1000 Grant Street
Located a couple blocks south of the Denver Civic Center, the Burnsley Hotel dated back well into the last century, before the now standard hotel box—or coffin—became all the rage among rental entrepreneurs looking to squeeze every last possible nuyen out of their square-footage. Contrary to that trend, the Burnsley still offered full-size salon and bedroom suites, and its lounge served only real, non-engineered food in its fine dining selection, sparing no expense in either quality or atmosphere. There, Morgan “Duke” Ryan browsed the AR menu, gesturing away a list of decadent desserts. He had come here for something much sweeter.
It seemed like months, or years, since John Doe’s betrayal. In reality, only two weeks passed—two long weeks recovering from unnecessary wounds and calling in favors to track down his former ally. He could still feel some of those aches and pains as he stood, exiting the menu, and made his way to the lobby front desk.
“May I help you?” asked the bored-looking elf behind it.
“I’m here to see a friend.” Duke provided John Doe’s current alias and room number. “Could you call ahead for me and make sure he’s in before I head up to see him?”
The clerk shot him a suspicious look. “If he’s your friend, you must know his personal commlink ID. Can’t you call him yourself?”
Duke silently curses his slip; six years since Crash 2.0 ushered in the age of ubiquitous interconnectivity and he still wasn’t entirely used to how it had changed the game. Besides, social engineering had never been his forte—why he considered it paramount to always partner up with a good face. His grievance with John Doe was too personal for teamwork, though. Inspired by the thought, he quickly replied, “My visit is supposed to be a surprise,” and slid a one hundred nuyen bill slowly across the counter with two rigid fingers.
The clerk gave the lobby a discrete glance before pocketing the bill. “Just a moment, sir.” While Duke waited, the clerk put in a call to John Doe’s room. After a moment, he said, “No one’s answering.”
Good. “Well, thanks anyway.”
Duke stepped away, ducking into a stairwell as soon as the clerk’s attention drifted elsewhere. He made his way to John Doe’s floor, stopping in front of the room only after taking a moment to case the hall; then, drawing and readying his Ares Predator, Duke kicked in the door.
Silence and emptiness greeted him; yet, as he cleared room after room, with no sign of John Doe, Duke had to give his quarry credit where it was due—the man had good taste in safehouses. Searching under the bed, he found a duffel bag and pulled it out, tossing it onto the bed. He yanked the zipper down, and pulled the bag open. Inside: several firearms, clothes, and half a dozen fake SINs. Duke closed the bag up, strapped it over his shoulder, and made his way back toward the front door.
Suddenly, the sound of glass shattering hit his ears. It took a moment for him to identify the small, round object rolling across the floor for what it was—a flash bang grenade. He quickly shielded his eyes as it went off, dropped the duffel bag, and drew his sidearm once again. He swung his sights around as three men in black, unmarked fatigues breached the outside window. Two more rushed in from the hall. All leveled assault rifles on him, laser sights tagging his head, back, and chest.
Duke slowly raised his hands, ejecting his firearm’s clip to the floor as he did so.
One of the operatives strode toward him, keeping his sights on Duke’s chest the whole distance. Once within arm’s length, he moved quickly, bringing the butt of his rifle across Duke’s jaw. Blackness took him before he hit the floor.
Somewhere in the streets of Denver
He woke in the back of a moving vehicle, hands cuffed, a middle-aged blonde in gunmetal gray business attire seated opposite him; legs crossed, eyes straight and unblinking. “Mornin, sugar.” Southern sprawl drawl, thick as ferrocrete.
Atlanta, Duke thought Chattanooga maybe. Hard to tell sometimes.
“I do apologize for our roughshod introduction. Standard operating procedure.” She smiled. “You understand, I’m sure.”
“Do you know where John Doe is?” Duke asked.
She absently smoothed the collar of her jacket. “We’re not here to discuss that. We’re here to discuss you, and your future, Mr. Ryan.”
Duke tried not to let on how much it unsettled him that the blonde knew his name, but the triumphant look in her eyes betrayed his failure. “All right, Power Suit,” he said at last, and then held his bound hands out to her. “What ya got for me?”
The woman tapped her commlink’s screen; Duke’s shackles came undone. As he rubbed the numbness from his wrists, she answered, “I want to hire you, Mr. Ryan. I’m assembling a team to perform a series of operations. You will be responsible for organizing it.”
“What kind of operations are we talking about?”
“We’ll discuss those details once the team has been assembled.” She reached into a leather portfolio, waiting on the seat beside her, and removed a thin, light tablet, which she offered to him. As Duke took it, he averted his eyes to the screen to find a dossier already open for viewing. Staring back at him: a man with unmistakable South American features, a cocky smirk, ruthless eyes, and a body covered in jailhouse ink. As you can see, we’ve collected extensive intel on the four operatives we want you to collect for this assignment."
Duke swiped his finger across the screen, bringing the second dossier into view. It belonged to a middle-aged, Caucasian man with vanilla, forgettable features. “Collect?” he asked.
“My interaction with this team must be minimized for a number of reasons, and therefore you will be acting at all times on my behalf.”
The third dossier held his attention for a moment longer than the others, belonging as it did to a stunning elven woman who appeared to be a good bit younger than the previous two. But then, don’t they all? He smirked. “And what about payment?”
The woman smiled thinly. “Just as I know there are things you want more than John Doe, I also know there are things these people want more than money. I am empowered, Mr. Ryan, in my present capacity, to grant each of you the one thing you desire most.”
The face associated with the fourth dossier—an Arab man whose dark eyes betrayed deep emotional scars—could not hold his attention as her words slowly reached him. Duke looked up.
“What if I told you I had the power to wipe the slate clean, Mr. Ryan? You could go home with a fresh start. Why, you could even return to active military service, were you so inclined. Your family and your friends could see you again. No more running, no more hiding in the shadows.”
“I would ask you what your terms were.”
“Precisely.” She motioned to the tablet. “And so will they.”
Duke turned his attention once more to the tablet and flipped back to the first dossier. As he began to read, his new Ms. Johnson silently watched.