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Title: All Quiet on the Liminal Fringe (1/?)
Author: MustInvestigate
Disclaimer: I only own action figures
Rating: PG – eventual NC17
Character(s)/Pairing: OT3
Warning(s): Pretentiousness; abuse of noir tropes
Summary: Because [ profile] tuff_ghost sez it can’t be done…an endless Watchmen / William Gibson-verse crossover, existing via the kink meme. Dreiberg, Kovacs, and Laurie Isham are vigilante cowboys dedicated to making life difficult for the cybercriminals and megacorps that keep a stranglehold on a dystopian world’s 11 billion lives. (It’s better than that sounds. I hope.) Compiled here because I lost my drafts in a computer frak-up and had a bugger of a time finding the various parts on the meme – now cleaned up and slightly expanded.

“Focus, Daniel,” his partner murmured, attention locked on the streams of data passing before his eyes. If he still had eyes, of which Dreiberg wasn’t entirely sure. “Your heart rate is spiking.”

Dreiberg tried to nod, but his attention was too absorbed in his projection to make his meat jump. “I’ve just dropped the virus package,” he assured Kovacs, the words sounding impossibly slow in his ears. “Now we wait – no, there it goes.”

The virus latched onto the corporation’s security program, which looked to Dreiberg like a gently revolving dodecahedron. Dreiberg’s virus – and he was proud of this one, whipped up overnight and utilising an unstable algorithm that should degrade as it dismantled security, leaving no trace behind – stripped facets from the shape, which struggled to envelope it. Shimmering “bricks” fell away from both and shattered in the nothingness of cyberspace.

Dreiberg mentally drummed his fingers and waited. He had a good five seconds before the two programs would immolate each other and he’d be able to jump into the vice ring’s data stream. It was time enough to work through a few more chapters of Don Quixote, if paperbacks could exist in cyberspace.

Back in the real world, his partner hurmed and kept tabs on the meatbag Dreiberg had left behind. Kovacs could be doing this himself – should, Dreiberg was beginning to think, as his reaction times slipped by precious milliseconds – but he preferred to back Daniel up when a job required…delicacy.

Kovacs had undergone the most radical body modification – or mortification, Dreiberg thought – that he’d ever seen. He’d turned himself into little but walking hardware, wiring up his spine and sinking a multi-port jack through the base of his skull, filaments encasing his physical brain. It sucked power from his nervous system, necessitating massive endocrine supplements just to leave a little energy for unimportant things like respiration and blood flow. His body was a computer, and he upgraded it mercilessly.

Most of his skull had been replaced by titanium plates studded with data ports, and the top half of his face was covered by a curved, mirrored laminate. In a dark room, Dreiberg could watch the shift of data across the plate, dancing black and white formula sets.

He knew Kovacs had grown up in one of the Sprawl’s nastiest state-run orphanages. Dreiberg had accessed and memorised every scrap of data on his partner during their first job together – a pure revenge gig for Dreiberg, taking down the Yakuza-backed bank that had assassinated his father; for Kovacs, just another day in his mad Knight Templar existence, stabbing at the windmills of the world – and was sure Kovacs had done the same with him. The little man had come out of the Maximum Security Charlton Home with a mean streak and a burning need to save the innocent he no longer was, a combination Dreiberg sometimes envied and sometimes just had no damn patience for.

He’d seen the medical records, could guess why Kovacs so enthusiastically attacked the fleshly prison than anchored him to the messy world of breathing and eating and excreting, but in all his searching, had never come across a single image of his partner. No school mug shot, no closed-circuit observation, not even a friend’s snapshot. Kovacs had eradicated his face from the world.

Dreiberg contemplated his partner’s face, or the chin, nose, and lips that were possibly all that was left of it, to kill the last two seconds. He’d practically numbered every pore when the two programs imploded together – back in the meat world, Dreiberg’s stomach heaved in rejection of the physically impossible configuration – and on the inside, Dreiberg grinned, and pounced.

* * *

Laurie Isham was waiting when he finished, slipping the virtual reality helmet from his head with fingers that felt thick as firehoses. She stubbed out her contraband cigarette half-smoked and helped him to his feet.

“You got em?” she asked, pointedly ignoring Kovacs as he bundled the equipment away into the hidden safe under the stairs.

“We got em,” Dreiberg replied, unable to keep the smug satisfaction out of his voice. He’d single-handedly destroyed a massive 64k of child pornography before it hit the streets, shooting the police department enough data to compare the models to their missing-child registers and arrest the perpetuators. Should they be so inclined and able, within their complex web of bribes and favors owed. Dreiberg had been careful to bounce the data through three laundering hubs, just in case.

“Good.” Laurie had done most of the legwork on this job, infiltrating the legitimate front of the vice ring under the cover of her own persona – a has-been simstim star looking for new backers to re-launch her career. They’d politely herded her through their divisions (her recording every detail, including codes and schematics carelessly left flopped across an R&D workspace, with her china-blue Zeiss-Ikon eyes), rejected her proposal, and thought nothing more of her. She certainly hadn’t enjoyed the ego-beating, even if she never, ever wanted to go back to Jon and her mother and that pre-fab fantastic world, and had to take a lot of satisfaction in the company’s loss.

The world still called her Sally Isham’s kid, who'd almost followed in her famous mother’s footsteps. Sally was still out in California, living the luxurious lifestyle for the second-hand kicks of every hopeless dreamer in the Sprawl, and Jon was still spinning dreams into reality – only real enough for holos, as Laurie had confided he was a nerdy little labcoat guy underneath all the projected Adonis glamour. Laurie, smart kid, saved her money, bought her own Zeiss-Ikon eyes from the company that owned her, and split for the real world at the unheard-of age of 28.

She helped him up to the kitchen, Kovacs trailing silently behind. Dreiberg’s two partners didn’t get along, but he knew Kovacs respected her for rejecting her mother’s game to fight the good fight, and that kept them on barely civil terms.

“Look,” she said, holding one hand out toward Kovacs. Razors slipped out from underneath her nails, one of them nicking his chin and raising a bead of blood. Her fingers twitched, and the metal retracted smoothly.

“Nice,” Kovacs allowed, absently wiping the blood on his sleeve. He headed straight for the fridge, looking for anything that would fuel his resource-strapped body.

Dreiberg paid her for her assistance out of the well protected trust fund his father had managed to hide from his bank. She spent every bank unit on her own upgrades, on secret weapons. Laurie dreamed of really kicking ass, in the alleys instead of cyberspace. Like her despised father.

“You okay, Dan?” She wiped the cold sweat from his face and loosened his sweatervest. Kovacs ground his teeth around a mouthful of leftover yakitori.

“Fine, fine,” he insisted. “Thirsty.”

Laurie got a glass of water from the tap, but Kovacs pushed it away from Dreiberg, putting a sports drink in his hand instead. “Electrolytes,” he grunted, and Dreiberg thought his eyes shifted triumphantly toward Laurie as he cracked open the top and drank half in one gulp.

If Kovacs still had eyes.

“If you’re feeling okay, then,” Laurie began, lighting up another cigarette and blowing smoke toward Kovacs’ side of the table, “I might have a job for us.”

Kovacs perked up at that, pausing with a forkful of noodles almost at his lips. “What’s that?” he asked, already eager for his next fix.

“Blake’s dead,” Laurie announced.

“What? When?” Dreiberg gasped.

“I know,” Kovacs replied. “I’m monitoring the funeral right now. ”

“You’re monitoring it? How?” Dreiberg rubbed his forehead like it was splitting in two.

“Harry set up the feed,” Kovacs said, mouth full, and Laurie looked away. “Messaged me this morning with tip.”

“Is my mother there?” Laurie asked, wondering how much Harry’s “free” tip would cost her and Dan. Harry was the best snitch in the Brooklyn dome, with contacts from Bangor to Atlanta. He had the information and a near-psychic ability to dangle the data in front of exactly the person who didn’t know they needed it, and was paid handsomely for his skills. Except by Kovacs, who got information by terrorising him and his other customers. He charged Kovacs’s partners twice as much to make up for the shortfall.

Kovacs’s head tilted as he enlarged the feed and scanned through the faces. “No.”

“Good.” The last thing Laurie needed was her mother making a scene and filling the media with yet another 24-hour rehash of Laurie’s scandalous genesis. “Only top-level representatives present. Cemetery cordoned off. No reports in any media. Seems megacorporations reluctant to lose spectre of their boogieman.”

“How’d you hear about this?” Dreiberg asked.

“My mother, of course,” Laurie sighed. “She called this morning, insisted he’d been murdered and someone is covering up the whole shebang. She tried to use it as leverage, of course, play on my daughterly sympathies to get me back in San Diego with her, but I could tell she’s genuinely upset underneath.”

Dreiberg touched her hand. “You okay?”

Kovacs’ thin mouth twisted. “Veidt currently giving eulogy.”

Laurie tapped the side of his head. “Can you make this thing project?”

Kovacs pulled away from her fingertips and nodded, punching the configuration into his temple. The blue-tinted image of the world’s richest conglomo-magnate solidified on the kitchen table with a snap. His face – still the too-smooth beauty he’d worn at 15, when they’d first worked together – was appropriately solemn, even permitting a fine line or two underneath the eyes.

“…pragmatic, yes, sometimes too pragmatic, even mercenary, but no one can doubt today that our companies, and the world, have lost a powerful force for good. And in these dangerous times, we can ill afford to be without him, and those like him. You’ve earned your rest, my friend, but the world is a less…human…place, today.”

Kovacs snorted and shut off the projection.

“Hey!” Laurie protested.

“Makes my brain itch,” he grunted back.

“Oh, so you’ve actually got – ”

“Children,” Dreiberg began, his lips twitching when both partners turned their glares on him. “Focus.”

“Rumor on the wire is that he was murdered. Perhaps your mother started it.”

“My mother heard suicide,” Laurie interrupted. “She didn’t believe it.”

“Found on the sidewalk in front of his building. Body cleared away within three minutes, according to Harry. Stinks of an inside job.”

“He had a lot of enemies,” Dreiberg said softly, as if he was trying to convince himself. “Most of the corporations he worked for, in fact. There were none he hadn’t double-crossed, for one of his other employers or just for kicks.”

“We should investigate,” Kovacs insisted. “One of our own.”

“One of yours, maybe,” Laurie snorted. “That goddamn psychopath – if Jon hadn’t let it slip that…well…if I didn’t know that, I might have gone after him myself, for what he did to my mother.”

Dreiberg reached for her hand again, but she pulled it away.

“I’ve got to check in with Mason. He might know something and, if he doesn’t, someone should tell him. Blake was his protégé, for a while.”

“No,” Kovacs insisted, pushing him back into his seat. “Too soon. You need sleep. Food.”

“But I – ”

“Sleep,” he growled. “I’ll investigate in the meantime.”

“If you’re going to see the Mystic first, I’ll come with,” Laurie said, putting on her coat. “I’m low on smokes. Dan, I…er…I need my money.”

“Oh, sure, sure – sorry, Laurie. I should have – ”

Dreiberg pulled a small toolbox out from under the sink and began unscrewing the handles from each implement. Worn, dirty bills were rolled inside each.

“Here. That’s most of it, anyway, and I should be able to get more currency later this week.”

Laurie counted and nodded at the total. “It’s enough for now. You coming, K?”

Kovacs grunted and probably glared at her. It was hard to tell, since his mouth was always set in a dead white line when he looked in her direction.

“One moment, Miss Isham.”

She’d never seen him wearing less than three layers, insulation for his thin, starving frame, but to go out, he added two leather jackets and a thick pair of gloves. They hid the glowing fiber optic lines under his skin and the data pads imbedded in each fingertip. With a hat pulled low, his face plate could pass for a normal vr visor worn as a fashion accessory.

“Sleep,” he admonished Dreiberg again, and swept out the front door. Laurie was amused to note that he held the door for her, almost letting it slam back in her face but catching it at the last second.

“Thanks, K!” she said cheerfully, enjoying the way his face tightened even further. He turned away from her, tapping a long line of code into the lock before stalking down the street. They both leaned into the wind, shielding their faces from grit and larger debris.

Laurie counted up the days and thought that it might be early October. Not that it mattered, when every day was the same in the city. Little light filtered through the filthy, half-finished dome, and the even lines of skyscrapers turned streets into perpetual wind tunnels. California was better, at least outside LA, but quirks of the smog-addled weather patterns could still leave an unwary wanderer flash-fried or frozen if they wandered too far from the controlled areas. She almost preferred the everlasting hostility of the Sprawl’s climate. At least you always knew what to expect.

They didn’t speak during the long walk, made longer by Laurie and Kovacs’ different definitions of what made a route “safe.” Laurie preferred alleys. Kovacs went for the rooftops. Wordlessly, they compromised, and took both.

“Oh no, not him,” the Mystic shrieked when they stepped through the smoking remains of his security door.

“Should have answered the buzzer,” Kovacs replied.

“You can stay, not him!” the Mystic told her, and Laurie carefully palmed the now useless detonator. She’d give Dreiberg two thumbs up on his latest explosives refinement, when they returned. It had blown the door’s seals without even shaking the walls.

“Moloch, come on – he was just worried when you didn’t answer. After what happened to Blake yesterday, we’re, you know, a little on edge.”

The Mystic only grunted and levered the secondary door shut, blocking out the light. Laurie looked around the dim room, noting the jumble of near-junk he displayed for sale to the rubes. All the good stuff was well hidden, behind barriers and combinations that would take even Kovacs days to decrypt. The Mystic was an old man in a very young man’s game, the living embodiment of ‘survival of the fittest.’

“Good news travels fast.”

Kovacs tugged off his gloves. “The death of a good man is – ”

“I need some more smokes,” Laurie interrupted, shooting the man a shutthefuckup look. “And…one of your specialties. I have cash.”

Moloch nodded reluctantly. “Come on then. And you – don’t touch anything!”

Laurie looked over her shoulder as she entered Moloch’s inner sanctum to see Kovacs touching everything, quickly scanning any working equipment for information. It would keep him busy while she took care of something she’d been wanting for ages.

Forty minutes later, she emerged with a carton of German cigarettes under her arm and shiny mirror lenses over her priceless – and too damn recognisable – eyes. They itched where the Mystic had sunk them into the rims of her sockets, but Moloch had said that would pass when the swelling went down. She looked in both corners and twitched her eyelids the way he’d shown her, shifting the filters from normal to infrared to ultraviolet.

Kovacs had rearranged Moloch’s collection of yokel crap into three piles – Laurie snickered at yet another manifestation of his techie OCD – and was absentmindedly picking through the smallest one. He turned at her approach and gasped.

“What do you think?” Laurie teased, twitching her vision back to ‘normal.’ She stepped close, turning her head so he could see the edges of each lens. She saw in his mirrored laminate an infinity of Lauries regressing into an infinity of Kovacses, and her stomach tightened.

She was glad when he grunted and turned away first.

“They’re shatterproof,” she enthused. “To protect and hide my eyes. And I’ll be able to see across a huge range of wavelengths when they’ve fully healed.”

“Looks like you don’t have any eyes,” he muttered. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t you want to question the Mystic?”

“No,” he replied, struggling with the heavier secondary door. Laurie snorted and yanked it aside for him, following him out into the street.

It had to be getting close to business hours – Laurie had been shocked at how quickly she lost any sense of time, in the perpetual grey – and the streets were filling up. They cut through the crowds, trusting the mass’s anonymity for camouflage. Laurie flipped to infrared and marvelled at the shift of heat inside the bodies that passed.

Kovacs jerked his chin toward a row of stalls. “Breakfast,” he grunted.

Laurie shrugged. She tried to watch the opening of an alley near them without turning her head. Something about the way the heat signatures shifted there tugged at her eyes.

Kovacs’ stomach growled, loud enough to be heard over the noise of the crowd. “Breakfast,” he insisted, and Laurie remembered that he refused to carry a charge card.

“Oh, fine,” she snorted, and ordered him a box of vindaloo noodles, paying with the dregs of her contraband cash instead of her charge card. There was no reason to risk using cash out here on the streets even this far from the legitimate main drags, but some of her partners’ shared paranoia made her feel better when she was hard to track. He leaned against a building and slurped down pasta without pausing to chew. Laurie wondered if his throat was lined with asbestos, gulping when she realised it very well could be.

“Being followed,” he said, ducking his head to shovel in another mouthful.

Laurie nodded and stole a noodle. It made her lips and fingers burn before it even touched her tongue. She tucked the carton under her shirt and cinched her belt tight around it. “Across the street.”

“And down the block. At least two.”

He tipped the last of the broth into his mouth and dropped the box. “Let’s go.”

They faded back into the alley and up an antiquated fire escape. From the top of that building, they jumped to another, and then to another. Kovacs was like a flying squirrel when he went over, Laurie thought, just a wisp gliding on the layers of his clothing. It was too distracting to run with the infrared on, so she flicked it to normal, shifting back when she paused to look behind them.

“Don’t!” he hissed, grabbing her arm. “They’re gaining!”

The Mystic’s place was in a lousy neighbourhood, nearly at the edge of the dome. She had an idea. “This way!”

They cut diagonally across two more buildings and reached an old tenement. Its antenna-topped roof almost touched the slanting ridge of the dome. She reached out and grabbed the lowest rafter, dragging her body up into the structural supports.

“Wait!” Kovacs said, gasping for breath. “The – people – up there…”

“Relax,” she almost smiled, “I’m welcome everywhere.”

They’d made it up a half-mile over the city before they were challenged, white-knuckling across beams and rusted struts, close enough to touch the dome itself. The copolymer surface was brown with generations of graffiti.

“Hola, strangers!” the teenager called to them from directly above and dropped down to their level. He landed on the six-inch beam neatly, nearly on their fingers. Kovacs growled and inched back, fingers flicking on an imaginary keyboard.

Laurie forced herself to stand and grinned. “Hi, yourself!” she replied, taking off her hat and letting her long, trademark hair whip behind her.

The boy gasped. “You’re Sally Isham’s kid!”

Laurie forced herself not to sigh. Or jump off the beam and be done with it.

* * *
Parts: one - two - three - four - five - six


Date: 2009-08-18 09:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
This... is fucking brilliant! I could never pass up reading some your writing but, I'm ashamed to say, I hesitated a little with this one because I've never read any Gibson - well, only a smattering of excepts in classes at school, which I've loved, but for some reason never remembered to look up at the bookshop... anyway! I must now! Though I can imagine I'll be bitterly disappointed when your Kovacs and Dan and Miss Isham aren't in it.

So, I guess I'm saying this is awesome even without a through knowledge of the cross-over material - which just makes it even more incredible - because your little world here is gritty, and sensual, and I was drowning in it almost instantly, and all the body-mod work makes me vaguely nauseous in that really lovely way that reading China Mieville does, and I should just shut the hell up and get on to the next chapter!

Re: :O

Date: 2009-08-19 06:20 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm so glad you're enjoying this - and definitely recommend William Gibson. There are no Dreiberg or Kovacs equivalents in Neuromancer, but there is Molly Millions, who's a lot like a hard-assed version of Laurie :) Some of his later stuff is better, especially the epic Difference Engine which might be the first steampunk novel.

(edited for pre-coffee spelling)
Edited Date: 2009-08-19 06:29 am (UTC)

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