Kat screwed her eyes shut, activating Dazzle as soon as the door opened. Even through her clenched eyelids, the world erupted into a spray of red and yellow.
“The hell!” A woman yelled.
Kat opened her eyes, the fading afterimage from the blast of light dimmed her vision, but the black and white image of a man and woman in the doorway still came clear to her. The woman staggered sideways, disoriented and with an arm covering her face.
The man shouldered past his companion, his chromed over eyes glinting slightly in the darkness. From his slightly staggered gait, Kat could see that the spell affected the man. Unfortunately, it seemed that his cyber eyes were helping him fight off the disorienting impact of her spray of light.
He was able to bring his left arm up in time to catch the first thrown knife, the blade bouncing off of the steel beneath his synthetic skin with a metallic ‘clank.’ Kat tracked his right hand as it darted toward a holster with the jerky speed of cybernetically enhanced reflexes.
The second hit him square in the chest, sinking hilt deep into the man’s flesh, drawing a gasp of pain but failing to slow his hand as it ripped his semi automatic weapon free.
Kat’s eyes widened. The suit Xander and Nina had given her had some padding but that was mostly to cushion falls and minimize scrapes. It would not begin to stop a bullet.
Even as Kat tried to force her mana into another spell, the realization slammed into her. She was a half second from dead.
Adrenaline coursed through her body as Kat’s Pseudopod formed in mid air, lashing out toward the samurai as his hand blurred upward.
The gun roared, deafening in the tiny office. Then a second and a third time.
Kat slipped under the outstretched arm holding the gun even as her knife slid up into the man's inner thigh, tearing through flesh and his femoral artery. A second later, her shoulder hit him in the chest, folding him over from the force of the blow.
Behind her, the female guard staggered backward, a trio of holes in her torso and a look of shock on her face. Kat’s Pseudopod remained wrapped around the man’s wrist, redirecting his aim.
The two of them slammed into the hallway, the injured male guard going over backward with Kat on top of him. The breath whooshed out of him as they hit the floor, her shoulder planted in his solar plexus.
Before he could react, Kat pulled her knife out of his leg and planted it into his stomach before rolling away. Almost in slow motion, the man swiped at her with his concealed cyberarm while her Pseudopod temporarily pinned his gun hand to the ground.
“Kat!” Whippoorwill was shouting at her, but it was distant, like someone talking at the end of a hallway. “I’m getting reports of gunshots! What’s happening in there!”
The man ripped his hand free of the Pseudopod. As useful as the tentacle was, it was still made of water. Maybe when Kat had a higher level in it, the water pressure would actually be able to restrain an adult that was seriously trying to escape, but until then it could only slow and redirect an opponent.
Her foot on the other hand was completely solid as Kat’s snap kick slammed into the gun, sending it flying wide with a crunch of broken fingers.
The gun clattered to the ground, halfway down the hallway as Kat hopped backward, her final throwing knife in hand as the man lurched to his feet. He looked at his mangled hand and grimaced as he tried to form a fist.
The guard ripped the knife out of his gut, unleashing a torrent of blood onto the dark floor of the waste disposal center. Kat took a step backward, trying to blend into the darkness.
Her nightvision hadn’t flipped back, meaning there was minimal outside light. Given how much the guard was bleeding, the battle was already over. The only question was whether the chromed up thug would be able to hurt her before blood loss stopped him.
The guard lunged toward her, arms wide while he held her knife awkwardly. Once again, her Pseudopod wrapped itself around his wrist, pulling it upward just enough that Kat could slip under it, dragging her throwing knife through the tender flesh of his bicep.
The throwing knife didn’t have as long of a blade or as firm a grip, but it was more than enough to leave a deep line in his skin that began weeping blood almost immediately.
Once again, her right shoulder hit him. Her arm snaked around his torso, fingers balling themselves in his belt around her knife. Then her leg swept forward before hooking around and slapping into the back of his knees.
Unbalanced, he fell backward, slamming into the floor once again, this time with Kat standing over him. Frantically, she pulled out her new pistol thumbing off the safety and pulling the trigger.
The gun jerked even before it fired as Kat used too much force, the adrenaline coursing through her body erasing her very basic shooting lessons Despite literally standing over the winded man, Kat’s bullet caused his shoulder to erupt in a spray of sparks as it struck off of his concealed chrome rather than his lungs.
A second shot missed entirely, but the third shattered his collar bone. Not at all where she was aiming, but enough to stop him from regaining his footing.
Distantly, Kat heard Whippoorwill screaming at her, but rather than respond, she twisted her body and landed a kick on the guard, crushing his nose under her heal and causing his eyes to roll back up into his as he slipped back to the ground.
Without missing a beat Kat flipped the safety back on her gun and grabbed her combat knife. Grabbing the man by his hair, she fought back heaving inside her sealed suit as she drew it across his throat, finishing him.
“Kat!” Whippoorwill’s voice finally registered. “I’ve blocked outgoing traffic but you need to talk to me. What’s happening! All of the guards are going crazy!”
“I got jumped by two guards,” Kat replied, slightly surprised to find herself partially out of breath. “I tried to distract them with a bright flash so I could disable them, but one of them had cyber eyes and it didn’t work. Fucker had a chrome arm and juiced reflexes too. I’m all right, but there’s no way that guy was just contracted security.”
Kat looked down at the expiring guard. Everything about him, from the way he’d reacted immediately to her ambush to the instincts that let him slap the knife away from his face screamed high end. The shaved head and tattoo of a knife with six blood drops falling from it on his neck all but confirmed that he was a samurai.
“Commander?” Kat asked, grabbing the man’s gun, a high end forty five repeater with wireless smart eye hook, “You know the crews better than me. This guy had a black knife on his neck, six drops of blood on it.”
“Fuck,” the older woman practically spat the word. “Steel and Blood. Check the other guard. Now.”
“Same knife, not filled in and no blood,” Kat confirmed, crouching over the glassy eyed woman’s corpse where she lay slumped against the wall just inside the door. “Tell me what I’m looking at here.”
“This isn’t just some small time team Kat,” Nina sighed through the earpiece. “The good news is that you’ve just earned yourself a name. We can figure that out later. That usually means a number of dramatic victories or taking down someone with a name and a rep in a fair fight.
“The bad news is that the man you just brought down has six confirmed kills for other named street samurai,” Nina said grimly, “You don’t need to worry about the other guard. They were just an initiate, exactly the sort of newbie I would expect a crew the size of Steel and Blood to be using on night detail.”
“But the guy you just killed had a name and a reputation,” she continued heavily. “We can figure out who he is later, but if Steel and Blood is going to invest someone with his seniority on the waste disposal site, there’s definitely something going on there.”
“Given the noise, we probably need to abort the mission, but-” Nina left the word hanging.
For a second, Kat chewed her lip staring at the pair of bodies on the floor. If she was fighting proper street samurai, she was in over her head. Named Samurai were a big deal. All of them had a reputation for ruthless efficiency as well as stories regarding their prowess exchanged on the public information networks. Some people even built fan clubs around some of the more charismatic samurai’s exploits.
More importantly to her, every named samurai she could think of either had chrome or was a player. A good number were both. In all likelihood they would be faster, better equipped and more ruthless than her.
On the other hand, this would probably be their only chance. She’d been caught breaking in once already and Donnst would triple security as soon as she had word. The memos on their own weren’t enough to prove anything. Even if Kat got access to the building’s encrypted files, there wasn’t a promise that they would contain what she needed. She could give up now or risk her life on the possibility that there might be information that could harm Donnt or Daniels on site.
“How many are there Whippoorwill?” Kat asked, clenching her eyes shut. God was this reckless.
“Just a second,” the young woman’s voice sounded hurried over the earpiece. “I just need to see if I can get access to…” her voice trailed off entirely.
“Kat,” the tone of Nina’s voice was almost conciliatory as a change in the sound quality indicated that she was coming through on a direct line. “Remember to check them for credits. This isn’t the arcology. Samurai know better than to trust an electronic account that can get hacked. They’re going to have hard credits on them, and you’ve earned them. Just remember to tip out Whippoorwill at the end of the night.
“Word of advice,” she chuckled, “no one, samurai or infiltrator wants to go on an operation with disgruntled and underpaid support at their back. That’s how ‘accidents’ happen.”
“I’m in!” Whippoorwill interrupted, the slight increase in static indicated she was using a public channel. “Oh. Oh wow. I have access to their entire security system now.”
“Kat,” the girl continued, “I think I can see the outside of the secure facility you’re trying to get into and it looks like a vault. A lot of steel, cameras everywhere, and a card scanner. I… I don’t think I’ll be able to get you in, it’s on an entirely different network.”
“It’s fine Whippoorwill,” Kat responded soothingly. “I picked up a keycard in the office I came in through. Just tell me what I’m looking at for security.”
“Uhmm…” Whippoorwill trailed off for a second. “It looks like there were eight people here. You’ve killed two, but there’s another six operating in pairs. Other than two of them in the hardened security command center that are trying to bypass me so they can get a call out, there are two pairs of guards converging on your position.”
“Whippoorwill,” Nina cut in. “The security center will probably have a metal door with automatic locks. Can you lock those two in and then cut them out of the network completely?”
“Ooooh!” Whippoorwill replied excitedly. “That’s a good idea, just give me a second.”
“Kat,” Nina’s voice jolted her from counting the credits in both of the dead samurais’ pockets. Quietly she slipped the remaining proceeds into her pouch. There would be time for that later. “Do you think you can take two at a time? If Whippoorwill can guide us, you should be able to get the drop on them, but this is up to you and your confidence in your abilities.”
Kat exhaled, closing her eyes slightly to feel her mana levels. She preferred The Tower of Somnus where all she’d have to do is call up her status sheet. Guesswork over something as essential as her mana and stamina levels didn’t really sit right with her, but what else was she going to do.
She opened them again. Not quite full, but the delay had given her a chance to recharge a bit.
“I can handle two if I’m careful,” Kat responded. “The reflexes of a cheetah and the strength of a gorilla don’t really mean much if I can slit your throat before you even know I’m there.”
“That’s the spirit girl,” Nina chuckled. “Look, I’ve got a feed from the building’s cameras. You already earned your name tonight, but if we’re gonna start putting some weight behind that name you’re going to have some footage to back it up. Let’s see how impressive you can make your debut.”
Kat nodded absently. A reputation would be nice, but that was hardly a major concern right now. Four people were coming for her. All armed and she could barely use a gun.
She exhaled shakily. She could do this. The right spell at the right time and-
“They’re locked in,” Whippoorwill broke Kat out of her reverie. “But one of the teams just made it to the second floor, they’re coming from the South toward your position Kat.”
“Left or Right,” Kat hissed. “I don’t have a compass up here.”
“Oh!” The girl exclaimed. “Sorry, turn ninety degrees to your left. They’re making their way over right now. One has a shotgun and the other has a machine pistol, both have flashlights on their guns.”
Kat winced, sizing up the hallway in the direction that Whippoorwill had indicated she moved a hundred or so paces down it, slipping into a janitor’s closet and leaving the inward opening door ajar. Quietly, she slipped her body into the thin space between the open door and the closet’s wall. The last thing she needed was for sudden noise of a creaky hinge to alert her quarry.
“Let me know when they are within one hundred paces with one click,” Kat whispered, closing her eyes and attempting to regulate her breathing. “Let me know when they’ve passed me with two clicks.”
“But Kat,” Whippoorwill blurted out, “they’re checking each room they pass by. If you try that, they’ll spot you! You can’t-”
“They won’t see me,” Kat responded in a hurried whisper, “but they might hear you. One click when near, two clicks when they walk by. No more talking until this is done.”
“But-” Whippoorwill began only for Nina to cut her off.
“Your infiltrator gave you an order,” her voice was stern. “You’ve given her the relevant information she needs, but it’s Kat’s head on the line. Either she’s as good at hiding as she thinks she is, or she’s dead. Radio silence girls.”
Kat kept her eyes closed, counting her breaths. Every creak or groan of the old building sent a jolt down her spine, but she kept herself from moving.
Then she heard it. The creak of the wooden floor under a footstep. A door opening. Ten seconds later another door opened.
Kat had to force herself to breath.
Her earpiece clicked, and Kat focused, letting her mana flow into the darkness around her as she cast Shadow.
The footsteps came closer. She almost felt like she could sense the two samurai outside the door.
Kat stopped breathing, letting her body lapse into absolute stillness even as she finally opened her eyes.
Without warning, someone stepped into the room with her, sweeping its confines quickly with a flashlight mounted under the barrel of a shotgun. He was only a hair taller than her, thin but wearing full riot armor with a trauma plate.
Her instincts demanded that she knock the gun aside and stab the wiry man before he could spot her, but the spell held. Between her secluded location, the natural darkness of the room and her magic, even though he briefly ran the light over her, the gunman didn’t notice anything.
Five seconds later she was alone in the closet once more. Kat still wouldn’t let herself breath. Even if he hadn’t seen her, a lot of street samurai tweaked their hearing to let them identify hidden threats. Any noise could betray her.
“Clear,” she barely heard the man whisper the word to his partner before their footsteps began to recede down the hallway.
When her earpiece clicked twice, Kat exhaled, slipping around the door and sucking in cool, welcome air as she stepped out into the passageway.
Two men walked toward the body she’d left outside the manager’s office, the man with the machine pistol a couple of steps behind his partner, covering him. Every one of their steps filled with graceful professionalism, like a pair of wolves stalking wounded prey.
They weren’t the only predators in the building that night. Kat activated Cat Step, burning stamina to deaden the sound of her passing as she rapidly approached the two of them. A soundless blob of moving darkness.
At the last moment, her dagger glowed red briefly as Kat activated Penetrate. In one smooth motion, her left hand clamped itself over the man’s mouth while the blade slid seamlessly through the subdermal metal plate protecting the man’s skull, the skull itself and into his brain.
The man jerked once and went slack. Kat quietly lowered him to the ground, trying to regulate her breathing as she felt her energy waning from the successive use of combat skills.
“I don’t like this Adrian,” the man in front of her whispered, looking at the dead body covered in cuts on the floor. “I don’t want to fuck with anyone that can take Jorge out, but we should have seen something by now. It’s too quiet up here.”
Her dagger slid up under his right arm, just between the trauma plate he wore on his chest and the composite riot armor covering his arm. With a yank she ripped her knife out, slicing open his subclavian artery.
He whirled around, blood flowing down his side and shotgun held at chest level only to find Kat almost touching him and already beneath the weapon.
The dead man’s machine pistol in her left hand touched his knee. She pressed the trigger and winced as the almost complete silence of the second floor was interrupted by the chatter crack of the pistol firing almost ten rounds in a second.
Even at point blank range, almost half of them missed. The recoil surprised Kat and the gun jerked upward putting a quartet of holes in the building’s cheap drywall.
Of the remaining bullets, a couple ricocheted wildly off of the gunman’s ceramic composite armor plates, but the remainder turned his leg into hamburger.
His shotgun fell from his hands as he fell to the ground, bleeding and screaming. Kat jumped on top of him and pushed his helmet back, jamming her knife through his now exposed chin, up into his head.
“They heard that Kat!” Whippoorwill shouted into her earpiece. “Both of them are running your way right now!”
“Where from?” Kat growled, pulling her knife from the body just after the jerking stopped.
“Sorry, Sorry!” The girl apologized. “Uhh one hundred and eighty degrees. They’re running up a stairwell behind you right now.”
Kat snagged the man’s shotgun and began running the opposite direction. She might be able to take a samurai by surprise, but a head to head fight didn’t favor Kat. In fact, that seemed like a very good way to die.
“Shit!” Whippoorwill shouted. “Hallway to your right, NOW Kat.
Without thinking, Kat threw herself down the hallway just as the explosive rattle of full automatic fire halfway deafened her. The doorframe she’d just ran through exploded into puffs of plaster and white dust as the gunfire ripped it to shreds.
The gunfire stopped just long enough for Kat to breathe a sigh of relief.
“Incoming Kat!” Whippoorwill practically shouted in her ear. “Oh God he’s fast! I think he’s almost all chrome.”
Before Kat could ask a question, a man burst around the corner, his jacket flapping freely and revealing the heavily altered body underneath.
He was almost all chrome. Both of his arms and legs were completely replaced, and he was moving with a speed she’d only seen from cars. Perhaps most worryingly, both of his hands ended in a trio of long and deadly sharp cutting blades.
As soon as he saw her, the man grinned madly revealing a mouth full of razor sharp metal teeth. He crossed his arms in front of himself and launched his body at Kat.
The shotgun bucked against her shoulder, the buckshot mostly missing her assailant, and the pellets that hit did little more than spark off of his metal arms and stagger the man.
She dodged to the side, just fast enough to avoid being opened up by his claws, but not quickly enough to prevent his other hand from slamming down on the shotgun, knocking it out of her grip. It slammed into the floor, the barrel twisted from the force of his strike.
Kat backpedaled, her knife in hand as her eyes widened, flicking from the wrecked weapon to the abomination that stood in front of her.
“You bitch,” He buzzed, twitching jerkily as his nervous system sputtered under the input from all of his chrome. “You fucking shot me.”
“I’ll boil your eyes in your skull for that,” he lurched drunkenly toward her, his eyes rolling briefly up into his head before he suddenly focused on her with laser-like intensity.
He blurred toward her, faster than anything she’d seen in The Tower of Somnus, all metal and spikes. Frantically, she hit him with Dehydrate, depleting her dwindling mana reserves further.
Her assailant jerked to the side, slamming through the drywall and out onto a balcony overseeing the main processing floor of the waste disposal plant. He whipped around, hissing, as he settled into a low crouch.
Kat whipped a throwing knife at him only for the man to knock it from the air with two of his claws with almost contemptuous ease.
“Knives and spells,” he cocked his head, almost ninety degrees, his fanged mouth pulled back into an unnaturally wide smile. “I know you!”
“The Kitty Kat,” a laugh bubbled from his throat. “That’s who you are. The young mistress told us that you’d come here. Sniffing around where you don’t belong. Too bad I’ll kill you before curiosity gets its chance”
She drew the forty caliber pistol and opened fire. Her aim was terrible, but the samurai blurred into motion anyway, running in a zig zag across the balcony until the slide of her gun locked open without a single bullet coming within an arm’s length of her opponent.
Then he sprinted toward her.
Kat poured mana into another spell as she backpedaled, her knife held in front of her like a talisman as he closed the distance between them in an eyeblink before Levitation took hold.
Chrome meant weight. The samurai easily outmassed her five to one, but he moved like a cheetah addled with street drugs. He could only achieve that sort of speed with leg actuators tuned for power.
That power worked against him as his weight suddenly dropped. Rather than tackling Kat and flensing her, he slammed into the ceiling with enough force to concuss himself before dropping to the ground half blinded by the insulation raining down on him.
He was only stunned for a fraction of a second, but that was enough
Kat’s knife, burning with the last of her stamina, punched through the side of his neck severing arteries, his trachea, and cutting through most of his spine. His body twitched, inspiring her to jump off of him, but it was a false alarm. The last gasp of a nervous system he’d already fried by overclocking it with too much chrome.
He stared at Kat balefully opening his mouth to spit some retort at her, but only letting out an angry whistle.
“His partner is almost there,” Whippoorwill’s voice jolted her. “A big guy in riot armor with a squad operated machine gun. I think you need to move.”
Kat’s lungs screamed at her as she ripped her knife from the downed man’s neck, leaving him to die on his own, and ran out onto the balcony. Quickly she found another doorway, and darted into the doorframe.
For a couple all important seconds she heaved for breath, sweat soaking her inside the sealed suit. Then, Kat heard footsteps coming down the hallway where she’d fought the previous samurai.
“Snake?” A deep male voice questioned. “Aw hell. Looks like you’re done for buddy. Maybe if we could call a street doc, but comms are down.”
“They went onto the walkway?” Kat cursed to herself as the fatally injured man helped her final opponent, almost from beyond the grave. “Sleep tight buddy. I’ll get ‘em for you.”
A blast of machine gun fire sawwed back and forth across the hole in the drywall that Kat had jumped through. Another trickle of fear coursed down her spine. If she’d been lying in wait to jump him, that would have cut her in half.
The big man ducked through the opening and stepped onto the balcony. He was covered in head to toe matte black riot armor. Unlike the man with the shotgun that Kat had fought, his armor had more than one silver streak across it where it had taken and deflected a bullet.
Whatever it was made of, it could at very minimum shrug off pistol fire. Even if she still had her handgun, it was absolutely useless. Hell, even with Penetrate, Kat suspected that the armor plates covering the man were thick enough to prevent her combat knife from being much more than an annoyance.
He hefted his rifle, a belt fed monstrosity, fed from a giant ammo box strapped to the man’s back. Kat pressed herself flush against the door as her opponent swept the gun back and forth.
“Look,” the man’s deep voice was almost pleasant. “I know you couldn’t have gotten that far. Just come on out. I’m not a psycho like Snake. I won’t torture you for no good reason. Quick and clean.”
Kat held still, her mana and stamina slowly recharging.
“Come on,” he wheedled, “you can see how I’m kitted out. Your gun is empty and your knife isn’t going to be much use. Whoever you are, you put up a good fight. Your crew can be proud of your performance, but it’s over.”
Seconds passed in silence.
“Last chance,” the man pulled the giant rifle up to his shoulder. “If you don’t come out now, I won’t make it quick. I’ll let you bleed out like you did with Snake.”
Kat’s mana pool ticked upward, the final point she needed for her plan slotting into place.
“Suit yourself,” the armored man shrugged before opening fire with the machine gun. Bullets traced up the walls of the plant, knocking fist sized holes in the wall.
Kat broke from cover, sprinting in a zig zag toward the final samurai even as mana flowed out of her, casting Levitation on him.
Suddenly, his gunfire was knocking his newl lighter body off balance, causing him to stagger backward. He stumbled back toward the railing of the balcony, his rifle tracing a line of fire up the wall and into the building’s ceiling, bullets sparking off of metal rafters as the heavy weapon began to tear them up.
She grabbed him by one leg, and lifted, slamming her shoulder into his chest simultaneously.
Almost in slow motion, the faceless samurai flipped over the railing, falling face first toward the industrial equipment of the processing floor below.
Kat squinted, eliminating Levitation and switching it to Gravity’s Grasp just as he truly began his descent. Almost two seconds later, he landed with a crunch, his head twisted at an impossible angle.
She just stared, breathing heavily, but the warrior didn’t move.
“Holy Shit,” Nina’s voice echoed in her ears. “Xan mentioned you were a player, but I don’t think any of us knew you could do THAT.”
“I’d prefer not to need to again,” Kat croaked, pulling herself from the railing. “Now someone lead me to the secure operations vault. Let’s hope it was worth all this hassle.”
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Bio: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the streets at dawn looking for an angry fix of machine translated light novels, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night