“This isn’t the best time to be fucking with my head Corrine.”
Korehammer coughed, blood mixing with the spittle that flew out of his mouth. If Caldera had to guess, he likely had a few cracked ribs to go with the broken leg and arm that Toyoko was doing her best to tend to.
“I realize that Korehammer. We can talk about all this later. Right now we need to get you some medical attention. Ito’s team …”
“Ito? As in Akira Ito? The boyfriend you said was six feet under?”
Caldera sighed. This was going to be more complicated than she had anticipated. “Yes. We have a lot to discuss. But not now. We need to get moving.”
“Bullshit! I want some answers and I want them now. What the hell …”
Korehammer’s head lolled to one side as he lost consciousness, his entire body going limp and sliding off the guardrail.
“Korehammer!” Caldera yelled as she grabbed his shoulders, shaking him to try and wake him up.
“Relax.” Toyoko said as she held up a hypospray. “I gave him something to put him under. We need to get in the air and don’t have time for this shit right now.”
As much as Caldera hated to admit it, she was right. They needed to move before more clercs arrived to say nothing of the New Jersey State Corp. There was only so long they could keep a Sutoraiku assault ship parked on the Expressway before it drew unwanted attention.
Ito looked over at Castiglione and Mayuzai. “You two, help get Korehammer onto the ship. Tell Charade we need to be airborne ASAP.”
Caldera then looked over at the woman who was seconds away from taking a bite out of Korehammer’s throat a few minutes ago. She was still on the ground, rolling back and forth in excruciating pain from losing both her knees to Caldera’s new Magnums. “What about her?”
“What about her?” Ito said as he walked over and fired several shots from his Kingston 722 Spitfire revolver into her head. The back of the woman’s skull exploded, brain and blood spraying all over the asphalt.
“Good enough for me.” Caldera said as she turned toward the direction where the assault ship was slowing rising from the ground.
Suddenly, she turned back to where Korehammer had been, a concerned expression on her face. “Wait a minute. Wasn’t there a second woman?”
“Yeah. She managed to pull a disappearing act as soon as we opened fire on the clercs. Best we can figure she may have hijacked a car and made for Philly.”
“That’s … unfortunate.”
“I wouldn’t worry. We can catch up to her later. Charade should have a visual we can use to ID her on the database once we get to Philadelphia.”
“Is that where we’re going?”
Ito nodded. “Hachisuka has state of the art medical facilities there. Your friend is pretty messed up and they should be able to patch him up, good as new. It’s the least we can do since you helped us accomplish our mission.” Ito then gestured to the duffle bag Caldera was still holding. “I assume the package is in there?”
Caldera gripped the bag a bit tighter. “Not sure. Korehammer didn’t say before Toyoko put him under. And if it is I wouldn’t recommend trying to open this bag without Korehammer there.”
“Why is that?”
Caldera smiled ever so slightly. “Last one who tried to open something of Korehammer’s without his permission ended up as a smear on the side of a building.”
Caldera’s hair began to fly in every direction as the assault ship approached and hovered above them, the roar of the repulsar emitters deafening. It lowered to the ground, the ramp opening to allow her and Ito on board. Once inside, the ship rose quickly into the sky, turning West and heading toward Philadelphia.
An hour later, Caldera, Ito and Toyoko sat in a small waiting area on the seventeenth floor of the Hachisuka regional headquarters in the Center City zone of Philadelphia. Ito was talking to someone in New York, explaining why they had brought Korehammer, a non-Hachisuka employee, to a secure medical facility. Usually Ito just had to say it was “Sutoraiku buisness” and that would be enough to placate most suits, but this one was being difficult.
“I don’t give a crap if you think it’s ‘highly unusual’ or not. He needed immediate medical attention or he was going to die. Korehammer dies, we don’t complete our assignment. And if that happens, there are going to be people way above your pay grade pissed off. Ito out.” With that, he closed the holoscreen.
“What was up his ass?” Toyoko asked as Ito returned to where she and Caldera were sitting.
“Who the hell knows.” he said before looking at Caldera. “Any word on Korehammer?”
“Not yet. I was going to …”
Just then the double doors at the end of the hallway opened and a man in black scrubs walked out, removing a surgical cap as he did. He was wearing a pair of smart glasses, a opticable running to the back of his skull.
Caldera rose from her seat as Ito turned and answered. “Yes?”
The doctor walked over and shook Ito’s hand. “Dr. Grippen. Hachisuka CritCare Unit. Been a while since we’ve seen one of you Sutoraiku units in these parts.”
“I’m sure doctor. How is Mr. Korehammer?”
“He’ll be fine. The bones are all reset and mending as we speak. He punctured a lung so we had to repair that as well, but overall he’s in good shape. Give it another hour or so and you can all get out of here.”
Caldera spoke up as the doctor turned to leave. “Can I go see him?”
“Sure. End of the hall, Room 103.”
Caldera turned to Ito. “Let me go talk to him first before you ask about the package. I need to explain a few things to him and it’s best done in private.”
Ito narrowed his eyes at her before saying “Fine. You have ten minutes.”
Caldera followed the departing doctor down the hallway to where the post-op rooms were located. She quickly found Room 103 and a dozing Korehammer. The room was large and sterile, with a couch, tables, chairs and even a synthstation. A handful of holoscreens at the head of the bed showed his vitals while his clothes, weapons and the duffle bag were all neatly stacked on a table near the window.
Caldera walked over to the side of the bed and gently placed her hand on his arm, giving it a squeeze. Before she knew what was happening, Korehammer had pulled her down onto the bed and put her in a headlock. A Cypherblade had appeared from under the blanket and was now resting gently against her throat.
“So. Back with your friends in the Sutoraiku I see.”
Caldera, for her part, wasn’t at all surprised by his reaction to her presence. Given everything that had happened in the last few days, she had it coming.
“Korehammer, relax. It’s not what you think.”
“And then that vampire bullshit on the Expressway. What do you think I am, some kind of moron?”
“Like I told you then, we have a lot to discuss. If you would decompress for a second and get the blade off my neck, I can explain. But we don’t have much time.”
Korehammer hesitated and then released his grip on her, letting her straighten up and stand by the edge of the bed.
“Start explaining. What the fuck is going on?”
“Okay. First, I’m not back with the Sutoraiku. They were after the package and since they couldn’t trace you as Chernova, they came after me. It just made more sense to work with them than against them.”
“By the package you mean the datachip?”
“Yeah. I take it that it’s in the bag?”
“Good. We can’t let Ito and his team take it. Hachisuka will do Lord knows what with the information that’s on it. It’s too important to let fall into a the hands of a megacorp.”
“What exactly is on the damn thing? I took a look but it’s all heavily encrypted.”
Caldera sighed. “You really want to know?”
Korehammer raised his voice, the veins in his neck beginning to bulge. “What do you think? I’ve been chased, shot at and beaten up for this fucking thing! After a little meeting I had in Atlantic City with some other folks who were very interested in the chip, I realized I can’t go back to my life as I knew it. I’m in this now Corrine.”
Caldera gave him a questioning look. “A meeting? With who?”
“That bitch who tried to take a bite out of my neck for one. And some prick named Gareth who, if I’m being honest with you, spooked the shit out of me.”
Caldera closed her eyes and rubbed her temples with her hand. She should have known he would get involved. There’s just too much at stake for them.
“What’s on the datachip Corrine?”
Caldera put her hands on her hips, trying to think of the easiest, quickest way to explain this. “Okay. But you have to take everything I say as the truth for now and not question.”
“The woman who almost bit you is, as I said, a vampire.” Korehammer opened his mouth to say something but Caldera waved him off. “Vampires have existed for thousands of years, hiding among us all that time. They are immortal and have the patience to play the long game when it comes to dealing with humanity. They run some of the biggest megacorps and have been responsible for some of the greatest tragedies to befall mankind.”
Korehammer almost smirked. “Such as?”
“The War for one.”
Korehammer’s eyes went wide for a second, the smirk disappearing. “They were responsible for the Coronavirus?”
“No, that was nature. But all the unrest after the pandemic? The mistrust? The ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality that swept the planet in its wake? They caused and fomented most of it and used it as an excuse to encourage open conflict on a global scale.
“The problem was that things got out of hand and bigger than they could control pretty fast. They went into hiding soon after the first shots were fired and figured they would wait to see who came out the winner. As you know, there really wasn’t one once it was all over. Regardless, they still got what they wanted for the most part. The human race was now easier to control and they used the megacorps that emerged from the War to do it.”
Korehammer shook his head with a skeptical expression on his face. “Okay. Okay. Let’s say I believe you. What does all this have to do with a single datachip?”
Caldera folded her arms as she continued. “Over the last few years the situation has changed. The vampires have been getting more aggressive, more overt in their activities. It’s almost like they aren’t happy just pulling the strings from behind the curtain anymore. They want to be front and center and in the spotlight. They’ve been building up their armies and ordnance. The clercs are just the latest example.”
“The unstoppable soldiers who have been after the both of us for the last week. They’re clones.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“No.” Korehammer tried to ask another question but Caldera shut him down with a shake of her head. “Anyway, one of the biggest issues facing the vampires is that fact they can’t use any cybernetics. If you’re a bloodsucker, you can’t enhance yourself with chrome of any kind. The cybertech needs living tissue to bond with and if you’ve been turned, you don’t have any.
“On the datachip are design schematics for a new nanotech that will enable the vampires to use cybernetics. I don’t claim to understand the science of it but somehow it will allow them to graft cybertech onto their bodies just like anyone else. Imagine a vampire, already super strong with enhanced senses and healing abilities, taking it up to another level. There would be no stopping them if it came to open conflict, which is looking inevitable.”
“So how the hell did you get the specs?”
“We had someone on the inside at the corporation that developed the nanotech, Omega-Kagi Optinational. She managed to copy the specs onto that datachip and then erase all traces of it from their database as well as the web. That chip holds the only copy and since she also flatlined the scientists who developed it, it can’t be replicated.”
“Can’t wait to meet her.”
“Good luck. She was killed a week later. They found her thanks to a traitor in our ranks.”
“No. The resistance. The ones who are fighting the vampires in secret. There are cells everywhere.”
“And how exactly did you get involved?”
“That’s a story for another time.”
Korehammer sat with his arms folded, looking at Caldera with a mixture of disbelief and shock. She wasn’t sure what would happen next, if she was being honest with herself. Korehammer had no reason to believe anything she just said with just her word to go on. Was it enough that he would agree to help her?
Caldera heard a gentle tap on the door and turned to see Ito standing there, Toyoko a few feet behind him. She noticed that Toyoko had her hand on the grip of her Stroyer M-32 handgun, which was still in the holster for the time being. Obviously Ito’s patience had come to an end and he was ready to wrap up this part of the mission.
“Mr. Korehammer. I believe you have the parcel that we are looking for?”
Korehammer swung his feet off the bed, getting himself into a sitting position. Caldera noticed that his expression was blank, giving nothing away as to what he was going to do.
“That I do Commander. However, I was due a considerable fee for retrieving the package. I’m not sure I want to give that up to help you out.”
Toyoko took a step forward, a snarl on her lips as her M-32 halfway left its holster. Ito put his arm out to stop her, never taking his eyes off Korehammer. “How much was the fee?”
“One million credits.”
“Would two million be enough for you to feel compensated for your time and trouble?”
Korehammer grinned. “I believe that would do the trick.”
“Can I see the package first?”
Korehammer stood and walked to the table with the duffle bag. Once he input a code on his NIIC that disarmed the protective countermeasures, he reached in and took out the small box with the datachip.
Caldera quickly realized there was nothing she could do. Korehammer had made his decision and that was that. She would have to figure out how to track Ito and his team and somehow, someway, get the chip back.
Ito had activated a small holoscreen with his NIIC and after a few moments said “Okay Mr. Korehammer. Two million credits have been transferred to your account. If you’ll give me the package, we will be on our way.”
Korehammer handed it over, Caldera feeling a pang of hurt as he did so. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
Ito nodded as he took the box and carefully put it in a pocket in his flak jacket. He then turned to Toyoko and said “Get the team ready. We leave ASAP.”
As Toyoko walked away, Ito looked at Caldera. “It was good to see you again Corrine. I still owe you some answers so I hope this won’t be the last time we talk. Maybe once this mission is over we can get together, have a drink for old times sake.”
“Yes. Old times sake.” Caldera said, each word dripping with ice.
Ito nodded and then was gone, heading to the assault ship to take the chip to NeoTokyo.
As soon as Ito was gone, Caldera watched as Korehammer suddenly started to get dressed with a sense of urgency. “Give me a hand. Some of these wounds still hurt like a son of a bitch.”
“What’s your rush? You gave the chip to Ito and Hachisuka. It’s over.”
“No, I gave a chip to Ito and Hachisuka. And when they discover it contains nothing but information for a National Cryptobank account, they are going to be really pissed off.”
Caldera’s mouth hung open for a second. “What?”
“When I finally got my hands on it, the box had two chips inside. The one with the nanotech schematics and another with the information on the one million fee I was owed. I just gave your old boyfriend the second one.”
Caldera shook her head, realization dawning on her. “The banking chip.”
“So where are the schematics?”
“I mailed them.”
“You what?” she exclaimed.
“I have a secure drop box I use for occasions just like this. It should already be there waiting for us here in Philly. From there we can figure out what our next move is.”
“Our next move?”
“I told you. I’m in this now. I don’t know if I buy all that shit about vampires, but I do know that I trust you about as much as any human being on this planet. If you say this is important, than it is.”
Caldera hesitated as she helped him put on his shirt. “Thanks Trevor.”
“Don’t thank me yet. There’s still a good chance we’ll be dead by tomorrow.”