BY ABNER SENIRES

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"Stand Off" - Part One

"It's about damn time," said Mouse, my partner and fellow ronin, and I was full agreement.
   
We were walking into the main entrance of the Crown Royale Hotel shortly after 18:00 dressed as a pair of businesswomen--blouse, suit jacket, and pants, charcoal gray for me, black for Mouse--with our IDs that said we were licensed and bonded armed couriers.
   
I was agreeing with Mouse because this run hadn't taken us to the Ascot Arms. We had a tarnished past with that particular Uptown hotel, most of which involved gun battles, explosions, and an aerodyne shoved into a top floor penthouse suite.
   
Instead, we were five blocks east.
   
To shoot up a new hotel.
   
Just another day in the life of a ronin. Street mercenary. Gun for hire.
   
Me. Name's Kat.


*   *   *
   
We'd been hired for an extraction.
   
According to Specs, everyone's favorite info-broker, our target--one Joshua Gold--was in a suite on the top floor guarded by corporate-hired muscle. We had two hours to grab Gold and deliver him to a waiting party at an address in the East End.

Megacorp A wanted Gold from Megacorp B, Gold's current employer, so they nabbed him and were now holding him at the Crown Royale, probably awaiting transfer to some undisclosed location.
   
Megacorp B had hired us to get Gold back.
   
Standard stuff.
   
Not cake, though.
   
Never cake.
   
Never happens.
   
Half of our fee had already been wired.
   
15,000 Credits.
   
We'd get the other half when we delivered Gold.
   
Mouse and I passed the security checkpoint at the foyer without any problems and headed toward a bank of elevators to our right. I tapped the call button for the express elevator. It would take us directly to the suite levels--the top three floors of the hotel.
   
The elevator arrived almost instantly with a soft musical ping and the doors whispered open. We stepped inside and I pressed the button for the top floor.
   
The executive suite.
   
As the doors closed, I took out my phone and keyed for the file Specs had sent with the info on our target.
   
Joshua Gold. Twentysomething male. Short, spiky blond hair. Slightly lopsided but charming smile.
   
"Almost there," said Mouse.
   
I looked up from my phone's display and at the floor indicator.
   
It flashed: "25"
   
Five more floors.
   
I took one last look at the picture on the phone then held it out toward Mouse.
   
She waved it away. "I'm good. Besides, he'll be the only one who won't look like muscle."
   
"Okay," I said, turning off the display and putting the phone back in my inside pocket. "But if you shoot him by accident, I'm taking it out on your share of the pay."
   
She grinned and flashed me the one-fingered salute.
   
I returned it, then adjusted my double-holster shoulder-rig where the Twins, Bonnie and Clyde--my pair of Colt-Springfield M2001 .45-caliber high-capacity pistols--sat snugly in place under my suit jacket.

I saw Mouse absently pat the dark brown leather attaché case slung over her right shoulder.


*   *   *
   
The elevator doors whispered open onto a wide carpeted hallway with ornate light sconces evenly spaced along the walls.
   
We stepped out of the elevator and I felt my boots sink a little into the floor.
   
At the end of the corridor three meters away stood a pair of double-doors flanked by a pair of dark-suited muscle, one bald, the other boasting a crewcut.
   
Baldy stepped forward, one hand up, palm facing us. "Can I help you?"
   
Mouse and I stopped, a meter between us, angled slightly toward the muscle.
   
"We're here to pick up," I said with a big grin.
   
"Pick up what?"
   
I inclined my head at the double-doors. "Joshua Gold."
   
Baldy's eyes narrowed and he cocked his head as if listening to a distant sound.
   
Then he went for his sidearm.
   
A subvocal command and the world slid into slo-mo.
   
Just in time.
   
Baldy was moving at my speed.
   
Chromed, of course.
   
But I was a hair faster.
   
The Twins were already up and belching fire and thunder.
   
Baldy had enough time to level his pistol at my head before his upper chest cratered six times, geysered blood, and he crumpled.
   
I pivoted, the Twins tracking toward Crewcut, found him on his knees, saucer-eyed, hands at his neck, trying to stop the waterfall of blood from his slit throat.
   
Mouse stood in front of him and to one side in a fighting crouch, a pair of Bowie knives in her hands, one knife blade already stained crimson.
   
Crewcut tried to speak but blood gushed from his mouth. He toppled face-first onto the carpet.
   
Mouse sheathed one of the Bowies, then went back to the attaché case she'd dropped, dug inside, and pulled out a flash-bang grenade.
   
She shot me a grin and stepped to the right of the doors.
   
I holstered the Twins, looked at the door, then went to Baldy, reached into his inside jacket pocket and found the keycard.
   
Went to the door, took hold of the door handle, and swiped the card. The indicator flashed green. Turned the handle, cracked the door, and Mouse lobbed the flash-bang inside.
   
I yanked the door closed.
   
Felt something brush past my leg.
   
Spun to look.
   
Mouse said: "Shit!"
   
The world exploded in thunder and a flash of white, followed by a series of dull thuds.
   
A weight slammed into my left side and back and I ate floor, face down, grunted as air wooshed out of my chest. My vision swam, the scent of thick fabric and carpet cleaner heavy in my nostrils. I felt bits of wood rain down on the back of my head.
   
I blinked back into focus, saw Mouse lying half-on, half-off of me.
   
"Flash-bang," I said. "Theirs."
   
She nodded. "Sneaky bastards." She jerked a thumb back toward the door.
   
I craned my head back.
   
A ragged line of bullet holes were stitched across both doors a little above head height.
   
Damn.
   
We both rolled to a low crouch.
   
Mouse held out the keycard.
   
I drew one of the Twins and took the card.
   
Mouse re-drew both Bowies in a reverse-grip and nodded at me.
   
"I cut left," I said. "You go right."
   
"Slice and dice," she said.
   
Swiped the card, light went green, and I was through the door, hooking left. Heard Mouse bolt past me.
   
We were in a large living room facing tall picture windows that looked out onto the city.
   
Directly across from us, past an L-shaped leather couch, another dark-suited muscle stood, an AK-47 leveled at us.
   
And behind the muscle, dressed in all black, knee-length black leather coat flapping around her legs, sneer splashed across her face, was Jade.

Jade has the uncanny knack of showing up whenever we have Biz. Sometimes, she's an observer.  Other times, she's in our way.  Mostly, she's a pain in the ass.

I wouldn't call her a thorn in our side.
   

More like a sharp stick in the eye. 

Today, she was both in our way and a sharp stick in the eye.
  
She stood next to a shattered picture window, one booted foot on the pane. The last time we'd seen her, Mouse had chopped most of her long blond hair out of spite. Her hair was still short, bristly,  and ending just below her ears.

It didn't look like it had grown back.
   
"You're just in time, Ladies," Jade called out then gestured to the muscle. "Light 'em up."
   
And the muscle opened fire.
   

"Stand Off"
Part 2