Cor’s Backstory Tale (Featuring Jay Clem, Nick ‘925’ Peth, Vandalious, Kazman)
Cor applied her own pressure to her belly as Jay, the closest thing to a medic they had, popped open the automatic medkit. Hopefully, it would plug the bullet hole in her gut; if not, Jay had a drug cocktail that would get her back on her feet. Either way, she needed to be back in the fight before the rest of the street gang pulled in and turned their little soiree into a full-blown block party.

Cor applied her own pressure to her belly as Jay, the closest thing to a medic they had, popped open the automatic medkit. Hopefully, it would plug the bullet hole in her gut; if not, Jay had a drug cocktail that would get her back on her feet. Either way, she needed to be back in the fight before the rest of the street gang pulled in and turned their little soiree into a full-blown block party.

They weren’t even being paid yet. A simple field trip to meet up with the headhunter went to hell six ways from Sunday when Kazman lost control of the van. Now they were holed-up in an old donut shop, their wheelman dead in the street, pinned down by a handful of violent thugs with something to prove. Typical barrens bullshit.

An autodoc’s bedside manner is generally lacking, and Cor pinned her upper lip with her tusks, sucking in a tight breath as it administered a series of injections into her wound. Taking her mind off the pain, she focused on the situation at hand, replaying the events leading up to the crash and trying to figure out what they missed.


She was sitting in the back of the van, eyes tracking the foot traffic as they drove past, sparse as it was in the drizzly fall weather. Kazman was driving. His hands were actually on the wheel, rather than trusting the autodrive. There was no streetlink in the barrens, but plenty of opportunistic hackers ready to pull off an electronic carjacking. He was yammering on about some virtual show he was into.

Vandalious was riding shotgun. The street merc always had his head on swivel. Rounding out the team were their grifter, Jay Clem (currently frowning at the readings on the autodoc), and their ‘tech coordinator’ Nick “925”—that’s 9-2-5—Peth. Jay had been psyching himself up to smooth talk the upcoming client while 925 slouched in his seat, eyes closed but watching their surroundings even so, from his vantage point in the virtual world.

She’d been thinking about names. About how ridiculous she felt every time she said Vandalious instead of cutting it short to Vandal. About how endearing it was that Jay refused to take on a more imposing alias, bucking the ancient traditions of tough-guy naming conventions. About how the same thing didn’t work for Nick Peth, because that was his real name. You had to think highly of yourself in all the wrong ways to roll in the streets with the name your parents gave you. The 925 part hadn’t made any sense to her until he told her he was only Nick Peth from nine-to-five and 925 the rest of the time.

She’d just concluded that it still didn’t make sense when she heard the bang. It wasn’t a gun, years on the street had given her an intimate connection with that sound. The immediate shift in their momentum followed by a second bang provided the context for their evolving situation. A front tire blow out preceding a rear tire blow out meant the road had been rigged. This was intentional.

The van started to weave as Kazman fought for control. Despite his skill, the deteriorated barrens road and a lack of traction ensured a losing battle and the van turned, careening sideways. Cor saw the crack in the asphalt, another accomplice to the pending crash. As the van continued to slide, the naked rear rim caught the fracture and the van flipped.

In her mental replay, events went into slow motion, and she couldn’t be sure this didn’t match them exactly as it happened. Kazman’s fingers were still gripping the wheel in a futile attempt to regain control. Vandalious braced himself, one hand on the dash and the other pressed to the roof. Jay’s limbs flailed under the control of the world’s worst three fingered marionette and 925 was blissfully unaware, still busy playing in the land of 1’s and 0’s.

A sickening crunch and time shot back to a frenetic real-world pace as the van immediately stopped, jerking all of the occupants in their seats. A dark puddle was spreading on the floor—no the side—of the van. Her ears were ringing, but she registered the muffled pop-pop as gunfire. A pair of heavy boots splashed through the growing puddle and Vandalious pulled the latch overhead. With a grunt, he pushed the sliding passenger door open, exposing Jay and 925 to the light drizzle.

“Kaz…?” Cor looked to the driver’s seat… and the source of the dark liquid pooling beneath them. A large metal rod had punched through the roof, bolting the driver forever to his ride.

“He’s done. We gotta’ move.”

The realization of Kazman’s death jolted her into action. She cut her seatbelt, falling to her feet. She shouldered her pack and took a rifle under each arm before kicking open the rear door. The steel frame of the van provided reliable cover against a steady influx of anonymous gunfire. She gritted her teeth, took a steadying breath, and then stepped out. Her augmented, orcish muscles enabled her to fire both rifles from the hip. The Colt branded assault rifle barked triplet staccatos punctuated by the single boom every time she pulled the trigger on the larger caliber Ranger. Accuracy wasn’t the point, she just needed folks to get their heads down. She didn’t know who the opposition was, and collateral damage wasn’t her thing.

The appearance of an orc dual-wielding heavy rifles had the desired effect and the incoming gunfire slowed enough to give Vandalious the opening he needed to pop up from inside the van and add to the covering fire. She remembered Jay calling out that 925 was still under and telling him to yank the jack. It was a brutal separation from the virtual realm, but better than the brutal separation from your life.

Jay pulled the plug on 925 and hauled him out of his seat, pulling the hacker’s arm over his shoulders and practically carrying him out. Cor offered to carry him, but Jay shook his head and hustled forward. Cor nodded and returned to the business of throwing lead down the street.

As she took up the cover fire, Vandalious cleared out of the van and took a position behind a burned-out car rusting in front of an old donut shop. He picked up where Cor left off, trying to give Jay and 925 all the time they needed to get inside.

Too slow, and they were out in the open. Even trading evenly with Vandalious for a constant barrage of fire, they were easy targets. All it would take was a single bullet and they’d be down two. Cor calculated the odds and stepped fully from her position and crab-walked towards the donut shop, firing at anything that moved.


The medkit was working on the results. She took two, near as she could tell. One was a scratch, but the other still had the potential to be deadly. As long as their mystery assailants gave her enough breathing space, she’d be on her feet. That was a chance, at least. Those bullets would have outright killed Jay Clem.

“Kit says six minutes,” Jay said as he dropped to his ass, exhaustion overcoming the initial rush of adrenaline.

“What about Nine? He up yet?” She preferred focusing on others rather than herself.

Jay reached into his jacket, pulling a patch and a pistol from an inside pocket. “Groggy. Pissed. Ready to get some electro-venge on whoever is out there.”

As he peeled the sticky backing from the patch, Cor laid a hand on his arm, softly. “Easy on the stims. Could be a minute before we spin back up.”

Jay’s brow furrowed, “This,” he held up the patch, “This is to calm my nerves, so this gun ain’t shaking like a whore in a nunnery.”

Cor chuckled. She looked down at the small pool of blood where she parked her ass and appreciated that it wasn’t getting any bigger. “Where’s Vandalious?” She hated that name. It was a mouthful and she wished she could just call him Vandal, but he hated when anyone shortened his name and now it was fully ingrained.

“Tossing bags from the back behind the counter there. Reinforcing I guess,” Jay shrugged, then licked his dry lips. “We really gonna to be stuck here awhile?”

Cor sighed. “I don’t know who’s out there. I saw a couple muzzle flashes when we moved but no gang tags… and I didn’t see any shooters to catch colors. Could be a local crew, but they’re poppin off with decent hardware.” She knocked on the armored jacket she was wearing. “I don’t wear cheap plates.”

Jay nodded, his anxiety evident.

Cor considered playing it down but knew better. In a tough situation, she’d found honesty was the best policy. Fear was valuable as long as she tempered it with resolve.

“We need to get an idea what we’re up against. Think you can get eyes on the opposition?”

Jay’s eyes darted towards the street, then back to Cor, then to the floor. His pupils were dilated, whatever was in the patch was taking effect. He took a steadying breath and nodded. “Of course. Team player here.”

He rose, trying to turn at the same time. His balance faltered, but he caught himself on the hop and scurried to the front part of the store. Cor lost sight of him just as he dashed behind the front counter.

“You use everyone you work with?” 925’s voice came from the darkness behind them.

Cor made a show of looking at the watch on her wrist, “It’s seventeen ten, you even on the clock anymore?”

“Mmm. Perfect time to slide into the shadows,” he said as he shuffled into her view.

“Can you get us targets?” Cor asked flatly.

“Seeing as I got no desire to die in a donut shop that don’t got no donuts… gimme a few.”

He flipped down his glasses and waved a hand once through the air. He grimaced slightly—and only for the slightest moment—before his fingers curled and danced in front of him, a blur of motion. He didn’t complain and Cor respected that. Getting yanked gave kids migraines, sometimes for days. She made the call, Jay did the deed, but 925 knew where to lay the blame. Revenge was a powerful motivator.

Cor looked down at the medkit, the timer ticking in slow motion. At least she felt like it was. She spent several seconds willing it to go faster, before letting her head fall back with a heavy thud against the wall. She needed to relax for a few, let the kit do its work and get back in the fight without massive bleeding slowing her down.

She’d had worse injuries, but that was in the presence of professional soldiers, not a strange mix of shadow talent. Vandalious was close, he hadn’t said it out loud, but she could sense it in him, the emotional scars of someone who’d left the service with more than they’d taken into it. He seemed solid enough and anyway, she had her own baggage. At least she knew the weight of it.

With the Colt tucked in close on her shoulder, she kept an eye on the rear door. Vandalious had shoved several shelves up against it, but she needed to focus on something—feel like she was doing something. It helped to pass the time while she waited for the rest of the team to check in.

“I got six with commlinks,” 925 announced, his fingers not stopping. “But I can hear more over their comms, my software counts sixteen distinct voices. The commlinks have closed connections but I could brick ‘em all in a blink. Right now, I’ve tagged them, so I can hear what they’re saying.”

“Any idea who they are?” Cor asked. Some gangs were heavier than others, more prone to violence. The nastier the gang the more of them you needed to kneecap before they learned a lesson. The craziest sets never learned.

“I heard one say something about ‘protecting the four two’. It’s running searches right now, but I don’t know it offhand.” He almost sounded normal, a guy making conversation, not some know-it-all hacker.

“Got a GPS on our locale?”

“Yeah, we’re just off the corner of forty-third and Ashland.” His fingers stopped. “Oh. The ‘four two’ is their block.”

“Exactly. This is a crew protecting their turf, must have thought we were rivals. Would have been simpler for them if we were.” Cor tensed as pain lanced up her side in small bursts. “Any chance of reaching out to talk some sense into them?”

925’s face fell at the suggestion. “Uh… remember how I said I could brick their links in a blink?”

Cor sighed. “You already blinked?”

His brow furrowed. “Hey, I just wanted to break their communications.”

Cor was upset but the drugs were keeping her even. She wasn’t one to fly off the handle, but right now she felt particularly unconcerned.

“Oh! They’re moving up,” Jay called from the front of the shop.

“Fraggers,” Cor heard Vandalious call out just the merc’s assault rifle started to bark. “GET SOME!”

The short, disciplined bursts from Vandalious were answered with sustained automatic fire from the outside. Cor leaned as low as she could, her arms wrapped around the little box that was pumping a swirl of nanites and chemicals into her system. She ignored the rain of dust and debris created by the rounds that tore through the dilapidated structure. With more than a decade of combat experience, she had few worries. There was enough between her and the source to keep protected. Any bullet that got through was meant for her anyway.

When the incoming fire stopped, she heard Vandalious screaming, “…to rip your heads off and shit down your throat! You apocalyptic fragtards are going to die gurgling!”

The angry epithets continued, but Cor focused on sitting back up, checking the rear door, and brushing the collection of dust off her clothes. She looked over to 925, who was leaning against the door of the freezer, and saw the small pool of blood forming near his hand, the spatter on the door.

A medical check would reveal a ricochet had clipped his carotid. Instead, she had to speculate. She wondered if he’d even felt it.

“Guess that one had your name on it. Sorry, friend.”

On a practical level, it meant they were down one. Maybe 925 was shit in a gunfight, but the man was a wizard in virtual space and with modern firearms living there as well, he could have wreaked his own brand of havoc.

Glancing down at the medkit, she swore as the progress bar ticked just past the halfway mark. She needed more time.

“Jay, what’s the scene out there?”

A moment of silence and she thought it might just be herself and Vadalious, but there was a shuffle of movement and finally his timid response. “Three moving around the back, four on the right, six on the left… that’s all I got, I didn’t see anyone else.”

“Did Vandal hit anything?”

“I didn’t—”

“It’s VANDALIOUS!!!” the merc roared, right on cue. She heard him slam another mag into his rifle. A moment passed, then two and the gunfire began again, this time with more focus. Tight, controlled bursts, target hitting bursts. Satisfaction as she heard more than a few cries of pain from beyond. The right motivation at the right time.

As Vandalious fired, Jay returned to the back room, crawling over to Cor. He paused when he saw 925, then looked away and finished his low crawl through the field of debris strewn across the linoleum. As he sat up next to her, she considered offering some encouraging words, then thought better of it. It could only come off hollow at this point.

What did help in these situations was having a job. She slid the medkit a few inches towards him and tapped the casing. “Any way to make this run faster?”

His eyes were wide and his pistol was held in a death grip, but his expression was stoic. She believed he was genuinely ready for what came next.

“It’s risky, but I can override the narco-delivery system. Flood your system. That and a stim will get you moving just fine. If we’re lucky, you won’t tear that open and bleed out in five minutes.

“But the most you’ll have is an hour anyway. You tell me you’ll be on the surgeon’s table in sixty minutes, I’ll flip the switch and follow you there.”

A moment’s thought was all she spared, “Flip it.”

Jay put the gun down and popped open the casing, exposing the interior of the medkit. He tapped the screen a few times, then reached into the guts to flip a few switches. Cor saw the red flash of various warning indicators, but Jay’s input forced the box to ignore them, overriding the emergency shut off protocol. Whatever he was doing, she could feel it. She went from painful recovery, to feeling good, then great… and finally superhuman.

That sense of invincibility was dangerous, she’d seen it get people killed more often than not, but now she embraced it.

She scrambled to her feet. Her words came rapidly. “Follow, hand on my back, shoot anything that pokes its head out. Got it?”

Jay nodded. She could see his concern at shooting the wrong person, a non-combatant. But in her experience, this far along into a running gun battle, anyone not involved would keep their head down. Anyone who popped up was a hostile… or an idiot. She wouldn’t waste any tears for either.

Without another word, Cor rose to a crouch, slinging the longer sniper rifle across her back. She spared a glance for the front of the store, noting the shattered glass, any obstacles, and that the exit was wide open. Ducking back down, she formulated her path, gave Jay a nod, and swung completely out of her cover, her Colt pressed into her shoulder.

She darted quickly, practically running while crouched, beelining for the door. She could feel Jay’s hand on her back. She hadn’t got halfway out of the shop before the first targets presented themselves. With cool precision, she pulled the trigger. The closest man took the bullet that spun him to the ground. Another squeeze and a dull thud as she dumpstered a second attacker. She was detached, back at training, moving through the quick reaction range. Knocking down pop-ups faster than they appeared.

If they survived, she knew this would cost her. Today, the jungle was concrete and steel, but the horrors of war didn’t care about the setting. Another set of ghosts to haunt her, to infiltrate her dreams, and reveal themselves in the periphery of her waking hours. But not now, now she flowed with the violence and death. Just more to bottle up and deal with later.

As she expected, Vandalious followed her lead without instruction, falling into that familiar, and comfortable, pattern. He’d nearly cleared the center, already, and Cor pushed through it, Jay in tow. The squirrely fellow was doing his best to track any targets, firing more than once, contributing to the team’s survival. He even found a few targets. Cor allowed herself a feeling of pride.

Vandalious fell into the rear. His wasn’t as precise as Cor, but no less effective. His fully automatic weapon traced lines of destruction through cover, before catching their targets with multiple heavy rounds.

Cor tried to keep a body count, a ticker to the finish line. Previous counts put them at no more than twenty assailants. At ten, with no end in sight, she suspected that assessment was off. When she dropped her fifteenth target, she realized they had been completely wrong. Passing twenty and she realized it didn’t matter, she’d kill a hundred of them if that’s what it took.

She pushed on and Jay followed close. Vandalious shredded anyone they missed. They weren’t even being paid for this. They hadn’t even made the meet.

Typical barrens bullshit.

But they kept on, the three of them—all that was left of their initial quintet—advancing in a haze of gunfire and blood.

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