If you haven’t seen Delilah yet, start at the beginning.
Delilah crushed that line of thinking, tossing it out of her mind and over the bridge of thought to drown like an unwanted sack of puppies in the dark of her subconscious. Her brother Oliver — her Ollie — was one of these … cripples. The thought wouldn’t go away, now she was seeing so many at once. A hundred or more people, racked and stacked like organic wares at a chop shop, wheelchairs and exosuits in equal numbers. They all shared the same jerky movements, tainted meat everywhere Delilah looked. A hundred fucking cripples at a mad king’s birthday party. The people he’d mutilated, celebrating with him.
Sampson was sick, and he would die tonight. Hell with the bonus.
The car hissed to a halt, the door clunking open with confidence. Delilah put a foot outside, feeling the rain on her face, the cool forgiveness of the mountain night air. Forgiveness for being a whole human who’d chosen to cut her meat away for metal, when so many of these people would give their everything to walk on OEM feet again. She fought the urge to hunch. A waiter walked past, white shirt see-through with the rain, red waistcoat wet enough to almost look black. She snared a drink from his tray. Champagne, or something like it: bubbles, a little softer than the whiskey she’d put away on the drive out here.
Delilah started up the path towards the house, avoiding the stares of the people less mobile than her. Or was she avoiding looking at them? She didn’t know. A voice as familiar as breathing came to her. Slurred with sickness, bright with happiness. “Delilah!”
She turned. There he was, chin jerking spasmodically to his own internal rhythm or the jam of the band: her brother, Oliver Griffiths. Once-proud body hunched and frail, chromed wheels underneath his chair. “Ollie?”
His head jerked a nod. “You came. He said you’d come.”
“You … know?”
“Sampson,” agreed Oliver.
“He did this to you,” said Delilah. “I’m gonna fucken execute him.”
“Sis,” he said, in that same way he had when he could bench press her weight on one arm. The big brother. The strong one. The experienced one. “It’s not what you think. I’ve … met him. I … know him. He wouldn’t do this to us. Not to us.”
Delilah wanted to walk away. This wasn’t a situation she had optioned in her mind before hopping in the Mercedes with its seductive black leather and easy liquor. She didn’t walk away, because this was Oliver. “Come away. With me. I’ll get you clear. Then I’ll…” Her voice dried up, at odds with the weather.
“You don’t understand,” said Oliver. “I asked him to bring you here.” When she blinked at him, rain running down her face, hair slicked against her skull, he flailed a hand towards the house. “He’s up there. He’s … not what you expect. Please. Just listen. For me.”
They’ve drugged him. The psychotropics. But how had they got him out here? How long had they been talking to Oliver? How many months … years? … had Sampson been planning this? And for what end? Had he crippled her brother to get inside her head? Some old score from her days at Metatech? Was her old syndicate behind this? She’d left on good terms, full package, served her tour and then more for the stock options. No one was gunning for her, not that she knew of.
She’d backed away from Oliver without realizing it, her heel hitting the brick verge of the path. She almost fell, but the lattice’s strong hands held her up, made her sweep water from her face, put a little steel in her voice. “I’ll fix this, Ollie. I’ll fix everything.” She turned and walked away, laminar armor rustling against her coat as she walked towards the house, that perfect palace of luxury. If this was the money crippling thousands of people gave you, she’d make that motherfucker eat every penny before the end.
Oliver’s voice came to her, the slur of his sickness softened by the patter of rain. “I know you will, Delilah. I know you’ll fix it. That’s what you do.”
* * *
The entranceway of the mansion was what she expected. Money everywhere. Not literal bills, pasted on walls or left in rolls with a rubber bands around them. More discrete: artwork. Sculptures. Doors led off the foyer to other rooms, dark, with drapes over the windows, like they protected a monster hiding from the light. Her overlay catalogued the drape’s fabric as natural fibers, crazy as the expense of that was. The foyer’s lighting was muted. No one around; none of the servers from outside, none of the guests, or hostages, or whatever they were. A stairway led to the upper level of the mansion. A closed doorway was set against the wall beneath the stairway. Otherwise, nada. Nothing.
Not even a cat. Delilah expected a cat from an evil overlord, or a pack of dogs that would bark at her, maws slavering. She saw none of that, just the exquisite drapes closed against the party outside, and a lot of artwork that looked like expensive junk. But she was never into artwork. Never had the time, or the apartment that suited rich people’s finery.
Which way? Her optics made seeing in the low light a zero-problem exercise, wireframes overlaying everything. The doorway piqued her interest, as behind that doorway were stairs, this time going down. Down was the usual place to keep a lab, terror chamber, or vault of horrors, so she’d check that first. There could be guards ready to execute her just about anywhere, so she may as well go for the money shot up front.
Delilah placed a gloved hand against the door’s handle and unholstered her sidearm. The knob was an old style, complete with a mechanism inside that turned. Quaint. She gave the handle a twist, pulling the door open. The stairwell descended, naked filament bulbs — filament! — giving a reluctant illumination to the interior. Stone steps, worn with the passage of feet. A rail connected to the outside, this one modern, new, high-tech, the kind you’d connect a wheelchair to. So, Sampson let his less-abled guests down here? Interesting only in that Delilah didn’t want to empty .50 rounds into wrecked humans. That seemed … unfair, in a way that even Metatech would have a problem with, no matter the size of the bonus. She started her descent, optics compensating for the inconsistent lighting, audio gain cranked up to ferret out any sound. Once she got her systems to mask out the noise of the party outside, hiding the band’s six-strings (not a bad guitarist) and drums (but not a great drummer), she got something more subtle. A hum, as if from a massive collection of electronics. It could be multiple total conversion guards, more metal than meat, but she heard none of the telltale sounds of mechanized limbs. Nothing other than her own, that is.
The stairs went down, winding in a loose spiral, not a single door in the journey. Her overlay said she’d descended forty meters by the time she hit the bottom, worn stone pavers making up the floor. Another door, this one more modern. It was interleaved metal and ceramic, and her optics told her nothing of the other side. Shielded. And armored: if she put one of the fifties in that door, she doubted it’d do much other than burn ammunition. The good news was that the door had a biometric lock. Electronic locks she could hack. An optical sensor with a chin rest set at about waist height. That was strange because most people didn’t kneel to put their eye up to a reader, but it didn’t worry her; there weren’t any obvious traps out here. No cameras watching her, no telltale seams in the walls that would hide weapons systems. Just the door, its biometric lock, and her with time and patience to deal with both.
Her optics examined the door, link alive and checking information. A hack would be no problem; this model was vulnerable to a timed EM pulse sequence. Hit it with a big blast and it’d lock up tight, but a staccato of blips wouldn’t trigger a lockdown and would still nudge the internal systems into opening. Perfect — confuse it enough to think you’re … someone else. Delilah kneeled, placing her eye against the sensor, and her palm with its EM emitter against the panel next to it. As the machine scanned her eye, she fired off the EM pulse sequence. After one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, a synthetic male voice said, “Welcome, Sampson Stone.” The door clicked, opening in front of her.
Sampson Stone, huh. Behind the doorway was a huge, vaulted chamber. She could see the roof fine, but her view across to the opposite wall was obscured by racks of computer equipment. Servers, stretching to the left and right. Her overlay said the room was a hundred meters on a side, which meant there were a lot of servers in here. There were enough servers in here to do many things. Crack some advanced crypto, maybe. But her money was on competing with Reed: Sampson could start a new virtual entertainment industry, synthesized right here. It’d explain some of their interest in him for sure. But it didn’t explain why he’d invited her here to see it.
“Let’s play a little cat and mouse, Delilah.” Sampson’s voice resonated around her. Delilah’s overlay said there was an expensive audio system at play, outputs studded around the chamber. “You can even be the cat. I’ll be the mouse.”
“What’s the cheese?” she said.
“If I find you, I’ll put a bullet in your brain pan. Incentive enough, you know? But the mouse needs a prize. I’m wondering what your angle is.” Delilah took a step forward into the room, looking up. The way his voice resonated sounded like a god above. She wasn’t looking for a higher power, just checking for cameras. Keep telling yourself that. “I admit, Sampson Stone. You’re the first mark who seems to want me to find them.”
The speakers played a warm laugh around her. “Maybe I want to.”
“Want to die,” he said.