Home 16-Vignette


One day ago, or thereabouts.

The shadows swirled, disturbed despite the perfectly still light, and a man stepped forth from their depths. He wore a pale blue button-up and slacks, and had a thin, pure white tie. He was met almost immediately with a knife hurtling towards his face.

A wave of shadow rolled out of nowhere, washing over the blade only inches before his face. It disappeared as quickly as it had come, taking the weapon with it. The man smirked, a flat expression that was at odds with the complete lack of emotion in his eyes. “I suppose I should have expected that.”

The other man in the room sighed, lowering the outstretched arm that had thrown the blade. “Oh,” he said, “it's you.” His voice was mildly irritated, and he turned back to the desk he was standing in front of. “What do you want?” He was dressed in dark blue combat fatigues, a heavy vest covered in various pieces of military hardware hanging from the back of a chair next to him. A balaclava, pulled back from his face, covered his hair, leaving only a few strands of wiry blonde hanging below its edge, and his face was square and thick, with an improperly-set broken nose.

“I thought we could perhaps have some tea, have a chat, catch up.” The words were wry, joking, but the tone was flat and emotionless. It had scared the other man, the first few times. Now, it just unnerved him. Then again, everything about the man in the white tie did that, so he supposed it fit.

“Jokes? From you?”

“A fair point. As always, I am here because I require your services.”

“Yeah, I don't know why I asked. What's the job?” He didn't bother turning around to face him; he wouldn't care either way.

“Are you aware of the events currently ongoing in New Chicago?”

He nodded. “Yeah, the whole thing with the robbery, and the school. Disgusting, that one.”

The other man made a noncommittal noise at that. “I, and those I represent, have a vested interest in the outcome of the situation. Up until this point, it was hoped we could steer events without direct intervention, but sadly, they have progressed to a point where that is no longer possible.”

“So we're to intervene, then?”

He nodded slightly in confirmation. “Arrive in New Chicago as soon as possible; I can provide transport if you do not have a quicker alternative.” He knew they didn't. “Once there, you will link up with another group currently furthering our interests in the city. They are not particularly savory individuals, but I assume you and yours can deal with that.”

“I imagine we've dealt with worse,” he replied, although internally, he wasn't particularly happy with it. The main reason he'd gone independent in the first place was so that he could surround himself with the people he picked. But a job was a job.

“Good. From there, your main objective is a datapad.” He gestured, and the shadows below the desk swirled up over the surface for a second. When they retreated, a thick, heavy folder was sitting there. “Its current location is unknown, but evidence suggests it is in the hands of a vigilante group known as the Outliers.”

The man picked up the folder, flipping through it. Sure enough, the first section contained brief dossiers of nine or ten individuals. The information was sparse, but it was something. “Kids?”

“Mm. Until now, irrelevant, but their stumbling into possession of this datapad has catapulted them into being central.”

The man shook his head. “What is the world coming to?” he said ruefully. “Any other people to worry about?”

“Yes. You have never been to the city” - it was freaky how he knew that - “so you are probably not aware, but the Tower has a strong presence there. Stronger, perhaps, than anywhere else. They too are pursuing the datapad, in their own inept way, although I doubt they are aware of its true significance.”

“Which is?”

“Classified. Additionally, there is the group responsible for creating this opportunity, the Cabal of the Enlightened Savior. Small fry, smaller even than the vigilantes, but ruthless, and desperate, a combination not to be dismissed.”

The man gave a grunt of acknowledgement as he continued flipping through the pages. It seemed to contain dossiers on all the relevant figures, duplicated five times over, one for each of his team. The man in the white tie scared him, but if there was one thing to be said for his employ, it was that he was thorough and organized. “This doesn't mention any location for these Outliers.”

“No. We leave that to your efforts.”

“Hmm. And payment?”

“Standard.”

“This job is far from standard.”

“So is the work we have done for you,” he countered, “allowing you to stay free and out from under Blacklight’s yoke. You would do well to remember that.”

The man gritted his teeth. “So you're sinking to threats now.” It wasn't a question.

But the other man shook his head. “No, no threats. Just a reminder.”

“If you truly believe that, then you're far more deluded that I had thought possible.” He leant over the table, staring down. “We'll have it done.”

“See that you do.”

He held out a hand without looking back. “Knife, please.” He felt a weight drop into his hand, and when he turned, the room was empty.

“Oh, and Porter?” came the man's voice from nowhere. “If you or any of your team look at that datapad’s contents, you will not live to regret it.” The shadows swirled one more time, then settled back into their natural shapes.

Porter sighed. “Fucking Broker,” he said to the empty room. Then, he picked up his vest, strapping it on, then tucked the folder under his arm and walked into the next room.

His team sat, waiting for him. They'd obviously heard him talking, and when the room only had one entrance and had a locked door, that could only mean one thing.

“Broker?” Schaus asked him. The wiry man stood over a disassembled rifle, his hands blurring impossibly quickly as he cleaned the parts.

“Broker,” Porter confirmed. There was a large metal table in the center of the room, and he strode over to it and dropped the heavy folder with a thump. “We're headed for New Chicago.”

“Oh cool,” Cole said, with a grin. “I haven't been back in ages.” She was their newest member, and he still had trouble not thinking of her as a kid. But she had some incredibly useful skills, and had more than proven her worth, so he was doing his best to get over it.

“What's the job, Porter?” Khan had her arms folded, displaying her impressive muscles. She'd always been the wariest of taking work from the Broker, as they called him.

He sighed. “We're to retrieve a datapad. Some vigilantes have it. They're just a bunch of kids, though, so try and have some nonlethal options.” That would be hard for Khan, he knew. Her power had saved all of them many times, but it was all-or-nothing.

“A datapad? What's on it?” Tall and lanky, Jensen would've looked more at home on a basketball court than in combat. “Also, who uses datapads?”

“Governments,” Cole answered. “And people who are perfectly happy using up most of their processing power on encryption and security.”

“I asked the Broker,” Porter said, answering Jensen's question, “and he shut me down flat. Classified.”

“Well, I guess that's what you get when you work for the spooks.”

“He also warned us not to look at the contents. Said we'd die if we did.”

“So he's threatening us now?” Khan asked, sounding angry.

He shook his head. “No. Well, yes, but that wasn't one, I don't think. I'm pretty sure he meant that looking at it would kill us.”

“Well, let's not do that, then,” Schaus replied easily. “Problem solved.”

“How could looking at a datapad kill us?” Cole wondered out loud. “Oh fuck it's an information weapon, isn't it? Those nutjobs at DARPA finally did it.” She clasped her hands together, squeezing tight, actually looking worried.

“Whatever it is,” Porter said hastily, “it's irrelevant. All that matters is that we've been paid to retrieve it. So that's what we're going to do.” Although, if Cole was right, he dreaded the thought of an information weapon in the hands of whatever shady branch of the U.S. government the Broker worked for.

But… a job was a job.

“Get your gear together,” he said as he turned to leave the room, “and go over those dossiers. We leave for New Chicago in an hour.”

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
If you support mercs for money,  vote for Outliers on Topwebfiction, or rate or leave a review on Webfictionguide. Every bit of support helps keep the story going, and, more importantly, stroke my ego.