Tough at the Top

It was meant to be a pleasant evening, but nothing was ever truly pleasant in Cyber City. The scene was set for the annual Cyber City Corpo award show, the Directors of all 26 subsidiaries were congregating at the Cyber Ball SkyTower Lounge. There’d be lucrative bonuses up for grabs, soon-to-be extinct food on the table and hours upon hours of boisterous entertainment. Underpaid employees would be lined up and fired at will while Corpo Directors injected dopamine straight to their brains. The chemicals were delivered by Hoodoo leader Queen Marielle, but that’s not all she had brought to the party. A cage of venomous snakes stood beside the event’s main stage, an ominous sight waiting for this year’s lowest earning intern.
Rosa Mirella scanned the room and breathed a sigh of relief. She knew for sure that she was set to receive an award, Zeus Zoological had outperformed all other sister companies over the last three quarters. That wasn’t enough for Rosa though. She had her eyes set on another trophy: Quinn Carlsen, Director of Alpha Artificial. So too did her sister Victoria. Nothing was ever simple in Cyber City.
Lurking at the bar was Oroku Shuriken’s right hand man, Ryu Yopparai. CEO Geoff Hunter beckoned to Ryu to join him at his booth. The men sat down and finalized the details of their urgent business. Communication channels had been extremely unreliable recently, leaving all sensitive business matters to be handled exclusively in person. The deal was clinched and moments later two heavily armed soldiers proceeded to respectfully escort the dragon-sleeved Tyger Fangz capo off the premises.
Then came an announcement, the award show was set to begin. Hunter opened the ceremony with a click of a button. Holograms rose up from the center of each circular dinner table, presenting the figures and most successful projects of each and every company in alphabetical order. A round of applause echoed round the room as the friendly holograms finished off the presentation with Zeus Zoological’s impressive results: 21 trillion Corpo Bucks of profit booked for the year.
Rosa came to the stage to accept her award. Looking down from the podium, she noticed her younger sister, a worthless secretary, a nobody, sitting nice and tight next to Quinn. Was that her hand going under the table? She cleared her throat.
“Good evening, dear colleagues. Thank you very much for this award. We’ve had an impressive year selling our fabricated meat products to the citizens of Cyber City.” Rosa attracted the glance of her younger sibling.
“It’s also been a challenging year, as we’ve suffered numerous supply issues and had to resort back to slaughtering so many creatures.”
Her eyes narrowed on Victoria’s as she continued her speech, “Sometimes decisions need to be taken, and people get hurt. But business and profitability always come first.”
As is customary at Corpo events, Hunter complemented the award winning speech by sending the least profitable intern up to the stage to meet their reckoning. It was up to the award winner to choose their fate. The intern complied and took a seat on a ledge above the writhing snake cage. From her position on stage, Rosa ignored the intern’s climb up the ladder and kept her dark eyes fixated on her sister. She pulled the lever, splitting the seat in half and dumping the intern into the cage of hissing serpents.
“Hip hip hurrah,” roared the raucous crowd of Directors as they raised their glasses and toasted Rosa on yet another excellent year. Rosa finished her speech, walked past Quinn’s table and invited Victoria out onto the balcony for a smoke.
The view was spectacular, the neon lights of Cyber City’s Inner Circle illuminated the foggy night sky in a vivid mix of bright green and vibrant purple. Off to the side was the abandoned district of Bondieu, its own nightscape illuminated by the blaze of several burning buildings. Security drones whizzed through the air, some shooting lasers, some screaming instructions. Just another night in Cyber City.
Hunter came out to the women as they finished their cigarettes.
“Excellent work, Rosa,” the words hissed in a metallic sound as they escaped his distorted face. Hunter had difficulty talking, a trait that he more than made up for with loud and clear actions.
“Thanks Geoff. I think the Directors deserved some entertainment after the wild year we’ve had.”
“Yes, you’re right. I’m sorry, Rosa, but I need to go now. I have urgent business to attend to. You’re in charge of the party.”
With that, the faceless CEO left the lively party, descended down the building in a service elevator and snuck outside into an adjacent alley.
“Krueger’s back,” he murmured as he took a small pen-shaped capsule from his suit’s breast pocket. He opened the cannister, poured a fluorescent liquid out into a puddle and stepped back cautiously. Bubbles soon commenced, turning rapidly into a frothy foam, changing color from green to blue to red to yellow. Within seconds, an eerie hologram rose from the ground, similar to the ones seen upstairs only larger, darker and far more sinister-looking. This one was mobile, free to roam, not bound to any single machine or connected device.
Hunter continued to release several more of these beings and headed back to the Cyber Ball’s parking lot in search of his limousine.
“Back to my office,” he hissed at the patient chauffeur. The long vehicle exited the car park and began its ascent into reserved airspace above the dense street traffic, shuttling the Corpo VIP back to his office. Avoiding the chaos of street level traffic was a privilege only a select few had access to in Cyber City.
Specially designed for air traffic, the limousine had a tainted glass floor which enabled Hunter to enjoy the view below. The sight of his menacing holograms chasing through the streets, terrorizing the pedestrians should have brought tears of joy to his eyes, but Hunter’s tear ducts had long since been removed in his failed quest for superior cybernetic upgrades.
A guest was waiting in Hunter’s office.
“Hello Doctor,” hissed Hunter.
“Hello Geoff,” came the nervous reply from the timid medical professional. “There’s no easy way to tell you this.”
“Spit it out.”
“The cybernetic enhancements have taken their toll on your body. The results are back from the latest round of tests and I’m afraid they’re not looking good. Not good at all.”
“Go on.”
“Your time is running out Geoff. We were talking years before, but it’s down to months now, maybe even weeks. I’m terribly sorry.”
“I’m not paying you to feel sorry, Doc. If there’s nothing else you can do for me then we might as well end our arrangement here.”
Hunter pulled out a drawer from his large mahogany desk and placed a document on the table.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Hunter commented while inviting his guest to pick up a cabled pen docked securely to his desk, “just a simple termination.”
The Doctor picked up the pen and was met with an impressive shock, jolting him off the chair. Hunter dragged the paralyzed body over to the side of the room where a large aquarium took up the full width of the wall. At the flick of a switch, a section of the floor decoupled and elevated, carrying the Doctor up towards the ceiling. Then the platform tilted to one side, tipping the limp body over into the aquarium. It was feeding time for Hunter’s piranhas.
Hunter sat back down behind his desk, placed his headset on and commenced to review some code on his HUD. If what the Doctor said was true, then he’d need to get a move on. Time was running out and his holograms still needed several adjustments. Hunter would soon be gone, but his menacing alter-ego Krueger would continue to live on in Cyber City, forever embodied in the code of his ethereal specters.