Korehammer left the restaurant and quickly made his way up to his suite. Looking down at his hands as he waited for the elevator he noticed that they were shaking. The meeting with Gareth had managed to do something that hadn’t happened in decades.
Korehammer was rattled.
To anyone watching that meeting between him and Gareth, they wouldn’t have seen anything that might give Korehammer a reason to pause and rethink his course of action. However, thanks to his chosen profession, he had learned to read people and if he did say so himself, he was very, very good at it.
So Korehammer knew a monster when he saw one.
He had experienced a lot through the years, but had managed to compartmentalize most of it. As a member of the Moss Genetic Systems army Korehammer never questioned what he was told to do: just complete the mission and wait for the next assignment. It was similar with Caldera and their courier business. She lined up the gigs and he went where he was told, never asking too many questions or wondering if what he was doing was the right thing.
The same principle applied to the people Korehammer had dealt with. He didn’t see them as enemies or villains or victims. They were simply in his way and if they had to be removed from the equation to complete a mission, so be it. He felt no guilt about that choice and he was sure if the situation was reversed, they would feel the same way about him. It was just the way it was.
The world they lived in was filled with shades of grey. Life since the War was about survival and you did what you had to do. Right and wrong, good and evil were considered outdated and antiqued concepts that had no place in the real lives that people were living. That rationale made Korehammer very good at what he did and he would never apologize for it.
Gareth though, he was something different. Something sinister. Something, for lack of a better word, evil.
Korehammer knew instinctively from the moment he sat down that Gareth would do whatever he had to do to get his hands on that datachip, no matter what that entailed. And if that was all there was to it, Korehammer could understand and almost respect that.
No, what had really shaken Korehammer was that he knew that Gareth would enjoy it. Enjoy the killing, enjoy the blood that was spilled, enjoy the chaos that would result. It would bring him great pleasure and a likely put a big smile on his face.
The elevator chimed and the operator, this time a girl who couldn’t be older than 20, opened the doors and said something to Korehammer as he exited but he didn’t hear her. His mind was racing. He had to find Caldera and get the full story about what exactly he was now involved in. He had to figure out how to get back to Philadelphia and make a plan to get the datachip to Brooklyn. He knew that thanks to Wynn and Shina-Yasuyan security he was fine as long as he remained in the complex, but he couldn’t stay there forever.
Retirement was officially over. Korehammer was back in the game, whether he wanted to be or not.
Korehammer went into the suite and tried to contact Caldera with his NIIC. He hadn’t heard from her since the message he received at Chernova’s apartment and hoped nothing had happened to her since he last saw her. Korehammer cursed as the call went unanswered and eventually went to her messaging system.
“Corrine, it’s me. We need to meet and talk ASAP. I want to know exactly what the hell you have gotten me involved in. This is way more than just some package drop. I need to know everything. The time for your cloak and dagger bullshit is over. I’m deep in this now and I want to know what I’m up against. Get in touch with me as soon as you get this.”
Korehammer then went into the bedroom and got his things together. Most of the clothes he threw down the incinerator shaft, figuring he wouldn’t be needing them anymore. He pulled on a fresh pair of jeans and a shirt, threw his weapons into his duffel bag and loaded and activated both of his X-22s. Finally he took the Spawnblade and activated the magnetic sheath that would keep it fixed to his thigh.
He looked in the mirror as he pulled on his black duster and grimaced. Korehammer really thought his days of having to look over his shoulder all the time was finally coming to an end. His paranoia would never go away completely, but the last few months he felt like he could maybe relax, just a little bit.
Then Corrine Caldera came back into his life and everything went to shit in record time. She had better have an excellent explanation for what all this was about on otherwise there would be hell to pay.
Time for one last performance as Chernova before leaving the Shina-Yasuyan and a bright neon target started flashing on his back.
Korehammer spoke to the ceiling. “Call Neomi Wynn.”
Moments later a holoscreen appeared before him, Wynn speaking to him from somewhere on the casino floor. “Mr. Chernova. How did your meeting go this morning?”
“Not well I am afraid, not well at all. It would seem I have made a few enemies while staying here at your beautiful hotel.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time it happened sir. Why do you think I practice on the corporate gun range twice a week?”
Korehammer laughed at that. “I am sure you are a very good shot.”
“I do okay. So, I’m sure you didn’t call me to discuss marksmanship. How can I help you today?”
“Due to … unforeseen circumstances I need to return to Philadelphia as soon as possible. It is a business matter of some importance.”
“Of course sir. I completely understand. I’ll have a car waiting for you at the valet and you can be on your way within the half hour.”
“Nyet. I appreciate the offer but I would prefer another option. As you saw last night there are individuals with whom I am having some disagreements with. I would never ask one of your drivers to put their life in danger.”
Wynn put her finger on her chin. “Hmm. Well, we do have a few corporate cars we keep for employee use. There’re nothing fancy but if you prefer to drive yourself for safety reasons you are more than welcome to use one.”
“Spasibo. That would be perfect.”
“Okay. I’ll have Parker, your driver from last night, pull one around to the valet.”
“Your understanding through all of this has been remarkable. I will make sure to remember this.”
“I’m just doing my job sir, whatever that may entail. Oh! Before I forget. I wanted to congratulate you on your big win.”
“My big win?”
“The Jovena Rackman fight last night in Vegas. She knocked out Tsaio Lao-Cha in the fourth round. From what I understand Lao-Cha is still in the hospital. Your bet paid out very handsomely.”
Korehammer had completely forgotten about the bets he placed at the sports book. A Rackman win was considered a long shot and he had placed a ridiculously large sum of money that the fight would end in a knockout.
“Well, since you have been so helpful during my visit, you will take half of the winnings as your gratuity.”
For the briefest of moments, Wynn’s jaw went slack. To her credit she recovered quickly and regained her composure. “Sir, that’s very generous but you really don’t need to do that.”
“It is my pleasure. You have been most helpful and a pleasure to deal with lyubov moya. I hope to see you again when I can spend more time here.”
“Of … of course Mr. Chernova. It was nice to meet you too.”
“Until next time dushen’ka.”
Korehammer ended the call before she could continue. He sincerely did hope he could return to the Shina-Yasuyan some day. It wouldn’t until this current situation has been resolved, but it gave him something to look forward to.
He grabbed his duffel bag and headed for the door. He briefly considered swapping out the Chernova NIIC for a different one, but finally decided against it. Gareth and his people seemed to already be aware of at least two of his identities. Changing to a new one could wait until he was back in Philadelphia at one of his safe houses.
Korehammer took the elevator down to the lobby and once he arrived in valet saw Parker standing by a nondescript blue BMW 9018. In its day the sedan was the height of luxury and performance, but it has generally been forgotten in the wake of the newer 9200s.
“Mr. Chernova. Miss Wynn said you would be using one of the corporate cars to go home today. I hope this will be satisfactory.”
“Da. This is just fine Parker. Thank you.”
“It’s currently set to autocar but if you want to drive yourself, just use your NIIC to activate the self-driving mode.”
“I think I will drive myself. It has been a while since I was behind the wheel of a car and am afraid I might be, as you say, getting rusty.”
Parker laughed as she opened the door for him and then took his bag and put it in the trunk of the car. Korehammer placed his NIIC over the car’s dashboard control screen and said “Activate self-driving mode.”
“Acknowledged. Drive safely Mr. Chernova,” a female voice replied.
Korehammer pressed the button and the car started up, a low purr coming from the electric engine. While not as efficient as hovertech, Korehammer had to admit he preferred older model cars. While they had stopped using gasoline decades ago, older cars at least seemed to be spiritual descendants of the legendary muscle cars, unlike hovertech which, as far as he was concerned, was the automotive equivalent of synthfood.
“Have a safe trip home Mr. Chernova. Please come visit again so we can have some more fun.”
“You call last night fun?”
“You kidding? Running from armed thugs, a high-speed chase and a shootout? That’s a winner as far as I’m concerned.”
It was Korehammer’s turn to laugh as he shook Parker’s hand before closing the door. “I have left a generous tip as a way to say thank you. Until we see each other again.”
He could see Parker’s huge grin as he pulled out of the valet and headed for the tunnel that would take him to the Atlantic City Expressway. Hopefully the rest of his trip would be uneventful and he could spend the time planning for the whatever was coming down the road.
The last time Korehammer has actually driven a car was back when he and Caldera were still working together. It was a job in Ukraine and the car he had driven wasn’t nearly as easy to operate as the BMW. He was making good time and had just passed the Farley Metro Plaza when he noticed them.
To anyone else, they would have thought it was just traffic on the Expressway, but Korehammer knew better. The two hovercars that had been behind him since he left Atlantic City were slowly gaining, one on each side of him. He knew this was likely to happen as soon as he left the protection of the Shina-Yasuyan Complex, he was just hoping to be closer to home when it did.
Korehammer hit the accelerator, trying to get caught up to the cars just ahead of him. If he stayed in a group, it would make their job that much harder. There might be some collateral damage but it couldn’t be helped.
Just as Korehammer was getting close, he saw someone armed with a Militech LR-5 Reaper assault rifle lean out the window of one of the hovercars. He took aim and opened fire just as Korehammer yanked the wheel to the right, the spot where he just was becoming a shredded mess of concrete.
Korehammer floored it, knowing he couldn’t outrun the hovercars but trying his best to give them a harder target to hit by constantly switching lanes. Another blast of gunfire erupted behind him, the glass of the back window shattering as he pulled the wheel to the left.
The mercs continued to fire haphazardly, sending cars spinning out of control as their drivers were killed or hurt. Soon all that was left was Korehammer and the two hovercars racing down the Expressway, the gunmen gaining on him every second.
Korehammer cursed the fact his bag with all his big guns was sitting in the trunk, useless. His X-22s in their holsters would do nothing against the hovercars so all he could do was hope that he could avoid getting hit and make it to the bridge into Philadelphia.
Suddenly he heard sirens and a small smile crossed his lips. He glanced in his rearview mirror and saw a New Jersey State Corpsman SWAT hovertank coming up fast. The NJSC were known to not take any shit from anyone and might be able to give Korehammer the time he needed to make his getaway.
Unfortunately for both them and him, the mercs were more than prepared. Someone came crawling out of a moon roof of one of the hovercars armed with an Arasaka 2-RVK “Peacekeeper” Grenade Launcher. Before Korehammer knew what was happening the merc fired and the hovertank exploded in a ball of fire and smoke, disappearing in the distance as Korehammer and the hovercars sped on.
Korehammer’s eyes went wide as he again looked in his mirror to see the merc now taking aim at him with the grenade launcher. He tried his best to swerve and make himself a difficult target, but he knew that it was hopeless.
“Shit …” Korehammer said as his world exploded around him.
The ringing in his ears was the only sensation Korehammer could feel as he tried to open his eyes. The smoke and heat made seeing anything impossible as he attempted to push himself off the hot asphalt. He could feel that his right arm was broken and his forehead felt warm and sticky.
Korehammer knew that jumping out of the moving car, especially at that speed was a desperate thing to do but he didn’t have a lot of other options. He crawled away from the wreckage as he tried to get one of the X-22s out of the holster. He knew the drivers of those hovercars would be here any second and he had to be as ready as he could. He painfully got to his feet, a low scream escaping his lips as he put his weight on his left leg. Probably broken, worry about it later.
The car was engulfed in flames as Korehammer staggered toward the trunk, trying to figure out how he was going to get inside when he felt someone grip his shoulder and throw him across the road. He hit the plastisteel guardrail hard, knocking the wind out of him as he sagged to the ground, his X-22 flying in the opposite direction.
Korehammer sat there, back against the guardrail with blood running into his eyes as he saw someone get out of one of the hovercars. He wiped his hand across his face to clear his vision as they got closer. Once Korehammer realized who it was, he muttered a curse under his breath.
“Not having a great day, are we asshole?”
It was Felicia, the woman from the night before. The same one who had apologized at the meeting with Gareth. Still dressed all in black with mirrorshades covering her eyes and skin as pale as moonlight.
Korehammer looked up at her. “To be honest? I’ve had better.”
“Didn’t I tell you I was going to teach you all about pain?” As she said it she put the heel of her boot on Korehammer’s broken leg. He could feel the bones grinding together as he stifled a scream.
“Aw, that hurt?” Felicia pressed down harder.
Korehammer let out a cry of agony as she continued to apply pressure. The last time he had felt pain like this was when he had his hand replaced. It was not a sensation he had wanted to ever relive.
Felicia crouched down, her mirrorshades even with his eyes and her face inches from his. Her breath reeked of a smell like rotten eggs. “You know what? I like you. You have spunk for an old infirm fuck. You could be useful to us later on. I think I’m going to keep you.”
Another woman, dressed the same as Felicia looked suddenly alarmed. “Felicia, what are you doing? We’re supposed to retrieve the package and kill this guy. That’s it.”
“Shut the fuck up Trish. I know what I’m doing. Besides, I haven’t had lunch yet.”
“This is a bad idea Felicia.”
“I said shut the fuck up!”
Korehammer had no clue what was going on but he knew it wasn’t good whatever it was. He was helpless to stop Felicia as she came closer, opening her mouth wide as she did. It was then that Korehammer got a really good look at her face and realized something.
Jesus Christ, are those fangs? he thought to himself as he felt her lips on his neck.