Korehammer did as he was instructed, taking a quick vibro-shower and then putting on the clothes Shizuko had provided. The blood from the Grendel’s exploding head had ruined his shirt but the jacket was salvageable. Even if it wasn’t he’d still keep it. It wasn’t the first time this jacket had seen blood and it likely wouldn’t be the last.
He stood and looked in the full-length mirror in the bathroom. The black jeans and grey button-down shirt fit him perfectly. They accentuated his six foot frame nicely and matched his reddish-grey hair. If it wasn’t for the faded scar that ran down his face over his right eye, you would almost think Trevor Korehammer was a respectable member of society.
Just then he heard the electronic chime that notified him that someone was at his door. He finished putting on his boots and walked over to open it when the door opened itself and in walked Gema Shizuko, trailed by Mr. Jacobson.
“I thought the door was keyed to my NIIC and I was the only one who could open it.”
Shizuko narrowed her eyes and smiled. “This is my casino. I can go wherever I damn well please.”
Korehammer laughed under his breath. Shizuko looked like she hadn’t aged a day since he last saw her. Which, given what doctors could do with plastics and genetic manipulation, wasn’t all that surprising. She wore a sleeveless green dress that had a slit running to her upper thigh, leaving little to the imagination and a pair of impossibly high stiletto heels.
It would seem the casino business had treated Shizuko very well indeed.
“So Trevor. What do you need from me? I’m a busy woman and don’t have a ton of time to waste reliving the past.”
Same old Shizuko. Right down to business. She never liked to have her time wasted, whether that was dealing with people at her job or in the bedroom.
Korehammer nodded his head towards Jacobson, who had been standing just behind Shizuko to her right and had never taken his eyes off him. Rolling her eyes, Shizuko sighed and said “Fine. Mr. Jacobson, please wait for me outside. This shouldn’t take very long.”
“Are you sure Madam?”
“Yes. Trevor and I are old friends. And even if he did try something, there’s no way he would ever make it out of the Omnicrom alive and he knows it.”
Jacobson gave Korehammer one final look and then turned on his heel and went out the door into the hallway.
“Still have a touch of the paranoia, huh Trev?”
“You don’t get to be my age by being careless.”
“Very true. Although I must say you do clean up very nice for an old man. I figured you were still the same size as when we were dating. Glad to see I was right.”
“Thanks for the clothes. And the place to stay.”
“What are old friends for? So what’s going on that you came to me of all people for help?”
Korehammer turned and looked out the window at The Plex, a teeming mixture of blinking neon, desperate lives and somewhere out there, mercs who were determined to kill him for a reason he couldn’t even fathom.
“I’m not really sure. An old business partner came to hire me for a job and all hell broke loose. I need to figure out what exactly is going on and I couldn’t go to my place to do it. I needed someplace secure where I could access the information I need.” He turned and looked at Shizuko. “Can I trust you?”
Shizuko hesitated, seriously thinking it over before she answered. Then she raised her hand and spoke into her NIIC. “Omnicrom MCP, activate Stealth Suite Zeta in Room 1905. Access code Shizuko One.”
After a moment, Korehammer heard the program reply in a female voice “Stealth Suite active, Mistress.”
Shizuko looked at Korehammer, a serious expression on her face. “This room is now off the grid and no data can come in or go out except from my own personal server. All the cameras have been deactivated and any existing data records have been erased. As far as the hotel computer is concerned, there is absolutely no one here. Your NIIC is being masked and you are, for the duration of your time in this room, essentially invisible to any and all electronic monitoring systems.”
Korehammer bowed slightly in Shizuko’s direction. “Very impressive.”
Shizuko returned the bow. “Thank you. You don’t operate the most profitable and secure casino in The Plex without a few tricks up your sleeve.”
“But I thought AI programs were banned after the War?”
“Like I said, it pays to have a few tricks up your sleeve. That and a programmer who like to mess with artificial intelligence and is into the Omnicrom for so many credits he’ll be working it off for the rest of his miserable life.”
Shizuko looked at Korehammer with that same expression she used to get when they were dating. A mixture of yearning and frustration that so many of the women in Korehammer’s life had also worn.
Except for one.
“Stay here as long as you like.” Shizuko was saying. “When you leave, just wave your NIIC over the lock and that will deactivate the Stealth Suite. But like I said, use the room as long as you need to.”
“Thanks Gema. I owe you one.”
Shizuko laughed to herself. “Sure. We’ll add it to the list.” With that, she turned and left, the door closing behind her.
Korehammer looked out the windows again and yawned. He decided getting some sleep while he could might be the best play right now. He laid down on the bed, his Sternmeyer activated and on the nightstand, and fell into a deep sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
Korehammer woke several hours later with the light of the midday sun shining almost directly into his eyes. He ordered the windows to tint and the sunlight was suddenly muted to a more tolerable level. He got up, went to the bathroom and then to the synthstation to get some coffee.
Early in the 21st century, scientists had finally figured out how to molecularly break an item down and electronically beam it to another place. While the megacoprs of the time had visions of transporters like in Star Trek that could reap them huge profits, the reality was far different. It was quickly discovered that anything more complex than an apple or a rock wound up degrading so bad during the transport that when it reached the destination, it was turned into a pile of steaming goo.
For years the technology was considered useless until one person figured out a way to take the matter and rearrange it into something else while it was in transit. While you couldn’t make weapons or complex machines, food was something the technology could produce relatively easily.
In four years time world hunger was a thing of the past. Anyone could get a synthstation of their own and as long as they had the raw material, they could make any kind of food they wanted.
Of course, the taste of synthfood was about as good as you would think. No matter what it was, everything was bland, slightly greasy and not very good for your health. In the following years, prices for actual authentic food soared, with it quickly being priced well beyond what most people could afford. Eating non-synth foods became something the wealthy and powerful did, with the rest of the population just supposed to be thankful they didn’t have to worry about starving to death anymore.
Korehammer grimaced as he drank the coffee from the synthstation. At his apartment he had what used to be called a Mr. Coffee. Thanks to an old contact he had coffee beans flown in from South America once a month and ground them himself. The finished product might not be perfect, but it was worlds better than the swill he was forced to drink when he had to use a synthstation.
He placed the coffee cup on the table by the window and went to where his jacket lay on the bed. Korehammer pulled out the neurobinary VR chip Caldera had given him and looked at it in the light.
VR chips were sold practically everywhere and could take the viewer almost anywhere he or she could imagine. They worked with almost any standard VR rig and gave the user infinite options on how they would like to spend their time. Want to be Captain America in the classic first Avengers movie? Done. Or maybe you would want to know what it was like to be Veronica Tronstad when she won the Cybernetic Fighting Championship in 2065? No problem.
Of course, the majority of the populace used VR tech for one thing: porn. You could have sex with just about anyone you could think of and to your brain, it would be just like the real thing. And for those that couldn’t afford a VR rig of their own, VR porn shops were on every other corner of The Plex.
This chip, however, was something a bit more special. Korehammer had noticed right away when Caldera had given it to him that it was a neurobinary VR chip. These were very expensive to make and unlike the more common variety, not something you could find just anywhere.
Unlike a standard VR chip, the neurobinary version was keyed to a particular individual’s brainwave patterns. Odds were that Korehammer was the only person on the planet who could access the simulation on this chip. Caldera must have used her records from when they worked together to make and program it.
Once again Korehammer was getting a touch nervous. What the fuck had he gotten himself into here? For Caldera to go to such lengths to keep this information secure was a sure sign that this wasn’t just a simple courier job. Something more was going on here. The fact that hired goons had tried to kill him twice in 24 hours could attest to that.
Korehammer walked over to the VR rig and turned it on. Virtual Reality had come a long way and to look at the rig you would think it was just a pair of sunglasses and leather gloves connected by some cables.
He placed the glasses on his face and they automatically adjusted to fit his head and features so that Korehammer could see nothing outside the lenses. He then put the gloves on and as soon as he did he felt the left one uplink to the NIIC in his wrist. Korehammer then took the neurobinary chip and slid it into the slot on the left side of the glasses.
As soon as he felt the chip click into place, he spoke out loud “Activate VR interface.”
Instantaneously, Korehammer found himself standing in a field. There was a line of trees on the horizon and a soft wind was blowing from the east. He could feel the loose dirt giving way under his weight as he moved around, which made it even more difficult to get his bearings after the sudden change of environments.
There was a smell he couldn’t quite recognize and after a moment it came to him: pine trees. The last time he smelled that was at Christmas when he was a small child. Korehammer knelt down and brushed his hand along the grass, feeling the blades on the palm of his hand. In the distance, he could see a lake, with the sun’s rays shimmering off the water.
What was most jarring was the lack of noise. Living in The Plex you could never really escape the sounds of the city and the vast number of people who lived there. Here there was nothing except the wind and the water washing up on the shore.
Okay. This is not what I was expecting. He thought to himself as he stood up and looked to the sky.
“Not what you were expecting, huh?” a voice said from behind him.
Korehammer turned, reflexively going for his Sternmeyer which, in this VR simulation, was nowhere to be found. In front of him stood Corrine Caldera, looking almost exactly as she did the other night with the only difference being that her cybernetic left eye was gone, replaced by a second blue orb that was matched to her right eye perfectly.
“Caldera?” he asked, not really sure what was going on.
Caldera continued speaking as if she hadn’t heard him. “If you’re seeing this, then you have my thanks. I honestly wasn’t sure you would take this job but knowing you did makes everything I’ve been through the last few months worth it.”
“I haven’t said I’m taking the job yet.” Korehammer said to no one in particular.
The VR version of Caldera continued. “You’re probably wondering where I’ve been the past four years and why I disappeared in the first place. That’s a long story that I don’t want to go into right now. Suffice it to say that something happened that necessitated my going off the grid for a time and I couldn’t tell you about it. And for that I’m sorry
“Getting down to the job at hand. I need you to go to Atlantic City and locate Quinton Zechiel. Nine times out of ten you can find him betting on the cyber fights at the sports book in the Shina-Yasuyan Hotel and Casino Complex. He will take you to where the package is and give you further instruction on where it needs to go. In addition to the package you will find the access code for an account in Japan worth one million credits. The money is yours once the parcel gets to the destination.
“As for what is in the package, I’m asking that you trust me on this one. The less you know about what’s going on the safer you’ll be when this is all over. And you can trust Zechiel. I do.
“I know this is a lot to ask. I fully realize you’re probably happily retired and thought you were out of this racket for good. But there is so much at stake here you have no clue. I know at some point I’ll have to explain all this to you but like I said, for right now the less you know the better.
“Once this is all over I promise we’ll get together for a drink. Talk about old times. I didn’t want to leave our partnership the way I had to. I hope you know that Korehammer.”
Caldera stood quietly for a moment or two with her hands clasped in front of her and then said “Not what you were expecting, huh?”
She had set up the VR image to play on a continuous loop. Caldera would repeat the entire message again and again until Korehammer decided to leave the VR world for the real one.
As Caldera once again made her case, Korehammer looked around and tried to figure out what the hell he was going to do. On the one hand, there was no way he wanted to have to deal with this shit again. Unstoppable mercs? Getting shot at in a magrail car? A mysterious package that he knew nothing about? No thanks. Let someone a lot younger take the risks and reap the rewards.
However, one million credits was an awful lot of money. Not that he needed it, but it sure was a nice perk. Plus if he was being honest with himself, there was no way he wasn’t going to do this. Korehammer didn’t consider himself the type who got emotionally involved with the people he worked with, but Caldera was different for some reason. Not in the way someone like Shizuko was, but more like a little sister.
A little sister that could kick his ass, but a little sister nonetheless.
Korehammer turned around and looked at the simulation of Caldera again. She was just going into her fourth recitation of her speech and he wondered where she was. If she had gotten away from those two mercs at the New Galaxy and if she was all right.
He took one last look and said “Deactivate VR interface.”
Just like that Korehammer was back in his hotel room at the Omnicrom. The noises of the world suddenly crashed in on him as he took the VR glasses and gloves off and put them back on the table. The change in scenery disorientated him for a moment but he quickly regained his focus and looked out the windows. The sun was just beginning to set and once again it was beginning to rain, the water trying desperately to wash away the filth of the city.
He removed the neurobinary VR chip from the headset and put it back in his jacket. Korehammer thought to himself that he should probably destroy it but he didn’t want to do that just yet. You never know when you might need something that you weren’t expecting to.
Korehammer figured since he was in a secure location thanks to Shizuko, he might as well take the opportunity to do a bit of research and see is he could get some more data on what he was in for.
He walked over to the neural interface display and waved his NIIC over the small black disc. Instantly a holoscreen appeared in the air and a voice very similar to the Omnicrom MCP asked “How can I help you?”
“Search. Quinton Zechiel.”
A moment later the screen was filled with information about one Mr. Quinton Zechiel. Just like that Korehammer knew his birthdate, current residence and known associates as well as the fact he was apparently a partner at OMA Multinational where he practiced international corporate law. Good thing too because from what Korehammer could tell, Zechiel had a penchant for gambling and didn’t win his bets all that much. He was into Shina-Yasuyan for big credits and if his luck didn’t change soon, it could get pretty dangerous for him.
The dossier also included a picture, which Korehammer was thankful for. Zechiel looked to be in his mid-thirties, slightly overweight with chocolate-colored skin and a full beard. He shouldn’t be too hard to find. Korehammer downloaded all the information to his NIIC and then turned off the neural interface.
Since it looked like Korehammer was going to go to Atlantic City, he needed to get to his apartment. There was specialized equipment there he would need as well as supplies and firearms. If he was going to do this job, he was going to do it right. No reason to start getting sloppy now.
The problem was that he was sure more of those invulnerable mercs would be casing his apartment, waiting for him to return. Korehammer was going to have to figure out some way to get in and then get back out without being seen.
Unfortunately no matter how difficult, it was going to be necessary in order to get this job done. After all, they didn’t let just anyone into Atlantic City. If he was going to get past the gates, Trevor Korehammer would have to disappear for a little while.