After Lewis and his companions had made their way up to the room above the clinic, Wendy had informed the doctor that he had visitors waiting. At the time, Sterling had been in the middle of a complex implant procedure on a Ronin that had come into enough money to afford his services, and he had told his nurse/assistant/receptionist that the ex-corporate would just have to wait until he was done with his paying client. Wendy was used to his brusque manner and had simply shrugged and returned to her desk and gone back to reading her magazine.
The nurse had been in her chair an hour when Elina, Jacob, and Linford came through the door. Wendy recognised the blonde woman as the one Sterling had fixed up with a contact on Earth and remembered that he had said that she had come across as a bit nuts. She had no idea who the others were but the nurse didn’t like the feeling she was getting as she watched them enter the clinic. Putting her magazine down, she sat upright with her hands out of sight beneath the desk. Her right hand gripped the handle of the concealed flechette pistol that was taped on the underside of the desktop and aimed straight at the entrance. Her smile did nothing to betray the fact that she was ready to blow these people away if necessary.
‘Hello again,’ she said cheerfully as Elina approached. Sterling may have described the blonde as crazy but she had paid well for their services.
Elina stopped at the desk. ‘We need to see Sterling. Now.’ There was desperation in her voice.
Wendy picked up on the fact that there was something wrong but her tone remained neutral. ‘I’m afraid the doctor is busy with a client at the moment. Perhaps you could come back later?’ She ended the question with another smile.
Jacob could see that Elina was near the end of her tether and stepped in before she lost her composure and did something rash. He approached the desk and placed a reassuring hand on Elina’s shoulder as he addressed the nurse.
‘We haven’t met but Elina, myself, and this young man here really need your help.’ He gestured towards Linford. ‘The three of us are in urgent need of Sterling’s assistance. We don’t really have anywhere else to go and aren’t really in a position where we can come back later. I hope you understand what I mean.’
Wendy listened to Jacob and could tell he was genuine, even though she wasn’t particularly moved by his appeal for her understanding. After a moment of consideration, she took her hand off of the concealed pistol and decided to give them a break. After all, Sterling and her self were in this gig to make money and the blonde had handed over a substantial amount of it on their previous encounter. Besides, she thought the younger guy standing at the back was kind of cute.
‘Okay,’ she said to Jacob, then addressed Elina. ‘You remember where Sterling met with you last time? The room upstairs?’
The blonde nodded.
‘Go on up there and I’ll tell him you’re here. There are a few other people up there too so just mingle or something.’ She gave a dismissive wave of her hand.
‘Come on,’ said Elina as she led the others through the reception area to the private door and up the stairs to the old apartment. Wendy waited until the group was out of sight before letting out a sigh as she prepared to go and interrupt Sterling again.
During the hour that Lewis and the others had spent waiting in the apartment upstairs, Angel had continued tinkering with her S-Box while the others had discussed possible methods of entering the McKenzie building, none of which seemed to be particularly easy. Ultimately, all the ideas they came up with depended on the resources that Sterling had.
During the time she had spent sitting next to the Runner on the battered grey sofa, Shona had sworn that she had heard the girl actually talking to the machine she was working on, making soothing comments and sounds as if she was dealing with a distressed animal.
When the door to the room opened, Lewis and the others turned, anticipating Sterling’s arrival. The woman that Lewis saw was the last person he ever expected to see again. Likewise, Elina froze in her tracks half-way through the door as she saw who was in the room. It was enough of a surprise for her to see Shona, Connor, and Angel sitting there, but she couldn’t believe that she was looking at the same spectacled man that she had encountered outside of the McKenzie building on the day of the explosion. Everyone that was seated, with the exception of the engrossed Angel, stood up upon recognising Elina. Both Lewis and the blonde woman took a tentative step towards each other.
‘It’s you!’ they exclaimed simultaneously.
‘What are you doing here?’ Elina asked the ex-corporate in surprise.
Lewis shook his head. ‘Waiting for Sterling... what are… no, never mind that. Shona! This is her!’ He turned to the red-haired woman with the shades. ‘This is the woman that was outside with the girl after the explosion!’
Shona nodded once. ‘Yeah, we’ve met.’
Her statement didn’t sink in at first. ‘She was there when - wait a minute. You’ve met?’ Lewis’ voice raised in disbelief.
Still standing in the doorway, Linford leaned over and gave a whispered explanation of events to a confused-looking Jacob.
Connor spoke up, addressing Lewis. ‘Yeah, we were hired by Fish to get this guy. That guy, actually.’ He pointed at Linford who was still describing recent history to the older dark-skinned man he was standing with. ‘And bring him back to her. Small world, huh?’
A moment passed where Elina and Lewis looked at the combined group of people, trying to make sense of the situation.
‘Okay,’ said Elina as she shook her head, choosing to ignore the matter of the coincidence. ‘But what are you doing here? You work for McKenzie!’
Lewis held up a hand. ‘No, I used to work for them. After the thing with the little girl I had to try and find out what was going on. My employers didn’t appreciate my snooping around and kicked me out. I’ve still been trying to find out ever since. I hired these people to help me get the information I needed but we couldn’t break into the data-fortress, so we’ve come to see what Sterling can do to help.’
Elina stared in silence as she took in what he had just said. They had tried to access the McKenzie fortress. Jacob also didn’t like what he had just heard as he pictured Mina’s dead, blood-filled eyes staring up at him and remembered the possible explanation that Linford had given.
‘Excuse me?’ he asked as she stepped forward to stand beside Elina. ‘Did I hear you correctly? You had a Runner try and breach McKenzie’s data-fortress?’
The ex-corporate frowned at the tone from the man and got the feeling that something was wrong. It was Shona that answered.
‘Yeah… she couldn’t do it. It’s an isolated system.’ The Fixer didn’t like the way the blonde was staring at her and could sense the sudden tension in the air. It was then that Angel spoke:
‘B-burned your p-program too,’ she said to Linford. A second too late she realised what she had said and a hand flew to her mouth. Shona closed her eyes in disbelief at the unbelievable slip-up Angel had made.
Linford frowned in confusion and stepped forward. ‘What? You had a copy of the Excalibur program?’
Shona sighed and shook her head slightly then put a hand on her hip. ‘Yeah,’ she confirmed in a “so what” tone. ‘I copied it. Big deal. We used it. It didn’t fucking work. So what?’
The image of Mina convulsing and haemorrhaging blood from every orifice in her young face filled Elina’s mind and she could almost hear the girl’s scream echo in her ears. Then the explanation Linford’s explination went through her head. The Japanese teenager had probably met her gruesome end due to someone attempting to use the same program on the same system.
And that person was standing right in front of her.
Keeping her face neutral, she walked up to Shona and looked into her shaded eyes.
Elina lashed out with a vicious right hook that connected squarely with Shona’s jaw and sent her staggering back onto the nearby sofa, blood bursting from her mouth as her black shades flew from her face. As the bleeding woman fell onto the sofa next to a startled Angel, everyone in the room reacted. Shona snarled and coiled, preparing to launch herself at Elina. The blonde assailant screamed as she stepped forwards, ready to continue her assault.
‘It’s all your fault you fucking bitch!’
Jacob and Linford both sprang at Elina, restraining her and pulling her away. At that precise second Shona launched herself from the sofa, intent on ripping the other woman’s throat out, but was intercepted by Connor. The Ronin nimbly caught his sister’s arm and pulled her away, turning her and trapping it behind her back.
‘Let me go!’ screamed Shona. ‘I’m gonna fucking kill her!’
Moments passed as the two women struggled against their restrainers and yelled obscenities at each other while Jacob and Linford tried to calm down Elina. Connor simply held his sister in silence as he’d seen this kind of display from her before and knew it was best to just let her blow off her fury. Angel pulled her knees up, instinctively forming a shield with her legs, as Shona ranted and frothed mere inches away from her. The Runner had known that the woman had a violent side, following the encounter with her scumbag landlord, but the sheer ferocity of it in such close proximity was extremely intimidating to her.
It was then that the door opened again and Duncan Sterling walked in. Everyone froze at his appearance and the doctor raised his eyebrows at the scene of barely contained violence.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘What did I miss?’
The two women began to scream and struggle again, desperate to get their hands on one another. Angel flinched at the sudden resumed hostilities and Sterling raised his hands and shouted to make himself heard over the cacophony of curses and threats.
‘Hey! Hey! HEY!’ he bellowed. The group fell silent again as they faced the unimpressed, scruffy-looking man that reeked of whiskey. ‘This isn’t on!’ he continued in a loud voice. ‘Everybody just bloody calm down!’ He paused to see if he had their attention. Satisfied that the group was listening he pointed at Elina. ‘Right! You! I know you, so you sit there!’ Sterling indicated one of the battered sofas then turned his pointed finger at Shona. ‘You. I’ve no idea who you are but I assume you’re with him,’ Sterling gestured vaguely at Lewis. ‘So you sit there!’ He pointed to the sofa opposite the one he had indicated for Elina. Both women were slowly released and they stared at each other a moment, everyone else poised to restrain them. Surprisingly, they obeyed Sterling’s instructions. Shona bent down to pick up her sunglasses before the two women lowered themselves onto the seats, never taking their eyes from each other. The doctor addressed the person he knew the best from the group.
‘Right, now do you want to tell me what that was all about?’ he asked Lewis.
The ex-corporate looked between the two women that had been ready to kill each other seconds ago. ‘Um… I have no idea.’
‘Er, I think I know what’s happened,’ said Linford.
Everyone in the room turned to look at him.
‘Really?’ asked Sterling. ‘Please. Fill in the blanks.’
The young programmer rubbed his chin as he mentally slotted all the pieces together in his mind. ‘From what I understand, Elina here needed a piece of software I’d written to bust into a corporate data-fortress to prove they were doing some messed up shit.’ He then indicated Shona. ‘This lady over here was hired by Elina to get me as she thought that the program had been destroyed. Turns out that no one knew I had a copy and when we swung by my place to get it she and the pink-haired girl over there went up and copied the chip before handing it over. This lot that were hired to get me were then hired by this guy Lewis here. I guess they used their copy of my program on the McKenzie data-fortress but botched it, making Excalibur useless on the system. So, when Mina tried a hack with my copy, the A.I. was waiting for her and tore her brain out.’
‘So you think it’s our fault that your Runner got killed?’ Lewis asked Elina.
‘I think that much is obvious,’ commented Connor as he sat down next to his sister, ready to hold her back should she spark again.
‘This is all just a misunderstanding,’ assured Lewis.
‘A misunderstanding?’ Elina could feel her blood begin to boil again and she sat forward on the edge of the sofa.
Jacob held out his hand towards the blonde woman. ‘Steady Elina. Let’s hear him out.’ He said as he sat down next to his companion. Jacob was just as upset over the loss of Mina but he thought it wise to at least hear the other group’s version of events. With a look of obvious disgust, Elina sat back in her seat.
Linford walked over to where Angel was sitting on the last sofa and lowered himself down next to her, giving the girl a slight smile. The pink-haired Runner still had her knees pulled up and had watched the events in silence.
Sterling and Lewis remained standing, the whiskey-smelling doctor turned to his friend. ‘I think you’d better talk before that blonde woman tries to kill you.’
Lewis nodded and pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose as he addressed Elina. ‘Right. First of all I had no idea that you were part of a group that was trying to break the McKenzie fortress. Secondly, I had no idea that the software Angel used was a copy, or that using it would result in the death of one of your group. What happened to your Runner sounds terrible, believe me I’ve seen it before, but it wasn’t anything that I had intentionally planned. Shit, after that day outside of McKenzie I thought I’d never see you again.’
A palpable silence descended as Elina took this in, realising that it was, in fact, just a case of extreme bad luck that things had worked out the way they had. It was a little too much for her to take and she leaned forward and put her head in her hands as she tried to get a grip on all that had transpired.
Sensing that the hostilities had temporarily ceased, Angel slowly uncurled from her defensive position next to Linford, lowering her feet to the faded carpet. ‘Um… the p-program wouldn’t have w-worked anyway.’
Linford looked as if he had been stung. ‘What? Bullshit! Excalibur was fully functional!’
The Runner flinched at his offended outburst and went silent again. Shona slid her shades back over her eyes and tentatively touched her bust lip as she sat forward.
‘That’s not what she meant, asshole. Your program worked alright, but the files that everyone seems to be after are on an isolated system from the Sphere so you couldn’t use it to hack through. Right?’ She looked at Angel seeking confirmation. The Runner nodded in silence. ‘Right,’ continued Shona. ‘So if anyone still wants these files you’re gonna have to find a way into the actual building and access the terminal they’re on.’
Elina and Jacob couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Effectively all their efforts and sacrifices to make Sinclair accountable had been for nothing. Even if Mina had had a free, unimpeded run through the McKenzie data-fortress she wouldn’t have been able to get what they were after anyway. They were in no position to break into a mega-corporation and pull what they needed from someone’s terminal.
Sterling rubbed his stubbled chin and spoke up. ‘That why you’ve come here Lewis?’
The ex-corporate nodded. ‘I need to know what you can arrange to get us into that building.’
‘Fuck me boy, you don’t ask for much, do ya?’ Sterling didn’t know if his resources would stretch to breaking into a company building. He decided to divert the matter slightly. ‘Seems to me that you’re missing something obvious though.’
The others in the room looked at the doctor with expectation.
‘Well,’ he continued. ‘You want to get the data from McKenzie. So does Elina. Why don’t you work together?’
Lewis glanced at Shona, expecting an outburst of some kind, and was surprised when she remained silent. He looked over at Elina and could see on her face that she found the idea repellent, obviously still holding Shona responsible for what had happened to her friend.
‘You still want to bring Sinclair down? After all that’s happened?’ he asked her.
The blonde woman locked eyes with Lewis. ‘Yes,’ she said in a firm voice.
Sterling scratched his chin again as he wracked his brains on who he could speak to about getting people into a secure corporate building without a suicidal gunfight.
‘Right, now you kids have all decided to play nice I’m gonna go and have a stiff drink while I try and think about who I can call to get you into that building without you all getting killed. I hope you’ve got the money to cover this Lewis.’
‘We’ve got enough,’ replied Shona in a flat tone.
‘Aye, right. Well you can all crash here until I get shit sorted. There’re some beds through there.’ He pointed at one of the closed doors in the room. ‘If you need anything just ask Wendy on the desk. But don’t take the piss, she’s not your bloody servant!’
The doctor turned and walked out of the room, muttering to himself. Elina stared at Shona a moment longer then let out a long breath and sagged as weariness caught up with her. She stood up without a word and walked to the door that the drunk doctor had indicated, opened it, entered the make-shift bedroom and closed the door again before she finally collapsed onto the nearest bunk in an exhausted heap.
Connor broke the silence in the main room after everyone had watched Elina’s departure, wary of her suddenly going on the attack again.
‘I think you should fill us in on exactly who you people are,’ he said to Jacob.
The older man sat forward on the edge of the battered sofa as Lewis took a seat next to him. He rubbed his eyes as if suddenly tired.
‘Can’t this wait until later?’ he asked wearily.
‘No,’ replied Shona unsympathetically. ‘Not if we’re all gonna be working together.
Jacob leaned back into the sofa with a look of resignation. ‘I suppose that’s fair.’ He took a moment to gather his thoughts before he continued. ‘You know that little girl that died in Elina’s arms after the explosion?’ he asked Lewis.
The ex-corporate nodded. ‘Of course.’
‘She was Elina’s daughter.’
Both Lewis and Linford stared at the man in shock. Angel gasped slightly. Even though she hadn’t been there, she could only imagine what it must have been like for Elina to have her own child die in her arms.
Linford spoke first. ‘Shit…’
Jacob looked at the young man. ‘To put it mildly… Can you imagine how she has been feeling all this time? I knew her before her daughter went missing, she was quite different from the person you have all met. When I saw her after Natasha’s death it was like a part of Elina had died with her… she was never quite the same again. Others among us have had loved ones go missing, of course, it happens from time-to-time in Marooned Town, but they generally turn up again in a few days, in some kind of condition, even if it’s dead. It was when people went missing and were never seen again that things got bad. My only son went out to see some friends and I never saw him again. Mina… well, Mina’s brother that had raised her since her parents had died in a construction accident, went to work one day and never came back. But I’m sure she’s with him now…’
Shona and Connor looked slightly confused at this, as they had no idea who Mina was, but didn’t question it.
‘Anyway,’ continued Jacob as he pulled himself back from thoughts of the recently lost Japanese girl. ‘If Elina hadn’t stumbled across her lost daughter when she did we would have no idea what had happened to our people. Unfortunately, her discovery wasn’t enough for our leaders to take action. There was nothing left of Natasha, after all. Most among us that had had loved ones or friends go missing still had others that they cared about and feared losing them if they acted.’
‘But you and Elina…’ interjected Lewis.
‘And Mina,’ added Jacob. ‘We have no one else so we have nothing to lose. I want to see McKenzie pay for what they have done. I have no actual proof that they took my son but, considering what Elina found, I have a good idea of what’s happened to him. I know I will never see him again. Someone has to pay.’ His voice was grim.
There was a pause after he finished, then Jacob slowly stood up, as if a great weight was on his back. ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to try and get a little sleep.’ Without waiting for a reply he went to find a bed.
A silence filled the room as Jacob closed the bedroom door.
‘That’s pretty fucked up,’ mused Linford to himself.
‘Huh!’ snorted Shona with a shrug. ‘Sounds like a fucking fairy-tale compared to some of the shit I’ve seen living on the streets of The City.’
Her brother nodded in silent agreement.
Angel was a little taken aback by Shona’s bluntness. ‘H-how can y-you say that?’
‘Hey, I’m not saying that what’s happened up here isn’t shitty, but it’s not anything that doesn’t take place on a daily basis back home. Try living the life we have and see how shocked you are by this stuff.’
Angel blinked at Shona’s rebuttal and fell silent.
An uncomfortable silence descended as everyone shifted in their seats. Finally, Linford broke the mood.
‘Well,’ he said as he got to his feet. ‘I don’t know about you guys but I’m gonna go and see if that Wendy girl can set me up with whatever that Sterling guy was drinking.’
The end of another week.
Thank you for reading and commenting.
You can kind of tell that things are coming to a head, no? The finish is drawing near.
Have a good weekend all.
Nov 2, 2012 11:26:17 amby renecyberdoc Homepage »
you should have gone more specific at the obscenities they shouted at each other.
reminds me my time in the red light district in amsterdam when the puzzeeesss at 04:00 in the morning where shouting at each other quite interesting verbs they used heheheheheh.
Nov 2, 2012 3:20:53 pmby SidheRoseGraphics Homepage »
I had a feeling Natasha was Elina's daughter. No wonder she's so intent on seeing this through! Wonderful writing and great 'bitch fight' scene :) Not sure who would win that one if they were turned loose on each other. I can't wait to see how they get in and what happens once they do! Excellent writing as always, Alex.
We may be catching up in chapters, but yours are a lot longer than mine ;)