Shadowrun Portland

The price we pay for what we are

A child lay in a bed. She’d escaped the lab only days before and survived until she’d been taken in. The hunters who’d found her thought she was mute, or deaf or both. They’d given her enough food to keep her with them, but no more. They thought she couldn’t hear them talking about her fake skin, the skin that wasn’t hers. She didn’t know what they meant, not her own skin.

She hoped it meant this wasn’t her life, that she had somehow been put in the wrong place and that her suffering had been some sort of mistake she could get over. She hoped these people would be good to her, care for her, accept her as one of their own. But something dark and frightening in the back of her head wouldn’t relent. She wanted desperately to be safe, but she’d thought she might be safe before and it hadn’t been true yet. Then again, this was a new world this ‘Redmond Barrens’ maybe it was different.

She was hoping silently when she heard some of the people talking outside.

“Look, I don’t like it either, but if we’re going to survive we have to take every advantage. She’s just a kid, probably traumatized, we’ll be doing her a favor.”

Another answered “It’s wrong, we all know that. This kid needs safety and protection.”

A third “WE need safety and protection, this kid is our ticket to that, her skin alone will buy us new weapons and armor, serious hardware.”

The second “You say that like she’s just another catch, another animal we hunted for a bounty.”

The first “If that’s how you’ve got to think about it, then that’s what it is.”

The second again “The rest of you men agree with this?”

A general sound of assent followed from at least six or seven others, meaning almost everyone in this group was outside.

“Lets go man.” Said the first voice, and the second agreed "Fine, but let’s make this quick, no need for the girl to suffer.

The girl stayed frozen in bed, unable to move as the sound of boots approached the tiny room where she slept. Maybe it was a dream, maybe she’d be ok, maybe they didn’t really mean to hurt her, they said it wasn’t her skin, maybe they were fixing her-

Someone else was in the room. The hunters where still outside but the girl knew she wasn’t alone. The figure looked down at her, detached but intent.

The girl in the bed would die if left to her own ways, she would be butchered and skinned life the rats the hunters caught. All the struggles to survive for nothing. After everything she had been through, weakness remained.

The other knew what had been coming, that violence was inevitable. The other was glad to have the charade of peace dispelled. The other remembered the violence well, the thousand beatings giving and received. The other remembered hatred and drawing strength from fear and pain. The other remembered her name as she walked out into the night to face her rescuers.

The three leaders had just enough time to look surprised before Charlie leapt on them, tackling one to the ground and gouging out his eyes with her thumbs.

From their the world came in flashes as muscle and instinct moved faster then comprehension. An uppercut that sent teeth flying. A club taking out her feet. biting someones ear off and spitting it in his face. A leg sweep while ducking under a crowbar. Close-lining a fleeing hunter and stabbing him with a half a pool cue, then vision returned.

Most of the hunter were dead or wounded. Two stood still, each clutching knives. Charlie advanced with sneer and a growl. Both men stepped back but one caught his foot on a fallen comrade and fell and before either could react Charlie was on him driving the other end of the pool cue into his throat.

The knife hit hard and charlie felt it go in, resisted by her skin and stopped by her shoulder blade. She’d always suspected the knives would do more, and from the frightened look on the last mans face he’d expected it too. He quickly withdrew the blade and stabbed again, this time in the side as charlie turned towards him, it too met with resistance, the third stab went into the stomach and made the most progress, but still not nearly enough.

Charlie locked her arm around his, keeping the knife from coming out, and with her other hand she grabbed the man by the throat, lifted him into the air and slammed him into the ground.

Then a shot rang out. Charlie turned to see the second man from before pointing a rifle at her, apparently he’d missed his first shot and as he worked a lever to load a second Charlie bolted away behind the little shacks that had been the hunters camp. The second shot came through a wall just a bit ahead of the running Charlie, the third and forth just a bit behind. The fifth clipped her cheek and sent splinters into her eyes, but even half blind she came around and charged to the sound of the empty weapon.

She hit him with her full mass in the gut, even being an orc didn’t stop him from being winded and he stumbled back as he reloaded the rifle. Now though, Little Charlie was too close, and she stayed there. He tried to step back and she launched herself at him, a flurry of blows pounding on his chest. He swung at her with the rifle but she slipped under it got behind him for a sound blow to lower back. He turned on one knee and tried to aim but Charlie Kicked him in the face and grabbed the rifle. He had just enough tome to look on in disbelief as she spun the weapon in her hands before she fired and his head exploded.

Then all was still.

Nothing moved as Charlie surveyed her surroundings and considered the weapon in her hands. Without thinking she packed a bag as she’d seen the hunters do and started to walk. She made it to the edge of the campsite before stopping and looking back at her bedroom.

The girl was still in their. The girl who was to afraid to be a monster, who would rather die then kill. The Girl would never survive on her own, the Outsider knew this. The girl could come to her, if the girl came to her then she’d be safe. If the girl was strong enough, everything would be alright.

But the girl didn’t come, and Charlie ventured on alone and left the girl to die.

Janet took a deep breath to compose herself. The plan was already in motion, as much as she wanted this night to be over she had a job to do and friends to avenge. She sucked in a hit of Jazz and lit an almost comically fat cigar. “You sure this will work Des?” she asked. The Blonde’s voice came across in the clipped and inherently condescending tone Janet was starting to like “Of course I’m not sure, but we either do this now or go on the run and neither of us has those kinds of resources. Besides-”

Janet cut her off with their mantra “We Do Not Run.” They’d been the words of Janet’s successful street gang, the ‘Wall Shadows’ up until seven hours ago when the others had been massacred in by some new street operation. Now the gang responsible was partying it up in the local whore house of choice, the Dusky’s Dawn. Two dozen armed assholes in a secure criminal business with no idea what was coming for them.
Janet took another puff off her Cigar and made sure her gang colors were showing past the armor before stepping out of the AmeriCar and grabbing her shotgun. The air was damp, with smog hanging low enough to give every dreary streetlamp a halo. The smell of something dead or acidic prevailed as she left Desirae slumped in the car and headed into the club. She donned the glasses Desi had given her and watched the decker work in her periphery. She was halfway across the parking lot when the door opened and four guards came out with their weapons in hand
. Anred, the orkish head of security and a known mage, walked out and met Janet in the parking lot “Hear you’ve had a rough night sexy, heard your on the down and out these days.”
“Half true, I’m a bit down, but a couple dead bodies shy of out.” She responded, stopping her advance as he blocked her path.
“Your not goin in their, omae. No way I’m letting you shoot up my bosses business.”
“Anred the fuckers who wiped out my gang are in their, celebrating the murder of my friends, theirs no fuckin way I’m letting that slide. So you either get out of my way or I’ll geek you and your boys and do it anyway.”
At that a few of the thugs on the stairs raised their weapons, but Anred waved them down “Easy guys. Come on J, don’t be like. You know I’d help you out,” his eye’s sank to checking her out and he developed a decidedly lude tone “For the right price.”
Janet almost shot him right there. No sooner had she decided to do it, then a message from Desi appeared on her HUD, she read it quickly and grinned, returning her attention to Anred
“You know, Any, I might have thought about it at one point in time, but now that your banging your bosses niece, I think I’ll pass.”
Anred blanched. “H-How do you- I mean- What are you talking about?” Janet stepped up, inches from his face “Walk me to the man in charge of these fuckers or your boss will know you been banging his favorite girl. Just me, in my mind, I don’t like you odds if hat happens.”
Anred took a step back and Janet beamed with pride as he waved off his men and walked her in. The clubs interior was a two story room with a mural painted on a vaulted ceiling depicting a party ororgy. A wraparound second story overlooked the courtyard where everyone could congregate. Many a fortune had been won or lost at the card tables and dice games here, Janet had to admit that she’d miss the place. living in the poor and hostile world of the Chicago Containment Zone was a constant struggle for survival, rival gangs and magically mutated wildlife were a constant threat and Janet had always loved coming here to blow off steam. A pang of loss hit her again as she realized she had no more crew to party with, even if she wasn’t about the get kicked out forever, the place would never have felt right without the other Shadows. Anred lead her around to one side, and through one of the many doors on the outside of the courtyard, only in stead of another room for paid sex, this one opened onto a staircase leading down.
She pinged Desi and a moment later received a response Desi’s matrix Icon flitted invisibly ahead.
>You good?
Janet tapped out her messages view her commlink and made a mental note to get a sub dermal mik.
>Think so, going underground?
>Looks like a safe room, security is tight and I see a few really nice ‘links in there
>Gotta be our guy, no messing around now, I’m going strait for the prize
>Got you covered girlfriend
Janet missed a step and almost fell, but Anred didn’t turn. Breathlessly she wrote back
>You asked me out on a date, thought that’s how that worked. Besides, we might die. Let me have this one
Janet was drawn away from this huge change as Anred knocked on a massive steel door in the basement. It opened after a moment and the sounds of partying echoed from within. Janet saw red and pushed past Anred, slamming the butt of her shotgun into his gut. Her eye’s landed on a burly human with a face tattoo and time slowed down as they locked eye’s. His name was Jerrik Iriqo and he’d been making a name for himself in human trafficking for months. He’d let the hit against the Shadow’s HQ, and as Janet took aim at his bare chest she knew he recognized her, and what was happening.
Then everything happened at once.
Iriqo’s goons grabbed weapons, as did the Dusky’s security, but as they brought their guns to bear many sparked and fizzled, some emitting loud Pops as Desirae fried their Matrix linked parts with harmful code. Janet squeezed the trigger with a maniac grin, biting down on her cigar as Jerrik’s chest collapsed and blood sprayed out behind him. Janet grinned around at all the unarmed gangers, the memory of her own gang fresh in her mind, and opened fire on the lot of them. Most tried to hide behind the rooms many beds, a few took the girls they’d paid for as human shields. All met the same fate.
When everyone was dead she turned back to the door and ran. Anred was already gone, probably scrapping the record of his involvement in the massacre. He’d always been more interested in covering his own ass.
She cleared the stairs and stepped back into the main room with a grand swagger, shotgun over her shoulder. The noise had not gone unnoticed and most of the guests looked at the blood-soaked twenty-something with a combination of awe and dread. Janet soaked it up as she puffed her Cigar and walked back to the car.
Desi Jacked out as they pulled out of the parking lot and headed towards Janet’s apartment. “Security got locked in their rooms, no chance of persuit. That was good.” she said with a slight smile.
“Fuck right it was good, we got our payback and everyone knows we are not to be fucked with. We are the Wall Shadows and we Do Not Run, that still means something. We can rebuild we-” she caught herself and for a moment the tightness in her chest seemed unbearable. She covered her mouth to stifle whatever she was feeling as the full realization of her loss hit her for the first time. Before she had been focused on revenge but now was alone with the crushing weight of fourteen good friends, all dead. Her life’s work destroyed. After a moment she spoke “We did what we had to. The crime called for no less. We should have burnt the whole fucking house down. We can’t know If that was all of them, their might-”
“No.” Desi’s voice was still a little condescending, she always was, but now carried a tone of sympathy and compassion “We did what we needed to tonight, and the Wall Shadows are dead.” The car rolled to a stop at Janet’s apartment and turned off “We only have each other now.”
Janet nodded, the truth of Desi’s words sinking in. She felt a little guilty for thinking it, but Janet was glad it had been Desi who’d made it out with her, not to mention that their date that afternoon had been the reason they weren’t at the safe house when it was hit “Come up with me, we shouldn’t be alone tonight.”
Desi nodded as her seat belt retracted “If someone comes after us, our chances are better together.”she said by way of agreement.
Janet smiled a little as she opened the door to her building. As Desi walked through the taller Janet gently pinned Desi to the wall, bending in for their first kiss “Not what I meant Flower Girl.”
Desi stopped the recording and opened her eyes. Janet was laying on the bed, she had a book in front of her but clearly wasn’t reading it. Desi tossed the BTL chip onto the desk, the noise grabbing Janet’s attention at once.
For a moment the two simply stared at each other. Janet was gaunt and sickly after her brief incarceration, and the crucifying by the cult had left her hands and feet almost useless till they healed. Desi, on the other hand, looked worn and miserable, the fatigue of the battle the day before weighed heavily on her and she’d had nightmares all the night before. Janet spoke first “I had to show you the recording, to prove I was serious about getting clean, about quitting the chips. I don’t want to keep any more secrets from you.”
“How much longer does it go?” Desi almost hissed, staring at the lump of plastic and memory.
Janet glanced at it “Two minutes, just until we get to the room. You don’t get to see what happenedafter.” Janet lowered her head, the picture of shame.
“How many more?”
“199. 200 were made, premium stuff their I mean-”
“Are you going to tell me the the street value of our first date?” Janet fell silent. For a moment neither moved, then Desi nodded “That’s good. 200 is recoverable, and it’s not like you whored me out sexually, just emotionally.”
Janet responded quickly, trying to have compassion “No, I never meant to,- I mean I didn’t-”
Desi interrupted “Seriously? You sold one of the greatest nights of my life to pay for your drugs, how is that not whoring me?”
Desi stood and walked to the door, her movements mechanical as she held her feelings at bay. She paused and turned as she reached it the door “Is their anything else?”
Janet shook her head “Nothing special. I sold a few gun fights and a party or two, but nothing with you in it.”
Desi nodded and was about to leave when Janet began to cry “I’m sorry Des, I’m so sorry. I just needed to get away from what happened, I had to get away from the Shadows.” Desi watched her for a moment, conflicted in the extreme. She was hurt and angry and wanted desperately to get back to the Matrix where everything made sense. On the other hand, here was Janet, the cause of her pain and the person she cared about most in the world. She’d been trying to do what was right, she’d been trying to make amends. That had to count for something.
Desi came back to the bed and climbed in next to her, holding Janet’s head in her lap as the older girl really let go for the first time since they’d known each other.
“It’ll be ok… we’ll be ok.” and Desi held her till both were asleep.
Janet slept late the next day, so Desi took the time to work. She put out the world that she was looking for the BTL chip Janet had shown her. She was still angry that Janet had sold that memory, but some part of her mind pointed out that she’d been angry for a long time now. She pushed aside self-reflection and started making offers and threats against the criminal underworld to bring the chips back or see them destroyed.
Results varied, but enough people understood what Desi could do to their operations, let alone their lives, that a general recall of that memory went out.
For a few minutes Desi thought about messing with Palmer but she had forgiven him for shooting her after she’d punched him, and the rest she’d mostly forgiven after he patched up Janet. He might be a creep but for now he was their creep and a useful one at that. Janet joined her with breakfast as she tried to come up with creative ways to mess with the Doc in the future.
They ate their eggs and bacon quietly until Desi broke the silence “What about the stuff before theraid? Our first date and the clubhouse?”
Janet looked from her food “Recording the memory puts you in the moment, I couldn’t go back to the safe house. As for our date,” a twinkle and a smile appeared on Janet’s face “Do you remember what a disaster that was? I’d have had to pay people to watch it.” They both laughed a little, a level of comfort and happiness restored.
“I remember you in slacks and a dress shirt.” Said Desi, recalling the late afternoon almost a year before.
Janet made a face “Don’t remind me, had this crazy idea that we would be ‘classy’ and, oh god, what was the restaurant?”
“The Fashion. Place was cleaner then the Archology and lit by crystal. God it was pretty…” Janet nodded “And I was so out of place, Mohawk and sidearm, must have set off every alarm in the place…”
“…and the staff kept giving me dirty looks because I’d been caught in the rain and my dress was soaked…”
“…and we both smelled like the Zone. Dirty and rude and broke and nervous as hell. I was a wreck the whole time.”
Desi smiled “I don’t remember that. I remember talking about the world, and our pasts, and our future.”
Janet sat back “I don’t remember what we said. I remember you talking to me, and me being so excited and so scared that I was going to do something wrong, and so happy with every minute that passed. I also remember us bitching out the waitress for giving us lip, not getting our food and getting thrown out by security. And I remember standing in the rain, grinning cause we’d stolen someone else’s food. I remember looking in your eyes and knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are the one. I didn’t believe in love before I met you.”
And for a moment, Desi allowed herself the treat of forgetting some unpleasantness in her life.

Delivery for John, I got a ... bomb for you?...

Pahedi lazily drove to from the stuffer-shack intending to pick up a pack of smokes and a bottle of cheap booze. The memory of Harlequinn’s quest, extracting a mess of shadow, muscle and ichor from the aura of a young girl in an ancient church, needed some blurring. As he drove home, a message appeared in AR. Maya wanted to meet at an out-of-the-way restaurant to discuss working off some of the debt. What the hell. Pahedi thought, then redirected the autopilot to the location just outside Aurora. He found Maya sitting at a table waiting for him, her security sitting behind them, their eyes on Pahedi.

“Welcome back Pahedi, I trust you are well.” Pahedi smiled, pushing aside the recent memories of terrible magicks, “As long as I keep drinking this fabulous tea, I will be. Tell me, what is this all about?”

Maya looked him over for a moment. “You are being watched my friend. Did you know of Kitties allies in your little group of adventurers?” “Who.. what?!” Pahedi responded.

“Perhaps you’re working with him? Kitty has already moved against us and is now working with my enemy, George Stephanopoulos, to push my organization out. Do you know how Brand ties into her plans?” Maya pressed. “You read the file right? Kitty’s headaches, memory loss, change of personality. Look at these.” She dropped charts and doctor notes onto the table. “We found Maria’s old fake SIN and MeFeed as well. Watch these videos! She’s not the same person. If I’m right… she’s not even human.”

A squat individual, wearing a thick armored jacket and motorcycle helmet steps inside and asks the hostess for an order to go. He glances around the restaurant, stopping on Maya and Pahedi, then takes his food and leaves.

Maya continues, “We need assurances you and your crew aren’t going to take us down next.”

“Maya, as of this moment, Kitty has not given us any instructions towards you or the triads other than to ‘leave them alone.’ You have surprised me about our friend Brant and I will see what I can find out on my end about his allegiances and what he knows. I too am concerned that Mrs MacAvoy is gone for good and that Kitty is all that’s left. You say you don’t think she’s even human… do you have a thought as to what she might be? I’ve gone over her aura and I wasn’t able to find anything… otherworldly… but perhaps I missed it..”

Maya looked at him stunned. “You haven’t heard the rumors? It’s not spirits it’s like they can program people now. I don’t know. We had her assensed and they picked up something subtly wrong. Like ware but all over.”

Pahedi responded, “That I did notice as well. By otherworldly, I meant nothing from out of this world.”

Maya looked at him confused. He continued “We’ve been distracted by … otherworldly… things lately. So I apologize, I’m still processing some of what I’ve seen.”

Maya nodded with a worried look on her face. “I see..”

Pahedi changed the subject. “I will see if I can find out what her plans are regarding the triads and if successful, I will be sure to let you know. Also, I will let you know what I find out about our friend, Brand”

Maya smiled, “Thank you. I appreciate that. There is also another matter. How would you like to clear 3 thousand of your debt for just holding onto a briefcase? Someone will contact you to pick up. How does that sound?”

Pahedi laughed nervously, “It’s not going to blow my hands off or rip my soul out is it?” Maya looked at him sternly, “As long as you don’t open it.” She let that sink in. “You’ll be contacted by someone who will send you an ARO of text, ‘Wandering Stars’. He’ll set up the meeting. Just respond “The Darkness Forever”. You just give him the briefcase. Don’t let it out of your sight.” Maya slides the briefcase across the table to Pahedi, who takes a moment to let his mind read the interplaying auras. A ward.. and perhaps something magical when it is opened. Nothing obviously terrible about it. “Ok, it’s a plan. I’ll start immediately.”

Pahedi got a bowl of gourmet seafood and noodles to go and started driving away. After a few minutes dredging through traffic, he realized that there was a gopher truck behind him that had been staying a few car lengths back the entire drive. Knowing the types of trouble that happen when on a run, he set the autopilot a few blocks away and let his mind drift into the astral. O Osiris! Exalted art thou on thy throne! Seize the one who would harm me and hold him. Confess to him the Secrets of life! The golden light of Osiris drifted through space, traveling from the west and into the vehicle following him. As the truck slowed to a stop, Pahedi noted the vehicles license plate and put in a call to his only friend at Lone Star, Nick Ryder.

Nick whispered when he answered, “What’s going on Pahedi? Find a way to clear your name yet?”

“Lookup some plates for me, bud.” Pahedi sent the ARO containing the plate to Nick’s device. A little work with the host software brought up the most recent record. “Tommy Tong. He’s one of the Rippers, a local with the triad. You should watch out for these guys, they run all the human trafficking in town now that MacCaskill is out of commission may he burn in the fires.”

Pahedi thought for a moment. “Do me a favor bud, have him arrested for driving while intoxicated and get him off the streets for a while.”

“Well why should I do that? Is the young man doing something we can hold him for?”

“He’s being a dangerous driver. Swerving all across the road and hitting parked cars. I’d call it in myself but, my reports aren’t too valued at the moment..”

“Perhaps with a small donation to the policeman’s ball, we can make it happen. If you’d like to make a larger donation, we might make him regret his career choice. Base tickets are $100, Deluxe is $500.”

“Nah, I don’t think this fragger needs an alignment change. I might change my mind, if so I’ll give you a call within a few, but I doubt he’s worth the time.”

“Ok, you need anything else, let me know.” Nick disconnected and sent out the notice to the officer nearest Tommy, who was picked up without trouble.

Pahedi went home, drank until the visions fuzzed and crashed out on the couch. Waking late, he started the day with a smoke and some meditation. The astral only communicated one thing to him. Danger. No frag universe. After spending the day with the briefcase on the couch watching classic trideos, he finally got the message he was waiting for.

Pahedi responded, “The Darkness Forever”

Only a few seconds passed, but they seemed to stall in time. “Meet me at Pog Moi Thon at midnight. Come Alone.”

Pahedi got into the car and sent a message to Desi, asking her to take a peek into the place he was heading and see if there was a spot she could watch from. She responded with a message a little later. It’s a dank punk bar in the basement. Meshuganah is playing tonight, they’re a wiz punk klezmer band. Place has no cameras. Good Luck!

Pahedi let the autopilot take him to the pub and parked a few blocks away on a dark part of the street. Before stepping out, he focused his mana on his form, generating an image of a radical Ancient punk. The mana continued wrapping around him into the astral, adding to the disguise. Waiting for the right moment, he stepped into the pub at 11:57. The dance floor is a wall of bodies, slamming into each other and into the air. The music is incredibly loud and the lighting is practically non-existent. Pahedi nodded along for a while before slipping into a table near the wall. Grabbing a drink menu, he ordered a short whiskey and sat back, enjoying the music.

A few minutes later, his pocket vibrated. A new message from the client. Leave the case in the second men’s stall from the left and leave. Standing up and chanting along with the rhythm, Pahedi headed into the men’s room. The room is full of people lined up relieving themselves against the wall. Some of them were hitting a toilet, some of them are near a toilet, some of them were none of the above. The door to the second stall was locked. A gnarly troll with glazed over eyes, stumbles over and pees on Pahedi’s shoes, the stream passing through the illusion. Irritated, Pahedi decided to pee back, soaking the trog’s feet.

“HEY!” he said as he lurched forward swinging a massive fist which flies over Pahedi’s head. Pahedi laughed and leapt into an empty stall next to the targets and slammed the door closed. Feigning a bad english accent, he says “Nice try love, next time let your mother try.” The troll started banging against the stall door, trying to tear it down. Pahedi sang out to him, “I can’t heearr youu over the lack of frags I give. Bugger off chum.” The troll tried harder, bending the door lock.

Pahedi dropped the illusions and stepped to the side, just as the door tore off its hinge and off of him. The wall behind him kept him up as the troll and door went down into piss. “Uhm excuse me sir, this stall is occupied.” He said to the drunken thug at his feet. The troll stood up, confusion on his face and looked under the stall to either side. “Come out then you bugger!” The troll pulls himself over the walls and seeing no-one inside, stumbles out onto the dance floor, looking for that fragging elf.

Pahedi entered the target stall and locked the door behind him. On top of the toilet, an origami crane stared at him. He put the briefcase down on the seat and reached out for the crane. A wave of mana wavers across his aura, sending it spinning for a moment. He closed his eyes and focused for a moment. Go home was the only text written.

Pahedi took a minute to think about the situation._ A club full of of metahuman punks and anarchists, a mysterious package and a magical influence. Something isn’t right. I’ve heard of terrorist groups who’ve used similar devices to wipe out groups of metahumans in the past. Is the triad planning on abducting all these people? Killing them for ritual magic? In either case, this is some kind of bomb. Frag this…_

O Osiris! Exalted art thou on thy throne! Destroy this device and rescue these people from the threat. Stone and mortar came up from the ground and chewed the briefcase into small pieces, dropping a wooden puzzle box which seems to just bounce around inside the chaos. The magic ended and the earth returned to it’s original form. Conceal me my god! Pahedi reached out to Osiris one more time. He ran from the bathroom, leaving the puzzlebox floating in the water, and pulled the fire alarm. The system disconnected the music and began alerting people on how to get out of the building. In the crowd of people, Pahedi was able to slip outside and return to his car. A message from Maya was waiting for him on his commlink when he returned. “How did it go?”

Pahedi messaged back Some big ass troll thought I had something fancy in that briefcase and wanted to see it. Meanwhile, those psycho anarchists were setting each other on fire. I barely made it out of there in that stampede.

Did you leave the case?

The case was left behind. What was that all about Maya?

You received the text and left the case as ordered. That’s good. We will credit the amount we discussed.

The messages stopped coming and Pahedi sat in his car for a minute watching the club. Nothing happened, so he returned home and sent a message to Desi._ See what you can find from these commcodes. They may be involved with some of that terribleness of late. They had me drop off a briefcase in a nightclub. Don’t know what they were intending, but I doubt it was sunshine and rainbows._

Well that commcode client is just a burner. Phones already dead and gone. Maya has a couple of recent messages. No name, only seems to refer to ‘the item’ which I’m assuming is that briefcase. Maya seems to recognize the sender of the message, and it seems like they might be meeting again soon. It also seems like they operate by dead drops. Neither of them trusts the other.

Thanks Desi.

Mad Jack
The nightly happenings of Churchill Manor

Jack Churchill awoke with a start. His hand reaching for the sword on his hip before he realized he was in bed. silk sheets and pajamas, his wife asleep next to him and nothing trying to kill him. It had seemed so real, the man at the alter, the devil who would not die, the events of that mad evening at the end.

He’d been kept up by it many nights since, unable to comprehend the man who’d run the Ritual. He’d been standing on a grenade and hadn’t been injured. He’d taken a bullet to the head and hadn’t flinched. They’d revented the ritual, but had no idea what he’d been trying to do, but the unanimous view of the ole Hellbats had been ‘nothing good’.

Most of the others had gone their ways, he hadn’t heard from any in years, but when last he’d seen them they had shared a few words of truth on this matter. All were haunted by that battle at the standing stones. All were afraid of the man who would not die. Some said Jack was losing his grip on reality, trying to track these things down, that he’d become obsessed and had to let it go. But none of them had, because none of them could.

He stood quietly and slipped into his slippers. When the dream came their was no point in trying to sleep, so he headed down stairs.

In the kitchen he found Renner the Butler playing cards with a few of the boys from town. He sprung up as soon as Jack entered in PJ’s and smoking jacket. The butler quickly apologized for not asking before having friends over, but Jack shushed him with a wave and said as long as Renner brought him some tea in the library as soon as possible and promised too trounce his rivals at cards.

Jack entered the family library and for a moment was still, drinking in the undisturbed quiet of the room. This was a place of immense peace, making it by far his favorite room in the house. He walked silently between the high rows, enjoying the clear moonlight that poured in through two story windows looking out over the grounds. He was startled from his reverie as Renner turned on a light and place a tea tray nearby. Jack paused for a moment to reflect before a quick word of thanks was exchanged and Renner returned to his game.

Now Jack moved with purpose to the back of the library, far from windows and into the back shelves where even the maids hardly ever tread. He found what he was looking for almost at once, even in the dim light, and pulled a lever behind on of the books. The shelf next to it slid back and aside. Jack sipped his tea as he walked into his personal collection. Almost a thousand books on all manner of dark art and sorcery.

He’d started the study shortly after the war but it had taken so many hours of his time that his wife had objected and he’d hidden it to continue his search in peace.

He sat at his desk and resumed his study he’d left off the day before, tracing the history of the Spear of Destiny. He’d learned much since the war, about the Spears origins, the many legends that surrounded it, and even a few parties in the world who would be interested in it’s ‘use’ for their own means.

But the one thing that frustrated him persisted. Somehow the Nazi’s had known right where to dig for the Spear and all he could find were vague allusion to it ‘disappearing’ around a certain point. If he could find out how the Nazi bastards had found it, maybe he could find out who that priest had been, maybe, just maybe, he could get some closure.

A movement in the corner of his eye caused Jack to jump and reach for his sword for the second time that night, only this time he found it close at hand, leaning on the desk. He looked around, the weapon half-drawn, but saw nothing. He stepped out of the hidden room and looked to his right just as something darted away to his left. He followed it quickly, sword drawn now, and raced around the bookcase, the vigor of a young man once again in his veins.

Again he saw nothing, but for a moment believed there might truly be something he could not see. Then the thought, or realization drifted into his mind that this was just his own foolish paranoia, that there was no real danger to him here.

He walked back to the study and sat down, taking another sip of his tea and sheathing the blade that had helped him through the war. He was about to return to his book when he noticed it missing. He’d set it down… somewhere… when he’d been startled. He cast about and finally gave an aggravated curse at his own old age. Ah well, perhaps the next book had something useful.

A little investigative work
Just a little trip around the block...

Pahedi awoke at sunrise like usual and crawled out of bed. “Glorious ones, why does morning have to be so early…” he jokes to himself as he pulls his ritual robe from under his cot and slides it on. Pulling the curtain open to let the sunlight in, he steps into his lodge and pours an offering of water while uttering praises to the Names of Netjer. As he finished he whispered a minor prayer, “Glorious ones, Protect us from evil and guide us to it’s source. Grant us the wisdom and strength to do what is required of us to bring light into the shadow.” His link began to vibrate on the bed before he could finish. “Drek…”

He slid the AR glasses on and answered the call. A dark and blurry image refined until the Matrix image of Kitty MacAvoy was recognizable, but only barely. “Morning Pahedi, I didn’t wake you did I?” “I’m always ready for your call madam.” He replied. “How may I be of service today?” “Well lucky for you I don’t need anything. However, your monthly payment is coming up and frankly, I don’t want to ruin our developing relationship over such a thing so I’ve sold your debt and you’ll be reporting to the Triad from now on. Also, I have a feeling we should be keeping an eye on them and with you being welcome in their territory, it’ll be a bit easier. Sending you the contact details now.” Great. Pahedi thought to himself, Kitty’s planning on hitting the triad and wants to eliminate me at the same time… probably.. The years he spent at Lone Star and the experiences that taught him so much about the underworld pulled at him.. Watch Yourself. A snippet of text flashed into an AR note; ‘Maya, 5920RR9090. 23rd and Wentworth’

“I trust you’ll be as reliable with them as you’ve been with me, right? Don’t frag with these people, they won’t hesitate to demonstrate why you should pay them on time.” Kitty asks. “Of course, I wouldn’t dream of offending our friends.” Kitty nodded in approval, “Well as long as you pay them on time, I’m sure you’ll like her.” she disconnected the line after that. Pahedi threw his link on his bed. “FUCK!” he shouted. Taking a breath, he slid into his Berwick suit and greatcoat and nodded towards his altar, “See you later.” He smiled.

At least the drive here was uneventful. Pahedi parked his car a few blocks away and updated his link, enabling the alarm system. He approached the unassuming classical chinese art gallery, a little surprised that that’s where Maya was operating out of. He stepped up to the door and removed his glasses allowing the security system to scan his face. “I believe I have an appointment.” he said to whomever was listening. A loud snap and buzz indicated the maglock had released and Pahedi pushed the door open. Inside a young chinese man in a fine suit and sunglasses held out his hand stopping on the inside. In heavily accented english he asked, “Weapons please”. Pahedi pulled out his Browning and handed it to him. The guard stepped aside and allowed him to pass through a metal gate which had closed off the interior of the gallery. Pahedi followed the gallery signs leading to the upstairs tea house, admiring the ancient pieces of human expression scattered about in someone’s idea of conceptual flow.

Upstairs the decor changed severely from the bone white walls and full-spectrum lights of the gallery to planks of rich cherry wood and warm candles. Each table was separated by thin cherry boards topped with ornate carvings. Pahedi turned to the hostess, “Maya.” She handed him a drink menu and sat him at a table near the kitchen. Within a few minutes she returned with a slender, older woman who sat at Pahedi’s table. “I recommend the Da Hong Pao tea, the flavors are quite exquisite. Pahedi nodded towards the hostess. “So then, you are Pahediemiti. Maria has told me a lot about you. An elf who’s ignored his heritage and embraced one so foreign to your people. That says a lot about your character. It makes me wonder if I can really trust someone who so casually discards his people’s traditions.”

Pahedi stopped the rage rushing to the surface with a quick visualization of the Glorious Ones. “I followed tradition like most of my kin until my gods came to me. When the pantheon of ancient powerful gods tell you your path lies somewhere else, you listen. When they tell you that you are a member of their family and give you a name which literally translates to their pride in you, you listen. So far, they haven’t led me down any terrible roads, and if you’re worried about me betraying you because I’m influenced by the voices of Gods, betrayal is one of the quickest ways to fall from their grace. I have a debt. I don’t care whose it is, until it has evaporated I am honor bound to it.” Pahedi opens his coat and pulls a credstick from his pocket. “Here. This months interest plus a bit more.” he says as he slides it across the table to her.

A young waiter arrived at the table and placed cups in front of Maya and Pahedi then laid the kettle in the middle, covering the hot handle with white silk cloth. Maya pours Pahedi’s drink first, then her own. “Please, try some.” she says as she gently blows the steam from the top of her ceramic cup. Pahedi repeats the motion until his lips no longer tremble from the heat and takes a heavy sip, in a moment the heavy wood and floral notes flooded his senses. “That is fantastic. Thank you for the experience.” he says to her. “If there’s anything I can do to work this debt off a bit faster, please let me know.”

Maya looked at him closely and took another sip of her tea. “Actually, I do have something in mind. Pahedi, I like to know who I’m working with. Maria is … new to me and I’m not sure I trust her.” “You shouldn’t.” Pahedi tells her. “I’m pretty sure she’s trying to set both of us up.” Maya nods, “I’ve been thinking this as well. That’s why you’re going to get me some more information on her. Her medical records. Pull this off and I’ll clear a thousand from your debt.” “Maya, no disrespect intended, but that is not an easy request.” Pahedi’s memories of blood mages and vampires force a shudder from him. “And incredibly dangerous.” he finished. Pahedi took another sip of his tea. “Than I’ll clear two thousand.” Pahedi held his cup for a moment thinking, then nodded. “Good. Time is short and I would like these records as soon as they can be produced.” Maya poured herself another cup from the still steaming kettle. Pahedi finished his cup and placed it on the saucer it was delivered on upside down. “Thank you for the tea, it was quite wonderful.” Standing from the table, he gave Maya a slight bow and returned to the front door to collect his weapon.

Back at the firehouse, Pahedi pulled out his link and started going over his notes for the last few months. Maria was rescued from a bunraku parlor which the gang razed. The family doc at MacAvoy’s said she had been programmed by drugs and post-hypnotic suggestion by Dr. Kim whom we turned over to MacAvoy. No chipping or anything like that. DREK! Kitty is in control of Dr. Kim’s imprisonment.. He must be free and back at work. Maybe I could find him if I allowed myself to be captured. Hm we just rescued a truckload of people.. Have they been programmed? Pahedi ran to his americar and spun his tires as he accelerated out of the parking lot as fast as the car would go. En route, he hit the auto-pilot and called Desi. The sounds of music came over the connection. “Hey Pahedi, what’s up.” In the background, Janet called out to Desi, “Cereal or eggs love?”. “Make it quick chummer.” she turned away from the link and yelled back, “Eggs? Who got eggs? They’re from the store right? Not something someone just found on the street?”

“Hey Desi, a couple questions and a request. I need to know more about where the prisoners were heading, the doc that worked on Kitty and in a few hours I’m going to need you to slice into a target for me. I can’t point out that target yet, but when I gain some level of access to it, I’ll give you a call. Also, I got the eggs. They are real. Leave me some. If you dig behind the beer and Palmer’s jars of … stuff… you’ll find some ‘bacon’ again… Leave Me Some.” “Sure thing Piety, just a sec.” In a moment a flood of data files jumped into Pahedi’s vision. “Thanks Desi.” “No prob, bob. Hey Janet. Pahedi says we can have the eggs and bacon.” she says as the signal cuts.

The autopilot pulled to the side of the street in front of the warehouse where the rescued prisoners are temporarily being housed and fed. Pahedi took a look at the files. The family were taking the prisoners, to Boston to a halfway point owned by the Red Dragon triad. Dr. Kim, was released by Kitty, presumably to tail his activities, and based off some recent purchases against his account, it seems he’s traveled to Boston. Hm, so these people may not have been programmed yet. Still, it’s important to know._Their aura’s seemed normal, but the method of programming may hide it from assensing. Pahedi stepped out of his car and headed inside. Livingstone was busy preparing meals for everyone so Pahedi started talking to the prisoners on his own. He moved through the crowd, pressing for details on family and friends, education, how they were captured. Everyone’s identity appeared to be intact. Dr Kim has moved his operation to New England. Kitty is probably working for him now. Fragging hell. Did she offload my debt to keep me away from her and away from being able to help her?

Happy that the prisoners didn’t seem affected by whatever was happening to people, Pahedi returned to the firehouse to continue planning. The smells of delicious cut through the chemical and ionization smells that came from Palmer’s ‘office’. Pahedi went into his room and shut the door, he needed privacy. Taking a deep breath, he intoned the names of the guardians of the ways. Turning towards the west, he chanted out,

“All hail the glorious ones, the names of Netjer, the forces of nature and the elements of life. I beseech you, Lord of West, Opener of The Way, Lord of the Mountain, Yinipu-WepWaWet, grace me with your presence.” The statue of Anubis on Pahedi’s alter flexed it’s arms and placed its staff on the ground. He stepped off his pedestal and entered the summoning circle with Pahedi who knelt before him. “Hail child of mine, traveler of ways, light in shadow, shadow in light. I am here.” “I need to know something my lord, I am on a quest and am hunting for information. Will I find that information in Boston?” Anubis climbed onto Pahedi’s knee and pulled himself up so he could look him in the face. His mouth motionless as words as clear as glass cut into his mind. “In Boston, you will find the information you are really seeking. But my child, the information you are looking for now can be found in Chicago. I believe you already know who.” The image of the MacAvoy family doctor flashed into his vision. “ James Roberts… He seemed pretty innocuous before, a bit of a drug addict but not someone Jules MacAvoy wouldn’t trust.” Anubis shook his head, “The faces humans wear hardly reflects their hearts.” Images of masquerade ball masks flashed into Pahedi’s vision.

“My lord, Massachusetts.. has a history. How terrified should I be?” Anubis pulled Pahedi’s shirt so that his face was nose to nose with the small statue. With a look of sternness and a powerful voice.. “Very.” The essence of Anubis left the statue which simply fell from Pahedi’s knee and broke cleanly into many pieces on the ground. “No… fragging.. noo..” Tearfully, he collected the pieces and placed them onto his simple writing desk in the corner. I’ll fix you when I return. Pahedi slams his door as he leaves the firehouse again and returns to his car. He instructs the pilot in his car to drop him off a few blocks away from the good Dr. Robert’s place of operation. Pahedi drove around until he found one of the MacAvoy mooks mugging a hooker in a dark alley. Perfect. Moving between dumpsters he waited until he got close and plugged the bastard in the shoulder with his heavy pistol. “Go.” he yelled at the waif thin girl with an obvious stimulant addiction. She rifled through the goons pockets and ran off with whatever she found. Concentrating on the image in front of him, Pahedi focused his mind on a powerful spell he had recently learned from his conversations with Anubis and his form shifted and pulsed until he looked like the dead man in front of him, only very much alive. Concentrating, he produced a reasonable facsimile of the bullet wound on his double.

After taking the image, he stumbled out of the alley yelling. “Fragging whore, choke on it!” An orc Pahedi had seen working for the MacAvoys before ran up to him, “Frankie? What the frag man?” “I need a doctor..” It startled Pahedi how much his voice had changed due to the spell. The orc pulled him up on his shoulder and hauled him off to Dr Roberts, sharing jokes about other times they’ve been shot to comfort his friend.

The inside of the doctors office was sparse and dirty and littered with more guards than patients. A desk with an automated customer service droid took the basic info on the wound and after waiting over an hour, Pahedi was summoned to the surgery ward. “See you tomorrow Jim, get back out there, I’ll be alright.” The orc nodded and left the disguised Pahedi to his treatment. Pahedi walked through the unlocked doors and walked back to the only light in the room, a single light glowing intensely above a surgery table. “Hello Frankie, how’s it going?” the voice preceded the doctor as he stepped into the light, a slight grin on his drooping face. “Did you get a boo-boo?” he giggled. “Yea Doc, I’m getting pretty tired of Kitty sending us on these suicide runs. What do you think of what she’s doing?” The doctor closed his eyes and seemed to be sleeping, only to reveal he had actually been thinking about a response when he said “The war has been good for me, it remains to be seen whether it will be good for you or not. Kitt’s snatching up territory from McCaskill but Stephanopoulos and The Triad are also grabbing a chunk here and there. But hey, keep the bullets out of your head and you’ll be alright. Modern medicine … is… amazing.” Pahedi nodded in response. “Tell me Doc, has she always been so hungry for power? It’s like she’s changed recently or something.” “That’s the hard part I don’t know. She came to Chi town with a fake SIN. She supposedly had family but we can’t find any trace of them. We called the numbers she had for them and they are disconnected. It’s very odd. Her last address under her fake name was in New Jersey…can’t imagine why she left.”

Doctor Roberts says as he takes a closer look at the bullet hole on Pahedi’s shoulder. “Let’s get started eh?” He turns and heads to the sink and starts to wash his hands, surprising Pahedi that he remembered to do such a thing given the circumstances. Pahedi focused his mind on the spirit of the Nile, coursing from the otherlands into this world, driving the fates of man. He had bathed in the waters and focused the power into words. “Thank you doctor, now that you’ve finished the surgery, you should take a break. The waiting room is empty and you deserve it after a surgery that quick and clean.” The force of the river broke through the fragile resistance in his mind and he washed his hands again, confused as to the lack of any blood. “Now there, that’s better.” he giggles as he returns to Pahedi. “Do you want a lollipop?” Pahedi smiles, “Actually, yes that would be fantastic!” Doctor Roberts laughs loudly a wide grin on his face. “No-one ever says yes.” he reaches into his pocket and gives Pahedi a lollipop and some of the pills he’s been eating. “Don’t operate any heavy machinery.” he smiles.

“Thanks Doc, before you go, can I grab the records for the procedure for my personal physician. He’s going to want to know.” Doctor Roberts looked at him confused, “You want your records?” “Yes please.” Pahedi says smiling politely, the emotion transferring to the face he was wearing. “Alright.” The doctor says. He pulls out his datapad, takes a look at it, pulls it away from his face and back towards his face a couple times, then taps on a couple markers in a confused manner. “I’ve brought up the ROI form and the database, but I can’t seem to find a record of the procedure.” “Oh, let me take a look at it Doc, you’re tired. Maybe go take a seat. Hey can I use your phone to make a call? I’ll make it quick.” “Uhh, sure..” Doctor Roberts, suddenly a little sleepier than he was a few minutes ago, leaves the room for his office and finds a comfortable position to nap in.

Pahedi pulls out Desi’s number from his own link and reads it off to the connection app in Doctor Roberts link. “Hey beautiful, remember that whole request thing from earlier?” he says to her when she answers. “Yea, that wasn’t that long ago. What’s up? I got access to Doctor Robert’s medical database. I need Kitty and Maria’s medical records, not to mention whatever else you can pull from here. Use the request for information form he provided to gain access to those specific files we need.” “Will do Boss, she says in a friendly manner. Pahedi closes the communication app and waits. In a few moments the standby light flashes green three times, Desi’s signal that she finished. Pahedi checks the recent calls and sees that Desi deleted the call from the link’s history before she finished. He leaves the doctor’s link on the table and walks out of the facility and back to his car where he drops his mask and breathes a sigh of relief.

Pahedi returned to the firehouse without incident and sat down on the couch, putting some classical guitar onto the music player. He pulled out the archive of data Desi had sent him on the way. Before getting started, he placed a call to Maya. “Hello Madam, I hope the day finds you well. I’ve retrieved Maria’s records like you’ve asked, however they only cover her time here in Chicago, which leads me to believe that there are likely records from her original home that would be more specifically what you’re looking for. However, until I can acquire those records, I’ll send what I have collected.” Maya takes a brief look over the files and says to him, “Yes, I think this will work just fine actually. Consider your payment accepted.” Pahedi smiled, “My employer is most gracious.” They disconnected from the call and Pahedi slid on his AR glasses to see what he could learn from the data collected.

Opening his note-taking app and sliding a blank page to the side, he brought the archive into view over the table. He took a cigarette from his pocket and lit up. Pahedi liked to smoke while working a case, it helped him focus. A video file of Chu’s interrogation was at the start of the list. Doctor Roberts, who at times seemed ruthless, was pressing Chu for information on what he did to Maria. At one point, the doctor can be seen grabbing a pair of pliers and ripping a tooth from Chu’s face. An annotation pops up over the tooth Doctor Roberts holds in the light. Desi had left a marker here. Pahedi acknowledged the annotation and the video file faded out while a collection of documents piled in. A stream of notes on Maria’s treatment at the hands of Doctor Chu. The title of the collection of notes pulsed, highlighted by Desi with a comment to the side ‘Does this mean anything to you?’. Pahedi gasped at the title, making connections to old stories of terrible creatures. Fiction, or so many thought, but based on Pahedi’s conversations with Anubis and some very interesting conversations he’s had with other mages over the years… Something more now that Magic has returned. Old Things which should lie are no longer and as mana continues to grow stronger, there will be threats unlike any humanity has faced. “Sex at Dawn”. They are ready to breed. They are ready to wake if they haven’t already. The Black Lodge is involved in all of this, I am certain. We may not return from Boston, and if we do, we’ll likely be a gibbering mess. The sudden feeling of the warmth of sunlight spread along Pahedi’s back. I know you’ll be there with me. To the battle!

Pahedi opened the notes and read the files on the torture, drugging and possible psychological death of Mrs Maria MacAvoy. The notes contained only minor bits of data on Maria’s progress as they slowly warped her mind. Dr. Chu was particularly pleased at her progress. Many of the notes describe a desire to beat her into submission, but the way the notes are described it seems they didn’t go that far. The files were too numerous to go through, too vague to gain any more data out of and many of them were about other victims, so he backed out of the hidden archive. Desi noted that while James found the datachip in the tooth, no-one had been able to get past the security on the device, no-one but her of course, meaning he had never read it. James notes end with him diagnosing her with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Maria may still be in there, but Kitty will never leave.

Answers and endings
The Sprawl remembers

“I stood at the bottom of a ravine so deep the top was lost in clouds. Ahead a thousand battles, dead enemies, dead friends, a slow death. Death by inches until someone gets lucky with a bullet, by then I’ll want it.

Behind me, a hand on my shoulder, a creature of pure rage and hatred. It’s thirst for destruction would draw it on down the ravine forever. It sees the killing fields of the future and salivates, excited in every grotesque way.

It will keep me safe if i say it can eat the death. It will make a mountain of bodies from which I shall see all comers and strike with impunity.

This is the path I’ve always walked, tallest by being the only one left standing."

Charlie opens her eye’s on the interior of a VTOL. Silk is out and snoring a little on the only cot in their confined section of the transport.

She rolls onto her back to stare at the ceiling as the VTOL shifts to decent mode for a landing.

‘Time to find my folks’

‘Junk-it Junction’

The sign said everything that needed saying. The crossroads of a dozen shipping routes, located centrally between four of the major settlements in the Barrens, home to a stable economy of whatever. Lots of junk, a few gems, lots of old hookers, a few young stars, lots of locals, a few tourists out to see the ‘the way these people live’ lots of guns, a few who knew how to use them.

Silk stuck out as usual, but with Charlie walking with him the pickpockets kept a reasonable distance. Not that they really needed to worry, Had only been a few decades since Charlie had been one of them, and she wasn’t going to shed tears or break fingers over Silk losing a few hundred cred. Honestly, she liked it when he lost money; the thing he cared about most on the world and it constantly slipped away bit by bit.

Sure she’d help him get more, if heads needed knocking he could count on her help, just as she counted on his for chatting people up and learning useful things. For example…

“This is the place.” He said, stopping in front of a bus and trainer, held together with scrap metal and adorned with a sign declaring proudly ’Waldo’s Wonders! Best quality tech salvage in the world!’

“Looks like a shit hole.” Said Charlie past her smoke.

“According to my girls this place has sold a number of old Aztech devices in the past few years, any of which could be from a cloning and training facility. If this guy doesn’t know where the base is, he may know who does.”

“Ya’know, I have a hard time believing you know any Sprawl hookers who wouldn’t lie for money.”

“Let’s just check it out, ok?”

Charlie smiled a little, sassing Silk never got old.

The place was cleaner and bigger then one might expect, with gold sunlight piercing through holes in the cieling illuminating the dust in the air. Most interior features had been removed in place of boxes full of old parts stacked to the ceiling, a couple functional devices that looked way to expensive to be in the Barrens. Still, the place was cramped, clearly having had too much jammed in, the isles were narrow and one had to enter a fair ways to see the counter where a very old looking ork sat tinkering with some mechanical device.

He looked up and smiled over a pair of glasses “Welcome to Waldo’s Wonders! What can i get for you fine folk?”

Charlie got the impression he usually made a sales pitch at this point, but since they were hardly stereotypical customers he probably wasn’t sure what to offer them.

Silk approached the counter and made with his usual dancing around the subject “Oh, you know, just here to look around, I’ve heard this place is-”

Charlie interrupted him, impatient as usual “We’re looking for anything from the old Aztech facility that operates around here. We heard you might have something.”

“Why do I even bother?” Muttered Silk.

The ork looked at her for a moment, almost too long, before saying “You’ll want to talk to Waldo, the owner, he’s out back with the new scrap. Probably under it.” and he let out a laugh.

Silk stayed paused as Charlie went out back “So you just work here, is that right?”

“Yup.” replied the man “Been here for a couple years now, working on the salvage.”

“Is that right? I thought this place was just some upstart trading post, but you say it’s been open-”

The man cut in “Waldo’s is one of the oldest businesses in the area, open for three generations and- oh. Crap.”

Silk smiled and went for his pistol, but the ork hit a button and flash-pack went off.

Charlie went out the back to where a crashed VTOL and a couple trucks sat in states of disrepair, clearly in the process of being stripped for parts. She was about to look through them when a text from silk and the sound of a door slamming coincided to tell her Waldo was the man inside, and now he was getting away.

She turned and bolted through the yard, following the ARO silk dropped onto her HUD. He was fast, but she caught sight of him as she ran up one of the wrecks and over another shops roof, almost falling through at the thin metal creaked and gave.

Hitting the street at a run she dashed around corners, pushing through the crowd as Waldo ran though stalls and buildings. As he turned through an ancient apartment Charlie veered around to cut him off, dog-running through a window and landing before the old Ork, in the midst of a couple gangers.

“Get her!” Yelled Waldo as their eyes met. One of the gangers came at her with a strong right hook, but she spun and struck his flesh and bone with hardened titanium, the resulting crunch was audible.

The other ganers stepped back as Charlie grabbed Waldo by the throat “Now, about my questions.”

Waldo landed heavily on the floor of his shop. He’d put up resistance at first but stopped quickly enough once he realized where they were going. Silk had locked the place down when she arrived, shutters in place and the front door barricaded. Quick thinking.

Charlie stood over the Ork and lit a cigarette. “The Aztech lab. Talk.”

Waldo nodded, looking annoyed but resigned to the situation, it was clear he’d been shaken down before, they all knew how this worked.

“Fine, but I’m telling my story from down here.” Waldo stood and walked to one of the mounds of stuff, so densely packed that it’s center was obscured and began moving boxes and crates.

“When I was just a boy my father, the second Waldo, owned this place and ran it well. He had a keen mind for business and was kind to those who needed aid, using his talents as a cyberdoc to help out around town.

He was always collecting for this place of course, as had his father before him. Three generation worth of collection, I guess sooner or later we were bound to find something dangerous."

Silk spoke up “That’s great and all, but what does this have to do with Aztech?”

Waldo put down a box and turned “Tell you what, why don’t we let strong arm here move boxes and I’ll get to the good part?”

Charlie shrugged and began digging through the pile.

Waldo sat behind his counter and sipped some coffee before going on “It was late in the evening, hot summer night, much like this one actually, when a troupe of thieves came in. They weren’t here to steal form us, they mostly picked the pockets of tourists and travelers who looked like they wouldn’t pull a gun.”

As Charlie moved another box an old blue blanket came into view, draped over some single item as tall as a troll and almost as wide. She kept digging.

“One of theirs was had some old ’ware, decked to the nines with augs, but all of it second hand, gave the poor kid nasty growing pains as the non-organic grew slower then the organic.”

Charlie remembered what that had been like for her, hurt a lot, guessed it was the same for most kids. What was under that blanket?

“My old man was putting this kid right, gave her drugs to help with the pain and ease the growing, then one of the other kids dragged her over to a pile of old tech and showed her something.

Charlie quickened her pace, whatever was under that blanket, she had to see it. What was it? Why was her heart pounding?

“Kid lost it, started scream, hitting everything, her friends, other costumers, even my father. Nothing would calm her down, she just fought, flailing like an animal, like some beast-”

Charlie knocked aside the last boxes and gripped the cloth, her heart pounding and her head spinning as she pulled it down to reveal a missive clear cylinder, big enough for a person for fit inside with a hole in one side. At the top was a designation. Charlie.

“Like a monster.”

A dull pain in her head brought her back to reality to find Waldo on the floor, her cyberarm pinning him down by the throat. The second blow to the head got her up and she whirled swinging hard at her attacker and barely pulling the punch as sight and smell confirmed it was Silk who’d hit her, apparently with a hammer.

He swung again but Charlie caught him attack with her off hand and almost gently planted her palm into his chest so he stumbled back a step, leaving her with the hammer.

For a moment they stood in silence, then Waldo began laughing through the blood in his lungs.

“Still, uhg, still a monster I see. Hehe, guess that’ll have to do.”

Charlie turned to him, avoiding the massive tube that had once been her home, her cell, and the womb where she’d been grown.

Waldo continued, dragging himself into a sitting position “I’ve spent most of my life, and every night, dreaming of revenge. At first I wanted to be a Shadowrunner, hunt you down and kill you. But, OWhhggrr, but duty called and this place needed me. Still, I held out hope that one day I’d get to avenge my father. Now here we are, you and me, and I’m dying just like he did. Hardly seems fair.”

Charlie watched wordlessly. Her mind was a jumbled haze of memories and emotions, she honestly wasn’t sure what she could say to this man, or what she should do. Should she put him out of his misery? would that make her the monster he claimed? Was she already?

“You came to my store looking for, uurg, answers. Give me one and I’ll tell you what you want to know. Deal?”

Charlie was frozen for a moment until Silk started to speak, then she nodded.

Waldo looked her in the eye, the sum of a life well lived clear in his pained face “Why did you spare me? Everyone else died, even your ganger friends, but not me. You looked me in the eye, my fathers blood in your teeth and let me be. I want to know why.”

Charlie answered without knowing her own words “I don’t hurt kids. Children aren’t responsible for their actions the way the rest of us are, you lived because of that.”

Waldo laughed again, this time his every grimace carried with it a tone of mirth, as if he knew something terrible that only he found funny.

“My old man bought the tank off a trader with the BCEP, Black Caravan Explorers Company, dissolved a few years ago but their might be a few who remember out in Iron-town. Now, if their will be nothing else.”

Charlie and silk turned to leave, but after barely more then a step, Charlie turned “Thanks.”

Waldo glared at her with that knowing smile “I hope you find what your looking for kid, and I hope it destroys you.”

Silk pulled a face as he tried to eat the soup they’d bought. It was mostly old meat and whatever green they had saying around, tasted like ass and paste but nutritious enough and the only thing for sale.

Charlie had barely spoken since they’d left Waldo bleeding out on the floor. Silk had asked a few questions but she’d ignored him until now “What’s our next move? We going to check out the Irontown? I might know someone who works their. Maybe they can help.”

Charlie nodded.

“Great!” Said Silk, sounding a little to happy “I’ll give her a call and we can-”

His sudden silence caught Charlies instincts and she looked up to see a confused look in his face and his eye’s set over her shoulder.

Time slowed as she turned, noting everything. People scared, moving out of the way, the smell of blood and metal, and the uniforms of the gangers she’d fought earlier.

She hadn’t recognized them then, but these where the Hounds, what passed for local security. They weren’t big on prisoners.

Charlie dove sideways out of her seat as bullets tore through the table where she’d been. Silk jumped the other way and pulled out a pistol to return fire. Charlie pulled her Lever-action off her back and returned fire, at last getting a good head-count. Twenty-seven. Not good.

She rolled and ran for better cover, bullets everywhere, a few finding their mark. Her pain editor kept her focused, but a glance told her she’d be bruised. She was trapped and Silk was pinned. Then something touched her shoulder. It was a dark clawed hand, that of a monster that didn’t frighten her. It told her of victory that it could bring. It told of a river of blood leading to true safety and peace, and as it took over her limbs, her mind, her strength and drove her into the enemy with unstoppable force, the monster sang.

Don't Quit Your Day Job
And don't bring your work home with you...

The day had gone much like any other in the office, the boredom was excrutiating. Elham had made it clear that Yasmin had to make up for missed time over the winter. She had blown him off so many times that she was almost able to forget that she had a… ‘day job.’

Still, at least her co-workers were amiable enough and, as an added bonus, they did not share many of the quirks of the co-workers in her ‘other’ job. She shared an office with Tony, an up and coming executive type who was charged with handling new acquisitions. Yasmin managed accounts to improve those acquisitions. Jameela was their shared ‘secretary’ and Sami basically served the function of an errand boy.

They never asked where she was when she slipped out of the office and often covered for her if Marwan came around, or Elham. The former took it in stride, accepting the excuses they offered, but every absence infuriated Elham. If her poor work ethic were accepted by Marwan, it was because Elham was the one who had to smooth it over with him. Only Elham knew the first part of Yasmin‘s secret, that her education and placement were due to a connection with one of Global Sandstorm’s top executives and that executive had tied Elham’s success or ruin with hers.

Easy enough if she were a pliable worker who put the company first, but instead she devoted most of her time to whatever else she did. He suspected a lot of partying and vice. He had no idea of the second half of her secret, one currently unknown to anybody in Global Sandstorm.

Tony grinned and leaned back from his workstation. “Done! I’ve finished it!”

Yasmin looked up at him. “Oh, which one?”

“United Scrap.”

She paused and then nodded. "Ah, the old scrapyard on Cicero?’

“Just the one. And now that I’m done with it,” he leaned forward and tapped out a few keystrokes on the keypad in front of him, with a flourish, “out of my hands and into yours.”

“Gee, thanks,” she smiled at him and accepted the folder, opening it up and looking into the particulars. “Well, doesn’t look like too much will need to be done. Good thing about scrap yards, most of the ‘assets’ are junk to begin with.”

“Well, don’t take that as a reason to sit on it or pass it up half done,” Tony warned.

“Of course not. In fact,” she looked at her watch, a BlancPain Ultraplate, and then back to Tony, “I think I might spend the rest of the afternoon having a look.”

“Right now? But it’s in the Zone, you’ll need to set up a security team!”

She grinned. “No, it’s fine, I have an arrangement with a private firm.”

She got up and walked out, stopping with Jameela. “I’m out for the rest of the day, please hold my calls?”

The woman sat at her desk, looking vacantly at her viewscreen.

“Jameela? Jameela!”

The young secretary snapped out of it. “Oh, Yasmin, I… I am sorry. What was it?”

“My calls, hold my calls?”

“Oh, yes, certainly.” She set to her workstation and Yasmin left, sparing a glance back at Jameela and wondering about her odd behavior. The secretary was attentive and energetic… just now she seemed excessively subdued. The elevator door closed and she refocused on the task at hand. She quickly called up Alice to see about a ride into the Zone.

“I don’t get it, why are you running the Shadows, then?” Alice prompted.

“What do you mean?” The two were leaving the site after an uneventful sightseeing tour. It was empty and without squatters. Alice had provided oversight while Yasmin had taken a look around.

“I mean, you can just dip into Global Sandstorm’s pocket and pay me a couple thousand to take you on a joyride in the Zone… why are you not just focused on that?”

“Well, if I didn’t run the shadows, I would not know you and then I wouldn’t be able to pay you for your services, hrm?” She smiled, turning her attention back to the wreckage of the streets.

Alice rolled her eyes. She knew Yasmin was evading the question. She’d always been so careful to keep her life in the O’Hare subsprawl separate from her work in the Zone. To the shadow community, she was ‘Jazz’ and that was the extent of it. This was the first glimpse Alice had ever gotten into who Yasmin was outside of their work for various Mr. Johnsons. She wasn’t sure whether to be glad that the ‘Persian Princess’ was opening up to her or to be concerned about crossing boundaries. ‘Friendship’ was a term you didn’t bandy about lightly.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” she grumped.

“I know,” Yasmin smirked. Then she frowned. “Actually, can we make another stop?”

“Where to?”

It was well after sunset when they arrived in the O’Hare subsprawl and to a gated community. Yasmin had just presented her credentials and the guard let her right in. Yasmin said she didn’t live here, but she was just granted immediate entry to the place? Another secret.

The suburbs housed various corporate wageslaves. The community was co-run by various corporations who had smaller individual footprints in Chicago than the bigger corps, but collectively had enough people to warrant a set up for their workers. Yasmin had her stop across the street from one house in particular. She then crawled over the console from the front to the rear seat and began changing.

“What are we doing here?” Alice demanded.

“One of my co-workers lives there,” Yasmin responded, throwing on her chameleon suit. “Something’s wrong. I’m going to see if I can figure out what it is.”

“One of your ‘co-workers’? Not a shadowrunner?”

“My ‘other’ job.”

“Fine. What do you want me to do?”


Yasmin slipped out and hustled across the street. She moved quietly around the back of the houses and stayed along the fenceline, quickly hopping over when she needed to, keeping her profile low. She finally reached Jameela’s house and she crept up to the back wall and moved to the patio glass, trying to look in and hear what she could. She tuned her audio filter to cancel out the sounds of the world around, focusing on what was going on inside.

Inside, she could hear Jameela, her husband, and their youngest. Yasmin frowned. Jameela had an older son, he was eight or nine. He was her pride. He should have been home as well. Jameela had not mentioned any travel for him or anything to suggest he would be away. It was a school night so it was unlikely he was with a friend. Further, she could tell from the tones of voices inside that Jameela and her husband were agitated.

She opened a line on her commlink, calling another friend.

“Yeah?!” came an exhuberant voice on the other end.

“Otis?” Yasmin whispered subvocally.

“Oooh,” Otis responded, his own voice pitching down. “Are we on an op?”

“Not really, but I need to be quiet. Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure, if it’s simple enough?”

“Shouldn’t be tough. Trace my call to find my location, then I need you to look for any incoming or outgoing calls within my immediate area and listen in on them?”

She could almost see Otis frown. “Well, who are we listening in on?”

“Just a secretary.”

“Uh, yeah, sure. You want to tune in?”

“If you can.”

If there was a ‘decker’ she could trust, it was Otis. After all, he knew he could trust her. At least, he had to believe he could ever since she had determined he was a technomancer. She didn’t have any prejudices, but plenty of folks still saw technomancers as a threat… or an experiment. So she kept his secret. But it was more than just professionalism, as was the case with Alice, she was beginning to see him as a friend.

She didn’t have long to wait before a call came in on Jameela’s commlink. The caller spoke in Arabic.

“How are you this evening?”

“Everything is happening as you asked,” Jameela responded, similarly in Arabic, but without sharing the caller’s calm. Her voice wavered on the edge of panic.

“Good, good. So long as everything is in order, let me give the call over to Rashid, hrm?”

Yasmin frowned. Rashid was Jameela’s son.


“Rashid, are you alright, have they hurt you?”

“No, mommy, can I come home soon?”

“Yes, soon, we will—”

“Alright, that’s enough,” the calm voice returned. “Two days, have what we need in two days and Rashid will be fine. Otherwise…”

“We’ll have it, everything, I promise! Please don’t hurt my baby!”

But the line was already dead. Jameela fell into her husband’s arms, weeping. Yasmin backed away from the house.

“Otis, tell me you got a trace?”

“Oh, yeah!”

The trace led them to Bedford Park, southwest of Midway Airport. Alice parked several blocks away and launched a roto-drone, sending it buzzing into the sky. Not the quietest drone, she had done what she could to mask its various signatures. Armed with a sniper rifle, she relied on distance and an expensive chameleon coating to keep it from being an easy target for counter sniping.

With the drone on overwatch and an MCT Fly-Spy for close surveillance, aided by the stealth technology of her chameleon suit, Yasmin crept through the ruined urban landscape to the warehouses that she suspected held Rashid and his captors. Otis provided matrix support and had already marked several devices, which appeared as red AROs in her vision. Her favored weapon, a Yamaha Raiden Assault rifle, was slung over her back and a personalized combat knife was sheathed along her thigh.

The operation would be simple enough, there were only five individuals involved, by their count. Three were inside and two were standing as sentries. She stopped at a corner and deployed the Fly-Spy. It crawled up and then around, its eyes sending a feed back to all three of them. The two sentries stood in front of a door, facing outward. If Yasmin turned the corner, it would be impossible for them not to see her. Invisibility would be useful, but she had not had time to recruit any of the mages she knew. Besides, she didn’t truly trust any of them. Well, maybe the new guy, he seemed earnest enough…

Focusing on the matter at hand, she quickly formulated a plan.

“”/characters/alice" class=“wiki-content-link”>Alice, you see these guys?"

“I do. Locked and ready to air out brain matter on your mark.”

“Take the one on the left side. When his partner turns to look, I’ll have my opportunity.”

“Got it. On three… one… two…”

The muffled report of silenced gunfire came milliseconds after the sentry on the left side of the door jerked. The sound of the bullet impacting his head was louder. As the sentry on the other side turned to face his companion, Yasmin slipped out from behind the corner, drawing her knife. The man had barely registered what had happened to his companion when she grabbed his hair and yanked his head back, drawing the knife cleanly across his throat and angling him away so the blood sprayed completely away from her.

Lowering his body to the ground, she commanded the Fly-Spy to enter the building through the slightly open door and followed slowly behind it as they confirmed that the rooms were empty. Three AROs marked commlinks grouped together, she suspected the last three kidnappers were watching trids or playing at cards. They had been running silent, but the hour it took to arrive might as well have been an eternity for Otis. It was possible that he had missed one, hence the Fly-Spy to make sure there wasn’t another guard in the hallways, but very unlikely.

Moving slowly down the hall, she could hear the men talking in rapid Arabic. She understood some of it, but her own Arabic was imperfect. Farsi was her first language and when speaking English, her accent was thick. Arabic she had learned between and while she was considered fluent, the speed and lingo of these men made it hard to understand. The gist of their banter was inconsequential, she gathered tidbits of the latest Urban Brawl match, good natured jibes about one or another’s mother, and talk centered on the card game they were playing.

The Fly-Spy landed on the door and climbed up. There was a transom that had been smashed and the Fly-Spy stopped there, peering inside. The three men sat at a table in the center of the room with a deck of cards. The room was large, perhaps fifteen meters, squared. The far end was sealed with a closed rolling door and the ceiling went up three meters higher than the ceiling in the hallway. The Fly-Spy crawled in further, not flying but moving slowly and steadily to another vantage point.

There were some palettes in the room, loaded with boxes or junk. The difference in height between the hallway ceiling and the room’s ceiling was windowed, but it had all been covered over with plastic, ensuring privacy from prying eyes, outside.

Rashid was tied to a chair just a few feet from the men, opposite the table from Yasmin. She was pleased to note that he was blind-folded. Better he not see what was about to happen.

Yasmin unslung her rifle and held it at the low ready. She had a flash-bang, but while it was a non-lethal option, she did not want to injure Rashid. She examined the door and saw that it was rotting around the frame.

“I’m going in.”

“Alright, but be careful,” Alice replied. “We don’t have any eyes but yours in there.”

“Got it.”

She took a single, measured breath and then kicked the door. The men were suitably startled and tried to rise, going for their weapons. Yasmin had the Raiden at the ready, her smartlink making every necessary calculation. She pulled the trigger once, twice, and a third time, in rapid succession, the barrel of the weapon moving slightly between each short burst.

The first man clutched at his thigh and tumbled to the ground. The second man flinched inward as bullets drove through his sternum, one carving a path into his heart. The third man spun around and backwards as a round hit him in the left shoulder.

She took three steps into the room and placed the barrel to the head of the man who had been shot first and put an end to his writhing. The second man was already dead but she took no chances and put three more into his chest. When she turned her attention to the last man, she saw that he had scrambled to Rashid and stood crouched low behind the chair, creating as much cover out of the boy as he could. He held a gun to the boy’s head. Blood oozed from his shoulder.

“I’ll kill him!” he screamed. “I’ll do it!”

Yasmin was sure that she could make the shot, but she didn’t want to bet with Rashid’s life that she could bring the rifle to bear before he pulled the trigger.

“Wait, don’t,” she said, loosening up and slowly standing straight, presenting a neutral posture. She let go of the foregrip of her rifle and lowered it, letting it hang loosely in her right hand. As she did so, her eyes scanned the room, her Fly-Spy maneuvering to a second vantage point.

“Who are you? Who sent you?”

“”/characters/alice" class=“wiki-content-link”>Alice." Yasmin looked directly at the man as she spoke.


Alice‘s voice was a relief. "Triangulated, low-risk… but it’s a risk."

WHO IS Alice?!”

“Do it.”

The plastic window coverings behind her snapped as the bullet traveled through them and onward to paint a red dot on the man’s forehead, a spray of gore billowing out behind him. A muffled report accented the silence that followed.

The next day, Yasmin walked into the office. Sami sat at Jameela’s desk, his expression confused and defeated. She smiled at him as she walked past and into the office. Tony looked up.

“Hey, glad you could make it in.”

“Sure,” she replied. “Glad to be here.”

“So, do you know where Jameela is? She hasn’t come in and she hasn’t called?”

“Oh, I gave her the rest of the week off. She’s been working hard lately.”

Tony’s brow furrowed. “Oh, I… see. Well, I guess we’ll make do, Sami will do what he can while she’s gone.”

“Sure,” Yamin said. “He’ll do what he can. We all do what we can.”

Tony’s bemused expression elicited a chuckle as she opened the documents for United Scrap, just another day’s work.

Lost sleep

Diamond woke with a start. In the corner of her vision it read 4:05 am. Saphire, her white pitbull, poked his head up. Her new smartlink system scanned her vision for threats. It was dissorienting at first. It drew her back to her dream. A dream that was only a slight distortion of reality.

Walking as nonchalantly as one can with two silenced machine pistols behind your back, Diamond apprached two gangers. Her new smartlink system showed green circles around them indicating they were clear to engage. Wind was nonexistent and range was short. Whipping her hands up she fired a burst of stick and shock into both of them. They grunted with the pain but stayed up. Not for long as her companions fired bolts of magic over her shoulders laying them flat.

Diamond Stood near the back of Aryan Mike’s apartment surrounded by her fellow road warriors. The room was littered with unconscious skinheads and the five still standing cowered by the door.

“We should just kill them. I mean they’re neo-nazi thugs.” said Bill.

Diamond’s gut tightened.

“Don’t you think we taught them a lesson already?” asked Diamond.

“Bill’s right…I mean the only people who know we’re alive are in this room… and the two in the lobby.” said Rodeo.

Diamond looked up at Rodeo thinking you too?

“Don’t you think that’s a little extreme?” asked Diamond.

“Why don’t we put it to a vote?” asked Bill.

“Alright.” said Diamond.

“All in favor.” said Diamond.

Bill and Rodeo raised their hands.

Dusty started too and then Rodeo grabbed his hand and put it down.

“You don’t get to vote.” said Diamond.

Diamond looked at Dominic and he slowly raised his hand.

The last five men left standing stood silently watching them whisper their eyes wide. Diamond turned her back and changed the clip out in her gun for regular rounds.

“Ready?” asked Diamond.

They turned unleashing death in seven different ways before the skinheads could react. Then they laid into the unconscious ones. Diamond squeezed her eyes tight not wanting to see the blood splash against Bill’s face as he hacked and slashed with his sword. She looked to her left at Dominic his hammer coming down smashing in someone’s head with a sickening crunch. Dusty caved in a skull to her right with his crowbar. Getting medieval in here thought Diamond. She turned and saw someone’s eyelids flutter as if they were laying in bed about to wake. The last thing they saw was Diamond pointing one of her machine pistols in his face at close range. His eyes widened and then there was a flash. And then nothing.

“What have we done?” asked Diamond.

“:You could have stopped it. You’re the sergeant.” said Bill his face splattered in blood.

Diamond curled into a ball trying to push the images away. She held Sapphire to her close.
“In the army I never killed anyone. When I started robbing banks I played if off like I did but I didn’t. I came here to make a new home with a new family but I don’t know…I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know where else to go.” said Diamond.

Saphire whined.

“Who are you talking to?” slurred Bill staggering over.

“Sapphire.” said Diamond.

“You should have a drink with us.” said Bill.

“Is there any left?” asked Diamond.

“Here.” said Bill holding out a bottle.

Diamond got out of bed and took it.

“Bill…?” asked Diamond.

Bill stepped closer and tripped over a squeeky toy and almost fell but recovered.

“Never mind.” said Diamond taking a long pull.

Date night
Hard times passed and present

Desi pulled her stripy socks up and smiled as Janet kissed her neck.

“Why are you gettin dressed sexy? I’m…”

“Totally out of it.” responded Desi with a smile and a quick kiss “Beside, I’ve got work to do. Houses don’t maintain themselves.”

Janet sat up, her hair falling across her face “I thought that’s why I had all those chores, so you and I could spend more time (she grabbed Desi’s arm and pulled her back onto the mattress) together.”

Desi let her nuzzle for a moment before standing and walking to the door “And if you’d done any of those things more then once, I would still be as naked as you.” And stepped out into the hall.

Janet followed, not caring who saw her, as per usual. “C’mon hon, you can do this drek later.”

“Or I can do it now and do my decking work later.” Replied Desirea, trying to stay on task as her amazonian lover followed her naked about the mostly empty firehouse.

Doc Palmer looked over from the Trideo set as they entered but Janet informed him matter of factly that he was tripping and he could either remember what he’d taken right now or forget how to see through her clothes. He accepted this as true and went to work furiously writing things down. Janet returned her attention to Desi.

“Look, we hardly spend time together. Your either working on the Matrix or off with your new friends or your so distant with other thoughts you might as well be in Paris.” For a moment Janet was silent, then, almost pleading “I’m doing better.”

“I know. I’m really proud of you. It’s just that there’s a lot going on right now, what with the McCaskills and the roach and whatever keeps murdering people… I’m trying to keep up but.” She cracked a little, her slim shoulders sinking noticeably as she leaned against the counter “I’m scared.”

Janet’s voice was soft as she wrapped the younger women in a hug “Hey, it’s ok, it’s all ok. I got you babe.” and they went back to the bedroom, sitting on the edge of their bed as Desi gave in and cried.

“I’m up against things that I can’t predict, can’t fight. I could have died hacking a hospital, someones taken over the local grid, I’m useless in meat space.”

“I can think of a few uses.” Said Janet with an affectionate smile, rewarded with a laugh through the sobbing.

Desi looked at her for a moment before pushing on “I’m sorry I haven’t been here. I know this is hard for you, I’ll try to make more time for us, but I don’t have an idea where to start.”

“It’s ok, I’ll put some clothes on and help you clean up, then, I think it’s time for us to got on a real honest to ghost date.”

Desi smiled and nodded, drying her tears. “Ok, that sounds fun.”

An hour later the two pulled up the Americar to Chicago’s Own pizza joint.

“I hear this place is alright.” Said Janet with a wink and a nudge. She’d thrown on dress pants and a matching vest. She’d ditched the shirt that most people would wear under the vest but let her long dark hair cover her shoulders.

Desi had ditched the Jeans for stockings and a classier flower pattern to match the vest and slacks.

Their dinner was mostly light conversation and humor, a thousand inside jokes and fond memories culminating in a conclusive silence as they sat in food coma and memory of the darker times they’d weathered together.

“It wasn’t you fault.” Said Desi, to most it might have seemed out of the blue but they both knew she was talking about Janet’s old crew. “Nothing you could have done would have changed what happened. I see you blame yourself and-”

A shout from another table caught them both off guard. It’d been a while since they’d been cat-called, a welcome respite to say the least. They each took a moment to ignore it, but as their neighbors, a trio of badly dress gangers, increased in volume and vulgarity the two women exchanged a pointed look that carried years of meaning and understanding.

Janet stood and walked over toward the gangers table, their shouts became excited whoops and yelps, like a pack of hyenas about to feed. They slowed when Janet slammed her hands down and shouted “SHUT UP!”

“Relax, hooker, we just like that ass, want to let you know we’d hit that.” Said the largest of the trio, as ork with tattoo’s all across his bare chest.

“Fuckin animals, got no respect. I ain’t no fuckin hooker, call yo momma you want that kind of biz. Show some respect for I take you outside, ya’dig.” Janet was in full character now.

The ork stood from his seat revealing a machine pistol in his belt “You one stupid bitch, you sure you wanna do that?” The staff were mostly hiding at this point, they didn’t get paid enough to care about this drek.

“Very sure.” said Janet as she turned and walked out the front door, the gangers right behind her.

They squared off in the street and the ork grinned “You look like your into a little backdoor action hooker, what you say? I’ll fuck on the hood my ride, maybe you live another day. Get that blonde slut out here too, my boys gonna need-”


All three gangers jumped and shouted with pain and surprise as their weapons burst apart, leaking hot plastic. one had a holster, the other two frantically tried to pull the remains of their weapons before any molten plastic seeped too far. They might have succeeded had not the tall angry brunette laid into them at that moment, knocking out the ork with her first swing and the other quickly after.

Desi joined her in the street with a box of their leftovers. “How was my timing?” she asked, surveying the wounded and groaning men.

“Superb as usual. Sorry our date got ruined.” Janet turned with a sigh and walked back towards the car. She was surprised when Desi’s arm wrapped around her waist and squeezed her in a one armed hug.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way. Dinner, fun and a little street justice. It’s like our first date all over again.”

Janet stiffened “You think-”

“They are fine.”

they both got in the car and for a moment tension hung think in the air. Finally Desi broke the silence “You know, your hood voice always did get me going.”

Janet looked at her sideways, a troublemakers smile spreading across her face “And we do have tinted windows…”

... to Ill?

Skeeter waited in the gurney.

“Here you go, labrat,” Doc said, giving him a bump of Crimson. “Can I call you labrat?”

Skeeter nodded as he snorted the red powder.

“Now, jump through this hoop,” Doc said, holding up a loop of metal. It smelled of gas. “Oh, crap, where’s my lighter?”

Staff and Paheti poked their heads in.

“What’s all this?” Staff asked. She looked around at all of the gear in the lab. “Hey, you better not do any ’speriments on me!”

“Course not,” Doc muttered, picking up a small sandwich and proffering it to Skeeter. “Labrat, take a bite of this… I can’t tell if this is my lunch I made today… or from the other day…”

“Well,” Paheti said, as his perception shifted back from the astral. “You might be interested to know that it’s making him dual-natured. He’s astrally perceiving.”

Doc shrugged. “Don’t care. Today we’re testing agility. Is it making him more agile?”

Paheti face-palmed and walked away. Staff skittered after him.

“Seeing all of that gear makes me wonder,” she said, catching up. “Do we have a license?”

“A license to do what, exactly?”

“well… you know?”

Paheti shook his head.

“well… what we do?”

“No. No. It’s illegal. Everything we do… is illegal.” Paheti’s face rejoined his palm and he went into his room, closing the door behind him.

Staff stood in the hallway, looking at the closed door. “Oh.”


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