Read a sample from Cyberpunk 2077: No Coincidence by Rafał Kosik

This electrifying novel set in the world of the bestselling video game Cyberpunk 2077 follows a group of strangers as they discover that the dangers of Night City are all too real.

Chapter 1

Click. Click. Click. Didn’t fit.

Like everything else. Like right now. He wasn’t supposed to be here – didn’t want to be. Squeezed between a wall and a dumpster in the goddamn pouring rain. Who knows, could be useful. The rain. Reduces visibility, provides a little natural cover. Yeah, the rain could stay.

Click. Click. Still didn’t fit. His clothes were soaked. Uncomfortable, but a reminder he was alive even though he shouldn’t have been.

Zor should’ve been dead seven years and counting.

Gray water cascading from an utterly gray sky. The upper floors of the abandoned kibble factory dissolving into a gray nothing. The lower levels of the Petrochem BetterLife power plant looming farther ahead, barely visible. Arroyo – not the quaintest of Night City neighborhoods.

A couple of passersby scurried past – hardly a glance in his direction. Indifferent cars splashed through oil-slicked puddles, spilling onto the sidewalk. Might as well be invisible.

Click. Click. Gotta be kidding me. He looked down at the magazine. Upside down, stupid. He’d already forgotten how to do this. Seven years is a long time. Even muscle memory wasn’t spared.

Click. Now we’re in biz. Not like it changed much. Not a snowball’s chance in hell this was gonna work, not with this team. One in a hundred chance, maybe? A thousand? Wishful thinking said one in five, but even those odds don’t inspire confidence.

Thirty seconds,” said the synthesized voice through his earpiece.

Don’t wanna be here – don’t wanna do this. No way this would work. He looked down at his hands holding the SMG. Then it hit him. He couldn’t imagine any other place he ought to be. Couldn’t picture any other time or place where he’d fit. Rain, a dumpster and a gun.

And no choice.

“Twenty seconds. Stand by, target’s approaching!”

He reached into his pocket and flipped his spare mag the right way up. He wrapped one hand around the pistol grip, the other around the foregrip. He remembered how to do this. Sort of. Seven years takes its toll. Seven years and a death along the way. His own.

A stout, boxy truck emerged through the veil of rain. Armor-plated, by the looks of it. Regular four-door at its twelve – probably also reinforced. His bullets wouldn’t even scratch it.

Zor slowly rose to his feet, not moving from his hiding place. The other side of the road was closed off, dug up for repair, which meant two-way traffic was choked through a single lane. Their security ought to take extra precautions – take a detour, even. Probably banking on blending in – neither the truck nor the car in front bore any official insignia. Nothing out of the ordinary to anyone walking by.

“Zor! Now!” the voice commanded.

Zor aimed and squeezed the trigger. The short rat-tat-tat echoed off of the nearby buildings. The few pedestrians around made themselves even scarcer. Couldn’t be any doubt in the guards’ minds now – the convoy’s cover was blown. The burst had pierced through the armor of the car in front and decomished the engine. Little SMG did the trick after all. Zor looked at it in surprise. The Militech M221 Saratoga wasn’t the flashiest iron out there, but the increased impact velocity from its tungsten rounds made short work of most light armor. Sure, the gun would be useless after a few bursts, but that was beside the point.

The rain stopped. Vapor hissed from under the hood. Steam – maybe smoke. Nobody seemed to be getting out. The truck had stopped barely an inch away from the X chalked on the sidewalk, not yet completely washed away by the downpour. It was the perfect bottleneck – all according to plan. A vintage Quadra coupe came to an abrupt stop behind the truck, which was trying to reverse, backing straight into the sports car’s fender.

A tall, slim woman got out of the Quadra to examine the damage. Short, dark hair, high heels, elegant suit. Wrong place, wrong time for a corpo to vent their road rage.

Why the hell aren’t they getting out?


Warden leaned over a folding table and observed the situation on the monitors. The digital clock in the bottom-right corner counted down the time it would take for the badges to appear. Only ETAs, but still.

Through the windows the neighboring high-rises hovered in the rain like ghostly monoliths. The rain was a boon, but it couldn’t guarantee the plan’s success. How long before they traced him? Only a matter of time. The thirty-third floor of an unfinished apartment block on the south side of Heywood and a good two miles from the ambush – an ample getaway margin in case everything went to shit. Two minutes, tops. Disassembling and packing all the module military equipment into briefcases shouldn’t take him any longer.

Not so for the netrunner.

A tangled web of cables ran along the rubble-strewn concrete floor toward the bathroom, where they joined to a hermetic coupling plugged into the neuroport behind the netrunner’s ear. He lay submerged from the neck down in a tub filled with icy slush, while his brain occupied itself with multiple processes – slowing the police and security response being the top priority. What he didn’t know was that he was in a race against time for his own life. Coming out of a deep dive would take time.

Warden drew his pistol – a silver Tsunami Nue with gold accents – and checked his ammo count. No point leaving behind someone who knew this much. But right now, he needed him – in fact, the whole operation rested on his submerged shoulders.

Warden checked the monitors again. What were they waiting for?

“Change of plan – we’ll smoke ‘em out,” he spoke in the open channel. “Milena, stand down.”


It was a classic corpo tantrum. Gesticulating wildly, she shrieked at the truck driver, demanding his insurance company, making sure he knew just how much he’d fucked up. High-heels, fur-collared suit – she really did look the part. Too good, almost. Even pretended she’d forgotten the shots fired a minute ago. She stood right on the chalk X. Safe, just outside his line of fire. But then, she took three steps forward.

“Milena, I repeat – stand down.”

Either she was still pretending, or she really didn’t hear it. Auditory exclusion. Throw stress into the mix and nothing goes the way it’s supposed to.

“Ron, light ‘em up,” Warden barked over the comms.

“What about Milena? She could get shot.”

“You’ll all get shot if you don’t stick to the plan.”

“Give me a sec,” Zor preferred it if no one got shot. “I have a good angle.”

He switched the Saratoga to semi-auto and fired a single round at the car, carving an ugly scar into the hood. The doors opened and three guards spilled out. Rookies, judging by their awkward shuffling. They wore Militech uniforms and were equipped with the minimum standard-issue weaponry. From where he stood, Zor could instantly take out two if he wanted. No, not necessary.

Milena seemed to not have heard Warden’s orders, nor Zor’s gunshot. She continued laying into the driver with the fervor of a hot-blooded Italian prima donna, pointing back and forth between the driver and her front fender.

Finally, the driver’s door of the truck opened.

“Aya! You’re up!” The voice belonged to Warden.

You could tell at first glance. The slim, nimble, East Asian-looking woman hidden behind the pillar had exactly no experience in these kinds of stunts. She fumbled with the grenade launcher before they heard the muffled, familiar foomp followed by an unmistakable hiss. Smoke started billowing from the windows of the truck. Her shot turned out perfect.

“Borg, on your mark!”

Two figures stumbled out of the haze following a burst of gunfire from the left. Most of the bullets disappeared into the gray, save for one – likely by accident. The driver tumbled to the ground. The second guard quickly sidestepped and took cover behind the large back wheel.

“Tighten your aim!”

The next burst only skipped along the wet blacktop. Borg couldn’t aim for shit.

Heels clacking, Milena dashed around the corner of one of the buildings and tossed another smoke grenade. It flew in an arc over the street, hitting the streetlamp with a metallic ding and landing only a few yards away from Zor. Damn it! Is she even trying to aim?

With another hiss, smoke started spewing from the grenade, partially blocking Zor’s view of the street.

Aya fired a burst at the truck. Probably the first time in her life she’s pulled a trigger. Less than a hundred feet away and, from the sound of it, not a single bullet found its mark.

Without a visual on their attackers, three guards in uniform started blind-firing from behind the car. The fourth, crouched behind the truck wheel, spotted Aya taking cover behind an old, burnt-out car wreck near the sidewalk.

“Aya! Down– Get down!” Zor barked into his mic.

She quickly ducked just as a volley of heavy machine gun fire pierced the car’s body like paper. Milena’s Quadra wasn’t by any means bulletproof, which is why they’d lined the inside with anti-ballistic panels only an hour earlier. They served their purpose.

“Aya, stay behind cover,” Zor cautioned.

Those three would have to wait. One thing at a time. He knew one of the guards was behind the rear truck wheel – he just couldn’t see him. He aimed at the tire and fired three times. High, middle and low. His wrists were sore from the recoil. The bolt went slack. It was either about to jam or fall apart entirely. Hardly mattered, since the rounds were only hitting rubber. But now the rest knew where Zor was hiding. A few bullets whizzed over his head, causing little puffs to shoot out of the wall. The smoke grenade turned out to be his savior, though he still couldn’t afford to lean out so much as an inch.

Seconds passed, neither side could do anything. Stalemate.

“Cover me!” Aya called out over comms.

She jumped from out behind cover.

“Aya—!” Zor began, but it was already too late to stop her. He leaned out and fired a few rounds, mostly for suppression’s sake – he had no chance to hit anyone from his position.

Aya climbed onto the Quadra’s roof, then jumped toward the ledge of the truck and pulled herself up. Twice the speed of any soldier. A few rifle bursts sliced through the air – Aya strafed and fired three rounds up close. The guard slumped down to the ground, limp.

“Ron!” Warden commanded.

“’Bout time! Almost dozed off.”

The low thumping of an HMG broke out, hidden somewhere behind a first-floor window. Chunks of sidewalk flew into the air, a fire hydrant erupted in a jet of water, and the construction barriers surrounding the closed-off section of the street collapsed and clattered into a pile of rubble. There was even a distant sound of glass shattering from windows that must have been three hundred feet away. Somehow, the unmarked car remained untouched.

“Wow,” it was Milena. “Great accuracy…”

“Hey, it’s the first time I’ve ever done this, okay?!”

The guards stayed behind the car and ceased their fire. A small victory, at least.

“Aya!” shouted Zor. “Over here!”

Aya vaulted over the car wreck and reached Zor’s hiding place in no time. He grabbed her and pulled her behind him.

“Thanks,” she pressed herself against the wall, tied back her long hair and checked her iron. Her shoulder was bleeding.

“Show me,” Zor gently took her arm and examined the wound. Not life-threatening.

“It’s just a scratch,” Aya clumsily tried to reload.

“Ron!” Zor called into his mic.

“Yeah, I’m on it!”

A brief volley, maybe five bullets – three on the mark. The car was blown open like a metal can ruptured by a firecracker. Their cover now useless, the guards retreated.

“Take cover!” It was Warden. “Shield your weapons!”

Zor leapt behind the dumpster and pushed Aya closer toward the wall.

“Keep your gun behind cover,” he ordered.


He could materialize everything in real time and adapt the interface to his liking, mold his own cyberspatial habitat. Every netrunner had their own tastes and quirks. He preferred to keep things tidy – no frills, no distractions. He adjusted the brightness, swapped out colors for readability, nuked the waterfall animation for incoming data.

He didn’t care much about the Arroyo op. He thought of it like a game. He would’ve managed fine on his own cyberdeck, but the gear he got for this gig was a definite step up. He felt powerful – reality was his to control as he pleased. And the codes from Borg actually worked. He had free rein over the traffic lights in that part of Arroyo.

He was propelled by a surge of joy as he floated around his self-configured control room. Essential elements were divided into subcategories and pinned above and around him. He hung suspended amid hundreds of symbols and icons woven together in an irregular sphere with seemingly no exterior, though in reality it was shielded by a thick layer of black ICE.

Time for the next step. No need to rush. Time flowed differently here – slower. Zor’s dash for the dumpster looked as if the outside world had been submerged in oil.

Local CCTV access definitely helped. The techies at the control center were surely frantically looking for the cause of their alarm, unaware it was created on purpose. He rerouted his NetIndex to cover the length of half the district. On top of that, he triple-encrypted his subnet. It’d take at least six security experts to figure out his exact location and even then, by the time they identify the intruder’s whereabouts, they’d find nothing but a cold, dark void.

He liked to keep it simple. A pair of rectangular prisms hovered to his left – two big, red buttons. Detonators.

Using thought-command, he transmitted a nerve impulse to his immaterial hand and pressed them both.


Two EMP charges hidden in a trash-littered street gutter chirped quietly as they activated. The ammo count on Zor’s SMG flickered – all else seemed unaffected. No surprise, since it was mechanical. He noticed Aya’s body twitch. Through his drenched clothes, Zor felt the heat rising off her.

Borg opened fire from the right, shooting everything within sight.

“EMP didn’t do anything to us,” Zor tried to comfort her. She nodded hesitantly.

The steel dumpster did its job – their weapons were safe, whereas it would take five seconds for the guards’ advanced firing mechanisms to unlock. Five seconds was all they needed.


“Now!” Warden ordered.

Zor leapt out of cover and opened fire. Shouldn’t Borg and Ron be covering them? Fuck! He shot at the ground to make more noise and avoid hitting any buildings or windows. Ricochets and the splattering of water across the road made a better impression. A few windows cracked from the ricochets. Aya followed close behind him, mimicking his movements.

“Borg, the tow-truck!” Warden shouted.

The guards dropped their weapons and raised their hands in the air.

Beautiful. Amateurs on both sides.

A shot. One of the guards fell.

“Borg!” Zor looked around. “Hold your fire!”

He ran to the guards and kicked their rifles under their bullet-ridden car. He shoved one of them around so that he stood facing what was left of the construction barrier. The second, equally terrified, didn’t need any prompting and followed suit. Aya did a quick pat-down and removed the pistols from their holsters. Didn’t even bother trying to use them earlier.

Borg finally emerged from his hiding place wearing his signature violet-navy jumpsuit. He approached nonchalantly, as if he was starring in an action flick, his lime-green hair swept back. He was preparing to take another shot.

“Borg, drop it!” shouted Zor,

Borg didn’t listen. He grinned like a mischievous child about to do something naughty.

“Borg, the truck!” this time it was Warden. “Stick to the plan.”

“You heard ‘im,” Zor growled.

Borg carelessly swung the rifle upward and rested it against his shoulder. He winced and quickly repositioned it. The barrel was still hot. He switched off his comms link to stop Warden from listening in.

“You mean the plan that put our asses on the line,” Borg began. “While he’s sittin’ comfy givin’ us orders!” He rolled up his sleeves and briefly operated a panel just above his wrist It beeped and his arms and shoulders started to swell. In seconds they were nearly one and a half times their original size. He gave a satisfied laugh and kissed his bicep.

“Impressive, ain’t it?” He winked at Aya.

“Not really, no,” she didn’t even look at him as she held the two guards at gunpoint. “Just get the tow-truck here.”

“Time!” urged the netrunner’s computerized voice.

Borg grudgingly turned and jogged to where he should’ve been half a minute ago – a serious deviation from the plan.

Police sirens faintly wailed in the distance.

“Go. Start running!” Zor ordered the guards, at the same time gently lowering Aya’s arms.

The guards glanced at each other in confusion, then nearly tripped over themselves as they ran away at full tilt.

“The lock!” Zor called out.

Aya ran around the truck, her black ponytail whipping the air. She really was fast, but nothing indicated that she had any implants. Zor stood by the front and kept his eyes on the end of the street.

“Mine’s armed,” Aya announced. “Five seconds.” [SK10]

They heard the sudden roar of a monstrous engine, followed by the beeping of a garbage truck in reverse.

“Yo, what the shit?!” Borg started, confused. “Drivin’s s’posed to be my job!”

“Should’ve driven it, then, instead of fuckin’ around,” Milena retorted over comms.

Aya dashed around the side of the truck and leaned against the front fender. She pressed her hands over her ears and shut her eyes.

But there was hardly any blast at all. It sounded more like a bottle rocket than a mine. All the better – they needed the cargo intact.

They hurried back around and pulled open the rear doors.

“There anything I should do?” Ron asked with uncertainty in his voice.

“No, you can come down,” Zor replied. “Need to unload this and delta outta here. Badges’ll be here any minute, not to mention 6th Street.”

Borg, disgruntled at being called out, guided Milena as she reversed the garbage truck toward their payload. It was probably the first time she’d driven anything bigger than a standard sedan. She scraped the side of the Quadra, though this time she didn’t care. Ride was stolen anyway.

In the middle of the truck’s cargo lay their objective – a gray container.

They stood there for a moment and stared at it. They had a feeling they were in the presence of something… important. No time to waste, though. Zor took out a knife and cut the straps holding it in place. He tugged on the handle. Wouldn’t budge.

“No way we’re lifting this,” Zor said. “Borg, make yourself useful and do the honors.”

Borg scowled and walked over to a lift control box duct-taped to the side of the garbage truck. It was a last-minute addition. Basic, but effective. With a low whirr, a crane emerged from the roof with straps and hooks dangling from its end. Zor attached them to the sides of the container. The crane let out a groan as it started lifting.

“Motherfucker weighs more than six hundred pounds,” Borg seemed impressed. “Hell’s inside this thing?”

The sirens were growing louder.

“Two minutes,” the netrunner notified them.

“Estimated or actual?” asked Aya.

“I can buy you thirty more seconds, no more.”

Zor looked at Aya. He could’ve done this without everyone else, he thought to himself. Except her. And the netrunner, of course. Whoever he was.

A tall, skinny figure appeared at the entrance to the abandoned factory. Zor reached for his pistol.

“Jesus, Ron!” His hand froze midway. “A heads-up next time.”

“Woah, hey!” Ron sidestepped a good second too late. “Battin’ for the same team, remember?” He theatrically placed his hand over his chest. “Mighty kind of you to spare me.”

His oversized work-coat hung on his shoulders like a trash bag. His short, gray-streaked hair was tousled. He seemed laid-back, almost as if none of this was real, but a braindance that could be paused, rewinded, fast-forwarded past all the tough moments.

Though the container was about the size of your average bathtub, the roof of the truck bent slightly upwards and the crane bowed under the load as it hoisted it up above the garbage compartment.


Zor cut the straps once more. The container dropped with a heavy thud, making the truck bob up and down.

“Let’s move!”


Warden watched the monitors as the garbage truck drove off at full speed. He raised an eyebrow as it hit the corner of a parked car and shoved it against a street lamp.

On the smaller screen, he saw two NCPD patrol cars speeding from the opposite direction a few blocks away. He sooner expected to see a Militech rapid-response unit – usually light years ahead of the badges. No sign of them, though.

It was slowly dawning on him that they had actually pulled this off. He didn’t believe in it at first. The op, pitched by the client himself, wasn’t just strange – it seemed downright impossible. Usually, clients tell you what they want and how much they’re willing to pay for it. This one had it all worked out from the start, gonk as it sounded. Funny how it all worked out. Maybe the plan wasn’t so scopbrained after all. The thought that this strategy could be repeated in the future briefly crossed Warden’s mind. Force a bunch of amateurs to do the job – it all crashes and burns, you lose nothing.

Just one oversight – they knew his face, his name. Next time that’d have to change.


“Yo, lady, slow down!” Borg yelled, one hand gripping the edge of his seat, the other combing back his green hair. “You got a deathwish?!”

“If anyone’s a lady here, it’s you,” Milena gripped the steering wheel even tighter, trying to stay inside the lane. She was smiling, clearly enjoying herself. Zor and Ron exchanged glances.

“Best if we avoid drawing attention,” Zor interposed. “A garbage truck going this fast’ll turn heads,” He wanted all of this to be over as much as everyone else. It’d be a shame if they got caught now – right at the finish line.

Truth is, he was forced into this. Wasn’t his fault, just rotten luck. He didn’t have a choice.

They were here for a reason. Every one of them had something to lose – something worth saving in exchange for a few minutes of crime, dangerous as it might be.

The truck hit a garbage can. Milena swore under her breath and reluctantly eased her foot off the CHOOH.

Ron turned around and pointed at Aya.

“You – let’s see your arm.”

She brought her shoulder closer toward him. He brought his face up close to it and increased his optical zoom by a factor of ten.

“I’ll stop by the doc’s after.”

“You’re already lookin’ at one, sweetheart.”

She didn’t protest. Ron tore off a part of his sleeve, took out a small bottle from his pocket and sprayed the wound, creating foam that quickly dissipated. Ron’s six-digit chrome arm performed a swift dance across the damaged tissue. Laser-bursts from one finger on his right hand were perfectly synced to the fingers of his left, which delicately slid the carved skin into one piece. The bumpy road didn’t seem to interfere with his precision whatsoever and soon enough all that was left of her wound was a thin, red scar.

“Don’t worry, it’ll disappear,” he promised her.

“Thanks,” Aya gave him a polite smile and returned to her spot beside Borg, which was wedged between the front seats and the waste tank, awkwardly adjusted to fit around the suite of chem and radiation sensors. Borg used the tight quarters as an excuse to place his hand on her thigh. The intense glare Aya shot back at him caused him to quickly yank back his hand, sending his elbow painfully into a radiation gauge. Zor sat squeezed against the passenger door, observing the rest.

Ron, a ripperdoc in the wrong place and wrong time. Zor examined his six-digit, titanium-jointed hands covered in matte nano-rubber that didn’t resemble RealSkinn in the least. Zetatech-manufactured, expensive tech. What did Warden have to force him into this?

Zor had the uncanny feeling that they had met before.

Milena turned. The truck swung around in a long arc, missing streetlight pole by a hair.

“Whoops,” she murmured. “Can’t get used to how wide this thing turns…”

How many anti-aging mods could she possibly have? At first glance Zor wouldn’t have put her over twenty-five, but he knew now forty-something was likely closer to the truth. Ever-so-slight delays in her movements hinted at aged muscles and joints compensated by micro-adjusting implants. More importantly, what was she, by all indications a high-flying corpo, doing down among Night City’s bottomfeeders? They were a class unto themselves, sheltered and free from the unpleasantness of getting their hands dirty like everyone else – a coveted status they spent their entire lives working hard to maintain. Whatever Warden had on her must have been serious.

Aya – another mystery. No visible chrome – a rarity these days. Gotta be in damn good shape to move around that fast. Takes discipline.

The netrunner – nobody had a clue who he was, yet he was the true backbone of this operation. The only one who wasn’t expendable. Without him, there was an absolute zero chance they’d have pulled this off.

“Take a right,” the netrunner’s synthesized voice didn’t betray any hint of emotion. “After two intersections you’ll take a left at the green light.”

“Thanks to who, losers?!” Borg called out from the back. “That’s right, my codes! Without me, you–”

“Shut up,” Zor said calmly.

And who the hell was Borg? The extensive cyberware explained the nickname, even if they were probably all for show. A widened jaw, several flashy implants scattered over his biceps, shoulders and neck – there was little rhyme or reason to them, like a mash-up of unrelated tattoos. God knows what purpose they served, if any, but they didn’t make him look strong – just big. No use dwelling on them – once they brought back the container, everyone would go their separate ways and never have to lay eyes on one another again.

They sat cramped together in the garbage truck’s cab and watched as the street seemed to magically clear a path for them. The netrunner was changing the streetlights, leaving the badges stuck in traffic while they rode a wave of green lights. Milena’s smile hadn’t disappeared.

One more thing.

“Stop the truck,” Zor said in a way that made Milena brake without hesitation.

She pulled over to the right. Unaccustomed to the braking distance, the garbage truck continued to roll until it bumped into the back of an abandoned car. The drumming of rain on the roof suddenly stopped. They were under an overpass.

“Damn…” Ron smiled vacantly. “Now that’s how you gotta live…”

“Switch off your phones. Zor led by example, turning his off first.

The rest hesitated, but followed suit – unlike Zor, muting their implants via thought-command without so much as twitching a muscle.

“Bro, an earpiece? You for real?” Borg sneered at Zor. “Can’t afford a neurolink like a normal choom?”

“Don’t like microprocessors buzzing in my brain.”

Neither he nor Aya used implanted holo-calling. Though she had a neurolink, it was connected to a physical, external device. As long as communication was limited to voice, Zor preferred a phone – simple, no bells and whistles. It’s not as they would be having a holoconference or anything.

“All right. Why us?” Zor asked.

They stared at him in silence.

“Um, ‘cause we’re fuckin’ badass?” Borg scoffed. “Whole thing went smooth as a joytoy’s ass. You catch their faces? Shat their pants the second they saw us.”

“Because they weren’t expecting trouble,” Ron corrected him. “Not even cub scouts like us.”

“Because they were scared,” Milena took out a cigarette, inserted it into an elegant cigarette holder and lit up. A violet haze wafted through the cab. “They were new, inexperienced. Wide-eyed recruits barely outta training. Must’ve thought this would be a routine A-to-B escort.”

“Robbed those kids of their blissful youth…” Ron muttered grimly.

“For some a long life, old age too – in one fell swoop, Milena motioned behind with her cigarette. “Because someone couldn’t stick to the plan.”

“Because we’re low risk. That’s why Warden picked us,” Aya said. “If we’d have died, it wouldn’t be an enny lost.”

“He doesn’t lose anything from us being alive either,” Zor added. “Right now, he still needs us. But the second we deliver this container, that ends.”


What now?

Warden noticed the garbage truck stop under the overpass.

“What’s the hold up?” He asked.

No answer. Fucking amateur hour. If they’re already causing problems now, then there’s no telling what tomorrow would bring. Problems are best gotten rid of before they have a chance to breed and multiply. Sadly, the client specified that he wanted them alive. Why the bleeding heart?

He drew his pistol and took a moment to admire it, running his fingers across the smooth steel. What if he altered the deal just a little? Fewer witnesses, fewer problems down the road. Rest stays the same. Still weighing his decision, he slowly trained his pistol on the netrunner lying in the bathtub.

“Wouldn’t advise that,” said the synthesized voice through his earpiece. “Check the screen.”

Warden leaned over the equipment. The main monitor displayed the interior of an unfinished megabuilding. A forty-year-old, broad-shouldered black man covered in tattoos and wearing a synleather coat leaned over a table.

Warden quickly turned and aimed his pistol at the drone hovering outside the window.

“Not worth it” said the netrunner. “A recording of this whole operation is being kept in a secure location. If I flatline, it goes straight onto the Net.”

Warden calmly walked over to the bathtub. He knelt against the edge and brought his face less than an inch away from the netrunner’s. It would’ve looked like he was asleep if it weren’t for the colors flickering through his eyelids. The ice in the tub had almost completely melted.

“Plenty of ways to keep a body artificially alive,” he said in a low whisper.

The netrunner was silent. Warden smiled. He stood up and holstered his pistol.

“Relax, you’ll get what was promised. Like to play with iron is all – don’t got nothing else.


“Yo, hold the fuck up – time-out!” Borg started. “We’re the ones with the goods. If he wants it so bad, he can pay for it.”

“I don’t think you understand our situation,” Ron looked at Borg. “It’s not our game – he makes the rules.”

“He makes ‘em, we bend ‘em. I mean, Christ, we’re the fucking gang here! And, like, he’s just… him.”

Milena shook her head.

“Every one of us has got somethin’ to lose,” Ron reasoned.

“Oh, yeah?” Borg asked. “Like what, old man?”

“My patience, for one, if you don’t cut the smart-ass act.”

“If Warden doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll make good on his promises,” Milena added soberly. “I don’t know what dirt he has on all of you, but if you’re here I’m guessin’ it’s serious. Let’s just finish this and go our separate ways – move on with our lives.”

“How do you know?” Borg rubbed his shoulder and winced. The HMG barrel must’ve burned a patch of exposed skin. “What makes you so damn sure he’ll go through with it?”

“I know how to read people,” Milena took a drag, then blew a cloud of smoke in his direction. “You could say I do it for a living.”

Ron smiled.

“We know who he is, at least,” Zor spoke up. “As long as we’re alive, we’re a threat to him.”

“True,” Milena answered. “He could’ve hidden his identity from us if he wanted to. Thinks himself safe, untouchable. And he’s right. We’re the ones who should be scared, not him. Better keep our mouths shut, because as far as I can tell, blackmail doesn’t have a best-by date.”

“Fine, let’s just go,” Borg leaned his head against the rear wall of the cab with a metallic thud. “Let’s just get our eddies and put this whole thing behind us.”

“What eddies?” Aya asked, suddenly confused.

“I meant, um…” Borg hunched over slightly. “Let’s just get this shit over with. Unless you wanna stink like a garbage truck.”


The guard waved them through without a word, not even a glance. A man of reason. The underground garage was virtually empty, lit only by a few faint construction lamps, the evenly-spaced pillars casting long shadows across the floor. It looked like the construction company went bust before they could install proper lighting fixtures.

The crew hopped out of the truck, hearing the soft slap of wet concrete as they landed. It was cool and damp down here. That explained the lack of any homeless. They wanted this to be over and done with, but weren’t in any particular hurry to face Warden. This place was practically made for quietly taking care of unsavory biz without fear of prying eyes.

“So?” Borg folded his arms and looked around the empty, concrete space. “Where the bossman at?”

Ron looked up at the roof of the garbage truck that was barely an inch from the ceiling.

“Can’t tell if that’s a sign of Warden’s foresight, intelligence. Or the complete opposite.”

Before anyone could guess what Ron meant, they heard Warden over comms.

Weapons in the crate.”

This time a holo-projection of Warden appeared – visible to all but Zor, who heard only his voice.

The crate was near the elevator doors. Kudos, Zor thought. Can’t threaten a bunch of people if they’re still packing iron.

Not that Zor wanted to get back at Warden. He wanted things to go back to normal – if you could call his life “normal.” He went over first, tossing his Saratoga into the crate like the piece of scrap it was, followed by his pistol. He’d played by Warden’s rules till now – might as well play till the end. He didn’t have any combat implants, which meant he only had his instincts and some training to fall back on. An amateur, in other words, but at least he wasn’t alone. He could’ve easily died an hour ago. He could die in five minutes. Maybe this instant. He wasn’t scared. He ought to drop to his knees right now and get this over with, await death with open arms – a meaningless death to top off a meaningless life. No, that could tempt fate to spare him. He just had to be patient. Sooner or later, a bullet would find its way to his brain – accidental or not – then this world would disappear. Black rain batters the windshield, the droplets streaking off the side as he tries to speed deeper into the night. Far to the left, the neon mosaic of Night City dims and fades. A fire rages on the horizon ahead of him. It’s too late…


He came to – still standing over the crate. Aya drew her hand back from his shoulder. He straightened up as if nothing happened. Besides Aya, only Ron, who stood a few feet away, noticed what had just happened but remained silent as he observed Zor

The elevator doors opened slowly, forebodingly. They froze. The strip of light widened and Warden, wearing a long synleather coat, stepped into the parking garage as if he owned it along with everything else. His holoprojection vanished as he walked through it.

Zor managed to stave off his cerebral meltdown – for now. Still, he could barely stand.

Warden wasn’t carrying a gun. He went to the back of the garbage truck and ran his hand against the edge of the container, then turned to the rest waiting apprehensively.

“A trial by fire,” he spoke in a gravelly voice. “But you passed, my little impromptu gang. Feel free now to return to your boring, meaningless, happy lives.”

“So…” Ron shrugged and turned his palms up. “That’s it? We can go?”

Warden only smiled, displaying a set of sky-blue teeth.