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knasser
23/06/09 Enter Violin by knasser
23/06/09 Michelle (tentative title) by ravensmuse.
23/06/09 Liverpool (tentative title) by Wesley Street.
23/06/09 Raven (tentative title) by Mirilion
23/06/09 The Trap by paws2sky
24/06/09 King (tentative title) by Mirilion
24/06/09 Bongo Slade (tentative title) by pbangarth
24/06/09 Freedom of the Hunt by knasser
24/06/09 Daughter by Mirilion
25/06/09 Bar Fight by Kerenshara
25/06/09 First Kill by martindv
25/06/09 Union Blues by paws2sky
26/06/09 Wiggy by knasser
26/06/09 And they say killing is hard by Kerenshara
26/06/09 Tempo-tation by Prime Mover
26/06/09 Serve and Protect by Mirilion
26/06/09 The Case of the Missing Niece: Prologue by SincereAgape
27/06/09 Hell Money by Abschalten
28/06/09 Last Play by Critias
28/06/09 Chowder's Drone Shop by Shard
29/06/09 New Dog, Old Tricks by Crash2029
01/07/09 Dark Revival by 006
01/07/09 Never, Ever by knasser
02/07/09 Cool White by The Jake
02/07/09 Running (tentative title) by Chrysalis
02/07/09 Revenge Is Best Served by Prime Mover
03/07/09 Horror Story by kanislatrans
03/07/09 Treadmill by Naysayer
04/07/09 NSFW by knasser
14/07/09 Stormcrow by knasser
15/07/09 A Question Answered... by kanislatrans
16/07/09 Into the Shadows: Deep Twilight by TeknoDragon
17/07/09 Rockin' Runners by Crash2029
18/07/09 Interrogation by knasser
18/07/09 Food Fight by kerenshara
22/07/09 Street Cred by Prime Mover
28/07/09 Home Coming by Critias
28/07/09 Booming Business by AzureusJake
29/07/09 Wired by IceKatze
29/07/09 You wonder why I'm here? by DWC
30/07/09 Better running thru chemistry by Crash2029
30/07/09 Lesson Learned by Prime Mover
30/07/09 Episodes by Critias
31/07/09 When Angels Fall by The Dragon Girl
31/07/09 You lucked out by Kerenshara
31/07/09 Fallacious Romance by Prime Mover
03/08/09 Taken by TeknoDragon
03/08/09 Svartálfheimr by Kerenshara
05/08/09 Baptized In Fire by The Dragon Girl
06/08/09 Harvest Mood by Chrysalis
09/08/09 Sunday Shooters by tisoz
09/08/09 Food Fight by tisoz
09/08/09 Aftermath by tosoz
09/08/09 Vera (tentative title)
09/08/09 Payment by The Monk
09/08/09 A Rough Conversation by The Monk
10/08/09 My Summer by Chrysalis
11/08/09 Through the Looking Glass by Kerenshara
11/08/09 Idiot by Kerenshara
13/08/09 Who knew? by Warlordtheft
15/08/09 Nightmare by Kerenshara
15/08/09 Family by Tachi

Vignette Comments thread
knasser
Enter Violin


Stephen took off the little wire rim glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly. He'd got off the Berlin to Los Angeles flight just an hour ago and still felt creased and irritable. No rapid sub-orbital had been thought necessary for him. Evo only provided those for its executives, not for musicians.

He cleared his throat and looked out at the orchestra waiting expectantly. He had the urge to rehearse them again, but they were nearly all using skill wires - they'd never play better than they did today and they'd never play worse. At least half of them weren't even musicians - they just did work that took some manual dexterity and so had good quality wires and relatively agile fingers. A lot of them were drone mechanics and it was a great laugh for their manager to tell them they'd be spending an afternoon playing oboes and violas.

They'd cleaned up well though. Everyone was immaculate in their pastel coloured suits. Stephen took in the arrangement of colours and felt like he was conducting an orchestra of NERPS. He tugged self-conciously at his own white suit. Everything was chosen to impress. Everything was designed to look heavenly and grand and awe-inspiring.

He put his glasses back on and the green wires of an AR overlay swam back into vision. He tapped the comm icon of the studio manager and it connected with a soft ping. "Okay," said Stepehn, "send them in."

A handsome elven woman in a pale blue dress led in two dozen children of various ages from about eight to fifteen. Their clothes and faces were dirty, but that was the point. Some of them still clung to their beakers of hot chocolate and the elven woman gently but firmly removed these. A technician made minute, final adjustments to the simrigs the children were wearing as the elven lady instructed them to sit and listen.

Some marketing exec in the corp was going to get a bonus for this. Take a group of ghetto kids whose only musical experience was the Goblin Rock booming from some gangers car and - as one of Evo's public charity events - round off a day of healthcare and treats with a classical performance - and record their emotions to add as a emotive track to the recording. Certainly there were those who might feel the beauty of Beethoven's music, but how much better to feel the awe of street children hearing it for the first time while you listened yourself? And of course knowing that your purchase had been an act of charity too as each child would leave the day with various biometric coded vouchers for improving opportunities and goods.

Stephen turned to the children, mostly human with a some representatives of every metahuman species. This was his big moment in the day.

He tilted his head a little, looking down at them like a respected but affectionate patriarch and intoned "Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Magor, Third Movement." The children were silent and completely focused on him.

Stephen turned to the orchestra, tugged his black AR gloves up a little tighter and raised his hands. He tapped his finger against the air and it made a chopstick on a table teh-teh-teh sound, then raising one hand he began the count and pointing the other he brought in the lead violin. Quietly, softly and very precisely the violinist danced lightly over the music, the notes tripping up and down, calling to the children and to Stephen. On his signal, the rest of the violins entered swelling the noise majestically, but still lightly, and then the brass added their weight - a preview of the booming they would do a few minutes later. In a AR overlay, Stephen could see the children behind him, staring. He would review their emotive tracks individually later, advising on which ones to focus on and where. A stocky little ork boy of ten or less was staring at the performance with that incredible seriousness which only children could manage. That would be one to look at. At the side a human boy started to turn to his neighbour to make a joke. The elven woman moved within two beats and twisted the boys arm painfully. That would have to be edited out.

The whole orchestra erupted into booming sound as Stephen raised a glove high. They were too synchronised in their response. Stephen had meant to introduce some timing errors into the activesofts just to give the sound a more human quality, but there hadn't been time after the flight for fine adjustments. The music was still beautiful though. The instruments collapsed into silence leaving that lone, lead violin playing the same delicate melody to draw the music out, followed by one last resurgent exultation from the wind instruments together with all the string section.

There was silence. And Stephen looked out at the smiles and pleasure on the faces of the musicians and mechanics alike and didn't care for anything other than the pleasure of the music. Music which took a hundred listenings to really understand but which could be appreciated by anyone instantly. He turned to the children, whose first ever taste of classical music would be put on an album and sold, and bowed deeply and majestically and warmly toward them.

The elven lady began clapping and a moment later the children got the idea and began clapping - genuinely. Some of them whooped and two orks got up and started punching their beefy little fists in the air in appreciation. The elven lady would take them out and given them their final treats and vouchers. A year or two from now, some of them might re-appear on one of Evo's self-promoting follow up shows, detailing how that child's life had been changed by the opportunities given or recalling their glorious day that they they'll always remember. Most of them would probably just go back to the same old lives and forget this. Or just remember it privately, secretly sometimes. And those ones, for some reason, Stephen found he cared about those the most. Everyone, even if only for one day, should have violins.

Stephen pulled off his gloves and started shaking hands with the orchestra. It had been worth the trip.
ravensmuse
Michelle had a knack for getting into interesting situations. It was her thing. And tonight, her knack had brought her to a forgotten graveyard on a full moon night, clad only in a white nightie.

This would upset most people. Michelle just took it as the same old, same old.

The path was spongy underneath her bare feet; she could feel herself pushing in just a little with every step she took. Mist escaped from between her lips and met up with the mist floating in-between the headstones. She shivered; her kingdom for a coat.

Something she needed was buried in one of these graves, and she didn't have time to fool around. With a moment of concentration, a brimstone colored imp in a loincloth coalesced into her hand.

Michelle smiled. "Good evening Firebrand."

The imp bowed.

"Would you be so kind as to help me out?"

He nodded and flew up into the misty night.

Michelle ran to keep up with him - those little wings made him quick! - which took her off the path and into the wet grass between the headstones.

That was when the trouble began.

She heard something tear, like paper. Michelle turned her head. Hands were emerging from the ground, feeling for something to grab onto. Michelle swallowed. "Drek."

She ignored them and continued to follow Firebrand. They were there expressly to slow her down and she wasn't playing their game. More hands emerged as she ran past. One of them almost grabbed at her bare white ankle, but she was too quick for it.

The imp came to rest atop a particular headstone towards the back of the graveyard. Michelle slowed to a stop. The imp was tapping at it with his claw.

"Good work." Michelle held out her hand and the imp obligingly disappeared in a puff of smoke.

She bent down to read the headstone, which she had to clear of mold and moss. On the pockmarked surface she read, "here lies Jim Banchs, Chief Operating Assistant, Manadyne. A pretty cool dude."

She grinned. "Perfect." Concentrating again, Michelle felt the weight of a shovel fall into her hands. "I hate to get my clothes dirty," she chuckled, "but when in Rome..."

There was a low moan behind her; the zombies had finally caught up. Michelle turned and grimaced. They looked like humanoid potatoes, dried husks slowly shambling their way towards her.

She concentrated again and another imp popped into existance, this one dressed in 19th century finery. His skin was pale, his clothing black and red with a cape hanging from his shoulders and his hair a tumble of grey curls down his neck. A sword dangled from his hip; the sheath rattled against his leg as he too bowed.

"Protect me," she commanded, and again the imp bowed before flying forward, growing in height as he did.

Michelle watched for a second before reminding herself why she was here in the first place.

The dirt was tougher than it looked. Behind her her imp kept the zombies at bay. Sweat poured from her brow, her hair coming undone from the knot that she had tied, little ringlets falling in front of her face and getting into her eyes.

Finally, the coffin emerged. She hopped down into the grave and brushed aside the dirt, revealing the Manadyne corporate logo. Michelle smiled. "Perfect."

***

Someone knocked on her tube. Michelle's eyes popped open and without moving her head, looked to her right. An AR feed popped up; in the camer feed stood a sheepish looking ork grinning, at her. He waved. "Mornin' Zero."

"Busy."

"Boss wants to know what's going on."

There was protection on the coffin. Her decrypter form, a tiny little knight in red heart boxers, was poking at it with his lance. She sighed. "Tell him to give me five minutes and it'll be on his comm. Okay?"

The ork shrugged. "Whatever." He walked away, but she heard him mutter, "grumpy."

Michelle returned to her white nightie.
Wesley Street
Reposted from an older thread...

Ladyboy arrived at Stamford Bridge as the baggies were setting up. Flanks of truncheon wielding Dinos ran from the Tube station at Fulham to the stadium entrance. A Yellowjacket and flock of security drones circled above.

First came the song, "Liverpool, la-la-la, Liverpool, la-la-la," followed by the chanting young men and their shaved heads and red and white scarves. A beer bottle went over the cordon line at a middle-aged geezer, probably on his way to his mystery book club meeting. This breach of civilized conduct was rewarded with the hooligan tackled, his arms wrenched behind him, then handcuffed.

A few of the young toughs caught a glimpse of Ladyboy. She received the usual calls of "fuckin' poofter!" and "fuckin' bastard!" She ignored them as she leaned casually against a lamppost, hands in her pink Zoe jacket.

The mark was among the last of the Merseysprawlites to arrive via Tube. Some poor BritRail sod was going to be working double overtime fixing up the cars the thugs had trashed. As if the Tube wasn't in poor enough shape as it was. After tasking a watcher spirit to keep an eye on him, she walked into the stadium.

An hour was spent at one of the sticky concession stand tables, coating her nails with clear polish. The stomping of feet and shouts of "fuckin' bastard!" echoed through the halls beneath the East Stand. Her mojo kept the increasingly drunk crowds from noticing her. There were the usual "Trogs out! Trogs out!" chants that ended with the slaps of fists on soft body parts as a meta or a sympathizer took offense.

The spirit informed her that the mark was on his way down. Staggering, a bent cigarette in his mouth and an empty paper cup in his hand, he was a pathetic sight. She followed him into the toilets. He had already dropped trou and was about his business. Hiking up her skirt, Ladyboy let the invisibility spell go and joined him at the adjoining urinal. "Think you could help me out with a zip-up love?" she asked. "My nails aren't quite dry yet." This was the part she liked best.

The mark looked at her startled. "Fuckin' poo-" he began as she jammed her index finger in his ear. The little shit wasn't worth wasting mojo on and a shock glove jolt to the tympanum worked as well as a bullet to the dome. He fell; trousers around his ankles, and his life ended twitching on the scummy floor of a football stadium bog.

As she walked out, she smacked her lips at a pair of Chelsea loyalists on their way in. "He's all yours, mates," she cooed.

Fog had rolled into the streets outside The Bridge and dark was falling on The Smoke. Her heels clicked on the sidewalk. She pulled out her 'link. When Buffalo Soldier answered she told him the job was done. "Ta for this," he told her. "The Old Boys will be pleased. Fancy a pint later?"

"Can't do it love," she replied. "I’ve got a date with a curry and a Ken at the Jabberwok."

"Go easy on him, alright?"

Ladyboy just laughed.
Mirilion
In his dreams, he was still slender and pale. Standing there at the edge of the cliff, dark clouds filled with lightning above, and a sea of fire below,
all he could do was raise his arm and stare at it, fascinated.
It was a child's arm, white, smooth skin over thin bones. Long, delicate fingers, his mother called them "pianist's fingers" once.
Raven flew beside him, urging him on. "come, boy, spread your wings. FLY !"
But the boy couldn't, he had no wings. Raven laughed. "You think you have no wings, do you ?"
"No, I don't, and you know it" answered the boy.
"Ha. Shows how much you DON'T know, little one" raven laughed again.
The boy took one step forward, his toes flexing just over the cliff's edge.
"I know what you should do. Learn about condors."
That caught the child off guard. "Huh ? Why condors all of a sudden"
"Maybe raven wings are too small for such a big boy".

Those last words echoed through his mind as the dream faded away. He woke up still hearing raven's laughter, which made him smile in turn.
Raven was always happy, more so when something interesting was happening.
He sat up, his heavy body making his child's bed creak. He looked at his arm, but it was still the familiar and dissapointing
dark, muscled and hairy arm he had for a year now, since the night of his expression.
From that slender, pale boy, he turned into a thing, a monster, an ork.

Condors, he thought, after freshening up. His mother and father were still at work, another long day, as usual.
Lately they didn't seem to want to come back home at all, with him all big and monstrous, hiding in his room.
Oh well, at least this evening he'll be able to use the big cyberterminal port in the living room, instead of his own smaller one.
Quickly he logged on and ran a search for condors, selecting an old trideo about south american wildlife. He dimmed the lights, and watched the huge
birds soar through the air. For a while, he forgot about everything else, the loneliness, the neglect, the fear and hatred.
For that short while, only the majestic kings of the mountain winds existed.

He was startled when an error message popped up suddenly, informing him about a broken connection.
He stopped the trideo player, freezing the condor in a particularly weird pose, standing on a rock with one leg raised. Raven would laugh.
He tried to reboot the cyberterminal, but the machine still wouldn't log on.

Suddenly, everything became dark. All the sounds of the tall apartment building stopped. The silence was as loud as thunder, but then a series of harsh,
metallic clangs could be heard, and felt through the floor. He knew those sounds, that was the building security automatically activating in the event
of a general power failure. Slowly he adjusted to the starlight entering from the outside. A feeling grew in him, something strange, that made his heart beat faster.
Maybe it was fear, but it wasn't that bad. He could hear shouts, of anger and fear, from the other residents of the building. When he tried to
open the main door, it was locked. Nothing he could do would cause it to open, he knew that much.

The glass doors of the balcony were locked as well. Raven came to his mind, saying "ooh, what do we have here ? something NEW!".
Startled, he looked around for the voice's source for a moment. This was the second time Raven made himself heard during waking hours.
"What do I do?" he asked his friend.
"How should I know, I'm just a silly bird, and you're a wingless big boy" laughed Raven.
"You're a lot of help, you know" he said, annoyed. That only made Raven laugh harder.

Bah. He needed to open the glass doors, to look outside and see what was happening in the city below.
And to get some air, he thought. The air conditioning failed as well. Suddenly the feeling of excitement he felt grew stronger. He picked up a kitchen chair, and smashed
it against the doors with all his orkish strength. Again and again he did it, and each time there was dull clanging sound, and the chair bounced back, the doors unharmed.
"Oh, oh, stop, please" laughed Raven, and the boy could HEAR him holding onto his stomach with the
laughter. The young ork felt anger, then. "You shut up, you're just a stupid BIRD !".
The boy threw the chair at the doors angrily, and this time the chair left a crack, before falling to the floor.
"Oh, and what are you going to do about it, orkboy" said Raven, and this time he could actually see him, flying around just beyond the glass.
The boy was stunned with anger. Orkboy was what his classmates had called him that time, months ago, when raven first came to him while awake, before his
parents pulled him out of school. The feeling that grew in him took over. His heart beating madly, in a fit of rage, he charged the raven.

In that split second, before he hit the glass doors full on, he could feel something changing inside him, around him.
The glass was barely there, made of a thin sheet of almost nothing. How could he NOT shatter it ?
How could he NOT grab the annoying bird and make it sorry for what it said ?

The boy crashed through the glass in a shower of thick splinters that fell on the balcony floor, accompanied a moment later by the door's empty frame crashing down.
A sickening headache caused him to sink to the floor, breathing heavily. "What... what... how ?"
And raven answered, this time not laughing. "You can do this, and much more, child. Rise, and look at your city".

The boy looked downwards, at the city streets below, and the tall buildings nearby. All was dark, but in many places there were fires, and screams, and cars that crashed into one another.
People started gathering in the streets, shouting. People cried, security guards tried in vain to hold them back. He could hear gunfire from afar,
and a sudden explosion bloomed a few blockes away. And there was something else, another feeling he could not name.
An aura of emotions, almost palpable in the air. Everything looked different like that, everything had more depth. He could not describe it in words even if he tried.

Why am I not afraid, he thought. Raven answered in his mind "because we feel no fear. We feel alive at times like these. Times of change, of chaos.
Now you know we are alive, we hear the sounds of the world truly for the first time."
And before asked his next question, he knew the answer. He WOULD get out. He would not return. He would find a new life down there, somewhere.

A condor flew from the balcony, for a few moments twisting awkwardly before understanding how the
winds guided his flight. This is great, he thought, holding back the headache that almost overwhelmed him at first.
Raven's laugh surrounded him, this time less sarcastic, and more joyful. "Now you know how I feel ALL THE TIME, boy", said raven without speaking.
"Come now, lets find something to eat. Growing boys must have regular meals".
paws2sky
The Trap


Another Sunday night in Seattle. The rain poured down. Again. Steady and soaking. Acrid smell of chemicals and pollution mingled with the stench of the the waste water recycling plant nearby. Good old Seattle.

Lynx leaned his Rapier tight into the turn, confident he'd be able to make it, despite the slick chemical rain coating the streets. His bike's sensors and datajack link fed a constant stream information through the fiberoptic cable into a cranial cyberdeck and several specialized SPUs. He could correct for almost anything in less than the blink of an eye. It was his edge. And today, he needed it more than ever.

Adrenaline flooded Lynx's system and his bike's sensors registered a parked car he'd just passed exploding in a ball of fire, cut in two by a high power laser. Explosion courtesy of the car's ruptured fuel tank.

Another impossibly sharp turn, then a clear straight away. Lynx gunned the engine to gain ground, putting more distance between him and his pursuer. But not too much. He wasn't trying to loose his tail, just frustrate him. It. Whatever.

It had been 19 minutes and 43 seconds since he began playing this deadly cat and mouse game with Magus. It would be another 13 to 14 minutes, depending on Downtown traffic, before he was finally free of this thing.

Another hairpin turn. Lynx felt the bike almost slip out from under him. His heart raced. Correcting his angle, he right himself and sped on.

Another sharp turn. His sensors began screaming warnings, a semi was blocking the road. No time to stop. No time to turn around. Instinct, honed by years of riding with a go gang took over. Just enough room to angle the bike under it, leaning it left, him right. His helmet clipped the semi trailer's supports. Too close. He missed his turn. He was off track now.

Lynx weighed his options, orientation system and math SPU both running hot, overclocked just the rest of his headware. The second fastest course came up at 15 minutes and 22 seconds. He cursed. A quick burst transmission from his internal radio. Hopefully the others would get it.

The fastest course would have been the highway, but he'd be a fool to try that. It was too open. He'd be easy pickings for Magus there. He plotted the new course into the system and, for the first time in his adult life, prayed.

More turns. All sharp, hard, barely in control. The rain got worse. Seconds felt like minutes. Minutes seemed like hours. It was the longest ride of his life. Turn here, turn there. Dodge a squatter. And another.

Magus, his pursuer was powerful, but it had its limits. He knew all about them from the schematics he'd stolen. It may have been a breach of etiquette to copy the files he was supposed to be delivering to Mr. Johnson, but his gut had told him he should. It would pay off, he told himself. At the time, Lynx considered SOTA pay data, potential cash flow to help buy the latest and greatest implants. Who would have thought it'd hold the key to destroying a technomagical monster.

A towering humanoid body, about the size of a troll and as tough as a dragon. Integral weapon systems, including some high power lasers. Multiple mobility options from jet thrusters to an underwater intake system to a ground speed of almost 65kph. All of it so cutting edge it made his fixer's drek hot SOTA look like two nuyen junk.

The body alone was a wonder, but it was what was controlling the monster that made it really dangerous. The brain, as it has become known, was a prototype computer composed of an organic crystal resin, unlike anything in the science journals. It was alive. Highly intelligent. Frighteningly, magically active.

Mr. Johnson had the brain installed in the chassis same night, right as the runners left the meet. It was a hell of night too. Thunder and lighting, a total mad scientist scene. Magus killed Mr. Johnson that night and burned the build to the foundation. It went on to kill everyone and destroy everything that had any data on it.

Everyone but Lynx. It began trying to take over the shadow community, try to turn it into some kind of army. Through intimidation and money, it subverted runner after runner, like some kind of shadowy puppet master. And it wasn't long, maybe a few weeks, before it found out about Lynx. Somehow it knew. Maybe someone slipped up, said something they shouldn't have. Maybe someone sold him out. He'd probably never know. It was blind luck that Lynx survived the monster's initial attack. The rest of his gang, the men and women he'd grown up with, weren't so lucky.

Another hard turn. Two minutes and two seconds to the dome. The traffic report was clear. The trap was set. The trap. The do or die scenario that Lynx and the few remaining Seattle runners who refused to work for Magus had been working toward for the past month. If it failed, they were all worm food. Or ghoul food. Wouldn't really matter either way.

The bike's sensors registered a low flying aircraft. Low, as in just above street level. Magus. There was a clear line of sight between him and the monster and the dome. Lynx broke a sweat. Magus was toying with him. Cars and trucks and building started erupting into flame around Lynx.

A squeal of pain came from Lynx's backpack. The little paracritter had been keeping Magus' magic at bay by creating some sort of astral disturbance. Whatever that meant. Now, hopefully Talbot and the others had him in line of sight to shield him from spells.

Forty five seconds. The final stretch. Another burst transmission. The message was simple: Go Time. Magus had given up on magic and gone back to using its laser.

An explosion ahead. Magus was getting smarter. Better improvisation. Not good. No where to go, except through the flame. Another prayer, short and sweet. Too short. Lynx struggled to control the bike as debris from the explosion tore into his tires as he sped through the fireball. Run-flats rocked on cars, but on bikes, well, not so much.

Sensation of falling, vertigo. He closed his eyes and braced for impact. Confused when it didn't come. He was being lifted. An elemental? No, a nature spirit. Sanguis, crazy ass Shark shaman, now my my hero. The spirit wrapped around him, lifting him clear of the wreckage, optical cable ripping free of the port. Mild disorientation, not full dumpshock. He was carried into the upper decks of the dome.

Everything was a blur. Another explosion. Plumes of smoke. Exhaust from missile launchers fired at Magus. Not sure if they connected. Cadillac and LT, respectively the best street samurai and physical adept that Lynx every met each fired another missile before ducking back into the stadium. Like the rest of the crew here, they didn't take kindly to being bossed around by Magus, and buckets of nuyen be damned.

Almost time to spring the trap. The spirit set Lynx down and he ran, as fast as he could to the control center to make sure everything was set. His cyberdeck, the one he carried with him for show, was already sitting in the middle of the field on a small folding table.

The wall exploded as Magus burst into the stadium, trying to find his attackers. They were well hidden. It would take him hours to find them, assuming they didn't slink away. Magus noticed the cyberdeck, not surprisingly. "What is this?" the monster's voice boomed, amplified by an amplifier.

The stadium's old fashion public address system crackled to life. "Its my deck Magus. All the information you want is on it. Everything. Take it. Get out of my life," said Lynx. He hoped his voice didn't betray anything.

Magus' jets propelled it to the center of the stadium. "You realize, this solves nothing, Lynx" boomed Magus as it crushed the deck in his enormous hand. "You know too much." The metal monstrosity was clearly scanning the stadium, trying to find fix the speaker.

"Suit yourself." Lynx whispered. The decker grinned to himself as he triggered the trap. A shrill, high pitched whine, almost too high for the human ear, issued from the PA. Nearby, a dozen or more dogs began howling. Magus fell to its knees. "What is this?" it screamed, before crumpling to the ground. Its crystal brain shattered into countless pieces.

A moment later, a dozen runners appeared from their hiding places, weapons and spells at the ready in case it was a trick. Magus lay unmoving. Lynx let the program run for another minute, just to be sure.

Lynx examined the remains. The sound of a thousand crystal shards jingled inside the head. Croc confirmed there was no longer a living aura about the head or body. Cadillac did the honors with his Dikote-treated combat axe. Three chops and the monster's head left its shoulders. Talbot and Corper were on their phones, making arrangements to have the remains destroyed. Everyone agreed Lynx should oversee it personally.

Magus was dead.
Mirilion
The small, run down club was empty except for one seat next to the bar. Under the dim lights, the
stained red carpets and wallpaper looked covered in dark blood. The figure in the chair seemed
surrounded by smoke, as he lit one cigarette after another, waiting.

As the outer doors opened, several youths entered, bringing with them noise and lewd laughter, some
with their hands around their girlfriends. They were street boys, tough and confident, wearing their
gang's uniform of red bandanas and black leather jackets with the serpent symbol on the back.
One or two glittered with chrome and plastic as they moved, revealing their augmentations with pride.

As they settled down, one of the younger youths, a large, blond haired gang soldier, turned to the
bartender. "Yo pops, get some beers over here, will ya ?". His eyes settled on the man sitting near
the bar. "Hey, drekface, this is our hood, why don't you get yourself outa here before I slot ya
good?"

The rest of the gang froze. One of them, older and shorter than the tall blond, disentangled himself
from the young woman sitting in his lap, smacked the younger one loudly on the back of the head, and
stepped forward. "Yo, King, this guy is stupid and doesn't know you. He didn't mean nothing, yeah?"

The man grunted, ignoring them.

The gang breathed a collective sigh of relief. "You dumb shit, Max", said another one to the blond,
and now somewhat scared, youth. Max leaned toward one of his friend and asked "why, who'se that guy?"
The older gang member, the one who apologized, sat back down, grabbed the girl and set her, laughing,
on his lap again. "That's king, yo. He's here sometimes, meeting friends or something. Hes the most
chromed mother I know, man. This guy did drek you wouldn't believe."

"What, what he do ?"

The older one bent forward, readying himself to tell the story, the girl in his lap leaning on his shoulder.

"Man, I heard a story about him, when he was our age. Like twenty years ago, or something.
The guy was a street soldier, yeah ? Like, nobody special. They are sitting with old Red Crow, that's
our Red Crow's grandpa, in this banraku parlor. Old Red is all happy there with two puppets making him
feel good, and our boy King is right there outside the door listening to all the grunts.
Then all drek breaks loose, man. Like, grenades, and automatics, with smoke and fire and everything. Our boy
king runs in, kicks the puppets off the old man, and hides behind a table with old red behind him,
shooting at the mothers like there's no tommorow. The other guy is down. And then they stop firing and
something bigs steps in the room."

Beers arive, carried by the aging barkeep. The old, round faced man deftly places the glasses on the
tables. "Here's some on the house, kids. And something for the ladies". He puts some smaller glasses
with stronger drinks beside the beers, and two margueritas for the girls.

After a few minutes the story goes on, as the bar slowly fills with more people.

"Anyway, it growls and leaves saliva everywhere. It's like a lion, like a huge, fragging dinosaur-lion
thing, roaring and growling right there. Now our boy king, insead of pissing himself, jumps right out,
charges the thing. Now he knows all the enemy are just there waiting to cap him, but he jumps anyway.
The thing is there opening its maw right at him, and he raises his gun and fires, right into the
things brain. Now, it turns out the thing was a spirit, but with all the smoke it was hard to see.
The bullets did nothing, but the thing jumped on King and bit down hard on his gun arm.
King was near death, his right arm all mangled in the thing's mouth, when all the gangers started laughing.
And this guy comes out behind the wall, and steps through the hole they made in the parlor.
And he's all wearing feathers and little skulls and whatever. He's laughing with the rest, saying drek
about taking over the hood.

So our boy king, half dead from shock, pulls out another gun with his left hand, and shoots the shaman
in the face, splattering him all over. Now the thing roars, and king falls down. And the thing starts
trampling around, breaking the walls, scaring everyone away, taking bites out of everyone in reach.
After a few seconds it vanishes, and all is silent, like a grave. After maybe ten minutes some of the
gang make it there, with old Red Crow's son, our own old Red Crow. They find the old man hiding under
the tables, with the two puppets, having fun like nothing happened.
And they find King there in a pool of blood, his right arm looking like troll's drek.
Some of the gang purged right there just from the sight of him."
That's how he got his first implant, his right arm. The Red Crows pitched in and got him a really good
one."

The blond man looked impressed. "That's hardcore, man". Another steps in, saying "I heard that story
man. You don't know everything. I hear some years later he got hit real bad. Old Red Crow didn't want
King to die, so he went to the shamans. And they called the thing back, and put it inside King's body.
Now King is, like, this, MONSTER, man. I swear it's true."

The rest paused, considering. After a while, it was Max who broke the silence. "You're full of drek,
man.." and they broke into laughter.

Max didn't forget. As they drank and laughed, he emptied his mind and envisioned the astral plane. He
could still hear all the noise and music, but he saw the bar as it really was, a shadowy place full of
dim auras. Only one aura was stronger than the rest by far, convulted with the presence of implants until it resembled a malignant cancerous thing,
and that was the man at the bar. Overlayed on the image of the man, hidden very well, but not well enought for one of Max's skill, was something else, something huge,
with a lashing tail coiled around the sitting figure, and a head that was all fangs.
The monstrous head started to turn around, and Max quickly shifted back to the dimly lit room,
gritting his teeth and laughing along with the snake-gangers, him being initiated into their gang not three says earlier.

On his mind was his old friend, revenge. "I found you, I found you, you shit. You killed my father, but now I
found you."
pbangarth
Borrowed from another thread:

The late afternoon sun glaring through the dust on the window didn’t help his just-awake mood, but the stale pizza hanging over the edge of the dinette table did. The beer beside it made things even better. Bongo Slade considered his options for this evening. A quick run at midnight meant he had a few hours to kill. He packed the necessities into a duffel bag and headed to the Rex. The band tonight was supposed to be into old-style jazz, and he hadn’t played any in a while.

Queen Street West was the usual, pink mohawks and chains rubbing shoulders with slumming Armantés. The doorman at the Rex lit up a big smile when he saw Bongo and waved him through the lineup. He called up a buddy by commlink, “I don’t care who you’re with, drekhead. Get your hoop down here, now. Slade is here tonight.?

Bongo found a good vantage point by the bar despite the crowd. The bartender brought him the usual, and he settled back to scan the audience. “Oh, now she looks amazing!? he thought. He memorized her in great detail. Sometimes a memory like that made a long stake-out bearable. She seemed to enjoy his scrutiny. “Hope she’s here later.?

The band had just started, and their style went way back. Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock, Joe Pass. This was a treat. He settled in and let the music flow through him. Near the end of the set, a waiter came to him and said the band would be honoured to have him sit in for a piece or two. No problem. He signaled the bartender to watch his gear.

Bongo scanned the instruments on stage, thought about the style so far, and asked the percussionist if he could borrow the djembé for a while. The drummer was happy to comply. The band conferred with him a moment, and they selected a slightly more modern piece that highlighted the percussion. Bongo quieted his thoughts and centered himself. He set the piece in motion with a single, deep thump at the centre of the instrument, then pulled out the rhythm from inside himself. Horns, bass and guitar wove their themes around the rhythm, and Bongo called up the magic. The patrons stopped eating and drinking, the waiters struggled with their orders... all eyes sought him out. The musicians on stage found new hooks in the rhythm they never new existed, and danced intricate improvisations they had never tried before. “Yeah,? he thought, “I’m in the pocket tonight.?

The applause eventually died down, and Bongo thanked the musicians for the opportunity to play. He checked the time and decided he had to go. Collecting his gear, he headed out the back, avoiding the sizably increased crowd. Nearby was a room he kept for business. He made sure no one tracked him, and went in. Minutes later, a different man came out. Older, worn clothing, five-o’clock shadow from days ago, smelling of sweat and something indescribable, he shuffled down the alley and onto Queen Street. The nightlife gave him a wide berth and looks of disgust. He mumbled incoherent phrases and stumbled as if drunk. A nearby alleyway was his destination. It led behind Club Rojo, tonight’s target. He tripped and fell into the alleyway, climbed up the brick wall to standing position again, and shuffled down the alley, singing in a gravelly voice, “One hundred days, one hundred nights, to know a man’s heart…?

At the back of the club, a bare bulb lit a door and entryway and two men in cheap suits standing in front of the door. They watched Bongo approach, and kept an eye on him. He fell beside a dumpster and the garbage can he had moved close to it last night. “…and a little more, for him to know his own.? The door guards were not sure about what he was doing, except for the disgust they felt for him. His left foot started to twitch, banging against the dumpster in a long, complicated rhythm. He grabbed the garbage can, as if to stand, but drew it down onto himself, clanging. He held onto the lid, flailing as if to ward off something flying around him, banging against the can in a counterpoint to his foot-beat. Once again, he called the magic. The guards paid him very close attention.

As they watched him, someone dressed in black leaned down from the roof of the entryway to the club and adjusted something on the video camera above the door. Two others, dressed similarly, slid down either side of the entryway and incapacitated the guards easily. The only thing they would remember later is the drunk and a sudden pain in the neck. Bongo finished the contrapuntal composition with a flourish, and rose steadily. One of the team in black nodded to him, and he replied in kind. He headed out of the alley, drunk and disorderly again, and the three in black opened the door with a key from the guards, and entered.

As he took a more circuitous route back to his change room, looking forward to cleaning up, Bongo recalled the image of the woman in the Rex. He wondered what language they might speak tonight.
knasser
Freedom of the Hunt


She burst into a world of a thousand scents. There were sharp tangs from polished wood that burnt the nose, there was man-scent everywhere, males and females, but no animal or plant. She could smell the coating on the walls and the odor of stale prey-food eaten here days ago. And she could scent urine and blood. She was in a room made of painted stone and squares of glass. Her eyes picked out the contrasting greys even in the poor light from the glass squares and the night outside. The night she couldn't smell but knew it was just a leap away.

A male man crouched behind a flimsy wooden thing in the corner of the room. His aura gleamed with sick power but his body was weak and little, muscles barely worthy of the name, a flabby pot of a belly. It was he that stunk of urine, sweat and blood. A shimmer of mana was wrapped around him hiding him from merely physical eyes. Distaste filled her. She tensed and untensed each of the muscles in her legs, her broad back and neck, stretching out both sets of jaws and digging clawed feet-hands into the soft-fibres that smelt of ancient oil, covering the floor. She tested each sinew of the body she had woven from herself and when she was satisfied, she rose and took deliberate steps toward the man.

The command was like a leash on her throat. The man's aura glistened as he exerted his will against her. Like walking against a river, she took a second step toward him and again, the man commanded her obedience. For endless seconds, they fought with each other. She could smell his fear, but it wasn't of her she realised. Something else scared him... A muffled voice from outside the room spoke: "We shoulda been told fragger was a shaman." And a deeper voice: "I think I got him when he went invisible." She understood the words, but in her moment of distraction, the leash got tighter. The man's power held her, just barely. One task she thought, then free me.

"Agreed," came the reply. The magician slumped against one of the walls, exhausted and she sniffed at him disgustedly. He smelt of death soon to come. He had a wound on one arm that smelt of burnt metal and torn flesh. It was a paltry wound that should hinder no creature, she thought. His mental battle with her had weakened him more than the wound, she thought. The voices outside were getting closer. They were hunting this man. Hunting was something she understood.

"Kill them," muttered the shaman. She looked at him - demanding of her that she fight his battles for him - and then reluctantly turned to the closing hunters.

She let her body dissipate back into energy, but remembered the form and the feel of it. She would conjure it again in a few moments. Freed of it for a moment, the walls and doors of this building of man were no barrier to her. But she missed the scents of this world.

She ran at the opposite wall, springing through it to reveal the men on the other side. As she flew at one of them - a man even smaller and lighter in comparison to her than the rest of them were - she pulled the muscles and the sinews and the skin of her body together again, entering this world truly, as she seized his shoulder first in her outer jaws and then sinking in her inner, teeth into the space between his shoulder and neck. Blood splashed against her tongues and her momentum and a pull of her neck muscles tore the flesh from the man as he collapsed under a weight five times his own. The claws of her prehensile feet dug through his flesh and wrenched at ribs. She let her body fly apart once more becoming energy only just as one of the others raised spitting metal at her, leaving holes in the wall behind where her body had been. One of the remaining two men raised its metal stick, swinging it around in case she reappeared. The other squatted down to touch the fallen one. This one had tusks to bite with and was more muscular than the others. A little hunter itself. It shook its head at the other one and made a chopping hand gesture. Together they ran back the way they had come, keeping eyes ready for her next attack. She floated along above them for a moment but found it unsatisfying - this was unfair. She dropped through the floor of the tunnel she was in, through the soft fibres and smooth stone and metal struts below, into a similar tunnel underneath. This was some sort of man-warren. Once more, she drew together bones, hearts and other organs, wrapping them in more bones and tough, furred skin. She would hunt them in their world.

There were a hundred scents in this passageway but none were the two she hunted. Many little wooden panels were set into the walls, each surely opening into another part of this warren, so she listened. Somewhere not far from here was a scraping, whining sound. She listened a moment more to be sure of its direction and then ran through the passageways toward it. The passage way lit as she ran, light from little circles on the roof following her and she did not like that. Her eyes could pick out all the contrasts that she needed.

The passageway ended with little metal archways with little metal panels in them. They reminded her of the entrance to a temple some thousands of years ago when she had last been in this world. The noise was coming from behind them. She raised one foot and pressed it softly against the metal surface, and felt a vibration. Her claws tore into the metal - it was thin and weak - and wrenched. She realised as it came loose it was meant to slide sideways into a cavity, but she pulled it screaming from its socket and tossed it into the corridor behind her. Inside was a vertical tunnel, unlit with a rope of metal in the middle, steadily lowering a metal box below her. She reached out and grabbed the rope, gripping it to pull the box back up, but the rope was rough, tearing skin from her pads as the too heavy box continued its descent. Snarling, she plunged into the shaft and landed awkwardly on top of the box, squeezed between the rope and the tight sides of the shaft.

The box shook with her landing and a moment later loud noises came from within it and she realised little bits of metal were punching through the top of the box and striking her. There was no room to move and avoid them, but they did little harm. A couple lodged in her flesh and she flicked one out from her foreleg in a little spray of blood. The sensation of mild pain delighted her. And now she bunched her muscules tight and in single powerful movement punched down through the metal below her, tearing the box open. She was rewarded with more delightful pain as bits of metal stung against her skin. The man with the tusks pointed its stick at her face, trying to find a vulnerable point. She hunched her shoulders to keep the biting metal away and swung her foreleg around inside the box. The tusked one squatted on the floor out of reach, but her swinging leg made contact with something. She felt thick, rough cloth and instinctively grabbed it, yanking it upward through the gap. The terrified face of the other man swung into view, eyes wide with fear - he stank of it too. The tusked man was on her arm instantly, pulling to free him. Irritated, she slammed his face against the jagged metal edge where she had torn through. He screamed through his lacerated mouth until she managed to yank him higher and push his throat onto the edge and rip it apart. He died soundling like a bubbling forest stream.

Suddenly, pain lit up her foreleg - actual pain! The last of the men had rammed a blade through her paw and into the wall of the metal box. The man's muscles were bunched with exertion and he leaned into the blow with his whole body, driving the point deeper into the flesh and the metal behind.At the last moment, he yanked the blade down, managing to snap off the handle. At the same time, the box came to a stop and the panels at the front slid open. The man took off at speed.

She was at an awkward angle, not able to get down into the box without twisting the blade around even more. Pressing her face into the gap in the roof, she could see that the blade had been wider at the bottom than the top. If she pulled her paw away, it would make the wound even larger. But her prey was escaping and that was a greater pain. With a rough snarl, she pulled, feeling the blade force its way through tendon, flesh and pad, pushing bones wide apart as it went. With a sudden movement and a spattering of blood on the walls, her foreleg came loose. She ripped the hole in the box wider with her other forearm, bunching muscles and peeling back the metal like bark from a tree. It took precious seconds though and when she eventually dropped down into the box, her prey could not be seen.

She slouched into the tunnel and at last could smell the night air outside. Fumes of oil and rain and a swarm of mankind assailed her from open glass panels at the end of the tunnel and she could see a whole unknown world just beyond. She padded forward carefully on her injured paw. Her prey's metal weapon was discarded partway down that tunnel leading toward the outside, and the thick top with the hard plates that it had worn was shrugged off and dropped a little nearer those invitingly open doors. It looked as though her prey had fled into the night.

But it smelt like he was still here. She inhaled deeply and smelt sweat and the burnt metal smell a little to her left. She padded silently down a different tunnel, following the scent and came to a door. This one had been damaged. She could see the splintered wood of the frame part way up even before the tunnel lit up with those irritating roof lights that followed her movement. Reaching first with her injured paw, and then changing her mind and instead resting on her haunches and reaching with the other, she tugged at the little hook that came from the door. She could barely fit two clawed fingers around it as she tugged it down and swung the door open to reveal her prey standing inside.

No, not prey. This one didn't smell of fear. Adrenaline, anger, nervousness, but not much fear. Why had it hidden here in wait instead of running? Did it plan to attack her by surprise? Did it plan to double-back and kill the one that had summoned her to this world? Either way it was a hunter - a little hunter - like herself. She leaned forward. extending her head into the room. It was tiny and filled with strange objects. There was a distant scent of sex - some men had rutted in here once. She inhaled the scent of the current occupant, noted that this man was actually a female man, saw the tusks jutting up from its lower jaw like a boar's - not good for bringing down prey but good for goring, for defending. She looked at the dark patches in its life field and wondered at it - the creature had metal woven into its bones and its muscles were made of some strange sinewy material that wasn't its own. And she saw her own massive head reflected in its eyes - her own large, dark eyes, the wide muzzle with the second, tearing jaws inside. The female man met her gaze, steady, calm. She liked this one - respected it. But that leash of control tugged at her. Angrily, she snarled. Thinking the noise the prelude to an attack, the female man leapt at her, trying to wrap its arms around her neck. The grip was powerful, but she moved before the little hunter could get a proper hold and instead it found its arms wrapped around her head. Nonetheless, it squeezed at her, trying to crush her skull. She pulled back from the room and dragging the clinging creature with her. She bit as well as she could in the locked arms, tearing open the creature's side but not reaching any vital organs. She leaned back on her haunches lifting it into the air and raked down the creature's back with her claws, snagging them on its ribs, feeling a lung puncture and muscles tear. Still the grip didn't loosen. She slammed her head against the wall, hard, and there was a crack. The creature's skeleton was protected by its spiderweb of metal, but it was no match for her strength. The creature fell to the ground and she saw that she had knocked it senseless against the wall. Blood seeped from its temple. It had fought well, even knowing it could not win. In other circumstances, she might have let it live. But he urging of the one that summoned her kept insisting she honour her bargain. Silently, she thanked the female man for the pleasure of the hunt and then, to honour it, she pulled its rib-cage apart and consumed its heart.

She was free now. And she could let this body she had made dissipate and return to the black forests of her own world across the gulfs of manaless void. But the scent of blood was rich here, and there were so very many interesting smells. Perhaps she would like to stay. In which case there was one thing to deal with.

She drifted upwards through the layers of this warren and found the shaman not far from where she'd left him. He was tying strips of cloth around his wound and talking to a little box. He fell silent when her body reformed however. "You can go," he said. "I have no more need of you, you stubborn piece of drek." She snarled, merely to show him her many teeth. Very pale now, he gestured at her: "Go!".

She took a step toward him, then another, and he scrambled backward in fear. She saw him focus his energies before his spell even hit her. The mana splashed away harmlessly and even if he hadn't been exhausted, his spells would not scare her overmuch. He was playing with forces that he could barely control, and ultimately couldn't.

He was sobbing when she finally killed him by breaking his spine. No final courage like the other one. She would not eat his heart. Instead she chewed his head a little and then spat it to the ground where it would lie disfigured and uneaten, not even worthy as food. Walking to the glass wall, she butted against it until it broke, and then in came all the thousands of scents of the night - burning oils and bitter rains and excrement of dogs and people and the distant, hidden oily secretions of dragons. She smelt the stink of dead meat heated in boiling fat, of the dark sea some miles away and of the droppings of birds hardened on the walls, of copulation, of blood, of buildings of man made of strange materials and scents like grains gone off and grown sweet and intoxicating.

She inhaled them all and knew there were yet more to find, as she stepped out through the glass, clinging to the building with three good clawed feet-hands and one bloody injured one. She flexed it, revelling in the pain. And there would be hunting, of course. And perhaps even being hunted. This world promised much.

And above all, she was free.
Mirilion
Daughter

During recess, the children stayed in the classroom, engrossed by their various augmented reality activities. Some sat silently behind their friendly brown-blue plastic desks, manipulating their
commlink wheels. Others were noisier, gesturing wildly with their AR gloves, shouting at each other as they fought in a virtual battleground displayed on their school-issue goggles.

A virtual sound of a door opening alerted them to their teacher's approach. They sat down and waited in respectful silence. In their displays, a woman's head appeared in front of the class.
An obviously computer generated, friendly middle-aged woman. "Hello, kids. Everyone please wear their trodes. Before we begin, where shall we go to today ?"
The classroom filled with childish voices all talking at once, as they donned their colorful helmet-like trodes, each connected a desk by an optic wire.
"The lake !" seemed to be the most popular choice, although one of the virtual soldiers had practically roared "the volcano !".
"Now now, we can't have a math class in the volcano, can't we? The lake it is."
The virtual teacher snapped virtual fingers, and the kids' trodes kicked in, switching them all to VR mode.

It was a sunny day, with light breeze flowing through the grass and causing the mirrorlike waters of the lake to ripple ever so slightly.
The children appeared one after another, and sat down cross legged at the lake's grassy shore. The tall oak trees at their back shelered them from the virtual sun.
Their teacher appeared as a floating icon in the form of the Horizon logo, until all the children settled down. This time, there was a smaller icon next to her's, in the shape of a stylized child's face,
all lines of lips, cheeks, eyes and a little shadow of a nose.
The children whispered among themselves, looking curiously at the strange icon, until their teacher appeared fully. She was a short, rounded middle aged woman, wearing old fashioned glasses,
her graying hair tied in a bun. "Hello there, everyone", she said.
"Hello, Mrs. Eva", answered the kids in practiced unison.
"Before we begin, I would like to introduce a new student who will be joining our math, physics and chemistry classes from now on." She turned to the small icon floating beside her.
"Anna, dear, please show yourself".

The icon vanished, and in it's stead stood a painfully thin girl. Her hair was long and smooth, platinum blond, her eyes a startling clear green. She wore the standard virtual school jumpsuit as the
other kids, with the horizon logo over the heart, and the school's logo just below the right shoulder.
The girl lowered her eyes to the grass, obviously shy.
"Children, this is Anna. She can't visit our school in person, so she will be attending our virtual classes. Anna dear, please sit down next to Dianne, over there."

As Anna sat down on the grass, the slightly rounded, red haired Dianne smiled at her. "Don't do anything funny, new girl. The Eva virtual teachers can't really deal with anything weird, so they just
call the inspector. And then we all get in trouble."
"Oh, I see", said the thinner girl gravely. "May I ask what sort of funny things you were reffering to?"
Dianna gave her a strange look. "You MUST not get out much, if you talk like a grown up all the time".
Anna looked back, not understanding. Dianne smiled again. "Well, nevermind. You know, noise, stuff."
"I'll be quiet, then", Anna told her.

The class ended after an hour, the virtual teacher logged off, and one by one the children vanished as well. "So, how come you can't visit school?" asked Dianne.
"Well, my mother said I have a special condition, and I need to stay in bed most of the time."
"Oh, that's glitchy.", said the red haired girl, sympathizing. "Well, you can always call me if you want. Maybe we can play some games together". She sent Anna her address.
"Of course, I will", she said,"I mean, sure, thanks", Anna smiled. She waved goodbye, and vanished.

----------------

In the computers lab, the woman removed her smartglasses and rubbed her eyes with fatigue. The man next to her, still enganged in AR activity, turned to her. "Are you okay?".
"Oh, yeah, yeah. I've just been spending a lot of effort on the project. You know, I think i'm getting a bit attached to he... it." She stumbled over the word "her", and the man didn't miss it.
She could see his eyes rolling behind his sparkling glasses. "I'm serious, Donna. You shouldn't. You know she's not a real girl. Don't make this into something unhealthy."
The woman sighed. "Of course I know, David. It's just that she... it... is so HUMAN. I mean, it emulates a little girl so perfectly that it makes me sad sometimes. Think about what we do here,
experimenting on a little girl, and no matter what you say, that's what it looks like"
"Emulates is the key word here. So it is sapient and has rights, but we're treating it very well. We don't even have to hold it here, it just stays here and doesn't want to leave. We're trying to enhance
it's attributes, that's all. One day an exec will come over here and take her away, and you couldn't do anything about it."

David suddenly leaped from his chair. "Oh drek. I have to go. My wife is going to go razorgirl on me if i'm late again." He quickly made some last touches on his commlink, and ran out.
"Go home, Donna !" he shouted as the lab door closed behind him.
Donna smiled sadly, and stood up. She switched off the lab lights, throwing the room into a shadowy darkness, lit only by the access corridor's dim green lightsaving bulbs.
Suddenly, a red communication icon appeared on one of the blank screens, casting strange shadows on the nearby equipment.
Donna went to the screen and activated it's AR link. She could see little Anna in her room, chatting and playing some sort of game.
A window popped up, informing her that Anna's partner was Dianne Sawyer, one of the girls from the Linden school. The Security spider allowed the call, based on her instructions earlier.

Instead of leaving the lab,like she knew she should, Donna sat down and put on the VR trodes linked to the console.

------------------

Hours later, lying in bed, Anna was happily smashing the strange pink blobs jumping around on her AR display. "We're almost done !" said Dianne, her little character chasing a particularly evasive pink
blob. "We need ten more, then we can go return the quest. You'll probably level up too."
Anna could hear Dianne stiffling a yawn. "Are you okay, Di", asked the thin girl, concentrating on a particular blob that got stuck at the edges of the map and couldn't escape. "I'm fine, just tired.
It's midnight already, and if my parent catch me they'll be really mad."
Anna halted. She could her her mother coming near. Will she be angry ? "Oh Di, I have to go.. sorry about the quest."
"It's allright. We can continue tommorow. We'll lose the XP bonus, but still it will be pretty high.Okay then, see you in physics tommorow !"

The AR display died just as Donna entered the room. Anna sat on the bed's edge, looking anxious.
"Your'e not angry, right, mommy ?"
"Of course not. But you have school tommorow, you can't just stay up late and wake up at noon anymore, okay ?"
"I guess.." Anna lay back, covered herself with the blanket. Donna said "lights off", and the room went dark. She sat by Anna's sleepy blanketed form, and gently moved her hand through the delicate
blond hair. "Good night, sweety". Anna fell asleep almost immediately, as always.

------------------

Donna stood up. She made up her mind. The child would NOT go to the Horizon PR machine, to be molded into some sort of Horizon advertisement, at best.
The sentient, delicate and gentle program that was Anna will be free, somehow... she just had to talk to the right people.
Kerenshara
(Reposted from another thread)


Bar Fight


The stunning woman with the wavy auburn hair and ice blue eyes pushes open the door to the establishment, and steps inside out of the seemingly permanent Seatle drizzle and haze, wrinkling her nose at the odors of wet cloth, unwashed bodies and stale beer and ignores the slightly over-warm temperature. The bar is something of a dive, but she’s been in worse. Kerenshara sweeps the entire establishment with a trained eye noticing exits and possible threats, despite the gloom. A number of the patrons take notice of the new arrival, a beautiful flower out of place in a bed of weeds. Her mirrored shades match well with the roguish cut of her hair and the way her tight black jeans hug her curves. She unzips Rachel’s high-necked blood red leather jacket, exposing an ample amount of décolletage enhanced by Rachel’s black leather bustier and the regard of many of the patrons sharpens to keen interest. The stillness on her face and something about her stance deter these veterans of the mean streets. Subconsciously they recognize the wolf that has just entered amongst their flock.

The stiletto heels of Rachel’s black leather thigh-high boots clack sharply on the hard concrete floor that may once have been polished or even had a covering as she stalks over to a corner booth and drops herself casually into the back corner, the cushion’s cracked synthetic fabric squealing in protest, facing the rest of the bar. She casually puts her booted heels up on the slightly greasy looking table, crossing her ankles and turning slightly to better hide the silenced pistol concealed within the jacket, but easy to reach. The black velvet choker around her throat feels a little tighter than usual as she senses something change. There is a slight commotion across the bar, as a young woman tries to escape the pawing hands of an ugly looking human with a scar over his left eye and dressed in purple and orange synth-leathers. The girl looks like she has seriously fallen off the bus in the wrong part of town. Another male, this one an ork not much better looking than his friend and wearing the same colors steps across her path to block her way.

Kerenshara turns her head slightly away, appearing to watch somebody else in the bar. Her enhanced hearing easily picking out the hushed conversation as the two males - she would NOT give them the honor of the term “men? - explain what the price for her safety in their piss-ant gang’s territory was going to be. The girl is near tears, and the fear she is radiating tears at Kerenshara’s senses. Even the mundanes must be feeling it, but they all seem engrossed with their drinks. Most other conversations have even stopped as everybody studiously ignores the events closer to the entrance.

“I can’t afford to blow this identity? Kerenshara thinks to herself, watching the human’s hand begin working its way up the girl’s skirt, resisting the urge to draw the pistol and splatter the contents of their skulls all over the walls. She can taste the adrenaline starting to sing in her veins, and fights the need to destroy them as time begins to slow down. By main force of will, she holds herself in place and even manages to remain outwardly disinterested. Then she hears the human tell the ork that he saw her first. Now Kerenshara has to fight not to smile as she focuses on the ork out of her peripheral vision, feeling the mana rushing to meet the adrenaline in her veins and reaches out to the crude metahuman. She feels the emotions on the surface of his mind, and the black laced red haze of bitter anger is everywhere. She mentally blows on the embers of anger, stoking them to rage and simultaneously whispers an indignant curse before pulling back out as easily as she had entered, just as the Ork screams the same indignant curse and swings a massively calloused fist at the human. In seconds the two are too focused on each other to notice the girl bolt out the door. “Smart girl? Kerenshara thinks to herself with a mental smirk as a glint of metal reveals that the fight just turned deadly. A third man, this one a not-bad-looking troll in the same colors stands up suddenly and shouts to the two males, who instinctively freeze and turn to him in fear and back away from him as he herds them out the door with a flurry of kicks, punches and curses.

The bar seems to breathe for a moment, then like an old Wild West saloon, conversation resumes as though nothing has happened. Not a soul even turns toward her, and Kerenshara permits herself a very tight but indulgent smile as the adrenaline fades from her system. Before she can draw the attention of one of the detached wait staff, the door opens again and an Asian man with a suit that marks him as much an outsider as a jay amongst a flock of wrens steps inside. His shoes shine in the dim light, and the crease in his slacks refuses to acknowledge the drizzle outside. He scans the bar and his eyes fall on Kerenshara. He seems to nod to himself, and walks directly over to her table, and bows marginally to her. “Good evening, Ms. Smith,? he says in only slightly accented English. The accent’s Chinese, but the bow’s Japanese. Body language’s harder to train out, so the voice is probably the lie. “Mr. Johnson. Good evening. Will you join me for a drink??
martindv
First Kill

I keep thinking about my first kill. She had those mesmerizing grey-green eyes that you see and you just think that you don't deserve to be what they see. I remember those eyes looking at me. She was fine. Short. Angular face. Jet black hair. It was long and pulled back behind her. I remember that day. It was freezing cold that morning, and windy as fuck. That's what you expect for the town in the middle of February. But it was clear. Totally clear. Not a cloud in the sky. The wind had been stinging my eyes like a bastard all day, and I'd been tearing up constantly, especially in the right eye.

She was leaving a Persian restaurant. It was a pain in the ass, but I didn't give a fuck. The place was at the end of a strip mall full of eateries and at least two clothiers. It was next to a standalone chain restaurant and a cheap hotel; all of it was within an industrial park with another three restaurants on the other end of the strip mall from the Persian place and across the road from them were several two-story office buildings. Behind all of the restaurants was an interstate with the exit behind the hotel and another fucking chain restaurant. It was a busy fucking place. But everyone kept to themselves because if they were outside it was to get to their fucking cars as quickly as possible because the wind and cold were merciless when most of the year the city was hot and dry and, frankly, pleasant.

The setup was that I'd shoot her as she got into her car. A van pulled up behind her car so that no asshole customers from any of the restaurants saw; the offices were empty behind us, and as soon as she was down I'd hop and and we'd make our getaway. That was the plan.

Problem was that I'd never done that. I'd fucked people up, and I'd ever stuck a gun in one or two peopl's faces, but no kills. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't expect her to smile at me when I approached. I didn't expect her to smile. It's like she didn't know, or didn't care. The van came along like clockwork. I was too fast on the draw. Thank fucking Christ for silencers. I shot her just above the bottom of her jacket. Twice. But I couldn't just stop walking. That would just be more likely to draw attention as my ride was waiting. I raised the gun and fired twice more into her chest as she fell. She still had that smile on her face as she fell; it twisted as she hit the pavement into something perverse.

I didn't stop. The next shots were just above the sternum and then her mouth. It was fucking sick, but I was so busy trying not to fuck up. I've seen some other guys. They just cruise along looking straight ahead. The bullet that tore open the bottom of her lip and then... I felt a shiver up my spine and through my back and shoulders. Tears welled up as I fired several bullets into her face/forehead until the gun was empty. The next thing I remember … It just goes blank for a second or two. If that. And I was in the back of the minivan, and we were gone. Within twenty seconds we were on the interstate.

Looking back, that was a ridiculous plan. It was too public and it was too overt from the perspective of her seeing it coming. The more I think about it, the more I can't figure out how she didn't see it. I mean, she wasn't a civilian; for Christ's sake she'd killed more people than I had. Maybe she just … Maybe she did. And she was resigned to it. It's not like people like us live forever. It does make me wonder if I'll smile at the guns when my time comes.
paws2sky
Union Blues


Sandoval appraised the scene. It was a sunny afternoon. A lean ork woman dressed in coveralls bellowed into a beat up megaphone. "An honest wage for honest work!" The crowd she was addressing burst into cheers, waving bright blue handkerchiefs. Nearly two hundred employees - the entirety of the factory's skillwire-equipped workforce - had showed up to the rally. The crowd was racially diverse, motivated, and very energized. Some had obviously been in fights recently - black eyes mostly, but a few had casts on arms or legs.

Sandoval sighed inwardly. "They're only making matters worse for themselves," he thought. He knew from his own experience that any monetary losses from the work stoppage would be added to their corporate debts. Not that it mattered, he supposed. Their contracts locked these poor fools into ten to twenty year work terms at subsistence wages. Barely enough to live on, let alone raise a family. Some of those people would probably never be out of debt. They'd probably die still owing the company. A debt that would be transferred to their children, if they had any.

Having seen enough, he reached out to deactivated the holo projector, then turned to the man in the suit sitting across the table. "Its a labor rally," said the man, swatting away a fly.

"Indeed. So, how does this concern me, Mr. Johnson?" asked Sandoval.

"This work stoppage is impacting the company's bottom line. The persons that I represent want to put an end to this. They want those workers back on the line immediately." Though the man tried to hide it, Sandoval's enhanced senses and empathy software easily picked out the man's disgust.

"I assume these are contracted workers? Why not exercise the standard anti-union clauses. Surely that was included in their contracts," said Sandoval smoothly, before taking a long drink. The beer was flat and warm, with a sythnetic after taste. It was barely drinkable by most peoples' standards, but for Sandoval, it brought back memories.

Mr. Johnson hesitated. The shadowrunner's augmented hearing picked up a sudden increase in heart rate and his empathy software began to register a nervous tick in the corper. "If it were that simple, we would have. The architects of this... union are exploiting an obscure loophole in corporate law that allows them to organize a union if the workforce in question manages a unanimous vote."

"So their rally is entirely legal then. How... unfortunate for you." Sandoval wanted toi say more, but held back, maintaining his professional cool, thanks in no small part to the hit of Frosty he took before the meeting. The drug suppressed emotional responses and muted body language. He didn't like how it made the world feel out of sync and gooey, but it made empathy software next to useless. "What did you have in mind?"

"We want the laborers to go back to work. Time is of the essence. We're losing tens of thousands a day in lost productivity."

"You'll need to be more specific. I'm not a contract negotiator. Nor am I a lawyer. So I'll ask you again, so there's no confusion, what do you want me to do about your problem?" The fly buzzed near Sandoval's ear. He ignored it, focusing instead on Mr. Johnson. It was too hot in the room. Probably 30 degrees Celsius.

Fortunately, Sandoval wasn't the only one feeling the heat. He didn't even need his empathy software to tell the man was growing impatient and agitated. Angry, "What!? You want me to spell it out for you?" Sandoval could imagine the man mentally adding, "you stupid trog" to the end of that sentence.

"Yes. Please do. Just so we're clear."

"We want you to eliminate the union organizers. Permanently. This needs to stop and I don't care how you do it. And it has to be done by Sunday night."

"Ah, I see. A hit, then? Multiple targets, I'd assume. You provide names and addresses of the targets. I can take it from there."

"Of course, I have names and addresses. Usual hangouts. Everything you'll need."

"Good. The price is ten thousand per head, held in escrow. And I'll need 10% of the cost up front, on certified cred."

"Ten thousand each!? That's twice what your agent said it would cost. I won't pay it." Any composure the man may have had was gone. And the temperature in the small room was nudging ever higher. Sandoval's commlink displayed 35 degrees Celsius.

"Suit yourself. I'm sure you'll be able to find another qualified hit man in the next thirty six hours," said Sandoval, rising to leave.

"Wait!" Mr. Johnson's teeth were grinding. Definitely not a professional. "Fine. I'll pay, but you better follow through with it. Or else. If this job isn't done by Monday, you won't get another nuyen." Mr. Johnson produced data chip. "Here are you targets. Make sure they're dead."

Bingo. "Open threats are no way to conduct this sort of business," Sandoval said, as he picked up the data chip.

"Don't lecture me. Here's the first part of your pay." Mr. Johnson was visibly sweating. "Get out of here and get the job done so I can tell my employer its handled."

"Don't worry yourself, Mr. Johnson. Everything will be taken care of."

The air conditioning kicked on as Sandoval left the room. The corper was so relieved by the sudden rush of cool air and departure of the shadowrunner that he failed to notice the bother some fly landing on Sandoval's shirt.

The runner sent a quick message to his associates, "Meet me out front."

As he passed by the bartender of the rundown dive, he transferred a sizable tip, easily a month's rent. Compensation for allowing him control of the building's ancient air conditioning unit.

Sandoval exited the building, bracing himself against the hot summer air, which threatened to steal his breath away. A cheap, imported black sedan pulled up in front of him. Sandoval noted the wear and tear along the bottom and around the wheel wells.

The door popped open and Sandoval sat down in the back seat with a heavy thump. The cheap plastic seats stuck to his back, making a harsh, peeling sound as he tried to get comfortable.

"Was I right?" Sandoval turned to face the speaker, a lean ork woman with a bruised face. She'd tried to hide the bruises with makeup, but the damage was too extensive. The car pulled away.

"Yes," he said slowly. "The union leaders have been targeted. The company wants them eliminated them before Monday." Sandoval sniffed, suppressing a sneeze.

"Killed." It wasn't a question.

"Yes. He was very specific." The Frosty was wearing off and his sinuses were starting to go crazy. This was the worse part.

"So what do we do now?" The look of fear on her face was plain as day.

The shadowrunner's hands danced in the air, manipulating an AR interface. "That's up to you. At the very least, I suggest you and the others go into hiding until your 0800 hearing at the local Corporate Courthouse Monday. I'm sure whoever the hit man is, he or she will ransack your homes looking for you. He or she may even go so far as to lean on people at some of your favorite hangouts, though its unlikely they will be injured."

Sandoval sneezed loudly. "It will, of course be very dramatic. These things always are. Then, when Monday rolls around, any remaining obligations on his or her contract will be null and void. Any remaining pay forfeit, per the agreement."

Pressing a button on his commlink, Sandoval ejected a small optical disk. "I recommend you provide the enclosed trid footage of the meeting with the hit man. Unfortunately, the hit man's face is obscured by some sort of technical glitch, but it clearly shows the Mr. Johnson soliciting the hit and mentioning that he will report to his superiors."

The look on the woman's face was priceless. He took a still image with his cybereyes to remember it. "You've planned this out," she said.

"Of course. Its what I do."

"Aren't you concerned about getting a bad rep? Don't people in your line of work live and die by your rep?"

"Don't believe everything you see on the trids. My connections aren't going to hold this little breach of etiquette against me." Not with that Humanis thug involved anyway, he wanted to add.

"This is my stop," Sandoval said, addressing the driver. The car pulled over and Sandoval opened the door to get out.

"Um, aren't you forgetting something?" she asked. "Your payment?" She sheepishly produced a credstick. "Its not much... We all pitched in."

Sandoval considered the credstick for a moment. "Keep it," he said, stifling another sneeze. "You need it more than me," he said as he stepped out of the sedan, disappearing into the night.

The five thousand nuyen advance would cover living expenses for a while. Now to go put on a good show.
knasser
Wiggy


Wiggy took another swig from his lemonade with a big grin, enjoying the way the bubbles tickled his nose. His beer-drinking buddies around the table were watching him and he realised he'd been asked a question. He ran one big hand through his frizz of ginger hair, "What," he asked?

The others stared at the teenage troll, fourteen years old and 6'1" with a wide, spare frame that looked like it could run the 100m in 9 seconds flat. Redblade, the samurai, leaned forward over the table and fixed the troll with clear blue, artificial eyes. "I said," he replied, "that we only got this job because we said we had a mage. So you have to take this job seriously. No... misbehaving. Okay? Can you do that?"

Wiggy smiled. Redblade was his friend. "Sure," he said. And then a moment later, "what was the job again?"

Swan, the other samurai put her head in her hands whilst the others exchanged worried glances. "Oh Wiggy...," she said.

***

They were hunched up together in the back of their rigger's van. Redblade was dressed in well-cared for armour with an Ares Alpha slung by his side and his trademark katana across his back. Swan sat next to Wiggy dressed in her rather less military but still servicable armoured long coat. Her delicate, chinese face and soft black bob belied the speed and skill with which she could move. She reached up one hand to the young troll shaman sitting next to her and gave his left horn an affectionate tug. Wiggy smiled down at her.

"Are you okay," she asked? Wiggy nodded. "You're not... scared?" The troll shook his head. "Nope. It's exciting. The last run was fun." There was a sharp intake of breath from Damocles their rigger up front, and Swan knew that he was rubbing the still painful gunshot wound in his shoulder from that last run a couple of months ago. "There will be men who want to shoot us," she said. "When the van stops, we have to get out and run to the shadows as quickly as we can, got it?" Wiggy nodded happily. "Do you remember what rule number 1 is?" Again, the troll nodded and replied: "If I get confused, just find you and follow you."

"Well done," she said and stroked his muscular arm. There was something very attractive about trolls when they were just hitting their teens - about the size of a muscular, athletic man, not yet starting to fill out into the heavier bulk they got when they were older. Yet mentally they were still teenage and random and dependent and that was arousing - she withdrew her hand quickly - which was very wrong, of course.

***

The three of them ran through the compound, racing from the shadows of shipping containers to the cover of cranes and the recesses of railway sidings, spending as little time in the floodlit open spaces as possible. But to Wiggy, everything was bright and shimmering with the energy of the Astral world. He watched the sparkling play of colours of the aura around his hand, making the mana run around his forearm in circles like a pretty snake. Redblade nudged him: "come on Wiggy, do your thing." When Wiggy just stared at him, Redblade prompted: "you know - get rid of the spirit."

Wiggy rose from the shadows - a tall, gangly pale figure with red hair in an ancient and faded Concrete Dreams t-shirt and called on the spirits. Tiny little watcher spirits, will-o-whisps of every colour bobbed around him. The spirits always came when Wiggy called, fawning on their favourite. "Time to play 'Chase' today," he told them and waving his arms like a conductor he sent them flying deeper into the compound. He turned to Redblade and Swan who crouched in the shadow of a freight wagon. "Wont be long," he said.

And it wasn't. The spirit came to them roaring like a fireball, manifesting in the air as it approached: an efreet of smoke and fire, dark eyed and flame-browed. Wiggy's paltry spirits fled before it vanishing in terror. Each copper-skinned hand of the pursuer was wreathed in searing flame. Swan and Redblade stared in fear as Wiggy stood between the apparition and them.

The spirit's voice was like tiger speaking. "This domain is under my protection and you have intruded and earned my master's ire."
"I'm Wiggy," said the troll.
The spirit glowered down at him. "I care not," it rumbled, raising the flaming hands above its head, "defend yourself and die with honour."
"Wouldn't you rather go back to your home?" The spirit stared, trying to work out if the young troll was courageous or merely didn't understand the danger.
"I am bound by my master to guard this place for a year and a day. I owe him this service."
"I can get you out of it," promised the troll.
"You can... 'get me out of it'", repeated the spirit, doubtfully.
"Here," said Wiggy. In the astral he watched the skeins of mana, gossamer fine, wrapped around the great spirit. They were hard to see at first, but he could always spot them when he looked for them. He'd tried explaining these threads to the other younger shamans, but he was no good with complicated words and they hadn't seemed to know what he was talking about and only the adult Indian man had seemed to understand and his eyes had widened in surprise when he realised what the teenager was already able to perceive. But Wiggy loved spirits and spirits loved him. He hated to see them tied up like this and, heart beating loudly in his breast, he one by one broke the minute threads that bound the spirit. As the last one broke, the spirit sighed and rose up, seeming to grow even larger than it was to begin with.

"I owe you my thanks, young shaman. You are most gifted."
"No worries," said Wiggy with a grin.

***

Back through the compound they sprinted, alarms ringing loudly behind them, staccato gunfire filling the air and a small but valuable package tucked under Swan's arm. Redblade turned every dozen metres or so and fired a few shots, just to make the security guards duck into cover and buy the runners some time. The gate to the compound was just fifty metres away. Damocles had pulled the van up to the entrance and they could see him through the windscreen waving them on.

And then a car screamed out in front of them and a half-dozen security guards ran across their path. The runners slowed to a halt, diving into cover. Floodlights were coming on and people were shouting all around Wiggy. "Swan," said Redblade, "you go around those crates and..." Wiggy leapt to his feet, raised arms on high - a strange, mad, prophet-like figure. "MANABALL!" he cried.

"No, Wiggy," yelled Swan, "not..." and then she blacked out.

As did Redblade.

And a dozen security guards.

"Oh," said Wiggy quietly, "that was..." and then fell on his bottom, stunned.

***

Damocles pulled the van up quickly, driving around the unconscious security guards (he was like that), and with coaxing, got the dazed Wiggy to help him quickly pull Swan and Redblade into the back of the truck. He slammed the door shut with Wiggy inside, then scrambled back to the drivers seat, snaked a cable from his temple to the dashboard, and sent the van, himself and all within it tire-squealing off into the safe, anonymous streets of Seattle.

When the van was nicely lost in the late night traffic, Damocles scrambled into the back where Swan and Redblade lolled on the floor. Gently, he patted Redblade on the cheek, eliciting a faint groan followed by the muttered word: "mummy". Swan was concious and searching for a beer under the passenger seat.

Damocles looked at the troll, resting his head down, horns against palms, moaning "oooh".

"Oh, Wiggy," he said.
Kerenshara
And they say killing is hard.

The man tied to the chair whimpered around the gag in his mouth. He had already been severely beaten and interrogated, and every last bit of information his brain could divulge had already been dutifully and faithfully recorded. He sat there naked, trembling and shivering in the bare, dank and windowless room. The concrete beneath his feet was as cold and unforgiving as the four sets of eyes watching him from a few meters away. As he looked into their faces, he knew there would be no escape for him from this place.

The oldest person present was a man with red hair, a swarthy complexion and eyes that had seen far too many things over six decades that nobody should ever see. As he pulled out a large silenced pistol, the captive whimpered again against his will. The old man turned and first offered the weapon to the man and woman standing mutely in the circle of each other’s arms next to him, but they just shook their heads silently and solemnly. So he then turned and extended the weapon to the youngest person present, who didn’t look as though she could be so much as twelve, even allowing for the delicately pointed ears glimpsed through that lovely hair. Even in the glare of the naked bulb he could tell it was a deep and vibrant red. She would have been extremely pretty if not for her eyes - eyes as hard and lifeless as the emeralds they resembled in the shadows and dim light.

“He’s yours, Cheryl.?

She looked up at the old man and nodded without a word. She took the gun from him and her eyes briefly flicked over the weapon. The captive was no amateur, and the cold professionalism of that glance and her assurance as she verified the loaded chamber, clicked off the safety and cocked the hammer frightened him worse than anything the adults had done to him. She raised the gun in nerveless hands and as the red laser painted across his left eye on the way to his forehead, his bowels turned to liquid and he whined pitifully one last time.

The gun bucked twice in the girl’s hands, and the captive’s whine ended with sickening abruptness as the wall behind the body became liberally spattered with red and gray. The girl lowered the gun and almost subconciously decocked the hammer and safed the pistol before offering it back to the old man. “That was more merciful than I would have expected,? he told her.

She shrugged “You were at my back, I put the rounds right where I wanted them, and I didn’t waste ammo. And the worthless sack of shit certainly wasn’t a WizWorm, so I followed your One Rule.? Both of the other adults looked shocked to hear that their beloved and precious eleven year old daughter could deliver that statement with such equanimity after calmly executing the man who had ordered her grandmothers murder, but the old man’s mouth quirked up at one corner as he accepted the weapon and began unscrewing the silencer from the muzzle. “That you did, granddaughter. That you did.?




* * * * *


Grandpa turned to me and held out the silenced Colt Manhunter. He said to me, “He’s yours, Cheryl?, so I took the pistol from him. It seemed a little heavier than when I had practiced with it at the range, but that just must have been my imagination. I checked the loading indicator and turned off the safety, then I cocked the hammer and pointed it at the scrag who had ordered my Grandma’s death. I looked into his eyes and he whimpered as the laser dot tracked up to his forehead. I let out a breath and I squeezed the trigger like I had so many times at the range. The gun bucked in my hands and the wall behind him turned red. I let the gun settle back from the recoil and squeezed the trigger again. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have wasted the ammo on what was obviously a clean kill, but Grandpa always advocated a double tap. Best to make sure, he says. The second shot threw more red onto the wall, so I guess there was something left in there after all.

I lowered the gun, decocked and safed it, then handed it back to Grandpa. And they say killing is hard.

“That was more merciful than I would have expected,? Grandpa said to me. I wanted to roll my eyes but it didn’t seem appropriate, given the circumstances.

I laid it out for him how I had followed his One Rule. Grownups. Go figure.

Mom and dad looked shocked for some reason. I mean, I thought they had killed people before. Grandpa looked like he was trying not to grin, but that wouldn’t have been appropriate either. He started unscrewing the silencer and said “That you did, granddaughter. That you did.?

Prime Mover
Tempo-tation

Dark and hot. Smelling like dirt and sweat. I could hear my breathing, I sounded like a 3 pack a day smoker after a run up a flight of stairs. Just alittle light showing through the doors ahead and the chattering of the crowd on the other side.

Just two days ago I was working all my contacts for a fix. Three weeks without Tempo was killing me it was getting harder and harder to find. I've quit doing runs with my team. Pretty much just doing dirty work for dealers and dirt bags who can put me in touch with my needed fix.

It never used to be this way, I used to be on top of the game. A prime runner they called me. I worked with the best and was on the fast track to early retirement on a nice island in the Carib league. We did some work for the Ghost Cartels and I ended up "testing" there new drug. I've never been the type to get hooked...unless you consider Caff a drug.

Maybe it was the added feeling of confidence, maybe just the rush of getting a peek into the mysterious world of the astral. Whatever it was I was hooked hard. First I used my savings and took more and more time away from my team to just sit in busy places and stare at auras. Before I knew it my only reason to get out of bed was to find a fix and get back to my new found senses.

When my source dried up I had to work everyone of my contacts and use what money I had left to establish my own pipeline for the drug. That lasted almost a month. I tossed several thousand K into my new business only to have some freaking undercover agent infiltrate it and get half of my operation busted.

The bank wouldn't loan me anything and I'd leveraged my cars and savings. My team wouldn't take me back, said I was detriment to them now. I found a small time dealer, a corporate beaver from Aztec who said he could get me Tempo but the prices were sky high. So I took my shadow skills and put them to use for pimps and small time hoods trying to bankroll my high.

That worked for a little while but it got to the point were I couldn't replace my ammo and one night I didn't even have the yen for a coffin.

So thats how I found myself here.....behind this heavy wooden door, heart racing in my chest. Chattering getting frantic on the other side, sweat pouring down my face the heat oppressive in this little hallway. The Urban Explorer Jumpsuit and helmet were worn but intact and the tungsten alloy of the Combat Axe was reassuring.

I still wasn't sure if my heart was racing because I'd agreed to partake in bloodsports or because I was in withdrawals my head is filled with cobwebs.

The crowd started to cheer, a voice inside my helmet told me it was time. Just win one little fight and a years worth of Tempo was mine. Shit I've killed dozens of people in my line of work how hard was this going to be. The doors opened.

If it had been a Troll cyber zombie I'd have been ok. But the thing standing in the middle of the arena was no troll. The look of a black bear but nearly twice the size with half meter tusks jutting from his mouth. The 300 kilo Piasma was standing its full 3 plus meters on its hind legs roaring up at the crowd
watching and taunting from above. I felt something warm running down my leg my brain refused to leave the safety of my dark hallway.......
Mirilion
Serve and Protect

Her heart beat madly. She was too late and she knew it, but still, she could at least nail the bastard.
With a mental command, the world slowed down to a crawl, her wired reflexes kicking in at full power.
The woman kicked down the metalic door of the underground storage room with a well placed kick to the locking mechanism, her cyberleg emitting a noise not unlike a steam-driven engine.
Even before the door crashed to the concrete floor , she was already inside, running at full speed. Passed some corridors and empty rooms, she could see her target standing inside a room at the other end,
barely registering the noise.

The slender japanese man stood above his latest victim. The young woman's face was frozen forever in a pain-filled scream, as a pool of her life's blood spread on the floor. The man himself, wearing only
simple vending-machine pants and shoes, was covered in her blood as well. He was in the process ofturning around, his butcher's knife held in hand, when Emmi's knee connected with his face, sending
him flying across the room.

Emmi glanced once at the poor young victim, then concentrated on her target. The man had looked so boring, so bland. Even now it took some mental effort realize that the serial killer known as
Butcherbee was this harmless looking youth. He appeared unconcious, her kick dislocating his jaw and sending him head-first into a concrete wall. She toned down her reflexes, feeling sick at the sound of
the young woman's blood suddenly falling faster into the dark pool beneath the chair.

And now came the boring part. She cuffed him and picked him up, holding him suspended on her shoulder with one hand, the other gathering his clothes from the room's corner. Emmi had to leave the place,
before someone else came along, and so she walked quickly, barely registering his weight.
The outside greeted her with a rotting stench carried on the hot winds, the stars hidden above a layer of yellowish smog. Grimacing, she walked quickly to her car, the Lone Star logo shining on the
doors and roof, startlingly out of place in this stinking dump. His car was a brown, aging americar.

It took a lot of witness reports to come up with it's description, and when she spotted it today, she had no time to call for reinforcements before turning to follow.
Once again she tried calling in, but the place had no matrix reception. She took a drop of his blood, put it in the bioreader unit, and sped away. A few miles before entering the sprawl proper, her
recpetion came back. A nanosecond after making contact, her captain's face appeared up on her car's display, already shouting.
"Officer Lang, you're a crazy, stupid drek-stained BITCH, you know that ?! What if something happened to you out there, I would have to explain to the docs why their newest gear VANISHED, and they would
take it out of MY PAY !!"
Emmi tried her best to look shamed and regretfull as he shouted on. After a particulary long pause for breath, she stepped in. "I aplogize, captain. It will never happen again. I'm happy to report that the
implants functioned perfectly, and I have captured the alleged Bucherbee".
That shut him up, at least. "Oh ? do we have an I.D ?" he asked, his face red, but his anger slowly fading.
"No, sir. He had no gear, one-use clothes, no electronics, implanted or otherwise. I took the liberty of preparing a blood sample, though, but my car's computer doesn't have him in the database."
"Of course not. Wire it over to my console, i'll check it".
She did it, and continued driving toward the city, her captain's screen flashing a "busy" icon.

She enetered the city center now, the streets flashing with familiar neon signs and flashy AR ads everywhere, people in their multitude, unknowing of the dangerous animal in their midst captured this
night. Her captain's link went dead. And suddenly, all hell broke loose.

She could see the missile speeding at her, and then all went black. She came to feeling sick and crippled with pain. Not knowing where she was, she stood up shakily, the pain almost overpowering her
again. She looked towards a source of noise behind her, only to realize that the burning wreck in themiddle of the road was her car, surrounded by smaller flaming pieces, and the dead and injured
bystanders.
Her goggles were gone, along with her visual time display, but she was probably out only for a second or so. Without checking herself for injuries, she turned on her reflexes, and sped off between the
shouting and shocked people on the pavement.

------------------

Quentin was engaged in some sweet illegal matrix activities, better left secret, when suddenly he heard a faint knocking sound. That sound resolved into loud kicks and shouts once he logged off.
He ran to the door, and stood beside it, back to the wall and a gun in his hand. He shouted "Stop it, slag, who is it?"
The kicks mercifuly stopped, and a familiar, frighting woman's voice answered "It's me, Quentin, open up.. right now!"
Swallowing his usual answers to that kind of attitude, he opened the door. As expected, it was Lone Star outside, the detective as scary as ever. The freakishly tall and athletic asian woman didn't look
right at all, though. Her cyberleg was bent and sending sparks along powerlines, one of her eyes and the entire right side of her face looked beyond help, and a dark stain of blood seeped through her
black armor suit's stomach.

"Oh drek, Lang", he supported her heavy weight on his thin shoulders, guiding her to his couch, for a moment forgetting that some of his personal, very illegal equipment was right there on the floor. "You
stay right there, detective. Don't move."
She spoke in rapid bursts, between painful stops for breath. "I.. I... cought someone I... shouldn't have cought.. maybe some... high exec's kid... I.."
Emmi tried to continue, but only coughed up blood, her good eye glazing over in shock.

She arrested him once, back when she was still a beat cop. She wasn't total drek like most pigs, though. Helped him out of a rough patch that led to his arrest. Ever since they kept in contact sometimes,
mostly she buying information from him.
The fact that she came to him for help like this, instead of running back to her unit, meant everything.
"Don't worry, Lang. I'll fix you right up... but it'll cost ya."
SincereAgape
The Case of the Missing Niece: Prologue.


Chinatown. Many native Chinese citizens will tell you, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The main streets of this cultural oasis in downtown Seattle, was filled to the brim the active commlink with augmented advertisement displays. English subtitles lay below neon colored Chinese calligraphy spamming bakeries, seafood markets, jewelry stores, gyrating dance clubs, and of course restaurants all sporting three star quality or higher. Every Chinatown had a nice area reminding Chinese tourists of the denizens of central Hong Kong. But people forget. For every golden sunflower which grows amongst the soil of an average garden, there is a weed growing in between the cracks of the sidewalk polluting the scenery.

Escaping the vibrant energy of Cherry Street, Chinatown, the elven street runner known as Durden followed the GPS system on his Fairlight Caliban commlink towards the housing place of the meet. He found himself on a narrow cobblestoned avenue, incoming traffic was only allowed to travel one way, which was towards him of course. Squatters of all races and metatypes littered this detour like the trash on the ground. Old men of Asian descent were reminiscent of the take out white take out cartons. There was a bum dressed in greased stained black pants and an open shirt that had been ripped in various places talking to himself, screaming at times about gibberish. The bum could have been compared to a large garbage bag which had been sitting on the streets for weeks. Durden remained un-phased. He was used to it. Squats in the Seattle sprawls were filled with disease, germs, and psychotic breakdowns. This was no different. At the end of the block, facing the street was a three story pagoda. A green augmented arrow appeared in the commlink’s corner, signaling this was the place.

Durden was as tall and slim like most elves, with bronzed skin so dark it almost looked black in the night, contrasting sharply with the yellow-bone color of his hair pulled back in a tight pony tail. A stylized tattoo of an Eastern dragon started on the outside of the arch of his right eyebrow, trailed down the side of his face, and curled its tail about his neck. The only interruption of the artwork was a thin shrapnel scar showing white against the bronze skin at the wing of the dragon. He was adorned in designer clothing, underneath a black lined coat duster. Sliding refined hands into his pockets, he casually made his way towards the yellow and black pagoda.

An octagon shaped Feng Shui mirror stood above the doubled door entrance. The Chinese believed this mirror warded off evil spirits, especially for buildings facing an open street like this one. A rusty creak acted as a flare for his location and arrival as he pushed open the iron double doors. The first floor of the pagoda served was a restaurant or at least what was left of one. It was a vacant grand ballroom, littered with empty tables, and a bar on the left wall. Sitting at one of the tables was a troll dressed in a purple suit. He was of the large ivory horn troll variety. Across from him was a human woman of unrivaled beauty. She had braided red hair which fell past her shoulder blades, a face fair of complexion, tall in stature and athletic body that was honed by daily exercise. Flanking her was a frail human dressed in casual clothing.  Seemingly they did not notice his presence because there appeared to be a discussion going on.

"Darius. I am telling you. The emotions of music should be interpreted by the listener," A femine voice said. "Not broacasted to them by the musician. It is entirely possible to have the feelings of the musician displayed to them as an option. But as the way things stand now. It takes away from the human spirit and individuality."

"People want to forget their problems and who they are. Research has shown personality disorders metahumans have developed because of veing abused socially have effected the way people can be impacted by musical empathy." Darius replied.

"That is exactly why it is important for people to be able to experience music on their own plane. Music heals. It will take time for us to be de-sensitized to the way things are....but it is possible.."

"Ain't going to happen."

The conversation was interrupted as the skinny human male coughed towards him.

“Durden,? the female began, turning towards him “Right on time.?

He checked the retinal display on the commlink. It read 0200.

“Darius.? She continued, smiling and gesturing towards the elf “Allow me to introduce Durden. He’ll be the key to finding the girl.?

The troll scanned Durden, looking him up and down. The stoic expression contrasted the flamboyant matador-esque suit he was wearing. “He better be Kat O’ Nine Tails. I’m trusting you.?

“So what’s the scan Mr. Johnson?? He had worked with the famous Kat O’ Nine Tails in the past. Her runs usually deviated from the norm when it came to the tone of the jobs. They tended to be professional affairs centered around favors, relationships, and trust. Nonetheless he exhibited a professional stern demeanor until otherwise noted. Despite her status as a cultural icon, Kat O’ Nine Tails is loyal to her roots and does not let the rewards of fame get to her head. She is down to Earth, humble, and educated on the blights of the sprawl. The dog respected that. He respected that.

“Durden, sit down and relax. We’re still waiting for the others to arrive.? Kat asked before concluding. “I want everyone to hear this together. If my gut feeling is correct, this one could be personal.?

********************************************************************************
****************************************************

It took some time but eventually everyone arrived. There were five people in the room in the restaurant in total. The emaciated male went by the moniker of Byron. Like Durden he was a local talent. A hacker of decent reputation. He was also a drone rigger, known for being anal retentive when it came to maintaining the condition of his 'children.' Rounding out the group was a member of Byron's usual team. A ork enforcer named Chicago. Large in size, bulging with muscles, and no doubt sporting more chrome then a 21st century electronic store, the ork spoke in a heavy mid-western accept. In good nature, Chicago flashed Durden a tusk like grin while nodding upward at the elf.

"Let's get 'down to bizzness' sir. Kat tewls us ye have a job of benevolent complexion." Chicago flicked a token in the air and caught it.

The troll Johnson leaned back in his chair. Crossed his heavy legs, and readjusted a dangling hoop earring in one of his horns before beginning. "A few days ago, a young female of great importance to my contact went missing."

"Do you have a name?" Durden asked.

"Yes. Athlea. Athlea Brementon."
Abschalten
Hell Money


As soon as Storm entered the White Tiger, he knew there was going to be trouble.

Even for a dive, the White Tiger was a disgrace, and this was using Kowloon City standards. Doubtless local geomancers would have had a coronary at the way the tables were pushed close to each other, creating claustrophobic little avenues for human traffic, not to mention the dim lighting and the thick mass of smoke that hung in the air like so much stagnant chi.

Bad vibes were palpable here, as nearly every seat held some sort of thug, pusher, pimp, or trafficker; they delighted in trying to intimidate everybody else around them. In some of the more remote corners sat men with reputations and souls so dark that their ancestors doubtlessly reeled at the shame. Even the other toughs sat clear of them.

Storm ignored the sideways looks and outright glares that named him an unfamiliar face without saying a word. He walked confidently towards the bar counter, approaching a balding elven bartender with scars on his face and stains on his shirt. The bartender's paunch was stretching the thin white shirt to its limits, and there were dark patches of sweat stains around the man's armpits.

"Tequila," Storm asked politely. More politely than he felt, but there were rules and etiquette to observe.

The bartender paused in the act of half-heartedly toweling off some glasses. He reached underneath the counter and set one on the bar a little too hard, with a firm, level look at Storm. Storm's lips tightened. He felt insulted, but he'd give the bartender another chance. Besides, he didn't come here to start trouble, even if it did seem to follow him around.

Storm glanced down as the bartender went to pour, and saw stains and spots in and all around the supposedly clean glass.

"Uh-uh! No! Don't pour my drink into that! Clean that first!" He hadn't even had a chance to get situated, and already this stranger was making strides to get on his bad side. It didn't help when the tender lifted his glass, spit on it, and then wiped away a couple of the more egregious crusts of filth. Without allowing for a further moment of protestation, the tender poured tequila into the glass, half of it spilling onto the counter, and then he stalked off, grumbling.

Storm sighed. This wasn't going well at all. Right as he was about to open his mouth, a shady eel of a man sat in the stool next to him, looking straight ahead. Without turning his head, the man said in back-alley Cantonese, "Open your comm up to me."

Reaching down to fiddle with the knobs at the commlink on his belt, he allowed the man to make a connection despite riding it in hidden mode. Moments later, the imagelink in his cybereyes displayed the picture of a large orkish male wearing a tres chic designer suit and dark sunglasses.

"That's him, huh?" Storm grunted. "Tell your boss if he's got as much protection around him as he did last week, it'll be difficult. But, I don't forget favors, either. I'll do this for ten percent off the standard rate, with the understanding that any other information he can give me will be...appreciated." He said the final word haltingly. No, more than appreciated. He was desperate, crazy for clues, hints, leads, or anything that would give him the revenge he sought. If currying favor with known crime lords was the way to go about that, well... what choice did he have? But then, he had to keep control of his emotions.

"He'll be pleased. Now if you'll excuse me." The man practically slithered out of his seat. He paused before leaving to say, "You'll want to leave soon. A few here remember your face. You wouldn't want to, ah... start trouble." And with that, he was slipping out the door. Storm actually shivered.

Never one to ignore good advice, Storm moved to leave the bar.

"Hey!" bellowed the bartender, suddenly bounding back down to his untouched glass of tequila. "You better pay for this!" Conversations came to an abrupt halt, as if sheared off with a monoblade.

Storm smirked. "Sure." He reached into his pocket and fished out some crumpled green bills, dropping them onto the counter. The bartender reached for it, then gasped when one of the bills unfolded enough to show an image of the Jade Emperor, with a denomination of 1,000,000,000.

When the bartender howled with fury, all hell broke loose. Ah well. So much for controlling his emotions.

-----------------------

An hour later, Storm felt like he'd finally lost the cops. From his position on top of the apartment building, be could see the White Tiger still engulfed in flames. Knight Errant patrol cars had blocked off access, and they were still cruising Kowloon's streets, looking for those involved in the shootout.

Glancing down at a puddle, Storm's augmented vision could just make out his own reflection. He had a couple of new slashes on his face, but not all of the blood was his. The bulletholes hurt like hell, but so long as he got to Doc Chop soon enough, they shouldn't get infected.

Storm took another drag off his cigarette, then dropped it into the puddle. It went out with a hiss. Pulling up the image of the mark stored in his cybereyes, he made his way down the fire escape and into the dark Kowloon alleyway. He had work to do.
Critias
Last Play


[00:22]

Time crawled for everyone still alive and active in the handful of city blocks. Nuyen saw to it, trained bodies riding the high of Wires or Chips or Boosts or terrific drugs. As the timer counted down, the seconds ticked away slower and slower and they all felt they moved faster and faster in comparison.

Tired squealed, a Honda Vector slipped as burning, peeling, rubber hit a patch of slick blood. The Outrider grimaced, sent a command through a slender datacable, and the bike gained traction and started to pick up speed. It left behind bodies. Two lay utterly still and would forever. The other six's poly-kevlar armor were painted in different patterns and different colors, but at the moment each of them glowed a urine-bright, cowardly, yellow.

Two men rode on the Honda's sleek back. Both wore tan and red armor, both had blood-spattered feathers dangling here and there, hand-painted stripes slashing over the urban camo of their Lakota Warriors armor. One was a part of the machine, another piece of hardware linked to it by cables and magnetic clamps, the tiny gyroscopes in his inner ear miniature twins to the stabilizing gyro in the belly of the Vector. The other was just a passenger. A parasite. He rode on the back of the beast and pointed with one hand, hung on for dear life with the other. He held an Ultra Power in the pointing hand, snarled orders through the radio in his helmet. He was just a Scout, but the Outrider did what he said anyways.

[00:20]
[Peel, Convict. They're almost there.]

The Outrider's bike snarled and ate pavement like the ravenous beast it was. A block faded away. The pilot payed no attention to the half-dozen gauges that fed him information all around the fringes of his vision. There were times to read each one and drive accordingly. This wasn't one of those times. He just felt the street beneath his wheels, hunched low over the handlebars of his Vector and sent a thought to his heads-up display to brush the numbers aside.

He'd emptied his Ultra Power for the seventh time in the carnage that was three seconds and a block and a half behind him. He knew he'd rolled onto the street with twelve spare magazines a million years and four points ago, but the magnetic clamps on his armor could only do so much so the extras were lying somewhere worthless. The Browning autopistol was dead weight, so it clattered to the street as his wheels slipped and slid around a corner to the long straightaway.

He wanted to do the same to his passenger, but couldn't.

[00:17]
[Five Predators on two of us, Convict. Get me there if you want to stay out of your cage.]

He'd played three games as a Scout. Four more bleeding and fighting as a Banger, then two as a Heavy. He'd been nine games deep as a Dog Soldier in the minors before the assholes had given him a bike and changed the roster to make room for him where he belonged. Then they'd congratulated themselves for being so fucking smart and, after just seeing him in one more game, moved him up to fill a hole in the Lakota Warriors proper. The Tsimshian assholes had lost the game against a real band of NAN fighters two weeks prior, of course, but they'd been vindictive enough about it to kill two of the Warriors' three Outriders in the process. That was his chance.

Ten games, though. Ten games, and seventeen seconds to go of number eleven, and every asshole here still called him Convict. He wondered if they'd ever shut up about how he'd gotten here.

The Outrider twisted his wrist and the bike lurched forward all the faster. A block away, heat signatures dashed from behind a building out into the open, crossing the street he raced down on their way to score what would be game-winning points.

[00:14]
[I've got 'em, I've got 'em...]

The Outrider's cyberaudio worked overtime to dampen the roaring thunder as the asshole behind him opened up, hand cannon held before him and firing not half a meter from the Outrider's ear. Dick. One of the heat signatures stumbled a bit, but the thoom-thoom-thoom-thoom of the big pistol mostly just made sure every prick in Ares armor looked their way and started shooting.

The Outrider hunched lower as smartguns start to chew at the Vector's ballistic plating. A shotgun roared at the end of the straightaway and a hail of pellets peppered his armor and almost knocked the monkey off his back. Almost. No such luck.

One heat signature in Predators armor kept moving, didn't spin to take a knee and open fire. That one was bent lower, arm curled tight to his body and carrying a heat-neutral little ball that was the most important thing in the Outrider's world.

[00:11]

The FN built into the Honda Vector's front started barking and biting, spitting fire and iron and lighting up the open road with strobe-blinking muzzle flashes. The shotgun didn't fire again, that red-orange blob of heat and life stumbled. The Outrider's PacCyber eyes faded from mode to mode, and he saw the fallen Heavy's armor glowing I-Give-Up-Don't-Shoot-Me-No-More yellow.

Pussy.

The autorifle kept firing, the Vector's engine snarled to keep racing against the recoil. The Ultra Power next to his ear kept clapping, and eventually a second Predator staggered and fell. The Outrider cycled back to thermoptics just in time to pierce the muzzle flashes and gunsmoke from the end of the street and see a huge white-hot barrel lift and point his way. His passenger noticed it, too.

[00:09]

[Blaster, Blaster, Blaster!]

The Ares MP-LMG roared at them like an angry dragon.

The Outrider sent his Honda into a sidelong skid, bike leaning far, far, less than the driver was. His armored left knee and left albow got ground and sanded and chewed on by pavement, but he kept the bike upright, moving, and held it's ballistic-plated mass between him and the incoming fire like a plainsmen shielded by his horse. His passenger had no idea what was happening and no idea how to react to it. One arm flailed to maintain his balance, and then a dozen rounds tore into and through him in the blink of an eye.

[00:008]
[Hurk--!]

The Vector righted itself as the shooter's eye got caught by the falling, sprawling, package of meat and polymers and kevlar and blood and kept his machinegun targeting on the tumbling corpse. The bike juked left, then right, while the tak-tak-tak of incoming fire gnawed at armor plating whenever the hosing LMG was able to line up the stream of tracer rounds with the jinking Honda. One grazed his helmet and nearly broke his neck.

Precious milliseconds bled away before the Outrider was able to override the eight distinct emergency warning lights that tried their best to block his field of vision. Mental command after exasperated mental command flicked them away. When he could see -- ignoring the flames that licked at his bike's flanks, the uneven gait of his shredded-wheels, the emptying fuel gauge, the temperature warnings, his own pain -- he dragged the smartlink onto the incessantly firing player that was out to see him dead, and loosed a burst of retaliatory fire.

Two rounds pockmarked the street in front of the enemy Blaster. One tore through an armor-plated ankle, then one into his knee, and one into his hip. The hardmounted rifle let the recoil just drag the smartgun's point of aim higher and higher...only for the reassuring, murderous, FN to fall near-silent with a klaklaklaklaklaklak. A fresh emergency heads-up window blinked into sight, politely warning him that his primary firearm was empty.

Fuck.

The Outrider just kept the engine redlined, racing straight at him.

[00:06]

The Ares player howled as his leg buckled under the oncoming motorcycle. He stopped screaming as the Vector's front tire rolled up his good leg and folded him beneath it a full three-hundredths of a second before his armor blazed surrender-yellow. It was a legal hit. The Outrider smiled. Only one heat signature was left, the one with the ball. The one that counted.

His cyberoptics suite blinked back to standard mode even as he felt himself stutter-step and stumble, felt the bike lurching and failing beneath him. The ball carrier was too close to the goal to ignore, but too far from the bike and his empty gun to do anything else. He growled and his engine snarled with him, giving all it could like a loyal, dying, horse. It lunged forward because he willed it to, and because he sent that will through the cable that connected his right temple to the fading machine's console.

[00:05]

Over one hundred kilograms of muscle-augmented Elf and near-triple that of armored uniform, ballistic plating, engine, chassis, and wheels slammed headlong into the sprinting Ares Predator Scout. It had bled too much momentum to cross the last meters, though, and he didn't crumple and break like the last one. The three of them -- Scout, Outrider, and Honda Vector -- skidded and tangled and slammed into a graffiti-slashed brick wall. Both of the living players grunted from the impact, staggered for precious milliseconds as chipped reflexes and enhanced bodies fought to overcome concussions and send muscles screaming into action. The Outrider's helmet tumbled and bounced on pavement, long raven-black hair swung free, proud bronze features twisted in anger and determination even as blood streamed down from his forehead.

The magnetic plates on the side of the Vector weren't strong enough to hold his tomahawk in place when the Outrider sent his gloved right hand down to wrench and twist and tear the weapon free from its invisible sheath. The Ares Scout twisted and lurched, ball still in one arm, gleaming twin spurs snakting from special ports in his opposite gauntlet to swipe at the Outrider's face and neck.

The Amerind leaned and twisted, turning a kill-slash into a slice that just sent stray locks of hair fluttering to the ground. His left hand whipped up from the dead bike's handlebars to snatch the Predator's lethal wrist.

[00:03]

Both men grunted and strained. The Elf twisted and wrenched at the other man's arm, straightening it and hyperextending the Ares man's elbow. His combat 'hawk lashed out with chip-quick swings and all the strength behind them that nuyen could buy. It only took two before the forearm came free amidst a horrific river of crimson.

"Hoka hey, mu'fucka!" The Outrider threw his head back and howled, waving the trophy overhead as the Ares man got busy bleeding to death and activating his Brawler-down yellow plates just a little too late.

[WIPEOUT]

[00:02]

[00:01]

[00:00]

[Final Score: Warriors (7), Predators (6)]

Another win. Another week of freedom.
Shard
Chowder's Drone Stop



Smitty's Repair Works was conveniently located in the belt of blocks that transitioned from suburbs to 'plex. It was far enough away from the center of the sprawl to be low heat and almost but not quite too far out of the way to be worth the trip. Tucked out of the way, without too much of a hastle from the gangers of the inner 'plex, it straddled two worlds and catered to them both.

A sleek black pickup eased to a stop on the cracked pavement outside. Chowder killed the engine and the lights and the industrial metal guitar riffs that had issued from the wiz audio system died with them. He ducked his head to look out at the place. There was light in the last bay of the garage, accompanied by intermittent bright flashes, but the rest of the shop looked deserted. It didn't look very special, maybe a place to get your mommy's transmission looked at, maybe.

Blend had said this was the place to get his team's drones checked out, and he knew what he was talking about. "Just ask for Lancer," the fixer had said. Chowder snorted, a distinctly orkish sound, and stepped out of the truck. The luscious soft black leather of his coat fell and draped around his bulk. It was custom tailored and well armored despite the designer style. With an encrypted command from his com, he armed the truck's security system and walked to the last bay door. He knocked.

A couple of minutes passed before a modulated voice issued from an intercom above the bay door. "Whatcha want Ork-face?" it queried.

"Got a drone problem I need fixed," Chowder grumbled.

"Who said we do drones, chum?"

"Blend."

A smaller door in the bay door cracked open. After a deep breath, Chowder cautiously pushed his frame through only to come face to barrel with a shotgun held by a small human. Well, he assumed it was a human, but the face was covered by a welding mask and bulky coveralls obscured body details.

"All your customers get this treatment?" Chowder asked calmly. Behind his shades his eyes flicked around the interior of the bay. He noticed various workbenches, vehicles and other various projects in different stages of disarray, but nothing breathing.

"Nope," a young woman's voice came from behind the mask, "only the big scary ones that come sniffin 'round after hours askin bout drones."

Ork brows raised and he took a second look at the woman in front of him. "Blend said to talk to Lancer, you know 'em?"

"Yeah, I know 'em." She lowered the shotty and flipped up the mask. Her face was smudged with grit and grease, not exactly attractive, but not homely either. She couldn't have been much older than 20. "What's your drone problem, leatherman?"

"Our roto took a few hits. Needs repairs and some... modifications. Lancer can do that, right?"

"Yeah, I can do that chum," she replied cheerfully. "Wouldn't be in business if I couldn't, huh?"

Chowder gaped. "You're the drone mechanic?"

Lancer rolled her eyes. This wasn't the first or even the second time she'd gotten this reaction. She might not look like much, but she knew her way around a toolbox. She'd had to have some sort of skill to survive growing up on the streets. "You chippin? Not until I get my hands on it. Gonna stand around lookin all night or what?" The ork snorted and considered her for a moment before he went to grab the roto from his truck.

TEXT >> BLEND >> Thanks for the Lancer lead, drekhead.//
crash2029
New dog, old tricks

John was not happy. Being pinned down behind a dumpster while digging a half-dozen bullets out of his dermal plating tended to do that to him. He would have to have a talk with Car about putting him on teams of kids.
***
“I’m telling’ ya John, this is the kinda run you’ve done a hundred times before.?
“It’s not the job, Car, it’s the help. I’m not crazy about trying to ride herd on a bunch of teenagers.?
“C’mon man, it’s not like they are complete rookies. They have a few runs under their belts.?
“Car, seriously, they’ve been on, what, two runs? They’re FNG’s and you know it!?
“Yeah, that’s why when they wanted another gun I called you, a real veteran will show them how it’s done. Think about how many lives you can save if you teach these guys how to do it properly.?
John sighed tiredly “Fine, where do I meet them??
“The Cutting Edge, in booth 16.?
“Jesus, a goddamn strip club!?
“It’s secure.?
“It’s a goddamn strip club! Please, tell me you chose the location as a joke.?
Car shifted nervously, “Well, it could be worse…?
“Yeah, how so??
“It could have been MacHughes.?
“Don’t make me kill you, Car.?
***
John walked in to the club and zeroed in on the booth. He swore under his breath as he saw one of them, a sam, from the looks of him, getting a lap dance. John walked over to the bar and picked up the Guinness he’d ordered from the parking lot. He waited until the lady was finished with her work before he went over. While waiting he got a better look at them. Three of ‘em, a male human whose movements were just a little too smooth to be organic. John was pretty sure he recognized the fake nails that ‘razors hid under, as the youth obviously was intoxicated by the performer on his lap. A male ork who was either a hacker covertly accessing AR, or having a minor seizure. A female human in a Sally Tsung getup. John pegged her as a magician, the getup plus the look of superiority on her face practically screamed young mage. The performer finally left and John wandered over. As he came up to the table the sam looked at him with the kind of sneer only teenagers can do properly.
“Whaddaya want, geezer?? the sam said as the mage snickered. John invoked his military discipline and restrained from killing him.
“Car sent me.? The look on the punk’s face was priceless. In a flash the superiority was replaced by alarm.
“You?? The punk stammered a bit. “You’re gonna watch our backs? What are you, like 90?? he asked incredulously.
“51, actually.? John replied. He had to give them a little leeway, after all, from their perspective their fire support was a middle-aged ork in a battered longcoat chewing on the stub of a cigar. They had never heard of John before. Then again why should they? After all, back in the fifties John was a badass ‘runner who was renowned for his marksmanship and Herculean stamina. That all changed in ‘61. The comet triggered John’s latent metagenes and he goblinized into an ork. Turning from a human into an ork was bad enough, but the ‘ware he had caused his body to try to tear itself apart because as his physiology shifted the ware did not. It took nearly ten years and almost his entire fortune to put him back together. And now, in 2070, he did the only job he knew how. Unfortunately, as time moved on so did his rep. Thus the current situation.
“You sure you’re up to this?? the punk said.
“Well I’m sure as hell not gonna break a hip, if that’s what you’re worried about.?
The punk looked dubious, “Well if Car sent you I guess you must be okay.?
John sighed tiredly.
***
On the way to the building the job and objectives were explained. At least they have a decent van, John thought. The job was to get into a secured warehouse on the Tacoma docks, retrieve the doohickey, and bring it to a safe house on the Redmond border.
***
They got to the place and the hacker, Cheeto, managed to disable the security system. Tyr, the sam, and Aethra, the mage disappeared inside the building while John climbed on the roof of the van and got out his rifle. After a couple minutes they came out and got in the van. John’s AR display flashed a package acquired message and he slid into the cabin as the van trundled away.
***
The van stopped at the mouth of an alley just inside Redmond. Everyone climbed out and John followed as Tyr strode confidently down the alley. They reached the back door to what used to be a Stuffer Shack. Tyr knocked thrice and the door opened a crack. Whispered words were exchanged and then a small case was passed inside. Whoever was inside passed a few credsticks to Tyr and the door shut and locked.
As they started back toward the van John walked up to Cheeto.
“Hey, Cheeto, nice work on the security system.?
“Thanks man, I put a microdrone in there yesterday to gather surveillance. After that it was a cinch.?
“Where is the drone now??
“Tyr said to leave it there so it could let us know if someone found out before we were far enough away.?
“It’s still TRANSMITTING!?!?
“Yeah, so-? Cheeto started to ask as automatic fire erupted from the alley mouth. John, reflexes honed by decades of fighting, flung the hacker behind a dumpster as a fusillade of rounds buzzed like demon hornets through the place Cheeto had been standing.
“Incoming!? John yelled as he dove beside Cheeto. He grunted as several rounds stitched their way up his torso. “Dammit,? he thought, “I’m getting slow in my old age.? He checked across the way and saw that Tyr and Aethra had made it behind another dumpster. It looked like Aethra had gotten hit. John hand signaled Tyr to ask how many hostiles. Tyr just looked at him blankly. “Damn, kids,? he grumbled as he peeked out. Five hostiles, two behind cover of the alley wall, three behind the van. John pulled his Ingram’s and in the John Woo style he used to be famous for, put a burst in each of the gunmen behind the alley walls. The trio of round hit each in the head. “Heh,? John thought, “Still got it.?
“Fi-vuh hotels, too down, thuh-ree left, behind the van!? John yelled. He looked at Tyr who still had that confused look on his face. “Fine, I’ll do it myself.? John thought. He peeked out and saw that it would be almost impossible to get a good shot on them. He wasn’t quite fast enough and took a round in the shoulder before he could get back under cover. He grunted with the pain as he fished a flash bang out of his coat. He pulled the pin, tossed the grenade bouncing down the street and under the van. After a second he took off toward the van. His timing was right. The grenade went off right before he vaulted over the van’s roof. He landed among the gunmen who were still reeling. His left hand lashed out in a knifehand that crushed the throat of one, while he popped the spur on his right wrist and sank it into the eye of the man on his right. The final gunman tried to swing his rifle at John. John caught the rifle in his left hand and sank his spur into the man’ s heart. He managed a surprised grunt as he died. John took stock in the sudden stillness. He strode back toward the others while the still living guard gurgled as he choked to death. Tyr’s look of confusion had been replaced by one of awe as John picked up Aethra and dragged Cheeto back to the van. He tossed them into the back and looked at Tyr.
“You coming??
Tyr seemed to snap back to reality as he hurried over. John got into the driver’s seat and started up the engine. The van trundled on back toward a street doc John knew.
John sighed tiredly. “Damn kids.?

Fin
006
Feedback welcome...

Dark Revival


“Nigel, if you can hear me, make a fist,? a gravelly voice said.

“There, his finger moved,? a female voice said.

I tried to open my eyes, but they were glued shut. I tried sitting up next, no luck there. The distinctive sterilized smell of a hospital room filled my nostrils, and I was suddenly aware of lying on a cot of some sort. The thought, “Where am I?? filled my mind, but all that escaped my cracked lips was a tortured groan.

“Relax Nigel, you’re safe,? the first voice said.

The name Nigel sounded familiar for some reason...

“Why can’t I open my eyes? Why am I tied down?? I demanded, my voice barely above a whisper.

“We... You were in a pretty serious accident,? the female voice said, “you’re not tied down.?

“Then why can’t I move?? I asked, once again testing my restraints to no avail. There was a memory worming around my subconsciousness, but it was like an army of spiders had been working inside my head for weeks.

“Your muscles have atrophied,? the male voice said, I assumed he was a doctor, “once your primary was overdrawn, we had to harvest your cyberware to pay for the operation-“

“You WHAT?? nothing wrong with my voice now.

“Don’t worry, now that you’re awake, we can get the issue of your identification sorted out,? the doctor said.

“The important thing is you’re alive,? the nurse said.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be reimbursed and we can get you cleaned up,? the doctor said, “we just need to know who your employer is.?

“My employer...? I mumbled, something about my (former?) employer was setting off warning bells in my head.

“That’s right, we couldn’t find any record of employment, but that’s not surprising considering where you’re from,? the doctor said.

“Wha-?? I said, slumping back, trying to buy a moment to think.

“Doctor,? the female voice said, “maybe we should give the stims a little more time.?

There were a few hushed whispers, followed by the sound of receding footsteps and a gently closing door. My mind was becoming clearer by the second. Nigel was one of my fake ID’s, originating from South Africa. I didn’t know if they knew I was Awakened, but regardless, I wasn’t planning on sticking around very long. The perfect darkness of my blindness gave way to the swirling eddies of the Astral Plane. The shadows here were deep, reflecting the technology all around me. I felt the pair approaching before the door opened, the doctor bearing something in his hands; a syringe. He was a dwarf, his bright aura a malevolent purple and orange. The nurse was human, more of a neutral brown.

“Tell me,? I began, weaving a spell as I spoke, “why are you so interested in my employer??

“Because,? the dwarf answered, “if you have a legal SIN, we can’t harvest your organs without risking serious repercussions.?

“Doctor!? The nurse exclaimed.

“Oh drek,? the dwarf said as my enchantment broke, his aura shifting to bright fearful blue. The next spell dropped him to the ground, unconscious. The nurse’s aura shifted to fear-tinged confusion for just a second before she dropped next to him. The mana here was tainted and the spells had taken more effort than I’d expected, but at least I wasn’t completely helpless. Another spell strengthened and reinforced my crippled muscles, and then I was pulling bio monitors off my chest, the machine behind me making an alarming beeping noise as I did so. The IV from my forearm was next, and then I was on my way out, the after-image of my strength spell trailing behind me like a comet tail.

Nothing in the trids about waking up half-dead at a chop doc’s office with your eyes ripped out,? I thought to myself as I shuffled barefoot down the hallway.

Nobody in the halls, must be night time, least I don’t have one of those ass-less smocks,? I thought.

While I could see the plants clearly, reading signs was impossible, making finding an elevator entirely more difficult than it should have been. Some of the rooms I peered into were devoid of life, but some were filled with weak auras of different metahumans, all of whom were asleep. I was still trying to piece together what had happened. After the crash, I’d quit and started an alchemy shop, thinking I could make some money away from the Man. That went well for a while, but the damn Triads busted up my place when I refused to upgrade to their platinum protection plan, then I’d fled to North America with a fake ID. I remembered getting in the taxi at Sea-Tac, because the cabbie had been an ork with an apparent aversion to deodorant, but everything after that was blank.

I rounded a corner and a human form was moving towards me, pale yellow with concern.

“Sir, are you alright? Let me help you,? a male voice said.

“Do me a favor, show me out of the building, then you can go back to work,? I said, weaving the same spell as I had on the doctor.

“Sure,? he responded as his aura shifted from concern to the warm pink of helping a friend in need.

I focused on following his glowing aura, the concentration required to maintain two spells took most of my focus. The nurse took me down a flight of stairs, his loud footsteps contrasting with my slapping feet, then out a metal door. The ground was wet, and the cool night air smelled like a combination of exhaust and rain. There were a few bugs overhead, drawn by what I assumed was a light, as well as a few hardy weeds growing from cracks in the pavement, but not a soul in sight.

“See you around, chummer,? the nurse said, turning back into the stairwell.

“Hey,? I called after him, “What day is it??
His aura turned around, framed by the stairwell doorway, drifting to confused yellow.

“The date,? I said again.

“Twelve, May, Monday,? he responded, blinking a few times and growing more confused.

“What year?? I demanded.

“2070,? he said.

What the frag? Two years?? I thought.

“Hey, you shouldn’t be out here,? he said, his aura shifting from confused to suspicious orange.

If I still had eyes, I would have rolled them before attacking his mind with a stun spell, dropping him unconscious. Reflexively turning my head to glance around, I stripped off his shoes and shoved my feet into them. They were a little large, but too big was better than too small. I still had no idea exactly where I was, but I sure as hell couldn’t go back to the life I left. The Triads had probably forgotten about the mess I’d made of the guys they sent to rough me up, but Aztechnology would do a lot worse than cut out my marketable organs if they learned I was still alive. The only way was forward, into the shadows.

knasser
Never, Ever


"People commonly and mistakenly assume," began the mage, "that because a dragon is intelligent, that it must be intelligent in the same
manner that a human is intelligent. In fact, this is not the case."

The mage took a sip of his Nutrisweet BrainBuzz and wiped the green froth from his neatly bearded jowls, every inch the fastidious hermetic cliché.

"Whilst both humans and dragons share certain inalienable processes of logic, the underlying rationales and drives are quite different. A
dragon, for example, has almost no social instinct in the sense that humans would understand. Reptilian in outlook, it has no desire for
comfort or solace. More to the point, it has no degree of Socialized Identity. That is to say that it entirely lacks what would we would call
conscience or compassion. A dragon can and does seek conversance with other sapients for intellectual stimulation or rarely for protection,
but will never seek out contact through aversion to loneliness for example. Why would it? Humans are soft pink organisms devoid of natural
weapons or defenses. The entire basis for a human's survival and advancement is his ability to contribute to and derive benefit from a group.
A dragon is an armour-plated, highly mobile, cunning and magically capable beast with natural weapons that on a good day, can disable
armoured vehicles!" Here, the magician paused for breath having reached a peak of passion on the subject. "A dragon," he resumed more quietly (and his audience hung on every word), "has never developed an instinct for needing someone."

It was quiet in the bar that afternoon. Only the runners and a paltry smattering of other patrons listened to the mage holding court on his
favourite subject in the gloomy half-light.

"To a dragon," he said, "there is only Fight or Flight. Things you can eat, and things that can eat you. That is why you should never deal with a
dragon. They are incapable of seeing you as an actual ally to form a working relationship with, merely as an object to be manipulated. Dragons do not feel pity, because either the object of that emotion will always be weak and therefore of no use, or will one-day become strong again and should
therefore be eliminated while it is not a threat. They do not feel compassion, because this requires empathy with the target and as an asocial
animal, a dragon has no such capacity."

Everyone in the bar listened to the magician with interest, sensing some rhetorical pinnacle to his monologue.

"Above all," said the mage loudly, well aware that his audience had grown from the little table of runners to encompass the whole bar, "for all
its vaunted superiority over us, a dragon cannot love. No dragon has ever loved or will ever love, because love evolved from our ancestors
huddling together on dark, wolf-stalked nights, clasping each other together in need. And no dragon has ever experienced that need for each
other that we experience. However much people are awestruck by dragons, remember that they are empty, cold creatures who can't feel what
we feel. Man remains the superior creature for the simplest of reasons: his heart."

The mage sat back and smiled and the rest of the bar grinned at the moral. Even the hard-bitten runners acknowledged by their smiles, if only
tacitly, the importance of love to their lives.

Only a woman seated a little nearer the bar, in the shadow of a broken light, made no murmer of approval or recognition of the mage's tale.
As she stood, her face caught the orange light of the bulbs above the bar and the clientele noticed the strange beauty of her face and the
straightness of her back.

"Perhaps," she said (and her voice was calm and conversational after the mage's growing theatrics), "dragons look down on humans for
precisely that reason."

She picked up the coat of orange leather she had from the table and surveyed the watching people with cool green eyes. "Perhaps dragons
think that a love that is based on need and dependence instead of mutual respect, is an impure love and," she continued more quietly but quite audibly, "that grief for a
lost loved one that is born of sudden insecurity and personal vulnerability, is quite little compared to the loss of a love that has been cultivated
over millenia and never tainted with self-interest."

"Shoot straight, conserve ammo if you think it will help, but never, ever lecture a dragon." And with that, she left trailing a wake of silence.

The silence was only broken by the sound of chairs edging slowly and quietly, away from the mage.
The Jake
I dedicate this one to Zormal for his post here.

---
Cool White


My hands were shaking. Again.

I had the circuits checked just last week. My cybersurgeon tells me my 'ware is perfect. No software glitches with the software in my cyberarms, no TLE-X induced by my Move-By-Wire systems. No apparent physiological signs that would indicate a problem either. My arms and jacked up reflexes are some of the best that money could by. If they could speak, they would say "Made in Chiba". I even had one of the best surgeons in the world hack off my meat arms to give me the replacements. According to him, there was no reason for the shakes.

Except for the fact I was addicted to Beetles. Even though it was my doc I was speaking with, I didn't feel comfortable telling him. Even as a shadowrunner, you never know when this stuff can come back and haunt you.

BTLs. Better Than Life. I don't know if I liked the label - it just didn't seem accurate. Then again, I never hit the dreamchips, the tripchips, or the personafixes. Definitely not the snuff chips. I just took moodchips - and only one specific kind - a BTL that took away my emotions. "Cool White", he called it.

I can imagine the snickers that'd get from the real BTL junkies out there. A BTL with no emotions? I know, that kind of defeats the purpose doesn't it? At first I thought so too. But you'd be surprised how useful they are - and who uses them.

I still remember what the dealer told me that day. He told to me said it was his most popular. He sold it to other drug dealers. He sold it to poker players. He sold it to high stakes negotiators - you know, fancy corporate types who couldn't afford to get embarrassed when someone tried to piss them off. Someone could put a gun to your head and you'd never flinch. You'd react calmly, coolly and rationally. I knew right there, I had found my solace.

Before the chips, there was the alcohol, but always with a hangover, the churning stomach and weight gain - not good for my line of work. Then onto anti-depressants. They left me in a fugue state, often not knowing if I was awake, let alone alive. So they then prescribed me uppers, only to deal with the crash that would inevitable follow. Uppers. Downers. No matter what I took, half a day of sleep would always feel like a thirty minute powernap.

Every morning I'd feel like shit. I'd look at the holo-pic of Mei, and I'd want to put my gun into my mouth and pull the trigger. At times I didn' know if the picture made the nausea worse. But I knew I'd feel worse if I put it away - as if it was my body's way of punishing me trying to forget.

No - I could never forget. The most I could manage was to find a way to deal with it.

I still remember the day I met that dealer. I was doing a random street sweep while I was undercover, back when I was still employed by Knight-Errant. We bumped into this street dealer who was hustling. He was offering chips. There must have been something about us that gave us away - that we were the hunters, not the prey. He started babbling how he had the chip that was perfect for us - a chip that would make you rock calm. We had a good laugh as we showed him our guns and scared the hell out of him. After my shift was done though, I hunted him down alright.

The night I slotted that chip - the first time - I knew I was hooked. I don't know if you know what its like when you're depressed. There is a haze - a fog - that clouds your mind. It affects everything - your memory, your reaction times and your judgement. That chip lifted the fog for the first time in a year. That street dealer - that two bit hustler bucking for a few nuyen - delivered what he promised. I felt unstoppable. I looked around and felt instantly sharper, more accurate, but most of all - assuredly calm. The zero emotive track ensured that my cortisol levels would never rise. Babies don't sleep as calmly as I was feeling.

I would have said I loved it but I don't think I could honestly say that emotion came to me while I was chipped. I felt nothing and that is precisely what I wanted.

The shakes were telling me something, that the doctor couldn't, but I already knew - I had a problem with the chips. I needed to stop. But at first, I wrote it off. Technical glitch in the 'ware. Sorayama definitely isn't what he used to be - at least when I last saw him. Oh well, it doesn't affect my performance - if anything, it enhances it. Maybe the shakes will pass. Then I started to realize I wanted the chips all the time.

I wanted it when I woke up and the grief and depression hit me like a freight train. My hands would twitch furiously as I would fumble for the case and slide the chip into my datajack. I'd crave it when I was on patrol, heading into a Z-zone neighborhood, or escorting a high profile client. Thank God dating was not an option for me - I probably would have wanted it then as well.

Getting busted by Knight-Errant was definitely not one of my finest moments. But hey, at least I had more options to pursue freelance work. I guess it sucked that nobody would employ me legally. But hey, more money in the shadows, right? At least I'm free, right? Don't you feel liberated?

I don't know what I feel anymore - and of what I do feel, I can't trust its mine.

My hands are still trembling as the chip goes in and the wave of stillness washes over me instantly. My head is throbbing and I know that the tremors are a sign of nerve degradation. It may not have shown on the CT scanner - but I know its there - like a smoker thinks about lung cancer every time he draws breath.

I don't care.

I look at the picture of Mei and I think about the times we shared. We had some good times. Some bad times. I remember them all. Once the emotions are gone, your head doesn't do the mental math anymore to weigh them up so the good ones override them all. You see things as they are - warts and all. Some days now I have to look at that picture and remind myself that once upon a time I loved her - even if I can't recall the feeling. I might not feel human, but at least I don't feel pain.

I see my commlink beeping silently. Its a message from my fixer, Jake. "Meet at Dante's at 2100". He obviously has a job for me. Time to get to work. I jump out of bed and grab a shower.

I can deal with anything now.
Chrysalis
CHASED

Sonya was running, feet hitting metal gangplank of the Renraku Arcology. The quick stomp of the feet were what kept her going. The rifle in her hands felt heavy, her muscles complaining. She continued to run, picking the righthand fork in the tunnel. She stopped and turned, shadows moving along her eye. A quick burst from her rifle. It was a hopeful shot the thing slithered back.

She continued to run, a few more turns and she was out of corridors into a wide open space. It was filled with glass shards and discarded industrial equipment. Generators long dormant were slowly rusting. Sonya ran behind a unit. She quickly checked her magazine. Even though her smartlink told her she had only three rounds left, it was a simple re-assurance.

Her muscles complained and creaked and she started running again. She knew there were several locations for it to come from. There was an elevator nearby, but she ignored it. She moved down the steps, second floor down she kicked the door open. The red haze of emergency lighting made her eyes blink for a moment as she continued to run down the corridor. Eyes stinging she ran past the white walls. The corridor indicating it is a medical section. She looks into a surgical suite. The sheets and implements scattered around, moving quickly she tries the door down past what was carnage. It was locked. She tried it a few times, followed by a few kicks, but it did not budge.
A slithering comes across the corridor and she puts her back against the wall as the metallic multitentacled monster attacked from across the room. She waited for the last moment as it ripped its way past the operating table. The three shots hit true, the momentum of the thing continued on, as it plowed into Sonya. She was pinned, her bones creaking with the force. The thing rose back up and dragged up to her feet.

It grabbed a scalpel and bonesaw off the floor. It flicked the scalpel across her cheek. She shrieked for a moment blood dribbling down the floor.
The thing hesitated for a moment. ?How did it go??

Sonya hesitates for a moment as she placed back on the ground, the thing brushing her off self-consciously. ?Much better. Good improvisation with the surgical tools.?

She loaded another magazine. ?Shall we start again??
Prime Mover
Revenge Is Best Served

The stinging rain poured down making the neon illumination from the overhead advert blimps blurry. Sara sat under the cover of the bus stop its AR ads flickering out of the corner of her eyes. She wore an old dress tonight, tattered and too small. She clutched Bozzy Bear close to her, his matted fur and misclumped stuffing giving away his age. Only some fresh stitching at the base of his skull giving away his hidden purpose as data storage. Sara closed her eyes and let herself go limp on the cold metal bench.

Troy Detrich climbed into his Saab 72 and took a moment to take in the odor of new leather interior. Close to retirement now and nice nest egg stashed away Troy had clawed stabbed and wiled his way to this final reward. Two weeks to go then a trip to the Carib league and a rejuv treatment center. To be young again with the freedom and the Nuyen of an old executive. He could pick up were he'd left off.

Sara let the whispers of the wireless matrix lead her to the node she was looking for in the parking garage across the street. Bozz lumbered along behind her still matted and worn but now the size of a grizzly with vicious metalic jaws. The Saabs fancy node flashed as if to taunt those who couldn't afford such luxery. Sara hummed a lullaby and a worn stuffed rabbit sworled into existence. She quietly asked the Sprite to help her find a way into the node.

Troy slipped on the trodes and activated the car with a thought. Theres nothing like the feeling of hot VR when operateing such a powreful peice of machinery. His heart raced as the deep thrum of the engine rattled him from the inside out.

The world abruptly melted away for troy to replaced with a view of a darkened room displaying diagnostic information floating in the air. A girl, a waif of a thing in a tattered party dress stood in the center under a spotlight. The massive shape of a grizzly made up to look like a stuffed animal with cyber stood behind her on its hind legs fully 4 times her height.

Sara worked hard to hold back the tears but her voice still cracked when she spoke. "Troy you bastard my mother drank herself to death because of what you did to me". "I won't let you be young again". "I won't let you hurt anyone else every again". " Bozz SIC HIM"!

Sara stood in the shadow of a nearby alley watching rescue services remove the remains of Troy from the wreckage of his prized sports car. It appeared as if the vehicle had launched itself from the upper floors of the nearby parking garage at great speed. His commlink would reveal his suicide note and confesion for his crimes against the innocent.
kanislatrans
a piece I tossed together a while back. its a bit rough but thought I'd drop it here...

"Horror story"

Mudluk flashed the maglok keycard through the scanner and then pressed his thumb on the panel, waiting . It seemed to take for ever before the door beeped and the locks slid back with a hum. A drop of spittle ran from the corner of his mouth and he laughed as he brought his sleeve up to wipe it away. " Anticipation is the spice that keeps the meal fresh" he thought as he stepped into the basement.

The door slid shut as he descended the steps, sending a puff of dust swirling in the dry, stale air. From the darkness below a chain rattled on wood. Reaching the bottom step, he brought his hands together, the loud "clap" activating the lights. Reaching up, he absentmindedly ran a finger along the point of his left ear. It had been too long since he had an opportunity to wear the skin of an elf. Thinking of the encounter that lead to its acquisition sent shivers of pleasure pulsing through his aura. To his left the chains rattled again.

Ignoring the distraction he turned to the plastic cart and began laying out his tools. Knife, forceps, laser torch, camera, gloves, all neat and orderly. From behind him, he felt the sweet wave of fear tinged with terror trickle in the air. He drew it in, as a gourmand would draw in the essence of a fine wine.

" You should consider yourself lucky,you know." He spoke without turning, his voice echoing slightly off the cold ferocrete walls." Most of my things never know why they are chosen. You, however, will know all of my secrets, all of my history. "
" I will tell you the whys and whens of all my adventures since I arrived here on your plane...I think you will find it entertaining." Spinning the wheeled cart around with a smooth,practiced motion he advanced across the basement.

"I was called from home by a rather industrious young lady from far south of your fair city of Seattle. I was drawn to her not by her ability to cause pain in others,although that was amaizing in its self. No, it was her immense enjoyment of the pain that allowed me to find her. Other than one of my kind, I have neverseen any other creature that reveled in that sweet nectar with such relish!!

The elf paused his litany and stepped away. Removing his Mortimer great coat, he carefully laid it on the folding chair, folding the lapels back so they would dry. Continuing, he said "I remember so clearly the day she helped me cross over. She was employed by a certain south american nation to rid it self of a group of rebels. Her group, or is it team that you shadowrunners are so fond of calling yourselves? oh, well, what ever. Anyway, her companions had captured a village suspected of suporting the rebels and had taken all of the villagers to the common courtyard for interogation, when the rebels happened upon the scene. "

"I had taken an interest in the young lady, or in the quaint vernacular of your street"vicious little slitch" . He reached for the laser scalpel and added"I had watched her from the realms and in that battle, as her comrades died under the bullets and knives of the rebels, I was amazed to find that I could reach out and contact her. Which of course I did. I offered my humble services, if she would only do one thing. "

The chains rattled and a heavily muffled scream interrupted the elf's glassy eyed reminiscing. "oh, right, where are my manners? I apologize for daydreaming."
" Now, as the damsel was in distress, I informed her that the only way i could help was if she provided me with the fuel to make the crossing, and as it were she had plenty of fuel just sitting there in the town square. " Laying the scalpel aside, he picked up the forceps."
"Given the situation, what with the rebels closing in and her own inclination already, why in no time there was more than enough blood flowing for me to bridge over to this side."

The elf picked up a steril-nap and wiped the tool and the latex gloves on his hands. " I probably should have warned her of the consequence...It must have slipped my mind . as you may have noticed, I can be a little distracted at times. " So, there she stood, expecting some big nasty spirit to show up and destroy her enemies. Which I did, destroy here enemies that is. ""but i wasn't about to go trouncing around naked. I needed a skin and hers fit so nice. Its sad that she never realized her potential,although she did make a wonderful suit..."

"I am afraid all this talk of the past has made me somewhat antsy. I think I may take a walk. Maybe we can continue this conversation tommorow nite,if your still up for it."

The elf picked up his coat and sliding into it, headed up the stairs.

"Don't wait up for me..." he whispered as he turned out the light....

Copyright 2009 Bryan M.Welsh
Naysayer
Treadmill

Dawn clawed its way across the Redmond sky, tinting the clouds in an acidic zinc hue. The night’s heavy rain had done its best to flush out the scent of decay, and replaced it with corrosion and despair.
Pavel didn’t have time to take in the scenery. He was bleeding from about a dozen wounds, and clinging to consciousness merely by means of anger. What should have been a cakewalk datasteal at a small-time medtech-lab had somehow ended in a four-minute shootout with a whole truckload of unscheduled security-personal and, as far as Pavel could tell, the one-by-one decimation of his entire team. He slumped against a wall and took a deep breath, tasting more blood than he felt comfortable with. What exactly had happened, and how, was still a blur. He had seen Sanchez go down in a spray of blood and bullets so thorough and finite as to leave no questions about her fate. With the experience she had claimed she had, she should have known better than to duke it out with a bunch of piss-scared, entrenched rent-a-guns. Poor Otto didn't even have that chance. Whether it was dumb luck, or whether the goons had been briefed and went for the mage first, they had peppered him with flash-bangs, taser-rounds, and an ungodly amount of shotgun-shells before the whole clusterfuck had even properly started. As for himself, it hadn’t been Pavel’s finest hour. He had capped one or two guards, and tried to get Dice on the Tacnet to lead him to the maintenance exit, but the line had been dead, so either the pasty-faced link-jockey had gotten snuffed, too, or he’d made a run for it. In the end, Pavel had to jump head-first through a second-storey window and wrestle an angry, confused Doberman before he could finally get clear of the hit-squads LOF, and by that time, each and everyone of them had probably earned some sort of marksmanship badge on him. Through a haze of pain and anger, he had plummeted through a storm drain and then walked, walked until he didn’t care anymore if they caught up with him, or sent more dogs, or drones, and somehow, he got away.
Pavel shook his head to chase off the memory. He was getting tired, and needed to move. He coughed, hard, tasting more blood, and feeling it streaming past the patches, too.
His plan, if you could call it that, was quite simple. First, find a doctor. Then, talk to Lupo. There were some loose ends to tie up.
* * *
By the time he had found a stitch he knew well enough by rep he’d feel safe to pass out on his table, he was heading into a philosophical debate with a Polish sailor who claimed to be his father. The blood loss was clearly getting to him. Pavel dragged himself up to the makeshift counter and flashed his tusks at the nurse in what he hoped to be a winning smile. Then, he collapsed.

As he woke up, the smooth light-headedness of near death had been replaced by a level of clarity only unlicensed painkillers could deliver, and every single gunshot-wound, every cut and bruise was reporting in perfect resolution, reminding him of last night’s failure with every breath he took. But, on the bright side, his PAN reported all his ‘ware operational, and, more importantly, present, and none of his vital organs seemed missing.
He got up from his stained slab, greeting the onslaught of blackness that hit him with a grunt, and left the “recuperation room?. The front for the street-clinic was a filthy Indian deli, but nobody seemed to care as the blood-stained, shot-up ork emerged through the back-door, bought a samosa, and, still a little shakily, left the store.
It was approaching afternoon, and the July sun was shooting through patches in the overcast sky over Meat Market District, a vengeful orbital bombardment, turning the air sticky and humid and making people irritable. Dog days. Pavel caught a rickshaw to Lupo’s; the trip to the doc had set him back almost two grand, and easily four hours. He needed to move.
* * *

Lupo usually was a smooth-talking bastard, but the scissor-lock seemed to be throwing him off. He had seemed unpleasantly surprised when Pavel strode into his office, and when Janice had gone for her gun, the situation was clear. He had dodged under her gun-arm, feeling the strain in his scars, and knocked her out with a very ungentlemanly punch to the crotch. Lupo’s resolve seemed to have crumbled almost instantly, but Pavel didn’t trust the motherfucker enough to go soft on him.
It stung, just a little, when he got his hunch confirmed. Dice had set them up, running a ridiculous double-cross with the medlab’s security supervisor that seemed to rely solely on the fact that the man was a greedy, short-sighted idiot, and Lupo had assisted, withholding some crucial bits of intel on the lab’s security. Of course, Dice had forced him into this ploy, using some sort of “leverage? against him. The couple k extra that Dice’ little masterplan netted him were just “compensation?. Pavel had heard enough. The deal was done, the data sold, and Dice was probably already on the lookout for another group of dimwits he could pawn in one of his schemes. Right after rewarding himself with a little fun-time. Luckily, Lupo was all too willing to tell him all he needed to know about where and how the hacker usually went about his entertainment. It was the least he could do, he said, under the circumstances and all. Pavel kicked him through the window. The one-storey drop wouldn’t kill him, and the message would be clear.

* * *

Dice’s little retreat was a fortress. Cameras, UV-sensors, MAD-scanners, tripwires, you name it. With the blink of an eye, they all went dead. Sanchez might have been an unlikeable amateur, but she had family, and her brother Diego just happened to be one of the more talented hackers to drop out of the Stars’ “Re-socialization through Education? program. Pavel kicked in the door. The dwarf hacker was lying on his couch, coked up, naked, and too surprised to do anything but reach for a blanket. A skanky young girl with a full-body leopard-skin tattoo got up, grabbed a stash of clothing and quietly went out, without once looking up.
Dice was calm and reasonable and required much less working than that part of Pavel that still refused to consider betrayal a standard MO had initially hoped. Within two minutes, he left the apartment, with a 70 percent cut of what the hacker’s little scheme had paid, enough to cover his original pay for the run, and the medical expenses. ‘Just compensation’, he thought grimly.
Diego opted to stay behind and discuss some of the details of his sister’s death. There had been a plea, almost a trace of regret, in Dice’s eyes as he walked out, but that was none of Pavel’s business any longer.
He stepped out into the streets. Dusk was rolling across the Redmond sky, extinguishing the last traces of sunlight in a sea of acrid grey. Stormclouds were rolling in from the sea, promising cover for the City’s denizens as they emerged from their shelters and prepared for another long night in the treadmill.
Pavel did not stop to take in the scenery.
knasser
NSFW


The two runners crouched, sprinter style, on the concrete of the car park on the top story. Swan looked across at Parker in the moonlight, his limber muscles taut, definition visible even under the black camo-paint he'd smeared across his bare arms. The young adept grinned back at her, half-challenge, half-inviting, green eyes gleaming with adrenaline under the slight fringe of jet black hair. Swan gave a little, lady-like grunt and scowled - half daring, half-serious and turned back to look across the street at their target. Her dark eyes looked natural and fitted her delicate chinese face and sable bob of hair, but looking out through those tiny machines she saw a world of highlighted contrasts and overlaid diagnostic information. In the lower-left a small panel displayed the lines: "Heart Beat: 67BPM. Aural Implants: 130% Boost (vocal range). Synthetic Muscle diagnostic: Passed." The samurai pulled the left-sleeve of her form-fitting body armour down more snugly and waited. This would be the fifth run that she, Parker and their off-site hacker had completed together. Three theft-jobs and one sabotage. And this would be another theft job.

A voice in her ear and the adept's ear-bud said: "Cameras subverted. You're invisible. You just have to watch out for the meat, now."

"Good work, Wraith," said Swan. The two runners looked at each other, nodded and then ran. As if joined at the hip they raced each other, Swan's augmented thigh muscles pumping furiously in the black body-hugging armour to keep pace with the powerful strides of the adept. He was one with his body, every muscle twitch a sensation he was aware of. She was the finest machine her credstick could buy. Together they leapt the concrete wall encircling the carpark, kicking off from it into the void. Cars passed below the two figures, unknowing, muted by the 30m drop. Together the runners hit the distant roof 9m away and one story down, dropping into smooth rolls across the gravel. Parker landed slightly badly and had to steady himself with one hand, sending a slight spray of roof-gravel to patter before him. Swan smiled slightly as she rose from her own perfect landing into a low, combat-crouch. Then it was back to perfect professionalism as the two runners low-sprinted toward the far side of the building.

When they reached it, Swan slithered on her belly to peer carefully over the edge. Parker hung back and watched her wriggle away from him.

Swan's augmented vision highlighted the sec-guard patrolling below her. With a mental nudge, her vision magnified the rifle that he carried - Ares HVAR. Nothing but the best here. When the guard disappeared from view, she raised a black-gloved fist and hand-signalled Parker forward. Jogging quickly to her, he unclasped a grapple line from his belt and quickly looped the soft rope around her ankles, pulling it tight. She looked back at him as he did so. The expression on his face was faux-neutral and Swan felt herself blush slightly. He tugged the line once, to be sure it was tied tightly, and then Swan levered forward with her arms and over the edge. Parker held her, muscles tense but steady, as she hung upside down, pulling tools from her pouch. She quickly affixed the bonding tape to the window pane and then, with the ultrasonic cutting tool, it took her mere moments to cut out a wide circle from the glass. Now she was hanging upside down on a rope, whilst holding steady a large disc of glass glued to another rope which she grasped tightly. Trying to breathe calmly, she twisted to pass the disc back up to her partner, her heartbeat hitting 134.8 as she almost swung the unwieldy thing into the building where it would have shattered raining glass into the passageway beneath. Gripping it more tightly, she suddenly felt the weight lift as Parker got hold of the top. Looking back up as well as she was able, she saw him standing there a dark figure against the night. holding her rope in his right hand and gripping the 1.1m disc of glass in the other. She dropped slightly as he crouched to lay the disc carefully down, and then she rose as he reeled her in. Cheekily, he continued lifting her once he had her by the ankles, so that she hung upside down in front of him. She nodded forward and nipped him with her teeth on an unarmoured spot on his upper thigh.

"Ow," he murmered as he put her down and she rolled back to her feet. They looked at each other for a few moments, and then their hacker's voice echoed in their ears: "Four minutes, thirty. Next patrol in three."

Parker gestured with his hand toward the roof's edge. "Ladies first," he said.

"That'll be you then," replied Swan, smiling.

Parker didn't take the bait, keeping his hand out in a 'Go Ahead' gesture.

"Okay," said Swan, "Let me show you how its done, then." Before Parker could take back the initiative, the slightly older runner gripepd the edge of the roof and swung herself down through the cut-circle in the window below. She landed neatly on the floor and then quickly scrambled out of Parker's way as he followed immediately behind her. Her eyes took in the feline grace he moved with as his much larger frame still slipped confidently through the gap despite the much less room on either side that he had. He rose to his full height. Just as the sound of footsteps passed below the window outside. They looked at each other, hearts pounding. "Sorry," said Wraith's voice in their ears, "looks like there's a random factor in the guards' routes."

Swan shook her head at how close to disaster they had come, but Parker grinned. Danger didn't bother Parker. 'No,' corrected Swan to herself, 'more accurate to say that it excited him.' And the mindset wasn't entirely alien to her either. They both adored the thrill of the run where other professionals thought only of escape and the payoff.

But there were different kinds of payoff.

Swan gestured at the door of the office they had fallen into. "Meatshields first," she said.

Parker opened the door silently, checking the corridor outside and then took point as they slipped down its dark length.

"Sometimes I think you just want to check out my ass," whispered back Parker.
"For 'think' read 'hope'," replied Swan.
"For 'hope', read 'know'"
"For 'Parker', read 'Idiot'", said Swan.

He had a great ass.

Their target was the stereotypical technological doohicky: a prototype trodenet sent from the labs to this regional office for the marketing types to Ooh and Ahh over. And thus, less closely guarded. And here was the biggest risk: the device was on display in the lobby and the lobby had a guard room right next to it. And a guard room, was a room filled with guards.

Swan and Parker slipped down the back stairwell together and then slightly opened the door into the lobby, pressing against each other to peer through. On a display pedestal, rested Object: Doohickey - a mesh of tiny jade trode cups with ruby trimmings, draped over a stylised, white ceramic head. Beyond and slightly to the side was a long reception counter and on the opposite side, a partly open door with light shining through it and voices spilling out - the guard room.

Swan ran a routine on her audio implants, watching the display total up distinguishable voices. "Six," she whispered to the adept. "Ares HVAR clip contains 50 rounds. That's..." "300 bullets," interjected Swan, "aimed our way," finished Parker seamlessly.

"If something goes wrong..." Swan said softly, she turned back to the adept, placing a slim gloved hand on his chest. She could feel the powerful heart beating quickly and steadily beneath the heavy pectoral muscles. She felt that beat quicken further at her touch.

He raised his hand to her cheek, brushing it gently with the backs of his fingers. The glove leather was rough, but tantalising against her skin.

"I know," he said after a moment. He leaned down, she tilted up, and they kissed, one strong hand at the base of her spine, two sets of nails scraping gently against his upper back, and then, hearts pounding, they ran silently into the lobby toward the doohickey.

"I'll go get it," said the guard's voice. The monitor in Swan's vision leapt to 164BPM as the guardroom door began to open. As one, Parker and Swan changed direction and sprung over the reception counter dropping down behind it. They rolled together, pressed into the shadow of the counter-top out of sight.

Lying there quietly, hearts pounding, they listened to the footsteps of the guard as he walked past the counter and out of the lobby somewhere else. "I'll get it" meant he would be coming back, so they waited there silently, squeezed together under the counter, Parker wrapped protectively around Swan. His breath hot on her neck, she could feel his heart once again, beating strong and fast with the danger... and something else.

Whether his hips began to move first - tiny motions - or hers, neither knew. But his hand moved from her shoulder to her side, and she tilted her head back into him, turning slightly until his lips grazed her ear. At any moment, they could be discovered and the risk was intoxicating. They knew they didn't have long. Armour clasps were quickly unbuckled, skin revealed, Swan's delicate fingers gripped his biceps smudging black camouflage paint over her hands and kissed him fiercely. The adept responded in every way and she could see the excitement, the fear and the desire in his green eyes as he looked down at her. Black leathered fingers brushed under her armour vest at sensitive parts and her fingers curled around him making him gasp. Just as the guard re-entered the lobby.

The runners froze. A moment later a face appeared over the top of the counter, staring down at them in amazement. A shock that would last only a moment. Quickly, Parker rolled off her, freeing her as much as he could, but still leaving one arm trapped. Swan rolled backwards, legs in the air and in an instant clamped a foot on each side of the guard's neck. Synthetic thigh muscles were unshakeable and before the guard could choke out a cry, she rolled back further. Helplessly, trying to keep his neck from being yanked out of joint, the guard tumbled over the counter. As he tumbled toward Parker, the adept reached up and redirected him so that he fell forward of Swan, her feet still clamped either side of his neck. In one movement she pulled a combat knife from a hip sheath and pressed it against his throat as her legs released him and she rolled back down flat on the floor. She was lying flat alongside the counter. The guard was lying flat on his back, inverted, his head next to hers stretched out away from her. Her left hand held the knife's edge softly but firmly against his throat. Her team mate crouched-lay next to Swan. "Don't. Make. A. Noise" he said to the guard. "And close your eyes," he added a moment later.

Swan's arm might as well have been handcuffed at the wrist, unable was she to cease holding the knife at the guard's throat. And Parker took shameless advantage of her hindrance, to Swan's breathless delight. Eyes closed, terrified, the security guard listened to the gasps and fumbles of the couple next to him. But the cold steel pressed against his throat was steady. Only once, did he feel the edge of metal tremble for a few brief moments, followed by sighs.

"Reach into that side pocket," he heard the woman's voice whisper. "No, the other... mmmm, that's nice... the other one."
"Why are you carring plastic restraints on you?"
"Mmmm Hmmm"

A moment later, the guard felt two pairs of hands turn him over and tight strips of plastic pulled fast around his hands behind his back and around his ankles. A moment after that, slim fingers tugged his mouth open and what felt like silk was jammed into his mouth and held with another plastic stip pulled tight around his mouth and the back of his head. The blade was lifted from his neck and he lay still as two pairs of footsteps oh so quietly padded away. Only then did he dare open his eyes, Rolling himself onto his front as well as he could, he started propelling himself along the carpet like a catapillar eventually rolling around the end of the counter to see the now bare white, ceramic head that once held his company's new trode net model.

***

"You know," said Parker as they jogged across the nightime roof tops, 'If something goes wrong...' is supposed to be my line."
"I swapped it." said Swan with a satisfied smirk.

And then a few moments later she added, "We should totally get a simrig."

Swan looked at the adept's expression and chuckled. A surprisingly dirty sound form the petite chinawoman. Some runners ran because they had to. Some runners ran for the rewards. But a couple ran for the danger, the risk and - maybe -just because life was more intense that way.
knasser
Stormcrow


Stormcrow hung like a spindle in the sky, around which the storm widened. Black clouds raced over him, lighting up like lamps with each sheet of lightening that tore through them. The magic kept him fixed in space. It kept him from freezing but did not remove the cold entirely. He liked the iciness that made him feel part of the storm - an elemental thing, a part of the power that was Nature.

A mile below him, Seattle, with all its crawling cars and people, was being lashed with the rain and people were hiding in their offices and homes. He laughed and shook his drenched coat sleeves at them, flicking extra drops of water on the city. In the storm, few details could be made out - the mostly dark, faltering patchwork of Redmond, the glittering rain-slick towers of Downtown. Puyallup away to the South petering out into a badlands of volcanic ash and the shattered sinister hulk of Mt. Rainier. around which the clouds grew denser as if the mountain itself was sending them forth Northwards.

When a child, he had met Danial Howling Coyote. The greatest of shaman had been a man of forty and had seemed old then, but seemed young now compared to the footage of the old man he became, footage that was shown less often than it once was. It was shortly after the NAN tribes went their separate ways, carving up the continent and squabbling over the pieces. The man of forty had stopped, as he walked past the crowds, and looked down at the little boy who would later call himself Stormcrow, patting him on the cheek like a son. There was a pride tinged with sadness in the man's face. "You have power," the shaman had said. "You will be great, when you have learnt what I have learnt."

The child had beamed with pride. And over the years, he had applied himself to studying what the old shaman had written about magic. He studied with the shamans who had studied under Danial, learning the secret tricks of shielding himself from magics that meant him harm, of disguising his blazing aura of power as if ungifted and several tricks besides. He had sent his spirit on vision quests to other worlds and danced great dances, becoming his tribe's greatest living shaman. Initiation after initiation rite each harder than the last, he had performed. No, he had not taken part in the Great Ghost Dance, but surely he had learnt much that Danial Howling Coyote himself had also learnt. As he rose into the clouds, wrapped in the power of his magic, the city of man dwindled away, ever smaller beneath him. Perhaps now he was finally approaching the level of knowledge that Danial Howling Coyote himself once possessed that morning he had smiled down at the child who would follow him.

The thunderbird flew from the clouds with no more warning than a sudden lightning flash illuminating its mighty wings. The grey-plumed monster lit with silver was like no thunderbird the Shaman had ever seen. Twice the size of its lesser cousins, the storm parted at the beating of its wings, battering Stormcrow like a leaf, as he tumbled he caught the yellow eye the size of his hand watching him unconcernedly and felt the weight of an ancient intellect behind it. This was a spirit, he knew, something old and of the Earth itself. It was not hostile, but was made ominous by its sheer power beyond him. This was something he could never bind, nor banish and no more oppose than he could pit his breath against the wind.

Stormcrow fell down into the clouds, losing sight of the magnificent sentience. Something that he might never see again, but would always know was out there. He caught himself, down, far down, much nearer the city than he had been before. And reflected that this last initiation had indeed been harder than all those before because he at last had learnt what even the sad, wise, mighty Danial Coyote had learnt all those years ago. There were forces in this world and others that were beyond him, always would be, and that there were things his power could never control.

And mourning his pride and confidence, the shaman was at last free to learn once more.
kanislatrans
A Question Answered...


Dust devils danced in the yard as the sun dipped below the pines that surrounded the small shack. The stooped figure, seated in a rocking chair with a blanket on his lap, sniffed the air and called through the cabins open door.?We have company coming,granddaughter,better put some coffee on.? He then turn back and continued to watch the orange light shift and dart on the sparkling waters of Hatters creek.

Half an hour later three figures emerged from the gathering darkness at the meadows edge and followed the trail towards the log cabin. As they approached the porch where the old man still sat he studied each closely. The first, an elvish woman with ebony skin had the gait of a predator, but her body language said she was nervous and out of her element. Following close behind her was a human man with an automatic shotgun slung in a military sling at his side. Last in line was a boy, an ork with raven black hair and an aura that told the old man that this young pup could wield magic. He smiled to himself and sat back in the creaky chair as the trio made there way past the chickens in the yard and approached the porch.

The young ork moved to the front and reverently greeted him. “Good evening, Grandfather. “ he said.

The old man let them wait for a couple of minutes and then replied.?Good evening to you. What brings three city folk out to the middle of nowhere to bother a tired old man??

The boy dropped the pack from his shoulder and set it on the porch. Looking up,He said “ I brought a few gifts and thought you might like to sit and talk for a bit,Grandfather.?

Behind the old man a young Amerindian woman stepped out of the open cabin door, a tray with three steaming ceramic mugs and a pitcher of water in her hands. “Of course he'll talk with you. Spirits know I have had to listen to his complaints enough! “ she said with a smile.

“Humph, and maybe they will have better manners than a certain granddaughter and show some repect for an old warrior. “ he retorted, his face serious , but a smile dancing in his eyes.

She bent and kissed the old mans head? Maybe someday I'll learn about these manners you speak of but for now why don't you sit and have coffee with these nice people. The owl out back told me they want to know about the Na'a Nugga and you know that's your favorite subject.? She handed the visitors a cup and settled in next to the old man.

The old man closed his eyes and waited as the trio accepted the cups and sat on the porches edge.
“ It has been a long time since I have had to speak of those times but I will share my story of the times of trouble and of the coming of magic and of the Ghost Dance...? He paused and then continued...

“ When Daniel Howling-Coyote began making preparations for the Na'a Nugga, the event that would become known as the Great Ghost Dance there was more dissent amongst The People than is commonly known. Each tribe tried to get the upper hand and the council of elders was split into many factions. Had the United states realized how close to dissolution the people were, they would be kicking themselves to this day. Not that they aren't doing that already.? The old Paiute laughed and settled back in his chair.? Those were bad times and people were acting like mad wolves. The government had taken everything from us and still our people fought like dogs over scraps.?

“ Our medicine people had shown us that the power of Mother Earth and Father Sky had returned, that a new day was dawning,But with the white-eyes killing and hunting us it was hard for the people to hear the sacred song over the crushing sound of oppression and battle.? A cough rattled deep in the chest of the withered native american and he reached with a shaking hand for the clay pitcher of water. The young woman moved first, and almost flickered as she deftly stepped up, filled a nearby McHughs collectible tumbler, and presented it to the man.

“ You are quick,Muha Mogo'ne. It is good that our young ones move so fast. In these times speed is everything as it was in the time of Ghost Dance. You see, Daniel knew the dangerous cliff that we stood on. He knew that it would take something incredibly powerful to end the fighting and keep The People together. That something was the Na'a Nugga  .?

“ I remember the day the vision came to him . There were about 100 fighters and Elders from the Paiute, Lakota, Dakota, Navajo, and several others in a canyon in the badlands of South Dakota. We had been harassing the Army that was searching for us for weeks and everyone was exhausted. We were eating C-rations we had taken from a military convoy we had ambushed . Howling-Coyote was sitting along the stone wall eating beanie-weenies and watching . Suddenly he laughed to himself, as if someone had just told him a funny story. Then he stood up, threw his meal against the wall and shouted in a voice as loud as thunder “WOUNDED KNEE!!!''The old man coughed long and hard ,leaning forward in the split oak rocker, then catching himself.

“ I see a hint of disbelief in your stance,little one. That is good. You shouldn't believe everything you hear. But I tell you the truth. I was there when Howling Coyote received his vision, I was there when the call went out to all The First People, I was there when the chanting, shuffling dancers fell like trees before a winter blizzard, and I was there when the shadow came out of the setting sun ,bowed before Daniel Howling-Coyote and flew into the gathering night.?

“ I am tired,Granddaughter, Please see to our guests.? The old man set his tumbler on the table.

“ We should be going grandfather,?the young ork said? but if I may ask where did the shadow go??

“To Washington....Daniel sent it to Washington.? With that he closed his eyes and slept.
TeknoDragon
Into the Shadows: Deep Twilight

I woke up. A lot of folks, they take it for granted. I know now, folk in my position, feel the way about waking up the same some zone meta kid might feel on Christmas morning and finding a couple grams of genuine chocolate bar all wrapped up. It don't last long, but it feels good while it lasts, every time.

Anyway.

So I wake up, feeling refreshed, relaxed. My internals toss a readout up until I acknowledge, that my 'gear is functioning and all, just like it has for the last year. 'Cept, when the hell did I get plates? I could see too damn well for the bit of distant city lights streaming through the window, too.

Aw, hell. Now I remembered. The club, a week ago. I wanted to go off-grid, establish a new ident for myself-- my old corp, Ares, doesn't can a perfectly good Stryker IV driver with an investment in training and gear unless something's hinky. Especially when all the driver did was survive getting his ride blown out from under him. Thank the gods I got talked into the Premium Platinum Insurance Package. I decided to play at being a Johnson, wave a credstick or two and have a 'runner make my old life go away, hook me up with someone to give me a new face, better than the puzzle game of scars I'd had. I tried to remember, but couldn't make out much past tall, pale skin, female, and a revealing red dress. Things just fuzzed out, aside from the Deal I'd offered. New identity, new face, new life.

"Vug meh ru'in."

What the hell? I reached up, felt my face with my left hand, the one I didn't lose in the blast. Rough scales. And I felt my hand, too. Muzzle, short, sharp teeth. I swung off the cot, opened a door to the closet, then the one next to it to an equally small ultra-eff bathroom. The mirror still worked, and a wave at the lightsense gave me a shock.

That bitch turned me into a fucking dinosaur. Golden eyes, a short, green muzzle-- hell, all my flesh was green d-plate scales. A check in my jacket pocket back in the closet found my trusty knife. The face wasn't some kind of prosthetic, it hurt and bled.

Shit, time to panic. I flicked into AR-- my headware seemed to be untouched-- and looked up a chrome doc in the area. While doing that, I ran through some info that popped up-- looks like I've a new low-rent apartment, rent paid in advance a few months. A minikitchen bar was along one side of my single-room crashspace, the cupboard stocked with a dozen ways to abuse soy, the fridge had four or five more. At one point, I felt my new tail knock the card table over. The balance took some getting used to, but dammit, I liked being human. Stacked up next to the door was some pretty shiny shit, too. I'd heard about 'raptor legs, but didn't even consider them. I'd been planning on saving my nuyen for lifestyle, but looks like my 'helper' preferred to go shopping.

Turned out, there's some guy name of Rod Ex in my contacts list who does street chrome. Figure I'll go for a walk and check him out. Maybe look up some wheels along the way; feet are for getting between crash space and wheels.
crash2029
Rockin' Runners

John’s commlink buzzed angrily. While still in a sleep induced fugue he reached over and slapped it. The buzzing stopped suddenly as his fist crushed it.
“Goddamnit.? John grumped as he sat up. He reached over and opened up his nightstand drawer. Fumbling around the bullets and flash bangs he managed to find his spare ‘link. He hit the power key and waited for whoever to call back. He didn’t have to wait long. Less than thirty seconds later his AR flashed with Car’s commcode. He hit the GO button and Car’s toothy grin filled the popup window.
“You still in bed? I thought you military types got up early. What, you getting too old to wake up at a decent hour??
John looked over at the chrono. “It’s 0400 you slot, what the hell do you want??
Car tsk tsk’ed as he replied. “You remember those ‘runners you helped out last week??
“Yeah.?
“They requested your help again. It seems they have a problem that, I quote, “only an old guy? could help with?
“Why do you do this to me Car??
“Who else am I gonna do it to? You’re the only fossil I know.?
“One of these days, Car. One of these days.?
“So should I send a walker with the contact info??
“Not unless you want to keep fixing from traction.?
“Touché. They will be waiting at the Grey Line in two hours. Tell you what, since I’m being such a smartass breakfast is on me.?
“Thanks Car.?
“No prob chum.?
“That’s really something from a tightwad like yourself.?
Car’s indignant cry was cut off as John hung up. John went about his morning ritual. He ran a diagnostic on his ‘ware, showered, shaved, cleaned and loaded his guns, sharpened his spurs, and finally got his combat webbing on. He decided to go lightly armed and only took his pair of predators, Ares supersquirt, and just three flash bangs. After a second of hesitation he grabbed his briefcase with the Ranger Arms rifle in it. Just in case. On his way out to the car he loaded his licenses and ID and put in an order for more of his custom ‘links. He shrugged into his battered longcoat and slid into his less battered Nomad. The Nomad was almost extinct nowadays, replaced by Bulldogs and Rovers, but John still preferred his Nomad. After all, he reasoned, it’s useful to have a vehicle that’s not a wireless node. Makes it nigh-impossible to hack. Of course it makes using GridGuide a bitch. Six of one, half dozen of the other.

John set off toward the Gray Line restaurant. It was a nice place on the Tacoma seaside. The glass wall at the back of the dining room was below the water line at high tide. Thus, the name of the restaurant. John pulled into the parking lot next to a familiar Bulldog. He got out and went in. He spotted the team almost immediately. Tyr the young human ‘sam looking a bit too eager and a lot too young. Aethra the human mage, still rocking the Sally Tsung look. And Cheeto, John was still not sure whether this guy was constantly accessing AR or a mild epileptic. The kids looked up as John approached. Tyr looked uncertain, Cheeto smiled, and Aethra maintained her look of contemptuous superiority. John sat down.
“Car tells me you need ‘an old guy’.?
Tyr looked a bit nervous. “We got a job from this music producer guy. He wanted us to break in to a storage unit and covertly plant an old style disc. Problem is, he gave us the data but not the disc. So we asked around about some way to encode the disc. Well, after a bit we got word that the data had something to do with Jetblack and Maria Mercurial. We did some legwork on them. Now we have a problem. Somebody who says he works for Jetblack told us that if we didn’t get the data to him, we’d regret it. When we went home each of us found a bullet sitting on our pillow.?
John looked at them for a second. “So, what do you want with me??
Cheeto spoke up, “When we did the legwork we found that you worked with both Maria and Jetblack ten years ago. We thought you could help us sort out who is really after us. We were also hoping you might have an optical disc encoder.?
“Well the encoder is the easy part, I have one at home. The hard part is figuring out who wants to stop you. I don’t suppose you got a picture of this mysterious guy??
“Actually we did,? Cheeto said, “we got a holo from a contact who gave this guy our info.?
John looked at the holo and swore. “I thought I killed that bastard.?
Tyr looked at John expectantly. “Well, who is it??
“His name is Ojeida. He used to work for Aztech. He was one of the people who tasked with trying to reacquire…? John trailed off as he realized he’d said too much. Maria still had his confidence in the matter of her life before stardom.
“Well, who were they trying to get?? Tyr asked.
“Never mind.? said John.
“Okay, then what does he want to do with us and what does this have to do with a dead singer??
“You mean Jetblack, right??
“Yeah, last I knew Maria was alive.?
“Right. Well my guess is that he’s still trying to ruin Maria. After he botched the assignment Aztech invoked his blood debt to the company. They sacrificed his sister. He blames Maria for her death. He came after her while I was contracted to bodyguard her. He tried to attack her in a penthouse on the Sound. I stopped him.?
“How??
“I threw him out of a 20 story window into the Sound.?
“Oh. So what do we do now??
“We finish the job.?
“What about Ojeida??
“Leave him to me. Do you guys have a safe house??
“Yeah, in Redmond.?
“Good I’ll meet you there in two hours.?

John left the restaurant and went home. He rummaged around in his linen closet and found the encoder. He got in his car and headed toward Redmond. On the way he called Car.
“John, what’s shakin’ chum??
“I need a favor Car.?
Car’s expression hardened. “What do you need??
“Ojeida’s alive.?
“Shit.?
“Yeah. I have a plan but I need you to contact him. Tell him if he wants to finish this to meet me at the abandoned subway station on 43rd in Redmond. Tell him I have his data and if he wants it he knows how to get it.?
“You sure about this??
“Yeah. That asshole is way overdue.?
“I’ll do what I can.? Car hung up.

John arrived at the safe house to find an abandoned gas station. He parked by the Bulldog and went into the boarded up mini-mart. The kids were sitting around a card table playing poker. They looked up as John entered. John put a boxy contraption on the table. Tyr and Aethra looked at it blankly while Cheeto’s eyes lit up. Cheeto grabbed the box and promptly began wiring it to his commlink in some kind of Frankenstein tech-nightmare. John turned to Tyr.
“I can deal with Ojeida tonight.?
“Great, when do we go??
“Not we, me. I am gonna meet him and settle this, soldier to soldier.?
“You’re sure??
“Yeah. You guys do what you need to. If you don’t hear from me by 0100 then you should probably call Car and tell him you need to disappear for awhile.?
While the kids looked at him in somewhat stunned silence John turned and left.
***
John descended into the darkness of the subway platform, his cybereyes adjusting almost instantly. As he stepped out onto the platform a single light flickered on to reveal Ojeida. He looked different. His eyes were obviously cyber, black with a dull red glow behind the pupils. His arms and legs were no longer meat. And he was standing unnaturally still.
“I never figured you one for cheap theatrics, Ojeida.?
Ojeida smiled. “I figured you would have brought backup. I guess you weren’t as much of a coward as I thought. Though you must be more stupid than I gave you credit for.?
“This is between you and me, Ojeida. Damn, that was really cliché, wasn’t it??
Ojeida shrugged.
“So, how do you want to do this chief??
“This is your shindig John, you invited me.?
“Fine. Unarmed, just meat and machine. Bien??
Ojeida’s smile spread into a grin. “Si, this in gonna be fun.?
John dropped his gunbelt and moved toward Ojeida. They started circling each other slowly.
“Omae, didn’t you used to be human??
“Yeah.?
“So how did you become a tusker??
John ground his teeth. “’61?
“Heh, I always knew there was something not right about you.?
“Are we gonna do this or not you racist asshole??
Ojeida just grinned as his left arm suddenly snapped forward several feet, hand going for John’s throat.
‘Damn he’s fast.’ John thought ‘Faster than me, at least.’
John ducked away from the choke barely ahead of it. He realized his mistake as Ojeida’s other hand slammed into John’s chest like an anvil. John felt himself lift off the ground, and felt a split-second of weightlessness before he slammed into a support pillar. Dust swirled down from the ceiling as John staggered to his feet, head ringing. He managed to focus his eyes in time to see Ojeida’s shoulder slam into his gut. Once again he felt that feeling of weightlessness before slamming into the ground and skidding several feet toward one of the tunnels. He managed to roll to his feet in time to avoid Ojeida slamming down onto the concrete where he had been laying. Ojeida recovered quickly, too quickly. He snapped a flurry of hand techniques at John. John managed to block most of them, off-balance as he was. The few that got through kept landing on the same spot on John’s ribs. He could feel the dermal armor and his superdense bones giving way. He tried to riposte as Ojeida threw another eagle claw at his battered ribs. He managed to connect but just barely. His elephant stomp knocked Ojeida back but he was pretty sure that eagle claw had ruptured something. Ojeida whipped a roundhouse kick at John before he could react. It connected with John’s jaw and he went spinning up and away and landed with a crunch on his side. He felt the hot sticky rush of blood on his chest and looked down. He swore at the compound fracture. The rib felt too loose. He looked up at Ojeida, swaggering over to him with a contemptuous sneer.
“I guess somebody really is too old for this. I was hoping you might actually be a challenge.?
John felt his blood boil as his vision clouded with rage. With an inarticulate cry he surged up at Ojeida, head-butting him in the nose. Ojeida stumbled back, surprised, as John lashed out with a fusillade of punches. His augmented skeleton caused his punches to land like cinderblocks, denting the metal and crushing the meat. He screamed as he piston-kicked Ojeida toward the tracks. Ojeida went down hard. He scrambled to his feet and looked up at John in time to see John rip his fractured rib out and hurl it at him. Ojeida screamed as John’s rib buried itself in his left eye. John charged at Ojeida, hitting him low, in a football tackle, and heaved him backward. Ojeida landed on the tracks, across the electrified rail, with a bone shattering crunch. His inhuman screams blended with the popping and electrical shorting in a macabre crescendo. As his screams died down John sagged onto the ground, weary and bleeding. His bubbling wheeze told him that he needed to get to a doctor but it was all he could do to remain conscious. He galvanized his will and climbed to his feet, favoring his abused ribcage. He turned toward the exit stairs to see Tyr pointing a shotgun at him. He managed a split second of confusion before Tyr pulled the trigger. In the echoing platform the slug firing sounded like a cannon going off. John, dazed and injured, realized he hadn’t been shot. Numbly, he turned around to see Ojeida, now headless, drop to the floor. He blinked at the corpse and turned back to Tyr.
“You look like hell, old man.?
“I thought I told you to stay out of this.?
“You looked like you could use some help. If you want to fight about it we could go right now.?
John considered that. “In that case take me to a street doc, we can argue this later.?
Tyr grinned and helped as John hobbled to the car. John sank gratefully into the temperfoam seat.
“The damn kid has potential. Maybe I’ll make a runner out of him yet. If it doesn’t kill me first. Still got a lot of work to do.? John thought to himself. John sighed tiredly as he blacked out.

Fin


knasser
Interrogation


Takeshi shivered as ice-cold sweat trickled down his back. His shirt was damp with it, even in the cold basement. It was the sweat of fear.

He'd heard muffled voices upstairs, angry ones, but he hadn't been able to make out any words. Then after a while, everything had gone quiet. And now, he heard the sound of many footsteps on the old basement steps.

He thought he'd finally given up trying to loosen his bonds, but fear (not hope) caused him to try yet again, tugging his wrists painfully at the plastic straps that cinched them tight against the metal chair and cut into his skin. The Yaks would kill him if he gave up the information. If they caught him, anyway, but they always did catch people eventually. But these Shadowrunner scum had him now. They'd taken him right out of his office where he thought he was safe, taken away the commlink that he wore and also the cufflink with the hidden tracker. How did they know? And now here he was waiting, waiting to be tortured until he told them everything. How long could he hold out? How long should he hold out? If he was going to break eventually, how much permanent damage might be done while he refused them?

The door opened, flooding the black room with harsh light from outside. Silouhettes entered, the man and the woman who had grabbed him came first. He well knew how fast those two could move. The rigger who had taken the getaway van screaming down the high-way, with Takeshi rolling helplessly in the back came next - a gaunt angular figure, face impassive. The only light about him was the glint of the light from the doorway reflecting off the chrome of his datajack. And at the back, face turned away slightly, was the troll.

Calmly, with obvious intent, the male samurai came to him slipping a knife from his sheath and pressing it against Takeshi's cheek. The metal was cold and the samurai turned it slightly so that the edge was almost, but not quite cutting his skin. The samurai's eyes were cold, blue artificial ones, void of emotion.

"I've decided to cut off a finger from you for each time I think you're lying," said the Samurai. "Then..."

He was interrupted by an outburst from the Troll at the back: "Wait! What? You promised me that you wouldn't actually hurt him. That you'd just scare him a bit!"

"FUCK!" yelled the samurai yanking the knife away.
"I don't believe it. Every time..." grimaced the rigger.

The female samurai put her beautiful face in her hands, black bob tumbling down over her eyes. "Oh, Wiggy", she sighed.
Kerenshara
Food Fight

Felicity checked her purse again and sighed. New Year’s Eve, dressed to kill, and I’m out of condoms, she thought to herself in frustration. Contraceptive implants are all well and good, but I really don’t want to bring home any hitchhikers. Eeeew.

Rain splashed relentlessly across her windshield as a quick check of her Seatle mapsoft gave her the most likely and closest source likely to be open after ten on New Year’s Eve. Stuffer Shack. Great. Figures. That’s what I get for not checking first. She input the new destination and followed the big vehicle’s Augmented Reality prompts, but made a point to park the Model 2068 Rover a couple blocks over out of habit.

Felicity stepped out of the vehicle, careful of where she stepped. The modern stain and water repellents worked pretty well, but genuine black suede was just too expensive to take needless chances with; The four and a half inch stiletto heels also made a good excuse to watch her footing, even with all her advantages. She scanned the area out of instinct level reflex and locked the vehicle before making her way indirectly to her objective. The never-ending rain pelted harmlessly off her stylish jacket's chemical barrier, leaving her warm and dry underneath, despite the fact that the dress beneath revealed a ridiculous amount of leg. Of course, the fact that it wasn’t really the dress it looked like helped, too. Magic can do that.

As she turned toward the storefront, she tried not to recoil from the inevitable assault on her optic nerves by the clashing dayglo color scheme. The door opened and she flinched inwardly as she walked in. Nobody ever accused people of lingering in a Stuffer Shack I suppose, she though idly, but I have to wonder how the employees deal with it. Every Stuffer Shack is exactly the same, and she had been frequenting them since she was a little girl, so she moved with purpose and certainty to the aisle where they were offering this week’s latest prophylactics and marital aides. As she moved, she scanned the place swiftly but professionally. Cameras all in the usual places. Storeroom leads to the back door. Manager’s office there. Kinda full for New Year’s Eve, she noted with one corner of her mind as she categorized each of the occupants.

A girl in uniform behind the counter.

A dwarf in uniform stocking shelves.

A fat woman and her spawn.

A good looking guy in red and orange colors, beebopping to his own tunes near the beer; A little out of zone for a Hellhound…

An underage kid in uniform mopping the floor.

A yummy military guy also at the beer, dressed like he could care less. Pitty.

A kid near the beer, in green and red colors; A Troll Killer, but as Felicity, her ears weren’t showing, so it’s null sweat.

A good looking elf, checking out the over-priced “elven? wines.

An elven Elvis in white pleather and a pretty squeeze, looking vaguely familiar for some reason.

Another guy in that green and red near Elvis and Co.

The repeated green and red, spaced around the store pricked her trained and experienced subconscious mind…

Another military looking guy with a long coat. What the hell is that under there, a fucking sword!? Ok, possible threat.

A guy up front in green and red, sizing up an ork. Uh, oh.

The ork wageslave in a suit, oblivious to the guy behind him.

A teenage girl, looking like an escapee from a Japanese Hentai Sim.

A girl near the SplurgeTM machine, wearing those green and red colors again.

OK, not a problem. Just get what I came for and get out. It’s not my problem.

The whole process took less time than it took for her to reach her objective. She stifled a sigh and took her attention off the circulating people. Can’t just buy condoms at random. Made that mistake once… watermelon edible condoms, ribbed for “her pleasure?. Gag. I mean, who the hell comes up with this drek, anyhow?

She looked up just in time to see the doors open to admit three more people in green and red colors. Too late. One of those, probably the leader, pulled out a shotgun and fired it into the ceiling. “All right, this is a stick up!? No, really? God save me from amateurs. A feral looking scrag starts loping into the store while a third slot pulls out a katana and holds it to the girl’s throat behind the counter. Not good. Too many badguys. Ok, girl, so you fucked up. What’s your go-to-hell plan?

The movement throughout the store alters abruptly as the wolves reveal themselves. She feels time start to slow down abruptly as the adrenaline hits her system. There’s the Splurge Girl in the back, Shotgun Guy up front; Puppy Boy, Katana Guy, the Front Guy, and the Beer Kid; The guy near Elvis and Co. is already moving in…

Felicity ducks down out of sight of the cameras, already pulling on the mana around her, shaping it into a tight invisibility shield around herself as her hand finds the silenced pistol in her dress jacket’s concealed holster by instinct and feel. The mana burns in her veins, the spell way beyond the safe limits of her still limited skills, but somehow it passes. By the time the spell solidifies, the gun is out and ready, its targeting information floating virtually overlaid in her line of sight.

There is a scuffling sound like somebody running over the top of the shelves… what the hell!? The fat lady screams in terror. Ok, I’ll take that.

Suddenly, the woman from by the SplurgeTM machine appears at the end of the row and time comes to a stop. Kerenshara’s arm comes up to aim smoothly from long practice as she straightens from the crouch, and she squeezes the trigger gently. The pistol bucks slightly and the capsule round with its payload of DMSO and NarcoJetTM stun agent strikes the woman in the side of her head. Kerenshara’s arm swings toward the movement and sound on her left: Puppy Boy, snarling and running along the top of the shelves. She squeezes again and hits him right behind the ear with another capsule round. She hears the woman drop behind her as she sees Puppy Boy go sprawling.

“Hand it over, slitch!? from further forward and left, near Elvis and Company. Shelves in the way, but she was already moving; Heartbeats later and she’s at the aisle and another capsule round pegs the speaker between the eyes. Swinging back around, the next threat is the guy with his sword at the counter girl’s throat; That round hits a little low.

In overdrive now, Kerenshara’s mind is racing as the world stands still around her. There is a burst of gunfire from behind her as the other guests join the fight, and stray shots pelt into some of that horrendous pseudo-curry mango-banana jerky Aztechnology just launched, blasting viscous globs through the air. Ick. Kerenshara takes two more shots: the first hits Beer Kid, and the next hits Katana Guy a second time. The beabopping elf is taking his purchase to the counter, ignoring the gunplay crossfire. What?! He does notice the purple goo that a stray shot sprays on his leathers, though. From up front, the military guy with the sword moves like a blur and Front Guy goes flying out of view with a sickening crunch. Shotgun Guy is moving to check on Kerenshara’s first target.

Still moving invisibly, swiftly and silently, Kerenshara closes to point blank range and finishes servicing targets. I just had to be in heels tonight, didn’t I? Shotgun Guy collapses on top of the SplurgeTM Girl, never hearing the round that struck the nape of his neck. Up at the front, the military guy has the not-so-perfectly-hidden katana out, and the thing’s glowing brightly. Ok, serious player. Katana boy finally drops from the double dose of NarcoJetTM. From Elvis and Co’s area, an angry female voice: “Slitch THIS!? and automatic gunfire… lots of it. Ok, anger issues. Got it. Scanning the room, all the badguys are down, but looking up the aisle at Puppy Boy, even out cold he’s still twitching and snarling. Ok, that’s not right.

Kerenshara stalks up to him, noticing the arcane fetish looking ornamentation, and grimaces. No ballistic evidence. Kerenshara lifts her foot and places Felicity’s pump on his neck then steps down swiftly and forcefully, giving a twist. His neck cracks like thunder to her ears, and he goes permanently still. Keep moving, girl! She loops swiftly back to where she started, holstering the pistol. People are moving around, calling all clear. She drops the spell and picks up the condoms she dropped originally, hurriedly checking her attire. Nothing out of place, and no goo or powder or syrup either. Well, shit. That’s something. She stands up, fixing a look of panic on her face. “Oh my god! That was terrifying! Are they gone!??

Confusion and chaos after a firefight, the Star is sure to be on the way. Time to go. She takes advantage of the store manager telling them to take what they want and go as an excuse to avoid leaving this SiN on record. As she walks out, she babbles something at the over-calm elf, the elf in a suit, and the yummy military guy from the back talking out front. Just walk away. But the suited elf walks over first and says to her, “I’m sure that must have been terrifying for you… nice shot groupings, though? before turning to walk away.

She looks at the back of his head as he walks away. Not an enemy. Just a witness. Fuck. She turns and intentionally walks the wrong way to get back to Felicity’s vehicle. Well, that was a genuine rat screw. I need a stiff drink… and a good lay. Well, I still have time to get to the party, so there’s no reason I can’t do both. God, would Grandpa ever lecture me on this one!

The relentless rain muffled the clack of her heels as she stalked into the night, disappearing around a corner. The rain continued without a care as the sirens became audible in the distance.



Prime Mover
Street Cred

Two years of working eight plus hours a day. Two years of making all the right moves in all the right nodes. And tonight it all paid off. My first real Shadowrun. My four commlinks were laid out in front of me on the custom board I'd made for them in the shop. All slaved to my "baby", the custom comm I'd so lovingly built over the summer with every spare nuyen I could get my hands on. Plugged into an external power source, didn't wanna be bothered with recharging while on the job. Spent the last eight hours setting up. My drones were in place, my team having gone over the plan virtually three times were ready to put it into action. I checked and rechecked my overwatch drones. Two MCT Fly-Spys were over our target a warehouse on Puget Sound. Glancing over the dozen or so windows I had floating in front of me in AR, my agents are still giving me the all clear regarding alarms and alerts. I can't help but admire the new Battletac software my team leader got for us in negotiations with the Johnson. It was was making dozens of real time calculations and recommendations while organizing all of the teams movements with my hacking. Tank was pulling up to a gatehouse and transmitting his forged access ID. Kitty was sitting in the van passing on reports from her watchers and readying her other spirits. Bag Boy was in the trunk of Tanks car loaded for bear if came to a hard option for exit. Cody was overhead in the VTOL sticking to the legal flight path of the €œborrowed€? air taxi. Everything was in place for entry and pick up. The nodes were clean, the team moving into place smoothly and astral all clear. Scriptacus gave the word €œIt's a go!€? What could go wrong?

It started in back of my head a hundred angry bees bursting from my brain stem and rushing forward as they spread out. Everything went black there was a vague sensation of falling off of the bed. I came too my eyes wouldn't adjust and I was having a hard time getting my head off of the floor. The tang of metal in my mouth and buzzing still in my ears. Things started to clear up after a few moments. I worked hard to uncross my eyes and realized the door to my room was open and someone was standing over me. Their muffled shouts barely audible. I massaged my temples to relieve some of the pressure causing me pain. I was pulled to my feet just long enough to fall back onto the bed. It was as if I'd came up from under water as my hearing cleared up with an audible pop and my stomach did somersaults. "Jack this is the last damn time I'm gonna say it!"? "Your coming to your sisters recital, we have less then an hour and I'm not going to argue with you anymore." Jack's mother stormed from the room with the plank holding his commlinks.........
Critias
Homecoming

It was a paper letter that set events into motion. Paper. Real wood, pulped and stamped into a sheet of lined paper, off-white and sliced up with perfect blue-green lines crackling with power like an electric fence. She loved me. Her father still hated me. There was still a picture of me on the wall at their shooting range. She loved me. She couldn't have said so in an e-mail or text, because her father monitored those. But real paper and a cheap plastic pen were outside of the realm of things he could control, just like her heart and mine.

I'd kept it, of course. There are things you throw away when you're done with them, and things you keep forever just because the feel of them in your hands or the hint of perfume lingering on them is enough to keep you awake at night feeling hungry and satisfied under a naked, eye-searing, bulb all at the same time. It was neatly folded in thirds just like when I'd pulled it from the envelope last fall, but I'd halved it on top of that and carried it in my back pocket ever since.

I'd kept it close to me for eight months, read it a million times a week, counted the days until my contract was up, and did my best not to daydream about her long black hair while I was on patrol. Austin was a shithole even when you weren't distracted, and I couldn't let myself die just because I had her letter in my pocket. The Azzies sent death squads to our side of the river just like we sent kill teams over to theirs, and both sides had their bloody-handed and quick-witted experts training the patriot-terrorists on enemy ground. On top of all the usual bullshit, I had to deal with the fact that I was the luckless asshole in a Knight Errant uniform, patrolling one of Ares' few installations in the beating heart of Lone Star turf. It was a crappy assignment to begin with, but her letter just made me resent it more, made me even more impatient. Eight months. An eternity.

The truck died about an hour past Rapid City, a day and a half after I'd cashed in my uniform and turned my severance pay into a Chevy. That was alright, though, because the wheels had gotten me close enough. I was back on familiar ground, and my boots could handle the rest of what needed to be done.

Almost the rest. What they couldn't, my hands would do. My hands, and the things I'd picked up from my last visit to a Weapons World as an Ares employee, buying what I'd need and affording it on shitty pay solely because of an employee discount.

I hiked.

Rifle over one shoulder, belt heavy with twin holsters, Stetson and Oakleys on, I hiked. I knew where I was going, because I'd been there before. It had been nine years since I'd set foot on Sioux land, but the fifteen years I'd spent there -- spent here -- before that all came rushing back. Just as soon as I stepped over the last rise and saw her father's land spread out in front of me, sunset framing it, I remembered every second of it.

Fifteen years, I'd lived there. Mine and three other families, too stubborn or poor to leave no matter how light our skin. After the fireworks of the Great Ghost Dance a thousand years ago, everyone just sat there in Denver, slack-jawed that it had worked after all the paperwork got signed, and then no one knew what the fuck to do next when they were done redrawing the maps. John Red Water knew, though. Before the girl I love was even a twinkle in his eye or a bruise around her mother's, he'd snatched up land. Chaos gave birth to opportunity, land was changing from hands colored pink to ones colored red, and he grabbed and grabbed and grabbed because he knew it would never cost less.

The McReary's, the Scrantons, the Yohe's, and my kin, we all lived cooped up inside razorwire, chain link, and harnessed lightning, penned in on an Anglo Reservation that wasn't half the size of Red Water's ranch. A few of Red Water's men stood at the gate, letting visitors come and go and letting some of us leave every day for school at the church or to work and shop at Natam stores.

I spent fifteen years in a cage like a white family on display. Fifteen years of my mother waiting tables and my dad waiting for her to get him a beer. Fifteen years of him only working crop collection and drinking his pay away the rest of the seasons, lashing out in frustration at my mom and I while he bragged about the Ranger tab he had tattooed on one arm. Fifteen years of Natam kids throwing cans and rocks at us over the fence, fifteen years of me and Joe Scranton's favorite game being Try To Pee Closest To The Electric Fence. Fifteen years before dad got bad news and screamed and raged and lifted his hand at my mother one time too many. I bloodied a cast iron skillet on the back of his head.

She threw me and a suitcase into the back of my daddy's car, and hauled the suitcase and I to Texas. Grandpa Landry's house, she told me over her shoulder as we sped through the night, would be our house from now on.

Fifteen years of loving the girl on the other side of the fence, the one whose daddy owned half the continent, the one who smiled at me and had tossed me a bottle of Dr. Pepper with a smooth underhand while the other kids pitched overhanded at me and Joe Scranton. Fifteen years of wishing to God she was Irish or I was Sioux, of sweating inside a tin-roofed trailer while I dreamed about bronze skin and yellow sundresses. Fifteen years of thinking up clever ways to get past the fence together -- after hours, when it was supposed to be locked and there wasn't supposed to be any traffic -- and meet in scrub brush somewhere in John Red Water's back forty (which, to be honest, was a lot more than forty). We passed secret smiles and secret kisses and secret love, all done where Joe Scranton and my father and her father and his men couldn't see. I'd learned every inch of that land, and things didn't change very fast out here. I was back.

The fence around my trailer park of a reservation couldn't keep me away from her and in, the fence around his million acres of Sioux Nation wouldn't keep me away from her and out. I crouched in the long shadows and read her letter one last time -- "I still love you. Come get me out. Swear it," -- and I leapt. Magic uncoiled along with my leg muscles and I vaulted smoothly up and over, Remington in my hands instead of over my shoulder, now.

Four guards rode on patrol, and I shouldered the rifle, married my eye to the scope, and watched them fall as quickly as I could work the bolt. I couldn't bring myself to kill their horses -- she'd never forgive me -- and let them go running towards his ranch house. My gun would've let me kill them, but my heart wouldn't. That was alright. I was looking for a fight. I was right. I was finding my heart. My magic and her love wouldn't let me die, whether I had surprise on my side or not. I had a loaded gun, and things were going my way for a change.

I hiked.

I gathered all my Power and kicked the door in. Fieldhands, some I remembered and some that remembered me, pointed an assortment of pump actions and handguns at me. They were men who hadn't been mean enough to throw cans and rocks with their children, but hadn't been man enough to stop them. Time stood still and none of them were quite drunk enough to shoot first. My holsters emptied, then my Cavalier Deputies did. Magic flowed like a waterfall over me, through me, and what felt like a single heartbeat later I stood in a room of corpses and gunsmoke. I was an avenging spirit, boy. Ain't nobody gonna shoot me. I called her name while I reloaded.

"You came," she said. She was carrying a suitcase, running away as surely as my mother had and for nearly the same reason. Her cheek was bruised. Her eyes were big and brown and full of love and fear like a doe.

I holstered one wheelgun and took her hand, turning to pull her from that place.

Broad shouldered, fleshy around the face the way men get in their later years, John Red Water appeared from a hallway. His long hair had gone gray while I was gone, and he had it pulled back away from his florid face as he bellowed at me. He was just like I remembered, except the hair; big, built like a wall dressed in bluejeans and a button-up longsleeve shirt, with a belt buckle as huge as his ranch and a tooled leather holster on one hip. The ivory of his favorite pistol's grip winked at me.

I tried not to remember the time he'd caught me with her, tried not to remember what he'd told my father that had caused him to lift his hand to my mother one last time. Tried not to think of how his voice boomed like thunder at his daughter and me, how it had turned low and cold and had sent my father, homeless then because of me, into a rage that had nearly killed all three of us.

I smiled at him like a rattlesnake.

"My daughter's not leaving here with some --"

He had his hand on his gun, but I was holding mine. I stared him in his eyes, took just half-a-step to put myself between his pistol and his daughter, and let things happen the only way they could.

I was faster, but I couldn't twist and lean and let his bullets fly past me the way I did everyone else's. My magic would have let me, but my heart wouldn't. I got shot for the first time in my life that night, but his aim was low with three bullets already in him by the time he could pull the trigger; I'll live, he wont. She'll heal me. Inside and out, I needed it. I was hurting. Fifteen years of this place burned in my belly just like the .45 he'd given me. I had her. I was done here. I'd never be back.

She threw me and the suitcase into the back of her daddy's car, and hauled the suitcase and I to Texas. Our house, she told me as we sped through the night, would be our house from now on.
AzureusJake
Booming Business...or how to bring an airport to a screeching halt in 30 seconds.

"Elwood...what did you just do?" The three of us stand there on the tarmac staring at the slowly swinging object attached to the belt of the elf walking away from us. The elf is our security problem (read: airport security) who has just told us we need to be held for questioning in regards to the drugs that have just been discovered in one of the crates that was unloaded from our plane, but first he needs permission from the head of security to take us away for questioning. The slow swinging object is a live grenade with a timer set for seven seconds and the direction the elf is walking is towards the airplane surrounded by a government security team.

"Shhhhhh, just watch," Says Elwood; who is interested in finding out what the grenade will do the security team. I, on the other hand am more concerned about what a grenade will do to an airplanes fuel tank. I begin backing up quickly as the elf reaches the head of security. Murphy, the other member of the band, is already ahead of me and is purposefully strolling towards the razor wired fence at the edge of the air field as I grab Elwood's jacket and my bag of party favors and head after Murphy. I look back over my shoulder in time to see the elf frantically pointing in our direction.

CRUMP! The elf, the security team and the airplanes crew all disappear in a cloud of dust, blood, cocaine, body parts and airplane fuselage. I drag myself up from the tarmac, groaning, I'd hit the ground to avoid the blast and managed to land on my gun, probably cracked a rib. I turn to check on Elwood. He's laying on his back grinning like an idiot, there's a piece of smoking airplane buried in the concrete six inches from his head. "Your just lucky that explosion didn't..."BOOOM! Me and my big mouth. The blast wave knocks me on my ass as the residual fuel in our aircraft ignites and explodes. I'm pretty sure the rib is broken at this point. I give Elwood a dirty look as I get up but his eyes are watching something else and he looks slightly alarmed. Oh goody. I turn to see what has his attention and I see the flaming front half of our ruined jet had been blown clear of the wreck and is coming down hard on another nearby plane...and complimentary fuel truck. "Fuck!"

We run. KA-BOOM! The resulting blast and heat send me and Elwood tumbling across the tarmac towards Murphy, who is standing next to a neatly made hole in the security fence with a look of concerned amusement on his face. I give him the finger. I drag myself to my feet and wince as my injured ribs protest. I make sure I still have all my belongings, especially body parts and bag of highly illegal firearms and duck through the hole in the fence. It looks like we're walking. Elwood shrugs sheepishly, "Hey, it could have been worse." I ignore him. Now I have to figure out how to get us out of this armpit of a country because we certainly won't be able to fly out. As we approach the road a sign indicates Buenos Aires is 6 km north east and there's not a taxi in sight. I hate South America.
IceKatze
(hi hi)
WIRED


Outside of the seedy tea house on the corner of an equally seedy alleyway, ash is falling again, mixing with the rain already on the ground into horrible but entirely routine sludge. Even the normally listless and destitute scurry for shelter as the sound of thunder rumbles in the distance, soft and drawn out with a loud roar in the middle like a wounded beast. Inside, the building is packed with customers in spite of the layer of grime that covers just about every surface that, while thin and dry, is no less foul then the streets outside. At the far end of the room, a young woman sits alone at a small table staring off into space, only occasionally moving to take a sip from her teacup or breathe in the heavily scented air.

Thousands of smells, thousands of tastes, sounds and colors. Each one distinct from its peers, a sensation entirely its own, sharp, clear and at the same time entirely unremarkable. She very nearly thinks this thought, but it is an old remark she has made many times before and it only registers as a feeling in the back of her mind. She is content for now to simply sit and enjoy the experience, for what little it seems worth.

She decides to take another sip and lifts the cup away from the table. The warm red of the synthetic swill pales around the edges, contrasted by the faded faux jade coloring of the plastic teacup, a tiny island of bubbles floats lazily in the center while the steam gradually swirl and dance as they lift off from the surface of the tiny lake. One wisp curls around like a snake, another like a flock of birds, most of them reminder her of clothes tumbling in a washing machine for some reason. A washing machine like the one she used to use at... No, she stabs the memory from her mind, she has more important things to worry about. The cup is almost to her lips.

She slowly breathes in the complex aroma, it is too sweet, too thick, at least twenty seven different artificial additives including a strong expression of sodium benzoate and that originally surprising but equally insulting tang of an artificial Terpene that was clearly an attempt at mimicking lemon. While not particularly savory, the taste is at least full. Most importantly though, the poor excuse for a drink is warm and it is a small measure of comfort against the cold and damp feeling still lingering on her face and deep in her hands.

As the teacup starts its journey back to the table, she notices a pair of human shaped shadows begin to creep across the table. Their silhouettes are sharp and crisp, not even a single clump of ash interrupting their flow, no ragged creases that one would expect had they slept in their clothes. They don't have the stereotypical embellishments on their shoulders of a uniformed cop, but that doesn't rule out undercover. Whoever these two are, they're liable to be professionals and that worries her slightly. Her day has certainly not been going well, but as always, there is room for things to get worse.

She suppresses the urge to set her drink down and turn her head, that might cause a scene and she is if nothing else a patient person. She would have liked to think she was always a patient person, it is a noble virtue after all, but it wasn't until after the operations that she truly understood the concept. In just a few more moments the teacup will be on the table, and when that happens, she needs to be ready to act. A couple of quick thoughts and a map of the local area blinks into view. She reviews the notations she made on her way into the building, fire escapes, any building structure that looked sturdy enough to climb, vehicles with a layer of ash on them thick enough to suggest they haven't moved recently and likely won't for some time.

Click! The plastic dish presses up against the laminated table surface. The rest of the room has become noticeable quieter. Whoever these two are, they must be noticeable by whatever standards the rest of the patrons hold. The front door creaks open and there is the sound of shuffling feet, a stark contrast to the silent approach of these two phantoms, they must realize violence is drawing near. Perhaps there is still a chance to avoid it though, she thinks as she turns her head to meet the two, careful to show no intention of standing up.

"Ma'am, I'm afraid I must ask you to come with us." The tall one says cold and calm as a frozen pond on a clear January night. "We have some questions to ask you about a break-in at the Metasine research and development complex this morning."

She wonders how they managed to find her without a tracking device, but the point is moot at the moment. She had hoped that after that job went south, they wouldn't have bothered tracking her down, another rather irrelevant thought now. The rest of the patrons in the room are staring, a scrawny man with tusks and a plump woman stand rooted in place in front of the door, just great. It's not often, she supposes, that you see a couple of suits in this part of town. Though there is a clear path to what must have been a window at one point, boarded up now and painted black.

"I don't know anything about that, sir. I'm just a humble factory worker trying to relax after a long day of work."

The words sound hollow and fake even to her own ears, but it never hurts to try talking your way out. The look on his face hardens, he isn't buying it for a second. The shorter suit's left hand tenses on the handle of the steel briefcase, he's getting ready to make his move. The two patrons at the front door still haven't moved an inch.

"I won't ask again miss. Put your hands on the back of your..." The suit doesn't get a chance to finish his sentence, it is a rather predictable line anyway.

The little table is ripped from the floor, a pair of rusty screws pop loudly from their former steel bracket. The shorter suit presses the trigger on his concealed weapon and a burst of steel erupts from a shutter in the side of the briefcase, taking a series of rat sized bites out of the cheap plastic-board as it twists and deforms under the impact, but it is enough to send the rounds spawling harmlessly away. One of the penetrators impacts her armor lengthwise, just under the left breast, they're using armor piercing rounds.

She is on her feet in an instant. Sidestepping the ruined tabletop she moves for the former window only to find suit number two standing in her way. Thrusting her hand forward, her joints lock into position with a long practiced efficiency. Her middle and forefinger slip through his flesh just underneath the third rib while her ring finger snaps it in two. There is a feeling of smooth plastic just behind the jagged edges of bone and a faint crinkling sound that accompanies the loud snap, augmentations of some kind no doubt. Flexing her fingers she grabs ahold of the fourth rib and the pectoral muscle and pulls. She doesn't pause to observe the mess she has just made, she is still running towards the window.

There is a crack of splintering wood and a faint sensation of friction on her arms and legs as she slides onto the sidewalk below. As she snaps to her feet and begins to run again, something scratches against the back of her leg, an armor piercing spike has lodged itself in her armor, ever so slightly digging into calf. She tries to determine how deep the wound is, but it is a futile effort. It doesn't hurt, but then again nothing really does anymore.

She turns a corner into a back alley, only to find her motorcycle is missing. Not technically hers, she had stolen it from someone else afterall, someone who probably had stolen it himself. It takes her exactly six heartbeats to climb a particularly sturdy drain spout. Once on the roof, she takes cover behind a rusted out used air-conditioning unit and waits. It is raining again, thick black rain soaked ash to be precise, that should cover her tracks. She wonders again how they found her, because if she can't figure that out, they're going to end up finding her again.

Before she can activate her signal scanner, the answer to her question presents itself. Her glowmoss flashes, registering a shrill beep into her ears. Whatever it is, it is fast, faster then her even. She doesn't make it back to her feet before she finds herself flying through the air from a powerful impact. A small primal part of her mind suggests she start flailing her arms, but she feels paralyzed watching the ground move past below her. A couple of rats trying to nibble on something, an old wireless antenna, the lip of the roof is cracked and broken while the rain gutter looks brand new. There are people on the street below, they are looking up at something, but it isn't her. An old woman screams and begins to turn away, she hears the squeal of tires on wet pavement. There is a ugly looking fat man staring out the second story window with a look of total shock on his face, while the scrawny teen in the first floor window doesn't even look up from whatever virtual experience she is engrossed in.

The pavement doesn't give an inch. The economy two seater sliding sideways down the street does though, not before plowing her through the intersection of course. Nothing feels broken, but for some reason her legs still refuse to move. Now she tries desperately to recall those memories, to draw on her courage that in days past had been a wellspring for her, but there are only fragments slipping through her fingers.

Out of the corner of her eye, she can see the spirit coming back for seconds, it's rolling form a maelstrom of jagged ice and fissures of steam. The second impact is worse then the first, and she goes tumbling across the pavement like a ragdoll.

As she comes to a stop, a feeling catches in her mind. A song echos up and out as if from some far away place. Is it from her childhood? The tune forms on her lips almost unbidden, a cracked and disjointed melody. No, it is a lullaby she used to sing to her own child when he was having nightmares, she remembers, a fragment from a time when she felt alive. The usual pangs of loss are absent now though, her only thoughts are fear and a faint but steady will to live.

She tests her legs again, and with effort, rises to her feet knowing she must keep running.
DWC
You wonder why I'm here?


There it is, like four in the morning and we’ve been kicking in doors and shaking down snitches since lunch. Some piece of garbage grabbed some hole from marketing’s purse, figuring he’d hock her commlink, sunglasses, and the bag for some cash to get high, but it turned out that she’d left some confidential marketing campaign info on her link.

Rather than have someone from matrix security just track the thing down, access it, and retrieve the data, her mouth breathing MBA boss decides he wants to send a message. “It’s like the Roman Empire. Travelers knew not to harm a Roman citizen, no matter where he went, since the Roman army would show up and kill anyone who’d either been involved or had failed to stop the assault.?

We know the truth. He’s trying to tag this slitch who got her purse stolen, and wants to show off how important he is by sending four company attack dogs to go get her Zoe bag back.

Flash forward to four am. We’ve spent sixteen hours straight stormtroopering our way through the ghetto. Two of us have bruises from some skel flattening holdout rounds against our armored suits. The guy in the passenger seat has an ampule of fake skin on his forehead where someone glanced a machete off his titanium reinforced skull. We all reek of cordite, since some go-gang decided they didn’t like four corporate hardboys rolling into their territory.

That’s one of the beauties of gangers. They’re all bark and bluster, because they’ve got a social contract with other gangs, full of bullshit and posturing as tempers rise, which makes sure both sides have plenty of chances for someone else to diffuse the situation, so they can back down, save face, and not have to actually risk getting hurt. So we start asking questions and their leader knows he has to break bad with us to stay the alpha of his pack.

He forgot that we aren’t a part of their social contract, especially not when we’re outnumbered 30 to 4. We ask a few questions and their leader starts his fake hostility, so we immediately escalate. The first half dozen of them died with their guns still in the holsters. The rest of them were totally unprepared to go force on force with four seasoned, state of the art combat veterans, especially in a fight that they hadn’t started.

When the shooting stopped, we ratfucked them for ammunition and passed their bodies onto some organleggers in exchange for our first decent lead on where we can find this waste of flesh.

So there we are, sitting around in my brand new Audi having our fifth cup of coffee and our second round of doughnuts, when there’s this crashing sound, and the fucking roof of my brand new car collapses on us.

We all bail out of the car and sprint for cover, figuring some asshole shoved a fridge or a washing machine out a window onto us again. When we take a look back at the car, we see that it’s a body. I come strolling up, and look him over. It’s the guy we’ve been looking for, with his neck broken like a cherry after prom. No sign of the purse or the missing Fairlight but a quick check with a medkit shows he’s high as a kite.

We subscribe his commlink and wake up a company “Risk Management Engineer? that I’ve been seeing for the past few weeks. She digs around for a few minutes and informs us that this jackass sold the purse and the link for cred, and and spent the money on some Tempo, went up on a roof, and got high. After a few hours, he decided he could fly and dove over the side, right onto my car.

It gets worse. So we throw this mutt into the trunk, pull out a monowhip, turn my brand new, freshly trashed sedan into a convertible, and head back to the enclave. We show up at the guy’s house, spoof our way past his security system, walk into like we own the place, and dump this corpse on the suit’s desk, along with the expense report for my freshly totaled brand new car.

Not only does he refuse to authorize replacing my car because we “should have been driving a company Range Rover in that neighborhood?, he complains to our department head, and has me sent to psychotropic anger management therapy. Two days later, my boss is there when I come out of the IC tank. He talks to me for two minutes, decides I’m useless to him and the company after the treatment, and sends me back in there to get unprogrammed, and actually has them ramp up my aggressiveness even more.

Wait. It gets better. The marketing weasel, even after his vulgar display of our power, completely fails to close the deal. The purse snatching victim told me the whole thing over dinner a few weeks later after I’d dropped the purse on her desk. Some joygirl got her hands on it, and an agent running on my commlink recognized the bag’s RFID tag when she leaned in the window of my new BMW. After she blew me, I paid her a grand for the purse, zipped up, and headed back to the office.

Everyone involved, except the dead beetlehead, the thirty one gangbangers we fed to the chopshop, and a half dozen other worthless, trigger happy pieces of drek that we killed that night, collectively forget about the whole thing. Then, six months later, my boss gets promoted, and a new guy comes in to run our office. He starts by going through the personnel files, sees that I was sent in for psychotropic anger management therapy and tried to charge the company twenty grand for a new car to replace one destroyed in the pursuit of an unarmed BTL addict and decides I’m a discipline problem. This rear echelon motherfucker ignores my four years of exemplary performance reviews and suggests that I might want to seek alternate employment. Then he calls security to have me escorted out of the building.

I drove out of the parking lot and straight to the airport. Traded some jackass my watch for his commlink, called a fixer in Miami and asked him if he’d like the opportunity to do me a favor. Idiot has the gall to ask me why he’d want to do me a favor. I explain to him that if he helps me get a fresh start somewhere far away, I won’t be around to keep killing his talent, and he gets to take credit for getting Mr. Miami Vice out of everyone’s hair. He sees the light and passes me a commcode for this Vory loanshark in Denver. I let him know I’m coming and hop on an HST to the FRFZ.

Remember that I got on this plane in Miami, in February. I’m wearing a summer weight suit over an armor vest with an FFBA shirt, and loafers. I don’t even have socks on. I get off the plane and it’s fucking snowing. I call the guy in Miami back and tell him he’s got two choices. He can find me someplace warm, or I can come back to Miami.

Twenty minutes later, I’m on a plane to Seattle. I land there and it’s dark and raining, but at least it’s 65 degrees, rather than 30. I check into the airport hotel, call the guy he knows, then hit the hotel bar to cruise for cougars. Spent the next three days living in that hotel room, ordering room service, fooling around with some Ares Arms sales girl, and waiting for the phone to ring.

When the Russian finally calls, he’d gotten me a gun, a car, a fake SIN, and your commcode.

So tell me, what can I do for you?
crash2029
Better running thru chemistry

John was having an uncharacteristically good day. His new e-catalog had arrived from Ares and he had enough ‘yen to actually splurge on a few toys. He was just finishing up a weaponry wish list when his commlink buzzed. His AR display showed Car’s toothy mug. John sighed tiredly as his good day vanished like vaporware. He hit the GO button and sat back to listen to Car’s spiel.
“John, my man, ‘zappenin??
“What do you want, Car??
“I have a job for you.?
“Yeah, what now? I’m still recovering from the last one.?
“It’s right up your alley Johnny-boy.?
“I told you about that shit, Car.?
“Yessir, Major Marton, sir.?
“Damn it Car.?
“Fine, fine. I know how the elderly get.?
“I will kill you, Car.?
“Okay, okay. Sorry. Sheesh.?
“The point Car. Now.?
Car’s grin vanished. “Right. I have a job for you-?
“You said that already.?
“Let me finish. The job. It’s a structure hit. A lab in Snohomish. You need to make sure the cows are dead.?
“You want me to kill cows??
“Not just any cows, these are fabricows. The lab is run by a biotech start-up named Hanover Labs. Somebody needs a case of industrial espionage. Also there are bonus points if you can get ahold of a few samples of a next-gen drug. The code for the sample is JKP-317.?
John nodded thoughtfully. “Opfor??
“Standard corpsec. No real threat. Should be three onsite personnel.?
“Magical assets??
“Contract negotiations in progress. Something to note however, elint says this place has a hell of a security system. Place is rigged.?
John swore under his breath. “Gonna need a hacker then. Got one on tap??
“With a support team.?
“Not them again.?
“Yep. Got Cheeto for hacking, Aethra for magical and Tyr for fire support.?
“They know this is my op, right??
Car shifted nervously.
“This is my op, right Car??
“Well…?
“Damn it Car!?
“Okay, okay. This is their run. They asked me for a demo guy. Naturally I thought of you.?
“I’m flattered.? John gritted.
“C’mon man, they like you. Plus you get to blow something up.?
“Fine, fine, fine. Where is the meet.?
“Two miles south of the lab.?
“Damn it Car!?
“What?! They need someone now!?
John took a minute to get ahold his temper.
“Tell them I’ll be there in 45.?
Car’s grin reappeared. “Gotcha.?
“By the way Car…?
“What??
“You play too many video games.?

***

John pulled his nondescript Nomad up beside the now-familiar van. He got out as the side door slid open and the trio of FNG’s hopped out. While they had survived enough runs not to be greenhorns, John still thought of them as cherry FNG’s. It didn’t help that Aethra still had the Sally Tsung thing going, Tyr looked like the composite sketch of every wannabe razor boy ever made, and Cheeto, well he was… odd. John was still not sure whether he was a mild epileptic or not. Nobody could be accessing AR as often as that boy. Still, good hackers are worth dealing with their quirks. Or Tourettes, whatever the case may be.
Tyr walked up to John. “How are you doing??
John grunted.
“Oookay then. The plan is like this: Cheeto starts playing tag with the rigger, Aethra, you and me sneak into the field. You and me take out the guards while Aethra slips inside. While Cheeto has him distracted, Aethra zaps the rigger. Then you plant the charges while I grab the samples and Cheeto cacks the livestock. We all get back here and watch the fireworks. Whatcha think??
“Are we sure the rigger is on-site??
Silence.
“I, uh, I, well, you see…?
“Lemme guess , you don’t know.?
“Weeellll…?
“And further you never even thought to check.?
“Um, that is, you see…?
John sighed tiredly. “We should abort and come back after we have more intel.?
All three of them shifted nervously.
“Don’t tell me..?
“The deadline is tonight.?
John massaged his throbbing temple. “Did Aethra at least do an astral flyby??
“Umm…?
John started to unconsciously finger the butt of his predator. Tyr started to look really nervous. John looked at Aethra pointedly. After a second of her usual vapid posing she took the hint. She climbed into the van and slumped into a chair. A few seconds later she shook herself and sat up.
“Well??
“The rigger is in there.?
“How do you know he is a rigger??
“Duh. He’s the only one with a datajack.?
“And that makes him a rigger??
“Well obvious-… oh. Yeah. Um. I’m pretty sure he’s the rigger.?
“Sure enough to risk your freedom and or life??
She hesitated. “Yes. Yes, I think so.?
“Aright. Tyr, say when to go.?
“Go.?
Cheeto started doing his thing while John moved into position. John’s AR popped up with a go message from Cheeto and he began moving forward. He stole away into the night at a loping run. After seven minutes he drew up to a medium wall. He estimated it at about four meters high. He grinned to himself as he looked at the time it took him to make the two miles. He hopped up and grabbed the wall. He mantled it and dropped down the other side making nary a sound. His augmented vision turned the darkness bright as day. He spotted two of the guards on patrol. He frowned in disapproval as he drew up behind them. They were discussing the previous nights urban brawl game. He snapped a leopard strike into the base of ones skull and felt something crunch. The other guard had just started to react as John reached around and pulled him back into a choke. As the guard started to struggle, John popped his spur and sank it into the mans carotid. He held the man as he bled out. John lowered the guard to the ground and reached over and shut the mans lifeless eyes with a whispered “sorry.? He turned toward the first one and checked his vitals. Dead. Satisfied, John started toward the interior of the facility. The place wasn’t that big. Just a single ground floor with maintenance in the basement. John headed down as he subvocalized to the team.
“Two golf’s down. Headed to basement.?
John knew he didn’t have time to prepare anything elaborate so he headed for the closest load bearing column. He examined the plascrete and smiled grimly. Lowest bidder, he thought. He popped his spur and dug a hole in the plascrete. He fished a canister out of his coat and sprayed DEXS into the hole. He popped in a detonator and decided to rig a few more, just for good measure. He was on his third column when an AR popup said that Aethra had taken out the rigger. He was on his fifth when he received messages from Tyr and Cheeto. He decided to wrap it up and only did two more. He started up the stairs and began jogging back to the exfil point. They were already there.
“Did you set the charges?? Tyr asked.
“Yep.?
“What did you use??
“Fourteen kilos of DEXS.?
“What?? Aethra asked.
“Demolitive explosive slurry. Military grade foam explosives.?
“Hit it.? Tyr said.
“Fire in the hole!?
The three of them looked at the building expectantly for several seconds. Tyr turned to John.
“Are you sure you pressed the right butto-?
BOOOOOM
“Yes.?

***

John accompanied the team to a backroom at The Gray Line for the meet. They had waited several minutes before a man wearing a suit that could buy out the GDP of several third world countries entered. Closely behind were a pair of identical troll bodyguards. Tyr looked alarmed.
The man spoke. “Yes I am not your Johnson, I am his superior. He informed me of his misguided attempt to help the company. He was not aware of the full facts. Like the fact that the lab that was destroyed last night no longer, in fact, belonged to Hanover. We purchased it two days ago. Or the fact that the drug samples that were stolen were actually part of the control group of the experiment and were actually distilled water. His intentions may have been good, but that is no excuse. He has been dealt with most severely, I assure you.?
The man got up and started toward the door when Tyr spoke up.
“But why tell-?
“Why tell you all that? Isn’t it obvious? I want you to have some closure. I do hate it when people die confused.? He snapped his fingers as he stepped out the door. Simultaneously, as if they were waiting for it, the trolls brought up stubby little machine pistols. John reacted. He threw his beer bottle into the face of thing one as he dove into thing two. The glass shattered against thing one’s head. He blinked. He swiveled toward John as Tyr raked his razors across his face. John’s tackle drove thing two off his feet and into the wall. John popped his spur and sank it into thing two’s heart. He looked over in time to see thing one casually swat Tyr away. Tyr flew across the room and crashed into the wall. John, in a move that would have made the Duke envious, drew and fired. There was barely any sound from the silenced predator as thing one sagged bonelessly to the ground, a small hole just behind his ear. John stood up and offered Tyr a hand up.
“Nice move kid.?
“Ow.?
“I might make a runner out of you yet.?
“Gee. Thanks, pops.?
They looked over at Aethra and Cheeto.
“They alright??
“Well at least they can blink.?
“Shit!? Cheeto yelled.
Aethra jerked at that and seemed to come to her senses.
“Uh. Guys. Shouldn’t we get out of here?? she asked.
“Yeah. Tyr, you take those two back to your safe house. I’ll call Car.?
“Shit!? Cheeto said.
“Okay. Let me know what happens, aight??
“Check.?
“Shit!?

***

John waited until he got home to call Car.
“So the Johnson screwed you??
“Not exactly. The Johnson screwed himself. We were collateral damage.?
“Damn. I’m sorry about that. I kinda dropped the ball on that one.?
“We’re fine. I think you should check into the Johnson and his boss some more. I don’t like loose ends.?
“Yeah. Look at the bright side though.?
“What bright side??
“You got to blow something up.? Car said as he disconnected the link.
John sighed tiredly.

FIN
Prime Mover
Lesson Learned

Yuri stood there in his stained apron. Face flushed from drinking, butchering or maybe both. The Shadowrunners stood in a row on the opposite side of the butchers block. Dressed for work and looking like they'd suffered a night of mayham. Yuri poured all of them another Vodka and continued his lecture after tilting back his head and downing his own in one hearty gulp. Berating the Runners for failing a simple job. Angry for not having loose ends tied up in a timely manner. As if to punctuate his point with each outburst came a harsh strike at the meat on the table with his blades. He paused only occasionally to point a bloody saw or blade at the team as if to make a point, that was already crystal clear.

After his ranting and chopping Yuri seemed to calm down some. The work on the table done he began wrapping the cuts and cleaning his tools, talking much calmer now. Back to business he immediately began to discuss other work that needed done and done quickly. The negotiations were short and the pay well under scale but none of the runners were about to try and negotiate after the dressing down they'd received at the hands of the Vory boss. A combination extraction and wetwork that would help clean up tonights mess and make a clear statement about double crossing or failing the Vory and Yuri in paticular. A message the haggard runners leaving the room understood all too well.

After the teams exit Yuri ordered some of his men to remove the remains of the dwarf butchered and packaged on his block.
Critias
Episodes

I loved the truck. The Harley had been fun, but impractical when we moved locations to Seattle. The Mustang was a blast -- awesome for chases, the centennial anniversary edition looked great, the engine was terrific -- but it was a pain always needing to wait for the clean-up crews since it was almost impossible to wedge a bounty into the back seat. The truck? The truck was awesome. I could pour anything that'd burn into the tank and it would growl like a monster, the cargo loops in the back made it a cinch to just clamp a bounty into place and let him ride around in the rain, and any time I got blood on the chrome push bars it really just wiped right off.

As I found the place, the radio blared. The country station switched tunes from "Working For A Living" over to "Ain't So Brave Now, Are Ya?" at me, and I had the windows down. Some would think it was so the whole neighborhood would hear the number one CAS hit, but the truth was that the radio, station and volume both, was out of my hands. All I could do to give myself half a break was open the windows so the noise could claw its way outside instead of bouncing around in the cab with me. I just hoped the asshole with the audio control switch would tone it down if we rolled into First Nations turf.

I slid the big old Ford into a space outside Shady Oaks and tilted my head back before settling my leather Stetson into place. The circuitry in my Oakleys -- little earbuds already tucked into my pointed ears -- zoomed when I blinked just right, cycled through vision mods and picked up the blinking IR signature of a few drones tailing me. I gave one of them a little nod, settled my hat into place, and headed towards the front door. The leather duster they had me in turned my every step into a bold stride, and it beat the hell out of the buckskin-and-tassles armored jacket they'd had me wearing two years earlier. The thing was heavy, though. Heavier than I liked.

WITH COCK-X, YOU'LL FUCK LIKE A TROLL, EVEN IF YOU LOOK LIKE AN ELF! TAKE COCK-X! MAKE IT FEEL LIKE HER FIRST TIME, EVERY TIME! COCK-X! NINA TWO-MOONS AGREES, COCK-X IS FUCKTASTIC! "THE FIRST TIME A COSTAR USED COCK-X, WE ALMOST OVERLOADED THE SIMRIG," THE ULTRA-HOT PORN PRINCESS BLOGGED. TAKE COCK-X!

The lenses on my shades went crystal-clear as I stepped into the semidarkness of the low-rent motel hallway. The cleaning lady, an ork that could've been any age from twenty to sixty, looked at me with big brown cow-eyes. She reminded me of Inez, back on Red Water's place.

They'd taken Inez out for the pilot, but chip-"truth" aside, she'd been a decent gal. They'd gotten a lot wrong with that pilot, spliced it into my first few episodes in black-and-white flashbacks, staged the fight and given us all gel rounds, made it four more men that it had been, turned Red Water from a bitter old man into an aging gunsliger...I'd been the up-and-comer, hungry to outshoot him and steal his daughter away, and...and...ah, Inez. You deserved to have been there. Thank you for my first candy bar.

"Ohmigosh," she said, West Coast accent shoving aside memories of a dusky-hued maid who'd turned a blind eye to my off-reservation nights, who'd never told her boss about Rose sneaking out to skinny dip with me. "Aren't you...?"

I shot her a wink and gave her my best smile, but held a fingertip to my lips. Eyes wide as saucers, she bobbed her head and contented herself simply to stare at me. We were sharing a secret. She was being intimate, in on something, with a genuine celebrity. I hoped she didn't have a heart attack.

"Ma'am," I gave her a little nod, and two fingers reached up to tip my hat. They'd been big on me letting the accent slip, and even bigger on me being impeccably polite to every woman that wasn't trying to stab me to death, ever since the producers had given up the NAN ratings and opted, instead, to make me a Southern gentleman-slash-good-ol'-boy. "I'd greatly appreciate it if you could point me to room three-twelve."

Never mind that I could see the sign just past her broad shoulders and faded blue-white dress, talking to her would make her day so I made a point of asking for her help. Her body language screamed at me in all the right ways, and I picked up on every cue. The flush of her cheeks, the way she looked down and fluttered her bare eyelashes at me, the hands sliding behind her back. She was closer to twenty than eighty, the potential of flirting with a tridstar made her girlish enough to wipe away years of labor.

"Three twelve? You gonna do something about the asshole?" God, that look of hope was perfect.

"Yes'm," I nodded, choosing just that moment to sweep back the edges of my duster. One of the watcher-drones was swooping low and peeking at me through a window, so I turned just right; I knew the angles and showed it the gold-chromed bounty hunting license/badge on one side of my belt, the tooled leather holsters on each hip. My thumbs tucked into my gunbelt and I gave the ork and the spy-drone a confident smile.

"I aim to try."

EAT AT QUIXO'S EAT AT QUIXO'S EAT AT QUIXO'S YOU'LL EAT SO MUCH SO FAST YOU'LL THROW UP BUT THAT'S OKAY YOU CAN GO BACK FOR MORE WHENEVER YOU WANT EAT AT QUIXO'S EAT AT QUIXO'S EAT AT QUIXO'S NOW NOW NOW WITH LUNCH BUFFET MONDAY THRU FRIDAY AND REAL BEEF REAL BEEF REAL BEEF ON SATURDAYS FROM FOUR TO EIGHT PM EAT AT QUIXO'S EAT AT QUIXO'S EAT AT QUIXO'S!

One drone whirred around somewhere behind me as I made my way up the stairs, I saw another above and to my left, and lost track of the third one. I'm sure it was getting a good angle, though, where ever it might be. I sighed to myself as I remembered my special instructions -- Rose and I could use the product placement bonus -- and that I hadn't managed to work the new knife into any of today's jobs. As I strode past three eleven, slowed, and sidled up alongside the wall by three twelve's window, I stooped and bent over, reaching towards one of my naga-leather boots -- we'd given up on the eco-freak ratings before the show even started, and we'd gotten a good spike in leather-wear advertisements when we'd unveiled the boots last year. As I snuck under the window, just in case someone would open the drapes at an inopportune moment, I made a big show of bringing the thick-bladed Bowie up into my field of vision. The glasses did the rest.

The Ares logo gleamed as I twisted the knife just right to make the chrome-on-black stand out and catch the light. Cougar had their fineblades, and now Ares was taking their piece of the pie. They wanted me to field test the thing, so I figured I might as well get the extra noo and cook up a variation on my usual kick-in-the-door tactic.

I knew they'd switch to one of the drones before it aired, knew what information would be scrolling across the bottom of the screen right now. Bounty number, bounty amount, crime, metaspecies, age, height, weight, and threat meter. Blah blah blah. Just another day, another nuyen, to me. The job just hadn't been as much fun since they'd dropped my own -- admittedly ridiculous -- one-sixteenth Cherokee bloodline and stopped pointing out Rose's full-blooded Lakota warrior-princess image every time she helped me out. Her heart hadn't ever been in it, she refused their combat augmentations and had to do so without my own Adept excuses, and she'd quietly stopped being a feature several months ago.

Oh well. Time to make the donuts.

THE BOWIE 2069. SLICE, DICE, AND SHANK LIKE A MADMAN. CUTS THROUGH ANYTHING ANYTHING ANYTHING, BRICKS, CANS, CARS, TROLLS, WENDIGOS, RED TAPE! CHOP DOWN TREES, BUTCHER A HOG, PICK YOUR TEETH, SHUT UP A HOMO WITH A SWITCHBLADE, WITH THE BOWIE 2069 YOU CAN DO ANYTHING! BE THE MAN YOU CAN'T BE WITHOUT ONE! THE BOWIE 2069!

I listened at the door, my own augmented senses doing their best to keep up with the electronics built into my earbuds. One of the micro-drones had wiggled in through an air vent and did the rest for me, popping up a little window into the top right corner of my field of vision. Dirty, small, room. One occupant, in bed, wearing a wife beater and a five o'clock shadow. Body armor was across the room, but the nightstand next to the bed had a big Browning on it.

I smiled. The bosses loved it when some asshole drew a Browning on me right before I beat his ass.

I lunged with the big knife, stabbing with all my weight and strength behind it. One hand rode the leather-wrapped grip, the other palm held onto the rear bolster to make the push easier. The mono-edged blade slide into the flimsy door like it was cardboard. I tugged, swore, shoved, and sawed it down a few inches, yanked it free, then stabbed the big blade in again. It wasn't doing anything, but it looked like I was about to cut the knob and lock right off the door.

When the drone's heads-up window showed me that he was jolting away and sitting upright, I gave up the knife act and uncoiled to my full height. My magic filled me with strength as I took a half step back, then two full steps forward, shoulder-checking the door with all my weight behind it. Thunderbird clapped his wings when my shoulder impacted with the flimsy door, and the sound of it shocked my perp the rest of the way awake.

"Oscar Mendoza!" I spread my boots wide, balanced and ready, leather duster swirling as the splinters of door fell all around me. It was a perfect gunfighter pose. "Reach for the sky!"

People loved it when I said that.

My glasses auto-zoomed and I saw the grit under his nails as his hand hovered over the big autopistol on his nightstand. I panned them back out to show how wide his eyes were, see his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed nervous spit. My glasses recorded it -- and I'm sure another drone or two had flown, near-invisible, in to get different angles by now -- but my eyes understood it. It was all body language. Tension. Fear. Weariness. I read him like a book. It's what my magic lets me do...one of the things, at any rate. I project the emotions I want to project, and I read the emotions other people want to hide. Magic.

"You ain't as fast as they say, Chase." His hand shook as he glared at me, feet on the floor, naked butt still on his bed, palm hovering, hovering, just over his matte black pistol. "It's all camera tricks an' shit."

"Why'n't you make a move and find out?" I kept my voice mild, calm. Low enough to sound confident, loud enough I was sure the drones would pick it up. The guys editing the live feed were probably masturbating furiously by now, the scene was playing out so perfect.

KEVLAR WILLY WANTS TO KEEP YOU SAFE! DON'T BE A STATISTIC! DON'T BE AFRAID! DON'T TAKE A BULLET AND LIE IN THE GUTTER BLEEDING TO DEATH WHILE YOUR WIFE GETS RAPED TO DEATH RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR HELPLESS, PATHETIC, IMPOTENT, DYING SELF! BUY FROM KEVLAR WILLY! FROM POLY-ENFORCED SHOES TO HATS WITH HIDDEN TRAUMA PLATES AND EVERY IMPORTANT ORGAN IN BETWEEN, KEVLAR WILLY WILL PROTECT YOU! KEVLAR WILLY! HE'S YOUR BEST FRIEND!

His hand twitched for the gun. Time slowed for me, the way it always does. He was wrong. It wasn't all camera tricks. I heard the soft scrape as he swung the gun my way, metal scratching the faux-wood nightstand. I heard the whip-crack of my duster being flung backwards with simultaneous flicks of my wrists, heard my twin Ares Carnivores slide smoothly from their holsters with an evil hiss like I was dragging a whetstone down a blade.

I watched his hand swing up, smelled his fear as he saw that both my guns were already on him, my own arms already high and all the sights lined up while he gawked at how big the muzzles were from the wrong end of an Ares Carnivore. I let him shoot first because I knew what it did for ratings. I could taste his intent, see the line that his eyes and his shaking hand and his gun drew, knew where the bullet would go before he did. It was all body language. I had the magic to interpret it, and fear never slowed me down in my life except once. I'd stared down the barrels of a room full of men I knew to get Rose away from her daddy. I sure as shit wasn't scared of some drunk bail jumper.

I spun on one foot, twisting like a bullfighter and purposefully letting it tug at my duster to flare it out -- it would look awesome, and maybe if I got it shot full of holes they'd let me pick my next jacket -- as the first shot barely missed me. His gun barked again, and I dove forward to let his second near-miss pluck at where the leather bunched up around my shoulder.

My Carnivores boomed. In passing, ringing in my head alongside the echoing gunfire, I wondered if the execs had loaded them with gel rounds or EX today? Then I was tucking and getting my shoulder under me, turning my dive into a roll and springing back to my feet to keep both guns on him, and both guns in the camera shot from my sunglasses.

Mendoza's head whipped back and when I saw the splash of blood on the wall behind him I thought I knew. The recoil felt light, though, and then I saw that the blood was just from where the pair of gel shots had smacked his head into the wall harder than his skull could take. He slumped over, out cold, concussed at best and hemorrhaging at worst, and I shrugged on the inside.

He'd drawn on me. It was his mistake, if they'd been live rounds.

"Play stupid games, win stupid prizes." I said for the microphones, twirling my Ares revolvers expertly, holstering the left first then giving extra flair to the routine I spun the right one through. Folks ate this sort of thing up. I slapped it home, then made a big show of standing close enough to Mendoza to reach out and scornfully snatch away his harmless, worthless, Browning. I made sure the glasses had a good view as I slapped the old-style chromed handcuffs around one wrist, and let my accent go, to really drawl it, out as I made with the boring part. "Y'all are hereby under arrest, claimed and tagged by the rights given me as a licensed bounty hunter, employed under contract by Knight Errant Security..."

I didn't mention on camera that I was an employee of Ares Entertainment. It didn't matter that my not being a full Ares security employee was the loophole that let me operate off Ares turf, it didn't matter how an old contact had gotten me the gig, it didn't matter that they turned me into a caricature of myself and made my truck play music insulting to my Sioux wife after I'd shot her daddy down. It mattered that it payed the bills, that I was good at it, and that I did all my own fights and stunts -- real fights, real stunts, real blood and normally real bullets -- so that I didn't feel like a fraud. I had Ares Security experts to handle most of my legwork, and a pack of drones and widgets in my glasses to record the whole thing...but I was working, dammit.

I tugged him off the bed and let him sprawl on the floor, twisting his wrist around to get the cuff on his other hand.

The steel guitar from "Working For A Living" echoed in the back of my head, fading out to be replaced with the scornful vocals of "Ain't So Brave Now, Are Ya?" as I looked down at Oscar Mendoza, whose room I'd stormed into knowing full damned well he'd do his best to kill me.

Oh well. It was a job.

THE CHASE: ERRANT KNIGHT!

THIS EPISODE WAS BROUGHT TO YOU BY ARES, COCK-X, QUIXO'S AND KEVLAR WILLY!

NEW FOR THIS YEAR, THE ARES CARNIVORE HEAVY REVOLVER! REVOLVER RELIABILITY, CLASSIC STYLING, AND THE ARES POWER YOU KNOW AND LOVE! DON'T BE CAUGHT DEAD WITHOUT ONE! BUY ARES, BUY THE BEST!
The Dragon Girl
When Angels Fall


P2.0 feed: Angel of Mercy

The ninja creeps up the wall, and opens a window slowly. She peers into the darkened old warehouse. Her gaze flits, finding the cameras.. they were all hanging from the rafters. Somewhere a child is crying.

In this life, sometimes you question the kind of things you do for money.


The blond ninja slips agilely through the window and grips at the wall then climbs into the rafters. She begins to make her way above the partitions below. There are wet noises, moans. The child still cries. Her gaze turns away quickly from some of the things she finds, though she has to look into each one.

I sell death. You would think that might cause a crisis of conscience.

She spots what shes looking for and creeps towards her goal, agilely moving from one rafter to the next, making her way across wiring and ducts.. and then her hand slips, she grabs at the wiring .. and it tears. The assassin tumbles, landing on the floor with a rolling thump. She looks up with widened eyes as the man whips his head up and brings a gun around. A shot is fired , hitting her shoulder as she twists. Behind him a very young girl clutches a bed sheet to her.

But I am the Angel of Mercy

She brings up her pistol, drawn with her off hand, one shot, the sound muffled, and red blossoms in the crotch of his unzipped pants. The man doubles over with a scream. The scream is abruptly cut off as another bullet goes through the top of his head. The body collapses, twitching.


And some people make the choices easy.

~End Feed
Kerenshara
You lucked out...


Dean Morris never was a morning person, but today he was willing to make an exception. With a grunt, he reached over to the night stand and silenced the ancient mechanical alarm clock with a swat. His wife rolled over like she did every morning, used to the infernal racket of the ridiculous contraption her husband insisted on using for some reason she never understood; Her own alarm would go off in forty five minutes, and that alarm was set like a civilized person on her comlink.

Dean rolled out of bed and began his morning ritual. The aroma of real coffee wafted through the air as he made his way into the bathroom, and he almost detoured to grab a cup to help him along this morning. Instead, he clung to his traditional routine and showered then shaved under the steaming hot water. The fine Egyptian cotton towels were another little luxury his extra income allowed him to indulge in. Lorna never did ask where the money was coming from, and he wasn’t going to tell her it wasn’t really a raise.

Well, ok, it was a raise, but not from the company that provided his SiN and health insurance. It’s not like he was stealing military secrets or anything, either. It was such minor stuff. Besides, hadn’t his own boss pointed out that their work was just going into some equivalent of data limbo because nobody actually paid any attention to their projects? Well, if somebody was willing to care enough to pay him to look at the work he was already doing, who was he to argue?

Mostly dressed in his working clothes, he stopped to grab that cup of coffee, then went back down the hall to check on his kids. Doris had goblinized when she hit puberty, but he still think she made for a really cute sixteen-year-old, ork or not. He smiled faintly as he remembered her face when she walked in for her sweet-sixteen surprise birthday party. Tony, on the other hand, was a normal human thirteen year old boy. A little bit of a geek, all into the details of the Matrix, but that kind of thing could easily turn into a good job, so overall, it wasn’t so bad.

Lorna was wandering into the kitchen as he was about to walk out the door with his briefcase, and she waved at him with one hand while the other covered a gaping yawn. He kissed Lorna on her cheek as she brushed by in her pre-caffeine fugue state, and he considered himself lucky to have been granted even that. Lorna was emphatically NOT a morning person.



The morning went by quickly and mostly uneventfully. It’s always amazing just how anonymous you can be in a cubicle when nobody around you cares. That, and the fact that since everybody else around him had on ‘trodes to do their work; They never noticed him jotting notes with an old style ink stylus on an equally out-of-date lined pad of paper. Such simple things, really. Just some marketing data, and come product trial results on a product line they had been assured would never actually get to market anyway, some blowhole up high just playing with a pet project. Was it his fault somebody else wanted to pay good nuyen for garbage data? And with all the useless security protocols in the network, paper was surprisingly unregulated. After all, who wanted to bother writing things on paper? Typing, or even better: thinking, is so much faster and easier.

Dean checked his 20th century Amiga wristwatch and smiled to himself. Nobody would care if he went to lunch seven minutes early, right? He followed protocol and locked his system down and picked up his coat on the way out the door; It’s Seattle, so of course it was raining.



The diner was well within walking distance, but not as good as some of the restaurants closer to work, so nobody else from the office visited the place. He stepped in the door out of the rain and shook the layer of water off his coat. Looking around, he immediately spotted his grade-school best friend, David Mesher sitting in a booth toward the back of the narrow but deep diner. David didn’t wave, but he smiled a greeting while Dean grinned back. Say what you like, but at least Dean still had all his hair. He slid into the booth and picked up the menu laying in front of him on the table. It was one of the other things he liked about the place: they used real printed menus.

An obviously overworked and overweight waitress bustled over to their table and asked Dean in a desultory tone what he wanted to drink, and if he knew what he wanted to eat. “Doris, it’s so nice to see you again. I will enjoy a cup of your soy-kaffe and how about whatever Tom’s got on special?? She snorted and turned to leave, and while most people would have considered that the height of rudeness in a face-to-face service industry, Dean smiled. It was as close to sunshine and daisies as Doris would ever get.

As he was watching her bustle back to the counter to put in his order, the door opened and the other lunchtime waitress named Claire hurried in out of the rain, looking harried and wonderful. Dean had many times thought about asking her out, but decided it was easier to put up with a spare sex life from Lorna than to deal with Lorna if she ever found out he was getting it on the side. Frank intercepted her as she rushed to get her coat put away and her apron on. “You’re late… AGAIN, Claire. I thought we talked about this.? It wasn’t a question. The pretty brunette ducked her head. “I know, Frank, and I’m really sorry. I-“ and she ground to a halt. “Oh, go on already, dammit girl! Doris has been covering the whole place by herself. Go!? he grunted at her, but having heard this all before, Dean and David just looked at each other and grinned.

A minute or so later, Claire came up to the table an put his mug on the table with a characteristic thunk. Truth be told, she was a poor excuse for a waitress but… She smiled at Dean and he forgot about how lousy a server she was. She had the best smile, and her eyes were warm and inviting pools of blue. How could you be angry with that? “Hello, Claire. Nice to see you made it in today. I was worried I’d have to put up with Doris.? He smiled as Doris looked up from half-way across the bar and gave him the finger.

“Oh, I’m so sorry about that, Dean. Your special’s already in and should be up in a second. Hi Dave,? she said to the man across the table, “I think I saw Tom putting your order up on the counter. I’ll be right back! OK?? Without waiting to get an answer she turned around and both men oogled her backside brazenly. They both tipped her well every time and she didn’t seem to mind. “Is it me,? asked David, “Or has she been working out? Her ass is even nicer than last time.? Dale chuckled and they both returned to meaningless banter until first David’s then shortly after Dean’s meals arrived, and they went to work. As he munched on the… whatever the special was, Dean once again marveled at how much better human-prepared soy slop tasted than the garbage his machine at home used to spit out before the extra income let him start eating more fresh food. Speaking of which…

“Dave, I’ve got the latest set with me.? He passed the pad in a folder under the table in what he thought was a subtle move. David took it from him and grinned as he openly set the folder on the table and pushed a certified credstick across the table. “If it’s as good as the last batch, the meal’s on me, too, chummer. My boss was seriously pleased with the last one.?

Dean had a heartbeat to register the sudden shock and horror on David’s face before he felt the arm circling the front of his head and soft breasts pressing into the back. Before he could even think of screaming or resisting somehow, he felt the edge of something sharp kissing his throat, then a strange sensation of cold as the edge pulled itself across his throat. His eyes bulged as he realized he couldn’t speak, and he felt warm wet heat flowing down his chest, and for some reason David had something crimson splashed all over him. Then as the room seemed to dim dramatically he had a last moment to feel himself slumping forward over the table and to realize that he was going to die. Ironically, his last thoughts were of his family.

David looked up at the dead eyed woman standing behind the body of his best friend. The same waitress that had been so friendly and helpful, that they had talked about how well they would tip her at the end of the meal, was holding a wicked looking blood-coated combat knife and staring directly at him, but she wasn’t moving. David froze instinctually, and something deep down told him he had only a single option if he was going to live to walk out of this diner. He very slowly opened his hands flat and raised them to the level of his shoulders, a posture of abject surrender. The woman held his gaze for another heartbeat while the rest of the patrons in the diner registered what had happened and several of them screamed, while all of them began to make for the exits with the best possible speed, tripping over each other as well as chairs and dropped food.

Claire, still without a trace of expression, suddenly drove the blade of the knife deep into the table top, then straightened and said “Security isn’t stupid. You only get one warning.? She scooped up both the credstick and the folder then turned and casually walked out of the diner into the rain without looking back. David watched her walk away in total shock, and it wasn’t until the first Lone Star officers arrived with their weapons drawn that he realized he was still seated in front of Dean’s cooling corpse and that he had soiled himself.



Several hours later, David was released by Lone Star, having given his complete deposition. The Star had gone to the Claire’s registered address and found her bound, gagged, and dosed with Slab. Since they had thought she was dead when they found her, the officers had called for medical backup. The EMT who got there first declared that she had been unconscious for at least five hours, so she was clearly off the hook for the murder. What the police couldn’t figure out was why the only prints on the knife were of Claire, or why Tom the cook, Frank the manager and Doris the other waitress had sworn up and down they were positive it was Claire that they had worked with that shift. The quick scan of possible DNA evidence showed nothing at all; The cells had self-destructed.

Detective Marcus Price was called in when that last piece of evidence had been uncovered. He wasn’t Lone Star; He was Knight Errant. You wouldn’t expect the two competing corps to cooperate on anything in the world, but this was something different. He was the last person to interrogate David, but he got as little as he had expected. He’d been tracking this person for months now, and as always, there was nothing for him to go on, other than his certainty that the hit had been sanctioned from within the vic’s own corp. That meant that he’d get no cooperation on that front… again. He sighed, and hit save on the open file of his comlink. One day, he was going to catch her, and he would have some very serious questions to ask when he did.



* * * * *



“Hey, Jules!? called the squat orc across the bar. The tall distinguished older gentleman shook his head and crossed to the orc’s table.

“Brick, you know, in theory, we’re supposed to be covert, don’t you?? he asked in an educated English accent.

The orc just flashed the team mage a tusky grin and replied “We’re just having dinner out on somebody else’s tab, Jules. You worry too much.?

Jules turned to the gothy looking woman on the other side of the table, and inclined his head slightly. “Darkheart, it’s good to see you, my dear?, he intoned before looking to the head of the table where a rather disreputable looking troll sat with a big grin on his dark face. “Orthello, I apologise for our lack of decorum.? The troll’s grin only widened. “Don’t worry about it, Jules. Like he said, it’s dinner on my dime.?

Before Jules could sit, one more person walked up and pulled out the seat to straddle it backwards, leaving a final seat next to Brick open. “Hoi, y’all,? the young human droned to the rest of the table. “Fancy meet’n y’all heer t’niht.? Darkheart rolled her eyes at Backy’s drawl as he pulled an empty mug from in front of their troll fixer and spat the rancid colored tobacco juice from which he had gotten his name into it. “Reckon we’s all arrived. What’ve yuh got fer us, Orthella??

“Your team is NOT all here? the troll said stoically. “We’re waiting for one more,? and he gestured to the empty chair.

“Who have you secured for us, and why?? asked that smooth English voice.

“Well…? the fixer said, contemplating his fingernails before looking up with a massive shrug. It’s not that the shrug was massive, but even a small gesture on shoulders that wide was going to wind up being huge. “You need to do an infiltration on this one, and none of you is really specialized at that. Once she gets you in, you four can handle the rest.?

“She?? asked Brick “Do we know this ‘she’??

The troll looked up at the ceiling, and decidedly away from Backy. “Uhm, yes, actually, some of you do. I was trying to come up with somebody really good, because this one is going to be impossible unless she can get you in the ‘easy’ way, and you lucked out because she just came available again this afternoon.?

“Oh… drek…? Backy said, going a little pale, his permanent drawl oddly in abeyance.

“Do you have a problem working with Kerenshara, Backy?? the big troll asked, his dark face suddenly completely serious.

“No, not exactly,? he temporized, clearly stalling for time to think how to respond to the question. “Look, she’s one of the best at what she does, OK? And God knows she’s easy on the eyes. Ok, fine, I’d do her in a heartbeat, IF I could get it up; I mean, that’s one SCARRY slitch man. I’ve geeked people, right? So what, we all-“ he stoped and looked at Darkheart then shrugged “I mean, most of us have, right? But I’ve seen people with more feeling on their faces when they kill a roach than she does when she geeks somebody. She’s the scariest… person…? he trailed off as he realized the troll was grinning from ear to ear, the ork was studying the table top, Darkheart suddenly seemed to be intently fascinated with the ceiling and Jules was looking studiously disinterested.

“She’s right behind me, isn’t she?? he asked with knowing dread. He felt the heat of her breath on his ear as she whispered with what he could tell was great delight and gentle malice “I missed you, too, sweetheart…?
Prime Mover
Fallacious Romance

Thrush slowly realizes he's awake some sun sneaking through the shade blinding his crusted half open eye. A strange smell coming from his pillow forces him to roll over, his tusk nearly tugging the pillow with him. The house was quiet which was strange for even this time of day. He checked his comm nothing out of the ordinary. After a quick piss and some digging around on the floor to find his armored tee shirt and some pants he headed downstairs.

Tara crouched on the counter watching her handmaidens overpower the ork scum who had probably done there share of overpowering the opposite sex. Still no sign of there leader but from the sounds of creaking stairs he'd be here soon. Her watcher Cupid let her know he was the last in the house.

The back of his head still ached with the familiar aftershock of a night of Orkstaff drinking. Strange whimpering sounds getting louder as he reached the bottom of the stairs. Along with the normal trash nearly ankle high a half a dozen of his brothers were littered around the floor. Standing over them three of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen. There gauzy wraps nearly transparent exposing there well rounded bodies. An inner light seemed to highlight them in an otherwise darkened room....spirits! His men were still alive but seemed to be experiencing debilitating orgasms.

Thrush let loose a growl and reached for his Ruger Warhawk tucked into his waistband. Spirits or not he wasn't gonna let em show him up. Thats when he spotted her a Pixie....the love of his life. Appearing on the counter open to the kitchen. Her skin alabaster pale, her hair a fiery red, eyes pools of forest green and wings that shimmered like rainbows. His heart missed a beat and he dropped his gun to the floor, good god to think he nearly pointed his gun as his one true love. She smiled at him her eyes narrowed as she concentrated on something, he smiled back wanting to put her at ease. "Were is the Pixie you extracted Thrush?"? She purred. Thrush swallowed hard mouth dry wanting to please he croaked out. "I have him locked up in a storage shed a few blocks from here."? "We have a meet at six to turn him over."? A tear rolled down Thrush's cheek the first since he was a boy, his body shook with emotional release.

Tara thanked the seductress for her blessings before leaveing to find her true love. After reaching the street her last act of mercy on the ork scum was unleashing her pride and joy. Thrush and his gang could do little more then sob and whimper as her Ally made short work of them. Thrush's heart was broken as his first and only true love left the beetle house. The last thing he saw was the Fox headed metahuman materialize and lunge at him with a vicious grin on it's muzzle.
TeknoDragon
Taken


Jerry Lake rubbed a well-polished tusk in an unconscious gesture of worry. Business at Wheels'n'Drek was down. No buyers or even browsers in the last week, none at all. He gazed over his lot, mostly well-used cars patched together enough to not put off kids, the desperate, or the clueless.

Jerry's practiced pleasant look turned sour when his eyes settled on a vehicle that stood out. A bulky Bulldog, it was tricked out with a custom engine and drive train, rigger gear, even a couple swivel seats with windows and gun ports, of all things, in the front of the cargo section. That thing is the biggest part of my cash problems, Jerry thought as he wiped away the sweat due to the muggy heat, then covered his slicked hair again with the classic Stetson. The charismatic ork recalled the eager kids-- wannabe Shadowrunners-- who had ordered the damn thing. They'd the fifteen percent down to get the ball rolling, then never showed. No responses on the comm number, either-- Jerry figured they must have been killed or locked up. Or both. With one last glare, he trudged back to the lot's office to try to figure out how to keep the rent paid.

Office work had devolved into a game of Mime Sweeper when a beautiful chime grabbed the salesman's attention. A potential customer on the lot! Jerry mentally licked his chops as he put on a fresh shirt tailored for his broad-shouldered frame, tossing the sweat-stained one into the basket in the closet. As practiced fingers put a knot in a slightly wilting string tie, he scrutinized the mark.

The guy was in his 20's-- mid or so, the heavy cyber made it hard to judge. A fraggin' tail, green paint on metal. A reptilian snout that couldn't be natural, hell, even them fancy raptor-legs rich kiddies liked to stomp around on.

I know just what to say to a man that can't say no, Jerry thought with a full grin.

The casual approach, of course. Never look desperate. The sales-ork strolled casually out of the office in a walk he mentally labeled, 'going to meet the new neighbor.'

"Hhello. I'm lookin' vor a sset ov 'eelss." Frag, that kid sounds weird, said a small part of Jerry's mind. The rest, though, was focused on making a sale. Maybe the sale.

"Well, I'm the one to deliver! Jerry Lake, at yer service," he declared, shaking the gloved- yep, cyber- hand. "What ya lookin' fer, chummer?" At the mark's slightest hesitation, Jerry steered him with a hand toward the step-van. "A fine fellow like you needs plenty of room, and I happen to have just the thing!"


* * *



A dizzying forty-five minutes later, and a much-delighted Jerry was actually enjoying doing his accounts for once. Meanwhile, a slightly bewildered cherry 'runner was driving off in his new tricked-out Bulldog.
Kerenshara
Svartálfheimr


Rachel stepped down the stairs into the dimness of the tavern. Her eyes picked out the details clearly as day, and she scanned for threats and exits. The place was actually quite large, considering, with an unusually high ceiling. Along most of the left side as you entered was a bar made of what appeared to be genuine rough-hewn oak. If it was, then it had been smoothed by hand and oiled and waxed until it almost shone. Behind the bar looked like doors to the back area, probably the kitchens, store rooms and the manager’s office. In the back corner opposite the bar was a raised platform that looked large enough to hold all the gear needed for a small band. In fact, there was a dwarf setting up a microphone and speakers and what looked like - she swallowed a groan - a karaoke machine. At least it looked like a decent model.

The rest of the tavern was of a piece with the bar itself: looking as if it were made from rough hewn beams, planks and stone. She scanned the patrons as she made her way to an unoccupied stool at the bar. There were an unusual number of metahumans, demographically speaking, and suddenly the height of the ceiling made sense as a pair of trolls got up from the table and started making their way towards the door she had just come in through. She knew the building was made of reinforced ferrocrete, probably decades ago, but the flagstones under her heels felt and sounded completely legitimate. When she got to the bar, she ran her hand over the fine, honey colored wood, and blinked. It felt real, and suddenly she re-examined the patrons and the place again. Real wood and quarried stone, the bottles on the top shelf behind the dwarf tending bar were all of the best labels. The names on the tap handles were all excellent natural brews from around the globe. The patrons themselves were dressed down, but the leather didn’t appear to be fake. They weren’t slovenly and unwashed like the general image might have suggested. This was an upscale establishment masquerading as a medieval Norse pub. Then the last piece fell into place for her trained mind: all the people who seemed to work here were dwarves.

Svartálfheimr, home of the dwarves. That was what they called it, and that’s what it apparently was.

The dwarf behind the counter looked up when she had seated herself comfortably, finishing polished the - again - wooden tankard with a towel and set it down behind the bar. He inclined his head slightly and asked, “Help ya?? Rachel smirked at the poor imitation of a Norse accent. She’d heard the real thing, and despite the apparent legitimacy of the Norse-style trappings, it was almost comically bad.

“I’ll have a beer? she told him, smirking. “It looks like you’ve got a good row there, surprise me.? The dwarf gave her a broad grin and she wondered for a moment if she hadn’t perhaps made a mistake. When he turned back with a wooden tankard sporting a frothy head, she could smell the heady brew already.
?That’ll be fifteen nuyen, lady?, he told her. She tried not to blink, and managed not to somehow. Fifteen nuyen for a beer?! She usually paid that much for liquor. Well, Cheryl did, but that wasn’t the point. She keyed the comlink’s pad on her wrist and beamed the funds over to the register. A light blinked acknowledging receipt of the money, and he set the tankard before her with a smile. “No offense, lady, but I don’t know ya’. I don’t let a person run a tab ‘till I know ‘em, yah??


She nodded assent and took the beer as he turned away. The smell was… different. Not bad different, but… not what she was used to. She raised the tankard and took a hesitant sip of the brew. Her eyebrows went up with surprise and she looked down into the tankard with disbelief. This was good! No, not good, but really, really good! She heard a chuckle from the bartender and looked up to see him looking back at her in the bar’s mirrored back. “Make it ourselves, we do. Glad to see that it agrees wit’ ya’.?

She inclined her head in acknowledgement of both the quality of the product and way he’d caught her surprise. She took a long, deep and appreciative swallow of the crisp, nutty brew and turned to survey the room again as it slid down her throat. At the platform, the dwarf who had been setting things up tapped the ancient looking microphone and conversation didn’t so much stop or even quiet as it dimmed. “All right, and good evening. Welcome to Svartálfheimr. If ya’ don’t be knowin’ me, I’m Brokk, and this be my home. Welcome, be ya, and now, if’n there be a bard amongst ya’, let ‘em come forward an’ give us song!?

With that, he stepped away from the microphone and a middle aged orc stood up and swaggered over to the platform amongst a circus of good-natured cat-calls from the regulars in the audience. If the light-hearted abuse bothered him, he gave no indication as he keyed up a song from the karaoke machine, and began to sing as the music began. Rachel flinched and suddenly realized just why the patrons had jeered him on his way up; He had a voice like a klaxon… and a badly tuned one at that. He sang his one song, thankfully brief, and stepped down off the stage. The half-hearted boos turned into relieved cheers when it became obvious he intended to end his aural assault after just the one song. Something about the whole thing seemed formulaic to her, she just couldn’t put her finger on why.

Next to her, a somewhat distinguished looking older gentleman leaned close to her as another person made their way to the stage. “That’s Rok,? he began in an educated British accent, “and he’s something of a tradition. Makes everybody else more confident to follow him up on stage, you see.? Rachel almost spit her beer out through her nose as the explanation registered. Her voice was mostly under control as she shot a mock-scolding glare at the older man who looked back innocently. “That’s awful,? she protested, “does he know??

“Of course he does,? said a voice from behind her as the bartender answered the question, “And so do all the regulars. It’s also why he gets a round on the house.? Rachel gave up and laughed, just as the new person keyed up a song. This was a place she could enjoy hanging out. “Is the food here as good as your beer?? The bartender snorted and hooked his thumbs in his belt. “My wife’s the cook; The food’s great.? Rachel gave him a conspiratorially knowing look and said loudly over the music “Uh, huh. But do you think I’ll agree?? He laughed heartily and clapped a catchers mitt of a hand on her arm, “Girl, I like ya’. Want me t’ surprise ya’ again?? She nodded assent and started to reach for her comlink again, but the dwarf just waved a hand at her, “Never ya’ mind ‘bout dat. Ya be my kinda girl!? He turned and disappeared into the back room, and Rachel went back to her beer and the impromptu concert.

Good to his word, the food that arrived was excellent, and a good compliment to the beer, her second now. It was hearty fare, very much in theme with the décor, but of excellent quality just the same. Unless she was mistaken, and she didn’t ask, the meat was real venison. The man next to her turned out to be a lively companion, and when one of the round tables just off the bar opened, he invited her to join him. The chairs were much more comfortable than they looked, and seemed sturdy enough to - Her thought cut off as she spied several trolls sitting in chairs just like this throughout the room. As the night wore on, she found out that her companion’s name was Jules, a joke of some kind from many years ago, due to his fascination with what he considered the science of magic and his love of science fiction literature. Jules Verne, his friends had called him, and the moniker had stuck. She laughed at his jokes, and for the first time since Cheryl’s parents were murdered, she laughed and enjoyed herself. The man was a natural flirt, but it was in the old style, entirely in fun and for the pleasure of the lady. Rachel thought to herself that she could grow used to all this.

Some of the performers were predictably better than others, while others were just plain bad. Despite the earlier rowdy response to Rok, the audience remained polite throughout. As the night wore on, the smoke from cigars and pipes like the dramatic churchwarden Jules was puffing away on filled the room despite the filters. Or maybe, she reflected, that was as intentional as the décor. It seemed that all the people willing to sing had already been to the stage, and a couple of the better performers had been coaxed back up. Brokk went up to the microphone when it seemed that there were no more willing participants, and he called out “Is that it? No more willing to chance the stage? Not a one more courageous bard for us? Oh, come now!?

The bartender, whose name turned out to be Sindri, had tried to talk her into going up when he brought her another one of the house’s special brews and something else from the kitchen he thought she would like. Not wanting any more exposure than necessary, she had demurred. Now, Jules called out up to Brokk, “We’ve got a lovely young lady, Brokk, who’s new here and needs to sing for us.? She glared at him as Brokk laughed and beckoned to her. “Come on, now. I see you’re a pretty thing, and that should be shared, hey?? he asked the audience, most of whom could barely make her out through the dim lights and the haze of tobacco smoke, but they all cheered her on. “I’ll buy you a drink, lass,? Jules told her “But go on up. It’s all in good fun.? Puffing out her cheeks and bowing her head in defeat, she stood up and began to make her way to the platform where everybody got their first good look at her.

She wasn’t particularly tall, but the thigh high stiletto heel boots over her tight black jeans seemed to take care of that little issue. He legs were long to begin with, but in those boots, as Tad used to say, they “went up to here? while gesturing to his armpits. The jeans also made the most of her hips, and the leather jacket hung open, showing just a hit of cleavage above the open top buttons of her blouse. The black velvet choker around her throat seemed a perfect counterpoint to the roguish styling of her gorgeous long auburn hair. She was probably the best looking woman in the place that evening by a long shot, and the mostly male patrons drank her in with pleasure. “I don’t sing,? she whispered loudly to Brokk. He grinned up at her and replied, “Everybody sings, girl. But some of ‘em, they sings well; Others…? he laughed at her expression “not so well. Go on with ya’ then,? he shooed her up on stage. The lights were in her eyes, and she couldn’t make out much of the audience, and Cheryl cringed inside her at being spotlighted this way. But she could just make out Jules, smiling at her from their table. She signed in resignation, and keyed up a song she knew and liked that had a speed and a solid beat that fit with Rachel’s outward personality.

The music queued up and she began to sing. She was a little hesitant at first, but as the first chorus came up, she felt something stirring inside her, like when she practiced working magic with Leah. She felt more alive, her heart felt like it was beating with the music, and she forgot her inhibitions, forgot that she couldn’t sing, and forgot that the audience was full of strangers. She felt whatever it was pouring through her, and out through the music. What was strangest of all to her was that Cheryl recognized the feeling, the same subconscious centering and comfort with her place in the universe that she got when she was on a job, especially when she was going to kill somebody. But Rachel gave herself to the music and when the song ended, the feeling slowly ebbed, like the tide going back out to sea, leaving reality once more exposed like the naked beaches in its wake. There was silence in the audience, and Rachel straightened her shoulders to walk off the stage through the condemning silence of the listeners.

Then the inexplicable happened. It started somewhere in the back. Somebody started clapping. It took a bit longer than a heartbeat, maybe as much as three for the one set of hands to turn into a solid wave of adulation from the audience. Rachel stood, stunned, as the sound washed over her. It went on and on, like a storm of emotion roiling around her. Then Brokk was next to her, looking up into her dazed face. “And I thought ya’ said ya’ didn’t sing!? She looked down at the grinning dwarf, and gave him a shy smile. “I can’t.? His big hand gripped her upper arm solidly and he gave her a shake, “Like hell, girl! Ya’ keep singin’ and y’r tab’s on the house! Keep goin’!?

The next hour was a blur for Rachel, going from one song to the next. When she finally stepped off the stage and the place was winding down toward closing, she noticed that what had been only mostly full now seemed to have standing room only. She blushed - blushed! - and made her way to the table where Jules was still seated, beaming at her like an urchin. The audience began to file out the door for their homes or wherever they were spending the night, but the looks and emotions directed at her were encouraging and friendly, where not downright desirous and hungry. She politely declined a few offers that she might have considered had she been even the least bit more sure of her footing. Brokk eventually intervened and escorted her to her table, where she sat down in her chair with a dazed look on her face. Jules smiled at her and leaned closer, “If you can’t sing, lass, I have a mind to try to get you to cast spells!?

Rachel sat up straight in horror as adrenaline blasted into her system and Cheryl began to reassert her control over her own body. “What?? she asked, trying to turn her fright into disbelief and the targeting display for the silenced pistol concealed in her jacket blinked into her field of view. Jules just laughed and waved a hand dismissively at her, “I meant that if you told me you can’t cast spells, after that performance, I’d almost have to demand a command performance!? She stared at him for several heartbeats as his words and his body language registered. He was simply complimenting her, not telling her he knew she was Awakened; Not telling her he knew she was more than she appeared to be. The targeting display winked out as Cheryl concentrated on suppressing the adrenaline and her own combat reaction. Rachel laughed with as much charm as she could muster and told him, “Oh, now you’re just being a tease!? He laughed and agreed, and they both shared a good laugh; Rachel hoped his was more genuine than hers was.

About then, Brokk spoke to her. “Girl, do ya’ be needin’ a job?? She looked at him in surprise and asked “Job? What kind? I just got into Seattle, but…? Brokk grinned at her and turned to look at Jules. “What job, she asks me! She’s tease, she is!? and he turned back to her. “To sing, girl. I’ve a mind to put ya’ on that there stage a few nights a week. I can get ya’ a roof and some meals and even some money to start, maybe. Does that sound good, ta’ ya’?? Rachel looked back at the dwarf, becoming both irritated at and used to feeling a bit dazed. “You want me to sing, here, as a job?? He just nodded. Possibilities flickered through her head, but suddenly she realized just what a golden present had fallen into her lap. Nobody would ever suspect that Rachel Charlotte Parker was a shadowrunner and a very gifted assassin. And if it was a part-time gig, she’d have freedom to come and go as she pleased. Besides, the food and the beer were excellent, and the company was a lot better than could often be expected in the 6th World. “Brokk, I accept.?

The dwarf grinned and held out his hand to engulf her much smaller hand in his grip and shook. “Excellent! Jules tells me ya’ name be Rachel, but we need a name fo’ ‘da stage… and a live band. Let me make some calls. All girls, I’m thinkin’. Do ya’ have an idea what ya’ might like ta’ be callin’ it, girl??

Rachel thought about it for a second, and felt a little grin tug at the left corner of her mouth. “Yeah, how about Chromium Rose??
The Dragon Girl
Baptized in Fire


They say you never forget your first time. Theres just something about one trembling moment that will cling in your memory past all other things. Something about sharing for the first time in an act that can at once be both the most intimate thing two people can do, and the most detached. They say a great many things, some of its even true, of course for me not this time.

I remember the night well enough but most of what I remember about it was my frantic heart beat, the heat, the sheer fierce joy. I had thought I would remember it. I thought it would hurt a little, inside me. It all came in such a rush that it was over before it even began though.

I don't remember what his face looked like clearly. I remember his eyes, the look in his eyes in that moment we shared between us will probably be a memory I take with me to the grave, but nothing else about him was remarkable. He wasn't a good man, but then, I don't know that he was a particularly evil one either.

Still. You should remember more about your first kill, shouldn't you?

I never asked for this, of course, but what shadowrunner does? Never mind, stupid question, we all come to the shadows warm embrace for our own reasons, and the darkness takes us all in. Hey theres a reason they call them women of the night, so ka?

There are things that still haunt my dreams about that place. Stupid things really. You would think I would remember the agony, the rush of magic through my veins like shooting up hot lead. Or the blood. God there was so much blood. It's not the way they show on the triddeo kids, do you know how much three gallons of anything is? And thats just for a human.

My dreams are haunted by the sound of a heart monitor, blipping in the darkness, reminding me I'm still alive. Still alive. Sometimes you prey for the angels to take you. For the next experiment to fail. For someone to screw up the iv of muscle relaxants, an over dose, the wrong medication.

Muscle relaxants. If the patient can't scream it doesn't matter if they can feel the pain. And pain can be a source of power. Plus the chems screw up the brain probes, you can't get a true read that way.

They weren't counting on me to develop toxin resistant. Stupid mistake, bitches. You gave me killing hands, and god gave me what I needed to use them when the time came. Once I had the guard's gun it was over.

God I hope it was a mistake, please let it be a mistake.

Please don't let me be out here as part of their plan.

Slotters.


Laser guns make neat little carterized holes in people, no blood at all, did you know that? It makes it feel surreal, like watching puppets as the strings are pulled.

So much of that night is a blur, but I got the data, I got my gun, and I found my comm- I took his comm too. Withdrew all the cred I could.

Easier than you might think to hop a plane sinless to a new city. Almost as easy as slipping through the cracks, once you find your way.

Then all you have to do is find a new you to be.

And hope you take all those drekkers with you in a blaze of glory when they come.

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