Chapter Two - Walkabout Punks

“Why ‘Samurai?’ Fuck, I don’t know. It’s not the Protectors that picked the name. When you boot-up for the first time they call you the vanguard of humanity. You’re told straight-up that you’re the one at the front, the one breaking the tide. Samurai? That’s some jacked-up punk’s clever idea that stuck like shit on drywall. Makes sense, once you’re one of us, it’s like... you’re part of a new caste, you know?”

-- Rising Tide, Interview with CyberStar, June 2032


“Yeah, thanks,” I said before pulling the bracelet on tight with my teeth.

“You are very very welcome,” the half-asleep voice of some kid in India said out of the android’s mouth. “Thank you for using... Nimbertainment Inc’s services today.”

I made sure the bracelet wasn’t too tight and tested my wrist’s flexibility by showing my middle finger to the robot sitting behind the desk.

Lucy giggled and moved over to the android. She had her own bracelet on in just a few seconds.

Still a little angry, I stomped to the entrance of the museum followed by the clack-clack of Lucy’s crutches on the marble floor.

“Let’s go exploring!” Lucy said as soon as we were away from the security desk.

“We’re supposed to look after the kids,” I said.

We turned around a corner and found ourselves on a little landing above the open-concept museum. Most of the displays had walls around their backs, with a few of them clustered together in bunches that left plenty of room for people to walk around in.

I imagined they were expecting decently large crowds. As it was, there were maybe three dozen kids running around.

Hovering camera drones were moving about, filming the kids staring at displays or poking at the interactive exhibits that were meant to teach them something. They were probably getting great footage of the kittens and the kids from other places enjoying themselves to add to their media feeds.

“Bah, the kittens aren’t all dumb. They can run around and bleed off some energy for a bit. The threat of us alone should keep them in line,” Lucy said. “Ain’t that right?” she barked at the twins who squealed and ran off giggling.

“You’re terrifying,” I deadpanned. I nodded to the main corridor that, according to the floorplan hovering by the entrance, bisected the main floor. “We can find Daniel. My eye is still giving me trouble.”

Lucy grinned her special grin and click-clacked her way ahead of me. “We can check things out as we go!”

Snorting, I followed.

For all that I didn’t care much for museums that were more propaganda pieces than anything else, I was still impressed by the exhibits by the front entrance. The first steps along the main path opened up to a one-to-one scale model of an Antithesis that stood tall and menacing in the middle of the corridor. Its four-hinged jaws were opened wide, with a hovercar crushed within, and its skin bristled with tapered spikes that looked genuinely dangerous.

Holograms of different Samurai were fading into existence around the monster, some of them flying in the air on hoverboards or with jetpacks, others appeared next to the monster or behind holographic cover with fantastical weapons. One or two even appeared to ride the creature atop its back, close-ranged weapons gleaming as they prepared to strike down their foe.

“Cool,” Lucy said.

I didn’t think of contradicting her. It was an impressive showpiece.

“That’s a Model Twelve,” Daniel said as he rolled over. He pointed to the monster’s long, drawn-out backside. “See its second abdomen bit? There’s supposed to be some sort of organic ECM in there. They can spoof even the best cameras and scanners, make them think that the entire beastie is meant to be there. That’s why they’re called Bus-Bugs. They get flagged as hoverbuses all the time and they carry Model Ones and Threes all over the place.”

“Have you been wiki-walking?” Lucy asked, her tone light and syrupy sweet.

Daniel’s cheeks reddened just a pinch. “Nah, I read the plaque,” he said. “Uh, hey, still need help with your aug-gear?”

I nodded. It was surprisingly easy to pretend that I wasn’t seeing the flashes of images out of the corner of my eye, but they were pervasive and annoying nonetheless. I decided that I could do without being asked if I had erectile dysfunction that afternoon. “If you can get rid of this mess I promise not to mock you when you fanboy about the Samurai.”

“Don’t be that way, Cat,” Lucy said. She placed a hand on Daniel’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “We’d love the help.”

“R-right. C’mon, there’s a cafeteria over there with seats and such.”

The cafeteria, as it turned out, was more of a glorified waiting room. A few benches, a single little table, and a row of a dozen vending machines crammed in together against one wall, their neon ads trying to grab the attention of anyone passing by.

We sat--or at least, us girls sat, Daniel having beaten us to that particular punch when his legs stopped working--around a small table with a statue of a girl in a frilly dress standing in its middle.

“Which one is that?” I asked as I pointed to the girl.

Daniel eyed the statue for just a second before replying. “Neon Girl Happy-Chan. One of those first generation Samurai. She’s still around. Scary as shit cause, you know, first gen.”

“Hrm,” I said. I watched Daniel pull out a boxy little device, half of it wrapped in tape and the rest covered in scuff marks and cracks. He fiddled with the screen and managed to get the tiny machine to spit out a foot-tall hologram of a spiralling galaxy.

The boy pulled out a wire from a pocket next to his chair, then sighed as it came out a tangled mess. “Right,” he said as he undid the knot in a hurry. “Jack into this.”

I reached to the base of my neck, found the plug-in port of my aug-gear by feel alone, and removed the tab covering it.

The gear was shit. Older than some of the kids we were meant to be looking after and just as poorly cared for. Still, it had been free. An act of charity by some local distributor that wanted to look good in the feeds by showing how generous they were while unloading their stock of low-end aug-gear on some poor orphans.

It was better than nothing. Without the right kind of gear a person couldn’t interface with half the media available out there.

“Right, look at this shit,” Daniel said. The little computer before him shifted, the display now showing three columns with hundreds of tiny specs darting from one to the other. He pointed to the biggest of the three. “That’s your main OS on your gear. The other column is your typical hardware bits, CPU, batteries, thermal recharging, network modems, you get it.” He pointed to the third column. “And this one here is the neural uplink stuff.”

The third and smallest column was warped and twisted in on itself in a way that started to give me a headache if I stared at it too much.

It was like having six dozen mobius strips spinning into each other in a sort of optical illusion. “Weird,” I said.

“Yeah, the neural shit is all Clarktech all the way. No one messes much with it, except for a few Samurai who are into that. Your problem is here, and here.” His eyes wiggled around wildly for a bit, then two sections on the normal columns lit up in red. “You’ve got viruses around your OS and in your netgear’s drivers.”

“Awesome,” I said. I wasn’t completely clueless here. We had decent classes on computer tech and the like at the orphanage, usually supplied by one company or another that wanted to train us as future employees. I was sure some of my fellow orphans had been coders and developers on the very same viruses that were pissing me off right then.

“Can you remove them?” Lucy asked.

I chimed in before Daniel could. “Probably not. If they’re in the hardware controls then they need root access, right?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” he said. “Good news is we’re in the middle of the city. The internet here is hella fast.”

I frowned. “What’s that got to do with it?”

“It’ll make redownloading your entire OS faster?” he asked.

I leaned forward onto the table and let my forehead land on its cool surface. “Fine,” I said.

Lucy played with my hair and talked to Daniel about which sections of the museum he wanted to look into while prompts and lines of code flashed by my vision. I didn’t have much saved onto the gear, just a few preferences I’d need to fiddle with later. It wasn’t a big loss, but it was a pain in the ass.

“And we’re done!” Daniel said. “Try it out?”

I lifted my head and looked around the room. No more pop-ups. No clock at the top right of my vision the way I liked it either. “Can’t even tell if it’s on,” I said.

“Look at the vending machines,” he said.

I turned and stared at the least offensively coloured machine for a few seconds. A bow appeared before me, floating as if hovering a couple of feet away.

ChillMaster! The Chillest!*
Sparky Coola
Hot Brown Drink
Shiawase Cola
Golden Goose
*Not actually the chillest

“Yeah, it works,” I said. “And these prices are highway robbery.”

“It’s a museum, you want cheap drinks, go buy them elsewhere,” Daniel said.

Lucy jumped to her feet, then gripped the edge of the table not to fall over. “We can move on!” she said.

I grinned after her and got up while pulling the plug out of my gear. “Here, and thanks.”

“No problem,” Daniel said. “Every boy dreams of going on a date with two girls.”

I snorted. “Don’t try your luck. I don’t mind smacking idiots around, wheelchair or no.”

“You’d hit a cripple?” Daniel said with a laugh.

We got up, Lucy pushed off the bench before sliding her crutches under her arms. As the only one with working legs I bounced to my feet and spun around Daniel. “You can hit a cripple if you’re also a cripple. It’s a big loophole, you know.”

“Ah, the infamous cripple-clause,” Lucy said with a smart nod. “It’s why I have these crutches instead of some fancy gravity rig. So I can use them as a weapon of last resort.”

Shaking my head, I headed our little group out of the cafeteria area, then looked around. Nose was leaning against a glass display, one finger in his nostril and with an unamused Junior next to him. The other kids around weren’t my problem so I paid them no mind. “Where to?” I asked.

“I wanna see the pretty dresses,” Lucy said.

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Hell yeah. There’s an entire Samurai fashion section.” Lucy pointed to a little sign hanging off of a pillar. One look at it opened up a small map of the museum, fashion section included.

“What’s that have to do with human endurance?” I asked. “You’d think they’d at least try to keep things on theme.”

“Maybe it talks about the endurance of the miniskirt and its effects on humanity?” Daniel wondered.

“Shush you,” I said.

Daniel grinned up at me. “I want to see the tech section. They’ve got first generation decks and aug-gear. Like, stuff from twenty-twenty. We can mock how they thought thirty-two gigs of ram was a lot?”

I sighed to let the two know just how much of a long suffering saint I was, then got behind Daniel and started pushing. “Tech first. Then Lucy can bore us to sleep while gushing about... lace or whatever.”

“Hey!’ Lucy shouted.

I was surprised at how much fun I was having as I pushed Daniel along.

Then the lights in the museum flashed red, the entire building trembled, and what I could see of the sky turned a deep crimson.

A note from RavensDagger

Gonna be posting once a week until the story is eligible for trending on RR, then it's all out!

Support "Stray Cat Strut ⁠— A Young Lady's Journey to Becoming a Pop-Up Samurai"

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