Here's the next part.
Things get a little darker here... I THINK the content should be okay as there's nothing too graphic, but if anyone thinks the moderators will object then let me know and it will be amended.
On the morning that Elina was looking for Club Cordite to go and meet Fish, Angel awoke from her first night in Pixel’s rented room. She hadn’t gotten much sleep and had spent the first few hours just staring at the limp and soggy postcard she had cradled in her hand like it was a small, timid animal. Tears flowed freely while she remembered her dead friend and listened to the gunshots and screams that were the soundtrack to the night in that part of The City.
Eventually exhaustion had claimed victory and the pink-hair Runner’s bloodshot eyes had slid shut. Her sleep had been filled with nightmares and she had awoken gasping, convinced that her guide-turned-mugger was in the bedroom with her, but it had turned out to be no more than just the hazy early morning light that filtered in through the bedroom window playing tricks with the shadows of the furniture.
Angel calmed herself down and slowly rose from the bed, swinging her legs over the side as she sat up and looked around the room.
The space was smaller than the walk-in closet she had had back at her parents’ and was practically filled by the large, comfortable bed that occupied it. Digital displays of Japanese Idoru decorated the walls; their perfect Oriental features sending longing stares down at the bed.
The groggy nineteen-year-old rubbed her bleary eyes and stood up, gently feeling her tender nose. It didn’t feel broken but blood had crusted in one of the nostrils and it was sore to the touch. She sniffed gingerly and grimaced, not in pain but at the smell that was coming from her. She’d had the presence of mind to take off her soaked clothing before she had collapsed on the bed and fallen asleep but she still stank of stale panic-sweat and grime from the city.
Feeling somewhat repulsed by herself, she realised that she was still in the same underwear that she had put on the day she had gotten on the TC-Rail. It had only been yesterday but it felt like a week ago. She was further repulsed by the realisation that she had lost all her clean clothes when the alleyway attacker had stolen her bag.
Trying not to feel like a ghoul, Angel found Pixel’s small closet and picked out some clean clothes. Fortunately, the two girls were of a similar size and into the same kind of fashion so the replacements would suffice until she was in a position to get her own stuff. She tried to ease her sense of grave-robbing by telling herself that her friend wouldn’t have minded.
While she sorted through Pixel’s wardrobe selecting clothes, Angel found her friend’s Sphere Box. Seeing the bright pink object that was covered with star shaped stickers brought a lump to her throat. She picked up the S-Box and carefully laid it down on the bed, almost as if she was afraid it would break, stroking it tenderly before going back to picking clothes.
Having laid out a change of outfit next to Pixel’s S-Box, Angel took her disheveled, but now mostly dry, postcard and placed it on top of the clothes. She then stripped off her underwear and went into the tiny bathroom.
She was relieved to see that every spare inch of flat surface in the bathroom was cluttered with toiletries and beauty products so she’d at least be able to stay clean and maintain her image.
As the hot water from the stand alone shower (there was no room for a bathtub) washed over Angel she felt some of the tension in her body relax. This brought on another round of tears as she tried to cope with all the overwhelming emotions and the harsh truth that her friend was dead.
Eventually, she regained a degree of calmness and formed a plan for what to do next. She remembered Pixel talking about a place called Club Cordite and a guy called Fish. According to her friend this was the Promised Land for all Runners and was where Angel was going to find her way to fame and fortune. The place wouldn’t be that hard to find in the Sphere and she decided that as soon as she had gotten herself together she was going to head over there and introduce herself to Fish. This made her feel a bit better as she felt like she had formulated something approximating a game plan.
She had no sooner dried herself and gotten dressed in Pixel’s clothes when there was a knock at the apartment door.
Angel’s heart nearly leapt into her mouth at the sound and panic gripped her like a fist closing in her chest. A flood of irrational thoughts filled her mind:
Who could it be?
Had her attacker tracked her to the apartment?
Had he come to finish her?
The logical part of her mind told her that was ridiculous. She wondered if it was maybe some of Pixel’s friends. They’d be able to help her! A sudden hope, that was equally as irrational as her momentary panic, took hold of her and she went to the front door convinced that things were about to get better.
Her smile fell as she opened the door and saw the fat, greasy-looking landlord standing there.
‘Oh. H—hi,’ she said, barely masking the tone of disappointment.
‘Yeah, hi,’ replied the landlord. ‘Just wanted to see how you were doing after last night. You were a bit of a mess.’ He sounded bored and there was no trace of real concern in his voice.
Angel stared at her feet. ‘Um, y-yeah. L-last night w-w-was bad. I’m s-sorry.’ She looked up at the large man in the doorway and there was an awkward pause until she sensed that the guy was expecting something more. ‘I’m really g-grateful that-’
She was cut off as he pushed his way into the room and closed the door behind him. Angel’s heart began to race at the intrusion.
‘So,’ the fat man began as he turned and gave the pink-haired girl an appraising look, making her feel uncomfortable as his eyes lingered on the curves of her breasts. ‘You’re grateful that I took you in off the street and gave you a place to stay, right?’
‘R-right…’ she nodded growing increasingly unsure and uncomfortable.
‘And you should be grateful. Do you know what would’ve happened to you if I’d not let you stay here? You’d have wound up beaten, stripped, gang-raped and killed by the local gangs. Not necessarily in that order. Do you understand?’
Angel just nodded.
‘So I need to ask you,’ he continued, his voice taking on a sleazy, suggestive tone. ‘Just how grateful are you?’
The two stared at each other for a moment. Then Angel looked at the floor again and said quietly: ‘B—but I thought th—that the r—rent had b—been- ’
‘I don’t give a shit what you think!’ The landlord interrupted impatiently. ‘This ain’t no place for freeloaders and I don’t do charity. And now your bodyguard ain’t here…’
‘W—what do you w—want me t—to do?’
‘Easy. Pay your way.’
‘B—but I d—don’t have any m—money… h—how-’ Angel didn’t like where this was going.
‘I’ll show you.’
Angel watched with eyes that grew wide with horror as the man reached under his considerable gut and unzipped the fly of his trousers. A hand slid under the elastic of his pants and after some groping he freed his pale, limp, flaccid penis.
‘W-w-w-w-’ stammered Angel at the sight before her.
‘Just shut the fuck up and put your mouth on this,’ ordered the landlord.
Angel backed away, shaking her head.
‘Get the fuck over here and blow, you little bitch!’ he bellowed. ‘Now! Or I throw your stupid little bitch-ass back out on the fuckin’ street so you can be eaten alive!’
The timid-natured girl flinched at the verbal onslaught and some part of Angel’s mind capitulated in a way similar to when an animal simply gives up and goes limp when it’s in the jaws of a predator. Maybe this was just the harsh reality of “life in the big city”. Feeling like she was trapped in an out of control nightmare, she hesitantly stepped forward, tears of resignation running down her cheeks.
‘Yeah, that’s it come on.’ The fat man beckoned her closer.
Angel closed her eyes and fell to her knees before him, grimacing in disgust at the smell of sweat and filth that emanated from his crotch.
She opened her mouth.
The fat man zipped up and left the room, closing the door behind him with a satisfied, sleazy laugh. Angel gagged at the foulness that she had been forced to swallow, the taste filling her mouth and lining the back of her throat. Feeling bile rise from her stomach, she scrambled to her feet and dashed to the bathroom where she put her head in the toilet bowl and violently threw up. Finally, she slumped on the tiled floor and gasped and cried deep, wracking sobs.
Eventually, the tears subsided and the gasps reduced themselves to slow, deep, hollow breaths. For an hour Angel sat on the bathroom floor and stared into nothingness. Was this what her life was to be like? Was she to be forever abused in The City? Had Pixel gone through this kind of thing? She considered a couple of options. First, she could take a blade from the kitchen and put it across her wrists. That would end it. The thought was dismissed, she had been traumatised but her instinct for self-preservation was still strong enough to prevent such actions.
Second, she could contact her family and beg them to take her back. That thought was almost as foolish as the suicide notion. Her father had made it clear that, in no uncertain terms, she was effectively dead to him and no longer a part of the family.
After her time on bathroom floor pondering all that had happened and weighing up the choices that presented themselves, the fighter part of Angel’s mind eventually said: Just deal with it! and she slowly got to her feet. Although she felt numb inside she felt that she would find an escape from her current nightmare at Club Cordite. From what Pixel had told her about Fish he was the man that could fix anything. Maybe he could fix her life. Even if he couldn’t, her current situation couldn’t really get much worse. She went to the sink and spent the next half hour vigorously cleaning her teeth before going back to the bedroom.
Sitting on the bed, Angel placed Pixel’s S-Box in her lap and linked it to her own, spending some time in the virtual domain going through old messages they had sent to each other and looking at pictures and film they had shared. The memories these brought back were painful and she felt tears come again. She began to wonder if she would ever get over the loss of her friend and if the empty, hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach would ever be filled. At that moment she doubted it.
She wiped away her tears, accessed the Sphere and found the site for Club Cordite and got directions. She then jacked out, grabbed a pink hoodie with black star decorations, packed up her S-Box, placed her precious postcard in a clear plastic wallet and tucked it into a pocket, then left the apartment determined to find a new beginning.
Finding the club was easy, though Angel got the impression that the area it was in wasn’t the sort of place to be alone in when the sun went down.
As she approached the club she was passed by a short blonde woman in urban combats and a black vest. The blonde gave Angel a look so full of intense anger that it sent a cold shiver through her. She shook it off, taking the encounter as further proof that everyone in The City was mentally unstable.
When she arrived at the club, the shotgun-wielding doorman gave her an appraising look, deemed her to be no threat at all and simply stood aside without comment, allowing her entrance into Cordite.
While the steps leading down into the belly of the club weren’t exactly paved with gold, Angel did pick up on a sense that there were opportunities to be made in this place.
When she was down in the main part of Cordite she looked around trying to match a person to the description that Pixel had given of Fish in the many times the two girls had discussed the dreams that he was going to make come true for them.
The horrendous tie he was wearing was as good an identifier as a flashing sign with an arrow above his head.
Even though he looked scruffy and distracted as he sipped at a drink, Angel felt that she had been spotted by him the moment she had stepped through the arched entrance and was quietly being observed as she stood there. Hesitantly she made her way over to his table.
Fish gave a large, warm smile as the girl approached.
‘Hello. Can I help you?’ he asked.
Angel nervously played with one of the neck cords on her hoodie. ‘Um, y-yeah, I h-h-hope so. I’m a f-f-friend of P-P-Pixel’s…’
‘Pixel? Oh…’ Fish raised his eyebrows as he put a face to the name. ‘I heard about her. Awful business last night. You alright? Wanna sit down?’ He gestured to a seat opposite. Angel nodded and sat down.
‘Y-y-you know w-what happened t-to Pixel last n-night?’ Angel asked as she sat, hoping that the man opposite could shed some light on how her friend had wound up dead outside her apartment building.
Fish gave a look of concern. ‘Yeah. Ugly, unfortunate business that. Poor girl got caught in a crossfire between two juiced gangers. Totally senseless waste. She was a cool kid.’
Angel bit her lip to try and stop it trembling. She couldn’t believe that she had lost her friend in a totally pointless act of random violence. Fish shifted uneasily in his seat at the look of grief that was plain on Angel’s face and he attempted to divert the course of things before it led to a display of tears and sobs. Such things made him uncomfortable.
‘So,’ he began. ‘Hang on… Pixel… Pixel…’ he mused as he scratched his chin. ‘Does that make you Angel by any chance?’
The pink-haired Runner sniffed and nodded then wiped an eye and took a deep breath.
‘S—sorry,’ she said. ‘Been a r-r-rough couple of d-d-days.’
‘Yeah, I can see that. Seeing as how you’re dressed in Pixel’s clothes I’d say you’re not in the best of places right now, right?’
Angel just shook her head.
‘Yeah, I thought so.’ Fish continued. He waved a hand at a member of the bar staff and pointed at the girl opposite him. A few moments later a drink in a long glass was handed to Angel. Fish gestured that she should try it and the girl took a sip of the richly-coloured orange liquid. An expression of mild surprise crossed her face at the extremely pleasant taste that flowed into her mouth and she took a long pull from the glass. A warm sensation spread through her and she gave an involuntary shiver of pleasure.
‘Nice?’ asked Fish with a smile.
Angel nodded as she took another drink.
‘On the house. So, what can I do for ya?’ asked the Fixer.
Angel regained her composure a little and sat up straight, placing the three-quarter empty glass down on the table in front of her. ‘I w-w-want a job.’
Fish raised his eyebrows again in mild surprise. ‘You want a job? Doing what exactly? Serving drinks?’
In response Angel took out her customised S-Box and rested it on her knee, patting it a couple of times.
‘Ahhh…’ intoned the Fixer. ‘That kind of job. What, are you some kind of Sphere Runner? Yeah, I think I remember Pixel saying you were some kind of Runner. You know you were pretty much all that girl talked about? Well, I’m always on the look out for new talent. You got any experience?’
Angel thought of all the minor Sphere hacks she’d done for friends and unknowing family members: cracking game code from software companies, making the speeding ticket her mother had gotten disappear without a trace, hacking her high school to give her friend’s grades a push, and the one time she’d had to take down another Runner in the Sphere for trying to hack her domain.
‘J-just bits,’ she replied. ‘N-nothing major. Yet.’
Fish scratched his chin again. ‘Hmm… that’s what I thought. I mean, Pixel wasn’t exactly a big name in The Scene and I normally wouldn’t even touch a new Runner unless they’d done at least of couple of data grabs form a corporate fortress…’ his voice trailed off and Angel’s face fell as she felt that her hopes of finding a way out of her current shit life were about to be shot down in front of her eyes.
‘But,’ the Fixer went on as he inclined his head to one side and tried to further evaluate the girl. Angel perked up a little. ‘I’m prepared to do you a favour and see what I can find for you because you were a friend of Pixel’s. It was a crappy thing that happened to the kid and I figure you could do with a break. It won’t be anything massive. None of the established Ronin are gonna hook up with an untested Runner for a big job, regardless of how slick Pixel said you were. But, I get minor info-swipe jobs coming through my door just about every day. Someone always wants dirt on someone else. So if anything comes my way that I think you can handle I’ll get in touch, we’ll do a benchmark test and I’ll see if I can get you started. What do ya say?’
It wasn’t exactly the Golden Ticket she had been hoping for but she was smart enough to realise when she was being given an opportunity. ‘I-I would r-really appreciate anything y-you could do for me. Th-thank you.’
‘Yeah, sure.’ Fish flashed his usual smile. ‘I liked your friend so if I can help you I will. Why don’t ya give me your contact details and I’ll get in touch soon as something comes up.’
Angel explained that her phone had been stolen so she gave her Sphere address. She then finished the drink she had been given and stood up. As she turned to leave Fish spoke up.
The girl turned to look at the bespectacled Fixer.
‘I’m real sorry about Pixel.’
Angel gave a sad smile. ‘Y-yeah… me too.’
‘You’ll be alright. You’ll see.’ He sounded genuinely reassuring, but Angel couldn’t see how she would ever be alright. Even so, she nodded as in agreement and left Cordite. All she could do now was head back to Pixel’s place and wait for Fish to contact her.
She hoped he would get in touch before the landlord knocked on her door again.
Angel's having a real rough time in The City, huh? Maybe things will get better for her... maybe not.
Thanks for reading! I know it takes a lot of your time.
Wasn't sure about the nudity tag in this as, while these is some described in the text, there is none in the image. The same rules apply, right? Same with the violence tag. None in the image, but she's forced into doing something horrible. Better safe than sorry, I suppose.
Oct 9, 2012 12:05:11 pmby SidheRoseGraphics Homepage »
Awww, poor Angel. You've just got to hope things get better for her and not worse. I'm not entirely sure that I buy Fish's explanation of how Pixel died, but we'll see. An excellent and yes, gritty chapter. A bio or two and close up here and there would be good - sure!
Oct 9, 2012 8:48:37 pmby adorety Homepage »
Great and gruesome chapter. If there's a next time she should bite hard. Well I'm rooting for Angel, but life isn't always karma friendly and something tells me Pixel didn't get caught in any cross fire.
I think you were safe to use the tag, though no details were gone into, the implication was strong. I don't get to read much at all anymore, so this is good. You've drawn me in.
Oct 9, 2012 11:13:39 pmby RodS Homepage »
Another awesome chapter, Alex! I found myself deeply wanting to step into the story and carve my initials into the landlord's......well, you know. See - now you have me totally invloved, my friend! That's what brilliant writing does.
Some character bio images would be great!