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A note from Cocop (Cale Plamann)

I apologize for the delay.  I got my second vaccine on Saturday and it was... pretty dang rough.  I still have a headache and some malaise but I'm "more or less upright" at the moment.

Almost done with Book Two!

Obligatory Top Web Fiction shilling...

Xander’s rifle barked twice and the guard that rounded the corner dropped, hole in the faceplate of their helmet. Another stepped into the open only for Kat to fire a three round burst from her stolen weapon, missing wildly but forcing the figure to dart back behind cover.

Kat let loose a burst of stamina, pouring it into Cat Step as she blurred forward. At the last second she dropped to the ground, letting her moment carry her past the wall.

She could almost see the blank look of surprise on the security officer’s face as her left arm grabbed them around the ankle, pulling Kat close enough to ram her knife through the side of his knee with the help of Penetrate.

The armored guard collapsed in a bellow of pain, Kat taking a brief second to straddle them and cut their throat as Xander jogged past. She snagged her rifle from the floor, and a moment later she was matching time with him, breath coming a tad unevenly from the expenditure of stamina.

Still, she’d used a lot of mana getting to this point, and it was almost certain that she’d need more to get out. Even if Kat didn’t end up needing to fight her way into the vault, she’d likely need mana to cast Levitation so that the five of them could jump out windows and escape. Spending stamina in order to conserve mana for later only made sense.

“Left!” Whippoorwill’s voice erupted in her ear. “Turn left now! There’s a VIP and a squad of five guards heading toward you right now.”

Xander grunted, planting his foot on the tile floor and juking sideways into the small hallway. Kat followed a second later, a gunshot and some shouting chasing her down the narrow passage.

“We’ve been made, Whip!” She shouted in between quick gasps, offices rushing past her.

“I see that!” Whippoorwill responded, agitation coloring her voice as a rifle fired in the background only to be silenced by the thump of a heavy weapon.

“Just come in here and try it!” Merrimac thundered, his voice distant and tinny. “I’ve got fourteen milimeters of ‘sudden and forceful employment termination’ with your names on it right here.”

“Uhhh left again,” Whip’s voice in Kat’s ear sounded distracted as more gunfire was picked up by her mic. “Wait shit! Right, go right. There should be a fire escape at the end of the hallway.”

The plaster next to Kat exploded as a gun fired three times in short succession behind them. Xander reached out with his right arm, grabbing the wall to help him turn as they came upon the cross hallway.

Kat followed him, almost sighing with relief as she took in the welcome sight of the emergency exit at the end of the hall. Then, she glanced side to side and frowned.

“Uh Whip?” She asked as Xander ran up to the doorway. “This hallway is a dead end.”

“Kinda busy Erinyes.” Kat winced, gunfire almost deafening her as Whippoorwill opened fire on a hot mic.

Xander swiped the keycard they’d pulled off the guard on the second floor through the lock on the door.

“Fuck!” He shouted, “Insufficient access?”

He kneeled down, pulling a knife out and popping the metal faceplate off of the lock.

“Erinyes,” he grunted, shoving his hands into the mess of wires and computer chips that powered the system. “I need you to hold them off, this is going to be a minute.”

“With what?” Kat frantically searched the dead end. “An improvised machine gun made out of a filing cabinet and a stapler? There’s six of them!”

“Grenade on my belt,” he replied distractedly. “Use it.”

“Are you fucking kidding-” Kat muttered, lunging toward Xander and unclipped the metal orb just as the first of the armored security guards rounded the corner.

She burned some of her saved mana, casting Dazzle to stun the guard and their companion. A crackling cone of light appeared in the air, roughly at head level and a moment later they slammed blindly into each other even as Kat hefted the primed grenade toward the intersection.

The two security officers went down in a heap, tripping a third as they ran around the corner, arm up and covering their facemask.

The grenade detonated spraying shrapnel over the three prone forms. Kat didn’t take any chances, going down to one knee and putting her stolen rifle to her shoulder. She exhaled, closing one eye as she lined up the three dots of the iron sight.

Another guard popped around the corner, and she was ready, a three round burst catching him in the upper chest and shoulder. The bullets sparked as they hit his heavy ceramic armor. Kat couldn’t see whether any of the bullets had managed to penetrate one of the thinner joints or limb protectors, but the soldier went down and that was good enough for now.

The quiet thump-thump-thump of a grenade launcher was all the warning Kat got before a trio of metal spheres ricocheted off of a wall and into the narrow hallway with her.

She sprang backward, burning some of her dwindling stamina on Leaping in order to clear the area where the grenades landed.

They exploded, far enough from her that the kevlar she was wearing under her infiltration suit was able to save her life, but near enough that she could feel the hammer blows of shrapnel slamming into her as the blast swatted her from the air like a troublesome mosquito.

Kat hit the ground, skidding acrossing the tiles as the front of her body blossomed with pain. As soon as she bled enough momentum, Kat sat up. Her rifle was missing, tossed somewhere in the explosion.

She drew her pistol, and stared down the hallway. She couldn’t see anything. The passage was filled with smoke and plaster dust from the ravaged walls.

Wincing at her growing bruises, Kat kicked off the floor pushing herself near the wall as she cast Shadow to hide her outline. Then, she pulled herself painfully into a crouch, unsilenced pistol at the ready.

Given the quality of the weapons and armor worn by the security officers, Kat wasn’t overly hopeful that her gun would do much. The lower caliber, higher velocity gun performed much better against armor than her heavy and slow silenced pistol, but if a rifle struggled to penetrate the guard’s chest armor, the handgun would be about as useful as a slingshot.

Still, she brought the gun up in a two handed grip as a silhouette loomed in the hallway, slingshots had their uses.

Her target had switched out the grenade launcher for a submachine gun. They lifted the weapon, sighting past her at Xander while he hunched over the lock to the emergency exit.

Kat’s first shot hit the soldier’s faceplate, snapping their head backward. Her second and third shots missed, unfortunate but hardly unanticipated given the poor visibility and chaotic circumstances.

Still, even if the follow up shot hadn’t hit the thinner armor in the suit’s neck crease, the headshot did enough. The officer staggered backward, slapping a hand to the spot where Kat’s bullet had hit his helmet.

She dropped her gun, springing forward and activating Cat Step to take advantage of the guard’s moment of distraction. Kat’s face froze in a rictus of pain as the bruises covering her front erupted in agony, but in that split second her training took over. The knife sprang into her hand as Kat closed the last couple of steps between herself and the security officer.

The guard began swinging their gun around, trying to draw a bead on the rapidly approaching amorphous blob of darkness. Kat ducked, feeling the wind from the passage of the bullet pluck at her back as she darted in, under their extended arm, and brought her knife up into the weaker armor of the officer’s armpit.

Her knife glowed red for a fraction of a second as Kat activated penetrate, forcing her blade through a seam in the armor. Her right leg lashed out, swinging forward before catching the security officer in the back of their knees even as her shoulder slammed upward into their chest.

The guard went down, Kat landing on top of them, their gun skittering off into the choking mist of smoke and sust.

Before her opponent could react, Kat was rewarded with a spray of arterial blood when she ripped her knife out of the guard. Her left hand thrust upward, slamming the downed person under the chin of their helmet and snapping their head back before jamming the knife into her target’s neck.

For a second Kat just sat there, straddling her opponent with her infiltration suit covered in blood, some of it her own. Then, she remembered the remaining guards, probably only stunned and injured by the single grenade.

Hissing in pain, she rolled the dead guard over, freeing their grenade launcher. A quick check revealed that the six round belt still had three shots remaining.

Kat brought the weapon to her shoulder and emptied the belt, bracketing the intersection with explosions as the grenades went off one after another. Hopefully that would be enough to wound any of the survivors badly enough that they would stay down.

She stood up slowly, biting her lip against the waves of pain radiating across the front of her body. The spent grenade launcher fell to the ground with a clatter as Kat squinted into the smoke, searching for any movement.

“Got it,” Xander said behind her, the lock on the door clunking open.

Kat sighed in relief turning around only to throw herself to the side as her senses screamed danger. A spray of liquid splattered against the ceramic tiles just past where she once stood, hissing and bubbling as they rapidly eroded the floor.

“Erinyes.” Whip’s voice echoed in her ear, dripping with worry. “The VIP is almost on top of you. You need to get out of there now.”

A bald man walked out of the smoke, covered in dust from the shattered walls. He wore a bullet proof vest and little else, but on the other hand, there was little else to cover. All four of his limbs were chrome, polished to a shiny silver sheen under the clinging plaster.

“I think I found him,” Kat whispered back. Distantly she heard the fire door sliding shut behind her.

He grinned, a mechanical arm, fixed somewhere in his back raised above his left shoulder like a scorpion’s tail. “Missed, eh?”

The man’s voice was raspy, like he smoked two packs of cigarettes a day. His face twitched as he scanned Kat’s battered form. He’d clearly broken the Wierzbeck Limit years ago, and never looked back.

“Name’s Eli.” the metal ‘arm’ darted past his shoulder, its four fingers blossoming open to reveal a thumb-sized nozzle. “Eli Crow of Millennium. And you must be Erinyes.”

The spigot on the mechanical arm dripped, a line of clear liquid landing on the floor where it hissed, burning a lumpy divot into the tile.

“Huh.” He shrugged. “From all of the stories, I thought you’d be taller.”

Kat blinked at him, unmoving, her hand gripped tightly around the hilt of her blood-stained knife.

“Sorry, I guess?” She replied, eyes on Eli as she waited for the slightest twitch to betray that he was making a move.

“No matter.” He sighed laconically, face twitching once more. “Mister Jackson has put out a fairly impressive bounty on you and Exe. Once I’m done with you-”

“Duck.” Xander’s voice whispered in her ear, and Kat didn’t stop to think, she just reacted, throwing her injured torso to the ground as the fire door hissed open behind her.

The pain of hitting the tiles stole Kat’s breath even as Xander emptied his rifle into the Millennium samurai. A blast of acid missed wildly, spraying the walls of the corridor as sparks erupted from Crow’s head and chest.

Most of the bullets simply creased the metal of the samurai’s chrome limbs, pushing him back a handful of steps. At least a couple tore through his vest, shattering the ceramic trauma plate underneath and digging into what remained of Crow’s chest.

Kat gathered her mana and began casting Dehydrate. The gunshots were clearly hurting her opponent, but they weren’t dealing enough damage. Already, Crow was beginning to recover, leaning into the bullets like they were a windstorm, metal arms covering his face.

Just as Xander’s magazine ran dry, she finished the spell, targeting her opponent’s head and neck. This time there was a reaction.

Eli dropped to his knees, hands clawing at his face. Kat knew from experience that her spell had attacked the greatest source of moisture available, the tender membranes of his eyes and throat.

With a grunt, she pushed herself up into a crouch and lunged forward, trying to ignore the burning pain that filled her body. Kat’s dagger flashed red, using the last dregs of her stamina to power her Penetrate perk and saw off the end of the mechanical hand sprouting from the samurai’s back.

Almost immediately, clear acid began to bubble up through the metal limb, the valve that normally controlled its release lying on the floor along with her enemy’s metal hand. Kat wrenched the limb to the side, pointing it at the writhing samurai just as it unleashed a torrent of liquid death.

He screamed, arms freezing in place as the acid burned through their armor plating and fried control mechanisms. A moment later, the scream cut off as the vapor from the liquid seared his lungs, stealing their function and forcing the man to aspirate.

“Quit playing around Erinyes,” Whippoorwill’s voice interrupted her, screaming and gunfire audible over her friend’s mic. “More guards are converging on your location. Exe and you need to get moving, now.”

She dropped the convulsing body, sprinting toward the now open fire door where Xander had been hiding. As soon as she joined him in the stairwell, the door slid shut behind her. Without saying anything Xander drew a pistol, unloading three shots into the keypad from the inside.

“Up three floors,” Whip cut in, an explosion followed by what sounded like Hestia’s maniacal laughter drowning her out for a moment. “There’s a service elevator on a different network. I can’t control it, but it doesn’t look like they’ve managed to lock it down.”

Kat glanced at Xander, and the older man shrugged. As dangerous as being trapped in an elevator sounded, they’d only managed to make it two floors. At this rate there was absolutely no way in hell that they’d make it all the way to the thirty second floor.

Then the two of them took off, pounding up the metal steps of the emergency exit. They made it to the service elevator without any major problems, a trio of lost guards the only resistance as Whippoorwill managed to guide them past all other major concentrations of security.

New rifles salvaged from the dead patrol, Kat and Xander entered the elevator together. Kat panted for breath as Xander hit the stylized ‘32’ button that would bring them to their desired floor. Her mana reserves were almost three fourths full, but the hard run to avoid security hadn’t given her much of a chance to replenish her stamina.

She closed her eyes and leaned back against the padded wall of the elevator, panting for breath. The machine ‘dinged’ to let them know they’d gone up a floor.

“You know, I think we’re just going to pull this off Erinyes.”

Kat opened her eyes to see Xander pulling his mask off. His hair was soaked with sweat, matted to the top and sides of his head, but his eyes burned with an eager and excited light.

“We’re moving too fast for the defenses to pin us down,” he continued, removing the magazine from his gun to check how many rounds he had remaining. “Plus, there are about half as many guards as there should be. The riots in Chiwaukee and Schaumburg seem to be preventing reinforcements. Plus, once we manage to get the information to Whip, Merrimac can use his connections with the Haupts. I wouldn’t be surprised if half of the guards in here were ordered to arrest Elaine. There’ll be more than enough chaos for us to escape.”

She rolled her eyes, pressing a hand to the tender flesh of her stomach where one of the shrapnel pieces had been caught by her kevlar.

“I’m in a building full of hostile corporate security, all of whom are better armed than me,” Kat began incredulously. “I’m not sure if my ribs are broken after a near miss from a grenade, but they sure hurt like they’re broken, and you’re telling me that everything is going to work out?”

“What can I say?” Xander winked at her. “I’m just a half glass full kind of guy. Just keep your head down and trust your instincts. You’ll get out of here in one piece. I promise you.”

“Thanks I guess?” Kat shook her head.

The elevator dinged one final time, doors opening onto what appeared to be an industrial sized laundry room.

“Good talk.” Xander smiled, slapping her on the shoulder before he stepped out onto the thirty second floor.

Kat followed him. After the chaos of the lower levels, the building was eerily quiet. Apparently most of the security had been sent down to deal with the five of them, and the same mandatory lockouts that prevented them from using ordinary elevators prevented the corporate guards from following them.

It was only a matter of time before the security forces figured out how Xander and Kat had bypassed them and replicated the trick, but for the moment, the two of them made it to the vault unimpeded.

The entrance to the secure storage was a massive metal door at the end of a hallway. Still, it may as well have been a continent away given the dozens of visible, laser triggered traps that lined the walls of the corridor. For almost a minute, the two of them stared at it in silence. Without Whip to disable the defenses, they were in trouble.

Finally, Kat sighed as an idea came to her. It was risky, but she had enough mana.

“Exe?” Xander glanced back. He’d been chewing his lip, trying to figure out a way through the maze of defenses. “You’re better at disabling security than me. It burns up a lot of mana, but I can cast Mirage on you twice. That should be enough to curve light around you for a couple of seconds, so long as the laser is only hitting an extremity.”

“That’s long enough for me to get to the lock mechanism.” He nodded thoughtfully.

She cast the spell once, causing the air to blur around him, like she was looking at the man through a fun house mirror. The second time, Xander’s appearance morphed further, his body thinning and almost becoming insubstantial.

Then he was off, Kat watching him with worry as he acrobatically twisting his way through the maze of lasers en route to the other end. Despite his best efforts, at least three times, she saw the ghost of one of his limbs pass through one of the lasers.

Her spell held. After fifteen tense seconds, Xander made it to the other side

The lock itself took almost three minutes. By the end, Xander was pulling gear out of his pouch that Kat had only heard hints of on information channels. She just shook her head in appreciation. She might be an infiltrator, but Xander was absolutely an expert.

Finally, with a chunk, the door hissed open a crack. Xander put his shoulder into it, straining to push the heavy plate of metal aside so that he could slip into the vault.

Then, Kat stood alone in the pristine hallway. Once again, she felt terribly out of place. The floor under her feet was polished marble, and the walls were paneled with stained and treated hardwood. Even the fanciest rooms at the college could barely touch this building’s quality.

“Whip?” Kat asked, searching for any possible threat in her placid surroundings. “What’s the ETA on security?”

“-breaking up,” the response was so filled with static that Kat couldn’t even tell if it was Whippoorwill or one of their companions speaking.

“I said what’s the Eta on security?” Kat frowned. Even if the floors were lined with lead, she was close enough that Whip and her should have been able to talk without any interference.

“-yes! G- -t -w!” Shouting and a wall of static. Hardly helpful. Kat shifted, leanin her back against the wood paneled wall.

“Erinyes,” She perked up, Xander had disabled the security from the other side of the trap hallway and he was walking back toward her, a grin on his face and something small and metal in his hand.

“I told you that this was all going to work out.”

She rolled her eyes, preparing a sarcastic response. Then the world exploded.

The left side of Xander’s hallway detonated, throwing him sideways into the wall with enough force to shatter the wood, revealing glittering steel plating beneath. Kat took a step forward, only for a three round burst from a rifle to shatter the marble at her feet.

Out of the wreckage of the destroyed room strode a middle aged woman, a massive and heavily chromed thug following her, his rifled pointed at Kat’s throat.

Her heart sank. She’d read enough dossiers and seen enough pictures in the run up to the operation to know exactly who stood across from her in an immaculate pantsuit, its edges crisp and without even a touch of dust on it despite the recent blast.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet the two of you.” Elaine Williamson shot her a wintry smile. “I suppose I should thank you for finding the recording. Dorian’s replacement was able to discover that I had it in my possession, but he never was able to give me specific details.”

“Really.” She shook her head, perfectly styled hair flowing like a movie stars’. “I’ve only heard good things about the ChromeDogs. It’s a shame you know too much.”

“Otto if you would?” She nodded politely to the man at her side.

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About the author

Cocop (Cale Plamann)

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

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