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.”
“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.
“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.