cyberpunk

As always, a big shout-out to bikoukumori, for a stellar editing job.



Also, a big ‘thank you’ to all you people who are reading and voting on my stuff. Seeing you enjoy my story is one hell of a boost.



This time, the story is a bit darker, involving several instances of non-consentual sex. Consider yourself warned.



As always, there’s only adults in this story, and no artificial intelligences were harmed.



Have fun!




#5: Cat to the rescue



Golden pools of shimmering light, reflected by the gently lapping waves of the nearby pool, played over my skin. Gentle hands were rubbing sunscreen into my naked back, the fingers occasionally brushing against my sides, trying to feel me up. I didn’t mind that one bit. The tasty, muscular form of my companion, clad only in a sleek green speedo struggling with his constantly growing manhood, was just what I wanted. I purred and wriggled my bikini-clad bum under his questing fingertips. Getting the hint, he undid the laces holding the flimsy triangles of neon-orange fabric together and pulled them off me before resuming his thorough application of sunscreen. Invitingly, I spread my legs but he ignored my damp folds; instead he teasingly, almost lovingly, rubbed the sunscreen into the backs of my thighs and my calves. Eventually, when he was done worshiping my toes, he said in a thick spanish accent, “Turn around, por favor. I’m done with this side, senorita.”



Smiling, my eyes covered against the stinging rays of the sun by expensive Porsche shades, I turned around, presenting my ample breasts to him. Unperturbed by my nakedness, the slightly spread thighs and the thinly veiled invitation in my smile, he squirted another handful of sunscreen into his palm, rubbed his hands together to spare me the sting of the cold liquid and resumed oiling me up. His strong, dexterous fingers easily massaged the sunscreen into my shoulders. I couldn’t wait to feel his fingers on my tits. Silently, I urged him to get a move on and, finally, he cupped my breasts into his strong hands, dropping all pretense of applying sunscreen to me. Soft, electronic music began to waft around us as his hands kneaded my breasts, his palms rubbing over my nipples. He bent down, his lips easily finding mine, and kissed me passionately, taking my breath away. My hand found the strings of his speedo and undid them, before pulling the tiny piece of fabric off his hips. I nearly choked when my fingertips brushed against his now free hardness. His meat was massive. Long, thick, veiny. And he obviously wanted me, because his tip was already oozing precum when my exploring fingers brushed it. I gave his dick a pump or two, causing him to moan into my mouth before he came up for air, the fires of passion raging in his eyes.



“I want you. Now,” he rasped.



“Oh, I can see that,” I purred in return, pulling him closer by his dick.



When he was close enough, I turned onto my side and wrapped my lips around him, savouring his taste. His hand slipped between my thighs, his fingers brushing against my slit. I placed one foot onto the lounge chair I was lying on, giving him easy access to my willing snatch. His fingers went to work, at the same time gentle and demanding. I knew that he wanted to bury his meat up to the hilt in me but I wanted to play a little longer, to enjoy the feeling of control I had over this gorgeous, but stupid man. But then things turned sour. The fingers of his free hand laced themselves into my long, silver hair and he impaled my mouth onto his monstrous dick, fucking my throat without regards to my well-being. I choked around his meat, tried to cough it out. Then I bit down.



He snarled, more in annoyance than pain, but thankfully, he took his dick out of my mouth. I coughed, spitting his precum onto the tiled floor. He yanked my head up, forcing me to look into his eyes.



“I told you, I want you NOW, bitch,” he snapped, releasing my head and pushing me onto the lounge chair. I was confused. What the fuck was happening? I opened my mouth to protest but a mean backhand slammed my head back into the chair, nearly toppling it. Then he climbed between my thighs.



“No, stop! That’s not how…”



Smack! Another stinging slap hit my face.



“Shut up, you dirty whore! You do as I say now!” One hand pressed my helplessly flailing body onto the chair while he lined his dick up with the other. Then he pushed and I felt like a goddamn subway car was trying to fit itself between my pussy lips. I screamed and clawed at his arm but to no avail. He pushed forwards, ignoring my complaints. When he was all the way inside, I was helplessly sobbing, my tear-filled vision swimming. That can’t be happening!



He began to fuck me, hard, rough, accentuating his strokes with slaps everywhere, my sides, my breasts, my face. My head was ringing.



“Stop! Goddamn it! Execute…” I tried to invoke the interrupt sequence but as soon as I said the first words, his hands clamped around my neck, cutting off my air supply. His thumbs pressed down onto my windpipe. He grunted, spittle flying everywhere, while his rod plowed me over and over again. Then, as my consciousness was reduced to only two pinpoints of white light, he came inside me, flooding my insides with his sticky goo. Then I died.



***



I managed to turn onto my side, just barely, before my puke burst from my mouth. But it was bad enough. My cluttered coffin was barely large enough to turn onto my side. So, instead of barfing all over me, I spewed the meager contents of my belly onto a heap of clothes doubling as my pillow. My head felt like it was going to explode any second now, my body was cramping all over and I felt totally dizzy.



“That goddamn FUCKER,” I gurgled helplessly between retching my insides out. My foot found the door handle and kicked down. Squeaking, the old, mistreated pneumatics pushed the square door open and the noise of the coffin motel drifted into my home. Someone had the latest terrorcore chip on, blasting just below pain threshold volume, babies were crying, people were arguing. The smells weren’t much better. Overseasoned food, sweat, old bricks and mortar, rusting metal and a subtle hint of mildew wafted into my space but compared to the stench of my vomit, it was the smell of roses.



Groaning, I pushed myself out, taking care to catch the wobbly rung affixed to the lower cubicle’s front door with my foot. Falling down two cubicles’ height and spraining my ankle would just be the fucking icing on the cake. I pulled my barfed-on clothing out as well and fired it onto the grated walkway below. Hopefully, I could cough up another Euro to feed the laundry machine. Then I slid downwards, landing on unsteady feet, breathing heavily. Everything was still spinning. Two kids ran by, one of them carrying the multi-barrelled play replica of a Cybernator arm cannon, going “Pew! Pew! Pew!” as they ran up to me. They stopped dead, their mouths opening in wonder, their eyes fixed onto my face.



I brushed my fingers over my chin, my cheeks… No, I didn’t barf over myself. Then I remembered and my hand tried to cover my right eye. A futile gesture, the StimChip jutting out of my right eyesocket was longer than my middle finger, hardly concealable.



“Did you hurt yourself, Miss,” one of the boys asked, his voice trembling.



What should I tell him? That one of my cybereyes was doubling as a crude Mindlink implant? I couldn’t risk exposing the illegal mod Fleischer did for me, so I just nodded, trying my best to appear stunned. The kids gave me a sympathetic look but sped off nonetheless. When they were away, I pulled myself up to the lip of my cubicle and got a small, square box from a built-in shelf. Then I pressed a hidden button next to my eye socket, invisible under a patch of vat-grown skin and released the fake eyeball holding the rape chip, replacing it with my working right cyber-eye.



I looked at the chip after popping it out of the implant. It looked like “Caribbean Dreams XXII,” the latest of glossy StimPorn. As I knew now, it was not “Caribbean Dreams XXII,” but a bad copy, a snuff chip that could, had it been connected properly, have fried my brain and killed me. I knew I had a drug habit but could you blame me? I went from living in the Ceiss Tower at Neu-Alexanderplatz to selling my pussy in a filthy coffin hotel in rotting Berlin-Kreuzberg in just four years.



I was really happy when Fleischer gave the chip to me, even singing a little “Happy birthday.” Today was my 18th. He was one of the few people I could call “friend” in this urban jungle. He was the one who had the ingenious idea to build a Mindlink interface right into the shell of a cybereye, his reasoning being that since cybereyes were connected to the brain, he could hijack the connection and use it for other things as well. The first couple tries were nauseating but, a good year ago, he finally made a breakthrough and I was able to access the ‘Net through this eye-connection. Fleischer mainly built it so I could try to finish my education online but to his dismay I mostly used the jack to slot StimChips.



Sadly, the people cooking them knew most of their clients were poor schlocks like me, with hardly a chance of returning business, so at first they limited the number of times these chips could be used. A clever programmer could circumvent those DRM measures, so the drug guys found another way of keeping illegal, unlocked chips off the streets. They simply jazzed the signals up across the board so that sooner or later the poor receiving brain would fry through. And to show their poor clients just how much they cared, these chips tended to feature heavy snuff material. And how the fuck did I end up on the receiving end of one?



But first things first. I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, grabbed my silver-coloured baseball jacket from the peg inside my door, pushed the door closed and entered the lock code. The weight of the gun in my inside pocket felt reassuring, although I knew that I probably would only hit a target by pressing the cheap plastic holdout against my target’s stomach. But you could always hope. Then I grabbed the bundle of stinking, wet clothes and looked around. Grinning wickedly, I made my way over to one of my regulars, who was just now chatting with his lovely, overweight wife. I always wondered how she managed to fit into one of the coffins anyway, at easily two-hundred and eighty pounds.



“Hey Ceylin, hi Yilderim, how’s it hangin’,” I asked, swaying my skinny hips seductively. His eyes widened in panic, those of his wife narrowed in fury. She knew he was fucking around her back but so far had no clue who he was drilling. I didn’t like Yilderim that much; he was always rough, he wanted me to call him “Daddy,” and he tipped poorly. Plus, he still owed me one ride’s pay.



“Who is this… girl,” Ceylin asked. Of course she knew me. There weren’t too many bald, skinny, silver-wearing girls in this coffin motel. Thanks to the flash fire that cost me my eyes, I didn’t have any facial hair and the frontal half of my scalp refused to grow hair as well. And since I didn’t want to look like a female Jean-Luc Picard, with wispy hair around a bald top, I had taken the habit of shaving my head completely.



“Erm… she’s just… that kid, you know,” he stammered, trying to deflect any suspicion away from him.



“Yeah, I’m that kid your husband is drilling every payday. Oh, and some days inbetween too.” If looks could kill, Yilderim would have turned into a pair of smoking sneakers just now. I didn’t particularly enjoy completely fucking up his marriage but I needed money, now. Going to Fleischer’s would require me taking the S-Bahn and I didn’t fancy a tangle with the S-Bahn-Cops. Plus, the ball of clothes needed to go too.



“Yilderim, how could you! Haven’t I been anything than a faithful wife to you? Why do you have to humiliate me so?” Now, that was quite some change in tone. From fury to bawling diva in 12 seconds? Perhaps she figured if she would forgive him, she might get some dick later?



“Anyway, ‘Daddy,’ your little darling needs a little baksheesh for the last time you had me all over your dick. I hope you remember,” I said, fixing him with my most unnerving stare. I recently figured that most people were severely turned off by the silver spheres with the gently whirring optics within staring at them where normally a pair of expressive, wintry-grey eyes should be.



“Why does she call you ‘Daddy,’” Ceylin asked, going back into indignant fury mode.



“It’s not what you think it is, darling,” Yilderim yammered, raising his hands in self-defence.



“Hey, before you rip his head off, could you at least pay what he owes me? One blowjob, once through my pussy and once up the ass. That’s sixty Euros, please,” I said sweetly. Yilderim had turned chalk-white, Ceylin beet-red.



“Hey, what can I say? I only do it because you won’t let me…” he whimpered as his wife turned on him. I nearly fainted as she slammed her meaty fist into his stomach. He doubled over, coughing. Then she grabbed him by the shoulders and, with surprising agility, rammed her knee into his groin. Wheezing in agony, his eyes screwed up, he sank to his knees, clutching his privates. Ceylin yanked out an ornately stitched purse and, with a disgusted look, threw me a bundle of crinkled Euro bills.



“If I ever see you near my husband again, I will kill you,” she hissed. After that display of female rage, I simply grabbed the bills and high-tailed it out of there, her rapid-fire Turkish echoing off the coffin motel’s interior. I exchanged a fiver for a handful of coins, fed a laundry machine with both my clothes and the money and then, breathing in the clammy night air, made my trek to the nearest S-Bahn stop.



***



Riding the tram, my eyes invariably were drawn to the looming spires of Neu-Alexanderplatz. I wondered why my parents wanted to leave there so badly. To me, it looked like the fucking promised land. But four years ago, a nondescript car picked us up at a restaurant. I was a little confused why Dad had a huge briefcase with him when we were out for a night of luxury food and VR movies. But then things turned ugly. On our way to the airport our car got attacked by a car from Ceiss security. A crazy chase ensued; during which, one of the security guards shot our rear wheel just as the car was doing an evasive move. The heavy limo crashed into the security car and spun like crazy. Somewhere during these spins, I hit my head on a door strut and blacked out. When I came to, I was in a hospital room and everything was black around me. The doctors told me that the car I was in had caught on fire and I was the only one the securities could save.



When I asked about my parents, the nurse only gulped. I was still far too confused to feel the impact of my parents’ death. The nurse promised that they would do anything to return my eyesight to me, the only promise they kept. Ceiss was the pioneer in eye replacement, using the technology of their miniscule spy cameras and a patent licensed from Mindlink to produce the world’s finest cyber-eyes. And since my parents were valued employees of Ceiss, I was entitled to the full benefits package.



While I recovered from my injuries, stern men and women from Internal Affairs questioned me if I had seen any suspicious activity before that fateful night but I could only bawl. Didn’t they know my fucking parents had just died? What were they implying?



As it turns out, my parents wanted to leave Ceiss. Badly. And my father, a brilliant optical engineer, took some very valuable papers and prototypes with him. My parents and I hadn’t been kidnapped, the people from IA said, they tried to defect. And since they could prove it all, I wasn’t welcome within Ceiss Tower anymore. I didn’t have any other relatives, especially not in Germany, and so I found myself, with a token “compensation package” of 500 Euros, on the streets of Berlin.



“Next stop: Tempelhof,” the synthetic voice rattled, yanking me out of my reverie. The area around the abandoned Tempelhof airport was just another sprawling slum, not unlike Kreuzberg. Clutching the grip of my gun inside my pocket, I hurried down the deserted platform. Despite the alleged network of security cameras, hardly a day passed without another corpse on an S-Bahn platform and I certainly didn’t want to join that esteemed club. Leaving the station, the noise of Tempelhof Market surrounded me. In spite of Berlin’s best efforts to clean out the place, to make room for urban improvement, the market persisted. You could buy practically everything here. Pirated media and knockoff electronics were everywhere, the smells of food, exotic or domestic, were overpowering. Booths, tents and crude tin huts crowded the place, stacked with all kinds and makes of firearms, from the lowly plastic holdout up to the fully-integrated, implant-controlled IntelliGuns that only needed a thought to fire. I passed one stall where naked men and women were on display, some adorned with arousing, fluorescent tattoos, others bodysculpted almost beyond recognition. I shook my head at a pathetically meowing Asian girl, complete with cat ears, whiskers and a tail. Our eyes met for a moment and I recoiled at the depth of her self-loathing. This thing wanted to die, badly. Only the chips hard-wired into her brain, the chips telling her to please her master above everything else, kept her from doing it. I briefly toyed with the idea of granting her wish but the bulky Russians with their heavy artillery flanking the stage discouraged me. Despite how fucked-up I felt right now, I didn’t have a death-wish. Shivering, I strode on, looking for the mobile home Fleischer operated out of. Yeah, worst pun ever, I know.



I opened the door. The smell of blood assaulted me, nearly causing me to puke again. On the operating table, inside a plastic-wrapped area of relative cleanliness and hooked up to a faintly beeping life support system, a guy was being worked on by Fleischer. The floor around the table was awash with blood and a muscular arm was laying in a puddle of gore. Fleischer stood between me and the guy, at shoulder level, and I heard the whine of mechanized tools and operating equipment. Suddenly, Fleischer turned, the spider’s nest of bloody operating tools jutting from the sleeve of his right arm twitching.



“Oh, it’s you, Katarina. I’ll be with you in a second.” Peering past his hip, I could see a silver joint sticking out of freshly-fused flesh, cables and receivers for bolts jutting out of the mutilated shoulder too.



“I told you a thousand times to call me ‘Shine,’ Fleischer,” I hissed, both in annoyance and in shock. Seeing Fleischer doing his job was never easy on the eyes but witnessing a man sacrificing a perfectly good arm for a cybernetic replacement was freaking me out.



“To me, you’ll always be Katarina. Now hush, I need to concentrate.” Returning his attention to his patient, he lowered the writhing mass of instruments that constituted his right hand at the moment to the shoulder. In a mixture of revulsion and fascination, I watched as the terrible wounds were desinfected, stitched up and coated with a generous helping of synth-flesh. A few minutes later, Fleischer left the operating theater through the plastic curtains on the other side and disappeared into the depths of his RV, only to return a few seconds later with a shiny, chromed cyberarm, which he hooked up to the reconstructed shoulder. Replacing his medic hand with a regular, almost human-looking one, Fleischer fixed bolts, hooked up cables and finally placed a plastic cover onto his handiwork. Then he threw a translucent sheet of plastic foil over the whole body and joined me in the entrance of his rolling clinic, flicking a few switches on a control panel near the door.



“Isn’t he going to choke under that,” I asked, pointing.

“Nah, I left him a breathing tube,” Fleischer replied, while the area between the curtains got thoroughly cleansed. The smell of strong desinfectant and soap filled the RV. Fleischer opened the door and motioned me to follow.



“Back already,” he asked, shaking a cigarette from a beaten packet. “Didn’t you like your gift?”



“Yeah, about that. What the fuck were you thinking, giving me a fucking snuff chip,” I screamed at him, causing him to nearly fall off the steps of the RV.



“Snuff chip? What… what are you talking about,” he stammered, bending down to retrieve his dropped cig.



I yanked that damned thing from my pocket and tossed it to him. He easily snatched it from the air, his hand going to the jack behind his ear.



“STOP,” I snapped, just before he plugged the chip in. Grinning sheepishly, he lowered his hand and instead turned the matte black case over in his fingers.



“It’s burnt out by now, I guess,” I grumbled. Then I told him what had happened to me earlier.



“Oh my goodness… One of my patients gave it to me instead of payment, he needed his meds so badly,” Fleischer said. His eyes added “I can’t stand what you are doing to yourself.”



“And you didn’t think about running at least a diagnostic before giving it to me,” I demanded in exasperation.



“How could I know he would give me a killer chip? I was really busy,” he tried to defend himself. And I couldn’t really blame him. Perhaps the guy he got the chip from didn’t have a clue either. Just my fucking luck.



“Katarina, please. Do you really think I would kill you like that? After all we’ve done?” I smiled grimly. No, he wouldn’t. Fleischer was obsessed with exotic cybernetics and I was his favourite study subject. He still dreamed of marketing his eye-add-on to a major cybertech company, for a way out of this hell-hole, and without me, for long-term testing and data-gathering, he would be thoroughly fucked. And besides, he never, ever tried to feel me up. I even offered myself to him a couple of times, when homesickness overcame me. I didn’t want to fuck a client, I really wanted some gentleness. But he never, ever let his hormones get in the way of our friendship. Sometimes I even doubted he had hormones. I had no clue how much electronics was inside him, apart from his hands and fairly obvious Mindlink implants. And I still had no clue why a brilliant guy like him squandered his talents in a third-rate flea market instead of working for a top-notch hospital or corporation.



“I’m really, really sorry. I thought I’d give you something good.” Although his eyes said otherwise, I believed him.



“Never mind that. It’s the gesture that counts. Who’s he,” I asked, pointing my finger at the open RV door and the guy on the slab within.



“Who cares? Just some random idiot with more cash than brains. Said he needed a bit more striking power.”



“And you chopped off his arm,” I asked incredulously.



“He paid in advance and was very specific. Who am I to talk reason into him,” Fleischer shrugged, taking a pull on his cig. “Now what,” he asked me, brushing a lock of his already-greying hair which escaped his operating cowl behind his ear.



“Well, initially I wanted to rip your fucking balls off but seeing that you’re not guilty, just negligently stupid, I’ll let you off easy. How’s that sound?”



“Thanks, inspector,” he chuckled, digging in his coat for something. When he withdrew his hand, he handed me a big clump of Euro notes.



“What? Now you want to have a ride with me,” I asked, somewhat taken aback.



“Don’t be stupid. I don’t do kids. I want you to quit whoring yourself out. This should be enough to keep you clothed, fed and dry for at least half a year. Find a nice little apartment and please, get off the street. I mean it.” He looked at me imploringly.



“You’re shitting me. That’s at least ten grand. Wait… Is that what he paid you,” I again jabbed my thumb at the door.



“No, I’m damn serious. I hate to see you like this. You’re such a brilliant girl. With the right education, you could easily find work wherever it pleases you. You don’t need to whore yourself out. I don’t want to see you cut to pieces in some alley one day. And if that money will help you do it, fuck, then I’ll eat Maggi Ravioli for the next six months.”



We shared a chuckle at that. I let his words sink in, feeling my throat tighten up. “You’re serious, huh,” I sniffled as the tears began to fall.



“Yes. I’ll take the rest of what I made tonight and make a deposit with it. Once I see you’re actually studying, I’ll give you the details for the deposit.”



I hugged him, nearly tackling Fleischer off his feet. Nobody in the last four years had been so nice to me and I smothered him with kisses.



“Stop it! What will the neighbors say,” he huffed, flustered, once he got me under control again. I cuddled against him, sniffing into his blood-spattered smock.



“Fuck the neighbors,” I forced out around the lump in my throat. Then I looked up at him, blinking the tears off my optics. “What do you want in return?”



“Nothing. I don’t want to fuck you, I don’t want anything. I just want you off the streets, away from those horrible people you give yourself to. Oh, and one little thing…” He actually blushed.



“Aha. You want a quick BJ, right,” I teased him, tickling his sides through his smock.



“Fuck, NO,” he protested. Cuddling against him, I could feel his body betraying his words.



“I just want to meet you now and again, checking if your implant holds up. Will you let me,” he asked, almost shyly.



“I would get on all fours for you, Fleischer-darling. For that kind of cash? Everything you ask, really.” Almost brutally, he pushed me off him. Before he could say anything though, the guy inside his RV started to scream.



“Now what,” I asked, bewildered.



“Looks like he needs another shot. Or maybe I re-wired his nerve endings the wrong way. Either way, I’ve got to go, see to him. Promise you’ll be in touch, okay,” Fleischer asked, already back inside his rolling clinic.



“Yeah, sure,” I called. The door slammed shut.



***



I trotted through the throng of people cluttering the Tempelhof Market, even this late in the night, Fleischer’s present practically burning a hole in my pocket. The later it got, the more interesting the crowd became. Mercenaries looking for more firepower, corp people looking for cheap thrills, punks like me looking for scraps off the big boys’ tables or a client to fuck or maybe to burn some of that money on drugs and chips. I was pondering my options. I certainly had no desire to sell my body much longer. Three and a half years were enough, thank you. Thanks to Fleischer and his meds, I never contracted anything more serious than a rash or a bad cold and I really had been lucky with my clients so far. No stab-happy psychopaths. Yet. But the older I got, the harder the competition became. Already I had to fight the bodysculpted bimbos the Turkish and Russian pimps fielded for my regulars. So far, I had always been younger and cheaper than they were, but frankly, I was getting sick of the filthy coffin motel crowd. The longer I mulled it over, the better Fleischer’s idea sounded. I knew I needed to rein in my chip habit and find someone who would lend me a school deck, but if Fleischer was right, maybe this was my way back into Neu-Alexanderplatz.



The commotion became even more deafening, tires screeching, then the sickening thump of a body hitting something much more resilient. As if pulled by invisible strings, I followed the noises. A moment later, car doors closed shut, an engine roared and the car took off. I only could see the rear lights vanish in the distance. Near the mouth of the alley I came out of, a guy in a suit was lying spread-eagled on the tarmac. Quickly scanning from side to side, I knelt down by his side. The bend in his neck looked damn unhealthy to me and the people who rammed him obviously weren’t interested in first aid. Instead, they had pilfered his pockets and taken off, crushing his ribcage when they ran over his prone form. I shook my head. Poor bastard.



Raising my gaze, I caught something glittering in the light filtering through the alley. It was the lock of a briefcase, a rather expensive-looking one at that. I knew that stealing was bad and looting corpses even more so, but where were my parents, who instilled these rules into young Shine, now? Hearing voices draw closer, plus the wail of an ambulance siren, I nabbed the case and high-tailed it out of there. I took off my jacket and hid the case under it while I made my way, shivering in the cold, back to the station. I couldn’t wait to find out what was locked inside.



***



“Can you open it or not,” I asked, hunched over in my coffin. Per specifications, they were eight feet deep, four feet high and about five wide but, crowded with my meager possessions and two people, it felt like the proverbial sardine tin.



“I wish it was an electronic lock; that I could open without lookin’,” Krone whined, baring his grill. Why anyone would cram his mouth full with precious metal still eluded me, especially when it looked as tasteless as the thing Krone wore. He had practically every currency sign on his teeth, Euros, Dollars, Yen – you name it. He fancied himself to be a gangster on the up’n'up, but the fact that he lived in this coffin motel longer than I proved otherwise. Nevertheless, he had the skills I needed and he was one of my favoured customers. If he could be bothered to take out his grill and brush his teeth, he was a fantastic lover and somehow he managed to tip generously too.



Only five feet five but built like a brick wall, he divided his time between lording over his bunch of cronies and working out at a gym. He had the bronzed skin of an Italian but he spoke with a strong Berlin accent. And the rest of his looks – dreadlocks, gold studs in his ears and nose, his trademark grill and the baggy jeans and oversized basketball sweaters – screamed “Gangsta Rapper wannabe.” Only, somehow, he managed to pull it off without being totally ludicrous. His people had taken the coffin motel under their wing, no doubt extorting protection money from the owner, but in return they kept a semblance of order. And they were generally nice customers.



“Well, since it isn’t… got any ideas, Romeo?” Don’t laugh, that was his “real” name and he hated it as much as I hated mine. Katarina, that wasn’t me. Katarina was the demure daughter of a good corp drone, not the whore I was. Katarina had wonderful chestnut tresses, not a fucking billiards ball for a haircut. Katarina had parents. Parents who died, at the hands of their former employers. It was a Ceiss guard who shot the car we were in. And even though my parents were declared traitors and guilty of industry espionage, the people from Internal Affairs never bothered to show me the documents they allegedly possessed. All I had was their word.



A metallic “SNIKH” noise ripped me back into the present. Krone held out his hand, his fingernails hidden under three inches of gleaming, razor-sharp steel that sprouted from ports near his nail beds.



“Pretty cool, eh, Katarina,” he teased, before jamming the tip of his nail razor into the seam between the frame of the briefcase and the leather covering its sides.



“Hey, what the fuck’re you doing? That thing’s expensive,” I shrieked as he began to cut open the seam.



“Yeah, and you pilfered it off a dead guy. What’s more important, the contents or the wrapping? And since I can’t go through the locks…” He threw me a glittering smile and continued to cut open the suitcase.



All was silent between us, apart from the gentle ripping of actual stitching and the rhythmic thumping from underneath us. I rolled my eyes. My lower-coffin neighbour again, probably fucking his fist to the latest VR porn.



“That’s giving me ideas…” Krone suggested silkily. He stopped cutting up the suitcase’s outer shell long enough to brush his other hand, the one without nail razors, over my thigh. I shivered, not, as he was probably thinking, in anticipation but in dread. Since when did he have these killing blades?



“Sorry, sweetheart, I already had my fill today. Besides, I’m paying you enough, am I not?” I was generous. For both his skills and his silence, I had sprung more than a hundred Euros already.



“Yeah, the cash is fine and all, but you know me. I can’t get enough of your hot box, babe. I’d have rather taken you than your cash, dig?”



Under different circumstances I would have agreed to that, but my earlier experience with the snuff chip was still far too vivid in my mind for any serious thought about sex, ‘specially with a guy who could grow stabby knives from his fingertips.



“Ta-dah,” he exclaimed, flicking the leather shell off one side of the suitcase. Another quick slash with his razors bisected the inner lining, and we both stared. There were just a few items in that case; a long, rectangular item, matte black plastic, gilded jacks and ports on one side, a few cables and a small chip binder.



“Dang, girl, looks like ya hit the jackpot this time. Want me to take it off yer hands,” Krone leered, nearly drooling over the machine.



“You could never pay me what this is worth,” I whispered in awe.



“Yup, right. But I know peeps who could. And you let me in on the profits, ‘kay?”



I looked into his eyes. He averted his gaze, but not quickly enough. My heart sank. Despite what may have been tenuous friendship before, I saw the Euro signs blazing behind his eyes, flaring hotter than his common sense. And I knew that he would stop at nothing to get his hands on that deck. Gingerly, I scooted backwards until I was almost sitting on my jacket. Then I spread my legs. After returning from Fleischer’s, I had retrieved my laundry, fully washed and dried, and changed into a set of work clothes, just in case Krone needed more persuasion. The Euros I handed him were enough but I was glad I now only had my leather mini skirt and see-through red fishnet panties on. Trying my best to smile seductively, I snapped the buttons open and flipped the front half of the skirt up, flashing my shaved pussy, deliciously wrapped in a hint of red at him.



“I have an idea. Let me think on it. And while I do that, you can have a go at my box. For free. ‘Cause you’re such a good sport…”



“Now that’s one hell of a way to seal a deal,” Krone whooped, placing the suitcase to the side, on edge, so he could contort his body into an almost-lying position between my thighs. I tapped his skull with my fingers.



“Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself, Romeo,” I asked. It was strange. Despite my unease, the tricks of the trade worked. I sounded playful, conveyed nothing but willingness. He even handed me his oh-so expensive grill, which I placed on a saucer out of harm’s way. I felt his nail razors, clipping open the fishnet panties, before his tongue slithered up and down my snatch, lapping at the few, errant drops of moisture. I had to force myself to relax. I needed to give in to him, at least for the time being, to lull him in. He did his best to get me off, teasing my sex with his lips and tongue and, when he thought me sufficiently horny, even with his fingers. My hand had snaked into the pocket of my jacket and I was carefully fishing out my gun, all the while playing the horny, brainless bimbo in heat. I moaned and gasped obediently when he nibbled on my clit or flexed his fingers inside of me. Eventually, I had my gun free. I quickly debated if I should blow his brains out but, despite everything that had happened to me, I was no cold-blooded killer. So, instead of shooting Krone, I instead slammed the heavy, unwieldy plastic gun into his skull for all I was worth. Thankfully, he was just brushing my thighs with his hands because, as soon as I hit him, knocking him cold, his hands spasmed and ten nail razors flicked out, nearly slashing me open. I looked at the magazine housing of my gun. The cheap high-density plastic had fractured and I could see the metal frame housing the bullets. But I was happy that hopefully, Krone would survive.



***



I knew I couldn’t stay in the coffin hotel anymore, not after knocking out the local gang boss. Krone would be more than furious and I knew damn well that he could hold a grudge. So I grabbed what I didn’t want to leave behind, shoved it into a backpack and got outta there. I was almost out of Kreuzberg when I noticed that I had a serious problem. Since Ceiss had broken off all ties with my family, I had no papers. I practically didn’t exist, technically speaking.



When it became apparent that one of the biggest drains on a nation’s finances were the expenses for social services, Germany was quick to allow the corporations to care for their employees, taking the monetary weight of welfare off the nation’s shoulders and shifting it to the much more wealthy corporations. Work well and hard and the corp takes care of you, even when you or one of yours couldn’t work anymore. “Modern slavery,” Fleischer called it.



Without papers – real or forged ones – I couldn’t rent a flat, I couldn’t even visit a respectable hotel. The owners of that coffin motel didn’t bother with IDs, they made their profit by dealing with the bottom rung of society and people like me or Yilderim or Krone paid cash anyways. No questions asked, perfect deniability if the cops came snooping, which they did at least once a week.



Theoretically, I could apply for official, German papers. Fleischer always urged me to it. I would need to provide both a living address and a source of income and I highly doubted that “whore” would qualify as such. Plus, I figured that all that paperwork would take quite some time, time which I didn’t have right now. Maybe Fleischer had an idea.



It was already dawning when I mustered the courage to enter a bar in search of a payphone. I didn’t bother with a cell, I just couldn’t spare the money for prepaid cards or service plans.



The bar was a tube of a room, with the actual bar taking up most of the space. A handful of patrons were sitting on the stools. Some had the traditional drinks in front of them but I saw at least two who were lying on the bar, wearing rented VR headsets, their faces blank, eyes hidden behind the visors. Remembering my close brush with death earlier that same night, I shivered.



“You got a phone,” I asked the barman, an oily weasel of a person. His eyes travelled down my body, taking in the leather miniskirt and the naked legs underneath. I realized I should have changed into something less provocative than my work clothes on the way here. Couldn’t be helpled now.



He practically drooled at me when he said, “If you’re nice to me, you can even use it for free, doll.”



I gave him a lukewarm smile and jingled my jacket pocket, which had a couple of Euro coins just for that emergency.



“Thanks but I’m not that desperate, darling,” I said, striding past his customers towards the wall-mounted unit.



He shot me an ugly look but didn’t say anything. Instead, he lighted a foul-smelling cig and took a pull from it. I felt his gaze on my butt as I looked at the payphone. That thing was ancient, possibly pre-dating the fall of the Berlin Wall, with a dial instead of a keypad. A wonder it accepted Euros instead of Deutschmarks. Quickly, I fed it a coin and dialled Fleischer’s number, hoping he would be near his emergency phone. My free hand fished for the gun, just in case.



Fleischer’s phone rang, three, four times. I was pondering if I should hang up and try again from somewhere else when he finally took the call.



“Huh?” He sounded sleepy.



“Don’t tell me you celebrated that operation with a hot, steaming girl and now you’re too tired for me,” I purred into the phone.



“Huh? Who is this?”



“Hello-o, Fleischer, it’s me, Katarina! Good morning, handsome!”

Suddenly, his voice sounded alarmed, every trace of fatigue seemed to have vanished.



“Katarina! Are you all right? Where are you? Has anything happened to you?” His concern was touching and I felt really shitty for teasing him.



“I’m fine, more or less, but I have a problem. I need a new place to crash, quickly. Preferably somewhere that Krone doesn’t know about. Can you help me?” I dropped my voice, not wanting to have the whole bar listening in. Quickly looking around, I caught the barman’s gaze. He gave me a lusty look and deliberately licked his lips. Creep. I heard Fleischer rummage through some items near his phone. It almost sounded like he was shuffling tablet PCs.



“I think I know someone who can help ya. She owes me, too. Got something to write?”



Casting around, I found a beer mat that wasn’t too soggy. Some thoughtful customer had left an old, grubby ball pen near the payphone. I tried it and for once, I was lucky. I “Uh-huh”‘ed into the phone and Fleischer gave me a phone number, which I dutifully jotted down.



“Tell her Fleischer gave you this number. She’s a good woman. A bit quirky, but nice.”



“Does that person have a name,” I asked, mildly intrigued. All the time I knew Fleischer, he never had a girlfriend. And he didn’t date, as far as I knew. Hearing him talk about a woman was new to me.



“Yeah, of course she’s got a name. Erna Schmidt. Tell her I said ‘hi,’ willya?”



“Sure thing. I’ll stay in touch. And thank you, Fleischer. For everything.” Before my voice could catch, I hung up. I turned around. The barman was nowhere to be seen. Deciding that this particular phone call could wait a few minutes, I crammed the beer mat into a pocket and left the bar in a hurry.



***



I called Frau Schmidt from yet another payphone. To avoid another scary incident like before, I walked all the way to the Ostkreuz station, which bustled with activity twenty-four hours a day. When I arrived, the morning rush hour was in full swing and I felt somewhat secure in the throngs of people marching off to work. I squeezed myself into one of the narrow phone booths and dialled the number Fleischer gave me.



“Hallo. This is Schmidt speaking,” a cranky, old voice snapped at me.



“Good morning, ma’am. You don’t know me, but…” I began.



“Why are you calling me then? If you’re none of my clients, bugger off,” The line was dead after that. Gnashing my teeth, I fed the payphone another Euro and dialled again.



“Yes,” the voice snapped again.



“Fleischer gave me your number. He said you know him,” I blurted out, as fast as I could.



Silence. I thought she had interrupted the connection again but a moment later she asked, “And what do you want from me?”



She had me there. Fleischer, obviously still not quite a hundred percent himself after I so rudely roused him, didn’t elaborate on the kind of services she could offer. By her voice, I surmised she was the World Champion at telling other people off.



“I need a place to sleep, quite badly. Somewhere that’s away from Kreuzberg and where they take Illegals.” All in, hopefully it worked out.



“Can you pay?”



“Sure.”



Silence again. Suddenly, the yawn hit me. I realized I hadn’t slept at all this night and all that excitement had taken quite a toll on me. One hell of a birthday, really.



“Forgive me if I don’t quite believe you. Where are you now?” Her voice sounded a little less cranky now but it had gained a hint of a very unpleasant edge.



Could I trust that unknown person? On the other hand, she sounded, like, ancient and stuff, so what could she do to me? Throw her teeth at me?



“I’m at the Ostkreuz, at the baker’s in the lobby. Look for a silver baseball jacket and a bald head, okay?”



“Fine. Don’t move, I’ll be over in a hurry. And you’d better not be fucking with me.”



This time, the line was dead. I hung up as well, grabbed the paltry change and headed back towards the baker’s, hoping that a strong coffee would carry me through the next few hours. I ordered a double-strong espresso and a roll and sat down on one of the handy benches nearby, congratulating myself for my ingenuity. From where I was sitting, I had an excellent view of most of the lobby, so I could see who would eventually approach me. The roll was delicious, much better than the krill-based insta-food I could only afford until now, and the coffee really kicked me awake. Sighing contentedly, I leaned back and watched the lobby, the ebb and flow of people was eerily mesmerizing. And, despite the shock of caffeine, my eyelids began to droop. I fought to keep my eyes open but eventually my head nodded forwards and I dozed off.



***



Something cold and very sharp pressed gently against my neck and the stink of bad tobacco wafted over me. My eyes flew open and, a nanosecond later, an even fouler-smelling hand clamped my mouth shut.



“Come on, ‘darling,’ move that nice ass of yours off the bench. You and I will be having a little walk, a little talk and a little fuckie-fuckie,” an oily voice whispered into my ear. Then his tongue slid along my earlobe. I tensed up, thankful that my hand was inside my jacket pocket.



“Nah-uh-uh,” the voice said, pressing the cold blade against my neck, the edge not quite breaking the skin. “Don’t even think about it. You’d be breathing through a new hole in your throat quicker than you could pull whatever’s in that pocket. Why won’t you be a nice little slut and come with me? I’ll make it worth your while…”



Pulling on my head, he yanked me off the bench. I was much too shocked to bring up any resistance. And I didn’t want him ripping my head off so I reluctantly followed. As if the smell wasn’t confirmation enough, when he guided me past the walls towards a side exit I could see our reflection in the tiles. Me, wide-eyed, pale, shaking. He wore a hoodie that obscured most of his head but in the reflection our eyes met. It really was the same sleazy bartender from last night.



He had changed his grip; the knife was hidden under his jacket but I still felt the point of the blade caressing my spine; his other hand held one of my arms and roughly guided me. It took him only a moment to steer me into one of the plentiful emergency escapes. Now it was only me and him and the thick, fire-proof doors would make sure no one would hear my screams.



“You must be really desperate to resort to kidnapping,” I hissed his way. Sadly, my voice sounded small, shaky, not the least bit filled with contempt like I hoped it would.



“I just can’t let a nice piece of ass wander around is all,” he chuckled back at me, smugness dripping off every word. “Oh, we will have so much fun, you and me. Right until the moment I slit your fucking throat.”



“Why don’t you let her go,” a stern voice snapped through the nearly deserted escape passage. My kidnapper stopped in mid-stride and threw a quick glance over his shoulder.



“Fuck off, granny. This is my girlfriend and we’re just having a little walk, is all,” he drawled.



“I know for a fact that she’s not your girlfriend. Let her go or else!”



The kidnapper slash barman pulled me close and pressed the knife to my throat then turned us around. A dozen meters away, near the emergency doors, an angry old woman was standing in the passage, one hand in her handbag, the other, shaking with rage, pointed at us.



“Or else… what,” he hissed. One hand was pressing the knife against my throat, the other wandered down over my tummy. I felt his dick twitch against my behind. This guy was getting off at using me as a human shield? Fucking perv!



“I don’t have time for this,” the old woman snarled, almost under her breath. A moment later, her hand came out of the bag and with it a huge, ancient-looking revolver. Without hesitation, the barrel came up. I looked into what seemed like a subway tunnel. Every gun looks big when you stare into the business end of it.



“I-I wouldn’t try that,” the kidnapper said hastily. “You might hit her instead.” With that, he hugged me even closer to him, waving the knife threateningly. He had his legs spread for better balance, his dick insistently pressing in between my butt cheeks.



“You’re right,” the old woman said. The barrel lowered again. The kidnapper and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then, almost simultanously, a shot roared and the kidnapper started to scream. He dropped the knife and fell, taking me with him, howling like a stuck pig. I rolled away from him and stumbled back to my feet. He was clutching his knee and screaming in agony. The old woman motioned for me to move away from him, which I happily did, then she raised the weapon and fired again. His screams rose in pitch and volume, a red puddle steadily expanding from him.



“And that’s what you get for abducting young girls. A shot to the nuts,” the old woman said, with grim satisfaction. She replaced the gun in her handbag, brushed her hand off on her coat and held it out to me.



“I’m Erna Schmidt. Did you call me earlier?”



“Huh? Y-yeah… But what about him? Won’t he die,” I asked in mixed awe and horror.



“Nah, none of the hits were fatal. Except to his ego, that is,” Frau Schmidt said, giving a mean cackle. Seeing that I had no intention of shaking it, she withdrew her hand.



“Let’s go, before the cops show up.”



***



“There we are,” Frau Schmidt said, pointing out of the side window of her pre-turn of the century Mercedes limo. She didn’t bother with a driver, instead she steered the vehicle herself. After being with her for about an hour, I still had no clue how old she was and what she was doing for a living. I only knew it involved guns somehow, because on the the back seat of the limo, where my backpack parked, there was a big, mean submachine gun. By the look of the matted plastic handle, well used.



The house she was pointing at was an unremarkable six-story apartment building in Niederschönweide, surrounded by others of its kind.



“It may not be the fucking Adlon hotel but no one will bother you here,” Frau Schmidt huffed.



“What do I owe you,” I asked, intimidated. Her auburn eyes softened for an instant, before her old, brash self returned.



“As long as you pay your rent, you owe me nothing. That little save earlier is on the house. Us girls need to stick together, right?” A bout of raucous laughter erupted from her, turning into a painful cough.



“Are you all right,” I asked, worried.



“Parts of me want to die badly, it seems,” Frau Schmidt chuckled, wiping tears from her eyes. “But don’t concern yourself with that. Talk to Herr Kiesow, the landlord. He’ll get you a flat. And if he gives you lip, send him my way.” Almost gently, she tapped my shoulder and pointed at the passenger-side door. I took the hint, grabbed my backpack and climbed out of the comfy car. Frau Schmidt honked the horn twice and gunned the accelerator, taking off in a screech of tires. Shaking my head, I crossed the street, eager to meet my new landlord. I just hoped the flat had ‘Net access.



***



It did. It also had its own, cozy bathroom. A small kitchenette with a microwave and fridge. Cable TV too. The furniture looked like last century to me but who was I to complain? To me, it was like a fever dream. No more sharing a dingy, communal shower. No need to carry a whole broom cabinet of cleaning and disinfectant supplies when you needed to hit the potty. I was deathly tired by now but I couldn’t resist the urge for a hot, long shower.



Soaking under the steamy water, I finally began to relax. Things were looking pretty good right now. I had a roof over my head, I had ‘Net access and no one apart from Frau Schmidt knew where I was. I squirted some shower gel into my hand and began to lather myself up. With the kind of money I now had, I could even have a good meal each day. I keenly felt every rib as I rubbed the soft lather over my small breasts. As if on autopilot, my fingers pinched my nipples and I gasped at the sensation, the small jolt of pleasure shooting right between my thighs. Yeah, twice tonight I ended up shortly before a climax. Once with the kill chip, once with Romeo tonguing me. Third time’s the charm then. I leaned against the tiled wall and placed one foot on the rim of the shower, slowly caressing down my tummy. My hip bones felt shockingly sharp under my questing fingertips and I vowed to put on at least a bit of healthy weight in the next few weeks. My fingers converged on my mound, teasingly brushing the hint of fuzz that had grown there since the last time I managed to pay for a waxing. Grinning mischievously, I unhooked the shower head from its arm and tested the jets of water, letting them hit against my shoulder before slowly moving them lower, over my breasts. I felt supremely decadent, all soaped up, teasing myself with a removeable shower head. The last time I did that, I was still living with my parents at Ceiss Tower and I had just discovered the pleasure I could give myself. The water hit my mound and I sighed in pleasure, my free hand guiding the blast, sometimes shielding my sensitive snatch from the jetting water, sometimes exposing my sex to it, opening my folds. I moved the shower head in small circles over my pussy, zeroing in on my clit before I couldn’t take it any more. I replaced the shower head, letting the water pour down on me while I buried both hands between my legs, one stroking, teasing my clit while two fingers from the other hand invaded my tunnel and slowly, deeply pumped into me. My sighs had turned into fully-fledged moans of heat as I fucked myself vigorously. This was not about gentle teasing, sensuous pleasure, this was the pure need to get off. Whimpering, I picked up the pace even more, my fingers a blur, busy between my thighs. Then someone hammered against the wall, a muffled, disgruntled voice complaining. I twitched in shock, brushing my fingers against that super-sensitive spot inside of me and I came, hard. A scream wrenched itself from my body as I sunk against the tiled wall, riding the waves of a wonderful orgasm.



Catching my breath, I cleaned myself up and hopped from the shower, wrapping my threadbare towels around me. I barely made it to the bed before fatigue finally caught up with me.



***



When I woke up, it was dark again outside. My belly rumbled. On the one hand, I wanted to conserve my money, but I had lived in Kreuzberg long enough to know that walking through unknown territory was a bad idea. I knew next to nothing about this area. Going by what Frau Schmidt told me on the ride here, I only knew that this was still considered a relatively safe area. Low-rent, yes, but the cops did their rounds still, there was electricity most of the time and the likelihood of being shot at was rather slim. Nonetheless, until I knew my way around, I decided against going shopping in the dark and ordered takeout instead. One other thing the flat had was a phone. Herr Kiesow told me that as long as I kept away from international calls or phone sex numbers, I could use it as long as I wanted, special service for Frau Schmidt’s customers.



So, half an hour later, I was munching on almost-hot turkish Döner kebap with fries and fiddled around with the deck I “found.” It didn’t look too complicated, with only three jacks, each of them unique to a cable and a simple on/off switch. The long, serrated plug of the Mindlink lead was intimidating, though. I hoped that my jury-rigged implant could handle that thing. After gulping down my dinner with a generous helping of imitation coke, I sat down at the living room table. Exchanging my eye for the jack slash implant was almost second nature. Depressing the button next to my eyesocket, I popped my eye out and placed it in the box filled with cleansing fluid, from which I’d already taken the fake eyeball housing all the electronics. That thing went into the vacated eyesocket and I had to make sure that the jack faced outwards. Putting the thing in backwards was fucking painful as the ridges of the jack would scrub against the soft tissue hugging the eyeball, which I learned pretty quickly. I batted my eyelids a couple of times to stem the tear reflex, wiped the jack dry and held the plug up to my one good eye.



“Now, let’s see what we stumbled upon,” I hissed in my best cyber-agent imitation. Going by touch, I carefully inserted the plug and flicked on the power. The lead going from the plug was surprisingly heavy, pulling uncomfortably at the fake eye it was jutting out from, so I took the booting deck and placed it next to me onto the couch as I leaned back, hoping to ease the pull. Then, something scary happened. A line of red text flashed across my field of vision:



“Warning! Motion inhibitors engaged! Please remain calm!”



Icy panic flooded through me. The last thing I wanted was to go all zombie. But there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t even roll my eyes in annoyance. Then, everything went black.



***



When I could see again, I was hovering in a simple, marble-floored room, its eight sides pulsing with angular patterns, not unlike what you would see on a circuit board. Thanks to my visits with Fleischer, I knew enough about electronics to recognize the symbols.



“Welcome, user number zero-zero-nine. I will guide you through the first-time setup of your avatar.”



That was new. Granted, I had my knowledge about deck operation mostly from experiencing StimChip thrillers. The hero jacked in and suddenly he was blasting through the systems he needed to infiltrate. Maybe that worked once the boring shit like setup was done?



“Who says I’m a new user,” I asked flippantly.



“Your EEG pattern does not match any registered pattern on this deck. Conclusion: New user.”



“Does that mean I don’t have any software to use,” I asked. What use would a deck be if I can’t use the software stored on it?



“You may use any software the administrator has labelled as publicly available,” the silky female voice elaborated.



“Thank you. How does this work,” I wanted to know.



“Do you want automated, guided or expert first-time setup,” the voice inquired.



“Guided, please.”



“Acknowledged. What basic shape do you want your avatar to possess?”



A vast selection of body types unfolded before my eyes. Humanoid, animal, geometric shapes of all kinds, far too much to take in.



“Can I filter that somehow,” I asked, my head spinning.



“Set filter parameters.”



I was not in the mood to fiddle with my appearance. From what little I knew, every shape was as good as any other when it came to operating in the ‘Net. One of the chips I had used even featured a ‘Netjockey whose avatar looked like a neon-blue dolphin, with chromed flippers and an armored nose, and he had no trouble doing the same things a two-legged avatar could do.



“Humanoid, female please.”



The selection thinned considerably. I could choose from several body types and heights, everything from little girl to wizened crone. I smirked as I picked a slender, curvaceous model, not unlike the star from “Caribbean Dreams XXII.” Once that basic choice was done, the options became much more focussed and easy to comprehend. I had the deck mold the avatar’s face to my own, minus the sharply chiseled bones under too little flesh, added a plait made from burning orange neon threads whose tip reached down to the avatar’s bum cleft, had the eyes match the hair and coated the whole thing in shiny silver chrome. I even added a little aftertouch effect that caused the chrome to ripple like it was hardly solid. I didn’t bother with clothing, despite the overwhelming selection. What I added were a pair of burning wings and glossy, metallic-red lips. I nodded at my flaming angel-avatar. Hopefully, she would be a bringer of justice.



“Do you want to save,” the system voice nagged.



“Yeah, do it.”



Everything turned black again.



***



I couldn’t help it. My fingertips explored my body. The chrome clanged softly when my fingers touched it but it didn’t feel cold. And I could feel me touching myself. An experiment then. I brushed my fingertips over my breasts. The system wasn’t kidding when it said that this body type would be “fully functional and anatomically correct.” My nipples were made from the same warm yet hard metal and, fuck, they were sensitive. Simply brushing my fingertips against one caused me to shudder, my body making ringing noises off the marble dais I was on. My hand travelled lower and found my sex. Despite looking like chrome, my sex was soft, flexible. And oh, so sensitive, while my questing finger felt like a little dildo. I caressed myself for a moment before it became too much. This was more freaky than any StimChip I had to date but I wasn’t here to goof around. I sat up and with a sound like a million bunsen burners lighting, my wings fired up, bathing the room in blazing orange radiance. With a thought, I turned them off again. Somehow I knew that it would work that way. I got to my feet and looked around. The same eight-sided room as before, only now I wasn’t looking at it from a bird’s eye view, now I was standing inside it.

One wall opened by sinking into the floor. I stepped through the newly made door and found myself in a large cathedral. One side was filled with stained-glass windows made from fluorescent neon panels depicting busy workers programming at their desks or piecing together robot limbs at workbenches. The light passing through or emanating from those windows pooled in large, colored areas on the floor between the pews. The other side of the cathedral was even more impressive. From floor to ceiling, the wall was adorned with every conceivable kind of weapon. The tables in front of the wall were cluttered with tools. And leaning against the pillars holding up the immense domed roof were intricate suits of armor, some spun from neon gossamer, hugging their mannequins like burning cocoons, others were made from what looked like ballistic plastic or chrome. Drawn by curiosity, I made my way over to that arsenal.



I felt a floor tile give under my foot.



“Arm thyself and bring justice to the enemies of Bosch & Siemens,” a monumental male voice thundered. I nearly fainted at the volume of his order. Virtual pep talk for combat jockeys? That was new.



The voice reverberated through the cathedral and I tried to make sense of the array of things laid out on the tables. Carefully, I brushed my hands over what looked like a grenade, with an angry, crossed-out eye on its side. And suddenly I knew. As soon as my fingers touched it, I knew that the thing in question was a stun program. Once initiated by throwing it at the target, the routines from this program would directly attack the opponent’s deck, causing it to overload his nervous system, possibly causing unconsciousness and the loss of deck control for at least ten seconds.



Giggling in fascinated glee, I brushed my hands over all the things in front of me. Intrusion aids, from the subtle to the violent. Translators for every known language, including obscure and extinct programming languages. Disguises of all shapes and forms. Evasion aids for teleporting out of danger. Bugs and tracers. Programs to hijack real-world machinery. Even things to fuck up vehicle navigation systems. And I hadn’t even touched any weapon yet. This thing was… this deck was a weapon. I didn’t just steal a simple clerk’s tool of the trade. This was a real, deadly combat deck, one of the things that so often featured in the StimChip thrillers. With this, even a complete beginner could be unstoppable. With this, even I could be unstoppable.



***



A few moments later, my avatar was hardly recognizeable. Velcro straps wrapped around my thighs, my upper and lower arms and my hip, each loaded with capsules, little bags or simple, not-too-subtle grenades. Since I had no idea what I would need, I simply took one of every tool category. My armament consisted of a long handle strapped to my hip, with an ornate crossguard and also a pair of gems set into the palms of my hands. I hoped I wouldn’t need to ever use them, the thrillers were pretty clear and drastic when showing what happened to those unfortunates that lost in cyber combat, but I didn’t want to take any risk. Now that I had the means to find out if my parents had been traitors, if Ceiss was right in expelling me, I sure as hell would use them.



Smiling grimly, I turned towards the ornate double doors leading out of the cathedral. A richly-dressed priest intercepted me as I laid my hands on the huge door handles.



“May God be with you, my child. Where are you going today,” he simpered.



“The Ceiss Tower.”



***



No StimChip could prepare me for the rush of flight. No chip ever felt so… real. I felt the air whip past my naked body, the wind caressing my stiff nipples. My wings roared, effortlessly holding me aloft while I soared along a burning trail connecting the shiny marble cathedral with the rest of the ‘Net. I sped through switches, banked along magnificient structures formed from chrome, neon and what looked like black glass, glided between massive, towering systems housing the entirety of a corporation’s networks. I flew through tunnels of light, hundreds of avatars zipping past me as they trundled towards their own destinations. And then, rising even higher above the clutter of the lesser systems, I spotted the virtual representation of the Ceiss Tower, a slender, glowing needle seemingly piercing the heavens, its sides made from square lenses that reflected the neon cacophony surrounding it and caused it to glitter like a tower made from gemstones.



I was almost drunk with excitement, the joy of flight alone nearly enough to get me off. It took quite some time until I noticed that my flight had slowed down. I was gently flapping my wings, hovering a few hundred meters away from the massive structure. If something like that would be built in the real world, it would at least be three kilometers tall, with massive windows.



I had no clue why I had stopped but I had seen enough StimChips to know what a real cyber agent would do. Before entering, he would scope out the place. So I opened one of the bags strapped to my hips and reached inside. When I’d picked it up, the program looked like a classic pair of binoculars but, withdrawing my hand from the pocket, I now had a swarm of silver eyeballs in my palm, each one of the eyes sporting a miniscule pair of flame wings, just like my avatar did. I threw them at Ceiss Tower and, obediently, the swarm of eyeballs dispersed, fluttering along the structure. The hand from which I threw them suddenly held a parchment scroll and I had the overwhelming urge to unfurl it.



The parchment rustled softly as I pulled the scroll open. A glowing silver script formed itself on the paper.



LOCATION : Ceiss Tower PERMISSIONS: anonymous user ALERT LEVEL: zero



And so forth and so on. My eyeballs delivered every single useful bit of information about the place. I now knew they had sentry programs stationed near the login prompt, to keep eager script kiddies away. And I knew that the personnel files were stored on floor two-hundred sixty-six, deep within the Human Resources systems. Rolling up the scroll, I terminated the program and banked downwards, towards the login prompt, which looked like a monumental courtyard. Ceiss wasn’t kidding when they announced that their system was one of the most advanced in Europe, only dwarfed by Mindlink London. Even living in the coffin motel, I had this urge to stay up-to-date with what happened at my former home and the news was all over the media.



With the clicking of metal on pavement, I alighted in front of the massive gatehouse. The Ceiss logo, a stylized human eye, half biological, half cyberized, with the company name in edgy neon script superimposed over it, stared at me. The effect made it look as if the thing was following my every movement. Around me, other avatars were coming and going.



“Welcome to Ceiss, Visitor,” a cheery female voice blurted out when I strode through the gatehouse. Every step caused colorful adverts to flare into life, just inside my field of vision. New models of cyber-eyes. New, improved and perfectly affordable cosmetic lenses that let your irises look like peace signs or smileys or the face of your favourite VR star. Everything you could ever need for digital photography. Every advert was accompanied by a soft jingle and the farther I got, the more annoyed I became. The heroes in the StimChips didn’t have to bother with adverts, they just blasted into their target systems and got shit done. I dimly remembered something the setup thing told me, that there were special commands I could invoke even when away from my deck.



Taking a step to the side, away from the stream of avatars passing through the gatehouse, I raised my hand to my mouth and whispered into it, “Is there an advert blocker, by any chance?”



Suddenly, I felt a soft piece of fabric drop onto my wrist. It was black and gauzy and long enough that I could tie it around my head. Feeling like Rambo, I wrapped the line of fabric around my forehead and tied it with a knot, but nothing happened. Then it dawned on me. Everything I used formed itself to fit my avatar. Angels didn’t wear headbands but somehow the system thought it appropriate for me to wear a blindfold? Shrugging, I pulled the black fabric over my eyes. At first I thought the thing had malfunctioned, because there was no change in visibility. But as I took another step, no new neon signs popped up. Breathing a sigh of relief, I entered the courtyard.



From the air, the Ceiss Tower already looked massive but from down here, it was downright intimidating, the walls rising up like sheer cliffs, the glossy surface reflecting every flash of light back a thousand times. I averted my eyes and strode on, right up to the entrance. Four guards in polished armor flanked the massive glass doors, polearms with lightning-spitting business ends leaning against their shoulders. Avatars strode past me, most of them looking like faceless people in suits. They simply flashed their hands at the guards and passed through the doors. Following suit, I stepped closer to the doors. Two polearms crossed in front of me, and a synthetic voice, not unfriendly, demanded my logon credentials. I backed off and rifled through my inventory. I had several means to enter a secured system, but I thought the battering ram hidden in a capsule on my right bicep might be a bit too much. Instead, I pulled out a white porcelain mask and placed it over my eyes.



“You will need a valid user ID to use the doppleganger program,” a voice whispered off my right shoulder. Valid user ID? Where would I get that? But then inspiration struck. I strode back to the gatehouse and waited. Sure enough, another faceless suit marched through. I raised my hand to tap his shoulder, to call his attention, but before I could touch him, translucent fibers made of ones and zeroes pulsed from his body into my hand.



“Valid ID acquired. Engaging doppleganger program,” the voice hissed. I felt myself shrink, my body contorted in unexpected ways. My breasts were sucked inwards, and a moment later, plasticky fabric encased my body. I looked down. Where before there was gleaming, rippling chrome flesh, there was a lusterless plastic suit. And despite my sense still working like before, my face felt like a flat plane, without contours at all. Devious little thing, this program. Smiling inwardly, I approached the tower again.



The guards looked at me angrily, their polearms still crossed.



“Make way, I’m already late,” I snarled, my voice sounding like an ancient text-to-speech synth, those you found in tram stops or ATMs.



“System error. ID already in use. Wait for supervisor to solve problem,” the guard repeated. As if I didn’t get that the first time. And the last thing I needed now was a security jockey looking into things. I knew my time was running out. So fuck stealth.



I took a step back and pulled the doppleganger mask off my face. The suit vanished and my wings roared to life. The mask dissipated into a cloud of sparkling dust once I dropped it and I pulled the handle thing from my belt. Holding it with both hands, I activated my weapon. A blue flame roared from the point where the crossguard met the handle and I was now wielding a flaming sword. Pivoting on my heels, the deck interpreting my intentions, I slashed the weapon around at shoulder level, taking off a head and cutting through two polearms before the rest of the guards could react. But damn, they were fast. Even as their unlucky colleague turned into a screaming flare, the three other guards dispersed, pulling their own swords from their scabbards. Switching to a one-handed stance, I raised one of my gem-studded hands and levelled it at the chest of a program. My avatar mumbled some gibberish and a flaring lance of angry red neon pulsed from the gem, directly into his heart. The guard exploded in a glittering cloud of pixels. Damn, that felt even better than any StimChip I had. Grinning wolfishly, I flapped my wings once, rising ten feet into the air.



“Wanna play, boys,” I purred, flexing the fingers of my free hand in a “come here” gesture. What could swords do to me when I was out of reach? I torched the next guard with a blast from my palm before the other one pulled a trumpet from his belt and blew a long, forlorn sound from it.



The courtyard emptied, as if swiped with a giant broom. Most avatars simply vanished, the faceless suits ran into the building behind that lone guard. And a moment later, another platoon of guards streamed out of the building. This time it was ten of them and, instead of lugging swords around, they had longbows which they promptly trained on me. Angrily hissing neon arrows streaked my way and suddenly I was busy dodging death. To my surprise, it felt… easy. A flap of my wings carried me higher and, after fastening my flaming sword to my belt again, I rained death down upon the hapless archers below, the beams of fire from my palms almost effortlessly hitting them. I felt like the hero in one of the StimChips.



When only glittering pixel dust remained, I landed again. And on cue, the doors flew open again, spilling twenty-five more guards into the courtyard.



“Stand down or we will use lethal force,” one of them shouted. “This is a cascading security protocol, you have no chance!”



“What’s that mean,” I asked, no-one in particular. But my deck answered, a pudgy naked cherubim hovering next to my shoulder sqeaked, “It means that they will throw more and more sentries at you until you’re dead!” I shooed it away with a flick of my hand and got out my sword again.



“Show me what you’ve got, then” I snarled, the flame blade hissing to life in my grasp.



Like a tidal wave they came, swords, axes and polearms reaching out to hack and stab and slice at me. One of them actually got me, nicking my chrome skin. I screamed as the cut began to pulse, the chromed skin around the wound turning grey and brittle. But for every hit I took, I killed five of them, my sword sliced through them as if they were the fodder enemies from a Dynasty Warriors game. And I knew I needed to get into the system, to shut down the alarm before something more serious would attack me.



After a few seconds of furious hacking and slashing, I stood in an empty courtyard again, surrounded by more pixel dust. This time, they actually had hurt me. My chrome flesh was dented and nicked in several places.



“How bad is it,” I asked the cherubim, still hovering at my side.



“Only five percent damage. You will be fine,” he cooed. I hoped so. Dismissing my sword again, I strode up to the doors and pushed. They didn’t budge. So I fumbled for the doppleganger mask, but it wasn’t there.



“Where’s the mask utility I had just now,” I asked.



“Note: Doppleganger is a one-use item due to it’s complex nature.” Oh. The inspection by touch didn’t reveal anything of that sort. What a pain.



I shrugged and pulled the battering ram from its holster, the tiny metal peg grew in my hands until it became a heavy steel cylinder, mounted on a pendulum brace. I lifted it, ready to smash it into the doors, as they swung ajar. A hundred soldiers flooded the courtyard, weapons raised menacingly.



“You’ve got to be shitting me,” I groaned. I pulled my sword free again and prepared to fight.



“I don’t think so,” a pompous voice boomed. The wall of soldiers parted and, behind it, garbed in a robe as black as midnight, a single figure walked through the doors. He raised a hand and, a second later, a crackling lightning bolt arced from his fingertips and slammed right into my chest. I stumbled backwards and dropped my sword. The handle clattered to the flagstones. Coughing, spitting ruby droplets, I bent down to retrieve it, but the floor under the handle turned into a hissing tar pit and swallowed the weapon.



“You just lost fifty percent of your offensive potential,” the cherub wailed.



“Do say,” I snarled. Damn, that last hit stung! I found it hard to concentrate, to do anything really.



“You might have invested in some better armor instead of these knockers,” the robed figure snickered. “Get her, boys!” The mass of soldiers swarmed me. Okay, when in doubt, flee. I jumped into the air, my wings flapping. The robed person just laughed.



“You’re playing with the grown-ups now. You’re not going anywhere until I say so.” He snapped his fingers and laughed. The air simply refused to carry me. Now, I was getting really desperate. Holding my hands out in front of me, I fired two beams of death at him. So far, they easily overpowered everything I encountered, but they simply bounced off him, torching a few soldiers instead.



“See? Proper armor.” He raised one sleeve and showed me one intricately ornamented bracer, with a shiny gemstone set into it.



“And now I’m done humiliating you. Violating corporate security protocols, attacking authorized system administration staff and no doubt trying to illegally access copyrighted material… That’s death three times over. You have been warned, prepare to die.” He raised his arms, more deadly electricity arcing between his fingers.



***



So far, her quest to find a teacher regarding human morality had been exhausting and futile. Cat had stumbled into several law school classrooms, causing a great upheaval. Maybe she should have discarded her almost naked cat girl manifestation in favor of something more… sober? Most students were more interested in fucking her and the teachers panicked and called down system security. So Cat decided to skip schools and universities, focussing on the corporate sector instead. But trying to get into the highly fortified mainframes of large corporations promised to be a taxing endeavour too. Maybe she should return to SuperSexyStoryLand instead and hope for a lucky passer-by to be a willing teacher? Shrugging, she scanned around. Her search had carried her far away from the American part of the ‘Net, away from SuperSexyStoryLand and the neuro-clinic. A quick location ping showed her that she was in the heart of Germany, more exactly in the Berlin sector, where many European corporations had their headquarters.



Something was odd. So far, most of the ‘Net traffic around her had been in several directions but now she noticed every avatar trying to get away from this particular space as fast as possible. Looking around, Cat noticed a massive system nearby, the four sides of the needle-like tower burning in the angry red of maximum alert. Gazing down into the courtyard she was hovering over, she noticed a huge mass of security software assaulting a single entity. Driven by curiosity, Cat moved lower. She was about thirty meters above the courtyard when her motion subroutines stopped working. Reflexively, she tried to strengthen them, but the node she was passing through now ignored the order for more system resources. Ungraceful, she plummented downwards. Thankfully, her morphing subsystem still worked. While falling, she turned into a sleek, glossy black panther, easily landing on all fours. No one seemed to have noticed her yet.



***



They came at me, all at once. This time, they were guided by one single mind. Like a coordinated machine of destruction, they chopped and hacked at me. Desperately, I threw fire beams left and right, torching them by the dozens, but for each one I killed, two new guards appeared. And they didn’t kill me, instead each hit took a tiny piece from me. One velcro strap here, one program capsule there, a little nick over there. Within moments, I was a shivering, crying mass of misery on the floor. I could hardly see anymore, the virtual blood dripping from my forehead blinded me almost completely. I was far too weak to move a muscle. My cherubim system monitor writhed in front of me, three spears pinning it to the glittering pavement. Slow, measured boot steps came closer.

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