Gore Days is a little fan service, set between the first and the upcoming second part of the HardSkill trilogy. Like the uncompromising, ultra-violent main narrations, this story can be descriped as gore porn and is affiliated to the Japanese “guro” genre (the phoenetic resemblence between the two terms is incidential). I also took some places and elements from #Fear the Future, an older story not yet published (nor finished, for that matter).
Enjoy, but keep in mind that the HardSkill series is not for the faint of heart.
In December 2015
This is version 1.2 of HardSkill – Gore Days. I never felt quite content with the story’s original ending. There was something odd about it, partly because Lilith’s behaviour struck me as out-of-character. So I set forth to edit it – and became somewhat carried away. Where the original version had about 5,500 words, this one sports as near as makes no difference 7,200. To provide some orientation, I jotted down a mini FAQ:
Is this an extended version? – No, from the assembly hall scene on it is pretty much a complete rewrite.
I haven’t read the original version. Which one shall I read first/solely? – This one.
I have read the original version. Is it worth to read this one, too? – Definitely.
In February 2016
HardSkill – Gore Days
ATROTEC INDUSTRIAL ESTATE
A mess had to be cleaned up. Sometimes the organised crime became a bit too organised, and its actions appeared on the radar screens of those in the High Towers. Mega-incorporations were commonly not interested in drug trafficking, forced prostitution or protection racket, but didn’t take too well to acts of cyber-crime against their data cores.
The hacker with the irritating hair colour called herself Edgeplay, and – quite frankly – wasn’t as much fun as her name suggested.
“I didn’t get in! I didn’t get any data!” she babbled hysterically.
“I know that,” Lilith replied, Edgeplay’s electric kettle in her hand. The girl lying chained down on her own kitchen table hadn’t been overly successful in hacking into Yamamoto’s network. She hadn’t been overly successful in hiding her binary tracks, either. She lived in something that could be sold to neo-hipsters as a “special flair” loft, if the surroundings weren’t so bloody dreary. Since AtroTec had gone bust a couple of years ago, its industrial estate in the south-west of the city had become deserted. This circumstance was welcomed by our heroine in that no one could hear her victim’s screams.
“What I’m more interested in is the name of whom you’ve performed the hack for.”
“Nobody! I just stumbled across an open port in their network! I shouldn’t have done it! I’m sorry!”
In direct comparison to Sōichirō, Lilith was a digital illiterate, but even she knew that open ports in the Yamamoto network weren’t something one would just “stumble across”. With a stagy sigh she raised the refilled kettle. Edgeplay’s desperate whining reached a new quality. The loft revibrated with it, empty as it was except for Edgeplay’s chaotically wired rig, her bed and the sturdy table turned torture bench the girl with the neon-orange hair was pinned onto.
“Plick! His name is Plick! I only know him as Plick!”
Now they were getting somewhere. Incidentally a low-rank enforcer of the same fetching name had confirmed Edgeplay’s participation in the cyber-attack when Lilith had “stumbled across” him earlier this day. He had been even quicker and whinier with revealing intel than Edgeplay was – it had been fucking pathetic. Apparently Bulfo the Saw, an especially infamous leading light of the local underworld, had decided to expand his business.
She was even worse at lying than she was at hacking. Lilith tilted the kettle. A sip of boiling water bathed the girl’s left nipple. Her body went rigid in its chains before falling into agonised contortions. Edgeplay’s bare right breast was already sporting a nasty scalding, so did her flat sexy belly. Lilith poured another, far more generous amount of water over her victim’s torso. The steaming liquid punished the mammary tissue with intense heat. It ran into her armpits and along her left flank, gathered on her sternum, painting everything in its path a crimson red.
Lilith pulled the kettle away. It had become a good deal lighter.
“We can do this until you are cooked through to the bones.”
Edgeplay was on the verge of passing out. Lilith rammed an epinephrine auto-injector not too gently into her thigh.
“Who runs Plick?”
Edgeplay’s body convulsed as though being jump-started. She moved her blood-shot eyes this way and that, all disorientated and anxious.
“Who. Runs. Plick?” She articulated each word as if she were speaking to a child.
“Bloke in a suit,” the tortured girl gasped. “A Walloon. ‘Ariko’.”
She was referring to Andreu Haricot, one of Bulfo’s lieutenants, and a rather promising article in that fat fuck’s organisation. A fellow member who’d spoken French or had looked up the meaning of Haricot’s surname once had called him “Mr Bean”. The Walloon had not found it funny. Lilith had seen footage of Haricot and the results of his ill temper.
“Describe him to me.”
“He was wearing a suit.” She wasn’t even aware of the redundancy. “Slender. Balding. Please!”
“More. C’mon, we are on the home straight.”
“I’ve only seen him once. Plick always boasted with him – what a dangerous guy he was working for. Please, you don’t know what he is capable of! If he finds out I’ve told you his name―”
“You definitely don’t have to worry about that, love.”
Lilith took her wakizashi from the kitchen counter where it had remained available after she’d used it to cut open the girl’s tank top. The short sword’s blade threw sharp reflexions on Edgeplay’s maltreated body.
“You fucked up, missy,” she stated matter-of-factly. “And there’s a price to pay. The kettle has still got a rest of water in it; enough for a nice facial.”
“Don’t interrupt me. That’s rude. Since you provided useful feedback and since I’m not in the mood for lengthy expostulations from my bleeding-heart operator, I’ll spare your face.”
Not waiting for any signs of gratitude, Lilith poured the kettle’s content over Edgeplay’s jeans-covered crotch. The girl needed a moment to process the unspeakable information the nerve endings in her most sensitive area were firing out. Then her vocal cords all but tore from a cascade of screams. It was all she could do to meet the extreme pain. The tight denim kept the scalding water nicely around her minge. Containing the heat.
Her sounds of mindless agony stopped abruptly as Lilith ran the wakizashi sideways through Edgeplay’s neck. It had been explicitly requested that she die screaming. Blanching her cunt had done the trick, Lilith reckoned. Gurgling sounds filled the air, then ebbed away. The loft was silent now, safe for the faint buzzing of Edgeplay’s private servers in the main room. The wakizashi was not a cheap one. Lilith left it stuck nonetheless. The message would be clear: Fuck with us, and we find you – no matter the costs.
“My word, what a chaos,” Lilith murmured under her breath as she stepped this way and that to avoid tripping over the countless cables running towards and from the dead hackerette’s rig. The impressive system was in stark contrast to its owner’s limited skills. What data from more successful endeavours could be useful she had already transferred. The only thing left for Lilith to do was upload a virus that would erase any last byte and trigger physical demolition of the drives. Yamamoto Incorporation pursued a rather aggressive scorched earth policy lately.
She called Sōichirō via her ICS, that little doobry implanted beneath her scalp. A mere thought was enough for it to connect to the HyperNet, but it would fry its user’s synapses if they were to dial their own number (so it was claimed on the HyperNet, therefore it had to be true).
“Yes, boss?” her young operator answered.
“I’m uploading your virus now.”
She had blazed her trail to the terminal and manhandled the keyboard.
“Actually it’s not a virus as it does not replicate―”
A few keystrokes later Lilith’s work was done. Error messages appeared on the screen trio in rapid succession, and the servers emitted unhealthy noises. Then everything went dark.
“Can I smash it now?”
“Get out of there, boss. I believe you already had your fun.”
“I’m not apologising for plying my trade with passion. Lilith out.”
ATRO CITY CENTRE
The Atro Plaza Hotel was another fifteen minutes away. Unlike to the hacker joint two nights ago Lilith wasn’t travelling there on her beloved motorcycle. Sadly, it wasn’t suitable for this evening’s occasion. Even more sadly, it was in the shop to get a new 359 € rear tyre. Seemed they made them of vulcanised gold now. Maybe she should cut down on burnouts. Neither was Lilith in one of Yamamoto’s iconic black Geländewagen. In this day and age, in a megacity on the verge of becoming a gigacity, a car with an internal combustion engine was a very strong statement. Not necessarily helpful in keeping a low profile.
An unsuspicious hydrogen estate car, then. Thanks to its fuel cells and a clever marketing campaign it was perceived as being green enough to drive through a polar bear’s living room without a single tree hugger complaining.
Outside the eight lanes of the city centre motorway passed in between mirrored buildings ablaze with an unnaturally red sunset. Night would fall within the hour.
Bulfo the Saw, a.k.a. Bulfo the Toad, had chosen the Plaza as venue for a meeting with some kind of businessman; that kind of businessman the kind of Bulfo have meetings with. Lilith, too, would be there – uninvited, one might add – to give the gathering a dramatic note.
Kindly yet determinedly she had dismissed Sōichirō’s infiltration scheme with her as a high-class working girl. Suit, stockings and (at least in her definition) office-compatible court shoes had to do the trick.
Sōichirō’s voice came from the car’s speakers, so the two Yamamoto operatives in the front seats were able to hear him, too
“Miss Daisy, this is Ninja Turtle. The goose doesn’t fly straight. Come in, Miss Daisy! ”
Lilith rolled her eyes. For somebody who scolded her whenever she employed Cold War interrogation techniques, he sure loved pseudo covered-ops lingo. They would have an exchange of words about that. And sure as shite she wouldn’t let him pick their code names again. Ever.
“Do you copy, Miss Daisy?”
“Knock it off. Just say where they’re heading to.”
“Target has changed destination. Left Stadium Motorway at Nord Centre slip road.”
“That’s five minutes from here,” the driver established.
“Yes, thank you for pointing that out, Stig. Hit it.” She knew damn well where the Nord Centre slip road was. “Sōichirō, did he call the meeting off?”
“Doesn’t look like it. His convoy isn’t turning around. The reservation at the Plaza isn’t cancelled either.”
“Nah, his posse can’t be bothered with that. The nearest big hotel is the City Grand, right?”
“I’m already on it…”
Back at the Arsenal, he was doing magic on his board right now.
“626 rooms had been booked for today since the meeting was decided upon – none of which under an alias we know.”
“Scheiße,” hissed Lilith. “Okay, let’s say this hotel charade isn’t a red herring. Say Bulfo’s got second thoughts just before the appointment and changed plans only an hour ago. How many rooms then?”
“19. On eleven different stories.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! And we are not even sure whether that cunt is heading there in the first place!”
A tensed silence hovered in the car before Sōichirō answered.
“A double shot of Auchentoshan Heartwood has been ordered in the City Grand lounge twenty minutes ago. Paid cash. A bottle of the same whisky had been brought to the suite Bulfo had booked at the Plaza.”
So his guest was drowning the inconvenience of sudden relocation, not waiting for Bulfo to shout a new bottle. This was a prime example of why she refused to work with any other operator than Sōichirō, despite his irritatingly high ethical standards. A congenial mix of initiative, ability of keeping track in time-critical situations and outside-the-box thinking.
“City Grand it is.”
The second Yamamoto operative turned to her.
“Back-up will be needing about fifteen minutes to secure the perimeter and to learn the target’s exact location.”
“Fuck that noise. We do this old school.”
CITY GRAND HOTEL
If Lilith had thought Edgeplay’s hair colour an insult to the eye, she was in for a change of mind as her polar bear cuddling carriage pulled up in front of the City Grand Hotel. Its mint night design was an outrage.
The driver pointed across the forecourt with its mint-illuminated fountains (although Lilith wouldn’t be surprised if the illumination itself was white and the water actually mint). Bulfo’s convoy was parked there, of course without being inappropriately touched by some lowly valet boy: two Range Rovers and a flashy contemporary Rolls-Royce. The later was empty, whereas each four-by-four was manned with one of Bulfo’s thugs.
“Sōichirō, they are already in. Two have stayed in the cars, though.”
“I’ve problems accessing the hotel’s CCTV. Your driver has to keep an eye on them.”
Her last reply Lilith sent via ICS, testing the device. It didn’t rely on vocal cord action, yet allowed Sōichirō to hear everything she heard. Her door was opened by the doorman, and Lilith left the car to deliver her message of love and peace.
A minute later she was standing in the impressive hotel lobby, and she was standing corrected: The CGH colour wasn’t mint, it was more of a turquoise tone – most noticeable on the staff members’ hair dye. And on their shirts. And pocket squares in their white suit coats. Both male and female staff also sported white ties, not that it was entirely possible to tell apart male from female staff.
“For fuck’s sake, they’re even wearing coloured contact lenses…!”
“Welcome to the exciting world of corporate identity, boss,” Sōichirō bantered in her head. “Got visual?”
She spotted them across the lobby, Bulfo and three of his bodyguards. And lo! Mr Bean was with them, too. He was the smallest of the quintette, but menacing in his own right. The thugs were generic tough-guys; broad, skinheaded, frowning behind their shades. It was routinely claimed Bulfo only employed ex-Spetsnaz operatives. Lilith doubted it. His current personal enforcers didn’t look like Russians. They didn’t move like Russians, either.
In sum the convoy had transported nine persons, two of which Lilith hadn’t seen yet. Chances were high they’d gone up as vanguard to whatever floor the meeting was about to go down on.
Bulfo, wearing Brioni, two-tone shoes and 140 kilos of body weight, led the way towards the array of glass lifts which hurried up and down the atrium-like foyer.
“Lift 3. How’s your access to the security system coming along?”
“I’m experiencing some challenges here.”
Lilith crossed the lobby with due, yet inconspicuous speed.
“Maybe I should have hired that Edgeplay lass. I bet she were quicker.”
“If she’s that quick, why is she that dead?”
“She annoyed me. Just like you are doing now.”
The lift doors slid open with an ethereal chime to allow Bulfo and his posse entrance. One bodyguard pressed the “6” on the wheelchair user friendly panel etched into the cab’s glass wall.
“Hold that, please.”
Five pairs of eyes examined the tall raven-haired woman who meant to step in as well. Bulfo, amidst his paladins, gave her a wilfully sleazy look. She met his gaze and would have stared him down, if not for the guard next to the glass panel who raised his non-gun-hand.
“I am sorry, miss. This lift is already full. Please use the next one. Thank you.”
He then spoke self-importantly into the micro hidden beneath his shirt collar.
“Cab clear. Five coming up.”
The doors glided close, barring an indignant Lilith. And people said chivalry was dead. With a discreet mechanical noise the lift cabin went up. On its way skywards it would literally go through the lobby’s transparent roof to ascent along the hotel’s main body, granting its passengers a breathtaking view of the city at dusk (if they were to exceed the 30th floor, that was).
So that had been Bulfo the Toad, Lilith mused. This was his unofficial name, though. It derived from his unspectacular body height, his thick neck and his adipose everything below his neck. Officially he was called The Saw, for he was fond of amputation punishments executed with a coping saw. He would cut five to ten centimetres strong slices at a time, then cauterise the wound with a soldering lamp (so they could call him The Torch or something like that as well, but the fundamental element still was the sawing). He might entertain himself for days with this hobby. Duration, absolute extent of amputation and numbers of cuttings depended on the severity of the offence.
That guy who had joyridden his car, a small pusher going by the name of Handsome Eddie, the Saw had done for a solid week. Everybody in the Steel Quarter knew the car and to whom it belonged. The shop owners knew it (they had partly financed it with their money), the gang members knew it, the fuckin’ junkies behind the rubbish containers knew it. Only Eddie-boy considered it a brilliant idea to jump into an unlocked Phantom with 24 inch drug dealer rims standing open at the worst corner of the two worst streets in a medium-bad quarter and drive along. When he had finally shown up in the Steel Quarter Paracelsus’ emergency room a sennight later, he had been thirty kilogrammes lighter than before and in need of a new nick-name…
She had been close enough to see the glowing “6” on the panel. Lilith hurried to the nearest staircase. Once out of view of staff and guests in the foyer, she slipped off her court shoes and started running.
On the glass panel the “L” heralding the lift’s position morphed into a “1” as Bulfo and his men were carried away from the busy lobby. It was standard procedure for his guards to make sure no stranger was in close proximity to him, especially not in close quarters. He wouldn’t have kicked that black-haired bird out of his bed, though. Great legs, tight body, if a bit too far on the sinewy side. Deal closed here, he would treat himself to an appropriately expensive whore, the Saw decided spontaneously. A nice, deep arse-fucking. Maybe bruising her up a bit. Some strangling. He bet that fit broad from the lobby would look great with his cock up her shitter and his belt around her neck.
The “2” was followed by a “3”, and with a faint woosh the impressive roof structure passed by. They were now travelling in one of the polygonal glass tubes which adorned the hotel towers façade. To their left and right blue-green accents ran along as architectonical neon statements. As the “4” emerged, one could almost see the last reds of dusk between the sky scrapers. “5”. These glass lifts really weren’t for those not fond of heights. Bulfo felt his knees weaken a bit. But taking the stairs would have killed him! An automated bitch announced the 6th floor. The conventional steel doors at the cab’s back side began to slide open. His chief bodyguard’s head exploded.
She shot the target posing the biggest threat first. The hollow-point bullet from her silenced Glock 20 entered the senior thug’s head through the left eye, cracking the skull as it expanded and partly fragmented. A gush of bones, brains and bloods sprayed across the cab. Lilith fired again, Glock in her left hand, stabilising with her right. No fancy one-hand shooting, no ghetto-style tilting – just clean, professional hits. One shot, one kill. The second bodyguard’s skull detonated, spraying thick gore mist and a hail of grey and white matter towards the far wall.
Against targets at greater distances she would have aimed at the bodies first. The torso was easier to hit than the head, and though a bullet finding its way home wasn’t necessarily lethal, it most likely inflicted serious damage.
But since this was a close-range cleaning…
Three down, two to go. Haricot actually managed to commence some kind of reaction. He turned sideways, presumably to draw his own pistol. Lilith got him beneath the right jaw joint, thus converting the left side of his face into a single exit wound. Shrapnels of tooth splinters perforated Bulfo’s obese mug. He presented the least dangerous in this situation, so he was allowed to remain breathing the longest. The Toad outlived his last thug by three tenth of a second. Raising his arms before his head in panic, he exclaimed a noise that never actually formed into a “Nooo!”.
The bullet meant for him ripped both his hands away before introducing his central nervous system to the concept of severe ballistic traumata. Like his guards he was dead even before doors had fully opened.
But since Lilith got discount on ammunition she put a safetie into each one’s chest. Like she had done with the two guards who had waited at the lift doors for their master to come up. You never knew. So five more times her weapon thundered. 10 mm Auto wasn’t the best ammo for silenced shooting, but the job had to be done with this calibre. She hadn’t used her own Glock, this gun could not be traced back. Yet the message was clear again: Seven kills, six of them on pros, performed with 10 mm rounds from a single weapon. Lilith had been here.
“Hope you enjoyed your stay.”
On stockinged feet she strode the hallway back down to the stairs. Along the way she gathered her heels she had tossed near the stairway door after holding them in her hands during her six storey sprint. They might be save for work; chasing a soon-to-be kill in them wasn’t so good an idea.
“That’s gross, boss. The cleaning lady will be throwing a fit.”
“You are in the security system, I take it.”
“Piece of cake. You sound out of breath,” Sōichirō enquired.
“Fat fuck gave me a run for my money. You know what to do. No evidence, please.”
Lilith rolled her eyes as she held fast to the railing to put her court shoes back on. Last time she’d spoken to him the boy had been binarily challenged, now he was pronouncing himself Lord Smug of Smirk Castle because he’d erased five minutes of CCTV footage.
“Keep an eye on things for another half an hour or so. Lilith out.”
A quick debriefing with Sōichirō in their cosy little hide-out, and she would call it a night. If she was feeling masochistic enough, she would ask him to give her a ride home in his ridiculously lowered Honda (he claimed the ride height to be stock, just as the cement-filled dampers). Sōichirō was sitting at his rig. He looked pleased with himself.
“How was I?”
“You were useless.”
“Utterly?” Sōichirō teased.
“Maybe not utterly. There’s still hope for you. How are things at the City Grand?”
“About five minutes after you’d left, cab 3 was called back down into the lobby. Must have been like the lift scene in ‘The Shining’. Place went absolutely bonkers.”
“I truly considered having a drink at the hotel bar and waiting for Bulfo and his boyfriends to be found, even if that meant being served by a turquoise-haired tranny.”
“Well, the building is now stuffed with police.”
Lilith didn’t expect them to accomplish anything. Atro City’s Finest were notoriously undermanned, and the blokes working under law enforcement concession did not differ much from the thugs the Toad had hired. They wouldn’t recognise investigative police procedures if they were being throat-fucked by them.
“The two convoy drivers took off, by the way. Nice of you not to off them as well.”
“I didn’t do that out of compassion. I couldn’t be bothered, that’s all”
“Maybe, maybe not. They didn’t look very eager to avenge―”
He stopped in mid-sentence, eyes wide and fixed on one of his monitors. The server units arrayed behind his workstation fell into a weird chirm. He jumped up, tore out cables and hammered on his keyboard.
Lilith was following his performance in bewilderment. Finally his complete terminal powered down. Judging from Sōichirō’s relieved expression, this was a good sign.
“What, pray, was that?”
“Everything under control.”
“I noticed a distinct acoustical phenomenon coming from your ‘PlayStation’,” Lilith stated not without amusement. “Help me out here: Was it the sound of a perfectly smooth-running system? Oh, wait, no! It was that noise emitted by Edgeplay’s dying rig!”
“You don’t say, smart-arse.”
“Did your own virus just fry our drives?”
To say that her assistant was a wee bit agitated about the incident would be an understatement.
“It’s not a virus. I stopped it in time. And even if I hadn’t: I double back-up everything that runs through my rig.”
“I’m glad you find the whole situation funny. But that wasn’t an accident. Somebody attacked our system.”
On his desk one of the monitors came back to life.
“Is that supposed to boot up again?”
Lilith’s voice was now carrying a more serious tone. Sōichirō sat down on his chair.
“It’s just the screen. An external feed.”
A video clip of a heavily individualised terminal appeared on the monitor. It had been recorded in poor lighting conditions, yet was still bright enough to make out details.
“A Digital Apex DX50,” knew Sōichirō. “Is that…?”
“Yes,” Lilith sighed. The monochrome darkness, the silence and slight camera shaking gave the recording a ghostly touch. “That’s Edgeplay’s rig.”
“After your visit, I presume.”
But his boss didn’t reply. She stared down on a second monitor Sōichirō had knocked over during his rescue campaign.
“They’ve taken her!”
Sōichirō looked at her flabbergasted.
“What? Who? Whom? Huh?”
“Stop goofing about! We’ve got to find her before―”
Lilith didn’t finish her sentence. She just ran off to grab her gear.
Sōichirō looked at the second monitor, still being oblivious of what had upset his boss so much. Then he saw.
“Oh, crap. That means war…!”
“You know where they are keeping her?”
“I recognised it. It’s close to the place where I ‘you know what’-ed that hacker lass.”
Indeed the compound of Mako Motors neighboured the AtroTec Industrial Estate, albeit not at the border closest to Edgeplay’s loft. Hints of the whereabouts had been deliberately visible in the second feed. Lilith reckoned the cold windowless room to be within the abandoned factory building.
The western side entrance would lead her directly into the assembly hall. It was guarded, though. A bloke with a certain air of gang affiliation was sitting on a filthy wheelie bin, smoking and drinking. Since a classic burn barrel was amiss, he was waiting in the dark, yet made no attempt to cover the glow of his cigarette. As Lilith briskly approached, he welcomed her.
Lilith stopped several metres in front of him and met his gaze.
“How many are inside?”
“Enough to rape you to fuckin’ death.”
He threw his nearly empty beer bottle towards her. Lilith backed off, and the glass exploded on the macadam.
“Haz, she’s here!”
“Yes, Haz, I’m here!”
“You better shut up your gloryhole unless someone wanna fuck it, or I cut your cunt out.”
“That so? Show me. Show me how you cut my cunt out.”
He rose from his throne and let a switch blade snap out. Lilith rolled her eyes.
“Haz can’t hear you.”
Haz was lying 200 metres away behind an old maritime container – give or take some metres, depending on the body part in question and how viciously it had been dealt with by Lilith’s souvenir from her last trip to Japan.
Wheelie bin bloke closed in to her and pretended to pounce. Lilith was prepared to react, but did not take the initiative for the time being.
He circled her for a bit, then repeated his fake attack. Laughing at Lilith’s defence pose he stepped back again.
“What evs, bitch. You’re not even worth it,” he acted uninterested, then leaped forwards in an attempt to sucker-punch her with the pommel of his knife. Lilith, having seen the move coming from a mile away, snapped his elbow and delivered a devastating kick to his knee. Haz’s mate howled inhumanly as his knee cap shattered in a ghastly mixture of blood and bone splitters. On one good arm and one good leg he grovelled in the broken pieces of his own bottle. Annoyed by his screams of agony, she twisted his head until a satisfying dry sound declared his neck broken.
“Take it easy, boss.”
“No, Sōichirō, I will not take it easy. I don’t dare imagine what they are doing to her this very moment; torturing her, violating her in the fellest ways!”
Out of habit she kicked the switch blade into the bushes. She was still dressed in her business attire, but had changed her five inch court shoes with a pair of knee-high bovver boots at the Arsenal. No need to damage 500 € Louboutins.
“I don’t have to tell you that this is a trap, right?”
“Of course not.”
Mako Motors had been a small car company, selling mostly Super-Seven-style kit cars and track day whips. One day the guys in charge decided they wanted their own self-designed super-car. Things went a bit overboard when they also decided to develop the engine themselves. Long story short, the project took thrice as long as planned, culminating in a mind-blowing 700 bhp prototype and an equally mind-blowing insolvency proceeding.
The assembly hall was mostly empty. Some steel skeletons once used to carry fibreglass bodies. A row of never-finished two-seater carcasses which had been meant to be sold as ready-to-race cars. Half a dozen men with baseball bats.
“You’re the slag that killed that hacker girl?” their leader demanded upon seeing Lilith walking up between the assembly stations. Neat, six by six metres work places. Mako Motors had prided itself on the fact that all cars had been custom-made by hand. There hadn’t been a single robot employed, not even before the place had shut down shop and been asset-stripped.
“Who?” he bellowed.
“You know who.”
The leader gave a sign, and the gang closed in on her.
“I know you’re gonna suck my cock clean after it ripped you a new arsehole.”
“You felch your mother with that mouth?”
Sōichirō piped up in her head.
“Can we speed things up a little? That whole dirty talk is rapidly losing appeal.”
“Five seconds,” Lilith declared towards the gang leader.
“What five seconds, bitch?”
“You tell me where she is and who hired you homos, or in five seconds I will turn this shithole into a fucking haunted house.”
The leader chuckled malevolently, bathing in the prospect of imminent violence and easily earned money.
“Guys, bash that stupid slag’s head in. Hope nobody mind a bit of necroph―”
He was cut short by Lilith, in a sense. With lightning speed she had drawn her katana from its sheath on her back and cleft his head horizontally in half at eye level. For some awkward moments the leader’s body remained standing up, blood and intraocular fluid running down the rest of his face like ill-coloured mascara.
Further down the hall Lilith, sputtered in blood from having shown off her kenjutsu skills to the six wannabe gang bangers, encountered a broad passage to the neighbouring wing.
“That’s it. I am reading a sudden power drain from in there,” her operator declared.
“Mind to elaborate?”
“For a moment something has been sucking 15 kW out of a high voltage line that ought to be dead for ten years.”
Silently she entered the adjoining section, sword ready. Some pale light from the city fell through the high windows nearby, but most of the hall was lying in utter darkness. Scanning what little of the room she could see, Lilith noticed the track system fitted to the ceiling, most likely for hoisting and transporting engines. For unrelated reasons it evoked an association with an abattoir. Like the rest of the building this part was dark, damp and a possible death trap.
“Tell me what you see, boss,” Sōichirō mithered. He quickly became a pain in the ear when feeling neglected.
“Work bays with hoses for power tools dangling from above. Engine parts on shelves.”
“The engine assembly.”
“I take your word for it.”
“Any more hirelings?”
“Nope. But if these mugs had been the main course, I would be deeply disap―”
She was interrupted by something big and mechanical powering up. A split-second later a massive chunk of shadow ripped itself out of the murk and raced towards Lilith with a screeching sound. She threw herself out of the way and rolled off, careful not to slice and dice herself on her own blade. The engine block had missed her by mere inches. Hanging from a trolley it noisily followed the track and disappeared through the passageway.
“They are throwing V8s at me!”
With an electric hum portable work lights fired up, illuminating quite dramatically what had been hidden in the dark. Standing easily three metres tall, the frightening construct knew no difficulties to cover most of the hall’s central area with its hydraulic arms – or hauling engine blocks around.
“I know what’s causing the power drain,” Lilith announced in her head whilst carefully closing in on the metal giant. “It’s a mech.”
“How did they come by a mecha?”
Of course it was not a proper mech. It was crude and unfinished, nothing like the military prototypes Lilith once had seen in a Yamamoto facility – or having sabotaged in a Claymore facility, for that matter. Having them going on a rampage during a life ammo demonstration had really put a dent into the share price.
The mech in front of her was in a skeleton-like state, missing armour or any other form of cover panels. Apart from one: Mounted between its “shoulders” was the front end of a Mako kit car, raw carbon fibre forming the nose of the eponymous shark. It gave the creation an unsettling chimeric appearance.
The girl to whom the voice belonged stepped out of a work bay, smug smile on her face. To Lilith’s relieve she had a none-offensive hair colour, a rare find these days. The achievement was somewhat spoiled by her downright brutal undercut, though. As Lilith slowly stepped around the mech the girl was circling her toy likewise, very keen to keep it between them. That she was the one on control of that piece of junk Lilith had no doubt, given the panel-like remote in her host’s hand. Steering the colossus from inside – what separated a mech from a mere robot – was out of question, though. Its chassis was filled to the brim with pipes, valve blocks and power electronics.
“I like what you’ve done with the place.”
She had to be careful not to trip over the array of cables and hoses on the floor, radiating away from the behemoth in all directions. That it had in common with Edgeplay’s rig, the same element of stereotypical cyberpunk aesthetic. Maybe they would get in trouble with the hacker union if they tidied their wirings up.
“Requires a bit of space, that hobby of yours. A tad tomboyish, too.”
The mech – or mecha, if you were a jappo fanboy with too much leisure time and bandwidth – was turning its packed torso following Lilith’s clockwise movement. This tactic, though, fell short of painting over one distinctive design flaw: Mako-Mecha was stationary. Not only was it tethered by its supply lines, the four sprawling robotic legs mounted to the cardinal points of its base were also just semi-functional dummies.
“To be honest, I just provided the software,” Undercut stated from behind the automaton. “Fuck, I don’t even know how to hold a spanner!”
Locomotive shortcomings aside, the Mako did pose a serious threat. Its two arms were fully operational and sported all kinds of stuff that could tear, crush or circular-saw her to death. Lilith continued her orbit, always sideways in the seigan no kamae stance, preliminarily useless katana towards her inanimate opponent.
“I’m a little surprised you are still here. After what I just singlehandedly did to the fluffers you’d hired.”
“I’ve got a little insurance, so to speak. Two, in fact…”
“You are not referring to your hostage, are you? Really, you better not.”
The young woman with the daring hair style smiled. The mech lashed out, clearly sucking quite a bit more than the initial 15 kW out of the grid. But relying mainly on hydraulic actuators due to its size, it was too slow for Lilith. Its massive right extremity punched the air.
“You took something from me. I took something from you. Difference is, you can’t give me back what you took away.”
Lilith managed to gather some remnants of patience.
“Listen, girlie: Situations like this are bound to be pushed until someone cries, and that someone normally isn’t me. I don’t know what your relation was to Edgeplay―”
The lass scoffed loudly.
“Fuck that bitch! Pulling a stunt like that, behind my back, and with my gear! If you hadn’t offed her, I would have.”
“The rig was yours?”
Undercut had learnt quickly. For the next attack she utilized the quicker electric motors turning the torso. Using its already fully extended arms as flails the mech gave Lilith no other chance but to roll off again and to hurt herself on the thick cable looms. She had underestimated its reach, and in a spot where she could not back off. Behind her the right arm crashed into a large metal shelf, sending rods and pistons across the nearest work bay. The left arm followed, its final segment scything half a metre above the ground. She tensed her muscles to jump it, the adrenalin burning within every fibre. As the moment arrived for her to push herself up a well-sorted array of drills and blades popped out from the steel hand, pointing upwards to create a lethal fence. Having anticipated such lack of sportsmanship Lilith let her body go limb and fall back. She avoided the steel rushing over her by mere cenimetres, yet got smacked in the face by a sagging hose. Paying no attention to the flash of pain she performed a kip-up to get back onto her feet and retreated towards the littered work bay ere the backlashes would hit her.
“The whole fucking place is mine! Finding my bitch slaughtered on my kitchen table is bad enough. But do you have any idea hard a Digital Apex is to come by?”
Lilith wiped blood off her nose, crossed the bay and made a quick step into the central area where she once again had enough room to manoeuvre.
“Your girlfriend shouldn’t have messed with the Big Y.”
“My what?!” The girl behind the robot seemed to take offence. “She shouldn’t have fucked with Yamamoto, but she definitely wasn’t my girlfriend. Edge was my board bitch.”
“I don’t speak Nerd.”
“Her apprentice,” Sōichirō prompted.
“She did the grunt hacks for me,” Undercut explained, unaware of Lilith’s ICS connection.
“Be it how it may.” Lilith raised her blood-stained sword. “Those twats you hired died rather gently. So did your board bitch, believe it or not. I can’t promise you the same. Where is she?”
By now Lilith had accomplished a full revolution and started a second lap, with the hacker still moving in a 180° phase shift. The wirings on the ground were as treacherous as before. Time to shut up shop for good.
“You distribute your affection quite unevenly,” the girl stated. With quick commands via her tablet she set her mechanical enforcer into a spin again. Lilith leaped to the side and brought her sword down hard. Bluish-bright sparks and electric discharges illuminated the engine assembly as her blade cut through the mech’s main power cable, seemingly without effort. Hadn’t she been standing on the insulations of neighbouring lines, Lilith would have been electrocuted for sure. Like a decapitated serpent the severed cable twitched a few more times on the ground, then died. Its counterpart dangled lifelessly at the automaton’s base. With a low sound the Mako powered down. The bulky torso sunk as its hydraulic cylinders lost pressure. Those in the limbs, obviously fitted with check valves, kept the arms and legs frozen in their positions. Some lonely LEDs fed by an auxiliary source continued blinking at its flank.
“Upsy-daisy! Was that supposed to stay plugged in?!”
The look on Undercut’s face was priceless.
“Mech is down,” Lilith informed Sōichirō inaudibly whilst closing in on the hacker. With the tip of her katana she flipped the useless remote from the girl’s hand, nicking her palm in the process.
“Where is she? Last time I’m gonna ask.”
The multiple thoughts racing through her mind were evident on Undercut’s face. Lilith took her as the survivor kind. The girl knew she would end far worse than Edgeplay had ended if she pushed her luck any further. With calm moves she pulled a worn key from her trouser pocket. She held it out to Lilith on the palm of her left hand. Blood was dripping from her clenched right one. More than just nicked, then.
“The smallest of the storage rooms. There’s a direct access from the northern side. The key will fit.”
Lilith let her blade travel along the shaven side of Undercut’s head.
“Oh, it better will. I wonder if you should lead the way, though. Just in case I get lost.”
“Boss. Just take the bloody key.”
Sounded like Sōichirō saw further retaliatory measures ahead. Smart boy. Lilith took her blade away from Undercut’s temple, only to let it whip horizontally across her outstretched hand. The folded steel met no resistance as it severed muscles and tendons. Four of her fingers tilted back, pointing downwards as the girl was still holding her hand out palm-up. No hacking any time soon with that paw. The grotesque display lasted but a blink of an eye, then a wailing Undercut grabbed her destroyed left hand with her damaged right one and pressed it against her belly. Within seconds her dark shirt became soaked. Lilith made an aggressive step towards her. The crying girl recoiled, tripped over the wirings and fell on her back. Her head hit the ground hard, and she was stunned for a moment. Then she continued her crying, curled into a foetal position halfway underneath her dead mech’s base.
“Told you. Until someone cries. Better be grateful I didn’t take them off completely.”
Lilith snarled the last bit mostly to appease Sōichirō. She’d heard his sharp hiss as the screaming had begun. The key had fallen between some of the omnipresent cables. She picked it up and left the assembly.
Lilith had feared that Undercut had lied. She hadn’t believed it, but she had feared it. Neon lights came on with the typical high-pitched chimes, revealing the parts depot. A last lonely rack was filled with car doors, bonnets – and shark-nose-style front ends, by which Lilith had deducted the location earlier on. It was the room she had seen in the second feed.
Undercut hadn’t lied
She stormed across the room to hug the matte black Suzuki superbike.
“Oh Suzi! You are alright?”
Actually Lilith’s bike seemed to handle her abduction from the workshop rather well. To her owner’s great relieve she was undamaged and fired up immediately.
Lilith knew what Sōichirō wanted to hear.
“I’m calling it a night.”
“You won’t have second thoughts and come after that hacker anyway?”
“Fuck it. I take the high road on this one.”
“I’m proud of you.”
“Pussy. Lilith out.”