劇透 - :
The ork who called himself “Tusk” had finished his food hours before his other dinner guests arrived. He appreciated food a great deal, but knew never to mix fine dining with business. What was about to happen was definitely business. Just as this clock in his AR display flicked to 10:04 p.m., he received a call from the manager of the restaurant.
“Pardon the interruption sir, but there are some … people here that are asking for admittance. They claim they are guests of yours.” The patrician distaste in the manager’s voice clearly showed that the runners had not come appropriately dressed as Tusk had instructed.
Tusk used his most soothing tone to placate the distressed manager, “Yes, I was expecting guests. I apologize for their appearance. Please escort them, quietly, to my room.”
When the runners arrived in the back private room where Tusk was waiting, he was not impressed. They were a typical foursome, with threadbare clothing and visible cuts and bruises. Despite the team’s rough and unimpressive appearance, Tusk trusted his contact enough to know that he would put together an effective team.
The meeting passed in a blur. He had done this kind of thing so many times before that the routine had become not worth remembering, really. They haggled over payment, conditions, and information. In the end, Tusk was happy with the result. In the matters of cash, he ended up giving fifteen percent less than his authorized maximum, which could provide him a nice bonus. He also didn’t give up any information he wasn’t anxious to share, particularly the bit about the target being recently acquired by Aztechnology. Far too many runners developed an unfortunate case of the jitters going against the Big A, so sometimes it was best not to give them information that could set their imaginations in motion.
He had to pay a bit of extra attention when he was forced into a bit of improvisation at the end if the meet.
“And you will take delivery of the package?” The team’s face asked.
Tusk paused momentarily—hopefully not noticeably— before he replied, “No, delivery will be made to an associate of mine. Contact this number when you are ready to make delivery.”
Just after the runner team left, he brought up a list of contacts on his AR display and found an appropriate name. Yes, he would hire a third party to take delivery. Although it wasn’t part of the original plan, he was feeling better about the snap decision by the minute. It always pays to be cautious.
劇透 - :
Leon Adler was a giant squid floating in the deep waters of the ocean. A squid with its many limbs reaching out to manipulate control consoles made of coral, datalines made of seaweed, icons that looked like sea horses or krill. He manipulated all these devices with dexterity and fine control that would be impossible if he were an actual squid made of flesh and blood. But Leon the squid was made of photons and data, simulated brain impulses—a virtual representation. He chose the ocean iconography because it soothed him, easing the nerves and stress that came with the job of managing the electronic operations and security of a corporation. His job had been particularly stressful since the takeover. In truth, everyone’s job had become more stressful, and everyone was taking things out on him. At least that’s how it felt. So Leon allowed more than his normal suspension of disbelief as he observed his underwater surroundings. He let himself almost believe it was real. It’s what he needed to get through his day.
He began his routine status check.
Door entry authorization systems—engaged.
Internal and external sensors—sweeping.
Employee RFID location system—tracking.
Cameras—recor … wait.
Something was odd. Feed NW-6-C showed Isa Porter in the employee lounge. But the RFID system reported that the tag implanted in Isa Porter was in her office, nowhere near the employee lounge. There shouldn’t be anyone in the lounge at this time of night. It didn’t make any sense. He began to run a deeper system analysis on the camera feed while calling up a Probe IC that looked like a lantern fish to sweep the system for any more anomalies. Was this a system malfunction? It seems to have failed in a very specific way. If the camera had just locked up, would it be frozen, on one frame? The camera feed clearly wasn’t frozen as he could see Isa moving, if only slightly. He peered closer at the image and noticed a subtle skip in the image. Wait a minute, thought Leon, it looks like the image has been looped.
His concentration was suddenly broken by a signal from the lantern fish. It was reporting that it may have found …
The IC exploded in a violent flash of electronic light. An icon, a persona of unknown origin, exploded from a hiding place before Leon even realized what was going on. It moved so fast! What is that? He was under attack! Oh ghost, someone was in the system! Where did it go? He couldn’t see the intruder anymore. It was so fast! What should he do? He couldn’t think. What should he do?
Tell Security. Security had to know. He shifted his virtual squid form to the coral and seaweed that made up the communications system. Dead. Shattered and non-functional. When did that happen? Didn’t he just check that system a few seconds ago? The intruder, he was so fast. He was in front of him. He moved so fast!
There was white fire, and something like a vice on his head, a thousand bricks pressing on his skull, crushing his brain! What is that, how is he doing that? The white fire. Crushing. The ocean, thousands and thousands of pound of pressure. The weight of the water. It pressed down, crushing him. White fire. His head felt like it was about to cave in. He had to get out, get somewhere safe, out of the ocean, out of the Matrix, but he couldn’t. He felt like he was dying. He could think about nothing besides jacking out. Jack. Out. Jack. Out. It was all he could think. Raise his arm. The cord. The cord in his head. Where the fire was. Needed to get the fire out of his head! Get the plug! Jack out. Jack out, jackout, jackout, jackout jackout, jackoutjackoutjackoutjackoutjackout.
The world spun, fell, and stopped with a crash and a thud.
劇透 - :
Buddy Ehrlich sipped the industrial byproduct that they called soykaf and coughed. “Fragging drek isn’t fit for any fragging body to drink.” He tossed the cup away in disgust, then motioned for his men to follow him with a terse gesture. He stopped in front of door 35-Charlie. It was locked. Wasn’t this damn thing supposed to unlock when he walked up to it? Wasn’t that the whole fragging point of this whole piece of shit system? He tried his code on the panel. Nothing.
“For shit’s sake what the frag is going on?!” Buddy was in no mood for this. He pulled up his AR display and tried to call that little shit Leon. He better fix these doors right fragging now. Nothing. In fact, the whole security net wasn’t transmitting anything anymore. Buddy was no drek-head. He knew what this meant.
“Weapons out and stay sharp! Something’s seriously fragging wrong,” Buddy snapped the order to his team and they obeyed. He drew his own pistol and headed down the hallway to a door he knew hadn’t received the upgrades yet. It was the only way he’d be able to get anywhere. When they rounded the next corner he saw them, a whole fragging group of them. One of them was a big fragging troll, gun ready to fire. Then, in less than a blink, it did, and bullets were flying. Coleman, Lester, and Garrison went down in seconds before Buddy could bellow, “Find cover!”
He fired off a couple of shots as he dove behind a nearby doorway. He heard the constant clatter of bullets—they must have automatic weapons. One of them had a sword and was cheerfully charging through the hail of gunfire to swing it at a target. Buddy fired off a couple more shots just to keep their heads down while he assessed the situation. He hoped they were as surprised to see him as he was to see them. He just needed to hold them down for a little until backup arrived, though it would be easier if his fragging commlink was working.
One of the intruders leaned out of a side hallway and made a strange motion with his arm. The world exploded into color, sound, and utter confusion. Buddy couldn’t tell which way he was facing or what he was doing. The world was a jumble of images and sounds like someone had turned on a dozen fragging trid stations at once and beamed them directly into his brain. The realization of what he saw finally came to him.
“Fall back, they’ve got a fragging mage!” he shouted while moving back, and his troops did likewise. As they rounded the corner, his head started to clear. Then he heard a cry followed by a sickening wet crunch. He turned to see Scherr drop to the ground spouting blood from a gaping would. It was the guy with the fragging sword! Who uses a fragging sword? Buddy raised his pistol and fired, but the guy was already gone. Frag he was fast! A blur at the edge of his vision had Buddy pick up the intruder again. Over there now.
“Full auto, wide spread!” he barked and, his men responded promptly by hosing the area with a shower of bullets. The fragger with the sword twisted and turned around the bullets like nothing Buddy had ever seen, but he withdrew. Just as Buddy was feeling good about this, he heard heavy footfalls behind him. He turned just in time to see the troll—where the frag did he come from?—put a shotgun blast into Stahl’s stomach and send him flying backwards. Without any further instruction, his remaining men started firing madly into this new hulking form. The bullets seemed to bounce harmlessly off his thick hide.
Time to get the frag out of here, thought Buddy. He turned to come face to face with the guy with the sword.
Oh frag, he thought.
劇透 - :
Nuri Marshall frowned as he read the report on last night’s incident. He had just taken over the head of the Security Division last week after Aztechnology purchased a controlling share of the upstart business. He had expected some sort of move—he would have wagered good money that it would happen—but he did not expect it to come this soon. Still, he had to grudgingly admit that Aztechnology’s competitors were capable and resourceful. The team that made their intrusion last night was certainly more than up to the task. All data on the project had been taken, along with Dr. Holmsten, the brilliant mind behind the project. Without the project there would be nothing to bring to market, no profit to be made, and the entire acquisition would be a massive loss.
Nuri couldn’t let that happen—not if he wanted to get out of this with his health and job intact. But he had anticipated this possibility, and he had a plan for it.
First he checked the doctor’s personnel file. Yes, his “medical screening” had been completed. He sent a specially coded request off to the Metaphysical Services division for the sample to be used to track the doctor’s current location. Then he made a second special call, this one to a man that he didn’t even have a name for.
The man didn’t speak; he was content to radiate an intimidating silence. There were few things in the world that unnerved Nuri like this man, so he kept the conversation brief, “The package has been taken. I need you to retrieve it. I’ll send the location to you in a few hours. Be ready to move.”
That was all. Nuri had used all the resources at his disposal. All he could do now was wait
劇透 - :
Lobo crouched in the shadows and peered into the night. His cybernetic eyes easily cut through the darkness and distance that separated his position from his target. The runners were approaching the man who was going to receive their package, which included the man and the data. He and his counterpart, Ocelotl, were here to intercept that delivery and return both to their rightful owners—or destroy them if that was not possible. Lobo deftly slide his weapon into a ready position, knowing without having to look that Ocelotl was also preparing. They always worked in a pair; always two and no one else. That was how they had been trained, that was how they had lived as far as Lobo could remember. Perhaps there was a time that he had lived before the company had taken him, before the company had made—remade—him into the lethal killing machine that he was today. He could no longer remember. He could no longer remember anything prior to awakening in the hospital after the final procedure, after the reconstruction of his body was complete. Armed and augmented with the very best technology that Aztechnology possessed, he was a warrior without peer. Faster, tougher, and stronger than any of the street urchin he now regarded through is augmented vision. Where Lobo was cybernetically and biologically enhanced, Ocelotl was magically charged. Instructed and inducted deeply in the magical arts known to the peerless Aztechnology magicians, Ocelotl seethed with magical potential yet shielded himself in such a way as to appear mundane. He could just as easily smash a foe apart with his fists as immolate them with a look and a gesture. Together they were steel and sorcery, magic and might.
The time had come. As the runners handed over the doctor and data—Lobo tracked the data transfer in his AR display—to the delivery man, Lobo and Ocelotl rose as one. Silently and quickly they covered the intervening distance to the two parties, then struck with vicious abandon. They executed the attack plan exactly as they had discussed, knowing exactly what the other would do, how and where they would move. Such was their bond and understanding of one another that their coordinated actions bordered on prescience. Initially Ocelotl unleashed a blast of magic that physically separated the two parties, blowing both in opposite directions. Before their bodies had hit the ground, Lobo put short controlled bursts of fire into the bodyguards of the delivery man. They were dead before they landed. Engaging his virtual tools with the same superhuman speeds, Lobo launched an overwhelming assault on the commlink of the deliveryman. Its virtual defenses were shattered and the information removed from it in seconds. This was immediately followed by Lobo putting a trio of bullets into the man’s head, which exploded in a geyser of bloody pulp. Oceltol hurled spells to confuse and disorient the runners, keeping them from interfering. When the electronic assault was done, Lobo moved to engage the runners with his submachine gun while Oceltol disabled the personnel portion of the package with a non-lethal magic bolt. Lobo moved quickly to pick up the comatose body, then withdrew as Ocelotl veiled their escape with yet another spell. The total time of engagement from beginning to end was less than thirty seconds—exactly as planned. Operation successful.
劇透 - :
Sometime later, the ork was back in the executive’s office ready to deliver a message of mixed good news.
“I thought the operation was a failure,” the executive scowled, with particular emphasis on that last word.
The ork would not be goaded, “Not entirely. Although we did not receive delivery of the doctor, I was able to salvage the data.”
“How? I was told it was lost as well.”
“Ah, but that is why it always pays to have a contingency plan! I knew the particular bagman I hired had a fallback for just such an occasion. It simply took me some time to locate his body in the appropriate morgue, since he had no identification and there are so many anonymous dead in this city every day.” He paused to take a sip of his drink. “Once located I had one of our surgeons remove the implanted data lock from the man’s brain, where I hoped he would have stored the information. I wasn’t sure if he had time to make a copy before he was killed, but fortunately for us, he did.”
With that the ork transmitted the data package to the executive with a smug smile that showed his tusks. He did it just to piss the executive off.
After briefly examining the data, the executive replied, “And what of your hires? The runners that initially retrieved the information for you, what happened to them?”
“I have no idea.”
“You don’t even know if they’re dead or alive?”
“Not in the slightest, nor do I care.”
“How can you not care?” The ork’s callousness was a curiosity to the executive.
“Because, my dear friend, there are far more important things going on in this world than the fate of one team of shadowrunners.”