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An LED in the Night It was raining that night on the Strip. Water… - The Rainbow Pen

sivi_volkFeb. 22nd, 2004 12:21 pm

An LED in the Night

It was raining that night on the Strip. Water poured from the blackness above, turning dull grey pavement to charcoal. The puddles were oily pools of rainbow chemicals, slick across the torn concrete sidewalk. Everything two stories down was washed in the sullen twilight orange of old streetlights mixed with a spectrum of neons and fluorescents spilling from shop windows. Traffic, talk, the rustling of rushing bodies filled the street with a harsh white noise. There we were, a young punk and a weefle-runner, with mirrorshades and ‘trodes, thinking we were the monomolecular edge of the next generation. Joe-boy had a shiny new Ono-Sendai deck, and a grab bag full of discount programs. He’d just hit some nothing little store down on Rideau for a hundred creds. I had the clothes on my back and my granddad's Glock from the war, its heavy polymer body hanging beside my chest. We were sitting in the Rafters, looking down at Bank through the empty window next to our table, watching the movements of the street, thinking we could read all the secret little eddies of trade and death.
Joe-boy was impatient, restless after his first real run. So I asked him what was up, and he gave me that smug grin that bugs me so much. And he said Jack, I got us a benefactor, and we’re movin up. I opened my mouth to ask Joe-boy what the frack he was talking about, when the suit walked in. He moved past the cheap blue sim/stim cubicles and the pimply fixers and the ultraviolet daubed chicas like he didn’t even see them. This guy was all Edge, slicked back black hair, mirrorshade lenses fused to his sockets, Tokyo original suit fitting him like a vat-grown skin. He stepped up to our table, and I wondered what merde Joe-boy thought he’s pulling. The guy looked at us, turned, gestured with a wave of his hand, and led us out to the street.

She holds my hand as she leads me into the apartment, her metallic hair swishing like bundles of organic piano wire, skin cool and smooth. Thunder rumbles in the distance, but all I hear is the whisper of her voice telling me not to fear.

We left the Rafters with Joe-boy’s contact. I could tell this guy had to be corporate, someone big, Genedyne or Hosaka or Santo-Lily Biolabs, someone with a budget for cybermercs like this guy. He led us to an idling aero, state-of-the-art matte black plasteel moulded to cut through air resistance like a vibe-knife through plastic. I didn’t think it even had manufacturer’s tags - I figured it was military production. Joe-boy seemed to know what was up, so I went along. Joe-boy could be a bit too cocky, but I usually trusted him. We got in; the suit rode shotgun. There were three other guys - same black suit, same fused shades, same hair, same generic biosculpted look, two in the back and one driving. The engines hummed to life, whirring with effort as the turbo-fans lifted us out of the false twilight and into the sooty blackness above the Strip.

She leads me to the bed as the rain starts to pour down with machine-gun chatter, overwhelming all sound, everything but our breathing. The look in her eyes is like drowning as she pulls the sim/stim deck from the side table. She slips the trodes over my head and we jack straight across, dual sensory perception overriding synapses, hands touching thighs touching hands. Her/my metal arm clenches as my/her claws snick and snack and I/we feel my/her ribs bend under the pressure, flashes of chrome/neon pain and I feel the clicking of her/my polymer heart in our chests.

We landed somewhere way out on the North side in a big anonymous corporate complex. The landing flares were red dull dwarf suns against the cold void of the courtyard. I was nervous as hell, seeing as I had no idea who we were dealing with or where we were, but Joe-boy seemed to have a handle on it. We stepped down out of the aero and walked quickly to a small door set into a dark recess in the plascrete. The rain slowed, hissing like smeat as it s fried by a laser-mike. The suit punched a code into a little panel and the door slid away, leading us into a tight hallway with soft blue fluorescents that light up as we advanced, flickering out as we passed. The suit stopped after a few twists and turns, and let us into a tiny room, and shut us inside. There was a table, simple steel top and legs, more shaded blue light. A man sat at the table; short spiked white hair, sleepy Eurasian eyes, Kaf-coloured sim-tan, dark red suit turned black by the lights. He motioned us to sit, and opened a folder lying in front of him.

I turn over and she s gone, just me in a cooling bed, rain tap-tap-tapping on the plexi skylight, chill air brushing over me, and the acrid tang of burnt circuitry hanging in the air.

The guy called himself Fritz, and he offered us a deal. We were to do a job for him and he would pay us in creds and tech - tech a couple newbies like us could never have gotten through some juvie fixer. The job was simple - the daughter of some major player in their corp had run off. All we had to do was find her and bring her back. They needed a some guys who knew the kids on the street, who could blend in. Their black and grey-ops guys would stand out like a Deep Blue Supernova at an arcade - hardware on a completely different level than the young punks on the Strip and arcos and hoods. They figured we had a better chance of finding her, getting her to trust us, extracting her from whatever she d gotten into. Joe-boy gave me a look, a low, excited look. This would get us a real rep; we would be players in the game. And whatever tech Fritz was willing to shell out would take us a couple cuts above the usual crowd, with their cheap Sendai eyes and knocked-off Chinese pistols.

I get out of bed and dress, quickly, black fatigues, big reinforced nuleather boots, silksteel inserts whispering in my jacket as I shrug into it. The Glock is heavy, cold against my shirt, stamped polymer rubbing against the side of my chest. My eye feels alien, a mechanical parasite nestling in my skull. I see a flicker on the floor near the door, and I turn and stride over to it, drawn like a moth to the light.

So Joe-boy and I made the deal. Were we going to say no? Fritz took us to a tech lab for their ops teams. Ten G’s worth of tech and cyberware, to start us off. Joe-boy headed for the runner-ware, pawing through the dark bins and lockers of low-imped plugs, cellular deck suits, black ice programs. Joe-boy, see, he was our software. Me, I’m a hardware kinda boy. Crude or technical, it doesn t matter so long as I have an edge in realspace. I checked out the cyberware and weapons, stuff that I couldn’t have gotten legally, reflex boosters and rippers. I picked out a cybereye, Swiss make, all the options. Joe-boy picked out his stuff, and got his new plugs put in by some medtechies in white coats. The smell of cauterized flesh drifted through the air, like sizzling pseudopork, as the techs opened up his skull to put the plugs in at his temples. I lay down at the other table, breathing fast. Two techies came over, white lab coats and masks making them plaster statues in the dim light. One picked an air-hypo off a small chrome tray, jammed it in my arm, and I powered down.

I look down, and it s a little note, held by a delicate holo-card, the lily fresh and budding, turning in perfectly rendered 3D. I put the note and card in my pocket and rush out, slamming the door and racing for the stairs. Dim bars of light flicker spasmodically, illuminating brown-stained walls as I jump the flights, almost tearing the thin door at the bottom off its archaic brass hinges.

I woke up in the 20x20 cube-flat I shared with Joe-boy. My head and hands were throbbing with pain, dull aching buzz of anti-rejection drugs making me nauseous. Joe-boy was already up, running his new deck through its paces. He had that sardonic little grin on, his body still from the deck s paralytic converter. I held my tender hands up to my face, saw the angry red lines at the tips of my fingers, lines of new muscle running down to my palm. I tensed, and watched the five razors come snicking out, sliding against enamel sheaths. I rolled off the cot, fell as my limbs moved with unaccustomed speed. I hadn’t learned to compensate for the booster yet. Moving was like an old projector film with bits cut out; jerky, too fast, like time was strobing in neural flashes. I moved carefully to the dingy bathroom in the corner, looked into the cracked mirror. The right side of my head was angry red, suture lines stark white against the bruising. My eye looked a bit glassy, the small red LED inside flickering on and off as I refocused. Joe-boy and I spent those first few days getting used to our new abilities. It was like when you first learn to move in netspace - you fumble around until you get the hang of moving with your mind instead of your body.

I race out onto the street, boosted limbs unnaturally quick, boots slamming on pavement with dull thuds like the blood pounding in my head. The rain is firing sideways now, translucent bullets of water slamming against my clothes and cheeks. All the lights have gone dark, and over the howl of the wind I hear the bass hum of an aero approaching. I switch down to lowlight with the eye, see the aero slicing above the street, homing to the signal she must have set.

Joe-boy used his new deck to hack the city surveillance network, searching the grids for some sign of the girl called Lily. I skimmed through clubs and bars and love hotels like a runner through files, checking to see if some corp chica had been around lately. Finally, I met a hustler named Fidget in an old arcade filled with aging pinball games. He slouched in a threadbare greatcoat, his face a botched version of the latest NuEngland media darling, For 50 creds he told me he d heard something about the Devil Bears grabbing some girl after a firefight between two black-ops teams. Fidget claimed he knew the Devil Bear s were working as street level operatives for some corp he wouldn’t name. He figured she was a bargaining chip between some megacorps, and the Devil Bear s were holding her for one of them. He gave me the address of their main hangout, an old converted warehouse on Innes, and faded back into the flashing incandescents and jangling bells, looking for some juvies to buy some beta-e.

I turn and run down the street, racing along the aero’s path, knowing she’ll be waiting for it, waiting for that safe ride home. My eye picks out details as I sprint: trash out on the curb waiting for days to be picked up, a scattering of shattered glass, discarded neon tubing glowing faintly as its poison gas leaks into the storm. Ahead, I can almost feel her, the clicking of her mechanical heart pumping blood through her veins, the whirring of servos in her arm, the whisper of her breath as she awaits her safe passage away from the rawness of the street.

Joe-boy stayed back in the flat on that night, his consciousness racing down cables with electrical speed, flashing quicksilver through links and boxes and terminals until he hit the warehouse on Innes, where the Devil Bears were hiding out. I was waiting, leaning on the cheap methanol rental car, waiting for the lights to go down. Wind sidled around me, moist and biting, bringing the promise of another storm. The twilight was dark, clouds and chemicals filtering the sunset, washing the scene with a grey sea green. The lights went down, and I ran to the fire escape, boosted swiftness throwing me in the air and through the cheap aluminium door as I pulled the Glock from its holster. My eye switched to infrared as I scanned the darkness, the smell of old dry wood and dusty concrete filling my nostrils. And iron, salt, the tangy smell of new death. I slipped to the edge of the catwalk and looked down into the central room. Bodies were sprawled out, jagged wounds from hot lead and silent blades sending rivulets of crimson spiralling across the pavement to the drain in the middle. Three suits stood there, same biosculpted faces, same blank black shades. And her. Tall. Slender, as mom used to say, like a willow. Pale skin luminous in the gloom, dark coat around her shoulders. One suit grabbed her hand, pulled her away. The other two started up the stairs, to the sounds of my belated entrance. I ran, hunched down, then jumped, twisted through the air; smart-linked reticules focused on one of them; the Glock kicked in my hand as his face disappeared behind the starburst of the muzzle flash. The other suit lifted his gun, his arm blurring with boosted speed; he fired as I landed and pounced. My hand came up, a fistful of razor blades, and I caressed his throat, microfine blades rending, fissures of scarlet shining on the infrared.

I sit in the alley, staring down, and I know I m too late. I feel that pain down in my gut, all grinding like shards of glass churning down through my flesh. I m lost, dull slick walls spinning around me like on of those old picture wheels, the images blurring into one continuous motion.

I followed the other suit, and the girl. He was almost at the aero, talking to her as she balked. That was it. A glance to me, wide violet eyes dilated in fear. A slight recoil away from him, and I knew she didn’t want to go. I held the Glock up, finger squeezing faster than bullets, and he fell, crunching limply on the gravel. I ran to her, grasped her shoulder her, asked if she was alright. She nodded, looked bewildered and scared. We ran to the rental, and I raced back to the flat, where Joe-boy was ready to send a mission accomplished to Fritz. I had to get to him, had to stop him, had to tell him she was in trouble. We ran up the creaking stairs, and I burst in the door. The air was thick, and that same sickly sweet scent of charred flesh rolled out on vulture wings. I stepped into the room. Joe-boy was still linked to his deck, linked forever, smoke rising off the fused mass of flesh, plastic, and silicon. I turned, pulling her after me, back to the car. They were after her, and me.
I drove through the busy street, the rental's windows filtering out the flash and jangle of lights, insulating us from the street. I whispered urgently to her, asking if she knew a place to hide, a place where we could hide from that unnamed corp. She nodded, small pearlescent teeth tugging, chewing on her lower lip. She looked at me, her eyes scanning deeper than an x-ray, like she was trying to see how I worked, what micro-filaments and circuitry were buried in my skull to make me kill for her, someone I d never met but I knew, someone who didn’t know me but needed to understand.


I pull the note out, and it’s soaked. Her thoughts, her needful message, whatever she wanted to share with the strange boy who found her and frightened her away, are gone. Spattered ink and crumpled paper clenched in my hand. Tears seep down my face like the rain running through the gutter. The clouds overhead start burning as the sun from a new dawn flares above the skyscrapers. I stare fixedly at the holo-card, and the LED in my eye reflects off it, and I watch as the light fades from its cheap plastic depths.

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