sailor was raising his arm with the sap and preparing to coldcock Argus from behind. Without turning, Argus lashed out with the manrikigusari. He kept one end held tightly in his right fist, the other swinging rapidly in an arc towards his assailant. The free end of the chain caught his attacker's upraised wrist, wrapping around it three times. Argus turned rapidly to his right, and yanked hard, down and to the right, using his own momentum to add power to the move. The startled sailor yelped in pain, his right wrist almost broken, and staggered forward. Argus dropped the chain, and caught the falling sailor with an uppercut. As the man suddenly reversed direction, Argus grabbed the front of the man's shirt in his left fist, and slammed the sailor into the wall by the door. The chain slipped off the mans limp wrist, and fell to the sidewalk with a thud.   Argus said coldly to the beaten sailor "You're both friends of the guy they hauled out of here earlier, right?" The sailor nodded. Argus asked him "You bother to ask the docs on the ship what's wrong with him? Or did you just assume somebody aced him and light out after revenge?"   The sailor shook his head. "He looked dead, man. The guys that hauled him in weren't too clear on what happened, but they described you pretty well, an told us where it happined." Argus laughed. It had a bitter edge to it. "He was just -tranked- you idiot! He'll wake up in another hour or so, no worse for the experience except for a hell of a hangover. An the way he was putting away the beer before he tried to attack me, he woulda had that anyway."   A light slowly began to dawn in the mans eyes. "He . . . he attacked -you-?" Argus laughed again. "That's right, my man. I was just sitting at the bar, drinking a beer, and your pal, probably with too many beers in him, tried to jump me. So I tranked him. Ask Ratz, the bartender inside. He saw it all."   Argus's voice suddenly got an ice-cold edge to it. "It ain't nice to coldcock a man from behind, bucko. And it's damned -stupid- to try to set an ambush for someone you know nothing about." He drew his Aries Predator and aimed it right at the sailor's face. The half-inch muzzle must have looked a mile wide to the now very frightened man. "Now, I could just as easily have opened that door and killed both of you, while you were staring up at the damned roof. I knew you were there, and knew right where you were standing, before I ever touched the door. Think about that a minute." He put the gun away again. "There's mercs that hang out here that woulda done that without a second thought, just for fun. You understand what I'm sayin?"   The sailor managed to spit out a quiet "Yeah, I hear you. What the hell -are- you man? I never seen anybody move that fast. One minit yer on the roof, then yer in our laps an goin over us like a mag-lev train. Ya don't look like one o' them cyborg mercs, but ya move like one and act like ya got eyes in the back of yer head. I don't get it, man."   "You could say I'm an independent troubleshooter. Call me Argus. Know who Argus was bucko? Old Greek myth. Demigod with a hundred eyes, could see everything. I'm a Rigger, and my remotes see a hell of a lot. That voice on the roof was relayed through one of my remotes." He triggered the comm circuit again, and his voice drifted down from above. "So where am I, bucko?". He cut the circuit again. "Now, you tell your friends. I got no argument with them. But they hassle me or anyone with me, and they go down. They shoot at me, they go down -hard-, and maybe they don't get up again. Got that?" The sailor nodded. Argus held up the buck knife that had belonged to the sailor who attacked him in the bar. "You give this to your buddy back on the ship, with my complements. Tell him I don't kill somebody for one stupid attack. But if he wants to live very long, he'll have to get smarter about picking his fights." The sailor took the knife. Argus shoved him over to where his friend was groggily trying to get up. "Now, get out of my sight. Tell Ratz I owe you a beer, OK?"   The two sailors scuttled into the bar, and Shadowcat came out with their gear, and retrieved her belt. She had been watching from the open doorway. "That was an interesting workout. You always make new friends like that?" He laughed, and they headed for the parking garage where Argus had left his van. Argus left the two rat remotes at the Chatsubo, in evasion mode. They would hide in or near the bar, acting like real rats, and would evade any attempts to bother them until he needed them again. -------------------------------------------------------------- As Argus and Shadowcat left the Chatsubo, a Decker who had been eating lunch walked up to the bar and ordered another beer. He pocketed the scrap of red paper that was sitting with the remains of their lunch. After collecting his beer, he opened his deck and typed in a description of Argus and Shadowcat. Then he sent an e-mail memo to another Decker. It read, "Packet received by two targets. Female has contents of packet. Male appears to be hired bodyguard, maybe a rigger as well. He is armed and deceptively capable. Description of both attached. Neutralize the male target. Capture female, interrogate, and retrieve contents of packet." -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus led Shadowcat to the secured garage where he had left his van. The same attendant was on duty. Argus held up the parking stub, proof that he had a vehicle inside. The attendant opened the door and waived them inside the elevator.   Argus pressed the button for level D. They rode up in silence. The elevator door opened on the level he had parked on. He activated the remote link to his main rigger panel in the van, and ordered it to do another security sweep of the vehicle's systems as he approached. All clear. Then he started the engine with the remote starter. There were still no problems, so he stopped the engine and led Shadowcat to the van. He popped the locks remotely as they approached, and they got in through the side door, closing it after them and re-locking the doors. They tossed their topcoats into the back of the van as they got in. -------------------------------------------------------------- Down below, a car with a three occupants drove up to the attendant. The young man driving the car handed a slip of paper to him. "Have you seen these people?" he asked. "They are quite dangerous, and there is a reward for their location." The attendant read it, and said "Hai! Both of them! They just came in." He made an inquiry on his data terminal, and said "Level D, stall fourteen. Priority space. A Nissan-Plymouth minivan, dark green, no windows behind the driver's seat.". Then he wrote the license number of the van on the paper, handed it back to the driver. The man handed him the parking fee, plus two unregistered credsticks, certified for 100 nuYen each. The young man smiled, pocketed the bribe, and let them in.   The car drove up to level C, one floor below Argus and Shadowcat, and the men got out with three small satchels. They placed several small devices at the turn on level C where all exiting traffic had to go to descend to the next level. Then they returned to their vehicle and parked it half a level down, just within sight of the turn. They waited in silence. -------------------------------------------------------------- In the van, Shadowcat set up Argus's deck and slotted the first of the three vidchips. A holographic display over the deck showed them Aki, as he had appeared in the meeting at Virtually There. Argus muttered "Crafty bastard. That isn't what he really looks or sounds like. He isn't taking any chances on this vid being intercepted."   Aki addressed them. "Konnichiwa Argus-San, Shadowcat-San. My plan goes well, but not well enough. This vid may only be played once. It erases itself as you view it. My associates inform me that two of my intended victims may have eluded my trap last night, by sending subordinates in their places. Before you may collect your fee for your services, I require that you do one more small task. You must learn the identity of the four who died last night, so that I may know who lived. They should have been at the South Sound Megamall's Virtually There club. You will go there, and wherever else you must, get a positive ID on all four bodies, and report back to me within forty-eight hours."   "I anticipate that you will be reluctant to do this, so I provide incentive. The second vidchip is a copy of one that will be sent to Sony-VidTech's main office in forty-eight hours, if you have not by that time reported your findings to me. It is an unedited recording of the direct feed from Argus, during Shadowcat's run last night. They will no doubt be most interested to see that Miss Kimberly Lyons, formerly of their employ and presumed dead, is now alive and well in the Seattle Sprawl, playing at being a ronin named Shadowcat. Work against me, and I will destroy you."   "Yes, I know all about you, Miss Lyons. More than you may know about yourself. And I know a great deal about your sister, Valarie, who became Cherri Howe. But work -for- me, and I can be most generous. The third vidchip is something I think you will value. It is an edited version of the snuffstim in which Cherri Howe was killed. Do my bidding, and I will aid you in your revenge against those responsible for her death."   "You have forty-eight hours, starting at noon today." The holocube went dark. Shadowcat reset the vidchip and tried playing it again, but it was blank now.   Shadowcat hurriedly slotted the second vidchip. Sure enough, it was as Aki had claimed. The images were chaotic, but there was no mistaking her identity in the vid. If a copy of this got into her old corp's hands, they'd hunt her down for sure. None of the corps took kindly to contract jumpers. Especially when that employee was still working off a debt for expensive technical training, like she had been. She erased the incriminating vidchip.   She grabbed the third chip, and hesitated. Then she handed it to Argus. "Keep that for me, OK? I'm not sure I could handle watching it, right now." He took the chip, and tucked it into the storage bay in his combat deck. "Now what?" he said.   She looked over at him. "Lets get the hell out of here. Doesn't look like we have any choice now, does it?" Argus restarted the van and headed slowly for the exit. "He knows too much, you know. We have to get his files on you, or he'll never let go. He'll just keep holding that information over your head, to make you do anything he wants. You probably will never be safe until he's dead and those files are destroyed. We'll need allies that are just as powerful as he is, if we're going to get you out of this intact. And I'll be damned if I know where we can find someone like that, who won't be as bad as or worse than he is." -------------------------------------------------------------- The three ronin on the next floor down heard the van's engine start, and watched as the vehicle approached. As it rounded the corner, they put on industrial sound-deadening earmuffs. Then one of them threw a switch, and they all ducked -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus jacked in to the rigger controls of the van and moved out, while Shadowcat sat in the rear seat. His senses extended into the vehicle, which fed him information on fore and aft visuals in both visible light and infrared, as well as exterior sounds, a radio scanner, and other useful information. As he entered the turn into level C, the world literally -exploded- around him. Four large stun-grenades, the kind special forces operatives called -flash bangs-, went off as the van rolled into the turn. The concussion briefly lifted the van off its tires, and slammed its left side into a post. There was an almost unendurable burst of high-frequency noise, as RF jammers flooded his vehicle's sensor system with overload levels of data on all channels. The windshield and both side windows in the drivers cockpit shattered into a translucent sheet of tiny, rounded fragments, bulging inward against the tough skin of transparent polymers that coated both sides of the glass. The side windows of the cockpit gave way at the top, the glass flopping inward like a wet bath towel. Argus blacked out, overloaded by too much sensory input and the concussion of the blast.   Shadowcat, better protected by the steel walls and back of the van, and not subjected to the fierce sensory feedback the rigger was experiencing, was still dazed by the concussion. She could hardly move when three hooded figures rushed the van, shot off the lock and tore open the side door. They hauled her out, grabbed her duffel bag and Argus's satchel, and two of them took the bags and the stunned but protesting girl back to their car.   The remaining ronin ejected the vidchips and data disk from Argus's deck, pocketed them, and threw the deck back into the van. Then he fired several bursts from his autorifle into the van, shattering the rigger board and Cyberdeck. He pivoted the captain's chair that Argus was slumped in so the unconscious man was facing him, and fired another three round burst into his heart. He was preparing to fire a final burst at Argus's head to make sure of the job, when the sound of more gunfire made him turn towards his companions. -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat recovered her senses shortly after being removed from the van, but played possum until they had dragged her most of the way to their car. She had hoped to at least get the group of ronin spread out so they wouldn't all be able to attack her at once. When she heard the third ronin open fire back at the van, she new she had to act. She suddenly let her entire body go limp, throwing her weight on the man to her left. As she slipped out of the grasp of the startled ronin, she tore out the little Narcojet Lethe tranq pistol from its holster in her vest, rolled, and shot the ronin on her left. As he slumped to the ground, she rolled again, grabbed her duffel and the handgun he had dropped, and snapped off a quick shot at the other ronin that was close to her. Then she rolled again between two parked cars for cover.   The other ronin dived for cover, and her snap shot missed by a mile. But it also got the third ronin to quit firing into the van. Unfortunately, he started running toward -her- now with his autorifle aimed her direction. She reholstered the Narcojet, preferring the certainty of standard ammunition. If they were going to play for keeps, she -sure- as hell wasn't going to go easy on -them-. It looked like these bastards had just killed Argus, so she was on her own, now. Both of the remaining ronin were firing at her, and advancing slowly on her position.   She needed to do something drastic that would give her time to escape. She took out the two-shot pistol with the huge barrels that Argus had told her only to use in an emergency. Well, this sure the hell looked like an emergency to her. Each barrel held a 14 gauge shotgun shell with a 'special hand load' that he had prepared. He hadn't told her what it was loaded with, but had assured her the results would be 'devastating at close range'. He had also warned her it had a kick that could break her wrist if she wasn't ready for it.   She braced herself flat on the ground, with both hands on the little gun, and aimed under the trunk of the car she was hiding behind. She pointed the gun at the gas tank of the car that one of the ronin was hiding behind, about twenty-five feet away. She locked both wrists, braced herself, held her breath, and fired. The little gun went off with such a roar that she almost dropped it anyway. The hand-load in the shell was steel shot in liquid Teflon, encased in a plastic carrier. The carrier burst as it hit the gas tank, and the lubricated steel shot, intended to cut right through combat armor, went through the gas tank and the ronin behind it like cheap cardboard. Sparks from the steel pellets striking the concrete and the steel frame of the car set off the fuel in the car's tank with a massive explosion. She stared at the little gun, and carefully put it back in it's holster. Then she grabbed her duffel bag and the ronin's autopistol, and ran like hell for the exit. -------------------------------------------------------------- Text, all characters (especially Obaasan, Aki, Argus and Shadowcat), and the 'Virtually There' chain of simstim/VR clubs, all Copyright January 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 <> --------------------------------------------------------------   Well folks, there's part 6. Part 7 should be out in another two to three weeks, maybe sooner. What do you think? Any new comments?   Shadowcat

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