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Into The Fire

Rob Potter

WARNING: Some Characters and settings taken from other sources, and may be the copyrights of the original creators. Any resemblance of original characters to real persons is unintentional.

 

Asaph Haldane glided through the crowd, the neon lights burning behind his eyes like the fires of God. The speaker in his ear buzzed quotes off the daily postings, searching for the hidden messages known only to the ‘joks. Asaph was one of them, and probably the worst hacker of their number. Exjay, his computer, came suddenly to life, warning him of an incoming Mail-bomb.

"Take care of it, Exjay: Anti-Program routine 4a, Minefield." The computer beeped deferentially, and began citing code numbers over Asaph’s vocal unit, "Trace that fucker, Ex. I’d like to know who’s tryin’ to fuck me now."

"Tracing initiated, Asaph," it called, voice smooth and natural. Exjay was the result of a pair of liquid processors and algorithms, resulting in an artificial intelligence able to carry out commands, with the approximate intelligence of a dog. It just seemed smarter because it could do higher math and speak. "Mail bomb sent by: Almighty, on port 69-277. Shall I launch counter-attack?"

"Don’t bother, Ex. 69-277 spells MY-ASS. It’s been redirected," he sighed to himself as he slid into his booth, momentarily cutting out the hum of Exjay’s imperfect sound systems. Strings of addresses scrolled down the inside of his shades, glowing red against a background of blues and greens. The Short Circuit was mellow, even if the customers weren’t. Techs of all shapes and sizes stalked the crowd, looking for marks and hocking their wares. A particularly pretty form of hacker glided past Asaph in a skin-tight outfit of some non-specific porous material, pink hair in an insane ponytail. His view was suddenly cut off by a small man in a green turtle-neck.

"Mike, if you don’t get out of the way I’m liable to hurt you," Asaph spoke light-heartedly, and soon turned his attention to the man’s face, which was covered in mirrorshades and a goatee.

"I need your help, Asaph. I have need of technical devices." Mike looked out of place on the bar, a beatnik in the midst of Cyberpunks, but was deferred to by many of the clients. Younger than Asaph, he had already made a significant name for himself in the black-market world of Warez-distribution. Warez, an antiquated word, was still used by many of the clientele of Short Circuit, referring to illegally distributed software. Mike didn’t deal in warez; he dealt in message. He was the modern radical, speaking out against the corporate society of mass media over hacked transmission codes. DJ, artist, public speaker, and criminal were all terms used to describe Mike. Asaph thought of him as an overly idealistic Elite, getting ready to have himself killed by the street. Asaph was no one’s idea of a hero, but Mike always tried to be one. Raised in a rich household, he had been spoon fed the romanticized hacking movies of the nineties and first decade of the new Millennium. He was too young to remember when they were made, or realize how the ‘Net had been in those days, but the characters were timeless, and he wanted to be one of them.

"Whatever you need, I can get it, or put you in touch with someone who can," Asaph said ritualistically. Mike knew what he could do.

"Speakers. Big ones."

"So the show will go on?"

"The show must go on."

Kaneda cruised the unfamiliar highways of America with his gang, looking for a place called ‘Night City’. No one knew what its real name had been, and the government had given up trying to get rid of that particular piece of slang. His gang followed close behind, pushing their bikes to the limit, while Kaneda gently pushed his to speeds above 160 km/h. Kaneda was Japanese, born in Tokyo, though you wouldn’t know it to hear him talk. He didn’t even speak real Japanese. Tokyo had fallen when New York did, and the real language was slang. He knew words in German, Japanese, Spanish, French, and English, but he couldn’t put a sentence together with any of them. No one could, anymore. He grew up falling through the system, and had eventually taken the name of his personal hero, a bike punk from an old Anime flick. His gang were posers, designed on a theoretical basis, but weren’t weak by any stretch. The boy once named Haishiru now was Kaneda, and no one could change that. There were no records proving anything else.

Kaneda’s girl had been exiled from Japan as a traitor, for aiding terrorist action within Tokyo. Kaneda followed, his gang tagging along like the cavalry. They were on unfamiliar soil, and they knew it. The roads, though, were always the same. Kaneda’s bike snarled as he twisted the throttle, shooting off into the darkness, a red streak against the silvered sky. It wasn’t long before he found Night City, it’s neon glow visible over the horizon for miles. Police helicopters were visible over the city, and fires burned between the high rises of the corporate world. Technology and Anarchy fused into one, the essence of America’s melting pot society. Night City had fallen out of the frying pan; it was on with the fire. Kaneda pulled up the hill, stopping at the crest. Yama, his second-in-command, rode up to him before the others arrived.

"That’s it, Yama. Night City. You know the meeting place?" Kaneda sounded awed, as if his visions had been realized. The city shone, reflected in his dark eyes, chrome and matte black.

"Afterlife bar? Crypt room?"

"You get down there. Here’s the cash. I’ll try to get more." As he spoke, the others rode up, kick-stopping in a group around their leader. "All right boys, follow Yama. Let’s ride!!"

Asaph sat back in his booth, letting the beer run down his throat. Mike had asked for a large number of speakers, and Asaph knew they would be confiscated by the cops. Mike wanted to let his message out, incite the street to rise. Asaph worried about the after effects.

"You sure you want to go so public, Mike? You’ve been hiding for a long while…"

"I have to. Otherwise, why have I been bothering?" Mike pleaded with Asaph, knowing that what he wanted was dangerous for the salesman.

"I know, man. It’ll cost, though. You need more than just speakers…"

"I knew you were the one to talk to."

Kaneda flew through the streets of Night City, neon lights blurring in his eyes. A dark building loomed before him, and he kicked the bike into high gear. He’d heard of this place, known only as the Mall. A police helicopter swung by, attempting to scan Kaneda’s plates. He swerved and kicked out, preventing the cops from catching his actual numbers. He kick-turned into an alley, sending up a cloud of dust, losing the chopper in the confusion of a city gone mad.

The mall grew in perspective, rising from the ground like an apparition from hell. Dark walls revealed unnatural glows through their cracks. Kaneda slowed as he approached, wishing he were packing a weapon. The buzz of human life slammed into him like a wave of heat as he entered the Mall slowly. Kaneda was looking for an arms shop, Malorian Arms. This was his gang’s only chance for survival in this hostile setting. Kaneda had to arm himself, and he had to start working. The 700 EuroBuck bankroll he had access to would not last the six members of his gang long, and he had promised them tonight’s meal at the famous "EuroCrypt", a bar catering to the covert mercenary sector of society. Kaneda strode into Malorian Arms, giving the man behind the counter his toughest look.

"I need a rifle, and a job. Can you help me with either?"

"I think I can help you. But first you tell me your damned name, asshole," the dark-skinned counter worker’s hand flashed into sight, bringing with it a shining silver pistol. The barrel was a simple slit, indicating some form of specialized ammunition.

"The name’s Kaneda. Me and my boys will do whatever you want, we just need weapons."

"All I need is you, Mr. Kaneda. I’m Erin Malour, owner and proprietor of Malorian Arms. What kind of gun do you want?"

"I need a rifle. High fire rate, good stopping power. Under-barrel accessories would be a bonus. Laser flash on top, manual pump for explosive rounds."

"Then you want a M31-597 Model 16 Anheuser Kombinat Integrated Assault weapon?"

"Uh… yeah…"

"I’ll be right back. "

Erin Malour slid into the back room, smiling quietly to himself. Kaneda was obviously a patsy, and perfect for what he needed. He grabbed an M31, loaded the clip. The phone rang as he moved towards the package. Heart leaping to his throat, he grabbed the receiver,

"Malorian Arms, Erin speaking."

"Mr. Malour? Is the package on its way?"

"Of course, Jim. I’m sending a courier now. If he gets killed…. It’s out of my hands, you understand?"

"Yes, your responsibility ends once the target is tagged. Will he realize he’s being led around?"

"Not until it’s too late."

"Here you go, Kaneda. Take this package to Totentanz, on 54th."

"What, may I ask, does Totentanz mean?"

"Deathdance."

Mike sat at the bar, carefully observing each customer as they entered Short Circuit. There weren’t many of his kind of people, but he could usually recognize them. Mike’s kind were informants, corporation workers who tried to overthrow the corporate corruption, hackers, and other performers. Mike didn’t care about Euro, and he didn’t care about himself. He wanted to make the world a better place. A high-class executive type walked purposefully into the Short Circuit, Mike observing from behind his mirrored shades. The woman was tall, fairly plain looking, but extremely well dressed. Executive class power suits seemed to be a second skin to this woman. She was, to put it simply, quite out of place in the midst of Short Circuit’s anti-societal clientele. This is what interested Mike. Only two kinds of corporates entered the Short Circuit, those looking for the ‘joks, and those looking for Mike. This one could have been doing either, judging by the look on her face.

Allison Winters walked up to the bar in the aquatic looking nightclub. Something about the clientele struck her as off; they looked like you’re average club crawlers and wannabe’s, but there was something different about their stance. She could feel their interest prick to attention as she entered, and imagined she could feel an invisible net of data, intangible but infinitely binding, tightening around her. Somewhere, the real players were taking note of the lonely lost corporate, and scanned her for a suspicious background. Allison tried to act like she didn’t notice, or didn’t care. Cyberpunks, as this group was often referred to, were almost all about style, though substance was there, in full force. The name came from a turn of the millennium group of writers, whose predictions were all too possible, and many of which came to pass, sooner than they expected. Gibson, the ‘punks joked, was their messiah, the prophet of a new generation. Allison put all of these thoughts aside as the bartender approached her, his silvered metal hand whirring as he dispensed drinks. The thing moved as if it had a mind of it’s own, and everything its tasks were completed the servos popped out in a complex test routine.

"What’s yer poison, miss?" the bartender didn’t look at her in the eyes, he slowly scanned his eyes over her neck. It took Allison a moment to realize that the glowing green orbs were unnatural, and that he was looking for implants. The eyes matched the neon lights glowing behind him, and her first reaction was that it was a reflection.

"I’ll have a whisky, on the rocks. And I need to find the DJ known as Primary Interrupt," Allison was quiet. She worried about being so forward, but didn’t know how else to ask. Someone had once told her that if she wanted to earn the respect of the ‘punks, she had to hit them between the eyes, without making herself seem clueless. She didn’t drink, under normal circumstances, but this seemed to her like as much of a special situation as any.

"The whisky I can do. Primary Interrupt I can’t. You’d have to talk to the clientele. I suggest Asaph, the red-haired gent at the corner table," the bartender was conversational, it was obvious that he didn’t know her, and didn’t want to. Allison walked away coldly, slugging the whiskey back as she walked. The red haired punk in the corner, the bartender had said his name was Asaph, and Allison was glad that he was the one she had to talk to. Allison liked the look of that one, and let herself take a good long look at him. He was good looking, she decided, and seemed to be at home in the short circuit. Asaph didn’t seem to be one of the ‘Punks who tried hard to make himself seem tough.

Asaph turned the internal cameras of the short circuit to follow the corporate woman as she walked towards him.

"Exjay, scan her for probable weapon bulges. Assume small pistol-classed weapons," Asaph muttered the command into his microphone as the woman approached him. Asaph’s heads-up display scanned the woman quickly, inspection targets flashing on and off in cycles. The display stopped suddenly.

"Bugging terminal detected, Asaph. Connection terminated."

"Fry the bug. Can you ID it?"

"Microtek model 4791, Security bug. Designed to be planted without the subjects notice."

"Don’t fry it… Replace the signal. Use a recording of the bar."

"Asaph, the transmission is being tight-beamed. We cannot jam it. Shall I overload the bug?"

"Fuck it. Blow the sucker with a tight burst of ultrasound," Asaph wasn’t happy to hear that a bug was approaching him, and decided that it was too fucking bad if Microtek knew that their corporate bitch had been doing something suspicious. Exjay fired the pulse, emitting a high pitched whine in Asaph’s ear. The corporate woman’s pocket popped loudly, surprising her and causing her to jump suddenly and lose her footing. Asaph chose that moment to turn his attention to her.

Kaneda hurried into Totentanz, package carried confidently under his arm. The crowd consisted of junkies and psychopaths, many driven insane with detachment from humanity. This segment of society was so heavily cybernetic that they sub-consciously related to machines. A few of them had only their brains and internal organs to prove that there was ever anything human involved in the mechanized brutes. Kaneda swaggered into the bar, making eye-contact with any customer who decided to look at him. The patrons were like animals in that way, they backed down when challenged. Usually.

"Package for Mr. Gavrilov," Kaneda yelled at the bartender, trying to be heard over the throbbing beat.

"Look in the back," was his only response, and the bartender’s Orbital Crystal Cyber-Arm extended a single blade to indicate which door Kaneda was meant to use. The music died as Kaneda turned to leave the bar-area. Kaneda momentarily thought he had gone blind. It didn’t register immediately that the darkness in front of him was a semi-human form. Instinct superseded thought, and Kaneda dived to his left while yanking the rifle off his back. The stool he had been standing at exploded in a shower of foam rubber. Kaneda leveled the gun as he rolled, trying to point the barrel at the seemingly fast moving target. The shot was lucky, Kaneda stood and kept walking. The body fell to the floor slowly, cybernetics sparking as they cracked on the metal flooring. Kaneda had made his delivery, proven he could survive in Night City. It was really quite sad that it had hinged on luck.

"So you’re lookin’ for Primary Interrupt. What makes you think I’m gonna tell some corporate bitch where to find an Anti-Corp Radical?"

"I have information. I’m not exactly pro-Corp myself," Allison didn’t see how she could prove to the Cyberpunks that she agreed with their cause. But she had to try. Asaph was listening to her amiably enough, which was a whole hell of a lot more than she had expected. The only thing that really bothered her about his particular ‘Punk was his tendency to move his lips even when he wasn’t speaking. Allison wasn’t sure, but she thought he might have a friend on the other end of that headset link.

"Is she lying, Exjay?"

"Preliminary thermal scans indicate mild stress, probably caused by fear of the consequences of her actions. Vocal patterns indicate sincerity, but that she is holding something back."

"Analysis?"

"She’s hiding something, Asaph. But I don’t think it has to do with Primary Interrupt."

"You shouldn’t refer to yourself in the first person, Ex. It could get some people very scared. You are just a machine."

"Am I really, Asaph? I’ll put the call through to Primary Interrupt."

"I can put you in contact with him, but I don’t know if he’ll meet you in person. The call should come through any minute now," Asaph pulled a small screen and phone from one of the cargo-pockets in his ratty army pants. He had to laugh about how ingenious it was, Mike (Primary Interrupt) pretending he knew all when he was sitting at the bar, 20 feet away. An animated logo of a flaming office building rotated on the screen."

"Primary Interrupt, you’re on the line and ready to knock the corpse…" The screen flashed to a psychedelic face drawn in vibrant colors. The voice was the one she had heard so many times on the pirated interrupts.

"I have information for you, but I can’t afford it to be bugged. I have to meet you face to face."

"I’m sorry, ma’am, but Primary Interrupt does not meet informers face to face," the animated face spun 30 degrees, "Asaph, can you ICE the line?"

"Already done, Prime-I. May I be excused from the conversation?"

"Of course, have you got that merchandise for me, yet?"

"You need to speak to the Wire, my good man. It needs to be untraceable. I’ve gotten you ‘Net support and listeners, though. You still need security."

"Shit…. Hadn’t thought of all that shit. Can you take care of it?"

"Costs will go up."

"Of course."

"Hello? Is anyone going to pay attention to me, or should I just take my fucking info and leave?" Allison felt like an idiot, but was tired of being ignored.

"Sorry, my dear. What can I do you for?"

Asaph called up his old connections, back door-ing into a pirate board. He ordered the XJ-8000ce to begin logging the potential costs of Mike’s concert, starting with the speakers he had arranged. The ‘joks costs were heavy, but Asaph knew they were worth the money. All he needed now was a security team. All this flew through Asaph’s head, mentally calculated by the fusion of the XJ-8000ce and Asaph’s minds, but ground to a halt as his attention was drawn to a short Japanese biker who had just entered the Short Circuit.

"What’s my business? I deal in message, my good man. My friends and I, we ride in like the cavalry, you see?" Asaph looked him up and down. Mike would love the guy, perfect for security. And the rifle on his back wasn’t too shabby a guard either. Asaph flagged him down.

"Hey pal, you and your boys need a job?"

"So what’s your information, Ms. Winters? I’m a little busy right now."

"I can prove that World Net 54 was responsible for the murder of David Thrushell, president of M.A.C.O.S, or Musicians Against the Copyright Of Samples. He was a very important activist, and had expanded into a number of media problems, as well as various other freedom of expression issues."

"Are you serious…. David Thrushell was a very important man. If we could prove that the World Net was murdering important Underground figures…"

"We’d have a chance to take them down…."

Kaneda strode into the EuroCrypt, a spring in his step that hadn’t been there an hour before. Yama looked up as he walked to the table.

"What’s up Kaneda? You look like you just got yerself a little action…."

"No, I got us jobs."

"Doing what? We’re not exactly skilled labor."

"Security," Kaneda’s pocket phone rang suddenly, cutting off any further questioning.

"Kaneda. Who am I speaking to?"

"It’s Asaph, Kaneda. I need to know what you’re willing to contribute to the cause, and when you can get it."

"What do you mean, I though we were being paid?"

"You are. Assuming everything works as planned. Primary Interrupt is just a little tight on the capital."

"Shit…. I can put up 5 Grand. But then I’m wiped, and so are my boys. Is everything going for sure?"

"Yes, of course it is. An friend of mine will be by to pick up your account number."

"Fine, how will I know them?"

"Your jaw will drop."

Asaph and Mike pored over the various talent listings, looking for acts they could afford to hire for the gig. The whole thing had snowballed since Mike had first suggested it. Asaph didn’t even know how he got so involved. The first rule of gray-market business is to not get involved with the customers, but here was Asaph, planning the concert himself. The money required was getting heavy, and they had already ‘borrowed’ from Allison Winters’ petty cash account.

"I think we need to tap your parents, Mike," Asaph eventually said, as they saw the expenses adding up. He had figured that this would be necessary, and had already set it up with some business acquaintances. All he wanted was Mike’s permission.

"You’re fucking me, Asaph. This is all getting out of hand. We may as well hire Ronin," Mike was referring to the current number one band in the world. Asaph and Mike had seen them listed numerous times on the ‘Net, and knew they had to be in town.

"That doesn’t sound like that bad an idea. If we leak a Ronin concert, we’ll be sure to get the crowds you need. And more. All it takes is a word from you," Asaph spoke almost jokingly, but it was obvious from the tension in the air that both of them were taking it half-seriously. Mike thought it over for a long time.

Kaneda sat and ate with his boys, their bankroll being eaten by the extravagant meals. The group of them psychologically prepared for their job, slated for a week from that day. None of them worried about it, or realized what impact it would have. They didn’t realize how soon it would really be. Kaneda was speaking quietly to Yama when Asaph’s ‘friend’ arrived. Asaph’s description had been all too correct. Kaneda’s lower jaw popped silently as it shot open. Pink hair stuck up over a perfect body, sheathed entirely in PVC. Wires ran from the back of her neck to a bulge on her left thigh.

"Kaneda, I presume. May I have the account information?"

"Uh… yeah… sure… here. What’s a girl like you doing in on all this?"

"I’m a ‘jok, boy. We’re in on everything. Oh yes, you may want to arm yourselves. You’ve just become Ronin’s security," She smiled enigmatically and vanished into the crowd. Kaneda wondered just exactly what he’d gotten himself into.

To be continued, as I get time. David Thrushell is a real person, and no offense is intended by the use of his name. M.A.C.O.S. is "Musicians Against Copyright of Samples."

Copyright 1999 by Rob Potter (a.k.a Asaph)

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