The parking garage was downright huge. Actually, huge was an understatement. It was gigantic, it was humongous, it was a mountain of concrete and steel, an edifice beyond comprehension, a modern wonder of the world. Okay, that may have been overstating the case. To put it simply, it was virtually an auto arcology; a structure with no other purpose then to hold all of man's automobiles in one easy to access place.
This later fact pleased Memphis Cage to no end. His specialty was jacking cars. All kinds of cars, big, little, slow, fast, cheap, expensive—it didn't matter to him, he stole them all. The big, expensive, fast ones he sold to certain "collectors" who then shipped the cars off to prospective buyers. Who were usually overseas. The little, cheap, slow ones he unloaded at any number of chop shops, since parts for the inexpensive rattletraps were always in great demand.
Occasionally, just occasionally, he stole a car for himself.
Like this one. It was everything he dreamed about in a car. It was long, low and wide, the marks of a true speed machine. It was dark metallic gray, not his prime choice, but fitting none the less, considering the vehicle's sleek lines. The windows were tinted, the tires broad, and the Mercedes logo on the front was perfectly placed so that it in no way detracted from the sense of power and grace the car exuded. Even at rest.
"A Mercedes 2028s," Memphis breathed.
"Enh?" TJ asked intelligently. TJ was Memphis's assistant, a short, gangly-looking youth who was best suited for hauling Memphis's bag of tricks, which was exactly why Memphis employed the boy. On his own, Memphis figured, the boy wouldn't be able to steal an unlocked car, left running, with the keys in the ignition. Working for him, Memphis had a obedient, none-to-bright assistant who could carry a heavy bag, not complain, and accept minimum wage. Perfect.
"A Mercedes 2028s," Memphis repeated. "The fastest production luxury car on the face of the Earth. 600 horsepower, 6.0 liter, twin-turbo, V-12 engine. Capable of zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds. Top speed of over 200 miles per hour. Anti-lock brakes, armored body, infrared filters, low-light filters, flare-filters, auto-pilot, wetbar..." Memphis licked his lips and turned to his so-called "partner." "This is the car for me."
TJ, who wasn't quite as stupid as Memphis thought him to be, looked the car over. It was a beauty all right, and looked to be worth every cent of it's rumored 500,000 dollar price tag. "Boss," he finally asked, "who the hell you gonna sell that to?"
"Sell?" Memphis seemed shocked at the suggestion. "I'm going to keep this one!"
TJ considered pointing out that anyone who could afford such a car to start out with would probably be none to happy abut it being gone and might search quite thoroughly for it. He then decided that Memphis seemed to always know what he was doing, so if he had a plan to keep the car, then he had a plan to keep the car.
"Of course, these suckers go for a cool half-a-mil... even with the cut for a hot car, that's... that's... what? A quarter mil for us, eh TJ?
TJ shrugged. And if he had a plan to sell the car, he'd sell it. TJ did like the sound of a quarter million dollars though. He liked the sound of that alot.
Walking up next to the car, Memphis gave it a careful visual examination. Odds are, even touching this car would set off every alarm system known to man, which meant getting into it without touching it. "TJ, my bag."
Opening up Memphis's bag, TJ dropped it to the floor, knowing they only had about 60 seconds before someone would be bound to pass by. It was late Saturday night, and the restaurants and shows were due to start emptying out sooner or later. TJ hoped for later.
Passing his hand over a wide assortment of lockpicks, lock guns, ignition picks and other tools of the trade, Memphis selected a small box that looked much like a normal PDA. Snapping the data cable home into the side of his head, he flipped the lid and fired up the OS. A few clicks later and he was running a highly-specialized, and highly-illegal piece of code-breaking software. It had one purpose: to dig out the remote keycodes used by carmakers to keep their vehicles secure. As if. Well, at least until the next update to the software.
As his boss worked, TJ rolled the bag back up and hefted it on his shoulder. As he did, he caught sight of the license plate firmly fixed the back bumper. It read "Empress." Now why did that name ring a bell? Shrugging the pack into place, TJ decided not to worry about it, it probably wasn't important anyway.
With a anticlimactic click the doorlocks disengaged. Memphis grinned, his code-cutting software had worked like a charm, luxury car or not. Opening the door, he jerked his head at TJ. "Get in, we're going for a ride."
Laughing and whooping, the two piled into the car's spotless white-leather interior, TJ carefully setting the bag into the back seat before strapping himself into what promised to be the ride of his life. In more ways than one.
A moment later, Memphis had all twelve cylinders rumbling, and was easing the car down the exit ramp. Total elapsed time? 32 seconds.
Stepping out of the elevator onto the 15th floor of Manhattan's largest parking garage, Shion Nys gave a contented sigh. Few things relieved her stress better than an expensive dinner out, and those that did couldn't be done in public anyway. Too bad she still wasn't working for Shiroko-Tsuhi, she'd order a companion—or two—for the night.
Reaching into a pocket of her long coat, Shion produced the remote key for her car, pointed it out into the garage and pressed the button, expecting to hear the familiar chirp of the alarm system.
One eyebrow raised, Shion tried again, listening for the alarm's squawk, while looking around for the flash of the car's lights.
Increasing her pace, Shion strode quickly to where she was sure she had parked her car. The space matched the number on her ticket: O-28, except there was no car there. Specifically, her car was not there.
Shion stared at the empty parking space for far longer than she would have ever admitted to anyone. Her mind, it seemed, refused to acknowledge the fact that someone had stolen her car!
"Where's my car..." The words hung in the quiet air as Shion took a step back. Since it had sounded pretty good the first time, Shion said it again. "Where's my car?" And again.
"WHERE'S MY CAR!?!"
The Mercedes 2028s was everything Memphis could have imagined in a car and more. It was low, but not so low that he felt cramped. It was long, but no so long that he couldn't maneuver it. It was wide, but not so wide that TJ couldn't touch him... which was a pity really.
Sitting at a stop light, Memphis gazed in admiration at the dash display. The car was currently lit-up like a jet fighter, and the readouts were telling him everything from how fast he was going (currently? 0 m.p.h.) to the temperature outside (26 degrees Fahrenheit). And lets not even talk about the stereo system. Okay, lets. 16 speakers, full surround sound, a bass so deep he could feel his teeth shake. It had it all.
"TJ, my man," Memphis instructed, "why don't you fire us up some tunes."
"Sure boss." TJ stared at the console for a few moments, trying to figure out how you ejected the mini-disc, much less find anything to listen to. His first try turned the unit off (oops...), his second changed stations (not quite as bad), his third slid the mini-disc out of the player (better).
"Van... Van... Vangelion?" TJ flipped the disc over to show Memphis.
"That's 'Vangelis' you useless scag. Can't you read? Now slap in something interesting and lets roll."
"Right." Flipping open the armrest that was nestled between the seats, TJ put the disc back into the empty case he found there before carefully examining all the other neat stuff to be had. "Hey, look Memphis, a gun."
"What?" Memphis snapped a glance to his side just in time to see TJ flash a very sleek-looking pistol. "Put that away you idiot! What if some cop sees us?"
"Oh, right." Putting the weapon back—TJ decided he'd have to dig it out later, when it was safe—TJ then sorted through everything else. Hmm... maps, parking pass, perfume, pen, another pen, mechanical pencil, more perfume, a wad of money... wait a minute.
"What now!" Memphis was driving, which meant he didn't want to be disturbed, and to top if off, the idiot still hadn't gotten the radio running right.
"There's like..." Count... count... count some more. "Five grand here."
"WHAT?" That did it, stolen car or no, Memphis was pulling over.
It turned out that TJ wasn't kidding. Amid all the other stuff neatly stored away in the armrest was a clip of crisp UNA dollars. Five thousand UNA dollars!
"Keeeeyrist." Memphis shook his head. Pistol, cash... what else, a case of beetles in the trunk? Maybe THE Beatles? (Memphis prided himself on his knowledge of classical music.) "Boy, I think we better dump this car as soon as we can... right after I take it for a spin."
As it was near midnight, Neil and Robert were getting ready for the event of the week: Lace and Steel. Saturday nights in the parking garage's security booth tended to be long and dull, and they needed something to pass the time. What better way that watching scantily-clad women trying to beat the shit out of each other?
Okay, scantily clad women having hot lesbian sex, but they couldn't get that channel.
Setting up the portable video monitor, Robert quickly tuned it to the proper station. Neil, meanwhile, gave the security cameras a quick one-over, and reset the automated admission system. Hopefully no one would bother them for the next hour. The two men also dug out a supply of snacks and beer (the later smuggled in against policy), propped their feet up on a console and got ready for some serious martial arts action.
Reaching into a coat pocket, Robert produced a battered "Beiko" cap and jammed it onto his head. To say Robert "adored" the now-hospitalized Lace and Steel fighter was a bit of an understatement. Not only did he maintain a shrine on the Net for her, he kept one in his apartment as well. When Beiko had gone down in a match against Mian Toris awhile back, Neil thought that Robert was going to suffer a seizure he was screaming so loud. Now he watched the show in the hopes of seeing either Beiko's return, or Mian's defeat. All things considered, Neil figured that neither was going to happen any time soon.
Popping open a beer, Neil handed it over to Robert, and then dug one out for himself. Showtime.
Turning around, any smart remark Neil was going to make died in his throat as he caught sight of the stunning beauty on the other side of the pexiglass. Tall, with platinum-blonde hair, and with curves that were evident even under her long coat, she certainly was a damn sight better than Robert, especially since he was wearing that skanky baseball cap of his.
"Yes M'am! How can I help you?" Neil figured it was okay to miss Lace and Steel if it meant helping this babe out.
"Did you see a metallic gray Mercedes 2028 come through here recently?" The babe's voice was low and husky, and even her icy tone couldn't dampen the effect.
Neil thought for a moment... Merc 2028... didn't see to many of them... in fact, he was pretty sure only one had been in all night... and...
"Yes, M'am! Just left about fifteen minutes ago!" It always paid to be helpful...
Except when the person you're trying to help punches a hole through the window.
Reaching through the shattered glass, the woman wrapped her fingers in Neil's shirt and dragged him up to the now missing window. "That was MY car!"
The Mercedes 2028 was power personified. It was sleek, it was sexy, it was raring to go and conquer the highways. It was low on gas.
"DAMN!" Memphis slapped the steering wheel in frustration. What's the point of having an automobile capable of over 200 m.p.h. if you can't run it for more than twenty minutes without a refill? Okay, it was low on gas when he'd picked it up, but still, it was the principle of the thing.
Pulling into nearby gas station, Memphis held his hand out to TJ "Gimme the money and stay in the car."
"Uhm, okay boss." A few fumbling minutes later, and Memphis had five grand sitting in his pocket.
Getting out of the car, Memphis bent his head to look his "partner" straight in the eye. "Do not get out of the car, do you understand?"
TJ shrugged. "Yeah, sure... I just don't see the point."
"It's simple TJ. I look like I might own this car, you don't."
"You don't either, Memphis."
He had a point. Maybe. "Okay, think of it this way: you look less likely to own this car than I do. How's that?"
TJ couldn't argue with that logic.
Closing the car door, Memphis suddenly realized he had a minor problem... where did the gas go?
Watching the two men scramble about in panic inside their booth was not sufficent compensation for the frustration Shion now felt. Her car was gone, and the two idiot parking attendents seemed to be doing everything possible to not help her find it.
Putting her hands into her pockets—mainly so she wouldn't be tempted to throttle either of the two morons—Shion's fingers brushed her cell phone. For a moment, just a moment, she thought about using the phone to call her car. Then she thought about it again.
Why not? What did she have to loose? Who knows, maybe someone would pick it up and she could get a trace. Flipping the lid back, she raised one finger and got ready to punch in her phone number.
Her phone number...
Shion stared at her phone. She couldn't believe this. "What's the phone number to my car?" she asked no one in particular.
"Pardon, ma'm?" Neil asked.
Having spoken, Neil promptly made himself a focus for Shion's attention, and thus her anger. "What..." she asked slowly and clearly, so this miserable cretin would be sure to understand every word, "is the number to the phone in my car?"
Ninety dollars later, Memphis slid back into the driver's seat. He had a full tank of gas, and the rest of the night to kill before dropping the car off at one of the local chop shops. Time to see what this baby could do.
"Um, Boss... the car phone is ringing."
Memphis and TJ stared at the phone with a mixture of fascination and dread. Who could possible be calling? Especially at this time of night?
Memphis nodded to his partner. "You answer it."
"Uhnuh, you answer it."
A moment passed where the two of them regarded the phone and each other. Finally, with a sigh exasperation, Memphis picked up the phone.
"No matter where you go, no matter where you try and hide, I will find you. And when I do, I will ensure your punishment more than fits the crime."
The 2028s could accelerate like nothing else, a fact which Memphis greatly appreciated at the moment.
Alan Davies was having an incredibly dull night, and was hating it. One of the officers on the night shift in the response room had called in sick, and Alan had been asked to fill his spot. This was not the sort of thing he enjoyed. In theory, the officers in the response room took calls and tried to assign officers to deal with it. In practice, some officers (like Alan) selectively screened calls to pick out only ones that he felt were worth following up.
Alan's definition of a call worth following up amounted to being a call that he could somehow ring some money out of. If it was important, he'd sell the information to various third parties he was in contact with. If it was moderately important, he'd make sure the call got to the officers who owed him favors so they could work them off. And if it was unimportant, he'd ignore it.
Unfortunately for him, the night had been clean of potentially profitable calls. It had been just a normal night in Neo-York—Murders, assaults, break and enters, the like. But nothing he could turn a fast buck off.
His phone rang. He reluctantly lifted it, expecting it to be a cat up a tree or other such situation. "Good evening, this is Officer Davies Speaking--" He began, before being cut off.
"I'd like to report a stolen car" the cool female voice on the other end of the phone began. "A steel-grey Mercedes 2028s, license plate 'Empress'. The car was taken from the Manhattan Central parking garage earlier this evening. I would very much like it back, preferably in perfect condition."
The line went dead.
Alan paused a second before breathing. Only one person would own a car matching that description with those license plates. The Empress, Shion Nys. Then the reality struck him. Whoever found that car would get a very, very handsome reward. Alan intended for that person to be him. Well, he probably wouldn't find the car personally. However, he had enough associates who owed him money to make sure that he'd get the credit, regardless.
He picked up the phone, and dialed a number. He knew that the person on the other end would to just about anything to earn a few quick bucks.
"Hello?" Came the voice at the other end of the phone.
"Sandra, hi. It's Alan," Alan began.
"Great" Came the reply, dripping cynicism. "Look, Alan, I don't have any money at the moment and..."
"Don't worry about it, babe," Alan replied. "I've got a little job for you?"
"That bodes," Sandra answered. "And don't call me babe."
"No you're not. Not in the slightest." She sighed and continued. "So what's the job."
"I've got a stolen car for urgent attention," Alan replied.
"Stolen car?" Sandra moaned. "Look, Alan. I'm not a cop any more. I don't do stolen cars. I do missing people, data retrieval and the like. Why should I be interested in a damned stolen damned car?"
"Because, the car belongs to one Shion Nys."
"Oh," Sandra suddenly replied.
"And if you can get it back and get it to me, I could probably write off a good amount of outstanding contributions to the retirement fund."
"You're a total tool Alan, you know that" She replied. "A total, utter tool. But I'll do it."
"Thanks Sandra," Alan replied. "I knew I could count on you."
"So what's the missing person look like?"
"Steel-grey Mercedes 2028s with vanity plates reading 'Empress.' Can't miss it"
"Uh-huh... So I expect it's going to turn up in a chop shop with new plates, a new paint job and new chassis numbers."
"Right," Alan answered. "But, on the other hand, how many Mercedes sports cars do you see in the Zone?"
"Point," she concluded. "I'll tell you if I find it," she finished, then hung up before Alan could try anything else.
"Sucker..." Alan muttered. He put down the phone, then picked up his notebook. "One down... Let's see... PC Traylor, owes me four hundred..." He punched another number into the phone.
The yard was stacked with rusting, flattened wrecks. Once, each had been a full-fledged car, complete with an engine, an interior, and four tires. Now, the crushed and crumpled heaps lay in tall piles, a testament to America's fascination with the automobile. It was also a visual reminder of how much trash the United States, or what was left of it, was capable of producing.
Memphis brought the 2028s screeching into the lot amid a cloud of dust. The car gleamed under the light of the newly-risen sun, and the engine rumbled contentedly. He'd had the car up to over 150 on the Interstate, a speed that allowed him to blow by all the other late-night traffic like they were standing still. It had been exhilarating to say the least.
Sitting in the driver's seat, Memphis took a few deep breaths, calming himself. The phone hadn't rung again all night, and, if his luck held for the next thirty minutes, he'd be free of the car, and rich to boot. Life was good.
"No?" Memphis wasn't sure he'd heard the response properly. "Felder, it's a mint 2028s. Fully loaded! What's not to like?"
Felder looked over at the car-jacker with an expression of sadness mixed with regret. He was a big man, broad in the shoulder, with a great tub of a belly. His face was plain and deeply lined, and topped with gray hair. In addition, he had a gray mustache and gray eyes, and in the light of the flickering lamp, Memphis thought he had gray skin as well.
"I said no. The car is way too hot. I mean nova hot. I've got freak comin' in from the street that says tryin' to fence that car is a sure-ticket to an early grave."
"You're trying to scare me."
"Yeah, sure, Memphis. I'm tryin' to snowjob the hottest 'jacker in Downtown on a half-mil car deal. Listen up: dump the car, you'll live longer."
"Forget it. If you won't do business with me, I'll take it else where."
Walking out of Felder's dingy and cramped shack on the edge of the scrap yard, Memphis kicked an antiquated can, watching it clatter across the hard mud. He didn't know why Felder didn't want this car, but that was his loss. There were plenty of fences in NY that'd pay good money to ship a loaded 2028 to an eager buyer.
So he'd have to drive around and ask, no big deal. It wasn't like he was eager to get out from behind the 2028's wheel any time in the near future.
Gibson told him the same thing as Felder.
"Get that car out of my sight. I don't want to see it, hear about, or even know it ever existed."
Stephenson was a bit more wordy, but he basically said the same thing.
"Hey! C'mon! Open up!"
Sterling wouldn't even come to the door.
"Boss?" TJ was looking worried. "Maybe Felder knows something we don't."
Vendi O'Villiams was the blackest man Memphis had ever seen. His skin was the color of oil, and was so dark that it was almost blue in direct lighting. Vendi shaved his head to boot, and Memphis was convinced that he waxed his scalp so it would shine if the light hit it just right. Of medium height, but with a lean build, Vendi looked like he should be shooting hoops in a back lot, not discussing the price of a half-million dollar car with two slightly-disheveled and tired car thieves. But he was, which made Memphis feel better.
Memphis would never admit it, but Vendi intimidated him. He was a high-rolling player in the Neo York scene, and he only dealt with the best, even if he did smoke cigars the size and shape of a cheap sex toy. Memphis also thought that Vendi's cigars smelled like burning dog shit, but he wisely kept that opinion to himself. Anyway, all that mattered was that Vendi was Memphis's last—and now only—hope of unloading his most recently jacked car.
Currently, the three of them—that being Vendi, Memphis, and TJ—who virtually worshipped the ground Vendi walked on—were sitting in an empty warehouse down New Jersey way. It was one of hundreds that lined the old industrial zone, and it looked much like any other rusted out and gutted empty warehouse, except that this one had car residing in it that was equal to the cost of a large house, or a small penthouse suite.
Sitting on a battered crate, Vendi was currently dressed in his working clothes, which was a stained and faded white jumpsuit, much like a mechanic might wear. TJ was sitting in the 2028's passenger seat, with the door open, while Memphis leaned against the hood. Considering that the car could suck up 9mm slugs and not even blink, Memphis didn't think his skinny ass would present much of a problem. An open cooler at Vendi's feet held a selection of micro-brews, most from up north, near Quebec. Memphis and Vendi were slowly emptying a bottle each. TJ had finished his, but didn't feel like getting out of the car to select another.
"Forget it, Memphis." Vendi had a deep voice, a really deep voice. It was surprising to hear such a voice come out of a man his size, but Vendi was full of surprises.
"Why?" Memphis was pissed. No one, repeat no one was willing to even look twice at the car, and no one would tell him why.
"Do you know who's car that is?"
"Does it matter?"
Memphis shrugged and sighed, "So who owns it?"
Vendi politely ignored the sudden spray of beer as Memphis tried to inhale liquid instead of swallowing it.
"Memphis, you know I like you, and you're a good man."
This much a was true. Vendi did like Memphis. He was reliable, dependable, and very good at getting the exact car you wanted. Memphis meanwhile, was more than happy to do as Vendi asked, especially after the night when Vendi had paid Memphis a bonus in the form of two pleasure dolls. The synths had been slender and long-legged, with round asses, tiny waists, and breasts that could only have been the result of genetic engineering. One had been black with white hair, and the other white with black hair, and the two had thoroughly sucked him dry before leaving him feeling drained and spent the next morning.
Memphis figured he'd steal the Jinsei CEO's car if it meant another night with those two.
"Memphis, you know I like you, and you're a good man, but look at it this way," Vendi took a deep breath and then continued, "You and I both know what Shion's like. She's a corporate weapon who's sole purpose is to make another corporation's life miserable. She'd destroy me in an eyeblink, and you'd end up so much paste. What good would the quarter mil... okay, the half mil, that car would net us if we're all dead?"
Memphis took a nervous swallow of his beer and tossed the empty bottle off into a corner. The sharp shattering of glass echoed for a moment as he stared into Vendi's bright cybereyes. "So... what do you recommend?"
"Dump the car in the Zone. A piece like this would last about 10 minutes untouched before being reduced to so much scrap. Let the high-and-mighty Empress try to sort out the guilty party then."
"Right... that's a good idea, Vendi..."
"So, stay here until dark, then cruise over the Bridge, and you're safe."
"What about the guards? I mean, they won't let this car by, will they?"
Vendi pointed at the thick wad of UNA dollars sitting amid a pile of personal gear stripped from the car. "Then use some squeeze, man."
The Mercedes sat in the shadowed confines of a Jersey alley, the deepening darkness more than enough to hide its sleek lines. Inside, Memphis and TJ viewed the world as varying shades of green and white. The low-light filters only worked through the forward windshield, but that was sufficient to give them an excellent view of their immediate surroundings.
The plan was a simple one: wait until it was dark, and then drive the 2028s across Manhattan and into the Zone. There they would abandon the car, and make their escape. The trick was to dump the car somewhere that if would get stripped quickly, without Memphis and TJ getting cut up for parts as well. Memphis, who normally never went near the Zone, wondered if that was even possible. Rumor had it that the streets over there were crawling with psychos, who would gleefully gut anyone they found.
"I wish we could've kept the gun," TJ whined.
Ah yes, the gun. Before letting them leave, Vendi had charged the two "rent." Since he had been willing to put up the Mercedes for about eight hours, he thought it was only fair that he be compensated. Memphis, torn between his desire to make something off of this deal, and not wanting to piss off Vendi, had finally assented. Fortunately, Vendi hadn't taken the cash. Instead, he's helped himself to the pistol (worth eighteen hundred he said), the two pens (each worth about one hundred), the mechanical pencil (fifty) and the two bottles of perfume (five hundred each). Memphis had to wonder about a person who bought pens that cost more than his clothes.
"Shut up," Memphis muttered crossly.
Now, all they had to do was wait. And wait. And wait. Memphis wasn't going to be ready to move until 11:00 or so... and that was still several hours away.
The entrance to the Neo York Zero Law Enforcement Zone bristled with guns. Lots, and lots of guns. You would have thought there was a war on. Actually, that idea wasn't that far off, considering the number of times the bridge had been assaulted by go-gangs of one sort or another. Of course, this being a prime example of evolution in action, the gangs would end up slaughtered by the combined firepower of the NYPD Inc. Eventually, one would think the gangs would learn their lesson, but Memphis figured the go-gangs were like lemmings. Every now and again they'd feel the urge to weed out excess members in an orgy of gunfire and bloodletting.
Sitting in front of the mesh gate that separated Neo York from the Zone, Memphis tried to feel calm. He was only driving the world's most expensive luxury car into a region of pure anarchy, what did he have to be worried about?
"Memphis?" TJ's voice sounded a bit odd. Sighing with the knowledge that some new trouble was about to arrive, Memphis opened his eyes and glanced out the front windscreen.
The NYPD cop standing in the glare of the headlights was short, angry, and redhaired, always a bad combination. Dressed in regulation clamshell vest and helmet, the woman cradled a black, stubby sub-machine gun under one arm, and looked willing to disable to Mercedes though the force of her glare alone. Memphis wondered if he was now doomed to meet one of the few honest cops on the force.
Holding out one arm in the classic "talk-to-the-hand-'cause-the-face-ain't-listenin'" pose, she walked around to the driver's side and rapped on the window.
Taking a deep breath, and putting on his best smile, Memphis hit the button to lower the window. "Yes, officer?"
The cop leaned heavily on the car's windowsill, glaring in at him and TJ. "So, is there a reason why you two are out here?" she asked.
"Just out for a quiet evening drive, officer" Memphis replied. "Nothing to get worried about."
"Awfully odd of you to be going this way in a car like that," the cop stated as she stood up. Memphis caught a glimpse of her name tag as she did. It read "Ozaki." He felt his stomach sink. Officer Ozaki walked around to the front of the car and glared at the license plate. "'Empress,' huh?"
"Yeah..." Memphis replied, thinking fast. "It's, uh, that special to me, you see"
"Uh-huh," Ozaki replied. "So why are you taking it over there?" she said, casually thumbing towards the gate and the Zero Zone that lay beyond.
"Like I said, just out for a drive."
"Sure you are." Ozaki stepped back, and pulled out a small hand-held PDA, calling up a registration check on the car. After a second it came back with the information that the car was registered to one (and the only) Shion Nys. The car wasn't currently listed as stolen, nor was it marked for any special attention. Oh well, can't have everything. She put away the PDA and walked back to the car.
"So let me get this straight. You two are out for a drive into the Neo York Zero Law Enforcement Zone in an incredibly expensive car that probably doesn't belong to you. Now, is there any reason whatsoever why I should believe you rather than just arresting you right here on the spot?" She stood with one hand on her hip, and the other on the butt of her submachinegun, waiting for a response.
Memphis sighed. Her tone of voice indicated that she would happily book the two of them on anything she could think of at the time. Furthermore, if they tried to resist, she looked like she would be more than happy to get a little crazy with the trigger. This just wasn't his night. "TJ, open the glove box and pass the stash over"
"But boss..." started TJ, but Memphis cut him off.
"Just do it."
"Uh, sure." TJ opened the glove box and handed the thick wad of cash to Memphis. After counting out half of the notes, Memphis casually held his arm out the open window.
"I believe this should cover it, officer."
"Do you really believe you can buy off a Neo York Police Officer like that?" Ozaki snapped. "I ought to run you both in for attempted bribery right now!'
"Uhh... sorry about that," Memphis replied and hastily grabbed the rest of the cash. Rolling his eyes and looking away from the window, he blindly held out the thich stack of bills.
"That's much better," Ozaki replied, snatching the money from his grasp. She turned to the officer standing by the mesh gate and signaled to him. The officer nodded and muttered into his radio. With a slight whine, several weapon turrets turned and pointed out into the Zone. After a few seconds, the officer opened the gate.
"Now, get moving before I change my mind and really cause some trouble for you two," the redheaded cop stated angrily. Memphis didn't have to be told twice, and just drove on through.
A minute later, Officer Ozaki was on the phone to the call center.
Alan's night had been getting worse and worse. Despite the number of clowns he was calling in favors from, he hadn't received even as much as a single sighting of the car yet. This meant that the odds of him being able to take the credit (and reward) for it was slipping every minute. Furthermore, there was the ever increasing chance of someone else finding it. If it was Shion, it meant no reward. If it was a cop who wasn't on his scheme, there would be questions asked as to why he hadn't informed the patrols to keep an eye out for it. And to make things worse, it was getting late, and his shift still had hours to go.
Alan's phone rang. He prayed that it would be good news.
"This is Lieutenant Ozaki on the Williamsburg Bridge checkpoint."
Great. Leona Ozaki, possibly the most gung-ho, psychotic and generally insane officer on the force—not to mention corrupt. "What's up?"
"I've just had a sighting of a gray Mercedes 2028s, license plates Echo Mike Papa Romeo Echo Sierra Sierra entering the Zero Zone at the checkpoint. The registered owner is one Shion Nys, but she wasn't driving it at the time. I checked it and it's not listed as being lost or stolen, but I thought I'd call it in anyway."
"Uh, thanks for that, Leona," Alan replied. "I'll check on that, see if anything's come in," he finished, then cut her off.
This was bad. This was very bad. The car was in the Zone. There were very few people in the Zone that he could rely on. Furthermore, once it was there, the odds of it returning intact were very, very slim. Alan could see his reward going up in smoke right before his eyes. He frantically picked up his phone, and dialed Sandra's number.
"Yeah, what do you want?" came the tired and angry-sounding voice on the other end.
"Sandra, it's Alan here," he began. "I've just had a call on the car."
"Oh, really?" she began, her voice dripping with mock enthusiasm. "Been found at the bottom of the river, has it?"
"No," he quickly blurted out. "It was sighted heading into the Zone via the Williamsburg checkpoint."
"Yeah, I'm near there," she lied. "How long ago?"
"About three minutes."
"Thanks," Sandra finished, then cut Alan off. He put down the phone, and breathed a sight of relief. Maybe, just maybe, this would work out after all.
Jack and Bonbon walked down the street happy and confident in their companionship and united in their common goals. Although much of the Zero Zone was littered with trash and rubble, everywhere they looked, they saw only the silvery beginnings of a new kingdom of light, a new age beginning at the humble guiding hand of Wretch.
But every new era had it roots in the blood and energy of change. Wretch said that although some will refuse even to listen to his great plan, many more will listen and take heed. And so some might perish but one day all the rest will hear Wretch and finally understand what it means to stand in the Light.
It had been a fine day for winter, all things considered. The dark night sky was bright with stars and a shining half moon and the temperature hovered around forty degrees. The ragged clothes and ripped leather jacket kept Jack warm enough, while Bonbon appeared cozy and warm in her aged synthetic fur coat. As Master Ting had told them, there were people on this street who were more than willing to listen to Wretch in exchange for a little food and warmth. Jack had sent two up earlier in the day. Certainly the homeless couple weren't in peek condition, nor were they the finest specimen of humanity he'd ever seen, but they were still two more soldiers for the cause to absorb.
Spying a convenient shadowy corner, Jack pointed it out to Bonbon. "Hey, over there. Time for another hit, eh?"
The skinny blonde smiled, "Yeah, baby. All for the Cause, right?"
Jack laughed. Yeah. Sparkle was pretty cool. It made you feel in control, persuasive and as if everyone liked you. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn't, but when you were on it you were in control and you sounded like it no matter what the situation. Coming down from Sparkle was bad. The migraines felt like your brains were bursting like a bubble through your skull so the trick was to never come down. Jack and Bonbon felt being high all their lives would be a pretty good thing, too, if not for the severely disapproving Master Ting. Which is of course why they got their fixes out on the street.
In short order Jack and Bonbon were finishing up and checking to be sure everything was in place. Jack carried an antique semi-automatic pistol but Bonbon carried the heavy weapons, in this case a couple glass bottles of ethanol for quick conversion into molotov cocktails. Some people on the street really didn't want to talk and for the most part, Jack and Bonbon ran from gangs. However, sometimes a struggle was unavoidable and to discourage harassment, they needed to go armed. If there was trouble, they could tell Master Ting and he'd organize punishment for the offenders.
Jack took Bonbon by the hand and led her back into the street after they finished taking Sparkle.
"Hey you know what today is?"
Jack turned to look at his girlfriend. "Nooo..."
"It's our anniversary!"
"It was our anniversary last month, Bonbon." He was pretty sure he remembered that and thanks to Sparkle he seemed supremely confident in saying so.
Bonbon was equally confident. "Yes it was. But today is our FIVE month anniversary!" She grinned up at him and reached up on the tips of her toes.
Grinning back, he foolishly replied, "So it is!" and gave her a warm, if distracted kiss and familiar embrace.
What distracted him was a car slowly picking its way up the street in their direction. Its progress was slow as it maneuvered around a street corner. It was the single most expensive looking object Jack had ever seen in his life.
"What? I'm right here," she said irritably at his shouting.
"It's them! Important ones! Rich ones to join our cause!" His eyes were wild with excitement.
Bonbon turned to look at the car. She'd never seen such a fantastic vehicle before and in her excitement, she seized Jack's arm. "Ooo! A good one, Jacky!"
"Go! Over there. You back me up, I'll get them to stop." He was, of course, supremely confident he could do so in spite of the fact the car was rapidly picking up speed. Such was the power of Sparkle.
Eagerly, she scrambled over a dumpster turned on its side and readied her bottles. Just in case. Meanwhile, Jack crouched beside a smashed, rusted newspaper vendor and waited for the machine to pass near.
The crunching of gravel and dirt beneath the tires of the approaching car spoke of its proximity. Jack leapt out, magnificent in his self-assurance that the car would stop, but he misjudged slightly.
The driver slammed on his breaks, but Jack's appearance was too sudden and the car slid into the tall, frail-looking man. With a bump and a crash, Jack managed to bounce off the bumper, hit the hood with his shoulder, and crack his skull on the windshield as he flew over the car. Probably some rather important internal organs had burst, too, but in the end it didn't make much difference.
Jack hurtled off the back of the car and landed in a broken pile in the street. Blessed shock and perhaps a little of the drugs he was on prevented him from feeling the seriousness of his injury. He screamed his outrage at their impudence and shouted for Bonbon to let them have it. Meanwhile, he unloaded round after round from his pistol into the trunk, rear tires and one rear quarter of the car.
With a wild, whooping screech, Bonbon hurled a flaming cocktail at the car. Her aim was good. It landed square in the center of the windshield and splashed its flammable contents all over the hood and glass. With a whoosh, the whole area burst into flame.
Screaming obscenities, the woman readied another bottle as she saw the doors pop open and the occupants begin to look for a way out on foot. Running toward Jack, she whipped her remaining firebomb at the opening passenger door as she went by. The occupant reversed action and made to follow the driver out his door as a miniature firestorm flowered inside the car.
"Jacky! Jacky!" she cried, reaching him as his gun ran empty. Jack's hand, suddenly too weak to hold the gun, dropped the silenced thing. He barely noticed Bonbon there, holding him up in a sitting position.
"Oh. There it is," he whispered.
"What Jacky? What is it?"
"There's the light," he replied. And then he died.
Memphis came to a gasping halt against a rough brick wall, with TJ right behind him. A block over, what was once a Mercedes 2028s burned brightly, the flames illuminating the street with a harsh clarity. The smoke from the wreck boiled into the sky, forming a column of billowing blackness against the stars.
"Who... who were they?" TJ managed between panting breaths.
"I have no idea." Memphis shook his head, the realization of how lucky the two were to have escaped alive only now sinking in. Standing up straight, he took a moment to glance over his shoulder at the blazing wreckage at the far end of the street. Amazingly enough, the two Moltov-hurling maniacs had actually done them a favor, destroying the rather incriminating evidence of the luxury car without even being asked. Someone up there must have decided it was time for Lady Luck to smile on one Memphis Cage.
Glancing about at the dark and foreboding aspect of the abandoned apartments, rowhouses, and storefronts that made up the Neo York Zero Zone, TJ had a sudden thought. "Memphis? How are we gonna get back home?"
Memphis could swear he could hear Lady Luck laughing.
Like Neo-York proper, the Zone had it's fair deal of automotive chop-shops. Compared to their Neo-York counterparts, many of which were run by professional people who were experts at dismantling, rebuilding and re-birthing cars under new identities, Zone chop-shops were more like automobile abattoirs. Cars that went in to these sorts of places were stripped for what could be used or re-sold, and then left to become so much street debris. Once the Merc got into one of these places, it would be only a matter of time before it, and Sandra's reward, were beyond reclaiming.
Sandra had been taking a tour these quality establishments. She'd figured that if the thief had taken it over into the Zone, he'd want to dump it in such a place as soon as possible, Better to dump it on some poor sap and let them get hit with the Wrath of God than having it happen to you.
Sandra had heard of Shion. She knew enough about her to know that whoever took that car was dead. Extra dead. Extra crispy flat dead with a side order of dead. She didn't want to be that person. She didn't want to be near him when it happened.
The tip-off Alan had given her on the car entering the Zone was perfect. There was a chop shop not too far from there. Bob's was one of these quality establishments. There was nothing to recommend it over any other one of these automobile abattoirs. The people there would take the car, reduce it to parts, and give you a piddling amount of cash in return, if you were lucky. If you were unlucky, the car wasn't the only thing that got dismantled.
Besides, it was on the way to 93 Underground. And a nice plan had formed in the back of her head. She would recover the car, then personally hand it over to Shion, rather than handing it over to Alan. (Oh, sure it would piss Alan off to no end but that was the fun part.) After that, she'd blow a portion of reward on some drink and having a good time. Fun.
Arriving at the garage put her back into reality. The building was unimpressive; a run-down garage with a tattered sign advertising itself. Even at this time of night, the garage was noisy. Loud, senseless musing thrummed out from the garage, barely masking the sounds of a car being dismantled very messily.
"That better not be mine" she muttered to herself. If the car was already going under the chainsaw, it was worthless to her. She paused for a minute by the door, and pulled out her submachine gun. She didn't have enough cash on her to buy the car off whoever was inside, so force would have to do.
Unfortunately, there was someone else pounding along the pavement towards the same garage. Sandra ducked around the corner, deciding to wait and see what happened. After a few seconds, a youth with a blond crew-cut carrying a large amount of beer rounded the corner then ducked into the garage. Sandra leaned a little closer to the door, trying to get an idea of what was going on before throwing herself bodily into the fra. Besides, she wanted to know if her car was in there. It sounded like someone inside the place was trying to have a conversation over the sound of the music. "Please let this not be about divvying the car" she muttered as she listened closer.
"Sweet Jesus, Elroy, what took ya?" The man inside the shop shouted, pausing to get up from his chainsawing.
"Sorry bout that, cuz," he replied. "I got held up by a fight in progress a littleways over"
"Fight?" the guy asked. "What about?"
"Couple o' druggies decided to pick a fight with a Merc." He paused and whistled. "Real shame. Was a nice looking car too. I reckon we coulda made a couple of bucks offa her."
A Mercedes. In the Zone. It had to be her car. And now it was in a fight. Tool.
Quickly figuring where the kind could have come from, Sandra figured out an approximate route, and then ran like the wind.
Sandra examined the car, or more to the point, what was left of it. It would have taken someone with a fine eye for detail to recognize it for the particular make and model. It would have taken a smart person to recognize it as having once been a car. Lying on the ground in front of her was a small, twisted, rectangular metal plate. Curious as to what it was, Sandra picked it up and flipped it over. It was a license plate. Despite the damage, it the name on it could be made out. "Empress."
"Figures." She said to herself. "Well, not much for it now. Might as well let ferret features know."
"Lieutenant Davies Speaking," Alan began, tired and weary.
"Hey, it's me," Sandra replied.
"Sandra. Hi. How good to hear from you," he responded, sounding strangely nervous and forcibly cheery.
"I, er, found the car."
"Well, that's good," he replied before she could continue. "So could you do me a really, really big favor now and just drive it on up to the checkpoint. I know a few people there and they could pick it up for me and I'm sure there'll be no trouble beyond that." He rambled on, relief evident in his voice. "Thanks for that, by the way."
"Er, Alan? It's going to be a bit hard for me to drive it there."
"Is it out of gas? Okay, that's a problem. Er..."
Sandra cut him of. "It's not out of gas. It's a twisted burnt out wreck that looks like impressionist sculpture on acid. It ain't no car no more."
"Ah." Alan replied. "I see."
"Yeah." Sandra added. "It's, ah, kinda... destroyed. Yeah, destroyed is probably the world you're looking for. Definitely destroyed."
"So I guess you'll just have to tell the owner that you couldn't find it. Sorry about that." Sandra hung up before Alan could say anything else. He nervously put down the phone.
"Okay, this isn't too bad. Don't panic here, Alan. You can handle this. It's merely a minor setback." He tried to reassure himself while gulping down a glass of water. "It's all... perfectly under control. Perfectly."
Then the phone rang.
Alan looked at the phone, like it meant his death. Gingerly, he picked it up. "Neo York Police Department Incorporated, this is Lieutenant Alan Davies speaking."
"Where's my car?" came the cold female voice on the other end.
Alan was a long time answering.
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