“You’re sure that the patch cable will work?”
“As sure as da sun rises.”
“Alright. Put me through.”
In the 3rd Arcology of the West Coast Metropolis, at the crossing of Shibuya Street and Vegas Boulevard, there are dozens of screens–dangling off of darkened office buildings and restaurants too expensive to eat at, on support beams which should not be able to bear the weight. On most days, there’s no reason to look up; the advertisements blast their cavalcade of messages: new fashions and old news, with the regularity of the sun rising, at a speed that makes Mercury blush. Today, the screens flicker and abruptly shut off. As the lights dim for a moment, people begin to look up. A moment later, the screens flicker to life again, and the grinning face of a ‘toon fades into being.
He’s a comic man, right out of the mid 80s: he has a chiseled jaw, bulging muscles, and the fractuous lines of an artist drawing his millionth line of the day in some sweatshop out in God-knows-where. His spandex suit (of course it’s spandex) has his logo on it: A simple oval with the word “HERO” emblazoned across it, red on blue for absolute eye-stabbing visibility.
“Hi, folks!” he shouts cheerily. “Captain HERO here, with an important message…”
Someone in the crowd tells him to fuck off.
“You see, kids,” he says, as he lifts a pistol into view and racks the slide, “I’m not playing along with those greedy capitalist good-for-nothings anymore. I’m tired of seeing my face used to sell cheap plastic, and having my good name stomped on ‘cuz of a guy in a cheap suit who makes more money than I ever saw in my life.”
He smiles, eyes full of manic energy. “I hope you’re ready,”, he says, “because this next story’s a show-stopper.”
The feed cuts out, and the screens go black for the second time in memory, and hundreds upon hundreds of people begin chattering amongst each other—shock, concerned, and wondering what the message means…
Inside the tangled web of power cables and support struts surrounding one of the buildings, two figures are perched near a glowing screen and a cheaply-made camera. One of them is a massive overexaggerated caricature; his body looks less like a human and more like a triangle with legs. Just barely, by the glow of the LCD’s backlight, it’s possible to see the word “HERO” on his chest. “D’you think it worked, Hamill?” he asks.
“Like a charm!” the tiny figure using the computer replies. He is much smaller, and rounder—it’s remarkable that he managed to move through the web at all, let alone comfortably operate a computer there. He gives the good Captain a tip of his hat, as a smile spreads under his snout.
The Captain had found Hamill after spending a significant amount of his money on his first night at a bar. The little pig in the old button-down white shirt had been out of luck, too–though not quite as badly as Captain Hero was; Hamill was merely out of a job, seeing as nobody in this day and age needed lectures on citizen’s band radio. The plucky little Classic had been driven to take on the less-than-legal end of computer science, learning his way around computers just as he’d helped students learn their way around a ham radio.
“You’ll be makin’ headlines fer weeks with a show like dat. Dey’ll be too busy talkin’ about what’s gonna hit dem to know what hit dem!” Hamill mutters, barely quiet enough to stay hidden. Hamill had been a dear ally to Captain Hero–even if Cap found that hexadecimal-assembly gobbeldigook Hamill worked with to be even more confusing than regular computers.
“Good. Thank you, Hamill,” Cap says, as he retrieves a duster coat from a pole that might’ve actually been visible from the outside of the building, once.
“No problem, boss. Hey, uh…”
“You’re still holdin’ da gun.”
Captain HERO glances at the still-loaded weapon. “Oh. So I am.”
He sets it ever-so-gently on a nearby steel beam, suspended over the crowd below.
“You, uh, gonna unload dat?” Hamill mutters, as the Captain covers himself with his coat and walks back into the building proper, clambering through an unattended window.
He would call it “going home”, but it’s not a specific place he’s going to. The Captain has no home; nobody would give him money for anything, save perhaps going away. And, with his IP owned by Plassys Corp, the process of getting his money is just as terrible as the crappy toys they make. Even if he can make it through the miles of red tape and catch-22s, he knows he won’t feel quite right.
He hasn’t felt quite right in a long time.
As he settles into the back of the cardboard box-fort that’s barely big enough for him, kept dry by dangling clotheslines and fire escapes crammed into a too-small alley, he sighs. He’d blown the very last of his money to buy a knife and a long coat–Hamill had told him that if he wanted to get into the crime business, he’d have to find a way to hide his identity, and a way to get people to do what he says. A pistol had rounded it out; Hamill had helped him buy it. It had been disconcerting how easily he’d lied about what he was going to use it for. “Defending myself,” he’d said. Well, in a certain light–particularly the light of the fast-setting sun, with a cold night sure to follow–he’d spoken the truth.
They had planned the heist for the week after the transmission; they would fund the big show-stopper with the money they got from the bank robbery. He wishes himself luck as he curls up in the corner, and pretends to sleep. He dreams of his homepage–a place in the spotlight, a crowd cheering as he thwarts the forces of E.V.I.L. with naught but a clever plan and a convenient gadget…
He wakes up to a sudden burst of smog-filtered sunlight, and someone spitting on his face. He blinks as he stares up at the man who has just torn his ‘home’ apart. “This is for ruining my seventh birthday,” the man says, as his boot comes down on Captain Hero’s face with a sickly crunch that he feels more than he hears. Lights flash in his eyes, competing with the morning sun, as his former fan drives a heel into the Captain’s nose. Cap’s eyes tear up. He tries to ignore the stabbing pain, the taste of blood in his mouth.
After the man walks away, the Captain picks himself up, groaning. Chipped teeth and a broken ego wouldn’t matter too much, so long as the heist doesn’t go wrong.
“DROP THE GUN!”
The heist had gone wrong. The teller, instead of calmly handing over the cash, had screamed. Hamill was lucky enough to have been outside, disabling the cameras; but the Captain was caught inside, and when the police arrived, he hadn’t even gotten into the vault.
“DROP THE GUN, NOW!”
His hands are shaking. The police are pointing guns at him. The police from his homepage never used guns–even in the worst of circumstances, they used blocky, colorful ‘stun rays’ for the sake of being family-friendly. These officers are not friendly, of course; they wave dangerous weapons and scream demands at the top of their lungs.
“I SAID DROP THE FUCKING GUN!”
It takes the Captain a moment to realize that he’s shooting back; he comes to the conclusion that he is—haha—defending himself. He wasn’t lying to the gun-store clerk after all, he thinks to himself, as he blocks out the crackle of pistol fire and ignores the blood spattering on his face.
Outside in the twilight, Hamill works as fast as his trotters can move. He’d been wondering when that ‘snootle’ program would come in handy. One of the Electric Eye newsletters had billed it as the best way for a hacker to help his team in combat; he’d thought it was silly, until he distracted a sergeant with a well-timed pop-up ad in his AR visor. Hamill still needs to stop the Captain’s spree, though—even as fast as Cap shoots, that pistol isn’t going to stop the entirety of the police force. Pulling out is really the best thing to do.
Captain Hero laughs, as he defends himself all the way out into the parking lot, following the coppers as they flee back to their cruisers. Pop, pop goes the pistol in his hand; the brief kick of the weapon trying to leap free is beneath his notice. A van shudders to a halt alongside him–he almost forgot what Hamill’s van looked like.
“Get in, buddy,” Hamill shouts. “We gotta blow dis joint! Da SWAT teams are comin’!”
“I was just starting to get back into the swing of things, though–”
“Shaddup and get in da car!”
Captain Hero clambers into the back of the van, slamming the door shut. “And we haven’t got the money!”
“Ta hell with da money, I ain’t gonna get shot today!”
The tires screech and throw up plumes of smoke, and the van streaks off into the distance.
“What are we going to do, Hamill? That money is the one thing we need–”
“Calm down, Cap. We don’t gotta give up yet. We can hit da place again.”
The lights of the underpass flash by, briefly showing their faces in the dark of night. Hamill jerks the wheel, and his van swerves to avoid some skate punk ‘toon. “Get offa da road, bozo! Sheesh, kids dese days…”
“And what if it goes the same way next time?”
“It won’t,” Hamill says, cutting across two lanes to make the exit ramp. “We’re gonna change da odds. I can find us a sneaker.”
“A sneaker,” Hamill repeats, a little slower this time. “Somebody who can sneak in. Get us an edge. You tried da direct route, and dat didn’t work, so we try somet’ing else.”
“But who, though?”
“I got contacts. And dey have contacts.”
In a smoky, dimly-lit bar just a few miles inland, Hamill stares across a table at a shady-looking, slender ‘toon wearing a wide-brimmed hat. The guy’s face is hidden, likely because it doesn’t pair well with the suit—he looks more like the kind of guy who wears pinstripes and sells last year’s cars at this year’s prices. The two mugs of beer on the table sit untouched, and every time the waitress swings by, she frowns and walks briskly away.
There is a long pause.
“…well? You gonna say somet’ing?” Hamill asks.
“Depends. Are you gonna say somethin’?” the stranger replies.
“Oh, don’t get all mysterious on me now. I need a guy for a job, and you’s got da list.”
The ‘toon in the wide-brimmed hat grins wickedly. One might say he’s got a weasel’s grin, though some would say that it’s wrong to say that to a weasel.
“I know a guy. Used to be a big deal in a little way, so now he ain’t got much. And his line o’ work died off in the 1900’s.”
“Sounds perfect. T’anks, Greasy.”
“Don’t mention it. The name, that is. Never know who’s listenin’.”
“So this fellow…He’s a skilled thief?”
Captain Hero peers over Hamill’s shoulder, watching words flash by on an ancient computer’s screen–the thing was a relic, an old laptop from the earliest days of ink-augmented tech. Hamill sometimes boasted that it was a hundred years old and running like the day it was made.
The van was serving as their base of operations, now–it was parked just past the wrong side of the tracks; specifically, the van was parked in a rain-soaked back-alley in the Dark District. They were deep in the shadow of the Arcology.
“More like da opposite,” Hamill explains, as he runs a series of automated search programs. “He used to be a gumshoe.”
“A police officer?”
“Nah, private eye. Less den legal stuff. Finding cheating wifes, bringing back runaways…”
“And breaking and entering?”
The computer dings. “Yep, and lots of it,” Hamill says. “He’s da guy. And he’s in deep. Says here he’s been missin’ rent payments.”
“How do you know that?” the Captain asks, peering at the screen. The words seem to run together.
“Right here,” Hamill answers, pointing to a line describing the candidate’s credit score. “He’s been losing credit. Dey don’t wanna loan him anyt’ing–”
“Because he hasn’t been able to pay,” the Captain finishes. “He’s desperate.”
“And dis–dis right here is his phone number. We got ourselves a sneaker.”