Continued from part 2.

Neon Garden – Part 3

There’s all sorts of complex subroutines in the human mind, drawing on information even on a subconscious level. In quantum theory you learn about these sorts of things. Flashes of danger before it strikes, or that feeling that someone is watching you. This can be attributed to magnetic synchronization, or a filter in the brain that can draw images from anti-matter traveling backwards in time as our reality lunges forward. Not magic, just little glitches resulting from the formation of the universe. Oddities written into the laws of physics. It was this sense that above all else, Yashima was the most proficient in tapping into, seemingly at will.  It was combat subroutines hardwired into his brain, funneled though his eye modification.  A situational awareness that could factor in hundreds of variables in the middle of even the most horrific scenes of chaos and mayhem that pertained to himself. Who was looking at him, what weapons could fire, what was the net’s traffic was saying, all of these factors and more working in concert. All of this granted him a fraction of a second to react when the phosphorescent fire of an automated gauss gun sliced through the floor of the monorail he was riding as if it were a sword slicing the underside of a loaf of bread.

It wasn’t enough time, one of the slugs sliced clean through his right arm, nearly severing it. The nanomesh didn’t even slow it down, as it cut through the ceiling of the rail car and into the center-linkage that held the whole thing on it’s track. With a sudden lurching sound Yashima found himself being thrown violently to the floor along with a dozen or so screaming citizens. The car had derailed on it’s track. The pain in his arm was being blocked by nerve suppressors built into the artificial tissue, but the blood loss was staggering. He could already feel himself getting dizzy and lightheaded. There wasn’t any time, so he quickly unhooked a belt from a nearby corpse, some low-level executive that took three rounds from the crotch up nearly splitting his torso in two lengthwise. There were others injured too but nothing could be done about that.  There wasn’t enough not enough time for the blood to pool on the floor and barely enough time to haul himself up and tighten the belt around the wound. The car snapped loose from it’s track, pulling the rest of the rail backwards with it.  The emergency door at the end didn’t give.  It was much more sickening to see the corpses as well as the injured and uninjured roll, slide, and fall towards the end of the car, pressed up against the glass and frame by gravity.  Yashima managed to stabilize himself and avoid falling to the end of the car.

He was a sitting duck, there was no where to run and no way to escape. The rapid-fire of the gauss gun pierced the car again, tearing through the mass of humanity pinned at the tail end. A round struck home again, hitting Yashima square in the chest. The slug was stopped by armor built into his chest plate, placed there to protect his vitals. The force; however, was strong enough to knock him loose from a pole he was grasping on to and send him sliding on the dirty and bloody floor to the tail end on top of the pile of now mostly corpses as well as a few unlucky survivors wishing they were.

Ten second interval between shots, which means that the next barrage was probably going to be fatal. The way the rounds gave time for him to panic, the deliberate pauses, was indicative of either someone with a sadistic streak or a hacker who was having to fight security AI and wrestle control back every time he wanted to fire. If this was a normal turret going full-auto, there would be no chance of survival. Three seconds left, he had no choice, only one way out. Yashima reached into his jacket, producing a black handgun with a wide barrel. Diffusion rounds, high speed bursts of metal shards meant to rip large holes in doorways and thin walls. Messy, expensive, and unfortunately necessary. He fired rapidly, decisively, into the blob of humanity. He was sure he could have heard a few gasps and cries of pain as he unloaded, but he felt nothing. They were already dead anyway, no chance that any normal citizen could get out of a situation like this alive.

The end of the car split open and the bodies along with Yashima came tumbling out. Human confetti. A party favor for whoever was responsible for this. As he tumbled though the air, he could see the turret responsible unload again, it was nestled on the port-side of an industrial tower, parking bay security. The blue streaks punctured through the car above him, this time cutting it in half lengthwise, giving it the appearance of a toothy maw caked in blood. The ground was coming up, instinctively he grabbed a nearby falling body, and used it as a shield. The fall wasn’t as far as he’d imagined it was going to be. It was a move born of desperation, a sort of coin toss. He crashed down on a table which, surprisingly, didn’t give. The impact knocked the wind out of him and broke his right arm completely. The corpse he used as a shock absorber hit with a sickening crunch, the force of impact sent him bouncing off the side of the table away from the body.

The turret was still out there, and it had been about seven seconds since it’s last burst of fire. He had landed on an outside veranda, lined with several small tables and a coffee bar. An outside break room of sorts for the office building it was attached to. Luckily no one else was around. His left hand still gripped the breacher he used to escape the mono. Another dice roll, he fired two shots as he lay prone, the ground caved in just as another streak of blue pierced where he was, missing him so closely he could feel the wind and heat of the rounds as they flew by his face. It wasn’t as long a fall this time, but there was nothing to break the impact. He came down, hard, on a tile floor about twenty feet below him. The adrenaline that was pumping though his body so far had blocked the pain radiating from his arm, after the second fall, this was no longer the case. It took a tremendous amount of effort to even get into a sitting position, unable to focus there was only one option left to ensure a chance at survival. The click and roar of the breacher took his arm clean off. The pain went away slowly, like recovering from numbness.

The turret had seen where he went. Who or whatever was controlling it knew where he was now, and they knew he was injured. Only a fool wouldn’t try to capitalize on the situation. There were few options available and he ran them over in his mind for a few seconds. Taking the hot end of the breacher, he pressed it against the stump where his arm used to be, a crude attempt at cauterizing the wound. Stifling crying out in pain, he put the weapon away and limped towards an entrance to a stairwell on the far side of the room.  Trying to at least get some distance on whoever it was that was trying to kill him.

On the floor there were crushed flower petals, pale, purple, unmistakable.

Yashima stopped dead in his tracks. That sense took over, moving him instinctively and outside of his own volition. His left hand reached into his jacket for the breacher, and he twisted his body to the right as the blade penetrated his chest plate right where the rail shot hit it earlier. He couldn’t see who had done it, there was some sort of distortion. He closed his modified eye, and cut off it’s internalized input. Then, bringing the breacher level fired his last two rounds into The Suit’s chest. The distortion faded along with the signs of life reflecting in those cold blue eyes. Then he whispered softly with his last breath, “ah, I see now.” The Suit fell forward, his weight pulling the blade built into his arm out from Yashima’s chest.  The blade only penetrated his flesh, but no further. Yashima threw the breacher to the side, and opened the door to the stairway.

That attack should have been fatal, he wasn’t aiming for his front, that blade was pointed at his heart and coming in from his back. The flowers had been a warning. He was being toyed with, and that being the case was a stroke of luck in itself. You had all sorts of different petty wanna-bees and tough-guys taking termination contracts. Some liked to talk, some liked to set traps, and some liked to torment. These guys could hurt you, and they did have every intention of killing you, but chiefly they wanted to feel powerful. They wanted you to see them as powerful, even fearsome, to validate their own ego. Prideful fools that made mistakes that you could exploit or turn around on them, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and live. The Suit was a killer. Yashima knew it the moment he looked into the man’s eyes for the first time. He’d never have warned a mark or played stupid games when he was being serious.

So this was a death trap, designed to drag it out as much as possible, he thought. In war, sometimes you have to do the opposite of what your opponent is expecting in these kinds of situations, even if it’s pretty damned stupid. Yashima stood, the nanomesh in his chest reconfiguring density, the pain slowly faded away too. Though the blood loss was a problem, he would just have to compensate for the slight loss of equilibrium. The systems built into his modifications could suppress things like pain and compensate for strength loss but it was only in a limited duration.  He was still bleeding, banged up, and the difficulty he was having breathing indicated to him that he probably had more than a few broken ribs.  He couldn’t keep this up forever and he was in no shape to run. He was heading up, not down. To control turrets and project cloud-based delusions you’d need to have a fairly complex system that could handle the job. There had to be a terminal access point somewhere in the building, most companies shielded their buildings from outside influence except in certain authorized locations for security purposes, he’d likely be in one such place. Admiring his handiwork, perhaps laughing to himself. The thought alone made Yashima furious.

His jacket wasn’t just for fashion, it was utilitarian. Inside he had a decent assortment of different weapons and tools which were well-concealed by a thin layer of nanomesh chaff, giving him the false appearance of being unarmed to anyone who relied on scans as opposed to a pat-down. This was beneficial for avoiding harassment and attention when using public transit, where weapons are typically prohibited. This was probably what the hacker was counting on, well, too bad for him. Yashima took out a canister, twisted a small knob located at the top 90 degrees using his teeth, and threw it down the center of the stairwell. Once it hit the bottom a sudden rush of flames spread out in all directions. A gust of searing wind blew upwards through the stairwell for a few seconds before slightly subsiding. Incendiary high explosives, in a matter of minutes the lower floors would be consumed in a sea of fire. Fire travels upwards in a large building, he cut off his own escape route. The art of war says, ‘give your enemy a golden bridge to retreat across.’ He knew better.  His attacker was likely holed up somewhere, and this was the quickest way to smoke him out.  Even if he managed to kill Yashima, there was no escape for him either.  Yashima’s reason was willing to concede to his pride at least a little when it came to spiting people who crossed him.

The flames consumed the building, eating away at the lower floors quickly. The fire supression systems seemed to be holding the flames off enough that he was able to stay a few floors ahead of them.  Thick black smoke was spewing up from below and outside, obstructing the view of the rest of the city outside the windows. Lights, sirens, and other sounds were still far too distant. Doubtful that anyone would be coming to put out the fire in this building. The low-lighting levels, the messy yet empty rooms and floors, it was clear this building was mostly abandoned or some sort of temp office that wasn’t in use at the moment. Besides the police and fire corps would have their hands full tonight, and as the thought crossed Yashima’s mind he could hear them in the distance, the sounds of war. A low rumble shook the building he was in for a moment. Probably the first charge. They were blowing the sky bridges by now, and the fact that no one had tried to contact him spoke volumes. This was probably his termination.

The main security mainframe was one floor up, and there was a surprising lack of traps along the way. After climbing some more stairs and turning a corner he had arrived. The security room for this section of the building was at the end of a long hallway, illuminated by the low red emergency lighting. The main power was probably suffering difficulties. It was only a matter of time till the flames worked their way to here. It didn’t matter though, he only needed a few seconds. He took his good arm and reached into his jacket, this time pulling out a portable gauss gun, it’s magnetic coil wrapped around the chamber and glowing a soft blue, safety was off. Nothing subtle about his intentions.

The end of the hallway melted, the shadows forming into the shape of The Suit. There were other distortions, he could see flowers, other things too. Hands reaching out from the walls, faces on the floor. Reality was still there, and Yashima knew it. This was what all this was about after all. The suit ran towards him, blades extended from his arms, his modifications. This of course, was impossible.  He was dead about fifteen floors down due to two fist shaped holes in his chest that no man could have survived, mods or not. It did seem frighteningly real though, and that’s when it occurred to him. He threw himself to the floor as gunfire swept though the wall to his left. The images disappeared immediately. The angle of the shots, calculating position, height, the bore angle of the holes in the wall all happened before he hit the floor, his arm automatically locking on to the position of the trajectory of the rounds. He fired back, five rapid shots that punched golf ball sized holes in the wall. He laid there for a few seconds. He couldn’t hear or tell if his shots struck home or not, but at this point he was less concerned about doing things precisely. He emptied the gun into the wall, then, fueled by adrenaline and rage, shoulder rammed it in. There in the corner, under a smaller sentry turret, slumped Blonde. One of Yashima’s rounds had struck home hitting him in the gut. Still wearing that ridiculous Hawaiian shirt combo. His headgear concealed his eyes, he was routed into the network with a hard line, didn’t see that too often.

Yashima put the gun to his head.

“Wait,” Blonde spoke weakly, gasping for breath, “don’t you want to know why?”

“I know what this was about.” Yashima said flatly.

“Yeah, you probably think you do.” Said Blonde, and then he smiled. “Killer thought he was stabbing me you know?” He laughed, a dry bitter laugh, that felt all too familiar to Yashima. “That code is powerful stuff.”

“You mean the same code that created those flowers?” Yashima asked.

“Yeah,” he took off the headset that covered his eyes and looked up at Yashima. “Shouldn’t have used it, not authorized. I guess that’s why you’re here.”

“Close enough.” Yashima said, not bothering to correct him.

“All of this over some flowers, seems ridiculous doesn’t it?” Blonde asked faintly.

“If the flowers were money, would it sound any less ridiculous?” Retorted Yashima.

Blonde laughed, a soft, quiet, and genuine laugh. “That’s good. Best damn joke I’ve heard all week…” he trailed off at the end and died with a smile on his face.

* * *

The world faded out for Yashima on the roof of the burning office building. He managed to get away from the flames for the most part, but the thick smoke was blocking out the night sky and making it hard to breathe. He wanted to see the night sky one more time before he died at least. He wanted to go out with at least some modicum of peace in a life that had been surrounded by war, chaos, and betrayal. He was too weak to fight it anymore, his body throbbing with pain, he gave in to the call of unconsciousness.

The hum of a cicada was enough to penetrate the blackness and he opened his eyes as a strike team was surrounding him. He could make out a Cerberus logo on the side of the transport. He could feel faintly, the strong arms lifting him up and on to a gurney. Then he was up, in the air, being carried away. There was a man from Cerberus on board. The debriefing was handled there, as a doctor tended to him. They had been trailing Blonde for a while, and used Yashima as bait to lure him out. Blonde had stolen code from Titan-Pyre that could project cloud based delusions and in the hands of someone skillful like him, construct fake realities in those with certain modifications. Like The Suit. Who was also a merc being used as bait under the employ of The Trinity Group. Turns out Blonde was using fake aliases and contracting with multiple corps for protection while he stole valuable tech and sold them on the black market.

“Still, we underestimated how dangerous this man was. We specifically used you because of your skill in detective work, and figured you’d have got the drop on him.  Losing you would be a tremendous asset loss to Cerberus. I can assure you we will shoulder the cost of your medical expenses and allow you leave time to recover. Do not worry about any contracted mission obligations for the time being.” With that the representative left Yashima alone. The painkillers were nice, and certainly taking the edge off. He was too tired to argue or get angry at being made to be bait.

As their vehicle floated by past the meeting place he had met the other two at just a few short hours ago, he was shocked enough to bolt upright in his bed, enough to jar the doctor and the corporate rep. Outside he could see them, lining the outside of the park, in that dead ring of dirt, was every type of flower you could imagine. The lights and billboards of the nearby shopping district reflecting off them, giving them a glowing hue in the full spectrum of color, a garden of neon, both unreal and real, defying the ugliness of the city around it. Covering up the big sea of lies in artificial beauty. Yet, gazing upon them, for the first time in a long time he felt at peace.

He hated that most of all.


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