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After checking to be sure nobody was watching, Boots manifested at the ground near Sean's wheels.

"Bark! Right with you."
"No" hisses Shivan, one arm outstretched as if to stop the slaughter.

This was supposed to be an extraction not a fragging extermination!

As the others turn to look at him, he brings the wayward arm back to his body, touching his hand against his forehead in a gesture that he understands to mean stress, embarrasment or headache. While he is currently only suffering from the first two, he feels the beginnings of the third coming on.

"Uhm, we need to leave right now. Ssomeone musst have gotten into one of the ssystemss and hass triggered an alert."

He gently untangles his digital fingers from the dog-drone's brain.

Sorry boy, I am going to need more time to fix you.

He switches his focus back to the AR window containing the facility's node.

<<Command: activate fire alarm>>

As the klaxons begin to wail, he turns on his tail, pulling up the hood of his coat to protect his head.

<<Command: all zones : activate sprinklers>>

He moves out into the hall through the sudden indoor downpour and heads towards the marked exit. As he goes he plucks Sparrow out of the air and scoops up Ferris.

He turns his head back to the dog still standing quietly in entrance to the room.

<<Command: drone 01 : follow>>

I can't keep calling him that. He needs a proper name. I know, I'll call him NoisyBoy.
Ama and Mato
Not pausing in her movement she pivots and turns towards the last man in this room. She completes the circle and drives her elbow into his chest.


Her mind races to figure out what the hulking bear shifter was talking about when it hits her.

"Grenades - they explode with either force like many arrows or gas that can poison us - where?"

She feels the flush of heat along her skin realizing how she looks - bald, dirty and barely covered by the medical gown.

Sean starts as you suddenly appear next to him. "Guess...guess I need'ta get used ta' tha', huh?" He shakes his head ruefully, and turns off and rolls down the street. The neighborhood is definitely not one of Sean's usual haunts. Upscale residences shine above the various boutiques and upper end shops of the outer Downtown Core. Dozen's of people walk by, covering in glittering dresses and suits, neon lights and blinking tattoo's screaming a level of affluence that was a more effective divider between them and your creator's sibling than any wall. Those that even bothered to see Sean barely spared him a pitying glance before turning back to their invisible conversations with the air.

Fifteen minutes of rolling down the street puts Sean at the edge of a parking lot, neon lights proclaiming "Cerulean" in 2 meter tall letters near the front of the edifice.
"That car, right over there?". Sean points to a gleaming yellow monster of plastic, glass, and steel, sitting several feet off the pavement.
"Frag..." muttered the fomori as he takes a closer look.
"I think Fleet's fraggin' with me. Look, anyway, I'm going ta' go o'er there and crack tha' beast open. You grab someone and come over and help wit' ma' chair and getting me inside. Then we'll talk about the rest." He directs the chair into the parking lot and towards the monstrous vehicle.



The group collectively curses at your warning as water pours down into the room, hunching into jackets and shirts and dashing towards the next door. BigPanda waits until he's sure your out of the door before he follows.

"Silentmoon, abort and head for the exit." Gaia was shouting into her commlink over the klaxon. "No, I'm not sure how, look, it doesn't matter! Just follow the path Shivan laid out for us and get to the door!".

The drone/dog follows quickly, giving a quiet woof and a single wag of it's tail as he turns to trot alongside you. You pass through corridors and doors, opening up the pathway ahead. You pass one more juncture where two more of the dogs lay on their sides, bleeding and panting hard, riddled with bullet holes. Another four security guards are scattered around them, the blood from the two groups mingling in the growing streams of water from the sprinklers. In the rooms you pass, you can see rain guards draped over equipment...inflatable plastic covers, designed to minimize the water damage to equipment from sprinklers and the like.

You reach the final exit, an abandoned guard station standing next to the solid looking steel doors, resembling blast doors from the trids you'd watched. Your met there by a dour looking human, bald, with flat, grey eyes. He's dressed in a shifting, chaotic swirl of colors and motion that stabilizes as soon as he stops moving, resolving into a perfect image of the indoor rainfall and the wall behind him. Blood mixes with water and drips from his hands and forearms, and the look he gives you is cold and hard.

"Alright Shivan, last one, let's pop the door and get out of here!" BigPanda hesitantly sets an encouraging and warm hand on your shoulder, or at least the space just above the juncture of your arms.


Ama and Mato

The body in the chair convulses as Ama slams her elbow into his chest, lips flapping loosely as he suddenly begins to scrabble simultaneously at his chest and head as the woman whips around with incredible speed and looks at the tall figure crouched above the two bodies on the floor.

As Ama speaks, you both hear the sudden rush and roar of thunder from the stairwell back behind Mato, a small spray of dust and debris trickling down from somewhere above.
Shivan slithers quickly along with his rescuers. Keeping his upper torso off the ground slows him somewhat, but not so much that he cannot keep up with them.

He averts his gaze from the bodies of the security personnel and the badly damaged dog/drones as they cross the junction, maneouvering carefully around them to avoid touching them. He feels a little queasy but hurries on.

I did this! I am no better than the one called Silentmoon.

As they reach the entrance, he recoils slightly from Silentmoon's cold, hard gaze, his tongue tasting the blood on the air.

Yeesh! This one is dangerous! A 'cold-blooded' killer. 'More machine now than man'

Encouraged by BigPanda's warm hand and gentle words, he edges carefully past the dangerous man towards the last door.

Goodbye prison. Now I am free. I wonder what will it be really like out there. Guess I'm going to find out!

He turns back towards the steel door, bringing up one hand and holding it palm outstretched towards the last obstacle.

<<Emergency command override : fire alert detected : door01 : open>>

"Open ssessame!"
"There." Mato gestures to the stairs and echoing blast. The big man's nose curls up with the stink of infection wafting off Ama mixed with explosive residue.

There's a ragged but quiet cheer from most of the assembled group, notably absent Silentmoon and Gaia's Sister, as the door slides open and retracts into the wall.

Everyone hustles out of the facility, BigPanda sticking beside you as they go. Past the larger door there's a smaller one, set in a small room with plascrete walls. It looks like a standard grey utility door. Silentmoon pushes it open, flooding the small space with a harsh, industrial light. Beyond the smaller door, you can see rows of plascrete pillars, uniform and square, and flat, black pavement stretching as far as the eye can see. The ground is slashed with painted lines, and dotted here and there with cars.

Parking garage. Images swim unbidden up from trid flicks, most horror and action.

The group trots out at a quick pace, scanning the empty space around, but there doesn't appear to be anyone coming. They pile into a large van parked a few hundred feet away, and drive at a surprisingly sedate pace up through several stories of parking garage before exiting out and onto the street. Several black, unmarked vehicles go screeching into the parking garage at high speeds as your van exists, smashing through the thin metal barricade, not bothering to stop and talk to the attendant. A collective sigh goes up, and the group trundles off in the van. After a quick stop to ditch the van, spray it down with an aerosal can and something that smells suspiciously like the bleach used to clean your cage, the group disperses, taking pains to moving you immediately from the van into another van directly, so that you can't be seen from the street. Gaia's Sister and BigPanda ride with you, and the others split off into various vehicles.

The city is bright, even at night, scattered through with hundreds of metahumans going about their lives, bright signs and an overwhelming amount of ARO's. You're bombarded from every angle with advertisements, offers of sales, pitches for games and hook-up sites, and a constant, underlying thread of not-so-subtle pressure about being better, brighter, faster, prettier than you are.
[double post]
Ama and Mato
"Where are we? Do you know? How many days has it been since I have seen you last?"

She pitches her voice over the echoing explosion and watches the debris blow into the room. She asks over her shoulder as she spins her body around and lashes out with a foot - kicking behind herself into the side of the man still struggling in the chair.

"Something has happened and I don't understand. Did you see a body?"
Ama and Mato

The muffled sound of a shotgun blast echoes down into the room in the aftermath of the explosion.

Screaming incoherently as Ama's foot slams into him, accompanied by a chorus of cracking sounds. Following the sound of the shotgun blast, everyone in the room can hear the thud of multiple feet coming down the stairwell and shouts of anger.
Free. I am really free!

Shivan hisses with a mix of pleasure and relief as they exit the building. A brief moment of fear, is quickly replaced with inquisitiveness. BigPanda hurries him along through the wonders of the mostly empty parking garage to the van. As they exit, the black vehicles entering make him realise why.

Not out of the woods yet he giggles to himself.

Peering over shoulders, he is amazed at the sheer detail of the outside world. It is both brighter and dirtier than what little he had seen on the sims and trids while in his cage. And so many people, each one different. The van tastes of sweat and adrenaline, metal and pollution, but it is the digital that really catches his attention, his senses bombarded with advertisements and information.

So many nodes. So much to see.

The movement on the van and the sensory overload is starting to make him feel quite ill. He begins to filter out some of the digital spam, eventually switching his commlink to hidden mode to stop the flow of data. He is glad when the van finally stops and he has a moment to recover his balance, although the smell of bleach reminds him of the dead guards and the air tastes of acid rain. Then they are off again, just himself, Lady Gaia and BigPanda now.

"It iss sso big. Outsside I mean. Where are we going? I sshould thank you for freeing me! What will happen to me now that the other naga do not want me?"

The words tumble out. He realises this is not how people talk on the trids but is simply too wired to care.

His hand reaches for NoisyBoy, stroking the dog's head. He finds it strangely calming.

Ama and Mato

Still struggling in the chair, the ganger is caught in a spasm of coughing at the second blow to his chest, blood flecking his lips as he fights for breath.


BigPanda seems eager to answer all of your questions, tucking a loose lock of hair behind his ear as he tries to keep up with the tumble of questions.

"We're going to a place called Echo Lake in Redmond. It's a little overgrown, but probably the closest thing you'll find up here to your natural environment. You'll love it, I'm sure...huge trees, canopies, actual woods...I mean, sometimes you have to watch out for some of the mutated critters, but it's worth it for the space, and they're just participating in the cycle of life, right?" He's basically babbling himself, the words gushing out in a torrent to try and keep up with your pace. Gaia's Sister is quiet, focused on the road ahead and her driving, occasionally wincing with pain when a long turn forces her to stretch her side.

"As for what's going to happen with you, I mean, now that you're free, that's totally up to you! Isn't that great? You can do anything you want to do, you know what I mean? Totally free to explore yourself and expand your horizons, and make your own way. We'll be here, of course, we're going to help you until you're on your feet or whatever...and you can help us. There's lots of other atrocities being conducted every day! And with what you did back in the facility, I know you could help us help a lot more animals, and the planet!"
"You called today. We must help Babs."

With a roar, Mato reaches out to close his arms around the ganger in a bear hug. His momentum shifts as he charges back up the stairs. The driver was a good person, and though she had lost her tribe still fought valiantly. He did not want her to get hurt, trying to protect him.
Echo Lake, that sounds nice. I wonder what sort of accommodation they have arranged for me. I hope there is a trid player and some tools to keep my arms working.

One eyebrow goes up as the penny drops and then so does his jaw. And considering just how flexible his jaws are, that's a long way. After a long pause while he recovers from the initial shock and remembers to close his mouth, he expresses his horror at the thought of being abandoned in the forest.

"Wait a minute. You don't mean 'woodss' like actually live in the woodss. No no no, that ssimply won't do. What am I ssuppossed to do? Hunt thingss and eat them raw. Eeew!"

He sticks out his forked tongue in a very human expression of disgust.

"I mean even if you have a sspare gun, I'm not really that good a sshot. And where would I sstay. I can't exactly live under a rock, can I? I need a real place to sstay with like power and heating and toolss and...and a trid player."

His tail thrashes about nervously in the back of the van, banging against the side panels.
Ama and Mato
A look of complete confusion passes over her face.

"That's impossible. I just woke up maybe 10 or 15 minutes ago."

She watches as the bear shifter casually picks up a body like one would a pillow and pushes his way up the stairs. She call out after him and up the stairs.

"Who or what is Babs?"
Ama and Mato

The larger figure knocks the gangers arms away, wrenching the mans body into the air in a bone-crushing grip. A small, slim plastic cylinder tumbles out of the man's pocket and onto the floor. As Mato charges back up the stairs, there are several figures on the stairs themselves, holding various firearms pointed directly at the basement stairs. A sudden cacaphony of thunder reverberates in the enclosed space as a half-dozen go off at once, the ganger's body twitching and flailing uselessly as it's pelted with shots.


Gaia curses and jerks the wheel around as the truck swerves at the enormous weight shifts of the 10m long naga's movement.

"Jesus! Make him stop fraggin' moving! He's going to wreck the van!"

Panda immediately reaches out, hands stroking soothingly at your 'shoulders', or at least, where they'd be based on your arms.

"Shhh, shh, hey, hey, hold on stop doing that, calm down!" Panda looks a little frantic, glancing back and forth quickly between Gaia and you.

"We're going to fix you, don't you see? We'll get the arms off, get you back to your nature, give you a chance to be a real creature, back to your natural state! It's going to be just like it should be!"

Knocked off balance by the swaying, Noisyboy tumbles into the side of the van and rights itself without a sound, returning to staring mutely forward.
While the thought of having to live in the woods had freaked Shivan out somewhat, BigPanda's casual statement about chopping off his arms catches him totally by surprise.

At least the shock stops him thrashing about in the back of the van. Like NoisyBoy he becomes still and silent for a long moment as he processes that last piece of information.

The tip of his tail twitching nervously, his voice begins as a low hiss and ends as a shout.

"Are you people fragging crazy. You are not cutting my fragging armss off. How would you fragging like it if ssomeone ssaid they were going to cut off YOUR FRAGGING ARMSS. I think maybe you sshould just let uss out here and we'll go find some lesss fragging crazy people to sstay with."

While shouted, the last statement is perhaps somewhat lacking in conviction.

Yeah, right! There's probably a reward out for my scaly ass. I don't exactly blend in and how many other nagas are wandering around with cyberarms. Going by what LadyG and BigPanda say, probably none.

His head drooping, he continues somewhat more demurely.

"Look. Maybe I'm ssome ssort of an abomination to other naga. But I'm kind of 'attached' to thesse armss. Sso, let'ss jusst sstop a minute and think of ssome other optionss. Okay?"
Ama and Mato
Moving quickly to keep pace with her companion she scoops up the commlink and hastily dons a jacket from one of the chairs, stuffing the comm into a pocket to free up her hands as she follows up the stairs.

Gaia's only response is a brief glare back over her shoulder, but BigPanda slumps in one corner of the van, looking stunned at the shouting. As you calm down and begin to speak in a quieter tone, he seems to recover some of his composure.

"I didn't...I mean, we just assumed..." He seems at a loss, occasionally glancing back up at Gaia's Sister, as if for reassurance.

"We thought you''d want to get rid of them. That you'd want to go back to living as normally as possible. Like, natural and in the woods and stuff." He shakes his head again, and wipes a hand across his face, obviously trying to reset his reactions.

"Okay, well, look, maybe we should start at the beginning...w-where do you want to go?"

"Well, he's not staying with me," comes the bitten off comment from the driver's seat.


Ama and Mato

As Ama scoops up the commlink, there's a short vibration and a ping from the device as the biometric lock cycles and the device powers up. A welcome message from the commlink spools across contacts that the woman hadn't realized she was still wearing. Behind her, the two wounded gangers groan, almost in unison, and decline to give chase.

NAVI says Hello!

Charging up the stairs after Mato, a young girl standing near the stairs with a machine pistol in her grip, first at the bottom of the stairs, is dressed in a form-fitting black jumpsuit and matching hood, the material obviously upper end and customized. She's firing a hail of bullets that are thudding into the body of the unfortunate ganger in Mato's grip.
Now it is Shivan's turn to rest a comforting hand, albeit a cybernetic one, on BigPanda's shoulder. He seems a little embarrased at his outburst.

Professor Smith would have been very dissapointed in me for losing my temper. I wish he was here now to advise me.

"I am ssorry BigPanda, Gaia'ss Ssisster. I did not mean to losse my temper. I wass sscared you would take my armss. I have had them for sso long, I would be losst without them."

"Where do I want to go? I do not know. For sso long I jusst wanted to be free of that cage. Now that I am, I musst admit I have not really thought about where I would go. I guesss I jusst assumed I would return to the foresstss where I wass born, but that iss clearly not posssible. I do not know how to hunt and it sseemss my own kind would jusst kill me and eat me on ssight."

He holds up his arms and gives a weak smile.

"Well the bitss of me they could eat, at the very leasst."

His face becomes more serious as he thinks out loud.

"I definitely cannot go to one of the ressearcherss I knew from the labss. At leasst not until 'thingss cool down'. There will almosst certainly be people waiting there to capture me and put me back in the cage. At leasst that iss what alwayss happenss on the trideo sshowss. Sso I need a place that iss both warm and dry. Otherwise, I will likely fall into a torpor and die. Pluss the damp playss havoc with my armss."

"Ideally it sshould be ssomewhere remote, like the Echo Lake woodss place. Jusst not in the woodss. It ssoundss like ssomewhere where I could come and go without being sseen. You humanss may come in a myriad of formss, but I do rather sstand out amongsst you and there iss mosst likely a reward for my sskin."

"Alsso, I do not have any form of legal identification, sso it would need to be ssomewhere where I could either acquire ssuch a thing or where it iss not needed. I remember a program I once ssaw about people who do not legally exisst. They lived in a place called the Barrenss right here in Sseattle. Perhapss I could find a place to sstay there?"

"I would alsso need ssome power. My armss need to be charged regularly and kept well-maintained. I would need ssome toolss to keep them working or access to ssomeone who knowss how to repair them. And it needss to be ssomewhere where I can eassily get food for mysself and my dog."

"I am thinking that thiss will all need many nuyenss. Sso I will alsso need a place with accesss to the matrix. There iss a man who livess there who callss himsself Ssolid Ssnake. I helped him before with ssome data ssearchess and he put some nuyenss into an account that he made for me. There are sstill ssome in it, but not many. I will need to do many data ssearches if I do not want to live in a ssmelly ssquat or ssome coffin motel no bigger than my cage. Like the runners in Dark Horizonss ssometimess have to. Although, I guess even in ssuch a place I would sstill be free."

He looks from one eco-warrior to the other.

"What do you think? Do either of you know of a ssuitable place? I do not want to imposse mysself on your hosspitality for any longer than necesssary."
"Hey, it could be a lot worse. At least we don't have to stuff you into one of those dwarf-sized ones. I'll be back once I find a patsy."

Boots fades from the material plane and starts looking for a good target - someone alone, not awakened, preferably drunk or drugged up, and if possible someone else who - like him and Sean - didn't belong here. He scanned the auras of the people nearby, zooming through walls and building as he searched.
Tossing the dead ganger towards the shooter, Mato charges with the primal fury of an avalanche at the woman. The thrown body doesn't get close to hitting the woman, but with luck it would distract her for a second as the tribal guardian sweeps her up into a bear hug.

BigPanda shivers once as the metal fingers brush his skin, but he stills almost immediately, and straightens up under the touch slightly, as if it's some badge of honor or respect being applied.

He visibly frets as he hears the list of specifications being rolled out, glancing frequently up towards the front of the van. Gaia's only response is to roll her eyes and refocus driving ahead. Out of the tinted front windows of the van, you can clearly see that the landscape is changing. Falling away is the constant crush of concrete buildings and AR signs, replaced by trees and shrubbery, sections of buildings overgrown and reclaimed by some sort of nature. It's different than the trids, though, some of the branches and leaves are gnarled and twisted, with multi-colored hues spread throughout in a variety. Some plants that seem more like low bushes tower stories into the air, and even through the van you can hear the occasional screeching cry of some large creature, hidden by the buildings and the overgrowth.

"Well, look, I don't...I don't know if there's anywhere, specifically, that's exactly like that. There's lots of space out here, I mean, a lot of it was abandoned during the whole radiation scare, and there's plenty of stories about the mutant critters. I mean, a lot of them are true, but most of them still can't, like, open doors or anything. I guess..." He glances up at the front of the van again, and then leans close, his voice pitched low.

"I guess you could come live with me? I've got a place, with Matrix access and everything, and I could help with stuff like feeding the dog and things until you get it all straightened out. I mean, if you wanted to, of course." He seems reserved and casual, his tone fairly neutral about the offer.



To his credit (or not, perhaps), Sean has dropped you in a location full of people who belong. Power suits and perfectly coifed hair, aura's simmering with confidence, aggression, and above all, NEED. Darting through the restaurant, you bump into a solidly warded room somewhere in the interior of the structure. Skirting it's border, you find yourself being stared at by a small black kitten, sitting on it's haunches and grooming a paw, the figure quite obviously existing only in the astral. It doesn't give chase or even make a motion towards you, just stares with unblinking eyes.

Pushing through a wall just past, you can clearly see the perfect person. A diseased and tattered aura separates the figure from everyone else you've come across so far, and it's obvious that she's picking through trash or a similar sort of refuse bin. There's a brief rush of panic and terror, and you can feel the sour twinge of her abused aura parting and sliding over yours as you sink into her body, and lock her mind away in it's little clear box back in the corner of your awareness.


Ama and Mato

The girl gives way with a scream as the dead body comes flying towards her, batting ineffectually at Mato's massive form as it runs up and wraps arms of iron around her. You can hear shouts from further up the stairs, including one that seemed directed at the girl.

"Amy, Amy god-damned it, what the frag did you-"
Ama and Moto
"I'm going to assume she's not Babs."

Her tone is dry and flat as she takes a step off the stair steps and up along the wall as she races forward to lash out with a kick to the head of the gunmen that had opened fire on Mato. She lets the momentum of the kick carry her off the wall and she twists around trying to drive the back of her fist into the next aggressor near the first. She calls out after the bear upon seeing the woman he is wrestling with as her feet reconnect with the stairs.

"Amy you had better start talking fast before he crushes every bone in your body - like why are you wearing my things?"
Boots sniffs at the foul odor surrounding the woman, but then, that's the price of a good disguise. He hides his aura within hers, making him look and assense just like a normal human, as he shuffles back towards Sean, staying out of the way and in the shadows.
Shivan is unsure of what just happened there. Did he startle BigPanda or does the eco-warrior not like the touch of his cyberarm. He quickly retracts it so as not to cause his new friend and further discomfort.

The outside is changing. The plants grow in no pattern that he can discern. In the online games all the trees look the same after a while. Here every single one is different, just like the people. It is truly amazing.

He pulls his attention back to the conversation in time to hear BigPanda's offer.

"That iss mosst kind of you. We will do our besst not to causse you any inconvenience. Right NoissyBoy?"

The drone dog makes no reply, simply continuing to stare straight ahead. Shivan pats it on the head.

"Good, boy."

"Pluss I can contribute to our sshare of the rent and other cosstss. And we will only sstay until we can find our own place."

Ama and Mato

The gunman on the stairs shout and twist away, one stumbling down a fear stairs, the other leaning half-out and over the dilapidated railing in their efforts to avoid the leaping woman's fists.

The girl, obstensibly Amy, screams, her voice mingled with loud gasps as she struggles against Mato's grip.

"The guy, the other Infected! He said...agh, FRAG! He said, he said we could have the stuff, said you wouldn't be getting back up again, and tha...umph...that we should just leave your body till he, till he came back for it! Lemme go, you hairy fuck!"



Most people studiously ignore you, further aiding in your desire not to be seen. The few that do actually look at you seem to look right through you, not bothering to engage you at all with their eyes. You wander too close to a door, once, and one of the uniformed attendants stiffens until he sees you wander away with now further incident.

It looks odd, you stepping into the sleek, high-end car, reeking of garbage and the alleyway. Sean crinkles his nose in obvious disgust, having pulled himself into the vehicle at some point.

"Holy frag, didya' have ta' pick somethin' so...agggh, mah God, shea' reeks man!" He shakes his head and pulls a little closer over to the door, trying to avoid touching the woman.

"Look, okay, it werks. Car's ready, jus' touch the reader on mah' commlink here so Ah can get the fingerprint, and...right, then, there, that button right there." The car purrs to life, a steady, slight rumble vibrating up and through the leather seat. A variety of displays spring to life, dotting the periphery of the windshield with information. Complicated looking meters, readouts, displays feed a constant stream of data to whoever's sitting in the driver's seat.

"Welcome, Mrs. Harris, please choose your destination."


Panda's response is quick, reassuring.

"No no, no inconvenience at all. You can stay as long as you like." There's an almost bark of scoffing laughter from the front seat, and Panda shoots a withering glance over his shoulder before he turns back.

"So, no, it'll be fine. I have a second bedroom, and there's a walled in space in the back for Noisyboy," He gives the dog a slightly apprehensive glance, "So I think it'll be great, really!"

BigPanda chatters on about plans, working out things with you about sleeping and eating arrangements, what you liked to eat, preferred temperature...mostly small details. A short while later the vehicle pulls to a stop, and Panda slides open the door to reveal a small house tucked in among larger buildings, the sidewalk and near edge of the street overgrown with greenery as far as the eye can see up and down the block. Trees have punched through the plas-crete in places, and thick vines wrap around the taller stone structures on either side of the small, two-story brick front house. BigPanda motions you in even as he pulls backpacks and gear out of the van, stepping up to have a quiet and intense conversation in a lilting, musical language with Gaia's Sister before the van abruptly pulls away from the curb and back the way it came. He turns to give you a nervous smile and leads the way up and into the building, fumbling nervously for the keys.

"I hope you like it..."

Inside, the house is done almost completely in natural woods and cloth coverings, draped over the cracked, plaster walls to disguise them. It's a riot of color and eclectic tastes, though all in natural and earth tones, spreading out through the house. Originally, the floorplan probably consisted of a living room, dining room, kitchen, and bathroom downstairs, with 3 bedrooms upstairs. The living room, however, has been cleared to make space for a large circle, several meters across, etched into the plascrete floor. Bits of plants and bone adorn narrow shelves and boxes piled around the space, every bit of the area cluttered except for the circle itself. The dining room has been filled with beanbags and gigantic pillows, no actual chair or tables in sight, and scattered with the plates and remains of several meals.

The largest of the upstairs rooms is draped in tapestries from floor to ceiling, though it's the bed in the center of the room that dominates the space. It looks as if a large bedframe had been set up and then filled with a pile of pillows and blankets instead of mattresses. BigPanda actually looks a bit chagrined as he shows the space, and he quickly moves on to another room. Filled almost to the brink with boxes, the bedroom has obviously been used as a storage space, with flimsy clear-copy printouts stacked side-by-side with fading screamsheets and old actual books.

"We do a lot of research trying to track down secret...well, research facilities. The stuff the corps want to keep hidden. Sometimes they manage to keep it off the Matrix, you know?"

With the tour concluding with the upstairs bathroom, and an open window displaying a small yard in the rear of the house, overgrown with the same rampant vegetation that's claiming the rest of the neighborhood, BigPanda looks at you nervously.

"So, does it...I mean, will it...I mean, will you...can you, can you stay here?"
Shivan claps his hands with joy, when BigPanda offers them a place to stay.

"It sssoundss great. I cannot wait to ssee it."

Shivan hardly knows where to look inside the house. His tongue flicks in and out rapidly. getting a good taste of it. But it it the only part of him that does. Unlike his earlier excitement in the lab or his thrashing in the van, he moves with a restrained grace. His arms are tucked close in at his sides, although they seem to reach out and almost touch things of their own accord.

He stops at the edge of the circle in the living room. It reminds him of similar circles in Mage Wars 5.

"Are you a magician?" he asks, his heading dipping low to examine the edge of the circle in the living room. Although, he is careful not to touch or cross it.

"Iss there a demon trapped insside it?"

As BigPanda explains the function of each room, he nods in his head, a strange ducking motion rather than a real nod. He also adds a mental note to a file called 'BigPanda's House' as he follows along. His mind is awash with new sights, sounds and tastes and he is struggling to take it all in.

"Thiss looks very comfortable." he comments on the dining room. "Iss thiss my room. I could definitely ssleep here. Oh, I ssee."

By comparison, when Shivan sees the second bedroom, he looks a little uncertain.

"Hmm, that iss a lot of boxess. I do not ssee where I could ssleep. Do we need to move ssome of them ssomewhere elsse?"

Still the building is big. The space out back alone, the yard, is as big as his cage.

"It iss very beautiful, BigPanda. And sso big! Why, your bathing room iss nearly as big as my cage! We would be mosst honored to sstay here with you. Until we are ssettled up for oursselvess, that iss."

He gives a little bow, one metal hand touching his chest, the other performing a graceful arc down and back.
"She might be a bit...fragrant, but nobody's going to listen to her if she claims 'a spirit made me do it,' either."

Boots followed Sean's instructions, tapping the places he said with the woman's fingers without really understanding which blinking bits did what.
His arms tightening around the girl like a vise grip, Mato takes a few steps toward the door he had smashed down on his way in. Leaning out he looks to see Babs and ensure that she is unharmed.

"When is the man returning?"

BigPanda blushes as you bow, glancing away quickly as he stammers.

"That's great! I mean, really good, really. And yeah, I mean, we'll need to clear out the room, I hadn't really thought we'd be bringing you back...I mean, back to here, that is."

He immediately sets about clearing boxes, hauling them down the hall and into his room, tucking them away in the back of his closet.

"That should help with the worst of the cold and some of the humidity. And no, I don't summon demons. I mean, I don't really think anyone does, but that's just my beliefs. Some people could call their spirits demons. I think they're the personifications of our belief in the natural orders."

He pauses, eyes flickering closed for a moment. You can full a sudden pressing, like the air pressure in the room had increased and was pressing down on you, making it hard to breath. Words trickle from the broad-shouldered elf's lips in a steady stream...the noises obviously a language, but something guttural, primal. There's a sudden rush of physical wind in the narrow hallway, and abruptly there's another presence there. Three or four feet tall, slender and almost childlike, it has wide, white eyes with no pupils, pale skin tinged in green, and no nose or mouth. In fact, it's missing most of the defining characteristics besides it's general shape of two arms, two legs, and a head, with wisps of mist trailing from a smooth scalp and green-tinged fingertips.

"Would you help us, please?" BigPanda asks earnestly, kneeling down in front of the diminutive figure and nodding at the room full of boxes. The tinkle of wind chimes fills the hallway as the shape nods quickly and turns towards the room. It gestures, and stacks of boxes lift and withdraw themselves smoothly from the room and into the hall.

The boxes quickly fill that space, and he resorts to just piling them in clear spaces in the room until most of the guest room is empty. One last stack of boxes, 3 x 3 and piled against one wall remain, but the majority of the space is clear. Smiling and chatting happily about small, mundane things, more living arrangement details, he heads down to the "dining room" and brings up a supply of pillows and blankets, along with a small space heater. A few hours later, he's serving up plates of steaming food, the dishes covered in vegetables and flavored soy proteins that have the taste of meat, if not the texture and firmness.

"Sorry, I don't actually eat any meat. Oh, and I meant to ask," he mumbles around a mouthful of food, flopping down easily on one of the large cushions in the dining room.

"What do we do about him?" he nods at NoisyBoy.

"I can tell you what the organic part eats, but I have no idea if he needs like...maintenance, or anything. Or any kind of food or upkeep besides what a normal dog would need."



Sean wrinkles his nose, but keeps silent about the matter, apparently agreeing. Once the actual car is in motion, the instructions he gives you are mostly to let the car drive itself. About an hour or so into the ride, which seems to meander north towards the bridge out of the city, there's an abrupt lurch. Bright red alerts flash over the windshield, there's an audible click from the door locks, and the car begins to slow and nose over towards the right-hand shoulder of the of the road. Sean hoots with glee and immediately drops unconscious. A few moments later, the alerts disappear, and the car resumes normal speed. Sean rubs a hand across his eyes as he sits up again.

"Alright, so here's the part that I needed you here for. You're going to need to drive now." He gives you a few hurried instructions and then directs you to pull off at the next highway exit and get back on headed the other way.


Mato and Ama

The girl screams again, struggling as she's lugged up the stairs. The gangers have gotten wise enough to quit blasting away at their fellow gang members, and have halted shooting for the moment.

Outside, Babs is crouched behind her car, smoking shotgun propped over the roof as she scans the front of the building. As Mato leans out of the doorway, she shouts and waves.

"Hey hun! Hope ya'll are planning to get on out here pretty quick. There's scum crawling all over that building!"

The girl in Mato's grip twists enough to look, furious anger radiating from her features.

"He's supposed to be back tomorrow. Said he'd be coming back for her corpse an' all. Now let me the frag down! I'll tell the boys to quit shooting..
Remember, Boots, left pedal stops, right pedal goes, signal before turning, don't chase other cars.

While Boots only sort of understands how to drive, he's alert and attentive enough to make up for it and he quickly pulls towards the exit Sean indicated, then turns around and begins heading back, doing his best to drive safely and not attract attention.

"I see, we had to go to the edge of the car's leash to trigger an alarm."
Ama and Mato
"Tell them to stop now and return my things."

Her face is flat and grim as she waves a hand towards the men below her on the stairs. The air ripples as the magic is unleashed in the space below and engulfs the two gangers. She feels the pain race along her nerves as she overwhelms her ability to safely channel that much mana at once.
Shivan recovers slowly from the awe at seeing the shaman summon a spirit, just like that. He cannot stop one of his arms from reaching out to touch it. His hand passes through it although he feels a faint tingle like electricity. He quickly withdraws the limb fearing the charge will damage it.

He attempts to help with the boxes but quickly realises he is just getting in the way and retreats to the living room, only joining in again to help move some of the cushions.

"This is very perfect" he beams at BigPanda, mentally adjusting the control on the space heater to a mild 25 Celsius.

Once the room is cleared he joins the shaman at the kitchen table, moving a chair aside and coiling himself in it's place until he 'sits' at an appropriate height. He carefully cuts the food into small pieces and puts them one at a time into his mouth. His tongue flicks over each 'bite' savouring the taste, then with a gulp he swallows it down.

"In the lab, I learned to eat and enjoy many human foodss. McHugh'ss RealBeef triple burgerss are my favourite. I can eassily eat ssix or sseven of thosse at once. And while I do like Mr Po's Ssuper Ssambal Ssurprisse, number 66, it doess not agree with my sstomach."

He glances at NoisyBoy.

"He iss trapped like me you know. In hiss head there iss a tiny cage. I hope to free him like you freed me. I have ssome sskill with a sscrewdriver but will need ssome time to look over hiss sspecificationss before I can see if he needss...maintenance, or anything."

The yawn is unexpected and somewhat shocking as his jaws open so very wide to reveal a pair of long, sharp fangs.

"Excusse me. That wass very rude of me. I fear that my ressearch of NoisyBoy must wait until I resst. It hass been a rather exciting day for me. And for you too, I ssusspect. If you do not mind, I will go to ssleep now."


"Summit' like that. They gotta trigger the alarm, and I don't want them knowing where we're headed when they hit it. Some unlucky prat back there's gonna have 'im a poor time with 'Knight." Sean claps you on the shoulder, and then pulls his hand back with a mild look of disgust, apparently having forgotten the body you inhabited at the time.

The remainder of the drive is fairly uneventful, Sean give directions to let the pilot program take over again as you head back into the city, and then down south, into Tacoma. A few hours after the actual heist at the restaurant, he's directing you into a small parking lot in front of Dragon's Breath Coffee. He shuts down the car with another grin, signaling the truck to open so that you can grab the wheelchair as turns in his seat. Once established in his wheelchair, he locks the car and rolls up to the front door, taking up a position to one side and waiting. Several minutes later, a a low-slung bike with a thin orc comes pulling up, the engine noises muted from the normal roars that accompanied the vehicle. It's obviously customized, numerous odd tubes and blocky protrudences bolted on in a design that looked odd but balanced, at least. Dressed in casual slacks and a blazer, he tucks a pair of wrap-arounds into his pocket as he steps up in front of Sean.

"Seanp." The voice is slightly slurred, the words spoken around ornately curved tusks jutting from the orcs lips.

"Fleet." Sean's response is measured, effecting a cool and casual that the man did not usually display.


Ama and Mato

One of the, apparently nominally a leader, screams at the others to put the guns down as the two gangers on the stair way tumble back, one staggering as the other goes limp and tumbles back down the stairs. That was Amy, god-dammit! seems to be the gist of the noise. He looks at the Ama and Mato and nods, rage written across his face.

"Let's go, dump it," he snarls, motioning to the gangers behind him.



BigPanda blanches a bit at the description of your favorite foods, shaking his head.

"We've got to get some real food into you," he says, motioning at the plate you're holding. "This isn't it, but it's closer than McHugh's."

As you yawn, he blinks, eyes going wide, staring almost in fascination until you close your mouth again.

"Oh yes, of course, I mean..." he stammers, rising and motioning for you to follow. Once upstairs, he glances once at your room, and makes a bit of a face at the mostly empty room. He shakes his head once, and moves on to his room.

"Here, you'll sleep here tonight. We'll work on your room later." he says definitively, motioning to the nest of blankets and pillows in the bedframe.
Boots decides to let Sean do the talking - this body's smell would not help make friends. Instead, Boots takes a careful look at Fleet's aura.

In the astral, the orc's essence waned like a flickering candle. Shot through with the tell-tale black of cybersurgery, cyberware implants range from his head to his spine, and tendrils stretch throughout his entire body. His eyes have been completely replaced with pits of black nothing, hovering in the middle of what should normally be a bright and vibrant aura of life and vitality. You note the details...the individual colors and hues, the swirls and lines that differentiate one aura from another, and know that you could pick him out of a crowd. The calm lines of his aura spike a bit with some sort of negative emotion as he glances at you and Sean, but it's hard to say if it's anger or dislike or just disgust.

"I hope that thifff woman if either artfully diffguiffed, or that you just picked her up for a bit of fun after the run.' Sean flushes but shakes away the job, nodding over at the stolen luxury car.

"Exactly like you said, delivered clean and clear, no cops, no trails, no evidence. All clean."

Fleet eyes the car for a moment, and there's a cold and casual disdain in his voice.

"No way it'ff completely cleaned, but if you handled your businefff, it'ff clean enough for uf to get to work. Good job." The last part is offered grudgingly, but Sean still smiles and ducks his head, his aura flushed with his reaction to the orc's words. There's a brief nod, and Sean's eyes flicker up into the distance for a moment before his smile grows wider, and he nods back. Fleet tugs on a pair of gloves as he walks over to the car, catching a small bit of electronics that Sean tosses over, and leans into the car. A moment later he rises, nodding with some satisfaction, and heads back to his bike. The car starts up, perfectly tuned engine purring, and pulls away from the parking lot, heading in one direction even as Fleet pulls out, heading in another. Sean turns and looks at you, giving another hoot as he nudges the woman's body with his wheelchair, forgetting for a moment that it's not really you.

"That's it! This is where it starts! We're living large, Boots, living large."
"That's right - now we don't have to worry about covering the rent. I'm going to ditch this smelly woman, then we can head home. I'll be right back without her body."

Boots grinned in a distinctly canine manner, with his mouth wide open and his tongue out, as he wandered off to cut the woman loose, looking for an isolated back alley or the like with some nearby animals.

Isolated alley's are in generous supply in this area, and there's a sudden look of vacancy in the woman's features for several moments as your overwhelming presence rushes free of the flimsy shell, leaving her gasping and shaking her head in shock. The sharp tang of her body odor and salt on the air hits your nose as you dive into the brightly sparkling body of the cat crouched on the dumpster nearby, along with a riot of other details of the physical world that the woman hadn't noticed in the dark alleyway.

There's only a brief instance before her eyes glaze over at the effects of the spell, and she looks a bit disoriented, mumbling to herself as she pulls herself to her feet and staggers out, towards the mouth of the alleyway, looking around with an appropriately confused look, considering that she's now miles from where she started, and probably hours of travel from anything she called a home or belongings.
Boots decides to hold on to the stray cat for the moment, and scampers out of the alleyway and back towards Sean.

Boots briefly drops his realistic form, overlaying his coat and eyes over the cat's form so that Sean can recognize him, then meows and follows Sean's wheelchair.
"No, no, no!" hisses Shivan, waving his arms frantically. "Thiss iss your room. I will jusst bring a few more cusshions up from your room of living and that will ssuffice for tonight."

Plus the other room is now nice and warm.

"But firsst, I will take NoisyBoy to your outdoor yard."

He beckons to the dog/drone to follow him and takes it out to the yard. He lowers his head to the level of the dog's.

"Stay here. Rest. I will get you out of your cage tomorrow."

He pats the dog on the head and moves back inside out of the cool evening air. Then he returns to the still mostly empty room. He places his Flyspy "Sparrow" on top of the boxes and the little Ferret drone "Ferris" near the door, then settles down to sleep.

But sleep does not come easily. He sees the dead guards lying in their own blood and gore. He sees SilentMoon killing the scientists. And worst of all, he sees a dog in a tiny mirrored cage, barking at its reflection.

With sleep eluding him, he casts his mind out into the matrix.

<<@SolidSnake: I am seeking some more work. I have a better commlink now, more powerful than my previous one. So I hope you can find me something that is a little more challenging and better paying than the data searches I did for you before.>>

He considers contacting Professor Smith and Janet, his technician friend, but he is worried that the company will set a trap for him.

In this case, letting things 'cool' down for a few days is probably a good thing.

So instead he turns his attention to the dog/drone, carefully probing its systems and capabilities while it rests.
Ama and Mato
She locks eyes with the ganger who appears to be speaking and directing the others. She feels the heat and the hunger rise in her, the dark whispers of Izanami tease her with the sight of their broken bodies and shattered souls around her. She feels the rush of recognition and feels the yearning to let go and just let that be her way but she sees Mato. Her only possible friend in this world was not worth losing her self in her goddess. Keeping her face still and focused as she sends her prayers out through the spirit realm fueled by her own magic.

I call to the spirits of this place, to the guardians of this place. I stand ready to honor you and remember you. I will make the offerings and offer my thanks.

The ripple passes through this place and an answering chorus of whispers comes echoing back at her. She picks one voice from the din and draws it to her. A small man shaped assorted of trash and debris forms in the astral near her, yearning for offerings and prayers it stands at her side. She feels the connection form between herself and it as it accepts her promise and is prepared to aid her in her endeavors. She finally speaks to the quiet room.

"My things returned please and a name to go with the man who brought me here."

Sean starts and his eyes bug out when the cat's form twists in front of him, but he manages to stifle the scream. He shakes his head and looks off in the distance for a moment before blinking and looking out into the night in front of the shop. A few moments later a cab arrives, one of Seattle's finest Yellow Cab - still delivering great service after 125 years!™. The cab's rear door swings open, the fairly spacious interior brightly lit and offering up the broad back seat. Sean struggles for a few moments with moving himself to the cab, collapsing the wheelchair into something that's manageable in the back of the cab, and motions to you to hop in.

"Animals require a 25% increased 'Special Fare', with additional costs as necessary automatically charged if there is additional cleaning or downtime needed for the cab." The voice is a soft and soothing one, friendly but firm, and matching the smiling face displayed on the monitor just above the sealed partition between the front and rear of the cab. Sean grumbles something but sends an acknowledgement of the costs and gives directions back to the house.

He's gleeful on the ride, talking about the gig and how impressed Fleet was, and how this would mean steady, well-paying work. He laughs about the amount he got for just that nights work, already making plans for the future.

"and a bigger place for more animals with a decent backyard not just that run and the kennels you know Somewhere nice with security and stuff and real food most of the time No more soy" he crows, thumping the back seat in his enthusiasm. He pauses, looking at you with the broad grin, and you see him do something, and the cab abruptly slows and changes direction. It stops a few more miles on in front of a pub called O'Riley's". Bea and Sean used to frequent this place, before, and it was a favorite of most of the team when they weren't working. He manuveurs the wheelchair out of the door and settles into it again.

"' a better fuckin' wheelchair!" he grumbles as the doorman, Sal, a flush-faced dwarf, claps Sean on the shoulder with a chuckle and motions him into the pub.



Panda looks a bit crestfallen when you refuse, but he nods, even helping you move a few more of the cushions into your room. He comes back by the room once you're back from taking out Noisyboy, pausing in the doorway and seeming about to say something before he hesitates, finally just giving a wave and a 'Goodnight' and walking back to his room.

SolidSnake responds almost immediately.

<<@Shivan[Solid Snake]: Hey look, I'm glad you called, actually. I've got more work than I can handle at the moment. Glad to hear you got new gear, the last stuff sucked. So, are you up for something serious? Or you looking for something light to throw the new gear against?"


Ama and Mato

There's a rumble of discontent that's stifled when Amy curses at the lot of them. Gear continues to trickle down in bits and pieces, accumulating on the floor in front of the speaker.

"Guy's name is Samael. He's all biblical and drek, thinks he's some sort of fraggin' prophet or some drek like that. Always spouting verses. Look, he's supposed to come back here tonight, to collect your body. Said it would have run it's course, and that we were just supposed to keep you here till it was done. That's all we know! Look, can you...let Amy go. We'll let you go, let you take your stuff. Hey, everybody," he turns back to face the crowd, anger hot and bright in his glare.

"You keep yer frakkin' pieces down, got it? First one that takes a takes a pot shot at these slitches get's his throat slit, capisce?" He turns back to glare at the two intruders.

"Alright alright, you got your stuff, everybody's still breathing, just let Amy go and you can walk outta heyah."

From outside, Babs yells again.

"Hey hun? I can hear a couple of cars coming. That's a serious convoy in these parts. Not saying they're comin' directly heyah, but I'm bettin' it ain't good. We should scoot. Oh..are you, ahh, bringin' the emo kewpie doll there with ya'?"
Shivan is half asleep, his mind somewhere between his own and NoisyBoy's node when he gets the message from SolidSnake. He pulls his mind back firmly into his own head and ponders for a long moment before replying.

<<@Solid Snake[Shivan]: Prudence would dictate a test run rather than plunging into the deep end of the digital swimming pool. So I think a light to moderate challenge would be best. Something that would let me test the boundaries of my hardware and matrix skills without facing a significant risk of failure or damage to my brains or shiny new hardware. Also something that would not compromise your own reputation or trust in me if it was not completed as cleanly or smoothly as desired.>>

Was that too wordy. I should sleep. It has been rather a long day.

And with that last thought, he curls himself into a tight ball and drifts off into sleep.

There's a message waiting for you the next morning, blinking quietly in the corner the commlink display. It's accompanied by a light rapping at your door, an anxious BigPanda sticking his head in the door when no immediate reply is forthcoming.

"Are you...oh, I mean, I'm sorry, I was just worried that..." He colors and stumbles over his words, trailing off.
Ama and Mato
Walking over with a measured pace she begins to pull the jumpsuit off the grappled form of the woman. Reaching through her connection to the spirit she summoned she asks for aid.

Grant myself and my ally speed to move quickly here - we must move like the wind. Please protect us should those here seek to do us harm.

She moves quickly and precisely with practiced ease, having done this simple task of preparing for work numerous times. In the dark, deafened and with one limb she was drilled to do tasks like this without conscious thought so that she could focus her attention elsewhere like keeping an eye on the squatters all around her.
Ama and Mato

The large man stares straight at Amy, baring his teeth slightly as he shifts his grip around the ganger's throat to control her.

"Give us the number for the talking-machine to Samael."

Once Ama finishes pulling the jumpsuit free, Mato looks at his companion. He sniffs the air gently, trying to push away the stench of fear from the woman in his arms. The foul thread of infection hopefully still lingered.
Ama and Mato

The leader, whoever he is, appears to be barely restraining himself as Ama effectively strips the girl in front of the gathered crowd. With grinding teeth, he spits out an LTG number.

"That's the number he gave us, it's just a message center though."

Coughing slightly as the large man grips her throat, Amy twists in his grip, only just barely cooperative with the act. She glares at Ama as the woman dons the jumpsuit, looking thin and underfed in just a dirty pair of panties and a sports bra.

Testing the air, Mato detects a chorus of scents, at least two of them mimicking some particular details of Ama's scent, others having the distinct edge of ghouls, similar if not identical to the scents you'd been tracking from your village.
Boots at the bar.

Boots felt a pang of sadness as he remembered the good times spent in the bar with his entire family. Still, he and Sean had each other - and hey, they'd pulled that job off!.

Act like a cat. Act like a cat.

Boots completely ignored both Sean and the doorman, and hopped into Sean's lap as if his wheelchair was specifically designed for feline transport.
Shivan's head appears from under the pile of pillows, cushions and blankets. This time he remembers to cover this mouth when he yawns, one metal hand snaking forward to cover his open mouth. He slithers out from under the covers bringing his head up level with BigPanda's. His arms flex in an approximation of a stretch as he runs a brief diagnostic to check on their perfomance.

Hmm, left one is reacting a little slow. Will need to check that later.

"I am fine. I slept like a human child. My first night of freedom. I admit I was a little worried it was all just a dream and that if I opened my eyes I would be back in my cell."

He follows BigPanda down to the dining room, his eyes and tongue darting around as he takes in more of the unusual decor of shaman's house.

"I should check on NoisyBoy. Do you have any tools? I need to adjust one of my arms and may also need to do some maintenance on him too."

As he babbles on, his eyes flick to the message in his AR and he opens it with baited breath.
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