Loyal to the Cause

Ryder Mace grew increasingly apprehensive as he approached The Silver Bullet. The sleepy Downtown diner served some of the best bug burgers in Cyber City, but it also served a double purpose as the meeting place for Curt Bonoi’s notorious Mercs. Meeting with other Mercs was not high on his wish list today, but business was business, so he soldiered on and opened the front door.
Ryder spotted a lunching colleague near the jukebox and took a seat next to him.
“Hi, Drake. How’s work?”
“Hi, Ryder,” mumbled Drake as he devoured his crunchy beetle burger. “Those Corpos are a strange bunch, but they sure pay well. With all the Directors they have, VIP protection is easy pickings. You should ask Curt for a gig there.”
“Yeah, I don’t think Curt’s going to be putting me on any high value jobs for the time being.”
“Why? Did he find out you’ve been getting frisky with that foxy lady of yours?”
“Shut it, man.”
Drake gave his pal a slap on the back but it was clear to see Ryder wasn’t in the best of moods.
“What’s up, Ryder? Fox got your tongue?”
Ryder gave his colleague a menacing look.
“For real, bro, what is it?”
“I messed up again, Drake.” Ryder took a moment to breathe while Drake took another bite.
“I screwed up another hit. That’s three now. He’s gonna chop my toes off or something, I know it.”
“Man, that’s rough. What’s going on, Ryder? You’re our best marksman. It is the girl, isn’t it?”
“No.” Ryder paused. “I think I’m seeing things, man. I must be losing my mind. I swear, I’m seeing ghosts or something. I don’t know. I just can’t concentrate.”
Drake gulped and studied his fellow Merc. “You’re not the only one seeing things, Ryder. Those are holograms. They’re all over the City. Nobody knows who they are or why they’re here, but they’re not real. Don’t worry, man.
“So what happened on the job? Did you bring your gal for a ride?”
“Quit it man. Leave her out of this. And keep your mouth shut about her or I’ll-”
“Or you’ll what, Ryder? Hand over your guns? Look for another crew?” It was Curt. The two henchmen hadn’t noticed him sitting two tables away, while he listened intently to their conversation. “Botching a job is one thing, but mixing business with pleasure is another.” Curt’s eyes narrowed behind his red shades.
“This is your last chance, Ryder. It’s an honor to ride with the Mercs. We’re the best of the best. Clients come to us for our professionalism and we have a reputation to maintain. But you’re becoming a liability, running around with girls from other crews, missing shots left, right and center. Consider this your final warning.
“If you screw up one more time, you’re out. If I hear anything, from anyone, about you mixing with that fox, you’re out. The girl or the crew, Ryder. It’s your choice to make.”
“Got it, Curt.”
The three mercenaries looked across their shoulders as a small bespectacled man entered the diner. He carried a heavy looking metal briefcase. He scanned the room until he found Curt.
“This way,” Curt motioned to the weary man as they made their way to the diner’s back room.
The man placed his heavy briefcase upon a table and opened the locks to show an organized collection of wires, gadgets and sophisticated tools. Curt sat down and lay his arm on the table, inches away from the briefcase. It was not a normal arm, Curt had lost that one a long time ago, long before he became faction leader of the Mercs. This arm was different. It was a cybernetic Reacher. It could extend telescopically, but also provided Curt with tremendous strength and dexterity. The extension mechanism was in need of some minor repairs and Curt’s engineer got straight to the task at hand.
A few minutes into the operation, Curt’s comm set went off. He would have ignored the call given the circumstances but the ringtone was very specific, one he had programmed exclusively for other faction leaders. It was Kenny Waste, leader of the Nomads. Curt politely asked his engineer to leave the room and took the call. He listened as the furious Nomad warmed his ear with angry accusations of assassination attempts on his couriers.
“So you want answers? I’ll give you answers. You scumbag Nomads are strolling back into the City to come take our jobs, so we’re taking your men. That’s what’s going on here, Kenny. We run a tight operation in this town, we don’t need the likes of you messing things up for us! You stay out of Cyber City altogether or there’ll be blood on your hands; your own.”
Curt closed the call and stood up to let his engineer back into the room to finish the repair. Once it was done, he thanked him for his work and returned to the diner. Several Mercs had now gathered after completing their various jobs for the day. Settling beefs was hungry work.
Curt banged his metal fist on the counter and drew the attention of his soldiers.
“Listen up Mercs. We’re headed for the badlands. We’re going to pay a little visit to those nasty Nomads. Drake, you round up the troops. Get some gear and bring something loud, we have an announcement to make.”
He turned to look at Ryder.
“Ryder, you stay here and think about what I told you. Everyone else, let’s move!”
The merciless group of assassins and soldiers left their meals and stood up in excitement. Most jobs required a solitary touch and it wasn’t very often that they were treated to a group outing. No better bonding could be had in Cyber City than raiding another faction’s hideout. The Mercs were ecstatic.
Ryder however sat in shame. Hours passed as the sunlight dipped and was replaced by the flickering glare of Downtown’s neon lights. Not a single customer entered the diner, leaving Ryder alone with his whirlwind of thoughts.
All of a sudden, a young green haired woman appeared outside the diner’s window. She knocked on the glass and waved happily at Ryder. Ryder’s stomach turned like a washing machine. The next few minutes would define the rest of his life.
It was decision time.