Collab between @Sad Ogo and @Ruby
The call on the holo was brief, and hardly satisfying. The woman found herself standing in the hard glow of thin pillar lights; tubes of light affixed on metallic stands, each running off a battery that would last far longer than need required, giving a bright white light to the cavernous concrete surroundings filled with non-descript metallic surfaced desks holding various keyboards, cyberdecks, and the odd gun, shard, or coffee. The only other light came from the glow of the monitors mounted on the concrete walls above the desks. That's where her eyes rose once they recovered from the unsatisfactory call. Progress was being monitored from the cameras in the small North Watson warehouse. It was closer to the Arasaka Waterfront than she would have liked, but targets were targets, and deep down she knew she'd leap at Arasaka Tower itself if that's what the job called for.
Certainly, she'd done crazier shit in her lifetime.
"Where is Braddock?"
The netrunner had been in the underground den all last night and all morning; three day old growth on his dark skinned cheeks and chin as he rubbed at his face with his hands. Trying to rub away weariness, trying to rub away the soreness of staring at screens as long as his eyes did. "Not as far along as he should be. Dino said this guy checked out?"
Nix's question and subsequent turning back to read Eddie's reaction was as telling as the tone of his voice: Nix didn't think very highly of the solo Braddock. All Eddie could offer the man seated at the desk was a tiny roll of her shoulders and an even smaller smile, if you could call it that, "You know what I know, if you read Dino's notes on the guy."
"That's what the fuck I'm afraid of. Since V left and Dino moved in, we haven't had the manpower or time to properly vet all the Mercs banging down our doors for work. Emmerick does what he can, but...what the fuck. Right there."
Nix pointed to the top right hand monitor's camera feed. The back side of the warehouse, ground level. Braddock had gone in from the east, hopping to the roof and going in that way. The back ground-level had a door that was high in security, but it was often left unlocked so the gonks running the lifts and doing inventory for the cargo courier shop illegally acting as a pass-through and safehouse for Maelstrom stolen goods could slip out for a quick smoke, as smoking inside the warehouse wasn't a great idea. The unlocked door allowed for a figure to slip in, weapon drawn.
Eddie's face collapsed in momentary grief. "It's another fucking Merc." She was calling up the client within the moment, but this time, of all times, they didn't answer. Grief turned to steely-eyed resolve quick enough, "I'll send a message to Braddock. The client double-dipped the contract to another Fixer." Nix turned again, slower this time, his expression closer to shock than irritation. "No, I didn't know. No, I'm not thrilled about it, but I need that data."
"You need it, or the client does?"
Nix was too smart for his own good. The question just hung there, ignored, as Eddie watched Braddock hit the warehouse manager's office. "Why is he...the data we need is probably in the basement." A quick glance down to the holo told her Braddock hadn't responded, despite the camera in the office showing him looking down at his own holo.
The moment Braddock hit the warehouse manager's terminal, the video feed went black. Nix was cursing, angrily, before she could even ask, "Stupid fuck tripped an alarm. It'll take me a minute to find the port and track the remote access."
"Another netrunner from the other Fixer?"
Nix's hands blurred across the heavily modified Arasaka cyberdeck he'd brought for the job, his eyes blank as he saw data from an internalized feed, "...nah, I think this is a Maelstrom runner." Tense moments followed as Eddie allowed herself a sigh under her breath, followed by a darting of her eyes back to the monitors on the wall as Nix got the feed back up. "Fuck."
Braddock was on the top middle monitor, now on the first floor, hugging the wall just inside the stairwell, holding his right side and bleeding. "Set up a link with me."
"What? You serious?" Nix asked to the back of Eddie as she walked away to the elevator of their temporary underground lair, just in time to watch her check the M-76e Omaha and return it to its holster at the small of her back. "...alright. G’luck.”
The interior she emerged from below into was an old shuttered slurp shop, nothing left but old booths, counters, stools, and a thick layer of dust covering all of it. The night air of Night City hit her, warmer and thicker than it had any right, dense with the last remains of a dust storm. The fog clinging to Night City's streets had that orange-brown hue under ragged and abused Watson city street lights. Between buildings Eddie felt shadows glancing at her, though nothing in the back of her mind gave any danger signs--these were the shadows of the hungry and homeless--none of them dumb enough to see a mark in a woman wearing a padded black coat, tight black pants, and polished leather black boots with a slight heel.
The smarter ones would simply watch her walk, and just know better.
The warehouse was on a corner lot down the street and around the corner. It had a cement wall surrounding the warehouse yard, multiple bay doors along the front of the building, a side office entrance, and the second layer that housed the manager's office, a bathroom, and the cat-walk that went from the stairs to the manager's office, railed in with thin strips of aluminum and little more.
So far the job was going alright for Mac. Or at the very least not FUBAR like work involving Maelstrom had a tendency to do. He’d parked his truck a couple of blocks down from the warehouse, scouted a decent access point from across the street he knew wasn’t covered by the warehouse's numerous cameras and hopped a wall into the compound with no one the wiser.
From there he had to make his way past several armed sentries to get to the back entrance the workers left unlocked. He’d spent the past few days following several of the places non-gang affiliated denizens to the dive bars they liked to spend their wages at after work. After enough whiskey and small talk Mac was usually able to get at least a little something useful out of them.
Gang-bangers pissed the wage-workers off simply by being there and acting like they owned the place so it wasn’t hard to get them bitching. Didn’t take long to find one who’d been especially affronted by them. In this case it was an older bloke who’s nephew had been found with his gorilla-arms sawn off, hooked up and left to bleed out in a known Maelstrom controlled apartment block.
Just going into work and seeing them there was enough to get the man seething. The offer of a few eddies was more than enough for him to give over much needed specific intel on the warehouse, especially to a Solo who’d no doubt leave at least a couple of Maelstrom corpses behind.
Mac had already proven a good bet on the latter, using his kukri to slice through one neck, almost in its entirety and pierce through the back and into the heart of another gangster. The blood from the arterial spray spattered his face, arms and clothes, feeling hot on his skin in the early morn’ chill. He quickly dragged them out of sight, hiding them behind the many stacks in the compound. Thankfully he managed to avoid more sentries than he had to kill and continued on his way to the back entrance, getting there without any more trouble. Sheathing his blade and pulling his Overture, he slid open the door and crept inside.
Now all he had to do was make his way to the basement the old worker had mentioned the gangoons having completely taken over and find the tech-looking bullshit. The data was almost certainly where the regular employees, even the managers had apparently stopped being allowed to go. He ducked behind a stationary forklift and took a few seconds to look around, trying to spot the entrance to the basement. The place was mostly empty, with just a few Maelstrom assholes hanging around, just as Mac had hoped. The morning shift didn’t start for another hour and he hoped to be long gone by then, with only corpses and the lack of data proof of his being there.
His eyes suddenly caught movement in what he guessed was the manager's office, not that he had much experience identifying such in places like this. He watched through the glass windows as a barely visible shadow crept towards the room's computer. The way the figure moved Mac assumed they weren’t exactly a welcome entity here either. He had to hope that his assumption about the basement being the right location for the data was correct and this other asshole was wasting his time, otherwise Maxson was going to be pissed.
The figure in the office must have seriously fucked up whatever tech wizardary they were trying to pull off, because suddenly every Maelstrom in the place stopped what they were doing, pulled their various armaments and started towards the office.
“Come on out with ya hands heat free, raised high and maybe we’ll only put you in a coma!” One of the gangers shouted, his compatriots giggling at him as they slowly walked towards the office, weapons aimed at it. “Though we should probably flatline ya outta respect for ourselves. Such a shit netrunner trying to hit-”
The metal-faced speaker was interrupted by automatic fire coming from the other side of the office windows, several rounds catching the man to the left of him and leaving his chest wide open, a cavity where flesh used to be. Mac made a split-second, possibly gonk decision, raising his own iron and headshotting the former spokesman, turning his dome into twisted metal. The singing of automatic fire apparently drowned the bark of Mac’s own hand cannon out because the last Maelstrom asshole didn’t even glance in his direction, instead simply continuing toward the office and unloading his own Copperhead through its windows. Mac raised his revolver again, squeezing the trigger and blowing out at least one of the man's lungs.
On the other side of the warehouse double doors burst open, with four more Maelstrom pouring through. Three of them fired off handguns and SMG’s, this time at Mac. Deeming the forklift inefficient for this kind of sustained fire he dashed right, heading towards crates he could use as cover and the manager's office even further down. Popping out from behind the first crate he reached he shot one of the aggressors through the thigh, watching him tumble as more fire came through the office windows and splattered what was left of him on his friends. Mac damn near smiled, grateful that he hadn’t taken such a risk to save an ingrates life.
He used his new found comrades fire as a distraction whilst he moved down further towards the office, firing off rounds himself between crates. He was stopped in his tracks when he caught a blur of a person in the corner of his eye. Before he could even turn to fire on them he felt a blow to his stomach that completely toppled him, his breath caught in his chest and he felt like there was suddenly no more air to breathe in the world. It almost felt like the couple of times he’d caught bullets except there wasn’t the wet feeling of blood seeping out, or the searing-fire like pain inside him.
He tried to get to his feet but was lifted via the throat before he could, what little breath he had regained being choked out of him. He looked down the arm of a metal creature he imagined once resembled a woman. Her arms, legs and even face were now chrome. Raising his Overture up with great effort he shot her once in the stomach, once in the chest and finally aimed at what he guessed acted as her mouth. Before he could fire his third shot he was thrown, as if weightless across the room. Time seemed to slow down as he flew through the air, then suddenly go in fast-forward as he hit glass, going straight through and tumbling into a dark room.
“Fucking… Gorilla… Arms.” He panted between deep, struggling breaths.
“That’s one tough bitch, alright.” A male’s voice responded out of the darkness. The clanking sound of a magazine falling to the ground sounded as he slid another into place and once again took to firing out of the windows.
Mac slowly got to his feet, picking up his dropped Overture and pulling his Lexington. Glancing out of the window he saw even more enemies than before, now taking cover and firing sporadically into the manager's office. He ducked and looked around, noticing both that there was an entrance to some stairs in the office and that his fellow merc had been hit and was bleeding rather profusely from his side.
“It’s too fuckin’ open in here!” Mac shouted as he fired his Lexington, catching a ganger moving between cover several times. “I say we delta up those stairs, one of us holds the choke point while the other flanks these half-’borg cunts!”
The other merc simply nodded, gritting his teeth as he held his wound and fired out the window one-handed, moving across to the stairway door all the while. Mac quickly followed, providing further covering fire with his auto-pistol.
“Wish I had a mine or two.” Mac spoke under his breath, covering the door as the wounded man slowly made his way up the steps. He watched him reach the top and quickly went up after him.
“Alright. You hold here. Don’t let any of those fucks get up these stairs breathing… I’ll go out on the catwalk and see how many of them I can kill from above. We good?” Mac asked, slotting another few rounds into the Overture all the while.
“Good.” The man replied weakly, leaning against the wall and gripping his Saratoga tightly.
Mac nodded and headed straight out the door, crouching slightly to make himself a smaller target he headed towards the first bit of concealment he saw; a bunch of boxes stacked on the catwalk, either being taken to or from the office. Before he could reach them he clocked a couple of more Maelstrom coming out a door on the opposite side of the catwalk to him, both carrying shotguns.
He swiftly raised up his pistols and opened fire, the Overture barking aloud even over the rapid spitting of the Lexington. He caught both men alike in the narrow space, with numerous rounds from the auto-pistol hitting both of them and at least one from the heavy revolver blowing open one of the gangsters' heads. The victory was short lived however as the sound quickly drew the attention of those below and the catwalk was suddenly alight with the sparks of gunfire. Mac sprinted across it, diving into a doorway for cover as rounds barely missed his legs.
“Guess I’m going back around.” He mumbled to himself.
"None on the bottom floor?"
"No, they're holed up on the top floor."
Eddie walked into a side door, all eyes and attention on the two Mercs thoroughly fucking up a simple job. It was pretty easy, taking a few grenades from an inside pocket and tossing them at a few crowds. Maelstrom was geniuses like that, nicely grouping up so they could be taken out en masse. By the time of denotation Eddie was already right behind Madam Gorilla Arms, the last sound the gangoon would ever hear was a fully charged M-76e before Eddie blasted it right at the base of the skull where skull and spine met; it was a weak point for a lot of Borgs. The smell of cranial fluid and blood and coolant was immediate, but not nearly as quick as the next three shots from the Fixer.
The difference in true shooting ability wasn't just accuracy, but precision. A gifted shooter had both, and they had it with reflexes that could make a lightning bolt spark in jealousy. Forehead shots hit three fellow Maelstrom that turned at the sound and sight and smell of their lady boss getting her front faceplate blown clean off with a charged shot from the M-76e. Dead, dead, and dead. She presumed Braddock and Merc #2 could, probably, maybe, hold the rest as she all-but-casually strolled to the railed staircase hidden behind a stack of metal crates that led down into the basement of the warehouse.
For a job that had gone so quickly and horribly to complete shit Mac couldn’t deny that he was also getting pretty damn lucky. Just when he was pinned down and his only real option left was to go and fight his way back through the main warehouse some lady-solo that made the myths he’d heard about Morgan Blackhand seem believable came in and started absolutely fucking annihilating the remaining Maelstrom. He watched from the catwalk as near every ganger on the warehouse floor got turned to red smears. Mac hadn’t seen shit like it since watching a squad of S.A.S troops in action back in his Legionnaire days.
Of course this meant he wouldn’t be completing the job, which meant he wasn’t getting paid. Better unpaid than dead as a fucking doornail though, which is what he’d be in two seconds flat if he went up against that woman. Very quickly deciding against that, he instead tried to quietly make his way back along the platform and towards the other merc. Least he could do was try and drag his ass out of here. He’d likely saved his life, even if he had fucked up the job first.
Walking back into the stairway Mac found the merc slumped on the ground, still clutching his wound and breathing shallow.
“Fuck me mate, you’re not looking your best.” Mac spoke quickly, leaning down and pulling a Bounce Back MK 1 out of his jacket pocket. He took the cover off and jammed the syringe into the man's thigh, pressing down on the injector.
“The job’s a no-go. There’s a woman out there who makes us look like cuddly toys. It’s time to delta… Can you stand?”
There among even more crates and discarded, broken, lifts was the terminal she was looking for. Multiple screens on an aluminum frame, though no cyberdeck. So either the resident netrunner wasn't here, never was here very often, or it was a simple setup that didn't require a netrunner to baby-sit it. The big cyberdeck sized empty space at the edge of the table used as a desk for the setup, and the racks of servers on either side of the table itself, pointed at the netrunner in residence had ran at the first sound of danger.
Eddie plugged in her link, and was immediately greeted with a white light and the kind of heat that only came from being kissed by fire. Her lungs didn't have enough air to scream, her body dropping to one knee from it's standing position immediately and involuntarily. The voice came into her head just as quick.
It will be alright. They set a trap for the link, in your haste you failed to check. You will need to see a ripperdoc, you are not in immediate danger. The others are.
"...EDDIE, TALK TO ME MS. FIXER, C'MON..."
Wincing, blinking, ears ringing and vision filled with dancing spots as Nix’s voice finally started to bleed into her conscious mind, she managed words in a low, gritted, tone. "No need to yell, Nix, I'm here. Data downloaded. I'm fine."
"Fuck you mean you're fine? You might have just gotten hit with a--"
"I'm fine, relax. Monitor the other two." She nearly killed the comms link to the Netrunner, but she didn't want to be disrespectful. Nix muttered something the ringing and swaying vision made hard to concentrate on, maybe, something about a 'fucking freak'? She didn't care, she quickly decided, as she went back to her feet and tightened her grip on the M-76e to the point where her knuckles went ghost white.
Now she just wanted to kill something. If no more Maelstrom were left, she just might kill Braddock for being such a gonk. And a liar. She hated liars. She found the two Mercs at the bottom of the stairs. It took Eddie a few moments of studying Braddock to realize he wasn't going to make it. Her temper and the anger that fueled it became a little devil on her ear, whispering in her ear to just end him quickly, dramatically. The other voice was no devil, but it was no angel, belonging to the man with the easy smile and the dirty blonde hair, with a voice that always sounded so amused, so full of energy and joy.
"C'mon, Etta. That's not the Ranger girl I know..."
The kind of smile that only appeared at the corners of her lips pulled at her face, pulled her mind away from the anger. She never looked at the direction of the man's voice. He wasn't there. She lost him years ago, holding him as he died, bled out in her arms. "You," her glassy blue eyes blinked up at the mystery Merc, her voice softer than it had any right to be in that moment, in that place, "watch the front of the building. Yell if anyone else comes."
Mac stared into the woman’s blue eyes for a second, simply standing there dumbly, distracted by thoughts of possible actions in this scenario. His merc friend was barely standing, Mac doing more to hold him up than his own legs were. That alone told him the medicine hadn’t done much for him. He quickly realized his initial realization was the only correct one.
“Yes ma’am.” He spoke quietly, slowly lowering the man to the ground and leaning him against the wall. “Thanks for covering me mate. Won’t forget it.” Mac gently squeezed his shoulder before standing and taking his leave. On his way out he saw the pure carnage they’d left behind. Blood, bodies and spent ammo casings all over the place.
Her eyes stayed on the other Merc as he went off, gun in hand, breathing fast. That hint of a smile slid across her lips to become a full, gentle, sight as she holstered the M-76e and lowered her body in a crouch until she was face to face with Braddock, the dying man that rested on the last few steps of the stairs from the second floor to the main warehouse floor. "Sorry...didja get, the, uh..."
"Yeah," Eddie nodded, slowly, "Yeah, I did. It's okay, Braddock. I'll make sure Joe gets enough money to get out of Night City without you. She'll get a new start somewhere else. No one's hurting her in this city." The smile widened as Braddock began to do what dying mean do; come to terms. She could offer only last comforts and a light touch. When he used the last of his strength to ask if he'd get a drink at Afterlife, she was kind enough to lie to him. And she hated liars. She took the man's weapon, and the Militech dog-tags from his corpse.
She found the other Merc standing out front in the yard, head going back and forth along the wall and the gates. He turned when he heard steps, his eyes stuck on the sight of her with Braddock's M221 Saratoga in one hand, down by her side. Gone were any hint or kindness, gentleness, or forgiveness in the woman's blue eyes. "Who's your Fixer?"
“James Maxson… Ex-6th Street turned small-time fixer after gaining something of a rep in prison.”
"Do you know what your pay was supposed to be?"
“Two thousand eddies. I charge more for Maelstrom related work due to them being such annoying bags of shite.” Mac smirked. “May have to up my rates even further now, didn’t consider the embarrassment of being thrown through a window before.”
She watched but didn’t find any sign of exaggeration or lie on his features, or body language. And he was quite forthcoming about the Fixer, Maxson. A name Eddie filed away for later, after visiting Braddock’s partner, Joe, tonight.
“My name is Eddie, Afterlife Fixer. Who are you?”
“Huh. Your position explains your skill. Or vice versa... I’m the son of Kieran, of the Iceni clan, but since Kieran is dead along with most of my people and its ways, folk just call me Mac. Mac the merc.” His broken half-smile was the only indication of sadness behind the otherwise monotone-voiced words. “Thank you for saving my life, Eddie. I’m sorry I couldn’t help him more.” Mac nodded at the Saratoga in the woman’s hand.
“He was dishonest about what he could do, Mac, otherwise I never would have put him in this position, and he never would have died. I did warn him to be honest. First Merc I’ve lost since I’ve come to Night City. Hopefully my last for a long time.”
It was a sad, frustrating thing, to lose a Merc. It also left a trail that she would now have to clean up, starting with the person the dead man cared for. But for the living…the idea rolled quickly from her mind to her lips, with the certainty of instinct behind it, “I’ll pay you five thousand. You keep what happened tonight to yourself. You don’t answer the calls of Mr. Maxson, while he can make calls, anyway. You want work? Come to Afterlife, I’ll give the bouncers your name. Shouldn’t be hard, with the face…uh, ink. I’ll be in touch. Use the money to get ready for work, Mac, son of Kieran, clan of Iceni.”
“That’s very generous. I accept, gratefully.” Mac nodded, smirking at her with a certain amount of uncertainty. Jobs like this rarely ended on such high notes. As he watched her walk away his smile grew a little and he thought on what to do next... Ash. He should go check on her.
That hint of a smile on her unpainted lips returned at the last flourish of his name, and titles. A reminder of what life was like in Europe for the Edgerunner Etta Autry. Whatever it was that became of her, anyway. When she was out of earshot of the young Merc she told Nix to pack it up, they were done. Job done, data secured.