* This is a character study/intro, and was meant only to help flesh out a tone for the bigger piece currently under construction in my broken goblin filled mind *
* Oh, and while I realize that one of the protagonists may seem to be in violation of some of the functional bits of the world/game, I can only ask for patience.... He's not, but the origins are part of the bigger bits/pieces that the goblins are still flinging feces at *
The elevator chimed and the doors slid slowly open, and the horde of security honchos crowded in a semi circle around them in the foyer let fly. I don’t think they waited long enough to even see who was in the car, let alone for the doors to actually open all the way, before unleashing several hundred high velocity don’t-give-a-shits, tearing up the lighting and control panels of the fascia (I guess panicked firing doesn’t loan itself to accuracy) and assuring themselves that they had thoroughly annihilated the tango in the elevator. The car was a mess of dust and debris, the shadowed interior lit only by the occasional spark from the destroyed electronics, and the falling bits of wood and plastic clicking onto the floor the only noise other than the excited breathing of the security team. Then Samuel stepped out of those shadows, his dark hair and long dark jacket giving him the wavering aura of an avenging angel, or maybe daemon.
He didn’t look up, just strode forward, his eyes on the ground maybe six feet ahead of him, his gait measured and controlled, but relaxed. He might have been hitting the street in front of his doss for all the concern he gave our opponents. The security force went bat-shit, emptying whatever remained in their magazines before switching to side arms as Samuel closed the distance. A few were experienced enough to slide away from him, careful to not put their coworkers into the crossfire while trying to maintain tactical distance, but the majority stood stock still, all their focus firmly on reloading and firing again. Good old minimum wage training at its best.
The rounds puffed into black smoky hornets as they neared Samuel, and dissipated on contact with him, blowing into a fine black powder that was left showering the marble floor in his wake. I have seen Samuel in action before, so I knew what to expect, but it’s always impressive and having a tango that didn’t react to being shot was clearly a new experience for at least some of the security boys. Always makes for a lot of swearing and some very entertaining facial expressions. Although the occasional trouser wetting is a rare, but particularly delicious treat, I was to be disappointed this go round.
“He’s shielded astrally! Go to blades!” shouted the older guy with the angry buzz cut and fancy boots, which in my mind marked him out as the team leader. I could have brought up the AR details on the team and gotten an official confirmation but all those labels just detract from the show that is Samuel in combat, and really, did it matter? I will give the team some credit though, as soon as the word astral had time to sink in, they all switched over to the long armour piercing daggers that hung on their tactical rigs. That was interesting in itself though, as most corp-sec teams used various types of truncheons and shock mauls as less-than-lethal alternatives. Apparently, these funny guys believed that only kinda-sorta-LTL tools were the order of the day.
To give them credit where credit is due, normally against magic, hand weapons are the way to go, and the team lead would have just given his people a distinct advantage. They do more damage to elementals and other summoned critters, and are very difficult to protect against using only raw juju juice. That’s normally. Samuel, as I had found out in Germany, and like these guy were just about to discover, is far from normal. Crew-cut slid forward in a blur (oooh sexy wired reflexes, definitely the leader) and slammed his blade toward Samuel’s throat. The metal turned to a misty black spray as it contacted his skin and Samuel brought his own hand up, clasping the guards arm as it reached full extension. Crew-cut froze, and so did everyone else.
Samuel spoke quietly, still looking down, and the guardsman began to shriek. Dropping his grip, Samuel continued forward. Two guards lunged forward, powering their blades into Samuel’s chest and abdomen. He didn’t even grab them. Instead he surged forward and shoulder barged between them. They too froze and then began to scream, their blades nothing but black dust falling in the breeze of Samuel’s passing. The rest of the team piled in and I lost sight of my partner in the melee for a brief moment, his form buried beneath a swarm of swinging arms and falling hilts.
The screaming grew as one by one the security forces fell victim to Samuel’s abilities, although I knew all that kinetic impact would be leaving contusions on his body. After the run in Germany, I had asked Samuel to explain his ways to me, because even after years of running with shaman and mages, I had never seen anything like it. He tried to give me the layman version, but after twenty minutes of non-stop Latin phrasing and words that I couldn’t even find clean definitions for in the matrix, I told him to stop. I can only take so much of the surging meta-planar shifts and rift pulse manipulation type talk before I want to run screaming to nearest bar and drown myself in high end vodka.
I shifted my primary vid-feed a little further up the hall and muted the mic on the foyer, leaving Samuel’s shrieking choir behind, red faced and quickly running out of breath. He had pulled free from the last of the scrum and now strode toward the office that our Mr. Johnson had specified as containing our target for the run. Therein was to be one highly secured wall safe, which I would crack open using all my uber-awesome AR goodies and matrix mastery, guarded by at least one sec-team (ala screaming dudes in foyer) and potentially one corp-mage (fingers crossed that won’t be the case). Samuel’s part was to physically penetrate the building and gather the contents of the safe while I ran overwatch and kept the alarms to a minimum.
I had the building locked down tight, but the code deflecting the alarms was beginning to fray and I didn’t have unlimited resources to tie them back up while also controlling the internal vid-feeds as well. Loops would only work for so long when a roving guard detail was expected to show up on the monitors at the main security station downstairs.
“We need to pick it up Sammy, things matrix side are getting a little strained.”
I could see him nod as my voice carried over the intercom. Our runs would be much smoother if Samuel would wear at least an ear piece, but he outright refused all technology. The guy wouldn’t even use the old school cred sticks unless he absolutely had to, which kind of made me team banker as well. You know how hard it is to find paper scrip these days? At least I knew he trusted me, but then maybe he just knew I wouldn’t cross him. Funny how running the shadows creates doubt about those dual purpose relationships, even while equally reinforcing and destroying a sense of real and true honest trust.
“Vesper?” Sam asked.
“Do not call me Sammy.”
Samuel does not have what we normal people would call a sense of humour and is irony impaired beyond all measure. He doesn’t even have a handle or nickname, just Samuel. He reached the office door and walked straight in, accustomed to having my damned fine overwatch skills at his disposal. I don’t think he has ever had to pause during one of our runs because of a locked door (gold star for me), at least not one that was wired to the matrix. He paused and looked around the office, standard ostentatious corporate artwork and photography on the walls, chrome and black furniture, leather chair behind a desk that couldn’t possibly need to be that large.
“It’s behind that ugly Pollock rip off behind the desk. Running the encryption breaker on the safe right now – gimme 20 seconds max and it’s yours.”
Samuel pulled the painting off the wall and tossed it aside, before clasping his ears and going fetal. The mic feed in the office shrilled with feedback. Sonic alarm booby trap, damned tricky low tech stand alone system, not wired into the building and not on any plans.
“Samuel! It’s offline, I can’t do shit to help and I gotta get the crack done here or we are going to lose our shot!”
Fucking stupid, yelling at someone who was plugging his ears to cut off all sound, and I like to consider myself a real pro, but hey, once I lost containment on the building alarm system, the whole place would be swarming with security, and our countdown was already well underway. Ever since our run in Germany, Samuel had refused other team members, which made for fantastic pay days, but put a little more pressure on your favourite matrix mistress than she sometimes preferred. I could see Samuel writhing on the floor, digging in his pockets, face scrunched into a knot. Magic types and really loud noises don’t mix well.
In the HUD matrix feed I watched as my programs chewed up the building security nodes, and obliterated the white IC standing in front of the offices’ control surfaces. I would normally sleaze by them and leave zero trace, but time was clearly no longer on my side. Just as I felt the tell tale click of my coring worm busting the safe encryption, Samuel stood up, noise dampeners stuffed into his ear canals, the old school plastic bits sticking out the sides of his ears. He wouldn’t even run with the new and much more effective digital type. Sigh. Samuel looked pissed, and that would likely cost the next corporate someone he came across dearly. Not a very forgiving type, our tall lanky and ever so serious Sammy. I flashed the office lights and he took the hint, popping the safe door and quickly stuffing the big velvet pouch inside into his leather jackets pocket.
My tap into the building sensors squealed as a proximity alert suddenly appeared outside the office door. The corp-mage dropped his invisibility spell and launched a fireball just as Samuel pivoted on his heels, eyes wide. He was pushed back into the wall and into the open safe door (ouch) by the sheer kinetic force of the explosion, but just like the bullets and blades before, the flames winked into dust and smoky residue. Samuel grinned and leaping over the desk, charged the elven wage mage, who desperately fumbled to cast a follow up, clearly having expected the fireball to do the trick.
He would have been better to use a mage blade if he had one - those nasty little things were one of the few items I had ever seen cause Samuel real pause, and the only thing other than a very angry and very drunk German trolls’ fist, that I had seen actually draw blood. Ramming his shoulder in the elfs’ gut, Samuel picked him up and slammed him bodily into the wall, spitting a phrase that shorted out my audio feed of the office and sent a spike warning into my head gear. I hated when he started that shit without warning me to mute off. The vid-feed showed the elf impacting with the wall, scream and then crumble into fine black sand at Samuels’ feet.
I switched rapidly across mic-feeds in the hall as Samuel moved back toward the foyer. Not all those alarms shouting into my HUD were related to building control cycling down now. The mages’ fireball had lit off all kinds of hell in the fire control systems and buildings emergency protocols. Those I hadn’t shut down or locked out, as the IC is tougher around emergency systems and we generally don’t burn down our target locations...generally. Shit. Building containment was going to go a lot faster now. Fire suppression systems came online and bypassed my security lockdown on the vid-feeds.
He paused as he came into the foyer, and I quickly reactivated the mic pickups there, the security goons having long since screamed themselves into unconsciousness.
“The building is gone. The fireball blew all the emergency systems and killed my lockdown. We are going to have to use the roof to get you out.”
Samuel nodded and began to move toward the downed security men.
“Then I will need to replenish myself.”
I didn’t say anything, just sent my coercion programs after the stairway vid-feeds and locks, just in case the building security decided the fire alarm was a fake and locked them down as well as the elevators. I cut my control of the vid-feed around the offices just in case, to ensure any corporate matrix dancers would see clearly that fire was a real issue, and wouldn’t stumble across my trail. Then I pulled my last trick out of my sleeve and sent out a random scrambler frame to screw with vid-feeds all across this floor and the ones directly adjacent. With any luck, it would look like the hard wiring was being damaged and was interfering with the signals.
I cut back to the foyer cam in time to see Samuel pushing open the stairwell door, his back to the piles of sand and ash he had reduced the security team to. Eight people dead, just like that. I am no greenie, and have brain fried matrix opponents who thought they could take me down more than once, but it is always the last option. Samuel breezes through bodies without the slightest hesitation when taking care of business. Funny though, I have never seen him even raise his voice outside of a run, let alone get into a fight, just spends most of his hours in his library, reading really, acutely boring old shit. Years ago, one of our friends in Germany, an urban shaman, had scoped out Samuels’ astral self, trying to get a read on his abilities while he was relaxed with a book. He told me later on that all he saw was a shadow.
That didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I mean, I have shadows in my aura because cyberware does that to you, and though I am no street samurai, I am still pretty damned well chromed, what with my matrix goodies and some light rigger stuff. But I know for fact Samuel doesn’t have a single piece of metal in his body. He avoids tech like he is allergic. Jenks (the German shaman) just shrugged and walked away saying that Sammy was a hard guy to figure out, and maybe it was better not to try. I always thought the read had spooked him, and Jenks never ran with us again after that, though that is probably just as well considering how our last run there turned.
Samuel ran up the stairs and I continued to piggy back on the vid-feeds, sleazing past anything that queried me and making sure none of the fire doors between floors was sealed by a corp matrix hound. Clearing the last landing, Samuel hit the exit to the roof at full sprint and didn’t slow down at all, fully trusting that I would have that door popped for him. One day I am going to slip up and he is going to get a grill full of door, but I guess we will deal with that when it happens. He burst out onto the roof and I lost him temporarily, until I dropped out of the building systems and swapped to the remote camera set up we had rigged in the neighbouring parking structure.
Samuel paused at the roof edge and looked directly at the cameras location, waiting for my signal. I quickly ran through all the Lone Star and Knight Errant com channels and found nothing relating to our target building. They knew they had been hit but either didn’t know how hard, or weren’t interested in bringing in the cops. That could be good or bad. I triggered the camera to flash its strobe twice, and Samuel nodded and jumped. Nineteen stories up and he just walked off the ledge, no hesitation, total and absolute confidence in his abilities. I still squirm in my rig when he does this high wire thing. He doesn’t land pretty and it’s hard to watch, even after a half dozen times.
Samuel fell like one of the stunt men in the old Hollywood flicks, arms and legs out like he was expecting to drop into a big soft barker lounger. Just before impact he slapped his hand across his chest, keeping our goods cushioned by his body. If you haven’t heard the meaty slap of a body slamming into concrete at near terminal velocity, you don’t want to, just take my word for it. I took a deep breath and counted to five. Samuel got up on four, brushed off his shoulders and ass, and began jogging toward the alley alongside the parking garage, nothing marking his landing except for some dark stains where the oil in the leather of his coat had embedded itself in the ground.
I fired up the drone the camera was mounted on and set the auto-retrieve to bring it down to my van. I can’t run the hardware like a full rigger can, but I have the headware necessary for basic manoeuvres and lots of experience, one of the benefits of being a two person team. It touched down beside my ride just as Samuel jogged up.
“Another successful run Vesper. We continue to be quite a team.”
I agreed. But I also know that we have been carried by luck more than once. Samuel seemed to see this in my eyes.
“But you doubt the longevity of our arrangement. Is this still because of Germany?”
Everything had gone to hell in Berlin. And I guessed I owed him the truth. “Yea, it’s because of Germany. And because I still don’t know how the hell you do what you do, and because sooner or later, one of us is going to get tagged and have no one to turn to.”
He just stared at me. I could see him turning my comments over in his mind. After a moment he nodded.
“Alright Vesper. On the next job we will bring in new team members, if you believe them to be needed. But remember also, our difficulties in Berlin were caused at least to some degree by the company we kept.”
Like I needed reminding. Our rigger and samurai had been compromised by talking to one of their old team mates and spilling a little too much about our upcoming run, all in earshot of their latest woman of the night. Unprofessional Loose lips, too much German beer and a vengeful prostitute who tipped off our targets in hopes of a pay off, had done in our whole team. Still, no one deserved to go out like that girl had. We found her skinned and torn to bits as we exfil’d out, pulling our wounded asses across half of Berlin to lose the ambushers. I fragging hate vampires.
Samuel nodded again, helped me lift the drone into the back of the van, and then we got going while the going was good. With one eager Mr. Johnson to meet and one large pile of credits to collect, we both wanted the evening over with. Samuel didn’t address my comment about his abilities and maybe our only surviving German friend was right. Something’s are better left alone, unanswered.
* Hope you enjoyed - as always, constructive criticism is encouraged and appreciated! /Vol