If you and Delilah haven’t met, go introduce yourself.
Who was already on the move, trying to get a little cover. They’d made it to a marble statue near the entrance. She would have shrugged in a more relaxed situation — just because you were handed a coilgun didn’t mean you knew what it could do. These mercs seemed to have no idea. She took another breath in, then squeezed the coilgun’s trigger for two and a half seconds. Over fifty rounds punctured the walls of the house, chattering into the statue, shedding marble like big chunks of hail. Her EM emitter was still raining confusion to the mercs outside, and the bullets delivered judgement that the EM couldn’t. The merc’s body dissolved on her overlay, wireframe distributing into a wider area. Good effect on target.
The third merc hadn’t been checking the link for porn and doing personal mail while this was going on. Delilah heard the puh-thunk of a grenade launcher, the sound stretched long and low by overtime’s syrup. She saw the grenades enter the doorway, her sped-up systems making it feel almost plausible she could reach out and touch them. Delilah’s lattice made her grab the merc corpse she was using as cover, pulling it on top of her. The grenade blasts shook the room, wood paneling showering around her. Expensive drapes burst into flame. Delilah felt pieces of antiques pepper her laminar armor. Her overlay stuttered with static, her audio whining with dissonance. Get it together, Delilah Griffiths. She raised the coilgun, feeling the drag of the arm holding it, lattice snarling. Her overlay noted damage to the limb. Since she’d been knocked over by the blast, her EM had stopped strobing the remaining merc. Coilgun fire peppered the body she was using for cover. She returned fire, praying — God doesn’t listen, he doesn’t even care — that her arm wouldn’t hurt the aim. Two seconds later, the coilgun clicked empty, the merc’s wireframe on her holo distributing across a wide area.
Delilah coughed, something wet in it, and checked herself. The arm holding the now-empty coilgun trailed smoke, a piece of shrapnel embedded above the elbow. Her chest was seeping red through a puncture in her laminar armor, a round having penetrated the body she was using as a shield. It had gone through and through, exiting her back. The overlay said seek medical attention and warning blood loss warning. Delilah cleared the display. She couldn’t do anything about that here. Later, maybe. If there was a later.
Her audio hissed and cleared, a clunk announcing Sampson. His chair whined as he wheeled to join her. “Three on one,” he said.
“They were outnumbered,” she said.
“They were outclassed,” said Sampson, his chair’s audio still giving his voice melody. “Come on. There’s an air car waiting outside.”
* * *
Outside, his chair at her side, she slowed to a halt. “There’s no air car,” she said. There were lots of bodies, partygoers and serving staff evenly distributed. The band was gone, but the bright lights remained. The ground car she’d arrived in was missing. The only thing here was a big Reed Interactive VTOL craft, all armor and guns and bad attitude. Smoke curled from a crater in the ground off to Delilah’s right, no doubt their opening salvo.
“That’s our ride,” said Sampson.
Scott Reynolds stepped from the open door of the VTOL craft, Lily Clarke at his side. Scott spoke first. “You found him.” His face creased in a smile. “Worth every cent.”
Lily stepped down onto the wet pavement. “Worth it? Worth a bonus,” she agreed. “While dead was fine, alive is better.”
Delilah coughed and spat blood onto the ground. “Hey now,” she said. “A deal is a deal.” No one looked at the dead mercs. No one looked at the dead partygoers or their attendants, having one last time of their lives before the big finale. What a shit sandwich. “I have a … question.”
Scott was hefting a large rifle, checking the action. “Shoot. Ha hah.”
“Ha,” she agreed. “How’d you find me?”
“Tracker in your jacket,” said Lily. “Just in case you needed backup. Looks like we arrived just in time.”
“Looks like,” said Delilah. She checked the distance, the muddy slurry of overtime sluggish through her injuries. She wanted to kick it into high gear. Delilah needed time. She needed to think.
She put a hand on her sidearm, but before she could draw she felt a touch at her side. Sampson, a weak hand clutching for her. “Don’t,” he said, his lips clumsy around the words. Quiet enough he wouldn’t be heard over the VTOL craft’s engines. She couldn’t be sure but Delilah thought his voice might have been beautiful once. Before he was broken by the world. “There is. Al-always. A B-better time.”
Delilah looked at him, then at Scott and Lily. The Reed craft, ready to take them to God knows where. “Okay,” she said. “I’ll find out, Sampson.”
“Whether you’ve lied,” she said. “These fuckers are lying for sure, but I don’t know how much. Backup my ass. You don’t track people for that. You track people you don’t trust. And I figured we were past all that. Thing is, they don’t trust me for a reason. And that makes you about one percent more trustworthy than them.”
“C-cool,” he said.
She raised her voice, turning back to Scott and Lily. “This asshole isn’t going anywhere. How about we get a beer?”
“Perfect,” said Scott, lowering his rifle, like he’d never meant to use it anyway. “I know just the place.”
The air car lifted off, Sampson loaded in like inconvenient cargo. No one looked at him, or his chair, as if ignoring a problem solved it. Delilah’s optics scanned the ground as they rose, looking for a sign of Oliver. Nothing down there, and she hoped he’d got clear. The alternative was that he was stray carbon, carried by the wind, plastered down by the rain. She didn’t want to use the link to find out; no telling what kind of reaction that might provoke from the Reed assholes. The pilot — a young man, impressed with his uniform and the mission he’d been asked to fly — craned back to look at Lily. “Ma’am?”
“Glass it,” Lily said.
The Reed air car shuddered as it unloaded ordnance at the ground below, fire blazing high. Delilah imagined the antiques in the mansion, now lost to time, few people left to remember them. She imagined the basement room, servers rendered to broken metal and plastic. Sampson’s great retaliation against Reed, gone, lost in a rain of fire. The air car didn’t need Metatech equipment; even porno merchants like Reed had enough base firepower to solve this problem. There wasn’t any armor below, just a party full of the broken and lost.
Delilah turned away from the orange blooming in the rain. “What next?” Her fingers found the small nub of the transmitter they’d put in her jacket. They’d slipped it in a seam of the fabric; tiny, hard to spot, but it’d been a rookie mistake not checking in the first place. Interviews were supposed to engender trust.
“Beer,” said Scott with a smile. “I think we’ve earned it. Delilah … I think we’d like to keep you on retainer.”
“I like money,” Delilah agreed. She held up her arm, the odd wisp of smoke still escaping. “This will need repairing. Doesn’t come cheap. What I’m saying is that we can work something out.”
Lily flashed her a smile. “After tonight, our unit will … move up. We’ll have bigger jobs for you. If you can handle it.”
Delilah gave a snort. “Handle it? I think I handled it better than your hobo merc team. Next time, warn me if you’re sending in backup.” She turned her face back to the window, fingers worrying at the transmitter in her coat’s seam. She didn’t need these fuckers on her ass 24/7.
“Friendly fire,” said Scott, “is a hazard in our business. Could have happened the other way, and that would have been a shame.”
A shame. So many innocents lost below. Delilah kept her face blank, holding a disinterested expression. Don’t let them see. Don’t let them in. When she spoke, she didn’t turn to face them. “A shame. Sure. But you hired the best, so it didn’t go down that way.” She didn’t say, You fuckers tried to execute me along with everyone else. Delilah wanted to say, You could have pinged the link. She was pretty sure that Reed were checking she hadn’t been compromised by Sampson. Because they knew the story he had to tell, and it was compelling. Saying any of the things she wanted to say would confirm for them she’d been turned, and she wasn’t in shape for another fight. She needed time in the chair for repairs. Delilah needed sleep. She needed to recharge her bionics. For the first time she wondered what working for Apsel would have been like. Their tech wasn’t milspec, but they never ran out of juice. Having a reactor in your chest had advantages. Metatech didn’t power her with another syndicate’s tech; if Metatech and Apsel every drew down on each other, Metatech didn’t want all their operatives turned off by some back-door kill switch hidden in the reactor. But it meant recharging batteries. It meant downtime. Delilah gritted her teeth. What she wanted to do was find answers. Someone had to answer for Oliver.
“Penny,” said Scott, “for your thoughts.”
“Penny won’t buy much,” said Delilah, forcing a smile, facing him. “But I’ll give you this on the house. I wish … I wish we’d found out who was behind this sooner.”
“Your brother,” nodded Scott. “Maybe our techs can help.”
“Yeah,” said Delilah. “Maybe Reed still has a part to play.” She let some teeth into her smile. “Let’s get that fucking beer, yeah?” She dropped the transmitter to the floor of the air car. Free.