Through the viewport of the Marcus Orvie, the backdrop of stars looked like dead static caught in a still moment.
A flick-action lighter popped, its gyrating fire caressing the Mevius. Its tip ignited, several hundred different synthetic chemicals and pseudo-tobacco crisping together in a funeral pyre. Vincent inhaled, held the smoke in his mouth and let it trickle out as languid as the Marcus Orvie's approach.
He did a handstand, pulled himself up onto the ladder, making the ascent into a freefall corridor. Climbing backwards, upwards, was initially awkward, but at some point, climbing upwards became downwards, gravity reasserted itself in the opposite direction and Vincent slid off the rungs. He'd get used to zero-gee. Looking up, he could see the smoke play out in a spiral pattern as the torus, one of three that made up the tug, rotated counter to his section.
"Sleep well, Vince?"
Marcus didn't take his eyes off the screens, continued mapping out paths and alternate flightpaths with an archaic digit-pen, a '38 Sino chrome data-feedback attached to the fingers and covered in an ugly brown plastic case.
Vincent had been out for three days.
"Well enough. Where're we?"
"Black Lib. Sumer-side."
"Burn Alexandria," Vincent drawled. It was a Library joke in a Library accent.
The last burning of Alexandria had freed the Black Library; instead of destroying the rag-and-tech black market, it'd revitalised the market. The Black Libraries spread, decentralised like a set of vat-grown axons, seeded itself deeper within the trash of Eastern seaboard. Which Eastern seaboard? skeptics asked. All of them, replied the readers.
"We're picking up a couple of passengers," Marcus said. "Librarians."
As the tug rotated, the giant hologram logo of the Mitsubishi Corporation came into view, then the rest of the port. Even out in orbit, you couldn't escape seeing the heraldry of the modern aristocracy. The aristocracy of blood money and shadow deals.
Vincent whistled. "I'm impressed. What'd it take for the boss to convince them to come along?"
"Isn't the target big enough incentive?"
"You'll have to refresh my memory; you sacked me in the jaw, drugged me and dragged me on board half a week ago. I don't believe I was briefed."
"Pleasant irony, wasn't it?" Marcus said. "Drugged with your own derms no less."
"The boss could have asked nicely."
"Ask nicely? You? You'd never drop all your biz, even when we come calling."
Outside, a magnetic strip clicked against the scanner. The door, all servos and whining pumps, rose open to reveal a black-garbed girl stepping in backwards, ushering in others.
"This way, bring it over here. Ah, Vince, you're awake."
"It's good to see you too, Eliziya."
"Now I won't have to sample your derms at random," she grinned. "I like the purple one."
"No shit. The comedown's a bitch." Eliziya returned her attention to directing a gray-cloaked man wheeling several crates. "Over here, Fern. Set the rig up over there."
"No, further there."
The last speaker was a woman with thumbs hooked in silver insets on her leather jeans, material manufactured somewhere out of the San Paolo textile strip. Her varnished nails looked artificial in the glaring white light, and her lacquered boots clicked a commanding rhythm as she nodded to a corner of the tug. Monochrome goggles covered her eyes like seer's blindfolds.
Fern complied, moving the boxes to a side and unpacking its metal contents. Eliziya peered inside the foam box, saw a dense tangle of plastic and steel.
"All this just for you, sister."
"It's Christmas season," Anjali replied. "Marcus, we take-off as soon as Kevin, Mor and Lorelei get here."
"As you say, boss."
"Slot in the Beast ROM, Mor," Eliziya instructed, then jacked in with the new deck, a Samsung model not even on the shelves yet.
The floating point data of a million businesses shone about her as though she were back in the neon-lit streets of Shibuya. Blue and red unfolded across her vision, a fluid origami light-show that revealed the arrays of the Chevron-Phillips Pharma-Chem Company, overshadowed only by the green inverted pyramid of Pacific Century Cyberworks. Her disembodied consciousness rose amidst the lights, punched forward through the insignificant miniature businesses, ascended the lattices and headed straight for the pyramid.
"Going in for a buzz, Mor."
Eliziya rose close to the intricate geometries of infocomms, punching to within five grid points of it. She was close enough to taste the ice; good ice; dangerous ice.
The ice seethed as though water boiled behind its translucent shell.
"Back off," advised the Beast. "It knows we're here."
She thumbed the stud on her deck, falling away from the pyramid.
"Least you're good for something. We paid good money for you," Eliziya said.
"Sure. 's what all the others told me as well."
"Mor, slot in the icebreaker."
Though she could move her lips- her real lips with relative ease, listening to Morionem speak from outside of cyberspace was like filtering his voice through a foggy tea-infused London morning.
"It's one-off, Zi, don't blow it."
"I'm not running it, Mor, just checking something."
Moments later, the Beast coughed. "That's a cruel beast you've got there. Kaiju Grade Nineteen. Japanese, looks almost military. Good enough to crack most ice, I'd say. Maybe even black ice."
"Wonderful: they didn't swindle us. This baby cost us three times what we paid for you."
Eliziya jacked out of the matrix, returned to the cage of her flesh. "Right, the Samsung's working fine. Kaiju looks good, I think our rig's alright. Beast says no teeny-weeny intrusion countermeasure electronics can stand up to Kaiju."
Morionem leaned over, helped her strip off the elastic g-harness. "Your vitals aren't too good, Zi. Spikin' like Olympus Mons on an earthquake."
"Just need a good derm. I'll bug Vince later," she rubbed her bloodshot eyes. "Hoi, Fern, the deck looking good to you? Not about to fry my brains or some such?"
"It's syncing up, the neurobarriers are in place and the Faraday cage is ready to trigger at any moment," the Librarian informed her. "The chance of a neuroelectric backlash surge is almost zero, and we can jack you out if need be."
"Beautiful. Is Lorelei done with Anji's setup?"
"I believe the process will take several more hours, by which time we ought to be in range to begin the first phase."
"First phase of what, precisely?"
Vincent slipped down to their section of the Marcus, another Mevius cigarette in his mouth.
"Marcus is being a tight-lipped bastard," Vincent said, "and nobody's telling me anything about the target. Hells, I don't even know why you all pulled me here. It's good to see all of Severed Storm, been a long time since the gang's got together, but it would be real great if somebody told me what's going on."
"The target, dear Vincent," Zi smiled sweetly, thumbing a derm, "is the biggest gem of all. The Floating Castle."
The Floating Castle glistened like an overgrown tumour, visible even at this distance. It was a pleasure-park for the rich and wealthy, a casino for the wastrels, a challenge to every runner worth a damn. And Severed Storm was more than eager to take up the challenge.
"Alright, keep it steady, Oracle," Kevin said, his voice rendered tuneless over the hash of radio-static. Marcus didn't deign to respond, continued on the flight path. "Dealer, take over. Oracle, Princess, prep for insertion. We've got a real triff yacht coming to pick you up."
Marcus keyed in several final commands, then stood and faced Vincent. "Wreck my ship and I'll make you pay."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
Marcus adjusted his tuxedo and stepped to Anjali's side. She wore a resplendent red dress that glittered with woven gems produced in Africa. Synthetic, every last diamond, but the quality was good enough to fool any casual high-society debutante. Anji picked her fingernails, or seemed to. Standing right beside her, Marcus could see the edge of twin-edged scalpel blades sliding out from under the housing of her emerald nails. Expensive work, done in the black clinics of Chiba.
Zi was already jacked into the matrix, and running her fingers over the deck, set up the connection that Lorelei had installed in Anjali. Cyberspace gelled and melted around her, reformed into a return to flesh, but flesh that was not her own. Eliziya felt the eager tension in Anjali, smelled the cologne wafting off Marcus. Under the dress, Anjali wore a skintight polycarbon suit. Zi tried to turn, but was helpless in the simulae stream.
"How're you doing, sister?" Anjali murmured to herself, but Eliziya couldn't respond; the connection was only one way. Zi thumbed the activation stud, flipped back to cyberspace and went ahead to cut the ice.
Owned by a relatively new and exceedingly mysterious zaibatsu known only as The King, the Floating Castle was an enigma to all. Nobody knew for sure if its purpose was financial, recreational or something else. All they knew from preliminary scans was that the security was a maze, and there were a hundred layers of ice guarding something.
Eliziya became abruptly aware of others. More than security, there were numerous other decks probing the ice as she did. She recognised them just as Vincent called out to Kevin, "Oxfather, we've got company."
They'd come. Like a flame attracting moths, they'd all come. She wanted to laugh; there hadn't been this many cowboys in one spot since the Veil.
"Identify them, Dealer," Kevin commanded Vincent.
"Already on it, Oxfather. Hoo boy, you're not gonna believe this, Oxfather. PTA are here, Heroes Unlimited, Sky Chasers, even the Goblins are here. Hell, I think they're all taking a crack at this beauty."
"Oxfather to Princess, other cowboys sighted. We've got competition, folks."
"Oxfather," came the grinning acknowledgement, "tell the competition to fuck off. Floating Castle's gonna be ours."
If you can make it better, don't make it sentient.
Shane just because I'm Asian doesn't mean I get to be Godzilla
Proud co-writer of the Greatest Idea of Our Time: viewtopic.php?f=45&t=1236