Frank No-R went to a nearby wooden cabinet, opened it and retrieved a bottle. Mitchell recognized it as whiskey – honest-to-God whiskey, none of the synth stuff. He poured two fingers for all assembled and put the bottle back. He took his place in the central couch and took a sip. They all stared, waiting for him to speak, Mitchell wincing from the nanointment working.
“Well?” he said.
“It’s a story.” Frank No-R replied, “I have been keeping tabs on the dollhouses kept by Haruka-gumi since they’ve been established as the borderland. Their higher-end clientelle is definitely a goldmine of information and for more unsavory trades that is the lifeblood of Virusalem. Tech specs, 3D printer templates, things like that. Sure, every once in a while a hackstar gets lucky or manages to download something off an official server, but ultimately, most of the reverse-engineered bootleg tech comes from information we steal from corporate types in dollhouses.”
“That’s not news.” Richard said, “Most of what I use is corporate-grade stuff, downgraded because of all the substitution.”
Frank No-R nodded, “We may not have all the parts, but we can still make do.”
“How do you get this information?” the assassin asked.
“We have the dolls implant little data crawlers with embedded self-termination codes. 24 hours at the most. They download it, send it to a remote server we keep, destroy themselves and roll back mod metadata for each file they touched. I have more than enough cache servers in places not even the Yakuza would look to collect it all.”
“What do they get?” Mitchell asked.
“The Yakuza? First crack for the marketing, for the most part. There haven’t been all that many that I didn’t let them hoard…” Frank No-R smiled, “But then again, they only get to see it after I do. I have my own ways into the data before they access it. Which is how I came across this guy. You might know him,” he cocked his head towards the assassin, “Lenka Avalovna-1E.”
The assassin didn’t respond.
“Your client. R&D in Eden Corp.”
Mitchell and Richard’s eyes widened at the same time.
“Yes,” Frank No-R continued, “Eden Corp.”
“Dash 1E?” Mitchell whistled and immediately winced afterwards, “Only one step away from being a zero.”
Frank No-R nodded.
“Cyberpharmacologist, department head.” He said, “She was prone to extended binge sessions, so I had particular interest in her, what she was working on. It wasn’t until the data crawler’s sorting algorithm came across a priority zero that things started to get serious. Zero. This means that whatever she had sitting around in her mnemonic had so much ICE around it that it had to be important. Like a true prophecy or a cure-all.”
“It had to be copy-protected.” Mitchell said, “Had to be.
“It was. But there are ways around that, and the ICE… that wasn’t the problem. It was Oshihiro Nawase… and, to a lesser extent, Nobuo Uzumaki.”
“He was my target.” The assassin said, “Nawase. At least, he was, before this mess started.”
Frank No-R nodded and took another sip of whiskey, “It took some doing to get around the copy protection, which gave them enough time to skim the contents right around the time I did. They realized what it was…”
“Which is?” Mitchell asked.
“3D printing schematics and proof of concept for a new, experimental piece of bionanotech. A great leap forward in terms of nanomechanical treatments. Not exactly a cure-all, but pretty goddamn close.”
“How does it work?” Richard asked.
“Cloning technology. The device uses a single, protein-based nanoprobe that sequences your DNA and does a full bloodwork. It then uses white blood cells as base materials to construct bespoke cures for whatever ails you, whatever is throwing your system off balance. It comes with a self-termination code, too. Self-destructs, gets metabolized like its refuse, expelled. You know what this means?”
“End.” Richard said, “The end of healthcare as we know it. It means…” he paused, as if just comprehending what he was about to say, “…it means monopoly. Dear God, it means…”
“…that Eden Corp would become the first monopoly corporation.” Frank No-R said, “They would own the copyright to healthcare in the Western Hemisphere and soon, the world.”
“Wait,” Michell cringed, “That doesn’t make sense. They can only sell the thing once, that’s all they’ll get.”
“It gets better.” Frank No-R said, “They weren’t going to sell the technology, just the machine. In order to be functional, it would need to clear a series of checks and be authorized by a central server. They were going to rent the use of the technology. Unlimited credits for Eden. Forever.”
The weight of the realization fell heavily into the room. Alex Nothing, asleep in his gurney, didn’t stir and yet, all attention in the room was on him for a moment, on the contents of his head.
“But international laws…” Richard started, but stopped himself short. International law meant very little to a hypercorporation like Eden Corp.
“That is indeed something you would kill for,” the assassin said, “But then why isn’t the full force of Eden Corp on you? Their private security force could easily take the drive from you, the Yakuza, or whoever else they wanted to.”
Frank No-R smiled.
“Being the Lord of Virusalem has its perks. Yes, Globapol leaves us be, but that also means everybody else has to, as well. Besides which, do you know any cyberpunk here worth their augments who wouldn’t take up a weapon to fight a corporate foot soldier?”
The assassin shook his head.
“As I was saying, she figured out that we had swam around the copy protection she had. Figured out what we’d stolen and knew from where. But Eden wouldn’t mind if we had our ways to use their tech, we do it anyway. The issue would be significantly more complicated if instead of just doing that, we used that as leverage. Or someone did. She couldn’t have that. Besides, 1E, meaning, if they were to find out she had carelessly carried tech like that on her, ICE or no, they’d either downgrade or decommission her.”
He let it sink in for a moment before continuing:
“Now, normally, the tech would be out of her reach by the time she had realized it, and if Haruka-gumi hadn’t had the brilliant idea to try and leverage that against me, she wouldn’tve had time to intervene.”
A look of astonishment traveled among those assembled. Frank No-R knocked his glass back.
“Yeah.” He said, “Nawase told Uzumaki who went and told the fucking oyabun what we had in our hands. I wanted the tech for Virusalem. They wanted to use it as a bargaining chip. They wanted to rent it, same as Eden, and would transact for it, too. Up the chain.”
“What?” Mitchell’s jaw dropped, “What do you mean transact for it up the chain!? You mean-”
“Yes. They called her. Tried to ransom the data. She gave them a price to stall, set up a meet and called you,” he nodded at the assassin. “They called me to tell me to beat her price. They then moved the entire gumi downtown so that I wouldn’t be able to move against them without encroaching on other Yakuza’s territory, or clear it with the Bratva. But you have no such limitations, do you?”
“No.” The assassin said, “All I had was a time limit and information on the gumi’s movements in the past two days.”
“The noodle place.” Frank No-R said, “That’s where you found Nawase.”
“I just showed up earlier than the designated time for the meeting they had set up.” The assassin said.
Frank No-R’s face went through a series of emotions. Shock, surprise, anger and finally, reinforced calm.
“They were supposed to meet me later that evening.” He said, “Well, after you two went through them, there’s very little work left for me and mine.”
“Alright,” Mitchell sighed. The night was rolling off his shoulders and the last of the stim had left him some time ago, “But one thing I don’t get: why just me? Why not send every hand after it, if it was what you say it was?”
“What, and risk everyone bringing their own agenda into it?” Frank No-R replied, incredulous, “Besides, do you have any idea what would happen if word got out about the truth of what I was after, or that the Yakuza had managed to play me, even if briefly?”
Mitchell considered it. He saw his point: he would lose power, and in a significant way. More people in the fray also meant more chaos, more variables that couldn’t be controlled.
“Okay,” he said, “But then, where does that leave us? He still has a delivery, I still need a new arm, Richard probably needs a do-over on his war van and Alex Nothing over there has the most prized possession of the night.”
“That’s the one question I have, actually.” Frank No-R said, “Why is Alex Nothing of all people involved in this?”
“You don’t know?” Frank No-R shook his head. Mitchell started laughing. The assassin smiled, his features contorting into a nightmarish mess. Richard simply stared at his whiskey. “Oh man…” Mitchell finally said, after a solid few minutes of laughter, “You’re going to love this…”
“He was just out to get some material for a new album.”
Frank No-R’s eyes grew wide as saucers. He peered over his shoulder, at the gurney in complete disbelief and Mitchell couldn’t help but laugh.
Thank you for reading!
Below you can find a glossary of terms for clarity purposes. Above that, you will find the previous entries.
This is the first time I am doing the A to Z Challenge – I tried last year, but couldn’t get the A off the ground, let alone continue. This year, I came with a bit more preparation, and am hoping to make it to the end in one piece. Well, okay, making it to the end – one piece is optional.
This is indeed an exposition-heavy chapter, but I love me some of those. I think I blame Ghost in the Shell (the original movie, one directed by Mamoru Oshii) for that. But one thing I didn’t quite manage is to spare time (mainly because the main plot took precedence) to have Alice (As I intended) trace the steps leading up to the events in the story, allowing for some more backstory than just its ties to the Yakuza dollhouses.
I did, however, drop hints as to the nature of the object they were chasing: that it originated from “corporations”, that the Virusalem folk were staunchly standing against, that it came from Yakuza dollhouses and that the Yakuza had fallen back on a deal made with Frank No-R, the Lord of Virusalem. I know, could’ve dropped some better hints, as the magnitude of the object comes, I think, as a surprise – I mean, you knew it was important, I hope, which is what I was aiming for.
A is for Ante
B is for Blood
C is for Cut
D is for Dummy
E is for Exit Card
F is for Follow Suit
G is for Grand Slam
H is for Heading a Trick
I is for Incorrect Deck
J is for Joker
K is for Kill
L is for Left Bower
M is for Marked Card
N is for Natural
O is for Overtrump
P is for Pot Limit
Q is for Quads
R is for Real Deal
S is for Suck Out
T is for Tonk Out
U is for Under the Gun
V is for Vole
W is for Wastepile
X is for Xenium