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Cyberpunk Tempest Shadow

By OniiChansFables
Created: 4th January 2021 02:53:19 AM
Modified: 20th April 2021 06:16:30 PM

  1. > "This is a bad idea."
  2. "Can you stop saying that?"
  3. > "I keep saying it because you're going to get yourself killed."
  4. "Unless you have a better idea, spill it.  If not, shut up."
  5. > The silhouette groans but otherwise says nothing.
  6. > "Just don't come complaining to me if you die."
  7. "Why do you even care?  If I die, your gang could just walk away with the prize.  There'd be no one to stop you."
  8. > "Those of us in The Hivemind are more loyal and trustworthy than those Phantom Bloods or these Storm Rulers."
  9. "Sure, I'll believe it when I see it.  Now, get into position.  We don't have all night.
  10. > Without a word, he actives something on his wrist and flies to a nearby rooftop to make the necessary preparations.
  11. > You weren't sure why you were being forced to team up with another gang.  The Hivemind were expert hackers sure, but you had people who could do just as good a job without you worrying about being stabbed in the back.
  12. > You thought to yourself 'What could she be thinking?'  However, those concerns would have to wait until after the mission was finished.
  13. > Your target, a warehouse.  Inside, the blueprints for some experimental technology held by the Storm Rulers.  Your archenemies.  
  14. > You weren't told what it was, only that you'd know it when you see it.  Your plan for getting it was simple.  Cause a distraction long enough for your team to bypass the security and steal the asset.
  15.  
  16.  
  17. > It was your first mission as a lieutenant, so failure was not an option.  And since your squad was made up entirely of Hivemind members, any losses you incurred would also fall squarely on your head.
  18. > As you step out of an alleyway, you throw on a cloak to cover-up your arsenal. Walking down the sidewalk, you see the building sitting alone on the edge of a dead-end street.
  19. > As the guards outside take notice of you, you try to appear as nonthreatening as possible.
  20. "Evenin' fuckers.  Is this where the party's at?"
  21. > "Not so fast, dipshit.  Where do you think you're going?"  The first guard barks.
  22. "Just lookin' to cut loose, my main man.  Heard this was the place to be."
  23. > "Well, you heard wrong.  Go get your rocks off somewhere else."
  24. "You tellin' me that a place like this ain't bustin' at the seams with shit that will fuck you up and bitches you can fuck with?  Nawww, I don't buy it.  You just want to keep the good shit to yourselves."
  25. > "You'll get your shit fucked up alright.  Stick around, and we'll show you a REAL good time."
  26. "Why so hostile man?  I'm just lookin' for a place where I can take a seat to kick up my feet and feel the heat of the street as I meet with two cheats to beat my meat until I skeet while I suckle on their teats."
  27. "You know what I'm saying?  This guy knows what I mean.  Am I right, or am I right?
  28. > "Get this fucker out of here."  One of the shade's commands.
  29. > As instructed, two of the closest imposing looking men walk towards you and spin you around and begin shoving you down the street.
  30. "Y'all must be part of the Black Shadows thinking y'all are better than everyone else."
  31. > "Hold it!"  What did you just say?"  The leader asks angrily.
  32. "I'm just sayin' tall, dark, and ugly as shit.  I'd be a-"
  33. > "Bring that sack of shit here."
  34.  
  35.  
  36. > You quickly get one-eightied by the two roided out guards before getting shoved to the ground as the person in charge of the operation looms over you.
  37. > "Allow me to set the record straight.  The Black Shadows are traitors and scum.  We operate with much more class and skill than those degenerate street rats."
  38. "Is that why you're working in these dank ass slums jerking each other off?"
  39. > One of the guards kicks you in the back, causing you to kiss the pavement hard.
  40. > "You've got a lot of nerve talking to a Storm Ruler like that kid.  We've had control of this city for nearly two decades now.  Our word is law and as such we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.  Anybody who says otherwise gets rubbed out."
  41. "I get you.  That's cool, but can I go now?  You're really bumming me out with all this turf war shit."
  42. > The man in front of you grabs a cybernetically enhanced hammer off his back and points it at you.
  43. > "First things first, we got to teach you some manners."
  44. > Just a little longer.
  45. "Come on man.  Don't be like that.  I've just had a rough day I didn't mean any of those things I said."
  46. > "Too late.  Next time you'll know better than to mouth off to people bigger than you."
  47. > However, before the leader could even wind up to swing, the warehouse erupts in a series of small explosions.  All of you were startled by the unannounced eruption giving you the small window you needed.
  48. > You flick two quarter sized metallic discs at the hired muscle behind you.  Upon contact, they latch onto their clothing before dispersing an electric shock that stuns them.
  49. > You quickly push yourself up off the floor and slide back behind the two goons.  As you do so, you quickly pull out dual pistols and pop each of the thugs in the back of the head, execution-style.
  50.  
  51.  
  52. > Before you could take out the commander, he whips out a rifle and aims.  Not wanting to risk it, you roll behind his dead, but still standing, buddy, and shoot a magnetic grapple hook from your wrist to a nearby neon sign.
  53. > It reels you in as the bullets start flying behind you.  You get off a few covering shots before dismounting onto the roof.
  54. > "It's the Black Shadows, after that fucker."
  55. > "But boss, what about the cargo?"
  56. > "If you want to go in there and look be my guest.  If not, bring the car around so we can kill that asshole."
  57. > Continuing to grapple away, you tap your earpiece to turn on your communicator.
  58. "Please tell me that was you guys."
  59. > (Static)
  60. "This is The Anonymous Shadow, come in."
  61. > (More static)
  62. "Fuck me."
  63. > You continue shouting profanities as you ride the skyline to escape.  You didn't know what to do.  Your team was probably dead, the asset most likely destroyed, and you had a group of bloodthirsty grunts hunting you down.
  64. > The only thing you had going for you was your excellent mobility.  If you could use it to find a nesting spot, you could pickoff your pursuers with your trusty sniper rifle.
  65. > Then again, you could call for back-up and be done with it.
  66. > No, this was your mission, your responsibility, if you came back empty-handed with your tail between your legs, you'd never hear the end of it.
  67. > You had to do this alone or die trying.
  68. > As you traversed the cityscape the sound of police sirens could be heard far off in the distance.  No doubt, making their way to the warehouse to investigate the explosions.
  69. > You stop for a moment and steal a glance over your shoulder.  The two-bit criminals were still after you.  Too bad for them, you know this side of town like the back of your hand.
  70. > After reaching a new rooftop, you throw down a smokescreen before grappling to a different high point.
  71.  
  72.  
  73. > Slinking into the shadows, you wait to see if your pursuers pass.  Upon taking a closer look, you notice that they had mobilized a flying car with armor plating on it.
  74. > Not good.  You don't have anything strong enough in your arsenal to deal with that.  You'll have to draw them out.
  75. > Throwing off your cloak, you begin setting up a trap.
  76. > Decoy, check.
  77. > Tripwires, check.
  78. > Escape route, check.
  79. > Guns loaded, check.
  80. > Now, all you had to do was spring it.
  81. > Looking carefully through your scope, you identify six targets.  Two in the car, the other four on foot.  Unfortunately, the man in charge was one of the people sheltered in the metal hovercraft.
  82. > You'd wager he won't leave his little bubble unless absolutely necessary.
  83. > "He's around here somewhere.  One thousand eddies to the first guy who brings me his head."
  84. "Not today."
  85. > (Bang)
  86. > Your first shot rips through the first victim's head.  Dropping him like a sack of bricks.  The rest of the gang quickly takes cover, but one of them doesn't do so well enough.
  87. > (Bang)
  88. > Another one bites the dust.
  89. > "Oh, this kid's going to get it.  Form up behind me."
  90. > The two remaining goons run behind the floating tank as it slowly moves in your direction.
  91. > They must have been able to deduce which direction the shots came from being safely inside the car.  Now, you didn't have a clear shot.
  92. > Aiming at the windows, you pop a few bullets into the bulletproof glass to obscure their vision and make them rely on the vehicle's cameras.
  93. > You quickly reload.  Hoping one of them is dumb enough to peak their head out.
  94. > "I think he's at the top of that tower."  The driver barks.
  95. > "Alright boys, get in, we're finishing this."
  96.  
  97.  
  98. > As the two gunmen try to get into the vehicle, you pick one of them off.  Three down, three to go.
  99. > However, you've been spotted, and your primary weapon wouldn't do you any good in close quarters.  So, you pick up your things and brandish your handguns before taking cover.
  100. > The armored vehicle ascends quickly to your location and circles it cautiously.  Pointing it's headlights down like searchlights.
  101. > "There he is!  Dust his ass!"
  102. > The three remaining assailants open up their car doors and begin spraying automatic fire down upon you.
  103. > At least, what they thought was you.  A metal pipe with your jacket over it is torn to shreds in an instant.  Popping out from behind cover, you fire your grappling hook and attach it to the underbelly of the car.
  104. > Jumping from the rooftop, you swing underneath the vehicle, causing it to lurch from the strain of your new weight.  As you reach the apex of your arc you spin around and empty your magazine.
  105. > You kill the guy in the back seat but only succeed in wounding the commander.
  106. > As you swing back to the building you detonate your remote tripwires to create a smokescreen as gunfire erupts behind you.  Running as fast as you could to the opposite side you roll off of the roof.
  107. > As you do so, you attach your magnetic grapple to a metal pipe to guide you as you slide down the side of the building.
  108. > Switching to your other pistol, you check your clip to see you only have a few rounds left.  You quickly realize you no longer held any advantages over your assailants.
  109. > Doubt soon began eating away at the back of your mind.  Facing her would be humiliating and shameful, but at this point, it beat the alternative.
  110.  
  111.  
  112. > If you could get to the subway you could grab a train and assimilate into the crowd.  Looking up, you see the armored car slowly descend to street level.  
  113. > All that running and jumping had led you to a busier part of town.  Many people in the street seem panicked and alert by the gunfire, but none of them took cover or ran to safety.
  114. > As you poked your head around the corner you scan for a subway access and spot one across the street behind your attackers.  If you still had your cloak you'd feel more confident about sneaking past them.
  115. > The two goons elected to stay in the car once they hit the asphalt and parked nonchalantly on the side of the road.  You couldn't tell what they were doing with their windshield shot up.
  116. > Were they calling for back-up, weighing their options, tending to their wounds?  Whatever they were doing your time was running out.  Sooner or later, they'd find you, and with only a few bullets left, you were all but a dead man.  You had to do something, and you had to do it now.
  117. > (VROOOM) (VROOOM) (VROOOM)
  118. > All of a sudden, the familiar sound of a motorcycle engine revving grabs your attention.  You bump your head against the wall cursing yourself as the sound gets closer.
  119. > Sure enough, you steal a glance at the oncoming traffic to see what you most feared.
  120. > A woman in a tight-fitting latex suit rode her red and black sports bike down the road before parking no more than ten feet from you.  Her head was turned to you, but you couldn't see her expression through the visor of her helmet.
  121. > Which was good because you didn't want to see it.  The last thing you wanted was to be given 'the look.'
  122. "Why are you here?"  You groan.
  123.  
  124.  
  125. > "I'm here because I heard an entire city block was leveled in an instant.  Now lieutenant, report."
  126. "Don't patronize me.  If you're here, you already know what the deal is, so can we cut the crap."
  127. > "I asked for a report soldier, and I expect to get one."
  128. "I'm a little busy at the moment, so can we talk later?"
  129. > "Pathetic.  I trained you better than this.  Killing a few street rats should have be an easy task for you."
  130. "And yet, even with your training, here I am.  Almost out of bullets fighting a tank.  What do you expect me to do?"
  131. > "To win."
  132. "How?"
  133. > "I'll show you."
  134. > You wish you hadn't said that.  Now you're going to have to watch as she styles on some fools to make you look bad.
  135. > She revs her engine a few times to catch the attention of your assailants.  Unsurprisingly, they take the bait, charging full speed towards her.
  136. > As they race towards each other, the woman grabs a staff from her back, which extends and transforms into a red scythe made of super-heated plasma.
  137. > Then, right before the two of them collide, she tilts her motorcycle to the side and drifts underneath the car.  Swinging her blade through the car like a hot knife through butter.
  138. > And as she reached the fuel tank, the car exploded behind her.
  139. > The shockwave set off nearby car alarms as the fire erupted into a plume of flames before quickly dying out.
  140. > She casually drives over the wreckage before stopping next to you again.
  141. > "Get on.  We'll talk later."
  142. "Fine, mom."
  143. > "Ahem!"
  144. "I mean, boss."
  145. > Reluctantly, you hop on the back and hold on as she bolts through the city streets.  Just another day in the city of dreams called, Night City.
  146.  
  147.  
  148. > The ride was brief as your mother bobbed and weaved through the city streets.  Taking you straight to your gang's secret base.
  149. > An abandoned warehouse surrounded by unassuming suburban homes.  Kids, unknowingly, played around with the heavy machinery during the day to keep up that appearance.  
  150. > She took the sewer entrance like she always did.  Flying through the narrow passages at blistering speeds before approaching a dead-end.  Or what appeared to be a dead-end.
  151. > The concrete wall quickly rose as you raced towards it and promptly closed behind you once you were inside.
  152. > Before she parked, you quickly dismount and begin walking towards the armory.
  153. > "And where do you think you're going, lieutenant?"
  154. "To restock, obviously."
  155. > "Not before you tell me what happened."  She says as she removes her helmet.
  156. > You should have known better.  There was no way she was going to let this go.
  157. "We converged at the warehouse as planned.  I provided a distraction while The Hivemind infiltrated the perimeter, and before I knew it the place went up in a ball of flames."
  158. > "And your squad?"
  159. "Dead, I assume.  Not that it matters.  They were Hivemind anyway."
  160. > "It DOES matter.  I made a contract with their leader, and all I did was get their people killed.  That not only makes us look bad, but they will no doubt want revenge against us."
  161. "Yeah, because we got along swimmingly before this."
  162. > "This operation wasn't just about hitting the Storm Rulers.  It was about gaining allies to fight them down the road, and you succeeded in doing neither."
  163. "If you had contact with their leader why didn't you just kill them and be done with it?  We could be rid of that thorn altogether."
  164. > "Even with a name like The Hivemind, exterminating their queen doesn't eliminate the hive.  Someone else would inevitably take her place, and we'd still be enemies."
  165. "So, now what?"
  166.  
  167.  
  168. > "First, you're going to apologize personally to their commander and figure out how we can make-up for this mess you made."
  169. "Are you fucking serious!  You can't-"
  170. > "I'M NOT FINISHED!"
  171. > "You will also be at the head of any mission they send you on to mend our partnership."
  172. "Are you skezzed out of your mind?  They'll shoot me on sight if I go anywhere near their territory."
  173. > "I'll arrange a meeting to ensure that doesn't happen.  And if they kill you anyways know that I will avenge you."
  174. > Great, that makes you feel so much better.
  175. > "But before you go I'm going to introduce you to someone.  Follow me."
  176. > You follow her to the elevator where she lifts a panel above the switches.  Revealing an eye scanner and voice detector.  She looks hard into the glowing screen before saying the phrase.
  177. > "Frosted cupcakes."
  178. > Fucking, really?  Who has frosted cupcakes as their password?
  179. > "Password accepted.  Voice verified.  Commander Tempest Shadow."
  180. > The elevator begins descending deep into the Earth.  Deeper than you knew it could; before stopping with a heavy metal clang.
  181. > You step out of the cold metal box into a room filled with servers and other large computing machines.  Each flashing various colors as they hummed away doing what they were built to do.
  182. > At the end of the room sat a small fat man with a harness around his head and a large cable connected to the back of his neck.
  183. > "Time to wake up, Grubber."
  184. > Your mother taps a few keys into the console next to him before the man twitches a little before stretching and letting out a long yawn.
  185. > "We really gotta do this in person, Temp?"
  186. > "Yes, I know you're connection is secure but this is important, and I need your undivided attention."
  187. > "Sup, kid.  Been a while."
  188. > You look at your mother with a puzzled look on your face.
  189. "Who is this?"
  190.  
  191.  
  192. > "This is Grubber.  My right-hand man and best Netrunner in all of Night City, when he wants to be."
  193. > "If we're going to be sitting here talking for a bit, do you mind if I order something?"  He interjects.
  194. > "You're going to regardless of what I tell you.  Just make it quick; there's much to discuss."
  195. > His eyes begin to glow as he sits there and makes a call without unhooking or removing anything.
  196. > You had so many questions you didn't even know where to start.
  197. "This fatass is your right-hand man, and I've never met him?  I thought I was your right-hand man."
  198. > "You are an assassin, and while I call upon you more frequently than others, he has been with me much longer than you have."
  199. > "Done.  Sorry about that.  What were we talking about."
  200. > "Grubber, introduce yourself."
  201. > "What?  Oh yeah.  The kid probably doesn't remember me.  Name's Grubber.  I'm the boss's eyes and ears."  He extends his hand to you, which you firmly shake.
  202. > "Been with your mother since the days when we were still with the Storm Rulers.  Was even with her when you were born and conceived."
  203. "Wait.  What!"
  204. > "Ignore him.  He speaks of things I've told him countless times to be silent on."
  205. > She gives him a stern glare, which shuts him up real quick.
  206. > "In any case, I am instructing him to watch over you from this day forward."
  207. > You don't believe this.
  208. "Mom, I don't need-"
  209. > "COMMANDER!"
  210. "Commander."  You sigh.  "I don't need a babysitter.  I've done fine on my own up until this point."
  211. > "That may be true, but your meeting with Grubber here has been a long time coming.  Besides, he's been keeping tabs on you without my permission, haven't you."
  212. > The tiny man just shuffles and laughs nervously in his chair without making eye contact.
  213. > "Regardless, you two can get acquainted later.  For now, you need to speak with The Hivemind leader, and I need a few words with Grubber here."
  214.  
  215.  
  216. > In all honesty you should be happy.  You were expecting a more severe tongue lashing than what you got.  However, now she's making some Netrunner babysit you and forcing you to do a greatly demeaning job.
  217. > Plus, this Gonk you've never heard of is your mother's most trusted man.  You're her son.  You've done everything she's asked, and you still get no respect from her.
  218. > There was a million and one things you wanted to say to her, but you felt you would just be wasting your time.
  219. "We need more time to talk about this."
  220. > "I agree.  However, the night is young, and many things still need to be done.  For now, resupply and meet at the location I send you."
  221. > Her eyes shimmer as she quickly sends you the information.  It only takes a few seconds to download, and once it's done you see the address pop up in the corner of your vision.
  222. "That's not exactly close."
  223. > "I know.  And since your car is in the shop, you can take my bike.  Now, get going.  We'll talk more when you get home."
  224. > Well, at least she's acknowledging that this is a tough pill to swallow.
  225. > Taking your leave you return to the elevator and take it back to ground level.
  226. > "You should have told him."  Grubber said.
  227. > "About what exactly?"
  228. > "Come on, Temp, you're being too hard on the kid.  The least you could do was tell him that we know that The Hivemind planned to fleece us from the very beginning, or the fact that the troops he thought were dead are still alive."
  229. > "He needs to be oblivious to the truth in order to fool them and infiltrate their ranks successfully."
  230. > "Hate to be the one to tell you this, but you're wrong.  Anon is as cool a customer as they come.  Takes a lot after you in that regard.  I mean, he is your son.  You should put more faith in him."
  231. > "I put plenty of faith in him, but he still has much to learn.  A little humility will do him some good."
  232.  
  233.  
  234. > "Fine.  Far be it from me to tell you how to be a parent.  Now, all this heavy talk about Anon has worked up my appetite.  You wanna join me?"
  235. > "I'll pass.  I need to make a call, then do some training."
  236. > "Suit yourself."
  237.  
  238. > Meanwhile...
  239.  
  240. > Zipping through traffic on your mother's motorcycle, you grip the handlebar tightly as you were still upset.
  241. > You pledged to make her happy almost ten years ago by training and doing everything she said in hopes of accomplishing one goal.  And yet, you feel you haven't come any closer to realizing that dream.
  242. > You've killed dozens of people, smuggled every illegal substance and person imaginable, committed acts of terrorism, and it still wasn't enough to gain her respect.
  243. > That naive child would have thought twice if he knew the hardships he would have had to endure.  Even so, the days of having regrets were long gone.  You were part of the game now, and it was a game that you played for life.
  244. > Upon reaching your destination, you park your ride up on the sidewalk next to the curb.
  245. > Two of the guards standing outside the tall skyscraper's entrance began to approach you as you dismounted.
  246. > "Who are you!?"  One of them barks.
  247. "I'm Anonymous.  I have a meeting with your boss."
  248. > "Sure, you do."
  249. > You wait as he communicates wordlessly with someone over the phone.
  250. > "Alright, no sudden movements, and follow me."
  251. > You do as your instructed and shadow the first guard while the other walks behind you.
  252. > As they led you inside, you neither see nor hear a part of your mother's motorcycle detach itself and silently fly off.
  253. > The men corral you into an elevator that takes you underground to an abandoned subway station.  There, you are brought to a small featureless room with walls composed of concrete and a single light mounted to the ceiling.
  254.  
  255.  
  256. > No doubt a room where they interrogate people.  You could smell the distinct odor of bleach, used in an attempt to wipe away the stench of past sins, making your stomach churn and your skin itch.
  257. > Leaning against the far wall, you wait as the two guards stand patiently near the door.
  258. > You could feel the hatred in their eyes as they waited for someone to arrive.  All you could think was how you were going to react when they did.
  259. > "You have a lot of nerve coming here, boy."
  260. > A voice echoes into the room.
  261. > "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you where you stand."
  262. "Because you have nothing to gain by doing so."
  263. > "Don't I?  I'd say killing an assassin who has killed many of my people to be ample reason."
  264. "If you really thought that you'd have done it already.  No, you want to hear what I have to say first."
  265. > "Have everything figured out, do you?  Well then, speak."
  266. > The voice was distinctly feminine and close.  It didn't reverberate or crackle like that if it were coming from a speaker.  No, she was in the room with you, cloaked from your vision.
  267. "If you've been in contact with my boss, you would know I'm here to make amends for the failure of our last mission."
  268. > "Really?  And what exactly does that entail?"
  269. "Honestly, I'm unclear about what that means too.  And yet, here I am."
  270. > "Hmm, interesting."
  271. > From the darkness, a silhouette approaches you.
  272. > A woman, who appeared to be more machine than flesh, slowly saunters her way towards you.
  273. > You wait, unmoving and unflinching as she inches ever closer towards you.
  274. > "When you were sent here, did your boss say that you were to do ANYTHING to make up for this little mishap?"
  275. "It was implied."
  276.  > She lets out a short laugh as she tenderly drags her razor-sharp metallic fingers across your cheek.
  277.  
  278.  
  279. > "VERY interesting."
  280. > "Tell me something, child."
  281. > [spoiler] "Do you fear death?" [/spoiler] She whispers in your ear.
  282. "No."  You reply flatly.
  283. > She pulls back and analyzes your face for any hint of deception, and when she finds none, she smiles.
  284. > "It's a rare thing to find such a cold-blooded killer at your age.  No war scars, no psychiatric tendencies, and especially no hidden desires."
  285. > "Most men look at me and can not help but fantasize, but you.  I could feel your heartbeat as I touched your face.  Not an ounce of fear, nor a hint of lust.  I could use more men like you."
  286. "If you're asking me to join your gang, I'm afraid that isn't on the table.  Besides, I was under the impression that you only cared about men who are crazy about you."
  287. > "I do adore my little love-bugs, yes, but they cannot supply me what I truly need."
  288. "And that is?"
  289. > "Unbridled passion.  More than a simple desire, a hunger.  When I look in your eyes, I see that emotion caged inside you, and it gives me shivers to imagine what you would be like if you were to set them free."
  290. "You make it sound like you can physically feed off people's emotions like a succubus."
  291. > "I can, in a way.  Braindances, are you familiar with them?"
  292. "I only know what I've heard from others, and that's not much."
  293. > "It's a process where every sight, sound, and sensation is captured and recorded.  Whether you are conscious of it or not, every single moment anyone has ever lived can be archived and viewed at any time."
  294. > "Naturally, having access to all range of emotions at all times gradually wears down an individual's psyche.  They cease to be themselves or no longer react to certain stimulus the way they should, and that's where I come in."
  295.  
  296.  
  297. > "Since people no longer experience life as they should, I provide a unique service that fills the void in their empty lives."
  298. "By having and recording sex?  Doesn't seem like the revolutionary idea you make it out to be."
  299. > "You misunderstand.  I'm not simply referring to sex.  Any event that causes a strong emotional response is invaluable to me.  Whether it be the loss of a loved one or being conscious as your insides are ripped out of you.  People pay good money to feel and witness these things."
  300. "Really?  That's all legal?"
  301. > "Of course not.  That's why people pay good money for it."
  302. "Regardless, what does this have to do with me?"
  303. > "Since you've been gracious enough to offer your services to me after failing to acquire the Netcracking gear you promised, my job for you is to discover a new Braindance and to deliver it exclusively to me."
  304. > Netcracking gear.  So that's what it was.  Now it makes sense why The Hivemind was willing to partner up with you.
  305. "Is that all?"
  306. > "This is no simple task.  I won't accept any product short of extraordinary.  Plus, you'll be doing this errand free of charge.  Sounds more than fair to me.  Wouldn't you agree?"
  307. "If those are your terms, then consider it done."
  308. > "Excellent.  My children will show you out.  Until then, Anonymous."
  309. > You maintain eye contact until you walk past her.  Her demands were straightforward enough, and yet her words reeked of venom.  Either she knew something you didn't or had other ulterior motives.
  310. > Whatever it was, it didn't sit right with you.  Then again, you've had to deal with an abnormal amount of shit today.  Maybe you were just paranoid.
  311. > When you get back on your mother's bike you notice it's a bit lighter than you remember.  You hop off to see if any part of it was klepted while you were inside, but see nothing missing.
  312.  
  313.  
  314. > You weren't a mechanic, but everything seemed to be in order.  You felt like you were going crazy.  It had been a long day, sure.  But, were you losing it?  Maybe you should head home and rest.  Get your head straightened out.
  315. > Just then, a little drone silently flies next to you and lets out a short and hushed beeping noise.  You move to the side and watch as the little robot opens a secret compartment in the back of the bike before flying inside and closing the hatch behind it.
  316. > Suddenly, things were beginning to click.  You throw on your helmet and peel out into the empty streets.  You were heading home, but now, for different reasons.
  317. > (Ring) (Ring)
  318. > Unknown number.
  319. > You answer.
  320. "Who is this?"
  321. > "Kid.  It's Grubber.  How'd the meeting go?"
  322. "How did you know to call me now?  Is that drone yours?"
  323. > "Technically, it's your mother's, but I use it a lot more than she does."
  324. "Is she at home right now?"
  325. > "Should be.  Though I got to tell you something."
  326. "Not now.  Besides, I have a pretty good idea of what you're going to say, and I'd rather hear it from her."
  327. > "Preem, then I'm going to let you go.  Talk later."
  328. "Bye."
  329.  
  330. > By the time you got home, the sun was on the cusp of bringing the first morning light.  Normally, it would be the time you'd call it a day to get some sleep.  But right now, you were wired.  
  331. > You needed to see her to confirm your suspicions.  It was the only way you were going to sleep soundly.
  332. > You pulled up to your apartment complex and quickly parked inside your private garage.  
  333. > Not even bothering to go inside, you aim your grapple hook upwards and begin scaling the outside wall.  Less than a minute later, you were standing on your small balcony.
  334. > The sliding glass door was unlocked just like you left it.
  335. > You step inside and narrowly avoid a kitchen knife fly past your head and stick into the wall beside you.
  336.  
  337.  
  338. > "I thought I told you to knock when you did that."
  339. "You did.  I just had more important things on my mind.  Like how you lied to me."
  340. > "I never lied to you."
  341. "Failing to tell me what the deal is between you and The Hivemind feels like a lie to me."
  342. > "You're viewpoint of the situation is irrelevent, and since you're still alive and asking me this I assume Grubber didn't tell you anything."
  343. "I shouldn't hear anything from him when I can hear it from you.  I'm your son.  Yet you treat me like a I'm your enemy."
  344. > "I can't show weakness to anybody, even to you.  I let my guard down once, and it cost me everything.  After that day I swore it would never let it happen again."
  345. "I'm guessing you're referring to what dad did to you.  Did you lose your arm that day too?  Since you've never told me about that either."
  346. > "A story for another time.  Tell me how the meeting went instead."
  347. > You finally close the door behind you, before pulling out the knife from the wall, tossing it back to her, and taking a seat on a bar stool.
  348. "Fine.  She instructed me to track down a top notch Braindance for the trouble I caused.  Which, I'm starting to suspect was a set-up from the beginning."
  349. > "You would be correct."
  350. > You scoff.  The things she makes you do, and you're supposed to just sit there and take it.
  351. "I have half a mind to walk down to Hurricane Heights, climb the Maelstrom Tower, and join the Storm Rulers."
  352. > You mother takes the knife you gave back and chucks it at you again.  Only this time you catch it between your fingers.
  353. > "DO NOT JOKE ABOUT THAT!"
  354. "WHO SAYS I'M JOKING.  AT LEAST THERE THEY'D MAKE ME FEEL LIKE A SOMEBODY!"
  355. > "YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY WOULD DO TO YOU!  MY ARM WASN'T THE ONLY THING I LOST WHEN I LEFT THEM!"
  356. > You fiddle with the knife in your hand before setting it down on the counter.
  357. "Then tell me.  What else did you lose?"
  358.  
  359.  
  360. > ...
  361. > "It's in the past and no concern of yours.  Now, do you want to know about The Hivemind or not?"
  362. > It took all of your strength not to start yelling again.  When it came to your mother, you had to choose your battles, and this was one of them.
  363. > You would drop it, for now.  But you will find out the truth one day, until then, you motion for her to continue.
  364. > "The drone in my bike did a scan of the surrounding area while you were unknowingly buying time.  Thanks to your distraction, we were able to construct a full 3-D model of the building and the loading bay area."
  365. > "Me and Grubber suspect that the gear stolen from the Storm Rulers is stored here.  A small room one floor underneath the ground level and directly below the docking area.  Adjacent to where most of their netrunning gear is being held.
  366. > "The plan is, once you go back with the Braindance, you will infiltrate their facility, recover the misappropriated goods, and escape out the back entrance where a getaway car will be waiting for you."
  367. > "Any questions?"
  368. > You hate to admit, but it was a good plan.  Hitting your enemy when they were most vulnerable.  Plus, no other people to distract you or get in your way.  It was a mission made for you.  High risk, high reward.  Only one slight hiccup.
  369. "It's good, but we'll be stealing from some of the best Netrunners in the business.  Without proper ICE to shield myself they could fry my brain before I even get the chance to do anything."
  370. > "Yes, which is why I'm scheduling you for some new implants tomorrow.  On top of that, I've taken the liberty to order a new sniper rifle for you.  It won't be of much use to you in this job, but it will serve you well in situations like the one I saved you from last night."
  371. > And just like that, your hatred was gone.  Your burning fury had fizzled out into a tense simmer.  You had a new target, a new plan, and soon new equipment.
  372. > You weren't happy about it, but you knew that didn't matter to her.
  373.  
  374.  
  375. > The next day, you both sat patiently in a waiting room to see a Ripperdoc.  To the untrained eye, the two of you seemed like a normal family going to the doctor when that couldn't be further from the truth.
  376. > "Ms. Shadow.  The doctor will see your son now."
  377. > Without a word, both of you stood up and followed her to the back room.  
  378. > "Been awhile Tempest.  How long's it been five years?"  Said a man, smoking in the corner.
  379. > "Seven.  Cranky."
  380. > "Damn, I'm getting old.  Time gets away from you in my line of work."
  381. > His eyes slowly make their way over to you as he notices someone standing in your mother's shadow.
  382. > "Who's the kid?"
  383. > "Anonymous, my son.  You remember?"
  384. > "Fuck me.  That's your boy?  Don't even recognize him anymore.  How you been, kiddo?"
  385. "I've been better.  Can we hurry this along?  I don't know how long this will take, and we have other things to do today."
  386. > "Yeah, your Tempest's kid, alright.  Look like her spitting image with that attitude.  Back in her younger days anyway."
  387. > "As much as I'd like to catch up, he's right.  Do you have everything ready?"
  388. > "Let me see here."
  389. > He grabs a datapad from his desk and begins to scroll through it.
  390. > "New software installation.  A damn good one too.  And new eyes, also top of the line.  You're one lucky son of a bitch, kid.  People would kill for these types of upgrades."
  391. "People would kill for anything in this city.  Now, can we get on with it?"
  392. > "Sure, you ungrateful brat, but you should appreciate that your mother is doing this for you."
  393. "She's only doing it to increase my effectiveness and ability to complete missions.  Nothing more."  You say while taking a seat in the patient's chair.
  394. > "Kid, it's going to take me three minutes to install cyberware that costs as much as what I normally make in three months.  Parents don't do that unless they care."
  395. "You keep telling yourself that."
  396. > The old man scoffs.  "Kids these days.  Don't know how good they got it."
  397.  
  398.  
  399. > Seemingly having no more objections, he plugs a few cables into you and straps a harness to your head.
  400. > A progress bar pops up in the middle of your vision as Cranky downloads your new software.
  401. > "Not sure how familiar you are with this process, but I'll have to disable your optics for a minute before I implant your new ones."
  402. "Just tell me when."
  403. > "Now."
  404. > And true to his word, the world around you went dark.
  405. > "Be extra still for this next part.  Any sudden movements and I could accidentally puncture a nerve."
  406. > Taking a deep breath, you sit patiently as you wait for your sight to return to you.  When it did, you noticed that your perspective had changed.  You were now looking directly at your mother while Cranky was off to the side.  Along with your body?
  407. > Realizing he hadn't inserted your new hardware yet, you let your body relax.
  408. > "Now, you'll have a minor migraine for about a day as your new eyes adjust.  I'll give you some painkillers before you leave to take the edge off."
  409. "Don't bother.  If it's just a day, I'll manage."
  410. > "Why am I not surprised.  Fine then, be miserable.  I couldn't care less."
  411. > He picks up the set of eyes, and you watch as your vision shifts from one point back to where your body lay.
  412. > After a few seconds, you could feel your new eyes slot into place, and with it, a wave of dull pain.  You squirm a little as you acclimate to the discomfort.
  413. > "Still don't want those painkillers?"
  414. "I think you overstated how bad it would be.  I'll get over it."
  415. > "Sure thing, tough guy."  With that, he begins the process of unplugging wires and removing the contraption, attached to your head.
  416. > "Almost done.  First, scan this."
  417. > He holds the tablet up from before, and you focus your sight on it.
  418. > Instantly, details about its contents are made known to you as they flash and scroll through your peripheral vision.
  419.  
  420.  
  421. "Wow."  Is all you could say.
  422. > "Yep.  You got the good stuff.  On top of faster buffer times and better encryption, you can now ping all types of machinery to see the profiles of moving objects through walls."
  423. > "An attribute that will serve you well for your next mission."  Tempest adds.
  424. > "As long as you don't get too disoriented while doing it.  But I'm sure you'll get the hang of it with a little practice."
  425. > "Thanks again, Cranky.  Your fee."
  426. > Both of their eyes glow as the wireless transaction processes.
  427. > "Don't be such a stranger, Tempest.  Come out of those shadows once in a while."
  428. > "Only if I need to, Cranky.  Until next time."
  429. > You try to pop up out of your seat only for a flash of pain causes you to fall to the floor.
  430. > "What'd I tell you?  Don't make any sudden movements, or else you'll feel a lot more than some discomfort."
  431. "You didn't mention that."
  432. > "It was implied.  You don't just walk-off a migraine kid."
  433. > "Well, he's going to have to.  Come."  Tempest says.
  434. "Right behind you."
  435. > You steadily find your footing and take a deep breath as you rise to your feet.  Slowly, you make your way to the door, following Tempest outside.
  436. > Unfortunately for you, the sun was out in full force today, which made looking at anything without feeling a pang of anguish extremely difficult.  You reach into one of the chest pockets in your jacket and pull out a pair of shades and throw them on.
  437. > "You better shape up, soldier.  I can't have you lagging behind when there's work to be done."
  438. "Yes, ma'am."
  439. > "The gun store where your new iron awaits is a few blocks from here.  We're going to hoof it; because despite Cranky saying you can't walk off a migraine, the fresh air should help clear your mind.  Is that clear?"
  440. "Crystal."
  441. > The journey there was more arduous than you were anticipating.  You appropriate a bottle of water from a food stand while en route and chugged the whole thing in a matter of seconds.
  442.  
  443.  
  444. > By the time you reached your destination, the persistent agony had subsided to a dull roar.
  445. > Upon entering, you B-line straight for the firing range in the back without saying a word to anyone.  Once the sounds of gunfire began ringing out, the misery you thought had left came back anew.
  446. > You didn't normally do this, but you grabbed a pair of sound-dampening headphones as you followed her to the end of the room.
  447. > On the table waiting for you sat a large case, which Tempest then proceeded to open.
  448. > "Your new rifle.  I expect you to master it quickly."  She says as she hands it to you.
  449. > You weren't sure what you were expecting when you came here, but it sure as hell wasn't this.
  450. > The weapon was a Tsunami Nekomata.  A commodity rarely seen on the streets and even scarcer in this high quality.  Nicknamed, Breakthrough.  For its ability to penetrate just about anything.
  451. > Titanium, child's play.  Three feet of concrete, like it, wasn't even there.  The only drawback was, in order to fire off bullets of that magnitude, it required a few seconds to charge each shot.
  452. > "I know you prefer power weapons that can ricochet bullets off of surfaces, but after last night's scuffle, it became obvious that you required something more.  Direct."
  453. > As you continue to inspect every inch of the gun, you notice the scope is also of high quality; a military-grade sight with night vision.
  454. "How in the hell did you manage to get something like this."
  455. > "I called in a few favors, but enough talk show me that you are worthy of carrying such a weapon."
  456. > After checking the ammo and safety, you stood firm, aiming downrange at your target.
  457. > You start by unloading a few uncharged slugs to get a feel for the rifle's weight.  It was more well-balanced than the SPT32 GRAD you were used to firing, which had a much heavier base.
  458. > To compensate, you would anchor yourself and aim a touch high to accommodate for this.
  459.  
  460.  
  461. > The first four rounds unsurprisingly reflected that assessment.  Landing, a few centimeters high of the target's head.
  462. > You reload a new clip, and instead of making a physical adjustment, you turn a knob on your scope to offset your innate tendency.
  463. > You empty another magazine, only this time, you were able to bunch all four shots in the head of the wooden cutout.
  464. > "Better.  But you still haven't fired a charge shot.  That's what you need to test."
  465. > After another reload, you steady yourself as you slowly pull back on the trigger.  You could feel the electricity buildup as the gun tried to shake out of your hands.
  466. > A bar at the bottom of your scope indicated you had reached maximum power, and with all the strength you could muster, held the gun steady as you released its full power.
  467. > A little to the left, but still a headshot.  Not surprising, considering your target was only fifty meters away.  
  468. > "Oh.  I suppose I should have expected that.  Come.  You'll have to get more practice elsewhere."
  469. > What was she talking about?
  470. > It wasn't until you lowered your firearm did you realize that the tungsten round you fired didn't just pierce the target but also the back wall.  And likely, several walls behind that.
  471. > With your new eyes, you try and ascertain if anyone got hurt, and thankfully from what you can tell, you didn't hit anyone.
  472. > Regardless, you quickly pack the new iron away and rush to catch up with your mother.
  473. > "Not exactly how I pictured we'd finish conducting our business, but it'll have to do."
  474. "So, what now?"
  475. > "You have an assignment to complete, and I must return to leading the troops.  I've already spent more time with you than is necessary."
  476. "We still on for training later tonight?"
  477. > "Of course.  Did I say we weren't?"
  478. "No, just checking."
  479. > "Very well.  I'll leave you to it then."
  480. > Without a word, her bike appears and drives itself to the curb beside you, where she grabs her helmet and puts it on.
  481.  
  482.  
  483. "Wait!"  You say without thinking.
  484. > "What is it?"
  485. > There were more things you wanted to say and talk about, but you knew if you weren't concise enough she would just peel out and leave you in the dust.
  486. > So, you quickly click your heels together and offer her a salute.
  487. "Thank you, sir!"
  488. > She responds with a short chuckle.
  489. > "Don't thank me yet, soldier.  If I hear you aren't making full use of the tech I won't hesitate to take it away from you.  Now, at ease."
  490. > With that, she revved her engine and drove off.
  491.  
  492.  
  493. > One of these days, you think to yourself.  One of these days, she'll learn not to wear herself so thin.  To appreciate the people and things around her, but until that day, there was work to be done.
  494. > It was still early afternoon, which meant that your 'work' hours were still a ways away.  With your new gear in hand, you decide to pick up your car from the shop and pay your buddies a visit.
  495.  
  496. > On the east side of town, there was a market place in the heart of your territory.  Filled with food vendors, pachinko parlors, back-alley joytoys, junk salesman, and everything in-between.
  497. > You make your way to a particular backstreet and knock three times on one of the doors.
  498. > "Who is it?"  A young voice answers.
  499. "Rumble, it's Anon.  Your brother home?"
  500. > The door opens, and a teenage kid stands in the doorway.
  501. > "He's downstairs playing Poker.  I'll let him know you're here."
  502. "Don't trouble yourself.  I'm not here about work."  Which was partially a lie.
  503. "I'm just here to hang out.  Can I come in?"
  504. > "Okay."
  505. > He lets you in, and you saunter down the stairs where a thin haze lingered in the air.  Sitting at a table were four men smoking and drinking as they shuffled around cards and cash.
  506. > They seemed to be having a good time, that is until they saw you.
  507. > "Welp, pack it up, boys.  Doctor Killjoy is here."
  508. "Don't act so happy to see me, Thunderlane.  I'm here to kill time not to chew you out."
  509. > "Damn!  That's a first.  What's the occasion?"
  510. "Can't a guy drop by and say hi to his friends every now and again?"
  511. > "Riiiight."
  512. "Fine.  I do want to talk about work, but that can wait."
  513. > "You see."  He says as he wags his finger at you.
  514. > "This guy.  Always so serious."
  515. "Shut up and deal me in."  You say as you pull up a chair.
  516. > "Yeah, boy.  Get ready to lose your eddies cuz I'm on a hot streak."
  517.  
  518.  
  519. > You play for half an hour as Thunderlane and his buddies do most of the talking.  Having given up going to school, you never properly learned how to socialize with people your age.
  520. > It wasn't the worst thing in the world, but it did garner you a reputation as a stiff.  Your mother always told you that trust was the most valuable thing you could gain on the street.  You argued respect was more important, but she countered by telling you respect was nothing without trust.
  521. > As a former officer in the army, she cited that even the most well-trained unit crumbles under the command of a leader with no empathy.
  522. > The irony of her saying that was not lost on you.  Based on how she treated you.  Maybe you were the exception, or perhaps she secretly cared and was just too afraid to show it.
  523. > "So, Anon.  You up for picking up some Joytoys after this?"
  524. "Not really my thing.  Besides, I'm on an assignment from the boss."
  525. > "Dude, aren't you always?  You're going to be dead before you even get the chance to enjoy the finer things in life."
  526. "Even if I did, where would we take them?  To a cheap motel that you can't afford, or did you really plan on bringing a bunch of outputs here to get it on while your brother is here."
  527. > "The way your losing money, I could afford to bring him along and pay extra to get his cherry popped."
  528. "Is that what he wants?"
  529. > "He'd still be living with our folks if he didn't.  Do you know what they told me?  They said that he wanted to be cool, just like his big brother.  As soon as I heard that, I swept him up and never looked back."
  530. "And yet, I get the feeling you treat him more like a maid than a brother."
  531. > "Hey, he's too young to start going on patrols yet, so he's got to pull his weight around here another way.  And if that means he's got to do dishes and clean the toilets, then that's how it's got to be."
  532.  
  533.  
  534. "Has he ever held a gun?"
  535. > "Dude."  He says while shaking his head.
  536. > "I hate to be that guy, but you are killing the mood here.  If I wanted someone to question every decision I made, I'd call my mom."
  537. "Sorry.  Forget I said anything."
  538. > "Speaking of.  You ever gonna tell me why you came here?"
  539. "You just said I was killing the mood.  Why are you bringing this up now?"
  540. > "Just answer the damn question."
  541. "Have it your way.  The task I mentioned earlier.  I need to find an illegal Braindance."
  542. > "Sounds easy enough.  What's it for?"
  543. "You may have heard, but the botched operation yesterday wasn't for nothing.  The Hivemind made off with the spoils and tried to fake their deaths.  Thankfully, we anticipated this and now know where they are hiding it."
  544. > "So what's the BD for?"
  545. "The BD is supposed to be a token offering for our 'failure'."
  546. > "Okay.  And why are you doing that instead of just stealing it?"
  547. "It's located in their base underground in an abandoned commercial building.  We can't just drive by, blow away the guards, and make off with the goods."
  548. > "Damn.  Is the gear even worth all that trouble then?
  549. "Honestly, I don't know.  But those are the boss's orders."
  550. > "Bro, I get that we're supposed to follow orders, but she's your mom.  You can't bend yourself over backward every time she tells you to do something.  Look at me.  You think my mom tells me what to do with my life?"
  551. "That's because your mother isn't the leader of a violent gang."
  552. > "That's beside the point.  You're not a robot."
  553. > "At least I don't think."  He retorts.
  554. > "You don't even know what you're putting your life on the line for.  Now, don't get me wrong, if you said we were going to spraypaint some Phantom Bloods with lead, I'd be all for it."
  555. > "But the fact that you're midair before your mom even says jump makes you a bitch, and ain't nobody ever done nothing for a bitch."
  556.  
  557.  
  558. > You stare long and hard at him.  He was right, and a small part of you wanted to punch his teeth in for saying it.  But you knew that moment of satisfaction would be faint and fleeting.
  559. "So, what do you suggest I do?  Tell the boss I'm not on board unless I get some respect?"
  560. > "I'm not saying all that.  I'm just saying don't be a bitch."
  561. "Gee, thanks."
  562. > You should have known better than to expect any wisdom from Thunderlane.  Still, if he had enough sense to point it out, then everyone else could too.
  563. > You leave sometime later with more questions than answers.  With no real direction, you casually stroll the city streets.   The night was fast approaching as businesses began turning on their neon signs.
  564. > Normally, this would be the beginning of your 'work' hours, but today was a little different.
  565. > The fact that you had heard so little about Braindances in your area meant you were going to have to venture into enemy territory to find what you needed, and you knew just where to go.
  566. > The Silent Serenade, a strip club, in The Siren's territory.  You didn't have any particular beef with their group, but you harbored no love for them either.  For the most part, they left you alone and vice versa.
  567. > You approach the establishment but are stopped by their bouncers.
  568. > "Not so fast, sweetie.  You armed?"
  569. "Is that a trick question?"
  570. > "Nobody gets in while packing iron.  Around here, you leave your troubles at the door."
  571. "Are you saying nobody has ever caused trouble here?"
  572. > "Nothing our security system couldn't handle.  So, are you packing?"
  573. "Of course I am, but I'm not giving up my guns to you."
  574. > "Then you don't get in, tough guy."
  575. "Is it customary to turn away a paying customer?"
  576. > "Don't try to play me, darling, I've heard it all before.  Either pony up or get lost."
  577.  
  578.  
  579. "Fine.  Where do you want them?"
  580. > "This way."
  581. > You do as you're told, and walk inside where you place all your weapons on the receptionist's desk.
  582. > The chick hassling you lets out an impressed whistle when you pull out the Nekomata.
  583. > "Who'd you have to kill to get that?"
  584. "If you want to know, it'll cost you."
  585. > She simply lets out a disgusted scoff before turning to leave.
  586. > A shame.  You were hoping to get some free information, but it doesn't appear it'll be that easy.
  587. > As you enter the building proper, your ears are assaulted by a variety of hypnotic sounds.  A slow and deep bass that felt like it was in sync with your heart and an overarching beat that fluctuated with the flashing lights.
  588. > The sights and sounds were mesmerizing, but you remained alert and focused.
  589. > You approach the bar first and pull up a seat before the bartender takes notice of you.
  590. > "What'll you have?"
  591. "Looking for some liquid truth.  Do you know where I could find some of that?"
  592. > As you say this, you wirelessly transfer a few Eddies his way.  Causing him to nod softly.
  593. > "I think I might.  Go to booth two in the back.  I think you'll find what you're looking for."
  594. "Thanks."
  595. > The room in question had a single stripper pole and large table with a cushioned sofa wrapped around it.  You sit around and wait for a few minutes before somebody else enters.
  596. > "Hi there!  Ready to have a good time?"
  597. "Always."
  598. > "Me too."
  599. > The blue haired girl jumps on the pole and begins swinging around like she didn't have a care in the world.  She was dressed much more provocatively then the other girls leaving almost nothing to the imagination.
  600. > "Haven't seen you here before.  Is it your first time?"
  601. "Here, yes."
  602. > "Oh lucky me.  Don't worry, handsome.  I'll make sure you have the time of your life."
  603.  
  604.  
  605. > Something was off.  This chick didn't seem like the person you were waiting for.
  606. "Did the barkeep send you?"
  607. > "Sure did.  Why?  Were you expecting someone else?"
  608. "What did he tell you?"
  609. > "That a guest in booth two was looking for some inflation."
  610. "Inflation?  Are you sure he didn't say information?"
  611. > She stops dancing and gives a confused look.
  612. > "Oh, that would make more sense.  Is that what you wanted?"
  613. "Yes.  Wait, what did you think he meant by inflation?"
  614. > "I thought you wanted me to get an air pump and-"
  615. "STOP!  Forget I asked.  Information, do you have it?"
  616. > "Weeeell."  She trailed off.
  617. > "My sister told me never to say anything until I see the money first."
  618. "Does your boss tell you that too?"
  619. > "She is my boss."
  620. "Well, I've already given the barkeep a tip.  That's at least earned me a minute with her."
  621. > "You're right.  That seems fair, follow me then."
  622. > You get up and follow her to the back room, where she presses a secret button underneath the make-up table.  Doing so reveals a fake wall with an elevator behind it.
  623. > The two of you get in and take a short ride down.  Once at the bottom, you both pass a server room before entering a makeshift office filled with monitors and speakers.
  624. > "Dagi!  I brought someone here to see you."
  625. > "Not now, Sonata.  I'm busy.  Tell them to come back later."
  626. "You don't look that busy."
  627. > A small woman sitting in a chair spins on a dime after hearing your voice.
  628. > Her eyes widen, and she reaches for something.
  629. > "Get away from him!"
  630. > Before she could react, you pull the blue temptress beside you into a headlock and swing her body in front of you like a shield.  Anticipating a gun or a turret to come out, but it didn't.
  631.  
  632.  
  633. > Instead, the speakers blasted ultrasonic sound waves directly at you, causing your head to shake.
  634. > You tried your best to stand firm, but after what seemed like minutes, your strength gave way under the crushing pressure.  You let the girl go and crumple to the floor with your hands over your ears.
  635. > However, the roar didn't die down seemingly at all when you did so.  The sound was trapped inside your head, and you were powerless to get it out.
  636. > You look up to see your tormentor looming over you, pistol in hand.
  637. > She aimed and fired.
  638. > At that moment, you recoiled.  Bracing yourself against the attack.
  639. ...
  640. > It never came.  Still crippled by the noise, you steal a glance to see them wrestling over the gun; unaffected by the blaring speakers.
  641. > Picking yourself up, you crawl to the desk and look for a shutoff switch.  You only looked for a few seconds before giving up and pulling out one of your signature EMP disrupters.
  642. > You slap it onto the primary tower and are rewarded with a deafening silence.
  643. > Collapsing onto the floor, you try and collect yourself.  You felt like shit.  The room was spinning as every part of your body screamed in agony.
  644. > You roll onto your side and throw-up onto the floor.  Your equilibrium was shot.  You tried and failed to stand up, and as you did so, saw blood on the floor.
  645. >  Reaching to your ear, you confirm the source and grunt in frustration.
  646. > "Take it easy.  You're safe now."  A soothing voice told you as she rubbed your back.
  647. > You were barely able to hear her as you began to reboot your systems.  
  648. > Diagnostics indicated that several vital components were damaged.  Not that you were surprised.  
  649. > "Dagi, could you get him some water."
  650. > "That son of a bitch fried my setup.  Do you know how much money it'll take to replace that?"
  651. > "That was your fault!  You nearly killed him.  Show some compassion for once!"
  652.  
  653.  
  654. > "Sonata, he's a hired killer.  For the Black Shadows, no less.  Men like him don't deserve remorse."
  655. > "You're wrong.  He didn't make any passes at me on the way down here, and he never tried to kill you.  Compared to the people we see every day, he's a saint.  You should at least hear what he has to say."
  656. > "You're too soft, Sonata.  Some day, he could come after us, and what would we do then?"
  657. > "Then I guess I'll die!"
  658. > "Sis, you can't live your life in constant fear.  Worrying if you can go outside or if it's safe to walk around the corner.  That's no way to live."
  659. > The two of them lock eyes and say nothing while you gradually pick yourself up off the floor.
  660. > Then, Adagio lets out a defeated sigh.
  661. > "I can't believe I'm saying this, but you're right.  If he was here to kill me I would have been dead already."
  662. "Glad we're on the same page.  Now, about that glass of water?"
  663. > "Seriously?"
  664. > You stare her down as you lean on her desk for support.
  665. > "Fine."
  666. > She exits the room to honor your request when that uneasy feeling in your stomach resurfaces.  You tense up to fight the urge, causing you to belch instead.
  667. > "Are you okay."
  668. "No, I'm pretty fucking far from okay."
  669. > "Here, you should sit down."
  670. > You lean on her as she helps you to the netrunning chair in the corner.
  671. > "Dagi's been pretty on edge lately.  So, please forgive her for what she did."
  672. "Bitch nearly iced me."
  673. > "I know.  When she gets back, I'll make sure she makes it up to you."
  674. > When she does, she hands you a bottle of tequila.  You sniff it and smell the lingering aroma of what was originally inside.  Better than nothing, you suppose.
  675. > "My sister mentioned you wanted to see me.  Well, let's hear it."
  676. > "DAGI!"
  677. > "What?"
  678. > "You're not even going to apologize for trying to kill him?"
  679.  
  680.  
  681. > "He brushes up against death every day.  This should be nothing to him."
  682. > "That doesn't excuse-"
  683. "Sonata!  It's fine.  She's right.  If circumstances were different, I would have killed her, but I'm feeling generous today."
  684. > "Thank you.  Now, I assume you'd like to do business?"
  685. "I would.  I'm interested in finding an illegal Braindance.  Know where I might be able to find one."
  686. > "I did.  Until you trashed my gear."
  687. "Oh, cry me a river.  You've got to have back-ups for important shit, so don't try to con me out of a few eddies.  Besides, we'll call it even after you tried to kill me unprovoked."
  688. > "I could still kill you, you know."  She says while raising her gun.
  689. "At this distance?  You couldn't even hit me at point-blank range.  Do you really think a second-rate joytoy like you could hit me?  "Ha!  You'd be better off using the full auto."
  690. > Her grip tightens around the pistol as her hand shakes with anger.
  691. > Just as you thought she was about to pull the trigger, Sonata steps in front of you.
  692. > "Stop!  Anon, no more mean talking."
  693. "Sorry, Sonata.  Couldn't help myself."
  694. > "I hope you're half as good at shooting as you are at running your mouth; because I just thought of a task you can do for me."
  695. "And what's that?"
  696. > "I'm willing to give you a top-shelf braindance if you can find one of my girls and bring her back here safe and sound."
  697. "Is that so?  And where is she at?"
  698. > "I don't know.  Last I knew, she was on the north side looking for recruits."
  699. "You lost her in Watson?  How long ago?"
  700. > "Three days."
  701. "You'd best give up on her then she's probably dead."
  702. > "You don't know that.  She's one of my best, and I'm not going to give up on her that easy."
  703. > "Adagio, you didn't tell me Aria was missing!?"
  704. > "I didn't tell you; because all you'd do is worry about her.  It's bad enough my number two is missing.  I don't need you having a panic attack on top of that."
  705.  
  706.  
  707. > "I'M NOT PANICKING YOU'RE PANICKING.  HOW COULD YOU LET THIS HAPPEN!?  I THOUGHT YOU TRUSTED ME!  WHY IS THE ROOM SPINNING!?  HAVE YOU ALWAYS HAD WHITE HAIR!  WHY CAN'T I-"
  708. > She immediately faints as she falls over like a sack of bricks.
  709. > "Well, at least now she'll be quiet.  But she's going to be such a headache when she wakes up."
  710. "That's family for you."
  711. > "True.  So then, about our deal?"
  712. "One last thing.  I nearly died from your boomboxes of death, but you two seemed totally unaffected.  How is that possible?"
  713. > "Everyone who works here has sonic dampeners installed to cut off all sound if a certain decibel is reached.  It's much more effective than machine guns, and it keeps things a lot cleaner if someone starts making a scene.  Not to mention it's also cheaper."
  714. "You don't say.  Well, regardless, I should be able to find your girl, or at least what's left of her."
  715. > "I'm not giving you anything if she's dead.  I want her alive and well, or the deal's off."
  716. "That's asking an awful lot for someone who's been lost in prime scavenger territory."
  717. > "It's a great deal.  If you do this, you'll be up to your neck in eddies, and all you have to do is find one girl."
  718. > She was right about one thing the task was simple but far from in your favor.  The likelihood of success was slim, and the danger was high.  Just another day at the office, you suppose.  You considered declining her offer and looking elsewhere; however, how long would that take?
  719. > The more time you wasted, the more you put the operation on The Hivemind's base in jeopardy.
  720. "It's a deal.  Just give me her profile, and I'll be out of your hair."
  721. > "Here's everything you need to know.  You find out anything I want to be the first to hear about it."
  722. "Will do."
  723. > "Good.  Now, get out."
  724. > You get up and place Sonata in the chair you were sitting in before leaving.  After picking up your gear, you walk outside to make a call.
  725. > "Hey, kid.  How are things?"
  726. "Grubber, I want you to start running searches for an Aria Blaze.  Sending the dets your way."
  727. > "Okay, what am I looking for?"
  728. "Find out where she was last seen.  I have it on good authority that it was somewhere in Watson three days ago."
  729. > "If you want me to do that, I'm going to have to crack into the city's databanks to access camera footage."
  730. "Can you do it?"
  731.  
  732.  
  733. > "Sure.  It'll take some time, but the main issue is I have to know if this is important to the operation.  Tempest would kill me if she found out I was wasting my time helping you with errands.  Plus, I don't want to exert myself if I don't have to.  In a matter of speaking."
  734. "Do you really think I'd call you if I wasn't working?"
  735. > "No, but that doesn't mean you can't call just to talk.  I mean, we barely know each other."
  736. "From what my mother has said, it's more like I don't know anything about you."
  737. > "Yeaaaaah.  She's not wrong.  Still, it couldn't hurt to get to know your new partner, right?"  He says hopingly.
  738. ...
  739. "Are you going to run a search or not?"
  740. > "Man, you are just like your mom.  But yeah, I can do some digging.  I'll call you later once I've got something."
  741. "Roger that."
  742. > You hang up and immediately hail your old clunker to your location.
  743.  
  744. > 1 hour later
  745.  
  746. > Finding a convenient store near the bay, you park under a street lamp on the side of the road and get out.
  747. > From what Grubber told you, Aria was last seen entering a cheap motel called the Shoreleave Reprieve.  A favorite of dockworkers, in need of an inconspicuous place for a one-night stand, and secluded enough for wealthy tourists to talk business in private.
  748. > As you enter, the only soul to be found inside was a woman sitting in a chair with her feet up watching T.V.
  749. > She doesn't notice you come in, so you fake clearing your throat to get her attention.
  750. > "Can I help you?"  She says without looking up.
  751. "I'm looking for an Aria Blaze.  I believe she checked into this motel a few days ago and was hoping you could help me find her."
  752. > "Not my job to remember names or faces.  If you want a room, it'll be 200 for the night."
  753. "She's missing, and the last place she was seen was at this motel, and I think you know what happens when people disappear around here."
  754.  
  755.  
  756. > "As I said, I don't get paid to ask questions or remember people.  'Leave your troubles at the shore.'  Here, at the Shoreleave Reprieve."
  757. > This is getting you nowhere.  If you're going to learn anything, it appears you're going to have to take the 'direct approach.'
  758. "Sure seems peaceful and quiet around here.  It would be a shame if someone filed a missing person's report.  Making other people's lives even more miserable than they already are.  As they had to deal with the cops tearing their place apart looking for clues and compromising their business."
  759. > The receptionist gives you an upset glare, which leaves you unphased.
  760. > "Here's the manifest.  Now, leave me alone."
  761. "Thank you."
  762. > You scroll three days back but don't see an Aria Blaze.  She must have used an alias to cover her tracks.  Pretty much every name you see is some type of alias.
  763. > Powertank Frank.
  764. > Jake the Snake.
  765. > Go Fuck Yourself.
  766. > Wow, they must be pleasant.
  767. > Unfortunately, nothing jumps out to you as a possible clue.  Considering you know almost nothing about her doesn't help the fact.  
  768. > You'd rather not waste your time going from room to room, so you decide to give Adagio a ring instead.
  769. > "That was fast.  You have something?"
  770. "I'm at a motel near the docks where Aria was last seen, by surveillance footage.  I have a list of names, but none of them are hers.  Does she have a code name or phrase that she uses?"
  771. > "Sonata once referred to her as the Purple Panther, but otherwise, we don't have a need for those."
  772. "Well, that name's not on here."
  773. > "Why don't you just go down the list.  I should be able to tell you which one is her."
  774. "Sounds good."
  775. "Rick Astley."
  776. "Edgerunner Ted."
  777. "My Left Nut."
  778. "Double Barrel Darrel."
  779. "Go Fuck Yourself."
  780. > "That one."
  781. "Really?"  You say, perplexed.
  782.  
  783.  
  784. > "Aria's not one to fuck around, which makes her very abrasive in our line of work."
  785. "Okay, she checked into room 201.  I'll give it the once over and report back."
  786. > "I'll be waiting."
  787. > You look over; however, and see a sliding metal door blocking the hallway to the motel proper.  You don't even bother to ask.
  788. > Using both hands, you rip the door open with enough force to crush the metal frame.
  789. > "Hey!  You better pay for that."
  790. > You walk past a handyman who was working on a vending machine until you started making a ruckus.
  791. "Fix that for me, will you."
  792. > Making your way upstairs you reach the room in question and notice a 'Do Not Disturb' sign placed on the door.
  793. > You put your ear up to it and hear the moans and groans of two people getting it on.
  794. > This isn't going to be fun, but you kick the door down anyway with your gun drawn.
  795. "Don't move."
  796. > "What the hell!  Get out!"  The input shouted.
  797. > You fire a warning shot close enough that both of them could hear the bullet wiz past their heads.
  798. "I said don't move!  If you do, the next one's going between your eyes.  Now, answer me this."  Do either of you know an Aria Blaze?"
  799. > "No."  They both answer.
  800. "She's an output that looks like this."  You say as you send them the photo.
  801. "Ever seen her before?"
  802. > "No, never."  They answer again.
  803. > You figured as much, but it was worth a try.
  804. "Alright, I need to have a look around.  You two can either continue what you were doing, or you can wait out in the lobby it's your choice."
  805. > They look at each other and pick up their clothes before unceremoniously walking out the door.
  806. > With that taken care of, you holster your weapon and get to work.
  807. > After several minutes of extensive searching, you turn up no evidence that Aria was ever here.  If you didn't find anything, you'd be back to square one.  At that point, your only option would be to go door to door, and you'd never find her that way.
  808. > Then, you're suddenly hit with a realization.  You recently acquired some expensive tech that allowed you to see through walls.
  809.  
  810.  
  811. > A quick scan later indicated that there was some type of listening device installed, inside the wall, behind the nightstand.
  812. > If the motel was keeping tabs on its customers, then there should be a backroom where they monitor it all.
  813. > You go back downstairs and tell the couple they can have their room back before you confront the woman at the desk again.
  814. "Who oversees what goes on in the rooms?"
  815. > "I have no idea what you're talking about."
  816. > You pull out your Glock and aim right at her head.
  817. "Bitch, I am not in the mood for playing!  You either fess up or eat lead.  I'm giving you ten seconds!"
  818. > She puts her hands up and begins pleading.
  819. > "I swear.  I just do what I'm told.  I know the money's too good for what I do, but as long as I don't ask questions, no one bothers me."
  820. "Then you better spill your guts before I spill them for you."
  821. > "I-I-"
  822. > Her sight, which was solely fixated on you, darts to something on your right.
  823. > You quickly dive to your left and immediately shoot at the doorway behind you.
  824. > Standing there was the mechanic from before holding a pistol with a silencer attached.  He pulls the trigger and fires a shot where you were previously standing.
  825. > You return fire as you slid along the ground.  Pumping several shots into him as he crumpled to the ground, dead.
  826. > You get up and rush over to his side to give him a quick double-tap.
  827. "Do what your told, huh?  By this guy?"
  828. > "No, my boss works out of office.  He usually only keeps two of his people here at a time.
  829. "Two.  Then, where's the other one?"
  830. > "He's probably downstairs.  There's a secret tunnel behind the vending machine that leads downstairs."
  831. "Alright, stay here, or I'll blow you away."
  832. > "OKAY!"
  833. > In one swift motion, you throw the contraption off its foundation to reveal the hidden entrance.  The tunnel had a staircase that lead to an open doorway.  After all the ruckus you made, whoever was down there would surely be expecting you.
  834.  
  835.  
  836. > In that case, you pull out a smoke grenade and toss it into the room.  After it goes off, a fully automatic weapon begins spraying into the fog.
  837. > By the sound, you could tell it was a rifle, a D-5 Copperhead, modified to shoot faster than a typical submachine gun.  By getting a rough count of the bullets fired, you time your jump down the stairs just as he empties his clip.
  838. > You rush through the white haze and locate the scumbag as he's reloading.
  839. > You fire a single shot that knocks the weapon out of his hands.
  840. "Turn around and face the wall."
  841. > He slowly puts his hands up and begins backing away from you.
  842. > You fire another shot that blows his right-hand clean off, making him scream out in pain.
  843. "NOW!"
  844. > He turns around while grasping the wrist of his missing hand.
  845. "Where is Aria Blaze!?"
  846. > "Never heard of her."
  847. > You bash your pistol into the back of his head.  Causing him to kiss the pavement hard.
  848. "You better tell me if you want to live."
  849. > "You're in over your head, kid.  My buddies are on there way.  They'll be here in minutes, and then you'll be sorry."
  850. > You grab his left arm and step on his shoulder-blade.  With a quick clean jerk, you rip his whole arm out of his socket.  Making him scream even louder.
  851. "Which means there's no one here to save you now.  Meaning, I have enough time to completely dismember you, among other things, or you could tell me what I want to know."
  852. > "We took her to our warehouse.  Eight blocks from here on Black Iron Road."
  853. > With the information obtained, you pop him in the back of the head and rush back up the stairs to see the girl still standing behind the desk.
  854. "It's time for you to skip town.  If you don't, I'll end your life right here."
  855. > "I won't say anything, I promise."
  856. "You will.  Whether you want to believe it or not.  I just need you out of the picture for the next twenty-four hours.  Can you do that?"
  857. > "YES!"
  858. > She quickly hops the desk and flies out the front door.  You better make yourself scarce as well.
  859.  
  860.  
  861. > Making your way out the back, you look up and fire your magnetic grapple hook to the top of the fire escape and whisk yourself to the rooftops.  After putting some distance between the building and yourself, you find a spot to observe the motel unseen.
  862. > Not a minute after you reached your perch did several cars begin flooding the street.  You quickly took stock of the vehicles that showed up by cataloging all the makes and models, as well as their ID numbers.
  863. > But, more importantly than that, you scanned each face that appeared during the commotion.
  864. > They were all wanted men, unsurprisingly.  You could have taken them out, but their bounties didn't warrant the effort.  Besides, your job wasn't yet complete.
  865. > Once you were back in your car, you began driving aimlessly, as you made a call to Adagio.
  866. > "Hey, what did you find?"
  867. "I know where she's being kept.  It's a warehouse on Black Iron Road."
  868. > "Thank god.  I was beginning to reach my wit's end, and Sonata isn't helping at all."
  869. "Hold up, there's more.  I had to shoot up the motel I was just at to get that answer, so the likelihood that they'll tighten their security is high."
  870. > "If they think their operation is compromised, they'll scrub the site.  We have to move now!"
  871. "Calm down.  I bought us some time.  There's only one person who can tell them what really happened, and it'll be a while before they find her.  But you're right we still have to stage a rescue by the end of the night."
  872. > "Okay.  I'll make my way over there now.  I don't have much in terms of soldiers, but I can round up some people."
  873. "I have a better idea.  Why don't you let me and my people do the heavy lifting."
  874. > "Why?  What are you going to ask for in return?"
  875. "This mission is more than likely going to be a bloodbath, so in exchange for sacrificing my people, I want that BD regardless of how we find Aria."
  876. > A long silence follows your exchange as Adagio contemplates your offer.
  877. "I also have a list of scavengers and their vehicles that I can throw in as well, free of charge."
  878. > "Fine.  I'll take the deal, but promise me one thing.  That you'll kill every single one of those animals."
  879. "Wouldn't have it any other way."
  880. > "Then, I'll be here waiting."
  881. > And with that, the call ends.  Allowing you to start planning.
  882.  
  883.  
  884. > It was late into the night by the time Thunderlane and his crew rolled up.  Three pickups, one of which he was sitting in the passenger seat of with six other guys in the back.
  885. > "Is this where the party's at?"
  886. "No, it's just up the road.  Let me give you guys the run down before we head in."
  887. > "Alright boys, listen up!"
  888. "Tonight, we'll be hitting a scavenger base.  The objective is to find this woman, Aria Blaze.  I took the liberty of scouting the exterior and found their defenses to be minimal; however, there's no telling what we'll find once inside."
  889. "We'll begin the attack once I neutralize the two guards at the gate.  After that, the convoy will storm the main garage door, and we'll fight our way from there.  The target, if she's still alive, will more than likely be held in the basement."
  890. "Once the asset is clear, lieutenant Thunderlane will take command of the operation.  From there, I assume you will be free to do or take anything you want."
  891. > "Damn straight."
  892. "Until then, you are to remain focused.  Do that, and we'll all be sporting some shiny new chrome by the end of the night.  Is that clear?"
  893. > "YEAH!"  The men shout.
  894. "Then, let's get to work."
  895.  
  896. > The night air grew eerily still as you sat atop a nearby roof, giving the warehouse the once over.  Everything was set, and you were ready.
  897. > "Thirty seconds out.  Awaiting orders."  Thunderlane said over the comms.
  898. > The cavalry rounded the street corner and were now a few hundred feet away from the complex.  All three vehicles were driving at normal speeds, as to not alert the enemy.
  899. "Gun it."
  900. > As you say that, you fire off your first round, and then a second just as the first truck breaks through the front gate.  From inside the building, people begin spilling out from all sides as gunfire flew in all directions.
  901. > You pick off a few scavs as Thunderlane and his buddies begin to make their way inside.  After reloading, you swing your way over and quietly enter through a skylight.
  902. > With the thugs distracted, you swoop in from behind and kill those shooting from the catwalk.  With the high ground secured, you flush out the stragglers cornered around the stairs and finish them off one by one.
  903. "Hold position!"  You yell as you whip yourself over to the staircase.
  904. > "Anon, buddy.  You know I always take point."  Thunderlane retorts.
  905. "Give me a second to scout ahead with my new eyes."
  906. > "New eyes?  You sporting some new chrome, and you didn't even tell me?"
  907. > You ignore him as you ping-pong signals from various machines to get a general layout of the floor below you.
  908. "I count at least six left.  Three, waiting for us at the bottom, two on the left side in what looks like a control room, and the last one is too far away to tell.  They're in the far most room to the right."
  909.  
  910.  
  911. > "So what's the play?"
  912. "You go right I'll go left."
  913. > "That's it?"
  914. "Would you rather I take a minute to think it over?"
  915. > "Not really."
  916. "Then, what's the problem?"
  917. > He gives you a playful smirk as he cocks his shotgun.
  918. > Rounding up the others, you gradually tiptoe down the steps as your team gets into position.  Thunderlane signals to one of his buddies, who pulls out a flashbang grenade.
  919. > He pulls the pin but waits a few seconds before throwing it.  The container doesn't even hit the ground before it goes off.  Charging ahead, you mow down the first group of assailants as bullets nearly miss you.
  920. > You kick down the first door you see with dual pistols drawn and take out two men hovering over a computer.  Whatever they were doing, it had to be important.
  921. "Cover me."  You say to the men following you.
  922. > Holstering your weapons, you begin tapping away at the keyboard to find out what it was.
  923. > What you find is a series of messages between an unknown source and the people you just killed.
  924.  
  925. > 'Shots fired outside.  Too many to be a drive-by.  We're under attack.'
  926.         > 'How many?  Who are they?'
  927. > 'Black Shadows.  Too many.  Base is being overrun.  Send backup.'
  928.         > 'Negative.  Take what you can and get out.  We won't be able to reinforce you."
  929. > 'Are you kidding?  Do you have any idea the gold mine we're sitting on?'
  930.         > "I do, and I don't care.  You can rebuild elsewhere, but not if you're dead.'
  931. > 'Acknowledged.  Sending data your way.'
  932.  
  933. > Who were they talking to?  And what did they send them?  Unfortunately, you couldn't tell; because the access was restricted.
  934. > "Anon, think I found your girl.  You're going to want to get over here."  Thunderlane says.
  935. "On my way."
  936. > As you make your way to Thunderlane's location, you steel yourself for the worst, but nothing could have prepared you for what you saw.
  937. "Fucking hell."
  938. > The room more closely resembled a slaughterhouse than anything else.  People strung up on meathooks, naked and missing limbs, organs, and skin.  Their blood swirling down shower drains as they hung lifelessly.
  939. > Crates and freezers, lining the walls filled with their valuables. It's only then, do you notice Thunderlane off in a side room waiting for you.
  940. > The interior resembled that of any ordinary living room; expect, for the two lifeless bodies.  One of which was a scavenger that Thunderlane had killed, the other was Aria.  Or what was left of her.
  941.  
  942.  
  943. > She sat on the main couch propped up against the armrest, naked and unmoving.  Her arms and legs were missing, so all that remained was her head on a torso.  Her black mascara ran down her cheeks, having been ruined from tears but had long since dried.
  944. > The rest of her body was covered in various other fluids that you couldn't identify.  As well as a cable that dangled from the ceiling above her that had recently been removed.  Causing her eyes to blink uncontrollably.  She must have experienced an error upon being unplugged, or she was fighting some malicious software.  
  945. > Your shock lasts several seconds before you snap back to reality to check on her.
  946. "She's got a pulse, but it's faint.  I NEED A MEDIC IN HERE!"
  947. > "You serious, man?  You already got the BD.  Why are you still trying to help this bitch?  Fucking look at her.  We'd be better off putting her out of her misery."
  948. "Put her out of h- I'm giving you an order!  Get me a medic!"
  949. > "You really think she's going to bounce back from what she's been through?  Killing her would be doing her a service."
  950. "I don't want to hear that!  I gave Adagio my word I'd bring her back alive, so you either get me a medic or leave.  I don't care which."
  951. > Finally, someone shows up and begins unloading his gear.
  952. > "She's going into cardiac arrest.  Whatever they did to her, they unplugged her too soon.  She needs a hard reset, or she's only going to get worse."
  953. "What do we need to do?"
  954. > "Someone needs to attach their personal link and manually shut her down.  From there, we can only pray."
  955. "Then do it."
  956. > He hesitates but doesn't say anything.
  957. "What's the problem?"
  958. > "I don't know what she's been loaded with.  If we're not careful, whatever she has could easily transfer to whoever connects with her."
  959. "For the love of God.  I'll fucking do it."
  960. > Pulling out your personal link from your wrist, you jack in and begin overriding her systems and executing a hard shut down.
  961. > A little static obscures your vision for a second, but you otherwise finish successfully.
  962. "Done."
  963. > "Good."
  964. > The man then pulls out a small metal patch that he attaches to her chest.  A pulse generator to keep her heart from stopping.
  965. > "That'll buy us some time, but she needs to see a Ripperdoc, now."
  966. "Then let's move.  Get one of the guys to start looking for her limbs."  You remark to Thunderlane.
  967. > You pick her up and cradle her head like a baby as you rush to the entrance.  Once outside, you put her into one of the vehicles and phone the only Ripperdoc that would see a patient like this.
  968.  
  969.  
  970. > "Kid, do you have any idea what time it is?"
  971. "It's time for you to wake up, Cranky.  I've got an emergency, and we're coming in hot."
  972. > "Okay, what's the diagnosis?"  He says, still trying to wake himself up.
  973. "You're up."  You say to your medic.
  974. > "She's been infected with some type of software.  Symptoms are rapid eye movement and an irregular heartbeat following cardiac arrest.  We induced a hard system reset and have her hooked up to a PG."
  975. > "Christ.  Sounds like you have a real mess on your hands.  Fine, I'll help you, but  I don't like surprise visits, so expect an extra-long bill after this."
  976. "That's fine.  Just be ready for us."
  977. > "Alright.  See you in a few."
  978. > As you hang up, you contemplate giving Adagio a ring as well but decided against it.  You don't know if Aria is going to make it, and you don't want to give her any added stress.
  979. > When you arrive, you go in through the back.  Even if the practice was closed, people would start asking questions if they saw what you were bringing in.
  980. > "What the hell is this?"  Cranky asks.
  981. "It's your patient.  My buddy here will be able to assist.  Now get to it."
  982. > Reluctantly, he begins putting on his surgical gloves.
  983. > "God, I hate this job."
  984. > Leaving them to it, you take a seat out in the waiting room and let out a heavy sigh.  You weren't aware of it, but the whole ordeal and left you physically and mentally exhausted.
  985. > They were going to be a while, so you decide to catch a few winks.
  986.  
  987. > Sometime later, the sound of your phone disturbs your slumber.  It was your mother.
  988. "Anon here."
  989. > "Where are you?  It's time for our training regiment."
  990. > Looking at your internal clock, you kick yourself for not remembering.
  991. "Sorry, boss.  Got wrapped up in an op, and it took a lot out of me."
  992. > "So I heard.  Cranky called me when he was done operating on your little joytoy.  The price had better be worth the resources you wasted on her."
  993. > Wait, he's already done.  Given the time, you shouldn't be surprised, but why didn't he wake you?
  994. "Did she pull through?"
  995. > "You're still there, aren't you?  Why are you asking me?"
  996. > That's true.  You get up and head to the backroom to see Aria asleep on a patient's bed with all her appendages reattached.
  997. "Well, physically, she looks okay, but she was fighting something before we shut her down."
  998. > "Then, I'd ask Cranky about that.  He usually has a smoke in the back alley after a long surgery."
  999. "Great.  Oh, and by the way, do you mind if we skip tonight's session?  I promise to make up for it tomorrow."
  1000. > "If you mean that, then yes."
  1001. "Thanks, boss.  I should be able to pick up the BD we need by the end of the night."
  1002. > "Once you do, we can begin planning the assault in earnest.  Until then."  (Click)
  1003.  
  1004.  
  1005. "You think she's going to be alright?"  You ask Cranky.
  1006. > "No way to know until she wakes up.  She had a doll chip installed.  That coupled with a neural network cable, and they could have done literally anything to her."
  1007. "Well, even if she is messed up in the head, I still appreciate you doing what you did."
  1008. > Cranky takes a big puff of his cigar before offering a rebuttal.
  1009. > "You know, my wife was pretty pissed when I got your call.  Rightfully so, for waking us up at two in the morning.  But since your mother is footing the bill, I think she'll let it slide this time."
  1010. "Give her my condolences.  I'll be sure not to make it a habit."
  1011. > "You better.  I've already seen a lifetime's worth of shit, and I don't need you adding to it."
  1012. "I can imagine."
  1013. > "Your friend should be stable enough to move, by the way.  I'm not a foster home so take her before you leave."
  1014. "Really?  She just had surgery."
  1015. > "The hardest thing I did in that regard was put her back together.  Lucky for her, whatever filth took her arms and legs off knew what they were doing.  Most of the hard stuff was internal and software-related.  As long as she doesn't start running marathons, she'll stay in one piece."
  1016. "That's impressive.  Makes me wonder why Tempest never recruited you."
  1017. > "She tried.  Back when she first left the Storm Rulers.  But I was too old then, and I'm certainly too old now.  Getting mixed up in some damn turf war is a road leading to decades of frustration as you fight a never-ending battle."
  1018. > "Then, if you live long enough to retire, you'll look back at all you've done and realize it wasn't worth all the pain you endured.  Not even close."
  1019. > You feel like he's speaking from experience, but decide against pressing him for details.
  1020. > With nothing left to say, you take Aria and place her in the back seat of your car.  Sunrise was fast approaching, and you still had one thing left to do.
  1021. "Adagio, I have her.  I'll be at the club in about twenty minutes."
  1022. > "Took you long enough.  I was beginning to think that those scavs were too much for you."
  1023. "Not a chance.  Your sister was in pretty rough shape when I found her, so I took her to a Ripperdoc to get her patched up."
  1024. > "How is she?"
  1025. "Physically, she's fine, but..."
  1026. > "But?"
  1027. "There's a lot more.  I'll tell you when I see you."
  1028. > "Okay.  By the way, we've closed up for the night.  You'll have to come in the back.  I'll wait for you there."
  1029. "Right, see you then."
  1030.  
  1031.  
  1032. > By the time you arrived at the club, the sun had already broken first light.  You've had it rough the past couple of days, and the next few were going to be even harder.
  1033. > Cranky's words still resonated in your head as you parked your car.  Decades of hardship, and you've only been doing this for five years.
  1034. > Was it really going to be that long?  Were your day-to-day operations really that meaningless?  What was your mother's plan?  Even if she did topple the Storm Rulers, what would she do next?
  1035. > Other gangs existed.  Many of which you didn't get along with.  Would there ever be a day where she'd be satisfied?
  1036. > You push such thoughts away for the moment as you pick up Aria and bring her inside.
  1037. > Upon entering, you are tackled nearly full force by someone.
  1038. > "ARIA!"  Said the distraught woman.
  1039. > "You had me so worried.  I thought I was never going to see you again.  W-why didn't you tell me you were going on a dangerous mission?"
  1040. "Sonata, get off of me."
  1041. > "Why doesn't anyone tell me anything?  I'm trustworthy.  I'm loyal."  She cries.
  1042. > "Pull yourself together, girl."  Adagio says, peeling her sister off of you.
  1043. > "If you're going to act like this, go home.  I still have business to take care of."
  1044. > Sonata then desperately tries to compose herself by whipping away her tears and fixing her clothes.
  1045. > "I'm not a kid anymore, Dagi.  I deserve to be here."
  1046. > "Then act like it.  I have a reputation to uphold, and you're not helping.  If anyone saw you like this, I'd be a laughing stock."
  1047. > "But Anon is here."
  1048. > They both look at you as you dust yourself off with one arm, one with contempt and the other with innocence.
  1049. > "I can buy his silence, but that's not the point.  I give you a job, and I expect you to do it.  No questions asked.  That requires trust, and since we're family, I shouldn't have to explain myself."
  1050. > "It still hurts that you won't tell me anything."  Sonata says sheepishly.
  1051. > Adagio just groans.
  1052. > "How many times do I have to repeat myself.  If you want me to treat you as an equal, you have to behave like an equal.  That means keeping your emotions in check and showing some self-restraint."
  1053. > Sonata sits there quietly as Adagio continues to scold her.
  1054. "Ladies, this is cute and all, but can we do this another time?  My arms are getting tired."
  1055. > "You're right.  We both have things we should be doing.  Let's head downstairs.  Sonata, bring the car around.  We're going home shortly."
  1056. > Reluctantly, she does as she's told while you carry Aria to the basement.
  1057.  
  1058.  
  1059. > "So how much is it going to cost me to keep you quiet about this?"
  1060. > You didn't think she was serious when she said it a minute ago.  Her image must mean a lot to her.
  1061. "As long as you can promise this BD is top-shelf, then we'll call it even."
  1062. > She looks over her shoulder and gives you a face you can't decipher.
  1063. > "You're not very good at this, are you?"
  1064. "What do you mean?"
  1065. > The elevator opens, and you place Aria on a couch while you take a seat next to her.
  1066. > "An illegal Braindance might be worth a lot to the right people, but even so.  You've done way more for me than what this thing is worth.  What's your endgame?"
  1067. "I don't consider what I did to be that valuable.  It's just the process of doing business."
  1068. > "Then you're an idiot."
  1069. "Why are you complaining anyway?  Would you prefer I hang some meaningless dispute over your head?  What would I even ask for in return?"
  1070. > "Geez, how new to this are you?  You threw away lives, gave my sister top-notch surgery, and have seen our most private moments.  If anything, I'm indebted to you."
  1071. "Then, why are you so intent on paying me back?  If you think you're coming out ahead, why not let sleeping dogs lie?"
  1072. > "Because I need to know.  Information is power in this city, and the one's with the most power control everything, so I'll ask again, what angle are you working?"
  1073. > You sit back and think for a moment before offering an answer.
  1074. "A day ago, I might have propositioned you to partner yourself with our gang, but now I'm not so sure.  I made a promise to my mother several years ago that I'd do anything to make her happy.  I was just a stupid kid then.  A stupid kid with his head in the clouds and not a care in the world."
  1075. > "Sounds like a certain someone I know."
  1076. > You laugh a little bit at that.
  1077. "No kidding.  I see a lot of myself in her if you can believe it."
  1078. > "Please tell me you're joking."
  1079. "No, I'm serious.  She lives and works with family that undervalues her, is blissfully ignorant of the work she does and how it affects others, and when she asks questions about her impact, she's immediately shutdown when all she really wants is a little recognition."
  1080. > "Well, when you phrase it like that, you two do seem awfully alike.  Honestly, I don't know whether to laugh or to cry on how apt your comparison is."
  1081. "It's certainly sad, that's for sure.  All this time, I've only thought about my mother's happiness and not my own.  Spending every waking hour training and preparing to do one thing, and in the end, I don't even know if that'll make her happy."
  1082. > "And what's that?"
  1083. "To kill my father, the Storm King."
  1084.  
  1085.  
  1086. > Adagio visibly straightens up as her eyes grow to the size of dinner plates after hearing what you said.
  1087. > "The Storm King.  As in THE Storm King."
  1088. "There's only the one."
  1089. > "And that's her goal?  What would she do after that?  That gang controls half the city, not to mention the connections it has overseas.  If you kill one leader, ten more will step up to take his place.  They're almost too big to fail."
  1090. "I'm fairly certain it's a personal vendetta.  After he's dead, I don't know what she'd do, and if she has nothing, that would make me less than nothing."
  1091. > "If you by some miracle were able to pull that off, the whole city would turn on you.  Whoever's left would put a bounty on your heads.  One large enough that people would sell out their own family for.  You'd have to skip town, but even then, no matter where you went, you'd be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life."
  1092. "Then, it wouldn't be much different from the life I live now."
  1093. > Looking up at the ceiling, you slink lower into your seat and let out a long sigh.
  1094. "Fuck."
  1095. > That realization was more real than you were expecting.  You wanted to believe that what you did mattered.  That things would change as you grew stronger and more capable of changing them.  Only now, you didn't feel like that was the case.
  1096. > "Seems like you don't know what you really want any more than I do, so let me rephrase my question to you.  What are you going to do now?"
  1097. "I think, once I'm finished with this BD I'm going to take some time off.  Clear my head and do some soul searching.  After that, I have no idea."
  1098. > "I see."
  1099. > You could tell her more about the operation and why you needed this BD, but feel like you've already shared too much.
  1100. > Having answered her question and nothing left to add, you stand up to leave.
  1101. > "Wait."  Adagio says.
  1102. > She tosses you a computer chip, which you catch with ease.
  1103. > "Don't forget that."
  1104. "Thanks."
  1105. > "Keep in touch.  Maybe we can do business again some time."
  1106. "I will."  You say before pocketing the chip.
  1107.  
  1108. > "Let's go over it one more time."
  1109. "Boss, we've got all the intel we'll need for the layout.  The only hiccup I have is how I'm going to find the equipment we lost in a timely manner.  The place is a fortress, and I might be good, but even I can't fight an army by myself."
  1110. > "Which is why your get-away driver is a netrunner."
  1111. "Grubber?"
  1112. > "No.  Someone else."
  1113. "Oh god.  Please don't tell me it's-"
  1114. > "Trixie.  Yes."
  1115. > You rub your temples to prepare for the coming headache that you'll have to endure because of her.
  1116. "Can't Grubber do it?  This is the most pressing thing our group is undertaking right now.  Why isn't he helping me?"
  1117. > "For three reasons.  One, Grubber is not a fighter, which you might have guessed by looking at his physique.  If things go south, you'll need someone who's good in a fight, not just someone who can hack things."
  1118. > "Two, if he tried to hack in via a deep dive, it would tip off our plan to double-cross them.  Since the process of cracking their servers would be time-consuming and risky."
  1119. > "And third, he doesn't want to."
  1120. "Excuse me?  You're the boss, and you get to say what people can and can't do.  Why not just crack the whip on him as you do with everyone else?"
  1121. > "Because I've learned that Grubber is an exception.  I've tried many times to get him to perform under duress, to no avail.  Besides, I can afford to lose one of you, but not both."
  1122. > Meaning, she's willing to lose you over her little mole friend.  Not that you're surprised at this point.
  1123. "One other thing.  If this mission goes smoothly, I'd like to request some time off."
  1124. > "Time off?  To do what?"
  1125. "I just need a break.  A week to relax and center myself."
  1126. > "If the operation is successful, then yes, that will be fine.  However, I still expect you to spar with me every day.  Including today, since you missed a regiment."
  1127. > It wasn't exactly your ideal scenario for a relaxing vacation, but you suppose it's better than nothing.
  1128. "Fair enough.  When do we start?"
  1129. > "In two hours.  Trixie will be here in one; until then, we continue to analyze and plan."
  1130. "Commander, with all due respect, I'm going to blow my brains out if this continues.  Why don't we just do our training instead?  I could use it to warm-up for the op."
  1131. > "Not a bad idea.  However, I planned on working you extra hard today to make up for yesterday."
  1132. "So you're saying I can't handle it."
  1133. > "I'm saying that I don't want you suboptimal for the infiltration."
  1134. "If I can't go a few rounds with you without endangering my performance, then maybe it's your training that's suboptimal."
  1135. > She shoots you a glare that you stare down.  If you knew anything about your mother, it's that she hates it when her practices come into question.
  1136.  
  1137.  
  1138. > "Fine.  If that's what you want, so be it.  I hope your ready lieutenant because I'm really going to let you have it."
  1139. > She was angry now, which was both good and bad.  Bad because now she's probably going to kick your ass, but good, because seeing any genuine emotion from her was rare.  Even for an instant.
  1140. > Making your way to the workout room, you shred all of your bulky equipment and clothes as you start with some preliminary stretches.
  1141. > Once you were ready, you take a stance on the wrestling mat.  Tempest counters with her own as you both slowly inched your way towards one another.
  1142.  
  1143. > True to her word, Tempest worked you over good.  You would no doubt have bruises by tomorrow, but today, the pain only strengthened your resolve.  For it served as a reminder as to why you needed this.
  1144. > On the ride to your destination, Trixie filled the air with her typical self-centered drivel.  In which you were able to drown out with your thoughts.
  1145. > What would you even do with your time off?  You didn't have any hobbies.  Any acquaintances you had were from work, many of whom didn't like you.
  1146. > Would you leave town and go somewhere?  Even if you did, where would you go?  You've lived in this city your whole life.  You didn't know of anyplace besides this one.
  1147. > Maybe you could talk to someone who knew how to relax, and that's when it hit you.
  1148. > Grubber.
  1149. > The man who your mother trusted more than even you.  You'd tried and failed to get answers about various things from her for years only to be denied.
  1150. > However, you've never even held a full conversation with Grubber before, and if his will was anything like his body, it could be easily broken.
  1151. > With your spirit rekindled, you hone your focus on the task at hand.
  1152. > See everything.
  1153. > Hear everything.
  1154. > No hesitation.
  1155. > Strike with the intent to kill.
  1156. > As you stepped out of the car, you calibrate your eyes to instantly scan all objects you gaze upon.  Nothing was to be overlooked.
  1157. > Your ears still weren't functioning at 100% after your encounter with The Sirens, but you would manage.
  1158. > "Call established.  Does the Shadow's pet hear Trixie?"
  1159. "Unfortunately."
  1160. > She grumbles angrily but otherwise says nothing.
  1161. > Again, two guards approached you as you stepped closer to the building.  Only this time, they were much quicker to let you in.  No doubt expecting you.
  1162. > Leading you to the basement, they instead take you to a large room with impressive decor.  A sort of makeshift throne room of sorts.  No doubt where their queen often resided.
  1163. > "That was fast.  You work quick, boy."  An unknown voice mused.
  1164. "I'd rather not live with something as detestable as this hanging over my head."
  1165. > "Don't think of it like that, think of it as mowing the lawn for a neighbor."
  1166. "Don't patronize me, character-building chores like this are beneath me."
  1167. > The female voice cackled softly.
  1168. > "On that, we agree."
  1169.  
  1170.  
  1171. > Again, the woman materializes out of thin air, this time wearing a black dress left in absolute tatters.  Allowing you to see bits of skin all over.
  1172. "Dressing to impress someone?"
  1173. > "Not at all."  She says coyly.
  1174. > "I wear this in front of all my subjects.  Seeing me in this keeps them motivated."
  1175. > That's one word for it.
  1176. > "Now, I assume you have what was promised."
  1177. "Of course."
  1178. > You present the chip, but one of her goons swipes it from you before presenting it to her himself.
  1179. > "Excellent, and what gem have you brought me today?"
  1180. "Don't know.  Don't care."
  1181. > "Really?  Then, how do you know that this BD is of any quality?"
  1182. "I trust my sources."
  1183. > "Hmmm, and if I don't find it to be of quality?"
  1184. "Then, I'm going to pay my sources another visit."
  1185. > "Well, let's not speak in hypotheticals.  I've been itching to see what you've brought me.  Care to watch with me?"
  1186. "I'll let you enjoy it, thanks."
  1187. > "Suit yourself."
  1188. > She takes a seat atop her throne and adorns a neural interface before plugging the chip in.
  1189. > "Now, let's see what we've got it."
  1190. > "Oh."  She giggles while crossing her legs.
  1191. > "Very interesting."
  1192. > You look on as she hums and haws every so often.  Giving you no indication as to what she was experiencing.
  1193. > "Yes, do it.  Do it!  Do it!"  She screams with frantic fervor.
  1194. > Her reactions become more varied and intense for the next several minutes, until, finally, she slumps over in her seat and lets out a satisfied sigh.
  1195. > "This will do quite nicely.  In fact, this may be one of my new favorites."
  1196. "Then, we're done here."
  1197. > "Not so fast."  As you turned to leave, the guards at the door stop you.
  1198. > "You're not even the least bit interested in what I saw?"
  1199. "Whatever it was, it got you all worked up.  If that's enough for you, then that's enough for me."
  1200. > "Oh, I think you'll be very interested in what I saw because whoever gave you this BD has a real good sense of humor."
  1201. "And how's that?"
  1202. > "Why don't you watch it and find out."
  1203. > This wasn't good.  It would be rude to deny her, but doing so could compromise your mental state.
  1204. "No offense, but you seemed a little tired after watching that.  Why don't you just tell me about it instead."
  1205. > "I wouldn't be able to do it justice.  It's something I think you specifically would like."
  1206. "Sorry to disappoint you, but things like emotions and empathy are lost on me.  I live in the reality that I shape with my own two hands.  I would get no joy in living some fantasy I wish was real."
  1207. > "Even if that fantasy was one in which you kill your father?"
  1208. > You hesitated, which was just enough for her to confirm her suspicions.
  1209.  
  1210.  
  1211. > "See.  You may be a trained killer, but you're not above reveling in your work.  Especially when it comes to completing the one thing you were born to do."
  1212. "How do you know all that?"
  1213. > "Don't underestimate the knowledge I can acquire.  Piecing together your existence is a simple task once you have the whole picture.  Watching this BD was like taking a snapshot of what your ideal life could be like.  Minus, the sex with your mother."
  1214. "Someone killing their father and having sex with their mother?  That was all on there?"
  1215. > "Yes, apparently a man stopped loving his wife and sought out alternative means to fill the void.  Having no one to tame her sexual urges, her son steps in to give her that gratification."
  1216. > "Upon being discovered, the son and the father have a fight in which the son blows him away.  The pleasure he took in doing it was palpable."
  1217. "Well, you're wrong about me.  I don't hate my father.  I've never even met him.  My mother is the one with the grudge against him I'm just the one stuck in the middle."
  1218. > "Then why become an assassin?  Face it, you want him dead just as much as she does."
  1219. "I used to, you're right, but now.  I don't know."
  1220. > "Curious.  A lot must have happened in the two days since I saw you.  Has the pet grown tired of his leash?"
  1221. "That's none of your concern.  If our business is concluded, I'll be going now."
  1222. > "Wait."  She demands.
  1223. > "One last thing."
  1224. > She saunters her way down the stairs of her throne and cups your chin in her hand.
  1225. > You lock eyes and give her the same dead look you did the last time.
  1226. > "I sense that you're nothing but a shadow of your former self.  Ironic.  Still, you have much skill and passion, even if you don't know it.  If you ever feel lost or want someone to love, my door is always open."
  1227. > You feel as though she's offering more than just an invitation to join her clan.  But that didn't change the fact of why you were REALLY here.
  1228. "Thanks, I'll think about it."
  1229. > Content with your answer, she lets you go before walking away.
  1230. > "I'll be waiting."
  1231. > Finally, you leave her sight and sigh.  Knowing now what you had to do.
  1232. > "Once you're in the elevator, wait for the carriage to start moving.  I'll deactivate the camera, and then you can make your move."  Trixie whispers in your ear.
  1233. > It was a shame.  You really believed Chrysalis's offer was genuine.  If only she hadn't double-crossed you, things might have been different.
  1234. > Once inside, you wait patiently as the two goons stand at attention behind you.  One of them presses the button to go to the ground floor, causing the doors to close automatically.
  1235. > As soon as the steel box begins to move, you tap the button for the floor below it.
  1236. > "Hey, what do you th-"
  1237. > He reaches for your hand, and as he does so, you whip out your pistol with your off-hand and shoot both thugs between the eyes.  Thanks to your silencer, you should still be in the clear.  However, now you were on a timer.
  1238.  
  1239.  
  1240. "How am I looking?"
  1241. > "Two more guards are waiting at the door once you get off.  You'll have to dispose of them before anything else."
  1242. "Roger."
  1243. > Pulling out your other pistol, also equipped with a silencer, you wait patiently for the doors to reopen.
  1244. > Once they do, the two men turn to see who was getting off, only to be met with a bullet to the brain.  Checking your corners, you make sure the path was clear before dragging all four bodies to a discrete corner.
  1245. > "There's a netrunner in the room to your left and two more guards in the storage room in front of you.  Take out the netrunner, and I'll blind the other two, but be quick.  You'll only have ten seconds before their eyes reboot."
  1246. "Can do."
  1247. > Tip-toeing into the netrunner's room, you quickly dispose of him and head back to the door.
  1248. > "Wait!  One of them is heading your way!  Wait a few seconds."
  1249. > Standing just outside the door, you listen for the telltale noise of someone's eyes short-circuiting.  When you do, you dash through the doorway with weapons drawn.  Taking out the lone gunman before moving onto the next room and waiting for his eyes to fail before executing him.
  1250. > "The way is clear, but someone's noticed the mess you made in the elevator.  You've got one minute before things get messy."
  1251. "Understood.  Have the back loading bay doors ready to open.  I won't be long."
  1252. > Analyzing the contents of the crates around you, you find what you're looking for with relative ease, but there was a problem.
  1253. "There's more here than we thought.  I can't carry and shoot my way out of here."
  1254. > "What!?  What are you saying?"
  1255. "I'm saying you'll have to rush the complex in order for me to offload the gear into the car."
  1256. > "Trixie's ride was not designed to make such brutish assaults.  Trixie's ride-"
  1257. "I DON'T CARE!  Either do it or leave me to die.  Don't give me excuses."
  1258. > You heard the ding of the elevator and knew you were out of time.
  1259. "Over here!"  You say, baiting your enemies.
  1260. > After saying that, you throw a frag grenade into the elevator room and activate the hydraulic lift to the loading bay above you.
  1261. > Right before the first grenade goes off, you throw another one into the garage area above you to hopefully clear the room.
  1262. > Picking up the case with both hands, you leap onto the platform right after the chaos broke out.  Praying as you climbed up that the doors would be open, but they weren't.
  1263. "Trixie!"
  1264. > No response.
  1265. > As the smoke cleared, you look around and see a few men begin reaching for their guns.
  1266. "Fuck!"
  1267. > You duck and cover as the bullets begin to fly.  Setting the trunk down, you draw your weapon and return fire.
  1268. > You had to get out of here, but if you went out the back and Trixie wasn't there to support you, their turrets would turn you into swiss cheese.
  1269.  
  1270.  
  1271. > As the sound of gunfire filled the air you also heard the distinct sound of a car's wheels squealing to make a turn.  Then, like magic, the garage door in front of you shoots open.
  1272. > Without hesitation, you slide out the back and land on the concrete running.  Just ahead of you by a hundred feet was Trixie with her back door wide open.
  1273. > "Quickly!"
  1274. > With just a few strides left, you hear shots ring out from behind you.  A sharp pain surges through your left leg, causing you to stumble.  Rolling with the momentum, you leap and land halfway into the back seat when Trixie decides to gun it.
  1275. > With one hand, you grab hold of the driver's seat to keep yourself from flying out while using the other to hold onto the cargo.
  1276. > Suddenly, fully automatic fire starts to spray into the car as you approach the gate.
  1277. "Turrets!"
  1278. > "Trixie knows!"
  1279. "You need to-"
  1280. > "I know!"
  1281. > Bracing for impact, Trixie's car flies through the speed bump before coming back down with a loud metallic crunch.
  1282. > Once she regained control, you finally pull yourself in and close the door behind you.
  1283. > That could have gone better.  Looking back, you could see several people were getting into their cars to pursue you.
  1284. "Not good.  Head to the rendevous point."
  1285. > Trixie didn't answer.  Her breathing was labored, and when you looked at her, you could tell why.
  1286. > She had gotten it a lot worse than you did.  Bleeding into her seat as she held one arm against her stomach.
  1287. "Shit.  Move over.  I'll drive."
  1288. > "This is... Trixie's-"
  1289. "Would you give that damn pride a rest already!"
  1290. > Pushing her into the passenger seat, you hop over the armrest and take over.
  1291. > After taking a sharp turn, you make a call.
  1292. "Boss, we've got the goods, but we're being pursued.  We need backup."
  1293. > "On my way."
  1294. > You streaked through the suburban streets like a mad man as The Hivemind quickly caught up with you.  They even had a few drones dotting the skies.  Shining spotlights down upon you.
  1295. > As you tried your best to stay on the road, Trixie reached into her glove box and pulled out a MaxDoc inhaler.  She quickly took it before throwing the empty container out the window.
  1296. "You going to make it?"
  1297. > "Do not underestimate Trixie.  She is the best."
  1298. "Then, show me how good your shooting is."
  1299. > "Trixie will do better than that."
  1300. > Leaning out the window slightly, Trixie turns her gaze to the drones in the sky, and in a matter of seconds, erupt in a shower of sparks.  Causing them to lose their forward momentum and crash down back into the Earth.
  1301. > That was one problem down, but that still left the thugs tailing you.
  1302.  
  1303.  
  1304. > You continued to bob and weave through traffic as you approached your gang's turf.  Meaning the cavalry would be here soon.
  1305. > "Stop driving like a Cyberpsycho and let Trixie get a lock."
  1306. "I'd rather avoid getting shot again.  If you're not able to use any more of your quickhacks then might I suggest the more direct approach."  You say while holding out one of your pistols to her.
  1307. > "Trixie has her own preferred methods, thank you."
  1308. > She climbs back in and pushes up the cushions in the back seat.  Revealing a hidden arsenal.  Pulling out a Nokota D5 Sidewinder.
  1309. > You're not surprised Trixie preferred the type of gun you didn't have to aim.  However, before she could return fire, one of the rear wheels gets shot.
  1310. > Struggling to maintain control, you swerve towards a gas station and slam on the brakes.  Stopping just short of one of the side walls.
  1311. "Get inside!"
  1312. > Using the car as a shield, you round a corner and rush through the front door.  The patrons inside appeared to be too shocked and scared to do anything as soon as the shooting started.
  1313. "EVERYONE OUT THE BACK!  NOW!"  You command.
  1314. > Thankfully, they do as they're told as Trixie kicks over some shelves to use as cover.  You take a few potshots before taking shelter behind them and answering an incoming call.
  1315. > "I'm one minute out.  What's your status."
  1316. "We're pinned down inside The Quickie on Edgewood."
  1317. > "Roger that.  I'll be there soon, sit tight."
  1318. "We gotta hold out.  The boss is almost here."
  1319. > Seconds seemed like hours as chaos ensued.  What was left of The Hivemind army quickly began circling the building.  Cutting off any means of escape.  
  1320. > You took up a defensive position near the fire door in the back to prevent yourselves from being outflanked, but the hail of bullets kept getting more and more deadly as your makeshift barriers began to gradually wither away.
  1321. > As the end crept ever closer, a new series of gunshots made themselves known.  Stealing a glance out the front, you could see a series of cars and motorcycles slam through the enemy blockade as they ran over your attackers.
  1322. > Knowing now was the time, you make use of the diversion and rush out the back to fight out in the open.
  1323. > Even on one foot, you quickly rush the assailants just outside the door.  Thanks to your cybernetic enhancements, you ran through the hired guns like a hot knife through butter.  Dodging, disarming, and killing whoever wanted you dead.
  1324. > When it was over, the surrounding area looked like a war zone.
  1325. > The air became heavy with the stink of blood and Nitroglycerin.
  1326. > Cars and bodies lay in so many pieces you couldn't tell where one ended and another began.
  1327.  
  1328.  
  1329. > Your mother was the first to approach you, in full combat gear and her motorcycle helmet still on.
  1330. > "Where's the cargo?"
  1331. "It should still be in the car."  You point to the bullet-riddled vehicle.
  1332. > "We must leave quickly.  The police may not be very active in this area, but even they aren't stupid enough to show up without their big guns after all the noise we made."
  1333. > "Once you've secured the asset, get in one of the transports, and be quick about it."
  1334. "Yes, ma'am."
  1335. > Once the package was safely put away, you hop into the back seat of a van and watched as two guys helped Trixie into a different vehicle.
  1336. > With everything squared away, the gang rolled out.
  1337. > On the way back to base, you took the opportunity to patch yourself up.  Nothing too serious, but that week off was looking mighty good right about now.
  1338. > After you finished unloading, you followed the boss and a few of her top men to Grubber's lair.
  1339. > The man sat in his chair, this time unplugged, waiting for you.
  1340. > "Great work out there, guys.  I knew you could do it.  Especially you, kid.  This bad boy is gonna get us one step closer to our ultimate goal."  He says, slapping the case.
  1341. "Chrysalis mentioned it was some type of high-grade netcracking gear.  But what is it exactly?"
  1342. > "It is that.  But, it is also much more."  Tempest said.
  1343. > She reaches for the metal chest and opens it for everyone to see.  Inside sat a modified gauntlet, a series of daemon chips, and a cylindrical container with a strange orange substance that you couldn't quite identify.
  1344. > "These are nanomachines.  Outlawed in every country around the world, they were used for espionage during the last war.  They are designed to infiltrate high-security areas and compromise vital machinery, by either sabotaging it or as a last resort, destroying it."
  1345. > "They are virtually undetectable, and to the untrained eye, the residue it leaves behind mirrors that of your typical incendiary detonation."
  1346. > "Sounds crazy hard to get.  How'd the Storm Rulers get a hold of something like this?"  One of the men asks.
  1347. > "From Militech, I presume.  They're the ones who engineered them."
  1348. "So either the Storm King got ballsy enough to steal top-shelf equipment from Militech, or-"
  1349. > "He's in bed with the Corpo slime."  Tempest remarked.
  1350. > "A much easier and underhanded option, which would fit his MO perfectly."  Grubber adds.
  1351. > "The Storm King is already the most powerful man in Night City, and with this, he could kill anybody he wanted and get away with it.  All without having to leave his beloved ivory tower in the sky."
  1352.  
  1353.  
  1354. "It's that potent?  I mean, I know you said they doubled as an explosive, but what's the yield on those things?"
  1355. > "It's roughly twenty times that of C4.  So, this small canister could easily level this entire warehouse."
  1356. > A couple of the guys take a step back upon hearing this.  Not that it would have done them any good had the buggers decided to go off at that moment.
  1357. > "Now that we know he has such technology, we have to shut down the production of these things by any means necessary.  If Militech has them in circulation, we need to find the source and destroy it."
  1358. "Why not use it ourselves?  You said it yourself these things are nearly undetectable.  We could-"
  1359. > "No!"  Tempest shouts.
  1360. > "These things are too dangerous for anyone to handle.  If it was somehow discovered that we were in possession of them, the whole world would come down upon our heads."
  1361. > "The only reason the Storm King can get away with it is because he has the money to buy the right people."
  1362. > "What I'M going to do, is hand this over to the proper authorities."
  1363. > "What!  Are you insane!"  Everyone remarked.
  1364. > "I have a trusted contact in the NCPD that can be of help.  Once she has this, she'll be able to put Militech under the microscope.  Hindering their ability to traffic more nanomachines until we can stop them for good."
  1365. > "I'll keep you all informed once I know more, but in the meantime, it's business as usual."
  1366. > "Jet, I want you to take stock of our losses while I'm gone.  I'll expect a full report when I get back.  The rest of you, continue your work as you see fit.  Dismissed."
  1367. > Everyone gives her a quick salute before dispersing.  Everyone but you and Grubber that is.
  1368. > He jumps back into his chair and begins the process of plugging himself in.
  1369. "Grubber, do you have a minute.  We need to talk."
  1370.  
  1371. > "Sure, kid.  What's on your mind."
  1372. "You've known the boss longer than I've been alive.  Was there ever a time where she seemed genuinely happy?"
  1373. > "Oh boy.  That's a tough question.  Truthfully, I don't even know.  The first time I met her was when she joined up with the Storm Rulers after the war."
  1374. > "She always seemed to be walking around in a haze.  Nothing really phased her.  I figured it had something to do with being in the service, but she's never told me."
  1375. "So, you're saying she's never been happy.  Not even when she had me?"
  1376. > "That's kind of complicated.  But if you're asking if she loves you, then I can tell you she does."
  1377. "I'm not asking that.  What I am asking is for you to un-complicate things.  I've never been able to get a straight answer out of her, and I was hoping to get something out of you."
  1378. "Why won't she tell me why she has such a grudge against my father?  Does she even have a plan for what she's going to do after she kills him?  Why won't she confide in me when I'm her son?"
  1379. > "Tempest keeps those secrets for a reason, kid.  To protect you.  You don't need to know the reasons.  All you need to know is that her actions are justified."
  1380. "Bullshit.  I've spent half my life following orders and doing her dirty deeds, and I have nothing to show for my efforts.  The least you could do is tell me why."
  1381. > "It's not my place to tell you that stuff.  I'm sure she'll tell you when you're ready."
  1382. "And when's that?  After I kill my father?  By then, it'll be too late.  Hell, Chrysalis knows more about my life than I do, and that infuriates me.  She looked through me like I was an open book.  Now, give me some goddamn answers!"
  1383. > "Kid, I know you're upset, but you got to trust me you're better off not knowing."
  1384. > You were at your limit.  You stomp towards him and yank his vest so that he's inches from your face.
  1385. "I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU THINK!  I WANT THE TRUTH!  AND IF YOU DON'T TELL ME THAN MAYBE MY OLD MAN WILL GIVE ME SOME ANSWERS!"
  1386. > "Wow, wow, easy.  Let's not do or say anything we can't take back."
  1387. > You lift him up and pin him against a wall.  Glaring with all your might into his eyes.
  1388. "You listen to me, you fat bastard.  You've got ten seconds to tell me what I want to know before I gut you like a fish.  Now, answer me.  Why does my mother keep secrets from me?  Why won't she tell me why she hates my father?  What is my purpose?  Why do I even exist?  Tell me.  Why?  WHY!?"
  1389. > Grubber squirms and recoils as your voice grows louder.  He tries desperately to break your grasp, but there was no chance of him overpowering you.
  1390. > You slam him once more against the wall.
  1391. > "B-BECAUSE OF ME!"
  1392.  
  1393.  
  1394. > Of all the things he could have said, you weren't prepared for that.
  1395. "What?  What are you talking about?"
  1396. > "I'm the reason you're here.  Now please, put me down."
  1397. > You let go of him, and he falls to the ground with a thud.
  1398. "Explain."
  1399. > Grubber stands up and dusts himself off before hopping back into his chair.  
  1400. > "Do you remember when I said I was around when you were conceived?"
  1401. "Yeah, why?"
  1402. > "I was trying to look cool in front of you to make a good first impression."
  1403. "Well, you failed spectacularly.  Now, get on with it."
  1404. > "It was the last day we were part of the Storm Rulers.  Tempest had set a trap for a group of Nomads called the Timberwolves, who were at the cusp of creating something incredible."
  1405. > "As you know, most Nomad groups are ex-farmers who love to live on the land.  Well, thanks to funding from Biotechnica, they were able to funnel their efforts into creating a perfect gene-splicer."
  1406. > "Since certain animals aren't affected by radiation poisoning, they surmised that if people became more like animals, they could live in places they once called home, and they were right."
  1407. > "Tempest offered them double what Biotechnica was offering, as well as the creative freedom to upgrade and circulate the technology at their discretion once it hit the market."
  1408. > "Poor bastards never suspected a thing.  Tempest offered them to the Storm King on a silver platter, and he happily accepted.  But, to make sure there were no objections, he ordered the entire clan to be slaughtered."
  1409. > "And like a good soldier.  She followed orders."
  1410. > You figured your mother hand some skeletons in her closet, but even this was a surprise.
  1411. > "The Storm King was overjoyed by the work Tempest had done for him.  In his hubris, he asked if she wished to be rewarded by sharing a night with him.  He had asked many times before, but she always denied him."
  1412. > "Of all the orders he gave her over the years, that was the one she didn't carry out.  She said no to him, and he decided that was the last time he would ask."
  1413. > "Because he was the Storm King.  If he wanted something, he got it."
  1414. > "Even if he had to take it."
  1415.  
  1416.  
  1417. > Suddenly, everything made sense.
  1418. "You mean.  He raped her?"
  1419. > "Yeah, and I was there.  Tempest fought back, but even she couldn't best the Storm King along with his top men.  She lost both her pride and her arm that day."
  1420. > "I wanted to help her.  I really did, but if I had done anything, the Storm King would have killed both of us.  We were powerless."
  1421. > "After that, we defected and took anybody who would follow us.  And we've been fighting ever since."
  1422. "So whenever she looks at me, all she can see is him.  Why even keep me then?  If he did that to her, why even have me at all?"
  1423. > "Again, because of me.  When Tempest discovered she was pregnant, all she wanted to do was take a gun to her gut and pull the trigger.  I convinced her otherwise."
  1424. "How?  My mother is one of the most strong-willed people there is.  How'd you convince her to carry me to term?"
  1425. > "I've already told you enough.  The situation only gets more fucked from here.  But if you're determined to see this thing through.  I can tell you."
  1426. "Please, I need to know."
  1427. > He sighs.  Looking at the ground as he answers.
  1428. > "I told her she could make you into a weapon and that it would be the best form of revenge.  The Storm King's greatest mistake, molded and used against him to bring about his ultimate downfall.  She loved the irony of it."
  1429. > "And that's it.  Now, you know everything."
  1430. > You didn't know what to say.  You took a few steps and put your back to the wall.  Your whole life, you thought you knew what you wanted.  You thought you were in control of your own destiny, only to be told that it was all planned.
  1431. > You slid down to the ground and looked up at the ceiling for answers.  There were none.
  1432. > You finally got the truth you wanted now for years, but now you didn't know what to do with it.
  1433. > You wanted to be angry.  You wanted to lash out.  You wanted to deny it, but in your heart, you couldn't.  Everything you knew was a lie, and now you couldn't trust anybody, not even yourself.
  1434. "Grubber, what do I do now?"
  1435. > "I honestly don't know, kid.  And that's the truth."
  1436. "You said my mother loved.  How do you know?"
  1437. > "She may not have planned to have you, but she's still your mother.  And mothers love their sons."
  1438. "From what you told me, I don't even know if she's ever thought of me as her son."
  1439. > As you sat there, a deep emotion begins to bubble up inside.  You're The Anonymous Shadow, a trained killer, and heartless assassin.  You shouldn't feel like this.
  1440. > You were trained with purpose.  Everything you did had an intent.  You never lost focus and were never compromised by bribes or emotion.  You were better than this.  All you needed was a target, and you knew the perfect one.
  1441. > Standing up abruptly, you march to the elevator, knowing now what you had to do.
  1442. > "Kid, wait!  Where are you going!?  What are you going to do!?"
  1443. > You tap a button on the control panel before answering.
  1444. "What I was born to do."
  1445.  
  1446.  
  1447. > As you drove down the neon-lit streets, you ran thousands of scenarios in your head.  Mulling over every possible outcome and how to counteract it.
  1448. > He stayed in a hotel.  A private one that he owned.  Security would be tight, but you had ways to get around that.
  1449. > Physical obstacles you could handle, Netrunners; however, were another issue.  Even with your upgraded ICE for protection, it would only be a matter of time before they pierced your software.
  1450. > You could try locating them first and taking them out, but that would run the risk of fighting more guards than you could handle.  You lacked too much vital information for a proper assault.  Perhaps, it would be best if you did some recon first.
  1451. > Pulling over, you launch your magnetic grapple hook into the sky.  Climbing the porcelain towers with purpose.  Once you found a good perch, you pulled out your new trusty sniper rifle and began to take stock of your enemy's defenses.
  1452. > It was worse than you thought.  Drones patrolled the perimeter of the building like hawks.  Guards were posted everywhere, and they regularly switched positions.  And, from what little you could make out with your x-ray vision, every surface was dotted with motion sensors and alarms.  Even the valet appeared to be packing automatic weapons under their vests.
  1453. > You weren't getting within three hundred feet of that building without someone noticing.
  1454. (Incoming call)
  1455. > You knew who it was, and you didn't have anything to say to them, but you answer regardless.
  1456. > "Lieutenant, report your location."
  1457. "No."
  1458. > "That wasn't a request, soldier.  Now, tell me where you are."
  1459. "And I'm telling you that you don't need to know."
  1460. > "Grubber told me of what you intend to do and that you were made aware of everything, but I'm telling you that you don't have the whole story."
  1461. "Really?  Then you're saying you didn't train me for the sole purpose of killing the Storm King.  That I wasn't a burden that you didn't want to carry and that you didn't have to be convinced that aborting me wasn't the right idea."
  1462. > A long silence follows.
  1463. "That's what I thought.  Regardless of what you think of me, I'm putting an end to this charade once and for all."
  1464. > "You can't do this.  Not alone, you're not ready."
  1465. "Then, you will have lost nothing that you value.  Goodbye, mother."
  1466. > You hang up.  Hell-bent on completing your mission.
  1467. > You give the hotel another look, and conclude that you're not getting in quietly.
  1468. > As an assassin, you'd normally take more time to flesh out a plan; however, today, you were on a suicide mission.
  1469.  
  1470.  
  1471. > Your mother mentioned that the Storm King rarely left his ivory tower, and from what you could tell, someone was indeed in the penthouse.  Somewhere, but you couldn't pinpoint where.  For some reason, your x-ray vision couldn't penetrate the shades blacking out the windows.
  1472. > You had hoped you could have waited for him to come out onto the balcony where he would have been an easy target, but alas, you weren't so lucky.
  1473. > In some small capacity, you were almost happy that it wasn't that easy.  It would have trivialized all the work had done over the years.  Plus, it also would have robbed you of the satisfaction of seeing the fear in his eyes before you killed him.
  1474. > Stepping onto the roof's ledge, you take a deep breath while looking down.  It was now or never.
  1475. > With a leap of faith, you swing through the cityscape as you approach Maelstrom Tower.  Making note of the drones' patterns, you swing high enough that the thugs on the ground didn't notice you but low enough that the drones didn't detect you.
  1476. > Not that it mattered, as soon as your feet made contact with the side of the building, a silent alarm went off.  The drones would move to investigate, but by the time they reached you, you would be twenty stories above them.
  1477. > More alarms would go off as you climbed, but without any indication as to why you had hoped they would simply write it off as faulty machinery.
  1478. > It wasn't until you were about three-quarters of the way up before a drone discovered you.
  1479. > Pulling out your pistol, you blast the flying tin can.  The jig was up now.
  1480. > With the remaining shots in your clip, you shoot into the empty hotel room in front of you to weaken the glass.  With as much momentum as you could muster, you punch it, but the window barely holds.
  1481. > Time was running short in one last-ditch effort you climb to your current grapple point and push off as hard as you could, seeing more drones flying towards you as you reached the apex of your swing.
  1482. > You twist and compress as you brace for impact.  Kicking the glass as it shatters into thousands of little shards.
  1483. > You roll and run to the door before the drones could get a clear shot.
  1484. > Once in the hallway, you reload your gun and brandish your second one.  Now you had to decide, stairs or elevator?
  1485. > They probably wouldn't expect you to take the stairs, but you were still more than a dozen floors below where you needed to be, and climbing them would be time-consuming.  Not to mention that they most likely didn't go all the way up to the penthouse.
  1486. > Elevator it was then.
  1487.  
  1488.  
  1489. > As soon as you reached them you slam the fire alarm.  Knowing full well the amount of trouble headed your way.  Instead, you pry the doors open and look up the elevator shaft.  Finding one that went all the way to the top.
  1490. > Once you did, you fire you magnetic grapple hook and zip your way up.
  1491. > This was it, the moment of truth.  No longer on the outside looking in, you activate your special sight to look through the door.
  1492. > Unsurprisingly, The Storm King had several guards securing the elevator.  Armed and at the ready just outside the door, waiting for you.  If you opened it now you would instantly be riddled with bullets.  But you couldn't turn back now.  You were just a few hundred feet away from your ultimate goal.
  1493. > You had to take a gamble.
  1494. > Ripping off a vent cover in the ceiling, you move your grapple from the top of the elevator shaft to the inside of the air duct system.
  1495. > Looking over, it appeared that the guards could hear the commotion that you were making as they raised their weapons in anticipation of the door opening.  Perfect.
  1496. > Swinging over to the doorway, you pull out every concussive grenade that you brought and place it at the foot of the doorway with their pins pulled.
  1497. > Quickly, you lightly knock on the door before stepping off and retracting yourself back into the air duct.
  1498. > The men inch closer to the door while you cover your ears as best you could.
  1499. (BOOM!)
  1500. > Right after they go off, you descend and lurch yourself over to the door.  With one gun drawn you make your way through the smoke as your magnetic lasso sheathes itself.  Once it does, you pull out your pistol's twin and silently double tap all the bodies you see writhing on the floor.
  1501. > Checking your corners, you identify no other immediate threats.  The only thing you could see was the door leading to your destiny.
  1502. > Having lost the element of surprise, you kick the door in and rush through.  Only to be met with fully automatic weapon fire.  Turrets.  There was always a turret.
  1503. > You slide behind a kitchen island as the machine shreds everything around you.  With nothing left in your arsenal to deal with it, you scurry along the floor looking for something you could improvise.
  1504. > But before you could, the mechanism inexplicably stops.  Why did it stop?  Peaking out from around a corner, you don't see anyone.
  1505. > Jutting to another piece of cover, you look around from a new angle.  Still nothing.  Was he not here?
  1506. > "Come on out.  I'm waiting."
  1507.  
  1508.  
  1509. > The voice was distinctly male.  However, it was in a cadence you had never heard before.
  1510. > "You did well to get this far, but in terms of assassinations, this one is probably the worst I've ever seen."
  1511. > He's baiting you.  Hoping for you to pop your head out in order to get a clear shot.
  1512. > "Don't be a coward now.  You've gone and ruined a special night for me.  The least you could do is die with some dignity."
  1513. "The only one dying today is you."
  1514. > He laughs at your retort.
  1515. > "I've heard that one before."
  1516. > From what you could tell, his voice was to your left, less than a hundred feet away.  Looking to your right, you spot the turret coming out of the floor.  If you could outflank it, you could win.
  1517. > Holstering your guns, you grab a dish from the counter and throw it at the wall opposite of you, moving just before you hear it crash.  The engineered tool homes in on the disturbance and unloads.
  1518. > Reaching for your belt, you flick one of your EMP disrupters at the contraption before it has a chance to correct its mistake.
  1519. > It misfires for less than a second, but long enough for you to get behind it and grab it.  With all your might, you shout and tear the metal menace off of its foundation.  Before throwing it aside in disgust.
  1520. > "Wow.  What did that thing ever do to you?"
  1521. > You freeze.  Looking up, you see four figures gazing at you.  One with a gun drawn pointing at you.
  1522. > "I see you."
  1523. > With your pistols put away he had you right where he wanted you.  Not wanting to make any sudden movements, you reluctantly hold out your hands in surrender.
  1524. > "I've got to say, you had me a little worried.  When I heard that explosion outside my door, I thought there'd be a whole squad of soldiers.  But it turns out it was just a snot-nosed kid."
  1525. > "Didn't your parents ever teach you any manners?"
  1526. > As he stepped into the light, you took a closer look at the man.  If you could even call him that.  The large imposing figure easily stood seven feet tall with silver hair covering his entire body.
  1527. > You knew this because he was naked, as were the three women clinging to him.  They too exhibited characteristics completely foreign to regular humans.
  1528. > Scales, long floppy ears with white fur, and feathers, respectively.
  1529. > "Hmm.  Have we met somewhere before?  I feel like I've seen your face."
  1530. > He lowers his weapon, and you instantly draw yours.  Pulling the trigger.
  1531. (Click)
  1532. > Nothing.  You pull out your other gun and try again.
  1533. (Click)
  1534. > Same result.
  1535.  
  1536.  
  1537. > "Careful now.  Don't want to blow your load prematurely.  Speaking of."  He snaps his fingers, and all three women get on their knees and begin fellating him in front of you.
  1538. > "You've got a few minutes before my boys show up to take care of you.  What you do with that time is up to you."
  1539. > He was mocking you.  Not only did he not care who you were, but he also didn't even bother to kill you himself.
  1540. > You pull out a knife and get ready to chuck it right between his eyes.  However, mid-windup your eyes go dark, and you throw the knife wide right of your target.
  1541. > It was at that moment you realized what was going on.  Netrunners had finally cracked your software.  They had probably been trying to hack you since you got inside the building.  Only now were they able to cripple you.
  1542. > "Is it sinking in yet, kid?  This is my castle, and whatever goes on here happens because I say it does.  You see these three lovely bitches here?  Oh wait, your eyes are off.  Forgot about that."
  1543. > "But do you remember what they look like?  These insatiable whores are the latest batch of metahumans that I created thanks to my perfect-"
  1544. "Gene-splicing technology."  You say simultaneously.
  1545. > "How do you know about that?"  He asks, perplexed.
  1546. "You sure love to hear yourself talk.  Don't you, old man.  You're the complete opposite of my mother.  Guess I'm glad I took after her in that regard."
  1547. > "That's too bad I'd be more than happy to give her something to talk about though.  Once I'm done with these sluts that is."
  1548. "She's had enough of you to last ten lifetimes you bastard.  It's because of both of you that I'm here."
  1549. > "That would explain why you tried to kill me.  Emphasis on tried.  But you'll have to give me more than that, kiddo.  I've ruined thousands of lives."
  1550. "My name is Anonymous Shadow of The Black Shadows, and I've come to take your head, father."
  1551. > "Father?  That's not possible.  Wait, shadow?"
  1552. > He ponders what you said for a second before a lightbulb goes off in his head.
  1553. > "Oooooohhhhhh.  No kidding.  I guess Tempest was smart enough to keep the best thing I ever gave her."
  1554. "YOU SHUT YOUR DAMN MOUTH!"
  1555. > You step towards him in an attempt to clobber his smug mouth, but your legs lock up and your arms freeze.  Leaving you to tumble ungraciously into the carpet.
  1556. > "Hey, Jimmy.  Don't kill this one.  I've got something special planned for him."  You hear him say to no one.
  1557. > "Good news.  You're not going to die today.  Better news.  I just thought of a great way we can spend some father-son bonding time together.  And the best news.  It'll make me oodles of eddies."
  1558. > "Oh yeah.  I think we'll get along great, son."
  1559. > And that was the last thing you remember.
  1560.  
  1561.  
  1562. > "Wake him up."
  1563. > A small bucket of water is thrown against your face.  Rousing you from your involuntary slumber.
  1564. > "Good morning."  The Storm King remarked.
  1565. > "Have a pleasant nap?"
  1566. > You try to move, only to discover that you've been restrained against a wall.
  1567. > "You know.  I always wondered what it'd be like to have a son.  A miniature version of myself causing pain and mischief.  Never bothered because of how long it takes for them to become a tolerable human being."
  1568. > "Then you came along.  All grown up and none of the headaches of being a parent.  I should do it more often."
  1569. "I am nothing like you."
  1570. > "Sure you are.  You've got my dashing good looks and my flawless physique.  Even before I had this gene thing done to me, I was the most handsome man in town.  No lady could resist me."
  1571. "No lady, expect my mother."
  1572. > He straightens up as you poked at his nerves.
  1573. "That angered you, didn't it?  A man who had everything couldn't romance a single woman in her prime.  Pathetic.  Women don't want to sleep with you because they like you.  They sleep with you to get your money, nothing more, nothing less."
  1574. > He punches you in the gut so hard that it cracks the concrete behind you.  The force of the blow makes you puke out blood and gasp for air.
  1575. > "You'd be wise not to mouth off to your dear old dad like that.  Who knows what's likely to happen.  Now, where was I?"
  1576. > "Oh, right.  We're going to spend some time together.  And by time together, I mean I'm going to enter you into The Arena."
  1577. "I'm (cough) not going to fight for your amusement."
  1578. > "Of course not.  You're going to fight for money.  My amusement is just a bonus.  I figured since you're my son, you'd wreak havoc on the battlefield.  Make me look good in front of the other gangs."
  1579. "Do you honestly think I'll play along with whatever bullshit you've planned for me?"
  1580. > "I was hoping, but, on the off chance you didn't, I signed you up for deathmatches.  Just to help motivate you.  Don't worry.  Since it's your first time here, I only registered you for two matches today, although your second match is against the current champ.  But that's neither here nor there, I'm sure you'll do great."
  1581. > "Sir, it's almost time."  One of his guards informs him.
  1582. > "Perfect.  Let's not keep our audience waiting.  Good luck, son."
  1583. > He turns to leave, but there was one burning question on your mind."
  1584. "Wait!"
  1585. > "Yes?"  He says, looking over his shoulder.
  1586. "That's it?  You find out you have a son working for a rival gang, and your first instinct is to enter him into a tournament?  No interrogations.  No torture for information.  Nothing?"
  1587.  
  1588.  
  1589. > He cackles like a hyena at your inquiry.
  1590. > "Calling the Black Shadows a 'rival' gang is giving your mother too much credit.  She's only been a mild thorn in my side since the day she left.  The only reason I haven't squashed her and the rest of her motley crew is because I like her."
  1591. > "Sure, I may have asked a lot from her in the past, but I always repaid her in kind.  All she had to do was give me everything I wanted, and she would have been set for life.  But no, she fancied herself better than all that and instead chose the life of a street rat."
  1592. > "Now, I'm offering you the same deal.  All you have to do is survive today's matches, and you can come work for me.  You'll love it!  A place where you can do anything and be respected for it.  Couldn't say that about your time with Tempest, could you?"
  1593. > "Think on it."
  1594. > This time, he exits uninhibited.  Leaving you with nothing but your thoughts.
  1595. > Was he telling the truth?  His emotions and mannerisms were so varied you couldn't get a read on him.
  1596. > Could he destroy the Black Shadows anytime he wanted?
  1597. > Did he mean it when he said you could join him, even though you tried to kill him?
  1598. > These questions and others would have to wait as your bonds released you from their grasp.  Dropping you to the floor as two armored men approached you.
  1599. > "Choose a weapon."
  1600. > The two of them offered you an army knife, a katana, a sledgehammer, and a spear.
  1601. > You quickly check your internal systems and confirm that you still had your secret weapon on you, but you weren't sure if it was still a secret to your father or your opponent.  You also didn't know who or what you'd be facing, so you take the weapon you're most comfortable with.
  1602. > The knife.
  1603. > "WELCOME, SCUM OF NIGHT CITY!"  An announcer shouted.
  1604. > "Are you ready to kill!?"
  1605. > The crowd responds with various cheers and yells.
  1606. > "I'm your host, Powerbomb Tom.  And tonight, we've got a special treat for ya.  The Storm King himself has brought some new blood to The Arena, and he promises to be a show stopper."
  1607. > "We don't know a damn thing about him, but if he's any good, does it really matter?  From the streets to our backyard, let's give a warm welcome to, The Mysterious Stranger!"
  1608. > A large door rises to let you in and you are met with a cascade of boos and jeers.
  1609. > "And his opponent.  A hotshot, looking to keep his seven-night streak of victories intact, Commander Chameleon!"
  1610. > Opposite of you, another door opens.  With a man walking out with a spear in some ragtag clothes and scaly skin.  He, on the other hand, receives a standing ovation.  Sounds like he's a local favorite.
  1611.  
  1612.  
  1613. > The stage itself was compromised of dirt and dust from the desert, compacted into a circle about fifty meters wide.  Leaving you plenty of room to run around and maneuver.
  1614. > Looking up, the stands were packed, bursting with gonks looking for a bloodbath.  A bit higher up were the executive booths where you take stock of where your father was sitting.
  1615. > He wiggles his fingers in a mock wave to acknowledge you before you return your gaze to your adversary.
  1616. > "You know the rules kids.  THERE ARE NO RULES!  IT'S KILL OR BE KILLED!  NOW, FIGHT!"
  1617. > An air horn sounds, and your challenger raises his javelin and chucks it at you.  You easily avoid it, but when you turn to face him, all that's left are his clothes on the ground.
  1618. > Taking a defensive stance, you look around frantically in an attempt to find him.  It seems his name wasn't just for show.
  1619. > You use your eyes to scan your surroundings but fail to locate your target.  If only you had inferred vision.
  1620. > All of a sudden, you feel a heavy weight press against your face.  Throwing you off balance and causing you to roll and scramble away from an invisible attack.  As you spring back to your feet, you see no obvious signs of an attack or your attacker.
  1621. > You couldn't fight like this.  You had to change tactics.  If you continued fighting defensively like this, you'd be too battered and bruised to initiate a decisive counterattack.
  1622. > With no other options, you flick your right wrist and release your hidden monowire.
  1623. > A tool akin to razor floss in centuries past but enhanced by modern science.
  1624. > You begin twirling it around you as a means of area denial, but knew you couldn't keep that up for long.
  1625. > Luckily, you wouldn't have to, as you notice the discarded partizan begin to mysteriously hover in the air.
  1626. > Stopping your random flailing, you hone in on your opponent once more.  Once he was within range, you swing your nanowire at him.  Only for it to be deflected by the sharp tip.
  1627. > As your attack harmlessly bounces off his weapon, he charges you full speed, spearhead first.  Retracting your line, you pull out your knife with your off-hand and meet your enemy head-on.
  1628. > His weapon narrowly misses your stomach as you bring your knife around at where you assume his face would be but catch nothing but air.
  1629. > He swipes his spear horizontally, but you dodge by leaning back, only mere inches from the ground.  Undeterred, he raises his lance again, intending to stab you.
  1630. > As he brings its point down, you roll away out of the way just before he pierces the ground.
  1631.  
  1632.  
  1633. > Using your momentum to your advantage, you whip your monowire out once more.  You feel a bit of resistance, confirming you made contact.  However, instead of severing whatever the wire comes into contact with, it simply leaves an open gash across his skin.
  1634. > No doubt another byproduct of your father's genetic tampering.  If you wanted to do serious damage, you would have to completely entangle him.
  1635. > Pulling out his spear from the dirt, he backs off to tend to his wound.  It was faint, but you could tell that you had hit his leg.  Not deep enough to cause open bleeding, but enough to know where he was at that moment.
  1636. > Not giving him a chance to recover, you whip your superheated wire at him again, which he catches with his javelin.  The line wraps itself around the metal pole and begins to whine under the stress.
  1637. > The two of you pull at each other in a makeshift tug-of-war before your laser thread cuts cleanly through his staff.
  1638. > With his primary weapon destroyed, he discards the remaining pieces and returns to his strategy of sneak attacks.
  1639. > Only this time, you weren't having it.  Taking your monowire, you begin lashing and whipping at the ground in an attempt to kick up as much dust as possible.
  1640. > A low-hanging haze of sand begins to manifest in the middle of the battlefield as you continue to thrash at the dirt.  Once a sufficient cloud of dust was made you begin scanning the area around you.
  1641. > At the first sign of movement in the fog, you unleash your nanostring, hooking some portion of his body.
  1642. > You shout as you yank the string with all your might.  A foot materializes as a torrent of blood shoots out behind it.
  1643. > The man screams in pain as his camouflage finally gives way from the stress of losing a limb.  Once he was in clear view, you dash to his side with brandishing your army knife.
  1644. > He tries his best to evade on one foot, but you inevitably land a killing blow by stabbing your knife into his neck upwards into his brain.
  1645. > He lands with a thud as you stop to wipe the blood from your blade.
  1646. "Next."
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