Isobe Eiko sat perched over her Ares Desert Strike, cybereye glowing dimly through the length of its scope. A kevlar compound hood patterned with the style of the Japanese imperial emblem kept the chill northwestern rain from hitting her face as a self-assured voice crackled in her ear.
“Seventy-three seconds, Aichi Two. Still quiet?”
“Hai,” she replied sub vocally. She lifted her crimson-colored cheek from the Desert Strike to gaze at the neon-drenched street below her with her own eyes, or rather, Renraku’s. As she rose through the ranks of the megacorp, facing and overcoming each misogynist-chauvinist-traditionalist-metatype-loathing hurdle that presented itself, she became more a part of Renraku, and Renraku of her.
Sekigaisen gazō Y-3k cybereyes, select sound filtering augmented ears, noise -filtering datajack, state of the art wired reflexes, and a pair of expertly installed synthetic arms; a small but luxurious apartment in one of the corp’s arcologies; a small fleet of Yamaha Rapiers and Hyundai Tōnichis.
All this was provided for her, at the price of her flawless execution of each mission assigned to her. That, and her unfaltering loyalty until death.
Eiko had no retirement plans. She was good – maybe even great. No Renraku suit would have bothered to read her portfolio otherwise. But she was mortal, and after seeing everything from ritual-sacrificing Aztechnology magi detonating an entire squad of red samurai from the inside out, to a milspec-armored shadowrunner crushing her spotter’s body flat without effort, she didn’t wonder if she’d die in the field. She wondered when.
She wondered but did not worry. Back home in Japan, her family was safe from the madness of the world. Whatever gruesome fate found her, they would always be taken care of. That was all that mattered.
Gimu, duty. Chūsei, loyalty. Meiyo, Honor. And most important to her – more than any other – kazoku. Family.
Eiko did not voice such sentiments, however. To do so would be to declare a cause higher than her employer. Higher than Renraku. And that, Renraku did not abide.
The calm voice of her handler sounded in her ears again. “Good, Aichi Two. Aichi One, status.”
Silence over the squad’s VOIP. Eiko glanced at the comm strapped to her forearm, tapping at it to bring up the other shooter’s perspective. Normally, she’d see their view duplicated, transferable to a floating HUD window in AR; wind speed and direction, distance to target, RFID-tagged elements and more. All were absent.
All she saw was the flutter of hack-induced distortion and an unmoving hand.
“Nitōgunsō-san,” she called back to her handler, “Aichi One possibly incap’d. Advise.”
The next voice to speak was Wabbajaki, the team’s eccentric decker who communicated in what she could best describe as energized, rapid fire chirps.
“Drek. Drek-u drek. Hai, Aichi One bricked and might be flatlined. Looking for an enemy decker in proximity. Network still okay. I think. Hai.”
Even with one of the two shooters down, the mission could still be completed. Halo, the team’s rigger, functioned as emergency back up. A duo of drones would be flying across the plex skyline now en route to the first shooter’s spot.
“Halo, report,” the handler commanded simply, sounding as excited as if he were commenting on a trid re-run.
“Eyes on Aichi One – he’s fragged. I’m directing units now to pick up his spot,” the young rigger replied.
“Good. Aichi Two, white objective will be in sight shortly. Report when set to shoot.”
“Understood, Nitōgunsō-san.” She returned her view to the rifle’s scope, consciously taking and releasing a breath as she settled into her firing poise. She tapped at her commlink with a free hand, bringing the perspective of one of Halo’s drones into focus with her left eye as the right peered down range.
Eleven blocks away, two north, nine east. The motorcade was following precisely the route described in the briefing, internalized in her mind until she knew it as well as the floor of her arcology.
“Halo reporting friendly support on black objective overwatch. I’m taking over for Aichi One. Black objective coming into view now.”
“Eyes on black objective,” the handler echoed calmly. “White objective, status.”
Isobe Eiko’s heart began thudding as her target rolled into view. A black-painted Ares Roadmaster, flanked in front and behind by twin GMC Nocturnes, cruised through traffic signals one-by-one, each flickering to green obediently in time to allow the group to continue unhindered.
“Aichi Two has visual on white objective. Sighting now.” The smartlink adjusted in miliseconds as she followed the Roadmaster’s passenger seat with her reticule, compensating for an 8 kilometre per hour east wind and 1.104 centimetre per hour rainfall rate.
700 meters. 675. 650.
She coaxed the safety off with a thumb, her eye unblinking as she fixated on where a thirty-seven year-old, Japanese-American, 89.2 kilogram pound man would be sitting behind the tinted, thermal-interfering bullet resistant glass.
“Aichi Two is lined up,” she declared evenly, allowing the entirety of her consciousness to filter through her rifle’s view. The drone’s perspective in her left eye departed. The cold Seattle rain no longer fell on her form. She was no longer Isobe Eiko, no longer an Oni or even a woman. She was an Ares Desert Strike loaded with two armor piercing discarding sabot rounds. Rounds which would soon be ejected at over a kilometre per second at a target 603.4 meters away.
Her handler spoke again. “The white crane sleeps. Wabbajaki, execute catch on white objective on my mark. Three. Two. One. Now.”
The Roadmaster squealed to a stop in the middle of the street, the Nocturne behind it jerking left to avoid a rear-ending. The Roadmaster’s lights flickered first, then died completely. As Eiko peered at the unmoving vehicle, the anti-thermal wind shield’s programming dissipated from top to bottom like a sheet of rain before going offline.
The distinct head and shoulder forms of metahumans burst into view through the glass. The figure in the passenger seat was shoving at his door, fighting against the lock that refused to release.
“NOW, Aichi Two,” the voice in her ears commanded.
She squeezed the trigger. At one kilogram of pressure a red bead appeared on the glass in front of the man. At 2 kilograms an APDS round fired from the muzzle of an unseen Ares Desert Strike, impacting the Roadmaster’s wind shield.
As her target flailed in response to the crack of a bullet splintering the glass an arm’s reach in front of him, Eiko’s trigger hand flew to the bolt of her rifle. The second round pulled from its seating and with another fluid motion locked into the rifle’s chamber.
She squeezed the trigger a second time. 603.4 meters. Red dot. Shot.
The windshield crumpled inward as another APDS round speared the first down its center, sending bullet fragments cascading into the panicked man.
She pulled the bolt back with her right hand and pushed an explosive round directly into the chamber with her left. As her right hand re-locked the bolt, her left flicked a switch to adjust her smartlink for explosive ammunition use. AR indicators whirred as she tilted her rifle accordingly and fired a third round.
The passenger’s side windshield shattered as a high explosive detonation caved out a hole the size of a fist in line with the passenger’s chest. The Ares Desert Strike sounded 1.9 seconds later for a final time, sending a hollow point bullet through the window’s gap and into her target’s chest.
Four shots sent down range in 6.7 seconds and a mortally-wounded Yakuza boss later, Isobe Eiko took in a deep breath.
“White objective fragged,” she exhaled, eyes still trained on the the flurry of activity as one of the accompanying GMC Nocturnes sputtered to a start down the street.
“The black crane sleeps,” her handler declared hastily. “Wabbajaki, black objective now. Mark. Three. Two. One. Go.” A short pause. “Halo, execute black.”
Eiko brought one of the rigger’s drones into view just in time to see small arms fire reaching up from the streets below. One of the drone’s twin rotors sheered off following a burst and the craft tottered sideways. Like a wounded bird, it struggled to maintain altitude before slamming into a ferricrete pillar to the nearby highway.
The expired drone’s twin raced towards the team’s second target, another black Roadmaster. But this one revved its engine, peeling away from the scene as the drone began pursuit.
“Oh! Oh ie, ie! Lost my marks, working to get back, working!” the decker screeched into the team’s VOIP.
“Aichi Two, get mobile immediately,” Nitōgunsō ordered, a sharpness cleaving through previous calm.
Looping the rifle’s sling around her torso, she sprinted to her motorcycle, its engine revving before her tacsuitted rear had landed in its seat. Her right wrist torqued the handlebar as her left hand pulled her datajack chord from beneath her hood. The Yamaha’s engine made an exuberant cry that echoed through the parking garage. Eiko jacked in and leaned into the first turn, wrist squeezing again just as the bike’s front wheel hit the corner’s apex.
Eiko’s blood pulsed in her veins with a trogg rock blast and her body seathed napalm. The perspective of Halo’s drone popped into her peripherary once more, showing the second Roadmaster roaring through the near-empty streets of midnight Tacoma.
“Halo, stay with black objective. Wabbajaki, I still need black immobilized. Get it done or find the enemy decker. Aichi Two, pick up the pace.”
Eiko gasped as she went hot sim, her bike aligning with the street’s center lines. Streetlights became stretched blurs and vehicles turned into vague shapes as she picked up speed. She flicked the bike left as it raced through a red light, nearly clipping a wage slave commuting to graveyard shift. Her tires screamed as they fought for traction through surface water and fetid Tacoma aroma oil, but she continued like a bolt towards the second Roadmaster.
She looked to her right as two more red lights went ignored. The Roadmaster was veering through light traffic wildly, but maintaining a respectable pace considering its bulk. Halo’s drone was visible whirring overhead, firing bursts at the Roadmaster’s tires and engine block.
As her bike approached a third intersection, she closed a hand around her rear brake and cut right. The bike’s tail swung out and she jerked her wrist to accelerate, spinning the rear tire with a whining squelch before it gained purchase and launched Eiko into a sharp turn.
In a flash, she was racing alongside the Roadmaster, a wide-eyed elf looking down at her from the driver’s seat. Eiko reached for her machine pistol, but started as the Roadmaster’s driver spun the wheel in her direction, swerving into her path.
She pushed left milliseconds too slow, the Roadmaster’s side crashing against her Rapier. Its front wheel pushed out left, threatening to send her head first into asphalt at 160 kilometers per hour. With an intake of breath she managed to correct, the bike snaking back and forth before aiming straight down the street again.
The Roadmaster gained distance on her as her Rapier struggled to climb back up to speed, and as she gripped the accelerator more tightly its engine yelled a choking cough. She began closing in on the Roadmaster, but felt her bike’s pain from the collision; she wouldn’t keep up much longer.
A long burst from Halo’s drone tore through one of the Roadmaster’s tires, rubber exploding like shrapnel into the night air. The tire’s rim sent showers of sparks behind the vehicle as its driver struggled to maintain control of the 2.5 ton monstrosity.
Eiko readied her Fianchetti Military 100 and pulled alongside the Roadmaster a second time. As the driver’s head darted her direction and he began to swing out at her again, she leveled the pistol and squeezed its trigger, pouring a full magazine’s worth of rounds into the driver’s door and window.
The driver spasmed and collapsed against the wheel, sending the Roadmaster careening into a light pole. The explosive crunch of aluminum and steel rang out in the street as the vehicle came to an abrupt stop.
“All units, close in on black objective. Target vulnerable,” Nitōgunsō rattled over the team’s VOIP.
Eiko swung her Rapier to a stop, dismounting it and tugging her datajack free as she loaded a second magazine into her pistol. She approached the Roadmaster from its front, gun leveled at the passenger side. A dazed but thoroughly augmented Yakuza burst from the vehicle’s right rear, leveling a sub-machine gun at her and sending rounds ricocheting against the pavement at her feet.
She dove behind a car parked across the intersection from the Yakuza, lifting her Fianchetti over its hood to blind fire in hopes of suppressing them. More Yaks poured out from the Roadmaster in various states of post-impact haze, and Eiko was forced to hunch down as bullets thudded into her cover.
Figures began sprinting from the vehicle to encircle her, and she cursed herself at the idea of dying in such a foolish way, crowded behind soft cover at the mercy of her foe.
Then Halo’s voice sounded in her ears, “I got you, Redline! Fakkāzu o shinimasu!” A fully automatic burst from Halo’s drone ripped one of the Yakuza down and left a second in a heap of mangled kevlar and sizzling skin.
The rigger screamed a desperate, zealous war cry and a high-pitched whirr sounded over Eiko’s head. She peered over the car’s hood in time to see the drone plummet full speed into a third Yakuza. The gangster crushed into the asphalt with a scream, unmoving.
The handler’s voice again commanded Eiko into motion. “Aichi Two, you are the only unit on site. Get to black objective, take him out, then get out.”
The distant howl of sirens from state route 161 was audible as Eiko steeled herself, flicking on her pistol’s laser sight. She peeked once towards the Roadmaster, unable to pierce its mostly intact windshield with her cybereyes. She saw no movement.
With a final breath, she burst into a sprint towards the corner of a building next to the Roadmaster for cover. Just as she crossed into the center of the street, a red-suited form pushed out from the back of the smoking vehicle. Eiko reached outwards to dive behind the building, then cried out as white hot pain suffocated her body.
What felt likes hundreds of shot pellets impacted her, sending her sprawling just around the corner of the building. A second cloud of ricocheting lead showered the sidewalk next to her. Eiko mustered a shallow breath and held her stomach, blood pooling over her fingers. Her stomach twisted at the sensation of shot smoldering in and beneath her skin.
“Come out, cowardly dog,” the Yakuza bellowed in Japanese from around the corner. “However many you there are, I will jam this shotgun down every one of your sickly throats until you know to beg me to mercy!”
Eiko blinked through the pain searing her body, eyes searching around for her Fianchetti. She spotted it in the street, in the open, surely within view of the Yakuza. In her state, she had no hope of retrieving the gun before receiving a last, final blast from the shotgun. She pulled a thin syringe from her belt, twisting its cap free with her teeth before stabbing her inner thigh with it.
The mission was a disaster. Years of training. Months of gathering intel and cautiouslly unraveling the mystery of who it was that had stolen a critical contacts dossier from a local Sato, a Renraku Mr. Johnson. But after hearing the Yakuza yell, recognizing the voice she’d heard before, she realized there had been no theft. Only betrayal.
“Masanori Fukunaga,” she managed back, doing her best to maintain an even voice through the pain. “Internal Affairs Officer, Seattle Prefecture, Tacoma District. The one tasked with bringing traitors into the light…himself the greatest betrayer.”
The bulky man’s laugh carried through the street, audible over the sirens that crossed the nearby overpass, headed towards the site of the first Roadmaster’s end.
“Spoken like a true corp drone to your last, Renraku no meinu.” The man’s footsteps clattered down the sidewalk, and the telltale click of shotgun shells being loaded accompanied them. “If only you had let me leave, I’d have been wealthy, and you, alive. But now, well…”
The walking grew closer still. Eiko’s head swam with pain, her body aflame with the sickly burning of a gunshot wound. She waited for the drug to lift her from her haze, to give her the chance to survive. But it wasn’t coming. There would be no chance.
The Yakuza rounded the corner, slowly at first, then with confidence upon seeing the unarmed, critically wounded Oni. He chortled sadistically and approached until he towered over Eiko, leveling the muzzle of the shotgun to her chest.
“You die for nothing, akumajo. You mean nothing to them. None of us do. You will be a memory your family wishes to forget; a failed, horn-headed freak.”
He spat at her face, snorting with contempt. “And I will be free, and never again bow to any spineless, mindless corporate cow so long as my name is Masanori-”
His diatribe was cut short in a raining shower of blood. For a moment, his form shuddered yet stood upright, shotgun trembling in uneasy hands before falling heavily into Redwire’s lap. The man’s head and upper torso split evenly in two, and he fell to the side in a heap. One last shuddering twitch followed by stillness indicated his passing.
Behind where the traitor had loomed, an older man stood stoutly, framed in a downward slicing pose he had apparently landed in from above. With a sneer, he extended a sleeved arm to his blood-soaked katana, wiping it clean.
“Nitōgunsō-san,” she muttered, seeing him as though he was distant.
He slowly looked from the blade to the woman. “Isobe Eiko,” he stated coldly. He considered her for a moment before shaking his head; a gentle, sure movement.
“I have misplaced my faith. I had hoped for much from you. I believed you could amount to something. I opened doors for you, showed you through them. And now, this.”
He looked towards the wreckage of the Roadmaster, then to the fallen man’s corpse beside him. “This massacre. This embarrassment.” He looked back at her, snorting as his voiced raised. “You embarrass me with this ineptitude. You embarrass Renraku, Isobe.”
Redwire’s face flushed red, her lip trembling. “Nitōgunsō-san, I…I did all that I could. I would never-”
He cut her off with a wave of the hand and a sneer. “No, there is nothing for you to say. No excuses to make. You and your peers have failed, and there are no others to blame.” The man leaned over Fukunaga’s distended corpse, reaching into his pocket to retrieve the man’s commlink.
Eiko spoke again, desperation creeping into her tone. “Nitōgunsō-san. I understand there will be consequences. I will face them. But my family – they have done nothing to deserve this. They should not be punished on behalf of me.”
The man did not immediately respond, the gleam of the commlink’s screen in his hand lighting his face. His eyes searched a line of text that gave him pause before he pocketed the device into the inside of his coat, shaking his head.
“Their fate is not mine to decide; it is the same as any other failed agent’s: nothingness. After tonight, you will no longer be Renraku. You will have never been Renraku. There will be no Isobe Eiko; there will be no Isobe family. And there will be no failure tonight.”
The Roadmaster had begun to burn steadily, and the man’s gaze hung on the dancing flames as he concluded, lowly, stoically, “That is how it must be. Your failure cannot be allowed to harm Renraku. You understand. You are loyal.” He nodded to himself, “Despite your failure.”
Hearing no response, he looked down at his katana, gripping it with both hands and turning to the woman. “It will be a clean death, Iso-”
He turned not to a cowering woman, but to a shotgun raised at him. He stared at the quivering barrel for a time, smirking humorlessly at it before eying her. “You dishonor yourself with such a gesture. There is no other way, Isobe. You must die.”
“My family,” she stated darkly, stubbornness infusing her shivering, pained voice with subtle menacing. “They must be cared for, Nitōgunsō-san. Please.”
With a dismissive snort, he again assumed the pose Eiko had seen him in when he cut apart Fukunaga. Raising the katana with unfaltering calm, he simply offered, “There is no other way. Lower your head, Isobe. It will be clean.”
The katana raised higher, reaching a peak and pausing before the man let out a deep, faintly mournful cry.
The katana fell. But it did not meet flesh.
The man stared down at Eiko, unmoving at first, and shuffled a foot back to catch himself as he swayed. He stared down at his chest, or rather, where his chest had been, before looking back to her.
“Fumeiyo,” he gasped out, falling to his knees. He swayed once more, his eyes becoming glassy as his suit began to soak with red. “Fumeiyo…” he repeated one last time before falling to his side.
Isobe Eiko stared at at the body of the man who had brought her up through Renraku. She let the smoking shotgun fall to her side before pushing herself up along the building’s wall. Despite her injuries, resolution took over from within. The unwavering fire from inside that had never darkened, had never failed her; had always been there for her.
“Kazoku,” she corrected as she collected the commlink from his suit jacket. She mounted her still-running motorcycle with a grunt, leaning forward heavily. “Family.”
What she had done – what she had always done – she did for family. She would not let this failure lead to their suffering. However she could, she would do whatever it took to give them a good life. A safe life. A life away from Renraku.
Her datajack slid into its familiar home in the Yamaha Rapier. It, like her, was tired; wounded and spent. But as she sped away from the scene and into the night, it did not fail her.
It took time. She had never ran in the shadows; had never touched them. But within the hour, she approached the flickering green cross, indicating the location of a ‘street doc’ she had managed to track down. It didn’t matter that all she had to offer was corp scrip – the look on the woman’s face said it was more than she had seen in a life time.
Her surprise did not alleviate when the Renraku agent repeated the operation to be done: remove every piece of ware from the body. Be quick about it – tear it out if need be – but get it done. Destroy it all; no way for them to follow her. Replace it all with new ware.
They told her it would need at least a week for the new ware to take, but she insisted she be gone as soon as possible. No more than two days after the fiasco that was described in headlines with the likes of, “JAPANESE CRIME RING IN-FIGHTING: NEW BOSS IN SOUTH SEATTLE?” and, “YAK’S TO BLAME FOR TUMBLE IN TACOMA – COULD THEY COME TO YOUR PLEX NEXT?”
Isobe ‘Redline’ Eiko mounted a new Hyundai Rapier. As new as she could find, anyway; she was learning quickly that nothing from the streets came firsthand.
Her new arms felt stiff, every movement feeling like she was pushing through quicksand. A fiery, throbbing pain radiated through her skull as her new datajack plugged into the bike. The doctor assured her they had given her every kind and as much as possible of every painkiller that wouldn’t send her immediately into a coma. But drek was an insufficient descriptor to reflect her condition.
Drek ware. Drek weaponry. SINless. Hunted by one of the greatest forces metahumanity had ever known.
She revved the bike and let it carry her away east, far from Tacoma or downtown, from arcologies and megacorps. She didn’t stop until she hit the great divide, where highrise condos gave way to the polluted, chaotic sprawl of the Barrens. She had the name of a fixer and little else to go on, but it didn’t bother her. Not the risk, not the pain; nothing mattered. Only one thing ever did.
By that time a week later she was home in Japan. It had taken serious convincing to persuade a Johnson that what she knew was worth the effort of extracting a family of four from a Renraku arcology on its home turf, and she didn’t like the sensation of “shadowrunning.” She had become the betrayer, the low-life criminal Renraku abhorred.
But as she cradled a cup of tea alongside her mother, father and younger siblings in their new apartment in Auburn, she didn’t care. No corp mottos, tenets or tradition. Just her and her family in the shadows. It wouldn’t be easy; it might be the hardest thing she’d ever do. Yet, in a way, it was all she had ever done.
She wouldn’t fail them.