A Romantic Evening

((This was something I did to explain what my character was doing in her downtime on Valentine’s Day in the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG campaign I am currently a part of. I play a very corporate mother of two))

I step out into the medical district, new waterproof cybernetics ready and raring to go. The air is thick with smog, even here in the medical district, the pollution filling my lungs as soon as I dare to draw breath in this city. It’s early afternoon, nearing two o’clock, and I haven’t eaten since I took the twins to school this morning. I hop on the next bus to the New Harbour Area and grab myself a quick bite to eat, a ready to eat meal; I’ve given up kibble since the graduation and have started buying better for the family too. Since EBM sent us over here, life has been really shitty. Compared to France, America is a real shit hole. No style, no sophistication and no appreciation of talent.

That being said, that gutter-punk who keeps my baby girl awake and jacked in to the Net has the wrong kind of appreciation for talent. H4lf_J4ck, I think his handle is; some cowboy from Northside. He has no idea what he’s fucking with, and I bet he didn’t even notice the trace I put on his connection or the tap on his messages between my daughter and himself. If I have to give the kid a scare, I will. Infect his deck with some mad virus; no black ICE, I don’t want to flatline the little shit, but enough to keep him away from my daughter. Amandine needs to be kept in check too, come to think about it; constantly out late at night with the punks of Upper Eastside. Both of my girls have pistols and have been trained in the proper and safe methods of using them, I made sure of that personally, but it’s a mother’s job to worry about her children. Night City is not safe at night, there are occurrences that even I would not walk away from in the streets and I wish that my two girls wouldn’t court with disaster so much.

I finish my lunch and take a quick detour through the Mallplex. I recently got paid and waterproofing my sockets was cheaper than I originally thought, so I have some disposable income to treat myself with. I still need to buy a wetsuit, some extra bullets and a few other bits and pieces, but that shouldn’t come to much either. I reckon I’ve earned myself some new clothing. As I make my first circuit through the Mallplex I take out my phone, dialling Julien. He’ll still be at work, but considering he’s an office drone and not some covert corporate operative like me he should be able to answer at work. I call him on his personal number.

“Salut, ma chérie?” Julien answers, though I can hear in his voice that he’s keeping the tone quiet. Perhaps his manager is close. A shame, but I will be brief.

“Salut Julien! Are you free this evening? I’d like to go somewhere nice with you before my next job pops up,” I reply, lips curling into a smile as I pass by a really nice coat. I make a mental note to try it on later.

“Ah, yes. That would be great, but I cannot speak right now. Manager is doing performance reviews so I need to be on point!” Julien responds hurriedly, causing me to chuckle quietly.

“Okay. I’ll speak with you later. Kisses.”

“I love you too,” he responds before I put the phone down. Time for some serious shopping.

I eventually make it out at 6pm, another message from Amandine to say that she won’t be home until late, as usual, and one from Isabelle saying the same sort of thing, on my phone as I wait at the bus stop. I keep the bullets hidden, along with the other ‘abnormal’ items, out of sight, only my various bags of high fashion and business clothing on show as I make my way onto the bus back to Upper Eastside, the area where my small, grimy little apartment is situated. Hopefully by the end of the month I won’t have to put up with this crap any more and I can relocate the family to the Corporate Zone. That’s why I do what I do. That’s why I put myself in danger.

I step off the bus and start to make my way home. I cut through an alleyway to get home quicker, as I would like a good amount of time to make myself look my best for the night. As if right on cue, a pair of street punks step out from behind a dumpster. One is armed with a jagged looking switchblade, the other with some sort of heavy pistol.

“Okay lady, we’re going to need to relieve you of your money and all your belongings,” one of them says, a faint sense of giddiness in his tone as he aims his pistol in my direction.

“We caught a good one this time. She looks like she’s got a lot of money,” the other whispered, thinking that I couldn’t hear him. Amateurs.

“Okay, okay. Please don’t hurt me,” I beg in heavily accented English, dropping my shopping to the ground.

“And your purse. Come on, we don’t have all day!”

“Alright, alright. Let me get it for you,” I answer, still with the same panicked expression and tone. I momentarily glance at them. They’re buying the act. Not just amateurs, but morons too. I reach inside my jacket and my combat senses flair to life. Before the two punks can react, I’ve brought my pistol out and around, aiming along the barrel to the pistol wielding one’s chest. Two shots from my silenced HK P9S sends the gin-totting one to the ground as the second one jabs his switchblade towards my gut. I sidestep the thrust, grabbing his wrist and disarming him of his weapon in a brief second. He tries to grab my gun, but I force him to the ground before he can get anywhere near, placing one shot clean through his head as I hold him pinned against the floor. I quickly holster my pistol, scoop up my shopping and make my way out of the alley before anyone can come looking.

“Bon soir,” I say with a smile as I push my way through the front door. Julien is doing some cleaning up, having taken off his suit jacket and tie.

“Bon soir. I see someone has been busy,” Julien replies, turning to me with a wide smile on his face.

“Last job paid fairly well. Saving most of it, but I figured I deserved a little treat.”

“Little?” Julien asks, eyeing my shopping bags.

“It’s all relative,” I answer playfully as he moves closer, planting a gentle kiss on my lips. I trace a finger down his chest. “Miss me?”

“Always. You’re away way more often than I’d like. What’s so important to keep you away from me and our children?”

“You know I can’t tell you. Just trust me, we’ll be better for it in the long run,” I answer, pulling him into a hug.

“I do… Anyway, you should start getting ready. We have a table booked, remember? Even if you refuse to tell me where.”

I grin, quickly plant a kiss on his cheek and weave my way past him. “I know. I’m the one who booked it,” I respond, sending a quick wink his way before getting myself ready for the evening. I sometimes wonder if there are any other netrunners like myself; not from a covert corporate operative standpoint, but from a ‘I am one hell of a charismatic son of a bitch, about to spend the night with my husband, having a romantic meal, worrying about my daughters getting involved with street trash’ angle.

We leave the apartment at about 7:30pm. I drive, as Julien has no idea where we are headed, and I wanted to keep the surprise for as long as possible. On the car journey he asks where we’re heading, but I refuse to tell him. He’s persistent, but I’m an expert on leading people on; for better or worse it’s a talent that I have. I can be a terrible wife sometimes.

We arrive at the restaurant, a fancy place in Charter Hill. We’re far from the only couple and I recognise two others from EBM with their respective partners. We chat, he asks about my next job, I tell him that it’s better that he doesn’t know, as usual. The food is great, especially considering we have been living off of kibble for the past year or so and neither EBM worker comes over to say hello; a blessing in disguise, really. We take a walk around Charter Hill after the meal.

“You say you’re going to be away for a while?” Julien asks me as we round the corner.

“Yes. It’s due to work. You know how it is,” I answer, semi-honestly at least. He turns to me.

“I’m worried. About you and our two girls,” he says suddenly, the worry evident in his features.

“Why?”

“Your work is obviously dangerous, and the girls are always up late.”

I raise an eyebrow. “They’re fifteen, coming up sixteen, Julien. The fact that they’re still in school is a miracle over here in America.”

“It shouldn’t be. Why are we even here? You seem to know more about the situation than me, despite my position in the company.” Of course, Julien out-ranks me within EBM’s corporate structure, but it’s my job to know things.

“The company wants us here. That’s why. I don’t know either, but it’s clear that they don’t want us to know. We don’t need to know, we’re disposable assets to them.”

“I’m sorry,” Julien starts, “but what of the girls? This is a crucial time for them and they need their mother around.”

“This is only temporary, trust me.” I lean in and pull him into a hug. “I hate being away from you and the girls as much as you do. Every time I leave, it hurts more than anything else, but I do it for our future. I don’t want my family to live in some crappy place in a crappy part of town eating crappy food, where every day brings danger in the form of muggers.”

A scratching sound. Speak of the devil. I turn towards the origin of the sound.

“Huh?” Julien looks at me, his worry turning into a look of perplexity, before one of horror as a group of gangers emerge from the alley to our left. My eyes are immediately scanning the environment, looking for the best cover, the best position for me to pull out my pistol and fill these guys with holes.

“All right lovebirds, you’re going to give us your valuables and we’re going to walk away,” the lead gangster almost snarls. A large scar runs down his face, a ravine amongst a desolate wasteland, his skin is cracked and his face malformed. It looks like a really bad attempt at cosmetic surgery. He turns his attention to me and grins. “Well, we might take her with us too.”

Julien steps in front of me. “I don’t think so. You’re going to walk away before I’m forced to do something we’ll both regret.”

The gangsters burst out laughing and I roll my eyes. He’s a corporate worker, so he has to deal with danger and be ready to defend himself but this is not his battlefield. “You against us five? You really think you’re capable of that?”

“You have no idea,” he replies, his voice a rehearsed, smooth tone that seems to unnerve some of the other gangsters in the wings.

“You’ve got balls, drone, I’ll give you that. Maybe I’ll remove them,” he threatens, brandishing a jagged machete. He turns his attention back to me. “Come on sweetheart, I’ll show you what a real man’s balls are like.”

His friends laugh again. I’ve had enough of this shit. I can see that my husband is about to start shooting, having a concealed pistol inside his suit jacket. I can see the gangsters preparing their weapons; one has a chain, the leader has a machete and what looks like a machine pistol at his hip, two have pistols and one has a pair of switchblades.

Once again, my combat instincts kick in. I reach into my suit jacket and pull out my HK P9S, picking out the rifle wielding ganger and firing at him as I dive behind cover. Gunfire erupts from the gangsters, but I can see that Julien has done the same as me, hunkering down behind a wall. I hear the leader shout something at the remaining three, the rifleman now a bloody mess on the floor of the alley. They appear to open fire on Julien, keeping his head down as the gang leader and the one with the switchblades advance on me, the leader firing his machine pistol into the dumpster that I’m hiding behind, keeping me suppressed as well. I wait for the two to emerge and, surely enough, the switchblade wielding gangster emerging first. I grab him and flip him over, throwing him to the ground with a hard thump.

“You’re going to pay, bitch!” the leader yells as he comes as me from behind, grabbing one of my arms and forcing me against the dumpster. I look over to see Julien dispatching one of the two with guns, but the other keeps him busy for the moment. The gangster pushes on my arm again, threatening to dislocate it at the elbow and sending my pistol to the floor. The switchblade wielding gangster makes a grab for my gun, but I hook it with my foot, dragging it away from him before he can pick it up. The gang leader pulls me around and hits me in the face, but my skinweave absorbs most of the blow. I recoil from the hit as he pulls around his machine pistol. I hear the click as he readies the weapon, shortly before unloading a full clip into my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. I fall to the ground to see Julien dispatching the other gang member, turning his attention to me at the sound of the gunfire. A grin, almost proud as he calmly reloads his pistol, drops to one knee and fires through, killing both gang members that were attacking me; he didn’t allow himself to get all emotional until after the fight was over. What a champ.

“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God…” he mumbles as he sprints over to me. I can see that his suit took some bullets, but he doesn’t appear to be bleeding. I give him a thumbs up as he kneels beside me; I’m not bleeding either.

“You’re not the only one who dresses practically,” I say through deep breathing, filling my lungs with air once again. Julien stares at me, puzzled once again before drawing me into a tight hug, so tight that he threatens to wind me once again.

“I thought that was it. I thought you were dead. I heard the gunfire and…”

“Settle down, you’re going to suffocate me,” I mutter, catching my breath once more as he releases me from his grip. “And don’t worry about the girls. Who do you think taught them about fashion, and the importance of spending a bit extra for protective, but good looking clothing.”

Julien picked up my pistol and handed it to me. “You’re security, aren’t you?” he asks as he hands my silenced HK P9S back, laser sight still blinking. I turn off the laser sight and re-holster it beneath my suit jacket.

“Yeah,” I reply. A half truth.

“You could’ve just told me.”

“I didn’t want you to worry.” I look around, getting up to my feet with Julien’s help. “We can have this discussion another time. Cops will be here any minute, and I’d rather spend the rest of Valentine’s Day with you, rather than some angry police officer.

He nods and we leave the scene, getting back to the car. He drives this time, taking us home as soon as possible. Fortunately, police response times tonight are not exactly jaw-dropping and we get away from the scene with no repercussions. When we get home, the girls are absent, as usual. I slip out of my suit jacket, kick off my shoes and walk over to the bed, collapsing on it.

“Nothing like a brush with death to get the blood pumping,” I say with a smile. The adrenaline rush has ended and I find myself rather exhausted. “But also exhausting.”

Julien sits on the other side, before suddenly rolling over, his arms either side of me with a wide grin on his face. “I hope not too exhausting.” He leans in to kiss me, his hand running up the side of my body to the buttons on my shirt. A wave of heat rises through me, flushing my cheeks with red.

“Not too exhausting,” I reply with a grin.

I don’t get much sleep that night. The girls don’t even wake us when they sneak in during the early hours of the morning.

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