Shaking Down Shadows

Smooth as Silk
Tuesday 21st May, 2075

It was unusual enough for Silk to ‘come out of retirement’ for Requiem to agree to accompany her on this little night time jaunt to a shipping office on the Seattle docks. She obviously didn’t trust this to one of her contacts in the runner community, but when he’d asked if the rest of Balefire were going to be coming for the ride she’d spun him a line about this being too simple a job for them to reassemble the old team again…despite the fact that they’d have done it if she’d asked…that meant it was probably something to do with Silk’s grand quest to find out who killed her mum, and that Bale would not have approved!

Requiem was self-aware enough to know that Silk had him wrapped round her little finger, and so he was here, sitting in the darkened interior of his car and wondering whether she was safe…Her persona appeared in the AR hud displayed on the windscreen. Although on one level he appreciated the hi-res view of her topless warrior Celtic/Amazon look, but he was saddened by the loss of her apparent innocence and the silken clad maiden image. This was the new Silk, harder, more militant. He recognised that his training was partly responsible for the changes but that somehow made it worse not better…

“I’m in. Relax a bit will you, security is light, obscurity was their best defence. You’re here as a precaution not because I’m anticipating trouble”

“And when did a run you were on ever go as smoothly as that?”

“Well that’s true enough, but on my head be it…”

“That’s likely enough sweetheart!”

“Chill Old Man, I have the data drive and I’m on my way back out now.”

Requiem waited as patiently as he could, scanning the surroundings with his various sensors, keyed by adrenalin and the combat training his instructors had drilled into him for years. The two sedans that pulled up screamed a warning at him whilst the RIG in his armour pulled down data from the matrix and simultaneously flashed the AR feed through his PAN to Silk’s deck

“We have company”

“Ok I see them, they don’t look like corp sec…oh great, mobsters, this is going to go well…”

Requiem watched as the lone security guard exited the building to confront the newcomers, stupid man, hand on his sidearm and clearly calling for backup…whether from the Knights or contracted security Requiem didn’t know but either was just as likely to get the fool killed. The four mob goons were dressed in cheap suits that might have been fashionable, well never, and were rather unsubtly brandishing Uzis. Requiem hated mobsters, and these looked like the worst sort, wannabees trying to make a name for themselves. He wouldn’t normally consider intervening in something like this, let evolution take its course, but Silk was inside. Although he couldn’t be certain of course he suspected this wouldn’t have any long term ramifications with the mob, weeding out this crew would almost be doing them a favour.

He exited his car and crossed the street from the obscured alley he was parked in. The matte black of his armour seemed to absorb the light, the featureless helmet making him look like some trid robot. Rather than draw the vicious Guardians from their rig he elected for the Light Fire. It was a pop gun compared to the heavy pistols but the capsule rounds loaded with Narcojet would leave little forensic evidence for when the cops eventually responded to this little fracas…

The mobsters were laughing at the guard and he had obviously finally realised that he’d made a mistake…don’t run, don’t run, Requiem willed him…and then he turned tail and the Uzis came up to track him… damn it, further than he’d like given the pistol but Requiem brought the targeting reticule up over the first of the mobsters and the phfft of the silenced round was lost in the high pitched chatter of the sub machine guns. The capsule round broke open under the first mobsters ear giving him a painful sting and a good dose of the DMSO, Narc cocktail. By the time he’d crumpled to the ground three more capsules had followed the first down range, each striking flesh for maximum absorption.

“You’re clear, let’s get gone. I’ll check on the poor sap, he might live long enough for the ambulance to reach him…”

Growing Up Henway - Part One
Henway Back Story

Manhattan Lower East Side, 2065
Pulling back the plywood that served as a door for the building where he had been squatting for the past few weeks, the young metahuman peeked outside to take in the street. It was early yet, the hint of the sun a glow in the eastern sky, and there was not much activity in the area. Easing past the barrier and replacing it in the doorway, the troll youth paused on the steps of the dilapidated brownstone and considered his options. First things first, he thought to himself as he made his way into an adjoining alley and urinated behind a pile of trash and debris.

Now food, was the next thought as he walked down the street, eyes darting from shadow to shadow keeping an eye out for any street predators who had perhaps not found what they were looking for the night before. Pausing at the corner, he lifted his head and sniffed the humid air before turning towards Delancey Street. He knew that the dumpster diving was good behind a number of restaurants there, and last night’s rain might mean that there was more food thrown away than usual.

An hour later found him in an old playground on Broome Street, considering the results of his efforts. Half a chicken breast, the remnants of a soyburger, and what looked like the castoffs from a fry bin at the end of the night was a feast for the youngster, especially the chicken. He’d had to chase off a pair of rats who had been poking around the dumpster, and while at first he thought he might have to fight them for what was inside they had left rather than face him. Lucky. Got sick last time I got bit by one of dem.

The meal finished, he leaned back against the rusted frame of what was once a piece of playground equipment and wondered what his fellow street kids might be up to today. He hated panhandling, but the human kids seemed to prefer it and were much better at it than he was. He closed his eyes as the sun hit his face, enjoying the warmth and the feeling of a full stomach. Too many days he went hungry, but today was shaping up to be a good day.

He started awake to the sound of yells and running feet. Looking around, he saw two kids running from a pair of teenagers who were cursing at them as they gave chase. He recognized Huey and Zip as they ran, wondering what his pals had done to piss off the older kids. He shook his head as he stood up, pulling himself up to his full height before casting about and picking up a two by four from the debris, rusted nails sticking out of one end. The smaller kids ran past him, out of breath and scared. The older two slowed down, taking in the troll kid with the two by four in his hand. He didn’t know them, but he didn’t much care. He was bigger, and stronger, than them and he had a weapon. And this was his place today, at least until the gangs crawled back out onto the street.

“Get out of our way! These two got a beating coming to them for trying to rip us off!” cried the smaller of the two. Henway tilted his head to one side, and then slowly shook it.

“Dat’s not happening. Dese are mah chums, and you got a beef wit dem, you got a beef wit me and dis board.” He hefted the board in one hand and rested it on his shoulder. Can’t be scared. Can’t let them know it or they won’t leave. He stared at the larger of the two, who was still a head shorter than he was. “Now get outta here before I get mad.”

The pair looked at him, then each other, and backed off a step. Glaring at Huey and Zip, the larger kid growled, “We’ll find you little fraggers later, count on it,” before backing up and walking away. They glanced over their shoulder once as they left, and Henway let out the breath he had been holding.

Looking at his pals with a grin, he shook his head. “What’d you do them?”

Huey shrugged and Zip laughed as he replied. “Tried to roll them, thought they were passed out. We was wrong!”

The three of them laughed and settled back down to chill in the playground. Yup, dis is a good day.

The next morning he found Huey and Zip with their throats cut in the alley where he pissed every morning. That wasn’t a good day, but that was life in the Pit.

Of Pearls and Parties
Milk Run for Calico and Tanya Marisart (Collaboration)

Tanya is lounging on a couch in the living room of her flat, absorbed in the ever-changing view of Puget Sound through the floor to ceiling windows. She is interrupted by a small yelp from Monique, who had just taken the delivered mail from one of the hotel staff. “It is here, Milady. The acknowledgement of your returned RSVP for the party Madame Harridan is throwing. It looks like real paper, too. Lots of blah-blah-blah then the meat; Fancy Dress at 1900 tonight.”

The maid brought the letter to where mistress was sitting. After scanning it, Tanya looked up at Monique and said, “Well, time to double check the arrangements.”

“I will get the frocks out for us. Let’s hope that extra kilo you’ve recently packed on doesn’t mean I have to do too much work on it.”

Monique deftly dodges the cushion thrown at her and laughs as she heads off to the bedroom, saying, “What time is Calico coming over to get into her costume?”

Tanya rises and follows Monique into the bedroom. “She said she would be here at 1500. That will give us plenty of time to get us all dressed and go through the last minute stuff that always pops up. I have few worries this time, though. It should be an easy run.”

Monique pauses in laying out the costumes. “You know, I like Calico. I think she will work out well for us.”

The two women look over the three costumes on their side of the bed. Tanya’s fluffy one with the partial mask that would only barely conceals her features sits next to the large snail costume for Monique and the maid uniform for Calico, the third member of the little group. Two other costumes are off to one side. The first is quite colorful and distinctive, while the other is a duplicate of the maid costume. Monique nods at the colorful one and says, “Latest word from her personal maid is that this is still the costume of choice.”

Tanya smiles broadly. “Perfect. She will not know what happened.” She turns to look at Monique. “And Alphonse will be ready at 1700?”

A nod. “He will be waiting out front.”

Tanya nods in response, satisfied that all the plans are working out as projected. The two women return to the living room and on to the work room, where they open the hidden shelves and cabinets to begin the process of pulling out the assorted items that might be needed. Most of these tools will go inside the special compartment in the shell of the snail costume that Monique will be wearing, but a few go into the smuggling compartment in Tanya’s cyber arm, to include the small dart pistol.

After that the pair goes over the plan and then the two backup plans. Once satisfied, they secure the various storage compartments and leave the room. Tanya goes back to the couch to gaze once more out at the fish swimming past the window and Monique goes to putter in the kitchen.

The hotel intercom system buzzes the suite at 1445 to inform them that their guest has arrived and is on the way down. Tanya goes to the door, opening it to wait for Calico. The private elevator chimes softly to announce its arrival and Calico emerges, escorted by a young member of the hotel staff. Tanya waves and calls him by name, telling him that she has her friend. The man nods and returns to the elevator as Tanya opens the door wide to let Calico in.

Monique waves to the girl from where she is working in the kitchen and Tanya says, “Follow me. I have something to give you.” She leads Calico into the work room and points to where a folder and a small commlink sit on the planning table. “I have your new SIN card loaded on that Meta. It took me a bit of work, but it is ready and loaded into the sprawl data base. It should give you the identity we talked about. The folder is a paper copy of your references from the temp agency. They are also loaded on the Meta, but you have this copy to give to someone if they ask. The work is good, if I say so myself. The security at the temp agency was ridiculously easy to crack, according to my decker and you are a bonafide part time waitress. Take a bit of time to make sure I got everything right like we discussed. It is better to find out now than later if something does not mesh. I hope that you have done your part and studied the fine art of serving drinks and food to the rich without sneering at them.”

Tanya lets Calico grab the ‘link and the folder and leads her back out to the living room, where they find that Monique has set out some light refreshments for the three of them. After a quick run through of the plan, Tanya is confident that Calico knows what to do as well as the backup plans. All three go into the bedroom, where the extra costumes and some of the equipment go into the special compartment in the snail shell then all get into their costumes. Each checks the other out and when all are ready they head out of the suite to the elevator.

The trio gets some odd looks from the hotel staff and guests they pass in the ornate outer lobby, and the doorman has a very funny look on his face as he holds the door for them. The gleaming Rolls Royce Silver Phaeton ’62 is parked and waiting for them, the uniformed driver at the open door. He bows low. “Lady Marisart. It is a pleasure to serve you today.”

“Thank you, Alphonse, you have the destination?”

“I do indeed, your ladyship. The roads are dry and the traffic is heavy all the way, but we have plenty of time.”

Alphonse helps all three women into the car, Monique proving the most difficult to manage. Once all are settled, Alphonse closes the door and goes around to the driver’s compartment. The powerful engine is nearly silent as the huge limousine glides away from the hotel.

As the sleek limousine Tanya had loaded her into glided down the highway towards the party, Calico adjusted her maid’s uniform so that just the right amount of her would be spilling out.

“Care to review the plan one last time?” Tanya asked smoothly from the seat across from her. She was hard to read, Calico thought, but she had a feeling Tanya was a bit nervous about working with someone so young and inexperienced.

“We’ve gone over it three times”, she said confidently, “I got this”. Tanya simply smiled and nodded, turning to issue some final instructions to Monique. As they rode, Calico surveyed the interior of the limo, which apparently belonged to Tanya. Very posh. Under normal conditions this kind of opulence would set her off, really get her righteous indignation flame burning. But Tanya seemed … somehow different from the typical blueblood oppressors of the world. Not that Calico would be caught dead owning such an Engine of Poverty Perpetuation, but maybe … juust maybe, Tanya wasn’t so bad, even in spite of her obvious oppressor affiliations. After all she WAS sponsoring this evening’s Stick It To The Man’s festivities. Calico decided to reserve judgement, and just enjoy tonight.

God, she loved shafting these rich fucks.

Tanya nods at the confidence of the younger thief and looks at Monique in her costume as a large snail. After making sure that the maid was set for her tasks, Tanya sits back and enjoys the ride. In her mind she reviews the planning and the backups that are already in place if something should go wrong. Alphonse guides the silent limousine to its destination, pulling up just around the corner from the Harridan mansion then coming around to open the door for Calico. Tanya puts out a hand as she leaves the car. “Call me if there is a problem and we can go to one of the alternate plans. Remember that Monique has a spare maid’s uniform in her shell if you have to come in as a cat. Good luck.”

After watching the girl walk away, Tanya tells Alphonse to continue to the main entrance of the house. Monique says, “She will do fine, Miss.”

Tanya smiles, “I know she will. But she wants this for different reasons and may be willing to take risks I would not. For her it is a cause; for us it is just the money.”

Alphonse stops the car at the front door and comes around to let Tanya and Monique out. “Alphonse, we will be about four hours. I understand that Mrs. Harridan does not supply meals for the drivers, so please get something to eat and I will cover the cost. Thank you for the ride.”

Alphonse nods and assists the women from the car and up the stairs before driving away. Tanya presents her invitation to the butler and they pass in to the merriment. The main entry hall and ballroom are packed with people, all in fancy dress. Tanya nods to Monique, who splits off to mingle with the staff while Tanya begins to mingle with the other guests. Several of the people she chats with note that her costume does not do much to hide who she is; to which she replies that her maid had ruined the original costume and it had been too late to get another, so this was the result. She smiles as several of her companions commiserate with her on the problem of hired help these days. She accepts a flute of champagne from a passing waiter and sips at it as she moves through the crowd. The accident with Calico is to take place in the second hour so she has a while to mingle, during which time she manages to talk with Mrs. Harridan and verifies that there has been no last minute change in the hostess’ costume. So far, all is going according to plan.

Calico enters the massive house through the “service entrance”, an odious architectural feature in her opinion. She is immediately met by a man she assumes is the waitstaff manager, his hard, no nonsense face sneering down at the new arrival.

“You the new girl?” he asks Calico with a disdainful scowl. Calico nods absently, her gaze scanning the gathering partygoers as she breezes by the suddenly flustered manager. “Well, just …. circulate some hors d’oeurvres” he proclaims imperiously after the retreating figure, intent that the fragility of his authority not be exposed to the other staffers. What a tool, Calico thinks.

She grabs a stray tray of food, packed tight with delicious, gratuitously expensive snacklets, and heads towards the milling throng of socialites, popping one of the morsels into her mouth as she shoulders through the door leading out of the kitchen. She meanders aimlessly, keeping one watchful eye out for choice items that might be pointed out to Tanya, and the other on the clock.

The minutes pass with predictable tedium as Calico is repeatedly engaged in conversation by various male guests, most old enough to be her grandfather. She smiles and listens with what she hopes will look like attentiveness, when in fact she is focusing with increasing concern on the baleful stares she keeps getting from both the wives of the grandpas and the other waitstaffers, who grow increasingly resentful of her “standing around”.

Noticing that the time for her unfortunate accident is rapidly approaching, and knowing that the longer this goes on the more likely she will be to tell someone what she actually thinks of them, she is finally forced to break off conversation with a particularly tenacious admirer with borderline rudeness. He smiles somewhat self-conciously as she hurries to gather her necessary tools from the kitchen.

A tray of champagne flutes. She glides towards it, but another staffer cuts her off, deftly scooping the tray up herself. “Sorry, but these need to actually get to the guests, not just park somewhere while you chat up one of your boyfriends.” The interloper’s face is smeared with bitterness and jealousy, and Calico knows that the more she tries to reclaim her prize from this woman, the more the woman will refuse to give in, so she just shrugs indifferently. The trayholder sniffs derisively, and heads back out into the party.

Calico looks around the kitchen. She doesn’t see any other champagne, or drinks of any kind. Hmmm. Fuck it. She heads back out into the party empty-handed, pretending to be gathering empty glasses and other detritus as she carefully watches the one who stole her tray. Ok good, she seems to be heading in the right direction now, she thought to herself as she casually but carefully managed her distance, preparing to strike. Few more feet ….

“Suddenly I understand some men’s fascination with french maid outfits”, offers a man to her left. She spins to look, and he’s smiling down at her, just oozing with middle aged charm. She smiles weakly. Shit, she needs to do it now! She takes another step backwards, as if carried by momentum. As she feels the collision commencing, she brings her elbow up and spins with feigned confusion, feeling it crash into the tray, sending an exorbitantly expensive shower sailing … and landing. Tanya is not stained, she is drenched. Dripping, she flings an incredulous look at Calico. What the fuck?!?, it says. The imposter serving girl can only shrug imperceptibly, a sheepish grin her only defense.

Tanya considers parties like this to be investments. To be honest, she does truly enjoy the trappings of luxury and does not share Calico’s desire to stick anything to the rich just because they are rich. Tanya robs from them because they are able to afford things to steal. The poor have nothing and most of them cannot afford the sort of security measures that bring a sense of challenge to the game. But the rich? The rich can afford those protections, or as Tanya likes to say, the illusion of protection. And it is this illusion that Tanya loves, because it makes it so much sweeter when she successfully bypasses all the security and makes off with the treasure.

Already she has wrangled invites to several other parties and identified several people that just talk too much about their wealth. One middle-aged gentleman has moved to first billing in the “I can be set up” category by coming up behind her and running a hand tentatively across her arse end while she is chatting with his wife and some of her friends. She wriggles against his hand to show that she does not mind, clearly encouraging him to continue. When the man’s wife turns away with her friends to go talk to someone else, Tanya turns to face the man, smiling up at him. “You should be more careful, Mr. Sloan. Someone might see and tell your wife.”

The tall man smiles. “They might indeed, but they would be disappointed at the effect. My wife and I have an…….arrangement. She gets her diversions and I get a few of my own. It works well that way. And please call me Doug.”

“Do you find me a little diverting, Doug?”

His eyes almost twinkle as he senses that he could be working up a score. “More than a little, Lady Marisart. Or may I call you Tanya?”

Tanya holds out her hand, “You may indeed, Doug. And what do you have in mind?”

I have a small apartment in the King’s Arms that is very private. Interested?"

Tanya pretends to consider the offer, but inside she is congratulating herself on another perfect play. The man is already in her web. She blushes a bit and looks down before returning her eyes to his face. “I could be available for that. I am afraid that my only free evening this week is Friday.” She had done her research well and knew that he was usually available on Fridays.

“Perfect. I will have dinner served. Say eightish?”

Tanya runs a finger down the front of the man’s costume. I will be there. I should ask for…….?"

The man nods, “How perceptive. Yes, ask for Brian Stevens’ suite. I will leave instructions to have you let up.”

Tanya smiles and nods before moving away. She sends a quick note to Monique. “Got Douglas Sloan, dear. Phase one of getting the Sloan diamonds is in place. Friday at eight. Something slinky, I should think. And easy to take off.”

The maid snorts and smiles as she receives the message. She is chatting with the servants that have generally been sent off to the secondary rooms while their masters and mistresses are in the main rooms. She is gathering intel from among the “invisibles”; the legions of domestics and personal maids and personal assistants that the rich tend to surround themselves with but never really notice. At another quick message, she nods to her companions and excuses herself to go out to where Tanya is.

Tanya keeps an eye out for Calico as it gets closer to show time. She catches Monique’s eye as the maid enters the room and nods as the French thief moves toward the stairs. Then she catches sight of Calico. The girl does not have a drink in her hands, but Tanya is prepared, having just picked a fresh flute of the champagne from a passing waitress. Suddenly Calico is stopped by Stafford Grayson, the middle-aged son of a prominent banking family, and quite the catch; having just dumped his long-time girlfriend, if the tabloids are to be believed. Calico steps back and everything seems to happen quickly after that. The girl bumps into the waitress in front of Tanya, swinging her arm in an effort to catch herself, but only colliding with the tray itself, sending the entire group of champagne flutes onto Tanya.

The shower of champagne is a surprise, certainly much more than originally planned, and Tanya is drenched as the flutes crash onto her and cascade to the floor in a tinkle of broken glassware. She stares at Calico silently for a moment then blasts out. “Oh! You bloody fragging twit! Look at what you have done!”

She reaches for Calico’s arm and drags her to the stairs. The crowd of people separates to give her space and she makes it halfway up the empty stairway before stopping to berate the poor girl. Monique moves after her, calling out to her mistress in French.

Calico winces at the pain she feels in her arm as she is dragged to the stairs by the convincingly irate Tanya. Eeeasy lady, she thinks, but deep down she knows that a convincing performance is more important than safeguarding her delicate skin, which has always bruised easily.

Halfway up the stairs, she focuses on appearing chastised and afraid. Inwardly, she focuses on gathering the magical energy that will be needed for the next phase of the evening. As they reach the landing where the stairs turn sharply left, she releases it in a quick burst of light and sound, simultaneously jerking her hand free of Tonya’s grip.

Those viewing her sculpted light show from an external perspective would see illusory doppelgangers of herself and her accuser, pivoting, Tonya’s cape billowing outward to give them the momentary cover they need to dive unseen to the next portion of stairs. They quickly crawl on their stomachs the rest of the way up the stairs, staying close to the wall so as to remain unseen to any gawkers below.

They reach the top of the stairs and clamber to their feet, peering back down the stairs at the harried woman beginning her lengthy tirade against the hapless serving girl.

“Let’s get crackin”, Calico whispers to her sponsor-in-crime. “I don’t imagine you can chew me out forever”
Monique joins the pair just as they reach the landing and heads on up to the second floor bathroom. Looking back at the stairs, Tanya is impressed with the illusion and smiles at Calico. “Some of my harder jobs would have been much easier with you around.” She nods at the girl’s comment and quickly moves to the bathroom. Monique has already removed her shell and is pulling the new costume out. She grins at Calico as she begins to undress Tanya. “Good job with the champagne. Not sure I would have been willing to spill so much, but the effect was nice.” She puts a finger in her mouth from where she is removing wet clothing. “Inferior year, though. You would think these people could afford better.”

Phase two complete, Tanya is now dressed in the same costume as the hostess, to include the full-face mask. She and Calico leave the bathroom and head to the master bedroom and the prize, with Tanya leading. Suddenly Tanya holds out an arm for Calico to stop. A man’s voice can be heard from just beyond the turn in the hallway that leads to the bedroom. Tanya quietly removes her dart gun from her arm compartment and looks at Calico. “Anything you can do to reduce any noise I might make?”

Calico nods, quickly summoning a magical sound barrier in the hallway. The barrier would prevent sound from penetrating its borders in either direction, but would leave it otherwise unaffected.

“Just keep everything within 5 meters of that corner, there”, she says, pointing. “I’m going to go keep an eye on our little slap and tickle show.”

“—is the SECOND time tonight my costume has been ruined by some idiot servant, do you all take classes to learn how to do it so well?” Puppet Tanya was saying, creating tremendous distress in poor little Puppet Calico. She smirked at her little play. It’s almost like a… what was the word… a metaphor, she thought as her illusory counterpart weathered the terrible and degrading storm.

Uh-oh. She might have been laying it on a bit thick. It seems that the man who’d spoken to her right before her collision has come to rescue her. This would have to be dealt with quickly.

“Now Lady Marisart, surely this poor girl has had enough—” he begins, beginning to approach the imaginary couple on the stairwell.

“NO!!” Puppet Tanya flings at him, whirling to face him with venom in her eyes. He stops in his tracks; suddenly not sure he is willing to brave the Dragon for this particular damsel. “These servants have to LEARN that mistakes like these are simply UNACCEPTABLE, and I will not allow you or anyone else to get in the way of me teaching that lesson! Do you understand me?!?” she seethed, her eyes promising to answer any challenge with swift disembowelment. Apparently deciding that, in this case prudence is the better part of valor, Calico’s would-be rescuer smiles humorlessly at Puppet Tanya, spins on his heels, and rejoins the party.

“So much for chivalry …” a smirking Calico murmurs to herself from her concealed position at the top of the stairs. Satisfied that the downstairs crisis is averted for the moment, she shifts her attention to listen for signs of the upstairs one, knowing that if she hears any, something has gone very wrong.

Tanya walks around the corner, coming face to face with one of the party guests that had wandered upstairs. He seems a bit surprised to see the hostess and appears to be embarrassed when he asks for the directions to the bathroom. Tanya opens her mouth to reply, but catches herself; something is not quite right with this bloke. Her photographic mind replays the entire scene in seconds and then stops; his eyes are not as drunk as he appears to be. She nods and motions to the door behind the man, who turns and opens it. He stumbles a bit and reaches out to take Tanya’s arm for support, pulling her into the room. Because she is already alert to the man, she catches the glint of metal in his off hand and twists away, bringing her pistol up and firing a dart into the man’s neck.

The man staggers back and brings his hand up to his neck, spitting and snarling. He takes a step forward, bringing his knife clearly into view in a threatening manner before dropping to his knees. The fast-acting drug in the dart does its job and the attacker falls forward onto his face. Tanya bends over and disarms the man before pulling him completely into the room. A quick search reveals what she had suspected; no ID and some not-so-cleverly hidden B&E tools. He does, however, have a credstick and a cheapo commlink that she takes. Shaking her head at how the man had almost taken her, she removes the dart from his neck and stands, leaving the room and shutting the door behind her.

Tanya quickly walks to the master bedroom and into view of the security camera there. Moving as confidently as if she owns the place, Tanya approaches the painting that conceals the wall safe and presses the buttons that allow her to swing the painting away from the wall. Her research had given her the style of the safe, but she is still surprised by the model. She gives a small whistle and mutters under her breath, “A budgie? Really, Mrs. Harridan, you deserve to be robbed.” She keeps her face to the safe, giving the camera only a view of her back as she quickly attaches a device to the safe front and begins cycling the combinations. Soon she hears the small snick that tells her the safe is hers. Tanya swings open the door and looks inside the safe, quickly identifying the jewelry box and ignoring the stack of credsticks lined against the wall of the safe.

Tanya removes the very excellent fakes she had paid good money for from the compartment in her arm and replaces them with the originals. In her mind the 3K spent on the fakes is well worth the cost to keep the theft concealed for a time. If things go well, it will not be until the next time the pearls are examined for insurance purposes that the switch will even be detected. Smiling, she closes the safe and leaves the room, allowing the camera to get a good view of her. She returns to the bathroom where Monique is ready to help her to change back into her original costume. The entire theft, from entering the bathroom the first time until leaving it now had taken less than five minutes, even with the distraction of dealing with the other thief.

Tanya quickly moves back to the stairwell and alerts Calico that she is ready for the charade to end.

The ferocity of Puppet Tanya’s onslaught rises, and the trembling serving girl is nearing her limit. The few guests who do accidentally find themselves close enough to hear the exchange pointedly hurry by, unwilling to become mixed up in what is quickly becoming a full blown scene.

“So you expect me to believe that you had no idea that there was another serving girl with an entire TRAY full of champagne glasses right behind you, even though you had been walking right towards her??”

“I … yes ma’am”, the girl stammers, tears now streaming down her face. Calico mouths the puppet’s words to herself as she evokes them in her creation, willing all of the emotion to flow through her. The shame, humiliation … despair. The tears.

“I will not tolerate being lied to, and you are clearly lying, you …. worthless little thing. You will … Never … work as a serving girl again, do you hear me?” bellows the cruel Puppet Tanya.

“Got that right” mumbles Calico, just as her double cracks.

“I’msorr—” the girl slurs as she turns and, unable to endure these attacks one moment longer, flees upstairs, not seeming to know where she’s going, only knowing she must escape.

“Get back here! Mrs. Harridan isn’t about to let the likes of you roam freely about in her home!” her torturer calls after her, storming intently up the stairs to chase down her defeated quarry.

As the second figure reaches the top of the stairs and dissolves into mist, Calico stands and turns to Tanya. “You’re up. I’ll see ya soon” she says with a wink, then contorts her face until she is the harried, hapless, fleeing serving girl. Then she flees.

Down the stairs, pushing through the guests and bursting out the front door, Calico dashes out into the night. The decision to leave on her own had been spur of the moment, but now she is glad she did. She is elated, and can imagine no better way to celebrate than to spend the remainder of the evening embracing her animal side.

Tanya watches the girl run back down the stairs and smiles. She will need some work with details, but she did quite well with what she had. It seemed a bit over the top to Tanya, but it may have been just what was required. The English accent had been poor, but the anger in the voice had been real enough to keep too many people from wondering about it. She has a good explanation ready in case anyone happens to ask, but is confident that the ruse worked perfectly. That feeling is reinforced by the number of people that come to talk to her as she rejoins the party, each of them talking about the poor selection of people in the serving class. Tanya herself is about as upper class as one can get without being royalty, and she is still amazed by the low regard these people hold their servants and staff. She shakes her head and smiles at the irony of it all as she mingles, eventually targeting the hostess. “I am so sorry, my dear, for my outburst. I am afraid that I do not quite know what came over me.”

Mrs. Harridan gives Tanya a sympathetic look. “Nonsense, dear young woman. It is I that should be sorry. Oh! That dreadful girl and this accident. I will make sure that she does not work in this city again.”

Tanya takes a deep sniff, “And I am now a champagne garnish, I suppose.” She turns about to look at the nearby guests. “Would anyone care for a bite?”

The people near the hostess laugh and the party resumes. Just before the party ends, Tanya observes a somewhat tipsy gentleman shakily making his way down the stairs, holding onto the railing to stay on his wobbly feet. The camera that is Tanya’s mind puts his face in her memory as he passes her on his way out the door. Eventually, the party comes to a close and the guests begin to filter out the door to their cars. Tanya makes sure to stop by the hostess and congratulate her on such a nice party. Both laugh at the accident and Tanya, accompanied by Monique, walks outside and down the wide steps to where Alphonse is holding open the door to the massive Rolls for them. She tells him that Calico will be using her own transportation and he nods while assisting them into the car. Once inside, Tanya removes the would-be thief’s cred stick from her purse and slots it. “Let’s see what sort of bonus we picked up. Oooh! Nice surprise. This will cover the cost of the fakes and up the per-person shares.”

Tanya then looks at the cheap commlink and opens the caller ID and phone list, committing them to her memory. She asks Alphonse to take the scenic route home, making sure to cross the bridge over Lake Washington on the way. Once on the bridge, Tanya opens the window and tosses the ‘link into the lake after carefully wiping any prints from the device. The water of the deep lake should do the trick anyway, but one can never be too careful. Tanya sends a quick message to Ni Ni on her own ’link. "Hello, dear. I have your client’s merchandise in hand. Come on by to pick it up. I should be home in ten. See you there. Ta."

Once home, Tanya quickly removes the champagne-soaked costume and steps into the large shower. Once under the hot water, Tanya reviews the theft in her mind, finding that nothing went astray except for the slight errors in the illusionary Tanya’s speech. Calico is a good student and will learn over time and Tanya smiles as she imagines the pleased look on the young thief’s face when she finds out that her share has been bumped back up to 10000 Nuyen, thanks to the “gift” from the other thief.

The glass door to the shower opens and Tanya turns to watch as Ni Ni steps in to join her. The women smile at each other and embrace under the hot water. The night just keeps getting better and better.

Elsewhere, Nikto approached the dumpster in the alley and peered inside. His face seemed momentarily confused as he reached in and pulled out what appeared to be … a perfectly good maid’s outfit. Never one to turn down sellable items, he shrugged and stuffed it into his coat and continued foraging.

Deex Story

He ground what was left of the cigar into the ash tray, the tip chewed to hell. ’I’ll have to rememever this place. Not a bad atmosphere.’ he thought to himself. The place was a run down old bar. Very much a setting from an old noir film. The beautiful elf on the sax on stage played a light jaz melody. Smoke hung thick in the air. Dim lighting left plenty of shadows for the patrons sitting at the tables to lose themselves in.

Tonight Deex was interested in one particular patron hidden in a corner booth. While the suit was nice it didn’t fit quite right. Obviously secondhand and poorly tailored. The fat slob sitting in the booth was buddied up to a bottle of 12 year old scotch. The smell of booze oozed from his pores. He was so engrossed in the tumbler in his hand that he didn’t even see Deex until the orc was standing at the booth. Nothing really unussual for Deex though. He tended to be light on his feet.

The recognition in the fat mans eyes as he looked up reqistered as a mix of shock and panic. “De….De…Deex. Long time… since I’ve…I’ve seen you.” The fat man stammered. Deex just sat at the booth oposite the fat man.

“Five years in prison can be a long time Berry.” Deex answered flatly. “You’re not jumping any bail any time soon are ya?”

The color just seemed to drain from the fat man’s face. “Why… Why would I be doing that? I don’t want to go back to that hell.” With the fear in his eyes, he gets a little courage in his voice. “Why are you talking to me anyway? I’m not wanted? I didn’t jump bail this time.”

Deex leans back a smile crossing his lips. “Let’s just say I’ve been dabbling with the shadowy side of things.” He leans forward into the table, pushing it ever so slightly into the fat man’s belly. Just a light reminder not to run. “I need your books Benny.”

The fat man spluttered and wheezed, any small amount of bravado replaced by sheer fright. The sound he made as he talked was something between a wheeze and a whisper. “You know who those books list, Deez. They are the only thing keeping me alive right now. I give you those then I’m a dead man.”

A little more pressure on the table just to emphasize the point. “That’s not my problem.” Deez said looking the man right square in his eyes. “I need them. The accounts listed in your ledger could go a long way to making my life easier.”

Berry exhaled from the pressure to his gut. His voice as much a whine a now. “But I only told you about those books so you’d let me go last time. No one was suppose to know about them.”

Deex let a feral smile cross his lips. “But I know about them. Don’t I. Now where are they?”

Defeat was clear on Berry’s face as he replied. “There in the closet of my only office. Second shelf down has a false back.”

Deex let off the pressure to the table and stood. “Thank you, Berry. Let’s hope whoever I sell those ledgers too are a little more discreet. Might buy you a day or two once the accounts are emptied.”

Deex turned and left the man to his booze. The sound of the bottle rattling against the glass could be heard from across the bar.

He realy wasn’t sorry to have to do this to Berry. The man was a creep and made friends with the wrong type of people. Besides one of the accounts in that ledger was for a known child killer. The money in that account would go a small way to helping the family deal with the loss of their child.

There's No Place Like Home (part 2)
Forty Background

“We are all prisoners but some of us are in cells with windows and some without.” — Khalil Gibran

While Sylvia used tweezers to minutely adjust a few pebbles, Forty explained her night “I knew it would happen sooner or later; one of the sleazebag customers at The Zoo made a slur that I couldn’t let slide, and I told him exactly what sort of slime-mold he was. The Blob called me to his office and reamed me out. I managed to keep my temper that time, but he was talking about my hair being a mess, so I went to the dancers’ change room and found some scissors to cut it off.”

Sylvia made a questioning “Hmmmm?” noise while she focused on the miniature rock garden.

Forty shrugged and admitted “The whole time I was prison, one of the things I looked forward to was being able to grow it long, but three months out and I decide to cut it even shorter than in prison. Go me.” She ran her fingers through the short, dark, remnants of her hair and added “Anyway, I like how it feels. I think I’ll keep it this way.”

Sylvia mused “I’m not sure if this pinkish pebble is right, where it is. What do you think?”

Forty stared at the tray for a while, breathing slowing down, until she admitted “I really don’t know. It doesn’t look wrong, but I don’t know if it is right either?”

Sylvia nodded and explained “Mom always had issues with that pebble too, it just never seemed to quite fit anywhere.”

Forty stared at the pebble some more, then suddenly started out of her reverie “Oh, subtle sis – not! Anyway, I was telling about my night. One of the customers in my section didn’t like my new haircut, and felt the need to tell everyone nearby that he’d need to have his buddies put a sack over my head before he raped me – not his exact words but his exact meaning. I replied that his wife said he couldn’t find his dick with both hands and an ARO, but that if he wanted I could tell him how I get her off better than he ever did.”

Sylvia turned away from the miniature rock garden to exclaim “You said that to a customer?”

Forty shrugged “I thought it was pretty funny, but I guess they don’t like it at The Zoo when the exhibits talk back. A bouncer took me back to see The Blob again, he yelled about my hair, yelled about my attitude, fired me, then offered to hire me back as a pit dancer for even less money than I’ve been making slinging cheap soy-beer.”

“Did you take it?”

“Frag no! I told him we should take a walk outside in a thunderstorm, that he was such a greasy ball of lard that lightning would set him off like a bonfire- – that I’d happily dance around that, but that was the only way I’d ever dance for him. The bouncer took exception to my opinion, but he’s all vat muscle and no speed and I was already revved up. I could tell when he made his moved, avoided his lock, tripped him, then had my lightning taloned friend manifest.”

Forty smiled at the memory, and mused “Maybe they believed me about lighting igniting The Blob? Anyway, the bouncer stayed down, so I grabbed a bottle of cheap-ass whiskey off The Blobs desk and took off—although The Blob was already comming for help as I went out the fire escape door. It was only the third floor so I jumped down, then had my spirit cloak me before anyone got eyes on me.”

“Oh Forty, why can’t you be more patient? What if he calls you in to Knight Errant? You don’t have a license for using magic! They’d lock you up again for sure, but this time they’d know, they have ways of locking down magic you know.”

“I know, last few years I was in a more mixed prison, there was this elf-wannabe who is a shaman or something, so she said. Anyway, they had her locked in special cuffs the whole time so she couldn’t do magic. She was tough anyway, I liked her."

Forty rubbed at her own wrists shivered, then returned to the topic. “I’m pretty sure I’m safe from The Blob calling me in, he breaks too many laws, and doesn’t pay enough bribes to want a lot of law attention. Anyway, that was my night—except that I found an all-night Snack-Shack and traded what was left of the whiskey for whatever that was we just ate. Then I hiked home. Sad part is it was the best night of fun I’ve had since I got out.”

Sylvia shifted the pinkish pebble, then reproved “But you lost your job.”

Forty shrugged “Yah-but it is all good. It was never going to pay our way out of this hole anyway. I’m going to find ways to do better.”

Sylvia frowned, but kept her voice gentle as she riposted “Serving beer at The Zoo was the best job you’d found in four months since getting out. With your criminal SIN … I know it isn’t fair, but I know the discrimination, just being your sister made it hard sometimes. I was so lucky to get hired at Shiawase.”

“Yah, real lucky. What was it, thirty five years with no real promotion because no matter how much you studied Japanese and Shinto you aren’t real Japanese? They warned you away from the one guy you really loved, and then fired you the first time you actually screwed anything up. Fragging saints they are.”

“That is just the way things are.” Sylvia looked at her now shaking hand, and with a sigh put down the tweezers. “And you wonder why I love my chips? Why can’t you just leave me to enjoy things with them?”

Forty made a ‘time-out’ sign with her hands, then passed a snail shell to her sister, and held up a sunflower seed. “While you were in the shower I coaxed the spirits — kami if you prefer — to give us blessings. Focus for you, thinking for me. They won’t last more than a minute, but maybe we can have a good conversation in that time. One-two-three: be strong Sylvia, be sensible Forty.”

Sylvia sat up straighter and said “Thank you. Now: how are you going to get a job even as good as the one that you lost with your temper?”

Forty explained “I’m going to stop playing the game that is rigged so that no matter what, I lose.”

Sylvia shot her a concerned look, and replied “No, no, no! You promised, no criminal stuff. They’ll put you back in prison right away.”

“No they won’t, Sis.” Forty emphasized the last word of the sentence. “Your little Shinto shrine at the end of the street, and the fragging kids who you teach when you can remember your own name, how much good would it do all that when people found out your sister is a magic wielding murderer? No, you can’t afford to go through all this again, so you aren’t going to tell, you are going to go on covering for me. And I’ll make enough money to get you your new chips, and maybe enough for us to move somewhere a little less horrible, maybe even enough to put some lights in the shrine.”

Forty stood up, stretched out her arms, and waited a few seconds while a storm cloud in the shape of a huge hawk materialized behind her. “It’s the small time crime that would do me in. I need to go after bigger game. Now, give me the phone number of your BTL dealer.”

“Nobody uses phone numbers anymore, Forty.”

“You know what I mean, the code, digits, whatever. Something Shadow you said she was called?”

“Radiant Shadow. But you can’t threaten her! She’s a pretty big time dealer, people trust her, she has connections. She promises she’ll never sell anything she hasn’t slotted, nothing that will burn your brain out.”

“Chill Syl. I’m not planning on killing her or anything, just looking for a job, she sounds like a reasonable woman, for a human.”

“She’s not human, she’s a dwarf.” Sylvia sighed as the magic faded, looked at the trembling starting up in her hands, then added “She said not to tell you, but she was in prison with you. She says you did her a favor, and that is why she’ll supply me, even if I’m small time.”

“Kate? Kate is your dealer?” at Sylvia’s blank look, Forty added “Big birthmark on her left cheek, sweats a lot, sounds kind of spaced out?”

Sylvia nodded tentatively, and explained “I’ve only ever seen her with full face paint on, and she’s pretty fat so if I’ve seen her looking sweaty I just thought it was that, and if she sounds spaced out I always thought it was all the chips and drugs she tries …..”

Forty gave her surprised sister a hug, and said “That is definitely Kate! I told you things were going to look up soon.”

There's No Place Like Home (part 1)
Forty Background

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” — Robert Frost

Forty looked down at Sylvia’s bloodshot eyes and demanded “Frag it, did you stay up all night AGAIN?”

Sylvia’s gnarled hands smoothed down her housecoat, she tossed her gray hair defiantly, and replied in a disconcertingly girlish voice “I’ve been dancing with Hikado all through the ball, floating like a butterfly. He’ll be back in a moment, he’s just getting us more champagne.”

Forty hissed as she bounded across the room, grappled her sister and deftly yanked the BTL chip from her datajack—all before Sylvia even reacted. Forty managed to channel the hiss into low, fierce, words “Fragging hell, you promised to get some sleep, to keep this crap out of your head,” Forty took a sniff and added “and to take a shower while the fragging water is working—I’m out of prison, I shouldn’t have to live with so much human stink anymore. I’m going to hide all your damn chips, I swear!”

At that threat Silvia finally came to life, bucking and scratching, screaming incoherently. With casual contempt Forty tossed her sister onto their futon. Towering above, fury turning her tan skin ruddy and highlighting the pale stripes of old fight scars, the elf looked every bit the ex-con that she was. She spat out “Do I need to have a spirit sit on you again?”

Silvia froze like a rabbit that has seen a hawk’s shadow. She whispered back “No. No, not that. Don’t make the Kami see me like this — please!” Tears started leaking down her face and she tried to stifle a sob lest it set her sister off again.

“Then don’t keep slotting so much drek into your head.”

Silvia’s response was flat, defeated “You can’t understand — with the chips I’m young, vital, wanted. What is so good about this?” Her gesture encompassed both the worn one-room apartment and her own worn and wrinkled body “that I should want to come back to it? You wouldn’t understand —you’re an elf, you’ll be young and vital long after everyone else I know is dead.”

Forty snarled silently and she cocked a fist, then she checked herself. Two deep breaths and she reminded “You were young once — and free. You’ve loved, worked, danced all night, and made the choices that left you an old broken chip-head. I spent all that time in prison, just surviving.”

“But you still have a future.”

Forty responded in a flat, cold, voice “And you have a past worth remembering, and could have a lot of years of future still, if you don’t cook your brain first. Most of my memories are of prison, and the ones from before that are only a bit better. Remember hiding in the closet while Dad hammered on the door, waiting to see if he’d break in, waiting to see if Mom would really shoot him if he did? Good times, good time, right?”

Silvia licked her cracked lips, and said nothing.

Finally Forty turned away with a jerk, and picked up a bag from where she’d dropped it inside the apartment door. “I brought food—at least that’s what they said it is. Go see if the water is running—I don’t care if it is cold now—and get washed up, then come eat something. Maybe you can sleep a couple of hours before you go to the shrine for the daily babysitting — Wait, before you wash up, were there any phone calls? Messages, AROs, whatever they call them now. Were you even aware enough to notice?”

“There was a call on your link, the parole system. I entered the code saying it was you, and you were here.”

Forty slumped in relief, and admitted “That can’t have been easy, to remember how to deal with that when you were chipped in.” She gave an awkward, self-conscious bow to her sister, and in stilted Japanese stated “I am grateful that you helped me save face.”

Silvia smiled and responded in much better Japanese “Your Japanese is getting better, thank you for practicing it. Also Thank you for your acknowledgement of my humble contribution to your wellbeing.” Sylvia’s smile drifted into a sly expression, and switching back into English she continued with barely suppressed eagerness “I had a call too. There is a new episode of Butterfly Princess! Radiant Shadow has a few copies of the ‘good’ version but she might sell out soon, maybe I could get it?”

Forty slapped the wall, then snapped at her sister “I don’t even have next month’s rent, we’re eating third rate soy, and you want a new fragging BTL? What the hell sis! And the first decent moment we’ve had between us in four days and you turn it into … into … Frag!” Forty spun on her heel and strode the few paces to the far side of the apartment.

Silvia begged “Angela, please!”

“Don’t call me that!”

Sylvia cringed, but continued wheedling “Forty, please! I’ve slotted the old ones so many times, they don’t work right anymore! I was thinking, we could sell Mom’s gun, I don’t think I could manage it anymore and you aren’t supposed to have one anyway—that should pay for it, maybe have a bit left over, you could go and…” She faded out, then said in puzzlement “You cut off your hair?”

Forty nervously ran a hand through her dark brown buzz-cut. “Yah, it was a rough night. I’ll tell you about it after shower and food, OK? Maybe we can bring down Mr. Bonsai and see if the gravel needs shifting.”

Once the shower was running Forty swore, then muttered “Being a junkie is the worst kind of prison. At least with real prison they got tired of paying to lock me up.”

Then she looked around at the four gray-beige walls of their apartment, swore again, kicked the ratty futon, and admitted “From one box to another. And there ain’t nobody going to let me out of this place, unless I bust myself out.”

Meeting Red (part 3)
John Chance backstory

Taking a sip of my fresh drink, and shuddering inwardly as it burned it’s way down my throat, I decided to move things along. “So Red,” I paused momentarily to gauge the woman’s reaction and thought I detected a slight hint of amusement in her eyes. “What would someone like you,” I allowed my eyes to wander up and down the perfection sat across from me, “possibly want to have a tete a tete, as you so eloquently put it, about with someone like me?” whilst waving my hand up and down my own slightly disheveled appearance.

She paused to sip her own drink, and I thought I detected the slightest of grimaces play across her face, before leaning forward and allowing her voice to caress my ears once more. “Well, mon cherie, it’s like this. We don’t want no government man,” her eyes now took the time to wander up and down my disheveled appearance of off the rack suit, shirt and tie topped off with a Mortimer of London greatcoat, “poking his nose in our affairs. We can and will take care of our own.” For the first time there was something other than amusement or sensuality showing in those hypnotic pools of darkness observing me. It was definitely not something I was enjoying seeing or feeling.

“Government man?” I allowed a slight hint of amusement to enter my own voice at this. She was partially right, after all I had been a government man once. An FBI agent to be exact until the cases took their toll and I continued to seek solace in the bottom of a bottle. One day I’d come too to discover I hadn’t been to the office for months, my accounts were just about empty and the message on my commlink accepting my resignation still unread. “No, not for some time now. I’m just another regular schmuck looking to cover the rent using what few talents I have. My current”, I paused momentarily searching for the word I wanted to use before settling on, “benefactor has shown some concern in the matter I’m investigating which, I assume, is what you are referring to.” If she wanted to be oblique in her statements then I was happy to match her with mine.

“Whilst these little exchanges can be fun do not think that I enjoy being crossed Government Man.” The change in emphasis on the final two words suggesting that she too had decided upon a name for me though at least her expression had softened again and there was a hint of playfulness in her tone once more. “Taking my concerns lightly could end up being detrimental to say the least.”

Leaning back I took another drink weighing up how I was going to respond to this. I still knew next to nothing about the woman sat across from me. She obviously had power or influence of some kind in this part of the Barrens but I’d not heard of her before. This could mean either she was a new player on the scene or she was truly powerful. Given how memorable she was I settled on the former and made a mental note to get a decker acquaintance of mine to try to dig up more once I got away from here. “Well Red”, I’d decided that the light and playful approach would remain my best option for the time being, “I don’t take anything about you lightly and detrimental is always something I prefer to avoid. Maybe we can find a way to resolve this amicably and even help each other whilst we’re at it.”

Before she could respond two things happened almost simultaneously. My commlink beeped loudly, making me mentally kick myself for forgetting to switch it to silent, to alert me to incoming mail and the door to the hole flew open and a skinny, wet and grimy dwarf, so bundled up in rags to make both age and gender indeterminate, hurried through and ran straight up to Red.

Selling Secrets
Another secret, another Nuyen

The constant Seattle drizzle was working its way down the collar of the armored duster.

Well, at least it isn’t acidic this time.

With a sigh she walks to the entrance of the alleyway and leaned against the wall, rummaging into the coat she takes out a battered pack of cigarettes and knocks one out, noticing as she does it’s the last one. “Dreck.” It takes a few goes to get the cheep lighter going and she’s finally able to light the cigarette. The small flame adds a touch of colour to her alabaster white skin and hair.

She closes her eyes and takes a drag, felling the buzz of icons and data around her, as well as the constant background humm of bad connections interrupted by an occasional pulse of white noise as rain drips on exposed wiring and shorting it. The sensation much like a headache that never quite develops, annoying, but overall harmless.

Her eyes suddenly open again, the mechanical irises focusing on the door opening partway down the alley. Out of it walks a large troll missing half a horn, he nods to her and holds the reinforced door open. She takes a quick look at the street, making sure no-one is around to see before she strolls casually to the door. “Here Ripper, have one on me.”, she tosses the battered packet to the troll as she passes. “Thanks I.. hey, damnit its empty!” “Life’s a bitch ain’t it Ripper?” The troll snorts and growls as he crushes the packet and tosses it away, another anonymous piece of trash littering the broken asphalt and concrete, before closing the door.

She waves lazily as she enters the corridor and takes a left, a dozen steps takes her to an open doorway, the light of over half a dozen monitors spilling out into the dilapidated hall. The dwarf seated behind them adjusts her glasses as she turns her attention to the newcomer. Although they look like normal reading glasses she can faintly see the data streams traveling back and forth between them and the computer setup.

“There you are Ice, and how’s my favorite electronic snitch today?”

“Like a drowned rat Mirage. Weather’s dreck out there.” Ice pauses to take another drag, exhaling slowly, frowning at the partly finished cigarette. “So, you interested in the goods or not?”

“You got a sample for me?” The dwarf’s tone is a mix of friendly and business, she barely even blinks as a new AR window opens on her glasses, her blue eyes focusing on the display. “You know I don’t like it when you do that Ice.”

“You want the transaction secure don’t you?” Ice leans against the wall, taking a couple of idle drags as she looks around the room, the tiny whirring of the irises lost amidst the louder fans and steady rain.

“Those things better not be recording Ice.” The dwarf looks over her glasses with a frown.

Ice snorts with a plume of smoke and raises her hands. “Scouts honour Mirage, even I know better than to record with a broker. So, you interested or not?”

“Of course Ice, seventy five.”
“Bulldreck Mirage, hundred and twenty.”
“Seventy eight.”
Ice sighs “Hardass, hundred.”
The dwarf grins “Eighty five.”
“Fine, ninety. Pleasure as always Ice. Usual way?” The dwarf leans back in her chair.

Ice nods, her damp alabaster locks dripping onto her coat. She reaches underneath for a datachip and tosses it to the dwarf. “You know I prefer to stay off the grid Mirage.”

The dwarf snags the chip and takes a cheap credstick from the draw, plugging it into her comlink and transferring funds. “I can understand that Ice. Although you’ve never told me why you’re so paranoid about it…” the data broker looks the albino human over slowly, letting the silence hang as she waits for a response. Ice simple folds her arms, her cybereyes almost glaring back. “But never mind that… that empty pack of sticks your last? Here, only half left but least I can do for one of my favorite snitches.” she slips the credstick into a half empty pack of cigarettes and slides it across the desk.

Ice nods and strides over to take the packet. “Thanks”
“You know you shouldn’t tease Ripper that way.”
“Life’s full of disappointment and empty gestures… especially here in Seattle. I’ll let the usual people know when I have some more goods.” Before the dwarf can reply Ice sweeps up the packet and stashes it away, striding out the room, her boots echoing in the hall a lot louder than when she entered.

The dwarf leans back, slotting the datachip into the computer. Her glasses showing an audio/visual steam, AR windows providing annotations of identities and records. As she watches the dwarf murmurs to herself “All this extra information, yet I’ve never seen you with a deck Ice…”

Back in the alley Ice flicks the stub of her cigarette away, rolling her shoulders to settle the coat and carefully steps back onto the street. Her eyes scanning around her constantly. She’d made a decent deal, enough to pay for a few meals and fairs.

Now she needed some more secrets to sell.

Deex's story

Deex wracked the bolt on the next shot before the bullet even hit it’s intended target. The feral ghoul stood on the hood of a derelict, rusted out cab. The body still standing for a brief moment as the head tumbled back. The bullet had ripped through the ghoul’s neck and seperated the head from the rest of the body. In another breath Beex was moving the tip of the barrel toward the next intened target. Another ghoul that was feeding on the body of a devil rat it had just cornered.

The resounding crack of another bullet sounded the death of that poor creature. Deex sub-vocalised to the rest of the crew he was working with.

“Last of the ghouls down, that should mean a clear path for you on your way out.”

He leaned the rifle just enough of a canter that the scope cleared his vision giving him a wider view of the streets below. AR tags marked his team as they moved toward the area that he’d just cleared. Deex watched as two members carried the third toward the waiting van a block away.

“Get a move on before the rest of the pack gets wind of the blood.”

He cussed to himself as he watched the smaller of the two falter under the wieght of their larger companion. The side door of the van popped open, waiting for the group to make it the last few yards. A small bit of movement caught his attention to the left of the group. Another ghoul was trying to intercept the team. Deex took aim and eliminated the threat before the ghoul could get within spitting distance of his teammates. Another quick sweep of the area then he was watching his teamates climb into the van. It speeding away, before the side door was even shut.

With his team clear it was time for him to make his own escape. He shouldered the rifle and leaned back into the harness he had been using to brace himself amid the lights of the huge pole that lit up the freeway. It was funny to him that a lifeline of the city like the freeway passed so close to such squalor and destruction. Of course the sheep that traveled the road would never see it. Not with the huge “sound proofing” walls that protected them from the hazards of the Barrens.

The climb up had been a pain but the way down was just a simple rappel. The timing couldn’t have been any better. Just as his feet hit the pavement, the americar pulled over, hazards flashing, to pick him up.

Deex leaned his head to the side as he adjust the tie he was wearing. This was the part of the job that Deex hated. The run had been a success for the most part. The only casualty had been Slash’s foot. Luckily that was just a part of his cyberleg and had been replaced in a matter of hours after the run. Now, well now was the part that sucked. Deex leaned against the bar, watching as all of the well to do mingled and danced at some grand fundraiser meant to raise money for the disease of the hour.

Deex played the part well of not-so-out-of-sight security to his friend that was smoozing their latest client. Some rich heiress of some comercial fortune made by a great-great grandparent.

To anyone that had any idea of the data that had been stolen, all eyes would have been on the face out among the crowd. The man was good. He could schmooze with the best of them. No one would have noticed the clean pass that Deex made to the waiter as he passed by with a tray of crab cakes.

The transfer of data meant that the run was complete minus the payment that had been held in escrow. It would hit Deex’s account once the data had been verified. Now all that was left was the simple babysitting job. Deex was temporarily distracted for his charge as he realized the crab was the real thing. Not some soy processed facsimile. He smiled. Maybe this wasn’t the “worst” part of the job.

Meeting Red (part 2)
John Chance backstory

Pulling the hood from her head and sliding the cloak from her shoulders, she revealed her features for the first time as the now released raven black hair cascaded down her back. She was of human heritage and caucasian ethnicity with beestung lips coloured to match her gown. Her eyes were deep dark pools that seemed to suck in the viewer, in this case me, as she scanned the room. As they rested their gaze on me I felt my pulse jump a couple of beats and my autonomic adrenal response was definitely kicking in as she sashayed her way across the room towards me, each move seemingly part of a sensual dance with her gown clinging to the curves of her body.

As she slid into the seat opposite mine I caught the slight and subtle, yet definitely intoxicating, scent of fresh roses. My pulse quickened again and, though there was no overt threat to me, I was definitely comforted by the weight of the Colt Government holstered on my left hip hidden away beneath the folds of my coat and cheap suit jacket.

“I think you and I need to have a little tete a tete mon cherie.” Her soft voice and slight accent, Cajun or Creole I thought, washed over me like a lover sliding her soft oiled hands across naked flesh and yet again my pulse jumped a couple more beats. Not yet fully trusting myself to talk I nodded slowly before gesturing at the empty glass in front of me. She inclined her head in acceptance, “Whatever you’re having wil be fine with me.”

Swallowing, I lifted my hand with 2 fingers raised to indicate to the now staring kid behind the bar that I wanted 2 more, whilst forcing myself to speak for the first time, all along hoping that my voice would not crack or waver as I did so. “I’m afraid you’re unlikely to enjoy the experience if my tastebuds are anything to go by.” When I don’t know what’s going on I have a tendency to fall back on my, admittedly somewhat poor, sense of humour, usually in an attempt to take back some control and get a grip on myself.

“And are they?” She seemed happy to play along with my opening conversational gambit.

“Usually, at least where this stuff’s concerned anyway.”

“Then I guess it’s a risk I’ll just have to take. After all it’s a risk you seem happy enough to take yourself mon cherie.” I thought I caught the slightest hint of either a pout, smile or both as she finished her last sentence.

This brief period of repartee had allowed me to get myself somewhat back in order, nothing like a mental kick to the hypothalamus I always say, and I allowed myself to relax slightly as the kid delivered 2 more grimy glasses filled with the brown liquid that tried to pass itself off as the product of Scotland. “On the house” the kid whimpered as he shakily placed them down in front of us. Whilst I was obviously still not in control of what was happening here I was at least running my reasoning and logic circuits again. Who was this woman sitting across from me that could have such an effect upon everyone within the room?


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