All of my Nanowrimo folks, it is time! This is my 5th year of NaNoWriMo, and I am doing a NaNo and a half, so excuse me if I don’t have a lot of time to talk. This year is Cyberpunk, and I decided my opening would have a blast. Well, multiple blasts. More important than that, I had to dig a small hook into the readers. Unfortunately it is Nano, so there wasn’t a lot of time to think about it.
(excuse the lack of editing, it is Nano after all)
The street smelled like antiseptic cleaner and cigarettes, and Fuller was in Ashleigh’s ear, as loud as ever. She closed her eyes, tried to concentrate, but that wouldn’t make him go away. He wasn’t whispering in her ear, or talking from across the table, he was in her head.
“If you don’t concentrate, one of these Nic-heads will take you for a sap,” Fuller Said, “you’ll be dead before you know it.”
Ashleigh was outside “Recreational Bar House Luther”, a bar deep in the streets of Sea-Van. Her goal was to find a man named Simpson. The voice in her head? Agent Carlos Fuller, her eyes in The Net.
He was right, the men all around her were drug junkies. They lined the front of the bar, wearing unicolored jumpsuits, shaven heads. If they thought they could get something out of her, a pill, a patch, even a needle, they would take the chance. She tried to accept that he was just trying to help, that he knew she could see them and had already considered them.
He could only see them because she could see them. He was tapped into her senses, complete Simstim, or Simulated Stimulation. He heard the cars on the streets around her, and could see the smoke rising from the men’s illegal cancer sticks. That was why she was ignoring the itch on her thigh.
“Hey beautiful,” One of the men said as she passed.
Ashleigh turned her eyes on him, looked him square in the face. His expression went from lecherous to confused. She didn’t stop to consider him any further. She passed the threshold, out of the gray outside and into the fading fluorescent lights.
It was so gray. The walls were colored slate, and the floor was tiled white and black. The tables were like concrete, and the men that dotted the tables were pale faces in gray jumpsuits. They all looked at her as she entered, and in her Nu-tex brand trenchcoat, a vibrant brown that spread as she walked, she had to stick out.
“I still don’t know why they sent you in for this,” Fuller whispered into her eardrum.
She whispered, “Don’t know.”
This wasn’t an international crisis. It wasn’t a matter of grave corporate criminal activity. As far as Ashleigh was concerned, the NAB didn’t need her here.
“This seems like a job for Blackcaps,” Fuller said in reference to street cops, “Some CEO breaks the law, thinks he can hide. Why not just surround the building and force him out?”
Ashleigh scanned the room as she approached the bar. It was faux wood, and she dreaded even touching it. The man behind it would have been just as grimey to the touch. A bald head, long face, facial hair that seemed beyond his control.
“You sure you’re in the right place?” The man grumbled as he filled a cup for a customer.
Ashleigh smiled, “I double checked the address and everything,” She said.
Her expression stopped the bartender. He put the cup down, half full, and his eyes scanned the room.
“The network in this building is 20th century shit,” Fuller complained, “Which is why I’m sure the corporate-level ICE guarding their network doesn’t belong.”
She hated when he talked techno-babble, especially when she was surrounded. She looked over her shoulder as if to see what the man was looking at. Five men had stood. Three were of fair build, one was as skinny as a pole, the last was chunky. She turned back to the bartender just as fast.
“Is something wrong?” She asked, “I just wanted a drink.”
She didn’t have time to deal with all of them. If she was right, someone already alerted Simpson, and her mission now had a limited time frame. Like Fuller said before, this wasn’t a mission for just one person, or even a pair. They should have surrounded the building.
If some idiot thought he could disobey the law set down by the North American Business Authority, or NAB, he could meet the full might of the government. The age of the Corp Wars was over, companies knew they had to bow to the president.
Ashleigh’s hand reached out and grabbed the bartender by the collar. His head swung down into the bar with minimal resistance. She felt the crunch, heard his scream of pain, and the shuffle of feet behind her. Five pair were worth paying attention to.
Her pistol came from her hip, pointed over her shoulder.
“I don’t know about you,” She shouted to the room, “But I don’t want to know what it feels like to explode from the inside. So I think you boys should hold still.”
“You crazy bitch,” The bartender gargled, “What do you want?”
She looked to the men, one had pulled a gun on her, three didn’t want to move, the skinny man had his hands in the air. Her eyes focused on him.
“I’m not one to doubt the cash spent by our government overlords,” Fuller said, “But do you really think you can fight a room full of Nics?”
“Shut up,” Ashleigh growled. Her hand squeezing the bald headed man into the bar.
The bartender sobbed, “What did I do?”
“You,” She said with her gun pointing at the skinny man, “When I’m done with your friends, you and I are going to talk.”
The skinny man looked around the room, and for a brief moment the other men in the bar looked at him as well. Their confusion was all the time that she needed.
She knew for a fact that her reflexes were better than theirs. Hundreds of billions of dollars went into making sure that was the case. Years of training ensured the skill was honed. She had scars on her body for hard evidence.
One bullet into the gunman, the pop of the pistol and a second from the round exploding in his chest, she disregarded the third of his own pistol discharging into the ceiling. Two bullets for the fat man, just to be safe. The fourth and fifth bullets came so fast that the other men crumpled in unison. She turned the gun back and planted it against the skull of the bartender, in time to stop his hands from digging under the counter for his shotgun. It fell to the floor, and the man pulled his hands up and onto the counter.
“Would it weird you out if I said that made me hard?” Fuller whispered in her ear.
She was definitely going to have to report him to Chief Daniels.
“Are you done?” She asked.
“I was done when you first made the skinny guy piss himself,” Fuller replied.
She let the bartender go and walked across the room, now full of dead men and discarded shells, toward the skinny man.
“I don’t know anything,” He said, “Please, don’t kill me.”
Ashleigh could see he still had his hair, still had color to his skin. He either wasn’t an addicted to the government clinical drugs, or he was a new nic-head, either way he wasn’t like the rest in the room. He looked reliable.
She pointed the pistol at his crotch as she got close, and looked him in the eyes.
“What do we know?” She said out loud. This confused the skinny man, made his eyes dart around the room.
She didn’t have time to be sub-vocal, try to talk to Fuller without truly talking. Besides, this had a more dramatic effect.
“He is in the building. Nothing about which floor, which room,” Fuller began, “The building has 10 stories, and someone definitely triggered an alarm. If you want, I can start guessing.”
Ashleigh looked at the skinny man, “Which floor is Simpson on?” She asked, pushing the pistol closer.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” He replied, “Please, just don’t.”
“Maybe I chose wrong,” Ashleigh began, “I looked around this room and I thought you were the only one in here who wanted to live. The moment your friend drew weapon on me, I gained the right to use lethal force, you’re just a checkmark on a report to me, alive or dead.”
He looked like he was going to faint, and she wondered if she had pushed him too far. She couldn’t shoot him, not without landing in a lot of trouble. He didn’t know that though.
“He was on the third floor,” The man whispered, “But he will be long gone.”
Her eyes went to the back of the bar, a stairwell that lead into the main building.
“You might want to start drinking somewhere else,” She said as she ran for the stairwell.
“I’ve got bad news,” Fuller said, “A general alert has been sent for Blustar security.”
Private security forces, the worst leftover from the corporate age. Nothing made a mission more difficult than men in body armor, trying to take the law into their own hands. But not even NAB could take away the right to private security, only regulate the forces themselves. Which meant she ran the risk of being shot by vigilante bodyguards.
“Can’t you stop the call?” She asked as she started up the stairs.
Fuller huffed, “Of course I could. You want to ask if I’m allowed to?”
“So what are you doing for me right now?” She asked as she ascended.
“Oh Carlos, thanks for hacking security footage for me. Oh Carlos, thanks for confirming our target for us. Oh Carlos, please call me pretty, and stroke my hair when I can’t sleep at night.”
“I get it,” She snapped.
“I’m in the footage for the third floor,” He said, “One guard in there. He is shouting through a closed door. Blustar is close, they have a lightplane.”
Ashleigh stopped at the door to the third floor, pulled her pistol, and edged closer to the door. She could hear the man on the far side, and more, another man further in, the swiffing sound of a lightplane approaching the building. She drew her focus back to the one man, backed up, and kicked the door open.
The guard’s gaze turned to her. His eyes were covered in black shields, his head half domed by a heavy plastic. She didn’t have as much time as she thought, he was enhanced.
She unloaded three shots, the man moved fast enough that each landed in the door he was standing in front of. The rounds took chunks out of the thick built door, but the man was on the ground, firing his own pistol back.
Ashleigh rolled back into the stairwell, rounds chipping the wall. The lightplane was close now, hovering outside of the building. They were down on the third floor, what did they plan to do? They could pick him up through the window, but that would take time. She still had time.
“Ash,” Fuller said, “I’m watching the footage outside, you might want to hurry.”
He was always one step behind.
She peaked her head out, and pulled it back. Several shots rang out, the man firing where she had just been. The wall was pocked. She ducked, put her arm around the corner, and let off several rounds.
“I’m trying,” She replied, “Next time, describe the bodyguard to me.”
“I was busy being snarky.”
She let out a few more shots blind, and snapped out the magazine of her pistol to reload it.
“Ash, Ash, Ash.” Fuller repeated.
“Get on the ground.”
She opened her mouth to say something, then heard a grumbling noise from outside. The lightplane, there was something on it. She fell back on the ground, laying flat as she could.
A terrible grinding noise was unleashed into the building, a heavy gunfire that swept out of the door to the room with Simpson, lay into the hall, and exploded through walls into the stairwell. It was an unimaginable sound, like the building collapsing right on top of her. Pieces of plaster spilled off the walls, and metal was thrashed.
Shooting into the building? Did that mean they had him already?
She pulled herself around the corner, found the bodyguard covered in a corner trying to avoid the gunfire, and fired three shots. By the time the lightplanes weapon was silent, the bodyguard slumped to the ground dead.
“They are leaving,” Fuller said.
Ashleigh didn’t ask the question. She stood, ran to the now collapsed door to the room, and stepped inside. There was a layer of dust smoke over the hideout. A simple mattress, a wallscreen ripped to shreds, boxes of dry food strewn across the room.
There on the floor, now full of holes, was Maxwell Simpson, former CEO of S&S International.
Ashleigh went to the window, now a wide hole to the street below. The blustar lightplane was retreating into the gray sky.