The last vestiges of the setting sun disappeared over the horizon, the copper hues giving way to a dusty purple scattered with the occasional glitter of a faraway star. Twilight was slowly stealing the vibrant colors from the land, leaving behind a sombre shade that was fading into charcoal.
Adam and Madison sat watching the sunset in silence, waiting for the approaching night, the darkness proving ideal conditions for their task ahead.
It might have been a peaceful evening, but it was anything but peaceful inside Madison's mind. She was having a hard time keeping herself detached from this assignment. Seeing a clandestine Military base where Savage might be inside had her trembling with suppressed rage. Resentment dripped like acid down her spine, scorching nerves as unwanted recollections flooded her thoughts. Trigger memories were something she needed to avoid. Emotions had no place during this assignment. But despite Madison's best effort to compartmentalize those negative emotions, they bled through. The compulsion to act on her anger felt all-consuming, engulfing the rational part of Madison's mind and destroying the boundaries of any coherent thoughts. Madison couldn't even predict how she'd act when, not if, she caught up with Savage again.
But even struggling to keep a tight rein on her wrath, Madison didn't think this was the base she'd been held in. She'd been kept in lockdown inside Baldwin's facility, so never saw the outside, but this base just didn't feel like the one she'd been held in. There was no real proof, just a vague impression. There was also too many people around for Baldwin's liking, he'd rather undergo his illegal experimentation away from prying eyes. Of course, it'd be just like him to hide her in plain sight as well.
Closing her eyes, Madison breathed in deeply a few times, clamping tight on her feelings so she could concentrate on the task ahead. When next she opened her eyes, Madison stole a quick look at Adam, wondering what he was thinking. But as usual, his expression betrayed remarkably little about his inner thoughts. When she'd first met Adam, his expression appeared to only swing between irritated amusement and somewhat arrogant self-assuredness. Of course, his emotions were still stuck on that narrow range, but Madison had seen a different side to him.
There was a keen intelligence, Adam took everything in and missed very little. He had a subtly dry sense of humor which most people missed. And then there was that raw power and often menacing countenance which others found intimidating. Adam was well aware of how people viewed him and he did nothing to dissuade that image.
Bonds were inevitably formed happened when two people were forced to work together, and in such close quarters, having to reluctantly rely on each other. Although there was less of that reluctance. To break into this base meant having to trust each other. There was respect, sure, but trust? Part of Madison believed that aspect of herself had been broken, torn apart, and unlike her body, didn't have the ability to repair. But she'd have to trust Adam, because her options were limited.
"Are you having doubts?"
Madison jerked slightly at Adam's question as she was pulled abruptly out of her reverie. He gave her an arch glance which seemed to suggest he knew exactly what she'd been thinking about.
"No," she answered immediately, the lie trying to roll smoothly off her tongue but snagging on the tip.
Adam looked at her sharply, likely catching the deviation in her voice. "We can abort this plan, if you're worried about…"
Madison waved her hand irritably and interrupted. "I'm not worried about breaking in. I don't really care about laws anymore. I don't think they apply to fugitives in my position. It's what I might find. I'm…." Madison broke off, coming perilously close to talking about her feelings.
Adam's watchful, sharply curious gaze landed on her and Madison could feel the weight of his stare.
"I think the searching is really the easiest part. Finding those answers is…hollow, strangely unsatisfying. It's the purpose which keeps you moving forward. After that…"
He shrugged and gave a small laugh, but the amusement brushing across his expression was as pale as watercolor.
Blowing out a slow breath, Madison was disconcerted by Adam's perceptively accurate deduction of her feelings. It sounded like he spoke from experience, but Madison didn't feel like they knew each other well enough to pry.
Leaning over, Madison didn't answer Adam but instead retrieved a drone from a box next to her. She tossed the UAV into the air, the rotors unfurling silently. It hung in front of her, eerily still as it waited for instructions.
Turning her arm, Madison cast an eye over the screen on the Uplink device attached to her wrist. To the untrained eye the device looked like an overly large Smart Watch. Essentially, it acted in a similar way to a smart device, only with far more technical capabilities.
The Uplink acted as a controller, providing a wireless connection to the UAV drone in front of her. Both the UAV and the Uplink were incredibly sophisticated devices. Created for the armed forces, specifically Special Ops, the UAV paired with the user's HUD to provide real-time analysis and overlay from their surroundings. Whatever the drone viewed was analyzed by the Uplink device, and Madison had access to live biometric data while operating on a 180-bit encryption, virtually unhackable. Uplink provided facial recognition and biographies from the alphabet agencies; CIA, NSA, DHS, FBI.
It was yet another thing Madison had "borrowed" from Baldwin's stock before she was captured.
From her Uplink, Madison angled the UAV down to her height. Unhooking two EMP grenades from her utility belt, she attached them to the drone's undercarriage via custom clips which, on command, would disengage the pins so the canisters could be deployed. The drone was also equipped with sonar tech which interfaced directly onto her optical augmentation. It was also a combat drone with the ability to fire specialized magazines from a hidden compartment.
Madison held out her wrist towards Adam. "Input your frequency and you can watch the drone's progress as well."
Adam seemed faintly surprised as he tapped away on the Uplink. "They'll see this drone."
Madison felt her lips peel back into a smile. "No," she corrected, "they won't. Watch."
Pressing a button on the Uplink, the drone disappeared.
Raising an appreciative eyebrow, Adam turned to her. "Glass shield cloaking system on a drone. Impressive."
Smiling faintly in acknowledgement, Madison sat back down on the grass and crossed her legs. The Military research facility developing the new anti-rejection drug Riezene had been easy enough to find. However, getting in to the base proved far more difficult. It wasn't strictly a Military facility, it was mainly a medical development center run by Military scientists. So Madison was surprised to find it had so many security measures. She anticipated some security. What she got was a facility patrolled by a squad of armed soldiers and countless other defence measures. They were hiding something, no base was that well secured without there needing to be something to protect.
There were no blueprints they could access to navigate the base. Juggernaut hackers had tried to get blueprints but none existed. Or they had existed but had been wiped. So Adam and Madison were forced to use the drone to map out the base's security measures. Their plan to infiltrate the base might border on recklessness but they weren't stupid. If they could discover the countermeasures in place, map out the route the soldiers took, they stood a better chance of infiltrating it without anyone noticing. Hopefully.
As Madison used her Uplink to turn the drone towards the facility, her optical augmentation projected the drone's line of sight onto one eye. She moved the drone forward, not worried about not being able to actually see if the drone would smash into anything since the drone had radar capabilities. Software inside the drone used obstacle avoidance algorithms, predictive modeling, and smart object discrimination. So even if she directed it into a fence, it'd automatically adjust the course.
A mile away from the facility they were securely hidden from sight in a densely populated forest area. The temperature had dipped a few degrees since the sun set but it didn't bother Madison, who could survive freezing conditions with the nanites compensating for lowered skin temperature.
The drone approached the electrical fence, automatically adjusting the height to fly over it. Immediately the drone honed in on a patrol; the two men were tagged, the drone using biometric analysis to amass a huge amount of information about them, including any augmentations and weaponry.
The drone would be able to analyze a pattern in the soldier's patrol so they could evade them when they entered the facility. Madison directed the UAV to circle around the perimeter, tagging patrols and possible infiltration points. The buildings were more difficult. While the drone now had a complete map of the facility, she had no idea where the Riezene was kept. Nor had she seen Savage. But Madison never expected it to be that easy.
There was what looked like a large warehouse at the furthest end of the facility, which seemed to be the likeliest place to hold the Riezene. However, the main hub of activity seemed to be located in the center of the base. Madison left the drone hanging above a large two story building with tinted windows, impossible to see inside. She watched as scientists swiped a key card over a reader, allowing them entry into the buildings. That unduly complicated matters.
"There's a lot of security, especially around that central building," Adam remarked.
Madison made a sound of agreeance. "Unfortunately, it looks like the only way to enter any building is through a keycard."
She was silent for a beat, figuring out their options, then looked over at Adam. "We're going to need a hacker."
His expression of irritation was brief but noticeable, obviously coming to the same conclusion. If they hoped to get inside the base, it'd need to be with someone who could guide them through.
"And not someone from the Juggernaut. I don't trust them. Do you know someone who'd be willing to break numerous laws?" Madison asked.
Adam sighed. "Yeah I do."
"You've done some stupid things in your time Jensen, but breaking into a Military base ranks quite highly. You don't even have Sarif's backing anymore. You get caught, don't expect me to bail you out."
A rueful smile danced across Adam's normally intractable expression, like he was used to Pritchard's barbed observations and actually found his snark amusing.
"Yet you agreed to help," Adam pointed out, humor coating the words.
"Under duress," Pritchard sneered.
It wasn't. It took some convincing and stroking of his ego to get the ex-Sarif employee to agree to help them. Pritchard was less than impressed that they were "working" with the Juggernaut Collective. His exact words; "Script kiddies who masquerade as hackers, at the core, cyberterrorists who thrive on chaos and conspiracies."
Truth be told, Pritchard wasn't far off the mark in his assessment. Juggernaut had their own agenda and Madison knew she and Adam were being used by them for their own crusades. Then again, it wasn't like she didn't have an agenda, Madison just wasn't sure they intersected.
"Well, are you two finished dressing for the occasion?"
Pritchard's nasally sneer was beginning to give Madison a headache. Reaching up hand up, she massaged the back of her ear to switch off communications. Unlike Adam's cochlear implant, Madison had a different way to receive InfoLink communications.
Beneath the skin of her ear, a subdermal receiver was implanted. The sub-dermal bypassed the route normally travelled by sound waves, through the outer ear to the tympanic membrane. Vibrations were sent directly into the ossicles, which were tiny bones in the ears. Those sound waves were transmitted as a signal to the brain. A sub-vocal transceiver was surgically implanted near her larynx so she could talk. The method was less invasive than a cochealer implant.
Adam rolled his eyes. "I'll contact you when we're ready to go," he said brusquely and signed off before Pritchard could comment.
Madison clipped the last buckle on her Tac Vest. The USMC tactical vest had multiple mag pouches, utility pockets and a pistol holster. The vest was a lightweight Level III-A+ Dragon Skin Pinnacle Armor capable of stopping steel-cased and lead-core bullets. A tactical belt was mounted through a number of belt loops at the bottom and carried EMP grenades and flash bangs. Madison was hoping she'd not need them, but she'd had been on enough ops to know that even the best laid plans fell apart.
Adam was similarly outfitted, his own vest a Dragon Skin silicone carbine ceramic body armor protecting his torso and vital organs.
Squatting near the bag she'd brought, Madison retrieved two pistols. Standing up, she pulled back the slide to check a round was in the chamber, flipped it over and held it out for Adam.
"Be very sparing with the ammo. I have one clip for each gun and that's it."
Reaching over, Adam took the pistol. He ejected the magazine and carefully looked over the clip.
"You sure this dart …." Adam paused and looked up at her.
"Synaptic," Madison supplied the name.
Madison snorted at the skepticism she heard in Adam's voice, but couldn't really blame him for being cynical.
The scientific name for the dart's contents didn't exactly roll off the tongue, so the Military scientists who had developed it called it Synaptic. Which Madison assumed was meant to describe what the chemical did to a person's short-term memory.
"The chemical inside that dart alters short term memory, namely opening the notional valve in the brain and allowing thirty minutes of short-term memory to leak out. There are two kinds of memory, short-term and long-term; the former stored by the frontal and parietal lobes, the latter stored weblike throughout different portions of the brain. The bridge between the two, the part of the brain that converts short-term memory into long-term memory, is governed by the hippocampus, which is where Synaptic works its magic. By partially dissolving the chemical glue that holds the hippocampus bridge together, Synaptic creates a mild version of retrograde amnesia that turns the target's previous thirty minutes of memory into dreamlike recollections that fade within minutes of regaining consciousness," Madison explained.
Adam made a sound in the back of his throat which Madison chose to take as acceptance.
Despite their planning, Madison suspected that the odds of encountering a patrol were even. The last thing she wanted was to have a shoot out and kill what were essentially her ex-colleagues. Taking a non-lethal approach was about keeping as low a profile as possible. It didn't mean they weren't armed, Madison still had combat knives strapped to both legs and to the back of her vest, as well as lethal rounds for the pistol.
Throwing the drone into the air, Madison used the Uplink controller on her wrist to initiate the Glass Shield cloaking and automatic mode. The drone would hover above her as she moved around the facility without Madison needing to guide it, the GPS in the Uplink and UAV constantly sending signals to each other so the drone could "follow" her. It also projected a live feed of the immediate area on to both her and Adam's Smart Vision.
"You ready?" Madison asked.
Adam's glasses snapped shut over his eyes, he nodded once, turned and moved with that long-legged confident stride towards to their infiltration point.
The compound was well-lit, the tall metal lightposts casting an artificial glow onto the fences and the surrounding perimeter. The fence themselves were at least 9 foot wire mesh. Electrified of course. After a lot of deliberation he and Madison had decided the best way to enter the compound wasn't through the front gate. With Pritchard's reluctant assistance they'd thrown some ideas around; kidnapping scientists who worked there, stealing their badges, creating their own I.D's. But that all left a trail and camera footage, which neither wanted. That left one option; infiltrating the facility covertly.
Now they stood on the outer perimeter, out of sight of cameras and the light, waiting for Pritchard.
"We're ready Pritchard."
Madison put a foot forward, slightly bunched as she waited for Pritchard's signal. Adam had asked once if she needed a boost over the fence and the look she gave him told him his answer.
"Remember," Pritchard advised, "You have about 30 seconds before the backup generator kicks in and you won't want to be stuck on the fence."
Madison snorted in amusement. "Got it," she acknowledged.
The facility had its own source of power which was on a separate grid from the lights and electrical fence. Pritchard suspected that the reason the buildings were on a separate power network was so the servers wouldn't be comprised if the main power failed, and it wouldn't affect their labs or whatever the hell was inside. Fortuitous for them since it would allow them to jump the fence while Pritchard cut the power. But 30 seconds wasn't a lot of time to reach the fence and clamber over it. It'd have to do.
Hacking into the power station was remarkably easy for Pritchard. Hack in, insert a virus and he had control over the grid.
"Ready in three…two…one… GO!"
The entire compound was plunged into darkness as Pritchard switched off the power. The fence sputtered, short little electrical currents sparking before it went silent.
Madison took off in front of him. Adam initiated the Quicksilver Reflex Booster and felt the carbide bone frames in his legs engage with the reaction initiators which allowed him to reach a sprinting speed of 7.5 meters per second.
Even with the Quicksilver Booster, Madison was faster. She was practically a blur as she raced towards the fence, took two long strides and jumped. With remarkable athleticism she sprang at the fence, grabbed on and climbed like a spider to the top.
Adam wasn't far behind. The high-density myomer muscle in his Cybernetic Legs bunched as he jumped towards the fence, the gel matrix in the knee joints and hip mounts making it easy for him to jump upwards of 4 meters. Grabbing the mesh, Adam hauled over the fence, grabbed the top with one hand so he could jump down, the shock-absorbing polymer buffers letting him land silently.
Madison was waiting for him in the shadow of the nearest building when the lights flickered back on and the fence sparked in agitation behind him.
In the corner of his eye, Adam watched the UAV drone footage projected onto his Smart Vision. The drone hovered over the area near the main building. The soldiers were agitated, talking into their comms. It was a calculated risk they had to take, the soldier's would be far more alert now for intruders. It might just be brushed off as a power failure, Adam had no clue how often or even if the power had failed before.
"You copy Pritchard?" Adam whispered, who also had access to the drone's footage.
"Yes, I can see you're not writhing on the ground, so you made it over the fence in time."
Adam moved forward while Madison followed in the rear. He kept close to the building, the natural shadow providing some cover. At the edge he stopped, peeked around the corner.
No cameras were perched on the back of any of the buildings, a grievous security oversight but it was fortuitous for them. It meant they could skirt the outside of the base without tangling with the patrols. Soldiers did patrol the perimeter but on a rather slow circuitous route which meant, thanks to the drone's advanced analytics, they knew the timing of their course.
Adam glanced back at Madison and watched her chamber a non-lethal round. She adjusted the drone's course so that it gave them a wider view of their immediate surroundings. No soldiers were near their area.
"You ready to go?"
Madison smiled slightly. "Can't back out now."
Turning back around, Adam walked slowly out of cover between the two buildings, keeping a wary eye on the drone's footage as well as in front of him. A security camera sat on the front of the building, so Adam halted out of range and allowed his Smart Vision to calculation the predictable pattern the camera followed. It would give him an exact idea of how long he had to hack into the terminal. He was familiar with the model of the security camera.
The Smart Vision returned the results and Adam grimaced. It was going to be tight. Depending on how fast he could bypass the terminal's security measures.
Blowing out a breath, Adam's heartbeat remained steady despite the pressure of the situation. He'd learnt long ago that high stress situations rarely fazed him. It was because his body produced an abnormal amount of an amino acid known as neuropeptide Y, which regulated blood pressure and also worked as a natural tranquilizer, controlling anxiety and buffering the effects of stress hormones like norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline. It gave him a major physical advantage in pressure situations.
He used hand signals to tell Madison what he was going to do, and she nodded to acknowledge him. He trigged his Glass Shield Cloaking System and watched Madison do the same, disappearing before his eyes. Over time, he'd learnt to adeptly enhance the shield's functionality while expending less bio-energy, significantly extending operational time. He was going to need it.
Another quick check of his surroundings, and Adam ducked around the corner as soon as the camera had veered away. He dropped to his hunches, back entirely exposed but he had no doubt Madison was capable of dealing with any threat. It was an anomalous feeling, used to working alone and covering all angles, Adam realized that he actually trusted Madison to watch his back. Adam shook his head at the thought and concentrated on bypassing the keycode.
Implanted in his cranium was a hacking device, basically a microcomputer module featuring a series of processors programmed with multiple code-breaking and counter-cryptography subroutines. He employed the hacking subroutine, which he'd honed to near-instinctive speed and responsiveness. His fingers flew over the keypad and he heard the distinctive beep and flash of green which signalled he'd broken through.
Opening the door, Adam watched Madison appear before him as she dropped her cloak and moved through entrance. Out the corner of his eye, Adam watched the camera swing back towards his direction. He quickly got up, took a step inside the door and closed it, hoping the cameras saw nothing.
Immediately he noticed the drop in temperature. The chill in the server room was almost icy. There was a quiet whir in the background, sounded like the humming of a thousand bees but was actually the CPU fans working harmoniously to keep the hardware running.
Madison stood at the edge of one of the rows of servers, blue and green lights flashing behind her. It was dark inside the room, so the flashing lights reminded Adam of a gaudy disco dance floor.
Head cocked, Madison listened for something he couldn't hear.
"There are three heartbeats," she whispered.
Shit, someone else was in the server room. "Where?"
Grimacing Madison motioned towards the back of the room. Right where they needed to go.
"Terrific," he muttered.
"There's one camera mounted near the back room. We need to draw them away and shoot him them with Synaptic," Madison said.
Adam hesitated, still having reservations about the dart's effectiveness. But he had little other choice.
"Fine," he acknowledged.
Madison's expression tightened in response to the reluctance he didn't try to hide. She peeled off to the left while Adam went right. Retrieving the pistol from the holster, Adam chambered a round. Looking over her shoulder, Madison counted down with from three using her fingers. At one she rapped against the server panel and the loud sound retorted in the small room, bouncing and echoing against the walls.
Raising the weapon, Adam waited. He heard footsteps approaching his position, levelling the gun where he thought they might appear. A guy poked his head around the corner and Adam adjusted his aim and fired. The dart was small, but landed with unerring accuracy in the guy's neck. Adam had time to watch the guy's face morph from distracted irritation into surprise. But as soon as the dart hit, his eyes fluttered closed, his brain not even having time to register fear at the sudden appearance of a very heavily augmented man.
The guy dropped to the floor, Adam barely had time to reach out and grab him before he cracked his head on the tiles. As he lowered him to the ground, Madison came over, knelt beside him and put her fingers against his neck.
"Pulse is steady. You have about five minutes, give or take, before he wakes. We need to be gone before that time."
Unclipping the guy's badge from his pants, Madison held it up to him, a smile tucking on the corner of her mouth.
"Solves one problem."
Adam bent his head in acknowledgment as he grabbed the badge. The keycard saved him from hacking into the main server room. He turned away, moving cautiously towards the rear of the room.
"Pritchard, you there?"
The analyst had been silent during their infiltration. Despite Pritchard's penchant for sarcasm, and it pained Adam to admit it, he was a professional. He'd been on enough missions with the former Sarif employee riding shotgun for Pritchard to know when to remain silent.
"Yes," Pritchard drawled, "waiting with bated breath."
Adam leaned out of cover slightly and took in the main server room. The room was cordoned off by a glass partition. Inside, three large monitors hung on a wall, connected to the main server hub. There was only one camera, hanging above the outside of the main server room. Again, Adam let his Smart Vision tag the camera, unsurprised it was the same model used on the outside of the building.
This base was a contradiction of security methods. Whoever had designed it either had no experience or security was an afterthought. Cameras were haphazardly placed, relying too much on the technology to identify threats and not enough on placement.
The Smart Vision returned the timing of the camera's rotation, allowing Adam to dart forward, slide the badge over the keycard reader and step inside the room. From one of the pockets on his belt he retrieved a flash drive and plugged it in.
"You're up Pritchard."
The entire server room was protected by a Faraday cage, which was why Pritchard couldn't hack in remotely. The room was coated in specially made metallic shielding material which prevented connectivity to cellular networks, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth outside of the room. To gain access, Adam had to physically connect to the servers.
Pritchard had given Adam the flash drive which contained a program he'd written for attacking networks. Despite what Pritchard believed, Adam actually understood more about hacking than Pritchard realized. The security analyst's prejudice and superiority complex refused to allow him to believe a simple Cop could comprehend computer analytics. So Adam understood what an intricate program Pritchard had written. Not only did the program hide the fact that it was stealing information from penetrated computers, but its spying methods could be remotely updated, switched out and re-programmed through an encrypted connection back to a command-and-control server.
It also gave Pritchard full access to the security system and all the information inside those servers. Pritchard was to look for reports which would provide proof through that Riezene wasn't safe. And also find anything to do with Dr Savage. Adam doubted the Doctor was at the base anymore. If Juggernaut were to believed, Page would have moved him to another location long ago.
So all they needed to do next was actually find the Riezene and steal some samples. Whatever Pritchard stole from the servers might not be enough proof. Reports could be doctored, physical samples could not.
"Where we at Pritchard?" Adam asked, casting a slightly worried look at the timer he'd set on his Smart Vision. The guy he'd darted would wake up in a few minutes.
"Quiet Jensen, I need to concentrate. Unlike some I can't just smash my way through my work. This requires finesse."
"Well finesse quicker. Unlike some I can't just sit behind a computer and hope a firewall can protect me," Adam shot back.
Immediately, Adam regretted taking pot shots at Pritchard's delicate ego. The ex-Sarif employee was unsurprisingly sensitive about his physical shortcomings. Which he more than made up for with a barbed tongue and constant provoking comments about others shortcomings.
"Remember Jensen, you do come with an off switch. And I'm done. Make sure you remove the flash drive."
Adam clamped his teeth together in an attempt not to respond. Instead, he removed the drive and quickly moved to the door. Waited a few moments until the camera angled away and slipped out of the room.
Madison was waiting for him. A look down told him the guy still unconscious and hopefully blissfully unaware the system had been compromised.
"We're about to move out," Madison informed Pritchard. "Do you have control over the site's security and cameras?"
"Yes," Pritchard responded testily.
"Impressive Pritchard. Can you switch off infrared?"
"Already done," Pritchard commented, the indignantly higher octave less pronounced, likely mollified by Madison feeding his ego, transparent as the effort was to Adam.
"We're making our way to the warehouse."
"Copy that," Pritchard acknowledged.
The plan was for Pritchard to use the drone to track their progress while making sure none of the cameras caught their movement. Unlike infrared, the cameras couldn't be switched off. That would look too suspicious to whoever was physically manning the camera feed. There was still a few hundred yards between them and their destination, but without infrared, all they had to contend with was the patrols.
The guy on the floor groaned. Adam took that as his cue to move. With a lingering look at the technician on the floor, he moved towards the door.
"Keep an eye on him Pritchard, let us know if it looks like he's calling security."
Madison made a frustrated sound but didn't comment as they moved towards the door.
"You're clear outside, no soldiers are in your vicinity and the cameras have been turned away."
Adam opened the door and cautiously peered out. As reliable as Pritchard's skills were, Adam's ingrained instincts would never allow him to blindly walk outside without checking his surroundings. Seeing that it was clear, he walked out the door and turned down the walkway between the two buildings, Madison following behind.
"The technician you darted, he's woken up, I've got eyes on him."
Adam halted at the back of the building, looking over at Madison. She started back at him steadily, looking decidedly unconcerned.
"He's looking a little … dazed."
Then Pritchard fell annoyingly silent. Adam wondered why it was Pritchard spoke when there wasn't a need, but when a running commentary was required he thought silence was the best option.
"I'm not interested in his emotional state Pritchard, is he calling security?" Adam asked, striving for patience but missing the mark entirely.
"Um, no. He's just got up, and logged into the system, like nothing happened. Now he's running a routine scan. Looks like he honestly can't remember being darted."
Adam gave a rueful shake of his head and caught Madison's gaze, a glimmer of a smile curving her lips.
"Doubts have no place in an operation like this. I wouldn't have used Synaptic if I wasn't 100 percent sure it would work."
Madison was right, he shouldn't have doubted her, and if he did have lingering reservations he shouldn't have agreed to the plan. Appropriately chastened, Adam nodded in acquiescence to her point and turned away.
"We're on the move Pritchard."
The warehouse at the back of the base was enormous. It looked like a vast endless desert of concrete, the grey walls reaching up above to a colossal sky of darkness. The front of the warehouse was brightly lit, security lights cast a spotlight on the two security men posted at the large hanger door.
In their reconnaissance, they'd tagged this building as the most likely place to store the Riezene. There was constant activity during the day as workers went in and out of the warehouse. Large wooden crates marked with the XNG shipping logo were wheeled in, and about an hour later, rolled back out. Madison couldn't fly the drone inside the warehouse as the doors had sensors which she didn't want to trip.
While Riezene was not yet on the market, the flurry of activity inside the warehouse suggested that it would begin soon. Curious about XNG, they'd done some research and discovered the XNG shipping company was now owned by Belltower. This allowed them to ship any number of illegal tech, or product, under the guide of legitimate business. The fact that the base was using XNG instead of their own government contracted shipping company was suspicious. Likely they wanted to circumvent the rigid regulations which were in place with government shipping.
The UAV hovered outside the warehouse, an invisible presence which gave them an open view of the entire area. Madison was in two minds. She desperately wanted to see if Dr Savage was still at the facility. Their UAV's reconnaissance over the last week revealed nothing. No facial recognition was flagged. Savage either wasn't at the facility anymore or he hadn't ventured outside. Both were a possibility. If Juggernaut were to be believed, Savage was a prized commodity for the Illuminate and was guarded like a jealous secret.
As much as she wanted her chance to confront Savage, Madison also couldn't allow Riezene to be distributed. If it was such a dangerous drug, the fatality rate could be astronomical. Was that the aim? Madison felt like they were two steps behind everything. Was Savage helping with the Riezene? Was Baldwin involved? How was Bob Page and the Illuminate involved? It was all interconnected, a jumbled ball of crossed wires Madison couldn't untangle.
Madison still wasn't sure about the Juggernaut's claim that the Illuminate existed, but Adam seemed convinced. As much as she'd like to just walk into the main building which housed all the scientists, Madison knew she couldn't. Maybe if she'd been by alone, she might have acted on the admittedly reckless impulse. But Madison couldn't, in good conscience, endanger Adam. He'd follow her, Madison knew that. So all she could do was follow the breadcrumbs and hope it led her to Savage and Baldwin.
Adam called her name and she started. "What?"
She sounded defensive even to her own ears. His eyes touched on her face with that unnervingly intuitive directness, like he knew exactly the dangerous contemplations she'd been musing about. Adam looked set to say something, but Madison let her face slide into careful blankness.
"What did you say?"
He hesitated, giving her a penetrating stare. His jaw tightened briefly but he didn't comment on her inattention.
"Has the drone finished running the analytics?" Adam repeated.
Getting across the base to the warehouse proved to be the easiest part of their mission. Their reconnaissance provided an easy way to navigate the patrols, and with Pritchard controlling the cameras, they'd been able to remain unseen. Getting into the warehouse was an altogether different matter. More soldiers patrolled the perimeter around the warehouse than any other part of the base. They needed to be precise with their infiltration if they were going to get in undetected.
Madison looked down at the Uplink device and nodded.
"There's three patrol's circling the warehouse. Once the next lot moves past we'll have about three minutes until the next patrol."
Adam nodded. "You hear that Pritchard?"
"Yes," came the clipped if somewhat distracted reply.
Adjusting the drone's height so they could see a larger area around the warehouse, Madison blinked the live feed away so that it sat at the edge of her vision. They were currently behind a building on the other side of the warehouse.
From the drone's feed they watched two soldiers amble along the side of the warehouse, automatic weapons held in a loose grip. They appeared alert, but not wary. The power outage was likely brushed off as a fault in the grid. As the two men turned the corner, Pritchard spoke.
Adam moved out of cover first. He walked as close to the fence as he could, careful not to get close to the electrical currents. Adam always walked with an economy of movement, no motion was wasted, every action had a purpose and every move was calculated, precise. He had complete control over his body, the use of his augmentations honed over countless hours until he molded himself into a lethal weapon.
Madison followed a few feet behind, keeping pace as Adam increased his speed. Cold fingers of anxiety danced across her skin while they were out in the open.
She breathed a sigh of relief when the warehouse came into view and she darted into the safety of cover. Adam looked back to check she was following, before picking up the pace again, jogging towards the fire escape.
A quick look at the drone's footage showed one of the patrols was at the back of the warehouse, about ten seconds behind schedule.
Adam took three quick steps and jumped. It was like someone had set springs under his feet that let him jump meters in the air. His augmented hand caught the light, the onyx hand glinting like a black diamond as he reached out and grabbed the fire escape. With ease he lifted himself up and landed quietly on the metal landing.
Madison cast a worried glance at the drone's footage and saw the patrol was the end of the warehouse, about 6 feet from turning down the side. Adam lowered the ladder for her and winced when it squeaked loudly. It obviously hadn't been oiled recently and looked rusted and rarely used.
Grabbing the bottom rung Madison climbed up quickly. Almost at the top of the ladder, her foot stepped on one rung and she slipped as it gave way. Reacting quickly Madison reached up to grab another rung but that also collapsed under her weight. A black hand snaked out and grabbed her wrist, stopping her from falling to the floor.
She winced as the two rungs clattered to the ground, the sound echoing across the night. Whipping her head back up Madison locked eyes with Adam. He offered his other hand and Madison took it. With no apparent effort on his part, Adam hauled her the rest of the way up.
Feet touching the metal grate, Madison blew out a deep breath. The fall wouldn't have killed her, but it would have hurt, the landing system wouldn't have kicked in with such a small distance.
"Thank you," she said, putting a deeper emphasis on the words.
The quiet acknowledgement had more meaning than merely saving her from falling.
"Any time," he replied, picking out the words with infinite care, like he was handling porcelain verses.
There was friction between both of their apparent nonchalance which made Madison uncomfortable. Madison turned away from Adam and leaned down towards the ladder. She began to pull it up but the sound grated and it got stuck half way and refused to budge.
"Fuck," she muttered.
"Leave it," Adam whispered, casting a glance towards the end of the warehouse. "The patrol has just turned the corner."
Madison hesitated. It depended on whether the soldiers were astute enough to recognize that the fire escape had been tampered with. And if the broken rungs had landed within seeing distance they might have a problem.
"Madison, let's go, we have to take the risk it," Adam urged.
She knew he was right, but she bared her teeth in agitation and stood up. A magno-lock barred their entrance. Extending the nanoblade Adam used the blunt tip of the fractured edge to cut through the lock. He opened the door cautiously and they both tensed in expectation of some alarm. When none came Adam's shoulder's relaxed slightly as he moved inside the warehouse.
"Pritchard, keep an ear out for any calls from the patrols around the warehouse. We might be compromised. Try and jam signals if it looks like they're calling in reinforcement."
"Naturally," Pritchard replied drolly.
"Found anything in their systems yet?" Madison asked hopefully.
Pritchard made a low sound which sounded like bees humming in her ear. "Not yet. But give me time. There's a lot of information here, I need time to sort through it."
They emerged onto the upper balcony area which wrapped around the entire warehouse. Adam dropped low on his haunches and Madison did the same. She cast an eye over the interior. It looked like it had been a large aircraft hangar which had been converted into a warehouse. It was huge regardless. Stacks and stacks of crates had been lined up neatly, leaving walkways between them where the XNG courier staff were walking. It was surprisingly loud inside, a dozen compact forklifts carried crates towards the entrance, the sound of the machines beeping and moving, combined with the staff moving around mingled to create a mild buzz in the air.
Madison used the Uplink device to bring the drone around to where they'd entered the warehouse. She blinked the drone's footage onto one eye and watched the two men walk under the fire escape. Neither soldier looked up to notice the ladder had jammed half way. Madison was in the process of relaxing when she felt Adam still next to her. One of the soldiers had bent over and picked up the rung. She let out a slew of curses as the soldier looked around. His gaze crawled upwards until it locked onto the ladder and she saw him frown.
"Shit," Adam muttered. "Pritchard…"
"Already on it," Pritchard confirmed.
This wasn't good. If the soldier decided that two events like a blackout and a ladder out of place were not unrelated, and called for backup, Pritchard could jam their signals. But that would only forestall reinforcements. They needed to get the samples and get out. Quickly. This just fast tracked their timeline.
Adam's thoughts were obviously along similar lines as irritation skipped across his expression.
"We gotta move."
Madison nodded in agreement. Checking no one was below them Adam grabbed the side of the safety railing and lithely jumped over. Madison followed, letting the weight distribute evenly across her feet, legs and hips to land smoothly.
Adam hadn't waited for her but had already walked over to the nearest crate and engaged his blade. It slid under the lid and, with some pressure, popped open. Adam's hand dove inside the crate and he withdrew a large box. He opened it and peered inside. The box was marked Riezene. He pulled out a few capsules containing the toxic and cheaper version of Neuropozyne, handed a few to her and put a few in a pocket on his belt.
"Time to go."
"Jensen you have two problems. One, the soldiers are getting antsy that they can't connect their comms. And I've been monitoring the front gate. Three SUV's have entered the facility. Looks like private security to me, not soldiers. They're very well armed. And …. hate to be the bearer of bad news but they're setting off towards your location."
Madison used the Uplink to guide the drone towards the front of the base. But lost her concentration when she heard the faint, but unmistakable sound of footsteps. Her hearing had been dulled by the amount of noise inside the warehouse, but they were close enough for Madison to hear. Immediately she grabbed for her weapon. The XNG employee stepped around the corner but was too far away for the darts limited trajectory.
Out the corner of her eye, Madison saw Adam turn towards the movement, having not heard the guy approach. Before Adam could react, Madison sprinted towards the employee who stopped, blinked a few times and opened his mouth. Madison just managed to grab him as he yelled out. She hoped the sound was drowned out as she spun the guy around and used the brachial hold to cut off his air supply.
He was a big guy, muscular, and tried to fight back. He might have succeeded against her before the nano-infusion but Madison was now as strong as three men combined. She held tight, and slowly he lost his hold on consciousness. As the XNG employee sagged in her arms Madison laid him gently on the floor.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck," she muttered.
Adam walked towards her and looked down at the unconscious XNG employee. His jaw tightened in agitation as he reached down and pulled the guy towards the stack of crates and stuffed him in one of the rows.
While he did that, Madison went to the end of the makeshift aisle and titled her head, concentrating on her surroundings, using her acute hearing to discern whether there was anyone in their vicinity. She heard the sound of running. Shit, someone had heard the scream.
"Adam," she whispered. "Someone's coming."
He jerked his head up and moved towards her. Two soldiers emerged from the end of the aisle and they both struck, advancing fluidly like two lethal components controlled by the same brain.
Madison deflected the rifle aimed at her head and kicked at the soldier's kneecap. His knee buckled and she used her elbow, striking squarely on the guy's forehead where his nose met his brow. He stayed motionless on his knees, as though frozen in a shocked state of semi-consciousness. A quick punch to the jaw and he slumped to the floor. Turning slightly, she saw Adam's opponent was in a similar state of unconsciousness.
"Jensen, you have to move. Those mercenaries are outside the warehouse."
A wailing alarm sounded, effectively hindering Madison's ability to hear anything. Ejecting the non-lethal rounds she jammed a magazine into the pistol. Madison used the Uplink to circle the drone around to the front of the warehouse and watched the Mercs emerge from three SUV's, all armed and moving in practiced formation.
One woman stood outside, very heavily augmented, directing the Mercs, obviously the team leader. As the drone fed back her augmentations, Madison's eyebrows rose in consternation as she realized there was very little left of her that was flesh. If it was possible this woman was even more heavily augmented than Adam.
The team proceeded to move around the warehouse as a flood of XNG workers ran outside. There was no way to get out without physically fighting their way out. And just who the fuck were they? Was it a coincidence that this Merc team arrived while they were trapped inside the warehouse?
Tucking those thoughts away for future contemplation, Madison reached down and rifled through the fallen soldier's vest, retrieving his spare ammo. She scooped up the automatic weapon the soldier had dropped and turned to face Adam. Tension cracked in the air around him, snapping so that she could almost see the sparks.
Madison frowned. "Do you know who these guys are? Black Ops, some type of private Military?"
He shook his head slowly. "No. But they remind me of another Black Ops outfit I've tangled with before."
The soldiers outside weren't the Tyrants, but it immediately brought to mind some grisly memories associated with his time tracking the clandestine unit around the world. The woman in charge did however, remind Adam of Federova. Not just physically, this woman looked as heavily augmented as Federova, but also because this woman solider appeared to have the same ruthless, dead stare as the deceased Tyrant.
Adam accepted the automatic weapon from Madison, leaning down to retrieve the spare mags from the other soldier's pockets.
"Pritchard, is there a back exit?"
"Yes, but I wouldn't advise it. They're setting up explosives on all the doors."
Adam bit out a curse. "They're boxing us in."
Madison shrugged, looking remarkably unconcerned, considering their circumstances. "So be it. They want to treat us like cornered animals, let them experience what that's like."
He looked over at Madison. It wasn't so much the words which concerned him, but the flat tones and her eyes staring at him filled with a corrosive anger. Adam opened his mouth to speak but Madison interrupted.
"They'll come in using a pincer type movement, flanking us on both sides, boxing us in and moving us towards where the rest of their team is so they can attack from all sides. Look," she demonstrated.
Adam's HUD vision from the drone outside showed exactly what Madison had anticipated, the mercenaries were peeling off at the entrance in three smaller units.
"We need to disrupt their flow, take out one side, it'll give us more of a chance."
Madison unclipped an EMP mine from her belt and smiled, an anticipatory gleam shining on her face. Adam felt an answering grin tug at the corner of his mouth. Madison dropped her gaze to the Uplink device and Adam watched the drone's vision as it moved inside the warehouse. It'd give them more of an advantage since they could see the Merc's movements, while the Mercs had no such help.
He also unclipped a mine from his belt and watched Madison as she placed hers on one of the crates. Adam walked down the next aisle and placed his on a crate at approximately the same height. Opening the slot, Adam checked that the blue glow of a Pulsar electromag charge was set in the discharge slot. He initiated a timer so he could move away without the damn thing going off when it sensed his movement.
Walking back, Adam leaned a shoulder against a crate at the end of the walkway and waited, keeping a wary eye on the movement of the Mercs through the drone's vision. The ten man unit separated to go down the two walkways towards their position. He sent a quick look over his shoulder to watch Madison slip the safety off her weapon. She met his eyes, a grim set to her mouth. They both knew the likelihood of surviving this encounter was low.
Turning back around, Adam watched and waited. The Mercs wore Military Spec armor plates on their arms and legs and Matrix Cobra Warrior body armor with hard neoprene chest plate which was going to make it hard to penetrate. From the scan completed by the drone, all Mercs were augmented to some degree.
As they passed the discreetly placed mine, the powerful EMP went off. Lightning-like sparks crackled across the three men in the lead, making them shake and convulse uncontrollably. Adam leaned out of cover and ignored the three who were convulsing on the floor. Their Augs, Adam knew from unfortunate experience, would be cycling through one failed reboot after another, and they'd be useless for at least the next hour. Instead, Adam aimed and placed two careful shots into the neck of both Mercs. As the two Mercs fell he heard Madison's gun discharge as well.
Unfortunately, they'd given away their position and Adam drew back against the crate as the drone footage showed the Mercs converging on their location. He activated the Wayfinder Radar System, and red arrows appeared at the corner of his vision as each of the men were tagged, making it easier for Adam to keep track of their movements.
He didn't have time to move to move before the Mercs were on top of them and chaos erupted. Muzzle flashes lit up around him and hot, screaming lead filled the air to an extent that Adam could almost taste the coppery residue.
Adam flinched as the edge of a crate exploded and wood fragments ricocheted off, spraying small chips across his face. He growled in anger, let the radar track the hostile's movement until there was a lull in fire as they reloaded which allowed Adam to lean out. The compensator in his Cybernetic Arm negated the recoil of the Flechette weapon, allowing for more accurate shots. Adam put this to good use, firing sustained bursts at the Mercs, making sure to hit hips, lower abdomen, upper thigh, anywhere the armor didn't quite cover.
The gun clicked empty and Adam withdrew, ejecting the spent magazine and shoving another in. He had only two more mags and the pistol. Not enough against a trained force like this.
Adam looked over at Madison. She was huddled against a crate, the edges shot to pieces, hard pressed and forced to keep switching positions as the Mercs tried to converge on her from two different angles. They'd run out of bullets before they could escape or overpower these Mercs.
Making a decision, Adam initiated his Glass Shield Cloaking and quickly swapped positions between his cover and the end of another aisle. He moved quickly, aware that he was leaving Madison exposed but also knowing the Mercs would soon discover he wasn't returning fire.
Running noiselessly down the aisle, Adam slowed as he got to the end. Taking a quick look around the corner, Adam counted the men and allowed his Tracking Aug to tag the hostiles. Still cloaked, he walked up silently behind one, reached around his body and grabbed his jaw. Yanked it violently to the right while jacking the man's body harshly to the left. The torsion of the contradictory movements snapped his neck.
One Merc spotted him and moved towards Adam, very fast. But Adam didn't let him near. He was smaller than Adam, an in-fighter who wanted to move in close and negate Adam's advantages of size and reach. He let the guy propel toward him, let him lunge for a grapple hold, which Adam twisted out of easily. Grabbing the Merc's wrist, Adam raised his boot and stamped down on the guy's kneecap. Even through the knee pad he heard the cartilage crunching, the bone breaking and ligaments sheering off. The Merc reeled, rocking instinctively back and away from the pain as the leg gave out.
The two remaining Mercs brought their guns up to shoot at him. In two movements, Adam pivoted, grabbed the Merc with the shattered knee and twisted him around so that his back was to Adam's chest. The bullets slammed into the Merc instead. Adam felt him jerk as the rounds sparked off his armor.
The Mercs ceased shooting at their hapless companion. In one quick move, Adam wrapped his free hand around the guy's neck and twisted. The man's head might not have pulled off, but the life fell from him before his body hit the floor.
One of the Mercs had used those few seconds to move a pace toward Adam. The pistol was still being brought to aim, but Adam didn't let him get a bead on him. Adam pushed the pistol away from his body just as it went off, engaged his blade and slammed it up under the Mercs neck until it scraped the inside of the Merc's skull.
The remaining Merc to Adam's left stepped in close and attempted to head-butt Adam, but because he was a good two inches shorter, the move was nullified when Adam suddenly rocked up on his toes and the blow landed on his chest rig rather than his jaw. Dazed, the Merc stumbled slightly but Adam didn't let him get far. Reaching out, Adam grabbed the man's wrists pulled them together and raised his knee. On impact with the forearms, one elbow popped out of its joint, while the wrist of the other arm snapped it in two places. Adam let go and elbowed the guy in the face. The man was rocked backward from the force of the blow.
To Adam's surprise the guy ignored his dislocated elbow, roared in pain and charged. Adam engaged the Nanoblade on his right wrist and punctured the guy through his neck. That stopped him. Adam withdrew the blade and the Merc swayed on his feet, eyes rolling back in his head as he dropped to the floor.
Adam quickly bent down and grabbed the Merc's gun as another hail of gunfire peppered his position. Fucking hell, was there an endless supply of these assholes?
Diving into cover behind some more crates, Adam rolled and was up instantly. He ejected the mag and checked the clip. Almost full.
Deciding to continue his offensive attack, Adam pulled a flashbang from his belt and threw it into the middle of the converging force. He leapt up on to the top of the crates just as the grenade went off. The flash suppressor lenses in his optic implants kept him from being blinded. Most of the Mercs had no such protection. They were easy picking as they stumbled about, no doubt seeing nothing but a bright echo of white light across their vision. Adam placed easy kill shots in their neck and head.
About to jump down, bullets from a Merc he thought was dead, caught the edge of his chest rig and sprayed across his shoulder and upper arm. Unable to right himself, Adam stumbled backwards and fell off the crates, grunting in discomfort as his back hit the concrete and the impact from the bullets on the polycarbonate implants jarred painfully.
Out the corner of his eye, Adam saw the legs of a Merc walk into the aisle. Luckily, he'd held onto the gun, so he rolled awkwardly, even as he glimpsed the Merc's finger curl around the trigger.
A bullet singed past Madison's sleeve and she hissed, not so much in pain but agitation. She returned a few shots and quickly withdrew into cover as more rounds slammed into the crates. In a rhythm of shoot, withdraw and repeat, the absence of sound behind her slowly filtered into her awareness.
Madison glanced back, concerned she hadn't heard the chatter of Adam's gun in a while. Alarm spread through her chest when she saw no sign of him. Another round chipped off more of the corner of the crate she'd huddled behind. There was hardly anything left of the original shape of the crate, it was a mangled mess of sharp wooden edges.
Stepping back slightly, Madison steadied her foot and launched herself forward. Hoping the sudden movement would give her the few precious seconds she'd need to switch positions.
Madison hunkered down behind a different crate and leaned out. Her finger curled around the trigger but she eased off instantly.
Madison need not have worried about Adam. He was down the other end of the aisle, moving with that liquid grace only the heavily augmented could achieve, flowing in a violent dance around his opponents, striking at them almost at will.
While Adam was occupying that unit, Madison kept low and moved between aisles, intending to intercept the other unit.
Madison put the stolen rifle on the ground and unclipped her pistol and quietly chambered a round. The rifle wasn't suited to the type of quick shooting she needed. Engaging her Glass Shield Cloak, Madison waited patiently for the Mercs to approach.
With the aid of the drone's footage above, Madison knew the exact moment to step out to gain maximum casualties. She raised her pistol, knowing the Mercs would see the distorted disturbance in the electromagnetic field from her movement, but it would be too late for any of them. In a blur of perfect execution, Madison snapped off four identical headshots before any of them could even bring their weapons to sight.
The heads of all four Merc's snapped back, blood and bone shooting out as they fell almost simultaneously, like they were soldier marionettes and their strings had been cut.
When Madison sensed movement behind her, everything slowed, sound drowned away like a low tide, as though her instincts had automatically switched off all interference so she could focus. Whipping around, Madison had just enough time to jerk to the side as a Merc stepped out of cover and fired off a shot.
She took off at a sprint towards the Merc, all but a blur in his vision. The nano-augmentation sped up nerve signals between her brain and muscle, giving her the ability to move faster than a normal human eye could track.
Reaching the Merc before he could fire off another shot, she grabbed his wrist and wrenched it back violently until she heard the snap of bone. The Merc arched his back and made a strangled, wailing sound full of pain, until Madison shoved his head into the nearest crate. Blissfully, the awful wailing ceased.
The remaining unit's Merc stepped out of cover. As he made a wild strike at her head, Madison stepped inside the swing of the blow, grabbed him, spun and threw him over her hip. He went crashing into the crates, the back of his skull cracking as it impacted. The Merc dropped to the floor, unmoving. Madison didn't even bother checking he was dead, she could already smell the sharp tang of the blood pouring out of his broken skull.
Madison grabbed the Merc's weapon, a Widowmaker TX 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun. The drone's vision revealed no other Mercs in the area so she made her way cautiously down the aisle.
Something shimmered slightly to the right, like a mirage in the middle of desert heat. Her brain registered what it was even as her body reacted to the threat. Madison turned in time to see a shape emerge, a glassy figure blurred by motion, rapidly becoming solid. The heavily augmented woman, the leader of the Mercs stood in front of her.
Before Madison could react, the woman surged forward. She was fast, far faster than any Aug Madison had encountered, even with a Reflex Booster. It was only Madison's innate skill and reflexes which saved her.
The woman engaged a sharp nano-blade, exactly like Adam's except gold in color. Madison brought the shotgun up, blocked the blade from piercing her chest. The nano-blade sheared through the shotgun just as the woman snapped a gun up towards Madison's head.
As the gun drifted closer to her, a calm infused Madison's mind. It was always like this. In times of peril, her body instinctively took over, performing the intuitive reactions drilled into her through countless hours of training and subsequent years of practice.
Instead of backpedalling, which is what the other woman probably expected, Madison went on the offensive. Bringing her arm up, she blocked the gun and used half of the seared off shotgun edge still in her hand to thrust forward, into the woman's face.
The Merc leader was forced to jerk her head out of the way or risk having the jarred metal edge of the shotgun shoved into her cheekbone. It gave Madison a few precious seconds to step into the woman's body and shove her violently against the crates. The Merc leader lost her grip on the gun. Madison felt it bounce off her thigh and clatter to the ground.
Madison had a split second to decide whether to grab for the gun or not. Slightly unbalanced, Madison realized she'd never have time to drop to the ground and retrieve the gun before her exposed back would be a nice target for those gold nano-blades. Instead, Madison kicked the gun away.
But even that move cost her. As she felt a slicing pain across her bicep, Madison pivoted backwards and dove away from the other blade she instinctively knew was slashing up towards her stomach.
Dropping her gaze quickly to assess the damage, Madison bared in teeth and hissed in anger when she saw the slash across her arm. Luckily, the nanite clotting factors were already slowing the bleeding, and Madison knew her regen genes would knit the fibres of her torn muscle back together.
Jerking her eyes to the front, Madison withdrew her combat knife, a rather woeful defence against those sharply dexterous blades, but better than nothing. The Merc leader was swift as she came at Madison, withdrawing one blade and striking with her augmented fist. Madison barely had time to deflect it. She rocked back on her heels and the metal fist, instead of punching across her jaw, clipped her across the shoulder. Even the glancing blow was enough to create a blooming pain and rob Madison of her precarious balance.
Madison tumbled backwards, but shifted at the last moment, tucking her shoulder in and letting gravity carry her backwards. As soon as she hit the ground, Madison rolled quickly and came up in a crouch. The Merc leader pulled her lips back into a definitively triumphant smile which showed teeth like a sharks, pulled back her nano-blade and struck down.
Ready for this manoeuver, Madison launched herself to the side, rolled once, came up behind her and rammed the knife towards the woman's back. The Merc leader moved at the last possible second and the knife stuttered against the polycarbonate armor until it came to a stop just outside the vest. Madison struck forward anyway and let the knife bury into the back of the other woman's shoulder, deep in the deltoid muscle.
The Merc leader growled. Actually growled. She sounded like a fucking animal.
Swinging around, Madison could feel the force of the woman's fury like blades under her skin. Charging at Madison, the Merc leader executed a serious of punches which Madison dodged and weaved, the sharp blades clipping Madison more than she'd like.
The Merc leader must have seen her grimace of pain because she pressed her advantage with a flurry of kicks and fast punches that Madison had to work to deflect, unable to attack in turn. The woman's speed matched Madison's own, possibly some type of custom model Reflex Booster.
But then Madison's luck ran out. One of the woman's punches connected with Madison's sternum. It rattled her chest and for an instant she couldn't breathe as the coppery taste of blood worked up her throat. Madison was helpless to block the round house kick to her chest which sent her flying backwards into the crates.
The back of her head struck the wood and pain slashed through her like a hot knife, dimming her vision and causing her breath to be sucked in like a vacuum. Her vision cleared enough to see the Merc leader draw back her arm, the gold nano-blade glinting mockingly at her.
She sucked in a breath, willing her body to move but it just wouldn't co-operate as the blade drifted closer to her neck. With a supreme effort Madison jerked her head to the side just as the blade struck less than an inch from her face. The Merc leader tried to jerk her arm back, but it had caught on something inside the crate, going but the woman's struggles to free herself.
Striking up, Madison felt the satisfying grind of bone as her fist connected with the underside of the woman's jaw. The Merc leader's head snapped back as a surprised and pained grunt was pulled from her. But she recovered quicker than Madison hoped. Instead of stumbling back as Madison expected, the woman's head snapped forward and head-butted Madison across her brow.
Madison's vision dimmed completely as she dropped to the floor like a stone and a sharp pain spread out across her face. Her vision cleared just in time to once again watch one of those deadly nano-blades come down towards her head. There was no way Madison could move this time.
But instead of one of those blades shearing through her head, Madison watched in astonishment as the Merc leader was lifted up into the air as a blur of black slammed into her from the side.
She blinked a few times, wondering if maybe the last blow had caused hallucinations from a concussion. Then her vision sharpened and Madison watched Adam engage the Merc leader. Black and gold slashed together with blurringly lethal speed.
Madison struggled to her feet, her vision blurring sightly. After two hard hits to her head, a concussion was definitely possible. But even as that occurred to her, Madison felt the familiar tingling sensation across her forehead as the nanites clotted and went to work repairing the damage to her body.
Leaning down, Madison unclipped the combat knife from her ankle and circled the two combatants warily, knowing Adam's concentration could likely be broken if she stepped in, possibly with fatal ramifications.
The Merc leader threw out her leg, sweeping around in a swift spin-kick that almost took Adam off his feet. But Adam was just as fast on the defensive, blocking the kick and launching himself at the woman as she regained her balance. The woman's face registered a brief flash of surprise as Adam rushed forward, grabbed her around the waist and flung her into the crates. Madison heard the unmistakable sound of crunching bone.
That didn't seem to faze her. The Merc leader's eyes narrowed, burning animosity in her silver colored Retinal Prosthesis. Launching herself from the crates, the woman seemed to ignore the pain and charged at Adam. The Merc woman moved with unnatural speed, limbs firing on hydraulic shocks that made her impossibly agile and faster than anyone Madison had encountered before.
Madison winced when she heard the dense thuds of metal fists as the Merc leader struck at parts of Adam's torso, the blows likely hurting him even through his body armor. Madison knew the feeling.
Both continued to trade blows, one arm slicing with the blade, the other with a fist. They seemed evenly matched, both possessing some of the most technically advanced combat augmentations in the world.
But then one of the Merc leader's punches snapped across Adam's jaw and momentarily dazed, he didn't see the nano-blades surging towards him stomach. Madison was waiting for this precise moment. Gripping the hilt of her knife, she threw it with towards the woman's neck.
Throwing knives wasn't as easy as most Hollywood movies would make others believe. It took practice, skill and exceptional hand to eye co-ordination. The nanites which enhanced every cell of Madison's body assisted in this process.
The knife pin-wheeled, was inches from striking its intended target before the Merc leader must have sensed something because she jerked to the side. The knife still managed slice the side of her neck and instead of her blades perforating Adam's stomach, it instead sliced over his hip where there was no protection from his armor.
Adam grunted in pain and staggered to the side. She ignored him for the moment and ran at the Merc leader, eager to finish the bitch off. But she skidded to a stop beside Adam when the Merc leader levered herself up from the floor with Madison's gun in her hand.
Suddenly it felt like the breath had been sucked out of the world and everything slowed into fatalistic slow detail. The gun discharged, the brief flash from the muzzle sparking like a flint and sounding thunderously loud as Madison threw herself to into Adam.
Landing on her knees, Madison screamed, "EMP engage."
The Uplink device on her wrist lit up red and Madison scrambled to cover Adam while triggering her advanced EMP shielding. Madison looked over her shoulder as a blue sphere erupted around them. The drone had been hovering above Madison the entire fight, following her closely as programmed by the GPS. Now, by voiced-activated command, the UAV dropped the two EMP grenades onto the floor next to the Merc leader. She looked down but was too late to engage her shielding. Not that it would have mattered, those EMP grenades were Mil-Spec and would bypass anything but Madison's own shielding.
Blue electricity cracked maliciously across the Merc leader's Augs as she convulsed and fell backwards. Snapping her gaze back to Adam, he hissed in pain as his hand clamped down tight on his hip, the blood spilling over his black fingers.
"Shit," she swore.
Leaning over, Madison hauled Adam to his feet. "Can you walk?"
Adam nodded, face pulled tight with pain. Madison sent a quick look towards the Merc leader, wanting to shove a knife through her heart while she was incapacitated but knowing Adam was hurt, losing too much blood and worried that more soldiers might be on their way.
Madison started at the voice in her ear, having all but forgotten about Pritchard.
"What Pritchard?" Adam asked, not bothering to mask his irritation.
Pritchard sniffed. "I was going to ask if you're ok."
"I'm fine," Adam bit back.
"Hm," Pritchard's dubiousness was clear even through his minimal response.
Madison led the way through to the back end of the warehouse, Adam limping behind her. When they got close to the door, Pritchard spoke up again.
"There are still two mercenaries stationed outside that door, not to mention the explosives attached. You're all clear apart from those two factors."
"Don't piss down my back then tell me it's raining," Madison remarked.
Adam chuckled tiredly behind her.
"Pardon me?" Pritchard asked, clearly affronted.
Ignoring him, Madison made sure Adam was behind some crates before she directed the UAV towards the back door. The UAV had one small tactical missile attached to it.
"Cover your ears," Madison told Adam.
He raised an eyebrow in silent question.
"It's up to you, I just know from experience how loud the missile is."
Adam made a low sound of surprise. "There's missile on that drone?"
Madison shrugged. "Yeah. A small one."
Adam did as told. It wasn't technically a missile like a Predator drone carried but rather a smaller version, but it still packed a lot of power. With a final flick of her thumb over the Uplink device, Madison let the missile lock on to the door and covered her own ears.
The sound was explosive. The missile tore open the door in a thunderously loud eruption. Flames licked around the doorway as billows of black smoke rose like dark tornados.
The men outside were dead, lying in pieces on the asphalt. The missile had also conveniently blown open a hole in the fence. Their way out.
She watched Adam limp in front of her. With only the barest hesitation, she stepped in close to Adam and wrapped her arm around his back. He looked down at her in surprise, before placing an arm around her shoulder.
Adam was dumped rather unceremoniously onto the chair near the desk in the motel room as Madison hurried off to get supplies. He grimaced in pain and grabbed at his hip.
"Sorry," Madison mumbled as she returned with the Medi-Kit.
The Military facility was on the outskirts of Detroit, about a five hour drive from Adam's apartment. It had been easier to set up a temporary base rather than travel that distance. Safer as well since Reed had Madison's samples and still couldn't be found. Reed also knew where Madison had been staying, so Madison thought it'd be safer not go back to Sarif Industries or Adam's apartment.
Madison had already injected Adam's hip with a bio-foam compound to clog the wound. She always packed a few basic first aid supplies before every mission. His Sentinel Health Implant was no doubt doing the rest. He'd still need stitches.
Madison put the Med-Kit on the desk next to Adam, gaze drifting from his hip to his Tac-Vest.
"You need stitches."
Rain pattered against the building and Madison looked up behind Adam to the window. Lightning lit up the sky like intricate strands of a golden spider web.
Adam's jaw tensed until the bone was silhouetted through skin like old ivory. He looked set to argue but must have thought better of it when he noted the look on her face. Sitting up in the chair, Adam began to process of unbuckling all the clips attached to his Tac-Vest and belt. Divested of the Vest, Adam removed the last piece of clothing, a white undershirt covered in blood.
His golden skin was latticed with cords of muscle and crossed with numerous scars. Black polymer was bolted onto his skin from the edge of his clavicle, moulded perfectly to mimic deltoid muscles, down to bicep and wrist. It was such high quality work, the augmentations were flawless, almost artistic. Madison had experience mainly with Military augmentations, which were more about functionality, often crude looking and had none of the stealth or eminence that Adam's had.
Madison's gaze touched on the matrix of bolts dotting Adam's sternum. There were six of them in an arc just under his collarbone. She could just see the shadow of a small bar raised under the skin of his pectoral muscles which joined to both arms. Two thick bars jutted out of his neck, the framework of his upper torso a mix of skin and polymer, seen and unseen. She could see no built-up scar tissue which was so often associated with augmentations. Just the gleaming black polymer matching perfectly with his honed musculature, an intricate amalgamation of flesh and metal.
"Can I stich you up?" Madison asked, a little more stiffly than intended.
Adam clicked his glasses back and Madison could see the green of his eyes, rotating slowly like no human eye ever could. She wondered for a brief moment what color his eyes were before he was augmented and felt strangely sad that she'd never know. His eyes flickered over her, the pain and adrenaline heating his gaze so it felt like crackling bolts of lightning through her body. Adam inclined his head to let her proceed.
Taking out a small injector of anaesthetic, Madison jabbed near Adam's hip. Leaning forward, Madison peered at the wound. There was a six inch gash just above his hipbone still bleeding sluggishly. All things considered, Adam was lucky. If the Merc leader had struck even a quarter of an inch lower, she would have hit his hip.
Threading the needle, Madison poked it into Adam's skin as a test. When he didn't jump in reflex she knew the anaesthetic was working. Adam lifted his arm so she could stitch around the back area. Tying off the stitch in the middle, Madison straightened and moved to the front. She could feel Adam's gaze on her, studiously silent but slowly heating her like a winter fire.
Swallowing past the sudden dryness in her throat, Madison avoided his gaze and leaned down to finish the rest of the stitching at the front. Putting a hand on Adam's collarbone to steady herself, she was startled when she felt how pleasantly warm his skin felt beneath her fingertips.
Finishing the last stitch, Madison stood up. She wanted to step back, to put distance between herself and her emotions so she could consider the situation rationally. Find time to think past the desire she felt sizzling across her skin like an electrical current.
They both felt it, the flare of something wild and combustible, matching the raw power of the lightning outside. Maybe she shouldn't have been content to just stand there, soaking in his warmth while the world spun around them like a giant whirlpool. Because at that moment it didn't feel like she was fighting hundreds of invisible adversaries vying for her blood, just the voice in her mind which told her she could trust Adam.
Slowly, like he was approaching a wounded and violent predator, Adam reached out and settled a hand on her hip. Madison's breath came in short bursts, anticipation or fear, or a combination of both, making the adrenaline sharpen every sense in her body.
When she didn't pull away, Adam wrapped his other hand around her wrist and gently tugged her towards him. Madison let herself be pulled forward, between Adam's legs. She stood there, unmoving, as the heat from his body slid across her skin and wrapped around her like a cocoon. He waited. For her to make up her mind, or for the final barrier to be removed because inch by slow inch, the barricade she'd built around herself had gradually been eroded by Adam's quiet persistence, as he showed her not so much with words but actions that she could rely on him.
Acting on instinct, because she trusted her own intuition above all else, Madison leaned forward. As soon as her lips touched his, thoughts peeled off until there was nothing else but her physical reaction.
Adam's beard scratched against her chin, but it just added another tantalizing layer to her already overloaded senses. The gentle push of his tongue brought a moan to her lips, which he swallowed almost eagerly. Her hand pressed against his chest, the muscles hard and enticing as she dug her fingers into them. There was a feverish quality to their kisses, their tongues tangling together, seeking a connection however brief and immutable.
Grabbing both hips, Adam pulled her closer until there was no space left between them and she could feel the beat of his heart against her chest. Almost on Adam's lap, Madison let out a serrated groan when she felt the extent of Adam's desire pressed up against her.
It was difficult not to get lost in the fever, the intensity of his kisses, the way his tongue twined with hers as their bodies responded with frightening intensity to the mere proximity of each other. Sensations whipped inside of her, brewing like a wild storm she couldn't control, stealing the oxygen from her lungs. Those thoughts of control peeled away the inner static of her mind, sharpening her thoughts until Madison had to pull away.
Breathing heavily, Adam's chest rose and fell in quick succession as a jerky frown was pulled over his eyes. She dug her fingers into his shoulders in an effort not to kiss him again, disconcerted by the intensity of feelings swirling inside her. She'd never meant to get involved with Adam, had done everything she knew to push him away. Yet here they were, having tasted that desire which felt like a drug, far too additive. That brief moment where she'd felt that lack of control had startled her. Control was something she'd vowed never to lose again. And it may have been acceptable if she knew that sleeping with Adam would negate any feelings she had for him, but she feared the opposite.
Madison dropped her gaze, trying to decipher the tumultuous emotions raging inside her. When she looked back up, Adam was watching her steadily, a coiled readiness she could feel in his body, like the crackling, bated energy of the approaching storm. Putting a hand over his chest, the slow thump of his heart felt calming.
"We shouldn't do this."
The small quirk of an eyebrow conveyed the idea that he couldn't fathom why not. Adam cocked his head slightly. "Why?" he asked, the word scratching like a sharp razor.
Under her hand, the rumble in his chest sent a pleasant shiver down her spine.
"You're hurt," Madison reasoned.
Adam made a disagreeable sound in the back of his throat and shook his head. "No. Try again. The real reason."
Madison bared her teeth in frustration and took her hand from his chest but Adam caught it before she could move away. She tensed up against his touch, so eager moments ago to feel his hands on her, now all she wanted to do was pull away. Closing her eyes, she fought against that instinctual reaction to violence and blew out a slow breath.
"That is the real reason," she stated flatly.
His hand tightened against her wrist and Madison rounded on him. The charged, tense energy pulsating from Adam was at odds with his apathetic demeanor. She pulled her arm away and he let her.
"Fuck you Adam," she snarled, shielding her sudden vulnerability behind anger.
The parched amusement drying across his expression made his grin all the more predatory.
Despite herself, Madison felt a small smile tug reluctantly at the corner of her mouth. The anger abruptly deflated, leaving a hollowness inside.
"I don't know how to trust anymore," she shrugged in a self-recriminating way.
Adam's eye's narrowed. "Do you trust me?"
Madison hesitated, her mind whispering the answer before she had a chance to create a wall of excuses to block it out.
"I don't…" she stopped. Adam deserved more than the unconvincing lies she told herself.
"Maybe," she acknowledged, unable or possibly unwilling to give any more.
He snorted. "I suppose that admission is better than nothing."
Adam frown suddenly. "What about you? You were injured as well."
"It's not a problem," she assured him. "I'm fine."
His eyebrows rose skyward in silent but obvious disapproval. Seeing Adam didn't believe her, Madison used her fingers to spread the slashed shirt open, to show him the wound on her arm that the Merc leader had inflicted with her nano-blade. It had almost healed and only the faintest pink scar remained.
"That was a few inches deep and wide. I heal differently than other Augs, even those with a Sentinel Health System. A lot faster. The molecular structure of my body is different. So when I say I'm fine, I really do mean it," she smiled, taking the sting out of her tone.
Adam didn't say anything, just silently contemplated her. Staring at Adam while he sat there with his shirt off, the muscles moving as he did, lithely, tantalizingly, it was difficult to remember the reasons why she'd broken the kiss at all.
A frown was pulled from him suddenly and Adam massaged the mastoid bone which connected his InfoLink. "What is it Quinn? … Now .… You want to meet now?"
Silence as he listened to the Juggernaut agent's response.
Irritation sharpened his expression as he responded. "Just tell me." Rolling his eyes Adam said, "Fine. We'll meet you in an hour."
"You sure that's wise," Madison asked as she dug in the Medi-Kit for some bandage. Placing the dressing over the stitched area, she smoothed the adhesive over Adam's skin.
"Better to get it over with," Adam said, a note of finality in his voice which Madison knew would be pointless arguing.
The sky cleared as the moon set, the storm had passed quickly, leaving only the glow of an approaching dawn. Crimson light bathed the landscape as birds called in the distance. The world creaked and groaned like an old house as it settled into the gentle hours of early morning.
Adam walked past the rows of houses warily before stopping at the address Quinn had given him. He gave a final drag on the cigarette, the rich, woody notes lingering in his throat. Smoking wasn't quite as satiating since his artificial lungs filtered out the toxicity. There was nothing satisfyingly self-destructive about smoking with no risk. Dropping the end to the floor, he ground the butt into the concrete.
Looking up, he took in the houses' exterior. The pale golden bricks were washed black by more than a century of polluted air from the nearby factories. Though the businesses had shut down years ago, the two-toned color of the walls remained.
A residential area seemed an odd place for a meeting, but the Juggernaut seemed to make a point of acting or doing the exact opposite of what others expected. It was possibly why they'd been able to remain concealed from the authorities for so long.
Madison appeared at his side with that disconcertingly silent grace. She'd wanted to do a perimeter check before entering the house, still inherently distrustful of everyone, but particularly the Juggernaut Collective.
Adam understood Madison's cynicism only too well; suspicion was his default mode after all. Too many people in his life had betrayed him. People who he had trusted. Megan, Sarif, S.W.A.T, even his parents to an extent. Although his frustration with his parents stemmed more from a place of grief and less from anger like the others.
So Adam understood why Madison wanted to maintain that detachment, and why she'd pulled away from him. As hard as that was, pun intended, Adam could honestly say he empathized with that need to protect herself from that aching, immeasurable feeling of eventual betrayal by people she trusted. Even if he had no intention of hurting her nor had given her a reason to doubt him.
"I checked the block. The drone picked nothing up and neither did I. Shall we get this over with?" Madison asked, a controlled edge to her voice.
Adam let out a quiet sigh and nodded. Stepping forward, there was the slightest protest from his hip. If necessary, Adam could fake being healthy. There was no tap-outs in his line of work. Jungle law applied to humans as much as animals. Showing weakness of any kind could prove potentially fatal. A few energy bars and pain killers and Adam felt almost normal.
Madison reached up and grabbed the drone. The rotors collapsed and folded in on themselves, the drone powering down as Madison shoved it in a backpack.
There were four people inside the house, Adam had already used the T-wave lenses in his Smart Vision optics to see through the thin walls of the house. Turning around, Adam made a final sweep of the street, unclipped the holster on his thigh and then knocked on the door.
Heavy footsteps approached from inside the house and Adam tensed, hand close to his holster as the door was opened. Quinn's familiar face stood behind the door, a wide grin spreading across his face.
"Bratan and the firecracker have arrived," Quinn announced, a hint of his Irish accent softening the vowels. "Come in." Quinn stood back and swept his arm out in a superfluous gesture which Adam found irritating.
"Interesting place to meet Quinn," Adam replied lightly.
The Juggernaut Agent shrugged. "Who'd think to find one of our bases here?"
Who indeed? Adam made sure to note that bit of information, building on the Profile he was creating for the hacker group. Quinn beckoned both of them to follow. Madison closed the door quietly and met his gaze. The corner of her mouth tightened and the hard set to her shoulder showed just how tense she was.
The floor creaked loudly under his feet, the scuffed wooden boards looking like they needed a good strip and varnish. Paint cracked and peeled on the walls and Adam could smell the dampness which signified mould.
Stopping at an open door, Quinn ushered them inside a room. Adam stood just inside and took everything in. A plethora or monitors, laptops, servers, desktops and other computer hardware was scattered across the room. Two guys sat on computer chairs typing furiously on keyboards. Vega stood to the right of one of them pointing at a monitor. She stood up and looked over at them as they entered the room, gaze touching on Adam before settling on Madison. Her eyes narrowed slightly, not doubt recalling the last time she'd encountered with Madison.
Adam stepped further inside the room to allow Madison and Quinn to get past him.
"Did you bring the samples?' Quinn asked.
Before Adam could speak, Madison stepped forward and tapped the shoulder of one of the men sitting on the chair.
Madison pointed at both of them and inclined her head, "Get out."
Silence greeted her 'request' as the two men gaped at her. Vega visibly stiffened and looked over at Madison, animosity smouldering in her gaze. The hacker in front of Madison stumbled over a response. Eventually he gained his composure and allowed annoyance to creep into his expression.
"Who the hell are you? You don't get to tell…"
He never got the chance to finish before Madison's hand whipped out, grabbed his chair and spun him towards her. Madison's sharp gaze travelled over the unknown Juggernaut hacker, violence beating like a pulse in her eyes as she leaned down so her face was level.
She spoke so softly, the quiet tones made the menace curling around the words more poignant. "I said. Get. Out."
Her face, although smoothly expressionless, held a coldness that her voice only hinted at. Adam watched without interference. He wasn't going to talk with the two other unknown hackers in the room either, and Madison's usual abrasive approach was rather effective.
The Juggernaut hacker visibly paled under her unwavering gaze. He looked over at Quinn helplessly. Quinn blinked rapidly then inclined his head towards the door. Madison missed the move Quinn made but she must have guessed what Quinn would do because she took one careful step back, still within the young man's personal space, and crossed her arms. Swallowing nervously, the Agent pushed his computer chair back, got up and stepped around Madison, making sure not to touch her.
"You could have just asked them to leave nicely," Quinn commented, the slightest irritation shading his words.
Flicking her eyes towards Quinn, Madison let a dangerous smile escape, which sharpened her expression and allowed hostility to thrust to the surface.
"I don't do nice."
Adam watched the two men leave the room. As soon as they closed the door, Madison reached inside her backpack and withdrew the drone.
Vega, who had remained a silently fuming presence, spoke for the first time. "What the fuck is that?" she hissed.
Madison looked over at Vega. "It's a drone," she replied, more than a hint of asperity in her tone.
The female Juggernaut Agent clamped her teeth together in anger. "I can see that. What do you think you're doing with it?"
"This," Madison started as she threw the drone up. It hung in the air as she tapped a few commands into the Uplink device, 'will emit a subsonic electromagnetic pulse which will preclude any form of electronic eavesdropping."
Resentment snapped across Vega's face. "You can't just come in here, order two of our guys out like you own the place and expect us not to react. And we are a hacking organization, you don't think we've taken similar precautions?"
"Of course you have," Adam answered. "This is our own precaution. Now we can talk. What did you find that required such an urgent meeting?"
He didn't much care whether Vega or Quinn liked what they were doing. There was a reason for their precautions. Pritchard has sent Juggernaut the reports that he'd pulled from the servers. Being a security analysist, he hadn't been able to make much sense of the biotechnological jargon so Adam thought that the Juggernaut might be able to determine the contents.
"Did you bring the samples?" Quinn asked eagerly.
Adam levelled his gaze on Quinn and wondered why he was being so persistent.
"Who in the Juggernaut knew we were breaking into that base?" Adam asked.
Quinn frowned suddenly. "Why Bratan? Did you not get the samples?"
The jovial quality in Quinn's voice dropped and his tone cooled considerably.
"Answer the question," Madison snapped.
Vega made a scoffing sound in her throat. "Why the fuck should we?"
"Because we won't hand over the samples if you don't."
Silence dropped on the room like a coffin lid. Quinn's face went carefully neutral, and Adam wouldn't have been surprised if he was using his Social Enhancer to temper his expression so Adam couldn't read him. Shifting his gaze between them, whatever Quinn saw obviously made him re-think his approach.
"Myself, Alex, Janus and a few other hackers knew about the operation."
"You have a traitor in your organization Quinn," Madison stated flatly.
Quinn's head was already shaking in the negative before Madison finished her sentence. "No sweetheart, we don't."
Whether it was Quinn's denial or his mocking term of endearment, Adam wasn't sure, but Madison's barely leashed control snapped completely. Her green gaze disappeared and all that Adam could see was those golden depths practically sparking in agitation. He found the effect striking.
Once again, Madison reminded him of a wild animal. A lioness to be exact. A snarl hovered over her lips, pulling back to expose perfectly straight white teeth. Combined with her lithe grace and tawny colouring, it wasn't a far off deduction. Even more so when she launched at Quinn, full of unrestrained power as she moved in a blur, grabbed Quinn around the throat and slammed him against the wall. At the last moment she must have pulled back because Quinn's head wasn't shoved straight through the plasterboard.
Vega's mouth hung open for a few seconds before she thought to react. Scrambling for her weapon, by the time she'd opened her holster Adam had already removed his and was pointing it at Vega.
"Don't," he warned, the command in his voice unmistakable.
Vega stilled, gaze tracing the weapon in his hand before darting quickly to check on Quinn. Adam couldn't say he was surprised Madison had acted so aggressively, she always seemed to have a pressure sensitive denotation when it came to feelings of anger. Madison's enforced captivity by her former commanding officer had affected her so profoundly, Adam doubted even Madison understood the extent of the psychological damage. That they'd found nothing about Dr. Savage in the reports so far, further compounded her frustration and anger.
Not that Adam had many charitable feelings at that moment either. Betrayed by someone within the Juggernaut, injured and almost killed by an unknown mercenary unit, Adam wasn't in a particularly agreeable mood either. While Madison's reaction was arguably too intense, and Quinn didn't warrant such a violent response, Adam would back her up.
Quinn gargled and struggled ineffectually against Madison's hold on his throat, face reddening as she squeezed.
"Madison," he barked warningly.
For a few seconds she didn't ease up and Adam thought he might have to intervene. Then she loosened her fingers and Quinn's loud breathing was the only sound in the room. Madison let go abruptly and Quinn's slumped forward.
"Adam and I were set up. Nearly killed. So don't play your games, I have no patience for them."
"Obviously," Vega drawled.
Madison's whirled around, gaze latching onto Vega. Despite a spark of anger, she contained that aggression which was always so close to the surface and didn't react.
"What happened?" Quinn asked, voice cracking as he stood up, massaging the red marks on his neck.
"While inside the warehouse getting the samples, we were surrounded by some type of private Military unit. Mercenaries. Well-trained and well-equipped. Not the soldiers on the base, we never even engaged any of them. Those Mercs had been alerted ahead of time that we were breaking in."
"That's speculation, you don't have any definitive proof that anyone in Juggernaut sold you out," Vega reasoned.
Adam had thought the same thing when Madison had mentioned the idea. It might just be coincidence. But if he'd learnt anything during his time as a Cop, coincidence was a badly realized twist of someone's poor planning. Too many factors didn't equate. The Mercs, according to Pritchard, didn't sign in at the gate and were let through into a Military facility which viewed private contractors as little more than hired thugs. The Mercs headed straight to their location, like they'd been waiting offsite for a call which would allow them to effectively box them in before they could escape. The use of explosives wasn't protocol, especially on a base with civilians around. None of the Military soldiers manning the base had engaged them, as if they had orders to stand down. Once Adam had outlined all of those points, even Vega's reservations were quietened.
"We encountered a woman. She was the leader of the squad. Very heavily augmented, most likely packed with illegal hardware," Madison reported.
Using the Uplink device, Madison tapped away and a hologram image was projected from the drone onto the space between them. Quinn sent a nervous look in Madison's direction before moving past her to squint at the image. He whistled through his teeth and looked over at Vega.
"Do you know who that is?" Adam asked.
Quinn nodded. "Captain Evelyn Chase. The Juggernaut have bumped up against her team before." Raising a cynical brow, Quinn continued, "You're lucky you lived to tell the tale if you tangled with her.
"Who do they belong to?"
Vega shrugged. "We can't say conclusively. The leader, the woman, is ex-Army, dishonourable discharge. But that's really all we know. Who she's working for now, no idea."
Still, they had a name to start with and that was more than they'd had before. If anyone could find information about this woman and her Mercs, it'd be Pritchard. That's if he was still speaking to them, his disdain for Adam's association with Juggernaut bordered on jealousy.
"Did you find anything in the reports we sent you?" Adam asked.
Quinn blew out a long breath and nodded. Reaching over, he pushed the mouse and the screen-saver flickered off. Typing on the keyboard he brought up the reports from the Riezene.
"Okay, so you know that the Riezene which Alex encountered in Panama City was a very poor substitute for Neuropozyne. Deaths, allergic reactions, the stuff was basically poison. This version of Riezene is a completely different composition. It's almost identical to Neuropozyne."
Madison gave a bleak little laugh. "So we broke into this base to basically steal Neuropozyne. That's fantastic news," she said, voice dripping with sarcasm.
Holding up a finger, Quinn's lips tipped up into a humorless half-smile. "I said almost identical."
"So what's different?" Adam asked, intrigued.
Vega silenced Quinn with a look, then walked over to Adam. She held out her hand. "First the samples."
Adam couldn't help but raise an amused eyebrow. A good foot shorter than himself, Alex showed no fear of him, just a fiery determination. Chuckling quietly to himself, Adam opened a pocket on his belt and held the Riezene in his hand. Vega let her eyes linger on them but her bravado ended at actually touching him. Closing his hand around the vials, Adam stared steadily at Vega.
"You need to find out who in your organization set us up. Is that a deal?"
Vega nodded mutely. Adam opened his hand and held it out to her. With only the barest hesitation she removed the samples.
"So what's different?" Madison asked, impatience lurking in her low tones.
Frowning, not appreciating Quinn's cryptic comments, Adam made a low rumbling sound. "Explain."
"The Nano-bot is a synthetic biological agent able to function on a near atomic level and perform a pre-programmed task," Quinn clarified.
Adam watched Vega walk over to a machine in the corner, open it up and put one of the samples in. He ignored what she was doing for the moment, and turned back to Quinn.
"But what does it do specifically?" Adam asked, the thin thread of his patience running out very quickly.
"We're not exactly sure how, but whoever created these nano-bots are using nanites. Nano-technology that shouldn't even exist yet."
Madison went absolutely still and the air around her compressed, like she'd drawn all the energy from the room. She flicked her eyes to Adam and in those golden depths he could see panic and fear vying for supremacy.
"But that's not the most interesting part. Riezene has these nano-bot trackers inside the drug. Once the Riezene is injected into the body, they are designed to absorb into connective tissue and other cells. The Nano-bot works in a similar way to RFID technology, using radio waves as a medium to transmit information."
"What kind of information?" Madison asked warily.
Madison's disgust was painted across her face. "What, like a micro-chipped dog?"
Vega let out a sharp, humorless laugh which hovered in the air. "Exactly. The location of thousands of Augs across the country and world, can you imagine the power someone would have if they had this kind of information?"
Unfortunately Adam could imagine. Only too well. The potential for misuse was enormous, especially if the process was involuntary. He shuddered at the thought of someone tracking his every move. After Panchaea, a legislation had been introduced for something similar to this idea. Augs wearing bracelets which would allow the authorities to track their every movement like they were a criminal. But it was still an invasion of privacy and stripped people of basic human rights so there was fortunately enough opposition that the Bill didn't pass. Of course the Illuminate would find a way around it.
"But if we found this information, surely others could too? I mean, if they were planning wide-spread distribution of Riezene someone might get interested enough to test it," Adam reasoned.
Quinn gave a rueful shake of his head. "They're already ahead of you. Wide-spread distribution wasn't planned. At least, not in the way you were thinking. The Riezene won't be provided to Augs for take away use, they'd have to go to a clinic and be injected there. Once inside the body, it's virtually impossible to find."
"So Riezene isn't being used to poison and kill Augs like we first speculated, it's being used as an illegal tracker. For what purpose?" Madison mused.
Before either of the Juggernaut Agents could answer, one of the young men who'd been evicted from the room came back in. His eyes flicked to Madison warily before walking towards Quinn.
"Sorry to interrupt, but you need to watch the news."
He reached over, got a remote and clicked the TV on. The screen flickered to life and they all turned towards it.
"In breaking news, Zapphire Biotech, a corporation which have been attempting to make a cheaper alternative to Neuropozyne which is in drastically short supply, held a press conference moments ago. Their CEO had this to say."
The camera panned in on a middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair and a haggard face. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked nervously around. He held a tablet in front of him, anxiously tapping a rhythm on the cover.
"It's with regret that I stand here right now. As many of you are no doubt aware, Zapphire has been working tirelessly to create a cheaper and safer alternative to the drastic shortages in Neuropozyne. Unfortunately, we've had to make the decision to cease production due to unsafe trials. Regrettably, there's just no safe way to make it. The cheaper alternatives that we have tried to create are just not safe to give to humans."
Reporter's voices exploded on-screen, a tide of riotous indignation which could be heard even throughthe TV. The young man who'd burst into the room switched the TV off and looked around. Vega was the first to react. She grabbed a spare keyboard near her and smashed it across a chair, profanities pouring out her mouth like acid.
The younger Juggernaut hacker backed away warily, moving to the door and escaping the room. Quinn walked over to Vega and placed a hand on her shoulder and murmured a few words into her ear. She shook his hand off irritably.
"Well, that was unexpected," Madison retorted mildly.
Adam wasn't taking the news as surprisingly calm as Madison. He felt his fury rise, crawling up his throat to lodge there. He squashed it down, trying for calm even as he felt the rage seep into his bloodstream. Fucking Illuminate. Always a step ahead.
"The samples are useless now."
Rubbing a hand over his shaven head, Quinn looked at Vega in sympathy. "We still have them. Maybe we could go to the Press, try and convince them of what we found? The reports are pretty damning."
"And who's going to believe you?" Adam questioned, hearing the cynicism in his own voice. "Madison and I broke into a Military facility, illegally, stole those samples and the reports. You're not getting your information from a whistle-blower. Reporters are going to want to know how you obtained all this information. Are you going to reveal how you got those samples? They won't touch this even if you could convince them. And then you'd risk their lives as well. Because the Illuminate won't let that information get out. It's why they got the Zapphire CEO to call that press conference. They have contingencies. They'd rather their plans be de-railed temporarily than risk exposure."
Crossing her arms, Madison leaned her hip against the table. Her face had lost that languid expression he'd mistaken for calm, dissolving slowly to set into hardened stone. She was furious but hiding it.
"We need to keep pulling at threads. Maybe we can find Evelyn Chase. Work out who she's working for. Either way," Madison paused and looked over at Quinn and Vega, "you need to find out who betrayed you. And us. That's two leads. Find the mole and we can discover who they're reporting to."
Despite the disappointment churning in his gut like curdled milk, making acid burn up his throat, Adam found some solace in the idea that they did have a few leads. Frustratingly, this conspiracy wasn't unravelling, it was continuing to add further complex layers which Adam was finding tiresome. He would never give up, it went beyond stubbornness. It was a compulsion to shine a light on the darkest recesses of the Illuminate's shadowy organization. To expose all of their atrocities so no one ever had to go through what he did.
"You'll let us know what you find?"
Quinn's locked eyes with Adam, nodding. "Yeah. We'll be in touch."
It's been a while since my last update. For that I apologize. There was some issues with my laptop shitting itself with half the story written and I stupidly hadn't backed up my work. Yearly chapter updates will not be the schedule I adhere to in the future. Maybe an 18 k chapter will go part-way to making up for it? ;)