The Quarter, Neon District
“Was that Grim Bit?” Watt’s eyebrows pulled together in a sharp crease.
“Sure was. I told you we should have jumped on the kid while he was still out on the street.”
“Dammit, let’s do this.” Grim Bit was an Edit, so they were in for a helluva fight. And that didn’t count the two Leather Headz goons with him. Watt triggered her TAT and reached out a fist to Tengu. “Who do?”
He grinned, teeth bared wide, and bumped her fist with his own. “Voodoo,” he growled and thrashed on his bike’s accelerator.
The jets on Tengu’s magcycle flared as he blasted cold blue from the alley, like a steel spike from a rail gun. At the last possible tick, a nano-shield wrapped his front strut, and he smashed through the tall, transteel window of Zero Day.
Watt’s own bike roared to life, split the traffic on the street and, following Tengu’s lead, erupted through the now gaping window frame. Sparks ripped through the darkened bar as she dropped her magcycle, and it chopped across a front-side tabletop, strobing bright among the muted glow of the thermite lamps.
Fragments of sharp transteel sprayed through the club as Watt twisted mid-air, tumbling through the space, and emptied an entire magazine of jacketed explosive rounds into the back and shoulders of Grim Bit. She landed, slamming hard to her knees, and ignored the pain.
Mag released, she punched in the reload, and fired hot. Thirty-six more shells ejected in a staccato succession, slugs painting a straight series of bloody holes around Grim Bit’s torso as he spun to face her. Surprise turned to anger.
A bright line razored across the legs of one of the Leather Headz, chopping him down. The beam continued, up and across Grim Bit’s chest as the Zeno Corporation Edit faced down the two Voodoo Reapers.
Tengu perched atop his bike wreckage, TAT engaged, and dangerous snarl fully ignited. His NiMTL slung heavy in his hands, he slashed a stream of fire-white ions through the piling smoke, heedless of friend or foe.
Watt should be thankful Tengu hadn’t been pulped crashing through the transteel panel, otherwise, she’d be facing the Edit alone. She was good, but not the lucky kind of good. And Tengu was a turd, but not the soupy kind. Together, they might even survive this.
Cowering beneath a printform table in the back, the kids were at least smart enough to stay away from the live fire. The three goons from Zeno blocked her view, but she assumed their mark and his friend were mostly unharmed. They had to be. Otherwise her ass was vapor because Redhat didn’t tolerate amateurs.
The Leather Headz thug who still had his legs whirled, stepped in front of Grim Bit, and let his Fortov rifle off the chain. Hot casings rained, and old-school lead sprayed in a broad arc. Hundreds of slugs slammed through the hanging lamps, shredded printed stools, and punched through flickering holoprojectors. The fury thundered its way, the air thickening into a hurricane of cheaply manufactured debris.
Tengu leaped back and rolled over the bartop, chased by smoking holes as bottles detonated in showers of brown liquor. Sparks splashed and ignited the booze, flashing like rocket fuel, and summoned blue and purple flames to dance along its smooth surface.
The Fortov’s empty canister, red and sizzling, dropped, clattering to the floor, the thug already pulling a fresh reload from his belt. Before he could get the new canister locked in, Tengu’s Chakram flipped up and out from behind the bar, looped through the room, and embedded itself deep in the thug’s hip. He tumbled to the ground, all thoughts of finishing the reload forgotten.
Two down. The big guy yet to go.
Grim Bit’s fingers pecked along his wrist, punching a string of commands into the Cranberry strapped to his forearm. His figure blurred, and he vaulted the pony wall. Another leap, and he sprung through the gaping tear that used to be the storefront of Zero Day.
Rounds from Watt’s GMA semi-auto traced a path behind him as she fought to keep up with his speed.
Edits were fast.
They were tough, too. Grim Bit was now carrying more of her ordinance than she was.
She raced to the front of the club, reloading as she stumbled across the piles of broken printform material. As she flipped her weapon’s stock to her shoulder and drew down on the fleeing form of Grim Bit, he charged sideways and burst into the alley.
“Tengu! We gotta roll.” The only reason she could imagine Grim Bit running was to order up a couple new goons. Except this time, they’d be ready for a fight instead of a schoolboy shakedown. “And, grab the kid.”
“Where’d he go?” Tengu had climbed out from behind the bar and was busy sorting through the rubble that used to be the booth shielding their mark. Watt’s first thought was how she’d have to explain the kid’s dead body to Redhat, but as Tengu lifted up the last large chunk of printform, the plate floor where they had been hiding was empty.
“What the hell?”
An access panel slammed somewhere, echoing, and pulled their attention away from the debris on the ground. A shard of transteel fell from a hole in the ceiling and thumped on the body of one of the thugs. It came from the drone drop chute.
“Dammit.” Redhat was going to be unhappy.
Harmony Downs, Unity City
Chad looked like he was about to spew brunch down the front of his too-tight vest. His chest swelled with the obvious effort involved in keeping his anxiety under control, but his eyes flicked around the group, unable to focus on any of them.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Chad.” Ever the peace-keeper, Roberto reached out with a reassuring hand and rubbed Chad’s knee.
“Sure it will,” said Win-Dee. “You’ll be famous, or you’ll be dead. You’ll either love life, or you won’t have to care anymore.”
Chad burped, covering his mouth with his fist, and Roberto shot her a dark look through slitted eyes.
“All we have to do is figure out how to gracefully get him out of his date. It shouldn’t be that hard.” Candi pecked a delicate sip from her spritzer, ignoring Chad’s discomfort. “After all, you have the talent of a tier two at your disposal.”
As if sensing Glorious’ doubt, the shieldsun ducked behind a cloud, casting a pallor across the stadium and cooled the air by a degree or two. It was going to take more than a well-placed smudge of lip gloss to get Chad out of the tart jar he’d climbed into.
“Maybe you can pretend to be sick.” A clumsy idea, but it was all that popped for Glorious at the moment.
“That’s not a power play,” said Candi, contempt dripping from the words. “You can’t do that. She’ll razor you for being too good for her charity. You’ve got to come out strong.”
“Tell her you’re busy.” Win-Dee leaned back, putting her boots in the chair across from her.
“That’s showing power, surely, but it ends with the same humiliation. Pixie would just cut the reply vid, and again, make it look like Chad was ungrateful.”
“What if he made his reply publicly?”
“She would deny ever inviting him, of course. Paint him as desperate.” Candi looked around the table, “Because, I’m sure she didn’t send the invite over unsecured vid, did she?”
The four influencers turned to watch as Chad turned an even lighter shade of pale.
“By nano, you people really are tier threes, aren’t you?”
Sometimes Candi’s arrogance drove Glorious to consider moving to Neon District full-time. The syndicate wars and ever-present violence had to be better than suffering the sharky attitude of this woman whose success was due to luck and taking advantage of her pretty face.
“If you’re so smart, then what should he do?” Glorious found herself exhausted by the smugness of the entire conversation. It reinforced all of her own personal reasons why she spent her time in education and not fashion. Chemical bonds weren’t nearly as complicated as interpersonal ones.
“It’s easy, of course.” Candi grinned like she’d just discovered a new color. “Chad needs to wraith her.”
Win-Dee leaned forward again, “Ah, yes. That makes sense.”
Taking another sip of spritzer, Candi continued, “There’s no evidence she asked. There’s no evidence Chad turned her down. He just doesn’t show up, and everyone can continue as normal.”
Indeed, it seemed a strong solution, and Glorious hated that she hadn’t thought of it first. Maybe Candi really was worthy of tier two, but Glorious sure as frack wouldn’t tell her that.
“But, she’ll hate me.” Chad, leaning back and running hands through his hair, appeared calmer.
“You’re assuming her shoving you off a building means she likes you?”
Chad sighed, “Good point.”
“It’s an unfortunate side effect that puts you in the crosshairs of a vengeful hi-soc, but at least you’re not dead.”
“I’m gonna take a walk. Think about it a tick or two.” Chad stood up.
“No, you won’t.”
The voice belonged to the vidkids’ producer, Orion. He had recently gained tier one, having been freshly lifted from the slums of tier two by setting up programs like theirs. He curated special events where aspiring influencers were granted a platform to work. That peer generosity, coupled with a healthy dose of shrewdness, had earned Orion his pin.
“You five belong to me for the next hour,” Orion barked.
He jerked his thumb toward the small, floating stage set up in an empty viewing hall. Back in Harmony Downs’ busier days, the area would be set up with cocktail tables and camcasting booths, wagercogs roaming through the crowds of race fans. Now, the hall was spacious enough for the vidkids to meet with their fans.
“Move it. Now.”
Glorious changed her mind. It was wholly his shrewdness, not any sense of altruism that had pushed Orion into the top tier.
They hustled to the stage and set up to endure their hour of misery together. Even Candi.
The five of them were paraded around the stage in front of the gaggle of needy fleez crowding into the room. Posing for cams, shilling their quotes, and waving at the low-cred horde. All for the promise of exposure, and all according to someone else’s plans.
It was debatable if the entire exercise brought more rep to Orion or to them.
An especially loathsome fleez reached up and shook her hand, then limply gestured farewell as Glorious straightened. She waited until he was around the corner before subtly disinfecting her hand on the biochem wipe in her jacket pocket.
She kept them specifically for fleez like him. The grimy ones who don’t crawl out of their coffins but for these occasions, and usually with the worst ideas for her to vet. It’s like they think shilling in the real world worked like one of their console sims. All you had to do was follow their meticulous hi-soc strategy guide, and you would instantly attain tier one. “All you need is 1.5% growth in weekly subs, and then you can approach a hi-soc with a cam. After that, it’s easy.”
Not that they were ever able to follow their own “easy” advice. Their simplistic opinions, coated with the stench of entitlement wrapped in ignorance, drove her mad.
If getting to tier one was easy, everyone would do it.
Glorious glanced over at Roberto. He was crouched, talking to some fleez carrying a pan of something. Probably food to review. Roberto was all smiles and engagement, apparently offering life-changing advice to the budding meal artist.
There weren’t many of them, but his fans certainly loved him. While he was quiet around their group, his authenticity and kindness shone through at events like these. Glorious suspected the only reason he wasn’t already tier one was that the addressable audience for meal art was far smaller than any of their specialties.
Most people had terrible taste in art as well as food. Finding passionate people excelling in both? Impossible.
She silently admonished herself for her earlier cynicism. His interactions with his fans came from his heart, around a subject he loved. Roberto was joyous in his passions, and he worked hard to bring his fans along for the ride.
Yet again, Glorious promised herself she would work harder to emulate Roberto at these things. Bring her joy to vidkids signings instead of her hand sanitizer.
The last of the fleez trickled out of the hall and Orion herded the vidkids back to their table.
“Good work today, kids.” Orion tapped his SHARE a few times. “Don’t forget next week is at Dwarf Soy, so bring your hats.”
“OMG, that place is worse than Harmony Downs.” A frown dragged hard at the corners of Candi’s mouth.
“Well, if these places were popular, they wouldn’t need to pay a bunch of tier threes to show up. You’d be paying them instead.”
“I’m a tier two.” Candi crossed her arms.
Orion squinted at her, “Mmm-hmm.” Spinning on his heel, he stalked back out, toward the viewing hall.
Silence hung thick as Candi fumed.
It was Roberto who finally spoke up, “I have an idea on how to help Chad.”
They all turned in unison, glad for an end to the awkward silence. Glorious anticipated something along the lines of doing a VR flower drop with an extra bottle of bubbles in an attempt to make peace with the hi-soc.
“What if Chad threw Rebel Pixie off the balcony?”
Like the others, Glorious stared at Roberto as though struck, opening and closing her mouth in search of a response.
“I’m sorry, what?” Chad had recovered his wits enough to push words out.
“You know, push her to her death before she pushes you to yours.” Roberto popped a piece of candied porkmeat into his mouth, and mumbled around the bite, “Just make sure they get vid of it.”
A new chapter of Neon District: The Future. Edited., written by Christopher D. Chapman, will be released weekly in preparation of the highly anticipated cyberpunk RPG “Neon District: Season One”.
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