AN: One word of warning; this follows the plot of the game; but not the mission structure; because it focuses more on the characters than the action. There will be some action; but don't try and match this story to the game timeline. Same story; different sequence.
ONE WAY STREET
It was the little things that took the most getting used to. The sound of servos whirring was the hardest one to handle. His arms creaked slightly; like a tight leather jacket. The slightest movement bothered his senses. Nobody else could hear it; or at least they never mentioned it. But his enhanced hearing could put safecrackers to shame; and he could always hear the omni-servos spinning in his arms and legs.
Safecracker. Add that to the list. Nobody would hire a safecracker that didn't have augmented senses. I could see through the safe door and know when the tumblers lined up.
His clock chimed with what used to be his alarm clock. The window blinds rose automatically; shining a sickly, sepia light into the apartment. Jensen added to the ambiance by letting a lungful of blue-grey cigarette smoke out into the room.
He took another drag and the chemical readout popped up on his HUD. The tar and nicotine couldn't hurt his lungs. They'd been woven with the same material used in Industrial Scrubbers. He could breath cyanide gas now if he had to.
His first mission since the surgery had ended the night before in success. A rescue of some hostages taken by Purity First.
The look in their leaders eyes haunted him. There weren't many who could lie to him any more. He could count the beats of the strangers heart. But he wasn't taken by surprise at the sight of Jensen. The look of disgust was clear and strong. It wouldn't bother him. Jensen was a cop. The hatred of killers was a prize among SWAT. But he'd gotten similar looks from total strangers in the street.
But Sanders was a special case. He despised Jensen for a reason. They viewed Augments as monsters; unnatural inhuman things. They thought of people like him as the certain death of humanity.
And he'd cut down over two dozen of them without breaking stride. They were armed; they were paranoid; they were ready; and they'd barely slowed him down.
He didn't shed a tear over them. He didn't have tear ducts any more anyway; but the thought that kept coming back was that they were right. He was the Grim Reaper against the ordinary human warriors.
Jensen ignored the door. He had other things on his mind. His neighbors hadn't come to check on him when the hospital had released him at last. They had greeted him in the elevator, or the lobby; but retreated again when they got a good look at him. Purity First and similar groups had been known to attack private citizens with Augments... They knew him; and the landlady had liked having a cop in the building. But he wasn't a cop now. He was an Augment, working to protect the biggest source of all Augments.
The change in his status could not have been clearer. He wasn't part of them any more. His own neighbors weren't sure if he was still him or a half undead science fiction monster painted up to look like Adam Jensen.
In a way, he wasn't sure either.
He ignored the door, looked back to the crime scene photos; the console, the emails... And Megan's picture. There were only three photos in the house. One of his parents; one of Megan, and one of him and her together with their dog. The image gave him a pang.
He wondered if emotions lived in the brain. Poets said it love and misery were both languages of the heart. Scientists said that someone who received an organ transplant would adopt characteristics of the donors. Where did he live? Was he in the grey matter between his ears... If so, only part of him was missing. If any part of him had dwelt in his heart then it was gone; carved out of him and replaced with a bionic pump.
Probably made in a Hengsha sweat shop. He thought bleakly.
Knock Knock. Jensen let out a breath between his teeth and looked to the wall. If he focused his eyes... just right... then his new eyes would let him see through the wall; show him a startlingly clear outline of the person on the other side. Malik?
"I'm not going anywhere Flyboy." A familiar voice called through the door. "You might as well let me in."
Faridah Malik. The one real 'friend' he had left. All the people who knew him before were either looking at him with mistrust because of the change; walking on eggshells around him at the office because of his trauma... Or hated him unconditionally.
"It's open!" He called finally; and she let herself in. She had a large bottle under her arm.
She made her way to the office; where he still sat. "We didn't get a chance after the Mission." She offered. "And with Mr Sarif on the VTOL before; we didn't get a chance to talk much then either."
"Talk about what?" Adam blinked.
"You." She shrugged. "Like I said; six months is a short time to come back from the dead."
"Not so long as you think." Jensen retorted. "The only bits of me that needed to recover were the surgical scars. All the limbs and organs I had that were damaged in the attack got carved off me like a turkey leg."
Malik snorted and put the bottle down firmly on his desk. "I figure, counselors are good... but for guys like you; Doctor Jack Daniels is better."
"Cheapest doctor that makes house calls." Adam admitted, and reached out for it. He hesitated. "Um... can you pour?"
She nodded and glanced around for a minute; before heading into the kitchen. He could read the flush of her reaction. She had been expecting him to say no and toss her out.
Doctor. Add that to the list. An Aug doctor can trace blood flow on sight, read pupil dilation, muscle spasms too small to see... Diagnosis would be easy.
"You are such a guy." She called from his kitchen. "Six open boxes of frosted cereal and no milk." He focused his eyes through the walls to see her silhouette in the kitchen, just as she took the glasses down from the shelf. "Nice." She commented as she came into the office. "Expensive glassware for a cop."
"A gift from my dad. He bought me a bottle of the good stuff when I graduated; we toasted each other and the future for half the night; and he gave me the whole set as a gift." He couldn't help the way his lip twisted. "To the future." He toasted without a glass; spreading his metal arms out like wings. "Damned if it can't take a joke."
She held out a glass to him; and he looked at it like it was a baby rattlesnake. His lenses dropped over his eyes automatically in response; and Malik hid a smirk. The Flyers in the Sarif Hangar called it his 'Game Face'.
"Thing about a glass like this? Got the thick heavy base..." He said as he took it gingerly. "I remember my dad used to test the glassware; by the sound an ice-cube would make when he dropped it from just above the glass. He said a good sound would mean a good thick base with good quality glass..." The glass cracked, a gentle spiderweb extending out from the pads of his fingertips. "Dammit." He looked to Malik to explain... and actually saw her lick her lips. "Still not used to it." He excused.
"You seemed pretty comfortable when you were kicking ass in the Plant yesterday." She pointed out. Her eyes scanned around and found a chair piled against the wall; pulling it over so that she could sit down next to the end of his desk.
"Once I got to the terrorists I was." Jensen snarked. "Trying to get information out of SWAT? Not so much."
"Yeah, I saw them giving you the cold shoulder on the way in. Looked like you'd gotten a few friends back by the time you were on your way back out again." Malik offered. "Who knows; maybe that's how you do it. You earn your way back in."
"Maybe, but I don't think so." Adam volunteered. "Back when I was a cop? The Captain at my Precinct... we used to call him Captain Coldblood. He wouldn't have an Aug in his Precinct. He would trade them all; transfer them all out. He wasn't one of the conservatives; he wasn't a Luddite. Just didn't want them on his team."
"How can you afford Upgrades on a cop salary?" She wondered.
"Not many can." Jensen sipped. "There were four of us up from SWAT training. We formed our own team. One day, we got word there was a hostage situation at a bank in our jurisdiction; we went out; all four of us. The bank robber was an Aug; had laser-scope eyes. He took a shot out the window; nailed Hendrik through the skull. Over two hundred feet away; high wind; low visibility. This guy did it with a handgun. That left me, Haas and Cobb. Cobb did a stupid thing; and people died. I got the order and refused... Haas stepped up and we took the guy down. The three of us got raked over the coals. Haas fell apart; I got the sack. But Cobb... I looked at his eyes? He didn't care. He got four people killed; and he didn't care. Captain Coldblood was the most jaded atheist on the force; and he told me that Cobb was 'inhuman'. The words he used was 'inhuman' and 'soulless'."
"It's been my experience that nobody is more loyal to the Team than police officers." Malik offered. "Plus, you don't work for them any more. I couldn't really say where that leaves you with SWAT now."
"Me neither, but there is a growing number of the population who say that I'm not even human any more." Adam sighed. "If the most jaded, cynical Captain on the force can write off a regular, flesh and blood person as soulless and inhuman, what would he make of me?"
Malik shrugged and pulled over a cardboard box to put her feet up. "Wrong question."
Adam blinked. "What's the right one?"
"If you'd been trashed like that while you were still SWAT; where would you be now?"
"Six feet under." Jensen said without hesitation. "But there's a reason I got kicked out of SWAT."
"Yeah. You refused to execute an Augmented kid from a hundred feet away." Malik toasted. "Real heartless bastard you are. The thing I want to know is? If he hadn't been an Augment, would Captain Coldblood still have ordered you to end him?"
"The thought occurred."
"Doesn't mean you were wrong to refuse." Malik shot back. "And it doesn't mean that saving your miserable ass was the wrong call."
Jensen shivered. "I woke up on the table." He confessed. "During the operation? I woke up three times. Once when they took my arms off; once when they were removing my heart; then a third when they hooked up the new one. I saw it beating."
Malik set her glass down hard enough that it spider-webbed a little too. Side by side; the two glasses were suddenly a matching set.
"It didn't hurt." He lied to her quickly. Since when do I lie to reassure people? Since when do I reassure people at all? "It felt more like... like I was floating. I thought I had died already."
She stood up; then came one step closer... and suddenly she was sitting on the edge of his desk; legs crossed at the ankle, looking down at him from behind her glass. "For what it's worth; you're still one of the better humans I know."
Adam wasn't sure at first; if she was making a move or not... or at least inviting him to make a move on her. She was attractive, smart, strong... And she wasn't freaked out by the changes.
He didn't know how to play it, so he reached to the lowest drawer of his desk; his pneumatic arm reaching across her body as he did so... and he pulled out the ring box.
Her face changed when she saw it. "Thought you and Doc Reed were broken up."
"We were. I proposed. She said no. Said it wouldn't be fair, since she was married to her work. I knew she loved me; but..." Adam shook his head. "The ring was my Grandmother's. Mom sent it to me after she met Megan the first time. Her way of telling me that she approved."
"And then you broke up." Malik nodded, pouring him another shot.
"We split up because of work." Adam told her. "She was going places; I was just a cop. She never cared about that, but... She was a true believer. Thought she could fix the world. What's a kicked-out cop compared to that? She didn't leave me; she left me behind. The second I left SWAT; she pounced. I had a job offer waiting by the time I got home. I wish I could say it was because I was just that good... Truth was, she felt sorry for me."
"Nobody can say that you can't do the job." His pilot argued.
"Heh. My first week, I might have bought that. But I saw my own files. You have any idea how many Shrinks, PI's and Personnel Managers wanted me gone?"
"All of them."
She threw back her drink, poured for them both. "You really think you don't belong here?"
"I'm still a cop Malik. I seen too many people who blame their actions on their circumstances. Maybe I didn't earn or choose this part of my life; but it's got me a job, a home, a mission. I ain't gonna waste a lot of time complaining about my lot." He glanced over at her. She was still looking at the ring. "Sorry."
She looked up. "For what?"
"I'm not exactly playing this out the way you hoped it would." He said vaguely; hoping she'd take it whatever way would cause the least disaster.
Malik shook her head. "I didn't come here to make a move. Six months ago... I wanted to. I wasn't sure if you knew that..."
"I suspected." He confirmed.
She shrugged. "Megan did me a good turn once. It's gotta be hard; trying to get a date when you work so close with your Ex." She snapped the ring box shut and tossed it back to him. "It's supposed to be a month per year."
"When you meet someone after a bad breakup; you're supposed to wait a month for every year they were together." She poured them both another shot. "You were with Reed for what? Seven years? More than that? Plus longer for the recovery time." She took a sip. "So... no. I wasn't here for that."
"Why are you here?" Adam asked, curious now. Malik hadn't danced around anything since she came in, and after all the conspiracies and double-talk; he was glad for it.
She shrugged. "Back when I was in Flight School; there were a bunch of us who hung out a lot. We were young and learning to fly; and the world was literally far below our feet. After a tough one we went out and celebrated." She looked out the window. "None of them will talk to me any more. We all got through the flight school clean; but once I started working for Sarif, I got an employee discount at the LIMB clinics. I'm the only one of the group to be upgraded."
"They don't like it?"
"Can't enter the Flight School if you're an Aug. Laws haven't caught up to the Academy. It's fine if you've already got the license but... None of the old gang can afford the surgery."
"Or the meds." Adam put in. It was an open secret that the majority of the money in Augmentation came from the anti-rejection medication; but Sarif employees had the Neuropozyne injections covered by the company health plan.
"That too." She admitted. "My old friends won't come near me because I'm not one of them any more. My family... were horrified."
"Why'd you Upgrade?"
She shrugged. "Why does anyone? I want a skill or a talent that I don't have; and I find a Clinic."
She poured again. "It's... Technology's changing my business too. Cars drive themselves; so do aircraft. A VTOL Pilot is a dying breed." She took a long sip. "Back in Flight School they had a joke that a Passenger Jet flight crew was a pilot and a dog. The pilot was there to feed the dog and the dog was there to bite the pilot if he tried to touch anything."
"I can understand that."
"My profession is dying out; and Upgrading myself is the only way I knew to stay... relevant." She threw back her drink. "Can I ask you something?" Malik said after a moment.
"Are you Anti?" She asked carefully. "Because a lot of people are without being... militant about it; or even prejudiced against Augs. If you took the job because of Reed..." She hesitated. "Look, you and me are working in the Heart of the Augmentation movement; but you never had any done yourself. The only way you got upgraded was because they were done to you while you were half-comatose. When I asked you, you said you never asked for this. I guess I'm wondering; if you'd been conscious; would you have told them to..."
"To just let me die?" Adam toasted. "Honest to god, I don't know."
She looked away from him then; not happy with the answer. Automatically; his Augs responded; releasing the pheromone mix. He caught the way her nostrils flared; her lips parting just a little; pupils dilating as she looked to him; suddenly a little more aware of him...
Dating. Add that to the list. He thought. No woman would prefer a guy who wasn't able to say the perfect thing over a mere mortal who has to muddle his way through.
She breathed again, and her lips curved downward slightly. "Are you... using that CASIE mod on me?" She challenged, annoyed. "Because I swear to god, I will carve it right out of your head if you-"
"Of course not." Adam said instantly, and deactivated it; oddly pleased with her reaction. Okay, the female species has a chance.
"Chest still hurt?" Malik asked him. "You keep resting your hand over your chest."
Adam looked down; surprised to find that she was right. "I can feel my heartbeat." He sighed. "They cut open the pericardial sac; which insulates the heart; even if it's a mechanical replacement. That's why the sound of my pulse is like a big brass drum right now." He tapped over his chest. "Time passes; the body recovers from surgery. Appetite returns. Sleep becomes better. The Brass Drum in my chest scars over and quietens down."
She heard the note of experience in his voice and reacted. "You've been shot before?"
"Only once before the attack." He conceded. "The Augments make the recovery faster. Blood flow changes; anti-coagulants get sent directly to the wounds; blood replacement chemicals are produced as needed..."
Malik let him talk; and he suddenly ran out of words. He wasn't one that babbled; but he didn't know how to stop talking. "Sorry." He said finally.
"Do you miss it?" She asked him.
"I miss... simplicity." Adam said. "It's something my dad once said; about how you used to be able to see the sun in Detroit."
"Our teacher in Hengsha said the same thing." She nodded thickly. "It was a simpler time."
"Exactly. A different time!" He nodded; seizing on that. "Purity First live in the past, in a time when nature had a chance against the pollution and being human meant having a shot in the world." He threw back his drink. "I never had a problem with Augmentation as a rule. If I did, it's not like I could work for SI. But... I never planned to get them for myself."
"Never?" She seemed confused by that. "Why not? This is the part I don't get. You're a fighter more than anything else; and it's fair to say this is the Modern Battlefield."
"In SWAT, you have to train to peak performance. I knew exactly how far and how fast I could run, and for how long I could hold the speed. I knew exactly how much weight I cold press; and exactly how many opponents I could take on hand to hand. It was a point of pride that I could do that. Top 2% means that the other 98% don't want it as badly as I could. Then some kid rips off a little old lady and pays cash in a black market LIMB Clinic? Suddenly that 2% is nothing. What's the point of being the best if you can order it all out of a catalog?"
Malik's head tilted, considering that. "Like the rest of the SI pilots with their stats. Why be proud of your record if it comes factory-approved?"
"I see people with Augmented arms that can reach their own elbows; like their arm is suddenly something from an assembly line. I honestly couldn't picture how they make their arms work that way. I never wanted to see through skin, or shoot ball-bearings out my ass in every direction. I wanted to be me. I wanted to know how much weight I could lift and know how fast I could run."
"Now... it feels..." He fought to find the right word. "Normal. Like I'm still normal."
"I can step off the roof of this building, fall three hundred feet, and land like I stepped off a curb." He shot back. "I could go do it right now if I wanted. Very few normal people can do that."
"I'm an Aug too." Malik said gently. "I'm still normal."
"So am I. But... A normal what?"
Malik's mouth became a thin line. She stood up and wandered away from him a little bit. She suddenly seemed to notice the apartment. "Lots of boxes." She commented. "Are you... leaving?"
Adam shrugged. "I don't know. I've thought about it."
"Nobody would blame you." She offered. "If you wanted to go; nobody would think less of you for it." She poured another glass and wandered over to the boxes; peeking in the ones with open lids. Lots of photos. "Is this..." Malik blinked and pulled out a 4x3 of him and Megan with their arms around each other. "This is the same one you have on your desk."
Jensen nodded. "That one was hers. When she died... It was the guy in my job who was supposed to clean out her office; her locker, her desk..." His head tilted a little. "Needless to say; I was a little busy. So whoever did the job had it all dumped in my office."
"Oh. The real compassionate touch is Sarif Security." Malik sneered. "No offense."
"None taken. When I got out of the Hospital; I had them send it all here. I figured if I stared at her stuff long enough; I might find a lead."
She looked up. "Did you?"
"Nope." Adam said shortly. He hadn't found a lead, but he had found other things. Things that were bothering him. Things he didn't need to share with Faridah Malik; or anyone else.
Faridah looked back at the photo. Megan and Adam smiling into the camera; with the dog happy as could be, ball in its mouth. "Your dog?"
"I bought it for her as a puppy. Her neighbors took it in when she died; but they didn't know if I'd make it... so they had it put to sleep before I got back."
Malik's head snapped around to look at him in open heartbroken sympathy; and he just looked back at her steadily. God, there ain't nothing left. She thought to herself, and looked back to Megan's face. How is he still standing, Meg? How did you do this? How did you handle this?
She was still staring at the photo. "You and Megan were friends." Jensen heard his voice say, suddenly realizing. "The day she died; she... you two were on a first name basis."
Malik nodded. "She saved my job once. I was getting into it with some moron who didn't know how to fly; but somehow he was an expert on what my controls were telling me and what I was doing wrong. I was this close to busting his nose when M-Doctor Reed showed up and basically stopped me from getting myself fired. Or arrested. Or both."
"What did the moron think of that?"
"It was Pritchard."
"Ha!" Jensen toasted that one immediately.
Malik smirked and returned it. "Plenty of testosterone around the DOD Augmentation Industry. Me and Doc Reed semi-adopted each other." She looked at the picture again. "I miss her."
"Me too." Adam admitted. There was a shared, sentimental beat; and he sighed. "I'm sorry about the whole 'normal' comment."
She didn't answer for a minute. "There's a species of spider... Or at least there used to be; before they all went extinct." She volunteered after a while. "It would bite an insect, like a grasshopper or something; and the venom would paralyze. The spider then laid its eggs inside the insect... and the thing would recover, and go about its life... until the eggs hatched, and a thousand baby spiders would eat it alive from the inside out as their first meal. You tell me: What's the limit on what you can call a normal life?"
"I don't know." Jensen said simply. "Philosophy is not my area."
"Mine either. So lets leave these nightmare questions for somebody who can answer them." She shot back.
Adam started to answer that... and stood up. "It's late." He said finally. "You've been drinking. I can call you a cab-"
"Nah, I'll walk it." She said with a smirk. "Augmented eyes. They can adjust to my equilibrium. Great for flying evasively; but it also means I can walk a straight line when I'm halfway under the table."
"Drinking contests." Jensen commented; half to himself. "Add that to the list."
She chuckled and headed for the door. He told himself he wasn't watching her walk away. "Hey Spy Boy?" She called over her shoulder.
"Remember what I said. One month to a year." Malik tossed back the last of her drink. "So, when you are ready... you know where to find me." She had her back to him; so he couldn't see her jaw drop at the audacity. Oh my god, did I really just say that?
He couldn't help the slight smirk. "Yeah. I will." Oh my god, did I really just say that?
It quickly became a tradition. At least once a week she would come over after a mission; or a long day and bring a bottle. On good days; it was wine; on bad days it was bourbon. They'd toast each other a few times and trash talk about the boss, or the Pro-Humanists that inevitably picketed outside their tower.
One or two people commented on Faridah spending so much time with Jensen and the gossip started; but the truth was; she was the only person he was spending time with; and even then only one or two hours each week. Jensen was the first one to arrive at work every morning; and often the last one to leave. He didn't speak with the rest of the staff except to ask questions. Company Insurance policy demanded that he have regular meetings with a staff psychologist in the wake of the trauma; but he never went. He never ate in the staff cafeteria; and if he had his own food nobody ever saw him with it. He slept on the couch in his office, if he ever slept at all.
Malik didn't call him on it; but the nights he went home on time were the nights he knew she'd be coming over. She would come in, pour two glasses and sit down in the chair; while he sprawled on the couch opposite her. Neither of them would say anything for a while; not even looking at each other, until one of them commented on the game they were watching.
They both had a love of football. When they needed an excuse to be in the same room and not talk; they watched a game on his big screen. Two games a week; unless a bad mission happened; and she made a special trip. Sometimes she would bring take-out and made sure he ate. He never asked for it; never told her to stop coming.
Every office had it's grapevine; and some of the more determined gossips came to her; trying weasel some information about David Sarif's new and improved Lethal Weapon. Malik gave them nothing. If he was isolating himself from everyone but her; she would not give him reason to regret it. Along the way; she got his complete life story. Everything from the Mexicantown Massacre to the three physical therapists he'd made cry in the hospital.
She never asked him about any of it. She drank with him; argued the merits of one player over another; and she went home.
And every night when she left; he would thank her; as though coming over and spending an hour with him was a great burden for her to carry.
Malik arrived at work one morning and noticed Jensen was outside the main entrance to Sarif Industries. He was deep in what looked like a very intense conference with an older woman with silver hair that she didn't recognize.
She waved a quick greeting at Jensen but didn't pry. At least, not directly. She stopped at reception and spoke quietly to Cindy Berenson; the biggest gossip in the building. "Hey Cindy. Who's that?"
Cindy followed Malik's gaze and her expression dropped a little. "That's Mrs Reed. Doc Reed's mother. She must have heard Mister Jensen was back at work. She's been on the phone every other day for six months demanding answers." Cindy said quietly; ever the gossip. "Could be she's after more info from the Head of Security."
"Could be she's just checking on him." Malik offered. "Jensen and Reed were tight; and he couldn't even go to the funeral. And with Doc Reed's murder gone unsolved so long..."
"You haven't heard?" Cindy peeked over her shoulder and leaned in. "Well; turns out there's something new. You went home on time last night; you missed a whole show. Pritchard and Jensen had a screaming match upstairs last night; around eleven thirty. Everyone could hear them for three levels. Something about the building firewalls being hacked. Pritchard said he was tracking the breach; then Jensen screamed at Pritchard for lousy electronic security; and Pritchard screamed back about how what happened to Reed at all was Jensen's fault and that's when Jensen slugged him."
Malik smothered a laugh. "To the surprise of nobody with half a brain cell."
Cindy giggled; loving the story. "Plus; I heard that Jensen has a secret."
"Doesn't everyone?" Malik waved it off.
"Well; a juicy one then." Cindy said eagerly. "You remember you flew him out to the processing plant to take care of those Purity Jackasses?"
"Well, word around the water-cooler is that after Jensen got back here he marched to the top floor and had a showdown with The Boss."
"Really?" Malik was stunned. He didn't say anything about any of this...
"Yep. An hour later he was out somewhere downtown; and Amy in accounting says that Nole in Security was told to put together a security detail for someone."
"Who?" Malik asked.
"No idea. Some old woman named Michelle something; but whoever it is, Jensen had her protected by a dozen armed Sarif guards and then he had her transferred to some convalescent home. Real expensive one too. He put it on his insurance account."
Malik glanced back over his shoulder at Adam and Mrs Reed; and noticed Jensen glaring her way. Her heart stopped. Augmented Senses. He probably heard all that.
Making a quick goodbye; she hurried to her post.
Two hours later; she got the call. Jensen needed a pilot.
"Morning Jensen." Faridah called back without looking. "Ready to fly?"
"Yup. You sure you're okay to fly? The game was not pretty last night." Adam teased, and she flipped him off. "I'm serious, you should hear the commentary on Lyndon being sent off."
Secretly, she was glad he was teasing her. "I haven't watched the recap yet, so shut up." She told him. "Want me to pipe it through to you as well? Detroit to Hengsha is a hike, even with the kind of birds we fly."
Jensen shook his head. "I can get TV on my Chipset."
She nodded; and climbed into the pilot's chair. "Hey, can I ask you something?" She called into her headset as the engines spooled up.
"Does anyone ever say 'no' to that question?" Jensen responded rhetorically.
"Not that I know of." She grinned. "There's a rumor going around that you put someone on your family insurance plan. Since your folks are both-"
Jensen was suddenly growling right in her ear. "Michelle Walthers is off limits. Understand?"
She nodded quickly; nervous. "Understood."
There was a long silence. Malik flew the plane as straight as she could; imagining him glaring at the back of her head. She knew he could see through walls. She had seen him use his near X-Ray vision to reach through a brick wall and yank a terrorist out again with one hand.
"Okay." He said finally. "Pipe the recap through back here."
It was the closest to an olive branch she was going to get.
Jensen emerged from his own thoughts when Malik called him. "We there?"
"Pretty close." She reported. "Heard the latest?"
"Lyndon didn't get sent off because he tested positive for Stims. He tested positive for Neuropozyne."
Jensen blinked. "What? He got modded? Isn't that illegal for pro athletes?"
"Yup. He'll never play professional again."
"Ugh. The bookies must be ready to commit murder."
"No doubt. And speaking of that..." Malik put them back on topic. "Listen; a word of warning Spy-Boy? You'll never get into Upper Hengsha alive."
"What do you mean?"
Malik sighed; unable to put it off. "Look; I kind of know more about the hacker you're hunting than I should-"
"Where did you hear about that?" Jensen demanded; not really surprised.
"Everyone heard you and Pritchard going at it." She reported. "But if the signal was coming from the Upper-City; there's no way this is some kid working out of his attic. He's got protection if he's up there. If they see you coming; you'll never get within a mile. And that's if whoever it is doesn't already know you're on the way."
Jensen nodded; taking her word for it. "What do we do then?"
"There's plenty of room for a VTOL between the levels; let me drop you somewhere on the Lower City; you can work your way up."
"That's a good idea." Jensen reported. "Drop me somewhere toward the Eastern Markets. I can handle Harvesters better than Belltower."
Malik grinned. "You've been here before!"
She grinned into her headset. "I lived here until a I got a job with Sarif. I trained here. Spent most of my days on the upper levels learning to fly; my nights on the lower levels; learning t-"
The VTOL twisted suddenly; turning sideways. A moment later it was clear they were in a flat spin.
"I think they know we're here." Jensen commented dryly; as alarms went off in every direction. His Augs gave him perfect balance; even in a giant washing machine like this had become. Somehow his balance was perfect; and his voice stayed cool an unconcerned. "I thought these things could fly on one turbine."
"Not without a guidance system; it was an EMP blast!" Malik roared over the effort of keeping the craft level. "Jensen; bail out! I have to set her down; and I won't get a lot of say in where."
Jensen took her word for it; and opened the hatch. The ground was two hundred feet below and the horizon were spinning wildly.
Huh. Reminds me of the day when two hundred feet was a long drop. He thought and stepped out into the air without a parachute.
He fell feet first all the way to the ground; and landed neatly. Not a bad landing; I give it a solid eight.
He followed the crashing VTOL with his eyes. It fell out of sight and his HUD lit up; overlaying the construction site with ghostly night-vision images of soldiers; laser sights; heavy Mechs...
And a smoking, half mangled VTOL in the pit.
"Malik." He said harshly. "Malik?!"
"What?" She groused over his HUD finally. "I'm trying to do my post-flight checks here. So far it ain't pretty. Lotta red lights!"
"Malik; I've got at least a dozen Belltower gunners closing on your wreck."
"Oh is that what that sound is?" She retorted. "I thought it had started to hail a lot. Why the hell are you still here Jensen? Get past them and get out of here!"
"I'm not leaving you."
"Get outta here while they're focused on getting to me!" Malik snapped. "Hurry! I'll keep them on me for as long as I can."
Jensen took off running toward the crash site. "Well; that's one idea. I've got a better one."
"Jensen; don't be crazy!"
Adam drew the stun gun. He wasn't exactly clean and squeaky in his combat record. Anyone who ran SWAT in Detroit had at least a few kills in their file. But these guys weren't like the Mercs that had invaded Sarif months before. They were Belltower. They may have been dirty; but they were still the only Law Enforcement worth a damn in Hengsha. That made them part of the brotherhood; and nobody was more loyal to their team than Police.
"Jensen; this is not a test. Get. Out. Of. Here." Malik hissed. He could hear the gunfire hammering against the armored hull of the wrecked VTOL. The hammering in the background suddenly stopped. "Jensen; they're telling me to surrender."
"I need another fifteen seconds to get into position." Jensen told her swiftly. "Surrender; buy me some time."
"It only takes five seconds to realize you're not an idiot and get out of here!" She grumbled; but he could hear her shifting. "Okay! I've got my hands up! I'm coming out!"
Adam scaled a dividing wall quickly and got a first hand look at the construction site; just in time to see Malik emerge from the wreck with her hands over her head. He had a real good view of the situation. The Belltower attackers had spread themselves out into cover; had the high ground; had numbers enough to take on an army...
And Snipers on the higher, unfinished levels.
Malik tried to duck back into the wreck for cover; but too late. The infamous red laser beams waved over her swiftly.
He saw a bright red splash of blood appear on Malik's stomach; and felt cold inside. A moment later; he let the Stun Gun fall to the ground from his pneumatic fists; and long carbon-fiber blades slid out of his arms.
Adam Jensen went to war.
A vicious shot caught him a glancing blow. It would have taken his arm off a year before; but his dermal armor was tough enough for it to ricochet off his skin. He changed directions instantly; and the next shot missed completely.
Where are those shots coming from? He asked himself; and his mods responded; overlaying the battlefield with night vision. He could see the laser sights lit up like beacons and followed them up.
His skin was changing colors; appearing and vanishing at will; gliding in and out of the attackers like a ghost.
Belltower finally noticed that he was there and spun around; trying to draw a bead on him.
They couldn't even see him coming. He faded into view just long enough to conjure deadly blades into their throats; and then he was gone again. No more subtlety; no more mercy. He was a tool of pure destruction; with speed enough to run up walls and strength enough to tear down buildings.
"Where is he?! Where is he!?"
"I Need Cover! Someone Cover Me!"
The laser sights waved across the open space. There was a hint of motion as Jensen hurtled across the open space in long, even strides. When he reached the wall he planted a foot on some random barrel and propelled himself nine feet straight up. The snipers had good positions; clear sights, were impossible to track; and Jensen was on the first nest in seconds. The blades did their work and slashed apart the Sniper. His enhanced arms ripped the sniper-rifle away before the corpse even fell. He didn't have an infra-red scope; but he had infra-red eyes; which was all he needed.
Two quick shots; the enormous recoil couldn't even make his arms tremble; and suddenly the Snipers weren't an issue any more.
"THERE! He's up there!"
Gunfire rang out and Jensen leaped; his pneumatic legs propelling him into open space; twenty feet off the ground. He came down; carried to ground level by a wave of power that blasted an entire tactical team off their feet.
The blades came out again; quick and nimble; making short work of steel weapons, ceramic body armor and body parts alike.
Seven guards in tight formation; and he landed in the middle of them; putting them all down in seconds; when his HUD threw up an alert. There was something big behind him.
The Mech had finally drawn a bead on him; and brought its cannons around fast to aim rockets at him.
Without letting himself think too closely about what he was doing; Jensen charged the Mech; his superhuman stride having no trouble with the mud. He felt his Mods pumping his body full of Oxy and Adrenaline and Pro-Stim. He wasn't even short of breath; he could do this forever.
The Mech fired just as he leaped; propelling him into the air. The explosion below him rattled the construction site. Before the smoke even cleared he landed atop the Mech. His weapons were useless here. He slammed his pneumatic fists into the hull of the thing; denting metal swiftly. He heard a mounted gun swivel to aim at him; and his blades flashed out again; slicing the weapons away.
The thing twisted on four legs; trying to shake him off. He dug his blades in and let himself get thrown; carving a great big slice out of the armor as he went down the side.
His HUD alerted him. There was still two soldiers left. They had grenades. He pushed off into a run again; charging for them.
The damaged Mech took a few seconds; trying to reorient itself to turn around and aim. It took three seconds; which was more than Jensen needed to close on the two guards. They fired at him; small arms fire. He could feel the bullets shredding into his clothes and didn't care. Small arms were nothing to his Dermal Armor.
He reached the two soldiers and ran straight past them; his hands flashing out to snatch the grenades straight off their vests. They tried to aim at him; but he was already ten feet away; heading for cover.
The Mech had spun and fired; it's missiles erupting too late and swallowing the last of it's fellow attackers in a ball of fire. It's turrets searched back and forth for a few seconds; seeking a target.
Adam reappeared like a ghost suddenly; decloaking... directly behind the Mech. One more leap took him back to where he'd carved the armor away; and he slammed both grenades in under the metal skin.
"Malik; if you can hear me: GET DOWN!" Jensen yelled; and leaped as hard as he could; one last time. The Mech erupted into a fireball; tearing it apart from the inside out. Jensen landed; feeling debris and flames hit him from behind. He didn't care about that either; absently slapping out the flames on his jacket.
Malik was deathly pale; with a hole through her side. He climbed into the wreck carefully; looking for a medkit. His HUD checked over her; reading her vitals quickly. Blood loss; no organ damage.
"Faridah?" he called. "Can you hear me? The bullet went straight through the meat. I got an exit wound... FARIDAH!"
She groaned. "I don't want your screaming to be the last thing I hear." She complained.
Relieved; Jensen keyed his Chip-Set. "Mei Suen?"
A moment passed. "Mister Jensen? Is that you?"
"It is." Jensen reported. "Those 'friends' you mentioned in the local infrastructure? Do you think one of them will be willing to make a pick-up?"
Faridah came back to herself. "...ooh. What happened?"
An Asian man in a white coat stood over her. Standing next to him was a young woman wearing very little more than lingerie and a surgical mask; holding a tray full of needles and surgical tools. "Ahh good; you're awake. What OS are your Augs running?"
"Umm..." Faridah struggled to think clearly. "9.01?" She looked around the room quickly. She had been stripped to her underwear; her clothes thrown over a plush easy chair in the corner. Thick carpet; dark wallpaper; oriental room dividers; satin sheets under her; and red lights...
The Doctor took that without missing a beat and pulled a wireless device out of his pocket. "Cranial implants of sensory enhancement. I can rig them to dull the pain and ease the nausea considerably."
He waved the device over her and she let out a breath as blessed relief rolled over her. "Ooh, thank you. Now; where the hell am I?"
"You are in the Hung Hua Hotel; lower level." The girl told her; then awkwardly glanced at the Doctor, clearly not comfortable with playing nurse.
Malik looked around a little; aching horribly. She saw Jensen at the foot of the bed; watching the room, and the doctor with arms folded across his chest. She could see the damage on him; blood all over his arms and his jacket singed and burned all over. "Jensen?"
"You needed a doctor; and Belltower were watching." He reported. "I have a few friends in low places; they were able to patch you up before anyone else got to us." He glanced at the Doctor. "What's the damage?"
"Just a flesh wound; but a deep one. I gave her a transfusion. I needed synthetic blood; since she's Neuropozyne positive." The Doctor said. "That's going to cost you."
"No doubt." Jensen said without blinking. "I assume cash is acceptable?"
"Thank you." The Doctor looked to his patient. "Too bad you don't have the top Line Nerve-Stim Package." The Doctor said lightly. "Could close this up in a few minutes; for sure it wouldn't hurt any more."
"All for the low-low price of a BILLION credits." Malik commented with a grunt.
The Doctor finished his work and put his tools away.
The door opened and Mei Suen watched from the doorway for a moment. A few of her ladies peeked past her; curious; and she hurried them away. Adam glanced over at Malik one last time and went into the next room to join her.
"Your companion, she will recover?" Mei Suen said quietly.
"She'll need a few days rest." Adam nodded. "I'm grateful to you for this."
"The Doctors know to be discreet when treating women here." The Madam said calmly. "And we do owe you a debt." She looked at him carefully. "Or I should say that we did, until this."
"We're even." Jensen accepted with a nod. "You've had no... other problems then?"
Mei Suen smirked. "A word or two in the right ear, and we only need employ violence once. Reputation is everything." She looked at his blood-stained arms. "But you know this, I'm sure. I will have your clothes washed; Her flight suit too."
"Thank you." Jensen nodded. "I better get back in there before the Doctor picks her pockets clean."
He turned back to the room; when the door opened and the Doctor and his temporary 'Nurse' came out; handing him a jar of pills. "Give her the rest of the night to rest; and then light duty until those stitches heal." The Doctor ordered. "I'm told you don't plan to be in town long. Do you need me to come back and remove the stitches?"
"That we can handle." Jensen said calmly.
The Doctor's head tilted as he looked at Jensen. "Your Mods can probably handle the damage to you; but you might want to check in at a LIMB Clinic; get yourself upgraded to the new OS."
"I'll handle it." Jensen waved him off, and The Doctor made his goodbyes.
"Jensen, I'll say this: It's way more plush than any hospital room I've ever been in." She declared as he came back into the room. "How's my Bird?"
"Hidden." Jensen said shortly until the doctor left them. "How far did you get in the diagnostics before the firefight started?"
"Armor's torn up like Swiss Cheese; the guidance controls are shot and the flow regulator is scrap." She grunted. "But, if I can get a few hours alone with it and some parts; we'll get her home."
"Good. Because those were Belltower guards shooting at us. They have the run of the town; the trains, the airports; the cameras... We're not getting back to Detroit any other way."
Malik nodded. "So. Do I want to know why a Hengsha Cathouse knows you well enough that they're willing to hide you from bad guys and patch up your wounds?" She teased.
"Your wounds." Adam corrected. "Forty thousand rounds of ammo pumped into that rig; you only got hit once?"
"Sarif Industries Armor; get what you pay for." Malik grunted, settling a bit deeper in the bed. "We should sleep."
He nodded; and pulled the blanket over her. She knew he probably could have his own room; but he wasn't going to leave her alone while she was wounded; given they were both probably still being hunted; so she didn't bother suggesting it. She patted the bed beside her; and he shook his head, unconcerned. Their position was secure enough; but he brought a chair over to the edge of the balcony door; giving himself a clear view of the balcony; the skyline; and the door to their room all at once.
"We're safe enough." She told him. "You make me feel bad. You're the one saving both our lives; I'm the one that got us shot down; and somehow; I'm the one who's allowed to sleep?"
"The fact that you've been shot doesn't hurt." He told her firmly.
"Adam, get some rest." She said; in a tone that made it clear it wasn't a suggestion. "Needless to say; the beds are all big enough for two; and you're gonna need your energy for tomorrow."
Jensen snorted at that; and gave in; stretching out next to her without a word.
"Stop." She said seriously; disgusted. "My god; you have used a bed before? Right?"
With a world weary sigh; Jensen stood up; and shrugged off the jacket; the boots; the holsters before he laid down. She pulled back the blanket for him; and he shook his head; settling on top of the covers. He looked up at the ceiling; as his HUD glasses down over his eyes. He wasn't exactly relaxed; but the bed was wide enough that they didn't touch.
Malik was squirming a bit; trying to find a comfortable position around her stitches, on an unfamiliar mattress. With her grunting quietly in pain every few moments; and him still expecting gunmen to kick the door in any second; the position was intimate; but the situation felt more like sleeping in a foxhole.
"They know me here because I helped them out once." Jensen said suddenly. He felt her stir. Neither of them were sleeping.
"With what?" She asked after a moment.
"One of the local Kingpins was causing trouble for the girls here. He was forcing them to have Augmentations so they could see more customers. I... helped out."
"Oh; I don't think I want to know any more about that." She said seriously. "In fact, I think I want to know less than I know right now."
"Probably true." He agreed. "Anyway; that's how they know me here."
She nodded. "Doesn't seem like the sort of cause a former Cop would fight for." She turned over to face him; still not close enough to touch, even without the covers in the way. "Unless of course; you were feeling a little bit sympathetic toward these girls. Can't imagine why you would; just because they're getting upgraded against their will because their boss made the call for them, and the other option was death."
"Gee, Faridah, what could possibly be your point? You're so subtle I'm having trouble reading between the lines." He commented sarcastically. "These girls... They got nobody. They fell through the cracks. The legitimate guys like the Pro-Human groups ain't going to help them. The welfare groups still refuse to help Augments; because they can't afford the Neuropozyne. Nobody on the side of Good and Order will going to go out of their way to protect prostitutes. Cops are all on the take and Belltower won't help anyone without being paid; and every dime they had went toward the Crime bosses that were killing them in the first place. The people here fell off the world and nobody noticed."
"You did." She said finally.
Neither of them said anything for a while. She finally turned a bit to face him. After a moment; he turned to face her too.
"Adam?" She said quietly; curled on her side; facing him. "You don't really sleep much any more; do you?"
"No." He admitted.
She reached out one hand and ran a finger down the side of his face. Adam did have the top of the line Medical Augs. His wounds were closing over almost fast enough for her to watch.
"Thanks for saving my life." She said finally; and turned painfully to face away from him.
Adam watched her for a moment. Her short black hair hung enough to expose her long bare neck; and Adam swallowed. It had been six months since his injury. Longer than that since he'd had a date. And now here he was in bed with this woman, and he didn't need to sleep. Even given the situation, his body was reacting to her proximity. With his enhanced senses; he'd never been more aware of anyone in his life. He was glad for it. He wasn't really sure if he could react that way any more.
She twisted a little; trying to get comfortable against her injuries.
His Augs responded; picking up on the thoughts that came to him unbidden. His CASIE Mod released their tonics; and her breathing grew deep and heavy; drawing in the calming pheromones. She was asleep in seconds.
Therapists. He thought. Add it to the list.
He was laying on a table; as men in dark red robes moved over him. They were old men, Mediterranean features; long white beards...
He looked past them and saw ornate stone walls; dark wood paneling.
Over on the wall was an old painting he had seen once in a book. The Vitruvian Man. A human drawn to perfect specifications. A human made near superhuman by a perfect design. But the one mounted on a canvas was not a picture out of a book; it was something more; more real. A man hunched over it; studying it closely; adding a line here and there...
And then the Man put down his brush... and picked up a Bone Saw; turning to the table. Adam got a look at DaVinci's face... and saw David Sarif staring back at him eagerly; brandishing the Surgical Saw. Suddenly they all had such devices; he was surrounded by trays and trolleys covered in medieval tools; each one coated in dried blood.
"No..." Adam whispered.
DaVinci presented to them: the drawing; his designs. His work covered the walls; and they held him down; pressed him against the table as they closed in on him.
They were checking the blueprints for their work.
Adam howled as they moved in on him with their tools.
Adam howled; and his scream left his body; rising to the high, ornate ceiling; as a Gregorian choir rang out deeply over them all.
As his scream rose from the table... He went with it; leaving his body suddenly; no longer confined to the table; or to the room.
He flew through the cathedral... then through the walls; out into the sky.
He flew over the streets of Rome; as people looked up and pointed at him in wonder. The pain was forgotten; he was now a creature of incredible wonder and beauty; floating across the world. He saw a wonderful castle and glided over that way. Before it's gates the condemned waited in stocks; bound; hands and neck.
Only one of the stocks was occupied. Three Monks stood over the prisoner; and curious; Adam flew closer to take a look.
The Prisoner was Hugh Darrow, father of the Augment technology; beaten and humiliated. The ones standing in judgment over him were the three Mercs that had broken in and killed Megan.
Adam found their grim laughter distasteful. Why should he be concerned? These were problems of people on the ground; and he had wings. He turned his gaze skyward; and flew higher; up to the sky; where someone like him belonged.
And then suddenly he was falling, falling...
He was falling the scorching sun vanishing behind a wall of menacing looking thunderclouds; The horizon spun as he tumbled in freefall.
Adam screamed again, crying out his anger. "I thought this was supposed to make me better!" He screamed. Out of the corner of his eye; he caught a flash of light and suddenly his fear was gone.
He saw the Angel swooping down to catch him. It was a being of brilliant light; impossible beauty.
She reached out and put her hands in his; her magnificent wings reaching out to reach around him like an embrace; sure to carry him safely back to ground.
"Precious baby." Megan whispered; her beautiful lips caressing his ears. "If you'd come to me sooner; you could have saved me; and I could have saved us all. I could have saved you."
"You did Megan." Adam whispered. "I lived. Your work saved me."
The Angel pulled back enough that he could see her face. It was suddenly deathly-gray, with a bullet-hole drilled between the blank eyes. The black thunderclouds erupted with heavy drops of rain that turned to blood when they struck him.
"MEGAN!" Adam shrieked.
The Angel was melting away; the skin crumbling to ashes in second before his eyes; until it was a skeleton; with only the twisted remains of what could have been wing-bones clasping around him like skeletal hands.
Though her face was just a grinning skull; The Angel looked disappointed in him. "Why didn't you save me Adam?"
The rain of blood grew too heavy and he lost his grip; free-falling again toward the ground. The Skeletal Angel kept pace with him. It's bones were changing before his eyes; turning to steel and cable and carbon. The Angel had morphed into something entirely unnatural; wrapping him in it's bones like a cage.
The ground leaped up at him; and Adam squeezed his eyes shut.
"I love you." Megan whispered against his skin as he hit.
Adam woke up with a shout; sitting bolt upright.
A cool touch pressed against his chest gently. "Shh. It's okay. Relax."
Jensen blinked rapidly; his HUD Glasses sliding up and down crazily; trying to decide if he wanted a readout or not. "Megan?" He groaned.
"No. Not Megan." Her voice said gently; and memory caught up swiftly.
The sun was fighting its way through the sepia sky, crossing over him through the blinds. The smell of coffee was in the air... and he had company in the bed.
"You were having a nightmare." Malik told him softly; holding out a cup of coffee. "I tried to wake you; but... I couldn't snap you out of it."
Jensen groaned. His Augs were already flooding his body with counter-agents to the Adrenaline; calming him down, lowering his heart rate. Reality caught up. "Oh! Your injuries!"
"I'm good. Nerve Stims." She told him quickly. She was wearing one of the short silk robes from the closet; and very little else. They both became aware of it, and he tried not to stare.
She noticed his gaze anyway and looked down at herself. The robe was remarkably low cut and left her legs (and just a little bit more than that) completely bare. Her skin had recovered its healthy tan. She pulled the hem aside a little so that he could check the stitches. "I don't suppose the girls in these rooms get clothes picked for modesty; but I'm okay." She gestured at the blankets he'd torn up. "Better than you at least." She sat down quickly; her endurance non-existent. "You should grab a shower."
The sheets were tangled around his limbs; and were plastered to him with perspiration. What little real skin he had left was drenched in cold sweat. "Yeah. Think I will."
It was strange; having company when he woke up. It had been a long time; and he quickly discovered he'd missed it. When he came out of the shower; Malik was sitting on the balcony; putting her bare feet up on the opposite chair; sipping coffee and reading the morning paper. Aside from the fact that she was staying out of view of the street; and a few bandaged still visible; it seemed a very domestic scene.
"Read this?" Malik asked as he came out to join her, waving the Reader. "Lyndon did an interview; said he only got the Augs done on his eyes so that he could see the telecast; mid-game. While the team was on the field, he was getting the sports commentary so that he'd know what was happening on the bench, the coaches interviews..."
"He got bounced out of million-dollar sport for that?" Jensen snorted. "Might be worth it on the plays, but he'd get the same thing making smalltalk with the Umpire."
Malik nodded in agreement. "The Pro-Aug movement are trying to get his fans to start petitions; get the gaming board to rescind the prohibition of athletes getting augmented; but Lyndon swears if he had to do it over again; he never would. He's trying to get the League to pay for someone to remove his Implant."
"Can't be done; those eyes are mechanical. It's not like his real ones are waiting around for him." Jensen said darkly. "Evolution is a one way street."
She gave him a look over the top of the paper. One that made him uncomfortable. She had something on her mind. Something serious. It made the moment awkward.
"We should stay here." He said finally. "At least until tonight. You might be up and around; but you won't have a lot of strength. Save your stims for when we leave."
She nodded. "Mm."
There was a discreet knock at the door. Adam focused his eyes far enough to get a look at the figure on the other side; drawn against the wall. "Food." He reported. "You hungry?"
Malik nodded, trying not to seem eager. "I could eat. I probably should after the painkillers."
Adam answered the door and collected the gift from the augmented woman on the other side. Her limbs were twitching spasmodically; as was her face. It was clear that she had been quite stunning even five years before; but a hard life had taken it's toll on her. It was equally obvious what was wrong with her. "Break Fast?" She said in broken English; and it was clear she didn't know many words. His Cranial Implants would have given him a translation anyway.
He took the tray gently. "Thank you."
"Mei says clothes be ready soon." She struggled to say it in English. "There some new clothes in the room?"
"Yes. Thank you." Jensen nodded.
"Mei says the clothes are yours." The girl said; and her face twitched hard enough that her neck cracked a little; and she drooled a bit, unwillingly. She wiped her mouth rapidly; as though it hadn't happened; and she quickly moved away.
Malik had seen it too; not commenting until he closed the door. "She's got it huh?"
He nodded thickly. "Not a lot of money for the older girls I guess; so she can't afford the injections."
"Hard not to feel bad for them." Malik commented; accepting some of the food.
Jensen looked over his limbs quietly. "I haven't needed an injection yet."
He almost, almost told her more; but changed his mind quickly. "The Company health plan covers the Shot. The retirement plan doesn't." Jensen observed. "You'll never be able to afford regular Neuropozyne shots on a Pension." He thought aloud. "I'm pretty much a walking weapon right now... What if I happen to live? Wonder how these limbs will look when I'm old and gray?" He stretched his arms out. "The 'skin' if you can call it that, won't ever wrinkle. When I'm in my eighties my neck will be getting too weak to match my shoulders."
"There's ways around that." She offered.
"Sure; I can upgrade my neck too. Then my skull. My digestive track; so I never have to eat or use a toilet again; I can upgrade my mouth so I never brush my teeth. I can make myself a robot with a human brain; and when the gray matter starts to rot; I can patch the neurons with fibre-optics; and then after that I can upgrade the flesh with nano-tubes, and after that, and after that, and after that. Where do I stop being... me?"
"You were about to say 'When do I stop being human?'" Malik shot back. "Jensen; all the guys in Purity First? They take hostages, blow people up. They hit a LIMB Clinic last month that had children in it. You don't do that. You stop them. Which one's more human?"
Jensen started to answer... and changed the subject. "You were right before. About my identifying a little too much with some of the girls here. But this was before I got the Augments; so... I guess it's more like they can identify with me."
"You know David Sarif?" Malik asked him after a while.
"You mean our boss?" Jensen snorted. "I have a vague recollection of him; sure."
Malik coughed a giggle into her glass. "Right, sorry." She set her glass down pointedly. "He's got an Augmented Arm. Most guys who do that; yourself included; wear long coats; long sleeves; gloves... He doesn't. Even when he does wear a long-sleeved shirt he rolls his sleeves up enough to make it blindingly obvious. It's good he has confidence in his product; but... he flaunts it. You don't. A lot of the girls outside that door don't either. Like the one who brought us food... She's so fried from Neuropozyne withdrawal..."
"I saw her too." Jensen confirmed. "So what was the alternative?"
"There wasn't one. And if you hadn't helped them, we would be huddling in an alley somewhere right now; and I'd have probably bled out another two or three pints."
"If I hadn't been augmented; it wouldn't have mattered." He said without thinking.
Long silence. She withdrew a little again; and he kicked himself.
"I'm not Anti." Adam said finally. "I'm really not. People get to pick and choose what they want. I'm not saying that makes everything okay, I'm just saying you gotta live with your choice."
"Except you didn't choose." Malik finished softly.
"Yeah." Adam sighed. "And that seems to be a theme in my life."
She looked over the rim of her coffee cup. "Meaning?"
For a moment; he almost told her. "Nothing." He said finally.
She let it go, more interested in the first point. "If someone hadn't made that choice for you; you'd be dead. And I would be dead. And so would a lot of other people. Would you prefer we were all dead, rather than live like me?"
"I told you, I'm not Anti." Jensen said. "I know a lot of people that have lives again thanks to Augmentation. I'm happy for them."
"Well then I don't get it." Malik said, trying to understand. "You can't be that pissed about someone else choosing for you to live."
"This is the world we got." Jensen said simply. "Purity First think if they blow stuff up the world will go back to the way it was. Sarif is convinced we can replace God if we throw ourselves into it; and everyone else is worried about the exact same things they've been worried about since the beginning of time." He looked out the window. "What do we do about it? Snap our fingers and convince the whole world who's right and who's wrong?"
"I don't know." She admitted. "One day, someone will find a way to make the whole world agree on one thing; and convince them all it's right. And that person will decide the next hundred years of the human race."
"Longer than that. Like I said: Evolution is a One Way Street." Jensen looked over their clothes; which had been repaired and cleaned. "God help us when that day comes." He commented. "Wonder who it'll be? I don't know which is right. I can't even pick up a damn glass."
Malik hesitated. "You don't have a problem with typing on a keyboard. You got a soft touch enough to hack a circuit board." She shrugged. "You only have a problem when you stop to think about it."
"Fine; but when I do think about it, I can't pick up a damn glass."
"Well... someone will figure it out. Someone smarter than either of us." She yawned.
After a moment; he got them back on topic. "We still have a mission here. We'll need a day for you to recover; another day to fix the VTOL. We'll have to find a place to lie low."
She snorted. "Spy-Boy; listen closely. You don't hide out in Hengsha by finding a dark corner. You hide out in Hengsha by finding a nice big crowd of anonymous people and feeling your way into the middle of it." She looked down at the silk robe she was wearing. "I should probably get some different clothes. Even in this town I might get some attention."
"Definitely." He agreed.
She smiled at him.
He winced. "Did I say that out loud?"
They waited until dark. Faridah had rested; with judicious help from Jensen's pheromones Mod; giving her plenty of recovery time. The Stims were enough to get her on her feet; and she actually felt normal for a night; though she suspected she'd crash once she found a bed.
The two of them made their way through the streets of the Youzhao District. In civvies; they blended in fairly well. He kept her arm in his, just in case she lost balance, which she did more than once. She leaned into him; and told herself it was to make them look like a regular couple for the Belltower guards wandering the streets.
Up ahead; it quickly became clear that a checkpoint had been set up. The guards were watching up and down the main street carefully; one of them noticed Malik and Jensen.
"Quick; kiss me." She said quietly; and he did so.
Their lips merged together quite nicely; and she slid her arms up around his neck. The moment stretched pleasantly for several seconds; before they broke. "Are they still looking?" He asked her.
"Are who still looking?" She asked innocently and led the way down a side-street. Whoa. Blood loss makes you flirty.
The VTOL had been taken to a large storage lot. Unlike the omnipresent storage spaces in the city; this one was open to the sky. Probably expensive; but in an area of town that gave them privacy. "We need some replacement components." Malik said after ten minutes studying the wreck; and she made her way over to a worktable covered in shattered and salvaged components that had been left behind when the VTOL was moved. "Is this everything?"
"I think so." Jensen promised her. "I stayed with you; but Mei swore that her 'friends' got all the parts. Including the ones that fell off during transport." he paused. "Look, not for nothing; but having stuff fall off an aircraft is not exactly filling me with confidence. Getting another flight will be hard; but crashing in the middle of the ocean will be harder."
"Have a little faith in your pilot, Spy-Boy." She chided him; looking at the crumpled turbine, still dangling off one wing of the craft. "I need to get this wing up on blocks; get a look under the fuselage." She looked around. "Can you get that chain? I'm gonna see if we can rig a pulley."
"How long a look do you need?" He asked her, not moving.
"A couple of minutes at least." She guessed; then froze as the entire VTOL lifted upward. She looked over her shoulders, eyes as big as dinner plates, to see him holding up the crumbled half of the aircraft like he was pressing weights.
"Right." She stammered a little, and quickly knelt down painfully to get a look at the underside of the wing. "Don't drop her on me."
"Never." He promised; not even straining under the weight.
It was like something out of a comic book; and Malik couldn't help but lick her lips a little at his casual demonstration of raw power. God; there is just something damn hot about that. She thought; making a quick inventory, before sliding back out from under it. "Okay. You can set her down. Add a few regulators to the list."
"Where the hell are we supposed to get these things?" Jensen sighed. He wasn't being fatalistic; it was an honest question. He was already thinking towards a solution.
Malik already had one. "We go black market. I know some people who can help."
"You do?" He was surprised by that.
She shrugged. "Back in training; a few of us scrounged parts to build our own cockpit sim... and it sort of grew into an actual homemade VTOL. It flew just fine. The next day one of the gang was arrested for smuggling stolen goods in an illegally built; unlicensed VTOL." She shrugged like she didn't care. "You live, you learn. The point is; I know where to start making calls. But guys like that don't take direct deposit."
"Then we need cash." Jensen said. "I'll get Pritchard to wire us some; put it on a disposable chit."
"You call them; and the only thing they're gonna want to know is where the Hacker is; and why you haven't beaten the name of his Client outta him yet."
"Then we find him." Jensen said simply. "We were gonna have to do it anyway. Make your calls; negotiate a price. Tomorrow night we'll do both; you get the VTOL fixed and I'll finish the mission." He held out a hand to help her up. "Tonight we go back to the Hotel."
"Oh for cryin' out loud, you can call it a Brothel." She corrected with a bite. "And we can work tonight; I'm fine."
"Your heart-rate is 120 and irregular; you're perspiring; your face is pale; and your blood pressure is 110/60." He gave her the list without blinking. "You recovered pretty well over the course of one day. Give yourself one more; and you'll be normal again. Or we can keep arguing about it until your vision blurs and you start seeing six of me."
"Six against one isn't fair anyway." She admitted; letting the fatigue show in her posture. "All right Spy-Boy; you win. I'll sleep."
They waited another day. She spent almost all of it sleeping. He did not. He hadn't slept more than a few hours a week since the operation. She crashed; exhausted. The reserves of her body were dedicated to healing the injuries; leaving little energy for day-to-day use.
Jensen had received the cash and left it with her while she slept. She woke up alone in the room with half a million credits under her pillow.
Faridah made her phonecalls without getting out of bed. Jensen rigged a few relays through privately owned satellite dishes; so that Belltower couldn't trace it. She made the call from a box belonging to one of the Hung Hua Girls anyway; just to make sure.
It took her a few hours; but she managed to track down all the parts she needed. None of her old suppliers were still around; but one of the old contact numbers now belonged to a member of his family; who gave her a new supplier.
The new guy accepted cash; but didn't want to handle the transfer in person; so she had it all delivered to the storage lot. Her bag had been salvaged from the wreck; and it held two vials of Neuropozyne. She had offered the syringe to the no-longer-a-girl that had delivered them breakfast. The twitching woman was so grateful for the medicine that she almost kissed Faridah's feet. Delivering a cash payment to an illegal parts sale was nothing compared to some of the things she'd done to get the precious drug; and the deal went down with neither the buyer or seller having met each other.
Another few hours passed; and Malik placed a call direct to Jensen's Chip-Set. "Jensen? Still with me?"
"Faridah, good news. I found the Hacker." Adam reported from the Alice Garden Pods.
"Better news. I got the parts we need." She returned. "I can get our bird back in the air by morning."
BOOM! The sound came over the link.
"What was that?" Malik demanded sharply on his HUD.
"THIS IS A RAID! EVERYONE GET DOWN; AND SUBMIT TO A REGULATION SEARCH!" A voice shouted over a loudspeaker.
Down below; a platoon of Belltower mercs were taking over the lobby. From twelve levels up; he had a great view of them tearing apart the numerous tent dwellings that had been built in the open space. No stone was being left unturned.
"Belltower." Jensen said to Malik. "Looks like they know what we came here for." He went to the handrail and stepped over the edge; falling twelve levels, feet first. "Listen; the files we need are in The Hacker's old office. Belltower HQ." He landed inaudibly; fading into invisibility almost instantly.
"Wait for me; you'll need backup." Malik said.
Belltower was covering all the exits; their heavy rifles scanning in every direction across a sea of terrified faces. Jensen just tip-toed his way in and out of them as the majority went upstairs; trying to get to the upper levels before he could 'get away'. "No. I won't." He said simply; with no particular emotion.
He came around the corner to the main lobby; and paused. The one guarding the door had a rocket launcher; and augmented eyes. His HUD could tell him the make and model of the Optics; right down to their range. Who brings a rocket launcher inside a building full of civilians? He asked himself darkly; and turned; looking for another exit. "Find somewhere to wait for me." He told her quietly. "Somewhere anonymous."
"Already on the way. What about you? Because I can swing by..."
"No." He spotted an air vent that was eight inches short of the right size. He yanked the cover off and dislocated his mechanical shoulders enough to slither through the vent like a snake. "Are you clean? Nobody tracked the purchases?"
"I'm fine. You need to get out of there first!" She shouted.
"I already have." Jensen slipped through the vent and out onto the street; in a dark alley between the buildings. He faded back into visibility and kept moving. "Now, once I get the files, where am I meeting you?"
"There's a nightclub called The Hive." She told him; openly impressed. "The door is guarded; no guns allowed into the building. The owner is crooked though; so he's probably got enough guns of his own to retake Hawaii."
"I'll be there as soon as I get the files I need from Belltower HQ."
It was one of the more difficult missions he'd been on. It required patience; cunning, stealth. Belltower didn't use Augs; but they made up for it with top of the line toys. Thermal goggles and motion cameras could match his Optics. The powered Armor let them carry heavy rifles with one hand, and their body armor was bullet-resistant; even for a head-shot.
He didn't dare force his way through. He was superhuman, but not supernatural. The cameras swept every hallway; combat droids patrolled every hallway. Optical lasers made every checkpoint an automatic deathtrap. Floor after floor; level after level. Fifty-two floors of guards and workers between him and the Hacker's old workspace.
The entire building was designed to keep everyone out. Everything about it said 'Run Away'.
Jensen barely noticed. He vanished between shadows; straight through the lasers. He could count the electrons in every computer and make them dance to his will. Every robot let him pass without blinking.
Two guards got lucky. One with a shock-stick; one with a heavy-rifle. They were both armored; and if he fired; he'd never get out safe.
Both guards came into the security room at the wrong moment. For an instant; it was hard to tell who was more stunned; Jensen of the two of them. He had his back to them; so they did not see his face; but it didn't matter that much. He was certainly hard to mistake for anyone else.
They both lifted their weapons; and he moved. Quick as a whip-crack; he'd snatched their radios away and crushed them in his mechanical hands. They both tried to aim again; unwilling to spray a room full of expensive equipment with bullets until they were sure of their target.
His fists flashed back and forth between the two in a flurry. Jabs with enough force to break a punching bag in half zapping back and forth faster than either could follow. They both dropped their weapons; trying madly to fend off the damage he was inflicting on them.
They were trained; strong, experienced; and he was taking them apart like they were made of paper.
Jensen groaned in pain. He'd gone through a brick wall; then through the bulletproof safety glass; then halfway through another stone wall. Somehow; he could still move his left arm; just a little. He reached with agonizing slowness for his sidearm...
The Merc laughed at him. Jensen was a messy lump of torn flesh and shattered bone; and the Gorilla-shaped half-machine was laughing at him.
Jensen pushed the deja-vu away and spun again, a roundhouse kick that nailed one of them, then the other without slowing down.
He was on the clock now and he knew it.
Jensen went back to the security console and accessed the cameras in the elevators; switching them all off. He returned to his two victims and searched them for a security key; which he found in short order.
He paused to check that they were breathing; and stuffed them into a janitor's locker.
He faded into nothingness a moment later as he strode for the elevators. A wave of deja vu struck him as he passed the security glass.
"Oh god! Mister Jensen, help me!" The man was screaming in panic; beating uselessly at the bulletproof glass with his fists. Behind him; the entire research lab was in flames. Jensen drew his service pistol and fired at the glass; which absorbed the impact easily without so much as a crack forming.
"Please! Please! Do something!" The man in the lab-coat screamed. There was a humanoid glow behind him in the hallway; and an instant later one of the Mercs was there. She was rail thin; wearing dark aggressive makeup and the sides of her head were shaved. She wore dark leathers; and carried a machine pistol in each hand.
Jensen's gun clicked empty; and he'd done little more than scratch the surface.
The woman grinned like a shark and calmly gunned down the begging victim; before laughing at Jensen; staring impotently from behind the walls.
She laughed at him like he was the funniest thing she'd ever seen; and vanished into thin air again.
Jensen reappeared like a magic trick; already in the elevator; and fit the stolen security key into the control panel. "This car just became a priority ride to the top floor." Jensen murmured aloud; hitting the button.
There was less surveillance on the top level; because this is where most of the security feeds led to. The robots had all been hacked; ignoring him as he passed by. The cameras had all been deactivated... And the guards hadn't noticed the changes.
Until finally; he reached the records room. Belltower kept their records as well as anyone else; and it was a simply matter of following the serial numbers. "Pritchard?"
"Online." Pritchard responded to his Chipset instantly.
"Don't you ever sleep?"
"Sleep is for the weak. What about you?"
"Ditto." Jensen responded. "I have the hacker's Data. I need you to prepare for a download. It'll be encrypted. See what you can get out of it. It should have all the details on his employers."
"Ready to receive."
Jensen began the transfer. "Listen-"
Alarms rang out from every direction and Jensen swore. His earlier actions had drawn attention. "You got it?"
"I got it." Jensen agreed. "You in trouble?"
"I'm only thirty feet from the roof. I'm fine."
The Hive was dark; and smoky; and filled with people who writhed on the dance floor and drank odd colored drinks. There were levels to the club. Private rooms up top; booths above the floor on the level in between; and plenty of room for a crowd of people.
You could lose yourself in this crowd; with the lights flashing every second; and the music pounding like a nightmare thunder; the concussion of light and sound rolling across the tightly packed crowd. Small tables on one side; and the bar stretched the entire length of the bar.
Malik ordered a drink. Ordinarily it would be a cocktail; but she was still on Nerve-Stims and painkillers; so she didn't dare mix hard liquor with it.
She turned away from the dance floor a moment and found Jensen was sitting right in front of her. He had come in and sat down without her noticing.
"Any luck getting into Belltower?"
Jensen summarized the mission quickly; and slugged back a drink; and then another. His eyes were twitching in time with the strobe-lights. His fists were opening and closing; in time with the heavy; teeth-shaking beat. After a heavy bass pulse from the music; the glass exploded in his hand; and he barely noticed.
"God you're amazing." Malik laughed, openly thrilled.
"Oh Yes. Hooray for me." Jensen said flatly.
"Okay." Faridah sighed. "What's bothering you?"
Jensen shook her head. "Nothing you need to worry about."
"That's a cop answer. I never need to worry about you; but I do." He still didn't answer... so she reached out and grabbed his ear. From the outside it could look like a tender touch; but she twisted his earlobe slightly. "Talk. What's bothering you?"
He sighed hard. "Most of them were just regular folk. Working at desks; crunching numbers. Even the guards were just doing a job. Most of them never saw me; and when the ones that did got in my way, I took them down. And it was so... easy. The last time someone got through a top of the line security system, outclassed the guards in combat; outran the gunfire and vanished like smoke? It was..." He couldn't even say it.
Faridah did. "It was the same guys that killed Megan and her team."
"I'm not like them." Jensen sighed hard. "I am them."
She didn't say anything for several seconds. "God, I'm glad I don't live in your head. How do you not burst into tears every ten minutes?" She said with open pity.
He gave her a bitter smile. "Because I can't. New Eyes. I don't actually have tear ducts any more."
She took that in and immediately rose to her feet. "Dance with me."
"I don't really dance..."
She had already pulled him out onto the dance floor. "Nobody on the floor is."
This was true. The place was packed with people; in too close to actually dance. Smoke waved back and forth over the room. His HUD put up measurements as he breathed. How much of it was from a deliberate smoke machine; how much of it was second-hand from cigarettes; how much of it was illegal...
She put his hands around her waist; mostly because he wasn't, and the two of them swayed as the music went deep and pulsing. The bass was heavy enough that everyone on the floor could feel it in their teeth.
She was swaying like a snake trapped in a charmers song; writhing against him. She wasn't being suggestive; compared to the hundred other people on the floor. She wasn't being aggressive; any more than the other hundred people on the floor. She fit right in; experienced and familiar to this world. He was not. What are you doing Faridah? She asked herself thickly. He's not into this; don't push him...
Jensen hated it. He could feel the noise drilling into his head; the smoke ripping through his senses; the flashing; piercing strobe-lights wiping out his optics; making ghosts appear before his vision. He hated it fiercely. She had led him into the one place that he wasn't superhuman; where he was actually weaker than normal people. The last time he'd felt this caged was when he had woken up strapped to a hospital bed.
He was ready to fight his way out; when she turned around... and all he could see was her face. Faridah looked up at him; eyes dark, full lips parting. They were so close that he could count her eyelashes; and she was so achingly beautiful... His eyes explored her face; unable to look anywhere else.
The crowd pressed in on them and jostled her closer. Still a little low on endurance; she lost balance. He reached out and caught her instantly; holding her against him for balance. She stayed there for a while; looking up at him. Little by little; she got her feet under her; finding her balance as the dancefloor shook apart under the overpowering rhythm of the Hive.
"Adam..." She crooned; barely audible over the pounding bass. He leaned down a little; and she shivered; expecting his lips against her neck any second...
"We're being watched." He warned her, whispering it in her ear.
She wasted no time on surprise and turned around smoothly; dancing slowly against him. She used the movement to look casually around; and smiled. "She's not Belltower."
"Positive. That's Gina Toless. She's old friends of mine. Probably wondering why I didn't tell her I was back in town, and why I'm over here dirty dancing with some guy she's never met." She turned to face him again, smiling a little. "I told you I spent a lot of time here."
Adam snorted. "You should go see her." The noise was pounding into his skull like a claw hammer.
She looked up; still close enough that his lips could reach her skin if he reached; just a little. "Are you sure?"
The weight of the noise and crowd suddenly became unbearable; and he pulled away from her so fast that she rocked forward on her toes. He was shoving his way through the crowd; heading for the front door.
"Nuts." Faridah sighed; and made her way off the dance floor; over to Gina's booth. "Hey you."
Gina jumped up and took her old friend in a tight hug. "I would have come over; but it looked like you were in the middle of someone."
Malik sighed and waved at the bartender for another drink. "Actually; your timing was pretty good. I was getting in a little over my head."
Adam exploded out the side entrance to the Hive; dropped to his knees and threw up. From the smell of the alley he found himself in; he was hardly the first one to do so tonight. "Pritchard!" He groaned as soon as the heaving stopped.
"I'm here." The voice came over his Chipset.
"I need... god; I don't know. I was just..." He groaned; rubbing his head hard. A wave of vertigo hit him; and he dropped to his knees.
Pritchard's voice jumped in surprise. "Your readouts are glitching... Stand by, I'm running diagnostics. Your sensory inputs are nearly maxed out; where the hell have you just been?"
"A nightclub. Anonymous seems to be the only way to hide in Hengsha."
"Mm." Pritchard agreed. "No such thing as isolation in a town that packed." Jensen could hear keys tapping. "Jeez. All right; I'm sending a warm-boot command to your Interface. Hold on."
The HUD flickered hard; everything going sideways for a split second. The spinning stopped and everything looked normal again. "Ugh. That... did it. Thanks."
Pritchard was still hitting keys. "Yeah. That should do it for now. I've recalibrated your sensory inputs; so you should be able to handle the club."
Jensen stood. "What happened?"
"It was the noise and the strobe lights. Your Combat Sensors aren't used to things like that and assumed a flash grenade was going off nearby. The Mods kept trying to switch off your eyes until it passed. It should be fixed in the next OS Update."
"One's coming out?" Jensen was surprised.
"Soon, from what I'm hearing." Pritchard agreed. "By the way; I got the upload. All the hacker's files arrived just fine; but it's going to take a while to decode it."
"Works for me; because it's going to take a while to fix the VTOL."
"Faridah filed her report while she was recovering." Pritchard commented. "She described you as being somewhere between Hercules and Superman."
"Dead?" Malik breathed. "I don't understand."
Gina nodded thickly. "It took me by surprise too."
Malik threw back her drink; eyes wide. "God... I just spoke to her a few..." She did the math in her head and sighed. "Well... not as recently as I thought. God; poor Evie."
Gina looked down. "Yeah. I got regrets there too. We drifted. It's nobody's fault; it's life. Friends drift apart when they have things going on in their lives." Gina looked up sharply; and Faridah followed her gaze to see Jensen coming over.
"Sorry about that." Adam told Faridah gently. "I'm... okay now."
She was still reeling at the news of her old friends death; and it took her a few second to realize what he was talking about. "Yeah. That's okay. Sorry I was..." She remembered herself. "Gina; this is Adam Jensen. Adam, this is Gina; an old friend of mine."
Gina shook Adam's hand; making no secret of the fact that she was checking out the hand she gripped, especially when he didn't grip her hand back in return. "Normally; I'd be making a fuss over these very sweet mods; but you caught us at a bad moment."
"Indeed." Jensen gave a single nod; and Faridah suddenly realized he had heard the whole thing. "Should I leave?"
"No, you can stay." She said quickly. "I..." She shook her head. "It's okay. Just got some bad news."
"I heard." He said with open sympathy.
"Got your ears on straight again then?" Malik commented with no particular emotion.
"I do." He confirmed. "Can I ask what happened?"
"The ruling was it was an accident." Gina sighed. "She got loaded and tripped down the stairs; broke her neck. It was a very... long, staircase. I remember because they wouldn't let me get near the place until the crime scene was sorted; but I could see the stairs clearly. They went up almost three levels. A city this packed; that's unusual. An elevator takes less space."
"How long did the investigation take?" Jensen asked her.
"About twenty minutes." Gina bit out. "This all happened a week ago."
"A week?" Faridah breathed miserably.
"You know what would go well with these drinks?" Jensen said finally. "Harder drinks."
"Yes." Gina agreed.
"I'll get them." Jensen said, and scooped up their glasses. Malik followed him all the way to the bar with her eyes; and almost didn't notice that her friend wasn't saying anything.
"Something going on with you two?" Gina asked after a moment.
Malik hesitated; and then nodded. Gina had always been the one the girls had gone to for dating advice. "Not yet; not exactly. Tonight was... a mistake. I went about this all wrong."
"But you want to." Gina observed. "You want something to happen."
Malik gave the question a single nod. There was little point in denying it after dragging him into a Mosh-Pit.
"You might want to be careful." Gina said. "You might be more into this than he is. He's a fighter; I can tell, and not just because of all the Combat Augs."
"What do you mean?" Malik blinked.
"When you were dancing with him; he didn't quite know how to move with you. When you lost balance and he caught you? He didn't even blink; his arms went around you, holding you up against his body. He's more comfortable getting close to support and protect you than he is getting close for bumping and grinding purposes."
Malik stared at her for a second; and her expression changed. "Oh! The psychology degree worked out then?"
Gina laughed. "I'm seeing five patients a day; and charging a disgusting amount for it." She tapped her forehead discreetly. "With a little 'help', I'm damn good at it too."
"I have a CASIE Mod too." A rough voice commented; and both women turned to find Adam had rejoined them. "I find it makes things interesting when it comes to people. For example; you weren't telling us everything when you mentioned Evelyn Carmichael."
Gina tensed. Malik tensed too; feeling the conversation shift.
"You're a cop; aren't you?" Gina said aloud; as though it had just occurred to her.
"SWAT, as a matter of fact." Jensen returned. "But I'm not any more. In the private sector; you don't have a badge weighing you down." The tone was almost an invitation; and Gina's face shifted. She was considering something she hadn't thought before... Because Jensen had led her there.
Malik watched the conversation and actually felt a little left out for a moment. She was with two of her friends; and she was the only one without an 'extra' insight to the conversation. She could see both Gina and Adam sizing each other up; learning more through their mods from each other's body language than Faridah would have gotten with an hour of conversation. Adam and Gina were maneuvering each other with words alone.
If they turned this juice on me; I would be helpless. They'd have my whole life on a plate. Malik thought. I'd need a CASIE Mod of my own just to keep up with my friend... And whatever Jensen is now.
Gina had gotten over her hesitation. "The day Eve died; a cop came to see me; asked a few questions. I had more questions than answers. He told us it was an accident; or a suicide." Gina tapped her forehead again. "I had just gotten this Mod a week before... and I could tell instantly he was lying. He was scared. So I looked into it a little. Evie was in over her head."
Faridah sighed hard. "Eve's worst weakness: She never got her head on straight around the wrong kind of guy."
Jensen's tone was pure police. "There was a guy?"
Evie nodded. "His name is Lee Hong. Eve gave me his name; but whenever I brought it up... she seemed almost scared. After she died; I couldn't even find him in the directory. But a search engine said that his family was connected." Gina shrugged helplessly. "Hengsha is a pretty crooked town at the best of times. You know what the cops said when I told them I thought there was more to it? They said: 'Of course there is, but so what? This is Hengsha.' A white woman dating in a family like that is... not smart. But Evie deserves better than to just... fall down the stairs and vanish."
Jensen's face hardened. "I'll look into it." He said, and his tone was pure hellfire. Gina actually took a step back at his sudden savagery. Jensen faded to invisibility; and was gone instantly.
Gina waited a moment and waved a hand out at the spot he'd been a moment before.
"Forget it, he's gone." Malik shook her head.
"Did I touch a nerve there?" Gina asked; a little awed.
Malik sighed. "You repeat this to no one." She warned. Gina nodded; and she continued. "Jensen didn't get those Mods for his job, or for fun. About six months ago; the place we both work was-"
"Sarif Industries! Of course!" Gina slapped her forehead. "The attack six months ago; right before the Hearings in Washington. That was-oh!" Gina's voice dropped sharply. "That was him?"
"That was him." Malik nodded. "The Mercs killed her; then put him through two walls and a big thick pane of bulletproof glass."
"Killed her? The papers said that there were several victims."
Malik kicked herself but didn't say anything.
"And the woman who was killed..." Gina observed. "She was special to him?"
"To both of us... but to him for much bigger reasons." Malik nodded. "It was long over; but I don't know that he ever got over it. When she died; someone bought off the ME's report."
"Like Eve." Gina gave her a careful look. "I'm a Psychiatrist now; so I can tell you that there's no real way to fix a broken heart. So him getting close to you will either make everything a lot better; or much much worse."
Faridah nodded. "I know." She sipped her drink. "That's why I haven't pushed it. You know me Gina; when there was a guy I liked back in Flight... I wasn't exactly shy about making my intentions clear."
Gina nodded. "Free Psychology Tip: Don't assume that he's not interested just because he doesn't make a move. That level of injury... The body heals faster than the spirit; which makes his emotions unpredictable. And if the last time he was with someone was before he got all those upgrades... Hell; he might not even be able to any more. When I shook his hand? He kept his fingers open deliberately; so that he wouldn't squeeze my hand in return. He might not trust himself."
"Plus we work together; plus he's still grieving, plus I don't even know if he's interested. There's no sane reason why I would pursue this." Malik threw back her drink. "Except that I'm probably going to anyway."
Gina toasted and made a show of looking at her watch. "Oh, I'm sorry, our time is up."
Malik laughed; when Gina suddenly spun around; ducking her head. Malik reacted; the look on her friend's face was one of surprised horror. "What? What's wrong?"
"That's him!" Gina hissed. "The one with a bimbo on each arm and the stupid grin. That's Evie's boyfriend. That's Lee Hong!"
Jensen reached the apartment and did a quick scan of the lock. Level Four Hack Job. Unusual for a private residence. There were no signs of a fight; but all over the place there were details that didn't add up. There was a baseball bat in the corner; which had been polished clean but clearly gone unused. There was a clock on the mantlepiece; broken but left untouched. There was a shelf full of knickknacks that had several pieces missing; and his kitchen bin was filled with shattered bits of glass and wood.
There had been a fight here.
He went into the bedroom and knelt down. The carpet was thick and plush; and several sections of it were lighter. His enhanced sense of smell could pick up traces of bleach. Someone had cleaned the floor with some pretty potent cleaning supplies; but left most of the carpet untouched.
Jensen looked around with a practiced ye; looking for motive; and found the computer. The computer was top of the line; with a system so secure Pritchard couldn't hack it if he had a hundred years.
Jensen looked through the desk and found the password written on a post-it note in the top drawer. 1-2-3-4.
"Moron." Jensen snorted; and started checking recent messages. It only took his a few seconds to find what he needed. "Malik."
Her voice responded over his HUD instantly. "I'm here."
"I think I found the evidence you need." Jensen reported.
"Great." She said lightly. "I found Lee Hong."
Jensen froze. "Where?"
"Here at The Hive. I'm looking right at him." She reported. "What have you found?"
"Hong's father is in deep with the Triads. They don't like westerners that much."
"They don't like cops either; but they buy and sell enough of them. Why is a disapproving father motive for murder?"
Jensen steeled himself. "Is Gina there?"
"No, I sent her home when Lee Hong showed up. He knew Gina; he doesn't know me; so Gina didn't want us seen together if you've got something cooking. Why?"
"She said the official ruling was that Evelyn got drunk and jumped or fell?"
"Evelyn was pregnant. There are two emails here; one from the autopsy confirming that he's the father; and the other from his father; demanding he take care of it... or be disavowed from the family. If the autopsy wasn't admitted; then someone covered it up."
"So he took door number one." Malik said; her voice flat and cold. "What do you think the odds are I can snap his neck without anyone seeing?"
"I wouldn't try it." He said carefully; not sure she was joking. "For one thing; right now he's probably got at least one guard on him; for another, we're still being hunted ourselves... and what's more; nobody's aware that he's committed a crime yet. You take him on; and you're attacking a law-abiding citizen."
"He can't get away with it Adam." She said softly. Her voice had a slight hitch from the insistent emotion; and he wasn't blind to the fact that she was calling him 'Adam' tonight. What was happening was private, not professional; and she considered it a personal favor that he was getting involved. "We just can't let him win this one."
Jensen hesitated. "No promises in combat, Malik."
"Something we used to say back in SWAT. Our Captain was ex-military."
"No Promises In Combat." Malik tried it out. "Is this your way of telling me not to get my hopes up?"
Jensen hesitated again. With Sarif he wouldn't have worried. With Megan he wouldn't have waited. With Malik; he didn't want to say it. "We could just... get it out of him."
"I'm good with that. I'll wait till he uses the Men's Room and hit him with your stun gun. I can tell his guys he's loaded and carry him-"
"Or we could try blackmail." He interrupted her. "I like the direct approach as much as the next guy with pneumatic fists, Faridah. But we're being hunted too."
She sighed. "Fine. But what exactly are we going to blackmail him with?"
Jensen's teeth bared. "Me."
She saw him come into the Hive and didn't even look in his direction. This wasn't a date; and it wasn't a hiding place any more. Now it was a mission. She didn't give any hint that they knew each other as she headed for the door. Her receiver could pick up a feed from his Chipset; and record it without too much trouble.
He made his way upstairs; to the private booths. Hong was looking out over the dance floor; with a blonde on his arm; and another leaning out over the handrail. A pair of bodyguards had taken position; one deep in the booth looking over the club; the other at the staircase; running off everyone who came closer. The two bodyguards were giving the women disapproving looks; and Jensen wondered if they were there to protect Hong, or his father's name.
"Mister Hong." Jensen said, still climbing the stairs toward him. "You're having a bad night; and you don't even know how bad yet."
That was reason enough for the first bodyguard; who came forward and put Jensen in a control hold; trying to twist his arm up between his shoulder-blades. Jensen responded with a snort and grasped the suit's wrist; tight enough that he could hear the bones creak.
"Prison, hospital or morgue?" Jensen growled at the suddenly terrified enforcer. "It's your choice; and none of the options end with me leaving. At least, not before I talk to your boss."
Hong found that to be amusing. "Let him through Tosh."
Jensen breezed past the guard and strode into the private area; unseen by anyone else in the club.
"So. Just who the hell are you?" Lee snorted; openly unimpressed. "Police? Belltower?"
"I'm the only way out you've got left in the world." Jensen said tightly. "Evelyn Carmichael sent me."
The despicable man reacted to the name; and looked to his left. "Babe, why don't you get yourself a drink?"
The woman was too dense to realize she was in over her head and smiled gratefully at his concern. "Thanks sweetie; but I'm fine."
Jensen glared at her hard. "Leave the bar; and go home to your family; before this worm tosses you down the stairs like he did to last week's blonde." He turned his gaze to the other woman. "You too."
The young woman suddenly realized what was happening; far too late to leave gracefully; and she detached from Lee Hong quickly; heading for the door. So did the other one; and after a nod from Hong, so did the guards. Neither man so much as watched them leave.
Jensen didn't sit; and Hong didn't stand. They regarded each other a long moment.
"So. Start talking." Hong said. "What's your interest? You a PI?"
"Just a concerned citizen." Jensen said blandly. "One who makes his living by keeping his ears open; and hearing things like sad stories that are left unfinished." He glared lightly. "We owe the dead better than that, don't we?"
Hong toasted with his beer. "Will you have a drink, mister..."
"Smith." Jensen said without hesitation. "And no; I don't believe I will. Start talking. What happened that night?"
"To Ev?" Hong snorted. "Nothing happened. We were at my place; she got loaded; she tripped on the stairs when she left. A tragic accident to be sure; but hardly an unusual one. You see the kind of spike heels these girls wear on their feet? It's a wonder they can walk a straight line sober."
"Evelyn wouldn't have been drinking." Jensen retorted. "The reason I know that; is because she was pregnant. A fact that was left off the autopsy reports at the request of your father; who finances most of the medical supplies to many many clinics in this city." Jensen took the beer out of Hong's hand and tossed it aside. "And before you tell me your father knew nothing; you should know that I have a copy of the email he sent you; ordering you to make the 'little problem' go away before you disgraced the family." He grinned like a shark. "Should have deleted your browser history, Lee."
Deathly silence. The music was still blaring; but neither of them heard it. Lee Hong was up against Adam Jensen; and the son of the Triad King was breaking under the force of a blank dead gaze alone. Adam keyed the CASIE Mod to turn up the pressure; and Lee started gasping for air as his blood pressure spiked.
"You're bluffing." Hong said finally; his voice cracking hard. "If you had proof; you'd have arrested me by now. You're fishing, policeman. You got nothing."
Jensen smirked like a shark. "Who said I was a policeman?"
Hong leaned in. "Then what do you want?"
"I want many things. From you; a choice will do. You can choose to face the music..."
"Or I can choose to make this go away. Again." Hong snorted; as tough he'd solved a great mystery. "Finally; a professional. I offered Ev' over a million credits to just shut up and deal with the problem; but she wouldn't wise up. Kept talking about our future as a family." He shrugged. "What was I supposed to do?"
"Anything other than what you did do." Jensen said without pity. "But that ship sailed."
"I couldn't let the baby survive!" Hong scorned. "You don't know my father. I'd rather take the murder rap than face my father. Ev' wasn't the first one I got rid of because of my family, and won't be the last. So you go ahead and name your price; but name it carefully; Hanzer."
It was the closest thing to a threat that he could make; and Jensen smirked; turning for the stairs. "I'll be in touch with a number... later."
Hong snorted. "You think I'm going to let you leave; with this unfinished?"
Jensen's arms shifted; and long carbon blades flashed out; close enough to give Hong a shave. "You think you can stop me?"
Lee Hong froze as the metal caressed his neck; suddenly very aware of the fact that the two of them were alone in the booth. "I... please..."
"'Please'?" Jensen hissed. "And what did she say when she realized what was happening? When she realized the father of her child was trying to murder her? How did Evelyn react when you hit her over the head with that clock? Was she still alive when you tossed her body down the stairs or did you take care of it in your apartment? Did she beg? And what did you say?"
"She had to learn her lesson!" Hong hissed; convinced his head was about to go rolling.
"Shut. Your. Eyes." Jensen growled.
Whimpering; Hong did so.
A minute passed. Then two. Then five. Hong opened one eye; terrified.
Jensen was gone.
Faridah was waiting out the front of the nightclub. The entire front wall was covered in projections; and ghostly reflections of dancers and strobe lights played off the streets and surrounding buildings.
"You heard that?" He asked her as he approached.
Faridah nodded; but she wasn't smiling. "I heard and recorded every word. It's not enough, is it?"
"It's enough." He told her painfully. "But we can't use it. We've got a confession; but his lawyers will say I forced it out of him through blackmail and intimidation. They buy off a jury; that'll be enough. And it'll never get that far anyway."
"Why not?" Malik asked; then shut her eyes. "Wait. I know why. Because if we try and give this to the cops; then we have to make it official; and Belltower is still hunting us. By the time we sort things out enough to charge him without getting ourselves arrested or shot; he'll have run to daddy and been shipped to some tropical island somewhere; and he spends forever sipping mai-tai's while his father gladly puts him out of sight and out of mind."
"Right." Jensen sighed. "So thieves get rich, and saints get shot."
"Jensen? Can I ask you something?" She asked him carefully. "Why the hell did you take this one so far?"
He looked at her. "It mattered to you."
She smiled. "Yeah. Yeah it did." She tried to find the words. "But you have a thing about finding justice for the ones that just... fall through the cracks."
Like Megan did. The words went unspoken; but they both knew that was where the conversation was leading.
"I loved Megan." Jensen said tightly. "But I don't think she ever loved me."
Malik was floored. "What?"
He almost, almost told her then. About the files; the old woman who once worked at an orphanage; about the private messages between Megan and Sarif... About why Megan had come into his life; and why she'd kept him close, even when they broke up.
"They're still people." Jensen said finally. "These arms? They roll off an assembly line; get bought by the hundreds and stitched onto anyone who can afford it. There are at least thirty thousand people in this city who have serial numbers instead of fingerprints. Their arms and legs are identical to mine. People are unique. There would only ever one Megan; there would only ever be one Evelyn. They deserve more than to just... get swept under the rug and have someone ignore the ending to their story. Life's a one way street; and we owe them better."
Malik took that in; and moved without letting herself stop to think about it. She jerked forward and wrapped her arms tightly around him. He turned to stone under her hug; but she didn't care. After a moment she pulled back enough to look at his face; and put one palm on his chest, as if to reassure him. "Let me." She said. "Wait here. I'll handle it."
She took the recording off him and turned on her heel; marching back into The Hive like she was marching off to war.
He waited for almost twenty minutes. Eventually, she came back out; with a spring in her step and a Cheshire smile on her face.
"What did you do?" He asked; expecting the worst.
"You'll find out in five, four, three..."
The entire front wall of the Hive changed suddenly. The entire front wall was covered with images of Lee Hong; babbling out his confession. To make it clear; every word was accompanied by a crime scene photo; the email from his father; pictures of Hong and Evelyn together...
And written in big red letters over all of it; both in English and Chinese was the damning charge: Murderer.
The line of people outside the Hive saw it all in the same moment. The Bouncer got onto the radio quickly.
Jensen couldn't help it. Laughter bubbled up from some forgotten place within him. "Jeez Faridah; remind me never to piss you off."
At the door to the Hive; lee Hong came running out with his bodyguards; and got a good look at himself. So did everyone else. The terrified thug covered his face with his jacket and ran for the street; tripping over the curb and falling flat on his face as he did so. His bodyguards hauled him to his feet as everyone lining up in front of The hive started pointing and whispering to each other.
Jensen couldn't stop laughing. If he could have cried; he had no doubt tears would be rolling down his face. His body was convulsing from the force of it.
Malik saw the impossible sight of Jensen laughing and couldn't help but join in. She was more thrilled to see him smiling than anything else. She had almost convinced herself that some techie had screwed up and killed his smile forever. I did this. I made him laugh. God that's so fantastic.
She was giving Jensen an eager smile; and he found himself smiling back. A moment later; he realized how long they'd been staring at each other; and let it drop; putting his expression back the way it was. How did she do that? I wasn't smiling even when I was flesh and blood. I haven't laughed since... Mexicantown. How did she do that?
"Get that video OFF!" A voice thundered behind them; and a quartet of Belltower guard came running down the street; belting for the nightclub.
"Quick." Jensen drawled as they ran past the two Sarif Agents. "Kiss me."
Malik flushed bright pink and swatted him playfully; as they both slunk away, into the dark night air. "Come on Spy-Boy, let's put this town behind us."
...shocked by the news of illegal human experimentation going on by several of the large Augmentation Industrial Conglomerates. The footage was donated anonymously to Picus News; and is appallingly graphic; showing the results of the super-soldier experiments; and what was done with the victims of the failures. All indications are that the footage is genuine; and has drawn swift and serious condemnation from many quarters.
Pro-Human groups have called it a conformation of their worst fears; and are now demanding a full investigation of those responsible.
What began as peaceful Pro-Human protests have now turned into full scale riots across four continents; with Police and National Guard units trying desperately to maintain order and contain the violence. Casualties have risen into the thousands already; with no end in sight. An overnight breakdown of social services in some areas have put many civilian populations under a state of Siege; if not full blown martial law.
Already; reports are coming in of excessive brutality and violence from police officers; and unconfirmed reports of Police mechs using live ammunition on the rioting crowds.
All LIMB clinics have been put under lock-down until further notice, all reservists and police officers have been recalled to duty. Postal; fire, ambulance and transport services have been suspended in many areas; with citizens in many areas warned to stay in their homes and barricade the doors and windows for as long as they can.
Armed riots have also broken out here outside the Picus TV Network Broadcast Centre; and we're not sure at this point which side is shooting. We're trying to get a camera downstairs to document the unfolding crisis; but we'll do everything we can to keep you up to date of the situation as it unfolds; as well as emergency directions from the governments of each affected nation.
This is Eliza Cassan, with breaking news; staying on the air with you, for as long as we can...
Faridah's repairs to the VTOL were solid. The flight back to the States was fairly smooth; a little rough over the ocean; where the winds were picking up in an almost perpetual storm front. News about the riots broke when they were halfway to their destination.
"Is it true?" She asked him. "The footage; is that our stuff?"
"I don't know." he admitted. "If it is; nobody told me. A lot of our contracts were Department of Defense."
That was all that was said on the subject for at least a thousand miles of open water. A tension was developing between them. It was not uncomfortable or uncertain. It was... charged. Like there was something new and dangerous in the room now. They were both aware of it; but neither spoke of it.
"Adam?" Malik called back over the link finally. "I have to take you back to your apartment building direct, okay?"
"After flying back from Hengsha on your repairs, we can't make it the last six blocks to Sarif?" He called back in gruff disbelief.
"Not that. We can make it to Base; but you'll have to sleep in your office." She explained and he could almost hear her shrug. "There are riots out front of the Clinic; SI, and half of downtown. Police Band says it's almost certainly going to get worse."
"Wonder which would try to get me first?" Jensen commented. "The pro-human rioters, or my old 'friends' at SWAT?"
She snorted. "Cops have got half the city locked down. Police Mechs, riot cops..."
"I'm head of security, I should be there."
"Boss says the entire street is locked off. If they get past the cops and breach the barricade; I doubt the presence of one more guy will do it."
"Tell that to the team of Belltower Mercs who thought they could handle a crashed VTOL." Jensen retorted. "But if they've got everything from Derelict Row to Highland Park... They've got my street too. I better check it out."
The streets of Detroit were on fire that night. A wall of police officers; backed by Mechs. The proverbial Thin Blue Line had become a literal wall of Riot Cops; trying to hold the barricades.
And against them; a wave of seething human chaos; waving signs and brandishing torches, clubs, guns...
"I should be down there." Jensen said. "I could bail out right now and..."
"Jensen; you're smarter than that." She said tightly. "You know what the reaction to you dropping out of the sky will be."
Jensen sighed. "So we sit back in my apartment and do nothing?" He paused. We? Did I just say 'We'?
He could hear her smile saucily. "I'm sure we can think of a way to pass an evening."
The landing was textbook on Jensen's apartment building. There weren't that many apartment complexes that had their own heliport; but this close to the centre of town; there were enough VIP's spread around.
Huh. Jensen thought to himself. As a cop; I hated this kind of favoritism... now I'm the Corporate VIP.
"Well." Jensen said as he stepped out of the cabin. "It'd be hard to call it 'fun', but it was quite a week."
"It was." She agreed. "I need a shower so bad I can taste it."
You can stay here and use mine. It was on the tip of his tongue; and he couldn't get the words past his teeth.
She met his eyes for a second too long; and turned back to the VTOL. "But I gotta see if I can get this thing to a proper mechanic." She said finally.
"You didn't do so bad." He offered. "It got us here; didn't it?"
"Suppose so." She admitted; and he turned to head inside. He faced the entrance to the stairs; but didn't actually move.
Invite me to stay, please, just tell me to stay... She willed him to read her mind; but he said nothing. "Hey Adam?" Malik said softly.
He looked back. "Yeah?"
"I didn't say thank you."
"You didn't have to."
"I want to." She said simply; and stood on her toes to put a soft warm peck on his cheek. "Evie would have loved to meet you."
They were standing close now; not pulling away. The two of them had mastered the art of The Long Look in the last three days; but now things had changed for some reason. It took Adam a moment to realize how things were different. We're home now. This isn't happening away from our real lives; this is happening here; where we live. Realization came to him suddenly. Faridah lived in Hengsha. This has always been happening where she lived.
"Well." She said after a moment. "G'night Adam."
He backed away fro her; still looking in her direction before he stepped off the heliport and went inside. She watched him go without breaking his gaze; without moving.
Once he was out of sight; she turned back to her bird and ran a hand over the hull. "Been a long flight." She sighed. She had crashed; been shot at; actually been shot; and then gone into hiding with her sort-of-crush at an Oriental Brothel for days; rounding it out with a spot of Shanghai Justice.
Being a pilot was by no stretch of the imagination a boring job; but every time she flew Jensen somewhere; she heard gunfire; explosions... and every time; he came back out of whatever building or outpost he'd gone into without so much as being short of breath. He was something out of a James Bond movie...
Which makes me what? Moneypenny? She snarked to herself.
It had been the first mission that she was in the thick of; right there in the line of fire. Literally, in the case of one lucky bullet. And he'd saved her life. And then taken care of her. And then avenged her friend.
Faridah chewed on her lower lip for a moment; looking back at the roof entrance to the building.
He hasn't made a move. She told herself. Might be he doesn't trust himself; might be he's not ready... Might be he just needs some encouragement. Might be he just doesn't like me that way.
What's it gonna be Fly-Girl?
Jensen turned the music up until the glass windows rattled. A Classical piece that Megan liked. Then he turned it up louder and embraced the noise; thinking of Faridah.
He knew she was interested. His safecracker ears had heard her confess it to Gina at the Hive. And as badly as Megan's death had rattled him; they had been broken up long before that fateful day. Long enough that they could work together as close friends. He had no closure on Megan's death; but plenty of closure on his feelings for her. He wasn't carrying a torch...
And he'd be lying if he said he didn't want Faridah.
With Faridah, he'd opened up. She was the first one to ask him how he was without being ordered to; the only one that came to visit after he'd been released from hospital. She was the only one that had actually been more friendly to him after the accident. His own landlady wouldn't even replace his mirror. Malik had been the only person in his life that didn't want him to further one agenda or another; and the only person in his life he could just talk to without watching for conspiracies or traps... And she'd made him laugh.
But the only human contact he'd had since the Augmentation was to punch, or strangle, or slice. Machines were sturdy; drinking glasses and circuit boards and tablet computers and Readers were all breakable; but easily replaceable...
He hadn't so much as held someone's hand since he'd lost both arms. She had held him; and he'd deliberately forced himself not to move in return. He wasn't sure what would happen.
The riot grew louder outside; as one side or the other got reinforcements. The Police would be under orders to show restraint; and a mob was only as smart as the dumbest person in it. Such things could last all night.
It suddenly struck him that over the full orchestra; he could hear the people shouting a dozen floors below; and yet he hadn't heard the turbines of her VTOL...
Well, that explains why I didn't hear the engines. Jensen smirked and turned the music down to the normal maximum volume. "It ain't locked."
She came in; with a small carry-pack slung over her shoulder. She reached into it and pulled out a bottle of Hengsha Sake; continuing their post-mission ritual. "Sooner or later someone's going to notice all this booze in my pack." She commented as she shut the door behind her. "It wouldn't kill you to buy once and a while."
Jensen smirked as she got the glasses. "I was buying in Hengsha."
"Wouldn't have pegged you for a fan of the symphony." She observed as she poured.
"Been experimenting with these ears of mine. The second seat violinist?" Jensen jerked a thumb at the speaker. "During that recording; he broke the 'e' string. I can actually hear that." He shook his head a little in wonder.
"I went through the same thing." She agreed.
"I thought it was your eyes got upgraded."
"Inner ears too; for my sense of balance; gunshot wounds not withstanding."
"How'd you handle the background noise?"
Faridah smirked. "I was dating this guy at the time... when my hearing got too much for me to sleep; I'd press my head against his chest and focus on his heartbeat. Put me right out. Best way to sleep is pressed against someone else." Let the games begin, Spy-Boy.
He swallowed. "So where is he now?"
"One morning, I mentioned he had a heart murmur and he flipped out." She said casually.
"That's a good story." Jensen snorted. "I don't buy a single word of it." Bring it on, Fly-Girl.
"Smart man." She chuckled and handed him his glass. "I heard about a new concert being set up? The pianist upgraded to fourteen fingers. Composers everywhere are racing to write him some songs that can only be played with twelve or more digits."
He closed his eyes against it for a second. "God; how did all this happen without our noticing?"
"Ask the guys rioting downstairs." Malik slid over, a little closer to him on the couch and set the glass down. "A lot of things can sneak up on you." She observed warmly. "A lot of... good things?"
She wasn't talking about music; or augments; and they both knew it. "Good things." He agreed; and she relaxed a little. "That said..." He stopped suddenly; not going there. "No, never mind."
"Does it bother you?" He asked suddenly. "More than once; I've said stupid things about how I didn't want..."
"Does it bother you?" She said it finally. "When you go off on a tear about 'not choosing this'; does the fact that I did bother you?"
"Of course not." He promised instantly...
...And she believed him. "What do you miss?" She asked him softly. "You didn't choose this? Fine. What have you really lost? What do you miss? What, in your life, have you lost that you can't bear to live without?"
He didn't answer for a while. "I miss the feel of skin turning to goosebumps when something exciting and intense happens. I miss... fingertips. The way they make your skin tingle when they brush lightly."
Her breath caught.
Adam suddenly lost his nerve. "What about you? Anything you miss from your Pre-Aug days?"
She threw back her drink hard; gulping down a shot of courage. "Back in Flight School; we'd do vertigo tests. Strap yourself into a big gyroscope and spin and spin and spin... Some of us would do it for fun; just let the world pinwheel around us like crazy. That all went with the upgrade. I can't lose my balance any more." She took the bottle off him; gulped down another shot without using a glass. "I miss rollercoasters. My mom said that being on a rollercoaster is like falling in love. I miss feeling the world spin. I miss being dizzy."
They were so close now; knees brushing together. The situation had changed; and they were both suddenly aware of it. She shifted; facing him directly on the couch. Kiss me Adam, I'm a big girl; do I have to draw you a map?
"It's getting late." He said softly.
Invite me to stay, please, just tell me to stay...
"You can stay here." Jensen nodded. Her expression turned hungry; eyes going dark; and he backpedalled. "Don't understand me so fast. I'm just saying; I don't sleep as much as I used to; I know you don't have a heliport at your apartment building. You probably shouldn't drive..."
Boom! Far below; a rioter managed to get lucky with a fire-bomb.
"...or walk." Jensen added.
She nodded; standing up slowly; letting the heat of the moment fade a little. "Yeah. Think I'll take you up on that." She made her way toward the bathroom; with a slight sway in her hips; and he told himself he wasn't watching. "Mind if I grab a shower?"
She was in his bathroom before he could say anything.
She ran the shower and told herself she wasn't freshening up for him. A flight from Hengsha to Detroit wasn't a short trip; and the hot water took the last three thousand miles off.
Her eyes flicked back to the mirror every now and then; still spider-webbed where he'd clearly taken a swing at his own reflection.
The image wasn't lost on her. She could picture him all too easily; looking at his new body in the mirror. She could easily picture the cracks showing over his body. Nobody else had gotten as close as she had, she was certain. Nobody else was seeing the damage; the scars that didn't heal. He was still so damaged inside.
She turned in the shower as though she could see through the walls too. She reached a hand out; touching it to the door; reaching out for him without thinking about it.
He went to his window. She was twenty feet away; he could hear every whisper; even from that range. He could clearly hear the thump as her boots dropped. He could clearly hear the rustle as her flight-suit slid down her body to the tiled floor.
He told himself he wasn't listening to her shower and kept his eyes fixed firmly on the street below. His eyes could see through walls; and she was in his shower right now... if he turned around and focused his eyes; he could have seen...
He shook his head firmly; and watched the police and the rioters battling each other; almost hoping it would get out of control. If it did; he could go down there and be away from Faridah.
Have you noticed that you stopped thinking of her as 'Malik'? He taunted himself.
He didn't know how long they stayed that way. He heard the shower stop and took in a deep breath. He had no idea what he'd say to her when she came back out. He had no food in the house except cigarettes; and he smoked his first little friend halfway to the filter before she came back out.
"Those things will kill you." She murmured, soft and warm and sweet.
"Lungs have been upgraded." He said without turning. "If I can breathe Nerve Gas; I can handle nicotine."
"Right." She said. "Are you... going to look in my direction again? At least sometime tonight?"
He looked over; and found she was wearing the same silk robe from Hengsha... And nothing else. Her hair was wet; which made the whole picture even more sensuous. She sauntered up to him and took the cigarette out of his hand; taking a drag herself. "What?" She smiled a little at his blatant stare. "I steal robes from hotels all the time. Hung Hua Hotel is no exception."
"Didn't you tell me to stop calling it that?" He chuckled a little; breathing out a stream of blue-gray smoke that wafted gently over them both.
"How's it going?" She nodded to the street below.
He looked back down at the riot; grateful for the excuse not to stare at her long bare legs. "They've got it handled. It's nasty; but it's contained."
She picked up the half-empty glass of sake and came over to stand with him; leaning against the windows with him; close enough to touch, but not reaching for him. His Mods scanned her posture and gave it's deconstruction. Subject is inviting a reaction. Will respond to encouragement. Will take inaction as response.
She was letting him get used to her proximity; and he was glad for it. "I..." He hesitated. "No, never mind."
She nodded gently, not pushing. "Been a while, huh? Since..."
"Yeah." He admitted roughly. His heart was mostly artificial; but it was pounding. And suddenly he realized that hers was too. "You think I should go down there?"
She was silent a long moment. "Would you like me to leave?" She asked. "If I got my signals crossed somewhere, no foul. I can sleep in the VTOL; I've done it before, many, many times." It wasn't an attempt to escape or make him feel bad; she was just giving him a chance to end things there without hurt feelings.
"...no." Jensen said simply. "I'd like you to stay."
"You know; it bothers me a little that you'd rather jump off a building and land in the middle of a vicious riot than stay alone here with me." She teased gently. "That's the sort of thing that could make a lees-attractive girl self-conscious."
Adam snorted. "I'd probably be more 'in my element' down there, wouldn't I?" Adam hissed in frustration. "This might sound strange Fly-Girl, but I don't want to be just a living weapon. It's handy, but it's not a life. Machines are built for a purpose; humans choose their own purpose. You rebuild a human to do a specific job and nothing else? That's when you become a machine..." He looked down at himself; pure thunder on his face. "Can it even be considered skin any more?"
Malik pulled the shades down; blocking out the outside world for a while. "Do you trust me?"
"Yeah?" Adam conceded. He didn't know why it was a matter worth questioning. Of course he trusted her. Why wouldn't he?
Malik turned him around; and pulled him over to the couch. She knelt down between his knees, so that they were facing each other. She reached her hands out slowly, palms down. The pads of her fingertips rested against his hands. She slid them slowly up his arms, over the ridges; the curves, the pneumatic veins and steel bones... "Can you feel that?" She asked softly.
Unable to meet her eyes; he nodded.
She slid her hands up to his collar; and slowly undid the buttons of his shirt; giving him every chance to stop her. But he didn't. She slid his shirt off his shoulders; and brought her hands back up until they rested on his collarbones, where the black metal met the flesh-toned dermal armor. They stayed there a while; him slouching on a long fainting couch; and her bent over him, with just her fingertips touching his bare torso.
"...wait." Adam said, so soft he barely heard it himself; even with his enhanced hearing.
She slid her hands down a little, splaying her palms over his chest. "Feel that?"
He nodded; looking up at her with a smoky gaze.
She ran her hands down his torso; then back up his arms. "Feels... smooth." She said finally. "The arms, the hands... they don't feel like metal; they feel like... suede. Soft, like it should be pliable. Strong; like it'll never fade out on you. Skin that won't ever sag or tear."
Adam's CASIE Mod lit up like a Christmas tree. His HUD could see the moment the mix hit her. Eye pupils widened; lips parted; drawing in a slow taste of his scent. This time she leaned closer; taking in long deep breaths of his neck. "Mmm. That's nice."
His eyes clicked; the HUD retracting; giving him just his eyes; just a human look at her face. It wasn't the first time he'd seen her without the flight suit; and it suddenly struck him how flawless her skin was. Almost too good. A distant part of him wondered.
As much as she wanted to take it slow and enjoy it; she needed to know if he was really into this; or just worried about losing control. She needed him to be involved. She slid her fingertips down his synthetic arms to his hands, and pulled them up to her face.
"Far-i-dah..." He dragged her name out slowly; starting to pull himself back a bit.
She put his hands on her; and placed one finger over his lips. "Shh. I trust you." She whispered.
Adam's fingers twitched slightly; cupping her face in his synthetic hands; and she nuzzled into his fingers. His thumbs rested under her chin, slowly brushing over her lips as he stroked his fingers up the side of her face. She took his wrists, ever so gently and pulled his hands town her face; along the curves of her throat...
She leaned into it; eyes closed; her hands over his. "You feel that?" She hummed. "Cause I feel that."
"...I feel." Adam admitted.
She rose to her feet and leaned in, pressing her lips against his temple; right where the hexagonal icon was stamped into his forehead. "Feel that?" She moaned a little.
"...yes." He murmured hotly. Tingling. My skin is tingling. Goosebumps! It's still skin!
She didn't pull away, resting her lips against his face, as she pulled his arms around her body. He kept them there against her back as she shifted her arms to his shoulders.
Boom! Another blast. The world continued to come apart outside the building; and neither of them even noticed or cared.
Finally, finally, Adam started to move on his own; pulling her against him for a long, languid kiss. She responded instantly and neither spoke again until the need for air made them break. Jensen had never been so grateful for the capacity of his new lungs.
Faridah was seeing fireworks going off behind her closed eyelids. I'm Dizzy! She thought eagerly. Lack of oxygen is like falling in love! Desperate; she dug her fingers into his hair enough to pull their hungry, searching lips apart; and she gasped for air. "...wow!" She almost laughed.
"Wow." He agreed breathlessly and slid his hands up under her robe. Hot flushed skin pressed against smooth cool carbon; and she kissed him again; straddling his lap. It was slow; and it was sensuous. It was tactile and it was emotional. It was organic and passionate and gentle and unhurried and luxurious, and oh so very alive.
He opened his eyes. "What?"
The HUD spilled over his eyes; and the video-chat became visible. It was Pritchard.
"Did I wake you?" Pritchard said, apparently surprised to hear it. "You don't sleep."
Jensen looked to his left in sudden worry. She was gone. He could still smell her on the pillow beside his; he could squint his vision and pick up the traces of her warmth; but she wasn't there. He scanned through the walls and she wasn't in the apartment; though the coffee machine was on.
"It's Saturday; and the first time I've slept in over a week." Jensen groused. "Choose your words carefully."
"Ohh, I think you're going to like this one." Pritchard said; sounding very eager. "Are you sitting down?"
"You woke me Pritchard; I'm not even sitting up yet."
Malik was on the roof; doing pre-flight checks. She stretched her neck a little; feeling pretty happy about things. She had wanted to stay; but she knew she should get the VTOL back before anyone missed it. If she could beat the morning shift change; then as far as anyone cared, it had been there all night.
The riots were still going; through the crowds had somewhat broken up. Any vehicle on the street had been turned over and burned; any hospital in the area was swamped; any uniform in sight was a target. There wasn't a window or door that hadn't been smashed in; but the apartment buildings had all locked down the stairwells and the elevators; so the apartments had been safe. Gunfire had rung out off and on for the entire night; and every time it did; Faridah pulled a little closer to him. He was more than willing to do the same until they both gave in to sleep.
As much as she wanted to stay and have breakfast with him; she knew he hadn't expected things to turn out the way they did. Everyone was amazed at his recovery; and she was the only one that knew that his mind and his heart hadn't healed as fast. He hadn't even held someone's hand since getting all those new and deadly limbs.
She knew it was a stupid way to think of it, but part of her felt like she had almost taken advantage of the trust he had put in her.
So she wanted to stay with him; but she knew to let him think for a minute.
The fact that he hadn't even woken up when she left was a testament to how great the night before was. He didn't even yawn after saving her from a Combat Mech, five snipers and fourteen ground troops; but a night with her put him into a deep sleep.
The thought put a goofy, teenage grin on her face; when she looked up from her checklist and realized he was awake; striding across the roof towards her. She smiled; and moved to meet him. "Morning."
He smiled a little back at her. "Good morning. How'd you sleep?"
She slid her arms up around his neck and smooched him comfortably; enjoying the morning-after moment. "I slept great."
He kissed her back... but hesitantly.
She paused; and drew back enough to look at his face. His HUD glasses were on; and she couldn't see his eyes. She felt a spike of awkwardness between them; and pulled away. "Ah." She said, realizing. "It's like that?"
He shook his head swiftly. "No; it's not." He ran a hand through his hair. "God. Pritchard called in a few minutes ago. There's been a... development."
She stilled. "He knows about... this? We knew that was likely; my Bird's been parked on your rooftop overnight; they ain't idiots. I'm not your department; they can't accuse us of anything improper."
"Not about us." Jensen stopped her. He tensed. "Pritchard decoded the info we got from the hacker that shut down our security. He was ordered to let the Mercenaries in at exactly the right time... because at the same time; satellite tracking over Detroit was suspended."
Malik blinked; trying to shift topics. "Why would anyone..." It struck her suddenly; and her face changed. "The Sub-Dermal Locators."
Jensen gave a single nod. "The beacons from Megan's team went off the air at the same time as the attack. The three bodies were unidentifiable; and the autopsy was rubber-stamped; there was no attempt at making identification; and the ruling was that they died that day. The whole attack was not designed to kill those three people; it was designed to make us think they were dead."
Faridah said aloud what they were both thinking over and over in their heads. "Megan Reed is alive."
Now that it had been said; they both froze; not speaking. They were standing closer than two mere friends would be; less than a foot separating them; but they made no motion; suddenly a million miles apart.
"What are you thinking?" He asked finally.
He was letting her make the call; allowing her to decide first. She suddenly realized just how much she loved him. It was the exact moment she was certain she had more than an attraction; her feelings were more involved than she'd known. Why did I have to realize that now?
"How did you feel, when you woke up this morning?" She said finally.
He smiled; just a little. "I felt... human."
She nodded. "If you'd found out yesterday? Would we have...?"
"Probably not." Jensen admitted.
She took it with her chin up; when it suddenly became apparent that he wasn't done.
"Which... is why I'm glad I found out this morning." Adam continued. "I wouldn't have traded last night for anything."
Faridah couldn't help but smile at that little declaration and she nodded; making her decision. "Megan was... is my friend." Faridah said simply.
"Yes." Jensen agreed.
"She was good to me." Malik added carefully.
"Yes." Jensen said softly.
"So let's go get her back." Malik said simply; and turned back to the VTOL.
Jensen reached out swiftly the moment he back was turned; and pulled her into an embrace; hugging her from behind. She didn't resist it; pressing herself back against him without looking at him. She shut her eyes and rolled her head back to nuzzle into his neck. He rested his chin on top of her head a moment.
"We'll work it out." He said simply. "When all the people involved are safe; and whatever's going on isn't going on any more? That's when we'll work it out."
That was good enough for her. She broke the embrace; feeling better. "All aboard Spy-Boy."
He climbed into the cabin; and she into the cockpit. "You gonna land any better this time Fly-Girl?"
She snorted. "Watch me."
AN: Read and Review. (Cover Art by inanawkwardway on Tumblr.)