I never did find him. The mazafaka who sold me the coat I mean. I started my search on his usual street corner, but word on the street had it he’d vanished from that location several days earlier and nobody’d seen him since. Of course, that information came from a couple of other Zero, so it’s hard to tell how reliable it was.
It’s difficult with the Zero. They don’t trust you if you’re Ichi and they sure as fuck don’t like you. But you can usually get what you want from them if you offer enough money. You have to be careful though. If you flash your credit chips around too much without making sure the Zero you’re showing them to know they’re secured, there’s always the risk they’ll cut your throat—take your chips—and maybe even ghoul your body for organs or implants on the black market. You play it close…and you never go into the SUCK alone.
For those of you who’ve been in coma for the last few years the SUCK is what’s left of the underground city that got constructed under oldschool Seattle as a developer-driven solution to the lack of affordable (or any) housing.
The idea had been kicked around for years but never took off until the first VTOL cars came out. Then you started getting “drop-ins” from people who’d bought the cars as a status symbol, but couldn’t pilot them worth shit. They wound up crashing them into the high-rise homes of the veryrich who lived in the condo-forest that evolved as the developers’ first-gen solution to the demand for greater urban population density. Like anything else in Seattle (oldschool or New) money talked and construction underground got serious veryfast.
The underground city (or just “the Underground” as urban-hipster target-marketed) was patterned loosely after subterranean cities built in Japan to cope with pop-density issues there and started with offshoots from the Metro tunnel transportation system. The trouble was since it was developer-driven and basically underneath a lot of the more fashionable/exclusive downtown shops, it never was affordable. It turned into just another cosmetic solution for those with a big enough creditchip balance—until the quakes hit.
Nobody’s sure to this day exactly how many people died in the Underground, but it was enough to convince just about anybody who could afford it they didn’t want to live there anymore. Too many Ichi knew too many other Ichi whos verystyle apartment had morphed into a tomb.
Even so there was a lot of debate about what to do with it. There were still some developers who’s sense of denial was so advanced they put it out to anybody who’d listen that the Underground could be rehabed into profitablity over time. But it didn’t matter. The city was still under post-quake martial law back then and the military decided there were too many health issues. So the Army Corps of Combat Engineers cleaned out as many of the bodies as they could to reduce the plague-potential, then sealed the place off permanently—or so they thought. The Zero had other ideas.
I guess it was all a question of perspective. If you’re Zero, what some Ichi sees as a tomb looks totally different. Seen through your eyes, it’s the biggest squat imaginable, with basically no one to bother you. That’s how it started out for a lot of the Zero. With the city back in control by then and looking the other way because it kept the bums off the newly-reno’d streets they were trying to sell to the world as hyper-tourist-friendly NewSeattle.
The demographic shifted gradually—largely because “no one to bother you” is just Zero-speak for no police presence—hence no rules beyond what you make. That was verysexy to a lot of the gurentai gangs—and plenty of over-18’s with criminal intent. Now the Underground’s morphed into the SUCK and there are plenty of rules, a mal-social order, and a thriving black market economy.
That said, the only rule that matters to most Ichi is that you don’t go there alone—and you never go unarmed. But despite our best judgement most RainCity Ichi still go occasionally, because the danger and unpredictability of the place in a world that’s engineered to be as safe, secure, and non-threatening as ours makes it verysexy for us too.
Speaking of verysexy, here’s some more of the Kiku story I promised last post.
She’d wanted to model eversince she was twelve—to become so bigscale on .FASHION that she’s undisputed as the nex’thing. There was no way she could have at first. The mask she’d been born with wasn’t bad to look at—it just wasn’t exceptional. Her body was awkward too. The bone structure was fine—but she was always just a little overweight. She’d also hit puberty early and her breasts were too big. There was a large port wine stain on the right one—she was very insecure about that. Then when she’d turned thirteen her father had given her a special birthday present. He’d burned the stain out with a laser—treated the scar with localized injections of collagen and repair nano-proteins. Two months later it was impossible to tell the stain had ever been there—that was when she’d fallen in love.
There was something magical—purifying—about it. It wasn’t just that the surgery made you better than you were before—the whole thing was like one of the rituals in the Buddhism DVD. You were the supplicant. You came into the pristine coolness of the clinic unworthy—imperfect—and afraid. You sacrificed a part of yourself to the clinic’s machines so they’d make you more perfect. You didn’t just submit to the pain the machines gave—you took it into yourself—nurtured it—learned to love it for what it was going to make you become. For their part, the machines that worked on you dutifully followed the jutsu of the loving hands of men like her father. Re-arranged your fleshtone mask—or any other part of your flawed self to redeem the imperfect with the cool caresses of their scalpels—their digital calipers—and a series of self-dissolving dermo-surgical strips that medicated and held the skin together—then you waited. The waiting was always the worst. You’d died but you weren’t yet reborn. You spent days—sometimes as long as two weeks—suffocating beneath a layer of exo-dermal protectant. It was sprayed onto where you’d had the surgery and clotted into a rubbery covering that clung to your flesh—like some parasitic organism—something you wanted off of your body as soon as it was on—something you couldn’t get removed until you’d healed. The men who worked the machines speeded the healing up—but even they couldn’t make it happen overnight. That part of the process worked on its own time. All you could do was to remain sealed inside the protein-based sarcophagus until nature decided it was time for you to come out. Just when you felt you’d go insane from the waiting—it was all—suddenly—over. Attendants came and removed the covering—sprayed it with a denaturing compound that made it melt right off of you. There was no significance to this part for them—they did it with the same calmness and detachment that Kiku’d seen her father practice eversince she could remember. They cared about their work—but as special as this was for you—it was something they did every day. The man who worked the machine was different. He was your doctor. It was part of his duty to appear concerned and reassuring—so that was what he did. Kiku’d seen her father practice that too. It was another kind of mask. There was genuine love in what he did—but it was for the work—you were just the medium that allowed him to express the love. As a reward for sacrificing your flesh as the medium—for accepting the beautiful pain that allowed them to express their love for the work—Kiku’s father and other men like him gave you the most precious thing—the thing that gave you power and control—the thing that made it possible to become the nex’thing Kiku wanted to be more than anything else. Physical beauty—any way you wanted it.
At first you weren’t verybeautiful at all—even after the protectant had been removed there was scarring. But weeks passed and treatments went on and then you knew it—you’d taken your first step towards perfection—for Kiku the second step happened when she was fifteen.
Removing the stain made her breasts look better but they were still too large—and getting larger. Her nose was also showing signs of increasing asymmetry with the rest of her face. Kiku knew what would happen if her body kept on making these unwelcome changes—she’d be too disproportionate to ever model. Since the changes were the result of a precoded genetic program that treated her ambitions as irrelevant—corrective surgery wouldn’t be enough—she’d have to convince her father to intercede against the workings of her own DNA.