Digital Soul

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« Reply #15 on: <01-15-15/2051:21> »
Love the story.... Any chance there is more ???
Its not the victors who write the history books, its the suvivors


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« Reply #16 on: <01-16-15/1253:18> »
Love the story.... Any chance there is more ???

I've been waiting for a long time for more to appear.  I still check back hoping. 


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« Reply #17 on: <01-16-15/1500:30> »
Willow tilted her head to one side. "No, but it's a little unusual. Why would you want to come with us?"
"Because this is personal to him," Darius interrupted, smirking at me over the glass of whiskey. "He wants to see these two people die and he wants to be the one who pulls the trigger."

I shrugged. "Half-right. I want them dead, but I don't care who does it." I threw my head back and finished off the vodka in my glass before setting it down and reaching for the tequila. "I want something done, I acknowledge I need help, I'm willing to pay for said help. Does it really need to be more complicated than that?"

Willow shook her head cheerfully as Darius leaned forward in his seat slightly, looking at me intently. I raised my eyebrows as he stared at my face, scrutinising me. I could see worry lines around his eyes and cheekbones, unmoving as he stared straight at me. This mage was old, and having been sent by Beckett was presumably good at what he did. Why then was his attitude so caustic? A professional would never antagonise their benefactor before the job had even started. Inwardly, I cursed Beckett for sending me the surliest spellchucker in the city as I took a sip of tequila.

Darius abruptly laughed and straightened up. "Alright, that's as close to the truth we're going to get for the time being. If you want to tag along, please be my guest."

I groaned and shook my head. "Darius, I remind you that you are my guest in this assignment, and I'm actually paying you to be here. Speaking of which..." I gave a virtual nod to Hanako, who then sent requests for secure credit transfers to each member of the new crew. Once she had sent through the advance payment to everyone, I smiled and put my glass down. "Now then. Shall we discuss tactics?"

Sayomi spoke first. "Going by the blueprint of the building, demolition is a viable option. A single blast to level the building would accomplish the job as well as disguising the true target."

"Unacceptable." Darius' eyes flashed with anger. "I will not let innocent people die, even if they are assholes."

"Hm. We could use a low-yield concussion blast. That would blow a hole in the wall and compromise the integrity of the building, as well as forcing anyone in it to evacuate," Sayomi mused. "It would be loud and draw attention, but it would have the bonus of making the attack appear to be simple terrorism as opposed to a definitive strike."

Willow looked back and forth between the ork and the dark-skinned human before reaching for the whiskey again with an exasperated look. "Hoo boy. This is gonna get messy, isn't it? Can't we just burn the two guys we're after and go?"

Sayomi blinked and was silent for a moment. "Burn...?" She frowned for a moment, her eyebrows creased over her gray cybereyes as an idea took shape. "If we were to use an incendiary explosive, small but potent... Such as napalm, or perhaps a thermite charge..."

"That would destroy the building, but much more slowly and give the more innocent assholes more than enough time to escape," Darius conceded with a grumble. "The fire would also disguise whatever happens in there. We set off the explosive, break into the building in the confusion - "

"- and eliminate the two targets in such a way that it appears they died because of the fire," Sayomi finished, nodding. "Then we simply allow the fire to destroy the building. That is a very cunning plan... you surprise me, Willow-san."

"Me?!" Willow spluttered. "I just said one word, you two crazy people are the ones that somehow decided to burn a whole building down!"

"It IS a valid plan, though," I said. I pulled up my AR overlay and began quickly sketching together the plan in detail. I turned the trid projector back on and send each item through to it as I went. "I can acquire an appropriate explosive easily enough. If we were to plant it at the side of the building here..." I said, indicating one of the building's front corners, "...that would allow for maximum spread of the fire without looking unlike typical arson instead of intentional misdirection. Sayomi, Darius and I can enter the building to take down the marks from these windows near the rear, away from the fire. The blueprints say this is a reading room so it should be empty."

Sayomi nodded, tracing lines across the transparent display with one long finger. "From there we can use this staircase to split up and sweep across the building, taking a floor each."

"If  I find them, I won't kill them," Darius said, crossing his arms. "Not directly, anyway. I can incapacitate them and let either one of you or the fire sort them out; but I will not kill them." He raised his chin at me, as if daring me to challenge him.

I shrugged. "Fine by me, just remember that if they don't die you don't get paid." I didn't have time to ask why a pacifist mage would bother with wetwork and frankly I was getting sick of his confrontational attitude. "So, the three of us sweep the building, one per floor. Let's assume that the targets manage to get out of the building. What then?"

"I excel in urban pursuit and parkour. I will pursue on foot and terminate," Sayomi said quietly. Willow raised her eyebrows in response.

I nodded. "Acceptable. We also need to be prepared for a possible escape by vehicle. Willow?"

The blonde rigger shrugged, her dirty jacket slipping off one shoulder. "Easy enough to follow. All of my cars are rigger-adapted and I have a couple of FlySpy drones with tungsten carbide feet. Drone lands on their car and it's there until I say otherwise."

"Fantastic," I declared. "Last scenario - they're better-prepared than we're planning for and start shooting back. How will we handle that?"

"I will deal with the targets, while Darius provides magical support. Once targets are dead, we retreat via the rear of the building, and climb over the fence to the adjacent road where Willow will be waiting," Sayomi replied without a trace of hesitation on her features.

Darius turned in his seat and stared at her stonily. "You are assuming a lot about the way I work my Craft," he scowled, deliberately putting emphasis on the words as he spoke. "I will decide what my role in this assignment is, and I will not be dictated to. Am I being clear?"

I was more than ready to punch Darius in the face, but I didn't need to once Sayomi started speaking.

"Darius, alias of eleven years. Original name, birthdate and SIN lost in the Second Crash." Sayomi said flatly. "No fixed address or employment, partially due to allegations of affiliation with the toxic shaman Artaxias and suspected involvement in Duruti Leon's terror attacks in Munich five years ago. Confirmed hermetic mage, Initiated, estimated magic rating of nine. Specialises in alchemy, artificing and ritual casting. Bounty of seven-hundred and fifty thousand nuyen posted jointly by Knights Errant and the Atlantean Foundation for live capture, following theft of several valuable foci from the Atlantean Foundation headquarters in Atlanta. Four acquisition orders from AAA-rated megacorporations pursuant to evidence of affiliation with the Mystic Crusaders." Sayomi was glaring at Darius openly now as she finished reciting. "I have a full dossier on you, Darius-san. You are in hiding, unable to take any work for fear of discovery. You need this assignment, and yet you seem to be uninterested in cooperating."

She stood up and drew herself to her full and impressive height, expressionless blank gray eyes fixed on the frozen mage. "As a professional courtesy please allow me to give you this warning: if you intend to be a lone wolf in this assignment I will allow you to leave now. Alternatively, I can easily divulge your current appearance and whereabouts to any number of interested parties. Am I being clear?" she asked, deliberately mirroring his words.

I sat there, stunned by the deluge of information and by Sayomi's quiet ultimatum. That was a very serious threat - releasing those details publicly would take microseconds and would bring most of Seattle down on Aether in less than ten minutes. A man as valuable as Darius would be far too tempting to pass a chance on. Judging by the look on Willow's face, she thought about the same. Thank you, Beckett, I thought sourly.

Darius remained sitting, clenched fists turning white. "Fine," he hissed through gritted teeth. "I'll be your goddamned lackey. After this job is over however you had best stay out of my way. All of you." He stood up and stormed out of the room, not bothering to close the door behind him.

"Not meaning to pour synthahol on the fire here, but what did I do?" Willow asked, her eyes still wide with disbelief.

I shook my head. "I wouldn't worry, Willow. He'll either calm down or flee the city. Either way, the job goes as planned." I brought up my commlink's mail program and quickly composed a message - Good talk. We'll meet two blocks northeast of our objective at 2200. A few moments of setting up a mailbox cascade later, and the message was securely sent to Darius' commlink. Privately I wondered if he'd show up at all or if he'd just vanish. I knew what I would do if our positions were reversed; and if he thought on similar lines that meant we'd be short a mage for this assignment.

Sighing internally, I stood up and adjusted my business suit. "Well then. I've got to pick up some suitable materials for this assignment, so I'll see you two later. The drinks in here are already paid for, so please help yourselves." I bowed politely and left the room; quickly sending them the same details I'd just sent to Darius. By the look of it I could rely on these two, at least.

I exited the side corridor and headed back to the bar where Karl was still cleaning glasses. A dark-haired woman in an embroidered green dress was seated at the bar nearby, idly swirling one finger in the tall glass in front of her with a thoughtful expression.

"That was quick," Karl commented without looking up from the bar. "Noticed your friend left in a hurry. Was the room not to his liking?" he said dryly.

"I think it was more the liquor he took offence to, some people just can't appreciate a good thing when they see it," I replied. "Speaking of, I figured I'd check in on my tab while I'm here."

Karl grunted and pulled an old touchpad up from under the counter. His artificial fingertips danced over the surface for a few moments, faster than any natural one could; before the pad made a cha-ching sound and blinked green. Karl spun the pad around and slid it across the bar to me, his expression impassive.

Your tab's sitting at 687 nuyen. Don't go outside yet.

I raised one eyebrow before sliding the pad back to Karl. "Let that one go a bit, didn't I?" I quipped, quickly pulling up my finance account listing and finding Aether's details, sending the full amount through with a thought. The pad in front of Karl blinked again; prompting the ork to pick it up and look at it with a grimace. "Damn," he grumbled. "You'd better be planning on starting another one, shaikujin. Can't afford to lose a customer who actually pays their entire tab in one sitting."

"If it makes you feel any better," I grinned, "you can get me a soda before I head out." I sat down at the bar, one seat over from the woman in green. I could see in my peripheral vision that she had stopped stirring her drink; likely listening in on the conversation.

Karl folded his arms. "You seriously want me to open a new tab for you for postmix?" he asked incredulously.

I laughed. "Tell you what, put some gin in it, and bring a fresh drink for this lady? That one's probably warm by now."

Karl gave me an appraising look and began pulling down bottles and a couple of glasses. As he began mixing the drinks, the woman turned in her chair to face me. Her face was angular, with high cheekbones and with delicate features; Japanese or possibly Korean. "That was fairly smooth," she said. Her voice was soft and slightly higher than I'd have guessed, and a faint hint of laughter behind her words. "Although, it's a little rude to talk about me as if I can't hear you, especially if you know that I am listening to you."

"True, but it got the desired reaction - you talked to me. Much better than listening to me talk to someone else, isn't it?" I replied with a grin.

The woman nodded her head slightly. I could see a mischievous smile was on her face. "Also true. Maybe you can help me, then - I'm a performer, and I'm actually here to decide whether or not to play here next week. Do you come here a lot?"

"Not nearly enough as he should, and more than I'd like," Karl interrupted as he set the drinks down in front of us with a smirk.

I waved him off with one hand. "Quiet, you. To answer your question, yeah I come here fairly often," I replied, addressing the woman in green. "Gets pretty busy here, usually people from the rave and trance crowd. The guy who owns this place loves the bass."

"Perfect," the woman exclaimed. "That settles it. Karl, can we go ahead with that booking for Friday?"

"Absolutely," Karl said. "What do you need in terms of setup?"

The woman smiled and picked up her glass, draining it in a single mouthful. "Not a thing, my crew will take care of everything. Just as long as you can give us local access to the club's network so we can use the lights and AR filters, we'll handle the rest." She set the glass back down on the counter, ice clinking against the sides

Karl frowned. "Alright. I'll call the owner later and clear that for you." He held his hand out to her over the bar for a handshake. "Pleasure doing business with you."

The woman gracefully took the offered hand and gave him a smile. "Oh, it's no trouble. I'll look forward to it." She stood up and straightened her dress before turning to face me. "Thanks for your help, mister...?"

I winced apologetically and bowed my head forward slightly. "I'm sorry, I didn't introduce myself at all did I?"

"That's alright," the woman said, the laughter in her voice reappearing. "You seem like the kind of man who doesn't like giving it out to begin with. Here," she said as she handed me a small chip. "This is for you. I like to hand these out before a performance, they tend to boost ticket sales. Word of mouth, I think." She gave me a bright smile and bowed. "See you on Friday," she said lightly as she passed me.

I sat there for a moment, eyebrow raised as I looked over the chip she'd given me. It looked like a BTL, but it was just a standard storage chip. Why on earth anyone would want to make a storage chip look like an illegal and dangerous drug was beyond me, but I pocketed it anyway.

"Hope you've got the sense to sell that thing," Karl said. He'd picked up another glass and was dutifully polishing it to a crystal-clear shine. "Probably worth more than the tickets. You're clear to go now, by the way."

"Glad to hear it. Why did I stay back to begin with?" I asked.

"Flameheart informed me your friend was skulking around outside, angrily talking to himself," Karl replied, tapping the side of his head; indicating an internal commlink. "He didn't look as if he forgot something, so Flameheart made a discreet call to KE about a possible Tempo dealer." His eyes twinkled with amusement. "There was already a patrol car nearby. Your friend left in quite a hurry when it pulled up."

I frowned. This was going downhill fast. "Thanks for the look-out, omae. I'll keep an eye on him, he gets a bit surly." Understatement of the year, I thought to myself.

Karl gave a small, knowing nod. "Don't mention it. Watch your back, shaikujin."

"Give my regards to Moset," I replied, raising one hand over my shoulder in a wave as I left; weaving my way through the growing crowd of clubgoers.

I retrieved my sidearm from Flameheart, who gave me a disapproving look but didn't say anything. As I left Aether and headed down the street to my car, I placed an AR call to Beckett.

He answered almost immediately. "Had a feeling you'd call. I was just talking about you," he said dryly.

"Darius, I assume. What the fuck, Beckett? I ask you for a mage and you send me enough heat to cook Lofwyr." I said, my voice flat and irritated.

Beckett chuckled. "Good help is always highly sought, and for what you want you can't get better than Darius. You want to make some assholes disappear without suspicion, he's your man."

"He refused to kill anyone and argued about every aspect of the job. I don't know what you know about him; so how about you fill me in a little and I'll draw my own conclusions?" I replied as I opened the door to my Honda Spirit and climbed in; the electric engine immediately switching on from standby as it connected to my commlink.

The vampire leaned further into the camera, giving me a glimpse of glowing orange eyes. "All right. First off, yeah he's hot. For good reason though - he's the best damn talismonger I've ever seen, and that's not light praise. He can make an amulet or mana tattoo for damn near anything. On top of that, he's also a blood mage. I have good authority he was one of Aztechnology's, and that's why they're on his ass."

"What about the links to Artaxias and the Munich bomber?" I asked, setting a destination into the car's computer. There was a faint whooshing sound as the engine picked up and the car smoothly pulled out and onto the road.

"Both confirmed, and both friends of his. Word is they're part of the same order. Not the Mystic Crusaders though, that part was pure bullshit."

I frowned. "Order? Just what order is that?"

Beckett scowled, showing long, pointed teeth. "That, I do not know. I can tell you that they despise corruption and have no issues with killing people. Darius is the exception, although that's a recent development. That's all I can find though, and as you can imagine it took time to get even that much information."

"Fine," I groaned. "Just tell me this then - is he reliable? I need to know this guy has my back, not my ass."

"Have I ever steered you wrong before?" Beckett replied silkily.

"Just answer the damned question," I retorted. There was a small chime as an AR alert from the Spirit's computer informed me that I would be detoured due to a traffic accident. I shrugged - it wasn't as if I was in a hurry.

Beckett regarded me coolly for a moment before smirking at me. "During my conversation with him, amidst all of the bitching and insults he told me he'd stupidly given you his word. For a blood mage, his word is an unbreakable vow - it's often a condition they must honour in order to keep favor with their Astral benefactors." He leaned back in his chair, the smirk getting wider. "So yes, you can rely on him."

"That's just swell," I replied flatly. "Maybe next time, you can let me know about this kind of thing in advance?"

Beckett gave me a thin-lipped smile. "I'll make a note of that. Good evening," he said sardonically as he ended the call.

As the car merged into the freeway traffic, I sighed and ran my artificial hand through my hair. Darius was definitely on board, even if he was going to be a titanic pain in the ass about it. All I had to do now was pick up a couple of things and meet them at the rendezvous point; and hopefully Darius' animosity would be the only problem I'd have to deal with.

I couldn't help but grin though - funny that Sayomi suggested burning the entire centre down. I'd already made arrangements to do exactly that myself.
« Last Edit: <01-23-15/0720:28> by Sede »


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« Reply #18 on: <03-05-15/2149:08> »
The Spirit travelled down the freeway, weaving carefully between the other cars headed in the same direction. I idly watched out of the window as ugly apartments and high-rises passed by; dark stains on concrete walls hinting at the true age of some of the buildings. Occasionally I would get glimpses of green; clumps of defiant grass or weeds sprouting from the weathered concrete, seemingly impervious to the harsh conditions of the polluted city.

Up ahead I could see the turn off the freeway I wanted. The Spirit changed lanes and slowed down a little, taking the shoulder gracefully as we left the freeway and turned onto a side road running parallel with the near-deserted road running directly below the elevated freeway. Down here was different - darker, more run down, and a lot more metal blocking areas off.

The car gently parked itself in front of a dull chainlink fence topped with razor wire. A slightly rusty placard attached to it read U-Drop-It. I got out of the car and put my hands in the pockets of my Imperial-style business suit as I walked away; the car obediently shutting off its motor and locking itself down until I came back.

I walked through the open gate towards the main building. Instead of going into the reception area though, I walked a bit further to the right and headed through a narrow gap between the building and the neighbouring brick wall. The ground here was asphalt and well-worn by countless people who'd kept their belongings in one of the dingy steel containers here. I entered a long, narrow strip of garages side by side. There was barely enough room to squeeze a large troll in the open space between the garage doors and the backs of the shipping containers, but that was part of the reason I used this place as a cache - less room to move, easier to defend if need be. A steel roll-a-door to my right and ahead about twenty meters was my target. I already had the key in my hand when I reached it; and I quickly unlocked the door and lifted it just enough that I could duck underneath and close it behind me.

It was almost totally black inside save for a couple of weak pinpricks of light near the ceiling - low-light LED illuminators I'd installed after I'd booby-trapped the light switch by connecting a live wire to it. A bit cruel, I thought as my cybereyes instantly switched to low-light vision and the container became as bright and as plain as day, but necessary considering what I have stored here.

"Was wondering when you'd arrive, hacker."

I nearly jumped out of my skin as Armand stepped out from around several stacked boxes. I put my artificial hand against my chest as my heart pounded painfully with surprise. "God dammit doc, what's wrong with a comm call like everyone else?"

"Not a thing, if you don't care about little things like security," Armand replied dryly. "Came here to warn you of something, omae."

"Considering this is twice in three days you've shown up somewhere you shouldn't, it's got to be bad," I shot back, relaxing a little. "So what is it? Did my blood work come back as Type Zero or something?"

"Don't even joke about that," Armand scolded; long claws glinting in the weak light. "You don't want a Zero system, ever. No, I'm talking about this job of yours."

I raised my eyebrows at this. "I'd ask how you even knew about this job, but I suppose you have your sources. Sayomi and Joyride, no doubt?"

"Half-right. Sayomi has no idea that I'm involved," the ghoul grinned. "Joyride gave me a little call and told me about your... purchase," he said elegantly. "I figured out what it was for and decided to get involved."

"I thought you just said Sayomi doesn't know you're involved," I replied, a little confused.

"She doesn't. As far as she's concerned, she was assigned to help an associate of mine with a job. She doesn't know Reggie or that he was my assistant."

I nodded, a small pang of guilt running through me. "Listen, Armand-" I began.

"Forget it," Armand said dismissively. "As much as I hate to admit it, you were right, hacker. You let Reggie take responsibility for his actions as an adult. Hell, if it wasn't you it could've been anyone else there. Reggie would've gotten those two assholes eventually, with or without you." He ran one sallow hand across his bald head. "I can't blame you for what happened, and I can't treat Reggie like a kid. It's just... he was MY kid, alright? Not literally, of course..."

I nodded. "I hear you, Armand. We both did stupid things. But point of the matter is, you were right too. If I'd done things they way I should have we wouldn't be having this problem. So as you've already found, I'm going to fix it properly this time. I figure I owe Reggie that much."

Armand chuckled without any humor behind it. "You and me both, hacker. Here." He reached behind a stack of boxes and pulled out a small backpack. "Joyride left this for you. Thermite, potassium chlorate and elemental barium. Gotta say, I was unimpressed that you asked for those by name."

I folded my arms in mock indignation. "What's wrong doc? Aren't I allowed to know what I'm doing now? This is hardly the first time I've burnt down an asshole factory."

"That's my point exactly," Armand replied smoothly. "You should know there's better material for this. Since you leave me no choice but to do everything myself,"  he jibed, "I'll take the liberty of keeping those useless reagents for myself and giving you some that will actually do the job."

He tossed the backpack at me. I caught it with my real hand and slung it over my shoulder in one movement.  "You're too kind, doc," I said with a smirk. "So what superior reagents have you given me, exactly?"

Armand grinned, showing sharp fangs for ripping flesh from bone. "It's a nice little three-hit punch I like to use here and there. Semtex for the initial blast, payload of refined white phosphorous for a lasting burn, and a touch of Pepper Punch to clear the building fast. You'll have an ingress point, a clear path, and a pile of rubble afterwards."

I bowed deeply. "Arigato, Rase-san. That beats the shit out of the fireworks I was planning on using. I won't ask you how you got these."

"Who said I didn't already have them?" Armand responded with a leer as I opened the door and we both stepped back outside into the cool night air. He flexed his clawed fingers and tilted his head side to side with a trio of sharp cracks. "But before I forget - my warning." He turned to face me, his face serious. "Sayomi is not to be trifled with, hacker. She may be well-spoken, but -"

"She doesn't take shit from anyone? Already noticed that," I interrupted with a grin, but it faded as I noticed Armand's grim expression wasn't changing. I took a half-step back. "Sorry, doc. You were saying?"

The ghoul coughed. "The less you know about Sayomi, the safer you are. If you're going to be working with her on this assignment though, I'm obliged to give you some very precious advice."

"And what would that be?" I asked exasperatedly. I had no stomach for cryptic warnings; they came too often in my line of work. "I shouldn't get her wet, expose her to bright light or feed her after midnight?"

Armand's gaze smouldered as he ignored my derisive ribbing. "I am deadly serious, hacker. I know you're getting your hands dirty in this job too. Do not allow Myron Dresdann within her sight."

"Seriously? Don't let her see one of the targets she's tasked with terminating? What is she going to do, kill him?"

"Yes," Armand replied flatly and without hesitation. "And you as well."

My eyes widened in shock. "She's after me as well? What the hell were you thinking, Armand?!" I felt my cheeks flush with anger.

"Listen," Armand growled. "If she meets him in person, nobody is leaving that room alive. Do with that what you will." He turned and strode away into the growing shadows between the buildings, leaving me standing alone in the storage lot.

"Thanks for your help," I called out irritably into the empty darkness after him, before locking up my storage container and heading back towards my waiting car. This job was going straight to hell and it hadn't even started yet!

As soon as I reached the Spirit, I angrily threw the backpack into an empty seat as I climbed into the driver's side. All three of the runners I'd just hired to help kill people were unable or unwilling to kill people. I was furious that I'd wasted my time putting a team together when I'd just have to do all of the work myself anyway! What's the goddamned point of hiring assassins if they can't kill anyone? I fumed, slamming one fist onto the console in frustration.

The display and all of the lights in the car began flickering erratically. As I looked around bemusedly they quickly returned to normal and dimmed to my preferred lighting level as the Spirit neatly pulled away from the curb and began accelerating towards the freeway ramp.

"Where on earth am I going?" I said, dismayed.

"Destination set. Los Angeles - Horizon Flagship Building. Estimated travel time nineteen hours forty-seven minutes," the on-board computer replied smoothly.

"Cancel trip!" I said hurriedly, my heart leaping into my throat. To my immediate relief the car slowed and pulled over to the side of the road; patiently waiting for a new destination. I sat still for a few moments, breathing deeply and slowly to quell the panic that had suddenly swelled in my chest. The Spirit was registered under one of my fake SINs and I had removed all trackers and identifying tags from its computer before I'd even driven it once; but for those brief moments I'd had an impossible fear that C'el had found me and was bringing me in to be dealt with. I let out a long, rattling breath as I realised I was shaking.

I wordlessly instructed the Spirit to take me home and reclined my seat so I could drop into VR more comfortably. As an afterthought, I slotted the data chip I'd been given into a reader that was set into the car's console, exhaling deeply again as I let myself slip into VR and found myself standing on the windswept path of my commlink's virtual environment.

Hanako was standing nearby with her back to me, examining a red wheelbarrow full of brilliant orange and red and rich brown leaves - the iconography I'd made to represent the Spirit. I'd thought it appropriate since I used it mostly to ferry things from one point to another.

As I took a couple of steps towards her, Hanako turned and gave a small bow. "I have finished checking the Spirit's navigational and security settings, Master. There have been no alterations made." She turned back to face the wheelbarrow and lifted her right hand in a smooth diagonal movement away from herself, as if she were drawing on a nonexistent canvas. A glowing blue square appeared in thin air, stretching and growing to follow her movement until she allowed her hand to fall back to her side.

I stood next to her and watched the blue display window as white text began to scroll upwards across it. A cursory examination told me Hanako had pulled up the settings in question, so that I could see for myself that they were unchanged. Once the configurations had all been shown, the display window winked out of existence.

"Thank you, Hanako," I said quietly. She was still looking straight ahead with an expression of mild curiosity, watching the wind rustle the leaves of my filesystem. "Why did you verify those configurations?" I asked, an indescribable feeling of gratitude filling me with warmth and a tiny sliver of unease as I watched the stormy breeze send the hair of her meticulously-crafted avatar rippling and waving over her shoulders.

She turned to face me and gave a small, indifferent smile. "You asked," she said innocently, as she clapped her hands twice and faded from view.

I stood there for a few moments, stunned by her answer. It dawned on me that when I'd spoken to her it wasn't as a logical query to a program, but as between equals; as though I had forgotten that I had compiled her and instead saw her as real as any metahuman. It was several minutes before I could break myself out of my existential reverie and remind myself that I still had something I wanted to do.

The breeze gently pushed around me, dead leaves swirling around my feet as I knelt next to the wheelbarrow and placed one hand against the flat surface of the metal and sent a command through to the car to load the data chip and stream it to my commlink. There was a faint glimmer of light around my hand as the command was accepted, and in front of me a figure sitting neatly on a simple white folding chair faded into view. It was the woman from Aether, wearing a sleek black dress with blue trim and separate sleeves, and her hair fanned out behind her slightly in a way that made it look a little like bat wings.

"Good evening," she said lightly. Her smile was polite, and her eyes were focused on some distant point - this was a simple pre-recorded message. She daintily rose to her feet, standing with her hands clasped behind her back and lightly turning back and forth from her waist. "I'm going to be performing at this venue soon, so I wanted to do something nice to say 'thank you for having me'. I have a gift for you," she said, looking down at her feet shyly. I shook my head at how overly cute the message was - the bashful maiden act was a clever marketing tactic, but not a particularly subtle one.

The woman turned and picked up the chair, folding it up as she turned back to face forward. As the chair folded up it pressed further and further in on itself in impossible ways; collapsing in on itself until it was a perfect white metal cube that I immediately recognised as a file package. I made a mental note that whoever animated this message sure knew their stuff as the woman bowed deeply, holding out the box with outstretched arms; dark hair shimmering with deep blue highlights as she moved. I watched for a moment before taking the box off her; transferring it to my commlink.

The woman beamed at me, her hands immediately jumping behind her back again. "I hope I'll see you there," she said, waving happily with one hand before blowing a kiss with the other. As she faded from view there was a crack of lightning and thunder overhead - my virtual environment's equivalent of an alert. I drew my hand through the air to open the alert window and was immediately advised by both my car and my commlink that the data chip had wiped itself and burnt out; just like a BTL chip.

I frowned. The message was pleasant but there definitely wasn't any overwhelming rush of simsense. If anything, the message was better than life only in the sense that it's not every day that you get a thank-you gift from someone who looks like an idoru. The data chip was probably designed  to burn out just so that the contents couldn't be replicated or shared.

My thoughts were confirmed as soon as I opened the file package - there was a digital ticket and an archive inside it. I grinned appreciatively. A digital ticket was just like the old paper and ink ones back in the day; only these couldn't be duplicated or even used without the right decryption key. Each contained a unique encryption code and serial number that could only be matched up at the entrance of whatever the ticket granted access to; making forgery impossible. The simple presence of the d-ticket itself verified it as genuine - it would be too difficult and too expensive to make a false one just to mess with a random stranger; although strangely I couldn't find any names or times on the ticket's iconography.

I registered the d-ticket to my preferred fake SIN and turned my attention to the file archive. Inside it was a music file and an AR overlay poster of the dark-haired woman with her eyes closed, angrily shouting into an old and chipped megaphone. Overlay posters could be prohibitively expensive - once set to a node and assigned to a specific physical location, they were visible to anyone with AR capability; whether they had access to the node or not. Corporations frequently shelled out the big bucks for AR overlay billboards. I was impressed - the d-ticket by itself was generous, but the addition of the ARO poster made this a very valuable gift. Karl was right to suggest selling the data chip instead of opening it myself.

Except I couldn't exactly sell it without being able to say what was on it, I reminded myself as I opened the music file. The sounds of the breeze and coming storm gently faded out and was replaced by music that came from all directions at once. The song was one I recognised - 「The Light」by... No, that couldn't be right.

Hanako appeared next to me right on cue, holding a paper envelope. "This arrived in your mailbox, Master. It was received from a verified sender, but the identification does not match any of your whitelisted contacts. What should I do?"

"Who was the verified sender?" I asked, my heart picking up a little with hopeful excitement.

"VIPass Promotions," Hanako replied. I nodded quickly and dismissed her; forgetting to thank her in my haste to open the message and see it for myself.

Mr Takabe,

Your d-ticket has been successfully registered and may be redeemed at any participating venue.

Mana Seiken - OVERLOAD tour

This message also serves as your receipt. If you are unable to redeem your d-ticket please contact us -

I closed the message window and calmly logged out of VR. As I opened my eyes and the interior of my Spirit came back into focus, I took a long, deep breath and let it out as slow as I possibly could.

Directly ahead I could see the high-rise complex containing my apartment as the Spirit neatly turned onto the service road leading to the secure car park. I could have a light meal and get a little rest at home before heading out to avenge Reggie - but first there was something much more pressing that needed my attention. I made an AR call, listening to the line ring for a moment before Kuro picked up. "Evening, senpai! How are you doing?"

"Hey, Kuro," I said, grinning devilishly. "Guess who scored one of Mana's concert tickets?"


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« Reply #19 on: <07-22-15/0700:46> »
Hey everyone, sorry for the delay. I've been getting slammed IRL (I got a job with an indie game developer!) and so the story's had to sit on the sidelines for a little while. I'm working on my next update now and should have it up within the next week; once it's ready I'll update this post with it.

I know a lot of people are enjoying the story so far and I'm sorry to have kept you waiting as long as I have. There'll be some explosions to make up for it, I promise.

Alrighty then. Hanako, terminate the connection pretty-please.


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« Reply #20 on: <08-29-15/1648:22> »
I have truly enjoyed your story thus far, and I cannot wait until you are able to do more.


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« Reply #21 on: <11-05-15/1058:51> »
Incredibly enjoyable. I find the way you describe the world of the matrix an excellent counterpoint to the gritty realism of the shadowrun world. Keep it up when you can! :)