Art by Aleksander Pasaric on Pexels.
From the author: A bit of a CyberPunk flashback.
NIGHT CITY 2077
“Yeah,” the old man said. “I remember. Kinda.”
The bar was in the dirtiest of backstreets, its neon fritzing, its plastek-leather seats all slashed to hell. Flashing holos advertised cars, drugs, sex, gambling. The old man ignored them. He sat in the darkest corner, listening to the sirens, and he cackled, a noise more fiend than man.
The three edgerunners looked at each other, questions flashing over their audio.
The old man grinned. He didn’t need to hear them to understand.
He’s mad, they were thinking. Fuckin' nutjob. Shot away.
He cackled again. “You ain’t wrong.”
They jumped, looked at him, and he answered the question, “Yeah, that was me. I did it all, back in the day. Stealth runs, assassinations, demo-tech, you name it, we fuckin’ blew it up. We hit Arasaka, Militech, all the big corps. You ever hear of Final Reckoning? That was us; hell, I followed Whiteman myself. An’ Swordsaint. We did the lot."
“You’re talkin' bollocks.” The biggest of the three, one muscled arm with the matte finish of military-issue hardware, sneered. Wires trailed from his temple to his smart-plugged DE and his targetters flickered - forehead, eyesocket, balls.
The old man raised a now-grey eyebrow. “Don’t you target me, son. I’ll shove that pistol so far up your ass you’ll be pukin’ steel.”
The other two chuckled, and the big solo scowled.
“Get on with the tale,” the nomad said. She wore a cut-down in real, red leather; she had long, chrome hair and too many spikes. The old man wondered what Lugan might’ve thought of her, of what the local bikers had become. But hey – a second thought replaced the first – even Lugan had Prospected, once.
Way back when, before even 2020 when The Boss had put together her team.
“But the rest of it, is it true?” the last of the kids said. This one was the media – dark, sharp, pretty. And a lot less tech than the other two, though his traditional longcoat flapped loose. “What about Mom? Was she real? And what about… where you went?”
He was watching the old man closely, some sort of analyser flashing in the depths of his vision. And the old man was lined, now, his eyes dark brown in his pale skin, his hair, once red, now almost completely white. He wasn’t big, but was still wiry, still light in his movements and fast on his feet.
Mom… hell, some of her gifts were still with him.
“You wanna know about Mom?” he said. “About bein’ flayed alive?” He leaned forward; the media didn’t flinch. “About what kinda hell used to lurk under London, back in the day?” Like Lugan’s Prospecting, it was before he’d come to Night City. “You wanna know what she did to me?”
“I just want to know if it’s true,” the media said. “If you are who we think you are.”
Feet ran past the broken window; there were shouts of violent laughter, a breath of sticky-hot fumes. Somewhere, there was gunfire, then the booming detonation of a fuel tank going up.
The old man grinned at the noise, gleeful and unholy.
“Kids,” he said. He might’ve meant the marauders outside or the trio in here. Maybe both. “Yeah, it’s all true. Back-street, ripper-doc cybernetics – but they were the fuckin’ best. An’ all fitted without an anaesthetic.” The grin spread and even the solo backed up. “You learn some shit about yourself. While you’re screamin', down there in the dark.”
“Is Mom still there?” the nomad asked.
The old man offered the faintest shrug. “Who the hell knows?”
“So, what happened to your cyberware?” The solo’s growl was mocking. “The stuff she made for you? Where's that?"
That made the old man cackle again, though he didn’t answer.
The media said, “And what about the other thing? You know, the—“
The solo snorted. “That’s gotta be shit,” he said. “This old geezer – I reckon ‘Mom’ just drove him over the fuckin' edge.” He looked back at the old man. “Ain’t that true?”
The old man still said nothing. A gaggle of youths went past outside, a brick sailed though a nearby window. Glass shattered, alarms screamed.
Nobody bothered to stop.
“Maybe,” the old man said, his tone a rasp. “Maybe not. Maybe you oughta try it.” Back at the solo. “Find out for yourself.”
“Maybe I’ll just blow your fuckin’ head off.”
The solo leaned in, shoving the DE up the old man’s nose, but the media pulled him off. “Give it up, asshole.”
“This ain’t the right guy,” the solo said, all scorn. “Where’s the stealth skin? The black eyes? The cloak? This ain’t even him.”
“Y’think?” The old man flicked his gaze downwards and the solo followed the look. There was a thin, deft hand, complete with black, mono-filament blade, hovering right by the solo’s crotch.
“You’re lucky I learned to give warnings,” the old man said. “Wisdom in age, an’ all that.”
Warily, the solo backed up.
“So, it is true,” the media insisted. “You really did go… somewhere else? Like, another world?”
“Or maybe I was jus’ trippin’ fuckin’ balls.” The old man finished the question. “Truth is, I dunno. I didn’t know then, an’ I dunno now. An’ as I get older, I forget… More an’ more of that shit, it fades. An’ yeah, I could get a download, a new sleeve, a whatever-the-fuck, but I still got some ass-kickin’ goin’ on here, and I wanna stick with what I got. With the very last of what Mom gave me. It's not like I can replace it."
There was a scrape to the words that silenced the three kids where they stood.
“So, there’s no answer?” The media, typical of his kind, didn’t know when to fucking quit.
“What the hell did I just say?” The old man rounded on the young one, teeth bared. “You wanna know about Mom, you get your ass to London, an’ you go down the old Underground. You go lookin’ for yourself. You wanna know about… the other place? You drop every fuckin’ synthi-shroom in the City, an’ maybe you’ll get lucky.”
The word was pure scathe.
“Maybe I’ll just waste you after all.” The solo was getting pissed with this; there was a cross-hatched sparkle to his vision that was all too familiar.
Outside, rain had started and the holo ads began to flicker, fading in and out of life. A wail of siren was coming closer. There was the whine of AV fans, the bark of a loudhailer.
The old man glanced up - reflexive, as he could only see the ceiling. He said, “Looks like the cops are comin’. They must be outta stuff to do. Been good, kids, but I guess I’ll be seein’ ya."
“You ain’t goin’ anywhere.” The solo still had the DE in hand. There was a flare to his vision, an adrenal trembling to his movements, that were all too familiar.
“Sorry, dude,” said the nomad, shrugging spiked shoulders. She’d moved to cover the doorway, was Uzi-in-hand and looking out into the street. Her hair shone. “We’re just tryin’ to make a living, y’know?”
“We had to be sure it was you,” the media said, almost apologetic. “No offence, but the price on your head is pretty steep for an old guy. And we – we need some new gear."
The man nodded slowly, looking round at the three of them. They were no older than their early twenties – and exactly the same as he’d once been, all those years before. All cock and rage and gunfire, all strut and cash.
“No offence taken.” He hadn’t lost his grin. “But I like my insides on the inside. Y’know?”
The solo, shivering with his boosting kicked, leaned into the DE. “On the ground, asswipe. Now. We got ourselves a bounty to bring in.”
“Not today, kids.” The old man stood up, creakingly slow. The table was fixed in place, the window too far for him to reach. The solo had him covered. Even the media had pulled a sidearm – a custom-build, by the look of it.
They were both taller than him, the solo’s shoulders as wide as the room. There was no way out.
“I said,” the solo repeated. “On the fucking ground.”
“An' I said…” the old man stretched, winced, “…not today.”
Too fast to follow, one foot took the DE clean out of the solo’s hand. It flew sideways to the limit of its wires, then jerked short and crashed to the floor. The second foot hit the man in the face, snapping his head back, dropping him on his arse. The media, no fool, stepped clear and spread his hands.
“Hey…” he said. “If you’ve got better things to do…”
In the doorway, the nomad had swung round to cover the scene.
The sirens would be on them any minute.
“You fire that Uzi, kid,” the old man said. “I'll be wearing' your chrome as wig."
The media shook his head, the gesture minute. Warily, the nomad lowered the weapon.
The solo was out cold, his nose broken. Claret covered his front.
The old man stretched again, grimacing as his back clicked. “Been nice talkin’ to ya, kids. Glad the next generation's growin’ up, hell, just like we did. Wake the boy up, willya, before somethin’ nasty gets in here?”
The media picked up a random bottle and threw its contents in the downed solo's face. Spluttering, he sat up.
The holo-ads flickered, in and out.
When the media turned back, the old man had gone.
"What?" he turned round, scanning the bar. The solo cursed. The nomad shook her head, gave a baffled shrug.
Nothing, she said, over the tight-beam. Guess that really was him.
The media flicked through his optical scans - IR, UV - but he knew it was hopeless. Hell, if that really had been Ecko, they had about as much chance of finding him as they did of finding his 'Mom'.
But still, the young man thought, he would've liked the truth of the stories.
The Ecko saga ends in battle. Winter has come to the Varchinde. The grass is dead, the cities are falling and the Kas are rising from Rammouthe. Betrayed by his own forces, Rhan, Seneschal of Fhaveon, will abandon the city to lure his ancient enemies into a final confrontation. And as battle rages round him, Ecko realises that to save the Varchinde, he must face the greatest threat of all - the one that has come from his own world.
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