Part VII: Do Machines Dream of Loving Relationships?

“Ian Malcolm?” Kitsune drummed her fingers against the coffee table. She looked especially fox-like today. Her long black hair hung straight and framed her face in a way that drew attention to her aqualine nose and small lips.

“I know what you’re thinking, Kitsune, but that was a long time ago.” Kat shook her head and looked at the ground, tracing small circles in the carpet with her index finger.

Haegemon joined the two women on the floor of Kat’s loft apartment. He and Kitsune had made their way over after stashing the gear and dumping the stolen truck, while Kat had taken Fluff home and spent a tense half hour waiting to find out how badly JT was injured. She spent her time fuming—stewing in her desire to yank every weapon out of that cache and satisfy her hunger to avenge JT.  But the hunger remained— waiting in the back of her throat like a strangled cry. Kat couldn’t let go of her vengeance, so she did what she always did: threw herself into a new problem to quiet the old one.

Unfortunately, the new problem, the Parsec file, was one she wasn’t equipped to solve. Five minutes ago she’d gotten the call that JT pulled through surgery fine. The bullet had avoided all the especially important organs, and he expected to be on his feet for the next job. But as soon as her elation had come, it shrank as she realized that the next job meant decrypting the file.

There was only one way to do that. Or, she should say, one person who could…

Haegemon spoke, briefly lifting Kat from her carpet fixation. “Ian Malcolm…I know that name. Didn’t he used to go by the handle Maximillion or something? He worked with Atarun and Thrakkesh, right?”

Kitsune shrugged and added, “He dated Kat.” She gave a wry smile and waggled her eyebrows at Haegemon.

“Ooo-ooo. Kat! Nice!” Haegemon punched her lightly on the shoulder.

Kat scoffed and ignored him, turning instead to Kitsune. “Kitsune, just tell me what to wear, and you two clear out of here.”

Kitsune laughed and shook her head, but did as instructed. She dressed Kat in a NuZoot plastic wrap skirt that showed off her cyberleg and a matching GloPunk circuit-patterned top. Soon the others were gone and Kat was alone in her sparse apartment waiting for the doorbell to ring.

It did.

Fluff crawled out from her spot under the couch and padded to the door. She sniffed the floor around the entrance, hopped up on the nearby kitchen counter, and crouched there like a vulture. Kat smoothed out her skirt as she walked to the door. As she put her hand to the doorknob, she felt her chest tense. She took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and pulled the door open.

Ian Malcolm was still stunning. That smile and those deep-set eyes took her back in time just long enough get lost in his memory. He winked at her, and rubbed the side of her face with his smooth thumb—a touch that used to be so familiar. As she opened her mouth to greet him, he interrupted her.  “I figured you’d need something from me sometime.”

She managed to release a small laugh. Her chest had tightened up again, and her skin felt hot and prickly. As she moved to invite him in, he slid past her, his arm brushing briefly against her leg. For all his good looks, Ian was as subtle as a troll chipped out on BTLs.

All of a sudden, her lips remembered how to move. “You… you look good, Ian. The shadows are treating you well.” She tilted her head down and looked up at him through her eyelashes.

He grinned at her. “You too I hear. The rumor is you, Kitsune, and JT added someone to your crew.”

Kat mustered up a coy smile and offered him a drink. He took it as he glanced around the room. Despite the space, the couch and the adjacent chair were the only places to sit. She offered him a seat on the couch and sat down beside him.

“So…” Kat cleared her throat. “Still dating little miss Cathy Dekker? You always did like the razorgirls.” She was trying too hard to sound casual.

He expertly changed the subject. “Never mind that— you still dodging gangers? I heard the Crimson Crush put a bounty on your head. What did you do to torque them off so bad?” Ian cocked an eyebrow.

Good—work. She could talk about work. “The Crush were the unfortunate victims of a shadowrun. For some reason they want to hold me responsible for what happened to them.”

“Probably because it’s your fault. That is how it usually goes, right? You do something stupid and then blame the fates, the tradewinds, or whatever other drek Kitsune stuffs your head with.” He smirked and then tensed as he heard a low growl coming from the kitchen.

Kat smiled. “Huh. Fluff already doesn’t like you. Guess she has good taste.”

“What the frag is a fluff?”

“My cat.”

“You have a cat? Since when? How many more will you get now that you’re single?”

“You are an asshole.”

“No, I’m a pragmatist. You need something from me. Learn to play nice.”

Kat sighed and fell back against the couch. “Fine. I need your help with a file. It’s written in Parsec and you’re the only person I know who can hack it.”

He laughed.

“It isn’t a joke, Ian. I’m willing to pay you to help me.”

“I don’t want your nuyen, Kat. I just want you to admit that you should have let me teach you this years ago. Parsec is a valuable machine language.”

“Why, just because you and a bunch of coders see it as the future!? Look, Ian, after all my years of running I’ve only ever gotten one file that uses it. So tell me again why it’s so ‘valuable.’”

Ian folded his arms. “If you grouped together the purchasing power of all the hackers in the sprawl you’d see that the financial output of that group outpaces every other.”

“Yeah, if that were true, everyone would know it, but no one does!” Kat was starting to shout. This was not going according to plan. She did not want to turn this into argument number 1,093 with Ian.

“It isn’t about us, and you know that, Kat. Parsec is the hacker language. It isn’t owned by any megacorpoation. It came from shadowrunners like you and me. You should be applauding it instead of bowing at the feet of Mitsuhama every time you hit the ‘trix.”

Damn. He was being reasonable. Kat sighed, “Okay, I know things went wrong between us, and I realize a lot of that was me, but I need this, Ian. Will you help?”

He brandished a wide smile.

“Please.” She glared at him.

It cost her dinner and a call to Doc Maplethorpe to give Ian’s razorgirl a consultation, but he agreed to crack the file. The moment she could read it, she couldn’t believe what she saw. 

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Part VI: Mission Creep

Never cut a deal with a dragon. Kat wished she’d abided by that street law all those years ago, before she took the job for Patrick Goodman— before she and her crew wound up as dragon chow. Still, according to shamans like Kitsune, life’s all about balance: eventually, everyone finds a way to right his wrongs and the wrongs wrought upon him.

It was that sense of hope and blind trust that fueled her drive down a black stretch of Everett’s I-5 on the way to steal a cache of weapons from the dragon that chewed off her leg. Her fixer called the job a ‘stretch goal:’ something beyond the original task that could line her pockets and piss off Ahteen a bit more. But she didn’t just want to piss him off—she wanted to kill him. And tonight’s run would bring her closer to that delicious victory.

JT slouched in the back of the stolen delivery truck. He spoke in a voice that bemoaned loss. “Used to be you only came to Everett for three reasons: working as a wage slave for Boeing, bein’ a wharf rat and showing up every time the UCAS Koontz put to port—” he sighed and trailed off as he stared out the window.  

“And the third way?” Kitsune cut in impatiently.

His gaze remained locked on the passing pine trees as he replied in a flat voice. “In chains.”

Everett’s new growth showed closest to the highways. There were restaurants and storefronts where once only empty lots stood. All of this new construction pooled in the quiet shadows of Darrington Correctional Facility.

Supermax prisons started with Alcatraz. The system went private after the Awakening and subsequent fracturing of the United States of America. There were rumors about what happened to runners who got tagged and shipped to a supermax. Shadowrunners were SINless individuals; unregistered in any Social Security database. Without their names in the system, a corp could do whatever it wanted with them, especially if it had a grudge. And Darrington Correctional was run by Ares.

Haegemon broke the silence. “Any of you ever do time?”

Kitsune offered, “I did a weekend stint for trying to sell Better Than Life chips back when BTLs were all the rage. It was a long time ago.”

Kat looked at JT. The samurai scratched at his duster, unwilling to answer. It continued like that until Kitsune pulled the stolen delivery truck off the road just beyond the fence of a riverside warehouse north of the naval yards. The four runners piled out of the van and checked their gear.

“Same plan, guys.”

Kitsune glared at Fluff, who was looking particularly smug curled up in Kat’s arms. “Not exactly the same.”

“Right. Kitsune will run overwatch from here with Fluff. They’re expecting Orks this time, so Haegemon will take lead. JT will provide backup, if Kitsune’s spell works.”

“The spell will work.” Kitsune spat. She took a deep breath: lines of concentration forming on her brow. Nobody spoke while she cast the Mask spell. The harder she tried to focus her will, the more her face twisted into a fleshy caricature of her fox totem. This was her shamanic mask; physical proof of her true power. When the moment passed, Kitsune wiped the sweat from her temples. Kat looked at JT, surprised to see an Ork standing in his place.

Haegemon nodded at the work. “Nice, but I still think we needed a physical adept for a stealthy infiltration job like this. One of those ninja types.”

“Bulldrek. We always go in strong.” JT said, bits of spittle dotting his new tusks. “I’m a fragging street samurai. I’ve handled Lonestar Fast Response Teams and I can sure as hell handle Knight Errant.”

Kat said, “I’ve worked with adepts before, and they are top notch operators, but we don’t have the nuyen. I think we stretched the cash about as far as it will go.”

Haegemon shrugged.

“Is everyone good with the plan?” Kat was talking directly to Kitsune now.

The shaman shook her head. “I can maintain this spell, but it means I won’t be able to provide any other magical support. You’ll be going in blind.”

Kat nodded and started for the truck, but Kitsune held her back. “I’m with you, Kat, but this still doesn’t feel right to me. Why would Ahteen leave a hoard of weapons for some backwoods tribal Orks? You know Dragons don’t have the best history with Orks. I just don’t think Strouther is being straight with us about this job.”

“We blew that last job, Kitsune, and that is on me. If we don’t score on this one our Johnson is going to find someone else who can. If I can hack into the KE system I’ll try to find out where the storage manifest originated from, but we’re out of choices.”

Kat and Kitsune climbed into the back of the truck and closed off the partition between the driving compartment and the storage area. This left JT to do the driving and Haegemon to do the talking. She felt the truck stop again a few minutes later. The next moments were tense and the truck’s storage cabin was hot. Kat could here muffled voices coming from outside and slow responses from Haegemon. Somebody laughed and then they were moving again.

When the truck stopped the next time, Haegemon walked around back and pulled open the lift gate. He said, “Null sweat, chummers.”

“What happened back there?”

“They thought JT was my joyboy.”

Kat laughed out loud. They were at the docking ramp for one of the smaller warehouses on the property. It must have been the size of three basketball courts laid side by side. Kat jogged inside, relying on instinct to find the shipping office. JT followed. It was after hours, so they didn’t expect anyone besides security to be on sight. The office was dark, occupied by two desks cluttered with shipping tags, stacked boxes, barcode readers, and old takeout. She heard a rat scurry off and thought of Fluff.

“I’ll need a few seconds to break through their ICE.”

The less noticeable move would be to hack through one of the desktop computers and ride that into the CPU, but she needed fast access. She unplugged one of the desktop stations from its matrix port, replacing the cord with one from her Sega CTY-360 cyberdeck. The compound ran an Orange-6— tough security for a dockside warehouse— but her upgraded response hardware made it feel like she was hacking a video rental box.

Kat sleazed past the SAN and dove headlong into a datastore. The files were sitting right there waiting for her. She queued an upload of all relevant filenames, pausing to examine one in particular.

“Fracking Parsec!” She muttered and kicked the desk.

“Problems?”

"Yeah, I know what stall the gear is in, but I can’t decrypt this other file with my OS. They compiled it on some other OS only a handful of people ever use.”

“Tomorrow’s problem, Kat. Let’s get the gear and get clear.”

She nodded, but spent another few minutes trying to trace the file origins and figuring out who gave the order to buy and store the weapons. There were seventeen rows of storage, and what they needed was in row eleven. In fact, it took up most of the row. This wasn’t a small cache like before. There were enough guns here to outfit a platoon.

JT whistled low. “Christ, Kat. What do you think Ahteen is planning to do with all this weaponry?”

She shook her head and the two of them started to pull open boxes while Haegemon secured a pair of dollies. JT and Haegemon spent ten minutes loading gear into the truck. By the time they finished, they were weighed down with assault rifles, grenades, even a pair of RPG launchers. They didn’t make a dent in the supply.

Kitsune sat cross-legged in the back of the truck, stroking Fluff’s fur. “Time to go, people. We’ve been here too long.”

Haegemon climbed back into the front and JT secured the cargo in the back, leaving enough room for Kitsune and Kat to fit inside. But Kat had no intention of leaving. She looked back at the warehouse and said, “We can’t leave this stuff here.”

“We’d need eight more trucks to load out all of the gear, Kat. Let’s just take what we have and go.” Kitsune reasoned. “This cache belongs to Ahteen. Either we take it all, or we destroy it.”

That even took Fluff by surprise. Haegemon leaned out the driver’s side window and muttered, “We can do a lot with the gear we stole, Kat. We don’t need anymore to be successful. It is more than we expected we’d ever get. Mr. Johnson will be happy with the take.”

“But it isn’t all there is. Think about what we learned. Ahteen’s interest in this is a lot bigger than we thought. If we can blow up his cache that will let him know that somebody heavy is coming for him.” Kat felt torn.

Haegemon snorted. “You want to blow up a weapons cache in order to let a dragon know you’re coming?”

Kitsune growled, “Don’t ruin a perfect run by biting off more than we can chew. We came here to do a simple snatch and dash. We’re not prepared to blow up a warehouse.”

“But everything we need is right here. The cache is full of explosives!”

JT stepped out from behind the truck. With the mask spell still in place fangs jutted out over his mouth like a snarling warthog. “Kat, stop being a slitch. You need to get in the truck before the people who these guns belong to—”

They both heard the click at the same time. There was an Ork standing behind JT like he’d materialized out of the darkness. The Ruger heavy pistol in his hand burped fire and JT staggered forward. Kat heard another click behind her and she dove to the left. A second Ork opened up on her with a Remington Roomsweeper. Shards of shrapnel cut into her shoulder and back.

Haegemon kickstarted the engine while Kitsune fired her uzi through the open lift gate. A burst knocked down the Ork closest to her and Kat crawled to JT.

Through gritted teeth JT coughed that he could still walk, and Kat helped him to his feet and into the truck. A moment later one of Haegemon’s drones spun into the warehouse and laid down cover fire where the first shooter had been.

Kitsune crawled over Haegemon to get into the driver’s seat. When the truck stated moving she screamed, “Are you two okay?”

Kat’s form fitting armor took the brunt of the damage, but JT was shot in the back, where his vest offered him less protection. He needed immediate medical attention. Kat placed the call, holding his bloodstained DocWagon card in one hand. She read off the card number to a bored sounding operator. At anything higher than his basic service level, DocWagon would have come to him, even if it meant punching through a Knight Errant facility to do so. As it stood they needed to get clear a few more blocks before Kat pulled over and waited for the ambulance to arrive.

Haegemon stared at the both of them. He waited long enough to hear the sirens before speaking. “This didn’t have to happen, Kat. Getting the weapons is one thing, but we don’t know drek about getting in an out unseen. How are we supposed to get close enough to a dragon to use them? We need an Adept, Kat.” He paused. “We need an Adept.”

Kat didn’t respond.

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Part V: Meet My Rigger

Stuck’s Carnival sprang up overnight in the blue-collar mecca called Auburn. In a community where residents lived hand to mouth, this wild “anything-goes” casino represented a chance to be more. Stucks fed on that hope, growing fat with profit. Now it had expanded to the point where it was practically a micro city—a glowing oasis of neon and glass so long as your nuyen kept flowing, you could at least feel like you were somebody.

Kat’s crew picked an outdoor patio space wedged between a brothel and a petting zoo. It looked like a good place to meet new talent. If the crew planned on having any more fast getaways, they had to get a rigger. Interviewing potential shadowrunners used to entail walking up to a guy in a bar and asking if they shot straight, but Seattle was growing, and finding the right mix of talent was more difficult than ever.

The first interviewee, Larry, wasn’t even interested in shadowrunning. He just showed up to get them to support his lounge act a few blocks away. The second, a former F1 racecar driver named Andrea Florio, showed serious promise. Unfortunately, he kept insisting that everyone get Italian Linguasofts. But they immediately loved the third guy.

            “Haegemon, right?” He looked like a trid show mechanic—brown skin, sloppy black hair parted where a tusk sprouted from the side of his head, old jeans, an armored jacket zipped up to the collar, and a knapsack over one shoulder. His smile showed white teeth and polished fangs. He nodded and pulled up a chair next to the three shadowrunners.

            “Odd place to take a meet.” Haegemon took in his surroundings.

            Kat said, “We figured if it didn’t work out you might be able to score a few nuyen on the slots; make the trip worth your while.”

            “And here I thought you picked it because security made sure I wasn’t carrying a gun.” They made small talk in this fashion, no direct questions about the biz, but each question designed to reveal a bit more about the kind of runner they might be hiring. It wasn’t long before Kat was convinced.

            “I think you’re someone we could get used to, Haegemon.”

            Haegemon’s eyes never left Kitsune, no matter who was talking. He said, “I’m looking forward to it.”

JT snorted, “Yeah? Make sure your Docwagon is paid up. In fact, you better up your coverage to gold.”

Haegemon shrugged and flashed a Docwagon gold card.

Kitsune leaned in. “I’d love to see your car. What sort of ordinance did you build in?”

“Oh, I don’t have a car. Drek, I don’t even know how to drive.”

            “What are you talking about? How can you rig without a vehicle?”

            Haegemon smiled. “Drones. They’re smaller and more maneuverable than cars and even bikes. I can send a drone through a doorway, leave it to cover a hall, park it on a rooftop; whatever I need for a job. “

            Silence followed for a few seconds. Finally, Kat said, “I’m not sure a drone rigger is what we’re looking for. We were looking for a getaway driver.”

            “Why would you want that?”

            “Excuse me?”

            “Why would you want someone who is only useful on the way out, or maybe into a run? A guy like me can provide extra fire support, peak around corners without getting shot, even cover your exit so you don’t need to worry about being chased. A vehicle rigger just, well, waits in the car.”

            Kitsune grinned, “I like him.” That part seemed obvious enough.

Kat said, “I’m not convinced. Are you willing to let me see you in action?”

“What did you have in mind?”

Kat took him on a short trip down I-5 to the newly opened Clone Zone Mall. Kitsune drove. This late all of the shops were closed. The near empty parking lot was patrolled by a half-dozen toaster sized drones that whirred and dipped between the lights like chrome fireflies. Kat climbed out of the passenger seat pointed to a store on the west end of the mall. The sign above the entrance read ‘Microtronics’.

“I stopped in last week and saw a wiz response upgrade. If you can take care of those drones, I’ll go get it.”

Haegemon unzipped his backpack to reveal a rigger control deck. He plugged a black cord into the device and slid the other end of the cord into the datajack port behind his left ear.  Immediately three of the drones broke off from their pattern and zipped towards the east end of the mall. Kat took her cue. She made short work of the maglocked rear door and disappeared into the store.

Five minutes later the group was on the road, laughing and trying to figure out where to celebrate the addition of their newest member. JT offered up a VIP Pass to Orkgy, the all-nude ork club. Instead Kitsune drove the crew across town to a club called Jagged Nails where she liked to hang out. Even Kat was having a good time. She left the group behind before the sun came up. Kat still had a shadowrun to plan, and she really missed her kitten.

16 notes

Part IV: The Ares Job

Success is a tricky thing in shadowrunning. Kat called what happened in Redmond a success. JT preferred a different term.

"A cluster frag. That half-torched kitten nearly got our hoops shot off. Yet here we are again. New stakeout and same fragging kitten." JT ran his hands through his hair in frustration.

“He was going after the ganger. Besides, what do we know? Maybe it was an elf that burned him.” Kat jumped to her kitten’s defense.

 “Well we know that I got shot, and somehow you developed a plan to get us out of that debacle. I still don’t recognize how that is supposed to help us here.” He made a series of irritated scoffing noises.

‘Here’ meant South Downtown just after nightfall. The skies were purple with the glow of Seattle’s neon underbelly. A thick sheaf of clouds promised rain but offered only gloom. Kat’s crew waited in the back of a GMC Step Van parked along a row of cars and trucks on a block of houses and storefronts. One storefront, DLC Services, garnered the crew’s attention. According to the public matrix, Darren L. Carlyle Management Services “coordinates construction and corporate expansion for local businesses” however, Kat’s decker friends over at Dumpshock knew it as an off-the-books transfer station for the Ares Corporation. Ares used DLC as a way to legally profit off of goods they’d already sold. They kept the office in the low security neighborhood of Tukwila because the residents knew better than to ask any questions.

Kat stroked Fluff’s charred fur, “They’ll be expecting a transfer. If we’re smooth about it, we can make it.”

Kitsune sighed. “Yeah, but they’ll be expecting elves, and I don’t have the magic to fool them.”

“It’s a closed system. You can’t get in unless you are already inside Ares. Us lowly deckers have ways to sleaze it. So you need to trust me on this. If you and JT can take out the patrol, it will give us enough time to get the goods and get out.”

 “And ‘IF’ it goes wrong I’m supposed to rely on a shaman to drive us out of here?” JT spat out ‘if’ like a jailhouse swear. “Or maybe the fleabag cat will take over and drive us home. They don’t just give away DocWagon memberships, Kat. Mine isn’t even fully paid up. We need a rigger.”

“A rigger means splitting the take four ways instead of three. For now Kitsune can drive. Besides, if we do this right there won’t be a shot fired.”

JT snorted. “IF…”

The DLC building butted up against an Alleyway that concealed the entrance to an underground garage. The guns were down there somewhere. Kat didn’t think they’d have too much trouble getting to them: Knight Errant had only provided a dozen or so guards inside, relying on security cameras and an alarm system to keep them informed. Because the system wasn’t connected to the outside world, Knight Errant thought it’d stave off the deckers. It wasn’t.

The three shadowrunners climbed out the van. Kat crept ahead and jacked into a service panel by the building’s entrance. It took her a few seconds to disable the alarm and loop old camera footage of the alley and the underground parking structure. All that was left was a pair of guards patrolling the perimeter. Through the camera’s eyes Kat could see them approaching.

“Okay, Kitsune, it’s your show now.” In her slaved camera, Kat watched the shaman raise her hands as a light mist and fog began to rise up from the ground. The closer of the two guards was the first to notice. He motioned to his partner, and they moved with caution toward the mouth of the alley, drawing their weapons.

Kitsune stepped out from behind the corner with her hands now buried in the pockets of her longcoat. She stared at the two men, whispered a phrase in her native tongue, and both toppled to the ground as her stunball hit home.

JT hopped into the driver’s seat and maneuvered the van down the narrow alley. Kat raised the security gate, then jacked out and hurried after her crew. The underground garage took up the entire footprint of the building. At the north end they could see a small security office near a row of shipping containers. Kat rubbed a patch of soft fur under Fluff’s chin and told her to stay in the van. Fluff appeared indignant. Kat ignored her and joined her companions in front of the security office — apparently manned only during the day shift.

 “So what now?” JT demanded. “We dig through the containers until we find one full of guns? How long do you think it will be before the guys outside wake up, or someone wanders down here on a sweep?”

“Trust me, JT. They were expecting company later tonight—not now. We’ve got a while before the exchange. Relax. This place’ll be empty for a while.”

The door to the security office wasn’t locked. Kat sat down behind the desk and jacked into the computer. Too easy. She quickly identified which container held the guns. It was maglocked, but after some digging, she found the passcode, as well as something just as interesting: a small bit of paydata listing the location of similar DLC containers stored throughout the city. She filed this away for later and told her crew what to do.

They backed the van up to the cargo container while Kat popped it open. It felt like her birthday. There were a dozen crates of Ares Alpha assault rifles, ammunition and several other goodies.

“Let’s not get greedy, folks. Take what you can and move fast.” Kat settled on a silver briefcase sitting on a shipping crate in the back of the container. She opened it and motioned the others over to see.

JT’s eyes widened. “Is that what I think it is?”A smile spread across Kat’s face, replaced quickly by a look of determination “Let’s not get distracted. We’ve got to get these crates out of here.” She nodded toward Kitsune.

Sometimes Kitsune seemed so much like Fox; her spirit totem. The likeness manifested itself in her darting glances or the occasional twitch of her nose. She moved weapon crates from the shipping container to the van slowly, occasionally rubbing a spot behind her ears.

Kat couldn’t help but notice the change in her friend’s demeanor. “What’s on your mind?”

 “I just…” Kitsune’s words seemed heavy. “I… keep thinking that there is something we’re missing. Ahteen hires a couple of elven hitters through a fixer in order to take out a NAN tribesman who doesn’t appreciate the dragon nosing around tribal business.”

JT and Kat shrugged. It didn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary.

“What really bothers me is I’ve never heard about Ahteen having a stake in tribal matters. I’m no Elder, but I think I’m close enough to members of the tribes to know if something like that was going on.”

JT grunted as he heaved a particularly dense crate into the van. “Kitsune might be on to something here. What’s to say Ahteen is involved in this at all?”

Kat said, “No, I can feel that dragon’s footprint on this. When you’ve been on something’s snack plate it leaves an impression.”

Fluff mewled. Kat went over to see what was the matter. The kitten seemed riveted on a spot just out of view. She produced another mewl.

“What’s wrong, kitty? You see a mouse?”

Fluff rose up on her haunches and leapt swiftly out of the van.

“Crap, not again!” Kat chased after Fluff, yelling for her to stop. Just as Fluff was in her reach, Kat’s pursuit was interrupted by the sight of the Then  security cruiser, headlights off, rolling down the ramp into the garage. “Drek!” she spat, and  doubled back, all thoughts of stealth extinguished.

As she ran back to the van, Kat yelled to Kitsune and JT. “We’re blown! Get in the van!”

Kitsune growled something under her breath as she climbed into the driver’s seat and started the van. JT tossed the case he was carrying into the backseat and climbed in after it. Fluff was padding proudly back toward them, a limp mouse trapped between her jaws. Kat managed to snatch her up just as Kitsune got the van moving.

 “We’ve got too much gear back here to outrun them!” JT cried.

“Quiet, JT!” Kitsune needed to concentrate.

Knight Errant’s security cruiser was out of position. Kitsune muscled the van past it and thundered up the ramp and out into the alley. A second cruiser stuck its nose into the alley, hoping to deter the runners. It didn’t. Kitsune’s van crunched the hood of the cruiser, stalled for a moment, and then kept going.  Sirens followed. The van was slow and moved even more sluggishly in the hands of the shaman. Kitsune made as sharp a left turn as possible, accelerated for three blocks, then wrenched the wheel right again.

             “They’re gaining!”

            “Quiet, JT!” Kitsune was losing patience.

            The back window shattered, followed by the heavy whump whump of an Ares mounted machine gun. JT let out a small whimper. Something struck the rear wheel and suddenly they were airborne. The van came down on its side throwing Kat and JT around the rear cabin. It took several seconds for the three to orient themselves. Outside the van a pair of security cars squealed to a stop.

“Kitsune, give us some cover. JT, grab whatever you can!”

As before, Kitsune cast her Mist spell. This time it was much more powerful. The area quickly became thick with a dense, obfuscating sheen of vapor. Kitsune staggered as the force of the spell really affected her. Kat fumbled around in the magical fog until her fingers closed on a briefcase. Fluff emitted a desperate whimper, and Kat  scooped her up with her other arm and started to run. She took one last look at the van. “We really do need a rigger.”

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Part III: We Did It!

Kat grinned as she pushed open the door to Matchsticks. The bar was crowded even as the hour approached 2AM. She pushed her hair out of her face and peered around. Most of the regulars had already gone home, but she spotted Alcaray kicking back beers with Sharidine.

Julius Strouther was right where she left him. He was talking to a well-tanned man with a crew cut and a datajack port above his right ear. Kat hung by the bar, watching and waiting for the two men to finish their conversation. When it was over, the man left and Kat took his seat in the booth.

“He here on business?”

The dwarf chuckled, “What else is there?”

“I recognize him. Jake, right? I think Kitsune knows him.”

Strouther shrugged. Being a fixer meant that you dealt in information. You didn’t give it away in casual conversation.

Kat slapped a commlink on the table. The fixer stared at it questioningly and picked it up. “This what I think it is?”

She just smiled.

“Drek, Kat. That was fast. What, 28 hrs?”

“Ahteen owes me for my leg. I intend to collect.”

The fixer furrowed his brow. “I suppose you peeked. What did you find?”

“Twelve contacts. Eight of them rang up as gangers. There was a pawn shop owner, a couple of joy girls, a street doc, and a number we both know.”

“Are you sure?”

“The ganger we pulled this off of had him marked him down as Mr. Johnson.” The name is a common moniker for people who hired shadowrunners. A Johnson is a job; a credstick; an empty cubicle on the other end of a trid call. Strouther nodded at this and a grin took shape beneath his gray handlebar mustache.

“Oh yeah, I tried it. It’s no longer in use.”

“It’s common for a corporate meat puppet like Caleb Brightmore to have a handful of dump lines. I’ll see if I can find out who is pulling his strings.”

Kat shrugged. She’d done work for Brightmore before. However, this didn’t feel like his style. The elf specialized in high-end work and even higher end runners. Those gangers were strictly low end. “There’s more. One of the Ancients’ cell phones had notes on an Ares weapons cache being stored in a South Renton warehouse. If I read it right, the Ancients were planning to use those weapons for the hit.”

Strouther laughed out loud. “Come on Kat, you think you are going to “borrow” those weapons to start your own anti-dragon purge? No way. I told you, my client didn’t come into this thing looking to geek a dragon. Nor is he going to pay you to do it.”

Strouther was hiding something or someone. He knew Kat’s background and knew she would do anything to get back at the beast that took her leg. Kat decide that she was tired of this dance.

“Look, I now know where I can waltz in and get a enough weapons to start a war. I know enough runners that are willing to remove one dragon from the world. What I need to know is how far is your contact willing to take this?”

The fixer sighed, his one cybernetic eye studying her coldly. Kat wondered how she must look to him. Barely twenty-five, scarred, drug-user skinny with scraggly green hair that curled past her chin. It wasn’t a look that endeared most men, but she didn’t give a frag what most men thought. Just the ones she needed something from.

Strouther said, “I trust you, Kat. You keep knocking down these runs the way you did tonight and I’ll keep feeding you more. My client didn’t expect this kind of response, but now that it’s out there, I’m sure he is willing to take it as far as you’ll go.”

Kat tried to hold in her relief, but it showed. “What’s my next step?”

“Get that weapon’s cache. If you can find out what Ares executive is responsible for dumping it there, it could be a setback for old scales. At the very least, Ahteen won’t have the weapons to give to whoever Brightmore gets to replace the dead Ancients.”

She thanked her fixer and headed for the door. Kat hadn’t told him everything about the weapon’s cache. That’s how you made street rep. You did top work and only shared the details that made you look good. So she didn’t tell Strouther the warehouse was guarded by a drek hot security firm called Knight-Errant. He would’ve killed the job on the spot. Now the job was on, and getting past security was a real problem. She was thinking about how to solve that problem when a hand clapped her on the shoulder.

“No chance of you getting by without buying me a drink.” The voice was little more than a soft grumble. It belonged to a giant of a metahuman, a lanky troll dressed in slacks and a Maria Mercurial t-shirt.

“RC! I haven’t seen you since that business in Renton, chummer.” Kat smiled a pulled up a barstool alongside him. She’d done a few runs with the troll in the past. In addition to the obvious, RC was a gifted martial artist, a philosopher, and worst of all, a pacifist.

“I’ve been around. Been doing a few jobs with Jetboy and Anders, but they went their separate ways. Used to be that us runners were right on top of each other looking for work, but Seattle’s a deeper sprawl now. More Johnsons, more jobs.”

“More places to get into trouble.”

“You ever think about leaving, Kat?”

“You mean start running in another city? Drek, there’s places in Seattle I’ve never seen. Why, you getting out?”

“That isn’t an option right now, but who knows. I’ve made enough enemies that there’s a moving company somewhere in the sprawl just waiting for my call. Maybe one day I’ll actually call and have them ship all my gear to some unnamed city. I don’t know… maybe some place exotic – I hear Berlin’s shadows are long and deep. Maybe this time I’ll make the right connections.”

Kat nodded, but her mind was already miles away from the conversation. Something he said clicked, like the final digit in a maglock sequence. Waiting for my call. All of a sudden it hit her: a plan to get past Knight Errant’s security.

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Part II: The Stand Down Job

         The sound of Harley Scorpions rolling down the desolate Redmond street was enough to shake even JT awake. He groaned and shoved the white ball of fur off his lap.

“I can’t believe you brought the kitten.”

“Fluff is my—our—good luck charm. Look at how fast she got us this location.” Kat offered. 

They were east of Touristville—a strange name considering most tourists from Seattle never step foot there. Redmond took the brunt of the damage when Mount Rainier erupted, spitting ash across the city. Its streets were still littered with black dust, and the only kind of people who stayed past dark were gangers, crooks, and BTL junkies. Touristville is set up to be a “safe place” for those seeking thrills on the dark side. The local Barrens “government” even runs desolation tours out of “The Gateway to the Redmond Barrens”.

Kat’s team was holed up in an old Ford Americar a few paces from a pawn shop known to be a source for black market information. Kitsune sat next to her in the driver’s seat.  After a few moments of silence, Kitsune spoke. “I thought you were the drek hot decker who did all that wiz tech stuff to figure out where the Ancients were meeting their contact. Lo and behold, it was the feline.”

Kitsune was a shaman, a follower of the Native American traditions born with the ability to see and control the magical energies that bubbled up into the world years ago in an event that the popular media had dubbed “The Awakening”. By nature, shamans took on the behavioral characteristics of their sprit totem. Kitsune followed Fox. 
In the back seat JT checked his Beretta pistols. The self-proclaimed “One Man Army” was the muscle of the outfit. He said, “Looks like all that wiz tech stuff paid off. They’re pulling up.”

When Elves came back to the world, everyone expected them to climb into the trees, sing songs, and build tree houses. Maybe in Portland. Seattle Elves are no such breed. They’re creatures that bleed chrome, run in packs, and don’t play nice with others. Kat knew all of this, and felt wary as the four bikers eased to a stop in front of Finn’s Pawn and Firearms. Their bright green leathers were out of place here, but the colors marked them as members of the Ancients street gang. If gang rep wasn’t enough to scare off any gawkers, the obvious bulge of weaponry beneath their jackets was. Three of the Elves climbed off their bikes and went inside while the fourth stood by, watching the street.

JT slipped out of the Americar and jogged towards the alley behind the Pawnshop. Kat and Kitsune needed to deal with the ganger out front.

“The window is a problem,” Kitsune said. “If I use magic, they’ll see him go down and get suspicious.”

“Good point. We could always—“ Kat broke off mid sentence. Fluff was padding down the street towards the row of motorcycles.

“Fluff!” Kat climbed out of the car and broke into a run. The ganger saw the puff of white dancing towards him. He stared at it, and then slowly turned toward the screaming, skinny girl heading straight for him. A look of alarm barely had time to register on his face before the magic took effect. The manabolt hit him square in the chest, and he slumped to the ground. Kat looked back at Kitsune and nodded thanks. She tried to pick the ganger up, and lean him over his bike like he was resting, but he was a heavy bastard. 

That’s when the other gangers saw her. The three turned from their business inside, pulling Predator heavy pistols. She scooped up Fluff by the scruff of her neck and hurried toward the Americar. The first crack of gunfire let her know she’d never make it. Kat dove behind the nearest cover: a rusted brown pickup perched upon blocks.

Gunshots pinged off the truck. Kat cursed her kitten who only mewled in return.  Kitsune was pinned down in the Americar. The Shaman needed to see her target to use magic. Fortunately, Kat didn’t need to see to shoot. She stuck her Colt Manhunter out past the bumper and squeezed the trigger till the clip ran dry. The distraction gave Kitsune a moment to poke her head up, and seconds later Kat heard the satisfying grunt of a ganger submitting to a second manabolt spell.

Still two left. They split up, moving around the truck on either side. Kat slapped in a fresh clip and waited.

The next burst of gunfire came from farther away. Kat heard another grunt, as a ganger went down and then she heard the last ganger turn and start shooting back towards the Pawnshop. The firefight didn’t last long.

JT gave the all-clear sign. He looked like he took a few rounds to his mesh jacket, but if he was in any pain, it didn’t show. “Someone want to tell me what happened to the plan?”

Kitsune pursed her lips and jabbed her pointer finger in Fluff’s direction. Fluff purred.

Kat smiled. “Hey, it worked, didn’t it?”

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Part I: Old Friends and New Business

Kat could think of better ways to spend her Saturday night than being tailed by ork gangers. They were behind her now, red leather jackets and pink mohawks blending into the chaotic mesh of bodies moving through downtown Seattle. She knew what they wanted—a pound of flesh, her cyberdeck, the usual. It all came back to the Gunderson run. That job covered rent for the month and left enough for decent takeout, but it meant crossing the Crimson Crush. Apparently they didn’t understand ‘just business’.

She sped up and her limp became more pronounced. Doc Maplethorpe called the pain psychosomatic; a memory of having her meat leg gnashed off by teeth as large as her body. Dragon teeth. Of course, her doctor also worked out of the back of a strip mall, so what did he know?

Kat glanced back, pretending to notice a glitzy neon storefront. The orks were still with her. She pulled her satchel closer, feeling for the important items within. Sega CTY-360 Cyberdeck, Colt L36 pistol, stun baton, commlink, and lipstick. Everything a woman of the 2050’s needs. It was too late to double back and lose them. She had a meet to make. Maybe they wouldn’t follow her into Matchsticks. The club was officially Halloweener turf. Then again, they’d strayed this far from Redmond already. She ducked into the club. A few moments later the orks followed.

Matchsticks was hot and crowded. Rhys Corlett manned the bar. All the regulars were there—Mr. McDougle, Alex Bayne, Doug Hall. She hoped that acknowledging them would send a message to the orks that this was her turf. That message was received. The gangers stayed put at the front where they could see her and she could see them.

Latin Fusion blared from speakers stacked like crates at the corners of a small stage near the back. She headed that way, towards a Dwarven man lounging in a booth beside the stage. The music was so loud here that it was hard to hear anything more than a few inches away, which is why her fixer always met here.

Kat slumped into the booth across from the dwarf. She didn’t waste any time on small talk. “So, what are you sending me after this time? Cyberzombies? Ghouls? Toxic Shamans?”

“Elves.”

“Is that all?”

Julius Strouther looked as serious as the trim cut suit he wore. His age-lined face offered no hint of mirth.  The smile lingering at the corner of her lips started to dissolve. Strouther said, “How would you like a chance to knock Ahteen down a few pegs?”

Ahteen.

Had it really been two years since her encounter with the dragon? Kat absently rubbed at her cybernetic leg. “You know that I do. Tell me how it works.”

Strouther leaned in, his voice conspiratorial. “You can’t go at a Dragon head on. You have to do this in stages. My client set several small goals, and if you can make the first one, we’ll go for another.”

Hate doesn’t pay the bills, so she screwed on a smirk and said, “So what’s the rate for dealing with a Dragon?”

Strouther negotiated a fair price for the run. He needed her to track down a group of Ancients someone hired to geek a NAN official. Stop them. Figure out who hired them, and unravel the Ahteen connection. There was more, but her attention kept drifting. She couldn’t see the pink mohawks anymore.

Her business concluded, Kat slipped out of her seat and fell in step with a group of women headed towards the bathroom. Then she saw a pink mowhawk standing by the front door. He didn’t see her, so Kat kept walking, right out the back door and into the alley.

The other ork wasn’t in the alley. Out here Seattle smelled like cigarette smoke and rotten eggs. Kat breathed in her city’s aroma. In the distance the Renraku Arcology dominated the skyline. She wondered for a moment what it must be like to grow up in the protective shell of a corporation, far from the gang bangers and street urchins that made up the Seattle she knew.

Kat heard a low sound, like a cross between a cry and a strangled growl, rising from beneath the dumpster. Glowing eyes stared back out at her. It was a kitten, a skinny thing with matted white fur. Kat smiled at the poor creature and rustled through her satchel until she found a half-eaten candy bar.

“You look hungry.” Kat kept a hand on her stun baton. Even kittens could be dangerous things if you didn’t know how to deal with them. She left the bar on the ground. Cautiously the kitten came out to sniff at it. Satisfied, it licked at the chocolate greedily. Kat took a closer look. The kitten’s white fur wasn’t just matted. It was burned. Someone had put a flame to this kitten. She felt her stomach clench. Suddenly the kitten hissed at her. She took a half step backwards and tightened her grip on the stun baton. It hissed again, showing fangs, but it wasn’t looking at her.

Kat heard the footsteps then. The second ganger was right on top of her. She reflexively jabbed the stun baton into his gut. The baton sparked and the air filled with the stench of burning flesh. He went down to his knees, and she jabbed him again in the neck.

Kat turned back to look for that kitten. It was sitting beside the candy bar licking itself. She reached out for the kitten and it climbed into her arms.

“You saved my hoop, kitty. The least I could do is give you a bowl of milk.” 

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