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World IC Thread.

This is the IC thread for the Living in the Shadows Campaign, for the period of Jan. 15th-21st. Once your character begins Jan. 15th, you should begin posting here. The OOC thread will still be used as normal. This first post will consistently be edited to include all current IC sub-games. Think of it as a table of contents. All remaining posts after the first should be considered to be World IC posts.

Additionally, here are the links for the OOC, Shadowland IC, and the Guidelines thread, which has the character creation requirements, as well as various GM rulings on numerous topics.

General LITS Information

Living in the Shadows: Guidelines
Living in the Shadows: Recruitment 1 (closed; see LITS: Recruitment 2)
Living in the Shadows: Recruitment 2
Living in the Shadows: Special Projects

Main LITS Threads

Living in the Shadows: SR 3 OOC
Living in the Shadows: SR 4 OOC
Living in the Shadows: IC Jan 1st - Jan 7th
Living in the Shadows: IC Jan 8th - Jan 14th
Living in the Shadows: Shadowland OOC
Living in the Shadows: Shadowland IC

Useful LITS-related Links

Living in the Shadows: Story Index Page
Useful Calendar Link for 2063
Seattle Sprawl Map

LITS Run Index

Living in the Shadows: The Warehouse Job OOC 1 (closed)
Living in the Shadows: The Warehouse Job IC 1 (closed)
Living in the Shadows: Running Over the Edge OOC 2 (closed)
Living in the Shadows: Running Over the Edge IC 2 (closed)
Living in the Shadows: Salvation OOC 3
Living in the Shadows: Salvation IC 3
Living in the Shadows: A Short Victorious War OOC 4
Living in the Shadows: A Short Victorious War IC 4

00:00:00 (Specific Day) January 1, 2063
Let's start each post with a date and Location. Please post it in Orange.
I will see how things are moving along and sychronize the dates periodically.

Please put names in BOLD, a character's thoughts/internal dialogue as well as anything being emphasized in ITALICS, and spoken words in QUOTES. Oh, and don't forget to turn off signatures for all IC posts please. Thanks! smile.gif
00:58:10 Monday, 15 January 2063 - outside 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

Just like in Sungs. Sway, sway, watch the pothole, sway Tony thought as he rounded the corner, trying to get down to as close as he could to time as was possible while weaving and lurching his way down an empty sidewalk. Hed waited a good twenty minutes in his warm car after arriving, now a few blocks away and hopefully not jacked yet. Longcoat out, MP5 strapped muzzle down close to his leg opposite his katana, he was trying for the drunkard staggering means of approach. It kept things decently concealed even with a heavy jacket burdened withthings, but the fast-slow swaying-staggering gait would hopefully keep everyone off guard.

If there even are guards, noting that he was about halfway down the block from the alley that led to the fire exit that Xayide was hopefully monitoring over. Next thing, just keep going, next thing, tip that way around that hole. Hed not seen a human presence on the street since hed gotten out of his car, and with the wind whipping around his open coat and depressing, faint-streetlight shrouded scenery, he was really hoping that Xayide had the door open when he got there.

Hole there, tip toward and away from it, keep going, cross over in the dark spot up about 20 feet
00:59:27 Monday, 15 January 2063 - outside 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

Tony brushes up against the wall of the building, barely a meter away from the door. Lifting his head in an exaggerated motion, almost upsetting his balance in the process, he curses under his breath. The door is still closed.

"Relax," whispers a disembodied voice from close at hand. Xayide pushes the panel of the door open, using Tony's momentary hesitation to plaster a thin strip of plastic across the deadbolt and door latch. The swiftness of her motion causes the LCD fabric of her chameleon suit to blur in a series of symmetrical ripples. The distortion is enough to reveal the outline of the slim operator to Tony's eyes before the adaptive optics in the photomorphic fabric recover and adjust back to near-perfect invisibility.

The hallway revealed by the open door is dimly lit by overhead glow strips, tiled in a neutral gray with the walls painted a darker sandstone color. The hallway leads into the building for approximately fifteen meters before ending in a T. Several doors lead off of it, both on the left and the right, but no one is in sight at the moment.

"After you," offers Xayide.
01:00:35 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

One day, drek like that is going to get you shot Tony thought, almost rolling his eyes while adjusting the strap on the MP5 to pull it up to firing position and gently pulling out the retractable stock with a plastimetallic *click* and fitting it to his shoulder. The supressor had been a bitch to keep under his longcoat, but now, with a fully extended stock, it made the normally front heavy submachinegun a reassuring piece of iron to take along.

Taking a second to stretch from the hunched over pose he'd had for the last block and a half, he peered out from the doorway down the institutional-looking hallway, Tony didnt see any cameras or any real security fittings in the hallway. Odd he thought. The clean hallway was incongruous with the graffiti-stained exterior, and the dim lighting raised small hairs on the back of his neck. Lockdown for a few days, maybe? Obscure holiday I dont know about? This place is fraggin creepy he thought, sighting in the subgun on the far end of the right side of the hallway.

Motioning Xayide to follow, Tony continued down the right side of the hallway, keeping the subgun at a point about normal human head height and aimed a point just past the corner of the hallway. Right at the T, then down that hall he thought, keeping both eyes open and moving down the hallway silently, but quickly. He didn't want to spend any more time than necessary in this place.
01:00:38 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

Tony moves smoothly down the hallway, not quickly but not slowly, but with the steady pace his body naturally fell into after years of CQB training. His weapon was snugged into his shoulder, stock welded to his cheek, muzzle tracking where he looked. He could feel Xayide behind him, a presence at his back that he hoped was just as professional as she'd been to this point. He hadn't asked about her weapons or combat experience earlier, planning on a quick-in/quick-out that would see a minimum of gunplay. Coming to the T in the hallway, he checked left and right, missing the rest of the train that would have covered him as he snapped to the right. Xayide squeezed his shoulder, a message so familiar that he instinctively moved, pivoting on his right foot and moving forward down the right hand passage.

The uniform gray tile construction continued, but ended after only five meters in a closed unmarked door. A simple maglock glows red on the right hand side of the door. Tony halted, reaching back with his off-hand to tap Xayide on her shoulder, before sidestepping left. To his relief, the slim operator slipped past him on the right, her own Ingram Smartgun held ready. Tony pivoted to his left, covering their rear as she went to work, the assault sling snugging her submachinegun to her chest in easy reach while she flipped open a tool kit and attacked the maglock. Eighteen seconds later she backed from the door, reaching back to squeeze Tony's thigh. Pivoting back around to his right, Tony faced the door. He pointed to himself, then chopped his hand forward and left, then pointed to Xayide, gesturing forward and right. She nodded, lifting her weapon to her shoulder. He gave a three count, pulling down fingers on his left hand before slamming the door open with his boot.

The two operators rolled into the room, clearing the fatal funnel and moving to their positions of dominance in the room. It was larger than Tony expected, a full operating theater with a central table flanked by long supply trestles. Glass hermetic storage containers line the walls, half of them empty. The other half contain spidery metallic constructs, thin draperies of fiberoptics and surgical steel. Reinforced plastic cabinets overflow with medical supplies; gauze, bandages, sterile clamps, and drugs. What Tony is not prepared for are the two bodies resting in chairs against the far walls. Dressed in surgical gowns, the two human males could have been merely asleep if they weren't missing everything above their jawline, sliced neatly off as if by a laser.

"Clear," says Xayide in her peculiar flat monotone, breaking into Tony's thoughts.
01:01:04 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

Yeah, unless you count the hessians there, Tony thought, downturning his grip on the MP5 and looking at the vivisectioned men before him. People dead weren’t an anomaly to him, but sliced off heads were. Too fresh to be from Radian was his next thought after cursory examination; these guys hadn’t been dead that long. How long? While we were watching? How fragging paranoid should I be?
He didn’t dare touch them for fear of some type of trap or from looking unprofessional, but did notice the enclosures of…things…that looked to be cyberware. He was expecting more obvious ‘ware, like arms or legs or something that looked like a bodypart. Not like the does that stuff really go that far inside?!? stuff that he was looking at though a thick glass enclosure. I’m getting in over my head. What is this shit supposed to be?

You took the job, chummer. And hired a competent looking person to help you. Enough dreaming, get back to the task at hand he thought, pulling out the datapad and dotting a finger on the room he and Xayide were in. “Clear, and marked. Next room,? Tony said, readjusting the subgun and pointing back toward the door and down the hall, taking the point and putting the dead men out of his mind for the moment.
01:01:04 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

Tony and Xayide move down the hallway, clearing four additional rooms. One appears to be some kind of recovery room, with a pair of cheap extruded plastic cots and a couple of chairs. The second could be a meeting room, although it's unlike any conference room Tony's ever been in. Seven chairs circle a small central podium, which is mounted with what appears to be oversized datacable interfaces. Next was a storage room for more conventional items, industrial gray shelving lining all of the walls. Whoever used the room, though, cleaned it out in a hurry. Debris litters the floor and one of the shelving units was pulled down in the process, left bent and broken on its side. The last room is a kind of waiting room, the walls decorated in faux wood and paper fusama panels, a small desk with a data display terminal on it, and four chairs. It, too, is deserted.
01:01:45 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

“Clear,? Tony said for the fourth time in as many rooms, letting the MP5 down to the floor; the harness taking over the weight as he let out another held breath. He was uneasy after the operating room; noticing the accumliated dust in the closet, and the lack thereof behind the overturned shelving, he didn’t think that whoever had been here had been gone more than a couple of days. Right under our noses he thought, stopping from trying to spin for the Johnson.

Creepy didn’t begin to describe the feeling from the building; the empty hallways, the dead men in the OR, the general feel of the place. Xayide didn’t help, fading out in her chameleon jumpsuit between rooms; Tony could feel her, and knew she was there, but invisible teammates weren’t exactly reassuring. She was good at her job though, and Tony had the heavy firepower and had done this enough not to let it show; he didn’t blame her, but wasn’t exactly looking forward to every room either.

“Think you can load this in that terminal?? Tony said, producing the OMC that the Johnson had given him from his breast pocket.
01:03:16 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

A blurred arm takes the OMC from Tony's hand, and although he can't see her face, he gets the distinct impression that she's more than a little confused at the simple request. Her uncertainty does not preclude action, though, and after waiting for the terminal to complete its power up, she slots the chip into the reader on the side of the flatscreen and taps in a rapid series of keystrokes.

"It's uploading an executable," she comments in her flat monotone.
01:04:10 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

An executable? Tony thought. “What do you mean an executable? Like a program?? he said to Xayide, with just a trace of concern in his voice.

He didn’t say anything about running a program on there, he just wanted information uploaded, Tony thought: his knowledge of computers and software basically added up to how to put contacts in his psec and browsing the 'Trix, and unfamiliar, long-forgotten-from-school-class terms didn’t jibe with his expectations of what the Johnson had said would be ‘information’.
01:04:44 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

"Yes, a self-extracting, self-executing program. Probably an agent. I gather from your question that this was unexpected."

Xayide steps back from the terminal during her explanation, her weapon coming up into low-ready. Tony is fairly certain that her response is similar to his own, a general increase in readiness triggered by the increased probability that something was about to go wrong. He hoped it wasn't the kind of paranoid response he'd seen on previous runs where any hiccup in the plan was accompanied by immediate paranoia among teammates, to the point where gunfire was often the result. The computer terminal zeeps before emitting a grinding noise followed by a halo of smoke.

"Huh." Xayide lets her SMG drop back on its assault sling. "The system transmitted a single message before erasing the drive and killing the BIOS. I hope you didn't need to recover any information from this system because it's well and truly fragged now."
01:06:01 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

“No, I wasn’t expecting that. Not what I was told? Tony said softly in answer to the first question, flicking up his MP5 into ready at about the same time as Xayide. He was going to ask if she’d tripped the program agent? Some type of program apparently, but from what he gleaned from her explanation it had just started up on the copy process.

Not anything to be done about it now, he thought, and anyway he’d been impressed with Xayide’s professionalism so far, even if he couldn’t see her most of the time. More composed than me he half-admitted to himself.

When the terminal melted down, Tony’s first instinct was to flick the safety off his subgun, but Xayide’s reaction stopped him. “Need? No, but I wouldn’t have minded knowing what did that. No matter now. Let’s blow that room back there up and get out of here. this place is giving me the creeps,? Tony drawled, readying his MP5, and grabbing for the OMC in the terminal before heading down to the room that held the cyberware.
01:09:17 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

Nothing has changed in the ten minutes since Tony and Xayide first stepped foot into the room, a fact that Tony is grateful for since it means no more surprises. All that's left to do is set the demo charges and he can be done. Done with this creepy building and its half-headless corpses, done with a nearly invisible teammate who worried him about as often as she reassured him, and done with Johnsons who lied about the particulars of a job.

Yeah, right, like you're ever going to be rid of those, sneered the voice inside his head.
01:09:25 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

“Ok, I’d stand back if I were you,? Tony said out loud, letting the sling hold the MP5 across his body while he fished out one of each of the grenades. Not knowing where Xayide happened to be at the moment, and not even feeling her presence, it felt weird talking to open air like that.

You mean, weird like seen a couple guys with their cranium sliced off in an otherwise empty building?

Weird like seeing an OMC that’s not supposed to have much on it zap a terminal to slag?

Yeah, weird like that

Tony saw the two half-headless men, still sitting in their chairs, as he moved back into the room a few feet. Popping the arming pins, he tossed one, then the other grenade toward the glass tanks holding the ‘ware he was supposed to blow up. For half a second, he saw the metallic tendrils of the devices, tapering from their already thin mass down to the molecular level. His mind flashed to an image of some robotic animation in a horror cartoon he’d seen when he was a kid, the kind of bad-science-experiment thing that hunted college students down for wronging it in some way…

The grenades bounced once, an obscenely loud sound in the tomblike silence of the OR and continued tinkling across the floor, reminding him that this wasn’t a place to wax about old horror flicks. He strode out the door, and started trotting down the hall to the exit as the grenades rolled toward the tanks.
01:09:28 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

Tony reaches Xayide at the exit door just as the pair of explosives detonate, dull thunder echoing down the corridor along with the dry powdered smell of crushed ceramic and construction plastic. She nods, pushing the door open with her shoulder and sweeping the alleyway to the right. Tony plunges after her into the cold January night, his own SMG clearing to the left. Xayide pulls the tape away from the door, following Tony into the shadows.
01:10:01 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

Nothing. Surprising Tony thought as he swept the street over the iron sights of the MP5. He’d half expected to see a group of shedim shambling toward them, given the strangeness, or at least some type of response team waiting for them. That transmission that Xayide had said was sent out didn’t make him want to linger for long around this place. Anyway, the wind outside was slicing though his open longcoat.

“Job’s done, near as I can see it,? Tony drawled, producing a credstick from his pocket; the same one that the Johnson had given him. “Thanks, good working with you,? he added, holding out the stick in the palm of his hand. Of course, it would help if I could actually, you know, see who I’m handing this off to..
01:10:27 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

"So it would seem."

Xayide draws back the cowl of her chameleon suit, disengaging the multiple image scanners and the integral LCD fibers. Shrugging her shoulders, she slides effortlessly from the voluminous garment, folding it quickly into a package which disappears into a duffle bag, along with her MP5 and web gear. A minute later and she's changed into her slate gray longcoat, appearing much the same as when she and Tony met at Babylon. She clears the alleyway and streets once more before turning the unsettling gaze from her cybereyes to Tony.

"I would say it's been good working with you, but then I never did enjoy this kind of stuff. It has, however, been profitable. If you need someone in the future, you've got my number."

A brief smile flickers across her face before she turns and walks away.

"See you around, Hillbilly."

01:10:49 Monday, 15 January 2063 - 905 West Park Avenue, Tacoma

“Same to ya,? Tony breathed as he watched her walk away, still not sure if Xayide was joking or not in the use of his working name. Shit, she could be in my apartment if she keeps wearing that drek. I’ve got to do something about that, he thought, reslinging his MP5, tucking it back behind him, and pressing his coat closed.. Yeah, I don’t like this kind of stuff either, but it pays the bills. Well, hopefully pays the bills, we’ll see about that, he thought on the way back, striding briskly away from the building toward his car without doing the drunken man impression that he’d done on the way in. The stiff wind blew from his back now, and Tony looked into it enough checking his tail, Nobody out, no cars coming, no drones flying, clean as I can ask for he thought, firing up his icy cold Americar after depositing his gear in his duffel bag.

He didn’t dial the Johnson until he was a couple of kilometers away from the spooky building, partly due to winding down his nerves and partly due to wanting the heater in the car to warm up. Thumbing his psec to the number he’d programmed in for this Johnson, he selected it to dial. The LTG rang once, then beeped.

Well, I didn’t expect much different Tony thought. “Services have been performed as requested. Please contact this LTG,? Tony rattled off his number, “for billing at your earliest convenience,? he said cordially, ending the call. “Bastard,? he said aloud, tossing his psec into the cold cloth of the passenger seat. Cruising down the backstreets towards his doss, streets still holding on to the crusts of ice from the blizzard last week, the overcast night sky a slate-tinted-to-slathered with pink from streetlights on the roads and still-lit shopping districts that pretty much ruined any chance of seeing a star even on the few clear nights.

Lot less light back home, he said, driving down whatever street his autonav had said to turn down after he’d programmed it to not take the 5 back to his spare doss.

Lot less friendly there too. You can’t go back there. One job done though. One ex-girlfriend in some godforsaken prison down in Calfree. One who-knows-what-she-is up here, he thought, almost reaching for the phone to call Reign up. NO he thought. He was already tired from the early hours and the adrenaline comedown, and would have to be up a few more hours watching newsfeeds and the ‘Trix to make sure he didn’t get a bullet to the head as a wake-up call. He also wasn’t in the mood to mix it up verbally or physically with her. Also, despite her prostrations, headless corpses didn’t exactly make good dinner conversation. He brought his hand back from where it had been reaching for the psec, and placed it firmly on the wheel.

02:18:91 Monday, 15 January 2063 4054 East Gate Dr. Apt 4b, Bellevue, Seattle UCAS

Last turn he thought, following his psec’s directions. The neon lit street was littered with carts, and Tony had a loud exchange with a noodle cart vendor about a parking spot, the vendor only moving when Tony bought a couple of plastic bowls to get the cart out of his parking spot. The casino down the block did a brisk business at night, he remembered. Paying for a his two ramen bowls, he unlocked the real-key burgler gate to the apartment building, and went up.

Almost as comfortable as the bed Tony thought, stretching out on the futon that sat opposite the smallish Fuchi telecom that he had tuned to KASF. A mostly full whisky and a couple of empty soybeer bottles nestled on the end of the plastic coffee table. Nothing had come across, either on the newsfeeds, Shadowland, or the broadcasts about Bellevue even in general. Well, we did get out clean he thought, wishing for eight full hours asleep before anyone waked him.

07:16:23 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Wallingford Pizza House, 106 Fairview Ave SW, Auburn, Seattle, UCAS

Despite the fact that the restaurant was inland from the Sound, sheltered by blocks and blocks of gray industrial buildings and glass walled high-rises, the wind is still bitterly cold. Ludi hunched her shoulders inside the heavy work coat she wore, trudging through last week's left over snow with a tool box in each hand. The sky was still dark with clouds, the morning sunshine a wan glow filling the eastern horizon and fighting with the all-night illumination from the street lights. Up ahead she could see the fenced off area surrounding the restaurant, a single gate open to allow the on-coming shift access to the site.

A heavy set ork wearing stained canvas coveralls and a white hard hat is checking IDs of the workers coming and, and holds up a hand when Ludi tries to enter. Before she can launch into an explanation of why she's here, an older looking human shouts to the guard, motioning with his arm. The ork grunts and waves her inside.

"Hey, I've been expecting you," hisses the Foreman, the one who got her past the guard. He pulls her aside, into one of the rooms just off the main entrance of the restaurant. Dust and dirt is everywhere, the inevitable cast off from any kind of renovation. The air is cold and smells like new plastic and epoxy. It makes the back of Ludi's throat itch.

"I know you're here for a special job, but everyone else is just going to think you're a replacement electrician. Just do what you need to do and get gone, scan?" The Foreman isn't hostile, just nervous about letting someone into his worksite. If something goes wrong, it's his hoop on the line.
Mister Juan
07:19:55 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Wallingford Pizza House, 106 Fairview Ave SW, Auburn, Seattle, UCAS

Lifting her head ever so slightly, Ludmilla stared at the foreman from under her baseball cap with icy cyber eyes. She wasn't quite sure how much the man knew, and how likely he would be to snap under pressure if things came down to it. But then again, if all went well, she'd be out in a less than a few hours.

The Russian woman simply nodded that she understood. She had no real idea who it was that owned this establishment, but odds were that her thick Russian accent would stand out like a sore thumb the second she'd open her mouth. And so, all she did was that; nod and swallow down whatever it was she had intended to say.

Not far from where she was standing, workers were already going in and out of the restaurant, carrying both tools and construction materials. From what she had understood, the place was going through some sort of “renovations? as well as updating their fire suppression system and handicap access. Head low, shoulders slightly slumped, Ludmilla entered the establishment. The baseball cap tucked low on her head, partly to obscure her features... and the fact her eyes were mostly bloodshot (from the very short and rather restless night), she sighed in relief as she noted a small rickety table with a coffee maker and some Styrofoam cup not too far. She had expected people to ask questions; to look at her, to scrutinize her, to go through her tool boxes. But it seemed that for once, her own cautiousness had taken her imagination a little too far. Truth was that no one cared at all. No one paid the slightest attention to her. Everyone had a very precise job to do, and couldn't be bothered with some random chick showing up to do God only knew what.

Everywhere, the banging of hammers and buzzing of saws echoed, as a the smell of wood chipping and plaster flowed about. Some big ork in a green coveralls and a hardhat gave her brief nod, blurting a simple “morning? as she came next to him to pour herself some coffee. Ludmilla simply returned the greeting with a faint smile, immediately focusing all of her attention back on the small cup she was cradling in her hands. This wasn't her first time posing as someone else. It wasn't even her first time going “behind the lines?. Odds were, it wouldn't be her last. But as always, she felt nervous. Anxious. Apprehensive. Every second, she had to remind herself that this was just some work site. Those people were just simple and very common construction workers. No one could read her thoughts. No one could know that the miscellaneous pieces of electronic she carried in her tool boxes were in fact pretty darn sophisticated custom made bugs.

Using a few bobby pins, Ludmilla had pulled all of her short black hair back, and tucked it neatly under her cap, which she was now trading off with a hardhat that sat, with many others, on the table next to the coffee machine. As she pretended to fix up her tool belt, her trained eyes went around the room a few time, the blueprints she had memorized days before overlaying themselves on the actual sight.

At least, Sascha had come through with something useful. What he had given him was accurate. Everything was where it was meant to be... which meant she could go about doing her job the exact way she had planned on doing so. In total, she had six devices to plant: five bugs, and one repeater. Pretty much everything had already been assembled, with the major components of each bug being simply plug and play.

Setting her toolbox against one of the far wall of the room, Ludmilla shrug off her coat, and adjusted the still empty tool belt she had on. The blue coveralls she had gotten a hold of in a thrift store, along with a pair of non conductive gloves and working boots completed her “disguise? to perfection. Ludmilla knew very that, if she had ever wanted to, she could have actually done the real honest work she was pretending to do today. But working permits were a little difficult to come by for the SINless mass. Unzipping the front of her overall, she slipped a small black pouch she had been carrying, throwing a careful look over her shoulder before tucking it inside one of the tool box. Out came different tools, slipping easily in one of her many pockets, or finding a little nook to clip themselves on her belt.

As she pretended to fiddle with something no one else could see, she clicked in place the remaining components of each bugs, stuff the finished product either in her sleeves or in little pockets she had sown inside her suit.

Taking a deep breath, she stood up and went to work.
11:06:40 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Wallingford Pizza House, 106 Fairview Ave SW, Auburn, Seattle, UCAS

Despite the relative freedom with which she worked, it still took Ludi the better part of four hours to complete the installation. True she was able to move amongst the rooms of the restaurant with complete freedom, but to accurately install and conceal her surveillance devices still took time. Additionally, she preferred to work without people looking over her shoulder, just on the off chance that someone might recognize the non-standard nature of the electronics she was installing. Always better to be safe than sorry. Plus, she wasn't really in the mood to fend off awkward questions.

By the end of the time, though, she was a sweaty, dusty, dirty mess. The coveralls would pretty much be a write-off, given the amount of grime staining the knees and back. No one had bothered to clean before the renovations started, so when Ludi climbed up the shelves in the loading dock, she encountered at least a year's worth of dust and grease. She desperately needed a shower and to get into some clean clothes.

Just one problem presented itself, though. An hour ago her commlink buzzed with an incoming message from Sascha.

Payment's waiting at the Bakery when you're done.  Stop by ASAP.
Mister Juan
11:11:49 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Wallingford Pizza House, 106 Fairview Ave SW, Auburn, Seattle, UCAS

Every move she made gave her a slight chill of disgust. In fact, it wasn't being crudded all over that bothered her... Being dirty was actually something Ludi was pretty used to. Spending weeks on end without a shower, stuck knee deep in mud and crawling through charred body parts had a tendency to harden you to a certain point. No; the cringing was mostly due to the fact she not only had no clue what in the world she was covered with, and why it had been in those tiny crawl spaces. And to make things a little different from usual, she was in an excruciating bad mood. Very bad mood.

She hadn't seen or spent any time with Lana, she had a missed church, and now she had to go back to Sascha. As she had been planting the bugs, Ludi had finally made her mind up: she would tell Miki about Sascha's little side job. She simply couldn't play along with him anymore. Even if the job was of no importance to Mikhail, at least, she would still be in his good graces. Who knows... maybe he'd get rid of Sascha for her.

But all that wouldn't change the fact that if he felt like it, Sascha could send her right behind bars. She'd, of course, never even make it to bail. Someone would make sure she wouldn't talk. And odds were, it would be old friends standing behind the gun.

Sitting in her car, she lit herself her very first cigarette of the day, closing her eyes and inhaling deeply. The work site had been none smoking, and although she could have very well taken a short break to puff quickly, the last thing she wanted was to stay there longer than she really had to. Fortunately, everyone had been either too busy to notice what she was doing... or no one simply cared.

And now, as smoke slowly filled the interior of the small car, she wondered what she would do next.

If she blatantly ignored Sascha's call, she risked having him stiffen her on the pay, or maybe even worst. But, knowing him, she couldn't simply show up like this. That and it was against her own personal sense of pride. Without a layer of kevlar and the reassuring weight of a gun, Ludi felt terribly vulnerable. She felt down right naked. That meant, she'd have to swing either back home, or at the shop. That would take some time... which would piss Sascha off.

As she lowered her window for a moment, chucking her cigarette butt outside, she pulled her psec out of her coverall, thumbing Sascha's number. He was going to have to wait a little. No way in hell she was showing up at the bakery with her dirty coveralls. He'd wait. That and she needed to get in touch with Miki.

It started to ring.

Pick up, you asshole...
11:12:03 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Wallingford Pizza House, 106 Fairview Ave SW, Auburn, Seattle, UCAS

The line connected with a voice only component.

"I don't recall having anything to discuss over the phone." Sascha's tone alone would have rankled her, let alone his words, and anger boiled through Ludi's veins unchecked. Grinding her teeth, she forced herself to calm down. Her tone is still an angry snarl, though.

"Look, the job's finished but I've got to go clean up. It'll take an hour, maybe ninety minutes before I can meet. I just wanted to let you know so you didn't get your panties in a twist when I didn't rush right over to the bakery."

Sascha barks an ugly laugh.

"Trust it to a girl to have to put her face on to meet. Fine, whatever, you look better when you're a little more put together anyway. Just get here as quick as you can."

The line goes dead.
Mister Juan
12:29:37 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Ludmilla's Workshop, Everett, Seattle, UCAS

Ludmilla lifted her head from the sink, sending her short air flipping back and away from her face. Tiny droplets of icy water shot out, dotting the mirror in front of her, and back wall of the tiny bathroom. Rough hands moving over her face, rubbing her eyes and wipping away the water. Holdinger her hands cupped over her mouth and nose for a moment, she locked gaze with herself. No matter how cybernetic here light green eyes were, they looked tired. Both set deep into their sockets, dark bags forming under them. Ludi's face looked tired. For a moment, contemplating in silence her own mask, the russian woman realized she had grown older. She hadn't even spent 5 years in Seattle... she was barely 30. Yet, she felt old. Her body was in top shape, and would stay so for as long as she could stand on her own two legs. But... Ludi couldn't help but feel like she was, at this very moment in time, stretching thin.

Taking a deep breath in, she ran both of her rough hands over her face and into her hair, slicking them away from her forehead. She leaned forward, still looking deep into her own eyes.

This is no different from a dance in the ring. This is no different.

She breathed out, feeling a slight shake in her throat.

Just a different ring. But no different.

She breath in once more, trying to steady herself.

“Knock them dead.? she said outloud, for her own ears.

Ludi exhaled, now in control of herself.

Grabbing the lone towel, she started to pat her face dry as she walked back into her workshop. On the drive back to her workshop, she had finally made up her mind. Today, she was calling Mikahail. She not only needed to see him for her own personal selfish desires.... but her business with Sascha couldn't go on anymore. Not quite sure yet if she was indeed going to tell him “everything?, Ludi was sure she'd at least tell him about the bugging job she had just carried. After all, Sascha was supposed to work for Miki... so he was entitled to know. All she hoped was that Miki's feelings would be enough to protect her. There was nothing stopping him from confronting Sascha... which would put Ludi in more than troubled water. And no matter what happened, one of two things would have to go down: she would have to deal with either Yuri, or Sascha. And neither tasks would be easy. All she could hoped was that, by tonight, Oracle would have some answers for her.

Slipping on a black Blakhawk CQB belt around the waist of her baggy tan cargo pants, Ludi secured her Fobus Roto-Holster on her right hip. She had gotten the Roto-Holster system about a year ago, after coming to the conclusion that different circonstances would force her to alter how she went about carrying her weapons. Altought she prefered the under the shoulder method, for the ease with which she could conceal a rather big piece like her Predator, it made her slower on the draw. Making sure the holster was tightly hooked, and slipped her heavy Predator in, setting in two full clips on her front left side, where she could access them easily. Sure, it wasn't the most “subtle? of set ups she could employ, but it was the most combat efficient. At least, in her own opinion.

Bending down, she pulled her right pant's leg up, strapping on the ankle holster that held her Colt.

Deep breath in, deep breath out.

Sascha had better not put her in a bad mood.
Mister Juan
12:34:31 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Underground Parking Garage, Ludmilla's Workshop, Everett, Seattle, UCAS

Sitting, lonely, in her car, Ludmilla's fingers were drumming nervously on the dashboard. She had been sitting in the underground parking lot, in the dark, in silence, for some time now. Five times now she had dialed half way through Mikhail, only to disconnect the call in a hurry. Every single time she thought about hearing his voice, she became uneasy and nervous. As ironic as it might have seen, Ludi felt like and unfaithful wife calling in to inform her husband of the other man she was taking to bed. Cursing herself one last time, she dialed... completely.

Mister Juan
12:34:31 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Underground Parking Garage, Ludmilla's Workshop, Everett, Seattle, UCAS

Sitting, lonely, in her car, Ludmilla's fingers were drumming nervously on the dashboard. She had been sitting in the underground parking lot, in the dark, in silence, for some time now. Five times now she had dialed half way through Mikhail, only to disconnect the call in a hurry. Every single time she thought about hearing his voice, she became uneasy and nervous. As ironic as it might have seen, Ludi felt like and unfaithful wife calling in to inform her husband of the other man she was taking to bed. Cursing herself one last time, she dialed... completely.

12:35:02 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Seattle, UCAS

The line rang three times before connecting. Mikhail's rich baritone sounded over the line, filling Ludi with a sense that perhaps there was a way out of this mess.

"Ah, sweet Ludi, I'm glad you called, I was just thinking about how I'd like to see you tonight."
Mister Juan
12:35:09 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Seattle, UCAS

Hearing Mikhail voice echo inside the tiny sedan filled Ludmilla with an array of mixed feelings. She had played dozens of senarios in her head, and yet, when she came down to the wire, all the well rehearsed phrases she had planned evaporated in thin air.

“I'm sorry I didn't call you earlier... I've been really busy.... I know it's no excuse...?

She swallowed, hard, rubbing her hands togheter to warm them up.

“I'd really like to see you tonight to... I've got some things I need to tell you...?
12:35:09 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Seattle, UCAS

Mikhail chuckles.

"I can only imagine, sweet Ludi. I'm certainly looking forward to our...conversations. Come to the club tonight. We can eat a little and drink a little before we talk."

Noise intrudes in the background for a moment, the sounds of vehicles on the road, before being tuned out by the transceiver's adaptive audio processing.
Mister Juan
12:35:13 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Seattle, UCAS

Ludmilla smiled sincerely, and lovingly... a smile no one could see but herself.

“I've missed you Miki... I... I'll talk to you later.?

Without adding a word, she hung up, and started up the car. It was time to face the music.

Mister Juan
12:55:01 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Outside The Bakery - Seattle, UCAS

She had spent a few minutes parked across the street from the Bakery, finishing her cigarette, breathing in the fumes from the cloud that now hung in her small car. Through fingerless gloves, she held the cigarette to her mouth, closing her eyes as she pulled. What felt like fire filled her lungs, scratching the back of her throat on the way down. It was a sort of pain Ludmilla liked. No. She loved the feeling. Opening her eyes again, she reached for her chapka, pulling it firmly on her head. A few years back, when she had started with the Vory, a few of the guys had made fun of it. Giving them a full smile, she had greet the closest one to her with her famous right, breaking his nose and sending him to the ground. It had taken two of Miki's bodyguard to restrain her. No one ever made fun her hat after that...

Exiting her car, she flipped the cigarette to a puddle next to the curb. As she crossed the street, her head tucked between her shoulder to avoid the biting cold, she ran her game plan through her head. Go in. Tell them how to access the info. Get paid. Thank them. Smile. Get out. Ludi knew very well she was in her usual mood... which was a pretty rotten one. But she knew that today was not a day to pick a fight. She felt tired all over, and was aching not only to hug her daughter... but also to feel Mikhail's touch.
12:55:07 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Outside The Bakery, Renton, Seattle, UCAS

Ludmilla checked right as she crossed the street, because even though there was no traffic now, she could hear the sound of an engine closing. Her glance down the street couldn't locate the vehicle, though, and it almost caused her to miss the shadowed figure that darted from the side of The Bakery. It was a common enough occurrence; street urchins making a raid for week old bread and muffins, but the way this figure moved told her it wasn't a gutter dweller. Adrenaline flooded her system as her combat reflexes took over. It had been a long time, but there are some things you never really forget. Her eyes zeroed in on the figure's long coat, combat boots, and the pistol held in the figure's hand.
12:55:08 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Outside The Bakery, Renton, Seattle, UCAS

Unfortunately, Ludi's combat reflexes aren't quite fast enough. Her hand twitches towards the pistol holstered at her hip, even as the figure running from the Bakery glances towards her. The Ares Predator in his hand doesn't move, though, as she expected. The attack, when it comes, is from an entirely unanticipated direction. The high speed approaching engine noise washes over her, and motion out of the corner of her eye draws her attention in time to see a black clad rider on a Thundercloud racing motorcycle speeding down the street, a submachinegun leveled over the windscreen. Ludi throws herself forward even as the weapon fires, muzzle flashes bright in the shadowed street.
12:55:10 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Outside The Bakery, Renton, Seattle, UCAS

Bullets slash through the air around her as Ludi dives forward towards the cover of the Bakery, sparking from the pavement. Her movement isn't quite quick enough, though, to keep her totally clear. She grunts in pain as one of the rounds hammers into her armor. Adrenaline erases what little pain there is, though, and as the rough pavement abrades her shoulder as she rolls to cover, she switches her wired reflexes live.
12:55:11 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Outside The Bakery, Renton, Seattle, UCAS

Sliding to a stop against the wall, Ludi snatches her Predator IV from its holster, her palm interfacing immediately with the smartlink integral to the weapon. Bullets cracked close overhead, one from her left and a burst from the motorcycle rider in front of her. Instinctively she dropped to her knees, the rounds sparking from the brick overhead. Masonry dust puffed through the air and she narrowed her eyes, details of the rider jumping out in stark relief. Her pistol barked twice, recoil snapping through her wrist. Her first shot drew blood, she could tell by the way the rider shrunk to the side. But her second was wide of the mark, whining off into the shadows of the street.
12:55:17 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Outside The Bakery, Renton, Seattle, UCAS

Another burst from the submachinegun punched through the alleyway around Ludi, bullets whining peevishly off into the darkness as they ricocheted from the concrete. She ducked to the side, trying to stay small, trying for the hard cover at the end of the alley. She wasn't quite quick enough, though, as the heavy rounds from the goon halfway into the car found their mark. The rounds were cheap ball, nothing cutting edge, and easily stopped by the ceramic splinter plates of Ludi's armor. The inertia still transferred, though, bruising impacts that staggered the slim Russian operator.

Ludi skidded around the corner, breathing hard. She was outgunned and she knew it. Her one chance was to keep them busy long enough for backup to come from The Bakery. No matter how loud the music was inside, no one could have missed the automatic gunfire from the street out front.

The sound of a motorcycle engine winding up into second drew her attention, though, and she eased back around the corner of the alleyway behind the sights of her Predator. The motorcycle and its rider was already gone, disappeared back down the street from whence they came. She was in time to watch the sedan peel out, though, fishtailing in its haste to depart the scene. Ludi let out a breath she wasn't aware of holding, sagging against the cool brick wall of the alley. The metabolism of adrenaline left her feeling dizzy and nauseated. Taking another deep breath she holstered her pistol. The Bakery exploded.

The brilliant white/orange light reached her first, a flash of pure energy dazzling in the dimness of the early morning. The shockwave was next, a thunder as physically punishing as the gunshots of seconds earlier. She shouted in shock and pain, thrown backwards by the force of the blast. Rolling to cover, she tucked herself into a ball as shrapnel, bits of concrete and steel, shotgunned down the alley. A choking cloud of smoke and grit enveloped her, and she groped blindly for her respirator, sucking greedily at the filtered air. Lurching to her feet, she staggered towards her car. Whatever happened, there wouldn't be any survivors that she could possibly help, and it would only hurt her cause to get caught by the Star now. She needed to get out of here and fast.
Mister Juan
12:58:22 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Outside The Bakery, Renton, Seattle, UCAS

It took Ludmilla a few blocks to realize her hands were shaking on the wheel. Her entire body felt as rigid as a plank of wood, and ached all over. Forcing herself to slow her breathing down, she quickly found herself unable to swallow. The adrenaline rush had been so strong, coupled with her new hyped nervous system, she felt like she was going to be sick. Temporary regaining motor control over her body, she eased her foot off the accelerator and turned the small sedan into a snow filled alley. She had barely cracked the door open that she doubled over, what little she had eaten making a hasty exit from her body. She coughed on and on, her abdomen contracting painfully until there was nothing left.

Panting, her vision darkening at the edges, Ludmilla wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. The cold bit at her face, but at that very moment, it was the last of her worries. As she took a deep breath in to settle her nerves, the young russian woman winced in pain. She could tell not a single round had pierced her armored jacket... but she had probably broken at least one rib. Ludi couldn't tell how many hits she had taken, at least not yet. Hopefully, she wasn't bleeding internally.

With a grunt, she pulled herself back into the car, slamming the door shut. Arms crossed over the wheel, she closed her eyes and rested her head. In her mind, she was running every back. Every single millisecond. Every single detail. Her jaw twitched, realizing she had next to no idea what had just happened. She had simply reacted out of pure instinct. Facts. She had to concentrate on the facts.

First. Someone had just blown the Bakery sky high. And not just a regular organized crime arson attack. Someone had literally leveled the place. Second. She had been attacked by two men. No. One man and another person. There was no way she could tell if the biker had been a she or a he. Or even his metatype.

She straightened back in her seat, shakily pulling her pack of cigarette out.

They hadn't been waiting for her. If they were... they had done a piss poor job of ambushing her. So, her arrival was could have simply been a coincidence.

Ludi started to flick her lighter again and again, trying to get some fire out of it.

Looking over it all... all she could say for sure was that she had probably seriously injured one of them.

Cursing at her lighter, she threw it at the dashboard, where it bounced once and slid down under one of the seat. With a heavy sigh, Ludi's head fell on her arms again.

She had to get Lana. She had to call Mikhail. She had to warn someone.

Pushing the car out of the alley, she started towards Lana's school, dialing Miki's number at the same time.
13:55:49 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Another Motel 8 Parking Lot, Los Angeles, CFS

Cosmo's eyes were on the chauffeur from the moment the car door swung open. She watched the man's eyes widen as she flexed her foot, almost seeming to offer the supple suede boot for inspection, knowing that the deep charcoal hue only drew attention to a sinful length of leg that all but glowed with the unmistakable sheen of silken stockings. From the slender curve of an ankle, along the shapely turn of a perfect knee, to the merest hint of a garter encircling the satin skin of her upper thigh, the man's eyes were drawn inexorably higher....

The driver coughed nervously as she brought her other leg around and extended her hand, allowing him to help her from the luxurious confines of the sedan. Her skin was angel soft, and if her grip was a bit firm, it reaffirmed the fact that this woman, this vision in cashmere and leather, was very, very real. She might have murmured a "thank you" as she glided away, all legs, hips, and cascading blonde curls, but the man preferred to remember the encounter somewhat differently.

Cosmo could only smile; sometimes she had that effect.

[editing - work in progress]
13:58:26 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

With more than idle curiosity, Cosmo slotted the keycard in the maglock of the hotel room and pushed the door open. The space revealed within was already lit by the bedside lamp, and proved to be nearly identical to every other single occupancy low-rent hotel room shed ever visited. Just inside the door was a small open closet with three empty wire hangers. Adjacent to that, in the room proper, was a double bed, flanked on one side by a nightstand with the lamp. Beneath the narrow, barred window on the far wall was a plain table and chair, both of chipped wooden veneer over a gray plastic core. Opposite the bed was a low dresser with the trideo unit on top, and next to that was the door leading to the small washroom, toilet, and shower.

What set the room apart from all others in her experience was the man asleep on the bed. He lay atop the covers, his hands folded over his chest, wearing only a pair of plain, navy blue sweat pants. In the time it took her to finish her visual inventory of the room and return her gaze to his face, she found him awake, watching her as she watched him. His eyes were a pale blue, sewn through with a silver tracery indicating artificial enhancement, an odd color given the dark mahogany of his skin.

He sat up, swinging his feet over the side of the bed closest to her. The move was stunningly fast, and instinct carried her back towards the door a step, her right hand seeking a weapon.

Im sorry, he said, and the simple statement brought her up short. She could hear it in his voice, and, more importantly, she could see it in his eyes. This man carried no artifice. He really hadnt meant to startle her, and was sorry for having done so. Cosmo favored him with a smile in return.

My name is Eric, but people call me Shield. I was told to be here tonight at this time. Shield gestures to the nightstand, where Cosmo can now see a familiar black plastic folder.

I was given a key to this room, a key to a different room, and that, he nods towards the gray garment bag hanging from the door to the bathroom. Cosmo sighs, although it is a distant comfort to know that she wasnt the only puppet whos strings the Kald pulled. She crossed the narrow confines of the room, glancing at her companion.

Whats in it?

Shield ran his left hand over his shaven scalp, preoccupied or confused, she wasnt sure. The ring finger on his right hand began to flutter uncontrollably.

Clothes, I think.

Unzipping the tab revealed him to be correct, although calling the slate gray pinstripe suit of fine herringbone clothes was like calling a Ferrari a car. The shirt provided was bone white, crisply pressed, with three narrow vertical pleats on either side of a row of white buttons. The tie and matching handkerchief provided were a brilliant metallic crimson silk, the perfect color to match the faint but noticeable pinstriping. Cosmo approved, especially since it meant Shields suit would perfectly complement her dress. She turned back to him and paused, seeing him clearly for the first time. That he was augmented was no question, but in contrast to the delicate work of his eyes, this was something else. His back was a mass of scars, some surgically neat, like those along his spine and radiating out from his shoulders. Others were vicious and jagged, dark pink slugs of keloid writhing beneath his skin. She sat next to him on the bed. He glanced over at her, then down at his finger. It stopped moving.

What happened? she asked.

Shield took a breath. I killed a man. My fiance was having an affair. He was the son of an MCT manager. They sent me to Death Valley Supermax for five years. Thingshappened. They did thingsto me. I dont remember it all. One day I was taken from my cell and put on a truck. They drove me into the desert somewhere. I thought they were finally going to kill me. I was glad. Anything is better than being in prison. They didnt, though. They dumped me outside a truck stop. There was a man there, a boy, really, who told me that they had freed me and that I now worked for them. They gave me clothes and a car and money, and told me to clean myself up and wait. That I would hear from them. That was six months ago.

He shrugged, seemingly detached from the raw emotion bubbling through his words. His hand started to flutter again.

I meet with them every other week or so, at different places. They always give me one of these.

He pulled the black plastic folder from the table and opened it up, revealing one of the gold embossed keycards from the Millennium. Written on the card in black ink is a time: 2355. Cosmo raises an eyebrow. The card will get them access to one of the penthouse suites at the hotel.
14:02:09 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

It was easy to feel sympathy for the man beside her; nearly every piece of his story, from the experiments to the strange gaps in his memory and especially his 'rescue' by the Kalds, reminded her of her own situation.

'Helpless situation,' she corrected, 'but it will be over soon.'

Still, as badly as she felt for Shield, Cosmo couldn't help but wonder if they'd turn him against her before the end. Her shudder was quiet, delicate, and had nothing to do with the chill January air leaking through a cracked window seal.

"What sort of things did they put in the other folders?"

"Do you remember everything from .. before?" She asked as gently as she could, of course, but there was no way to get around it. If the man was dealing with memory loss, knowing the extent of it might help her determine how much of a risk she was taking tonight. There weren't any surgical scars on Shield's head but that didn't mean his mind was his own.
14:05:16 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

Shield sighed, rubbing his hands together as if to warm them.

"They've mostly been contracts. I've killed for them. Two last month. Three before that. I think." Confusion clouded his face and he glanced at his wrist.

"What month is it?"

After a moment, Cosmo replied, "January."

The answer seemed to mollify him for a moment until a new variable clicked open. "What year?" he asked, hoarsly. Again, Cosmo paused before answering, reading his face closely.


Shield put his head in his hands. "I can't remember straight anymore. The days just blend together. It's been over a year and a half now that I've been working for them. I eat. I sleep. I wait for their instructions. And then I kill for them."
14:07:54 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

Air rushed out of her lungs somewhat faster than she anticipated.

"I have as well. Killed for them, I mean."

Cosmo closed her eyes, just for a second. It saddened her to think of Shield as nothing more than an indentured hitter for an organization of crazed adolescents.

"What else have they made you do for them? Have you worked with other people before?" She offered a wry smile as she looked up at him.

"We're a team tonight."
14:08:49 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

Shield returned her smile. "I have, although none quite as pretty as you. I've worked with several people regularly. Mostly technical types to get through security and whatnot. I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to do tonight, unless they want me to act as your bodyguard. How long have you worked for them?"
14:09:26 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

Cosmo almost laughed. "I've been active for sixteen days, fourteen hours, nine minutes, and .. thirty four seconds." The smile she flashed him was absolutely brilliant, almost as if the events leading up to her being put out of commission for the last two years of her life never happened. Almost.

"And you can call me Cosmo." She rose as gracefully as a flower unfolding and all but glided across the small room to hang her heavy garment bag next to his and, with a flourish worthy of any stage magician, pulled the zipper free to reveal a spectacular gown in vibrant ruby red silk.

"Tell me, Shield, do you dance?"
14:11:48 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

Shield returns the smile, letting out a soft whistle at the dress revealed, distracted for the moment from Cosmo's question. "Nice dress. Wait, what?"

Cosmo glanced back at him over her shoulder, busily unloading the carryall which held all of her cosmetics.

"You know, dance: waltz, rhumba, tango, swing. All of the above? None of the above?" She almost laughed out loud again at the look of utter terror on his face.

Ask a street sam to charge a Lone Star citymaster in boxers with a bayonet and he'll be gone at a dead run. Mention a social situation that requires some grace and decorum and it's the end of the world.

Shield shook his head. "Definitely none of the above. Can't I just stand in the shadows and look menacing? I'm good at doing that."
14:15:27 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

"I'm sure you are," she chuckled, turning to wave a pair of four-inch stilettos at him, "but if we're attending the social event of the season, we should really do it in style. Now why don't you put all those muscles to good use and move this furniture out of the way; I think we have time for a lesson or two."

Yes, of course dancing wasn't going to be a necessary part of the evening, but given the choice between mingling with Los Angeles' social elite for polite conversation and canaps and enjoying a turn on the dance floor, she figured that Shield would prefer the latter. Besides, they's be working together tonight; an early start on co-ordination and partnering would be nothing but a benefit to them.
14:32:08 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

All in all, Cosmo's toes survived surprisingly well. Shield had picked up the steps quite rapidly after discovering that all it really involved was repetition based on rhythm. Cosmo suspected that his obvious martial arts training had something to do with his speed of learning, and she would have been lying if she didn't admit to enjoying the effortless strength present in his sculpted arms and thighs. The dance pulled a light sheen of sweat to his skin, his scent faintly spicy in the dry air of the dingy room.

"Smile," prompted Cosmo softly, looking up into his face. Shield blinked, his eyes flickering up from watching his feet to meet her gaze. His lips automatically curved into something resembling a smile, something at least more expressive than the blank mask he wore when concentrating.

"Sorry," he replied, taking command of his facial muscles and relaxing them into a less mechanical rictus.

Cosmo shook her head. "Don't be sorry, just relax and smile. You're supposed to be enjoying yourself."

Shield almost rolled his eyes. "Right, just don't mind my sweaty palms."
16:11:47 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

Cosmo ran her hands over the deceptively simple updo, teasing a few strands of hair into artful disarray while she used the bathroom mirror to sneak a look into the hotel room.

"You're going to do fine, you know," she called out, shamefully eyeing Shield in his socks and boxer shorts. "I've danced with plenty of men and you're already better than most. Jiu jutsu, right?"

Her laugh was soft, just shy of teasing, really, as she stopped fussing with her hair to apply one last coat of mascara to lashes that were already soot-black and sinfully long. "Some Arnis de Mano too?" Cruel as it might be to leave the door cracked as she dressed, it really was important to let all the steam out before a big night, wasn't it?
16:13:09 Tuesday, 16th January 2063 - Room 214, Commerce Motel 8, 7810 Telegraph Road, Los Angeles, CFS

Shield's gaze was riveted on the trideo, although Cosmo knew what was playing was mindless at best. His studied indifference to her barely towel-clad self telegraphed the message that her teasing was having precisely the effect she wanted.

"Uh, yeah, six years of Kali, only four of Jiu Jitsu, but mostly I've studied Jeet Kune Do." He glanced back at her, enhanced vision easily cutting through the wisps of steam still curling from the shower around her, his eyes traveling from the exposed length of calf up over the curves barely hidden by the thin motel towel, to her naked shoulders and neck. He snapped back to the trideo.

Cosmo chuckled, setting down her make-up brush to run her hand over the delicate silk of her dress. Just the feel of the gown brought back the memories of Sunday night's whirlwind design meeting.

5005A Strathmore Ave, Los Angeles, CFS

The address provided by Tino took Cosmo deep into the Los Angeles sprawl, through winding streets packed with the muscle necessary to feed the relentless appetites of the City of Angels. Workshops and warehouses stood shoulder to shoulder, plain lettered signs in front of each advertising multiple services in construction, moving, lighting, landscaping, everything necessary to create an alien world on a sound stage. Or some beach in southern Cal Free State. Location shooting had almost become a thing of the past.

Parking her BMW in the side lot squeezed between two identical large frame buildings, Cosmo scanned the area carefully. The distinct lack of traffic made her nervous, in the way that only a social chameleon can be when faced without the protection of the herd. Her scan of the buildings and the rooftops did not produce anything to elevate her already healthy sense of paranoia, so, slinging her purse over her shoulder, the stepped out from the car and made her way to what she hoped was the front door of the building. It had no buzzer, nor address card, simply a pull bar that proved to be unlocked when she tried it. Glancing around her one last time, she proceeded inside.

The hall was short, with a bare concrete floor and construction plastic walls papered with a multitude of advertisements for events: gala parties and movie premieres, charity balls and the like.

Hello? she called out, tilting her head to one side to try and catch a response to her hail. Her heels clicked on the floor, carrying her further into the building, finally revealing the massive interior around the corner of the entrance hall. Floor to ceiling steel shelving units spilled over with every imaginable style and color of cloth. Wheeled racks stood haphazardly about, some jammed full of dresses and coats, others carrying only empty hangers with no rhyme or reason or system apparent. Cosmo was about to call out again when voices rose suddenly from behind one of the massive shelving units.

No, no! I tell you it will not do! It is abhorrent! I cannot work with that woman. She wants the impossible. No, she wants the hideous is what she wants. I will not lower myself. Tell Anton that he will have to go it alone. I have Milan. I have New York. We are behind in fitting all of Chanteuse and they go to Paris next week!

The speakers emerged, walking perpendicular to the narrow aisle in which Cosmo stood.

Get Elizabeth on the line, because we will have to work two shifts tomorrow. Tell her that if just one of her girls is late Im going to nail her.

She opened her mouth to call out when the older gentleman reappeared, gazing down at her through his wire-rimmed glasses. Dressed in dark slacks and a button down shirt with what her practiced eye knew was a silk tie in a double Windsor, he was every inch an aristocrat.

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun! Sweet muse, come closer, let me see you.

He didnt wait for her to approach, moving down the narrow aisle towards her with an air of royalty approaching a favored cousin.

Truly I have not seen your equal in a long time, fair Helen. That hair, those cheekbones! Look, Panitter, her eyes! As the words slipped from his mouth, his finely manicured hands reached out and brushed themselves across the respective attributes. He had a possessive manner about him, as if Cosmo were nothing more than a canvas upon which he was about to paint a masterpiece. Amusedly, she let him lift her chin, tilting her face to the light. This, too, she was familiar with, although she hadnt met someone like him in a long time.

Ah, such a face! And neck, the perfect swan. You have such fine posture, your shoulders so delicate, and the dcolletage As he lifted her breasts, she did start momentarily, and almost immediately regretted it as it seemed to break some kind of spell. The gentleman recoiled as well, drawing his hands back with a look of blank surprise that quickly gave way to something else, a sly smile twisting his lips.

Ah, Jean-Paul, you brazen hussy! Look at you, pawing at the young thing as if you knew her sweetest secrets.

Taking Cosmos right hand in both of his, Jean-Paul pressed his lips to the back.

My dear, I am Jean-Paul, but you may call me Jean-Paul. I shall be the conductor and you shall be my concerto! My operetta! Welcome to my palace, my cathedral of couture!

Never releasing her hand, Jean-Paul used it to slap himself softly on the cheek, his head reeling back as if the blow had been heartfelt.

Oh! Mademoiselle! You are so cruel! After a moments pause, he glanced back at Cosmo his smile once more crafty, his accent impeccable.

Ah, but it is what I love about you, ma chrie! Come, quickly now, whisper to me your plight!

Cosmo almost laughed as he pulled her deeper into the warehouse, never really letting her answer any of his questions.

It is the black dress, no? The most necessary ingredient to a womans wardrobe. Jean-Paul glanced back with a critical eye.

No, no it cannot be. You speak that language already. It must be something else. A man perhaps? You have a heart to win, no? A suitor to drive mad with desire? I think yes. Or, are you at war? Has another woman set her eyes on your hearts true love? A catty bitch, yes? I can tell.

Jean-Paul pulled up short, leaning close to her conspiratorially.

You and I together, ma cherie, we shall give you a weapon that no other woman has wielded since Eve offered an apple.

And he was off again, towing Cosmo behind him with surprising strength.

Indigo, perhaps? The new black for the spring? A vision in white? No, it is too clich, it has been done! Jean-Paul follows no ones footsteps! But of course, think of the apple. It is only appropriate.

Leaving her for a moment, the older gentleman slipped away to one of the massive shelves, plunging both his hands into a seeming maze of fabric bolts, before emerging with what appeared to be liquid fire. His smile growing smug, Jean-Paul poured the cloth into Cosmos arms. It was as light and smooth as silk, flowing through her fingers like gossamer. The bright overhead lights struck brilliant crimson highlights from it, as if the fabric itself writhed with captured fire. She nodded. This was perfect. Jean-Paul whipped a tape measure from around his neck and winked at her with a knowing gaze.

Come, ma chrie, let us make some music!
12:59:09 Monday, 15 January 2063 - Outside The Bakery, Renton, Seattle, UCAS

Ludi swerved through traffic, the muscles along her jaw clenched in determination. So intent was she on the road and the traffic that she missed it entirely when the standby call graphic in her view connected to a live feed. It was only when Mikhail's voice came over the line that she paused to allow herself to breathe.

"Yes, my sweet Ludi? What can I do for you?"

She worked her jaw against the tension.

"The bakery was just destroyed," she reported, her voice dead and level. Silence filled the line.

"Go home immediately. I'm sending Vadim over."
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