The first part that follows is technically Part 18c, but it was so short that I thought it best to just tack it onto the beginning of the next section. The character allowance on this this can be a little annoying sometimes...
After Lewis had eventually caught up with the fleeing group he handed over their bags, admitted to a slightly disappointed Angel that he hadn’t thought to grab her coat, and then led them to Dr Sterling’s clinic.
The clinic, or “Chop Shop” as it was known by the locals, was a fairly large, two-storey building with a Hippocratic emblem floating next to the entrance. The clinic had enough scavenged, stolen, and bought medical equipment to act as a fully-functional surgery and cyber-shop where a Ronin could get implants installed and have just about any wound or injury dealt with. Provided they had the money, of course.
The second floor was an old apartment where Sterling conducted his non-medical business. He had converted one of the rooms into a makeshift meeting room furnished with several old but comfortable sofas, and another into a small recovery room with a few cheap bunk beds and billets where clients that had received complex implants and surgeries could take a little time to recover.
The clinic was quiet when Lewis and the others arrived, the waiting room empty except for a uniformed woman sitting with her feet on a desk as she read a magazine. The floor of the waiting room was comprised of cheap, grey carpet tiles that bore various dark stains, with spatter and drip marks leading like a trail of breadcrumbs from the entrance to the reception desk. Several faded posters and notices were displayed in clear plastic frames around the beige walls, detailing what to do in the event of decompression or loss of gravity.
As the group entered the clinic, the woman in the nurse’s uniform spotted them and swung her comfortably shoed feet off the desk, put down the magazine and walked over to Lewis and the others.
‘Hi Lewis. Duncan didn’t say you were coming over today. What’s up?’ The nurse seemed friendly enough as she ran her eyes over the group, quickly scanning for any injuries or wounds.
‘Hey Wendy,’ greeted Lewis with a smile. ‘I don’t actually have an appointment or anything but I need to see Sterling.’
Wendy looked at her friend’s companions. Shona smiled slightly as she adjusted her black shades. The nurse turned back to Lewis. ‘Duncan’s a bit busy with a client at the moment. Why don’t you go on up to the flat and I’ll tell him you’re here.’
‘Sure, thanks Wendy.’
Lewis took the others past the rows of green plastic seats that were bolted to the floor, and through a door marked “Staff Only” which led to a flight of stairs ending in a small landing and another door. After climbing the old and musty carpeted steps, Shona and the others opened the door to the apartment, walked in and sat down on the three battered-looking grey sofas that that were in the middle of the living room, depositing their bags near their feet.
As soon as they were seated, Angel took out her S-Box and began to mutter and swear under her breath as she engrossed herself in removing the fried program chip that was lodged in her machine. The Excalibur program was well and truly destroyed and she hoped there hadn’t been any collateral damage to the delicate systems of the S-Box itself. Shona watched the Runner for a moment then let her eyes wander around the room.
The walls were covered in faded and peeling floral wallpaper, the colours of the decorations barely distinguishable. Frayed and partially bald carpet that was a dull, rust-red in colour covered the floor and she spotted a couple of suspicious-looking dark patches. There was no other visible furniture other than the sofas they were occupying and, aside from the door they had entered through, there were only two other exits, the cheap wooden doors preventing Shona from seeing where they led. She noticed that one of the doors had a large, cracked indentation in it, as if someone had rammed or kicked it. That, coupled with the dark stains on the carpet, led her to believe that not all the negotiations that Sterling had conducted in the room had gone according to plan. Having surveyed the surroundings, she leaned forward in her seat and regarded Lewis from over the top of her shades.
‘So who is the Sterling guy?’ she asked.
‘He’s kind of like the local Fixer on Asimov. A bit like Fish back in The City,’ Lewis replied.
Shona quickly looked around the room again and thought that Lewis’ comparison was a wild exaggeration. Fish wouldn’t have been caught dead conducting business in such a place.
‘Does he have Fish’s sorts of connections?’ asked Connor.
‘Not quite,’ said Lewis with a dubious tone. ‘But he knows enough of the right people here to get whatever anyone needs.’
Connor didn’t seem impressed. ‘For what you’re asking us to do he’d better know the right people.’
Shona agreed. ‘Yeah Lewis, running a hack on a system remotely is one thing, but asking us to actually infiltrate the building and get into the boss’ office is…’
‘Difficult?’ finished the ex-corporate.
‘To say the least,’ confirmed Connor.
Lewis sat forward, ran a hand through his hair and adjusted his glasses. ‘I have just handed over every penny I have to my name so you can get me what I want. An abortive attempt at the data-fortress while sitting in a pub does not qualify as a job done. Not for that sort of money.’ His tone was firm and his face looked determined. ‘Now, I asked you all to come up here because I thought if anyone could get what I wanted it would be you guys. If you’re now telling me that you’re not up for it then just give me my money back and we’ll forget the whole thing.’
Shona looked at Connor then back to Lewis. ‘Look, it’s not that we’re not prepared to do what you want. It’s just…’ she trailed off as she looked over at Angel.
The Runner stopped fiddling with her S-Box as she suddenly felt all eyes turn to her.
‘W-what?’ she asked as she looked up from her work and faced the stares.
Lewis picked up on what he thought was Shona’s uncertainty about her Runner. ‘What, you don’t think that-’
‘No,’ interrupted the Fixer as she saw where Lewis was going. ‘No, nothing like that.’ She was simply hesitant about putting Angel into what would be a very dangerous situation. Lewis had misinterpreted her concern as a lack of faith. Shona let out a brief sigh.
‘Look. If this Sterling guy can get what we need for the job then we’ll get you what you want.’ She looked at Connor and Angel. ‘Right?’
The Runner hadn’t been fully listening to the conversation that had passed between the group while she was removing the blown program chip from her Box, but she knew she had to agree with Shona. ‘R-right,’ she affirmed, trying not to sound confused.
Shona looked at her brother. The Ronin weighed everything up for a moment then simply nodded in agreement.
Lewis seemed satisfied with that. He knew from his previous dealings with Shona and her brother that, regardless of their own feelings or opinions regarding a job, once they agreed to do it they would see it through to the end. He sat back and waited for Sterling to arrive from downstairs.
After a day of waiting, during which Linford had opened the encryption on his program and spent some time tweaking and fine-tuning it, Elina persuaded Jacob that it was time to put the chip to use and get the information they needed to prove what Sinclair had been doing. Jacob reluctantly agreed, still hesitant about asking Mina to go into McKenzie’s data-fortress alone and retrieve the data. He had witnessed the effects of corporate security programs and had no wish to see the young Japanese girl have her head turned inside-out by a machine. But they had no one else capable of performing the task.
After some instruction from Linford on the finer points of the Excalibur program, the young Runner felt she was prepared to make an attempt at the data-fortress. By the time Mina had gotten herself ready it was early evening of the day on which Lewis Carson had met with Shona, and Angel had already attempted her abortive raid on the McKenzie fortress.
Mina sat in her favourite chair with her trusty S-Box lying on the table before her. She regarded it for a few moments as she took a few deep breaths, steeling herself for the task ahead. Elina, Jacob, and Linford stood around her like concerned relatives. The large, dark-skinned man sensed the young girl’s hesitation at what she was about to undertake.
‘Are you sure you’re up for this?’ he asked as he placed a reassuring hand on the girl’s shoulder. ‘We can wait a while longer if you want.’ He threw a glance at Elina, still not happy at how she had pushed him to make an attempt so soon.
Mina ran her hands through her spiky hair and grinned up at the concerned man. ‘No. I’m okay. Let’s do it!’
Jacob’s hand gripped the girl’s shoulder briefly. ‘Okay. Go do your thing.’ He took a step back, feeling the need to give the Runner room to work. Both he and Elina glanced at Linford. The young programmer raised a reassuring hand.
‘Don’t worry. Excalibur will make mincemeat out of anything she comes across.’ He sounded genuinely confident in his own work. Everyone returned their attention to the seated girl.
‘Banzai…’ she whispered to herself as she took the retractable cable from her S-Box, closed her eyes and plugged herself in.
Mina winked into existence within her own domain, a rectangular, wooden-floored room that resembled a martial arts dojo. The walls were lined with a selection of weapons that represented Mina’s attack programs, with Excalibur resting in its solid stone near the back wall. The avatar was that of a young Japanese girl dressed in a sailor-style school uniform with a red headband. She jogged over to the embedded sword and pulled it free, grinning at the accompanying lightshow. Sword in hand, she strode purposefully to the sliding doors of her dojo domain and pulled them open, revealing the swirling mist that led to the Sphere.
‘Iku yo,’ the avatar said in a determined voice as Mina focused on McKenzie Corporation and stepped into the portal.
Unfortunately, Angel’s recent failed attempt at hacking the McKenzie data-fortress had put the company’s Sphere security on high alert, with rapid-response teams deployed throughout the station so they could act quickly if another Runner attempted to break in. In light of the situation, Cain himself had decided to personally watch the company domain portal until the alert was cancelled, intent on performing a swift trace and kill if the intruder was stupid enough to try again.
Consequently, an unsuspecting Mina had no sooner appeared on the black, glassy surface of the McKenzie domain when her feet were instantly encased as the floor beneath her turned to a viscous liquid, causing her to sink to knee depth, before it solidified and sealed her in the ground. She yelled in surprise and fear when she realised what had happened to her. Unable to move she knew she was helpless and it was impossible for her to punch out of the Sphere until she was free. The Runner raised Excalibur high and brought it down, intent on cutting herself loose.
The blade simply bounced off the ground with no effect.
Eyes widening in horror, Mina looked at the sword in disbelief. She flinched as a deep voice boomed around her.
‘Your weapon will not avail you now.’
Mina looked around, searching for the source of the voice and rapidly trying to think of a way to get free. Her attention was pulled to a swirling black mist that was forming before her. In moments, the ghostly cloud coalesced into a man with jet-black skin and burning red eyes, dressed in what looked like an expensive executive suit. His hair was pure white and pulled back flat against his head.
As soon as the figure formed, Mina swung Excalibur, intending to decapitate the man before her. Cain grinned, showing perfect white teeth, and made no move to avoid or deflect the blow. Excalibur struck with a force that should have cleaved the man in two but, at the moment the blade impacted, it exploded in Mina’s hand, sending thousands of fragmented shards in all directions. The corporate A.I. laughed.
‘You foolish girl,’ was all he said as he showed Mina his right hand.
The Runner stared in horror, first at the obliterated remnants of the sword she held, then at the hand of the man before her as she watched the perfectly manicured black fingernails grow to become lethal, serrated blades. She knew what was coming and began to whimper as the black-skinned man drew his hand back. In an instinctive and futile gesture, Mina threw her hands up in front of her face as Cain thrust his bladed fingers forwards, tearing effortlessly through the Runner’s arms and plunging them deep into her skull. He gave a vicious twist and the head of Mina’s avatar exploded, her body going suddenly limp before dissolving into glowing dust.
It seemed like no more than a second or two had passed after Mina had jacked into her S-Box when the girl gave a sudden loud shriek and began to violently convulse. Linford and the others jumped in surprise at her terror-filled scream then watched in horror as her S-Box spontaneously burst into flames and blood began to run from her ears, nose, and eyes. The brain-fried Runner sagged and slid off her seat, dragging the still attached and burning S-Box from the table to crash down onto the floor with her.
Linford could only gawp in shock. Elina clutched her head and moaned. Jacob was the first to act and he dashed to the fallen girl, batting out the flames on the ruined Box before he yanked the jack from Mina’s head and desperately tried to find a pulse. The girl’s dead, haemorrhaged eyes stared up at him. Jacob slid a hand over her face, closing her eyes, before looking at the blood that smeared his hand. He looked up at Elina and shook his head.
‘She’s gone,’ his voice was full of sorrow.
Elina sobbed once and tugged at her blonde hair before emitting a snarl. She glanced at Linford and grabbed a flechette pistol from the table then strode towards the programmer with the gun raised. Linford and Jacob both saw her intent. The programmer threw his arms up as Jacob lunged forward.
‘No!’ exclaimed the dark-skinned man as he grabbed Elina’s arm, pulling the gun away from Linford and restraining the blonde woman. ‘That won’t solve anything!’
Elina struggled against her friend’s grip, tears of anger and grief running down her face. ‘It’s that bastard’s fault that Mina’s dead!’
When Linford realised he hadn’t been shot he lowered his arms and spoke up. ‘Whoa! Hey! What just happened there was nothing to do with me! My program should have worked!’ He paused briefly, blinking rapidly as a thought occurred. ‘Unless…’
‘Unless?’ Jacob prompted as he struggled to hold Elina in check.
‘Um… yeah…’ Linford continued. ‘The only way it wouldn’t have worked would be if it had been used before. By someone else.’
The furious blonde ceased her struggling and Jacob slowly released her. ‘You’ve got ten seconds to explain what you mean,’ she said in a deathly whisper through clenched teeth.
Linford knew the next few words would literally mean life-or-death for him and a nervous quiver crept into his voice. ‘Excalibur was a prototype program, okay? It was a guaranteed success, yes, but it was a one shot deal. It would only ever work once on any one system. Which means someone must have used it on the McKenzie system before us.’
Elina raised the pistol and Jacob didn’t stop her this time. ‘You said yours was the only copy.’
‘It was! I can’t explain it! I smashed the hell out of the original and only made one back-up which was hidden.’ Linford’s words came rapidly as he anticipated being shot at any second. ‘The only thing I can think of is that the guys that searched my apartment salvaged something from the ruined chip and the company tried to use it against McKenzie for some reason but it’s not my fault!’ He closed his eyes and covered his head.
No shot came.
When Linford peeked from behind his arms Elina had dropped the pistol and had crouched next to Mina’s body whispering to herself as she touched the dead girl’s face. A thought occurred to Jacob.
‘Wait a moment,’ he said. ‘If they were waiting for Mina to try and break their fortress, would they have been able to trace her Box?’
Linford opened his mouth as if to say something but clamped it shut as the blonde woman sprang to her feet and ran for the door leading to the tunnel outside. She pulled the door open and looked left and right. The passageway was empty and there was no sign of any McKenzie security forces.
‘There’s no one there,’ she reported as she turned back into the room and closed the door.
‘Not yet,’ said Jacob in a flat tone. ‘But we can’t take the risk that they’re not on their way. We have to get out of here.’
‘Um… what about her?’ asked Linford as he gestured towards Mina’s body.
Elina stared at him. ‘We leave her. We can’t be seen carrying a dead body around the station.’ She turned to Jacob as he began to collect some of the things that were dotted around the hideout. ‘We should head to Sterling’s. He’ll be able to help and it’s a good place to hide.’
Jacob nodded in agreement and continued packing their possessions.
‘Um… what about me? What should I do?’ asked Linford, half dreading the blonde woman’s response, worried that she might just decide it was easier to shoot him and leave him behind with the corpse of the brain-fried girl on the floor. Elina gave him a look that made it plain that she had considered that very idea, but instead she just turned away and opened the doorway to the passage, stepping out to make sure their escape route was still clear. It was Jacob that grabbed the younger man by the arm as he swung a packed backpack over his shoulder.
‘Just come on,’ he said. ‘You’re in as much shit as we are. We’ll be able to get things straightened out once we get to Sterling’s’
The dark-skinned man led the young programmer after Elina, turning one last time to look with sadness at Mina’s body before he shoved Linford into the machine-noise filled passage and closed the door behind him.
They had no sooner rounded a corner at one end of the tunnel when an armed McKenzie response team came around the bend at the opposite end, heading straight for the now abandoned hideout.
Thanks for reading and for your comments.
Nov 1, 2012 10:50:27 amby barryjeffer Homepage »
Copied and put it in the folder on the desktop for reading later this afternoon when I can focus a bit better. No party here last night either, we handed out candy at the VFW to the little shits, it was raining and 35 degrees but worth every second of it.
Nov 2, 2012 6:21:35 amby renecyberdoc Homepage »
stunning security,fat woman sitting on the desk reading porn-lol,probably eating a dumbnut.but then is hould have read further before the writing lol.wendy wank seems to be up to her task.
i wonder now of course how they get to the mainframe.
delicious chapter (s)