You see a tall (6’), ebony skinned man with a powerfully muscled frame. A pair of dark sunglasses divide his wide face and you can see faint flickerings of light within the lenses. They connect to his UMB port. He wears his hair uniformly short and has a neatly trimmed circle beard. He wears a plain black shirt, a heavy black turnout jacket with silver stripes, well-fitting jeans, and beaten dress boots. He wears a multi-tool and a sheathed knife with a knuckle guard at his belt.
Former Name: Law Morgenstern
Order: Adamantine Arrow
Concept: Law Morgenstern is a 29 year-old awakened ex-bounty hunter who wants to recover his life and sense of purpose.
Theme Song: Stevie Ray Vaughan – Tightrope
Morgenstern is a grim streetwise badass with an acute sense of justice and a very black and white morality. He’s cold, short tempered, and often communicates more with a practiced stare than anything else. He believes strongly in the UTW and is exceedingly proud of both his success record as a bounty hunter and his (at least perceived) moral integrity.
Brutally direct and meticulous, Morgenstern usually takes a down and dirty approach to bounty hunting. He starts with either direct investigation or by roughing up associates of his target for information and sticks with them until they’ve yielded results. He keeps a running UMB journal of images and thoughts that he can later refer to.
Morgenstern’s awakening is likely to be a rude one that will shake the foundations of his world and leave him searching for a new purpose and tentatively willing to accept perspectives he would have never previously given fair consideration to.
Nimbus: Coming Soon!
Morgenstern’s Memory Logs (Select):
5 March 2667 Case File – Tsai, W.
It cuts me like a polished knife taken out of a blood-stained drawer: the cleanliness of the apartment. Unlike the rest of this perverted cesspool, the blood in this small kitchen isn’t caked on the walls. It hangs invisibly in the air, a pool of sin no less suffocating to fall in than if it were liquid.
The scene is the same as it was three years ago when I first started tracking Wen Tsai after he dropped his career at Gorge Robotics: the door waiting open for me; beckoning me in to the empty flat, already deserted though my informants told me they’d seen him not hours earlier – I’d squeezed those zits on society’s ass hard enough to know they weren’t lying; a trail of blood leading through the kitchenette to the bedroom, the smell of effluvia still hanging fresh – no, recent, something that tainted is never fresh; and finally, the machines, the corpse, and the card.
He’s cleaned up again. I’m falling behind. Three times now there hasn’t been a trace of evidence besides the card. Still, I see the scene as clearly as if it were all laid out like the first time: back when he was still Wen Tsai, and he wasn’t considered a closed case. He goes by Pan Gu now, some old Chinese god-giant from legend that hatched from an egg and pushed the two sections apart to become the sky and earth. Just one more part of his madness; there are only men and monsters and the things they do; no demons, no gods. It wasn’t Fate that led the Employment Bureau to presume him dead when his recognition chip ceased to register anywhere over VIDI or God that struck the NBPD too stupid to recognize the obvious parallels between his first murders and trail of crime scenes I uncovered, and it’s neither an angel nor a demon that spurs me on to bring this bastard in. There’s only what we make. And I choose to make Justice.
Neon pink light from the sex shops outside filters into the bedroom through cheap Venetian blinds forming the bars of a cage of debauchery. The “white” carpet is stained with everything besides physical evidence of the crime committed here. No sign of a body or the machines. Only a small piece of card stock resting on the meticulously made bed tells me beyond a doubt that he’s been here. Like all the others it holds six broken and unbroken lines stacked upon each other, an I Ching hexagram. I already know which hexagram it is before I inspect it. This will have been the nineteenth victim since the investigation began three years ago. And, yes, the hexagram is 19: Nearing. Wait. There’s something on the back.
“This one is for you, Morgenstern. Think about it.”
Dammit! He’s playing with me. I crush the card in my hand as my face tightens in a furious sneer. No, he’s always been playing with me. He’s just stopped being subtle about it. I briefly imagine him, little more than a silhouette in my hands, as I crush the life out of him for his crimes. But I stop myself. No, that’s not what’s going to happen. When I find him, and I will, I’ll turn his machine worshipping ass over to the DTE, so they can make sure nothing like this happens again. And then they’ll see what I’m made of.
I pocket the crumpled card, not because there’s any point asking Xin to have his techs run any tests on it. Nothing will come back. Then I slam the door on my way out as I make my way back home. There’s nothing more to accomplish tonight.
6 March 2667 Personal Entry
Once my shuttle gets back to the surface city, it’s already morning – on Earth. There’s only the dead of night in New Bangkok, no matter where you are. Even on the “surface,” the upper-most level beneath the dome, there’s only the darkness of the crater’s shadow, the darkness that makes everybody crazy, makes them think nobody’s watching, that they can get away with anything.
Even on this level the corruption is palpable. It’s not like below with the packs of human animals waiting to tear you apart. Up here, you can be sure the bullets directed at you have your name on them. Still, even those are less dangerous than the smiles dripping with the venom that’s run over from the criminal kingpins and crooked politicians.
Yet there’s hope here. A few heroes who remember what it means to be a Terran citizen. A few cops, even bounty hunters, who refuse to let themselves be strung out on the opiates of easy money and wicked favors. Maybe with them we can build a future. Gregu says he’s going to clean up this colony. Let’s hope he’s a man of his word.
I finally arrive home, it’s not big and runs most of my salary to keep us there, but it’s too close to the precinct for the scum I’ve stirred up to try anything to my family – at least, nothing clumsy and cheap like a fly-by.
I open the door quietly, Liling is asleep on the sofa. She was waiting up for me again. I put a blanket over her and open the door to Carla’s room. She’s two years old now and the reason I have to keep fighting. I’ve been told it’s irresponsible to raise a little girl in New Bangkok and take on the underworld. They’re wrong. It would be irresponsible to let her grow up in a world overrun with bloodsuckers, and machine cultists, and drug dealers without trying to do something about it. I dream briefly of some lost time when women could leave their house without worrying their necks would be torn out at night, when people greeted each other with smiles instead of furtive glances. But those times are gone. I kiss her goodnight and swear to myself to do what I can to bring those days back.
As I close the door to her room, Liling stirs.
“Law, is that you?” She twists herself upright, her almond eyes little more than slits in her round face with early morning’s bleariness. She pushes her thin black hair back as she waits for my response.
“Yeah. It was a long night. Sorry.”
She pulls herself off the sofa and kisses me and says, “Law, I’m worried-”
“What is it, Ling? You know you can call Xin at the precinct if you see anything suspicious-”
“No, not about us. About you. You’ve been keeping yourself out later and later. You’re working yourself to death.”
“Ling, just a little longer. Just a few more bad-guys put away and the Shadows will recruit me.”
“Law, Carla and I don’t need a Shadow. I need a husband. Carla needs a father. I know you think we need the money, but this is fine. Our life is good with you as a bounty hunter.”
“It’s not just that! Once I’m a Shadow I can make a real difference! I can send you and Carla someplace better than this pit! And I’m good enough at what I do that I won’t get killed that easily. You’ve always trusted me before.”
“I’m proud of you Law. Carla’s proud. You know that. But it’s not just your safety I’m worried about! Sometimes you go out there as long as you do and when you come back, you’re… I don’t know – darker. It worries me.”
“What? You think I’m going to become some blood-sucking pervert; a drug-dealing pimp?”
I turn away from her and head toward our bedroom. She lightly puts a hand on my shoulder.
“No, Law, never, I’m saying-”
“I need to sleep.”
She doesn’t follow me and I know she won’t, even though deep down I want her to once my anger lets go. I think about what she said, but I know I’m right. I can’t let Tsai or Pan Gu or whatever’s he’s called ruin who knows how many lives for his delusions, I can’t let the outlaws, the bloated ticks they are, drain what few decent people are left in this colony. I can’t relax. Not now.
That night I dream of a shadow with a wicked smile taking Liling and Carla away in a boat. I’m swimming after, but something has a hold of my leg. I look down and in the water below is a chain of outlaws and other degenerates, all clawing at each other until finally they’ve gotten to me. As they pull me under, I see they all have fangs. As the water begins to fill my lungs, I catch sight of a bright light from somewhere above. In the sky is a tower lit by lightning, the sun that I’ve not seen in so many years rises behind it. Giant birds – no, not birds – are flying around it’s battlements. I struggle toward it, fruitlessly.
6 March 2667 Personal Entry
It doesn’t hit me right away. I’ve already left home when I realize there are gaps in my memory. I remember the fight with Ling, I remember the nightmare, but I don’t remember anything leading up to it. I don’t remember how I found this piece of card stock with an I Ching hexagram on it.
I pull my shuttle out of its flight path and go over my logs. I experience the thoughts and images of the previous night, but they’re foreign to me. The Tsai case. I was working the Tsai case again. Why don’t I remember? Was I drugged? Slowly, a dawning horror creeps into my mind and I check my neck. Good: no bite marks. Wouldn’t put it past Tsai to be working with vamps. Read they can mess with your head like that. Could have been a contact poison on the card or a gas in Tsai’s apartment, then. I’d better have Xin test the card. Would do me good to meet with him anyway.
6 March 2667 Personal Entry
Xin and I share a few drinks and shoot the shit at The Usual Place. It’s nearly deserted, like always; the way I prefer it. Once the small talk is over, I tell him about the Tsai case and my lack of memories. I briefly mention the fight with Ling.
“You’re paranoid. You and I, we’ve seen too much fucked up shit and it’s starting to get into our heads. Don’t get me wrong, buddy, I know you’ve got something with that Pan Gu thing. Once you bust his ass, the DTE will take you in like that.” He snaps his fingers for emphasis with his other hand pointing at me with the mouth of his beer bottle. “But the memory thing? You’re probably just tired. Stressed after getting into it with Ling. But if you want, I’ll get the techs to run your card for toxins.”
I pass it to him in a plastic bag and silently nod my thanks.
“By the way, Morgenstern, I’ve got a little job for you if you’re interested. I’ve been working on busting an arms dealer and weapon modder operating in Little Tokyo, but we can’t touch him without a warrant. If you could do like you do and find us some probable cause, I’d owe you one.”
“You got it. This guy got a name?”
“Chikamoto. I’ll try and get you the details sometime tomorrow. But… uh… hey, no rush on this. Take a night off and take Ling out. It sounds like the both of you could use it.”
“What and let you beat me in getting into the DTE? Not on your life.”
He laughs, but then straightens up and says, “Yeah, right. We’ll have our chance, buddy. But really, Ling’s just watching out for you.”
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Of course I am. Anyway, I’ve got some reports to send. Keep fighting the good fight.”
8 March 2667 Case File – Navarro, J.
Xin was right. A night out did Ling and I some good. Reminded me why I married her. She’s patient with me. She can wait. But now’s not the time for that. It’s time to follow up on the new case from the E.B. Commissioner.
Easy stuff. Juan Navarro is just some punk that thinks he can be a mean outlaw, when really he’s just a piece of chum floating on the surface of the scummy water waiting to get eaten by a real shark. Jail or rehabilitation will be a mercy for this one.
I start with his last known address. An older woman opens the door. I hear the sounds of a several children fighting in the background. A few brief questions and it’s obvious Juan hasn’t lived here for awhile. She isn’t lying, she’s genuinely afraid for him. And she’s right to be; not because of what I’m going to do to him, but because of what he’s likely to become. She asks if he’s in any trouble. I just turn and leave. I like to think it spares her the grief of hearing my explanation.
I confirm that Navarro doesn’t know what he’s doing when I ask for him at the loading bay where he worked. A couple of his friends back away, trying to avoid talking to me because they know where Juan is. He’s still in contact with them. Just made themselves obvious sources of information. I ask them hard. One starts lying. I slam his head against a shipping crate. His nose makes a crunching sound. I don’t say anything¸ but I turn him to face me and give him a glare that lets him know that the first thing I hear that isn’t the truth is going to result in much more. He tells me everything I need.
It’s anticlimactic when I find him in the sleazy strip club his friend pointed me to. He hasn’t built up enough friends or awareness to stop me from clocking him once in the side of the head and cuffing him to keep him down. But that’s all. Case Closed.
8 March 2667 Personal Entry
Got Navarro in a low-level old, but still active mining district. Everywhere I hear the thunderous grinding of drills cutting the surface of fair Luna’s skin. It’s a bloody wound infected with gang members, most of them embarrassingly young. I pick up on all the signs: the symbols added to their outfits, the way they walk concealing weapons and contraband under their overly-baggy clothes. I see a string of crimes as I drive through; people murdering each other in turf wars, prostitutes hopelessly ruined by years of drug abuse flashing their wares, rampant vandalism spouting disgusting philosophies. At these base levels all the old iron beams are laid bare most covered in decades upon decades of rust. They vibrate and groan with the distant drilling. Somehow they still hold.
I don’t stop. One man can’t fight all this evil. Most of these people are too far gone to be saved. A lot of them probably don’t deserve to be. Then, I slam my shuttle to a halt as I see a group of teenagers, the girls – sickeningly young – dressed like whores, the boys already wearing their chosen gang colors hiding in the shadow of some scaffolding outside of a low-rent supermarket. One of the boys is biting the neck of one of the girls. The others are hiding their necks with hooded shirts or scarves.
I pull my piece and walk up on them like the shadow of a tidal wave. I’m about to shoot, but then I see the kids are just stupid. The biter has fake vampire teeth. Another has a paper comic book with some fanged-mother leering on the front. I don’t shoot the biter like I was planning, but I pistol whip him and throw him against some barrels full of debris in the adjoining alley.
Still. I could have sworn I saw real fangs; an unnatural fire in his eyes…. But no.
The girl getting bitten starts crying and begs me not to kill him. The others hesitantly look to each other to see if they can take me. I shoot them a glace with all the deadly fury I feel. They think better of it and back off.
I grab the girl by the arm and swing her around to get a good view as I beat the hell out of her boyfriend and scream, “You got a taste for blood mother fucker? I’ll give you blood!”
He throws his hands up and starts pleading as I punch him in the side of the head, stunning him. I don’t give him the chance to talk back, “You think vampires are cool? You wanna live in a coffin? ‘Cuz I can put you in a coffin asshole! Vampires. Are. Evil. They rape your women, drink your fucking blood, and then they fucking kill you! What’s your name?”
He confusedly asks, “What?” and I kick him in the ribs and ask again. This time he stammers out that his name is Chen. I slam his head against the wall and specify that I want his full name. He tells me “Chen Kao.” He isn’t lying but I stomp his hand, feeling bones shatter and repeat my question anyway. After he answers again I say, “You had your fill yet, Chen Kao? You still got a taste for blood?”
He spits blood and forces out a, “N-nuh-no!”
“That’s real good Chen Kao, because I’m going to look you up later and if I ever find you biting on another girl’s neck again I’m going to finish what I started here!”
I glance over at the girl to make sure she’s been absorbing the message as well. She has.
Then I walk over to the kid who had the vampire comic, who hadn’t yet dispersed and I grab his backpack. “I’m taking this. If any of you have some damn sense you’ll stay the hell away from bloodsuckers.”
After I get back in my shuttle, I rifle through the backpack. A few drugs, nothing hard, but it’s probably just a matter of time. Worse, lots more vampire stuff. Among it a fucking old book called Twilight. I flip through it. It’s some retarded bullshit glorifying the dead bastards, making them out to be people. Badly written, too. Why can’t kids today read anything worthwhile like the Frank Ransom, DTE Shadow series or at least Dracula? That author knew that the only good vamp was a staked one.
I don’t have any doubt there are vamps in this city. Constantly steeped in darkness and sin it must be like an endless buffet to them. They’re hard to catch, but I’ve read up enough on them so that they won’t get the drop on me so easily. One day I’m going to dust one of those motherfuckers. That’ll be a sweet day.
9 March 2667 NBPD Co-Op Case – Chikamoto, R.
Ryuu Chikamoto sells his unchipped weapons out of an office above an abandoned regolith sorter in Little Tokyo. Keeps the actual contraband away from his residence. He’s not a total idiot. I’m watching the building outside of a warehouse across the street. Chikamoto and his goons are inside, but I don’t need to take them all down. I just need enough evidence and enough of a pretense for being here to get Xin a warrant for Chikamoto.
Eventually, Chikamoto exits dressed in silk fiber mesh with his entourage of hyena hatchet men, like he’s a celebrity at an award show. And I serve as his faithful paparazzi, snapping a few good photos to place him definitively here. But don’t worry, Ryuu, there’ll be no need to thank me when you receive the award for most convicted felon.
Once they’re gone, I climb the bare metal stairs leading to the door as quietly as I can. There should be two more inside who didn’t leave with Chikamoto. Those are odds I can handle. I draw my gun and inspect the door. It’s made of metal; would be pretty sturdy if it had a dead-bolt, but it doesn’t.
One strong kick by the handle and it crashes open. Inside one of the goons is sitting behind a desk, plugged into a terminal. His eyes go wide with surprise before he scoops up a nearby shotgun and attempts to level it at me. I don’t give him the chance and drop half my clip into his center mass.
The second thug is lounging in a chair next to a table with a few hand cannons laid out, not paying much attention until I’ve already gunned down his buddy. He’s goes for one of the guns, but I tell him to hold it. He looks up at me and I stare back with a glance that lets him know that I won’t hesitate. He thinks better of it, letting the gun drop, and I put him down by cuffing him.
I go through the rest of the office, down a short hall to the left. I take pictures of everything I see here. There should be plenty for Xin to use – disassembled guns, fake chips, a few purple weapons it doesn’t take any real insight to see aren’t legal…
As I’m combing the office, the door to the bathroom flies open and a third lackey comes out dressed in a bright red cape and he’s wearing a Roman legionnaire helmet , his teeth are blackened and his eyes glow yellow with hate. He’s swinging a gladius like someone out of Spartacus or some shit. What the hell? No, he’s just wearing a baggy hooded shirt and swinging a pipe wrench. He busts me hard in the head. I wasn’t expecting a third to be here, certainly not like I thought I saw him. Blood flows down into my eyes, but I don’t let it slow me down. I give him a straight punch to the face with all my strength and he crumples in a heap.
Once I’m sure I’m alone, I finish my search of the office. I find something unsettling. They’re using some cutting edge stuff to deactivate the chips in their guns. There’s an invoice from Gorge Robotics on one of the tables: Wen Tsai’s old employer. Scribbled on the back is a smiley face and some writing – the same handwriting on the cards from Pan Gu’s murders. It says, “Notice anything interesting lately? See you soon.”
I fold up the note, handling it with rubber gloves, before I go back to my search. Once I’m satisfied I check the recognition chips on the downed henchmen. None of them have any. That’s actually promising. I take some shots of their faces and scan in their fingerprints then get the E.B. Commissioner on the line and have him run them for job evasion. One doesn’t come up, but the other two are in the system. I ask the Commissioner to put my name on the cases and he obliges. Then I call the precinct.
Xin and a couple other officers are down on the operation in minutes. I give them my statement; tell them I was collecting a couple of bounties and ran into something bigger. I give them my photos of Chikamoto, point out the guns. I leave out the Pan Gu connection. The NBPD already gave up on that case and they’ll just get in the way. Plus, that was a note for me, somehow. He must be watching me. I’ll have to keep sharp from here on out.
Xin is all business with me, like he has to be. But he has everything he needs now to do things by the book and I know he’s feeling pretty good inside. Even the corrupt courts will have a hard time pushing this one under the rug.
11 March 2667 Personal Entry
Had that dream about the boat and the tower again. Thought I got a better look at the tower this time, but I can’t remember. It’s all so hazy.
I step out of bed into a shallow pool of blood. I’m not in my bedroom anymore. I’m in a drab stone prison that reeks of mold. The floor is covered with a half-inch or so of blood. A small, barred window on one wall near the ceiling lets in light – sunlight – and an imposing iron door stands in my way of escape. My bed still sits in the center of the room. I’m dreaming. Aren’t I? But it feels so real. I scream and cover my face with my hands. What’s happening to me?
As I open my eyes again, I’ve dropped to my knees on the carpeted floor of my bedroom. The door opens and I expect to see Ling, but instead I recoil as a winged figure in a tunic and bronze breastplate too bright to look at floats into the room, her feet hovering just above the floor. She holds a sword aloft, not as if to strike me, but as if entreating me. Her features are at once beautiful, but also cold and commanding.
I recoil from her, backing into the corner of the room feeling a fear worse than anything I’ve encountered on the brutal streets of New Bangkok and I turn away as she reaches out to touch me with the sword.
And then I feel Ling’s warm hand on my shoulder. I look up into her face full of concern; my own face undoubtedly made of sweat and fear. It’s really Ling this time and she’s holding me, asking me what happened. Except she and I are dressed like the couple in Norman Rockwell’s After the Prom. It’s not happening, so I won’t acknowledge it.
I tell Ling that I had a bad dream, that I’ve been working too late. She doesn’t tell me to transfer to a new job like I know she wants to. She just tells me to go back to bed. She asks if I want her to make me an appointment with the doctor. I agree that I need more sleep, but I tell her that I should be fine. I’m not completely sure I will be.
11 March 2667 Personal Entry
I’m feeling better later. It was all just some weird dream gone a little far. I’m okay now. I’m at the Commissioner’s office ready to pick up some new cases. But when I go in, I don’t see the Commissioner connected to his terminal. I see Father Christmas, again like out of a Rockwell painting, writing with a quill pen in a huge book. Half assembled wooden toys are strewn about his desk. He asks me if I’m going to bring toys to all the good little boys and girls or I’m only carrying coal. I ask him if I can have some time off. He flips through the pages on the book and says, “Yes, I think so. You’ve gotten into some mischief, but you haven’t been that naughty, now have you?”
“Uh, right…,” I say before leaving.
As I speed home, my thoughts are frantic. I can’t do this. I need to keep things clear in my head. How can I bring bad guys to justice when I can’t even recognize my own wife? Slow down, Morgenstern. Think. I’m not crazy. I’ve never been crazy. Something else is going on. Lingering effects of whatever happened earlier this week that caused me to lose my memories. Something connected to Wen Tsai/Pan Gu. He must have drugged me or done something to my UMB to distort my perception or, if nothing else, is a damn vamp fucking with me. Whoever it is might still be doing something to me when I sleep.
I’ll call the doctor; get myself a physical, have my UMB checked out. I’ll call Xin, get him to have a patrol keep an eye on the apartment tonight.
14 March 2667 Case File – Tsai, W.
The last couple days have been better. Doctor looked me over, said I’m in good health. UMB is fine. Probably just stressed. Can cause waking dreams. Altered my crobes a bit to help regulate my sleep.
I’m not sure I buy it. This all started with the Tsai case and his note about Nearing – a hexagram meaning the approach of something great, but not without perseverance and a warning of misfortune. He’s planning something, I can feel it. Maybe he’s trying to bring about a singularity or one of those empath explosions with his vamp buddies. And he wants me to notice. Or make me crazy so I can’t stop him. All the more reason why I can’t sit around in bed or on some shrink’s couch.
The important thing is that I’m thinking clearly again. Whatever happened has worn off. Time to find out where Pan Gu is. I think I’ll go ask some criminals. They’re always so forthcoming…