Tuesday, February 28, 2051
In the whispering winds of the badlands, a giant beast makes its way home, both rejoicing in conquest and licking the wounds of inevitable defeat. The beast, burdened by the trophies strapped to its back, travels at a slow pace through the deserted wastelands, avoding the excitement and danger of the more populated regions for the route less traveled.
In the beasts belly sits a small group of warriors and poets, huddled together as if for warmth before a fire. Before them plays an image depicting the last day of the Enigma. In the center lies Seranya – now and for the last two days unconcious, lying in the beast’s maw – as she seems to commune with her Mother, the bright white light of the illusory woman holding her head as the fireballs leap out of the tank all around her.
Eris turns to the others as they look on upon the looping image in her record. “I can’t say I’m sad we got out of there when we did, but I wish we knew what happened in there. When we got back and it was just… deserted – it feels like a cop-out. Or a terribly annoying cliffhanger.” She gives a predatory smile. “But my audience’ll love it. They always enjoy a good cliffhanger ending.”
Wormwood turns in his chair, his habitual “shotgun” seat next to Pitbull, and stares hard at Eris. “Yeah, we’ve been meaning to talk about that…what exactly do you intend telling your audience?” Mac gently pats Seranya’s hand, clasped between both of his. “An excellent question, Wormwood. I have often found myself wondering the same thing. There are certain elements of our excursion that would best go… untold.”
Pacoy looks up from fidgeting with the incomplete Mac-bot and mutters “We’ll want to negotiate contracts based on box-office numbers before agreeing to a sequel.” Pitbull takes a long, hard drag off of his cigarette as he steers the metal behemoth around more wreckage and over twisted garbage. Mac grins at Pacoy. “And we’ll need some stunt doubles. This mug ain’t quite as durable as it should be. A few of ’em for Worm, too.” Unable to hold it in, a wicked grin spreads across Pacoy’s face “Working on a stunt double for you as we speak, pal!” He pats the partial robo-skeletal heap laying across his lap.
Eris shrugs. “Well, what would you prefer to remain untold? If it’s not anything major, we can probably work something out. But I do have my journalistic integrity to think about – and footage of that attack is either going to get me a Pulitzer or someone else a nice spade in the eye.” Pacoy thinks of putting Eris’s option to a vote, but holds his tongue. “And I would like a gun. A bigger one. And I would like my own assistant to light my cigarette while I’m driving.” Pitbull growls, as he swerves around the remains of a Chevy Cheyenne.
Wormwood grimaces, “I’d prefer anything about Mac here being a sentient volitional A.I. was left out, or anything about Siri absorbing Momma Dearest, if that’s what she did. Other than that – hey, I’m OK about you outing me as the Lipstick Stalker some more. I have plans.” He smiles enigmatically.
Mac rolls his eyes. “That’s what Wormwood is for, Pitbull! That’s why it’s called the ‘shotgun’ position after all.” He looks to Pacoy with the skeleton across his lap and shivers as though having an out-of-body experience. He turns back to Eris. “There is some context to that footage best left on the cutting room floor. The core machine in that place… the information that was shared… that information must not be broadcast.” He winces at Wormwood’s language, frowning inwardly. “Stings a little bit when you put it that way, Worm. I know it’s true, but… I have feelings, yaknow?” “I gotta agree with Wormwood. I’d say leave Mac’s… ummm… situation out, or at least bleep out his name or some shit. Either way, none of us want him fucked with.” Pitbull growls, continuing on his bee-line through the jagged terrain.
Eris frowns. “I don’t know about that, guys. Him and his ‘brothers’ being sentient, fully volitional AIs is kinda big news in itself – and it really beefs up the whole ‘attack on the headquarters of the nefarious Enigma 23 terrorist group’ angle.” Wormwood nods. “I think we’d be alright with his brothers being mentioned as AI, but Mac doesn’t need that kind of heat. Every megacorp in the world would want to take him apart under an electron microscope.” Mac winces as he looks at his brother’s corpse sprawled over Pacoy’s lap. “My brothers… I do not think they are around anymore to face the scrutiny. If you could… omit that I escaped, and who birthed them… if you could do that, I would be in your debt.”
Wormie hesitates for a second before speaking. “Tell you what, leave him and Siri out and I’ll give you the exclusive Lipstick Stalker interview I was going to give Veracity Blaize to sweeten your end of the deal.” Mac looks up front at Wormwood. “You sure about that, buddy? That’ll cause some fallout for sure.” Wormie nods. “I’m already wanted by the NCPD, Mac. I can’t go home, not for a while at least. It’s cool, I can duck and cover then come back later after I make some changes.”
Eris looks at Wormwood seriously. “Are you sure about that, Randall? That’s a pretty serious thing for you.” Mac sends a silent burst transmission to Wormwood’s HUD; “I’m not entirely comfortable with you taking this much risk on my behalf, bo.” Pacoy thinks of the rating to be had by a reality special about a pair of androids that realize they are volitional AI pawns of a would-be digital deity vs. an exclusive interview with the city’s biggest pervert. Not trusting Eris on this call for sure.
Wormie stares back at Eris. “Listen, I think it’s all about the audience numbers for you, and the power that gives you. This is better than ther alternative deal, trust us. I planned to fake my death anyway, so how about we do a little play-acting where I kidnap you all stalker style then ‘kill’ myself in front of you? The ratings would be through the roof, surely.”
Pitbull swerves around another slab of vehicle wreckage, make and model not readily visible but certain that it was once a some form of farm truck.
Wormie grins again like his old self, “And if you thought about double-crossing me, remember my friends have already proven themselves able to solve problems even against what seem impossible odds….”
Eris stays silent a moment, then nods. “Alright. I think I can work with that. I don’t want you to tell me what you plan on doing or when you plan on doing it; sensies are best if some of the emotions are real. But that should work out fine for me.” A smile spreads across her face. “I can just see the headlines now. I’m gonna be a fucking star.” Wormwood simply nods. “We have a deal, then. I’ll be in touch.”
Pitbull veers onto a clear patch of road before turning around to Eris. “Besides, I know that the showdown with my ex-Sergeant has to be a season highlight. Shit, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were the best series of Edgerunners you’ve done now.” Pitbull grates with a shit-eating grin. She smiles back at Pitbull. “I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how it goes, Pitbull.” She looks down at the time display in her retinal HUD. “Hey, how long to the rendeavouz, Pit? I thought we’d be there by now.” “We got just a little more to go. All this driving around wrecked shit kinda consumes time.” Pitbull growls back to Eris. He stretches and yawns in his seat. “God, I know it’s only been ten days, but it feels like we’ve been out here for months.”
Mac’s eyes snap onto Eris, taking minute measurements as his brain (or what passes for one, he idly muses) compares her movements to a vast database of humanity. He winces, sensing the elation in her voice at wanting to be subjected to Wormwood’s special brand of attention. A brief smile flashes across his face, followed a more broad grin. “A starlet indeed, doll. Ya’ know, not too often that you get to witness the making of a star, right boys? See, there once was this broad who got it into her head that she was going to be the biggest singer in all of old New York, and she paid the club owners a wagonload of cold hard green. She rose to the top alright, but she never forgot to smile on the men who got her there.” He taps the side of his temple meaningfully as he looks at her. “After all, they were there when the deals were made, and they had some protection of their own, just in case her memory got a little foggy.”
As the metal beast, overburdened by the load of trophies strapped to its back, begins to crest the hill, a sudden wind blows strongly upon its surface. Trophies begin rattling and shaking, and the roar of a thousand lions baying for blood greets the ears of the passengers. A bird, the size of which nearly dwarfs the beast itself, rises above the hill, its crystal canopy facing squarely into the eyes of the beast.
The vertol turns on its swiveling jets, its wings just barely missing the top of the piled-up loot as the big vehicle sets down twenty yards from the APC.
“Eris, these yer friends?” Pitbull growls, trigger finger twitching at the wheel. Mac glances down at his sister before replaying the scene in his head. “Did someone call a cab? What the hell is this? Pitbull, you didn’t piss off the entire Texas chain of command, did you?” “I may have. Wilson was a golden boy. He may have been crazy, but he was a tactical genius. A tactical genius that won them a lot of skirmishes and trained fine soldiers.” Pitbull growls, realizing that he was not helping his case.
Wormie goggles, “That’s a cargo bird, not a gunship. What gives?”
The door to the vertol slowly opens up, revealing a familiar face. The woman slowly walks down the cargo ramp, looking over the APC and all its haul. A few moments later, the pilot of the bird steps into view, his helmet covering his face. The girl walks up to the door to the APC, opening it with a wave of her hand. Ragdoll. the fixer for the Gomi Emporium in Night City, pokes her head into the back, smiling. “Sorry we’re a little early. I got a bit antsy just waiting there, so I had the big lug bring us in a little closer. I was so anxious to see what you got – the first return trip from the Forbidden Zone itself!”
Wormwood cranes over his seat, “Hey Ragdoll! Wanna buy a surplus Texan APC and some collectibles from the Militia Wars?” Mac kicks his fedora back on his head, appraising this newcomer. “It’s a bit… hot, so hopefully you’ve got some potassium iodide pills to go along with your fancy heliocopter there.” “Ah Ragdoll! You’re a lil’ late to the party. And no, Wormie, I’m keeping the APC. I like it.” Pitbull growls, smiling.
Ragdoll beams a big smile to Wormwood. “You know it! I didn’t fly all the way out here just to pick up you bozos, taht’s for sure.” Mac taps his chin while squeezing his sister’s hand. “Ragdoll – that little kid’s into classic music? I didn’t think kids had taste these days.”
Wormwood quips, “Don’t worry about the former owners too much, Ragdoll, we made sure none of them were in a position to come asking for their stuff back!” Suddenly he slaps his head, “Pac, didn’t we have like 30 doses of Anti-Rad in the medical supplies? We should all pop some of those candies!” Pacoy nods “Sounds like a plan!”
Pitbull looks at Mac in mock-offense. “Hey! I got taste in classical! I love me some Trans-Siberian Orcestra!” Mac rolls his eyes. “Bunch of uncultured barbarians, you lot. Why didn’t you tell me that ten DAYS ago, so we could have listened to DECENT music on the trip?” “Hey,” Pacoy says mock-wounded, “I pre-loaded the Harpy with Vagner, and you were the one to complain!” Mac rolls his eyes. “It was ONE song by Vagner! ONE! And it wasn’t even Das Liebesverbot oder Die Novize von Palermo!”
Ragdoll busts in to the conversation. “Hey, hey! Don’t you wanna hear the good news?” Wormwood prods Pacoy and texts “See what price you can get from her for cash on delivery now. I need to split before y’all head back to Night City and will need a bankroll.” Then he says to the Gomi’s fixer. “Sure, good news has been in short supply lately.”
Pitbull frowns. "Damn. Well, Blah-blah-Odor-blah-Novee-Palmer doesn’t sound much like an ass-kickin’ song. Now “Fistful of Razors” by Circuit Grin on the other hand is a song I could pour lead into some fuck-nut to." Pitbull turns to Ragdoll. “What good news?”
She smiles at the crew. “Classic government computer systems, rifles, body armor, helmets, canteens – all Militia Wars vintage. Excellent stuff. But the big items are those tanks, the robot bits all over here, and this looks like part of a quantum computer system! Man. This is rich, man. Rich. I think I can make a good two, two point two five on this.” Wormwood looks hopeful. “Two point two five whats?” She gives Wormie a wink. “Mils, my man! Two point two five million space bucks, courtesy of good ol’ uncle Night.” Wormwood lets out a low whistle, surprised against his will. Pitbull stands flabbergasted, for once truly shocked into silence from what he has heard. Mac tries to restrain his jaw from hitting his sister in the face. He sends a silent communique to his companions – “Is this girl for real?” Wormie replies to Mac. “I forgot you don’t know her. Yeah, she’s connected and on the level.”
Ragdoll continues to smile for a bit, then evens out her face a little. “Now, for the unfortunate bad side of the news. Expenses.” “So, Ragdoll: Let’s talk NUMBERS.” Pacoy says with a grin, “We’d love a nice cash-up-front kind of deal.” She turns to look at him and spreads her hands in a universal gesture, “The cargo lift isn’t cheap – renting this bird, fueling it up, flying out here. That’s a good two hundred K right there. And this stuff is hot with a capital H, O, T – decon is a bitch and will swing another five hundred to seven fifty. Then there’s taxes – Uncle Night needs his cut, too. And, of course, my brokerage fee.”
Wormwood sighs. “How much are you offering, Maddie?” Mac rolls his eyes, muttering under his breath. “Fences are all the same, no matter the territory. Cute, but still a mulligan.” She looks around, examining everything a bit closer, then turns to Wormwood. “I can do $300k, cash, right here.”
Wormie looks at his companions as he subvocalizes “Seventy five K each, no taxes or bullshit. It’s not terrible.” Mac considers. “A far cry from what I need to get my hands on, but it’s not bad. At least I’ll be able to rebuild your legs again if I have to.” Pacoy nods, then subvocalizes “Take the deal?” Wormwood reconsiders his figures. “No, it’s 50K each and 50K to the Lazarus general account. We need to make good on the damn Amur. Still not chicken feed.” Mac grins. “Wasn’t going to call you on it, but…”
“300 is cutting our operating costs a little close – this is exclusive Omaha Zone product here – first of it’s kind in decades and soon to be featured on a major media outlet!” Pacoy bargains. Ragdoll’s eyes rocket up at the mention of ‘media outlet’. “Oh, now. Media, you say? I can probably spin that real well, get an auction going to coincide with the release.” She looks at Eris for the first time. “Oh, hey! You’re Eris Stansfield from Edgerunners! Perfect! Hmm… With the publicity, I can probably get a bit more for the product. Let’s say… $425k. And that’s gonna be the highest I can go.”
Pacoy nods, glances to the group and raises an eyebrow. Wormwood nods. Mac grins. “Gonna need you to negotiate some clients for me back home, sir. Sounds good to me.” Pitbull smiles broadly at the thought. That should make back the amount I dropped for Wormwood’s legs.
“And that’s a deal, Ragdoll!” Pacoy grins, offering a hand to shake. Ragdoll smiles, pumping the fist. “Excellent. We’ll get this all loaded up in a bit. You’ll have to drive the APC down to the shop I use in NC; I’ll pick it up there. I don’t think it can fit on the vertol, huh?” She slaps the pilot on his side, a smile on her face. He just bows his head slightly, shaking it from side to side. Pitbull grumbles at the thought of losing the APC. Shit. And I was growing a real love of ol’ Sam here.
The pilot turns to Ragdoll, holding his hand out. A familiar voice rings out from the dark helmet. “No worry, Ma’am. I can set up a line and carry the APC under her belly; no need to put it in the hold.”
- FADE SCENE -
The Lazarus Offices, Night City
Wednesday, March 1, 2051
It has been a swifter ride home than outward bound for the Edgerunner team, thanks to Ragdoll and her enigmatic pilot. Stopping only to refuel in Rising City – and drop Wormwood off – the massive cargo AV has made good time back to the stinking cesspit called home the team have been missing. Even better news, on the flight Siri began to come around, and although groggy and disoriented she is at least conscious again. The new day is just beginning in the metropolis as the team disembark on the airport apron right next to their office and hangar. Home at last!
Pitbull stomps in through the doors and immediately heads into the kitchen. After a few seconds, he stomps his way back in with a large glass bottle and some drinking glasses. “Whiskey anyone? Celebrating the end of a long and confusing trip?” Mac raises his hand. “A double, if you don’t mind. Been a long trip, and I got a lot on my mind. Nevermind if it’s not going to do a horses ass to me, I say we celebrate!”
As the team disembark, and Ragdoll begins to direct airport staff unloading the AV, her pilot climbs down out of his cockpit and walks towards the team. The helmet comes off slowly, seemingly a little tight around the neck before it finally comes free – and is swiftly tossed to the side, revealing Able’s face to the team. It may have only been ten days, but it feels like a year’s gone by since you last saw him, but his face is the same as ever – with only his hair different. A stark white crop of hair stands out on the top of his head, a dire contrast to his old mild brown look. He smiles at the group, reaching for the glass that Pitbull’s holding out – and makes eye contact with Siri.
Siri smiles directly at Able, and in her Mother’s pleased voice says “Why Anton Roderick Davis, I haven’t seen you since the Ad Astra!”
“Has whiskey ever affected you, Mac?” Pitbull growls as he sloshes the amber contents of the bottle into glasses and hands them to everyone, with no regard to if they even asked. “Aye! Able!” Pitbull roars with a broad smile. “Didn’t recognize your bitch-ass fer a minute there! How ya been?!” Mac thinks. “I think it’s more fun to pretend that it does. Isn’t that what everyone does when they drink?” He grins while looking at his sister-slash-mother with a look of confusion. “Indeed, Able. Er, Anton?”
Siri drops into a chair next to Mac and holds out her hand to Able. “Old friend, it is so good to see you….” Able pulls back from Siri, his eyes blinkin a bit. The voice – or maybe some remnant of Enigma buried in Siri’s brain via her comm link – burrowed deep into his brain and flipped a switch. Able falls to his knees, a silent scream on his lips as things hidden behind the veneer of his Janissary programming began to wake up.
Damn! Enough revelations already! Is this enough surprise shi- Abe? Abe? You alright, Abe?" Pitbull says, tilting his head at Able with a frown marring his face.
Siri’s smile begins to turn to a frown. Her own voice re-asserts itself. “Brother, is your friend malfunctioning?” Increasingly, she seems panicked by Able’s reaction. Mac looks alarmed, but his voice remains calm in his sister’s presence. “H-he’s fine, sis. He’s done this before, I think. I don’t think it’s a malfunction, per se…” He sets his drink down and kneels before Able. “Buddy?” Pacoy’s face sets in a sharp glare for an instant before he moves to Able’s side to see if there is anything he can do, either medical or cybernetic repair.
Mac waits a few moments before his concern grows too great. “Sorry if this is a bit of an intrusion, but you look like you’re in pain.” He pulls a patch cable from his pocket, slotting one end of it into his neural jack before inserting the other end into Able’s hand. The connection seems to break something in Able, and a scream of pain finally escapes his lips. A light trickle of blood pours out of his left ear, down his neck – but then the scream stops, and he goes limp.
Inside his mind-space, Able slowly recognizes Mac. It’s a deeper connection than either of them are used to – significantly deeper than a simple comms connection. It’s almost like watching a sensie, with words and pictures accompanied by felt emotions. Able’s emotions are filled with a deep sorrow, and a pain so deep that it can’t be merely physical. Mac looks down upon this broken man, and Able looks back up at him. “Help me. Please, help me find myself.”
Mac’s eyes snap shut as he kneels in front of his friend, his mind reeling with the sudden input of a cacophony of voices – his hands slap over his ears, trying to drown out the sound. It does nothing but allow him to focus on Anton’s voice, currently slightly louder than the others. He sees Able in all of his forms, and smiles. “Keep talking. I can help you through this. I just need to hear you.” His voice rings out in his head as well as in the offices around them. He forces his mind around the other voices, trying to muffle them, to give his friend room to breathe and grow.
Within their shared mind-space, bruises appear upon Able’s body, nearly covering him head-to-toe in a swath of purple. His face subtly changes, becoming both younger and just barely a different man – sharper features, slight difference in the distance between the orbits of his eyes, a simple ‘high and tight’ old-military hairstyle – taken together, he’s a completely different person – and coldly familiar.
“Abe?” Pitbull askes again, this time a little trepid. A frown appears on Mac’s face. “You don’t look so good, pal.”
The changes within Able’s mind are mirrored upon his body, the cybernetics buried within his skeleton altering his appearance to match that of his original form. Pitbull becomes acutely aware of his Urban Fox in its shoulder rig. “Guys, I’m still armed if he becomes hostile.” Pitbull H.U.D. texts the entire team.
Before the team stands the broken body of Anton Davis, world-famous mass murderer and terrorist, destroyer of the Ad Astra. He reaches out to Mac’s mind, his voice at once pleading and panicking. “I need you to get me out of here. What everyone said, it’s all lies. They hijacked my brain and now they’ve hijacked my body, and my mind – it’s eroding. Get Dr. Wahlen, he knows how to remove their mind-raping implants. You need to do it quick, because I can’t stay out of Rossum’s care for more than a month without breaking. You have to shut me down and knock me out. Burn out the wireless if you have to, but keep me from phoning home. Please – get me out of here!” Able’s mind goes blank, his conciousness shutting down from the extreme pressure of dueling cybernetics, and his body reverts back to its old, normal shape and tone as it lies there on the airport concrete.
Mac’s hands twitch, as though he were fiddling with a rubic’s cube. His head cocks to the side. “Huh… there you are, guy. Wahlen… controlled by Doctor Wahlen… I won’t let them get to you. We’ll block the call home signal, friend. We’ll get your body back for you.” Mac frowns. “This isn’t good. That’s some sort of cybertech keeping the personalities locked out… a call home transmitter… and then, what, bioware? This is not good at all. Pacoy, can you hear me? Dammit, I don’t know how this works. Pacoy, if you can hear me, can you jam the wireless in this place? All frequencies?”
“On it!” Pacoy scambles to activate the Marmalade drone, blocking all frequencies, and scrambling for his med kit.
Mac mutters to himself rather loudly, having lost proper vocal volume control. “So you’re a neurotoxic transmitter, eh? Won’t do to have you go off… a month onset to start doing whatever it is you have up your sleeve…”
Pacoy rushes back into the room “Guys, Let’s get him into medical, help me carry him, we’ll see what I can do until we can get in touch with a better solution!”
Mac winces as he retracts the cable jack, his eyes opening, blinking furiously. “I can’t fix him. I just… don’t have the experience. I can’t hack his brain without hurting him real bad. What about that White Lion guy? Can we reach out to Candy and get him and that wetware witch to take care of him? I can’t deal with this level of cyberware here. I’m sorry… I’m just not good enough.” He holds out his credit chit. “If Saxby needs payment for this, take what I’ve got on here. I promised Able I’d make this right.”
Siri reaches out and touches Able on the neck, wiping away the little trickle of blood that had run from his ear so, so gently you’d think it was his mother’s touch. She breathes in an oddly modulated voice, half hers and half her own Mother’s, “Oh Anton, what did they do to you?”