Coke and Whores
Another hot stuffy day in Neon City, aircon down again and the apartment's shade did nothing to prevent waves of midday heat pounding down. I half-sat, half-sprawled on my futon, movements kept to a minimum, sipping away at cans of Kaia Cola, praying my supply would hold out until the rain came and listening to the growing arguments in the high rise. Rising temperatures meant rising tempers.
Then my Jinonghua began pinging, calling was Ashaglaya Lova, working girl and former puppet of the Russian mob. Her boyfriend/pimp Rostii Biniva had turned up dead recently and she'd been cut loose. Since then she'd managed to find gainful employment in the role of a Party Favour at a business promisingly called Coke & Whores.
Listening to Ashaglaya's voice, it was an octave too high and she was speaking a touch too fast, clear indicators of stress, something was worrying her. She told me that a friend, Valaya Dova had turned up dead, supposedly fallen to her death after getting drunk. Ashaglaya didn't believe a word of it, convinced it was murder and that she was next! I got her to calm down and tell me more.
Valaya had also been employed as a Party Favour for Coke & Whores, last night the two of them had been working the Goji Tower. It was a big party on the hundredth-and-fifty-sixth floor. Ashaglaya told me, a lot of important people - including Goji Rokkaku himself were there.
During the night Valaya had dragged Ashaglaya into the women's toilets to tell her something; she thought it was some kind of gossip but Valaya said had seen something strange in one of the side-rooms attached to a bedroom she was working that didn't make sense, Valaya said she was going back to have another look. It was the last time that Ashaglaya would see her friend, the next morning Valaya had turned up dead three districts over from the Goji Tower. Ashaglaya didn't feel safe, so I told her come over to my one-bed in Hikage Street while I went and checked things out.
Two strange encounters in Goji Tower in a short time? Not a coincidence, not in Neon City.
Time to investigate the remains of Valaya Dova.
Unless you were a member of the ultra-rich set, Neon City had no space and in fact no time for burials, Valaya's remains would soon be off to the recycler, plenty of demand for healthy body parts and the City of Electric Dreams always got its pound of flesh or liver or pancreas or whatever in the end.
Finding the morgue with Valaya's body in Hikage Street was relatively easy, it was equally easy for Bill to talk us in to seeing it, despite the ineffectual protestations of the administrative staff.
Located on a basement level below a grotty, small and underfunded municipal community med-centre was the morgue, a modest complex of dull grey polished stone-floored rooms and corridors. Isolated from the bustle of Neon City, a cold and quiet place, unflatteringly lit by weak LED strips.
Other than us, only staff could be found shuffling around the corridors here, mostly in scrubs and going about their depressing work. We were led into the room containing Valaya's remains. Like some kind of morbid wallpaper, a grid of square doors entirely filled one wall of the room.
We were left to our own devices: The door to Valaya's tray opened with a low hiss, almost immediately the smell of vomit washed over us. It was not a good sign, it meant something bad was going down at Goji Tower.
The tray holding Valaya slid out of the wall smoothly. She had been a good looking girl in life, now she was another almost forgotten, pale and mangled icicle on a shelf in Neon City, it's what awaited all of us. A reminder of where our choices inevitably took us, either the high road into the rarefied heights of Neon City or the low road into some crappy morgue.
Her death certificate indicated that she had fallen to her death in a back alley close to somewhere called Clean Convenience Hotel on Chuo Street in the small hours of last night. We searched her remains for any evidence that suggested otherwise but came up with zero. Returning Valaya back into her temporary resting place, we headed off.
The scene of the crime
It was a short clattering tram ride to Chuo Street, we disembarked under the afternoon sun and ventured into the crowded maze of narrow alleys that stretched throughout the neighbourhood.
The oldest and lowest parts of Neon City tended to have been constructed of old-style brick. Buildings here typically rose no more than about ten stories, dwarfed by their younger, concrete cousins. Chuo street, being lower than most districts, was no different. One such building was the hotel; the site of Valaya's plunge, found on the corner of an under-lit back alley.
Clean Convenience Hotel was six storeys high, entirely unremarkable and indistinguishable from half-a-dozen competitors that lined the alley, its brown-red brickwork barely discernible beneath an accumulated lifetime of dirt, grime and general pollution.
Straining my neck I looked up, squinting and shielding my eyes against the strangely angled shape of a cloudless blue-white sky masked by the encroaching silhouette of Neon City's soaring skyline. It seemed to us, with our layman's understanding, that Valaya's injuries were not consistent with the distance it was alleged she had fallen; six storeys was not high enough.
Valaya's body had been found near to the hotel's service entrance next to a fire escape, any physical evidence that could have lingered had been obliterated by Chuo Street's passing traffic. Rentacop didn't care enough to cordon it off, in fact they just didn't care at all.
The death certificate had also claimed that Valaya had struck a part of the fire escape during her fall; something to investigate.
The fire escape stairs were a steel construction of rails, bars and slats bolted to the hotel's exterior wall. We managed to pull down the ladder to ground level and went up. The steel frame clanged and creaked threateningly as we climbed.
We checked the railings, black paint was sporadically bubbling and flaking away, revealing naked stains of rust but there were no recent signs of any impact, nor was there any evidence of blood to be found on the fire escape. We kept climbing and checking, still nothing. Eventually we reached the top floor without any result.
Using his Ashirada climbing augments Trigger got on to the roof and hauled us up. It was a typical drab flat rooftop, dotted with some ancient straining aircon units and an old, half-filled water tower, half-filled because they all were nowadays.
Six storeys down and the back alley had become a distant thin erratically shadowed line that lost its way into the urbanised maze that was Chuo Street. Evidence of Valaya's demise had been reduced to a memory as an unending procession of pedestrians obliviously walked by.
Up on the roof it was different though, quickly we found something: Close to the top of the fire escape and directly above the site of Valaya's death the smell of vomit was faint but distinct, exposure had lessened but not eradicated it.
Looking further we found a thin oily film coating the rooftop and parapet too,the same stuff from Hida Masu's apartment. Somehow Neon City's heat hadn't evaporated it nor had the rain washed it away. What was it?
Finally a significant amount of blood had congealed into a caked and dried brown stain on the rooftop here.
Searching more of the roof revealed nothing more.
In the hotel lobby half functional panel lights only provided dim illumination, it was as grubby and unkept as the exterior, decorated with threadbare carpets, peeling, faded wallpaper and dusty fixtures. A receptionist lounged behind a faux stained-oak counter and some questioning revealed that he had found Valaya's body at the end of his graveyard shift.
Holding one hand outstretched, the receptionist told us that he had found the event very traumatising, too traumatising to talk about in fact. Luckily over the years Neon City had developed several cures for managing traumatic memories, in this particular case a handful of bits.
It was effective, the receptionist seemed happy to talk now.
He told us that when he had found Valaya, she had been naked with a smell of vomit coming off her, he told us there was nothing else strange. Finally he said that he had taken some photos for personal reference. After some quick convincing he pinged us copies. We checked them out, they showed the twisted and crumpled body of Valaya, we noticed that there was practically no blood on the street around her.
The evidence was looking clear. Valaya had been murdered by those creatures and it had taken place on the roof. after she had been killed her remains callously tossed off. Ashaglaya had been right to be suspicious. The creatures likely originated from Goji Tower, this would need further investigation.
Before we had a chance to discuss our next move, my media-slab pinged again; Ashaglaya. She had absconded to my one-bed but something was up; I answered, Ashaglaya told me that a woman called Lucy had come in and was glaring at her, Ashaglaya said it made her nervous.
I should never have given Lucy a key-card to my one-bed!
Ashaglaya also said that a dog from Dog & Bone Messaging had arrived and was waiting for me. I told here that we would be over soon.
It was a short tram ride over to Hikage Street and soon we were at my apartment. Ashaglaya was looking nervous, Lucy was looking furious and a dog was looking expectant.
The dog messenger delivered his message to me, it was a name; Xylona Alder, someone we'd helped before and her number.
I cooled Lucy down, I told her "It's not what it lookes like."
I could see her eyes move from Ashaglaya to me and back as she internally calculated whether to believe me or not. Having Ashaglaya in my apartment did look pretty bad but it's not like we'd been caught red handed in a tryst.
After a few moments Lucy looked at me and hesitatingly said. "I suppose so..."
"Good!" I said quickly, putting my hand on her back. "You go home babe, this is all a work related thing I need to sort out. I'll speak to you later," with that I nudged her out of the door and shut it quickly!
I pinged Xylona's number, it was answered by Toby, her bio-engineered and uplifted pet dog.
Toby told us that Xylona had gone to Sky Dinosaurian Square on a date with her new boyfriend and hadn't returned, He was (hungry) worried. He had good reason to be, this new boyfriend was an unknown quantity and could represent a serious risk.
Daron was the boyfriend's name, Toby informed us, he worked in the library at The Skyscraper District which is where Xylona had met him. Realising that we were calling on an archaic old landline, we got Toby to give us her media-slab's number. We got no answer from it.
We had an idea on how to trace the slab though and I jacked into the GLOWNET. Sensory telemetry streamed in, overriding material chemical receptors and flooding my consciousness with a multitude of data-rushes, I watched info-vistas cohere into polyhedral struts of multicoloured light as Neon City's unstable endlessly mutating data-topography filled my view.
I ran a hunter/search algorithm, arming it with whatever information we had on Xylona's media-slab and got some of hits back. Sifting through the results I found the encoded data-feed her slab routinely pushed out to the GLOWNET. I put the data through a decrypter protocol and checked the results: It showed the media-slab was currently located close to the Sky Dinosaurian Square tram stop.
Dawn of the Day of the Zombie Apocalypse Fright Night Jamboree
Sky Dinosaurian Square was a short trip away but lacked a direct tram route from the Skyscraper District, instead we had to ride the Sunshine City Metro Link. Originally conceived as Neon City's main form of public transit, the underground train network had its scope seriously pared back by a funding scandal, as a result significant portions of the city did not join the metro link.
Metro link trains were one of the few public services adequately maintained and still rode quietly and smoothly despite their age, they even remained hermetically sealed against Neon City's inhospitable climate. It would have made our trip a pleasant one but nothing be could be done about the overcrowding. The end of the working day was approaching, wage-monkeys and commuters were cramming in.
Eventually though the doors slid open with a hiss. We escaped the crush of the metro link right into the crush of Sky Dinosaurian Square Station.
The theme park was busy. Blaring, inane attraction jingles drowned out the rumbling crowds of people emptying into the park and being drawn almost moth-like to the brightly decorated rides We allowed ourselves to be pulled out of the station with them. My data-slab was still tracking Xylona's media-slab and it led us the short distance to a first-aid station beneath the steel latticework of an elevated tram stop.
Staff in cheerful theme park uniforms manning the station hadn't seen Xylona. I double checked the signal, it was definitely coming from inside.
Bill spoke with one of the first-aiders, explaining that we were part of the municipal safety committee, here for a spot check. It was convincing enough.
Inside the station it was the antithesis of the exterior with an exposed grey concrete floor and unpainted walls. A couple of small cramped rooms were here, one was a supply room for the first-aid station, the other contained an assortment random items and personal effects, clothes, media-slabs, bags and the like.
That's where we uncovered Xylona's phone.
A staff member told us the second room was a lost and found room,.
"Nina bought it in," said the staff member when we showed them Xylona's media-slab.
Nina Chinova; a cleaner who worked the attraction; Dawn of the Day of the Zombie Apocalypse Fright Night Jamboree. First-aiders told us that she had come in with the media-slab and injuries to treat, notably some burns.
Wending through the drifting visitors we eventually got to the zombie attraction, its exterior decoration an eclectic mix of grimdark imagery and happy colours schemes. After asking around we found Nina Chinova; a heavy woman approaching middle years, we saw she had been treated for burns and a wrist support was wrapped around one forearm.
Nina told us that she had witnessed a very tall man kidnapping two people. She had spotted him exiting the zombie attraction through the western service access door carrying them.
The tall man turned to face Nina when he realised she had seen him, his eyes "Grew red and beams shot out of them", Nina was burnt by the blast and felt terrified but instead of fleeing she ignored the pain and charged in, tackling him! He was incredibly strong though, he shrugging her off like Neon City water droplets from a raincoat and sent her flying before escaping. Nina told us that during the brief tussle he had dropped a key card! She brandished it proudly like the gold medal for a hundred metre dash, we convinced her to hand it over to us and reluctantly, she did so.
Nina didn't mentioned it but seemed disappointed at the loss of the key card, her proof of her attack, we said we could get it on the record and called D4-VID, he was happy to interview her and let her have her fifteen minutes of fame.
Warm with Love
The key card was branded with Warm With Love Hotel, which turned out to be a hotel situated on Hikage Street.
It was back on the trams for a familiar shaky, crammed and creaking ride. Rush hour was in full swung now and even though few people in The City of Electric Dreams had anything like full-time employment, they still managed to pack out the trams.
Back on Hikage Street it was always busy; Hikage Street is the most populated district in Neon City and there's no forgeting it. Wage-monkeys were beginning to slouch back home in droves, the dissolute or unemployed wandered thoughtlessly looking for cheap thrills and the loitering youth got ready to hit the neon mile on Ninety-Ninth, all lit by a gold-orange nimbus of sunsetting light.
Warm With Love Hotel could be found at the southern end of Hikage Street, where the grey high-rises met The Pipes and the crowds actually thinned out as residential space began to give way to commercial usage. In the day's lengthening shadows the hotel looked low rent - even by Neon City standards. inside was no different, the key card told us which room it unlocked so we headed straight up.
The door we were looking for was as drab and anonymous as every other door here. Swiping the card, the door magnetically unlocked with a click. Pushing it open, we looked in with caution. The carpet was a fading brown and the walls were painted in a cheap beige colour. We could see some sort of collection of electronics on a dresser. As the door swung further we saw three unmoving children sprawled ungainly across a drab hotel bed.
Trigger's thermals indicated that only the children were in the rooms. a physical sweep ensured the room was all clear.
They were street kids in their tattered, dirty, badly-fitting clothes. Not yet teenagers, they looked unharmed and a quick check confirmed that they were only unconscious.
Koko checked the electronic gear on the dresser. It was a hotchpotch of elaborate micro-electronic repair kits, she told us it looked like they had come from some sophisticated cybernetics. Crumpled by the dresser was a Bric-a-Brac Shac bag, someone had been shopping locally, Bric-a-Brac Shac was only a short walk away from here.
We were able to rouse the kids with some basic stims, they came to with confused, fearful looks, street-rat eyes darting for possible ways out. We calmed them down, they seemed less agitated and composed enough to question.
All of them were homeless orphans living on Hikage Street, an anonymous part of its transient population, those who slipped though the social net and were forgotten or more likely ignored.
None of them had any recollection of how they got to the hotel room, their last memories before blacking out were of being alone.
What did this tall man want with Xylona? Why was he targeting street rats on Hikage Street, what did he need them for?
All's well that ends well
It was a long shot but we checked who the room was registered to anyway. Joe Smith, not much to go on if it was even real.
Koko had an idea; contact Alex Chinsko - owner of Bric-a-Brac Shac. She pinged him at his shop and gave him a description of the gear she had in front of her. We got lucky, Alex recognised the tech, told us he'd sold it to a tall man yesterday. Alex didn't have any firm info on the man but he did send us some camera footage. The tall man was really tall, well over two metres was it implants? Before ending the call, Alex told us that the work on the Qiuonriji Yexingzhe SFS-70 night-flier we'd acquired was done and it was ready for collection.
Facial recog got a hit on the tall man: Joe Montero, a chromed-up mercenary with high spec military implants, some of which looked code-black. A stone killer with a lot of history under his belt, wanted for war crimes and atrocities committed during the Kashmir Emergency of '47. Most of his company had been killed during that infamous incident, only one known living associate remained: Daron Zavaleta.
I guess Daron hadn't always been a librarian. A check on him revealed that he was also a wanted war criminal, somehow he'd gone from from a bloody warzone to a library. Was it possible that Joe was searching out Daron, not Xylona?
After we had let the street rats go, we decided to stake the room out and took up position, if Joe came back, hopefully we'd get the drop on him. Several hours passed, the remaining day faded away into a black-red night, we could hear the near-torrential rainfall battering the room's dirt-encrusted window as we waited.
Our media-slabs pinged, Toby was on the line, Xylona had returned and he told us that both he and she were OK. Our ambush looked like a bust, Joe was smart enough to realise he needed to burn this hideout once he'd lost the key card. So we headed into the rainy night and back to The Skyscraper District to speak with Xylona.
Xylona explained that she had groggily woken up in an alley close to the International Rail Link Hub, without her media-slab she had no way of contacting anyone, so she walked her way back home.
Now Xylona was worried about Daron, during the zombie jamboree it seemed that he was having some sort of episode.
"He's a timid soul struggling to deal with issues from his past," Xylona elaborated. She told us that as they went to leave the jamboree everything went black, we knew that's when Joe had struck.
Since Xylona had woken up close to the international rail hub. it looked like Joe Montero was skipping town.
Jacking into the GLOWNET, it was simple to hack into the security cameras servers at the international rail hub. I instructed the Nonohiki to sift the recent recordings for anyone who had a height of two hundred and ten centimetres.
Joe Montero was quickly found on the footage, the cameras caught him catching a train out of Neon City carrying a massive holdall, big enough to carry a body. It looked like he had been hunting for Daron Zavelata after all.
Xylona was extremely upset at the fate of Daron, we decided to leave her in peace and head home for the night.
Daron might have been looking to get a fresh start to escape a past he regretted or maybe just looking for a place to hide from his crimes. In the end it never mattered, in Neon City your past had a habit of catching up with you.
Another sweltering day rolled around in Neon City with a blazing sun and big heat. Our next step we had decided, was to get into Goji Tower to investigate whatever was happening there.
We had an angle to get into the tower too; Rokkaku employee Hida Masu who had encountered strange creatures and feared for his life had turned to us for help. Now he could help us. He agreed to lend us his security pass, he worked on the thirty-ninth floor and his card would get us there.
At sixteen hundred hours we made our move, the delay had given us time to formulate a strategy. Using his disguise implants Bill infiltrated Goji Tower, once past the security door, the lobby had an air of almost subdued silence, Bill saw no rentaguards or corportate footsoldiers There seemed to be zero security presence and no visible camera setup either. His designer Oltrante shoes clicked as he crossed the impeccably polished marble floor and headed for the rows of elevators embedded in the beige coloured wall trimmed with chrome fixtures.
As expected, the elevators were set up in banks according to which floors they were restricted to, Bill could only go to the thirty-ninth storey with the security pass but it was good enough. The ride up to was smooth and quick, the elevator was unoccupied apart from Bill and Hida Masu's reflection in the mirror.
With a swish the elevator doors slid open on the thirty-ninth to a mostly open plan office, diffused panel lights gave the office a soft light and low partitions separated workers into semi-isolated cubicles, the working day was drawing to a close, only about one-third of the cubicles were filled with suited staff mostly hunched over desk-slabs.
It was relatively quiet with a low background murmur, no staff paid any attention to Bill crossing the room with instructions to head for a certain cubicle and sit down then log on to the Rokkaku system with Hida Masu's credentials.
Our original plan had called for Bill to call in some external facilities support for floor thirty-nine and we would come in as the support staff. This was a problem as all facilities were fully automated and Hida Masu lacked the privileges to override them, so we had to improvise.
Security had looked surprisingly lax when Bill had come in so after we had hastily discarded our anonymous grey boiler suits and donned an approximation of business suits, he was able to just swipe us in with Hida Masu's card.
The 39th floor
We soon realised during our search of the thirty-nith floor that itwas very much self-contained. There were breakout rooms with cushioned chairs, meeting rooms with smooth reflective tables, corner offices for execs, cafeterias, even a dormitory. Nowhere was off limits or seemed hidden and there was no evidence of anything strange or out-of-place.
A different approach was needed, physical searching had turned up nothing, I sat down in an empty corner cubicle, jacked into my Nonohiki and connected to their intranet system. It lacked the sensory interface of the GLOWNET, feeding only a static hierarchical structure overlay into my cognitive flow. I began by using a hacking protocol to probe the system's security settings, hoping to find the commands that would get us off floor thirty-nine. Rokkaku's internal security wasn't so strong and I started seeing a filename I recognised; Akumu Accord, Hira Masu had mentioned it to us.
I noticed something else, the directory change log stack had abruptly begun flowing at twice the rate from a second ago. Other activity somewhere deep in the intranet was causing it, some other independent process was active, another user?
I checked on this activity, without the GLOWNET's sensory input or its data-image algorithm, it looked just like code, still it was code I recognised: Black ICE, I'd encountered identical ICE at Executive Excess, designed to trace and attack any unlisted user it found in whatever system it was defending. I had no idea how it would interact with me in this intranet and what the consequences would be. Luckily I managed to exit the system before the ICE could affect my connection.
It was from the same coder, had to be Ghost Radical's code.
Something was happening? A moment of disorientation followed after I jacked out of my data-slab. I had barely recovered as seconds later we felt an intensifying rumble and then a grinding screech. The ceiling above split apart along multiple lines, flinging out clouds of fragmented debris and folding in on itself. Crashing through came a number of massive, thick, steel panels, slamming down and crushing anything and anyone beneath, several Rokkaku staff were caught unware and killed.
By the time the rumbling had ceased we were surrounded by an assortment of steel panels, they ran from ceiling to floor with no way over them.
A voice sprang out of a speaker system, harsh and electronic yet mocking, taunting us to escape the maze. A faint almost unnoticeable smell of vomit hung in the air - and was growing stronger, irritating music began blaring out of the speaker system. To the voice it was a game but to us a trap, a steel labyrinth haunted by oily, vomiting, eyeless minotaurs.
Dancing to another piper's tune is always a bad idea, particularly in this situation. We couldn't risk being mice in the maze, we had to swing the odds in our favour.
We had to take it sideways or in this instance, downwards.
Standing back, Bill instructed Roderick to blast the floor with his explosive fletchette rounds. The robot worked through an entire magazine breaking through layers of the floor until a portion of it collapsed in on itself downwards. Like the entrails of some artificial beast, exposed networking and power cabling dangled and swung gently in the hole as aircon chutes spilled out from the underfloor cavity.
The hole was big enough for us to slip through to floor thirty-eight. As we made our escape we heard the voice on the speaker complaining, hearing its indignation. Although everything seemed normal on the thirty-eighth, we didn't know if the labyrinth would extend down here, no time to delay, we didn't want to find out and needed an exit strategy.
Like the the floor above, this floor was about a third full of staff. They had been perturbed by the rumbling and thundering noise. We found the closest Rokkaku employee and snatched his security card. We would need it to get into the elevators.
We ran for it, successfully getting into an elevator and reaching the ground floor. With a chirpy ding the doors opened, from there we dashed for the main entrance, Hida Masu's card still worked and we were out.
Another risky incursion into a corporate tower successfully escaped! We had left with more questions than answers unfortunately and at some point we would probably need to return. Although it was also probably a good idea to advise Hida Masu not to.
Lucky Suko's request
Salary men and women were pouring out of the corporate towers in the Rokkaku Expo Stadium district. The work-day was ending and steady ant-like streams of suits headed for the trams, going home or hitting the bars. With Goji Tower behind us we were looking forward to kicking it back for the night ourselves but Neon City never lets go that easy.
Trigger's media-slab began pinging with an unknown ID, on the other end was Tsuka 'Lucky' Suko.
Lucky Suko; head of The Golden Rhinos, a yakuza outfit that operated out a gambling joint in The Fortified Residential Zone.
We'd crossed paths with him just once before when a client of ours had burnt Suko to the ground at mah-jong so hard that he cleaned Suko out twice!
To say Suko hadn't taken it well was putting it mildly, he ordered a bunch of goons to rub out our client, which we put a stop to.
We'd just been doing our job, did Suko take it personally? We were going to find out.
Suko told us that he had been impressed with our skills and had a proposal for us, a job?
"State your business," we replied neutrally with hesitant caution.
Lucky Suko explained that a violent street gang called The Crazy Bees was making trouble, in particular targeting Japanese people and businesses in a part of The Skyscraper District. One of their Japanese victims was an insurance business owned by his wife's cousin and called Shou Ga Nai Insurance. Suko told us that he had offered to deal with the situation but his cousin-in-law refused wanting nothing to do with any part of the yakuza.
Suko continued, telling us that he would pay us well to persuade The Crazy Bees to lay off the insurance business. He offered us six hundred thousand bits to get rid of the gang plus two hundred thousand per Crazy Bee gang member killed.
Suko warned that his cousin-in-law was to never find out that we were being paid to sort things out.
As neutrally as possible we told Suko. "We'll look in it,"
The Crazy Bees
Ethan's Eats was a sushi bar located in The Skyscraper District, it was here, Suko told us, that we would find The Crazy Bees. Even though most of the district was dedicated to housing much of the city's workforce, ground level still contained large clusters and strips of retail units. This included Ethan's Eats; pretty unremarkable and much like a thousand other sushi bars in The City of Electric Dreams. The once-bright plastic signage at the front had faded, its primary colours drained by ultraviolet damage during the day and corrosive rain at night, a large subtly tinted window gave passing pedestrians a glimpse of the customers within and conveyor belts of food that enticingly circled round. Ethan's Eats described itself as selling Authentic Kosher Cockney Sushi and Jellied Eels.
Night had come and with it the rains, city lights awoke, appearing to cascade into existence throughout the district and delineating high-rises against the darkness. Finding a suitable dry vantage point, we waited and watched.
Despite the murky rain, gleaming interior lights bled out on to the slickly reflective street making it easy to view.
Many people came and went, including a good number in distinctively black-and-yellow clothing that had to be street colours for The Crazy Bees. We kept watching.
The Crazy Bees congregated in and around Ethan's Eats. They were young, a lot appeared to be skinny teenagers and many looked Japanese. We continued watching, they were rowdy and rude, jostling and bantering amongst themselves until their leader, an older looking man came on to the scene. Tall, lean and better dressed, he moved with a measured, calculated pace and they clearly all deferred to him.
This wasn't what we were expecting from the description given us by Suko. It was time to dig deeper. Information about them was readily available on the GLOWNET, rentacop reports, public forums, local newsfeeds and so on: General consensus was that The Crazy Bees were a pest more than a menace, they were considered juvenile delinquents more than gangers.
More than one report claimed that they bred giant North Korean genetically altered killer bees which they employed in scuffles with other street gangs!
For a while they hung out, grabbing takeout from Ethan's Eats in little cardboard boxes with disposable chopsticks and shooting the breeze. Eventually they split up, leaving a mess of empty discarded cartons behind. We followed a group of some twenty Crazy Bees as they went on their way, they exhibited signs of anti-social behaviour, minor acts of vandalism and external property damage, noisily spraying graffiti and gang tags on any free surface they could find and so on. They didn't seem to be targeting anyone, Japanese of otherwise, either individuals or businesses.
Shou Ga Nai Insurance
This area included multiple Japanese or Japanese-themed retailers amongst the shops, among them were an anime-styled model-kit shop, clothing stores, gaming stores, even a Yokai accessories shop.
Entering the model kit shop, we spoke with the staff and asked them if they had experienced any trouble with The Crazy Bees, threats, extortion, assault? They told us they never had trouble with The Crazy Bees, otherwise they'd be banned from buying the latest imported kits.
It didn't add up. The Crazy Bees weren't some hardened gang of criminal thugs in need of some Neon City street justice. Something was wrong so we took a chance.
Shou Ga Nai Insurance was our next destination, a large blind masked the front window of a dull looking shopfront. Inside it was inoffensively decorated in beige and eggshell white with a grey carpet. There was an occupied desk and several upholstered faux wooden chairs. The man at the desk looked up at us as we entered.
Luckily the owner was in when we asked to speak to him. An average looking guy, he looked at us with confusion when we asked about his cousin's husband, he told us his cousin wasn't married, we elaborated, he'd never heard of Tsuka Suko. Apologising for the confusion, we made a hasty exit.
It was clear that Lucky Suko had set us up. Maybe he wanted rid of The Crazy Bees, maybe he wanted to make trouble for us, maybe both.
We thought about pinging him and calling him out but we didn't bother. Eventually he'd find out his ruse had failed. Let him stew.
Time to hit the bars, Neon City never slows down and we could do with some Dindanha beer.
Later we got a message from D4-VID. The interview with Nina Chinova had been a success, D4-VID told us that Nina scored well with focus groups and test audiences. It looked like she might be getting something on a network.
Wired Neon Cities
Since lockdown 2 is still in full effect, we're still playing over Skype. This means that we're looking for another minimalist RPG that's easy to manage over video chat.
After a discussion, we've decided on a cyberpunk game.
For the game we've chosen Wired Neon City. The game is basically a hack of In Darkest Warrens and has mostly identical rules.
The magic rules have been removed and replaced with rules for augmentations and hacking, making this iteration of the rules slightly more complicated, that's not saying much though.
Characters choose from 6 classes and have 4 stats.
All actions are rolled against these stats by rolling a single six sided die. The higher the roll, the better.
There's not much more to add.
You can read about our adventures in In Darkest Warrens here.
Bill Harkleroad: Played by Mark.
A man with smooth moves, a smooth face and an even smoother voice. Didn't so much Kiss The Blarney Stone as bought it breakfast in the morning. A tailored suit and designer shades are deadly weapons in this operator's hands.
Koko: Played by Michaela.
This greaser girl knows her way round a 3/8 wrench, or a fuel injection manifold, or a titanium transmission synchromesh or a... well you get the idea. If it's got moving parts, she can make it purr, climb or land on its feet.
N. 'Nox' Fluke: Played by Giro.
Doesn't talk about why he was disowned by a family with a (dis)reputable name. Lives one day at a time on his data-slab skills. The City of Electric Dreams may be his home, but the GLOWNET is his universe.
Trigger Mortis: Played by Kevin.
Cold-hearted and dead-eyed, Trigger always keeps one had close to the hilt of his carbon-folded nano-edged street-katana. As the name suggests, he's quick to solve problems in a very fast and very cutting manner.
Buy this campaign here. 234 pages of Cyberpunk goodness!
Welcome to Neon City
During the day the Sun beats down on Neon City reflecting off the chrome and glass of the skyscrapers and making them painful to look at. That's okay, they don't like looking at you either. The heat at street level seems to muffle the constant cacophony of city noises whilst amplifying the smells of people, detritus and street food. The heat is oppressive and the air is bad but you're used to it. Everyone's used to it by now.
At night it rains and the slick streets reflect the lights of the city above creating an illusionary city below. Both of them beyond your grasp. It isn't much cooler at night but the damp air tastes better.
The streets are always crowded. People, some bicycles, a few wheeled drones. There are no cars on the streets of Neon City, there's no room for them. Trams run on raised rails just overhead and subways rumble beneath your feet,
Countless carriageways snake across the sky taking traffic in different directions. The constant rumble of the vehicles is the city's voice. Above these are the corporate monorails, slender wires traversed by luxury pods. Higher still swarm the sky taxis like a cloud with individual cars dropping and rising constantly, metal rain.
Just at the limit of vision planes can sometimes be spotted and, rarer still, an orbital shuttle rising high and fast or dropping back to Earth, balanced on its plume of fire.
Universal credit keeps you fed. A dream of something better somewhere else keeps you alive.
The campaign newsletter
Hey You! is the campaign newsletter i prepare each week. It contains in-game information that the characters can use about areas they're in or about to travel to and serves a s a recap of what they've achieved and what missions or jobs are still waiting to be completed.
You can get your own copy of Wired Neon Cities by clicking the link below.
This write up of our game was written by Giro, you can read this and other similar articles on his website Three Spellcaster and a Dwarf by clicking the link below.