A trip through a fiber optic line is near instantaneous. Before one would even be aware of what happened, they would be sucked up, scrambled, and reconstructed in a manner that would be barely measurable in time. MTF-Kappa 10 arrived at the speed of light on the steps leading up to Cipher City, their first assignment. Grape, Thorn, and 8-Ball climbed up to a large steel blast door, engraved with the seal of Maxwellism.
Grape gave it a firm push and was surprised to feel the door actually give. Another good push and there was just enough clearance to squeeze through.
All three rushed in and closed the door behind them. As they walked through the darkened alley and towards the open space, their eyes squinted at the bright lights on the other side. Towers reaching high towards the digital moon above. Zeppelins made of LEDs floating high above, more colorful and reminiscent of deep sea comb jellyfish. Spotlights of pinks, greens, blues, and reds whizzing around atop almost every building. And on the horizon, a neck straining glass obelisk illuminated with a pale blue laser shooting straight up into the sky. The skyline glowed softly against the dark like a bioluminescent sea bed. The scene on the ground however, was flashier and grimier than downtown Tokyo and the Vegas strip combined; and was just as crowded.
Maxwellists walked through the courtyard ahead of them. Some looked human, others didn't. Bodies ranging from gold-plated androids in suits to cat-girls dressed as maids to dark skinned humanoids with huge angelic wings to regular looking 'Joe Schmoes'. Each Maxwellist avatar was unique and wildly varied from the next. Thorn sauntered out from the shadowy alleyway and into the light of the courtyard in awe.
Grape grabbed Thorn by the collar and yanked him back into the dim shadow of the alley.
Grape ushered the group slowly around the corner where it was a little less crowded. But their attention was quickly drawn towards the sudden beeping in Thorn's pocket. It was the small gold cube. As Thorn took it out and held it out for the others to see, it was apparent that the forward face of the object was glowing.
Grape gently plucked it from Thorn to examine it.
8-Ball turned towards the wall mounted machine, which looked as familiar and identifiable as an ATM. A few seconds and a couple of twitches of his eye lens, 8-Ball reduced the entire machine into a wireframe model spilling over with small silver hexagonal coins, each engraved with the Maxwellist icon and a small string of holy binary writ.
Grape dropped on his knees and hurriedly pocketed what he could, Thorn followed suit and grabbed three or four handfuls as well. With that they hurried out into the courtyard and down the main thoroughfare of logged in users enjoying their time doing who knows what. They passed by all sorts of stores, street traders, simulspace activities; although they made an extra effort to avoid the red light district. It was difficult to move through the crowd of a Friday night, but Grape still took a lead with the cube and walked where it told him to.
They both stopped dead in their tracks. Grape looked back down the street as 8-Ball floated nearby and scanned the adjacent side. There were just too many heads to look through to spot a green haired kid. 8-Ball scanned roughly a few dozen avatars without any luck. If 8-Ball could display his disappointment in being assigned to such a unorganized group, he would. Just when Grape's agitation began rearing its head yet again, there was a tap on his shoulder. He jerked his head to see Thorn standing by him.
Grape continued walking. Thorn and 8-Ball hustled behind him trying to keep up without bumping into other Maxwellists.
Thorn sulked behind both of them looking at his feet on the busy sidewalk. A few things caught his attention here and there as they crossed city block after city block. The dampened glitch hop music coming from the dance clubs. The soft whizzing of overhead traffic. His own reflection as he passed by a simulspace arcade window. All these distractions didn't help him stop from firmly bumping into a random Maxwellist.
A tiny green arrow suddenly appeared in front of Thorn's nose. He grabbed it out of thin air and looked at it curiously before pocketing it. When he looked up, he saw the young Maxwellist avatar already walking away from him.
They both exchanged a polite wave and then Thorn double-timed it back towards Grape and 8-Ball who were waiting to cross a street. Grape just gave a short-lived scowl at him for falling behind and then crossed with the rest of the crowd. Thorn made more effort not to fall behind or get distracted.
It was just a few blocks after that the the group arrived at what appeared to be a less than respectable simulspace pub. The grungy glowing sign on the door read 'GAMBIT'S LAST DRINK'. Grape looked at the blinking cube in his hand and took a deep breath.
Thorn walked ahead of the group, eager to see what was inside followed by the others. Surprisingly it was not as modern as the exterior lead on. The floor was a slab of painted concrete and crowded with stools and pool tables. The whole room stunk like a wet sponge. Black Flag roared through the overhead speakers as they made their way to the bar about as casually as three AICs who didn't belong there could. It was as if the bar was simulating the weathered grit of a few decades.
There was a group of huddled Maxwellists already at the bar on the other end. Grape and Thorn propped up onto stools while 8-Ball floated over one. Thorn laid his hands on the table, excited to not only order his first drink, but also get to try out his burgeoning social skills. The red-haired bartender had her back turned cleaning some of the display bottles.
Grape slowly turned his head towards Thorn, as though his ears had just lied to him. There's no way Thorn just tried to use the local lingo so embarrassingly. Before he had time to confirm just that, the girl behind the bar responded.
Grape facepalmed as she leaned in with both hands on the bar. Another Maxwellist moseyed over from the group on the other end. He wore a dark jacket, dark pants, racing goggles, a face mask, and a size 10 pair of ass-kicker boots. His hollow steps overshadowed Thorn's gulp as he approached.
Thorn's blurted words hung in the air as the group waited for someone to break the silence. Grape and 8-Ball looked at Thorn with the most confused look, moreso on Grape's face. Thorn nodded towards the chalkboard on the adjacent wall:
TRYOUTS FOR GRANDMASTER RACING CLAN THIS WEEK!
~ENTRANCE FEE REQUIRED~
SIMULSPACE RACING TOURNAMENT OPENING EVENT IN 3 WEEKS!
GOOD LUCK TO ALL APPLICANTS!
Grape shrugged and rolled his eyes. It was at least a plan. It was a bad plan, but a plan nonetheless. Grape internally shelved his irritation and decided to run with it, especially considering that they were about to be banned from investigating the location of their first lead.
Grape pulled Thorn closer and dug into his pockets. With two hands, he unloaded what was left of Thorn's spending money after hat shopping. The two Maxwellists gasped as the heap of silver stamped hexagons that nearly spilled off the bar's edge.
Thorn pinched the rim of his hat and tipped it ever so slightly.