Malcolm Chernova was a Russian immigrant who came to America in his late teens, part of the large influx of Russian wealth that flooded the country in the 2050s. His parents worked for Supova Technology Unlimited, a small firm that handled the exporting of cyberware parts around the world. As he grew into adulthood, Chernova went to the best schools, knew all the right people and was politically connected to the point that he was practically untouchable.
After Chernova’s parents were killed while flying back to Moscow, he sold all his shares in Supova Tech, which had over the years became the leading distributor of neural booster implants on the planet. The sale made Chernova wealthy beyond the comprehension of most regular people and he spent his time traveling the world, going from party to party and leaving a string of broken hearts in his wake.
Or at least, that’s what Korehammer wanted everyone to believe.
If anyone did any digging, they would find a electronic paper trail to back everything up. Birth and death credentials, records for the sale of the Supova stock and travel itineraries for Chernova’s many trips abroad. There were even medical records to explain the scar that ran down the right side of his face; a ski accident in the Swiss alps when he was in his early twenties.
Korehammer was brought back to the present day when the young kid returned and said there were only two messages for Chernova. He had them sent directly to the apartment holo unit and asked if there was anything else he could do to help him. Korehammer smiled and said no, transferred the kid 50 credits for his trouble and walked toward the elevators to head up to his suite.
Korehammer had realized early on that to keep up the appearance of his multiple identities it would take a little bit of work and a lot of money. He purchased the apartment in The Embassy with cash shortly after the building opened and had made sure the management knew he would be using it infrequently due to his extensive traveling. If this was The Plex, you could be sure that it would have been broken into multiple times already and gutted of every item of any value.
However, seeing as this was City Center and Chernova was a upstanding, if a bit eccentric, multimillionaire, Korehammer didn’t have to worry about that happening. He could leave a dead body in his apartment and it would still be there whenever he returned. Another of the perks of having more money than you know what to do with.
Korehammer entered the elevator and swiped his NIIC over the reader to the left of the door. It automatically took him to the 28th floor where his apartment was located. Unlike his former living accommodations in The Plex, his home at The Embassy was a lavish suite of four rooms with massive windows that gave him a spectacular view of Rittenhouse Square.
Of course, money couldn’t entirely take away the slight sense of paranoia that Korehammer liked to think helped keep him alive. As he entered the apartment, he said out loud “Deactivate Surveillance Protocol Alpha. Code Beta-Beta-Twelve.”
After a slight pause a voice said “Code accepted. Welcome home Mr. Chernova.”
Korehammer went to the bathroom and splashed some cold water on his face. He couldn’t believe what had happened over the course of the last 24 hours. He went from a happily retired ex-corporate soldier and courier to being hip deep into something he still couldn’t entirely understand. However, that didn’t change the fact he told Caldera he would get whatever was in Atlantic City to whoever he was supposed to get it to.
Once he finished in the bathroom, Korehammer went over to his small desk that was against the wall in the living area. He activated the holo emitter so he could watch the messages Chernova had received since his last time here.
The first was months old and from a woman whose name Korehammer didn’t even remember. He had met her the last time he had gone to Vegas on business. She worked at one of the many strip clubs in the city and Korehammer had stupidly given her his real contact info. Too much Jack Daniels can make even the most distrustful man careless.
The second message was only 12 hours old and was encrypted, both of which Korehammer thought was incredibly odd. The encoding meant only Malcolm Chernova could watch the transmission since only his NIIC could break the encryption. Korehammer thought about it for a minute and couldn’t think of anyone who would send a harmless flake like Chernova an encrypted message.
Korehammer used his NIIC and after a few moments the message, now with the encoding gone, began to play.
It was from Corrine Caldera.
She looked like she had been through the ringer. Caldera’s right arm looked like it was limp at her side and her Green Day t-shirt was covered in blood, most likely her own. Her hair was all over the place and she had a dark circle under her one human eye, which meant she hadn’t slept at all yet.
“Hello Mr. Chernova. I don’t know if you remember me but my name is Corrine Caldera. We met last year at the Burning Sphere Festival in Nevada. We have a mutual friend and I was hoping you could get a message to him.”
“Could you please let him know I am all right. We ran into some trouble the other night and I was taken in by the PCPD as were our two acquaintances. They decided to keep me there for the night, obstinately for my own safety, despite my protests otherwise.”
“The two friends are gone. Both were found dead in their cells hours after they were brought in. It wasn’t a suicide however. The cops told me that it was as if their bodies just stopped functioning, like a switch had been flipped and the two just died. I’m hoping to get more information from a friend at the coroner tomorrow. If I find out anything I’ll let him know.”
“If you could also tell our friend that I appreciate what he’s doing and hopefully, I can meet him in a few days. Thanks again Mr. Chernova. Have a good evening.”
With that, the holotransmission ended.
Korehammer watched the entire message a second time, just to make sure he didn’t miss anything and tried to understand what this all meant.
First, he was happy and incredibly relieved that Caldera was okay. Korehammer had been so busy watching out for his own ass he hadn’t had time to think about what befell her. The shoulder injury looked bad but she knew plenty of booster docs who could fix her right up without any problem.
What really got Korehammer’s mind racing was what she had said about the pair of mercs that had opened fire on them.
Both were dead? And no one seemed to have any clue from what? That in and of itself sent up a number of red flags but when you combine that with the fact both seemed pretty much invulnerable and alarm bells really started to go off.
Korehammer wondered if the same fate had come to pass for the two he had run into on the magrail. All four of the mercs looked like they could have been brothers or cousins at the very least. Was it some kind of new cyberware? Maybe a new nanotech virus that hadn’t made it down to the rest of the population yet? And if it was, did that mean some kind of government or megacorp was involved in all this?
Korehammer shook his head, which was spinning from all this new data.
What the fuck have I gotten myself into? He thought to himself, probably not for the last time.
After thinking about it for a few minutes, Korehammer made a decision. Given what was going on and the lack of information he had, the best thing he could do was get to Atlantic City, get the package and deliver it as quickly as possible. He cared about Caldera but this whole state of affairs was rapidly spiraling out of control. Korehammer knew from experience that he needed to extract himself from this situation as fast as possible, if not sooner.
Korehammer went into the bedroom, which was just as sparsely furnished as the rest of the apartment. He walked past the bed to the opposite wall and looked to the ceiling.
“Open Ordnance Cache Two. Code Sigma-Delta-Seven.”
A small panel opened in the wall and a voice said “Submit to retinal scan. You have fifteen seconds to comply before counter measures are initiated.”
Korehammer leaned forward and his eye was scanned by the computer. A minute later the disembodied voice returned and said “Identity confirmed. Have a good day.”
Slowly the bulk of the wall opened to reveal a shallow space about two feet deep and five feet wide. Inside were a variety of heavy and medium assault rifles, ammunition and an assortment of knives and other weapons.
When Korehammer had purchased the apartment, he had brought in his own crew to make some very specific modifications. He knew that his place in The Plex was impossible to make secure so he decided to load his other safe houses with everything he would need if things went to hell. And since each was tied to a different NIIC, it was almost out of the question for anyone to trace them back to him.
The guys he had brought in did some excellent work. The alcove was invisible to almost every kind of scan and there was even space inside to hide if it came to that. It was a shame Korehammer had to kill both of them to make one hundred percent certain it remained a secret. At the time he thought maybe he was being a bit paranoid. Turns out there is no such thing.
Korehammer grabbed a large grey duffel bag and filled it with what he thought he may need over the next few days. His CCMMC Qi-15 shotgun, the Towa Type-99 assault rifle, a Excalibur taser nightstick and his M-Tech Cypherblade. Just like with his Sternmeyer, each weapon was linked to the neural implant in his skull that made it so Korehammer was the only one who could use them.
For a minute Korehammer thought maybe he was overdoing it and then he remembered those mercs and how they had shrugged off his shots at the diner. He grabbed a pair of Jennova-Hari X-27 handguns, threw them in and then zipped up the duffel bag.
Once he was done packing, Korehammer entered the kitchen to make something to eat. He never did get to enjoy his burger so it had been quite a while since he had last put anything in his stomach. While his apartment included a top of the line synthstation, the fried eggs and potatoes he made were still a flavorless mess on a plate. However, Korehammer found he was so hungry he didn’t really care.
Once he was finished, Korehammer used his NIIC to place a call to Renna Drayton, his casino services rep at the Solar Garden Hotel and Casino in Philadelphia. One of the perks of being Chernova was that in order to keep the ruse alive, on occasion Korehammer had to go to one of the city’s exclusive casino complexes for a few days. He would place bets for outrageous amounts of credits, drink nonstop and basically enjoy the hell out of himself, leaving the impression of a devil may care millionaire without a concern in the world.
The result was that every casino in the city had tried to get Chernova to come to their gaming house to gamble. Korehammer had even received offers from the Omnicrom a few times, which he found incredibly ironic. He had settled on the Solar Garden because they left Korehammer alone and never asked a lot of questions. After two visits they had assigned Korehammer a casino rep of his very own to cater to his every need and want.
Renna Drayton was in her mid-twenties, blonde, incredibly fit and had everything a man Korehammer’s age would normally find very attractive. She would flirt with him from the moment he arrived at the casino and Korehammer would always act like he was enjoying every minute of it. However, if Korehammer was being honest with himself, he thought she was a bit boring and one-dimensional.
After a moment or two, a holoscreen materialized in the air and Drayton’s mouth broke into a huge smile when she saw him.
“Mr. Chernova! How are you doing? It feels like forever since we last saw you at the Solar Garden.”
“I’m doing well Renna. How are you?”
“I’m great sir. So what can I help you with today? Were you planning to come by for a visit? Should I have your usual suite prepared?”
Korehammer shook his head. “Nyet. Not today. I’m calling to ask a favor.”
Drayton had a questioning look on her face for a split second before her smile returned. “Sure thing sir. What did you need?”
“I need to know if you can make arrangements for me to stay at the Shina-Yasuyan Hotel and Casino Complex in Atlantic City.”
Drayton’s questioning look returned and this time stayed put for a second or two. “The Shina-Yasuyan? In Atlantic City? Why would you want to go there?”
Korehammer sighed ever so slightly, giving the impression he was becoming irritated with all the questions. “For personal business. Do you know a rep there who can help me?”
Drayton got the message loud and clear. She cleared her throat and the professional demeanor returned. “Sure thing Mr. Chernova. Just give me a minute and I’ll patch you through to a friend of mine who works there.”
The screen went blank as Drayton put Korehammer on hold and attempted to contact whoever it was that she knew at the Shina-Yasuyan.
Korehammer could have made the arrangements himself or just arrived in Atlantic City unannounced and likely been taken care of without any issue. Chernova’s reputation usually preceded him no matter what casino he went to. Yet by having Drayton help him, it would make thing a bit easier and help the legend of Malcolm Chernova grow. It was a win/win for everyone.
Just then the holoscreen reactivated and it was filled by a new face. She had auburn hair pulled back in a tight bun, fair skin, green eyes and the whitest teeth Korehammer had ever seen.
“Hello Mr. Chernova. My name is Neomi Wynn and I’m a host here at the Shina-Yasuyan. Miss Drayton explained to me that you wish to visit us?”
“Da. That is correct.”
“Well we’d be happy to see you sir. Miss Drayton spoke very highly of you and said we should do everything in our power to make you happy. When did you want to come down sir?”
“Tonight if possible.”
Drayton must have spoke at length about the amount of money Chernova spent while gambling because Wynn didn’t even bat an eye at his request. “Of course sir. Did you want us to send a car to pick you up or did you make other arrangements?”
“A car would be lovely.”
“No problem at all Mr. Chernova. We can have someone there in twenty minutes to pick you up.”
“Excellent. I’ve heard a lot about the Shina-Yasuyan and I’m looking forward to seeing if it lives up to the legends.”
“We’ll try our best sir. We’ll see you in an hour or so Mr. Chernova.”
“Thank you. Dasvidaniya.”
Korehammer broke the connection and went back into the bedroom. He grabbed a second duffel bag and threw in some shirts and pants, not really looking at what he was packing, as well as the satchel containing the Stasis Cradle. He then changed into clothes more suitable for a millionaire on a last minute trip to Atlantic City and took both bags into the living area.
Korehammer decided to leave the neurobinary VR chip Caldera had given him here. If things went south there was no way he wanted any of this to be connected to her more so than it already was.
As he placed the chip in the drawer of the desk, he said “I don’t know what you’ve gotten me into Corrine, but this is it. I’m going to get whatever the hell this is to whoever you want me to get it to and then I’m out. Done. Finito. No more. I’m sorry but you’re on your own.”
After a few minutes Korehammer received a call that his car was waiting for him downstairs. He looked up at the ceiling and said “Activate Surveillance Protocol Beta. Code Upsilon-Delta-Three.”
The computer voice relied “Code accepted. Have a nice day Mr. Chernova.”
Korehammer left his apartment, got on the elevator and went downstairs. He hoped by this time tomorrow, this whole situation was over and done with and Korehammer could get back to being retired.