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Authors may PM me with edits they want made. Authors names will be attached to their work after winner is decided.

Feel free to comment and discuss. Influence my decision.

If you happened to be writing a story and did not get it in soon enough, hang onto it, let me know you are awaiting another contest and we'll see how much interest there is about doing this again sometime soon. smile.gif
by wilibus

As I leaned forward to clear the moisture off the lens of my MA-2100 I took a moment to enjoy the gentle rain. It always rained in Seattle, it was something you just got used to, but something about this rain was unique, different, almost unsettling; but in this business it was days were nothing felt wrong that troubled me most. The faint beep in my ear of my commlink broke the ambience.

“How’s it look Andrew?? the voice chattered.

“If your going to interupt my mid-epiffiny, at least refrain from using my real name.?

“What the hell are you talking about??

“Nevermind, everything looks fine from my end.?

Flashbang as he called himself, no idea what his actual name was, not like it really mattered, but I like an even playing field. Not the smartest elf in the streets, but the closest I ever had to a mentor or a friend for that matter. We go way back, Tir Tairngire way back. If he was the muscle that would make me the brains, but the interesting thing about elves is that they are rarely what they seem to be.

The job was simple; meet up with some greenhorns looking to start the smuggling route coming in from Portland. They were supposed to have some pretty useful paydata on some newfound corp maglock system. The data was a bonus, near as I can tell the real reason was to size these idiots up. Rumour was the orders came down directly from Green Lucifer himself, not that I believe it, but best not to frag this up in any case.

“You ok, chummer, you sound pretty rattled? Flashbang came back over comm.

“Fine, you do yours, I’ll do mine? I replied.


Flashbang liked to work alone, or more appropiately likes to appear to work alone. That’s where I come in, the lone sniper on the warehouse roof 2 blocks down. The job goes dirty I’ll have two of them on the ground missing the upper halves of their torso’s before they realize what the drek is going on.

Flashbang had this theory on people, something about only being able to truly know them once they have been given a perfectly good oppurtunity to betray you.

This is pretty much what we did. The Ancients ran smuggling routes into Seattle; we serve as the go between for higher ups and go-gangers. Only one problem with The Ancients, elves don’t get old and die. You wanna move up, you enact a little bit of forced “retirement?

The rest of the evening was quiet, nothing more than a few burned out chip junkies to speak of. We had arrived at meet about an hour before sundown, this time of the year the docks were pretty quiet. I notice the rain had picked up a little just as my low light vision had begun to creep its way on. A black Ford Canada-Bison creeped towards the empty cul-de-sac. The windows covered in a fairly dark tint. Peering through the thermographic scope it revealed three heat signatures.

“Looks like three, ones pretty jittery, probably a bad wire job.? I reported.

“That or another junkie who couldn’t wait.?

“Heh, not sure which is worse.?

This was most definitely what we were waiting for. As the three men exited the truck Flashbang jandered forward from his shadowy retreat. The elf in the center had a fairly ragged attempt at a business suit, by looks of it hadn’t seen an iron since the crash, but he carried himself well, or at the very least he could fake it, something I can respect. The bouncy one had a pretty poorly concealed SMG under his trench coat and some god awful haircut and about three colours I had never seen before running through it and what looked like tire treads tatooed across the side of his face. I wonder what he’s for I chuckled to myself. The third, on the right was a fairly calm and collected individual, no real style to speak of, black overcoat, dungarees and a t-shirt no weapon that I could notice. Didn’t exactly strike me as normal go-gangers we usually deal with, but then Flash and I weren’t exactly rank and file ourselves.

“Looks like your run of the mill wannabes, I’d keep an eye to the one on the right though? I spoke into the comm as I adjusted the laser mic to get a better idea of the situation.

“You flashbang?? The elf in the center sputtered.

“Do you normally go around and interogate strangers you meet in dark alleys?? Flashbang responded, with a slight hint of indignation in his tone.

I watched their pitiful attempt at a face clear his throat. “It’s just …?

“That’s nice.? Flashbang cut him off. “You have something for me; we might have work for you.?

I watched the two bodyguards quickly exchange glances. Looks like they were getting nervous about something. At this point the center elf was examining Flashbang. Before him stood an elf easily a foot taller and about fifty pounds heavier. For an elf Flashbang was massive, sometimes to the point of being mistaken for a hummy. Doubtful he had noticed either of the pistols concealed under his coat and even less likely he had any idea of the razor tips about to spring forth from his fingers. Flashbang was not a patient man and this elf was either very stupid or very ballsy, and I wasn’t seeing a lot of support for the latter.

“About that? he gulped, “I think we deserve a little bit of payment for this.?

“Do I look like fragging businessman to you,? Flashbang made no attempt to hide his anger at this point. “That’s not how this game is played; you’re making a pretty piss poor impression on your prospective employers.?

“And I think three to one means we play by my rules? at this point his voice actually sounded like it had a little confidence in it.

“Unless you rules involve giving the angry elf want he wants and getting the drek out of here on a permanent basis, I don’t think I’m interested.? I saw his movements get a little jerky; he had activated his reflex trigger. This wasn’t going to be easy after all.

The suit took a step back, his face was getting pretty pale; it was obvious he knew what was coming, whether he was going to do about it remained to be seen. In any case they failed what was a relatively simple task and taken the bait, I knew what was coming, and I almost felt sorry for the little guy. My grip tightened around the grip of my rifle, I eased myself back into the scope, and if this was going to get messy I didn’t want any delays.

A sharp voice broke the tension, “last chance chummer, the pay data and then you frag off, understood?? Flashbangs sharp voice cut through the gentle patter of rain like pissed off devilrat. It looked like Flashbang had control of this situation, sometimes it amazed me the amount of fear he could instill in people.

The nutjob with messed up hair was the first to act, I watched him push back his trench and reach for his little toy. His motions seemed to slow down with time and I gently pulled back trigger, the high caliber round leaving the barrel made hardly a noticeable impact on what seemed like the dead silence of the night. An instant later the back of his skull exploded into a red mist of bone and what little grey matter he had, I doubt he even had time to be surprised by what happened. Before his knees had a chance to reach the wet asphalt I had the action cocked and a second round in the chamber. I took a moment to examine the rest of the situation. Looks like the suit had caught a pretty massive slash from Flash’s claws; he was lying on the ground bleeding pretty profusely from the chest, trying desperately to drag himself away across the palely light street.

By this time Flashbang had turned his attention to the final problem of the evening. Then something happened that shocked the ever living hell out of me. I watched Flashbang bring his giant boot up and then directly into the chest of the remaining elf. Before I could notice what had happened; the guards hands had grabbed the massive size 13 boots and then next thing I knew Flashbang was tumbling backwards. Without thought I once again squeezed the trigger. This time the results weren’t as effective, it was a pretty solid shot directly through his left shoulder, enough to knock him off his balance.

Flashbang didn’t take time to hesitate either once he saw the opportunity he was back on his feet and charging towards this bastard. He was limping, most likely a broken ankle, though maybe worse, not like it mattered, I could tell he was fairly intent on ending this quickly. This time kick landed pretty squarely into his chest sent him pretty hard into the curb. Within microseconds Flashbang was on top of this bastard and tearing him apart piece by wretched piece. For most people this would spell a pretty quick and painful death, this one seemed to have a little of fight left in him. Out of somewhere he managed to get a knife in his right hand and embed right underneath Flash’s ribcage. It was at the point I watched this pathetic attempt at a guard’s life end, quick and easy across the throat, his motion went limp and I watched Flashbang stand up. That was end of that.

Before I heard the familiar beep of my commlink I had my gear and was already halfway down the rusted fire escape. “We gotta move, and move quickly, the two bodies are going swimming, we’re taking the suit with us.? I snapped over the comm. I watched as the tiny little ant of an elf struggle for his life as Flashbang reached down picked him up, his stab wound still slightly bleeding. The suit was pretty hacked up himself, but at least it looks like he could talk and from the sounds of it, he was in a lot of pain, though that was the least of his worries. Flashbang refrained from responding, it was obvious these little dreks had little interest in smuggling and I knew he wanted answers as much I did.
If You Meet The Buddha at the Anarchist Clinic
by Zen Shooter01

In the night of the monsoon season the warm water poured out of the sky like a bucket carefully tipped by a child to produce the steadiest and most beautifully thick and long lasting sheet. It coated everything, and filled the streets; it muffled the transmission of light. It filled the ears with the sound of its pouring, like the sound of whiskey rolling into a glass to an alcoholic. The monsoons changed every way of doing business in Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon; but Khan liked them. In the changes they wrought, they reminded him that, as the Buddha taught, this world is only passing.

That night under the rain they were four Vietnamese elves - Loc, Trang, Nhat, and Khan, who was a Buddhist magician - fortunate to each have a stolen Japanese bullet resistant vest on under their clothes. Three of them had jungle fatigue caps that helped keep the rain off - Nhat did not, and his long black hair was soaked flat against his skull and down the length of his slender neck. His ears jutted through the wet strips of his hair. They had no car, and the streets were too deep with rainwater for their bicycles, so they’d had to come to the clinic on foot.

Everything had been in a rush tonight. Khan had gotten a call from his friend, Guy Phien, a leader of the Black Star Anarchist syndicate that operated in the lawless feral zones of Ho Chi Minh City. Somehow, although Phien had not explained, and it had been one of those delicate conversations where one sensed that an explanation would have betrayed an allegiance that lay elsewhere, Phien had expected that an illegal clinic the Anarchists organized would be raided that night, probably in the next ninety minutes, by a pack of ghouls. The ghouls would want the clinic’s organs for meat; the antibiotics, antiviral nanites and pain killers they might steal to sell.

Tom had been surprised to find out that the anarchists had such a well-stocked clinic under their wing, but the impermanence of the mind was constantly flowing into new forms.

Phien had asked for Khan to take his elves to the clinic and preserve it against the infected cannibals. The first difficulty had been that they did not know where the clinic was. Phien had emailed him a map and a description of the housing block it was in. In the feral zones of HCMC, there was little or no matrix network, and an expensive illegal satellite hookup was not something they had among them - and might not have been able to figure out how to use if they did. So global positioning wasn’t something they could use, and a map drawn on a Renraku Images Plus program was what they had. It took some time standing in the rain peering up and down the jumbled streets, comparing what they saw to what was on their commlinks, but they found it eventually.

The neighborhood’s original intent had been residential - monolithic ten-story cubes of plascrete at stately distances from one another, buildings that over the decades had faded to a streaked and wrung-out nausea blue. And over the decades, as government control had ebbed here, the open spaces between the buildings, that had been meant to emphasize the blocks and diminish the people, had filled up with makeshift structures, as if the trash in the intimidating boulevards had thrived so much the biggest pieces had become dwelling places. To reach the housing block Khan and the elves went down a tiny street eight meters wide. All doors were shut and the street was empty in the monsoon - pieces of the little buildings were being washed away. Bicycles were chained everywhere; so were plastic barrels and jugs, collecting the rain.

The street didn’t end at the housing block - it passed right through the three-stories-tall lobby and went out the other end, a hundred meters away. There were electric lights, tiny buildings, and metahumans inside the lobby, and the humidity in the air seemed to keep the smoke from the late-night cooking fires hanging close to the tiled floor. Khan squinted, his elf eyes sensitive to the light.

The Black Star in Ho Chi Minh City brought an element of order into lives otherwise heaped with bad karma. To go into the path where danger lay for the sake of their clinic was to perform a deed of great good karma; even if they died, their souls would be cleansed, and they might return in their next incarnation as human instead of meta, a magician instead of a mundane. Khan, a magician already, although one who suffered as an elf, had explained this to the others.

The switchback staircase to the subbasements was pitch black, the kind of subterranean black that not even elf eyes could see through. But Trang had a little illuminator with which they saw their way. The twisting hallways of subbasement B were not quite wide enough to walk two abreast, and it was Trang’s flashlight that found the door that Phien had described to Khan - steel with a gold-colored doorknob, and a sparkling decal of a laughing Buddha in the middle of it, and above that a decal of the great Japanese dragon Ryumyo in flight over Mount Fuji. The dragon also seemed to be laughing.

“Here it is,? Nhat said. Water was still trickling from his hair.

“Be careful,? Trang whispered, drawing his pistol with one hand and aiming his light at the door with the other.

“Is it locked?? Loc asked, his own semiautomatic in his slender-fingered hand as he reached out to grasp the knob.

In a moment of insight - a whisper of another moment at a door like this one in a life many lives ago - Khan knew that it was not. But before he could speak, what had been about to happen did happen, and then all four of them knew that the door was not locked.

It swung open violently, and they all heard it collide with Loc’s hand, his fingers splaying against the steel. Then a spear point made from whittled construction plastic thrust out the door and punched straight through Nhat’s rain-soaked pants with only the most desultory tearing sound.

For a second all any of them could do was gape, except Nhat, who’d been fast enough to slip to the side. The spear was clean through his pants and the shaft of it was against his leg below his hip. The thing with the spear was huge - it was like one of the metahuman models on a matrix host advertising exercise equipment, crossed with a rhino, crossed with whatever hunted rhinos in rhinos’ nightmares.

Ugly huge bundles of muscle marched around after each other under skin that looked like the plastic flesh of a doll found in a landfill. Epicanthic Vietnamese eyes were so dead white they looked dry to the touch. The head was bald, spotted, the lower jaw full of tusks. It had once been an ork. It was wearing a red tank top clotted with Khan did not guess what.

It ripped its weapon out of Nhat’s pants and tried stabbing him again, the noise of its breathing like an industrial noise.

Trang and Loc and Nhat all fired their pistols - they did it without a word. Khan focused his perceptions on the impermanence of the world. He accepted the First Noble Truth, that life is suffering; he accepted that death is a stop on the journey to rebirth, and he passed that enlightenment to the ghoul. The narrow hallway bellowed with the sound of gunfire and the air almost seemed to turn itself inside out with Khan’s mana bolt.

The ork ghoul sat down suddenly, then lay on its back and died. The elves had to walk over it to get into the clinic. Loc, Trang, and Nhat laughed because they’d confronted the thing and lived through it, and now they could smell the gunsmoke. They spread out in a room that was full of four hospital beds, floor-to-ceiling white cupboards and a computer station displaying a to-do list:
1. Enquire at Happy Ending Hotel RE antibiotics.
2. Email Smiling Bandit RE gene therapy/tissue reconstruction. Yamatetsu’s new treatment?
3. Change water filters.

“Pretty good, huh?? Loc said about the computer station. He was still smiling. “If the data’s here and not walking around on commlinks, it - ?

“Who cares about their data?? Trang snapped.

Doors led out of the room to the left and to the right, and before anyone could answer about who cared, two more ork ghouls burst into the room from the right. One of them had an organ pod - the shoe box sized cylinder in which an organ could be stored awaiting transplant - by the power cord and feeding tube, like a morning star, and with a mighty swing bashed Loc in the head with it, the pod trailing an arc of support fluid. In her other hand the ghoul had a pinkish red blob that might have been a kidney and definitely had a bite taken out of it.

The other ghoul had a machete and bounded up onto one of the beds, kneeling because it was too tall to stand and swinging the curved black blade with a whoosh at Trang’s neck, but not fast enough to connect with the agile elf.

Then the door to the left came open and another armature of scabrous muscle stormed into the room, and this one’s machete cut sliced Nhat - the female ork without dropping her bitten kidney wrapped the organ pod’s power cord and feeding tube around Loc’s thin neck and with a scream of rage snaked them tight - Trang fired his Shiawase Armaments semiautomatic twice but apparently without much affect. In the same instant Loc spun on the cannibal that had attacked him and fired once and hit the thing in the right side of the chest and the thing in that instant seemed to care not at all.

The ghoul on the bed cocked its arm for another cut.

In his previous lives, Khan had been a doer of good deeds. He had gathered enough good karma around himself in those endless existences to know, more than any mundane could know, that all the sensate world was illusion.

Including gravity.

With this understanding, Khan took the ghoul off the bed and slammed it into the plascrete ceiling.

Holding the one up there, he blasted Loc’s attacker with all the needle-sharp force of his soul and mind. The air turned inside out. The thing’s head tilted left and its body tilted right and it collapsed, dead.

Loc and Trang fired and fired and fired their handguns into the helpless ghoul pinned to the ceiling, and into the monster that was choking Nhat, filling the room with a thin smoke that stung the throat. The ghoul lying on the ceiling shrieked, “Leave us ALONE!?, before bullets smashed its skull.

Loc stood alert with his pistol in both his hands, white in the face with blood rolling down his back from the machete cut. The ghoul’s muscles had powered the blade straight through Loc’s concealed Japanese armor. “Are there any MORE?? He gasped. It was Trang who pulled the power cord from around Nhat’s neck. Nhat’s eyes were slack, half shut, crescents of white.

They searched quickly and found no more. In the room to the right they found an operating theater and an organ pod rack; two more pods lay empty on the floor, pried open. In the floor was a drain two-thirds of a meter on the side, and the grate pushed out of it. It was hard to believe, but apparently the ghouls had wriggled in that way.

In the room to the left, they found a human girl. A Latino. She had pieces bitten out of her wrist. Khan saw bloody bone, but the girl didn’t know the difference - she was hooked into an autodoc drone, sedated, probably, and the drone was displaying warnings about the new injury.

She might have been seventeen. There was something about her face that might have reminded Khan of someone who was a little famous, at least in Saigon - she might have been the daughter of one of the corporate colonialists from Aztlan who traveled across the Pacific to build factories in Vietnam, a girl who slipped in and out of armored limousines in the AA security zones.

Khan picked up her bitten wrist, and put it down. “Well…Nhat first.?

They closed and locked the door to the hallway from the inside. Trang stood over the open grate in the operating theater with his 10mm pointed down between his knees, waiting for a ghoul head to poke up.

Nhat was slumped on the floor, although his eyes were open now and he was panting. His breath wheezed through his throat and his eyes watered.

Khan sat cross-legged next to his friend and put his hands around his neck. All this life is but illusion, he thought, closing his eyes, furrowing his brow. Even this injury does not exist.

The seconds past.

“Something’s crawling around down there!? Trang called anxiously from the operating room.

“It probably smells the blood,? Loc called back to him. “It’s not ghouls, it’s devil rats.?

Then Trang yelled in surprise. “Ho!? PLANG! A gunshot. “You’re right…damned rats.?

Even this injury is only passing, Khan thought, his fingers on Nhat’s throat. He felt the tissue restored, the Adam’s apple firm up. But he felt something else at the same time - the arrival in his stomach of something like an egg of glue rolled in broken glass. Life was suffering, and the striving for enlightenment often brought more suffering.

“Thanks,? Nhat croaked. He was still struggling to breath, but he didn’t look like he was likely to die anymore.

Khan stood up and walked carefully to Loc, trying not to disturb the gluey egg. Loc turned his back to Khan without a word, and Khan put his hand through Loc’s slashed clothes to press his palm against Loc’s cut, which closed slowly under his hand.

Breathing carefully so as not to jostle the egg, Khan went wordlessly into the girl’s room.

A dark bloody stain was spreading on the Robin’s egg blue hospital sheets from her chewed wrist. The autodoc was still showing the indicators of the wound. But the girl slept the sleep of the drugged, her eyelids still, her mouth open the smallest possible degree.

Khan took her wrist in his hands.

She had the kind of push-pull prettiness often seen in the children of corporate executives, made available by surgery, genetic therapy, nanotech cosmetics. It was compelling but a little too precise - she looked like the brave teenage heroine of a sim about the turbulent days of consolidation, when Mexico combined with the central American countries and Columbia to become the Aztlaner empire.

She might have run away from all that, all the way to the feral zones of Ho Chi Minh City, the very edge of the empire. She might have been a kidnap victim, stolen from her corporate family by the Anarchists for political leverage, or the simplest reason of ransom.

But to help this helpless girl, Khan knew, would be a deed of great good karma, that would echo in all his future lives.

The gooey ball of glass shards seemed to sink further in his intestines; he thought he had a one in ten chance of throwing up, and that if he did, it would be bloody.

But all suffering arises from illusion, he thought as he closed his eyes, and clasped his hands around her slender brown wrist. As the Buddha taught, this world is only passing.
Like a Hellhound on a Soysteak aka An Elementary Escape
by Gelare

"What the hell?" I shouted. "How did they find us?"

"If I had to take a guess?" Lightning offered, "Probably the trail of gunshots and the fact that you refuse to find an apartment outside of Yak territory."

"Hey, the Yaks keep the worst criminals out!"

"Right, which would be great if not for the fact that they're the ones hunting us down right now." Lightning was standing in the middle of the room, waving his hands all around while his dwarven face was locked in concentration, with the AR display in his shades providing him with feeds of the security cameras in my apartment building. "Okay, the building doors are locked. That should buy us another two min – oh, okay, a grenade. Well played, Yakuza-man, well played. Yeah, our hoops are toast."

"Rock, barricade the door, fast!"

"You got it, boss." He moved in front of the door, facing towards it. Trolls make good barricades. Hey, I'm sorry, alright, but it's true. Besides, he's the only one who calls me boss.

"Great job there, boss." Except for her. "Nice going, cap-ee-tan. Good thinking, chief-o. Hey Lightning, how long have we got?" I could hear stomping sounds, probably coming from the stairwell – every place in this building echoes, but at least the rent's cheap. I guess now I know why.

"I'd say they are on us like a hellhound on a soysteak, Steam."

"Appreciate it, Lightning."

"Steam!" She can be cute, in a precocious, look-at-me-I'm-a-little-elf-and-I'm-going-to-get-us-all-killed sort of way, but she needs guidance from time to time from her older brother. And since she lost him years ago, that makes me the next best thing. "Why don't you do something useful for a change?"

She rolled her eyes, in that way only an arrogant genius of a little sister can. "Hey, it's not my fault you wasted your time busting kneecaps and chasing tail instead of studying the fundamental order of the universe," she said as she moved over to the corner of the room and began to concentrate.

Entered MIT&T at age 13. Left at 15, after going through all the senior level magic courses, when we extracted her for a Johnson. The job went south, especially for Mr. Johnson, whose brain got converted into coleslaw, so we got to keep her.

Lucky us, right?

I turned to go to my room in the apartment. As I left, Steam was busy bargaining with a large, glowing, angry-looking bird with blue arcs of electricity crackling between its feathers. Meanwhile, Lightning was becoming increasingly agitated from the security feeds he was getting, and Rock had braced against the door, waiting for the Yakuza enforcers to break it down.

"Ice, they're almost at the door, and someone's trying to hack into the building's systems. Well, y'know, someone else." A pause. "Amateur. Still, I'd rather shut it down so we don't have to worry about it for our escape."

"Wait for my mark; thanks, Lightning."

I entered my bedroom and kicked open the box at the foot of the bed. Trinkets, souvenirs, and guns. On most runs my modified Predator worked just fine, but special circumstances call for some serious style: two Warhawk revolvers, each disassembled and reassembled by yours truly countless times. Trust me, if you don't understand the call to style, you never will. I stuck them in their holsters and stuffed everything else into a backpack, including enough ammo to choke every devil rat in Seattle. I threw it on, took one last look around the room – it's hard to find a decent place to live, you know? – and went back out to the living room.

Steam gave me a thumbs up, smiling a little weakly. "All set here." I smiled back and gave her a little hug, then went over to Rock, who was having a bit of trouble keeping the doors on its hinges. From the sound of it, they had –

"It's a vatjob, Ice." Right, Lightning was still doing surveillance for us. "Punk with a cyberarm's bashing in the door."

"Boss, this isn't gonna hold much longer. I think – " At that moment the door started splintering as little bullet holes started appearing in it. Rock grunted a little, but held his ground – told ya he's good. "Those pea-shooters couldn't hurt a devil rat, you ruttin' slots!" The shots stopped.

"Uh, Rock? You might not have wanted to mention that!" Lightning sounded awful worried – never a good sound.

"Alright Lightning, kill the lights and nuke the building's systems. Rock, clear our exit. Steam, on my mark, okay?"

"You bet, el presidente." She edged closer to the door.

"Working on it, Ice." Lightning moved from his spot in the center of the room, ready to bolt.

Rock answered by pulling out a grenade and punching through the door. He took out the pin, dropped the grenade through the hole, and moved away. Some shouts in Japanese came from the hallway, and then the real fun started.

The grenade exploded, blowing the door completely to bits. I got scorched a little, but not nearly as bad as whichever poor slot didn't think to move fast enough. Eww, is that a lung? Anyway, the lights also all went off, courtesy of Lightning, and since he took the building computer systems down, the sprinklers didn't activate. All we needed now was a smoke grenade – ah, here's one – and we're all set.

"I'll take point, then Steam, then Lightning, Rock in back. Go!"

We bolted through the shattered remains of the door (so much for property values), the smoke and dust covering our escape as we made a beeline for the glowing red EXIT sign. Gunshots and shouts echoed through the hall, mostly in languages I didn't understand. I switched on the light amp for my glasses, took aim, and wrecked one of those new Japanese plastic guns someone was pointing at me. That'll teach 'em to buy plastic guns.

I rushed the team up the stairwell ahead of me, noting that Rock had a full clip's worth of bullets stuck in his back. I decided not to mention it. He was definitely limping a little.

"Ha!" Lightning announced. "Those drek-heads need to upgrade their firewalls. That vatjob with the cyberarm is currently being forced to pick his nose, with gusto."

I smiled at the mental image until I heard Steam's voice: "Ice! The door to the roof is locked!"

Of course it was. It was an electric lock. And, as previously mentioned, the building's systems were down. I was wondering why we didn't seem to be in deep enough drek. Yaks coming up the staircase, Yaks on the ground. Our only chance was to get to the roof and jump to a different building – not as hard as it sounds, mind you.

"Give me a second," said Lightning, "I'll try to maybe – aack! Fragging stupid slotheads! Your mothers wear Lotus boots!"

"Boss, Lightning's got a bullet in his leg." With his troll thermo vision, Rock could see better than I could the blood oozing from out hacker's leg.

"Right. Steam, birdie time, now. Rock, give me a hand." I haphazardly set up some thermite near the door's lock, and trust me, you don't want to ask why I was carrying thermite with me, it's an even worse story than the one about how the crack team of shadowrunners was stopped by a simple lock. Meanwhile, Steam's friend – you remember, the giant electric bird of death? – screeched as it soared down to the Yakuza goons, covering our escape by slamming them into walls, off railings, into each other, that kind of fun stuff. With a bright flash, the thermite ignited, and as it burned, Rock roared (I didn't realize trolls could roar) and slammed full force into the door. With a loud groan, it gave way, revealing the sweet, night air, and two Yakuza enforcers with submachine guns. I shot one in the head immediately – hey, I am good at this stuff, you know – but the other fired rounds into me and Rock. By armor and my mad skills served me well enough, but Rock was caught completely off guard, two bullets to the chest.

Thank God for troll chests.

He recovered quickly and crushed that guy like a ripe tomato. It was brilliant. "Alright team, let's go, we're out of here! Rock, get Lightning. Steam, carry yourself."

Steam went first, floating casually across the rooftops. Mages. What're you gonna do, right?

I went after I was sure that Lightning was gonna be okay. The rooftops were close together – it was a piece of cake to get out of ground zero. We retreated into another building (thankfully, Lightning can still hack security systems with a bullet in his leg) to count our blessings, and our bulletholes. Battered, bruised, and drained halfway into delirium. But alive. That was good.

"You see?" Steam started accusingly. "This is why you don't date daughters of Yakuza bigwigs!"

I smiled, remembering fondly exactly why the Yakuza had it out for us. "Good times."
Security Drone
by FrankTrollman

"And look! It makes green flavor! That will be a delicious treat to go with our red-flavored soy product. Really a Christmas theme going here." The genius of Cooking With Kyon was that she could maintain her enthusiasm and pleasant demeanor even when she was just mixing primary colors out of a flavor faucet – or when someone had threatened to kill her. That was why my team had been called in, it simply wouldn't do to have a popular morning trid host assassinated. It would make the company look bad.

"What's that Mr. Toaster? Do you need to be cleaned?" And there it was. While the cheerful Korean woman rattled off the basics of home appliance maintenance there were viewers all over the world who saw exactly what I saw: someone reading the internal diagnostic logs through induction from half a meter away. That meant she was listening to something even I couldn't. There are names for that sort of ability. Most of them are not nice names.

While the recording continued I scanned the astral for potential threats while I listened and watched various frequencies for intruders of a more mundane variety. Most of those like me avoid the implants that give me the sensory range I was employing, but I can't even imagine doing my job with the simplistic magical perceptions that my brethren use. Kyon managed to get all the way through heating some pull-tab burritos and arranging a colorfully flavored plate of some proprietary food substitute without interruption. I'm supposed to care about branding in these matters but I just can't – none of it tastes any better than wood to me.

Her emotional state, unlike her abilities, was an open book to me as a dual observer. However I judged her a good enough actress to hide her concern from the viewers at home. Only when she had squealed and waved goodbye to her loyal fanbase and broadcasting had concluded, was her worry finally allowed to crest through to the surface. As she left the studio kitchen I matched my pace with her to keep a constant 90 centimeters between my body and hers. If necessary I could take a bullet much better than she could.

My thoughts were not alone for long. My mother and my sisters all chimed in with queries in rapid succession. Anynews… …Statusreport… …HowisKyon… …Where are you…This was a family channel and I doubted even someone like Kyon could hope to listen in on it. I hear that the buzz can drive some awakened people crazy, but I don't even remember life without the comforting voices. I focused my mind to give the relevant replies and sent a pulse of radar out to check the densities behind the door. Just as the colored specks took shape in my vision to demonstrate the locations of local density and magnetic disruption, my charge turned to me and asked "What?" as if I had just asked her a question. That was disconcerting. She did that every time I let out a radar pulse.

By the time we got to her dressing room, the fan mail was waiting for her. Most of it was in the matrix and she had begun reading it before we even reached the door. I know this because she started telling me about it. At length. She seemed to genuinely love getting positive responses from fans who were no longer afraid to mix the contents of blue and red flavor packets. I wondered how her fans had survived to adulthood, and I genuinely loved my ear modifications. The ability to completely tune someone out and subsequently backup the conversation to respond to questions appropriately really puts people at ease when you're protecting them. "Mycoprotein." I said it as authoritatively as if it were true. She wasn't the only good actress around here.

Of more interest to me was the bomb in her room. I didn't know how or if this got through the mail room to sit on her desk next to pictures sent in by children of happy toasters and self-heating krill product, but the radar pulse illuminated the moving parts quite clearly. "What?" Kyon asked. I carefully closed the door.

This time I had an answer "There's a bomb in your room. Wait here, I'll pull in the rest of the team." The rest of my work team weren't family, but they were good at their jobs. A lot of people think that we get high profile jobs because my mother is on an upper management team, but really it's because our team produces results. I updated the family. I radiopathically summoned my compatriots. Kyon sank to the floor and cried into her knees.

My team didn't have to travel far. While they didn't stick body-close to our charge like I did because of the whole male/female thing, it would be just irresponsible to keep them more than a room away. Both Wenyan and Papan went directly to me for face to face update. While Wenyan is perfectly capable of communicating through the astral and Papan spends most of his time in the Matrix, they still prefer physical speech. I find that weird. Tytus, our sniper, went directly to Kyon's side and industriously attempted to console her. I'm not sure if it was because he didn't have a specific task at this point in the mission or because it was some sort of male instinct taking over; like all technomancers Kyon saw herself in cameras all the time and really paid attention to her personal appearance. Either was fine.

While Tytus was making time with Kyon, the rest of us were making time with the bomb. It was a simple one. No electronic parts, just springs and contact explosives. Nothing I couldn't disassemble with my eyes turned off, but just the thing to detonate a technomancer you didn't like. With no data chips to read Kyon wouldn't be able to tell it from a box of cookies until it exploded. But we weren't after cooking samples from newly empowered middle schoolers, we were after genetic evidence. It doesn't take a big sample to make a positive ID or to track someone with ritual magic. We were going to do both if we found so much as a dust mote.

Gloves in place I began disassembling the device like an explosive jenga puzzle while Papan began combing the cleared device for usable samples. Bingo. Eyelash. Hardly looks like anything, but it was enough for our purposes. Now some teams will go right off and send a lethal sting through that eyelash and call it a day. We don't operate like that, any eyelash could be a trap as easily as it could be a clue. So Papan busted out a knife and a few mini bags. Each segment of the lash carefully labeled and stored, we adjourned to Wenyan's place.

Time was of the evidence and we clearly couldn't abandon Kyon at this stage. When I'm not around, Wenyan will call upon his own spirits to get the car through traffic in a hurry. But right now that was my job. Time dilation on our side, we hit Wenyan's pad in less than five minutes. Despite the salary I know he pulls, Wenyan lives in the back of a warehouse in the no-light district. He says it has something to do with Feng Shui, but mostly I think it's because magicians are weird. The mana here tasted bad, made me feel weak and slow. Wenyan took one of the samples into his magical lodge. At my urging, the rest of us kept to the front of the building. Kyon found herself fascinated by the old trid set in the corner. Tytus found himself fascinated with Kyon. I didn't know how to tell him that she could probably read all the porn he stored in his eye memory.

A few hours later, Wenyan's Wood Spirit came back with a rambling tirade about productive chi flows and also directions to the donor of the eyelash. That was great news. We left the spirit and Kyon in the lodge where I hoped nothing would want to find her. Concentrating on speed got us across town in less than 10 minutes, and I transferred the movement benefit to my team members individually. I also cloaked them in mana, rendering them virtually invisible. I can't do those ritual sendings like Wenyan, but my magic certainly has its uses.

The target was in an unregistered tract house. Those suburban homes thrown up so hopefully in the 2030s are worth less than nothing today. The costs in fuel and time of commuting from the mountains down to the arcologies to work are higher than the total rent to just live in the arcologies – and the response has been to simply cut water and power to these now useless properties. We dropped Tytus off down the block and he purposefully climbed onto the roof of another decaying building.

The rest of us walked right up to the front door and knocked. Wenyan and Papan stood behind me. Not because I wanted to hog the overhang, it provided little shelter from he rain anyway, but because I could take a bullet better than either and there was no telling how cooperative our mad bomber was going to be. As it so happened, our mistrust was warranted, as the eventual response was a shotgun blast through the door. Clever, but not clever enough, the door slowed the projectile down enough that the slug bounced harmlessly off my chest.

Wenyan and Papan hit the floor. I doubted that anyone could see them, but spare bullets spare no one. I reached through the hole and grabbed the offender. Clearly surprised, the gunner was able neither to bring his bulky weapon to bear nor to escape my grip as I repeatedly pulled him violently against the remainders of the door. His exclamations began profane, became incomprehensible, and after a few more wet thumps ceased altogether. After perhaps more bashing than was strictly necessary, I dropped the inert man to the floor and reached around to unlock the door.

It was about this time that the soft pops from down the street told me that someone had attempted to escape out the back. Tytus sent me an electronic message confirming that it had been two someones. It was noon now. Upon entering the building I began concentrating upon finding hidden bomb making supplies. Papan was way ahead of me as far as that went – nitric acid and glycerol in the kitchen: truly old school terror weapons. I had expected some sort of luddite commune or anarchist base. But it turned out to be just a bunch of kooky software pirates. Had I known how many bootleg copies of Karl Combatmage these guys had I would have saved ourselves the trip by calling the World Recording Industry Army.

Just as well I hadn't though, Papan's sifting through their files turned up not only the now-unnecessary incriminating evidence linking these guys to the bomb threat, but also links to matrix sites where their mad accusations had been left to inspire other groups to try their hand at assassinating beloved cooking show hostesses. A lesser security team might have simply crashed those message boards and moved on. That might have solved the problem, but it might have fanned the flames even higher: people don't trust a crashed server when technomancers are involved. People have automatic archives and they'll bounce those sites up faster than you can blink if they think there's been foul play. Heck, even mother wanted me to do just that.

But we aren't a lesser security team. Papan dropped some child pornography on the threads and had some fake log ins start a big argument all over the message boards in question. Auto-moderators quickly came in and warned everyone and took the whole thread down. He invited the original posters to come in and share their thoughts again in a few days after tempers had calmed down.

Of course, the original posters were bleeding in the mud out back and that information was lost forever. People think our team gets the high profile jobs because my mother is in a management team. But really, it's because of our results.
Sorry Lieutenant
by warrior_allanon

Seattle, UCAS

The room was a smoke filled haze resounding with the sounds of glasses clinking, music blaring from an old jukebox in the corner and the laughter of people with little or nothing to lose, having survived another day in their personal trenches. In one corner a small group of revelers were laughing over their last escapade. “So he say’s to the Lieutenant. Sir, I don’t know what you’ve been teaching your troops, but it sure as Hades hasn’t been tactics.? With that exclamation the entire group burst into laughter even as a fresh figure stepped up to them.

“Excuse me ladies and gentlemen,? the newcomer said addressing the group. “Am I correct in the knowledge that this is the group that was recently hired to test the capabilities of the local UCAS reserve group on convoy duty??

“You would be.? A burly elf in the center of the group replied, “Ladies, I think there is business to be discussed here, so if you would excuse us for a minute, we’ll return to the party shortly.?

“Oh alright Wolfgar, we’ll be over at the bar,? one of the women responded. “Come on Giselle; let’s go get something different to drink.? With that, two of the women at the table got up and left, leaving the three men and one woman to pay rapt attention to the newcomer.

“Miss, Gentlemen, I represent a group similar to the one you just worked for and have a similar job for you.? The newcomer stated bluntly. “We think one of our garrison commanders just this side of the Atzlan border in Texas has gotten a bit complacent with his training levels and need to test him. Now normally this would be done through regular channels and subcontracted out to the lowest bidder. Unfortunately this base isn’t due to be tested again for another three to four years and we are currently expecting various levels of either terrorist or open incursion in his area of operations. Because of this we have been authorized to test him using methods outside of normal channels. Your mission objective is to enter the base through whatever means you deem necessary and proceed to cause as much simulated havoc as possible without killing anyone. Afterwards you will create a hostage situation and simulate kills on as many of the base security personnel as possible.?

“And how are we supposed to simulate the kills without actually harming the base personnel?? The one woman at the table, an athletic but buxom redhead asked. “When we went against the reserve personnel it was with sim-munitions and smoke grenades, what you’re talking about, were we to do it for real, we would be using explosive ammunition and high explosive grenades.?

“Miss, we are prepared to cover any reasonable ammunition expense,? the man replied smoothly. “And were you to provide me with a list of the weapons you intend to use, we would be happy to supply you with the same type of ammunition the base security has been using for the last month. Its a capsule round with enough DMSO and Narcojet that a single hit to an unprotected area would render the victim unconscious for at least six hours.?

“Excuse us for a moment.? the man in the center said before joining the other three figures in whispering amongst themselves. Finally they broke apart and the apparent leader spoke again. “How much are you willing to pay for this, and be advised, we will be bringing in two other personnel for this particular mission if we accept it??

“That’s amenable sir,? their new Johnson replied. “The pay is 50 thousand each, half up front as I’m informed is usual, the other half upon completion of the mission.?

“Three hundred thousand to test a single base’s security is agreeable.? The team leader replied, “Sir, you just hired yourself a runner team.?

“Good, our intelligence told my command that there would probably be a couple of other participants and in anticipation of their inclusion I had six cred-sticks with twenty five thousand each put into this briefcase along with a basic intelligence brief on the target, including the locations of important personnel and a list of potential targets.? With that the Johnson sat a simple attaché case on the table and opened it spinning it to show a row of cred-sticks and a pair of paper dossier folders, supposedly with the aforementioned intelligence.

The four team members each reached in and pulled a single stick out and pocketed it, leaving the other two for the other team members not present at the time along with the briefing in the case. “Alright Mister Johnson, is a contact number in with the briefing so that we can inform you exactly when we are going to move?? The team leader asked closing the case and sliding it below the table to rest between him and the redhead.

“Yes it is,? the Johnson replied. “And you can call me lieutenant Johansen.?

“Alright then Lieutenant, we’ll call you when we have our dates settled and an ammo list worked up for you.? The leader replied and nodded. After the Lieutenant left Wolfgar turned to the rest of the team and waved them toward the bar. “Guys, go see to your ladies, Jo and I will get the others on the horn and arrange for us all to get together at noon day after tomorrow.? Nodding the other two team members got up and left the two alone at the table.

Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex

One week later six figures sat at a table in a dingy little bar just outside the back gate of the base they were supposed to test. Looking over the time frames and diagrams of the base on their pocket secretaries a troll and one of the humans were conversing quietly as the burly elf was drawing even more plans and diagrams on his pocket secretary and bouncing them between him and the rest of the team. “Alright people, everything seems to be in order.? He finally said shutting his pocket secretary down. “The equipment has been delivered and we are a go to perform the mission tomorrow.?

The next day a ratty little sports utility vehicle pulled up to the front gate of the base. On the gate, the Specialist in charge started to walk up to the driver’s door, whose window was already coming down when he received a radio call. “All personnel except for the ASF report to the marina now, this is not a drill, repeat this is not a drill.? Turning around he waved to the two base MPs and then watched as they climbed into their cruiser and rode off toward the marina. Turning back to the vehicle at the gate he stepped up to the driver’s side and noticing it lacked a base sticker and the driver was male, started a rote recital. “Sir, you have to have a base sticker or pass to drive a vehicle on base.? Or at least that was what he had started to say, instead, even as he opened his mouth to speak, he felt a painful punch to his chest. Looking down he could see a red splotch even as his sight faded from him and sleep over took him. His partner, a private first class, spun in place even as the sound of the shot started to dissipate, his hand automatically going to his side arm. Unfortunately for him he wasn’t as fast as the magically enhanced shooter in the backseat of the open topped vehicle. Just as the PFC’s hand landed on the butt of the pistol, the assault rifle cracked over the top bar of the SUV and the PFC dropped in his tracks. Smoothly the vehicle pulled through the gateway, never disturbing a thing and turned to head up a hill toward the flight line.

“Lock and load your grenade launchers ladies and gentlemen, remember splash and smoke only, nothing that burns or blows up.? That was Wolfgar's orders as far as raising havoc amongst the squadrons on the tarmac. Drive an unauthorized vehicle down the flight line and through the hangar area, laying down suppressive fire and dropping grenades at random until the mortars stopped and the MPs started to react to them, or until they ran out of squadrons to destroy. In each of the hangers workers stopped to point at the small truck headed toward them until the occupants opened fire, then as the saying goes, all hell broke loose. Personnel ducked and dove for cover, being knocked out by the splash of the grenades liquid contents and then the smoke followed making each of the hangar bays billow with black smoke before the group drove on to the next. Four squadrons fell this way, the base security heard over the radio not knowing what was going on. Finally the occupants of the vehicle pulled up in front of a particular house in the base housing sector reserved for the upper officers. “Alright gentlemen, and lady, go collect your objectives and meet back at this house, here’s where we will hold them.? With that the elf stepped up to the front door of the home and knocked.

“Yes may I help you?? The woman, while not exactly elderly was definitely older than Wolfgar and he reconsidered for a heartbeat before going on with the mission.

“Madame,? He started addressing her. “My compatriots and I are here at the behest of the CAS department of defense to test the reactions of the security on this base. As soon as the other wives are here could you please call your husband and inform him that you are all hostages in a terrorism readiness exercise, and that he has one hour to evacuate the base or else we will execute you, as well as the wives of the squadron commanders, one of you will die each hour until we either run out of hostages or until he complies with our demands. Also inform him that if he attempts to take you back by force we will be compelled to execute one hostage for each attempt, and if that’s the case, you madam, will be last.?

“My, such a serious young man,? The woman responded ushering him inside the house, “and what pray tell, would you be using to execute us?? she asked in a simple, matter of fact tone.

Grinning Wolfgar responded as Joanna ushered the first of five other women into the house, “Not much ma'am, capsule round loaded with a strong knockout drug, it’s a contact vector, the same thing we used to shoot up the squadrons around the base along with the emergency services hangar and the ordinance disposal building. Effectively right now there are no personnel awake that were not in an office or at the marina due to our distraction.?

“Oh that’s very good tactics young man,? the older woman asked. “Did you happen to serve in the military at some point in time??

“Yes ma'am,? Wolfgar replied, “CAS Marines Forty-two to Forty-eight, I have a feeling though that you also spent your time behind a rifle.?

“Yes I did,? She replied sitting down with the woman Joanna had brought in and then beckoning another that Clank had brought in over. “In fact all the commanding officer’s wives did there time at one time or another even if it was as a fly-baby intel weenie.? At this the woman walking over shot the head of the base wives club a dirty look but still sat down quietly next to her.

Nodding Wolfgar watched as the rest of the team walked the other two women over, “Well ladies, this hopefully will be over and done with shortly. If what we’re checking on has been done, your security personnel will walk over us like we are not eve here. But if they don’t, then things are going to get interesting.? Looking things over one more time, Wolfgar handed his phone to the base commander’s wife and then watched as she called her husband and gave him the correct instructions.

“He wishes to speak with you sir,? She said handing the phone back to Wolfgar.

Taking the phone Wolfgar put it up to his ear and spoke, “Yes??

“So you’re the people testing us huh?? the base commander asked roughly. “Well the SWAT platoon is on its way to you and will deal with you accordingly. There will be no negotiation.?

“We wait with baited breathe sir, though be advised, if any of us do survive, and we drive off your platoon, you will loose a hostage.? Wolfgar replied, “Are you prepared for that??

“That wont be an issue,? the man retorted, “these guys will clean your clock. Just you wait.?

“Good luck sir,? Wolfgar replied calmly, “you’re going to need it.? Closing the phone Wolfgar shook his head before turning to the rest of the team. “Ok folks the old man has decided to do things the hard way. Clank, you have the front door, Jo, you take the cellar, Sebastian, you have magical over watch, I‘ll take the back door after I situate the ladies in the back bedroom.? Nodding the others went off to their assigned spots while Wolfgar chivvied the ladies into the back bedroom. “Ladies, what I am putting down is a simulated claymore mine, if it goes off it will hit you all with paintballs and knockout juice so that you’ll be unconscious and covered in little red splotches. You ladies will be sitting on a pressure plate until either the base MP’s disarm it or else someone gets stupid and just tries to run, at which time the mine will go off knocking out everyone at ground level in this room. You will be bound and gagged and unable to warn your rescuers, and if by chance they happen to get you out, then bully for them. I unfortunately don’t see it happening.?

After this and with the wives bound, gagged and covered, Wolfgar finally made his way to the back door and looked out. Around the house, a perimeter was forming, the base Marine detachment deploying to ensure that the “terrorists? didn’t escape. Finally the base police made their move, this was known throughout the house by the machine gun behind the front door opening fire and the screams of the police officers as their friends and team mates were hit. “First wave cleared,? Clank called from the front. “But the second wave is bringing up a breaching vehicle, their gonna hit the front wall to come through.?

Wolfgar thought about this before making a decision, “Clank, fall back to the door to the main bedroom, Sebastian, get in the cellar with Jo and wait for me to open fire before you come out.? With that Wolfgar took his own suggestion and fell back to the bedroom, feeling the house shake as the truck hit the clap board wall and punched through. As the crunching continued from the truck pulling out, Wolfgar could hear the shouts and screams of the troops pushing through the opening and sweeping through. Looking around for a good spot to ambush from Wolfgar looked up to see that the drop ceiling in the house had been removed and open rafters were showing, unfortunately for the SWAT team coming through, this gave Wolfgar an idea. So slinging his shotgun once more he crawled into the rafters and waited, his gun trained on the door where Clank was, covering him.

Finally the teams point stuck their head around the corner and then promptly fell back shot in the head. Bullets flew both directions until finally, the machine gun needed its barrel changed to keep it from over heating, and as Clank reached over the weapon to unlock the barrel, rounds hit him knocking him back into the room, triggering a crushing thump of footfalls in the hallway. Bursting into the room the first two of the team fell off to the sides just as they were supposed to. Unfortunately for the team the third man didn’t look up and went straight for the hostages. This cost him as Wolfgar opened fire shooting first one and then another in the back before Sebastian and Joanna came out of the cellar and engaged them from behind.

Sitting in the rafters of the bedroom, Wolfgar flipped open his wrist-phone and dialed the base commander. “Sir,? He said as the commanders face appeared in his viewer. “You have sent in two teams against my personnel and they have failed. You will now loose two hostages.? With that Wolfgar pulled his pistol and shot two of the women with the knockout drugs. Turning his attention back to the phone, he started to ask if his demands would be met, only to find that the call had disconnected and a bunch of yelling had started outside. “Sebastian, basement, same plan as just now, Jo, get the machine gun and get it ready, I think they are going to send the rest of the platoon in now.?

“Gotcha boss.? The mage replied as Joanna just nodded and started dragging the unconscious bodies out of the doorway.

Finally the barrel was replaced just in time to meet the rush of one team from the front and one from the cellar. Both Wolfgar and Joanna felt it as the mage set off his biggest spell, a stun ball that should have taken out anyone down in the cellar including him. Equally Joanna was engaged from the hallway until the belt ran out on the machine gun and she had to change magazines in her assault rifle. Again the feet thundered down the hall, even as Joanna fell to the floor unconscious behind the barricade of bodies. This time the third man had learned from his predecessors mistake, spinning and nailing Wolfgar even before Wolfgar could get a shot off on either of the two leaders.

The camera’s caught the rest of it though as Wolfgar sat in the debriefing of the mission for the troops and listened as the grader who had been with the base commander on the lawn narrated the mistakes. “Here you have managed to take out all of the hostage takers. What happened at this point Lieutenant??

“Well sir,? the Lieutenant replied. “At this point the remaining troops went over to the hostages and started to remove them from the scene, fearing that one or more of the terrorists might still be in the area, or that the mortar that had been painting the marina and that end of the airfield might return and hit the house with everyone in it.?

“And what did they forget to do Lieutenant?? The grader asked.

“They forgot to check the hostages for explosives and traps sir.? The Lieutenant replied with a slight hang to his head.

“And as a result this is what happened.? The grader replied in turn, hitting the remote to continue playing the footage. What the film showed was the remains of the team entering the room and as the first hostage was pulled from their seat a flash. As the smoke cleared from the cameras view, the entire remains of the team as well as the hostages lay unconscious as well beside the rest of their platoon and their targets. “Lieutenant, you realize that if this had been an actual situation your entire platoon, and the hostages you were supposed to rescue would now be dead correct??

“Yes sir.? The Lieutenant replied dejectedly. “I guess we need to train better sir.?

“No drek Lieutenant,? the grader replied. “No drek.?
by hyzmarca

The bedsprings creaked as I rolled over. The old pain in my ear was back, and the deafness. It happens every time I sleep on my side. I lose a bit of low-frequency hearing in the side I sleep on. I try to keep things even, sleep half the night on one side, half the night on the other. It isn't working anymore. The loss is becoming too great. I can't sleep, I'm barely aware of the things going on around me. I'll need new ears soon. I'll need to get them from the same crappy streetdoc, the only guy that I can afford, and they'll probably go out within six months just like these.
Such is life.

I need to sleep. After what happened in the Haunted House of Doom, I need to sleep for a year. I can't. I can't because of my damned crappy ears. I wish I could just cut them out right now and hear like I could when I had my real ears, before I was stupid enough to trade away pieces of myself for nothing but complacency. But I'll never get that back. I'll just rot and die like this.
I know that I'll rot and die without ever touching any of my old dreams because the thing in the Haunted House told me so. It was evil, but it couldn't lie. Lying was against its nature and it couldn't go against its nature, or so Shizzie told me.

Its morning. I want to sleep to noon. If I could without going completely deaf then I would try even though Amy would have my ass for it. Instead, I get up and go downstairs. I don't bother putting on any clothes because I know it pisses the other guys off.

Shizzie isn't here. Neither is Zebo. That's strange. They're usually here. It doesn't matter, though. I grab a power-brownie from the fridge. It contains neither real power nor real brownie, but the taste isn't vomit-inducing and it has enough sugar to give a racehorse diabetes and that is exactly what I need on a morning like this.

We live in a house together; Amy, Shizzy, Zebo, and meself; in a suburban planned community. Amy bought the house for nearly nothing and there are no neighbors for miles. Demand for homes here went down after the accident eight months ago. Its because all of those rich pansies are hypochondriac idiots, really, the radiation is within safe levels for human habitation. The house also serves as our office and the uninhabited community as a training grounds of sorts.

As I go open the door to Amy's office with the half-eaten artificial brownie in artificial hand I instinctively turn off the feeling in my testicles. I'm genuinely surprised when the baseball that Amy keeps on her desk doesn't strike its target as it has very other morning since I moved into this suburban hell-hole.

The important thing to know about Amy is that she is an amoral sadistic cheapskate bitch genius bitch. And we all love her for it. When I met her, she was handing out flyers in the slum where I was squatting, advertising free room and board for "freelance extralegal troubleshooters" who wanted to work for her agency. The first job she had for me was disbursing radioactive materials throughout a planned community, which is why she gave me the second best room in this mildly radioactive house. So when the bitch didn't smash my testicles with her favorite baseball, as is her morning routine, I was surprised.

The cute brown-haired girl of indeterminate age, indeterminate metatype, and extraordinary skill simply looks at me from across her antique mahogany desk, holding a plain black file-folder close to her unimpressive pink-t-shirted-bosom. The smile that plays across her face was freighting, not because it divulges an evil intent but because it seems to show genuine affection. This unrepentant sadist is actually being nice for a change.

Perhaps she is feeling some sort of sympathy or guilt over what happened in the Haunted House of Doom. She sent us into a situation that was way out of our league because she didn't try to get the right information and she knows it. Weeks later, and we're still feeling what happened in there, all of us except her. She wasn't even there for the bad parts.

Her smile breaks and her deceptively girlish voice rings out, " I have a present for you." My eyebrow raises. "It's the sort of job you love, Mahan. You get to shoot some unarmed punks." She hands the file to me and I suddenly have a feeling of deja vu. "The manager of the Super Wal-Mart nearby is having trouble with some thugs. They're harassing customers but they seem to be harmless, otherwise. His security contingent isn't equipped to handle them. He can kick them out but they just sneak back in. Any more would require getting the home office involved." "He doesn't want that", I interject. "No, he doesn't want that".

The file is all in order, what little of it there is. The transaction was conducted solely over voice telephone. Amy hates the the matrix and computers in general so she always conducts business over voice telephone. There are names, codewords, and instructions scribbled onto notebook wild-rule paper in red crayon. One phrase stands out to my eyes "nothing is too messy". I love mess. Making messes is a great way to relieve stress.

"Thanks", I don't know why. I never thank her. She smiles. I smile. There is a horrible crushing pain in my testicles. "It's no fun if you can't feel it", she explains matter-of-factly. I crawl up the stairs and into my room.

My beat-up old blue police-surplus van with with a lockable steel partition and no rear seats takes me to the Wal-Mart in more than ten minutes and less than 20 minutes. I can't be more sure than that because I have no clock. The van is the only thing that I really own. I don't even own my crappy half-deaf ears. I'm still making payment on them. Other than Amy's testicle crushing, this van is the single most reliable thing in my life. It runs on gasoline and has an exhaust leak that would have kill me in twelve minutes if I still had my original lungs, but it is reliable.

The parking lot was nearly empty, which is rare for a Wal-Mart, even one near a radioactive hazard zone. The Wal-Mart's exterior doors open as I approach, beckoning me into the tiny foyer that all such extraterritorial shopping palaces have. The video game and gumball machine equipped foyer lets me know that I am exiting the real world and entering a spectacular fantasy land of low-low prices. Standing by the inner door is a human man of African American descent with a large bushy black mustache in a blue security uniform, complete with a goofy police cap. "I'm the guy from the Agency", I tell him matter-of-factly because I forgot the code-phrases. He just nods and replies "They're in aisle nine".

At this point I reach back into the rear of my pants just over my right butt-cheek, when I normally keel my concealable holster and my fingers wrap themselves around air. My holster is in position, my gun isn't. I left it at home in my room. I can't shoot punks if I don't have a gun. I can't ask the security guard for his gun, that's just fucking embarrassing. I could go back, but it'll e another forty minutes and I don't want to spend that long on this job. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

Well, if you break some eggs you might as well make an omelette. Break some eggs, make an omelette. Break some fucking eggs and make a motherfucking omelette make a fucking omelette I've got to make a fucking omelette a fucking omelette a fucking omelette and fuckfuckingfuckingfickingfuckingfuckingfuckingfuckingfuckingfuckingfuckingomlett
e an omelette an omelette an omelette.

All I can hear is my crappy cheap shoes squeaking on the crappy tile floor. I know there is more to hear but my crappy cheap ears just can't make anything else out over the damned squeaking of these fucking cheap rubber shoes.

And there it is. Karaoke. The sport of champions. Sitting there on a display shelf is the most beautiful karaoke machine that I have ever seen, with a long-corded hand-held microphone plugged into the microphone input jack. The shelf is dull while steel with a green mat on it and many tiny holes punched in it for the fitting of other modular shelf components. The karaoke machine is sleek and silver. It is beautiful with two tape decks and two CD slots on the front and a dozen optical chip on top. There are controls upon controls. It has no video screen but it did have ports for connecting it to any of a dozen different types of screen. The microphone is a brilliant pearl white with a pearl white cord and a silvery steel mesh bulb. It is my salvation.

I yank the microphone out of its jack quickly and forcefully. A man in a Wal-Mart employee uniform grabs my shoulder. My might have said something about a display model. My metal left hand meets his flesh testicles and he crumples. He might be screaming.

Aisle nine is next and it is beautiful. In the middle is that ugly sea of white-shelved off-white-tiled Wal-Mart-iscity are people whom I can make messes of. The first of them, the best of them, the leader of them, is Henry Winkler. At first I think that it is just some punk who looks like Henry Winkler; but as I look harder and harder I come to understand that this is no punk, that this is no coincidence, that there is no cosmetic surgery or facial alteration or magic. This is Henry Winkler. The Henry Winkler. My hero. I don't know how he's still alive after all of these years or why he's leading a gang of street-punks in a Super Wal-Mart, but it is him without a doubt. It isn't the young Fonzie Henry Winkler, either. It is the older, wiser Henry Winkler that we know from shows such as Arrested Development and guest appearances on the Whoopie Goldberg version of Hollywood Squares. It's really him. And he pulls a dagger.

The ornate black-handled weapon is almost pitiful in its apparent inadequacy. The double-edged blade is barely an inch long. If it were in the hands of any other man I would assume that he were eating cocktail franks. But Henry Winkler intends to kill me, I know, his eyes burn with the same lust for battle and blood that I see reflected in the mirror when I am forced to look at one. The blade, as tiny as it is, is also sharper than any razor. If Henry Winkler hits me with it he can easily slice through my tendons tendons and my arteries. A poorly placed strike could render entire muscle groups useless. A well-placed attack would leave me with only seconds of life before blood loss overtook me. I can't let him hit me. And I won't.

The microphone's long cord makes it the perfect weapon in this this fight. I spin it in front of me, turning it into a sort of flail-shield. Henry Winkler steps forward, dagger held low and close, as an expert killer would hold it. His two cronies, a bald man plain in a white t-shirt and a blond woman whose shirt features some inane trideo character saying a stupid catchphrase stay back, allowing their alpha-male his due glory.

Spinning the microphone in front of me like a shield is a really stupid idea. I can't possible redirect its trajectory quickly enough to deflect anything but the most blatantly telegraphed attack. Winkler knows this, too, he knew it before I did, and he is maneuvering himself into a position where he can strike a killing blow swiftly and without warning. He's so concerned about beating my petty defense and killing me that he doesn't bother with his own. He doesn't know me. He doesn't believe that I have the intelligence or the guts to strike out first.

He is wrong. I do strike, hitting him in the face with the microphone and knocking him off balance. One of his teeth flies out from the force of the blow strikes an oatmeal box. I advance and me metal hand closes over his knife-wielding hand. The crunching of his bones is loud enough for me to hear. Again and again I strike his face with the microphone while holding tightly onto the remains of his destroyed right hand. When he can no longer stand on his own, I throw him onto his face. The slap of bone against tile is audible. His two minions run. They won't even be back. But I'm not done yet.

I kneel on Henry Winkler's back, holding him down with my weight, and I wrap the microphone cord around his neck once, then once more. I pull it tight and he begins to struggle futilely. His body thrashes, trying to buck me off, and his hands claw at my own. His fingernails gouge deep trenches into the flesh on my real hand and tear themselves from their beds attacking my metal hand. My perception of time changes. The bucking speeds up beyond what is possible and the clawing slows to the point where each struggling gouge last hours. As Henry Winkler spends what seems like years carving rivers of blood into my flesh hand, I am struck not by the violence of this act, but by the tranquility of it. The prolonged death-throws below me, for a moment isolated from all other space and time, carry me to a place of peace. For a moment that would be too short if it lasted forever, I touch the outer edge of what Buddhists call Nirvana.

And then it is gone. I'm kneeling on a lifeless corpse surrounded by gawkers. There is nothing left for me here, now.

I collect my money, go home, and get hit in the testicles by a baseball.
Some awesome entries this time. Random thoughts:

Andrew could really stand some proofreading and editing. The story is there, but there are quite a few typographical and continuity issues going against its readability, which hurts clarity overall. I don't mean this as a dig on the author or anything. There's a reason publishers use editors, after all. wink.gif

It also struck me as being "short", if not by word count, by content. I think that in this case we might be missing just a bit more characterization, or maybe some more explanation of who these two are and why they're doing what they're doing.

And although it's a technical nitpick, the mic being described as a laser mic hurt the story for me. A laser mic is for picking up sound off of a vibrating surface, such as the window of a room where people are talking. Just calling it a "long range mic" or if you wanted to get specific, "parabolic mic" would work better.

If You Meet the Buddha at the Anarchist Clinic has some phenomenal exposition on the way that Khan sees his own abilities. This is an awesome example of how to get a lot about a character into a few short sentences.

The description really shines in this story, too. Never are we left wondering where the characters are, or what they're doing. With the amount of action crammed into the story, that is important, and it is done very well. Continuity is also good. Nothing seems to happen out of place or out of order.

Like a Hellhound on a Soysteak, I have to admit, took a couple of paragraphs to really draw me in. Dialog is one of the hardest things to write convincingly, and so seeing so much of it right off the bat threatened to color my initial judgement of the story. After reading a bit more, though, I was able to tell who was speaking, if not due to the words used, then by indicators given. Marks for that.

I really liked the defined roles, and loved that the author never felt the need to overtly tell us what they were (i.e. Bob, the mage, sat down). One thing that bothers me in fiction, especiallly RPG fiction, is when the author feels compelled to explain everything to the reader as though we were incapable of figuring out that the person hacking into a computer system is the hacker. Much better is the way that narrator meanders between telling us background details from which to make inferances, and describing actions that let us know what a character does.

Security Drone was a bit hard for me to follow. I'm not sure if it's because I'm still only passingly familiar with the abilities of Technomancers in the game and game world, or if I just wasn't picking up on things, but at times I was confused as to whether the main character was a mage, a technomancer, or both.

Outside of this, it was an enjoyable read. I particularly enjoyed the multiple references to them being "better than average" and to their "results". It really leaves me with a feel for how arrogant (or simply self-assured?) the main character is. Don't know if that was intended, but that's what I got from it.

Sorry Lieutenant was great. Partly, it was written well, with easy-to-follow action and a fairly well presented plot progression. Partly, I just love the "test their defenses" type scenarios, and so I enjoyed reading this one.

I have to say that because this is Shadowrun fiction, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. For the DMSO/Narcojet rounds to actually be a contact poison. For the inbound troops to not receive word that it was a drill and kill all of the exercise participants (was it an elaborate payback hit against Wolfgar and his team?). It was almost disorienting that nothing went "wrong", and I think that makes it even cooler.

I also liked the level of detail that went into describing the events. For the macro stuff, we got macro descriptions. For the lower level stuff that matters (the non-lethal boobytrap, for example) we got more detail. Cool.

And again, the repetition of the "core" line of the story was put to good use in this story.

Winkler, I have to admit, just didn't really grab me. It was written pretty well, but certain elements in it were off putting to me. The bat to the testicles, for example. It just struck me (no pun intended) as being superfluous. On the one hand, if he really is as crazy as he seems to be, then maybe he just takes this as normal. On the other hand, he's obviuosly quite adept at killing people, so why does he put up with it?

And on the note of him being crazy, it's done well. I especially liked the paragraph where he realizes that he has forgotten his gun, and the following one about making omelettes. Good stuff.

But overall, the characters seemed a bit over the top; a bit larger than life. Exaggerated. And really, I just prefer more down-to-the-street, less cartoonish seeming characters. *shrug*

Oh, and again in this one, some of the description of environment is great. The kareoke machine and the shelf it's on is a good example.

Vote: In the end, I have to go with If You Meet the Buddha. The main character really grabs me, and the way the author shows his mental process had me hooked. I'd like to see this guy in a novel. The elements of the Shadowrun world really fit well with the rest of the story without being invasive, the description is awesome, and I just liked the story.

My .02, fwiw. smile.gif

QUOTE (eidolon)
was a bit hard for me to follow. I'm not sure if it's because I'm still only passingly familiar with the abilities of Technomancers in the game and game world, or if I just wasn't picking up on things, but at times I was confused as to whether the main character was a mage, a technomancer, or both.

That story is definitely set in 4th edition mechanics land. I think the key statement is this one:

QUOTE (Security Drone)
He says it has something to do with Feng Shui, but mostly I think it's because magicians are weird.
We left the spirit and Kyon in the lodge where I hoped nothing would want to find her. Concentrating on speed got us across town in less than 10 minutes, and I transferred the movement benefit to my team members individually. I also cloaked them in mana, rendering them virtually invisible. I can't do those ritual sendings like Wenyan, but my magic certainly has its uses.

Technomancers by definition can't have Magic. And the protagonist comes right out and says that she isn't a magician.

However, Movement and Concealment are both Spirit Powers. That and her cyberware makes me think that she is an inhabitation spirit. So that would make her an Ally, an Insect, or a custom Inhabitation Tradition Spirit.

Ah, I hadn't even thought of a spirit. Very interesting, but yeah, still had me wondering.

edit: And since I'm an idiot and never voted, went ahead and ...voted. smile.gif

editedit: Also, I ran a scenario last night based on If You Meet the Buddha, and it rocked! I'm still stumbling drunkenly through the rules, but the run needed running. Ran it for two total newcomers to SR, and one guy that has read some of the fiction and played a little at some point (I'm thinking 2nd edition, maybe 1st, he couldn't remember).

So thanks for the inspiration. cyber.gif
Wounded Ronin
I feel that "If You Meet A Buddha" was the best story. To clarify, all of the stories were good. They all gave me lancing and sharp feelings of pleasure. But the Buddha story had HYPER ORIENTALISM POWERS and thus is my favorite.
QUOTE (Wounded Ronin)
I feel that "If You Meet A Buddha" was the best story. To clarify, all of the stories were good. They all gave me lancing and sharp feelings of pleasure. But the Buddha story had HYPER ORIENTALISM POWERS and thus is my favorite.

He indeed fought with much HONAH.
There is a secret to be told about a story in there, it just has to await the conclusion of the contest for it to be unearthed.
How's the deciding going, oh Decider? smile.gif

And man, there really aren't a lot of people voting and commenting on these.

Tisoz, if you want I'll move this to the SR4 forum. (I know you had a link over there, but it keeps getting buried.)
I personally am halfway through reading them.

If you think it will see more traffic, move it. Perhaps switch the link over here, or put in another link? Or do it the crude way and leave the moved to another forum trail.
People read oh so slowly! Now I am really thrilled to see who is the winner....

Good work everybody!


Had to go with "Hellhound". Both it and "If You Meet The Buddha" caught my attention the most, but it wasn't that tough of a choice. "Buddha" had good descriptions of Buddhist magic in action, but what turned me off was the fact that it was basically a dungeon crawl sans dungeon (in a sense). "Hellhound" seemed to give the character's a tad more personality somehow, and was definitely more high adrenaline (appealing to me since we often play the game that way). Everyone did a good job though, kudos all.
Let's everyone try to get these read, and their votes in/comments made in order to make an October 1 decision.
Crude way it is! smile.gif

If I can find it I'll move the link over to the other forum.
Well that didn't work out like I thought it would. frown.gif

tisoz, lemme know if you want this moved back. I guess these SR4 whippersnappers don't appreciate a good fiction contest like we did back in the day...or something. biggrin.gif
Hey, I voted! nyahnyah.gif
Joined: 29-March 02

Exactly! wink.gif
I voted too, I just didn't post up comments......

My vote went to "If You Met the Buddha at the Anarchist Clinic" BTW, because a) it was my favorite of them all, b) IMO it was the most well written, and c) because as a Buddhist it just calls to me in a way that the others don't.
I voted! Buddha at the anarchist clinc was my favourite by a mile and brilliantly done.
I voted for Hellhound.
I would have to say that it kinda depends on the rules of the contest. If you're looking for the most shadowy story out of the bunch, the one where everyone seems to have a dark secret and there's danger and betrayal around every corner, one would surely have to go with Buddha, hands down. The writing has the kinda dark vibe going on, it's got shadows like nobody's business.

Now, if the question is which one I enjoyed reading the most, that would go to Hellhound. It had a good mix of upbeatness/comedy with the Shadowrun setting and the kind of stuff that goes on within it. You can't really (well, I can't really) imagine playing the game described in Buddha. But in Hellhound, that's just a neat cast of characters, who I could easily envision appearing in the lighter moments of the SR fluff.

So in conclusion, Buddha wins the award shadow-wise, Hellhound wins fun-wise. The other stories had their moments, too, make no mistake. As I believe someone mentioned before me, I was definitely waiting for the other shoe to drop in Sorry Lieutenant. I was like, okay, so when does it reveal the group of assassins that came in during the tailchaser and killed everyone? But yeah, well done by all, people, kudos.
Pretty close draw between Buddha and Hellhound, in the end I voted for Hellhound because it made me laugh. Buddha was much more serious and honestly I can see it making a much better novel than short story. In the end, the laughter and the fact that I just understood the characters in Hellhound better made me vote for it.

Everyone did a very good job, and I was definitely waiting for the massive slaughter scene in Sorry Lt.

I voted for hellhound. However, Buddha at the anarchist clinic I loved too.

Actually I found the former to be clearer written and funnier. I really liked the way in-group dynamics are depicted. The story is told in a good humored way, characters are solid and it kind of reminded me of some teams I have Gmd. Good times.

Buddha at the anarchist clinic was pretty good too, I didn't like the action sequences so much, but it really got me thinking about playing a Vietnamese minicampaign. Really atmospheric and in character.

I liked the beginning of "Andrew", and some descriptions in Winkler and Security Drone. I also liked the sequencing in "Sorry lieutenant" story, even if that is no the kind of Shadowrun I like the most. I mostly agree with Eidolon's comments. However, I immediately had the idea that the POV in Security Drone is a spirit's

Kudos to everyone for the good work!


Green Eyed Monster
I voted for Hellhound. I liked all the stories, but I liked Hellhound's pacing and multiple fights a little bit better than the others.
...And the Winner is...
Like a Hellhound On a Soysteak.

First, I enjoyed all the stories.
[ Spoiler ]

I went a bit against the DS mob with my choice. My reason being I liked the little character descriptions in Hellhound and the writing made the story seem more alive and faster paced. Buddha, though another nice tale, seemed more passive, perhaps due to the past perfect tense in places. Or it could be that I titled Hellhound as the snippet that was initially submitted was untitled and quite short. By the time the author submitted the whole thing, I had posted the entries along with the poll and could not edit the title in the poll, hence the aka title. No, it wasn't because I titled the story. Actually, upon reading the finished submission, I would have stuck a different title on it. Luckily the author decided he liked the title I gave it and did not even ask for it to be editted.

Again, thanks to all the authors. I think this round was the strongest field of entries yet. Even the stories that received fewer votes were nice reads.
eh, never mind, good job
QUOTE (warrior_allanon)
There is a secret to be told about a story in there, it just has to await the conclusion of the contest for it to be unearthed.

Come out with it. It looks like you started to tell.
Zen Shooter01
I'm taken aback by the praise dumpshockers have heaped so lavishly on my story, If You Meet The Buddha At The Anarchist Clinic. I thank my audience.

The piece was originally written when was talking about publishing fiction regularly, but the editor there felt it was too literary for the market, and as far as I can tell, that fiction idea at the official website has died, or nearly died.

I'd write more if there was any kind of market or audience for it. Anyone interested in seeing more of my SR work can find five pieces at under the name of Brian Downes, although the email address for me on record there is obsolete. But updates at Shapcano's seem to be few and far between now...I was surprised to see a recent one when I checked a few minutes ago. Does anyone know what the story is over there?

By the way, if anyone's at Necronomicon this weekend, I'll be gamemastering SR4 there.
Awesome. Consider those on my "must read soon" list. smile.gif

And somebody tell that editor that if Shadowrun fiction was that "literary" all the time, I'd read a hell of a lot more of it.
yep, your story is good. I think the originality of it is its best asset, though.
How did you come up with the idea? "it's in Vietnam..."


Zen Shooter01
Vietnam is covered in Shadows of Asia.

I think it's too bad that a lot of Shadowrun gets overlooked. You're a group of mercenary operatives in Seattle, motivated by profit. How many times can you do that before you get bored? The Sixth World is a big, big place.

The lone wolf character concept is especially worn out. I think it's interesting to emphasize the PCs connections - to ideas, to philosophies, to organizations, to religions. I ran a campaign where the PCs were employees of Needles Search & Rescue in the Mojave desert. I ran one where the PCs were faithful Catholics and special troubleshooters for an influential Cardinal in Rome - mostly they fought for influence in Europe against Muslim operatives. I did one where the PCs were members or honorary members of a dwarf viking gang in the Scandinavian Union, to whom falls the care of a special child who's birth has rung every divination bell in Europe - a child who will be a hero for somebody's side, someday.

I'm a street samurai sitting at a bar in the Pacific Northwest is a long gone idea.
I very much agree.

I do not stray from the usual so much as you do because my players love the "classic" feel of Seattle and all. My game is full of them. I will tell another day because now I am too tired.

However I still want to convince a group of players to play a "concept" shadowrun. My last try at that -japanese shadowrunners- ended up with a player leaving for Sweden and the rest getting jobs that ate their gaming schedules...


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