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Title: All Quiet on the Liminal Fringe (3/?)
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.




“Lost track of Daniel,” Kovacs grunted, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “Up there, no network at all, nothing!”

“They’re Luddites, K, that’s kind of their whole thing. Off the grid, back to nature…or something like it, anyway.”

He shook his head, agitated. “Disconnected. He was with Mason, was safe. Now, can’t find him. Not at home, not online.”

“Maybe he’s just sleeping, like you told him,” Laurie said, but didn’t believe her own words. Dreiberg might look like a human teddy bear, but could be as tenacious as Kovacs when he got his teeth into something.

“Shouldn’t have left him alone.”

“He’s sleeping,” she insisted. “He was wrecked when we left. Keep an eye out, and he’ll pop on in a few hours.”

“Hrmm,” he mumbled, clearly not convinced. He stared at her for several moments – Laurie was somehow sure he wasn’t blinking, behind the laminate – before coming to a decision and fishing a small black box out of his jacket.

“What’s that?”

“Found it at the Mystic’s. Not covered in dust, like the rest, but new. Kicked under a shelf. Writing’s Cyrillic.”

“Russian?” She held out her hand, and after a moment, he let her examine it. There were ports on each end, but nothing else that revealed its purpose. “Blake’s always preferred to use their tech, since the war. Can you read this?”

Kovacs took the box back and dug a handful of chips out of his jacket pocket. He chose a green one and slotted it in over his ear. “Я могу читать это сейчас,” he replied.

Laurie shivered at the unfamiliar syllables coming out in Kovacs’s usual growl. “Whatever.”

Did his lips twitch into a smile, for just a moment? “Вы бы лучше держать вашу когти из моего партнера. Он хороший человек,” he replied tonelessly.

“Yeah, yeah. What does it say?”

Kovacs shrugged and removed the language chip. “Nothing illuminating. Mostly nonsense, probably serial codes. This – ” he pointed at “кальмар” – “translates as ‘squid,’ but that could be more code. Going to access it.”

“That’s insane. You don’t know what this thing is. What if it was left there by one of Moloch’s enemies, something to fry his brains when curiosity got the better of him and he looked inside?”

He ignored her and re-inserted the chip, removing his gloves. He licked the data pad on his index finger and touched one of the ports as casually as Laurie would pick up a contact lens. She winced, but when nothing exploded, shifted closer to watch the backwards data moving under the mirrored surface of his laminate. After he’d been under for thirty seconds, she touched his neck, but his pulse was still strong.

At sixty seconds, his nose began to bleed.

Laurie yanked his hand away from the box and scrambled in the styrofoam container, finding more ration bars and a few bottles of the sickly-sweet sports drink he seemed to live on. She opened one of those and shoved it into his shaking hands.

“C’mon, drink,” she said, wishing she could check his pupils’ dilatation. She mopped at the blood dribbling down his lips with her microcloth. “You’re home, you’re safe.”

Time was funny when you went under. Laurie had hated that almost as much as the blank grey slate of cyberspace, the way that you resurfaced after what felt like days and found that your mother’s expression hadn’t even had time to sour since you first plugged in. A minute had passed, but he could have been gone for a week and forgotten where he’d left off in what he contemptuously called the meat world.

“мамаша?” he mumbled, pushing at her hands and letting the bottle slide away.

Laurie caught it without losing a drop and reached behind his ear – carefully, expecting a shock – and yanked out the language chip, immediately losing it in the mess on Kovacs’ floor.

“Lay back,” she ordered, and for a wonder, he did, leaning on the curved wall. He licked fitfully at the blood on his lips. She tilted his head back, stuffed the corners of her cloth up his nostrils, and forced his mouth open.

“Don’t choke,” she said, dribbling some of the revolting purple liquid between his lips, and of course he did. He sputtered and tried to sit up, but she forced him back down.

“Sit still and drink some of this. You could be having a goddamn aneurism, but all I’ve got to offer is your precious electrolytes.”

He nodded, coughing, and suffered through half the bottle, sip by sip. He pushed her away then, but more politely, and Laurie was annoyed that she immediately knew the difference between “I’d throw you in the Hudson if Dreiberg wouldn’t sulk over it” and “please stop touching me now, thank you in advance.” She was getting more like her mother every night.

“You owe me a new microcloth,” she informed him softly, which was as close to “you’re welcome” as she could come with Kovacs.

“Blake is in there,” he rasped, mopping at his nose. “No. Not Blake, not like Mason, but recording and data for Moloch.”

He paused, tilting his head. “Weeping. Blake was weeping.”

“Blake?” Laurie tried to picture the bastard in tears, and couldn’t do it. Her erstwhile father had fancied himself a sort of comedian, and had reacted to every possible stimulus with violence or hilarity. Usually both at once.

“What did he say?”

Kovacs shook his head, grimacing in frustration. “Can’t remember. Was meant to kill Moloch. Some joke – confess, then kill witness. Shock damaged my memory. Need to go back in, but – ”

“Don’t you dare!”

“Need back-up,” he finished, looking at her hopefully.

“Nuh-uh,” Laurie replied. “I’m strictly meat-world now. I never had the knack for it, really.”

“Hmmm. As expected,” he grunted, then in a softer tone, “Still no sign of Daniel. But nothing out of ordinary in building’s external security footage.”

Laurie sighed. “He’s sleeping. Take a break before your frontal lobe melts out your eye sockets, okay? I’m not cleaning that up.”

Kovacs ignored her and drifted back into his own world, sipping at the syrupy drink and working through the rest of his ration bars. Laurie’s heartbeat slowly returned to something less the-natives-are-restless, and she talked to herself to pass the time, hoping to distract Kovacs and keep a lid on his paranoia.

An hour later, she’d worked through her early history: first rejecting her mother’s attempts to mold her into a white hat and rebelling with a fitness obsession, how those intense workouts became her first holos at 15, how she felt a few years later when she realised they were probably bought by dirty old men glorying in the movement of young flesh while they fondled their own man-boobs. Her holo career was dull and repetitive, even to her – be wired for lights-sound-action and do something fabulous, cut, be re-wired and do something else fabulous, cut, date this beautiful holostar Larry set her up with, date this other equally striking holostar Sally thought was perfect for her – so she skipped ahead to her decade-long relationship with Jon.

“He just, I don’t know, he’s just so impersonal. He’s lived and breathed illusions so long, there’s nothing real to him. I heard he checked into rehab for ‘exhaustion’ last week, and god help his therapists. They’re in for a wild fucking ride.”

She moved from the razor on her left ring finger to the one under her pinkie, carefully cleaning around the base. The adamantium was meant to be rust-proof, but anything that was encased in flesh and blood just got icky if you didn’t look after it.

“And, I mean, the sex was great – technically. It was like something out of a holo, because it was the same damn techniques he developed for the holos. It was so…German and efficient. It was nice to come every time – you’re a man, you don’t know how rare that is – but even that got boring. He tried to spice things up, presented himself as dozens of different men, even more than one at a time, but they were all exactly the same, perfect and hollow.”

She sighed. “The only times the illusions ever slipped were, sometimes, when he was sleeping. Only when he was having a particularly bad dream. Then, he was a 98-pound weakling with a bad combover, who farted and drooled in his sleep. And I loved that man. Maybe I’d have given up everything to actually get to fuck that guy, and make breakfast together and talk about stupid ordinary things. Bitch about, I don’t know, taxes or something. Whatever normal people get mad about.”

She laughed, picturing Jon even aware of his own bank accounts’ existence. Or breakfast, for that matter. Kovacs gurgled from the corner, where he was curled in the fetal position, covering his ears.

Laurie took pity on him. “Nothing from Dan, yet?”

He shook his head, weakly.

“Hey,” she began awkwardly, “If we’re going to be here much longer, I’m going to need to, you know, use the facilities. Where’s the bathroom for these coffins?”

He shrugged. “Isn’t one.”

“You’re fucking kidding me. Please tell me that’s one of your weird little jokes.”

“No.”

“Then what do you do, hold it until you get to Dan’s?”

“…yes.”

“You must have a steel bladder, then, because…oh god, you haven’t actually got a steel bladder installed, have you?”

“No!” He looked offended at the idea. “Synthetic organs are…expensive. And pointless, when originals function adequately. Mere vanity.”

“Ah,” she said, and couldn’t resist nudging his thigh. “So, you’re like, intact under there? Haven’t replaced it with a spare floppy disk?”

He squirmed away and turned to face the wall. “…yes.”

“Heh. I guess I owe Dan ten bu, then.”

Kovacs muttered about deviance under his breath, but Laurie could see the back of his neck, hell, even his wrists, turning bright red. She was struck by the baffling urge to yank away his layers and see how far down the color went.

“You should take your own advice and get some sleep. It’s not like you can walk ten feet, let alone get back to Daniel’s,” she advised, feeling her own eyelids droop. It occurred to her that she could have them closed, or even be sleeping herself, and Kovacs would have no idea.

She was starting to understand the appeal of his mask-like laminate.

“Don’t,” he grunted.

“Hey,” she said, “I’m just trying to help. You look dead on your ass.”

He grimaced. “Don’t sleep,” he clarified.

“Could you try that again with a pronoun or two? You’re not saving any bandwidth in here, you know.”

“I. Don’t sleep.”

Laurie couldn’t believe it. “What, never?”

“Waste of time.”

“K, you need to sleep. All humans do. The brain has to, to process things. And recharge. No wonder you’re batshit.”

“Endocrine supplements more efficient when taken continuously. Body has adequate fuel at all times to continue.”

“I haven’t seen you take any since we’ve been here.”

He wavered at that. “Left at Daniel’s. Safer than storing here.”

“What, the boy scout who doesn’t even put poppers in his temple lets you keep the heavy stuff at his place?”

Kovacs scowled. “Hidden. Flushes them every time he finds them.”

“Ha! That’s Dan for ya.”

“Am…tired,” he admitted. “Food not sufficient. But must keep looking for Daniel. He may need help.”

“I’ll look for him. I can do that much online without bungling it.”

“No spare equipment.”

Laurie sighed and tapped his skull. “You’re walking hardware. Wire me into you.”

The flush on his skin that had begun to recede returned with a vengeance, as if she’d suggested something unbelievably filthy. She held up her hands.

“I’m not trying to get into your…er…brains. I don’t think that’s even possible. It’s the best solution we’ve got – hey, if you let yourself stay this exhausted and Dan does need help, you’ll be useless. Do you want to leave Dan without back-up?”

“Shameless ploy,” he muttered. “Keep pop psychology to self.”

He ruined the hard-man affect by yawning through the final word. Laurie raised one eyebrow, unconsciously imitating her mother’s Pert Expression #4 (For When Male Lead Is Veering Off Script), and peeled away the synthskin covering the jack in her left wrist. “Hook me in before you pass out,” she demanded.

Kovacs growled but reached into the mess on his floor without looking and produced a length of cable. He jabbed one end into her wrist without touching her skin, and Laurie shivered at the brief shock of static electricity that shot up to her elbow. She reluctantly pictured the delicate filaments along her own nerves, designed to capture and enhance sensation – the exact opposite of Kovacs’ virtual armor. No heroics in cyberspace, she reminded herself sternly. Out there, she was nothing but bait on a hook.

She couldn’t imagine how her mother had ever endured it, leaping in to fight the bad guys completely exposed, with every nerve lit up like Christmas and recording. Sure, she’d had Hollis and the rest at her back, but one good blast…

Kovacs changed some settings through the datapad on his temple and visibly steeled himself before sliding the cable into the base of his skull. Laurie gritted her teeth, tasting copper, and shuddered while the snap of connection worked through her bones.

“Ooooooh, that’s unpleasant,” she murmured.

Kovacs grunted and refrained from pointing out the lack of a chequered blanket and basket of al fresco edibles on his end of the wire. Laurie was creeped out at catching the edge of his thought and focused on her own projection, making it tight and impermeable. Hardware wasn’t really designed to be used by more than one person – it was physically possible for any number of techs to port in, but uncomfortable. Laurie felt like Kovacs was looking over her shoulder, breathing down her neck, while she did the same to him, and behind them another Kovacs and another Laurie and another Kovacs, an infinite chain of too-damn-closeness.

Laurie clamped down on the thought that Kovacs must have a serious man-love for his partner, if this cheek-to-cheek smash-up was preferable to possibly missing a message from Drieberg. She suspected a little trickled through anyway, as Kovacs stiffened and moved as far away as the cable would allow.

Projecting was tricky. It was best to come in with a mission, stay focused, then get out as soon as you’d completed it and before your mind started to drift to what you should have for lunch. If you lingered, the best disaster you could hope for was discovering your projection had changed to a giant banana; at worst, you’d find legmen for the megacorp you just burned waiting for you at the produce stand you’d decided to patronise. The human consciousness was just…leaky.

“Does Mason speak to you?” Kovacs asked, the words resonating, bizarrely, up through her arm. Of course, he wouldn’t bother vocalising when there was a quicker way.

“I don’t know,” she replied, surprised. “I’ve never tried. He’s, you know, dead, and I’ve mourned, and talking to what’s left of him…I just can’t make myself do it.”

“Try.”

There was a fleeting sensation of a hand grabbing hers, her own lips twisting in disgust, and then they were staring at a small box. It hummed to itself.

“Oh,” Laurie replied. “Um. Okay. What do I do?”

Her shoulders shrugged. “Daniel knocks.”

“Brrrr. Can you stop moving me around like a puppet? It’s giving me the willies.” Not half as much as the living grave in front of them, though. She nodded (the gesture cutting off abruptly as Kovacs shifted the nanometre or so away from her that was the limits of their shared mental space), shivered, and touched the box.

“Hollis? Uncle Hollis? It’s Laurie.”

Nothing. The box vibrated sickeningly underneath her hands, as if it was stuffed full of bees.

A sigh gusted in her ear, and they were abruptly elsewhere, another stretch of identical formless nothingness that was nonetheless obviously different, and far away, and her stomach wanted to turn inside-out and be worn as a shoe before it would take any more of this.

Laurie really hated cyberspace.

“Only keyed to Daniel,” Kovacs said thoughtfully. “Suspected as much. Inconvenient, but safer from tampering.”

“Hmm,” Laurie replied, focused on not puking. “If you say so. It’s still creepy. Echoing around cyberspace forever, no body to ever return to.”

“It’s perfect,” Kovacs shot back, then fell abruptly silent, and Laurie suspected he hadn’t meant to reply.

“Where are we now?”

“Safe here,” he said. “Usual message drop. Disused Veidt-Ashpool server.”

He hesitated, and Laurie briefly felt like her own teeth were gritting together before Kovacs remembered himself and forced out, “Daniel may also make contact here – ” they stretched together, limbs thinning to filaments “– or here,” the filaments looped, and Laurie nearly lost the struggle with her belly. “But most likely here. Can watch all three simultaneously.”

He pulled as far away as he was able, and Laurie opened her eyes to watch him slither out of both jackets, careful not to disturb their connection, and awkwardly drape them over his torso.

“It helps to lie down,” she vocalised, the words slow as refrigerated syrup.

“Hurm,” he muttered and cleared a space on the floor. He turned and wriggled until Laurie was ready to scream in annoyance, trying to find a position that didn’t rest on his neck jack or strangle him with the short cable.

Laurie crawled over to the small window, dragging the cord behind her, and lit up another cigarette. She suspected no amount of blowing would keep the smoke off her new shades, but it was the only distraction at hand to prevent her braining her partner with the closest blunt object. Which happened to be Blake’s little Russian death trap, so she’d not only be down her only available hardware but destroy their best avenue of investigation into the bastard’s death.

She picked it up, carefully, tempted to peek despite what it had done to Kovacs. If it was a recalcitrant witness, she could break it easily, with charm or, if that failed, a vulnerable little finger. No waiting for the right prince to come along and waken the comatose mess of circuits and wire. Just one reason of millions she never regretted rejecting her mother’s way.

Kovacs finally settled down after what felt like hours – no, it had been thirty seconds at most, since her cigarette was still freshly lit; that was just the ghost-time of cyberspace creeping into her mind – but struggled against the unconsciousness that swamped him. Daniel, Daniel, Daniel, he went on projecting, shuffling restlessly between the points he’d shown her, and it was easy to piggyback on his signal. The harmony of their dual projecting finally seemed to sooth him enough that his limbs went limp, his jaw slack and revealing a frighteningly ragged set of teeth.

She thought of orphanage medical care and tried not to be disgusted, tongue tracing the even lines of her own set. They’d been removed and re-set in her jaw twice, once as a young girl and again when her wisdom teeth undid the orthodontist’s hard hours of work. Her teeth had then been veneered, and cleaned and polished twice weekly by a small team that did nothing but monitor her and Sally’s dental condition. Without all that care…

Well, they still wouldn’t even approach those monstrous choppers. What did he teeth on, barbed wire?

The steady rhythm of their entwined projection was started to mellow her agitation as well. She flicked the butt out the window – hoping immediately afterward she hadn’t thrown it anywhere particularly flammable – and sat down next to Kovacs, carefully placing a hand on his shoulder as she felt him go fully under.

Which was when everything he’d been so desperately trying not to think about that it was foremost in his mind began to spool out into their shared space.

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

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