WELCOME TO THE WORLD, WILLIAM BRUIN
The door chime sounded, waking him from a dreamless sleep. He automatically checked his retinal clock and subtracted 8 hours to get the local time. The creds just weren’t there to get it fixed yet.
He’d been up all night combing the net on a borrowed line in the back of a laundromat, trying to find work. ANY kind of work. Wiping his eyes hard to lube them up a bit he opened the window to see who it was. A bonded courier van was parked outside and a young man in brown coveralls reached for the buzzer. Once again the door chime went off. He quickly ticked off the bills in his headlist to make sure they were all paid. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. He was up to date. He wondered what the drek could this be about. There was only one way to find out.
Mashing the entry key on the wall he croaked, “Fourth floor. Green door.”
There was nothing to clean up even if the courier came in. This was a Quann rental and all of his belongings would fit neatly into two carry boxes.
Rappity-rap went the door. William was pretty sure that nobody would go to such elaborate lengths to get his meagre belongings, so he didn’t even check before opening the door. The courier, a hip young guy with a bit of stubble, confirmed the delivery ident by having him thumb the scanner. He handed over a red fiber envelope from his SecurBag, touched his hat and left. He was either paid in advance or knew not to expect a tip in that neighbourhood. William closed the door and locked it again.
These things were usually for corp info. He applied his thumb to the seal on the back and a quick chemical burn happened along the marked end. The level of suspense was pretty high at this point, but he wanted to take his time to digest every facet of this. He opened a can of coffee from the fridge, sat down and tipped the contents of the envelope onto his table: a disposable phone (1 minute, local, incoming only), a green key card (no logo), and a black credstick. Black? No. It couldn’t be black. He scratched it, but no paint came off. This was a legit Zurich Orbital credstik.
Things were looking up.
He had no idea of his past beyond the last two months and this could be a clue. He wondered who could know who he was or where to find him.
It took nearly 3 hours for the phone to ring. William had gotten sick of staring at it and was having a shower when it went off. Of course. He nearly killed himself getting to it just as the 5th ring began.
“Pier 90, off Garfield. Slip E. One hour.”
Do-able. He finished the shower, had another can of coffee and left. A quick cab ride to the train yards and he finished walking the rest of the way. This gave him a long view of the area. Coming up on it from the yard, he saw derelict metas all over. They didn’t look a mess, just ragged. An Orc was passed out in an old topless car, a bottle of Mescal in one hand, SimSense deck in the other. Thermograph showed he had a healthy temperature. There was heat from bodies sprawled around behind other hulks and against fences.
As he came up to the dock he noticed the big sign proclaiming this to be Pier 90. A tall map showed that slip E was at the farthest end. William had brought a little courage with him and got it loose in the sheath in case of any trouble. Slips A and B seemed to be some kind of transient trailer park or something. There were old beat up cars and trucks and a number of trailers and shanties. C and D seemed to have taken some damage from something as the buildings had partially collapsed and the dock was missing in a couple of places. An old rail spur ran the length of the pier and ended in a giant crane. Probably for unloading container vessels, though you’d be mad to try that on a pier in this shape. The smell coming off Elliott Bay tonight was a bit ripe, but it didn’t bother him much.
He saw the tail lights of a car inside the slip E property and a man in a dark suit smoking in the darkness, leaning on the trunk. Seeing William, he moved forward revealing a LogoBlock on the trunk. He obviously wanted to hide who he worked for. He grabbed the handle of his red leather briefcase in one hand and threw the stub of his cheroot away with the other. He held his hand out in the ancient custom.
“Mr. Bruin? Yes. I’m Mr. Underhill. You’ve been … carefully chosen … by my employer.” He paused to let that sink in. “The circumstances that lead to our meeting are these: my employer is in a position to retire. To do so, he has certain obligations that need to be met. He financed a special team once and according to his contract, needs to keep a team active prior to his retirement. You needn’t worry yourself about the previous team. They’ve retired as well. This warehouse was one of their meeting places. It now belongs to you, pending your contract.”
“We’ll pay the taxes on this property for one year. I will ask you to perform certain jobs. You will be paid well for your time. That’s about it really. I hope you have no trouble locating a team. We need you next week.”
“Let’s go inside.”
This was a bit much, all at once, and he stood there a little slack-jawed taking it all in. That morning he had been living on rice crackers and krill paste. Now he was promised private funding as a corporate resolution specialist! Mr. Underhill seemed a bit forced, like he was reading from a prepared script. Stiff. Brittle. This is probably how strangers get business done in this line of work.
William followed him to the huge rolling door in the SW corner and he pointed to the card-swipe. “The code is 719834394577. I advise you to change it at your earliest convenience.” Standing under the overhang of this massive building, it was hard to imagine what might be found inside. The door slowly, but smoothly rolled upward and when it was high enough to walk under they both entered. Mr Underhill pressed a red button as he passed and the door reversed to its closed position. He turned on a small flashlight and lit their way down a wide corridor the width of the building. The whole wall to their left was made of large blue blocks quickly identified as armoured transport containers, HiCubes, each 2.5m wide x 3m high and 6m long. They were stacked close together like on a container ship, two high. Underhill pointed to them and said, “All but one is useless. There was an explosion on dock 91 a couple of years ago and a container ship went down. You’ll notice that dock 91 no longer exists. That’s what did the damage to this dock as well. The dock itself is safe, but nobody thinks it’s worth reconstructing. My employer bought the containers from the shipping company and lined this building with them. It acts as cheap, effective protection. Ah, here we are.”
William had been unconsciously counting the containers as they passed and noted that they stopped in front of the 17th. Underhill twisted the dead access panel and it slid up to reveal another WORKING panel. The swipe and code was performed as before.
The door unlocked itself from the inside, pushed out about 20 cm and hinged open to the left. Underhill led them inside. Lights fitfully came on inside the container as the door began to close. William looked around nervously and saw another panel on the far side of the container come to life. He rushed to that panel but Underhill grabbed his hand. “Don’t touch the panel until the door finishes cycling shut. Please.” He waited nervously for the 30 seconds it took the door to close and then quickly swiped the card and repeated the code. The panel light turned from blue to white and the door opened. He hadn’t really remembered starting to sweat, but felt a bit of an adrenaline buzz following his brief captivity. You never could tell what kind of security measures might be hooked up to a level 5 maglock. William wished he had brought some coffee with him.
He knew this was a massive building from his survey on the walk up the pier. If he could have afforded a net connect he could’ve done a search of aerial photos. It looked a lot smaller inside because of all the containers. A giant, detailed map of the world was painted in the middle of the floor. The containers all seemed to be damaged/worn in some way, and the ones in the NW corner seem to have taken some punishment from small arms fire. A gantry system ran the length of the building along the roof. This would be how the shipping containers would be moved around. Above that along one wall in the upper corner sat the control office like a nest. A nice bird’s eye view of everything was available from up there.
Doubling back on their path in, they headed to the elevator. It seemed quite a process to get in, which might be good for any kind of security concerns and (he realized) defence. The elevator’s roller door was up and Underhill lowered it when they both got in. A container truck could easily fit in this elevator. The panel came to life, showing three settings: GROUND, GANTRY, ROOF. He pushed the roof button. The elevator moved at an exaggeratedly slow speed. This WAS a cargo elevator, likely rated for moving thousands of kilograms at a time. No frills. The enormous door opened and they walked out onto the roof. Underhill opened a box beside the door, touched another panel and the roof lights came on. They were all purple-red, low-wattage and pointed at the roof. There appeared to be a helipad in the NW corner. “That helipad is in need of some structural repair. You can get a pretty good view of downtown from up here. Look, you can see the Renraku Arcology.” Sure enough, looking to the southeast he could make out the well-lit pyramid taking up all that prime space downtown. “That’s about it for the roof.”
Lights off. Back in the elevator. Gantry level.
The doors opened and William automatically reached out to find the light panel. It was just where he expected it. The lights came on slowly and he couldn’t miss the industrial/infirmary green paint on every surface. Somebody had either spent a lot of time in the military or a mental hospital. Maybe a military mental hospital. There was a long hallway with floor to ceiling windows ahead, on the right. A series of food stations was directly ahead, and a bathroom to the left large enough for an Ork or Troll. Next to that was a room marked CONTROL. Inside were maps of the city on the walls and equipment racks at the far end. There was a small screen set up in there with a couple of card keys. A multitude of wire connections came into this room from the ceiling. This place had obviously been stripped of everything valuable. Building controls were left, though. It looked like there was a rigger control box setup, but no interface. The kitchen was a stand-up affair with 4 food stations (cooler/nuker combo) and a couple of big sinks; no chairs or table. Down the hallway were 10 doors on the left, facing the windows. The first 6 had names painted on them. The first was a door that a Troll could fit through with “JoJo” stencilled on it. The rest were labelled “Sarge”, “HardTop”, “NonSequitor”, “DogBoy”, “Mint” and were all roughly half that size. They were all bare of furniture.
Everything seemed to have worked when plugged in or turned on. That was something, at least.
William followed Underhill back to the kitchen where he opened his briefcase again. He pulled out a couple of beers and a big can of StarStar coffee which he put on the table between them and pushed forward. This stuff was only available … well, William had no idea where it was available. He couldn’t afford it if he could find it! That stuff was supposed to be grown on an ocean station or something. Underhill popped his Corona and pulled out a thin document which he set on the counter with a pen. “Say yes.” He then took a long pull from his beer and moved over to look out the window and check his padd for messages, examining the giant map below. William twisted the ring on the bottom and popped the top on the coffee. The internal heating unit began to boil the water and brewed in the can in his hand. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had brewed coffee. If he could have just one of these little babies a week, he’d do just about anything. “Yes,” he echoed. Picking up the pen, he signed where indicated and then enjoyed his coffee as he started to read the contract. He knew he was going to sign it anyway, but realized he should probably read it.
Basically, it boiled down to the idea that he agreed to be blindly funded, and in return he would drop everything to render assistance when called. The property was now his and the taxes would be paid for the first year. After that, it all fell on him. A page detailed proposed and past taxes. Apparently this was a busy pier in the past, but now the taxes were negligible. A mere ¥75,000 a year. William always imagined that most Runners would try to keep away from taxes and ident. How else can you make sure that the power, water, and sewer keep working though?
His new lawyer came back to the counter, checked and counter-signed the contract and gave over a hardcopy duplicate. He opened the second beer and motioned to one of the cabinets on the wall. William opened it and saw 2 full cases of this blessed elixir, StarStar (**). He almost started to cry.
“If you would pass me your new credstik I can authorize your setup bonus.” Yeah. Gots to get paid. He passed it to Underhill, who pulled a CredX out of his briefcase. He then inserted the shiny black credstik in the green slot, his in the red slot and pressed a few buttons. The screen showed:
50,000 Transfer 5,000 Tip ----------------- 45,000 Balance Approve? Y/N
“I get 10% on transactions. Just so you know. I figure you could outfit and fix this place for 5,000. Maybe less if you had someone to do the work. I can recommend a guy.” His phone buzzed once and he said, “Listen, I gotta go. Busy night. Here’s my card. Dmail me your new phone when you get one. Change that entry code!” In a daze, William approved the transaction, entered a new CredCode when prompted and handed back the CredX.
Underhill stopped on his way to the elevator. “A few words about the neighbours: get to know them. They’re not bad people. They just need a little help.”
Going to the huge wall of windows, William watched him walk to the exit and leave. Whew! What a night. And it was early yet!
He turned slowly on his heel and giggled a bit to himself. He entered the control closet and took a look at the terminal. It wasn’t ancient, but was a bit dated. He was able to change the access code easily. A better module would be needed to engage the optical capabilities of a level 5 lock. He brought up the building security program, made the appropriate changes and made up a few more card keys. There were some people he had in mind who were going to need them.