I’m writing this at the Chimney Boys warehouse, where we’re currently bedding down. It’s the calm before the storm, and it’s a storm I’m only half looking forward to. My nervous system is shot, warping reality with hyper sensitivity, but I guess that’s inevitable when you’ve had desperate spinal surgery and no hint of bliss for nearly 24 hours.
Two vertebrae replaced with segments of superconducting material, amplifying my perception in a manner I’ve only ever experienced on jazz or novacoke. Bliss always slowed me down enough to dampen the tweaky, paranoiac sense when leaving the matrix. This surgery is a commitment to regaining that loss of speed; I’ve accelerated my conscious perception permanently.
All of which has left me in a state of confusion, the underlying anger broiling but directionless as minor waves of nausea grip me, adjusting to this new modality. You know, there was a time that messing with my mind on drugs in the matrix was all I lived for, recklessly embracing new realities without consequence.
The losses I’ve suffered brought those consequences home, right to my doorstep, and I won’t run from them again. It’s time to run through the fire.
3am was when I put my head down; 7am I’m awoken by my commlink. Hard to ignore when it’s wired directly into your head, besides I wasn’t sleeping well after the chaos of the night before. Outside the rain had stopped, but the London fog had thickened. I opened the call, and was immediately greeted by a vidfeed.
Tied to a chair having been savagely beaten, was Reno. If I had only been half awake before, I was all the way now. Blood dripped from fresh wounds, eyes blackened – I’d seen worse before, but not by much. As the dormant adrenaline refreshed itself a figure wandered into the camera shot, horrifyingly familiar.
That fucking Red Samurai. Adorning the full armour you’d expect from a Renraku elite, katana sheathed, cybernetic faceplate hiding all but the thin, Asiatic eyes. Even then they stared with a red glow, vicious and demonic. He walked toward the camera and held up one hand, dangling something in front of the lens.
Cybereyes, familiar ones, having previously belonged to the green haired Johnson we ran the job for the night before. Whether he was alive or dead was irrelevant – the samurai had got to him, and from him got to Reno. I extended this call to both Knife and Ivory too, but couldn’t raise Nuggler.
Suddenly the vidfeed cut and Reno’s face appeared, live this time. He had washed himself up a little but still looked like shit, coughing before talking;
“Shut up and listen. I got this to you all as soon as I got my hands free. You guys have been a pain in my ass but while I’m not gonna die for you assholes, I can at least warn you about what’s coming. It’s probably a waste of breath, but lay fragging low. He’s coming for you and he knows everything I know about you, and probably a sight more thanks to that green haired pillock. I’m going to disappear for a while. Damn well make sure you do the same.”
Without further words the stream cut, and we were left in a three-way call. Silence punctuated the moment as we realised we were actively being hunted by a corporate elite, a red samurai, those near psychopathic zealots that would die before sacrificing their mission. Knife spoke first;
“Let’s skip town?” he asked. It was probably a smart idea, and I guessed that Ivory would agree. But through that adrenaline and the shakes I sat upright on my bed, the fury which had awoken telling me otherwise.
“I want to fight” I said, clear as day. It surprised me as much as the others – I’m a decker, and only ever been half handy in a scrap. Actively choosing to go up against Red Samurai was near suicide, although this one mercifully seemed to be working alone. Some part of me knew that this was all linked to two years back, when I ran, not stopping to look back until it was too late.
“I think we should…” started Ivory, but stopped as a noise sounded in the background. “Hang on, someone is trying to get into my apartment – I better go”. She dropped the call leaving Knife and I, probably thinking the same. At that moment, the early warning system for my home hub sounded, and I knew I was also under attack.
Bailing on the call I jacked into the matrix to have a look, cold sim in case of savage damage. This was an attack alright, a comprehensive one, but it hadn’t penetrated just yet. Anticipating that fighting would be pointless, especially if the Red already had my address, I did what I could to stall them and jacked out.
Gathering my things, weapons and creds, a pack with survival essentials, I ensured to finalise a backup of the Glow. The only real valuable thing in this apartment anyway, if they got that my work would have been for nothing. Sliding my jacket on, checking my revolver was loaded I exited towards the corridor, riding the fear.
It was clear, and as I hit the stairs downward I initiated what self-destructive measures I had on my home hub. It lit up like a Christmas tree, both from the attack and the suicidal failsafe, scorching as much stray information they could use to track me as I could. Outside was still quiet so I hit the garage, grabbed Axiom and rode off into the thick fog.
After I’d cleared about a kilometer my commlink went off again – Ivory calling Knife and I. Answering I was greeted by “hey guys, people tried to break into my apartment. I’ve escaped, could you come and pick me up?”. Knife volunteered, and said he’d drive Goldblum over to a neutral location – I followed suit.
Checking again there was still no sign of Nuggler, I got a message pinged from the matrix:
Red Queen: [Your home hub is a pyre. Where are you?]
Line: [On the move. How do you know that?]
RQ: [It draws the eye. My Agents just gave me word.]
L: [Well you might have seen that since we last talked I got famous. Did you glean any further info?]
RQ: [Some. I’ll transfer what I know when things have been quelled.]
I’d not heard from the Red Queen in a while, did some work with her a few months before I started running. It didn’t surprise me that she’d kept eyes on me, and part of me was grateful. Connections made in the matrix are almost ethereal, rarely crossing into material reality, preserving a magical quality I missed these days.
I ripped through the fog ridden city streets, lungs resistant to the worst of it from years of Asian living and bliss smoking. Finally, a call from Nuggler, video of an unconscious Ork lying face down on a pavement;
“He ones of ours?” he asked.
“Nope” I replied.
“Reno had a visit from our Samurai ‘friend’, and now we’re being hunted”
“Hmm, where you headed?”. I pinged the location to Nuggler, the coffee shop we would all convene at, and dropped the call.
A while later I arrived, noticed Goldblum parked up and headed indoors. Ordering a black coffee, I sat down with Knife and Ivory.
“Priorities?” asked Knife.
“Murder a Red Samurai” I said bluntly, aware of the absurdity of it all.
“We don’t run?” asked Ivory. I shook my head, there was to be no running anymore.
“Kill, then run?” asked Knife. It was a distinct possibility. Running on four hours sleep and with two of our homes having been attacked it was little wonder the conversation was so curt.
“Killing is a foregone conclusion at this junction” I finally said, as Nuggler burst through the café door.
“What did I miss?” he blurted out, not missing a beat. We relayed a video of Reno’s beating, of the Samurai holding up the other Johnsons eyes, pausing on his cybernetic face.
“See that? We need to kill that” I said.
“Why?” asked Nuggler, waving the waiter over. I shuffle in my chair, deciding to give the short version.
“He’s a bad person” I reply.
“He killed my best friend” said K1. Nuggler ordered several plates of food, and we largely sat in silence whilst he vanished it in record time. Letting out a troll sized belch he slapped his belly and proclaimed;
“Let’s go kill someone then”
We left the cafe and I got back on the bike, the other three hopping into Goldblum. Nuggler had been in touch with Big Smoke, something to do with his daughter, and after learning of our situation offered the Chimney Boys help if we required. As we no longer had individual safe houses we accepted, deciding to meet him in a nearby playground.
On the way, I messaged Red Queen to check on that info:
Red Queen: [In the last four hours’ people have been pinging requests to the Hong Kong Renraku offices. They’re tagged with your name. Three others as well, but nothing came back attached to them.]
L: [Shit. Know if they found anything?]
RQ: [They received video footage and other files in return, but I couldn’t see what was in them.]
L: [Ok that’s bad. Thank you RQ.]
RQ: [De nada.]
Upon arrival, I hopped in the van to provide sniper cover – recent events had spiked my paranoia enough to reinvigorate old security measures. The fog had become thick enough to cause Ivory to start coughing, not a great sign, making my task harder. The others walked to the center of the playground for the meet, and we waited.
A few moments later a shadow began to emerge from the fog, an engine heard. I doubled down my focus through the Rangers scope, adjusting my cybernetic eye to compensate for the weather. The outline became the shape of a van, engine noise echoing through the thick air. There came a slow, dawning realisation that it was, in fact, a fucking ice cream van.
Chugging slowly towards the pavement it pulled over and a head stuck out, adorned with ice cream vendor cap. The owner looked over as if he was perfectly incognito – Big Smoke. Shaking my head I rested the rifle and sat back in the van, letting the others handle the rest of this absurdity. For all my frustration, it’s moments like this which remind me to lighten up, and somewhere deep I’m sure there’s a gratitude for that.
The others talked for a few minutes whilst I listened on comms – Nuggler and Big Smoke reconnecting like old friends. He offered us use of the Chimney Boys warehouse as a safehouse, apparently having already been looking after Nuggler’s daughter for a few hours, and access to any equipment or stock we needed. I recalled the shopping list I drafted the night before, and realised this was exactly what I needed.
Once back in the van we followed Big Smoke’s undercover Ice Cream van back to the gang hideout, and dispatched. I handed over my shopping list;
2 x Flashbangs
2 x Frag grenades
1 x Ruger Super Warhawk
10 x High Ex Rounds
1 x Armor Jacket
The Warhawk was a little extra, after all I already have the Deputy, but it packs a bit more of a punch, which in combination with the high explosive rounds should put more of a dent in a Red Samurais armour. As I organised the gear Big Smoke mentioned they had a cyberdoc.
My conscious mind locked onto that fact like a sniper. There’s always been a peculiarity with my lack of augmentation, especially when you consider my cyberdeck was put into my chest so many years ago. I never wanted to matrix to leave me, hell it’s part of my identity at this point almost more than the meat. But some part of me was subconsciously holding onto my essence, as if it retained some important part of my humanity.
Truth is the loss of my parents, of Blue Sun, and of Recursion, stripped me of that a long time ago. I’d known for a while that burying my head in the sand in London, throwing myself into the drugs and idle harmless decking, was barely a BTL away from giving up entirely. And in that moment, it occurred to me that I was so far gone already, fuck I even lived through the Crash 2.0, that what did it matter anymore?
“I need reaction enhancers in my spinal column” I said straight, “and an upgrade to my cyber eye”. I could have sworn Knife looked across at me with a type of pride then, and Big Smoke nodded in acknowledgement.
“Lenny” he yelled somewhere towards the back. A few moments passed, before a short topless guy sporting chemical burns and strange swirling digital graphics on his skin wandered in through a doorway eating a sandwich. Clearly this was not a clinical corporate cyberdoc, more street level and rough around the edges, but needs must.
“Wash your hands” I said to him directly, “I need a new spine”.
Lenny put me under for the surgery, and I was more than happy for the warm embrace of chemically induced consciousness loss. There was no trepidation left in me for this op, after all I’d had my eye and chest done before. In its place was a strange sense of serenity, as if accepting new responsibility. Rating 2 reaction enhancers would allow me to see faster in the meat, shoot faster if needed, and a laser targeting upgrade to my cyber eye should mean those shots landed more often.
I didn’t dream when I was under, something I consider a mercy these days, and awoke in that groggy peaceful way you do when opioids begin to wear off. Opening my human eye the light flooded back in, and I found myself staring at the floor. I couldn’t hear anybody else around so tried to move my arms which worked, individually running my fingers along my vertebrae.
Lenny had stitched me up good, chemically rebinding my flesh to mend faster, and it felt as complete as a new scar could. I watched the sub systems for my eye boot again and found the new settings, flicking the laser on and off a few times with a thought as it lit the floor below. Moving from lying on my front I rotated onto my back, and found there was no pain where the surgery had taken place.
I tried to sit up too quickly, and immediately felt a wave of disoriented sickness. This was oddly familiar to me, the number of bad trips and burnout matrix sessions I’d had too many to count at this point, and I did the normal response of closing my eyes, focusing inwardly and breathing. Running a conscious scan of my body it was clear something had changed, but not how quite yet.
I sat there for a few minutes just breathing, near meditating, adjusting to whatever new normal this was going to be. As the sickness abated I re-opened my eyes and felt ready to stand, shifting off the slightly grubby operating table. Lenny was nowhere to be seen, which I had to take as a good sign, and I stood up to slowly pace across the room a few times.
Everything felt remarkably stable, a testament to Lenny’s skill over appearance, and over a few minutes something more than stable. Like a deep dive in the matrix time seemed to have warped a little, felt a little slower somehow, as if patterns were shifting more quickly. Usually when drug induced this was matched with visual feedback, but now it was just an intuitive feeling, as if the world had physically slowed.
I headed out of the operating room into the main warehouse, where various members of the Chimney boys were relaxing or rigging. I was twitchy, and grabbed a soycaf with some half-baked hope it might level me out. As I sipped it I noticed a crude, hand drawn note with the word ‘Meet in the meeting room’, signed Nuggler.
After a quick search, I found a side room with ‘Meeting’ crudely scrawled above the door, and entered to find the other guys already waiting inside. Nuggler nodded in acknowledgement, explaining Ivory was taking a break having picked up a brief illness from the polluted smog. A quick matrix search had revealed we were all wanted villains now, to the tune of 50k nuyen a head.
Something twitched within me and I leant to the side, raising a hand to catch a stray object hurtling towards my head. Gazing over to where it came from I found Knife, adorned with something resembling a smile.
“Wanted to check your new tech” he said, pleased with himself. I flicked my laser eye on, staring at him as if targeting, then knocked it off in acknowledgement. As I sat for the meeting to start Lenny walked in, and K1 greeted him warmly.
“Guys, can I uh join?” he asked. With no objection, Lenny entered and sat with us, Nuggler starting.
“This Samurai whatever” he said, “How do we kill it?”. I looked across to the others before volunteering my opinion.
“Red Samurai are fanatics, devoted entirely to their cause. Their body is like an extension of Renraku itself, augmented to do one thing and one thing extremely well”
“Hunt. Kill” finished Knife, with knowing admiration. I nodded.
“Usually they work as an incredibly tight knit unit, 4 or 5 of them that live and train together intensively, to foster group intuition. We’re lucky this one seems to be operating solo”. The discussion moved on briefly to tech, armour, what we could expect, before returning to the first question of how to stop him.
“I could blow myself up” suggested Knife.
“Oh, I could help you put bombs in your body” suggested Lenny with genuine enthusiasm. I wasn’t sold on some psycho suicide, but explosives might be a good shout.
“I have some experience with ordinance” I inserted, “Lenny, if the Chimney boys can get their hands on some maybe we could set up an ambush”. The talk continued, plans drawn and redrawn, strategy discussed, before we settled on something crude and barely finished. Details, we agreed, would be settled later, but we did know one thing about it.
It would be a full ambush and assault with everything we had.