Art: Written Word

The Encryptor Encounter

A Dark figure walks into the chatsubo. Either a new face or an old lurker, hard to tell, for sure. Walks over to Ratz, the so-called Monkey Doctor is leaning against the bar, watching a fight on the other side of the room. Small arms, nothing to worry about, not for here. Quietly the figure orders a drink. He is big, like real big, lot of muscle, close cropped black hair only a shade darker than the skin.

Ratz eyes him suspiciously, but delivers the Vodka. Currency is passed, all is normal. He lays a hand on the Monkey Doctors' shoulder. Quickly there is muzzle in his face. No blink. No twitch. Deep laugh.

"Been some time, Monkey Man." The gun slides back in to the MD's coat.

"How did you find me?" The MD was having trouble.

"Same as always. A little instinct, and a little help from the F.B.I."

He knew it was a risk admitting government status in here, but he could handle what hung around in here. He turned so his back was against the bar and spoke to all. "I ain't taking anyone in today. Only one set of cuffs and too many arrests to be made. There's no good hiding behind those generators of yours either, Mr.?, you is to be busted." The vodka went back. He walked out the bar, to the sort of places where ChibiSats and Pika-Mines were just toys.

Encrypter:
Will be taking you all in.

The daemoness laughed quietly to herself. Ironic, a mortal deciding what were toys and what weren't. She went back to drawing cute pictures of herself (she's very vain). Most of them were meant for the Heretic, but at least one was for the ghost that was floating around.

She took a long sip of her caffe mocha. "ChibiSats are toys, indeed. Heh! Funny man, wish he'd come back instead of acting like a Neanderthal, waving a gun around like it was going out of style and being a pompous ass."

The Lizard looked up from its game of Solitaire at the daemoness. She almost never talked to herself. Lids closing until its eyes were but two black streaks in its head, the Lizard wondered what was going on in her life.

> Encrypter:
> Will be taking you all in.

The Hell you will, Chuckles.

But the Encrypter didn't get far. A Shadow stepped out and slid a knife in then twisted. The Nanite blade snapped off into the victim as it was designed to do and began to disolve into the agent's blood stream.

"No, Mr. Encrypter. I don't believe *you* will be taking anyone in. Sorry to have ruined your GE-DuPont certified Combat Armour. I don't believe you realize how much I dislike alleged Government provided benefits and I like their accomodations even less.

The individual involved staggered and grabbed at their back and their hand came away bloodied.

"Wha... What have you done?"

"A simple nanite device. A DNA dis-assembler combined with a neural system control program. You are dead. You will not return to the Chatsubo. Oh, I know, we'll see your clone but not you. Your associates will not find you. The prefecture police will find an unidentifiable lump of human protoplasm but - you - will disappear. Eventually, they will figure it out I am sure."

"W-Why? Why would you do this?"

"It is very simple. Your kind of government, whoever it is, is repugnant to me. Your Facist arrogance is distasteful. Oh and one more thing before you go. No government or unknown poseur will be taking me anywhere. Threats will get you nothing. I have nothing to lose in dying. Can your associates say the same?"

"Are you mad? How will you prevent us?"

"I have a way of dealing with it. By the way, welcome to the Chatsubo."

The Heretic carefully observed the actions between Troubs and Encrypter, gun in hand, safety off. He'd picked up an MP5/10mm with the two shot and full burst trigger set, integral laser sight and xenon flashlight. Very bright, lights up the world kinda bright. The rounds were very nice for making a mess out of an opponent. Or gang. Whatever.

Since Troubs felt so strongly about this Fed, he wondered what his reaction to The Heretic working in the Govt, admittedly local govt, but he was still The Man, so to speak. The G36 loaded with a snail clip of DU sabots in his duffel might disturb him as well. Gov't guns, govt issue GPS. Govt Database access. The Heretic was totally disinterested in pestering local criminal elements, even the alleged incidents of Moose Fondling which the Chiba Animal Control was investigating. None of it was relevant to him.

Having just read up on the latest insanity from FL courtrooms and the potential for crazy lawsuits which will drag out the election for years to come, not just weeks or months, the calm and good cheer evaporated like morning dew. Finger Of Doom started quivering again and he resisted the urge to predict the outcome. He wanted Shrub to win so this could be over and his taxes wouldn't go up anymore. But his Heretic-Sense told him Bohr wasn't done irritating the public like a bad case of poison ivy. He sincerely wished he could prove he wasn't related to that halfwit. Records being what they are though, that was tough.

"Denalli?" the Heretic called to his Gurkha porter, man-at-arms, and general Back Watcher. "Fetch us both some glasses and my bottle of Becker from Ratz. Time to talk of monasteries, mountaintops, sealing wax and strings, donkey teeth and diamond rings."

"Sounds like you've had enough, boss," he replied somewhat sarcastically, nodding to the Toaster still keeping watch somewhat bored at the inanity of the Chatsubo. It was using fields to turn the pages of Heretic's manuscript from Sunset and repressing yawns, a good trick for a device with no external moving parts.

"Says you. Bring the booze. Bohr could still win and revolution take over the world. I don't wanna think about that. Booze is what's called for."

"Look on the bright side, boss. At least the stock market is up."

"Not for long. Its not over till Bohr quits." Denalli, nicknamed for a mountain on another continent from his home in Nepal, nodded finally, tucking his SMG closer to his body as he threaded through the crowd to the bar and returned as ordered with the procured goods. The Heretic poured them both shots of the liquer and much was said between them. Eventually Troubs sat down and joined them. Much was said but all were resolved to remain friends whatever the outcome of those crazy politics. It wasn't their business. They had better things to do. Heretic had novels to write. Troubs had music to play. Denalli had mountains to climb, the only thing that he could call a hobby since leaving Nepal.

"S' whas ur real name, D'nalli?" asked Troubs drunkenly.

"You can't pronounce it. My language is too complicated. Nine tones of inflection. English is atonal, no comparison. Four of the mispronunciations are insults in my language and I've killed men for less."

"Thaz right," said The Heretic. "hiz names *unpronounceable syllables at special timing*." The bar went silent as everyone stared at first The Heretic, then his hired mercenary. The Heretic was bleary. Troubs eye's were bugged out. Denalli looked surprised and a little wounded.

"Wha?" blurred The Heretic, before belching crudely. A cloud of flies circling overhead dropped to the table, dead.

"You said my name... right," murmured Denalli in amazement.

"Yesh, sho?"

"But you're drunk!" he complained.

"Yesh, sho? Whas ur point?"

"How can you do that!" Denalli demanded, confused and a little angry.

"Oh, that. Well, I talked to your anshesturs. They're verree good language coaches." Denalli looked even more amazed.

"No wonder the elders call you 'Sacred Yak Pee Mountain Spring'."

"Whaa?! They called me *unpronounceable syllable string*. Said it was an honorable name."

"Depends on the context," he said, smirking. "Besides, our elders have quite a sense of humor."

"I bleve you, fren. C'mon. Have nother drink. Thish shtuff ain't makin no more. Drink up. Yak Pee from here on out."

Denalli smiled finally and the bar relaxed. Another gunfight averted due to proper pronunciation and high states of inebriation. It was the weekend, revolution was delayed a little longer, and there were things to do. It could be worse.

Ghost watched exchange and smiled, someone touched a nerve in TrueBudoir. "The problem with poseurs and newbies is that most of 'em think they can pop us off with force. What they don't realize is that the ones that have been around a while, well, they're immortal. Sure they may go away, but when they want to."

He went back to drinking Dr. Pepper and attempting to find a CD to listen to, the child Simulacra pointed to one of the disks and continued to disassemble the recent additions bank account with a heavilyy modified Game Boy.

"Chibi Sats are not toys!" She remarked inginantly as Troubador's bank account grew a little in repayment for the intervention - payments coming from the recently deceased.

Rune listened with half an ear to the Encrypter's talk with MD. The last time the 'chat had government agents in it, things had gotten pretty nasty. What had that guy's name been? Black? This new one seemed intent on taking them all downtown. Hrmf. Rune wasn't even a criminal, but a legitimate tech consultant (though the people he worked for would never win the key to the city). Well, he wasn't going anywhere.

Sitting by the door at a well-lit table, Rune dribbled a few more droplets into a medium sized bottle, took a whiff, nodded. Carefully slipping his Lil' Anarchist Chemistry Set back into his backpack, he screwed the lid onto the bottle, shook it well, and stood up, glancing over to see the Troubadour taking a stab at the agent, quite literally.

As the Encrypter slumped to the floor, Rune walked over. The other was a mess, bleeding a little and already sweating from his nanite infection. Rune wondered which would do him in. Neither looked pleasant. He squatted down beside the Encrypter, looking him over.

"I want you to know, I'm not, by nature, a violent man, " Rune shook his head sorowfully, opening the spout on his newly filled squeeze bottle.

"Wha-," the Encrypter struggled for breath, "What is that?" In answer, Rune sprayed him down liberally with the clear liquid, careful not to get any on himself.

"Aw, Jesus, it stinks, " Encrypter wheezed, struggling to get away.

"Well, sure, to you and me it stinks," Rune answered, standing up and tossing the empty bottle, "But to Bullwinkle over there it smells like Spanish Fly."

As Rune walked away, the Encrypter spotted the quarter-ton of Moose standing in the shadows. It looked surprisingly...ah, happy to see him.

"UUURRRRRUUUUUUUPP!!"

"Like I said, Nothing Personal" Rune repeated and then wandered over to refill his drink.

As he walked back to the Chatsubo, he thought about what he had just done. On the spur of the moment, yet with malice and forethought, he had terminated an agent of someone's "lawful" government.

He thought of a time long ago when he had surrendered himself presupposing that Justice would be served to all those involved. It had served no one except itself. It neither noticed when he died nor cared when he was reborn. It had laughed at him as it chained him to a certain way of living.

The System neither gave foregivness nor cared that he had completed his term of servitude. Once it had revoked rights of citizenship, those rights were forever abridged.

They had started in a small way called post-sentence regulations. Eventually it was applied to anyone found to have violated any law, major or minor. Post sentence regulation was determined to be the way to deny rights and benefits of citizenship while requiring the continued servitude to pay for the rights and benefits of others and still not violate "due process."

He knew they knew where he was at all times. He knew they checked on him every so often. He also knew they would never again be given the opportunity to sit in arbitrary judgement of him or any of his actions.

No matter what they tried they would not be fast enough, if push came to shove. He had nothing to lose. His life these last years had been nothing but the result of expedience and pragmatism.

He thought again about the smug arrogance of the decedent. He sadly shook his head. He had felt only pity that such a thoughtless and heartless being might exist.

Troubadour noticed that the door defensive systems had been activated again. Charlie recognised him and allowed him to enter. He headed over to the bar tossing a credi-bit chit at one of Lonny's girls, the silent dark-eyed, sad one. And headed over to the bar.

"I see you've set Charlie on stun."

"Ja, mein Herr. Ve don't like visitors that von't follow local customs."

"Any idea who they used to worked for?"

Ratz noticed the use of past tense without comment and replied, "Only that he might have been affilated with His Majesty's government in exile or one of it's corporate colonial affiliates."

"MD needs to be more selective of his friends I guess."

He turned to see Heretic waving for him to come over.

"Thanks." He said as he sat down.

"For what?" Replied the Heretic.

"For backing my play. I am already aware of your government status but unlike a recent visitor you don't try to impress patrons with unjustified arrogance."

"Why'd you do it, Troubs? We normally don't kill 'em the first time around, well, except maybe for the tropical trees..."

"Effect and Education. He'll be a little more circumspect the next time he shows up and maybe show a little sympathy and taste. He learn to use all his well learned politess and we'll still lay his soul to waste." Troubs laughed.

"You know they will be back for you."

"Pro'lly. But then I have five or six aces planted here or there. Maybe time for me to reincarnate."

"You interested in a drink?"

"Thought you'd never ask."

Encrypter walked back into the bar. Charlie tried to stun, but unspecified disruptor armour blocked the effect. He looked down at his dead self. Messy, and violated by a moose. He hoped he'd come off better this time.

"Troubadour. You are now wanted for termination of an agent. Pity, you had Clean Sheet. No bust required." Encrypter shrugged. "But that's life." Troubs gaped open mouthed at the hulking figure.

"I just killed you...?" He'd used his last blade too. A few rounds suddenly hit Encrypter in the back. He span round.

"For fucks sake, if you're going to shoot me use DUP shells. They might get through this armour. Might." He bent down and scooped up the dead Encrypters equipment, the liquified body dripping out of it. "I'm just collecting the equipment. I'd really recommend not killing me, i'm a continuous personality clone. I am Legion. You'll just rack up the charges." He was making his way out when a lurker jumped him. There was a brief scuffle and a few rounds fired, then the lurker was in cuffs. "Thanks for upping my bonus. Be seeing you all."

"How many chances do you get for a First Impression?" called out The Heretic quietly. "And when do you get the idea you've blown yours. The only graceful extraction from the position you've put yourself in is submission of a high quality fiction work and some self deprecating humor. Even the hardasses do that here.

Someone put a round into Encrypter's back to let him know how the hardasses felt about this approach to meeting people. Superiority in the chatsubo is determined by talent, and in a fiction group, that means actual writings. Barring writing talent that means poetry, music, or general charm. The patrons had various amounts of all of the above. Encrypter lacked all of the above, so far. He grunted from the impact, but showed no sign of dying, as to be expected wearing class V armor. It was damned heavy, and showed a real weakness for .50 Browning, and HEAT rounds. Of course, it didn't cover the whole body, its main weakness.

The Heretic shot Encrypter in the ankle with a tungsten jacketed DU sabot, dropping him unceremoniously on his butt in the middle of the floor with a squeak. As he nursed his wound with bloodstained fingers, The Heretic lectured him on social propriety in public places, etiquette, and general charm. "In future, keep in mind that taunting the patrons only encourages their worst natures. I can get away with having no charm because I am one of the oldest members of the bar, for patronage, I have a great deal of written material, and I have a good sense of humor when I'm not ranting about stuff that pisses me off. I had to establish myself first before I was accepted here, years and years ago. And I pissed off the patrons a great deal in the process. I got a lot of flack for being a pain in the ass too, but I still had my talent and that won them over eventually." Encrypter looked up at him, thinking murderous thoughts and scheming.

"And before you go bringing in powered armor, keep in mind that I have a toaster, a moose, and a Gurkha. The others have Chibisats and Pikamines, and have been known to use them."

"A... toaster? Are you crazy?" asked the Encrypter, pain in his ankle forgotten by amazement at such a statement. It was to be expected.

"Its a Mark 40 Class 6 Culture Drone. And its very sarcastic. And armed. You aren't equipped to deal with that kind of firepower. And I'm fairly certain there's some 66's over in that corner back there, and I KNOW you don't want to piss them off. In the Dick Waving contest you've already lost. You'll have to try diplomacy next, else experience the KillFile and be ignored in every post you make. I'm sure you don't want to be ignored. You wouldn't have this attitude, 14 yo by the sound of it, if you wanted people to ignore you. You want attention. You're getting all you're going to get from me until such time as you provide proof of either Talent or Charm. Charm is showing up rather low right now. So better come through with Talent."

> "Thanks for the advice. Be seeing you all."
> He limped out, dragging the sticky equipment harness with him.
> A waiting ambulance loaded him onto a stretcher and took him back
> to some infirmiry at FedGov or RandCorp or wherever he came from.

The Chatsubo patrons knew he would be back. They hadn't publically humiliated anyone in a good long time and wondered if that point would have to be made again. At times, The Heretic really missed Eibwen's approach to trolls. Guy had real style. He nodded to Demo, thinking much the same thing.

The MD looked at the departing figure. "Typical GovCorpShit." He said to no-one in particular, then returned to the tall glass of milk that was helping clear his hangover.

"He seems to know you Doktor." Ratz stated. The MD shrugged.

"I've been chased and hunted by so many agencies they all blur. Besides, these continuous personalities keep changing bodies. Encrypter seems to have a fixed form, but I could well have met it in some other shape." He jumped down from his stool and pulled out the GridLock. He zipped out through Charlie. A few shots were heard. Then the MD returned, cellphone in hand. "Yeah, fetch the body, see if we can trace." He sat at the bar again. "You sure this isn't moose milk?"

"Doktor, I promise this is cows milk. Perhaps der glass is clean?" He waited for a reply, but got none. "Should you not have shot that fellow?"

"Doesn't matter. Whatever he wants me for will lead to my termination. It's a bit like shouting Jehovah. Besides, with his body I might be able to pull a trace on the source and put a halt to the continuum." He looked at the milk again. "Oh, just get me a beer. A bottled one." He took it, and swung off the stool and disappeared into Mr?'s darkened booth. It didn't light up this time.

There was the sound of a click and one of the new iDark mark IV Darkness generators shut down its field. Heretic turned and looked over at Troubadour as if asking a question.

"The idiot thought he was talking to me. Shows he's not very smart and his alleged 'all seeing sensors' are less than all seeing.Were you impressed with his second appearance?"

"No. but it is typical."

"Poor fellow is daft. Clean record? Did you hear that Heretic? Guy's an' idiot! He's not government that is for sure. "

"Calm down Troub. No need to waste effort or ammunition over him."

"Friggin' Amateur." Troubadour fumed.

"Yep, and after his kind, a fool as well."

"Guess, I need to get the deck properly stacked." Troub opened his WinHaqPaq and keyed some numbers and some numbers and alpha characterswere return for his perusal. "He's definitely a Brit. But given the info that shows up, he's on the Corp. side of the fence rather than the Government side."

"Really?"

"a moment... and now for my cards." Troubadour watched numbers scroll across the screen. "That's what I figure after reviewing the data little Terry got with her game boy."

Heretic looked at the old fashioned LCD deck Troubadour was using and shook his head. "Why don't you go out and get a real deck?"

Troub looked at Heretic. "Hell I'm a failed musician a new deck would wip me out for the next three years. Can't do that and eat too."

Troubadour scratched his bearded chin." You know our visitor had no real reason to come back except to attempt to impress us with his invicibility. Duh!"

Heretic nodded. "He didn't need to return for the equipment. Just a hired johnny wanting to prove he was bigger 'n badder."

"Maybe he should have talked to the moose about that."

Heretic laughed.

Troubadour tapped a few keys. He frowned. He looked over at MD and then in the direction of the obscurity of the other new arrival. He tapped another key. No B. Russell And Russell B were not the same... tho' Mr. Russell B did have a queer sense of humor.

He frowned again.

"Heretic. This looks to be a setup. Our corporate bounty hunter has some clever friends. There was something we missed."

"Well, I guess, we'll just wait and see what it is."

"I suppose so." Troubadour smiled a tight smile. The dark, sad eyed girl caught his eye. Her eyes conveyed a kind of urgency what words could not. She smiled a small smile. Pretty.

" 'Cuse me Heretic, there's a young lady over there who need some of this ol' geezer's attention."

"I didn't think you were that kind of guy."

"I'm not. shut up and play along."

The Heretic looked at the Troubadour. He nodded. "Later."

Troubadour stood and walked to one of the empty booths in the back. She met him with drinks and a soft kiss. They sat down and the darkness generator flickered on. The sound of laughter and later Chiba City Fugue or not. Never could tell what was live or recorded with the kind of acoustics the multi-cornered Chasubo presented. Somethings are better not to know.

A swarm of Chibisats followed MD out of the bar, followed by a few Pikamines. When the air cleared Terry was standing there with the cookie jar.

"How did you?" Ghost looked mildly confused at his spoiled defensive array.

"I'm cute." She smirked and walked over to Troubs darkened corner, to offer up a cookie.

Satisfied he got one she skipped over to the bar and climbed up onto one of the stools, Ratz placed a glass of milk in front of her.

"What? No Bourbon?" She remarked.

Ratz gave her a disapproving look, "I think this goes better with cookies, ja?"

She shrugged and placed the cookie jar between her and Ratz, who joined her with his own glass of milk.

Questioning looks from around the bar made it clear that everyone thought this strange.

"It is important to never forget your inner child." Ratz said with an air of authority, "Besides, cookies and milk are a hard combination to beat."

Ghost simply looked out the door and down the street, "Where did you send those Chibisats?"

"Kansas."

NORAD Tracking Center, Undisclosed Location:

"Uh, sir? There appears to be a cloud of low flying satellites on approach to Wichita. Activate the killsats? Sir?"

"Nah, happens all the time."

The new Encrypter smiled, watching the scene from a hijacked Chibi-Sat. Wondered if Troubadour really knew, or just had suspicions. He spun the chair round back to look over the growth vats. He'd got through two incarnations a lot quicker than he had expected, but there were plenty of spares. The MD trashing his 2nd incarnation was unexpected, but he'd find nothing. Plenty more bodies where this one came from.

The suggestion that he was Corp rather than Gov. was all too astute, and he was beginning to realise that this crew were a little sharper than he was used to. And he was used to the best. Still, infinite lives help in learning from mistakes. The vidphone rang.

"Encrypter." He was faced witha black screen and a grey ID code. "Oh, Hi boss."

"Success?" The voice was scrambled.

"I've located a regular nest. Big prizes, but two incarns down. The MD is in there, and the tek trader Mr.?" There was a pause.

"Good work. Try not to waste too many bodies." The call disconnected. Fat chance of that, none of these boys would come easy.

"Heretic?"

Heretic looked up to see Troubs standing with a rather perturbed look on his face. "Sit down, Troubs. Why the look?"

"The Girl." He replied after he sat down. He waved for a DunklerGeist Draft and continued. " You know the girl I'm speaking of."

"The Dark Eyed One? Don't you know better than to fool around with a girl like that at your age?"

"It wasn't like that at all. Wish it were. She gave me some information that puts a different light on recent events."

"What? How so?"

"Here take a look at this..." Troubadour clicked his WinHaqPaq on and numbers and alphascript flickered across the old LCD screen.

"I see. That *does* put a different light on things."

The woman in the business suit sat at a table tapping at her clipboard with a stylus, occasionally looking up, occasionally scowling, finally smiling. She stood and walked over to the child construct.

" Terry, just how many Chibi-Sats are around the area?"

" Couple million, maybe billion." She shrugged.

" Ummmm...."

" I fed the SanRio machine a cookie."

" Oh. Do me favor, have them do this..." She showed the child the clipboard.

" That's just mean." She said and skipped off into the alley. A few muggers watched the child skip down the dirty side street and looked as if ready to strike. The thought occured to them that little girls skipping down dark alleys at night, alone, knew something they didn't and quickly switched alleys. A few seconds later a swarm of locusts for the digital age flew out of the alley with a look of determination about them.

Inside the bar Natalia was making her way to each of the patrons, disappearing into Mr. ?'s darkened both one moment, talking to the Heretic the next, whispering in hushed tones to the Daemoness, smiling warmly over a joke with Troubador, and on through the crowd. This much activity made a few patrons nervous, they slipped out the front door. Charlie was letting things out, letting things in was another matter. The collection of stunned bodies on the stoop was accumulating.

The daemoness slouched in her chair, watching the bar patrons with dreamy eyes. There was a candy tin laying open on the table in front of her, tarry balls of raw opium barely concealed by the thin wrapping paper inside. She watched, dazedly, as grumpy looking trees phased into view, replacing the walls. Even more interesting was when Ratz would reach up into the branches overhead and pull down an apple, set it down on the bar and pour booze over it. The daemoness giggled at the sight.

Most interesting of all, however, was when she saw MD slip into Mr. ?'s Dark Corner. No light came on. What was he up to? she thought bubbily (and indeed, small bubbles rose over her head, each one filled with a word). All the prismatic spheres popped however as she watched with marked interest a horrid looking creature dragging a dead body across the floor. It was squat and grey with wings and a bellboy's hat on. What an ugly-looking monkey!, she bubbled at it. The creature snarled back then continued to drag its gruesome prize out the door.

An uncharacteristic hush settled over the chatsubo. Some patrons got up and left. The daemoness watched bright red poppies grow from the candy tin, occasionally looking up to watch as others around her would get up to talk to other folks in quiet tones, then shuffle around to other tables. It was like watching a twisted game of Red Rover. She stuck the end of her nose straight into the stamens on one of the poppies, wondering why no one ever came to sit with her.

"Because you're damn sexy and they don't think they can score with the Infernal One. That or you smell funny," the small man next to her arm offered, before sniffing at her.

"It's rude to enter the personal confines to take in my heady aroma, little man," she retorted.

He crossed his eyes at her, pressing on his big red nose, and *zoink!*ed out of existence, leaving a puff of panties in his wake.

A small fairy lady dressed in a pink ballroom gown skipped merrily past her, into the alley. Motes of lights lazily circled after her, some landing on people only to extinguish. Soon another lady, much taller this one, was hushing at her. The daemoness didn't know she was watching that loud.

" Did I do something wrong?" she asked.

The lady gave her a funny look then walked off to talk to the Troubador. The daemoness felt badly. Spaghetti fell around her in loose, wet clumps followed by a sudden downpour of India ink. Not a one was very happy with that, but such is the strange weather in these parts. Dark clouds twisted into view over her head. The daemoness was not happy.

The MD wanders into the Chatsubo. Generally unremarkable, save for the fact that he is in a full tuxedo, and carrying a folded grey towel. He apporaches Ratz.

"Beer, Ratz. German." Ratz raises an eyebrow but obtains the beer. The MD takes it and wipes the bottle clean with the towel, then places the towel over the barstool and seats himself, noticably avoiding leaning on the bar. A sip of the beer follows. "Ahhh...." The Heretic, sat at the bar quietly supping an beer himself can contain his curiousity no more.

"What is this MD? Some new tech armour? You going StealthPunq?" The MD shakes his head.

"You'll see." Desu bounces up and whispers into the Heretics ear. An eyebrow is raised.

"How do you know?" he asked her quietly.

"Us gurls *talk*, don't you know..." He turns to the MD.

"Well, good luck." Heretic says, and raises his beer in a one man toast.

"Thanks."

At this point Encypter struts into the bar. There are a few groans, and Mr.? starts taking bets on who's going to kill him this time. He makes a beeline for the MD. A few pot shots catch him on the way, but the armour soaks it up. The bar isn't really trying yet.

"MD. You're coming with me."

"Look here. I'm busy tonight. This is a clean new tux and I don't want to get your blood all over it." He turns to the booths. "That means don't bloody shoot him in my direction, otherwise I *will* exact revenge on you." The MD can see a few pistols being laid down. The Chatsubo bar are aware that the MD takes his appearance far too seriously.

"I don't think you understand. This is it, no messing, you're coming with me." The MD burys his face in his hands.

"Look, come and bust me tomorrow, i'll kill you, it'll be nice and clean. Tonight I AM BUSY!" Encrypter is a bit confused by this, and for a moment takes the sudden silence in the bar to imply that something really bad is about to happen. The he turns to follow everyones gaze.

Natalia walks into the bar. The business suit, laptop and her other kit is gone. Instead she sports a black slinky cocktail dress. A number of patrons take a little while to clock that the girl is indeed TerminalX's former simulacra. They are not a slow to realise she's a bit of a fox. The MD rises from his stool, and starts moving towards her. Encrypters mind coagulates the facts.

"No chance MD." He flips up both arms and they now hold SMG's, one pointed at the MD and one at Natalia. "You move on me and the girl gets it." In a distant booth, the Troubadour smiles. Englishmen don't take kindly to the rude treatment of the ladies. The MD shrugs.

"It is not often i'm moved to raw abuse, but you really are a complete fuckwit." He coughs. "If you are going to take me in, may I retrieve my towel?" Again, Encrypter is confused, but nods agreement. The MD turns, picks up his towel and appears to straighten it out in front of him. As soon as it conceals the upper part of his body, Natalia pulls out the .50 that really cannot be kept in a dress that tight and arranges for Encrypter to suffer terminal lack of brain. The MD drops the now cerebrum splattered towel, and a ChibiSat makes off with it before the gunk on the floor can dissolve it.

"That's my kind of girl. Lets go get a drink somewhere." The MD steps over the Encrypters third attempt at surviving more than three minutes in the bar, and takes Natalia's arm. "You really must explain where you put that gun of yours." She smiles coyly.

"Girls gotta have some secrets, you know." The duo left.

The grey eyed simulacra leaned forward, her eyes the same color as steel, and placed her chin on her hands.

" She hates cocktail dresses." Her voice cold enough to make zero degrees Kelvin sound warm.

" Virus maybe." The smaller simulacra said, sitting next to her. The Gameboy put away, a look of concern on her face.

Ghost approached the table, " Alexis."

Her eyes looked up at him, his usual trench coat gone, replaced with a worn denim jacket, hands stuff in the pockets. A frown was on his face.

She stood up and walked out of the bar, got on her motorcycle and followed the MD and Natalia through town. He apparently wasn't expecting any trouble as he took her to a very classy restaurant. The kind that is booked for appointments months in advance.

After they walked inside Alexis looked at his car and watched as a tight blue beam came down through the atmosphere. The Macrowave beam melted the car into the pavement, the pavement into the roadbed and the roadbed into the rock beneath it. The hole in the ground would not be easily repaired.

She walked into the restaurant, her biker leathers getting some very dissaproved stares from the staff and clientelle. MD was being shown to a seat and the man behind the podium was approaching Alexis.

He didn't have time to act as another beam came down from space and started obliterating the restaurant from one end to the other. It stopped ten feet from the MDs table, the heat from it unbearable.

" Natalia comes back with me or I cook you both." Her voice was calm, even and cold. A flash from her hand was followed to the small needle projectile that sat imbedded in MDs cell phone.

Natalia didn't move, obviously under the MDs influence. Another flash an a needle was imbedded in Natalia's shoulder. She blinked, looked from MD to Alexis and moved toward the other simulacra, wordlessly.

Alexis backed out of the place quickly, mounted her bike with Natalia on the back - the needle still in her shoulder.

Back at the bar Ghost removed his denim jacket at handed it to Natalia, Alexis merely pulled the needle out of her shoulder. A small trickle of synthetic blood ran down Natalia's arm.

Terry plugged a wire into the tiny interfacestuds in Natalia's wrist and began to fiddle with her Gameboy. A few minutes later Natalia jerked her arm away and looked around.

" I'm not very happy about this." She said and sat down. " And where the fuck did I get this hideous dress?" She said.

Alexis went back to playing a lazy game of billiards, her job as big sister done.

" Don't ask." Ghost sat down and ordered a Screwdriver, extra Vodka.

The Heretic observed the goings on with MD and the Encrypter. Bit roughly created character, poorly executed. Perhaps his author needed a little more practice with writing descriptions, dialog, and other little things which make character live and breathe as people from a creation in the mind. It was quite odd that MD had so little response to the threat as well. Almost as if he were expecting it....

Another Encrypter clone showed up. The Heretic had his UltiShot gun out, fired DU slugs and exploding flechettes. A second later, just enough time to realize his armor was holed and the expression of horror to darken his features, the clone exploded into red mist.

"Ewww!! Gunky! Heretic! Why'd you use the Semtex flechettes? Those are so messy!" whined Goobs, picking bits of gray matter out of her hair.

"It was my turn. Use what you want when its your turn."

"The Shellfish toxin was so much more fun," said Goobs "and that Curare one was great. We got good money for his gear with the agents across the street. And the 66's are ready to slice and dice him next time."

"Fine. I'm just glad the UltiShot still works." He tucked it into the gunlocker behind the booth next to the wall. IN the last remodel, Ratz had relented and provided the patrons pay a lease arrangment for their booths, they were allowed to modify them. The gunlockers were one of the nice amenities, as were the Mark IV darkness generators. Ratz made more money and had assured customers and the heavy weapons weren't out in the open anymore. They had their own cases now. The Heretic had stowed all kind of goodies down there, and the Toaster kept guard between composing sonnets on the barbarism of Humanity and polishing its new carapace, replaced after Desu roasted the last one. Her Lizard guarded her toychest, and Mr. ? had a whole room built behind his booth, and the back seat rolled over into the building next door where the stuff was kept. ONe reason the darkness generator was on so much of the time. Everybody had their things going on.

The Heretic hoped Denali had a nice time climbing Mt. Fuji and relaxed in his absence. This Encrypter was a little thin. Good motivation at first blush, got people annoyed, but was thin afterwards. The Heretic hoped MD would come up with an appropriate response to it all, as messing with Ghost's women seemed to annoy him.

Troubadour didn't tell Heretic the real source of the information he had was the result of a stolen copy of software once used by the Russian GRU [code name: SUKA]. Troubs had bought it on the grey market from a certain retired major Vasaliy "Khokhol" Bzdenok. The warez had revealed the actual facts within very short order.

Again the WinHaqPaq told him that his temp was rising. Not a good sign. His eyes drifted back to the screen. What to do with the information?

Troubs had also not told Heretic about the poison dart that Encrypter had flipped into Troub's neck. Troubs broke into a sweat. The Encrypter's neurotoxin was doing its work.

It is rather a disappointment that someone considered a friend could so misuse the trust placed in him. Instead it had come to this. He had heard about the melted restaurant from which Natalia had been rescued.

He had also seen the state she was in when she returned. Troubs was thankful he had so far kept Aura out of the Chatsubo... for all concerned.

Later there was a commotion as Charlie was forced open. A Mecha battle armor dressed Encrypter made his way to the bar.

" Ratz! Where's the MD?" "I do not believe I can answer that question." " You'll answer it or..." Encrypter smiled and cracked his fingers and started to slowly reach across the bar for Ratz.

Another voice cut through the room, "I don't think you want to do that." Said the voice of the Monkey Doctor.

Encrypter turned to face MD who had managed to enter the bar as well but some how Charlie had managed to keep MD's army out.

Troubs stood up and strolled over, "Well, Well, Well, Look who Charlie let in folks!" Troubs said in his soft drawl, "The man who does not have the good grace to die and our friend the MD who does not know how to live." The Encrypter and MD exchanged glances. Troubs stumbled but caught himself against the bar. He reached into his vest pocket and presented Encrypter with a NeuroCard.

" What does that say Encrypter?" Asked Troubs.

Encrypter hesitated.

" Spit it out or I'll read it."

" Reply-To: james@no_spam_it_tastes_funny_beresfordj.freeserve.co.uk NNTP-Posting-Host: modem-214.change-management-shark.dialup.pol.co.uk X-Trace: newsg3.svr.pol.co.uk 975776273 15687 62.137.10.214 (2 Dec 2000 16:57:53 GMT)"

" Very good. Now here's one for you, MD." " Uh..." " For once MD does not want to talk?

MD sputtered, " X-Article-Creation-Date: Sat Dec 02 17:00:12 2000 GMT X-Http-User-Agent: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 5.0; Windows NT 5.0) X-Http-Proxy: 1.1 www-cache.pol.co.uk (NetCache 4.1R6), 1.1 x71.deja.com:80 (Squid/1.1.22) for client 62.137.10.214, 195.92.67.75 X-MyDeja-Info: XMYDJUIDencrypter... So what's this all about."

" You'll note gentlemen that both are data transmission headers on the same date and within 120 seconds of each other." " So? What's that's supposed to mean?" Encrypter replied in a growl.

" If you read the information carefully you will notice they are also from the same location."

" Encrypter meet your boss, MD." MD's stammered "But that's..." was lost in the roar of disapproval from all of the patrons.

" Quiet! Quiet!" Troubs called then turned and slapped a Poke-Mine Mark III Nano-EMP plushie on Encrypter's face plate and watched with satisfaction as the electro-magnetic pulse destroyed the electonic nerves of Encrypter's armor. He was effectively en-crypted. Two Stevedore 'bots arrived and picked up the inert Mecha.

" Wait." Troubs turned to MD. "Two things: One, With Little Terry's help we've located and destroyed Encrypter's home base. He won't be returning from his one way trip to tour the bottom of the bay." Troubs staggered again

" And Two, your mercenary here hit me with a NeuroToxin dart yesterday." The look of surprise on MD's face was at least a comfort.

Troubadour waved at the Stevedore 'bots and they hauled Encrypter on a long one way trip off a short pier.

Troubadour staggered. "Pay backs are a bitch. Arrogance is not what we're doing here in the Chatsubo."

Troubs leaned over the bar trying to stay up right. "Shit, I feel sick. Price you pay for being old and sloppy I guess. My fault for shanking your Merc in the first place. Don't do stupid things MD.

Don't sneak around behind your friends. Don't play games with their trust. And last but not least don't plot mayhem with or on others characters without their permission."

With those words, Troubs eyes rolled up in his head and he collapsed to the floor dead.

There was shock on MD's face " Does this mean your not going to work on a soundtrack for me?"

" Damn it!" Erupted Heretic. " I was all set to try out my .50 Cal Rifle on Encrypter. His arrivals were getting to be a bit of fun, and everybody's limbered up, ready to kill him. He's so predictable. Couldn't you have gotten a better personality implant for this guy, MD? I mean, he's so dull!"

" But...!"

" Think about it. You hardly reacted when he shows up, say next to nothing. Got us in character again, which isn't a bad thing."

" What about Troubs? Isn't he dead?"

" Huh? Oh that. Yeah, its happened before. Wait a bit, he starts breathing again. We've gotten used to it. Modern NanoWeaves are like that.

Got his personality stored in RNA Chain-Memory. Strands all over the place. Deadly wounds just hardcode it. You couldn't kill him with less than a nuke, and even then, he'd have to be incinerated. Less than that and he'd get up again a couple days later, good as new."

The Heretic shrugged indifferently. He knew far too much about that kind of thing to be healthy, and the UV fluourescent pink triplehorns Biolhazard tatoo on his neck was warning enough. He'd merely been a mod, a reengineering mod that had a little too much personality to start with. Immortality was just a nice bonus to his lethal sarcasm.

" Uh..."

" Hey, it was a cute joke and all. We laughed, we cried, we schemed, but decided in the end to just point out that you don't have to go to so much trouble to make a disposable NPC like EnTombed here... Crypted... Whatever. Its been done before, and no harm done. Think you gave Troubs a start, rubbed him the wrong way. Might avoid that in future. "

"Now you know what he does for a living, you'll realize its part of his job to trace hacking, even minor stuff like yours. Besides, we're a Writing Group. Or failing that, one which is Cyberpunk inspired artworks including music etc. As a first attempt at collaborative fiction with us, its a little rough, but its the right idea.

It helps to be more subtle. Sometimes I wonder about you, MD. You can act like a kid at times, a spoiled noisy one. Other times you're witty and charming. I think its fair to say we prefer you in the witty and charming mode. You seem to do that best when you're not trying to be a hardass.

Please believe me when I say: you're not good at hardass. Thanks. :) If its any consolation, I'm not either. Few are. And remember that you managed to make Tranq smile, which is no mean feat."

" Uh, thanks." MD was still a bit punchdrunk, looking from the Crypter to The Heretic to Troubs dead on the floor and back.

" No problem. Think you can manage to use plain old NPC's in future without the fancy email/posting handles?"

" Uhh... sure."


" Great. Thanks a bunch."

finis

This was a mostly cooperative effort on the part of several members of the newsgroup Alt.Cyberpunk.Chatsubo. The contributors are as follows (In no particular order) MD, Encrypter, Troubador, Desu, Heretic, Rune, B. Russell and Ghost. This is Copyright©2000 all respective authors, who's name appear as HTML comments within the text. See the Source Code for who contributed which sections.