“Fuck Kozo. How did I let you ass-hats talk me into coming to this shithole?”
Suko Guro took a drag from his Golden Bat cigarette while scanning the interior of The Osaka Corral. The nightclub, done up in an American old west theme, is crowded and smoky. Holographic images of ancient Hollywood actors like Clint Eastwood and John Wayne mingle with patrons dressed as cowpokes and dancehall girls. Over on the karaoke stage, a man wearing a bowler is mangling an old Marty Robbins song.
Toshiro ambles over to the table. He’s in full cowboy mode: spurs, chaps, vest, even a ten-gallon hat perched on his head and a plug of chewing tobacco in his mouth. He spits out a stream of brown juice, striking the side of the spittoon a meter away.
“I’m up next.” He says wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“How’d ya manage that?” Kozo asks.
“Told that fucker running the soundboard I was going to shove a grenade up his ass if he didn’t let me jump the queue.”
“One little kiss, then Felina good-bye…” Echoes weakly through the speakers. Desultory applause breaks out.
“Gotta go pardners.” Toshiro grins. He swaggers over to the stage, grabs the microphone from the grinning singer, then gives him a firm shove.
“Now y’all gonna hear a song I wrote myself.” He says in a terrible western accent.
I’m down to my very last square
Oh, my poor derriere
I think I’m gonna cry
’cause it’s only single ply
And there ain’t no more TP anywhere
Now I’m just an ordinary man
Spending some time on the can
Here is the scoop
Just had a juicy poop
And I don’t want to get it on my hand
Oh why did I eat at Taco Bell?
Guess it’s ’cause the food they serve is swell
I polished off my order
Got the runs at the border
Now it feels like my colon is in hell
Well I’m almost done on the pot
And truly, I gave it all I got
I’m headin’ for the shower
Scrub my behind for an hour
I hope this won’t happen a lot
Now I’m down to my very last square
And I know that you really don’t care
But if you have a poo
Hope it don’t happen to you
Or at least you have a change of underwear
Suki Greenberg rapped on the bathroom door again. A low, moaning sound came from within. “Come on out Kozo.” She coaxed. “We’re not here to kill you. I swear it.”
“Want me to kick it in sweet cheek?” Suko Goro asked as he approached from down the hall.
“No. He’ll come out eventually. What did you find out?”
“Toshiro looks like shit.” Goro begins. “I mean way shittier than usual. Sure looks like he swam out of an aircar that crash landed in the fucking ocean. Nobody else is here. They’re probably all at the bottom of Tokyo Bay like he said.”
“Shit. What else?” Suki says pulling a pack of cigarettes out of her coat pocket.
“They completely fucked up. Got ambushed. Had their asses handed to them. Toshiro figured he’d be doing everyone a favor by cutting that data cable instead of just hauling ass out of there. Snipers raked the hover car as he flew by. Knocked the fucker right out of the sky. I’m amazed that son of a bitch managed to swim out of the wreck after he ditched it in the bay.”
“Damn it.” Suki replies while distractedly patting down her pockets.
“Let me get that for ya babe.” Goro says holding up his lighter. Suki accepts the light, taking a long drag from her cigarette. Goro watches her for a minute, pushes back his coat and rests his hand on the saya of one of his retractable katanas. “Want me to terminate Toshiro’s employment?”
Suki thinks about it for a full minute. “No.” She says. “At least not now. Get your ass down to Tokyo Bay and see if you can find anything else out.”
Goro casts look towards Toshiro’s door, shrugs and then heads towards the elevator.
Suki makes her way over to the common area. Bobby’s reassembled SRAM leans against the arm of the overstuffed couch. Kitsune’s ‘goodie bag’ lies on one of the cushions. Looking down at the coffee table she spies a piece of paper weighted down by an overflowing ashtray…
HARUNA BIOLABS QUARTERLY EMPLOYEE REVIEW FORM
Employee Name: Nosumi Matsuma
Direct Supervisor: Suki Greenberg
How would you describe your job performance in the past quarter?
I am exceeding expectations for my position. I have participated in several initiatives in the past three months. My supervisor has repeatedly commended me for the deal I brokered with Ishii. I have served as de facto leader for many of our missions despite the fact that more tenured team members are on the team.
What have you accomplished for Haruna BioLabs in the past quarter?
- Participated in meeting with Neon Chrysanthemum members. Wounded during ambush by (as we later discovered) “Azure Shield” elements of Tokyo PD.
- Brokered deal with Neon Chrysanthemum to sell “Juice Boxes” and “KitKats”. Repeatedly praised by direct supervisor for the favorable terms of the arrangement.
- Participated in multiple attempts to conclude our deal with the Neon Chrysanthemum. Acquitted myself adequately during ensuing firefights.
- Uncovered Sakai had betrayed Ishii and was working with elements of the Tokyo PD know as the Azure Shield.
- Discovered the secret meeting place of the Azure Shield. Led the mission that resulted in crippling the organization. Recovered a significant amount of company property that had been stolen by the Azure Shield.
- Led team that investigated the Makita Zalprex Lab. Determined the building had been destroyed by rival interest. Discovered body of (presumably) off-world agent with unique retrogenics. Recovered sample of these retrogenics. Found and recovered evidence that Makita is experimenting with extra-terrestrial DNA. Recovered samples for analysis. Defused potential firefight when confronted by security agents from Makita. Estimate savings of 1500 yen in ammunition and medical supply expenditure.
- Led team to the Fuego Night Club. Picked up significant intel from Makita Exo-biology personnel. Engaged rival team assassination squad after they hit the scientists.
Note to self. Wrap this up with the next mission Suki briefed us on. Should be a cakewalk – how hard could it be to knock out a bunch of hackers in the old Hotel Imperial?
What can you do to serve the corporation better?
Toshiro is responsible for considerable property damage on nearly every mission. We can use this to our advantage. Envision a remodeling company that cleans up after the team’s missions. We could turn a profit in this space. Using day labor from the Kanghai Floating Shantytown and the construction adhesive our chemical division refined from the poutine samples secured from Parkfield Biolabs, we can undercut competition significantly. More importantly, such a business would be a great cover for any follow up missions. Underbid the competition, insert operatives into the drywall crew and we have relatively unrestricted access to the site. I can put together a SCOPE document for this.
“Ok, Goro time for the debrief.” Suki says tossing her empty bottle onto the growing pile of trash that hides the room’s only garbage can. “I just don’t get it. The first half of the mission goes without a hitch and then you totally fuck up what should have been the easy part.”
“I got a little caught up in the moment…” Goro replies.
“You’re supposed to be professionals. The explosion at the fight club is all over the news. There’s a tenement in that building. If emergency responders had been a few minutes slower that fire could have spread. If it got tied back to Haruna it would have been a PR nightmare.”
“You’re fucking hopeless… Get on with it.”
“That Aikiko bitch you’ve been blackmailing finally gave us something.” Goro begins. “This scientist fuckwad named Takagi shows up at Nobuda’s office and is trying to sell him some shit. Nobuda blows the fucker off, but as soon as he leaves, our buddy calls in his top operative Kido and tells him that he’s got to find out where this fuck is and steal all of his research.
“So, this Takagi used to work for Haruna, but has been rotting in prison for the past few years. Apparently he was trying to implant human brains into combat androids or some such shit. All highly illegal. Problem is he got caught. Guess we’re not the only fuck ups on the payroll, huh?”
“I’ve been meaning to talk to HR about the hiring process.” Suki says.
A tinny, electronic voice sounds from across the room. “Turn me around you fuckers!”
“If you ever reboot that project, I can get you a brain on the cheap.” Goro smirks.
“Anyhow,” he continues, “you ask us to run this fucker down before Nobuda can get his hands on him. All we’ve got is a shit picture of Kido, so Kozo runs him through the face-recognition software and we get a hit down near the Kantai Floating Shanty. We head on down and pay a visit to old Mamma Chang. She wasn’t happy to see us, that’s for sure. Guessing she got some trouble after we whacked Jimmy and Xiang a while back… Kitsune put his new face to good use and charmed the old bag. She’d seen Takagi and told us he was holed up in a warehouse just down the street.
“We head on over and case the place. It’s huge and full of squatters. Nobody wants to fuck with us, so we head on up looking for clues. We find a steel plate welded to block the staircase to the third level. Kitsune find some blood trails and then discovers a hidden switch that opens this plate up. We head on up and find ourselves a ripper-doc’s lair. Looks like a battle raged in this place. Two gorilla-sized goons laid out on the floor with the tops of their heads sawn off. Amateur job. Fucker scooped out their brains looking for something. Couple of dead street samurai we figured were Makita operatives. No sign of Takagi or Kido. We tried to follow the blood trails, but lost them once they left the building.
“Decided to head back upstairs and take some pictures of the brainless guys to see if our lab-rats could figure anything out. While we’re dicking around with that, Toshiro hears noise over by the stairs. Bunch of fuckers start screaming at us about killing one of their cousins or some shit. Guess Jimmy and Xiang had a fan club… Toshiro replies with a couple of grenades which kind of ended the conversation.
“Meanwhile, that Aikiko starts earning her keep. She must have hacked into the security cameras at her office and gotten a updated image of Takagi. Kozo runs it through his software and sees this fucker waiting on a bullet-train platform. Son of a bitch is headed for the space elevator. We just have time to fly over there and hop on the train. Make our way to his car and Kitsune starts having a pleasant conversation with him. He’s got two apes with him, so we’re hoping the ‘come back to work for your old employer’ pitch will work. No dice. Kitsune hits him with a hypo of happy juice, while his two bodyguards start working themselves up into a frenzy. Kitsune injects one of them and I kick the other fucker in the head. Lights out. We hop off the train when it reaches the space elevator, jump the platform before security arrives, then call Dopinder to pick us up. Deliver the mad doctor back to you nice and neat.”
“Yup.” Suki says. “That was good work. Now let me hear how you screwed the rest of it up.”
“You got Kozo trying to run down this Kido fucker while we were dealing with Takagi. Guy’s showing up all over the place, but never stays still for too long. You want this guy, dead or alive, so he doesn’t bring back any info to Makita. We’re all fucking puzzled why he hasn’t gone back to Nobuda already though… Finally, Kozo gets a good hit on this fucker. He’s gone into a fight club called Haha Ha Ha.”
“I thought it was called Hahaha Haha.” Suki interjects.
“Fuck Suki, I don’t want to get into this with you. Kitsune and Toshiro argued about the name the whole fucking drive over there.”
“Apparently Kitsune is a regular at the place. Knows the bouncers by name and gets us in without a cover or a weapon scan.”
“Here’s this Kido fucker. He’s probably weighing in at 65 kilos soaking wet. Son of a bitch is all hopped up on combat drugs and challenging the big boys to death matches. Fucker is winning too. He throws down the gauntlet to all comers; like anybody is going to be stupid enough to take that bet. Kitsune starts telling him he’s a fucking pussy and he tears into us. The three of us put him down pretty quick, but the ring Oni get their panties in a bundle because it wasn’t an ‘honorable fight’ or some shit. The come at us with naginatas and knuckle-blades. It was a fuck of a fight. Kitsune got knocked on his ass, but he gave a pretty good show. Toshiro and I tore into these guys and finally killed them all. As we’re slapping Kitsune awake, the bouncers head over and tell us they’re going to make us pay. Fuckers. Kitsune couldn’t talk his old pals out of mixing it up with us, so we left them bleeding on the floor. Fuck, we were almost the ones left to die…”
“And the fire? Toshiro, I assume?”
“Nah, that was me. I grabbed one of his grenades and pitched it through the door when we left. Guess it landed near the liquor and started the whole place on fire.”
“Fuck Goro, what were you thinking?”
“Like I said, I got a little caught up in the moment…”
“You know, I don’t give a shit, but I’m gonna go take one.” Toshiro says storming out of the room.
Suki and a thin, well-dressed man turn to the rest of the group.
“Well, who is this douche-nozzle?” Bobby asks, slotting the freshly-cleaned ignition assembly back into the SRAM.
“Don’t you recognize Kitsune?” Suki replies.
“Oh, got him another face change, huh?” Kozo asks. “Looks like a pro job this time… Uh, I didn’t mean anything by that…” He trails off.
“While you dip-shits have been killing people and blowing stuff up, I’ve been bettering myself.” Kitsune says proudly. “Took an experimental ‘wetware’ retrogenic that lets me download skills and then polished off my MBA.”
“From?” Kozo prompts.
“Uh… Upper Asahikawa University…” Kitsune mumbles.
“The fuck!” Bobby interjects. “Even I know a degree from that place ain’t worth wiping your ass with.”
“Hey!” Toshiro calls from the bathroom. “We’re outta toilet paper!”
“Can’t you shut him the fuck up? I swear I can hear him over my VR games he’s so fucking loud!” says Toshiro from the common room sofa. He shoves a pile of empty pizza and takeout boxes over so he can sit.
“I said turn me around! I’m staring at the fucking wall all day long, you fucks!” yells a tinny, mechanical voice from a speaker box. The box is set on top of a makeshift computer deck with the keyboard ripped off and tossed aside and many random wires and capacitors soldered into the motherboard haphazardly. Next to the assemblage of electronics is a clear jar filled with a slightly cloudy liquid. Some of the wires from the computer deck lead into the jar and appear to be attached with alligator clips to the protruding spinal cord of a decapitated human head floating in the liquid medium.
“Who plugged the speaker into him anyway?” asks Bobby Datsun, a joint dangling from his lips as he sits at the table cleaning his disassembled SRAM.
“I guess Ichioka came over to fix the Ubi robot. Then he saw what was left of it and gave up. Kept muttering ‘these guys are total dicks’ under his breath. Then he saw Sureji’s head and got out his soldering iron and went to town. Next thing you know, Sureji’s voice is coming out of that box screaming, ‘turn me around! Itch my ear! Wipe my nose! Wah wah, fucking wah!’ Fucker is lucky to be alive.” says Goro. “Ichioka was here for like two hours, you didn’t see him?”
“Nah, bro. I was in the fucking Zone!” says Bobby.
“Turn me around!” yells Sureji’s head again.
“I don’t think he can hear us, can he?” says Kozo rolling up a catalog of prospective eastern european brides as he enters the room. “Want me to turn the jar around?”
“NO!” shout Goro, Toshiro and Bobby simultaneously.
“Fuck that,” says Goro. “I spun him around on purpose. I don’t want to see those cold, dead eyes.”
“You mean kind of like yours?” says Suki Greenberg coming off the elevator and gingerly stepping over the blasted ruins of a robot on the floor. “You all ready to go to work?”
“No, mine are more like shimmering liquid pools of ebon, baby. What’s up Suki? You here for a meatstick injection?” says Goro and holds up a hand to her for a fist bump.
“Best behavior, fuckwads! There’s someone I want you all to meet…,” she starts.
“Turn me the fuck around, assholes! I know you’re there!” yells Sureji’s head.
Suki mentally urged the elevator to speed up. The fact that Toshiro was the one who called increased her sense of urgency. ‘If they let that fuck-up call for help, he must be the only one standing.’ She thought. The elevator doors slid open and she stepped into the hallway. Moving quickly to the apartment door, she keyed her override code into the electronic lock’s keypad. The first thing that greeted her eyes was the disabled form of the cleaning robot Ichioka had sent the team. The thing was riddled with bullet holes.
“Hey Suki!” Toshiro’s voice. “That you? I’m in the kitchen.”
Carefully avoiding the puddle of coolant that was seeping into the carpet, Suki made her way to the kitchen.
“Oh my fucking god!”
Sitting on the kitchen counter was a cranial containment unit, hooked up to… Was that a car battery? Sureji’s dead eyes stared at her from behind the clear plexon wall of the unit. Toshiro was pulling a steaming bowl out of the microwave. He was covered, practically head to toe, with a brown, pasty substance and he smelled like… Gravy?
Toshiro slammed the microwave shut and turned around. “Want some noodles Suki?”
“No, I don’t want any fucking noodles. I want answers. What happened? Where’s Bobby and Goro? And why is Sureji’s severed head sitting on the kitchen counter?”
“That was my totally my idea.” Toshiro says proudly.
“Cutting off Sureji’s head was your idea?” Suki took a half step back and surreptitiously reached for the autopistol in her coat pocket.
“Yeah. Oh, he was dead though. And I actually didn’t cut his head off, Goro did. And I guess Goro wired him up too. But putting his head in the jar was totally me. Like the initiative?”
Suki eased her hand off the butt of her gun. She walked up to the counter and examined the CCU. ‘Christ.’ She thought to herself. ‘Those leads look like they’re in the right spot. How did those stupid bastards pull this off?’
“Where are Bobby and Goro?”
“In their rooms. Goro’s lost a lot of blood. You probably should take a look at him or maybe get another one of these head things sent over here if he’s bled out.”
Suki closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose for a few seconds. “Give me a report!”
“Me?” Toshiro looks dumbfounded. “You never ask me for a report…”
“You’re the last man standing. Spit it out.”
“Ok. Uh. Well. We all took those drugs you gave us to try out under combat. Mine sucked. I couldn’t smell anything. I took some more later on and nothing else happened. I still can’t smell a god damned thing…”
“That should have worn off an hour ago… How many doses did you take?”
“Two. Two was the limit. Jesus, what were you thinking?”
“I don’t know. I was hoping to get something useful, like Goro seemed to get all smart and shit…”
“Never mind, we’ll cover that later. Get on with the mission.”
“Uh, that hacker guy…” He trails off.
“Ichioka.” She supplies.
“Yeah, Ichioka. Anyhow, he calls you and says that he’s been fucking around trying to make an AI or something and it kind of got loose and tried to kill his ass, so you ask us to head over to where he’s working and shut it all down.
“We get down to that warehouse Haruna keeps near the old docks. Lights are out, but we can see movement inside. Intel was there were probably a couple security robots on site, but it looks like more than just two things moving around. We take up positions by the door and open up. These security robots come out swinging and some modded utility bots are backing them up. It was a fuck of a fight. Bobby and I didn’t take a scratch, but Sureji and Goro got scraped up pretty good.
“So anyway. We move into the warehouse and it’s piled full of crates from that Parkfield company we hit a few days ago. What the fuck was all that shit?” When Suki doesn’t respond he continues. “Anyhow as we’re moving through this maze of crates a voice comes over the building speakers and it sounds just like that scientist bitch that Goro killed…”
“Yeah. That’s her. The one we grabbed at the museum. Man, that was a good mission. Did you see the footage Kozo put together to cover our tracks? That little dwarf…”
“Stay on the fucking topic, Toshiro!”
“Ok, ok. That dwarf just cracks me up is all. Anyhow, this Isumi voice is all like, ‘I’m gonna fuck you guys up’ and ‘you better leave while you still can’ and shit like that. So we finally get past all those fucking crates and we see a fenced-off area and this little robot patrolling it. And the fence looks electrified and of course, all the computer hardware is locked away behind it and there’s no way to cut power to the building because it’s on its generator which is also somewhere behind that fence…
“So I stay and keep an eye on this thing, while Bobby, Sureji and Goro start looking around to find something to take that fence out. Goro and Sureji found a med lab with that Isumi’s head. They pulled the head, but she only mocked us when Goro punted it across the warehouse. Sureji remembered that there was an exoloader back by the entrance, so he and Goro head back to see if they can fire it up.
“About this time, we hear a couple of cars pull into the warehouse. Goro and Sureji go to check it out while Bobby and me try to figure out what to do with that robot. Anyhow, I open up on that little robot thing and it sprays me with this glue shit and I can barely move. Meanwhile a pile of fucking Yakuza un-ass from the cars and start blasting away at Goro and Sureji. They were taking heavy fire, so Bobby runs back to give them a hand. I drop a grenade to try and break this glue shit off my feet, and it works, but I can still hardly walk. I move back towards the entrance as fast as I can while the firefight is going on. When I get close enough, I pitched a couple grenades at those Yakuza to soften ’em up a bit.
“I’m not sure what the fuck happened, but apparently Sureji got hacked down by this bitch all dressed up like a fucking ninja. I think Goro killed her. She was all cut up when I got there. Anyhow, that’s when I said we should stick Sureji’s head in the jar. Pretty smart, huh?”
Suki just glares at him, so he continues.
“Not much else to tell really. We shot the fuck out of that little robot and then we tipped a pile of crates over the fence to short it out. Isumi was getting pretty nervous by this time and tried to talk her way out of it, but we were kind of sick of her shit by then. Goro pulled the core out of the computer and we brought it back home for you. Anything else or can I finish my noodles?
“I guess that’s good enough.” She sighs. “But what the fuck is up with your cleaning robot?”
“Oh, I emptied a mag into it when we got back. Ichioka sent us that fucking thing. What if that computer AI bitch hitched a ride in it? Better safe than sorry.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t blow the damn thing up.”
“Well, I only got a couple of flash bangs left and figured they wouldn’t do shit to it. I’ll fill out a req for some plastic explosive to finish the job after I take a shower.”
The slap can be heard throughout the common room. “How dare you lay a hand on me! I’m a princess god damn it. Now, get your sniveling carcass out of my sight before I get really angry.”
Kozo backs out of the bedroom, his hand covering the red weal spreading across his cheek. “Ouch. What the hell?”
He walks slowly into the common room. Bobby and Sureji watch him enter and then start laughing raucously. “Oh fuck.” Bobby says, catching his breath. “That was fucking priceless.”
“Yeah, real funny assholes.” Kozo says dejectedly. “What’s the point of a love doll you can’t fuck? I thought I was gonna finally get some…” He wanders over to the couch where Suko Goro is sitting, smoking a cigarette and with a bag of frozen peas on his lap.
“Damn it Goro. I wanted to eat those.” He whines.
“They’re not the wasabi peas you dumb shit. I found them in the back of the freezer. Pretty sure they were left by the last guys Haruna had bunking in this shithole.” In response to Kozo’s cocked eyebrow, he continues. “Let’s just say I found out my doll’s specialty the hard way.”
Kozo snorts, but quickly suppresses a laugh when he sees the look on Goro’s face. “Tell me about the raid.” He says, changing the subject. “I mean, after I got you guys in the warehouse I lost contact. I don’t have a clue what happened once you got into that sub-basement.”
A fair bit of whining and haggling ensues. Goro finally relents when Kozo comes back with a couple Red Dragons.
“Before I get going, I want to know what you knew about this fucking thing.” Goro says taking the proffered beer.
“Yep. I’ve been digging up a little dirt on Suki. Just in case, you know? Turns out she and this Daisuke guy were fucking each other back in college. She’s been having an ongoing affair with him ever since. I don’t care what she told us in the meeting, I think she let something slip before the whole Sesimbra job. He turned it over to Parkfield and they fucked with our op.”
“Shit…” Goro mutters.
“I’m not even sure if Haruna sanctioned the hit on Daisuke or if she was using us to cover her ass. We’ll never know. The op was a success so she can always say she was taking initiative or some shit. She’s pretty fucking smart Goro and she’s been in the business for a long time. I’m sure we’re all disposable assets as far as she’s concerned.”
“Never doubted that.” Goro replies. He stubs out the rest of his cigarette and takes a long slug of beer. “Explains a few things though…”
“Uh, you were gonna tell me about the operation?” Kozo prompts.
“Yeah, sure. Uh, Suki wanted to get a little payback on that Canadian fucker and after you ran down where he was holed up we drove on down to the factory. We sailed in after you hacked their system and popped the door for us. A couple of rent-a-cops came up shouting and shit, but they backed off pretty quick when they saw the hardware we were carrying. Found our way up to the main security station to have a little chat with their boss. He’s sitting in the office with some other douche who decides he’s going to be a hero. Goes for his gun and then starts eating bullets from Toshiro’s LMG, stupid bastard… His boss does his best to assist us, though the dumb shit doesn’t have a clue what is going on. We end up knocking out the security and leaving them zip-cuffed while we dig around.
“Eventually we find a secret door near the elevator; stairwell leading down that ain’t on the floorplan you pulled for this place. We go down, deep underground. There’s a huge fucking facility down there. There’s probably several kilometers worth of corridors in that fucking maze. We didn’t explore the whole thing, but Suki figured out what was going on quick enough: they’re force-growing clones and wiring them up as sex dolls. Clever fucking operation, but illegal as shit.
“We tangled with a bunch of these bio-modded Canadian boxer fucks, but in a fist versus sword fight you know who comes out on top. Finally found Daisuke’s quarters. Suki’s all like ‘he’s a ninth degree black belt’ and ‘don’t kill him he’s mine’ and shit. We didn’t know what to expect when we went in, so Toshiro hucked in a couple flash-bangs, then we tore into the room. I left Daisuke bleeding on the floor and Suki finished the job with her poison fangs.”
“Suki’s got poison fangs?” Kozo asks. “That is so awesome.”
“Yeah, real awesome. I wonder if they’re retrogenics or was she born with them?”
“What in the fuck are you doing in there, Kozo?” yells Suko Goro, sitting bare-chested on the stained sofa in the safe-house common room. “Don’t you have lonely Russian women who need you?”
Kozo is in the kitchen frantically scraping discarded food wrappers which have solidified and cohered with spilled beer into a centimeter thick layer covering the Super-tine©™ floor, and piling the residue into an industrial-sized plastic trash bag, probably stolen from the wig factory floor downstairs.
“I’m cleaning. You should try it sometime,” he mutters, kneeling on all fours using one of Toshiro’s tanto knives as a scraper.
“No shit you’re cleaning, but why? Just call Suki and get a Haruna cleaner over here,” Goro replies.
“I think those guys are really for, like, dismembering bodies at crime scenes and destroying evidence and stuff like that, ” Kozo says as he stands and starts to scrub the huge pile of dishes and bento boxes stacked in the sink and on the counter. He quickly gives up and begins dropping the dishes into the trash bag.
“Is it the stink in here? Did you suddenly smell something kind of pickled or fermented and kind of like stale garlic? Because I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the kitchen, it’s your fucking body that reeks,” Goro bellows so that everyone in the safe-house can hear.
“Screw you, Goro. I have a chemical imbalance thing. I can’t help it,” Kozo says.
“Yeah, it’s called yellow number five!” Bobby Datsun drawls from the dinette, where he has a disassembled grenade launcher spread on the table. He high-fives Sureji seated next to him.
“None of you has figured out that the shit is about to hit the fan here. Suki is on her way over here and she’s beyond pissed,” Kozo says. “I always feel compelled to clean when I’m in an emotionally heated situation.”
“That fan is so clogged with shit, it hasn’t even spun since we started working for Haruna,” says Sureji. “What’s different this time?”
“You haven’t put two and two together? Suki’s man-friend from Canada? Her vacation? Parkfield Biolabs? “ He is met with blank stares. “After she debriefed us this morning, she left me with some stuff to research. What I found is pretty messed up,” says Kozo. His serious tone grabs the attention of everyone in the room, except Toshiro who is over in the corner firing his virtual Gauss rifle at virtual enemies and screaming “I’ll fucking kill you! Die motherfucker!”
Just then elevator hums to life.
“Oh, shit, she’s here!” yells Kozo as he drops the trash bag and runs for the bathroom, where he slams the door, the lock clicking behind him.
“Actually, I did figure it out!” yells Goro so that Kozo can hear him through the locked door. “Her man is a Parkfield agent, he put the hit on that Brazilian fuckwad and nearly killed us in the process!”
“No actually, Daisuke is not a Parkfield agent. He’s a Parkfield scientist and executive, but he did order the hit on Sesimbra,” says Suki as she steps out of the elevator. Apart from Toshiro’s grunts and maniacal laughter, a hush fills the room as she strides in and sets down a computer deck on the dinette, shoving aside grenade launcher parts. Suki opens the deck and begins to set up a simstim-projector serial attachment.
“Parkfield and Haruna had similar interests in the Amazon. Both of us wanted Sesimbra’s findings suppressed. The difference was, Haruna had made some overtures to Sesimbra several months ago and worked out a deal for him to put off his findings until our contract to exploit the rainforest was final. We discovered a few days ago that Sesimbra had been persuaded by unknown parties to publish his research and that he planned to present the paper at the summit. Having a highly respected scientist such as Sesimbra as our man would have allowed us to slow certain aspects of his research, and accelerate others that might be problematic to our competitors. Daisuke at Parkfield also discovered Sesimbra had changed his mind, and ordered the hit, which makes sense from their standpoint. Haruna wanted Sesimbra alive and as an asset. The two zaibatsus’ goals were inadvertently at odds. Obviously there was no pillow talk between Daisuke and myself, or this would not have occurred.. We are both loyal to our employers.”
“That proves it, Suki. You’re a fucking angel,” says Goro, scratching at a healing bullet wound. “So who turned the old south-american fucker?”
“I just got back from meeting Akikko at the hospice. She just provided proof that Nobuda at Makita was responsible for changing Sesimbra’s mind. He offered Sesimbra the companionship of the large ‘woman’ you met, as incentive to present his findings. Also appealed to his ‘legacy of academic integrity’. Calling upon an old man’s ego, virility and mortality. A good play. But one that has fucked Parkfield, and would have fucked Haruna if the resource extraction contract had not been signed.”
“So that means Makita has military grade androids on-world,” says Sureji. “What’s the next move?”
“Our lab can’t find any way to trace the pieces of the Scorpion-model android you eliminated, back to Makita. There is an expert on androids I’ve tracked down who might be able to help us. Also, we have an assassination to carry out,” Suki says stoically.
“Cool, I love when that is the actual goal of a mission, rather than just collaborative damage,” says Bobby.
“It’s ‘collateral’ damage, you dumbfuck, even I know that,” says Goro. “Who’s the target?”
“The target is Daisuke.” she replies without blinking. Again there is silence in the room.
“Wait, I thought you said Parkfield was already getting fucked by Makita. Why do we want to fuck them twice over?” asks Sureji.
“That reminds me of the joke about sloppy seconds….” begins Goro. Suki jumps down his throat.
“Goro, shut the fuck up for once!” she collects herself, then, “Parkfield has managed to suppress their involvement with the Sesimbra hit for now. Pulled some long strings with police and media to contain that. But my boss feels that their destruction of our asset cannot go unpunished. Besides we cannot tolerate this kind of covert activity on our soil, so near our headquarters. I will accompany you on this assignment. Get me inside their safehouse and I will do what needs to be done.”
“You’re one ice-cold bitch, Suki. Remind me never to fuck with you. Oh wait, too late!” says Goro, searching the room for a high-five, seeing only team members avoiding eye his contact.
“What’s the holo-projector for, Suki?” asks Bobby.
“That can wait,” she replies.
“Are you guys done yelling? I can barely breathe in here,” says a muffled voice from inside the bathroom.
Kozo stares at a stream of numbers scrolling on his monitor. Finally, they come to a halt. The cursor blinks for a few seconds and then ‘Parkfield Biolabs’ returns. “Gotcha.” He mutters.” He types the name into his search algorithm and the simstim reports on the corporation start popping up.
“Industrial adhesive found in the gravy at the Getty Family Restaurant chain… Toshiro, come here now. You gotta see this!” Kozo and Toshiro spend a few minutes scrolling through the article, laughing hysterically. “They settled out of court, but they agreed to force-grow the guy a new colon. It’s too fucking much…”
“What the fuck is poutine?” Toshiro asks.
Kozo sets down his Meatstick, licks the Hiroshima Hot Sauce off his fingers and a few seconds with the search engine later. “Oh. Oh fuck. That sounds terrible. Why would anyone put something like that in their body? I’m willing to bet, it wasn’t the adhesive that blocked that guy’s colon.”
“Well, I sure don’t need to worry about colon blockage.” Toshiro responds. “Gotta take a shit. See ya later!”
“Hey Suki!” Kozo hollers. “I ran down the IDs the guys pulled off those street samurai.”
Suki enters the room, deftly avoiding the spent Meatstick wrappers and empty soda cans that litter the floor, she peers over Kozo’s shoulder to look at the monitor. “Parkfield Biolabs…” She mutters. “Oh god, he didn’t… Did you tell anyone about this?”
“Half the fucking company knows it by now. Goro!” She yells. “Get your lazy ass over here.”
A few minutes later Suko Goro stumbles into the room, wearing only boxers. His thickly-muscled bare chest is swathed in bandages. His eyes are glazed. A joint dangles from his lips. “You called boss lady?”
“Time to debrief.” She snaps.
“Seemed a simple enough thing.” Goro begins as he settles into a chair. “Some douche scientist from Brazil was going to give a talk to a bunch of eggheads and you wanted us to stop him. Said it was going to sink a deal Haruna had with his country to exploit some rainforest shit or something. We were supposed to kidnap the fucker and keep him quiet for a week or so.”
Suki sighs. “That ‘douche scientist’ was Tomas Sesimbra. He was one of the world’s leading ecologists. If he’d been allowed to speak at that ecological summit and news of our deal with Brazil had gotten out we would have taken a major PR hit. You were supposed to kidnap him for a week and let him go. Alive.”
“Whatever.” Goro continues. “So, like I said this should have been a pretty simple snatch and grab. Only trick was the guy seemed to have a fucking security detail. I’d have never thought he could have afforded a couple of armed escorts. Anyhow, we planned to grab him between the airport and his hotel. Kozo figured out the car service that was going to pick his ass up. Plan was: Toshiro would mine the car, blow the fucking tires off it, we whack the guards, grab the professor and go lay low in a cabin for a week.
“So we get us a car. Me and Bobby are sitting with our thumbs up our asses outside the airport. Toshiro and Kitsune get a ride to the airport with that fucking cab driver. Toshiro plants the charges, Tomas, this two-meter tall amazon and his bodyguards climb into the car and take off. The cab driver follows him and Kitsune radios us to get out asses moving. After a while, they notice they are being tailed by a fucking SUV. That definitely ain’t part of the fucking plan, so me and Bobby take some initiative, pull up alongside this car and open up with the riot gun. Fuckers started shooting back at us with one. Punched a nice hole in me. Bobby finally popped the driver. We lost them pretty quick.
“Kept to the plan. Toshiro blew the tires off that fucking limo. The cab pulls up behind it while Toshiro and Kitsune pull their ARs. I come roaring up as one of the goons steps out of the limo to open up on them. He left a hell of a dent in my bumper and a big red streak down the limo. Anyhow, we take the goons and driver down pretty easy. Suddenly, this fucking amazon bitch hops out of the car starts tearing into Toshiro. She was moving way too fast and taken way too many bullets. Fucking android. Military grade for fuck’s sake. Those things are illegal on Earth ain’t they.” He says with a smirk. “We figured you might want to take a look at her, so I popped her in the trunk. We stuffed old Tomas in the car and took off for the cabin.”
“Driving the same fucking car you did the job in?” She grimaces.
“Yeah.” Goro takes a hit from his joint. “That was a fucking mistake. We sat in this shithole cabin in the woods for a day or so and then we see a cop car driving up and down the backroads. Finally these fuckers start going door to door in the surrounding cabins. We figured they must have traced the car to the area. Stupid fucking mistake. Anyhow, we tried to drive on off, but the fuckers spotted us and followed. We took them down some backroad, set up a quick ambush and killed them both. Pushed the car into a ditch and headed out. Broke into a cabin and called Dopinder to pick us up in the hover car. Plan was for Bobby and Toshiro to hike out while the rest of us flew somewhere else to make a plan.
“Thought we could recover from the whole clusterfuck, but we spot this SUV tailing us. Same make as the one me and Bobby had tangled with a few days ago. We tried to pull another ambush on them, but these guys were pros. They sped up and engaged us when I slowed down to let Kitsune and Toshiro roll out. Fuck, that was some fight. I think half of those fuckers were using riot guns with tungsten rounds. I sure got the holes in my chest to prove it. We laid down some covering fire so Kitsune could try to flank them. Almost worked. When the fuckers figured out we’d nailed their balls to the wall, one of them pulls out a fucking missile launcher and lights up our car. I don’t even think old Tomas had time to scream.
“There was nobody left alive. We loaded their bodies into our car along with the dead professor to make it look like they had kidnapped his ass in the first place and then got the fuck out of there.”
“You were supposed to keep him alive.” Suki snarls. “I can’t fucking believe you idiots. I ask you to do one thing and you fuck it up.”
Goro takes a long hit from his joint. “We did one thing.” He replies.
“What was that?” Suki snaps.
“You fucking heard me. We did one thing. We kept that fuckwad from spoiling the deal. Keeping him alive was a ‘nice to have’ if you ask me.”
Suki stares at Goro with hatred in her eyes. The ex-gang banger leans back in his chair and eyes her coolly with his unnerving eyes. The cherry on the joint glows briefly. Finally, she turns around and leaves the room.
“What got into her?” Kozo says beckoning for the joint.
“Fuck if I know.” Goro says ignoring him. “I’m outta here. This room smells like shit.”
Kozo waits until Goro leaves the room, sniffs his armpit, shrugs, then turns back to his computer and muses. “What’s stuck in Suki’s ass? It’s worse than industrial adhesive… Wait a minute…” He peers into the main room. Suki is berating Toshiro about the latest plumbing problem. He gently closes his door and opens up an encrypted folder on his hard drive. “Where did her old boyfriend work again?” He mutters as he scans through the file. He finally comes to the entry: Parkfield Biolabs.
The cold rain patters against her umbrella as Suki Greenberg sits in a folding lawn chair on the pebbled roof of the wig factory. She distractedly strokes the long black hairs growing from her facial mole and takes a languid drag from a long cigarette. A blast of loud music, yelling and cheering from her team erupts again from down the open stairwell. She reads the Haruna Biolabs brief again, flipping through the pages, memorizing the details, then removes the black clip holding the packet together and one page at a time, lights the paper with her lighter and lets the burning sheets fall at her feet.
As the last flicker of burning paper goes out, she drops her cigarette which goes out with a hiss in the puddle. She stands and stretches and goes down the stairs into the common room, humid air filled with the reek of cannabis and testosterone.
“Hey, guys,” she says and then again louder, and when no one looks up from the cockroach fighting match set up on the common room dining table, she grabs a bottle of lighter fluid from the counter and squirts a long stream all around the roach arena, and flicks open her lighter. The team all jump back from the table.
“What the fuck, Suki? God, you don’t have to be such a bitch,” says Goro. “We were just having a little fun and killing some time.”
Suki smiles and clicks an electric ignition spark on her lighter and lets it fall, burning, into the miniature fighting ring. The flames surge a meter above the table with a whomp of air. The crackle and popping of roasting roach can be heard in the now silent room. The flames quickly burn down to a small blue glow.
“There goes Mr. Kurabashi,” says Toshiro. “He was totally dominating that match, but since it wasn’t official, you can just pay half what you owe me.”
“Fuck that, you get nothing! Kamakuras was waiting to use his signature move, the double mandible rip!” says Bobby Datsun.
“Somebody clean all that shit up! There’s like thirty Meatstick wrappers on the floor! See them? Well pick ’em up!” Suki yells at Sureji, who happens to be nearest her. He makes a show of slowly stooping to gather up the trash.
“They’re probably Toshiro’s anyway,” Sureji mutters under his breath.
“ Okay you fuckwits, I know you pulled off some good work last week, getting Akikko on board for us. And I know you’re getting a little stir-crazy. You’re in luck, we just got our orders. Wait a minute, Toshiro, turn up the sound on the news.”
The simstim news anchor is reading a story about the cherry blossom festival taking place at a factory visitor’s center, while the scrolling chyron at the bottom of the screen is about a different story.
“ Goro, click on that link,” she says. He does and the main screen switches to a report showing a blasted out retail storefront with police searching through the wreckage.
“….here at the scene, the Sparkle cosmetic surgery center where the bombing took place last week. A detective Sakana will say a few words.” The camera pans to a man in a trench coat and hat with a uniformed officer holding an umbrella for him.
“DNA evidence of the bombing victim’s remains recovered at the scene appear to match the recently paroled hacker Ichioka. The motive for the bombing remains a bit muddled, but some links to organized crime have been established. Clearly Mr. Ichioka continued to be involved with a criminal element and he paid the price for that involvement. No suspects have been detained yet, but the investigation is ongoing….”
“Well done, team. Now, just don’t fuck up the next job. Priority A-one, with a budget to match,” Suki says.
“Does that include money for food on the stakeout?” asks Toshiro from the sofa.
“How about body armor? Can I get some very tiny armor, like cockroach-sized?” asks Bobby.
“Better get the cooler cleaned out and all iced up and some beverages,” says Goro.
Toshiro is calling on the videophone next to the sofa. “Just come pick us up….cuz I said…cuz I said so….because I fucking said so…..yes, hurry up you fuck.” He hangs up. “What?” he says when he realizes everyone is looking at him.
“So, let’s have our briefing first, and then you can go get Meatstick or whatever new simstim game just got released? How about that?” Suki says and forces a smile for her team.
I am so glad I never had children. I would be a terrible, terrible mother, she thinks to herself.