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Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1400; The Poppy Field, Bainbridge Island

DES was barely through the door of the shop before it's blind proprietor had a package on the counter for him. "There you go, DES," she said with a bright smile, red eyes complementing her blond pony tail nicely, but purple-striped T-shirt an abomination over denim with an orange tie-dye base. He didn't need to check the bag - he'd come in for some materials for his minion rituals, and he had no doubt that was what she'd provided.

It was pouring down rain, he was dripping, and she was smiling. "I love this weather," she said.
Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1402; The Poppy Field, Bainbridge Island

In a world far away and ever present cerulean moods deepened and cascaded as a whirling zephyr acknowledged the twin spots of fire. It settled on the threshold and unfurled tendrils of aqua from DES as he entered the domain of death and fire. Wind coming close to Fire makes it burn brighter.

DES smile shone, even from behind his moisture covered aviator shades. Despite his peaked cap the rain had soaked DES thoroughly. "Then you live in the right part of the world." His smile faded and he continued in a reserved tone, "I went to the island you suggested and even with the Wind to guide me I was not able to find any Restoration Cap. I found tracks of a bear walking on two legs. Someone came before me."

The young woman frowned.

In a world out of sight and in your mind cerulean shifted to voilet as a whirling zephyr slid away. Twin flames shifted orange. Raging Fire can even consume the Wind that feeds it.

DES took a breath and spoke quickly, "Where can The Flying Tigress take you?"

Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1402; Manzinita Bay, Bainbridge Island

In a world both here and there a pale green eye spun lazily as it bobbed out of rythm with the waves. It Watched though there was nothing new to see.

In decision space a process started. Idle resources allocated and consumed and discarded by a decision tree. The process ended, but not before setting itself to awake again. The Flying Tigress slept, sensing but not aware of the rain and waves.
Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1404; The Poppy Field, Bainbridge Island

"Where couldn't it take me?" she laughed. "But I'm everywhere I need to be right now. Not sure you are, though..."

And a Sony Angel chirped an incoming text, Bouncing Bobbi's tone. DES didn't want to be rude, but Jill had already made herself busy elsewhere.

<<Crew up on Kiska needs some parts pronto. Meet me at usual pick up spot in three hours - I'll be there to talk - possibly another job on the way back. BB>>

DES considered. Whoever was on Kiska had some reason they couldn't just order what they needed through legit channels and wait for a much quicker and cheaper drone delivery.

Jill interrupted his thoughts. "Did I say how much I loved this rain? Sunlight's no good for me lately. It's when those black clouds part, DES, when those rays suddenly shine through, when you're so tempted to feel good...that's when you know they're all there for your blood."
Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1407; The Poppy Field, Bainbridge Island

"that's when you know they're all there for your blood."

DES knew well the feeling. Memories of dark days just before he left the Green Valley Salish surfaced in his mind. Everyone he knew and ever knew, his own blood against him. Calling for his own blood. But that was the past. Red Eye Jill might know his past, but when she spoke like this it meant the future. More hardship for himself. A warning to always be on his guard.

"I must go. Tell me where I seek what you need and I will try there next. Speak to the Wind when it comes to you."

In a world warm and never warming violet burnt to brown and smoked glass shifted towards the door, sensing escape from the closed space. Drawing the attention of the fires might lock it here till it was consumed. Worry tinged it red as it pondered returning alone to confront the fires.

Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1406; Manzinita Bay, Bainbridge Island

Decision space awoke, a code checked after it was received, and a long series of commands issued. The Flying Tigress awoke and started preparations.

Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1410; The Poppy Field, Bainbridge Island

DES stepped out the door and gathered his will and whispered his command, "Fair winds carry me." DES started walking, the way to The Flying Tigress quickly whisking by as he walked across the island. DES wondered about Kiska and what he would be bringing there. It would be cold and dark, but not as cold as it could be, nor as dark as he had seen. DES would ask Bobbi when they met, meanwhile he could plan the flight and the preparations and path to follow.
Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1700; Pepe's Playland, Kong-Walmart Parking Annex, North Beach, Seattle

Pepe's roamed around various disused lots throughout the warm months, but in the winter scraped out a cold existence in the disused overflow parking lot of the North Beach Kong Walmart. DES was never sure how they made the rent - maybe it was some sort of rainy-month symbiosis, with the general merchandiser and the rusty amusement park attracting customers for each other. Half the rides were shut down, and the other half had staff splitting time between several, sleepily watching for the stray family or pack of youths bored enough to approach.

Bouncing Bobbi was their best customer. She liked the trampolines, of course, and she bounded up and down as she talked to DES through the surrounding mesh. The way certain parts of her moved with a life of their own, he wondered how it was not painful. She'd already given him the access code and door number for the self-storage park she regularly used, just half a klick up the shoreline. That was the two crates of T-bird components he'd be ferrying north to frigid Kiska. Little inlet on the north coast - supposedly nothing there, but she assured him there was a small smugglers' way station there, hidden from satellite views in tunnels used by the Japanese in their occupation of the island. DES figured it was worth the trip just to know about the place, but of course she'd be paying as well.

But all of this could have been done over the commlink.

"You'll find a girl up there. Stranded there with the T-bird crew. She wants to get to Seattle yesterday, something urgent. Won't wait for the T-bird, but won't take just any ride. She wants someone reliable she can trust to get her into the 'Plex on the down low. But you'll want to talk to her yourself."

DES looked the question, catching her eye in mid-bounce.

"She's mobbed up pretty good. Vor, I think, but she's tangled up somehow with the yaks and the Seoulpas too - at least. Apparently it's pretty complicated, and her backtrail may not be exactly sterile. Thought I'd make it worth your while to go up with the T-bird parts, then if you want to meet her you can get a feel for whether it's a risk you want to take. She goes by D-Pop."
Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1710; Pepe's Playland, Kong-Walmart Parking Annex, North Beach, Seattle

In a world bouncing and never bounced yellow shifted red shifted lemon shifted brick shifted canary shifted cardinal shifted saffron in endless shades as they looped and orbited endlessly up and down and up and down and up and down until the girl was mentioned. Umber clouds tinged copper gathered and towered in a thunderhead as concentration ... concentrated . After all what else would concentration do? Especially when something dangerous portended. Perhaps that was what the "D" in D-Pop meant?

DES had given his thanks to Bobbi, appreciating the courtesy, yet well aware Bobbi knew he would not refuse the task as long as he knew the risks and could prepare for them. He'd rented an autopiloted hauler and as soon as he was on the way to the U Self Stor he jacked in and subscribed to The Citadel long enough to ping player XXSmoothAsXX, Silks User Name, with a standard background check request on D-Pop. DES appreciated the in-game guild app as a cover, but wasn't sure how entering terms such as Organized Crime, Seoul Pa, Yakuza, and Vor and Vory fit in with the current game memes of sugar pop vampires. DES figured D-Pop wasn't going to be accepted into the Guild. He also hoped his in-game guild fee payments weren't entirely going to pay for Silks matrix gaming.

Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1715; U SELF STOR , North Beach, Seattle

DES jacked out of the game as soon as the autohauler arrived at the U Self Stor and directed the hauler and winches to grab the crates. He took this first chance to check the wieght and load balance and sent the data estimates to the Flying Tigress. DES also took this time to review the preliminary flight plan as the aotuhauler loaded itself. Kiska was a no go zone as far as any official flight so DES filed a standard pleasure flight/cruise under his current SIN and booked a standard contract with mission control for the Kiska portion of his flight. It was close enough to his old stomping grounds DES was fairly certain he had been to some of the neighboring islands before. DES knew most of them were considered no go and restricted areas. As much for ecological and historical reasons as contested territorial ones. All the more reason DES wanted to have mission control, Ice Station Zebra, monitoring the air and sea space around Kiska.

In decision space triggers initiated movement. Warmth flooded engines, fluids pressurized, gasses vented, charges flared and inertia was overcome and motion vectors changed. The Flying Tigress started moving to the calculated rendezvous to load the cargo.
Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1759; U SELF STOR , North Beach, Seattle

The load wasn't excessively large, and went smoothly. By the time it was done, there was a ping back from the Citadel host contact. It wasn't a whole lot more than Bobbi had provided, but every little helped. Vor association, but not Vor. No picture or other identifying data available, which in itself implied she been erased by someone with juice. And then the message got vague with regard to the japanese and Koreans. Silk wouldn't be specific other than to say there was "a sense of significance, that it should be looked into further."

Then Silk actually called. <<Listen, I know that sounds thin, but my source's ambiguity is matched only by its accuracy. There's something there with the yaks and the seoulpas that bears watching. Let me know if you want my help with that.>>

Tuesday, 19 November, 2075, 1836; Shilshole Bay Marina , Sunset Hill, Seattle

<<... There's something there with the yaks and the seoulpas that bears watching. Let me know if you want my help with that.>>

DES had given his sincere thanks to Silk, but had declined any immediate assistance. It was enough to know there were heavy interests involved. D-Pop was a potential client and this information gave DES enough to determine a sense of the client when he met her and she made her offer. DES knew who he would call if he needed some information before landing in Seattle.

DES finished loading The Flying Tigress and kicked loose from the dock. He finished the physical checks while The Flying Tigress eased herself into the Sound. No matter what the sensor lights said, or how it felt when Jumped IN, nothing was better than kicking the tires to make sure they had locked themselves in place. The same went for the flaps and Ailerons and how mobile they are. Satisfied with the last inspection, Des entered the cockpit, dogged the doors and strapped in. Then he jacked in and plugged himself in.

DES immediately felt the drag under his outer pontoons and main hull, and felt the strain as his props began clawing through the air, dragging himself into the sky. A long straining drag through the waves and finally a kick loose into the air set DES away and he began soaring into the sky.

<<@Mission Control: The Flying Tigress is in the air.>>
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0311; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

And that was the last he heard from Mission Control. But then he didn't hear from anyone else either, which of course was the point. Between Puget Sound and Kiska there was nothing but frigid winter North Pacific waters until you hit the bow of the Aleutians, and DES's contacts had plotted his course well south of those, angling sharply northwest just in time to hit the Rat Islands. His destination was an inlet on the south side of Wolf Point, right at the base of the northwest face of Kiska Volcano.

No one hailed him on approach. The idea being that there was no one there. The pontoons on the Flying Tigress shivered as they brushed the icy wavecaps and finally eased her weight onto the supporting mass of frigid water. There was a strong wind blowing in across the frozen north face of the mountain, with snow flurries reducing visibility. DES could have been the only person within a hundred miles, except when he flashed a pre-arranged code he was flashed back immediately from a point on the shore, indicating where he should bring his cargo.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0325; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

DES jumped out and unjacked himself. The Flying Tigress could handle herself well enough on an initial approach. DES would jump back in to do any beaching or docking needed. DES performed the landing check, paying special attention to the bilge pumps and various level and buoyancy controls followed by physical hull integrity checks. Once satisfied The Flying Tigress could stay on the water, DES initiated The Drop Bear's warm up and set the drone into a hot idle.

The Flying Tigress settled into a slow idle approach and DES gathered his will and spoke, "Night Wind, show me what the Wind sees."

In a world cold and not colder, Indigo and Ice floes slurried against Puce and Scarlet flows.

DES struggled to make any sense of it. A shift in focus eliminated the conflicting synesthesiatic sensations but all that remained were Dark, Wet and Cold. DES gathered his Will and spoke again, "Thank you Night Wind. Tell me how many await?" DES withdrew his attention from the Spirit world and moved back to the cockpit seat and plugged himself back in for the final few meters. DES jacked in reflecting that he hadn't really needed Night Wind to get the sensations of being Cold, Dark and Wet.

DES spun himself/The Flying Tigress around and reversed into an unloading position before dropping a couple wheels to lock himself into a stable position. Jumping out and unplugging again DES went to see what the next step of journey would be.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0329; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

It was very cold.

Three men in thick arctic gear and a heavy-duty wheeled conveyance drone with a loading arm emerged from nowhere. There must have been s door somewhere in the rocks surrounding the bare-bones wharf.

Two moved the drone towards the Flying Tigress's loading hatch, but at first made no move farther. The third, face covered in a scarf and goggles, walked up to DES. There would have been no point in offering his hand - the glove was too thick to get a grip on unless you were a troll. But his voice was pitched to be easily heard over the wind and through the muffler. "I'm your buyer, those two are local crew. Got a credstick in my pocket, but with your okay we'll need to get the stuff inside for me to inspect and take receipt." He went on to state the exact sum agreed upon, being sure to mention that he'd done the negotiation with Bouncing Bobbi.

Satisfied with the bonafides, DES let the offload go forward, and as they followed the drone into the rock face, the man spoke further, "Don't know your schedule, but they sell fuel here at a reasonable cost, and can have you back in the air as soon as thirty if you wish. Or you can stay - all the comforts of home for a price."

It was not the first smuggler way-station DES had stayed in, but he knew the drill. Basically everything you could find at a large truck stop, only secret, everyone was armed, and the prices were triple.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0334; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

"Thank you. Refuel and whatever is hot to drink."

DES knew stopping would mean hours of extra delay and expense as well. Engines and systems either completely drained or running at a hot idle if you needed to leave quickly, or hours of slow highly specialized warming up just so you could start an engine without blowing bits off of it.

"I am deadheading back, you got anything heading the other way it'll be cheap."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0336; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

The man had taken his heavy gloves off and opened the crate, making a cursory inspection as DES spoke. Turning to face the pilot, he nodded at the two locals and handed DES the credstick.

"Well, we had a passenger, and she doesn't want to wait for our repairs. Headed back your way, to Seattle. Picky one though - you'll have to talk to her. Canteen's that way - your warm cuppa's in there, and so's she."

DES started to ask something, but the man just smiled - "You'll know which one she is."

Making his way down the century old stone corridor, DES followed the smell of frying food and soykaf. The canteen was well lit and warm. About a dozen people were there, three of them women. One was on the kitchen side of the food counter, dolloping powdered eggs and soysage onto trays when necessary, but mostly sitting on her fat ass smoking. One was a dwarf, face greasy like her coveralls, chair back against a wall, dozing. And one had tall black leather boots with stiletto heels up on her table, the boots sheathing endless slender legs in painted-on denim, topped by an excessively tight T-shirt and heavy armor jacket studded with metal rivets. The jacket hung open to reveal a jackass rig, an Ares Predator slung under her left arm, spare clips balancing the set-up under her right armpit. Her black hair was cropped to about an inch, with dark purple highights, and her eye make-up was heavy but not quite goth. A diamond glittered in the light on her lip ring.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0338; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

It took no time at all to fill two cups out of the SoyKaf dispensor. What did take a few moments more was arranging the table DES had chosen. Arranging a second chair, angled invitingly, and seating himself. Carefully so both DES and the woman would be aware she was in his vision, but not so rude as directly confronting. Two cups sitting centrally, where anyone could take one if they sat down. DES was seated and looked once around the room marking where everyone was, and then sat back and relaxed. He left the soykaf steaming invitingly in the table center. For many the long flight might have been exhausting and mentally draining, but for DES it was relaxing. In fact here, underground, forced to wait was the hardest part. He might not have come in at all if Bouncing Bobbi and even Silk hadn't mentioned there was something interesting. So DES had entered this confined place and had made a welcoming circle to see what would come his way. As a final touch he took off his Seattle Screamers cap, filled it with his mirror shades, and placed them on the table in front of him.

Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0345; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

DES is pretty sure the woman spotted his invitation right away. He's half sure, in fact, that she marked him when he walked into the room.

But she gives it a cool five minutes before approaching him, during which time a number of additional people trickle into the room, making the cramped space a lot more crowded. "Waiting for someone?" she asks, nodding at the extra cup. Her voice has a clear but not cartoonish Russian lilt to it.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0346; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

DES nodded, then inclined his head at the chair."I have made my delivery here. The Flying Tigress is empty for my return to Seattle. When I offered cargo space I was told there may be a passenger."

"If you are interested I am leaving in 15 minutes. Whether or not you come with me to Seattle please join me for 'kaf."

DES waited for the woman to make her choice, for the 'kaf, for the ride, for the company.

Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0347; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

It was clearly meal time in the schedule of this place, but as bodies bustled all around them, there was only stillness in her eyes as they probed DES's, deciding.

"Yes," she said, before a man's hand brushed her shoulder in passing and she grabbed it in both of hers, twisting and forcing the man's arm, along with the rest of him, into submission across their table. Hot soykaf flew over DES, and he saw the tiny needle jutting from the man's ring as his broken hand lay palm up on the synthwood.

The woman's eyes were already glazing, her grip loosening, and then another man rushed over from behind her. He was certainly quicker than anyone else to react. He had apparent concern on his face, and a short-bladed combat knife held low in his hand.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0347; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

"Yes," she said.

Decision made, there was only one way this was going to go. Before DES could start with his pre flight spiel, along with outlining his normal conditions for a guest, the hot soykaf flew. At the sight of the needle and blade DES reflexively triggered the doomsday button on his Maersk Spider, something that had saved him many times before. As long as he got to talk, and didn't get shot right away.

Signal received and exploded along communications channels. Decision space ballooned and immediately split into thousands of high priority packets. Fuel injectors jammed open and capacitors discharged exploding fuel that drove pistons. Batteries struggled with the sudden drain and normally quiescent devices started moving. Protective covers popped and spring torsion bars unleashed stored energy casting a large block of independent decision space into the sky. Blades chopped at the sky as turbines screamed in sudden escalation. The Flying Tigress prepared to fight.

In a world both inside and outside everything sharpened. Swirling ice compacted into violet whorls. Orange and umber smudges gained extra attention, edges contrasting against cerulean solids. The Violet whorl poised itself.

Raising his empty hands high and wide, ignoring the burning wet in his lap, DES focused his will on the two men and commanded, "Stop and listen to me!"
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0347; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

The knife, arcing in a vicious underhanded stroke for the woman's kidney, abruptly halted its course as the preternatural force of DES's tone compelled his immediate attention. The man pinned to the table had no choice in the matter - at least as long as the woman managed to remain conscious and maintain her grip.

But the moment DES had bought was more than enough - within the moments it took for alert but unaugmented metahumans to react, there were half dozen sidearms leveled at all four of the people at the table. DES kept his hands raised, the knfe clattered to the floor and that guy's hands went up. A few tense seconds later and the woman lost her battle with the drug and her quivering eyelids shut as she slumped off her chair to the floor. The last man immediately also raised his hands - one horribly broken - towards the ceiling.

A woman of medium stature and long, gray-streaked hair entered the room. She took in the scene, then her eyes drifted a bit, clearly accessing an AR feed. DES noticed that the room was covered by cameras, and put two and two together as to what the older woman might be looking at. Only took her three seconds, then she was speaking with authority. "These two," she said, referring to the woman's assailants, "are persona non grata for life - send the word to all our affiliates as well - and everything they don't absolutely need to vacate the island is forfeit. Get them out of here. These two," she continued, glancing at DES and the woman on the floor, "have broken none of our rules. Check her out."

Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0348; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

DES kept his hands wide and empty, palms showing, even though the immediate threat was dealt with. While judgement was being made he'd brought up the stand down codes and sent them to The Flying Tigress. The hot shot start was going to take 10 hours off her flight time before her next scheduled rebuild.

In a world burning and not burnt compacted violet dissipated into icy blue stormlets. Cerulean cloudlings condensed over umber smudges. And waited.

"I have a Dustoff with a Valkyrie module. I can bring it in." DES paused as he indicated the fallen woman and looked around the room as he announced, "She is a guest of The Flying Tigress and we will carry her safely to her destination."

Decision space disassociated and condensed into idleness. Moisture popped and steamed as asynchronous ragged cycles struggled with uneven energy distributions. Screaming blades and tortured air dispersed and damped down, settling into a hot churning idle. Claws sheathed, eyes watching, The Flying Tigress waited. In other Decision space aborted commands truncated actions and conflicted with emergency stresses as blades chopped the viscous frozen air cushioning it's descent in a mash of chopping blades. The Drop Bear crunched down on some ice and rocks before lifting and flowing slowly towards the old tunnels to the cantina. Launching cold from ground level always exacted a price.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0359; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

The older woman's patient smile was neither skeptical nor unkind. But neither would it be rushed. She walked away without a word while her people checked the fallen woman out. Across the room, DES saw her conversing with the man who had paid him for the T-bird components. When she returned she nodded. "Seems that odds are she's your passenger legit. And we're not keeping her here. My people have pumped her full of anti-toxins, but I'd get her to a real doctor as soon as I could. We've cleared your drone for the loading bay. Have a pleasant flight."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0402; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

"Have a pleasant flight."

DES nodded to the woman. "I will find a doctor." DES gathered his will and commanded, "Night Wind, carry our guest to The Drop Bear." DES stalked to the loading bay and waited.

In a world both here and there, azure whorls cycled and formed. It dipped white and shifted into clouds. It moved and sharpened.

Air gelled with flakes of ice and gathered under the woman, lifting her on a clouds of snow only centimeters off the ground. DES paid no attention to the snow clouds, as the large drone, fresh dents on it's ground skirts, koalas painted on its side, entered the loading bay. He reached out and opened the cocoon, punched the activation button then turned and waved the floating woman the last few meters into the valkyrie module. DES verified the attachments and then sealed the woman in. He then commanded, "To The Flying Tigress." DES stalked out into the sub arctic night without looking back.

In a world both here and there, whirling stopped and faded. Clouds dissolved into azure cycling whorls flowing after Darkness.

Blades spun up chopping into frigid air, lifting the machine. Rods shifted, pushing blades into tilted angles shifting vectors. Diagnostics flew through decision trees launching routines. Routines activated pumps, fluids moved, gasses hissed. The Drop Bear followed.

Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0405; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

The Tigress took a running leap and caught the frigid air above Wolf Point in her steel claws, dragging herself heavenward. Once she and DES had some altitude, they scanned air and sea for any sign of their charge's exiled attackers. Coming up with nothing, they banked onto course back to Seattle, when movement stood out against the frozen rock surface to the south of the smugglers' base - two parka-bundled figures making their way south overland.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0410; Wolf Point, Kiska Island, Athabaskan Council

DES tensed and gathered his will and a jolt snapped him back to himself as everything slowed down and sharpened. He'd pay for this later. Spreading The Flying Tigress wings wide, aerolons maxed, props disengaged from the screaming turbines, blades feathering in the gelid air DES dropped in a steep glide. At 30 meters altitude DES jumped out of the blocks, props snapping into gear and turbines injected with max fuel flow. The Flying Tigress descent flattened out at .78 meters and climbed a full 2 meters over the next 105 before bolting into a max climb of 5 meters per second. Behind The Flying Tigress left a huge swath of snow, ice and debris swirled up in a sudden mini blizzard swamping the two parka bundled figures.

"That's for spilling coffee on me!"

Suddenly weary DES eased the climb and settled into a max efficiency 105 knots at 2200 meters before jacking out and letting The Flying Tigress take over.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1120; Puget Sound, UCAS waters

The wind had been with him but the time zone was a strik against, so DES managed the flight back in roughly the same as his outgoing time. But there'd been no warnings from the autopilot until they'd approached UCAS-monitored airspace around Seattle, and he felt good and rested when he touched water in one of his favorite hideaways on the Sound.

Checking on the medical module, all lights were green. Diagnostic indicators were normal - the Valkyrie's pharmacological suite had apparently done its work, and at a touch of a button the pod opened up to a wide-eyed D-Pop. "Seattle?" Please say yes - I have places to be."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1130; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound, UCAS waters

DES pointed to the map display, showing Port Ludlow, at the empty waist gunners station, then held out a pair of soy kaf cups, "I promised you a kaf."

As the woman picked a cup and sipped after getting out of the medical pod, DES continued carefully, "Please listen. You are safe in The Flying Tigress, and I am DES." DES held his hand up as the woman was about to respond, and when she paused, he pressed on "Do not tell me your name. Listen. Today, right here, I do not know who you are. You are a traveler in need and The Flying Tigress has brought you here, safe. You will safely leave us."

DES smiled and switched to a more jocular tone and briefly lifted eyebrows, "And now let me tell you a story. This is a tale of a strong popular woman in black boots, studded jacket, purple hair and a sparkling star in her lip. She is popular, and tribeless. She once may have had a tribe, the people of the cold steppes and golden onion domes. She may be seeking to rejoin her tribe or leave it, or some other thing entirely. That tale is not being told here. She is popular. Such a strong popular woman that two other tribes are interested in her. For if she is not one of the warriors of a tribe I think she must be captured or destroyed. These two other tribes seem to have sent word in all directions seeking this woman out."

DES returned a serious mood and tone, "I trade with one of these tribes, and while I have not heard word or have been visited by that tribes scouts, they will come to me eventually. I also suspect my recent troubles, and possibly yours have been caused by those seeking the favor of one of these other tribes. While you are delivered safely here, and will be safe with me, once you leave The Flying Tigress your time of safety will end."

DES stretched out and popped open the door, "Welcome to Seattle."

"That will by 400 nuyen."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1132; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound, UCAS waters

She smiled and authorized the transfer with a thought to her headware.

"Now," she said, nodding at the open hatch, "Why don't you come with me. As you say, two tribes want me dead. I have friends with the Vor, but they are not my tribe either, and will neither bleed nor shed blood for me. So this open door tells me you are the only person in this great metroplex I can trust. Stand by my side for the next week, and you'll earn ten times what I just paid you."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1140; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound, UCAS waters

DES stared at the woman, thoughts flying around his mind. Unintentionally he straightened up, his head brushing the ceiling. His hand moved and touched palm flat against the hull next to him. He stood unmoving, then suddenly caught his breath and committed himself.

"Trust!" DES snorted at himself, then shook his head, "I will stand with you for a week." He signalled that the woman should leave through the door and he followed her onto the dock. The Flying Tigress spun up her engines and started moving away. DES walked to shore not looking back and spoke, "Let me tell you what you have bought." He waved a hand behind indicating the fleeing PBY-70 Catalina, "The Flying Tigress and I are a power in the sky. Strong and stealthy and wily in the ways of the world." DES moved his hand palm downwards over the path ahead, "Walking the earth I am weak, and in the plex I am even more hindered."

Now ashore DES turned to face the woman and grinned, "However... Trust is powerful! And I am Blessed of the Wind. And even in the plex there are tools I can find to suit your needs."

"I will be a Wise Man to your Warrior Woman on your quest. What Vision brings you here?"
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1142; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound, UCAS waters

The even-featured woman grinned back, all straight white teeth that bespoke either means or a very un-Eastern European upbringing. The diamond in her lip ring caught the sunlight as the corner of her mouth rose.

"It is a vision of lost children, friend DES. Some with parts yet to play. Now, tonight I will meet a man at a club downtown. That's twelve hours from now, in which time I have no place to stay, and need to shop for clothes and also spend several hours on my commlink," she said, tapping her head at the last part.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1145; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound, UCAS waters

Lost children and trust. Red Otter. DES moved to the picnic table along the shore and placed his Maersk on it and sat next to it saying, "I will arrange transportation, South of us is the 104 which will take us to 5 North of Seattle, or Seattle Downtown direct. 90 minutes travel this time of day." DES slipped into VR as quickly as possible to deal with the churning thoughts. The rental of a Bulldog with a camper interior and mapping of routes, clothes shopping, and shower facilities was accomplished automatically by the system while DES fought to control the swings in his everythings.

In a world swirling and static, red rose, rouge dove, amber rotated, yellow spun, and everything was wild.

In the end there was no choice. Red Otter and trust were the pillars of how his life had come to be as it was and he must face it to see what he would become. Nothing DES did here today would change what the tribe thought of him, but DES had to know for himself, about himself. That was what a Vision Quest was for. And once DES knew for himself, then he could do what was needed for the tribe.

DES had lost his brother forever. What could he do about other Lost Children?

DES stayed in VR, hiding his emotions, and posted the vehicle and routing data in an ARO for the "Warrior Woman" to subscribe to. The rented van would drive itself here in 15 minutes. DES would need that time get himself in control.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1200; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound

The woman spent the first part of their short wait talking to someone. She was one of those whose lips still twitched when she was talking via headware. DES figured she must be on audio only, though, because her eyes never lost focus and never stopped scanning the one-eight arc behind him. She seemed to be assuming he'd take care of watching his quadrant. Well, he'd already seen how real and immediate the threat was.

It was a sunny day in November, but brief wisps of devil's rain occasionally fluttered down on them. "Is DES short for Desmond?"
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1202; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound, UCAS waters

He couldn't hide forever. And she was trusting him. DES slipped out of VR and hoped his body had time to calm itself in the last few minutes. It didn't feel shaky or lost so DES go off the table and stood as he answered, "Today I am David Ethan Smith. DES is so I do not need to remember if I am Duncan, or Donald, or even Desmond."

His knees hadn't wobbled, so DES relaxed a bit and smiled slightly, holding out a hand with his palm outward in the classic gesture of peaceful greeting, except he was not facing Warrior Woman, "Sea Breeze, Darkness Eagle Soaring asks for your blessings and that you Guard Warrior Woman and Darkness from Harm and Conceal us from the eyes and minds of our enemies."

In a world colorful and colorless, cerulean and azure strands whispered in figure eights and pretzels, tightening around orange and umber clouds.

DES felt the breeze twist his feathered hair and saw the gentle ruffles in the Warrior Woman's short cropped head, he nodded in acknowledgement, "Thank you Sea Breeze."

DES turned to completely face Warrior Woman, "I am sorry, I should have done that earlier. Sea Breeze will bless us till the sun sets."

Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1203; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound

She had very expressive eyes. He could tell she knew which of the names was the real revelation, and without saying any words she thanked him for it.

Then, out loud, she said, "I've met precious few riggers with that sort of Gift. Perhaps the Fates have indeed taken a hand in our meeting. I was promised they would be involved. Is that yours?" she finally asked, voice staying calm, but hand on the butt of her holstered weapon as she noted the approach of the Bulldog.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1204; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound

DES briefly considered mentioning the Blind Woman who had started him on this path only days earlier, but the approaching vehicle was more important to be careful about. Ground bound and working he had to be even more considerate of the risks. The odds were long on the vehicle being trouble, but the consequences were not worth ignoring.

DES sat against the table again, reached for the Mearsk and switched into VR and reached out for the Bulldog's connections. Icons blazed across his vision and sorted themselves out. DES grabbed the four wheeled/legged Bull Dog and pulled himself to it and started the handshakes needed for controlling it.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1205; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound

The Bulldog readily accepted DES's electronic handshake, and he rode her smoothly into the lot. Showing D-Pop into the vehicle, she was duly impressed, especially with there being a shower. "Oh, now I know the Fates have taken a hand - or else I have chosen precisely the person to trust. Fuck, what a journey it has been." She is already pulling her boots off as she speaks. "Take me to a mall, DES!" she mock commands with a glint in her eye, and starts peeling off the rest of her clothing.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1210; Port Ludlow, Puget Sound

"The shower does not work while moving." DES smiled, and stepped out of the van. "I will watch outside." For all the temptation provided, DES knew that it was more important that they all be kept safe until the crisis was resolved.

DES use of the word "watch" reminded himself of what may be useful coming up later. Sitting on the sidestep he touched the Maersk and slipping into the Matrix. DES carefully arranged a set of monitoring routines, non visual on the bulldog interior, full sensor on the exterior, and hooked in his own Sony Angel feed to give himself a panoramic array, all in his primary attention space. In a secondary space DES fired off queries about micro and mini drones, as well as picking up feeds on ground vehicle handling and performance specifications. DES reflected on what was needed, the timing was tight and this equipment wasn't always immediately available. DES reflected that rush jobs in The Flying Tigress were easy, here on the ground being in a rush was a lot harder.

DES put together a price quote request for a flying minidrone available immediately and sent them off to Brianna and Bouncy Bobbi. Normally he'd have gone to Mr Kim first, he specialized in vehicles and transportation related items, but connecting to him today was something to avoid. And it would be a pain to get the gold taels on short notice.

DES ignored the urge to cycle through the Bulldogs interior visual sensors and started mapping out routes to various clothing stores.

Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1510; Alderwood Mall, Everett, Seattle Metroplex

D-Pop emerged just as DES was starting to worry they wouldn't make the next ferry to Everett, which would be annoying since they only ran from Port Ludlow every hour and fifty minutes these days. But the door opened and though she looked much refreshed, she was in exactly the same clothes, which he sensed annoyed her deeply. Too bad it would be a good two hours until she could shop, but if you wanted to arrive undetected, you couldn't exactly pull up outside the Gates Undersound.

His papers were in order as they crossed the Salish checkpoint onto the ferry, and she was in its smuggling compartment. Security was light here, and it would a sieve going into Everett - best place to bring a ferry into Seattle. The ride was two hours, and once they were past the UCAS border check - if you could even call it that - they were a hop, skip and a jump from the Alderwood Mall. Once there, DES was delighted to see that this woman shopped like a man. Clearly sifting expertly through an aggressive but finely-tuned array of retailer suggestions, she strode from one shopt another, racking up an incredible bill and loading them both down with everything needed for several outfits ranging from functional to formal. Correct sizes were waiting for her at each shop, and she usually didn't both trying anything on.

Once back at the van, she finally sat down on the little sofa-like bench and sighed. "Like a dog gulping a fillet mignon in one gulp, to rush shopping like that. It's a wine to be savored. But so very much to do. Most now I can do in my head, though. We just need to be near Seattle Center by around ten tonight. We'll be going to a very new club, just opened last night, but if you're with me whatever you wear will be assumed to be the correct fashion, so you can dress however best works for you - assuming we'll run into trouble."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1903; Grid Guide, Seattle Metroplex

DES nodded and directed the autopilot to a set of random potential delivery or shopping locations for the next few hours. He felt safer if they were on the move. Even if they were tracked, being on the move with other traffic would make themselves a harder target.

"We will tour the city! Please enjoy the tour. We have planned stops at a Stuffer Shack, a Nuke It Burrittos, a Modern Body, an Everyman Outlet, a Vashon Island, and finally a S-Kea store."

Dressing wasn't all he needed to do if there was going to be trouble. DES strapped himself in and started working out what his path through the future would be.

DES tried to reach Gwendolyn, she'd be perfect for tonight, but the response was a standard out of service signal, followed by a message to contact her in person about two thirds of the way up Kinney ridge. He reviewed a quote from Bouncy Bobbi for a pallet of drones and the offer from Brianna to build one out of parts in a couple of days. Neither of which would work.

"There's the Stuffer Shack."

Frustrated, DES logged into The Citadel and ground some XP before messaging XXSmoothAsXX and asking Silk for a background and layout for a new club in Seattle center that had opened the previous night. Knowing the Terrain you were heading into was always good.

"There's the Nuke It Burrittos."

DES switched out of VR into meatspace and smacked his head on the wall three times. He waved a hand at the Warrior Woman as she snapped out of her own VR session, "Sorry, just realized something." DES smiled reassuringly and switched back to VR. He forwarded Bouncy Bobbis quote to Brianna and at her postive response put the deal together. Brianna would buy the pallet load from Bouncy Bobbi, then DES would buy one from Brianna while she would sell off the rest through her salvage yard as rebuilds. A good deal all around since DES couldn't afford the job lots Bobbi dealt in.

"And welcome to Modern Body."

DES placed an order for a set of nice armored clothes. Camouflage would be useful. Besides he could sell the outfit back afterwards. He'd be able to pick it up on their current route.

"Everyman Outlet on the left."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1903; Grid Guide, Seattle Metroplex

D-Pop was drinking from a bottle of water she'd found in the van's mini-fridge when DES completed his last order. "Thank you for the lovely tour of Seattle's working class retail and dining hotspots," she smiled. "I agree it is good to keep moving, though it is a bit exhausting. But then, thanks to our good friends back on the island, I had a lovely rest on the way here. But aren't you tired? Or are you hungry? I think we could risk somewhere nice, my treat, before the club. Do you know Jay's Boathouse in Snohomish? You could sleep on the way up, and we could talk over dinner. Might as well get to know each other a bit, since I've placed my life in your hands, and you have no idea yet how much danger you're in being with me." She smiled in a way that made him wonder if she was joking. "Don't have to be at the club until midnight."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 1913; Grid Guide, Seattle Metroplex

DES nodded in acquiescence and smiled, "You are also a Wise Woman."

"It's a date."

DES set the destination and promptly leaned back and covered his face with his cap. "Wake me at sunset." he mumbled from under the cap.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0905; Jay's Boathouse North, 242nd Place SW, Snohomish, Seattle Metroplex

When D-Pop woke him with a gentle touch on the shoulder, DES was about to complain that he'd asked to sleep until sunset...until he realized it was now fully dark out. He'd been tired.

"I let you sleep," she apologized. Our nine o'clock reservation was five minutes ago. Are you hungry?" She'd changed into something much more conservative and classy than runner-tart, with a loose-cut white silk blouse under a long dark brown coat. The jewelry was subdued and tasteful, but the extreme brevity of the skirt spiced the whole thing up when her legs peeked out the front of the duster.

They were parked at the edge of a modest parking lot surrounded by pines. On the other side of the lot was Puget Sound. And between them and that was Jay's Boathouse North. It was an big old wooden antique, with a landward foundation of found-stone hodgepodge and a long seaward wing extending over the water. The age that the architecture bespoke was belied by the varnished polish of the exterior walls and the symphony of hanging lanterns illuminating the place like a freeze-framed firework. Cars pulled up and were left in the hands of young valets. "I didn't think you wanted anyone else driving your van. And it doesn't exactly fit the ambience." Indeed, the cars being spirited away by the uniformed staff were generally luxury or sports numbers or both.

They walked up the steps where a smiling ork woman took D-Pop's coat. The loss of the armor made DES nervous, especially when the woman's legs drew looks from every man and half the women in the place as they were ushered cordially to a table for two by the big floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water. Leather-bound menus were on the table to supplement the AR options, both featuring the same mouthwatering selections of Seattle and Salish cuisine.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0925; Jay's Boathouse North, 242nd Place SW, Snohomish, Seattle Metroplex

It had only take a moment after waking to summon his will and call the Wind for blessings and only a few more to change. DES acknowledged he was hungry as he stripped and changed unconcerned with any body modesty. Clothing as status or symbolism was something in commom with the pinkskins, but hiding the flesh was not.

In a world without trees and full of woods, viridescent fluttering meandered.

Des ordered traditional smoked salmon, mountain herbs and vegetables, all boiled by placing heated stones in cedar bowls of water. During the wait DES commented on the view and ambience, as well as providing advice on what was or wasn't traditional Salish. When the wooden serving bowls arrived with highly polished exteriors and full of odors DES started explaining the symbols, "Badger, the Bold and a great talker. And here is Otter...."

In a world without leaves and full of greenery, verduous flow transformed into still umber and mustards expanding slowly.

DES recalled the last meal he had eaten like this and wasn't hungry anymore. He left the bowl alone and looked at the Warrior Woman, his eyes dark, "You were telling me of the dangers in your Vision Quest."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0928; Jay's Boathouse North, 242nd Place SW, Snohomish, Seattle Metroplex

D-Pop savored her final bit of ruffed grouse marinated in licorice fern with douglas fir gooseberry. "The more pure and precious something is, the more men will pay to defile it. And the more men will pay for something, the more other men will kill for it. What I seek is the most pure and precious of all things." She shrugged. "A bit of danger comes with the territory."

She sipped her wine. "And then...then there are higher stakes still...but I can't tell you about those yet. For now, suffice to say that our immediate foes - you already know the...tribes...involved, are many and determined. As with most large...tribes...they can be more or less of a threat depending on how highly they prioritize something as an organization. Trust me when I tell you that by associating with me you may soon find yourself near the top of their to-do lists."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0943; Jay's Boathouse North, 242nd Place SW, Snohomish, Seattle Metroplex

"Dealing with a whole tribe going to war against you is the same as avoiding lightning striking, hurricanes, floods, avalanches, earthquakes and the Great Ghost Dance."

DES covered his bowl and pushed it aside. He was surprised as the waitstaff immediately took it away to be boxed. DES shrugged, "There is always war."

DES commented he had a Tillamook cousin as the cheese and fruit course was delivered, then as the Warrior Woman started eating asked, "Tonight you go where you are known or expected. You must tell me what to expect so I can best serve as your eyes and support."

Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 2145; Jay's Boathouse North, 242nd Place SW, Snohomish, Seattle Metroplex

"You are very serious, my warrior. Have you been to high-end nightclubs? They are not that interesting. Dark, with beautiful lights. Deafeningly noisy, but silent for inability to speak. An illusion of ecstatic stimulation which the young wait in line for and pay a week's salary for and dress for and then immediately start to deaden with liquor the moment they attain it. To me it all cancels out to a great lively gray. Tonight we will go to the latest such black hole, a club called Chalka that opened downtown just yesterday. it is firmly in the hands of the Vor, and as such it is extremely unlikely any of my current enemies will try anything there."

A dwarf server came by with dessert menus and, seeing them earnestly in conversation, simply left them at the side of the table with a discreet smile.

"Unfortunatly, independent operators will have no such compunctions. So be ready to have my back in a maelstrom of sound, darkness, and seething hordes of young intoxicated flesh. Easy, right? The good news is, I know many of the key people there, and in fact hope to spend most of our time there in private spaces. And it will allow you to go in armed, if you so wish, and no one will look twice at whetever you choose to wear."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 0950; Jay's Boathouse North, 242nd Place SW, Snohomish, Seattle Metroplex

"In my old society we gathered under the Pole Star and told tales of bravery and wonders. Dark and beautiful lights. Only the noise of the world turning beneath us."

DES finished his desert.

"There the Flying Tigress and I would guard you well."

DES pushed aside his plate, and smiled at the Warrior Woman, "I will speak to the Wind and ask that you are hidden from your enemies while I Scout."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 2155; Jay's Boathouse North, 242nd Place SW, Snohomish, Seattle Metroplex

D-Pop popped a stray elderberry into her mouth and dabbed her lips with an ochre-colored cloth napkin. "if that means what I think it does in plain English, does that mean you need some time? Either way, we it's time to get moving." His dessert clearly finished, she rose smoothly from her seat, once again attracting discreet glances at her impossibly long legs. Although the establishment offered tableside payment service, she simply used the AR option to slot a shocking amount of virtual cred and strode to the entrance, collecting her coat on the way out. As they walked across the parking lot together, she said, "Just don't hide me too well. I do have people to meet there."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 2156; Jay's Boathouse North, 242nd Place SW, Snohomish, Seattle Metroplex

DES carefully placed his exquisitely carved wooden bowl of uneaten salmon into a storage bin and then stepped back clearing the entryway into the van. He smiled broadly and proclaimed, "Wind's blessing and I would be foolish to hide all that is Warrior Woman from the world." He tapped the side of the van smartly, "This rented mule will carry us on your Vision Quest where all you choose to reveal your self to will see you truly."

"Wind will only hinder those who have not yet found Warrior Woman during her ceremonies tonight."

DES touched his Maersk and executed his pre drive checks before proceeding to order the autopilot to drive.
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 2348; Vicinity of Chalka, Downtown Seattle Seattle Metroplex

The trip down had been a mixture of comfortable silence, companionable chat, and terse preparations for what was coming.

DES laid out some basic options and decision trees for review and coordinated their gear and preparations accordingly.

The van pulled over to the curb to let them both out and while they stood there in their final check before proceeding to the club, DES smiled at Warrior Woman and committed to his final all important key question.

"We go clubbing and into the Unknown to explore. You must let me know your safe word."
Wednesday, 20 November, 2075, 2353; Chalka, Downtown Seattle Seattle Metroplex

"Mmmm, a thoughtful warrier indeed. Marvelous means things are not. Likewise, horrific is the opposite. How's that?" She had changed again in the van, her thigh-high boots back, this time with purple synthleather trousers nearly indecent in their fit, a shockingly daring black bustier, and a heavy black jacket, waist-length with purple trim that matched the pants. "We will do club things first. Have drinks, greet many people I know. Be seen. It is necessary. After a little while we'll be going upstairs."

She offered her arm, and they strode straight to the door, bypassing this evening's line of hopefuls with a smile and brief greeting in Russian to the doorman and gigantic bouncer. She eschewed the coat check and they made their entrance into a sea of sight and sound.
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