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Maelstrom took care of their own. There are a lot of ways to interpret took care of. Might save a life, might cut it short. One way or another, what Maelstrom started, Maelstrom was damned if it wasn't gonna finish. 

For V and Dum Dum, that meant tonight they were hunting. Some gonk at the docks had chipped too many implants too fast and lost his shit, now he was on a tear through Watson and Brick was antsy about someone calling MaxTac.

"Prolly high as shit too," Dum Dum laughed. He took a long pull on his inhaler, then offered V a hit. "Irresponsible."

V took the S-keef and blew a lungful out of the car window. "Yeah, not like us." She eased onto the brake, fired up the scanner on her Kiroshis. 

Her gaze swept over the side of the warehouse as they drove past. The optic implants picked out foot and hand prints. A broken window. "Yo, think he went in there?"

"Fuckin hope not," Dum Dum grumbled. "Mox joint."

He killed the music. Reality pushed on the edges of V's high as the grind and screech on Ritual FM died. 

"Fuck's wrong with the Mox?" V looked back to her choom. She felt her face move in a way that would have furrowed her brow, before the implants. "We got beef?"

"Nah, but how's it gonna look if we kick the door in?" Dum Dum blew more S-keef, better to think.

V clenched her jaw. Involuntary, must have been something she'd taken. "Gotta be uh, diplomatic n shit."

"What, we're the marvellous Machete Twins, here to save you poor defenseless ladies from our rogue borgbeast?" If Dum Dum could, he'd have rolled his eyes. "Fuck V, I'd shoot us. And I am us. Partly."

"Nah, like… gimme that." V snatched Dum Dum's inhaler out of his hand and took a hit. The drug felt like steel beams through her organic parts. Fire in her heart, ice in her veins. "Like tell em we been hunting this guy, how we don't wanna start shit with them."

"Yeah, then maybe invite em to Totentanz for a couple Brosephs after," Dum Dum scoffed. "Whatever. Beats rusting out here."

They hopped out of V's hot hatch and crossed the concrete to the main entrance. Dum Dum hung back a second, to take in the building. 

"Ain't gonna lie, mirin their taste." 

"What now?" V turned, already at the door.

"Preem graff. Unique. Purple." 

"Geez. Let's say hi already." V jabbed the intercom. 

The device crackled. A camera above the door whirred as it trained on them.

"Aw hell no," the voice through the speaker was staticky. "Beat it, borg."

"Hey, we're cool." V tried to remember what a conciliatory tone sounded like. "We're hunting a cyberpsycho. Think he's holed up on the second floor."

There was another crackle. Silence.

"Well, we tried." Dum Dum shrugged. "Now gimme a boost and I'll pull you u-" 

His plan was cut short by a sharp staccato burst of automatic weapons fire. Broken glass showered them. Someone on the second floor screamed. 

"Ah, fuck." V pressed the intercom again. "Let us in we can help." 

To her surprise, the LED by the lock turned green. She shoved through, followed by Dum Dum. They were met inside the door by a woman in synthleather overalls, with green and purple hair, shaved on one side. V glanced her up and down. Sure don't dress like a Mox. The ink was a dead giveaway, though. So was the tricked-out pistol she waved at them. This woman was about that life. 

"Two?" She eyed them with suspicion. V realised this is who had spoken over the intercom. "Right. Stay where I can see you. Try any funny shit and you're zeroed." 

"Got our word." V nodded. 

"Yeah, and I know exactly what it's worth." The Mox rolled her eyes. "Stairs're that way." 

Know what it's worth… why's everyone hate us, we're tryna help, V sulked her way to the stairs. She knew, really. Maelstrom did some fucked up shit. She'd done some herself, maybe not this week but definitely the week before. Something about the way that Mox had scanned them, though. Those pretty 'ganic looking eyes, the shit she said and how she said it. V wanted to prove her wrong. Prove that she wasn't like how everyone said borgbeasts were. 

"Anyone else up there?" Dum Dum asked. 

"Just Traci." Stress was clear in this woman's voice. "Dunno if she still is."

V stopped at the top of the stairs, beckoned Dum Dum into a huddle. They each held up a fist. "Okay," V nodded. "3, 2, 1."

She held her first clenched. Dum Dum stuck two fingers out. 

"Aw c'mon." 

"Them's the rules, choom." V flexed her shoulder. "You got a wrench or something right?"

"Does a stuck pig squeal?" Dum Dum reached into his field jacket and produced a tire iron. "Let’s get this over with.

"You people are insane." The Mox groaned, from lower down the stairs. 

Dum Dum jogged across the second floor. Clumsy, kicked his steeltoes against things. Clattered the tire iron off the rows of shelves. Badly sang some nursery rhyme V half-remembered. 

V stayed low. Rotated her optics outward, to where she could barely see Dum Dum but had a clear view of the room around him. Looked like the Mox used this floor for general storage, maybe to scroll some BDs. Patched, plastic-looking couches seemed incongruous with the industrial fittings and feel of the place. Maybe that's what BD junkies were after. At any rate, there were a lot of places to lie in wait…

Movement, above. V snapped her three primary eyes upwards to track it. Looked like their psycho, crawling after Dum Dum along the ceiling with pitons and - aw shit - mantis blades. Man this is gonna suck. 

V drew no weapon. Their best hope of bringing this guy back alive was to grab him while he was distracted then choke him out. V had enough eyes to watch Dum Dum and the psycho. She moved as fast as she could without making noise, trying to catch up before the psycho- 

Leapt. Boots first, thank fuck, into Dum's back. V picked up the pace. Cybernetic blade flashed under electric light. Dum Dum let out a yelp as it stuck him. Blood spurted in an arc as the blades swung. 

Then V was on them. She reared up, crook of her elbow under the psycho's chin. With her other arm, she grabbed her wrist. Under one of the psycho's flailing baldes. Squeezed, squeezed, until the guy went limp. 

Shit! Dum. V dropped her quarry and checked on her choomba. Most of the cuts looked superficial, but the one in his shoulder was deep. Dark oily borg-blood pooled. He was breathing, at least. 

"Shit, Dum, you okay?"

"I'll live," the reply was laboured. "Th'shard though." 

V nodded, and patted down her pockets for the item. She found it, then slotted it into the unconscious psycho's neural port. 

"Fuck is that?" The Mox in overalls demanded. 

V didn't look up, just flicked a couple of eyes her way. The woman didn't look as pissed as she sounded. More curious. "Circuit breaker. We make em. If Chumly here wakes up before we can hit a ripper, his chrome won't function." 

"Ripper? For what?" 

"Curing him." What else? Gonk. V gave Dum Dum a hand, pulled him to his feet. He was shaky, but he stood unassisted. 

"Ripper sounds - hngh - good right now." Dum hissed through gritted teeth. "Fuck, I can feel a breeze on my insides." 

"Yeah, right." The woman rolled her eyes. "No cure for cyberpsychosis 'cept a bullet."

"Maybe not for normies." V shot back. "Just knock em out, swap out the last chrome they chipped, wake em up. A fuckin hard reset."

The Mox looked lost in thought for a second, before she spoke: "Preem. Now get out."

"V, seriously, ripper." Dum Dum urged. "Save the flirting for 'tanz."

Flirting? Whattaya thi- V stopped the thought. The adrenaline had fucked her high up, without urgent stimulus she was getting scattered, chatty. She lifted the unconscious psycho across her shoulders with no small effort. Led the way to the stairs. 

The Mox had been joined by another, this one holding an SMG. Must be Traci. She looked shaken, and glared at the Maelstromers as they made their way to the exit. 

Once out of the warehouse, Dum Dum sagged a little. "Shit, I'm leaking bad." 

"Uh. Airhypo in my car." V thought fast. "Will that hold you?" 

"Gonna have to. We're like two blocks from Clean Cut anyway. Got a real good doc there." He opened the trunk. V dumped the unconscious psycho in.

V didn't know this kid. Some hotshot would-be gangoon, maybe he thought she and Dum were cool, thought you could get like that overnight. She'd started thinking of him as Chumly, and wondered if he had a name. Shut the trunk. "Nova. Let's delta. I'll call Brick as we go." 

They got in. Dum Dum shot up the airhypo. V hit the gas, and peeled out. Another normal shitty day in Watson, Night City. 

*

Back at her apartment on Charter Street, Judy turned over and over in bed. Every time I go somewhere 'cept Lizzie's basement… that was Night City, though, trouble all over. At least those two Maelstromers had been okay. That was the problem - could never tell what would make a borgbeast lose their shit. She'd been half convinced the woman was about to, but then she went on about a hard reset instead. Hard reset… why hadn't anyone else thought of that? 

Judy sat up, found her phone. Who's that fixer, comes in Lizzie's sometimes? Busted eye… an ex-media, Judy seemed to remember. She'd been going on about cyberpsychosis last time Judy had seen her. Regina! Judy found the contact and started a call. 

It took a couple of rings, but Regina picked up. "Judy? It's late."

"Yeah. Rough night." 

"Heard about the psycho. Were you there?"

"Yeah." My fuckin luck. "Look, Reggie I-"

"Tried to send a solo. Jackie didn't answer. Hope you're alright."

"'m fine Reggie, we all are. Two Maelstromers had followed the guy.  KO'd him before he hurt anyone." Traci had been scratched up a little, that borg guy had been stuck. Nobody that important had been hurt that bad.

"What? Really?"

"Yeah, why I called - they said they can cure him. Just swapping chrome, or something. Called it a hard reset." 

"What? Who said this?" Regina's tone had turned sharp, demanded answers. 

Judy sighed. "Some borg bitch. Went by V. That's all I got." 

"That’s a start." Regina's face on the holo turned away from the camera, lit from below by another screen. "I'll ask around. Maybe I'll know someone who knows someone." 

"Preem. Hope it helps." Judy ended the call. Saying some borg bitch left a weird taste in her mouth. Shouldn't talk about other women like that, even if they were psychogang. Besides, some of Maelstrom weren't all that bad, far as she knew. Some of the younger ones hung out in the lot behind her building from time to time, blasting cybergrind and blowing synthweed. Just like anyone else, they were only after some peace and fun in Night City. Still, everyone had heard stories about rituals. Sacrifices in disused factories. Badges found strung up, all their blood drained. Civvies kidnapped and stuffed with chrome til they turned psycho. Stories so fucked, they almost had to be true, at least partly. 

V and her choom helped, though. Without them, someone might have gotten killed. And maybe next time, it'll be one of them who loses their shit.

Judy gave up on sleep, went into the main room of her apartment and grabbed a beer from the fridge. V was interesting, she mused. She had fire, seemed like she really gave a shit too. The sensory array the borgs chipped must be next-level, to make it worth not looking human. Or maybe that was what they wanted. 

Judy caught sight of her reflection in the glass front of the microwave. Meant to be sleepin, stead I'm up drinking on some borg woman I met like once. She rubbed her face. You are down bad, Judy Alvarez. How long had it been? Nearly a year since the whole trainwreck with Maiko, and since then… couple of one night stands didn't really do much to take the edge off. 

She took her beer to the couch. Drank with one foot on the coffee table. Something needed to be done. Maybe she'd swallow her pride, ask Evelyn to set her up with someone. Her free hand strayed to the waistband or the shorts she slept in. Five red optics, set in a face with full lips and a strong jawline. She jerked her hand away. "No fuckin way," she muttered. Might as well stroke it to a Flathead.