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25 - Gothik/Kasual

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“THIS IS THE Finn’s phone program,” said the speaker below the screen, “and the Finn, he’s not here. You wanna download, you know the access code already. You wanna leave a message, leave it already.” Bobby stared at the image on the screen and slowly shook his head. Most phone programs were equipped with cosmetic video subprograms written to bring the video image of the owner into greater accordance with the more widespread paradigms of personal beauty, erasing blemishes and subtly molding facial outlines to meet idealized statistical norms. The effect of a cosmetic program on the Finn’s grotesque features was definitely the weirdest thing Bobby had ever seen, as though somebody had gone after the face of a dead gopher with a full range of mortician’s crayons and paraffin injections.

“That’s not natural,” said Jammer, sipping Scotch Bobby nodded.

“Finn,” Jammer said, “is agoraphobic. Gives him the hives to leave that impacted shitpile of a shop. And he’s a phone junkie, can’t not answer a call if he’s there. I’m starting to think the bitch is right. Lucas is dead and some heavy shit is going down.

“The bitch,” Jackie said, from behind the bar, “knows already.”

“She knows,” Jammer said, putting the plastic glass down and fingering his bob tie, “she knows. Talked to a hoodoo in the matrix, so she knows.

“Well, Lucas isn’t answering, and Beauvoir isn’t answering, so maybe she’s right.” Bobby reached out and shut off the phone as the record tone began to squeal.

Jammer was gotten up in a pleated shirt, white dinner jacket, and black trousers with satin stripes down the leg, and Bobby took this to be his working outfit for the club. “Nobody’s here,” he said now, looking from Bobby to Jackie. “Where’s Bogue and Sharkey? Where’s the waitresses?”

“Who’s Bogue and Sharkey?” Bobby asked.

“The bartenders I don’t like this.” He got up from his chair, walked to the door, and gently edged one of the curtains aside. “What the fuck are those dipshits doing out there? Hey, Count, this looks like your speed. Get over here.”

Bobby got up, full of misgivings - he hadn’t felt like telling Jackie or Jammer about letting Leon see him, because he didn’t want to look like a wilson - and walked over to where the club owner stood.

“Go on. Take a peek. Don’t let ‘em see you. They’re pretending so hard not to watch us you can almost smell it.”

Bobby moved the curtain, careful to keep the crack no more than a centimeter wide, and looked out. The shopping crowd seemed to have been replaced almost entirely by black-crested Gothick boys in leather and studs, and - amazingly - by an equal proportion of blond Kasuals, the latter decked out in the week’s current Shinjuku cottons and gold-buckled white loafers. “I dunno,” Bobby said, looking up at Jammer, “but they shouldn’t be together, Kasuals and Gothicks, you know? They’re like natural enemies, it’s in the DNA or something…” He took another look. “Goddamn, there’s about a hundred of ‘em.”

Jammer stuck his hands deep in his pleated trousers. “You know any of those guys personally?”

“Gothicks, I know some of ‘em to talk to. Except it’s hard to tell ‘em apart Kasuals, they’ll stomp anything that isn’t Kasual. That’s mainly what they’re about. But I just been cut up by Lobes anyway, and Lobes are supposed to be under treaty with the Gothicks, so who knows?”

Jammer sighed. “So, I guess you don’t feel like strolling out there and asking one what they think they’re up to?”

“No,” Bobby said earnestly, “I don’t.”

“Hmmm.” Jammer looked at Bobby in a calculating way, a way that Bobby definitely didn’t like.

Something small and hard dropped from the high black ceiling and clicked loudly on one of the round black tables. The thing bounced and hit the carpet, rolling, and landed between the toes of Bobby’s new boots. Automatically, he bent and picked it up. An old fashioned, slot-headed machine screw, its threads brown with rust and its head clotted with dull black latex paint. He looked up as a second one struck the table, and caught a glimpse of an unnervingly agile Jammer vaulting the bar, beside the universal credit unit. Jammer vanished, there was a faint ripping sound - Velcro - and Bobby knew that Jammer had the squat little automatic weapon he’d seen there earlier in the day. He looked around, but Jackie was nowhere in sight.

A third screw ticked explosively on the Formica of the tabletop.

Bobby hesitated, confused, but then followed Jackie’s example and got out of sight, moving as quietly as he could. He crouched behind one of the club’s wooden screens and watched as the fourth screw came down, followed by a slender cascade of fine dark dust. There was a scraping sound, and then a square steel ceiling grate vanished abruptly, withdrawn into some kind of duct. He glanced quickly to the bar, in time to see the fat recoil compensator on the barrel of Jammer’s gun as it swung up.

A pair of thin brown legs dangled from the opening now, and a gray sharkskin hem smudged with dust.

“Hold it,” Bobby said, “it’s Beauvoir!”

“You bet it’s Beauvoir,” came the voice from above, big and hollow with the echo of the duct. “Get that damn table out of the way.”

Bobby scrambled out from behind the screen and hauled the table and chairs to the side.

“Catch this,” Beauvoir said, and dangled a bulging olive-drab pack from one of its shoulder straps, then let it go The weight of the thing nearly took Bobby to the floor. “Now get out of my way… Beauvoir swung down out of the duct, hung from the opening’s edge with both hands, then dropped.

“What happened to the screamer I had up there?” Jammer asked, standing up behind the bar, the little machine gun in his hands.

“Right here,” Beauvoir said, tossing a dull gray bar of phenolic resin to the carpet. It was wrapped with a length of fine black wire. “No other way I could get in here without a regular array of shitballs knowing about it, as it happens.

Somebody’s obviously given them the blueprints to the place, but they’ve missed that one.”

“How’d you get up to the roof?” Jackie asked, stepping from behind a screen.

“I didn’t,” Beauvoir said, pushing his big plastic frames back up his nose. “I shot a line of monomol across from the stack next door, then slid over on a ceramic spindle…” His short nappy hair was full of furnace dust, He looked at her gravely. “You know,” he said.

“Yes. Legba and Papa Ougou, in the matrix. I jacked with Bobby, on Jammer’s deck…”

“They blew Ahmed away on the Jersey freeway. Probably used the same launcher they did Bobby’s old lady with…”

“Who?”

“Still not sure,” Beauvoir said, kneeling beside the pack and clicking open the quick-release plastic fasteners, “but it’s starting to shape up… What I was working on, up until I heard Lucas had been hit, was running down the Lobes who mugged Bobby for his deck. That was probably an accident, just business as usual, but somewhere there’s a couple of Lobes with our icebreaker… That had potential, for sure, because the Lobes are hotdoggers, some of them, and they do a little business with Two-a-Day. So Two-a-Day and I were making the rounds, looking to learn what we could. Which was dick, as it turned out, except that while we were with this dust case called Alix, who’s second assistant warlord or something, he gets a call from his opposite number, who Two-a-Day pins as a Barrytown Gothick name of Raymond.” He was unloading the pack as he spoke, laying out weapons, tools, ammunition, coils of wire. “Raymond wants to talk real bad, but Alix is too cool to do it in front of us, ‘Sorry, gentlemen, but this is official warlord biz,’ this dumbshit says, so natch. we excuse our humble selves, shuffle and bow and all, and nip around the corner. Use Two-a-Day’s modular phone to ring up our cowboys back in the Sprawl and put them on to Alix’s phone, but fast. Those cowboys went into Alix’s conversation with Raymond like a wire into cheese.” He pulled a deformed twelve-gauge shotgun, barely longer than his forearm, from the pack, selected a fat drum magazine from the display he’d made on the carpet, and clicked the two together, “You ever see one of these motherfuckers? South African, prewar…” Something in his voice and the set of his jaw made Bobby suddenly aware of his contained fury. “Seems Raymond has been approached by this guy, and this guy has lots of money, and he wants to hire the Gothicks outright, the whole apparat, to go into the Sprawl and do a number, a real crowd scene This guy wants it so big, he’s gonna hire the Kasuals too. Well, the shit hit the fan then, because Alix, he’s kind of conservative. Only good Kasual’s a dead one, and then only after x number of hours of torture, etc, ‘Fuck that,’ Raymond says, ever the diplomat. ‘We’re talking big money here, we’re talking corporate.’ “He opened a box of fat red plastic shells and began to load the gun, cranking one after another into the magazine. “Now I could be way off, but I keep seeing these Maas Biolabs PR types on video lately Something very weird’s happened, out on some property of theirs in Arizona. Some people say it was a nuke, some people say it was something else. And now they’re claiming their top biosoft man’s dead, in what they call an unrelated accident. That’s Mitchell, the guy who more or less invented the stuff. So far, nobody else is even pretending to be able to make a biochip, so Lucas and I assumed from the beginning that Maas had made that icebreaker “ If it was an icebreaker… But we had no idea who the Finn got it from, or where they got it. But if you put all that together, it looks like Maas Biolabs might be out to cook us all. And this is where they plan to do it, because they got us here but good.”

“I dunno,” Jammer said, “we got a lot of friends in this building.”

“Had,” Beauvoir put the shotgun down and started loading a Nambu automatic, “Most of the people on this level and the next one down got bought out this afternoon. Cash. Duffels full of it, There’s a few holdouts, but not enough.” “That doesn’t make any sense,” Jackie said, taking the glass of Scotch from Jammer’s hand and drinking it straight off. “What do we have that anybody could want that bad?” “Hey,” Bobby said, “don’t forget, they probably don’t know those Lobes ripped me for the icebreaker. Maybe that’s all they want.”

“No,” Beauvoir said, snapping the magazine into the Nambu, “because they couldn’t have known you hadn’t stashed it in your mother’s place, right?”

“But maybe they went there and looked…”

“So how did they know Lucas wasn’t carrying it in Ahmed?”

Jammer said, walking back to the bar.

“Finn thought someone sent those three ninjas to kill him, too,” Bobby said. “Said they had stuff to make him answer questions first, though…”

“Maas again,” Beauvoir said. “Whoever, here’s the deal with the Kasuals and Gothicks. We’d know more, but Alix the Lobe got on his high horse and wouldn’t parley with Raymond. No co-employment with the hated Kasuals. Near as our cowboys could make out, the army’s outside to keep you people in. And to keep people like me out. People with guns and stuff.” He handed the loaded Nambu to Jackie. “You know how to use a gun?” he asked Bobby.

“Sure,” Bobby lied.

“No,” Jammer said, “we got enough trouble without arming him. Jesus Christ…”

“What all that suggests to me,” Beauvoir said, “is that we can expect somebody else to come in after us. Somebody a little more professional…”

“Unless they just blow Hypermart all to shit and gone,” Jammer said, “and all those zombies with it…”

“No,” Bobby said, “or else they’d already have done it.”

They all stared at him.

“Give the boy credit,” Jackie said. “He’s got it right.”

Thirty minutes later and Jammer was staring glumly at Beauvoir. “I gotta hand it to you. That’s the most half-assed plan I’ve heard in a long time.”

“Yeah, Beauvoir,” Bobby cut in, “why can’t we just crawl back up that vent, sneak across the roof, and get over to the next building? Use the line you came over on.”

“There’s Kasuals on the roof like flies on shit,’ Beauvoir said. “Some of them might even have brain enough to have found the cap I opened to get down here. I left a couple of baby frag mines on my way in.” He grinned mirthlessly. “Aside from that, the building next door is taller. I had to go up on that roof and shoot the monomol down to this one. You can’t hand-over-hand up monomolecular filament; your fingers fall off.”

“Then how the hell did you expect to get out?” Bobby said.

“Drop it, Bobby,” Jackie said quietly. “Beauvoir’s done what he had to do. Now he’s in here with us, and we’re armed”

“Bobby,” Beauvoir said, “why don’t you run the plan back to us, make sure we understand it.

Bobby had the uncomfortable feeling that Beauvoir wanted to make sure he understood it, but he leaned back against the bar and began. “We get ourselves all armed up and we wait, okay? Jammer and I, we go out with his deck and scout around the matrix, maybe we get some idea what’s happening.

“I think I can handle that by myself,” Jammer said.

“Shit!” Bobby was off the bar “Beauvoir said! I wanna go, I wanna jack! How am I ever supposed to learn anything?”

“Never mind, Bobby,” Jackie said, “you go on.”

“Okay,” Bobby said, sulkily, “so, sooner or later, the guys who hired the Gothicks and Kasuals to keep us here, they’re gonna come for us. When they do, we take ‘em. We get at least one of ‘em alive. Same time, we’re on our way out, and the Goths ‘n’ all, they won’t expect all the fire-power, so we get to the street and head for the Projects.

“I think that about covers it,” Jammer said, strolling across the carpet to the locked and curtained door. “I think that about sums it up.” He pressed his thumb against a coded latch plate and pulled the door half open. “Hey, you!” he bellowed. “Not you! You with the hat! Get your ass over here. I want to talk”

The pencil-thick red beam pierced door and curtain, two of Jammer’s fingers, and winked over the bar. A bottle exploded, its contents billowing out as steam and vaporized esters. Jammer let the door swing shut again, stared at his ruined hand, then sat down hard on the carpet. The club slowly filled with the Christmas-tree smell of boiled gin. Beauvoir took a silver pressure bottle from the bar counter and hosed the smoldering curtain with seltzer, until the CO2 cartridge was exhausted and the stream faltered. “You’re in luck, Bobby,” Beauvoir said, tossing the bottle over his shoulder, “ ‘cause brother Jammer, he ain’t gonna be punching any deck.

Jackie was making clucking sounds over Jammer’s hand, kneeling down. Bobby caught a glimpse of cauterized flesh, then quickly looked away.


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