Faster Than Light - Stellaris OST Feat. Mia Steagmar

Chapter Thirty-One

August 1st, 2077

Night City, Northern California

NCPD Headquarters, City Center

"This so-called Cypher is a ruthless Vigilante. Nothing more, nothing less Ms. Jordan. The NCPD is committing all available assets to his apprehension, and rest assured he and any who follow him will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

Police Commissioner Jerry Fawlter recalled every Department Head in the NCPD to their operations center for an emergency summit. Patrol, Investigations, Tactical, Net Security, IA, Administration, and MAXTAC commanders filled almost every inch of space around the command table.

Melissa Rory had no fucking clue why Commander Enyala wanted her present for the meeting in the first place. She was nothing more than a Field Lieutenant in MAXTAC, but she was present as a show of force along with two of her subordinates.

NCPD Division Heads liked to jokey favor with their prestigious Police Commissioner. Still, the PC could end up dead tomorrow, and Rory doubted anyone in MAXTAC would care in the slightest.

Fawlter is the Police Commissioner because his sole quality in life was cutting down the massive debt the NCPD incurred by half. Since then, he's retained his position because he rubs shoulders with some of Nighty City's most influential people and corporations with enough power to keep his fat ass on the chair.

In Rory's opinion, Commander Enyala was the best fit to run the NCPD. Her authority inside MAXTAC was questionable, and she ran their Division with a keen intellect and an uncompromising temperament.

Everyone else in could eat shit for all Rory cared.

"What the fuck are we waiting for?"

Rory hummed in question and looked back towards Amanda Siegried. She and her twin drew the short straws and had to accompany her to the emergency summit, and while she emphasized with their blights, she also refused to sit through this shitfest alone.

"We're waiting for Commissioner Fawlter, Siegfried," Rory countered strictly. "And unless you want me to introduce you to the end of my boot, you'll keep your mouth shut."

"That's impossible for her, Boss," Aliya commented. "That mouth is open for business every time she walks into the barracks. Why do you think she can't keep it shut."

"Eat a dick, Ali. Like I didn't catch you getting railed by Reynolds last week."

Aliya's smirk twitched in annoyance, and she nearly lashed at her sister on instinct, but a cutting glance from Rory stopped her in her tracks.

"I was drunk, and you fucking know it!" She shouted in a hushed breath, trying to keep the dozens of other officers from turning into spectators.

Rory wished she'd dragged Sharpe to this fucking meeting. At the very least, she wouldn't have to put up with the twin's bullshit alone, but he would sooner blow his own brains out than attend another meeting with Fawlter.

The man had the rare ability to piss off everyone by just opening his mouth.

It's a wonder why no one has killed him yet.

Lord knows Rory was close to beheading the Siegfried twins right now, and they weren't nearly as vexing as him.

"If both of you don't shut your fucking mouths right now, I'm going to rip your fucking spines out!" Rory failed to notice that there was still one other person within hearing distance despite her hushed scolding.

"Is there an issue, Lieutenant?" Commander Margaret Enyala curled back a loose strand of red, shoulder-length hair revealing a lean face with golden eyes.

The MAXTAC Commander was a deadly beauty, and she was the only person in the world that could make Rory feel like a misbehaving child.

"A minor disciplinary issue, Commander." The twins cringed under her frozen gaze. "I will have it rectified in our barracks later today."

"Come now, Melissa." The words fell from Enyala's lips, oozing temptation. "The twins aren't wrong in the boring modicum of this meeting. Unfortunately, our Commissioner is still trading words with the press and wasting our valuable time."

Enyala turned fully, gaze boring into Rory's as she looked away in fear. "Especially since our prey is still out there."

"Yes, Ma'am." Rory whithered under the subtle tone of disappointment.

The Headhunter's escape from her grasp weeks earlier had earned her the ire of her commanding officer. Enyala wanted him under their influence even more than she did, and it wasn't difficult to imagine why.

In every regard, Enyala should hate the very ground the Headhunter walks, but instead, she reveres the man for his rigid stance against the syndicates of Night City. However, she wanted him under her control and craved the idea of MAXTAC recruiting an asset like him.

Indoctrinating the Headhunter into their ranks became MAXTAC's prime directive, and Enyala would not be denied if she could help it.

Rory confided to her that the man she came across at the high-end clothing store was most likely their quarry but taking him at his weakest was not what either of them wanted.

MAXTAC operatives craved the hunt and prey at their strongest produced the greatest thrills. Enyala allowed the misstep without punishment, but the next time she came across Cyrus, power armor or not, she would break him.

"Attenhut!" The entire room shot to their feet, standing at attention as the fat slob of a Police Commissioner strolled in.

Fawlter was a disgusting piece of filth, and the dark blue pristine NCPD dress uniform could barely contain his hanging gut. Couple that with his lack of athleticism and the gelled back hair, and it was a wonder why anyone took him seriously.

Oh, wait. They didn't.

"At ease!" Fawlter waited for everyone to find their seats before flicking his wrist and activating the holo table. A live news feed with Gillean Jordan and her monotone voice materialized at the center of the table.

"While Commissioner Fawlter's hardline rhetoric against Cypher's unrelenting pursuits in Night City is in line with department policy. There yet remains growing dissension amongst city officials that this bombastic declaration is little more than false bravado. Several city councilors are calling for the Commissioners resignation after the NCPD was humiliated by Cypher after a failed arrest on live television."

Commander Enyala's eyes narrowed dangerously, and a furtive glance towards Rory found nothing but shame. Almost every resource the NCPD had was called in to apprehend Cypher during that nightly pursuit, and every department involved had they're assess chewed out by an outraged Fawlter.

It was one of the few instances that Enyala almost killed him on pure instinct. In addition to Fawlter's severe lack of authority, the man had a tendency to shriek his displeasure like a screaming child, which only served to test the MAXTAC commanders patience.

Fawlter clicked his teeth and shut down the monitor in barely restrained frustration. An outline of Night City took its place, and every detachment commander rolled their eyes in exasperation.

"This is unacceptable." Rory had to resist snorting in amusement. How many dicks did this guy blow to earn the position of NCPD Commisioner?

"Now, I don't care what you have to do! Or who you have to kill! Get this asshole off the streets and off the front page!" Commander Gary Matthews stood on his toes, and Fawlter barely stopped himself from verbally tearing into the man.

Matthews was one of the few NCPD Detatchment Leads that Rory could rightfully say didn't irritate her. His tactical acumen was second only to Commander Enyala's, and he maintained a cordial report with his MAXTAC counterparts.

"If I may, Commissioner." With a restrained nod, Fawlter gave his SWAT Commander approval to access the holo table.

"It is clear that Cypher is solely focused on the Megacorporations and Criminal syndicates of Night City." The holo table adjusted to an overhead view where Rory could pick out every district in the city. "Commander Andrews and the Special Investigations Unit have corroborated sightings and suspected activity of our suspect over the last two months."

Hundreds of dots began to form in a horde of crimson points, and nearly half of Watson and Japantown alone were consumed by red. The only location that hadn't been visited by the Headhunter was Pacifica, and that was a curious development in Rory's eyes.

"As we all know, it took him a few weeks to bring the Maelstrom to heel, and most recently, the Tyger Claws have fallen victim to his wrath. However, there is a difference between the two. Unlike the length of time Cypher spent in Watson regulating the power vacuum left in the Maelstroms destruction. The status quo in Japantown is drastically different. A new clan has taken control of Tyger Claw territories almost immediately after their collapse, and he has not intervened since their establishment."

"Do we know the clan's name?" Jadiel West, Commander of the NCPD's Patrol Division, made her presence known.

Matthews snorted in amusement despite the situation and shook his head. "Negative, their identity is a closely guarded secret, and our local CI's are being suspiciously quiet on the matter."

"What are they scared of?" Diana Marsh, Captain of the NCPD's Net Security Taskforce, received a round of glances at her sudden inquiry.

Marsh tended to go through these meetings without uttering a word, so her sudden interest drew curious attention.

"Who do you think," Matthews responded. "To us, Cypher is a vigilante. To the outcasts, homeless, and people of Watson and Japantown. He may as well be god, and make no mistake. If we start cracking down on these people, they will flock to his banner, and we will lose more public support."

"Then what are you suggesting, Matthews." Fawlter's patience with the SWAT Commander mirrored his subordinate's own reservations with their Police Commissioner.

"We predict his next move." The holo table highlighted Watson and Heywood. "Our Netrunners have found a pattern to his activities in these districts. Andrews and I believe his next motivations involve the Animals and the 6th street gang."

"We can't go into those territories." Commander West remarked sharply. "The war between those two has already killed twenty of my patrol officers. We start putting more boots on the ground in Heywood, and we're going to up our ass in body bags."

"We are not proposing a mass deployment to Heywood, but instead to insert undercover operatives in the vagrant camps local to both regions. It has become increasingly clear that Cypher has generated a positive rapport with local outcast chieftains and, while he tends to shy away from operating near their territories. We still believe the key to finding him lays solely in these camps." By now Fawlter had run out of patience, and he was still steaming from the less than stellar press conference.

"Who is taking the lead on this?" Andrews stepped back from the table and glanced in Rory's direction, eyes focusing on a subtly grinning Enyala.

"Commander Enyala and her MAXTAC will be taking the lead on this operation. They are the only assets we have that are capable of bringing him in, and her operatives have extensive experience in undercover work."

Ah, so that's why Rory's boss wanted her and a few of her subordinates here. Enyala wanted to put a face to the people responsible for bringing in their latest quarry.

This was going to be fun.

August 14th, 2077

Catalan Region, [Redacted]

Sword Base, [Redacted]

Thousands of miles from the heart of Night City, an aerodyne zooms across cloud-filled skies, escorted on each wing by two of the same models.

Onboard, the lead AV is the appointed commander of an organization that will be at the forefront of Cypher's assault upon the corrupt foundations of Night City.

The Custodians.

"This is Strigon One requesting permission to land, 1x HVI callsign Kaiser."

To the rank and file, Kaiser is in command of all Custodian Detachments and reports only to Cypher himself.

To his section leads his real name is Mike Nolan, a former Arasaka Corporate Agent, burned by his employers after failing to obtain a Biotechnica Prototype.

Nolan's hatred of Arasaka runs deep, but it pales to the fury in his eyes anytime he hears the name 6th street. As an Arroyo kid, he grew up worshipping the very ground they walked on, but in the last two decades, the gang has done nothing but add fuel to the fire that is his home.

Cypher's uncompromising stance against the corporations and criminal syndicates plaguing his home is the catalyst to Nolan's determination to found the Custodians.

He was grateful to have his influencer's support in the organization's founding.

Nolan didn't care where the funding came from, nor did he concern himself with how scores of military-grade equipment were shipped in and out of Sword Base in camouflaged aerodynes.

As the Custodians founder, Nolan should be the one calling the shots and demanding answers but only fool bit the hand that fed him.

He was more than willing to step down and hand the reigns of the Custodians to Cypher after he butchered the Tyger Claws.

Unsurprisingly, Cypher accepted the command position but was unwilling to alter the command structure further.

Instead, he appointed Nolan as the Custodian's unquestionable 'Kaiser.' Second in command only to the Headhunter himself. In every regard, Nolan was the organization's chief in Cypher's absence.

He was humbled by the Headhunter's faith in him, and Nolan assured his superior that all measures would be taken to create an army worthy of his name.

However, an army is not complete without its soldiers or officers, nor is it finalized without a place to call home.

The aerodyne seeks shelter in a base tucked away in the rich Amazon forests. There is not a speck of human life for miles, and those few who walk these treacherous lands do so with permission from its newest inhabitants.

"Strigon One, this is Sword Base. Verify the package. When the night comes, how do we return home?"

Mike Nolan, a thirty-two-year-old male with white, straight hair that slightly covers his tense face and a pair of shuttered silver eyes, taps into the radio frequency.

"By Midnights light." A light beeping confirms his identity, and the Air Traffic Controller replies.

"Confirmed. Welcome back to Sword Base, Commander."

The aerodyne and its escorts break through the cloud cover and emerge from the horizon to find a massive military complex presenting itself in all its majesty.

Sword Base.

The Custodian's main base of operations for the foreseeable future welcomed its leader with open arms. Automated anti-aircraft guns stand down, and the perimeter guards continue their sentry duty in practiced silence.

Most military leaders would be greeted by an honor guard, but the Custodians have no desire for such grandstanding. For every single soldier, engineer, aviator, and non-combatant are here for one singular purpose.

To build an army worthy of Cypher.

However, these personnel weren't prepared for the limelight of his goals, for the foundations to their creation were far too green to test their mettle on the decadent forces of Night City or its corporate masters.

Time was on their side, and their leader had no need for fresh recruits.

Cypher required a trained force capable of fighting in both conventional and unconventional conflicts. In addition, this army needed the adaptability necessary to cover all manners of warfare, no matter the circumstances or cost.

Quality over Quantity.

Every soldier that would eventually fall under Cypher's command when they marched on Night City needed to be an army in his own right.

Still, a quality military force needed training and equipment to execute their directives. And thankfully, there was an entire continent's worth of wars to mold this highly-trained and deadly fighting force.

The echoes of the Second Central American War scarred the people of North America and the citizens of Central America equally. Officially, the war ended in the summer of 2010, but the horrors of that seven-year conflict only spread further south.

Paramilitary groups rose and fell in South America like the ocean tides.

Venezuela was the hub for corrupt government officials and violent cartels, perpetuating a brutal drug trade that seeped into every level of its infrastructure. Moreover, most of the countries population was within a hundred miles of the coast, leaving vast swaths of territory unguarded and empty of human life.

A perfect location for a fresh military force to hide in secret.

During the early stages of their inception, Kaiser traveled the North American continent, searching for people with the same fire brewing in his heart.

And Nolan found those gifted few toiling in the darkness.

He sat in his office, examining situation reports from his detachment leads. The Custodians were divided into three separate sections, each with its own mandates and unique capabilities. Expanding on these departments was feasible but, at the present moment, unattainable due to their limited manpower.

The first and most valuable department was the Logistics Corps, maintained and operated by Lindsey 'Sage' Roth.

Sage is a former NUSA Logistics Officer who was dismissed from the army shortly after the Unification Wars conclusion. She vehemently disagreed with her countries decision to nationalize Militech, effectively giving a private military corporation direct access to the White house. As a result, her commission was taken, and she was dishonorably discharged from the army.

Kaiser met her in the final days of that conflict when Arasaka and NUSA Military forces were undergoing a wind-down of hostilities on the outskirts of Night City. Her intuitive nature regarding logistics and supply management astonished him, especially from someone outside the corporate world.

Most people with her skills often fell for corporate incentives and fell face-first into that rabbit hole, but Sage was a diamond in the rough. She despised the Megacorporations with a burning passion, and that hatred gave Kaiser an easy recruitment tool.

Sage and her men started construction on Sword Base on July 20th with a detailed plan and the necessary equipment. That construction was accelerated when Cypher began funding the Custodians with a large sum of euros and equipment.

Sword Base was completed on July 31st, nearly two months ahead of schedule. Sage ran her crew well, and their focus shifted to maintaining their base of operations and preparing for the arrival of other detachments.

The detailed report in Nolan's hand went over a series of fuel shortages for their transports and armored personnel carriers, and Sage was requesting more on their next supply run.

Twice a week, a fleet of camouflaged aerodynes ferried supplies and equipment into the base. They were never late, and the requested materials were always on point, not an ounce more or less.

The whole operation was alarmingly efficient with no trace of human error that Kaiser could find, but again those queries were never asked.

Nolan tabled Sage's report and began reviewing accounts on his Aviation Wing and his Sicario Corps.

The Aviation wing was coordinated by Eva 'Comic' Kolarek, a former Militech Aviation Officer.

Despite her keen tactical mind and the rare ability to make every aviation craft an extension of herself, she was dismissed from Militech after abandoning her post to save her wingman during the Battle of Ridgecrest.

Unfortunately, he was killed over I-395, and she was subsequently stripped of her rank and commission. Kolarek spent three years in a drunken stupor before 'Kaiser' offered her a chance to make things right.

Her callsign, 'Comic,' is one born of irony because she is anything but a comedian. Kaiser has never met anyone as intense and assertive as Eva Kolarek, and that is coming from someone used to belligerent people.

Despite her fiery personality, she commands the Aviation Wing with unquestionable authority, and her pilots respect and fear her equally. No one wants to cross paths with Kolarek when she's pissed off, and they hide when some poor fool draws her ire.

As for Sicario Corps, the report sheets were as thick as the Logistics Corps, and Nolan has to restrain a sigh of exhaustion.

Sicario is their Special Operations detachment and coincidentally is the most extensive section in terms of manpower and equipment.

It's also a powder keg of mixed cultures and philosophies.

When Kaiser began recruiting across the continental United States, he realized that Sicario would be the critical detachment that would make or break the Custodians, unlike the previous two corps.

The Logistics Corps were responsible for constructing Sword Base and, as a result, got used to one another fairly quickly. Sage performed a remarkable job of keeping her subordinates focused on the task at hand, and the results spoke for themselves.

The Aviation Wing arrived a day after construction ceased, and Comic made a point of asserting herself in the command structure immediately. Not a single pilot dared to question or challenge her will after spending two days with her.

Sicario, however, was a different story.

Nolan approached individuals with strict military backgrounds because he needed a solid foundation to build the Sicario Corps upon. As a result, a majority of the NCOs came from dozens of different backgrounds and former allegiances, but in the end, 50% are former Corporate or NUSA soldiers.

Consequently, many non-commissioned officers couldn't stand to be in the same room with each other once the call went out to rally at Sword Base. Unfortunately, these situations were everyday occurrences inside the barracks, and more than enough brawls broke out amongst the rank and file.

Kaiser had the monumental task of keeping the peace until their commander arrived from the NUSA, and when he did, it came at the perfect moment because Nolan was seconds away from shooting someone.

Lucas 'Ronin' Reyes is a former Detachment Lead for the Lazarus Military Operations Group.

Reyes served with the Paramilitary Corps for well over a decade before he and his section went AWOL after refusing to exterminate a native village in Costa Rica. Kaiser didn't know why this particular town disillusioned Ronin's loyalty to the Lazarus Corps, but he wasn't complaining.

Nolan crossed paths with Reyes after Lazarus through in their lot with Night City and by proxy Arasaka during the Unification Wars. He is an exceptional Infantry Commander and a native son of Santo Domingo, who just so happens to hate 6th Street as much as Kaiser did.

Initially, he led a full company of hardened killers in Lazarus, but after they went AWOL, he disbanded the group. Ronin requested Kaiser to use his connections with Arasaka to ferry his men to Night City, one of the few places in continental America that Lazarus didn't dare enter.

Nolan followed through, and since then, Reyes has owed him a debt. He was ready to call it in and drag Ronin into the Custodians, but he was more than willing to join of his own free will…..with a few clauses.

Most were easily handled, but one of the significant stipulations to Ronin joining the Custodians was appointing four of his Lazarus colleagues as platoon leaders.

Kaiser hesitated at first.

Allowing Ronin that level of control over Sicario was ill-advised, but he trusted his colleague completely. And that confidence was rewarded when Reyes turned a raging band of mistrustful soldiers into a cohesive fighting force.

However, this fighting force was still green, only participating in small-scale skirmishes while fighting alongside the rebels in Venezuela's sprawling countryside.

A Civil war was in progress, and the corrupt administration was facing down a full-scale revolt because of the nation's continued reliance upon megacorporations.

This third-world republic no longer held the interests of megacorps like Arasaka and Militech. However, it was still a breeding ground for AgriCorps to muscle in on new territory for their corrupt machinations.

Petrochem was financing the Venezuelan government in exchange for the last specs of natural resources in-country. Unfortunately, this deal required evicting towns and villages across the nation, and eventually, the administration stepped on one too many toes.

An assembly of jilted politicians and political advocates declared a federation from the city of Valencia called the 'Venezuelan Assembly' in February 2076.

The federal government immediately declared war on their erstwhile countrymen, and since then, a brutal civil war has drawn out over fifteen bloody months.

A perfect environment for a fresh military unit to get their feet wet.

"Sir?" Kaiser's thoughts were rustled by his aide's voice. "Commander Reyes is here to see you?"

Of course, he was.

Nolan looked over her shoulder and found a pair of shining steel eyes filled with annoyance directed at his aide, Erin Philips.

"Enjoy your trip stateside?" Reyes didn't hesitate to barge into the room as per his usual belligerent antics, shouldering past Phillips and ignoring the scathing look shot his way. "What?"

"Thank you, Phillips." Nolan dismissed his aide, who saluted and beat feet towards her desk, shutting the door behind her. "One of these days, she's gonna shot you."

"Nah, I owe her too much money." Reyes retorted. "Now, answer the question."

Kaiser left Sword Base three days ago to finalize the construction of an offshore facility 200 miles off the coast of Baja California.

Officially, it would become a disposal installation for waste and other miscellaneous garbage.

Unofficially it's where the Custodians would establish a permanent base of operations stateside.

"We got what we needed." The smirk on Ronin's face widened. "The paperwork will be sent through the proper channel, and as far as Baja California knows, it's another garbage dump no one wants to go to."

"Shit, I'll take an oceanside property over this rainforest any day. At least then we'd be closer to home." Reyes pillaged Nolan's vintage collection of wine. "Have you heard from the boss?"

"Cypher?" Reyes tossed an empty wine glass towards a patiently waiting Nolan.

"Who else would I be talking about?"

Nolan nodded in acceptance, weighing his options in his mind before he finally snatched the wine bottle from his subordinate.

"He's expecting us to be finished here by the end of next month and redeploy to southern Baja in force." Reyes's eyebrows rose in mild astonishment. Baja California, much like Venezuela, was in the middle of its own massive civil war with its neighbors to the east. Mexico fractured into a dozen nation-states, and since then, it's been a powder keg ready to erupt at any second.

Cypher wanted Baja California's government to remain intact until their offshore facility was completed. After that, they would wipe the base from all records and pay off the right people to make the installation disappear.

"That's a tall order, considering the Assembly is still three months away from Caracas."

The Custodians were moonlighting as a run-of-the-mill mercenary company whose contract was purchased by the Assembly to bolster their armed forces.

"Yeah, well, if we don't, then Baja will cancel our contract, and we have until late October to get it done. So any ideas?" Nolan inquired, sipping his vintage wine.

Reyes leaned backward, slightly downing his drink in one go. He'd been drumming up a plan to break the deadlock in Venezuela for the last week, but it would require deploying the Custodian's infantry and aviation detachments in full force.

"Yes." Reyes began. "The only reason we're in a deadlock is because of the Maracay Communications Array. That place has played hell with communication channels on the frontline, and coordinating an operation in those conditions is impossible."

"So, how do we take it out?" Reyes grasped the wine bottle refilling both glasses and raising his high in the air.

"We conduct a ground operation with other Assembly units and deploy our boys near critical infrastructure behind enemy lines. Hit em where it hurts and open up a gap in the loyalist battle line."

"That's risky."

"It is, but it's the only shot we have to meet the deadline in time."

Nolan said nothing as he leaned backward, tossing the idea around in his own head.

The deadline was non-negotiable, considering the plans Cypher wanted to execute in the near future. Deploying the entirety of their Aviation and Sicario Corps so early in its inception could shatter what cohesion they had established and destroy the Custodians before they found their footing.

But, in this business, risks have to be taken even at the cost of total annihilation.

"Erin." Nolan drew his aide's attention. "Get Kolarek and Roth to the command room in five minutes."

"Yes, sir." She replied earnestly. Reyes regarded his superior for a moment before grasping the stem of his wine bottle and finishing his drink.

"This better work, Reyes." Nolan's stern tone drew a confident glance from his subordinate.

"It will, Kaiser. Have a little faith."

"Head to the command room," Nolan off-handedly ordered Reyes and began storing critical documents when his ears didn't pick up any movement. "Was there something else?"

Reyes nodded slightly, crossing his arms and leaning further into his seat. "You never asked him where he's getting all this equipment, did you?"

Nolan focused his full attention on his detachment leader, locking away sensitive documents behind a level-five firewall. Where Kolarek and Roth were content to remain ignorant, Reyes was unwilling to sit on his hands.

It's the exact reason why Nolan was so eager to recruit him. Reyes never allowed anyone to curtail his opinions or his concerns.

"No," Nolan admitted giving his compatriot a stern look. "You already know my opinion on probing such a topic, Reyes."

"Nolan, I've seen Mercenary Companies rise and fall like the tide for a decade," Reyes remarked as he toyed with his butcher knife. "But in all my years, I've never seen one establish itself in such a short amount of time. The amount of money and organization placed into this unit is damn near fucking biblical. Don't even get me started on the personnel you've gathered. You've got former corporate Nightstalkers, black-ops operatives, and Spec Ops soldiers from twelve different countries in our barracks. Where did you even get that classified intel."

The answer was obvious, but Reyes wanted to hear the words fall from his lips.

"Where do you think?" Nolan replied before letting loose a sharp snort and glancing towards the security camera in the corner of his office. "Our leader has a far reach."

Reyes followed his gaze towards the surveillance camera and the red light ominously blinking in a steady, static pattern.

"And he is always watching."

August 16th, 2077

Night City, Northern California

Hideout, Charter Hill

Chamber forced her way through Ziggurat's laughable cybersecurity with all the finesse of a seasoned hacker. Cyrus directed her to piggyback off the corporation's data network to effectively mask their broadcasting signals and protect the hideout's integrity.

Initially, the UNSC AI intended to manipulate Night City's telecommunications network, but her constant usage had drawn far too many eyes for even her to handle. As a result, she concluded that a private security corporation would be a better option to control.

Ziggurat is a communications and data infrastructure corporation sited in over a dozen major cities and most first-world countries. Their headquarters, like most prominent corporations, was located in Night City.

However, their foundation in 2030 originated from a massive grant gifted by Night Corp to transform the old fiber-optic data terminal networks into a fresh and more reliable system.

In turn, Ziggurat played a part in creating one of the first CitiNets and data pools to restore cheap and reliable communication across Night City.

Cyrus was out hunting Scavenger gangs in the meantime with their newly acquired Bloodhounds. Chamber liked Iwasaki and his men, but she wouldn't exactly be able to hold a proper dialogue with them…..ever.

Her Spartan made it abundantly clear that they would never know of her existence until they earned his trust.

Which would more than likely never happen.

During Chamber's escapades of tuning Ziggurats mainframe to her liking, she discovered something…extraordinary. Even months after turning this city's communications network on its head, she was still discovering wonders and oddities that remained hidden from her persistent gaze.

One oddity that she couldn't quite grasp was why Dana Parker established a large Outcast camp in the old Pershing Street tunnel.

Cyrus was aware that the Chieftain was looking for a new place for her people and Chamber, in good faith, provided her with an extensive list of potential safe havens far from the territories of Scavenger gangs and major syndicates.

Instead, Parker led her followers to the Pershing Street tunnel right smack dab in the middle of several Scavenger gangs keen to prod their potential new prey. It was only due to a large number of outcasts that eagerly followed the Chieftain into those tunnels that the Scavers stayed their hand.

Parker was correct in establishing a new outcast haven in the tunnel at a second glance, but it didn't make sense to Chamber.

Why take such a risk in pissing off the local Scavers when a dozen other locations are far more secure and viable?

Her mind had been tormented by the question for weeks, but as many times as Chamber turned over stones, no answer came to her, and she finally dismissed it as irrelevant.

She was under no assumptions any longer.

Hidden deep in Ziggurat's mainframe behind terabytes of dumped data and viruses was a single file dating back to 2032. This file was a schematic drawn up by Richard Night himself detailing an underground city that the citizens of Night City could take shelter in, should nuclear winter ever fall upon the surface.

Richard Night dubbed it Project Haven.

However, with the rise of Mega Corporations erasing the concept of nuclear war, the project was scrapped altogether but not before the tunnels were dug up.

Massive underpasses were constructed below the foundations of Watson, Westbrook, and Heywood, serving as the groundwork to one of Night City's closely guarded secrets that only a select few knew of.

Below the City of Dreams was the City of Darkness.

The adults of Parker's camp would tell tales of underground tunnels where bad kids would be sent and the 'Sirens' would snatch them up, never to be seen again.

Chamber and Cyrus both considered it a daunting story to keep the adolescents in line, but every tale has a modicum of truth to it.

And Parker's camp just so happened to be positioned at the entrance of one of these abandoned tunnel networks.

"Everybody has secrets," Chamber murmured to herself as she scanned through every inch of Project Haven's archives.

Several subfiles were so fragmented that Chamber had difficulty piecing them back together, and even more, they were utterly unrecoverable. Then she made a breakthrough, and a single word started to appear with each passing second of diligent searching.

'The Sirens.' The urban boogeyman that the outcasts adults spewed out in warning to their offspring.

Chamber scoured 'The Net' for information on this elusive faction, but even a meticulous search through the darkest parts of the network left her with more questions than answers.

Soon the unquestionable fact remained that the scrubbing of Project Haven and the disappearance of any file pertaining to its existence all led back to these so-called Sirens.

They are the sovereigns of that tunnel network, and Chamber was determined to uncover that hidden veil and the key to that secret laid with Dana Parker and her outcasts.

There was more to their secretive nature than initially believed. Every known vagrant camp laid no more than two hundred meters from a Project Haven tunnel entrance, and that was not a coincidence.

Dana Parker wasn't just a simple outcast Chieftain. In all likelihood, she possessed a link to the Sirens and had some knowledge of their inner workings and motivations. Her camp acted as a gatekeeper to the catacombs, and Chamber would bet money that the other vagrant camps worked the same way.


That was all hearsay and theories as far as Cyrus would be concerned. He had tremendous respect for the Outcast Chieftain, and her motherly nature managed to that out his cold heart whenever he visited.

Chamber couldn't blame Cyrus for the blind spot. Dana looked almost scarily similar to his mother. Youth, time, and the brutal trials he endured during his Headhunting days eroded any lingering reminder of his mother's features or persona.

When the AI presented her Spartan a picture of his long-dead mother from his file during the formative weeks of their partnership. He didn't even recognize the woman tenderly holding him in her arms.

Cyrus requested that Chamber bury that photo and never bring it up to him again.

It was one of the few occasions where that titanium shell carefully crafted around him cracked, and she consented to his demand.

But she never deleted the photograph.

If Chamber was going to present this conspiracy to her protector, then she needed to be absolutely sure. Because whatever they find loitering in the catacombs of Night City may just break what little trust Cyrus has in people.

No matter what V or Panam had to say on the subject.

So, much like the Custodian files from before, the Project Haven and Siren documents were hidden from Cyrus's view.

For once, the City of Dreams was quiet.

The Headhunter's chilling threat against the decadent force of Night City served to curtail their ambitions and actions for the last few weeks.

The MegaCorps and Criminal Syndicates in the city were afraid to be the first to act for fear of attracting Cyrus' attention. So everything stopped on its heels, and for two weeks, the police and rescue bands received little activity.

Even the bloody street war between the 6th Street Gang and the Animals came to a grinding halt. The scavenger gangs known for their arrogance across the metropolis fell into a muted silence along with everyone else.

He didn't expect their hesitance to last much longer.

The NCPD were uncharacteristically silent.

Their last few press conferences refused to acknowledge the events surrounding the Tyger Claws decimation. The only comment regarding the massacre came directly from the Police Commissioner himself.

Chamber found the entire speech amusing, especially since a man like Jerry Fawlter was as corrupt as they come.

He has conspired with the Maelstrom, Tyger Claws, and the Animals on multiple occasions to eliminate NCPD officers too proactive in their investigations into the significant gangs on Night City.

All of which kicked up bribes in his direction to keep his officers off their backs.

Jerry Fawlter's misdeeds reached far and wide across the city.

But, the one crime that really ticked Cyrus off was evidence that the Police Commissioner was organizing Scavenger gangs to eliminate outcasts and vagrants squatting near development projects in Northside and Japantown.

This transgression alone earned the Commissioner a spot on Cyrus's list.

His death and the cleansing of the NCPD would come in due time, but the Spartan was unwilling to overstretch his attention, and managing the power vacuum in Japantown came first.

After the Tyger Claws were wiped off the face of the earth, Arasaka cut all remaining ties with the now-defunct gang, leaving the survivors without funding or a lifeline to pull themselves out of the fire.

Those few that attempted to establish their own gang were quickly subdued by the Astral Claws Taki Kenmochi's new and improved clan. A designation that paid respects to their former allegiances but at the same time drew a line in the sand.

The Astral Claws quickly expanded into the Monroe District and wrestled control of Northern Japantown from any potential newcomers seeking to fill the power vacuum.

None of the long-standing criminal syndicates wanted any part of Japantown after Cyrus's thorough cleansing of the district. As a result, he was left with an open itinerary for the first week since the Clouds Operation.

An inquiry to Decker on the 6th Street agenda left him without a discernable assignment. Initially, Cyrus was supposed to begin hunting the commanding officer of Crossbow company, but his action in Japantown affected that task.

Gunner dispatched a team to investigate the death of Captain Nathaniel Green, stalling any further operations against the Patriot Faction until further notice. Unfortunately, the matter remained in limbo until Decker, and the Patriots had Gunner's curious eye away from them, leaving Cyrus with a rare issue.

An open agenda.

An issue that was quickly solved when Chamber brought up the subject of their newest…allies to him and how to properly utilize them.

Cyrus ordered Chamber to deploy the former TC Bloodhounds into Heywood and Japantown accordingly. Thus, starting a grueling gauntlet of intelligence and cleanup missions in Night City to expand her network and push these so-called 'Elites' to the limit.

Iwasaki was given senior command, and all seven Bloodhounds had taken to their orders without question. There wasn't even a murmur of dissatisfaction when they were directed to hunt the remnants of the Tyger Claws.

Cyrus spent a considerable amount of time observing their activities during their first operations. He didn't trust the Bloodhounds or Iwasaki in the slightest, even after sicking them on their former colleagues.

Still, they acquitted themselves well over two weeks of vigilant surveillance and successful operations. So, in the end, Iwasaki and his men earned the right to survive under Chamber's tender wing.

For now.

The only remaining issue was finding the Bloodhounds a place to stay, and Chamber corrected that concern by purchasing the deed to an abandoned construction project in Northside.

Iwasaki and his subordinates were directed to establish a safe haven for themselves as this structure would serve as their home for the foreseeable future. Chamber was putting together a major operation to bring down one of the largest Scavenger gangs in Night City.

Despite the cleansing of multiple Scav gangs in Northside, more than a few were willing to try their luck in establishing a presence in the regional district. None more than the Cobalt clan, which presided over scattered territories in Vista Del Rey, Kabuki, and Little China.

Cyrus was planning a raid on one of their processing centers in Kabuki that had snuck under Chamber's radar for far too long in three days.

Chamber's concerns about his mental and physical conditions have never wavered, but she has adapted to his stubbornness. Squeezing in bouts of downtime wherever she could and requiring him to renovate their hideout for hours on end.

Time away from the field was good enough rest in her eyes, and Cyrus was willing to give her that much. If only to settle her nerves for a significant amount of time.

Still, he managed to snatch a mission here and there, and when none were available, he went on nightly patrols to stretch his legs.

And kill a few mercenaries and gangers in the process.

Most of his recent attention was focused on Black Element mercenary teams attempting to establish a new FOB out in the Badlands. However, Arasaka was nowhere near happy with the current situation in Night City and sought to divide his attention between the city and the outskirts.

It didn't get them anywhere, but it did serve to be a good test of skill for Cypher's Bloodhounds. Watching Iwasaki and his compatriots carve through Mercenary ranks was damn near cathartic.

But they still had much to learn, and he had too much time on his hands.

Mere weeks ago, it was a constraint dictating Cyrus's motivations and ambitions.

Now he had all the time in the world and had no idea what to fill it with besides standard operational procedures.

Or in Chamber's own words.

Doing the same thing over and over again just to kill time.

"You're not still mad about the Custodian thing, are you?" Chamber whithered underneath Cyrus's cutting glance.

The AI had been playing around in the shadows without his astute observation, and she was suffering the consequences of her recklessness. Cyrus only expressed disappointment with her constant tinkering in the background.

Establishing a mercenary company loyal to Cypher in the Custodians was a good backup plan. However, that included bringing more individuals into the fold than Cyrus was comfortable with.

Too many variables that he couldn't control, and as much as he trusted Chamber, she already had enough on her plate as it was. Monitoring the movements of an entire mercenary company in Venezuela was pushing it, but regardless of whether Chamber could handle it or not wasn't his main issue.

If these Custodians decided to go AWOL in another country, they would be responsible for every heinous act done in their name. And Cyrus wouldn't be anywhere close to putting them down before the damage was done.

He ignored her words and continued tinkering with his MJOLNIR, performing the standard maintenance required to keep his power armor in top shape. Such a procedure required the utmost concentration and an environment free of distractions.


Cyrus almost snapped his repair tool and drew his sidearm on instinct. When his eyes and mind finally registered his two irritating companions. He had to physically restrain himself from cursing in irritation while holstering his weapon.

Whenever they weren't occupied with other duties or when he was out in the field, both women visited the bunker with an open invitation from Chamber.

Now, Cyrus didn't mind their presence whatsoever, but they did have a tendency of….vexing him.

Moreover, the grinning smirk adorning the face of his AI companion served to confirm his suspicions that she was in on it.

"Ladies," Chamber intoned with a hint of mischief. "Always happy to have you visit."

Both women giggled in reply before making themselves at home in a near practiced routine.

Panam immediately went about irritating Cyrus with her raucous personality, planting her firm rear on the table mere inches from the power armor he was performing annual maintenance on and prodding his tools and equipment.

As for the Merc, V pulled up a chair and sat off to his right, subtly brushing up against him and sitting close enough for their knees to touch. She was content to watch him work and was more than happy to enjoy the show of Panam grating on his nerves.

"Well, at least somebody is." Panam tossed a power convertor in her hands, slightly jolting his concentration enough for him to snatch the component from her hands.

"Don't touch that." Cyrus's rebuke earned him a pursed look from the Nomad before she continued to play with random tools and components he wasn't currently using. "How was Clouds?"

The inquiry was directed towards V, who played a part in revitalizing the club alongside Judy and the Mox in the last three weeks. Maiko Maeda was a recent concern with her constant blabbering about how they handled the Tyger Claws and kept inferring that their actions brought too much attention to the nightclub and would endanger their business.

But she was a fucking bitch, so no one gave her the time of day even though she was partly correct. The Tyger Claw removal impacted the club's reputation, but Susie Q knew she was doing and went about revitalizing its status and before lone eddies were rolling like crazy.

V stayed on as a security advisor until she was comfortable enough to leave it in Rita Wheeler's capable hands.

Judy went back to Lizzie's.

Fortunately, in Cyrus's opinion, her relationship with Maeda took a drastic turn for the worse…..or the best, depending on someone looks at it. She wanted no part in being anywhere near her former flame, who currently maintained her position as the club's doll Manager.

A position handed to her by Susie Q under the pretext she doesn't fuck with anyone.

Cyrus wished they'd just killed the snake and moved on to someone more dependable.

"Smooth sailing," V replied, laying her feet across Cyrus's lap and leaning back against her cushioned chair. "What about you? Word on the street is that you've been hunting Scavers again and inquiring about a certain serial killer."

Panam stopped her prattling and glanced at Cyrus with a narrowed look. "He's back on the grid?"

"Yes." Cyrus intoned softly. Two words echoed his head like a reverberating message.

The Meatman.

The Night City serial killer reemerged last night while he was hunting a Scaver Clan in Kabuki. This time the psycho's target was an outcast affiliated with Camp Agust, and he hung them from a warehouse by meat hooks.

The district's downtrodden nature kept Chamber from picking up any reliable CCTV cameras in the area, and whatever evidence he could obtain went cold immediately.

Cyrus felt helpless, and he hated the feeling with a passion.

For all his strength and capabilities, he couldn't find the serial killer or any trace of his existence on that rooftop. Chamber sent a couple feelers out on the web, but nothing had managed to snag a lead as of yet.

"Any leads?" Cyrus looked to V with a cutting glance, and her shoulders visibly sank. "Well shit."

"I'll find him." He intoned with an edge. "He can only run for so long, and when I do, he will die screaming."

Neither Panam nor V said a word on the matter.

Cyrus considered it a failure that the Meatman had slipped from his grasp twice now, and he did not take defeat lightly.

"Well, we're not here for that." Panam killed the jittery atmosphere with all the social grace of a Nomad. "V and I didn't stop by for shits and giggles or a retelling of our latest brand of psycho running around in Night City."

Cyrus let out a derisive snort and returned to his work. "Then what are you here for?"

"Are you fucking serious?" Panam deadpanned in disbelief, leaning back to stare directly into a grinning Chamber. "Is he fucking serious?"

"A hundred percent." The AI replied with an easy smile. "You really shouldn't have taken that bet with V."

The Nomad grumbled to herself as V accepted a chunk of eurodollars and cringed slightly as Panam scratched at her palm in retaliation. "Ouch! Don't be a sore loser P, you and I both know that was a suckers bet."

"Bullshit!" The Nomad retorted, knocking over a tool Cyrus was reaching for. "Even he can't be this fucking ignorant."

"I am sitting right here." Unfortunately, his words went unheeded as both women became embroiled in a near-standard argument whenever both of their personalities clashed.

Cyrus had the feeling that their arguments were purely for the sake of it. Especially when it became blatantly apparent that the sole objective of every overblown discussion was to annoy the ever-living shit out of him.

And it worked.




He raised a single palm, halting Panam from spilling out a random curse involving V's mother. "Please get to the point."

V instinctively crossed her feet and placed both hands behind her head when Panam's sputtering irritations grew. The Merc was content to observe the Aldecaldo unleash her fury upon the ignorant Spartan. She watched her choomba snatch the maintenance tool out of Cyrus's hand and smack him over the head with it.

"The point," Panam followed the emphasis with another knock to his head. "You blubbering idiot is that you forgot the most important day to a human being that only occurs once a year."

After a few moments of confused silence Panam almost smacked him with another blow to the head when V raised her hand. "Ease up, P. Our boy was dropped on the head as a child and you adding a few more knocks isn't helping ."

"Of course he was." Panam dropped the device and spread both arms out wide. "Cyrus, what time is it?"

"13:00 Hours." He answered without hesitation.

"And what day is it?"

"August, Seven….teenth." The prolonged hesitation produced a beaming smile from Panam, and within seconds a card wrapped in paper was presented to him by the resident Merc.

Traditionally, humans received a gift on the day of their birth from their friends and loved ones, and Cyrus couldn't remember the last time he got one.

It was a sobering concept.

Panam and V joined together in a single harmonious voice, so unlike their usual bickering selves.

"Happy Birthday, Cyrus."

The gift wasn't anything special, just a card with well wishes daintily written by Panam and V. Chamber also had a section reserved for her, but it was in V's handwriting considering her lack of hands.

Taped to the inside cover was an identification card with Cyrus's face and an assortment of falsified details. As he began to register the card and all its fine particulars, a sense of dread slowly entered his body.

"What did you do on your 21st Birthday, V?" Panam's inquiry and the subtle lock of the bunker doors only intensified his trepidation.

This was a textbook military ambush, reel in the target and pounce on him when he least expected it.

"I got fucking wasted."

This was not going to go well.

Devil Eyes - Hippie Sabotage

Night City, Northern California

Clouds Nightclub, Japantown

Try to enjoy yourself.

Chamber's words of encouragement were acknowledged, but it was difficult for Cyrus to abide by them.

Everything felt wrong to him, and he couldn't shake that aura of unease encompassing him. Something was brewing in the night, and for once, he was left in the darkness, a sentiment he was unused to experiencing.

It didn't matter how distracting Panam tried to be, even if Cyrus did welcome her antics for once.

The apprehension he felt as they weaved through the busy streets of Night City was evident to his companions, and they didn't take long to catch on. However, his reserved nature was far more prevalent in the last three days than they were accustomed to experiencing.

Chamber desperately needed something or someone to take the edge off Cyrus before he went off the rails and did something incredibly reckless.

Thankfully, her two favorite people on this side of the universe were more than happy to take him off her hands.

"Welcome to Clouds." The trio walked past the beaming attendant without a word. V was the only one to acknowledge the blue-haired receptionist.

Cyrus could still smell the subtle stench of blood hanging in the air, masked by a heavy amount of bleach and sanitizer. It took Susie Q and her Mox two full weeks to renovate the club and clean out all the corpses.

It's hard to sell new management and branding when bullet holes and shattered glass are scattered all over the place.

He didn't particularly want to spend his…birthday out on the town but convincing Panam, V, or Chamber to go hunting for Scavers wasn't exactly how they imagined celebrating a birthday.

Then again, Cyrus didn't exactly know how people celebrated these occasions. In Ferax, his birthday wasn't a topic he was comfortable sharing with anyone, let alone the people he shacked with. They were more likely to steal your valuables as a birthday gift than hand you a new one.

"Come on, Cyrus," Panam whined into his ear, warm breath causing the ends of his hair to stand up. "Just relax and try not to scare anyone."

"I am relaxed." The twinkle of amusement in her eyes grew exponentially as V chipped in.

"Don't bother telling him." The Merc looped her right arm in between his left. "Only way to get him comfortable is to put a drink in his hand and work from there."

V's calming touch was more prevalent to him now more than ever. Dozens of curious onlookers stared at the Mercenary beauty as she took the Spartan arm in arm, followed by an Aldecaldo brushing up against him.

The attention alone would have caused Cyrus to turn in on himself, but apprehension and a desire to fall into the shadows were negated by a shroud of pure content. The weight of that veil only increased when Panam snatched his other arm and dragged him.

It was an enjoyable feeling.

Cyrus took a moment to observe his companions. There was a purity to their expressions that he couldn't quite place, where he was content they were two souls burning with joy.

But that joy was a stark reminder of the burdens each of them carried inside.

V's own demons revolved around the Relic still etched into the side of her neck, and her growing trepidation of what the future might entail left her anxious. That emotion rolled off of her whenever she stood in quiet silence, and the connection between him and her only served to increase the feeling tenfold.

Cyrus could only hope his presence and Chamber's continued prodding of the Relic might produce positive results.

As for Panam, it was easy to pick out the heavy load of responsibility weighing on her shoulders. The war between her clan and the Wraiths had begun to heat up, and tomorrow she would be returning to the Aldecaldos to coordinate their raiding parties.

Tonight might be the last time Panam could truly enjoy herself without the burden of duty for who knows how long. Cyrus could see that from a mile away, it was a mere coincidence that this was his birthday.

A prime reason to celebrate and take a load off, so to speak.

Cyrus found himself pushed into a private room.

The number three was emblazoned just above the tinted glass shutter that closed behind him. He understood the club's previous functions, and while the Mox did continue its usual adult practices, they also wanted to cater to a clientele more interested in drinking and other social activities.

As such, all private rooms were expanded upon, adding in more room for a mini-bar in the back corner, along with two premium couches and a low table that separated the furniture.

V clearly used her pull with the Mox to acquire a private room for the three of them. Wasting no time to explore the fully stocked mini-bar, Cyrus belatedly realized just how eventful the night was going to be.

"So what'll you have today, Panam?" The Merc inquired as her hand hovered over an assortment of high-profile liquor. "Whiskey? Rum? Tequila? Vodka? Got a full inventory tonight, and we're going to go through all of it."

As V's hands ghosted over a premium American Whiskey, Panam stole it from her. She bumped hips with a faux-indignant V and began mixing her own drink.

"Should have known you'd take the whiskey." V turned away from the grinning Nomad to their resident Spartan, sitting on one of the couches with a ramrod-straight posture. As usual, he looked about as lost as a deer in headlights when it came to any social outing.

It's a wonder why he had such a tough time making choombas.

Well, that and his tendency to kill most people he met probably didn't help either.

"While you're at it, poor me and Cyrus a drink too." V plopped down and found a comfortable spot a mere inch away from him. "Not sure how much he needs to drink to even feel a buzz, but I can guarantee you our livers will implode if we challenge him."

"Shit, I'd rather not visit the hospital anytime soon." Panam began mixing whiskey with a tinge of apple cider. She was putting together a recipe that Mitch showed her a year ago, a Buffalo Trace Bourbon. A whiskey that contained a slight sweetness and a rich wooden taste that mixes harmoniously with the tartness of a good apple cider.

And this bar had good Apple Cider.

Panam finished the mix, poured three double shots for each of them, and almost skipped her way towards the patiently waiting duo. Instead, V snatched her shot of whiskey from the Nomad's grasp, and Cyrus politely acquired his own glass.

"So, what do we toast too, Haboobs?" Panam's comment was met by an infectious grin from V.

"…..What?" Cyrus questioned his expression one of evident confusion.

"It's an inside joke. You had to be there for it." V stood on her toes, a motion mimicked by Panam immediately and Cyrus belatedly. "Do you even know what a toast is, Cyrus?"

"Isn't it a type of bread?" Both women had to force themselves not to groan at his ignorance.

"No, it's when you lift your glass like this," Panam demonstrated, and the contents of her liquor shook slightly. "But we do it together and express a wish for success or other good news. Then, after that, we all take a drink at the same exact time."

"I'm guessing saying we're alive isn't the type of toast you're looking for?"

"No," V insisted as she shook her head. "It's supposed to be a lighthearted message, not anything so gloomy."

Cyrus shrugged his shoulders. "I think it's appropriate."

"Maybe for you," V had to stop herself before she started a prolonged discussion that would go on forever. "Oh, for fucks sake, CY. We're getting off track here. Just do what we do, please."

Again Cyrus shrugged simply and mimicked their posture. Raising his glass in line with theirs, Panam began searching for a proper salute for the occasion. Her mind began to race but soon grounded to a halt as her eyes ghosted over her closest compatriots.

Where would Panam be today without V or Cyrus?

In a ditch out in the Badlands with blood pouring out of her stomach?

Or would she have been used as a plaything by the Raffen before being discarded like a broken toy?

Panam shuddered, mind falling into a short abyss, but her worries tempered down as V smiled in her direction, and Cyrus gave her the slightest of nods.

It didn't matter what happened back then, not anymore. Right now, at this very moment, Panam felt on top of the world. That feeling of satisfaction was thanks to two people that she'd known for only a short amount of time, and yet they were everything to her.


"I got one," Panam spoke softly as pleasant memories of her time spent with Cyrus and V flashed to the front of her mind. "I propose a toast to both of you, my real family."

Neither V nor Cyrus found it in them to say anything against Panam's resolution, and there was a piece of them that would deny her.

"Let's face it," Panam began delicately. "My life was in a million pieces before I met you guys, and of course, you assholes broke it into a million more." That remark earned her a burst of hearty laughter from V and a contemplating look from Cyrus.

"But," she continued, expression losing some of its fire. "Sometimes it's only when something breaks apart that you can really start piecing it all back together. I don't know where I'd be without either of you, and I hope, selfishly, that you feel the same way. To family?"

Those words were laced with an emotion that Cyrus couldn't quite place. Panam was a headstrong and fiery personality that exuded such confidence it leaked into her friends and allies altogether.

And, yet.

Cyrus saw for the first time a vulnerability in Panam that she always concealed behind a veil of confidence. It was so unlike her, and a subtle glance towards V indicated she had reached the same conclusion, and their reply to the Nomad's heartfelt statement was easy to express.

"To family." Panam's subdued expression reached new heights as V nudged her side and the Merc grinned towards Cyrus.

Words couldn't really express his decision, and he often found them lacking where actions were far more preferable. Cyrus didn't say a word at first, but he equaled V's heightened posture and, with a clear voice, spoke his own answer.

"To family." With his declaration, V and Panam threw back their double shots in sync, and Cyrus matched their excitement.

The metallic taste of whiskey ran down his throat before a sweet taste encompassed his taste buds, followed by the familiar tartness of apple cider. Cyrus was finished with his drink twenty seconds before V or Panam, and both women stared in momentary disbelief.

A double shot of whiskey wasn't anything to sniff at, and neither could quite believe the ease at which he consumed the liquor.

"Goddamn," Panam coughed out. "What in the fuck did they feed you, Cyrus?"

"Aliens." V cleared her throat and peeked up at him.

She really hoped he was kidding because she was not looking forward to reliving a memory of Cyrus eating a whole goddamn alien. His memories were already fucked up as it is, and that would just take the cake.

V sighed inwardly, and the barest of smiles crossed her face as Panam animatedly engaged Cyrus in a one-sided conversation about the beauty of American whiskey. The amiable environment in their private room was enough to subtly relieve the tension in Cyrus's frame.

The man was a ball of tension no matter where he was or what he was doing, and V would be lying if it didn't worry her at times. Cyrus's mind is almost exclusively focused on the next mission, and he often refuses to even acknowledge the possibility of taking time to himself.

Super Soldier he may be, but in the end, Cyrus is still human like everyone else.

The only difference is that his limits reach the stratosphere, and he walks like a god amongst men.

Desperado Slowed (Remix)

V returned to the mini-bar to scrounge up more drinks, this time of the tequila variety, and it bared the signature name of her dearest departed choomba. It'd taken a considerable amount of time, but ultimately, she fine-tuned a Jackie Welles mixing process to perfection.

She honestly would never know if Jackie would have approved of a man like Cyrus entering her inner circle, but he was another street kid like the rest of them. Their relationship would have been touch and go considering Cyrus's pragmatic and often icy personality, but Jackie would have found a way past that frozen exterior.

He was good with people like that.

"Hello!" Panam's voice jarred V's inner reflections. "Quit daydreaming and pass out the next round!"

The Merc gathered three premium shots of 'Jackie Welles.' She took care not to spill a single drop of liquor or suffer the wrath of an irate Aldecaldo.

"What'd you cook up for me this time?" V slid the shot of liquor to Panam, allowing her to raise the liquor glass to her face. "A Jackie Welles? You're not butchering your choombas drink with an ungodly amount of tequila this time, are you?"

"That was one time," V playfully glared at Panam as she handed Cyrus his own drink. "Papi's been helping with the mix, and I can confidently say that this one won't make you gag."

"Only one way to find out." Panam countered by downing the shot of liquor in one go, followed by V and their silent companion.

Cyrus felt a cooling sensation of honey and ginger interplay with his taste buds. Of all the drinks V had coerced him into drinking during their binge at Mama Welles's bar, the Jackie Welles was the only one he marginally enjoyed.

Maybe it was the forlorn fact it was made in honor of a good man or its exotic taste, but in the end, he relished the colorful flavor nonetheless. The trio soon fell into a comfortable silence as each enjoyed their liquor in good company.

Conversation soon replaced the pleasant void of silence. However, it mainly consisted of Panam and V gossiping, while Cyrus chimed in with small words and subtle head movements.

An hour of drinking passed before Cyrus began to notice the physical side effects of hard liquor splash across his colleague's faces. The flush of red was plain for his eyes to see, and he made a mental note that both V and Panam were far more playful with one another while slightly inebriated.

It was hard for Cyrus to overlook the lingering touch when V physically walked Panam through the process of mixing a Jackie Welles. In addition, he did not miss the mesmerizing glances that always seemed to return to him, followed by subdued giggling.

He felt an odd sensation crawl up his spine just thinking about those stares, and for a moment, he dismissed their glances as an illusion of liquor.

This had to be one of those 'female' oddities that Chamber had failed to adequately explain to him.

Cyrus!" Panam called out, pulling him towards the mini-bar where a row of shots was laid out in front of a red-faced V. "We're doing three rounds of Jackie Welles each and a game of our choosing. The winner gets a prize."

Cyrus pointedly ignored how Panam practically melded into his side, hands trailing along his arms before slowly extracting herself to take a position next to V.

"You going to tell me the prize?"

V smirked. "You have to win first."

"Alright then," Cyrus said with a conceding tone. "Drink's?"

A glass of liquor was grabbed up by three different hands. Two lagged behind a few seconds while the leading third blazed through their share of shots,

Cyrus, the obvious winner, knocked back all three before either of them could place a hand on their second drink. Instead, he flipped them over with a collected expression that betrayed the basic human reaction to three heavy shots of vodka on the rocks.

Neither V nor Panam commented on his clear victory. Instead, the Merc trailed a hand along the mini-bar counter while the Nomad threw an arm around Cyrus's broad shoulders.

V flipped a switch, causing the cocktail table to fall into the floor, only to be replaced by a large pool table. She retrieved three pool cues from the corner of the private room and tossed one towards Cyrus.

"Game of pool." V looked to Cyrus with a lop-sided smile. "Me and Panam on one team, you all by your lonesome. I hope I don't have to explain how to play pool?"

Cyrus shook his head. He used to watch games of pool on occasion back home. It was simply a way to pass the time while his outcast's companions marked an establishment to relieve of its 'valuables' at a later date.

"Good," V handed Panam her own pool cue, eager to hopefully commence a campaign of victory to lord over Cyrus at a later date.

They weren't going to achieve that over any drinking game, so in V's mind, they had a better chance of beating him at a recreational game.

Their hopes didn't last long.

They foolishly allowed him to break the triangle of balls first, and that started a spiral effect that ended in a swift and brutal victory. In their second round, Panam was able to pot two striped object balls before scratching on her third attempt.

For the sake of competitive fairness, as argued by a clearly reaching V. The Merc was allowed to take her turn immediately after Panam's scratch attempt, potting three striped balls before fouling on her fourth attempt.

Somewhere in their inebriated minds, the pair believed their five-pot lead would be enough.

It wasn't.

Cyrus once again scored six in a row before Panam bumped his stick with a nudge of her hip. He gave her a raised eyebrow before allowing his forced foul to count.

It wouldn't be much of a game if Cyrus was the only one winning.

"You're way too fucking good at this game," Panam commented while nursing a freshly made strawberry margarita. By now, the score was Cyrus six and the Nomads' two, both of which would never be counted a legitimate in a professional pool game.

Cyrus snorted in mild amusement, easing in on the white ball and potting the 8-ball. "Should have picked a harder game."

"Oh, don't worry, P." V snatched the margarita from Panam's grasp, smile dancing with mischief. "We may have lost this battle, but our war will continue. Still have one game I'm confident you won't win."

V motioned to the couch while Panam jimmied with the room's audio system, "Take a seat, Cyrus."

The Spartan looked between the comfortable furniture and the canary-like grin playing along V's lips. He regarded her carefully, searching for the no doubt ridiculous motivations behind her scheming smile.

Panam went about retrieving a bucket of ice and a large selection of drinks to quench any thirst, hidden loudspeakers filled the private room with sensual music.

Cyrus didn't find anything unpleasant in her gaze and acquiesced to her demand. What did surprise him was when V immediately found a comfortable spot to his left, her legs hooking around his leg and keeping her full weight on his side.

"So," Cyrus drew out. "What's this game, and why do you need to be so close?"

His tone was inquisitive more than accusing, and V had an excuse primed and ready. "It's a tasting game, but you can't use your hands, and you need to close your eyes."

"And what about restraining my legs?" A second weight settled on his right, and a cursory glance found an equally close Panam.

She looked to V with a lop-sided grin. "Just go with it."

"Ok, then." Cyrus didn't skip a beat and spoke the first thought that came to his mind. "What else do I need to do?"

"Close your eyes." Somewhere in the back of his mind, Cyrus vaguely wondered if that was a good idea considering the nature of his companions.

And yet, he followed their instructions to the letter, doing his best to ignore the vortex of anticipation subtly forming in his stomach.

The first drink to touch his lips was familiar and still his favorite.

"Jackie Welles." Moist lips grazed against his lower earlobe, and V's cool exhale caused his skin to prickle at the sensation.

"Very good," she replied, fingers dancing along his chin. "Panam, pour him another one."

He shuttered softly, warm lips ghosting over her exposed neck, sending shivers and goosebumps across his upper body. V's ministrations were disturbed by the sound of sloshing liquid as a familiar weight returned to its place on his right side.

"Try this one, CY," Panam said, tipping the glass towards his mouth and letting him drink the contents slowly.

Cyrus was thankful for the momentary distraction and allowed the liquor to override his senses. The grainy taste was tough to pick out at first, but he did recall seeing a bottle of vodka in the ice bucket Panam dragged along.

"Straight Vodka." A chuckle and a pair of sarcastic claps greeted his ears.

"Not bad," V admitted. "A little easier than you think but not bad nonetheless."

V leaned further into his side, hand dancing along his outer thigh before latching over his eyes. "Ah, ah. No peaking."

Cyrus would have protested if Panam's weight hadn't shifted. Her knee grazed along the top of his left thigh, and she carefully settled herself on his lap. His heartbeat skyrocketed as she leaned forward, pressing her curvaceous chest against his stern frame and forcing him deeper into the furniture.

"Tell me what this tastes like."

Cyrus could feel soft lips latch against his mouth, intimate and enticing. A silent gasp of desire reverberated from Panam as her spine arched against him, twisting her hips deep against his own. She tasted like pure water, natural and refined by mother nature herself, and he fell into a whirlpool of emotions.

When V wanted something or someone, she always took it with little struggle, but she'd rarely come across anyone with the willpower to resist her initial advances.

And then she met two extraordinary individuals whose personalities melded with hers like yin and yang. Panam with her streaks of unbreakable confidence and Cyrus, a man of pure iron will that she so desperately wanted for herself.

And this was her moment of triumph to seize both in one fell swoop.

It would not go to waste.

A hand meandered its way to his left hand and placed it along Panam's right hip by the woman herself. It was pure reaction and instinct when his hand flinched and squeezed her tender flesh, emitting a soft cry that made Cyrus halt on impulse.

"It's ok," V spoke reassuringly, her words sliding from her lips as she joined their hands together and subtly squeezed Panam's hips. This time the Nomad released a soft moan of approval as she ran her tongue over the tips of his teeth, begging for entrance before forcing the issue. "Accept it. Enjoy it, let all your troubles go."

V nipped at Cyrus's neck, gaze fixated upon his crumpled face with hidden hints of desire as she worked her magic. Panam grabbed his free hand and force it to grasp her hips in place. V bit a sensitive spot along his skin that caused another jolt of unrestrained pleasure and impulsive clutching.

"Jesus," Panam murmured out, extracting her lips from Cyrus's and grinding softly against his groin. "He's as big as I thought."

Cyrus crinkled his brows in confusion when a hand carefully grabbed at the hem of his pants. He would have spoken up if V hadn't chosen that moment to bite the sensitive spot on his neck and send an immobilizing pleasurable shiver down his spine.

"Really?" The seductive Merc felt around his goods for a moment before removing her hand from the inside of his pants and sending the Nomad a challenging smirk. "I thought he'd be tiny."

"Shut up, V." Panam leaned down, hot breath pouring over V's lips before her hand slipped around her head to pull her closer.

V bent upwards, delectable lips never leaving Panam's, as she matched her height and forced her to make room on Cyrus's lap. He sat in silence, breathless as his mind battle against the haze of desire.

Did he understand the implications of their actions at the moment?


Did he care?

Not particularly.

Cyrus wasn't entirely sure what his subsequent actions would have been because fate intervened.

[Cut any Music]

A buzzing in his hip pocket drew the Spartan's and his intimate companion's attention. Panam and V both groaned in disappointment as Cyrus slowly extracted them from his lap, albeit reluctantly.

"For fucks sake." Panam bit out angrily as she took a seat to his right, although she quickly placed a hand on his thigh to affectionately stroke it. V mimicked her gesture but propped her feet on the pool table and readjusted her messy hair.

Cyrus ignored their ministrations for the vibrating phone in his hand. Only a handful of people had access to his emergency contact information, and two of them were on his lap moments ago.

"This is Cyrus. Go ahead." He quietly adjusted his posture, leaning on his right knee and snatching a glass of half-drinking water.

"It's Clint." Cyrus's eyebrows narrowed in suspicion. "We need you to come in."

"Where's Parker?"


Whatever stress-relieving atmosphere was left lingering in their private room was shattered in an instant. The crimson eyes that had been dormant for so long now reignited in a blaze of fury.

"I'm on my way."

V could see the expressions on Cyrus's face once again dull out into a familiar blank slate. The only exception was the scorching pair of crimson eyes bristling with fury.

"Cyrus?" Two pairs of eyes danced with unrestrained concern that he pointedly disregarded.

"I have to go."

He marched out of the club before they could even say a word to him, and their concern turned into unrelenting unease.

V could feel it in her bones, a freezing chill seized her body in a vice, and a glance towards an equally frozen Panam indicated she felt much the same. She cursed to herself and flipped tossed an empty glass against the far wall.

Weeks of pent-up yearning were so close to being unleashed, but of course, Night City seemed to snatch him out from under her at the worst possible time.

V wanted Cyrus, his body, mind, and the calming void that settled her anxieties by proximity alone. Panam was little better in her desires for him. She craved him almost as severely as V did.

But that unsettling fury laced underneath that stoic façade came to life and consumed rare feelings of empathy and compassion. Sentiments that Cyrus's conditioned martial mentality welcomed without hesitation on instinct.

The Merc forced her anxious and frustrated mind to cool down, counting with her fingers and watching Panam do much of the same.

A glance between the two was all it took to conclude their following action. V accessed her communication module and rang up the only person in Night City that wouldn't bullshit them.

"Chamber." The Merc began storming out of the room with Panam hot on her heels. "I need coordinates."

"I think I know where."

V hadn't visited Parker's new outcast camp in Northside, and they were due a first tour from one of Night City's most notorious Mercs.

And an incredibly frustrated Aldecaldo.

Mother of all things holy I didn't think the chapter would get this big, but it did and we had certain things happen pairing wise that I honestly feel I still need to work on but I digress.

In the last chapter we finished ACT 6 and are no steamrolling through ACT 7 where 6th Street, the Custodians, and the elusive Sirens will be included. Let's also not forget the Bloodhounds that have recently devoted their swords to Cypher. As for the outcasts, there's more to them than meets the eye.

I didn't feel the need for Cyrus and Chamber to have a blow-up over the Custodians but that was just my personal preference.

I hope the choice of music was appropriate and didn't take away from the atmosphere.

As always I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and remember to review to your heart's content.

To the hundreds of people leaving reviews and following the story as we cross into near unknown territory, stay classy. I'll see you all again very soon.


Zeoncobra: Yes this chapter we got a glimpse into the NCPD outlook but I didn't want this to be a chapter filled with reactions so I will be spreading it out over this arc.

FalseProphet75: No there not but this chapter did answer that question.

edboy4926: Yes she does have a list of equipment but producing them isn't in the plans at the current moment but that doesn't mean they won't be included.

RickDeckard: It's not my day job but thanks for the compliment.

MEleeSmasher: Chamber is handling the logistics while Cyrus is more the figurehead for them to rally behind but he will have a say in their direction.

Jctherebel: Not to worry they will have their own adventures directed by Cyrus but we have something close to home to take care of.

To the rest of the wellwishers and people loving the fic, I say thank you from the bottom of my often cold heart for supporting this story the rest of the way and I hope it keeps you captivated and entertained.

Next Chapter: July 4th. Still in summer classes. XD