Short Story: Vanguard

A bright flash. A concussive boom. She stumbled in her run, blind and deaf. Her HUD had been knocked out. It flickered in her vision, spurting lines of colors. That meant her her optics had gone too. An EMP-flashbang. Bastards. EMPs, meant to disorient the cybernetically augmented and their tech, her. Getting out was important, but seeing was even more important.

She felt, rather than heard, the thump of boots. They flooded the narrow corridor behind her. She knew the place’s floor-plan from memory, but in her stumbling run, wasn’t sure she’d make the right turns. She booked it, both oblivious and fiercely aware of the platoon aimed to fire on her.

They told her this would happen; her friends, family. Not the blood kind of course. Shitty parents and siblings had long been an epidemic in this brave new world. Her family particularly, were corp through and through, Aries SC, Guardian LLC, Arc Systems, or one the other big ones, it didn’t matter who belonged to which. Wage-slaves and tin-soldiers were all there was room for these days, and she knew her family was a conglomerate of half of them.

She had meant her real family. Not her blood, but the people down at The Green Fairy, one of the slum-bar-hotel combos where she lived, worked, survived and thrived. Even running blindly from corp-sec down a hallway, optics half-fried, she remembered the first time she’d walked into the place.

She was still a teenaged hell-raiser in those days. Short, spiked, platinum blonde hair accented ever-present facial piercings, and self-satisfied smugness. That was before her eyes had the neon glow of optic augs, but even then she couldn’t have been called innocent, however definite an air of naivete hung about her.

She stumbled again, pictures ebbing back into her eyes. She slid around a corner, felt the thunder of a hand-cannon split the air. It barked after her. Metal on metal grated her teeth.

How the hell’d she get here? She’d showed up at the Fairy to stay the night. With no creds, or even corp-cash, she was forced to slave away mopping floors. They’d lost their only janitor a few weeks before in a gang-raid. It wasn’t the first, and she’d seen her fair-share since. It was how she got the name Cutter; she’d been attacked like everyone else, but by a guy that wanted more than a piece of her ass. She gutted him like a fish with his own knife. The sheer atavism made the other gangers freak. The Fairy’s people took advantage of it. A few more gangers went down in gunfire. The rest bolted.

She still remembered feeling the guy hard against her. He’d grabbed her from behind in a room she’d been cleaning. He stank like month-old ashtrays smothered in grease and piled with stale butts. She managed to wriggle from his grip, slip out and behind him. As he turned to grab her again, she gave his testes a full, hard kick. The force staggered them both. He toppled onto her, screaming. She fought to get out from under him, somehow grasped a knife he had hanging from his belt.

She remembered everything clearly, like it had only just happened, but not the murder. Her first blood. She only remembered standing just outside the room, covered in blood, bile, and stinking of the guy’s bowels. The knife trembled under her white-knuckles as Den Mother found her. The Old lady was a whore, running the place as a brothel– among other things. That Cutter’d drawn blood, nearly been killed defending the place, made her one of the Fairy’s Vanguard from then on.

That’s why she was here now, in this damned corp building. She’d actually been fooled into believing the place was home. Hell, maybe it was by now.

She hurled herself around another corner. Her vision had almost fully returned. Her optics were still going haywire, but she saw the double-doors leading to the loading bay. Its internal storage room stretched out behind a wall beside her. She could feel the van waiting, already running. Too bad her augs were scrambled, or she might’ve called for suppressing fire.

Den Mother had sent her here– all of them actually– but the rest weren’t forced to come inside. Den Mother had long been paying-off corps to keep the Fairy in business. One owned the deed, another the land. As much as they wanted to, they couldn’t take it from her, no matter the amount of illegality going on. Sure, they could send in corp-sec, but Den Mother had made it well-known that she’d blow the place apart with her in it before she’d let them take it. Cutter’d seen the C4 stacked in the basement. It wasn’t a bluff.

Until now, corp-sec had stayed away from the Fairy and its people. In fact, aside from a few skirmishes and narrow escapes after petty theft, Cutter’d never had any trouble with them. But sure enough, after someone in a suit showed up in the Fairy– a weasel-looking guy too sharply dressed for usual, Fairy business– Den Mother pulled the Vanguard in to a pow-wow. Cutter’d never been sure what that really meant, but she knew, when it it was over, that she was about to infiltrate a corp. With the aid of a remote receiver and the Fairy’s resident tech-genius, Dan “The Man”, she’d been tasked to locate and delete all deed information relating to the Fairy and Den Mother.

Cutter watched one of the doors open. Jack the Ripper appeared. Ripper was lethal at any range, and the aimed baby-eagles in his hands said he was all business. The door beside him divoted from rifle fire. Cutter pumped her legs. Ripper stood stock still, damn near invincible with his Kevlar-woven skeleton and armor-plated torso augs. The baby eagles barked and spit lead at corp-sec that dodged for cover at the far end of the hall.

Cutter dove past Ripper into the van’s rear, landed half-in. The Man yanked her the rest of the way. Ripper’s eagles barked. He back-stepped confidently, unrushed and unswayed. He fell in backwards, rolled to come upright, still firing. The baby eagles clicked empty. The Man hit a key on his laptop. The auto-van growled, tires spinning, and tore off into the night.

“You alright?” Ripper asked reloading his eagles.

The Man was too busy hacking the autopilot, spoofing its travel information. A sign on the side of the van said “Aries Security Corp,” so the corp they’d just hacked would have no idea who’d really done the job.

Cutter’s chest heaved for air. Her hands ran along herself to check for holes. Other than a splitting migraine and some wonked-out optics, she was fine. Fine? Alive, more like. She’d probably never been fine, never would be really. At the very least though, her home was safe, secure. The Vanguard had prevailed again.

She swallowed hard, “Yeah. Five-by-Five.” He handed over a canteen and she drank deep. Then with a breath, “Vanguard always wins, right?”

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