Something stirs under the bright orange sky, focus and zoom and the source becomes apparent, a tall figure moves out from under a make-shift rain-shelter. A woman, dark hair uncovered despite the night's acid-rain warning. She wears a long heavy coat despite her lean frame. Her face is beautiful, neon tattoos highlight strong cheek-bones, deep dark eyes marred slightly by Zeiss trade-marks.
Most of the people who know her, call her Rogue. She was born Rowena Scarlet, but the old name is dangerous now. Down in the Sqeeze there are people who wish to kill her. Enemies who cannot themselves be killed with mere bullets. She's worn other names, worn other bodies and faces, but for now, she is Rogue. It suits her outlook, her profession, her life.
She is a shadow-runner, a merc-for-hire, she sells her expertise like other women sell their bodies. Many runners liked to think of themselves as modern day Robin Hoods, Rogue hasn't even heard of the slitch. In some ways, she was more like the Joytoys than she cared to admit; while she was acting professionally, her morals were elsewhere; turned off for the night, shut away in a dark box at the back of her mind, only to burst forth in the small hours, in nightmares that wakened her screaming to sweat-soaked sheets and the scared face of whoever's bed she was sharing.
Like most runners, she had her share of 'body-enhancements', both metal and meat. Unlike most runners she liked her enhancements subtle. Her only visible chrome being the three jacks on the right side of her head. A close, 'personal' friend might notice the thin layer of ballistic plastic implanted under her skin. the darkened right palm, courtesy of a sub-dermal pickup for her smart gun; and on the left hand side of her torso, she had a dermal pocket, perfect for concealing small items. All her other enhancements, both chipped and vat-grown, were safely concealed inside her skull.
She didn't rely on the wire as much as the others, she knew she could survive without it, planned to in her retirement, if she ever got that far. Most became 'proficient' with firearms and let the wire handle the difficult shots, she was a small-arms expert. Many other runners trained with a close-in weapon and then assumed they'd always have access to it; Rogue was good with blades, very good, but she had also been trained in the mutant martial art based on Tai Chi; it's rolling, dancing style suited her natural grace and athleticism. But her most important skill was her knowledge of how to deal with people, how to get them to tell her everything, and feel like they had done themselves a favour, that was where she excelled.
She felt uncomfortable out in the middle of the street, but her Mr Johnson had a thing about power-games, so she was forced to meet him somewhere public, where his men could easily geek her. She trusted Dante, otherwise she wouldn't have been here, she usually did business through the net, meeting on neutral ground. She's no decker, but free-roaming Black Ice is a lot easier to spot than a sniper in a poly-carbon suit, chucking ten grams of hypersonic, steel-jacketed lead from two klicks down-range.
Dante didn't frag with his operatives, so she wasn't at risk unless she did something really stupid. He owned Dante Research and boardroom rumour had it he was very resolute; he never engaged in inter-office politics. Although several suits had been "retired" or so the rumours go. Rogue could guarantee that she wouldn't go up against Dante Research, the most militant Zaibatsu in England. On the down side, his runs were always effort-intensive, she couldn't just sit back and Zen it, Dante never hired outside talent for No-brainers.
At precisely 23:59:55 Dante's Mitsubishi Limo glided round the edge of the block, throwing up rooster-tails of water behind it. Precisely five seconds later it glided up to the kerb and the back door opened. Rogue moved from the kerb, making a small motion behind her back to wave off her back up, the half dozen Red Scorps faded back into the night as she moved to the front, off-side door.
She hesitated as the man inside motioned for her to get in. Rogue had a mild dislike of cars, a prejudice stemming from her old days with the Scorps. She didn't like someone else being in the driver's seat either, but again, Dante liked it this way, and if she didn't acquiesce he wouldn't hire her again. She sighed and slid onto the leather, fighting against the feeling of not being in control. She hated that more than anything, a long time ago she'd promised herself that she'd always be in control of her own destiny. A promise that was quite difficult to keep in the modem world. She'd managed well enough so far.
Dante sat behind a plate glass window, Rogue could hear the sound of the active air filters, blowing air into the front seat, which was already rotated, so she could see into the luxury rear section. Dante - Mr Rangor Dante to his business associates - was not stupid. He knew all about the extra pheromone glands Rogue had fitted for exactly this sort of situation, and she had no doubts that the back of the limo had its own dedicated air supply. Unfortunately, her Pheromones had the intended effect on the large body guard/chauffeur beside her, and he was less interested in the butt of the Colt Alpha-Omega that peeped from her rain-slick coat, than he was in something entirely softer.
Sometimes the Edge you pay for cuts both ways. Rogue ignored the bodyguard's distracted expression while the limo buttoned up, and then pressed her right eye to the retinal scanner that swung down from the roof. Her identity confirmed, she shifted to face into the darkened rear section, and waited for Dante to speak.
"Good morning Rowena, I trust you had no problem getting to the meet, and how is your man-friend, Mr Wolf?"
Rogue shitted uncomfortably in her seat at the mention of the name Wolf. Her output had been running in Germany, when the extreme stress of his Adrenal Pump finally pushed his heart into full arrest. Dante had been 'kind' enough to offer an Dante Sports-heart as a replacement. Unfortunately that put Rogue in debt to him, which was exactly what Dante wanted.
"He's doing fine sir, the replacement heart has taken well and he's in physiotherapy, training hard." That was another of Dante's little games, he was always polite, and he liked his 'employees' to keep a civil tongue also. By the time you were good enough to work for him, he already had enough of your background to refer to you by first name.
"Well Rowena., this is a mission of delicacy, extreme delicacy. I am afraid that one of my subordinates may be caught up in something beyond his control. There is a small policlub in the west end, my man is a member. Based on initial security reports I believed that this would not pose a problem, but his work is becoming... erratic. I would like you to... investigate this club, and if there are any... unforeseen problems, you are to remove them. That clause includes my man, if - in your professional opinion - he becomes... unsalvageable.
Dante settled back, and behind his dark eyes Rogue could almost hear his brain working, reading her posture and move. She cleared her throat. "There should be no problem sir, either in the investigation or in the, uh, removal of any problems. She hated hesitating in front of Dante, he was trained as an expert psychologist, he knew how to twist every motion to his advantage, and often seemed to know your mind before you did. "I trust there will be the standard forty-eight hour grace period while I decide whether to take the job.
"That will be unnecessary Rowena, something important is coming up, and I need my man confirmed one way or the other before it does. The driver has the security dossier we have compiled so far, it is rather sketchy but you may review it here, while I give you a lift home... The details of the payment are already encoded on the chip. Stored in the customary place, and in the customary amount. Plus a small bonus for the rush-nature of the job.
Once again Dante showed off his superior knowledge. Rogue had seen the tails that followed her back from their first meeting, and had purposely led them to one of the houses used by the Sqeeze chapter of the Red Scorps, one soon to be abandoned. It'd be a long walk from there to a place where the taxis would actually stop for a darkly-clothed young woman, but at least she'd be safe in Scorps' turf.
As the car purred into life, Rogue swung the chair round and found the data-soft already waiting on the dash. She slotted it into the Jack behind her ear, and activated her Vision co-processor's picture-in-picture function before leaning her head against the window in the unseeing posture of someone chipped in. Dante might be trustworthy, but she liked to see what the driver was doing, while he thought she couldn't see him.
Secure in the knowledge that she was still in the Peckham Zone, Rogue ejected the chip as the car stopped and opened the door, winking to the somewhat red-faced driver. Her cockiness was ruined by the sight outside the door, she was outside the door to her favourite apartment, the one she never did any biz out of, the one she considered secure.
As the Mitsubishi pulled away she could just see Dante allowing himself the merest hint of a self-satisfied grin at his passenger's discomfort. She really should learn not to underestimate the man, his intel-gathering was excellent.
If that was the case though, why was the data on the poll so sketchy? There were same gaping gaps in the security dossier, particularly in the area of funding. Few polis could survive on donation from their members alone, many had secret support from corporations, like Dante's own Ares Macrotech. Yet there was no mention of any corp sponsors in the file.
That was bad, it implied that Dante was playing games again, especially as he had given her the dossier know she would notice such a glaring omission. Trying to fathom his motives for such an action would just leave her head spinning, the man was inscrutable. The best Rogue could hope for was to get through the run in one piece. Just a normal working day really.