Rizak's Shadowrun story


The door chime sounded, waking him from a dreamless sleep. He automatically checked his retinal clock and subtracted 8 hours to get the local time. The creds just weren’t there to get it fixed yet.

He’d been up all night combing the net on a borrowed line in the back of a laundromat, trying to find work. ANY kind of work. Wiping his eyes hard to lube them up a bit he opened the window to see who it was. A bonded courier van was parked outside and a young man in brown coveralls reached for the buzzer. Once again the door chime went off. He quickly ticked off the bills in his headlist to make sure they were all paid. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. He was up to date. He wondered what the drek could this be about. There was only one way to find out.

Mashing the entry key on the wall he croaked, “Fourth floor. Green door.”

There was nothing to clean up even if the courier came in. This was a Quann rental and all of his belongings would fit neatly into two carry boxes.

Rappity-rap went the door. William was pretty sure that nobody would go to such elaborate lengths to get his meagre belongings, so he didn’t even check before opening the door. The courier, a hip young guy with a bit of stubble, confirmed the delivery ident by having him thumb the scanner. He handed over a red fiber envelope from his SecurBag, touched his hat and left. He was either paid in advance or knew not to expect a tip in that neighbourhood. William closed the door and locked it again.

These things were usually for corp info. He applied his thumb to the seal on the back and a quick chemical burn happened along the marked end. The level of suspense was pretty high at this point, but he wanted to take his time to digest every facet of this. He opened a can of coffee from the fridge, sat down and tipped the contents of the envelope onto his table: a disposable phone (1 minute, local, incoming only), a green key card (no logo), and a black credstick. Black? No. It couldn’t be black. He scratched it, but no paint came off. This was a legit Zurich Orbital credstik.

Things were looking up.

He had no idea of his past beyond the last two months and this could be a clue. He wondered who could know who he was or where to find him.

It took nearly 3 hours for the phone to ring. William had gotten sick of staring at it and was having a shower when it went off. Of course. He nearly killed himself getting to it just as the 5th ring began.

“Pier 90, off Garfield. Slip E. One hour.”

Do-able. He finished the shower, had another can of coffee and left. A quick cab ride to the train yards and he finished walking the rest of the way. This gave him a long view of the area. Coming up on it from the yard, he saw derelict metas all over. They didn’t look a mess, just ragged. An Orc was passed out in an old topless car, a bottle of Mescal in one hand, SimSense deck in the other. Thermograph showed he had a healthy temperature. There was heat from bodies sprawled around behind other hulks and against fences.

As he came up to the dock he noticed the big sign proclaiming this to be Pier 90. A tall map showed that slip E was at the farthest end. William had brought a little courage with him and got it loose in the sheath in case of any trouble. Slips A and B seemed to be some kind of transient trailer park or something. There were old beat up cars and trucks and a number of trailers and shanties. C and D seemed to have taken some damage from something as the buildings had partially collapsed and the dock was missing in a couple of places. An old rail spur ran the length of the pier and ended in a giant crane. Probably for unloading container vessels, though you’d be mad to try that on a pier in this shape. The smell coming off Elliott Bay tonight was a bit ripe, but it didn’t bother him much.

He saw the tail lights of a car inside the slip E property and a man in a dark suit smoking in the darkness, leaning on the trunk. Seeing William, he moved forward revealing a LogoBlock on the trunk. He obviously wanted to hide who he worked for. He grabbed the handle of his red leather briefcase in one hand and threw the stub of his cheroot away with the other. He held his hand out in the ancient custom.

“Mr. Bruin? Yes. I’m Mr. Underhill. You’ve been … carefully chosen … by my employer.” He paused to let that sink in. “The circumstances that lead to our meeting are these: my employer is in a position to retire. To do so, he has certain obligations that need to be met. He financed a special team once and according to his contract, needs to keep a team active prior to his retirement. You needn’t worry yourself about the previous team. They’ve retired as well. This warehouse was one of their meeting places. It now belongs to you, pending your contract.”

“We’ll pay the taxes on this property for one year. I will ask you to perform certain jobs. You will be paid well for your time. That’s about it really. I hope you have no trouble locating a team. We need you next week.”

“Let’s go inside.”

This was a bit much, all at once, and he stood there a little slack-jawed taking it all in. That morning he had been living on rice crackers and krill paste. Now he was promised private funding as a corporate resolution specialist! Mr. Underhill seemed a bit forced, like he was reading from a prepared script. Stiff. Brittle. This is probably how strangers get business done in this line of work.

William followed him to the huge rolling door in the SW corner and he pointed to the card-swipe. “The code is 719834394577. I advise you to change it at your earliest convenience.” Standing under the overhang of this massive building, it was hard to imagine what might be found inside. The door slowly, but smoothly rolled upward and when it was high enough to walk under they both entered. Mr Underhill pressed a red button as he passed and the door reversed to its closed position. He turned on a small flashlight and lit their way down a wide corridor the width of the building. The whole wall to their left was made of large blue blocks quickly identified as armoured transport containers, HiCubes, each 2.5m wide x 3m high and 6m long. They were stacked close together like on a container ship, two high. Underhill pointed to them and said, “All but one is useless. There was an explosion on dock 91 a couple of years ago and a container ship went down. You’ll notice that dock 91 no longer exists. That’s what did the damage to this dock as well. The dock itself is safe, but nobody thinks it’s worth reconstructing. My employer bought the containers from the shipping company and lined this building with them. It acts as cheap, effective protection. Ah, here we are.”

William had been unconsciously counting the containers as they passed and noted that they stopped in front of the 17th. Underhill twisted the dead access panel and it slid up to reveal another WORKING panel. The swipe and code was performed as before.

The door unlocked itself from the inside, pushed out about 20 cm and hinged open to the left. Underhill led them inside. Lights fitfully came on inside the container as the door began to close. William looked around nervously and saw another panel on the far side of the container come to life. He rushed to that panel but Underhill grabbed his hand. “Don’t touch the panel until the door finishes cycling shut. Please.” He waited nervously for the 30 seconds it took the door to close and then quickly swiped the card and repeated the code. The panel light turned from blue to white and the door opened. He hadn’t really remembered starting to sweat, but felt a bit of an adrenaline buzz following his brief captivity. You never could tell what kind of security measures might be hooked up to a level 5 maglock. William wished he had brought some coffee with him.

He knew this was a massive building from his survey on the walk up the pier. If he could have afforded a net connect he could’ve done a search of aerial photos. It looked a lot smaller inside because of all the containers. A giant, detailed map of the world was painted in the middle of the floor. The containers all seemed to be damaged/worn in some way, and the ones in the NW corner seem to have taken some punishment from small arms fire. A gantry system ran the length of the building along the roof. This would be how the shipping containers would be moved around. Above that along one wall in the upper corner sat the control office like a nest. A nice bird’s eye view of everything was available from up there.

Doubling back on their path in, they headed to the elevator. It seemed quite a process to get in, which might be good for any kind of security concerns and (he realized) defence. The elevator’s roller door was up and Underhill lowered it when they both got in. A container truck could easily fit in this elevator. The panel came to life, showing three settings: GROUND, GANTRY, ROOF. He pushed the roof button. The elevator moved at an exaggeratedly slow speed. This WAS a cargo elevator, likely rated for moving thousands of kilograms at a time. No frills. The enormous door opened and they walked out onto the roof. Underhill opened a box beside the door, touched another panel and the roof lights came on. They were all purple-red, low-wattage and pointed at the roof. There appeared to be a helipad in the NW corner. “That helipad is in need of some structural repair. You can get a pretty good view of downtown from up here. Look, you can see the Renraku Arcology.” Sure enough, looking to the southeast he could make out the well-lit pyramid taking up all that prime space downtown. “That’s about it for the roof.”

Lights off. Back in the elevator. Gantry level.

The doors opened and William automatically reached out to find the light panel. It was just where he expected it. The lights came on slowly and he couldn’t miss the industrial/infirmary green paint on every surface. Somebody had either spent a lot of time in the military or a mental hospital. Maybe a military mental hospital. There was a long hallway with floor to ceiling windows ahead, on the right. A series of food stations was directly ahead, and a bathroom to the left large enough for an Ork or Troll. Next to that was a room marked CONTROL. Inside were maps of the city on the walls and equipment racks at the far end. There was a small screen set up in there with a couple of card keys. A multitude of wire connections came into this room from the ceiling. This place had obviously been stripped of everything valuable. Building controls were left, though. It looked like there was a rigger control box setup, but no interface. The kitchen was a stand-up affair with 4 food stations (cooler/nuker combo) and a couple of big sinks; no chairs or table. Down the hallway were 10 doors on the left, facing the windows. The first 6 had names painted on them. The first was a door that a Troll could fit through with “JoJo” stencilled on it. The rest were labelled “Sarge”, “HardTop”, “NonSequitor”, “DogBoy”, “Mint” and were all roughly half that size. They were all bare of furniture.

Everything seemed to have worked when plugged in or turned on. That was something, at least.

William followed Underhill back to the kitchen where he opened his briefcase again. He pulled out a couple of beers and a big can of StarStar coffee which he put on the table between them and pushed forward. This stuff was only available … well, William had no idea where it was available. He couldn’t afford it if he could find it! That stuff was supposed to be grown on an ocean station or something. Underhill popped his Corona and pulled out a thin document which he set on the counter with a pen. “Say yes.” He then took a long pull from his beer and moved over to look out the window and check his padd for messages, examining the giant map below. William twisted the ring on the bottom and popped the top on the coffee. The internal heating unit began to boil the water and brewed in the can in his hand. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had brewed coffee. If he could have just one of these little babies a week, he’d do just about anything. “Yes,” he echoed. Picking up the pen, he signed where indicated and then enjoyed his coffee as he started to read the contract. He knew he was going to sign it anyway, but realized he should probably read it.

Basically, it boiled down to the idea that he agreed to be blindly funded, and in return he would drop everything to render assistance when called. The property was now his and the taxes would be paid for the first year. After that, it all fell on him. A page detailed proposed and past taxes. Apparently this was a busy pier in the past, but now the taxes were negligible. A mere ¥75,000 a year. William always imagined that most Runners would try to keep away from taxes and ident. How else can you make sure that the power, water, and sewer keep working though?

His new lawyer came back to the counter, checked and counter-signed the contract and gave over a hardcopy duplicate. He opened the second beer and motioned to one of the cabinets on the wall. William opened it and saw 2 full cases of this blessed elixir, StarStar (**). He almost started to cry.

“If you would pass me your new credstik I can authorize your setup bonus.” Yeah. Gots to get paid. He passed it to Underhill, who pulled a CredX out of his briefcase. He then inserted the shiny black credstik in the green slot, his in the red slot and pressed a few buttons. The screen showed:

50,000 Transfer
 5,000 Tip
45,000 Balance

Approve? Y/N

“I get 10% on transactions. Just so you know. I figure you could outfit and fix this place for 5,000. Maybe less if you had someone to do the work. I can recommend a guy.” His phone buzzed once and he said, “Listen, I gotta go. Busy night. Here’s my card. Dmail me your new phone when you get one. Change that entry code!” In a daze, William approved the transaction, entered a new CredCode when prompted and handed back the CredX.

Underhill stopped on his way to the elevator. “A few words about the neighbours: get to know them. They’re not bad people. They just need a little help.”

Going to the huge wall of windows, William watched him walk to the exit and leave. Whew! What a night. And it was early yet!

He turned slowly on his heel and giggled a bit to himself. He entered the control closet and took a look at the terminal. It wasn’t ancient, but was a bit dated. He was able to change the access code easily. A better module would be needed to engage the optical capabilities of a level 5 lock. He brought up the building security program, made the appropriate changes and made up a few more card keys. There were some people he had in mind who were going to need them.

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Savannah mumbled under her breath, but the one word made her feel worlds better. “Bitch.” She was over a barrel, and things were definitely not going to get any better. Not without some kind of drastic action.

She’d been working in the pit for almost 3 months. She got paid under the table and had begun to notice a trend: she was starting to get better and better jobs, with more and more responsibility, yet her pay never changed. She spent almost all of her time working on expensive and difficult car repairs that needed expertise and careful attention. In fact, she had brought in a big corporate client that made a major boost in the business at Lusitania Collision. Bikes, cars, trucks, she could fix them all. It wasn’t difficult, really. She had a bit of an edge. Her previous boss had signed her up for a subscription to AutoChip and she still had 6 months before that ran out. All she had to do was look at the worksheet for the next day, chip the spex for those vehicles and she was golden for those jobs. She had been building up a library of chips in her locker for her repeat customers.

Carly knew she did good work, but when she asked for a bit of a raise Carly laughed in her face. She knew Savannah was illegal and had to save every scrap. If she started to earn more, she’d just leave quicker. She said it’s just business, but that was a load of drek. She was still steamed that Savannah could get that gigantic hulk of a personnel carrier into the bay when Carly couldn’t. A Vehicle Control Rig was required and the behemoth was VCR only. She got the job done and a good tip out of the deal. Why did some bosses have to take things personally?

With the next couple of days off, she was going to enjoy yourself. She started the long walk back to her economy flat, humming her new favourite tune. ‘Economy’ seemed to mean that there was no kitchen. That makes her wonder what a ‘convenience’ flat was. Still, it irked her to have to walk. She had been a test driver for BonTon Microdrive not long ago. Granted, they were a fairly small research company, but they seemed to have some sweet contacts. They had loved Savannah, and she dreamed of the day she could get back to Australia. Her depression was mild, but ever-present. Beer made pain go away.

After 40 minutes in the street, she started to wish she had a gun with her. It wasn’t raining, but she had her hood up as the coat helped disguise her a bit. She shivered a bit thinking of who would find her attractive like this: a young girl covered in grease. It happened time and time again. Yuck! Ugh.

The apartment complex was on the right. Savannah couldn’t understand how some people would take the elevator to go a few floors as she automatically headed for the stairs. G - M - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6. She was breathing a bit heavier and would take the elevator if she ever moved again, but this was a quick climb.

Inside, everything was as she expected. The trid was on with Mona plugged into her stories again. That would go on until about 9pm when she’d finally get up to search for the dinner she brought in with her: fried fish tacos and a bottle of Mudd. It made Savannah shake her head. So gross. The smell has already started to do it’s work on her. It wasn’t possible for her to do this on purpose. Mona wasn’t ambitious enough to be so diabolical.

The NetConn was still on, so she checked her Dmail. A calendar popped up reminding her to go to Candy’s Inferno to have drinks with the guys. It would make her late again, but she really had to have a shower. She pulled the bag tight and hung it on her door after putting her last set of coveralls in. Time to do laundry.

She knew she’d never be ‘that girl’, but figured it’d be nice to get the grime out from under her nails once in a while. A mental command checked her ports to make sure they were all covered before she jumped in the shower. The pumice-gel did its work as well as it could on those nasty hands. She had to have skinned her knee without noticing it because the pain was quite intense as she washed it with the P-gel. It was bleeding a little bit at first, but by the time she finished the shower it had stopped. She bandaged it anyway. Safety first.

Mona sprawled semi-conscious? Check. Fishy smell? Check. Time to get out. She pulled a shirt out of the ‘clean bag’ and put on a nice pair of shorts. Boots and her duster finished the look. Giant bandage? Bugger. Ah, to hell with it. She’d probably need a few more after crawling home. The image made her smile.

She grabbed the laundry on the way out and blew a kiss at Mona. The door locked and she dropped the laundry down the chute in the hallway.

She make great time literally screaming down the stairs, her coat billowing out behind her. It was a bit flashy, but a girl had to have a LITTLE style. Busting open the fire exit, she rushed out into the street and surveyed the world around, looking like something right out of “Bunny Jackson”, minus the swords. That mental image, a good shower, and the promise of much beer had improved her mood immeasurably. JoeBoy was waiting, like he said he would be. She had fixed his bike up for him on the condition that he’d take her out for drinks. She’d never had anything against Orks, and JB was a really nice guy. He tossed her a red helmet and brought the bike to life. Savannah thought it could use a little more work and figured she could wring dinner out of him if she asked him just right. He held up 3 fingers and she nodded. Plugging the radio into her datajack, she found channel 3.

He asked, “Spanner, you streetready?”
“Better believe it! Take me to beer, big guy!”

He didn’t do anything crazy, not with her on the back, but she got the feeling he could do more on this bike than he let on. He was quietly in control of the road, which helped her to relax.

20 minutes later they were parked and inside. It looked like her worries about timing were poorly founded as they were the first ones there.

Candy’s was German, so you start with some Warsteiner. Savannah knew there was no point in trying to out drink an Ork, something she learned from previous experience. She didn’t actually remember much about that night. Funny.

This place was supposed to be meta-friendly, but she got the impression that their waiter had some definite biases. He only talked to her, he gave JoeBoy the glare every time he said anything and got the food order mixed up twice. 50 years ago this situation would have played out the same, but because JoeBoy was east Indian.

She had some knowledge of prejudice. One of her favourite professors asked her to come see him about a position after she graduated. Her sponsor had other ideas. They paid for her implants and put her right to work. It was great! She got to work with all kinds of new equipment. She called the prof and set up an appointment to see him in his office to thank him for the opportunity. He didn’t even give her a chance to open her mouth. As soon as he saw her ports, his opinion changed abruptly. He was just short of hostile as he asked her to leave. He had never spoken against implantation, but had obvious feelings. She was crushed to find out about his true feelings. Still, she never forgot him, or his heat.

She thought of suggesting a different bar, but the others may have already been on their way. At least they weren’t playing that New Rave drek. They settled in to enjoy the schnitzel and make small talk.

It was starting to get late, so Savannah went out to find a port to check her Dmail. None. She left a couple of her own, just to make sure they remembered.

When she got back to the table, JB was talking to the manager and the server was nursing a broken wrist. It served him right, but all he’d remember was being attacked by a meta. They ordered more beer and settled in to drown the sorrows of a working life. There was nothing unique, so they just stuck with the Warsteiner.

JoeBoy’s phone went off and he answered it. After a quick conversation he called for the CredX. While the new server was bringing it he explained that he had just talked to RC and things had changed. “We’re to meet him back downtown at his digs. He wouldn’t say anything but to expect some good news.”

“Great. The service here was a bit blodgey anyway. So put down your tucker-bag and let’s trot.” Drek. Her accent always came out when she’d been drinking. She was probably red in the face already.

There was no way that the amount of beer JoeBoy had could affect him, so she got another peaceful ride to the temporary residence of one RealityColliding. She thought it weird that they had all picked these strange nicknames. Her nick was P34ches when she was a kid. The helmet attached to the back of the bike and they walked to the door.


It figured that Steel would be there already. He always seemed to know everything first.


He had lost the bet, but couldn’t really consider it losing when he felt this good.

CR (his sometime partner and the only netizen he had ever known in the real world) had bet him that he couldn’t work his way through her new security maze before she could get him off. It was an interesting challenge in many ways. He’d never had any problems with concentration, but this was a new kink. Settling onto her couch he jacked in and ran into the first hurdle. She had hardened the local input. It was going to be harder than he thought. He kept his eyes closed and hit a few buttons on his deck, launching a PlaneShift to get above the noise. It was stupid not to have loaded his avatar first, even though the NetConn was off. He could feel the program armour around him and the background fuzz dwindled. He felt only what Crystal was doing to him. Thankfully, she wanted to give him a chance and was allowing him to enjoy it too. He had stolen a couple of tricks from some friends of hers a while ago and used this info to drop through the net without tripping it. There didn’t appear to be anything inside the net until he loaded a tracer and then the place lit up. The safe path was pretty straightforward; just down this long, straight corridor with a big prize on a pedestal at the end. He knew that he had to take his time to examine each portion of the tunnel or he’d probably make a mistake and have to start all over again. The imagery made him giggle a bit and that’s when Crystal decided to change tactics. Time was running out and he knew it. He unsheathed his sword and set the disruption prong on top of it which displayed as a blue flame. “Never go in without protection.” The flamethrower jets were expected, obvious and easily avoided. He couldn’t say what the swarm of bats was supposed to be because they took off down the hallway and didn’t even bother him. After that it was a straight walk to the end. The treasure was within reach, but time was getting short. This was the one thing he didn’t want to have to rush because the potential for disaster was higher here. He thought that a quick grab might work and was his only way to win at this point. The Hustle script was old but dependable, and it worked. As he reached for the gem, his whole hand seemed to get caught in another web like the one outside. Damn! If he’d had the time to check, this wouldn’t have stopped him at all. Alarms started to go off and he was kicked out as the simulation ended. Opening his eyes, he saw Crystal sitting astride him with a very satisfied look on her face. He could only think of two reasons for that.

After they’d finished their ‘programming discussion’, going over the pros and cons of her new programs so she could fine tune them, he noticed he was running late to meet his chums. Time flies when you’re having fun. He was supposed to have been at Candy’s Inferno 2 hours ago. William might be late, so maybe he could bum a ride that way. Spanner and JoeBoy were there, of course. They always got to a spot early and expected everyone to scrape and apologize because they were late. Spanner was a cutie. If only she hadn’t latched onto that farking Ork. That guy was a farking pain and Calis didn’t trust him as far as he could spit him.

He engaged his comm and tried William first … and was pleasantly surprised when he picked up on the second ring.

“RC? Steel. You still couchbound? I’m lookin’ for a ride to …”
“Steel. Perfect. Listen, I’m gonna call JoeBoy and Spanner and have them come over. Hie thy skinny Elven butt over here, double-time! The mothership has landed.”

That was weird. Ever since he found him in a ditch in Everett, William Bruin (a.k.a. Reality Colliding) had been a bit of a mystery. He had no memory of his past, only his name. He refused Calis’ offer of help to trace his personality online, almost like he didn’t WANT to know. It’d been tempting, REALLY tempting, but he know that he couldn’t keep it a secret if he knew. Then William would likely kill him. That’s the problem with MysteryMen. They have a dark and insidious past. Calis hoped he’d finally decided that he needed his help. He considered inviting the beautiful and curvaceous Crystal Resonance to come along, but she was already plugged into her deck, fingers rapping out that slow, steady cadence of creativity. He knew that look on her face: inspiration. He took one last look, the glowlights outlining her beautiful black curves, and got his gear together, locking the door on his way out.

William had stayed with Calis for about a week before they found him a place of his own. He had enough stick to afford a modest Quann loft for a couple of months. There was one nearby and it didn’t take much talking to convince him to move out. He obviously had a need to be alone with his thoughts. That, or the constant stream of ladies through their door was bugging him. “It’s good to be the Elf.” Even though he hated the stereotype of the faggy forest creature who dances in the moonlight, is a bane to men and a gift to women, he didn’t feel the need to downplay that last bit too much.

Thankfully, everything he couldn’t get online was available in this neighbourhood. He was close to everything: friends, food, work, distractions. What else was there? The hookers were a little thicker there, but it was fun to watch them sometimes. He politely turned down a few offers for ‘dates’ and considered getting one for RC while he was out, but he’d probably snap and kill everyone for no reason. That’s always the problem with MysteryMen. He picked up a case of beer at the Winks and headed across the street to William’s building. It was a hole. He had a hard time just sitting down in that place. He couldn’t imagine sleeping there.

As he reached for the buzzer, JB and Spanner pulled up and parked down the block. He greeted them as they approached.


“JoeBoy’s gonna have to stand again”, William mused. “Hopefully, this won’t take long.”

He looked out the window to see JB and Spanner talking to Steel out on the stoop. It wasn’t difficult to imagine why Steel shied away from any kind of contact with JB. He was a brute! A good seven feet of street muscle. If he ever got augmented, he’d be a force to reckon with, no mistake. Steel’s frame looked slight even next to Spanner. It had to be intimidating.

Opening the window, William yelled out at them and teased them with a can of beer. They buzzed up and were inside the loft in a minute.

Steel had a case of beer with him and started loading it into the cooler right away.

“Ah, thanks man, but you better keep those in the case. We’re changing venue as soon as the cab arrives. I’m switching from my regular grind to beer for tonight. I want to get a little out of control. This is my moving out party, and you’re all invited!”

JoeBoy looked at William worriedly. He’d only known him for a short time but had never seen him drink. The sink had 4 dead soldiers in it already, so he’d obviously been a busy little boy. “Hey, man. Maybe you should slow down and let us catch up, huh?” Spanner was quick to catch on and went to get a mug from the cupboard. She filled it with water and handed it to William, took the beer away and handed it to JB who downed it immediately. Five down.

“Yeah, sure. No problem. Look, I tol’ you this was good news, right? And it is. GREAT news. I’m gonna be stinkin’ rich an’ so … so’re you. Oo. I need to sit down.” He took great care and exaggerated motion as he sat on the floor, but was still conscious and in a good mood. “Look over there on the counter. Buncha cards. One fer eacha you. Ok, I’m cut off.” He then took a big drink of the water and relaxed a bit. “Ok, something really funny happened to me today. Package arrived,” and he waved toward the garbage as he continued. Steel picked the red fibre envelope out of the can as William continued. “Long story short, I meet a guy, get a job and he wants me to put a team o’runners together for next week or somethin’. So, what are you doin’ next week? The money’s good.” A smile then played across his face. He started to rummage in the pockets of his ever-present lab coat until he came out with a shiny black credstik. “REALLY good.”

All activity in the room stopped as the three friends stared in disbelief at the one thing that could elevate them from the muck of their sorry lives: money.

Then the door buzzed and shocked them all back to reality. “Ok, that’s our ride. Let’s go. JB, you can follow on your hog.” The others were so shocked by that little black credstik that they followed the instructions as if entranced. Spanner grabbed the cards off the counter, Steel got the beer and JB and RC each picked up a carrybox from the floor. The trunk of the gypsy cab was loaded and everybody got in.

“Pier 90, off Garfield.”

The guy turned around and looked through the barrier. Nobody was laughing so he made an adjustment and said, “Extra 20, in advance.” William pulled out his credstik and keyed the amount into the CredX. This was going to be a good 30 minute ride and Spanner was hoping to get some info out of RC, but he just pulled his coat around himself and nodded off against the door as soon as the cab started to move. She turned around to make sure that JB was following before turning to the cabby to discuss that awful sound she heard coming from under his hood.

Steel wished he had the guts to simply take the credstik and do a trace on it. The proper skills would be a benefit too. He figured that it couldn’t possibly be a trap. It was too clumsy to have worked. Besides, who would want them for anything? Oh, yeah. The MysteryMan problem had finally come to rest like a loaded Browning against his temple. Crap. “Well, it’s supposed to be good news, right?” Spanner looked hopefully at him and nodded. The situation was too stressful and she started to giggle. It wasn’t long before the two of them were laughing as hard as they could. It was short-lived, but violent and certainly helped to lighten the mood in the back of the cab. It woke William up and he looked around.

“Almost there, sir”, announced the cabby. They were coming up Eliott along the bay, headed away from downtown. The glow from the city lights illuminated the cab from behind because they were headed into a darker side of town. There were few lights out this way and the few that still worked only did so out of spite. The bike was still behind, with a respectful distance between now in case of trouble.

The cab slowed outside the pier area but kept moving. “I’d rather settle up here first. I’ll drive you the rest of the way, but I don’t want to stop any longer than I have to.” RC paid the amount on the CredX and the cab jumped to a stop and the trunk popped. “Please remember all personal effects and close the doors and trunk. Thank you.”

Out of the cab, they saw the squalor of the area, illuminated from the lights of JoeBoy’s bike. They emptied the trunk and the cab drove slowly away in a tight half-circle.

William seemed to come to life finally and said, “The building at the end of the pier.”

JB perked up at this. “I’ll go check it out. Don’t be tardy.” He took off with an arrogant twist of the accelerator and a blare of noise. This was a rail yard at one time so the footing was a bit unsure. As they were each laden with a package, access to any weapons carried wouldn’t be quick, so nervous glances were cast about with abandon. As they hit the pier gate, they met JoeBoy coming back the other way on foot. He grabbed the boxes from Spanner and William, leaving the Elf to carry the beer. This freed up two sets of hands in case of trouble. However, since JB left his bike behind, it couldn’t be that dangerous.

Walking past the trailer park was interesting. They were looked over, head to toe by about a hundred sets of eyes. There were some fires going outside the rows and people were huddled around them for warmth. The breeze off the bay was a bit chilly tonight. The lots were filled with shanties and old trailers, some tents and a few trucks filled in the empty spots. There was a curious organization to it all.

At the far entrance to slip B there was a mixed group of people, seemingly waiting. A woman approached, flanked by two Trolls. They had their hands in plain sight and were staying well back, but still in range to be protective.

She looked each member of the group in the eyes, each in their turn. Approaching William first, she said, “I saw you earlier tonight. Are you moving into the E?”

William took a chance and said, “Yeah. We picked up the property real cheap. It looks promising. I suppose we’ll be neighbours, huh? We should have dinner sometime.”

She smiled at that and said, “I’ll be by tomorrow for a more official introduction. I just wanted to thank you for paying the utilities. We have a hard time getting fresh water out here sometimes. By the way, your gate is rusted open but I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ll tell my people to stay out. If you need anything, just ask for Mint.” Having said her piece, she turned and went back inside the fence. The Trolls remained in place until the group moved beyond their reach, then followed the woman.

The dark hulks of the broken-down buildings in the next two lots were spooky in the cool night. Turning into the last slip, Steel put the beer down carefully and turned William to face him. “What the fuck is going on here? You say that this is all going to be great and I’m always game for a little adventure and excitement, but this is getting a bit much for me! Here we are, surrounded by goddamn Trolls and Orks with no way out but through them. I only have your assurances that things are okay. Sorry guys, but this is freaking me out!”

William got a sober look on his face and said, “You want protection? Coming right up. Don’t forget the beer. Come on, we have to go to the far door.”

He trotted down to the end, excited now, and put his box down when he reached the last of the ten roll-up doors. He reached into his lab coat pocket and a look of panic crossed over his face. Spanner then handed him a card and shook her head. Everyone got a good laugh out of that.

The rest of the tour went pretty much as it had for William in his meeting with Underhill. He explained how this was the perfect opportunity for him to get his life started and he wanted his friends to share the opportunity. Also, he couldn’t do it alone.

(JoeBoy) Imaget Sandhu’s reaction.

I know what Spanner is going to say. She has to. She’ll never get home if she gets stuck making money at Lusitania Collision. Am I doing this for her or for me? I really want to do it myself, but I’m not sure if by agreeing I might push her into something she wouldn’t want. Oh, she’s a big girl. She can make her own decisions.

“Alright. I’m in. I need a change of pace and I’m sick of working at BlockBuster.”

(Spanner) Savannah Peterson’s reaction.

FINALLY! This is my only chance. Hopefully I’ll make enough money to get back home and back to driving. I can’t wait to go in to work, clean out my locker and tell that witch what she can do with her job!

“Damned right I’m in! When do we start?”

(Carbon Steel) Calis Adinerach’s reaction.

I’ve got my contacts already and a good steady income from my work. Why would I do this? Because I feel sorry for William? Sure, but that isn’t enough of a reason. I could get killed! It’s extremely dangerous work, that’s for sure. Wait a minute. You always hear about those guys who are in the elite tier like Captain Chaos and The Ninjabread Man, but never how they got there. This is probably how it happens. A job just dropped on them from out of the sky and they survived it. If I want Carbon Steel to ascend beyond the lowest layers of the matrix I’m going to have to get involved.

“Ok. I’ll do it. I don’t like it, but I’ll do it. Show me that terminal again. I want to see what I have to work with.”

Back in the control closet, the Elven decker snapped the components of his deck together and jacked into the building controls. “Spanner, tell me what you think of this.” He pulled a data cord out of the deck and offered it to her. Spanner plugged in and said, “Wow! This place is rigged for trid! We’ve got door controls, lighting access, camera leads all over the place, servo actuaries, alarms, I assume those are some kind of nastiness that would be set off by the alarms … this place is a goddamned fortress!”

“Servos? Where …” Shoulder surfing with a decker can be a bit tricky for the uninitiated. When Steel performed an about-face manoeuvre, Spanner wasn’t ready for it and lost her balance as her inner gyro tried to over-compensate. She would have taken a nasty fall if the room was much bigger. As it was, she twisted hard and both she and RC ended up on the floor in a tangle of arms and legs. The lead had come out at the deck end, a design decision made to take care of this kind of problem. Steel felt her leave, but wanted to see what those servos were for. They were simply numbered 1 through 6 and marked ‘CLOSED’ with an ‘OPEN’ option.

“Oh, what the hell,” he thought. “Let’s live dangerously.” He cycled all 6 to the ‘OPEN’ position and waited. Green lights came on under each servo and there was a brief power drain registered. He was becoming aware of the sound level in the room increasing, so he dropped out and opened his eyes, briefly disoriented by the transition.

“WHAT THE HELL DID YOU DO!” JoeBoy was shaking him now and he recoiled a bit in fear.

“Why? What’s going on?.”

“We don’t know! Hurry, up! The sound’s coming from downstairs!”

He quickly grabbed his deck components, unplugged them and ran for the elevator. Sure enough, there was a low buzzing sound and some strobing lights coming from the ground level.


It was a long couple of minutes waiting for the elevator to lower itself and then to open the door. JB had his StreetSweeper out and ready and handed some kind of handgun to Spanner while William pulled a couple of combat knives. Steel was busy slotting his components in his backpack while this was going on, but still managed to be on his feet and packed before the door rolled up. Part of the elevator door on the left side was obstructed by something and the buzzing noise had stopped.

The building lights were still in power-saver mode, only at a quarter illumination so it was difficult to see the length of the building.

JoeBoy was the first out of the elevator and he threw himself around the side of the obstruction before anyone else decided to move. Then he just backed up into their field of view with his gun held slack in his hand while he stared and scratched his head. Motioning with his free hand he looked at the rest of the group and said, “Uh, yeah. You guys should see this.”

There were 8 HiCubes in a block, just outside the elevator. The doors on them had opened onto dimly lit interiors.

|    1    |    2    |    3    |    4    |
|         |         |         |         |
|         |         |         |         |
|         |         |         |         |
+         +---------+---------+---------+
|         |    5    |    6              |
|         |         |                   |
|         |         |                   |
|         |         |                   |

Looking carefully, the power and control cables could be seen snaking up one of the support beams from this block of HiCubes almost directly above into the bird’s nest above.

The most recognizable item was in block 6 (a double-wide, with the doors opening from the middle). It looked like the front end of a car and Spanner ran over to investigate. “Sweet mother. It’s a Rolls. A Rolls Royce Phaeton. Oh my god! Who has a Rolls Royce Phaeton locked away in a cage? A better question is why? Next, I’d have to ask where the keys are.” William pulled a small flashlight out of his lab coat and played it around the inside of the cube. He found a ledge near the back that had the property papers, signed and awaiting countersignature to take possession. On top of that was a set of custom Rolls Royce maglock keys. Rolls Royce was well known to have been the first to incorporate VCR technology right in the key. Spanner explained that these would have to be ‘re-keyed’ at a dealership. Easy once the papers were signed. A lot easier than trying to hack the codes. “Nothing for it but to wait until morning,” she said.

William’s light illuminated assorted watercraft stacked inside on trolleys in block 5. There were a couple of personal motorized water craft and a big canoe. Block 1 was a double-high unit and there was a tarp covering whatever was inside. JoeBoy grabbed the tarp and pulled it aside. Inside could be seen the outline of a helicopter. The rotors and tail had been disassembled to make it fit, but it was definitely a helicopter. Once again, the Rolls Royce symbol gleamed on the front. William poked Spanner with his elbow and she said, “Hell if I know. She’s a beaut, though.”

Meanwhile, up above … Steel had muscled himself up into block 2. He stuck his head out and asked for the flashlight. Steel said, “Hang on, I’ll be right up.” JB helped him get up and in. Using his little pocket light again, he started looking around the inside. This block was half-filled with wooden cabinets on the left-hand side, top to bottom. Steel got a bit of a jolt when the light shone on something at the back. “GEEZ! What is that?” There was someone sitting in a comfy chair at the back of the HiCube. After the startling revelation, it appeared that whoever it was wasn’t going to be doing much talking. He looked fairly dead. Oddly, he hadn’t decomposed. He was wearing a brown hooded jacket and had a bone and wood necklace on over it. This could be a very bad thing. Very bad indeed. William looked at the Elf and said, "You got any ideas?

“Sure. He’s dead. Or not. How the hell should I know? Just 'cause I’m an Elf I should know about magic? Shove off.”

“Easy,” William replied. He had been a bit hasty in his reaction. “Maybe we’ll leave this one until morning. Let’s try the last two.”

Coming out from inside, they both noticed the rungs on the inside of the open doors. This would certainly make things easier. Spanner went up to block 3 and Steel went up again into block 4. They reported back what they found. Guns, armour, ammo, and lots of it. There were a few crates that were unlabelled and might take a bit of convincing to get open. “It’s the frikkin’ BatCave!” JB’s reference wasn’t lost on the others. This was a mythic figure from the literature of the past. It was oddly applicable.

“Ok, everybody down. Come on, let’s think about this.” William was pacing back and forth in front of the open doors to the new booty. “This is really nice, but now I’m beginning to wonder what we’ve gotten ourselves into.”

“What’s this ‘we’, white man? Cars, guns, magic, gizmos and gadgets? Everything we’d ever need to start an organization and keep it going just falls into your lap and NOW you start to get curious?” JoeBoy was a little agitated. “Blockbuster isn’t looking so bad right now.”

Spanner kicked him as hard as she could. “HEY! You were begging for something like this last month. Remember? What are you, chicken? You agreed to this not 10 minutes ago! Why change your mind now?”

“Because I’m not as stupid as I look. We literally have the Rolls Royce of equipment here. Who just leaves this stuff lying around? We don’t really have any idea who we’d be working for or what they’d expect us to do. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never done wet work before. This stuff doesn’t look hot to the touch, so I’ll assume it’s legit. That means credits. LOTS of 'em. How do you get that much cred?” He left the moment hanging so each of his friends could come to their own conclusion.

That was the moment that everyone’s opinion of Carbon Steel changed. He walked to the Ork and slowly looked at him from toes to nose. He raised his hand and slapped him across the face. He had only barely talked to JB before this. He had never laughed at his jokes or been anything but silently hostile toward him, and this was a big step for him. He didn’t flinch as he did it and he didn’t look away, his gentle Elven eyes staring directly into the big Ork’s. “What makes you think we’ll let you leave? I mean, you’ve seen everything here and know what we’re capable of. You’re in it now.”

A quietness fell on the group with only the sound of Steel’s quick breathing to break it. Nobody moved, realizing that this was a critical point in the group’s formation.

JoeBoy looked from Steel to Spanner, then to William and back to Steel. He slowly smirked and shrugged his shoulders in resignation. “Alright, you got me. Still, this is all quite much. I need a beer.”

“Yeah,” everyone seemed to agree at the same time. They headed to the elevator for the slow ride back to the nest. Everyone seemed stuck in their own little worlds as they rode to the top and settled around the food stations partaking of some cold ones. Steel jacked in again to close the doors on their treasure.


(JoeBoy) Imaget Sandhu’s inner monologue.

They’ll want me to heft and heave. That’s just the way it is. I don’t really mind, but ‘a girl likes to be asked’. What am I going to do? I was in my high school runners club, but all we did was imagine our adventures and practice a few things we picked up on the trid. Hell, I’ve never even fired this shotgun outside the store where I bought it. I’ve practised in VR, but never felt the real thing. I’ve been in my share of dust-ups and can take care of myself, but I’m just not sure. I guess I’d better GET sure. No room for half-measures here. I have the means and the opportunity to get ahead here, all I need is a little personal initiative. Calis is right. I can’t just leave now. I’m in this, good or bad. I suppose I should resign from work tomorrow. There are rooms here, so I should cancel my rent payments. We’ll need some furniture. I suppose there’s probably some sitting in another lockbox somewhere. Who knows.

Spanner is like my mom: always getting herself in too deep. She gets hurt too quickly. I just hope she can stay away from the really dangerous stuff.

RealityColliding, man I hate that name. I understand why he chose it, he couldn’t organize his thoughts when we first met. Still, he has no idea what’s going on here. Who knows, he could be the guy who used to run this place before!

What the hell is up with Calis? I mean, I know he doesn’t like Orks. I know that. Why the sudden hostility toward me? Maybe because he finally saw a chance to strike back. It doesn’t change my opinion of him; he’s a spoiled little kid who I have to protect. I’ll do it too, but I don’t think we’ll be taking long walks together any time soon.

Checklist of things to do …
- take Savannah to the Rolls dealership
- pick up some portable lights and tools
- rent a truck unless I can convince Calis to lend me his van
- quit work, cancel the rent, move my stuff into a room and help Savannah do the same with hers

I’d rather let the others mess around in those boxes. Let them find the surprises.

Ok, I suppose I should get her home so we can start packing for the morning. The only one left would be Steel, and he wouldn’t take my help.

Everything’s locked up tight here, so I don’t see any problems.

(Spanner) Savannah Peterson’s inner monologue.

Once I give my word to do something, I do my damnedest to complete that task. It doesn’t matter if it’s as simple as walking to the corner shop to get coffees for the others, or as tedious as rebuilding a 100 year old car with no service manual.

I’m committed to the group; to helping out JB, CS, and RC. Whatever that entails. We’re friends, after all. Now we get to be partners and that could change things.

In the long term, I want to go home. To go back to BonTon Microdrive (if they’ll have me!) and my job as a driver. Drek, I hope they don’t get snotty and take out all my cybergear. That would really suck.

In the short term, I want to see where this whole thing leads. Yeah, it’s weird, alright…

In the medium term? Farked if I know. Staying alive is a pretty good option, though.

Going back to Lusitania is not really an option, Carly was robbing me blind. The bitch.

I need this work. I need to find out where it all goes… What the hell has RC gotten us into?

I trust JB. He’s not stupid. Maybe too brave for his own good, though. Orks aren’t really my style, but deep down, he’s a good bloke. It’s what’s in a person’s heart that matters most. I wonder what he’d be like in bed…

CS? I dunno. I don’t know if I can trust him. Those decker guys can be kinda freaky when they’re not in the Matrix. He keeps trying to come across as Gahd’s gift to women, but he’s sure not jumping my bones.

RC? No memory, lotsa crazy energy. Can’t handle his beer. He got us into all this, and I’m trusting him to get us all out again. Preferably intact!

Right now, I’m just gonna have a beer and sort out the implications of the gear we just found. In the morning, examine it all very closely, especially the car. I’m betting it’s wired to the hilt to track where it goes, and what happens inside. I wonder if CS can do a trace on the registration details… Try and find out just who owns (or owned) it.

The dead guy on the chair is kinda freaky. He should be nothing but dried skin or something. I wonder who he was… And what the hell is he doing there?

I’ve always wanted to fly a chopper… Just never had the cash for lessons. If I can get my mitts on a chip, I’ll be laughing. Providing I don’t kill myself. I’m so glad I have that KnowSoft link. It’s supposed to work as if I know what’s on the chip, as long as it’s plugged in.

Just don’t look at the map on the floor, girl. One look at the wrong place, and I’ll be blubbering again. Drek, I thought I’d gotten over all that. Where’s that farking beer??

Fark… I gotta go and grab all my gear from the apartment. Mona will go batshit crazy when she finds she’s gotta stump up all the rent next month. Hmmm… That door labelled ‘Mint’ - I wonder if it’s the same ‘Mint’ as over at Dock A.

(Carbon Steel) Calis Adinerach’s inner monologue.

Okay, here’s the deal. I don’t care about the rest of them, I just want to become the most swoovin’, heat-trackin’, ‘1337’ decker there is. I got the contacts, I got the machine, and I’m ready to move. Go in hard, get a few creds, work on my skillz and take the top jobs. Yeah. I guess I could sit around with these guys a while longer. I mean, they’re always good for a party but we’ve never worked before. I got the matrix mapped, JB has the hard-headed muscle covered in spades and Spanner can drive about anything. What the hell William is good for is anyone’s guess. Aside from getting this whole ball of fur rolling, I just don’t get him at all. He’s a loner, quiet, I don’t even know what he can do! I suppose I’ll have to ask him sometime.

Right now I have bigger fish to fry. I gotta get to town and set up a few things. I’ll talk to Mint in the morning and ask her a few questions. If she’s who I think she is, things may fall into place quicker the more I can get out of her. I don’t like working for people I don’t know and right now I don’t know jack. Hopefully I can ask around and see who knows what about this civic minded group whose names are on the doors down the hall. Cops probably won’t know. If these guys were corporate, they’d be off the radar. That leaves me with 2 options, neither of which I like. I could go to see Yuri Federov or Yasuhiro Ikazuchi. Czech arms dealer or Yakuza underboss. Options are limited. I’ll see if Crystal wants to help me on the data steal if I have to go deep.

Aw, crap. My van is in town. We can’t take the Rolls. Heh. I love saying that. Maybe we’ll all get Country Club memberships too. But for tonight, I’ve got to stay here. I’ll give Spanner the keys. I suppose she’s gonna move in here too. She can take care of that early, then when she gets back I’ll reclaim the van and do of the same. Then it’s to work!

I got nothin’ to do until then except check out the system a little more and maybe work a little on my programs.

(RealityColliding) William Bruin’s inner monologue.

Is it time to get to work? Yes. I think so. Time to make a living. Living is something I have to figure out.

What does that mean? I don’t know anything about my past except for what’s in my head. How can I start to figure out my future if I don’t understand my past? I know that I can recite the periodic table by rote. I could give any of these guys’ cyberware a good checkup with the right tools. I can see the circuits in my head. Well, I can’t see the circuits that are IN my head, but I can guess which specific parts would be there. I have a pretty good idea of what each of the guys has installed just by watching them. If only I could trust one of them to work on me I’d do it in a second. I suppose that some of the money I got will go to a good street doc. I just hope somebody knows one. I can’t remember the code to access any of the functions in my headware and I can’t change that code by myself. All by the light of day …

I can’t really afford to move out of here yet. I just got this place, but it’s even worse than that Quann flat I had. Maybe It’ll look better with different paint. God, this green is giving me a headache.

I want to do a complete inventory of everything in those boxes. Guns, dead bodies, cars, boats, a chopper? This is some serious drek. Chummer, you are up to your eyestalks in it. If I’m going to have the right questions for Mint tomorrow morning I’d better know what I’m talking about. I’ll see if I can get Calis to turn the lights up a bit and maybe we can look around. Who knows what other surprises are waiting? We could have triggered some silent alarm and an N.A.T. Hit Squad could be manoeuvring into position right now. Oh, sure. Think crazy thoughts NOW. No, that’s an awfully long throw for an out. I refuse to believe that this is a setup.

Still, even though these guys all decided to help me out and seem really excited about the job, I have no idea who they really are. I guess nobody’s going to be doing much sleeping for a while anyway, so it’s just as well that I’ve got all that coffee.

I’ll wait to see who decides to move in and what they bring before I see what we need to order to live here. I don’t want to make this a permanent place because I definitely want my own pad. I’ve had enough of sleeping with the rats. It’ll do for now.

I just feel so useless. Everyone has a place in a shadow team except for me. You always need muscle. JoeBoy has that sewn up. Calis is the decker and Spanner can move about anything with a motor. What can I do? All I did is supply the job. I speak a few languages and know a lot of sciences. I don’t think I was a doctor, but I just don’t know. Maybe I’ll find a clue in my head tomorrow.


JoeBoy stood up and helped Spanner to her feet. “We better get moving if we want to get a good start in the morning.” She looked up at him and silently agreed. Calis threw his keys at her and she caught them deftly. “It’s two blocks down from my place in that lot I showed you last time. Get moving early because I have to move my stuff in too.”

They all agreed that moving in would probably be best for everyone if they were going to start working as a team. Calis and William would stay behind while Imaget and Savannah picked up their belongings to move in. Once they got back, Calis could go to do the same. In the meantime, everyone was to start making lists of things they’d need.

The drive back to town was as quiet as the city ever got. There was always air traffic and it was an ever present buzz, but the traffic was light at this hour of the night. Lights became more common the closer they got to downtown. They got on the 90 and drove across the island to Bellevue and their little neighbourhood. He dropped her off near the lot that Calis had mentioned and waited until she was in the van before heading home.

He woke up his parents and told them flat that he was moving out in the morning. They seemed relieved at first, but emotions soon turned to tears. Mom started to make a fuss and Pops got a couple of big boxes from the garage. Most of his belongings were already in boxes, anticipating such a move. All he had to do was put his clothes together and take the bed apart. His keyboard and equipment were quickly packed into their carry cases and JoeBoy settled down with his folks for a little family chat that would go on for hours, long into the morning.

Savanna took the van back to the apartment building and told the guy at the gate that she was just there to pick up a few things, so she’d need the elevator for a couple of hours. He checked her id and let her in. She parked around the back near the rear exit. The panel lit up when she pressed it and the SecGuard told her to go on in. He reminded her that she could use a dolly from the maintenance closet on her floor. It was going to take hours for her to get all this stuff in the van, but she never gave up once she started something. Mona, as expected, had a fit. She was completely inconsolable and ran from the apartment, crying. When the van was almost completely loaded she came back in with some coffee and danish. For two. They stopped and talked and both finished the job. Mona understood, of course. She wasn’t the easiest person in the world to live with. Making sure that Savannah had everything she needed, she cleaned up the mess and used her NetConn to put up a notice for a new apartment mate.

When she pulled up in front of Imaget’s place, the lights were on and she could see Mom working in the kitchen. She went in through the garage and saw the boxes piled up inside the door. Imaget met her inside and handed her a cup of tea. They had just finished a nice late meal and there was some left, but she wasn’t hungry. Mom knew that Savannah was a nice girl and didn’t growl at her like she did some of his other friends. Pops helped them to move everything into the van, though it was a tight fit. Imaget strapped his keyboard kit to his back, gave his parents a hug and drove off into the night leaving a big hole in 3 lives. The van had left a little before that, giving him time to be alone with them. The wind was doing a good job scouring the tears from his face and he was dry by the time he pulled up in front of the warehouse.

Savannah chipped her city map and found the Rolls dealership. She turned off the highway and headed out to find it. They were closed, of course, but that wouldn’t stop them from doing business. She left the van and headed to the AI Teller. She saw the camera grab her and she held out the keys. The teller door opened and she stepped inside. It was an unnerving and oddly secure feeling all at once. She felt both trapped and safe at the same time. The screen came on and read:
She chose Bern, Switzerland.

“Hello! You are calling from Seattle and I am glad to assist you and your claim. Please put your key into the slot. Thank you. Ok, I see that this key is in transition. Are you the new owner?”
“That’s great! Welcome to the family! We look forward to a long and healthy relationship with you. Please enter your ID into the terminal and we can get started. Aaaaaaaand, thanks. Okay. Miss Magnolia … Blunt, is it? Yes. Ok, the details of transfer will be processed today and sent to the local office for them tomorrow. Oo, it looks like it’s been almost 2 years since any recorded maintenance was performed on this vehicle. Would you like to schedule an appointment? No? You understand that this is a precision vehicle and needs to be kept in top form to perform as recommended? Good. Before I release the key back to you I have some questions that I’d like to ask you …”

The salesdroid slipped into high gear at this point and it was 10 minutes of pitches before she could even get back to the topic of a second set of keys.

“Oh, you have another vehicle as well? That’s unusual. Very well. Ok, there’s your first set back. Please insert the second set as before. Great. Thanks. This is … Oh! A corporate client. Sorry. My mistake. You should have said something! I’m afraid I was probably boring you with details of which you were already aware. So, besides the Phaeton and the Golden Arrow transfers, were there any other details I could help you out with today? Final details have come through on this account and will be available to you tomorrow through corporate services at the office you are now in. You have a nice day now. Bye bye.”

The screen darkened, leaving the interior of the teller very different. Instead of feeling freedom, she felt as if a new weight had been added to her shoulders.

The sky was getting a little pink as she pulled up at the warehouse and turned the van off.

William stood and went into the control closet to have a chat with Calis.

“Listen, man. Don’t get down on him. I don’t know about your past, don’t really care either. You want in? Well, you’re in. That means you’re part of a team. If you can’t understand that, you aren’t in anymore.”

“Sure, sure,” Calis agreed. “I unnerstand. Look, I don’t have a lot of freedom with this system here. It’s rigged for a VCR. I got lucky with those boxes because they were on a tripswitch. Someone wanted them found. I can see where the manual controls are, but I can’t do drek from here.”

As he was saying this he pulled the jack from behind his left ear and coiled it up next to his equipment. “The light box is downstairs. Go have a look, would you? It’s just outside the elevator. I’ll open the boxes again when you’re done.”

Back to the elevator and down to ground. Sure enough, the electrical system was right next to the elevator in a locked box. He yelled, “I imagine this will open with the same code. It looks pretty simple.” He keyed the house code into the panel and the lock disengaged. He opened the box and found the light panel. Cranking the gain up lit the inside of the warehouse like the middle of the day. “OKAY! GO AHEAD!”

He closed and locked the panel again as the block doors opened on their smooth servos.

Calis called the elevator and came down to help out. The chopper was their first stop. Sure enough, it was in two pieces. The main section was facing out and the tail had been artfully removed and hung from the roof of this double-high container. The rotors were secured to the left side of the block and there was a small box like in block 6 with the car. Spanner must have emptied it because he couldn’t find anything inside. This was a beautiful machine, even dissected as it was; a beautiful dark green with black metal trim.

The next block had 4 man-sized watercraft and a fibreglass kayak that could only have been sized for a Troll. The enormous paddles were enough of a giveaway. These could be very handy around Seattle. The personal watercraft were huge, almost the size of a small boat by themselves. Most of that size was fuel tank.

The far block had the Rolls in it and a more careful examination showed this to be of a similar colour scheme as the chopper. The two wheels on the passenger side were flat and there was some light arms damage to the finish, but no penetration. The rear hatch was singed by some kind of fire damage. There were tool chests lining the right-hand side of this compartment. Quickly playing the small light around them showed just about any tool that would be required to fix about anything. Most of the set was dedicated to automotive tools, but there were some fine electronics tools as well. Not cybernetic size, but fine enough for most electronics work.

Deciding to leave the dead body for last, they went up into the block with the big “4” painted on the inside door. It had an aisle down the middle with racks on both sides. These heavy-duty racks held shelves that rolled out and held all manner of weapons. There were dozens of different guns, rocket launchers, missile launchers, electronics that were obviously designed for each, pistols, sniper rifles, and one rack with 40 identical knives. At the rear of the box were 4 mil-spec crates stacked on each other. They managed to get the top one down and opened it. Steel was surprised to find the building’s Vehicle Control Rig interface along with all the tools necessary to hook it back up. The second held more servos, alarm panels, camera equipment and electronics gear. This was obviously the control and alarm circuitry for hardwiring the building.

“Hey, boss. Help me get that first crate into the elevator and I’ll leave you to explore the last two rooms in this dungeon. Okay? Man, somebody sure took their time taking this place apart.” Between them, they managed to manhandle the crate down without denting the car underneath. Calis dragged it over to the elevator, and then into the kitchen.

“Yes,” William agreed. “Someone took a great deal of effort to make this operation disappear.” He went up to block 3 and found it much the same as the last one: an aisle down the middle with racks on the left, but cabinets on the right. There was more equipment on the racks, but a lot of it looked like electronic warfare and support and survival gear. The cabinets held racks of personal armour, lined coats, web gear, everything to meet the needs of the modern runner.

However, when he opened the last cabinet he just about dropped his light. He saw a white medical case that was sealed and had warning and bio symbols all over it. It was a standard bio-case, 100cm wide by 40cm deep and 40 cm high. The CLEAN ENVIRONMENT ONLY sticker was taped over the seals, so there was no way to tell what was inside without opening it. The sight of it almost brought back some memories. There was a flash of working in a clean environment, some kind of accident … then it was gone. CRAP! He was so pissed that he picked up the case and almost threw it out and down onto the floor of the warehouse. His … training … stopped him. He know that would be disastrous. He had no idea what would happen, and he wanted to take the time to examine this more fully. More carefully than was absolutely necessary, William turned and put the case back in the cupboard.

Time for the last block. William didn’t feel creepy about seeing the dead body again, but was glad that it was still there for some reason. JoeBoy had made him watch that stupid zombie trid last week and it must have affected him a little more than he thought. He walked the length of the container and checked for any signs of life. No pulse, no breathing, cold to the touch. No, he was dead alright. Still, he wasn’t going to move it any more than was absolutely necessary. Only magic could have kept that body from stinkin’ the place up. This block had the same central aisle motif as the last 2, but the cabinets and drawers were all made of wood! Wow. That took some care. Slowly opening the first one he saw some beads and feathers and a dead snake. “OKAY! THAT’S ENOUGH!” He closed the drawer again and quickly headed back out and down to the ground.

Whew! Quite a haul. Junk, all of it. Maybe he could sell a bunch of it and get the cred to put together a good lab, William thought. What? Why a lab?

Just then, William could hear a large bike pull up outside. He waited until he could hear the outside door start to open and headed down to the airlock to wait for JB.


They were going through the inventory of weapons and equipment when Savannah showed up with the van. Everything about getting into this place was hard, so it took the three of them more than an hour to unload everything from the van and get it through the airlock. After that, Spanner went straight to the Rolls to have a look. She jacked the key and found that she had access to all of the security functions. The doors popped and the lights came on inside. A funny smell came through the open door as she looked inside. It was like burnt upholstery. Looking into the back, she could see that there were 3 burnt-out seats in the very back and scorch marks around the rear hatch. The Advanced Passenger Protection System had been deployed along with the fire suppression system and both would need replacing. Tire pressure was nonexistent on both passenger-side tires which meant two flats. She felt a bit claustrophobic once she turned on the sensor suite, but got a better feel for the car.

¤1¤ SPANNER, YOU IN? ¤1¤

She did an engine check and it looked like this horse had been ridden hard and put to bed wet the last time out. Spec logs showed performance all outside the tolerable range. She lit it up and it still purred, though. Easing it out into better lighting revealed the two flats. These were Run-Flat tires and could still perform with no pressure, but they needed replacement. Sure enough, there were 4 unused spares in the rear of the compartment. Steel had left with the van by then, so she asked JoeBoy if he’d handle it.

Upstairs she found a bit of a surprise. Steel and RC had laid out the control linkages with almost surgical precision. The floor was laid out with specific items grouped by usefulness. They had hooked up the building’s rigger interface and connected a few things like a comm suite into it already. Patch panels, hubs, and routers were already in the racks just waiting to be connected to their real-world devices. On the desk next to the terminal was a green chip, labelled with the word ‘control’. She slotted it into place and worked her way through the interface to see what was inside. Sure enough, this was a complete schematic of the entire dock system. It included topographical, electrical, plumbing and architectural data including damage done to the dock by the explosion. The chip was dated 4 years ago.

“Ok, time to test it out.” She took the VCR plug and jacked into the building. Such an adrenaline rush every time a new system is entered. She could feel the pulse of the wires and know what does what. The security was wide open, but once she got through with it, things would be bolted down tight. It felt like there were limbs missing. All the circuitry for alarms and sensors, doors and lighting were in place, but there was nothing hooked up to them. Cross-referencing against the connection to the Rolls, she found that DOOR2, DOOR3, and DOOR4 were indeed controls for the second outer rolling door and two more sets of doors that would open the containers in front of the car in order to get in and out. This was getting a little too much. It was a lovely little setup. She could see links that went to the gantry system, but the motors had been removed. There was another link to the crane outside, but those motors were gone as well. Sensors went all around the perimeter of the roof as well as inside. That meant a lot of work for her.

Being a building’s security rigger was always a career choice for someone with the right equipment, but Spanner had other talents. She loved to drive. That car needed a little love, come to think of it. She left the ‘building’ and re-entered the world and got downstairs just as JoeBoy was finishing with the first wheel. These wheels were not meant to come off very easily, which was a good thing. With William’s help, she got the doors’ power leads hooked up again and the servo re-attached to the outside door. The Rolls looked ready to go by then, so Spanner got in. It turned over easily and when she keyed the building’s entry/exit sequence everything worked like a charm. The doors all opened, creating a kind of tunnel to drive through.

She lowered the window and said, “Who wants a ride?” She was grinning from ear to ear with that gleeful grin she reserved for her happier moments.

JoeBoy said that he’d love to stop by work for a few minutes to do a few things, but RC declined. He was going to find Mint. The side door opened to permit access for JB and they were off. The dark green limo seemed to suck up the light as it eased out into the brightening daylight.

Morning traffic sucked, made even worse by his choice of destination. The place he had was cheap, but that’s because it was out by SeaTac. Nobody wanted to live next to the airport. Steel had gotten used to the noise almost immediately so it made no difference to him. However, traffic was always bad.

He had been able to hook into the power leads and NetConn from an old building on the outskirts of the commercial airfield. It was a good hack and he was sorry to have to dismantle it. It took 30 minutes to obfuscate any trace of his rewiring from the inside of the building. He clipped and buried the excess cable in the back yard. This was a good squat and might come in handy again.

He had had to move a couple of times this year already and had pared his belonging down to a few cases. Being a bit anal helped in this respect because he knew exactly where everything went. An almost military precision had gone into the design of these cases so that everything nestled into their foam cutouts. Tools and diagnostics slid into protective sleeves and were quickly loaded into the van. His weapons and clothes were a little more trouble, but everything was squared away inside an hour. All the food was put into an old computer case that he carried to his neighbours’ place. They turned a blind eye to everything in the area and were a nice couple besides. He gave them a hundred hard creds to keep him informed through Dmail on the availability of his place and left.

There was still lots of daylight left, so he took a run for supplies. Easy enough. He just pulled into an empty parking space and jacked in. A quick trip to a furniture reseller to leave a list of deliverables and another to a grocery and he was done inside 10 minutes. While he was on the Net he decided to take a look at their NetConn from the outside for chinks or access breaks. It took a while to find because the location was hidden in a dead corporate directory, three levels deep. Nice. He went high and low, then took a look all around.

>>LOAD LookSee5.308

Whuzzat? Does that say NO ACCESS or is it asking for the access code?* Aside from a few noisy data lines and a sealed access port to the Dwarven Kingdom, there didn’t appear to be anyone around.

>>LOAD JetScan4.0b
>>DISPLAY RESULT: bots=0, AI=???, WhiteHats=0, GreyHats=0, BlackHats ;

Ok, nothing that I could handle even if I could see it. Entering code now.*

The node had looked like an old electric box, blending into the side of the Dwarven Kingdom gate. The panel opened and there was a single switch inside. Pretty standard stuff, access followed by action. He activated the double power-switch and a drawer slid out of the bottom with other toggles and switches. By accessing each of these, he was able to plug into different parts of the building security. Pretty easy, actually. Not knowing what the penalty might be for illegal access while on the Net, he logged out, reset the panel and jacked out.

“Interesting. I’ll have to tear down that connection to diagnose the software sometime. Yeah, when I have a spare minute.”

The Rolls moved smoothly, despite the fuzz in the interface. That had to be from the abuse she had taken last time out. Still, this was such a pleasure to manoeuvre that Spanner just relaxed into the seat and smiled. First stop: BlockBuster. Next stop: BallBuster. Heh.

JB got out of the limo and went inside the store. He was gone no more than 5 minutes before returning to the car. Spanner noticed that he seemed to be carrying himself a little better and wasn’t as hunched as usual. Mom would love to hear that.

“Any problems,” she asked?

“No. They cut me my last pay right away. I hate the way they treat their employees like machines. Let’s go. Yours oughtta be more interesting.” He smiled as he said that. “Lemme drive.”

They traded places, he put the car into gear and eased back onto the grid. It was a quick hop across town to Lusitania Collision. When he pulled in there were more than a few stares. A few of the mechanics came out to take a look and jockey for position. It’d be a great pleasure to work on a car like that. Then the door opened and Spanner got out. They didn’t recognize her at first. Then a few looks got passed back and forth, a few nods and the intern was sent in to get Carly. The chief mechanic followed her into the locker room.

“Mornin’. What’s goin’ on, pretty girl?”

“Hey, Gerry. I got a better job. Time to pull up roots. Nothing I can’t handle.”

“I’ll bet.” Gerry had that angry redhead look and a close cropped beard. His expression didn’t change, but his posture spoke volumes about his concern. He had always tried to protect her from Carly’s wrath and had even taken on more work than he could handle just to help her out once. Friends are hard enough to come by, so she didn’t want to mess things up with this one.
“Listen. Everything’s fine. Really. I have a fairly legit spot making corp runs now and I just wanted to pick up my things. Hey! I might be able to throw you a few jobs now and then if you want. That sounds funny, now that I say it. When I met you …”

“I know. I’m still The Chief. I’d be glad to help out. Do me a favour? Keep your name off the scream sheets, okay?”

She had put her extra clothes and boots into a duffel by then, turned and gave him a punch on the arm. “Yeah. I’ll send you a wave when I get settled in.”

Entering the garage, she saw the mechanics all standing around watching Carly arguing with JoeBoy who was absently polishing the Rolls. She sidled over to the new guy and opened the box containing all the registered vehicle spec chips. No words were spoken. You work with someone long enough and you just know. He smiled and pocketed the chips, then he walked outside. Carly saw him coming and turned right into the haymaker that he landed on her chin. She dropped as if poleaxed. “I quit,” was all he said to her as he dropped his welder’s cap in the middle of the lot and walked out.

“Wow! I wonder where that came from?” Spanner looked at Carly and shook her head as she stood over her. “Oh! By the way … I quit.” Those words were enough to make Carly flinch again.

Yeah. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

And eaten with your fingers.


William took a little walk down the pier, morning light showing more than he had gotten through his night vision. He could make out an old Greyhound loading up with Dwarves, just about to leave for the city. They were probably groundskeepers for the rich and famous. It was racist, but it was work. Seattle wasn’t all high-paying jobs and lovely mansions like the trids tried to make out. It was a bit rainy at times, but today it was bright and sunshiny; a lovely day.

He walked the length of the pier and down to the first opening in the fence leading into the yard. A few of the metas there moved to intercept him.

“Help you mister?”

“Yeah. I’m looking for Mint. She’s expecting me.”

They looked at him with differing degrees of severity. A pale troll with long lank hair started walking toward the pier and motioned with his head. The others parted to let him pass. They didn’t speak, but depression seemed to be coming off this youth in waves. It was creepy. William was led to a trailer about half-way down, on the landward side of the lot and motioned to enter. It was indistinguishable from the others on the lot aside from small decorations on the front. This one was painted dark green and had some plastic flowers glued on it.

The door was open, so he went in. A teapot was warming in the sink and there was water running somewhere else in the trailer. He sat at the table to wait. A few minutes later, Mint came into the kitchen wearing slippers and a towel on her head. She went straight to the sink and started to prepare some tea from the pot that had started to boil. William had turned his head away and coughed politely to get her attention. A short, sharp noise came out of her as she bolted for the back room. She came back out with a printed robe on a minute later and pretended as if nothing had happened.

“AH! How nice to see you. Will you stay for tea?” She got out a second chipped cup from the cupboard and put an extra teabag into the pot.

“Sure, I’d love to. Sorry about bothering you so early in the day, but I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night and I have a lot of questions.” He made himself more comfortable on the chair and looked around to see that there were a couple of Troll-sized ones as well. Mint closed the cover on the teapot and brought a tray with the pot and cups over to the table.

“Sorry, but I didn’t catch your name last night. Who are you, what are the names of the others, and why are you here?” She sat down and started to shake her hair out as she asked her questions.

“I’m RC. That’s RealityColliding. It’s awkward to say, but it fits me right now. Last night you met JoeBoy, Carbon Steel and Spanner. JB is the Orc, Steel is the Elf and Spanner is the … woman. I’m going with our aliases, as I’m certain you also are. No need for more than that yet. I’m assuming that you’re the same Mint from the control nest?”

“Yes.” She smiled as she said that. “We were each allowed to leave something of ourselves behind, and I left a clue. Here are the rules. You can ask me questions and I will answer them as fully as I want. I won’t give you anything that you don’t need to know. Have you eaten?”

“Uh, no. Can I …”

“No, you sit down and finish with your answers. Then you can ask your questions. I’ll make us some eggs and toast.” She got up and moved across to the small kitchen and began to prepare some breakfast.

“You were a member of that team. You know what was in that building. We’ve opened a few of those HiCubes and found some of it. We’re a small group, and not very experienced. We’re pretty well set up to succeed now, though. I don’t know if this is some kind of social experiment or what, but we could all use this kind of a break and are motivated to succeed. This place seems to have served you well for some time, so I’d be happy to call it home for a while. I think that’s my part done.”

“Now, your turn. The names on the doors … JoJo, Sarge, HardTop, NonSequitor, DogBoy and Mint. Who were they?”

“The short answer is that we were a group of corporate contract runners named The Originals. The others were running for a couple of years before they found the place at the end of the pier and decided to fix it up. They decided that they needed help to manage their lair and hired me. I used to be a security rigger and was outsourced at the end of a rather boring contract. It was a good opportunity and I grabbed it. I was chief cook and bottle washer, secretary and security goon. While they were off running jobs, I held down the fort. When things came to their conclusion … well, I didn’t want to have nothin’ more to do with it. However, I was given a monthly allowance to help set up the next group to come along. That was more than a year ago, and now here you are. I run this little corner of heaven and don’t yearn for much more. I’m happy and I have respect. I know a lot of people who don’t have that. Could you pour the tea? Thanks.”

“Ok, what can you tell me about the team? About The Originals?”

Mint scooped the eggs onto plates, added the toast and carried them to the table, setting one in front of William. “Actually, I can’t tell you much at all aside from what you could probably already tell. JoJo was the muscle. She was a tanked out Troll with an attitude as big as Quebec. Sarge was their leader. He was a military man. Very striking. Quite a guy. His smarts got that team out of more messes! Anyway … let’s see, NonSequitor. He ran the net. I mean, he RAN the net. The biggest security problem I had was from all these wannabe hackers trying to bust into our presence. They never got in, but that wasn’t because of me. That boy was a marvel. Last was DogBoy: a shaman. Quite adept. Quite adept. He was the spirit that kept the group together. I sure miss him.”

“What about HardTop?”

“Hard … Oh, god. I almost forgot about her. She had that effect on people. You could just forget that she was around. I know a few samurai who wanted her to teach them her secret.” She held out her mug and got a faraway look. “Yeah. HardTop. Great gal.”


“What? Oh, she was their driver. It was a while after I joined them that she finally got rigged up. A lot of talent in that little head before she ever jacked into that chopper. She was a whiz. I sure miss her.”

“So, which one of them is laying dead in a chair in a container?”

Mint choked a bit on her tea, and spurted out, “WHAT? DEAD? Where?”

So, William recounted their discovery of the equipment and the dead body in the recliner.

“Drek. That’d be the Dog. He wasn’t supposed to go like that. He promised that he had a few more years left. What does he look like?”

“I dunno. I didn’t touch him! Who the hell knows what’d happen!” William was a little worked up thinking about having a dead shaman on his hands.

Then Mint calmed down. She looked William in the face, giving him the full-on stare that she had the night before. “You bring him here. You bring him and his big ol’ chair to my trailer and I’ll find you a suitable, trustworthy building manager. Deal?”

“What? Wait a minute. I thought YOU were going to take the job.”

“No. Like I said, I’m content. Besides, I can’t.”

She moved her hair out of the way and a ragged scar was visible at the hairline behind her ear, along with a skull cap. These were used to seal the skull where a jack had been removed. If she’d had her rig removed, there was no way around it. She couldn’t do the work. She was dead to that world.

William looked at her and thought. She was a valuable asset, even without her presence. She knew the area. Besides, Underhill said that he should try to help these people. Taking their leader would do just the opposite.



Over the next couple of days the ‘E’ began to take shape. Utilities came online. Furniture was delivered and set up. Everyone pitched in to get the security modules in place and working. The weapons and equipment were all tested. The Rolls got cleaned and polished. A lot. Sleep was erratic, but satisfying.

Spanner took great delight in using her creative talents to spray paint their names on the doors.

DogBoy was moved to Mint’s place under cover of night and inside Steel’s van. You never knew exactly who was watching, or from where.

Mint dropped by with a couple of prospective riggers that first day. They were weeded down to one: an elf. She was barely old enough for implantation, but she qualified. Her name was Ferta Loxley and she was a slim little thing. It didn’t look like she’d eaten a decent meal in a month, or had a bath. Both were seen to almost immediately for obvious reasons.

Steel’s street doc contact was out of town so Spanner got in touch with her fixer, Grassy Noel. For 100 credits, Noel suggested a guy on Mercer Island. The instructions were to park on Island Crest Way, in the park, and to hike the rest of the way. Apparently this guy was a legitimate doctor and did a little freelance micro-surgery in his spare time. Evenings only.

They ran through the roster and decided that they would all go except JoeBoy. He didn’t have any wires at all and wasn’t really interested in getting any right away. RC had a couple of small jobs that needed looking into, Spanner said she needed a quick tweak on her system and Steel needed a little more insulation to clear up his jack-itch. They all piled into the limo, Spanner and Steel in front and RC and Ferta in the back. RC didn’t forget to bring the white bio-container. He strapped it down in the cargo compartment before they left. The Roller had been properly tuned now that Spanner had the proper spex chip and it barely made a noise as they left the warehouse.

The trip through downtown and across the Mercer Island Bridge was a little slow because of grid upgrades, but the twisty drive down E Mercer was a joy. The limo moved like a cat despite its size.

They parked on the side of the road and locked the car down tight. Even without a security system hooked up, people would think thrice before taking a Rolls. They all piled out and took the hike through the park and to the good doctor’s home through the back yard. He was waiting for them as they approached. He had a rather large pistol in his hand, just in case. “You came to watch the game?”

“I’m not as fond of the game as I am of books.” William felt like a fool saying the code, but the doctor nodded, lowered his gun, and motioned them inside. The house looked about normal for an early 21st century conversion. It had all the modern conveniences. He led them into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator doors. It opened onto a staircase and they all went down to the sub-basement. The lights came up smoothly and gleamed off of the SOTA equipment. Yeah, this would do nicely.

“1,000 credits before we start and I’ll assess all other jobs accordingly.” When William pulled out the black Zurich Orbital credstik, the doctor changed his tone completely. “Oh, I see! No problem. No setup fee and everything is off the books. You have my word.”

Spanner’s exam didn’t go smoothly. No, not smoothly at all. The doc turned off the jack reader and started to look over her specifications. He asked her to go into the other room and remove her clothes and he would be in presently to take a closer look. She cocked an eyebrow at him and he said, “I’ve never seen anything like this before. Really. I need to do a more thorough scan before I can give you a report. This is some kind of super custom work. I can’t even peg down a manufacturer. I’ve never seen all of these components put into one single unit in quite this way. By the ports I can see you have a Vehicle Control Rig as well as a datajack, two chipjacks, a KnowSoft link AND 30 megapulses of memory! It’s … unfathomable. You will require some study. Just go get comfortable and I’ll be along presently.”

He turned to Carbon Steel and inserted the probe into the elf’s datajack. “Yeah, that’s what you get with these cheap Indian knock-offs. This thing didn’t have nearly enough shielding when it was built and you didn’t pay to have it upgraded before it was inserted. You’re a dumbass and you’re going to pay for it. Hang on.” There was a blinding flash in Steel’s head and he started to open his mouth to scream … and it was over. “There. All done. Nice equipment though. This Alpha gear usually comes pretty custom and they aren’t kidding when they say that the extras are really quite necessary. Still, with all the junk you’ve got up there now it’s a wonder you have enough brain left to think. Top of the line memory, phone and radio, with a router, SmartLink, transducer, etc. Then you go and mess up the whole system by putting in the cheapest datajack you could find. Moron. I’d get that swapped out at your earliest convenience. 200 nuYen please.”

William got up onto the bed and told the doc that he needed to have his internal password reset. “What? You wouldn’t be able to access most of your internal cyber-functions without that.”

“That’s why I need to have it reset.”

“Oh, okay. Just let me see … insert the probe and take a look up here … okay. Pretty standard package. If you’re an assassin! I mean, look at this stuff! You’ve got complete eye replacement with all kinds of extras installed. SmartLink. Air filtration better than this lab has! Internal camera with 20 megapulses of memory. Are you guys spies or … or how about I just shut up and mind my own business. Right. Okay, I’ll have to use the other equipment for this master override procedure. You may feel some … discomfort.”

The device he wheeled in had about a dozen different cables coming out of a central access junction and he just started plugging them into every conceivable port on William’s head. A slender one up his nose, another one into the datajack, he rolled the eyes back and plugged them in as well. He linked a couple of leads onto William’s palms, though there didn’t appear to be anything visible there.

“Whoa! What is that?”

“What? Where?”

“On my hands. What are you doing to my hands?”

“Why I’m adjusting your SmartLinks. You’ll need them, obviously.”

“I have SmartLinks?”

“Mmm hmm. You’re obviously distraught. You just lie there and let me take care of things, okay? Okay. Now, I turn on the machine … like so. Do you feel that tingling? Yes. That’s every cyberwire in your body vibrating, ready to receive new instructions. I’ll incorporate the virtual keyboard into your central programming nexus. Do you see it? Good. Okay. You may now enter your new master password.”

>> Input new master password: R7v³rK

“Alright. The light is green, the machine can be cleaned!” He began to detach the leads from all over William’s head and hands. “Ok, just one more check with the probe to make sure that everything is okay … checking … yes. Good. That’ll be 500 nuYen. Please step down.”

“Now, before I get to the lovely young lady here, I want to check on my other patient. I’ll just be a moment.”

He moved to the other room where Spanner was and closed the door.

“Yes, I know that the table is cold, but it has to remain sterile. Ok. Now, this instrument is quite a bit more delicate.” He turned on a couple of monitors and did a quick scan of her head. The pictures came up on one monitor and he absently reached for a probe the size of a shotgun barrel.

“Uh, what are you gonna do with that,” Spanner asked.

“Hmm? Oh, this probe gathers much more data. Don’t worry, it’s no different from the last time.” He gingerly inserted the probe into her datajack and locked it into place with a twist. A long line of machines came to life and began processing the raw data scrolling across the other 4 screens. “Remarkable,” was all that he said.

After 5 very long minutes the process came to a close and the results were coded onto a data chip. The doctor took the chip and put it into a generic card reader and posted the results to the screen, encoding it onto the head scan.

“… uh … I’ve never seen anything … uh, where did you say you got this done?”

“I didn’t. Get on with the diagnosis ya ferret.”

“Hmm, right. Okay, well, you seem to have unheard of control in your headware. I’ve worked on some corporate drivers, even an orbital pilot once. I can’t say that I’ve seen reaction times like these before. Let me be perfectly frank. This is the absolute bleeding edge of technology. It shouldn’t even exist! I don’t know how you got it, and I don’t want to know. I’ll work on it anytime you want. The pleasure is mine entirely. You may call me Doctor Sigmund. Oh, I re-calibrated your memory core. It was fluctuating a bit. Things should be much clearer now. High end equipment like yours needs to be monitored much more closely than normal. Call Noel in a couple of months and we’ll do this again. 1,500 nuYen. Please get dressed.”

Leaving the smaller room, he returned to the others. Ferta sat on the edge of the bed. “Yes, now you just lie down so I can get a good look at you, okay dear? Great.”

He took a detailed scan of her cranium and performed the regulation electrobiometric scans to determine which drugs would ensure that her rejection was minimized. “Alright, who knows Noel? Oh, you. Okay. Have her call me in a couple of days to schedule the surgery. I can’t do it tonight. I have to check these data first and pick up the necessary components. This is not a chop shop. I do custom work for privileged clients. I was doing Noel a favour by seeing you, but I’d like to have you as regular clients if you don’t mind. We’ll just consider tonight a consultation. Have you decided on the frequency of response you’d like for the implant? A Geonetix GX4220? Great. That’s no problem. I can get one of those any time. We’ll discuss the price when you call.”

“Now, that’s it for the biologics exams. What’s in the tickle trunk,” he asked while indicating the white bio-container.

RC moved it to the bed. “This came into our possession with some other items, but we don’t have the facilities to properly check it.”

“Then, by bringing it here, you have proven yourself a man of rare insight. Give the box to me and I’ll check it in the other room.”

Steel looked at the equipment and then back at the doctor. “No. The bed has a sterile field that would be good enough for a cursory inspection.”

The doctor looked at Steel approvingly. “Okay. No problem. Everyone step back please.” As they moved off the platform he pressed a series of buttons on a panel on the head of the exam table and a low hum began to emanate from it. After a few seconds, a distinct click could be heard and the doctor was able to wind the bio-seal tape back into the container. He carefully lifted the top off and set it upside down on the table.

Most people never get to see the things that are implanted into their bodies. This is why. There was an electronic device of strange design with a multitude of cables and leads running off of it into a pulpy mass, and from there into a monitoring device. Cyberware was rarely built into a person. It was constructed and fused onto some pre-grown ‘living’ organism to keep it viable for up to 3 years. After that, it became useless as the connecting leads degraded and died. Seeing this jelly-like pulsing blob connected to the electronics would usually be enough to make people leave the room in a hurry. Spanner was looking a little queasy, but hung in there. Ferta wasn’t so lucky. She fell over in a dead faint, but luckily Steel caught enough of her that she didn’t crack her head on the floor.

The doctor looked up, exasperated. “Where do you get these amazing toys? First, the girl, now this? Seriously, I could kill you all, sell the spare parts and retire to an orbital platform. … not that I would! It’s a figure of speech.”

He sighed audibly. “Ok, let’s take a look. It seems to have most of the characteristics of a datajack, except it’s too long. Wait, what’s this?” With a pair of surgical clamps he reached into the bottom of the box and removed what initially looked like a standard data plug, but was a bit too fat at the end. When he manipulated the collar into position, an extra 3 cm of plug came out like a spike. He retracted the spike and put it away in the container.

Turning to the underside of the container’s top, he retrieved a flat plastic packet with 8 data chips. “Yes. This should be the operating instructions and implantation procedures. I’ll just slot the first one into the reader here and … oh my yes. You’ll want to be taking that far from here. Right now. Well, right after you pay.”

He input 2500¥ into the CredX and while William was inputting the confirmation code, he pulled the chip out and put it back into the case. He reapplied the tape, turned off the sanitary field and handed the case back.

… but not before Calis Adinerach, an Elf with his wits about him, managed to read a bit of what was on the small screen. It was written in Japanese, Property of the Imperial Japanese Army.


Outside now, everyone seemed full of their own thoughts. Ferta was a child, hoping to ride this whirlwind of adventure. These crazy buggers were just the ones to get her to the top. Calis wondered what might be in that wonderful white box and how it might benefit him the most. William was walking with determination and purpose toward the car, wanting with all his might to turn his attention inward … dreading what he might find. Spanner couldn’t wait to see what she could do now.

Elation. Greed. Introspection, Giddiness. A panoply of emotion wrapped up in a bit of metal, riding on 6 rubber wheels.

A ganger turf dispute had the cops out in droves downtown. The vehicle that Spanner had dubbed ‘Sleipnir’ got pulled over for a routine inspection and was sent on its way almost immediately once the id cleared. Looking like a corp certainly had its advantages.

Back at the E and safely inside with the doors locked, they started to put things into perspective. They took seats in the War Room and Calis plugged into the vidscreen for visuals, making little pictograms and adding information to them as appropriate.

William started by saying, “What do we have going for us here? All these great toys, a good base of operations, corporate sponsors and now we find out we have some kings-over-aces bodyware that is hotter than the 7th level of hell! We haven’t even hit our first paydown and we’re already in it up to our necks! I’m sorry for dragging you guys into this, but that’ll have to wait. Anyone have any idea why the Doc got so upset over that box?”

Calis finished creating a spinning death’s head icon and labelled it BIOWARE THREAT. As William turned around to look, he saw the line that Calis added to the notes in Japanese characters.

“Is that what was on the screen? Oh, god. We’re so screwed.” William looked around and saw a quizzical look on JoeBoy’s face. “It means that the Japanese Imperial Army is going to be looking for this thing.”

“Oh. Um, why not just get rid of it then? It’s got to be worth some creds, right?”

“Sure. It’d be worth quite a bit of money if we could unload it. I don’t imagine anyone in their right mind would take it though. That’s probably why the last group, The Originals left it here. Well, we can just leave it alone then. Hopefully it won’t bite us …”

“Uh, no,” Calis interjected. “You’ve mentioned that you know a bit about cyberware, right? Do you have any idea what that thing is? I think I might. I mean, I don’t know about the cyber stuff, but that jack the Doc pulled out of the box was a custom job for sure. I’ve heard of drek like that, but never knew that it was past the “theory” stage. It’s called a halo. I don’t know if that’s an acronym or just a developmental description, but I’m going to check it out. It’s a kind of deep activity probe for faster response times or something. I also need to look into any reports of The Originals and the players’ names. You never know what’ll turn up when mining data that deep. Don’t worry. I’ll take backup. I’ve got a lot of work to do and not a lot to go on.”

William then said, “How are repairs coming? I got those two trailers that I claimed opened, powered and cleaned out. I put the lights in with Calis’ help and I’m working on the designs for air purification of my lab without piercing the structure on Spanner’s advice. Anyone else?”

Savannah piped up, saying, “Yeah, the motor pool is at max refresh. No problems at all. I’ve been working on fixing the helopad and I’ve worked out how to get the chopper up there. That can wait though. It’ll take me a while to get all that stuff in place and I still don’t know how to fly the damned thing yet.”

Imaget put his hand up to ask a question. “Can I get a trailer to work in too? Maybe we could put in a digibed for med treatment. I’m pretty sure that’d be helpful. I know meds and some treatments.”

Savannah looked over at him and said, “I didn’t think you finished those MedTech courses. What else have you been hiding from me?” She smiled and tried to push him off the edge of the couch when he nervously cleared his throat and said, “Um, I didn’t want to say anything because this got me in trouble before. Mom and Dad know some of it, but you guys are gonna want to know ALL of it.” He looked sheepishly at Savannah, then at William. He shrugged his massive shoulders and got up.

Pushing his sleeves up to his elbows, he said, “Nothing up my sleeves!” Then, without warning, he had a shotgun in one hand and a radio in the other. Needless to say, everyone was a bit shocked. He tossed the shotgun to William and the radio to Calis. Both worked as they should upon examination. “I can take things. Like, INTO me. I used to do it for a gang until Pops found out. Well, I’m a man now and can do things my own way.” A knife flashed from one hand to the other and disappeared again. “Easy as that.”

Then he moved over to the wall. Gravity seemed to be no impediment as he bent the laws of physics and simply walked up it to the ceiling. When he reached that joint, he put a foot up and stood upside down, his shirt bunched down around his armpits. As the group sat there goggle-eyed, he disappeared! One second he was there, then he wasn’t. William said, “Imaget, I can hear you moving and I can see your body heat. That’s quite an impressive skill set you have there. Can you come down please? Thanks. Well, they say it’s hard to beat a dog act, but I’ll try to carry on.” Imaget had dropped to the floor and reappeared. He then took the radio and shotgun and ‘absorbed’ them before he sat back down.

William nodded his approval and stood up. “Ok, things are progressing very well for you, Imaget. I wasn’t sure if you were working with the weapons or not, but this is a nice surprise that I’m sure we’ll be able to use. Now, I got a wave from Mr. Underhill and he wants to come see our operation. Hopefully he’ll have some more information on our first job. It’s after 2 in the morning, so I suggest you all get some sleep before our meeting. He’ll be here at noon.”


Leaving the War Room, William headed to the kitchen to get a StarStar and a couple of Zleep in case he couldn’t pass out later. He drank so much coffee that it wouldn’t keep him awake, but he knew that delving into his newly unlocked memory space might provide him with too much to think about later on.

He turned back down the hall, not noticing anyone else as he turned the warming ring on the can and popped the top. Sliding open the door to his room, he set the can down on his new desk and sat. He reached into the drawer and pulled out a data lead that he plugged into the NetConn hub and then into his head jack. Navigating to his personal space on the building system, he set aside some room to download his headspace into a virtual frame and engaged the firewall. Then, at least, he wouldn’t be messing up his own head if something went wrong.

He engaged a generic avatar and was presented with the default module. Immersion was quick and seamless on this new system. Calis certainly appeared to know what he was doing with the hardware setup. He dove into the data space and looked around. The icons were all laid out in a geometric format, one that he seemed familiar with. Starting at the top, he picked through the pile and sorted them by type: data, video. He took the precaution of running through the library and calling up Calis’ Snoop/Sniff program and set it to run over the piles. A small, playful dog winked in and started running all around the files, nose to the ground. It seemed to be set on some kind of random operation, but didn’t miss any of the icons as it moved through the space. When it returned to William’s avatar, a small readout was visible over the program.

<< 0 bones found, Master! >>

He petted the dog and returned it to the library.

The files seemed clean, so he began opening them starting with the video files. Most of the files were stills, running on a 5-second switch. A few of these files seemed to be nothing but holiday snaps with shots of sandy beaches and blue sky, skylines and beautiful towns. It wasn’t until the third such file that he got the impression that there was something missing. Cycling back through them and running them all at the same time he noticed that there were no people in the shots. There should be SOMEbody. Checking the aerial shots, there weren’t any contrails in the sky either. That was VERY odd. However, none of it looked familiar at all. One of the pics was obviously a digital enhancement of one of the previous shots. A badly pixelated image of a building with the company name imposed in the background just above some large trucks: Emerging Futures. The fourth and fifth in sequence seemed to be more of the same, but showed empty streets and stores. The whole shot looked like someplace warm with little concern about changing weather patterns: open stalls and lots of balconies. Many of the empty restaurants were outdoor, open-walled affairs. There was no sign of struggle, but the area seemed completely bereft of habitation, like everyone just left.

The sixth file was of an intensely personal nature and showcased a dark-skinned woman of exceptional grace and skill. It was extremely annoying to William that he couldn’t remember her. However, he did manage to get her name as it was repeated quite often in his own voice. Marina.

After enjoying that film a couple of times, he moved on to the other 6 video files. Four were still-shots of some research papers, one was of some disconnected faces in a bar and the last was a video of some kind of lab experiment that must have failed because the video cut off in the middle. Slow playback showed a bright light before the recording ended. Unfortunately, none of it rang any bells.

He circled the NetSpace while thinking and eventually decided to open the data files to see what they held.

The first was a KnowSoft image with a building layout and security protocols. The other one was encrypted.

“Drek! A whole lot of nothing.” He put a password on the firewall and jacked out.

Alright, time to start fresh. Now that everything had been copied, he deleted all of the data from his headware and began to test everything in his base inventory. The retinal clock was still off, so it got reset to the proper online time. He turned on the opticam and ran through its various functions. The recording was flawless when replayed, so the image link seemed to be working. The protective covers for his eyes snapped shut at a command and retracted again when prompted. The thermograph showed his coffee was still hot and he could almost see around the room with the heat shimmer off of every surface. Obviously the datajack worked and he could filter out the wonderful coffee smell by turning up the air filtration built into his respiration system. Only one last thing to check.

He gave his palms a rub and sure enough, there did seem to be something flexible under the surface. William reached under his lab coat to get at the Walther PB-120. He had selected this gun previously because it had integral SmartConns. First time out of the rig it registered the gun as unlocked. His HUD gave quick sideband readouts with loadout and ammo registers and a brightened target reticle superimposed on his cybervision.

>>10 rounds . Western . SAFE

As he removed the clip and loaded in another from the rig, the readout changed.

>>0 rounds . . SAFE
>>15 rounds . Glaser . SAFE

Turning off the safety changed the readout once more.

>>15 rounds . Glaser

Yeah. That seemed to work just fine. Night was quickly passing and there was a lot to do in the morning, so he quickly entered this new information in his journal and went into the bedroom. This room was slightly larger than the office outside, but it seemed more like home than any place he could remember. He took the pills with the last of his coffee, got undressed and waited for the darkness to claim him.


If he could only get used to the taste of coffee things would be so much easier. Calis went to his room and ran a hand over his new workstation. A couple of components were all that was missing from this baby and he had worked a deal out with Ice to get them on spec. Now he could finally get to work. He had double-checked all the leads to the NetConn earlier in the day and noticed that the fuzz was finally gone from his headware after their trip to see the Doc. It felt better than new.

Jacking in, he assumed his familiar avatar form and was careful to check all of the automatic security emplacements around the Net portal. The new weaponry was glistening and would probably give any hacker pause. He really liked that sculpted shell he had traded Baka² for. It gave the whole site a very pro look. It didn’t scream CORP, but just silently lent an air of competence. It was a bit gooey at the ends, but he knew he could smooth it all out eventually.

He pulled up a scratchpadd and put down a few notes for tonight:

  • RC?
  • Originals
  • halo

Realizing that the last two were going to be too much to do tonight anyway, he deleted the scratchpadd and decided to work on just getting info on the Originals.

This seemed to be a high-quality line all the way to the junction. There was almost no traffic and he was queried 56 times just standing outside the Gates to Haven. Everyone seemed to want to ride his bandwidth. That could get irritating really quickly. He hadn’t talked to Peter yet, so he pulled his fiery sword and took a look around. The queries dropped off sharply and the two who hung on were quickly hacked off. Sure enough, 24Kiwi was waiting around outside trying to keep order. Dumbass. He pointed to the demarcation line that he was still behind and the little brown creature moved back into the shadows to wait for the next imagined infraction. He sheathed the weapon and peace-bound it before stepping over the line to ask Peter for entrance. The Saint looked deeply into his book and nodded. The Gates opened and Carbon Steel the Elven Knight entered the only elite data haven that he had a complete address to. The long entryway was lined with statues of famous warriors from ages past, all with their signature weaponry. At the end, he came to a large meeting hall where only about a dozen other Netizens were talking. Calis wasn’t ready to mingle just yet so he grabbed a harp to enter his anonymous queries. He entered 30+ garbage queries along with requesting info on the Originals and all of the membership names. Knowing how long that’d take to run, he walked to the room and began to chat with the others.

“Greetings programs!” Calis picked this up from an old vid his dad had made him watch. It was hilarious, but nobody ever got the reference.

“Hey. Oh, HEY! Looking goodthere Carbon Steel! Did you rewrite or somesuch?”
“Naw, I cleaned up a few things. Why?”
“Well, you’re click now. No fuzzies and you’re in SuperD for the first time. Nice rez! Talk?”
“Coo. Insulation problem. Cleaned now. Good line too.”
“I can see it. You’re spikin’ hard. Can I ride sometime?”
“Sorry. My line, my dime.”

He called up his virtual readout and engaged Maximum Verbosity on residual info for the other local Netizens. Name: DikTater. Level: Unrestricted.

“Actually, if you need a clean line for something big you can use it, but I want in. So, DikTater, you got any stories tonight? I got some time.”

DikTater opened a log of one of his recent hacks and the interplay between him and the turtle-jocks was quite amusing. When he finished reading it he noticed a member of the havenly host holding a harp out to him. He excused himself and took the harp. It had info on his queries, most of which was dross. He dumped that right away and sifted the rest while downloading the bulk to his deck. A few bits got his interest and as he skimmed them he began to draw a picture of the Originals in his mind. These guys certainly knew their business.

He waved to the others and headed to the gates. Netiquette demanded that he leave the construct before logging off. It’s cleaner for everyone and gave a more seamless experience to those inside. Plus, it gets you extra points each visit. Outside the demarcation line he disengaged the link and took a couple of seconds to let the world assert itself on his consciousness.

He yawned heavily and disconnected the Silver Scimitar, his beautiful new cyberdeck, before turning in.


Savannah was a bit pumped from the evening’s turn of events. She suspected that BonTon Microdrive had been connected with some pretty heavy hitters based on the money they were throwing around. She was right. Unrecognized custom cyberware was pretty heavy. Maybe a couple of quick tests were in order. No way was she going to be able to sleep tonight. Throwing her arm around the waist of the young Ferta she asked, “You want to go get something to eat?”

“Uh, sure! Love to. What’s in the cooler? I expect that I’ll be making meals for the group if …”

“No way,” Savanna interjected. “We’re hitting the town tonight. I’ve been cooped up too long. I haven’t been out for a beer in almost a week now and I could really use a good meal. Aw, geez. Even JoeBoy’s gone to bed. I guess it’s girl’s night out! What do you have to wear?”

Ferta looked down at her grubby clothes and said, “You’re looking at it.”

“Nuh uh. That won’t cut it at all. Looky here. You’re a good lookin’ Sheila, if a little gawky. I know a place can fix us up right, even this time of night. Come on. We’ll share a shower and then take a drive. I’ve got a clean set of coveralls you can borrow.”

Spanner had set up an in/out board outside the bathroom to prevent any embarrassing situations. By the time she had picked up a couple of clean jumpsuits and hit the head, Ferta was already running the water. She flipped her toggle to show she was inside and then joined her. The bathroom was set up like a locker room with 4 shower heads along the back side. There was no curtain or other obstruction to her view of Ferta’s wet, naked body. She had to force herself to remember gym classes in high school. This was no different. Really. All the Elves she had known had always had a certain elegance and grace. It made her feel like a drudge.

Dropping the clothes and towel on the bench, she walked onto the tiled floor and turned on the next shower. Waiting for it to get warm, she figured that she had better make friends. She kept her hand in the stream of water as she turned to take a good look at this young girl, then noticed that she was getting the once over herself.

They both turned red and laughed.

Ferta said, “I’m sorry. I’m not used to sharing showers. I saw your cyberware and got curious. I don’t mean to offend.”

“No worries, mate. I was interested in you as well. Where’d you get that tattoo?”

Ferta looked down and twisted around a bit to see the small design on her right hip. It showed a circle with 9 curved barbs coming off it. “Don’t say anything to the guys about this, OK? I don’t want anyone to know that I was property of a tong.”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure. No worries. I was just curious. That’s done, right?”

“Absolutely. When I found out what they were all about I got the hell out as fast as I could. Anyway, that was a couple of years ago. I doubt they’d even recognize me now.”

They finished showering and changed into the utilitarian outfits, then headed downstairs to the limo.

“Listen Ferta, one of the reasons I want to go out tonight is to test out my rig. The drive might get a little hairy. Regardless, I need someone around in case the drek hits the fan. You game?” Ferta looked a little nervous, but nodded her assent.

The drive was an eventful one. Spanner began with a few sharp turns at speed followed by some dodge practice. The sensor package on this beast was passable, but certainly had the capacity to be upgraded. Combined with Spanner’s cat-like reflexes, it was more than enough to keep them from ending up as a nasty spot on a street vendor’s cart. This car was definitely not built for the kind of punishment that it was being asked to perform and little warning lights and sensor overloads were beginning to take over her field of vision as she pulled the car into a spot in front of “No Vintage For You”. There weren’t any finger holes in the dash from where Ferta had been hanging on, but there probably should have been.

30 minutes later, Tim had served them both and they were garbed in appropriate club wear. Savannah knew exactly what she wanted and found it easily: a white tank top and loose-fitting combat pants with way too many pockets. Ferta was unused to the club scene and to dressing up. They eventually decided on some black spandex pants, a white dress shirt and a man’s sport jacket. It was a great look on her thin frame and fairly popular.

Then they just walked down the street a bit until they found a vendor who sold them a decent noodle dish with some spring rolls and a beer each. Across the street was a good club based on the music blasting from its open doors. They went inside, had a few drinks, danced a bit, and left. Then Savannah drove them to a different part of town where they would find another little noodle place, then a club and the whole scene was repeated. This went on until 6am and Ferta was getting a little punchy. When she fell asleep in her chair at The Rainbow, Savannah knew it was time to call it a night. They got home eventually and crawled into bed just as ‘The E’ was starting to wake up.

Neither of them noticed the black truck that had been tailing them since 4am.


The stench blowing off the morning fog from the bay was tolerable the next morning as Underhill’s sedan drove slowly up the pier. A sedate pace was necessary in a city vehicle because the paving was in such a poor state of repair. He got out and hit the buzzer on the comm panel. A woman’s voice answered, “Whozzat?”

“Mr. Underhill. I have an appointment.”

The door unlocked and noisily rolled up 3m and then began back down again. He knew the way. The airlock door was cycled open and waiting for him. He went in and waited for the process to complete so he could enter this low-tek fortress. A pretty young thing was waiting for him with a cup of sycaf. He accepted it and they began their walk to the elevator. He noted that there weren’t many changes since his last visit. That same industrial green paint covered most of the surfaces and it still made him want to scream. Well, to business. Up on the gantry level was his first confirmation that things were progressing. There was furniture in the kitchen area and the sink was full of dishes. The sycaf machine looked new, but already well worn. This was a good sign. He believed in the old adage that caffeine equalled code. That meant that the jobs were getting done.

She led him to the first door down the hallway and motioned him inside. From the doorway he could see that this room had been completely redone. It used to be a Troll’s bedroom. The divider had been removed but the oversized door remained. A long table sat against one wall and there were four others sitting at it. William was seated at the end, wearing a black turtleneck under his ever-present lab coat. It made him look like someone from a crime drama. The Elf followed him in and sat at the far end of the table next to William.

“Underhill. Good to see you again. As you can see, I have a team. You might want to know who they are, so let’s get that out of the way. You’ve met Mommageddon. She’ll be our team manager and you’ll likely be talking to her from now on. Next to her are JoeBoy, Carbon Steel and Spanner. We’ve spent the last week getting used to working together and unlocking the secrets here at The E. Just this morning we opened a container that had all the motors for the gantry system and the crane outside, neatly tagged with diagrams and instructions for installation. This place was taken apart with a great deal of care and attention to detail. It’s kind of fun looking around because we never know what we’ll find next. Do you have anything you can tell us about that?”

Underhill had a black stocking cap on and a short black beard carefully clipped to make him look studious. He was wearing black jeans and a brown corduroy jacket over a black shirt. He could pass for anyone in the city and wouldn’t really draw a lot of attention, aside from that ever-present red leather briefcase.

He ran his hands over the lapels of his jacket as if brushing off a memory of some kind. “No. I’m prevented from saying anything at all. I provided you with the location and some information about the previous tenants. That’s all I can tell you, except that you shouldn’t find anything you can’t handle. Is that vague enough for you?”

Steel slapped his hands down on the table and stood up. “Okay! Enough of the nice-nice. What’s the dealio?” He crossed his arms in front of his chest and stared directly at Underhill. After a couple of seconds he spun on his heel and flung himself onto one of the couches. His attention was still on Underhill, but he was in a much less threatening posture.

“Sure. Straight to business if you’d like. I’ll lay it all out for you chummers.” He picked up his briefcase and put it carefully on the table. He thumbed his id into the panel and it ratcheted the lock open after a couple of seconds’ thought. The top third of the case was a standard type of scattergun mechanism, probably voice activated. From the lower void he pulled a couple of items: a set of keys, a datachip, a KnowSoft spike and two laminated travel passes. “Haiti. That’s your debarkation point. The green ticket will get you all there on a corporate jet with stops in Saskatoon, Chicago and Tampa for fuel. These are secure landing zones, so nobody gets off the plane and there are no customs appointments. The last stop is going to be the kicker. You’re set to land at Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, but the plane will develop engine trouble and have to make an emergency landing in Haiti. There is an old gravel airstrip near Hinche where the plane will do a quick touch and go and you’ll have all of about 2 minutes to get out. This will put you nowhere near where you need to be, but that’s good because it’ll help to draw attention away from your objective.”

Spanner spoke up, saying, “Whoa, whoa. Haiti? Are you nuts? That’s the Caribbean League! Nobody gets out of there. Did I fail to mention that I fly about as well as a dingo?”

“Well, that’s just as well, because you won’t need to fly. Your target is a boat. Can somebody activate that screen for me? Thanks … uh, Carbon Steel, right? Okay, slot this datachip. Thanks. Now, if you look at these shots we took of your objective you’ll see how easy this is going to be. We have a knowledge spike for your driver and there are delivery co-ordinates on the datachip. There are a few fuel depots marked along the route in the Bahamas and you can leave her at the Sailfish Point Golf Club in Sewall’s Point, Florida. That’s above the high-water mark so it is actually inside the Confederated American States. From there it’s a short drive out to the Martin County Airport where a plane will be waiting. The orange ticket will get you back here in much the same way. The orange one is a customs exclusion ticket.”

Underhill sat back down at the table and closed the briefcase. “Simple. Lengthy, but simple. You have no idea who you’re working for, so if you fail you can’t give anything away. It should be an easy job though, so I’ll expect to hear from you when you’re back. This job has a one month window of opportunity. You can leave here at any time and the plane will wait until you bring it back, or that window closes. Any questions?”


Calis rolled his eyes and said, “No, no questions. It looks as easy as pie. Of course we have questions! What are those circles on the map?”

"Ah, those are your refuelling points. The locals have been paid to hold fuel at those locations and they are tagged for easy location. Each of the radiating arcs shows the expected range of the craft with a full load of fuel. As you can see, there are 4 stops and you are expected to remain along the projected path. Staying inside the islands and braving the dangers that the pirates pose is better than what you might expect to find on the open water. That’s why I expect you to go full throttle on the last leg to Florida. She should be able to outrun just about anything natural.

"This baby has no guns. She’s a pleasure craft owned by a rival of your new boss. Taking this racing trophy should merely tweak the nose of this rival, but you never can be too sure how people will react.

"He should be off the island during the next month, so security will be minimal. Hoof it to the compound, defeat the alarms, refuel the boat and bring her home. You’ll have to take it slow up the river to the coast and then you’ll be under way.

“Take all the equipment you need with you on the plane. You should expect to find nothing at all to help you at the site. Remember, you’ll have to carry it quite a distance through the countryside before you get to the compound, so consider need versus weight. The rest of the details are up to you. The compound location is exactly here.”

He got Calis to open a scalable aerial shot of the location.

"The boat is kept in a small dock enclosure just north of that area. You can’t miss it. It has the Hildebrandt-Kleinfort-Bernal corporate logo on the door.

“On successful completion of the mission I’ll stop by again to give you your bonus. That’s all the information I have for you. I’m going to be out of touch for a couple of weeks. I’m going into the Tir. I should be back long before you’re done, so I’ll talk to you again then. By the way, I love what you’ve done with the place.”

He drained his sycaf and left the cup on the table. He closed his case and got up to leave. Ferta escorted him to the elevator and all the way out.

Spanner picked up the spike and inserted it into a slot behind her ear. She closed her eyes for a minute, then pulled the spike out and returned it to the table. “Looks pretty standard. I mean, it’s a beautiful piece of boat for sure, and nothing I can’t handle. I assume there’ll be electronics on board that aren’t listed here.”

“Yeah,” Calis chimed in. “I can cover that. I imagine that JoeBoy can handle getting us in somehow and that William will have a gadget or two that will help. Okay, let’s do this.”

William stood and looked at the trid. “Calis, could you put up that pic of the landing site again? Thanks. Geez, that’s quite a hike. I suppose we’d better bring loads of food and water as well. Alright, let’s make some lists and get to work.”


The group started to argue about items that they’d need and what they’d be able to carry. Food and water would be kept to a manageable minimum and generalities were going to feature prominently. Not knowing what they were getting themselves into, they had no idea what they’d need.

Calis was a big fan of lists and when everything started to get laid out in this way the others suddenly saw why.

  • tactical web, load-bearing system
  • a couple of water bottles each
  • compact food for 10 days
  • utility knife
  • commlink, world phone
  • personal encoded GPS locator
  • tape, tools, rope, flashlight
  • 10’ pole
  • iron spikes, hammer
  • garlic, wolvesbane
  • weapons, ammo, accessories
  • clothes
  • armour

All this was on the list before they even started to get into specifics. The orderly task had certainly eased them into the routine of planning and gotten rid of a lot of the panic.

Imaget was the first to decide on what he wanted to bring along as far as specifics. A medkit and slap patches were going to be his responsibility. He had found an UrbanExplorer jumpsuit and helmet that fit him. He had settled on the Remington shotgun and flechette ammo. He wanted a combat axe, but there wasn’t one in the locker. He’d have to go out and get one of those and the monofiliment chainsaw he’d had his eyes on. Since he was sort of qualified, he was taking along one of the OXSYS Artificial Gill systems that were in the equipment pod. Since he was the closest that the group had to a mage, he decided to take along a set of MageSight goggles he’d found. It would at least give them a heads up if there was trouble they couldn’t handle. On top of all that, he wanted to bring along his roll-up piano keyboard. This was a luxury, but he thought he might get bored and needed something to distract him besides his meditation. His loudest Tahitian shirt, a pair of shorts, sandals and sunglasses was what he was going to wear onto the plane. A steel flask of Tequila, a couple of packs of smokes and his list was complete. He was pretty sure he could carry all that without breaking a sweat.

He also thought it might be a good idea if he was to ‘absorb’ the orange return ticket and all other incriminating information until it was needed. Then there was no way it could get lost.

William’s list was a bit more detailed. He was taking 4 of the Long Cougar blades from the lockup. He liked them a lot. A Savalette Guardian Smart pistol and an Ingram Smart SMG and various types of ammo. Add a set of the OXSYS systems to his list. A set of the light gelpack armour and woodland camouflage fatigues were what he thought he’d take to help keep him alive and hidden. Some mono-wire and explosives might come in handy, but since he had never gone beyond the theoretical use of such devices, he thought it might be best to just leave the stuff alone for now. Still, the wire could be useful and he finally decided to take a small spool. A pair of sandals and some easily compressible clothing completed his list. He was planning to bring along a portable chem set complete with chemical burner and reactants in case of necessity, but that was something he’d have to custom design anyway.

He had started to carve something into the table, but Calis stopped him with a look. Glancing down, he noticed that he had been lightly tracing his initials into the surface over and over again while he was thinking. He rolled his eyes, shook his head and casually put the knife away.

When they were done, Calis pulled his own list to the front. He’d been working on it periodically while the others were thinking about their own. A set of crushable clothes and shoes. Armour and camo fit the bill as well. Sunglasses and some sunscreen for the sensitive man. Without coffee he figured that he’d better take along a bottle of caffeine supplements to fend off the inevitable headaches. A shotgun and pistol would serve him in any combat situations, but he decided to take a couple of those long knives that William was so fond of. He was also going to take his case and refit it to hold his deck components and all the necessary fittings that he might need. He wouldn’t be able to fit a full electronics kit in it, but a travel kit would certainly hide in his backpack.

Last up was Savannah. She looked over the other lists and just spit out the few things that she didn’t want to forget. A gun. Some ammo. Armour and camo. Tools for any necessary electronics repairs or rewiring. Calis already had one, but you just never know. That portable GPS reader might be needed depending on what the boat had installed.

It had only taken about an hour to get all this ironed out, but by the time they were done they were starting to pick out some interesting smells coming from the kitchen. Ferta had been making a nice meal of tempura and sashimi for them. There was even enough beer to go around this time.

After cooling down with some great food, Calis and Savannah started talking about the possibility of using their contacts to get any information about the smuggling routes and routines used by the Caribbean League. Not a bad idea at all. They thought that it might take a couple of days to get the right information if they got any at all. In the meantime, William and Imaget were going to take the time to check out their underwater skills.

Calis went right to work in his office. He jacked in and wasn’t seen for a day. He was obviously working and Ferta said that he was okay. She was bringing him little snacks and drinks and generally keeping him going.

Savannah left to hit the town to pick up the things that they still needed. On the way out she picked up 4 people from the compound who needed a lift downtown. She was going that way.

Compared to William, Imaget was a fish. He caught onto the gear right away and could use it with seeming ease. While William could certainly figure out how to use the OXSYS, he just seemed to have a hard time in the water. He could swim without too much difficulty. However, diving was tricky. Maybe with more practice he’d do better.

When Savannah got back late that afternoon, William and Imaget were both tired as hell. They cleaned the equipment and set it to recharge and shared a shower to get the crud off them from the bay. Savannah said that she’d made contact with her fixer, The Big O, and had put out the request for info. She had given her a couple of avenues to check out for specific info and she’d check back in a day or two to see if there was anything for her.

She opened the rear hatch to the limo and pulled out a couple of boxes, setting them on the warehouse floor. Imaget got a look at the Poulan logo and got a huge smile on his face. He cracked the seal and pulled the monosaw out. It was lighter than he had expected, but the fuel cylinders weren’t installed yet, either. This was the human-sized model, so it seemed slightly smaller in his meaty paw. He gave it a few quick swings with the safety guard on and seemed pleased. He put it back in the box and climbed up into the equipment trailer to read the instructions, his feet dangling over the side.

Savannah and William put the rest of the supplies away where they belonged and put the camping food in the kitchen. Compressed nutrition bars for 4 people for 10 days were still a couple of cases in size.

The three of them went to work laying out the equipment they were taking and packing it. Then they practised getting at everything they needed and then making adjustments until everything was sorted out.

Meeting The Big O the next day yielded as much information as Savannah thought she’d need. It was a list of known hangouts and routes that the pirates were known to use. There was also a short list of the latest attacks and details of cargo taken and damages. The worst atrocities seemed to be performed by Captain John Haney’s crew. A logo was attached to the file and she memorized it before even leaving the office. The Big O was a special friend and worked on her own karma by doing good deeds once in a while. This time she was working at no cost and only expected 150% return when Savannah had the money (¥3,000). Karma’s a bitch, and sometimes she has puppies.

William had spent this time constructing a break-proof science kit. It was still large enough that he had to carry it by a handle, but it was mostly just padding and not terribly heavy. That was the last thing he needed to take care of.

When Calis finally emerged from his room, he was pale. He held on to a green striped datachip and handed it to William. “Here, put this someplace safe.” He sat down and accepted a cup of tea from Ferta. "That is our ‘get out of extreme peril safely’ card. I had to do a job yesterday in order to get that. It was drek rotten and I’m not going to talk about it, but it was clean as far as I can tell. If we run into any kind of problems that mean our impending deaths, we at least have the chip to bargain with. All you have to do is ask for Marty J and say the word ‘apples’. That should be enough to get the attention of anyone who knows him. I have no idea what’s on the chip or what the code refers to. The data is undisturbed, uncopied and unread. That’s the only way that I think I can assure our safety after he looks at it. I got a huge list of names and positions in almost all the different crews, so I hope that’s useful.

“I’m going to bed. I’m going to sleep for 12 hours and then I’m ready to go. Anyone else?” He looked around the group and saw a chorus of nods. Ferta took his cup as he pushed back his chair to stand. Then he headed for the bathroom as he started stripping off his shirt and yawning. The seriousness of the situation was broken when he stopped with the shirt half-way off and still covering his head to finish an enormous yawn.


After everything was planned as far as they could imagine, they took a look at the pile of empty caf cups and figured it was probably time to move on to other things.

Imaget was helping William with the last of the alarm and monitoring nets and Savannah was taking Ferta to the clinic for her implantation. Everyone had agreed that she should have a decent chance of using their building system, so a better than average control rig had been ordered along with a few additional items. It seemed as if Ferta was being customized for their use, and that bothered Savannah on a conscious level.

While she seemed ready for the procedure, Ferta was obviously anxious. The doc’s office was a couple of blocks off the Arcology, so it was a pretty straightforward drive in. Parking the limo wasn’t as much of an issue as she had imagined and they got up to the clinic a little bit early. Having only dealt with street docs, Ferta was a bit shocked by a real medical suite. This one was tastefully furnished in cool blue tones and had a receptionist and waiting area. There was only one other person in the room and he didn’t appear on the brink of death. He was probably just in for a simple procedure or a firmware update. This was happening all the time since the governments had decided to switch back to the old DST standard.

It only took 10 minutes before Ferta was taken away by the receptionist. When she returned, she told Savannah that the procedure and recovery would take a couple of hours and that she should return then.

Figuring that this was the best time to take care of business, she picked up the car and took it round to the Rolls Royce dealership to pick up the paperwork. Speaking to the pleasant salespeople was a bit different from how she was used to doing business. In school, everything was ordered. On the track, negotiation was not an option. On the street, you took what you could get through intimidation and fear. Here, people were swishing around offering her drinks and sitting on couches. It was unsettling. She had a nice hot cup of apple tea while working out the details of her new ownership. While they were waiting, the car was taken into the service bay for a quick diagnostic and detailing. The results were confirmed along with her mechID and she was granted a level 2 Rolls Royce ground mechanic certification. Bonus! That’s a ¥400 annual fee. BOGUS! That Magnolia Blunt persona that she had bought from Gerry at the garage was still holding up, but it might not for too much longer.

After another nice chat with the salesman about repurchasing options, she was back on the road to the clinic.

There was no paperwork to be done and no money given. In the recovery room, Doctor Sigmund was fine-tuning the implant with Ferta hooked up to a couple of monitors. The response looked good, though it was early yet and her relay contacts were still a little spongy. She was told that things would firm up over the next couple of days.

"I’ve done as you asked and implanted her with a third generation device. I used some of the data I recorded from your implant to craft a special device that I’m trying out on your young friend here. I’ve already spoken with her about it and she has agreed to the procedure. Much like your own controller, Ferta’s has integrated net contacts, KnowSoft reader and SkillSoft jacks as well as a healthy amount of storage. I’ve included a wireless transceiver with upgradable and user-programmable encryption. Both eyes have been replaced but are indistinguishable from her real ones. No special enhancements have been added there aside from recording to and playback from her internal memory.

“Is this sufficient for your needs”

Looking at the heavily bandaged girl, she felt some small amount of pity. She had done this to Ferta. Was it really better than living hand-to-mouth in the squat? Probably. Still, she felt a little sad for this transformation.

“Yes,” she said flatly. “Yes, that’s fine. Thanks. Can I pay you later?”

“Oh, for certain. I’m sure you’ll be back. You and that lovely head of yours.”

That guy was so creepy. The two women made their way back out to the limo where Savannah made sure that Ferta was safely secured in the back before moving away from the curb. She was thinking so hard about her current situation that she almost missed the black truck that pulled in behind her half a block back.

After they were done hooking up the security, William had Calis and Imaget help him with the last of the electrical hookups and vent controls for his lab. He was actually very proud of what he had accomplished in such a short time. He had taken two of the side-by-side containers down near the airlock and taken the walls between them out. Then, using standard container connectors, they were attached to make one double-wide unit, like the Rolls cradle. The two units above were filled with air-scrubbers to clean any impurities from the air in his lab so it wouldn’t affect anyone in the building. The floor level containers had scientific equipment and secure lockers for materials used in his experiments. He had had several tables and refrigerated lockers installed. They would have to earn a lot more before he could fit it out the way he wanted.

Now that he could get his base machines turned on he could start to work on some of these ideas that had been plaguing his dreams. As they had all agreed to take a couple of days to see if anything else came to them, he would have plenty of time to play.

Before he began anything though, he walked across the floor to help with the project that Imaget had started. In a similar vein, he had taken two of the containers and connected them. However, he had done so with two that were stacked one on top of the other, like what the chopper was in. Nothing was installed in it yet, but the idea was to have all sorts of medical equipment stored in the upper half with a few beds and supplies in the lower half. Not a bad idea, really. It would keep the floor clear of machines that would get in the way and leave clear passage for a doctor or medic. They’d need some serious capital before that little med-bay could be fitted out. The entire side was missing in anticipation of having SecurGlass doors installed. Well, he had certainly thought it through. William surmised that Imaget was just trying to make a niche for himself in the team and that it was going to be as the medic.

Whew! Enough monkey work for a while. Calis had been itching to get back to his deck all day, and now that he was done climbing over old containers and running wire, he had showered and was ready for a nice bit of prowling the net.

It was really nice having Ferta around. She made the most amazing dinners. Way better than krill paste on rice crackers. That was his regular fare when living alone and it was a terrific change. He spent so much time working his programs that he never saw the need to cook a decent meal. He grabbed a small plate of the leftover potstickers from the other night, put them in the nuker and grabbed a box of water out of the cupboard.

Back in his room, he set things up for a good long night online. He stripped down to his shirt and shorts, put a towel on the desk within reach and put the water in a cup holder he’d installed on the desk. It wouldn’t do to spill his drink all over his shiny components.

It would be good when he could get a decent chair in so he could really relax. It was messing up his chi to have to sit up straight all the time.

He did a quick check of the local network and found William’s little corner of protected space. While Spanner’s corner was wide open, he found this to be more intriguing. It would only take him a day or two to crack the encryption on it if he really wanted to, but he had better things to do.

No Dmail. Huh. That’s weird. Crystal usually left him something. Maybe she was on a job. That’d be nice. Maybe she could take him out for once. He checked the logs and found no intrusion attempts. None. Not one. He found that insulting after all the time he had spent putting them into place. Well, this node hadn’t been used in a while and was hidden pretty well. Could be good news.

He slid out a side door anyway and rattleded the locks before checking out his porn traps. It was a quick hop over to the Kodiak server that he had set up all those years ago in the basement of that German hospital. The traps were getting full, so he dumped them into storage and reset them. Hauling around a backpack of nudie magazines didn’t exactly mesh with his favourite avatar, but you never get perfection.

Peter let him into Haven with only a cursory look at his book this time. His reputation must have improved since his last visit. He had been crafting queries offline for the last couple of days, so he just uploaded them as soon as he made it to the input area. The mood seemed a bit different tonight. Darker somehow. Maybe it was that pair of demons at the far side of the room, sucking up all the light.

He moved into the room and was immediately pegged by twenty ‘whois’ commands. Those were oldskool and usually bounced off his armour. Tonight, he might as well have come in with his dick flapping. He could feel one of the questions sinking into his persona, digging for real data. Grabbing his sword, he tore off the peace-bond and withdrew it an inch so that the fiery code was visible. The search was released and someone came in from the shadows.

It looked like an ordinary human, probably a vanity profile or some kind of fan art. The detail was incredible. The demons flanked him.

Slowly he put the sword back into place and just as slowly pulled up his own information palette.

>> ID#0000001
>> ID:KoT

Oh, hell.


Savannah was swept aside as Spanner took over. She had heard that in this world of devious twists and turns it was best to keep your persona on all the time. To do otherwise could mean your life.

She tried to do some quick manoeuvring, but traffic wasn’t helping out much. After the third hard swerve she noticed the truck make a sedate turn onto a side street where she lost track of it. They could still be following her with another vehicle as part of a team, so she took a scenic drive out to Puyallup where she and Ferta had lunch. Then a few stops to do some shopping and a trip out to see Gerry to check for bugs. Some nice clothes were found, tracking devices were not.

Maybe it was nothing. Still, she was going to keep an eye on that rear screen for a good long while.

The KoT was one of the bigwigs out here. Not only had he created Haven, he was part of a data collective that kept work flowing all over the net. Without him, commerce could take a huge hit and the underground might stop dead in its tracks. Carbon Steel was a persona that Calis had based on one of the earliest sightings of the KoT: his WarriorElite419 skin. That was a long time ago and he had thought that the hero fixation had worn off, but to be standing in the same room as the legend … he was a bit off his guard.

“Hey, nice rez. I’ll have to update your profile. I wish I could have gotten that skin to look like that when I wrote it. A lot has changed since I last put it on. A lot. Walk with me.”

He simply moved his hand and a door appeared in one of the walls. Opening it revealed an empty chat room. The demons flanked the door as they both entered. The KoT went to the far side and sat on one of the couches. Carbon Steel looked around the room and saw heliotrope coloured walls with white sofas. He chose another one and sat down. He had the presence of mind to compress his sword utility first.

“By the way, I’m recording this. I’ll PM a copy to your account after we’re done. So. Why are you here?”

“Wha? Why am I here?” He was a bit confused by the question. “I want to be elite! I want to work with the best!”

“You want to work with the best. You want to be Elite. Fine. I can give you that. You have to do something for me first. Cancel your queries.”

A work panel appeared before him with a list of all of the queries he had entered when he came in. There were a few that were glowing in red and had an intangible, ghost-like quality to them:


“All of them. Just do it. Now!” The KoT raised his voice for the last word, but otherwise looked unchanged. It was possible that he was running this session from a turtle. There were lots of reasons for him to not be immersed for this meeting. Deniability was probably the most obvious.

“There, done.” He thumbed the padd’s confirmation toggle, watched the queries fold in on themselves and the padd disappeared. “I AM going to ask why, though.”

The KoT moved to the door. He stood with his hand on the latch and said, “I’ve worked my share of the net. I’ve seen a lot of shit and helped pile it on thick. Let’s just say that this is a pile I don’t need to see disturbed. Ever. Let’s go.”

He opened the door and stepped back out into the common area. There were a few more netizens standing around now. The boss man strode out to the fountain and reached his hand into the flow. When he pulled it back again, he had a title bar add-on. He wrote on it briefly and then brought it back to the room. He folded the add-on in on itself, put it in his hand and extended it out to Carbon Steel. The others were looking on expectantly as he grabbed the outstretched hand with both of his own. He accepted the add-on and pulled up his Control Panel to see what had been modified.

TITLE: Keeper of the secret.

One of the DemonMods leaned in and said, “He’ll talk to you about it later. Be careful.”


Jump Day. The jet was getting prepped and they had all their gear on the hangar floor. They had gone through this routine 3 times already to make sure that they had everything they needed and could carry it all. Once the pilot came back around from his inspection, he gave the all clear and they moved into the plane. They were already wearing their camo gear and were ready for insertion. Well, most of them were. Imaget had never been on a plane before and was a little nervous. He might have run out of cigarettes if they hadn’t started to get underway.

The flight was clear with no unexpected problems. The Saskatoon stop was smooth. Nobody got off, 3 people got on. Chicago could have been trouble, but there weren’t many bugs in the air on this particular route. 2 more people got on. Tampa was the last stop before they got off. Tampa was really busy and they had to circle for 20 minutes before the emergency crews could clear the runway of debris and they could eventually land. They taxied to the fuel station to top up, then the first 3 people got off and 2 more got on. Interestingly enough, the 4 who remained on the plane could have passed as the insertion team to the casual observer.

Nerves were strung a bit tight until the pilot came on and said that their next stop would be Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. They knew that they didn’t have much time, so everyone got their packs and sat waiting for that door to open. The sudden jolt as the engine caught on fire was a bit of a surprise, but when it went out and they landed with nary a bump, they knew that everything was under control. They jumped out of the side door when it stopped moving. Everyone got out, including the pilot. "Get a move on! I have to stay here for 20 minutes to simulate how long it would take to fix that engine.

The first thing that William noticed was how hot it was. It was REALLY hot. He wasn’t used to this kind of discomfort and reminded himself to man-up and not be the whiny scientist.

Double-checking that the cabin was empty, they took off deep into the field and set up some monitoring equipment. They watched from that point until the plane took off again. William had the map out and decided on a route that would take them closer to the river. 10 minutes later an old truck pulled up on the airfield and 6 men got out. They had some vid equipment and were scurrying around trying to take some shots of the departing aircraft and the landing strip.