This story was originally written to a competition, it had to fit in an existing world a feature a new character. The winning story would have a VRChat avatar put together based on the story, thanks to the lovely AleaseVR who you should definitely support because she's talented as hell. I'm pretty happy with what I put together!
Night City was once just another city, but with the fall of society it suddenly found itself a major hub. A bustling metropolis full of life with all the trouble that such close knit quarters can bring. Busy streets, bright lights above scouring every nook and cranny, sidewalks packed shoulder to shoulder and the constant push and shove of the demands that the city placed on its civilians. However, this isn't what every burough of the city looks like; on the edge of the city sits a handful of blocks with walls broken and crumbling foundations, their dilapidated remains letting the elements destroy what the people didn't when it was ransacked decades ago.
Two syndicate informants skulk through the darkness cast by these ruins, one of them with much greater familiarity.
"Tell me again what we are doing here," the junior informant asked,"I can't imagine we can find anything about the attack on the syndicate outpost here and we are wasting time. People's lives are on the line, shouldn't we be somewhere else? This place is dead."
The senior shot him a look, her eyes narrowing with displeasure as the silence was broken, "Not on the street, you can never be sure who is listening here."
Gesturing to the junior, she quickly traced a path along the edge of the building to an open door and ducked inside, wincing slightly at the sound of him following. As he stepped inside, he opened his mouth to continue his line of questions which was quickly silenced by the glare of his superior. The senior informant tapped at the data pad on her wrists and a faintly glimmering shield of darkness surrounded the two before rendering itself transparent to them.
After a few seconds, a scuttling sound could be heard permeating their barrier, and from across the road a bizarre mechanical creature emerged from the window on the second story of the building. Peering intently, the junior agent's mind couldn't make sense of what it was seeing for a second before a soft gasp escaped his lips. Across the street, the droid's disembodied head used its spider-like legs that extended from its neck to climb down the side of the wall, searching for them in the last direction they had been seen.
"What the fuck is that?" the junior agent asked, leaning forward, his eyes wide with shock.
"It's one of her drones, she drags broken down droids back here and repurposes them. As I said before we left, this area is crawling with eyes and ears."
"But it can't hear us now right?" the junior agent queried, turning to look at his trainer.
"That's right, the standard issue syndicate input blocker disrupts anything in this sphere," she replied, watching the mechanical creature as it tried to track them. "But I'm going to have to take it down soon, the drain on my batteries is too much. Just remember, do not mention the syndicate or the war while you are in this area. Our intel source does not respond well to hearing about it."
"Yeah, why is that? The briefing said our source was ex-syndicate right?"
"She is, but…," the senior agent paused, trying to find the right words. "Let's just say that her code isn't the most well put together. Just don't do anything to aggravate that and we should be fine."
The junior agent took this in, frowning in thought before something else came to mind.
"That thing is her drone right? So, why are we being so covert?"
"The Syndicate isn't the only group that relies on her for information, you can't be sure who else might be passing through right now."
The senior agent took a deep breath and looked her junior dead in the eyes.
"If something does go bad in there, you have to understand, nothing you can do can stop her. Anyone in her way is not going to survive long, I will leave you there in a heartbeat and you have to be prepared to do the same to me."
"But… she's ex-syndicate," he repeated,"nothing will go wrong, right?"
Without giving her trainee a response, the senior agent leant forward to check the street outside before motioning for him to follow. The two quietly moved towards the apartment block at the end of the street which dominated the neighbourhood, one of the few left with fully standing walls. Every footstep echoing off the buildings around, making the silence of the area even more evident.
Passing through the threshold of the building, the two exchanged looks. The building opened up in front of them, haphazard home improvements had transformed what was originally a small apartment entrance into a twisted mockery of an old world parlor. Torn tapestries hung from the wall, with broken tables hosting all manner of cracked vases and arrangements of dead flowers. The younger agent reached down and picked up a discarded book from the floor, its cardboard hardcover and paper leafs standing out in a world that had discarded such things years ago.
"A… a romance novel?" he whispered to his partner.
"Before all this she was a librarian," his senior replied, eyes staying forward.
"But there haven't been libraries in years," he said back, eyes tracing the tacky couple on the cover, embracing while a horse reared up in the background.
"She's old, much older than most of the droids you see around the city. After the last library closed she has had a lot of time to herself with no real focus. You've been through basic training, you know what happens to droids with no set task. So, eyes up, stay sharp."
The two inched forward to the doorway ahead, before the senior agent motioned for her junior to stop. Taking a moment to compose herself, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath before confidently stepping forward into the next room.
"De_Mi! It's so good to see you again," she said, to the junior's eyes, suddenly a completely different person.
He followed her, walking into a room reminiscent of a living room. All the parts were there, couches with their backs to the two guests with matching arm chairs on the other side, all forming a circle around a rug. On the far wall sat a cobbled together fire-place, not currently lit. These surface level impressions were where it stopped, however; the couches were ripped and torn affairs, one of them at a slant where the missing leg no longer kept it up. The rug was marred with years of neglect, dirt ingrained on every thread with a large rip down the middle. The fireplace wasn't made of stone as it first appeared, but chunks of concrete, most likely torn up from the road outside, hosting nothing but ashes from a fire that was only a memory. Lastly, but certainly not least, were the inhabitants of the room.
The couches were seating half a dozen old droids, or possibly the remains of old droids. The junior informant realised with a start that they were still operational, as one on the couch ahead of him turned to face him, the head grinding as it rotated freely on the neck that wasn't made to contain it. Standing next to the best looking armchair was an absurd caricature of a butler, black and white material shreds hanging from its almost metal frame, synthskin long since worn away. Every so often the room lit up as sparks issued from a broken knee joint. Finally, sitting in the armchair in question, was the only android in the room that was composed of its original parts. She sat, almost regally, one leg crossing over the other, a chipped port glass in hand containing nothing but dust, dressed in what would have once been a rather elegant black dress.
"Odele, it's so good to see you again," the droid trilled in greeting. She gestured to the armchair on the other side of the poor excuse for a fireplace, before eyeing the junior agent. "And what have you brought me here? He looks absolutely delectable!'
"This is Bo, my junior mentee at the moment. I thought it would benefit him to meet such an esteemed information broker," the senior agent replied, crossing to the armchair without missing a beat. Bo, feeling a little out of his league, attempted to match his superior casual walk and walked over to stand behind his mentor's seat. A message popped up on his internal messaging service, causing him to start.
Glancing at his senior, he saw one hand gently resting on her data pad having just typed out the message. He looked up, composing himself quickly and smiling at the droid who was eyeing him intently.
"Nice… nice to meet you De_Ma," he managed.
The droid's eyes stayed on him for a moment, as if trying to decide how to categorise the human standing in front of her before dismissing this as a problem to be addressed later. She turned back towards the senior agent.
"Come now darling, you wound me, our relationship is more than just business surely," the droid questioned, a dangerous glint shining in her glassy blue eyes.
"Would a business acquaintance have been as thoughtful as this?" the senior agent said, pulling a book from her jacket and holding it out.
After a brief pause, only accentuated by the sound of gears tensing and winding up, the butler-like android limped over to the agent's seat. Reaching out and taking the gift, it bowed slightly, a flap of material falling forward over its torso as it did, before returning to the lady of the house and passing the gift to her. The book's cover showed a large double bed with a half naked man tied down, while the door on the left was wide open and the silhouette of a regal woman blocked the light from behind.
"What is this? 'The Duchess's toy'? Oh Odele, you know me too well," the droid practically purred as she studied the cover. "And what do we have here?" she asked as she pulled a slip of paper from behind the cardboard sleeve.
"It's a one of a kind printed invitation to Na_Mi's next big event. I know how much you like the formalities of such a thing," the agent replied, her mind going over the trouble she had gone through to find a printer made within this decade.
The droid's eyes widened, and with a squeal she kicked her legs in excitement.
"'Oh it has been NIGHTS since I went dancing, and would you believe the last dancer I brought back fell entirely asleep during one of our…" The droid seemingly cleared its throat. "Sessions."
The junior agent's eyes trailed over to the only other door in the room, hearing for the first time the shallow breathing faintly escaping it. Peering out of the darkness of the room was a haggard pair of eyes, and at noticing the agent spotting them a hand raised up in a shushing movement. The agent glanced at his superior who shot him a look before continuing the conversations.
"I wouldn't believe that! It's like the party crowd just doesn't have the stamina it used to, how disgraceful," she replied, her fingers covertly dancing across the data pad on her wrist.
"Oh!" the droid exclaimed with a start. "I don't have a gift for you, what a thoughtless host I have been."
"It's no bother, we turned up unannounced after all," the senior agent nonchalantly stated,"although…"
"Name anything darling, is there something I can do to make your life easier?"
"Well… after stopping by we were going to go investigate a disturbance that occurred yesterday over on Blanchert street. You wouldn't happen to have any footage or news of that area would you?"
The droid leant forward, her head resting on one hand as she smiled.
"Odele, as shrewd as ever I see. Of course I can help you with that."
Her mouth opening, she omitted a crackling noise that was nonsensical to the junior agent's ears. Patterns of various pitches, highs and lows with gaps in between, carrying analogue data that he couldn't parse. A skittering sound caused him to look towards the entrance as another droid head with a noticeable crack down the side and one eye missing, moving on a set of six mismatched mechanical legs entered the room. It disappeared behind one of the couches before reappearing after climbing the back of the furniture. One of the seated droid's heads lifted on legs of its own, before heading outside as the new head settled down in the neck socket. Once firmly in place the droid parted its top to show a screen embedded in its chest, which immediately flickered to life showing a shot of a street.
"Is this the area you were after?" De_Ma queried.
The senior agent frowned, trying to place the viewpoint of the camera, but her mentee already knew this wasn't the right viewpoint.
Hoping to help the conversation, and without thinking he offered, "Do you have a viewpoint directly across the street from here, at the syndicate's old outpost?"
The silence that filled the room was near deafening, only to be punctuated by his senior hissing, "You fucking idiot, we need to leave," as she jumped to her feet and quickly made for the entrance.
The junior agent quickly followed her example before glancing back at De_Ma and stopping dead in his tracks. Something was intensely wrong with the droid, her arm spasming as one eye's blue colour faded out before being replaced with an ominous red glow.
"S̴̱̓Y̵͉͋N̸̰͘D̶̠̏Ȋ̷̠C̵͈͒Å̵̢T̷̻́E̴̞͑?̶͙̕" the voice that came from the droid was strained and stressed, the word dispersed with the same noise she had made earlier, stuttering like jammed mechanics.
She rose to her feet unsteadily, as if her body was not completely under her own control. One leg didn't seem to want to hold her weight, giving away under her as she tried to wrestle it under control. Snarling, she grabbed the misbehaving limb in one hand, holding it forcefully for a moment before standing. Standing hunched over, the droid's body tensed before launching at full speed towards the junior agent on the other side of the couch. Her right hand tore through the furniture, an unlucky droid falling in two parts as she moved through the newly wrecked lounge, reaching out as if to rip the agent's head from his body. The junior agent stepped backwards a moment too late as the hand closed around his throat.
Bo uttered a strangled gurgle as he was lifted off his feet by the malfunctioning droid. Fear passed across his face as he looked down at her, her hair parting as she lifted her head to stare at him through two glowing red eyes. Cocking her head to one side a twisted grin spread across her face.
"Y̴o̵u̵ ̶l̷o̶o̴k̵ ̸e̸v̷e̷n̵ ̵t̵a̴s̸t̴i̸e̶r̸ ̶l̵i̴k̷e̵ ̸t̶h̵i̷s̴," the droid said with a voice like gears grinding together, a wild look in her eyes.
Without turning to look the feral droid began walking backwards towards the other doorway, a look of hunger in her eyes as she held the stare. The junior agent struggled under her grip, kicking his legs helplessly in the air while both hands slapped at the ironlike grip on his neck. The droid tittered at his attempts, the red light in her eyes glowing even brighter. Bo glanced across at the couches to see the five remaining droids. Two were sprawled across the remains of the splintered collateral damage, but all of them were watching their mistress blankly as she dragged him towards the darkened doorway.
The junior agent noticed a movement in the doorway, and with a start the owner of the eyes he'd seen before launched out of the room. The man that emerged was clad in the ripped remains of club clothing, the flexiplast material (advertised as indestructible) in tatters around his legs. On either wrist was a flap of what appeared to be bedsheets that had once bound both arms, one hand a deep shade of purple from the lack of circulation. The new arrival was surprisingly quiet on his feet, and it wasn't until he crossed into the droid's eyesight that she noticed.
With a hiss she cried, "N̸O̷!̴ ̶Y̷o̷u̷'̸r̴e̵ ̸m̶i̶n̶e̵!̸", tossing the syndicate informat to the side like a discarded doll.
His last view as he tumbled through the air was the droid speeding towards the escapee, her right hand lifted to strike. The agent hit the ground hard, knocking the wind out of his body as he bounced, dazed. As the world swam back into focus he heard a scream, and through his blurred sight he saw De_Ma on top of the once bound dancer. She was leaning over the suddenly still body of the man, the arm pinning him to the ground coated in a telltale red viscous liquid.
"I̵f̴ ̵I̷ ̸c̸a̵n̸'̵t̴ ̴h̴a̸v̴e̵ ̵y̸o̶u̵,̸ ̷n̵o̸ ̵o̴n̶e̵ ̴c̴a̷n̵!" she screamed, tearing into the body under her.
"Madame, please calm down, you are not in your right mind," the broken voice of the butler stated, limping over to his mistress.
The agent's eyes widened, and even with his senior's warning from out on the street echoing through his head he hesitated, if only for a second.
Realising there was nothing he could do to save this man, the agent pulled himself to his feet and sprinted out of the building, legs pumping hard. Reaching the street, he glanced around and spied his senior peering around the corner of an alley, motioning to hurry up. As he continued to run she fell into line just ahead of him. He was breathing hard, face painted with horror at the scene that had just played out in front of him.
"That looked exactly like… cyberpsychosis," he panted out as he put everything he had into running from the scene.
"She's infected, she has been for as long as I've known her," the senior agent replied, keeping her pace at an even level as they fled.
The two stopped in an alleyway outside the burnt out district, the junior agent on his hands and knees heaving in deep breaths.
"Wait, ok," he sputtered in between the breaths before pulling himself together,"I thought she was a droid?"
"She is. You know back when they were experimenting with the first humanity transfers? She was a lonely librarian who wanted to be able to enjoy her stories forever" his mentor replied, leaning on the wall of the alleyway, recovering.
"Why didn't you tell me? It wasn't even in the files!" he complained, outraged at the lack of warning.
"We keep it out of the files… it's been an unspoken agreement for years," she said, a tinge of regret in her voice.
Picking up on the mood, the junior agent calmed,"What… what happened?"
"Back when the virus first appeared, there was talk of hardcoding in loyalty to Syndicate members. Before we found a way to do it properly there was experimentation in pushing the loyalty as a packet via an installed chip everytime it detected a change. We hoped it would overcome what the virus did," the agent trailed off.
"But it didn't. Did it."
The senior agent shook her head, "the virus and the loyalty data clash. Everytime the syndicate is brought up the chip pushes its payload, which clashes with the virus. She's basically fighting herself and it's been taking its toll."
"It may not have looked like it there at the end, but she knows the risks that come with infection. She's not even on the network anymore to avoid letting it spread. It's the only reason we can visit her."
The two fell into silence. Odele took in her mentee's face, shadows of what he had seen passing through his eyes.
"Well," the senior agent said softly, breaking the heaviness in the air. "I think we both need a quick drink after that before we chase other leads. Come on kid, I'm buying."
She reached out a hand to help him off, and the two walked onto the busy street.