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located in Digital Shorts, a part of Digital Shorts, one of the many universes on RPG.

Digital Shorts

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Character Portrait: Sami Rouvelle Character Portrait: Marcus Sun
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Kaiser

Residential District

Quad 34 Apartments


“How’s dad?”

His tone was dry.

The apartment’s light fixtures were turned off, with the exception of the light in the hallway. The only thing that could be seen was the fountain of lights that came from the outside world in the form of holo-boards and other advertisement screens. They painted the shadow of a man seated in an S-chair against the backdrop which was the chrome kitchen interior.

The man pressed a button on a tablet that he had in his lap. Blinds spilled over the plexiglass wall with a silent hum, muting the outside world, leaving the man to his tablet. Even the brightness settings of the device had been turned down low. Darkness encapsulated him, but not the ember of his cigarette.

“He’s doing fine,” a voice replied over a communique receiver.

“How’s the practice?” Marcus asked the voice as he reclined.

“Doing pretty well, I figure it will keep me in Cangwu a year or two, municipal subsidies and all that.”

Marcus affirmed with an absent minded mumble.

“What about you? What have you been doing?”

Marcus rubbed his forehead as he leaned on his right elbow which sat on the chair’s armrest.

“Stuff. You know, with computers and other things.”

“Yeah? Who do you work for?” the voice inquired.

“Small start-up firm, not really well-known yet. You probably don’t know about them,” Marcus answered.

“You know, we could always use another person. Don’t think of it as a-“

“No it’s fine.”

There was a brief pause during which Marcus exhaled some smoke before he continued, “I’m a bit settled in right now.”

Another pause.

“Hmm. Are you gonna be home next month?”

Marcus was silent.

“I don’t know. I’m getting pretty busy.”

“Hmm,” there was a pause, “Alright, I got to go, Michelle’s calling me.”

“Tell her I said hi.”

“I’ll be sure to. I’ll talk to you sometime.”

“You too, David.”

Marcus turned off the receiver and sat there for a moment. He watched the outside world’s lights flicker as blotches against the blinds, but their intensity had been toned down. He stared at the tablet; the clock readout was “1:25 A.M.”. He rubbed both of his eyes and massaged his stubble before he finally decided to stand up. He stepped into the kitchen with a lowball glass that was half empty of alcohol in one hand, and the tablet in the other. He approached the disposal drain and emptied what remained in the glass and left it on the counter. The foyer lights clicked off.



Cangwu

Residential District

Upper East Side


“That’s the plan,” Charlie Lewis finished.

“You…want to knock over six casinos?” another voice laced with skepticism called out.

The mansion was dimmed, as the group of thieves was gathered around a central hologram that projected the information and details of the plan. Numbers and words all organized neatly, and floating before them in mid-air. The windows were sealed off by metal blinds. Each person there was skilled in a particular field; some would say that all of those present were natural born con-artists.

Their ringleader was Charles, or Charlie Lewis as he preferred to be known. The man had high cheekbones, and slicked back blonde hair driven from his widow’s peak. His eyes were green, and they twinkled on his perfectly tanned face. Whether this was a running disguise, one of many that he has had to don over the years, or how he actually looked, none of those present knew. All they cared for was the bold plan that he had brought forth before them. They had all known each other for a long time, worked together on many good cons, but this was something different.

“Pretty much,” Lewis replied.

“You’re gonna need like ten, maybe fifteen guys doing a combination of cons,” said a woman.

Lewis remained quiet, as though he were letting the thought sink into his brain. Rather it was not Lewis who needed to wrap his brain around the notion, but everyone else.

“That’s the reason why you’re all here,” he said.

After a brief pause, one of the men reclining in a seat voiced his decision, “I’m in,”

The rest followed suit.



High Roller

“When that perfect hand comes along…”


RSI

Sami sprinted at him and threw a left jab that just avoided Jenks’ cheek, which was followed by a front kick that the veteran also swept aside and dodged. She followed up with a right cross, hoping to unbalance him. Jenks caught her attack at the wrist and wheeled around to lock Sami’s elbow behind her, rendering her immobile.

He let her loose, “You still lack focus, Sami. And it’s gonna bite you in the ass one day if you’re not careful.”

She nodded, it was training time. Talking was for when she wasn’t training or out tailing a bounty.

This time she led with a front kick that forced Jenks to lean backward, before he recoiled with a straight punch. Sami crouched and proceeded to deliver a punch to Jenks’ mid-section, followed by a left hand uppercut that barely grazed his face. She then threw another swift kick, followed by two more.

Jenks caught the third and unbalanced her.

She fell to the floor in the training complex, exhausted by the morning training. A four hour, daily regimen, beginning at six, that included plenty of cardio, kickboxing, and reflex training. They were meant to focus on her legs, which was where her strength was.

“You’ve got some good legs for a non-aug. Did you have any professional training?”

“No, just plenty of running and dancing through the streets,” Sami replied as she squirted some water from her bottle.

Jenks smirked.

“Your upper body needs work. I think you should add lifting and boxing to the routine,” he said as he walked away, but he turned around to add, “Or losing your arms and getting augs.”

She gave him a look, “I’ve been thinking about that, but I don’t know yet.”

Jenks smiled, “Lots of benefits, especially in this business. At the same time, lots of pain in the ass. I gotta get guys like Marcus to check my systems out from time to time. Lubricant, lubricant, lubricant,” he tossed his towel into the bin.

“And guys like Marcus…” he shook his head, feigning disgust.

Sami snickered.

“Other downsides are you’re pretty much numb there, losing your sense of touch, and being able to grasp things.”

“Trust me, you have no idea how lucky you are for a person with no augs living in a world where everyone’s got somethin’. You’re probably the most human out of all of us here.”

Sami took another drink from the bottle as Jenks left.

Marcus walked in.

“Overslept much?” Sami asked.

Marcus slid past her with no answer, which drew a raised eyebrow from Sami.

His mind was elsewhere.




”Hey are you alright?”

“What?”

”You came in and didn’t say anything.”

“I overslept.”

”Didn’t look like that to me.”

“What are you- focus, Sami.”

She chalked that up among the few times that Marcus had ever called her by her actual name. Something was different about him, no wisecracks, no laughs, and no jokes. Something was wrong, but she could not put her finger on it. Maybe nothing was wrong, she thought as she suited up. Marcus had always been bipolar, in the metaphorical sense. Hard to read, but they barely knew each other as far as their business relationship was concerned.

As far she as knew, she simply shrugged it off, maybe he had an epiphany about respecting her. She was amazed by the strange flights of fancy that her mind came up with from time to time.

Whatever the reason, he was right about one thing, she had to focus.

“Fine,” she said, “What’s the job today?”





Marcus cocked his neck to one side before repeating the procedure to the other side. The pops were expected as he skipped about the words that flowed across the screen. He was doing a variety of things, among them was checking the news before he opened the brief that Anna sent him.

Man Falls To Death Out of VTOL

Heiress Yvon Brust Announces Plans For Luxury Resort in Endeavour

Cost of Neural Augs Rising

Immigration Battle in the MPA Continues

Eclipse of Binary Stars in System 486 Beta Carinae

Each one of them was a sign of the times, times that would take more than politicking alone to correct, if there was something to correct that was. Apparently, safety harnesses and U-shaped restraining bars were still not enough to keep people from still falling out of VTOLs. It probably helped if they bothered to close the cabin hatches, Marcus thought.

The cost of neural augs caught Marcus’ attention in particular. He had thought about getting an upgrade himself. He knew he was no digital wiz, especially compared to the other tech juggernauts at RSI. After all he was just a security hacker, a tiger, they called him. Eight-bit fangs, and stripes of blue flowing code. That was years ago, years that felt like eternity. He was someone different now.

Everyone was busy working at their desk or in their personalized control center, managing their field person. Marcus checked the listings, and there was only one job left, slim pickings. The early bird gets the worm, and in his case, he was never early to have a choice. Or perhaps he chose to be late.

“High Roller?”

His eyebrows jumped, interesting. Anna always had a habit of giving her little briefs clever titles as if she had been destined to be a writer, but instead settled for a job as a PA. That or some omniscient and witty being managed the brief titles for her.

He scanned the profile, orange blurs sprinted revolutions around his pupil.

Marcus cleared his throat, “Target name, Charlie Lewis. He’s a cat burglar.”

”Ooh, interesting.”

Marcus continued, “Specializes in Hot Prowls.”

Marcus took the silence on her end as a sign that she did not know what a Hot Prowl was.

“Meaning, he could be on a maglev cabin with thirty other people, and he would be swiping all of their credits without them knowing it,” Marcus scratched his chin.

“The thing is, he does this in casinos, which makes him a genuine con-man, and a very good one at that.”

”How so?”

“He’s been on the list for a long time. He’s like a ghost because he’s always using disguises and surgeries to mask his prints, according to their guesses.”

”Go on.”

“Definitely a professional and it’s very likely that he’s got people in the background as well.”

”Alright, send me the details, I’m gonna slip in and tag him.”

“Actually…”

”Hmm? What is it?”

“I’ve got another idea. We should try something different,” Marcus turned off the communique on his end and abruptly left his desk, but not before taking a transparent tablet with him.




Minutes later he was on the ground floor, sitting cross legged on a mat while Sami slammed her fists into a punching bag.

“According to Hanna…” Marcus tacked on the H whenever he said Anna’s name to tease her, just one more thing to irritate the chief of support operators, “The guy has a pattern where he makes one big strike before he slips away unnoticed and lays low for a time. And they think this is going to be it. If he gets out, this will be the last we see of him until he resurfaces again.”

“So where is he now?” Sami said, wiping the accumulated beads of sweat from her forehead with a towel.

Marcus looked up from his tablet, “The Golden Mile. A long strip of the finest casinos in Cangwu, and maybe all of Mars, from what I heard. Even as we speak, he might be hitting them now.”

“Then what are we waiting for?” Sami ceased her punches and ran to suit up.

“Hold on a bit. You can’t just walk into a casino in your suit, that’s just gonna to give you away.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have any augs. I’m pretty much useless without my suit, unless you have a better idea.”

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Marcus would have normally smiled when he said this.

He tapped some keys on his tablet, “Jenks, is the thing ready?”

“Yeah,” the agent’s voice came from the tablet.

Minutes later, after Sami had suited up, Jenks came from the armory with a small black device in hand, a flat plate, 3 inches long, and 2 inches wide, with diagonal corners. Marcus nodded to Jenks, who placed the object right on Sami’s suit.

“What is this?”

Marcus tapped a key on his tablet, and instantly pixels began to form all around her. She watched in perplexity as they replicated all over her suit. As the lines of code flipped over, a different skin seemed to emerge and adorn her.

“What…”

In one moment, there was a suit of black poly carbon plating covering her from neck to feet. In the next, all of that disappeared, leaving behind a teal, one shoulder dress made of silk that ran the length of her body, enhancing her natural curves. Her gauntlets were replaced by her bare arms, with glowing bracelets around her wrists. Her neck guard had transformed into what appeared to be a necklace.

Marcus simply stared on after fist bumping Jenks, who nodded with approval. Once the transformation had finished, Jenks left the two of them in the armory.

“Oh my god, what is this?” she reached to cover herself.

“Careful now, you don’t want to disrupt that,” Marcus said, “Any hard touch will disrupt the field for a few seconds.”

She stared at him.

“What? You’ve never worn a dress before?” a snide grin curved on his lips.

Her stare remained, “What is this.”

“This isn’t going to be your usual mission, seeing as how you can’t waltz in there with your body suit and hope to catch a thief. One, I might add, that is as slippery as this guy.”

Her stare turned into a glare.

“The reason for the dress, is…simple. You’re going to a casino, or maybe casinos. You need to look the part. If I may say so, not too bad,” Marcus paused before finishing, “Blondie.”

“Façade Cinq is the prototype device that Jenks just put on your suit. It’s currently in development at Haut Logiciel. Weeks ago, a friend of mine called me and asked if they could test the thing. I thought it could be useful so I kept it around for them.”

Marcus saw that she was still adjusting, as though her eyes were lying to her, “Relax, the Cinq just projects a virtual render around you that is undetectable by the human eye.”

“What about augs?” she asked.

“That’s what we’re going to test. And so far…I,” he cleared his throat, “Don’t see any of your suit.”

He had to admit that he was taken aback by her appearance in the dress. It was definitely different.

“Okay,” she breathed a long sigh, “Anything else?”

“Our guy’s a runner without any augs. You could probably get the jump on him and tag him before he gets out of the starting gate. You won’t need much else…aside from maybe a clutch bag…” Marcus scratched his chin, “And maybe some credits to bet with.”

“What is that going to do?”

“Remember what I said, look the part. No guy is gonna shy away from…” he gestured toward her, “Except for that one guy who’s busy trying to bust the virtual vaults.”

Marcus lifted the tablet to her face, “This image, is two years old. The closest lead we have to him is a DNA imprint, but these days that’s just as reliable as the picture. Now, I could just sit back here and keep a tab on you, but I realized that I’ve never been to Cangwu.”




Cangwu

Golden Mile


Marcus sat on a bench outside the strip of casinos, tablet in one hand, and a street vended corndog in the other. Black shades covered his augmented eyes.

“Alright, the first place is…”




”Olympia Crown Casino.”

“Got it,” Sami said as she walked through the entrance, her eyes peeled for any suspicious activity. The place was a hive of activity, as was all casinos. Tuxedoes and dresses everywhere, it was definitely high class. The ceilings were decorated with ornaments and chandeliers of post-modern design.

”You should probably get a drink. I recommend Vermillion on the rocks.”

“Drinking, on the job? Sorry my name isn’t Marcus Sun.”

There was a brief pause on the other end, which meant a victory for Sami, ”That actually wasn’t bad, you been practicing? Anyway, I’m going through their security feeds. Find a table; you look like a bimbo just standing there.”

“A real wonder why you’re still single,” she went to the open bar, and requested some Vermillion.

The bartender served her a sizzling red drink on ice cubes in a cocktail glass. Sami took the drink and leaned against the counter, watching the crowd play.

”Nothing, I’m not finding any DNA matches. I’m gonna check the other casinos.”

“Take your time,” Sami took a sip of the drink, it was sweet and sour, but leaning heavily toward the sour.

The sizzle was like that of a carbonated drink, however, unlike sodas, the sizzle was stronger than the average soda fizz and it lasted longer. The bubbling and sparkling crackled in her mouth as she drank it. Alcoholic drinks were nothing new to her; she’d been drinking them since 17.

”Wait, I got something. Ditch the glass, he’s at the Fenghuang.”

“Just as I was about to enjoy myself,” Sami left the glass on the plate of a cocktail waitress who wandered past her.

Sami descended to the lower levels, and used the underground tube system that connected all the casinos and resorts together.




The Fenghuang

The baccarat table was full as a man found the last seat. He had a smooth jaw, clean shaven. His close cropped hair was black with a touch of gray, while crow’s feet flanked his blue eyes flecked with grey. He had a certain charm about him that drew the eyes of the ladies and men at the table, and those of the casino security guards. The house dealt the cards, which had the trademark design of the Fenghuang casino.

Every day there was a hacker at a slot machine, ready to crack the safe and let the credits fall into his card. Unfortunately, the casinos put a cap on the creds that a slot machine spit out. The casinos put their money on the card tables. Compared to the slots, the tables had higher prizes, but smaller odds of winning that could not be altered by a hacker. Playing cards required real skill, something that had long disappeared. Nowadays, people relied on pre-downloaded manuals and stat cards that laced their visual augs. Even that wasn’t enough to beat chance itself. Baccarat in particular was purely based on chance, players could not make any choices, as they were stuck with the hand they were dealt.

Everyone at the table was busy playing with their chips as they waited for Lewis’ move. He smiled to everyone calmly, and placed his bet.

The house revealed his three cards, which totaled eight. The other five bettors had seven, five, six, five, and six, respectively.

“I guess that means I win,” Lewis said, as he flipped over his three cards, which totaled nine.

”Charles, we cracked Montriëste, Perseid Jewel, The Caracao, and Ares’ Palace already.”

Lewis immediately departed the table, “Good job, I managed to pick up a couple thousand creds here and there. What about you Axel?”

A reply came from the person named Axel, ”It’s a good day to be a thief.”

Lewis chuckled, “I can drink to that.”

He promptly took a tall glass purple drink from a cocktail waitress that passed by before he disappeared into the dim-lit and crowded dance floor where the laser lights were spurting while the drums and bass shook the floor.

The two casino guards that were tailing him stopped as they met the dance floor.




“Alright I’m at the Fenghuang, where is he?” Sami said over the comm.

”Okay he’s heading toward the…wait, fuck, I lost him. He’s definitely wearing a disguise, so he won’t be looking like the picture. Look for a guy with grayish hair standing at maybe 5’11 or 6.”

“How did you lose him?” she wandered through the crowd, trying not to let anyone or anything touch her suit, otherwise it would disrupt the render.

”Wait, I got a lock on him. He’s at a blackjack table, your three o’clock.”

Sami immediately headed in that direction, passing by the slot machines, cocktail waiters, and gamblers.

”He’s got exchanges with some people, we know that. He’s obviously got a group of people watching over him, and another group wandering around like him, going on prowls. And so far, no activity on any of the digital vaults, either it hasn’t gone down yet, or these guys are real pros.”

“Well, let’s hope he’ll speak when we nab him,” she finally reached Lewis’ table.

She thought about how she would approach him, perhaps she would cruise in nonchalantly and pretend she was interested in him. Or perhaps she would find a seat opposite of him, and bet big. After-all, Marcus had siphoned some casino money for her to lose and use. This huge elaborate plan was all Marcus’s idea; they should have just gotten a taser to shock the guy. The only problem with that was, the casino security wouldn’t have let her inside in the first place. And even if they did, once the guy was out cold, they would swoop in and steal her bounty. It was better to lure him outside of the casinos, and thus outside of their jurisdiction.

However, neither of those two possibilities happened, instead she stumbled and nearly tripped. Lewis was about to lend a hand, but she caught herself in time to prevent him from disrupting the Cinq.

“Thank you,” she smiled modestly, as she looked into his face, she could feel her cheeks warming. He definitely looked different from the profile picture which showed a man maybe her age, possibly even younger, with blonde hair and a tanned face.

She was blushing, perhaps she was falling for a criminal’s charms.

The simple fantasy was abruptly killed by Marcus laughing on the other end, ”Oh my god, that was the best entrance I have ever seen. Bravo.”

But at least she succeeded in getting Lewis’ attention as he introduced himself.

“Allen, Allen Pierce,” he smiled, she knew he was using an alias.

Sami stuttered for a bit, “Uhm, Karla Dominique.”

“You had a bit of a fall there; can I get you a drink?”

“Certainly,” Sami returned the smile.

”Good job, now reel him in.”

“So what’s a pretty lady like you doing here?” Lewis tossed his cards in to fold.

“Oh, just trying to better my luck.”

“Well, I’ve been winning a lot, stick with me, I’m sure your luck’s about to change.”

He gestured to a waitress, “Two Green Dumondes please.”

They had been playing for about a couple minutes until Lewis stood up, “Excuse me as I head to the gentlemen’s room.”

“Don’t take too long,” Sami did her best to toy with him.

At that moment she realized she had not worn any makeup, she took leave from the table a bit.

“There’s one thing you guys forgot. Makeup.”

”Hmm. Well. The way it’s going right now, seems like you didn’t need any to begin with. Anyway he’s in the restroom alright. Also, try not to forget the fake name you gave yourself.”

She sighed, “I don’t get paid enough to do this.”




Men’s Restroom

Lewis whistled while pissing, until his communique opened.

”Charles, we just finished cracking the Olympia Crown. We’re starting on the Fenghuang.”

“Got it, take your time,” he washed his hands in the sink, and checked his face for any blemishes or disfigurations before he placed his hands into the air dryer tunnel, nine seconds later he was out the door.

Thirty seconds later he was back at the table next to Karla. As he tried to reach around her waist, she kept his hand away, which only roused him.

Just as he was about to go for it, ”Charlie, get the fuck out of there! She’s a bounty hunter.”

“What?” he said aloud.

“What?” Sami turned to him.

He paused to recompose himself, “I need to step out and take a call, I’ll be back in a bit.”

He wanted to lean in and steal a kiss before he ran, but Sami steered his lips away with her finger.

”Odd. Wait…wait a minute. Fuck, he’s trying to run!”

Sami jumped from the table and tailed him through the crowd. She pursued him until she ran straight into two big muscled guys. She could guess that they were casino security.

“Can we have a look at your I.D. ma’am?” the man to her left said.

”Oh come-the-fuck-on. He’s getting away.”

“I know right,” Sami replied.

“What? What was that?” the man to her right asked.

“Oh, no that wasn’t, I didn’t mean-“

“Ma’am we’re gonna need you to come with us.”

Sami sighed, “Look I’m a bounty hunter working for RSI. I’m trying to catch a guy named Charlie Lewis. Now you guys can either let me do my job, or be fired because you’re letting him slip out of your casino with millions of creds, right now.” Sami tried to put on the most threatening voice to back up her bluff.

The two guards looked at each other, before they returned to her, “I.D.”

”Blondie you better hurry up, he’s about...fuck…”

She dug through her little clutch bag for her bounty hunter card.

“Here, hurry the fuck up!” she demanded.

“Yo, this is Warner, we got a bounty hunter here, I’m-“ before Warner could finish his sentence, Sami nailed him in the throat with a punch and swiped the card from his hand.

She bolted, pursued by the other guard, who was much slower than her.

“Alright where is he?” Sami said, the dress disappeared once she threw the punch. The pixels glitched and went on and off, people stared from all directions. She slid past them as they tried to avoid her.

“Marcus?” she called.

No answer.




Just Outside Fenghuang Casino

Charlie Lewis ran as fast as his augmented legs had taken him. From what he could tell, he managed to lose the girl, who he thought he would have gotten into bed with. Unfortunately, his current circumstances did not allow him to indulge in such fantasies.

Marcus on the other hand, intercepted Lewis as the thief was running in his direction.

“Hey hold i-“ Marcus was caught off guard as he felt a pain rip through his left cheek, which disoriented him a bit.

The unexpected assault was followed by successive knees to his ribs, stomach, and possibly even his kidneys that sent him doubled over.

Before long, Lewis had disappeared into the myriad of peoples on the Golden Mile.

Two minutes later Sami arrived outside to find Marcus clutching his midsection.

“Oh my god,” she gasped.

He was bleeding a bit from his mouth, and there was a red bruise just below his left eye.

“Are you alright?” she knelt beside him.

Marcus nodded as he let his head recline against the wall with a long exhale.