After the dust from the War settled and Comcast Systems came in and purchased the entire city of Philadelphia lock, stock and barrel, they made the decision to break the city up into three zones. Seeing as how the majority of the population was either homeless, starving or on the brink of both, no one really objected all that much.
City Center would become where the rich and powerful lived their carefree lives. The parks stayed green all year round, the avenues remained clean and you could walk down Market Street at two in the morning and be perfectly fine. Across the Schuylkill River in West Philadelphia is where Comcast Systems made the decision to set up shop. They built their corporate headquarters of five 72 story skyscrapers on the rubble of the old city and towered over the rest of Philadelphia. The area also housed their corporate army and the majority of their employees, making West Philadelphia one of the most secure and safest city-states in the country.
And if you couldn’t afford to live in City Center of didn’t work for Comcast Systems? Then you lived in The Plex.
The Plex is the nickname given to the entire area south of City Center. A mixture of homes, bars, VR porn shops and casinos, The Plex is where you headed if you wanted to disappear in Philadelphia. It was where you went to score the latest designer drug or meet with a prostitute with that special cyber enhancement that could do things your spouse couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do. In The Plex the neon always reflected off the rain slicked streets and you always had to watch your back.
For Trevor Korehammer, The Plex was home.
After leaving the New Galaxy, Korehammer walked for a bit to try and clear his head and process what had just happened. For all he knew Caldera was dead or in the custody of the PCPD which meant she was going to be of no help answering the myriad of questions he had running through his head.
Who were those two mercs and what kind of enhancements did they have that they could shrug off rounds from a Sternmeyer? What had Caldera gotten herself mixed up in since the last time he saw her four years ago and why were they after her? And what made her come to him of all people with some mysterious request to go to Atlantic City to get a package and take it to Lord knows where?
Korehammer looked down at the neurobinary VR chip he still had clutched in his hand. It seemed like if he wanted answers, this was going to be the only thing that was going to give them to him.
He headed to Broad Street from where the New Galaxy Diner was and quickly went down the stairs to the Lombard-South magrail station. Amazingly, one of the first things Comcast Systems did when they purchased Philly was to replace the aging and dilapidated subway system with new maglev tech. The magrails ran all night, were remotely operated from the West Philadelphia complex and were the fastest way to get to The Plex from City Center.
Korehammer waved his wrist over the NIIC reader and a second later it allowed him through the turnstile and onto the waiting train that would take him south to the Oregon Avenue station. From there it was a short walk to his home on 16th Street.
As he sat down Korehammer looked around, taking in his surroundings. This late there were only a few stragglers on the train in addition to a group of kids obviously heading to The Plex in search of a good time. No immediate threats that he could see. Still, after what happened at the diner, one could never be too careful and Korehammer activated his Sternmeyer once again, just to be safe.
Korehammer rubbed his wrist where there was an ever so faint orange glow that seemed to be coming from under the skin. Every time he had to use the damn NIIC it annoyed him, even though unlike the majority of the population, his served a very different purpose.
In the chaos after the War, what was left of the government needed some system to not only keep track of the people who were left but a way to make sure something like the War could never happen again. It was then that the determination was made that the human race would have to be tagged, similar to the way people used to microchip their pets. Despite howls of protest from civil rights groups around the world and most of the population, the corporations pushed the measure through and thus the NIIC was born.
It took a year to develop and another year to implement, but every person in the country was eventually implanted with a Neuro Identification and Interface Circuit, or NIIC for short. Failure to have a NIIC installed resulted in incredibly steep fines or being sent to prison until you complied, so sooner or later even the most ardent holdouts caved and had NIICs implanted in their wrists.
As well as serving as an identification device, an individual’s NIIC also could be used to pay for things, stored a person’s medical history, who they associated with, everywhere they went and what they enjoyed in popular culture. It also made trolling on social media impossible as it kept track of everywhere you went on the web as well as every site you interacted with and sent that information to the government. Anonymity online was a thing of the past and as a result, Twitter went bankrupt just a few years after the first NIICs became active and Facebook a few years after that.
It turned out social media where everyone knew who you were didn’t appeal to that many people.
Of course, one of the main concerns the populace had about the NIIC was what prevented someone from hacking the interface and getting access to all your information. Psidev Corporation, the Japanese megacorp who won the contract to design and manufacture the NIIC said it was impossible to hack the device, plain and simple. And after decades of use and no reports of anyone having their NIIC altered or accessed improperly, it seemed to everyone that the people at Psidev were right.
Or so they thought.
Korehammer once again looked at the neurobinary chip that Caldera had given him. If it could explain even half of the reasons for the events of the last hour, he would be shocked. Even if after everything that happened he agreed to take this gig, Korehammer had no clue how he was going to pull it off. Atlantic City? Seriously? How was he supposed to get in there much less find whatever it was he was supposed to be looking for?
Just then he heard a muffled cry from the magrail car ahead. Looking over, he couldn’t see what was going on but at this time of night, it couldn’t be anything good.
As he put the neurobinary chip back in his jacket pocket, the reason for all the commotion came through the door of the magrail car Korehammer was sitting in.
One of the many rippergangs that made Philadelphia home, the Grendels were classified as a cult gang who based their entire ideology on the old Grendel comic book that was published in the latter half of the twentieth century. Most had the Grendel symbol tattooed on their faces of wore a mask with it emblazoned on it. They were, Korehammer seemed to remember, mostly harmless. Lots of flash and style but little stomach for real gang warfare, unlike the other rippergangs in the city.
However, it seemed as if they might be trying to change that image. The Grendel who was obviously this group’s leader was using his jacket to wipe fresh blood off the twin blades that jutted from the end of the staff he carried. He was followed by six more Grendels, all armed with variations of the forked staff weapon that the character used in the old comics.
As they entered the magrail car, most of the other passengers either looked down at the floor or headed for the adjoining car. While the Grendels had a reputation for being mostly innocuous, there was no reason to tempt fate. Especially with fresh blood smeared all over the leader’s jacket.
Of course, Korehammer looked at the entire situation as more of an annoyance than anything else. After years of fighting secret wars against some of the most experienced and well-funded corporate armies in the world, a bunch of kids with a Napoleon complex didn’t really faze him.
Unfortunately for the Grendels, they decided that a seemingly old man alone on a magrail this time of the evening was too good a target to pass up. Which was fine with Korehammer. After all, he may look like any regular old timer going for a ride on the magrail, but the truth was far different.
“Heh. Check out the infirm.” the group’s leader said, starring down at Korehammer while the rest of his crew formed a semi-circle around where he sat.
“Yeah. You really shouldn’t be out this late old one. Fuck knows what might happen.” another said.
“Heh. Maybe we should teach you a lesson. Ya know, make sure you don’t do something like this again.” a third chimed in.
The entire time the Grendels were speaking, Korehammer kept kept looking out the magrail window, arms folded with his legs crossed. He figured he would let them have their fun before he put a serious damper on their night.
The leader, a kid who couldn’t be more than 18 with his head shaved bald, black jacket, no shirt and ripped jeans, took his forked staff and pointed it at Korehammer’s throat.
“What d’ya say infirm? You need to be taught a lesson?”
Korehammer looked up and was about to say something when the Grendel’s head exploded in a shower of blood and flesh.
Covered in the Grendel’s blood, Korehammer looked in the direction where the shot had come from. There at the end of the car, impossibly, were two more mercs, practically identical to the pair that had shot up the New Galaxy Diner less than an hour earlier, except this time both were Caucasian.
The rest of the Grendels scattered in a explosion of screams and curses as the one who had killed their leader was lowering his Colt AMT 2000. He seemed to be trying to figure if he had hit his intended target. Which, considering the events of the evening so far, had to be Korehammer.
How the hell did they find me on a fucking magrail? Korehammer thought to himself as he quickly pulled his Sternmeyer from the holster on his leg and fired four quick rounds at the two goons. Much like what happened at the diner, the bullets did little but annoy the pair as they pushed through the scrambling passengers and Grendels to get to Korehammer.
Knowing he didn’t have much time, Korehammer looked around for something he could use to help his escape. He spotted the emergency stop lever and yanked it down as fast as he could.
The magrail train came to a sudden, violent stop which threw everyone off their feet and onto the floor. Korehammer fired one shot into the window, which shattered in a hail of glass and plastic and he quickly dove through it, landing on the service walkway that ran parallel to the train tunnel.
Korehammer ran South, figuring he couldn’t be that far from Snyder Station and once there, he took the stairs up toward the street two at a time. When he finally emerged into the night air on Broad, he turned and headed north towards Passyunk Ave. This time of night it should be packed with people either looking to score or trying their luck at any of the multiple casinos that ran the length of the street.
Korehammer glanced behind him to see if the mercs had followed him but so far there was no sign of them. Hopefully they got tangled up in chaos of the stopped magrail train and it would be a few minutes before they regained their bearings.
Of course, the bigger concern was just how they had found Korehammer so quickly. It seemed highly unlikely they had managed to trial him with his NIIC and every other option seemed just as outlandish.
First things first though. He quickly realized he needed to get off the street and fast. Korehammer looked down and saw that he was still covered with blood and bits of bone from the Grendel’s head. It would only be a matter of time before someone either called the PCPD or, worse yet, another rippergang found him.
Korehammer thought for a moment and looked to see where he was. He grinned as he realized he wasn’t that far from Shizuko’s. It had been a while and she sure wasn’t going to be thrilled to see him, but at this point Korehammer had few options.
Korehammer did his best to stick to the shadows and headed northeast toward the Omnicrom Casino.
Within the confines of The Plex, the entire area south from Passyunk Avenue until you got to Packer Avenue was locally known as the Pleasure Sector. The roughly triangular area housed the majority of the pleasure clubs, casinos, VR porn shops and the like that did their business in Philadelphia. It was open and crowded practically 24 hours a day as men and women from all over the city went there to indulge in their every fantasy or vice.
The Omnicrom Casino was one of the oldest in the Sector and had opened shortly after Comcast Systems reorganized the city. Taking up three entire city blocks, the building’s gleaming glass walls rose to the sky and offered everything from dice games and old fashioned slot machines to neural interface VR MMA fighting and, for the high rollers, rumored death matches between patrons of the casino who had gotten themselves in a bit too deep with the house.
And Gema Shizuko ran the whole thing.
Korehammer had first met Shizuko when he left the TGS corporate army but before he and Caldera had formed their business partnership. The two had dated back when she was simply a pit boss at Omnicrom and he was still trying to decide what he wanted to do next. The relationship had been fun but nothing serious, at least the was what Korehammer thought at the time.
When he and Caldera became partners in their courier endeavor, Korehammer thought it best if he not have any attachments that could prove to be a liability in the future and he broke it off. Maybe doing it via a holomessage and then making sure Shizuko couldn’t get in touch with him wasn’t the classiest move, but at the time it seemed prudent. That, and he figured the odds of ever seeing her again were pretty slim.
Turns out they weren’t slim enough.
Korehammer looked at the Omnicrom from the alley across the street and sent a mental command to his NIIC to call her. After a few moments a holoscreen appeared in the air and Shizuko was looking at him with a mixture of disbelief and utter contempt.
Even after all these years Shizuko still looked amazing. She kept her straight, strawberry red hair in a bob cut that framed her Asian features perfectly. It looked like she hadn’t lost or gained a pound since the last time Korehammer had seen her. Odds were she still had that slender swimmers body that gave no clue that the woman was proficient in seven different martial arts disciplines and had a neural implant that doubled her reaction time and speed.
In other words, she could kick your ass before you even knew what was happening.
“You can’t be serious with this shit.” she practically snarled when she saw Korehammer’s face.
“Hi Gema.” Korehammer said a bit sheepishly, deciding to play up a sympathy angle.
“The only reason I even answered the call was because I knew if you were calling me you had to be desperate. What do you want?”
So much for the sympathy angle. “I need a place to crash for a few hours. I’m in something and I need to get off the grid for a bit until I figure out what’s going on.”
Shizuko narrowed her eyes and looked at him, as if contemplating what to do. After what seemed like an eternity she sighed heavily and shook her head.
“I always promised myself that if I ever saw you again I would try to be the bigger person. Looks like I get to see if I can keep my word. Head to the loading docks. I’ll have one of my people meet you there.”
“Is this place secure? I might have trouble following me.”
“You’re kidding, right? This is the Omnicrom. What happens here stays here. And if it leaves, we hunt it down and kill the fucker. See you soon.”
Korehammer laughed out loud. The woman had two sides to her, no question about that.
He slowly headed toward the back of the massive complex where he assumed the loading docks would be. As Korehammer rounded the corner he saw six bays, one of which was open and had artificial light streaming out of it. There silhouetted on the dock was the form of a man, standing with his hands clasped behind his back.
Korehammer approached slowly, his hand hovering near his Sternmeyer in case Shizuko decided that being a better person was an overrated concept. The man by the open loading dock looked down at him and said “Mr. Korehammer I presume?”
He had to be around 30, with dark brown hair cropped short and glasses with round frames. He wore a suit of all black and, if Korehammer didn’t know better, he could swear he sensed just a touch of a British accent.
“My name is Mr. Jacobson. I’m Miss Shizuko’s assistant. She asked that you follow me.” Not being in any position to argue, Korehammer climbed up the loading dock and followed Jacobson into the Omnicrom.
The two began a confusing, circuitous route that took them through the kitchen and back hallways of the casino until they reached a maglev service elevator. Jacobson gestured for Korehammer to go in first then he followed, waving his NIIC at the panel and saying “Nineteenth floor.” The elevator shot upward and quickly came to a stop, with Jacobson simply looking straight ahead the entire time, not bothering to try and make small talk.
When the elevator door opened again, it was to another service corridor. Taking a left out of the elevator, the two walked a few feet until they reached a set of doors that opened onto a hallway. Making another left, Korehammer followed Jacobson until he stopped in front of door with the number 1905 engraved into the surface.
Jacobson indicated the NIIC reader that was mounted to the wall just to the right of the door. Korehammer waved his wrist over the reader and after a moment, it let out a low “beep” and the door unlocked.
Pushing the door open, Korehammer went inside followed by Jacobson. The room was a standard suite that included a bathroom to the immediate right of the entrance, a living area and a king size bed. One entire wall was made up of floor to ceiling windows that gave the guest a complete view of not only The Plex, but the rest of the city as well. It also included a VR entertainment rig as well as a neural interface display for going online. On the bed was a set of clothes that looked to be Korehammer’s style and size.
Jacobson cleared his throat, getting Korehammer’s attention.
“Miss Shizuko asked that you bathe and change your clothes. At that time she will come to speak with you about whatever else you may need.”
With that, Jacobson turned and left, closing the door behind him. Leaving Korehammer trying to figure out exactly how much he could trust his old girlfriend.