Chapter 2: Things fall apart.
Tachi and I legged it down the corridor. Yoriki’s goons would soon be descending upon us, with all the swarming implications that word carried. With the fire alarm turning much of the building into a ghost town we abandoned what remained of subtlety.
[How’re things going up there Noodles?] I asked between breaths. [How’re the good guys treating you?]
[Busy!] Was Noodles’ hurried answer.
That wasn’t good.
Tachi and I took the scenic route back to the security door, where the mini-map showed another pair of ops standing guard.
I stopped at the corner just before the door and dumped my magazine of gel-rounds for more armour-piercers. I motioned to Tachi with my head, he nodded then dived around the corner.
I stuck my head out after him, putting two bursts into the closest of the two ops while Tachi squeezed out wild rounds in mid-dive.
The security op took both my bursts and stumbled back. The remaining op returned fire. Realising halfway that there were two targets engaging him, he panicked, squeezed down hard on the trigger and tried to walk the fire from Tachi to me.
He emptied the mag before he got within a foot of me.
I took advantage of his ‘oh shit’ moment to put another two bursts into him.
While Tachie rolled back to his feet I whipped out my mono-scalpel and approached the door.
The time for subterfuge was over, so I tore the security panel wide open and soldered the explosive wire directly into the two points that opened the door. In another 60 seconds the security goons would be trapped on this side of the bullet-proof plastic.
Safely back in the civilian part of the labs, Tachi and I pulled off our digital camo hoods and changed the pattern on our fatigues to resemble civilian clothes. It was a trick Noodles had actually modified their programming to achieve and I was surprised at how well the fatigues could pull it off. My fatigues turned into a leather jacket and jeans, while Tachi (being Tachi) insisted on a black pinstripe suit.
I slipped the backpack containing the A.I’s biopod off my shoulder and slipped it into the backpack we’d carried our gear in. If Noodles had been taken out I didn’t want the bag tracing security to our position. I flicked my sleek and shady tech specs back over my eyes.
“<Hey>.” A male voice called out. Whoever he was he was behind me. I glanced at Tachi, my hand hovering over my pistol. Tachi shook his head at me, but still had his hand on his own gun.
I looked over my shoulder. It was one of the civilian security guards.
“<Can’t you hear the alarm?>” The guard yelled over the klaxons. “<Get out to the assembly area.>”
“<Sorry.>” I said. Choosing to use the more formal “Sumimasen” over the classic “Gomen nasai.”
The helpful guard led us out to the evacuation area, which was in the middle of the commercial sector. Amongst that many casually dressed civilians even a caucasoid like me was as good as invisible. Almost the moment after the helpful guard took his eyes off us Tachi and I peeled away from the rest of the mingling salary slaves and headed towards the central elevator.
My stomach grumbled. In all the excitement I’d burned away what little I’d put in the tank.
I was going to need food very, very soon.
“You think we’ll have time to get something to eat on our way out?”
Tachi cast me a dubious look. “We never did in any of the simulations.”
Then Noodles cyped me. [You still there Dust?]
[Good to hear you again.] I answered. [You sounded worried last time.]
[I still am. Something just knocked me right off the grid. One of their console cowboys is better than anyone I’ve ever seen.]
Of course he is. He beat the Noodles, he must be the best in the world.
[Where are you now?]
[I’m out of the matrix. I jumped out before he could put a trace on me. It was insane Dust, I’ve never seen anyone pull the tricks that guy had.]
[How’s their security?]
[Back in their hands now. Where are you? Are you still in there?]
[We’re in little Ginza.] Our codename for the swankier of the arcology’s two shopping malls. [They’ll never find us in here.]
Without warning Tachi broke cover and drew his pistol. “Don’t be so sure.”
I’ve learned not to argue with Tachi when he does that. I dropped to a crouch, my own gun already in my hand. A pair of security ops appeared out of the crowd ahead of us.
“<Halt!>” The nearest of the two ops called out. His mate just opened fire.
I dived for the nearest anything that looked like cover. Best I could find was a display table next to an electronics kiosk in the middle of the thoroughfare. I hit the ground, thankful for the elbow pads sewn into the fatigues.
Tachi joined me a moment later. Vaulting over another display table and deliberately pulling it down with him to hide us a little from the bullets tearing everything up around us.
I stuck my pistol up over my head and fired a few blind rounds in the ops’ direction.
How did they find us so soon?
I jumped back on the cype. [Noodles. Get back online, we’re initiating Plan: Everything’s gone to shit.]
[Follow the yellow paint line Dorothy.]
I’m sure, if Noodles had the time to get fancy he would have dug up a magical yellow brick road animation from somewhere on the matrix and laid it out on the floor for us. The line appeared on the ground heading towards the food court.
[Pop smoke.] Tachi ordered.
I pushed my smoke grenade out of the hidden pouch on my webbing, pulled the pin and dropped it at my feet. Because we knew we’d be indoors and therefore not subject to wind we’d modified the smoke grenades to discharge their contents faster. It only took a few seconds for our tables and the kiosk around us to be completely engulfed in smoke. As panic screaming and fire alarms roared around us, we slipped quietly out of cover and followed the fleeing crown, only the bright yellow line keeping us on track. Even with thermoptics, telling us apart from the civilians would be impossible.