Yegor looked at the growing stack of crates neatly arranged along the wall of his garage. His excitement grew as the Ares Express loading drone forklifted the last, largest box off of the shipping truck and rolled it neatly over to the end of the stack, setting it gently adjacent to the others. The drone then rolled over to Yegor, and with a chirp, extended a thumbprint scanner to him. Yegor scanned his thumb impatiently, anxious for the drone and its unmanned truck to be gone. The moment after they left, he pulled down the heavy metal garage doors and slammed the heavy drop-bolts into place, then flipped on the old neon “PISS OFF” sign in the shop’s front window.
He wasn’t going to be taking any new work this evening.
* * * * *
“Ha! Fuck off!” Crowbar barked.
The dwarf snorted. Crowbar was one of the few people that Big Round wouldn’t punch in the jaw for saying something like that. Partly because he was trying to recruit him, and partly because he had heard what happened to the last group of punks that had tried it. That was what had first put the kid on his radar. He figured that over the next few years, the kid would either develop into something or be dead. He was surprised at how good of a mechanic he had turned into.
But that was why Big Round was still alive, and so well paid. He had a good eye for talent. He had started things off slowly with the kid – tire upgrades, neons, datajacks for his personal rides, things like that. Then he started slipping in some of his runner’s vehicles, having the kid install security glass, heavy armor, the occasional weapon mount. Surely the kid knew what the score was after that, but he still did the work, did a damn good job, and didn’t ask any questions. All traits that Big Round was looking for.
“Just think about it, kid. You’d kick ass. I’ll be by with another ride for you in a couple weeks.”
Big Round tossed the kid a certified stick with a thousand cred loaded onto it. It was a couple hundred more than the price Crowbar had quoted him, as was his custom. A little extra cash was always a good way to get someone on your side. He kickstarted the classic ’33 Harley to life. It roared throatily, drowning out even the dwarven drum music that thumped through the garage. As usual, Crowbar’s work was on point. With a brief nod to the troll, he rolled out of the garage and into the blinking lights of the Pittsburgh sprawl.
The kid would come on board. He was sure of it.
* * * * *
Yegor headed upstairs to the small bedroom overlooking the garage. Big Round’s offer was stuck in his head. He knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep, so he fired up a sim. Deathpocalypse 2100 was the new hotness, and he was damn good at it. There was something about being jacked in – the real world fell away, as if it didn’t exist at all. Moving at the speed of thought – and despite being a troll, Yegor could think quickly.
That was the first tumbler that clicked into place.
He quit out of his game and launched his music app. His implanted commlink clicked audibly. Fucking thing sucks, he thought. After a moment, the app launched, playing an album by Elindsia Silver. She was an elven violinist, and Yegor loved her music. Not that he’d be caught dead listening to it in the garage.
He launched his internal cred-tracking app. His balance appeared in the corner of his integrated HUD, a glowing green number in 14 point font.
<[[ $124,011 ]]>
The number still blew the young troll’s mind. There had been more, but when Bones had died and left Yegor his shop and his savings, Yegor had immediately sent thirty thousand to his parents and another ten to his brother. They had been having a hard year, and that money would make a huge difference for them. Pavel’s eyes had lit up when Yegor thumbed the creds his way. He was gonna buy a bike with it, and he wanted Yegor to put it together for him. The thought brought a smile to his face.
He synced the credstick that Big Round had given him to his account, and watched the number change.
<[[ $125,011 ]]>
That was the second tumbler. Watching that number roll over. He had more money now than he ever had in his life, but he had heard that shadowrunners could make that on one job.
But they could get dead, too.
Yegor was a mechanic at heart, and he thought like a mechanic. If he was going to do this, if he was even going to consider it, he’d need the tools.
Some of that would be easy. Yegor had never lived in the high-rises – all he knew was street life. He could get his hands on guns, no problem. Hell, Skinny Pete had been pushing Yegor to buy from him for years now, and he knew from Pete’s rep that the wares would be good, and wouldn’t come back to bite him through the Matrix.
But Yegor already had his Mossberg, and he had personally modded it quite a bit over the years. He never had to use it. Why would he? He took it almost everywhere, and who in his right mind was gonna fuck with an eight-foot-tall troll packing a heavy automatic shotgun?
That was all very well on the streets of Pittsburgh, where nobody knew that he wasn’t quite the badass killer that he appeared. He had blanked a few street thugs a few years back, and that had been enough. But what good would he be to a shadowrunning crew? He could hold his own in a fistfight, but that was more due to his size than any great level of skill. He was a decent shot, and could shoot very well while jacked in – hell, he was brilliant at that, if his gaming skills were anything to go off of, but…
Huh, maybe that’s it… he thought.
He shrunk his banking app and pulled up his search engine.
He mentally entered ((SECURITY DRONES)) into the search field.
His HUD flickered hesitantly for a moment as the app ran. Fuck, he thought. Then it froze, a series of blue and purple numbers streaming across his vision. The violin music also froze, holding a high-pitched, wailing note. “FUCK!! FFFUUUCCKK!!” he yelled, as he ejected the commlink from his skull.
With a loud growl, Yegor rebooted and reconnected his commlink. When the HUD flashed up again, he launched the search engine once more. The search interface eventually blinked up.
((FAIRLIGHT CALIBAN COMMLINK)) he entered. Fuck this fucking piece of junk.
* * * * *
A package arrived at the garage the next morning at 8:00 AM. Yegor hadn’t even opened the shop yet. The wonders of the modern era, Yegor thought to himself. Even the shipping business is cut-throat.
When he opened the package, he couldn’t help but stare for a moment. He had never bought anything this expensive before. The Fairlight Caliban was the most sophisticated commlink available on the market, and it showed. The link’s slick lines and gently glowing LEDs oozed style, for the people that wanted to hold it in their hand and proclaim their incredible badass-itude.
Yegor wasn’t one of those people. Actually, he kind of did want to do that, he just wasn’t fucking stupid. Carrying a piece of hardware like this in the Pittsburgh sprawl was like holding a giant neon “JACK ME!!” sign over your head. He ejected his piece-of-shit Meta Link from the I/O slot in the back of his skull, carefully seated the Caliban into it, and switched it on.
The commlink thrummed to life. He had ordered the Caliban with the Novatech Navi OS pre-installed, and a highly-rated personality VI as well. The OS appeared to be every bit as sharp as the commlink that it was installed on. A pale blue halo appeared at the top of his vision and descended, and a blue-tinted hologram of a nova-hot elven woman materialized within the descending ring.
<Hello,> the elf said, her voice low and sultry within Yegor’s mind. <I am Aria. Please allow me to be your guide. How would you like for me to address you?>
Ohh, yes, Yegor thought. I can DEFINITELY get used to this. <Call me Yegor,> he answered.
<Good morning, Yegor. I see that you are registered to a Meta Link commlink located nearby. You were last logged into this commlink fifty-five seconds ago. Your new Fairlight Caliban represents a substantial improvement over that device.>
Her virtual eyes twinkled. God damn, her voice was sexy. He could listen to her talk all day.
<I see that you have eighteen utility applications, fifty fife personal files, forty six sims, nine hundred and ninety six music files, and ten VR games installed on this device. The pre-installed applications included with Novatech Navi have been rated as superior to their counterparts that are currently installed on your Meta Link. Would you like for me to transfer your personal data and other applications to this device?>
Third tumbler. <Why yes, I would,> Yegor answered. This shit was wiz as fuck.
* * * * *