Disclaimer: I don't own anything.

Credit to Wikipedia, for educating me so much about Chicago and hacking in general.

I wrote this of course with the inspiration of the E3 2013 CGI trailer, 'Exposed.' Come publishing of the game I may junk this and start from the first chapter again since if this is a mission in the game, it probably occurs some point near the middle or end. I intend to write an in-depth novelisation when Watch Dogs comes out, because it's clear WD is going to be that kind of game.

WARNING - Strong language. Our boy Pierce here is an Irish-born ex-mobster, do you think he doesn't swear?

Sic Semper Tyrannis - "Thus Always to Tyrants"

Chapter 2 - Chipping Away at the Foundations

"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Edmund Burke

There are a number of 'hats' in the computer security community. 'White Hats' are the non-malicious kind, 'ethical hackers' who, usually as a day job, test security systems for vulnerabilities so they can be closed. 'Black Hats' are the criminals, those who violate computer systems for little reason beyond personal gain or just pure maliciousness, because they can. 'Blue hats' are people who bug-test software like Windows before release; basically, white hats but not the usual security firms like Kapersky or Sophos.

I fall into two categories, 'Grey Hat' and 'Hacktivist.' A hacktivist is a hacker who utilises technology to announce a social, ideological, religious, or political message.

Well, that's definitely me.

'Grey Hat' is a more contentious term. It's been used to refer to white hats - professionals in the computer security industry - who engage in black hat activities at night, but usually refers simply to a hacker whose activities fall somewhere between 'black' and 'white' on the ethical spectrum.

Sometimes they act illegally, though in good will, to identify vulnerabilities in computing processes, penetrating a system but then notifying the admin of the security hole, and offer advice or to fix it directly. They usually do not hack for personal gain or have malicious intentions, but may be prepared to break some laws during the course of their technological exploits in order to achieve better security. Whereas white hat hackers generally advise companies of security exploits quietly, with full disclosure, and of course black hats hoard such information, grey hat hackers sometimes advise the hacker community as well as the vendors and then watch the fallout.

Well … I do like watching the fallout, but I'm sure as hell not going to tell the Mayor how to defend ctOS any better. Guess that puts me on the darker side of grey, then. Can't say I give a damn.

Whatever ethical label some might attach to my actions, I can't be any worse than this guy.

Joshua Kramer.

Married to Jenn Kramer. Four kids: Aaron, Gabriel, Anita and Samuel. Couple of parking tickets. Votes Republican. Works a day job at a big art auction house, Susanin's, just in from the Loop. He's a big man there, senior day manager, makes a lot of money … let's see … one-fifty grand a year, actually. Not bad. But he's living a rather better lifestyle than that. Mid-town apartment, not the fanciest, but large, and a five bedroom apartment in that area of the city doesn't come cheap. Combine that with the two cars, expensive gifts for his wife, the vacations abroad, the vacation home in California, the already-paid-off mortgages; it all adds up to more than he should have.

See, turns out Kramer works in a rather different kind of auction as a sideline. Human trafficking, to be exact. Sexual slavery. Family-man Joshua here sells girls to prostitution rings here in the States, brought over from Eastern Europe mostly; Albania, Bulgaria, Ukraine and Russia are the big ones in Chicago, as well as Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico, Thailand to other places - the list goes on. Many are kidnapped, but oftentimes, particularly in rural areas they're sold by their own families, believe it or not.

Why? Economics, that's why. Females don't earn as much as males in the poverty-stricken rural-agrarian areas of the world, and there isn't always a person to marry these girls off to when they reach mid-to-late teens, nor do they ever receive enough education to provide for themselves in a more professional career than the family farm, which as heavy manual labour, especially without machinery, is 'the men's job'. Eventually they start costing more than they're making, and their own family might sell them for a few hundred US Greenbacks - I'm not saying every poor farmer father out there of does that, but more than a few do.

Seems really fucking cold to us, right? Selling your own daughter into slavery? We Westerners think we've got a high moral horse on this one, and to a point we do. It is wrong to sell someone, and most of our society solidly reflects that view. But ultimately, that poor father's probably trying to look after the rest of his family as well, usually a much larger unit than here in the West; not just grandparents and more kids but possibly as much as a whole extended clan. The cash from selling his own daughter might let the rest of the family survive the winter.

Black and white morality becomes a fuzzy, indistinct grey when survival is at stake, and the system seems to be working against you. Not unlike the hacking world.

Their lives are much harder than ours; I suggest you try living that farmer's life, with what little income you have at the mercies of bad weather and the resulting low harvests, no access medical care for injuries that might cripple a key member of your workforce for life, or lazy, corrupt government officials who earn more in graft from the traffickers than they ever do in salary; you try not getting desperate after all that - and you've got other people to provide for too. One dollar a day is the official poverty line; many earn even less than that. Imagine a salary of three-hundred-sixty-five bucks a year.

I'd be pretty desperate. To put that in perspective, $365 is about half my monthly rent. Of course, Eastern Europe's prices aren't anything like Chicago's, but that doesn't make much difference - $365 still isn't much. Desperate people do desperate things, period. I for one don't feel I have the right to judge without knowing more - neither does anyone else.

In the end, however, we Westerners don't have that moral high ground at all, really. I mean, we're the ones buying these girls. Not me or you personally, of course, but people like Kramer do, and pimps buy them from him, and prostitution in the United States alone is worth $14 billion a year, so presumably quite a few people are the 'end-clients.' Supply and demand. Who's really at fault? Who's more evil, the father who sells or the clients who buy them?

Not my problem; however, Kramer is. Regardless of the trade as a whole, he's the one in my sights right now. Chicago PD and myself agree on very few issues, but on human trafficking our opinions coincide, which means I can rope them into deal with him. Kramer has paid for 'minor' access to ctOS, as they call it, to make sure his activities as a middle man between the traffickers and the prostitution rings doesn't get discovered by the city surveillance system - in other words, he's not a small fish, who wouldn't have the pull to get access at all; but he isn't one of the big fish either, like the Mayor's 'campaign contributors'.

He's paid off a few cops and intimidated some journalists - had one killed, too - but if I draw enough attention to his little base of operations five blocks north of the auction house, his small handful of paid-off buddies in officialdom won't be able to cover it up. I may be violently at odds with Chicago PD right now, but enough of them are honest enough that Kramer won't be getting out of jail anytime soon. Sex-traffickers come in slightly above paedophiles and rapists in the what-law-enforcement-really-really-hates hierarchy; once arrested, he's not going anywhere.

He thinks he's untouchable. I'm going to shatter that illusion.

If he does get out, or wriggle out at trial, well … I'll be waiting. If I'm not dead or in jail myself, that is.

Hello, Joshua. I'll be seeing you … soon.

Step one, recon.

Kramer leaves for work at 0745 Monday to Friday, takes a one and half hour lunch break from 1230 and leaves about six. On days when he attends his 'alternative' business interests he tells his wife he's working late and walks to the rather unusual sushi restaurant five blocks north.

I say 'unusual,' because when I hacked the security cameras to continue surveilling him I sure as hell didn't expect raw fish to be served using naked women for tableware. It's certainly a nicer view than I usually get from CCTV cameras. That guy with the shop mannikin ... let's not mention that.

Hey, what can I say, I'm no boy-scout hero. I'm male, and I have a pulse. There are some seriously good-looking women on my screen. Don't blame me for biology.

Then I noticed the tattoos each has on the back of their necks, a complex geometric Celtic knot-style design, and my cosmopolitan amusement at 'yet another niche restaurant' turned a lot darker. Seems Kramer staffs this place with his 'product.'

Looking around the clientele over the past few days of tailing the guy I've seen two detectives, the local precinct captain, a city councillor and several high-level members of various Eastern European crime families - Albanians mostly. One or more of Kramer's suppliers is in town, it seems.

The basement doesn't have any cameras, except one covering the stairwell and elevator. There's a guard too, usually a thug from the local Rossetti mob, with whom Kramer cut a deal for security. They always stand in the corner under the camera, where he can see the bottom of the stairs and into the elevator cage, but there's a blind spot for both the guard and the camera. If I hug the wall going down the stairs, I can get right to the bottom without being seen.

Security breach - found.

Next, I need entry to the back of the building; more precisely, I need to get through the kitchen area to the stairs.

I would normally hit the fire alarm or similar, but I want to catch Kramer & Co red handed if at all possible, with bonus points for implicating the crooked councillor and cops who eat here several nights a week. That means Chicago PD needs to bust in the door without anyone inside knowing they're coming before the sirens screech to a halt outside. That means I need to get inside first, to prevent Kramer from erasing his hard drives and thus the evidence, since the girls aren't kept here and the tattoos aren't enough for a conviction; but I also need a credible witness to call the cops. I could do it myself, but a clearly Irish-American voice on the phone who won't give his name won't generate the swiftest response, and later voice analysis might compromise my identity; however, a 911 call from a scared foreign girl who doesn't speak much English claiming she and others like her are being held as sex slaves will garner a much quicker rollout.

Got one. The hostess girl is clearly one of Kramer's 'girls'; the tattoo on her neck proves it, but the poisonous look she sends his way when he isn't looking indicates she hates his guts. ctOS can't ID her though; obviously, she has no visa, no passport, no driver's licence, no fingerprints on file. I can however falsify a request from the ctOS watch officer at Police Central to the Feds, asking them to ping INTERPOL and other national police services for a facial match. They all share information on the trafficking cases, because of the international nature of the networks.

Took about twenty minutes, but FBI eventually came back with a name which I intercepted before it could reach the unknowing watch officer who 'asked' for it. Yasmine Birchri, from Morocco. Mildly surprised Morocco bothered to tell INTERPOL at all, they're not exactly noted for fantastic policing … ah, rich father. Money talks, it seems. Here's the missing persons report … disappeared two years ago, now age 20, photo is a match, if without the piercings. English-fluent, too; good, because I sure as hell don't speak Arabic.

I waited for her to leave to make my approach. Hackers call this 'social engineering', playing on someone's psychology to get the desired response, although normally that means tricking the admin into revealing the password, and rarely means and actual physical meeting. Unlike a con artist though, I intend to keep any promises I might have to make.

It's a short walk between the restaurant and the backstreet brothel they keep the rest of the girls in. Yasmine and the others who are forced to work in the restaurant were picked because they looked exotic, apparently. Picked that up eavesdropping on the head sushi chef; and with those piercings, silver chains running from nose to ear and an unusual fully-shaven hairstyle, Miss Birchri certainly did look the part.

"Hello Yasmine." Crime's actually relatively low around here, surprisingly, it's close to the Loop and the Rossetti mob keeps it locked down - muggings attract unwanted attention to more lucrative criminal activities. Nonetheless, a stranger in a dark alley who greets you by name isn't normally a good thing. Going to have to work to overcome the automatic distrust.

She jumps, gasps in shock. "Who … who are you?" Her English is strongly accented, but good. Probably why she got the hostess job.

"A friend." My phone buzzes.

RFID tracker detected. Fucking hell, they tagged her like cattle. Gotta make this quick.

"What do you want with me?"

"Nothing, but I want Kramer, and you can help me do that." And with that, I can tell she's interested.


"I need your help to get into the restaurant. I can shut Kramer down, if I can get into the basement."

"No, he'll kill me!"

"Not if he's dead or in jail, he won't."

"But even if Kramer's gone, the government will deport us all!"

Odd … I would have thought she wanted to go home, rich father and all.

"That what Kramer's people told you?" A nod. Good, this problem I know how to get around. "They lied. If you can prove you were coerced, and if you testify against Kramer, the authorities will let you stay. They'll give you a special Green Card work permit and citizenship after three years of further residence. It's called the T-Visa, part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. You won't have to go back ... to your father."

A shot in the dark, that last part, but her eyes widened in fear.

"How do you know …"

"I know a lot of things, Yasmine. I don't know exactly why you don't want to go home, though."

She lowers her eyes, looks away. "He wanted to make me marry some political friend of his, to gain favour; a disgustingly fat old man. I decided to leave, to run away to America."

Arranged marriage. Lovely.

"I couldn't get to my passport in my father's office in time, so I paid a smuggler to get me out of the country. He took the fifteen thousand dollars I paid him, then … sold me to an ... associate of Kramer's in Miami. I tried to run away, but they found me every time, and I didn't think I could go to the police, because I didn't want to be deported, thought I might escape again one day. Eventually I ended up here. Just kept my head down. I didn't want to be ransomed back either, so I didn't let on about my father's wealth. I hate this, hate Kramer and this life I landed myself in, but going back would be worse - much worse, now that I've run away, humiliated my father. He's old fashioned; he'd kill me for the shame I brought upon my family."

"Well, you won't have to keep your head down for much longer, Yasmine."

She looks around, nervous again. "They'll be wondering where I am by now. They'll know I left the restaurant, and know how long it takes to walk."

"You should go, then. I'll be here tomorrow, make sure you walk back alone again. Two days from now, with your help, Kramer will be in jail and you'll be free of him."

The next evening I was waiting in the same alley, hidden in a dark recess as the rest of the enslaved 'staff' passed my position on their way back 'home.' Same as before, Yasmine was closing up, and was the last of the forced workers to leave; the chef and others un-enslaved staff either drove or didn't walk this way. Credit to her, Yasmine didn't jump this time when I pulled my Batman impression, but I noticed she had a bruise on her jaw.

"You all right?"

She nodded, the decorative piercings making a slight jingling sound. "I was feeling a lot more hopeful when I got back last night, mouthed off to one of the guards. It was stupid."

"I'm sorry, I should have thought of that, warned you maybe."

She's shaking her head. "Not your fault." Then a smile, a slight but genuine, happy expression that made even my cynical attitude lift somewhat. Amazing how a little hope can restore a person's spirit; Yasmine's had clearly been raised more than a little. "So, what's the plan, Mr …?"

"No names, sorry. Safer that way."

Yasmine puts; that was seriously distracting expression on her. "All superheroes have names, mister. I've been in America long enough to know that!"

I laugh, part surprised at her joke and partly cynical, because I know why I'm doing this; selfish reasons, not heroic self-sacrifice. Yeah, sure it makes me feel a little better about myself to put jackasses like Kramer away and save his victims, but this is just a small step to an issue far closer to my heart - protecting my family. While that might sound noble, I know that I could sacrifice a hundred Yasmine's to a life of hell to protect my wife and daughters; I just hope I won't ever have to, because I already know what decision I would make.

"I'm not a hero, Yasmine. Just a … a watchdog, biting at their heels. I do what I can, but it isn't much."

"You are one to me. I haven't told any of the other girls, but they would feel the same." As if sensing I still did not agree, she changes the subject, although she couldn't possibly see my face well enough to judge my expression. "What do you need me to do?"

"I need your watch." She slid it off without question, a slim metal ladies timepiece. Genuine, an expensive one at that. Seems Kramer likes his restaurant's hostess looking glamorous. I flipped it over and magnetically attached a tiny device to the back, no larger than a coin battery, before returning it to her. It was a Fed-designed bug, meant to be used to send simple yes-no messages to undercover agents when the targets were savvy enough to look for an earpiece. I could have given her a phone, but Kramer doesn't let the 'merchandise' have phones, for obvious reasons, and if she was caught with it between now and tomorrow night, the guards would want to know where she got it. I doubt they would be gentle.

"The watch will vibrate when I need you to meet me at the back door."

"The backdoor is guarded, and locked from the inside. I don't know the code."

"I can handle both, if you distract the guard a bit, keep him looking away from the door. From there, I need you to walk me through the staff areas of the restaurant; if I did it by myself, I'd obviously be suspicious. Does Kramer bring people in that way?"

"Yes, when they're the kind of people who he can't always bribe the police to ignore, or aren't dressy enough to bring through the front. I don't always escort them, but I have done sometimes."

"Thank god for that. That's the weak point in the plan. After you get me to the basement stairs, I'll go on alone, but I'll need you to find somewhere private and call the cops. I'll give you a cellphone; tell Chicago PD you stole it to call them, and about the restaurant, that it's a front for Kramer, about the rest of the girls, that you might be discovered at any second. They'll come running, especially if you sound nervous."

Kramer might bribe a few cops to look the other way, but he hasn't bribed the central 911 dispatchers. There are too many of them for a start, and they're very low on the totem pole. However, playing on psychology here, most of them are female - I checked the employment registry - and most often come from poorer backgrounds. When a desperate-sounding woman calls claiming to have been exploited by a major sex-trafficking ring, it'll automatically get a lot of interest from the dispatchers - and a priority tag.

"What do I tell them after they arrive?"

"The truth, if you want." I shrug. "You don't know who I am anyway."

So why do I do this? If I'm not a hero, why do I bother to save the Yasmine's of this world when I don't have to?

Short answer, I owe some people.

Not loan sharks or anything like that. As I said, I'm a good hacker, and had a lot to do with setting up all the exploits I use at a touch of my smartphone screen, but even I had to reach out for help. I'm good, but others are better. I came to computers relatively late in life; I wasn't born with a keyboard in my hands like some of the truly elite cyber-ninjas I know. Using ctOS for our hacktivist plan was my idea, but getting into it? That took some help. Maintaining our access to the system is a full-time job in and of itself - ctOS has it's own automated defences, and its own counter-hacker team trying to shut us out whenever they detect our intrusions. I can't do that all the time, and I certainly can't do it from my phone alone, so I recruited a number of other hackers to help cover my tracks when I'm out in the field.

They call themselves the 'Watch_Dogs', because of my online handle, or just 'the network,' when they want to be more discreet about it. I didn't come up with the names, for all that they seem to think me the leader. I am the on-point field operative though; only some of the others have any street-smarts at all, and only a few have anything close to the combat skills I've picked up here and there.

Even fewer are willing to kill.

Can't say I blame them. I sure as hell don't particularly like it either, but I don't feel remorse about it any more. Not sure if that makes me an inhuman monster or not, but there I've said it before: I'm no hero. I'll just do what needs to be done. Fortunately I haven't killed any bystanders yet. I'm pretty sure the remorse will kick in hard then.

The Watch_Dogs Network knows exactly why I'm doing this. There are only a dozen or so of them who take it in shifts to watch my digital back when I'm out and about, or 'patrolling' as they've taken to calling it; physical cleanup is handled by Jordi and his mercenary crew, 'The Fixers.' I was up front that protecting my family would be my priority, and they respect that.

It was, however, the WDN - T-Bone and Clara mostly - who persuaded me to start using ctOS to do some good; as a side benefit, it would distract attention away from my family, which was a good point. Our enemies would be so focused on catching me, the heat would be off Jade, Alexandra and Patricia as long as I remained anonymous; even if I was eventually compromised, they would be well-hidden enough by that point they probably wouldn't be found.

The first thing I did after hacking into ctOS was to run a clean-slate programme on my family, making it look like I was never married. The admins might eventually figure out something's been changed, and the cyber-crimes detective who arrested me might possibly remember I was married, but it was years ago and every official record - even that detective's own personal files - now says otherwise. Jade and my daughters will soon be under different names and living in a different area of the city, with ctOS changed to reflect their new identities.

Besides, most of the heat comes from the cops. Even if they found Jade and the girls, while they might pressure them, they can't throw them in jail for something I've done. Dirty cops and mobsters threatening or kidnapping them I am worried about, but I intend to take care of that kind of thing myself before it ever comes to that.

I was ambivalent initially, but I have to admit, I feel a lot more enthusiastic now about this ... crusade. It does give me the warm and fuzzies to save those who need it; I never thought my cynical cold heart would ever feel like that.

I brush-hacked Kramer's phone, shoulder-barged him on the sidewalk and kept right on going. I want him to be distracted, looking at me as the phone's screen flickered from the hack.

Perfect. He didn't notice. Let's see here … codes to the back door, excellent. Schedule … a supplier named Dimitri Popov, from the Ukrainian mafia, is in tonight. Even better, I can nail a player from one of the international rings as well. Restaurant bookings list … even if he doesn't actually run the place day to day, Kramer likes to know which of his pet officials might be in tonight, so he can butter them up some more … gold mine, the city councillor, one of the two detectives I saw. A couple of other high-society-and-business types I've had my suspicious electronic eyes on as well, but that's probably a coincidence since I haven't detected any traffic between them and Kramer. It is a glitzy up-and-coming restaurant, after all.

It's six-forty-five. I follow my target on CCTV as I stroll casually past the bouncer out front, just another passer-by absorbed in my smartphone. Yasmine's escorting Kramer through the restaurant.

The elevator cage closes … down, down … out of sight. I tap the icon representing Yasmine's watch-bug. Game time.

On the camera, Yasmine checks the time to mask her slight jump. Very natural looking, even though the buzzing sensation was probably pretty odd.

In the back alley, I wait for Yasmine to approach the guard before cracking the back door with Kramer's codes. The thug's looking the other way at Yasmine in her silky cocktail dress for the crucial second it takes for me to lever the fire-escape door open and bring the ASP baton around his neck, kick his leg out from under him and slam him face-first into the concrete floor, following up with a pommel strike to the back of his head.

Crunch. Fracture at least. Probably won't kill him, but he's out cold, and the cops will get him an ambulance soon enough.

The door to the kitchen is five metres away down a short corridor, with no one in sight, and it's noisy enough to hide the takedown. I drag the body outside as Yasmine watches, slightly horrified at the brutality but determined to see this through. Somewhat amazingly, there aren't any cameras in the alley out back, so I heft the guy behind a dumpster and leave him be.


Yasmine nods, taking a deep breath.

The kitchen is hot and noisy, bustling with yelling white-clad chefs and hurrying servers; too hot for my thick sweater and trench coat, but Yasmine forges through the din like she belongs; of course, that's because she does, and nobody questions us. I dress like a local, and look scruffy enough to be some local mob member that Kramer might have a meeting with. The non-enslaved staff are of course aware of the underworld connections of the restaurant owner, and that the basement is a no-go area, but most of them know to stay out of Kramer's more shadowy business interests, although one of their employment perks is free access to their boss' brothels.

At the stairs' landing, I hand her a phone. The screen's lit up, 911 already dialled.

"Find somewhere safe, you don't want anyone to overhear."

"I can use the manager's office upstairs."

"Good luck, Yasmine. You won't see me again, in all likelihood."

"Oh no, you keep your luck, Mr Hero. You'll need it more than me."

I smile, pull up my mask. "Thanks."

The camera at the bottom of the stairs is easy to glitch out. The lights flicker in the elevator cage, drawing the guard's attention. He takes two steps forwards and …

He's looking the wrong way, but starts to turn when he sees something in his peripheral vision … too late. The baton catches him across the bridge of the nose, breaking it. He drops the gun, stumbling back and bringing his hands up to cover his face.

I follow up with a knee to the groin, doubling him over. Knee to the face again, then another blow with the hardened steel pommel of the telescoping baton. Instant skull fracture.

From hacking Kramer's phone I already know what the symbol password is for the door's security touchscreen through a text from his security tech a few minutes ago - nice touch that, creative - but what's the fun in that? Too obvious, anyway. From inside their own system I initiate an DDoS attack, spamming the building's server and OS with junk data. The touchscreen hashes out. So will the ones inside. I can hear them through the door; phones ringing randomly, the computers freezing up - distracting the occupants.

Hidden in the junk data is a series of viruses and Trojans, which take advantage of the stressed firewalls to automatically establish brute-force exploits and access the building systems. It's messy, and lacks finesse, and makes me feel like a script-kiddie, using prepackaged software like this, but I don't exactly have time for anything else.

It'll take a few seconds to gain control though. That's fine - it's part of the plan anyway.

The door opens. The guards are half-turning already. Seven targets total - Kramer, his lieutenant and two guards; as well as Popov, his second in command and one more guard. Kramer I need alive for the plan to work; the rest I don't.

The ASP slides out again. Nearest guy on the right gets a backhand blow from the baton, which has a heavy steel tip on the end, shattering his nose and right cheekbone.

Second guy's still turning. Downwards strike sweeps his weapon away, followed by a disorienting blow to the jaw from my left hand, which I pass the baton into as he spins away. Left arm comes back, baton reversed in my hand, around the guard's neck, maintaining control, while my right is already reaching for the hip-holstered Beretta nine millimetre.

The room's occupants are still reacting, only just beginning to claw at their own weapons, panicking, missing their own draws.

I fire. One-two, double-tab into Kramer's yes-man, half-standing from his malfunctioning laptop. One more into Popov's lieutenant, the other side of the table. Both fall like dolls with their strings cut.

Shit. Guy in the far corner's got a fucking combat shotgun, and Popov's just managed to get his gun out.

I yank the second guard in front of me just in time to block two shots from Popov's heavy-calibre revolver, and deliver an elbow strike to the man's neck just in case his body armour stopped them enough.

Bracing the Beretta across my forearm, I fire another round to suppress the shotgun-toting mook before I duck behind a solid server bank.


Relatively, anyway.

Where the hell is my phone ... ah gotcha. Bullets and 12-gauge pellets ricochet off the top of the metal casing that is my cover. Access 97%, 98% … come on … 99% ... Windows piece-of-shit … 100%.

My turn.

Every building has standard ctOS utilities that are part of the building codes - fire control, fire alarm, security alarm. Clara already blocked the security alarm from reaching the local ctOS control node without ever hacking the restaurant itself. Not sure why they separated fire control and fire alarms, but heigh ho, it works fine for me. That means I can trigger the sprinklers in this room specifically without alerting the rest of the building.

The sudden deluge takes them off guard. Shotgun flinches, Popov's crouched behind a table, manually reloading that idiotically large revolver. Why do you think the rest of the world switched to clip-loading pistols, huh? Possibly so it didn't take forever to fumble around with individual cartridges in shaking hands … although the sudden flood of freezing water certainly hasn't helped him.

I'm up. My fifth shot of the night snaps the shotgunner's head back in a red mist that, a second later, begins to turn the water pooling around his body a deceptively non-violent pink.

Two steps and and a vault send me into a feet-first slide across the slippery glass conference table. Popov's just about finished sliding a .357 into the cylinder. It isn't going to help. I draw a bead and fire as I slide off the far side.

I see fear, desperation, hate in his eyes as I squeeze the trigger.

Doesn't matter. He's going to die like the rest, and he knows it.

Wow. I must be a better shot than I thought, hitting him in the head. Wasn't even expecting that to connect, sliding across the table like some goddamn video game character.

Welcome to Chicago, motherfucker.

Kramer backed away into the corner during all this, frozen like the bullying coward he is. He's prided himself on smooth operating during the last twelve months since he started this little enterprise; no spanners in the works, all the right payouts to the right people all on time, no hiccups. He's never had to defend his patch like the mob, never been in a gunfight, never been in danger.

I slam him into the wall screen, baton across his throat and gun pressed to his cheekbone. The fear in his eyes is almost a physical thing.

He's got a family. A wife who knows nothing about this … depravity, who doesn't have a job. Four kids who are innocent by default.

I didn't come here to kill him … I really, really want to … I want to end this bastard so much the force of my own emotions surprises me, makes me take a step back from the brink.

And a physical step away too. I can hear sirens, Yasmine has come through with an Oscar it seems, and it's only been about two minutes. It's time to go … but not without hurting him a bit first.

I fire a round into his outer thigh, just below the pelvis. It'll hurt like a bitch, prevent him from running, but isn't critical enough that he'll bleed out before the medics get here.

I sprint out, up the stairs, hurtling through the kitchen still with my mask on but weapons hidden. The staff are frozen, wondering what's going on as shouts come from the front of the building, then from the door into the kitchen from the dining area.


I don't stop, obviously. Out into the back alley, turn right and run like hell.


Not fast enough. Fuck, the Five-O were fast on this one, which I was anticipating, but not this fast. Average response time is six minutes in this neighbourhood, not two.

I raise my hands slowly, phone still in hand, tapping the screen twice from memory to bring up the exploit I need … three, two, one.


With a humming, buzzing sound … everything goes dark. The street lamps, window lights, the skyscrapers.

The cops jump, look around. There are two behind me; first guy gets a haymaker to the jaw, then I grab him around the neck and push him across in front of his buddy. The first one drops his pistol in the process, and the second one has his aim knocked off.

His gun hand comes back around, but I've stepped inside his reach. Check the arm, then one hand on his wrist, twisting his arm up and over his shoulder and one hand on the gun's slide, controlling it's direction in case it goes off. As his elbow reaches breaking point, his grip on the gun falters, and I pluck it out of his grip as he falls backwards; a classic disarm, with several counters. I thought CPD was better trained than that.

I eject the mag, work the slide, kick the first guy's sidearm under a dumpster and toss the second in the other direction into a puddle.

Then I'm off, running like the very devil himself was chasing me.

A couple of blocks away I slow down, send a text to Clara.

Coup de grace, if you please.

The reply doesn't come in the form of words, but an image.

Every interactive billboard I can see is displaying images of Kramer's victims, followed a few seconds later by the man himself being dragged, limping, towards a cruiser between two beefy CPD officers who themselves stop to look at the boards.

The message under the pictures?


How's that for shock and awe? And slight creepiness. Not to mention it will hopefully make the CPD think I'm acting alone; after all, it doesn't say, 'We're watching you.'

Every billboard in the city has that on right now. There's no way Kramer - or his lawyer - can buy enough goodwill to wriggle out of this. It's a bit high-profile for my tastes, but Clara convinced me this was the best way.

It's been a few days now. Yasmine and her fellow victims are being transferred into WITSEC under the care of the US Marshals. Kramer's files didn't just bring down his own organisation, but two others that were rapidly busted with extreme prejudice by the supremely pissed-off detectives of the Human Trafficking Taskforce, along with ICE and the FBI. I say 'pissed off,' because I might just have anonymously dropped a hint - and photographic evidence - to several news agencies as well as Internal Affairs of the perhaps-not-coincidental presence of various police and city officials in the restaurant at the time of the raid.

CPD Central was less than happy to find out one of their flagship Taskforces had been compromised in such a high-profile way, especially with the Feds all over their asses about it, and were applying pressure from above for visible results; and the rest of the mostly honest cops working on it were even more unhappy they hadn't picked up on the bad apples in the first place.

Kramer and about two dozen known associates have been arrested, and several hundred victims like Yasmine have been rescued from brothels around the city. Oh, and the restaurant chefs, the only non-enslaved staff, are in lockup too, for multiple counts conspiracy, aiding-and-abetting and rape, since a few liked to indulge in that particular perk.

No sushi in federal jail, boys, and you'll probably be on the other end of the last one. Enjoy yourselves.

There's been no public mention of my involvement, which was nice of the CPD, although it would have embarrassed the hell out of them to publicly acknowledge a vigilante busted this wide open for them before they even had a hint of Kramer's activities. They know, though. Police chatter has a rather inaccurate description of me - since Yasmine and Kramer were the only ones to get a good look at me, it must have come from her. Kramer isn't saying anything at all, on advice of his lawyer.

Yasmine described me as six-two with blonde hair, baby blue eyes and a pronounced scar across my chin - nice touch, that last bit, a completely incorrect distinguishing feature that any surviving surveillance camera footage from the basement won't be able to confirm due to my mask.

Clara and T-Bone are fairly certain we nixed all the cameras in the building, but the CPD aren't stupid, so they'll probably work their way through the rest of the footage from the surrounding area going back a few days and work out I was casing the place. I was careful enough to either jam or face away from the cameras though, and if worst comes to worst, the Watch_Dogs and/or Jordi's 'Fixers' can either hack or physically steal any incriminating evidence - if we catch on to it in time. I never really expected to last all that long as 'unidentified' anyway, but it'd be nice to keep it going for a few more weeks.

Now I'm sitting in a car outside a mid-range hotel the cops pretty much entirely filled up with the victims, both for their comfort and security. This case is already one of the largest human trafficking bust in American law-enforcement history; the fact almost none of the girls want to go home now that - through Yasmine - they know their rights under the Victims Act. That means they all have to testify, which means they're all potential targets.

The Marshals spent the last few days setting up additional safehouses and identities all over the country, and they're beginning to move them out now. Yasmine's in the first group because she made the 911 call; that makes her a target for reprisals from the overseas branches of the trafficking rings that got rounded up here.

Heh … Yasmine has a phone in her pocket. Might be the one I gave her, but probably a new one. Easy enough to tap into it and … message sent. Untraceable, in case the cops are bugging her phone to see if I'd contact her. As I said, CPD can be smart and very thorough when they get their act together.

Just outside the door, she stops for a moment to pull the phone out, reads the message, smiles and looks around, obviously guessing I'm watching.

You look well. You can have some of my luck back, Yasmine, you've earned it. Have a better life from here on out.