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Title: All Quiet on the Liminal Fringe (10/?)
Author: MustInvestigate
Disclaimer: I only own action figures
Rating: (this chapter) PG
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.




Adrian flicked off the wall of monitors one by one, pausing over the final two cctv feeds as, several floors below, the Los Angeles and Beijing shifts trickled through security in opposite directions. He rubbed the crease in his forehead and silently groused that while no Veidt-Ashpool scion worth the name would be plagued by something so plebeian as a headache, there was nevertheless a certain pressure threatening to forcibly eject his eyeballs from their sockets.

More irritating was the gut certainty he was missing something obvious, something important, in the confluence of elements in front of him. For the moment, he was obeying his security detail’s polite demand he keep his precious lobes offline, but as he so rarely leaned on the crutch of cyberspace’s refined datastream, that was no handicap. Nor was he concerned about the ongoing investigation into his would-be assassin, having delegated that tiresome task well. Dreiberg would do as Adrian expected; that much he could count on, at least, in an increasingly deranged world.

Perhaps he was hungry.

Adrian rang for dinner to be sent up to his office, impulsively requesting a selection for two, and made his way back to his personal suite. He tapped his thumb on the dataports he passed without consciously registering the gestures.

Going past the sumptuous show apartment profiled in so many media outlets, Adrian stepped into the much smaller area where he spent his limited personal time. The security arch surrounding the open doorway didn’t spark ominously as he passed through to indicate that it would immediately incinerate visitors other than Adrian and his permanent houseguest. The only noise was a polite ‘blip!’ marking his safe passage.

The vigilante known as ‘Veidt’ had been a notorious undercover ace, particularly relishing the classic infiltration-via-menial-staff shtick when he could just as easily access mainframes remotely. He’d smugly insist to his subterranean colleagues that there was a certain uncompromising style to breaking open big juicy targets from their top dog’s personal terminal.

For the head of the world’s most powerful corporate family, cleaning up after himself was a small price to pay for true security.

He found Byron in the gym, following the echoes of a husky, cracking voice.

“Sailing over a cardboard sea…hanging over a muslin tree…you’re a melody played in a penny arcade…”

Byron floated energetically among a flurry of bubbles, having (Adrian noted with indulgent amusement) dragged a large inner tube from the pool to the Jacuzzi. Dark, brittle hair clung to his scarred neck, nearly hiding the pitted souvenir of a Yakuza enforcer’s wrist fletcher. The broken old man’s swimsuit was tented at the crotch, but Byron seemed indifferent to his lively body. He tapped languidly on the facial screen of his vintage VR helmet instead, its power pack carelessly perched on the puddled tiles.

Adrian toed off his shoes and dipped his feet in the bubbles, turning Byron around to face him. “Hello, By.”

Byron took no notice.

Adrian tapped his knobby knee.

The old man grunted, still fingering whatever data held his attention.

“How are you?”

“Hmm.”

“Have you eaten today?”

“Unh.”

“I’m having a late dinner. Come join me.”

Byron nodded, possibly even at something Adrian had said.

Adrian guessed that they might be third cousins, as the nearly extinct Lewis legacy originally sprang from a poorly-regarded Ashpool daughter. But generations were damnably complicated (and there was only so much unique genetic material, spread very thin) among the old families. They shared a blood type, a slightly overactive thyroid gland, an inconvenient allergy to latex, and a few crucial junctures of deoxyribonucleic proteins that made Byron not only his familial responsibility but a very useful fellow.

“You’ll be sixty next month, you know. We should plan something special, to celebrate.”

Adrian spun the inner tube until he was looking at the back of Byron’s head and readied a miniscule sterile pouch. From the shunt above the main neckjack, Adrian drew a few millilitres of spinal fluid.

“Sixty what?” Byron asked.

“Years. Old.” Adrian tucked the sample away and patted Byron’s shoulder.

“Dinner will be informal tonight,” he said. “But please do wear some trousers this time.”

Back in his office, Adrian ran the usual analysis on the sample, pleased with the results. The old man had been floating on his last microdose for several days with no evidence of physical deterioration or further dementia. Adrian saved the data to his private server, one so tightly encrypted and camouflaged even a Dreiberg or a Blake would have trouble cracking it. He calculated the appropriate dosage for a much younger, healthier male and opened the labelled aspirin bottle in his unlocked desk door, crushing and inhaling a pill with practiced ease.

Byron drifted in a few minutes later behind the disconcerted catering staff, clanking in his chelated encounter suit. Adrian nodded his approval. The servers quickly spread his favourite meze selection (across the same table Dreiberg had this morning wolfed down enough food for three), the small dishes artfully surrounding a silver pot of Turkish coffee.

“Sir?” asked the man in charge, flipping over one of the two cups. He was a small, round man – Ramon, Adrian’s memory supplied, survivor of the South Bronx foster system and recipient of a Veidt-Ashpool merit scholarship, now a fanatically loyal culinary genius with a special talent for black market sourcing. Another very useful man.

Adrian waved him off, pouring his own coffee.

“Sir?” Ramon turned to Byron, asking as politely as if the old man were unfolding his napkin, rather than slurping strained yogurt directly from the serving dish.

“Mmm, uh-huh.”

Ramon added three sugars and carefully placed the cup of strong coffee where it was least likely to be glanced by a wayward elbow. Adrian offered Ramon a slight smile as the man literally bowed out, herding his spooked underlings.

Adrian tapped his transparent mug, watching the dregs settle at the edge of the glass. With a sigh, he sternly told himself to stop stalling and chose a stuffed pepper, making himself chew it without first sniffing and to notice only the delicate seasoning of the rice inside. There would be no faint trace of bitter almonds, not when a lazy assassin could pick from many synthetic toxins that had no taste, or microscopic chips of time-release crack sealant, or even (for that touch of haute technologie) custom-built nanobots that slip through the stomach lining and into the bloodstream.

His father had always been slightly neurotic, or so Adrian had been told, becoming fixated on the oddest things. Invisible cracks in the floors, noiseless insects hovering above his bed…internal torments to distract him from the terrifying real work of maintaining a fiscal empire.

Adrian was not about to let that weakness take hold in himself. He had to eat three times a day. Any scrap of nutrient that came near him had been checked and re-checked dozens of times, right up until it was set before him.

He did not smell bitter almond. He did not feel on his teeth the musical scrape of ground glass in his coffee grinds.

He did not.

“There was an attempt on my life today,” he said, forcing himself to swallow first.

“Oh?” Byron chewed a stubborn bite of squid with focused determination, washing it back with a gulp of scalding coffee.

“It failed,” Adrian reassured him.

“Oh. Good.”

Adrian grimly made his way through several feta-stuffed olives, thinking of the canned food that was the only sustenance on his family’s orbiting satellite retreat. What heaven it would be to make his own meals – open package, heat up, voila! In his sight through the entire process, only touched by his hands.

“Fortunately, the attempt didn’t expose our work,” he continued.

That finally got Byron’s attention. He slopped coffee over the rim of his cup. “Good?”

Adrian sighed. “Yes, very good.”

Quiet, he needed quiet. He’d put out the highest-level fires, the emergency fixes only he could talk the shareholders board into approving, and the rest were in capable hands. Adrian wanted to be far away from those capable hands, particularly disapproving old friends who existed in a luxuriously small part of the world that Adrian was forced to consider. He needed the space now to work on what only he and Byron could do, and he had a nagging feeling time was running short.

“Good for everyone?” Byron pushed his faceplate back and pinned Adrian with a bloodshot green-eyed gaze.

Adrian touched the back of his free hand, wincing at the icy skin. “We’re going to save the world. You know that.”

He gently chafed the hand between his own, trying to restore some circulation. Byron’s attention was already drifting, Adrian could tell, but he fought it.

“Not the whole world,” he managed.

“No,” Adrian agreed quietly. “No, it will hurt some, hurt them very much. I’ve thought about it, about them, every soul who could possibly be affected. It’s still worth it. To put everyone on the same level, to give everyone the same access, the same chance…some people are going to have to trade everything for that, for the world’s future, and they won’t choose to do so on their own. It’s worth it, isn’t it, if no talented techs have to waste their brief lives as vigilantes any more?”

Adrian squeezed his hand, wondering if this was one of the days Byron remembered his youth of tilting at windmills. “No more schoolboy heroics, just to claw unexpected little islands of safety out of our insane leaders’ claws?”

Byron pulled his hand away and dipped toasted rye into hummus.

Perspective. That was all Adrian needed. And the best place to get perspective on the world…

“What do you think about a trip to through upper atmosphere, hmm? I could use a break from the Sprawl, and my security force would be happier with me tucked away for a week or two. We could get some real work done, possibly even finalise the –”

Byron interrupted him by tapping impatiently on his plated chest, mouth bulging with warm bread.

Byron’s encounter suit was an early R&D prototype as well as his preferred leisurewear, diffusely transmitting data and virtual sensation to nerve points throughout the body. Few jockeys could take the dual cerebral pressures of an activated spinal cord jack and the weightlessness of space – Adrian suspected the lunatic Kovacs would find his spiritual home among that riot of conflicting sensation – but an encounter suit’s input actually soothed a discombobulated inner ear by partially mimicking the sensation of gravity.

It was a brilliant piece of equipment with, sadly, a consumer market of perhaps a couple dozen space cadets. Outside of a lucrative one-time contract, they’d shelved the line.

“Ah, I see. You’re all prepared, then.” Adrian sipped his coffee, savoring the gritty bitterness. He flicked his monitors back on, ignoring Byron’s flinch at the sudden wash of stimulation, and let his eyes drift out of focus.

He wouldn’t lie to himself that it didn’t sting. His closest living relative was a pickled wreck who couldn’t reliably name what planet he was on but still consistently managed to elliptically stagger a few steps ahead of this world’s smartest man. Perhaps he was only a credit to the resiliency of their gene pool.

Or else there was simply no way to truly enjoy the benefits of 5-SB poisoning without surrendering oneself to the addiction first, flinging away all connection to the rest of humanity.

Adrian’s stomach growled, blithely free of neuroses and envy.

Byron shook his head, mouth suddenly pursed with disapproval.

“Someone must have a talk with Sally, a very frank discussion,” he declared, startling Adrian. “This sort of behaviour is wild and downright mortiferous, and no good will come of it, mark my words.”

Adrian cleared his throat uncomfortably. It was part of Byron’s disability that he couldn’t help but keep a too-close watch on those he loved, and a testament to the old white hat’s skills that his deft infiltration was rarely suspected, or his targets’ behaviour thus adjusted to something suitable for observation. Adrian had no desire to have images of whatever “mortiferous” Holoworld peccadilloes Sally might indulge in haunting his nightmares.

And yet, the name tugged something in the blind catalogues of his basal ganglia. Was there a big one lurking in those deep waters, and was this the right bait to bring it to the surface? He decided to push Byron’s rare flash of coherency.

“What’s happening with Miss Isham? Is she going to be in danger?”

Byron nodded, weakly thumping the table. “She may be growing into quite the little star, but she’s still a child, Adrian – you know I’ve had my, my battles, my bad calls out on the streets. I’m no angel, and no prude, either, but, but…she’s a minor, not a Barrymore!”

Adrian paused, then hazarded a guess as he began to see the shape of whatever node Byron held so carelessly. “Laurie?”

“Of course Laurie!” Byron huffed. “Sally’s letting her run wild. She’s too young to be living up to her mother’s example.”

“Laurie’s not a child,” Adrian replied slowly, stalling for time and wanting to keep Byron’s focus while the whale of a node drifted into reach. “She’s nearly thirty. I’m doubt that Sally has any – ”

“Thirty?” Byron snorted. “If Sally’s little girl was thirty, I’d be, what, sixty? Hah.”

Adrian’s lips twisted into a snarl of triumph, gaze flickering across his monitors. He went to one and rewound the cctv footage, sure he’d seen the crux of the oncoming collision.

“Here?” he asked Byron, wanting to be sure.

“Hmm?” Byron squinted. “Uh huh.”

The wake of the node’s passage slammed through Adrian’s thought processes, clearing away the drek. It left orderly ripples behind, a dozen potential paths that all went into motion with one action.

“Excuse me, dear By, but there’s an urgent call I must make to the authorities. Please finish dinner without me.”

“Call Sally!” Byron insisted, but feebly. His face began to twist in confusion as the door closed and locked behind Adrian.

“Sally?” he asked the empty room. “Eddie?”

Byron shoved away from the table and moved to the thick window, watching the scrum of neon threads flowing to the horizon.

“Yeah, Eddie. I’m on it.”

* * *

Parts: one - two - three - four - five - six - seven - eight - nine - ten - eleven

Date: 2010-01-04 04:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theonlytwin.livejournal.com
i love your broken byron! i love how seamless you made the crossover and i love adrian.

Date: 2010-01-06 06:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mustinvestigate.livejournal.com
Thanks! I've been on a Minutemen fic binge lately - Byron wasn't even supposed to be in this one, but after one too many excellent stories, he barged in :)

Date: 2010-01-05 06:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tuff-ghost.livejournal.com
Your story is so impressive! You're always showing things at I hadn't thought to consider, pointing the camera at stuff I never would have looked at. That aspect reminds of me Neuromancer, how dense and busy it is.

Also I really love how Byron had a boner in his swim trunks and Adrian just kind of dispassionately noted it and that was that. It just seems like a very neat way to show the two of them juxtaposed, Adrian being a creepy bland cipher and Byron being random as only a truly crazy person can be. Not that non-crazy old men never sport wood at the pool :D it's just a wtf kind of sight to picture.

Date: 2010-01-06 06:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mustinvestigate.livejournal.com
Thanks! Byron creeped in somehow and demanded part of the plot - I didn't want to make it hugely obvious, but said tentpole was from either actively spying on or just predicting what the other three were up to :) I wanted him to be like his GN self, but with a dash of Jon as well, sort of living in past/future all at once with his over-developed abilities to predict how things will come together. And Adrian's not quite what he thinks he is either... :)

Date: 2010-01-08 06:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] brancher.livejournal.com
I have such a soft spot for Byron; every time I watch him bite that orderly's arm, I well up. I prefer his boner unexplained, though, like the freaky inappropriate boners of old people and babies.

Date: 2010-01-10 11:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mustinvestigate.livejournal.com
Hey, the author's dead doncha know, your interpretation's at least as valid as mine :D

Date: 2010-01-08 05:58 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] brancher.livejournal.com
didn't mean to neglect this! the plot thickens; is By playing the long game? So glad to see updates on this, man, keep em coming.

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