Dateline: December 29th 2050, 1000 Local Time
The team had just finished interrogating their prisoner, Professor Gregori, when Able – or at least a personality controlling Able – knifed the academic-turned-terrorist in the back, paralyzing him from the neck down. In the ensuing confusion, Saxby fired off a pistol round into the ceiling (which didn’t faze his hardened companions one bit) and triggered a security lockdown in Candyman’s headquarters. Candyman – who had slept through the whole thing up until the alarm because he’d spent the night with his lieutenant Francheska and Doctor Vano – was outraged by what he saw as an infringement on his promised hospitality, even for terrorists, and demanded an explanation.
Now, the team – Candy, Able, Pacoy, Mac, Pitbull and Saxby – have gathered in Candyman’s main room to talk. Saxby sits on the couch, nursing his third (fourth? He lost track) mug of coffee. It’s been a long morning. Pitbull stands upright, a soldier at attention. All he can do to contain his fury. He preemptively sends Candy his footage of the interrogation, which only cuts off after Candy’s demand for lockdown. Pacing back and forth, Mac eventually sets his caff down on a table and manages to still his hands enough to pour a finger or two of whiskey into the mug. To hell with the Bey’s rules… a bit of this ought to set me more upright than a skyscraper. He clutches the mug like a life-raft as he skulks over to a seat and sits down, seeking absolution in the bottom of his coffee.
Candy sits behind a table, not on the couches as one of the crew as is his norm. Desiderium personnel are thick along the walls and the Aequitas herself stands at Candy’s right hand, “So, explain what happened. Just start at the beginning.” Saxby glances around at the others, then fixates on Candy. “The interrogation got-” he searches for the words, “-out of control. We don’t, well, I don’t have the training for this.” Saxby, no stranger to being stopped and frisked by the authorities, raises a suspicious eyebrow at Able. I’m prepared to stand for this, he thinks to himself. Stand for it, and walk out alive.
Pacoy looks annoyed, “Look, Candy – I see where you are coming from, you offered the Professor hospitality, and now he’s a twitching around in a pool of his own blood. But he attacked Saxby, options were slim. Able took things farther than we wanted to, and I understand we need to deal with that, but not like this: We aren’t Desiderium. We don’t work FOR you, we’re supposed to be working WITH you. Partners, not prisoners. Stand Down and let’s work this out as teammates, none of us are going to stand for being treated like this – can’t you see that we have as much face to loose in this situation as you do?” Pacoy reasons, keeping his voice calm and even.
Candy rises his hands palms forward, “I have no intention of treating you like Desiderium, my people are here as a token of safety, nothing more. I just want to hear the facts. This is not a trial.”
Mac manages to nod at Pacoy’s words, staring briefly at his reflection in the black coffee. Damnit, I look like a damned broad – tears? Really? Mac, get your shit together. He casts a glance around the room, looking at each in turn, but skipping over Pitbull and Able when he gets to them. Saxby is suddenly overwhelmed with the situation – private armies, interrogations, headquarters?! What the hell am I doing here? In a moment of clarity, he mutters a now-strange normality to himself “I forgot to ping an invoice to the Bey.”
Pacoy: “Hell, if we can’t play nice in the Grean, maybe Lazarus needs their own HQ, plain and simple. I get that – Hell, I wouldn’t want Able lobotomizing a customer on the show-floor of Aquino Automations. Let’s finish up this job at the Ottoman and we can make a new plan for something like that. Maybe we each put a share of our Ottoman money into a shared asset. I bet it wouldn’t take much to buy something like the Peach Trees in Pacheco, polish it up and bribe some gangers to work as muscle, and set ourselves a neutral base. No pulling rank, no private armies – everything inside would be a group asset. But we need to finish with the Ottoman first. We are supposed to be professionals here.” Pacoy explains.
Able stares down at the barrels of the gundrone, a look of sheer contempt on his face. He turns his frown to Candyman. His voice is filled with a deep sense of foreboding. “Don’t expect to arrest Rossum personnel and get away with it.” Candy takes out a pad of paper and after writing a brief note, passes it to Wolfir, "I certainly do not want to damage our friendship with another one of these incidents. Rather than tarnishing the reputation of Desiderium with such violence, our motto is ““We Sell Death – We Do Not Make It” after all, I believe any further dealings of Lazarus Group need to take place outside the aegis of my personal affairs."
As his words spill into the air, Able’s face suddenly locks up and his eyes roll into the back of his head, rapidly rotating in their sockets. Only moments into the seizure, Able falls to the floor, twitching.
Pitbull growls, and moves Able onto his side. Francheska gestures and two Desiderium personnel with green armbands rush forward, bending over Able and shining a light in his eyes as one helps Pitbull turn him. Able doesn’t respond; his body just twitches, and his eyes barely dilate when the light shines upon them. He remains fully unresponsive.
“Dammit! Able? Are you okay?” Pacoy asks, then curses under his breath. “He’ll be fine. He is not the first Janissary with phrase triggered epilepsy I’ve dealt with. We have to wait it out.” Pitbull growls, deadpan.
Saxby stays on the couch, watching half-interested. His eyes occasionally dart from Able to Candy. Having learned his lesson, he stays frozen.
Saxby manages to crack an admiring smile at Pitbull’s bullshitting. He keeps it to himself. Mac snorts into his coffee. “That’s bunk, Pitbull. You wouldn’t know the ass end of a Janissary if you got kicked out of a creep joint by one.” Pitbull turns, smirking to Mac. “Well, he’s not the first epileptic I have dealt with. PTSD and cyberware mix badly in some people.” Pacoy gets a mental image of the kinds of places Pit has been kicked out of, then shakes his head and takes a look at Able.
Doctor Vano, looking disheveled, rushes into the room in response to a summons comm and heads for Able, opening a large briefcase and pulling out a wand and black box arrangement. She starts passing it over Able, frowning at the readout. “Massive software conflict with his own brain’s neural pattern. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” She begins to prep a syringe.
Candy’s face shows a bit of concern as he spares a glance at Able, “Rather, Able, or whatever/whoever he has become – what are we to do with him? I no longer know who it is, or even what it is, that I work beside. Unknowns are not something that benefits business – like hidden rifts ready to tear the bottom out of our investments. We need to find him help or something – he’s going insane.”
“Know what doesn’t mix badly? Whiskey and coffee. Fingers, anyone?” Mac looks at Candy. “You want something found? I can do it. But I have no idea where to start looking – there’s too much about him I don’t know.” “You_ haven’t pieced that one together in these last few days Mac?” Pacoy asks, honestly surprised. Mac grumbles, “I know what he is, pal, but not who he is. I’ve heard rumors and rumblings about what-ifs and maybes, but that’s not got squat to do with who Able is.” He gets up and pours another finger of whiskey into his mug, not bothering to refresh the coffee.
Candy eases out of his seat and walks towards the group, waving down his guards, “Rossum is a problem, we are not working with a man at this point, but a dangerous puppet. The strings must be cut, make him a man again, or he’s too dangerous.”
Vano bares Able’s arm, “I’m going to try a mild shot of Cortexephrine – it should give his own brain a temporary boost, hopefully strengthening his neural signal enough to reassert control, or re-boot, or whatever…” She trails off as she injects Able. Vano curses under her breath as she monitors Able on her black box. “Damn, nothing!” She begins to prep another shot.
Pitbull looks to Candy. “Lazarus Group and Desiderium don’t have to not be affiliated. It just can’t be public. What has gone down has only happened between us and the Professor. It does not have to leave us.” Candy stops a half dozen steps from the White Lion, “You’re new to this group Saxby, you’re not blinded by several months in the company of our odd group. What are your thoughts?”
Saxby, never one to miss an obvious opportunity, stands and speaks with his in-charge voice. “He’ll be OK. The medics can handle him. Let’s get back to this business of the Lazarus group. What does any of this have to do with me?” “That’s up to you, Sax” Pacoy offers “Kick in an equal share of what the Bey is paying you for this job, and become a partner – or find something else, it’s up to you.” Saxby rubs his chin, thinking a moment. “Well, the Bey is quite generous. I can spare some funds. What’s in it for me?”
Pitbull looks to Saxby. “A home, friends, and a guarantee of a life without boredom!” Pitbull barks with a laugh. Candy smiles, “Well White Lion, a powerful ally. Assets, freedom and a voice.” Pitbull looks at Candy, then back to Saxby. “That too.” He growls, shrugging. Saxby raises his eyebrows and nods at Pitbull, clearly impressed. He then looks back to Candy. “I could live with that.” “And we’ve all got something to pitch in to this. Pacoy can service and modify the drones, Saxby can bolster your internet defenses, I can train your security, etcetera, etcetera…” Pitbull growls, as he lights a cigarette.
Pacoy finally answers Mac, "Well, Mac, I’ve heard plenty of clues about his past in the last few days to get a decent idea where to look.” Pacoy shrugs “That’s your decision, Saxby – a partner is a partner. That’s what’s in it for you.”
Saxby muses aloud, “And all we do is work for the Bey? He’s generous, like I said, but he’s not the most,” he pauses, “upstanding character.” He gestures at Able, still comatose on the floor. “Surely we could be doing better.” He steps back and raises his hands a little. “And I say that as a partner, of course.”
Candy walks back beside the desk and pours a glass of whiskey, “So, I trust we will not have an issue like this again, in my home my word is law – but we will no longer bring Lazarus Group business within my home. Neutral territory, partners, and equal voice. That is the understanding? Oh and the Bey is but one employer – we sell our services to the market and are free to refuse those who work against our agenda should the Group be in agreement.” Pacoy nods, “We’re free agents in this Saxby, the Bey is just a Frequent Customer.” Mac agrees too. “Yeah – I feel like I could dig into him some if I had a spare moment – be useful to know a bit of the truth about who we’re working for, right?” Mac idly looks at his notebook before he glances at the bottom of his mug, empty again. “We all drink out of the same bottle, we all get soused together – I like the sound of that, Candy.” Saxby nods along with them in agreement. “Not that I won’t miss-” he motions his hand towards-nothing. He spins a moment, looking. “Who am I kidding? I won’t miss this place.” He smirks.
Vano leans over Able again, “Let’s try 20cc this time. I’m risking an overdose but…” As Vano presses the needle into Able’s skin, he suddenly goes slack – the twitching stops, his eyes stop rolling around like pingpong balls, and his muscles relax. Vano backs off quickly, “Woah, I almost gave him an overdose! Something’s happening.”
“Well Candy, we can have another spot for this. The Ol’ Toe Nail Tower could be it?” Pitbull suggests through a jet of smoke. "That’s the Plan, Candy. Finish the Job, then make Lazarus it’s own thing.” Pacoy nods. Saxby shakes his head in ignorance at Pitbull. “You guys don’t read the news feeds? Bad shit’s been going down at the Toe Nail. Anywhere safer?”
Able slowly lolls his head over to Vano, his eyes unblinking and out of focus. “Wha?” His voice is slurred, as if he’s been drugged – or he’s working off a massive hangover.
“We kinda already gave the tower to Candy and his people. I say we move on to greener pastures.” Pacoy points out. Candy shakes his head, “Sorry Pit, it needs to be outside my business, where I am not the Pater of Desiderium. We will need to find a new home for our little club. Too bad, Mons Ferrum is really coming along.” Candy cocks his head, “However, it might be possible to arrange something. Stockholders in Desiderium so we can make use of Desiderium assets for Lazarus Group business – not employee’s but renters or a form of co-owners. If you would be interested in such an arrangement, otherwise I fear we will need to look into some real estate.” Pitbull laughs at Saxby. “We were the ‘bad shit’. We cleaned them out, and it is now part of Des’.” Saxby nods and purses his lips. “I see.”
Mac looks over at Able before pouring a stiff drink and bringing it over to Able, kneeling down. “Look, Palooka. You feeling better? You scared the shit out of me with that knife of yours – don’t do that again and we’re friends, silk?” He holds the glass of whiskey out as a gesture of friendship.
Vano reads off her black box, “His neural firings are within the safe range again, and there’s no sign of software conflict. He’s going to be OK, but I wish I knew what caused that. Able, what’s the last thing you remember?”
Saxby walks over and kneels in front of Able. “You knifed our suspect. Not before I got some useful info out of him, though.” He pats his shoulder. “Better luck next time.” He stands and heads back over to the group, still hoping they’ve mostly forgotten about the near-death experience from an hour ago. “Where are you thinking?” he asks Candy. Mac shrugs. “I’ve got an office we can use if we need – it’s not big, but it’s good enough for puzzling out cases in.” Pitbull tilts his head, then shakes it. “Nah. It’s have to be real estate. Wha’bout the tower place that we were at? The one with Whirlwind? We could have, like, an office and shit up there?” Pitbull growls, putting on his thinking cap. “Real estate is a good option. Clean up a Hab, show the local talent we’re the real-deal, set up something we can all get behind. Something that’s ours.” Pacoy answers. “We wouldn’t have to worry about the security, because Whirlwind would be covering our asses for us.” Pitbull growls, adding to his statement. “Yeah, Pit,” Pacoy starts “But we get into some shady stuff that we kinda don’t want someone else’s private army privy to…” “And we will sweep it for bug, nightly if we have to. They’ll only know where we are, and that’s the point. If someone wants to get a hold of us for a mission, we’re at that Tower place, y’know?” Pitbull replies.
Able looks at Vano, his mind taking a moment to process what she just said. “I was standing at the door in front of the Professor’s room. We were about to start the interrogation. Then… nothing. I have a complete blank spot for the next two hours, sixteen minutes, and eighteen seconds. Rossum must have wiped my memory again, but… why did I wake up here, rather than back at Control?” Able pushes himself up, leaning on his arms as his eyes begin to focus and he looks around the room. “What happened? How did I get here?” Vano blinks, “I have no blessed clue, Able. If I could get you in my lab, with my full diagnostic suite, then maybe…”
Mac looks down at Able. “…wait, you can’t remember? What?” Mac looks surprised and confused. “You were puppeted, or hacked if you will, brah.” Pitbull says nonchalantly through a plume of smoke. Able sits up, looking at Pitbull. “I was told that wasn’t possible.” He frowns. “Though it would explain why all my implant recordings have been wiped. Even if I’m asleep, my BiOS tracks my heartbeat and other vital signs, recording a full log. Now, I just have a complete blank spot for that entire period.”
Candy sits back at the table, “I’m thinking – life is about to get a lot harder Saxby. My time is already limited – now jumping between my job here and whatever Lazarus Group is becoming – it’s troublesome. I got into this side gig to help Desiderium, now its only pulling my people into the sights of Rossum and threatening to pull me away from my work. It’s very troublesome, but I need skilled people like you all to grow. Then I get back to the division between Desiderium and Lazarus and I don’t know, Saxby.” Saxby nods, not understanding completely. “I can deal with it getting more difficult. As for your business-” he looks around. “Seems like it’s humming along OK for now.”
Pacoy is still thinking about Pitbull’s idea: “And when we snatch another geek under Whirlwind protection like from DreamWorks, and bring him home?” Pacoy raises his eyebrows. Mac flips open his pocketwatch as he sets his cup down, flicking over his audio recordings to Able with an idle motion from his shaking hands. “Wait, Pacoy, we’re snatching another geek? I thought we had you, and that was enough?” “Hell, Mac, You can’t call me team geek with this guy here!” Pacoy smiles and jerks a thumb towards Saxby.
“I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t shit where I eat. If we need to deal with Whirlwind, we will in our own time, just not while we’re borrowing an office on their watch and dime.” Pitbull grates as he flicks the ash from his cigarette. “We can turn down missions, right?” Pitbull adds. “….Pit… dealing with prisoners is 100% the reason we are having this discussion!” Pacoy points out.
Saxby continues, “we set up a fake office somewhere downtown. A phone recorder and a sign is all it needs. Ourselves, we can set up down by the Pacheco Habs and Buchanan Airport. I know some rental hangars down there. Shady as all hell, but no questions asked.” Saxby’s computer is already querying the industrial park for vacancies. “We could be in-” the results stream in. “Two days, tops.” Candy nods without much energy, “Yes, but I did not get into Lazarus to play hero. I got into it to bring talent to the table – looking like a failed investment. Not sure what Lazarus is offering Desiderium at this point, and that’s my chief concern. Beyond these threats from Rossum – I certainly can’t afford that.” Able nods to Mac, frowning as he reviews the recording. He goes silent for a while as he catches himself up.
Vano stands and walks over to Candy, kissing him on the cheek then wrapping an arm around Francheska’s waist. “Able, if you can ever shake loose enough to let me run some diagnostics, I maybe can help some. Candy-hon? Those flasks? One is the bacteria that produces ANSFO, the other is a tailored algae that produces a bactericide specific to that bacteria.” Candy nods and rubs sleep weary eyes, “Thanks Mrs. Vano. I appreciate your coming here tonight more than you could know – your gifts were most appreciated.”
“Candy, The Des has a lot to gain: Lazarus can field things Des can’t touch. It’s a source of secondary information and income. You get to scout talent and opportunities without putting the children in harms way. It can be your buffer.” Pacoy explains.
Mac starts laughing, the whiskey obviously getting him, spreading red roses across his cheeks like a post-dawn sunrise. “Nah, he’s our ‘newbie nerd’, in the parlance of his people.” He looks at Candy. “I think that you’ve got a lot to offer – you’ve got the sort of business acumen that belies a lot more knowledge and experience than the upstart gang leader that the news feeds so commonly portray you as. None of us have got that – I sure as heck don’t. I’m good at taking apart business deals with blackmail, not setting them up. Buffer – that’s a good word. Keen on that, Pac.” Mac grins.
Able’s face goes deeper and deeper into a frown as he listens to the material, hearing what occurred. When it reaches the point where the team is talking about how Able altered Gregori’s mind, Able’s hands curl into fists and he looks ready to punch something. As he finishes the review – quick, and aided by his implant turning the audio recording into a transcript – he turns to Vano. “I’m not sure I’ll be able to take you up on that, but I’m more and more beginning to suspect that it might be a good idea.”
Saxby queues up a few quick transactions with the industrial park. “We’ve got a reserve. I assume you’re footing the down payment, Candy?” Because that’s what I just did he thinks to himself. “Best Compromise: We get a hab as a headquarters, clean it up and trick it out. Saxby keeps the records clear, handles Net Security, Pit, Mac and myself handle our various specialties of physical security, Candy handles the money and the people. Then we set up a legit office for Lazarus, Right up Mac’s alley.” Pitbull’s eyebrows furrow as he hears Pacoy’s suggestion. “Are you suggesting Mac be a receptionist?” “HA! No, Pit, Our Detective.” Pacoy smiles. A tiny giggle escapes from Mac’s throat as he looks at Pacoy and Pitbull. His hand flies up to his mouth with an audible snap, then his laughter starts spilling out in hearty guffaws. “You’ve reached the Lazarus Group, how may I direct your call?”
Candy straightens back up, “A buffer is useful, a very good point Pacoy. As far as this talent – what do you mean by that. What happens if Desiderium needs to hire Lazarus? I suppose the best thing is to ride it out awhile – see how it all pans out. I don’t know how Lazarus Group is going to help Desiderium, but I’m willing to give it some time to find out.” “Hey, you never know what you might need done, Candy. Any means necessary to ensure Desiderium continues what it does.” Pitbull growls with a shrug as he stubs his cigarette out in his coffee mug.
Able picks himself off the floor; his legs are still a little shaky, but he has control. He turns to Candyman and the others. His voice is clipped, with an undertone of something quite foreign to Able’s normal speech patterns – fear. “I don’t know what happened in there. I didn’t trigger that personality shift; I don’t even have a personality like that stored in the databanks I can access! What he – what I – did in there… it was almost like seeing a Janissary being created. His mind altered, shifted to a new set of beliefs…”
Candy raises an eyebrow at Pitbull, “The intent is to hire more people into Lazarus? Are we growing the Group into a full blown service industry?” Saxby clears his throat. “Well, speaking of service industry. You just founded a business, Pure Pride Personnel, based down by the airport. Congratulations, Mr. President.” He grins at Candy. Candy snaps his fingers, “Your suggesting some form of lateral monopoly, we take the jobs and can supply our own arms in-house and everything is supplied by sub organizations.”
Pitbull starts listening in on Able, brows furrowing for the second time for a different reason. “Abe? What’s up?” Mac looks over at Able, his smile disappearing as quickly as it came. “It wasn’t you in there – I thought as much. You’d not do any of that. Not the Able I know. You mean, it was that guy who did this to you?” Saxby pats Candy on the shoulder, then turns to see what Pitbull is doing. “Is he OK,” he asks, referring to Able. “I don’t know…” Pitbull mutters his reply to Saxby.
Downing the last of the whisky, Candy turns to the source of the problems, “I don’t know. Rossum is seriously starting to piss me off with this shit. They are not paying Lazarus Group and they are trespassing their authority on my turf. The faster Able gets off the Corp’s noose the better, but I’ve already warned him once.” “I’ve got my own beef with Rossum – you can’t treat humans this way. It’s not right. Able, if you want me to do anything to help you shake them, buy off your debt, you chat at me and I’ll help you out however I can, yeah?” Mac frowns.
Francheska touches Candy’s shoulder gently and shakes her head, “With all respect, Pater, you can’t warn someone who isn’t in full control of his own actions and expect it to stick – but he’s a real operator. We need to find a solution to his problems, not warn him.”
Pitbull steps over to Able. “I will help however I can. You should be your own master.” Mac nods at Pitbull in solidarity. Able slowly shakes his head to Mac as he leans back onto the wall. “I don’t know, Mac. I don’t know – but the methods… there are similarities.”
Able looks down when Mac mentions his debt. “The price of a Janissaries contract is out of my price range, Mac. They don’t intend for us to buy ourselves out of service.”
Candyman sets his empty glass down, “We have some prisoners, people fighting the corps, to deal with. I wanted to know how Gregori knew about my past. The others, without the head they are no danger. Gregori would be best served with a quick and permanent escape from this tormented reality – I for one see him as something of a patriot. Let his death pay for the freedom of the others – there’s been enough death and its not part of the job either way.” Saxby turns to Candy. “That’s easy. Gregori was no old fart, he knew his way around the net. Even I could find your file with enough time. Gregori had- who knows how long.”
Francheska looks to the other Lazarus members, “he’s your company’s prisoner, not Desiderium’s. Pater has spoken, do you all agree?”
Mac looks at Able. “Can’t buy your way out? Alright – then we can go at it another way. I’ll dig so deep into your employers’ past, find something so black that they can’t let it out into the light. And you’ll have your freedom.” He turns his head to Candy. “I can’t abide by murder – I’d see him answer for his crimes, but I can’t stand against all of you if that’s how you’d like it to play out.”
Saxby shakes his head. “He’s got more info in that crazy head of his. Let him rot for now, we’ve got more work to do. The Bey, for one, still owes me-” He pauses, realizing his situation has changed. “He owes us some money.”
Candy looks to Mac, “His purpose matters far more to him than his life. I would not turn him upon his own legacy. Let him die in peace, knowing he saved the souls of his allies. I know what would happen to him if the courts got him – he’d end up just like Able – a pet on a corp’s leash.”
“What they will do to him will be inhumane. He will be tortured and ghosted. It will not sit well on my conscience to sign a man off to a fate worse than death.” Pitbull growls.
Able shakes his head. “You misunderstood. It is possible to purchase my contract – it’s the only solution likely to work permanently – but the price – that’s outside my range. Even if I saved every cent on every job I went on for Rossum, I couldn’t make enough.” Able sighs as he leans back. I’ve heard of other Janissaries who have managed it, but it was all due to some great stroke of luck. The Janissary who won the lottery – that happened once, before we were officially designated as non-citizens and ineligible to play the lottery."
“…if that’s the case, give me a number. I’ll save the majority of every paycheck I get to put towards paying your way to freedom. I don’t have much in the way of expenses – being a private dick isn’t a very cost-heavy enterprise. I was looking for something to invest in outside of Lazarus anyway.” Mac shrugs. “Whatever you lot want to do with Gregori will suffice – I doubt the NCPD would torture him, but I can see I’m outnumbered there.” Mac shrugs and leans back against the wall, letting the whiskey run through his system.
Able looks up at Pitbull and Candyman. “I think I, better than any of you, know what will happen to him if he is brought in alive. What he said in there – that I was the pilot of the Ad Astra, the ‘greatest mass murderer of our generation’ (that’s how the media played it back then) – I’ve thought it might be the case, even before this. Couldn’t prove anything. I was in the first batch of production-model Janissaries.”
Saxby pings an invoice to the Bey, notifying him that he’s now officially under contract with the Edgerunners. We’ll be over to collect fees and pay our respect for this endeavor soon. “Let’s go,” he says to the group. “The Bey is expecting us.”
Candy stands, “Able knows what happened to Gregori, Rossum is working with the Bey, they know and could send another agent to finish what they had Able doing. We need to at least kill Gregori before we leave – his body can sit in the freezer till we get back.”
Saxby shakes his head, frustrated. “Listen to yourselves. A quick murder of an old disabled man before we head to our business lunch. We’re smarter than this, leave him alone for now.”
Able slowly slides down the wall, sitting down on the floor. “When you’re turned over to Rossum for a Death of Personality, they remove every trace of your previous life. My skin was removed, replaced with a biosynthetic – I don’t know if that was for medical reasons or to eliminate my identity, my fingerprints, handprint. They wipe your mind – drugs, electrical brain stimulation, and high-grade neural implants and prosthetics. They then build you a new personality, starting with a ‘blank’ and slowly stacking new bits and pieces on.”
Pitbull nods. “I’ll kill Gregori while you guys settle in the van. I’ll meet you there.” Candy nods to Pitbull, “Thanks for doing the dirty work Pitbull – no one deserves what would be in store for him.” Pacoy nods, than gathers his gear and loads the van.
Pitbull stalks out of the room, racking his Urban Fox as he does so. Francheska nods, and follows Pitbull. “I’ll ensure the rest are released somewhere safe for them.”
Able speaks to the air, “You never know what got you into this position. You can guess, but you can never be certain. Your memories are gone – a complete blank slate, and you wake up in a Rossum indoctrination crèche. Some of your old likes, old habits, might shine through your new personality, but it’s buried deep. And for the rest of your life, you serve your sentence – every day, knowing that you aren’t your own man. The law treats you the same as it would a pet dog; I mentioned how a Janissary won his freedom through the lottery once. That can’t happen now – we can’t even play the lottery or legally gamble at most casinos.” He turns his eyes on Saxby and Mac. “If you want to condemn the man to that, go ahead and send him in alive for trial. But know this: I would have preferred the bullet.” He gets up and walks out the door, head down as he heads to the van.
Saxby throws up his hands, looking pleadingly at Candy. “This is how you do business? Something inconvenient and you just kill him? Why not him-” He points directly at Able. “Why don’t you put him down like a dog, too? He tried to nade us.”
Candy looks at Saxby confused, “I’m doing my best to save Gregori!”
Saxby glowers, “How about me? I discharged a firearm in your home.” He steps up to Candy. “Gonna execute me, too? Or rather, have Pitbull do it for you?”
Mac curses, “Shit – I can’t do what they did to Able to anyone else – If I did, I’d be no better than Rossum.” Mac goes to spit, then catches himself as he’s indoors. “I can’t make that choice. It’s up to you lot what you want done with him.” Mac slinks out the door, wishing that the whiskey would do something to make him feel less dour about the whole situation.
Pacoy’s hand slides to his holster, mostly unconsciously. “Listen Sax – That’s enough of that. Able has issues, this guy is a vegetable awaiting a face worse than death. I didn’t want to kill him, but now that he’s broccoli, it’s our most humane option.”
Candyman won’t back down from the new guy, “What? No, but if I send him off with his crew the Bey will kill all of us. I’m trying to respect his wishes. What would you have me do?” Saxby glares. “Just hold him for now. That’s all. I’ll pay for his expenses if it comes down to it.”
A single gunshot echoes down the corridors.
Saxby shuts his eyes at the sound. He opens them again at Candy. "I see how you run things now, “Pater,” he spits, dripping with venom. “Never become a liability,” he says, both as a statement and warning. Candy reaches out an arm to Saxby, “I wish we could have saved him – he was a great man who wanted to help this sick world. But the dragons beat their wings at our backs and this is the best we could do for him.”
Pitbull marches back in, Francheska closely behind. “I wouldn’t liken that to putting down Old’ Yeller, but I would have to say I did him a favor.” Pitbull growls, as he holsters his Fox.
Pitbull furrows his brows as he sees Candy and Saxby in a tense situation. “What’s up?” Saxby spins toward Pitbull, mockingly wiping his hands. “Nothing’s up. Problem’s solved now.”
Francheska takes one step towards Saxby, then stops herself. “Just don’t – you have no idea how to play in the big leagues, but you better wise up fast.” Saxby snaps toward Francheska. “You’re right, not sure I have enough bullets to be wise.”
Candy’s face is hard as he turns from Saxby, “I hate the Corps, if we can do something to take them down, I’m on board for anything Lazarus Group has.” Candy waves his Wolf off, “No, I want Saxby to remain pure. We need to conform the world to people like him – it’s grown too damned hard. I really am sorry Saxby.”
Old Yeller, Great Man, Pacoy tries to mesh these terms with the psychotic creepy terrorist nutjob that tried to blow up a casino filled with old ladies and service employees, then sighs.
Saxby shakes it off and crashes down onto the couch, rubbing his chin. “It doesn’t matter. It’s over.” “Look, kid, his only options really were death, worse than death, or a vegetable. He would not have wanted to go virtual due to the Llergir-Llogoer-whatever.” Pitbull growls, trying to be supportive. “This was for the best. Just sorry that this had to be the option.” Pitbull adds, putting a hand on his shoulder. Saxby sits quietly. He turns and looks at Pitbull’s hand, his entire view of him turned upside down. He doesn’t brush it off, though. He nods at Pitbull. “We’ll see.” “For perspective, I’ve killed many people, but I’ve let nine people go to the fate he has avoided. Trust me. This is better.” Pitbull says in a low baritone. He reaches into his coat and pulls out his cigarette pack. “Smoke?” As he yanks one out. Saxby manages a smile and reaches for a cigarette with a shaking hand. “Yeah, thanks.” He lights it and takes a ferocious drag. He exhales and stares down at his feet, still coming to grips with what just happened. Pitbull pats Saxby on his shoulder before lighting one of his own.
Candy raises his voice to all in the room, “We could have made a stand here. Stood against the people who have forced so many into lives in the streets – into drugs and despair. We could have stood with Gregori. That would have been the wrong choice! It would have been a waste of lives – a forgotten sacrifice. To fight dragons you must become a dragon! Desiderium, to fulfill the longing, we will give humanity what it desires in time! That is why we are here – we sup upon the tit of the Dragon to become the dragon and caste it down from on high!” As Candy leaves, his Desiderium family begin to talk excitedly about the new life mission their Pater has given them.
Outside, Able leans against the van, watching Mac come out of the Desiderium base. He doesn’t meet the other man’s eyes, remaining silent up until Mac is standing next to him. “I want to thank you for what you offered in there. I don’t- nobody’s done anything like that for me before – at least, not since I’ve become-” Able motions down at himself “-this. I don’t know if your offer was serious – I suspect it was – and I don’t think it would put a dent in my debt, not even over the long run. But thank you.”
Pitbull walks next to Saxby, smoking his cigarette as he soldiers his way down to the van. Saxby trudges along in silence, unable to look directly at his new compatriots. He hops into the van and sits in the back, staring quietly out the window. Pacoy waits in the van, and sighs. We are supposed to be doing a job… Candy comes down last – glowing with new purpose as he slides into the van.
Mac laughs. “Able, I’d sell the shirt off my back if it’d help you buy your freedom. I think you’re a straight shooter, and I’m convinced you don’t deserve what happened to you. No man does. But if you’ll take my aid, I’m happy enough to render it. For what it’s worth, about that Ad Astra nonsense? It doesn’t matter to me what happened there, but I don’t think you were involved. Seems a bit contrived to me – a lack of a coherent investigation… if Gregori was talking about you, I think you might have been framed. And I can’t abide that sort of injustice.” He puts a hand on Able’s shoulder. “I’ll take care of you as best I can, you count on that, bo. Doesn’t matter if I don’t dent that debt alone, but together, we might.” He climbs into the van, feeling a strange sense of calm wash over him. I wish the right thing were so easy to do all the time. But then it wouldn’t be as rewarding.
Fade Scene – Ottoman Hotel 10.30 local time.
The mighty Ottoman is humming as the hotel gears up for the third auction session, crowded with the rich, famous and those just there to watch or to gamble. The elevator whisks you up to the main theatre floor as Glitterati fill the auditorium and Augustin Hathaway takes the podium.
Mac takes up his position to watch the proceedings, wobbling only a little bit as he feels the fingers of whiskey crawling up his spine. Able moves into position, a stony look appearing on his face as he tries to shift his mind back to the business at hand. Pitbull, feeling the discomfort that he had to leave his Reaper in the van, walks through the crowd with trepidation. There’s that RPG wielding maniac feeling again… Pacoy sets up his gear and takes his position. Back to being Monks at Marti Gras, I can’t believe this hell is actually seeming better than what I did on my off time! Saxby plops down next to Pitbull, still uncomfortable but lightening up with the new surroundings. He glances around, eyeing the celebrities.
Hathaway stops, frozen for just a second, then steps away from the podium entirely and speaks loudly enough to carry, “Good evening, ladies and genitalmen! We have a change to our published program tonight! Instead of a boring auction, we have…me, Tonker Tinkerbelle!” he begins to dance to unheard music and strip his clothes off. The entire room halts in stunned disbelief as Veracity Blaize and her cameraman zero in on his antics.
Able’s attention twinges at the term ‘genital-men’, but his first belief is that he misheard it. When Hathaway starts removing his clothes, however, he becomes quite set in the belief that he did, in fact, hear it right. Pitbull’s eyebrows furrow for the fourth time that day. “Wow… I’d be lyin’ if I said I were expecting that…” Mac murmurs to his comrades. “Saxby, did you hack the announcer? I think we’ve got to sort this out, before it gets worse and ruins the Bey’s reputation…” “$50 says this is our job of the day fellows” Pacoy comms.
Saxby spins in his seat to the show at the podium. “Um,” he looks to Pitbull, then back to Hathaway. Candy hides his smile, “Looks like a brain hack – somehow.” Candy looks away in mock disgust and heads towards the elevator and the security sector. As Candy leaves, he sees the elevator close on a severe looking woman and her personal security team.
Able strides onto the stage, taking off his coat and using it to cover up the naked man as he attempts to escort him off the stage. As he moves, he indicates for someone – anyone – to take over Hathaway’s place and speak to the crowd.
Saxby bolts to his feet and cheers. “Man, they always keep us guessing, am I right?” He applauds. “What a show!” He quickly texts his team. “Get him in a back room, I’ll look at him,” then lets out a big belly laugh, then slaps the shoulder of a nearby celebrity. “Hah! The Bey knows a good show when he sees it!” Pitbull’s eyebrows refurrow. “It’s not part of the show? Marid, is this part of the show? This… strip?” Pitbull questions.
Hathaway struggles in Able’s grip, unsuccessfully, then begins to sing “The Sound Of Music” at the top of his lungs. Able’s grip tightens as he struggles to get Hathaway off the stage without just tranqing him.
Candy comms to Marid, “Hathaway just got hacked or something – slow this elevator down if you could. Going to question a witness.” as he rushes into another elevator and, “put me on her floor Marid.”
Mac heads up to the stage, sending a query to Marid to see if he can live-stream the auction bid to his HUD and help him out then leaps up to the podium, a big smile on his face, his arms spread wide. “What, no takers? Not even one bid? Not surprising – that’s priceless, that’s what that is. Lets see if we can’t start the bidding off on the next item with as much energy and vigor, shall we?”
Marid’s voice comes on three separate channels “Candyman, that was the Umbra VP for Night City and her entourage. I’m stopping their elevator two floors up.” Mac, yes I can cue visrec on bids and keep a running display for your HUD." “Pitbull, No it isn’t.”
Pitbull immediately stands and stomps to help Able with Hathaway. Pacoy races to another elevator, to meet the VP 2 floors up, with a kestrel called in for backup.
The audience applauds Saxby and Mac and settle back into their seats with a murmur of conversation and grins on their faces. Marid throws up the next lot in Mac’s HUD – a Rolls Royce AV which once belonged to a European sensie star. Saxby continues applauding and laughing, slinking off to the side of the room. He slips out and heads around to try and meet up with Able. He comms to the team. “If it’s his on-board, I can find it. Does anyone know if he runs any AI?” He turns a corner and sees Able with Hathaway. He points to a side room. “In there.” Able struggles the singing man into place, stuffing a napkin in his mouth to quiet him down. He turns to Saxby. “I didn’t want him going unconscious; we need to trace what happened to him. Is this anything like what-” Able hesitates for a moment. “-I did to Gregori?”
Mac begins running the auction at full steam, putting as much energy and vim into it as a floozie in a flophouse, counting on the whiskey to keep him loose. When I got out of bed this morning, the Last thing I thought I’d be doing would be auctioning off things worth more than everything I own. He channels some old classic car auctioneers from his neighborhood, offering the patrons a chance at a truly unique ride.
Pacoy closes in on the stalled elevator, Vortexo! and kestrel at the ready. “Damn, Guys – Remember Garrion’s bug? Could this be an Umbra switch-flipping?” Pacoy says into the comms as the idea bursts into his mind.
Augustin, poor fellow, still struggles feebly against Able’s grip but is a frail older man beneath his panache. Pitbull stalks in behind Saxby and Able. “What’s goin’ on?” Saxby stares intently at Hathaway, his cpu’s sniffing software immediately locking onto the old man. “Got him, now let me see what’s going on in here.”
Saxby mutters to himself, his eyes darting from side to side as he reads unseen command line feeds. “Umbra BioGenius. Jeez, expensive.” He scans for the hack. “Hmm.” The results stream in. “A-ha! Backdoor, right here.” He points at thin air. “Feedback loop. Poor guy thinks he’s hopped up on something fierce.” Saxby grins. “Love this Umbra OS. So easy.” He inputs a few commands, slamming the backdoor shut. He purses his lips, scanning the hack itself. “Loop’s going through here and-” again, he points at nothing, drawing unintelligible shapes with his finger. “Ah, I see it.” He interrupts the feedback loop. He bites his bottom lip. “Don’t know how to patch this new build. Maybe here?” He inputs a few commands, to no avail. He stops staring into space and looks at Able. “He’s OK for now. I don’t know how to lock this though. Nothing permanent.” Able nods, frowning. “An associate of ours told us Umbra built backdoors into their neural implants; I wouldn’t be surprised if the backdoor is hardwired.”
Candy comms Marid as the elevator dings, “Marid, I need to speak to the Bey now, we have reason to believe Hathaway has been hacked by Umbra.” The elevator opens and Candy and Pacoy find themselves looking at the business ends of three pistols wielded by stony-faced PRT suits. The icy woman behind them says, “Get out of my way if you want to live.”
Candy stiffens with authority, “We are agents of the Bey. Threatening security staff is beyond the authority of your VIP status, I’m afraid we’re going to need to take you to the security station.”
Ding another elevator opens and two naked women step out, and walk towards Candy and Pacoy. The younger breathes “We’re soooo hot, can you help?” and looks sultrily at them both.
Candyman: Candy moves to quickly draw his Prowler and monoblade, “Umbra personnel, you’re under arrest for suspicion of foul play – put down your weapons and come with us. Hotel Security has been informed that you’re not to leave the premises.”
Able looks down at Hathaway, a frown set in his face; his eyes lie upon the auctioneer, but his mind is several miles and four hours away. I did that to Gregori? What the hell is going on? Why would a Rossum agent suddenly have mind-altering capabilities the very same day someone brainhacks the Grey Auctioneer? What is going on here? Saxby nods earnestly, "Well that explains why I couldn’t compile my fix, wouldn’t proc the script even with- " He stops when he hears Candy over the comms. “Uh oh.” Pitbull stiffens as he hears the comms, and begins stomping his way to the elevators.
The Umbra bodyguards see Candy go for his weapons. Their boss, Valerie Aldridge, barks a single word “shoot!”
To be continued….