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Backgammon
In order to force myself to finish my stories, I tend to post them on DS in parts, as I write them. That way I feel obligated to finish. This one is inspired by the game STALKER that I'm currently playing and Chad Micheal Ward's art, particularly this picture.

Hope you enjoy
Backgammon
Echo crouched low on the desolate hill. A light wind blew in his face, the sky a menacing mass of rolling marbled grey clouds above him. Thunder rumbled off in the distance, where the storm had already begun. It was the kind storm you could feel. It felt heavy, oppressive, threatening. Primitive instincts warned that being outside in this storm would be bad. But Echo felt like the calm before the storm as he knelt next to Jack, spying on the workers below.

What do you think? he asked, shifting his weight from his right leg to his left, causing the pebbles and gravel beneath his feet to crunch. His crouch was an uncomfortable position, making his thighs feel heavy.

Jack lowered the binoculars from his eyes, and stared for a moment where hed been looking. He eventually cocked an eyebrow and smacked his lips, before turning to look at Echo. What do you think I think? he said in his gruff, throaty voice. Jack had big, wild, tired eyes and long dishevelled frizzy hair that fell all around his pollution and cigarette damaged skin, giving him a savage, crazy look. He went at life without a care.

Echo sucked in his breath and spit out the side of his mouth. Yeah... he said, continuing their unsaid conversation. The wind blew in his eyes, forcing him to blink. He reached out and Jack passed him back the binoculars. He brought them back to his eyes, as Jack stumbled back a crouching few steps to sit down, lighting a cigarette. Echo adjusted the zoom and took another look at their target. About three clicks down and away from their hilly observation position was a large factory complex. High gray reinforced cement walls enclosed the complex. The large rusted front gate was open; a handful of dull yellow jumpsuit and gasmask wearing workers slowly loaded crates and barrels into a military truck under the supervision of heavily armed and armoured guards. Behind them, the factorys chimneys spewed out thick streams of charcoal black smoke. The landscape around the facility was a blasted wasteland of brown and black mud and dead trees.

The intells for real? broke Jack behind him, bringing Echo out of his stare. He hadnt noticed he had spaced out. He stumbled back and fell on his ass next to where Jack was smoking. Yeah. My guy has a guy on the inside. One of the workers. Indentured guy. Says hes trading this info for out of the compound said Echo, pulling the sleeves of his shirt over his cold hands.

Jack let out a croak, a laugh. Fuck, if he thinks its better out here... He might as well stay in there, at least he gets a meal every day.

Echo smiled. He imagined what life as an indentured worked in one the corps poison factories must be like. The corporations built these industrial complexes out in the Barrens here, where no one enforced or cared about environmental laws. They ripped off all the environmental safeguards and produced at full capacity, spewing out goods and pollution and an unmatched rate. Of course, working conditions were awful, pulmonary illnesses and cancers blighting the workers, even though they wore protective equipment. Workers were either the desperate SINless residents of the Barrens, doing whatever work they could whatever the conditions, or indentured workers forced to be there. Wretched fools, the whole lot.

Theres a girl Echo said, turning to look Jack in the eyes. He needs to get back to her he explained. Jack mouthed a wordless Ah, rolling his eyes, before taking another drag of his smoke. He exhaled. Theres always a girl he added, flicking away the stub of his cigarette.

Alright. So like I said, theres a fuck in their SOP began Echo, pronouncing the acronym for standard operating procedure sop. Normally the good stuff gets lifted by helicopter to avoid the dangers of the road. But this week, theyre moving it by truck. Apparently some fuck-up at home office reassigned the chopper that made the runs to this place. The factory boss was vicious pissed, screaming at home office to come pick up the shit that was just pilling up. They dont have much storage space for it. Some expensive toxic chemical shit, by the way. So home office is telling him sorry, hold on to it till we reassign a heli. So the boss turns around, calls the warehouse manager at the other end direct, and arranges a truck route instead, giving home office the finger. Except, of course, home office plans these things for a reason. Factory boss overlooked a whole bunch of security concern, cause he just wanted the shit out of his factory. We got a nice big ambush spot down the road. Hit em hard, take the stuff, sell it back to a buyer. It seemed too simple to Echo when he said it like that. He closed his eyes for a second and enjoyed the moment. Everything would go great. There were no problems with the plan. Everything was rosy.

Jack shifted, and breathed out of his nose. Well. In theory. Damn, he said it, though Echo.

Theorys all we got for now. You know the spot Im talking about, right? asked Echo. Jack nodded.

Yeah yeah, before the main road. The gangs dont hit that spot, too secluded. Its the obvious route for the truck, whos gonna be avoiding ganger hotspots for sure, even heavy armed like it is.

Echo stared out towards the ambush spot, beyond the hills. Surprise was their leader. The truck wouldnt expect it. They figured no one knew anything about their shipment. Unless of course the insider got found out. And then the ambush would be reversed. Echo didnt want to think about that possibility. That was the end of the road if it happened. You cant think like that.

So who you want to use? asked Jack, also squinting into the distance. The wind was picking up; the clouds above were rolling faster. The storm would break out soon, and itd be hell to get home after that in the mud and rain.

Trash, Punk and Rigo he quickly enumerated. Hed already figured out his dream team. Jack turned his attention back to him. Trash and Punk for muscle, Rigo for overwatch. You on the astral side of things, and Ill take up and center. Jack had some sort of sour look on his face. Echo interpreted it as resistance to the team make-up. I know what youre thinking, maybe we dont need both Trash and Punk, but I think its better to be safer on this one, and from what I hear we can pawn the shit off the a buyer for big bucks, the cuts will be fat for everyone.

Naw, thats not it said Jack. Trash bought it last week. Bad run.

Shit. Echos head dropped down. That was a snag.

Use Jesse

Echo raised his head right back to look at Jack in the eyes. Are you nuts?

Aint no one like her. Shell do the job, trust me. Shell be in, and shell kick ass when were in it. Echo shook his head. You know Im right," said Jack, as he started to laugh at Echo's unease.

Fuck. Where Fuck. Awright. Where she at now? Ill go talk to her.

Citadel, in the Catacombs. Jack got up and started going down the hill, towards their parked cars. He was thinking about the storm too. He turned around, and pointed at Echo with his thick index finger. Find us a buyer, too. Fuck promises; get a buyer before we get stuck with a truckload of volatile toxic goo. Make sure hes good for it

Yeah, yeah, answered Echo in his head. Fuck, he thought. He wasnt looking forward to dealing with Jesse. The devils advocate within him revised his own plan, trying to convince himself that maybe Punk would really be enough anyway. But no, it was a two-man muscle job. Well, one man and one woman, anyway. Resigned, he got up and headed down the slope after Jack.
eidolon
Topic moved at poster's request.
Backgammon
The first thing Echo worked on was finding a buyer for the prospective loot. It didnt take him long. A few phone calls to a few fixers, middlemen sitting comfortably in their downtown lounges and places of dealing, always looking for a deal, no matter what the product, and hed struck an agreement at a reasonable price. Echo wasnt even really sure what he was stealing. A cursory data search on the chemical compound using the Barrens stuttering Matrix connection revealed a lot of technical talk, but also that the stuff was costly to produce and useful in the manufacturing of many other products. It wasnt a nova-hot newly designed computer program nor a bleeding edge prototype, it wasnt the kind of hot loot shadowrunners dream about scoring, but it turns out it paid just as well. The barrels of chemicals would fetch a tidy sum on the black market. Echos team would only see a fraction of that money, the middlemen between them and the end buyer cashing in most of the profit, but when you lived in the Barrens, any money was big money. Echo had of course already spent the money in his head. He would have enough to visit the Namegivers.

The Namegivers were a shady syndicate of hackers and assorted criminals. They excelled at fabricating identities. Those of the Barrens, born in the blood of their mothers and the mud of the soil, outside hospitals and society, did not exist. No SIN to tie them to the rest of the world, no way in. The Namegivers could change that. They could hack the system and make you a lawyer, a businessman, a dentist maybe, in the eyes of the world. Whatever you wanted. For a price. After this run, Echo would have enough to buy himself an identity, and move out of the Barrens into a nice apartment with hot water, decent flavour packets for his soy meals, and simsense recordings to waste his neurons on. He wouldnt retire, but at least he wouldnt share his bed with rats the size of cats.

His next task was recruiting his team. Echo had gotten Charlie to agree to at least recruit the easiest person to deal with, Rigo, a tech wiz. That left the muscle with the imaginative name of Punk to recruit, and Jesse. Echo was going to work his way up to Jesse.

Echo found Punk in a small squatter community living around an abandoned and ruined strip mall. The place had totally fallen into disrepair after the Crash, when Redmond had ceased to function as a civilisation-friendly area. The inside of the mall had been sectioned off into living quarters for the strongest of the squatters. The weak built huts made of sheet metal and debris, outside. Oddly enough the place had some power. Local technically minded residents had managed to tap into a nearby functioning power line and divert some electricity to power some lights and other amenities. Echo found Punk that night, sitting on an old wooden fruit crate, his back leaning against the bare brick exterior wall of the mall. A barrel fire bathe the area in a gentle reddish glow and made shadows dance with the graffiti on the wall, and made the grotesque scars on the mans face all the deeper. The left side of Punks face was set with deep scar lines. Hed supposedly lost half his face to an incendiary grenade explosion. If that story was true, the fact that he survived such an ordeal spoke of his hardness. He was presently wearing a camo green sleeveless military vest, the bare tattooed skin of his muscular arms dark with dirt. He had a red mohawk that ended in a ponytail, the source of his street name.

Echo had worked with Punk one or twice before. But there was no kinship between them. Punk was a killer, a predator of the Barrens. He survived like others of his type did, by violence and fear, forcing their will on the weaker, and killing any challengers. The Barrens were full of his type. But the difference was, Punk had survived for a long time here. He was in his forties, a rarity for men like him. He was a survivor, pure and simple.

Echo stood in silence next to Punk for a while. An antique 2D television set was showing a Combat Bike match, a long extension cord trailing off in the darkness to connect the TV set to some power source inside the mall.

What do you want, scavger?, Punk finally spoke, seemingly very annoyed to have to waste breath. He hadnt turn to look at Echo yet, which made Echo figure that someone had of course told the grizzled warrior that he was looking for him.
Echo ignored the snobbism of being called a scavenger. How did you know it was me? he asked, because he was sure Punk would enjoy the sense of superiority from Knowing Something. Might as well make him feel good about himself, Echo figured. Better odds of him agreeing to the job. He was right. Punk snorted and half-grinned meanly with the good half of his face. Because you stink, he said, proud of himself.

I got a job for you. Echo paused, for effect. That is, if youre interesting.

There was a slight glint in Punks eye. Might have been reflection from the nearby flame, but Echo was very skilled with people and knew better. He knew the end result. Now was only negotiation.

Im not interested in clawing through dirt to find pennies. Thats just you, said Punk harshly. Aggressive guy, though Echo. But he already knew that. He was just annoyed he had to go through the motions, play this game.

Yeah, I can tell youre too busy sitting on your fat ass and fucking your sister in your spare time, much too busy for mens work retorted Echo provocatively.

Punk didnt like that much. He got up and straightened himself, raising to his full height, inches from Echos face. The thug was about a head taller than Echo, and about twice as big. With his scarred face and fierce burning eyes, it was perfectly believable the man was capable, and willing, to claw your fucking eyes out right there and then. But Echo calmly met his gaze. After a moment, he said You gonna quit playing fucking games or what? The moneys good and you get to kill lots of corpies.

The tension remained in Punks stance for a moment longer, and then he smiled his ugly smile. Just messing with you, scavenger. He pulled his crate-chair back under his butt and sat down, turning his back to Echo. You let me know when youre ready to jazz.

Echo sank back into the night without further adieu. Challenging Punk like that to cut the dance short had been a bit reckless. He should have drawn it out more and played the bullys game longer. Punk was unpredictable. He could very well have killed him back there, just as soon as agree to the job. But Echo was anxious and impatient. Punk wasnt anything special. Jesse was another story. As he headed to her squatter hole, he felt more like he was heading into a spiders nest, the center of the web where a grotesque carrion lived. He noticed his mouth had formed an involuntary grimace and his muscles were taunt. He tried to relax, behind the wheel of his rusty car.

The denizens of the Barrens had to be coaxed into action, carefully seduced with a sense of superiority and the promise of money. But Jesse was something else. Not savage like the roaming gangs of rapists and pillagers, but destructive and insane on another level. Inhuman, that was the word. Normally they were lost to the world of reason and useless, but Jesse straddled lustily the line between sheer psychosis and reason. She was useful, but batshit insane. And Echo now had to go talk to such a being and see if she wanted to join his crew. It would be an interesting night.
Backgammon
Jesse lived in the basement of an old concrete apartment building. Fire had thoroughly ravaged the place, and most of it had collapsed. Many had died then. Now, in the pockets of habitable space lived The Fearful. Men, woman, who had let the poison of terror eat them whole. They lived in darkness, hiding from the world, huddling in corners and whispering fearfully as Echo stepped past them, making his way to the main stairwell. His flashlight guided his steps over debris. He occasionally flashed it into corners, only to see faces duck quickly back into darkness or hands raise to veil fragile eyes no longer used to light. Jesse lived in the basement of this building, underqueen of this hive of wretched and broken.

The bottom of the staircase was lit and ended with a large green metal door. As Echo placed his hand on it, he felt the coldness and rusted texture of it. Vibrations thumped against it. Pushing, it opened into the lair. Violent noise greeted him, music so loud it hurt his ears. It was a screeching sound, a high pitch wailing of metal on metal that sounded like human screams mixed with deep bass of something like an oil drum being beaten. Echo winced and brought his fingers to his ears. Gas lamps amply lit the room, but cast dancing shadows in corners. A rusted metal grillage separated a small square space from a large, dead old boiler and clutter of generators, tools and debris. Bits of leftover meals lay rotting here and there. The room smelled of wet earth... no, not wet earth. It smelled like worms.

The music abruptly stopped. The sudden silence hurt his ears even more for a split second. He winced again, and brought down his hands from his ears. He turned, and saw Jesse standing in the doorway of the door in the metal grillage. She stood slightly stooped, completely naked, except for an old oblong leather gas mask covering her entire face and shaping her head like a horses, with two large, spherical, tinted bug eyes on the sides. She seemed to observe him, her head slightly tiled to one side. Her well-formed tits hung obscenely. His stunned gaze worked its way down her hard abs and to her thighs. Her skin had a translucent quality to it, smooth and clean, a pale yellow in the gas lamps light. Her pubis was shaved, the delicate pink skin of the cleft in-between her legs slightly parted. Thin blood was smeared around her upper thighs and her cleft, mixed and glistening with streak of her cum. It wasnt her blood. Her left hand, caked with dirty dried blood, held a butchers knife, and her right hand held a lump of steak flesh. She was breathing heavily in her mask. Echo stopped his mind from finalising the deduction of what she was doing with that meat.

She felt like abomination. She desecrated Echos mind with her presence. He could feel her twisted mind and intention behind the alien look of her mask. She merely stood and observed him without a word, twisting the butcher knifes handle in her hand. Echo realised he was involuntarily sneering in disgust. He brought himself under control and straightened out his face. He resolved to speak his blasphemous words. He blinked slowly, feeling like he was plunging into an abyss of darkness and cold.

I need you help. His voice came out strong and intended. Speaking to her was like drinking from a swamp.

She didnt move. She stared at him, head tilted. Only the knife moved in her blood stained hand.

I have a job. I need your help.

In one motion she turned and threw the steak shed been holding behind her. The meat landed with a wet thud on the ground. She took a step forward, tilted her head the other way, and resumed staring at him.

A ridiculous image flashed in Echos head. What if he had to sleep with her to agree to the job? Shes probably cut his head off mid-intercourse and hump the stub of his neck. He felt giddiness well inside of him, urging panic and to run away from her. He swallowed hard and blinked again, pushing away horror and doubt. The truth that despite appearances she was actually a well-oiled cybered killing machine lingered in the back of his mind.

Will you agree to it? We strike a convoy in three days. Kill everyone and steal the cargo. Just meet us under the hill near the old farm east of here. Echo spoke faster and faster as she slowly took steps closer and closer to him. She finally stood inches from him, her hard nipples almost brushing against his clothes. He stared into the void of the alien insect eyes of her mask.

Pay is upfront he added, blabbing whatever he could think of. She suddenly straightened, tilted her head the other way, and then nodded childishly. Echo stared at her with his mouth open as she then turned around and strutted back into her metal cage, his eyes on her swaying hips and round buttock. She touched a button on the wall and the painful noise of her music resumed. Echo winced. She lifted one long leg straight up, depositing it on a wooden table inside the metal enclosure, giving him a nice shot of her pussy. She brought her bloody hand to it and began playing with herself, as she looked at him through her mask.

Echo turned and left the basement, the image of her burning itself into his psyche. He either felt aroused or disgusted, he could no longer tell. He noticed nothing else as he returned to his car and drove home.

Tonight he would pray the Devil for forgiveness. God was lost to him.
Matsu Kurisu
Great stuff!! Excellent development and gritty feel!
I am looking forward to the next installment
knasser
I haven't had time to read more than the first installment yet, though I will. There's some good writing there. If you want constructive criticism I'd say don't go overkill on the descriptions. You find your stride a bit better later on, but at the beginning you mash together some good descriptions like you can't decide which one to use. Here's your own opening paragraph:
QUOTE

Echo crouched low on the desolate hill. A light wind blew in his face, the sky a menacing mass of rolling marbled grey clouds above him. Thunder rumbled off in the distance, where the storm had already begun. It was the kind storm you could feel. It felt heavy, oppressive, threatening. Primitive instincts warned that being outside in this storm would be bad. But Echo felt like the calm before the storm as he knelt next to Jack, spying on the workers below.


I can split that into two equally good opening paragraphs and I think both would be a little snappier than the longer full version:

QUOTE

Echo crouched on the desolate hill, the sky a mass of marbled clouds above him. In the distance, the storm had already begun. Primitive instinct warned that being outside in this would be bad, but Echo felt calm kneeling next to Jack, spying on the workers below.


Or:

QUOTE

Echo crouched low on the hill, a light wind in his face. Menacing grey clouds hung above him and thunder rolled in the distance. It was the kind of storm you could feel coming - heavy, oppressive, threatening. But Echo enjoyed the calm before the storm as he knelt next to Jack, spying on the workers below.


Almost exactly your own words separated into two equally informative statements and both still conveying lots of atmosphere. I don't know if you were looking for this sort of feedback, so sincere apologies if not. You write well, so you don't need to write well twice. Ignore this advice if it doesn't ring true for you, however.

But thank you for posting. New fiction is always good.

-K.
Backgammon
No, thanks Knasser, that's awesome feedback. I welcome it, thanks.
Backgammon
The night was cold and humid. The earth was moist and felt cold, as Echo lay prone against it. The equipment he carried made his position uncomfortable as guns, grenades and other combat gear butted and jutted uncomfortably into him. He tried shifting his weight around ever so slightly, trying to find a sweet spot where nothing especially poked painfully at him. He looked over to his right. He made out Jack, also prone, at about a hundred meters. He couldn’t see the rest, but Punk and Jess would also be further down the line. Rigo, the tech support, was further away, hidden in a safer spot, as he wouldn’t be partaking in the fireworks directly.

Echo turned his head back to the left, looking up the little dirt road the target trucks would be coming down from. He stared at the darkness, his low-light lenses bathing everything in a slightly greenish taint. This place must have been a quiet, beautiful country road, before the Crash. Children probably went and swam in the pond that was further along the trail, and people might have picnicked at the very spot he was laying on, a few decades ago.

Beams of light bumped up at the horizon, ending Echo’s reverie. He brought his Kalashnikov up to him, and readied it carefully, making only a slight noise. He heard the others carefully readying their weapons too. This wasn’t the first time Echo would be in such a combat situation, but his heart was racing nonetheless. He felt nauseous, too. Performance anxiety, he thought. He concentrated on his breathing, making sure he wouldn’t be getting tunnel vision.

Two trucks and one light armoured personnel carrier were making their way down the road. Echo fidgeted with his gun, waiting for the moment. The plan was brutally simple. The first step was Rigo turning on his powerful jammer, making the vehicle sensors blind, disrupting internal communication and make calling for external help impossible. However, if they started jamming too soon, the trucks would be far from the attack line, and might escape. But the more they waited, the more it was likely the convoy would pick the awaiting ambushers on their sensors. Jack had conjured up a spirit to help hide them with magic, but according to the shaman, it was a fairly weak spirit, as the ethereal beings in the Barrens had a tendency to be hard to control and malignant. This was the ‘nervous’ part of the plan, as Echo called it. Sit tight and pray.

The big trucks rumbled on closer, causing vibrations in the ground Echo could feel. He waited nervously for Punk to lead the attack. The armoured carrier rumbled past him, rattling his brain. Then one of the trucks. As the second one drove by, he heard a distant shout. Followed by another shout down the line. Just then, the convoy slowed down a fraction, seemingly hesitating, sensing the trap. But it was too late. As he shouted, Punk scrambled up, rocket launcher shouldered. He ran a few steps, took a knee, and fired his rocket at the APC. The back doors of the carrier swung open just as the rocket impacted. The detonation was violent. Echo’s flare compensation kicked in, stopping him from being blinded by the explosion, but he felt the heat of the blast against his face. Not wasting a second, he roared and scrambled up, instantly followed by the others down the line.

The ambush had worked perfectly. Soldiers stumbled out of the APC, disoriented and burned, while the secondary, fewer guards and drivers from the trucks desperately tried to mount some sort of defence. Echo ran up to the last truck. He saw the guard riding shotgun, wide eyed with terror try to free his sidearm and bring it out the window to shoot at him, but Echo opened fire with his assault rifle and riddles the window and door with bullets. His muzzle flash blinded him for the two seconds he fired, but the next thing he saw was a mess of blood against the window. Action to his right caught his eye, and he looked to see Jesse full auto fire in the mess of guards stumbling out the rear of the APC. Jack was shouting at his truck to surrender, as a large, animated swirl of vapour aggressively spun around the driver cabin.

Echo turned his attention back to his own truck, as the driver tried to reverse-drive and turn away. Echo ran up and jumped up to the cabin, and banged the butt of his rifle against the bloody and shattered window, yelling. He could see, past the bloody mess that was the passenger, the driver panicking and focusing on getting the truck turned around. Echo turned his head away from his gun and fired some rounds blindly, point blank in the cabin. He looked back in and saw he’d hit the driver in the legs and arm. The man was now clenching his teeth in pain and holding his injuries.

He looked back at the rest of the convoy. The team’s brutal attack had succeeded well. Jack was roughly throwing the driver and guard, who had surrendered, out of his truck. Punk and Jess were taking charge of the armoured guards from the APC, shoving them in a line against the side of the burning vehicle, bashing rifle butts against backs here and there to make a point. Satisfied, Echo went back to wrapping up the situation. He bashed what remained of the window on his side, reached in and opened the door from the inside. He moved aside as the dead guard toppled to the ground, and grabbed the injured driver and tossed him out onto the ground.

Echo walked up to Jack. “Good job?, he said, giving the shaman a good pat on the back of the shoulder. “Hold them there!? he shouted to Punk and Jesse. Punk ignored him, apparently very excited to have the chance to taunt his enemies. Jesse, casually holding her rifles, turned that same gas-mask alien horse face of hers at Echo and stared at him, until Echo broke off his gaze. She looked like she couldn’t care less about what was happening around her right now.

Rigo came up jogging up from the rear, where he’d been. Rigo was in his early twenties, good looking and had an athletic body and well gelled hair, even on this mission. Echo had no idea what this kid was doing in the Barrens. He probably could break out of here, easily, especially with his valuable high-tech skills. He didn’t know what his motivations for staying in this god forsaken hell land were.

“Hey boss, good job!? he said, grinning cheesely.

“Yeah, sure. Check the trucks, open the cargo doors?, ordered Echo.

Rigo jogged up to the last truck, ruffled around in the driver side, and popped a button. A loud metallic whining indicated the back doors had swung open. Echo studied the kid as he jogged to the lead truck. He’d expected Rigo to be a little squeamish about all the blood, but apparently it didn’t bother him one bit. Surprising guy.

Echo slung his Kalashnikov around his back and headed for the cargo. The trucks were old military surplus models. Rusted, but functional. He climbed in the back, and opened a pen flashlight. There were a bunch of barrels, all right. His mouth twisted in a grim smile, victory at hand. He moved closer and inspected the label of one of the barrels. He stared at it for a few seconds. Then, he looked at another. His smile was replaced by a very deep frown.

He jumped out of the rear and walked up to the lead truck, but Rigo was already in the back of that one. As Echo neared, he poked his head out. “Hey, uh, boss... Is it just me or is this the wrong shit??.

Echo cursed mentally. “What?? asked Jack, looking up. Punk stopped kicking his prisoners long enough to say “The fuck did you say??. All eyes fell on Echo. The runner cursed again.

“Noooo. No.? repeated Punk, running up to the back of the lead truck and looking inside at the aligned barrels. “Are you kidding me? Are you KIDDING ME?? he yelled angrily, pointing at Echo. He bared his teeth, and apparently had a great idea. He turned back to one of the captured guards and kicked him in the stomach. “WHERE THE FUCK IS THE STUFF?? he yelled at him. The guards, visibly, had no idea what he was talking about, and were in no shape to understand him anyway. Punk kicked and yelled at them anyway. Rigo ran up to him and tried to plead with him to stop.

Jack walked up into Echo’s line of sight, forcing his attention away from Punk’s interrogation tactics. “Hey, what’s going on man? he asked in a calm, confidential voice. “Hey, look at me. What’s going on? Is it the wrong stuff??

Echo nodded. “yeah. Yeah, it’s the wrong stuff.? Jack cursed and threw a hand into his hair. “Intell was bad. Bust man, this is a bust. We’d better – “

He was cut off by the sound of a gunshot, which made him and Jack jump. They turned around to see Punk, arm outstretched, holding a handgun. The guard in front of him was missing the top half of his head. Punk levelled his gun at the next prisoner. “Do you know?? he asked him. The guard began yelling excitedly, pleading for mercy, that he didn’t know. Punk stopped him mid-sentence, and blew his face off, painting the side of the APC with blood. “Fuckers. You’re all fuckers.? He said, then quickly shot the remaining two guards dead. He then started to head towards the second prisoner group consisting of Echo’s wounded driver and Jack’s two.

Rigo furiously demanded him to stop right now. Punk coldly ignored him, intent on his victims, his mouth a snarl. The prisoners started to all shout at the same time pushing at the ground with their feet to try to vainly get away. Then, Rigo shouted for Punk to stop again, but this time drew his sidearm against him.

Punk heard the familiar sound of a handgun being readied, and stopped in his track. He slowly turned around to face Rigo, who had a determined look on his face. “Stop.? He told him. Jack and Echo looked at each other. Punk was bristling with anger.

“What the fuck you doing, boy?? Punk snarled at Rigo. “HUH? What the fuck you think you doing??.

“Calm down, Punk.“ began Jack. That only served to draw Rigo’s attention for a split second, which Punk used to coolly raise his own gun against the techie.

“Whoa!? yelled Echo, raising his own weapon against Punk’s back. The situation was rapidly getting out of control.

Hearing that too, Punk, still aiming at Rigo, started to manoeuvre himself, so that he could have everyone in his eyesight.

“Whatchyou doing pointing your gun at me, kid? This is the fucker that sent us here with bad fucking intell. This is all HIS fault? Punk said, motioning at Echo. “You stupid son of a slitch? he spewed angrily, talking to Echo now. “You fragged us up big time now. There’s no fucking cargo. There’s no fucking pay. There’s nothing? he talked angrily, emotionally.

Echo didn’t answer back, only staring intently at the muscular gunman, who was manoeuvring slowly. The whole group moved in a slow pattern, everyone slowly playing the field. Echo knew he couldn’t let Punk move into a good position. Punk was wired and cybered to the core. He was angry and dangerous as hell. There might be no defusing of the situation.

Jack raised his hands. “Ok, everyone calm down now? he said, playing mediator. Despite Punk’s strengths, Jack, being Awakened, was arguably the most dangerous and powerful person here. If there was anyone Punk had to listen to, it was him.

Punk stopped manoeuvring. He stood with Echo right in front of him, Rigo to his right, and Jack to his left. Echo narrowed his eyes, trying to read the man’s intentions.

“Sure. Sure. Lets... all.. calm.. down? Punk said slowly. Too late, Echo read the man. In one swift motion, Punk threw his handgun from his right hand to his left. He extended his right arm straight towards Rigo, and a loud blast erupted out of his arm. Rigo went flying backwards, his chest torn up. Catching the gun with his left hand, Punk then fired at Jack, and jumped sideways.

Echo was just, just fast enough to react however, squeezing the rigger of his gun. He initially missed Punk, shooting where he had been, but managed to swivel his full auto spray to where Punk landed, just as the chromed up warrior was levelling his gun at Echo’s chest. Hot lead tore into Punk before he could fire off a second shot, killing him.

Echo heard the click-click-click of his empty magazine. Adrenaline had blanked him out. He registered what had happened, unclenched his teeth and relaxed his grip on his gun. More thoughts hit his head, and he dropped his gun, running to where Jack lay. He reached him, and was relieved to hear a loud grunt.

“Argh, motherfucker!? swore Jack. He’d been shot in the shoulder. It was a lucky, non life-threatening hit. Just a bit higher, and Punk would've fatally hit him right in the neck. “Fuck me!? continued to swear Jack. “Echo, check the kid? he said, waving his partner off.

Echo went over and checked Rigo. The young man had been hit squarely in the chest with a shotgun blast. He was dead. “Shit?, muttered Jack. His gaze traced back to where Punk lay, a pool of blood now slowly spreading out of him. “Cyber shotgun? he called over to Jack. “He’s dead.?

Jack began to get up. Echo went over to help him, holding him under the shoulder. As they got up, they turned to come face to face with Jesse. Echo had completely forgotten about her. His mouth opened, about to say something, but she was just solidly staring at both of them. “The fuck...?? exhaled Jack, also surprised. Echo noticed Jesse was holding one bloody monowire machete in one hand, and three severed heads by the hair in the other. She was covered in blood.

Echo turned his head over to see the three decapitated bodies of the remaining prisoners Rigo had died defending. He turned back to Jesse, and just couldn’t say anything. She started at them, something about her alien horse face asking them if they had a problem with this, and her stance telling them that if they did, they could take it up with her. It just didn’t matter anymore, anyway. Echo felt his muscles relax and surrender. He didn’t care enough. Jack was similarly out of energy. They just gawked at her.

Jesse stared at them a few seconds more, then turned around and began walking out into the night. “Let her go? said Jack, as if Echo had some sort of intention no to.

Echo strengthened his hold around Jack. “Let’s go home?.
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