Part Ten: "Rebound"

29 Mar 93 06:45:58 GMT

Article: 1324 of alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Newsgroups: alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo Subject: Silk and Steel 10 Date: 29 Mar 93 06:45:58 GMT Lines: 480   Silk and Steel, Part Ten: "Rebound" Copyright March 1993 by Jay B. Brandt, all rights reserved   -------------------------------------------------------------- Argus revved the big Kurokinu San-zen commuter bike and took off into the night. He roared down the Northern expressway, back to the downtown Seattle core. Trying to track Shadowcat's minicam hair-clips to the warehouse complex had been a false lead, but at least it had not been a very effective trap. Argus couldn't quite figure out why. Why had the complex been so lightly guarded? It was as if somebody just wanted to buy some time by sending the minicams somewhere else. Maybe they just didn't think it likely that the minicams would be traced. Whatever the reason, the operation at the warehouse was an entirely different style from that of the people who had attacked him in the parking garage. Argus was fairly certain that the heavy-handed crew that had run that operation would have been prepared to play rough with anyone who followed those transmitters.   Argus needed more information. Skinny Willie, with his crew of kids, had eyes all over the downtown area. Maybe one of them saw what happened to Shadowcat. Or he might be able to help Argus determine who owned that warehouse. At any rate, he needed a safe place to stay for the night and to plan his next moves, and Willie could provide that. He pulled off the expressway into downtown, and kicked the cycle into its quiet electric mode. There were very few other cars on the street, and none were going the same way he was. He was fairly certain no one was following him. He pulled off into Willie's alley.   There was no sign of any guard on Willie's fire escape. At night Willie preferred to use remotes to guard the door. Besides, it gave his crew a chance to test the combat robots on live targets now and then. The sides of the service road were cluttered with crates, barrels and dumpsters, serving the various residents of this block. He pulled the cycle up next to a reinforced steel garage door, and parked it. The door he had used to enter Willie's place earlier was to the right of it. He stepped up to knock on the door.   As he reached out his hand, he suddenly saw the red firefly dot of a laser sight appear on the back of his right hand. Argus ducked, rolled to one side, and whipped out his Predator handgun, searching for the sniper. He was alone in the alley. There was no one on the rooftops, and no windows positioned where anyone could have tagged him like that. He stepped up to the door again and waved his hand in front of the door. There was no sign of the red light. He primed his reflexes to maximum wired response, and reached up to knock again. The red dot reappeared on his hand, and he whirled in place. Still he almost missed the movement on the other side of the service road, as the lid of one of the barrels lowered silently back into place.   He walked up to the barrel and rapped on its lid with his fist. "Gotcha made rigger! Name's Schitz. I got biz with Skinny Willie."   The lid on the barrel raised an inch, and two gun barrels, a vidcam lens, and a laser sight peeked out of the slit. A young male voice with a Haitian accent spoke from the remote, echoing slightly in the steel drum. "Damn, but you be fast! You got any idea what time it is mon? De boss he be sleepin, an it better be good biz fo me to wake him now."   Argus chuckled. "Biz is biz. I won't keep him up late. Get him to let me in, and there's an extra 50 creds in it for you if you keep an eye on my bike for me tonight. I'll be here till dawn at least."   There was a pause, and the door across the road opened. A fifteen year old Haitian boy looked out, and waived to him. "He say you be cool mon. Come on in, an do your biz." -------------------------------------------------------------- Shadowcat was living a nightmare. She couldn't see, hear or touch anything, but felt naked and exposed. She could breathe easily, but felt as if she was floating in a warm, dark, thick oil, while little fishes intermittently nibbled at her, or swam nearby. The cool fish touched her body all over, even inside her mouth and in her more intimate recesses. They seemed particularly fond of swimming close to her head. It tickled when they touched her.   The silence was shattered by a loud explosion. Sharp barking sounds like a string of firecrackers filled the air. She wanted to cover her ears, but she couldn't move. There were three more explosions, closely spaced, and her ears felt like they would burst. Then silence again. Silence, and a faint ringing in her ears.   Twice, without warning, the darkness was split by intense, blinding beams of light, which stabbed into her eyes. She tried to scream, and nothing happened. She was helpless to stop it. Her eyes seemed stuck wide open, and her body would not respond to any attempt to move. She just floated listlessly, weightless, her body and limbs moving in response to unseen currents in the viscous fluid that surrounded her.   Faint, muffled sounds slowly became audible in the fluid, but nothing she could identify. She tried to jack out, with no luck. She couldn't seem to access any of her cyberware mods, either. She could sense they were there, but her frantic commands to operate them went unanswered.   The fish came back, nibbling and occasionally biting at her body. She felt one by her neck, nudging her behind her right ear. Suddenly it bit her, hard, and the world shattered into a million tiny, sharp fragments.   Shadowcat awoke with a jolt. She was very groggy, and couldn't think clearly. She drew a shuddering breath. It was still dark, but not completely so, and she could move now. A bad dream. That's all it was. Just a really bad dream. She realized she was shivering, even though the room was warm. She was naked. A smooth, cool sensation rested against her bare skin. Silk. She was twisted up in silk bed sheets, slightly damp with her own sweat, and she was lying on a firm, slightly resilient surface. She tentatively moved to free her head, and was rewarded with a dim view of a small, darkened, windowless room. She was lying on or very close to the floor. Indirect lighting in recesses near the ceiling provided a very dim light, barely enough for her to see at all. She could just make out the dark shapes of two doors, with a crack of light visible beneath one of them. Faint music came from the other side of that door.   She did not see anything resembling a light switch on the walls. "More light please!" she said to the room, hoping there was a voice-activated room computer of the type standard in hotels and good apartments. There was no response. She stuck out a hand, groping near her to touch her surroundings. She was lying on a thin futon, which in turn was lying directly on the floor, without a Western-style bed frame. The floor was covered with tatami mats, in the traditional Japanese fashion. Taking a cue from her surroundings, she called out in Japanese for more light. "Motto dento kudasai!" The room light brightened to normal daytime levels. Apparently the room's computer was programmed to accept only Japanese commands. That would make sense if this room was what it appeared to be. She was apparently in a ryokan, a hotel specializing in traditional Japanese business accommodations. There were several such hotels in the Seattle Sprawl, and even several apartment complexes that catered to the traditionalist Japanese trade.   The room was small, about 6 by 9 feet, with three tatami mats covering the floor. There was a large mirror on one of the short walls, near the head of her futon. On the other short wall there was a large vidscreen and a control console for an entertainment system. She noted with some apprehension that it was a Sony VidTech unit, made by her former employer. But they were a popular brand, so she shrugged it off. The walls were plain, decorated with a few small, framed prints of Japanese landscapes. The two doors were in one of the long walls. The door closest to the mirror was open. Beyond it was a very small room containing a washbasin and a Japanese style toilet, which was level with the floor, had no seat, and had a flushing lever on the wall. That room had lit up also when she called for the lights. Except for her futon and bedding, the only other movable items in the room were a bright yellow silk kimono, neatly folded near the head of her futon, and a pair of clear plastic slippers near the door of the washroom.   OK, she probably was in a ryokan. The question was, how did she get here? And for that matter, where exactly -was- 'here'? She couldn't remember how or when she arrived. Argus must have brought her here last night. But she couldn't remember a thing since they had lunch together yesterday. At least she assumed it was yesterday. Everything was still so fuzzy. The only thing she was certain of at the moment was that she needed to use that washroom. She slipped out of the bed, gratefully put on the kimono and slippers, then squatted over the toilet. When she was done, she looked herself over in the mirror and tried to remember what had happened last night.   She hardly recognized herself. She was still wearing the pale makeup she had put on the day before to make herself look more like her sister, Cherri Howe. The makeup had smudged in several places, revealing her own more deeply tanned complexion. Her hair was short, straight and black, instead of her usual shoulder-length brown curls. She remembered with regret having cut and dyed it the day before. "Yuck! I can't wait for that to grow out again." she said to herself. "Well, at least I can easily change the color, if I can get my makeup kit back again. And my face is a mess. May as well wash it off completely."   She went back into the washroom and searched through the drawers in the washbasin cabinet. Most were empty, but the top one held a small washcloth, a hand towel, and an unmarked white packet containing a small bar of soap. She washed the remaining makeup off her face. As she washed her jaw, she noticed a small transdermal drug patch, on the underside of her jawbone on the left side. She removed the derm and looked at it, but couldn't tell what it was for. She threw it into the toilet and flushed it away. Her head slowly began to clear.   She noticed a slight twinge of pain in her right arm, and looked at it. There was a needle mark on the inside of her right elbow. It was sore and slightly bruised. Had she recently sold some of her blood? She couldn't recall having done so in quite some time. Not since the last blood drive at Sony VidTech. They had usually paid a nice bonus for donating to the arcology blood bank.   She reached up and touched her Cyberlink. Or rather, she tried to do so. There was some sort of short, stubby object jacked in. She tried to remove it. It wouldn't budge. She walked back into the main room and stood in front of the mirror. Holding her hair up away from the Cyberlink, which it just barely covered, she twisted her head and tried to see the object in the mirror. She couldn't see it very well, but it seemed to be a rounded black disk, completely covering her single Cyberlink jack. There was something silver on the surface of it. She felt at it with her fingertips. There was apparently a ring-shaped hole in the back of the disk, where she had seen the silver part. It felt as if it might be a keyhole for a cylindrical key.   Well, that explained why she couldn't use her head-phone or cellular modem. Someone had locked a neural restrainer on her Cyberlink. Corps sometimes used them on mnemonic couriers, to ensure security of the data they carried in their wetware. Until she got that damned thing removed, she wouldn't be able to jack in -or- use any of her internal communications wetware. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Argus never would have allowed anyone to put one of those contraptions on her.   Argus had arranged for her to receive the communications wetware before he extracted her from Sony VidTech's arcology. At that thought, memories of the attack in the parking garage came flooding back. "Argus! Oh no, Argus!" The last time she had seen him hadn't been at lunch. It was when they were attacked in the parking garage. She had never seen Argus get out of the van, but one of their attackers had been shooting into it. She sat heavily on the futon and started to cry, as the realization swept over her that Argus might well have died back there. She had been able to do nothing to stop it, and had done her best to escape. The fact that Argus himself had told her that was what she should do if they were attacked gave her little comfort. She suddenly felt very much alone.   When she regained her composure, Shadowcat went quietly to the other door and listened. She could hear music, and a couple indistinct voices speaking quietly. She went to the entertainment console and tried to access it, hoping to get some idea of where she was and how long she had been here. The console had power, but its controls were dead, apparently locked out elsewhere.   She went back and tried the door. To her surprise, it was unlocked. She looked around the room she was in, searching for anything she could use as a weapon. The only thing that was vaguely useful was the four-foot long, inch and a half wide silk sash that held her kimono closed. She slipped it out of the braided thread loops that held it at her waist, wrapped the sash around where it belonged, and retied it in a slip knot. Then she quietly opened the door and entered the next room.   She found herself in a slightly larger room, maybe twelve feet square. It too was decorated in a very traditional Japanese manner. Two male armed guards stood by a sliding shoji screen that formed one wall of the room. Both appeared to be Caucasian mercenaries, with extensive cyberware modifications. So much for trying to fight her way out of this place. The music was coming from the other side of the shoji screen, and Shadowcat realized now that the music was a classical Japanese concert. There were several other doors in the room, but the guards only seemed intent on preventing access to the large sliding shoji screen. The other doors probably led only to more small rooms like her own, which had access only to this room.   An attractive young woman wearing a pale green silk kimono was also in the room, sitting at a desk and watching a bank of twelve video monitors, while entering data on a computer workstation. The woman stood and addressed Shadowcat in Japanese. "Ah, you are up. You would like breakfast? Or perhaps a bath?" She paused and smiled. "We were informed that you speak excellent Japanese, so do not pretend otherwise. I must ask that you speak only Japanese here, as a courtesy to my employer. You do understand me?"   Shadowcat replied, in Japanese. "Yes, I understand. Where am I please? How did I get here please? Why am I here please? I take it I am not free to leave. Is this not so?"   The other woman frowned. "So many questions. You have questions, and so do we. You will get answers, when and if my employer chooses to give them. For now, you are our guest. If you behave well as a guest, you will be treated well. You may find it difficult to believe, but it is very much in your own best interests for you to be here, and to meet with my employer. You have at least one hour before my employer arrives. Plenty of time to relax and refresh yourself. Would you not like some breakfast? It has been some time since you last ate. I'm sure I can get our cook to make something for you."   Shadowcat had to admit to herself that she -was- feeling quite hungry. "It seems I have few choices at the moment. Yes, I will have some breakfast, thank you. How long must I stay here? Will my clothes and other things be returned to me? I take it you are my hostess while I am here. What should I call you?"   The other woman smiled again, and made an entry on the computer. "Your breakfast will arrive momentarily, and your clothing will be returned to you before my employer arrives. As to your other things, and when you may leave us, that my employer will decide. As for myself, you may call me Hatsuko. I will see to your needs while you are with us."   Hatsuko looked at Shadowcat in an appraising manner. "And what should I call you? You were carrying an identity card for a Catherine Black, of North Seattle. But we have already determined that there is no such person. We know that in Seattle you have also used the street name 'Shadowcat'. If you lived in Japan for any length of time, which we believe you have from your fluency with Japanese, you no doubt adopted at least one native name while there. Must I use one of those foreign names that we know so far, or will you be polite and tell me your Japanese name?"   Shadowcat didn't want to aggravate the woman, but wasn't about to reveal her full identity, either. Not without knowing more about what was going on. She recalled the name her childhood friends in Japan had called her. It was a common enough name, so she gave that. "It seems you know a great deal about me Hatsuko-san. You may call me Kimiko. Would you please convey to your employer that it is urgent that I be released as soon as our business is concluded? I have unfinished business to attend to, which must be done today, or tomorrow at the very latest. Please, it is very important to me."   Hatsuko smiled. "Kimiko? A nice name. I will convey your message to my employer, who will decide what is to be done. That is all I can promise at this time."   There was a gentle tapping on the shoji screen, and one of the mercenaries opened it enough to take a covered tray from a very young woman on the other side. He closed the screen, and lifted the cover to inspect the meal before he handed the tray to Shadowcat. "Your meal, Kimiko-San. You may eat it here, or in your room, as you choose."   Shadowcat took the tray and headed back to her room. "Thank you." She turned to Hatsuko. "Hatsuko-San, may I use the entertainment console in my room please? I would like to watch the news while I eat."   Hatsuko made another entry on the computer console. "This is acceptable Kimiko-San. I have authorized access to a limited number of recent Seattle news programs. All have been pre-recorded, with the audio available in English or Japanese. All other functions will be locked out. Watch what you like. We will summon you when my employer arrives."   "Thank you Hatsuko-san." said Shadowcat, as she went back to her room with her tray. She shut the door behind her. She noted that her cup, plate, knife, spoon and fork were all weak plastic disposables, useless as weapons. The meal was good, but nondescript. A couple flavored rice cakes, sliced fruit, a croissant, some sort of jam or preserves, a cup of hot tea, and a glass of fruit juice. Except for the fact that the fruit and croissant seemed to be fresh, it was the sort of thing room service at any business class hotel could provide at any hour. She wolfed it all down, and was looking for more. She was -really- hungry, and was wondering if she could get them to bring her some -serious- food. All she'd had to eat yesterday was the sandwich and beer at the bar when she'd had lunch with Argus, and it just hadn't stayed with her at all. Then again, what she could remember of the past few days had been rather strenuous.   The entertainment console activated with a touch on the control remote. The computer listed twelve possible programs. Shadowcat selected the most recent program, which should be the evening news for the day she and Argus were attacked. The screen came to life as the nearly realistic, computer generated hostess of the hypervideo production introduced the program. "Hi folks! Welcome to Seattle's own 10:00 evening FlashNews, for Wednesday, November 13, 2070, sponsored by Hostility Hotline. Remember, when you see a violent crime, call Hostility Hotline! Dial 999 from any phone, and -you- can do your part as a concerned citizen to crush the forces that threaten your security." The talking head listed the 'current' headline stories, giving just a short synopsis of each one, as the title of the story and an identifying number appeared in a list to one side of the screen.   If Shadowcat chose to do so, she could key in the ID number of any given story, and jump right to that article. During any article, she would normally even be able to access hypervideo links to public databases of related information, so she could gain an expanded understanding of the topic. But with Hatsuko restricting the newsfeed from her console, Shadowcat suspected the only links she would be able to make would be within the selected hypervideo news programs themselves, connecting related stories. She just let the news program run. Without outside input, it would just play through all the stories in the program.   The lead story was about a terrorist attempt to blow up a corporate sub orbital shuttle flight to Japan. Spaceport security had more than the usual amount of difficulty in bringing the madman down, because he had somehow infiltrated their security construct in the Matrix, and was using their own combat security drones against them. The shuttle was launched with only minor damage and no loss of life, but three private aircraft were downed or destroyed, as well as four security vehicles. There were 18 fatalities and 30 injuries reported. The confrontation ended when one 'heroic' security officer rammed his burning armored vehicle into a fuel truck that was near the terrorist, killing both of them when it exploded into flames.   The next story was about several unexplained deaths in the South Sprawl Megamall, at the Virtually There franchise. Four clients and two employees had died at the site, of 'unknown causes'. Police were investigating, but as yet had no clues as to the reason for the deaths. They declined to comment on what killed the people, but claimed the danger was over, and that the franchise could safely re-open. There were two related stories indicated in this program.   Shadowcat selected them to view next. In one, it was reported that a Virtually There employee, who had disappeared just before the incident this morning, had been found face down in the Seattle Sound, with his throat slashed. Police were tentatively listing it as a common mugging. In the other story, the girl from the front booth at Virtually There, who had been hospitalized, had disappeared from the hospital shortly before a police detective was to arrive to question her. The two police guards on the girl's room reported they had both been overpowered by an 'unseen assailant'. No one saw anyone enter or leave the girl's room, and the hospital security scanners all showed normal hallway traffic. Apparently someone had patched in a vid loop of earlier scenes into the camera feed, while the attack took place. Police were said to be investigating, but offered no further information.   Shadowcat went back to the main headlines. The next story was about a terrorist attack in downtown Seattle. She listened in growing shock as the smiling, emotionless, computer generated spokeswoman announced the story.   "Police are searching for a female terrorist, identity and affiliations unknown, believed to be responsible for two deaths and severe damages to several vehicles in a downtown Seattle parking garage around mid-day today. The suspect is described by a witness at the scene as a Caucasian female in her mid twenties, with long blonde hair, standing about five feet six inches tall, and wearing a long, tan raincoat or duster and a wide-brimmed tan hat. Police have released this composite vidpic of the suspect." The screen was filled with a fair approximation of Shadowcat's own face, made up as Cherri, with the long blonde wig and the hat she had been wearing when she had entered the parking garage with Argus. The voice on the screen continued. "She is believed to be heavily armed, with conventional firearms and possibly also explosives. If you see this woman, do -not- attempt to approach her. Report all sightings to the Hostility Hotline, by dialing 999 on any vidphone or comset. We now go to our on the scene reporter, Tina Ferrar, with her report."   The scene changed to one within the parking garage, with garish floodlights illuminating the crumpled, burned out van behind the young female reporter. "The intended target of this afternoon's attack was apparently the driver of this van. He was an unidentified man who was seen entering the garage with the female suspect, possibly at gunpoint, shortly before the savage attack. As you can see behind me, the van he was driving is now little more than a burned out shell. The vehicle and its lone occupant were attacked with explosives and savagely raked with gunfire, then set on fire and left to burn. The coroner has already removed the bodies, but we are told that one body was found shot to death and burned beyond recognition in the driver's seat of the van." The camera panned to show the other damaged car, which was being prepared to tow away. "The other victim was lying between this car and another one, further down, toward the elevator. He apparently exchanged gunfire with the terrorist, and died as a result. He has not been identified either. Police report that so far only seven organizations have claimed responsibility for this brutal and senseless attack, but that none of them appear to be credible so far. I'm Tina Ferrar, for Seattle FlashNews."   Shadowcat hardly heard the rest of the broadcast. She was in shock at the idea that -she- was being blamed for the attack, and that Argus was dead. The announcer was just finishing a story about a local street enforcer whose body had been found in a dumpster in East Sector, when she was jolted back to awareness by a repeated knocking at the door.   She called out that the person could enter, and a teenage Japanese girl came in, carrying a paper-wrapped bundle. The girl set the parcel by the door, and spoke to Shadowcat. "Kimiko-San, here are your clothes. Our employer will be here soon. Please to prepare yourself for the interview." The girl backed out of the room before Shadowcat could gather her wits enough to reply.   She shook her head and unwrapped the bundle. In it were her bra and panties, her black silk bodysuit, the wraparound yellow miniskirt, one white blouse and her yellow vest. All had been freshly laundered. Her black, flat-soled shoes were also in the packet. None of her other things had been returned, not even her makeup kit or any of her belts. She quickly changed into the clothes, and kept the belt from the kimono.   As soon as she was changed, the girl returned, again knocking politely at the door, as if she were an honored guest and not a prisoner. "Kimiko-San, It is time for your meeting. You will come with me please?" Shadowcat, still a bit dazed by the recent series of shocks, quietly followed her.   They went into the room where she had met Hatsuko, and one of the guards opened the shoji screen and escorted her into what appeared to be a -very- well-appointed executive office. One wall was dominated by a massive window, which backlit the person sitting behind a large desk in the middle of that wall. For a moment, her eyes were dazzled by the bright light, and Shadowcat could not clearly see the person at the desk or what lay outside the window.   When her eyes adjusted somewhat, Shadowcat stopped in mid stride and stared out the window, eyes widening in absolute terror. Then she crumpled to her knees, trembling and weeping rapidly in Japanese, "Yurushite kudasai! Yurushite kudasai!", literally 'Forgive me! Forgive me!', over and over as she held her face in her hands. For the view through the window was from a position high in the wall of a large arcology, looking straight into what was unmistakably a glorious sunrise over the Ginza district, in downtown Tokyo.   As she lay on the floor trembling uncontrollably, fearing for her life that she was about to face the wrath of the megacorporation that she had broken her contract with, Shadowcat felt a gentle hand touch her shoulder. As if from miles away, she heard an old woman's voice ask her in Japanese "Child, what -are- you babbling about?" Shadowcat looked up, and with some difficulty focused her crying eyes on the person who had addressed her. She whispered "Obaasan?" and fell over in a dead faint. -------------------------------------------------------------- Text, all characters (especially Obaasan, Aki, Argus and Shadowcat), and the 'Virtually There' chain of simstim/VR clubs, all Copyright March 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 10. Part 11 should be out in another one to two weeks. What do you think? Any new comments?   Shadowcat

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