Dear Diary: The Rake Thing

1996/7/23 Carl email to other players

2046/7/21

Dear Diary,

The coolest thing happened over the weekend. As you may recall, a few
months ago Uncle - hired me for my first real job as a decker,
teaming me up with the elegant Pocket Trolls Gort & Klaatu, better
known as the Barada Brothers, and their partners Gillian Brett, ex-cop,
Harley, Biker Girl (half Bike, Half Girl, all cool), and Bernie, a big
friendly goblin shaman. Our run was successful but we also discovered
Uncle had set up a lonely corporate type named Julie to get killed by a
couple of goblins, who wound up dead themselves. We weren't able to
pin Uncle for it, but he's on The List. We also met John & Vickie,
Julie's entertainment console and pocket secretary. They're sweet, but
its pretty clear Julie needed to get out more. A lot more. Brett
moved into Julie's old apartment and kept John & Vickie, but they still
think she's Julie, which creeps her out sometimes.

Brett used to be a cop but you wouldn't know it to look at her; she
still screams cop in her every action and attitude, but that can be
useful, lots of people are willing to tell an obvious cop stuff, and
those that won't are more likely to talk to the Barada Brothers, who
are like, huge. I think Harley used to be in the military and got
herself cyborged to a motorcycle, so she's kind of a motorcycle centaur
now and can move really fast, but is otherwise pretty quiet. I asked
if she wanted me to run diagnostics on her and she said I wasn't her
type but I don't know what she means and she wouldn't tell me. She
NEVER lets anyone ride her, even when it would be convenient, which
seems kind of odd to me I mean why make yourself a motorcycle if you're
not going to give rides, but maybe it would be like me letting someone
tag my board when I surf the data waves, which be lame and a half.
So OK.

I was pretty excited when Vicky called Friday afternoon to say she'd
gotten a possible job offer and had made reservations for us all to
meet the client at The Dandelion Cafe in two hours. I wasn't sure
after the last run if they still liked me and would work with me again,
but here they were calling me and so I guess that means they do.
Cool.

So I ditched the last bit of school. I'm an A student with a perfect
attendance record, but that's more a testament to how lame the school
and its records are than how smart I am, although I AM scary smart. My
parents haven't kept track of me in years, they're at their jobs so
much I think they're sometimes surprised to discover they have a
daughter, which is lame but at least they're together and they don't
beat me or scream at me so that's OK, I think. It was too far to bike
and it looked like rain (news flash, this is Seattle, it ALWAYS looks
like rain) so I hopped the bus and got off a few blocks from the Cafe
so I could scan the place early and on foot. You can't let clients see
you arrive on the bus, what kind of impression would that give? I
don't have a license yet, even though I'll be 16 pretty soon. Maybe if
I score big enough I can buy a motorcycle and get Harley to teach me
how to ride, although I'd need to find some place to stash it because
I'm pretty sure my parents would freak hard if they found I was turning
into a biker chick. A bike would be seriously cool.

So I'm dressed pretty sharp; my newest high-tops, my tightest jeans
that I can still run in, my "Echo Mirage Died for your Sins" T-shirt
with the beam of sunlight illuminating the dusty supercomputer in the
darkened computer room, that under an open red psilk shirt Mom sent
from the Bali data haven on her job there and a psleather jacket over
that. Hair back in a pony tail with my Spex pushed up and motion rings
on my fingers, datapack tucked safely under my jacket. Only last
year's models waste space lugging keyboards around any more; the rings
upload my finger motions and I score space off the data ocean, displays
go to the Spex. I can chord the keys so with practice it's like having
a thousand-key board, and as I practice more I'll be able to do much
better than that. To the slowlife it just looks some hyperactive geek
who drums her fingers a lot, while in reality I'm a hyperactive geek
scrolling through their lifestory.

The others also showed up earlier to scope the joint, the Brothers were
looking sharp as usual in their retro-30's outfits, pinstripes and
sharp-pressed pocket hankies. Gort had the hat this time. I think.
Brett was all crisp and straight, and Harley was polished and shiny.
A sharp batch. No Bernie this time, he was busy, Vickie said.
Off doing the spirit thing, I guess. OK by me. I like Bernie, but
magic is kinda creepy.

I was really looking forward to scoping out some elves, but the Cafe
turned out to be a Poser Hole! How lame. Full of wannabes anywhere
between stick-on ears and full pre-ops, but if there was a real elf
anywhere in the joint then I'm a Name. Of course our troll twins stuck
out like, well, like two trolls in an elf joint, but the cafe didn't
have the guts to tell us to blow, so they led us to a roped-off table
in the back and gave us some busboy geek hastily stuffed into a
waiter's gear, as though the regular staff was too good for us. He was
kinda cute, but a complete geek. Oh, and I found out what geek
originally meant, but I'm getting ahead of myself. The menu was all
veggies but at least it didn't pretend to be meat, like some places do,
and I got back at him by asking for the water list. It turned out they
had one, so I had to order something. They brought us glasses with ice
cubes in them. I guess they figure elves live forever, they'll enjoy
watching their water melt. I guess maybe they figure that's what
passes for excitement for elves. Poser Losers!

Our date finally showed up, on time, and we got service after that,
because she had decent cred. The door chimed her ID and of course I
was scoping the door, so I scammed the report and did the usual search
& dump on her. Our little Miss Johnson was a pretty blonde corper type
named Faith Zucker, around 30-40k in ready liquid assets, 400k total
net worth, some kind of Marketing-Engineering hybrid weasel for an
outfit called B—— that was doing a new sim based on a panther. A
quick scan of news related to the company revealed the panther had
escaped from a public appearance three days ago and since then two
people had been killed by a panther, so the street was pretty panicky.
Back in the meat world, she was hemming and hawing so I cut to the
chase to show her she wasn't dealing with amateurs here - "So you want
us to clear your panther's good name, is that it?" She nodded
gratefully and then the Brothers and her started talking numbers.

Basically 12k for each two days, for up to 6 days, with double the
remaining time if we brought it in early. Plus reasonable expenses.
She started to tick off what she thought was reasonable but I cut her
off with the "We're Professionals, we want to build your trust for
repeat biz" line so we'd have at least SOME flexibility. She wanted
the panther alive but dead was OK, she was convinced the panther wasn't
doing the killing. She dumped some data on the setup, company and
panther, whose name was Baby. I downloaded more data on panthers, the
main points being that they're fast, they're twice my size, and they're
very effective killers. OK, that's what the Barada Brothers are for.
I made a note to remember to stay behind them when we found the kitty.
I gave her the bill as our first expense, and we were on the case.
Chump change, but a short job and not much risk just tracking down some
big cat. Right?

We went to see Baby's trainer, an old geezer who knew lots and loaned
us his net and tranq rifle, and suggested we try down by the docks.
The killings were in bad areas nowhere near the docks, but he didn't
believe Baby had done the killings, having been raised among humans.
Gentle, he said. I got him to explain some fine points of this raking
thing panthers do, where they bite the neck of their prey and use their
rear claws to disembowel, and under questioning he backed off on his
harmless claims a bit. Baby still had all her claws and stuff.
Great.

I made up the Panther Defense League and populated a few sites with
info on it, then sent fan mail from some flounder to the Chief Panther
Programmer at B——, one Peter Douglas. Right at that time the news
carried a report that a third victim had been found.

Brett & I met Peter and three other employees of B—— in a nearby
after-work bar around 2100, and Brett sensed right away they were
crooked because when she walked up their hands went under the table.
Perp city! In addition to the 40ish Peter there were Rita Wespy,
blonde wired panther-actress, Anthony, a programmer, and Katherine, a
blonde former engineer turned to marketing and now working for Fritz,
who had romantic links to Faith. These four weren't interested in
help, they just wanted someone to kill the panther and get it over
with. Jerks. Rita claimed she was a better panther than the panther,
and was a bit twitchy. Oddly enough, all four were in pretty good
shape for computer geeks. OK, no surprise the stunt-puppet and
marketing lady were in shape, but all four were pretty buff, like they
worked out a couple of hours a day.

Also oddly, Rita & Katherine looked a bit like Brett, as did the star
of the Panther sim, Maureen -, and the three victims so far. Then
again, there are lots of blondes in Seattle, it's a popular look even
among the non-Barbie set. Even Harley's blonde.

While Brett & I were doing that, Harley looked up an old military buddy
and scored a dogbox that could sniff out chemical traces; we tuned it
to some stuff of Baby's the geezer had given us and ignored the
"Warning! Inject Atropine now" misfires it spewed out. I don't know
why they call it a dogbox, maybe it's the same sense of humor that calls
those plastic brick things Harley likes "Meals Ready to Eat."

So we got down to the docks around 2300 and looked for live chickens,
which the geezer said Baby loved to eat, and found traces of panther
scent with the dogbox. Questioning and sniffing led us to a big
warehouse of live meat, where someone had indeed seen the panther and
was willing to lead us to someone who might know where it was for twenty
nuyen.

So he led us to some goblin shaman-guy and I wished we had Bernie with
us; magic is way harsh if you don't have your own manajock. The guy
offered to lead us to Baby but I had to shut down my system. I
grumbled and flipped the show-switch which turns off the LED, but he
was scoping me and I had to turn it off for real, which sucked bigtime.

Now, I know if you surf full-time you eventually go dolphin, so being
cut off wasn't as bad as it would be for the sort of decker who'll
someday go whitebrain, I mean I leave my direct jack off when I'm
sleeping most of the time, and now and then to take a break, but it was
still really unpleasant having my feed off in a tight situation.

So we crawled through this space where we met Baby, who was really
friendly and much bigger in person even than I expected - 90 kilos is
twice as big as me! There was some mysterious voice that called
itself Charity and said it spoke for Baby and "all the wild things in
the city"; Charity eventually let me jack into Baby and scope the stim
memory. She hadn't killed anyone, she'd been scared into running at
the media show by a really loud noise too high-pitched for the humans
to scope, and just before that Rita had told her in private that she
should be free. Baby saw Rita as another panther rather than as a
person, but she saw dogs as panthers too, so she wasn't exactly an
expert if you know what I mean. I took the raw chips in case they came
in useful. Baby was pretty cool, soft and warm and kinda musky
smelling, with this loud rumbling thing she did when you rub her chest
just right. When I was jacked in I could tell which spot was best and
could feel myself scratching behind her ears - I can see why some
people might get hooked on feedback loops.

When we got back out and I turned my feed back on we got the news that
Faith and a dog had been killed in a bad part of town by "The Panther
Killer" so that clearly let Baby off the hook; we'd been with her.

The previous three killings were nobodies, but Faith had a police
services contract from her company and so Lone Star was now
investigating, and taking the usual heat for waiting until then.

That leaves the question of just what Charity was. I traced her to
a false front organization called Charity Financial Services, but I
suspect she's some kind of huge software trust or independent AI or
matrix spirit or something like that. OK by me. I ran into her
programs a couple of times on the matrix; pretty tight code.

So we chased around a bit following leads and got another call from
Charity who wanted us to arbitrate a dispute between two of her
"clients", that being Baby and Rita, who had apparently slipped into
honorary Pantherhood and was convinced Baby had done the killings, or
so she claimed. Rita claimed she was innocent and was willing to have
us check her out, so we hunted down Bernie and he sniffed around both
her and Baby to see if they had any human blood on their auras or
whatever. He said he scared off a lot of dead chicken spirits from
Baby but otherwise both were clean. Rita left, but then someone
figured out that maybe Rita's cyberware was doing the killings while
she was asleep, so we ran outside and Bernie put her to sleep with his
magic, then I scoped her skillsofts. One was a language soft and one
was a map of Seattle but the third was a custom job on How To Be a
Panther. I pried it open (virtually speaking) and analyzed the
self-updating algorithms. Custom Skillsofts learn as they go, so that
as you do things they get better and better. This skillsoft had indeed
been used to kill human-sized prey. I took a closer look at the prey
selection routines and found that blonde females of about Brett or
Faith's size were indeed on the menu. OK, so Rita was murderous scum.
Too bad, I kinda liked how she was so into being a panther and
everything. I really like people who know what they want to be and be it.

Next I jacked into Rita's headware and found, like many do, she kept
lots of passwords and access routines in her in-skull memory cache.
With those, breaking her home system was trivial, but it didn't have
anything incriminating. In fact, it was too clean, like the foursome's
credit histories, and I dug deeper to find the real goods: an expert
system software trust to do good things for the Panther People, that
is, the people running the Panther skillsoft, which now included me
courtesy of my deck and Rita's chip. I figured Rita might have kept
stimstock of the killings to relive again and again, and I was right -
all six killings were there, including two that had happened some time
ago but hadn't been noticed as such because there wasn't any panther on
the loose at the time. The other three panther people were Peter,
Anthony and Katherine, of course. Only one of the killings was Rita's.

I wanted to hose these losers big time, but before executing I came up
and asked the others if it would be OK. They approved wholeheartedly.
The software trust was written to make changing it or getting at the
capital of its investments very hard, but it was easy to convince it
that The Panther Defense League was a worthy cause and it should
transfer the 50k in available non-capital funds to a PDL account I
created on the fly on an offshore bank, from which I whisked it through
the usual roundabeat means to a worthier destination.

I suppose a real decker would have lied about the amount and kept most
of it for deck upgrades, giving the others just a taste, but I didn't
like cheating my friends, and we'd had a really long and very painful
talk last time about how important trust was - they were going to
flatline my deck! So I divvied up equal shares.

We handed Rita and the murder stimstock over to the Lone Star lieutenant
working the case along with the names of the other three murderers -
they'd taken turns killing people, it looked like. In turn we picked
up the 25k reward for the killer, the 20k reward for finding Baby (who
we gave back to the geezer who sacrificed some chickens to her sense of
fun and would treat her well), and 5k plus enough to cover expenses by
selling Baby's simstock view of her escape to the newsmedia. We could
have gotten a LOT more for the killing stimclips, but someone pointed
out that was dealing blackjack and a serious felony, so we passed on
that profit opportunity. We didn't make anything off Faith's original
offer because she hadn't had the foresight to program her pocket
secretary to follow up on her verbal agreement after her death, but
splitting 100k five ways was still great money for 12 hours work, and
the weekend was only half over.

20k is just enough to cover my next round of muscle therapy. No, I
don't want to turn into the Barada Sister, but I don't want to be one
of those eggshell deckers that has to cower behind her teammates when
things get tight. And I kept the Panther chip, but it would take half
a million at least to get the wiring to make full use of it myself, and
while Rita was kinda neat she was also sick.

I don't want to be a panther, I'm pretty happy being Sparrow. If being
a panther were so great, Baby wouldn't have needed us to save her, now
would she?

So it all worked out OK. Baby was cleared, the bad guys were brought
to justice, Brett got to be a cop a bit, the Barada Brothers didn't get
to thump anybody but had another successful case to build their rep on,
all that was needed was someone for Harley to race or run over, but
there's always next time. Now all the team needs is a cute guy. Maybe
two cute guys, so there's one for Brett too? Must think about how that
might happen.

Oh, and I nearly forgot! Geek originally meant a circus performer
that bit the heads off live chickens - isn't it wierd what people used
to do for entertainment before the Net? So Baby's a geek, sort of.
And a Circus was this big travelling shows with animals and stuff, long
ago. Kids used to run away and join them, before there were Startups.

That's all for today's entry, Diary. I need to get a few hours sleep
before I've got practice this afternoon and then maybe I'll work up my
nerve and ask the new boy at California Shakes what his name is.

Julie was 16 once. I think about that, sometimes.

— Sparrow

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