Loud, Lawless, and Lost
rating: +25+x

PREVIOUS: Morphine Machine

FIRST: The Chosen Few


At noon, a black Porsche pulls up to Kemonomimi Zaibatsu. Sleek red lines accentuate its sides and smoke roils from its twin tailpipes, but what really draws my eye — and every other within a hundred yards — is the black machine gun mounted to its roof. God only knows what kind of mods were put into the car just to keep the top from crumpling underneath its weight.

The shotgun window rolls down. Alliott waves at me from the driver's seat.

"Get in."

I take a moment to admire the machine and then hop into the shotgun seat, basking in the purr of the engine and light streaming through the sunroof. Alliot shifts into gear and we peel out of the district. She's trying to show off. It's working.

Alliott unrolls a blueprint of a large corporate office on top of the table.

"You follow death ball?" she asks.

"Of course," I respond. "The City Cup is tonight."

"You gamble?"

"Of course."

"And you always lose." It isn't a question. "What do you know about Oneiroi Incorporated?"

"Not much. I bought a couple of their dream-cations once." I don't mention all the times I've used their memory removal services.

"Figured as much. Oneiroi's weird. They're privately owned but I haven't been able to figure out by who. More importantly, they're bastards. You know what they do with the stuff they siphon out of your head?"

"What?"

"They exploit it."

We pull onto the elevated autobahn at 200 km/h, weaving around tiny smart cars doing 80. The acceleration makes my corset feel even more constricting. At one point, a FLYPAPER unit lumbers onto a bend in the road — Alliott simply downshifts and drifts around it. Before I know what's happened, the FLYPAPER is a speck in the rearview.

Seconds later, we pull off the highway into Sigrunstraße, the cultural center of Eurtec. The Verthandistadion comes into view. It's the biggest sports arena in any paracity. For tonight, it's been reconfigured into an inverted circular ziggurat, comprised of multiple concentric rings that get wider as they go higher.

"Oneiroi's products and their customers are the same thing. They analyze people and then sell them — likes, dislikes, medical history whatever they can find — to the highest bidder. And the lynchpin of their corporate strategy is the deathball betting house."

Alliott stabs the blueprint with a finger.

"They know exactly how to rig the predictions and hype up the pot. Everyone plays, everyone loses — except Oneiroi. They make a fat goddamn buck and scoop up petabytes of data to troll. But that ends tonight."

The stadium is packed. Everyone's looking forward to watching ICSUT and Anderson Robotics duke it out for the cup. ICSUT's Battlebots team has been perfecting their players for years, stuffing bigger and bigger death machines into smaller and smaller packages. Anderson has focused more on improving the viral payloads in their death ball robots that enable them to infect the competition and destroy it from the inside out.

The two teams have completely opposed strategies that brought them all the way to the finals, and it's anyone's guess as to who will win. With that kind of excitement on the line, it's no wonder that the lines for the automated bookies are massive. Alliott and I wait for two hours to place our bets. Of course, if what Alliott's been telling me is even remotely accurate, the real winner will be Oneiroi.

"All the betting machines in Eurtec are connected to a central server in Oneiroi's datacenter. We're going to break in and modify the bets so that Oneiroi has to pay everyone, no matter what they bet."

Alliott touches the south side on the blueprint.

"The security system is weird — I have what I need to hack the servers, but to get physical access to them, we have pull two switches at the same time — one in the basement, one on the sixty-sixth floor. The executive floors. I had someone on that but… they're indisposed."

"Which is where I come in," I say.

Alliott nods. "At 7:30 PM, I'll go in through the front door as a maintenance technician and get access to the basement. You'll be here — on the skyscraper across from the south side of the datacenter. Once I radio that I'm in position, you'll shoot a line across to the upper floors of the datacenter. Zipline in. From there, you have two tasks — one, pulling the switch, and two, getting everyone to evacuate."

She taps the center of the blueprint. "The switch is right in the middle of the floor. Impossible to miss. Once you pull it, just take a couple hostages, maybe shoot some people. Eris knows those bastards have it coming. I'll have someone supporting you from the rooftop. Just draw attention to yourself until I finish the hack, then shoot another line to the ground floor. Backup will be there with the Porsche. You two follow the rails out of the city and then just loop back in. We'll meet back here. Any questions?"

"Two."

We grab a bite to eat before making our way to the drop point. Over some cheap burgers, Alliott and I chat for a bit about our misadventures and run-ins with the law. I tell her about how the FLYPAPER almost got me at the Bank of Eurtec — she tells me about the time she decapitated one of Anderson's salesbots with a shovel and turned him into an oracle.

She is really fucking cool.

"Why do I need backup?" I ask.

"Last week Oneiroi contracted out their security to a private group called Chappell Wraith Securities. I haven't heard of these guys before, but I've heard their security forces are heavily augmented somehow. Better safe than sorry."

The name sends alarm bells blaring through my head, but I don't say anything. Doubtless Alliott's already aware of the name's implications.

"Who's my backup?"

"Someone I'd trust with my life."

Night finds me and Alliott rolling slowly through the corporate district of Eurtec. Mile-high colossi made of glass and steel vie for space in an overpopulated skyline. There's so much artificial lighting that it's perpetually daytime. Every day, billions of credits in any currency you care to imagine flow through this place. Here, corporations rise and fall. Here, a single decision can shape or destroy thousands of lives. Here, money can buy you time itself.

Alliott's car doesn't draw so much as a glance, even with the machine gun on the roof. She drops me off at the skyscraper across from Oneiroi before driving away to find a place to stash our ride. I make my way inside and climb the stairs to the roof to find Alliott waiting for me.

"I didn't know Alliott had a twin," I say.

"She doesn't. I'm Alex," Alliott's not-twin says. She looks identical to Alliott — the only difference is a small tattoo of a triangle inscribed in a circle on her cheek. Alex motions towards a harpoon gun leaning against a nearby vent. "Tie that off to the vent. There's a harness there, hook yourself up and get ready."

"Got it," I say.

While I'm hooking myself up to the zipline harness, Alliott's voice crackles through my earpiece. "You've met Alex?"

"She has." Alex's voice comes in both in front of me and through my earpiece.

"Great. Play nice. I'm making my way into the building… now."

Alex rolls up her sleeves to reveal an arm and leg prosthesis. She slides an assortment of parts from the limbs and starts assembling a sniper rifle.

For this heist, I've forgone my bike helmet for something more akin to a balaclava and a pair of goggles given to me by the Inside Man. The goggles have a rudimentary targeting system and brain-computer interface that jacks into my limbs and allows me to aim a lot more easily. Instead of having to aim down sights or compensate for recoil, I can just point and shoot. It helps me compensate for my total lack of occult firepower.

There's also a bunch of stuff that the Man shoved into the pack on my back. After the fuckup with the weeaboo-Nazi, he made sure I was loaded for bear. But for now all I need are the goggles.

I slip the balaclava and goggles over my eyes.

"I'm in position. Check?"

"Check," I say.

"Check," Alex says. She lies on her belly and takes aim with the rifle. I take aim with the harpoon gun.

"Alex. On your mark."

We fire at the same time.

Oneiroi, Inc.'s windows are bulletproof. But the thing that comes out of Alex's gun barely qualifies. It's a .50 caliber anti-matériel high-explosive incendiary, armor-piercing round — a baby missile that's designed to take out helicopters and armored vehicles. The shot blows out the central window on the south side of the sixty-sixth floor, as well as the windows directly above and around it, in a hail of glass.

The harpoon line flies through the air and latches itself somewhere on the floor. I give the line an experimental tug to make sure it won't come loose, then clip onto it, close my eyes, and start sliding. The wind rushes past my face but I don't open my eyes until I feel my feet on solid land again. I skid to a stop just before smacking into the pillar and unclip my harness. Then I pull out my Desert Eagle from my pack and fire a round into the ceiling.

"Listen up, pigs!" I call. "You've bent this city over and fucked it raw. The Chicago Spectre is here to fuck back!"

Being able to say stupid shit like that is one of the reasons I love my job.

I scan the floor for a convenient hostage and the switch. The executive offices of Oneiroi look like they were modeled off a stock photo labeled "office". It's a maze of individual office rooms and bland fluorescent lighting. Rich geriatrics in thousand-dollar clothes and ties cower in their business cells.

In the dead center of the room is a white pillar with a grey metal box on it. Doubtless that's the switch in question. Conveniently, there's an old man in a fancy black suit and striped tie frozen besides it. Even from here he exudes an aura of callous wealth.

I stride towards the switch and examine it. There's a keypad lock on it. I look over at the executive and put an arm around his shoulder.

"What's your name?" I ask.

"Barnard. Barnard Sachs," he stutters.

"Tell me, Barnard, what's your… what's your job title?"

"I'm the — I'm the chief technical officer."

"Fantastic! Barnard, what's the key code for this box?"

"I-I'm not at liberty to-"

"Ah-ah-ah, Barnard. We're friends here. And you wouldn't want to disappoint your friends, would you?" I press the gun barrel against his forehead. He swallows.

"Ah… n-no…"

"Then you wouldn't mind opening it, I'm sure." I take my free arm off of his shoulder and cock the hammer of the pistol. The click echoes in the silence.

Barnard swallows, then punches the code into the keypad.

"Thanks, Barney," I say. "On your knees or I'll blow your brains out."

Barnard falls to his knees. I open the metal box up. Inside is a large red handle labeled "DATA SERVER ACCESS".

"I'm in position," I say.

"Understood. On my mark," Alliott says through the earpiece. "Three…two…one…Now!"

I pull the handle. The room goes dark.

"Alliott? What's going on?"

"Don't use my name. I'm in."

"The lights went out."

"Wasn't me. Everything's green down here."

At that moment, the lights come back on and I find myself face-to-face with a flaming skeleton in a striped black suit.

"Fuck!" I fall onto my ass and roll behind a cubicle. All of the old people are possessed. Green flame pours out from their orifices.

I recognize that green flame. I have pills that do the same thing to me. The name Chappell Wraith Securities pops back into my head. And then everything clicks into place.

"Natasha… you fucking bitch!"

"Ruku!" the drones croon in unison. "I thought I killed you!"


NEXT: The Revelation


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