Dust: The Afterthoughts

Well we’ve reached the end of Dust of the Earth.

I actually finished Dust about two years ago (give or take, I don’t like thinking about it too much because it reminds me of how little I’ve done afterwards). Since then I have self-published Dimestore Wuxia and am about to publish its sequel. Dust was a massive undertaking for me. I’d had the original gem of the idea that Dust would later grow out of back when I was seventeen. In a month’s time I’ll be twice that and in the interim, in amongst studying at university, working various jobs, trying to become a stuntman, trying to make a feature film, meeting Katie, getting married, moving to a new city and all that video-gaming, movie-watching and more video-gaming… I was always in one stage or another of ‘writing my novel’.

True, for most of that ‘writing my novel’ consisted of the odd feverish hour here and there, with wide berths of everything else in between. No real progress was being made, new ideas for directions came and went and the early versions of the characters spent inordinate amounts of time just hanging out in bars flirting with each other.

So it’s fair to say that after all that time I’m a little sick of them.

For the two of you still here, I’d like to say that I acknowledge how that must sound given the way I ended Dust two years ago. I will return to this world someday, I love cyberpunk too much to simply turn my back on these characters and their stories completely. But right now Dust and any possible Dust sequel is going to be a big undertaking and I want to have a few more novels under my belt before I’ll feel up to the task of writing something as big as Dust again.

Which I think says a bit about me as a writer. I have a hardcopy of Dust sitting on my bookself next to novels by ‘real’ authors and even Dust looks pretty slim. 116,000 words isn’t that much compared to a lot of other works, but for me, to fill that much space with an ongoing plot, developing characters and let’s be honest, lots of fights is a lot of work.

My plan at the moment is bam out some smaller stories that I can actually get out without all the birth pains of the last one. So far, producing one small, pulp science fiction novel a year is a decent rate, but it’s still too slow for what I want. Only time will tell if that’s a good plan, but I’m not going to know until I’m well past the point where I can stop, so right now the only way is forward.

Starting on Monday I’ll be releasing the first Dimestore Wuxia novel: Big Trouble in Carsontown in more or less the same format I released Dust. At some point over the weekend I’ll put together some promo art, give the Dust banner up the top some company at last.

I hope you guys enjoyed Dust, I genuinely do. It was my first genuine attempt at turning this thing I’ve always loved into a work that others can experience. It’s not perfect and I don’t expect to be spared criticism just because it’s my baby, but if that was my first step into the world of publishing and being an independent author I think it was a good one.

Now if you don’t mind I’m going to take a very deep breath and take my second step.

 

Dust: Chapter 24

Chapter 24: Let the games begin

We stared at each other. Kiru with her bullet wounds in her shoulder, lower ribs and back and me with only one eye and clothes that still stank of saltwater.
Kiru became preternaturally still. Turning off her simulated breathing, pulse and any others functions that helped her pretend to still be flesh.
I kept mine on. I wanted the subtle movements. The tiny, barely perceptible shifts that would make telegraphing my attack that little bit harder.
But Kiru moved with impossible speed. Blending instantly from absolutely stillness to explosive movement.
I grabbed the tip of my right index finger and pulled it off. Spreading my arms wide I caught Kiru’s string and it wrapped around my forearm. I kept coming, closing a bear hug around her shoulders and drawing my line across the back of her neck.
I brought my foot up to kick her away and Kiru knocked it aside. I tried to pull my arms back but Kiru held them out. The servo-motors in our arms straining against each other.
Then I went with her force, turned my arms down to the small of her back and pulled my shoulders back hard.
The line met resistance at first, but soon cut through. Slicing into her casing, her chassis and soon through the biopod. Kiru’s mouth fell open as my line reached the softest resistance yet.
Iie.” She gasped.
I stopped before I could draw the line into my own belly. And Kiru fell into two neat pieces.
For a moment I just stood there and stared at her. Somehow she looked too stiff to be a dead body.
I let go of my fingertip and withdrew the line to my hand.
I still had to find Atom.

I went back out onto the deck to find my Tri-Star, if only I could remember where in all the chaos I’d lost it.
The main deck was a shambles. Cardboard was still everywhere, but now there were scorch marks and a profusion of bullet-holes. It looked like a SWAT team had hit the place.
I found the penis-extension of a handgun by the BBQ area and checked it over. The finish was marred, but overall the hunk of steel looked like it would still shoot.
“Well.” A voice called out from behind me. “Wasn’t that exciting?”
I whipped around and put an armour-piercing bullet at dead centre-mass.
Tachi’s body looked down at the small hole in his solar-plexus. He looked up. “Ummm, OW!
I fired again, but the first shot must have been dumb luck because this next one went wide.
So I pretended it was a warning shot. “I got one left Atom, don’t push it.”
Course, if he did push it I still has some spare rounds on my webbing.
Atom shrugged. He was leaning in the doorway to the lower decks. As advertised his right arm had been severed just below the elbow and his left leg was gone above the knee. Now that the excitement was over I could sort of remember something leg-shaped in the wreckage on the deck, where his arm ended up was anyone’s guess.

In his left hand Atom held onto a broom, his posture suggested it was the crutch that got him around.
“Wait.” I said. “I forgot. You’re not Atom anymore, are you?”
“No.” Atom said and for the moment a slight smile returned. “I’m between names at the moment. I was hoping to choose a new one after all this was over.”
“Why not just go back to Yoshino Sakazato? It’s got a nice ring to it. And it comes with a brilliant roboticist of a daughter who’d give up anything in the world to help you.”
“I see you’ve read the research notes.”
“Not just read. I’ve given them to a talented cybertechnician and everyone in J.Random Hacker. Even on the Banditos budget you won’t be anything special in another year.”
[That’s not something we’ll have to worry about either.] Kitty’s voice appeared in my cype. [It’s over, Atom’s beaten. We owe a small army of hackers new decks but that’ll be a drop in the ocean after today’s haul.]
[Glad to have you with us Kitty. What kept you?]
[I only had to out-hack the fastest-thinking creature on the planet, nothing much. After that I had to locate this tub and break into its satellite uplink. It’s been a long day.]
I cocked the hammer back on my Tri-star. “Good thing it’s over now hey Atom?”
[Indeed.] Atom said. Invading my head.
I put a second round into Atom’s torso and blew a chunk out of his left shoulder. The whole prosthetic lost its grip on the broom and fell face-first onto the deck.
[Don’t bother Dust, you can’t actually hurt me. I was never foolish enough to put myself in danger.]
I opened up the cylinder and checked the rounds, they were all spent. I dumped them and loaded my three last rounds.
[You can shoot that body all day if it makes you happy. I’m not actually in it.]
Kitty’s voice perked up. [Say what?]
[My biopod is sitting in an undisclosed location somewhere far away. I abandoned Tachi’s body shortly after I left the states. When I was ready to put this operation into motion it made for a convenient distraction.]
[Damn it. I knew this was a trap. Ask Moe-moe.]
[Whatever.] Kitty said. [He lost, just get off the boat before he blows it up or something.]
Atom laughed over the cype. [Oh no, I’m not going to blow it up, that would defeat the purpose.]
[How would blowing up the boat stop you from stealing a billion nuyen? What kind of bullshit master plan is this?]
[Ahh but that’s exactly it. This isn’t my master plan. This isn’t even the opening move. This is more like the new transfer student walking into the shogi club and asking if anyone would like to play. I had no idea who would be sent after me when I setup the meeting with Sinotech and I needed a way to feel them out. The chance to achieve two-goals with one job and net myself a fortune to establish my position was merely a bonus. Now it seems that advantage has gone to you. Interesting.]
I’d had enough by then, this conversation wasn’t getting me anything. I emptied the last three rounds from my Tri-Star into Tachi’s old head, hoping I’d hit the network card and walked away.
[Moe-moe, jump into this boat’s GPS and plot me a course back to Bō shì fēiyuè. Tell Facineroso I’ll meet her at the docks.]
Atom’s murmured laughter followed me. [It’s going to be an interesting game. I’m looking forward to it.]
I reached into my Neupro and disabled my network access.

I parked my virtual arse into the digitally rendered booth and put my feet up on the table.
‘The Gentleman Loser’ pulsed all around me as J. Random Hacker threw their victory party. It looked like the adults only night of a pop-culture convention. Monsters and anime girls and heroes and wizards and cartoon polygons Oh my!
Kitty sat down opposite me, her sexy-leather catsuit creaking noticeably as she slinked her way across the bench seat.
She slipped a cocktail my way and raised her own glass. “Here’s to being prisoners together.”
I caught the glass and raised it to hers. “To ten years’ service.”
We clinked and I took a sip of her digital mystery booze. It tasted like a margarita, party food.
Kitty pulled the glass away from her lips. “So what’s our fearless leader got in store for you?”
“Downtime.” I said. “I need a head-swap before I can go out into the field again. Some of the lieutenants are murmuring that I should be sent out as is until I earn the repair. I’m arguing that I already have.”
Kitty nodded. “I’m getting stuck with R&D. Clarkie wants a prototype of one of Atom’s smaller components built in eight weeks. Moe-Moe’s crossing the pacific to join us.”
“A PvP and a B and E working in artificial intelligence research. What’s it like to be respectable?”
“I’ll let you know when I’m back to being
respected. The Jamestowners still hate me on sight.”
I raised my glass again. “To self-made pariahs.”
We did the clink and drink dance again.
“So have you chosen a prosthetic yet?” I asked.
“No.” Kitty replied. “I don’t think I will.”
“Really? You’d stay in the pod your whole life?”
“Just because you walk around in a shell doesn’t mean you’re not still in a pod Dust. Besides, I think Facineroso would prefer to keep me under the gun. Sorta like the hot-wire she installed in your pod.”
I took a drink without a toast. Facineroso had a kill-switch on hand in case I ever went rogue. Keeping me alive was risk enough, giving me guns and sending me out with limited supervision would be suicide without it. Or so her advisors told her.
Kitty also took a drink and looked out across the crowd. Absently she said. “I wonder if they’re doing the same thing to Tachi.”
I didn’t say anything.
Kitty looked at me.
I looked back.
She frowned.
I raised my glass to her. “To lost friends.”
All right, you’ve made it this far, I deserve at least something right?

Dust: Chapter 23 Part 4

She smiled and came at me. She moved at a gentle, measure pace. Not cautious, but perfectly controlled. She was back to her graceful dancer’s movements. And suddenly I realised what the new stance was about.
When Kiru closed with me, she released her cutting string. The wide overhand movement gave it away and I moved aside, but when the line shot out, the other four did not follow.
Kiru pivoted as I moved around her and she rotated to catch me with the line, she did not retract the wire like she normally did and it came at me a lot faster on the back of the built-up momentum. If my legs were still flesh I would have risked popping an ankle from the turn I needed to get out of the way.
That clinched it. Kiru had taken her technique back to basics. She was using single-whip techniques and her mastery of the multi-line style gave her a fantastic level of control. Kiru stopped her spin, turned her hand around to allow the line to rotate again and came at me in the space of a heartbeat. I dodged again and again as Kiru kept walking slowly towards me, prancing and skip-stepping only when she needed to catch up.

She swung the line at my head height and when I pulled my neck back out of the way she immediately brought it back in a figure-eight pattern that forced me to step back twice. She then retracted the line, chambered her fist and shot out the fingertip at my face.
I jumped to my right and circled around her as she pranced after me, the lone finger spinning constantly. I wished she’d had a light or something on the end because a finger joint on an invisible line was impossible to follow. I had to guess a lot of her attacks from her hand movements.
Kiru swung at me with a long left to right arc, spun her line at the side and then crossed back right to left, striking at my sides and forcing me back bit by bit.

I only tumbled to what she was doing when my heel touched the kitchen counter. I didn’t glance back at it, didn’t dare take my eyes off her, but it was the only thing for me to bump into on this side of the deck. Kiru skipped up to me to maintain the pressure and swung at my head. I lay my top half on the counter as the line sliced right above my head and when it passed I kicked my legs up and rolled back over into the kitchen.
Kiru’s return swing sliced the tip off my boot, then the line continued down and cut clean through the counter.

I landed in another back roll and put another metre between us. Kiru vaulted over the kitchen counter, the line from her finger pulled taunt and sliced back through the counter as she cleared it, tearing out a chunk of what looked like bar fridge as she went.
I saw my chance and came at her while the line recoiled. I caught Kiru’s kick with a two-handed block before the ball of her foot could make contact with my face. As she pulled back her leg I saw her raise her hand for a downward swing and dived to the side.
Right into the fridge. I had just enough time to get back up when Kiru cleared the length of the kitchen and threw-out a step-up side kick, smashing a four-inch dent in the fridge door with her heel when I pulled my head away. Kiru fired that heel and pivoted 340 degrees to spin around and throw out a round-house kick. I ducked low and this kick bent the side of the fridge into a weird angle.

I went for the supporting leg, trying to catch it so I could pick her up and slam her into the ground. So Kiru fired that heel and jumped right out of my grasp. I looked up and watched the world slow down as Kiru turned over in mid-air and lashed out at me with the same foot she’d jumped off. I tried to get up and out of the way, but Kiru caught me in the middle of it and knocked me stumbling into the dinnerware cabinet. I tried to push myself up with my chrome arm.
Kiru stepped in with a backhand slash with her wire. I stole a plan from Kiru’s bag of tricks and fired my piston-punch. Throwing me into a clumsy lunge towards her. I caught Kiru under her arm, bumped my hips under hers and threw her back towards the remains of the kitchen counter. But Kiru wasn’t playing ball with me, she held onto me as I threw her and managed to flip around and land on her feet.
Kiru immediately brought both her hands behind my back. I realised she was going to pull the tip off her finger and slice me in half. Thinking fast I put my chrome fist into her gut and fired the piston. I must have got in just before she pulled the finger, because it knocked her back a foot and I stayed in one piece.
I came at Kiru while I waited for the piston-punch to recoil. Getting into dirty boxing range so she couldn’t cut me, but Kiru copied my own move. As she pulled her head back from my hook Kiru hopped up onto the kitchen counter, gripped the edges tight to brace herself and fired both heels into my gut.

I slammed back-first into the dinnerware cabinet. The weight of its contents crashed against the cupboard door and then spilled out over the floor (and me) as I bounced off.
Kiru reached me in the middle of the room with an elbow to my face. She followed up with a backhand I was certain was going to release her wire, I managed to catch the hand at the wrist, but then my foot slipped on a piece of broken plate and I dropped to one knee.
Kiru responded by round-house kicking me in the head. As I rode the impact and rolled away Kiru pirouetted in the middle of the room and threw her line out again.
When I came up out of the roll everything looked off somehow. Kiru smiled hungrily at me from where she stood beside the counter, but the whole frame looked flat. Like I was watching it on a monitor instead of with my own two eyes. One glance towards the pile of shattered crockery and everything made clear, horrifying sense.
Half my face lay amongst the debris.

Even knowing that wasn’t my real face, just a thin sheet of cloned flesh and hair over a prosthetic, seeing it there, complete with one of my cybereyes, stunned me with a deep numb feeling.
I looked up at Kiru, she retracted her line with a flourish.
“<Now.>” She said. “<It ends.>”
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Dust: Chapter 23 Part 3

I got one shot out and then a whole lot of nothing. Mid swing the magazine slid right out of the feeding ramp and hit the deck a few feet away. One of us must have accidentally hit the mag-release in the confusion.
Then Kiru was upon me. I dived passed her, I wish I could have dived for the magazine but it was behind me by this point. So I had to put even more distance between me and it.
When I came up again I reversed my grip on the PD9, turning it around like a night-stick.
Kiru slowed her twirl and brought herself to a complete stop opposite me like she was finishing a dance.
She smiled at me. “<Hello Dust.>”
I eyed her suspiciously, trying to catch a tell that would give away her next move. “<Hello Kiru.>”
“<The new arm suits you.>” She went on. “<I actually didn’t recognise you because of it. I was afraid our little games were going to grow dull if you kept refusing to upgrade.>”
“<Oh do fuck off.>” I said. “<We’re here to fight over Atom, can we cut out this Shonen-hero bullshit?>”
Kiru shrugged. “<Atom crawled off into the boat somewhere. Minus an arm and a leg. The only way either of us is getting to him is by stepping over the corpse of the other.>”
She stared at me in silence for a moment, then said. “<Good. You’ve also come up with a defence for the pain-editor hack. You are learning.>”
I snorted angrily. “<You’re not listening to me are you?>”
“<If you want to shut me up Dust, you have to come over here and silence me.>”
I did not relish that prospect. I remained where I was.
“<That’s what I thought.>” Kiru said with a dismissive shrug.
So I threw the gun at her. Kiru detected the movement and lashed out with both sets of wires, catching the gun with all ten strings, the lines pulled taunt and with a tearing motion Kiru opened up her arms and shredded the gun into steel confetti.
The second after that I threw a lunging-jab at her face. Kiru pulled her head hard left out of the way and ducked under my follow-up hook. She slipped passed me and I continued the rotation, pivoting on my opposite foot to throw a round-house kick at her. Kiru blocked the kick with both forearms and then waved her cutting fingers at me with the closest arm. I blocked her arm at the wrist before the fingers could swing around, so Kiru turned the other way fast and shot the other hand out at me.
I jumped back a step, then pulled my head aside as a high-heel shot out at my face. I circled around and Kiru swung another wave at me. I dropped down into a very low wrestler’s crouch and went at her.
Kiru stopped her turn immediately, ready for the catch and throw I’d done every other time.
But instead I fired the piston-punch. Unlike the Hair guy, who’d always kept it back on his power hand, I used the piston-punch on the end of my jab instead. With an arm that suddenly shoots forward by an extra ten inches suddenly I had a completely shadowless punch at my disposal.
Kiru rocked back a step, unable to fathom what just happened.

Before that moment could pass I grabbed hold of Kiru and swept her to the ground. She got her shit together just before my heel could make impact with her face and quick as a flash she had her hands up to catch my foot before I could hit her.
Kiru threw my leg aside and I fell onto her. I tried to elbow her on my way down but she rolled to the side, causing me to smash some floorboards on the deck.
Kiru pressed off the ground and kicked out with both feet, smashing into me just before full weight landed on the deck. The double-kick knocked me aside, rattling my insides before Kiru caught up to me again and sent me rolling once more with a soccer-kick to the gut.
I crashed into the BBQ, not a lot of which was still standing. I clamped a hand around the edge of the counter and pulled myself back up to standing.

I heard Kiru’s piston heels fire and she was beside me in the next instant. She swung her line out at neck height. Thinking fast, I revealed the last thing I had up my sleeve. Grabbing the tip of my index finger with my chrome hand I pulled out a length of monofilament wire and held it out at arm’s length, right in the path of Kiru’s wave. Her strings hit the line and coiled around it, when all five lines began to turn I got my arms to swap places and loop my string around hers.
Kiru felt the tension change and began recoiling the lines. But it was too late, with my line looped around Kiru pulled her fingertips into the tightening hole I’d made and sliced them clean off as they passed through. Her face distorted into a furious snarl as her fingers returned ruined.
When the lines had completely recalled into their spool she flexed her now shorter fingers and balled them into a fist, her anger disappeared that same instant.
My chrome hand let go of my flesh-coloured fingertip and I recalled my own line back into my hand, careful not to cut myself.

“<Impressive.>” Kiru said through gritted teeth. “<You drew my attention with the chromed metal arm so I wouldn’t see that the rest of you was also a prosthetic. Very impressive.>”
Kiru cocked her head to one side. “<What made you come to your senses?>”
I smirked at her. “<Only the insane may prosper. Only those who prosper may truly judge what is sane. I just stopped clinging to my old rules and decided to get a little crazy.>”

Kiru giggled. “<Doing what you need to complete your mission isn’t crazy. In order to be crazy, properly, Japanese-crazy, you have to give your life for the mission. Whether it requires it or not.>”
Kiru relaxed her shoulders and changed stance, I was expecting her to stretch out her arms to give them lots of swinging space. Instead she put her ruined hand behind her back and gently extended the other towards me, hand palm-up. That was new, I hadn’t seen that stance before.
“<Do you know where the word ‘Banzai’ comes from?>” She asked.
“<That was that Kamikaze battle-cry from world war two wasn’t it?>”
Kiru nodded. “<It’s much older than that. ‘Banzai’ in the old Japanese-tongue means ‘Ten-thousand years.’ To scream that from the core of one’s essence means you are willing to trade eternity itself for this moment. To resolve to cast away one’s life before blades are even drawn.>”
“<You think I’m not ready to die?>”
Kiru flashed her teeth at me. “<You’d better be. I was ready to kill you when I thought you were still flesh. Now that I know you’re wearing a prosthetic I’m going to cut you out and keep you as my new pet.>”
I blinked at her. “How do you keep getting scarier?”
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Dust: Chapter 23 Part 2

The merc and I stared at each other for a moment. Then, even through the mono-visor built into his face I saw the penny drop.
He turned to his side and reached for his holster with his left hand, while I dumped the damaged mag and slipped a fresh one from the pouch at my waist.
The Merc got the gun out of the holster and turned it right way around in his hands before raising it up. I slammed the new mag home and yanked back the cocking handle again.
We both pulled the trigger.

I got my first five rounds dead on target before his heavy-calibre return hit my chrome shoulder and threw off my next ten. Before he could squeeze out a second shot I dived behind the BBQ.
Clearly not dead yet I stuck my gun over the top of my cover and opened fire, following the Merc’s mad dash for the boat’s kitchen through my Smartgun’s camera. Then a flash bang he’d dropped went off, throwing blinding light everywhere on the deck.
When the flashes died down I pulled the PD9 back and stood up, still behind my cover. Across the boat from me the Merc had to be behind the kitchen bench. That couldn’t be that hard to shoot through, so I started unloading the mag all across it. As my first rounds ripped straight through the fibreboard, the Merc’s pistol popped up from behind the middle of the bench and shot three big rounds back at me.

Those rounds hit close. Telling me that he also had a Smartgun and that I should get down.
In the breath I caught behind the BBQ, I checked the ammo status on my HUD and saw that this mag was still half-full. However, it was clear that the smaller AP rounds weren’t punching through that bench. Maybe that was where the mini-bar or the dishwasher lived. At any rate, I reached behind myself again and drew the Tri-star from behind my back.
A metallic ‘thump’ sounded beside me. I looked down at it and saw a fragmentation grenade rolling gently across the deck.
My body froze but my mouth dropped open and my lungs unloaded. “Fuuuuuuuu….”
Then a sleek, high-heeled foot swung out of nowhere and kicked the grenade overboard, where it detonated.
I looked up and saw Kiru standing right beside me.
She snapped out a kick at my head that smashed in the back panel of the BBQ when I slipped under it. Kiru followed up with a stomp I had to roll away from. As I rolled back up I squeezed off a shot from my Tri-star but between my hand lining up the shot and my finger pulling back the trigger Kiru’s other foot shot out and knocked the shot off course. She swung her hips back the other way and again her foot tried to squash my head against the BBQ. I caught the leg as it began its acceleration and Kiru succeeded in pushing me up against the wall instead. I tried to get my PD9 in her direction and Kiru dropped down onto me, pinning my gun wrist to the wall with her knee while she tried to punch me in the face. I brought my revolver arm up to block it, then brought the gun down to put a bullet in Kiru’s torso. Kiru ran her hand down my arm till it hit gun. Her hand actually slammed the hammer down on the next round, setting it off harmlessly as the gun left my hand.

A second grenade hit the ground at the same time as the gun. Kiru saw it, fired both heels and dived for it, one hand catching her as she turned over and the other scooped up the grenade. As Kiru wheeled over she came up and over-arm bowled the grenade right back at the kitchen.
It didn’t quite make the distance, the fuse burned out halfway and detonated in mid-air. That was when we realised it was a flash-bang rather than a fragmentation grenade. Kiru fired her heels and with reckless abandon for her own life she dashed through the blinding, strobic light just as the Merc came out of cover. Her jump didn’t quite make the whole length of the deck and she landed in a long dive-roll that ended with her on the side of the bench opposite the Merc.
As Kiru dropped out of his sight he noticed me coming up behind the BBQ and popped off a quick shot at me.
For once Kiru deflected the path of a shot for my benefit as she pounced up from behind the ruined bench and turned the Merc’s hand away from her while her other hand grabbed him by the back of then neck and slammed his head into the counter.
While I flinched and pulled my head out of the way of the shot that Kiru had already saved me from she reached behind the Merc’s armpits and dragged him over the counter to her side.
I recovered, brought my weapon up to my shoulder and put a burst Kiru’s way. Kiru kept pulling the merc down onto her and my burst cut into the armour on his back.

The two cyborgs grappled on the deck, but while Kiru’s custom prosthetics were the Merc’s equal in strength, she was also a lot smaller than he was and used this to move around him.
I opened fire again, and this time Kiru had turned him around and put his chest in the way of my bullets. I kept hitting the trigger, putting burst after burst into him until the black vest over his fatigues was a tattered rag and I finally saw fluid leek out of his body.

When I next hit the trigger, nothing but a hollow click reached my ears.
Automatically, I got down behind cover, ejected the empty mag and reached for my last one.
Across the deck, Kiru slipped the Merc’s pistol from his hand.
I popped up from the other side of the BBQ and opened up on where I’d seen Kiru last. She wasn’t there, she was running with her pistol blazing away in one hand and the Merc’s body clutched to her chest in the other.
I put three quick-bursts into the Merc, but even if any rounds did go through the old holes they still had the back of his casing and his armour to get through. When Kiru was only a few steps away she dropped her empty pistol and hurled the body at me.

I jumped back to dodge the prosthetic, bringing up my gun as it dropped out of my view. Then I was face-to-face with Kiru again. I hit the trigger, putting a few rounds into her shoulder before she turned the gun away and palmed me in the face. I fell backwards, Kiru coming down with me.
I tried to roll with the landing but Kiru’s hand driving my head down didn’t help. I managed to kick her off me, but only after she slammed my head into the deck.
Pushing through it all I got up to my knees and spun around. Kiru was dodging and spinning around, making herself a hard target as she circled around to come at me from the side.
Her centre-mass still had to be in the middle, so all I needed to do was sweep a line of fire across her arc. I readied my aim and pulled the trigger before swinging the gun hard right.
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Dust: Chapter 23 Part 1

Chapter 23: Showdown


Yeah turns out it didn’t work.

You thought it was one of those one-in-a-million chance thingies didn’t you?

Nope.

I got hold of the rope alright, but it turns out it wasn’t actually anchored to anything. So I basically fell into the ocean holding a line. For good measure I even bounced off the hull before splashing into the water.

A loud crash assaulted my ears and the water enveloped me. Almost immediately I began to sink into the cold as the dark mass of the hull passed overhead.

Then suddenly I was sideways getting dragged towards the surface. The line had caught on something. I had a microsecond’s horror as I thought it might be the propeller before I broke through to the air above. I gasped a breath and copped a mouthful of white water. The salt-spray slapped me in the face over and over as the sound of rushing air filled my ears.

I pulled my head up, reducing the spray catching in my eyes by maybe 10%, but I still managed to see that my line had caught far out to the port side of the boat, so I was always out on the edge where the waves created by the boat were at their worst.

I desperation I pulled myself into a ball and hung on. Clamping my new cyberarm tight around the line and locking it closed. Balling up was a horrible idea as I was now basically the sinker on a fishing line, bouncing up and down with the waves. When that clearly wasn’t getting me anywhere I tried the opposite and stretched out as long as I could. That helped, until a big wave dragged me under the surface again and I got another mouthful of saltwater.

When I broke the surface again I spat it out and did my best to take on air. Panicking, I pushed down with my legs and somehow managed to stand up. I leaned back and pushed my feet out like I’d seen water-skiers do and by some miracle I stayed upright.

I hadn’t thought that possible, what with the lack of calm water (and you know, Skis), but so far so good. Reaching out with my other hand I pulled myself further down the line, holding tight before I dared open up my chrome hand and try the same thing.
Just as I managed that a large wave broke underneath me and I lost my footing with one leg.
So now I was hanging on with one arm, while the other arm went flailing, and one leg hung out to the side as I was pulled out of vertical.
I’m sure it looked like I was enjoying this.
I grabbed the line with my other arm and got myself righted again. This time I kept my eyes on the waves and timed my pulls for when things weren’t so choppy. Foot by foot, hand by hand I caught up with the boat and found a safety ladder on its side. I was a pleasure craft after all so a swimmer would need something to get back out of the ocean with.
With one last heave the drowned rat in combat boots pulled himself off the ladder and flopped down messily. My clothes had absorbed a lot of water and it flowed out of my pockets and onto the deck.
As a reward for not drowning I let myself have a couple of seconds to just lie there.

A short way away, on the upper decks I heard the sound of gunfire. I tried to ignore it.
The sound did not go away. If it did I’d have an enemy that was now ready for the next fight. I knew I had to get moving.
I felt my soaked body turn over and push up to a standing position. As my feet took turns to propel me towards the upper decks I opened the cylinder on my Tri-Star and replaced its spent rounds.
When I’d reached the ladder I paused. The thought occurred to me that my PD9’s higher ammo capacity would be more useful than the Tri-star’s stopping power in the coming fight.
Also, so far I’d barely been able to hit anything with it yet.

The gunfire grew louder and more frequent the higher up the ladder I got. When I reached the top and climbed over I could see the main deck just around the corner. The main deck took up most of the boat and was a largely flat space of polished hardwood between the bridge sitting atop the kitchen/bar and the observation deck on the raised bow. The space between was made to be versatile, allowing an area for dinner guests to mingle or a tennis court to be erected on removable posts or panels could open up and reveal the swimming pool underneath.
Right now the remains of Atom’s box rig took up most of the space. Being made of cardboard boxes it was destroyed long before I arrived. Torn scraps of brown littered the deck everywhere and were blown randomly about with every gust of wind.

I manoeuvred around the corner, my PD9 raised to my shoulder. Across the deck from me I saw Kiru twirl both hands to either side of the Merc, slicing into his SMG on one side and the arm holding his monomachette on the other. The Merc abandoned his hold on the gun, but the strings coiling around his forearm weren’t so easy to get rid of.
When they’d pulled tight, Kiru yank back hard, pulling him forward a step and right into her grasp.
Kiru stepped in to meet him halfway and reaped him off his feet. A moment after he hit the ground she jammed her knee into his throat and pulled her strings back, slicing the hand holding the monoblade clean off.
Kiru then looked up at me just as I was about to hit the trigger. I yanked back the finger and the PD9 began to kick. Kiru uncoiled her legs and cartwheeled away from me. My first bullet catching her where her floating ribs would be on a mortal, the next few rounds tore holes in her jacket but nothing more. Still shooting, I walked the fire after Kiru, who kept wheeling away from me.

I broke into a run after her, firing tight bursts from my shoulder as I went. Until Kiru cartwheeled right off the side of the boat.
I stood stunned for a moment. “Well that problem just solved itself.”
I remembered the Merc and glanced where he’d been lying. He sat up, looked right at me, gasped and reached for the pistol on his hip.
I got my PD9 around and put his torso firmly in my crosshairs.
That was when he realised the hand reaching for his pistol wasn’t attached anymore. I pulled the trigger. And heard nothing but an empty click in response.
That couldn’t have been right, the PD9’s cylinder mag held at least 100-rounds.
I hit the trigger again just in case, but nothing happened.
Before the Merc got wise I grabbed the cocking handle and cycled the action. Then I saw what I should have seen five seconds ago. I hadn’t had a stoppage, there was just a dirty, great big dent in the mag.
Oh yeah, I’d only reloaded the Tri-star. Well done Idiot.
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Dust: Chapter 22 Part 3

I was confused for a moment as I tried to work out where ‘port side’ was on a circular floating city.

But I could see the bridge to my left clear enough.

[But Atom’s not going that…]

Something in the corner of my eye got me to look back towards the end of the park. Where I saw two figures in black long coats jump from a nearby tower. They landed in a crouch and drew themselves up to their full, considerable height before brandishing their machine guns.

I pulled myself up to a kneeling position behind the park bench.

The two triad enforcers, you could tell from their monovisors and tattoos, levelled their weapons at Atom and the merc and barked at them in Cantonese.

<Stop right there or die.>” The first one yelled.

<And you. Drop the piece.>” The second one yelled at the merc.

Atom and the Merc complied, but the merc stayed tense, ready to make a move.

I couldn’t tell if Atom was still smiling, but the way he held his hands up, even from behind, looked more ‘What? Me worry?’ than ‘Don’t shoot.’

Then a third dark figure fell from high atop a tower. And landed on the first.

Kiru put her feet either side of his bald head and drove her heels into his shoulders, where his collar bones would be if he were still flesh. Something, likely a great many things, snapped loudly and he collapsed, Kiru riding his broken body to the ground.

The second enforcer took his eyes off the merc to face Kiru for only a second. Before the merc’s pistol flew from his hip and planted a heavy round into his temple. The enforcer tried to turn back to open up with his machine gun when everyone else started to move.

Atom bolted for the bridge like a kid who’s just heard the starting pistol at an athletics comp.

The Merc tossed a pair of flash bangs at Kiru and the enforcer, then took off after him.

And I got up from behind the bench and joined in.

[Moe-moe, he’s going for the bridge. Where’s that boat?]

[It should be right underneath the bridge now.]

[Damn it. He’s been leading us around this entire time.]

[What are you going to do?]

Atom reached the middle of the bridge. A ramshackle structure made of scrap metal, but all painted yellow to make it look uniform. Orange life rafts and other scavenged safety equipment lined its railings.

Atom climbed onto the side, looked out over the canal to see that the boat was where it was supposed to be, then glanced back towards the merc. He smiled at him, then dived right off the side.

The Merc rushed to reach the same point where Atom had been.

Then Kiru no Yubi sprinted out across the bridge. The Merc spun around with his pistol up and squeezed off a shot at her. But Kiru fired her heels, dived right passed him and straight over the edge.

By the time I reached the bridge, the merc had secured a grapple line to the railing and jumped over himself. By the time I reached the middle the boat was no longer underneath us. Not that jumping from this height wouldn’t have been suicide. As I watched Atom’s boat sail on I saw the stunt-industry standard box-rig he and Kiru must have landed on. The three of them danced around the cardboard structure as they tried to kill each other.

[Dust.] Moe-moe said. [What are you going to do?]

[It’s a trap.] I said. [Atom’s pulling something, I know it, he’s led us here the whole time. If I get on that boat I’m playing right into his hands.]

Then Joni Facineroso’s voice joined her on the cype. [And if you don’t get on that boat you ain’t leaving this island alive. All I have to do is tell the head Tong that you’re the one responsible for all this and they’ll throw everything they got at you. You hear me?]

My shoulders sagged. I was dead either way. Again.

I looked around for something, anything that could get me down from here in one piece.

Three options presented themselves to me: On the oil rig side of the bridge just at the end of the canal was a crane that could reach down to the water. Running parallel to the metal bridge was what looked like its predecessor, a rope bridge that when I squinted, looked like it was actually made out of gaffa tape. Cut one end and I could swing down to the water or at least close enough that I could let go without risking crushing myself when I hit it. Swinging over an open canal doing my best Tarzan impression was actually my least favourite option.

In the end I ran towards the Rapture end of the canal where the mini-freefall lifeboats were set up. Being designed by billionaires, Rapture splurged on the best safety equipment because they were expecting it to be their safety being protected. Much like with the gardens, the Bō shì‘s were happy with those as they were, the only change being that more safety equipment had been added.

Down in the canal, Atom’s boat picked up speed. In the hopes of fighting on an open space, the Merc got his monomachette out again and sliced through the ropes holding the box-rig together.

I revved up my speed and legged it towards the freefall launcher as the cardboard boxes separated and started falling over. The constant hum of the engines and the increased speed knocked over the outer layer, exposing the partially crushed boxes Atom and Kiru had landed on.

I reached the launcher and flew up the ladder to the first hotdog-shaped orange pod. One last glance towards the canal showed me that Atom’s boat was just passing the lip of the Old Rig and began heading out onto open ocean. I closed the door behind me, scrambled into the pilot’s seat, strapped myself in, ignored the automated voice instructing to do all of the above, broke the glass over the release panel and yelled “Bombs away.”

The magnetic locks clacked open like a giant snapping its fingers and the payload slid loose and out into open air. I gripped the seat beneath me and set my jaw for impact.

An unbearable second of anticipation drew out as long as it could just to piss me off and then the pod nose-dived into the sea. I was grateful for my chair’s anti-whiplash strap for another whole second before the arse end of the pod said hello to the salt water as well.

The pod gave itself a moment for diagnostics before the control locks were released and command of the pod transferred over to me. The on-board GPS started looking for the nearest safe destination to direct me towards, but I had other ideas. Grabbing the wheel I turned it towards Atom’s chartered boat and yanked back the throttle (which helpfully had the word ‘THROTTLE’ written along it in English, French and Chinese like most of the controls before me).

Steering took a little getting used to, it wasn’t as similar to driving a truck as I would have liked, but I got the bloody orange hotdog alongside Atom’s boat and popped open the top hatch. I climbed out the hole and shakily stood up on top. Spray kicking up from the sides of Atom’s boat battered at my face as I struggled to keep my eyes open and find something I could jump for.

Now, from the comfort of my barstool, it strikes me as ludicrous that out of all the options I’d had back on the bridge this one had actually made the most sense.

Then I saw the Merc’s grapple line waving loosely in the breeze, a thin high-tensile line amongst a wash of salty foam.

Why the hell not?

I jumped.
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Dust: Chapter 22 Part 2

Up ahead Atom ran out of zigs to zag and charged into someone’s house. From the shouting inside he’d obviously met some resistance but after another second he found the back door and kept going.

The Merc followed Atom inside and before the hooting and hollering could start back up he smashed straight through the thin wood planks and carried on.

Knowing that if I followed him the residents would probably have had enough by then I looked for an alternative. And found one. As I closed with the house I ran at the outdoor furniture, jumped up on the table and used that as a stepping stone to get up onto the lean-to shed beside the house and from there up onto the roof.

I had a half-second to judge whether the next door neighbours were within jumping distance and risked it anyway.

I almost made it. My hands grabbed hold of the roof as my body collided with the wall. Out of sheer will and adrenaline I pulled myself up and got back in the chase.

Fortunately, the pallet towners didn’t believe in backyards, so their homes were fairly close together and now that I was up top I had more time to judge my jumps with a proper run-up behind me.

I started gaining ground again, but by then we were running out of pallet town.

Atom hit the chain-link fence that separated the tennis courts from the gardens first and went straight up it. Between the light weight of Tachi’s body and its cyborg strength he didn’t even need to use his legs. With each handful of steel wire Atom pulled himself up another metre, scrambling up and over at a speed that would make Spiderman proud.

The merc holstered his SMG and pulled out his monomachette, breaking his stride for only a few seconds the merc swung at the fence twice and dived through the big X-shaped hole he’d made.

I was lucky that the pallet houses stretch all the way to the fence and made my longest jump to clear it. What I hadn’t counted on was jumping right over the sand pits on the other side.

When it was clear gravity had me in its unyielding pull I looked down to check my landing and saw the most adorable pair of baby Negrasian eyes staring up at me in horror. My shadow falling across to blot the sun out of their world.

Oh Shiiiiiiitt”

Then a grey metallic hand shot out of nowhere and changed my course. I flopped down hard onto the tightly-packed sand and prayed no-one was using it as a dog-stop.

A string of harsh Cantonese curses, mangled as they were by a Floridian accent, assaulted me as I tried to crawl out of the sand and right myself again.

<The Hell is wrong with you?>” The courageous parent screamed at me. I was most of the way to my feet when she stepped up and shoved me back into the sand. “<You almost crushed my babies you damn maniac.>” Then without thinking she slipped back into English. “And what you doing flying through the air like you was wearing a cape for?”

I silenced her with a gesture, the Tri-star in that hand helped a bit and she backed off. I got back up again, shrugged a “Sorry” and went back to chasing Atom.

The gardens had to be the best maintained area in all of Rapture, for out of the entire artificial island, this was the one place no-one was interested in repurposing for something else. I found out later the Bō shì‘s preferred to grow their weed in hydroponics labs.

The gardens were more like public parks, kinda sterile by landlubber standards, but it looked like too many people enjoyed it to let it fall into disrepair. By now Atom was halfway through it, while the Merc was closing in. I got the lead out.

I’d barely made it fifty metres in when the first bullets started cracking passed me. I dived towards the nearest park bench and started crawling the rest of the way. All around me Rapture civilians screamed and hit the ground.

The Merc hadn’t been shooting at me and Atom was yet to even touch a weapon. I peeked my head up a little and looked around to see where all the fucking bullets were coming from.

I saw them behind me. Armed residents of pallet town had reached the chain link fence and opened fire. Their aim was well off, most of them were shooting with one-hand and I doubted any of them had Smartlink cyberware. With a handgun, hitting a man sized target standing still at fifty metres was an achievement, those guys and girls had no chance.

It got worse when the armed citizens in the park got their guns out and started shooting back. They hadn’t seen the three sprinting blokes the Pallet towners had, all they saw were people lined up to open fire into a crowd.

The return fire scared off some of the Pallet towners, the especially thick ones took a knee, reloaded and shot back.

Lying on my belly I brought up my revolver. Resting the barrel on my other arm I put my crosshairs on Tachi’s back and pulled the trigger. The sabotted slug spun through the rifled 10 inch barrel and stayed true. A hundred metres down, Atom stumbled a step and but quickly righted himself to keep going.

Obviously I’d missed the biopod.

[Dust!] Moe-moe called [Dust are you there?]

The merc realised I’d taken my shot and spun around to burn another magazine my way. I don’t think he could actually tell me apart from everyone else lying belly-down on the grass. As his ammo flew wild.

[What is it Moe-Moe?]

[I know where Atom’s going. A private boat was chartered from Hong Kong, only one person came ashore and then the boat left again, this was just before Atom contacted Sinotech.]

[That’s pretty loose Moe-moe. Is that really all we’ve got to go on?]

[Well it can’t be a coincidence that the boat in question is currently heading up the canal that runs between Rapture and the Old Rig, the bridge over which is currently fifty metres to the Port side of your position.]
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Dust: Chapter 22 Part 1

Chapter 22: Get back here you little shit

I landed on Rembrandt. He’d fallen in a heap on top of Edger and the pile of rubble their caving in the roof had made. Rembrandt groped for the machine gun my foot had knocked out of his hands. But when his fingers found me he tried pulling me in for a choke.

I put one of the Tri-star’s AP rounds into his shoulder. The massive hand-cannon sounded like a titan’s fist knocking on the gates of hell, but at least it disabled Rembrandt’s shoulder so I could slip away.

We’d landed in a maintenance tunnel under the markets, just like the kind you find in a shopping mall. I checked on Edger and Rembrandt’s remains and quickly wrote them off. Rembrandt needed another head replacement, not to mention the state of the arm, but Edger was even worse. From the string of bullet holes and fluids leaking out of his torso I guessed I wasn’t the first enemy Rembrandt had fought in the dark.

Then I remembered Kiru was still above me and took off down the corridor.

[Kitty.] I called down the cype. [I need a floorplan, where the hell do these corridors go?]

[I’m kind of in the middle of something.] Kitty replied tersely [Go annoy someone else].

I didn’t have the time to find another hacker’s details and call them. So I just ran down to the end of the corridor.

Pushing through a pair of fire doors found me standing in the middle of a T-intersection. I glanced left and saw nothing but corridor, glanced right and saw only a corner a few metres down. The same gunmetal-grey walls staring back at me either way.

I was about to flip a coin when I heard gunfire from my left and started running that way.

Then Moe-Moe’s voice appeared in my head. [Sorry Dust, Kitty’s taking on Atom, he’s tearing us a new one. He just came out of nowhere and started blasting everything that moved. He’s tough Dust, I’ve never seen anything like it.]

[What about you?] I asked. [What are you doing?]

[He got me in the first wave. My compy’s just a folding box of slagged silicon and copper now. I’m calling you from my Neupro.]

[Fantastic.] I said flatly. [Can I get you to do some research for me? Atom had to come in on a boat or an aircraft of some kind, can you look into Bō shì fēiyuè’s arrival records and find out how? I think that’s where he’s running to.]

The sound of something big and heavy crashing through the fire doors a few metres behind got me to look over my shoulder. Slice cleared the width of the corridor and his back came to a forceful stop in the wall opposite.

He dropped to the floor and brought his pistol up, his other arm hung uselessly by his side. He was about to hit the trigger when an almighty boom sounded from beyond the doors and hit his shoulder like a sledgehammer.

In the next instant Kiru dashed through the fire doors before they had a chance to swing closed and jammed the muzzle of her anti-material rifle into Slice’s gut.

Slice got out a gasp before she unloaded three rounds into him.

I legged it around the corner. After a further few metres I found a door with a gaping hole where the locking mechanism should have been and concluded I was on the right path.

My eyes adjusted to the bright tropical sunlight pretty quickly, allowing me to see Tachi’s body sprinting off into the distance and the merc hot on its heels.

Rapture’s original designers had intended for the area just outside the markets to be used as recreational space. Bō shì fēiyuè‘s inhabitants had different ideas.

Atom ran off towards the tennis courts, of which there were dozens. Being corporate types tennis had clearly been a big deal with the designers, you had fake grass courts, clay courts, rubber-paving courts, any kind of officially recognised playing surface and a few weird variations thrown in to spice things up. The current inhabitants couldn’t give two shits about tennis. The old sign outside the green chain-link fence now had ‘Pallet Town’ painted on it.

I smirked at the reference and kept running.

Atom slipped through the gate, dodged around some civilians and kept running. What had once been just a single door hand been enlarged to allow foot traffic to flow through. The merc didn’t even stop for the civilians and ploughed through them like a bowling ball.

It made my job easier, all I had to do was jump over their sprawled, prone bodies.

‘Pallet town’ had been aptly named. But while the materials had been improvised, a shanty-town this was not. Houses here had patios, upstairs rooms, outdoor dining and the workers moving Port-a-potties in and out on trolleys told you hygiene was being taken seriously.

It amazed me, unlike the Port Moresbians, who’d never known any different or the Flint-stones (Ha!) who’d had working-class prosperity torn from their grasp, the Bō shì‘s had chosen to live off very little and so did a lot with it.

Atom ducked and dodged his way between pallet tables and milk-crate chairs, having charged straight into a beachfront cafe. I smelt better fish and chips and ramen noodles than I had in the markets.

The merc bore down on Atom like a freight train, battering aside whoever got in his way and sending one milk-crate flying with a stray kick. The SMG in his hand discouraged argument.

I managed to gain some ground on them. Being able to deftly skip over obstacles like these. I vaulted a pallet table and dive rolled over a bench, maintaining my speed the whole time.

Atom slipped through a gate and ran into the residential section, while the Merc vaulted over the wall. I reached the wall myself and braced against it to line up a shot with my Tri-Star. While the Merc wasn’t dodging around I figured I might be able to simplify this chase a little.

I got the cross-hairs right in the middle of his back and took the trigger back gently.

If it hadn’t been for my new cyberarm, the recoil would have nearly broken my wrist.

Then he moved. Two civies suddenly appeared out of a doorway carrying an old TV and for the first time today he actually dodged around them. Startled by the way he burst upon them out of nowhere the two removalists jerked away from him, but held firm to their burden. Until my heavy armour-piercing round demolished the thick glass between them. Then they dropped it.

The merc heard the shot and glanced over his shoulder for a second. He looked me right in the eye and raised his SMG at me.

I got low behind the pallet fence and ran along its length as the light high-velocity rounds tore a jagged line through the wood behind me.

After a few seconds, when his mag ran dry, I vaulted over the side and gave chase again. I’d lost all the ground I’d made up at the cafe, plus interest.

While the merc loaded a fresh mag I put a pallet-house between us for cover and got my revolver up again. When we passed the house a window of visibility opened up between us and we raced to get our weapons on target first. In my haste I hit the trigger a heartbeat too early, the shot flew wild into the rushing colours beside us, then the Merc squeezed off his rounds and I heard the bullets crack past me at supersonic speed.

In the next instant there was another house between us and I got ready to shoot again. The merc didn’t bother waiting and opened fire. I realised when I saw planks of wood ripping open in front of me and slid underneath as he walked the fire back down towards me.

I ended the slide in a kneeling position and took aim at the merc again. But he disappeared behind the next house. In the excitement I took my best guess and pulled the trigger anyway. Blasting a hole clear through the house before I got back up and kept after them. The residents inside sat flash frozen, beer bottles halfway to their mouths as they tried to make sense of why two bits of wall just exploded.
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Dust: Chapter 21 Part 4

Atom looked up where the shot came from. His face fell with disappointment.

I followed his gaze and watched as Kiru no Yubi jumped down from the upper floor.

Still in mid-air Kiru pumped a round from her massive rifle into the merc that was trying to arrest Atom. The .50 cal bullet tore through his armour, prosthetic casing and biopod like a sharp pencil through wet cardboard. As she neared the ground she fired her heels so that the retraction would slow the final few inches of her landing and she still smashed spider webs into the tiles on the floor.

She was packing a Barret M2092 Anti-material rifle. Normally built for the extreme long-shot, Kiru’s had been set up for close combat. She’d discarded the scope for a Smartgun link, swapped out the cheek pad stock for a solid, removed the bipod entirely and loaded a drum-magazine. I never even knew they made those for that gun.

My target priority changed. I locked onto Kiru with my cross hairs and hit the trigger.

Kiru took the rounds and dived aside. She caught herself with her hand, cartwheeled out of the dive, turned her barrel back towards me and squeezed off a shot.

I’d stepped aside as soon as I saw the cartwheel. The big round speared through four ravers behind me.

A second later the bodies of two of the Merc snipers fell from the upper floor. I looked up and saw Edger bringing his machine gun to bear from their old position.

Then Rembrandt opened up on a bunch of merc with his own machine gun. A hand full of ravers heard the shots and turned their pistols on him only to be mowed down by Rembrandt’s next burst.

Sinotech’s in-house people recovered from Atom’s attack just in time to realise Kiru was in their midst.

The lead operator levelled his machine-pistol at point-blank range. Kiru waved one of her hands at the gun, while the other hand pointed her rifle at the operator beside him and pumped a round into her. The lead op pulled the trigger on his weapon, then realised only the pistol-grip was still in his hand. Kiru ran up his body in two steps, kicked off his face and back-flipped over to another operator. Holding her rifle outstretched in both hands Kiru caught this op around the neck and landed right behind him. Using him as a cyborg shield she jammed her rifle’s stock into his throat and started popping off shots at his comrades. Two of them died before the last one opened fire on her. He emptied his entire mag into Kiru’s captive, aiming high to avoid the biopod, but only succeeded in shredding away plastic and armour. When his machine pistol clicked dry he noticed everyone else on his team was either dead, missing their head or facing him right now.

Then Kiru shot him and he didn’t have to worry anymore. A quick glance up and Kiru abandoned her captive to dive aside. The guy had all of a half-second to contemplate his freedom before Edger tore him to shreds with his machine gun.

Kiru dived, rolled and got up sprinting as Edger swept his fire after her. Appropriate, considering she was running rings around us.

I joined in, my PD9 kicking in my hands as I tried to get my crosshair on Kiru. I swung the gun around to follow her, pausing my fire only when Tachi’s body appeared in the firing line. I felt my finger leave the trigger of its own will. Only to slam back down as the muzzle passed beyond him. Without a care in the world, Atom just kept on dancing.

Kiru responded to the two of us by charging towards the nearest wall and getting three strides up its side before firing her heels and launching herself out sideways. While in flight she turned her rifle my way and opened fire. I ducked under her first shot, rolled aside the second and lay flat to narrowly avoid her third. Kiru flipped over to right herself again and stuck the landing. Then immediately rolled back the other way as Slice landed right next to her and stabbed down both mono machetes where she had been only a heartbeat ago.

From where I lay I opened fire on Kiru, kicking my legs up over my head and rolling back to my feet without ever taking my finger off the trigger.

Slice left his blades in the floor and quick-drew both his pistols to unload them at Kiru.

And between the three of us we still couldn’t hit her.

Kiru ran, jumped, dived, rolled, flipped, cartwheeled, slid and break danced out of harm’s way.

My PD9 ran dry and I dumped the cylinder magazine and reached into my jacket for a fresh one.

Then I realised both Slice and Edger were also reloading.

Then Kiru realised it.

Get Down!” I yelled at Slice.

Kiru dive-rolled into a kneeling position and fired seven shots. One in my direction, two at Slice and four up at Edger.

I had already dropped my legs out underneath me and pulled my head back as the big .50 burned its way through the air above my face.

Slice took both rounds to the chest and stumbled back a step.

By instinct Edger brought up his machine gun in front of his face and let it take all four rounds for him. The heavy rounds ripped through the big gun, smashing into the action, the belt box, the grenade launcher and the barrel. The belt box spilled open, the disintegrating belt broken part-way through, allowing the majority of the belt to fall out. Edger discarded the useless hunk of metal and plastic that used to be his weapon and let it drop to the floor.

Meanwhile Slice had reloaded his pistols and brought them up again.

Kiru fired one heel and cartwheeled away, firing another round back towards Slice. This one hit him in the shoulder. Throwing off his aim on both pistols and wasting those rounds.

Kiru was just about to line up a second shot on his face when she jumped away again.

This time Edger hit the ground right where she’d been, punching at the floor with his over-sized right arm. But where Kiru’s landing had split spider webs across the floor, Edger punched a hole in it.

The impact shook the whole room, causing everyone, even Kiru, to stumble for a moment.

Edger tore his hand out of the dent he’d smashed into the floor and turned to follow Kiru.

And then he disappeared when the floor gave way beneath him.

A second later Rembrandt fell from the uppermost floor, still trying to shoot back up with his machine gun. He hit the ground right next to Edger’s hole, the impact shattering his optics and further compromising the floor, which gave way under him as well and we all watched the hole get a little bigger.

Then Atom saw his chance and dived into the hole.

No you don’t you sonuva bitch.” I yelled as I reached behind my back and pulled out the gun I’d been saving just for Atom. Joni had been nice enough to sell me her spare Smith & Wesson Tri-star.

As I took the time to get it out a zip line was thrown down the hole after Rembrandt and a second later what had to be the last surviving merc Sinotech had hired slid down the line after it.

I holstered my PD9 and jumped down the hole after them.
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