Shifting Paradigms – The Last Run
This story is based on lyrics from the second track off of Korn's "Paradigm Shift", called "Love & Meth". Since the title of the song didn't play into my story at all, I opted for my own title for the piece. I hope anyone who is reading these stories will enjoy the continued dark stroll through the Sixth World.
"Where do I run!?
Where do I hide!?
Give me a reason to end my life!Where do I run!?
Where do I hide!?
Give me a reason to get out alive!"
It was one of those days that people never hear about: a sunny, warm day in Seattle. Even the usual bank of smog that clung to the city like an omen seemed to have blown over. Devon sat back in his chair under the warm summer sun, a beer clutched in his hand. Carter walked to a chair beside Devon, and dropped down beside his friend.
"Can't believe we did it..." Carter said with a short laugh.
Devon reached into his cooler, pulled out a second beer and handed one to his friend. "Believe it, my friend. We've hit the big time."
Carter let out a short laugh. "The big time? We just did a run against Ares... what are the odds we're still alive in a week's time?"
"Pretty good. It's not like we stole Damien Knight's favourite car or anything. We took a small piece of merchandise that is so inconsequential, it isn't worth chasing us down for. Trust me buddy, we're golden. Drink your beer. That shit's German. Don't waste it."
Carter took a long pull from the neck of his bottle and sighed contentedly as he tasted a real beer for the first time in his life. "Yeah, I suppose there are some perks, eh?"
"There ya go. Enjoy the moment."
Carter and Devon clinked bottles and took another drink. The two had grown up in Auburn since their early teens and knew each other pretty well. Both had washed out of the corporate training programs their parents tried to keep them in, but neither had been particularly fond of taking orders. They fell into petty crimes and had got pretty good at it. Devon had always been the sneaky fast one, where Carter was always the muscle. It wasn't until they met the rest of their group that things really started to coalesce.
Skid was the first guy they met. The ork was good in a scrap, but his real talent was vehicles. The man could steer anything on wheels instinctively and made him a great getaway guy. Apparently he tried to make it as a courier, but his disregard for traffic laws saw his license suspended. Of course, he didn't let that stop him from driving...
The other two members of their team came as a package deal, but the arrangement was never fully understood. Ferret was this mousy nerd who was this supposed wizkid at math and computers. His encryption cracking was top notch and his ability to track down useful data was good for a kid with only half a degree. With him, was a plain but still stunning redhead elf named Bonnie (still not sure if that was her real name or street name). She was a Dog Shaman and at some point Ferret did her some kind of solid and she was fiercely loyal to him. They never dated, much to Ferret's disdain, but she was determined to watch over him. She was a manipulator, but she did have some mojo she called upon if her "pack" was threatened.
They had needed support for a job they were working and Skid had vouched for Devon after some previous work. The team was formed and they'd been working as a unit since then. Devon adopted the name Bandit for himself and dubbed Carter with the name Brick, joking that he was "as dense as a brick". Unfortunately for Carter, the name stuck.
The other members of the team walked over to where Devon and Carter were relaxing. Skid stepped into Carter's sun and looked down on the muscular human. "Sir, I found one..."
Carter's face contorted in confusion. That wasn't Skid's voice...
Bonnie strode over and looked down, her face obscured by sunlight. "This one's pretty rough. Hard to say if he's even still alive. Check him."
Ferret leaned in and placed his fingers to Carter's throat.
Brick shot awake from his daydream. The warm backyard of two years ago was long gone. Instead the grey wet concrete under him brought the reality of the situation back full force. Rain poured down over the city and Brick lay in a pool of water, stained red with his own blood. Recent events rushed back to him... the job had been going well, Ferret dove in to get the paydata. Something went sideways and Ferret went down. Bandit grabbed the decker's rig while Brick had to pull Bonnie away from their late decker. Alarms had gone off, Skid ran the gate and scooped up Bandit and Bonnie. He had been covering their back when he took a round. He told Skid to run while he secured another exit. Before he found the sniper that had tagged him he had taken another round to the chest. He moved through the shadows to avoid being spotted and must have passed out while laying low.
When his eyes opened, he sharply inhaled and the Ares security officer who had checked his pulse quickly pulled back and several other guards raised their weapons, leveling them at Brick's chest.
Brick squinted against the bright lights of the underbarrel flashlights of the assault rifles. "Can you guys turn those down a little? They're awfully bright..." Brick said, with as much mirth as he could muster.
"Still has a sense of humor... I like this one..."
Raising his head toward the new voice, Brick saw a Knight Errant officer with several stripes on his sleeve standing not far away. The man's uniform was drenched, but he seemed not to care, as he loomed over Brick, seeming to appraise the runner in silence.
"You seem to have had a rough night..." The officer said in a casual tone.
"Yeah, I've had smoother ones," Brick said. He could feel his extremities getting cold and the puddle he lay in was continuing to expand. Mentally accessing his commlink via direct neural connection, he launched his biomonitor.
"I have a bad feeling your night is going to get rougher the longer we stand here and chat," the officer said, maintaining his conversational tone. "Perhaps if you told me who hired you, I could look into getting those wounds checked."
Brick laughed, but stopped suddenly from the pain it fired through his body. "And become an Ares lap dog? No thanks, chummer."
The officer stared at Brick closely, his eyes moving to the gun sitting in the runner's hand. "Will you at least put away your weapon, so there aren't any 'misunderstandings'?"
Brick tempered his response and merely let out a snort. "Buddy, I can't even lift my arm, never mind a gun. You want it, just take it..."
In Brick's field of view, a message arrived through his commlink: "You get out?"
Brick replied to Bandit quickly, to try and not tip off that he was in communication. "Afraid not."
An Ares guard moved in, while the rest shouldered their weapons in case the runner made a move. The guard picked up the weapon by the barrel and when Brick made no motion to prevent the weapon from being taken, the guard picked it up in earnest. Once away from the runner, the biometric safety on the weapon kicked in, and an electric shock tore through the Knight Errant officer, dropping him in a pile.
"Sorry! My bad!" Brick said, smiling despite himself.
The officer's smug facade faltered briefly as his man collapsed in a pile.
Bandit's next message appeared on his image link. "Need me to double back and cover you?"
"Bit late for that. Hit bad. Surrounded. Don't think I'll be making the rendezvous, Devon."
The Knight Errant officer's contempt began to creep into his voice, as he looked away from the stunned guard. "This is a limited time offer, as they say. You either willingly give us the information we're after, or we keep you alive long enough so that we can extract it. One way or another, we will get what we need, Brick."
Brick looked up as best he could when the man used his street name. "What did you call me?"
Dropping to one knee, the man kneeled down. The flashlights he had been obscuring struck Brick's eyes, kicking in his flare compensation. "We know all about you. Perhaps you forgot about a job you did a few years back, but as most of your kind does, you undervalued what you stole. We've been piecing together your 'career' for some time now. We know who you work with and trust me, we will get the information we're after, if not from you, then from them. So if you want to spare your friends, perhaps if you give us your employer, we will forget they crossed our path."
"I'm coming back for you. I'm not leaving you to those Ares bastards."
"No! They're after us… from our first job. You need to get to ground!"
"You son of a bitch…"
"Now now, this is not the time for name calling…" the officer said, smugness dripping from his voice. "After all, I'm the only chance you have of surviving this. Tell me what you know… before you use up all of my patience."
Brick mentally accessed his commlink and pulled up his list of subsystems.
Cortex Bomb – Detonate on Expiration
Change Trigger Setting?
Brick replied yes to the prompt and set the device to manual. "All right… you want to know who hired me?" he asked in a low voice.
The runner mumbled under his breath and the officer held a finger to his ear. "Sorry, I didn't quite catch that… you're going to have to speak up."
Brick mumbled again and his head slumped down against his chest.
The officer moved in close and smacked Brick to jar him awake.
Brick looked up and grinned, but instead met with the equally broad grin of the man gripping his collar. The cortex bomb hadn't gone off.
"You amateur little shit… when did you think you were smarter than us? The moment we found your idiot body we started getting through your firewall. We've been tracking your conversation with Bandit. Or should we say Devon? We've run a trace and know his location and it's only a matter of time, before he is captured and gets to watch you be tortured. It won't be long before one of you talks." Turning back to his squad, the officer barked, "Get his ass up and prepped for interrogation."
"Protocol Black!" Brick sent before his connection was severed.
Bandit was sprinting through back alleys, on his way back to the Ares compound, despite Skid's pleas to stick to the plan. The rain continued to pour down, obscuring his vision, but he was guided by pure instinct. His friend needed his help and nothing else mattered.
The message he never wanted appeared in his goggles: "Protocol Black"
He stopped mid stride and slid headlong into the side of a dumpster. He stared numbly at the words that hovered in his field of vision. The sound of the rain and passing traffic fell away, hearing only the faint hum of the holographic projection facing him.
Skid's voice broke the silence. "Bandit! You got that, right? Burn your devices and we'll meet at the rendezvous point. If you're not there in one hour, it's been good working with you…"
Bandit didn't reply and Skid didn't wait for one. Protocol Black had been set up by the team to denote that the team was compromised and that one or more of the team had been captured. On a more personal level, Bandit and Brick had agreed to take it one step further. Each had installed a cortex bomb and promised the other, that should they fall, they would ensure that neither had to be taken alive.
Robotically, Bandit connected his commlink and activated a program Ferret had created for them. The little ferret sniffed the air and looked expectantly at Bandit.
The ferret scampered off through the Matrix to activate the backdoor that had been installed in Brick's commlink. Bandit staggered out into the alleyway to see the Ares compound. He hoped that the Ares decker hadn't dug deep enough to find the safeguard Ferret had installed.
After an agonizing thirty seconds, he heard the explosion of Brick's cortex bomb going off and the alarms resume anew. He felt cold and empty before he screamed in rage, whipping his commlink against the nearby wall, followed by his goggles, to silence the blinking words in his field of vision.
He dropped to his knees and vomited what little his stomach had to give onto the asphalt before breaking down into gut-wrenching sobs. A lifetime of friendship and comradery rushed through his mind, from skipping class to petty crime to the times they shared as shadowrunners.
Punctuated at the end, by chaos, pain and blood. The final moment, a distant explosion, resonated in his memory. In his brother's final moment, he hadn't been there.
His sobs morphed into a more guttural sound that eventually became an unsettling laugh. He heard sirens moving in. Ares was coming for him.
Bandit's weapon ejected its clip with a mental command and Bandit slammed in a new one. Rising to his feet, his rain-soaked frame seemed to fill with an energy he shouldn't possess. Sliding back into the alleyways as the sirens and voices of officers closed in, he readied himself.
As the first beams of flashlights began to converge on his location, he sprang from his location and squeezed the trigger.
"See you soon, my brother…"