by Tracey Nicole Peart
Anton was excited. This was his one-day a month off outside the archology (if he wanted it). The forecast for the day was light rain but as it was normally raining on his trips out that didn’t matter. The most important thing was that there was next to no acid content. A perfect winters morning.
The decision to move into the Renraku pyramid had been the best one that Anton had ever made. He was commonly known as what was called a wage slave but by living where he worked he received enough benefits to keep him content. The nutritiously balanced meals were delivered once a week, there was discounted house keeping dependent on your salary and public access to pool & gym equipment. Anton didn’t have to worry about a thing. If you didn’t like your neighbours you simply put in the relevant paperwork and the company would move you to different accommodation. (Of course if you did this too often, you might find yourself moved to a really small unit on the edge of the archaeology and waiting two years to relocate again.)
It was also beneficial for families to live in the Archaeology as well. Even though Anton was not a family man he knew that education, welfare benefits, medical benefits and a safe environment were all provided. The temperature was always controlled and a monthly rain calendar was published so that picnics and outings were never spoilt. Everything that any one could possibly want was found in the archology giving no real reason to go out except that Anton had a mission.
He looked at his day-bag to see if he had forgotten anything. Two changes of clothes just in case. A water bottle, a pocket secretary, a disk recorder, his sincard, and a couple of credit sticks that he had purchased to make life a little easier. (Some people didn’t like taking money from where it could be traced. They were so paranoid.) On the top lay the competition flyer.
Win a trip to see ‘Shadowrunners’(inc)filmed on location.
Write a script for an episode of Shadowrunner the no 1 drama of the decade, and the best 10 entries will receive a fully paid trip for two to Tacoma. See ‘Snakes and Shaman’s as it’s being produced. Meet the stars and relax in your very own VIP accommodation. Hurry entries close Christmas day 2059.
You never know, your script could be the next ‘Shadowrun’ episode.
Nope, he had everything he needed for his day of research. Anton smiled again. This was one trip he was not going to miss out on. He had snuck some extra download time on the net and found some inside knowledge of what the directors were looking for. Plus his creative writing teacher said he had potential. Yep this was a sure thing.
The door chimed, and Anton closed his bag and made his way to the waiting bus. They picked up a few more passengers, filling the seven o’clocker to capacity and drove to the #5 exit. After passing through security, the bus made it’s way outside to the first designated stop. As always the world seemed less bright and hopeful outside. The Christmas decorations were drab and hung soaked in the rain. The morning traffic was typically blocked up and Anton debated with himself the intelligence of not catching the tube (the name commonly given to the underground rail system).
The bus eventually made it’s way to his first stop, downtown. ‘Right’ he thought to himself, ‘First to get some pictures of alleys and such’. Anton looked through his bag "Damn" he swore. ‘I’ll have to pick up a camera.’ He pocketed his SIN card and the two cred. sticks.
Finding an electronics store in downtown was no problem at all. This was the age of paranoia and anyone could pick up a camcorder, listening devices, bugs you name it with little effort. Anton was bemused when he read a sign on the door saying; Warning. Magical security on premises. Anyone could put up such a sign because it was almost impossible to check. He went in and chose an inexpensive, old-fashioned camera then proceeded to snoop around the downtown area.
By lunchtime the weather had turned nasty and Anton ducked into one of the many coffeehouses in the area. It was sparsely populated with two guys talking quietly in a booth towards the back and what looked like an elven couple too absorbed in each other to notice anything else. Anton ordered a soycaf and burger wishing he could afford the real stuff like what the men at the back were having. From what he had tasted in the past Anton didn’t especially like real coffee but to be able to afford the stuff appealed to his sense of achievement. The wage slave looked at the first two men he noticed as he came in. They sat with their backs to the wall so that they had a good view of the street outside threw the large bay windows. They were obviously friends but from very different backgrounds. One wore a very fine tailored suit whereas the other dressed himself more like a common street rider with his leather pants and jacket. Anton looked a little more carefully at the rider and whistled under his breath as he realised that the man wore real leather.
‘must have cost him a packet on those clothes.’ he thought. ‘Even the fake stuff made to look that real is more newyen than I can make in a fortnight.’
More than impressed and feeling a little jealous Anton decided to use the men as his ‘Johnson’ and ‘fixer’. He turned his recorder on to take some notes, "Shadowrunners can afford real coffee. Coffee house is a good place to meet but not during the day, too public and they might get recognised by Lonestar police."
The moment Anton pulled out his camera to take a few photos, the male elf that was not far away, stood up angrily. "Hey what the frag do you think you’re doing?"
"Nothing much. Just doing a bit of research." Anton replied.
"Well you can fraggin do you’re nothing much outside." By this time the rather tall elf was standing in front of Anton’s table. His coat held back slightly revealing the hilt of a pistol.
The proprietor of the establishment looked over rather worried and started moving over towards the public terminal near the counter. Anton quickly packed his camera away. "Look man. I meant no offence really."
"Well you have offended and I suggest that you leave now before I do anything you wouldn’t like."
"I’m going, I’m going." Anton looked visibly shaken and quickly made his way out of the coffee shop. ‘Geese, I know that elves are funny about some things but it’s not like I was stealing his soul or anything.’ He thought to himself.
It took Anton a couple of hours to recover enough to pull his camera out again. He decided to make one of his villain’s thugs an elf who gets killed in the first ten minuets of the show. Much cheered up, Anton caught the tube to the Redmond Barron’s. He knew it was dangerous to visit even during the day but he wanted as much background stuff he could get. After all, he only had six days to get the script written and submitted.
The afternoon passed too quickly and before he knew it the sun had gone down. Anton hurried to an entrance to the underground subway but as he approached he noticed a group of youths hanging around the stairs. Changing his mind, the potential scriptwriter found a public phone booth. It had no access to a data link so he lifted the receiver but found no dial tone. On further inspection the wage slave found that the line had been cut. "Figures" he mumbled to himself. "Probably be too difficult to get a cab out here anyway."
Anton left the booth and proceeded away from the gang on foot. He had not gone far into the barren’s so after walking for about an hour found himself in a more up-market area near Bellvue. By this time he was rather foot-sore, not being used to all the walking around and found himself a park to rest in. It was a cramped but neatly kept park. It contained the bench he was seated on, bolted to the ground and graffitied all over, and a two-person swing (in the same condition as the bench). A little girl swung herself distractedly whilst nearby a lady, presumably her mother, sat cross-legged and hooked up to a cyberdeck. Anton thought it strange to be accessing the net outside. ‘Sure it’s not raining any-more but why not set up in a building and besides where’s her jack in port?’ Then it clicked. ‘She must be a decker.’ The woman let out a moan and Anton looked at her with alarm.
"It’s O.K." the little girl said. "She always does that."
"Does what?" Anton replied.
"She always gets excited when she jacks in. Something to do with being hooked up through the pleasure centres of her brain."
Anton was shocked. First at what the girl had said and then that the little girl had actually known and said it. "What’s your name?"
The girl thought for a moment then smiled, "Nogard."
"That’s not your real name is it!"
"It is to you." Nogard hoped off the swing and walked over to Anton. "So what’s yours?"
"Scriptor" he replied quickly. "How come your mother is out here decking and not inside?"
The girl regarded Anton intensely for a moment. He suddenly got the creeps, and thought it felt as if she was reading his mind. Then she broke contact and replied, "Probably trying to hack Renraku’s systems and find out why the choppers crashed and the subsequent lockup of the archology and all that." She shrugged.
Anton paled. ‘Locked up? The archology. Choppers. Hacking.’ All of a sudden dread descended upon the man. "What happened at Renraku?"
"Don’t know. There was some sort of gunfire in the malls massacring lots of shoppers. Then some helicopters fell out of the sky. And now they have sealed up the archology tight. No one in no one out."
"I have to get back there." Anton said standing up quickly.
"What’s the point?" Suddenly the girl looked horrified and turned towards her mother. "No!" she screamed and ran to her side. She grabbed the cables and yanked them out of the cyber-sockets of the woman’s head. Blood followed the cables, splattering the child’s clothes. It also poured from every other cranial orifice.
Anton moved to check the lady’s pulse but was confronted by an enraged Nogard. "You did this!" She accused him. "If you hadn’t distracted me with all your petty questions I would have been warned and could have saved her."
Right before his eyes, Nogards features changed into what was unmistakably a dragon. Fire sprang up surrounding Anton. He could feel the heat sere his skin but the flames did not close to burn him.
"Try and get out of that one, human. The authorities will kill you trying to rip the information from your brain. Then they’ll ask; why did Anton James Braford do a Shadowrun against Renraku? Who are his contacts? Before you know it, it won’t be just you who suffers but your family and friends as well." With that the creature took flight.
Anton was too self absorbed to notice that her flight was shaky and unexperienced. ‘She’s right. Lone star or even worse the Red Samurai will come searching here. With something this big it will be a case of shoot first, ask the corpse questions later. I have to escape!’ He opened his bag and grabbed his water bottle. Emptying the contents onto his spare clothes he then wrapped them around his hands and head, trying to dampen himself as much as possible. Closing up the bag he threw it and it’s contents through the fire. The flames flared as the bag passed through but did not set fire to it. ‘Now for my turn.’ Anton gritted his teeth and tumble dived out of the ring. On the outside, Anton sat stunned but unhurt. He looked back at the fire and only then did he realise that the grass was not burning beneath it. ‘An illusion? But it felt so real.’
His revelation was interrupted by the sound of sirens. Anton quickly approached the dead woman and without thinking, snatched up her cyberdeck and unhooked it from the concealed jack port. He stuffed it into his bag and ran back towards the Barren’s. The security response time for this area was way too quick for his liking.
As Anton fled the park he saw a white van with blackened out windows scream to a halt and five men in red armour poured out into the retreat. He didn’t wait to see if he had been noticed but instead ran as fast as he could. The streets deteriorated quickly into the government built multi-story housing complexes, and unkempt roads of Redmond. Litter lined the alleys on both sides as the wage slave weaved though them trying to loose any tail he might have picked up. He could hear a vehicle, ‘could it be the guards?’ Thinking that he could probably hide in a dumpster, Anton discovered that they were all locked. The boxes and rubbish around them would offer no protection should he be detected. Anton shivered thinking back to a time he had seen the red guards in action.
Someone had committed a very serious crime in the archology. Anton never really found out what the person had done, but they had tracked him down relentlessly. Of course there was a reward for anyone who could lead them to him but the Red Samurai found him without any help. Desperately the felon pulled out a machine gun but before he had it even half way up he was gunned down. Anton had been ducking out of the way not far from the Red Samurai and he heard the unemotional voice of the commander calling in his report. He remembered now those few chilling words, "target has been eliminated."
No way was Anton going to get caught by someone who was more machine than man but he was out of luck, the scream of tyres and the smell of burnt rubber filled his senses as the van turned into his alley. Anton took off again at a run slipping through ways that he thought the van could not follow and diving threw the foyers of the dilapidated apartment buildings. He knew he couldn’t keep this up, so finding one that didn’t look like it was condemned to be destroyed, he decided to hide in it’s upper levels.
Anton almost gagged by the stench of human faeces as he ran down the hall to the stairs in the centre of the building. He turned into the stairwell only to be stopped by a huge ork guarding them. Terrified, Anton stuttered, "Pl..pl..Please let me up. They’ll kill me."
The ork stood his ground and held his hand out. Anton looked at the Meta incredulously.
"I haven’t got time to negotiate."
His heart stopped as the van pulled to a halt outside the glass doors (which amazingly enough were not smashed.). They had seen him. The capture team were already piling out of the van. The door at the end of the hall swung open and three men stepped in together followed by two more. The forward Red Samurai, as one, brought up their rifles and trained them on the frightened man.
Desperately Anton felt around in his coat for a cred stick.
"Remove all weapons and put your hands in the air."
Anton’s fingers closed on the stick and he pleaded to the ork with his eyes. Slowly he put his arms up clearly showing the ork what was in his hand and still holding his bag with the other. The ork’s stance did not change but he grunted something unintelligible under his breath.
"Face us slowly. Then get on your hands and knees and put your head down."
Anton slowly turned as he was told, disappointed that the ork was going to do nothing. Greed had always found a way of helping him before but it seemed that this time it wasn’t going to work. Suddenly he was pulled sideways into the stairwell and half dragged up the stairs. There was the sound of gunfire momentarily too late. The cred stick was ripped out of Anton’s hand and he was shoved into a small dark room. The door was locked behind him and he could hear heavy boots on the stairs. Anton pressed as far back as he could into what was obviously once a fire hose cupboard. More shots were fired up the stairwell almost deafening him, but he managed with great difficulty to stay quiet and still.
For what seemed like forever, there was the sounds of a small war happening outside Anton’s little room. Several times the door was shot but it was thick enough to provide an effective barrier. Then without warning, there was silence. Anton waited another long and cramped time before finally he heard a key in the lock. The door opened and Anton shielded his eyes with his hands as a mag. light was shone directly into his face.
"So. What’s a little corp. boy doing out in the big old world?"
"Sometin’ bad I ‘ope. Still gave us sometin’ ta play wif for a bit."
The light was taken away and Anton saw two people, the ork from before and a man in his twenties. Both wore similar colours and bandannas around their heads. The ork snatched the bag out of Anton hands and peered inside. "Let’s see if ta breeder has any-more membership money." The ork then proceeded to empty the contents onto the floor.
"You’ll have to excuse my associate." The other remarked. "He is anxious to learn if you can cover his fee. After all, we are mercenaries not good samaritons."
The ork picked up the cyberdeck and examined it. "Pah." He grunted. "Circuits fried. No use ta us." He tossed the deck down the stairs and collected the remaining contents of the bag. "No’ ‘nough."
Anton saw the glint in the ganger’s eye and could feel a blade pressed to his stomach. "I, I have another cred stick. Plus the disks in the deck might still be all right. They hold really important data on Renraku." He lied secretly thanking Renraku for installing a datajack into his head to make his story a little more credible. The blade disappeared and the twenty-year-old held out his hand expectantly. Anton gave the ganger his last credit stick, which was promptly deposited into a cred. reader.
"Ok. you have bought our help for now but I warn you that if the discs come up empty then you’ll have to leave our protection quickly or else suffer the consequences. If you’re dumb enough to go against your own company then you’ve got worse problems than us anyway."
Anton was puzzled as to how the man had known he worked for Renraku, then realised with a red face that he had Renraku’s insignia all over his clothes.
"Follow us." The ganger finally let Anton out of the cupboard and into the blood soaked stairwell. He counted seven Red guards as he was quickly led out of the building and into the one across the street.
"Why are we moving?"
Both gangers stopped and stared at Anton incredulously. The human led Anton to a window overlooking the building they had just come from. "Watch." He said with gritted teeth. "This is how your lovable Renraku deals with problem children." The three hid and watched the other building for three minutes. Then suddenly there was an explosion of fire and shrapnel as two rockets hit the flats, reducing it to rubble in seconds.
"But, there could have been innocent people in there."
"There was innocent people in there. What planet have you been living on in the last sixty years?"
"Why didn’t you warn them?"
"No time. Now come on I’m getting tired of all your ridiculous questions. Lets get you and your deck there somewhere safe."
The two gangers led Anton to the fourth floor of the building then blind folded him. He was then grabbed by the ork who carried the scared former wage slave over his shoulder. The Ork’s sweat smelt foul and Anton had to concentrate not to throw up. By the time he was finally put down Anton was very sore and tied. The blindfold was removed and he tried to adjust his eyes to see in the dark room. "Where are we?"
"Yer in ta Orkish Underground. So if I was you I would’na be sneekin around. Got tit?"
The other ganger stood near the door. "How about some light on the subject." He flicked a switch and the lights revealed a rather ordinary room.
Anton looked around puzzled.
The ork sneered at him. "Wha’? Yer t’ink we live in some dirty li’’le hole? Na we gots us a nice big city down ‘ere. Complete wif all the mod cons. Sorry ta disappoints. By the way, handle’s Mantez and tis is me chummer Ferret."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance." Anton quickly thought back to his conversation to the little girl. "I’m Scriptor."
"Ya hear t’at! He’s pleased ta make our ‘quaintance. Let’s see just how pleased we is to make his."
"Nah, give him a break Mantez, he looks fragged. Besides we haven’t got the tools for him to use yet.
Ferret opened another door. "You can sleep in here, we’ll just go out and get you something to eat. Oh and don’t forget, this is the Orkish Underground. You can leave if you want but you probably won’t make it more then five steps past our door without an escort." With that Anton was left alone.
‘Frag. What do I do now.’ Anton thought to himself. ‘I’m a data processor, not a decker.’ Despite how tied he felt, Anton pulled the cyberdeck near him and looked at it. The Ork had been right, most of the circuits were either fussed or burnt out. He pushed it away frustrated, and looked about the residence. It was basically a three-room apartment that led out into a distinctly underground street. Pipes and cables from the buildings above were strapped up over a street floor of dirt, which meant that Anton was close to the surface. ‘There must be an exit close by.’ He thought. With that he packed the deck into his bag and quickly searched the place. As he suspected, the two mercenaries had a stash of weaponry. Anton filled the space left in his day-bag with ammo and pistols then hurried out the door.
Three times he encountered what could have been trouble but he bribed his way out of it with the guns he’d stolen. The last ork he met even showed him a way out, promising to smash his head in if he wondered into the Orkish Underground again.
Disorientated and tied, Anton did the only thing he could think of. Walk towards the mammoth building of the Renraku Archology. By dawn he was stumbling up the last streets near it. The morning traffic was already looking like it was going to jam. The rain was pouring down, soaking the Christmas decorations to the point of near destruction and some shop owners were busily getting ready to open up for morning trade. Anton looked in despair as two Lonestar police approached him. He expected them to arrest him on the spot and hand him over to Renraku.
"Sin please." The woman officer said.
Anton fished around in his pocket and was surprised to find his identification card still there. He handed it to the officer who put it in her reader. She read the details displayed and then looked Anton up and down.
"Everything looks fine. Do you know where you’re supposed to report to?"
Anton shook his head dumbly.
"Right then." The male officer said. "You’d better come with us."
The two cops took Anton to a hastily set up building where he was handed over to some Renraku authorities. He was processed, assigned a room and to his surprise left alone to find his own way there. Once he realised he was not going to be interrogated or killed, Anton happily found his room. Half an hour later there was a knock at his door and a guy named Bruce introduced himself as Anton’s caseworker. Bruce showed Anton to the showers and arranged a new set of clothes for him. By the time Anton made it back to his room he was feeling almost human again. Then he realised his bag was missing off of the table. He turned to Bruce. "What’s happened to my things?"
"Sorry, what things?"
"I had a bag containing…"
"Oh! You mean the bag containing the Renraku property that you found? We were sure that it couldn’t belong to you since you don’t have a gun permit nor afford that top of the range cyberdeck. We do thank you for their return and as a reward you will go up one pay increment. You can collect your bag when we’re finished with it." Bruce moved towards the door as the full weight of his words sunk in. "By the way, there was something that I did think might have belonged to you. I left it on the table there. Good luck." With that Bruce left.
Anton looked at the dried off crumpled piece of paper on the table;
Win a trip to see ‘Shadowrunners’(inc) filmed on location.
Anton didn’t read any further. Tomorrow was Christmas day. Today he would sleep.
©1999, Tracey Nicole Peart - used with permission