Fresh in the memory. Fresh in the memory. Write it down now to retain the sensation. Focus on the feeling, remember the feeling. Record the moment.
Because right now I’m livid.
It’s been a month or so since our last job, when we wiped out the cabal. I’ve mostly been laying low, avoiding any undue attention whilst I decide how best to use my newly acquired resources. Didn’t hurt to keep our head down after the Renraku facility, either.
Not that it matters anymore.
I got a call from the same Renraku job Johnson, the prick with the spiky green mohawk.
“Hey man… how’s it going? Listen, you guys pulled through last time so we got a follow up if you’re interested?”
He sent the co-ordinates for a face to face meet which I floated over commlink to the others. They seemed keen so we agreed to meet up and head over.
“I’ll pick you up in Goldblum” said K1. Turns out that was now the name for the customised Bulldog the Chimney gang had arranged for us as payment for the last job. As he scooped up Ivory and myself I couldn’t help but notice the bright purple paintjob he’d given the thing, hardly inconspicuous.
“The fuck is this, an ice cream van?” asked Nuggler as we stopped to collect him.
“Sure” replied K1, “Want an ice cream?”
“Don’t have any”. Nuggler climbed into the van as the axle audibly creaked under the weight, and we set off the meet the Johnson. Rocking about central London on a Sunday afternoon in a neon adorned van called Goldblum was not exactly the cloak and dagger vibe I was used to from before. Still, the van was solid, and would do for transport on runs.
We pulled up at the meet point, some tacky milkshake diner utterly typical of this Johnson’s style. Walking in I spied him in a booth and approached the counter, asking if the coffee was any good. The disinterested response of the employee convinced me not to bother, and I headed over to negotiate.
Nuggler decided this was, at it always was for him, a great time to eat.
“100 waffles” he said without irony, “and a crate of maple syrup”. The bemused employee took a second to clock that he was serious, darting into the kitchen to do what he could.
I slid into the booth seating opposite the Johnson, K1 and Ivory browsing the place. He smiled as I did so – we were reliable earners after all.
“Good you came. Listen, the job is something of a follow up to the last one”
“How so?” I asked, nervous about the attention we had drawn before.
“The buyer we had lined up for the item you took has pulled out. We have found new buyers, but they need certain assurances before the deal is agreed”. Nuggler had since sat his huge bulk into the booth behind the Johnson, starting to devour the first wave of waffles.
“The job is worth 100k, and its basic extraction. All we need is for you to get the scientist who originally worked on the job to a meeting point of our choosing, so the new buyer can glean some information on his purchase. Simple enough?”. A snatch and grab worth 100k wasn’t too bad, depending on the circumstance.
K1 remained nervous about the Johnsons’s motive and after last time I didn’t blame him. He scrutinised the guy but came up short, sent me a PM in my AR eye; “dnt trust him”. Without blinking I AR hacked the guy’s cosmetic cyber eyes, sending a PM back to K1; “Dw, if he screws us we’ll take his eyes”.
Ensuring that Ivory was also on board we took the job, and the Johnson smiled heartily, giving us the details. Moving to leave we indicated for Nuggler to follow, who shouted;
“I’ll take the rest to go”.
Goldblum turned out to be a decent ride, even with a nine-foot Troll devouring waffles the whole way. As we had some time before arrival I ran a matrix search on the target – ‘Dr. Kenneth Lesco’.
He had attended an American University; physics and engineering. Other than that, details were a bit light – he had a family, used to be on a softball team. Somewhere down the line he had been picked up to head the Renraku project we broke into a few weeks back.
These days he lived in a condo building in central London so we pulled up about a block away. Starting a sweep K1 sent Mr. Jefferson up high, Ivory checking the astral. Everything here seemed remarkably quiet for the city; the distinct scent of money.
I needed access to the buildings network but the grid was fuzzy, so decided to check if I could hardline from inside.
“I’ll need a reason to be in the building before I jack in” I said to the others, open to suggestions. A few moments of head scratching and a plan was drafted – Ivory would disguise me as a delivery man, utilising Nugglers left overs.
“Gimme the waffles – I’m going in”
The rest of the crew hung back as I entered the lobby, single guard on duty. The Ork looked up as I entered, barely bothered about my presence. The door to the security room seemed to be about a meter behind him, rendering that idea moot.
“Waffle delivery man, here to deliver waffles” I said flatly. I’m not a great actor.
“Which floor?” asked the security guard.
“23” I replied, realising that delivering waffles at 11pm on a Sunday night was in fact more suspect than we may have considered. Still the guard waved me onwards, toward the elevators.
Entering I pushed the button for the 23rd floor and got to work. The security camera in the elevator had a jack point so I stood under it, ran my datajack in and set the camera to loop. Noticing a vent on the roof I hopped out into the shaft, perched up on top of the elevator and hacked the network.
The security system wasn’t difficult to crack and granted me full access to the elevators, security cameras, door controls.
“I’m in” I said over commlink, sharing the AR feed with the others to watch.
It was at this moment we realised we hadn’t planned the rest of the run, and initiated ‘winging it’.
“Does the building have a parking garage?” asked K1 over comms. It did and I clocked his plan – I even had access to the garage doors. I relayed this and the others headed over in the van, parking up ready to extract the target.
The elevator got to the 23rd floor and I opened the lift door. After a short attempt to lure somebody with some strange door behaviour I realised that the apartment was separate to the lift, and buzzed the flat instead.
After a minute or so of waiting a rather laboured voice came through the other end.
“Hu.. hullo? Who is this?”. Winging it.
“Hey, this is downstairs. There’s been some sort of delivery of… softball memorabilia for you. Could you come and collect it?”
“What? It’s 11pm on a Sunday evening… can I do it in the morning?”.
“Well we need a signature and I think it would be better if…”
“I’ll see you in the morning” came the voice, hanging up.
“Good plan Line” joked Nuggler from downstairs. This face stuff was not really my forte.
“Patch me in” said K1, “I have a plan”. I ran his comms to the buzzer and he summoned the man once more. An even more tired greeting this time;
“Hello. Dr. Lesco, this is Mr. Fumasu from Renraku. I apologise for contacting you at such a late hour”. This seemed to get more of his attention than ridiculous softball delivery attempt. Knife continued with a valiant effort to emulate his father, something about an emergency project, but again no dice.
Two failed attempts at pursuasion, Nuggler suggested his own plan.
“In the front door. Pick him up. Walk out”. As blunt as it was subtlety hadn’t done it, so I ran the lift down to the garage to collect the rest of the gang. On the ride back up I hopped back out of the vent and the four of us stood awkwardly at the nights proceedings.
Once again arriving at floor 23 I used my autopicker to get us into the apartment. K1 moved ahead as stealthily as possible with the rest of us in tow, and I kept my network connection active. To the left a light shone, and as K1 crested the corner a man stood in his dressing gown and total surprise.
In these moments, it helps to have your entire nervous system rewired for maximum reaction time. K1 leapt at the guy using his shock hands to render him unconscious before he could do much. A black object dropped to the floor which K1 scooped up, making only a slight noise.
“Dad?” came a child’s voice from the next room.
“It’s nothing, go back to bed” replied K1, imitating Dr. Lesco. The blag seemed to be working, but we heard murmurs of a woman’s voice shortly after through the wall. As a light turned on through the crack in the door adjacent to ours Nuggler took action.
“My way it is” he announced, lifting Dr. Lesco off the floor. I cut the lights to the floor and heard a woman scream, forcing us to move. We booked it out of the apartment back towards the lift, and I sent us straight down to the parking garage.
We got to the van and bolted sharpish – not the cleanest job. Hitting the streets, we tore away from the apartments, and I was just grateful that it was done. From the driver’s seat K1 lifted the bit of black plastic he retrieved, which looked suspiciously like a panic button.
“Guys?” – All of us knew enough to know that meant trouble.
“Give me a second” I said, firing my cyber eye’s AR to scan for signals. My heart skipped a beat as I found one on Dr. Lesco’s person, buried in his leg. “Ok we’re fucked”.
“What is it?” asked Ivory.
“That’s a panic button, right? Well the tracker it’s linked to is there” I replied, pointing at his leg. If Renraku knew where he was they knew where we were, where the van was, and we were all in deep shit unless we could solve it.
“How long have we got?” asked Nuggler. I shrugged, and booted my cyberdeck to check.
“I have a plan – Nuggler take the wheel” said K1, shifting from the front. They switched and K1 pulled out one of his combat axes to perform desperate mobile surgery.
“This could get messy” stated K1, and with Nugglers driving I could see why. Whilst the amateur doctor got to work on our patient as delicately as a cyber enhanced killer can, I soft simmed into the matrix and scanned the Renraku grid to check if they were onto us. There we were, lit up like a Christmas tree, broadcasting our location to whoever was on the other side of that tracker.
“Two minutes, tops” I said, getting a read. Ivory wedged up against a corner of the van, trying not to get blood on her white clothes, whilst K1 opened Lesco’s leg.
“Where are we driving?” asked Nuggler whilst swerving, as a blood pattern decorated a wall of the van. Still in the matrix I talked fast in response;
“An alley, get us hidden. Ivory, prep an illusion spell. K1, when you’re done get Jefferson to fly that tracker as far away from us as possible”. Any authority I had in that moment was mimicry of someone I once knew, the way they used to speak when shit hit fans.
With a final splatter K1 wrenched the tracker from the unconscious Lesco’s leg, summoning his drone to collect it. Distracted by dodging plasma I missed the intrusion, and switched back to VR in time to see something which froze me solid. A figure walked towards me in the matrix, and slashed at me with a digitised katana.
I reeled taking damage and panicked – jacking out and suffering dumpshock which careened me into the side of the van. Shaking it off I looked up to Ivory’s bemused stare, smoke rising from my chest where my cyberdeck has taken a hit.
“Line…?” she started.
“Get us hidden, NOW” I said with as much force as my muddled head would allow. Nuggler pulled down an alleyway leading to a small park, as inconspicuously as possible. Ivory performed some gestures I’d never seen, and when she finished we gave off the appearance of a simple tree. Best we had.
In the meantime, K1 handed off the tracker to Jefferson, who flew it straight up into the sky. Just as everything quietened down in the blood soak van we heard it – VTOL blades whirring in the distance. Exchanging glances, we realised how tight that was, hoping the illusion would hold.
Jefferson reached a fair height and began to rotate, spinning until he was fast enough to let loose the tracker a kilometer or two. With that done it looked like a sit and wait job – that was until the vulcan cannon opened fire.
We heard it tearing bullets through the air and braced, but the impact never came. Instead there was a sound of metal shredding above us, and the dawning realisation that Mr. Jefferson was no more. The VTOL descended into view, foliage rustling at the force of its presence. We held our collective breath.
It hovered at first, likely scanning the area for anything it could find. Deep parts of me were soaked with fear, but beneath that something else had begun to awaken. We sat quietly as it flew around, scouting comprehensively, and I noticed that K1 also seemed displeased by the events.
After a few long minutes it stopped scanning, backed up and flew off the way it came. Somehow in all of this we had escaped, and made it away from a Renraku response unit. But not just any.
A fucking Red Samurai.
“Another textbook run” said Nuggler.
With the hand-off still to do we waited a few more minutes before driving away. I was hesitant to use any tech in case they were still watching, and Nuggler commed the Johnson.
“I’m the waffle troll, not much time – where do you want the guy?” he said. Details of a location not too far from ours were exchanged and agreed, and we headed towards the drop, desperate to finish this mess. K1 looked at me, and the visible damage I’d taken from the cyberattack.
“Line what happened?” he asked. I looked back at him gravely, and perhaps he saw something in my human eye he’d never seen before.
“Red Samurai” I responded. K1 nodded knowingly, something there too maybe, and went into himself a little. I took off my coat and peeled up my t-shirt to check the side of my rib cage, where my cyberdeck sits. There was some scorching around the edges of the flesh, singed muscle tissue, but it was minor.
Reluctantly I took a deep breath and booted it on silent mode to check if we were still being followed. Fortunately, we were in the clear, and I relayed this to the team before slumping against the side of the van. Eventually, we arrived at the drop site.
Somewhat sloppily none of us swept it first, but it didn’t matter. The Johnson appeared with a few rent-a-goons trying to look hard, but a quick look at the four of us piling out of a blood-soaked van conveyed how unimpressed we were.
“What happened?” asked the Johnson, a little shocked as he looked at the unconscious Dr. Lesco and the blood stains along his leg.
“You ask too many questions” replied Nuggler, “You got the creds?”. The rent-a-goons did their best impression of being intimidating, and Knife sighed.
“We weren’t followed” said Knife bluntly, “and we lost the gunship that murdered my best friend”. There was something in his tone, possibly vitriol, maybe something worse, which made the Johnson and his boys stop pushing. I looked across to Ivory and felt a sense of pity that things got so out of hand, regret that we couldn’t keep it clean.
The Johnson threw us four credsticks which we accepted, and Nuggler carried Dr. Lesco’s bloodied unconscious form over to them for the drop-off. Wisely, the Johnson and his boys accepted, and swiftly left. As they vanished back into the darkness of the early morning I felt a sense of tiredness wash over me, and was relieved this was all done with.
When I saw him appear in the matrix I froze, and suddenly it was two years ago all over again. Red Samurai – the same kind of cunt that probably killed my last family back in Hong Kong, coming into the matrix, to my cyberdeck to hunt me. Upon reflection, I know what sensation awoke under that reactionary cold fear in the van.
Absolute and complete, suppressed since I got to London, hidden beneath the waves of Bliss I’ve smoked, buried in the past. The unbridled fury inherited when someone attacks you. And worse, those you love.
Somehow, even on the other side of the world, even after leaving that life behind I’ve ended up back in their crosshairs again. Another team I’ve just started to warm to now on the brink of being torn apart by the same people who took everything from me for the third time in my life. I guess you can’t outrun fate.
Perhaps this anger can be used. Perhaps if I channel it, I can find a way to prevent the same thing from happening again. I’m just a decker, I can’t fight Red Samurai, Renraku, head on; it’s suicide. But there’s something about this team that makes me believe we have a chance somehow, found somewhere in navigating the cracks, almost by sheer force of will alone.
Dangerous to hope, I know. For now, I’ve drafted a list of gear and ordinance just in case, including something special, in case the fight does find us again. In the meantime it’s 3am and I’m shattered, so I’m going to hit the hay and hope this all dies down.