Chapter 1 – The Meet

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Chapter 1 – The Meet

James Jasso

James Jasso

James Jasso

Paul Mahone, Staff Writer

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The sky above the harbor was the color of an old analogue television tuned to a dead channel. Fog had rolled in, and even the Golden Gate Bridge looked grayed out in it. The city opposite the harbor could have been heard from the bridge; at that range, the sound of engines and vehicles projected out across the bay and into the ocean. Before any other sounds hit you, the smell does – smog and exhaust from thousands or even millions of engines, smelling of gasoline, diesel, cooking grease, moonshine and almost anything that can burn in a combustion engine. 

Entering the city, the sounds of a hundred different languages comes through, English the most, with Japanese a close second. Swarms of people walk with purpose toward a building or metro station or whatever have you. The streets are just as crowded, with vehicles ranging in size from a single-seater that can barely hold its short passenger to huge trucks and buses delivering anything from oranges to cybernetic arms and interface ports. The trucks unloading wheat or soy always do so in crates marked from Russia or the Republic of China or Australia, and all have to come through the harbor. The buildings loom tall, taller than ever before, and bear advertisements or neon signs in Japanese Kanji and English. The biggest ones bear the names of Japanese corps. Heading toward the commercial district, the shops sell items from all over – everything – but fashions and biotech especially from Tokyo and Osaka, cars and appliances from Chicago or Detroit, Cyberware from Boston or Providence, the prices marked in Pacific States of America dollars, Japanese Yen, and many more currencies. 

Heading towards the less wealthy areas, both English and Japanese become less common in favor of Chinese, Russian, Spanish or any of a hundred other languages, and the buildings become either towering tenements, squat tenements, or shacks, with no points in between. The air fills with the smells of a hundred different spices and sauces, yet the stands rarely sell meats, at least not ones normally thought of as food. All the stands have soy, however. Soy noodles, soy burgers, soy tacos, soy everything. The buildings, true tenements, several families sharing a few 10’x10’ rooms, living cheap. Surprisingly, basements and sub-basements are just as lively, connected to old utility tunnels, abandoned metro and freight tunnels and old sub-basements in an underground city almost as lively as the surface city.

Heading further into the worst parts, voices fade away as gunshots fade in. The slum gives way to a war zone. Whatever buildings stand are fought over, fortified and destroyed in the span of a month as the zone grows and shrinks. The smell of blood, rot, and gunpowder hangs heavy in the air, and bullets whiz out of a building to strike some unfortunate. The food, talk, and people are gone, anyone on the street in stealth, in arms, or in force. All the buildings bear colors, some faded with age, others painted over time and time again. A party dressed in red and black, more chrome than person, crosses over toward a building painted white and yellow above every entrance.

In the wealthy neighborhoods, the buildings grow taller than ever, helicopters and VTOLs almost as common as cars. The complexes from the 20th century still stand, but the new ones, the richest ones, all are named after some place or something from Japan. On the lower levels, you hear English, and see all kinds of names, higher up, almost all the names owned by Japanese or Anglo-Saxon sounding people, until the penthouses are nearly all owned by Japanese and their renter is rarely in. From the roof, not far away, a shiny glass tower bears in LED and neon the letters ACT and nothing in Japanese, easily eclipsed by the towers that carry Japanese first and English as an afterthought.

When I wake up, it’s maybe five P.M. That’s fine, however. People like me don’t have hours or shifts. All that needs to happen is I need to be at the Mountain Dragon bar and club before nine. I go by Johnny Red – my real name’s not important. My apartment is three small run-down rooms plus a walk-in closet with a toilet, sink, and shower filled with what could generously be called ‘furniture’. The kitchen doesn’t really have a proper oven, only a fridge, sink, washer, soy-krill-mycoprotein processor, and microwave. Any less and the landlord couldn’t put ‘kitchen’ on the listing. The TV in the living room is mine, an ancient LCD model that’s barely compatible with any stations and not much bigger than the microwave face plate.  My clothes are a mix of synthetic cotton t-shirts, synth-denim jeans and synth-leather jackets, gloves, and boots. However, I have a single suit that’s got a real wool jacket and pants, real silk shirt and tie. After preparing a meal that tastes something like beef, I get dressed. The place I’m meeting at is pretty fancy, but it never hurts to cover your bases. I carry a holster beneath my suit with the pass my prospective employer provided. Security won’t dare look close enough to find it. By now it’s eight, and I leave. 

I arrive at the club, navigating from the edge of the slum district to the tourist district, going from streets crowded with homeless to streets crowded with Japanese. Twenty years ago, this place would have been serving mostly East-Coasters, but they usually go to Europe or Brazil now. Above the door of the club is a LED Mount Fuji with a red neon dragon wrapped around it. I wave the VIP pass my prospective employer provided, and I am rushed in past the line. The bouncer ‘searches’ me by taking a peek under my jacket and nothing more. The club is packed, but the dance floor doesn’t concern me. In a booth at the back is my employer, a Japanese man of no more than fifty wearing a suit similar to mine, but in a much more fashionable cut. Subtle details – the silver cuff links, the logo on the jacket pocket – let it slip that he’s at least an upper mid-level exec at Toriumi, but the fact that I could figure that out tells me he’s not a professional in this business – that and the look on his face. He doesn’t look aggressive, in control or even stressed. He looks haunted.

“My name is Mr. T- Mr. Tanaka,” he says to me, although that’s probably not his name. Nobody uses their real name in this business.

“Toriumi International is moving a valuable project and the data associated with it to a secure facility elsewhere, but they have been forced to leave it in a less secure facility here due to delays,” he continues.

“And you want me to steal this? From your own employer?” I respond.

“No. I want you to destroy it, the project, the data, everything. I can’t let such a thing exist. I’ve hired others – they should cover all needed skills. I’ve also made sure that security there will be minimal. This should not be difficult,” he adds.

“Mr. Tanaka, what is this project that you want me to destroy? Where is it? When do you want it done? When and where do I meet the team? How much are you paying?” I ask.

“Project Midori is an advanced piece of biotech, I’ll be paying you 1 million Yen, half in advance, and everything else is on this,” he answers as he hands a storage drive. “Now do you accept or not?”

“That’s all? Surely someone like you can do better,” I answer.

“A million and a quarter, then,” he responds.

“I’m sure you can do better,” I say, goading him on

“Million and a half, that’s the best I can do,” he replies. Gets ‘em every time.

“You have a deal. I accept,” I say, closing the deal, and head back to my apartment to go over the information.