Paul Sadler : Mandel's OrganI had to laugh. After spending untold trillions of rapidly declining dollars sending people to colonise Mars, the US had been told by the resulting colony (once they'd achieved a suitable level of self sufficency) that the colony didn't want to be the 51st US state, was declaring itself an independant republic, and could the US kindly fuck off and leave them in peace. Given the decrepit state of the US economy (partly brought on by funding the Mars colony) the prohibitive costs prevented the landing of ground troops on the Martian surface and Mars was inconveniently well out of range of even the most wildly optimistic missiles that America's best minds could contrive. I killed the news channel and fired up the sound system, the necrotic howls of Geloscht spitting from hidden diamonoid tweeters and pounding my sternum courtesy of a couple of subwoofers constructed by Canum, a good friend of mine. I never found out what Canum's real name was, but it didn't matter. He'd pulled my skinny arse out of trouble a few times and I had done the same for him and somewhere along the way we'd fallen into the "what goes around comes around" frame of mind and stopped tallying up favours in the way that close friends do. To this day I still don't know what sits in those subwoofer cabinets as they never stop working so I don't have to pull them apart, and every time I ask Canum he just puts on his trademark evil grin and tells me it doesn't matter. All I know is that the building I live in used to be a factory for assembling earthmoving machinery, the big stuff they use for mining. The floor is ferroconcrete two metres thick and it vibrates when I crank those subs hard enough. It's a good thing I don't have my original ears anymore or I'd be stone deaf. A small icon appeared at the edge of my vision telling me that there was a call coming through. I brought it up and killed the music at the same time. The screaming rant coming from the vid sounded thin and pathetic by comparison and I had to stop myself from giggling. It was Marcus, a sometime acquaintance and client of mine and he looked like he was ready to explode. "You useless fucking wirehead! I ought to come over and shiv you rather than call you, but I thought I might let you explain why you tried to kill me before I did!", he screamed, showering the camera at his end with spittle. This was news to me. The only thing I'd done for Marcus lately was make up a nav unit for his skimmer and he'd paid me and we parted company, each well pleased. "I haven't tried to kill anyone lately, least of all you." "So explain why, when I jacked that spiffy new nav unit I was blinded with noise, and almost ran under an H2 transport before I managed to yank the jack out!" The urge to giggle was getting harder to suppress. "You jacked..." I lost it. The vision of Marcus jacking the nav unit into his neural socket rather than, more appropriately, his skimmer and recieving raw digital signal whilst travelling at I don't know what speed broke me. He must have sensed that somewhere, somehow, he was making an idiot of himself because, whilst he went an even darker shade of purple, he stopped screaming and started to look merely suspicious. "What's so fucking funny, wirehead?", he growled. "You jacking into raw digital is what's so funny...you know that socket on the dash of the skimmer? The one that's marked 'autopilot ancilliary'?" I let it hang there. A look of comprehension spead over his face slowly as he realised the magnitude of his gaffe. "Uhh...umm..sorry. You could have told me 'though!" "I didn't think I needed to. Any other complaints?" "Uh, no." "Good." The call icon flicked up again. Nothing like being wanted. "I've got another call...see you later" I cut the call before he could even get the usual niceties out and answered the next call. A much more attractive and welcome face appeared on the screen and before she even said anything I knew that this was going to be an interesting day. It was Nina, razorgirl and dancefiend extraordinaire who almost always had something involving serious euros going when she called out of the blue. "Hey Nina...what's up gorgeous?", I grinned She grinned back and said,"Damien's got something that your particular talents might be useful for. Interested?" "Depends what it is. Damien gets some fucking whacked out ideas sometimes.", I replied. Damien was a netrunner, and a damn good one, but he got the strangest ideas sometimes. On the other hand, even the most bizarre of his plans usually came off, or at least they got noone killed or caught. "Scoot on 'round", she grinned, "You'll like this one, guaranteed." I had nothing better on that day, so I figured I could spare the afternoon on checking this out. If nothing else, it meant spending the afternoon with Nina and that was worth going across town for in itself. "You at Damien's?"I asked? "Yep, see you soon", she said. "Ok then..be there soon", I grinned and cut the call. I wandered into my room, and grabbed the nearest pair of jeans I could spot, slid them on and then spent the next few minutes getting the old pair of Doc Martens I scored a few years back laced up. They were a pain to get on and off, but they were the most comfortable things I'd ever owned. At least fifty years old and both soft and durable at the same time. Real leather was too damn expensive and the synthetic as every bit as tough, but somehow never as comfortable. I pulled on an old t-shirt and grabbed my jacket on the way out the door. I made my way across the courtyard to the battered old Tsingen Industries skimmer that I deliberately kept looking like shit to deter thieves. It wasn't hard to do. It was a piece of shit when I got it and only my persistant fiddling with the electricals and the attentions of Pho Duc, the local skimmer mech made it worth having. It's amazing how large a lift unit you can jam into so small a vehicle if you're not concerned about things like back seats and the GE transporter unit I'd scammed a few months ago did incredible things for its performance. I popped the door open and settled into the seat, jacking into the control unit as I did. The instrument display settled over my field of vision, telling me that the fuel cells were full enough a trip to Scotland if I so wished and everything else was as it should be. I trundled out of the courtyard and narrowly missed the taxi that came howling down the narrow laneway, careering around me and scattering dustbins along the remaining length of the alley. I laughed and punched the skimmer down the laneway and out into the dense London traffic. Damien lived in a decrepit block of flats that looked like it had been built in the early part of the 20th and like it should have been condemned in the late part. I ducked up the flight of stair, dodging the vagrants and the puddles of whatever they'd managed to leave around. I thumped on Damien's door a few times and after a couple of minutes, Nina opened the door, and after a gratifyingly warm hug pulled me inside and through to the livingroom. Damien was jacked into one of the most impressive looking decks I'd ever seen in my life. It was obviously brand new and Damien was gazing into space with his lips splayed into a grinning rictus and his eyes jerked from side to side as he ran the wires. Looked like he was having a heap of fun. Nina leaned over the deck and hit the page key. Damien made a few arcane gestures and popped the jack out. He looked over at me and his eyes came in focus. "Hey Doc! Long time no see!",he beamed. He'd been calling me "Doc" ever since I wetwired him with a tank that fed him basic nutients and let him stay jacked for anything up to a week. I personally wasn't that fond of the nick, but other people had started calling me that and it was starting to stick. I suppose I could be called worse things. He took a closer look at me. "Those aren't the same eyes you had last time I saw you", he noted. "No shit. I scored these a couple of weeks back. Gen-you-wine Nikon-Zeiss extended range peepers, these things." "Very nice...how'd you score those?" "Courtesy of a small emp grenade under a med courier. By the time he was seeing straight, I had the box open and was gone. I liked them so much I kept them instead of fencing them like I normally would.", I grinned. Damien goggled. "That's some hardcore shit, taking on a med courier. Those guys are auged up something nasty." "Yeah, I know. Makes them that much more woozy when you scramble their hardware. I still don't do it much, but I was hard up for cash." "Damn nice score anyway.", he said, peering closely at my new set of eyes. "You're getting awfully well fitted out for a tech. Ever think about taking up a career as a solo?" "Don't even joke about it...I like all my bits and pieces to remain roughly in the same place as they are already. I donm't do combat unless it's absolutely neccessary.", I grimaced. "Fair enough too. I always knew you had some sense tucked away in there somewhere. Which is why I got Nina to call you, incidentally." "Speaking of which, what have you got lined up? Nina told me I'd like it, but didn't tell me shit about what we were actually doing." "Yeah, that shit's not going out over a regular com line. Not since Harvey came home last week and met a pair of corporate boys outside his front door. Wasn't enough of him for the ghouls to go over once they'd torn him up with those Matsushita flechette carbines they love so much." "Harvey got corpsed? That's cold shit man!",I moaned. Harvey was a damn good friend and one of the best net runners I knew. "He must have been on to some serious shit." "You betcha." Damien answered. "And I happen to be the only one to know what that shit was. Which is why I don't say a damn thing about it over the com." I started to have doubts about the whole deal right there. This wasn't unusual with Damien's schemes as they usually sounded vaguely suicidal at the start, but he'd never been into screwing with big corporations before. That was usually a ticket to some fast flatlining, and Damien was at least sane enough to know that. He must have seen that I was a bit more doubtful than usual, because he immediately started in on his usual patter about how simple this one was and there was no way we'd ever get into deep shit over it. I cut him off. "You always say that and we always get away with it, but it's never even close to simple, safe or easy and we've never gone up against the big boys before."