“In fair Verona, where we lay our scene.”
Part the First
Dark haired, shaggy, pale white, and leaning against a lamp post. Benvolio of Montague looks out from the quaint cobbled streets and synthetic-stone buildings of Verona Heights, Corp Quarter to the distant sinful reds, sky blues, and glorious golds of Neon Quarter. The only Neon one fines here is the Pink Cat that grins from store windows or the ivory neon glow of the Verona E-Publishing. That book was deadly irony- when was the last time anyone read anything? It was virtual reality on download. The deadly came from the owners and their willingness to kill. That ivory glow, it might as well have been a skull for all he cared.
Benvolio unstuck himself from the post and entered 'Mercer's'. That was his contact and apothecary in the Heights. The interior was an interesting mix of store and dispensary. The center shelves included snacks and paraphernalia to make one's using habits easier. The far wall on the left was a line of dispensers that catered to any pleasure- it could release liquids to be drank or shot into veins, it released powders to snort or mix, it dropped plant parts to be smoked or chewed on. At the far end of the store facing Benvolio was a thick figured, short haired male who still wore spectacles.
Mercer: Mercer looked up from his counter. He was nonplussed by Benvolio's eyes, which included one brown, normal eye and another eye that glowed turquoise with a black pupil. He didn't sweat the augmentation and said: “Hey, what's the word, Benvolio?”
Benvolio: “You got what you owe me, Doc?” He drummed his fingers on the table.
Mercer: “I'm short, Montague.” He looked up and met the hard stare. He began to sweat a little: “Give me a little more time to come up with the bits. I'll pay you double.”
Benvolio: “You know the policy.” He leaned forward and said: “No credit to guys who miss out once. You don't remember two months ago?”
Mercer: “I made up for it, didn't I?”
Benvolio: Shakes his head and says: “Doesn't matter. A fellow comes with a light envelope and a story should have learned to stay out of the borrowing business. What do you have for me?” <Test Person 5+ with Advantage due to station and situation. Result is: 6>.
Mercer: “Look, I don't have the money to spare. How about we make a trade? I know some things that might interest you.”
Benvolio: Runs his tongue over his teeth and thinks. He hadn't heard that line about information from the apothecary. Part of him burns that the apothecary hasn't tried to offer something fair to trade – like chems. He also feels in his right to slap the Doc around or demand a free augmentation. But he relents and asks: “What do you know?”
Mercer: “I'm off to hook for a payment?”
Benvolio: “Give me a sample. If I like what I'll hear maybe, maybe I'll cut you a break and knock off your debt. Right now all I hear is a story.”
Mercer: Leans back and smiles: “It is no secret that the lads of Montague were seen at the Capulet Manor, despite the recent trouble that your two families are engaged in. Wasn't that you and Tybalt who dueled on those streets-”
Benvolio: “I don't want to hear ancient history, storyteller.”
Mercer: “Okay! Okay... you don't deny that you were are not at that party?”
<Benvolio tries to hide his face. He tests Person 5+ = 6. Success!>
Mercer: “Well, I heard you guys were there. Anyone. Not only did Tybalt see you, he also says that you and the Montague's heir, Romeo, shares a kiss with Capulet's heir, Juliet. As the enforcer of the family he swears vengeance and was only stopped by Capulet reminding him of Escalus' ban on the fighting.”
Benvolio: Shrugs and says: “That's it?”
Mercer: Raises a brow and says: “As to my debt-”
Benvolio: “All I hear is stuff I already knew. Tybalt has wanted every Montague dead since Romeo's father allowed the Reapers to blow up his car. It neither helps, nor hurts me and it doesn't pay me either.”
Mercer: “Funny you should say that, Benvolio- the Reaper part. That's what I want to tell you about... in exchange for that debt.” Mercer's smile returns as he looks over the Montague enforcer.
<Does Benvolio get mad? 35% chance = 84% No>
Benvolio: Pulls his datapad from his pocket and makes a few taps. He reduces Mercer's debt from 2500 to 2,125 bits. He shows Mercer and waits for the apothecary to make the necessary deductions on his own pad. He continues to look the apothecary over while drumming his fingers on the countertop.
Mercer: “Tybalt has hired a pack of Hyena Grungers to go after you from the outset. If you give me an hour I'll text you their location.”
Benvolio: “When do they plan to hit?”
Mercer: “Sometime soon. Not like tonight or anything, but in the next night or so they plan to hit. Probably get Romeo while he's out in the open.”
Benvolio: “Well then, I'd appreciate that information when you get it. As soon as possible.”
Mercer: “I could step it up. It might require a little bit...” Mercer's fingers instinctively rub together as he speaks.
<Does Benvolio pay in bits? 35% = 72%. No>
Benvolio: “Tell you what. I'll reduce your debt some more so you can use that extra money to spread around. See if you are being legit or just trying to pocket some change.” <Test Person 5+ = 2. Failure>
Mercer: Shrugs and says: “I'll see what I can do. At least, I don't know, maybe throw an extra 100 bits? Help grease the wheels a little.”
Benvolio: Slides the bits over to Mercer. As Mercer's hands touch the silver pieces, he finds his hand caught in Benvolio's grips. Benvolio leans forward and says: “You better be quick and I better not find out you screwed me out of 100 bits.”
Mercer: “Yeah, sure thing Benvolio.” He is able to withdraw his hand and rub his wrist as he watches Benvolio turn and leave. “Take care out there, Montague.”
In Verona Heights, built and founded by Verona E-publishing, there were only three major stakeholders in the company. The company employed hundreds of interactive fiction and entertainment writers and coders, very few owned only a piece of the action. The big three that didn't write the code, so much as bankroll all of the rest, included a man named Montague, a man named Capulet, and a woman named Colette Escalus – the so-called Prince of Verona.
Unlike her white counterparts, Escalus was dark skin with shoulder length black hair that was either kept straight or occasionally rolled in a hair wrap. Her hair was kept straight and long in this case. Her eyes a deep green, like jade when it was refined into gemstones rather than cut raw from the earth. She stood next to her nephew, Paris.
Paris was dark skinned with short, curly dark hair and a thin layer of stubble on his chin. He leaned against a desk in his navy blue jacket and slacks while she wore her burgundy shirt and black slacks. The two were not alone, Melchior sat on the couch- he was white, brown haired, and dressed in light grey. His coat was over on the other chair as he listened in on his boss and her nephew.
Escalus: “You look so dire, Paris. What you want to tell Aunty Colette?” She asks and tilts her head.
Paris: “To think, I ask Capulet about the hand of his daughter, Juliet. All I got is not a hand of assurance and friendship, but words about how I rush to quick and she's too young. She's prime and I know no other creature fairer than Juliet.”
Escalus: Shrugs and says: “Her father is wise to see the bigger picture.” She sips her drink and shakes her head at his scornful stare. “Don't be angry at me, Paris. You've a dreamy look in your eyes and no sense in your head. If you were the marry, what would that do for the rest of us? Montague and Capulet's feud are kept in check because they believe I am neutral and above a fray.”
Paris: “But what she and I have transcend all of that. What happens between Montague and I, that is on me and I shall bare it.”
Escalus: Shakes her head and continues: “And what? I sit idly by while he and his attack you? I'd be looked on as weak who couldn't protect her own. I'd have to strike at him. In fact, if I accepted such a marriage, then I might as well as make the first move- right Melchior?”
Melchior: He looks up from a dreamy state of his own making and waves off the question: “This one isn't really my specialty.”
Escalus: “You just don't want to get in the middle of a family argument.” She laughs and turns to Paris. She sees his dire look and says: “Why don't you and Melchior go to Neon Quarter? Have a few drinks? You get yourself a nice woman to spend time with. Take your mind off of Juliet and marriage.” She waves her finger at Paris: “Capulet is right. You're too young to marry in this day and age.”
Paris: Gets up and says: “That's the problem. We live a world where you might as well keep up the distractions. To young to get married, to young to settle down, to young to have children. Might as well do anything else but be happy.” He turns and walks out of the room. Ignoring the frown that Escalus gives him or the raised brow look that Melchior offers.
Melchior: Sees Escalus wave him over and stands to approach her. He makes sure to snatch his coat from where he left it on the chair as he approaches. “Yes Prince?”
Escalus: “Stay with him. Make sure he keeps out of trouble. And make sure he goes to Neon Quarter or in another part of Corp Quarter. I don't want Capulets getting mad about Paris coming around or Montagues getting any ideas. You have my permission to subdue him if he tries anything.”
Melchior: “What about Mercutio and Valentine? They've been hanging around with Montagues. Maybe Pairs should get in good with the Capulets.”
Escalus: “You're talking crazy, but I don't have time to explain why. Just stick with Paris, alright?”
Melchior: “Yes Prince.” He takes off for the elevators after Paris. His stride is quick, but not quite running.
The training room within the Capulet Compound was cobalt walls and black, carpeted floors with a thick texture that cushioned the feet. Tybalt stood with short black hair, a light tan to his skin, and a goatee fit for cats or a devil- two that were viewed to go together. Just like that hellish imp of a kitty cat mascot that hung out in the shops, glowing it's sinful neon colors. He wasn't alone in the room. Sampson and Gregory sat against the wall in tracksuits, brown hair, and white skin. They marveled as Tybalt's silver arms gripped the diamond cut Katana as he circled the practice droid.
Note: Tybalt Tests Nimble <4+> for a result of 1 (Failure)
Hits: 3 / Attack: 5+ / Stun Gun: 1 Dmg; Non-Lethal
Android: Fires a bolt at Tybalt <Result: 2>. The light blue beam fires past the rushing Cyberblade without even grazing him.
Tybalt: Closes in and makes two slashes at the Android <Test Brawn: 3+ w/ +1 bonus = 3 & 6 for 4 points>. Without breaking a sweat as he dodges the stun beam with ease he draws the Katana up for a slash and down again, rending the android in twain. He stands without a sweat, a slight pause before breathing normally again. His Katana spun in his hand andslid back into his sheath.
Android is slain in pair of strikes; a smoking ruin.
Tybalt: “Child's play. I shall really take it in with joy when Romeo is looking like this.” He turns on his heel and approaches Sampson and Gregory.
Gregory, the Doc: Runs a hand through his beard as he sees Tybalt. He reaches for the towel near him and tosses it to his boss. “You've been stressed out as late since that party, Tybalt. What's got you so riled?”
Tybalt: “My own Uncle upbraids me! He practically slaps me in the face both with his words, and he truly slaps me with his hand tells me to put up with a Montague at our party.”
Sampson: “I wouldn't think he'd be any kind of sport to you, Prince of Cats. Benvolio! That's a worthy kill.”
Tybalt: “Benvolio didn't kiss my cousin.” Tybalt puts a hand on his chest as he spats out: “Montague's heir...” He shakes his head and continues: “My Uncle to tolerate such insults, disgusting.”
Gregory: “Let it drift, Tybalt. Your Uncle knows the Prince will not tolerate anymore brawling in the streets.”
Tybalt: “What issues from your mouth, love for the Montague? Perhaps you'd like to run down and give the gate codes to them too?”
Sampson: “Come on, Tybalt. It's not like tha-” Puts a hand up, he tries to pacify the situation.
Tybalt: Grits his teeth and points: “The hell it is! All I hear is love for fiends, knaves, and curs. Each I like and shall smote, one way or another.”
Sampson: Pauses and grabs his datapad from his coat. His face is briefly lit by the bright green screen. “V's on the Glownet. He'd like to have words with you.”
Tybalt: “Alright. If I'm not out in twenty minutes send a text, yeah?”
Sampson: “Sure thing.”
There were headjacks to manipulate the world and then was the commercial dream-chip that immersed one in the glow. The chip could fit on the index of a finger and was an easy surgery to attached somewhere in the head: one cable into the brain, two attached to the eyes.
The standard practice of using it was, as follows: One sat down, one leaned back, one too a breath, perhaps a sip of water. If it was an extended trip, one tried to use a catheter to deal with bodily waste in the glow. At some point the walls of the world shuddered and creaked. Cracks in reality formed split away. One was no longer sitting nor thinking about their guts churning. One stood on the black-and-white tiles of a chessboard in space. The distant void before them, broken up only by floating reds of space dust, or the greens of a yawning nebula. The stars, white, pale, and cold looking floated in the sea of night. Surrounding the floating tile were a series of stone columns. All of this artificial construction was but a lobby of the Glow.
Valentine sat on a grey and black garden egg chair with a table in front of him. A bottle of wine resting on the marble table with an empty chair across from him. He was dark skin, with shaved black hair in a Caesar cut. A cigar, a construct like everything in the glow rolled between his fingers.
Valentine: “Been awhile since he said 'hi' to each other. I of course saw you at the party.”
Tybalt: Looked the same, even in the virtual world. He might have changed his avatar to suit him, if he bothered to deal with a decker. For now, he was fine with looking like his same bad self. He rested a hand on the back of the egg chair as he looked over Valentine: “I saw you too. I also saw who you were with.”
Valentine: Shrugged and said: “That was Mercutio's idea. What was I suppose to do? 'Nah, cousin. My contact might throw a mad fit all over us.'”
Tybalt: Rolls his eyes and says: “You know I'd never hurt you, I'd have tore the other two to pieces.” He sighs and says: “You got a line on those Hyenas yet?”
Valentine: “I do.” He cleared his throat-
Tybalt: “There a problem?”
Valentine: “I used my man Cassius as the go-between the me and the Hyenas. Help keep anything from getting back to me or us. I'm hearing things- like how Cassius owed a guy who owed a guy and talk about how the Montagues would be hit. I haven't confronted Cassius about it yet.”
Tybalt: Grits his teeth and clenches his fist. He rubs the back of his neck and says: “Where is that rat hiding at?”
Valentine: “Two places, I suspect. He's a Hacker- that's how I contacted him and that's how he contacted the Hyenas. Just give me some time. I'll get you an address for his physical body.”
Tybalt: “Yeah...” Out of the corner of his eye he could see several stars had changed to form a constellation. Not of a vague shapes or figures, but full words. The words became a statement from the outside.
CAPULET NEEDS TO SEE YOU! - GREG.
Tybalt: “Let me know when you hear something. I don't want trouble caused around here that's traced to us. Also, let me know if your aunt hears something.” He turned away. As he stepped across the board he raised his hand and waved over his shoulder. A path formed with each step towards the void and slowly the world he was use to, the waking world, rebuilt itself.