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Chapter 21

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Isla brought takeout soy BBQ with her as she hit Ger’s coffin. She’d already devoured a portion of veggie Chinese when she woke up. Ger was right. Sleep, shower and food. I feel… ready.

Ger had taken the same pod they had shared a million years ago and she had no problem finding him. As she pushed her way into the decrepit elevator that rumbled its way up to the top floor, Isla glanced at her reflection in the scratched metal walls. She’d tied her hair back tonight and sported black everything from boots to jacket — even though they’d not even be leaving Ger’s coffin room. Clothes do make the difference. 

The lights on Ger’s floor flickered as a brownout swept the hotel throwing erratic shadows up and through the hall. Spooky. But I guess that’s how he likes it.

‘Ger, you decent?’ Isla called as she stomped over to his birth.

Hoisting herself up on the ladder to his bedroom, she glanced inside.

Inside the tight space, Ger snored loudly. Isla took a moment to look at him — really look at him — as he slept.

Long blond white hair framed a delicate face with high cheek bones and, she knew, devilish green eyes. He’s one of the good ones. One of the really good ones.

A smile kissed her lips as she looked about the cramped space. Love what you’ve done with the place. The vid screen played an old black and white movie on silent as Ger’s comm link beeped and whirred attached to the main console in the room. What’s he doing?

‘Is that BBQ?’

Ger snatched at the takeout bag Isla held as she clambered into the room. Pushing Ger to one side so she could accordion into the area next to his Comm link, she nodded in agreement.

‘Figured you were right. Best to carb up — and I didn’t want you to ‘back me up’ without some food that didn’t come from a vending machine?’

Ger tore open the BBQ bag, spilling an assortment of containers out on his bed. ‘Hey, there’s nothing wrong with vending stuff. Made me the guy I am.’

Isla laughed as she glanced at the stacked containers next to her. ‘So then, according to this, you’re a ‘Soda Noodle, cheese and crackers, fizzy drink’ Boss?’

Ger, mouth deep in short ribs, nodded as he stripped the meat from the bones.

‘Sure am...My…body…is…a…temple.’

‘Of trash,’ Isla joked.

‘You sound better,’ Ger said as he licked his fingers clean.

Isla scowled at his manners.

‘Have you ever watched yourself eat, Ger?’

‘Nope. Too busy getting it!’ he gulped.

‘How are we gonna do this?’ Isla asked, staring off at the old movie on the monitor.

Onscreen, a little white girl danced with an old black servant on a staircase. Where does he find this stuff? It’s corny — and offensive.

Ger burped, wrapping up the BBQ bag and stashing it under his pillow. I’m not even going to ask. ‘Okay, let's run it down.’

Isla nodded, pulling her comm link out of her jacket, pushing her sunglasses onto her head. ‘Ready.’ Ger held up his hands. ‘Not so fast. We gotta establish some ground rules first.’

Isla nodded. ‘Sure. I just want to get going. I’m worried about my Mom.’

Ger nodded. ‘I know. We both are. We’re gonna get her back and we are going to make sure we pay Jericho back. We owe him — and this is more than personal now.’

Isla nodded, grinding her teeth. I am gonna own him.

Ger sighed, ‘Okay…the first thing you gotta realize about the Dark Web is that it’s strictly adult-based. That means anything goes, flesh, guns, money — it isn’t pretty. That’s why we’re gonna use our Avatars, okay?

Isla gulped. Am I ready for this?

This is all about RTS. Isla’s got game and I got her back. No way this is gonna go bad.

Ger flexed his massive bicep as he hefted the large tankard of ale, pouring it into his open mouth, and slammed it down on the bar once drained.

‘I love being a Viking!’ Ger screamed to the packed Ellison digital barroom. Surrounded by marauders, black-hearts and assorted demons, the cramped dive was in full madhouse mode as denizens of the Ellison strained the community bulletin board area now available to Ger in virtual un-reality. Neon light dominated here as smoke wafted through the packed room.

Around him, Ger clocked various smaller tables filled with villainous scum and the dregs of the web. My people. What does that say about me? 

Isla sat at a table over his left shoulder that he kept one bloodshot eye firmly trained on. Here, in the deep web bar, customers drank their digital drinks and engaged in all kinds of toxic behavior not tolerated on the public web portals. Luckily for both Ger and Isla, most of the more weird things happened in private chat rooms arranged for those sort of…events.

Here in the main bar, customers met and conducted business like they might IRL. You could book a table and a time, meeting your contact and have a face-to-face if you wanted. More digital we get, the more we crave one-to-one companionship.

Once Ger had run Isla down on Dark Web do’s-and-don’t’s, they agreed they would use their BERSERKER avatars only to troll the Ellison.

‘I’ve heard about it — even nudged around the edges of their flat BB system,’ Ger lied, ‘But now that we’re Level 2 and can interact IRL, that’s a whole different game. I’m gonna play up my whole KILLDZR persona and act like a total ape.’

‘Who’s gonna notice the difference,’ Isla grinned as she prepped to assume BRTSHNGSTR’s persona for the meet.

‘Ha Ha,’ Ger laughed as he jacked into his Comm Link at the Nagatomi making sure Isla was good to go.

 

They had found themselves outside the Art Deco Ellison building deep in the heart of the Deep Web. Around them, old-style dirigibles floated in the night sky as luminous spotlights cut across the street. A dozen heavily modified motorcycles stood in front of the big glass window advertising the bar. It shattered as two trolls burst through the glass, slashing at each other with bone-sharp knives. The window shimmered briefly, reassembling itself as the two howling beasts carved away at each other.

‘Nice,’ Isla muttered as she strode forward towards the front door. ‘See you in there. Not.’

Ger waited as Isla strode away from him. Do not look at her butt. As a viking, Ger had the size and strength of a grown man, but his digital avatar wasn’t built for speed like her BRTSHNGSTR. Isla’s elf warrior was a formidable opponent and in this virtual form, a true sight to be seen. Seven foot tall, wearing battle-harness and leather vest, thigh-high studded boots and reinforced bracers, this was one kick-ass Avatar. The six foot sword strapped across her back just added to the appeal. Not to mention her short skirt.

Ger sighed, ‘Stay on target,’ he muttered. Let her get in the bar,  find Jericho and start the conversation. Get close enough to do some damage if it gets sketchy. A good plan. I think…

 

‘You want another one, big boy?’

Ger snapped out of his reverie to see the bartender 'bot standing in front of him. Because nobody wants to role play as a robot.

Playing his part, Ger scowled at the robot. ‘Argh! More GROG! Now!’ The robot zipped away as Ger turned on his stool to check on Isla.

Standing in front of her, his fist raised, a screaming Werewolf Biker slapped BRTSHNGSTR across the face sending her flying into the room.

I’m four years away from being legal and I’m in a bar. Looking for a terrorist. I don’t know whether to be scared spitless or be totally juiced?

Isla stepped into the Ellison main bar as all heads swiveled to check out the newcomer.

Everyone stopped talking. Here goes nothing.

BRTSHNGSTR tipped her head to each quarter of the room, acknowledging those looking her way. Which was everyone. SIGH. Be cool. Be cool. Be cool.

Gettoutatheway!’ thundered Ger in his Viking avatar as he pushed by Isla heading for the bar area. They had agreed in advance that he would station himself in a visible area so he could watch all of the doors and that Isla could always find him. If she had her meet closer to  him, all the better.

From across the room, a slender pixie waved to Isla, calling her over. Bright blue and dressed in gossamer fabrics, the pixie tossed sparkle dust into the air as Isla rumbled up to the table set to one side of the bar.

‘You looking for me,’ Isla trilled as BRTSHNGSTR. In elf form, her voice  sounded musical to her here in this altered state.

‘I am,’ spat a rough, older man’s voice from the mouth of the sweet-looking fairy.

‘Dude, it is so creepy that you keep dressing up like girls, you know?’ Isla remarked as she slid down into the empty chair across from the fairy.

‘What makes you think I’m not a girl?’ asked Jericho as fairy.

Isla laughed, ‘The voice? Everything my Dad told me about you.’

The angry Fairy leaned forward, annoyance flashing across the pixie-like features. ‘Don’t talk to me about liars,’ rumbled Jericho. ‘Anderson has been lying for so long, he doesn’t have a clue what’s real or not.’

Isla scowled at Jericho, crossing her arms. She pursed her lips, glaring daggers at the fairy.

‘I’m here… where’s my Mom. What have you done to her?’

The fairy laughed tinkling bells as she air-tapped a keyboard gesture opening up a small vid window that only BRTSHNGSTR could see.

‘Right about now, I think she’s enjoying her complimentary pre-dinner cocktail before starting the main course.’

On screen, Marta, dressed in her fanciest outfit, could be seen laughing with a group of adults in a pricy upscale bar.

‘I believe that they’re having soy duck tonight as the main course.’

Isla shook her head. WTF?

‘But you said, ‘if you want to see your mother again…’ I thought,’

Jericho laughed, pulling a small fat cigar from her dainty purse that dangled on one thin shoulder. Firing up the stogie, the fairy puffed a large cloud of colored smoke into the room.

‘Misdirection. I replaced the message she left for you with my own. She thought you were still visiting your Dad and didn’t know you were going to be home last night. I just ‘suggested’ something else to peek your curiosity. And here we are.’

Isla ground her teeth as she glared at Jericho. You are one tricky guy.

‘Anyway, would you have agreed to see me or talk to me if I just pinged you and said I had something important to share with you?’

Isla shook her head. He’s right. I wouldn’t. Or she. I’m getting confused.

‘What are you,’ Isla asked.

‘A friend. Believe it or not, said Jericho.

‘I KNOW YOU!’, a loud voice spat next to Isla.

She looked up to see a large, dirty werewolf biker looming over her. Wobbling unsteadily on his feet, the monster dog was clearly into something IRL — which directly impacted his Avatar’s behavior. I hate users.

Isla held up BRTSHNGSTR’s hand, slipping into character, ‘Hail friend. I have no quarrel with you. Please seat yourself while I —’

A large, heavily ringed shaggy hand slammed into Isla’s face lifting her off the ground, out into the bar crowd around her.

It’s Hammer Time!!!

Ger flew off his perch at the bar drawing his sixteen pound battle hammer that was his Avatar’s prime weapon. Honed on the fields of BERSERKER, Ger had no equal when it came to smashing with absolute authority.

‘Eat Steel, A-hole!’ Ger shrieked as he flew across the crowded bar, bouncing everyone in his way out of his path. The werewolf biker didn’t have a chance.

Spinning to intercept Ger’s strike, the hammer caught him under the chin, crashing him into the roof of the bar, exploding in digital bits and bytes.

‘Ger!’ Isla screamed from the floor. ‘What the hell are you doing?’

Ger spun to Isla, extending his hand. ‘Let me help you up, my lady. I done good. Wearing a large, bright smile, Ger swelled in his own self-appreciation. Still got it.

Isla slapped Ger’s hand away as she rose from the floor, rubbing her jaw. ‘What are you doing?!’ What?

‘Yeah, Ger. What are you doing?’ smirked Jericho, staring up at the viking avatar. ‘You shouldn’t be here, right?’

The blue fairy turned to Isla, red coal burning in her eyes as he cigar flamed red-hot.

‘Didn’t I tell you to come alone?’ Jericho asked as Ger stared at the floor.

I am such an idiot.

‘That dude recognized me as BRTSHNGSTR and wanted to scrap. Punching me in the face was his way of saying, ‘Hello.’’ Oh.

‘And we’ve got much bigger problems now,’ Isla nodded as she drew the long blade from her back,

Surrounding them was the rest of the werewolf biker pack. Because no one travels alone.

‘When you rang that guys bell and sent him home, you just pissed off a whole bunch of his pack-mates,’ said Jericho as she folded her wings behind her back, dropping the cigar to the floor. ‘And thanks to you, I’m guilty now by association.’

Ger’s head swiveled left to right assessing the throng of snarling beast bikers that shouldered through the crowd. Smart patrons were bailing for the exits or logging off — their digital signatures and avatars evaporating like the werewolf Ger had dismantled.

‘Where ever that guy was from, it won’t take him long to log back in and want some payback. Until then, we get to duke it out with his friends,’ Isla snarled as she pointed her sword at the closest attacker.

‘This does not have to go down this way, friends.  A mistake was made. For that we are sorry. How about we —’

Isla flinched as the biker nearest to her threw a vicious steel blade at her head, which missed by inches finding purchase in a bar 'bot already drawing down steel shutters over the bar counter.

‘COME GET SOME!’ Ger screamed as he vaulted the nearest table, flying into a posse of Biker Weres intent on cutting Isla down.

All around Ger, a riot broke out as chairs, knives and bludgeons flew out in a manic storm of steel, iron and pain. Isla ducked under a flying guillotine ball wielded by a terrifying Asian Ninja who now seemed part of the free-for-all. Ger dragged himself off the floor of the Ellison, rabbit-punching the fallen werewolves, sending them home to their digital mummies.

Staggering up, his hammer held loosely in his hand, Ger screamed to Isla, ‘DUCK!’

He let fly hell as his hammer flew from his hand smashing the skulls of everything in its path. Jericho nodded as the heavyweight flew above the fairy’s head cutting a swath of destruction through the crowded room.

All about Ger and Isla, patrons of the Ellison disintegrated at the touch of the flying weapon. Silence reigned.

‘You are such a dick,’ Isla screamed as she advanced upon Ger, flourishing her sword in a whirlwind — stabbing him directly through the heart.

Ger winked out.

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