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Title: All Quiet on the Liminal Fringe (4/?)
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.

The first time Veidt saw Dreiberg was when he wanted to be seen, impatiently staring into a camouflaged off-grid security camera that fed directly to Veidt’s office. The cheeky bastard waved the very second Veidt noticed him.

Veidt sighed in mingled irritation and admiration and messaged his PA’s virtual calendar a brunch appointment and security pass for Dreiberg. He hadn’t gotten far, but he’d gotten much deeper than any civilian off the street should have been able to penetrate without the invasion force of a small nation.

Some of that was his knack for neatly disabling security without letting the larger network know it had been compromised. The man had an inexhaustible array of pre-fab viruses and could whip up a custom bug in seconds. He also had the benefit of not looking like he could, less the typical leather and rivets cyberpunk than a sweet-natured Ivy League nerd. If tweed still existed, Dreiberg would have every scrap on the planet stashed in his closet. No one could believe the doughy idler who looked half tourist and half maiden uncle could find his way anywhere he wasn’t supposed to be.

Veidt looked closer and smiled. Dreiberg was still carrying his father’s battered leather man-purse, for God’s sake, the strap digging diagonally into his soft torso. Veidt wouldn’t have believed this man was capable of burning a Yakuza-backed porn ring if he hadn’t observed it himself a few hours before, via observer-drone while he brushed his teeth. Dreiberg’s jaw was set and he idly played with an outer pocket as he sidled through three checkpoints, each more heavily guarded than the last.

Somehow, Veidt suspected Dreiberg wasn’t there to finally accept his long-standing job offer.

Veidt requested a selection of breakfast curries be sent up from the canteen and engaged the locks on his office door. He’d assumed Dreiberg would enjoy cracking them, but the man banged on the priceless walnut finish without even trying them.

“Really, Dreiberg,” Veidt began, buzzing him in, “You know I enjoy your little visits, but you could – ”

“Good,” Dreiberg interrupted, taking in the walls of monitors with a dismissive glance. “You’re not online. Here.”

“You’re not going to explain any of this, are you?” Veidt sighed, taking the disk Dreiberg pulled out of his purse.

“No time. If Hollis was right, the mother of all strikes should hit your holdings in just a few minutes, and it’s designed to burrow directly for you. Someone’s gunning for your head this time. Send the specs to your security gurus and – shit!”

Veidt had calmly slotted the disk and settled his slim VR rig on his temples.

“Veidt,” Dreiberg began warningly, but he’d already whipped out his own portable set and hooked it up. “All you have to do is stay out of the way of your own personal Fat Man. Someone’s gone to an insane amount of effort to reach you – ”

“Then it’s only polite to go and meet it, hmm?” Dreiberg’s clunky rig mashing down his curls hit Veidt with a distracting wave of nostalgia. That line had been one of his earliest pet projects, the first – and some would still say the best – proper GUI projector that didn’t slowly blow out the user’s dopamine receptors. His own was far superior technically (its de-fanged little siblings wouldn’t even hit the open market for another month), but less…cuddly.

He jacked in, Dreiberg on his figurative heels. Mason’s specs were superfluous; the data bomb nearly eclipsed the horizon, swamping neat rows of server data. His army of security techs surrounded it, but they were like gnats on a warthog’s back, crushed and blinking out one after another.

“Veidt Code Delta-Pi-Ramesses; recall all security forces immediately, repeat, recall all security forces immediately!”

“What are you – ”

“If this thing does take me out, which it won’t, I can’t very well have my entire security force laid up in the cerebral burn ward. The swoop of you cowboy vultures – no offence – would make the rush on Tessier Prime last year look like high tea with Mother Sciorre.”

He winced as a particularly stately server crumbled and called up his best offensive ciphers, the ones that destroyed as they comprehended. “Oh, damn, there went the Potterrow holdings; they were earmarked for the Siberian Chikungunya Victims Trust. Look over there, I need you to – what the hell did you do to yourself?”

The melted apparition of Dreiberg sighed and turned away, giving Veidt a view of the incongruously spectacular ass. “Is it…avant-garde?”

“Accident,” he replied shortly, and faced Veidt. “What’s your brilliant plan?”

“We…really, what – no, I mean, that containment unit there. We have to quarantine this. If you’re right, it’ll follow me. That’ll leave confining it to you.”

“You’ll be killed!”

“It’s killing my company right now. Two hundred years of my family’s lifeblood – I can be replaced, Dreiberg. That can’t.”

Veidt sent up an identity flare before Dreiberg could protest again. His suicidal plan seemed dead on arrival as the massive program only continued to eat through the quarterly report archive, but a second flare caught its attention. It moved nimbly, terrifyingly so for its size, and closed the distance between them in a heartbeat.

Veidt dove into the containment unit without a backwards glance, leaving Dreiberg on his own. He almost – almost – gave into the impulse to run for Kovacs or Hollis and return with the cavalry, but he barely had time to curse the entire Veidt lineage before the virus was upon them. It folded itself down as it moved to fit inside the barrier containing Target 0, probably the limits of its independent intelligence, and passed by so closely Dreiberg fancied he could feel its mute animal breath on his face. He wished again for back-up but the beast had nearly slipped over the threshold and there was no more time to think of everyone he was about to get killed. Thought fell away, leaving behind only cool anticipation.

He was going to burn this thing.

* * *

Laurie’s fingers curled around the Russian death trap. She was angry – no, furious – and she thought about how easy it would be to disconnect herself and slam that box in her place on the end of his cable. Leave Kovacs fighting the monster programming inside it until his eyes burst, for all she cared. She wouldn’t really do it – she probably wouldn’t really do it – but right now only because Dreiberg would be pissed.

She and Kovacs had never gotten along personally, and she’d known that he considered her holo work to be a bare step up from prostitution, but she hadn’t suspected he despised her this much. So much that he’d dream of her –

Old. But recognisably her. Worn down, pretty face cut by frown lines like unsutured knife wounds, but her. Both eyes blackened and tongue protruding as a thick-set middle aged man throttled her, grunting obscenities, his arousal tenting and dampening his thin silk boxers. Her hands fluttered as she blacked out, losing their grip on his meaty forearms.

Laurie vomited into the styrofoam box, gagging even as she reached for the plug in his neck – it would hurt like hell, just snapping the connection, and she was going to make damn sure he got the worse end of it – but froze when the image abruptly shattered into pixels as the disgusting man came in his pants, eyes bulging.

No, no, no…

It began again, the same hardened Laurie but another man, a younger one with a fine tailored suit that made the blood splattering it only an affront to good fabric. His eyes were hard and gleaming as he stabbed methodically, cutting shallow rents between every rib. Blood bubbled from the beaten Laurie’s lips as she murmured faint encouragement.

By the third iteration, Laurie’s stomach finally stopped heaving, having brought up everything short of her toenails, and she’d realised that the horror she felt wasn’t all her own. Not even most of it, if that was possible. Hers was mostly rage and cold planning, but the rest was pure helpless anguish. She wasn’t the one who wanted to rescue herself, Laurie realised. To her, there was no one to rescue, just a sick fantasy to punish.

The fourth was easier to stomach. Beaten-Laurie was the one handing out the punishment, this time, and it was more dominatrix than serial killer themed. And there was a theme, she realised, or a variety of them, and when she looked closely (at the edge of Old-Laurie’s pointy leather boot and the testicles being crushed under its toe, specifically), she recognised the too sharp border between them.

Even the best holos had that edge of two-dimensionality, the seams at their most engrossing and pleasurable points, and this was a very cheap holo. It shivered into static and re-formed as she watched.

There were a few swallows of sugar water left in one of Kovacs’s bottles, and Laurie drank straight from the bottle. The thought of uncountable hobo diseases lurking on his lips couldn’t turn a stomach that had shrivelled into a very unhappy walnut. She rinsed out her mouth, kicked the small door open and dumped the container outside, forced herself to look at the monstrous version of herself and think.

That wasn’t her, for one thing. It never had been. It had her dark hair and eyes (brown, and probably still chilling in long-term cold storage somewhere), and similar features, but it wasn’t Laurie’s own beauty – and she was aware of her beauty, not with vanity but the assured humiliation that comes from playfully breaking into the studio’s files and discovering her physical appearance was not merely a line item on their accounting sheets but several dedicated charts documenting each feature’s past, present, and projected state (and the future was not hopeful, warning that she would never achieve her mother’s unearthly splendour and, without severe intervention, be merely handsome by 40). The studio doctors had only tweaked her nose and lips to match her mothers’, leaving the exotic ruggedness of her then-unknown father’s jaw and cheekbones, and there were plenty of fans who’d gone under the knife to walk around in that face for a few months, until the next fad took hold.

No, whoever this woman was, like thousands of others, she’d gone for the genuine Sally Isham look.

Laurie didn’t know why, but she hated her.

Her movements hadn’t disturbed Kovacs’ rest in the slightest. He was practically comatose, barely twitching against the nightmares filling their shared awareness. Sleep had finally won him after a very long chase, and it wasn’t letting go easily.

The images probably looked like nothing but static to anyone who wasn’t poking around this exact server. They weren’t sharp conscious projections but loose images, degrading almost as quickly as they appeared. Still, it would be better to have nothing that might draw attention to their little corner.

And she couldn’t leave him trapped in such nasty nightmares. Even if he did annoy the snot out of her just by breathing.

She opened her eyes to check that he was, in fact, still breathing – yes, if shallowly – and settled down on the floor behind him.

The dominatrix released her victim and a new nightmare began. Laurie jumped, moving on instinct. Her mother had specialised in projection attacks – she could hear Sally smirking now, It’s surprisingly effective, turning the tiger into a, heh, pussycat, but Laurie couldn’t be bothered with such delicate work when the monstrosity could just be shouldered aside. She interposed herself, projecting a giantess whose head was miles above the scene, and dragged their shared attention upward.

“Hey,” Laurie whispered into his ear. There was no outward reaction, but inside something scrabbled against her focus. The nightmare began to grow, too, and she caught an edge of panic: it was worse not to know, to wonder what would happen if your attention strayed for only a second. She thought of her mother’s lessons again and reluctantly attacked the weak point linking Kovacs to the murderous images.

She felt herself begin to sweat, the greasy liquid beading on her distant meat – and hell, she was starting to sound like her partners now, deluding herself that she was anything but that meat, a brain and the legs that moved it around – and tried not to watch the woman get killed again. This time it was two unjacked boys still young enough for handheld rigs, hurling insults. She reached for the vulnerable link in his chain of projection, grasped it, and twisted. The filthy tableau popped out of existence.

She wondered if it would help to get him offline, but leaving aside the matter of finding that switch (where would a madman hide his on/off button, anyway?), he’d probably respond to the sudden data silence the way someone normal would to having their eyes casually plucked out.

“Just a dream,” she said out loud, to herself as much as Kovacs. Those images had an appointment with her nightmares when she finally got her own shut-eye, and she started wondering exactly where Kovacs hid the good stims.

He responded with a flood of jagged half-sentences, most of them responding only to each other.

You killed no, no, no…where, filthy whore? son? dead, long dead just a dream? get out the seagull must have stolen the bacon, birds don’t carry cash You killed her? no, don’t touch don’t

Laurie winced and tapped the jack in his head, hard, producing a quick slash of static that momentarily deafened them both. She felt him jump – reacting strongly enough that there was the slightest twitch under her hand.

don’t touch don’t leave don’t

“You’re giving me the mother of all headaches, K,” she groused gently, wondering why he retreated even further mid-sentence. “Whatever the hell that was, it’s gone. So…sleep. Quietly.”


“Shut up.”

She squirmed until she was flush against him, looping their cord and the hand attached over his hip. He clearly wanted to leap away, projected her clothed and probably none-too-fragrant flesh as a mixture of cloying honey and poisoned barbs and tried again to project his nightmare woman and her monsters, but she clamped down on it before they even had clear faces.

Be still, goddamnit, she projected and tucked his metallic head under her chin. I’m not going anywhere.

Grumbling images moved just below the focal horizon as he finally dropped into safer, more meaningless dreaming. Laurie briefly felt a stab of pity for whatever mother had had the Sisyphean chore of getting this kid to sleep every night, but shied away from the thought. Maybe it was the uneasy memories of Sally’s salacious bedtime stories, or the sense that she had all the corner pieces of the puzzle lined up and could finish it off easily if she’d turn over the box and get a look at the happy ending, but she retreated to patrolling the edges of their little territory with focused gusto.

Still nothing. Not a ripple, not a beep, not a simple hello or where the hell did you guys disappear to because you know a big mother hen like me would be checking in every other minute, right?

Laurie sighed. She needed a distraction from her distraction.

Kovacs wriggled closer to her warmth and began to snore.

Fair enough, she thought, and carefully touched his hand. It was chilled and clammy, like fondling a prawncicle.

I’m a concerned friend, she thought to cyberspace at large and pushed up the sleeve of his thermal shirt, greedily taking in forbidden sights while she checked his pulse at the elbow.

Wires trundled like huge veins just under the skin, surfacing at critical junctures or the odd access port. Thick scar tissue surrounded each, as if they’d been installed with supreme indifference for the flesh that supported the components. She traced the dots of light marking deeply buried work surging along nerves, illegal to install everywhere civilised, but easy enough to find in Chiba City – or Holowood. She’d never seen pirate work before and wanted to investigate further, see if it was similar to hers, branching gracefully out from the spine, or if it was as raw and uncomfortable as the rest of him. But she didn’t quite dare to expose any more skin. He was chilled enough already.

Laurie resolutely tugged the jackets back over him, but couldn’t help noticing his chest hadn’t moved in some time. She knew it was cyberspace time-creep, that it wasn’t healthy for her psyche to be watching the server’s calm grey space with one eye and the living body against hers with the other, but took the excuse to check again for a pulse anyway. Better to feel for the heart itself, as it wasn’t easy to find a vein among the wires in his arms.

He wore an insulated vest under his thick shirts, she discovered. Underneath that, she felt a mostly unaltered stretch of skin on his stomach, smooth but for a thick bumpy scar near the navel. It made her think of feeding tubes, though that was ridiculous – the man obviously had no trouble getting nutrients in the usual way. There were shockingly warm lines along his goosebumpled ribs – heat-sinks, she realised, dumping thermal waste back into the body the larger components leeched energy from.

Near the centre, his heart thunked reassuringly, refusing to buckle under the dual strain of man and machine.

Her own respiration sped up as she realised she could feel her own hand, warm as a brand and – was that tickling? She’d never been ticklish, even as a little kid and despite Uncle Hollis’s boisterous Tickle Monster greetings, and this just felt…weird. Irritating and itchy and overwhelming and also a little nice, as if she’d give anything for it to stop, then seek it again as soon as her nerves forgot the feeling.

She yanked her hand free, suddenly feeling like one of those creeps who pasted her head onto nude bodies and tried to sell the result as genuine porno. Her own chest felt crawly and sadly cold for a moment before Kovacs drifted deeper again, and she knew she’d do best to disengage and be miles away before he woke up.

Laurie suspected a person would only find out how he fit together via autopsy, and wondered how someone as nosily caring as Dreiberg could stand working with such a resolutely damaged machine.

She happened to be looking in the right direction when something like a malevolent sun rose on the near horizon. It even had rays, or maybe tentacles, reaching out and gobbling up neat binary blocks.

“K…” She shook him, but he only flopped bonelessly and showed her his teeth again. “K…wake up, what the fuck is that?”

Laurie had nothing defensive, less than nothing, but marshaled the handful of offensive crypts she knew by heart, ones that would easily take out a low-level accounting drone after five or six tries. She tried to think herself fierce – c’mon chica, it’s nothing but speed and raw guts out here, and you’ve got both in bucketfuls – but was tempted to cheer in sheer relief when Dreiberg and Veidt blipped into existence well between her and it.

Boys, I promise, you get this one, and I will kick anyone’s ass you want on the outside. Deal?

She made another effort to wake Kovacs, finally succeeding in raising a faint mumble when she pinched his stomach, then settled back to watch the fireworks.

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

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