The RunbyColleen Thomas©
Wednesday 1900 hours
She moved across the crowded bar with a feline fluidity that would have been called graceful or elegant on a pretty woman. With Margo the word most often used to describe her movements was lethal. She was a mountain of a woman; nearly six foot one and she packed nearly two hundred pounds of muscle on that frame. Her legs were long and her hips were slim and boyish with a tiny waist that seemed out of place on her massive frame. Her blonde hair was worn in a severe crew cut and her eyes were an impossible shade of blue. The girls onstage had spent major creds on their massive busts, Margo’s had come naturally and where it was a major selling point for the strippers it had always been a pain in the ass to her.
“Ever try finding Kevlar in a 48-DD?” she had recently asked a fellow runner who had mentioned her proportions. The girl had possessed a dancer’s body and found the comment amusing which was what Margo had intended, but the truth of the statement remained. She had often contemplated getting a reduction, but there were so many things she needed more. Like the ceramic data jack implanted at the base of her skull or the nano-servos that gave her reflexes that were just short of a mongoose’s. The Holotech Mk 30 cyber eyes, which had cost her over a year’s savings, were not even her most expensive enhancement. Poly body plating and subdermal padding would greatly increase her life expectancy if she could ever afford them. While a reduction would have cost a trifling amount compared to those and cosmetic surgery was the by word of the times, there always seemed to be something more pressing.
Tonight Margo needed a drink and to get laid. She really needed some human contact and to relax and have some fun. The big runner had just returned to her home in Singapore from Germany, where a bad run against a VR research center had nearly cost her, her life. It had cost everyone else on the team theirs, except for their decker, a slender girl called Lana. The two of them had barely escaped the German police and other interested security organizations. In fact, the reason she was in this hideous dive was to thank the man who had pulled the strings to get them safely out of Germany. The place was a hole in the wall with a big stage, small dance floor and battered furniture. The crowd was typical of Singapore’s underbelly, pimps, dealers, addicts, whores, thieves and a few corporate types out slumming. Scattered through the scum and riff-raff were a few runners, either up and comers like the kid in the back corner or hard bitten pros like the tall Swede who had a back room reserved for himself. Tonight the place also had one of the upper crust of Margo’s profession.
Margo spotted him in a back corner with the big Irishman who always seemed to accompany him. His name was Jack Nelson and he was elite. Not that he ever would say it of himself. Margo had known him for several years and there was always something eating at him, some inner doubt that was hard to reconcile to his abilities and record.
Most runners were cocky, head strong and brash. What the hell, you didn’t win contracts claiming you were the third best runner in Singapore, she thought. Even the elites were usually towers of ego, but Nelson was a different character altogether. Quiet, competent and exacting; his runs were masterpieces of planning and discipline. Margo had worked with him two or three times and never failed to be impressed. She had really had no right to call on him for help and was more than a little surprised when he agreed, but he was strange like that. In a world where treachery and backstabbing were the law of the jungle Nelson was like a knight of some bygone time. His word was his bond and his sense of honor was legendary.
Margo slid into the booth across from him and smiled, “Thanks Jack,”
“I owe you one,” she said as she sipped her drink.
“Forget it, I have a job if your interested,” he said. Margo looked up from her drink and eyed him carefully. His pale eyes gave away nothing and she decided to let him talk. You could never be too careful and it didn’t look good to seem too hungry for work.
“You know Jolly, right?”
“Not personally, but by rep, yeah,” she replied. Jolly was the biggest fixer in Southeast Asia. He had contacts all over the place from the corporate world to the underworld. Need a hit? Maybe some info on a rival? The whereabouts of the biggest drug lord or the smoothest slaver? Whatever you needed Jolly was the man to see, if you had the creds or the skills. Margo had never met him; she didn’t rate a fixer like Jolly.
“He has a job he needs done the right way, nothing too fancy, just a babysitting job really, but one that is going to take a certain finesse,”
“Since when are you subcontracting for Jolly?” she asked. Nelson smiled mirthlessly and drained his tumbler.
“Since never, I wouldn’t touch the job, it isn’t my kinda op. Thing is, no one with the savvy to do it will take it. I think you have what it takes and it’s a big time contract. Would be your chance to show your skills to the corporate market,”
“Why won’t anyone else take it? And since when did you become concerned about my reputation?” Margo asked suspiciously.
“Damn woman, ease off,” the big Irishman interjected. Margo shot him a look but he seemed to be smiling good naturedly as he chewed on a cigar stub.
“Fair questions Irish, you’d be suspicious too if someone approached us with it,” Nelson said. Margo looked from one to the other, she was beginning to get the feeling that she was being set up.
“Friday evening there is going to be a big gala ball at Transcom’s downtown headquarters. All of the corporate suits as well as a fair part of the high society crowd will be there. Security is going to be tight; you have to with so many people running around,”
“And this concerns me how?”
“One of the ladies in attendance is going to be Dominique La’joure. Heard of her? She’s the Heiress to a French cosmetics giant. Word on the streets is that she is a target for a hit,”
“So you want me to baby-sit?”
“That’s all; just keep her alive for the duration of the party and for a few hours afterwards. The job pays fifty large, Hong Kong, if you’re interested,”
“Frankly, because you’re a woman. The job is legit; you’ll have security clearance and papers and will meet with Miss La’joure. She will know you’re there and due to her…proclivities…I think she would feel more comfortable with a woman,”
“She’s a certified muff diver is what he is trying to say, in his own clear as mud way,” Irish interjected with a snort. Nelson eyed him and shook his head. Tact was obviously not the big man’s forte.
“I think she would be more comfortable with a woman,” Nelson said.
It seemed too good to be true. An easy job, good pay and recognition on the corporate level. It was the kind of break most runners waited their whole lives for. Something about it was wrong. She didn’t know what, but she knew something wasn’t right. How far could she trust Nelson? He had pulled her bacon out of the fire in Germany, of that she was certain. Now he was dropping the job of a lifetime right in her lap, but what was his angle?
“Why all the largesse?”
“I’ve watched you for a long time Margo. You have what it takes to be among the best. Don’t look at it like me giving you anything. It’s biz, no favors called or asked, I told Jolly I might know someone who could handle it,”
Margo looked him in the eye, but she detected no deceit. Whatever was wrong with this set up she felt comfortable now that it wasn’t Nelson who was trying to fuck her. Aside from his sterling rep she sensed he was being honest, almost too honest, but that was also part of his make up.
“I don’t suppose I can refuse, since I owe you anyway,” she said carefully.
“Sure you can Margo. I’m not Chang. It’s an offer, not a demand, take it or leave it,”
“I’ll take it,” she said after a thoughtful pause. Nelson handed her a data card that appeared in his hand like magic.
“It’s all on there,” he said.
“Jack, what’s your interest?” she asked. Nelson glanced at the Irishman and the big man silently moved out of earshot. They worked like that, almost like they could read one another’s thoughts, but they had been together since before Margo killed her first man.
“Cards on the table. I have some business at Transcom and the party fits my needs. Dominique La’joure getting her pretty head blown off would be… inconvenient,”
“All right, I won’t ask any more, thanks for the honesty,”
“Just concentrate on your job Margo, this could be the break that puts you in the big time, but if you screw it up you won’t be able to work in Asia again,”
Margo had been around long enough to know that wasn’t a threat, it was just a statement of fact. Almost all of the independent contractors hoped to find a corporate sponsor eventually. Men like Nelson were the exception, he preferred to keep his freedom of action and he had the skill and rep to do so. Margo would love a corporate job; it meant security, privileges and getting out of the shitty side of this god-forsaken city. You didn’t get a second chance though, it was a dog eat dog world and the corps were suspicious of the independents to start with. Screw up once and they would all know about it.
Margo nodded and stood to leave, all thoughts of a drink and getting laid were gone. She had hit the big time and now she had just three days to get her shit together and make a good job of it.
Thursday 0800 hours
Ma’Cherie’s downtown headquarters was a temporary affair located in the old Martell building. There was scaffolding everywhere and construction people were working on everything from the floors to the walls. The security station had been ripped out and currently it consisted of a single gray haired old man sitting at a folding table with a dumb terminal. Margo worried about that, even a cosmetics firm needed top notch security in Singapore. Working with armatures was not to her liking, but she supposed if they were any good they wouldn’t have to contract out for bodyguards.
Margo was dressed in her best uniform, a black blouse with a double row of buttons. She left the flap hanging down to expose the charcoal gray inner lining. She wore her black combat pants and black boots. She was lightly armed today, carrying only a slimline 9mm in a hip holster. No need to go heavy, they would probably confiscate her piece anyway.
The guard looked up and smiled, “Can I help you?”
“I’m here to see Miss La’joure,”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes, Margaret Helling,” she replied. The old man picked up a clipboard with several papers on it and flipped through them.
“Ah, I see now, M. Helling, eight-thirty, I was expecting a man,” he said apologetically. Margo nodded and let it pass, she was used to it by now.
He reached under the table and pulled out a camera. After a moment he took Margo’s picture and in a few seconds a visitor’s pass was generated. Margo took it and pinned it to her lapel.
“Straight back to the elevators, thirtieth floor. You’ll be met,”
Margo made her way to the elevators, avoiding workmen as she went. The ride up was swift and as soon as the door opened four uniformed security men were waiting.
“Good Morning Miss,” the tallest one said. Competent, polite, but ready. Maybe she had underestimated them. It was something to keep in mind.
“I’ll need any weapons,” another said and held out his hand. Margo was reluctant to give up her weapon, but she knew it was necessary. Once she did she was walked through a metal detector, which she of course set off and then an X-ray machine. Once the security people were satisfied that her cybernetics did not include any weaponry she was politely admitted to an inner office.
After cooling her heels for several minutes the door opened and Dominique La’joure stepped in. Margo had never been pretty, but Dominique La’joure was the kind of beauty who made you feel ugly just being near her. Perfectly coifed red hair fell to her shoulders in a soft cascade. Here eyes were a piercing blue and seemed overly large on her delicate features. Her body was magnificent, with large soft breasts, a tiny waist, wide hips, tear drop ass and long sleek legs. She wore a conservative black business suit that she managed to make as sexy as any negligee.
“Miss Helling? I’m Dominique La’joure,” she said extending her hand. Margo took it and was amazed at how smooth and soft her skin was, but the grip was firm and confident.
“Call me Margo,”
“Very well Margo, you may call me Dominique,” she said. Her voice was softly accented and vibrant. It wasn’t her voice that caught Margo’s attention, it was her eyes. As they slowly traveled over the big woman’s frame Margo saw a hunger in them that was almost frightening. She was used to such appraising looks from men, but not from a beautiful woman.
“Won’t you come in?” she asked suddenly. Margo nodded and followed her into the large office. Dominique went to the large bar and fixed them both a drink. Margo took a seat in the chair facing the desk, but the redhead didn’t sit behind it. She rested her ass on the desk but remained standing in front of Margo. The woman exuded sensuality and the pose she struck was distracting. Something about it just seemed to invite Margo to stand up and take the gorgeous creature in her arms.
If the hunger in her eyes was any indication, that was exactly what she wanted. For the second time in less than a month Margo found herself wondering if it might be worth trying. Control, she told herself. This is Biz. Mixing personal with Biz is a sure way to get yourself killed.
“Now, to business,” Dominique said. She pressed a button on her desk and a ferret-like man came in from a door between two bookcases that Margo had not noticed. She chided herself for being so careless and letting Miss La’joure get to her. Runners who didn’t notice things like that died relatively quickly, but not usually painlessly.
“Margo, this is Jean-Paul, my head of security. Jean, this is Margo,”
“Charmed,” the Frenchman said, his voice indicating he was anything but.
“You have read the data card I’m sure. I am here to answer any questions you may have about the assignment,”
“Do we know who put the contract out?” Margo asked. She shook off the erotic images floating through her head and concentrated on the Security man.
“No. We aren’t even sure there is a contract. The information comes from…independent sources,” he said. The distaste in his voice was evident. Margo read him as a stuck up corporate snob.
“You must forgive Jean, he is a little put out that I wanted someone other than his people for protection,”
“I still say my people can handle this better”
“And I still say one of your men would stand out like a turd in the punch bowl. Transcom is a very important partner in our drive to make inroads into the Asian market. I need someone who won’t make it look like I don’t trust them,” Dominique snapped.
“And how do you propose to do that?’ the rat-like man said turning to Margo.
“You hired me to protect Miss La’joure, not to teach you how to provide security without being obtrusive,” Margo said easily. She really had no idea how she was going to do it, but she was developing an intense dislike for the little man and wanted to take him down a peg or two.
The little man turned red and started to splutter, but Dominique smiled so warmly at Margo that she felt herself flush.
“Enough of this. Margo will be my escort for the evening and I am sure everything will be fine,” she said. The way she stressed the word escort and the look she gave Margo left little doubt in the big woman’s mind that Dominique had plans for her after the party. Ratboy seemed to get the same message and clamped his mouth shut.
“Is there anything else?” Margo asked.
“No, you seem to be quite prepared,” he said sulking. He produced a wallet and handed it to her.
“Identification papers, a permit for a gun and a license to act as a bodyguard. Legitimacy is of the utmost importance…after image,” he said and then departed the way he had come.
Margo stood up and was about to say good-bye when Dominique stepped forward and grabbed her head. The smaller woman pulled her down and pressed her lips against Margo’s while her tongue probed. Margo was so taken aback that she didn’t resist and soon found herself engaged in a searing kiss. Margo was kissing back hard and her hands had just dropped to the beautiful woman’s soft ass when the intercom buzzed.
Dominique broke the kiss and straightened her jacket before pressing the button.
“Mr. Hosegawa is here to see you,”
“One moment,” she said. She released the button and turned to Margo.
“If that was any indication of things to come, then I am defiantly looking forward to Friday,” she said in a husky voice.
Margo smiled and quickly exited to cover her blush.
Once the door had closed Miss La’joure stared out the big picture window behind her desk. The Singapore skyline was cold and forbidding. She again wondered if her rush to come out here hadn’t been the worst mistake she had made in her young life. The side door opened and Jean-Paul silently entered.
“Well,” she demanded.
“She should do nicely,” he replied, his voice no longer carried a French accent, but was instead pure Brooklyn.
“There’s a lot riding on this, I want more than should do,” the French woman snapped.
“Relax, she’s a virtual unknown. She isn’t too heavily wired up, but has enough to appear legit,” he said. Dominique nodded to herself.
“It’s too bad actually, she’s just my type,”
“There are enough bull dykes back in Paris to keep even you sated, my dear, but Jolly assures me that there isn’t another competent female runner in all of Singapore,”
“Is it possible she will survive?”
“She might, not like the other one,”
“If she does, I want to know about it,”
“As you wish,”
“And the other?”
“Nelson? He comes highly recommended. I’ve employed his services before and even Syntech’s security couldn’t stop him. Transcom will be a cakewalk for him,”
“If he’s that good perhaps we should consider employing him full time,”
“You wouldn’t be the first to offer, or the first he turned down. Nelson is an enigma wrapped in a riddle. He could work for anyone, anytime, no questions asked. Even the corps that have contracts out on him would drop them and hire him in a heartbeat. He’s an outsider and he can afford to stay one, he’s that good,” the man said. His voice held a measure of respect Dominique had never heard before and she nodded without comment.
“Get someone on Margo, I want her followed. Put Pietor on her Friday night,”
“Your libido is going to get you killed one day,” the man said shaking his head.
“Perhaps, but you are here to prevent that, are you not?”
Lana sat alone in her cube, a ten-by-ten concrete cell stacked with thousands of identical rooms in a building that was over one hundred and fifty stories tall. The only light in the small cube came from the blinking LEDs on her deck. She was naked and sat cross-legged on the futon that served as both bed and sofa. A light sheen of sweat covered her body and her face was blank. A thin black DNI cable ran from her deck to the ceramic socket just behind her left ear. The jack was new and the skin around it wasn’t completely healed yet. The DNI or Direct Neural Interface was the badge of rank for a decker. With it you could jack directly into the net, the only thing between you and flying naked was the cyberdeck. Unparalled speed and response time were counterbalanced by the danger of having your brain fried to a crisp if things went bad.
Lana was in a game construct called Alpha 1. Outwardly it was a game for kids, but in reality the deeper levels were tests where a decker could prove themself or learn that they didn’t have what it took. She went under the handle Delusion and had made a name for herself over the last year, reaching the 100th level only two months ago. That was where the real fun began. From there on in you played against other deckers and simulated black ICE. It was all set up to give the feel of a run against a corporation’s data security. Her score in these levels had brought her to the attention of an enigmatic fixer named Rolf. He had arranged for that all-important first paying job. He had also financed her DNI. With the failure in Germany she was now in debt to him and had no way to pay him back.