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> The Nominees Are..., Fiction Contest
Which story do you think should win?
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tisoz
post Jan 28 2006, 12:59 PM
Post #1


Free Spirit
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Group: Dumpshocked
Posts: 3,776
Joined: 26-February 02
From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



Here are the entries in The First tisoz Shadowrun Fiction Contest.

Authors, PM or email me if something needs edited.

As previously, authors names will be added at the conclusion of the contest.
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tisoz
post Jan 28 2006, 01:47 PM
Post #2


Free Spirit
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Group: Dumpshocked
Posts: 3,776
Joined: 26-February 02
From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



Rooftops
by Critias

I love Seattle's rooftops.

Downstairs is too crowded, too shoulder to shoulder with everyone else, too dirty and cramped. Up here I'm above all that. An easy hop bridging the gaps between rooftops 'til I've got to cross a street, a little grunt of exertion and a little faith in my mana taking me across intersections and over the head of busy streets, my sneakers pounding on the concrete and brick, the tarred-on gravel and the occasional wood and tile. I love it. The rain -- polluted as it is -- comes often and steady enough it keeps the whole thing smelling fresh, up this high at least, and my lungs fill as my legs pump and I make my way back home after a visit with my parole officer. The rain ain't so bad it affects my traction any, but that might just be that I grew up doin' this sort of thing in Orkland and San Fran, so rain and I go back a long way. There’s a full moon overhead, and I’ve got pretty good night vision, so it’s easy enough to let my mind go to autopilot as I run.

Man. That parole officer's apartment ain't half bad, and it's only four klicks from the crash-pad Tony's lettin' me bum. The run'll do me good, seein' as how I gotta get back and forth once a week. She's got a classy joint. Nice imported beer, too. Real fancy.

She's too good to be true, this parole officer, and I'm just smart enough to know it. The orkish cousin she mentioned, the dwarf niece she's got pictures of -- she's got the pics up to make this sorry-ass ork convict feel more at home, I'm sure. She was careful not to mention any of them 'til my second visit so I'd feel all personal and private, careful to hold my hand just a little too long when I shook with her, careful to leave the half-dead rose bouquet dumped in the trashcan to tickle my nostrils and pique my interest, careful to leave me alone just long enough that I couldn't help but read the I'm sorry, please take me back sorry-ass chump note attached to them, there in her garbage.

Had to make sure I knew she was single and tempt me to go for the rebound, right? Darlene Lebowski, Knight Errant Parole Supervision Agent, hadn't quite flashed her ta-ta's at me and shouted "Take me, I dig pointy ears," right then and there, but she'd dropped enough hints that I knew I was supposed to be interested.

Which means I'm getting set up to do some work for Ares, of course. But that's okay. I'd rather they try to make it look like a seduction than just send some no-neck bullyboy hollering at me that I gotta wack someone for 'em or face trumped-up parole violations. I'm just fine with them going through the trouble to sugar coat it for me. Hell, I might even score. She'd smelled like she meant it, tonight, when she'd leaned in too close and brushed against my hand while handing me over the dataslate full of job opportunities. The scent wasn't so strong she's got a pheromone implant, but the smell was there. If she's lying about being interested, she's got herself fooled, too.

An', hey. It's not like I've got anyone but me to blame, if Ares puts my tusk-sportin' ass to work. I knew full well what I was gettin' into, when I let 'em cuff me. I knew even better what I was signing up for, when I agreed to parole.

But, right. There I am, beatin' feet and feelin' mostly okay with my current situation, when some dickwad goes and almost gets himself run over. I've got my adept mojo workin' and I'm truckin' along pretty good, which means I'm hustlin' at a good clip, make no mistake, but I manage to kick up some tarry gravel and slow myself down in time. Which is a good thing, 'cause he's just standin' there, an' a collision at this speed ain't gonna feel good, tough as I am or not.

I shouldn't be too surprised, I guess. Just in the couple weeks I've been here in the Sprawl, I've interrupted three sets of lovebirds lookin' for a private place for some private time, pissed off a pair of ganger-wannabe kids practicin' tags (far from anyone who might get offended by their graffiti), an' spooked one half-assed burglar so bad he'd almost clipped the trails of my longcoat with a burst of 9mm from some stubby little something-or-another he'd brought to bear. I mean, the rooftops ain't exactly busy, mind, but Seattleites aren't as paranoid as the folks I grew up around back home (where being on a rooftop made you fair game for any passing-by Jap drone with a mean-spirited rigger and ammo to spare).

So, this geek. He's standin' there, doin' his best to look real cool in a long black trenchcoat, black shirt, loose-fitting black pants, black slipper-sock-something-or-another's, black gloves, black hair. He ain't even lookin' at me. His hands are clasped in the small of his back, he's staring off into space in the general direction I'm traveling, and he don't show a damned sign of noticing that I'd nearly barreled into him about like an ork-shaped Mack truck.

I'm just about ready to pull a hop, skip, and jump over his little black-haired head and get back on my way, when he goes and starts yappin' without even lookin' over his shoulder at me. And, natch, what he has to say is just so fuckin' heavy I feel his words tie themselves around my neck like an anchor wantin' to drag me to the bottom of the bay.

"Tyler Wilde." Which is, y'know, me, of course. I notice a Jap accent, soon as he starts blabbin'. "Was it not enough for you to anger Mitsuhama Computer Technology's San Francisco office?"

I leave the question just sort of hangin' there, real rude of me, because the fact he knows me an' knows where to find me an' has an accent like that all add up to something unfortunate. I let reflex take over, an' run like hell off to my left. My legs bunch up under me and I vault clean to the next rooftop, then sneakers beat out a drumroll as I'm flying past building after building. I plant a foot on the lip of a wall, kick off, and soar straight across an intersection, then keep runnin' easy as if I'd stepped up onto a curb. I go maybe three blocks, full tilt, all out, hard and fast as my muscle and my magic can make me, before I slow down a little. I'm at a tiered building, with about a three story difference between the tippity-top floor and the one I'm hittin' the brakes on right now. I plant my back against that wall, eyes scanning the rooftops behind me as I catch my breath. I figure I get my bearings, write off that whole fucking crash-pad as a lost, catch a subway back to my PO's place, and ask if I can stay the night.

Then there comes that voice again, polite, mild. Smug. "You have angered an entirely new security head, Mister Wilde, that operates here in the Seattle Metroplex. Where you left one simmering enemy behind, you have picked up a new one. And, I'm sure you know, the manner in which you did so has brought the shame of a minor defeat to my oyabun, as well."

What. The. Fuck. I don't even hear him movin'. He ain't even breathin' heavy.

I don't even bother lookin' around for him, just reach down deep into myself and push for all I can. My legs coil like springs, and I'm flyin' six meters straight up. My sneakers hit the wall and take over, mana pouring through me like Seattle rain through a gutter, and I run straight up the fuckin' wall. I hiss air out and gulp it in through a grin. Let's see the silly-lookin' fucker do this.

I grab the lip at the top, haul myself straight up and over, and -- naturally -- stare the little Japanese bastard square in his almond-eyes, where he's standin' there all calm and patient-like, waitin' on me to catch up.

"Jao Gao,", I sigh, profanity escaping me in Mandarin like it always does when I really mean it. This is such bullshit.

"Once tasked with tracking down those responsible, Mister Wilde, it didn't take long for questioning sessions from witnesses to lead me to you. And once I read your file, Mister Wilde, I just knew I could ignore the rest of your merry little band, and hunt you down first."

I let him keep yappin', use it to get a running start, and jump again. I'm feelin' kinda dumb by now, but when runnin' is your number one trick, you just gotta see it through 'til you're sure it ain't gonna work. I was raised by the Metahuman People's Army. Down in Orkland, squared off against Jap Marines and security troops, "stand and fight fair" ain't exactly the motto I got drummed into my head. So I go soaring again, land with a soft oomph and a roll to ease the impact, and beat feet.

Then I see him. The little comfort I take in noticing the sumbitch this time is evaporated by what I see him doing -- the fucker might as well have a jetpack on. No shit. I mean, me? I jump. I'm good at it. Running, jumping, climbing. Escaping. It's my thing. My schtick. An' this dude just hopped off the same ledge as me, only here he is landing a good ten meters ahead of me, an' with his legs barely even bending to catch him as he lands.

Prick, I'm on to you. I hear the high whine of hydraulics as he lands, this time, alongside the rustle of his leather coat and my own heart pounding in my ears. Cheater. It's not magic pushing you, it's metal. Fine. Cheater. I've heard about those cyberleg implants, the jacks and shocks. I know how you do what you do.

"You see, Mister Wilde, your talents, while they may pale in comparison, are similar to my own. Similar enough, that is, to intrigue me. My oyabun grants me some latitude in matters such as this, and I felt using you as a warm up exercise might get my blood pumping, before I hunted down your friends." He smiles a pleasant, white-toothed smile. Fucking breeder. Smug-ass, cheating, cybered up, breeder. "And just to motivate you? I haven't told him who you are. Him, or that Mitsuhama security head you've offended and humiliated."

He gives it a second to sink in, 'cause he's a melodramatic fuck that knows what he's just told me. "If you kill me, Mister Wilde, your secret is safe."

Oh yeah? Chew on this.

I turn and run again, taking a hard right, vaulting off the rooftop to the next one over, a five-meter drop. I feel very clever.

I look up, and right on cue, that bat-shape goes hurtling overhead, with a jump that'd gimme a woodie to try if I wasn't so damned pissed off at him for doing it. I hear the hydraulics again. Everything slows down as my hands reach into my jacket. I see the trailing, fluttering, longcoat, see the shocked look on his face as my fists come out from my coat holding an Ares Predator a piece. I grin as I pull the triggers, with him gliding through the air as smooth as a clay pigeon or a home run.

Only then he ain't glidin' that smooth. Something twitches in the length of his longcoat, he twists, and suddenly he's turning all impossible-like, right there in mid air, lurching to one side and contorting himself in mid-air, altering his flight against about half of what little I know physics tells me is possible. I have a good time blazing away at him, though, the pistols bucking in my mits and sending forty-five after forty-five at him. I hear a few slap through leather, but miss. Two hit, and they spark as they spang off him. I see that he's got a fuckin' tail, a meter long metal snake wriggling down there back by his legs, and that's how he pulled that crazy shit mid-air.

I've just got time to register that I'm probably in trouble, when I see his face.

No shit, the dude's looking as pissed at me as if I'd just tit-punched his mom. That freakin' mad. Then he gets his feet against the rooftop underneath him, drops down real low, and uncoils at me like a snake.

I get hit by a freight train as he jumps straight-on at me, pure horizontal, and this tiny little Jap-dude's elbow and shoulder crash into my chest. I go flying. My guns go flying. The rooftop goes flying. The big pregnant Seattle moon goes flying. The whole world's topsy-turvy for a second, I see stars and can't breath, then my plastic-laced bones remind me they ain't gonna break no matter how hard I try, and my other little toy -- nestled against my inner ear, with the tiniest gyroscope you ever did see -- kicks in and I'm twisting, feet under me and oriented topside-where-it-goes. Kinda like the trick his tail had him doin'. I've got a few toys of my own.

Right then, natch, I slam into a brick wall. He sent me flyin' hard.

I bounce just a bit before I go back to falling, but then my sneakers are peeling rubber on the rain-slick building side, and I get some traction, and I'm running again. Back the way I came. Up. I pump my arms and pump my legs and run back towards that fat Seattle moon, then kick hard off the wall once I'm out of the alley I'd fallen into, and wind up on the roof with him standing there waving a fancy pig sticker at me.

"You have insulted me, Mister Wilde. I sought a challenge of peers, though obviously not equals, and you have brought firearms into the mix." The blade's a good meter long, give or take, straighter than a katana but he's got it in that two-handed Japanese stance, and the point's all clipped off like it ought ta be. It's blackened, the steel itself, I mean, but there's a dull shine to it that tells me it's just got to be covered in that silly diamond horseshit that'll let him cut through an engine block with it, no sweat.

"Though you are a barbarian and oni, Mister Wilde, you should have understood that you and I are brothers in arms. Adepts! Better than those around us, those beneath us. You should have seen the chance for this test to be what it was -- instead you threw it away, through cowardice and treachery."

To be honest I'm not really listening, by that point my attention's too many other places. My wind's back -- it's nice of him to chat like he does -- by then, and my eyes are on that blade and that pissed-off look on his face. My mind's taking in the fact he just gave away he's not just metal, but magic, too, and for just a split second I find myself doing some soul searching. I've mixed the two inside myself, too. For the MPA, I took the hit and got the reinforced skeleton, the inner-ear gizmo, the strengthened walls of my heart. I went under the knife, and gave myself what I thought was a little bit of edge. Did he do it the same way? This guy so made of metal he sparks when shots hit him center-torso, this guy with more struts and shocks in his legs than an SUV? How long would it be before I got those hydraulics to make myself better, or plated up my chest with whatever-the-hell he's got bolted to him? Had I already started down that same slope?

Yeah, yeah. I'm a retard. Soul searching in the middle of a fight, I know. But I'd had a rather shocking evening, y'know? There I was, trying to digest it all, when he comes at me with that freakin' sword of his, letting out a nice loud kiai shout just like a guy in a sammie-flick. And there I am, thinkin' deep thoughts about the nature of man, magic, and machine, instead of payin' freakin' attention.

Well, fine. I ain't been practicing Kali and Escrima since I was nine so that I'd have to think in a knife fight, have I?

My blades come out and I'm gratified by the expression on his face when I get my big fat Bowie in the way of his first angry swing. I'm quicker than he gave me credit for. His guard gets deflected high, and I take advantage. My little black folder swipes out towards the arteries in his thigh and it ain't 'till it goes skittering on sheet metal (or whatever the fuck) that I remember he hasn't got meat there for me to cut.

He's at me again, quick as can be, but I get inside and smack him with an old knee-elbow-elbow combo, then kick away from him with a little hop to buy myself room. If it wasn't for the hexagon map drawn all over my skeleton with high-impact polymers, I think I would'a busted a couple of my own bones, hitting him like I did. Ribs aren't a safe target, legs aren't a safe target, middle of his chest ain't a safe target. I click off options on a mental checklist, and he comes at me with that big old pig sticker slicing through the air between us.

I get aside just in time to dodge his lunge, let him overextend, and bring both knives at his right arm. He pulls back, and I just let the edges and his own momentum do the work, slicing through muscle ‘til both blades hit bone, and scraping as he draws the arm back through 'em; nothing left but a couple flaps of meat, hangin' from a ruined length of bone and gushin' his blood out all over the place.

That was the plan, anyhow. Instead I get the knives up there, one left and one right, fuck up his jacket a little bit, hear a sound like nails on a chalkboard as I ruin a pair of good sharp edges on a metal-coated cyberlimb, and then get kicked in the gut by a leg that can send a man flying over tall buildings with a single bound. Sometimes shit don't work out like we want, y'know?

My ribs do their best to break, but don't quite manage it. I go flying again, but my knives an' me got a stronger connection than those guns I dropped a few rooftops back, so I keep my steel handy. I'm back on my feet just in time to catch his next charge, and the ensuing flurry of slashes and strikes leaves me with another sore elbow, him with a fat lip --blood, I notice, not hydraulic fluid -- and I get two long slashes across my jacket that are enough to ruin it and almost enough to have taken my fuckin' chest away with it. I'm gettin' lucky. Near misses.

I get lucky some more, trying for a joint-kick that doesn't work out, tossing an elbow lock on him that feels like I'm trying to bend a crowbar, and then planting a solid knee to his kidneys (which might as well be me kickin' a bank vault).

I stop bein' lucky, all at once, when I notice his sword hilt. It's next to my belly button. The pain don't hit. --The pain don't hit.-- I see that black blade stickin' through my favorite djoto t-shirt, see the blood come out and wash over his leather-gloved hands. The pain don't hit. I blink, and look up, and see that smug little breeder lookin' me in the eye. I see him grin, just a little. I see him, see the look in his eyes, as he knows, and I know, an' we both know, I'm probably dead.

He gives the blade a little bitty wiggle.

The pain hits. I feel every inch of that fucking sword ground up between my plastic-coated ribs (nice, neat work, there, bypassing my armor, I gotta give credit where it's due), and through some really important ropy intestinal stuff somewhere in my belly, and ground through some more ribs on the way out just barely past my spine. I feel a little breeze, and realize it's stuck out the back of my jacket, too, but must've hit a trauma plate there an' poked the back of it away from my...back a little...and...why do I care? Oh, it must...be...shock. Yeah. That's right, I...almost...forgot.

I'm about...to...die.

Well, fuck you very much.

I ain't gonna let this little breeder fuck assassin take this tusker's head back to his little breeder fuck boss. Not without makin' him bleed a little more than a split fuckin' lip.

That lip, with real blood coming out.

Time slows down for a second, as I focus. Poppa Lee called it "centering" when he'd first started teaching it to an angry fourteen year old who's Adept powers erupted mid-firefight. I sometimes called it that, sometimes called it Zen calmness, sometimes called it just getting my shit together, harnessing my anger. Focusing, though, is all it really is. So I focus. I focus on his arms, that I can't hurt. His legs, that I can't hurt. His belly, his chest, his heart I can't reach. I focus on the gloves he wears to hide his hands, ashamed of his augmentation. The boots he wears to hide his feet, to keep them a secret, too. The long sleeves. I focus on the blood-smell and the fluid dripping from his cut lip. On his head. His head that may, just may, be real skin and bones. His eyes look real, at least. Sincere, smug, plain old brown eyes. Flesh. He doesn't wear a mask. He's got a split lip that real blood is coming out of. He doesn't hide it, like he does the rest of him.

I focus.

I growl, low down, because words won't quite come right then, with that sword stuck through me.

I twist my whole body as hard as I can, muscles bunching up and clenching as I lurch to one side.

The blade moves with me, out of his blood-slick gloved hands. My fat Bowie knife moves in a left-armed lunge low towards his balls, even though I know those arteries are covered up and nothing I can do down there'll kill him; he knows it, too, but every man's got a reflex to protect the family jewels.

Both his hands -- "empty, empty, empty hands, you breeder fuck I stole your sword" -- slap down low, wrists together in an X to catch my own wrist and stop my stupid worthless thrust. It feels like I've smacked into two lengths of rebar crossed together. But the joke's on him, even as I nearly bust my wrist and the big knife goes clattering away.

'Cause then my big right hand goes up and over, a crude, ugly, basic, orkish, hammer-fist that happens to have a nifty rubberized grip and an assisted-opening hundred-and-fifteen millimeters of two-percent carbon fucking steel blade in it. Neener neener.

The knife tip smashes in through the top of his human, bone, head, right where his silly little bowl-cut glossy black hair is parted. It sinks in, in, in, with my thumb bracing the bottom of the grip, all the way 'till my pinky gets smashed against his skull and the whole knife's stuck in his squishy, squishy, brain.

"Chwee Ni Duh!" I spit, anger helping me form the words. Fuck you, indeed.

I grunt, and lurch, and snap the grip right off the blade and leave that steel stuck in his gray matter as I stumble away, tusks bared and coppery-tasting blood in my mouth.

I hear him fall, a metallic clatter like a steel garbage can full of steak getting dropped.

I black out for a second, my magic straining to control and contest against the pain, my Adept-enhanced strength leaving me in a flood that turns my knees rubbery as I pull a diamond-edged sword out of my belly. My teeth hurt as it grates against my ribs on the way out, and my gut's on fire for the eternity it takes me to get back to my feet.

But I know where I am. A half a block south of the entrance to Big Jim's place, the soft-hearted shaman who'll patch up anyone who makes it to his corner of the steam tunnels. He's helped me before. I stumble towards the roof edge, steady myself, look to the alley. I take the fire escape down to the street; no need to push my luck.

I love the rooftops. But there're time's it's not so bad to have both feet on solid ground.
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tisoz
post Jan 28 2006, 02:11 PM
Post #3


Free Spirit
*******

Group: Dumpshocked
Posts: 3,776
Joined: 26-February 02
From: Bloomington, IN UCAS
Member No.: 1,920



Along for the Ride
by Luke Hardison

Alex sat stiffly in the fully synthetic chairs of the waiting lounge. Sure, the seating was well padded in all the right places and the upholstery was the softest synthleather that money could buy. The carpet was plush and infinitely soothing to the eyes, its color changing gradually to complement the theme of the quiet classical string music that permeated the entire building once you passed the seventieth floor. None of that could change the reason for his visit today, or make his brand new designer shoes break in like the out of fashion pair he had so recently discarded.

The head researcher for StingCo Northwest (a division – er, member – of the Shiawase Corporation family), Alex Mahahnn was a thoroughly unimposing man, standing at a very average one hundred seventy four centimeters and tipping the scales at a rather bland seventy seven kilograms. He wore the same fashion to the office daily; a simple and slightly rumpled suit that was dark enough to be convenient at hiding stains but light enough to be on the sale rack: this year’s corporate fashion was darker and darker. After fifty one years his hair was thinner than it used to be, and despite the relative ease of hair replacement micro-surgery (or gene-therapy), he couldn’t bring himself to spare the effort, time, money, and attention. In short, he would freely tell anyone who asked, his Give-a-Damn had been busted since his wife left him four years ago this May.

Surrounded by the luxuries afforded by StingCo to those with greater standing than himself, Alex stared into a lukewarm and nearly untouched real ceramic cup of actual coffee, made that morning. To put on a good appearance while keeping costs down, the secretary on the executive floors (which was everything above Mahahnn’s own sixty-fifth floor) made one large pot of real coffee first thing in the morning, and then several pots of decent soykaf for the rest of the day. In fact, he was still staring at the cup and nervously shifting his hand over his pocket secretary when the very bimbo herself, Miss Perky-as-You-Can-Stand-and-Then-Some Pershing bounced into the room, spilling out of a tight grey skirt and jacket combo suit that had barely enough material to hug her generous curves.

“Mr. Mahahnn? Mr. Dowling will see you now.” Her head bobbed slightly as her vacant smile seemed to swallow her face. Alex wasn’t sure if he was truly disgusted by the shallow puppet before him or jealous of their mutual boss.

“Thank you, Cindy. Will you take care of this for me?” He handed her the cup and looked away, hopefully before she noticed where his eyes had been sitting.

Beyond the tall imitation oak doors stood a huge corner office, filled with the best imitations of luxury that a top executive like Dowling could command. Chief Director of Operations was as high as anyone could rise and still be technically within StingCo; everyone to whom Dowling reported was within the structure of Shiawase itself. It was rare that a division head like Mahahnn would meet directly with the Chief Director, as his work brought him more directly in contact with the Deputy Director of Technology or the Director of Logistics, but today was an exception. Two men were standing as Alex entered the office. The tall blonde man with an impeccably trimmed goatee and expensively coiffed hair was Jonathan Dowling, Chief Director. The other was unknown to Alex, standing every bit as tall and almost twice as wide. He had hard features, as if his face was originally intended to be used as a tool, with his hair cut short and severe. His chest filled out a burgundy blazer embroidered with a stylized interpretation of the Shiawase logo. The uniform marked him as a ‘Parent’ from Shiawase, but his physical size and demeanor suggested that his area of expertise was something other than management.

“Alex? Come in, and shut the door behind you.” Jonathan Dowling had a surplus of charisma for most people, but Alex had always found him a little too slick to be real, an impression that was reinforced by his sudden and uncharacteristic switch to a first name basis. As he closed the densiplast doors, Dowling continued, “This is Mr. Biggs, Chief Security Advisor Shiawase West Coast, District Three. Mr. Biggs, Alex Mahahnn.”

Biggs nodded at Alex, his expression flat, and Alex finally recognized the mannerisms that had been his first clue as to his visitor’s non-managerial background: he had to have been ex-military, though he looked like current military.

“Have a seat, Alex. Mr. Biggs, since this is your show, why don’t you start us off?”

Biggs cleared his throat. “Mr. Mahahnn, I received a few details about your situation from Chief Dowling before I left downtown, along with copies of the e-mails. Why don’t you start for the beginning, so we don’t leave anything out?”

It was Alex’s turn to look for his voice. He wasn’t very good at speaking in front of others, and to him giving a run-down of recent problems to two people was nerve racking. “Well, it seems to all be related with a product that is in the final phases of development here at StingCo. Are you familiar with our products?” The security chief’s head moved slightly side to side. “I see. Well, we primarily focus on crowd dispersing chemical agents. We make a standard line of agents using CN and CS gasses and Capsicum topical agents, but we’re always trying to make new breakthroughs. Up until now, those have been limited to new formulations and blends of the same two of three irritants.

“But look on the belts and in the riot gear of every public or private police agency’s gear all over the continent, and what do you find?” He paused a bit long, obviously waiting for an answer while his audience reacted to a rhetorical question. He coughed. “Pepper Punch. Thanks to an extremely rock solid patent and a very aggressive marketing campaign, Ares has the market completely cornered on defensive and riot-control sprays, dispensers, and their agent, Pepper Punch. Most agencies don’t even consider anything else when they purchase. But our new breakthrough will change all of that.

“We’ve just completed development and are moving into final testing of a new irritant. Instead of deriving heat from plant based capsicum, this agent uses a genetically engineered virus.”

“A virus? You infect people with a virus as crowd control?” Biggs interjected, looking alarmed. “I think I understand why some people are upset at you.”

“The virus is non-infectious and unable to spread in the human body. When it leaves the protection of its self-contained environment – the spray can – it begins to die as soon as it touches the body. As the virus breaks down, its decomposition acts by inflaming the membranes of the eyes, mouth, nose, and throat, making breathing difficult but never impossible, decreasing visibility, and causing coughing and distraction. In short, the effects are identical to Pepper Punch and other OC based chemicals.”

“Why is this new?” Biggs looked from scientist to Chief of Operations on either side of the desk, obviously confused. Dowling, proud of his company’s product, sported an ear to ear ‘I’ll never tell’ grin.

“The advantage that will put StingCo products on the belts of every police officer in the world? With a safe, well controlled, once-annual treatment, any officer of the department can change his body’s environment to a safe one for the virus. The virus will still not reproduce, but won’t die instantly on contact with his body, and so will never break down. It will pass out of his system in about twenty four hours without him ever knowing it was there. Since the virus doesn’t break down …”

“Officers will be completely unaffected by their own sprays, which is the biggest drawback to such weapons currently.” The Shiawase officer nodded to himself. “Impressive. If it works out, you’ll certainly see it on my officer’s belts. Commendable.”

“Thank you. But then, as final testing began, we started getting the messages.”

“Yes, those.” Biggs lifted a chip from the huge executive desk to an open jack at the base of his skull. “’If you don’t stop experimenting with viral warfare, you will all die.’ Isn’t that just standard fare for any company that starts making weapons?”

“Pretty much. Those weren’t disturbing by themselves. But then there were unexplained accidents in the lab. A container of Pepper Punch rigged to a piece of equipment that flooded the lab just after lunch. Then there was a large explosion next to our warehouse a week later. It’s a miracle no one was hurt. That’s when the threats became more personal.”

“I see. ‘To: Dr. Alex Mahahnn. Stop your fragging work. I hope you are coming to understand that we are DEAD serious. If you persist in your unnatural research, we will hunt you, find you, inject you with your own poison, and drown you in pure viral-infected waste. This is your last warning.’ Pretty specific. You were certainly right to alert us.”

“That one was received yesterday morning,” Mr. Dowling stated grimly, “I shut the lab down for a day so that you could be alerted, Mr. Biggs.” Dowling put on his best concerned look, pulling his eyebrows together and down as he looked towards Alex. “Mr. Mahahnn is a valuable asset to our corporation, and worth using the considerable assets of your division.”

“I agree. Considering the amount of access to our facilities that the threatening person or persons have shown, I have decided to file for a delayed report. That means the money, personnel, and other assets expended in your protection will be requested after the assignment is complete. No one but the three of us and the occupants of your lab know about the threats. Additionally, no one not currently present in this room will know this.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “Because of the unidentified security breach, we’re hiring an outside professional. An unrecorded asset, for better secrecy, but I assure you that you will be dealing with a seasoned pro in the area of executive security; someone who can work solo and still get the job done flawlessly, to minimize our presence.”

“Who?” Mahahnn leaned in to meet Biggs, feeling a wave of wonder override his growing fear temporarily. He felt like he was some big time trid hero hiring a runner for protection.

“I’m still in contract negotiations. There is no shortage of talented protectors in this area. We’ll find the best, and hire them. Here is your itinerary for today and tomorrow, listing where you will be and when. It details a ruse of shutting down research and giving an outside impression that you’ve been transferred, possibly even fired, while directing you into easily defensible public places. You’ll see on tomorrow’s schedule that you’re stopping for brunch at a café in Tacoma. There you will meet your protector. He’ll come up to your table and you will leave in his car. From then on, you’re under our umbrella. You’ll wait out the launch of your new product in a secure bunker, and once the fervor is over no one will have anything to gain by harming you. We should have this whole mess sorted out before the release, anyway. Don’t worry,” His gaze shifted from Mahahnn to Dowling. “Your boy is going to be fine, and your new product … what is it called?” he questioned Alex, looking back at him.

“Oh, we let Marketing name it. The boys in the lab are just calling it the Burn Bug.”

Biggs chuckled. “Ok, Burn Bug will hit the streets on schedule.”

Biggs spent another thirty minutes going over the schedule of events with both men and reassuring Alex that everything was going to be alright. When he finally excused himself, saying that he had a meeting to select a protector, Mahahnn took that opportunity to leave as well, his months of worrying washed away by a fresh wave of relief as he crossed the color changing carpet to the elevator. Finally, he thought. It’s almost over.


Luke stared directly through Nathan’s head, as though there were something other than brushed-chrome plasteel kitchen cabinets on the other side of that hundred-nuyen haircut. His grey cyber eyes were unfocused with thought, but it looked to Nathan like apathy.

“You know it’s a good job.”

“It’s a rush job.”

“That’s why it pays so well. It’s not like we’re not ready.”

“We’re always ready. What happened to taking a few weeks off after the Kemp job?”

“I know we said we’d take some time off after Kemp, but it’s only a few hours if everything goes as planned.”

“How often does that happen?” Luke rolled his eyes.

“Look, you baby sit some scientist for a few hours, drop him off at the downtown corp bunker, come home and drink some beer. Five grand when I say we’re in, fifteen when you drop him off. Another five if I say we’re in before 1700 today – which is in about twenty minutes, by the way.”

Luke rubbed his dark five-o’clock shadow absently, studying his kitchen. Nathan negotiated all of the team’s contracts, but it was uncommon for them to get an offer before a group meet. Apparently their reputation was starting to precede them, and that unnerved the big mercenary

“Do we even have an appropriate car for the job?”

“Charlie has a Comet that he’s been customizing for a while. It’s no limo, but it will fit the bill. Blends in better. It’s rigged, concealed armor, armored glass, that kind of thing.”

A sigh. Luke didn’t know what part of the job he found distasteful. It was probably the simple fact that he had declared a two week vacation for the team just two days before, and he wanted the rest. “You really think this guy will believe that I’m a professional Executive Protector? I’m usually the guy that the protector is looking for.”

Nathan grinned. He knew he had won. “Of course! I’ve been doing some research. Give me the evening, and I’ll have you talking the talk.”

“Tell Charlie to gas up, then. And next time you want to come over and bust my hoop about a job, call first.” Even though this conversation was over, the team would meet tonight at a safehouse to research and plan the run, so his date for the night was pretty much off. He wasn’t sure Onyx would forgive him easily.

“Will do, boss.” He tapped on his pocket secretary. “Tonight at 1930 at the Pine Valley place for the briefing.”

“Great. Now, out.” Luke scooped up his black armored motorcycle jacket and sleek helmet. “I’m going for a ride.”


The next morning, Luke was dressed in a drab grey business suit specially cut to conceal the handgun under his left arm, give him enough freedom of movement to fight if he must, and cover the light armor plates sewn throughout. The constant rainfall gave him an excuse to wear its matching rain coat, further armored against attack and adding an extra measure of concealment to his weapons. His eyes were concealed from view behind a pair of mirrored-lens shades, and the only thing a casual observer might notice as out of place were his shoes: more function than style, they were high over the ankle and tightly laced in contrast to the current loafer style popular with businessmen. He watched from the corner of his eye as a middle aged man in an out of fashion, dark colored business suit approached the outdoor café across the street. His eyes darted around constantly, like a rabbits, but he managed to control the movement of his head and to measure his stride despite his discomfort.

Luke keyed his mike. “He’s here.” He sub vocalized into the tiny microphone over his throat as he slid the pocket secretary, the display of which he had been pretending to monitor, back into the interior pocket of his raincoat.

The Mercury Comet that parked against the curb outside the café was a few years old, dark green, with a moderate tint on the windows. Its outward simplicity belied the powerful engine and other performance modifications that were on the inside while its blandness clashed with the flashy, brand new black Toyota Elite behind which it had parked. Alex Mahahnn stared at the vehicle that approached, suddenly afraid of what might lie behind the tinted windows. Because of the lingering clouds and rain he could not see into the vehicle, a fact that sent his mind racing with possibilities. How badly do I need protection?

While the weapon designer was watching the car approach, Luke crossed the street, turning wide at the corner to circle the table where the corporate exec sat. He was hoping that anyone paying attention to Mahahnn would also be distracted by the car that approached, giving him a chance to watch them in turn. Through his approach, he could spot no one keeping an eye on his contact. This was good.

Mahahnn jumped as the chair across from him was pulled back. It took a moment for him to realize that a man in a grey raincoat was sitting down across from him. He struggled to speak, staring into his own reflection in a pair of mirrored sunglasses, but no sound came. Which is it? Have they found me? Am I dead or rescued?

“Mahahnn?” There was an extended moment of stunned silence while the designer struggled to make a decision. Luke pulled off his sunglasses, fixing a pair of blue-grey synthetic eyes on the older scientist’s own. “I’m Hawk, Executive Protector. I’m here for you.”

The relief from Mahahnn was palpable. “Thank God you’re here. I’ve been … a bit of a wreck since yesterday.”

“It’s possible that the plans of your employer could have been intercepted, that the bad guys know where we are. We should leave without delay. Follow me.” Luke stood and scanned the sparse midmorning crowd.

Mahahnn looked surprised as he gathered his briefcase and hat and stood clumsily. “What do you mean? How do you know?” His scared eyes returned, darting over the pedestrian traffic around the café and surrounding street.

“It’s always a possibility. I just have to assume the worst and deal with it.” Luke gave the scientist what he hoped was a reassuring nod. That’s right. I do this all the time. Every client gets like this, and I’ve helped hundreds. Come on, believe me! Despite his attempts at convincing the designer, he hadn’t done bodyguard work in years, when he was first getting into the biz in Seattle.

Mahahnn finished his awkward preparations and walked, almost scurrying, to the black limousine at the curb. Luke caught his arm. “This one.” He motioned to the much simpler Comet. The older man looked back and forth, unsure, and then to Luke’s eyes, already returned to their reflective coverings. Looking less than reassured, he changed direction. Luke held open the back passenger door for his client, just like in the action trids. Or the Secret Service, on the news. Yeah! That’s it! Fraggin’ Secret Service.

Before Mahahnn could be comfortably seated in the back of the car, a man jumped up from his seat in the café and charged over to the car, shouting. Wild eyed and well dressed, he was screaming loudly and waving his finger towards the scientist. The only coherent words that could be heard were ‘crazy,’ ‘environment,’ and ‘things you don’t understand.’ “Stay in the car.” Luke pushed the old man into the back seat with a little bit of force, being careful of his head, and closed the door. It locked immediately and Mahahnn was stuck inside, watching events unfold.

Outside the car, Nathan was almost within two arms’ lengths of Luke, still shouting loudly about ‘fools like you who think they are gods’ and a few other choice phrases. Luke took a step forward, his arm extended, his coat unbuttoned for easy access to his weapon. Mahahnn watched from inside the car like watching a trid on mute while Nathan reached Luke and tried to push past him, never looking up at the protector. Luke pushed back with the palm of his hand in the center of Nathan’s chest, and the smaller man stumbled back a few steps. He looked up at Luke as though seeing him for the first time and then charged towards him with his fist raised up around his ear.

Luke sidestepped the charge, catching the punching arm on the side of the wrist with his own hand and grasping it. He twisted at the hips, locking Nathan’s arm at the elbow and throwing him roughly to the ground in one smooth movement. Luke straightened, looking around as if for more threats. Then he threw open the passenger door and dove across the front seat into the driver’s seat, throwing the car into gear with a screech of rubber as the door slammed shut behind him.

Mahahnn was breathing rapidly, his lungs keeping pace with his racing heart. “You knew! You knew it was going to happen!”

The bodyguard didn’t look back. “No, I knew it might happen, and I prepared for it. There’s a difference.” Luke hoped no one at the café would try to be a hero and hold Nathan there until the Star could arrive. With the way Seattle usually worked, Luke’s actor could just stand up and walk away, and no observer would even mention it at the dinner table tonight after work. Let’s see how much trust I bought with that little show.

“Where are we going now?”

“I’m dropping you off at a secret company safehouse. Once you’re there, your corporation will keep you safe. Sit tight; you’re with me for a few hours.” Luke tightened his grip on the wheel, but he wasn’t really driving. Another member of his team, Charlie, was jumped into the vehicle remotely, driving it as an extension of his person from almost a kilometer away. Charlene’s body would be slumped next to him, her astral form riding next to their car in astral space and looking for complications. In addition Mauser, Luke’s ork samurai, would be hanging from a harness from the side of the helicopter, pointing a trid camera down at the traffic, helping them complete the traffic news copter disguise as they ran surveillance from the sky. A contract decker, on whom Luke’s team frequently relied, Wisp, was standing by in the Matrix, keeping a low profile but watching them passively.

They drove along for almost an hour, crossing dense traffic throughout Seattle and heading north, then west. Luke circled around on himself a few times, taking a very circuitous route to try and ensure that they were not being followed. By taking such an improbable route, it would be easier to spot someone who was not on a regular commute or simple trip. After several failed attempts to make conversation with his protector Mahahnn sat back and focused his attention on his pocket secretary. Even that wasn’t enough to distract him from the last big turn that Luke made.

“Where are you going? This doesn’t seem like a good idea any more.”

“We’re close to the safehouse,” Luke explained, turning into a battered parking garage that had been recently re-occupied as an automated service after being abandoned for the third time in a year. “We will have to get out and walk from here.”

“Are you crazy? Do you know where we are? This is a Z-Zone! The police won’t even patrol here! Hell, taxi drivers avoid this place.” Mahahnn was wide eyed yet again, looking around in panic as they rolled into the dark, mostly empty parking garage.

The car rolled into a parking place a row or two from the exit, and Luke went through the motions of setting the brake and security system. “Exactly. It’s got protection from other corporations because of its location. The perfect hiding place.”

“How far are you going to make me walk?”

“Not far. Let’s go.” Luke stepped out of the driver’s door.

Mahahnn shook his head, his huge bald spot catching even in the low light of the garage. “No way. That’s drek for an answer. I thought you were supposed to be keeping me safe! This is not safe!”

Luke crossed behind the vehicle and opened Mahahnn’s door. The scientist shied away from the hand thrust inside the car until Luke physically reached in and dragged the reluctant designer to his feet by the lapels of his jacket. He busied himself smoothing his clothes indignantly while Luke shut the door and turned on the security system.

“Come on. We should move quickly. I’m as eager to get you to the safe house as you are to get there.”

“I very much doubt that.” Mahahnn was sullen, but at least he was moving. He followed Luke out into the parking garage as they crossed the lane. Only about a half dozen cars were on the whole level, so the two men were able to walk in a direct line to the exit. Before they had covered half the short distance, a motor roared, rubber shrieked, and the whole area around the two men was lit in a dazzling burst of light.

“Get down!” Luke recognized the shrill whine of a racing motorcycle and combined the image with the rushing white light that was threatening to overload his flare compensation coming up quickly to his right, then turned around toward the scientist. He thrust both of his arms out to the smaller man’s chest, shoving him back several meters and onto the ground. Then he dove to follow him, using the momentum from the shove to throw himself onto the ground and roll on his elbow. The passing motorcycle clipped his ankle with enough force to cause some pain. If it were not for his sturdy, practically armored boots, it would surely have been enough to incapacitate his mobility. As it was, he swallowed the pain of the injury and sprung as quickly as possible to his feet with his pistol drawn. He got sight of the bike and began to track it with the bright yellow crosshairs in his field of view from his smartlink, but before the two images overlapped in his field of vision the bike sped behind a pillar and was gone into another part of the dimly lit garage. Luke looked around quickly and found Mahahnn unharmed but disheveled in a heap about four meters to his left.

“Back to the car! Move!” Luke scrambled to his feet, throwing his hand out to the scientist as he ran by and pulling him roughly to his feet. He held back on the pace of his sprint, pushing Mahahnn as much as he felt that he could without leaving him behind. Again he used a voice softer than a whisper into his radio microphone. “Looks like a go gang ambush in the garage. We’re hitting the car and going for plan B.” Frag, he’s slow, Luke thought as he scanned the garage ahead for other bikes or people on foot. He saw no one and came to a crouched stop behind a beat up and possibly broken down Mitsubishi pickup on the same aisle where he had parked the sedan. Peeking around the corner of the cab, he could see two figures on motorcycles set up at the far end of the aisle. They both had their motors running and were watching the sedan carefully. One was an ork, the other a human or elf. They each wore a cheap synthleather jacket with decorative chains across it and the familiar shapes of pistols tucked into their waistbands by their hips. The ork had glowing greenish blue tattoos all over his shaved head, enhanced by lighted rings around one of his tusks. The elf, in contrast, had his long hair pulled back in a ponytail under his black lid of a helmet.

“Someone’s hanging out by our ride, Hawk. I didn’t see him until I jumped back into the car because of the attack. There he goes!” As Charlie exclaimed, the head of a grungy human popped up from the front of the Comet and immediately started jogging to Luke’s right, towards the unmanned motorcycle waiting patiently in a parking space across from Luke’s hiding place.

Luke braced himself in his crouch. As he raised his pistol to pick off the blonde ganger hurrying to his bike, movement out of the corner of the mercenary’s eye caught his attention, and he swung to face it. The elf on the bike had shouted something, a word or short phrase, and was moving his fingers. Hairs stood up on the back of Luke’s neck as he squeezed off two rounds from his pistol, ending the spell slinger’s chant as his chest exploded in two very large places. The ork on his bike, enraged, popped the clutch and let his back tire spin, lifting his front wheel slightly as he roared down the short parking garage lane. Surprised, the young human ganger running for his bike faltered in mid step, looking at Luke frantically.

“Charlie, a little help.” Luke pumped his legs out, leaping into a standing position. By then the human ganger was running towards him. A knife appeared from somewhere under his jacket. Luke took one step forward, firing once. The round exploded into the chest of the little man, but he plunged through the wound and tackled Luke before he could get off a second shot. Extra traction boots found a patch of broken beer bottle glass and slipped, sending both combatants to the ground to wrestle it out.

Down the parking row, the ork’s tire hit the ground and he grinned, gaining speed and aiming his bike directly for the neat line between hair and shaved scalp just above Luke’s ears. He was so focused on his target that he never saw the Comet spring to life and peel out backwards with perfect timing. The back bumper of the sedan slammed into the bike’s front tire, generating enough torque to throw the motorcycle onto its side and the rider onto the ground. The ork’s bare head bounced off the pavement, spraying blood, and he lay still. The motorcycle lay down, badly damaged but still in gear with the clutch handle pressed between the controls and the ground, leaving the engine revving loudly in the confined space.

One the ground with the ganger, Luke had a lot of advantages. He was physically larger and much more massive, stronger, faster, and trained. However, all of his skill was currently negated by the extreme difficulty of wrestling an opponent who had a knife. As they fell to the ground Luke had managed to strike the man one time with the barrel of his pistol against his temple, a stunning blow. It was nothing compared to the large hole in the man’s chest, but helpful nonetheless. Now they rolled on the pavement over unthinkably filthy surfaces while Luke prayed they wouldn’t roll over a used hypodermic needle or some other barbaric relic. Luke’s left hand was wrapped convulsively around the knife hand of his opponent, eclipsing his wrist, but at the same time the ganger had gotten a surprising grip on Luke’s own wrist, immobilizing his pistol. They struggled for a few moments, jockeying for position and leverage as they dug each other into the rough plascrete. Each was very mindful of the weapon in the hand of the other. Eventually Luke’s superior strength overcame the smaller man and he was on top, driving his knee into his opponent’s inner thigh, groin, and stomach repeatedly. The man gasped at one particularly sharp strike to the knee and Luke could hear the clatter of the knife falling to the ground. He release the knifeless hand and drove his left palm into the ganger’s chin, felling positive resistance once as he struck and a second time as the back of the man’s head hit the hard ground behind him. He struck savagely again and again until he felt the man’s grip slack on his pistol.

Luke yanked his gun hand back, glad to be once again in control of his weapon, but had to dive to the ground to his left to avoid a trail of bullets striking the plascrete where he had been. The bullets followed him as he dove and rolled, ripping apart the knees of the man he had just wrestled. Luke scanned desperately around for cover but found none, disoriented as he was from the fight on the ground. He did find another ganger on a bike, presumably the one who tried to run them over when they were trying to exit the garage. This one wore a full helmet with a mirrored face shield and was aiming a machine pistol in Luke’s direction. There was a shout of fear from over to Luke’s right where he had left Mahahnn, and the biker swung his pistol wide as he crossed his body to fire in that direction. Luke responded reflexively, squeezing his trigger. The faceplate of the rider’s helmet shattered impressively and he threw up his left hand to shield his eyes while he jerked back the trigger on his own pistol, throwing a random wail of lead into a nearby pillar that walked its way up to the ceiling. When he pulled his left hand up as an ineffective shield, it jerked the clutch of his bike unexpectedly, which sent the bike lurching forward a short distance before the engine coughed and died. The elf was thrown over his own shoulder in the direction of his turn as the motorcycle followed him down onto his back. When he looked back towards Luke and tried to bring his pistol in line he exposed his cut and bleeding face to Luke, who promptly finished the fallen biker with a single round to the left nostril. The sickening explosion was mostly contained by the helmet, but what Luke did see made him queasy.

Luke rolled to his feet. He was sore from head to toe, and had to suppress a slight limp from his injured ankle. Gaining control of himself again, he rushed to Mahahnn’s hiding place where he found the scientist visibly shaking. “Get up! We have to go. There could be more of them.”

Mahahnn rose to his feet as quickly as his trembling legs would allow and began to follow Luke. The mercenary’s eyes were moving, scanning the garage for more motorcycles. He moved in a slow crouch towards the Comet which was still sitting in the middle of the garage lane.

“Hawk, bad news.” Charlie broke over the comm. “I can’t see it because it’s in one of my blind spots, but I think the car has a bomb by the engine. I think they were trying to lure you back to the car and sprung the trap too early.”

Luke came to a sudden stop, holding up a hand for Mahahnn to follow suite. “Timer or radio?”

“I don’t know, man, I can’t see it.”

“Get back behind that truck and stay there.” Luke sent Mahahnn off with a wave and sprinted to the car by a round path that took him wide of the front of the car. He could spot the lump of commercial explosive and detonator on the front of the hood, near the grill and beside a headlight. Not a good place, but a fast one. He holstered his pistol as he ran, pulling out a demolitionist’s multi-tool from its pouch on his belt which he flicked open with his wrist. If there was one thing he retained from his short military career, it was his way with explosives.

He finally got close enough to see the bomb distinctly and kept running, right past the front of the car towards the back as he dropped the tool into his pocket without even closing it. “Charlie, trunk!” He didn’t need to examine the mechanism to recognize a timed detonator with a small LED display. As he ran by, he could finally make out the tiny numbers that were displayed for the benefit of the person setting the bomb, and knew not to bother. The display read 00:18 as he was passing the driver’s door.

The trunk popped open just before he reached it and he flung the hatch upward with one hand, reached inside for a large black duffel bag with the other, and then grabbed up the rifle that was mounted on the underside of the trunk door. He barely broke stride to gather the equipment as he pumped with all his might back to the truck where Mahahnn was hiding. “Charlie, get out now! MAHAHNN, GET DOWN!

A sharp turn just past the front of the truck brought Luke in line with Mahahnn’s hiding place. He hefted the heavy duffel over the scientist’s head and dove to the ground behind the truck, letting the butt of the rifle absorb most of the shock. He reached up to drag Mahahnn to a laying position with him and put his hands over his ears, hoping that the man was smart enough to follow his lead. Mahahnn looked confused as he lifted his hands to his head …

KA-THOOooooooooom!!!

The blast echoed through the garage. It was instantly muted by Luke’s cyberears, but he didn’t think that Mahahnn would have that luxury. Luke squeezed his eyes shut against debris. After a second it was all over, the fireball subsided, and all Luke could hear as his hearing came back to life was the tinny tink of shards of metal hitting plascrete as they fell and a half dozen car alarms echoing through the garage.

At least we’re keeping a low profile.

“Are you ok?” The blood trickling out of Mahahnn’s ears seemed to say, ‘no’, but his eyes were opened in a horrified expression. Luke extended his hand to help the other man stand. When he was on his feet, Luke leaned in fairly close to his head. “It will pass,” he said loudly. “Just put this on.” He had already stripped off his raincoat, handing it to Mahahnn.

“I already have a raincoat!” Mahahnn shouted, confused.

“It’s armor.” Luke was starting to feel uncomfortable shouting, since his own hearing was already back to normal.

“But what will you …” Mahahnn’s voice trailed off as Luke threw aside his suit coat, took off his tie, propped his assault rifle against the side of the truck, and knelt by the duffel bag to unzip it. The scientist stared with intense curiosity.

“HAWK! Are you ok?” Charlene’s voice now flooded the radio. She must have been taking a break from her astral surveillance. She could only remain out of her body for a limited amount of time safely.

Shrugging off his shoulder holster and setting it aside, Luke removed a heavy armored vest from the bag and pulled it over his shoulders. It was black with pouches all over the outside and armored plates on the inside. Every pouch looked stuffed full with ammunition magazines and grenades, and there was a short bladed fighting knife sheathed just over his heart with the handle facing up at an odd angle. “I’m fine. Mahahnn is injured, but it looks like we can cope.”

“What the hell was that? Random gang violence, like you see on the news?”

“Hardly. These guys had brand new leathers, like today was the first time they’ve worn them. The bikes are customs, no scratches, no dings, and really expensive fake plates.”

“So you think it’s …”

“Yes. We have some competition for our boy. It’s not a question of if there’s a backup team; it’s a question of when and where.

Luke closed the hefty zipper up the front with one smooth pull and reached once more into the bag. He came back with two smoke grenades in each hand and activated them deftly, throwing them all towards the site of the explosion with one lob. Before they detonated, he reached in one last time and came up with a respirator and goggles, handing them to Mahahnn.

“Hawk, you wanna extract yet?” Charlie broke in. They had a backup drop planned, just in case the situation was too hot for the full extraction today. They could evacuate by helicopter and hide out for a week, and drop their package off in a week.

Thick, heavy white smoke began to drift towards where the two men were standing. It would not take long before the whole garage floor was filled with it. Mahahnn hastily donned his respirator, but Luke seemed to stop breathing, like he had just turned off his lungs. In reality, he was getting a steady supply of compressed air from a small tank under one of his lungs. “Negative. Nothing we can’t handle. Be on the lookout, though.” He threw his arms into a complicated-looking sling for the assault rifle and snapped the attachment part of the rifle into place. Mahahnn finally got a chance to study the weapon. He recognized Ares’ Alpha rifle from a late night documentary a week ago on Discovery III. Sleek and ergonomic looking from any angle, this particular model was painted all flat black, covering any shiny parts that might have once been on the weapon. Luke replaced the magazine in the weapon with one from his vest, presumably getting a better type of ammunition, and checked the magazine of grenades. With his checks completed, he let the weapon fall in front of him and hang from the sling. Finally, he removed his sidearm from his concealed rig and changed the clip out for a full one from the vest, then secured it into a very rugged looking holster along the small of his back, barrel almost parallel to the ground and grip pointing at his head.

Instead of trying more voice commands, he pointed this time at Mahahnn and then the ground by his feet, telling him stay put. He jogged over to a motorcycle that had fallen over and checked it for obvious damage. It was the bike that had been the destination of the ganger that had set the bomb, blown over by the blast from where its owner had left it when he decided to tackle Luke. Seeing no marks, he said a little thanks that the bike was already stolen, the ignition jimmied into the on position. He pulled in the clutch and pushed the starter with another thanks that the bike roared to life. All of the controls looked clear, and the bike even had three quarters of a tank of petrol. He squeezed the front brake, twisted the throttle, and let the clutch out, letting his back tire spin and leaning the bike over as the tire slipped around into a 180 degree turn. Pulling the clutch back in he took his right hand off and gestured to Mahahnn to come. The bulk of all of that extra equipment required him to shift around before he could let the other man onto the bike. The dazed scientist mounted the seat behind Luke, looking almost as terrified to get on the bike as he had been of the gangers shooting at him moments earlier. It took Mahahnn a few seconds to get situated. He clung tightly to Luke’s vest.

“En route to the drop site.” Luke let the clutch back out and the two made a quick but cautious exit from the parking garage.

The sleek blue motorcycle sped through the streets, darting as quickly as Luke could manage with good visibility and awareness of his surroundings. Since the driver and passenger on the bike were very vulnerable, he was relying on their speed to make them evasive. “Charlie, I’m headed away from the drop zone in case we have a tail. Keep an eye on me and then give me directions to circle around. I need to see pretty far ahead, since roads in this area can get unofficially closed so easily.”

“Heads up, boss. You’ve got some company. There’s a black van following you from about three blocks behind, and they look pretty … militant.”

“So they won’t exactly blend in if I lead them into Snohomish?”

“Well, no, but … I don’t know if you looked in the mirror lately, but you’re carrying an arsenal and driving a stolen motorcycle. You’re not exactly ‘low profile’ yourself.”

“Good call. You got any good plans?” Luke threw his weight to the left to avoid a burning tire in the roadway. Struggling to maintain his balance, Mahahnn tightened his panicked grip on the webbing of the driver’s vest.

“There’s a big commotion about 1.5 kilometers from your current location. You can definitely beat the van there, and then hopefully lose them in the crowd.”

“Commotion?”

“Looks like one of the protests on the trid. Not a riot yet …”

“And this is your good idea?”

Charlie sounded stressed. “I can see about ten blocks away from you in every direction. Right now, it’s my only idea of any kind.”

“Well, then, it sounds perfect.” The engine purred louder as the throttle twisted.

“Take your next right.”

Two quick turns and the motorcycle approached a tall building with a large crowd gathered near the steps in the front. The building had probably once been a factory or warehouse judging from the oversimplified architecture and massive loading doors on the side. The crowd was a tangle of middle class humans with perhaps half a dozen meta’s and a small smattering of people dressed out of synch, some in business casual attire and others wearing unwashed street rags. It was a virtual portrait of socio-economic diversity. Since traffic was virtually non-existent on this street, the crowd had wandered out into the roadway, blocking Luke’s direct route through. There was still a little space left on the sidewalk opposite the factory, so Luke abused one of the handicapped accessible ramps to slide the bike out of the roadway and into the tight confines of the sidewalk. Even though he was still half a block from the building, some of the protestors were turning to look at the two men, one heavily armed, on a motorcycle in the Barrens moving pretty fast. They were looking very intently.

“Um, Hawk?”

“What is it, Charlie?”

“This group? It is a protest. According to the news, they’ve gathered here to protest the continuing use of chemical and biological agents by weapons manufacturers, and they think this abandoned factory is being used secretly to produce weapons.”

“You mean …”

“This is the same type of group that has been threatening to kill Mahahnn.”

One of the intently staring protesters’ eyes suddenly lit up, and he raised his finger to point at Luke. No … behind Luke.

“It’s him! One of the fraggin’ scientists here to peddle his drek amongst us! Get him!”

“Bad news.” Luke barked into the mike, looking for a way out as the crowd looked confused but nonetheless started to press in towards his bike. They would surround him shortly. Behind them, a black van barreled around the corner, bearing down on the taillights of the bike. Two small turrets popped up from the top of the van, over the front seat, and turned their assault rifles towards the bike.

Now there was only one way to go. A few of the protesters stumbled back a step or two as Luke revved the engine, but they started to close in again even as he started forward. He went as fast as he dared, but still only made it a few meters before a line of protesters cut him off in the front. Another line closed in behind him, and the sides began to press. A hand reached out for Mahahnn’s jacket and the scientist screamed, but Luke struck the hand fiercely and its owner retreated with the crack of breaking bone. That bought another meter and a half before the crowd pressed in again as time and mob mentality overrode fear.

A burst of gunfire erupted from the van, which had covered the distance from the intersection to the crowd. It fired low into the pavement as a warning shot to try to disperse the crowd, apparently thinking that the protesters would scatter and leave them alone with their quarry. The driver was also revving his engine, letting everyone know exactly what he wanted. The action did not bring the intended effect, because the crowd seemed emboldened by the gunfire, closing in closer to Luke and Mahahnn while it swung around in the back and started to surround the van as well. Gunfire sounded again, and there was a bark of pain from somewhere between the van and the bike.

There was no more time to be gentle. As two more hands reached out to grasp at the scientist’s coat Luke threw the bike forward, bowling down two protestors and trying to create a gap through which he could pass. More bodies filled the empty space where the others had fallen; more hands reached out for him and his passenger. He gassed the bike again, running over three more protestors. Frantic hands grasped at his arms, his ankle, and the controls of the bike. He felt Mahahnn’s weight leave the back of the motorcycle and turned to look for him, but the crush of humans around him picked him up off his bike. The panic around him was increasing, jolted upwards by each burst of gunfire from the van behind him. The black armored van was starting to rock now as protesters pushed it from side to side. As Luke went down to the ground, fighting the press of the crowd, he saw the side door burst open in a cloud of thick smoke as a trio of men in security armor armed with assault rifles leapt to the ground and began firing into the crowd. The panic broke.

With five automatic weapons now spewing death into the mass of people, they quickly forgot about chemical weapons and bolted, trying desperately to get away. Luke’s feet were freed, so they were under him when he landed, barely sparing him a rough grounding onto his back. He threw his weight into standing up, catching the arms that were attached to his left wrist around their elbows and throwing them to the ground instead. People were running in all directions, including towards the gunmen. Mahahnn was on the ground with his arms covering his face while several enraged protesters were kicking him. When one lifted a large piece of debris from a nearby building, Luke swung his assault rifle up and put one bullet neatly through both sides of the man’s skull, causing him to drop the rock on himself as he fell to the road. Moments later the kicking subsided as Luke applied the butt of his rifle to the temples of Mahahnn’s attackers. Luke pulled the researcher to his feet roughly, ignoring the blood that stained the frail man’s face from a small gash in his forehead.

“Move it! We’ve got to get you out of here.” Moving Mahahnn by the collar and firm pressure, he maneuvered the pair towards the bike to get them back out of the area.

“Wait! Wait! It’s Shiawase! They’re here to rescue me!” Mahahnn struggled against Luke’s herding, trying to move back towards the van. “They’re on our side!”

“What makes you think that’s Shiawase?” Luke already knew who it was, but their van and armor were both devoid of any insignia. He was slightly irked that the researcher had managed to identify them so easily. Around them, the fleeing mob was so thick that he was having a hard time finding the motorcycle.

“I designed that armor; I’d know it anywhere. Where are we –“ Mahahnn was cut off as Luke slammed him against the building. A jagged line of bullets danced upwards between the two men, eventually impacting one fleeing protester and the motorcycle lying on its side less than five meters ahead. Luke spun, bringing up his assault rifle and firing instinctively towards the flashes of light from the firing weapon. A short line of armor piercing bullets stitched through the armored man’s torso making small, neat holes. The gunman crumpled but remained standing, then ran back towards the van.

“What are you doing?” Mahahnn shouted, horrified. “Why are they shooting at me?” Luke jerked the bike upright, but the steady stream of liquid leaving the fuel tank through several bullet holes made him sigh and drop it back onto the ground. He grabbed Mahahnn’s sleeve and started off in the general direction of the drop site. They were only a few blocks away.

“They’re shooting at you because they think you defected.” Luke had to shout to be heard over the noise of the mob.

“What are you talking about? Why would they think I defected if I’m still with my bodyguard?”

Luke stopped running. He pushed the scientist against the wall of the nearby building, the waves of humanity behind them starting to dwindle off slightly. His metallic eyes burned with frustration as he gripped tightly to his coat, hanging off Mahahnn’s tight frame. He spoke very slowly, for emphasis to Mahahnn. “I’m not your fragging bodyguard.”

Blue eyes widened with terror as Mahahnn struggled to digest what he had just been told. He was taking too long for Luke’s taste, so he hauled the light man down the street to take cover behind an overturned dumpster. They reached the cover of the plasteel walls just as a burst of automatic fire slammed into the dumpster, causing Luke to duck and throwing Mahahnn to the ground. Luke spun and lifted his rifle, this time launching a grenade directly into the center of the three man formation that was rounding the corner. They tried to react, but the computer in Luke’s gun had set the round to detonate as it hit the ground at their feet, and they were thrown apart by the explosion. Shards of synthetic brick showered the crowd, who was lucky that it had been giving a little space to the obviously armed men; only a few bystanders were thrown to the ground by the blast, and none seemed to be seriously injured. Luke pulled another grenade off the webbing of his harness, this one for thick white smoke to cover their movements, and threw it between the downed gunmen and the dumpster. He turned and lifted Mahahnn again to his feet and urged him down the street further.

“What are you talking about? What do you mean? What’s going on?”

“Charlie, is this it? The next building on the left?” There were a large set of bay doors opened on the large dilapidated building on the corner, which Luke took to be the safehouse drop site.

“That’s it, Luke. You’re almost home free.”

Though he never heard the shot, he felt the heavy thump of a handgun round hitting him squarely in his vest over the heart. Again, he pushed Mahahnn to the ground and lifted his rifle, staggering. Of course, a backup team. A second round missed his chest, tearing through the lightly protected shirt sleeve and biting into Luke’s shoulder. He gritted his teeth against the pain and squeezed the trigger as he put the crosshairs over the flash he had seen as the second round was fired. They were coming from behind a concrete traffic barrier ahead and to his right, meaning that he was unlikely to hit anything. The long burst of fire wasn’t designed to kill its target: it was there to get Luke behind something solid.

By this time most of the fleeing protesters had emptied the streets, meaning that the crowd through which Luke had to fight was considerably thinner. He stooped and got a good grip on Mahahnn’s belt as he fired, lifting the scientist and throwing him against the wall to their right, where there was a thin overhang as one building merged into another. That small bit of cover was all that was close enough to be useful on this part of the street. Another pistol round buzzed by Luke’s left ear like a hornet and he pushed Mahahnn back down to the ground as he started to rise.

“Keep their heads down, Hawk. I’ve got ‘em.” Even as he heard Mauser’s voice he could see the chopper behind his opponents in the alley. The ork had ditched his fake trid camera back into the helicopter and was leaning out now with an assault cannon braced on his hip. Luke unleashed another long burst of fire at the barricade, giving the man or men housed behind it no chance to peek out to fire.

“Hawk, look out!” Heavy assault cannon rounds were already impacting behind the barrier, and Luke had no idea which way to look when a heavy booted foot hit his assault rifle hard, throwing it to the side while he was still firing. It slipped from his hands and dangled on its sling in front of him. Luke had just enough time to half turn towards the new threat when a gloved palm hit him squarely in the chest, throwing him backwards. A tall, thin figure was on Luke before he could fall, and the two wrestled on the ground.

As they rolled Luke could see the suit of the man who had ambushed him. Called a sneaking suit, it was covered with a material that projected an image of whatever was on the other side of the man, making him blend in incredibly well with his surroundings. That’s why Luke hadn’t seen him until the attack. Despite his incredible level of training in hand to hand combat while on the ground, Luke could barely keep up with the other man’s balance, grip, and strikes. He was losing.

The assassin’s grip faltered on a blood-slick sleeve, and Luke managed to free one hand for long enough to pull his knife and thrust it forward. The knife was ingeniously designed and mated with a proper sheath for a special kind of fighting; it was made to rip. Using the style called pikal, the knife was held with the blade facing down, the thumb curled over the pommel, with the blade facing inward towards the user’s arm. In that position, the fighter could stab straight forward in a quick jab. If he missed, he could retract his arm with the blade at a right angle to the plane of the stab, drawing back with the blade on the same side as the fighter’s arm. That way, if his opponent managed to stop the blade or get a grip on the user’s knife arm, the blade would tear into his opponent’s arm on the retract. And that’s exactly what happened.

A scream filled Luke’s ears as bright red blood squirted from the man’s arm. As predicted, the trained fighter met and stopped the jab with his hand on Luke’s wrist, and the knife instantly turned inside and pulled back, cutting to the bone half of the forearm all the way down to the wrist. The wound was massive and deep. His grip on Luke’s wrist failed. Luke drove the blade out again.

Chest heaving with heavy breaths, Luke leapt to his feet. He ran back to Mahahnn, who was cowering against the edge of the building. It was no wonder: Luke’s arm and the right side of his face were heavily splashed with blood, and he was still holding a dripping blade. He carelessly slid it back into its sheath and reached out his clean hand for Mahahnn’s.

“I don’t have time for this. We’ve got to get you to safety, now!” He hoisted Mahahnn up. The two men were again face to face, and Mahahnn looked less scared that he had since Luke first met him. The runner had to fight to keep from taking a step back at the intensity that had suddenly taken over the scientist’s face.

“Not until you tell me what the hell is going on here.” The contrast of Mahahnn’s calm was striking.

Luke paused, looking around. He had to assume there would be a third team to kill them both, and he wanted to move, but he was almost convinced that it would be faster to talk the man into coming than it would be to force him. “I’m part of a team hired by Ares to extract you. They want your product, and all rights to it.”

“So you aren’t my bodyguard?”

“Your bodyguard will have woken up about half an hour ago with one hell of a big headache. When he tells his employers what happened, they’re going to have to make a worst-case assumption. They’ll assume that you’ve defected.”

“Why would they think that?”

“Like I said, worst-case.” Luke looked around again. “They have to assume that you’ve turned rogue and are a threat to them now. They’ll kill you to silence you. If you die, they at least still have your product notes.”

Mahahnn ran his fingers through his thinning hair, looking dejected. “From the bullets flying in my direction, I have to assume you’re right.”

“Ares is offering you protection plus double what you’re making for Shiawase if you cooperate. If they weren’t offering you a fair deal, I wouldn’t be helping you.”

Mahahnn locked his blue eyes on Luke’s synthetic grey again. “You lied to me.”

“Would you have come with me if I had told you the truth?”

“You endangered my life.”

“Maybe. I also put mine in danger to defend yours.” When Luke mentioned his life, Mahahnn’s eyes drifted down to the blood covering his shoulder and the side of his face. Some of it belonged to Luke, and some did not. “I’m not asking you to like me. Just finish what we’ve started.”

The ear bud in Luke’s left ear squawked. “Let’s go, Hawk!”

“It’s time, Mahahnn. Either take your chances with me, or with the ones that have been shooting at you.” Luke turned and walked towards the helicopter and the building where he was supposed to drop off his package.

Fear had returned to the scientist’s features. He watched as Luke walked away, and then glanced over his shoulder into the dense smoke covering the roadway. He took in the explosion soot on the walls of buildings and the bloody corpse a few meters away on the ground. And then he hurried to catch up with his protector.
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tisoz
post Jan 28 2006, 02:15 PM
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Honey Pot
by PantaRei

MadScientist stopped to check his surroundings. He had successfully negotiated his way though the subsystem's SAN and needed to decide where to go next.

Two options, apparently: one that looked an awful lot like a chokepoint, and a data cube with a sign above the doorway that read 'Customer's Corner'. MadScientist went for the path of least resistance and chose to analyse the second one first.

Ah. You needed a password to get in, so it was meant for registered customers, not walk-ins. That also meant that most likely, it contained more sensitive or valuable data than its appearance made people believe. A closer look revealed orange for the cube and red for the chokepoint. It also revealed two ICs inside the data storage; they were inactive for the moment.

Modelled after the style of his name, MadScientist's persona looked like a tiny old man in a lab coat with wild hair and glasses. The only thing that didn't fit were the eyes: those were solid silver pools of liquid mercury. Wispy shadows seemed to dance and shift across them endlessly, which gave the whole thing a slightly unsettling touch.

For now, the eyes were set on the inactive IC, thinking. Both of them looked harmless - too harmless for a node of this rating. He suspected there was more, and nastier stuff in there that he had failed to detect.

The scientist persona pulled a long old-fashioned ear trumpet out of a pocket and placed one end on the ground. He planned to use the hearing aid to detect any legitimate customers passing by and into the node. He would then try to piggyback his way in or, if that failed, at least capture the exchange between client and server to replay it later.

For quite a while, nothing happened. That was strange; he would have expected more traffic. Oh well, time to do things the hard way, then. He checked that the sleaze and deception utilities were indeed up and running, then he approached the datacube. There was an intercom beside the door, waiting patiently for him to give it an ID and passcode. He ignored it and started to pick the lock instead.

MadScientist was not by nature a trusting individual. But when the door moved aside after a minute or so to let him in he could not hide a grin: if everything in here was as simply built as what he had just dealt with, the rest of his little scouting expedition was going to be fun.

He realised his mistake as soon as he stepped inside. True, there were shelves upon shelves of potential goodies to be explored here. But they were wrapped up in what looked like a dense network of purplish blood vessels that reached every nook and cranny of the room. The whole mess originated from an equally purplish and faintly pulsing blob near the ceiling; it was watching him calmly with no less than eight perfectly round, pitch-black eyes.

Scramble. And not just an ordinary one, either: this had to be the most complex one he had ever seen. If he wasn't completely mistaken (and he was no longer prepared to accept any bets on that at this point) it would inject the contents of the tubular mesh into the shelves containing the data, destroying it in the process. He didn't curse himself for not performing a more thorough analysis beforehand, though, because he was faced with a more immediate problem.

There was a giant mechanoid patrolling the room, and it was getting ready to attack him.

MadScientist had barely enough time to drop the now useless deception program from active memory to load something more appropriate before the construct took its first swing at him.

He was too slow to dodge it and still defenceless because the relevant utility took too long to load. The construct's claws left deep and painful gashes across his chest and face.

Back in the real world, MadScientist screamed.

Shit! Black IC! In an orange host! What the hell was going on here?

He wondered if it had been such a good idea to come here in the first place. It was a moot point, however. He was in the thick of it now, and there was no getting out without risking a bad case of dumpshock and worse. Before the IC could have another go at him, he sent out a few surprises of his own.

Not good enough, unfortunately. His first attack barely scratched it, while he found himself on the wrong side of those razor-sharp claws again. He tried to move out of their range, but failed. It hurt, but less than before because all of his defensive measures were up and running by then.

The next round went to him: he lunged forward and somehow managed to jam one of the limbs. Three to go, he thought, but the victory was a short one.

Reckless. He'd been too reckless. He'd forgotten about everything else and now he payed for it as the IC stabbed him with one of the remaining spikes. He screamed again.

He was too absorbed in the fight to feel it, but his nose had begun to bleed.

This was not going to work. He wouldn't be able to keep attacking if every successful strike was met with a more powerful one from his opponent. He had to slow it down first.

He switched to a more defensive tactic, waiting for an opening. There. He deployed a flexible wire that coiled itself around the first object it met in its path.

Said object happened to be not one, but two functional limbs.

MadScientist couldn't believe his luck. He didn't stop to celebrate, however - he hit the remaining claw with everything he had until it snapped.

After that last blow, the IC finally crashed. He barely managed to suppress it before it could raise any alarms.

MadScientist waited for his breath and pulse rate to fall back to normal levels. His head hurt; the pain made everything look a foogy dark red. He said to himself, quietly, 'Fuck.' Then he repeated it half a dozen times because it seemed like the thing to do.

He didn't have the faintest idea what had just happened. Whatever he had stumbled into, it had to be a lot more important than he'd initially thought. For a second, he played with the notion of turning back there and then, but curiousity won. After all, it had to be valuable if it was this well protected.

Which left the question of the blob on the ceiling. He had taken quite a beating and didn't quite feel up to fighting that one as well. He could try and suppress it, of course, but that seemed about as risky as anything else in his present condition, especially if he wanted to get the data it protected in an undamaged form.

Why not learn from past mistakes? He took a more careful look at the IC. And as he did, a solution occurred to him.

When triggered, the Scramble would inject the electronic equivalent of poison into the contents of the data cube, rendering them useless. There were many different points that this poison was being sent to, but he was almost certain that the mechanism employed to deliver it to its destination was the same in each case. So if he managed to interrupt the flow at that point and divert it...

Very carefully, trying not to trigger anything too soon, he set up a few redirecting commands that would collect all of it and dump it in a very specific location. Then he walked up to the blob and deliberately set it off.

The contents of the network of tubes emptied themselves back into the main body of the IC. It flickered twice, then it was gone. He didn't even have to suppress anything, it just disappeared completely; it never got the chance to signal to anyone that it had, in fact, done its job.

Far away, a voice said, 'Oooh, that was creative.'

MadScientist couldn't hear it. Neither was he aware that he was being observed, and had been since the time he had conned his way in without identification: in a completely different room, three people were gathered around a screen, watching his every move.

'What do you think he's going to do once he finds out his precious paydata is just a garbled mess?' one of them said without averting his eyes from the screen.

'Who knows,' the one standing behind him replied. Then he grinned. 'Wanna watch and find out?'

'Hell, yeah. This is better than the Trid.'

'Whatever it is,' the third one agreed, 'it's going to be interesting. Keep that surveillance running... I want to see how much longer he's going to last.'
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fistandantilus4....
post Jan 29 2006, 11:41 AM
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tough choice between 1 and 2. The third would have been nice to see more of.
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toturi
post Jan 29 2006, 01:39 PM
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2 was my choice. The mandarin was excreable. If you want to swear in mandarin, please SWEAR! That was the clincher in my case. The plot and style of both stories were of the same level, IMO. 3 was just a little too short.
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PH3NOmenon
post Jan 29 2006, 10:24 PM
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for all I know, that actually was mandarin, so that's in the eye of the beholder :)


I pondered a while but my vote was for rooftops, though there's less "story" about it (we only get to see a small bit of the background, and the actual combat)

It's beautifully and graphically written, and i just felt more drawn into the story than with the other two.

The last one, honeypot, was a bit too short for my tastes, pity that.
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SL James
post Jan 30 2006, 02:33 AM
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I voted for Rooftops because of the two I couldn't buy the "bodyguarding" even after the twist. It just bothered me that much. Some of the early internal POV could have been better distinguished when there were two consecutive paragraphs with internal thoughts from two different characters.
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Ophis
post Jan 30 2006, 10:47 AM
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I went for roof tops because well it just caught my attention well. Along for the ride was quite cool, but had to much in it for it to work at that length. If I was writing it (and I know I couldn't get the prose as good as it is) I would have stuck to the scientist POV for all of it, the twist would work better that way IMHO.
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Aku
post Jan 30 2006, 12:12 PM
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I went for rooftops too, because of many of the same reasons, basically, i thought along for the ride was too wordy for what was happening
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mfb
post Jan 30 2006, 03:05 PM
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voted for Rooftops because it stayed 100% in-character the whole time. Ride was good, but as others have said, the POV switching could use a little tuning. and Honey Pot, while good, cut off just as it got to the meat of the story.
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Lenice Hawk
post Jan 30 2006, 04:51 PM
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I agree that I would have liked to have seen more of the third. I really felt like the story had barely gotten started. Both 1 and 2 were excellent, though very different. Honestly, this one may just come down to personal preference. Both were well written.
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Casazil
post Jan 30 2006, 09:15 PM
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I agree with many others here rooftops was good.

It was the only one of the three that I got into.

I mean it was like I started reading it then the next thing I knew I was done I was just that immersed in it.

Alone for the ride was good but the changeing pov (I guess this is why) just didn't keep me in the story.

Honeypot was as other have stated too short.
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PBTHHHHT
post Jan 30 2006, 09:55 PM
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Yup, the first one was my vote. I really got into it also. The mandarin I didn't have a problem with because frankly I don't see everyone who swears in another language to be able to swear them fluently. The character is from San Fran, where it's a melting pot of cultures, but even so, I don't see people being fluent in speaking. They can be familiar with it all yet still speak terribly. A westerner speaking with a gwailo accent or something, nothing unheard of.
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toturi
post Jan 30 2006, 11:14 PM
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The Mandarin was not really the author's fault. Being a native speaker, I can swear in Mandarin way better than in English but my standard of English is better than my Mandarin (and I can swear in half a dozen other languages :P ). My point was that you swear in your native langauge, and when you are pissed, you do not go around saying,"Oh no, uh-oh," you are more likely to go "Oh damn me! Oh shit!" One is more vulgar than the other and is more appropriate to the genre.
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Brahm
post Jan 30 2006, 11:32 PM
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I enjoyed all three stories. Thank you to the authors and toturi.
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eidolon
post Jan 31 2006, 08:17 AM
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I have to say, they were all pretty cool. I voted for Along for the Ride though. Overall, I like that it represented a full "run", and that it involved a full team. Good stuff.

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tisoz
post Jan 31 2006, 02:32 PM
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QUOTE (Brahm)
and toturi.

??? :(
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PBTHHHHT
post Jan 31 2006, 05:15 PM
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Silly Brahm, tisoz is the one organizing it, not toturi.

Tisoz, a hearty thanks to ye.
there, feel better? Or do ye want a big wet kiss too? :-P
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Critias
post Jan 31 2006, 05:17 PM
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Eww! Cooties!
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Brahm
post Jan 31 2006, 11:06 PM
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QUOTE (tisoz)
QUOTE (Brahm @ Jan 30 2006, 05:32 PM)
and toturi.

??? :(

Sorry about that, I ment you. Think of it as a spelling mistake? A really bad one?

:oops:
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eidolon
post Feb 1 2006, 04:25 AM
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Oh, and I don't mind the Mandarin being, well, less that "shocking" as far as cursing goes. What bothers me is the really bad Pinyin. ;)

For the record, it would be Zao Gao!, and Chu ni de.

((and no, it wouldn't matter to folks that don't speak it :)))
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PBTHHHHT
post Feb 1 2006, 06:29 PM
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Bah, go cantonese! ;-)

Ugh, I'm learning mandarin right now, and I have to rewrite the pinyin and such to my own way of phonetically sounding out the words.

edited. :-P
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CeaDawg
post Feb 2 2006, 03:28 AM
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No. 3 = Too short, at this point in the story it reminds me way too much of "Mouse Trap"; a story that was posted to the SR fiction maillist a couple of years ago.

No. 2 = Changed POV too much, not enough detail given from any of them to really get a feal for the story or the characters. Fleshed out it should make a good novella.

No. 1 = Rooftops made a good grab for your attention. It read like a pretzels & beer story should sound. Nicely done. Looking forward to more tales from this runner.
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eidolon
post Feb 2 2006, 04:46 AM
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QUOTE (PBTHHHHT)
Bah, go cantonese! ;-)

Ugh, I'm learning mandarin right now, and I have to rewrite the pinyin and such to my own way of phonetically sounding out the words.

edited. :-P

Cantonese: When four tones and a non-tone just aren't enough.
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