Chapter 8: Arcol
Dorian the Technoneuralizer
Larani give the order to transform and the rest of the squad picks us up and carries us to Arcol. We made small talk over the long hours of flight. Marci was tossed into one of the cargo jets set out with the Grey Squadron along with Laian. I learned that Kerion was husband to Queen Ymri. She's a very attractive woman from what I've heard and she's also very pregnant. I couldn't get a date, but the baby's due within the next few months. The pregnancy was talked about my most of the Grey Squadron. I passed the time by playing the chip game Homicidal Ninjas with Chainsaws 3, an old favorite. Every now and then my concentration was broken by casual inquires about my health brought on by my lack of conversation. Once it almost cost me a game life. This time the game seemed easier than before. Maybe this new world helped my overall combat skills. Maybe I was just getting good. I had gotten to level 17 when Arcol came into sight.

It looked like any other city with skyscrapers and other tall buildings. The city was on a string of cliffs overlooking a bay. The only thing that set it apart was that it was split into two parts. Eliza said that to our right was Arcol, the main city. To the left was the military base Loriel. A gleaming place of light sat out into the bay on a tall platform of rock. The castle looked pretty high tech and probably had a host of fighters and defensive weaponry. It was connected to the mainland by a bridge leading to Loriel.

Our carriers veered off to the right and soon we landed at the Elaran military base. I got a good look the palace as we passed by. It was at least twenty stories tall and covered with reflective stone like marble. The walls shown in the mid-afternoon sun. It was one of the greatest sights I have ever seen. We got out, welcoming the chance to stretch our legs. Without a word we were shown to the showers. I caught a glimpse of Marci being dragged into another building. She was now conscious and fighting her guards every inch of they way. I wondered if I would have the chance to participate in her interrogation. Some Night City tactics would do wonders here.

After the shower (I had forgotten how therapeutic a long hot shower can be) we were given civilian clothing. We were shown to our guest rooms and Eliza mentions that all of us will be joining Dr.Tal for dinner. She also asked that we not mention the events of the last 48 hours to anyone. The dinner was set at 8:00 pm and it was now about four so I took the chance to explore the city. Before I left, Larani gave me this credit card. "Use the card to buy things. It has 10,000 credits on it. Haversom said it was a small advance on your salary plus bonuses for exposing Marci and giving the military all those Earth items. Now 10,000 is quite a bit of money. Use it wisely. When you make a purchase, you must press your thumb on the black box. That way only you can use it." she said.

I thanked her and leaded off toward the exit. Laian, Eiran, and Tammis were going to be taken on a tour of the city by Cedric and they asked if I wanted to join them. Thinking that this would be the best was to see the local sights, I accepted and the five of us headed off toward Arcol. The base was only about a mile outside the city. We left the car in a parting lot and began our tour on foot. Historical sights were so common I could hardly go a block without almost bumping into someone who was reading a plague or admiring a statue. Carvings of the royal family, past and present, decorated museums and large businesses. I caught a glance of a cloaked man duck into an alley between two tall buildings. Asking the others to hold on, I followed the mysterious man. I just entered the area when he turned a corner. Hurrying around the corner I found him standing in the middle of the alley. It was about fifteen feet wide and was littered with garbage. The alley continued for another block before ending in the wall of another building. The smell of decay reminded me of home, but there was another scent here. The unmistakable stench of a trap. "So there!", the mystery man said, "It would seem that you don't know when you shouldn't stick your nose into someone else's business. You Rimfire cadets are so predictable. Yes I know about you being part of Rimfire. Our spy, Marci, told us about all of you. Except for you that is. I don't believe that I ever saw your dossier Mr....."

"Fox. Remember that for the rest of your life, all ten seconds of it. Unless, of course, you tell me who you are Mr.... Right now I'd say your name was Mud."

The only thing I hate more than betrayal was an ambush. He was obviously an Axis thug sent here to lure Fireflight away, one by one and kill us. Well I was going to put a stop to it here and now. I made a move for my communicator but then his eyes glowed. In an instant all vision in my right eye stopped and my cyber arm fell uselessly to my side. Before I could think, I felt all my cybersystems shut down. The man smiled triumphantly as he said, "Actually my name is Dorian. Don't try to radio for help because your little toy won't work. You see my dear prisoner I have placed a technology damping field around you with my mental abilities. However my friends here aren't within its range and you will find that their weapons still function perfectly."

On cue four Axis agents jumped out from behind the derby and pointed their SMGs at me. That did it. Not only did he deactivate my cyberware, but he's using only four agents to bring me in. That was adding insult to injury. Dorian was dead, he just didn't know it yet. There was no way I'd let them bring me in alive. The information I hold could cripple the whole Overwatch program and my metal could give Axis the edge to enslave all of Algol.

Without any real options I leaped into the air at Dorian. He was clearly surprised by my tactic and was unprepared to deal with a roundhouse kick to the chest. It was a well practiced maneuver, but one I rarely used. Dorian fell back with a grunt. I somersaulted over him doing a half twist landing right behind him. I caught him in mid-fall and wrapped my left arm around his neck and use his body to shield mine.

The Axis mooks were caught by surprise never lifting their weapons. At once my vision was restored and my metal came back on line. I bet that Dorian could only deactivate what he can see. With a flex of the arm my PUG emerged from its casing and I pointed it straight at the lead agent. Without a free arm to signal the others I had to bluff my way out. "OK you slime, I got your leader. Now unless one of you wants some free air conditioning or to watch your boss's neck get snapped like a twig, I'd suggest you drop your weapons and walk out into the main street."

Defeated the four men let go of their SMGs and turned around. Just then Dorian siemotainiously slammed his elbow into my groin and stomped on my foot. The combined attacks loosened my grip on him. He took advantage of my condition and broke free. He yelled to his agents to kill me as he ran off spouting curses at me. They made a move for their weapons, but I was faster. My PUG spat out steal death with loud sounds. The lead agent was killed instantly by my barrage and two others were wounded. The last and Dorian escaped around the building in the opposite direction of the street. One of the fallen agents tried to reach for his gun, but I stepped on it and pointed my own at his head. "I don't miss at this range, Punk." I told him, my voice revealing how much pain I was in.

Several security guards arrived to the scene. They quickly surmised what had happened and congratulated me on the capture of the surviving agents. My inquires about Dorian were left unanswered as things were restored to normal. Cedric and the others were concerned about my safety and made sure to contact Larani about the ambush so she could warn the others to be on their guard. No one seemed to know much about Dorian, not even Karin who knew the most about our foes. This was not good. The fact he could cancel my cybernetics made him a more dangerous enemy than average. I hadn't heard the last of this. Cedric finished the tour and we all tried to forget about what happened, but Eiran was a little more jumpy than usual for the rest of the day.

My injuries were not serious and I made an effort to enjoy myself. Assassination attempts by the same person were days apart as a general rule. He needed time to regroup and rethink his plan. Just as I had to. The same trick won't work twice. Maybe this Dr.Tal would have an idea. With every advantage there was a weakness. All I had to do was find it. Regardless I made a mental note to wear my armor more often. It may look out of place, but it was good solid protection. I was on the look out for another trap. I know what I said earlier about foiled assassinations, but it paid to be careful.

Something I noticed was an attractive lavender haired woman looking at Cedric. But when I tried to alert him to this, she turned away. I chalked it up to being paranoid and went about getting some Acrol culture. We got back to the base at 7:30. There were no other incidents with the other members. Celine joked about how I scared them off. This made me worry. An organization like Axis didn't leave loose ends lying around. I knew they would try again, either as a group or Dorian on a personal vendetta and I was the most likely prime target. I can't seem to go anywhere without making someone mad enough as to try and kill me. Just like back home.

The time before dinner was spent changing into something appropriate. Eliza insisted that I wear a tux. Not only did it not provide any protection, but it made me feel as still as a board and it was difficult to walk. She fussed over my suit to make it look nice all the while insisting the attack was a fluke and that there was no need for weapons tonight. To me, fancy clothes meant a business suit over a kelvar vest. After what seemed like hours we were led into the dining room at eight sharp. The only other person in the room was Eliza. We sat down and began discussing various things like family, the whether, Acrol. Eliza's flirting was almost as bad as Celine's. She did pay extra attention to me though. I didn't mind even though she was acting like a vacuous 16 year-old.

Just as the main course of roast beef arrived she suddenly gets all serious. "As you know my name is Eliza. Kerion, Ymri's husband, is my older brother. And he has asked me to pass on a few words to you. He hopes to be able to meet with you all soon. Don't tell me, or anyone, about your business here. I don't want to know and the others don't need to know. Tomorrow, you will attend a function here at Acrol. The Lord and Lady Arkman will be throwing a party, and you are invited. That's why you're planetside. Your shuttle went off-course and ditched in the ocean. You were meant to land here, for the party. A young student of Tal's, Ariel, will be at this party as well. She will escort you from the party to the palace. At the palace you will talk to Tal and the others. Do you understand?" All of us nodded our heads. "Good." she says and we return to the meal.

Eliza also returned to her brainless teenager personality. But during her speech her real intelligence shown through. This woman was a schemer and probably had several plots going right now. Hopefully none of these plots were against us or Overwatch. Kerion's sister would feel right at home in Night City. I made it a point to get to know her better. We could probably learn a few things from each other. The look in here eyes told me she had the same idea. Dinner conversation continued as normal. I learned that Marci had indeed been taken to the holding cell and her interrogation would begin in the morning. My offer to help was turned down immediately by both Larani and Eliza even though I promised not to hurt her...much. I figure a few horror stories about how Earth corps gets people to talk would make sing like a rock star. Too bad I wouldn't have the chance to find out. "I wonder why she did it?" Eiran asked.

None of the others seemed to know. "Everyone has a price. Axis clearly matched her's." I said.

"There are some people who can't be bought." Larani said in a tone that dared me to disagree.

"The only ones who don't have a price are fanatics and it would be in everyone's best interest if all fanatics were flatlined."

"Why did you say that? What about those who are on our side."

"No difference which side they're on. A real fanatic will kill hundreds of innocents to reach his or her goal. They don't care what they do as long as it helps their cause. Besides, who said a price has to be in money? Maybe a price is the continued safety of one's family? Or maybe a higher rank? Or to keep some dirty little secret kept out of the public's eye? I do know this. When I saw Marci being taken from the plane, she didn't have the defeated look bought people get when their price is something other than money or power. Embarrassing secrets are usually revealed soon after they're caught and with family, they tend to look sad and try to tell anyone around them to try to protect their loved ones. Axis appealed to Marci's greed plain and simple." I finished.

Celine insisted that their must be another reason, but I wasn't convinced. The mood had gotten much darker now. I bounced back from this distressing line of conversation with a traveling salesman joke that made Laian and Eiran blush but got everyone in a better mood. I engaged Eliza in small talk. Celine asked, "You have often talked about Rapid Fire. Can you tell us about some of your employees?"

"Well there's Caliburst. He and his wife, Asyesha, run High Caliber Guns, the store which is the front for Rapid Fire. They've been good friends with my family for years and were more than happy to help me run my business. Asyesha's brother's friend, Strafe, is my partner and second in command. He's about as good as I am. There's also Ratchet, my technitition. That guy knows more about weapons design that anyone. In fact it was he who invented the Colt-mauser cannon and made the improvements on mine. Too bad the original plans were bought from him, but then, at the time, it was necessary. Camshaft does most of the transport. Yakko takes care of most of the usual dealings. Colonel Leather is a former marine that has the job of body guarding us during deals. Mistress also works for me on occasion when it suits her. She like to hang around our base when she's not busy. Brothers Pounce and Arm'o All have been with me for a few years. Their father worked for Biotechnia, a company which specializes in cybernetics, and made a few enemies. He had his sons cybered-up after an accident almost killed them. After the operation, their father was murdered. The attacker was caught, with a bit of help from yours truly and they gave me their complete loyalty. Briareus got the worst from the accident and had to get a full borg conversion. He was awake long enough to select which options for his new body he received. The kid always did have a flare for unusual as he selected an extra shoulder mount that gave him a second set of arms. That and a few other options like an enlarged torso made him a very effective fighter. Pounce is a tiger exotic and is my primary liaison to...."

"Huh? Tiger exotic? Full borg conversion?" Celine asked confused.

"Remember about how I said you can buy your looks? Well some people go a bit further giving themselves animal characteristics. They're called exotics and, to some extent, have their own little subculture. Don't do much weapons dealing with them, but the volume of other business more than makes up for it."

"...And what's a tiger?"

"It's a large cat known for it's grace and ferocity. Other exotics relate to him well."

"The full borg conversion? Sounds like they replace every part of your body with cybernetics."

"That's not quite accurate. It's more like a brain transplant. They take your brain out of your meat body and insert it into a robot."

"Ewwwwww!" Celine remarked.

"To continue, though she's a cop, Longarm is still my sister-in-law and helps arrange deals with the police. We get along rather well. Barb is a fence who sells all the miscellaneous stuff we encounter. Highbrow works in the upper class area. Does most of his work by modem and telephone. He gave Ratchet plenty of headaches by clients' requests for customized pistols. Some woman even wanted the barrel to look like a...nevermind. There's also about twenty other people who work for me. They have minor positions ranging from acquiring mechandice to selling it to making deals between people. Every one of them I treat well so they won't backstab me."

"What do you think they're doing now?"

"Well before I left I made preparations in case I died. Strafe was put in charge. He's unused to being leader, but most of the team respects him. I suspect Rapid Fire might lose a few regular clients, but it shouldn't go out of business. Longarm's been talking about quitting the force and joining us. I think she'll either do that, or cut all ties with Rapid Fire now that I'm gone. My main worry is that most of the high ranking people, like those I mentioned, were loyal only to me and might not stay with Strafe through the transition."

The meal passed by quickly and I savored every moment of it. A meal like this back home would a week's wages and here it was for free. The meat was a tad under cooked, but who was I to complain. During the conversation with Eliza I found that her empty-headedness was just an act, that she was really intelligent and more mature than her 20 years would indicate. She did enjoy playing the part because it made others underestimate her. Eliza told me about Lord Delaney and how much he liked me. It would seem that my personal knowledge of the effects of controlled meteor strikes put me on his 'possible allies' list. It would also seem that he has his own personal agenda with a goal that would affect all of Algol. "Those with power have a habit of gaining enemies who want that power. This is also something I have personal experience with." I told her.

She asked about it. I explained, "As head of Rapid Fire, there are those who would seek to usurp my position. Mostly they are outside the company. I make sure that I have my employees' loyalty. When, and if, I ever return home, I'm sure that if Rapid Fire still exists, I will be restored to my proper position soon. But Ymri has a different problem. While she does benefit from her popularity, it has a price. I suspect that Delaney has become jealous of her power and may try to seize the throne for himself."

"It you're right, how do we stop him? He has many supporters including members of the High Council."

"That's your job. Rapid Fire was not always completely legal, if you know what I mean. Any trouble makers could be quickly be taken care of by a bullet to the brain and a quick trip to the organ donor bank. It was no big deal. But Delaney is a public figure, his death could do more harm than good. All I can suggest is that you find incriminating evidence then make it public."

Cedric and Tammis, who were sitting between us, were looking a bit annoyed by us talking over them. I suggest that we take this outside. She agreed and we left the dinner with Tharis shooting me an envious look. She escorted me to the arboretum, a large indoor park populated lightly with trees, bushes, and flowers with small pools of water scattered about. It was like something I saw once in a 2D vid of the Rockies before acid rain scared them beyond recognition. A quick IR scan told me that we were the only two people here. We strolled along one of the many paths there hand in hand.

She began telling me about her past and about the many times she played jokes on her older brother. I commented that it was almost like a sport to her. She paused for a second and agreed commenting that she never thought of it that way before. As we were walking, I asked why she insisted that I be the only one wearing a tux. "I had the chance to read your profile before you arrived. You didn't seem like the kind of person who wears suits often and I wanted you to get comfortable with them before the party tomorrow."

"It's just that this is so restrictive. There's no room for any of my weapons and the sleeves are too thick for me to activate my PUG. What if something happens?"

"Actually Ymri insisted. As much as she likes Overwatch, she's a bit apprehensive about some stranger attending an event with many important people attending. Especially if they are armed with a weapon that can't be taken away from him. If I were you, I wouldn't worry about security. There are guards for that. Just enjoy yourself. Why are you so worried about your safety? Is it because of Dorian?"

"Him, and the fact I learned to watch over myself and not to rely too much on others for my safety. Who else but yourself has the ability to protect yourself best? Self-reliance is the key to survival."

"How did you get to pessimistic?" she joked.

"At the school of Hard Knocks. My family was massacred by a rival of our employers because we were the best operatives in the state. I was the only survivor. I knew that they will try for me since I was out for vengeance, and they did several times. They didn't live to regret their mistakes. Every attempt on my life weakened them. I was a persistent torn in their sides that led to their destruction. In Night City, you either learn to watch your back or you get killed, it's that simple."

"This is not Night City you know. Things are better here."

"In some ways Night City is the lowest common denominator for urban survival. What I learned there helped me a great deal here and wherever I will go in the future."

She thought hard to try to change the subject. I couldn't blame her. All this talk was only getting us down. For all its bad memories, I still longed for home. But things weren't so bad here. Sure there was Axis, Delaney, and the threat of another ice age but they didn't offer the day-to-day struggles of living gangs and corps had. Compared to some of the things I went up against, these guys were small potatoes worth only enough time to insure that they don't mess everything up. I inquired about her opinion of the whether in Acrol. Eliza said that this was the usual weather for this time of year but expressed concern about how long it will stay this way. Time to change the subject again.

So I asked about the party and who would be attending. "There will be dignitaries and representatives from the other nations but mostly from the various states of Elaran. Members of the nobility and a few corporate leaders will also be there, plus high ranking military officials."

"Sounds like a good place to make some friends."

"Perhaps. I just remembered that since there was peace, most businesses haven't had much of a chance to learn about each others. I suspect that there might me some wheeling-and-dealing tomorrow night."

Just what I wanted to hear. This party will be a fixer's paradise. Matching together companies from formerly warring nations will result in many grateful people, and several large finder's fees. Heck if I'm lucky I might get enough to start a company and do this regularly. But that will have to wait until after Axis is defeated. Any enemy left alive is one too many. Then I noticed how beautiful she looked in the dim lights of the arboretum. I turned on the charm and complemented her on how she looked. She thanked me and returned the complement moving closer. I ran my hand, my real hand, down her face and lifted her chin so we were looking into each other's eyes. We leaned towards each other and kissed. Lightly at first, but it soon became more passionate. She broke away, flustered by what happened. This was moving faster than either of us expected. We could tell that there was something between us. "I'm sorry,but I'm not normally like this. At least not in public." she gave me a wink, "You realize that we won't have much time together. I can't leave my position here and you have to stay with Rimfire to help keep Delaney off your collective backs."

"That just means that we should make the most of the time we have."

She moved closer to me and softly said, "You're right. Shall we go someplace more ... private?"

"Let's shall."

A quick check on the dining room revealed that the others had returned to the barracks. Larani had left me a note stating that there was an assignment she wanted me to work on and that I was to start on it tomorrow. The task would be left on my answering system. Eliza said that her place would offer more privacy so we headed there. We had a little wine as we exchanged stories about past adventures. She was good, someone I'd definitely say would go far in any profession. I told my story about the Dragons. Perhaps it was a bit more dramatic than what I told the others on the shuttle, but then she enjoyed it more. When I finished she set down her glass, turned out the lights then led me into her bedroom.

While I didn't get much sleep that night, and I was without the inducer. When using the inducer, you get no REM sleep. Once a week you had to go without it or you suffer hallunications from sleep depravation while you're relaxing. I always dreaded it because all the dreams you're suppose to have come rushing back in droves. There wasn't much which I remember, but it was bad. In the dream I was back in Night City and that many buildings were demolished. I was fighting someone, but couldn't remember whom.

Eliza stirred next to me. She wrapped her arms around me and said, "Come on, Fox. Let's make it an even dozen. It's only four more times."

The Mr.Stud implant, all night every night and she'll never know. Normally I would be more than happy to comply. The Maximum Lover chip still had lots more things we could try, but the dream left me disturbed. I kissed her and said I just needed a drink of water. It was 1:30am. Larani must have gotten the assignment to my machine by now. It was a simple matter to obtain it from Eliza's phone and get it down on my built-in recorder.

She was worried about the attack and wanted some training in urban combat. I was to try to recreate Night City on the VR system and create some opponents for us to fight. Cute idea. If I could program the VR computer through my interface plugs, Fearless Leader could get more than she bargained for. This restored my good mood and I returned to bed with renewed energy. The next time I fell asleep the dreams had returned, but they weren't so bad this time. They were more 'normal' now, a blend of the two fights I've been in and the love making with Eliza. I woke up with Eliza across my chest. I held her there remembering all that we did and wondering when we'll have the chance to do it again. A few minutes later she woke up and smiled at me weakly. Breakfast was simply juice and toast.

The night's activities took a bit out of us. I offered to let her use the sleep inducer. "Is that your secret? A full night's rest in only a few hours. So that's where you get your energy. Did you ever get Larani's request?"

"Yep, you'll have to take me to the VR room though. I don't know how to get there myself. I have to help train the others in out-of-mekton combat in a VR Night City."

"Sound's like fun. I might try it myself."

"For what I planned, you'll have to be fighting against me. You might not like it." I warned.

"I think I can handle anything you can throw at me. Besides VR training is only one step up from a video game. No hard feelings if I kill you there?"

"Only if you don't get sore if I do the same to you?"

"Deal. Now lets get dressed and get to work."