Part eight: "Death and Deceptions"

8 Feb 93 03:47:45 GMT

Article: 1208 of alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Subject: Silk and Steel, part 8 Date: 8 Feb 93 03:47:45 GMT Lines: 499   Silk and Steel, Part eight: "Death and Deceptions" Copyright February 1993 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved   -------------------------------------------------------------- In the South Sprawl Megamall, the Virtually There franchise was closed for the day. Police investigators, forensics experts, and in-house security agents were crawling all over the place, and the owners refused to allow the store to re-open until the cause of the multiple deaths last night was determined. All the displays facing the mall and lobby were set to cycle messages indicating that the franchise was temporarily closed, citing 'technical problems', and indicating that all other franchise outlets were open and happy to serve, with a list of their locations. A small crowd of nosy reporters waited outside, counting bodybags and looking for a fresh scoop.   Detective Susan Isbell watched as the last of the bodies was being removed by the coroner. Six people had died here early this morning, one more was in critical condition, and one employee was completely missing. It was a puzzle with several pieces missing, the kind she liked to solve.   Four of the deaths had been clients sharing one VR suite, two men and two women. According to ID and other papers found on their bodies, all four were Japanese citizens, apparently working and living in the Seattle area. All appeared to be in their mid to late 60's. According to the initial forensics report, three of them were that old, but the fourth was in his mid 40's, and had been wearing makeup to make himself -look- to be the same age as his companions. The preliminary coroner's report indicated that all four had died of heart failure. All attempts to revive them had failed.   Perhaps they could have been involved in a simstim or VR sensorium that was just too intense for them to handle. There were supposed to be safeguards in place to prevent that, but an equipment failure -could- have allowed it, under the right circumstances. Or perhaps the four of them were accessing the Matrix and ran afoul of some Black Ice in cyberspace. She wouldn't know until she could get a court order to force Virtually There to reveal what the clients were using the VR suite for. So far, corp officials had declined to cooperate in that regard, citing client privacy rights.   Susan could understand why the corp was uneasy about cooperating. It would be -very- bad public relations if it turned out the clients died because Virtually There had somehow failed to safeguard them sufficiently. In fact, the manager of the store had stated that as his primary reason, and had tried to slip her a significant bribe to 'find some other cause' of the deaths. She had refused the bribe, but assured him she would look at -all- possibilities, and would not simply jump on his corp as the easy scapegoat.   Besides, there were other factors that pointed elsewhere. When the four clients started experiencing heart failure, an alarm went off in the technician's booth. One of the two technicians who was supposed to be on duty went to check on them. When he opened the door, he died too, as did the girl working as a sales clerk in the hardware boutique down the hall. Both of them were young and in perfect health. Both also died of heart attacks, and could not be revived.   The receptionist in the front booth also collapsed, but not before she could trigger an alarm. She was in critical condition at Medical South, but it looked as if she was going to recover. She should be ready to answer some questions this afternoon.   There was supposed to be another technician on duty. He was nowhere to be found, and no one could recall seeing him since the incident. The other clients had eventually had to let themselves out, when no one responded to requests for assistance. Susan had interviewed several of them, and let them go. All had been unaware of any problems, other than a lack of service when it was time for their sessions to end. One man had just kept playing in the VR sensorium. When he was revived, his biggest concern was weather or not he was going to be charged for the extra four hours.   And the four clients who died? All four were found to be heavily tattooed, in oriental motifs consistent with high ranking Yakuza members. If the 'Japanese Mafia' was involved in this somehow, this could prove to be a -very- interesting case. A very dangerous one, too, if the Yaks decided to take exception to the investigation. Susan noted she would have to be exceptionally careful in handling this one.   One of the forensics technicians ran up to Susan and grabbed her by the arm. "Detective Isbell! We think we found something. Come with me, please." He led her to the equipment room behind the VR boutique. "The manager mentioned that some work was being done in here on the climate control system. It was supposedly just routine maintenance. One of my women noticed that there was a panel in here on one of the ducts that was only held in place by two screws, instead of the eight that were supposed to hold it there. And that duct is the one that feeds air to the suite the four clients were in. Everything else in here is spotless, with nothing out of place, and no prints. We're just about to open it. Go ahead, Marcie. Lets see what we have."   The woman kneeling by the duct took out a screwdriver and carefully removed the top screw. When it was almost out, she took out a small tool with a hook on one end, and looped it into a screw hole on the panel. Then she removed the screw and used the hook tool to ease the panel to one side, pivoting it on the remaining screw. "Bingo!" she exclaimed. "Detective, take a look at this. There's a couple aerosol cans of solvent in here." She used a pair of tongs and carefully sealed each can in a plastic bag, and she smiled. "I'll bet the team in the lab can get something off these."   "Good work, both of you. Get those to the lab immediately. And call me as soon as you have a lab report." Susan's personal comm unit bleeped at her. She unclipped it from her belt and answered it. "Isbell. Go ahead." She paused a moment, listening. "Terrorists in a parking garage? OK, I'll be right there." She clipped the comm unit back on her belt, and headed out to her patrol car. Just another busy day in the Sprawl. Just hope those reporters outside won't delay me -too- much. -------------------------------------------------------------- When Argus closed the service door to the parking garage behind him, he was in pitch darkness. He activated the infrared mode on the eyes of the damaged penetrator rat remote, which was still directly linked to his Cyberlink, and linked what the remote could see to his own vision. The warm steam pipes gave off more than enough passive infrared to clearly illuminate the tunnel. The low ceiling was densely covered with large pipes and electrical cables, with junction boxes, valves and meters on the walls at irregular intervals. Occasionally he would come across a locked steel service door, like the one he had entered the tunnel through. Less often, there was a ladder leading up to a manhole cover in the street. These manhole covers were all welded shut, or locked in place with heavy restraining bolts, for security.   He walked briskly down the service tunnel for what he guessed was about four blocks. Then he activated the map chip in his combat deck, and tried to get a fix on his own location. The little Navistar module in the deck indicated that he was about half a block from the safe-house Shadowcat had rented for last night's operation. That would be a safe place to go to plan his next moves, provided he could figure out a way to escape these blasted tunnels.   At the next ladder, he climbed up and inspected the cover. It was locked down with three restraining bolts. Argus tucked the remote back in his jacket, and extended a fiber-optic cable up through a hole in the cover. This manhole opened into the street, near the curb. There was a delivery truck parked overhead, but if he was careful, he should be able to get out. Unfortunately, the bolts were designed to be removed from above, using a special tool. Well, Argus had his own tool for opening the way. He took out the rat remote again, aimed three short bursts from the cutting laser in its tail, and clipped off the lugs that held the cover in place. The last burst was somewhat weak, and he had to try a second time before the last lug gave way. He checked through the link, and confirmed that the power pack in this remote was nearly exhausted.   He put the remote and fiber-optic cable away, and carefully lifted the manhole cover and slid it to one side. Then he crawled out and rolled over to the curbside. The sidewalk was rather crowded with office workers coming back from a late lunch, or going about various errands. They were all quite intent on their own business, and paid no attention to this man in workman's clothing, probably assuming he was simply working on the truck. Argus melted into the crowd, and a few moments later entered a nearby alley.   He walked through the narrow alley to the middle of the block, and turned right, down the service road that ran the length of the block, along the backsides of the buildings. He paused and tried calling Shadowcat again on the head-phone. It rang this time, but she didn't answer it. Either she was unconscious or asleep, then. It wouldn't be able to ring at all if she were dead, And if she were awake, she would have answered it. Or maybe not, if something was taking -all- her attention, like trying to evade capture. He shook his head and broke off the connection. Maybe she -hadn't- gotten away.   "Lookin' for somethin' chummer?" A girl's voice called to him, from the fire escape above. "I don't take too kindly to folks relieving themselves outside my window, so if that's what yer after, get lost! And no fast moves, hokay? Just keep your hands where I can see them." He looked up at her. She seemed to be an Asian/Hispanic mix, and was maybe sixteen. The Chinese rifle she was holding looked like it was much older. And it was aimed right at Argus's head.   Argus smiled, and kept his hands out to his sides. "No prob, little sister. I'm looking for a friend, actually. He calls himself Skinny Willie. You seen him? I got some biz if he's in."   She looked him over carefully, but didn't lower the weapon. "Depends. Who's asking?"   "Tell him it's his old chummer, Schitz. The rat man. Tell you what. You let me get something out of my jacket. It's a broken rigger remote. One he made. No tricks, no trouble. You just give him the remote, and he'll know it's me." Moving -very- slowly, he reached into his jacket and got out the penetrator remote. He popped open the maintenance port, so she could see it. "See, it's just a remote, and it's broken. You take it to him, hokay sister?"   She stared at it a moment, as if she was trying to look through it. "Hokay chummer. Toss it up here, I'll see if Willie's up yet." Argus did so, and she snatched it in mid air and darted inside.   A few minutes later there was a scraping sound, and the door on the ground level opened a crack. Argus moved to where he could be seen. The door opened wider, and a high-pitched man's voice came from inside. "Schitz! It -is- you! Get in here you old rascal, and tell me how this little fellah got so chewed up."   Argus stepped inside, and the door closed behind him. A small robot drone, about three feet high, was standing inside, with it's twin-camera head staring at him like a strange parody of a face. Where the nose belonged there was a gun barrel, and the head had a pair of floodlights for ears and a speaker grille for a mouth. The body was a featureless cylinder with tank-like treads, and had a recess in the top where the head could be withdrawn to for protection. There was a single manipulator arm mounted on the front. It looked like something a kid would cobble together for a high school robotics class. Argus chuckled. "Hey Willie, you still making toys like this out of scrap? I thought you went first-class some time ago."   The robot turned and rolled to an elevator at the other end of the room. Willie's voice came from it. "Very funny, Schitz. Not all of my customers can afford the top rate tech. There's still plenty to be made with so-called 'toys' like this remote. Come on up." Argus shook his head and followed the rather silly looking rigger remote into the elevator, for the ride up to the next floor.   When the door opened at the top, he was met by a cadaverous looking man in a powered wheelchair. Skinny Willie made a damned good living designing, building, testing and repairing custom rigger remotes. He was one of the best. He found it satisfying, and was a much happier person than many people Argus knew. He was only 40 or so, but looked much older. His stick-thin arms were quietly folded in his lap, and seldom moved at all. A blanket covered legs Argus knew were just as thin. If Willie weighed more than 60 pounds, it was a miracle. Years ago, Argus had asked Willie why he never got cyberware replacements for his wasted limbs. Willie had just laughed, and said 'the meat' wasn't important, so long as it served to keep his brain alive. And it did that just fine. He had plenty of strong, healthy bodies. His remotes. Besides, his torso wasn't much better off than his arms and legs, and he didn't want to become mostly machine. He could always link to a new remote. Replacing damaged or defective cyberware was a lot more delicate. The risk wasn't worth it to him. He never went out, except as one of his remotes. In the apartment and workshop, he pretty much lived in the custom chair he was in now, A pair of very advanced manipulator arms mounted to the back of the chair were wired directly to a Cyberlink on Willie's head. One arm held Argus's dead remote. The other held a can of beer with a straw in it, from which he was drinking. "Ah, Schitz! So good to see you!" He put the rat remote in his lap, and held out a manipulator to shake Argus's hand.   Argus Shook hands with the manipulator without hesitation. "It's good to see you too, Willie." he said quietly. "But I'm afraid this isn't a social call. Look, I need to drop off two damaged remotes. The one I gave your young friend, and one more, here." He reached into his jacket and set the other remote gently in Willie's lap. "You remember my associate? The girl that used your safe-room last night? Somebody just hit the van we were in with an RF mine and several flash-bang concussion grenades. These little guys were outside my van when we got hit. The attack scragged the van, so you can imagine what they went through. Do what you can to fix 'em up. Our usual terms. And no rush. I have several others, and have some unfinished biz to take care of."   "Sure Schitz, anything else? I got a great new water remote. Looks just like a harbor seal. Swims real fast, and can maneuver on land if needed. It's even got a cargo bay in it's belly big enough for at least four of your rat remotes."   Argus laughed. "Maybe next time. No, the only other thing I need is to use your safe-room again. The same one my associate used last night. We got separated in the fight, and I think one of the mercs that hit us took her with them. Maybe an hour, two max, then I'll be gone. That OK?"   "Sure, sure. You know the rates. Maria?" The girl who had greeted Argus with the rifle scooted in. Willie handed her the rat remotes. "Put these on my workbench child. And Schitz here's gonna use the safe-room for a few hours." She nodded and walked out with the remotes. Willie looked back at Argus. "I'll probably have the rats done by tomorrow morning. You want them dropped somewhere, or should I just activate them and leave 'em downstairs, so you can call them yourself if needed."   "Just activate 'em. I'll probably just come by and get them personally, but the way this biz is going down, I don't know. By the way, sweet helper you got there. You still taking in street kids? One of these days you're gonna get one that'll turn on you."   It was Willie's turn to laugh. "Oh, I know it. But hey, if old Paul hadn't taken -me- in as a kid, I never woulda lasted -this- long. I got ten kids now that help me with my work. Four of them look like they got the makings of first-class rigger techs. Maria there, she's my newest. We're like family, and we watch out for each other. Don't worry about me chummer, I'll be just fine."   Argus smiled. "Gotcha Willie. You just take care of yourself, OK? I'd hate like hell to have to find someone to replace you."   "I like you too, Schitz. Now get the hell outa here and get your associate's ass outa the fire, if you can. And bring her back sometime to meet me. I don't get enough company, you know that."   Argus took the elevator to the ground, and stepped back out into the alley. The door behind him closed with an audible click. He looked up at the fire escape, and waved at Maria, who was back on guard with her rifle. Then he headed down the alley a ways further to what looked like a burned out office complex. But inside, after passing through a few doorways, he got to a new steel door with an electronic lock and an advanced alarm system. He keyed in his personal security code, and went inside, setting the perimeter alarms so he would not be disturbed. -------------------------------------------------------------- Danny Li patted the satchel next to him in the car as his driver took him away from the parking garage. At least he wasn't coming out of this empty handed, like the last time. He may have lost the girl, but he had the contents of that bastard Aki's packet right here in the satchel, along with the data disk from the girl's Cyberdeck and what looked like some personal stuff from her mercenary pal. That oughta make Mr. Makoto happy. They could pick up the girl any time. She wouldn't be going anywhere until the cops were finished with her. The cops would find her, no matter where she was hiding in that building. He'd like to see her trying to talk them outa nailing her on a multiple-murder rap, for having aced both the merc she had been with and the one or two ronin from Danny's team that she -had- killed. He called his bosses office on his personal comm unit, and arranged for a meeting. "Yeah Lia? Danny. Tell Mr. Makoto I got Aki's packet. Yeah, I'm bringing it in right now. I scragged the merc that received that packet, and got a data disk from the Cyberdeck that belonged to the girl who was with him. Hung the rap on the skirt. Got some other stuff too. Yeah. Figure I'll be there in fifteen, maybe twenty minutes. Depends on traffic. Later babe." -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus jacked in his combat deck to the secure matrix access port in Willie's safe-room, and started to try to get a bearing on what the hell was going on. First he sent a signal to the two rat-remotes he had left at the Chatsubo, recalling them to this location.   Then he tried to get a better fix on Shadowcat. He tried the head-phone again. It rang about twenty times, but she didn't answer it. She must be out cold, wherever she was. So he tried accessing the remote minicams in the gold and ruby hair-clips she had worn for her combat gig last night. They responded, but he wasn't getting any video. He cranked up the passive infrared mode to max intensity. There was just a slight difference in illumination from one side of the image to the other. If she had placed them in a pocket, the side toward her body would be warm enough to glow. Hopefully, they were in her duffel, and the bag was still with her. He -was- getting something on audio. He cut the video feed, and cranked the volume to max pickup. There was the sound of a vehicle's motor, some music, possibly on the car radio, and occasionally a voice speaking in Japanese. He set the deck to triangulate on the signal while he tried to listen.   One voice, male, was speaking. < . . .was not seen leaving the building. The young lady you asked about almost gave us the slip. Whatever else she is, she's good at quick changes. If my partner had not been watching the roof, or if she had waited until she was in the next building to change her clothing and hair, she would have gone right by us. She's sleeping quietly now, and we have her duffel bag as well.> There was a pause, as if waiting for someone else to speak, <Yes. I will take her to you. No, she does not appear to have been injured.> Another pause. <Yes. I saw at least six of his men there. I recognized one of his street enforcers, Danny Li. Apparently Danny is trying to move up from shaking down store owners to kidnapping. Your pardon, but he is still just an ineffective punk.> Pause. <Yes. I understand.> The voice stopped speaking, and Argus heard the car phone handset being hung up.   The triangulation indicated that she was still moving, and that she was heading into the North sector of the Sprawl. A fairly nice neighborhood. Argus left the audio channel open, and set the deck to alert him when the trace stopped moving.   Next he tried to locate his satchel. If the satchel was with Shadowcat, he might be able to help her from here. There was another of his rat remotes in that bag, tucked under his clothing and other personal gear, along with some extra ammunition and tools. There was also a remote controlled color printer in a hidden compartment in the base of the satchel, which he occasionally used to forge documents when on a run. He activated the rat remote, and listened carefully. He heard the sound of a different vehicle, no radio, and a voice making a phone call in English, with a Japanese accent. He listened carefully to Danny's report. So, this must be the jerk the other voice spoke of, this enforcer called Danny who had been part of the team that attacked the van. And he said he had the packet and a disk? Hmmmm.   Argus checked the triangulation on this signal. It was in a different part of town, heading East along the highway. He activated the IR floodlight in the rat's tail, and climbed out of the stacked clothing. On top of the pile, the remote found two vidchips and a data disk. He looked at the disk, and chuckled. It was from -Argus's- deck, not Shadowcat's. Danny boy must have assumed that Argus was only a rigger, so naturally the deck must belong to the girl, right? And he apparently thought Argus was dead. Wrong on both counts, Danny. But Argus still didn't want him to have that disk. He took the disk in the remote's mouth, and positioned it where it could grab the disk and escape if the chance presented itself, or where a few swift bites could destroy the disk if necessary.   Then Argus smiled broadly as a somewhat devious idea occurred to him. He had a scanned image of Aki's signature and seal somewhere on file. He located it. Then he got busy with a word processing program. When the document was ready, he sent it to the printer in the satchel. The fast-drying dye-sublimation printer silently extruded the paper into the top of the satchel, out of what appeared to be a pocket on the inner side of the bag. Then he carefully used the rat remote to fold up the paper into a fairly small packet, which he left in the top of the bag next to the vidchips. Then he got the rat ready to jump out with the disk. The triangulation fix had slowed to a stop, at some office buildings in the East Sector. He set the remote to activate when exposed to light, and powered down all it's systems to standby mode. Then he waited for Danny to open his 'surprise package'. -------------------------------------------------------------- Detective Isbel arrived at the parking garage as the bomb-squad left. The officer in charge of the emergency response team met her at the entrance. "Got a double header for you, detective Isbel. Two vehicles shot up and burned. Two dead bodies, both burned beyond recognition. Indications of a gun battle, with several explosive devices that appear to have damaged one of the vehicles. Found three abandoned weapons on the roof, two of which were almost fully loaded. An anonymous call reported this as an attack by a blonde female terrorist, but no one's claimed responsibility for this one yet. We made a thorough sweep of the building, and the only people we found were two Japanese 'businessmen' who claimed to have been parking their car on the top level when this hit. I interviewed the garage attendant, and he confirmed that a blonde woman went in there, and gave us a pretty good description. Said she went in hanging onto the arm of an unidentified man who had a vehicle inside, and she was carrying a medium sized duffel bag. But he never saw either of them leave. The man might be one of the two victims. Plates on the trashed van match the one that he parked here."   "My first guess is the girl came on to the guy, then led him into some sort of trap inside. Maybe it was a contract hit. As for the second victim, it appears to have been someone who tried to stop her, and got killed for his trouble. Go on up and take a look for yourself, detective. We left the bodies and vehicles right were we found them. All we did was put out the fires." Susan started to the elevators, and he called out "You'll have to use the elevator on the other side. That one's apparently out of order."   Susan turned around and went up in the other elevator. A young black man with a still video camera was taking pictures for the forensics department. The van was a burned-out shell. It would take them a while to determine the exact sequence of events, but it did look like this body might have been shot several times before the van was torched. It also looked like the van had been hit with explosives. The other vehicle was more intact. There was a body near the rear of the vehicle, and it looked as if something had caused the fuel tank to explode. Multiple small holes in the vehicle behind the victim looked sort of like a close-range shotgun blast, but there was something strange about the pattern of the holes that just wasn't right. Well, she'd leave that to the ballistics team to determine. From the position of the body, it looked like this person was fighting with someone on the side -away from- the van. That was curious. If this person was trying to stop an attack or an abduction, shouldn't he have been firing the other direction?   She called in a preliminary report, and continued to look for clues. -------------------------------------------------------------- Danny was waiting in the outer office for Mr. Makoto. He was beginning to have second thoughts about this. Maybe he should have checked the stuff he got, before setting up this meeting? Maybe it would be a good idea to look at what was in the bag right now, so he wouldn't look so unprepared.   Danny set the bag on the floor as the receptionist went into the oyabun's office. He opened the bag, and looked inside. A blur of gray fur came bursting out of the bag into his face, and he jumped back. "What the hell?" he shouted. He looked across the room to see a large gray rat running for the door on the other side. A rat with a computer disk in it's mouth! He scrambled to the doorway, but by the time he got there he could not see which way the vermin had run. He started to go look for it, when the receptionist said behind him "Danny? Mr., Makoto will see you now." Reluctantly, Danny turned and went back into the office. He picked up the satchel, and carried it in with him.   Mr. Makoto was in his late 50's and still looked like a football linebacker. He had been running the Yakuza's protection biz in Seattle for as long as Danny could remember. "Well, Danny, what have you got for me."   Danny coughed and tugged at his collar, which suddenly seemed two sizes too small. "Um, well sir, I got what's in here sir." he said as he set down the satchel on the huge desk. He looked around, and realized there was no chair for him to sit on. so he remained standing. "Um, I had a data disk too, But, well, there was this rat. I don't know how it got into the bag, sir. Um, maybe it crawled into it in the garage, er, I guess sir. Hey, Mister M, I know it sounds weird, but I wouldn't make up something like that, would I?"   "What are you trying to tell me Danny? You said you had a disk. Now you say you don't? You are telling me this 'rat' just happened to be in there, and just happened to take the disk?" Mr. Makoto shook his head sadly. "Tell me Danny, what else is in this bag?"   "Er, it should be the stuff from the packet that Aki sent to the bar. A couple vidchips. And some personal stuff from their van."   "And what is on these vidchips? Have you looked at them yet? Apparently you didn't look through the bag very well, if you missed something as large as a rat. And where are the people to whom this packet was delivered?"   "Er, no sir. I didn't look at any of it. I just got it and brought it straight here. The guy that got the packet was some sort of rigger. I killed him when we got the girl. But then the girl got away from us. The cops oughta have her now. They think she killed the guy, and one of my men, too."   Mr. Makoto sighed. "Very well. Wait outside while I view these." Danny left, and the oyabun picked up the vidchips and the folded piece of paper. He read the paper. It was a note from Aki to a person named Charline. In part, it said "Danny Li informs me that Makoto escaped our trap last night. He will allow you to escape, and will let you into Makoto's HQ later for another attempt." It was signed with Aki's signature and seal. He placed the vidchips into a reader built into his desk. Both were blank. Mr. Makoto quietly placed a phone call. "Diana? Danny Li has proven untrustworthy. Dispose of him." -------------------------------------------------------------- Text, all characters (especially Obaasan, Aki, Argus and Shadowcat), and the 'Virtually There' chain of simstim/VR clubs, all Copyright February 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 8. Part 9 should be out in another one to two weeks. What do you think? Any new comments?   Shadowcat

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