The snow in Seoul never came down white anymore. At least it never seemed that way to Rockstar. As soon as it hit the permacrete it was gray at best, a slurry of trash and oily runoff more often. Same as anything else in the sprawl. That included him. New Jersey had been so much easier, he thought to himself. He was retired, living off the royalties of those Nanopaste commercials and an Urbanbrawl pension. Sure, the Shore had the filthiest water in the world, but some people managed to stay clean. Here? Here, everybody had a price.

‘Cept his team of course.

He flicked the burning nic-stic into the alley and watched the cherry tumble end over end. The sparks danced and skittered like willy pete, putting crazy shadows onto the night. One of Pixie’s fly-spies made a whirring noise as its camera tracked the sudden movement.

Let’s be chilly, HOA,” he heard Pixie’s voice in his comm, using his old nickname “We’re on schedule.

Actually they weren’t. He had checked his internal chronometer almost every minute. Nana and Glossy were about ten clicks late, but Pixie always tried to look on the bright side. The waver in the voice gave her away. Maybe it was just the bad connection.

After the DOS incident they had gotten the gang back together. He had remembered the excitement, the adrenaline, of running the shadows. He had forgotten – intentionally – the real emotion of the work. Worry. So often it was a waiting game. Each ‘run a dance on margins so thin it was like tightrope-walking monowire. You rarely got out entirely whole.

The weight of his Ingram Smartgun sling always seemed greater when he was stuck on overwatch. He gripped the plasteel stock with his cyberhand for comfort. A skittering sound broke his thoughts, and he wheeled to find the source.

A line of rope trailed from the building above, as a lithe figure slid down with preternatural grace. As she landed, she hefted a satchel at her side and nodded to Rockstar.

“Got it,” Nana said. It came as an echo to the Orc as he heard it both from her and the commlink. “Glossy should be coming out the front door now.”

I have him in sight,” Pixie chirped in his ear, and now Rockstar did too as another drone’s image link beamed the scene from around the corner into his cybereyes. Glossy nodded to the camera – he had gone in without comms, a necessity on this job – and began to walk purposefully down the street.

Ok, that’s a clean ‘run everyone.” Rockstar exhaled, “Let’s hit the meet point and figure out what we’ve got.

888888888888888888888888888

The safe house was an empty third floor commercial birthing down one of the narrow side streets of the Gangnam Barrens. The innards were empty, the windows covered in black tarp. The metal framing bars of missing dividing walls stuck out of the floor in odd places. A few trid-displays, Pixie’s tools, and the remnants of an earlier meal were scattered.

“Guys, can’t we keep things organized?” Glossy said, as the others filtered inside. Pixie sat on the floor with one of her drones, while Rockstar and Nana fell into a sofa that was six inches higher on one side. Dust spewed into the air. Nana choked; Rockstar tried to play it cool.

“I’ve something for you!” Rockstar said, extending his middle finger toward the tall elf. They both laughed.

“Alright, Nana. Bring it out here.” Glossy bobbed his head at the satchel she carried.

Nana unhinged the top strap and slid a narrow cyberdeck from inside. It was an old Renraku Kraftwerk. The chrome highlights had worn off in places, leaving a patchy patina. “Pixie, you have a display?” They wired it in and Nana clicked the ‘deck on.

“I uploaded the file per the instructions, everything is good on that end. What I downloaded… Well…”

“What’s up?” Pixie asked.

“Well it wasn’t very large. No more than a few megapulses. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s image or even text-based.”

“I thought we were looking for a program.” Rockstar said. His voice was a storm in the distance. They all knew that when the mission suddenly changed, the hammer could come down at any time. It was added reason to be on edge.

“Alright, here goes.” She clipped the datajack into the socket near the base of her neck and took control, bringing the file in question onto the screen as a 3D digital representation. It took no time to access. “It’s definitely text,” she mumbled, her eyes closed in concentration.

On the trideo the team could see a long string of letters appear. They silently tried to read through it, as beneath them the noraebang patrons on the second floor belted out the latest Concrete Dreams single in a muffled falsetto.

“Looks encrypted,” Pixie said.

“Yeah,” Nana bobbed her head, “One second.”

The text began to scramble and jumble about the virtual page until rearranging in a familiar pattern.
“Guess it is a program,” they could hear the sigh in Rockstar’s voice, “That’s old programming code. Pre-Matrix stuff.”

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