APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 9 October, 2000


Black Box

Part One

Buji Kern

"I never want to see you again, Jake. Get off my property before I call the cops!"

Jake was standing on the front porch of his now ex-girlfriend's house. He was late for work.

"Okay, Jen. Fine. Can I least come back after work to get my stuff?" She turned and walked back into the house, the door slamming behind her rapidly retreating ponytail. Jake decided to take that as a tentative 'yes'.

He hopped back on his bike and pedaled to work. It was a crisp fall morning, and Jake appreciated the chance to clear his head before he started a long day of work. He didn't feel particularly distraught about his girlfriend kicking him out, seeing as he had been increasingly frustrated with living with her. He decided he still required a little too much freedom in his life to live with a woman, not to mention the fact that Jen never really liked how much time he spent working on his bikes.

C'est la vie, he thought, and continued on his way to work. Mercury Couriers, Jake's employer, is located in the downtown commercial district of Port Oasis, close to the high-rise headquarters of the largest Republican corporations. In downtown Port Oasis, traffic is congested enough that human-powered transportation is usually the quickest way to get between two points. This puts couriers of various types in high demand. Jake and everyone else at Mercury are bike messengers, the most common type of courier.

Jake remembered being fanatical about bicycles since shortly after he learned to walk, so it was a pretty natural job for him. After a few blocks of weaving through morning traffic, he hopped up the curb in front of Mercury's offices and walked his bike through the door. Dani, his boss, was waiting for him.

"I was starting to wonder if you were showing up today, Jake," she said accusingly.

"Give me a break, Dani. I was busy getting kicked out of my girlfriend's house." Dani looked unsurprised and entirely unsympathetic. "Well, I've got a high-priority delivery that just got called in. You'd better ride fast if you want to get there on time. Here's the data."

Jake reached into his bag and retrieved his palmtop. Dani held hers out and a blinking red light on both computers confirmed that they were exchanging information. A couple seconds later, Jake's palmtop displayed the positions of the sender and receiver of the package. He groaned. The sender was almost entirely across the city from Mercury's offices, on the waterfront.

"Prophet, Dani! Why don't they just hire a van?"

"I don't know Jake, just make the bloody delivery," she said before hurrying towards another messenger, who seemed to suddenly remember something he left outside, and started walking as fast as he could towards the exit. Dani caught him a meter from the door.

Jake sighed. He looked at the map on his palmtop screen again, decided on the route he was taking, and set off. He set a fast pace and entered the harbor district of East Old Port less than forty minutes later. The cool air coming off of Lake Esperance felt good, and Jake admired the swank architecture of the area, realizing that it was probably all owned by smuggling cartels. He avoided eye contact with the shady-looking people milling around on the sidewalks.

Riding into Old Port, which is unusual for a messenger, always made Jake a little nervous. He tried to look inconspicuous as he pedaled down the wide street, but unfortunately Jake was the only bicyclist for several kilometers. Spotting a sign with the address he was looking for, he turned into the parking lot of a small office park. The sign said "Polaris Electronics" and the address matched the one Dani gave him. After locking his bike in front of the building, he went in. It was surprisingly drab for East Old Port- a small gray and beige building that would fit in just about anywhere in the city.

He went up to the secretary and handed her his palmtop, which Jake had changed to display a receipt. "I'm here to pick up a package," he said. She smiled and retrieved a small cardboard box, marked 'fragile'. She signed the palmtop and handed it back. Jake retrieved his bike, and pedaled quickly away from the lake, glad to be leaving Port Oasis' most crime-ridden district. The receiving address for the package was all the way back in the commercial part, not far from Mercury's offices. At least it would be a short ride back to the office, Jake thought.

As he began climbing a long hill, a motorcycle pulled out from behind him and passed him slowly, the rider glancing at Jake several times as he passed. He was wearing a dark one-piece motorcycle suit, and the dark visor of his helmet obscured his face. Jake thought the guy seemed unusually interested in a bicyclist, but he decided to ignore the curious rider. The motorcycle sped up and left Jake in his dust.

The receiving address was an apartment building that had been turned into office space. It seemed like all of the offices were still vacant. He went inside, finding an empty lobby almost completely lacking in decoration. The address said it was in Suite 4 on the first floor, so he walked down the hallway to a row of doors. So far the building appeared to be completely empty, and everything looked unfinished. Some of the doors weren't painted, and the carpet smelled new.

The door to Suite 4 was ajar. Jake knocked and listened. It was silent. "Hello? I've got a delivery here," he called out. No one answered. Jake started to wonder if he had the wrong address, but 2631 Victory Street was printed on the door, and that matched his directions. Discounting all the good reasons he thought of not to, he opened the door.

What little there was in the office was strewn across the floor. Papers, disks, and the contents of several now-empty drawers made a pile in the center. A Hermes terminal had its display cracked. Jake wondered if he had walked in on a burglary, or if the occupants of Suite 4 just had really bad organizational skills. He was getting ready to call Dani and say there was no one to receive the package, when he noticed a shoe poking out from behind an upturned desk.

"Hey, are you okay?" Jake asked. There was no answer and the shoe didn't move. He walked over and looked behind the desk. The owner of the shoe was lying face up, his eyes wide open in a glassy stare. He had obviously been shot. Jake checked his pulse to confirm that he was in fact dead, as he appeared to be. He was.

Jake hurried outside, stunned. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and called Dani at work. "Hey, Dani, it's Jake. Yeah, I know I should be back by now. Will you please shut up for a minute and let me tell you something?"

As he began to tell her how he had just found a dead man, he noticed the same motorcycle that had passed him earlier pull out of a parking space and drive east down the street.

To be continued...

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APAGear II Archives Volume 2, Number 9 October, 2000