The Docwagon job left a lump of worry in Kat’s gut as the night grew long. Way too easy. Her small crew strolled into a Docwagon facility, uploaded false worker IDs, and made off with an Ares Citymaster medical transport all without firing a single round.
Kitsune was smoking and scouring Kat’s closet for a dress to wear. It had to be something that would catch the musician Marshall Parker’s attention. Kitsune would be the bait to reel him in. She pulled Kat aside. “Kat, there’s something wrong about this.”
“Hey, just because I don’t own the hottest fashions…”
Kitsune snorted. “No, Kat. I’m worried about you, this job, the whole thing.”
Kat ignored the gesture, “Since when do you get pissed about a job being too easy?”
“Seriously Kat, everything has felt odd since that kitten showed up.”
“Fluff? She’s our good luck charm.”
Kitsune paused, took a long drag, and exhaled. “I thought you didn’t believe in luck charms.” She smirked.
Kat shrugged. “Apparently they believe in me.”
After a few more minutes of picking past Kat’s vast array of leather and ripped grungy clothing, Kitsune finally settled on a length of shimmery black fabric. She slung it over her shoulder and started searching again. “I used to go out with a guy, a Dog Shaman, who sort of lost his way. He started making bad choices and woke up one day half-dead in the city morgue. That day the Dog Spirit came to him in material form and helped him find his way back.”
“You said something like that before, like Fluff is my familiar or spirit guide, or something.”
“You were lost for so long after you tangled with that dragon. Then one day this kitten comes along, just like with my friend Jake. Now you’re acting like he did when Dog came to him. You’re acting like Fluff is somehow your spirit guide. But, Kat, there is one huge problem: everything that I know—that I believe in—tells me deckers can’t have spirit guides.”
Both women stared at the small kitten stretched out in the closet doorway licking itself. She saw the worry in the shaman’s eyes and thought it was absurd. She told Kitsune not to worry, and left her rummaging through the closet. Kat still had one last thing to take care of before they kidnapped Marshall Parker. She headed downstairs and signaled for a Gridlinked autocab.
She climbed in the back of the cab, slotted her credstick, and entered the address for Matchsticks. The autonav beeped and the cab eased into evening traffic. Kat settled back and closed her eyes. The worry-shaped lump in her gut flowered into doubt and fear. Kitsune’s voice kept looping in her ear like an Elemental’s song stuck on playback. Maybe she was right about this Ahteen business being off in some way. Then again, it might be her nerves talking, psyching her out about the looming confrontation. She’d faced down Ahteen once before, during an extraction gig in Salish-Shidhe. All her team had to do was break into a farming commune and extract a scientist who’d been hiding out there. They were almost at the fence when something came hurtling out of the night sky.
Kat remembered the screams and the blood. She remembered seeing the flecks of gold on the beast’s snout as it snatched her up simple as flicking an ant. Her next memories were hospital beds, then a half-dozen surgeries. She started asking questions about what happened and how. It took a year to get the name of the thing that swallowed her leg.
“Ahteen.” She hissed the name under her breath. Heat filled her cheeks and she wiped at her eyes in the dingy Seattle cab. Fluff protested inside the bad—producing a series of irritated mews.
RC was more or less where Kat left him days ago, nursing a tall draft at the bar. He wore black slacks and a tight fitting black top that left no room for bulky cyberware. The stools on either side of the massive troll remained empty. Rhys Corlett was manning the bar again. She called long-haired elf over and ordered a neat scotch and another beer for RC. Kat plopped down beside the troll and slid a small plastic card between his elbows.
“What’s this?” RC’s grin showed pearl-white fangs and perfect teeth. She sipped her scotch, letting the strategist work it out on his own.
RC held the card between two thick brown fingers, taking in the information. Then he set the card down gently and pushed it back towards her. Kat didn’t pick it up.
“Expensive cover. What is it, insertion, extraction, or assassination?”
“We’re not going to kill the target. Our job is to get him to a street doc, and get him back inside the Renraku Arcology in one piece.”
RC worked it out in his head. He was thinking about the Red Samurai, Renraku’s deadly special security division. Few runners that crossed them lived to tell about it. “I suppose you have a plan to get him out?”
“Remember Mako Sochou?”
The troll nodded.
“He got a message to Parker that Andrea Frost would be playing a set at the club tonight.” Andrea Frost was lead vocalist of the legendary band Concrete Dreams. Though the group had retired from the biz, the members occasionally did sets at Club Penumbra. Seeing her in concert was worth leaving the safety and comfort of the Renraku Arcology.
“So what happens after you put him back?”
Kat worked at the scotch a bit more, filling her mouth with it before swallowing. The burn made her voice crack a bit when she spoke. “This guy is our way to get to the real target. I won’t lie to you, RC. It’s wetwork.”
“Drek, Kat. You know I don’t do that stuff anymore.”
“We’ve stretched ourselves to the limit, RC, and we’re almost out of time. My crew won’t do it without you.”
She swallowed more of her scotch. “Haegemon thinks we can’t. These guys, they know their jobs, but they don’t know how to get in and out of places like you do.”
“Okay, tell me the plan.”
“Our target is a musician named Marshall Parker. There is a street doc waiting for us to deliver Mr. Parker to his clinic tonight. The doc will inject him with a time-release agent that should cause Parker’s biomonitor bracelet to go haywire at a time of our choosing. When Docwagon sends a response team, we can be the first unit on scene.”
RC finished the thought for her, “And your medical credentials will get you past security and face to face with your real target. Nice plan, Kat, but it doesn’t sound like one of yours.”
“It isn’t. Mr. Johnson set the whole thing up.”
“You trust it?”
“Drek, RC, I haven’t trusted anyone since Joshua Fennema put my crew on that Salish-Shidhe run.”
RC looked at her cyberleg and raised an eyebrow. “Who is the target?”
“The plan is solid, RC. With you on board it’ll be a milk run.”
“The target?” RC’s voice rumbled.
“Look, this Johnson and I clearly want the same thing. He’s put me in a position to do it, and I can, so long as you help me.”
“Kat, who are you going after?”
She didn’t want to say it. She knew how he felt about what happened in the Salish, but if he was going to join them, he had to know everything. Kat took a deep breath and said, “Ahteen.”
“This about what he did to you?” The troll crossed his arms over his chest and stared down at Kat.
“Yeah, its about that, but its also about Wizfall, “Pretty Boy” Floyd Turkowski, Bootsector, Hedlund, and MC23, everyone who didn’t make it out the last time we tangled with that slitch.”
“You really think you can take out a dragon?”
She thought about what Kitsune said earlier, about the close calls. She thought about Fluff and smiled. “I think the spirits are on our side.”
The walk to Club Penumbra took Kat and RC the better part of ten minutes. They spent that time sorting out the specifics of the run. Kitsune’s job was to get close to Parker and get him “drunk” by slipping a neuro-stunner into his drink. Once he passed out, they would hustle him off to Doc for the insertion of the time-release poison. Kat said, “We need to be careful, because Parker is awakened, and while his magic is meant to enhance his musical performance, we have no idea what offensive spells he has.”
The line to Club Penumbra started a block out. Kat and RC maneuvered around crowds of partygoers, dipping into the alley behind the club. They stopped beside a beat up step van with the legend Brodu and Son’s on the side. These old clubs always had maintenance ports in the back where a maintenance worker could access the air conditioning and other core operating systems. Kat accesed the port, bypassing a flimsy firewall to tap into the club’s security camera network. She fastened a viewscreen to her CTY-360 and handed the adept an earpiece. Once it was in she activated her own internal microphone and said, “RC is here, team. He is going to run the operation with me.”
RC nodded to Kat and said, “Hoi, chummers. Good to be aboard.”
Somewhere in Club Penumbra Haegemon let out a yelp of satisfaction.
“Anyone see our target?” Kat cycled through the camera views, looking for her team. Haegemon stood near the front door, watching the bouncers. JT and Kitsune were at the bar, playing the part of the happy couple while edging closer to a portly man dressed in slacks and a button up shirt. Kat zoomed in on the man. His hair and beard were going gray, and he tugged on his one gold hoop earing.
“That’s the guy, Kitsune. See if you can get close enough to dose him.”
RC cut in, “Hold up, Kitsune. I think you can sell it better if you and JT split up. Let’s play it like jealous boyfriend.”
Kitsune turned towards JT and gave him a hard shove. The samurai made a big show of falling backwards. He swore loudly as she stalked towards their target. Kitsune’s black skirt was slit all the way up the side showing hints of the glo ink fox tattoo inked into her hip. When she sat down beside the musician, she made sure he saw all of it.
“She’s not selling it.” Indeed, the musician didn’t look interested. He pulled his drink in closer.
RC said, “JT, go make a scene. Get your girl back.”
JT approached her, looking tough and angry. He shouted a few choice words while Kitsune looked to Parker for help.
Kat activated her mic, “Haegemon, make sure the bouncers don’t step in.”
Kitsune looked frantic, her eyes darting between JT and the mark. She settled her sight on Parker, a pleading look in her eyes. The musician glanced up briefly tucked his chin into his chest studying his drink.
RC muttered into his earpiece, “He’s not the helping type, JT. Press him.”
JT responded. He moved closer to Kitsune and growled, “Don’t you fracking look at him. What is that doughboy gonna do?”
That did it. Parker slowly and reluctantly looked up, and JT’s shirt instantly burst into flames. The samurai yelped and backed away, slapping at his shirt. Just as quickly as the illusory flames sprouted to life, they vanished.
Marshall Parker said, “I suggest you leave, sir, or next time the flames will be real.”
Kitsune hooked an arm around Marshall Parker and crooned, “Thanks. You’re a regular Neon Boyscout.”
He chuckled. “Neon Boyscout. I like that.”
“I think I like you.” Kitsune leaned in close and kissed him on the cheek. She dropped the neuro-toxin into his drink.
Kat said, “That’s it. I’ll get the van and meet you all outside.”
A few drinks later, Kitsune walked the half-conscious musician out the front door and into the waiting step van. Everyone else piled in, laughing and congratulating each other. RC was last man in. He closed the van door and looked for a place to sit down. The only seat left was occupied by a small white kitten.
RC raised an eyebrow and asked, “What’s the story with the kitten?”