She could barely move. The city streets were overflowing with people, all falling over one another and brushing up against her. She tried to push through them but no one would move. They all just kept walking along like she wasn’t even there.
She turned around and there was the Pale Man, stalking her. Striding toward her like there was no one around and no reason he should hurry.
She yelled for the people to get out of her way. Pleaded with them to help her. Screamed until her voice was horse and it hurt to breathe, but still they ignored her.
Turning back she saw that the Pale Man had disappeared, seeming out of thin air. She allowed herself to relax for a brief moment.
The she felt his icy grip on her arm, his broken nails digging into her skin. She twisted around and saw the Pale Man looking at her. His breath coming out in jagged rasps as he pulled her toward him. He opened his mouth and…
Caldera faintly heard muffled talking as she slowly woke from the nightmare and started to regain consciousness. She couldn’t make out specific words, but the tone of the conversation was tense, with one of the men sounding as if he was accusing the other of something.
She realized quickly that she couldn’t move, and the very faint buzzing sound that she could hear underneath the other noise in the room told her why. Caldera was trapped in a stasis field, enveloping her and keeping her totally immobile. If she had to guess the generator for the field was under the chair they had her sitting in.
Caldera slowly opened her eyes. She was in a small room, hardly bigger than storage closet with the only light coming from a fluorescent bulb in the ceiling directly above her. The room had a smell of mold and dust, like it had been closed up for years. She had no clue if she was still in the VR shop or where Ti himself was for that matter as he was nowhere to be seen. Thankfully she was able to use her cybernetic left eye to look around the room despite the fact she couldn’t move her head.
The angry voices were coming from two men, both dressed completely in black standing in the doorway of the small room. One was short, maybe five feet tall with close cropped white hair and wearing sunglasses. The other towered over him by at least a foot and a half and had blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, a hawkish nose and sullen cheeks. Both were pale to the extreme and neither seemed to have any obvious cybernetic enhancements.
The shorter one Caldera didn’t recognize but the taller of the two had a distinct profile that she would have known anywhere.
The taller man suddenly realized Caldera was awake and shut his partner up with a wave of his hand. He walked over to where Caldera was and looked down at her, his expression filled with hatred.
“Corrine Caldera. I really didn’t think we would meet again so soon.”
“Tristen. How’s the hand?”
Tristen raised his right hand, on which he was wearing a black glove. He slowly flexed it before striking Caldera hard with the back of his hand.
“You tell me, but it seems to be getting better.”
Caldera saw stars and felt blood trickling down from her lip as she said “Yep. Looks like it’s healing quite nicely.”
Tristen crouched down, making sure his eyes were at the same level as hers. Caldera was always a bit unnerved by the fact his eyes had no color, just a black orb floating in a sea of white. “You didn’t really think we would lose your scent so easily after what happened in New Pittsburgh, did you?”
Caldera smirked. “A girl can dream, can’t she?”
Tristen hit her in the face again, this time harder. Fortunately when Caldera had her eye replaced Charlie had to reinforce the rest of her skull to handle the extensive cyberware. Tristen wasn’t going to be able to do any real damage no matter how hard he struck her, but damn if it still didn’t hurt.
Tristen stood back up and turned around, looking at the far wall while he lit a cigarette. “I don’t have time for your shit. My superiors want results and they really don’t care how I get them. Despite that, I’m going to ask you nicely just once. I would promise to kill you quickly if you cooperate, but we both know that’s not going to happen. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while now and I’m going to enjoy it.”
He turned and looked at Caldera again, blowing smoke in her face. It had an acrid taste like those awful European cigarettes her squad mate in Sutoraiku smoked. “Where is it Corrine?”
Caldera could tell Tristen was starting to lose his patience. He took a menacing step towards her as he threw his cigarette on the floor and crushed it with the heel of his shoe. It left a black smear on the tile as the wisps of smoke dissipated into the stale air.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. We know you made a detour between New Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and we know that’s probably where you stashed it. We just want the exact location so we can retrieve it. Nice and simple.”
Caldera spit blood onto the floor and looked at Tristen. She realized she had to figure some way out of here and soon. She could only play games for so long before things got serious and her life expectancy would go from years to minutes.
However, since she had his attention, Caldera figured she might as well see if she could get some information out of him.
“What does Crimson Light need plastic alloy ammo for Tristen?”
Tristen laughed to himself. “That’s good. Try to change the subject. Figure maybe I’ll discuss the inner workings of our organization with you. Maybe I’ll start monologuing like in some asinine comic book of old and reveal my nefarious plot. Then when you make your escape you’ll have all the information you need to stop me.”
“Well, you do love to hear yourself go on and on.”
“I’m going to really enjoy watching you die.”
“You do realize if you kill me the information dies with me, right?”
Tristen smiled and shook his head, almost as if he was pitying her. “Bitch, there are all kinds of things we can do to you before we kill you.”
As if on cue, the shorter man from before walked back into the room, carrying a small tray covered by a white towel. He placed it on a stand by the door and rolled it over next to Caldera. He removed the towel to reveal a set of old fashioned dental tools, the kind that hadn’t been used for decades. They all looked brand new as the light from overhead gleamed off the silver surfaces. They also looked incredibly sharp.
Caldera could feel herself start to sweat just a bit.
Tristen’s smile grew wider as he spoke. “See, we could do all the traditional things. Beat you within an inch of your life. Stick you in a VR simulation that nightmares are made of. Use a dermal probe that will make your skin feel like it’s on fire and make you wish you could die. Or we could just rip the data right from your brain with a neural Jackhammer drive.
“But since this is you, I thought we’d go old school. Classic, fun for the whole family torture. Erich here has spent the last hour watching dental vids and now he could use some hands-on experience, if you know what I mean.”
Tristen walked over and put his hands on his knees, bending over so once again his eyes met hers. She could smell his fetid breath and his god-awful cologne as he began to speak.
“I’m really going to enjoy watching this Corrinne. I’ve dreamed of hearing you scream and beg for mercy for years now. You and your ilk are going to wish you had never crossed us.”
Caldera spit in his face, the mixture of blood and saliva landing on his right cheek. Tristen used his gloved index finger to wipe it off and then licked it off his finger, his smile turning into a sneer of hatred. Without taking his eyes off Caldera, he said to Erich “Get started.”
Caldera was becoming acutely aware of the panic starting to set in. Her breathing was becoming more rapid and her vision was blurring. She had to do something but she was clueless as to what exactly that was.
Erich picked up what looked like a metal probe with a long, vicious needle at the end. He roughly put his hand on her chin to pry open her mouth, the flesh of his fingers cold and dry. She tried to pull away but the stasis field made it so Caldera couldn’t move her head enough to avoid what was coming.
The needle was inches from Caldera’s mouth when suddenly, the room was plunged into total darkness.
Shouting quickly erupted from numerous directions. The dark was complete and all-encompassing and Caldera literally couldn’t see her hand, or anything else for that matter, right in front of her face. She also quickly realized that whatever had turned off the lights also shut down the stasis field that was holding her immobile.
Thanks to the fact that her cybernetic eye was powered by the bioenergy generated by her own body, it was unaffected by whatever caused the loss of power. She quickly activated her eye’s night vision mode and suddenly, everything in the room was crystal clear.
Tristen was standing by the doorway, shouting orders to whoever may be in the hallway while Erich was standing over her, looking around in the darkness with an expression on his face like he was slightly unnerved by the sudden loss of light.
Caldera swiftly grabbed what she hoped was some kind of scalpel and plunged it into Erich neck as she jumped up from the chair. He let lose with a guttural scream while she pushed the blade into his throat as far as it would go.
Not bothering to look back to see what kind of damage she did, Caldera ran for the door. Her Streetmasters had been taken from her when she was captured and who knew where they may have ended up. Unfortunately Caldera didn’t have the time to look for them as she wasn’t about to waste an opportunity like this to escape.
As she approached the door, Caldera grabbed Tristen by the shoulders and drove her knee into his groin with as much force as she could muster. Tristen didn’t make a sound as he crumpled to the floor, a look of intense pain in his eyes. Caldera then smashed his face with the heel of her boot and heard the satisfying sound of his nose breaking.
Serves you right, you bastard. she thought as she went through the doorway.
Still having no clue where she was or what direction to go in to make her escape, Caldera frantically looked up and down the hallway she found herself in. There were a couple of heavily armed clone mercs in each direction, all confused and blinded by the sudden blackout and obviously waiting for instructions from Tristen.
Caldera ran toward the nearest merc and grabbed the Nova 757 Cityhunter handgun he was holding. Since attacking him would do nothing and she had no clue how long the power outage would last, getting into a firefight was the last thing on her mind. She took the gun and made a run for it, heading east down the hallway.
Her footsteps echoing as she ran, the hallway went on for a few hundred feet before Caldera was forced to make a left and then another left. After what felt like forever she finally reached a door marked “Exit” that opened to a set of multi-flight stairs.
Just as Caldera went to open the door, the lights suddenly came back on, momentarily blinding her. She deactivated the night vision mode and chanced a look behind her. She started running up the stairs, taking two at a time.
Caldera was two flights up when she heard the door she had just come through burst open followed by the sound of several heavy sets of footsteps begin climbing the stairs. Caldera looked down the center of the stairwell and saw four mercs making their way towards her, guns drawn.
Caldera put the Cityhunter on auto and let lose with a barrage of bullets, firing indiscriminately. She knew they wouldn’t do any damage but she hoped it may slow them down just enough so she could find a door and get off these stairs.
She ran up another flight and hit the mercs with another hail of gunfire. Caldera repeated this until she finally reached a landing with a door. She hurriedly went to turn the handle but it was locked. Muttering a curse, she fired the Cityhunter at the lock mechanism, blasting it into pieces and opening the door.
She ran into what looked like yet another hallway and headed west, running as fast as she could. Caldera still hadn’t encountered anyone else except her captors and was beginning to wonder exactly where she was.
Caldera turned a corner and ran headfirst into two more mercs, who apparently had been waiting for her. One tried to grab her arm but Caldera managed to duck out of the way, backing up the way she had come. When she turned to make an escape, she saw that the four mercs from the stairwell had emerged from the bullet-riddled doorway.
One of the mercs put his hand to his ear and said “We have her sir. What do you want us to do?”
After a moment he looked at the others and said “Tristen wants her alive. He has something special planned.”
She watched as the mercs closed in on her from both directions and quickly assessed her options.
There were no windows or other doorways, so escape was impossible. She checked the clip on the Cityhunter and saw that it was almost empty, so even if she could do some damage to these goons she couldn’t take them all down. There was one option left but it wasn’t something Caldera wanted to think about.
When Charlie installed her cybernetic eye, Caldera had him include a failsafe mechanism in case she ever got into a situation just like this. A situation where taking out as many of your enemies as possible was preferable over capture.
At the same time Caldera contacted her old friends in Sutoraiku to get the cyberware to replace her eye, she had them include a Helix plasma detonator. The small but powerful explosive was manufactured by Hachisuka and was still a popular option for corporate military armies the world over.
Caldera had Charlie implant the Helix in her chest, with the ability to arm and detonate it linked to her eye. All it took was a simple thought to reroute the necessary energy from her eye to the bomb and them boom. No more mercs, no more hallway.
No more Caldera.
It wasn’t the way Caldera wanted to go out, but it was better than being captured and turned over to that sadist Tristen. She just hoped Korehammer would forgive her.
Caldera looked up and down the hallway and saw that the mercs were closing in but taking their time, not sure what she would do. They obviously didn’t want to risk her getting away again and having to deal with Tristen.
She closed her human eye, said goodbye to Korehammer and prepared to set off the Helix.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the hallway was abruptly filled with the deafening sound of gunfire. The sound reverberated off the walls and Caldera ducked down, shielding her head with her arms as bullets flew past her in both directions. She heard the mercs crying out and falling to the ground one after another as the gunfire stopped almost as quickly as it began.
Caldera stood up and looked around. The hallway was filled with smoke and the smell of spent bullet casings, the walls riddled with holes. But what really shocked her was the fact all six mercs were dead or dying, one with half his skull missing and another with a massive hole in his chest.
“What the fuck…”
“C’mon now Corrine. You know I don’t like it when you use language like that.”
Caldera turned to where she heard the male voice coming from. Now that the smoke had begun to clear she noticed the two people at each end of the hall, all wearing dark grey fatigues, kevlar vests and combat helmets that covered their entire faces. Each was armed with a Horizon MAC 17 submachine gun as well as various other weapons and supplies.
But what really grabbed Caldera’s attention was what each had printed on the sleeve of their fatigues. The Japanese kanji were difficult to read from this distance, but Caldera knew them so well she would have recognized what it said from across a crowded street.
Dawn Before Death.
The rallying cry of Sutoraiku.
The man who had spoken stepped forward and removed his face mask and helmet, revealing his Japanese features and short black hair that had a touch of grey at the temples. He had a metal patch affixed over where his right eye should have been and stood a good three inches taller than Caldera.
Caldera looked at him, mouth open, not sure if what she was seeing could be real.
“Akira? Akira Ito?”
“It can’t be you. I saw you die. You died right in front of me.”
“Yes you did. And now I’m back and we need to get out of here. As they say in the movies, come with me if you want to live.”