She is a thief, and a very good one at that. In her world, living an honest life is both futile and uncommon, so it was no w0nder she turned to data mining at a young age. It was this job, however, that seemed to get the better of her.
Rain clattered down against stark grey, gothic metal, the path before her lit only by faded, bluish lamps that stood in rows along a nearby railing. She was on a roof, the rain from dark skies above creating shallow pools at her feet and soaking her hood and coat. Around her, spires of the same dark metal stretched upward for many kilometers, blue lights glowing along them like many eyes staring back. In her dark coat and hood, which was made of a rain-resistant material, she raced in a sprint across her rooftop, leaping over obstacles nimbly and gracefully. Clutched in her right paw was a small data stick the length and width of her index finger, its shape composed mainly of black plastic and marked with stripes of red, white, and blue, each stripe hiding tiny barcodes within the paint. It was a device filled with data that she, legally, had no right to set eyes upon, let alone posses. Yet she did, and she suspected that was why they hadn’t taken a liking to her.
As she ran, she swiftly stuffed the small data drive into her jacket pocket, straightened the collar that flanked her hood, and pulled the dark veil of fabric further over her face. Then, leaping a strip of outer ventilation shaft, she slid to a halt before a steep drop. Below her, the ground was only perceived as a narrow strip a little wider than a hair. Despite her trepidation at the sight, the sound of voices, sirens, and footsteps behind her drove her on. She dropped downward just as she heard a bullet whizz by her ear, slamming into a metal wall nearby to explode into sparks and sound. She fell for a few seconds before landing hard against a metal scaffolding and rolling with the fall. From there, she continued to run and leap toward a rounded ledge that clasped around a building, leaving her little room to move quickly. She tried to fight the urge to look down but failed, finding that street level was so distant that she could not even see it passed the many shuttles, hovering signs, flickering lights, and bustling people. Still, she swallowed back her unease and pushed on, shimmying carefully along. She hastened her pace, however, when a bullet lodged itself into the metal an inch from her foot, sending bright blue sparks showering down before they vanished with a flicker.
Breathing hard, she shifted across the ledge for a few seconds more before finally meeting with an escape rout. Before her was a large gap, on the other side of which was a series of gothic arches flanking a domed walkway. Dark silhouettes stalked beneath the glass, blue holograms displaying advertisements and news broadcasts every few feet between the two panes of crystal. She tensed and, in only a moment of hesitation, leapt for freedom. Her jump brought her just short of the walkway, her body slamming against the glass and slowly sliding downward. Her hands hastily grasped for any leverage, her breaths now swifter and panicked. After a few terrifying seconds, she managed to get a firm enough grasp on a strut that lined the top of the glass. Summoning all her upper arm strength, she pulled herself up with a heave, eventually using her right leg to assist this. Once standing up again, she had barely time to draw a breath when the shattering of glass warned of the hailstorm of bullets that headed her way. She raced for cover just as bolts of blue light shattered through the windows of the building from which she had just jumped, her pursuers close behind. The bullets rained down against her cover, deflecting off plated metal and exploding against the arch behind which she hid. In a matter of moments, the shower of bullets was enough to shatter the glass that clasped the walkway below her feet, sending her tumbling downward and into a bystander below. As soon as she hit the ground, or rather the body below her, she pushed herself up, ducking as the bullets continued to seek her out. Instead, they shattered through glass, exploded with sparks against the wall, or blew through hysterical citizens as they attempted to flee. This reckless disregard for other’s lives came as no surprise to her, as she knew well the people she was dealing with and too understood the level of importance that she carried with her in her pocket.
Leaping into a sprint, she shoved fleeing citizens aside as she ran, using her superior freerunning skills and agility to slip past them. She ran for several feet before she came upon a door, one that she figured lead to a maintenance room of some sort. It was just what she needed. In the bluish light of nearby lamps, the same kind she had seen before, she brought her right, dexterous paw up to a small console next to the door. Extending from the fur of her arm and paw were small nodes of metal, each one projecting a network of blue holographic light. The streams of light connected with the console, flickering with streams of data for a few moments before the console made an auditory beep and the maintenance door slid open. From there, she digitally locked the door behind her and made for a nearby service hatch. That lead her down a ladder, eventually landing her in a dark and slightly cramped maintenance tunnel. The tunnel was made mostly of kelcrete, with strips of glowing data-panels along the right wall. She continued her sprint down it, her breaths heavy and fearful. Even as far down as she was, she could still hear the sound of gunfire as every citizen in sight was executed by her pursuers for the simple suspicion that one of them might be her. She didn’t think she could have screwed up her mission anymore than she had, and now innocent people were paying for it.
The maintenance corridor stretched on for what seemed like forever, forcing her to pick up speed in her sprint. This increase blew her hood back from her face, revealing dark, somewhat haphazard hair, black fur with white accents, a short snout, and amber eyes as intense as the sun. Her pointed ears stuck straight up, with the exception of a slight curl to the tip of her left one.
As she was reaching midway to the end of the tunnel, a sharp tone emanated from her left ear. She raised her right hand, summoning her network of holographic light, and read the caller identification. Switching her implanted phone to an encoded channel, which was a feature she herself had added, she twitched her index finger and the “answer” button was selected.
“Yeah?” she said quickly into the holographic microphone that had appeared before her mouth, which was really more for looks than for actual use.
“Please tell me you have good news.” came a male voice in response.
“Isn’t it always?”
“No.” his tone was flat and unamused. “I’ve already got three guys dead trying to get this thing done. You better not be doing’ the same.”
“Nah, I’m not a big fan of graves.”
“That’s not funny.” She reflected that he never found anything funny.
“It would be if you had a sense of humour.” she said with a chuckle.
“Look, just be careful. I’m reading a lot of pack activity around the area.”
She took a moment to respond as she neared the end of the tunnel.
“You worry too much. I’ll be back before you know it, okay?”
“Yeah, that’s what the last guy said.” he answered, his voice betraying both annoyance and lament.
Without wanting to hear anymore, she switched off the channel and slid to a halt at the end of the corridor. There was a ladder before her and, at the top, she found herself within another maintenance room. From there, she made her way out, sliding amongst a crowd of unwitting citizens, all of which knew not of what would happen to them if her pursuers had indeed followed her. Slipping amongst them, she flipped up her hood again and kept her head low, making for a nearby tram car. The car had just arrived and a sign above it told her it was headed in the direction she wanted to go. Boarding it, she situated herself between the crowd of people that consisted of far too many for the car’s total chairs to hold. From there, she found herself peering out a window toward the opposite tram on the other side of the station, a similarly sized crowd situated there. Before her car could leave, however, the opposite one did and revealed a sight she found horrifying. Among the crowd that still remained awaiting another tram, one woman stood out starkly in comparison to the other citizens. She wore a black trench coat that should belong to that of a military officer, beneath which was an exposed set of ballistic armour dotted with glowing red lights. Her eyes too took on a scarlet shade, the irses in stark contrast to the black pupils to give off an intimidating lance-of-a-stare. Her face was pulled forward in a snout characteristic of her race, her ears perked up in alertness and fur as black as night. On the that officer’s left and right were similarly clad officers, these ones instead wearing gasmasks of steel malice with a red glow emanating from the eyes and rifles in paw.
Keeping her cool, despite her shock, she brought herself to wave tauntingly at the officer that only then took notice of her behind the glass. Although she couldn’t hear, she watched as the wolf-faced woman barked commands at her squad, pointing at her and drawing their weapons. Just as she heard the first of the bullets being fired, the tram sped away, leaving the crowd around her confused at the sudden gunfire. Grinning in satisfaction, she leaned against the wall next to her and stared out her window as her tram raced along its rails. Below, she could see a vast expanse of gothic metal, blue lights, and crystal-clear glass. Still, she could not see the tops of the tallest spires as they stretched up past the dark clouds above, lightening flashing to match the colours of the holograms below. She saw what seemed like endless metal and light, yet she knew that she was only seeing a small fraction of the district’s true size, and then only even a smaller fraction of the city’s true size.
Resting for a moment, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, finally allowing her heart rate to slow to a more normal pace. The tram would take her to the far side of the district, and from there she would enter the slums where it would be safest. It was funny for her to imagine the slums as safe, but she knew well enough that her kind wasn’t truly safe anywhere. She was a thief, and one of the best at that. She was revered by her organization as one of its top agents, though sometimes she wondered if she was only the best because every other competitor for that title always ended up dead.
Her thoughts were interrupted, however, when another sharp tone warned her of a caller. She brought up her caller display, answering the call on a secured channel.
“You just can’t wait to talk to me, can you?” she asked the caller.
“Ah, so you’re still alive.” said the same male voice from before.
“And kickin’.” she answered. “I’m on my way back now.”
“You still have the data?”
She chucked for a moment.
“No, not at all. I’m actually headed back for tea crumpets.”
“Funny.” he said irritably. “Just wanted to make sure everything was going to plan.”
“Nothing has been going to plan, but I can improvise so well that you don’t even know the difference.”
“Right, sure. Just get back here soon, okay? If the wolves haven’t caught your scent yet, they will soon.”
“Yes, mom.” she answered with a smile, switching off the channel.
By then, her tram had begun to slow down and quickly arrived at a station. This wasn’t her stop, but suddenly that no longer mattered. As a large portion of the crowd on the tram exited, a small group entered, among them being two men clad in coats and ballistic armour. They didn’t spot her right away like she had expected, allowing her a brief window of time to pull her hood tighter over her head and slip through the crowd passed them. She couldn’t allow them to find her, much less follow her to the headquarters of her organization. So she nimbly slid between the people boarding the tram, finding herself in the middle of a still-crowded tram station. Only then did she realize her mistake. On all sides and guarding all exists, even the maintenance ways, were armed officers, each bearing a rifle and gasmask of horrific detail. Thinking up what to do, she remained with her head low, hiding among the many people. After a moment of mulling it over, she realized she had only one option: fight. Raising her right hand up above her head, she prepared a spell in her palm. One of the perks of her job wasn’t just a big paycheck, or steady employment, -- which was hard to come by -- or a den to call her own. One of the best perks was digimancy, something very difficult for most to grasp without the proper training and outlawed by every government she knew about. But she never much cared for the law anyway.
Her palm emitted a flash of blue light, sending tendrils of data upward and into the circuitry hidden behind metal plating above her head. With this connection to the local network, she willed the lights around her to switch off, the trams to run in reverse, and the fire alarms to blare. A red glow instantly flooded from the light panels on the walls, a set of orange lights sliding out from the ceiling and flashing bright while sirens screeched. Disoriented, the officers stumbled as everyone in the station fled for safety from the non-existent fire. This gave her the opportunity to escape through a maintenance hatch while the officer guarding it was trampled. The hatch lead her to a ladder, which then lead her to a set of metal stairs that descended several flights downward. She was on the home stretch, she just had to make it passed the many armed officers that wanted to kill her.
She raced down the stairs in a sprint, her boots banging against the flimsy metal that made up the stairs. It didn’t take her long to begin jumping down most of the flights to increase her speed, but even still it took her nearly ten minutes to reach the bottom. Once she did, and she still wasn’t at ground level, she was forced to slow her pace with the sheer exhaustion of the descension. Following a metal fence, she reached the edge of the building upon which the tram station was built. Below her feet she could only imagine was some poor residential complex or house of ill repute, though she felt sympathy either way. From where she stood at the edge of the roof, she could see the station she should have stopped at just within sight in the distance. Between it and her was an expanse of small buildings, complexes, short spires, and old, crumbling buildings of kelcrete or bricks.
Quickly, she raised her right hand and selected the “call” button on her holographic display.
“Oh, fuck, don’t tell me… I don’t want to know.” he said immediately after the call started.
“There’s a... “ she thought up how to word it. “... a small, little, tiny…. complication.”
“Of course there is.”
“The pack’s holled up at the station.” she explained. “I’m grounded, going to have to move on foot.”
“Damn it, where are you?”
“You’ve got a GPS lock on all your agents, you tell me.” she was beginning to get impatient.
She smiled slightly, however, when she heard him mutter some profanity under his breath.
“Alright, I’ll send directions to your IMP.”
“Your a doll.” she said, about to hang up.
“Hey, be careful. We’re all counting on you.”
“Aw,” she cooed, knowing it would annoy him. “Love you too.”
With that, she hung up, beginning her descent down the side of the building. Just as she was climbing down, she caught the sound of voices above barking orders to one and other as they raced down the staircase. She descended faster, climbing past one window that was bathed in darkness. Most of the windows she climbed passed were as such, the rooms to dark to see into. By the time she was nearing the ground, she could hear the officers above tromping around in search of her. It was only a matter of time before one of them grew a brain and decided to look down. From where she was, she dropped to the roof of another building below, taking off in a sprint. With a single thought, a clasp of blue holographic light wrapped around her head, curling over her right eye. There it displayed, in a three dimensional plane, a trail of blue arrows that dictated which path she should take to get to safety. Just as she was midway across the older, kelcrete roof she caught the sound of an officer declaring he found her just behind. Shortly thereafter, bullets began raining down toward her to bounce off of every surface or explode into sparks. She dove to the ground behind a air conditioning unit, bullets lancing through it in places to narrowly miss her body. They did a massive deal of damage to the roof below her feet, however, and it didn’t take many bullets before the already weak roof she sat on caved. She fell downward with a mew of surprise, slamming against the floor of a complex suite a few feet below. She pushed herself up slowly, glancing around to find a brown-furred mother and two children stared at her in shock, frozen where they stood.
“Heh… evening.” she said awkwardly, flying back into a sprint and out a nearby window.
From the window she nimbly climbed downward, grabbing onto a pipe and using it to slide safely to what was finally closer to street level. She was about three levels above what was actually solid earth now. Around her, citizens of the poor district marched solemnly along the streets in swift lines, their hands covering their heads with something to protect themselves from the downpour. Across the street, bright lights marked a large section of housing she recognized to be the red light district, though in reality it was one of many red light districts.
Not wanting to waste any time, she raced across the street, nearly getting swiped by an old-fashioned but common gasoline-powered vehicle, one glaringly loud in comparison to the quieter hover shuttles above. On the other side of the road, she ran to the very ledge of the street level and leapt through the air, clearing the gap, below which was a nearly hundred foot drop to the true street level, and landing hard on the roof of a garbage drone. The drone itself was massive in scale compared to most shuttle craft, the metal painted orange and thrusters loud and powerful. Balancing carefully, she rode it for some distance before dropping off and onto the roof of a nearby building. Her holographic display told her to head down and through the street between the various buildings of the red light district. This she was always willing to do.
From her vantage point, she observed several officers scouring the crowd below that shuffled in and out of the various bathhouses. She also observed that her only way down was through the building she stood atop of. Quickly, she located a door and hacked the lock, letting herself in and traveling down several flights of stairs. The stairs were dark and probably meant for maintenance personnel, though she couldn’t imagine a place such as that one ever getting maintenance. Bursting through a door at the bottom of the stairs that she had hoped would lead to the exit, she instead found herself in the company of four women that had apparently neglected to wear anything around their upper torsos. They all shrieked in surprise. She assumed she had found the dressing room, or rather undressing room, by mistake. For a moment, she simply looked on with a sly grin appearing on her face before she eventually forced herself to take flight once more.
“Sorry ladies.” she said over her shoulder as she made for a nearby door, bursting through it to find herself bathed in blaring music.
This next room was filled with a small crowd gawking at six separate glass cases, each with a far-from-modestly-dressed dancer in it. She forced herself to stay focused, regardless of how much her mind wished to wander, as she navigated her way through the crowd. Just as she reached what would be the entrance, she nearly walked directly into an “off-duty” officer. The wolf-faced man didn’t take any notice of her, as his eyes were too fixated at the display, but she pulled her hood tight over her head for good measure. Then, when she found she wasn’t being followed, she ran for the lineup at the entrance and through the holographic red fence that blocked the line from entering.
“Hey!” she heard the bouncer call as she shoved passed the lineup, nearly tripping over one man.
Quickly, she was outside again and following the directional arrows closely. On either side of the rather crowded street, people stalked in various directions. She could make out which ones were “working women” and which ones were dumb enough to pay for them, having lived in the slums long enough. The buildings on her either sides were dominated by bright neons signs of yellows, reds, and pinks, most of them showing holographic images of silhouetted dancers. Other signs displayed a number of X’s and others advertised exactly what their girls could do, some of which she felt really should not be mentioned in polite company.
Ignoring the eye-catching sights around her, but watching for officers, she ran as fast as her feet would take her, dodging and weaving between people that got in her way. The stretch of street that was flanked by such buildings seemed to last for quite a vast distance before she finally came upon a massive complex of buildings that marked safety. Looking both ways before crossing the street that was before her, she raced for the safety of the slums. Just as she entered the gritty, dilapidated complex, she came to a grinding halt at the click of a gun.
“How did you find me?” was her first question.
“You’re predictable, Arya.” came the response from a deep, wrathful voice with a feminine undertone.
“Hmm,” she answered. “And you’re not?”
With that, a pulse of blue data burst from Arya’s right hand, causing the pistol that had been aimed at her head to explode in the grasp of its owner. The woman, who was the very same officer Arya had seen at the tramway not long before, recoiled back in shock. Arya flung her right hand back, a blade of blue energy materializing around her wrist. She charged the wolf-born officer, swiping with her digital blade. Her first swipe was dodged nimbly, but the second landed a small cut along the wolf’s face. For a moment, the conflict paused, the two women staring down each other.
Then the officer chuckled.
“You always did know me well.” her right hand burst into flame, a red blade of energy forming around it. “Too bad you chose the wrong side.”
“I’m sorry, which one of us gets the bigger paycheck here?” Arya countered. “And at least I’m not the pack’s bitch.”
A slight smile curled onto the wolf’s face.
“I’m taking your head back this time.”
“Just try it, Kai.”
They met each other’s gazes for a long moment, both of them stern, before Kai began to laugh.
“I won’t have to.” she said in satisfaction as a series of clicks warned of weapons being trained on Arya’s back.
She froze, surprised that even Kai would make such a low move. She said nothing, however, and instead desperately thought of what to do.
“You may fire when ready.” said Kai as she smiled in triumph.
Arya found herself, for the first time, at a loss of what to do and did nothing as weapons clicked… and fired.