Nighttime in Sigma City was a dull affair, in Dante's ever so humble opinion. Only a few kid muggers, without guts or experience. None of the exhilarating danger of Omega's alleys, no challenge, no test of strength.
I'm past that now. I shouldn't kill for fun. he thought as he stepped around the unconscious bodies of a teenager gang. I don't kill for fun.
But something nagged at him from the back of his mind, reminding him of the first attacker. His face flashed across Dante's mind, cut to ribbons along with the rest of his body in Dante's counterattack.
You enjoyed killing him, a little voice whispered in his head. It was fun to tear the little thug apart. Admit it.
"No…" Dante murmured, continuing through the quiet Sigma streets.
Yes, and you know it! You're a killer born and bred, Dante. Deadly with every weapon known to man, with a shell of grey armor that repels all threats and keeps you alive for centuries, harder, better, faster, and stronger than any human. Your little alteration only made it easier to kill. All that pure strength, breathtaking speed, the sheer power you possess… well, you know you're better than all of them, so it's not hard to take their lives. You know it's true!
"NO!" screamed Dante, his voice shaking the ground around him and reverberating time and time again off the sandstone-plasteel cubes. He propelled himself into the air, clearing the top of the cubes with a single bound. He began to sprint across the mellow orange roofs, eyes burning despite himself.
The thoughts returned despite his best effort to stop them, coiling around his mind like an insidious snake.
Run all you want. You can't escape yourself. You know everything that's been said is true. Why can't you accept that?
Dante halted on a roof right outside his destination.
"I used to think that. Then Aaliyah died."
Dante waited in absolute silence for the guard to emerge.
As the man stepped out into the still midnight air, Dante jumped down and landed silently behind him. The man turned around, and did not seem the least bit surprised to see Dante there.
"You the runner Jac mentioned? The one he mentored?" the man said dully, pulling out a cigarette.
"Yes. Are they in there?" Dante replied.
"Yeah. Password's 'Free-Range', if they ask." the man said through the cigarette, lying down on a heap of blankets.
Dante's jaw clenched. Free-range meat. A deliberate insult.
"Thanks, brother." he said stiffly, turning to the door and grasping the handle.
"You want a little advice, son?" the man said, not unkindly.
Dante paused, not looking at the guard. After a moment, he turned back, waiting.
"Beg for whatever you need. All three of them have a serious pride hard-on, and won't be swayed by whatever reasoning you have. Better just to work for your greater good."
"I won't beg. If Jac is still on the triumvirate, then he can help me. They'll see reason." Or else I am lost.
The man's laughter barked out across the alley, so much like a dog's that Dante looked sharply around for the pack.
"I hope you're right, son. Because you look like you need whatever you want."
Dante walked inside, treading lightly to avoid the traps laid out all over the floor. One misstep in a Demokratos atrium could be death for even a runner.
They spend more on paranoia than they do on their goals. They're rotting. And I need their help.
He made it to the other side without incident, and saw that Orion had made it there before him. He strode over, shook the android's hand, and began to walk through the corridors to the strategy room.
"Was it really wise to request my presence here, commander? I fear the triumvirate might not react well to an android." Orion said after a few moments of walking.
"Probably not," Dante said grimly, turning to look at the tall pillar of steel. "But I have no doubt you'll impress them, Orion. You're not like any other android I've ever seen. Maybe they'll realize your worth as well."
Orion's eyes shifted doubtfully, but he kept silent.
It took a while, but they finally reached the door to the room. Dante glanced at Orion, whose eyes were fixed straight ahead. He took a breath and opened the door softly, wincing as the hinges squealed in his ear. They were all there, seated in a row behind a display table. Cale, Zero, and Jac. The leaders of what was once the brightest beacon of hope in the world.
Dante bowed to Cale and Zero, and saluted Jac. Their faces were cold and hard, not focused on Dante at all.
Orion stood impassively by the door, SRILR at attention. All three of their eyes bored into the receptors that formed his eyes.
Dante shifted uncomfortably, and cleared his throat to attract attention. The men's heads slowly swiveled to him, eyes ice-cold.
"I suppose there's no point in telling you why I'm here, but I'm going to do it anyway. I need your help. I need the aid of the Demokratos," Dante said to the glacial silence.
Abruptly, Cale spoke up, his voice harsh and sick-sounding.
"Is this a deliberate insult, runner?"
Dante was confused for a heartbeat, then he realized Cale's meaning.
"No, Commander Cale. Orion is a personal bodyguard and soldier to me. I assure you, he's very loyal and not recording this conversation," which he really was.
Cale gritted his teeth and sat back in his chair, rubbing the scar he had earned in Operation Black Sky. Instead Zero leaned forward, his tone considerably more pleasant.
"Runner- Dante, right? Dante, why did you bring an android here? He shouldn't be privy to a discussion between an up-and-coming resistance leader and the Demokratos triumvirate! Send him away. We'll let him stay outside."
Dante bristled despite himself, and spoke in a quick, angry tone.
"No, Zero, he won't stand outside. He'll stay here, and speak with me. You asked me to bring a lieutenant. Here he is!"
Zero's demeanor changed instantly, his tawny eyes turning to hard amber.
"Commander Zero, runner. Remember the titles of your betters."
Betters? All I see are two old men, long past their prime of mind, and an aging runner, Dante thought, biting his tongue to stop himself from ruining his chances. He inclined his head in apology.
"Forgive me, Commander Zero."
"It's alright, Dante. Zero doesn't like being awake this late, but I told him that the message had come from a runner, so he promised to be good." Jac said amiably, nudging Zero in the ribs.
Cale did not smile, but spoke in a tone that suggested he was barely keeping his temper in check.
"What do you want, runner? Why did you keep us all up so late to ask from us?"
Dante felt a pit of foreboding grow in his stomach, but nonetheless replied.
"I need men, weapons, ammo, and as many Raptors and Scorpions as you can spare"
Cale laughed aloud, Zero smiled like a man holding back laughter, and Jac rested his head on his palm.
Dante waited for them to calm down, then spoke again
"I know it's a little outrageous, but I need the raw recruits, I'm not taking enough ammo from the bases, my weapons are starting to jam, and I need air support and fast transport! So please, I need everything you can give… WHY THE HELL ARE YOU LAUGHING?!" he abruptly shouted as Cale fell off his chair and Zero doubled over, wheezing with amusement. Jac was the only one of the three not laughing, and his eyes were grim and sad.
"They're laughing, Dante, because it sounds a lot like you're trying to make another resistance movement."
"That's exactly what I'm doing." Dante said, furious.
The laughter died instantly. All three of them looked stunned. It was Cale who spoke first, his voice incredulous.
"You want us to give you a massive percent of our materials and men so you can try and outcompete us?! Are you insane? Even if this were for a major job we wouldn't do what you just suggested for anybody!"
"But why not? Your men would still be loyal to you, and when I gain momentum I can always give them back!" Dante said, a hint of desperation in his voice.
Jac stood and grasped his arm, pulling him gently to the other side of the room. Dante followed without realizing it, and found himself outside the room, facing a locked door.
Jac turned to Dante and stood in silence, shaking his head slowly.
Dante was in no mood for games.
"Why won't they help, Jac? Can't you make them see reason?" he said, anger tinting his voice.
"I wish I could, son," Jac drew back on instinct; he knew that Dante had always been attached to his sister, "but the fact is that they're prideful old farts, as I'm sure the guard told you. They think that because you don't beg you don't want it enough."
Jac waited as Dante fumed silently. When he appeared to calm down, he spoke up again.
"You still have a shot. Just walk back in there, fall to your knees, and beg for their help. If you want the men, then you'll have to do it, son."
Dante was silent, his back to the runner. Jac waited with baited breath. Can he do it? And then words were out of his mouth before he could think about them.
"And it wasn't wise to bring the imitation along. What were you thinking? Did you hope that it would help your case by bringing in a junk heap?"
Dante turned around. Very slowly.
Jac quailed, shrinking back from his old student. Dante's eyes burned with anger, and he saw the steel-like coils of his arm muscles flex and clench repeatedly.
"Easy, Dante, easy," he said in an attempt to placate him, putting a hand on the runner's arm, "it's just that… well, it wasn't wise to bring an android among powerful humans. Who knows what its limited mind is thinking? It could be a double agent or an assassin drone-"
Dante's fist whipped out, catching Jac squarely on the jaw and staggering him into the wall.
"A 'he', not an 'it'. That 'limited' thing has just as much right to be a lieutenant or a commander as any human. He's saved the lives of my other officers every time they were in a jam, and very likely kept me alive after my first attack on a Corporation base. He has the strength, the tactical smarts, the aim, and several thousand soldiers just like him. He's one of the best, and you refer to him as an unintelligent animal. We're leaving now. Make whatever decision you want."
And with that, Dante turned around and stalked off down the hall, calling the android's name behind him. In a few seconds, he walked out the door, gleaming in the glow of the fluorescent lights. He took one look at Jac, still stunned and sprawled in the hole he had made, seemed to consider something, and walked off after Dante.
He's changed. And not for the better. A resistance leader, consorting with androids, disrespecting his seniors! What happened? Jac wondered to himself, slowly picking himself up and rubbing his shattered jaw.
He walked back into the room, and the other two were waiting. Cale's eyes were angry.
"The miserable brat! He has the balls to just walk out on us, after we took time out of our lives to hear him? He had the insolence to demand troops we need for his own little resistance movement?!"
Zero nodded. "Something has to be done about him. He's competition, and not even fit to be an ally."
Jac tried to speak up, but Cale barreled over him. "Should we send a battalion after him? Perhaps the 1st Heavy Infantry?"
"No, too loud. We need an assassin. Is Eli available?"
"Yes. Get him after the boy. Offer as many credits as you need."
Jac sat down and consigned himself to silence. There was no stopping them now, not in the middle of a rant. Better just to lie back and watch the series of events unfold.
That's what I'm known for. Passive Jac, they call me, he thought, somewhat bitterly.
There's nothing I can do for Dante now. His fate is outside my control for the first time in my life.