Caldera ordered an autocar as she and Korehammer walked out of the Hachisuka CritCare Unit. It had started raining and since Korehammer was still not one hundred percent, she decided it was the best way to get where they were going.
After some debate, they had decided that heading to her room at The Dolphin Motel was probably their best option. It was registered under a false identity and in The Plex, it was always easier to disappear than anywhere else in the city. In addition, it turned out that Korehammer’s drop box wasn’t that far from The Dolphin so they could take some time to decompress and get their bearings.
Ten minutes later Caldera was using her NIIC to open the door to her room. As they walked in they were welcomed by the primal moaning of the sex worker and her latest client next door. Korehammer gave Caldera a questioning look and she simply shrugged her shoulders, which apparently was enough of an answer for him.
Korehammer sat down heavily in the chair by the window, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. Caldera glanced over at him as she took off her jacket and threw it on the bed. “You okay?”
“I will be. Just need a few minutes. That fight on the Expressway took a toll. I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“That goes for both of us.”
Korehammer opened his eyes, looking at Caldera with a grim expression. “Well, that’s why I was happily semi-retired until you came back into my life.”
Caldera looked at the floor, unable to meet his gaze. “Korehammer, listen I …”
Korehammer waved his hand in an attempt to silence her. “It’s not important right now. I just need to know one thing. When you vanished four years ago, was it because of this? The whole fight against the vampires thing?”
Caldera hesitated, not sure how much of the truth she wanted to share. “The short answer is yes. Remember that op in Buenos Aires for ThetaCom? The one where they wanted you to retrieve some spliced gene codes and bring them to Chicago?”
“Yeah. That job turned into a total shitshow. And when I got back, you were gone.”
“That’s because the truth about what was going on in the world had been shown to me. That was when I learned about the vampires and what they had been doing for thousands of years. How they had hurt people, destroyed families and caused more pain then you or I could imagine.”
It was then Caldera realized her hands were clenched into fists, so tight that her knuckles were turning white. She opened her hands, slowly flexing her fingers to get the circulation going again. Even though it had been four years, just thinking about the events that had opened her eyes made all the anger and fury come right back to the surface.
“I swore then I would do whatever I had to in order to end their threat and make the world better. I wasn’t going to let them get away with thinking of humanity as just food. You know what they call humans?”
“Bloodbags. That’s what they call us. That’s how they see us.” Caldera looked away from Korehammer and tried to calm herself.
Korehammer leaned forward in the chair, resting his elbow on his knees. “Yeah, but what caused all this emotion and rage? I thought I knew you pretty well, Corrine. It’s not like you to just go off on some kind of holy crusade without a damn good reason.”
Caldera’s shoulders slumped as she sat on the edge of the bed, her hands in her lap. It had been so long since she had been able to talk to anyone about this. She was just too exhausted to put up a front and deny any of it anymore.
“They got my brother,” she said almost under her breath.
Korehammer shook his head in disbelief. “Your brother? Your twin Connor? Corrine, you told me he died. That he was killed in some back alley by a gang after he played a gig in a bar. Hell, that must have been over twenty years ago by now.”
“Yeah. Twenty-one to be exact. After he died was when I ran off and joined the Hachisuka Corporate Army. With Connor gone I didn’t see any point in anything anymore.”
“So what are you telling me? That vampires are the ones who killed him?”
Caldera slowly turned to look Korehammer in the eye. “Sort of. Vampires are the ones who attacked him. But they didn’t kill him, not the way you’re thinking of. No, they turned him.”
“Turned him into what?”
Korehammer’s jaw went slack as he looked at Caldera. She could tell he didn’t believe a word that was coming out of her mouth. Unfortunately that didn’t make it any less true.
“While you were in Buenos Aires I received a message that someone wanted to meet me at the Rosewood, that dive bar in the southern part of The Plex? I would have ignored it if it didn’t include some information that only a handful of people would know. I got there, ordered a drink and waited. A half hour later Connor walked in.
“He still looks almost exactly like he did the last time I saw him twenty years ago. Long black hair, high cheekbones, square jaw. The only difference is the deathly pale skin. I was in shock. I was sure someone was fucking with me, playing some kind of incredibly cruel joke. But then he walked over, sat down next to me and started talking. Told me how he had been turned by the bloodsuckers. How he had been keeping tabs on me all these years. How much he missed me.”
Caldera paused, shaking her head slightly before continuing. “Then Connor gave me a warning. He told me that the vampires are planning for war with humanity. They want to take over, no more working from the shadows, no more living in secret. He said he had tried to be a voice of reason but as far as the other bloodsuckers are concerned he’s nothing more than a child.
“He was warning me because he didn’t want me to get hurt. Said he knew about our courier business and said I should take my money, buy a cabin somewhere in the mountains and hide. Humanity didn’t have a chance and he didn’t want to see me become someone’s dinner or worse, be turned into an abomination like him.”
Caldera stood, wrapping her arms around herself and then started pacing by the side of the bed. “Once he left I started doing some research and learned the truth for myself. About the vampires, how they had influenced the course of world events and what they were planning. I also learned about the DawnSword and …”
Korehammer held up his hand. “Wait. The Dawn what now?”
“The DawnSword. The resistance movement that fights the vampires. They’ve been around for almost as long as the bloodsuckers, trying to keep humans safe and oblivious to the secret war raging around them. There are cells all over the world, working independently of each other so that no one member can endanger the whole group.
“After seeing Connor and what they had done to him, I couldn’t just go on like nothing had happened. I had to fight them, get some kind of justice. So I searched for the DawnSword and once I found them, I joined. I wanted to keep you uninvolved so I didn’t tell you. I just went off the grid and figured I’d never see you again. I thought it would be better that way.”
Caldera walked over and put her hand on Korehammer’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you.”
Korehammer shrugged with indifference. “It wouldn’t have mattered. I would have told you that you’re crazy and laughed as you left.”
Caldera looked down and met Korehammer’s eyes with a slight smile on her lips. “Right.”
“So what changed that you felt the need to reach out to me for help?”
“With the new tactics being used by the vampires and the threat of open conflict looming, the DawnSword has decided to organize and share resources. That’s how we learned about the nanotech being developed by Omega-Kagi. Everything was going according tp plan until New Pittsburgh, when everything went to shit. We had no choice but to ditch the chip to keep it safe. We found Zechiel, convinced him to take it with him to Atlantic City and then split up since we knew we were being followed by the bloodsuckers. And that’s where you entered the story.”
“Thanks for that.” Korehammer said under his breath.
“Again, I’m sorry.”
Korehammer looked up at her. “Don’t be. Retirement wasn’t suiting me that well anyway. And if there’s a war coming with undead vampires, I guess this is better than getting my neck pierced.”
He stood, cutting her off. “So what’s the plan? We get the datachip from the dropbox and then head for Brooklyn?”
“Right. Mattix runs the DawnSword cell that operates out of New York. We give the chip to him and then await further instructions.”
“Really? From what I read Mattix didn’t seem like the revolutionary type, much less the kind who would be a leader.”
“You’d be surprised what fighting bloodsuckers for years can bring out in a person.”
“Anyway, what kind of instructions?”
“There’s chatter that some of leaders of the bigger cells are going to have a meeting, figure out some kind of strategy going forward. There’s also the issue that there’s a traitor somewhere in the DawnSword.”
Korehammer walked over to where Caldera had placed the duffel bag on the small table by the window. “Fine. I suggest we crash for a few hours while we have the chance. It’ll take at least that long for Ito to reach NeoTokyo and discover he’s been had.” He then reached into the bag and brought out the Stasis Cradle.
Caldera watched as Korehammer went through the process of removing the Malcolm Chernova NIIC from his wrist and replacing it with his own. She always found it a bit disquieting, watching as a man she knew better than most become someone else.
As he placed the Chernova NIIC in its slot in the Cradle, he glanced at Caldera. “Thanks to you, Malcolm Chernova is officially dead. When we have some down time I’ll have to go through the reams of paperwork to kill him and transfer all his money and property to his brother.”
Caldera tilted her head slightly in a questioning look. “He had a brother?”
“No, but he will by the time I’m done.”
Korehammer sat back down in the chair, pulling the small plastic coffee table over and propping his feet up on it. “You take the bed. I’ll be fine here.”
“Korehammer, you’re injured. You take the bed.”
“No thanks. You’ll lord it over me forever. Not gonna happen.”
Caldera went into the bathroom and changed her shirt, pulling on a vintage Morphide t-shirt from the band’s European Tour in 2027 and a fresh pair of jeans. She went back out, ready to explain to Korehammer why he should take the bed when she saw he was already fast asleep.
She pulled the blanket off the bed and threw it over him. As she laid down and closed her eyes, Caldera hoped against hope that her sleep would be dream free.
Caldera woke with a start at the gentle prodding of Korehammer, who was nudging her with his hand. “Time to get up. We have to get moving.”
“How long was I out?”
“Couple hours. You kept muttering to yourself but I figured it was better to just let you rest.”
“Yeah. Thanks,” she said as she tried to rub the sleep from her eyes.
“The drop box is just a few blocks from here. We can pick it up and then figure out how we’re going to get to Brooklyn.”
Caldera shook her head. “We have to make a stop first after we get the datachip. There’s something I need to take care of.”
Korehammer gave her an incredulous look. “Are you kidding?”
“it’s important. Take my word for it.”
“Yeah. I’ve been doing that a lot lately.”
Caldera gave him a grim smile as she pulled on her leather jacket and made sure her Magnums were loaded and ready. Korehammer did the same, reloading both X-27 handguns and throwing the duffel bag over his shoulder.
They walked out of Caldera’s room and into the dark of the evening. The rain had stopped and the neon of the signs could be seen reflected in the puddles of water in the street. Caldera always liked it right after it rained. Everything felt cleaner, like the persistent filth of the city had been beaten back, if only temporarily.
They turned left, heading West on Oregon Ave. In fifteen minutes they arrived at one of the many capsule motels that littered The Plex. This one was called the Sunrise and it rose into the air like a monolith, rooms the size of coffins stacked one on top of another. They were cheap, even cheaper than the place Caldera was staying and usually offered drop boxes for people without a permanent address, which included most of the visitors to The Plex.
They walked into the lobby, which was shabby and smelled like mold. Korehammer gave the woman behind the desk a curt nod as he walked past, and had it returned.
“You know each other?” Caldera asked.
“Like I told you, I’ve used this box before. No one asks questions here and no one would bother to answer if someone did.”
They walked into a small room which was lined with drop boxes, each with a number and a NIIC reader attached to the wall beside it. Korehammer walked over to a box with 601 written in faded white numbers on it and waved his NIIC over the reader. The box softly ejected a few inches from the wall with a low beep. Korehammer pulled it out the rest of the way and placed it on the small table that stood in the center of the room. He lifted the cover off and there inside Caldera could see a small package addressed to the Sunrise.
Korehammer took it out and opened it, revealing the datachip inside. Caldera let out an involuntary sigh of relief as she saw it.
“What? You didn’t trust me?”
“It’s not that. I’m just glad to have optics on it again.”
“That’s great. I’m happy for you,” he said as he shoved the box into the bag on his shoulder. “Now what’s this errand you feel so compelled to run?”
“C’mon. Let’s grab an autocar and I’ll tell you on the way.”
A few minutes later Korehammer and Caldera were standing on Dickinson Street in front of Charlie’s Chop Shop. It was late but the shop was still open, the neon sign blinking “Open” repeatedly as they walked inside.
The two walked around the piles of chrome, tech and hovercar parts and then heard a noise from the back of the shop.
“I’m with a fuckin’ client, so you can either wait or come back tomorrow. I don’t give a dead dog’s dick either way.”
Caldera walked over to the front door and locked it, then motioned with her head for Korehammer to follow her as she drew one of her Magnums from the holster. They walked down a short dimly lit hallway that smelled of dust and oil and found Charlie in the same room in which he had worked on Caldera a few days before.
Sitting on the edge of the table was a young kid, no more than sixteen, a piece of plastic between his teeth. Charlie was working on some kind of tattoo which was causing the kid obvious pain as he bared down on the plastic and was covered in a sheen of sweat.
The kid looked up and saw Korehammer and Caldera, his eyes widening as he also saw the Magnum Caldera was carrying. He grunted something around the plastic, which caused Charlie to stop whatever it was he was doing. “I told you numbnuts, you have to stay the perfectly fuckin’ still or I’m going to screw …” he then turned and saw Caldera and Korehammer in the doorway.
“Caldera! What the flyin’ fuck are you doin’ here? And Trevor Korehammer! I’ll be fucked!”
Charlie’s smile quickly faded as he saw the gun in Caldera’s hand. “Oh fuck me. This isn’t a social visit, is it?”
“What do you think fat ass?”
“Junior, I think you better get the fuck out of here. Me and these two have some business to discuss.”
The kid took the piece of plastic out of his mouth and looked down at his arm. “But you only finished half the tat! What the hell am I supposed to do with this shit?”
Before Caldera could stop him, Korehammer had pulled out his X-27 and fired two shots into the kid’s head. Bits of skull sprayed all over the wall as he slumped over and fell off the table, a pool of blood quickly forming under him.
“Jesus fucking monkey Christ!” Charlie screamed, jumping off the stool he was sitting on, sending it rolling in the other direction. “What the fuckin’ hell was that about?”
Caldera looked at Korehammer and he just looked back at her. “What? We couldn’t take the chance the squib wouldn’t rat on us anyway. Two problems solved. You’re welcome.”
Caldera just shook her head as she looked back at Charlie, who was standing with his arms covering his head.
“I need to ask you some questions Charlie. And if you don’t have the right answers, it’s going to take all the chrome in this shithole to put you back together.”