Shaking Down Shadows

Meeting Red (part 1)
John Chance backstory

The broken window above me let in the sounds of the street immediately outside. The low droning hiss of the rain constantly punctured by the crack of water being ionised by the blinking neon “L ve Gir s, ive Gi ls” that adorned the front of this hole. I was definitely grateful for the extra chemical protection I’d paid my tailor to add to my greatcoat as my throat clogged with the cloying chemical aftertaste of the ionised acid rain, though upon reflection maybe it was whatever was in the glass in front of me, purporting to be whisky, that was leaving the sour taste.

The mood lighting did little to hide the drawn and hollowed out expression on the face of the obviously mammary enhanced skinny orc girl gyrating, so consistently out of tune that she deserved special recognition for it, on the stage to the left of what masqueraded as the bar. Not that she was getting any recognition, or even simple attention, given by the current patrons. A group of orc and troll gangers were busy insulting each other’s heritage in the corner, though it seemed friendly enough and unlikely to erupt into furniture destroying violence anytime soon, whilst a couple of humans were propped up against counter staring at the small trideo display above the grubby bottles with the glazed look of the habitually incoherent bar fly.

Right now I wanted nothing more than to be back in my doss, I was sure there was still at least 4 fingers of Laphroaig in the bottle on the kitchen counter, but that wouldn’t pay the rent this month so here I was in the hole hiding from the rain ruminating on my next move in the case I was currently investigating. Seven missing girls, all aged between 7 and 9, all SINless and so far not a single body had turned up. I didn’t have much in the way of leads and the barrens being what it was people were reluctant to talk to strangers, even those purporting to help. I had managed to speak to 3 of the families and given how broken up they appeared to be, along with what seemed to be good attempts at providing some semblance of normal life, it was unlikely the girls had chosen to leave of their own accord.

I took another sip of the synthetic whisky, hoping against hope it would at least change the taste in the back of my throat, and the synthahol finally did it’s thing. The neurons and synapses in my brain finally started firing properly, I swear that my subconscious is smarter than me sometimes, and the idea I’d been grasping at finally kicked in. I’d been on this street because the 4th missing girl had last been seen here when the rain had turned sourer and more acidic than normal forcing me into this hole. What my subconscious had taken in, whilst my conscious was too busy adding the missing letters to the blinking neon, was the almost un-noticeable camera above the door was most likely working. There had been a red glow in the bottom right corner of the camera, masked and made almost imperceptible by the neon glare beside it. If it was working and I could get a copy of the footage from the day in question maybe I would finally have something solid to track down.

In triumph I rewarded my brain, though my stomach seemed to argue with this description, by knocking back the remains of the drink in front of me. As I began to lift my arm to signal the bored looking kid behind the bar for another the front door opened and what could only be trouble, though for who was yet to be clear, walked in.

As trouble goes this was definitely packaged better than most any I’d seen before and I took my time evaluating her. Tall, probably not far short of my own height, and the way the red gown clung to her body beneath the now open rain cloak definitely female. I couldn’t yet tell if she was human or elven in heritage as her head was still covered by the rain cloak’s hood leaving her face masked in shadow.

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A heavily pregnant pause filled the hole as the woman, so obviously not dressed for a visit to such a princely establishment, stepped in before being filled by an even louder “your mother” comment from one of the bigger trolls over in the corner returned the hole to a simulacrum of it’s previous ambiance though my ears detected just a hint of both bravado and fear that had previously not been present now emanating from the gangers in the corner.

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Gamble more than you can handle
Milk Run Month 1

Kachina woke up in the middle of her lodge still wearing her clothes from the previous day. A quick glance at her ’link show it was past noon already… Her quest to reach what some were calling the metaplanes was taking its toll on her. Particularly the last few days, as it seemed she was making no progress. But she still felt like it was the only way she had to strengthen her relationship with the Thunderbird and understand the full potential of his power.

What she needed now was some distraction, to clear her mind, and keep her meat body active. She made her way to the bathroom but she had pass the hot water rationing time. Disappointed and close to being angered, she did what she could to refresh a bit with the cold water and reapplied some paint of her face; a mix of black, blue and ochre applied in stride across her cheeks and forehead. Few knew if it had a meaning. Most of those who did had be massacred a few years back…

When she came back to her cramped living room, she noticed a message on her commlink. She adorned her headband that contained trodes, and with a thought, an ARO appeared in front of her containing the message. Her lips allowed a smile to brighten her face. She was always happy when Manny called. She liked his sarcastic humor and his knowledge of magic always lead to refreshing conversations.

“How’s my beautiful shaman doing? I’ve heard ‘bout Green. Sad news, but our kinds don’t live long anyway. Listen, I’m not here for petty condolences. I need you skills, and for once not your magical ones, though it can come handy.. "

The rest of the message was a short explanation what he needed her to do. It definitely sounded up her alley; she was trained and experienced in many forms of interrogation techniques and getting some info out of a gambler wouldn’t pose a problem if she could dispose of his usual bodyguards. For a split second she considered contacting Requiem. Combat was his specialty after all, even though she didn’t get the chance to witness the full extend of his skills yet. But she would do some reckon before approaching him for the job.


The night was cold and humid. Kachina’s boot splashed a puddle when she exited her small but functional Jackrabbit. She was deep in the Barrens. The sound of distant firearm shots intruded the somewhat eerie silence that came from the desolate place where she had followed her target. The gambler wanted to be a big shot, but that place looked more like a rundown squat, even some gangers would think twice before using. She grabbed her belt holding her submachine gun from under the passenger seat and attached it to her hips and thigh. Her armored coat kept her almost dry from the drizzle. The top half of her face was painted deep black, a blue horizontal line across her cheeks and just above the tip of her nose stopping the color. The rest of her face was kept her natural color, but for another vertical blue line covering her chin and down the top of her neck.

A soft whirlwind of ethereal energy materialized a shape by her side. A creature resembling a huge light grey wolf had appeared. Its fur would reflect the flickering light of the old lamp post from the corner of the street in such a way that at time it seemed one could see through the beast. Its piercing yellow eyes were scanning the area the same way Kachina had done when exiting her car, before settling on her. It was the Beast Spirit she had summoned a bit earlier to help her find the gambler. With the Wolf Spirit by her side she felt confident she could handle the matter.

She called upon the power of the great Thunderbird to give her his mighty vision and she suddenly manage to project her sight some 30 meters above her. From this height, her surrounding presented a very different perspective, and she was satisfied to how deserted it was. In a blink, her sight was now 30 meters ahead of her and inside the building. She had decided to enter from the back and sneak on the group present inside. Scouting ahead of time with her extended sight, she knew when it was safe to move and where to hide. Within a few minutes she was hiding behind the door frame of an adjacent room of where a group of 4 men where discussing and watching tridvids. From their behavior they weren’t expecting anyone. She had seen two machine pistols on a low table. The Gambler was seated on a sofa, a pistol casually put on its armrest.

The man had apparently gotten his hand on a magical artifact belonging to a ‘friend’ of Manny. They had to retrieve it in a short amount of time, for it had to be used in a ritual. The gambler had already gotten rid of it, but he would not reveal who he gave it to. All she had to do was get that information out of him. They would take care of recovering the artifact once they knew where it was or who had it. And she was an expert at extracting information, even so without having to rely on mind controlling magic.

She grabbed her machine gun and send a mental request to the Beast Spirit. The wolf-like form entered to room and she could feel the magic emanating from it; at the same time she pictured a bird swooping on the gun on the sofa and the weapon went flying across the room. The group of men were definitely surprised to see such beast so close, and two of them suddenly started screaming and fleeing, an obvious fear distorting their visage. They left the building running and Kachina knew they wouldn’t returned for a while. That left the Gambler and one of his friend. The latter rushed to get to his weapon but Kachina had him on her scope already.She fire a volley of gel bullets that sent the man rolling on the floor, knocked down by the kinetic energy. Another growl from the Spirit and the Gambler was soon on his knee begging not to get hurt. “You and I need to have a little discussion”. She told the scarred Gambler.

The rest was for Kachina simple Interrogation 101. Subtle and less subtle mental manipulation, threats and evocation of various means of pain and suffering, and the Gambler revealed and confirmed without doubt what had happened to the artifact and where it was. Having the Beast spirit form circle around like preying on its next meal helped a lot. Once she sent the information to Manny, it only took a few minutes to received and back. “Thx. Good job. That’s it for now”

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The Next Bounty
A Deex pre-run story

Deex lightly carressed the head of the sledge hammer as he stood against the wall next to the door. Quietly he prayed to whatever power was up there that he’d survive this or enjoy eternity in a Val Halla with other warriors. He nodded to himslef as he took the stance to smash in the door to the apartment that held his latest hunt. One smooth swing and the door crashed open.

The group of gangers that had been sitting in the living room watching a trid of the latest Urban Brawl game quickly jumped for cover and drew weapons as the door stood open on broken hinges.

The door swung slightly and the gangers watched. Anticipating the opening to be filled with a group of High Threat Response goons. Becoming confused when nothing came through the door. Seconds ticked by as the gangers watched the door. Just as the first ganger began to stand up from behind the tipped over couch, all hell broke loose as Flash bangs began to go off shattering all of the apartment windows they had been placed against.

Within a blink of an eye the room began to fill with tear gas as a second set of cylinders next to windows went off. One of the smarter of the trogs charged to the back room where their boss had been enjoying the comfort of the latest conquest. The room was in shambles. Part of the outside wall of the aparment looked to have been torn off. The girl was laying on the bed naked. A large knot forming on the side of her head.

The boss was simply gone.

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Adventures In A Street Clinic
Working for the People 1

Tanya woke up and made a decision. Mother had been right. The British ex-pat had lived in luxury just about her entire life and knew pretty much nothing of life on the streets and what it did to people. There had been times recently when the Triad had given her a job to do in one seedy place or another, but that was not the same as living there. And her experiences living poor had been years ago. It had been hard to look Mother in the eyes when she was talking about life in the Barrens. Perhaps she would still not be able to make a claim of knowing what it is like to live that way, but at least she would have a better idea.

Getting up, she slipped into her robe and walked out to the living room and kitchen, where Monique was almost finished preparing breakfast. Several things were already on the tray and Tanya snagged a piece of buttered toast from the rack as she sat on the stool. The Frenchwoman poured her a cup of steaming Early Grey without batting an eye. “You are up early this morning. Do you have anything scheduled that I need to know about?”

Tanya chuckled, “No, not really. Well, yes, actually. I am going to do something off the norm for the next few days, maybe a week. I want to spend some time helping Hank in his clinic.” She notices the raised eyebrow. “I know. I know. It sounds like a crazy idea, huh? But I have realized that there is a lot I could be doing to help others out.”

“But you already give him money, and help out that creepy church lady once in a while.”

Tanya puts up a hand. “I know. But it is not enough. I want to help out more. I want to do more. Money is good, yes, but somehow not enough. I am hoping that he will let me stay for a week and help out. I will be leaving after breakfast and will be gone a few days at least. Please see that my court and climbing wall times are cancelled so that someone else may use my slots while I am away.”

Monique looks at her employer and friend. “Of course, Miss. Let me get some things packed for you. By the way, Ni NI sent a message over asking if you had made a decision on that table yet. She said the final price was 10,000 Nuyen.”

Both women smiled, knowing that this was code that the pearls had fetched a good price. If Ni Ni was willing to cut Tanya’s share at 10K, she must be getting a better price somewhere. Tanya says, “Perfect. That went faster than I had thought it would. Slot me a stick for 6K of that to give to Hank while I get dressed, will you please?”

After breakfast, Tanya got dressed in some rough clothing she kept on hand for those times when she needed to look as if she belonged in the Barrens. Monique brought her some additional clothes to put in a bag and a coat to wear to get out of the building. The pair left together, going to the garage and the Mirage.

Seattle’s streets were busy with commuter traffic, but Tanya maneuvered the bike through one neighborhood of the greater sprawl after another, deftly moving in and out of traffic and staying within the speed limit. After all, this would not be a good time to get a ticket. While driving she sends messages to both Petra and Ni Ni, explaining what she was doing and letting both know that she would likely be busy for the coming week. She pulls over to the curb a few blocks from Hank’s clinic, dismounting and trading places with Monique. The two exchange cheek busses then Tanya walks off with her largish bag across her shoulder while Monique fires up the bike and roll off back to the hotel.

The walk to Hank’s takes Tanya down unfamiliar streets. She is aware of eyes upon her and for the first time debates with herself over the sanity of this project. However, it is now too late to back away as the distance back to where Monique could pick her up is farther away than Hank’s clinic. The streets are heavily shadowed even though it is still early morning. It is almost as if the sun never really shines here and Tanya shivers a bit in spite of herself.

She arrives at her destination unmolested except by leering eyes and some verbal catcalls. Breathing a sigh of relief, she resolves that Hank had better have a room because she is not going to make that walk twice a day. She wonders how Monique does it when she drops off the small payments Tanya provides Hank for the clinic. Shaking her head, Tanya steps through the door into a different world.

The small room she entered looked to be a cross between a waiting room, triage clinic, and ICU all crammed into one small place. A small counter runs part way across the room, mostly managing to shield the people laying on the handful of cots from any prying eyes from the half-dozen beat up chairs that lined one wall. The mostly managing part meant that Tanya could see three of the cots. All were occupied; two with sleeping men and the third with what appeared to be a young woman quite far along in a pregnancy. All of the chairs were occupied and three additional people were standing near a battered caf pot, sipping what looked like watered down caf from badly chipped mugs.

A young woman in a uniform that had clearly seen better days stepped through a door in the wall behind the counter. Immediately, all of the people sitting jumped up and merged with those standing to try to get her attention, asking questions about when they were going to be seen. The harried woman managed to keep her cool and waited out the torrent of voices before shooing all back from the counter, telling everyone that Doc Hank would get to them all soon. As the group sits back down, Tanya notices that some sort of musical chairs has been played and few of the people have the same seat they had before they got up. The nurse wags a finger and chides one of those sitting, a young man with a rag wrapped around his left hand. “Now, Burt, it is your hand that is hurt, not your legs. You stand up and wait for Doc Hank and give your seat to Mrs. Hanson.” The young man seems reluctant to move, staring defiantly at the woman behind the counter. Eventually his eyes drop and he stands up, mumbling something under his breath. An elderly woman supporting herself with a cane thanks him and the nurse before taking the empty chair.

The nurse, seeing that order has been reestablished, looks to where Tanya is standing. She motions for her to come closer and says, “Yes dear. Come up to the counter. I do not recognize you so you must be new to the neighborhood. What is bothering you today?” She nods to the people waiting and adds, “As you can see, we are very busy, but Doc Hank will see you when he can. To better assist you, please describe your symptoms for me. I will let Doc know if it is serious enough to have him jump you in line.” Several of the people waiting groan, the loudest being the young man with the bandaged hand. He mutters, “Oh sure. Get the hot slot in line first. I only been here a couple hours.”

Tanya looks at the young man and smiles prettily at him without saying a word as she makes her way to the counter. She looks at the young nurse and says, “My name is Tanya Marisart. Doc…..Hank…..might remember me. Actually there is nothing wrong with me. I have come to see if I can be of any help.”

The nurse looks confused for a minute, as if she does not understand. Tanya clears her throat and adds, “I usually send Monique here but I wanted to come personally this time.”

The woman smiles. “Well why did you not say that Monique had sent you. She is always welcome. I will let Doc Hank know that you are here. He is with a patient, so it may take a few minutes.” She points to the caf pot. “Why don’t you just have a cup while you wait?”

Without waiting for a reply, the nurse disappears through the door, leaving Tanya to face the rest of the people, all of whom are staring at her except for the one she thinks is Mrs. Hanson. Tanya smiles and moves over to the pot. Burt, now realizing that the pretty woman is not threatening to take his place in line, nods to her then to the pot.

“Hank’s finest. Not very hot and weaker than a newborn, but it can keep the chill off. Let me pour you a cup.” Tanya looks at the lukewarm weak caf and quails internally. Outside, she thanks the young man.

He smiles back and continues in a conspiratorial voice, “Name is Burt. Not sure I caught it, but you’re Tanya, right?” At her nod, he goes on, “Thought so. Got sharp ears. Hear lots of things. I do not place the accent as from around here, so if you are new, consider Burt your man to get you settled. Got a place to stay? If not I can fix you up. Accommodations not like the fancy downtown tourist traps, but for the right price it can be secure.”

Tanya looks at the man then says, “Not got a place to stay yet, Burt, but only expect to be here a week.” She smiles at his look of disappointment then nods at his hand. “So, what happened?”

Burt laughs and raises his arm. “This? Ain’t nuthin but a thing. You should see the other guy. In fact, you can if you step just over here.” He tugs on Tanya’s arm and moved her to where she can see the cots and points to one. “That fragger tried to stiff me some that he owed. Good fer him it was not more he owed me or he would really be hurting. I pride myself on matching the punishment to the offense.”

Burt looks Tanya up and down, appraising her figure. “Anyway, you’re only here a week, eh? I s’pose I can still help you. I can set you up with rooms that rent by the hour if you are looking for that sort of work, or perhaps just a place to crash for a week. All sorts of lifestyle options down here.” He flips a small card from a pocket and presents it with a wink. “Comm code on the back. Call me any time if you need anything.” He gives a sort of bow then saunters back to the caf pot and pours himself another cup of the watery liquid.

Tanya is still looking at the card when the nurse comes back into the room. Those waiting look up but settle back down when she shakes her head. She motions for Tanya, “Doc Hank will see you now, dear. Please come with me.” She opens a swinging door in the counter and lets Tanya slip past her before shutting it again and leading Tanya through the door. Once through, Tanya sees a larger room that contains a dozen additional cots similar to the ones in the waiting area, but only a few are occupied. A large man is standing near one of the cots and Tanya has an immediate impression of some sort of bear. The man turns to come greet Tanya when the nurse clears her throat and the long beard and bushy hair only serve to accentuate her initial opinion.

The man nods to the Nurse, “Thank you, Elsie. I will be ready to see the next person in a couple of minutes.” Turning to Tanya, he says, “Tanya Marisart as I live and breathe. Welcome, welcome. I cannot tell you how much your help means to being able to stay open here. These people need so much and the fragging corporations are not interested in doing anything. Your friend speaks highly of you and did say that you might be by soon. What can I do for you?”

Tanya takes the offered hand and grips it firmly then puts her bag down on the floor to fish a credstick from a pocket. Holding it out to the man, she says, “I want to give you this and ask if you will let me help you down here.”

Hank takes the stick and puts it in one of the voluminous pockets of his overalls. He frowns as he replies, “But you are helping. And you certainly do not need my permission to be as generous as you are.”

“No, you misunderstand. I want to work here for a week. And maybe come back each month for a week or so for a bit.”

“May I ask why?”

“You may, but I am not sure I have a good answer. Guilt, maybe?”

“That is the wrong answer, Miss Marisart. Thank you for your contribution, but this is no place for the idle rich to assuage their consciences.” He waves a hand about the room. “People here are sick, some are dying. I am afraid I cannot use that sort of help. I can give you your money back, if you like.”

Tanya motions with her arm to stop him from returning the stick. “No…..I…..well, maybe you are right. But I want to stay and help. I need to stay and help. Will you give me a chance?”

Hank looks at the British thief for a bit then shrugs. “Maybe. Lord knows I can use help. Any experience working in a clinic?” As she shakes her head, he continues. “Triage site? Hospital volunteer facility? Street Doc?” He laughs as she shakes her head to all of the questions. “Well, what can you do?”

Rather embarrassed that she had not though ahead better, Tanya looks him in the eye and says, “I can lift things and move things. I can help wash clothes and change linens. I can……..” Her voice trails off then she stomps a foot. She takes a breath and calms herself and her voice is stronger when she adds, “I am not a child. I can help. I can be useful. Will you give me a chance?”

Hank looks her over then nods his head. “I will give you a chance, and not because of the money. I can really use help here doing just the things you mentioned. But you have to understand up front that this is hard work; no easy loafing. Got it?”

Tanya, surprisingly relieved, nods her head.

“Good. Do you have a place to stay? This is a rough neighborhood, but the local gangers have declared the clinic and its workers neutral, so you should not be bothered once it gets around that you are helping here. No one wants to be cut off from the only real medical care in the neighborhood.”

Tanya smiles weakly. “I was talking with a young man named Burt out front. He says he can fix me up with a room. Cheap and secure.”

Hank nods, “Burt is OK. Big egos come with the territory down here. He is the boss of the small gang that operates in a several block radius from here. Pretty small-time, but he can be violent. One of the men out front is here because he tried to cross Burt. I’ve seen hundreds just like him come and go in my life. It is sad, really; the man has potential, but will never leave here and never get the chance to let that potential grow. He would be good to arrange for a small place where you can pay by the week.”

He nods at a spot near the wall. “Place your bag there and go tell Elsie that I will see whoever is next. Then see if Burt can help you find a place.”

Tanya nods and puts her bag where she was told to and goes back into the reception area. Elsie is maintaining control in the room with an eagle eye. She nods when Tanya tells her to send the next person back. Consulting a ledger in front of her, Elsie calls out. “OK. Mrs. Hanson is next. Let me help you, dear.” The woman with the cane stands up and hobbles to the counter, passing through the swinging door and into the next room, accompanied by Elsie. Tanya looks at Burt and crooks a finger. The man looks about as if to be sure that the pretty girl means him, then swaggers forward.

Tanya smiles and says, “Hank said I can work here for a bit. Might only be a week this time, but I might be back every month or so. I do need a place to stay, but cannot afford to pay tourist rates. Can you help?”

“You’ve come to the right guy. I’ve got just the place for you. Grab your things and I’ll run you round. Less than a half block away, so it’s an easy walk back and forth.”

Tanya nods and goes back into the other room to get her bag. Hank and Elsie are busy with Mrs. Hanson so she just leaves. Burt is waiting for her and takes her arm as they leave the building. True to his word he stops at a door to a walkup only a short distance from the clinic and directly along the street. There are no street lights to speak of, but the light from the clinic window almost reaches this far. Burt removes a key from his pocket and opens the door to a dirty and musty-smelling landing. There is one small light bulb in the corridor, but it does not really provide more than a source for shadows. Burt points to the stairs at the end of the hall. “Up you go. Your spot is on the second floor.”

Tanya shakes her head. “What is it about these people that they have the floors all wrong? First floor, chum. First floor.” She proceeds to the rickety stairs and goes up. The creaking and groaning are enough to wake everyone in the building, except that they are likely used to the noise. What they might not hear is the low whistle from Burt as he watches Tanya climb the stairs from his vantage point behind and below her. At the first floor, she lets Burt go past her and follows him to the second door on the right. He unlocks and opens the door, sweeping his arms and saying, “Home sweet home. Take a look and then we can haggle over the price.”

Tanya carefully enters the room and almost gags. Peeling paint covers even older peeling paint. The place is one small room and a small space that she assumes is a closet. No kitchen, no bath. There is a bed in the room, a three drawer vertical chest, and a small table with one chair. The light is weak, barely illuminating the small area. She turns to Burt, but he holds up a hand. “Before you ask, the bath is down the hall. It’s shared, so be sure to wear a robe. There are three stalls so you can have privacy and the shower has a good curtain on it to keep peeping down. But you are in luck; only two other tenants on this floor and both are girls, so no worries, right? Hot water is rationed, so work out your schedule with the others, but it usually works out to about 15 minutes a day, with a buffer of another ten if you pay extra. Come on……paradise, right? And only 50 a week, 60 if you want the extra water. Paid in advance.”

Tanya almost bolted from the whole plan right there, but steadied herself. Turning to Burt, she asks, “No kitchen?”

The man chortles. “What sort of place you been living in? Nah. You got a small stuffer shack about half a block the other way past the clinic. Other than that, a soy cart usually comes by once a day about noon or so and you can get something to tide you over from Geeto. That’s about as good as it gets, Tanya. I can call you Tanya, right?”

Tanya idly waves her hand and nods. “OK. I will take it.” She reaches for a small purse and opens it to fish out some coins. She seems to waver after giving him 50 Nuyen, but closes the purse without taking the additional 10 out. Burt can see that there is little left in it after she puts the money into his hand. He looks closely at her and smiles. “Don’t worry; lots of folks here are on the way back up from the bottom. I am sure that Hank can spare you something if you are short to get something to eat. Probably not much though; that place runs pretty close to the ground for money.”

He takes two keys from the ring in his hand. “Here is the key to the front door and this is the key to the room. Don’t lose them. The fee to replace the keys is a month’s rent.” He smiles at her. “I will leave you to settle in. Still got to get my hand looked at.”

Burt shuts the door behind him as he leaves and Tanya goes to try out the bed. Gingerly sitting on it, she is pleasantly surprised to find it almost comfortable. She stretches out for a few minutes. “Cousin Jeremy would literally choke if he could see me right now. Or disinherit me. Or maybe both. What are you doing, Tanya?”

After a few minutes she rises from the bed and puts her few clothes in the closet and chest of drawers. It hits her that there really are people who live and survive in conditions like this. She doubts her ability to make it a week, but is determined to try. Going to the door, she turns and gives her new home a look before leaving and locking the door behind her. The stairs are scary enough in their own right, but the lack of adequate lighting makes them even more so and Tanya is glad when she finally makes it to the ground floor. Breathing a sigh of relief, she walks the short distance to the clinic and enters the building.

It seems that the same people are still in the waiting area, but Tanya quickly realizes that is not the case. The same number of people yes, but two have disappeared, their spaces filled by new arrivals. Burt smiles and waves and Elsie clears her throat as she motions to Tanya to come to the counter. “Doc said I was to show where things are and to get you settled in doing some of the chores. Come on back here and we will get you started.”

Tanya follows Elsie through the door, going all the way to the rear of the clinic to a small storage room. The nurse points out where the cleaning supplies are located, as well as some of the things Hank may call out for. Tanya notices a closed door and asks about it, but Elsie only shakes her head. “That is the door to Doc Hank’s private rooms. We are not allowed in there. It is where he keeps all the special medicines.”

Tanya is put to work doing pretty much whatever Hank or Elsie tells her to do. She is particularly glad for her regimen of physical activities has kept her fit, for the work here is indeed as hard as Hank had promised. She is allowed to go out to the street when the soy wagon pulls up and is very glad for the break. Here she meets Geeto, the wizened Asian who drives the wagon around. His selection is limited, but his prices are low. Or at least they seem low to Tanya. But she hears some complain about the rising prices, to which he replies that his costs keep going up. “Fragging Corporations.” There is a ragged chorus of “Fragging Corporations” as he says this, almost as if the line is a common mantra here.

Tanya wants a bit of time to see what is available so maneuvers herself to be last in line. When she gets to the counter window, she has still not made up her mind. A voice comes from behind her as Burt steps up to her side. “Hey, Geeto. Meet our newest resident, Tanya. Tanya, this is Geeto. What he doesn’t know about how to cook soy drek is not worth knowing. Hey, come to think of it, this is not worth much either. Still, it is food. And his prices really are pretty fair.”

He notices her hesitation. “Can’t make up your mind, eh? Let me order for you. So what is your speed; mild or hot?” When Tanya indicates hot, Burt smiles broadly, “My kind of girl.” Turning back to the truck window and Geeto, Burt orders a couple of Jack Burgers and adds some spiced fries. “If you like it hot, these will fry your brain. In a good way, of course.” He takes the food and watches Tanya carefully count out the coins from her nearly empty purse. Shaking his head, he guides her to a small bench against one of the buildings. He allows her to sit while he stands, leaning against the wall. Tanya bites into the burger and instantly feels the heat. Her eyes open wide and she has to suck in some air. She smiles up at Burt. “Good stuff. Have had better. And you are right; this drek is frying my brain.”

They both laugh then eat quietly. Tanya is glad that she is into spicy foods because this is some of the hottest she has ever eaten. She laughs, “I will have to remember to bring friends here to meet this guy.” She finishes the lunch and stands. “Thank you for sitting here with me, but now I need to get back to work. See you later.”

The afternoon is hard work as she fetches for both Hank and Elsie. She somehow gets the impression that they are tag teaming her to see if she will break. She grits her teeth and continues working, determined not to give them the satisfaction. The clinic stays busy all day long, with people coming in just as others leave. Hank treats everyone personally, providing care and small vials of medicine. He recognizes that Tanya has a way with people and asks her to sit with a couple of his difficult patients. She calms them down and is able to get information from them that even Hank was having a hard time gleaning. It is way after dark when the last patient leaves the clinic. Hank thanks Elsie, who nods to him and leaves, heading off to her husband and three kids. Hank motions for Tanya to come over to him. “You did well today. Better than I had thought you would, and you stuck it out, which really surprised me. And you have quite a way with people, which I can seriously use around here. Now, go home and come back tomorrow.”

Tanya lets him shoo her out the clinic door where she stands for a bit, trying to determine if she needs to answer the call from her stomach or from her tired bones and muscles that are aching for bed. She opts for the former and walks the short distance to the ‘shack, ordering a bit of food and eating it on the premises. She is one of several customers and the tables stay occupied until she has to leave or fall asleep over her plate. She takes the better part of valor and leaves the small restaurant and shop to return to her rented room. Entering the building, she is aware of a rhythmic thumping sound as she walks down the narrow corridor. The stairs seem creakier than before and she actually wonders if they will soon tumble down on one tenant or another. Perhaps on her. The slight banging is even louder on the first floor and is accompanied by moans and groans. Apparently one of Tanya’s floor mates had gotten lucky. Tanya stops off at the small bathroom at the end of the corridor to use the toilet and sign up for her rotation with the shower, noting that although she has a 15 minute ration of hot water, the showers are only available three days a week. “Well, at least I won’t be smelling worse than the rest of the people.” Returning to her room, Tanya strips and falls into bed, asleep in seconds, so tired that the sounds of the couple making love next door do not disturb her.

The internal alarm goes off at 6:00 AM. Upon waking, it takes Tanya a few moments to realize where she is. No Monique. No breakfast prepared for her. Worst, no private bathroom; and that particular need is upon her. Remembering Burt’s advice, she slips into a large men’s shirt as she has no robe and leaves the apartment to go down the hall to the shared facilities. After using the toilet, she starts to get into the shower then realizes that it is not her turn. Returning to the sink, she presses the button next to her room number for hot water, hoping that Burt had remembered to turn it on for her. He had. The warmth of the water on her hands and face was like heaven and she quickly washed up, using as little of the water as possible in order to conserve her ration.

She is just finishing when another woman walks into the room. She has a robe on and is carrying a towel. She uses the toilet as Tanya wipes her hands on her shirt, having forgotten to pack a towel as well. The woman looks at Tanya and says, “You must be the new girl. Burt said we were getting a floor mate for a week. Name is Hilda but most just call me Hil. Just a warning, I got this section of street between Agrat down that way and three blocks up. Burt said that you were not competition, but just so you know. OK?” Without waiting for a reply, the woman steps out of the robe and into the shower, turning on the water. Tanya takes the opportunity to exit the room and return to her small flat.

She stops at the ‘shack for a small breakfast then reports to the clinic for work, actually arriving before the first patient. Hank is there already; apparently he lives in rooms above the clinic, but Tanya is told that Elsie usually arrives by 7:30. Hank asks if she slept well then gives her chores to do. Once he determines that Tanya knows how to work the caf pot, he shows her where the supply of ground caf is and makes her first task to be getting the ancient pot going. Soon, Elsie arrives and seems genuinely glad to see that Tanya has returned for a second day. Patient follows patient and Tanya gets a good idea of what really working in a clinic like this is like. The list of injuries and illnesses would daunt a hospital staff, but Hank takes it all in stride, inspiring the others.

The day is a constant flow of people who need help, but most of Tanya’s chores are more prosaic; cleaning up messes and helping patients to and from cots. The rudimentary bathroom needs near-constant cleaning and she loses track of how many times she has to clean up vomit from people, cots, and the floor. This routine is broken by a quick lunch from Geetos wagon, but that respite is all too brief. Back at the grind, Tanya barely notices when the girl walks in. At first, she looks like another patient then Tanya realizes that she does not appear to be sick or injured. Her flowing hair is the color of a sunset, practically matching Tanya’s shorter locks. She stands at probably just a bit over five feet tall, and Tanya would wager that she might weigh about seven stone when wet, including the semi-revealing clothes she is wearing. Tanya admires the way the young woman walks and can appreciate the confidence she displays.

Tanya momentarily stops doing her current task as the young woman approaches Hank, who stands and embraces her, saying “Callie. It is so nice to see you. What have you been up to?”

The girl can hardly contain her excitement. “Ohmigod! I have to tell you!” She grips the man’s shirt tightly as she hops with near frantic delight. “That run……..uhh,” she cut herself off, looking about self-consciously to see just who might be listening before continuing, “that JOB……it was AWESOME.” She beams up at Hank as if a daughter seeking confirmation from her father. And he gave it to her by hugging her tightly and congratulating her.

“Well done, Callie.” He looks her over and turns her about. “You look OK; are you?”

She steps back and regards Hank with mock defiance, arms akimbo. “Now, you know I’m waaaay too quick to worry about any goons.”

He chides her about overconfidence and she rolls her eyes, as if saying “Yeah, yeah.”

As she laughs, Callie finally notices the other redhead in the room. Tanya is looking at her with undisguised interest and does not look away when the younger woman sees her. Callie is a bit non-plussed and stammers out an uncertain “Ummmm…….hello?”

Hank laughs and says, “Callie, meet Tanya. She is here for a week helping me out. If she works out I may ask her back again. Tanya, this is Calico. She is as much a daughter to me as if she were my own flesh and blood.”

Tanya stands from where she is wiping up some vomit near a cot. Her clothes and hands smell a bit……..off, so she does not offer to shake hands but nods. Her English accent is quite pronounced as she says, “Pleased to meet you, I’m sure.”

Calico just nods then turns back to Hank, taking his arm. “Do you think I can crash here for a couple of days? I have a line on a small place, but have to make some arrangements?”

Tanya watches as the two turn to walk toward the rear of the clinic. She can hear them talk as the girl does not seem to take any special cautions to be overheard. “Hank. Are you sure about her? I mean, why is she here? Especially right now?”

“Callie, a person could go crazy wondering why people do things. All I know is that she came in yesterday morning saying she needed to help and asked if I would give her a chance. She might be here out of some sort of guilt, or a need to lay low from someone or something for a few days. Hell, she might even be here to pay off some sort of debt or bet. What I do know is that she works hard at anything I or Elsie give her to do. And she does not complain about it. If she keeps this attitude for……………….”

As the voices trail off, Tanya again kneels on the floor to finish cleaning up the mess. She does not see the girl leave the clinic, but cannot help thinking of her. Her youthful enthusiasm was nothing short of infectious and Tanya hopes that she can maintain that through her life. She can remember another young woman with just that sort of attitude and being just that way when she was younger, before everything changed in a ball of fire on a busy street. Shaking her head at what was and what her life has become since, Tanya toils the afternoon away lost in thought; so busy that she barely notices the passage of time until she sees a shadow of someone standing behind her. Looking around, she sees Calico and as Tanya stands, the other woman says, “So. Hank recommended that I should get to know you and I was thinking maybe we could grab a bite to eat at the ‘shack down the street. Interested?”

Tanya knows that she smells horrible and probably looks even worse and rather admires the girl for not stepping back. She looks down at her clothes then back up. “Sure. That sounds rather nice, actually. Of course, I would be banned for life for going in there looking and smelling like this. Let me go over to my flat and change into something a bit nicer. Give me, say, a half hour?”

Calico nods, smiles, and walks away. Tanya watches her for a minute then smiles to herself. She looks about for Elsie then realizes that the nurse has already left for the day and it is only her and Hank. When she checks in, Hank tells her, “Phew, Tanya. You need to go get cleaned up.”

As Tanya turns away, he calls her back. “I do want to say that I have noticed that you are working very hard. I hope that you are finding whatever it is you came here for. Also, I understand that Callie asked you to eat with her. Thank you for saying yes. Now get out.”

Tanya leaves the clinic and goes to her first floor walkup where she steps into the shower fully clothed and turns on the hot water. She strips out of her clothes once the major portion of the day is washed off them. She enjoys the glorious feeling of hot water when the timer softly dings. Unused to the sound, it does not register in Tanya’s mind what the import is until the rush of icy water causes her to scream in surprise. She exits the shower stall as fast as she can, tripping over the sill and landing on the floor butt first. Cursing in English, Chinese, and French all at the same time, Tanya is highly embarrassed and glad that no one is watching. She carefully regains her feet and grabs her clothes, heading for the door. In the hallway, Tanya has to fish her room key from her sopping wet clothes, not easy to do in the buff and while dripping water. Once in the room, she leans against the door and starts laughing.

Getting dressed allows Tanya to regain a bit of her self-respect. She checks the time on her internal chrono and realizes she has bare minutes to get to the stuffer shack to meet Callie. She hangs her wet clothes over the chair and table and leaves the room, remembering to lock up before heading down the stairs. She hits the landing in a few strides and spies Hil and some man entering the building. She flattens against the wall to let them pass, flashing a smile and a short greeting to her floor mate and the lucky man before exiting. The street outside is dark, but there is sufficient light to barely guide her to the ‘shack.

Entering, Tanya is pleased to see that she is first and has not kept Calico waiting. She looks about for a seat and notices a couple getting ready to leave. Just then, Calico enters the small shop and Tanya greets her before pointing at the now vacant table. “Hello. Those seats just became vacant, shall we?”

The younger woman leads the way and Tanya cannot help but admire the view and the way Calico walks. The girl is sensuous, even if she is not meaning to be, and Tanya is not completely certain she does not do it on purpose. After all, she had been just that way when younger. To be honest, Tanya thought, she is not so much different now. The women sit at the table and look over the menu before placing their orders. Tanya looks at the food and sighs, “Got to watch my cred balance here. It would be tre easy to spend too much.”

After placing her order, Tanya waits for her companion to do the same before talking. The two make small talk while waiting for the food to arrive. When it does, Tanya cannot help but notice that the man has little spare attention for anything not poured into the catsuit Calico is wearing. When the man leaves, Tanya leans over a bit and says, “So, that was impressive. The poor bloke couldn’t keep his eyes off you, which probably comes in handy on occasion. I thought it was well done, and the clothes certainly help.” She grins a bit as she holds up a wallet. “It certainly took the challenge away from taking this. Sometimes I just cannot help myself, and you made it so easy. Let’s see if our chap is as bad off as I am right now.”

Tanya opens the wallet and frowns at the contents. “Actually, he is only doing just a smidgeon better than me, poor chap.” She sighs and looks over at Calico, noticing a slight frown that she interprets as disappointment. “I cannot really see the bloke hurt just because he likes the way you look.” She turns in the chair and calls out to the young man while holding his wallet up, relying on her photographic memory to give her his name. “Josh. Hey, Josh. You dropped this over here.”

The young man hurries over, this time interested in something other than Calico’s form-fitting clothing. He takes the wallet from Tanya’s hand and looks through it. “Thank you, Miss. Thanks a lot.”

“Not a problem. Glad to help. Try to be more careful, though. Not everyone will give it back.”

She turns back to Calico with a smile. “Now, where were we? Oh, yes. I could not help but overhear part of your conversation with Hank earlier today. It sounds like you got a new job?”

Calico’s emotions have switched twice in the past couple of minutes. The theft of the boy’s wallet, while expertly done, had disappointed her as taking advantage of someone already down about as far as he can go. The return of the wallet had impressed her. “So, the brit has scruples. Maybe…….”

She thinks a moment then smiles at Tanya as she leans closer, saying, “Nice lift, but why are you wasting your talents on working-class stiffs like us? Don’t they get kicked in the teeth enough by society? Those that live here in the Barrens already have so little that taking anything from them is just wrong. Now, the teeth-kickers; THAT’S where the real money is. Plus, there’s the added bonus that they FULLY deserve losing whatever you can take from them. Consider what it might mean to relieve some of them of the blood money that they have gathered for years, even generations. Now, that is something you could do with the sort of talent you just showed.”

Calico bites her lip and frowns a bit as she realizes that she may have said too much. After all, she does not know this woman very well; hell at all. For her part, Tanya sips at the tepid caf that had come with her meal and looks at the other woman. Putting the cup down, she carefully says, “So, you think I could take this show to the bigger leagues? I have to say that I am interested; especially if it will improve my financial position any. And I have to agree with you that there are a lot of rich blighters out there with too much money. Trouble is finding some that can be taken down. Do you have any ideas on that?”

Calico looks around. “Maybe we should not be talking about this here. I am crashing at Hank’s for a couple of days but I don’t need him knowing exactly what it is I do, you know what I mean? To him, I am still the street kid that stumbled into his clinic a few years ago. I was running from everyone and everything and he gave me a place to stay and food to eat. Hank knows SOME of what I do, but he worries a lot, just like a dad. He is genuinely nice and more like a father to me than mine was. What about your place?”

Tanya almost snorts her caf. “I have a first floor bedsit about a block from here. Certainly not posh, but it is home for the few days I am here. If you are finished with the nosh, we can go there.”

The two women quickly finish eating and rise. Tanya waves to Josh on the way out and he smiles at her before switching his gaze to her companion’s far sexier form. The walk to the flat is short and there are only a few people out on the street. Tanya spies Hil walking her path and waves, receiving a friendly nod and greeting in return. She warns Calico about the stairs and leads the way to her flat. Calico looks confused and says, “I though you said you lived on the first floor?”

Tanya smiles to herself then shakes her head and replies, “Where I come from, this is the first floor. Below is the ground floor and above is the second floor. Righto, here we are. Promise to not be too disappointed.”

Opening the door, Tanya ushers Calico into her small bedsit and the girl does not even cringe, so she must be used to this…….or worse, perhaps. She moves about the room to gather her now dry clothes and tosses them towards the dresser. Offering Calico the chair, Tanya goes to sit on the bed. “Sorry for the place. As I said, it is only home for a week. You should see my other place.”

Calico nods, “I have seen worse. I lived in worse for a time. Before I met Hank.” She shrugs, “Still don’t have much to call home, but I am making arrangements to move on up a bit.”

Tanya smiles and nods, “We all make do as we can. So what about your plan?”

Calico wonders if she has already said too much, but she is already in, so what the frag, right? “My usual operation is to find rich assholes who want to “protect” me or “take care” of me. Of course, the protection usually has a price tag of my virtue. I suppose the outfit helps put the idea in their heads. I usually go meekly with them then leave, after helping myself to some of their more portable valuables.”

Tanya looks at Calico with some surprise and a bit of concern. “I can see why you do not want Hank to find out everything. I am not judging you, but it seems to me that sort of life can be dangerous.” She holds up a hand. “Yes, I know. Just living can be dangerous. And I do not even really care if you are bartering your virtue. Hell, I have done that many times. We do what we need to do to survive.”

Calico is a bit flustered by the direction the conversation is taking. She is almost ready to just leave when Tanya continues. “Please hear me out. I like your style. I like it a lot. I especially like that you have made something of yourself and are looking at improving your position in life. If you can trust me, I can show you a different way. I know trust is a very large word and hard to earn, so let me give you something to chew on, if you have a few minutes.”

Calico seems torn between staying and leaving, but her curiosity wins over. Nodding, she settles back into the chair. “Sure. Go ahead and convince me.”

Smiling, Tanya starts. “My full name is Lady Tanya Astasia Marisart. You may have heard of me and I may even be on your blighter…uh, asshole……list. It doesn’t really matter if you have heard of me or not, actually. You can use your commlink to get a very public bio of me from the social circuit who’s who listings. Suffice it to say that I do what you do, but on a larger scale. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth and you could say it is still there. I grew up bored with my life and learned to steal things. Small time at first, then more and bigger. Now I get paid thousands of Nuyen for what I do. I live my life in a society that allows me to do what I like, which is stealing from the very people on your bli….asshole list. I do not believe much in luck, preferring to make my own. I try to plan every job meticulously and I am well equipped and highly successful. With me so far?”

Calico nods in silence, not sure what she is supposed to say at this point.

Tanya continues, “Sometimes I do contract work and often that is not in the rarefied social atmosphere I am used to. I know I cannot learn much in a week here, but it is more of a refresher than an initial class. It has been a long time since I actually lived in a place like this, although I assure you that the lower slums of London are much like the Barrens and I know those all too well. Anyway, I have been giving money to Hank for his clinic for a while and thought that I could come and try to get a feel for life here. Hank does not know why I am here and he does not need to know. I have no designs on him or his clinic other than to help.”

Tanya pauses before continuing, “I think we could perhaps work together as a team. What do you think? If you are interested, come see me when I am finished here. Give me your comm code and I will find you. I can show you a new way of life if you want it and are able to reach for it. And I can offer friendship. The ball, as you colonists say, is now in your court.”

Calico thinks for a bit before answering. “This could be what I have been looking for? She might be able to help me and it sounds like she has similar goals.” “Before I take you up on that, can you share some information on your skill set?”

Tanya sits back, not sure where to begin or really what to say. “Skill set? Hmmm, I will try. You have already seen that I can grab, and trust me, that was child’s play. I have extensive knowledge of what is worth stealing, be it art, jewelry, old coins, and the like, as well as a very good working knowledge of security systems. I can climb and descend walls and small chutes to get into places by bypassing normal entry and exit routes. I am rather good with locks; all sorts, and have equipment designed to assist me to bypass many of the best made, up to military grade, anyway, and I tend to leave THAT level of security to others. Speaking of others, I do have connections that can help me out with a specific job if I feel that my skills are not up to the task. One of my better assets is, quite frankly, me. My name and family title go way back in England, and I have found that many colonists are entranced by a noble title. I have the grace and etiquette to move in high society circles and am almost always near the top of the “Must Invite” list for all the best parties. I am more than willing to sleep with the men and women I plan to rob if it will get me closer to the treasure I want, and despite my current attire, I know how to dress, walk, and talk the part. Enough?”

Calico sits and digests this information for a bit then makes a decision. “OK. I will take you up on that, at least I will see how it works. Here is my code and I will wait for the call.”

Tanya stands up and holds out a hand. “Don’t worry, I washed it. I would offer some wine if I had some wine. But I also need some sleep or I will be dragging at the clinic tomorrow. You have the rest of the week to think about my offer, although I hope that you do not get cold feet. I think we will make a good team.”

Calico laughs as she shakes Tanya’s hand. She says her farewells and leaves Tanya alone in her small flat. Tanya looks at the closed door and sighs, “It would have been worth the lost sleep to get her out of those clothes and into bed, but she did not give any hints she was willing and it is not worth it to push.”

Tanya goes to bed, making sure that her alarm is set. It takes a few minutes to fall asleep; partially because she is thinking of how she and Callie could work together and partially because she is thinking of how she and Callie would do in bed together. She finally drifts off, to waken on time to her alarm. She dresses and goes to the room at the end of the hallway to use the loo, wash the sleep from her face, and brush her teeth. She checks the time and sees that she can still grab something from the shack before going to the clinic. Her day at work starts out fast and goes fast. She sees Calico twice during the day, exchanging greetings and smiles with her new friend. Hank takes note and finds an opportunity to thank Tanya for being friendly with the girl.

By now, Tanya almost has the work down to a routine. She even manages to work it out that she has some time to watch Hank at work with the patients when he calls her over to help keep someone calm. She has a most soothing manner and her personality seems perfect for this sort of thing. Hank’s skill is amazing and she is quite impressed. She remembers how helpless she had felt when she could not help poor Kumiho. If she had been skilled even just a bit, she could have used that kit and she does not want to feel that way again. So at the end of the day, she corners Hank and asks if she can stay past the week to learn some of the basics of first aid, breathing a sigh of relief when he says yes.

The remaining days of the week slip past. Tanya works hard and manages to even impress Elsie by the end of the week. She sends a text message to Monique telling her that she will be staying an extra day or two to learn some first aid skill. The message also refers to Calico in general terms. Tanya actually feels sorrow that she will be leaving. She has come to know a number of the people here and her small bedsit is not so horrible once she gets used to it. After figuring out the way things creak and groan, it will be hard going back to the relative silence of Suite U3A. She will even miss the sounds of Hil and her clients.

All too soon it is the final day. Burt gives her his comm code and tells her that if she is serious about coming back in a month that she should give him a call and he will make a place available for her. Several of the people that she has helped here come to wish her goodbye. Hank has to chase people away just so he can complete the training he wants to do with her. With tears in her eyes, Tanya thanks him for everything and tells him that, indeed, she did find some of what she was looking for.

View
Pay Day Part Dieux

Monique finishes her small tea with a shallow sigh and gathers her things. Her errands in the area include stopping at a shop that specializes in teas, where she picks out the special blend that her mistress likes and arranges for it to be delivered to the flat. After that, the next stop is “Le Clerc”. The shop sign does not indicate what is sold inside, but its clientele does not need to ask. Francoise Le Clerc is a master crafter of high-end fine footware, and it is said in the circles that count that one only wears a pair of Le Clerc to anything of any significance. Monique enters the shop and her senses are immediately aware of the smells and sights of the owner’s goods.

She wanders about a bit, looking at what is new and what Lady Tanya might be interested in. A shop assistant waits patiently for her to look about and give an indication that she needs assistance, and will step forward when Monique turns to look for him. The young man gives a slight bow and asks in an English slightly accented by French if he may be of service. As Monique opens her mouth to reply, she is interrupted by a woman coming forward. In perfect French she berates the young man and sends him off to perform a chore. Turning to Monique she steps forward and busses both cheeks as the two speak in French.

“I am so very sorry, Miss Monique. The boy is new and does not know all of the special clients yet. And if he does not learn quickly, he will not be employed here long. Sometimes it is so difficult to find quality help any more.”

Monique will maintain a straight face through this as she knows that the woman is completely serious. She nods her head and replies, “I know how true that is, Madame Grevier. I am sure that you will have him trained in no time.”

“I am sure that you are here about Lady Marisart’s boots, but is there anything else I can personally assist you with?”

Monique nods, pointing to a pair of evening slippers. “There is, yes. I noticed these slippers when I entered the store. I am certain that my mistress has a dress that these would go perfectly with. Do you think it is possible to have Monsieur Le Clerc make a pair to fit?”

The woman’s eyes never leave Monique as she quietly nodes. “For Madame Marisart anything is possible. Come, sit and I will get your color swatches from the file while you examine the boots.”

The woman leads Monique to a small table and comfortable chair and departs for the back rooms where the clients keep color swatches of their clothes so that the shoes can match. A younger version of the woman appears from the rear with a longish box in her arms. Monique recognizes her and stands. Again the cheek busses as she says, “Sophie! So good to see you again. It is too long since we have had a nice tea and chat.”

“The young woman nods, happy to see her friend. “Yes, it has been far too long. But there is this responsibility plus the classes at university, and there is the part time I still do for Madame Harridan…….so many demands against one’s time.”

She places the box on the table and opens it as Monique resumes her seat. She pulls a small magnifying glass from a pocket of her dress and offers it to Monique, who takes it without a word. Monique begins to carefully examine the stitching on the over-the-knee length boots that Tanya has had made for her. The craftsmanship is extraordinary, as usual, but it would be considered a deep insult if one were to simply take the boots and shoes sold here without looking. The custom that wanders in from the street has been known to be guilty of just such an offense, but none of the regulars would dare make that mistake more than once.

The two girls exchange small talk about work and Monique listens carefully to what Sophie has to say about Mrs. Harridan, a woman renowned for her lavish parties and for her pearls. She asks pointed questions designed to elicit information that her mistress might find useful. As she finishes examining the boots, Monique places them back in the box with a slight nod, then asks about Paul. Sophie blushes and leans forward to say, “Oh Monique, he has asked me to marry him. I said yes.” She draws a small chain from inside the neck of her demure dress and shows an engagement ring. The pair giggle and look at the ring then Sophie tucks it away.

“You have not told your mother?”

“No, not yet. You know how she feels about Paul’s family. But I will have to say something soon as we want to get married when I finish my classes in the Spring.”

“Yes. You should tell her soon.” Monique opens her purse and draws out a cred stick. “I do not want to forget this, but Lady Tanya sends her regards and hopes that this will help pay for the last educational credits at university.”

Sophie’s hand takes the stick and grasps that of her friend. “Your employer has always been such a supporter. I don’t know how I would have gotten through the courses without her help.”

Monique smiles at her, then motions for her to put the stick away as the older woman arrives. She pats the box and says, “We will take these. Please have them delivered. Here is a stick to cover the charges.”

The senior clerk will pass the stick and box back to Sophie then turn to Monique, a selection of color swatches in her hand. She and Monique discuss the color of the dress that is to be matched and settle on the appropriate swatch. Sophie returns with the cred stick and Monique nods to both, receiving additional cheek busses before departing the exclusive shop. She contemplates her last stop of the day as she walks to the corner and waits for the number 15 bus.

One transfer later, she steps off the bus and looks up at a rather seedy-looking shop in the low-rent neighborhood of the Downtown district. The name on the shop door is supposed to be “Pyramid Properties”, although most of the letters are missing some detail and three have been completely scraped off by vandals. Lenny, the man that owns the company, is a washed up realtor that has managed to turn some older and mainly decrepit properties into emergency safehouses and last ditch bolt holes for various people who may need to lay low from time to time. He asks no questions, but has a strict set of rules for his “tenants”. Anyone breaking the rules is not welcome to use any of his properties in the future. Needless to say, he does not have many issues with people breaking his rules.

She enters the small office and goes to the counter. She is not surprised to find that no one is presently manning the office or that she can hear the moans usually associated with sexual activity coming from the rear room. It seems that the girl Lenny has on here has nothing but sex on her mind as she is always in the back with some local boy or another when Monique comes by. She presses the buzzer at the counter, then again before she hears someone cursing from the back and voices from two people.

A young woman comes to the front, straightening her blouse. She looks at Monique and frowns, “Oh it is you come again, is it.”

Monique looks at the woman and nods. “Here to make the holding payment for Rachael Adams.”

The clerk “Adams……Adams…….Rachael Adams? Let me see, now. Don’t seem to be able to see that……….”

Her words are interrupted as Monique slides some credits across the counter. “Oh yes. Here you are. Must have looked right past it the first time. Yes.”

The credits on the counter disappear in a manner that an accomplished pickpocket like Monique can appreciate. The other girl lifts a stick reader to the counter and Monique slides a cred stick in and has the amount deducted from it that is meant to hold open Tanya’s emergency bolt hole in her second name. As she does a young man comes out from the back. He leans against the wall and lights a cigarette, coughing as the smoke from the cheap brand he buys fills his lungs. He looks Monique up and down, leering at her in a thinly disguised manner that indicates his desire. Monique is no stranger to sex, but the look this man gives her every time she comes in gives her the creeps and leaves her feeling a bit unclean. She is very glad when the credit transaction is completed and she can replace the stick in her purse. As she turns to leave she looks at the young woman on the other side of the counter. “Thank you, again. And by the way, your blouse is buttoned crooked. Sloppy.”

The girl looks down and calls out some obscenities at Monique’s back as the French maid exits the shop chuckling to herself. Shaking off the eerie feeling she always gets from the realty office, she makes her way back to the bus stop and catches the first bus going her way. Several transfers later she arrives at the corner opposite the Gates Undersound Hotel. Debarking, she moves to the hotel and makes her way to suite U3A, her temporary home. She sighs as she enters the luxurious flat; payday can be such a bother, but she did get some information about Mrs. Harrid that she can update the current file with. The grand party that Sophie had mentioned might be a chance to make off with some of those pearls.

Lady Tanya will be pleased, and that is what is important to Monique Chevalier.

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Pay Day
Looking to the Future

Monique stepped off the bus at the stop for Seattle’s Little China Town at just after 10AM. The main street was crowded with various Chinese shops, restaurants, and residences and there were many people on the street at this hour of the morning. Residents were going about the business of managing and serving the visitors, mingling with the people from Seattle as well as tourists from other sprawls, all looking for some sort of bargain……something different that they could take home. Restaurants, antique shops, clothiers, and others vied with taverns and drug dens for the Nuyen of the visitors.

Although nearly invisible to the common eye, the signs of the three main Triads operating within Seattle were evident to someone who knew what to look for, and Monique had made it a priority to learn about the people that employed her mistress. After all, someone had to look after Lady Tanya as the British noblewoman seemed a bit unwilling to take care of herself. Monique knew the signs and symbols of the Octagon Triad that had made use of Tanya’s specialized skills on a number of occasions in the last three years. She also knew the colors and symbols of the opposing Triads and knew enough to stay away from them. Even though neither she nor her employer were officially part of the Octagon, the relationship was a bit close and they were looked at with some distrust by both Yellow Lotus and the 88s.

Monique made her way down the street to her destination; a quiet and unassuming shop with a rather innocuous sign above the door proclaiming this to be “Xialin’s Antiques – Purveyors Of Fine Antiques From The Orient”. Opening the door, she passed into the well-lit shop, the small bell above the door announcing her entrance. Not that she needed any sort of announcement; the state-of-the-art security system had already alerted the inhabitants of her approach and the two large men near the door were ready for her.

She greeted both by name, using the few words of Chinese that she had picked up over the past couple of years. Both nodded, although they did not remove their eyes from her until the shop owner arrived. The beaded curtains separating the main shop from the rear slithered apart and Ni Ni Xiaolu stepped into the front of the shop. The beautiful Chinese woman moved to Monique and kissed her cheeks before saying in near-flawless French, "Monique, how nice to see you again. How are you and how is Lady Tanya?’

Monique tried to respond in what little Chinese she knew and fumbled badly. Ni Ni, gracious as ever, laughed and said, “Your pronunciation is getting better all the time. Just a bit more practice, I think. I was just sitting down to tea; would you like to join me?”

Monique laughs as well and nods, allowing the shop owner lead her through the beads into the rear of the shop. They passed through a small work area and a much larger storage area, both occupied by people working at cataloguing and caring for the various items that Ni Ni deemed fit to be displayed on her shelves. Finally reaching Ni Ni’s private suite, the two women sat down as a young girl of perhaps ten served them tea and sweets. The girl, Ying, remembers Monique and asks if she wants to see how much she has improved her palming skills. She entertains the pair for several minutes and waits for judgment. Monique claps and nods, actually impressed by the girl’s ability. She patiently shows the budding pickpocket and sneak thief where she could do better, demonstrating her own significant skill in liberating the unwitting of their small valuables.

After the girl leaves, Ni Ni looks to Monique, “Thank you for helping. She is good and will be better. And you are a good teacher. If my sister had not died so young she would be teaching her daughter, and I know that Ying’s father appreciates your help, even if you are not Chinese and he cannot make himself tell you that in person.”

The pair drink tea and make small talk until they have finished. Ni Ni then places a small cred stick and a cred slotter on the table between them, saying "As usual, here is the payment. I think that Tanya will be pleased at what I was able to get for the jewelry she brought in. And I am to pass on that the Octagon is very pleased with the way she handled the Yellow Lotus jade. That embarrassment will set Yellow Lotus and Red Dragon relations behind for years. Already several middle managers for the Lotus have been “retired” and the stick contains an additional bonus above what was agreed upon earlier. She is getting a lot of attention within the higher ranks of the Octagon and should be getting additional offers soon."

Monique thanks the Chinese woman and pockets the cred stick without hesitation, blatantly ignoring the stick slotter. Ni Ni smiles and escorts the French woman back to the front shop and to the door, where she gives instructions to one of the guards to attend to Miss Monique until she gets back on the bus. The Triad guard nods and walks with Monique to the end of the street and patiently waits with her for the bus to come by. Monique gets in some much-needed practice in talking to the large man while he spends his time looking about to make sure that no one bothers his charge.

Once on the bus, Monique has some time to consider the relationship between her mistress and Ni Ni. The pair seem absolutely suited for each other, yet they do not seem to be in any hurry to take the step of living together. They have been lovers for at least two years now, with the beautiful Chinese woman being the most frequent visitor to Tanya’s bed of any of her acquaintances and Monique is sure that the two women are much more to each other than the casual fling. Monique shrugs her shoulders and turns her attention to her next task for pay day.

The young French woman changes buses several times and finally arrives in Renton. She walks through the streets unhindered, but she feels the eyes of many of the locals upon her. She is not dressed for the region and attracts attention like flies to honey. She is glad for the comfortable feel of the flic knife in its arm slide, a second one at the small of her back, and the third in the thigh sheath on her left leg. She makes her way to Hank’s street medical establishment. Actually, establishment is a rather large word to use to describe what Hank has. It is more like a squatter’s bin than a doctor’s office. He could have been a fine medical professional, but take pride in taking care of the poor and downtrodden of this near-blighted area.

The bear of a man that is Hank sees her enter the room that doubles for a waiting room and triage center. He smiles at her approach and rises from where he is looking at a man sitting in one really dilapidated chair that is clearly past its prime. He holds out his hand, engulfing Monique’s as he shakes it vigorously. “Welcome, welcome. And how are you and that nice woman you work for?”

Monique carefully flexes her fingers after the shake to be sure that all of them still work correctly. Removing a cred stick from her purse and handing it to the large man, she says, “She is quite well, Hank. We are both quite well, thank you. She told me to tell you that she will come personally next time, but that she is very busy today. She does send her regards and hopes that this will help you with procuring some of the herbs and preparations that you need.” Hank nods and takes the stick, putting it into a pocket of his overalls. “You thank her from the bottom of my heart and tell her that there will be those here that get medical attention because of her.” After spending a few more minutes at the makeshift clinic, Monique takes her leave, returning to the bus stop.

After a couple more transfers, Monique arrives at Capitol Hill. Walking to the old church, she steps inside. Her hand move involuntarily in the motions of the cross as she enters and walks down the aisle between the pews. She finds the somewhat enigmatic woman known as Our Lady Of Mercy in the garden outside the main building. How the pretty woman ended up in this place doing mercy work is a mystery that she does not share, but here she is. Like Hank, she rises from what she is doing and graciously receives the cred stick that Tanya regularly sends to her. “Please let Lady Tanya know how much I appreciate this gesture on her part. It is always a pleasure to see either of you.”

Monique replies that she is also grateful to be able to bring something to help. She does not remain long, as the church makes her a bit uncomfortable. Too, even though the woman dressed as a nun has never said anything, she does not really believe that the woman is really a nun and just being this close to the inside of a church is unsettling. She quickly leaves the church and walks back to the bus stop. She checks the time on her internal commlink and smiles; just enough time to go to the sweet shop she likes and pamper herself with some cocoa and French pastry before she has to set off to complete Lady Tanya’s little monthly deliveries.

Pay day can be so tiring.

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Death in the Dark
A Maid's Adventure

Monique was enjoying a night out. She would be the first to tell anyone that she loved her job, that she had a tremendous respect for her employer, but she needed a bit of “me” time. Fortunately, Lady Tanya was generous with the days and evenings off. Tonight was special. She had been waiting for several weeks for the Grand Buddha to play a concert in Seattle. The Rock/Indie fusion group was the most successful band to tour the West Coast in years and they were in Seattle for two nights only. Her mistress had surprised her weeks earlier with a pair of tickets and Monique had asked one of her friends, Jimmy Barnes, to be her date for the night.

Everything went swimmingly. The concert was everything it was advertised to be. The warm up band was frenzied and good, working the crowd like the experts they were becoming and they had the audience on its feet. When the Grand Buddha came onstage the crowd screamed so loud that they could not begin their set for almost fifteen minutes. The band played for almost three hours straight; only taking two ten minute breaks. Monique and her date had been on their feet with everyone else, screaming and singing along with the most popular tunes of the day.

Mostly hoarse, but loving it, the two left the huge sports arena to walk to the bus stop. They were reliving some of the concert vibe when a light-colored step van raced up to them and screeched to a stop mere feet from them. The rear doors slammed open and two masked men jumped out; one armed with a pistol and the other a short barreled shotgun. The man with the pistol grabbed at Monique while the other covered Jimmy, who was braver than he was smart. Jimmy jumped at the men while calling out for help, but was no match for the man with the gun, who laid him low with one swipe with the shotgun. The thug aimed the gun at the prone and unconscious man but the other told him that the man was no threat and he needed help with the struggling Monique.

And he did. Monique used her superior agility to almost break free and was turning to run when a blow from behind felled her. She never felt the pain of being tossed into the van. She woke up tied to a chair in a dimly lit room. She pulled against her bonds, testing them, but they were not giving way. Her moans had garnered some attention and the door opened as three men entered the room, an Ork and two humans. The Ork cradled a shotgun and stood near the door while the humans walked up to her. One knelt behind her and tested the ropes, making sure that the knots were still good. The other held Monique’s Meta commlink in his hand. He sneered at Monique as he tossed it onto a wobbly table.

“Your whoring mistress cannot even give you a decent link. Why do you stay with her?”

Monique looked at the man, trying to come up with a plan that would save her life. “I owe her only what loyalty she pays for. Why have you done this?” Then her mind flashes to a vid story she had recently seen, one of Petra’s pieces. Several personal servants to high society figures had been kidnapped recently. Three had turned up dead after their employers had refused to pay any ransom. Putting a scared face on and fear in her voce, “What have I done to you?”

“You and your employer have taken from the poor and lived upon our backs for too long. She is a fragging whore and deserves the worst punishment that can be meted out to her. We will take what she prizes most; her money.”

With that, the man pulls a commlink from his pocket and makes a call. Tanya answers on the third ping and the man launches into a diatribe against the wealthy and rich but does not get far before Tanya breaks the connection. The man fumes, yelling at the link as if that would make any difference. The other human steps forward to calm him down and gets backhanded for his trouble. The man only calms down when he hears the Ork behind him laughing. When some additional invective is spewed at the Ork, he raises the shotgun as if to fire it, which seems to calm the man down.

Turning back to Monique, he snarls. “She had better stay on next time or you will suffer for it.” He calls again and leads off by telling Tanya that he has Monique. She asks for proof and the commlink is pushed into Monique’s face. “Tell her, bitch. Tell her that she pays or you die.”

Monique complies, a bit breathlessly, telling her employer that she is unharmed for now but that the three men seemed very serious. The man holding the link pulls it back and says, “Now do we have your attention?”

The Tanya that answers is a far different person; her tone of voice is contrite and faintly subservient as she asks what she needs to do. The man tells her how much he wants and tells her to stay be her comm and he would get back to her in three hours to tell her where to take the money. he tosses in the obligatory “Do not call the police or else” phrase and disconnects.

The man looks around at his companions. “Did I not tell you that this one would be the biggest yet. That whoring bitch has so much money that she passes out 100 credit tips as if it was water. This is the big score. All the research paid off, eh?”

The others grudgingly admitted that it certainly seemed so and sauntered out of the room, laughing at some secret joke. Monique mentally thumbed open her implanted commlink and contacted Tanya, who picked up on the first ping this time. “How are you, Monique?”

“I am well, but I am concerned about Jimmy. The last I saw he was unconscious on the street.”

“I will ask around the various hospitals he might have been taken to. Now as for you; do you know where you are?”

“No, milady. I was unconscious as well and only woke up here tied to a chair.”

“Hmmmm. Good thing I know an excellent decker. I will call Cora Lee in on this and we will find you. Keep the link open.”

The three hours passes faster than Monique had thought it would and the men come back into the room, taking up the same positions as before. The man with the commlink in his hand is actually smiling as her saunters up to the tied up woman. “Time to check in. She better be ready with the money.”

Monique allows a bit of panic to set onto her face as she says, “And what if she doesn’t pay?”

The man laughs and replies, “Then she gets you back in pieces.”

The Ork laughs, “After we has our fun with you, get it?”

He makes the connection and a subdued Tanya answers. “I need more time. Another hour, please?”

The man spits angrily into the link and brings up the pistol he is holding in his other hand. The Ork interrupts his action by saying, “Hey! Ask for more money. Let her buy the hour.”

“That is a good idea, Gond.” He turns back to the commlink and says, “OK. One hour is an added 10K Nuyen. Got it? And only this one time. The next time she dies.”

Tanya sputters a thanks and promises to have the entire amount ready in an hour. The men laugh again as their leader disconnects the call and clasps the Ork across the shoulder. “Gond getting smart. I like that idea.”

nearly an hour passes after the men leave when Monique spots a shadow at the open widow. Tanya slips in and quietly moves over to cut the bonds, freeing her maid from the chair. She whispers, “Cora Lee was able to get a fix on you. Are you hurt?”

Monique whispers back, “Mostly my pride. Got taken by rookies. It seems to be only the three of them out for the big score. The boss is a nutcase if I have ever seen one; there is an Ork with a shotgun and one other. I think the last one is the guy who does the research. They knew right where I would be and who you are. And they have done this before. They killed those three girls whose employers did not pay.”

She pauses, “Jimmy?”

“Jimmy is fine. Bump on the head and I dare say he could use some TLC from his girlfriend. He will be out of hospital tomorrow and you can ask him yourself.”

A noise from the other room brought a finger to Tanya’s lips. “Shhh. I will be over here. Let’s make sure that this stops here.”

Tanya moves over to the far wall, hidden in the shadows. The three men enter the room, but this time the Ork moves closer with the others, smiling and licking his lips in anticipation of having his fun with the human before killing her. The leader once again raises the comm to make contact when everything begins to go haywire on him. A slight snick and the second human grabs at his neck before collapsing. The leader stares stupidly at his fallen companion, but the Ork reacts a bit faster, starting to bring his shotgun up. The look of shock on his face is priceless as the thin, almost invisible line of a monofilament whip lashes around his arm. The whip is one of the most fearsome melee weapons made and in the hands of a skilled user it can cut through flesh and muscle and bone like a knife through butter, even Ork flesh and muscle and bone.

The Ork stares at his twitching forearm on the floor holding the shotgun as what remains of his arm spurts blood from the severed artery. He gurgles something unintelligible in Or’Zet before collapsing in a spreading pool of blood. The leader is completely stunned by the shock of seeing this and stands still, staring at the severed arm and the Ork, providing a perfect target for Tanya. The whip lashes out again, this time wrapping about the neck of the leader and pulling tight. The man’s severed head flopped several feet from the falling body.

Tanya moves over to nudge a toe at the two dead men, careful not to step in the blood pooling around them. Neither moves so she and Monique lift the darted and unconscious man into the chair and tie him into it. A search of this room and the next reveals recordings of their prior kidnappings, including the rapes and murders of the unfortunate girls who had died. Each of the three men figured prominently in all of the recordings, and only the three. Tanya took the bound man’s silenced pistol and held it to his chest before firing three rounds into his heart. She placed the pistol in the hand of the headless leader and pulled the trigger again, sending three additional rounds into the sitting man’s body.

She took the recording of Monique’s kidnapping and left the rest in a pile on the table and motioned for her maid to recover her Meta link. Next, Tanya opened a comm to Petra. “Hey. It is me. You want the scoop on the maid killers? You should come quickly to the address I am linking to you now. Do not wait too long or someone else will find this first. Vids tell the story and it was all wrapped up by a Good Samaritan. Love ya. Ta”

With that Tanta and Monique left by the window and climbed down the fire escape to the Mirage and left the scene of death.

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Coin is Coin
The Triad is not sooooo bad.

The comm came on while Tanya was in the shower. The tag line on her cybered link indicated that it was Fu Chien, an Octagon fixer that called on her from time to time. That he was calling at this time of the morning meant that he thought it was important, so Tanya ought to think it was important. Mentally thumbing the link to active she responded to the Triad man’s summons. She used his native language which always seemed to please him.

“Yes, Fu Chien, how may I help you?”

The Triad fixer responded, “Your Chinese is getting better all the time. Perhaps some day you will come in and be fully integrated into the Octagon.”

Tanya laughed, “Perhaps some day, Fu Chien, but I like my independence at this time. Again, how can I help you?”

“We are in need of your particular skills. Can you be at 1427 Argo street at eleven this morning? You will be briefed when you arrive.”

Tanya brings up a map of Seattle and punches in the coordinates. The name Blended Spoon popped up, apparently some sort of eatery. “Yes, I can make that meeting. I hope that the food is passable.”

Fu Chien rings off with a chuckle and Tanya finishes her shower. Stepping out, she dries off and moves into her bedroom, where Monique has already laid out her clothes for the morning. Hanging up the towel, Tanya calls out to her maid in French, “Change in plans, Monique. I have been offered a meet at some low class restaurant and will need to dress down a bit from what I originally planned. What do you recommend?”

After some back and forth, the day’s attire is agreed upon. Monique carefully hangs up the rejects and brings out clothes better suited to the area of the sprawl the Blended Spoon sits in. While eating the breakfast provided by the hotel’s excellent kitchens, Tanya pulls up the area of the meet and looks at the grid guide maps of the area. A quick escape is probably not going to be required, but in Tanya’s estimation the time you do not plan for it is the time you will need it. Satisfied that the area had several routes she could use, she closes the programs and calls up the restaurant to place a lunch order and check on parking restrictions. The menu options make her wonder if the place is better than its location would indicate.

The British woman arrives at the meeting site a quarter hour early. Parking her Mirage in the lot near the restaurant, she looks around as she walks slowly to the restaurant. Entering, Tanya finds herself pleasantly surprised by the neat and orderly décor and the rapidity with which the hostess approaches her to see to her needs. Looking around, Tanya spots the contact. Mei Lin. She has never learned the contact’s full name, or if Mei Lin was even her real name. The woman was always brusque and only gave out enough information as necessary before leaving.

The Triad briefer nods and Tanya tells the hostess that she is expected and makes her way to Mei Lin’s table. She sits and Mei Lin waits for the waitress to bring water before beginning the briefing. She places a slim folder and a medium-sized box on the table in front of Tanya and says, “You will go to the location described in the instructions and replace the described item with the one in this box. The contact code for success is included in the instructions. There is no contact code for failure. Your customary fee is pre-approved, along with a bonus that is dependent on success. I have no answers to any of your questions. Everything you need is in the instructions. As always, you will burn the documents after reading them.”

Mei Lin allows herself to grimace at the thief. “On a personal note, I do not see why we are using you, but that is not my decision.” Rising, the slight woman leaves the restaurant with out another word. The waitress come to the table. “Dining alone, then are we?”

Tanya laughs. “So it would seem, yes. I called earlier and placed an order for Tanya.” The waitress nods and disappears into the kitchen, returning shortly with the meal. “Lucky you. You are not one of our regulars; how did you know it was our specialty?” Tanya smiles and taps her forehead before digging in. The food is very good and the waitress is attentive. Even though the restaurant fills up at noon, the young woman seems to be able to balance all of the orders with spending personal time with each customer. As Tanya slots her credstick in the receiver presented for payment, she says, “You have a rare gift for a waitress, or practically anyone. I hope that you go far in this world.” She leaves a hefty tip with the girl and gives her a card with her comm code and instructions for her to call her if she ever wanted to move on to something else.

After arriving back home, Tanya takes the packet and the box into the suite’s fourth bedroom, which she has converted into a small private workroom and planning station. She calls Monique in as she opens both instruction folder and box. Both women look at a small jade statue carefully packed in the box then turn their attention to the instructions. An hour later, Tanya understands why the Octagon is using her on this one. The job is to replace an surprisingly valuable statue with a flawed fake. The fake would pass normal examination, but an expert would see the flaws quickly. The target is a mid-level player in the Yellow Lotus, a rival Triad and perhaps the strongest one in Seattle. Tanya looks at her maid and friend, “Well, we won’t be able to ask for Octagon assistance on this one. Pull up anything we have on this guy and where he lives while I scan these blueprints.”

By early evening they know about all they are going to know. The timing of the theft is set to coincide with a visit to the Triad man by an influential member of the Red Dragon, the original parent Triad. There has been bad blood for years between the Yellow Lotus of Seattle and the Red Dragon of the homeland. The visit was an attempt by the Yellow Lotus to get back in the good graces of the organization that had once tried to exterminate them. The Lotus man was inordinately proud of his collection of jade statues and the original of the one on Tanya’s work table was his prize. He was sure to show it off to the Red Dragon representative who is an expert in Ming Dynasty jades. The resulting insult and embarrassment when the forgery was found out could set the negotiations back years, if not rekindling open hostilities between the Triads. Tanya nods at the plan’s concept and boldness. She also nods at their decision to use the British thief instead of one of their own people.

The pair meticulously plan out the operation over the next three days, determining the equipment needed and how best to break into the vault. The instructions from the Octagon were explicit in requiring that the intrusion and the theft be seamless and invisible. That meant no noisy explosions and that no alarms be set off. Fortunately, the packet contained extremely detailed descriptions of the various alarms that Tanya would have to bypass to get to and into the vault. The final step of actually breaching the protections guarding the statues would be up to Tanya’s expertise, but everything else was covered. Maybe.

Tanya had been in such situations before and had learned to look deep into information provided her about alarms. In this case, however, everything seemed straight. She would be prepared to find out differently, of course. The mantra she lived by was to always have a Plan B or C as a back up.

The initial execution of the plan was flawless. Tanya had provided herself with forged identification as one of the tenants of the building and just walked in. The bored security man was intent on an Urban Brawl match and barely even looked at the document. Tanya took the elevator to the floor three levels above that of the Lotus man and opened the door to an apartment that she knew was vacant after calling the day before asking about leases on that particular side of the building. She moved to the window and opened it, looking out at the ground fifty floors below. Her interest was not on the view of the sprawl, but on the Lotus apartment almost directly below her.

Putting on her specially reinforced rappelling gloves to protect her hands, she secured her microwire rope to a stanchion near the window, she arranged her gear and checked everything one last time before moving to the window and slipping out. Descending to the Lotus man’s level, she pauses, bringing out a scanner. She had contacted a friend who was wiz with a deck and had arranged for her to cut the auto alarms on the window. On cue the red light turned green and Tanya breathed a silent thanks to Cora Lee before opening the window and passing the invisible barrier across it. She quietly moved into the room after securing the wire and changing into gloves better suited for the next bit of work and approached the closet. The back wall of the large walk-in concealed the door to the vault and Tanya moved to it, running her hands along the edge and tripping the catch.

As the door clicked open, she turned her eyes to opening the now-visible vault. She had been prepared for the complexity of the system and was almost disappointed that the actual vault was an older model that did not include some of the more recent tech improvements. She carefully accessed the locking mechanism with her various devices and ran through the complex and almost boring time while waiting for the tech to do its job. The vault popped open with a soft snick and she went in. Various examples of the finest jade art produced during the Ming Dynasty covered the shelves of the vault, but pride of place was given to seven statues that were the sole occupants of the central shelf. Tanya’s second mantra was to never take more than what she was paid for when she was working for others, but she was sorely tempted this time.

Shaking her head to clear it, she took the fake statue from a pouch at her hip and swapped it for the original. Just at that moment her internal link pinged with the arranged warning from Monique, who was stationed in a building across the wide street from the suite. The single ping meant that someone was moving her way from the next room. Glad that it had not been the double ping of an immediate threat, Tanya moved to exit the vault. She had just closed the hidden door when she got two pings on her comm, meaning that someone was about to enter the room she was in. “Time for plan D,” she told herself, looking around. The floor length frocks on the left side of the closet provided scant concealment, but were the best available. Tanya slipped between the frocks and spread herself against the far wall. The closet door opened and she could hear two sets of footsteps on the carpeted floor. Her hand dropped to the dart pistol at her side, thinking, “Frag the instructions if it means the difference in getting caught and escaping.”

The steps went all the way to the hidden door and stopped. She could hear the man engage the catch and work the various combinations of the door. She spared a glance between to expensive frocks and saw the face of the Lotus man as he finished the procedure and opened the vault. He turned away from the door, telling his companion that she was about to see some of the most valuable pieces of artwork not in a museum. The young woman giggled and placed her hand on the man’s shoulder, clearly implying that she was as interested in the jade as he was. She waited for the pair to enter the vault and then listened to the woman exclaim in appropriate tones how amazed she was. After a bit of quiet and some more giggles, Tanya heard the clear sounds that indicated that the relationship inside the vault had moved to the next level.

Shaking her head, she quietly moved to the end of the closet, still shielded from the occupants of the vault. The woman inside was clearly one of the noisy ones and Tanya used her cries to cover her movement back to the outer room. She moved to the window and checked to be sure that the scanner light was still green before donning her rappelling gloves again and sliding out. She used the microwire to climb back to the vacant suite, picked up all of her things, and made sure that anything she had touched was wiped clean. She left the suite and the building with one seriously expensive trinket. She commed Monique to let her know that all was good and that she could go home. She also commed Cora Lee to thank her for the timely hack and to set up a meet for later.

Following the instruction protocol, she messaged the contact and was immediately relayed to another contact, who gave her instructions on where to meet. Tanya traded the statue for her pay and the bonus. Leaving the rendezvous point, she smiled at the stack of credits that had just been deposited into one of her accounts and called Cora Lee to confirm the meet. “Bring out the bubbly and warm the bed dear. We definitely have something to celebrate.”

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Sayōnara, Big Red
A Redline origins story

Isobe Eiko sat perched over her Ares Desert Strike, cybereye glowing dimly through the length of its scope. A kevlar compound hood patterned with the style of the Japanese imperial emblem kept the chill northwestern rain from hitting her face as a self-assured voice crackled in her ear.

“Seventy-three seconds, Aichi Two. Still quiet?”

“Hai,” she replied sub vocally. She lifted her crimson-colored cheek from the Desert Strike to gaze at the neon-drenched street below her with her own eyes, or rather, Renraku’s. As she rose through the ranks of the megacorp, facing and overcoming each misogynist-chauvinist-traditionalist-metatype-loathing hurdle that presented itself, she became more a part of Renraku, and Renraku of her.

Sekigaisen gazō Y-3k cybereyes, select sound filtering augmented ears, noise -filtering datajack, state of the art wired reflexes, and a pair of expertly installed synthetic arms; a small but luxurious apartment in one of the corp’s arcologies; a small fleet of Yamaha Rapiers and Hyundai Tōnichis. All this was provided for her, at the price of her flawless execution of each mission assigned to her. That, and her unfaltering loyalty until death.

Eiko had no retirement plans. She was good – maybe even great. No Renraku suit would have bothered to read her portfolio otherwise. But she was mortal, and after seeing everything from ritual-sacrificing Aztechnology magi detonating an entire squad of red samurai from the inside out, to a milspec-armored shadowrunner crushing her spotter’s body flat without effort, she didn’t wonder if she’d die in the field. She wondered when.

She wondered but did not worry. Back home in Japan, her family was safe from the madness of the world. Whatever gruesome fate found her, they would always be taken care of. That was all that mattered.

Gimu, duty. Chūsei, loyalty. Meiyo, Honor. And most important to her – more than any other – kazoku. Family.

Eiko did not voice such sentiments, however. To do so would be to declare a cause higher than her employer. Higher than Renraku. And that, Renraku did not abide.

The calm voice of her handler sounded in her ears again. “Good, Aichi Two. Aichi One, status.”

Silence over the squad’s VOIP. Eiko glanced at the comm strapped to her forearm, tapping at it to bring up the other shooter’s perspective. Normally, she’d see their view duplicated, transferable to a floating HUD window in AR; wind speed and direction, distance to target, RFID-tagged elements and more. All were absent.

All she saw was the flutter of hack-induced distortion and an unmoving hand.

“Nitōgunsō-san,” she called back to her handler, “Aichi One possibly incap’d. Advise.”

The next voice to speak was Wabbajaki, the team’s eccentric decker who communicated in what she could best describe as energized, rapid fire chirps.

“Drek. Drek-u drek. Hai, Aichi One bricked and might be flatlined. Looking for an enemy decker in proximity. Network still okay. I think. Hai.”

Even with one of the two shooters down, the mission could still be completed. Halo, the team’s rigger, functioned as emergency back up. A duo of drones would be flying across the plex skyline now en route to the first shooter’s spot.

“Halo, report,” the handler commanded simply, sounding as excited as if he were commenting on a trid re-run.

“Eyes on Aichi One – he’s fragged. I’m directing units now to pick up his spot,” the young rigger replied.

“Good. Aichi Two, white objective will be in sight shortly. Report when set to shoot.”

“Understood, Nitōgunsō-san.” She returned her view to the rifle’s scope, consciously taking and releasing a breath as she settled into her firing poise. She tapped at her commlink with a free hand, bringing the perspective of one of Halo’s drones into focus with her left eye as the right peered down range.

Eleven blocks away, two north, nine east. The motorcade was following precisely the route described in the briefing, internalized in her mind until she knew it as well as the floor of her arcology.

“Halo reporting friendly support on black objective overwatch. I’m taking over for Aichi One. Black objective coming into view now.”

“Eyes on black objective,” the handler echoed calmly. “White objective, status.”

Isobe Eiko’s heart began thudding as her target rolled into view. A black-painted Ares Roadmaster, flanked in front and behind by twin GMC Nocturnes, cruised through traffic signals one-by-one, each flickering to green obediently in time to allow the group to continue unhindered.

“Aichi Two has visual on white objective. Sighting now.” The smartlink adjusted in miliseconds as she followed the Roadmaster’s passenger seat with her reticule, compensating for an 8 kilometre per hour east wind and 1.104 centimetre per hour rainfall rate.

700 meters. 675. 650.

She coaxed the safety off with a thumb, her eye unblinking as she fixated on where a thirty-seven year-old, Japanese-American, 89.2 kilogram pound man would be sitting behind the tinted, thermal-interfering bullet resistant glass.

“Aichi Two is lined up,” she declared evenly, allowing the entirety of her consciousness to filter through her rifle’s view. The drone’s perspective in her left eye departed. The cold Seattle rain no longer fell on her form. She was no longer Isobe Eiko, no longer an Oni or even a woman. She was an Ares Desert Strike loaded with two armor piercing discarding sabot rounds. Rounds which would soon be ejected at over a kilometre per second at a target 603.4 meters away.

Her handler spoke again. “The white crane sleeps. Wabbajaki, execute catch on white objective on my mark. Three. Two. One. Now.”

The Roadmaster squealed to a stop in the middle of the street, the Nocturne behind it jerking left to avoid a rear-ending. The Roadmaster’s lights flickered first, then died completely. As Eiko peered at the unmoving vehicle, the anti-thermal wind shield’s programming dissipated from top to bottom like a sheet of rain before going offline.

The distinct head and shoulder forms of metahumans burst into view through the glass. The figure in the passenger seat was shoving at his door, fighting against the lock that refused to release.

NOW, Aichi Two,” the voice in her ears commanded.

She squeezed the trigger. At one kilogram of pressure a red bead appeared on the glass in front of the man. At 2 kilograms an APDS round fired from the muzzle of an unseen Ares Desert Strike, impacting the Roadmaster’s wind shield.

As her target flailed in response to the crack of a bullet splintering the glass an arm’s reach in front of him, Eiko’s trigger hand flew to the bolt of her rifle. The second round pulled from its seating and with another fluid motion locked into the rifle’s chamber.

She squeezed the trigger a second time. 603.4 meters. Red dot. Shot.

The windshield crumpled inward as another APDS round speared the first down its center, sending bullet fragments cascading into the panicked man.

She pulled the bolt back with her right hand and pushed an explosive round directly into the chamber with her left. As her right hand re-locked the bolt, her left flicked a switch to adjust her smartlink for explosive ammunition use. AR indicators whirred as she tilted her rifle accordingly and fired a third round.

The passenger’s side windshield shattered as a high explosive detonation caved out a hole the size of a fist in line with the passenger’s chest. The Ares Desert Strike sounded 1.9 seconds later for a final time, sending a hollow point bullet through the window’s gap and into her target’s chest.

Four shots sent down range in 6.7 seconds and a mortally-wounded Yakuza boss later, Isobe Eiko took in a deep breath.

“White objective fragged,” she exhaled, eyes still trained on the the flurry of activity as one of the accompanying GMC Nocturnes sputtered to a start down the street.

“The black crane sleeps,” her handler declared hastily. “Wabbajaki, black objective now. Mark. Three. Two. One. Go.” A short pause. “Halo, execute black.”

Eiko brought one of the rigger’s drones into view just in time to see small arms fire reaching up from the streets below. One of the drone’s twin rotors sheered off following a burst and the craft tottered sideways. Like a wounded bird, it struggled to maintain altitude before slamming into a ferricrete pillar to the nearby highway.

The expired drone’s twin raced towards the team’s second target, another black Roadmaster. But this one revved its engine, peeling away from the scene as the drone began pursuit.

“Oh! Oh ie, ie! Lost my marks, working to get back, working!” the decker screeched into the team’s VOIP.

“Aichi Two, get mobile immediately,” Nitōgunsō ordered, a sharpness cleaving through previous calm.

Looping the rifle’s sling around her torso, she sprinted to her motorcycle, its engine revving before her tacsuitted rear had landed in its seat. Her right wrist torqued the handlebar as her left hand pulled her datajack chord from beneath her hood. The Yamaha’s engine made an exuberant cry that echoed through the parking garage. Eiko jacked in and leaned into the first turn, wrist squeezing again just as the bike’s front wheel hit the corner’s apex.

Eiko’s blood pulsed in her veins with a trogg rock blast and her body seathed napalm. The perspective of Halo’s drone popped into her peripherary once more, showing the second Roadmaster roaring through the near-empty streets of midnight Tacoma.

“Halo, stay with black objective. Wabbajaki, I still need black immobilized. Get it done or find the enemy decker. Aichi Two, pick up the pace.”

Eiko gasped as she went hot sim, her bike aligning with the street’s center lines. Streetlights became stretched blurs and vehicles turned into vague shapes as she picked up speed. She flicked the bike left as it raced through a red light, nearly clipping a wage slave commuting to graveyard shift. Her tires screamed as they fought for traction through surface water and fetid Tacoma aroma oil, but she continued like a bolt towards the second Roadmaster.

She looked to her right as two more red lights went ignored. The Roadmaster was veering through light traffic wildly, but maintaining a respectable pace considering its bulk. Halo’s drone was visible whirring overhead, firing bursts at the Roadmaster’s tires and engine block.

As her bike approached a third intersection, she closed a hand around her rear brake and cut right. The bike’s tail swung out and she jerked her wrist to accelerate, spinning the rear tire with a whining squelch before it gained purchase and launched Eiko into a sharp turn.

In a flash, she was racing alongside the Roadmaster, a wide-eyed elf looking down at her from the driver’s seat. Eiko reached for her machine pistol, but started as the Roadmaster’s driver spun the wheel in her direction, swerving into her path.

She pushed left milliseconds too slow, the Roadmaster’s side crashing against her Rapier. Its front wheel pushed out left, threatening to send her head first into asphalt at 160 kilometers per hour. With an intake of breath she managed to correct, the bike snaking back and forth before aiming straight down the street again.

The Roadmaster gained distance on her as her Rapier struggled to climb back up to speed, and as she gripped the accelerator more tightly its engine yelled a choking cough. She began closing in on the Roadmaster, but felt her bike’s pain from the collision; she wouldn’t keep up much longer.

A long burst from Halo’s drone tore through one of the Roadmaster’s tires, rubber exploding like shrapnel into the night air. The tire’s rim sent showers of sparks behind the vehicle as its driver struggled to maintain control of the 2.5 ton monstrosity.

Eiko readied her Fianchetti Military 100 and pulled alongside the Roadmaster a second time. As the driver’s head darted her direction and he began to swing out at her again, she leveled the pistol and squeezed its trigger, pouring a full magazine’s worth of rounds into the driver’s door and window.

The driver spasmed and collapsed against the wheel, sending the Roadmaster careening into a light pole. The explosive crunch of aluminum and steel rang out in the street as the vehicle came to an abrupt stop.

“All units, close in on black objective. Target vulnerable,” Nitōgunsō rattled over the team’s VOIP.

Eiko swung her Rapier to a stop, dismounting it and tugging her datajack free as she loaded a second magazine into her pistol. She approached the Roadmaster from its front, gun leveled at the passenger side. A dazed but thoroughly augmented Yakuza burst from the vehicle’s right rear, leveling a sub-machine gun at her and sending rounds ricocheting against the pavement at her feet.

She dove behind a car parked across the intersection from the Yakuza, lifting her Fianchetti over its hood to blind fire in hopes of suppressing them. More Yaks poured out from the Roadmaster in various states of post-impact haze, and Eiko was forced to hunch down as bullets thudded into her cover.

Figures began sprinting from the vehicle to encircle her, and she cursed herself at the idea of dying in such a foolish way, crowded behind soft cover at the mercy of her foe.

Then Halo’s voice sounded in her ears, “I got you, Redline! Fakkāzu o shinimasu!” A fully automatic burst from Halo’s drone ripped one of the Yakuza down and left a second in a heap of mangled kevlar and sizzling skin.

The rigger screamed a desperate, zealous war cry and a high-pitched whirr sounded over Eiko’s head. She peered over the car’s hood in time to see the drone plummet full speed into a third Yakuza. The gangster crushed into the asphalt with a scream, unmoving.

The handler’s voice again commanded Eiko into motion. “Aichi Two, you are the only unit on site. Get to black objective, take him out, then get out.”

The distant howl of sirens from state route 161 was audible as Eiko steeled herself, flicking on her pistol’s laser sight. She peeked once towards the Roadmaster, unable to pierce its mostly intact windshield with her cybereyes. She saw no movement.

With a final breath, she burst into a sprint towards the corner of a building next to the Roadmaster for cover. Just as she crossed into the center of the street, a red-suited form pushed out from the back of the smoking vehicle. Eiko reached outwards to dive behind the building, then cried out as white hot pain suffocated her body.

What felt likes hundreds of shot pellets impacted her, sending her sprawling just around the corner of the building. A second cloud of ricocheting lead showered the sidewalk next to her. Eiko mustered a shallow breath and held her stomach, blood pooling over her fingers. Her stomach twisted at the sensation of shot smoldering in and beneath her skin.

“Come out, cowardly dog,” the Yakuza bellowed in Japanese from around the corner. “However many you there are, I will jam this shotgun down every one of your sickly throats until you know to beg me to mercy!”

Eiko blinked through the pain searing her body, eyes searching around for her Fianchetti. She spotted it in the street, in the open, surely within view of the Yakuza. In her state, she had no hope of retrieving the gun before receiving a last, final blast from the shotgun. She pulled a thin syringe from her belt, twisting its cap free with her teeth before stabbing her inner thigh with it.

The mission was a disaster. Years of training. Months of gathering intel and cautiouslly unraveling the mystery of who it was that had stolen a critical contacts dossier from a local Sato, a Renraku Mr. Johnson. But after hearing the Yakuza yell, recognizing the voice she’d heard before, she realized there had been no theft. Only betrayal.

“Masanori Fukunaga,” she managed back, doing her best to maintain an even voice through the pain. “Internal Affairs Officer, Seattle Prefecture, Tacoma District. The one tasked with bringing traitors into the light…himself the greatest betrayer.”

The bulky man’s laugh carried through the street, audible over the sirens that crossed the nearby overpass, headed towards the site of the first Roadmaster’s end.

“Spoken like a true corp drone to your last, Renraku no meinu.” The man’s footsteps clattered down the sidewalk, and the telltale click of shotgun shells being loaded accompanied them. “If only you had let me leave, I’d have been wealthy, and you, alive. But now, well…”

The walking grew closer still. Eiko’s head swam with pain, her body aflame with the sickly burning of a gunshot wound. She waited for the drug to lift her from her haze, to give her the chance to survive. But it wasn’t coming. There would be no chance.

The Yakuza rounded the corner, slowly at first, then with confidence upon seeing the unarmed, critically wounded Oni. He chortled sadistically and approached until he towered over Eiko, leveling the muzzle of the shotgun to her chest.

“You die for nothing, akumajo. You mean nothing to them. None of us do. You will be a memory your family wishes to forget; a failed, horn-headed freak.”

He spat at her face, snorting with contempt. “And I will be free, and never again bow to any spineless, mindless corporate cow so long as my name is Masanori-”

His diatribe was cut short in a raining shower of blood. For a moment, his form shuddered yet stood upright, shotgun trembling in uneasy hands before falling heavily into Redwire’s lap. The man’s head and upper torso split evenly in two, and he fell to the side in a heap. One last shuddering twitch followed by stillness indicated his passing.

Behind where the traitor had loomed, an older man stood stoutly, framed in a downward slicing pose he had apparently landed in from above. With a sneer, he extended a sleeved arm to his blood-soaked katana, wiping it clean.

“Nitōgunsō-san,” she muttered, seeing him as though he was distant.

He slowly looked from the blade to the woman. “Isobe Eiko,” he stated coldly. He considered her for a moment before shaking his head; a gentle, sure movement.

“I have misplaced my faith. I had hoped for much from you. I believed you could amount to something. I opened doors for you, showed you through them. And now, this.”

He looked towards the wreckage of the Roadmaster, then to the fallen man’s corpse beside him. “This massacre. This embarrassment.” He looked back at her, snorting as his voiced raised. “You embarrass me with this ineptitude. You embarrass Renraku, Isobe.”

Redwire’s face flushed red, her lip trembling. “Nitōgunsō-san, I…I did all that I could. I would never-”

He cut her off with a wave of the hand and a sneer. “No, there is nothing for you to say. No excuses to make. You and your peers have failed, and there are no others to blame.” The man leaned over Fukunaga’s distended corpse, reaching into his pocket to retrieve the man’s commlink.

Eiko spoke again, desperation creeping into her tone. “Nitōgunsō-san. I understand there will be consequences. I will face them. But my family – they have done nothing to deserve this. They should not be punished on behalf of me.”

The man did not immediately respond, the gleam of the commlink’s screen in his hand lighting his face. His eyes searched a line of text that gave him pause before he pocketed the device into the inside of his coat, shaking his head.

“Their fate is not mine to decide; it is the same as any other failed agent’s: nothingness. After tonight, you will no longer be Renraku. You will have never been Renraku. There will be no Isobe Eiko; there will be no Isobe family. And there will be no failure tonight.”

The Roadmaster had begun to burn steadily, and the man’s gaze hung on the dancing flames as he concluded, lowly, stoically, “That is how it must be. Your failure cannot be allowed to harm Renraku. You understand. You are loyal.” He nodded to himself, “Despite your failure.”

Hearing no response, he looked down at his katana, gripping it with both hands and turning to the woman. “It will be a clean death, Iso-”

He turned not to a cowering woman, but to a shotgun raised at him. He stared at the quivering barrel for a time, smirking humorlessly at it before eying her. “You dishonor yourself with such a gesture. There is no other way, Isobe. You must die.”

“My family,” she stated darkly, stubbornness infusing her shivering, pained voice with subtle menacing. “They must be cared for, Nitōgunsō-san. Please.”

With a dismissive snort, he again assumed the pose Eiko had seen him in when he cut apart Fukunaga. Raising the katana with unfaltering calm, he simply offered, “There is no other way. Lower your head, Isobe. It will be clean.”

The katana raised higher, reaching a peak and pausing before the man let out a deep, faintly mournful cry.

The katana fell. But it did not meet flesh.

The man stared down at Eiko, unmoving at first, and shuffled a foot back to catch himself as he swayed. He stared down at his chest, or rather, where his chest had been, before looking back to her.

“Fumeiyo,” he gasped out, falling to his knees. He swayed once more, his eyes becoming glassy as his suit began to soak with red. “Fumeiyo…” he repeated one last time before falling to his side.

Fumeiyo. Dishonor.

Isobe Eiko stared at at the body of the man who had brought her up through Renraku. She let the smoking shotgun fall to her side before pushing herself up along the building’s wall. Despite her injuries, resolution took over from within. The unwavering fire from inside that had never darkened, had never failed her; had always been there for her.

“Kazoku,” she corrected as she collected the commlink from his suit jacket. She mounted her still-running motorcycle with a grunt, leaning forward heavily. “Family.”

What she had done – what she had always done – she did for family. She would not let this failure lead to their suffering. However she could, she would do whatever it took to give them a good life. A safe life. A life away from Renraku.

Her datajack slid into its familiar home in the Yamaha Rapier. It, like her, was tired; wounded and spent. But as she sped away from the scene and into the night, it did not fail her.

It took time. She had never ran in the shadows; had never touched them. But within the hour, she approached the flickering green cross, indicating the location of a ‘street doc’ she had managed to track down. It didn’t matter that all she had to offer was corp scrip – the look on the woman’s face said it was more than she had seen in a life time.

Her surprise did not alleviate when the Renraku agent repeated the operation to be done: remove every piece of ware from the body. Be quick about it – tear it out if need be – but get it done. Destroy it all; no way for them to follow her. Replace it all with new ware.

They told her it would need at least a week for the new ware to take, but she insisted she be gone as soon as possible. No more than two days after the fiasco that was described in headlines with the likes of, “JAPANESE CRIME RING IN-FIGHTING: NEW BOSS IN SOUTH SEATTLE?” and, “YAK’S TO BLAME FOR TUMBLE IN TACOMACOULD THEY COME TO YOUR PLEX NEXT?

Isobe ‘Redline’ Eiko mounted a new Hyundai Rapier. As new as she could find, anyway; she was learning quickly that nothing from the streets came firsthand.

Her new arms felt stiff, every movement feeling like she was pushing through quicksand. A fiery, throbbing pain radiated through her skull as her new datajack plugged into the bike. The doctor assured her they had given her every kind and as much as possible of every painkiller that wouldn’t send her immediately into a coma. But drek was an insufficient descriptor to reflect her condition.

Drek ware. Drek weaponry. SINless. Hunted by one of the greatest forces metahumanity had ever known.

She revved the bike and let it carry her away east, far from Tacoma or downtown, from arcologies and megacorps. She didn’t stop until she hit the great divide, where highrise condos gave way to the polluted, chaotic sprawl of the Barrens. She had the name of a fixer and little else to go on, but it didn’t bother her. Not the risk, not the pain; nothing mattered. Only one thing ever did.

Kazoku.

By that time a week later she was home in Japan. It had taken serious convincing to persuade a Johnson that what she knew was worth the effort of extracting a family of four from a Renraku arcology on its home turf, and she didn’t like the sensation of “shadowrunning.” She had become the betrayer, the low-life criminal Renraku abhorred.

But as she cradled a cup of tea alongside her mother, father and younger siblings in their new apartment in Auburn, she didn’t care. No corp mottos, tenets or tradition. Just her and her family in the shadows. It wouldn’t be easy; it might be the hardest thing she’d ever do. Yet, in a way, it was all she had ever done.

She wouldn’t fail them.

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The Dry Cleaning
A Maid's Day Out

Monique Chevalier walked the short distance to the public transport stop near the hotel. After a couple of years in Seattle she had learned that the transport system could take one almost anywhere. Sometimes she spent her day off just riding from place to place. She was almost completely anonymous on a bus, mingling with the other people going about their business. Most of the people she met on the bus were completely naïve, believing that there was little more to life than slaving for minimal wages and raising a family.

Monique allowed herself a moment of reflection during the ride. She knew differently. Her street-slum upbringing had taught her that families basically sucked. Her mother had never been able to even remember the name of the man who had fathered Monique and the current boyfriend had taken to either beating Monique or taking her to his bed when the mother was passed out or too drugged to care. She had run away to London as a teen and honed her pickpocketing skills to a high degree. Being found by the noble Lady Marisart had been a godsend. Something clicked between the two of them, something hard to describe. There was a deep friendship between the two, and trust.

Monique shook her head as she came to her stop and descended to the pavement. She entered the dry cleaner establishment that she had found while exploring the city. No one else could do the special touches she had come to expect. Going in, she was greeted as a familiar customer by the owner, who never seemed to find it odd that the girl would come personally to pay for the cleaning but then have the clothes delivered.

The errand complete, Monique allowed herself a treat at the nearby cafeteria. She had three loyalties: The mistress who had saved her from a life on the streets, France as a country, and French pastries. This cafeteria served the best pastries she had tasted outside of Paris and she was a frequent customer. As she finished her morning treat, she noticed a handsome businessman pass the window. Her trained eye noticed the bulge of a wallet and the shape of several credsticks. She covered her bill and left the café, following the man as an exercise, observing his actions and seeing if she could work out a plan to get the wallet.

Sometimes fate steps in to assist the deserving, and Monique must have been deserving this morning. The man stopped at the entrance to an apartment building, embracing the young woman who came out to meet him. A quick pass and the man never even knew the wallet was taken as he fumbled with the young woman’s chest. The poor guy would probably be very embarrassed in trouble when he realized he could not pay for the girl’s services, but Monique would be long gone by then. She quickly stripped the wallet of its cash and wiped it clean before discarding it.

All in all a fruitful morning.

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