by Malik Running Wolf Toms
Jonas spread his hand across the dashboard. His brown-skinned fingers were elf-like and peppered with nicks and scars. They bore no rings, nothing that could connect him to anyone. His eyes were the same; dry sockets dominated by circuitry, devoid of life; emotion. Things had been different once. Before the scars and the cybereyes he had driven a cab. He had lived with his mother. Worst of all, he had been poor. We all make choices, he thought to himself. Over the last few years it had become hard to distinguish between which choices he still believed in and which ones he had learned to regret.
" Control, we are go." A woman's voice floated into his mind.
Jonas jacked in.
All of his doubts and fears melted away in the first few seconds of transition between the gray world and his kaleidoscopic cyberscape. In the matrix Jonas was blue. He was a tall, muscular man with coal eyes and a pointy white goatee that clung to his digitized chin like an icicle. He wore no clothes to hide behind, save for a loincloth that disguised his privates. They called him Frost here. It was a powerful name. Once, Jonas had considered splicing a line of code to his persona that could make a glowing 'F' appear on his chest like the heroes in the old comic books. He backed down from the idea when his Cadre mates had attacked him with their wretched laughter.
Jonas/Frost stood in clearing, his shoeless feet all but hidden by the long blades of snow-covered grass. The code here was sharp. He'd spent years working out the imperfections in order to make this cusp of matrix space seem real. It was real, almost. There were no morning birds chirping. The fresh smell of pine needles was ominously absent. It was neither hot nor cold. He hadn't learned how to will the matrix to provide these things.
He stood at the center of a ring of snow-lined trees. The forest growth beyond it was so thick and tangled with growth that Frost could not see beyond it. At the edge of the tree line, a series of rectangular mirrors hovered inches above the ground. Above each mirror was a name in green neon letters. From left to right they read: Arson, Trotter, Sticks and Lucky. There was a fifth mirror behind him. This last mirror was larger than the rest and it bore his name.
Frost extended his left hand, as if to reach for something. A keyboard materialized in front of him. He settled his reaching hand over the keyboard and began to type.
Frost in the Box.
" Proceed." The same hollow female voice sounded in his head. He turned to the fourth mirror, the one that read: Lucky. Without hesitation, Frost leapt through.
The world lurched and he was on a motorcycle. A concrete labyrinth of glass-coated skyscrapers and old, ivy covered brownstones had replaced the image of a forest clearing. All that had been absent in the matrix was present in this new vision. The air stank of industrial pollutants and his ears were filled with the gray buzz of what could only be New York City traffic.
Frost felt the pleasant tug of his groin coming awake between his legs. Yet as real as the sensations were, Frost knew that they were not his own. What he smelled, saw, even what he felt was through the eyes of someone else. Lust filled his heart suddenly, an emotion which like the rest was not his own. It was always like this with Lucky before the run. Lucky was their sparkplug. Running the corporate shadows turned him on. Frost always felt dirty after using the sense link with Lucky, but it was the way they did things. Seeing through their eyes and feeling what they felt was the only way he could know exactly what was going on from their point of view. It was like slotting a high-yield BTL chip, or rigging a person if such a thing were possible.
"I'm with the point." He typed the words and immediately heard their electronic translation ringing in Lucky's ear.
" Good to have you aboard Frosty. How do you like my view?" His shared vision shifted to reveal a leggy blonde standing at the corner waiting for a cab. Lucky's eyes lingered on the woman for another moment before Frost could sway hi with another command.
" Business Lucky. Focus on business now. Show me the building." He sent the message same as he had the last and again heard his electronic voice speak it through Lucky's comm. unit.
Lucky spoke in a slow Cajun drawl. " You ride with 'ol Lucky one day an I'll show you business no?"
Frost didn't bother to respond. Lucky grinned at the silence but shifted his vision nonetheless. He panned to the left and then back to the right giving Frost a view of the entire setting. He was on a side street seated atop his Harley Scorpion. By the look of the buildings, it was a particularly affluent neighborhood. Low brownstones behind which a tangle of corporate buildings jutted into the evening sky. The streetlight flashed green and a clump of cars worked their way through the narrow side street and unto Park Avenue. Frost watched as lucky glimpsed the streetlight. It read: 71st street. Lucky panned back and let his eyes rest on a gray brick building with reinforced plasti-glass windows and a dull green awning. The awning had the numbers 114 printed on it in dusty gold lettering.
" Hold position." He instructed Lucky. There was a lurch, like a roller coaster beginning its trip down hill. Microseconds later, Frost tumbled back into the clearing. He rolled up to a sitting position in the grass and turned towards the mirror from which he had just came. Lucky's mirror no longer held reflections of the clearing, The image of 114 E 71st street hung there like a window into another world.
Sticks was stationed at 116 E 71st street. It was the building next door to 114. He was the groups' mage, but like the others Aztech had put him under the knife in order to receive a sense link. Frost understood why they made him do it. The sense link was important. People don't always see everything that's in front of their face. A person's eye may see everything but the mind is only trained to notice so much. To have the opportunity for two people to watch through the same eyes, smell the same scents To Frost, that opportunity was priceless. Sticks' argument against the sense link had been that it would dull his magic. From what Frost had seen, Sticks still had more than enough ju-ju juice to go around.
From the mages position, Frost couldn't see the target location. Sticks wouldn't move until the target was in position. In the meanwhile, he cast his eyes on the team leader. Arson was standing near a parking meter across the street from Sticks and the target location. She was a tall red head dressed in a business suit and black gloves. While Sticks watched, she dutifully attended to her make-up. Without a word Frost backed out of Sticks' mirror and set off to activate the others.
Trotter was next. He was stationed around the corner on Park Avenue. He was their safety man, in case everything else turned to drek. He was waiting just inside the entrance to a Russian art gallery, peering at the art pieces with seemingly expert eyes.
Viewing the world from the dwarf's point of view was a truly different experience. Knee high to the world, Trotter often joked. He was unusually confident considering his height. Frost envied that confidence. It was something he knew he would never have outside of the matrix. He often lingered in Trotters mirror, longing for some way to take some of the dwarfs confidence for himself. He didn't linger this night though. He tumbled out of Trotters mirror almost as fast as he had entered. Tonight they had a job to do and not much time to do it.
Arson was the last. Frost took a few cautious steps and then stepped through her mirror. Jonas felt a twinge of guilt stepping inside of her emotions. Of all the members of their Cadre he was closest to their team leader. It was a friendship that had drifted beyond that on more than one occasion. Despite Arson's desires, Frost had never formally committed to a relationship with her. It wasn't just Arson either. He hadn't been able to make a relationship type commitment to anyone since--
A lump of fear stuck in his throat. Her throat. Through her eyes he saw their target saunter into the lobby of 114 E 71st street. Frost observed quietly as she observed the man. His name was Diego Santiago, a corp wage slave from humble beginnings. Frost didn't know what Mr. Santiago did for the corps or what he'd done to deserve their visit but that didn't matter anymore. Mr. Santiago didn't have very long to live.
Arson focused in on Santiago's face. Her cybereyes zoomed in, optical magnification circuitry reaching out across the crowded side street until it was as if the two of them were face to face. She peered into the deep worry grooves around the mans eyes; studied his sagging chin. She read every inch and pore of his olive face probing for some inconsistency that would suggest that this wasn't their target, but instead a carefully crafted double sent to throw them off.
" Potential target in range. Frost, do we have a match?" She asked over the comm. Inside her mirror Frost summoned an image of their target, and tested against the face he saw through Arson's eyes. They were the same.
He typed: " Yeah, we have a match." Arson's cybereyes zoomed out again. Frost could still see their target standing in the lobby talking with the doorman. As the target readjusted his brown overcoat he felt the warm twinge of regret stabbing at Arson's heart. She didn't want to kill anymore than he did. That's what he loved about her. It was also what he hated about the rest of his team.
" Frost, are we green?" Arson asked. He could feel her impatience as if it were his own. He backed out of her mirror into the clearing.
Frost called up an outline display of the side street. The image appeared on the ground at his feet. Each member of Frosts Cadre was represented by a flashing dot. Each dot was a different color. His own dot was colored blue but wasn't on the map. His meat body was blocks away from the affair, slumbering peaceably, jacked into the van. The easy ones were like this, staring through his looking glasses as he lounged comfortably in the cybergarden with a digital overlay between his hands. Things were never really difficult unless he had to open his own mirror. It wasn't until Jonas was rigged into the vehicle that things were really hard.
" Overwatch established. All points online command. Proceed." He drew out the last word so that it sounded like a southern drawl. Pro-seed. It was a comforting habit, like basketball players who wear their college shorts under their pro ones or soldiers who carry letters from their ladies in their helmets. His dash of voodoo had become so commonplace that the team would suspect that something was wrong if he didn't say it that way. Once he had said it, the images in the mirrors went into a flurry of motion. Those next few moments had been rehearsed for weeks. Each action honed until it was as if they were connected by gossamer threads that spindled out to each member drawing their movements into a single pulse. It started in Lucky's mirror. The Cajun Samurai goaded his motorcycle to life. Through his eyes Frost watched a dulled silver Toyota elite limousine glide around the corner. Fixed upon its side door was the draconian symbol of Saeder-Krupp. Lucky juiced the throttle once more and the Harley shot out into the street. Everything went like clockwork then. The limousine stopped just short of hitting Lucky. The samurai killed the engine and looked down at the bike as if it had betrayed him. With Lucky stalled in the middle of the road, there was no way the limo could reach its destination. The Cajun shrugged his shoulders comically, his eyes riveted on the limo driver, instantly feeding the mans description to Frost.
In his digital Frost was already on his feet, grabbing at the mirror and peeling the image away from it as if it were a plastic coating. He turned towards the mirror labeled 'Sticks' and fixed Lucky's image of the limo driver over it.
" Download received control." Sticks said over the com. Frost looked through the mages mirror again and saw Arson. Except, it wasn't Arson. Under the illusion spell Sticks had just begun, her face was contorted until it became the face of the limo driver. She drew her manhunter, its silenced barrel hanging at her side as she approached the building. Behind her another illusion was already underway. A Saeder-Krupp limousine rolled to a stop in front of Santiago's building.
The next instant was crucial. Everything hinged on their target believing that this ghost limo was real, and that Arson was its driver. Frost switched mirrors and watched from Arson's point of view. Although his wasn't inside the mirror with her, he could feel the rhythm of her heart quickened by the agonizing wait.
In Lucky's mirror, the Limo driver honked a second time, and started to get out of the car. It happened in seconds but it seemed like hours. The world felt slow through the looking glass.
" Time's up." Lucky said. He keyed the ignition, mouthing the word 'sorry' to the driver. If he had waited any longer the driver would have gotten out of the limousine and would have been able to see the ghost limo down the street. They team couldn't let that happen. They wouldn't have to either. Lucky had stalled for long enough.
In Arson's mirror the doorman opened the building door. The target greeted her with a smile and hurried down the steps toward his ride. " Got him." She said. Her silenced manhunter hissed in the night air. Domingo Santiago never saw the bullets coming.
" Target Down!" Frost's electronic voice confirmed. He shifted to Sticks' mirror and watched the mage conjure a third illusion, this one a small crowd, which appeared below the awning of 114, hiding Arson in their mass. The doorman drew a gun and bounded into the crowd after her. He was too late, Sticks had already dropped the masking spell he'd put on her, and the bright-eyed red head was creaming bloody murder alongside everyone else.
In lucky's mirror the illusion of the limousine vanished just as Lucky sped out of the way of the real one. By the time it had reached the building, the illusionary crowd had almost completely scattered, running to the four winds to avoid the gun-toting doorman. The limo driver didn't even make it out of the car before the Doorman fired.
In the real world, Jonas felt for the datajack cable embedded in his temple. In cyberspace he issued his final report. " Our Oswald is down. All units are clear. Rendezvous for pickup at beta point. Stay arctic people, trans-scan says NYPD is on their way. Frost is leaving the shell."
Arson responded over the commlink. " Arctic, make sure you copy that people. That means no stopping for Twix-bars on the way back to Beta point this time Lucky. Well done people. Lets go home."
©1998, Malik Running Wolf Toms - used with permission