The Cost of Protection

Satoshi Yoshimoto was a sight to behold as he made his way through the busy food stalls of Japan Town’s densely packed pedestrian streets. At every stall, the blue haired man would stop for a small taste of Asian cuisine while laying out his crypto bracelet to initiate a payment. Only it wasn’t Satoshi who was doing the paying. Satoshi was collecting.
“I’m sorry, Satoshi san, but I cannot pay you today,” said the owner of an empty noodle stall as the collector slurped from his bowl. “I haven’t had a single customer for three days straight.”
Satoshi remained quiet as he recorded the scene on his augmented reality headset. Every late payment, no matter how small or insignificant, was documented and reviewed by the Tyger Fangz hierarchy. Satoshi left the stall without saying a word and continued on his route.
The next stall was empty. Not only were there no customers, there was nobody serving food. This was most strange, Cyber Sushi was usually one of the busiest stalls in the market. Satoshi recorded the scene and carried on with his collection duties.
In between the various fragrant food stands was Fuji Fountain, the notorious sake hall where tired workers came to drown their sorrows. The lively chatter simmered down to a quiet whisper as the menacing Tyger made his way to the counter and took a seat on a barstool. The barman wasted no time in serving him a glass of Cyber City’s finest rice wine. Satoshi nodded as the two men connected bracelets.
As useful as his advanced headset was for taking notes and recording evidence, it did not provide Satoshi with eyes in the back of his head. He needed a mirror to help with that, and the mirror behind the counter showed him a customer in a white apron attempting to sneak out the door. Satoshi swiveled on his stool, shot a taser pulse at the fleeing merchant and returned to his drink. The merchant would be paralyzed for the next five minutes, giving him enough time to enjoy another sake and listen to the owner’s latest round up of the neighborhood’s gossip.
The barman leaned over the counter to whisper while Satoshi pressed record and sipped from his glass.
“More and more of our people are visiting Bondieu, Satoshi san. The Hoodoos have some kind of new drug operation going on, they call it brainpump. Too many locals are spending all their time and money over there. It’s not good, Satoshi san. These people are hooked on that stuff. They don’t even want to drink anymore. I’m seeing less and less customers in here. You guys need to do something. Japan Town will crumble to pieces once that garbage enters our streets.”
Satoshi nodded, got off the barstool and made his way over to the door. The merchant lay face down and was beginning to show signs of movement after his temporary paralysis. Satoshi rolled him onto his back with his foot. His apron read Cyber Sushi. Satoshi kneeled down, pressed his crypto bracelet against the merchant’s wrist and collected that week’s protection fee. The merchant’s bracelet beeped the dreaded three beeps; his account was drained.
Satisfied with his collection for the day, Satoshi made his way over to the Tyger Fangz dojo. The sound of heavy grunting and bodies slamming to the ground greeted him as he slid open the door to dojo’s main room. Faction leader Oroku Shuriken was giving a masterclass in martial arts as a group of aspiring new members looked on in awe. Oroku was known far and wide for his strength, a trait he shared with a rich family line of Samurai descendants. It was considered a great honor to partake in one of his sessions but also served as a ritual to gain entry to his faction. Those who could survive several rounds on the dojo mat would then be invited to receive their first tattoos before gaining official entrance to the Tyger Fangz clan.
Right-hand man Ryu Yopparai meditated on the sidelines as the faction’s young initiates lined up to be slammed down on to the dojo floor. Satoshi stood nearby and waited for his dragon-sleeved colleague to emerge from his ritual. It didn’t take long. Ryu smelled the sake on Satoshi’s breath and turned to greet him. Satoshi handed over a small memory stick, bowed respectfully and left the dojo.
Later that evening, Oroku and Ryu sat in their meeting room and witnessed the playback from Satoshi’s earlier encounters. Their meetings had become longer recently as the number of missing protection payments continued to rise. The latest information from the Fuji Fountain scene made them stop to consider the severity of the situation.
“That sake barman’s got a point, Oroku. We need to stop this addictive behavior before it spreads. What if it enters our clan?”
“Yes, Ryu. I’ve been thinking about this too. But what you’re proposing is merely a defensive action.”
Ryu looked back confused.
“Defense alone is not enough to survive in Cyber City. We need to go on the offensive. You see, Ryu, we take payment to protect our people. And this addiction is certainly a risk to our ways. But even if we stop it spreading, our revenue will still continue to drop. We must protect our people, but they cannot afford to fund us, while more initiates continue to join. We need to expand our scope.
“I see this so-called addiction as an opportunity for the Tygers. If we control the equipment, we can control the distribution and we bring in more revenue.”
“OK. What do you have in mind, Oroku?”
“We need to talk to the Corpos. You’ll have to go, Ryu. It won’t look good if I’m seen with them.”
“But what for?”
“My plan is two-fold. We need to put those Hoodoos out of business, but we also need to scale our own operation. Let us take their equipment, study it inside out and then get what we need from the Corpos.”
“Excellent idea, Oroku.”
“As much as we hate those greedy Corpos, we cannot get rid of them. If this stuff is as powerful as people say, then we should be able to infiltrate other districts and expand from there. The Corpos won’t even realize as we scale using their own gear. We’ll strengthen our security around Japan Town to see that our traditions and integrity remain intact. It’s easy to protect your people from something you create yourself.”
Ryu was never really sure what Oroku looked like under his Samurai mask, but he could sense a grin beginning to take over his face as he continued to elaborate on his business plan.