| The Network Revenant
There was a hopeful waiting for him in the Street outside Tourette's. There usually was, and Mikare usually was clear of them within five to ten seconds. This one was still behind him half a minute and five zonejumps later, though, and that was enough to make him slow down enough to look behind him.
The kid (it had to be a kid) was wearing a minimalist avatar, which spoke well for him. It was done in shades of dark green, with some sort of stylized design at the wrists and ankles. The hands and feet were in a shining white, gloved and shod separate from the rest of the figure. Enough care had been taken to make the avatar's bodysuit crinkle where it was tucked into the flare-topped boots; the gloves' gauntlet-style wristguards flopped convincingly. Mikare gave the figure an approving purse of his lips, bouncing from one foot to the other.
Green was watching him, standing in a neutral pose some five meters distant where he'd come to a stop when Mikare had turned. His hands were near his sides, head slightly cocked, watching. As Mikares' reflective gaze steadied on him, he turned his palms out and upwards slightly and gave a small shrug.
Mikare grinned, visible underneath his mirrored visorfield, and nodded once. The figure nodded back, a neutral fleshtone smile underneath bright green eyeshields. The hair was almost a caricature, black and heavily sculpted, somewhere midway between an excess of hair gel and low-resolution graphics. Mikare couldn't tell from where he stood which it was, which, he suspected, was part of the joke.
Mik turned and Ran.
From the Street center, he ducked through the pylons of the Monorail and turned right, but immediately turned back to face the pylon he'd just turned around and jumped as high as he could. Although his flickerjack stretched reality, his best jump in this mode was still only about three meters standing; at the top of the arc, he leaned into the wall, arched his feet and began to run up the wall, gripping small projections lightly with his hands to keep from flying back off into space from the pressure of digging in the balls of his feet.
The flickerjack switched immediately from teasing gravity to tainting friction. His next step caught the pylon surface and grabbed, throwing him three meters upwards in a single spring. In a couple of steps, he was atop the Monorail track. Swinging over the railing, he moved a couple of meters in towards the center of the rail, turned left, and began to run again where he wasn't visible from ground level. His flickerjack, alert to the change in his environment, fired up an emulation protocol and convinced the Monorail track code fabric that he was, in fact, a Monorail car; buoyed by the seven league boots of imaginary maglev, Mikare shot forward at roughly two hundred and fifty kph, declining to accelerate further while on a local 'rail route.
He came to a straight section and spared a glance behind.
There was a green shape just coming over the railing and turning to follow him. As he watched, the figure loped smoothly into a run, its velocity growing in a shuddering series of jerks. It gained on him, closing to within a few dozen meters before slowing until it roughly matched his speed. The liquidity wasn't there, though, and he turned to run backwards, slowing - he knew as well as his follower did what was about to happen. Sure enough, three seconds later the Monorail track turned from its passable imitation of concrete to a violent orange color in a circle roughly centered on the green figure, and it was kicked to a halt and bounced over the edge of the track.
Mikare drifted to the edge, still running backwards, and leapt over the rail. He came to a light stop on virtual pavement some three hundred meters from Green, who had hit and fallen but come to his feet in a telltale smooth shoulder roll and was facing Mikare in a half-crouch which screamed combat to an observer. When he saw that they were stopped, the other immediately relaxed into his prior neutral stance. Mikare grinned and nodded again, then turned and kicked it back up to full tilt.
So the monorail was out. He weaved through a few bits of local scenery, using treecons to change direction and watching as his pursuer did the same, sometimes with grace and sometimes not but every time managing to at least stay on his course. Speeding up (Mikare felt the flickerjack's packetstream smear out further, a hollowness in the place where his calves would be) he turned ninety degrees in a frozen fraction of a second and bounced through a Federal Express portbooth, his avatar automatically 'chanting the digits at the kiosk's idiot routing code. Just before he went through, he raised his hands, palms down over his shoulders and spread the fingers wide. Let's see if he knows the argot.
FedEx's private server construct always tasted to him in the transit of a ghostly echo of avgas and machine oil, for all that he knew the transaction was instant. Plunging out the other end, he turned left and pinballed down the Street, richocheting deliberately off the high-class iconography of Eleanor Paulette's high-price neighborhood, each piece of scenery using CPU cycles to clip and bounce him. Mikare could feel the money and pretension in the precision of the physics simulation, his vector specified in arrogant fractional degrees in veethreespace as he spun his shoulder off an imitation late-twentieth telephone booth that appeared to be part of a local street art project. Fliers were pasted all over it, flatform code attached to the 'booths' phycon, some interaction of the two causing them to flutter in his passing in the manner of paper or plasfax in a quick breeze.
Epaulette's front door was open as it always was. Mikare shot through it, reached up, grabbed the ceiling joist that lurked above the entryway and smoothly swung his body up onto the top of the beam in a lotus position. If there was any justice in the world, this thing would have worn spots where my hands grab it. I'll have to see if I can sneak the code for that in under El's nose.
Seventeen seconds later, Green's icon came through the door, hitting the doorframe in passing with an awkwardness which suggested his passage down Vauxleigh Street had not been as precisely - or successfully - calculated as Mikare's. He slowed, moving underneath the beam without seeing the other avatar perched above; Mikare swung down behind him and as he passed, tapped him on the outside of both shoulders.
Green spun, again, the same movement, into the combat crouch, before relaxing into neutral.
"You've hacked up a perspective gaming client, right?" Mikare grinned at him.
"Yeah." The voice was young, but not wholly defensive. That was good. Promise visible.
"What are the pros and cons?"
"I get good small-sequence speed and fluidity from the built-in routines, especially where there's a high overlap with combat moves. The macro facilities are good for anything that looks like complex kinematics, since that's what it's coded to do. The client is really good at handling fast positional and relational updates, and presenting them clearly. The cons are that it's not good at navigational changes, or in fact nav lookup and display; it doesn't handle theoretical pathing at all, and I had to hack that in, and it has a tendency to default to its standard combat posing when it runs out of presets. Also, it has a bunch of anti-speedcheat code in it that I haven't managed to fully rip out, and it interferes with the operation of my 'jack."
Mikare cocked his head at the other. "That's pretty good. Which one are you using?"
Mik knew it. An early, and therefore well-understood, gaming Street client, it was also still one of the best at avatar kinesthetics. "Let's hear it, then."
Several avatars had drifted towards them from the back of the expensive cafe, curious; from the look on one or two of their faces, they had some idea what was going on.
Green took a deep breath, his chest visibly filling; Mik was impressed. That spoke of body state tracking that certainly hadn't come in the GameFace client. The boy's voice (and it was a boy, there wasn't much doubt) quavered, but steadied. "Runner Mikarecursore?"
"I'm Mikarecursore. State your request." Formula, once more than half joke, still was to the core group of 'runners but to the kids, well...
"Teach me. Show me. Let me Run with you."
Green's face came up, and Mikare was surprised. The green eyeshields were gone, and in their place were two incredibly-well rendered eyes, also green - and filled with a purpose that shone through the pixels and the static and the packet loss and the distance and the topography and the metaphor and the hardware that separated him from the other.
"Because the Ouroverse is mine, not theirs, and can't be allowed to be taken from any of us."
Mik looked at him for a second, then smiled and held out his right hand. Green looked startled, as if he hadn't actually hoped...but took it with a tentative grip. There was the electric song of key exchange, and a burst of applause from a few of the watchers.
"State your name."
"It fits. Take this, this, and..." Mikare transferred the important key, watched the boy's face change as he realized what had happened, and was himself already jumping for the ceiling beam and the hidden zoneportal he kept there- "I'll see you at Tourette's!"
He 'zoned with an explosive CRACK that he'd coded in for pure showmanship and self-importance and because of the three heavy psynclo martinis he'd had while putting in the zoneport. Before his view changed, he saw Verdure's face split in a grin.
It was good to know he'd gotten that coded in.
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