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Cyberpunk - The Fall of Icarus

The unbearable stench of filth, ubiquitous garbage that seemed to be everywhere, omnipresent cockroaches, countless neon lights from advertising billboards, and people... So many people, as if they had stepped out of fantastical books about the near future where high-tech implants had long become a pleasant norm for humanity. And amidst all this madness, there I was... A small eight-year-old child, who, barely awakening under the corpse of a woman unknown to me, was forced to fight for my place under the sun from the very first second of my new life.

amattsu · Anime & Comics
Not enough ratings
56 Chs

Chapter 4 (Part 2)

After leaving Susan's company, I finally managed to exhale in peace. I don't know why, but that woman made me a bit nervous. Maybe it was just another bout of paranoia kicking in, but as the saying goes, "See the ground squirrel? No? And I don't see it either, but it's there!" Susan agreed too quickly to remove my implant without hiding its real value. Anyone else in her place would have lied through their teeth about its worthlessness and charged extra to remove it, only to sell it to some sucker at a higher price later. I really want to believe that this fiery brunette is just a good girl who hasn't turned rotten yet.

"Amigo, chin up, why so glum?" Marco nudged me in the ribs, distracting me from my gloomy thoughts.

"Can we really trust her, Marco?" I stopped and turned to face the teenager, who wasn't expecting such a question from me. "I just don't understand why she decided to help us."

"Are you worried about that?" Marco sat down, leaning against a stone wall, and gestured for me to sit next to him. "I can't say much about her, but Susan is known as the conscience of the flea market. She never cheats and is brutally straightforward. If she dislikes something or someone, she'll say it to their face, not caring if it rubs them the wrong way. Sue has ironclad principles she sticks to. You know what she always tells me?" The teen smiled and leaned forward.

"No, what?" I played along, curious about his response.

"Never break your principles, amigo. They can take everything from you, but they can't take those!" Marco imitated his old acquaintance's speech, making me burst into laughter. "Basically, if you can't trust her, then there's hardly anyone left to trust. Night City is a dreadful place, Bebe. Beneath its beautiful exterior lies a lump of earth teeming with worms."

"Listen, Marco," I broke the ensuing silence, "I realize I know nothing about you, apart from your name. If it's no secret, tell me about yourself." I turned my head towards the quiet boy.

"True, I completely forgot about that," the teen laughed artificially, scratching his head awkwardly. "Well, my full name is Marco Ramirez. My parents were mid-level members of the Valentinos gang until recently. I had a younger brother, Amado. We lived in Vista del Rey, one of the districts in Heywood. When I turned twelve, they died in a shootout with the Sixths, just a couple of months after my birthday." The teenager tossed a pebble he'd picked up off the ground into a trash can. "I won't go into detail about the Sixths. Let's just say their main members are former soldiers who fought in the 4th Corporate War. Initially, the Sixth Street gang tried to bring order to their part of the city, but eventually, they degenerated into common thuggery and clashed with the Valentinos."

"How did you end up in Japantown?" I picked up a stone from the ground, trying to occupy my hands.

"We couldn't pay the rent anymore and would have been on the streets within a week, but then some of our parents' old 'friends' showed up," Marco said, almost spitting out the words with a shrug of irritation. "My parents had acquaintances in Japantown who agreed to take us in... I should have refused back then." Marco hit the wall with his fist, scraping his hand. "Those cabrones sold us to scavengers after a couple of weeks. Those bastards didn't even pay them, knocking them out right before our eyes. In two days, they had stripped the freaks for chrome, and then they came for us. They grabbed my brother first, and when they were done with him, the Tyger Claws raided the place. They killed everyone and took everything valuable, leaving me to rot behind bars..."

"How did you get out?"

"The next day the police came and started to put on a big show. They pulled me out, but didn't really try to help. The shelters were full, no place for new orphans. Since then, I've been living on the streets, trying to make ends meet. Half a year later, I ran into Han and Shiro, who were in a similar situation. They were green and tried to steal food from a shopkeeper. Of course, he caught them and gave them a few slaps. I felt sorry for them, so I decided to help, teaching them how to survive on the streets. I'm used to all this, Vista del Rey is the poorest district in Heywood, and kids there learn to fend for themselves early." The teenager smiled nostalgically, watching the slow-moving clouds.

"Is that where you learned everything?"

"Well, you could say that," Marco grinned. "It was pretty much the same with Kiwi. She's sharp but kind. She just has a hard time getting used to new people. She was the same with us at first, so go easy on her, okay?"

"I'll try to be gentler." I replied jokingly, hearing his satisfied chuckle.

"Do you have a dream, Alex?" the dark-haired boy asked unexpectedly. "For instance, I want to leave Night City and go on a journey. It doesn't matter where, just far away from this city."

"A dream, huh?" The boy made me really think, and I fell out of reality, pondering whether I even had one. "No, unfortunately, I don't." I answered the teenager, who clearly didn't expect such a response.

"You know, my dad used to tell me that a person without a dream just exists. If there isn't something to drive them forward, they're just an empty shell. Find your dream, amigo, otherwise, this cursed world will quickly make you give up."

"I'll heed your advice," I agreed with the boy's words, which made me seriously reflect. Damn, Marco is only 14, but he thinks in a way that makes you reconsider your own perspective. I never expected to be schooled in life by a teenager. It's almost embarrassing to acknowledge my own personal ineptitude.

"Alright amigo, we've rested enough, time to get to work." The Latino stood up briskly, his smile unchanged, and headed towards the containers...

***

We wandered through the local dumps for about another hour, then met up with the rest of the crew. They also had a decent haul, about 70 eddies, which according to my Latino mentor, was quite good. Adding up all our finances, we had just over 400 eurobucks, which the kids wanted to use for a serious shopping spree. They planned to buy various household items and other useful stuff. A portion of the money was set aside for a rainy day, which seemed very wise. Marco decided to spend 250 eddies, an amount he claimed could support a family of three for a week. The value of local currency was still a mystery to me. With no internet access and little hope of getting it soon, unless a miracle happened, I was beginning to feel like my luck was running out, and I could expect a flood of trouble soon. But for now, I chose not to dwell on it. As the other kids say, I'm gloomier than a cloud...

We bought several bars of hard soap and other personal hygiene items. We also got gear for the new team member, meaning me, and change of clothes for everyone: pants and t-shirts. The quality was far from what old man Li had provided me, but in the absence of better options... For food, we bought supplies to last several days: a couple of soup kits sold as canned goods, and synthetic grains in cardboard packages that could be stored for a long time in our less-than-ideal conditions.

We spent every last cent, with most of the purchased items packed into Shiro's backpack. He had taken it with him in the morning when he went with the other kids to a nearby spot. According to the little guy, they stumbled upon some other kids there and got into a fight, emerging victorious. Hearing such news, I winced internally, imagining how it must have looked from the outside: one group of kids fighting another over someone's discarded junk...

Back at our hideout, we had to arrange everything in the corners, but at least now I knew where all the useful stuff was stored. It turned out I hadn't seen everything yesterday. My brain was in some kind of a thoughtful trance, noticing only what was pointed out to me. For instance, the kids had an iron teapot and something resembling a camping kettle. In the right corner of the room was an electric stove, which Marco said worked on batteries, and that's where we cooked our food. Naturally, the more experienced Ramirez was the best at cooking, while Inge sometimes took over. Shiro and Han were not allowed near the food due to specific reasons - they simply had no aptitude for it.

In my previous life, I had learned to take care of myself, so I had decent cooking skills. My offer to help in the kitchen was met with skepticism by everyone, but Marco promised to give me a chance to prove myself.

Regarding personal hygiene, the kids tried to wash themselves every day, which was already commendable. The previous owners of the basement had ensured there was water available, though the washer on the tap had worn out, causing leaks. None of us had experience in fixing it, and where would kids get plumbing skills? I'd have to address that issue later, but for now, I just wanted to wash up. Even if I didn't smell too bad, my nose would wrinkle every time I stopped focusing on something else.

My request to clean up was well received. The guys helped me wash, and I felt much better afterwards. My general malaise and occasional nausea passed, but my arm and neck continued to itch mercilessly, forcing me to constantly scratch. With plenty of time left until evening and not knowing what else to do, I asked Inge for her hefty book.

Initially, the girl flatly refused to share her "treasure" with me, but eventually, she relented, allowing me to read the book with her. To my surprise, it wasn't children's literature or fairy tales but a genuine historical tome about the history of Europe in the 20th century. Where she found it, I had no idea, but I found it interesting to read about the local development of history. We managed to read up to 1930, with no visible differences from my previous world, except that technological progress seemed to advance much faster.

Time flew by unnoticed as we read slowly, and I didn't even realize when I fell asleep. Marco woke me up, saying it was time to go to Sue. She lived right at the flea market, in one of the houses adjoining the area. We walked in silence; there was nothing to talk about, and I didn't particularly feel like talking. Sleepiness constantly overcame me, not to mention the itchiness that returned, which I had fortunately forgotten about while reading.

Susan was waiting for us at her stall. When we arrived, she was servicing a guy who, apparently, had brought her a recently broken radio. She repaired it and returned it to the owner. A few minutes later, after the stranger had checked the radio's functionality and paid the repairwoman, he hurried off, leaving us alone with her.

"Finally showed up, huh?" the brunette rhetorically asked. "Alright, let's go to my place..."