by Nunya Biznes
Jojo DeSoto was a ganger. You had to be to survive, this deep in Redmond, and Glow City was about as deep as you could get. His gang was the Laughing Boys, twelve young toughs whose colours were grey and black stripes. Jojo wore his strip of cloth everywhere, around his forehead or on his arm. That was his badge that said "Don't frag with me, or my boys will mess you up." It worked too. It protected him, his sister Carla, and her little boy Marco. Jojo was fifteen, and he knew exactly where he was going. Nowhere. Grandaddy always told stories about how he was going to make it some day, get out of the Barrens, maybe work for a Corp. Momma knew the truth, but made out like she wanted to be here. They both died of Dysentery four years ago, but that's what you get for drinking gutter water. So, all he had to show for Grandaddy's dream and Momma's attitude was an old Colt American and a hatred of authority.
It was early evening when the boys came calling. Jojo was eating an unflavoured welfare issue mycocake and trying to stay away from the rain that dribbled through the plastic sheeting that served as the squat's roof. Marco was squalling, like he normally did. Not enough food, no medicine for his bellyache. Some gutter shaman had promised to heal Marco if Carla would sleep with him, but Jojo wouldn't let her. So it was that when the three-note whistle came from outside, Jojo gladly shovelled the rest of the lukewarm cake into his mouth, grabbed his American, and crawled outside. Half the boys were there. Jojo greeted each with hand- and knuckle-slapping and a few "Hoi, chummer"s. The gang's leader, Nickel, said "Rumble tonight, Jojo, you up?"
"Yeah I'm up, what the biz?"
"We going to hit Aztechnology's Louisville plant. They bin hirin' lotsa orks."
"Louisville not our turf. Drek, aint even Glow City."
"You think I don't know that, drekchin? You in or not?"
"I said I was in, I'm in."
"Chill. Let's go get the rest."
It didn't take long to collect the gang, or at least nine of them. The others had good excuses not to go, but their standing in the gang would be hurt. It was wet as ever that night, the paths between the hovels and squats a mess of stinking black mud. Nickel had gotten permission somehow to pass through other gangs' territories and Jojo wondered what they'd do knowing the Laughing Boys weren't there to protect their turf. Nickel wasn't that great a leader, he led by brute force, what could be so important about a bunch of tuskers working in some factory that would lead Nickel to abandon his territory for the night, ruining whatever respect the local people had for him? Some of the boys laughed, joked and postured along the long, muddy walk, but Nickel would not share a word with anyone, and Jojo wasn't game to ask.
It was an hours long walk, made easier when they reached the remains of a bitumen road that led into Louisville. Jojo had hardly ever been outside of Glow City. Louisville was like another world. The buildings were rundown but standing, and there were far less living and dying people to be seen on the street. Even the rubbish had been pushed into fairly neat piles that could be walked around. The roads, although in disrepair, looked like they were used regularly by road vehicles. They'd have to be, to bus in the workers for these dreary factories. The plant was one of a number of anonymous factories, with no sign on its chainlink fence, but Nickel seemed to know where he was headed.
"OK chummers." The gang boss said as he opened the sack he had been carrying, "These are molotovs, and a box of matches each. I'll cut the lock, then we get in, torch the place, and get out as quick as possible before anyone can check why the alarms are going off. Ready?"
Jojo wasn't ready. He was wondering where Nickel had gotten the fuel for the molotovs. There was enough here to keep a family warm for weeks, and it was being wasted on a factory. Again, he decided it wasn't worth the risk asking questions. But maybe he'd keep one of the molotovs hidden under his shirt and take it home so Carla didn't need to cook over a garbage fire for a night or two, or maybe he could sell it for some good food. No time for thinking, Nickel had sliced through the fence with cutters, after giving up on the tough chain lock. As soon as they started to crawl through the small hole an alarm had gone off and lights had come on. Nickel shouted "Keep going, frag it! Nobody will come!" so they slithered through and ran to the plant building. Dez threw his molotov at a high window, but it was made of toughened glass, and the molotov simply sprayed burning oil over the wall. Nickel ran up and shoulderbarged a door, on the fourth try it burst open, and they ran in. Blazing floodlights lit the area, so the gangers could pick their targets well. The plant made paint, every now and then there was a WHUMP as a fireball exploded from some machinery. Jojo, spotting an opportunity, threw his molotovs indiscriminately, then started looking for stuff to steal. He had found a box of tools that would be a fortune in scrap metal, when there was a scream. Gomi had been caught in one of the explosions, and was on fire. Jojo rushed over and tried to help. Gomi's cheap clothes were sweeping sheets of flame, leaving superhot puddles of melted goo. Jojo rolled him over and over, burning himself badly in the process, but the fire eventually went out. Gomi kept screaming, though, the burns looked bad. Jojo looked around through the spreading smoke, but couldn't see any of the other gangers. He picked Gomi up and carried him outside. Gomi had stopped screaming, but every now and then he would hiss through gritted teeth "It hurts, oh God!" or something. Jojo didn't know what to say, so said nothing. He found a place to lay Gomi down, and crouched by his side. Gomi's clothes had burnt away completely, luckily the clothes fire was too fast to burn him badly, most of the damage was done by the melted residue that had now hardened into plasticy lumps that were glued to the burns they made. "Look, chummer, you OK, it aint that bad." He said. "Oh yes it is." Said a deep voice from behind him, and suddenly his vision was full of stars. No pain, but he couldn't move. He collapsed over Gomi, and as he slipped into black oblivion, he heard gunfire and shouts. The last thing he heard was Dez running past yelling "Get out, quick, come on!"
Jojo woke with a start. He was strapped to a table, and an elf was running his hands over his face, almost sexually. "Don't touch me, pintips!" Jojo snarled.
"My, such vitriol for someone that just cast all those toxic narcotics from your system." The elf laughed.
"Where the frag am I?"
"Silence now, there are questions I need answered."
It felt to Jojo like there were pulses of energy coming from the elf's hands. Memories started to flicker through his head unbidden. His mind was completely out of his control, and the more he tried to resist, the more it hurt. After an eternity, it stopped, and the elf stepped back. Jojo was sheened in sweat, and he was shaking. "No good, " The elf said, "I can tell you what the gangers look like, but that's about it. His name is Jojo, he has a sister called Carla and a son called Marco."
"Not my son, you sick fragger!" Jojo growled.
"Thank you, Ernst." The same deep voice from earlier, though Jojo couldn't move his head to see who it was. "That will be all, I'll call on you if need be, but I should be able to handle it now."
Ernst left with a small bow, and the table jerked up until it was near vertical. There was a click, and the man who owned the voice stepped into Jojo's field of view. "Hello, Jojo. I am Walter Douglas. We're going to be friends." Douglas was another elf, with a typically elven face that was marred by poxmarks down one cheek. His hair was a deep navy blue that matched his suit.
"Frag you, weedeater!" Jojo tried to spit, but his dry mouth refused to obey.
"Dear oh dear. You are the angry one, aren't you?"
"Where are my boys?"
"That gang you were vandalising my factory with? Some are dead, the rest escaped. They didn't seem much bothered about getting you out."
"They my brothers, fragface. They come and kick you skinny hoop."
"Your brothers, really?" Douglas said in a deep, smooth tone. "I know my brother wouldn't march me into a deathtrap for a handful of nuyen. What kind of brothers do you breed down in the ?"
"You don't know what you talking about. Let me go and I kick you hoop myself."
"I do know what I'm talking about, Jojo, much more than you do. Would you like to hear?"
"Well, how about I tell you anyway? Stop struggling now, you'll just hurt yourself. You see, there was this group of shadowrunners, they call themselves the Crimson Glory for some reason. They needed to steal some blueprints from a Telestrian-owned factory, and decided that the best way to do it without being caught was to make it happen that a number of factories ultimately owned by Telestrian were hit about the same time."
"So? I aint heard of no Crimson Glory, an' I don't care none 'bout no Telestrian hoopfraggers neither."
"Of course you don't know the shadowrunners, you're not even close to their pitifully low level on the food chain. That is why they wanted you. You see, they knew a fixer who goes by the name of Chiaro. Chiaro thought he was big time, he knew all sorts of people in all sorts of places. He said that he'd make sure five other places were hit that night. He chose the places himself, then started calling in favours."
"Don't know no Chiaro neither, Dandy, now let me go."
"Would you let me finish? Chiaro called this small time fixer in the Barrens, Ratface Tony. Ah, I see by your face that you've heard of him. Chiaro gave Ratface Tony five hundred Nuyen and the address of the factory that he had found was owned, through a chain of shells and businesses, by Telestrian. Nice and obscure, he thought, only Telestrian would pick it up. Chiaro must have thought he was so clever. Ratface Tony thought for a while about who he could get to do the job, when along comes your boss, Nickel. Nickel got payed a hundred Nuyen to take his gang to do a little vandalism, and all the supplies he'd need."
"You wrong. We hit that place 'cause it was hiring orks. An' it was owned by Aztechnology anyway, everyone knows those fraggers crooked."
"I'm sure that's what Nickel told you, but he was just a bought man. Probably he didn't even know who owned the building for real."
"No, I have no reason to lie. Nickel did, he had a hundred reasons. Face it, you were his tool. Think about it, I'll be back later."
Douglas swept out through the security door, leaving Jojo to dangle painfully from the tight straps. Everyone knew elves lied, but what he said made sense. A hundred nuyen was a fortune to anyone in Glow City, and people would do a lot for a portion of that wealth, like allow another gang passage through their territory. But selling out your brothers? Not even Nickel would do that. Then again, if it all went to Nickel's plan, they would have gotten home safe, and maybe even the turf would still be safe. Nickel always did seem to have a lot of money, it would make sense if he was taking money from Ratface. But why wouldn't he tell his gang? Greed. If they knew the truth, they'd maybe figure out enough to know they deserved some of that cash. The fragger! It all made sense, the out-of-the-way target, the molotovs, the weak story. Jojo vowed to take him down when he got out of here, wherever here was. Why was he strapped to this table? That elf Douglas seemed to know the whole story anyway, why did he need Jojo? The thoughts bounded around his head over and over for hours, until at last Douglas returned. "So," he said, "Had enough time to think it all over yet, Jojo?"
"What you want from me?" Jojo asked.
"Revenge." The elf replied, "You see, I have decided that this little failed mission of the Crimson Glory will be an example to everyone else out there that Telestrian is not to be fragged with. I mean to punish each and every individual that had a hand in it. We've already gotten most of the links in the chain, but unfortunately Ratface Tony died before we could get any decent information from him. Very messy. The thing is, we can't find any trace of your gang, or anyone who will tell us where they are. You're going to tell us."
"Like frag I am!"
"Don't you want revenge against Nickel as much as I? Tell me you're not burning up with anger. Two dead homies, and you incarcerated, all so Nickel can feel rich for a while."
"Sure, but not my brothers. They was as used as me."
Douglas thought for a moment. "How about this. We outfit you with cyberware, and you take down Nickel for us. Not the rest of the gang, just Nickel. Deliver his head to me and you are free to go. You can rule your gang yourself then. Not quite what I wanted, but it suits my sense of irony well. What say you?"
Jojo thought. Nobody had cyberware in glow city, hand spurs were rare, one tough had dermal plates that Jojo knew of. He would be more than leader of the Laughing Boys, he could carve out an empire in Glow City. But that would mean making himself worse even that Nickel. He didn't know anything about Telestrian, but it was a corp, and corps were to blame for him living like a cockroach. Could he sell himself out like that? He would lose whatever honour he had. But the power it would give him. He and Carla could live well, instead of squatting in that hole with a plastic sheet roof they could have a proper home. Maybe he'd find a girl, make a family. Succeed where Grandaddy failed. But he couldn't. He wanted to take down Nickel, but not because some elf told him to. What use would a better life be if he had no pride?
"What will happen to me if I refuse?"
"You'll be slowly tortured until you tell us everything, then your body will be recycled with the rest of the rubbish while we go on to destroy your entire gang. Agreeing would be a mercy for all, really."
"Can I have some time to think about it?"
"By all means." Douglas left him then, and he hung suspended for hours, alone. Every muscle ached, he was hungry and thirsty, tired and scared. His mind was like a pendulum, swinging from point to point, but he could not decide. Would it be better to die with self-respect or to live in shame?
At last, Douglas returned. "Good morning, Jojo. Sleep well?" Jojo just stared. "Before you tell me what your decision is, I understand that pride is very big amongst you Barrens dwellers. You know that our torture devices will break you utterly, leave you as a messy heap howling for death, and nomatter how long you hold out, you will betray your homies sooner or later. How much pride is in that?"
"You're a bought man, Jojo. You're a tiny cog in someone else's machine. You think the Crimson Glories know or care whether you live or die? Chiaro? Ratface Tony? Heck, even your beloved leader thinks less of you than he does a few nights of whores and synthahol. All I'm offering is the chance for you to make something of yourself. Give you a chance to be a bigger cog, maybe even a gear that sets the cogs in motion." He stared at Jojo, but the ganger just hung immobile, eyes closed. "You have been nothing all your life, Jojo. Do you want to die a nothing for a cause you never even heard of when you can make something of yourself, feed the revenge in your heart?"
"I....I'll do it."
The process was a long one. Somehow Jojo thought that it would be something like a car assembly line, whack on the new pieces and off you go. It wasn't like that though. He was given dermal plates, which required no connections, but the cyberarm did. It was a long time healing, and even longer being retrained to use it. It was very powerful, and he could extend long, razor claws from the fist. He was given an Uzi to replace his rusty old American, and an armoured long coat with the Telestrian logo emblazoned on it. The mark of his shame. Just before he was to be set free, Douglas came to see him. The elf stood behind a wall of armoured glass. "One last thing, Jojo. In the time it has taken you to heal from your surgery, we have tracked down your sister and nephew. The plan has changed, you will kill all of your gang. Understand?" Jojo flew into a rage, beating himself against the glass like a fly at a windowpane, but eventually he realised that a handful of brothers on his conscience was less than the weight of his blood sister. Besides, now that he had sold out to the enemy, it didn't matter any more. He'd make his own gang, or take over another. The Pit Dogs, or the Chainers. The last dredges of his self respect drained away, and something inside broke. He was a tool, pure and simple, used once again for someone else's purposes. All illusion of bargaining and choice were now stripped away. Well, if he were to be a tool, he'd be a good one, and when he became a free man, then he would purge the darkness that spread over his soul. "I'll do it." He said at last.
"Good. We'll be watching carefully, make sure you do what you're told, and radio us the minute the job is done, or poor Carla gets it." Douglas grinned.
It was pitifully easy to wipe out the Laughing Boys. Only Dez put up a fight, and had to be chased down like a rabbit. Nickel was surprisingly easy to kill, he was last and Jojo did it by hand. Two sweeps of the long fist blades, and the feared boss was dead. Jojo felt nothing, he was an automaton. They weren't his brothers any more, they were objects that were there to be removed by the tool that was Jojo. When it was over, he pulled out the radio, and called Douglas. "I have done your job. It is over. Nickel's head can be found at our old headquarters, I know you know where it is."
"Very good," came Douglas' voice, "There's just one last thing, and then you are your own man. My revenge is complete." The radio shrieked then exploded in his hand. Then the cyberarm began to jerk rapidly, before the tiny charges built into it went off.
There is an old man that lives in Glow City. His young sister has trouble looking after him and her young boy Marco at the same time. They say that the man isn't all that old, but to look at his wrinkled brow and dirty grey hair, you'll know this to be a lie. The old man has only one arm, the stump of the other ending in a short lump of twisted metal that makes strange motor noises sometimes. He also has large, red scars down his chest and back, like great rectangles of skin were burnt off. He hardly ever talks, he just sits outside his squat staring at nothing. When he does speak, he warns the listener to never trust elves, to never trust corps, and to never seek revenge, since there are others out there who are much better at it, and there are some with boundless imagination who have refined it into an art.
(c) 2000 Nunya Bizness. Used with permission.