Tacoma, Washington, 2076

Red Lion Hotel

The thin hatch-pattern curtains rolled up automatically. The cold, xenon headlights of the passing hover cars, and colorful LED lighting of nearby buildings shone through the window stronger than the actual sun, thanks to the dense smog over the sprawl. The sonorous hum of the ventilation system kicked in, almost rivaling the hollow sounds from the room's outdated plasma TV. This usually bothers people staying at the Red Lion, however the morning commotion was late, and Eiger was already in sweats and a sports top, counting off push-ups on the floor. Five-thirty-two in the morning, and she had already finished her morning routine, then ambled over to the fridge while rubbing her shoulders for some nutri-soy and a bottle of water. Thanks to her effort, she was still a supermodel amongst trolls, and looked like she was still in her twenties, despite her actual age being closer to her mid-forties. After a twenty-minute shower, she combed back her short, blonde hair, applied some basic make-up, slid on some denim skinnies, a grey t-shirt, her leather jacket, along with her blocky goggles over her eyes and a hard plastic air-pollution mask. She concealed a SW22 Victory handgun with a pre-loaded chamber and full, ten round magazine in her right front jacket pocket; it was puny in her hand, but it got the job done when needed.

The hotel lobby was a dense collage of SINless bums crowding together, keeping to the walls so they don't disturb the paying customers and get thrown out. The red stucco peeled and chipped with the scrawling of the bums who were too far gone to even beg. The grimy tile cracked under her high-end Ares work boots, and the crumpling magazines and plastic cups formed a white noise halfway to the door. She slipped a twenty to an ork holding out a mug, one of the few who seemed sane enough to actually understand what she was doing, and he muttered thanks in some form of city-speak as she walked past. At the door, she handed the teller a five for a plastic layer to cover herself in before stepping out into the rain. Starting at it meant to go on, the streets of Tacoma were lined up and down with grey and brown buildings of brick and concrete, featureless save for the advertising jumbotrons mounted on the upper parts of their faces. The streets were so dense with the poor and SINless that wheeled cars could only go a kilometer an hour at most as they waited for the crowd to shuffle aside, not that running over the occasional stubborn low-life deterred those driving them. The torrential downpour froze Eiger, even in her layers, and the dark brown clouds over the city were so thick that she needed to switch on her goggle's smart-vision and image link to clearly see her surroundings further than ten meters away. Her goggles linked to her EvoTech commlink which further linked to a map of Tacoma in the matrix, and projected it three-dimensionally in the form of gridlines, showing the sidewalks and buildings clearly to her. Her image link turned on, and hundreds of loud, neon panels flickered to life over the featureless buildings up and down the street and along the bottom of the hovers skimming overhead. The displays flashed merchandise, menus, sales, promotions, services, and samples with the accompanying audio distorted to address her as Mona, the name on her fake SIN.

Eiger focused on the sound of rain and the splashing of puddles as she trotted towards Club Silverstone, on the edge of the theatre district. She walked through the door into the dark club lit by blacklight with strobes of red, pink, cyan, green, and yellow, and was stopped by a high pitched voice perking up from the receptionist window.

"Hey! Trog! Twenty nuyen or get the fuck out!"

Eiger, a tall, shrouded silhouette with multiple short horns and tiny, glowing orange eyes from her goggles, turned to the window. "I'm here to see Takeo Mercedes," she spoke with a firm, smooth voice, tinged with a German accent.

The thin Asian woman behind the desk immediately went wide in the eyes and recoiled slightly in her leather swivel chair. "Uh…Mercedes is…"

"I know where he is; he's always there, every time," Eiger turned from her and walked around the black, carpeted divider into the main area, a white paneled dance floor with a polished black bar and leather padded stools.

Takeo Mercedes was a young Japanese human man from Neo-Tokyo, there on his father's money to sow his wild oats, and also earn a name for himself to impress daddy. He sat in a circular booth with a disheveled dress shirt and black slacks, elven women under each arm, and a cadre of much more professional men and women in suits standing around him, hands on the hilts of their waist mounted katanas.

A suited woman with a black bob stepped up to her as she approached the table. "Stop right there, bimbo-"

"No, you stop right there, kusogaki. I'm here to talk to your boss, not you."

Takeo lurched forward, grinning, and let out a string of drunken, mangled Japanese, too fast for Eiger to understand. "Ahem, Eiger," he said after taking a second to recompose himself. "What can I do for you?"

"You can pay me. I delivered the package you wanted, and I expect my nuyen. Now."

His smile faded and he cocked his head to the side. "The fuck you say to me, trog? I think my English must be failing me, because it sounds like you just made a demand of me. Did I hear that right?"

"Yes, you heard correctly. Two-thousand nuyen, as we agreed."

He rubbed his chin then scratched his nose. Eiger could easily tell he was on nova-coke, and likely some other form of stimulants. His pupils were indicative of hallucinogenic effects as well.

"No, get the fuck out of here, trog. I don't owe your filthy ass a thing," then he reclined back with his two women, both of which cuddled back up to him and giggled. "Go! We don't want your kind here!"

The guards around him drew their swords a quarter of an inch, and Eiger put her hands up then back down in a quick motion of surrender. She turned, shook her head, and sauntered out, ignoring the scorn of Takeo's gaze at her back. The urge to rip him limb from limb and beat his guards to death with his arms was curbed by a shot of scotch she swiped on the way out.

Two hours later, after unloading on a punching bag in the Red Lion gym and a phone call to a local colleague, Eiger was back in the rain, walking towards Black Sammy's hideout. Black Sammy, named for his noteworthy survival after flatlining and recovering from a harsh run in with black IC, lived along the abandoned coast line of Tacoma, where the docks were turned into a mini sprawl of shanties and tents. Black Sammy's shanty was larger than most, consisting of three rooms, a couch to sit, work, sleep, and eat on, a working seventy-inch panel, and a storage of deck components with decent matrix access. Eiger poked her head through the door, another luxury of Black Sammy's, and craned her neck from the entrance hall and kitchen to the living room where Black Sammy, an ork from Tenochtitlan, sat on his couch in a red cardigan and jeans with his deck on his lap. He turned and smiled at her.

"Hey, come in, holmes," he said with a grin, displaying his yellowing teeth. "What can I do you for?"

"Hey Sammy," she said while stepping in and closing the door behind her. "Mind if I sit?"

"No, no of course not, make yourself at home, holmes. Can I get you anything?"

"Yes, I need your help on a job."

"Oh? Who's the client? That yakuza boy still so desperate he's hiring trogs like us?"

"Actually, he's the job. He didn't pay us the two-thousand for the delivery. He just told me to fuck off and that he didn't want me around."

"What? C'mon, you shittin' me, holmes?"

"I shit you not. Look, I need you to jack into the city's municipal grid, follow this guy, get his routes down. I can tell he's a creature of habit, an addict, and distanced from his father, or else he'd've lost a finger when he hired us, but I can't blow him away in the middle of Club Silverstone…as satisfying as it would be."

"Yeah, yeah I hear ya' holmes. Gimmie a few days to figure this guy out. Anything you want me to focus on? I assume you're already getting a plan together?"

"Yes. Focus on his driving routes. I believe he drives a red, Sikorsky-Bell Red Ranger hover car; I've seen it parked outside the club whenever I see him. I think I can use some light ballistics to disable his car by tricking it's auto-land safety feature into activating prematurely. Once landed, I can neutralize his security and extract him. I still need to think of exactly how to fake out its safety systems, and where to hide Takeo until we're paid."

"Aw, hell holmes, ya' doubt my rig can break into his on-board computer?"

"Not at all. I doubt our ability to synch up an organized effort to extract him while you're out here. You aren't the fastest decker in the sprawl, Sammy, just one of the best."

"Shit, thanks for that, holmes," he was half genuine and half sarcastic.

"Don't mention it. I need info on Takeo as soon as you can get it. I still have that room at the Red Lion. Stop by when you have something, maybe we can get some drinks."

Eiger lived on the meager remnants from her last job's pay while waiting for Black Sammy to call with what she needed. She kept doing push-ups, sit-ups, and stretches while listening to a documentary about the gangs of Redmond and the lives of the beaten down ork culture there. Inside and sheltered from the toxic smog, she didn't need her goggles to protect her eyes, and used the image-link implanted in her cybernetic ones to go over maps of Tacoma in detail, coming up with ideal spots for ambushes, namely the worse ones where his security wouldn't expect an attack. She pulled a large green trunk from under her hotel bed, sealed with a biometric lock and voice sensitive password. Inside was her suit of leather padded armor she had with her from her days in the KSK, along with an array weapons. She took them and laid them along her bed in a row, considering what she would need for the job. The auto-assault-sixteen was out of the question; the spread would pose too high of a risk of collateral damage. The terracotta-arms-AM-forty-seven was an effective long distance rifle, however given the density of most of Tacoma, she would want to begin the assault from close range where the rifle wouldn't be optimal. Her PPSK-four collapsible machine pistol was a good bet, since it's burst fire capability, low caliber rounds, and mid-grade stopping power meant it had next to no chance of collateral damage; while trigger discipline is always a factor, she wanted to remove it when selecting tools for a job, then look at the build, parts, facts, and statistics of them before putting her ego into the equation. She decided nothing she had was discreet enough to quietly trick a hover's safety system from close range, and set out to remedy that.

The lobby of the Red Lion held numerous tiny kiosks and restaurants in an attempt to bring the mall to their clients, saving them from the risky trek two miles up to the real one. Several kinds of ethnic food were put up for sale, but paste was paste, no matter what it was sculpted into, and the artificial flavors weren't unique enough between them. She ignored the lo-mein which tasted like carne-asada which tasted like bratwurst which tasted like spaghetti, and sauntered into the built in stuffer shack. The elven teen at the counter looked up from behind his Deck-Con magazine at Eiger as she entered, more accurately her bust, but his eyes shot back down when she looked his way. She ignored him and went up and down the aisles, grabbing some basic utility supplies and cosmetics. A key chain, lipstick, pen, lighter, some commlink parts, working goggles, a pair of earrings, and a regular ring with a cheap plastic diamond. To avoid suspicion, she interspersed her haul with a pair of potato chip bags, a six pack of Great Value Synthohol beer, and a small packet containing a pair of weak long-haul pills. Altogether, it was only thirty-seven nuyen for the haul, however the real cost came in the annoyance she felt at his quick glances to her chest he thought she didn't notice.

Once back in her room, she put the food, beer, and pills aside, then laid out everything else on the kitchen counter to start jury-rigging them together. It took her only three minutes to assemble a weapon known on the streets as an arms puzzler. It was a weak, small, quiet gun that she could easily fire off in a crowd without raising suspicion. The commlink case held the magazine in place, feeding bullets to the hollowed out pen receiver, and was large enough to hold one of her extra SW22 Victory ten-round magazines, although it was a few centimeters longer than the case itself. Easy enough to use, fire a round or two into the hover's jet, and it will cause the safety system to freak out and force a landing, however the gun's mild popping sound would likely go unnoticed in the noisy mob and rain storm. Once downed, she would likely have a two second window to neutralize his security with burst fire from her PPSK-four, then another two seconds to pull Takeo from the car before he manages to recompose himself, assuming he's sober and sensible enough to do so, and…well, she needed Black Sammy's info before she could plan the next step.

Sammy pulled through the next day, dropping by with his deck and a list of notes. He walked in with a swagger and linked everything up to the TV while humming some tune she didn't recognize.

"I got what you want, holmes. You were dead on about his habits; I wasn't surprised to find out he has an auto-pilot on his hover."

"Good work, Sammy. What else do you have on him?"

"Well, see this route here?" he said, putting his finger on the screen as a map flickered onto it. "Through the theatre district? Yeah, he takes it to the Albino Dragon hotel here, every morning after leaving the club at last call. Travels with three guards, sits in the back with one or two women he picks up from the club. If you want to take him out, be careful of whoever he has with him."

"Alright, how long does it take?"

"Well he leaves at last call, two-thirty, and this drive takes him around fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on traffic and the light pattern, but the route is always the same."

Eiger crossed her arms and analyzed the screen for several minutes, rapidly running through plans and simulations in her head, trying to deduce the perfect spot. There was a four way along the route that was often used as a hub for traders selling the rats and fish they caught, and with how crowded it was, it would be confusing enough for Takeo if he were attacked there, and it was open and public enough to put his guards at ease when cruising over it. It was the best spot, she figured, since it was near an alleyway that slithered through to a dock that went over the shanty-city along the coast, and out over the ocean. The old boathouses would be an ideal place to hold him until he pays.

"Alright, I have a plan. I'll call you in a day or two, as soon as we get our cash."

"Good, good, alright, you got my number, holmes. Can't wait. We still good for drinks afterwards?"

She looked at him and smiled slightly. "Of course, I know better than to keep you away from your booze."

Later that night Eiger was suited, booted, and strapped as she felt was necessary for the extraction. She had her goggles and pollution mask back on, along with the plastic layer, to protect herself from the smog and rain. She shuffled around in the mob at the four-way market, going from stall to stall, looking over the game brought out for sale. Jumbles of mangled meat hung from strings beneath rag overhangs, and slabs of mutated fish meat rested on trays of ice. Both hands were under the plastic layer, one firearm in each, ready for sudden use at a second's notice. A sling was under her right arm to quickly slide the puzzler away and focus both hands on the PPSK-four.

Takeo's Red Ranger hovered over the crowd, illuminating the area below, and dripping streams of water made purple from its underglow. Eiger's goggles adjusted for flare compensation, and her smart-link system kicked in, displaying the statistics for her weapons. She lifted her left hand, and a crosshair for the puzzler appeared. She was quick to pop off a pair of shots, muted by the rain and humming around her, and slid the puzzler into its sling as the underglow cut and the car stopped in its tracks. The people inside were already looking around confused before the hover began descending, and Eiger readied the PPSK-four. The safety auto-land wasn't even complete before Eiger began unloading three round bursts into the front windshield where two guards sat, cracking it, and plastering it dark red. She trotted to the right side of the car and took a quick look inside the back seat; Takeo, the female guard from before, and an elven woman still in the lingerie from the club. Eiger quickly let out a double burst into the female guard, then pushed in the stock with her left hand before reaching in the window and pulling Takeo out by the hair. The woman was screaming as loud as she could, splattered in red. She decided the elf wasn't of much concern, wasn't important enough to take, and didn't know enough that she needed to be silenced, so Eiger quickly bolted away with the thrashing Takeo in hand.

Eiger dragged him all the way through the alleys and across the elevated dock to an abandoned boathouse on the edge. The building she took him too was home to a pack of homeless men and women, mostly orks, who took one look at her and had the good sense to go out for a stroll while she commandeered the building. A crane and crank hung over the edge of the dock, meant to load and unload containers from large shipping boats, but also effective at stringing up disagreeable yakuzas by their feet.

"Alright, Takeo, I'm going to tell you one more time: pay me the two-thousand nuyen you owe me."

Takeo tried swinging around, holding his breath and squinting trying to protect himself from the partly toxic air. "You…crazy…bitch! Let me down, now! I don't owe you shit you fucking trog!"

"I'll let you down after I'm paid, not before."

"Are you insane?! I don't have two thousand with me! I…I need to call someone! I need to get the money!"

"Well, sounds like you're in quite the pickle, kid. I'll wait right here while you figure it out," she said while swaying back and forth, hands folded behind her back.

Takeo screamed and squirmed for half an hour, swinging about, turning red, then purple, then his eyes turned pink and brown, and he began coughing up bile and muck from his stomach. His screaming turned to gurgles and his coughs turned to wheezes. The brown muck turned red with the rapid erosion of his lungs and began covering his face before dripping off into the ocean. Two thousand nuyen is a lot, but watching the asshole pay for pissing her off was priceless. She cut him loose and let him fall to the sharks, then waited for the residents to come back before leaving as to not leave their meager homes unattended.

The next night, Eiger was back in her skinnies and leather jacket, nursing a glass of whiskey at Club Silverstone with Black Sammy sitting next to her. The music was soothing, a cool EDM melody with a soft female voice on vocals. The lights weren't particularly irritating her that night, and the whiskey was almost as good as the real thing.

"Damn, that's cold, holmes."

"Well he was an asshole, nothing I could do about that," she sipped her glass, a custom, troll sized glass she had to pay extra for.

"Yeah, I got that, but…shit. Well, shame we couldn't get some nuyen out of the job."

"I know, and I apologize. I'll call Fionn for a job tomorrow, and maybe this time we'll get paying clients," she sipped again.

"I hope, I'm running low on food in the shack," he downed a shot.

"Oh, I picked up some chips and booze at the stuffer shack; they're yours if you want them. They should keep the munchies at bay while I earn us some real cash," she sipped again.

"Hm, I hope so, holmes."

They both sat there for a minute, Eiger nursing her drink while Black Sammy tossed back shots. She listened to the smooth EDM, wondering how the hell she would get cash for them now, hoping word of what she did wouldn't ruin her already shaky rep in the Seattle sprawl. She worried Fionn would black list her after this, but also thought he would understand, given the Yakuza's feelings towards non-humans. Would she be considered a fuck up, or would this whole thing blow over? Her contemplation was interrupted by a nudge to her shoulder.

"What, Sammy?"

"Hey, holmes, you got eyes, ten-o-clock," he said while motioning over to two human men down the bar looking their way. One, a pale man in his thirties with short black hair, wearing jeans and a green windbreaker, was looking at Eiger with a sly smile. The other, a bald, thin, latin man in jeans and a blue Hawaiian shirt leaned on his arm, and she had trouble telling who he was looking at.

"Oh, oh god no. I'm too old for that," she said with a slight chuckle as she took another sip.

"C'mon, holmes, the guy in green is lookin' right at you!"

"Yeah, and? What about the other one?"

"Oh, he's gayer than AIDS," he downed another shot.

Eiger chuckled. "Well, I'm fine with my whisky," she sipped again.

"Alright, well, I'm getting laid," he stood and trotted over to the two of them.

Out of her peripheral vision, she saw Black Sammy flirt with the latin man, and say something to the man in green that she couldn't hear over the music. She smiled and went back to her drink, then tuned her ears back to the EDM.

"Hey," a man's voice came from her side. She looked up to see it was the man in green. "I'm Alex, and I'd like to buy you a drink."

She looked down, swirling the empty glass gently in her hand. She looked back to him.

"I'm Eiger, that sounds nice."