Twenty Six

I hit the ground hard and lay there stunned for a moment. Falling six meters can take a lot out of you. When I’d collected my wits again, I decided to continue to lay there and consider my best course of action.

I heard Giles in my head, “You ok, mate?”

“Yeah, got the wind knocked out – let me think.” I returned.

I was still invisible – that was good. But I was near a mound of inflatable arch. First, get clear of that.

“Ok team, I’m shifting ten meters East. Get everything packed up and ready to leave. But do not – I say again – do not leave unless I tell you to.” Then I crawled.

Then I had a thought, “Kazumi, keep an eye on Franz.”

Giles chuckled, “The bleeding bastard is already unconscious. First thing she did when he got down was to tranq him. Then she cuffed him to a seat in the van.”

That made me smile – and worry a little less about the situation on the other side of the wall. Which was good because I had plenty to worry me about the situation on this side of the wall.

Once I was confidently clear of the arch, I paused again to think.

Since I was invisible, maybe I could just walk out the gate. I looked towards it and kicked in the image mag. Damn, it was shut tight – some kind of a wire mesh drawn across the opening.

I looked at the wall. Yeah, it was smooth but not that smooth – maybe I could climb it.

“Ok, I’m gonna try climbing the wall on the inside, you guys get ready to drive down here and get me. Don’t move until I call you, I don’t want to draw attention to the van.”

Giles replied, “Got it, mate. We’re all packed up and waiting for your signal.”

I stood up and faced the wall, then looked up at the top. One step at a time. I put one foot gingerly on the wall, then the other. Both hands were up and doing a mime impression. I shifted my right foot higher, then the left, then my hands.

Hey, this was actually working. I started going a bit faster. I looked up at the top of the wall again – and there was a giant (from this perspective) spider in front of me.

I let out a (manly, of course) yelp and slid back to the ground.

“Damit, Giles! What they hell are you trying to do?”

“Sorry, mate, I wanted the spider ready in case we had to haul you out.”

“The spider – oh. Damn. That’s a good idea.” I grabbed the line that the spider was dangling and hurriedly tied it to my harness while the spider scuttled back up the wall. It got itself set just below the top of the wall and started to reel me up.

I walked upright on the wall as I went, focused on keeping my footing and not falling.

I was at the spider and ready to scramble over the top when a thought occurred to me. “Crap, we’re on a new section of wall now. The laser sensor here isn’t locked out. As soon as I go over the wall, they’ll have a position to zero in on.”

Kazumi’s voice was calm in reply, “Yes, they will. But it cannot be helped. Break the beam and get your ass down the wall and we’ll get out of here. With any luck we’ll be able to get away before they close in.”

I grimaced. She was right. There was no other way.

“Ok, Ratface, keep an eye out. Let us know if you see any Kasei security forces headed towards us. Giles, as soon as I come over the wall bring the van up and spool the line from the spider as fast as you can. Kazumi, you be ready to engage any security.

“Here we go.” I heaved myself over the edge of the wall. Almost instantly, spotlights lit up the space I’d just been in.

I heard the tires squeal as Giles accelerated the van towards me and I rushed towards the ground – not as fast as an outright fall, but definitely faster than I was totally comfortable with.

I hit the ground with both feet and staggered, trying to stay upright. The line went slack and then fell from the sky. The spider drone must have cut the line and I looked up to see it racing down the wall towards me.

The van screamed to a stop next to me and the side door opened. I took two steps and was in the van and collapsed onto the floor.

I screamed, “As soon as the spider drone is in, go!”

Then I heard the sound of rotors in my hears and Ratface in my head, “Oh, shit. You guys have a problem.”

I looked outside and could see a helicopter gunship flying low to the street and rapidly approaching.

“Kazumi, I’ll draw it off! You grab the launcher and knock it down!” I jumped back out of the van and sprinted across the street away from the van. As I ran, I reached back and pulled the assault rifle from my pack.

When I reached the other side, I ducked into an alley for a little bit of cover, briefly wondered what the hell I was doing, then proceeded to engage a military gunship with a medium assault rifle.

I had a clip of APDS rounds in the gun so there was a chance I’d be able to do some damage. At the very least I’d get their attention and hopefully give Kazumi an opening. I could see my first burst stitch some holes in the fuselage – then the nose of the chopper rotated towards me and the gatling gun mounted there opened up. I ducked back into the alleyway for cover and raised my arms to shield my face from flying debris as the minigun rounds tore shards from the building.

When the thunder stopped, I poked my head back out and sent a couple white phos grenades flying towards the bird from the mini-grenade launcher mounted on my assault rifle. I ducked back behind cover and caught the streak of light from Kazumi’s launch and waited for the explosion of a crashing chopper.

The launcher that we had was really for engaging ground targets. It didn’t have the kind of sensor or maneuver capabilities that you need in a ground to air weapon, but it was all we had. And it was the only thing that I thought might be able to take down the chopper. I waited, but didn’t hear a crash.

Then, I heard Kazumi over the comm mesh, “Shit, I missed. You keep on it, I’ll get the other launcher.”

The launchers we had were single-use models. And we only had two.

I shifted to engage the gunship again and saw that it was not pointed at me anymore. Time to change that. I took careful aim at the rotor housing and motor on top and sent all four of my remaining white phos grenades at it. Then, I started firing three round bursts at the same area.

At least some of my grenades landed and I could see housing catch fire. Then I turned my back on the chopper and sprinted down the alley. I had a feeling that the pilot wouldn’t be bothering with the minigun anymore.

I knew I was right when the building behind me blew up and the blast sent me sprawling. I picked myself up, shook my head, and retrieved the assault rifle that had been blown from my hand. Then I heard an even louder explosion from behind me and Kazumi’s shriek of success.

“We get it?”

“Yeah, boss, we got it.” I could hear the smile in her voice.

“Good, come pick me up and let’s get the frag out of here. I’ll meet you next street over.”

I jogged down the alley and emerged onto the street as the van pulled up. It didn’t stop, just slowed with the door open and I barreled inside. I spent a minute laying on my back there, feeling the adrenaline wash through my system and reveling in the fact that I was still alive.

###

We pulled up to the warehouse where we’d trained before the run. I jumped out and went through the man door, then opened the big rollup so Giles could pull the van through. Once the doors were closed again, I flicked on the overhead lights and looked around the space. I wasn’t entirely surprised to see Price and some Lima corpsec goons there waiting for us.

I had expected to be furious when I saw Price, but I wasn’t. I was just tired. Tired of the politics and tired of the doublecross.

I’d turned off the chameleoskin suit in the van and nodded at Price across the room, “Price. I halfway expected to see you here.”

He nodded back. “Your run was successful I take it?”

I gave him a hard look, “I’m still standing aren’t I?”

“Yes, there is that.”

Kazumi and Giles had gotten out of the van and were standing near it looking on.

“And, where is Franz?” Price asked.

“Who? Oh, your corporate lapdog.” I guess I wasn’t that tired. “He’s in the van, unconscious.”

I looked down at the ground for a moment, collecting myself. “Price, I don’t like you and I’m sure the feeling is mutual, but I thought that we had an understanding. We do a run, get you want you need, you pay us and everyone is happy.”

Price raised an eyebrow, “Isn’t that what happened?”

“No that is not what fucking happened!” I yelled. “You sent a rogue agent along with different objectives. Someone who, at the end of the day, wasn’t a part of the team. You meddled in the dynamics of my team and put all of us at risk! That is completely unacceptable!”

Price feigned ignorance. “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about. You picked the team.”

“Yeah, I picked the team. But I picked from your deck. Believe me, it’s a mistake that I will never make again.” I looked over at Kazumi, “Wake the asshole up so he can give the data to Price and we can get paid and get the hell out of here.”

She nodded and went into the van. I heard the hiss of a chemical injector and then saw Franz fall out of the van, his hands still cuffed behind his back.

“Oops. He slipped.” Kazumi’s voice was syrupy sweet and I turned my head to hide a smile.

Price frowned and gestured for one of his corpsec agents to go help Franz up.

I turned back to Price, “You know, Price, life is not a balance sheet. The ends do not justify the means. You use a team like this and it has consequences.” He rolled his eyes. “Actions have consequences – and sometimes they’re unforeseen.”

I could see an odd twinkle dance in Price’s eye as he nodded, “Yes, actions do have consequences and I agree that they’re not always seen; but I have little to fear from the consequences of this run. After all, it was just a simple data snatch.”

The agent Franz to his feet and he gave Kazumi a dirty look and spit a gobbet of blood at her – the fall must have cut something in his mouth. “Bitch, you better hope I never run into you in a dark alley.”

Kazumi blurred into motion and in an eye blink, she was standing beside Franz, holding a knife to his throat. “I’d better hope?” she purred. “I don’t think so, dog. Go back to your masters and stay away from me.”

Franz paled at her speed and turned to look at me, his mouth opening.

“Don’t. Say. A. Word.” My voice was clipped. “We’re done.”

He shrugged and walked towards Price. I heard the low murmur of conversation and then Price looked back up at me. “It seems that all is in order.” I scoffed at that.

Price shrugged, “In any case, here is your payment.” He tossed me an envelop and I caught it in the air, hearing the clink of credsticks.

I glanced inside and nodded. “Ok, Price. We’re done here.”

“Yes, we are – for now. I must say, I remain impressed by your abilities and by those of your team. I feel confident that we’ll be able to collaborate on future projects. I’ll call you if I ever have need.”

I was torn. Part of me wanted to reject any future jobs out of hand – but the fault didn’t lay entirely with Price. I should have done a better job of vetting Franz. I shouldn’t have brought the rogue player onto my team. And I really hated burning bridges – you gotta eat.

I satisfied myself with a shrug, “Yeah, whatever.” And I turned towards the van.

Price spoke up behind me. “Oh, there is one more thing before you go.”

I paused and looked over my shoulder at him coldly.

He smiled at me, “The suits, the googles, and the beetle drone. All such were merely on loan to you and we do need them back.”

I sighed. I had completely forgotten about that. I gestured to Kazumi and Giles and proceeded to strip off my chameleoskin suit. I left the fabric puddled on the floor and Kazumi and Giles left a similar pile with the beetle drone sitting on top.

Then we all climbed back into the van and left without another word.

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