I walked among the hallways, whistling to myself as I passed students to the left and right of me. The sound of a vertol landing on the pad just outside the building was muted by the sound-baffling materials that covered the walls, but it wasn’t quite enough to silence the hordes of students who walked the halls. The masses moved through the halls while chattering, or stopping in front of a display case, billboard, or classroom in order to speak with their friends prior to class starting. One girl, couldn’t have been more than nineteen, was so glued into her interface that she nearly collided with me, her hands waving about as she played some game in VR that only she could see. I looked down at her, gave the kindly-old-man smile I was famous for, and gave a polite “Excuse me, Ms. Johanson.” Always treat the students with respect – they beat that into you your first year working at the Peterson Academy. Ms. Johanson didn’t even acknowledge me; she just slid into the next available opening in the throng of fellow students surrounding us and continued on with her game.
As I approached my classroom, it struck me as interesting how the students ignored the armed guards standing at the door to each classroom. The vast majority of the students here had grown up with their ever-present bodyguards, but I had grown up in Lower Detroit, a poor kid who had to run with the gangs in order to get by in my formative years. I was only able to now teach at one of the most prestigious of the corporate universities because I had a chance encounter with a senator who was able to get me a choice sport at this same university back when it was still called the Air Force Academy, before the Collapse and the government privitizing everything. I had worked for years to fit myself in with the Glitterati crowd, but it was all just an act – I worked for them, was not a part of them, and they made sure I knew it. It was the story with all of the teachers here.
I stepped up to my classroom door and nodded and smiled at the guard holding it open for me. He was wearing the same gear as the other guards in the hall and elsewhere on campus – an Armatech Discrete Commando tactical suit of military-strength body armor fashioned to look like a classy business suit. I knew there was a filter mask in his inner jacket pocket, right next to the two extra magazines for the Armatech ADI PD-9 Personal Defense Weapon he wore on a strap around his shoulder and carried at his side. I looked him right in the eye as I clapped him on the shoulder when I passed. “Good morning, Phil. How are the kids?” The guard nodded to me, returning my gaze past the old-fashioned glasses I wore as an afectation of what I believed an academic should wear before turning to look back front as he answered. “They’re doing fine, Professor. Looks like this class is going to be a rough one – they’re already making more of a ruckus than last semester’s!” I gave a polite chuckle and shake of my head as I continued on to my desk. The first class of the year was always a special one – this one more so than any that came before. Still, I had a job to do, and it was time to do it.
As I set my briefcase down on my desk and my coat on my chair, the class began to register my presence, growing a little quieter. There were still a few stragglers coming in, but with the teacher in the room everyone was beginning to act more their age and people began to settle into their seats. I reached over my desk and activated the room’s computer system. It immediately pinged my wireless neural interface implant and performed a brainlock scan to ensure that I was the teacher, not a student trying to hack his grades. I nodded when it unlocked and let me into the network, then turned to face the class. The time readout on my HUD indicated exactly when it was time for class to start, and I looked around the class, identifying each student and searching for a specific face in particular. I was disappointed when I came up empty, but not all that surprised – she was notoriously late for class, already with three notes from different teachers in her student file. If she hadn’t been so brilliant, she almost certainly wouldn’t have been passing her courses – the Peterson Academy isn’t known world-wide for the ease of its course load, and the hands-on training the students receive in our classrooms is the true reason we’re so successful. To miss out on most of that and still pass with excellent marks – that was the sign of someone with true talent.
Still, if she wasn’t here I couldn’t do my job properly. It was beginning to look like this might take longer than I had planned. No matter; it was time to teach the class, and that was something I definitely remember enjoying. It would be good to get back in the saddle again after the summer break.
“Welcome to ASP 321 – Orbital Mechanics and Applications. I’m Professor Rothchild, and in this class we’ll be studying astrophysics, orbital mechanics, orbital engineering, and astronavigation. By the time you leave here in December, you should understand the physics behind the designs of the orbital habitats, including the Hub, and be capable of navigating a spaceship from Earth orbit to Mars and back, while avoiding causing a Kessler cascade. In fact, for the final exam you’ll be doing nearly exactly that – we’ll be boosted up to Earth orbit and each of you will have to navigate a United Aerospace shuttle from the Hub to Lunar orbit and back. Your parents warned you that this school would be challenging…”
It was thirty minutes into the fifty-minute class when she finally entered the room. My implant immediately highlighted her profile, matching the one in my database and cross-matched with the school’s and local government’s. Her facial features were a perfect match, but it was her kinesthetic profile built up from hundreds of hours of security footage that I trusted – it was easy enough these days to spoof a facial recognition match, but only a master could succesfully mimic someone’s walk, method of talking, the excuses they made. A master, or someone who’s cheating – but I didn’t think the competition had gone out of their way to hire someone who could do that. That required a whole ’nother level of investment. I nodded at her excuses, simply waving at the open chair at the front of the class as I continued my lecture. Our chat would have to wait until later.
Twenty minutes later, I wrapped up the presentation and dismissed the class. I had used a few physical models during the discussion, and was putting them back inside my briefcase when I looked up at our tardy guest. “Ms. Barber, a word please.” She looked up at me, not exactly surprised, and came to stand in front of my desk. I looked down at her, giving her a right disappointed look as her classmates fled the room. “I’m not pleased with your tardiness, Ms. Barber. You already have notations in your files that mention your penchant for arriving late; be warned that this won’t be tolerated in this classroom, especially when we utilize the simulators for hands-on experience. I realize that you may have been able to skate by on instinct and talent in your previous classes, but-” As the last student fled the room and Phil closed the door after him, my hand darted forwards, grabbing Patricia Barber, daughter of Emanuel Barber, formerly the head designer for Duronic Systems, by the neck.
“Wha!?” She tried to let out a shrill exclamation, but my hand wrapped around her throat before she could react, cutting off her wind pipe and silencing her vocalization. My neural interface cable popped out of the flap in the skin on my left arm, a two-inch spike that I snaked around to the back of her head, at the base of the neck. I pushed the small flap of skin out from her neural jack and shoved the Hardline plug in. Patricia struggled helplessly as I began sucking the data I came for straight out of the computer implant buried deep within her brain, but then something happened. In the corner of my vision, a red ‘Input Error!’ message was flagged. I focused on it for a brief moment, and instantly understood the problem – there was something wrong with her neural jack. Maybe she had plugged in too hard, or there was an errant piece of dirt obscuring the contacts, or maybe her father had disabled it for just this occasion – but whatever happened, it meant I couldn’t finish the mission as planned.
I pulled the Hardline out and put it back in its hidey-hole in my wrist as I maneuvered Patricia closer to my desk. With the inability of the Hardline to do its job, it meant I had to remove the data chip from her skull the old-fashioned way. I hit a button on the inside of my briefcase and the secret compartment slid open, revealing the tools of my trade. With one hand still around the girl’s neck, I grabbed a surgical drill and brought it up to her skull. She began whimpering as she saw the tool, her blue eyes pleading with me not to go on. I pushed the drill up against her skull, right where her short brown hair faded away, and pushed…
“Daddy!” The brown-haired girl was yelling towards me, her piercing blue eyes looking out at me with fear from behind the porthole. I fell away from the window, losing the contact required to maintain sound conduction, and her voice fell away to silence.
I shook my head as my vision came back into focus, and I dropped the surgical drill. “No. No, we have to do this another way. You’re coming with me, kid.” I dropped the drill back into the briefcase and closed it back up, dropping the girl to the ground as I put on my coat. She immediately began yelling, and a few seconds later the door opened and Phil came in, a concerned look on his face. I punched him straight in the throat as he entered the room, following up with a blow to the side of his head as my other hand grabbed the PD-9 from his limp fingers. I spun it around and fired a single shot at each of the man’s knees, bypassing the heavier armor on his chest in order to penetrate the lighter armor ong his legs. Phil fell to the floor, crippled, as I turned back and grabbed the briefcase. I wrapped that arm around Patricia, pulling her with me into the hall.
The security team was slow to react to my presence. Students still filled the hallway, and the sound baffling, coupled with the low noise created by the point-blank gunshot, had prevented the PD-9 from sounding much like a firearm in this enclosed space. That complacency was going to change soon, but I only had to go two classrooms down to reach the exit. Time was on my side.
I moved through the students quickly; few took notice of me at first, but soon a girl – Ms. Johanson the oblivious, ironically – began screaming as she saw the gun in my hand and the way I was pushing Patricia. Other students turned to look, and the security teams were beginning to react. But the students were on my side. A living mass of cover that the guards were absolutely not going to shoot through; their parents would literally have the heads of anyone who hurt their darlings. I had no such restriction.
As the first alert guard came into view, my right hand was already up and firing straight through a small gap in the groups of students. Three bullets exited the barrel, a single high-cyclic burst propelled by an electro-thermal chemical reaction. The armor-piercing bullets cut straight into the guard’s shoulder, and he went down, bleeding and with a broken humerus. I moved forwards; the hallway was clearing now as the screams and gunshots began to pierce into the thick skulls of the young adults who made up the student body. I moved forwards, Patricia screaming all the way, our exit now in sight. The double doors began to open, and I saw a flash of metal – one of the assault rifles the outside guards carried, in the grips of one of the ‘borg guards that Whirlwind had hired out to the Academy. This wasn’t good.
As the rifle began to fire, I pushed Patricia to the side and dove the other way. This guy was either good, new, or had his fear of consequences ripped out of him – if he actually hit one of the students, his life was over, cyborg or no. I landed in a roll and came up in a crouch, lining up my sights with the cyborg’s chrome-plated skull. He didn’t have the full heavy chrome plating or the power of the PDW wouldn’t have been enough to scratch his surface, but when I squeezed the trigger the little miniature rifle rounds spit out and smashed straight through his skull, exiting the back in a shower of gore and sparks. The ’borg fell to the ground, and I hustled to grab Patricia before she could recover enough to think to run away.
We exited the building to find the place in a state of chaos. The warning sirens were just turning on, letting everyone know that the place was under attack. It would take a few more seonds for them to mount up a proper defense; I planned to be long gone by that time. I glanced forwards to where the minimap in the corner of my HUD said it would be and saw our ride, just sitting there waiting for the taking. I ran forwards, pulling Patricia with me as I went, but it was taking too long – the girl kept resisting. I finally had enough and lifted her up onto my shoulder, my briefcase placed akwardly on her backside, and hustled to the waiting vehicle.
We got there just as a security car was turning the corner. They hadn’t seen us yet, but it was only a matter of time. I let the PD-9 hang from its sling as I wirelessly connected to the vehicle and allowed it to brainscan me for the brainlock, then started her engines and popped open the canopy. I shoved Patricia into the backseat and got into the front, closing the canopy just in time; the security guard had noticed me and had just opened fire, but it just ‘pinged’ off the bulletproof crystaline armor that made up the windshield. I leaned back and let my neural jack connect with the reciever on the headrest as I emersed myself in the vertol’s systems. I immediately disabled the second set of controls where Patricia was seated; it was a good thing these trainer vertol’s were equipped to allow the trainer to disconnect a shoddy trainee. Moments later, we were airborne and flying away – and the worm I had installed on the university’s computers was already disabling the radar coverage that was fed into the Academy’s air defense system. We were ghosts.
I turned slightly – as much as one can when connected through a neural jack – and spoke to my passenger. “It’s a long flight to Night City. You aren’t getting out of here; just relax and enjoy the flight.” I turned back forwards and sent a short message back to base: Package secured. En route to delivery.
My hands were shaking as I settled into my seat and activated the autopilot, putting us on course for a landing in Night City at 1 AM. My shaking hands ripped the smartflesh mask off my head, shoving it into my briefacse, and I leaned back and closed my eyes as I put myself to sleep…
I watched helplessly as the Ad Astra continued to fall, her engines locked on as she fell deeper and deeper into the gravity well. I watched as the girl’s mother appeared in the porthole, yelling out at me in unison with the girl, watched as they shrunk smaller and smaller until there was nothing left to see but the near-featureless white of the shining space ship’s hull. I watched as it began to enter the atmosphere, the flash of light as plasma began to form around it. It was almost across the horizon when it finally happened – the space ship’s hull, never designed to survive the stresses of reentry, cracked, and the thousands-of-miles-per-hour air penetrated deep into the fissure, cracking the ship like an egg. The reactor must have breached; my visor tinted black as the engines detonated in a nuclear fireball. Thousands of souls perished. I felt tears coating my eyes.
I continued to float in orbit. When I put the heavy EVA suit on, I hadn’t had time for the proper checks and procedures; the result was I had grabbed the suit that had been down for repair, with its onboard computer yanked out. The basic life support systems were functional, but I didn’t know how long I had – and with no computer, I had no radio, and no way to determine my trajectory. I was lost in space, a flying dutchman – and if my eyes weren’t decieving me, I was in a deteriorating orbit. The Earth looked so much bigger than it had just a few moments ago…
I awoke with a start to the alarm I had set to coincide with our arrival over Night City. It took me a few moments to shake the cobwebs out of my head, but I turned to the task at hand as I maneuvered the vertol through Night City’s midnight airspace. The girl was sniffling in her seat in back, but at least she had stopped crying out loud. I angled us in to Night City Core, aimed straight at Domin Tower, finally activating the communications system to call in for a landing at the secure pad.
A few minutes later, the vertol’s turbines were winding down as I stepped out from the vehicle, the girl in tow. Mr. Berman was waiting for me, walking right up to the vertol as soon as we had landed. When he saw the girl, I noticed the surprise in his young features. “Who’s this?” His voice was gruff and smooth at the same time; it gave the impression of a high-cultured gangster. I pushed Patricia to his feet. “Emanual Barber’s daughter. The package is locked in her implant. The data was unrecoverable on-site.” My new boss frowned for a moment, then an idea seeemed to come to him and he smiled. “Yes, I can work with this. Good; might even work better than if we had stuck to the plan.” Berman began shuffling Patricia away. “We have big plans for you and your father, Patricia. Big plans.” He paused at the entrance to the building and turned to me, thinking. “Able, I have another job for you. A contract with a local, Friedlander Bey. I’m sending you the details now.” Berman touched a button on his smart-pad, then turned around and shuffled the girl inside. I turned back around; I had a job to do. Get rid of the vertol, leaving no trace Rossum ever touched it, then to my meeting with the Emir. An interesting first day in Night City.