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(Black) Paper Chase
by Darrell Whitney


Downtown.

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?"

"I am."

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."

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