An early wake up
I woke to the pinging of my somewhere out of reach media-slab in the shady half-light filling my one-bed. Static hissed in my brain, light stabbed in my eyes and muscles ached as I dropped out of my futon and worked my limbs. Scrabbling around I found the damned thing. Sitting back and rubbing my face, I squinted and waited for my eyes to focus, checking the readout before answering.
Eight AM. Yennav Rybasei? He had pinged all of us. Eight AM! What the hell did he want?
Yennav spoke, his voice half yelling and urgent, we'd never heard him quite like this before. Muffled, distorted staccato gunfire played from somewhere at his end as he told us that at three that morning, both of Irma's shops on Ninety-Ninth Street had exploded, killing all the foot soldiers he'd stationed there on stakeout. We asked Yennav if the unconscious subject in Irma's Implant's basement had survived, he had no idea.
Again, more gunfire.
Yennav went on; Potato Palace and Beetroot Paradise had also been destroyed and everyone killed. He'd also had word that the meat processing plant in the Heights had been hit and wanted us to check them out. He pinged us links to security camera footage to all three locations.
The gunfire seemed to be getting louder. We asked what the hell was going on?
Astiek Ikov, we were told, was a captain in the Russian mob, currently, he was leading a revolt against Yennav, who was now fighting for his life!
“I knew I couldn’t trust him, he’s a Cossack!" Was the last thing we heard Yennav say before the line went dead.
We'd been counting on Yennav getting his hands on Nozi Kinmo, now we had lost him and possibly the subject. It was all bad news. No time for food, I had to meet up with the others.
Sunrise had been a couple of hours ago and the morning was relatively cool, the blinding sun was still low in the sky and long shadows stretched across Neon City as we made our way to Chuo Street. Smack bang in the middle of the morning rush hour, the overcrowded trams were stuffy, the noisy tram contrasted with commuters silently contemplating their day ahead.
Crushed up against wage-monkeys in their bland suits, the ride to Chuo Street was almost intolerable. I spent the journey engrossed in my media-slab, drowning out the world, watching Yennav's footage, we all did.
All the footage was similar, displaying catastrophic structural damage occurring to the buildings followed by shocked survivors seemingly falling over dead. But there was also something else.
At first, I thought it might have been some sort of video artifacting distortion due to errors in recording or compression. The distortion, however, flickered across the picture in a methodical almost predictable manner. I paused it, the artifacting was too ordered and too clean to be encoding errors, it was actually a blur. Something was moving in the footage, moving so fast that it was too quick to get full exposure on the footage even at thirty frames per second. Something was moving and killing people too fast to be caught on camera.
Whatever it was, it was deadly.
Potato Palace had been reduced to nothing more than a burnt-out hole in the row of retail units that faced the narrow alleyway, a blackened gaping wound in the old brick building, putting this whole segment of the block at risk of collapse. Unconcerned throngs of people paid no attention as they walked around the cordoned off soot-covered detritus which had spilt out onto the walkway.
Trigger's thermal sweep revealed nothing alive in the rubble. The inside was utterly destroyed, furniture, counters, fixtures appliances had all become barely recognisable scorched, twisted and mangled wreckage, the explosion and ensuing fire had done their job. There was nothing of use here.
Rent A Cop had come and gone and first-responders had taken the bodies.
We went on to Beetroot Paradise and it had endured the same destruction as Potato Palace. Again there was nothing to be found there but a dismal mess.
Next was Rokkaku-Dai Heights and the meat processing plant. Mercifully, the rush hour crush was beginning to subside and we only had to deal with the normal overcrowding on the trams.
The meat processing plant was located in a half disused, fairly open business park that skirted the edge of one of Rokkaku-Dai Heights' retail spots. It had not fared well in the attack either.
Debris had been flung across the business park's open lot, scattered by the force of the blast. The warehouse itself, which had been an old-style building was now nothing more than piles of scarred bricks and rubble dotted with the crushed remains of the interior. Again a thermal sweep showed no one alive here, if there had been survivors, emergency services would have already taken them.
Looking around the park, we spotted some external security cameras bolted to the outside of one of the other buildings in use here. Tracing its feed to a holding server and bypassing the security looks was simple and soon I had access to this other building's cameras. I flicked through all of them, found a camera over a side door that was partially facing towards the meat processing plant and gave a wide-angle shot of part of the front.
I scrubbed through the footage captured around three in the morning, looking until I found something. The silent and blurry desaturated night-time video showed a VTOL drop down, it was a Qiuonriji Yexingzhe SFS-70 Night-Flier. Identical to one we'd captured from black baggers who'd been hunting down ex-military cyborgs and taking them to Irma's Implants, we knew there had to be at least one other night-flier operating in Neon City. This must've been it.
As I watched, I saw the footage tremble then wash out into white for a couple of seconds, overexposed by the off-screen explosion. When the picture returned I saw the blur moving off from the flier and coming back a few seconds later before the flier took off.
The destruction of the mob holdings, attacks on Yennav and Irma's businesses were all linked, Nozi Kinmo must've been behind it all and behind him, Protobase Global? They were moving on the Russian mob.
It wasn't much to go on but Koko pinged Yennav with our findings, time was critical and he would want to know immediately. Koko got no reply, her call was just directed to voicemail.
Mid Morning and things were heating up, an unforgiving Sun was climbing the blue-white sky, I could almost feel the temperature rising minute-by-minute. We were about to find some shade and cool drinks when our media-slabs pinged again. It was turning out to be a busy day.
A new player
RAM Rat was calling, he'd been permanently camped out on Ghost Radical's hidden slush fund on Hikage Street, sitting on it and watching for Ghost Radical to make a move. That move had just happened. He told us that a sizable amount of money had moved to a branch based in Kibogaoka Hill, and pinged us an address.
The clock was running.
Ghost Radical had hired someone, probably another hacker and once their work was done, Ghost Radical would have them rubbed out. We had to beat him to it.
Bill's media-slab then pinged, Porter Sladek was calling. He told Bill that Thetatec's funds were draining. A banking alert had warned him that his corporate account was logging unusual activity. Now all he could do was watch the money flow away, locked out of his own system.
Ghost Radical had been gunning for Porter Sladek for a while, it couldn't be a coincidence that he's hired someone and the hack had happened at the same time. Kibogaoka Hill was our next destination.
Luckily we had a new card of our own to play; our flier, the Yexingzhe SFS-70 we'd captured. Koko quickly began punching instructions into her control-slab.
Somewhere on a roof-pad in Hikage Street; a dashboard sprang to life, flight systems quickly activated one-by-one and ran through self-diagnosis routines, autonomous protocols launched themselves and turbines rapidly spun up to speed.
"Give it a couple of minutes," Koko explained.
Two minutes could be a long time in Neon City.
I jacked into my data-slab, my surroundings dematerialised, replaced by a somehow distant neon-yellow erratically blurred and indistinct horizon in a sky of blue, the horizon grew in size and the sky darkened into starless night. The erratic line came into focus, settling into the shapes of a thousand morphing data-images, at the centre was Thetatec's towering GLOWNET data-image; pyramidical smoked glass orbited by a dozen almost sun-like glowing orbs.
One of those orbs expanded to fill my view and gave me access to Thetatec accounts. The data-vault contained trillions of data-points organised in an unimaginably complex three-dimensional array which were currently being swallowed in vast swathes by an enlarging polygonal void.
I ran a hunter/seeker algorithm on this abyssal hunger and watched as it fed stacks of data. I recognised the code structure, I'd seen the signature before; Steel Witch. Ghost Radical had hired Steel Witch to raid Thetatec.
I sent her a message, she needed to stop, her life was in danger. I got nothing back.
I jacked out of the GLOWNET, disorientation swam through my consciousness in the liminal moment between realities before the effects of gravity, light and heat reasserted themselves over me. The others dragged me to my feet and we ran for a clear spot.
Wind buffeted the entire area as the weirdly angular yet somehow sleek jet-black flier settled on the ground.
We climbed the small recessed handholds that ran up the flier's side and went through the roof's circular access hatch into the interior. It was a utilitarian space, angular and ordered, practical and uncomfortable, spacious enough yet somehow still cramped. We sat down and Koko settled into the pilot's seat.
Designed for stealth the flyer was lit by a single dim blue strip light running the length of the cabin casting a disconcerting blue-black hue over everything. The dashboard's various control panels were also backlit in the same dim blue lighting. Koko hummed quietly as she familiarised herself with the controls.
Seconds later the flier smoothly surged skywards and we felt the pull of vertical acceleration as we watched the ground fall away, Koko banked round and followed a heading for Kibogaoka Hill.
Being a stealth vehicle, the flier's quad-turbines were whisper silent and it was a surprisingly smooth ride, additionally, we didn't have to obey the codes of Neon City's sky roads and Koko could punch in an ad-hoc course directly to our destination.
We were making good time when Koko said that she had seen a momentary, strange echo behind us on the tactical readout then nothing, she ran a visual sweep of the aft using the fliers' bank of micro-cameras.
We all watched the feed, at first there was nothing but then we spotted something behind us: A featureless black silhouetted profile was flying low, using the city's undulating skyline for camouflage against the stark blue-white sky and matching our heading. Zooming in and using video enhancement didn't help, if there were any details, they were indiscernible, no navigation lights, no markings, then we realised why.
It was the other SFS-70, the other night-flier and its stealth-tech rendered it as invisible to our systems as to any other. Someone was watching and now it was following us to Kibogaoka Hill, we needed to get rid of it.
Tactically, we were evenly matched in performance, firepower and armour, any exchange between us would likely result in near-identical results, we needed something to push the odds in our favour and that something would be Trigger.
Wrenching the hatch open exposed us to violent swirls of air flowing through the cabin, using his Ashirada climbing implants, Trigger climbed up so he was close to the flier's roof. Meanwhile, Koko had eased off the throttle, allowing our pursuers to make some ground on us, Trigger's trench coat flapped frantically as he climbed on the roof,
"Here we go," warned Koko, waiting for the right moment and hitting maximum air brakes for a second, strapped in our seats we involuntarily squirmed as we felt our guts swish sideways, Trigger resolutely gripped the roof with his implants. Almost instantaneously, we were level with the other flier.
Without wasting a moment Trigger made his move and leapt over from our flier to theirs, when he hit the bodywork he bounced, a stone skipping off the sea, then for a moment he slid over the roof but his augmentations found purchase and he hauled himself on to the roof.
Whoever was inside knew something was up, the flier's turret slid up and was rotating round. Trigger knew the score, he'd been here before, again dismissing the turret's threat, he went for the hatch instead and putting his gunblade's tip under the hatch he gave it a forceful twist. It popped open and Trigger jumped through.
It was the same as the first time that Trigger had been in this situation, there were four soldiers in fully enclosed Haanut smart armour and armed with serious military firepower.
The fight more or less went down the same way, Trigger's nano-edged sword gave him an advantage in close quarters but their numbers gave them the edge, he was put on the retreat and was fighting hard just to stay on his feet. Desperately, Trigger took out the pilot who then slumped on the dash, the flier unexpectedly veered sharply, everyone was flung off their feet as it was losing altitude. Trigger had some breathing room. One of the other soldiers dragged himself into the pilot's seat, pulled the unmoving pilot out and took control, trying to level off but he never got the chance.
Again Koko sent Sylvester and Felix into the other flier to turn the tide, in the ensuing chaos the new pilot caught a stray round and that was that.
Too late to regain control now, the other flier was already too low. Koko followed it's descent as closely as she could, pulling up as it came down into a busy street at the edge of Rokkaku-Dai Heights, it had crashed nose-up, scraping and skidding along, ploughing through scattering crowds and street fixtures until it crashed through a shop front, finally rocking to a stop at an angle.
Koko landed our flier as close as possible, we had to navigate pandemonium. Panicking and screaming people swarmed everywhere, some fleeing, others rubber-necking the disaster. Scores of people had been left unconscious or dead in the flier's wake as it had scraped along flattening streetlights. An alarm was ringing above the clamouring.
As we reached the downed flier Trigger flopped out of the roof hatch and slid down, landing in a heap, smeared in blood. It took him a visible effort to haul himself to his feet, blinking, swaying and looking round; he had a concussion and probably worse. No time to check though and it was nothing that couldn't be taken care of by a short walk - and an extremely powerful med-stim!
Unbelievably, one of the soldiers was still alive, we secured him in our flier for questioning later.
Back in our flier, we lifted off before any first-responders arrived and continued on to Kibogaoka Hill. I pinged Steel Witch again, this time she answered but I couldn't convince her to reverse her algorithms.
From above the sprawling hotchpotch shantytown was a mismatched colourful patchwork quilt draped over a hill and covered in little dots going about their business.
The address given by RAM Rat led to a densely packed neighbourhood that lacked any landing space. Bathed in downwash and with flapping clothes, locals gathered to watch the flier hover above as we had to drop down a line to street level.
Somewhat reluctantly Steel Witch let us into the squat after we had continually banged on the stringed up acrylic panel that passed as a door, the interior was a cluster of rooms constructed of various sheets of material and fabric with an uneven ceiling and a makeshift floor. Thick power cabling had been fed through a hole in a wall and was hung like bunting that daisy-chained from room to room allowing numerous other thinner cables to lead off to various appliances and items.
Steel witch went into a room with some low tubular foam cushions in front of an equally low table built out of a fibreboard pallet, resting on it was her data-slab, a glassy smooth flat cuboid; a Monaozko Technologies PDTTb model. She dropped down onto the cushions at the table, crossing her skinny legs in their tight black denims, she also wore a loose black t-shirt but lacked her trademark pale makeup today. Looking at us, she explained how she preferred to work from her home.
None of us, not even Bill could convince the hacker to return the money, she had been paid to do a job and that was to stick it to the man. We knew what was coming, maybe that would change her mind, only thing was; we didn't know how it was coming!
Face-to-face with the faceless
Koko had put the flier into some sort of surveillance mode and it was monitoring local traffic, everything seemed normal, threat assessment; zero. We readied ourselves, gripped our guns, steeled ourselves and took up defensive positions in the shanty, then we waited with eyes peeled.
What happened next was too fast to entirely comprehend and there was no chance to respond. Checking the flier's scan logs later would reveal what occurred: A white van drone in one of Neon City's many higher sky lanes above had sharply veered out of the lane and dived, picking up speed, fractions of a second before crashing into the shanty town it had levelled off, back doors springing open.
Consequently; there was no warning when a crashing thud boomed above, shaking the entire structure, instantly the ceiling disintegrated, showering us in debris and dust and exposing the blue-white sky. Whatever landed on the roof had effortlessly torn through the makeshift building, flinging chunks aside as they dropped down to ground level. Immediately they were on us.
Before we could react or even mentally process the situation, we smelled them. Forcing us to gag and burning our eyes was an unimaginably intense smell of vomit, it sent us reeling. Those of us lucky to have a Mesbuh Nafalm Internal Recycler System implanted triggered them, allowing us to turn off our breathing. It helped but it came too late to block the odour completely.
There were four of the things; obviously bipedal with elongated forelimbs, they moved easily on either two or four appendages and as they did so, large muscles shifted beneath strangely smooth shining blue skin that dripped some sort of oily secretion. Their bleak visages were a parody of the human face with twisted and haunted features and where eyes should be, strange multi-strand stalks projected out of gaunt eye sockets.
Their bio-chem enhancements had put us on the back foot and it was a hard battle. Fortunately, Roderick was unaffected and brought his firepower to bear on them, turning the tide.
Steel Witch had been knocked unconscious during the battle, we found her slumped over her data-slab, she looked unharmed, probably just the damned smell. We revived her and she looked at the devastation to her home, the weird crumpled corpses and the lingering smell. I could see the fury in her eyes as they flickered left to right.
She turned to us and said that when Ghost Radical had initially contacted her, she'd quietly run a tracer algorithm on the message, which led to an address in Rokkaku-Dai Heights. Then she added that she was going to reverse the flow of money out of the Thetatec accounts.
Ghost Radical; if we were lucky, we would get him.
One hour past midday in Rokkaku-Dai Heights and it was as hot as it gets, an unforgiving sun saturated Neon City from its zenith with a punishing glare.
Even so, The Heights were still busy, the district's wage-monkeys had filed out, crowding the streets for lunch as the unemployed shuffled along meaninglessly and gangers took a respite from fighting each other.
We had gone from one shantytown to another. This time though, the shanty town sprawled interconnectedly across the rooftops of the district's densely packed cluster of alabaster white tower blocks. Looking up through the wavering heat revealed a colossal industrialized spider's web that hung from the high-rises, silhouetted against the pitiless blue-white sky.
Ghost Radical was too dangerous to just take down head-on, we needed an approach. Safely watching from a distance we scoped the address. The shanty home had been built around the base of one of the multitudes of satellite dishes that dotted the rooftops. That couldn't be a coincidence.
Otherwise, it was nondescript in every way, a typical makeshift shanty home. No defences, no drones, thermals showed no heat signatures, nothing. Koko sent in Kevin to take a look, the drone flew up to the shanty and quietly moved around the exterior, buzzing at makeshift windows, again nothing.
Koko took the flier down and dropped Bill off, he climbed the high-rise and cased the neighbours. They knew very little, only that someone lived up there and that he minded his own business but nothing else, although one small detail they did provide; they noticed he ate a lot of pizza, frequently ordered from Hamza's Pizza and Gritz Emporium on Ninety-Ninth Street.
Maybe we could get at him through the pizza delivery? Bill called Hamza's and gave Ghost Radical's address. The emporium recognised the address.
"The usual sir? Medium-sized liver and sprout pizza with a side of melon balls?" Inquired a voice.
Bill paused only for a moment, possibly contemplating who would want a damn liver and sprout pizza? "That would be perfect,". Maybe this would draw him out of the woodwork.
"Usual payment method?" Inquired the voice.
Eighteen minutes later the pizza arrived, set down by the delivery driver who knocked on the door and immediately left. We waited, nothing. There was nothing else for it; we had to go in.
Koko got us through the lock without a hitch.
The door opened to a single room, an undecorated collage of exposed materials, musty, dim and shaded against bright Neon City days. Our attention was drawn to the thick steel grey tube that ran from the floor through the ceiling; the base of the satellite dish above. Otherwise, the room was mostly empty, a grubby cot in one corner and an irregular stack of Hamza's pizza boxes alongside it. It didn't look like Ghost Radical lived here, he spent some time here though.
There had to be a reason why Ghost Radical had chosen this location and it had to be the dish. There was nothing unusual about the tube but we saw that the screws on a maintenance panel were clean of the general dirt-streaked over the rest of it. Opening it up, we looked inside.
There it was, the reason.
A steel box, smaller than a pack of smokes, had been taped to the inside of the tube. Several copper and fibre optic wires ran out from it and had been spliced into the dish's transmitter/receiver wiring as well as its power supply. Ghost Radical was piggybacking off the dish, using its massive volume of digital traffic to disguise the data packages he was pushing out or receiving. Since he was at least one step removed from the dish, without monitoring more data movement through the box, it would be impossible to track him down.
We had to wait.
Our media-slabs pinged again, Yennav Rybasel, still alive but sounding more desperate than the last time.
The Russian started shouting down the line over the sounds of gunplay and told us that he had to escape and needed help now, he was in room fifty-seven sixty-eight at the Union Trans Metropolitan.
Ghost Radical would have to wait.
The fastest way to Rokkau Expo Stadium was in the flier. I watched narrow teeming streets and cuboid concrete structures rolling by below as we navigated through endlessly flowing sky-lanes of traffic and discussed our next move. Yennav was on the fifty-seventh floor and appeared to be in the middle of a firefight, just getting to him would be dangerous.
The Union Trans Metropolitan was not an easy hotel to get into, a bunker designed to resist assault from even the heaviest weapons, our flier's firepower wouldn't dent its reinforced exterior and there was no way in from an aerial route. We would have to go in at ground level, through the front door and probably through whoever was mounting the attack and work our way up to the fifty-seventh floor.
The Union Trans Metropolitan Hotel was a vast rising cylindrical structure that dominated the skyline for kilometres around, we saw it growing over the deepening afternoon horizon, looming up as we approached.
Before Koko landed, the flier's external cameras showed us a number of sprawled, bloody bodies littering the empty walkway outside the hotel's tall set of chrome and gold, smoked glass doors, it was almost strange to see Neon City's famously dense crowds missing. Rent A Cop had cordoned the area off but hadn't bothered intervening, they weren't about to put themselves at risk for some corporate bloodletting unless ordered differently, instead they kicked back, sucking down Dengken' Doughnuts and watching. At least it made it easy for us to get in.
Once the flier had touched down, we tooled up before cautiously disembarking, this could go south quick!
Quickly, we examined the bodies, they looked like Russian mob foot-soldiers or enforcers, all of them had clearly died from some kind of slashing wounds. None of us had forgotten Yennav's footage from this morning, the blur, the killing.
Whatever the blur was, it had to be here and following the destruction of Irma's Implants, we had no confirmation that the unknown subject had perished in the explosion. We only knew that he was being fitted with an extraordinary amount of implants. Was this Subject X the blur?
It was too risky going into this blind, we didn't know what we would encounter, we needed an edge. Fortunately, Koko had been working on something.
Nermal was a heavily modified Suayo MKVI gun drone, the weapon mounts had been replaced with an EMP generator, an auxiliary power cell and a directional emitter. Typically EMP generators created a spherical area of disruption, Nermal however, generated a tightly focussed beam that could strike a single target, it meant that crucially, we would be left unaffected by her attack. The attack depleted a significant amount of energy from the power cell and beyond the first shot, further attacks would be unreliable.
Koko instructed Nermal to autonomously target any very fast-moving and threatening object it detected, if we did encounter Subject X with all his augmentations, Nermal might give us the edge we needed.
Above the entrance, the hotel's name was carved out of the stone in large letters and as we approached, it was impossible to see through the tinted glass panes. We halted when automated doors slid open and peered through, even from outside we could see bodies, otherwise it looked clear. Cautiously, with guns in hand, we entered.
Scattered throughout the lobby were more bodies, mostly Russian mob guys but a few staff and clients, crumpled in their own drying blood that had pooled on the once shiny marble floor. It was a grisly sight. Thermals showed no signs of life, the lobby locked secure, so we headed for the elevators.
We walked in eerie silence, the Metropolitan was usually a busy twenty-four-hour hotel in a busy twenty-four-hour city, with celebrities, conference crowds, execs, street workers, travellers and of course gangsters coming and going. Now, nothing. The hotel was the base of Russian mob power in Neon City, at least it was until now. There was a crisp ping when the gold-foil trimmed elevator button was jabbed and doors opened with a swish, someone had disabled the security protocols, at least it still worked.
Inside, three walls of the elevator were decorated with high quality intricately designed and classically styled replica gold fixtures and the fourth contained a mirror, we rode it up, weapons in hand, watching the red light jump from floor to floor until it settled on to the diode for the fifty-seventh floor.
There was a ping and the doors slid open.
For a moment, we stood still, from within the elevator we could see blood smeared across the elaborate fancy wallpaper opposite from us. Stepping out; it was even worse. A charnel house.
A layer of torturously contorted and blood-soaked bodies filled the long straight hallway, the once luxuriously thick carpet was soaked in gore, arterial sprays and bloody stains marred the walls and doors.
As we were taking stock of our surroundings, we felt a slight breeze ripple along the corridor.
Before we could assess the situation, Nermal had rotated without warning and fired her EMP shot. At that instant, the blur was there, somehow directly in front of us and only a metre away. The exchange between Nermal and the blur had taken milliseconds.
He was no longer a blur though, he was standing there looking shocked as all his implant systems and augmentations were trying to reboot themselves. We recognised him from Irma's Implants, it was Subject X. He was burly, dressed in nondescript black clothing and armed with knives.
Luckily we recovered quicker than he did and unloaded on him, pouring it on, we couldn't allow Subject X any chance to recover, he was too dangerous. Between all of us, we luckily managed to put him down before he could attack us.
No loose ends
Pressing on; we avoided thinking about the squelching carpet underfoot, cautiously searching for room sixty-eight until we found it. It took some banging and shouting to get Yennav to open the door, the relief was clear to see although he looked worse for wear, his Duuna suit was dishevelled, dirt-stained and split at numerous seams, in his thick fingers he held a Russian made Boucushki pistol, a .50 Yandeb finished in gunmetal black with a pearl grip, a real hand cannon with its distinctive octagonal-shaped barrel.
"I am impressed you got here, my droogs," He exclaimed. "Now we need to deal with Astiek."
Yennav told us that Astiek was holed-up in one of the secured ground floor rooms, he explained was essentially a staff quarter and similar to a guest room, when it was locked down, it was almost impenetrable.
Returning along the corpse littered hallway, we rode the elevator back down to the ground floor and Yennav led us to Astiek's hiding place somewhere in the back rooms of the hotel. He indicated a plain black door in a concrete wall. Yennav explained that the walls and the doors,p were all lined with embedded toughened steel plates and reinforced with polycarbonate rods.
Force was out of the question, somehow we had to find another way to get the door open.
Whilst the rest of us stood back, Bill approached and spoke loudly to the door, hopefully, Astiek was listening on the other side. It was all over Bill told him, he'd lost, no way out, surrender was the only option.
"What do you want?" Came a voice, maybe Bill was getting through.
"Not the case!" Said a second voice, Astiek wasn't alone.
A while back, we'd recovered a suitcase for Yennav, he was very protective of it, was that what all of this death and destruction was about? The suitcase?
"Asti, give the case to my droogs and you will not be harmed, I will let you leave alive. I promise," Offered Yennav.
There was some more negotiation and eventually, Bill coaxed Astiek into handing over the suitcase.
With an audible, solid metallic click the door opened a fraction, Astiek was a tallish man with a long face, darkened eyes and short well-trimmed, thick black beard, he wore navy blue Evoda trousers and a white shirt. Stepping out he looked from Yennav to Bill who was standing next to him, pausing a moment before handing over the familiar Mahakam Ambassador suitcase.
Bill didn't even have time to flinch; the bullet from Yennav's Yandeb struck Astiek's head before we knew what was going on, he was dead before he crashed to the ground. Such are the promises of a Russian mobster.
Blood pooled around the unnaturally splayed remains of Astiek and we noticed who was also in the room behind him.
A short rotund Asian man; Nozi Kinmo, we had him.
Nozi Kinmo looked agog, speechless, eyes flicked from one of us to another, trying to assess the shift in dynamics, how he'd gone from relative safety to immediate danger, searching a way out, an angle to play, maybe he didn't realize it but there wasn’t one.
Before he could move, we pounced and he was restrained, questions needed answering. Yennav came over and retrieved the case from Bill, still gripping his hand cannon.
No matter how much we pushed him, Nozi Kinmo was resolute and refused to give us any information or answers, professional enough to hold on to his cards. We had theories about Protobase Global but nothing concrete and Nozi Kinmo wasn't helping any.
Eventually, questioning got round to the assault on the Metropolitan: Was it only the suitcase he was after? What was in it? Astiek and he must have looked in it?
For the second time, the deafening report from Yennav's pistol filled the room as he shot Nozi Kinmo.
"The suitcase is not anybody's business," Yennav said coldly, lowering his pistol.
The rotund man had crumpled to the floor and our answers died with him. What was it about that damned suitcase? For a moment we considered getting it out of the Russian, ultimately though, it wasn't worth it.
After a couple of seconds, Yennav seemed to cheer up and holstered his pistol.
"Good work my droogs," he said, tapping away at his media-slab as he made payment to us. "Now I must call in Russian Cleaning Contractors, they have much work to do,".
Finally, he turned to us and said. "Goodbye my friends, now I must disappear for a while until all accounts are settled,".
It was late in the afternoon when we exited the carnage of the Metropolitan and as we walked back to the flier, my media-slab pinged; Lucy was calling.
"Your dinner guest has arrived," she announced. "Why didn't you tell me you were going out?”
I turned to the others. "There's a problem at my apartment," I told them. "We better head back.”
During the flight back to Hikage Street I gave the others the low-down, none of us had any idea who this could be or what they wanted.
After landing I rushed up to my one-bed with the others on my heels and only slowed to a walk when I reached my floor. There was no one suspicious in the corridor, only the usual wandering drunks slouched against the walls or sitting on the stairs. Reaching my door, I took a breath, swiped my key card and entered.
Inside were Lucy and Ashaglaya, there was also one other person. He stood and gave me a quick bow. Couldn't put my finger on it but I'd seen him before.
Japanese, tall and athletic, his smooth motions betrayed a man who knew how to handle himself. Unflinching eyes observed us from a triangular face topped with thick black hair cut short, he wore a three-piece perfectly cut slate-black Gaongha suit.
He introduced himself as Woody Invincible, explaining that he was a Travelling Storm, a contract killer in the employ of the Ikebukuro Gumi yakuza. He then told us that he wished the pleasure of our company for dinner tonight, he had taken the liberty of reserving a table for all of us at the House of Bamboo.
The House of Bamboo was one of the most exclusive restaurants in Neon City, we'd all heard of it, Lucy interjected.
"Can we come as well?" She asked.
"Everyone is invited," Woody Invincible replied with the slightest of nods.
Lucy and Ashaglaya ran off to their rooms squeakily giggling.
I invited Woody Invincible to sit down, we might be in for a long wait.
Lucy eventually settled on a Fassus white cocktail dress with matching Oltrante shoes and Ashaglaya was in a Simaz & Jaccno combination of flared red trousers and a halter top with a plunging neckline.
Woody Invincible had taken the opportunity to provide us with a smoothly curved, glossy black Benlato Kauru stretch sky-limo, once we had all settled into the lush cream leather interior it surged skywards and on to The Fortified Residential Zone.
The House of Bamboo
The House of Bamboo was located within the tall walls that divided the district's wealthiest citizens from everyone else. Home to Neon City's most affluent sons and daughters and a prime piece of real estate. All of which made the restaurant even more impressive, a two-storey detached building set in small surrounding grounds decorated with a Japanese style garden, complete with what looked like real conifers, bamboo, stone lanterns and a winding stone path.
An equally opulent interior awaited us inside with authentic wood panelled walls, furniture and lighting, elaborate and traditionally dressed staff led us to our seating at dark stained actual wooden tables.
During the meal, Woody Invincible revealed that he was aware that we had not attacked The Crazy Bees when asked to do so, that's where I'd seen him; with The Crazy Bees.
Finally, he admitted that he was aware of who had sent us, there was a pause as he let the comment trail off before changing the subject.
The meal went well and concluded when Woody Invincible gave us a small porcelain lucky cat statuette.
"This is a Maneki-Neko," he explained. “It will bring you luck, just once if you smash it. Decide carefully,”. With that, he rose from the table, bowed and made his exit.
The rain was falling by the time we left, staff escorted us out with umbrellas to the sky-limo which had been left at our disposal for the remainder of the evening.
We heard the downpour tattooing loudly on the limo's roof when it silently rose into the sky. As it banked around for the return trip to Hikage Street, out of the window and through the oddly gleaming raindrops we saw a peculiar dull and hazy glow emanating somewhere from the southwest. Black smoke made coils in the sky above it.
The only place we knew there was the Fuku Bakuchi Casino run by Lucky Suko who had ordered the attack on The Crazy Bees...
On the return journey, I could see that both Lucy and Ashaglaya couldn't hide how impressed they were that I had such a high ranking contact in Woody Invincible and moved in influential circles.
"It's nothing really," I said as nonchalantly as possible and leaned back into the plush seating.
The night still wasn't over though, by now Ghost Radical would have learned that his attack on Steel Witch had failed, we were getting closer to the hacker, now was not the time to let up.
Liver and Sprout
Our only remaining possible lead was the pizza restaurant.
After jacking into the GLOWNET, I navigated through the collective digital-topography to Hamza's data-image; a large segmented glowing red circle topped with a flashing sign that read Hamza. Running a few incursion protocols got me through their data-vault's defences and into their system.
Hamza's was a small family-run Moroccan business, I searched through their records, they didn't maintain a GLOWNET database of names and addresses, not that Ghost Radical would use that name. Switching tact I looked at their order records, the records showed that liver and sprout pizzas were only ordered by two customers on a regular basis.
Even in Neon City, it didn't seem plausible that two different people could exist who both liked liver and sprout pizza. Was this Ghost Radical getting pizza delivered to a second address? Time to pay a visit to Hamza's emporium.
The lights of Ninety-Ninth Street twinkled merrily in the falling rain, it was as busy as ever and we had to work our way through the densely packed shining streets to the pizza emporium.
It was a fairly average establishment, a large, brightly lit window looked into a plain open interior decorated in off-white walls and flooring, behind a glass screen a chef was flipping pizza bases and a neatly dressed receptionist watched us from behind a counter. There were several customers on the plastic tables and chairs.
When we asked about liver and sprout pizzas, the receptionist raised her eyebrows. Once we explained that we were interested in where they delivered the liver and sprout pizzas to, she refused to help because customers' privacy was too important.
Bill leaned forward and smiled, putting a hand on the smooth white counter and sliding it forward.
"I'll think you find this customer is always right!"
Some bits exchanged hands and we left with the addresses.
There were two addresses, one was the Rokkaku-Dai Heights flop but the other, the other was for The Skyscraper District. Was this it?
I ran a profile algorithm on the address and got back some strange results. The address seemed to exist but it wasn't registered as part of its skyscraper, it had no owner and no tenant was listed for it, nor did anyone provide power or water to it or GLOWNET access either. Off the grid and perfect for a ghost!
Another house call
At the address, Trigger ran thermals, they showed a solitary individual hunched over something: Time to go in.
We knocked on the door.
It was answered by a skinny man with a pale complexion and long thin face, he wore a nervous expression, for a second he was taken aback and shook strangely, obviously not what he was expecting.
In that moment of hesitation we pushed our way in and he reeled back, shocked.
The shocked expression became a callous sneer as he recognised us.
"It's inconceivable that you found me," he spat contemptuously, his arm noticeably trembling.
Perhaps that word didn't mean what he thought it meant; because we had found him.
"You don't understand what's going on here!" He continued, still shaking. "My brain is stronger than your brawn!".
Bill struck Ghost Radical with a stun-baton in the groin, he spasmed briefly before keeling over with a thud. That was it, we'd gotten him, now what to do with him?
There was a short discussion; in the end, we pinged Porter Sladek and explained the situation to him. He told us to hang tight, he would send a security team over. We also called RAM Rat who whooped with joy and rushed to join us. RAM Rat's body had been destroyed by Ghost Radical's betrayal and he wanted to be here to see him taken away
As we were waiting we checked the apartment out; fairly spacious with two bedrooms, a separate kitchen and living space, it was certainly a step up from our one-bed. It was also sparsely decorated with little furniture, there was a minimalistic quality with plain white walls, light grey carpets and simple spotlights. An impressive view out of the balcony windows displayed the arrays of city lights that delineated the outlines of the district's many skyscrapers through the night rain.
We made sure to collect the key cards, other than Ghost Radical no one knew of the apartment’s existence, it had served Ghost Radical, now it might be useful for us.
RAM Rat had already arrived by the time the Thetatec team reached us and was gloating as they took Ghost Radical into custody, his fate was at the whim of Porter Sladek now.
The campaign against Porter Sladek and Thetaec by The Rokkaku Group had been stopped, at least for the moment and the threat of Ghost Radical eliminated.
We'd also dealt with the threat of Nozi Kinmo and put an end to Protobase Global's plans for the Russian mob, although that was a dubious benefit. Protobase Global still had other, deeper plans though and while Yennav Rybasei was out of the picture at the moment he was sure to return after rebuilding his power base.
All in all, a reasonable result.
There was still time enough to hit a bar on the neon mile, kick back and enjoy a cool bottle of Dindanha beer, it had been a long day in Neon City.
END OF SEASON ONE
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.
Next up: SEASON TWO