I leaned back at my private terminal -- the one on the nice granite-top desk in the two-bedroom, two-bathroom crib in the nondescript Raven City burbclave -- and rubbed my eyes. Since when did 1900 hours feel so late? Just a few hours ago my Valkyrie left in her concrete-gray EconoCar, and I'd pissed away what was left of the daylight reading old technical manuals and counting down the hours until lights out.
With exaggerated grumbling I reached over to my PDA and punched up tomorrow's schedule. I hated that thing. Haptic feedback, my ass. Turned out, just a few morning meetings and a couple of afternoon yaks with department heads over at the office.
When you do enough gigs for corporate Johnsons, prove yourself reliable and have a head for team building and making sure your fellow runners turn enough milk-runs-gone-sour into bona fide victories, eventually they make you an offer. Legit SIN. Steady paycheck. Cushy desk and at least a little peace of mind to assure you that some KE HTR team isn't going to kick in your door for past indiscretions in the dead of night. You sell your cred and become one of the wage-slaves so you can go to bed at a reasonable hour and eat donuts that ain't the tiny stale powdered ones you get at the register of a Stuffer Shack.
Even drove a Hyundai Shin-Hyung that hadn't blown up when I put a couple miles on it. No bullet holes either. Paid off in full with a good chunk of nuyen left over in the bank. Actual nuyen too, they didn't pay in useless-outside-the-compound corporate scrip.
Not bad for a trog -- I still heard them say it behind my back -- but it was a far cry from the old days.
"Frag it," I said to the desk. It was, predictably, stone-silent. My fingers raced over the keys. It had been years, but I remembered how to get where I needed to go, around all the packet sniffers and guardian ice of the local grid. It was second nature to slip back into it all; the hard way, decks and chrome, not all that AR drek the greenhorns loved to use out Seattle-way. Infrastructure was garbage out here anyway, wouldn't support it. You can put glitter on a turd and you've still just got shiny shit.
Shadowlands still ran, in one form or another. Two Matrix crashes and a conversion to full wireless meant the hardware was a bit more... distributed? But like the man says, you can't kill an idea, and so long as old chummers needed a place to congregate, it'd be there. Waiting in the dark corners of the information superhighway like a seedy truck stop whose exit you always remembered.
Unbelievably, my credentials still worked. I half-wondered if I'd been zorched off the face of the SINless world after I went upstream. I even had a few unread PMs from now-deleted accounts. Drek. Drek. More drek. Old job offers from piss-poor fixers who couldn't set a runner up with a gig that wouldn't have KE all over the place. They all wanted me to put together a team, but the nuyen was never good enough for the stress.
Of course, now I was the fixer -- at least on the corp level. Was always good at it, no matter how much I hated doing it. Packed on a few pounds and an anxiety disorder in the process, though.
I skimmed some of the postings, saw a bunch of names I didn't recognize. New blood. A couple cowboys, at least from the way they'd posted, but give them any static and they'd show themselves to be the deckhead that everyone knew they were.
PDA chimed. New mail from the burbclave keeb. Rent going up again. No surprise there. I put it down and returned my attention to the monitor. The fragging monitor! Glowing green and white text on a tapestry flickering just a shade too fast for my chromed eyes to pick up each frame. No one did it this way since my old man's time, and even then it was getting out of date.
I punched up a search for some familiar names. BStOD was offline for a few years. My forehead wrinkled and I ran the tip of my tongue over my right tusk in thought, but then memory chimed in to remind me -- got a passel of kids at this point and does freelance. M0nk3yk1ng was likewise indisposed, though he graduated to be corporate fixer for a nice relaxed AA.
Oh hey, ZDrusche was online. We'd met for soykaf a few nights ago, didn't know he still frequented Shadowlands. His icon had the cheery yellow star under his name to denote "friends" status.
My headset let out a soft, musical chime. Private message, and it wasn't him. I hadn't been on more than a few minutes and someone already spotted me.
I opened it. And I tell you, chip truth, I did not expect my heart to skip the few beats it did.
Just one single word whose familiarity hit me like dumpshock. No one called me that in years.
That anxiety disorder kicked in, but I wrestled it down like Saint George going WWE with a wizworm. I carefully formulated my reply as not to seem eager, taking very attentive note of the user avatar -- a curled, winged serpent in the shape of an ampersand. Unoriginal, since that was already in use by a corp, but it got the intent of the incoming request across.
>Maybe. Who's asking?
A pause. Ellipses appeared and pulsed while I waited for the reply.
I waited, drumming my fingers anxiously across the deck, but not hard enough to accidentally start a reply.
The ellipses faded. The user logged off.
"Figures." I killed the connection and slid back from the terminal in my nice plush rolling chair. Corporate comfort. I hated it.
Daylight was long gone. I trudged into the bedroom, technical manuals in hand. It wasn't high literature, but it made me tired enough to want to sleep till the Seventh World.