CitySys Health Irreg 66/003y: Smackdown at HoloFeast
by Jens Durke
I just wanted to start with saying that her foot in his face surprised me as much as it did him. She must have jumped a bit, which made it all the more impressive, to be honest. It escalated so quickly it was a full-out brawl by the time I could make a stupid face, open-mouthed, one finger wavering questioning in the air and all the regalia you’d imagine. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This started as a normal day at the job. We were somewhere over the Kaishi Industrial Complex, right where it rubs shoulders with the Bosing slums and the Sunridge sprawl, and Jeremy was telling stories…
“You know how they found them out? One of the idjits using that shit cut his finger and found that his blood had this extreme smell of lacquer. Even that bonehead realized blood shouldn’t smell like a paintjob...”
Jeremy chuckled as he said this, maybe in anticipation of the punchline he was going for. Our Urbohover was floating toward a building that looked like a giant abandoned dome of sorts. The only thing my private AR picked up on the building was an invite to join the organizer’s group, presumably to allow access to the augmentation they were running on the place.
CitySys had sent us here to inspect a health issue report it couldn’t investigate itself. AI couldn’t go all the places. Yet. Jeremy didn’t care much right now one way or the other, as he was trying hard to impress the trainee who'd joined us on the assignment.
“That stupid gangbanger didn’t even go to the doctor,” he went on. “He vlogged about it, can you believe it? Tried to keep his macho, too, only to get all puppy-eyed in the end, swear to God. You have to voogle it on SocHub. Crazy good stuff.”
Jeremy was in tears at that point. At least he was having fun. I’d heard the story thrice now, so I wasn’t that entertained. As far as I could tell, our trainee was at least listening politely, which was encouragement enough for Jeremy.
“Anyway, CitySys caught wind of it and we went down to Bosing to investigate. Pretty close to here, actually. I can show you on our way back. Turns out it’s not a good idea to nanomodulate your body in a way that changes the skin to a neon-glowing snakehide. Who’d have thought? Well, something like that wouldn’t pass any health statutes known to humankind, but the squatter towns are full of illegal body shops selling shit like that, and stupid muppets loading up on it.”
Reading his audience never had been Jeremy’s strong suit. Maybe he didn’t care enough. This, in any case, didn’t get him any applause any time soon. The hovercar landed smoothly on a huge, empty parking lot that had seen better decades. We got ready to disembark, loading up on the necessary tech.
“Massive health issues aside, have them reproduce with technology like that in the blood and things can get really out of hand really fast. Remember that irreg with the glowing sperm, Karyn?” Now he tried to get me into the conversation. I didn’t bite, and got out of the car. Jeremy went on talking without a moment's hesitation, stepping out as well while loading up aug layers in his ARE. “Same shit, different day. You wouldn’t believe the stupidity of some people. No bounds, I say.”
“And you wouldn’t have it any other way, Jeremy. Let’s get this job done. The forecast says there’ll be rain and a really stiff breeze later today, so I’d like to avoid being in the air at that point.” I looked up at the gray and brooding sky, closing my jacket as high up as possible. Should have brought a scarf.
“Sometimes you are no fun, Karyn.” He finally took the hint, though, and moved on while I checked on the trainee. She seemed ready. Bored, even.
She went by the name Dotty BustR and had a cute little face with a buzz-cut hiding under a huge woolly bobble hat. She was sporting pink leggings, a bomber jacket and huge motley boots, basically looking like the cartoon variant of a British hooligan. Some niche archeo-fashion fad that would be gone as quickly as it had come up, was my guess. Not what we’d call standard-issue clothes for the workplace, but at least she didn’t display any of the shrill AnimeAugs kids seemed to love so much these days. She was just business. I liked that. Walking right next to her, I also realized how tiny she was. Even with the bobble hat she didn’t come much higher than my shoulder.
We caught up with Jeremy just a couple of meters from the entrance. The whole area was built as if to streamline a shitload of people. Like one would see in a stadium.
“What are we seeing here, Jeremy?” I could have looked it up myself. As a matter of fact, Sys highlighted the information in the periphery of my field of vision as it registered my question. I didn’t bother. It was important to show the kid that interaction between partners was how we did our job, and offer a few opportunities for her to participate in the analysis. Sys linked in to irregs through us, but often enough it stayed reduced to our input. Showing teamwork was an essential lesson. Jeremy played along.
“The event organizer currently renting this facility goes under the entry ‘HoloFeast Inc.’ They offer those huge thematic AugEvents. You know, eating Ambrosia as the God of Olympus or ‘authentic’ medieval banquets, stuff like that. Using basic Nutri condiments and lots of augmentation to mask the cheap foodprints. You eat with your eyes first, and all that shit. You know the sort.” Jeremy wasn’t a fan. “It’s all pretty old tech here, but the permits seem to be in order. No problems with the Nutri deliveries either. If you can blame them for anything, it’s being cheap, but that’s not a crime, last time I checked.”
If they were cheap enough to spare augmentation that was publicly accessible, they might cut other corners as well. But I kept that for myself. “So what’s this about, then?”
“The report we got is about a ‘high-profile food poisoning in progress.’ Sys advises that the press might be involved. The organizer claims his shit is in order and demands our support.”
So it was one of those jobs. Sometimes Sys just needed some human faces to represent.
We entered the building. The entrance hall was empty. Sys guided the way with a blinking overlay of yellow arrows on the floor. We crossed the hall, keeping to the right, turned a corner and saw a giant of a man standing at the end of the hallway; a man with muscles so huge they made his head seem too small for his body. He was blocking entry through the door our aug arrows blinked encouragingly in the direction of. We could already hear distant arguing; couldn’t see its origin, though.
We approached the big guy. Sys had already pulled his information: he was muscle on a bodyguard detail for one Luthor “The Edge” Mansfield. Some kind of promoter, Luthor must have been the rich guy that made Sys decide it needed us to handle the irreg. We flashed our badges.
“My name is Karyn Osheere and this is Jeremy Hawthorne,” I said. “We're with the Health Services Department. We address you with the full authority of CivSec and expect full cooperation in this matter. Please be advised that the procedure is being streamed, evaluated and recorded. We’ve been called by the host to investigate a case of food poisoning with a high profile guest involved. Please stand aside.”
He didn’t move. Instead he gave us a hand sign to wait while he talked to someone via some sort of communicator and stared through us as if we weren't there. After a few seconds he nodded and pumped himself up even bigger, crossing his arms and looking real serious. “No dice, honey. My boss said no one is to enter before this is settled, especially not the City. I’m sorry, but you'll have to wait until this is played out.”
I wouldn’t be able to move the guy physically, but I wasn’t intimidated easily. “That’s cute, big guy. We are here in an official capacity. Are you aware of the trouble you are getting yourself into? Move or...”
“You keep it down, lady, or I will pacify you. I have clear orders.” The guy even made a step forward, towering right above me, whispering his threat. His sudden proximity made me really uneasy really fast; my stomach tightened as if anticipating violence. I backed away, wringing for words, wondering why Jeremy didn’t step up.
That was the moment she attacked.
I saw her bubble hat making a strange jiggling movement in my periphery and then one of her big boots flew by. I admit, I might have squeaked a bit. The big guy rocked back, his face changing from surprise to anger in a heartbeat, and then they were all over each other.
They went the whole 10 yards, too, using all the room the hallway offered and getting creative beyond that. Punches and kicks were thrown; I saw some Judo in there, as well as some dramatic posturing and intimidation, all while I tried in vain to get a word in. At one point he had her in a choke hold.
She held herself well, considering her size, but in my estimation it was just a matter of time before that heap of muscles crushed her. No doubt about it. I was getting worried. CitySys should have intervened already, sending us backup way before the escalation started, or as soon as the AI determined the threat level made an escalation likely. However, there was no reaction at all from Sys.
Jeremy didn't flinch, either. He even looked amused, not in the least worried about the well-being of our trainee. The feeling of helplessness made me furious. We weren’t prepared for this kind of physical confrontation, and plus: the guy was huge. Then all of a sudden... it was over. Just like that. The bodyguard and the girl got up from the floor, breathing hard, looking at each other, both grinning like lunatics.
“What the fuck?” I had no idea what was going on. Why was everyone smiling? It made me even more angry. What was I missing? I gave the trainee a hard stare and popped up a question mark.
"He had an open invite to attack on his AWA-app!” she said, grinning. That didn’t explain shit to me.
"Don't you have that app, Karyn?" asked Jeremy.
An app. Figures. Jeremy was nerd enough to pay attention to something like this.
“It’s a thing, Karyn. If you're a member of the Augmented Wrestling Association you can offer something they call “Instant Wrestling Match”—invites for members with the right training level. Even comes with full support of the association’s GlamourAug and the editing AI for the MicroDrone vid. It’s fun stuff, with fans running unofficial feuds and whatnot! I once saw a chance encounter like that between some randos in a mall...”
"What the fuck?!" I boxed him on the upper arm. Hard. Of course you’d need to have the fucking app to see any of that fucking context. It had all been fake! I wanted to scream at someone.
The trainee was giddy now, though, and completely ignoring me. “Was it any good? Shiiit, my peepz will cream their pants!"
“The lightshow was crazy and I loved the gimmicks! It’ll make a great vid,” Jeremy offered, rubbing his arm where I hit him, also ignoring me. “He had some good game with his beat-down, but your clean finish was A-Team material. Nice pinfall! What’s your character’s angle?”
Now the bodyguard chimed in to give some advice as well.
I immediately lost what little interest I'd been able to muster so far, and anticipated in dread what the rest of this irreg would be like. I wasn’t wrong. From then on—until we let her go back at the department—the two of them couldn't stop whispering and chuckling about wrestling and the AWA at every opportunity.
I felt old realizing that I was more surprised than I should have been. Got my judgment clouded, that’s all. A friend of mine kept trying to convince me later that it’d just been motherly instincts. Whatever. I had lost my cool, so I made the next mistake and went all serious about the job.
“Well, let’s go inside and get this resolved, then,” I said. Me, the party-pooper. “And you, Sir, keep a low profile from now on or we’ll come down on you with the full authority of CivSec Directive Y10.3.” The bodyguard sensed that I wasn’t kidding around and stepped aside. Good on him.
I took point and headed around the corner toward a lively group discussion in the center of the otherwise-empty hall. I saw paramedics, suits, some press drones and, of course, a couple of wrestlers in a screaming contest like gorillas in heat. Wherever all these people had parked, it wasn't where we had landed.
We were 36 minutes late to the party, and it was in full swing. Accusations of attempted murder, something about poisonous snakes in the food, men with huge muscles and colorful clothes, pushing each other around as if eager for a fight. It was chaos, and the press was all over it as well. The suits seemed to be mostly lawyers, I noticed, taking in their public profile data. At least they kept it civil.
Our entry didn’t stay unnoticed for long. A hefty bald guy wearing a deepblack Arogancchi SmartSuit and chewing on a fat cigar extracted himself from the crowd to intercept our approach. He smelled of money and authority.
“Oi! What are you doing here?” he barked. “This is a private gathering.” This had to be Mr Mansfield. Sys confirmed.
We flashed him and did our thing. “I’m Karyn Osheere and this is Jeremy Hawthorne. We're with the Health Services Department. We’ve been called by the host to investigate a case of food poisoning. Please be advised that this procedure is being streamed, evaluated and recorded. Mr Mansfield, can you shed some light on what happened here?”
“Who called you guys? Ah, fuck it, yeah, maybe you can help cleaning up this clusterfuck…” He glanced back toward the group, running his free hand over his expensive hair. “So here’s what happened. We had a feast as part of the storyline of one of our official feuds. Two of the fighters had made peace, and this was supposed to be the official celebration. Should’ve been this great event, right, all scripted, you know. A little drama, maybe a little twist at the end to keep the public happy... I’ll spare you the details. Let’s just say some of the guys involved got a little bit carried away...”
That was when the exhaustion showed. Mr Mansfield was having a bad day.
“You know how it is with augmented wrestling,” he said. “The lines between character and reality blur way too often, and even the players think this shit is real.”
I wouldn’t know the first thing about it, but the bubblehead on my right shoulder made eager nodding movements, and Jeremy made his knowing face.
“Anyway. One of the players – Count Razor, the one in blue - decided to… amplify the dramatic turn in the event by changing the HoloFeast aug from Roman Decadence to Feast of Snakes, which is basically turning the table full of food into a writhing mess of very pissed-off snakes. The deal turned sour as soon as Mr Joe Smackdown over there got a couple of fake poisonous snakes in his face. At that moment we could have just rolled with it, but the stupid ass actually started believing he got poisoned for real, he even showed a fucking reaction to the bites!”
Mansfield took another pause, chewing his cigar in consternation. He seemed to be contemplating his life choices.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, snapping back to reality. “So this guy's manager, the next stupid idjit in line, he starts to believe it too, and he calls in the paramedics. Next thing you know there's lawyers and press crawling all over the place like molrats on a trash heap. Even then we were still looking for an out, I guess, keeping as much of a lid on things as possible. The writers would work it all in, the show must go on, yadda-yadda… These things can often work out great, you know, even if they start ugly. But then I got notice they had sued HoloFeast Inc., so now we need to salvage what can be salvaged.”
Sys had already checked the case and ratified the implications. The official report was in all the relevant in-boxes by the time the promoter had finished telling his story. AI was fast like that. We were advised to make a show out of it and talk to all involved, calming everyone down. It’d be good PR, is what the advice said.
So we did our job.
It took a while to get through to Mr Smackdown's manager. “Again, no one broke any law here, Sir,” I explained for the third time. Everything that had transpired was well within the contract all parties had signed, and the “poison” had been a harmless aug feature—maybe psychologically enhanced by Mr Smackdown not being aware of the illusion, but no harm there, and no consequential damages were expected. “There's nothing for us to do, but I can tell you that the organizer is not at fault.” A waste of time is what it was, but the manager finally calmed down, and Mr Mansfield seemed satisfied. Sensing no further opportunity for litigation, the lawyers had long since lost interest.
“Alright, ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our investigation. CitySys thanks you for your cooperation,” I said. “Have a nice day.”
That’s when we made our exit.
It didn’t take long for the screaming to pick up again.