Authors: Nyx Smith
Tags: #Science Fiction
Machiko is second-in-command of the Green Serpent Guard, an elite corps of Elven samurai who are sworn to defend the Chairman of Nagato Corporation. But she soon gets a promotion—after her superior is ruthlessly cut down in a slew of attacks aimed at the famous Guard itself.
Only the wealthiest can afford assassins with enough muscle to take on the Green Serpent Guard, and Machiko turns up evidence that points to Nagato's biggest rival, Fuchi Corp. It looks like Fuchi has designs on Nagato's sensitive research division, where the incredible future of the communications matrix is taking shape. When magical attacks and sabotage begin taking out more of Nagato's personnel, things between the two megacorporations really heat up. But behind the growing hostilities with Fuchi looms a more sinister threat, requiring far more of Machiko's talents than her flashing sword. And staying alive may require defeating a high-tech foe with virtually unlimited powers—and absolutely no mercy. . . .
Lying on the bed is Jank. Beside his head lies the squat gray plas of a sensedeck, a deck obviously modified or repaired, held together by macroplas tape.
The sensedeck is running, a chip is loaded.
Every few moments he twitches and murmurs, outputting the same data endlessly.
The twitching turns convulsive. The murmurs rise into shouts. "Stinking trogs! Weed-eaters!
Abruptly his eyes snap open and gaze straight up at the ceiling like a man gone blind. He is nearly sitting up with the violence of the convulsions wracking his entire body.
Machicko turns from where she stands beside the bed to see the headman of
coming through the room's door. He looks to her with an expression of startled amazement, amazement turning to revulsion, horror, and suddenly it all clicks.
She feels it in her belly.
!" she roars, turns and propels herself forward, away from the bed, into the headman of the
, toward the safety of the corridor.
Then the explosion erupts.
SHADOWRUN : 24
The sound brushes her ears like a feather, like the haunting whisper of a breeze on a forlorn winter's night. Slipping through the mists of her sleeping mind like a phantom ... a specter. . .
A single footfall, near-silent.
Coming from just beyond the rice-paper walls of her room. So subtle a sound it nearly eludes her notice. Yet, for one who has trained mind and body and spirit to remain alert, though she sleeps, this subtle sound is just clear enough, distinct enough. She realizes what it portends even as she awakens. She has heard sounds like this before. She has spent whole months of her life listening for such sounds, learning their subtle codes and the Way of the people who make them. For even the smallest, most trifling of sounds might reveal the tread of an enemy, an assassin.
And tonight the sound she perceives, this faint, faint touch of a soft-soled shoe to
flooring, is the sound of one who does not belong.
Coming for her. Coming now.
As she opens her eyes she sees the intruder's seething heat signature through the veil of the rice-paper wall beyond her feet. The radiance shed by his flesh paints him clearly against the shadowed canvas of the night. He seems almost to smolder in a flickering aura of flames, like a demon, a fiery monstrosity of muscle and steel, bulky and broad and heavily cybered, now pausing just a step beyond the ricepaper doors to her room.
She sees the impending assault in his posture. Her duty is clear, and she has only a moment to prepare.
She shifts her right hand across the lacquered
-wood that sheaths the katana lying on her stomach, the twining serpents of the sword's steel
, guard, and the fine-grained
, shark skin, wrapping the grip.
Then she breathes.
She settles her spirit.
And the killer comes.
He smashes the doors into fragments, bursting through paper panels, splintering wooden supports. The weapon encasing his right forearm erupts with a deafening roar. Bullets tear at bed sheets and bedding. Mere flesh would be ripped to tatters. But she is no longer there. She is a bed sheet flung into the air, twitching and twisting like a tortured ghost. She is a specter darting from shadow to shadow, tumbling, rolling away.
The killer snarls as if enraged by her deceit. He ducks as a lacquered
-wood sheath flies at his face like an arrow. He winces and jerks as the disk of a small hand mirror glances off his brow. The thunderous stammering roar of the gun skips a beat, then another, but the murderous barrage erupts anew.
The killer tracks her with computer-assisted precision. Bullets rip at the lacquered floor and pastel-paneled walls so near her feet and back she feels splinters of wood raining against her skin. She is barely an instant ahead of the assassin's onslaught when abruptly she turns, her long, lustrous black hair swirling around her like a cape, the gleaming blade of her katana rising before her face, ready to meet the enemy head-on.
It is no ordinary blade. This blade, this sword comes from four
steel bars, hammered, folded and welded into four million layers, then forged, shaped, ground, and polished to a diamond, dikote-tempered hardness by a master of the ancient Masamune technique. One blade may take months to fabricate, smith and mage working ever in concert. The result is as strong a steel as the hand of metahumanity can forge—strong and hard, yet pliant.
For rigidity is death, a dead hand. Brittle and weak. The living hand must be pliant, like a leaf in springtime.
Poised, prepared, she pauses, motionless, an easy target. The stammering autofire weapon zeroes in at once. A torrent of metal-jacketed shells stamped out by spiritless machines clashes against her steel. The bullets blaze like fire, tracking toward her belly, her breast, her throat. Always the sword is there, guarding, defending, swaying like a willow in a breeze, supple, unhurried, deflecting the ruthless stream like so many burning drops of rain.
, it is called. Arrow-cutting.
The killer roars as if possessed by outrage and disbelief, as if witnessing the impossible.
It is neither possible nor impossible. It goes beyond luck or instinct, beyond talent and skill and rigorous training. Beyond even magic. It is the Way and the Way is the Void. Without thought, without feeling, without intention or design. It is all and it is nothing and it comes to her now as naturally as she breathes. It is, the ancient masters would say, above all a matter of timing.
In everything, there is timing. Even in the Void. And the timing of the enemy is the essential element in all battle.
And now, abruptly, the gun goes silent.
The killer grunts. His movements lay bare his mind. He rushes to reload. No time. He snatches at a second weapon. Too late. For she is already moving, flowing forward like a wraith, breezing through clouds of harsh gun-aroma, rising tall and large of spirit before the killer's face.
The killer lifts one massive armored fist and out snaps a gleaming steel spike, but this is irrelevant. It is useless now. For she sees the Way with perfect crystalline clarity as never before in all her experience. And the Way is death. The resolute acceptance of death. The warrior's death. In this moment she may choose either life or death and so she instantly chooses death, merciless death, reckless and uncompromising.
Death. Inevitable death.
The killer thrusts with his spike, but her katana rises, glaring like the summer moon on a rain-swept night.
The sword is her spirit, the spirit her sword, striking strongly, thrusting inexorably upward, piercing armor, metal, and bone, slicing through sternum and larynx, till finally the tip of the blade slides inside the killer's cranial vault.
The hands of the killer reach toward her—snapping, grasping, clenching—but she is already drifting away, an autumn leaf buoyed on a silken zephyr of wind . . .
With a flick—
—she clears the blade of blood and gore. Honoring the blade. Restoring its sheen. A young blade, no older than she who wields it. Bearing a polished pattern like the icy rains of the fall, a shower of silvery teardrops. The swordmaker's silent lament.
And the assassin falls, like a boneless husk.
A gentle, swift end.
For a moment more, the night is still and silent. Machiko holds herself motionless, katana poised. She listens for the least sign that the assassin has not come here alone. She watches the body of the corpse. She sees the blood streaming into pools that shimmer with a slowly fading light. She feels the bits of blood and tissue dotting her chest, her hips and legs. She marvels at the crude brutality of the killer's assault, and she wonders why he came, who sent him, for what purpose. Then something detonates.
A dull thump rocks the room. It is enough to startle her, to shake her slightly off-balance, to put her once more fully on her guard. Till she sees the broad sea of blood spreading away from the sunken head of the corpse and the churning cloud of heat rising, swelling, gradually fading from view.
A cortex bomb? No. More likely a dead man's button. A kill rig. Triggered by disabling wounds. With the obvious purpose of precluding even the most casual form of interrogation. Machiko wonders if the killer knew he carried such a device. If he did, that is significant, for it would testify to a degree of fanaticism whole worlds have above the mind of the average street samurai.
She ponders this a moment. She breathes. Then, pandemonium erupts.
From another part of the house, her father shouts, "
!" Her mother's sudden cry of fear seems very shrill. The household alarm blares loudly, then whoops. Every light comes on. The room around her glares with a stark brilliant white. The discomfort to her eyes is intense, but passes swiftly.
Outside the house, she knows, emergency strobes will be flashing, providing a beacon for the local security force.
She looks from the corpse to the ruined panels of the sliding doors, to the wreckage scattered about the room, and back again to the corpse. The brilliant light makes the corpse of a killer seem less a demon than merely a machine, more a machine than human norm. His body is sheathed in black and guarded by heavy armor. His shoulders and arms bulge with augmentations: dermal plating, weapons, a gyromount, tactical computer, and more. A machine designed for killing. Now devastated. Ruined.
To what end?
A pang of sorrow rises out of her stomach, flowing all through her like a tide. It is always this way with her. It is her flaw, her vein of compassion. With the sword in her hand and an enemy before her, she feels born of the selfsame metal of which her blade was forged. Afterward, she mourns. The fiery blossom of the dawn, spotted with dew, mourning the death of night, her
once said. But now the quality stirs her to frustrated fury. Should she not feel gladdened? At least satisfied. This is 2058. The Sixth World is full of violence. She rose from sleep to defend herself from this dog of a killer, an attempt at vile murder, and she has prevailed. She has fulfilled duty and honor and avoided the specter of shame that would come with failure. Why is it that she sees nothing in this victory to celebrate? No cause to rejoice. Why does it seem that the taking of this dog's life is nothing but a cruel waste?