l...l


Chapter Thirty Two

August 17th, 2077

Night City, Northern California

Camp August, Northside

"What the fuck are we waiting on!?"

Outcasts were usually patient individuals, but even they had their thresholds, and when those limitations were reached, they turned into ferocious entities with a penchant for boiling rage.

Clint usually didn't pay any attention to the hotheads walking around camp, but this time, he couldn't ignore the reckless.

Especially since this seething Outcast was Camp August's Chief Enforcer.

He looked up from his seated position and set his eyes on a nasty son of a bitch named Ellis. The Enforcer spent the majority of his life going from camp to camp, looking for a stable home in between protection jobs. Along the way, he learned how to fire a gun and scare the living shit out of gangers and scavers.

Parker picked him up on a recommendation from Jack, an outcast Chieftain local to Kabuki who hadn't accepted her residence offer at Camp August.

"We're waiting for backup." Marybelle, the security coordinator who reported directly to Clint on matters pertaining to Camp August's integrity.

It was just the three of them loitering inside Parker's office, which was completely torn apart by an outside party. Cabinets were tossed open, tables were thrown on their side, and most of her correspondence littered the stone floor.

To make matters worse, Dana was missing, and the sentries posted outside her office were butchered. The very idea that someone breached their security perimeter slaughtered their guards and made off with the Chief made Clint's blood boil.

It should have been impossible, especially considering the increased security measures and the addition of two hundred more souls to their security teams.

And yet, it wasn't enough.

This camp was supposed to be a fortress, and in one fell swoop, some asshole walked right in and stole the queen.

"Backup!" Ellis bellowed in indignation. "Are you fucking kidding me! We all know the fucking asshole who did this!"

Clint's expression turned sour, and he forced himself to calm down as a single name echoed to the front of his mind.

The Meatman.

Just hearing the name only sent Clint down a rabbit hole of unchecked rage, and he couldn't blame Ellis for expressing his discontent even in the face of insubordination. He was half ready to cut their Chief Enforcer loose on the camp when practicality took hold.

"The Chief," Clint spat out. "Has given us specific directions to follow if she went missing, and I don't trust anyone in this camp outside this room."

Because there was no fucking way in hell, the Meatman penetrated their security without a breach in procedure. This left one of two unquestionable realities that Clint had to come to terms with.

Either their security personnel are grossly incompetent or, even worse, someone let that psychopath in and gave him a quiet way out.

Clint prayed that it was the former and not the latter. Incompetence can be rooted out in training and experience.

Betrayal lasts forever.

Ellis wholeheartedly believed that someone double-crossed them and was itching to start cracking skulls.

It was Parker's word alone that stayed Clint's hand.

"Fuck that!" Ellis retorted sharply. "Cut my enforcers and me loose, and I will find her faster than whoever the fuck we're waiting on, and where the fuck is SHAW!?"

"Still off the grid," Marybelle answered. "Poor bastard's old employer's picked up his scent, so he's in the wind for who knows how long."

Two weeks ago, Dana dispatched one of her closest confidants, Callum Shaw, to investigate the Meatman's movements and find a pattern. He was an ex Night Corps operative marked for death after attempting to expose the companies illegal Artificial Intelligence practices.

Shaw disappeared into the shadows of Night City after Night Corps bombed his apartment, and since then, his only connection to the outside world was Dana. She called in a favor, and he's spent the last few weeks gathering as much intelligence as possible on the Meatman.

Three days ago, Shaw stormed into Dana's office and left her with an eerie warning. His prodding into the Meatman's identity flagged an NCPD security program, and now he had Night Corp hot on his ass.

Whoever the Meatman was, he had connections, and those connections had deep pockets.

Shaw's been off the grid since then, but before he left, he practically demanded that Dana drop the entire thing before she got herself killed. Clint begged her to drop the search to the Meatman's identity, but she wasn't willing to let the serial killer walk amongst her people any longer.

Dana only directed him to do one thing if she disappeared.

Call in backup, the kind whose willpower and capabilities were similar to that of a demi-god.

And Clint only knew of one god amongst men.

"Then what about the catacombs?" Ellis offered resolutely. "The Chief had a theory the bastard's been going into the tunnels?"

"Siren's would have picked him up," Marybelle replied. "There's no way that fucker's got anyone that could get him through that labyrinth without us knowing."

"As far as you know." Ellis retorted sharply. "I don't trust those psychos anymore than I trust a fucking Scaver."

The trio were starting to divulge into topics that were best left unsaid, and Ellis's carelessness needed to be curtailed before someone heard his remarks. Secrets were best kept when everyone kept their mouths shut, and Outcasts were notorious for maintaining that code of silence.

Before Ellis could go on another tangent, Clint stood on his toes, stopping the man's words in their tracks.

"We follow the Chieftain's directions." Shooting Ellis and Marybelle a cutting glance. "Our backup will be here soon to investigate, and until this situation is sorted, I want the camp on lockdown. No one comes in, and no one goes out. Ellis, you and your enforcers, are on perimeter sweep. Keep the Scavers off our backs until we get Dana back."

Camp August was officially on lockdown, and despite the grim circumstances, Ellis couldn't keep the grin off his face. Only a fool would let hearsay ruin their hard-earned reputation, and eventually, the Scavenger gangs roaming outside their territories would discover their leader was missing.

They may try something incredibly aggressive to exploit a perceived weakness, and Clint just gave Ellis the green light to start cracking Scaver skulls. It might as well have been an early Christmas present for the Chief Enforcer.

"Dana should be the one telling me this," Ellis retorted. His admiration of the woman eclipsed his frustration with her passive tactics, but in the end, he followed her like everyone else.

"We'll get her back, Ellis." The Enforcer said nothing, storming out of the office and giving Marybelle and Clint a moment of silence.

Marybelle took another deep, steadying breath, crossing her arms while leaning against Dana's messy desk. Her cerulean eyes bore deep into Clint's weathered expression, searching for something that he wasn't quite sure of.

"…..He is right about one thing in all this." Marybelle began after a moment of silence. "Who does Dana trust so much that she'd order you to wait for him?"

For a time, Clint searched for a response that would adequately convey a proper answer.

He need not bother.

A shimmering form two heads taller than Marybelle's five-foot-ten height emerged from the darkness behind her. The scenery would have frightened anyone else in Clint's shows, but he had grown accustomed to Cyrus's quiet entries.

He was scary like that.

"Hello, Cyrus." Marybelle furrowed her brows in confusion, following Clint's gaze to a location a near foot above her head. "Wish you were here under better circumstances."

"So do I." The Coordinator's spine froze at the Headhunter's voice. "Status Report?"

"Mary. Give us the room and keep your mouth shut." Marybelle nodded sharply and beat a hasty retreat out of Parker's office, pointedly ignoring the curious looks from more than a few sentries.

She thought Cypher was a fucking hoax.

"You always gotta scare people like that?" Clint watched his camouflage unit shut down, and soon the seven-foot-tall death machine stood quietly in the shadows of Parker's office.

"People should be more aware of their surroundings." Cyrus retorted. "You picked out my camo as soon as I walked into the room."

"Through necessity mostly, don't feel like shitting myself every time you pop in to check on our little hidea-."

"Status report, Clint. I'm not here for your rambling?" Cyrus interrupted with a monotone voice, reflecting a slight tone of irritation.

"Right, sorry." Clint motioned to the unorganized and trampled interior. "Two of our sentries showed up around 21:00 hours for shift change when they discovered the mess. Two dead sentries and a missing Chieftain had the entire camp on edge."

"….If this was a simple snatch and grab." Cyrus's gaze landed on the overturned desk as he sifted through the debris. "Our kidnapper would have taken her and left. So why stay and toss the room?"

"Because Dana was getting close to figuring out who he was." Cyrus paused, slowly glancing towards Clint.

"Who?" For once, Clint's usual confident mask cracked under pressure. His eyes falling to the floor as he tossed Cyrus a thumb drive with two words marked onto the object.

The Meatman.

Cyrus inserted the data chip into his armor, allowing an unusually quiet Chamber access to its contents. However, as soon as she opened the file labeled 'Meatman,' a single word flashed to the front of his HUD.

EMPTY

"There's nothing on this file," Cyrus said, running the thumb drive in between his fingers before crushing it.

"There used to be." Cling started. "Dana hired an old compatriot from her corpo days to look into Meatman's identity. He made headway in 'the Net' before being flagged by an NCPD security program run by their Netrunner division. Then, three days ago, he walks in here, drops off the thumb drive, and begs Dana to cut the entire investigation before she got herself killed."

"Why didn't Dana come to me with this?"

"Pride amongst other things," Clint answered as he shifted in place. "Look, you've done a lot for this camp, Cyrus, more than any of us could ever dream. But this guy, he's been hunting our kind for years, and Dana knew you had your hands full with the TC and Japantown."

Clint's words did not calm Cyrus's growing fury. Instead, whether the man knew it or not, all he did was stoke the flames further, and the Spartan whirled on him with restrained indignation.

"Did you forget, Clint?" Cyrus replied harshly. "I used to be one of you. So I understand what it means to go hungry one day and be hunted by scavengers the next. I only asked both of you to keep me informed of anything exceedingly dangerous to your lives."

The Headhunter took a single chilling footstep towards a subjugated Clint. "This qualifies."

"I know." The Outcast consented softly, trying to abate Cyrus's growing temper. "But that wasn't my decision to make."

"Simmer down, CY. I know you feel like taking someone's head off right, but I need you to stay focused." He growled to himself as Chamber's soothing voice entered his helmet. "We can find her, but first, we need her contact's name."

Cyrus turned away from the subjugated Clint, regaining his composure with a deep exhale before returning his attention. "What is her contact's name?"

"Callum Shaw," Clint replied, for a moment forgetting the fear of earning the ire of an angered Spartan.

"And where is Mr. Shaw?"

"He's off-grid." Clint supplied. "After he got tagged by the NCPD security Pitbulls, Night Corp has been on his ass. Not sure where he is right now."

"Is he still in the city?" Cyrus questioned as he stepped back into the familiar shadows.

"Should be." The Spartan's towering frame disappeared into the night, and Clint lost sight of his terrifying companion in the darkness.

"Then I'll find him."

Cyrus returned to his parked Phantom just outside Camp August's perimeter and immediately set a direct course for the skylines of Night City. Chamber was undergoing a deep scan of the city's CCTV and telecommunications network when a familiar hand stopped the sliding cargo door.

The Spartan pulled his Unity on instinct when a familiar smile greeted his sights.

"Hey, Cyrus." V forced open the door. Behind her was the always recognizable Aldecaldo with a raised eyebrow. "Figured you could use some backup tonight."

For the first time, he neither resisted nor subtly called for their dismissal, which slightly surprised himself and astonished his companions. Instead, he clutched V's hand and roughly pulled her into the Phantoms cargo hold, followed by a somewhat troubled Panam.

"Put these on." The Spartan rummaged through his inventory and produced two intricately designed synthetic apparel. He shoved both bodysuits into their hands, and V stared at her new possession in slight confusion.

"Uhhh. What the hell are these for?"

"Chamber and I have been developing optical camouflage for Iwasaki and his Bloodhounds," Cyrus explained. "The opportunity to field test them hasn't come to pass until now."

Chamber took over as both women removed their jackets and slipped into their new gear. "What you ladies get to play with tonight is the Mk. 12 Nemesis suit. It's designed to generate a modulating field that transmits reflected light from one side of the wearer to the other. The end result is a near-perfect active camouflage. However, the user's potential survival rate was minimal due to the severe lack of protection. Which is why I had my monkey over here install a series of titanium-dipped tri-weave fiber mesh underneath the synthetic material."

The Spartan finished placing a pair of black optics in between segmented armored platins that made up the structure of a drab-colored helmet. Chamber was putting an awful amount of risk in giving these prototypes to V and Panam. His concerns stemmed from the pure fact that neither weren't particularly adept at close proximity stealth operations, and they preferred to engage targets from a long distance.

Still, this was a unique opportunity to field these their equipment, and if there was a malfunction or error in the process, Cyrus was mere moments away to relieve them of any burdens.

"Enough protection to find proper cover," V remarked while assisting a somewhat clumsy and irritable Panam into her bodysuit.

"Pretty much," Chamber replied curtly. "It's not designed to sacrifice speed for defense, and it was intended for our recently acquired Bloodhounds."

"Definitely feels like it." V could practically feel the synthetic material meshing against her body like a second layer of skin. If she didn't know any better, it almost felt like she was running around naked.

The subtle grooves in her suit accentuated her physique, especially her toned abdomen that drew Panam's curious and somewhat eager attention. A notice that V herself returned when her lingering eyes caught a glance of the Aldecaldo's corded thighs.

It was during this bout of unabated longing that a single question crossed the minds of both V and Panam. These synthetic garbs fit almost too well for them not to take notice, and a glimpse towards a pointedly quiet Cyrus was practically spelling it out for them.

Sure he tried to occupy himself by tinkering with a pair of helmets that undoubtedly belonged to their camouflaged suits, but he wasn't fooling anyone. V smelled blood in the water, and she wasn't one to let her prey get away that easily.

"So," V began with a shrewd tone. "Chamber, you going to tell me why these things fit on me so well?"

"Use your imagination because somebody here had to double-check my measurements." The AI immediately abandoned ship and left Cyrus to deal with two women whose ravenous smirks significantly grew.

"…..Cyrus?" A glance to his right only confirmed the predatory gaze dancing in V's eyes, and he didn't need to see Panam's to figure out it mirrored much the same.

Cyrus's only option to stimy the accusation being leveled against him was simple in execution.

He plead the fifth.

"No comment." Cyrus tossed each of them the final piece to their synthetic armor. "This helmet will complete the look. It contains a state-of-the-art heads-up display and a direct link to your nervous and biological readings. You're going to feel a jolt from the receptors kicking in and initializing your biometrics. Try them on."

Panam shared a look with V before both came to the same conclusion and donned the helmet. She could practically feel the segmented plating wrap around her lower neck and connect with the synthetic bodysuit. Darkness encompassed her vision, and any form of light was snuffed out like a candle.

She could feel the oxygen filter into her mask when suddenly a jolt of electricity sent her spiraling to the floor. A firm hand grasped her flailing body and gently settled her onto an adjacent seat.

"Be still." Chamber's soothing voice flooded into her mask. "The sensation will pass momentarily."

After several moments of white spots forming in the darkness, a bright light encompassed her vision. The HUD came to life, and the first thing Panam saw was the familiar face of the only artificial intelligence she knew of.

"…Chamber?" Panam spoke suddenly, earning the AI's attention.

"In the flesh," The AI flared her arms out dramatically. "Well, mostly. Don't worry. I'm only going through your vitals and making sure nothings out of place. Give me one second, will ya."

Chamber's avatar winked out, giving Panam an unabated look at a concerned Cyrus hovering over an equally out of it V. It seemed that even her venerable resilience couldn't withstand that jolt of concentrated energy.

"Ok. Brain activity normal, bio readings leveling out, heart rate stabilizing."

Panam tore her anxious gaze from the pair and brought it back to Chamber, who began listing off random medical mumbo jumbo. "Do I need to keep this thing on much longer?"

"No, give me a few more seconds, and then you can take it off."

"How's V?"

"A little razzled," Chamber assured. "Had to play her's a little bit safer because of the relic, but everything is running smoothly for the most part."

Total silence swept over the cargo hold as everyone sat in place. It was only after Chamber signaled an all-clear that she practically tore her helmet off and roughly settled it on the seat next to her.

Panam never liked wearing headgear of any kind. Not only did it force her to put her hair down, but it also often felt restricting, and the severe lack of wind gracing her face was off-putting for most Nomads.

"…..I fucking hate helmets." V remarked heatedly, staring up at the black visor looming over her. "How the fuck do you go days without taking that shit off?"

Cyrus snorted in amusement, letting the gentle grasp fall from her shoulder and removing his blackened headgear. V's faze momentarily crawled along the jagged scar running down the outer part of his left eyebrow.

A memory flashed to the front of her mind of the alien Cyrus described as an Elite, dragging a dagger made of pure plasma down his face. The advanced helmet he previously wore was rendered asunder by the heated blade ruining the visor and taking a piece of him along with it.

In V's mind, it only continued to emphasize the genetic and drastic differences between Cyrus and everyone else she came across. Most people wouldn't have been able to walk away from such a terrifying creature without their composure shattering from the plasma blistering their faces.

But then again, Cyrus wasn't most people.

"You get used to it." He turned towards a grimacing Panam gingerly rubbing at the back of her neck. "How are you feeling?"

"Little bit tender right about now. It feels like a knot is forming along the top of my spine. Can you take a look?" Cyrus stepped towards the Nomad with a subtle expression of concern, missing the amused look crossing V's face.

The moment his hands landed on Panam's shoulders to turn her around, she reached up and grasped his shoulders, using his towering frame as a means to pull herself up and flush against his armor.

Panam didn't give him a chance to act, trapping the back of his neck in her grasp and wrapping her legs around his midsection. She savored that moment of stillness in his eyes before darting forward and connecting her supple lips with his own rugged set. She exploited his inexperience and freely slotted her tongue through his lips.

It still wasn't clear if Panam was simply dreaming this moment to life, but there was a raw emotion in the way his hands settled along her hips on instinct. A heat began to slowly pool at the bottom of her stomach, nearly reigniting the passion she felt not hours ago.

Alas, this was not the time nor place for Panam to get lost in her own gratification, even if Cyrus was willing to let her. She physically restrained herself from going back for another round after finding a tinge of red splashed across his cheeks.

"All better now," Panam stated as she gave him a single lingering peck on his right cheek. "To be continued, for a more…..suitable time. Right V?"

"We may have to leave the city to make that happen," V remarked jokingly. She tried to play off that she hadn't become a more than willing voyeur during their heated embrace, but Panam sent her a subtle longing wink that promised their desires would be satisfied sooner rather than later.

"Ok then." Panam climbed down the tower of steel and muscle, readjusting her somewhat jumbled bodysuit. "What's the job haven't been able to get an actual briefing yet."

Cyrus grasped at the change in subject immediately. "Has Chamber already told you why I left?"

"Yeah," V replied quietly. "Heard Dana's gone missing. You know for how long?"

"We're pushing three hours since her disappearance, and Clint is certain that the Meatman is the culprit."

Panam furrowed her brows as she listened intently, her hand grasping a few flash grenades and snatched a silenced Copperhead from his inventory before tossing the firearm towards a patiently waiting V.

"You don't honestly believe a serial killer snuck into her heavily secured office all by their lonesome, do you?" Panam asked as she helped herself to the Phantom's limited armory.

"I don't believe in anything I haven't verified. Speaking of which." Cyrus turned his attention to Chamber, whose ethereal form appeared at the center of the cargo hold. "Do we have a lead?"

"Course I do," Chamber answered, and with a snap of her fingers, she replaced her holographic form with a detailed map of a very rundown football stadium.

"We're going to Pacifica."


Night City, Northern California

Bloodhound Sanctuary, Northside

"You are inadequate."

The cold declaration repeated in Iwasaki's mind by a chorus of numerous ridiculing remarks. He and his cohorts were still recovering from the brutal reminder of their shortcomings by their newest sensei.

Araki Shigeko's teachings had nothing on the vicious principles implemented by Cypher. Iwasaki and siblings in all but blood had endured much in their time together, but the last few weeks were hellish on their bodies.

"It is not enough to fight alongside your emotions. Anger, wrath, and fear are sentiments that must never be ignored. It weakens the mind, shackles you with indecision, and turns you into a soul lacking awareness for the world around you."

Iwasaki recalled how easily Cypher took them to task, tearing down their maneuvers and shattering their coordination with clinical precision. Every strike was thwarted, every tactic countered, and eventually, all eight of them laid at Cypher's feet sapped of strength and the will to go on.

"Never restrain yourself. Take hold of your emotions and embrace them. Only then can you walk the path I have laid for you to follow. Only then will you become a paragon of war with no equal."

Cypher's towering frame stepped over the prone form of Umeki Riho, whose only evidence of life was the subtle rising of her chest.

"From now on, your names are null and void. They belong to people who no longer exist. Until you earn my confidence and respect, you will be referred to by designations I assign. None of you have earned any other right aside from the breath now escaping your tired lungs."

"Iwasaki." He can still feel the ghost of Cypher's hand snatching him by the shoulder and forcing Iwasaki to stand on his worn-out legs. That feeling of helplessness as the black abyss regarded him as an insignificant object unworthy of his time nor patience. "You have proven to be the most competent of your…..lacking companions. Your designation is now Eagle. Wear it with what's left of your pride."

After the brutal reminder of just how inadequate they were in the presence of their new master, the Bloodhounds were divided into two teams with specific designations.

Iwasaki led Alpha team alongside three of his subordinates, Vulture, Sparrow, and Falcon. They willingly abandoned their true names until they earned the respect of their current sensei, and each took to their designations with relentless enthusiasm.

Umeki Riho, callsign Leopard, commanded Beta team with Jaguar, Tiger, and Ocelot. Each section was designed to act as a jack of all trades, containing specific members who excelled in particular aspects of combat.

The time they spent acting in pairs was no longer viable. No matter the circumstance, all deployments would be done in four-man teams. If a Bloodhound were to be killed in action or wounded, a member would be cycled through to fill in the gap.

Iwasaki wondered if Cypher would increase their ranks in the future or simply let time and attrition exact their toll upon them. If he wasn't already confident that their sensei was invested in their training, he might have believed that their master was simply manipulating them until they died out.

Cypher wasn't like Master Shigeko. His words were cutting and to the point, a complete contrast to Arakis tempered yet firm criticisms. It should have vexed Iwasakiin some type of way, but it didn't.

Despite his harshness, he only ever spoke the truth in their flaws, and Iwasaki could not fault him for his lack of tenderness. Cypher didn't strike any of them as someone who minced their words, and the Bloodhounds respected him all the more for it.

"Brother." A soft voice rustled Iwasaki from his thoughts. Glancing to his right, Iwasaki found a pair of shining amber orbs staring back at him. "We have a comms link coming in."

The hint of amusement twinkling in those eyes belonged to Sparrow, their mid-ranged combat expert and communications specialist.

Brown, curly hair was braided to reveal a lean and always smirking face. Her early age of twenty-two years old was complimented by her smooth skin, which retained the natural beauty of a Japanese native, leaving a mark that contrasted her rough upbringing.

"Understood, Sparrow. Give me five minutes. " Iwasaki softly cursed as his companion walked away, gradually extracting himself from the tender grasp of sleep. Cypher hadn't communicated with them in over a day. His standing orders were to conduct detailed raids on Black Element Mercenaries establishing a series of outposts in the Badlands.

Beta Team was currently on assignment near Rock Ridge, and they were going to off comms for the next six hours. Alpha team was awaiting a new tasking while undertaking some much-needed rest and recovery.

He pointedly ignored the 'friendly' chess game between Vulture and Falcon, favoring instead to wash clean water through his crust-laden eyes. Both men were emphatic in their often boisterous competition, seeking a final answer to who truly possessed the superior tactical intellect.

The solution was always Falcon, despite his preferences as their CQC expert. The emerald-eyed man was twenty-eight years of age and retained a pair of piercing hazel eyes. A gunshot left a mark stretching across the bottom of his right cheek and ran towards his left nostril before ending on his upper lip.

It was a constant reminder of his trials in the back alleys of Japantown and the tragedies he perpetrated to survive those hazardous streets.

Vulture leaned forward, studying his opponent's move with a critical eye. He was Alpha Team's tech expert, possessing an intellect matched only by a sarcastic nature that neither Arasaki nor Cypher appreciated.

"Is that your move?" Vulture commented with an amused sparkle in his eyes.

"Is my hand on the piece?" Falcon sarcastically stated as he tapped the knight's head with his index finger.

"Doesn't matter. I beat you in three moves no matter what you do." Unfortunately, the confidence in Vulture's words did not mirror his lack of awareness for Falcon's maneuvers.

Iwasaki may not have been adept in chess compared to Falcon, but even a single glance of the board stuck out to him more than it did for Vulture.

The idiot managed to fall for a ploy that left his king open to checkmate by Falcon's prowling queen. A maneuver that their CQC specialist was almost too giddy to point out to him.

"I'd keep my eye on that queen before counseling me on how to beat you." Vulture's eyes registered the mirage of lanes that Falcon's queen could exploit on his way to victory.

"Fuck."

Iwasaki chuckled as he splashed a stream of clear liquid into his eyes, rubbing out the only remaining evidence of his nightly sleep. Sparrow eyed him in mild concern as he sluggishly approached the comms table and settled into one of the cushioned chairs. The equipment and necessities provided by their leader was baffling to think about honestly.

Nothing seemed out of reach, and nearly every resource was available to them on a simple request. Cypher never skirted nor demanded proper reasoning for their applications; he met them without hesitation.

Sparrow couldn't care less about how Cypher acquired an experimental Militech transmitter that pushed the boundaries of communication across the planet. Its range and sophisticated nature allowed for a top-of-the-line transmission with almost no way for tertiary parties to tap into.

It was a comms specialist wet dream.

"Hope you slept well," Sparrow remarked as Iwasaki jacked into the communications hub.

"Why?" Streams of data crossed his vision as her voice echoed a terse warning.

"Because we're about to be deployed."

Whatever inquiries Iwasaki had were quickly answered as his cybernetic eyes calibrated Cypher's towering form. His arms were crisscrossed firmly across his torso, and the blackened visor stared him down once again.

"Eagle." Cypher's modular voice sent a chill down his spine. Iwasaki was quick to realize the difference in tone since his last visit. He didn't need to be near the Hunter to recognize the controlled rage rolling off his frame. "I have a tasking for your team. Gather your gear and report to the landing pad for deployment."

"Yes, sensei." Iwasaki hesitated before disregarding his cowardice and speaking the hanging question. "If I may. What is our objective?"

"Our target is Callum Shaw. Former Night Corps operative with intelligence on a missing HVI. I need him alive, and tasking your team for assistance will increase my chances of bringing him in without a scratch."

"As you say, master." Iwasaki felt a surge of pride at the subtle complement to their skills. "Where is our target located now?"

"Pacifica."


Night City, Northern California

Metro Stadium, Coast View

It didn't take long for Chamber to locate Callum Shaw's last known coordinates.

Granted, the man was exceptionally good at covering his tracks, but his algorithms and masking programs could not protect him from a hyper-advanced AI. In addition, there was only one district in the city with a severe lack of NCPD and Corporate affiliations or installations.

That location was called Pacifica, initially envisioned as Night City's vacation resort for the upper class. Instead, it was to be a true paradise, catering to corporate employees and tourists alike with its golden sandy beaches, luxurious hotels, and unmatched entertainment.

The Unification War stopped Pacifica's development in its tracks as fears mounted that the war would turn the district into a battlefield between corporations affiliated with the NUSA or the Free states.

Couple that with Night City's consistently dwindling economy, the effect on Pacifica was disastrous. Construction work was put on permanent hold, leaving most buildings unfinished hulks of concrete and steel.

Soon the district became a lawless combat zone ruled by either Animal's, Scavers, or the enigmatic Voodoo boys.

Cyrus had meant to perform a general reconnaissance mission on Voodoo boy activities in the region for his first visit, but tonight his focus was on the retrieval of Callum Shaw.

The Voodoo boys could wait a bit longer.

The former Night Corp operative took shelter inside the abandoned Metro Stadium, and his ex-employers were converging on his location with five teams of Night Corp Bloodhounds.

Shaw closed the stadium's retractable rooftop and hard locked the padlocks to prevent his pursuers from inserting through the open roof. This countermeasure forced Cyrus to insert himself two hundred meters behind the Night Corps operatives, currently combing through the fourth level.

"Chamber, I need Shaw's exact location." Cyrus gently opened a pair of rusty steel doors leading into the northern concourse. Trash and abandoned construction equipment littered the stadium decks, and he had to take great care not to fall through any unfinished flooring.

These were one of the few instances where his MJOLNIR's tonnage cost him. If Cyrus moved too quickly or too carelessly, he would find himself tumbling down four levels worth of teetering edifice.

"HVI is inside the stadium's media center five hundred meters east of our location." Chamber pulled up a framework of the concourse in the corner of Cyrus's heads up display, and a collection of red outlines followed. "We got a whole mess of Night Corps operators in between him and us."

"I was under the impression that Night Corp was a public development company, Chamber. So why do they have their own mercenary teams?"

"You're not the only one with that same question bouncing around their head," Chamber replied frustratingly. " As far as I can find, there's no record of Night Corp possessing an operations detachment. However, there are rumors of a clandestine off-the-books division that several Night City journalists have tried to uncover. Their notes were incomplete, mostly because they all died soon after. Natural causes, of course, these guys aren't amateurs."

The AI continued, "…..What they did all agree on was the division's name. They called them Paladins."

Paladins.

It seems the shadows of Night City were no longer solely Cyrus's domain. The longer he toiled in the darkness. The more entities stepped into the light to avoid his gaze.

"It doesn't matter." Cyrus keyed on his radio when his HUD began tracking several friendly IFF tags arriving in their area of operation. "Disciple One, this is Oxide. Status?"

"Oxide, this is Disciple One. We are maneuvering into overwatch position and standing by to engage targets." The Headhunter glanced towards the stadium scaffoldings and discovered a quartet of bloodhounds scampering across the rafters.

"Oxide copies all, be advised we have another friendly asset in the AO. Callsign Badger. Their objective is to secure the HVI while we handle these Mercs." Cyrus peaked into an adjacent suite but found nothing but dust and echos.

"Understood Oxide. Do we have comms with Badger?" He quietly paced himself to match the steady movements of the closest Night Corps team, narrowly avoiding a passing searchlight from a rifleman's torch.

"Partially. Badger has gone dark utilizing experimental stealth tech. They can receive but cannot transmit, over."

"Disciple One copies all. Standing by to engage targets." Cyrus rekeyed his transmitter while Chamber began marking targets for Iwasaki and his team to eliminate.

All four Alpha team members were packing silenced Militech SOR-22's graciously gifted by his ever bestowing Artificial Intelligence. Iwasaki was the best shooter on the team, but that didn't mean his compatriots were amateurs. Sparrow, Vulture, and Falcon were exceptional shooters in their own right, and Cyrus was more than willing to admit that fact.

"V, can you hear me?" A single lengthy static was the only answer to his inquiry. "Good. Do not approach Shaw until we have engaged the Paladins. I don't care how you bring him in just make sure he's still capable of talking afterward."

Another static burst acknowledged his request, and for the oddest reason, Cyrus could swear that V was rolling her eyes in exasperation. "Good luck. Out."

He disconnected his receiver and activated his camouflage module. "Chamber, we need to refurbish the transmitters in their camo suits when this over."

It was a vexing prospect to discover that the radio transmitters in V and Panam's did not gell with the active stealth field. Any outgoing broadcast was garbled at best and static at worst, forcing the trio to adapt their communication with simple yes or no transmission.

Comms would be restored once they deactivated their camo module, but that wouldn't happen until they gained access to the media center without triggering Shaw's collection of hasty booby traps. Fortunately, their masks included a sophisticated thermal imaging system that enabled them to communicate with hand gestures.

"I'll add it to the long queue of other nonsense I have to deal with after this." Chamber quipped back sarcastically. "Now, you want the total intel package or not?"

"What do you think?"

The AI decided against starting one of their usual spats in favor of capitulating to his unspoken demand. Usually, Chamber would have no issues meeting his fire, but today was an exception to the rule.

She didn't want to push him too hard, at least until they got Dana back.

"Motion tracker and thermal imaging is projecting total hostile numbers at forty," the AI foretold. "I'm working on tapping into their comms, there using a more advanced security algorithm than I'm used to dealing with. These Paladins are a step up our usual competition."

Streams of critical data began to fill Cyrus's HUD, and it didn't take him long to process the unusually high number of hostiles hunting down a single man. It was almost overkill considering the amount of hardware each Night Corp Merc was packing, and that was an intriguing prospect in itself.

What did Callum Shaw do to draw such a volatile response?

Cyrus was determined to find out.

"Tactical options?" Cyrus ducked into an empty suite a mere twenty meters from the closest NC Merc, flashing the darkened hallway with his torch.

"With Iwasaki and his team up top, we can be a little more liberal in our approach." Chamber tossed a few ideas in her head before coming to a swift conclusion. "Pushing tactical options to your HUD now."

The activity on Cyrus' HUD burst with an energetic flash as three options outlined his surroundings. His mind disregarded the options that included Iwasaki and his team performing an aggressive assault from above.

Cyrus wanted to keep the Bloodhounds up top as much as possible to prevent any leakers from escaping and ensure his companions had backup available at a moment's notice.

For all he knew, Callum Shaw might start shooting at the very people trying to pull him out of the fire.

"We're tapped into their comms, so we should hear their transmissions soon." Within seconds, a foreign radio transmission flashed on his HUD along with modular and near synthetic voices.

"…..Red Team status on target?" Chamber began designating Night Corps teams based on each outgoing broadcast. The aforementioned Merc Team spearheaded the formation as they swept through the stadium's concourse for Callum Shaw.

"Ugh, still working through the mezzanine between the upper stands. No contact with Alpha target at this time."

"Green?" Cyrus followed a transmitting cone to a cluster of Paladins at the direct center of their scattered formation.

"Negative contact, Condor." Green Team and another ten Mercenary contacts broke off from the main group. "We're splitting our section to assist Red team while blue clears the upper stands."

"Condor copies all, maintain dispersion, and continue our sweep. Alpha target is here somewhere. Find him." The radio transmissions ceased as the Paladins began scattered yet still coordinated search.

Cyrus took stock of the combat scenario now presented to him. The Mercs had divided their force into two distinct sections. One group ran an organized sweep of the mezzanine and concourse hallways while the other conducted a thorough search of the stadium's upper stands.

Now was as good a time as any to engage them.

"Disciple One," the Spartan raised the leading Bloodhound over the commlink. "I want you to engage the Mercs clearing the concourse then reacquire the targets on the upper stands. Keep them pinned as long as you can."

"Understood," Iwasaki whispered over the link. "What will you be doing?"

"Cleaning house. Engage on my signal, out."

Cyrus readied his Kukri, stalking ever silently behind an unsuspecting pair of Night Corp Paladins.

Their gear consisted of a blackened advanced combat uniform covering them from head to toe with protective padding safeguarding vital organs. A sizeable padded shoulder guard shielded their upper arms, and a Phantom Tactical Modular Vest protected their torso.

The final piece to their gears was a visor with blue dots littering the outer portion that sat securely over their eyes. Cyrus was keenly aware of the possibility they were utilizing either thermal or spectral optics.

Ammunition and other miscellaneous equipment were strapped securely to their plate carrier, finishing off their intimidating look. A collection of assault rifles and submachine guns signified the difference between the standard rifleman and their CQC experts.

On a single glance, Cyrus determined that these Paladins were not expecting to handle anyone with heavy equipment and opted to go with subtly over firepower.

After ducking behind an overturned tractor, Cyrus grabbed a fragment of shattered concrete in his right hand. In the shadow of another flashlight, he threw the solid material across the concourse, knocking over a toolbox and attracting a squad of Paladins.

"Vincent, Lambert. Check it out." The lead Paladin, marked by a collection of red lights across his visor, nodded two of his subordinates towards the noise.

Both Operators broke off from the main group, carefully moving in between scaffoldings and construction equipment. The flashes of light from their comrades' underbarrel torches did little to calm their teetering nerves.

Even the boogeymen of Night City felt fear crawl up their spines.

Night Corps managed to avoid the Headhunter's gaze for months on end.

No longer.


Corporal Adrian Vincent gripped his Nawaki tightly, pointing the end of his barrel opposite Lamberts' searching eyes.

This mission was supposed to be an easy gig.

Find Shaw, then bag him and tag him for processing back at HQ.

But their former colleague wasn't about to make their job any easier. The bastard boobytrapped the entire concourse with primitive yet perilous snares to slow down their search patterns.

Shaw was hiding out in the darkness of this rundown stadium, like the snake he was. All the Paladins had to do was smoke him out, then they could go home and sleep the night away.

Vincent peeked around the corner of an overturned tractor, finding nothing but empty space as he carefully scanned his environment when his torch flashed over a stack of pallets.

A visor as black as night emerged from the corner of his eye.

"What the-" Vincent pulled his Nawaki in the visor's direction and once again only found a pallet void of sentient life. "Fucking nerves."

"Vincent?" A rough hand grasped his outer shoulder, and discipline alone stopped him from gunning down a careless Lambert. "You good?"

"Thought I saw something," Lambert looked over his shoulder, switching his optics to thermal imaging and scanning their environment. The random pockets of heat from the stadium's spotty electrical system made their thermal optics a liability.

The Paladins utilized their low light imaging coupled with their modified torches for perception in the darkness. Usually, lighting a flashlight while using spectral optics would blind the user, but Night Corps was well ahead of its competitors.

They didn't have to worry about blinding themselves.

Lamber took another glance off to their right, inspecting the foundation of a miniaturized construction crane before shrugging his shoulders and nudging Vincent in his side.

"It was probably nothing," Lambert concluded. "Lord knows this place is one bad day away from collapsing on itself."

Vincent wasn't convinced, spending a considerable amount of time rechecking his surroundings before letting his body relax. "Yeah, maybe your right."

"Come on." Lambert nodded towards the mass of torches moving further into the stadium. "We need to get back to the others."

"On your six." The two Paladins rushed to return to the safety of their platoon, Lambert may have been lax about the whole situation, but Vincent couldn't shake the feeling of dread crawling up his spine.

That fear was a sign of things to come.

The ambush began sluggishly, a single torch fell from the mass of lights, and a second flashlight quickly followed it. The loss was signified by the flatlining of two Paladins that were patrolling Red Team's left flank.

Then the gates of hell cracked open, and a demon broke free.

"AMBUSH!" The darkened corridors were consumed by the barks of assault rifles and the screams of dying men. Vincent's ears ran asunder with white noise. The transmissions broadcasted by their commanding officer were garbled and unintelligible.

"Targets! Up high! Up high!" Operator Diego Santanna's thick southern accent replaced High Paladin Roycewik's screaming. Vincent had difficulty keeping up with Lambert's expedited pace, vaulting over avoiding dozens of obstructions as both men charged headfirst into the firefight.

As Vincent vaulted over an overturned latrine, an arm snaked around his neck, crushing his larynx and dragging him into the darkness.

In the final moments of Vincent's declining life, he witnessed Lambert's head implode from a high-velocity projectile.

Death greeted him with open arms.


No music this time around, only business.

Hope everyone is doing well and good this summer. God it's good to be back and I can't wait to start this ARC because believe me shit is about to go down.

I managed to pass my college classes which also included the bitch of a subject called calculus, so a pat on the back for me I guess.

As always I hope you enjoyed this chapter, and remember to review to your heart's content.


If you didn't already know I started another crossover, with our boy Cyrus and an anime that is absolutely rife with fan service. Now personally speaking I don't care for it, but the world of DXD has so much potential that I can't wait to explore it.

The Story is called 'Only in death does duty end.' So check it out if you are at least partially interested, if you hate DXD don't touch it I don't blame people for disliking it.


Reviews:

edboy4926: Yes the Sirens are my OC faction alongside the outcasts and Custodians. As for the uh other cortana AI, as far as I am concerned she is mini-cortana.

guest 001: Bought the game when it first came out, no regrets.

thelonewander117: Nah, she has her own callsign I may plugin actual Monarch but we shall see.

DannyPhantom619: I'm trying to go the no harem route and more like each person is an integral part of their relationship. It cannot exist without all of them, at least that is what I am attempting to write.

SilverExcel115: His augmentations are physically superiors but also not as invasive on outside observation. I didn't feel the need to make a big deal out of it because of how crazy the world is with its cybernetics.

Righteet: I pop his video on every now and then when I need an answer on Cyrus's augmentations but for the most part I have tried to stay true to it.

For those reviews that I did not answer thank you for leaving it, every single review just pushes my desire to write.


PS: You ever get that giddy feeling when someone whose stories you regularly read pops up on your stories follower list?

I'm looking at you, DrakeTheTraveller and Lord-of-Change, love your work.

PSS: Send me ideas for a song cover for this fic.


Next Chapter: July 12th, subject to change as I set up a new writing schedule for updates.