Once you make it past the guard tower, a security crash job is really pretty easy. It all comes down to the wearable tech being good enough, hot enough, to defeat the passive AI grid (hot in the sense of stolen, as opposed to bought). Human security, even programmed security drones with hard-wired subroutines, could mean a full identity burn, even arrest. The best the passive AI could do is scan, repeat, and eventually initiate lockdown. Only the slow and the stupid got caught short under a scanner beam. Like Charles, our gangster wanna-be buddy, who got blown away by drones somewhere in this facility just a week ago.
Nika and I were not slow or stupid. She was compact and buzzing with energy. I was a dark shape in head-to-toe camo, slung all over with electronic gear and advanced weapons that could blow a fist-size hole in a tank. We’d met almost two years ago, had run with Charles for the past year. We took this crash job as a revenge trip, pure and simple, and there should have been no problem making it in and out without detection.
So when the alarm triggered, why did we freeze? It could have been the flare of red strobes, or the sudden closure of the plated blast containment doors. Or… My neurodrive backed up the visual image, replayed it a frame at a time. I broadcast to Nika on a secure link, unwilling to risk using voice in this small of a space.
“I see a ghost. Wearing white, red eyes, tall. Looks human. Check the northwest corner, second level.” I had disappeared behind cover, stealth gear humming as it emulated my surroundings, reproducing environment-neutral static right down to the temperature level in the room.
“Got it.” Her voice was crisp in the subdermal microphone. Even augmented hearing shouldn’t pick it up –
Even as she moved to a recon position, the white shape flashed out of the shadows. The red eyes were scanner units, and the white was a dermal impact shield which bonded to the shape of a large, cybernetically enhanced human.
The oily black side of Nika’s stun pistol was out in a quarter-second. I knew Nika was wired for full agility, capable of things even an acrobat couldn’t do. She moved across the catwalk faster than the eye could follow, then fired point blank into the left shoulder of our visitor. He should have dropped, but instead the darts recoiled off the white armored surface of a powershell. His armor exploded with electric arc, and current splashed to the metal catwalk, the ceiling lights – and Nika. She dropped like a rock, and he picked her up in the undamaged arm.
Shit. He was a tank. Quick too.
His faceplate slid back. I waited in the shadows of a supercoolant compressor. Charles looked through me, eyes glowing with hot light. “I’ll give you one chance, Victor. Join us or Nika dies tonight.
A fire is burning overhead, and sparks fall from the catwalk bridge. This room is huge, dark, filled with matrix cores and supercoolant compressors. Somewhere in the maze of technology, two macro-drives forge security documents. The forged credentials will bring me in next month’s rent, and incidental destruction is free once the job’s done.
But there’s a problem. Two, in fact.
One: I’m stranded in the corner of the room. My old friend Charles returned, looking like he’s been rebuilt by Section 9. He’s above me somewhere, hidden in the rafters. And he’s dangerous. The smoking door panel controls confirm that he’s armed and well-acquainted with a biomass-penetrating rifle.
Two: My friend Nika is with Charles. That means her life’s in danger. Even if I could escape, I can’t take out Charles. There’s nothing that I can do from my concealment, and revealing myself to Charles certainly won’t help my survival.
Five minutes ago, Charles turned up in the middle of the crash run Nika and I did in his honor. We had thought he was dead; he was reported missing in a Rikku facility last month. We had no idea who he was, until Nika’s sabotage attempt went bad. Now she is paralyzed from her own stun blast, somewhere in the maze of wires over my head.
My fault that I’m a lousy shot. Charles gave me a chance when he grabbed her prone body. He pulled back his faceplate and asked me nicely to surrender. I replied with an explosive shell, damaging the catwalk and blasting a burning hole in the ceiling. I may have grazed him, but his powershell was stronger and faster than human reflexes. He was gone in an instant, and so was Nika. My cover blown, I had no choice but to retreat to a safe location.
He offered me a chance to come in, to work for Rikku’s facility. I wondered what they’d done to him. If they got to Nika… maybe I should blow the whole complex this time.
Chirps sing out as my drives complete their forgeries. Nika is waiting for me by the blue panel of the first macro-drive. She looks unhurt. In her hand is the second drive, already packed.
She comes closer as she sees me. “Victor,” she purrs. I smile, packing the drives in my camo suit, as she continues, “I thought I could trust you. But it’s ok, babe.”
Something’s wrong. I back away, but she’s too close, too hyper. I pop a smoke shell and vanish, then deliver two toxin rounds which stop her in her tracks.
Nika’s eyes glow red in the smoky haze. Even as she drops, clutching her throat, I can see the implant in her cortex dumping biofeedback. Her eyes roll back, and blood drips from each tear duct.
Above me, Charles is laughing. “I told you, Victor. There is no more time. And now Nika’s out of time too.”
Alone, crouched in shadows, I reload, wait, and watch.
A voice in my head is reading the things I did wrong today. “You packed the ammunition loose.” Ignored. “Your rig makes you like an amateur.” Ignored. I’d laugh, but the situation is making my scars ache, and no one can hear me anyway. “You let your friend go after a maniac.” True that.
I glance over at the limp puddle known as Nika in better days. She’s still breathing, but toxic compounds are shutting down her nervous system already. She’ll be dead in two hours, and there’s nothing I can do to stop the process.
Nika’s hair barely covers the neural processor hotwired into her spine. I have a remote line hooked up to it, and my drone is dumping code which should disengage the security protocols. But without the processor offline, my friend is gone, replaced by a homicidal replicant.
Thinking back, I imagine a look of regret at the last second. Why didn’t she pull the trigger on her stunner, when she could have dropped me easily before I saw the implant? Unconscious, Nika looks baby-faced, eyelids fluttering with the pulse of biogenic instructions.
I shove loaded macro-drives in her pockets and place the antidote injector in her left hand. If she wakes up, she’ll know what to do. That is, if she doesn’t try to kill me first.
Then I stand, launching a canister toward the further exit. A dim electronic glow suffuses the high-ceilinged room. The door across the room rocks and cracks open from the blast. I drop into camouflage, and Charles swings down to cover the door.
His eyes are glowing, but his voice sounds just like it always did. “Victor, you chickenshit. You brought your boom-boom.” Two long black barrels swing out from the sides of his armor shell, and I launch another grenade in his direction.
He fires back from the wall, and bullets shred processors and coolant systems, fusing power grids in a shower of sparks. I drop a few smoke and gas canisters on him, but his suit seems to be compensating admirably.
I’m running out of time, and places to hide. My adversary is crawling along the walls like a spider, tracer rounds homing on me from both arms.
He’s laughing insanely in his mask as a wallbreaker round tears his thigh. Somehow, his rage burns even hotter, and the suit inserts white metal into the flesh beneath. He comes for me, walk steady, as I wait in my failing camouflage. Instinct triggers as he passes the power coupling. I fire, and a glowing arc lights up his armor shell.
The face-plate drops down as the man inside screams. I can see blood and gel ejecting from the facemask. The arms of the suit come up shooting, and hot pain licks my leg. I scream and roll away from the guns, firing my last grenade off-target. Then a crash. The suit collapses sideways, guns clicking empty.
I’m almost unconscious, cradling my leg, when cold steel presses my forehead.
Waking up, there’s a chemical tang in my nose. Poisoned. The last few frames of vision glow green in my neural enhancement, while bioware scans my system for traces of what hit me. The results make no sense, playback shows Victor’s terrified face and a gas cloud, before everything goes dark. I remember none of this. Should I be worried? I can’t think straight.
On the bright side, bioware is filtering my blood, and Vic’s antidote strain is on its way through my bloodstream. Seems the poison and the antidote were both courtesy of Vic. But why? I brush my hair back and roll up into lotus posture, trying to think.
Vic has left me a bag with antidotes and our loot gear. There’s a slick processor here too, which was tangled in my hair just a few moments ago. Can’t think of what it is or why it’s familiar, but it’s deactivated. I stow with the other gear. I can’t raise Vic on comm frequencies, and something’s wrong with my memory of the last hour or so. The amnesia feels welcome, and I’m afraid of what may have happened.
There’s worse news; I hear footsteps to my left, three different stride patterns. All of them bigger and heavier than Vic. I fold myself into the gap between a power conduit and a processor core, pulling a black hood over hair and eyes. There’s no room for me inside the core, but I can just see out over the top of the unit.
The footsteps belong to private security. All three look like titans in their dark blue body shells. They’re shining lights everywhere, pointing low-grade bolt guns in different directions. Amateurs. Vic’s down there too, obviously hurt. He’s talking to a camera held in one of the guards’ hands. Another shape in white is sprawled on a metal walkway near Vic. My head swims as I see him, then I duck my head as a flood of memories comes back.
Charles. My old friend, a good friend for a little while. Blearily, I remember trying to put him under. He was too gone to feel the stunner go in, and he clipped me, berserk and raging; then he had seized me in one hand, using his powershell to invert and walk on the ceiling.
The memory frightens me. I don’t know how it ends, and that frightens me more. Thinking back, the Charles I knew was never that fast, that strong. And there had been something wrong with his face, but I can’t remember what it was.
The hope that Charles is alive burns bright for a second, drawing me out of cover. Pointless to hide anyway, the guards know I’m here, or they will within a few minutes.
I’m very quiet when I need to be, and it pays off today. I follow the largest of the guards until I’m five feet away. He shines a flashlight between dark machines. Softer than shadows, I get closer still.