"The target always comes here on Thursdays."
"Reel him in already!"
"Cal Hots. Shh."
"Are you sure that the chip-head can do this?"
Liber Pater, Tacoma, 20h37 August 3, 2072
The cab stopped in front of a two story building, the name, Liber Pater, outlined in flashing neon. A few people milled around outside, smoking, vaping, chatting, or just taking a breather in the cool night air despite the rain. Mason exited the cab, holding his arm out to help Tempest get out of the car. He kept the hold as they entered the bar. "I need to talk to some people. I'll meet you at the bar."
Tempest maintained her smile as she looked up into his eyes. "I need to hit the little girl's room."
Mason pointed at a hallway. "Back there. Don't be long." He leaned down to nuzzle Tempest's neck before walking away.
Tempest watched Mason for a moment before making her way through the rougher looking crowd. Once in the women's washroom, she went to a sink, turning the water on full. "Crab, still with me?"
"Still online with you," he answered. "And that's Mr. Crab. Where are you?"
"The ladies' room at Liber Pater in Tacoma. Where are you?"
"Getting into position."
"ETA is ten minutes," Greyline added.
"What the hell were you doing with the target in the cab?" Blaze asked.
Tempest scowled. "What you're paying me to do. Can you get here sooner? This is a Triad joint. They might not like me being here. And their chips are pure junk."
"Great, a fussy addict."
"Shut up, Blaze," Mr. Crab said. "Let us know where the target takes you and we'll move in."
"Thanks." Tempest washed her hands and splashed the tepid water into her face. Game on.
Tempest walked out with a sway to her hips. Mason was already at the bar waiting for her. "Sorry. All those cocktails and nachos. I'm ready, though!"
"So is our room."
"Come here often?" Tempest gave Mason a wink.
"Best chips in the Sprawl." Mason hooked an arm around the runner's waist. "This way."
Tempest let herself be lead through the crowd to the back. Two ork bouncers glowered at them until Mason sent a recognition code with a fifty nuyen attachment. Their demeanor changed, giving Mason and Tempest toothy smiles as they stepped aside. Mason let Tempest take the lead up the stairs. Tempest rewarded him with an exaggerated wiggle.
At the top of the stairs, Mason guided Tempest to a room at the end of the hall. Inside, the floor was covered with bright red pillows. A couch, also done in red with gold highlights and brass trim, sat diagonally in the far corner. In the centre of the room sat a plain plastic table with two small black canisters.
Mason reached the table first and handed one of the canisters to Tempest. "The finest Better-Than-Life chip on the West Coast."
"Software from a server may be popular, but chips will always be superior." He opened his canister and shook out a red optical chip. "No one will be able to hack their way into the experience."
Tempest kept her smile plastered on her face as she opened her own canister. She held the chip gingerly, turning it over in her fingers as she looked for identifying marks. "What sort of chip is it?"
"The best mindbender you'll ever experience. Cal Hots will look tame after this." Mason brushed back his hair to reveal a chipjack at the base of his skull. "Works best direct, but you can slot it through a datajack if you're not chipped."
Tempest grimaced. "Company won't pay for a chipjack yet." She ran her fingers through her hair along her temple, revealing her datajack. "This will have to do."
Mason sat down on the couch, then patted the cushion beside him. "Let's get started. The night won't last forever until we slot and run."
Tempest joined Mason on the couch, snuggling against him. She placed the BTL into her commlink's chip port. "Ready when you are."
First giving Tempest a kiss on her forehead, Mason inserted the chip into his jack. His eyes closed. "That's the shit." He shuddered as the chip took over.
Tempest switched her commlink to cold sim before starting the chip's program. A wave of red washed over her. Her craving pushed against her willpower and, for a moment, she considered letting the craving win. She gritted her teeth.
"Tempest, your biomonitor's going haywire," Mr. Crab said.
"It's the BTL." Tempest hoped she was sub-vocalizing. "Target's ready for pick up."
"On our way."
Tempest untangled herself from Mason's arm, scooting down to the other end of the couch. "Cheap ass bastard and his moodchips," she grumbled. "What sort of mood is red?"
"What was that?" Blaze asked. "Didn't catch that."
"Nothing!" Tempest snapped. "Just get here."
"Seems like red is the snarky bitch mood."
"What. Ever." Motion from Mason's side of the couch caught Tempest's attention. She looked over at the target who started to thrash. "Fuck! No RAS overrides!" Tempest rolled off the couch, landing shoulder first on the gaudy pillows on the floor.
"Clear the window!" Greyline called.
Mason lurched to his feet. His eyes snapped open, staring blankly. His head turned almost mechanically, locking in place on seeing Tempest. The runner crawled along the floor to the table, keeping her head down. Mason followed, each step robotic. Gunfire erupted, ripping through the boarded up window. Tempest shrieked. Mason stopped, turning towards the window.
"Cease fire!" Tempest called. "Cease fire!" She opened her purse, reaching deep inside to grab a weapon, a dart gun.
"You said he was down!" Greyline said.
"I can get through," Blaze said. "Give me a minute to climb up."
Mason turned his attention back to Tempest. "I don't have a minute!" She pushed herself backwards, legs pedalling hard as she tried to get some space away from Mason. Without stopping, Mason backhanded the table, sending it smashing into the wall.
Tempest raised her dart gun. Every nerve ending she had felt like it was on fire. Her first shot buried itself deep into the couch. Mason reached down with both hands. Tempest rolled away before he could grab her throat. She swung her pistol back in line and fired again. The dart hit Mason's thigh. He grunted but ignored it.
The boards covering the window burst inward. Blaze clambered through, landing in a crouch on the floor as she took in the scene. Mason ignored the intrusion and again grabbed for Tempest. She backed into the wall, her throat just out of Mason's reach. Instead, he grabbed the runner's blouse and hauled her off the floor. Tempest slapped at his arms to no effect.
"Get out of the way!" Blaze unclipped a baton from her belt, pressing a button on its handle.
Mason pivoted. He flung Tempest at Blaze, her blouse ripping. The street samurai dove to the side, letting Tempest fly past and into the couch. Tempest bounced to the floor, her dart gun dropping between cushions. She felt around for the weapon as she watched Blaze take a swing at Mason. The target caught the street sam's wrist.
Tempest's hand wrapped around her dart gun. She brought it up, pointed at Mason. "Move!"
Blaze swung Mason around, presenting his back to Tempest. The dart gun coughed once; a dart embedded itself into Mason's shoulder. Mason's grip loosened. His knees buckled. Blaze caught him before he fell to the floor.
Tempest willed herself to take deep breaths. "Got him?"
"He's out. Greyline, where's the van?"
"Below your window."
"Copy that." Blaze nodded at the broken window. "Tempest, go."
Tempest got to her feet, grabbing her purse. She climbed out the window, jumping down the metre or so to the stepvan's roof. Mr. Crab helped her inside. A moment later, Blaze got in, Mason slung over her shoulder. Mr. Crab closed the doors when he returned. "Go!"
Blaze set Mason on the van's floor. "What did you hit him with?"
Tempest dug through her purse. "Narcoject. Hang on." She fought back the irritation pulsing through her every fibre as she found two optical chips. Moving her hair away from her skilljack, she started inserting the chips.
"One BTL isn't enough for you?" The street samurai glared at Tempest.
"They're skillsofts you--" Tempest cut off the insult. She held up each chip. "First Aid. Medicine. We have to deliver dumbass there alive."
Mr. Crab shooed the street sam back from Mason. "Give her room."
Tempest finished setting up her skillsofts. The old 'ware buzzed under her skin, adding to the irritation. "Heart rate up. Blood pressure up. Breathing rate up. Increased adrenaline."
"You can tell that by looking at him?" Mr. Crab asked.
"That's from my biomonitor." Tempest knelt down beside Mason. "What idiot chooses anger for a moodchip?" She fought the urge to smack the target upside the head. Instead, she felt along the carotid artery for a pulse. "A little fast, even with the Narcoject."
Blaze reached out for Mason's chipjack. "Then unplug him."
"No!" Tempest smacked the woman's hand. "Let the chip play out. Unplugging him in the middle will make him crash."
"How much longer?" Mr. Crab asked.
Tempest check the run time on her own BTL. "Five minutes left." She clenched her fist. "It should start fading in the last minute. He'll feel the opposite for a bit afterward. You can slap a tranq patch on him then."
"The opposite?" Blaze said. "The opposite of what?"
"Rage," Mr. Crab said. "Look at Tempest. I've never met a Face who snapped at her own team before."
Tempest nodded. "And that's on cold sim." She fingered the remains of her blouse. "Someone owes me for this shirt. And the three darts I shot." She pulled out the skillsoft chips, exhaling a sigh of relief as her skillwires shut down. "What now?"
Greyline's voice came from the van's extensive speaker system. "Mr. Johnson's meeting us at 2200 along the Tacoma docks. Gang warfare's closing I-5, though."
Mr. Crab rubbed Tempest's shoulder. "Can you last until then?"
Tempest pulled her knees close to her chest. "I got a choice?"
Charles Royer Station, Tacoma, 00h11 August 3, 2072
Tempest fought the urge to scratch where the VendingWear shirt brushed against her skin. A man's voice finally answered after the third ring, "Moshi moshi."
In halting Japanese, Tempest said, "Is Takamura-san available? It's Tempest Pot with some news on a rival."
Hold music cut in, a technosynth remix of some old chrome rock song Tempest couldn't place. She rubbed her arms as she waited. "Tempest-chan, so good to hear from you."
"Hello, Takamura-san. I apologize for the late call."
"Don't worry, Tempest-chan. I was finishing with some loose ends. You sound rough. Did you need a pick-me-up?"
Tempest bit her lip. Hating herself, she answered, "I do. But I have information for you about a business rival's product."
There was a pause before Takamura said, "We should meet. Where are you?"
"The train station in Tacoma."
"I'll send a driver for you. He'll bring you to me."
"Thank you, Takamura-san."
Tempest leaned back once Takamura cut off the connection. She let out a long sigh. The pay for her part of Mason's extraction sat in a credstick in her purse, and a BTL chip waited for her. The job was over.