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Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation

On final approach to Port Royal

October 3, 3029 

____________________________________

The door closed with a loud bang as Bishop lumbered into his room. The mercenary stoped at the sows of bed and threw his heavy duffel bag on the bed. Taking a few seconds Bishop activated is inferred eye and scan the room over. There were no usually heat signatures in the room so he relaxed a little. The room was run down but not as bad as some of the places he had stayed. 

The hotel room looked like any other really, bathroom, small table with chairs, a bed that was one size to small for his frame. Pulling back the sheets the skinwalker checked the sheets...”clean” he whispered. It was better then sleeping in a burned out tank hull so he was happy. The water at the sink was clear and cold, so was the shower... cold showered it was then. 

Bishop took a seat on the bed, which loudly protested his weight and pulled out his data pad. After bypassing the devise’s security encryption he studied the mission brief one last time. He took comfort in working, down time was his enemy. This current mission reminded him of a couple of assassination missions he did for Irain.  He wasn’t the spy or espionage type at all, but he was a gunfighter and he was itching for a gunfight. 

After a few moments he got up and gave himself a look in the mirror. “Monster” he whispered starring into his red glowing eyes. Yes, there was no doubt about it, he was a hired gun.... it made thing easier in a way. He didn’t have to hide who he was. Everyone on the street knew exactly what he was. That’s would be he’s enemies weakness though... they would underestimate his predatory intelligence and his experience. 

 

The Skinwalker smiled at himself, then turned and walked out the door. It was time for the beast to start his hunt. 

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LuxConoTel
Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
October 3, 3029

____________________________________

With a cheery 'ding,' the hotel elevator lurched to a stop, its ancient, heavy doors rumbling aside to reveal the checkered-tile expanse of the lobby. Those members of our crew who were accompanying us to Ner0hack! - Bishop Weyland, Nikki Harlow, Orlex Jaeger, Nathan Schmidt, and Steve Jenkins - stood gathered in a semicircle watching a Solaris VII match on a static-filled holovision. Some poor fool in a Clint was in the process of getting his ass handed to him by an opponent in a Zeus, eliciting peals of laughter as we approached. I pointed to the carnage, garnering a chuckle from Alyssa. The free-for-all matches were consistently entertaining.

"So, whose money is on the lightweight?" I joked, drawing up alongside the group.

"Heya, Captain," Orlex laughed. "Steve here was just telling us how the free-for-all matches were his favorite bouts."

"Is that so?" I asked, raising an incredulous eyebrow.

"Hell yeah!" Steve exclaimed. "I always played the heavy dude. I beat lots of guys in light 'Mechs on account of I how drove a Thug. I was the Champion."

"Or they were idiots for volunteering for that sort of match," Alyssa deadpanned.

"Both of those things are true!" Jenkins beamed, undeterred.

"Anyway," I interjected, changing the subject, "did everyone end up with a decent room?"

"More or less," Nikki replied, Orlex and Bishop nodding in agreement. "This place has definitely got a...personality."

"Mine had a couple of stains and a weird cologne bar in the bathroom," Nathan volunteered.

"And mine had a dead body in it!" Sergeant Jenkins blurted, still grinning manically. A series of surprised expressions from the group met his reply.

"Oh, sir, about that, I'm really sorry for the confusion," a voice replied. I turned to see the front desk clerk approaching with a sheepish expression on his face. "I meant to give you room 240, not room 420. The latter one was supposed to be out of the system. It's....uh...a literal crime scene right now."

"Don't even worry about it!" Steve replied, with a dismissive wave of his hand. "After I put the body out the window, the mattress was fine. The comforter caught all the blood and stuff, and I don't sleep with that on the bed anyway."

"I'm sorry, you did what?" the clerk asked, slowly handing a new set of room keys to Jenkins.

"Well, I didn't want to screw around with trying to change rooms, so I just moved the body outside. I figured someone would clean it up before the next person checked in," the MechWarrior explained.

"Steve," I began, hesitantly, "you might have tampered with evidence, and we really don't want legal entanglements on Oberon."

"Naw, the evidence is fine. The parked car out front broke her fall. Well, her face kinda got all wrecked, and most of her teeth were crooked and missing from the impact. But at least she's now at Peace," the Sergeant reassured me. I cast an apologetic glance at the clerk. "Okay, folks," I sighed, "let's go."

###

Ten minutes later...

The transport pulled curbside in the heart of an eclectic, neon-permeated district of the city that the locals referred to as "Mainframe," coming to a stop in front of a crumbling, low-rise tenement that had been converted into a nightclub. Behind the glow of the red and green tubes that crawled across its façade and formed an abstract circuit board pattern, shimmering holographic letters spelled out the word "N E U R 0 H A C K !"  in cycling hues of blue and white. As we approached, the sidewalk outside of the club vibrated beneath our feet with a rhythmic bass thumping, and I could nearly perceive the intense, frenetic energy that radiated from within.

A pair of burly bouncers flanked either side of the club's metal entrance door. The glow of a black light spilled out around its frame, disrupted intermittently by flashes of a strobe light. As we neared, one of the two guards took notice of us

"Quite a crowd there, my man," the bouncer observed, strolling toward us. "You people sure you're at the right club? A few of you don't look like...regulars." On the last word, the guard glanced toward Alyssa, Nikki, Steve, and me.

"Naw," Bishop's deep baritone replied. "They're good." The Lieutenant blinked, his eyes flaring alight and settling into a subtle, glowing red as they opened. The club employee cast his gaze toward Orlex, who rolled up a sleeve in response, revealing a swath of his mechanical endoskeleton.

"Yeah," Jaeger responded. "We'll keep them in line."

"Alright," the guard replied. "I'm not gonna make the two of you start pulling parts out of those augments, but the rest of you, check your weapons at the door. Yeah - you know who you are. I can see you packin'." Holding a pair of fingers to his temple, the man's eyes lit up momentarily in an intense purple, and a sub-dermal tattoo, embedded just below the skin of his face, glowed in the night. "You guys aren't the only ones with augs around here."

"Slick. Thanks, boss," I responded. "We'll keep our noses clean."

###

Our firearms once again locked within a heavily-reinforced teller window, I swung open the inner door of the nightclub. The low thump of bass gave way to roaring, eerie techno-funk as we stepped across the threshold and found ourselves on the top platform of three levels of seating that descended down toward the nightclub's dance floor, situated ahead of the bar. The decor was what I'd describe as "ancient Terran cyberpunk," the old-fashioned warehouse architecture of the building lending itself well to the effect. The lighting was incredibly low, augmented by the black light and strobes I'd seen from outside, and a steady playlist of pulse-stirring dance music roared around us, invoking an intimate, tribal, euphoric experience. In all directions, patrons of diverse looks, genders, ethnicities, and ages mingled, socialized, flirted, and danced with one another, nearly every one of them augmented in one fashion or another, their various blue, green, red, orange, and bleach-blond hairstyles undulating and shifting like a school of rainbow-colored fish afloat in a sea of black. Moving through the crowd, whose members were attired in a wide array of styles ranging from nearly nude to full bodysuits with integrated electronics, I suddenly felt very out of place.

"So this is why you went with that outfit," I grinned, looking toward Alyssa, whose skin-tight catsuit was now alight with subtle teal circuit pathways, save for a diamond cutout in the center of the torso that revealed a generous amount of cleavage.

"Well, yeah, I wanted to fit in, and anyway, I'm usually bound up in armor or cooling equipment for most of our business 'outings,'" Alyssa smiled. "A shame you didn't decide to match me, Mister Leather Jacket and Boots."

I laughed. "I don't think a nut-smashing full body Speedo would look as appealing on me. Besides, I could never compete with you."

Alyssa put her arm around me. "Good - you don't have to," she smiled. "You're taken."

I slipped my arm around the Lyran's back and pulled her close to my side, feeling the warmth of her skin radiating through the thin fabric of her attire. Simultaneously, Bishop drew up alongside us.

"Lieutenant," I began, "this is quite the venue. Exactly where in this place are we to find your Interstellar Expeditions contact? I hope you have some idea of who we're looking for."

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Previously...

Ozymandias Station
Vega System, Draconis Combine
June 3, 3029
__________________________________

The neon lights from the street weakly grasped at the edges of the rooftop I was currently standing on, the general dimness of Grav Deck 2 with it's "Sleep Lodgings" lending itself to concealing my position. Before me, across the relatively large flat roof of a Rabu Hoteru or "short-stay"/love hotel, lay a wall of scaffolding with heavy canvas tarps hanging from it in various states of disrepair. A well worn sign indicated the area was off limits due to construction and renovations but looked like it had either been abandoned or under construction for a long time. The scaffolding itself was about 7 stories high, easily the tallest structure on this side of the grav deck and from my vantage it wasn't clear if there was scaffolding ceiling/roof or just the wall. I knew my target was rumoured to be inside the scaffolding, according to my intel there was a small Yakuza gumi, or clan, that was in opposition to the main Clan that operated in this part of the station. They were purported to be holding a Wakashu, or Junior Officer, of the main gumi and I was meant to retrieve him by any means necessary, although the Kuromaku/"Fixer" Miguel made it clear he would prefer a non-lethal approach. I finished surveying the wall and found what I was looking for, a dark empty area where the canvas tarps had fallen down which was away from any of the high powered construction lights and also within range from my current rooftop.

I double blinked my left eye with a slight twitch and felt a click as the bionic eye switched vision modes, the world through that eye became a monochromatic grey as the cybernetic automatically filtered out normal visual cues and overlayed it instead with electromagnetic sensor data. At first every electrical device in my field of vision flooded my view with waves of EM energy represented like visible circular waves emanating out from their sources before the cybernetic again automatically filtered signals and reduced overlap until individual EM signals were represented with small green concentric circles, their brightness, spacing and number of circles indicating both intensity and approximate distance. Looking around again I confirmed that not only were there no visible lights in the area I was planning to use as an entrance but there were no recordable EM signals within proximity either, which meant that the likelihood of a camera, hidden or otherwise, was greatly diminished. Toggling the vision mode in the bionic eye again colour returned in a wash as the EM signals faded away and I was once again viewing the world the same as I saw it through my natural right eye, although this time there was a small digital overlay in the corner of my left eye indicating a distance as well as a bright pinpoint in the very center like a laser pointer. In this mode the bionic eye functioned like a laser range finder capable of accurately determining distance using a low powered infrared laser, invisible to the naked eye.

Removing the TechBow, a collapsible compound bow, from the magnetic mount on the small of my back I snapped the weapon open in a practiced, fluid motion, the arms expanding and locking into place in a single movement while the night vision scope attached powered up. Selecting a zipline arrow from my quiver I attached the high tensile cable to a secure anchor point I found on the roof and knocked the arrow, took another distance measurement with my bionic eye and set the adjustable range on the arrow to 61m (200') just a little shy of its maximum range of 80m (262'). In another fluid motion I drew the arrow back and lined up my target in the sight, paused for a moment to let everything settle before loosing the arrow and watching it silently, and quickly, fly across the distance while spooling out the high tension cable behind it. Just before impact the arrowhead exploded outwards launching several weighted lines which spread out like a giant hand looking for something to grab onto. The lines wrapped around the scaffolding poles, their weighted ends pulling the lines tight as they spiraled around themselves, once finished I lowered the bow, and its scope, and collapsed it back down to store it on my back again. I activated the cable tensioner which pulled the relatively small diameter cable taught across the space between the rooftop and the scaffolding wall. I stepped to the edge and hooked the motorized belay/ascender to my harness and the cable before stepping over the edge, the cable sagged as it took my weight before the automatic tensioner compensated but it held. The cable and zipline system as whole was only rated for 91kg (200lbs) but my small build from being an Aerospace pilot combined with the relatively lightweight gear kit I brought meant I was still safely under the weight limit and the system held me with ease. Using the motorized ascender/belay system I traversed the nearly horizontal zipline fairly quickly and without incident, arriving at the scaffolding wall I quickly got my footing on the open platform and disconnected from the zipline before pulling out my vibrobalde and slicing the cable. The tensioner quickly began pulling the now falling cable back to the rooftop as it attempted to keep the 91kg (200lbs) of tension on the loose cable. Since I would be returning with another person I would have to find a different escape route, assuming my mission was a success, and I didn't want to leave any more evidence of my presence than I had to.

Some time later...

I crouched behind the low wall, my chest heaving with each breath as I fought to get it back under control, my latest victim lay unconcious at my feet also hidden by the part wall. He was the reason I was out of breath, and I would have more than a few new bruises from our scrap before I managed to subdue him. Something wasn't right, there were several more guards than I had been told to expect and it seemed like they were expecting trouble, I was starting to regret having agreed to be non-lethal. Another young man, this one sporting a tattoo of a dragon climbing up his neck, came up the nearby stairs looking around cautiously with a steel baton in his hand, most likely looking for the man unconscious at my feet. I waited until he was satisfied the stairwell was clear and he began approaching the part wall I was behind before making a move, stepping out low to the side of the wall I leveled the sonic stunner at the young man's face and squeezed the trigger. While I could barely hear anything, due to the directional nature of the weapon and it operating at such high frequencies that it was nearly out of normal hearing range, I could see the faintest distortion in the air as the powerful sound waves assaulted the target disorientating and deafening him almost immediately. The short pulse dropped the man onto his left knee and the baton clattered to the floor but, impressively, he didn't pass out. Not wanting to wait until he could recover, and knowing I was nearly at my own endurance limits, I rushed forward to quickly close the distance between us, sliding past on his right side as I scooped up the baton and backhanded him across the back of his right knee taking his remaining leg out. I quickly rolled over to my own knees and got up behind the man as he struggled to get up, slipping my left arm around his throat I locked it in place on my right bicep before zinching the sleeper hold tighter, pressing my right hand against the back of his head. Desperation must have given the man a sudden burst of clarity and strength as he suddenly elbowed me hard in the ribs, knocking the wind out of me, and managing to stand upright even as I held my grip and worked the hold tighter. Another elbow to the ribs and my grip loosened but not enough for him to escape, ignoring the pain I jumped onto his back and locked my legs around his waist, trying to slam my heel into his groin but with no luck, instead I activated the mini stunstick built into the palm and knuckles of the armoured glove on my right hand and pressed it firmly against the back of his head as I re-tightened the stranglehold. The electric energy crackled under my palm as the stunstick delivered a powerful neurological shock to the man and drove him into unconsciousness, as he collapsed to the ground I replanted my feet and released my hold on him. Still panting heavily I took a knee and supported myself slightly against his slouched over body while I tried once again to catch my breath.

I stood up after a minute or so, my breathing still heavy but under control now, and moved down the stairs deeper into the half constructed building, I heard faint voices from the somewhere near the bottom of the stairs so I stopped a couple floors above and decided to try finding an alternate route. I silently slipped into a room, closing the door behind me, and moved down the hallway deeper into the building. Coming around a corner near the end of the hallway I ran across a Yakuza member who was almost as equally as surprised as I was and I barely had time to register that he was holding a shotgun before he reacted.

Oh fuck, I thought as I raised my left arm to cover my face, the shotgun going off wildly at his hip from an knee-jerk reaction. I felt the spread of pellets hit me square in the chest, unlike in the holovids I didn't go flying backwards but the punch of the rounds was still enough to take me off my feet as I stumbled backwards and fell. The concealed armour jacket took the brunt of the blast, and later inspection would show they must have been using birdshot judging from the size and number of pellets, but I was still stunned and probably had badly bruised, if not cracked, a couple ribs however I was still conscious. I struggled to push myself up on my elbows and blinked rapidly as I tried to clear the stars from my eyes, knowing I was still in extreme danger but simply unable to respond at the moment.

"Anata wa mada ikite imasu ka?" asked the Yakuza member as he stood over me, the barrel of the shotgun pointed towards me as a retractable stunstick snapped out like a bayonet and activated, "Yoi." ("You're still alive? Good.")

Rather than firing the weapon he drove the gun down towards me, attempting to skewer me with the blunt stunstick and presumably knock me unconscious. Thankfully the time he had taken to activate the bayonet style stunstick and talk to me was enough for me to recover my faculties and allow me to counter. As he drove the weapon closer I shifted my weight to the side and attempted to parry the barrel of the shotgun with my right hand as the stunstick barely missed my left side, the high powered electrical field surrounding it still giving me tingles even through my insulated undersuit as it brushed across the armoured jacket. 

"Yes I'm still alive," I said as I stared at the surprised man, "but that isn't good for you."

Using the weapon as a support I grabbed hold of the weapon casing surrounding the barrel with my left hand as I pulled myself upright and grabbed hold of the man's left bicep with my right hand, the mini stunstick embedded in the glove still active. The shock from the glove was enough to cause him to release his left hand from the shotgun and pull back reflexively, although his clothing prevented anything near the level of shock required to render anyone unconscious. With my feet underneath me again and each of us having a hand on the shotgun we both struggled to gain control of the weapon, neither able to wrest it free of the other's grasp. The man swung a wild left handed haymaker at me, which I blocked easily and then countered with a shocking punch to the man's left pectoral, the force of the punch combined with the shock from the stun glove caused his arm to drop limply at his side. Taking advantage I rolled into him so I was facing the shotgun and grabbed his right hand with my right hand, the stun glove causing his hand to spasm and go limp as I pried it off of the shotgun's handle. The moment his hand was free from the gun I drove my elbow back into his upper chest and knocked him back away from me as I stepped forward and turned around, shouldering the shotgun myself. Stepping in I drove the stunstick bayonet squarely into the Yakuza grunt's chest, the powerful electric shock piercing through his relatively thin clothing and dropping him in a mildly convulsing heap on the floor. Unsure exactly how the bayonet itself functioned I left it out and charged and checked over the rest of the gun, having a chance to actually examine it I saw it was a Wakazashi O-12 ShotStun, a somewhat unusual shotgun that I had only heard about or seen from a distance before. It was a favoured weapon of the Draconis Combine's "Friendly Persuaders", better known as Riot Police elsewhere in the Sphere, and was an unusual hybrid of a standard automatic shotgun and a stunstick. The shotgun was only capable of 3-round bursts instead of the usual 5-round bursts of the auto-shotgun and it also had a smaller 10 round tube magazine instead of the 12 round drum mag, however it did have slightly better range and somewhat unusually had a telescoping stunstick installed as a retractable bayonet. Ejecting one of the shells I noted it was a #8 birdshot and wondering why they would be using birdshot as I reloaded the round back into the magazine, it seemed they were trying to incapacitate or wound me rather than outright killing me.

"Yameru!" an angry voice called from a distance to my right, "Anata no buki o otosu!" ("Stop! Drop your weapons!")

Shit, I was getting tired another group of enemies had managed to surprise me, I turned and looked counting 3 opponents this time, one with a laser pistol aimed at me and two others with paired stun batons out. I could understand the men just fine, but I had no interest in answering them, it did confirm that they were trying to capture me though or they would have just shot right away. Flipping the fire select switch on the O-12 to burst I brought the heavy weapon up in their general direction and squeezed the trigger as I dodged to my left around the corner, the inaccurate hip fire doing little more than spraying an impressive amount of small birdshot pellets in their vicinity, relying entirely on target saturation as opposed to any accuracy. A pained yell indicated I must have at least winged one of the men as I continued my dodge into a full run dropping my shoulder and barging through a door before vaulting over cabinet or desk in the next room, I didn't stop there though and ran to what looked like an alcove but housed an open doorway to a small hallway with what appeared to be offices. Taking up a position by the small hallway door I waited until the earlier door I barged through was pushed open and then fired another 3 round burst of the birdshot at the opening door, composite particle board exploded from the wall and door frame as countless small pellets pelted the doorway, although none had enough power to penetrate any meaningful amount. The door itself fared better, it's material shrugging off the lightweight pellets and leaving little more than small indents and scuffed paint. I ducked back into the hallway with the offices and picked a room at random, slipping inside, I closed the door and knocked over a file cabinet to at least delay my pursuers a little before moving to the window and looking outside. There was a small rooftop patio on the floor below me and it looked like I might be able to get down to street level from there so I backed up and leveled the shotgun at the window, I thought about just using the stun baton bayonet to try and break the glass but figured it would either be tempered glass or laminated and I wouldn't likely be able to break it with a blunt object. Instead I fired a round at the window, or rather meant to fire a single round, instead I forgot it was on burst fire and put three rounds at point blank range into the window. The first round pierced the window and sent spiderweb cracks cascading throughout most of it, the second round, thrown off by the recoil, punched a new hole and fractured what was left of the window while the third round just blew out an already broken chunk of the window.

"Well shit," I said out loud to no one, before proceeding to use the stunstick bayonet and the now empty shotgun's barrel to clear out a sizable hole in the shattered window. Without waiting to see how well my pursuers were doing I dropped the spent shotgun and I jumped out the now open window and landed heavily on the artificially turfed patio rooftop about 4m (13') below.

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Neur0hack!
Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
October 3, 3029

____________________________________

As Bishop walked a slow circuit of the club, searching for the contact that the Crayven Corporation had sent us to meet, I also glanced around the place. Archangel was supposed to meet me here, but just like Bishop, I couldn't find him...her...whoever. I didn't know who I was looking for. All I knew was that they were going to meet me, or so they said. Since I wasn't "officially" part of the mission yet, I asked Nikki if I could have a look around, and she nodded an OK., "Just don't go too far."

I wandered down the levels of the club onto the main floor and glanced around at all the colorful characters who were gathered here, some of whom were dancing, gyrating, undulating on the dance floor, others who were gathered around the bar, and still others who lurked in the shadows, hanging out and taking things in. I decided to go to the bar; the stereotype was that bartenders kept an eye on everything and knew the goings-on of their establishment, so I thought I'd start there. I found an open spot and leaned in, getting the attention of the bartender, a guy with an electronic monocle over one eye, neon glow tubes around his neck as an improvised sort of choker, and a series of braces on his arms that looked like they were meant to give him an exoskeleton of extra upper body strength.

"Hey man, have you seen anyone going by the name of 'Archangel' around here?" I asked.

"Who wants to know?" the bartender asked.

"I'll take that as a yes." I responded. The bartender frowned.

"I said who wants to know?" the bartender repeated.

"I do. I have business with him." I answered. "I have a transaction I need to complete."

"Well, if Archangel wants to see you, she'll find you. You don't find her." the man explained. "Now do you want a drink or what? I'm not an information kiosk."

I balked at the surly response. Not what I was expecting.

"Uh, yeah, sure, I'll have a rum and cola." I answered. "And some beer nuts or something."

A minute later, a rocks glass with the requested drink appeared in front of me, along with a bowl of mixed nuts. I probably shouldn't have been drinking on the clock, but I also didn't want to get in the bad graces of the bar staff. I decided to strike up a conversation with a small-framed, dark-haired woman with a pixie haircut, white jumpsuit with illuminated nanotubules running through it, and a portable computer strapped to her wrist, while I waited.

"So, uh, this is a pretty cool place." I started, awkwardly. The lady looked toward me, and I realized that she had icy-blue, glowing corneas, either contact lenses of some kind or augmented vision like Bishop and William. I thought I saw a slight telescopic vision effect as she focused on me.

"It's decent." she replied, in a tone that sounded like she wasn't one for small talk. "But you didn't come here for the club scene, did you?"

"Wow, you get straight to the point." I replied. "No. I'm looking for someone. I have some business I'm transacting."

"What kind of business?" she asked.

"Personal." I said. "Nothing really interesting."

"Well, it's a good thing that you're talking to me, Nathan Schmidt. You really shouldn't tell people around here that you're trying to complete a transaction. That's a big red flag that you're carrying cash. And I definitely want to get paid for the legwork I've put into securing this identity for you."

"Are you...?"

"Archangel. Yeah. I knew you were going to end up here. Now, come with me. We need to step into the back room and discuss a few things."

A couple moments later, we were in a dimly-lit back room full of computer terminals that cast green and red glows everywhere. Archangel sat down in front of one of the computer terminals, and then, without warning, pulled the side of her jumpsuit open and applied a contact sensor to her upper torso. I started to glance away, but the woman motioned me over, the computer terminals in front of her flashing to life.

"Don't be such a prude. I've got this rig set up for two-factor authentication that only I can find. It's implanted in me in a location that's neither obvious nor overly-kinky. You aren't going to die from seeing grown-up bits." Archangel muttered. "Now, let's talk about payment."

I withdrew the envelope of C-Bills from my jacket pocket and handed it to the hacker. She upended the envelope into a small counting unit that validated the authenticity of the money and totaled it up.

"Great. So, we're going to need to start by getting rid of those fingerprints of yours..."

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I looked around the club, and let my guard down just a bit. Neur0hack!, or at least the first floor of it, was designed as one cavernous space with no barriers or alcoves for the unscrupulous to hide behind. In addition to the bouncers at the front door, I spotted another at the bar, and a few more mixed in with the crowd. The bar even had those cups with the printed lines that changed color if something had been slipped into your drink. The proprietors of this place seemed to be fully aware that they were in pirate territory, and taking reasonable precautions to make sure none of their patrons got shanghaied, or worse.

 

I was also happy to see that I wasn’t the only one here who’d been unhappy with my factory standard gender settings, and opted to go aftermarket. Of course, it was impossible to be sure which of the patrons had body mods for the same reasons that I did, aside from a few particularly androgynous looks, like the person wearing blinking leggings who had both a mustache and a wide-necked shirt that showed off their cleavage. But there were enough very tall women, very short men, people open shirts showing off UV tattoos over top of chest surgery scars, and people wearing skirts along with 5 o’ clock shadows, that I could safely assume that at least some of them were like me. That they seemed to be enjoying their evening without much unwanted attention was as good an indicator of safety as any.

 

I made note of where the Aegis-Crayven-Bessie group had gathered, and then wove through the crowd to a spot a short distance away where I could get a better look at the band that was playing. Some of the musicians played electronically amplified instruments while others operated synthesizers, and it was hard to be sure, but it sounded like some of the synthesizers’ sound clips were recorded noise from the crowd. I’d heard of bands putting body mics on instruments to record live audio data for the synths to reuse, but putting a mic on the crowd was a new one. Hearing drunken shouts and garbled conversations auto-tuned and added into a song was certainly different, but they made it work pretty well, as experimental music goes.

 

It was too bad we were here on business. It would’ve been nice to spend some time on the dance floor, or try to meet the person working the light booth - I’d done lights for a couple garage bands back on Muphrid, and knew just enough to realize that a display this complex and perfectly timed to live music wasn’t only a matter of having better gear; I could only imagine the planning and focus that went into it.

 

As the band started their next song, I made my way back to the rest of the group. Our contact seemed to be taking their time, but I didn’t want risk being out of earshot when they arrived.

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Meanwhile...

The pulsing and thumping of the club music sent rhythmic vibrations through Alyssa and I as we stood in an embrace in the midst of the packed dance floor, moving to the beat of the melodies and trying to look as inconspicuous as possible while surveying the crowd.

"See anything?" I asked.

"Yeah, you've got a nice ass," Alyssa teased.

"I was talking about our contact," I laughed. "You're in rare form. What's the occasion?"

"Honestly? This is kinda nice," Chase replied, nuzzling my neck. "I know that we're working, but a long haul on a freighter where I've got you to myself, with no distractions, followed by leave in a seedy-as-hell hotel and a night in a club? Shit, it feels practically like a honeymoon."

"Huh. Setting the holiday ahead of the nuptials? Unorthodox, but it could work," I smiled.

"Was that a proposal?" Alyssa asked, looking into my eyes and feigning shock.

"Hey now, I haven't committed to anything," I chuckled, glancing toward Orlex as I noticed the man's lanky form emerging from the crowd. "Got eyes on anyone, Lieutenant?"

"You two are heartwarming," Orlex grinned. "But, no. Whoever this person is, according to Bishop, she hasn't made her presence known."

"Damnit," I hissed. "What a twist. We're given a tight-as-hell schedule with incredibly specific instructions, and now we're just standing around with our thumbs up our asses. I'm beginning to wonder if he...or she...got snatched."

"It's a distinct possibility," Nikki chimed in, sliding in next to Orlex and gesturing for him to join him in a dance. "Abductions are basically a fact of life around here. Nearly everyone's got a story."

"To be fair," Orlex added, "if that's the case, an IE agent would be a fairly high-ticket target."

"Yeah, uh, we probably don't want to be name-dropping IE in public," I observed. "Speaking of people getting snatched, where's Nathan?"

"He disappeared with some lady behind the bar," a heavy, gravelly voice responded. I turned my head toward the speaker. It was Bishop.

"Great. Any sign of your contact?" I asked.

"No. And we're past the scheduled rendezvous," Weyland growled.

"Did they give you any fallback instructions?" I asked, a feeling of concern washing over me. The thought that we'd been hauled all the way out to Oberon only to be left hung out to dry was unappealing, to say the least.

"No," Bishop replied, shaking his head. I glanced toward Alyssa.

"Remind me again why I gave up smoking?" I groused, looking back to Weyland. "You're telling me that the Crayven Corporation arranged the logistics of this entire shindig and still managed to engineer in a single point of failure?"

"Boss, I don't write the contracts, I just execute them," Bishop objected. "All I know is that we were supposed to meet...Lisa?"

Weyland's words trailed off. I raised an eyebrow, and then realized that the Lieutenant's eyes were staring past me. Looking in the direction of his gaze, I first discerned Steve Jenkins break dancing in his underwear, pant legs tied around his head. Then, beyond him, a medium-height woman with pale skin, blonde hair tied back in a tight bun, and clad a crisp, high-collared gray jumpsuit emerging from the throngs of club-goers.

"I take it you two are acquainted?" I deadpanned.

"Yeah. From Site 46" the Lieutenant replied, simply.

"Gentlemen. And ladies," Lisa advised, seeming to ignore Bishop's remark. "Come with me."

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MEANWHILE... A FEW MINUTES AGO...... 

I Walked into The Club and took a look around, after thousands of days I was finally Home. Well I was Home in a sense that I was inside a Club, back on Sheratan I had been a Notorious businessman/pimp and I had worked out of clubs all the time, I mostly had controlled hooker but sometimes I also did Rigged Gaming. Now I was back on my Home Turf but sadly I had not wore my pimp suit because I was on a different kind of Business. I just had my regular Street Clothes on and so I would have to be citizen Steve instead of Businessman Steve. 

Everybody seemed really lost and the music was wayyy too loud for anyone to hear anyway, I decided to kill some time and go over to the Bar where a bunch of Ravers with all kinds of Scene gear on were standing around and doing alcohol and stuff. I walked over and introduced myself. 

"HI, I'm Steve Jenkins and I'm a Mercenary. We're here on business to find an Artifact and we're supposed to Meet with people here. Who are you guys?" I Asked, It was good to get Personal with the l;ocals so they would talk to you. "My name is Gigatub." Said the guy with CDs hanging off his ears. "This other Guy with MP3 players for teeth is CircuitBuck, and The guy barfing behind the bar is Displayjam." "NICE TO MEET YOU!" I Said, then I shook everyone's hands including Displayjam who stopped barfing for a minute to meet me. "So what do you guys do for Fun??" 

"WELL, we're really into Death Boarding." Said Gigatub. "OH MY GOD" I yelled "I Used to be really good at Death Board, do you guys want to go rip some Stunts?" "We can't go on Account of the DEATH BOARD course got tore down to build a MEGAMART store, now all they sell is Mattresses." Displayjam said, except he WAs still gagging into the Ice Bin at the bar so it sounded more like:

"HUUUUUGGBBLOOORRPPPTHgag gag gag hOorrrKKkk can't go on Account of GAG cry bllAARrrKK DEATH BOARD course got tore down to BLAAAAAAAA a MEGAMART store, now all they sell is GAAGtresses." 

"That sounded Gross." I Said. "ALSO that's too bad, what do you do instead???" All of the sudden Gigatub held up a ZIP LOCK bag that had all kinds of pills mixed up inside of it. "WE do party bag!!! Do you want some Steve Jenkins??" 

"HELL YEAH!!" I Screamed and took the bag.

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Shortly thereafter...

The low roar of the club's music transitioned into a dull, persistent thumping as the basement door slammed closed behind us and our group wound its way down a stone, spiral staircase into the earth. As we descended below street level, I felt a noticeable drop in temperature. Alyssa shivered, her minimalist attire yielding to the change in atmosphere. At the bottom of the stairs, several storage rooms branched off a small corridor. Lisa led us into the furthest one on the right, a wine cellar, where, upon reaching a rack laden with bottles, she located and tugged on a particular carafe. The rack gave a loud click and rumbled aside, dim neon lighting spilling into the darkened antechamber where we stood. 

"Impressive," Bishop mused. "You've upped the stealth game since last time."

"Mmhmm," Lisa nodded, motioning for us to step into the room beyond. As we crossed over the threshold, we found ourselves in an ancient, windowless storeroom, dark but for the light of multiple computer monitors. There, crammed into the confined space against the walls, was bank after bank of analog computer equipment. A dinosaur of a command console, bristling with toggle switches and CRT monitors, dominated the center of the space. Three olive-drab swivel chairs, each with an archaic corded headset draped over the back, sat poised before the workstation, above which, three matching black and white television monitors afforded three different views of the club's exterior. I marveled at the voluminous amount of ancient equipment, and the fact that it all appeared to be in working order.

Lisa strode around the command console and eased herself into its large, high-backed chair, motioning for us to take our seats wherever we could find a spot. I gestured for Bishop, Alyssa, and Orlex to take the chairs, while Nikki and I leaned against a marge machine marked "IBM Series 1." Glancing around for Steve Jenkins, my arm brushed up against a dusty policy manual. Hanging by a chain, the cover read "Titan IV Launch Procedures."

Just then, Jenkins burst into the room, wild-eyed, but fortunately, no longer pants-free. As he stumbled toward us, I maneuvered him into a corner to the left of Nikki.

"Alright, that's everyone...more or less," I informed Lisa. The Interstellar Expeditions agent raised an eyebrow, and then, following a pause, began to speak...

 

 

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Neur0hack!
Oberon VI - Oberon Confederation
October 4, 3029 - 00:30
____________________________________

The room we now occupied was filled to the brim with certifiably ancient technology, equipment so old it was amazing that it even worked let alone was useful. Back in the Alliance military academy during my formal schooling the engineering professors often said I had an almost unnatural knack with technology, if I remembered correctly one of them referred to it as a kind of Tech Empathy. In fact several of my teachers were rather disappointed when I decided to pursue a MechWarrior career instead of devoting myself to a Mech Tech or other engineering based job. Despite this supposed ability to innately understand technology I had no idea how half the machines in this room worked and could only hazard a guess on the other half, though I supposed given enough time we could probably figure it out.

Our contact had taken their time getting in touch with us, and while I was glad to be out of the club itself our new locale had its own drawbacks to be concerned about, namely being at least a couple stories below ground inside what could best be described as a fallout bunker with only one known exit. And while I had no reason to believe things would go south with our IE contact, my own personal experience with IE wasn't exactly comforting, although that was no fault of IE themselves.

I moved to take a seat in the chair that was kindly offered us by our contact, Lisa, after turning to offer both Captain Maxwell and Captain Nikki the chair first, both of whom politely refused with a gesture. Sitting down I spun the chair around partway to look at the nearby console out of curiosity and noted some very aged and worn labels that indicated this station may have been used as a radar monitor at some point in the past. Currently though the console was being used to monitor the club above while the terminal itself appeared to be parsing some code that looked to be assembly language, essentially one step above machine code and well beyond my current capabilities to understand.

From seemingly nowhere Steve Jenkins arrived in the room in usual fashion and was politely corralled into a nearby corner as discretely as possible by the Captain.

"Alright, that's everyone... more or less," Captain Maxwell stated pointedly before waiting for our IE agent to give us the low down.

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Previously...

Ozymandias Station
Vega System, Draconis Combine
June 3, 3029
__________________________________

The glow of electrical sparks flashed from the end of the hallway and the lights dimmed again, something was shorting out the hotel's circuits but not quite enough to trip any breakers or blow a fuse. Around the corner a tall man in a sleek business suit slowly dropped to his knees before falling sideways onto the floor, the slow but steady rise and fall of his chest the only indication he was still alive. Crouched down on one knee in front of where the man was standing, with their fist still stretched out at the extent of an uppercut, was a beautiful woman with vibrant crimson red hair. Her armoured jacket was in tatters, the leather shredded and several of the concealed armour panels were exposed and cracked, and her hair was a wild mess that seemed to match a certain gleam of crazy in her right eye. There was a small trickle of blood at the corner of her mouth and a wound somewhere higher up under her hair had been bleeding at some point but was now dry. Finally, after what seemed an exceedingly long time, she moved, slowly standing upright and rolling her neck and shoulders.

"Oh I am going to be paying for this tomorrow," I said aloud as I continued rolling my shoulders to try and loosen the muscles, "hell, I'll be paying for this for a week or more at least."

I didn't bother trying to hide the unconscious man, there was no-one left on this floor to raise an alarm anyhow. I pulled the spent micro power pack from the stun glove on my right hand and inserted a new one, flexing it to activate the shock pads and ensure they were operational. Moving further down the hall I left the aftermath of the fights behind me, several broken wall monitors, one of which was still occasionally sparking, a mangled emergency fire hose, numerous broken lights and at least a couple shattered keypads that would prevent use of the elevator and one of the doors. I finally reached my target, one of the suites on the 3rd floor of a currently abandoned hotel supposedly undergoing renovations, the "asset" I was sent to rescue/retrieve was supposed to be inside. Using a keycard I swiped from one of the men I fought earlier I opened the door and slipped inside.

"Hey Sora, is that you?" called a voice in Japanese from the other room, "I didn't think you were supposed to be back until tomorrow."

A young man in his mid-20's stepped out to where he could see into the entrance alcove, a frown passing over his face as he did not see who he was expecting, "You're not Sora."

"No, I am not," I replied in fluent Japanese.

"MUCH better than Sora," he interrupted with a smile as he started looking me over before his face fell flat as he saw the damage to my jacket and obvious signs of fighting, "Oh, geez, are you ok? Wait... you're THE Bounty Hunter aren't you?"

"THE Bounty Hunter? No I'm not THE Bounty Hunter, pretty sure he's a lot taller than me, not to mention a man."

"No, no, not THE Bounty Hunter, just A bounty hunter, the one they said was being sent after me. Oh shit, if you are then you're here for me aren't you?" The dawn of recognition in his eyes was almost comical, this man was almost naively oblivious, or at least put on a good act.

"What's your name?" I asked, looking past the man into the hotel suite trying to see if anyone else was present.

"Goro," he replied without thinking, "What are you looking at? There's no one else here right now."

"Good, that'll make this easier then," I said as I locked the door and stepped towards him, "You're right, I am here for you."

"Oh fuck, wait! Wait!" he stuttered, scrambling backwards and almost falling over, "Don't kill me, I can pay you, I have money, lots of it."

"The hell?" I replied, momentarily surprised that this Yakuza kid's first reaction was thinking he was going to get killed and then thinking he could pay off his 'attacker', "I'm not here to kill you kid, I was sent to rescue you."

"Rescue me?" now it was Goro's turn to be dumbfounded, "Rescue me from what? My friends? The good life? I don't need rescuing, except maybe from boredom."

And there was the slimy side, I was slightly amazed at how quickly the man went from begging for his life to thinly veiled innuendos once he realized his life wasn't in danger, maybe the kid was from the criminal underworld after all. I moved past the man to check the rest of the hotel suite, his hand reaching out towards me as I passed and I backhanded it away before turning back towards him.

"In your dreams kid, try that again and I'll break something," I said angrily.

"No you won't, if you were sent to rescue me you can't hurt me. Besides it could be beneficial, I KNOW people," he replied, unwilling to let it go and clearly being used to getting what he wanted.

"You don't want to test that theory, I may be sent to rescue you but who knows what kind of terrible condition I found you in. And trust me, you have NOTHING to offer me. You couldn't handle this even if you did."

"You wouldn't dare, do you know who I am?" he snapped back, clearly easily upset when someone didn't bend to his every whim.

"Son of a local Koman, also supposedly a Wakashu for the Yakuza, though that clearly comes from daddy. And I don't care," I replied flatly, staring the young man down as I watched his face going red with rising anger, "Go ahead, try me."

A moment passed before Goro let out a long breath and turned, stomping meaningfully away from me, "Fuck you! Who the hell even sent you to rescue me? I definitely don't need it, and I made it clear to my father that I was done with his way of doing things."

"Don't know, and it doesn't matter," I replied nonchalantly.

"You don't know who you're working for? That seems rather odd, and if you actually do know, telling me won't do any harm since I'm supposedly the one you're supposed to be rescuing," he pried, the young man was good at switching tones/tactics which led me to believe that most of his personality so far had been an act.

"Not really, got the job through a Kuromaku, no idea who posted the job and I don't care," I decided to play nice though since I was supposed to rescue this kid and he could potentially make that difficult if he decided not to cooperate, "Kuromaku's name is Miguel, he said a rival Gumi (Yakuza clan) had captured you and was refusing to release you due to some slight against their honour or something."

"Blake damnit," Goro said clearly upset by my answer, "that two faced serpent, it doesn't matter who posted the job if you got it from Miguel. I told those bastards I was done following their stupid rules and honour-bound oaths. I wasn't captured, I left of my own free will and turned my back on the weak old men of that Gumi and their damned traditions. I joined my friends and other members of the Gumi that have decided we would run things our own way, taking what we wanted with our strength, the way it should be."

"I'm going to stop you there," I interrupted, "I'm not here to get involved in any family squabbles or to be anyone's babysitter. I was hired to rescue you, or retrieve you, Miguel's words not mine. I intend to finish the job."

"Fuck that, I'm not going back. Miguel and my Father can kiss my dragon-blessed ass," Goro said, looking like he was about to throw a full on tantrum.

"Don't do it," I said as Goro looked over at me suddenly before turning and booking it towards the bedroom, "Fine, hard way it is."

I chased Goro into the bedroom where he was scrambling to climb across the large bed towards a nightstand and presumably a weapon, knowing he wouldn't listen at this point I simply pulled out the sonic stunner and aimed it the young man sprawled across the bed and fired. The high frequency acoustics bombarded the man from the back, the blast reverberating through his body and overloading his senses to the point where his brain basically shut off to protect itself. The now unconscious man was laying limply with one arm stretched out to the nightstand just a few inches short. Looking at the nightstand I noted a communicator sitting on the top and wondered for a moment if he was just trying to call for help before I opened the drawer and spotted the Nakjima laser pistol in a concealed holster inside the drawer. That's what I thought, I said in my mind as I shook my head, Should have just come quietly, could have left again afterwards like you did before you fool.

Some time later...

I floated into the airlock with my cargo in tow, the weightless environment making it much easier to move the unconscious Goro in his escape suit. I wouldn't call it an actual space suit, it lacked the temperature control and life support systems needed for any extended use but it was pressurized and served to protect against the worst of the extremes of the vacuum of space. It also was surprisingly easy to get into, which was good since Goro had been unconscious since I stunned him back at the hotel on Grav Deck 2. Since then I managed to escape while carrying the unconscious man after pulling up a schematic of that area of Ozymandias Station, using the schematic I found a different maintenance capsule to get off the Grav deck and then made my way back to my space suit and extra gear in a roundabout way before escaping off the station with my target in tow. I now was entering Daburudoragon, a Union-class dropship owned by the Yakuza whose name roughly translated to "Double Dragon".

Some time even later...

"I upheld my end of the bargain, I retrieved your lost Wakashu, but I did not sign up to be a babysitter and I want nothing to do with your family disputes. I simply am asking for payment in the form agreed upon, information on a specific Mule-class dropship that I KNOW was here less than a week ago," I said in a level tone to Miguel and several other members of the Yakuza that were present.

Several moments of silence followed while the Yakuza bosses, or at least I assumed they were high up, looked at each other as though discussing things with their eyes alone before Miguel finally spoke up, "Blaze, it is true that you upheld your end of the bargain. You completed your task admirably and strictly followed our non-lethal request even when the enemy was aware of your presence and actively trying to capture you. There is no fault in your performance, we were however hoping to enlist your services further. I understand, we understand, your position though and you have no obligation to assist us further. A refusal at this time would only be accompanied by our disappointment, there would be no reprisals or repercussions from our end."

"Then I respectfully decline any further jobs at this time," I said with a slight bow of my head, at least these men seemed to actually follow the code of honour that the Yakuza traditionally prided themselves on.

Miguel returned the bow, more of a nod than an actual bow, "Understood. As for your payment, this is what we know."

He handed me a datachip before continuing, "The datachip has the docking records for the ship you requested, the Hurry Up Bessie, including a list of all personnel from the ship that passed through customs. You were right to inquire about this vessel, her crew seems to be more than they let on. Allegedly they were involved with some, ... interesting events on the station, including potentially breaking a pirate ship out of the impound dock. Sadly we cannot confirm their involvement in any of these events as certain records seemed to have been, misplaced. Regardless, the information we do have is on the datachip. We are looking into recovering the lost records for our own ends, should we turn anything up we could contact you if you desire. As long as you are within range of our HPG and willing to compensate for the effort, of course."

"I'll pass, thank you. The info on the datachip alone will be enough," I replied, refusing, and knowing better than, to enter into any further agreements with the Yakuza.

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