Welcome to the Party (Part I)
“One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards.”
- Oscar Wilde
One thousand, four hundred, and seventy steps; that’s how many back-breaking steep stone steps climb from the bottom of the stone pyramid on the Aztechnology Seattle site to the very top, where the fixer’s party is.
A view 676 feet off of the ground is nothing to sneer at, seventy-two feet taller than the Seattle Space Needle, Seattle’s defining landmark. There was no need to take the stairs, of course. The stone stairs, and indeed most of the stonework of the zigguraut were just vanity pieces so that Aztech executives could feel good about themselves embracing their cultural heritage.
The rest of the building, the lower levels, the foundations and parking garage- all modern; just this façade exists on the front of the building, no one ever was meant to use them, except maybe on Aztlan bank holidays and whenever the Jaguars win the World Jai Alai championship. Inside, people are using escalators and elevators, and even drone taxis to fly between levels. And here you are, puffing like a chimney, working on the one thousands, four hundredth, and sixty-ninth step.
Why are you here? You’ve asked yourself the question before, you’ll probably ask it again.
It could be because of Gabbie or Mindy. It could be because you need the work, or because you owe favors. But really, you’re here because of her.
Tonight’s soirée is throw by, for, and in behalf of Maria Villalobos, a distant cousin of the executive shareholder of the Aztechnology corporation. You don’t know much about Villalobos- she was a mid-level fixer within the company, an executive with a name, training, and ambition, and she’s finally been promoted to VP of Structural Analysis and Logistics. That boring worthless title means that Ms. Villalobos is moving up from corporate fixer to Mr Johnson, and so she’s throwing herself this little party.
The top floor of the Mayan Temple is carved in reliefs glorifying bloody ritual sacrifice. You spend some time looking a dark stains on the stone, and trying to decide if it’s corrosion from acid rain or weathered bloodstains. The relief carvings have been updated, showing feathered serpents, great dragons, mages of incredible power, and spirits summoned back into the world. Inside the party, the atmosphere is quite different. A VR-J spins music and sensory information, currently pumping out LUST to anyone wearing a simrig- given the red-faced and vacant expressions of some of the guests, you take it they are. There are bartenders serving drinks without so much as a hint of a tip jar. Men and women in what you assume is traditional Mayan dress serve as waiters, both men and women topless and not afraid of it.
There’s one woman, moving through the crowd, a spotlight following her. She’s the star, the lady of the hour, the boss.
Even those of you not familiar with Ms Villalobos firsthand know of her reputation. She’s a Thunderbird Shaman, and Thunderbird Shamans are infamous for carrying grudges. No slight is too small to be repaid, and no slight gets overlooked. Now that this woman has power in addition to connections, she’s a very good friend to have. It also means that everyone at the party will be on their best possible behavior- no one wants to draw her ire.
Villalobos even called in a favor to have a news crew her from KSAF. The roadie looks a little out of shape, red-faced and puffing away like he walked up the stone steps instead of taking the elevator, but that would just be stupid. There are a few infamous runners here- that guy with the high cheekbones and the dark trenchcoat all buckled up? That’s Clerick, and he’ll shoot your face off. See that blond guy with the goatee out by the bar, with all the girls hanging on him? That’s Jax, and he’s in with the Anarchists- gun runners who oppose the Mayans (Villalobos’ personal gang and delivery boys), and he’s here as a sign of respect. There’s a guy in his underwear with pants wrapped around his head, messing with a gadget and talking about the dangers of static electricity to anyone close. Judging by the expanding circle around him, he’s probably had enough caffeine to kill a lab rat. Off on the other side of the party, there’s a serious looking customer covered with scars. He doesn’t want to be here, and he doesn’t care who knows it, but there’s only one man on the street with a cyberarm that damaged, and it’s that nut who carries around a monofilament whip in his middle finger- his way of saying ‘fuck you’ to all his enemies. There’s an albino wearing red and leather, caressing twin pistols and a sword that practically hums with magical energy. And elf and a human in one corner hold drinks but don’t drink from them- they politely carry on conversation and watch everyone else in the place like hawks.
Aside from the notables, basically everyone in Seattle who can’t afford to piss off Villalobos is here, including you. Welcome to the party.
Welcome to the Party (Part II, Teddy’s Story)
It was good that he got to the base camp early. The van and its assortment of newscast gear was only ‘nearish’ to starting point at the bottom of the steps leading up to the top of the pyramid. Security was tight, overlapping, and virtually worthless. The first line of defence, Aztechnology’s own: spent all sorts of time inspecting the lining of the boxes I was bringing in. They chem-sniffed, x-rayed, and physically poked the nu-foam packing material as if the devil himself were hiding inside. After that: I was vetted by no less than three completely separate security forces. On top of general security, Maria Villalobos had her personal bodyguard give me a cursory once over. They re-matched my name to the ID to a database and passed me over. Apparently I didn’t look too threatening to them, or they were confident the security before them did their job. Then there was the mayoral candidate, and his flock of government security, They actually went out of their way to be nice to me because I was ‘press-related’. Finally: Errant Knight had their welcome party with a bunch of steely-eyed killers discreetly taking notes of ‘who showed up to the shadow-party’ for reference later. Throughout all of those inspections no one even glanced at the street-line special dumped in my pocket. Most of the security guys had a rifle, a sword, and a side-arm open carried, but a fair number of passer-by’s were openly armed.
Naturally Gabbie, my boss, was nowhere to be seen. She would show up later, probably having her makeup done in the elevator ride up to the top. Those were the perks of being the boss I suppose. There were a good thousand workers milling about the bottom of the pyramid; most of them were carrying decorations, magnetic rain dispersal units, or food and alcohol fit for a king. Nearly all of them were too busy trying to look busy, or discreetly attempting keep their grass skirts (part of the bare chest slave outfit) tastefully arranged so as to stave off the chilly Seattle atmosphere. I guess no one ever told the directors that the atmosphere that made those outfits popular was several thousand miles kilometres to the equator.
The cameras, backup cameras, lighting, backup lighting, batteries, and backup batteries were each technological marvels, the very best that only the premier news agencies could use… which made them sleek, elegant, and feather light. But there were a lot of them. Add in the weight of protective cases preventing damage from acid rain and the occasional drop off the side of a pyramid; and you’ve got a hot mess to lug up the side of a rain slick torture dome. Surprisingly there were a number of joggers who, despite the rain, took their lunch break jogging up the side. They passed me on the way up, and a half hour later, they passed me again on the way down. I exchanged brief pleasantries with them, but mostly I tried to keep the boxes out of their way. Again in the early evening there was a group of joggers making the run up the side. One of them: a lady who was also in the afternoon group, actually stopped to talk to me.
“First time up the wall?” she didn’t even seem out of breath.
“I made my boss mad.” Was all I managed between gasps.
“You’re lucky, if you worked at Aztechnology and made your boss mad, they would transfer you back to Azland, and the walk up the pyramids there does not end in a buffet.” Her Spanish accent was nearly undetectable.
“Didn’t I see you running this thing with the lunch crowd?”
“Did I not see you about twenty steps further down when I was here with the lunch crowd? I think you were taking a brake then too.”
“Well, I don’t run this thing twice a day; normally when I carry these bags, it’s all of twenty feet from van to stage.”
“Three times a day. You were not here for breakfast.”
“I may be here for breakfast tomorrow: want me to save you anything from the buffet?”
She laughed at that.
“Assuming your boss doesn’t have you sacrificed at the top?”
“That is the hope, yes. Teddy, Teddy Valiant” I extended my hand.
“Xitllali” it rolled off of her tongue like a song.
“I tell you Teddy, Normally I only do weight runs on weekends, but I will carry your bags for as long as you can keep up with me.”
“A gentleman would be hard pressed to let a lady carry his bags… so if you see us approaching a gentleman: be prepared for looks of disgust from him. You’ve got a deal.”
Even with the combined advantages of her being slowed by carrying the bulky cases, the awesome view running behind her provided, and the fear of having to carry the bags if I fell too far behind it was a near thing to keep up with her. And by that: I mean that it was her third time up the mountain today, and I think she was being extremely patient with me. At the top we exchanged contact information, and I promised to run with her tomorrow morning, minus the luggage. Well, she gave me her contact information, which I drew in sweat on the dry side of the luggage from where I wheezed from a collapsed position. Same thing really.
The party was getting organized around my supine form, and about an hour before it started I was rested enough to go set up the news broadcast station. My legs shook so bad that I had to sit after each light I set up, but I was putting the finishing touches on the last one when Gabbie showed up. She was going for the blonde look, with a black leather miniskirt. My guess: probably giving the outfit a test run before attempting anything major with it at the urban brawl showdown.
“Really Teddy? You set up here?” she looked around with a sneer on her face.
“It’s the spot they gave me.” I replied from my seat on a pile of cases, too exhausted to even stand up. My pain at least seemed to give her a smug satisfaction. Bugsby better appreciate the effort I’m putting in for him.
“I hate being next to the rain repellent systems. You stay dry, but the feedback causes earrings, necklaces, and hair barrettes to float like you are in space.”
Her makeup artist started gluing down the necklaces and adding a protective layer of hairspray to keep everything in place.
“You look terrible Teddy. Try to stay out of the shot okay? And find an unprotected space where it’s still raining to wash out some of that sweat.”
That was as much of a dismissal as I was going to get until cleanup commenced. I wandered over to the bar and asked the slave-boy there for water.
“Ni tlakatl tlen nochi ueli” he said.
My Spanish was okay, but none of those words meant anything to me. “Uno Agua Por Favor” [one water please] my accent made him cringe, but he at least gave me a bottle of water.
Rather than attempting conversation with the brain-washed Aztec bartender, I wandered over to some folk that were more my style. The majority of the setup crew were already dismissed, but there were a few brave souls hiding under the framework, smoking and stealing half-eaten treats from the returning waiters. Using my ‘invite’ I commandeered a whole tray of what seemed to be corn-wrapped tamales of some sort and set down among them tray and all.
At first, they were hesitant, I suppose they thought I was going to kick them out: but after sharing some food without bite-marks in it they seemed to welcome me readily enough. I met Larry, who wired up the rain repellent systems. Apparently it was quite a feat to get the water to be diverted ‘not just away’ but: into the ‘blood pool draining systems’ already in place. They kept him on-hand in case something broke and people started getting wet. He was hiding out with his brother Frank; who had never been to one of these things before and tagged along as an ‘assistant’. Also in our group was a limo driver named Sevette, who had been given strict orders to go get her fair as soon as his wife showed up, a drunk dwarf who called himself “Bilbo” and a tall quiet elf who claimed to be there for the food and homelessness, but steely eyes combined with a hidden but large pistol told me she had other reasons for hanging out. I was the only one among them with a valid pass. The food disappeared soon enough and I passed off the empty plate to a passing waiter.
I bummed a cigarette off of Bilbo, but passed it off to Frank when I discovered it wasn’t just tobacco inside. We started playing the “Make conversations” game, where we made up words for the people that were talking whose conversations we couldn’t hear. Well, most of us anyways. The elf seemed to be reading lips or something.
Me in a high-pitched voice, and a forced southern accent: “I do declare Mr. Darcy! If you pour one more drink into me I will just fall right out of this dress!”
Sevette took the ork in a tux with an eyepiece/monocle, playing it up with a forced tenor “I only want to eat your babies! Raaarrr!”
My southern bell returned: “Their six fathers will be quite put out with that!”
Frank chimed in as a waiter approached “Excuse me sir: I challenge you to pick which of these sushi rolls I stuffed down my trousers only moments ago.”
Mr. Ork looked thoughtfully at the arranged fish before selecting one and making a show of taking a slightly too dainty bite out of what should have been a single-bite ordure.
Frank added: “you have chosen… poorly.”
This caused Bilbo to laugh so loudly that several nearby guests peered into the shadows of the framework.
Welcome to the Party (Part III, Fenton’s Story)
Chatter is that this thing is so over the top they’re even gonna’ have live tridcast on the K-Drek network or whoever it is that’s shiny these days. That’s gonna’ make it harder to not get silhouetted tonight.
Then there’s the mind numbing amount of security that will be there. What corp is gonna’ invite runners into their house and not max out every security precaution, quintuple the guards and maybe even hire every runner who isn’t on the guest list as a reaction force?
Oh, and the cops.
You know they’re gonna’ watch who goes to the ‘runner party. Sit right by the front door taking bios of every chummer who janders in. Only make sense. If my enemies wanted to line up in front of me for a parade I’d let them. I wonder how many of the wage-slave servers will have Knight scrip in their pockets for DNA samples that didn’t end up in the incinerator. That begs the question: How many hackers are gonna’ be leaving tracers in guests’ comms? It might almost be easier to stroll in wearing nothing more than neon nanites.
Maybe then they’d pay less attention that way….
…I can’t believe I’m doing this. I didn’t realize I was getting this—
(High pitched, nasally voice interrupts his train of thought: "So I said, “Oh, yeah I can!” and she was like…)
Remember, she’s your mask. Don’t scowl! Stop that. Play nice. Let her attract attention. I’m just the arm candy. Keep her mouth running full speed and nobody will even notice me. Then I can approach potential contacts on my terms.
The pilot says we’re here. She’s expecting me to get her door for her? Play nice, frag it. And now we can play “Name That Sec Force”…