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The Pen is Mightier than the Sword
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They talked fast, they dressed flash, and they seemed to be able to read minds. They were instant friends one minute, gone the next, then back the third asking to borrow a little money, just to tide them over until their next big score. They knew everybody, or at least knew someone who knew everybody. But they didn't know me, which meant I was somewhere between a curiosity and a commodity to them.

The Connors were a pair of designer twins. Their mother had paid big to make sure her baby got the best start in life he could. Imagine her surprise when she got two. They had grown up poor and started playing people young. By their own words, it was to help the family at first, but after that, simply because it was so easy. They grew up seeing other people as sheep to be fleeced, even though neither had seen a real sheep outside of a storybook.

They met me after I left the Beach and was enjoying west coast afternoon, filtered down through the smog. It had become my favourite time of day in this place. The light took on a golden-brown hue that I'd never experienced before. I was gazing up at the sky, nursing a cheap coffee. When I looked down, two identical strangers had joined me at my table and were looking curiously.

Talking to the Connors was difficult. It was like verbal fencing, against two partners, only they were also trying to pick your pocket. They were in perfect sync. Often, they talk together or finish each other's sentences. It was hard to focus when talking to one person split in two like this. And they knew it. Still, they gave me credit that I was able to keep up with them without parting with money for so long. I didn't know how to react to being openly told that they were trying to rob me, but they were dealing with a professional listener. I think we were about even in the end.

They skirted the fine line between the haves and the have nots in this country. Though they were both clearly lower class, they had all the charm and wit to rub shoulders with the richest in the city, then talk their way past the security after they lifted someone's watch or wallet. They showed me the watch. It was almost as curious to them as I was. Clearly nothing more than a status symbol, but it had a function. An archaic function that had long since been incorporated into other devices or brain mods. It didn't even use Arabic numerals, which puzzled them.

After that, they both agreed to take me on a whirlwind tour of the city. Being the minority, my vote was ignored and I was dragged to all the places I'd wanted to go, if only I knew they existed. I was still very new to this place.

The first place they took me was a clothes shop. I looked like too much of a tourist, I stood out, and they’d never get anywhere unless I fit in. The place they took me was a dumping house for factory seconds and last season's unsold. Between the two of them, they went through the racks and piles, talking a mile a minute between themselves. It was interesting watching this. All the half thoughts and brief notions that crossed my brain every day, they traded verbally. When I asked them about it later, they pretended not to know what I was talking about. Or genuinely had no idea. I honestly couldn't tell. The next half hour was spent having every article they found held up against me to see how it went with my eyes, my hands, and my spleen. Pretty sure that last one was them messing with me, but they seemed genuine when they told me mine was off-colour and I should really get that checked. In the end, I walked out wearing an outfit of mismatched off cuts that somehow blended seamlessly. I looked similar enough to them, but the ensemble was still entirely unique.

Next was a hazy hole-in-the-wall bar. Though anti-smoking laws were in effect in this city, as repealing them hadn't been made worth the local GovCorp's while yet, the bar had a smoke machine entirely for the atmosphere. When I asked if the smoke was laced with anything, they both laughed and patted me on the back, congratulating me for thinking like a local. They even gave me back my wallet with me only having to ask twice. The bartender must have known these two well, as the tip jar quickly vanished from the counter when we approached. But he seemed friendly enough. They ordered something for me. A cocktail of some kind that had enough alcohol to get the night flowing and enough stimulants to see me to the end. It went down like a kick in the mouth, but they were drinking theirs like it was liquid ambrosia, savouring it. After all, it was going on my expense account.

Drinks finished, we headed for a politimeet. They were both very active with the local political scene, being members of several minor parties and interest groups, and occasional contractors to the local GovCorp. It was essential to know people who want to be known, they told me, so I'd know them when they were known. There was a certain logic that I could agree with, but I still kept my distance, watching as they instantly melded with the crowd, bouncing from one group to the next, making their presence known, and trading news, rumours and tidbits of information with the other members. They introduced me to the head of the group, but later told me it wasn't worth my time to remember his name, as he wasn't long for this world. I asked if he'd be voted out soon and they laughed and gave me another pat on the back. This time, my wallet was safe.

After that, I found myself in an express elevator, heading up the side of one of the sky piercers. It was disconcerting, moving so quickly up a superstructure, but it did give me a wonderful aerial view of the city in twilight. Neon and LEDs everywhere, the whole city was bathed in a green and purple haze, with building lights and lines of traffic melding together from up here. They were puzzled as I took photos, but put it down to my outlandish, touristy ways.

We arrived at our floor, which was entirely given over to The Club. I made no comment and passed no verbal judgement as the Connors led me straight to the front of the line waiting to get in. Security recognised the two on sight and I noticed them tense, but with a flow of words, heavily based around me being an esteemed journalist for a foreign newscorp, we were ushered in.

The place was beyond anything I'd ever experienced. The music was entirely unfamiliar to me and my eyes took a moment to adjust to the shifting light patterns and the glow of the various club guests' outfits. It was a maelstrom of dancing, drinking and a few more things on the edges, in the darkened booths against the walls. The Connors introduced me to a party of girls in one of the booths. I got the impression that a few weren't quite happy to see them, but they still seemed welcoming of me. I discovered just how wide spread the Connors' reach was, as each girl knew them from an entirely different class, group or setting. The few who seemed wary of my companions lightened up when they came back, sporting cocktails.

We drank, we danced, we left. A few of the girls came with us, not passing up the opportunity to grab a sky cab on my dime. I didn't realise what was so special until I got the bill at the end. Still, well below the point that would alarm any of the bean counters who were monitoring my expenditure. Anti-grav only worked in a few places on Earth, for reasons that were beyond me, so it was a bit of a thrill to float above the city, as the excitable driver chatted a hundred miles a minute with the Connors, even having time somehow to slip out of conversation with them to toss comments back to us. I was in awe of her, as I'd yet to see someone who could beat them at their own game.

We landed on the platform of a ritzy hotel. Security waved us straight in, not even bothering to check invitations to the event inside. At the time, I was unsure if it was because someone had called ahead and arranged things, or if they'd just assumed anybody who could afford to float here was rich enough to come inside. The event was some kind of a celebrity cook-off. The hall contained several long tables, covered in food. The guests were all obviously either upper-middle class, or knew how to fake it. Around the hall and in other rooms, there were several kitchens set up. I used my credentials to have photography unlocked and got shots of the various chefs. I found out later that the event was being run by the holographic recreation of a famous 21st chef, but his image rights were way more than my budget allowed, so I didn't seek him out.

The food was what the Connors had brought us here for. The dishes were all strange, outlandish and mostly amazing. I was surprised to see that actual meat was being served, something I hadn't been able to get down on the streets. The Connors noted this too, both pulling chunks of it off skewers. Eating was one of the few times they talked. The girls had all split off from us and were engaging the various guests, leaving us three to eat and chat.

Interviewing the Connors over food was difficult. They were still as evasive and difficult to pin down as ever, only now they both stopped to take mouthfuls of food. Their only comments about this were that it all came from their mother. Never talk with your mouth full and never pass up good food when somebody else is paying. I did learn more about their upbringing, but after comparing it to earlier notes, it's difficult to tell if any version of the truth was true.

We schmoozed with a few of the guests. They introduced me to several more people as they had done before, using me as an interesting conversation point, before mining for information. Mining was the right word for it. They would strike with a remark, and then collect the bits of information that came free, then strike again. At a certain point, they would silently decide that they'd tapped this vein enough for now and we'd move onto the next. Each person provided something entirely different. Some was corp rumours. A few were from legal circles. One man they badgered until he gave them a recipe to his world famous Sharberry Punch.

While we were chatting with a Senator Exec, they both abruptly stopped, apologise to the SE and lead me out. When I asked what was up, they just said simply, "Run". So I ran. They knew the hotel better than the security who were chasing us. We ducked around corners, slipped through adjoining rooms and hopped balconies. Eventually, we slipped out a fire escape and vanished into the throngs of people passing by the hotel.

After that, we stopped by a street club to catch our breath and have a few parting drinks. The close encounter had left both of them with the impression that my luck had run out and it was time to move on. As jarring as that was, they were so diplomatic about it that it was more like seeing off old friends than two born pragmatists who were getting a free ride in exchange for a story. As I reviewed and collated my notes, I was joined by a young girl with ears growing on her upper arms. The Connors had directed her to me as a parting gift. My next story.

They had also bought her the most expensive drink in the house. On my tab, of course.
Edited by Aardvark
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Awesome... makes me want to play Shadowrun that much more :D

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