Here, in the heart of the city built on the giant spacecraft Pioneer 2, human
greed and weakness reigned supreme, triumphing over the electronic marvel of Photon
technology that was the ship. Here the surface of the buildings were marred with
graffiti, the streets strewn with garbage. Automated systems meant to supply food,
water, and power failed as often as they worked. Here a citizen could purchase illegal
chemicals, VR brainstim chips, or any number of pleasures of the flesh. For the more
ambitious, there were weapons and android parts of dubious provenance, experts who could
crack computer systems for the right fee, and even those who would be happy to snap a
neck or put a shank of steel through a belly. The military police couldn't stop it,
because the demand was there; every dealer, every black marketeer, every net-dancer or
street fighter who was busted merely was a business opportunity, opening up a new market
for his or her competitors.
I wasn't surprised at this rot, this festering canker in the heart of Pioneer
2, because I'd learned that the entire Pioneer Project was tainted, corrupted from
its very beginning. The name of that taint was Black Paper, a criminal syndicate with
ties to the Council, the military, the scientific labs. They had manipulated the
settlement of the Planet Ragol from the start for their own purposes. Downtown was
little more than a physical representation of their evil.
But I was on their trail.
I'd come to Downtown to meet a contact, someone who could give me a lead on Black
Paper. I was shown through narrow, twisting corridors by a local guide to a door whose
pitted surface looked as if it had been scarred by Photon blades holding off some kind
of assault. The guide melted into the shadows as the door opened.
Inside, I was greeted by a dark-haired woman in close-fitting black leather which set
off her alabaster-pale skin, making her look like a walking corpse.
"Are you the one looking for...Black Paper?"
She regarded me curiously for a long moment, then shrugged.
"Well, personally I use a computer or datapad, but if you like I can hook you up with
a couple of reams. I've got a pack of those funky pastel gel pens, too. They write
really well on it."