Life in the Shadows: Nightmare (Part 2)

“Have a good day! You picking up dinner right?”Val said in that cute sing-song voice she had when she was happy.

 “Yeah, I’ll pick up some burgers on the way back.” James replied as he finally managed to get the impossibly large door open. He was garbed normally and had a cyberdeck carrying case slung over his shoulder. Two train rides and a cab later he was standing in front of a large building dwarfed by even larger structures in the background. People of all meta types were making their way to work. Some dressed in suits and ties, others in more casual clothing. A dark skinned woman with neon green hair, that slowly changed color to a purplish blue, walked past him. Then an orc security guard, pistol holstered at his side, requested a few gutter punks to “get the drek out of here.” James soon found himself amid the sea of bodies. Just another worker in one of the massive hives.

 

    The colorful was soon replaced with the bland. A lobby that could only be described as sterile reminded him quickly of the negative aspects of corp life. He walked up to the elf secretary clad in a cream-colored suit and stated his business, rather nervously.

 

“Um excuse me, mam.” She just ignored him.

“I’m here for the temp work. Program construction.” She just absentmindedly held out her hand. It was evident that staring down at the monitor in front of her was more engaging than actually looking him in the eye. He just looked at her not knowing what to do. Finally, she rolled her eyes and actually managed the herculean looking at him.

“I.D., temp agents have to provide a valid SIN stating that you are cleared for work. I could do it. Or…” she pointed to a large female orc guarding a door at the far end of the room.

“She could do it. She likes humans.” As if on cue the orc winked at James and blew him a kiss.” The motion sent James digging into his pack quicker than Mo told you that you weren’t under warranty.

  As if on cue, the orc blew him a kiss. The motion sent James digging into his pack quicker than Mo told his customers that they should have gotten the warranty.

She scanned the ID that James fished out of his pack. “Jacob Weatherly.” she read. “Go through those doors. Take the elevator to the ninth floor. Then take a right. Three doors down, you’ll find your assignment. James headed to the door quickly, but not quick enough to avoid seeing the orc security guard gesture towards him in a manner that would have had Val foaming at the mouth.

Ninth floor. Take a  right and three doors down, you’ll find your home for the next ten hours. The decor immediately went from sterile to claustrophobic. People scurried back and forth, in a hurry to only go a few feet. Right in front of him a young dwarven woman fell dropping a stack of files after three humans bumped into her. With a sigh, James proceeded into the mess, blending in perfectly with the chaos of corporation life. A man well into his sixties took a second from berating an employee to signal over the man who just walked in with a cyberdeck case.

“Hey you! Programmer! Your workspace is the corner cubicle to your right! You ain’t union so no breaks. You scan?” James just nodded and continued to his new cubicle. As he sat down in his eight-foot by eight-foot holding cell, he thought about the spaciousness of his new job. Crazy Mo didn’t exactly splurge on the amenities, but at least a chummer didn’t feel trapped. Noticing the prolonged glare from his boss, James decided that the best course of action would be to read his instructions and jack as immediately as possible. The sheet on his desk gave him a number and a slight description of the task. Just finish some code that a former employee couldn’t. Not too difficult from the looks of it. So James removed his Renraku kraftwerk-1 from its case and jacked in…

 

White on white. Typical. That was what this area of the matrix was decked out in. Small streams of blue data broke up the monotony, but the overall design was lacking.The persona icons scrambling about helped fix that, somewhat. Most were blue. Their bodies all had a stock robotic appearance, with numbers on their chests. 076589 glided past him in a hurry, not even acknowledging James’s presence. The true standouts in the sea of similarity were the freelancers. A bright red dog strutted around the corner carrying a bone in its mouth. A green fairy, with rainbow colored wings, was putting some form of code together. A few others strung lines of code together. Any one of them could be Executioner, so patience and recon would be the name of the game for now.

For a moment James regarded his personas form. Just a silver robot, admittedly a little huskier than the standard corp ones.There was no way he was using the one from Mo’s or the other one he had prepared. He had to blend in.  Showing up with the persona icon that guarded Mo’s stuff by fragging quite nine deckers this week probably wasn’t the best way to go. But, using the security camera codes he previously lifted from the companies matrix was certainly the right move.

He guided himself to a helpful program in the form of a white floating orb and questioned it. It asked him for his number and then passed him an unfinished program in the form of a glowing white orb. James took the orb to his own little section of the node and cracked it open. The code flowed out of it’s broken shell, like the yolk of an egg. It then reformed before him into a long almost nauseating string of code.  With a crack of his robotic knuckles, James created a silvery board in the air alongside the text, then began placing the text into it. Every so often he would change them slightly by physically writing new code with his fingers. Soon he opened another box, where he wrote a few lines of test code, then another one for with the coding for a similar program. Cutting, copying, pasting and deleting with abandon the time flew as he worked.

About three hours in one of his robotic hand rested on the example board.Suddenly the lines of code were replaced by one word. Password. Under it was room for a series of numbers to be entered. 4-7-5-6-8 filled the spaces below after a bolt of silvery light. The  screen faded out to be replaced by dozens of smaller screens, that didn’t show the neon world of the matrix, but the offices in the real world.One of the images grew larger superimposing itself over the others, it was the gray-haired office worker, screaming at the same employee. The employee shriveled at every wag of his bosses finger.  A quick swipe left revealed the feed from a different security camera. It was of A young woman sitting down in a cubicle similar to his own. Her outfit said business casual, but the rest of her was far from it. Long hair streaked with red, yellow, orange, green, and blue was tied up in a tight ponytail. Her cyber eyes constantly shifted between all the colors of the rainbow, and just peeking  out from the cover of her blouse was a neck tattoo. It was the tip of an A reminiscent of the Anarchy symbol. Someone else was here for a job, but she wasn’t who he was looking for. Eventually, he found his target. A large human man sat tapping away on his cyberdeck. Not tall in the way of Val or Mo, but large in width.

    Been a while Executioner. I see the male pattern baldness and double chin are still in effect. You’d think a guy who sleazes his way into corporate offices and kills their workers would change his appearance, but no he’s confident. He’s a good decker, who’s done this how many times before? Six months ago he popped into our offices. Snuck in under the radar after someone runner shot up half our department. Odd how it happened during the peak of a big project that required a lot of matrix work. My development team got a message telling us to work late. Jackie said she wanted to see the more dangerous programs I used, when I was younger. So I brought a few examples to slice through IC. You see, Sunny used to make me help her help mom out with rent. Mostly just opening doors, but every so often I’d have to rip apart some code. Even though I didn’t have much use for them now, I still kept them. More for sentimental reasons than anything else. We first noticed a problem when Jacki couldn’t jack out. She was the first. Then Cedrick told us there was a decker, who’d done something. Locked us in. After that, we lost communication. Then the attack programs showed up. They yelled and screamed as they chased us throughout our own node. We tried to fight them off. I managed to slow them down with a tar bomb program, but just when we thought we were clear an arrow pierced Yvonne’s icon. Grinning, the Executioner showed up, his persona screaming bloody murder as his glowing black ax severed her head. I was too late with the killjoy program, but it hit. Froze Executioner in his digital tracks. Then I made my escape. Just managed to crack the node and jack out, before he found me.  As soon as I reached the meat world I saw them. My boss, my coworkers, my friends, killed by biofeedback. Their eyes rolled back into their heads and copious amounts of blood leaking from various orifices. Cedrick was frozen in place, his body trapped mid-convulsion. Jackie was the same. Yvonne was different, though. She had blood dripping from her eyes, but it looked like she was still alive. We made eye contact for a few seconds. Silently she pleaded for me to help her, to rip the data jack out of her skull. The only thing stopping me was the sound of footsteps.

     Just as the door opened I managed to close the gate, that I had opened up to make it into the ventilation system. A male ork with a figure far different from the Executioner’s strutted in. Tall, skinny,  armed with a Baretta Model 70. He took stock of the room and then Yvonne.Her gaze stayed on her assailant. With sickening ease, he looked into her eyes and leveled his gun. A single burst from the weapon was all it took. If the complications from dump shock weren’t enough to kill her, the bullets would be. The ork paused, reached a hand up to his ear and adjusted a device. That’s when I noticed the camera staring me dead in the face. I crawled for dear life. Just managed to make it out of the rooms ventilation shaft before a spray of bullets tore up the area behind me. It was a game of cat and mouse for the rest of the damn night.

     He shot and cursed, I hid and dodged behind copy machines. Eventually, somehow, I was able to escape. Guess I got to an area with security guards, I didn’t see them, though. Not like I stopped moving to check either. After you avoid certain death it’s generally not a good thing to stay in the area where you narrowly avoided getting geeked, but I had to see this guy. I had to know who just murdered my friends. After a spending a decent amount of time enjoying myself in the Seattle rain, they popped out of a side door. My experience as a street kid paid off. Kept to the shadows so I could see them and they couldn’t see me. Even managed to hear their conversation.

“Drek we’re going to miss the bonus.”

 

“We get the main payout for geeking that one biff. You got her right?”

 

“Yeah, but what about the one that got away.”

 

“Fixed. I doctored the footage a bit and changed a few files. Even if he escaped, won’t be long before the star or some gutter punk kills him.”

 

    I was a “bonus”, that’s all I was and my boss was a paycheck. That’s all we were. I knew we’re just part of the machine and so were they, but this….it was personal. There was a lot of anger. Mostly directed at me. I was on the verge of something I’d rather not think about when this woman fell from the sky. Taking care of her brought me back to my senses. I’m not a street samurai or a ganger, I’m a decker and I’ll settle this in the Trix.

 

“Hey, you finished with that part of the code?”

 

    The robotic hand twitched at “Hey” changing the image on the board back into lines of code. Behind him was the fairy. James copied some finished code and then she left. Not before giving him a knowing wink. It seemed that he and Executioner weren’t the only ones pulling double duty.

 

    Later that night A pudgy man produced a key card for the night guard. The guard just scanned it and waved him in after it cleared. While scratching his balding head he inquired about the other programmers working late. After taping lazily on the terminal in front of him, the guard replied that four programmers were working late. He thanked the guard and headed inside, grinning while adjusting the strap on his cyberdeck case.

    Executioner past the third room from the right and kept going. No one needed to know why a freelancer was working late. Certainly not the main programmers who had been called in specifically for emergency work. Casually, he strolled into the closest room with matrix access, pulled out his  Fuchi Virtua X and jacked in.

    The world went red. His virtual reality program showed the matrix in a far different light than any other decker would see. Instead of the bland white of the corporate world, his vision was made up of red, gray, and black hues. The node was turned into a tricolored forest, perfect for hunting. Lifting his mighty ax above his head, he summoned his attack programs. Mist formed near his feet and as it dissipated, two attack programs in she shape of villagers from the medieval era took its place.

“Command us, master.” They implored in unison.The response from the being that towered over them was simple. Hunt.

Torches alight, they ran through the forests calling out for their victims. Telling them that their end was neigh. It wasn’t long before the executioner got a message that one of his targets had been found. Almost immediately he traveled to the location, only to find the corpse of one of his programs. Ripped apart at the seams. Nervously the hunter looked back and forth. Had one of the deckers been moonlighting as a runner? Maybe they were just a hobbyist with a few programs? He didn’t know, but he wasn’t going to lose out on his payday. A quick command had the remaining program at his side. Together they traipsed throughout the node.  Eventually, they came upon their quarry. A persona dutifully working. It looked as if it was a medieval prisoner. No shoes, no pants, just a long strip of ripped fabric covering its malnourished form. It had the numbers 076589 emblazoned on its chest. Silently, the ax within the executioner’s hands turned into a bow, with an arrow already nocked. The killer program sailed towards its target with unerring accuracy. Bullseye.

The target fell back after screaming in pain. Ax in hand Executioner left his program behind and leaped at his quarry. The blade turned jet black just before it severed the head of the badly damaged persona before him. The body slumped and the head rolled towards the victor. An almost exact copy of the grin he had given after talking with the guard played out on the Executioner’s face. Then the eyes of the head at his feet opened.

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