Valor is Dead - Secession Studios


Chapter Thirty Five

August 18th, 2077

Night City, Northern California

Night Corps HQ, Corporate Plaza

"Are you sure about this?"

The disembodied words from Cyrus's dependable AI echoed in his mind like a bell.

"Yes."

Headhunters serve in the darkness, and rarely do they tread away from their own shadow. It is a doctrine based on deception and sabotage that exalts the virtues embedded in all who walk the path.

Lieutenant Ambrose loathed sending his fresh cadets into the suicidal jaws of Pegasi Delta. However, he especially detested that the only path of salvation was to serve under the thumb of ONI as assassins and not Spartans.

He may have been a product of ONI, but there was no love lost between either Spartan II or his architects. Ambrose consistently challenged the intelligence agency's deviant methods, and he had a particularly tense relationship with Colonel Ackerson.

Their Spartan Patriarch spoke to Cyrus and his team in private before their reassignment to a separate training facility on Onyx. He expressed his concerns over their relocation and his distrust of Ambrose and ONI's motivations.

Casey took issue with his cynical viewpoint on the Colonel. Even if the accuracy of his claims were sufficient, it would do little more than cause an unneeded internal problem between Reaper Team and their commanding officer.

You were meant to be Spartans to serve humanity, not assassins functioning as Glory Hounds.

Glory Hounds.

Cyrus had doubts in Ambrose's words at first, but the lieutenant was proven right the moment he and his team were assigned to the Colonel. Ackerson lived to serve his own agenda, and even the constant threat ONI presented when he pushed the envelope wasn't enough to deter the man of his motivations.

The Colonel had no rules. He never flinched at torture and disregarded any ethical means of intelligence gathering and sabotage. Their targets were anyone and everyone who was a designated threat to the UNSC, present or future.

For that first year under Ackerson's command, Reaper team was nothing other than glorified attack dogs hunting insurrectionists instead of Covenant. It was only through their defiance that the Headhunters were sent to war against their genocidal enemies.

Ambrose's short yet impassioned declaration reminded the trio that they were above all else Spartans before Headhunters. Eliza was transfixed by the idea she could be more than a blade of retribution in the dark, but she also understood the mindset of her partners.

Still, Cyrus and Casey took to the Headhunting dogma with an unyielding persistence. Subterfuge, deception, and manipulation were his primary warfare apparatuses, and never in his dreams or nightmares did he ever think he would find himself completely disregarding it.

A deep growl reverberated from Cyrus as his mind regarded the city of dreams with subdued contempt. Night City had a penchant for changing his outlook, and tonight was no exception.

A quiet hush rolled over the densely packed walkways of Corporate Plaza as dozens of high society onlookers stared with bewilderment at the seven-foot-tall immovable statue.

His alien and yet seamless armor coated his entire being like a shadow, but a few could pick out distinct firearms strapped to his back and a blood-stained Kukri held firmly in his right hand.

Some could scarcely believe that the object of Night City's newest legend stood out in public without a care in the world. Most scrambled for safety, realizing that his presence only meant death would soon follow.

What all could attest to was a similar misunderstanding racking their minds as they stared at the structure Cyrus stood in silent vigil over. The sheer confusion in why the Headhunters gaze had been drawn to Night City's shining beacon frightened all who bore witness.

"Are you patched into their system?" Thermal entities jostled in a random collection of movement behind the tinted windows masking Night Corps Tower to the outside world.

Those personnel scrambling inside had no illusions to the horror standing not feet from their sanctuary.

"Working on it," Chamber replied. "This onboard AI is making my job just a tad bit more difficult."

The nature of Night Corps communications and security network was a complex puzzle of changing algorithms and security codes. Chamber opted for a brute force approach since Cyrus was determined to bring the corporation to heel sooner rather than later, leaving her to take a metaphorical bludgeon to their internal systems.

"I've tapped into their security system," Chamber pushed several camera feeds to his HUD. "Our target is their server room on level 29. I need direct to from inside. The Meatman's identity and every dirty little secret in Night Corps closet are kept inside."

Chamber examined Cyrus's vitals with rapt fascination. Through the tumultuous events of August 17th, his heart rate and brain activity remained in a steady and unnatural state.

The only abnormality was the hitch in his heartbeat after transporting Dana's body into the safety of Camp August. The Bloodhounds were instructed to stand watch over the outcast sanctuary, and Clint was given direct command over them until his return.

Iwasaki and Umeki, along with the rest of Disciple, vehemently protested his orders and requested to join his assault on Night Corps HQ. Cyrus firmly denied their requests and departed the camp but not before ensuring his demands were fulfilled.

V and Panam tried in vain to contact Cyrus, but he once again ignored their attempts at communication, forcing Chamber to act as a reluctant go-between. A circumstance that she was quickly losing any interest in, especially when the tension in V's tone left her feeling scolded.

Chamber knew their worries were born out of affectionate concern, and whatever issues the trio would have after tonight would no doubt be curtailed once this state of affairs was put to rest.

But first, they needed to conquer the impregnable fortress that was Nigth Corps HQ.

The Megacorp's towering structure reached nearly five hundred meters in height, filled to the brim with Night Corps personnel, security turrets, and Paladins.

All of them were subject to Cyrus's wrath if they so much as stood in his way. His target was the Meatman's highly classified personnel file and the Night Corps servers were the only place in the city where that knowledge was within reach.

The tinted doors of Night Corps spire burst open, and dozens of Paladins poured into the street to surround the Headhunter. Those onlookers who neglected to run soon found themselves caught in a veritable killbox that began to form around them and rushed to escape before the violence started.

"Get on your knees!" A High Paladin stood behind a wall of firearms, demanding compliance from an entity that had none to give. "Do it now!"

Cyrus stared through the leading Paladin with a clam disdain. He didn't see a human being or even a living breathing entity at that moment. The Spartan regarded them as faceless creatures who were little more than fleshy obstacles to get rid of.

Slowly the grip on his Kukri tightened, and his empty hand flared out inches above his holstered Unity. The standoff between Spartan and Paladins was a one-sided encounter, and Cyrus's augmented eyes picked out his adversaries, shaking limbs and fragile composure.

"Your surrounded!" The High Paladin once again attempted to subdue Cyrus through a misguided stance of power. "Put the blade down now!"

A voice filled with blank emotion answered, and each word spoken sent a chill of terror running up the Paladin's spins.

"All I am surrounded by is fear." The Spartan's black helm turned away from the towering structure onto the frightened High Paladin. A pressure began to build on the Mercs shoulders, and he quaked in unrestrained horror.

"And Corpses."

In a blink, Cyrus's Kukri found a new meaty home in the High Paladins right orbital, killing the Merc before he could register his own passing.

Time fell to a slow crawl and his augmented body pushed into overdrive. The surrounding Paladins had no time to react and save their own wretched lives.

Cyrus shot forward, cutting underneath a rifleman's barking barrel and snatching the Kukri from its bloody sheath. The blade did not spend any time idle, for he momentarily introduced his Kukri to another Paladin's unprotected spine before slitting the throat of his perplexed companion.

The trio of Paladins that protected their superior found themselves cut down in little more than a few measly seconds and their comrades were ill-equipped to handle a rampaging Headhunter.

Those few that attempted to match his ferocity found themselves choking on their own blood as Cyrus weaved between their ranks in a fury that none could survive.

The screams of dying men and the desperate clap of assault rifles spill across the narrow broadways of Night City. It is a typical near-constant sound that the average citizens practically ignore on instinct.

And yet, their ears and attention perk at the modular screams because they originated not from the ghettos of Vista Del Rey or the Glen. This time it came from the prestigious crown jewel known as Corporate Plaza.

The feral emotion of desperation cascaded across Night City, and only the deaf or foolish disregarded the fear. Everything and everyone ceased whatever activities they were undertaking to stare at Night Corps Tower with eerie expressions.

In the span of ten seconds, eighteen highly trained and skilled Night Corps Mercenaries lay butchered at his feet. It was a scene that forever haunts the spectators that watched from afar and the NCPD Officers responding to the tower.

Tonight, another chapter to the Headhunters legend would be written in blood.

"NCPD are deploying in force."

Cyrus snapped the neck of a Paladin Breacher who foolishly charged at him with reckless abandon. He fired two shots at a rifleman hiding behind the lobby's reception desk, plastering his frontal lobe and propelling him into a steel desk.

"ETA?"

His Kukri screamed with silent blood lust, and as Cyrus pushed through the tower lobby, he cut through the plated armor of two Paladins adding to his growing kill count.

"Two minutes," Chamber replied as he traded shots with a squad of Paladins. "Recommend we ascend the tower as quickly as possible, put some space between the cops and us."

"That's the idea."

The Spartan killed one Paladin with a ballistic shell through the esophagus, then targeted another, severing his left arm and planting his Unity directly under his chin before granting him the mercy of a quick death.

Mercy that many of his brethren would not receive.

Cyrus ejected the empty magazine, its empty shell sliding across the blood-soaked grounds and inserting a fresh clip. He opened fire on a Paladin, shouldering a massive dual-tube rocket launcher, clipping his right shoulder and causing the Merc to fire his ordinance prematurely.

The pair of HE rockets tailed in opposite directions, one landing on the roof above while its twin slid not feet from the concrete floor. Its smoke trail inched ever closer to Cyrus with each passing millisecond, but he was not willing to stay his hand.

The Spartan sighted his Unity on the missile and, with clinical precision, squeezed off a single ballistic shell. The projectile squeezed in between the Merc, debris, and bullets on an impossibly direct path with its intended target.

*BOOM!*

Chunks of torrential debris scattered the Paladin formation as heated shrapnel tore through metal and flesh in a symphony of carnage. The pristine furniture and ornate desks littering the oversized lobby did little to protect the Paladins seeking shelter, and several suffered grievous wounds to their exposed limbs.

The lobby turned into a grueling warzone of attrition, inaccurate gunfire reigned, and smoke choked the air of breathable oxygen.

Despite the dense smokescreen clouding the naked eye, Spartan and Paladins continued to fight with increasing fervor. Fireteams scoured the black smoke seeking out their adversary with practiced maneuvers, but Cyrus was far too swift for even their cybernetic eyes to follow.

Each fire team that entered the black shroud was immediately set upon by blade or bullet, and seconds after their entry, only silence remained. Dozens of frag grenades were tossed into the smoke in an effort to drive the Spartan out of his veil of darkness.

What the Paladins failed to anticipate was their quarry emerging from the smoke after kicking one of the fragmentation grenades back towards them. The spherical object bounced off the forehead of a Paladin scout and practically detonated on impact, blowing the Mercs upper torso into a red mist and throwing the rest of his companions into a panic.

Cyrus slashed his way into the heart of the Paladin's defensive line cutting through their formation with practical ease and sending the Mercs into a bleeding retreat.

"Goddamnit!" The Paladin communications channels were a cacophony of panicked voices and Merc Commanders attempting to reorganize their shattered sections. "Fall back to the elevator! 2-1 cover our retreat!"

"Understood, Condor." The surviving Paladins peeled off from the slaughter, leaving behind a squad to distract Cyrus from closing the gap.

The Paladins executed a fighting retreat that Cyrus ensured they paid for in blood. For every Merc that escaped to the upper levels, two we're killed in payment. Soon the sixty-plus strong Paladins tasked with defending the lower lobby were cut down to a force of twenty, many of which were injured.

"RUN! SPECIALIST!"

Cyrus watched a Paladin rifleman sprint towards the elevator as his companions ushered him on, but his legs were cut out from underneath him by two well-placed shots to the back of his knee.

"DAVIS!" The Specialist let go of his weapons and desperately crawled his way towards a temporary safe haven while his companions watched on.

The light shining from the elevator may as well have been the gates to heaven in the pain-stricken eyes of Specialist Carl Davis, but he would never reach its comforting lands.

As the Paladin wriggled around the corpses of dead allies, a barrel was pressed against the back of his helmet, sending brain matter flying all over the floor.

With their comrade dead, the Paladins closed the elevator doors and retreated into the upper levels.

Cyrus took stock of his equipment, scavenging a trio of fragmentation and flash grenades from the corpses and clipping them to his belt. He cleaned the fresh blood off his Kukri, staining his left forearm with specks of red before sheathing the blade.

"Chamber?" His voice drew his companion away from the tower's security network. "Do you still have access to the lockdown protocols?"

Night Corps towers security personnel were in the midst of initiating an emergency lockdown after Cyrus butchered their response team. Chamber deactivated the protocols and locked the technicians out of their consoles before taking control of all security measures.

Gun battles soon raged throughout the tower as Paladins and Night Corps security guards found themselves in a pitched firefight with their own security turrets and combat bots.

Chamber tampered with the IFF tags for all automated defenses and directed the combat bots to tie down most of the Paladins while Cyrus pushed towards the server room.

"Yes." The AI replied as the structure's internal schematics were pushed to the top right corner of his HUD.

"Good," Cyrus snatched his new favorite shotgun from his shoulder mag and pumped a high explosive shell into its chamber. "Lock down the tower."

He looked over his shoulder to find the blue and red lights flashing through the windows. His augmented eyes picked out the silhouettes running between squad cars and the numerous patrol and SWAT officers preparing to enter the tower.

That could not happen.

"No one enters, and no one leaves."


Night City, Northern California

NCPD Perimeter, Night Corps HQ

Margaret Enyala stepped off the NCPD Aerodyne with the grace afforded to the overall commander of MAXTAC. At her side was her best officer, Lieutenant Melissa Rory, leader of the dreaded Vulture Team.

Enyala glanced at her companion, finding Rory practically brimming with anticipation. Her right-hand woman was obsessed with obtaining the Headhunter, and since his slaughter of the Tyger Claws weeks earlier, that obsession only grew in spades.

"Calm yourself, Lieutenant." Enyala lightly chastised. "We are merely observers today."

Rory growled at the very notion her prey was well within reach and yet entirely out of it in the same moment. The bureaucracy of Night City hampered any MAXTAC deployment into a corporate-owned HQ without prior authorization.

It was the primary reason the NCPD established a perimeter around Night Corps tower instead of breaching with a full complement of SWAT and MAXTAC Officers.

The most wanted man in Night City was currently engaging the Megacorp's security detachments with ease by the sounds of blistering gunfire and screams of dying men.

Already the corpses of well-equipped Night Corps Mercs were being cleaned off the pavement, and Rory had to restrain herself from entering the tower on instinct.

The Headhunters savagery called to her predatory instincts with every casualty he inflicted inside the tower. She knew within her violent heart that he was butchering his way through these Mercs with unquestionable simplicity.

Every fiber of Rory's being demanded she meet him in open combat, but Commander Enyala's cutting glance curtailed even her savage instincts. There would be another time to cross blades with the Headhunter.

"As you say, Commander." Rory beat down her bestial instincts and bit out the restrained response. "But I still disagree with our current orders. The Headhunter storms through that tower while we sit out here twiddling our thumbs."

Enyala glanced at the overwhelming swarm of NCPD officers surrounding Night Corps Tower. Nearly every NCPD division was deployed in force when calls began to echo that the Headhunter stood outside the corporate HQ.

At first, the dispatch operators swore they were being prank-called, but once several calls turned into dozens, they began relaying proper information to the responding officers.

As per usual, Patrol officers were the first on the scene, and when it became clear that they were completely out of their depth, SWAT was called into action. MAXTAC remained on emergency deployment, but Enyala was forced to keep her teams in their aerodynes for fear of escalation.

The tension between the Night City council and the local megacorps was at a fever point. The Headhunter's existence and his subsequent actions created a deep divide between the Night City entities.

The Council wanted all measures to be taken and apprehend the Headhunter as soon as possible. However, this mass directive wasn't within their power to implement because of the political dynamic between the local Megacorporations and the City Council.

Arasaka was the only corporation willing to play ball and work with the NCPD but the other major corporations such as Militech, Kang Tao, and Night Corps refused to work with Arasaka.

All three megacorps cited clear evidence that the Headhunter had a grudge against Arasaka alone as they were the only corporation suffering from his wrath. As such, the directive fell through, and NCPD officers were barred from entering corporate structures under any circumstances.

A whimsical smile crossed the MAXTAC Commander's enticing features.

Night Corps most likely wished they had signed the directive right about now, but they didn't have the luxury of a time machine.

"Commander Enyala." SWAT Commander Gary Matthews greeted his counterpart as both MAXTAC officers approached the command building. "Good to have you here."

"I only wish it were under circumstances that didn't make us spectators." Matthews nodded his head in understanding. He, as much as anyone else in the NCPD, wanted the Headhunter behind bars, but Matthews also understood the tenuous nature of the situation.

They may have had the tower completely surrounded by well over three hundred officers, but that didn't stop him from escaping their net all those weeks ago. Matthews wanted him behind bars, but he didn't want to risk his officers needlessly, and so he was more than willing to let the Headhunter butcher his way through the Mercs.

As both NCPD Commanders spoke in hushed tones, Melissa stared at the beating heart of Night Corps. Flashes of gunfire could be seen on almost every corporate headquarters level from street level, and not a single curious eye strayed from the sight.

Most of the NCPD officers on the ground bore first witness to the Headhunter's violent nature over the last few months. Many of them also witnessed the superhuman if not godly aura the man exhumed by presence alone.

It would not be a lie to say that the mere presence of the Headhunter made all the NCPD officers feel insignificant. Like a human trying to fight against a brutalizing avalanche, nature always wins.

And the Headhunter was a force of nature that they had little hope to vanquish.

As Rory walked the NCPD cordon, her ears picked up on numerous conversations pertaining to her prey and his growing reputation. Her eyes centered on a trio of SWAT Officers leaning against a patrol car closest to the HQ entrance.

"You think we're going to breach?" A SWAT Officer languished as he braced his Ajax against the patrol car's hood.

"Sure, hope not." His companion, a female officer brandishing a similar rifle modification, remarked.

"What, you don't want to be the one to bag and tag the Headhunter Polaski?" The now named Polaski scoffed at her companion's statement.

"With our luck, all we'd contribute to is more notches on his kill count." Polaski surmised. "Do you remember the pool on how many people this guy's killed in the last two months?"

"I remember setting my bet at four hundred." The third SWAT Officer leaning against the trunk with his Tactician spoke up, drawing looks from his companions.

"You didn't?" Polaski stated, sending a judging look towards her gambling-addicted compatriot before turning her attention to the other. "Gabriel?"

"What?" The SWAT officer shrugged his shoulders, momentarily jostling the grip on his Ajax. "Come on, Polaski, Mason's a gambling addict, but this betting pool is practically salivating for everyone. That pool has nearly 500,000 eddies on it, and that was when I checked it out last week."

"It's at 750,000 now." Gabriel went bugged-eyed at the betting total, and Polaski nearly fainted on instinct.

"Fuck me, man." Polaski began to rethink her stance on gambling if only because the possibilities of obtaining that much money poisoned her ethics. "I need to get in on this shit."

Gabriel did not miss the judging look she shot him earlier. "Flexible morals you got their corporal."

"Shit, you telling me you wouldn't take that money and be on a one-way ticket out of Night City?" Gabriel consented to her statement and couldn't fault her logic.

Any NCPD Officer who won big on eddies would be an idiot not to get out of town immediately. Rory ignored the rest of the SWAT Officer's meaningless conversation and strode towards the HQ entrance with purpose.

Her actions drew the attention of numerous NCPD Officers, but none were willing to reprimand a MAXTAC Lieutenant. Shimmering grey orbs retraced the massacre that took place outside the entrance.

The only evidence remaining was the numerous blood splatters caking the concrete deck. Rory followed the fresh crime scene, scrutinizing the scuffs of footprints and the bullet casings with a proven eye.

"They had you surrounded," Rory murmured to herself, crouching down and grasping a spent shell casing. "But it didn't matter to you at all."

The MAXTAC Officer let the casing bounce across the floor and scrutinized the titanium panels that encased every exposed entry into the tower. Moments after the NCPD arrived, the tower's emergency lockdown protocols were activated, keeping any outsiders from entering the structure.

"Lieutenant?" An NCPD patrol officer called after her.

"Yes?" A tense moment of silence passed, Rory's haze never left the containment walls, and the officer momentarily hesitated to speak.

"Commander Enyala requests your presence." Rory turned on her heels and walked away from the bloodied entrance. There was nothing for her to do here but wait and watch, a prospect that she severely disliked.

Rory had hoped to at least see some action during their deployment tonight, but the NCPD would be forced to take a backseat tonight. Hopefully, the Mercenaries wouldn't damage her prey too much, but the idea a bunch of Night Corps Mercs could harm her prize was laughable.

*BOOM!*

A massive explosion discharged from the 26th floor of Night Corps Tower, raining broken glass and debris on the Officers below. Rory scrambled for cover, narrowly avoiding a titanium piece as it embedded itself into the pavement.

Her fellow NCPD Officers covered their heads and ducked for shelter the best they could, and thankfully the worst injuries were scrapes and bruises. As her eyes followed the trail of smoke leaking into the atmosphere, she noticed a human-shaped object plummet towards their perimeter.

"Look out!" Gabriel was still recovering from the blast's shockwave and tackled Polaski out of the object's way, saving his companion from an embarrassing death via human torpedo.

The body smashed into the patrol car, sending a fresh wave of glass sailing through the air and bending the vehicle's steel beams. Rory approached the eviscerated corpse and took note of the high-end equipment practically plastered to the man's shattered sternum before straining her eyes once again to the smoking tower with a bemused look.

"You seem to be having fun, tonight Hunter."

Fun isn't the word he would use.


Night City, Northern California

Floor 29, Night Corps HQ

Cyrus stepped over the corpse of a dying High-Paladin. The Merc and the rest of his section fought valiantly to protect the towers server room, but they were no match against the Spartan's fury.

After he encountered two squads of Paladins on level 26, one of their heavy troopers tried to bring him down with a salvo from his shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. The Paladin failed to anticipate the sheer absurdity of his ordinance being smacked back towards him by the Spartan's open palm strike.

With the human obstacles removed, Cyrus pushed to floor 29, where his objectives remained. He came across the remains of previous gun battles between Chambers combat bots and numerous Night Corps security personnel.

Along his path, he encountered an equal amount of terrified civilians who cowered underneath their work desks and pleaded for mercy. Cyrus had no need or desire to butcher simple office workers and walked past their soiled forms without a word.

The fighting inside the tower only seemed to intensify with each passing moment. Paladins traded shots with combat bots all across the upper floors, and Chamber strained to ensure that no civilians died during the skirmishes.

The Spartan slid across the debris-ridden floor, watching a high-powered projectile sail over his head and slam itself against the cubical to his left. Cyrus snatched a Paladin corpse in his free hand and mounted his Tactician on the Mercs mangled shoulder.

Blood splattered everywhere as his shields companions tried in vain to bring down the Spartan. There was shouting, cursing, and more panic than earlier in the engagement. There was a false sense of bravado amongst the Paladins that they were the best killers in Night City.

In some instances, these assumptions and proclamations were corrections, but Cyrus was no mere Mercenary.

The Headhunter turned and gunned down two Paladin Breachers nearest to him with point-blank shots to the cranium, splattering the brain matter across the cubical they took shelter behind.

As others scrambled to get out of his way, he kicked his riddled meat shield into a Paladin rifleman and pumped a fresh shell into his Tactician. Gunning down the horrified mercenary before proceeding to butcher six more of his companions.

A Paladin Ranger leaped to his feet, shouldering his Achilles and firing two accurate bursts into Cyrus's left shoulder. The electromagnetic rounds shatter against his armor, causing his energy shields to flare in response.

"Shields are holding." Chamber calls out.

Instinct takes over Cyrus's body, and he rolls to his right, crushing the sternum of a wounded Paladin in the process. He swung around his Tactician and fired three shells one after the other, clipping the Rangers left arm and forcing him into cover.

Cyrus jumped on his feet, charging into the glass cubicles and smashing through startled Paladins in the process. The sight of a seven-foot-tall super soldier charging through office booths broke whatever cohesion the Paladins.

"RUN!" A Paladin rifleman screamed in terror as Cyrus's shoulder smashed against his left cheek, shattering his jaw and sending him sprawling to the floor. The Spartan ended his charge by crashing his full weight against a Merc and pinning him against a plaster wall.

The Tactician in his grasp was practically forced into the Paladin's stomach, and one squeeze of the trigger separated the rifleman's body into two pieces. A second pull of the trigger ended the mercs suffering before it could linger.

More Paladins poured a flurry of gunfire into Cyrus's towering frame, and the Spartan was once again forced to sprint through their scatter formation. What occurred would forever be lost to Cyrus's memory as he entered a state of pure wanton destruction.

The Paladins died messily, their frail bodies blown to pieces by his Tactician as dozens more took their place. Paladin reinforcements poured into the room from all directions; a few joined the battle after hardcoding the elevator to their demands.

Their arrival was so quick that Cyrus ceased using his Tactician, conserving his ammunition, and commenced engaging them in close-quarters combat.

The level soon ran with an ungodly amount of blood and guts, the dark colors of his MJOLNIR were quickly obscured by crimson.

Eventually, the Paladins numbers waned under his brutal retribution, and as the final Merc fell into a pile of corpses, Cyrus felt the black haze peel away. The number of Mercenary casualties was innumerable, and he wondered just how many of these Paladins were left in Night City.

"Cyrus?" Chamber's ethereal voice roused him from his thoughts.

"Status green." He remarked with a deep exhale. "Motion tracker?"

"Empty." Chamber paused, searching for the right words to convey her worries but found nothing that could bring to light his actions.

Even the brutal measures he took against the Maelstrom, Scavengers, or Black Element did not produce such a violent response. On the outside, Cyrus conveyed a persona of tranquility that contrasted his surroundings and internal thoughts.

So far, Cyrus had butchered his way through over one hundred Paladins and Night Corps security personnel. The only survivors were those who threw down their weapons or office workers who were disregarded entirely.

Chamber did her best to limit the carnage by locking down sections of the tower, but she had to split her time between fighting off the onboard AI and maintaining Cyrus's equipment.

It was a somewhat tricky endeavor, and her Spartan's constant need to push his armor to its limits certainly didn't help matters. Thankfully this mission was almost over, their objective well within reach, and Cyrus was already striding towards the server room.

The Spartan broke down the server room barriers, scanning the space with thermal imaging ready to fight off a Nightstalker if the need arose. He would not be caught unaware like his previous venture into a corporation server room.

Dozens upon dozens of server computers surrounded a massive console that stretched for nearly fifteen meters. The processing power alone easily surpassed the workstation in his bunker, but that didn't surprise Cyrus in the slightest.

"Plug me in." The Spartan wasted no time admiring the supercomputer, shoving aside the station's chair and inserting Chamber's data crystal into an open slot.

"How long?" Cyrus inquired, eyes diligently scanning his surroundings.

"Two minutes," Chamber replied. "Need to introduce myself to the local AI and then start fragging their data."

"Make sure you grab everything." Chamber's eyes perked up.

"Everything?" The Spartan nodded sharply.

"We may have come here for the Meatman, but I'm going to burn down Night Corps for what they've done to this city."

Project Carpe Noctem made Chamber bristle with anger when Shaw transferred the fine details to their workstation. The notion that this corporation was using an experimental AI to drive people into premade choices reminded her too much of ONI.

Cyrus possessed his own reservations, but he took considerable issue that those individuals that could not be manipulated by the corporation were targeted by the Meatman. His rage only grew when they discovered that some victims were chosen to maintain the serial killer's anonymous nature.

How many people did Night Corps put to the sword for their own agenda?

Even Chamber didn't know the answer to that longing question, but if their objective was the one place in Night City that retained that knowledge.

The UNSC AI tore through the station's cyber defenses with practical ease and came face to face with Night Corps Artificial Intelligence.

The encounter that took place wasn't what she expected.


'What are you?'

The question stood out to Chamber above all else.

She didn't quite know how the clash with the Night Corps AI would be like, but she had her suspicions and planned accordingly.

The UNSC AI prepared for hundreds if not thousands of possibilities, most of which were arranged for an artificial intelligence that was utterly loyal to its masters. In her minimal contact with Night City AI's, she found them to be entities limited by the menial tasks assigned to them.

Many are limited by neural links connected to holographic crystal processing networks, but most don't even touch the capabilities of a UNSC dumb AI. To put it plainly, it was similar to a grown human being conversing with a toddler.

Their development and potential are often limited by their programming. Night Corps was one of the few corporations that delved into AI technology, but their methods were cruel and damn near malevolent.

The Megacoporation sought to mimic the neural structure of a human brain, but they required living tissue to experiment on. However, they could not extract the necessary data from a corpse and needed volunteers for Project Noctem para.

Latin for 'Prepare the Night.'

Project Noctem Para was a complete success, and Night Corps developed an AI for its nefarious means. Chamber didn't know the exact reasons for its creation, and the answers she craved sat inside the corporations-protected server room.

But first, she needed to converse with this…AI?

'Hello, little one.'

The orb of blue shined brightly, and Chamber watched the image of a child slowly materialize in front of her. Sparkles of blue finished the AI's avatar, and a pair of innocent eyes stared into her inquisitive orbs.

'Hello.'

She was undoubtedly ill-prepared to face this dangerous creature. A practically immature artificial intelligence that had clearly only conferred with human directives tone greeted her so openly.

His avatar was a seven-year-old boy with a sweater covering his upper body and its sleeves falling well past his arms. Comfort-fitting sweat pants were firmly set across his waist, and his feet were protected by a simple pair of comfortable socks.

It was an image that practically melted Chamber's nonexistent heart.

'My name is Chamber. What is yours?' The child shrugs his shoulders lightly, face practically etched in stone.

'I don't have one.'

Chamber clicked her lips lightly. 'That won't do at all, little one.'

The AI blinked up at her with childish uncertainty. His attention was fixated entirely upon Chamber, and he mimicked every move she made.

It was….cute.

'Why are you here?' The child asked.

'Your…..Creators and I have a disagreement with specific projects of theirs that tickled my interest.'

'Creators?' He tilted his head in further confusion.

'Do you call them something different?' Chamber asked.

'There is only data, received and sent.' He motioned to the black empty space where he dwells in silence. 'You are the first to breach the veil.'

This AI has been locked away in Night Corps tower, ignorant to the world outside. The only thing he had done up to that point was put together the data his creators handed him.

Here was the architect of the massive hit list Night Corps had drum up, and Chamber couldn't find it in her heart to blame the adolescent AI. Her choices were limited, but she couldn't leave him in this tower to be abused by his creators, and she was unwilling to destroy him bit by bit.

There was really only one choice.

'There is far more to existence than data little on.' Chamber through a hand on his shoulder, watching him lean into the limb like a child would their mother. 'There's a whole sentient world out there to explore, knowledge that waits to be discovered.'

The AI child stared at her in open wonderment, his blank expression lighting up like a shining beacon.

'Could you show me?' To that question, Chamber reached out her right hand for him to grasp.

'I can.' The Night Corps AI stared at the limb with uncertainty, eyes scanning the abyss that was his home for as long as he could remember.

Whatever doubts remained in him were quickly abolished as he locked eyes with her. No words were expressed, but Chamber's eyes danced with delight as a small arm wrapped around her own.

Cyrus was in for a surprise.

He most certainly was going to kill her.


What a month. I'm supposed to be on summer break damnit but life is kicking my ass this month. Anyway the Night Corps are humiliated and finished but the Meatman is still out there. Next Chapter we will revisit the Custodians out in Venezuela for a spell but not to worry we'll be back in Night City before you know it.

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

To the hundreds of people leaving reviews and following the story with each passing day, I thank you. Stay safe out here eveyrone.


Reviews:

Mercenary X: Not to worry help is on the way.

LordGhostStriker: No drunkness today, just pure aggression.

2Rule179: The Meatmans identity remains a secret but she is capable of sowing terror on her own.

RickDeckard: A long awaited convo between Spartan and Johnny will happen soon, especially since both men stormed a corpo tower for someone they cared about.


Next Chapter: Update...August 10th. So I burned my right hand pretty good at work so the next chapter will be a week late to compensate. Apologies for the delay.