“I’m not gonna insult ya by askin’ if you wan’ a different set o’wheels for whats comin’” A rough chuckle crawling out of his junkyard-worthy jaw as his gleaming copper eyes took in the van that once served as partial payment to the original run that introduced him to the team. Some old pre-trid star’s face staring back at him from dozens of sets of eyes. He gave a grating smirk before shrugging and carrying on – “Jus’ take it nice and slow gettin’ wherever it is yer goin’. At least until we’re outside the radius of the new asshole tha’ package will give the face of whoever it’s for.”
The cybernetic digits of Knife-1’s right hand drummed irritably along the driver-side window frame as he listened to the gang boss’s nagging. “Yeah-yeah-yeah, null sweat. We’ve got our best courier on it. No chance of this little bastard going to the wrong address. That’d spoil the ceremony.” The elf razorboy flashed a feral grin before adopting an only half forced tone of disappointment. “You sure that’s all the demolition charges you could scrounge up?”
Big Smoke wished his prosthetic eyes rolled half as well as his old meat ones. "Why? You need tah blow up two buildings rather than jus’ the one?
At that, Dark Nuggler’s inquiring voice rumbled out from the back of the van. “Is that a option? That’d probably make this easier…”
“I’d rather be precise and sure than spread our efforts. It’ll just give him more to exploit.” Ivory said pensively from her position next to Knife-1. Like the elf, she’d grown up eating, breathing and sleeping Renraku. That meant being exposed from a young age to the idea that the infamous Red Samurai were the finest examples of corporate martial forces worldwide. Each and every one is built up to be a legendary hero and treated as such by the worker drones beneath them. The perfect ideal of honour and skill.
Ivory and Knife-1 considered that core belief from very different angles indeed.
“So long as he signs for package number one-” Knife-1 muttered flippantly, jerking his thumb back at the contents of the van before shooting his index finger down lewdly “-and package number two.”
“Did you just call your dick ‘No. 2’?” Nuggler laughed from the back of the van before adopting a faux-scary tone “Oooh, watch out corp-sec! Ol’ Knifey-Shitdick is coming to stick his fingers in your mouth!”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP, NUGGLER.” Knife-1 screamed back into the dimly lit vehicle. Just in time to greet Line as he shook off the Matrix’s tingling embrace, his first murmured words drowned out by the huge troll’s mocking laughter.
“I said, I have a spot.” Line repeated wearily, before shouting up to Knife-1 “Counting in traffic, it’s a little over half an hour from here. The route’s on your comm.”
Quickly bringing up the pertinent information as a pop-up in his cybereye UI, the elf scoffed. “If this takes half an hour, I’m just going to let the prick kill me out of pure shame.”
As Ivory hastily did up her seat belt and readied herself to shield the group from prying eyes, Line arched his back and rubbed at the skin above his new vertebrae. Tests and diagnostics were feeding him clean info, but new chrome always took a bit of getting used to as the body accepted what was best for it.
“Buckle up, buttercups!” Knife-1 called to his three passengers gleefully and set the van in motion through the Chimney Boyz’s scrap garden and toward the exit to the haphazardly lit, garbage strewn street.
The plan already discussed, the four sat silence with comfortable silence. All the time gingerly aware of the explosives they shared a confined space with. As the van pulled within sight of the target location at just a little after two in the morning, Line laid out his reasons for the choice.
“Decades old, six story car park in a drek heap of a borough. Road on two sides, low rent offices on the third and on the last is a above-ground mag train track that’s still running thank’s to a miracle of appropriate council spending. Belongs to some dusty single-A corp who’ve refused to sell it out of blind ignorance of the future of local property values. Nobody we have to worry about wanting revenge.”
The others craned their necks to check out the dreary slab of grey they were approaching before Line continued:
“Two rent-a-cops as standard to stop the local flavour helping themselves to the fittings. Matrix security is off the shelf because what decker worth his deck is going to bother messing with a place where nobodies keep their cars?
Ivory, can you keep us all low key until we give the all clear?"
“I guess a warm up before the big event never hurt” Ivory said, almost to herself before shooting Line a thumbs up as affirmative.
“Good.” the decker muttered. “I’ll see to the bait”.
Four minutes later, the security was bound and gagged underneath their desk with only mild electric burns, the cameras and sensors were feeding information to whomever Line dictated and things were still quiet.
One of the bigger asks of the plan was working out how to draw their vengeful pursuer here while not making it obvious that it was a trap. What Ivory and Line had come up with was a delicately leaked clip of the four of them meeting up several suits and security members of one of Renraku’s megacorp rivals. In this case, Horizon. They hoped that seeing a clandestine meeting between two targets of opportunity would provide enough of a lure for the Red Samurai and draw him out from whatever corporate enclave he was striking from. A handful of minutes spent video editing and illusion conjuring gave them the nigh-perfect replica of a meeting they needed, before anonymously dropping it in the lap of one of Renraku’s lower level Matrix security staff disguised as a data broker looking to get on the payroll. This went on while Nuggler and Knife-1 prepared the package and then their bodies and minds. Nuggler by stretching and shadowboxing alone, Knife by carving his name into the side of cars.
The uncharacteristic dry spell broke as slick, oily London rain broke over the outside world. The thick air seeming to slow the pass of minutes as the group waited for the bait to take.
Less than an hour later the low roar of a familiar VTOL above the sodden wind told them that one way or another, the ploy had worked. As they rushed to their final positions, the thunder of their quarries arrival centered itself directly above the building. Through the camera feed, everyone but Nuggler saw the crimson GMC Banshee idling for several moment before depositing it’s cargo. Sixteen bipedal drones, customized to better represent the cultural heritage of Renraku with curved blades and samurai-like armour., landed in unison and immediately formed into two grouped before swarming towards the stairwell and vehicle ramps.
“Should’ve known he’d be this much of a pussy. Nobody goes for the good ol’ four-on-one beatdown anymore.” Knife-1 quipped, taking in drone force.
“But he didn’t bring in more Red Samurai..” Ivory pointed out in hushed tones as she wrapped up her subtle detection spell. “That alone’s the mercy in all of this. It’s just him left in there.”
Nuggler shuffled from foot to foot like a schoolboy who’d forgotten to hit the bathroom before a long car journey. “What’s going on? This thing turn into a rumble?”
“Just a bunch of second class bots with blades. S’fine.” Knife-1 idly muttered to the troll at his side. All the while distracted by the botheringly impressive sight of the drone force moving in concert.
“Nuggler, stonewall that stairwell. K1, support us on the stairs with weapons fire and the drone.” Line barked from his position next to the mage, simultaneously giving her the signal to begin working . “Buy us the time to make sure we don’t get mulched by the Banshee’s cannon.”
Without even taking in the elf’s response, he worked on shielding his digital presence from the baleful gaze of the Red Samurai. He didn’t dare flood his deck with enough power to seek out the hidden icons of his prey, but the thunder of the VTOL’s engines above the heavy downpour gave him all the warning he needed.
The Red Samurai Shin Hideki glared through the elegant HUD of his aircraft’s cockpit. He’d deposited the initial swarm of security drones he’d appropriated from the headquarters and set himself to keeping his targets off balance while they did their noble work.
Drones were just another weapon. The same as the bullet or the blade. He felt no shame in utilizing them to defeat of numerically superior foe. But he couldn’t resist having a direct hand himself. These runners had shamed him and his corporate masters and an example must be made.
Anticipation flushed what little flesh remained under his skeletal mask as he spotted four familiar heat signatures clustered together behind vehicle cover. The vehicles sensors let him see the tremor in the hands that held weapons and the preemptive triumph left the cold killer proud. His augmented reality display even showing that the troll had left his commlink plainly visible. It’s crude, factory standard icon marking their position further.
The red glare of his diminutive cybereyes flared as he leaned forward, flicked a trio of switches and greedily pulled the trigger.
Moments after the intimidating aircraft dropped into view, the hastily advancing drone force became the least of the team’s worries.
Three matte black canisters launched onto their level, spewing thick, turbulent clouds of grey that quickly covered most of the level in a nigh-impenetrable fog. These were immediately followed by a burst of autocannon fire that would have cut through a light tank. The illusionary images (along with Nugglers actual commlink) were vapourized, along with the two junkworthy sedans they were using as cover.
Using the explosion of one of the cars as his cue, Line brought his internal deck into glittering life. Forcing his meat-eye shut to give full focus to the cybernetic one, he focused on the blaring autocannon, highlighted it in pulsing red and shunted the image to Ivory’s AR glasses. Dropping both the spells that she’d be maintaining the conceal the group and create illusory doubles of them, she instead focuses all her will on hurling a pillar of blinding pillar of lightning at her target. The spell thundered into the side of the cannon, knocking it and it’s line of fire aside. The armour rending shells cut a swath through a portion of the car park before stuttering to a stop. Several seconds of clanking mechanical fault were then punctuated by a spray of sparks as the weapon died altogether.
A rare grin breaking onto his face, Line gave Ivory a congratulatory punch on the shoulder in recognition. The expression disappeared quickly when he saw the dazed look on her face, blood streaming from under the rim of her characteristic floppy hat. Hopefully a burst eardrum and not something worse. She was still conscious, but she’d definitely need a few moments to recover. A much more familiar grimace settled on the decker’s features as he digitally tweaked his deck, ensuring the entire team’s firewalls were running at full force.
As the thick smoke enveloped him completely, he checked on the security cams just in time to see the eight drones reach Nuggler in the stairwell.
Shin Hideki spat out a curse in his native tongue as the UI flooded with error messages from the weapons systems. His attention turned to his footsoldiers, another flash of anger flaring up as he witnessed the trog filth make light work of the first few in the stairwell. He idly adopted more evasive maneuvers for the Banshee, raising out of sight altogether, while focusing on micromanaging his forces.
Nuggler was in a happier place. He hadn’t practiced on drones since his time touring Japan’s wrestling scene. He could almost hear the voices of his old buddies roaring drunken encouragement to him as he bulldogged one of Renraku’s expensive toys down a flight of stairs before springing to his feet and bodily flinging himself back up them, shoulder barging the next in line. The lightning crackling around his body one of the few overt signs of his awakened nature
“Sono fakku o hakai suru!” the imagined voice of Sensei Sumo rumbled in his ear.
“Anata wa osamadesu, Nuggler-san!” called the distant voice of some half forgotten holiday fling.
“You’re damn fucking right I’m the king.” Nuggler muttered to himself as the second drone got pitched over the railing, tumbling to a crashing finish six floors down.
Thickened by training and magic, Nuggler’s hide held firm against the many blades that struck him. That, combined with the natural bottleneck of the stairwell meant that he had all of this well in hand.
Or at least he did until the to rearmost drones leaped from their position and crashed into his side, knocking him against the wall and flattening the drone he was throttling against it.
“This might take awhile.” Nuggler begrudgingly thought to himself, taking grasp of the two who couldn’t wait their turn and squeezing.
Relying on his cybereyes without a thought, Knife-1 took up position overwatching the downwards ramp. The dobermann drone at is side whining in a thematically appropriate but entirely unnecessary way. Several tense seconds of waiting were punctuated by the racket going on with the Banshee. The ruckus combined with K1’s already legendary aversion to discipline meant that when the first drone legs appeared on the ramp, two sweeping lines of assault rifle fire cut across the mechanical limbs and dropped several to the floor. The sustained autofire quickly depleted his personal firearm, so he urged his drone to keep reloading and firing while he skipped the main course and went right to dessert.
Drawing his combat axe from his back, K1 sprung up onto the bonnet of the wageslave two-seater he’d chosen as cover and immediately launched himself at the drone swarm. His raptor legs hissing in satisfaction as he crossed a dozen meters in the blink of an eye and gleefully fell upon the automatons of his childhood prison.
Trusting in his team to keep the drones off him, Line got hunkered down next to Ivory and, with a moment of reluctant hesitation, dived fully into the matrix. Hotsim would let him be the best he could be and he needed that edge tonight. The dangers were irrelevant when failure got him a bullet in the head anyway.
As the seemingly unconscious decker slumped against the car, the local grid bloomed into life around him. Even though it was the publicly available, third rate grid for the city, it still bled neon life into Line’s consciousness. His persona was an idealized version of himself, outlined in neon blues and purples. Proud against the silvery grey of the local grid marks, his hooded visage was cast deep in gentle shadow and was only marked by twinkling motes of purple and red.
He was surrounded by the humble icons of dozens of devices. From the bland, staring eyes denoting the security cameras to the outdated driving wheels and manufacturer logos of the various cars in the building. What he was looking for was something deeper though. So he began to sweep the local matrix, hunting for any trace of the Red Samurai and his ride. Finding nothing, he nimbly carved a digital hole and jumped over to the Renraku grid. This one was considerably more bespoke, properly representing Renraku’s ideals and image to a legion of paying SINners. Connection speeds were a lot better here, but so was the security. Market research had shown years ago that the British populace didn’t gel so well with the traditional Renraku aesthetic, so their British grid was made to resemble rolling green hills dotted with villages of a hundred different nations. Playing up the corporate ideal of community, family and duty.Line had come out of the last confrontation with a smoking chest cavity and a splitting headache. His only Red Samurai encounter before that had left his entire team dead or as good as. More depended on this confrontation that just carrying on to breath another day. But this time he was prepared in body, mind and spirit.
With a virtual chirp, he saw it. Obvious when pointed out by his programs, but otherwise invisible – the looming image of a grand celestial dragon illuminated the luminescent green countryside in golds and reds. A shimmering red figure sitting complacently astride it.
With serene care, Line compiled his attack programs. They shimmered into reality as a gleaming aquamarine spear, errant ruby lines of destructively toxic code delicately spilling from it’s tip. He stepped forward with indomitable intent.
Managing to get her senses together, Ivory tried to make out anything in the haze around her through a coughing fit. All she could make out was Line’s slumped form right next to her. After frantically checking for bullet wounds, she realized he was simply somewhere else. Attempting a sigh of relief between coughs, she squinted around before deciding on cloaking the two of them once again in a spell of invisibility.
“The others can take care of themselves for the time being” she reasoned.
K1 had only been engaged in melee for seconds but he was already bleeding from half a dozen slashes. The fact didn’t bother him overmuch, he’d paid back three times as many hacking blows from his axe and most of the still standing drones were looking the worse for wear through the swirling, irrelevant smoke that clouded the whole thing.
Reversing his hold on the axe, he swung the rear spike in a heavy overhead blow directly into the headcase of one of the units that his auto fire had crippled. Cackling in perverse glee he proceeded to sweep the impaled drone to the right, knocking two more back and buying him some breathing room as he wrenched his weapon out of his motionless victim.
“Come on, brothers! Dad wouldn’t want us fighting like this, would he?” he sneered at the nearest upright drone before feeling another burning slash run across his side. The guttural laugh he gave in response to the blow was almost completely lost in the full auto fire of his lone dobermann drone.
Knife-1 was doubtless enjoying himself, but his anger was rising at the lack of direct confrontation with the drone’s puppetmaster.. He was too hungry to kill a symbol of Renraku supremacy to think of anything else.
Nuggler’s mood soured right about the time that a drone’s cybernetic boot cracked into the side of his knee. It had managed to get past his prodigious reach while he was busy flinging another opponent into a wall and the blow hurt. He hadn’t heart a crack or a pop, so there shouldn’t be anything long term. But right now the pain was enough to be distracting and he found himself involuntarily adopting a much more reserved stance as the surviving three drones regrouped with inhuman menace on their lifeless faces.
Line leveled his dataspear and lunged at the great beast, it’s gleaming aquamarine tip cutting a deep groove along it’s gleaming flank.
Roused from it’s passive state, the dragon let out a roar that was more felt than heard and swiftly extended it’s coiled. Now it hovered, looming over Line’s comparatively diminutive persona. All the while dripping bright, golden information from it’s wound. With all of this the figure atop the luminescent beast stirred, drawn away from whatever it’s meat body was doing.
Rather than go for a blade or level a destructive dataspike though, the Red Samurai compiled an ancient looking book. Not waiting around to see it’s purpose, Line struck again and again at the Dragon-Banshee. Inflicting more, if lighter, injuries upon the beast. He let grim satisfaction touch him as he imagined the alarms blaring in the Banshee’s cockpit as a result.
But before he could commit to anymore blows, the Samurai opened the tome and started processing the information within. Whilst he moved his digital lips wordlessly, a change came over his divine mount. It’s crimson eyes flashed black before settling on a complex mix of colours and lights. And it’s mouth began to line with midnight blue flames.
Anticipating the counter attack, Line abandoned his offensive programs and devoted all available processing power to his firewalls. A bright but plain blue line sped around him, creating a barrier of constant motion and light.
When the inevitable attack came, however, it was not what he had expected in the least. The dragon’s breath washed over him in a flood of tastes, smells and feelings. Buffeting aside his defenses, the last thing realized before it overcame him was that he recognized those eyes. They were perfect windows into the Hong Kong skyline.
Crouching invisibly in the smoke, Ivory listened intently to the sounds of Knife-1’s vicious brawl. She was contemplating intervening when a ragged shudder ran through Line’s body and he slumped further against the car. Not knowing the first thing about a decker’s work, Ivory figured that keeping Line safe was worth the risk. While she couldn’t see it currently, she knew that Knife-1 wouldn’t be able to completely block off the downwards ramp due to it’s width. If she presented more targets then that would just complicate things and potentially even get Line killed.
She gritted her teeth and kept listening to the sounds of K1’s joyous scrapping.
He was back there. In Hong Kong.
But he wasn’t simply there. He watched from a dozen different angles as the dwarf, Devin, led the team into it’s last job.
He was in the security cameras watching their progress. Even, he puzzled, the ones he hadn’t had access to on that night. He hadn’t even known some of these had existed.
He was looking out from what could only have been Xiang’s own cybereyes, scanning the likely ambush spots and watching out for potential dangers.
Alarmingly, he was looking down from a half dozen surveillance drones that he’d had no idea about. They could have been a fabrication of the data but Line had a gut feeling they weren’t. Their presence explained too much about what happened.
And, with unbridled dread, he looked through the eyes of what could only have been the Red Samurai team that engaged with them on that night. Silent messages flicking among their network, person UI’s alight with firing solutions, positions and timings.
The whole thing was fractured, jarring. Too much information for his mind to process at the same time so it jumped from event to event, moment to moment. He watched his own cocky gesture as he gave the all clear, he watched as the Red Samurai gathered into their final positions. He watched gunfire rip into Milly in a futile attempt to banish her spirits. He felt a Red Samurai immolate when it was caught in the embrace of a creature made entirely of flame. Even the corp-warrior’s bleeding edge cyberware and armour was reduced to dust and ash by the living inferno.
He even watched as an arm that felt like his own threw the fragmentation grenade that tore Karin apart.
Once all the disparate pieces of data played out, the scene changed. Now all there was was Devin hand and foot cuffed to a featureless steel table. In a room that could’ve been under any corporate officers or security complex in the world for all it’s intimidating blandness and sinister stains.
What followed must have been a highlight reel. Judging by the state of the dwarf’s bruises, weight and hair. Months must have passed while he was beaten, half starved and pressed for information about his client. He never spoke. Never grunted. Never wept, snarled or cursed. The closest he was ever caught doing was a few seconds of footage of him alone, lips moving silently. Line recognized his old friend’s prayer without the accompanying words. They were never the important part anyway.
When virtual eternity came to it’s end, it did so with characteristic silence. Footage showed Devin struggling to breath, convulsing and finally falling still. Whatever gas or neurotoxin that had flooded the room didn’t look terribly painful, Line noted with dull thoughts. He didn’t know if he was grateful or distressed to the point of paralysis. Maybe both. After the footage ended, Line’s field of view was simply filled with a detailed report about the job, Recursion and the Red Samurai team that had taken them down. Every member was marked down by physical description rather than name, none of the team were dim enough to maintain SINs, and marked as dead in vivid red text. The only exception was a description matching his own, paired with a half obscured picture taken from one of the Red Samurai eyeware recordings. As he soberly regarded the blinking yellow text marking him as UNKNOWN it changed to match the status of the rest of his old team.
Then it all fell away into oppressive darkness and blood red text started to encircle him.
“You are known to us. To me.”
Then, with a fleeting glimpse of a bloodied gold and crimson representation of the aircraft circling his digital presence, he was dragged through it all again. All identical save for the message at the end.
“You’ll break where the halfman wouldn’t. You don’t have his will.”
Another flash of draconic gold and the cycle repeats.
“You’ll tell us who acquired your services that night.”
This time, Line was ready. Anticipating the brief glimpse of the ostentatious avatar, he fired off a barrage off subtler code than before. A small swarm of nigh-invisible darts struck the target’s hide solidly but rather than biting deep, left a gleaming infinity symbol upon a scale on the dragon’s underbelly.
The cycle repeats.
“Do you not want them punished for the doom they cast upon your fellows?”
Another volley. Another mark.
The cycle repeats.
“You shall have the revenge you didn’t know you craved and I shall have my redemption. Don’t deny us both by reveling in your weakness.”
A final volley lands a third mark upon the damaged celestial avatar. Enough for the system to classify him as an owner on par with it’s pilot. Twin gods of equality to their sole worshiper.
“You’re right” Line acknowledged.
“No more weakness.”
Then he swiped his right arm viciously to the side. And the world disintegrated around him.
Nuggler had had worse cuts and bruises after a show, but he knew that the things wouldn’t pay attention to any tapouts. One of the two remaining drones had gotten around him while he was picking himself up and now the poked and prodded at him, trying to constantly keep him off balance until he opened up enough for a fatal thrust. Thus far, he hadn’t given them that opening.
The gargantuan troll just grimaced and tried to find his own opening. Anyway of changing the fight dynamic and letting him break free to find better ground to fight on. As good fortune would have it, that’s when the hijacked GMC Banshee chose to smash through the stairwell wall, one floor up. Reacting with years of improvisation training, Nuggler didn’t think twice about flinging himself over the rail to avoid the engine explosion that reduced the remaining duelist drones to slag. The fall took all but the most vital breath out of him, but he was still awake. Still able to move.
He rolled over and gazed up the ruined stairwell, groaning the whole while.
“Scared enough to crash a jet into me, huh? Don’t blame you…”
Struggling to his feet, he began to limp towards the vehicle ramp. Passing the idling team van, Goldblum, on the way.
Having lost his axe in some drone’s back moments ago, Knife-1 had resorted to a modern spin on a primal classic. Beating things to death with his metallic hands. His cybernetics proved the stronger when matched with drone chassis and the dents he left were almost as vicious as the axe wounds. It had made it harder to defend himself however, and against all internal instincts he had worked his way back to his own drone’s side. His HUD counted down the dwindling bullet supply in the drone’s loadout, but it’d buy him a few seconds more while he regained his breath. He didn’t even register the explosive crash on the side of the building, too busy taking stock of the several drones that had avoided the withering cover fire.
As Ivory had expected, at least one of the drone’s had managed to get around K1’s savage defense. While she trusted her spell to keep the decker and her safe from discovery, it wouldn’t last forever and this drone seemed intent on it’s search. Gritting her teeth and grasping the hilt of her concealed combat knife, she slowly advanced on the lone drone.
Free to pick her opportunity to strike but distracted by the billowing smoke and the concentration of maintaining her spell, Ivory took a studied stab at some important looking mechanisms in it’s neck. The blow, lethal to a metahuman, merely set the drone wildly slashing and spinning in an attempt to counter attack it’s unseen aggressor. Managing to avoid it’s furious rebuttal, Ivory snarled in frustration and blew the thing back with a blast of lightning from her outstretched palm, dropping the drain of the invisibility spell at the same time.
While the blast had blown it from her sight, she listened intently for sounds of movement from where it landed. Unable to hear anything over the sounds of K1’s skirmish, she nodded in satisfaction and jogged back to check on Line. Just as she was getting to him a colossal explosion rocked the structure and caused her to stumble into place beside him. Futilely looking around in shock, she caught Line’s gaze as his organic eye flickered open. He seemed sunken and pale, a startling change considering he’d only been jacked in for one or two minutes. He dragged himself to his feet without a word and Ivory followed.
The Red Samurai, Shin Hideki, clawed about the cockpit, vision blinded by a combination of the warning messages and an alarming amount of smoke filling his space. After several panicked moments, his left hand clasped onto what he was after. Pulling the emergency release lever, he jettisoned the cockpit’s cover off. This let him claw his way out of the devastated VTOL and enter the ruined stairwell. Noticing the charred drone remains about he, he simply issued an electronic snarl and kicked one of the gracefully curved headpieces in frustration.
His HUD displayed the injuries the crash had inflicted, but all were minor and could be ignored until after his task was complete. He gave a quick but thorough check to his equipment and armour and headed down the burning stairwell.
The matte black canisters filling the level with smoke had finally run dry and the air was beginning to clear thanks to the stagnant wind blowing across the city. This allowed Line and Ivory to see K1 finishing up the last of the drone’s by push-kicking it through the barrier and out into the early morning air, raining chunks of concrete behind it. The elf had obviously suffered plenty of hurt but he was using it rather than giving in.The two humans took a moment to warily appreciate his brutal drive. A moment too quickly shattered by a burst of semi-automatic fire coming from the direction of the stairwell. Two bullets rocketed into Line’s torso, coming barely shy of punching right through his newly acquired armoured jacket.
Ivory wasn’t so lucky.
The shot caught her directly in the hip and she went down with a breathless gasp.
Instinctively ducking into cover, Line drew his equally new Ruger Super Warhawk with his other hand grabbed the back of Ivory’s top to drag her into cover with him. Despite her squirming he get her propped up and took note of the grievous injury. Thinking back to the borderline fatal injuries that he’d seen her heal in the past, he just furrowed his brow “You going to be able to handle this?”.
She didn’t reply, but the belaboured nod was enough for him.
All the while, Knife-1 had gotten to lay his designer peepers on the catch of the day.
“Dance time, motherfucker!” K1 screeched as he flung himself, axe freshly in hand, at the kneeling Red Samurai.
Seemingly prepared for the tempestuous assault, the Renraku operative gently discarded his weapon and drew both of his katanas, smoothly melding it into a parry to block K1’s catastrophic overhead assault. Within moments the ringing of blade on blade was more akin to a constant hum than a series of blows. Both fighters pushed to the edge of what their chrome would allow, leaving their simple flesh long behind.
As Line ducked out from behind his cover, ready to engage, he came to a startled stop. Physically speaking, he was in good shape. Despite years of abuse, his body still served him well when he needed it to. But seeing the superhuman limits of metahumanity laid bare gave him a second of doubt.
Then he remembered that this is why he’d bought the high explosive rounds.
Now all he needed was a clear shot…
Huffing with exertion, Nuggler made it up the third ramp before stopping to take a breather against a concrete pillar.
“It’s the year 2076, why the frag doesn’t this place have a lift?” he groaned before continuing at a jog.
Most weapons would have buckled or fallen apart altogether under the ringing blows of a Red Samurai katana, let alone two. One of the corporation’s best kept secrets is the techniques for forging the blades and only a handful are made every few years to award to the new raised Samurai. Lucky for Knife-1, he’d always fantasized about having a throwdown like this and when he’d commissioned this axe months ago he had made sure that the manufacturer was the best of the best available to someone without a SIN. His malignant if childish grin a stark contrast to the grim skull of his opponents faceplate.
Despite barely having the focus to spare, Line’s prowling wasn’t lost on K1. He knew that the smart move was to try and position for a shot. But where was the fun in that?
Long moments passed as Line circled the dueling pair, unwilling to risk putting a high explosive revolver round into his team mate’s back. His frustration grew with each bloody gash appearing on K1 while the blows he offered in return were mostly shrugged off by the Red Samurai milspec armour. Line knew he couldn’t hold up in a straight fight and they were running out of time to use the advantage of numbers.
Wheezing, Nuggler rounded the corner on the ramp to the fifth floor. And took a moment to soak in what a ruckus had obviously occurred while he’d been indisposed.
“Why’d I miss the fun stuff?” He called earnestly, scooping up a lime green dodge scoot and hurling it at the whirling melee.
The tumbling scooter forced the two combatants apart, the diminutive vehicles crashing between them and continuing out into the early morning air.
Finally seeing his opening, Line flicked the barrel of his oversized revolver up and fanned the hammer three times. The trio of high explosive rounds thundered into the samurai’s flank one after another, splintering the cutting edge carapace of his ceremonial armour. He staggered to the side, rocked off balance by the explosive address.
Seizing on the opening, K1 lunged in to re-engage. His gleeful growl accompanied by the eager hiss of the leg-pistons. In credit to Knife-1’s combat experience, he didn’t even register surprise when the samurai’s seemingly shaken stance shifted and a lone blade struck out to greet him. He’d known, on some instinctual level, that this could have been a ruse. He simply hadn’t cared. His ability to not care took a significant hit, however, when the blade-down katana pierced right through the weak meat of his shoulder. After the Red Samurai pirouetted around, impaling the blade and Knife-1 into the side of a people carrier, he still didn’t care but at least began to appreciate that he should have.
Line and Nuggler weren’t idle while this was going on. Nuggler was hustling to close the distance with their foe while Line continued to unload explosive shells into the Samurai’s back. Aided with the inbuilt laser sight of his cybernetic eye, each shot struck true. The blows didn’t seem to hurt, but the damage to the armour was clear. Splintering cracks were spiderwebbing throughout the larger plates as the bright red armour began to buckle under the assault.
Just as the Warhawk ran dry, Line opted out of the lengthy reloading process. Simply dropping it to the ground and quickdrawing his more reasonably sized Deputy Cavalier. It wasn’t loaded with the four remaining explosive rounds, but he figured the work was done and they just needed the kill. But just as the flicked up the aim at the target’s exposed back, a small hatch on the rear of the armour flicked open. With a high whine, biting light burst forth causing Line and Nuggler to hiss and shy away from the blinding display.
Leaving the elf impaled with one of his blades, the Red Samurai span and assessed the two remaining targets. Deeming the troll sufficiently far away, he chose the insufferable decker. He charged at Line, effortlessly sheathing his remaining katana as he went. His fingertips sparked as he prepared to neutralize his opponent for later use. The confrontation in the matrix hadn’t changed anything, he still needed the decker alive.
What nobody counted on was Nuggler getting a second wind. Far from the simple bruiser-turned-shadowrunner stereotype most expected of trolls in the biz, Nuggler was a performer. An athlete. He knew when to pull out the stops.
So as the Red Samurai bore down on Line, revolver rounds pinging uselessly off the undamaged front plates, Nuggler intercepted. Shoulder checking the opposing cybernetic killer with all his momentum, Nuggler plowed him directly into a concrete pillar with such force that a nearby car alarm went off. Following it up with several elbow blows and right hooks, the ex-wrestler’s sparking strikes stunned the pummeled Samurai for several numbing seconds before he began to counter with his own martial arts training. Using the pillar at his back to push-kick Nuggler away, he responded with his own blows. Far from the savage elegance of the sword-to-axe fight with K1, this was a series of viciously traded blows that slowed quickly. The numbing effect of each fighter’s crackling electricity slowing the other to a crawl.
Once again seizing on the lull, Line emptied his chambers into the weakened points on the Samurai’s armour and was rewarded with a splash of what must have passed for blood in the man-made-machine.
Rudely ignoring the agony that screamed from his useless flesh, K1 trashed and yelled. As more blood wept from the impaling wound and the dozen other future-scars he clamped his teeth in frustration.
“Fuck this, we had a plan.” He spat out with half a mouth full of blood before sending a wireless signal to Goldblum downstairs to make it’s way up here.
Stumbling back several steps, the haggard warrior of Renraku drew forth his remaining blade in an attempt to counter his far bigger opponent’s natural reach. Unbothered, Nuggler gave an exhausted one-two before following it up with a sudden lunging headbutt. But all he caught for his troubles were empty air and a large gash across his crooked nose.
Reeling from the stinging blow Nuggler was unable to stop his opponent darting around him and planting a stunning punch right into Line’s chest, sending the already drained decker spinning to the floor.
Satisfied with the result, the Red Samurai shifted to face the recovered Dark Nuggler. His legs wide, blade high and gaze flaring.
Wary of the blade’s ability to pierce his thick hide, Nuggler decided to play for time.
“Naifu shittodikku kare no tomodachi o koishiku suru” the burly strongman cobbled together.
Blinking at the surprising (though butchered) use of his father-tongue, Shin Hideki assumed that the troll referred to the executive that had committed sepukku to make up for the failings in security. Interesting, he thought. It seemed he’d be even more complicit than simple incompetence suggested.
Seeing the Samurai pause for thought, Nuggler looked around for any advantage. Line groaning on the ground, a cracked concrete pillar, a handful of ruined cars, a bloodstained people carrier – Wait, wasn’t that where Kni- he got halfway through thinking before the situation changed.
Goldblum the GMC Bulldog van pottered up the ramp at an easy pace, guided by it’s safety focused guidance software and good, honest road etiquette. As it’s headlights blared through the ruined level, sight caused the Red Samurai to snap his attention to it briefly. Backup? An escape plan? Or a distrac- he reasoned quickly, agony sprung from his spine and out of his abdomen. Confusion reigned for a moment until the bloodied tip of a familiar looking blade simmered into visibility.
To Nuggler eyes, also distracted by Goldblum’s unexpected appearance, he snapped his gaze back just in time to see his opponent arch his back and let out a guttural, electronic wheeze. Thinking it was some sort of cyber-nonsense, Nuggler shrunk back into a defensive posture and watched as a ragged but smirking K1 and an exhausted, bloodied Ivory materialized behind the Samurai.
Twisting the blade maliciously before yanking it out, K1 let the representative of the fabled Red Samurai slump to his knees as his internal systems shrieked in alarm, unable to cope with the catastrophic damage.
“Help me unload Goldblum” The elf razorboy drawled, looking down at his catch with unrivaled malice . “We’ve got a ceremony to officiate”.
Working quickly; Dark Nuggler and Ivory struggled with the van’s package and hauled Line into it’s comforting safety.
“Grab his… grab the cyberdeck. Cut it out if you have to.” Line managed to force out, still wincing at the blow to his chest. He was pretty sure he’d heard something crack but the numbing effect of the accompanying electrical charge had left most of his torso completely numb.
Knife-1, keeping an eye on the prize, gave a hearty thumbs up to the idea. He was bitterly disappointed to find the offending deck hidden in an armoured compartment of the left cyberarm, so he rabbit-punched the Samurai for good measure.
“Normally I’d be all for robbing the dead, but this one’s special. Will selling this thing really cover the cost of the satisfaction we get from scouring this fuck from the face of the planet?” K1 called over, missing Line’s point.
“There’s something I need” Line slurred, “Data.”
“Paydata?” K1 queried, unimpressed with the arguement.
Line shook his head roughly before mumbling. “Personal.”
Raising his eyebrows, K1 acquiesced and threw the third-of-a-million-credit piece of gear loosely over to the decker who’s reflexes were fortunately still up to the task of catching the thing. He idly considered buying Lenny a soybeer as thanks as he tucked the device away. Those spinal replacements were doing work.
“Are we finished? Even in this part of town, police are going to respond to this level of bullshit going down and I’ve got to tuck me daughter into bed.” Nuggler half-joked, looking around warily.
“Nobody will be coming. Renraku would have paid them enough to look away for the rest of the night.” Ivory dismissed.
Nuggler groaned and fingered his nose wound gingerly. “Why’d you have to say that? Now we have to watch Knifey-Shitdicks get messy with his dinner before he can give us a ride home. I saw enough of that at that club we hit.”
“Nuh-uh, not this time compadres! This is a ceremony and I prefer to keep ‘em short. Really maximises the emotional punch, y’know?” Knife called over, gesturing at bizarre payload.
“Where did you even get a boat at this time of night?” Ivory enquired bluntly. Nuggler only grinned at the absurd display.
“The universe provides.” K1 explained cryptically, pressing him palms together and shutting his eyes in a mockery of serenity everywhere. Then he turned back to the crippled Red Samurai, whose sharp red eyes were the only sign of life within the shell.
“You should be honoured. We couldn’t have this memorial service without you, most honourable sir, most noble lord!” K1 whispered merrily to the decomissioned corporate executioner. “Welcome to the final goodbye to the spirit of my dearest, most loving and indeed handsomest friend.” Knife-1 gave a grand sweep of his left arm, the right shoulder still shrieking in pain from it’s recent impalement.
Next to the slumped Samurai lay Mr Jefferson’s last farewell. What looked like a rotten, mouldy fishing boat was packed with industrial demolition charges. Astride the charges like a conquering king was a crude, steel effigy of the beloved roto-drone. The original and ragged top hat sat atop at a charming angle.
K1 wiped away a very real tear before continuing.
“Cut down in his prime by a roaming warrior, Mr Jefferson gave of himself to save us all. He will be missed. He will be honoured. And he will always be loved.” The elf idly ran his hand over the effigy, lost in thought.
“But Mr Jefferson wasn’t just a noble, stalwart friend! Oh no! He was a cunning foe and a vengeful enemy! The spirit of Mr Jefferson could in no way truly rest until his killer was brought to justice. So that Mr Jefferson could claim his own justice in drone-heaven!”
In the background Nuggler looked steadily more uncomfortable as he considered the notion that drones had spirits and went to heaven.
“So!” Knife-1 went on “I arm you with all that you had in life. So that you may provide worthy prey for Mr Jefferson on his many hunting trips to cunt-hell.” With that, he ceremoniously sheathed both katanas and strapped the discared assault rifle to the fallen warrior’s back. “You don’t get the deck though. Decking is cheating and Mr Jefferson hates cheaters.”
“And now, to light the ceremonial pyre.” A breath so ragged as to be lustful left the elf as he pressed the crudely attached detonator on the prow of the boat. A small screen began to show a segmented circle which immediately began to tick away. The switch also gave life to the coloured fairylights covering the boat. Mr Jefferson had so loved fairy lights.
“Ta-ta motherfucker.” Knife casually called over his back as he strolled towards Goldblum as everyone else piled in to the same seats they’d ridden in earlier.
As they drove away, the shockwave rocked the van on it’s axis. While Line, Ivory and Nuggler moved to brace themselves, Knife-1 filled the vehicle with highly sexualized sounds of faux-orgasm. The top four levels of the car park was obliterated, along with the remains of the crashed Bansee. On the drive back, Ivory remembered that they’d left the two security guards tied up under their desk on the ground floor, but nobody really cared. Ivory included. Fatigue set in as London’s grey sky began to lighten.
SIX MONTHS PASS
Ivory sat, as she regularly did, on the porch of her humble cottage. It had been months but she still didn’t take Norway’s crisp, clean air for comfort. Even forgoing a space heater, she just comforted herself with warm layer after layer.
The corporate chaos as news of the Red Samurai’s death spread gave her enough confidence to get herself smuggled out of the country. Using the money she’d saved from the last few jobs and her firm connections, she set herself up with an entirely new identity. Robyn Farringworth was an academic. A remote researcher and analyst. She worked through the matrix and sold her expertise and research to everyone from struggling machical theory students to world renowned institutions. Out of choice, she kept her job density low to avoid drawing undue attention. And as such, her living conditions were modest.
But here, in her woodland cabin with few neighbours and miles of snowy forest, she was finally free.
Knife-1 flicked through the trid channels on his headset, blandly taking in trash after trash. The Stuffer Shack fast food stains on the front of his tuxedo helping it match with the rest of his apartment. If someone were to witness him now, they’d assume he was coming from an incredible good or awful high society party, but the truth is he just fancied having a ‘fancy day’. He’d had some new LED tattoos installed over the flesh of his back and shoulders and he wanted to ride the ‘feeling pretty’ high for as long as he could. The high, and the tuxedo, had leasted about two weeks at this stage.
Groaning in disgust, he tore off his trid-headset and flung it onto the far sofa.
“I can’t replace him. I won’t.” He said to his only companion, his loyal but unresponsive dobermann drone.
“I get it, I understand. I really do. You miss having a brother. But to just replace him? That sort of shit will get back to him. He’ll be heartbroken.”
Knife-1 stared at his impassive companion.
“You know, that’s a point… He was a lover. There are so many unwanted drone’s out there, you’d think he’d want us to adopt one. Right? Bring it into the family?”
No response was forthcoming.
“But I spent the last of my money on this tattooooo….” Knife-1 wailed before slumping back into the sofa like a distraught four year old. “There’s adoption fees! Bribes! Blood money!”
Something whirred from deep within the drone’s chassis.
“Fuck. You’re right. I need to get back in the biz. Make some more scratch. Then we can get you a little brother you can be proud of!” K1 cycled his cybernetic, tuxedo’d raptor feet through the air in jubilation.
“I gotta make some caaaalls!”
Line sucked in the stale air of his apartment as he snapped back into meatspace. He looked around at the peeling, browning walls and the vomit coloured carpet and missed the digital world already. But he needed a break. It was early in the morning. But too early for anything respectable. For months he’d been working almost non-stop to break through the military level encryption on the Red Samurai’s cyberdeck. To delve unimpeded into the data stored within. On his own terms.
His new landlords, an Indo-Turkish Ork family of seven, didn’t ask for a SIN, took nuyen in hand and didn’t bother with questions. The apartment was a drek-pit, but it gave him the anonymity that he needed without forcing him to sell an organ every month.
He stood up slowly, cracking his back and closed his aching eyes before heading to the tiny kitchenette to grab a bottle of purified water from his fridge. Tapwater in a place like this would be more like watered down devil-rat piss than anything else, so he kept it ‘fancy’. Draining the bottle, he placed it carefully with it’s fellows in a neat group on the counter. His stomach gurgled, causing the memory of the three-day old cantonese takeout in the fridge to rise from the depths of his mind like a ghost ship.
Unwilling to suffer stale soynoodles, he grabbed his jacket and headed for the door. Double checking all four locks were secure, he headed down the two flights of stairs to the ground floor. On the way he passed the oldest daughter, Pashi. She must’ve been coming in from a busy night, if the bruises and angrily hunched shoulders gave anything away. She bounced for a local eatery that had too many problems with drunks and burnouts and her effectiveness was making her popular.
“Shubh prabhaat, Kilroy.” She called to him with a surpisingly cheerful tone, addressing him with the new of his newest fake SIN. “You going out for some breakfast, yeah?”
‘Kilroy’ eyed the beefy ork appraisingly, thinking he hadn’t actually directly spoken to another metahuman since paying the rent two weeks ago. “Yeah, going to Dylo’s to avoid killing myself with old takeout. You want in?”
“Nah, thanks though. It’s been a long night and I need to get my rest for the surgery tomorrow.”
Line’s eyebrow shot up at that. People in this neighbourhood didn’t often have the money for even simple medical expertise.
“Anything wrong?” He enquired, more curious than worried.
“Oh! Nah! The boss is just hooking me up! He’s been so happy with business recently that he’s covering my first chrome!” The young ork was obviously ecstatic at the though. Folks round here didn’t get a chance to rise above the rank and file.
Line let out a low whistle. “That sounds wiz, kid. Just make sure the contract doesn’t have you over a barrel paying for it for the rest of your life.”
Pashi let out a surprisingly girly laugh. “Nah, bossman ain’t like that. He pays me fair and treats me good. He even said I can take the contract home so my da can read it to me.”
“Mind if I have a look at it after he does? I know my way around that sort of thing.” He said with a half smile, tapping his finger just under his left eye.
“Yeah! Sounds great! Thanks Kilroy. Seeya around, yeah?” She waved a cheery but obviously exhausted goodbye to Line as she closed the door behind her.
Left alone in the stinking corridor, Line just shook his head and supressed a sigh. He’d seen this sort of thing every day in Hong Kong. Kids looking for a hand to help them rise up only to find out that hand was never going to let them go.
Shrugging and pushing out the front door into the crude London street, the local AR scene exploded all over his vision. Only his powerful filters stopped it being an annoyance, the tide of ARO’s held at bay to be soundly ignored.
After a long moment of considering just going back upstairs and getting back to work, his stomach betrayed him with another rumble. Giving in, he pulled up his hood and headed down the street towards the night-time cluster of food stalls that kept most of the local populace in soy, rat meat and the rare, expensive apple.
The Glow and the Renraku data would wait for a length of a meal.
Nuggler squatted down in the warehouse he’d just acquired a lease for. Surprising everyone, he had chosen to invest the money from his recent runs in chasing his dream. This space was to the home of the TWC. The Troll Wrestling Championship.It’d take a lot of work he knew, looking about at the debris. It wasn’t easy to tell, but it looked like some small-time gang used to live out of here until a devilrat infestion had left nothing but their bones. The double-A corporation who hoovered it up hadn’t even cleaned the place after exterminating the rats, so Nuggler’s first job was chucking all the remains in the ditch across the road.
Hey, at least it was in his budget.
His daughter helped him out after school and on weekends, so he savoured it as a bonding experience. Regaling the exhausted teen with tales of his glory days that she’d heard a thousand times before. Within weeks, all that was left of the mess was the dust in the air that Nuggler argued gave the space a ‘timeless, classic feel’. His daughter argued it gave people asthma attacks. They agreed to disagree.
After that, shrewdly acquired equipment starting filling the warehouse. A few patchy punching bags, several mismatched sets of weights and an absolute ton of thick, synthetic rope. Eventually Nuggler managed to nab what he was really after in a police auction. A regulation size ring to take pride of place in what he was now insistently calling the Nugglerdome. It was stained and creaky, but it held up to him body slamming it so he loved it anyway.
Slowly, local toughs started sticking their heads in to see what the deal was. The gym wasn’t too far from his home, so Nuggler’s reputation did a lot to lure people through the front door. Aftet that, his intimidating personality convinced them that a year’s membership up front is a fantastic way to spend money and handed over the nuyen.
Despite the strongarm tactics, loyalty to the non-pretentious, street level gym rose. Trolls and orks started coming from farther around the city and even some humans and dwarfs signed up. While Nuggler didn’t discriminate about membership, he always favoured the troll members with his one-on-one tutelage. Asked for or otherwise. If he wanted to start a dedicate troll wrestling championship he needed the best. If he couldn’t find ‘em, he’d train ’em.
More time passed and Nuggler was proud. The gym was never packed but things ticked over nicely. He got to know the members and spent so much time there he even set up an oversized cot in his office. Primarily because he didn’t know what else an office was for.
Sadly, despite his daughter’s help, financial responsibility wasn’t entirely within Nuggler’s wheelhouse. Despite business being okay, the taxes and rates he was forced to pay as a legitimate business kept the gym always narrowly away from being in the black. After several months, he risked running out of nuyen entirely.
He had a choice. Take a loan from some soulless corporate bank and live a slave or go back to running and die free.
After Line pointing out that he didn’t have to die over a commlink conversation involving far too many accidental disconnects and mistakenly sent nudes, Dirk “Dark” Nuggler had his answer.