Category: Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 61: Falling Down

Drick landed in the dead centre of the dance floor bending legs to take the impact which was drastically lessened by the suits neutralisers. Drick felt the strong tug of the artificial gravity generator below their feet. The main unit that provided the dome with its unique dancing surface was directly below the apex. The plans for this building flashed onto Drick’s retina showing the main power conduit, it was less than one metre to the left.

Drick took a small canister from a jacket pocket and stuck it to the ground. By now the security forces below would have started to ascend the elevators and would also be scanning for Drick’s form with sensors. Drick activated the cannister on the ground above the power cable and stepped quickly backwards as a spray of sparks erupted from the bottom of the device. In moments a hole nearly sixty centimetres across was bubbling below the canister and then the whole of the ceiling fell inwards. 

Drick started to move at a low crouch through the crowd, they had to move slowly as the weight neutralisers were turned to maximum, it would only be a moment before the action got busy. There was a feed being relayed to Drick’s eyes from the well positioned angels in the club. Drick took note of the sixteen guards the angels could see who had moved into various positions. 

A moment later and a new feed was overlaid showing the position of all the club’s staff by their comms units. Rodero had managed to hack into the club’s security feeds. Drick smiled and was rewarded with a sudden explosion from the centre of the ceiling. The acid bomb had worked its way to the power units and eaten right through them. It was a moment in which time seemed to hold its breath and then the entire of the dance floor was suddenly filled with people falling from it.

This was just as Drick planned. The falling people would now be the highest priority to the nightclub’s computer systems. It would focus all of its efforts on tracking and catching the falling people using emergency systems. It was a common occurrence for people to fall from an inversion elevator while drunk, so clubs like this had emergency devices that could slow a falling body. However slowing several hundred and working out the most logical and safe way to do that would require a lot of processing power. Safety systems overrode security systems. The club’s security would be crippled for at least thirty seconds. Drick would have to use that to the best possible advantage.

Written in 365 Parts: 60: The Dance Floor Above

Drick stopped the roll and finished with a left foot and right knee touching the ground. Drick had drawn two weapons as they came upright. The first was a short needle gun with high impact darts filled with a neurotoxin that caused almost instant paralysis. The weapon had hundreds of darts and could fire a single shot or a steady spray using pressure propulsion. The second was a shortened gel shotgun, a crowd control and anti vehicle weapon favoured by the Judicial forces of a half millennia before. The gel, that was fired via an accelerated pressure wave, could be configured by a thumb switch. It changed from a soft putty that would punch a person to the ground, all the way to a solid ball of plasticrete like canon shot that would punch a hole through armour plating and an engine casing. 

The gel shotgun was out of favour in a civilisation dominated by laser weaponry and plasma blasters but Drick was extremely fond of it for the sheer versatility and extreme message giving capabilities. Drick had kept this weapon in personal possission for a very long time and had even taken the time to learn how to construct, repair and replace every component of the gun. Drick even took the time to brew their own flavour of gel in a couple of distinct varieties.

Drick stood quickly and sprayed the six bodyguards who had moved in from each side of the door with the needler. Drick took a step up onto a chair and power-flipped using the suits altered gravity field to perform an impossible manoeuvre that shot them ten metres further into the club to land amongst a set of tables whose patrons hadn’t even had the chance to react to the slamming doors.

The club was a dome of around two hundred metres in length. The roof started at a mere three metres but reached a height of sixty metres at the apex before falling back to a parallel height of three metres on the other side. The centre of the dome was an inverted dance floor. Clever gravity generators and reversing field tubes allowed you to ascend and flip upside down half way through that ascent to literally dance on the ceiling. 

Drick was already sprinting and silently hoping that the angels had been watching. A second of concern was all that was needed before a prayer was answered. Drick internal screens showed a moment of brief static and many screens in the bar flicked off. Some of the lighting systems and the more esoteric liquid crystal display clothing of the revellers flicked with static or went off. It was a medium powered electro magnetic pulse from an emp grenade.

Drick would have smiled if they were not busy moving to keep their opposition busy. There were already eight security moving on Drick’s position, they were fast, no doubt using threat recognition and tracking software. Hopefully it would be currently resetting along with the rest of the security in the building. That had been why Drick had asked for the EMP grenade to be triggered.

Modern security systems, and certainly the ones carried by the team in here would be shielded from any pulse from a handheld device like a grenade. In truth half of the patrons in the club likely had comms units that were shielded. Internal computers would have reset clocks. An electromagnetic pulse was an inconvenience and not a strong deterrent. But that wasn’t why Drick had requested for it to be discharged.

Drick had an angel with a shielded monitor array waiting. The minute the pulse was sent they should have been able to plug into the fibre backbone of the security relays. Everyone with high security used a secondary hard connection, it stopped being taken out by over-the-air interference. The pulse would have stunned all the systems for a moment, but that was enough time to inject a probe into the fibre line and jack a monitoring system into it. On the other end of the system was a very secure link to Drick’s internal comms unit and the slicer Drick had connected on a secure frequency. Rodero would be able to piggyback into the network as they had into the security guards mind, except this time Drick was not required as anything other than a conduit and could focus all attention on their own issues.

“Tell me something good.” Drick flashed the message to the secure channel the team was using.

“I’m in.” was Rodero’s response.

“System secure and disguised,” flashed the text from the angel, “heading to my cover position.”

Drick rolled under a table as four of the security merged on their position. A quick flisk with a wrist mounted engineers cutting torch was all it took to slice through the table’s single, middle, support. Drick then launched upwards with the table casting drinks everywhere and pitching it directly into the faces of two of the guards. Drick fired the gel gun into the table with a soft round at maximum velocity. It had the effect of propelling the one metre circular block of resin and steel into the two guards at one hundred kilometres an hour. There would be broken bones and a number of bruises at the very least, if not more permanent damage, to the guards and anyone within the ten metres the table went before stopping.

Drick didn’t even look at the devastation. They were too distracted at firing two single shots into the faces of the two other guards. Both had glasses on. But neither wore masks and were yelling. Drick flicked a wrist and shot them both into the mouth, they were choking and stiffening before they hit the ground. 

Drick started to run again taking mighty leaps and fast rolls in seemingly random directions. But the path was purposeful and those above on the ceiling could see that each random turn still took Drick towards the centre of the dome. As Drick reached the point below the dome’s apex they launched upwards flipping in mid air. The leap was almost thirty-five metres in height. As Drick spun in the air to look down they fired the gel gun into the head of a guard knocking them face first into a table and sent a spray of shots that took out two others and maybe a dozen bystanders with paralysing needles. They would be alive but stiff for a few hours.

The leap was enough to catch Drick in the reversed gravity and although Drick looked like they were held in mid air from directly below they were in fact falling at high speed towards the dance floor above.

Written in 365 Parts: 59: Night Club Doorway

There was a line of revellers waiting to get into the Peyote Club that Drick had to join to enter. Drick had made sure to park the vehicle, one of Boomer’s spare hover cars. If Boomer was true to form it would be a vehicle reported as destroyed some time ago running with some fake plates. If it was stopped it would pass a casual check, if there was an investigation it was a ghost, an echo in the system.

Drick had parked on the far side of the door which gave an opportunity to walk past the main entrance on the way to the back of the queue. With the coat that Drick had chosen, a high collar design, and the flashing hair extensions the facial recognition cameras would pick up very little. Drick eyed the sensor screen array on their own internal system. The club was doing the standard face, body and gait analysis with the added bonus of fairly intensive ultraviolet and infrared sensors to match internal densities and no doubt do a summary of what was being carried, or what was implanted.

That was a fairly rigorous system and more suited to high end corporations, government or military establishments. The club had undergone some upgrades since Drick was last here. It didn’t overly concern Drick. The combat suit had a stealth mode which had been activated before leaving the vehicle. It had active sensor disrupting technology with masking that presented false readings to the scanners making it appear as if Drick were lightly armed and wearing a thick weave of cotton. 

Drick noted that they were using a single band microwave system for comms relays. That was again a more classy setup than previously. It would likely be a very select frequency that varied according to a customisable algorithm. Hard to monitor and even harder to piggy back. Drick had a method for dealing with that but they would have to be in the club to activate.

Drick checked the monitor screen that was showing the position of angels, the overlay would have demons on it as well soon enough. Drick was happy that four of the five backup and support that Boomer had supplied were already in the club. There needed to be two minimum for part of Drick’s plan, four gave plenty of redundancy and would also provide some measure of extra information and logistic capability. This would also be a good test of the team that was being built for the much weightier problem that Drick was planning.

Drick noticed a group of already tanked up party goers about two thirds down the queue. They were clearly colleagues of each other from some organisation as they had the same look and age. Drick scrutinised their clothes, at first glance they looked as if they were wearing clubbing apparel similar to everyone else in line. For the most part they were indistinguishable, however there were odd items out of place, the level of a tag, the cut of some pants, the extra exclusive trainers. This all added up to one conclusion, they were slumming it in a rougher than usual part of town. Rich kids with a taste for the lower streets and the undercity. They were also clearly on stimulants and alcohol. They were ideal.

Drick slipped in amongst them and casually offered a narcotic cigarette for the exchange of a tug at a bottle one of the revellers was holding. Then manouvred themselves into being part of the same group to look as if they belonged. Drick offered more of the cigarettes, which were greedily accepted. Worked well for Drick, the particular mix would make this group high fliers in a loud manner. As the line shuffled slowly forward Drick moved in front of the increasingly boisterous organics, making sure to slip one or two people forwards as people ahead turned to see what the noise was from behind.

By the time Drick reached the front of the line the group had started to sing and jostle each other. They were shouting to be let in. Two of the four security that were outside the door were moving down the line to deal with the noise and the other two security were distracted enough to just wave people into the club which is exactly what Drick wanted. As Drick passed the main doors the very expensive scanner just inside took a three dimensional whole body scan. That was again a new addition but Drick knew that they would have identified them at some point, Drick was after all already on their target list.

Drick was already moving at speed as the scanner suddenly flashed a warning. The moment the scanner triggered the alarm the outside doors snapped shut and the internal doorway of the vestibule almost twenty metres away was closing. A security screen dropped from the ceiling in front of the inner doorway, as an extra security measure. It was thick plastisteel and glass fibre, almost bullet resistant to everything but high explosive and armour piercing rounds. But, it was a fraction of a second too late as Drick had already dived low under the screen and between the closing doors. Drick was rolling as they hit the floor on the other side of the inner vestibule doors to reduce the impact and not become too tangled in the lifeforms they had just dived through.

Written in 365 Parts: 58: Sending A Message

Drick stared at the entrance to the Peyote Club that rested on the junction below the transcontinental flyover. The TC, as it was affectionately called, was the major route, other than direct flight, between the two largest cities on the planet and the only magnetically charged transport route available. It was used primarily for the shipping of goods between the large industrial agricultural complexes on other continents and the spaceport.

The highway was older than most of the city. Purposefully constructed above the old city to be used as a maglev cargo route, a traditional roadway, a high speed vacuum tube system and hover vehicle surface. It was now almost a kilometre below the tallest buildings and several kilometres below the tethered orbital platforms that made up the upper parts of the main city. 

The highway was broader than one hundred metres, over fifteen thousand kilometres in length, mostly because it now had branches to other cities, and over fifty metres high at its thickest sections. Greater than a million vehicles travelled on, under, or within, the highway each day. They transported hundreds of thousands of kilogrammes in goods and millions of people between destinations.

Because of the importance of this route, any stop on its length, any intersection, flyover, or junction of the highway was a collection point for commerce, community, government, service industries and crime. The Peyote Club almost exclusively catered to the last two in Drick’s limited experience of the venue. 

Drick tried to recall the last time they had been in this particular dive. It had to have been a couple of decades. The ownership had likely changed since then, well the ownership would have moved from shell corporation to shell corporation with the actual organisations in charge never shifting. But the management and personnel would have changed, at least Drick hoped so or the shooting would start the moment they stepped in the door. 

The last time that Drick had been in the Peyote Club they had been tracing down the last refugees from a gang that was boosting high quality body alterations using live surgery and then selling them on to the highest bidder. They had used the Peyote Club as a main meeting point and paid the then owners a generous amount for protection, anonymity and heavy muscle. Drick had made a bold statement about their need to cease activities and it involved killing or maiming just about everyone in the club at the time. Oh well, it was some time ago, they would have surely forgotten not a single detail and Drick would be a smear if they saw them coming from a distance and could get big weaponry to bear.

Drick had been of two minds about the immediate next course of action following the calls to Rodero and Krennar. Drick had wanted to contact Hooper but had decided to hold off. The report from Krennar that Drick skimmed through had indicated that they were still waiting for reports. Hooper would have contacted Drick if there was anything urgent or exceptional. The silence meant that either nothing had come to light or that there would be an issue in a comms. So the situation would not be eased by Drick making contact. There was a slight chance that this could make whomever was tracking the calls cautious, but it was a stretch for anyone to think that Drick needed to keep in close communication with Hooper, so the chances of this occurring were slight.

After a little thought Drick realised that they needed to continue the actions of sending a message that would get passed up the food chain and spook the right people into making a bad decision in Drick’s favour. The investigative route was one way to get information and another was to force your quarry into revealing something. It was why Drick had drawn out the security forces and it was a tactic they thought best to continue. The original idea to focus purely on the Volstron officials was on a temporary hiatus while other elements were brought into play. Drick’s plans had been complicated by the desires and requirements of the Engineer’s Union.

That left the group that had been hired to teach Drick a lesson in the spaceport. Originally Drick had just wanted to know who they were to understand if they would be a future issue. The information from Rodero had been interesting and problematical. They were likely connected to one of the older crime families on the planet, and likely meant that they were possibly under protection. They were independent operators but they were run by someone with both professional and social connections. That organic was the lifeform that did all the work of arrangement. It was them who Drick would have to target. So that was an issue, and so familiar to the last time Drick was here.

This course of action would get at least noticed, if not a response. It would also come at the cost of another payoff or confrontation with one of the cities undercity gangs. If this case continued like this Drick would have to get a scratchcard and start playing gangland bingo. Drick idly wondered what would be the prize if they got a line or a full house. It would probably be a quick trip to an unmarked grave.

Drick took a deep breath and checked the equipment and clothing making sure to loosen all the appropriate straps and put a thick leather coat with gangland colours sprayed over the back over the top of the jumpsuit and armour.

Drick activated the most psychedelic patterns that the skin tags and tattoos on limbs and their head could manage and gave a shot of drugs into a vein. After a few moments Drick felt the confidence and euphoria associated with the particular narcotic, undercut slightly by the antitoxins that their own body produced. Drick lowered all receptors to the more lucid side effects to maintain greater control, but allowed a little to affect features such as pupil dilation. If the bouncers were competent they would take Drick to be just another drugged up reveller. That should buy at least two seconds. All Drick actually needed was for the armoured door to open, that just meant confounding the jugheads on the gate.

Drick took another deep breath to calm nerves and then got out of the vehicle and walked with a slight sway towards the club entrance.

Written in 365 Parts: 57: Favours

Drick opened up another comms, this took a few seconds to initiate as a fast link was made available. The call was to Judicial Central, there would be a time delay of a few seconds due to distance but otherwise it would be the same as a local link.

There was a long pause before the call was picked up at the other end and Drick was staring at the tired looking face of Krennar. “Krennar, did I disturb you?”

“No. I have been awaiting your comms.”

“The line took a moment or two to pick up, is it busy there?”

“No. I ran an extra set of traces and blocks on the line before picking up.”

“Really? Why? Is there an issue?”

“A slight one, yes. I think that there is a possibility that communications and movements are being monitored. I had an interesting call from Hooper and it ended in a singularly evocative manner. It suggests to me that someone was listening in, and they must be an officer of the judiciary to do so, as it was on a secure internal network.”

“Oh joys. Well that just adds to the list of issues. How is Marsh?”

“In a troubled state of mind and most agitated. Hardly surprising if we are to believe the story that they tell.”

“I have no cause to doubt they are telling what they think is the truth. Did you learn anything?”

“Yes, a few things. I have made a small report which I will transfer now, there is one startling revelation.”

“Which is?”

“There were three people in the vehicle originally. Marsh claims, and I believe them, that two people took them from wherever they were being kept, which may be a platform from the description given. It is all in the file I have sent. However you may want to focus on finding the third person as a matter of importance. If they did exist then it will be likely that whomever is covering matters will want them.”

“I’ll get to it. Look I have some things I will need you to do. I really need to get Marsh moved as soon as possible. There being an issue in Judiciary is one part of a bigger problem, if the other legal team manages to get possession of the case they will snatch Marsh from us. I can’t let that happen.”

“Then I will have to manipulate a way to get them into my custody. I do still have a few favours I could call in, but this is going to be expensive for me personally, and not easily repaid in credit.”

Drick sighed, “looks like everyone needs a problem solving or a future bankable as well as a bounty today. Very well, Krennar, I will cover the favours you pull with ones you can call from me.”

“Good. I know a member of the Judicial Oversight Committee. I may be able to get them to grant me custody. I will let you know in due course whichever way this goes.”

“Thanks. Oh, and keep up the pressure on Marsh, the more they can remember and tell us the better we will be. I will also need a few other small matters covering, including a watertight legal option for evidence that might be obtained by illegal means.”

“What type of evidence and what crime?”

“Data, financial records for some part and confessional tapes. The crime to get them will probably be trespass, aggravated bodily harm and theft.”

“Confessions?”

“Apparently so. It is half of a package of things I have to perform to cover some other issues and future insurances.”

“Are you sure this one organic is worth all this trouble.”

“No. But what exactly is the value of a human?”

Written in 365 Parts: 56: Specialist Software

Drick walked from the market to the personal vehicle section, taking a quick look around they noticed the non-descript grey van used by Hooper, it was being piloted by a colleague who hadn’t been named to Drick. 

Drick walked over and hopped into the passenger side of the vehicle and moved around and into the back. The kit that Drick had in the executive vehicle was stowed in the back in a small locker. Drick quickly started to check the contents.

“Anywhere I should be heading towards?” asked the driver in the tone of the generally bored.

“Nowhere specific just yet, could you circle the lower levels for a little while, I need to contact people and change into something more tactical.”

“Fair enough,” the operative gunned the electrical systems into life and launched the hover vehicle upwards the moment it was able to move.

Drick checked over the kit taking special care to make sure that all the weapons were charged or loaded. It was a matter of a few minutes to fully change into the combat suit again. Drick then put a tight fitting, but slightly oversized, jumpsuit on to hide some of the combat suits lines. Pockets and pouches were quickly filled with enough armaments and munitions to take on a small combat force. Then Drick moved forward and sat in the passenger hammock.

Drick studied the pilot. Young, maybe fewer than thirty years, with a lot of skin tags and body art. They were a shifting art show. Hair had been totally removed, maybe not even selected from tank, and in its place was an expensive fibre weave. Some of it was for the sake of display with a rainbow pattern that ran across the fibres, sometimes shifting hues and other times visual imagery. Had to be a semi-expensive flexible screen setup with its own neural interface. 

Some of the hair fibres glinted dully, unlit, Drick recognised a monofilament mesh when it was in front of them. The hair was also a weapon, spin the head quick enough and against flesh and it would cut quite proficiently. Would probably slice through clothing as well. Looked as if they were charged so that they would be blunt until activated. Again an expensive upgrade, so the young organic was likely skilled enough to have earned some serious credits. That was up to the standard Drick expected Boomer to hire or associate amongst. Though maybe there was another explanation.

The pilot wore a standard one piece utility outfit common amongst most of the lower city, this one was sleeveless and complemented a well toned figure. They had a biker’s jacket, fitted with compression and control systems and some slight armour, slung over the back of the seat. Drick casually checked the skin tag for address and presenting and noticed that they were showing strongly as a poly-binary with preferences towards multiples. The expensive hair, skilled abilities, lifestyle preferences, coupled with the numerous different gang tattoos suddenly gave Drick the notion that they were likely a grown gang member. 

Gangs often grew a few specialist members that they shared amongst chapters and groups. It was a good practice and allowed for very specific requirements to be met. The organic in question was not really property, but they would be prized among the gangs and treated with a lot of respect and even affection during their growth phases. Usually they would have the choice to stay with the gangs or take a life elsewhere when of the right maturity. Though Drick knew that some were required to pay back for, or have incomplete, alterations.

Boomer was a grown specialist, though made as an enforcer for the higher level organisations, white collar criminals with heavy influence in the Unions and street underworld. Boomer had to serve a long stretch with a big payoff, Drick had known Boomer both in and out of an organisation. It was another reason why Drick guessed the pilot was the same, Boomer had an affection themselves for lifeforms with the same heritage.

“I’m going to be making some comms and also on deep catchup so will be immersed in my internal network, use a flare signal on my internal screens if you need my attention, flash if there are any issues.”

“Will do,” a curt reply but Drick noticed they had taken a moment to check Drick’s own identity tag and preferences. “Always good to know.”

Drick dropped into a semi-meditative trance and opened up all the comms messages that had been relayed over the last few hours. There was a lot of data packets from Rodero, including a whole lot of video that they had scraped from somewhere of Drick passing through the space stations and form various street and building monitors. Good to have some evidence of one’s movements.

Drick opened a comm to Rodero and was rewarded with a picture of a sleeping cartoon dwarf being beaten with a stick until they woke. A moment later a bleary eyed Rodero appeared. “Sleeping on the job?” Drick asked.

“Kiss it Drick, I did an intensive run, I needed to offline my mind.”

“Aw, poor baby, I said I needed you for forty-eight hours. Minimum”

“I know. But I was out of tasks and everything I started is either complete and in your backlog or still spinning and consuming, so I had time to unwind for a short stretch.”

“Fine. Well I am looking at the stuff you sent me now. I don’t see that much on the team that attacked me at the spaceport.”

“That’s because there wasn’t that much. In fact there was nothing. They did a good job of advance wiping and then a better one of bleach and lyme afterwards.”

“So I have nothing to show for my efforts? What about the ones that I allowed to live?”

“Totally incommunicado. But you do not have nothing as I am very thorough.”

“Go on.”

“I decided to try a different route and played around with the trace evidence of the software they used to cover their tracks. It was subtle but I get to mix with a lot of illegal programs and I recognised a signature. Not a common one either. It is bought in, a group from the Yallis System, creates some very specific crack and purge ice. And this is definitely their stuff.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah, and the news gets better.”

“Don’t keep me waiting as I get twitchy and punchy when I have to wait.”

“Wow, you’re in a shitter mood than a few hours ago, and you were in a shitty mood then.”

“I died in the between times. What’s the news?”

“Died?” a pause and then they noticed Drick’s glare, “yeah, right. There is only one group who uses this software as it is very exclusive and I know they don’t sell their services, they only recruit specialists and utilise them. I also know who runs the recruitment and probably hands out the jobs as I have worked for them.”

“Who are they?”

“You realise this is going to really cost you as I will be burning a finance route.”

“You have access to the money in my accounts.”

“I do. I already paid myself and that money is in my account. I have uploaded the data on them to the secure area.”

“Good, now I need you to do something very special for me.”

“What’s that?”

“I need you to get into one of the most secure networks on the planet so I can get a team into a building.”

“This sounds bad.”

“That wasn’t the bad part. I haven’t told you the bad part yet.”

Written in 365 Parts: 55: Serendipity

“It feels like it was dumb luck, but in reality it wasn’t. I was hanging around the shipping zone, you know the judicial pen where they bring all the new intake. I always do the same thing, hitch a ride with the most likely easy win.” Drick saw the look of mild surprise, “As I said I have been taking it easy for some time. Anyway I heard that there were a couple of K-Tags on their way in, the comms feed said one intentional murder, with it seemed a confession, and a vehicular accidental homicide. To be honest I could have done either but I decided to go with the intentional murder as it was looking to be an open and shut case.” Drick finished the ale, “Then I saw the other K-tag.” Drick paused and sipped the chaser.

“And that’s when you took the other case? What made the difference?”

“I could say it was lots of things. They looked unusual, Marsh is the name they use by the way. Marsh was dressed in a standard jumpsuit but their face was wrong, they looked like a colonists from one of those worlds where they outlaw tanks.”

”Really? I thought they all died out in the Expansion?”

“I think most of them did but you hear of one or two still in existence, barely scraping along. They still keep a quarantine, though even if they didn’t and you managed to land there the locals would likely kill, stuff and mount you.”

“Glad I took a different career. So Marsh, they looked like a colonist?”

“Sort of, and no. To be honest they didn’t resemble anyone that I had seen in a long while. Maybe not with my own eyes. There were other things as well, not all of them immediately obvious or connected. There were shutdowns starting to happen on the Judicial grids. Someone was trying to close access to the open networks, also to the external grids to private firms. The independent security forces either disconnected or started to restrict and check traffic. It just suddenly smelt like something was going down. It felt big and it was clearly going to be connected to higher organisations.”

“But surely that would be more reason for you to leave it alone, right? As you said you were taking it easy. I know the old Drick had a hard on for kicking high level ass, but you said you were out of the game.”

“I was, and then something that I thought had gone away hit the surface and took hold. I realised that there was a high likelihood that there was some corporate or government cover up starting and I remembered a little of who I used to be. Something seemed to flip a switch on a deep level.”

“Aha, Drick the defender of the flotsam, last knight of the useless, helpless or pointless. No doubt you then summoned your trust steed and rode into the sunrise, or set, never could recall which you were meant to do.”

“Funny, you should tour with that material and make yourself a half credit a night on the circuit.”

“Hah,” Lane grinned and finished her drinks and indicated for more on the same token. “But you were the defender of the nobodies when I met you first time around, Drick. Getting yourself into trouble over people that are normally hidden away and quietly disposed of. You left that. Why did you choose now to return? I mean you already said you were rusty, and though you don’t look it you are old. Maybe a little tired and that’s why you are getting sloppy and making bad calls?”

“You don’t get all the pieces, Lane, I don’t owe your people that much. It is enough for you to know that I had lost touch with who I was and I had spent to long off the grid and out of the scene. Which is what brings us to this meeting. How much do I owe? How angry are they? I didn’t shoot up anything but I accept that there is a good portion of blame as I chose the route and made the judgement calls.”

“They are angry enough to send me in person and not just chuck you a bill for costs,” Lane smiled sardonically, “but not that mad. In fact, after thinking about it for a short time and being reminded that you have been a popular lifeform in the lower levels for a long time, they see it as an opportunity.”

“An opportunity?”

Lane laughed, “no need to say it like that, Drick. Do you know what serendipity is?”

“It’s a strip bar on the lower fifth in Sector Eleven. They mostly cater to sadism and masochism with heavy electronic music and amphetamines, I didn’t think that was your scene. How much did you change?”

“Funny. Always funny. No the fortunate meeting or occurrence.”

“Oh right. What about it?”

“Well the Union has a small matter they need clearing up and since you are both back on the market, active and making noise they thought that you might be available for more work. Since you already owe them it would be favourable for you to take a second job.”

“And if I say no, because this case is more important to me?”

“Well you see there’s the advantage and why this is serendipitous. Because you are already investigating Yee On Kline and their lapdogs, Volstron Services, and this little job involves them. So what do you say? A chance to pay off your debt, earn more credits and buy yourself in with favour to the only growing concern in the undercity?”

“Sounds fantastic. Just what I wanted.”

Lane smiled broadly, “don’t be sad. Drink up Drick, the game is just beginning.”

Written in 365 Parts: 54: The New Lane

Drick blinked to make sure that the world stayed in focus. The drink was good, sharp and strong but not likely to take away your eyesight which was always a bonus. Drick flicked a signal to the bartender to refill the glasses and turned to the Rep. “Hi.”

“Drick.” A curt response but the tone was neutral.

“Okay, how much is this going to cost me?”

“Aw, Drick we can’t talk a little, you could at least comment on my looks or has it been so long that you have forgotten me?”

Drick took a moment to study the Rep in more detail. The face wasn’t immediately familiar so there were obviously cosmetic changes. There was a slight oddness about the proportions of the lower jaw in regards to the curve of the bone as it went behind the ears so there had been facial reconfiguration. Drick took a moment to look at finer details. Nice full lips with a tad too much super glo lip enhancer, an ever so slight longer lip on the left with a fuller bottom lip to the right giving a sweet pout; aquiline nose with a severe curve inwards near the brow, so it had been remodelled from a much broader feature; slim, silver, eyebrows shaped into an arch with a teardrop effect near the end, they would likely be new as most tankies didn’t have facial hair, it was an optional extra for almost all organics; rich grey-blue eyes, those were enriched but the colour might be original;  very thick eyelashes that sparked in rainbow colours, clearly fibre enhanced implants. Then a realisation, the shape of the jaw, a broader nose, the grey eyes and the slight upwards curved smile to the left cheek giving that longer smile to the left side of the lips.

“Lassiter. Is that you?” Drick smiled and looked Lassiter up and down giving an appreciate nod, “You decided to fully shift into a single gender?”

The Rep smile broadened into a full grin letting Drick see that the jawline was only gently reshaped and the teeth merely capped and polished. Though Lassiter had clearly had the teeth regrown they hadn’t changed the shape or look, but they had always had a great smile. “Well done, I am told that the parents who commissioned me wouldn’t know me these days, so you are very perceptive, as always.”

“The last time I heard about you Lassiter you were running knock off stim shipments past tax laws and moral decency codes to the mining folks in the belt. What changed for you to go semi-legit with the Union?”

“Long story, Drick. Short version is that I got enough of a payoff from a lucrative deal that almost went sour. The money and the bad taste made me realise I needed a change of scene. I always preferred hanging out in a female form so I decided to enhance for a look I would feel comfortable with for a while. Maybe I will stay this way, it suits me and I feel happy. It took some time in shaping and recovery so I used all the lying around growing and shifting to take some courses, managed to enhance my natural talent for sniffing out whether any deal was worth the risk for actual assessment of risk. Engineer’s Union helped me foot some of the cost of a slightly better apartment and clothing in exchange for a ten year contract and a promise to consider a further ten on completion.” Lassiter smiled and knocked back the second drink, “these days I go by the name Lane. I felt like I needed a clean break in both looks and nicks. I see you still look roughly the same. A few more lines and not of laughter and one or two slight restructures, I guess they were not intentional?”

“Someone sure intended most of them,” Drick laughed, “well, Lane, I guess you’re here to assess costs and risks. What does that say for me? Do I need to get out a loan or should I start running?”

“Always straight to business, Drick. I would feel upset that we were not catching up on old times, but I was in those old times and they are best left buried. We have some issues with the fact that a firefight happened in this area. We have more issues that is was you. Things don’t happen by chance around you Drick, you’re too clever for that. So it was intentional, yes?”

“More like a calculated guess. I was hoping that the fact the security detail who were doing a level best to wipe me knew that they were in trouble fighting in the tunnels. I hoped that being out of their district would stop them from being total idiots. I misjudged. I really didn’t expect them to open fire in a populated area like the market, in a tunnel it had a higher risk, not in an open habit zone.”

Lane notched up one of the immaculately manicured eyebrows and allowed a small ripple of colour to run across the eyelashes. “Wow, you misjudged? You must be getting old Drick.”

“It happens to us all.”

“It does, but you age well. It must be a fifteen stretch since I last saw you and you have barely changed, aside from the fading scars, and harder assed attitude than I recall.”

“We were on the same side back then. You didn’t work for the Union and I wasn’t facing a fine from the same people. I was soft on you.”

“True. Though I doubt you’ve been soft at any point in your life. But even back then, I knew people who said they knew you forty or fifty Terran years earlier and you hadn’t really aged.”

“I have an extended lifespan, it isn’t a secret.”

“How old are you Drick?”

“Depends how you count, depends what you count in, and it really depends if I care to tell you. Mostly I don’t care to think about it. Too old to be this dumb today and too young to stop pushing back.”

“There’s that attitude again.”

“I have had a long day.”

“Want to talk about it?”

Drick stared at Lassiter, now Lane, and sucked at the side of a cheek for a long few moments. It had been a while since Drick had sat and ‘chewed’ anything approaching ‘the fat’ with anyone. For the past couple of years Drick had kept theworkload steady but mostly uninteresting. The people changed but the system and the bullshit that went with it never seemed to and Drick had let a fugue come over themselves. It was showing. “It wasn’t the first error of the day coming through this cavern. My timing was good but not perfect, I should have been much closer to the exit when they got the drop on me, In fact I should have been through it before they had a chance to fire. Hell, I even had the drop taken on me by a punk with a hidden bio-enhancement. I even knew there was something amiss but I went and stuck my face into it at speed and with little care. Truth be told I have been off my game for some time, it’s been a few long seasons since I took any work that had an active element that put me on an edge. Maybe it has unbalanced my senses. I just lost some of the taste for it.”

Lane ordered two cold ales with spirit chasers from the serving mechanoid and threw a credit token on the bar, “I’ll get the next round,” she said and smiled. “Why have you been out of the game?”

“As I said, same crap, different faces. I got tired of taking the short end of every stick and breaking rules, it didn’t seem to make much of a difference. Been some time since I immersed myself in any case that wasn’t an easy insurance investigation. Small rewards but it is constant pay and easy to manage.”

“So why did you take this case that you are on? I assume you are on a case and not just trolling corporate security companies for kicks? Because if that is the case then my bosses will be even more annoyed at you than they already are.”

“I’m on a case. It is messed up, involved and seems to be getting darker and twistier with each turn. I don’t even know how far it goes, someone high up in a large corporation in the very least. Maybe a mix of megacorp and government. Whomever is involved they are starting to pull weight and take a lot of risks to shut it down quick.”

“Why did you take it? How did you take it, surely this wasn’t dumb luck?”

Written in 365 Parts: 53: Market Stall

Drick sat at a pop up food stall and poked at a bowl of noodles with a resin bi-pronged fork. Pop up was such a misguided term for this food stall as it had been here for at least sixty years. Boomer had dropped Drick off just outside the entrance to the market, in a side tunnel, and then had taken the security guard to a shared contact to have them shipped off world and eventually out of the system. Drick was true to their word, the guard had, reluctantly, given all the information that they knew and so the deal would be honoured.

Drick picked up a forkful of soft noodles and quizzically examined the meat residue that was clinging forlornly to the sides. It was supposed to be some form of chicken but Drick knew rodent when it was being slipped into a meal.

Drick shrugged and spooned the food into a hungry mouth and chewed thoroughly. White carbs and protein were required at this point and rodent or fowl it all ended up as a bunch of hydrocarbons called fats and acids. It was fuel, and oddly enough it was damned tasty. They always get you with the special sauce, didn’t matter what they poured it on, if the gravy was good the textured matter was mostly irrelevant. There was some vague attempt at fibre in the bottom of the bowl, tunnel grown fungus if Drick was to guess, but it was mostly irrelevant and so was spooned in and chewed without any real gusto. 

Drick chased every morsel from the bowl and even used a scrap of rice patty to sponge the final bits of sauce, no waste. The meal was just a couple of credits but it was rude to waste food, especially down here. The people who lived and worked the tunnels and under city were a mix of the hidden and the unseen. Food could be scarce, finances were often scarcer, so most of them were one meal short of bloody hungry. Wasting food was poor sense anywhere, down here it was close to being a crime.

Drick rinsed a mouth with the cold sweet tea they served. It was odd Drick thought, they had tasted some of the best beverages with and without alcs or stims in them, and yet the tea they served in the tunnel markets was the best drink available anywhere. It was also likely to be from plants force grown in a hydroponic section somewhere close, but it was a unique experience every time. 

Drick nodded at the young organic who was serving and held up the glass for a refill. Drick could have sat there for a lifetime eating random food and enjoying the subtle flavours of the tea. But one more glass would be enough before they had to go and face the piper.

Drick stared at the collection of stalls and tents and noticed that the scars from the firefight Drick had brought to this cavern, were still visible on the walls. It would have been a five minute job to throw a plasticrete patch on the damaged surface, however that would be a waste of resources. In the tunnels you didn’t patch for vanity you just repaired out of necessity. Everything had value here and sometimes the cost was in making sure your actions were always known. The impression Drick had caused would last a long time. That would incur a price and Drick would be best to settle the debt.

Drick scanned around a little more and then saw the organic they had to speak with. They were sitting at a beverage stall drinking what looked like a glass of clear spirit. Probably the local fungal spirit, it was readily available and in most of everything from bread to the special sauce that Drick had readily lapped out of the bowl a few moments before. Just like the tea every drink was a different experience and every brewer had their own special touches. 

If Drick recalled correctly the owner of that parfticular drinks stall was part of a group of maybe twenty or thirty locations on the planet. They might look like nothing but a street market trader but they had their talons into a lot of flesh both above and below. They were connected to the Engineer’s Union, but there again almost everyone was in some way.

The organic raised their glass and tipped it at Drick, that was the invite to join them. Drick was very aware of how important the rep from the Engineer’s Union was, and how many others would be watching with casual, or not so casual, interest. But Drick had played this game for a very long time. Drick raised their glass and tipped it in gentle salute and then continued to sip and finish the rest of the rice patty at the table. It took a few minutes to slowly chew the food, then Drick closed the bill and dropped a half credit tip in the glass on the counter and wandered across to the Rep.

The Engineer’s Union Rep was clearly presenting as a female and had enlarged the symbols on the skin tag to broadcast mode to make it obvious. They were dressed in the figure shrouding multi-piece utility uniform that was common amongst union operatives. 

The utility uniform was a level three environment suit with a multiple of pockets and hard points, it was close to military standard battle dress in all but name, it was certainly subject to the same number of conditions. It differed from combat utility clothing in several ways however, not least in the matter of the tiny fusion power cell fitted into the spine of the jacket that could power a multitude of devices. There were also more hardpoints woven into the suit internals for fitting tools, equipment, or attaching an operative to partial, or full, exoskeleton rigs. 

The suits were common to almost every world in the Terran habited parts of the galaxy, although most systems had their own variants. The suits were the same as the ones that left Terra with some of the earliest colonists. Designed and built to withstand, and be useful, in almost every circumstance. The construction and development of them must have cost a fair amount when they were first introduced centuries before. No one had bothered to change them much since. There were modifications and enhancements, but the basic suit was the same as the ones the early colonists died inside. Practical, versatile, but not exactly complementary to a figure. They gave everyone the same look. An organic in a utility suit.

Drick nodded at the waiting mechanoid, an old series bar droid, fixed in location with probably two dozen arms for serving a host of simultaneous orders. This one was in good repair, almost eight of its limbs were functioning. “Two of the same,” said Drick indicating the Rep’s glass.

The droid nodded and started to pour two new glasses of clear liquid, a quad shot of ice cold brain number. Drick picked up a glass and raised it to the Rep, “salute,” said Drick and downed the spirit trying a level best not to splutter, cough or vomit over the Rep who downed her drink in the same way.

Written in 365 Parts: 52: MMO

Hooper checked the portable trace against the Judiciary system logs of the comms. The portable system clearly showed that there was a digital echo on the line, it had to mean someone was taking a copy of the call. The internal system did not show a trace, however there was a slight pause after the comms had disconnected. It was nothing more than a microsecond where the call didn’t end. In any normal circumstance it could indicate that there was a system running or it could be an artefact in the wires. Hooper now knew it to be a breach.

The situation was simple, someone inside Judiciary was monitoring Hooper’s work. The officers at Judiciary regularly shared workstations and offices, there were few who had permanent positions. Space on the station was at a premium so no area was wasted if it could be avoided. Workstations were a waste of resources if they were individually assigned, there would be large portions of a day when they were empty. The logical stance was shared areas for almost every activity. 

This meant that an officer could log on at any station, on any level. They were not restricted and so tracing the calls of one specific person would need a sophisticated and targeted assault. It would not be as easy as attaching a physical device to a terminal at the right desk. 

Hooper would have said this made the task almost too difficult for a single organic to undertake. They would need to know where Hooper was logging in to the system so they could attack that section of the network, breach it and then operate a clone or echo program. It was an awfully large deal of effort. It would also require some proficient slicer skills.

Hooper supposed they could monitor his progress using the Judiciary security systems but that would mean that there was a simultaneous, or long term, breach of the security systems which was even more effort. This was starting to imply multiple organics or compatible intelligences in a mass number of systems working in unison. That surely implied a conspiracy. Hooper hated the idea of a conspiracy almost as much as the nutjobs who claimed that very item in their lives that couldn’t be explained was one. 

Conspiracies rarely existed. It was just too much effort. It was far more likely to be one or two intelligences working than a massive hidden cabal in Hooper’s long experience.

So it brought Hooper back to the original issue. How were they being targeted? Once Hooper worked out the how then they could work back along the method to find out whom. If you know what’s being done and where you can run a standard boots and laces process of suspect and motive elimination. Means, method and opportunity was still the holy trinity of almost all investigative work. Work out the means and the method and you have a set of criteria to determine who has the opportunity.