Chapter 1:

Chapter 1

In the Bone

Chapter 1

The hover-train passing, a little less than three meters away, shook my sarcophagus of an apartment, telling me to wake up, and start trudging through another day. Sitting up in bed, I groaned from tiredness; starting on five hours of sleep. I could probably have stood to saw logs for a couple more hours, but it wasn't anything new for me. I had stuff to do.

The miniature earthquake rode itself out as the train increased its distance and left nothing behind but the never-ending hum of the magnetic rails that held it airborne. With the walls extending to the dimensions of a shoe box, I'd needed to turn sideways just to stretch my arms.

An almost arthritic stiffness was present in the fingers of my right hand. They'd been like that for at least a couple of days, meaning I'd need to give myself a diagnostic.

Standing up, my head barely had forty-five centimeters worth of clearance from the ceiling. If I'd been a claustrophobe, I'd have probably gone nuts in there.

In my kitchenette, I retrieved a bowl from the cabinet, and the box containing my breakfast. From under my bed came a storage crate containing two bottles.

Out of the box, I shook a single packet about the size of an old US quarter into the bowl. I cracked open one of the bottles and poured the clean water into the bowl on top of the packet. The bowl and its mixture went into the microwave, set to cook for a minute exactly.

While waiting, the top of the other bottle came off. It was a mixture of liquefied bread and coffee, with triple the caffeine content. It tasted like sewer sludge to me, but it did the job it was supposed to.

The microwave dinged and my breakfast was ready. I took out the bowl of instant miso soup and rice and went back to my bed to eat it.

“Radio,” I commanded out loud as I sat down.

The five-centimeter-long metal rod on my nightstand switched itself on. It resembled an upside-down golf tee and projected upward the holographic image of an audio wavelength bar. It was one of the local news stations. I liked to stay informed. Never knew what might help or give me an idea. The voice that came from the hologram was female, smooth, and appealing to the ear. Most people still refused to believe that it was computer generated.

“In other news, police raids across the Neo Tokyo metropolis area continue. At eight twenty-three p.m. last night, SAT officers invaded a house in Nakano-ku. Reports say that as much as two hundred kilos of the illegal narcotic known as 'Dragon Dust' were confiscated, and up to six suspects were arrested. A spokesperson for the police department hailed this as a victory in the war against crime in our city. He went on to say that the success of the raid is largely due to the new powers granted to the department by the bill recently passed by Mayor Hamada and that the entire department would like to thank her for her hard stand against crime. How this will affect the mayor in her reelection campaign is yet to be seen.”

“Off,” I ordered the machine.

The audio and hologram did as they were told. I normally would have listened for a while longer, but I had things to do and wanted to get to them. My breakfast finished, I put the bowl down on the bed beside me. There was still one more thing that had to be done before I could get started.

I bent down and reached under the cot, feeling around for a few seconds until I found it. Out came the transparent glass sheet that was my tablet computer from its spot, and I powered it on with a double tap of the screen. The screen was scratched up like a pair of cats had fought on top of it. It had a crack extending inward half the length of my index finger, and the image would fizzle and fuzz several times every minute, but it worked. In the top right corner, the date and time read as “7:26 a.m. May 7th, 2122.”

In the “settings” section, I turned on the Bluetooth and waited for it to connect. It took ten seconds to go through, but I was then able to open up the correct app. A full schematic of my internal system drew itself onto the screen, showing my bones and the muscles and veins surrounding them. I input the command for it to run a full diagnostic on me.

I'd set it down, and stood to get dressed while the program ran. Clothes didn't matter all that much to me, so I didn't waste a lot of money on them. I put on a plain red, cotton t-shirt, black jeans, and a pair of boots. My boots were old and wearing thin. The last part of my outfit was my leather jacket. It was the nicest thing I had. The jacket was soft, rich, black leather and never failed to keep me warm and dry, no matter what the weather was.

I had just finished pulling it into place when my tablet beeped, signaling that the diagnostic was complete. Plopping back down on the bed, I looked over the results. According to the app, I had a point-zero-two lag in the transfer time of the nerve impulses from my brain to the right hand. The lag was also causing feedback, creating a glitch so that less power was getting to the bones of my hand.

That explained my stiffness and dexterity loss. While that wasn't the best, I'd been pleased to see that the rest of my system was operating at full efficiency. I was just glad there wasn't anything wrong with my shoulder servos. That would have been a real pain to fix. I'd thought to fiddle with my systems, later on, maybe force a solution through so that it would fix itself. If not, I'd have no choice but to go to the doc, and I would have liked to avoid that if possible.

Everything else completed, I bent down and, removed one of the planks from my floor. Reaching into the hole I had carved myself, I pulled out my gun. It hadn't been needed many times since I had gotten it, and I could hold my own without it, but if one thing hadn't changed in hundreds of years, it was that the better gunslinger usually won. The heater went into the back of my pants, hidden under the tail of my jacket, and I left to face my day.

Twenty-two and a half minutes later, I arrived at the closest hover-train station. The platform itself was more than two full stories in the air. A bit of a climb if you'd let yourself get out of shape, but I was fine. It was just a stop station, not one of the primary hubs, which made it even better for me.

Up on the first level, I scanned my surroundings, using only brief flicks of my eyes, never turning my head. A slightly exaggerated yawn and stretch gave a reason why I'd stopped moving for a second. Transit badges didn't come around to that railway much, but it was just common sense to make yourself look normal when you were about to do something illegal. To my eye, all the cameras looked just as out of commission as they always had.

I looked over at the divider between the first floor, and the train platform. The security measures to keep people from riding free was both simple and effective. A solid wall separated the two levels with several, two-pronged open passageways for people. Set into the walls were projectors sending out a grid of low-grade, x-ray lasers. The lasers would penetrate just the clothes of the person passing, scanning for a valid transit pass on their person. If someone didn't have one, the second portal would drop a fence to stop them, and the station computers would send an alert to the cops.

Made it so most people had to pay to ride, but not me. I moved over to a maintenance door on the south-facing wall. Since I made it a point to not get in anyone's way or look at them, no one paid any attention to me. Before reaching the door, I took a couple of things out of my pants pocket. One was a device I rigged up myself, comprised of a subdermal security chip implant, used by transit staff. It was an old model I found on someone's discarded hand in a junkyard. I had it attached to a watch battery to give it power. Turning it on as I reached out for the handle made the door unlock as if I was meant to be there.

I went straight over and opened the control box for the security archways. It only took a glance for me to see that my workaround was still in place. A single piece of broken mirror inserted into the conduit for the number one grid reflected the lasers back to their source, allowing me free passage. I had the same scam set up at multiple stations throughout the city, and I always checked to make sure they hadn't been found before boarding.

Back out on the main floor, I passed through the number one archway with no problem.

On the platform, the graffiti-laced train doors opened in front of me. I'd read once that a couple of years before I was born, some company called “Malsi” came out with some kind paint resistant coating. Idea was to keep things pretty. Spray the stuff on a surface, and it couldn't get tagged, ever. Governments the world over, Japan included, bought into it big time, each spending hundreds of millions. From what I could see, they'd wasted their money.

On the train, I stood waiting silently, and patiently for my stop, with a generous amount of space to myself. Some of the people were engrossed in their smartphones, some were talking amongst themselves, and some were talking to themselves, but none were paying me any heed.

I hadn't been at my game a relatively long time yet, so I'd yet to make real enemies. I fully expected to make more than a few eventually, but at that time, it hadn't happened yet. Considering that, I allowed my gaze to drift up to the advertisements playing on holo-screens above my head.

They were all playing to the same theme, just with different shticks. One of them was trying to tell people they could lose weight by getting their titanium bones traded out with carbon fiber ones for zero percent down, and very little interest. A different one was for a body modification that would give you superhuman jumping ability afterward.

One was trying to sell its stuff by going into the history of the dairy virus that wiped out all milk-producing animals a hundred years ago, and the advanced Osteoporosis epidemic that spread because of it. It finished with the tagline “Why be human when you can be more?”

To my mind, the most ridiculous of them all was one claiming to give you nanobots that “the medical profession doesn't want you to have.” Said it was guaranteed to add to your existing cybernetics and increase your height.

What a joke. With the exception of supernaturally rare incidents, everyone knew that you got the height you got from the bots given to you at birth, and that was it. I couldn't believe anyone ever fell for that crap. I'd never have wasted hard-earned coin on such silly, superficial mods.

My gaze turned out to the skyline of Neo Tokyo. The sea of construction projects reached both points of the horizon. They looked like skeletal fingers, reaching out to the heavens. Sometimes, it seemed like the mega-quake would never be undone.

Ten years back, a nine-point-five earthquake on the Richter scale had ripped through us. Two minutes of shaking had forever changed the city. More than half of all buildings had collapsed. The water system had been decimated. Nothing had been left untouched, and things had continued to feel that way.

Even a decade after, they were still working on rebuilding so many things. Skyscrapers were always being delayed for various reasons, some outlying neighborhoods had unreliable power, and only about a random forty percent of the city's CCTV network ever worked at one time. It was a maze, but there were opportunities if you knew where to look.

En route to my first stop of the day, I took a thirty-minute detour to a convenience store out of my way. As a precaution, I never bought anything which was along a direct path to anywhere I was going.

All I bought was a couple of high-energy bars boasting that one would keep me full all day and two bottles of water. At the automatic checkout kiosk, I scanned my stuff, but before I could pay, the machine asked me if I had a club membership with the store.

I didn't have one, so I tapped “no,” and the price of my stuff nearly doubled. If I hadn't been through it a million times, I would have scoffed in anger. Whether a high-class supermarket or a dive bodega like that one, pretty much all of them had those memberships. Things stayed the base price with a base membership, but one of those alone would cost me what I made in the last three months, and each of them was exclusive to each place.

Of course, if I was rich, all I'd have to do was wave my credit card over the thing, the machine would read it, discern my status, and membership ID or not, and the price would go down by half. They gave discounts based on how much they could glean from your account. Wish there had been some applicable way for me to get in on that racket.

It took almost an hour of walking for me to reach my first destination, the shoreline of Shinagawa-ku. The mega-quake had left the former Haneda International Airport, and large swaths of the cities were permanently submerged. The ground had just broken off, and the sea claimed its space.

They had been condemned by the city, and all three mayors since the quake had promised to fix and revive the affected areas. Not that step one had been taken to do anything. Caused a lot of problems for some, but suited me fine.

Hidden at various locations in the vicinity were the parts making up my jerry-rigged raft. I always took it apart and scattered the components so they would look to any possible passersby like nothing more than refuse. After tying the raft together, I pushed it into the water, jumping on as it attained buoyancy. My makeshift paddle piloted the craft seven hundred meters, out into the deep water. A building with five floors still protruding from the water was my target.

Coming level with a window broken by wind scattered debris, and helped along by me, I attached a rope to a section of the raft, took it with me as I easily jumped into the window, and tied it off. I'd arrived at my workshop.

I could have lived here to save some money, but I wasn't stupid enough to keep the evidence of my misdeeds where I slept. The space was formally a bullpen of cubicles for whatever company it had been. I'd moved most of it to the edges of the wall when I'd set up, to clear the needed space. In almost the center of the room, I'd pushed four desks together for my primary work table.

On it, I had two computers that I'd put together myself from several different, salvaged ones. I also had a soldering iron, micro-wires, whole microchips, microprocessors, fingers, palms, whole feet, and everything else you'd need to fix cybernetics under the table. To power my equipment, I had a solar collector I'd taken down from the roof, and set up beside a window, a wire running from it to the table.

My computers booted up, letting me check on the status of my latest repair. It was the very last of a long string that had netted me a tidy sum. The monitors came to life, and I navigated through the left-hand computer to the simulation program I used for a precursory check if my repairs had worked.

The text on the screen read “Simulation test concluded. Repair 195 completed.”

That came as a pleasant surprise. I'd thought that one was going to be more trouble. Moving around to the other side of the table, I picked up the hand I'd been working on, disconnecting it from the computers. The miniaturized jackhammer in lieu of a typical hand at the end felt sturdy. It was then time for the acid test. I took it over to the wall and used the manual startup just inside the forearm to trigger the mechanism. It pounded evenly and smoothly and had no change when I used it against the wall. It was fixed.

Satisfied, I took it back to the table. Looking at the bottom right of one of my computer screens told me that it was time. After making sure all my firewalls and VPNs were in place, I accessed the internet. I went to a secure chat website that deleted all digital fingerprints once the conversation was terminated, and created a chat room.

My username was “$#@%&,” for safety purposes. I typed the word “Present” and sent it. Almost a minute later, a new username calling itself “BankerGuy94” joined.

“Way to be discreet, dude.”

BankerGuy94 asked, “Can you deliver?”

I responded, “Yes.”

BankerGuy94 wrote, “Meet me at the National Museum of Modern Art at 11:30 a.m.”

“No. I choose the time and place or no deal. You will be on the rooftop, patio restaurant at Shibuya Fukuras, Tokyu Plaza Shibuya, 17-18F at three o'clock.”

It was nearly two full minutes later when BankerGuy94 wrote, “Agreed.” My client then logged out of the chat. To be safe, I carefully scrubbed the data and metadata from my hard drive and shut everything down.

An old, canvas, shoulder satchel hung from the corner of the table. I placed into it the jackhammer arm, several other items I was going to need throughout my day, and I was off again.

It took me eighty-seven minutes to reach my next destination. A construction yard in the heart of Shinjuku where a high-rise had once stood, and might again. I didn't know what it was going to be when it was finished, but that wasn't important. All that mattered to me was dropping off the repaired hand and collecting my fee.

The guy manning the gate knew my face, and let me pass unhindered. Walking through the site, the first thing that hit my eyes and assaulted my mind was the state of the workers. It was their stiff, wooden movements that did it to me. It reminded me of that god-awful zombie movie from the nineteen-sixties. Those guys always gave me the creeps.

I circled the entire site twice, looking for the foreman, but couldn't find him anywhere. As I went, I was forced by simple line of sight to take several looks at the workers milling around me. I could see the mods done to their bodies to make them living tools. I could see one with a blowtorch where his hand should be. Another with her legs traded out for extending stilts to do riveting. Looking at those things, what they had become made my skin crawl. I had and would put up with a lot of lousiness in my life, but I couldn't stand to be around those things for any longer than I had to.

I moved to the nearest piece of machinery, a dump truck, and climbed onto the top of the cab, ignoring the protests of the guy inside.

“Hey, Arisawa!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.

“Hey, kid!” I heard back twenty seconds later.

The foreman was standing at the edge of the third floor, looking down at me. I gave him a small wave and climbed off of the truck. Despite my outcry, almost no one paid me any attention as I made my way to the elevator. I took it up to the third floor where I found the foreman quickly.

He was a man in his late thirties. He was obviously born somewhat lower class because he stood on the shorter side. He had a weather-worn face that was almost like leather, denoting a life full of manual labor. He looked at me with an expression both friendly and staunchly professional.

“Hey, kid. You're done with this one quicker than I was expecting.”

Without responding to that, I opened my satchel and took out the jackhammer hand.

“Here. I replaced the microchips, adjusted the timing, and pieced together the valve mechanism, so the air intake and output shouldn't get fouled up again. This should hold for at least a few months, but it's going to break again, and when it does, the price of fixing it'll go up.” I said.

He took the jackhammer from me and looked it over, smiling slightly as he did.

“Kid, you're worth every last yen. This would take at least three weeks to get back to me through the regular channels and cost the project four times as much. I think we're only a little behind schedule entirely thanks to you.”

He put the device down on the ground beside him and took a wad of bills from his pocket. He handed them over to me, and I made no pretense to trust as I counted them right there. One hundred and fifty thousand yen, the exact amount we'd agreed to. I folded the bills and placed them into my inner jacket pocket.

“Soon as something else breaks, I'll call you through the usual way.”

I nodded and turned to leave. It was a productive exchange that I was happy with.

Leaving the site, I was in a relatively good mood. It ended when one of the workers happened to turn and was directly facing me. I could see through the empty sockets where the eyes had been, right back to the metal skull. The shock of seeing it gave me such a jolt that I backtracked a step. I'd already had my hand on the grip of my piece when I got control of myself.

The worker finally registered what it had done, and moved out of my way. I double-timed it the rest of the length to the gate. Never could get used to seeing that, and knew I never would.

I knew some people didn't have the scratch needed just to live, but I couldn't believe how many actually sold the bodies of their dead relatives. Did they really think their loved ones would want their corpses controlled by an AI, piloting the endoskeleton underneath just so a corporation could sell no-cost labor? It was like a colony of zombie worker ants in there. I'd have rather gotten blown to atoms than ever end up like that.

On a building a long distance away from my target, I had a digital monocular held up to my face. It was zoomed in on the rooftop restaurant, with my prospective client firmly in view. The man was dressed in an Italian cut suit of navy blue, high-quality cashmere. The suit almost belied the onerous scowl covering his face. The man was about to explode with barely controlled anger.

“Looks clear,” I told myself.

On one knee, I took from my bag a taped-together ball of foil, taken from bags of chips. A perfect, low-cost, signal blocker. I unwrapped the ball, took the microdot phone out from the center, and attached it to my head, behind the ear. It stayed in place by the same principle of setules that allowed spiders to stick to surfaces.

“Connect,” I directed the phone.

There was only one number programmed into it like there only ever was. I stood back up and put the monocular back to my eye. As if he were right in front of me, I could see my client take a brand new smartphone from his pocket, and mouth the word, “Answer.”

“Is this you?” He asked.


“You're late! You were supposed to be here over an hour ago!”

“I've been in place for two hours. Watching to make sure you came alone.”

“What?! Why you-”

“You want my services, this is how it happens. Leave now and go to the bus stop four blocks east of the building's front doors. Get on the 4:15, take the seat seven rows back on the left, sit in the exact center, and keep your eyes down, fixed on the back of the seat in front of you, near the floor as you ride. If someone is already sitting there, make them move.”

“I will n-”

“Disconnect,” I said.

The call cut off. The guy came through my channels to find me, meaning he needed the help I could offer. Through my monocular, I watched him throw some cash down onto the table and storm off. He almost looked like he was stomping his feet. Real self-important idiot, but then, so were most of my clientele.

It was true I'd wanted to be sure the guy hadn't come with a squad of armed goons, but just as importantly, I wanted to make sure no cops were watching. If the guy was coming to me to fix his problems, he'd done something crooked online, so he might have heat at his back. From the safety of their cushy desk chairs and fortified complexes, sometimes it seemed like computer crime was the only thing cops bothered to investigate.

After several minutes, I saw him coming out the front doors and turning left. He was heading for the bus stop. That confirmed, I left to get to the rendezvous.

The client boarded the 4:15 eastbound and paid his fare. He had to fight the urge to pinch his nose closed. That bus stank like urine and rotting food, which he was sure were both in abundance. He could see that he was the most well-bred person on the conveyance. He was so out of place, that several of the commoners looked up at him like he was the weird one.

The client ignored the lot of them, made his way back, and took the seat he had been told to.

“I can't believe I have to do this!” The client ranted to himself. “I was first in my class at Keio University! Recruited into Eiwa Global Market Securities straight out of college! Perfect performance in everything I've done and I'm gonna be running that company in five years! To think I have to deal with this slums hacker! If he weren't so well recommended...”

With the same force the man internally raged, his musings flipped the spectrum equally so.

“Alright, just calm down. You wouldn't have to go to this guy if you'd kept up with your security protocols. You're the one who decided to start embezzling, and you're the one who got lazy about moving the money. The investigation into you is entirely your fault.”

Feeling humbled, the client dropped his head, deciding to follow the hacker's directions to the letter, even though he didn't know what he was supposed to do next.

It didn't strike him for more than a few ticks of the clock, but the client eventually spotted a message scrawled among the others on the back of the seat. It was too specific to be a coincidence.

It read, “Alley. East side. Ten stops.”

Seeing my client nearing, I stepped out of the shadows to meet him. We were still enclosed on both sides, exposed only by mouths at either end of the alley. I'd donned gloves, a particle-resistant surgical mask, and a pair of large, mirrored, skiing goggles to conceal all my features.

The act ingrained into his mind by sheer repetition, the client extended his hand to shake.

“Hello, I'm-”

“No touching. No names.”

That was for my own anonymity. I'd already dug into and learned my client's real name, address, and place of business before agreeing to even the chat. Up close, I instantly disliked the guy even more.

Not just his suit, but everything about him spoke of a life of ease and little troubles. He was obviously born well off because he was tall. Standing taller than me, he'd gotten better grade nanobots to grow him as a child. The rich always got the best bots possible, growing themselves to practical giants while guys born in places like I was got the bottom of the barrel, ending up shrimps. I found my way around that, but everyone else wasn't so lucky.

That, the client's suit, and the fact that his face was way too perfect to have ever worked a real day in his life all confirmed his status. Born rich, and he was coming to me to hide his shady dealings. It figured. If I'd ever been busted, I would have flipped on that guy before anyone else. Maybe I wasn't a saint myself, but at least I didn't have any self-delusions about what I was.

“Give me the documents. Tell me what you need.” I said.

The client opened his suit jacket. Stuffed into his pants at the waist was a brand new, pristine tablet, practically invisible if not for the glint of light it reflected. He handed it to me.

“I've been embezzling from my company for the past two years. I made a mistake and a discrepancy has started an investigation. My father tells me you're very good at this sort of thing. I need the money moved so it can't be found, and no records of the transactions to trace back to me.”

I gave a nod and started to launder his money. From my pocket, I extracted a miniature datacube and placed it onto the tablet, the programs inside uploading onto it. The client's bank was one I'd already previously created a back door into, so I easily bypassed the firewalls. I could see that the bank, a corporate one, was at that moment starting a transfer of a similar amount. I used the details of the legitimate transfer to create a duplicate, sending the client's money out.

I placed it into a dummy account I created on the spot in a bank in Alaska. At almost the same time, I deleted the records from the client's original, making the process appear as though it was a computer error. I repeated the process ten times over, sending the money through North Korea, Madagascar, Burundi, and other places where a seemingly innocent error wouldn't bear much scrutiny. My final step of the process was to use the money to set up a nonexistent shell corp in Hong Kong. At that point, it was almost like it'd never been dirty. It took me five full minutes of work to finish it all.

I handed the tablet back to my client after deleting the programs I'd used from the device.

“Here. It's done, and you're safe now. You can find all the details of where your money is in there.”

The client took his computer back and gave a dignified, small sigh of relief. Without a word, he took out a diamond-encrusted money clip and counted out my fee; four hundred thousand yen. I recounted it right in front of him as soon as it was in my hands. It was all there. He and I gave each other a small nod and went our separate ways.

What he didn't know was that while I was securing his money, I skimmed a little off the top into an offshore of my own. It was about half a percent, not enough to be noticed. I wasn't greedy, and whenever possible, I'd liked to ensure I could pluck the same chicken again, should the opportunity present itself.