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Title: All Quiet on the Liminal Fringe (2/?)
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 [livejournal.com 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.



After making himself an enormous breakfast, Dreiberg managed a twenty-minute nap, maybe, and that only from sheer exhaustion. He cursed Blake’s soul for dying at such an inconvenient time and changed back out of his pyjamas, stomping down to the basement and setting up his equipment to jack in. He made coffee and waited for the first cup to cool before giving in to temptation and putting the visor over his head.

Kovacs hated it when Dreiberg went in without back-up – the big hypocrite, given that he never left cyberspace and wouldn’t let Dreiberg attach so much as an electrode to his sunken chest. They had that argument at least once a week – Dreiberg pointing out that cowboys were solitary by nature and nearly everyone he knew went under keeping a weather eye on their own vitals. And Kovacs insisted that most cowboys were just looking for a quick fix or cash diversion, that white hats went after the dangerous targets, taking real risks. And on and on and on.

He still jumped guiltily when the priority message immediately swam in front of his inside face, emblazoned with their shared id code. Kovacs had known Dreiberg couldn’t wait for him, was too weak to stay away even a few hours.

Instead of the reprimand Dreiberg expected, he found a simple message: Danger. Going to ground. Don’t answer door.

Despite his exhaustion, the words sent a happy frission through him. Whatever they’d stumbled onto, it had to be big if they were already under threat.

Wilco, he sent back, pleased that, for once, the message hadn’t included an addendum that Dreiberg get offline and back to bed or face the consequences. He ducked offline anyway, for a moment, just to take a few deep breaths and run his fingers over his professional keyboard, the keys unlabelled and grey with use.

Where first? Mason, still Mason.

He jumped back in, checked and promptly forgot about his vitals, then punched in Mason’s coordinates.

* * *

The kid’s name was D’Arby, Laurie learned, and he was the leader of the small gang that quickly descended on them, swinging like lean monkeys. Laurie signed a few autographs and told D’Arby she and her techie were scouting locations for an avant-garde holo, a series out on the real edge of things. Kovacs hung around the edges of the crowd that tried to suck him in, looking deeply uncomfortable at the attention. It was a brilliant imitation of every production techie Laurie had ever worked with, she smirked to herself.

D’Arby tried to play it cool, but it was like a switch had been flipped inside him at the idea of holo filming in his territory. Laurie had to admit that the kid had a spark of the stuff a holostar needed, the narcissistic, neurotic fearlessness to entice an audience of billions to step into your very nerves. Not to mention the scrawny physique and high cheekbones a camera loved. The rest of it, the tattoos that eeled around his limbs, the prosthetic animal teeth rammed into his jaw, the split nostrils – they could be fixed in an afternoon by any half-trained plastician.

Or not – maybe the fashion world was ready for a neo-primitive wave.

She gave him her former agent’s contact details and a message – “this squares us, Larry” – and in return D’Arby led them into the upper levels. Kovacs waited at the gate until he was satisfied their tail hadn’t followed them into the heights. Laurie thought he also just wanted to get his breath back in relative privacy.

He spoke at length with D’Arby’s right-hand girl, slapping her hand away every time it reached out of its own accord and poked his laminate face. Finally, he returned to Laurie, extracting her from the small crowd of playful savages demanding to know what her mother was like, really. She felt sorry for them – they were hiding away from the technological boom that didn’t want them, rejected even the smallest benefits of it, but they’d all grown up with pirated Sally Isham holos pumped into their skulls from the moment their toddler-sized jacks were installed. They couldn’t even pretend they weren’t thrilled to brush their fingers against part of the woman who’d been more than mother to them.

“Have learned the way down,” Kovacs said, “let’s go.”

* * *

Dreiberg’s projection knocked on the revolving box, about the size of a hard drive, that contained his old mentor.

“Well, hello there, little cowpoke,” the box replied to his touch, unfolding and shifting until Dreiberg was looking at Mason’s face, etched in starlight, big as Orion in the greyness surrounding them.

“Hollis…”

“Heh. Just a joke. It’s good to see you, white hat. What do you need?”

Most projections looked like idealised versions of the hardware jock. Or tigers, for some reason. Cowboys just loved tigers. On the inside, Daniel looked like he had at 15, tall and strong and long-legged, and more than a little like the old Western stars he’d idolised as a kid. It’d be unthinkable to upgrade his image with the 40 or so kilos he’d put on since then, the thick flesh dragging down his perfect nerves. Mason, on the other hand, had reproduced in stars every line that had marred his nearly 50-year-old face when he flatlined.

“Why do you think I need anything?” Dreiberg hemmed.

“You’re here, aren’t you?” The stars shifted into a gentle smile, and Dreiberg resisted the urge to scuff the nonexistent ground.

“I came to tell you about Blake,” he replied. “He’s – ”

“Dead. Yes, I heard.” The starlight sighed, exhaling a Milky Way that drifted over Dreiberg’s head and disappeared. “They finally got him.”

“Do you know who?”

“No. Just that it was something so big no one’s naming names, even way out here.”

“Oh,” Dreiberg replied, disappointed. It was silly, but he still expected his old mentor to pull the rabbit out of his hat every time, as if the man wasn’t as human as himself. Well, he wasn’t, not technically. Not any more.

A splinter of the Gordian-Knot megacorp had taken him out a few years ago, after Mason had retired. It was a case of mistaken identity, stupid and pointless – they’d fried him when he accessed his own account to buy a baby shower gift for a young friend in the neighborhood, for god’s sake. Left him a cinder on the floor of his own living room, his beer slowly going flat on the table above.

Dreiberg would admit he’d gone a little crazy. They’d burned the entire G-K corporation, bad, punching a solid quarter’s earnings into the untouchable sink of the Roman C’s Vatican holdings. G-K’s stock had plummeted, and they were bought out by Veidt-Ashpool on Wednesday for a fraction of their Monday worth. Most of the executives were quietly disappeared soon after.

That was the first time Laurie worked with them, and for free, enraged over the loss of her adopted uncle. She was mollified after their reign of terror, able to move on to just grieving, but Dreiberg wasn’t. He knew it couldn’t have ended that way.

Mason was online when they got him. He’d have made plans, would have been ready for them – he’d always been one of the fighters. He had to be out there, somehow, just playing possum. Dreiberg looked, first slamming through the wreckage of the G-K, then racing through every megacorp Mason had opposed in the old days, careless with rage. When Kovacs couldn’t dissuade him, he took over, brutally beating his way into pristine databases with his trademark viciousness, leaving electronic fingerprints everywhere. That was usually the difference between the two partners. Kovacs wanted them to know who’d beaten them. Dreiberg felt it was more important to live to fight another day. Usually.

They found him together, finally, tucked away in Mothercare, nestled in the tax return archives. His unfinished order – a cheap wifi-enabled crib – covered him.

Dreiberg tried every one of algorithms he could remember Mason teaching him, but it wasn’t until Kovacs pushed him away and punched in D-A-N-I-E-L that the program came to life, spitting out Mason’s image. The disembodied head screamed for a full 12 seconds before processing its new state.

Dreiberg had tried not to be haunted by that sound. If he was suddenly more tolerant of his partner’s obsessive mother-henning every time he went under, it was unrelated.

“You’re investigating?” Mason asked, interrupting his thoughts.

“Yes,” he replied. “I’m not sure why. Kovacs thinks it’s fishy. And since he’s already being threatened, he’s probably right.”

“I’ll do what I can here,” Mason said.

“Thanks, Hollis. I really appreciate that.”

“What the hell else do I have to do?” the starlight replied, with as much bitterness as a stretch of binary code could generate.

“Laurie sends her love,” Dreiberg said quickly.

“Does she?” The program smiled. “How is my pumpkin?”

“Good, really good. She’s learning the ropes so quickly, turning, you know, into a good version of her dad. Or like you, more accurately. You’d be proud.”

“You look out for her,” the starlight admonished. “You know how quickly it can go bad…”

Dreiberg settled in, keeping a weather eye out for another message from his partner. He had a few seconds to kill, and anyway, he loved the old stories. And this was his favourite, the one that started: In the beginning…

* * *

In the beginning, it was the goddamn criminals. Before anyone else had gotten their head about paper turning into electronic blip-bloops you could see on a screen, the criminals were sneaking in and running off with people’s entire life savings. And since no one in the department could explain exactly how money had become hash marks in glowing pixels to begin with, no one even knew where to start looking or how to bring them back.

I wasn’t the first to figure it out and try to beat them at their own game – that was Müller, in Dresden, but I learned from him. Before I could even reach out to contact him, though, I spent a month of nights in the department database, learning it inside and out, figuring out how to move the little numbers around myself without making my eyeballs vibrate out of my head. God, you should have seen the things we had to use back then – helmet as big as your torso and twice as delicate, and that was when you had to bring it with you and break into the server’s building. The level of tech you bring to the fight now was the stuff of dreams, back then.

There was By, with his incredible custom rig, Zandt and Gardner and of course Blake, and even that mad Dollar guy the banks actually hired as a publicity stunt. He was a good kid, well meaning, but he was all flash, no speed. Sally, too, was a great cowgirl to have at your back, even if most of her big hacks were set up by her agent in advance.

We did a lot of good, separately, and the media loved us. We were heroes. It should have stayed that way, but even people as naturally unsociable as cowboys will gravitate together. We had a few good months, taking down the Axis Corporation together, but then it all started to turn ugly. The war in Russia was part of it, and Blake was another big chunk of nastiness, but mostly…

Dan, we’re just not meant to be here. Not in this sterile wasteland. We’re trying to make it into a new and better home, leave the mess we’ve made behind, and it’s killing us…


* * *

They came down in a different lousy neighborhood, Kovacs’ stomach grumbling in Laurie’s ears the whole way. His skin was white and clammy when they finally touched down to the street, but he rejected the hand Laurie tried to lay on his cheek and grimly set off. Laurie followed through the hive of tiny streets, recognising one of the oldest and dirtiest parts of the city. It bordered on one of the grimmer red light districts, and the shifting neon lighting up the dome a few blocks away made these streets even more pathetically dingy in comparison.

He led them in a roundabout way to a building marked THRIFT HOTEL and climbed the fire escape. Laurie’s stomach sank when she saw the rows of coffins set up on the roof, the cheapest of cheap accommodation. There were ten rows of them, stacked high and welded together with old scaffolding platforms. Kovacs climbed to one of the top corner coffins, let the keypad scan his palm, and opened the hatch.

Inside, Laurie could almost stand, her shoes sinking into the temperfoam slab that was meant to be both futon and flooring. She spread her arms and touched both sides. Kovacs settled a few yards away from her, leaning on the back wall.

“You live here?” she asked, failing to keep the horror out of her voice.

He nodded, ramming his hands into his pockets and staring at his feet. “Safe,” he muttered. “Best to stay off streets for a few hours. Let pursuers overreach, reveal themselves.”

Laurie shoved some loose components to the side and carefully sat in the space she’d made. The coffin was certainly safe from anyone seeking the terror of the criminal cyberworld. Laurie had always imagined he lived in some sort of fantastic underground hideout, crammed wall-to-wall with surveillance equipment. Not in a glorified storage container. It smelled terrible, like mold and sweat and something inhuman, probably toxic chemistry leaching out of the plastiform walls. It was already giving her a headache. She fished the carton of cigarettes out of her shirt and opened a new pack.

Kovacs made a face. “Don’t want to do that.”

She lit up defiantly. “Why?”

He shrugged and reached up to open the tiny mesh window behind him, letting in a dribble of fresher air. “Will find out.”

Laurie shook her head, sucking in smoke like her life depended on it. As if she could make this hobbit hole smell any worse!

She was tempted to light a new one from the end of her old, but decided she’d made her point. And the coffin did smell slightly better. Even if the smoke wasn’t dispelling nearly as quickly as it should…

“Dammit,” she muttered, and fished the micro-cloth the Mystic had given her out of her pocket to wipe away the greasy haze the smoke had left on her new shades.

Rorschach, meanwhile, had opened a Styrofoam container and taken out two ration bars. He hesitated, then flipped one over to her. He rubbed at the film of nicotine on his own laminate with his sleeve, but didn’t say “I told you so.”

“Thanks,” she made herself respond, and he nodded, quickly devouring his own. It tasted like syrup-soaked cardboard, but she choked it down. It had been at least twelve hours since she’d eaten more than a stolen noodle, and her stomach was starting to harmonise with Kovacs’. She handed the wrapper back to him – it was digestible fibre, coated on both sides with a waterproof sucrose glaze, and she wasn’t surprised to see him wolf down both of them.

Laurie looked around the coffin, hoping to find something to compliment. Anything that could be a conversation piece. The little troll had cared enough about her safety to compromise his own paranoia, bring her to his own ultra-secret den. Even Dreiberg didn’t know where Kovacs disappeared to, when he’d eaten the cupboards bare. She at least owed him a little politeness in return.

Too bad she couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t their usual sparring. “Nice craphole you’ve got here, perfect for a murder-suicide,” was the best option that came to mind so far.

* * *

Dan…

The voice was amused, and came from very far away. Dreiberg struggled to wake up, feeling the cracked leather of Hollis’ couch under his cheek and the scratchy edge of the ancient afghan on his chin. He’d conked out again, unable to keep up with the old man’s marathon grind. Shit. He was gonna be out on his ass this time for sure…who wanted to work with slow, stupid Danny Dreiberg anyway?

Cripes, white hat, you’ve let yourself go.

Huh?

Dreiberg felt the couch dissolve under him and broke the surface into consciousness. “Wha?” he managed.

“It’s a new look, I’ll give you that. Certainly…unique…in these parts.”

Dreiberg fashioned a mirror out of the ether and groaned. As he’d slept, he’d semiconsciously remade his projection, adding those 40 kilos, at least, and subtracting a foot of height. He looked like a melting snowman, all his worries as his skin.

He yawned, feeling foolish. There were no bodily reflexes in cyberspace, but it felt better to go through the motions than not. “I’ll fix it. When I get time. It’s not important what I look like, right?”

“You looked like a fat little angel,” the starman smiled. “All curled up under Grandma Henry’s afghan. Whatever happened to that, anyway?”

“It’s on the guest bed,” Dreiberg sighed, turning the mirror and swivelling his head 180 degrees to look at his new butt. It sagged halfway to his knees. “At least I got some zzz’s out of the way. Must have been, what, at least six hours?”

“In here, sure,” Mason snorted. “Out there, ten minutes, give or take?”

“God, Hollis,” Dreiberg moaned. “I’m losing it. I’m really fucking losing it.”

“Dan…”

“I’m slow as a cement mixer. The only edge I’ve got right now is experience, and my special tech upgrades, and every day I still lose ground to the young guns the megacorps bring in. They don’t know a thing, but with their wired-up nerves, they could catch a mosquito’s fart with an eyelash from the other side of the world. I can’t keep doing this.”

“Dan…”

“Is it too late to pack it in and have a normal life? Hell. I know it is. But this is going to kill me.”

Mason poked Dreiberg with the snowflake he’d been trying to hand him for several seconds. “You need a nap. A real, meaty, nap. And a good meal. Maybe a salad,” he smirked gently.

“But before that, go see your old friend Veidt. Something’s making a beeline for him, and I’ve got the only specs I could dredge up here for you here. You’ll have to make a physical copy and hand it to him, because whatever this is, it’s wiping out everything that comes near it.”

Dreiberg pulled himself together – literally, in the case of his rear, which he wasted precious seconds re-molding into something butt-shaped – and took the data. “Thanks, Mason.”

“And – Dan,” the starman hesitated, “Don’t stay away so long next time, okay? Hell, you can siesta online here every day; I’ll bore you to sleep and keep the vultures away. It’s just – when you’re not here…I take in data and spit out probabilities, but I’m not…me. Might as well be a megacorp accounting drone.”

“Hey,” Dreiberg grinned uncomfortably, “I’ll be back later today, with whatever I can get from Veidt. These kicks in the ass are what keep me going.”

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

Date: 2009-10-10 01:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theonlytwin.livejournal.com
oh man oh man, i jsut discovered this and i love it! the universes mesh so wonderfully and ahhh kovacs and laurie isham and starman hollis. BRILLIANT.

Date: 2009-10-14 06:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mustinvestigate.livejournal.com
Many thanks! I did sorta just bash the worlds together and ignore what didn't fit, but I'm glad the seams don't show too badly :D But as always, Hollis manages to break my damn heart...

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