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Chapter 10

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Wow. This Jericho guy sure knows how to party…

Ger stumped his way into the crowded room, his head swiveling to take in the party in progress. He and Isla had gone through the elaborate sign-in process where both of their comm-links had been tagged and then bagged by the large bouncer at the front door. He’d tried to talk the scowling doorman into giving him back his unit — but nothing doing. If he didn’t turn in his tech, he wasn’t getting in. Isla already seemed to be regretting her extending an invitation to him — so he shrugged and took his claim ticket as he watched his lifeline tucked away into a deep closet.

All about them the converted warehouse space was kicking off. The Emporium was big — but it was a sanitized version of what was going on here. Here, the vibe was electric and kids and geeks were going wild in the cavernous warehouse.

Ger clocked graf-artists painting up the side of a wall with a big FU Axiomm tag that was as impressive as it was illegal. The new public sedition laws made any public display of counter-corporate protest punishable with cube time. Rows of gamers were split into makers and players with camps evenly distributed about.

On the left, BERSERKER fans were hacking and slashing while on the right, a full blown Game Jam was underway with what looked like an RPG old school platformer being put together. Clan central.

Everyone there had deeply-dived into the opportunity to get in on in the space — and Ger was impressed. He was more than a little jealous though, his cheeks burning in embarrassment as he looked at Isla. I might as well not be here. Right?

She was equally impressed, he could tell as her eyes sparkled in the flashing lights.

As she looked about, Ger knew that she was way out of his league — and that this mega display of cool by the yet-to-be-seen Jericho was a good indicator of the kind of guy she’d be attracted to. I don’t know what I was thinking coming here. I gotta get credits for Mom and GNGR’s gagga on this guy. Might as well see what I can do to make some hard credits and cut bait now.

Ger grabbed a soy burger from the food buffet that was piled up against the wall. There were all types of synth-pops available as well — all on ice with lots of candy doodads and junk lying spilled across the groaning banquet tables. Ripping the paper wrapper of the food, he scarfed half of it down as he glanced about the space, figuring out his best exit strategy with Isla. Might as well get some.

Isla turned to him, her eyes buzzing as she popped a candy into her mouth.

‘Pretty cool, huh?’  She glowed in the excitement, the buzz of the room infecting her every move. The thunderous D&B music echoing throughout the space added to the thrill — the space literally pulsing in time to the music.

Ger sulked.

‘Yeah, thanks.’ Ger said. ‘I appreciate the hook up. I’m gonna catch up with the BERSERKER players. You wanna join? They’d freak to know #1 and #2 on the LB are here. How often do they get to rub elbows with leader board champs like us.’

Isla shrugged, looking at the collection of game geeks and shaking her long hair.

‘Tempting, but I should probably go and find — our host.’

Ger nodded. Don’t let her see that you care at all about this. She’s obviously into this guy and that’s cool. I gotta think about me. I don’t have time for anything else.

‘’Course. Thanks for the hookup. I owe you.’

Ger kicked Isla’s sneaker with his own, smiling at her as his hair flopped over his eyes. I’m just gonna eat this burger and figure out how to make some creds. Forget about her. It’s all about the credits. Nothing else matters.

Isla smiled, shrugging. ‘No problemo. At least I don’t have to worry about you skimming here — without your commlink.’ Ger’s lip curled tightly. ‘I don’t steal from friends, you know.’Isla flushed as she backpedaled on what she had just said. Her hands fluttered as she tried to explain herself.

‘No, I just mean… You know…’

Ger tossed the wrapped from his burger onto the table and snagged a plasti-pak of neon wigglers as she moved off towards the BERSERKER mob. ‘Yeah, I know what you mean. Have a good one.’He pushed his way through the techno kids loosing himself in the crowd. Ger didn’t want Isla to see the hot flush on his cheeks as his guts churned. Who does she think I am? I don’t rip off people I know.

Looking about himself, he flopped into an empty chair and checked out the clan kids around him — a motley crew of punks, street-kids and poseurs all intent on one upping each other on the MMORPG game.

Ger sighed. But she’s right. I would have skimmed every one of these guys looking for credit.

‘Hey N00b!.’

Ger spun in his chair to see TANYA-OMG, the trash-talking no-help from his last foster home. Her trademark scowl was etched firmly in place as she glared down at him. Painted up in the new Neo-Tokyo style, Ger barely recognized the girl as she stared daggers.

‘How’d a filthy casual like you get in? You don’t rock code.’

Ger laughed. She knows nothing about me.

Leaning back in his chair, he smiled up at the angry tech tramp. ‘Hey TANYA-OMG. Long time no see. How’d you get sprung? Shouldn’t you be back in foster?’

Tanya’s anger cut through the Geisha style face-paint she’d adopted for this event. Her electric blue kimono flashed LED red as the wide sleeves implants reacted to her mood. Nice. Where’d she get that?

There’s no way you’d get an invite to this. You gotta know people…’

Ger smiled ear to ear. ‘You mean, like Jericho? Yeah?’

Tanya’s surprise was clear as she dropped down to Ger, grasping his chair and whispering quickly, ‘You know Jericho? Introduce me?’

Ger shook his head. She is going to regret this. ‘I don’t know. He’s pretty private and all. He doesn’t want to meet just anyone.’ TANYA-OMG squeezed up next to Ger and laid her long lacquered fingers on his arm, stroking his jacket as she purred into his ear, ‘I’d be really happy to meet him, Ger. Very happy.’

Ger gulped. ‘Hey, you know my name…’

‘Of course, I know your name, Ger. I’d like to know a lot more about you. You know?’

TANYA-OMG’s fingers slipped inside his jacket and ran across his stomach.

He leapt to his feet in shock. Okay, way too familiar. This has gone so wrong. 

‘I’m not interrupting anything, am I?’

Ger turned to see Isla standing there, her eyes swiveling from TANYA-OMG to Ger.

And then it got worse.

Ger span to TANYA-OMG who slowly drew herself up to her full height. Both of the girls checking each other out in measured, careful beats. #Catfight?

‘Get lost, kid. Ger is my dude.’ TANYA-OMG slid her arm under Ger’s and wrapped herself next to him. He was riveted to the spot, his head bopping from girl to girl as Ger stammered, “ Hey GNGR, meet TANYA-OMG. She’s an old friend from — from — foster.

Isla glared at TANYA-OMG as she slunk in close to Ger and laid her head on his shoulder.

‘Ger and I are tight. Real tight…’

Isla turned and he lost her in the crowd as he stood gaping at what just happened.

What the heck am I doing? I don’t owe him anything. And who was that — girl hanging all over him? Why am I even upset?

Isla’s feet pounded through the warehouse as she dropped down into the first available chair as she hid from Ger. It didn’t take him to make new friends. Typical dude.

She peaked out from behind her console to where she had last seen Ger. The girl was still hanging all over him as he looked about for Isla. Good. I hope he’s happy.I hope they’re happy together. Isla sighed as she glanced about her. I can’t see Jericho. If I even knew what he looked like.

She’d ended up at a free BERSERKER platform and she smiled at the garish logo that played onscreen. Cracking her knuckles, she signed on and started to jam. C’mon BRITSHINSTR. Let’s kick some butt. Striking her log-in code caused a large siren alert from the front of the stage. Isla stopped typing immediately as a silver jumpsuit tech kid jumped onto the platform and pointed up at the large LED screen hanging over his place at the microphone.

The thundering Drums ’N’ Base music screeched to a halt as he called out to the assembled throngs. All heads turned as he punched a fist in the air.

“BRITSHINSTR is in the HAUS!’

The crowd went wild, everyone looking about trying to catch a glimpse of the leaderboard star. Since the ID’s were anonymous, it could be anyone in the room. Isla leaned into her monitor trying to keep anyone from noticing her screen. As everyone was too busy scoping out the competition, no one paid any attention to her. Luckily, the seat she’d picked was over by the rankgarbage disposal area, so it wasn’t like she was in a coveted spot.

On the main floor, kids bopped from terminal to terminal checking out the players.  Isla turned her screen away from the lookie-loos crowding the space and knuckled down. If DD4EVR signs on, he’s dead.

 

Twenty minutes later, she’d tacked up an impressive array of kills, dismemberments and a slow-mo BERSERKER frenzy that was now replaying on the big screen for everyone in the room. In typical gamer fashion, no one had figured that the red-haired girl by the trash was kicking everyone’s butt. Isla sighed as she nuked yet another contender — retaining her leaderboard status. It seemed almost everyone in the room had taken a run at her — but Ger. Where is he? Probably too busy with the Tokyo skank to play.

Standing so she could scope out the room, she scanned for Jericho — not really knowing who she was looking for. I’m looking for Jericho. Not Ger.

The Game Jam crowd was debuting their build and lots of kids were high-fiving in excitement as the silver jumpsuit guy was motioning them to come up onto the main-stage.

Ger was nowhere to be seen.

She tracked the large room from corner to corner and couldn’t see his bright blond hair anywhere. Typical. He’s supposed to be here looking for a job and gets sidetracked by a girl.

’Shrak! You’re BRITSHINSTR! Hey everyone, GNGR346 is THIS girl. Check it out!

Isla slumped.

Behind her, two teen Goth girls were standing at her console pointing at the screen and her.

Everyone in the room turned to look.

BRITSHINSTR IN PERSON!

She ducked down and slid under the main gaming table as she tucked her hair in under her jacket. Snaking up on the other side, she grabbed the hoodie hanging off the back of a chair from a large guy engrossed in his code-bashing onscreen and threw the extra-large, extra-BO spiced sweater over her head as a mass of gamers, geeks and freaks all descended on her. Isla crawled on her hands and knees under the adjoining tables, pushing aside the soy-pop cans and assorted garbage as she headed towards the exit. She brushed past legs everywhere as overhead the sound of the crowd followed her.

BRITSHINSTR! BRITSHINSTR!

The room erupted above as she wiggled through the seated gamers and bolted up underneath the main stage. Ahead, a dirty blackened blanket showed a crack of light on the other side. Pushing forward, she scampered through the space and out into the dim light.

Isla stood and caught her breath.

Lungs heaving, eyes burning from the dust under the stage, she rubbed them clear and looked out into the backstage area. CPU’s and mainframes were stacked everywhere along with a satellite transmitter and orbital director. WTF? Her Dad had been part of the intergalactic team responsible for the CF478’s - the same units sitting right here. The shiny, hedgehog broadcasters were military-spec tech and not sold to the general population. What would a guy like Jericho do with tech like this? This doesn’t make any sense. Why are they here?

‘Hey You, you’re not supposed to be back here!’

Isla spun to see a large bouncer running towards her. He could have been the brother of the guy that had taken their gear at the front door. The only difference with this guy was that he was carrying a large pulse rifle — and was coming right at her.

Slowclap Ha Ha

As the crowd swarmed the floor searching for GNGR Serves her right, Ger booked it away from TANYA-OMG who was equally starstruck. Serves her right too. Wonder what TANYA-OMG would do if she knew the girl she had the stare down with was BRITSHINSTR. <Pwned>.

Ger coasted to the gear check area and sipped on a soy-soda as he scoped out the bouncer and the comm-links. Maybe GNGR’s right. Maybe I am no good. What’s to stop me from sneaking into the link lockup and stealing all of those units? I could make a ton of credits of the intel and sell the units for scrap tech. Double the bonus. Woot Woot.

Ger sighed as he saw that the bouncer who had signed them in was still on duty. Standing directly in front of the lockup with only one way in, there was no way he’d be able to get inside without being spotted. All about him, the partygoers were scampering about searching for Isla as they hunted from console to console. He couldn’t spot her trademark red-hair anywhere so he ducked down and looked under the game tables to see if she’d hid out there.

At the edge of the main stage he caught a glimpse of a pair of vintage Chucks slipping under the backstage curtain. Smart. He had to hand it to Isla. She thought fast in a crisis. It weren’t as if the fans were gonna do anything other than want to say hi or ask her how to play the game better — but it was a hassle.

He stood up and let out a long breath. As much as he appreciated the free food and drinks, without his link he was DOA here. Better to head out and hit the malls or bus stations and skim. This party was going nowhere and from what he could tell, there wasn’t any real hope of a job or action here. Ger turned back to the security station, hands thrust in his pockets. GNGR’s a big girl. She can look after herself.

The security check-in was empty.

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the bouncer from the front door moving off through the crowd towards the backstage with his hand to his ear, talking on a concealed microphone as he ran. Something’s up. Ger spun back to the check-in area and slid behind the counter and checked his tag against the stored comm-links.

There were hundreds of units all tagged and bagged in the tight cupboard. Bingo.

Ger snatched his unit and slid it into his jacket pocket as he grabbed two large plastic bags filled with comm-units.

‘Get up slow. Turn around even slower.’

Ger gulped, his heart tripping double-time. Sighing, he stood and turned slowly. Crowding the door, another big security guard, even bigger than the original guy, towered over him.

Holding out his hands, he glared at Ger.

‘Gimme the bags.’

Ger smiled widely, handing over the baggies without complaint as he tried to bluff his way out of the situation. I can do this.  ‘Hey, man. I was just looking for my comm-unit. See, I got my ticket right here.’Ger dug his ticket out of his pocket and handed it over to the brooding mountain. The guard tossed it over his shoulder.

‘There was no one here so I thought I’d just help myself.’

The security guard glared at Ger, putting the bag of stolen comm-links back on the shelf as he grabbed him with one meaty paw. Pulling his through the door, he radioed back to basecamp.

‘Send Bruno back to watch the door. I gotta scammer here tried to take us off. I’m taking him to the boss.’

Ger gulped, his feet skimming on the floor as the guard lifted him up by his collar dragging his out through the crowded party. I guess I’m gonna meet Jericho after all.

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