Ronin - Community Loyalty. Proofreaders are admired.

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« on: <11-19-14/1251:46> »
Community loyalty By HarshRhettoric

What is community loyalty?

   The question, in various forms, was offered up to me often enough.  In those days, I partied like there was no tomorrow precisely because I had hoped there would be no tomorrow.  In my experience, tomorrow was always darker, always more oppressive than today.  Looking back, I would have to say that I was right.

   Slipstream was just the right kind of club.  There was the usual meat market on the ground floor, perfect for picking up rich girls from Renton or the downtown enclaves looking for a place to slum where they wouldn’t be recognized.  The upper floors had professional dancers and champagne rooms if you had scratch to burn and didn’t feel like playing games.  Downstairs, you could just hear the bass from the club through the high-quality soundproofing and ECM that surrounded the private meeting rooms.  All of this was controlled by the owners who had an eye for both security and discretion.

   It was a Wednesday night, I think.  We had just returned from a run against SynBio, some fly-by-night A corp, but as always, things had gone sour.  Not only had Earache gotten a fist-sized hole blown out of him, but we were now sitting on a stockpile of hot, smartlinked assault rifles, each with its own unique polonium stamp and very easy to track by satellite.  When I arrived, my accomplices were lounging in a private room in the basement of Slipstream, drinking coffee and energy drinks rather than martinis and nearbeer.  It was not shaping up to be a good night.  Oh yeah—we were also a man down.  Mauler had gone to Atlanta to take care of some family drama.

   ‘Which do you want first?’  Coldstar was saying to Shogun when I walked in and set down my light beer and plate of nachos I had snagged from the bar.
   ‘Umm, I guess the good news.  Sorry, but none of this sounds very good.’  Shogun was the most risk-averse combat mage I had ever met.  Something had messed him up bad and he had never quite recovered.
   ‘Our Johnson is Rudy Lymond.  He worked for Synthesis Bionics until last month.  Apparently, they didn’t need him as much as he needed them, so it looks like they were going to liquidate him until he jumped ship for an outfit in Calfree."  She paused to call up an AR container ship."  Literally, his ship leaves at oh-four tomorrow morning, and--’  She trailed off a long syllable as she projected a 3d pic of him from her deck, rotating slowly so we could see him.  He had the same soft, poorly defined features that I remembered—the features of a man who had never had to kill for his own food.—‘he hasn’t left yet.  Looks like he hit up his favorite joygirl one last time before he left.  He’s at her love hotel right now.’  I’d learned to bury my contempt for such people when they were willing to pay me to visit injury on their colleagues.  Nonetheless, I felt a certain relish at the prospect of sticking it to one of the corporate softies, even if he was an ex-A corper.  So much relish, in fact, that I began to pack my face with nachos.
   ‘And the bad news?’  Shogun snatched a chip laden with cheese and soybean paste from my platter before I could kill the last of them.  ‘Jesus, Take it easy, Ronin, you’re going to have the squirts by the time we run.’  See?  Risk averse.
   ‘He’s expecting trouble.  Looks like he hired the joygirl’s pander and his crew as extra muscle to get him to the docks once he’s done with the doxy.’  That must have been some kind of joke, because Shogun laughed.  I smiled at Coldstar through my last mouthful of nachos.  This just got better and better.  We hashed out the details over a second plate of nachos (the right kind of club must serve the right kind of bar snacks; these symbiotes don’t feed themselves) and departed.

   Coldstar had to drive Earache’s step-van because she was the only one that could.  Stupid dwarf’s setup was too cramped for me, and of course, Shogun can’t drive without a steering wheel and pedals.  With much complaining, Coldstar wedged her tiny, athletic body into Earache's even tinier bucket seat and drove us off into the sleeting rain that would hopefully hold out long enough to mask our approach to the Funduq hotel—a franchise that I, myself, have used many times when lacking in either time or money.  The extra-large coffins are perfect for troll drifters, violent transients such as myself, and anyone with a companion who isn’t choosy about where they do their business.  I should point out that I am actually in that last group also.  Now that I think about it, I have committed every cardinal sin at least once in a Funduq coffin.
       Gridlink means that nearly every drive across downtown was fairly uneventful and this one was no exception.  Coldstar could only get Earache’s folk metal collection to play on his grotesquely powerful speaker system, so we turned it off and the only sound was the periodic checking of weapons in the back.  Mostly from me.  Since she was driving, Coldstar gave me her piece to load and check which is probably more trust than she’d had in the guy she lost her virginity to.  Somehow, I managed to resist mocking her for her choice in sidearm; an ancient Samopal “medium” pistol with an analog Smartlink.  I think it was powered by coal. 

   This particular Funduq hotel was on the seedy western edge of Downtown (sometimes called 'the cauldron, because of the schizophrenic security ratings), crammed between a boarded up bakery and an exceptionally ratty ramen stand.  I think I might even have been to this actual hotel.  Coldstar parked the van a discreet distance away while I got down to business.  The sleet we had hoped for had left us behind miles ago and the only thing that obscured me from view was the mist from my breath.  Fortunately, I didn’t think that Lymond would be out for a stroll as I made my way the opposite direction of the hotel down the street and around the block to a bar appropriately called Spiral. 

        The mélange of marijuana and shame was visible as I broke the threshold.  I held my hands up as a sign of my good will as a comically fat ork ganger struggled off the couch he had been laying on to accost me. 
‘Hey, buddy, relax.’  I said conversationally as he reached for his piece, only to realize he had left it on the table some feet away.  I took that opportunity to reach into my jacket pocket and produce a stamped troy ounce silver bar which I held up between two fingers.  ‘Tell your leadership that my team and I have business on your turf.  This is our peace offering.’  The ork squinted back at me.
‘What if I tell you to fuck off and that I ain’t wakin’ Malakai for yo pink ass?’  He shot back, rubbing his tattooed face and eyeing his pistol.  My internal comm crackled to life as the on-board software struggled to correct the patchy wireless access in the area.

        +Ronin, they’re probably all hung over.  Get out of there and come back to us.  We’ll take the hotel without a peace offering+  Coldstar still didn’t know me very well.  Fair enough.  I turned on the ork and started for the door, dropping the silver back in my pocket.  I heard the ork move and lick his lips.
        ‘Hey, why don’t you leave that silver.’  It was pointedly not a question.  I smiled where he couldn’t see, hit my reflex trigger and took another step.  The idiot racked his pistol ejecting a perfectly good round just to make his point.  I spun, drawing my silenced Predator and snapped off two shots.  One took him in the neck and one took him in the cheek under his left eye into that ridiculous spiral tattoo.  He spun away, shooting blood and tottered for a moment in which his ejected round hit the table his pistol had been sitting on.  He swayed for a moment and I took aim again thinking he was going to shout.  Fortunately, he fell over like a tree instead.  There were some admonitions from above, but no one came to investigate immediately.  I turned and walked out.

        +Your professionalism, as always, leaves me speechless.+
        ‘Blow me.  I was doing the right thing.’  I killed the session over her mounting protests and made my way back up the street past the van.  I was going in alone.  I knew I could handle a pimp and his crew, but the absence of Mauler was felt like I was wearing no armor on my back--which of course, was not the case.  He was far away in Atlanta and this wouldn’t wait, so we made do with what we had.   I loaded a fresh gel mag and dropped my jacket on the hood of the van, exposing my tactical gear and body armor—a clear message to any bystanders out and about in the coffin hotel that now was not the time for heroics.   For my part, the unrestricted aim meant less chance of a stray shot going through a coffin door and turning it into a sleeping pod that might contain an actual person.  Call it community loyalty.
The windows to the coffin hotel were one-way glass, so I approached along the sidewalk on the same side from the next-door bakery.  A new talk session alert flashed on my HUD and I blinked it to life.  Coldstar’s icon appeared.

         +I’m compiling the building’s layout based on security camera footage.  It looks like they only have the lobby and the area out front immediately under surveillance+  I froze a mere ten feet from the front entrance looking for a camera.  +It’s recessed.  You could see it if you were approaching from the front.  I make three goons and a clerk inside; only one looks dangerous.  He’s on the right side of the door so if you walked through, he’d be hidden+  The layout appeared on my HUD.

         Accordingly, I pulled a concussion grenade from my webbing and as I entered the camera’s field of view, I gunned my reflexes, pulled the pin on the grenade and rammed my fist, grenade and all, through the glass, opening my hand before pulling my arm back out.  I could feel the overpressure from the grenade going off as I shouldered the door open into complete bedlam. 
The wire frame structure of Coldstar’s layout really didn’t do justice to how shitty the hotel was.  My first impression as I jumped through the threshold marked by a nearly solid wall of disturbed dust motes was that the carpet crunched underfoot, stiffened by years of mud and other things best not contemplated.  The second thing I noticed was that the effects of the grenade on the clerk seemed fleeting at best as he was currently bringing a shotgun to bear on me.
        For the second time that day, I pulled my Ares Predator V Brawler edition and shot the clerk in the chest.  The rapidly expanding kinetic gel load slammed him back against the wall and knocked all of the fight out of him.  The other two were not so slow and one of them almost got me with a taser from behind.  I turned at the last second and dropped him with a crushing blow to the collarbone from my free hand, compliments of Osteohelix™ brand bone lacing (good for old ladies and violent transients!).  The one who had been behind the door was on his knees clutching his bleeding ears, looking at me with a child-like lack of understanding, while his friend fumbled for a revolver that could only be described as unnecessarily massive.  I put two into his chest and paused just long enough to secure the shell-shocked one with the plastic zips I always carry.

        +Ronin, why do you even bother carrying a silencer?+
        ‘Why do you even bother carrying a gun?  Also, if Shogun’s not too busy and it’s not too cold, do you think you could send him in to liberate all these weapons I’ve left lying around?’  I made my way out of the lobby and down the hall.
        +Shogun’s on his way in.  The pander rents or extorts the top floor full time.  Lymond will be there, though I’m not sure which coffin he’ll be in+
        ‘Right.’ I said, pulling my sword.  ‘Lock the guest coffins below the fourth, tell them it's for maintenance or something.’  I advanced, leading with sword and gun down the hall to the stairs.  In situations like these, stairs are vulnerable and the desire to take them four at a time must be tempered against the presence of possible traps.  I erred on the side of speed, trusting that regular foot traffic would make trapping the stairs unfeasible—logic that has failed me several times since, but not this time.  I arrived on the fourth floor landing just in time to cut down two more goons as I exploded through the door putting me on the fourth  floor proper.

         There were eleven coffins on this floor, but they were definitely an afterthought.  And what were the odds?  Lymond was easy to spot.  He was the place’s only customer, tied to a bondage cross with a ball-gag in his mouth looking at me with what could only be abject terror in his eyes.  He was actually crying, although from my presence or his kink, I couldn't be sure.  What was far more important to me, was the troll dom who emerged suddenly from a makeshift boudoir.  She moved surprisingly fast for wearing such high heels and, to be perfectly honest, I was still transfixed by the surreal scene I had interrupted.  She covered the distance between us in a heartbeat and hit me so hard, I thought I'd been paralyzed.  Fortunately, it turned out I couldn’t feel anything because I was flying through the air.  That changed when I hit the coffin stack and broke the cred reader on the bottom one with my skull, my Predator spun across the room, but the sharkskin on my sword kept it in my hand.

         Kipping up, I assumed a two handed stance with the blade high that I saw in a movie once and we started to circle.  She had a hunched, aggressive style; no defense.  I played to it, feigning lack of skill, but she didn't go for it.  With majestic speed, she darted in and managed to wrap an entire hand around my head before I cut her under the arm and she let go, but she had sacrificed blood for a very convincing feint and, too late, I felt her other hand wrap around my lead leg.  Damn that reach, I thought as the floor became the ceiling.  I wasn't done, though.  Training, rather than conscious decision, brought my blade around toward her ankle, but she turned her leg and blocked it with an 8 inch stiletto heel.  I had to admit that was pretty hot, even on a troll.
         Where does a Troll get heels like that, anyway?  I reflected in a crazy moment of dodging those very same heels as one of them dug a 3 inch hole in the floor where my head had been.  I rolled to my feet behind her with two meters separating us and drew my backup Ruger warhawk and snapped off two shots.  The first round clipped her shoulder, but even with regular ammo, it wasn't even a significant distraction as she bolted for the stairs.  I had a crucial second to decide what to do and I chose to stick with the original target instead of giving chase.  Besides, there was a “combat” mage downstairs whose ass was in danger of becoming flat from sitting around.   I keyed a talk session with Shogun.
        ‘Hey, man, there’s a big troll in latex headed toward you.  Look out, though, she’s super fast in those heels.’
        +A—what?  Say again… Bleugh!+  The session died in a sound that reminded me of the noise I had just made flying through the air.  Oops.  +Goddamnit, Ronin!+
        ‘I thought you were a combat mage.  Do some combat magic.’  I effetely wiggled my fingers at Lymond who was now struggling desperately against his bonds.
        'You guys alright?'  There was some commotion and swearing on the comm.  I took this opportunity to peruse the implements of “fun” on the walls.  Coldstar crackled back at me.  +We got the dom.  Thanks for nothing+  Satisfied that Shogun and Coldstar had the situation in hand, I turned back to Lymond.

        ‘Good morning, Lymond.  I definitely didn’t expect your last act as Mr Johnson to be bottoming in a place like this.  He made a rasping noise, so I charitably removed his ball gag.
        ‘I had no choice, she made me do it!’  He spat a large gobbet of drool as he spoke.  I jumped back and dropped the ball gag.
        ‘She made you stiff a team of shadowrunners?’  Is she a corporate dominatrix?’  I asked, rubbing my jaw where she had hit me, wondering if a corp dom was actually a thing.
        ‘N-no.  I mean—I—I did it, yes, and I’m sorry!  There was never any money!  I’m sorry, I’m sorry!’
        ‘Sorry doesn’t fix Earache’s sucking chest wound and poor taste in music, Lymond.  Sorry doesn’t move a pile of radioactive assault rifles, Lymond.’  It was more drama than I felt at the time, but no less than he deserved, being circled by a trained street killer he had duped while he was strapped to a padded, vinyl cross.  I was going to say something else to him when Shogun lurched through the door from the landing, carrying the icebox and breathing hard.  The combat mage looked around appreciatively, nodding slowly as he caught his breath.

        ‘I like the décor.  I especially like that we don’t have to put down a drop-cloth, like last time.’  He said, setting down the cooler next to mr Lymond who looked down at me desperately.
        ‘Wh-what are you going to do?’  He asked, the whites around his eyes clearly visible.  I smiled and none-too-gently cupped his chin so I could get a look at his headware.
        ‘Well, you said yourself there was no money.  We owe our street doc big for bringing him a bleeding dwarf at two in the morning, and we can’t really move the merch we got from SynBio, sooooo...'
        '...We’re going to sell your organs and cyber, Mr Lymond.  I hope none are necessary to your continued survival.’  Said Shogun. 

        The Johnson started screaming at that point, so for the sake of the other hotel guests, I put the ball gag back in his mouth.

Call it community loyalty.
Have you ever had a dream where you were standing on a pyramid in sort-of sun god robes with a thousand naked women screaming and throwing pickles at you?

Why am I the only one that has that dream?