Shadowrun: Richmond, Virginia, CAS

And while YOU were out...

“Alright, we’re set,” I call out to Jazz and M Dragon, both of whom acting as overwatch. Not sure if Gummy wants his old friend Lazarus dragging his special team into Denver, but it’s important. He probably won’t care,.. I think. Oh well.

“Mortis, your squad set?”

Over the earpiece, Mortis replies, “What’s this squad drek? Yeah, we’re ready.”

“Hunting, fast and swift. Never stopping. Always moving…” The chanting of Perfect centering himself is,… well,… disturbing.

“Geez, he gotta chant like that?” calls Jazz over the comm. “Four drones are up and weapons hot.”

“Local communication grid is down,” calls M Dragon. “Getting the local and federal agents to leave was quite the trick, but you should be clear. We’ve got several officers at the main gate watching the property, but they’re not a problem. I’ll give you a heads up if anything changes… got ’em on a local, real-time video feed.”

I quickly scale the outer walls of the Denver compound of Sunder’s friends and family. Luckily, they made it out. Once my feet hit the ground inside of the compound, I can see why they were lucky. The gardens at the rear of the main house is littered with bodies, both assailants and the compound’s security teams. That, though, is not why I find them lucky.

The bodies, both friend and enemy alike, look like prunes left in the summer sun too long. Drained of any fluid. Dried and shrivelled, like a mummy outside it’s wrapping.

“You recording this Dragon?” I ask.

“Of course,” answers M Dragon, “y’all’s PAN’s are accessed. Maybe i can turn off your cybereyes.” I can almost hear her smile.

“Focus guys,” Jazz calls. “I count twelve friendlies, 15 enemies in the rear gardens.”

“All dead,” I say almost to myself.

“Roger that, Laz.”

“Spread out guys,” I say to my team of four. We’re all in the heaviest, most illegal gear our illicit employment can afford. Which is a lot. My team knows their job, and they smoothly fan out across the yard. Mortis and his team crossed the northern compound wall and move to the side of the mansion.

“Not much better over here, Laz,” Mortis calls. “Got five of ours down, seven of theirs. I should’ve stayed in New Orleans… Alright team two, breach the door.”

My team and I enter through the large glass, picture window facing the gardens that was shattered. I see two enemies with clean rifle wounds to the face. Oddly, these bodies aren’t like the ones outside. “Looks like Gina capped two over here,” I say. I can hear the soft “clear” announcements as each room is cleared by different team members searching room to room.

“Dragon, you got this?” I pan my camera over the two corpses. “Why weren’t these guys sucked dry?”

“I dunno,” Mortis replies, “I just work here.”

“Yesssss,” Perfect says, “the boy’s magic claimed victims like a true hunter of the world. He will collect many souls. He will gain much power and strength in claiming them…”

“Really,” Jazz calls, “can we turn off the creepy shark commentary track? Laz, heads up.”

A large VTOL drone skims past at head height, its helicopter-like blades making only a whisper of noise. I imagine the light machine guns it carries wouldn’t be quite so quiet.

I enter the kitchen through swinging doors, finding two of the housekeeping staff in a heap in the middle of the floor, their bodies completely drained like the others, but with no visible wounds. “Apparently, whatever drained them could also use that to actually kill them.”

“Got another one like that, sir,” says one of Grummish’s mercenaries. I see in my heads up display in my armor’s helmet a raisin butler with no apparent wounds.

“Why are some drained and some not?” I mumble.

“Above my pay grade, sir.” A little cheeky for a mercenary.

“More death, more glory!” Perfect chants, “The last of the compound’s security guards are in the circle drive out front. Paid the price to save others. Glorious!”

“Mortis,” I call, “Check out the garage.”

“Door’s wide open, Laz. They took the big boy out.” Mortis replies.

“Gotcha. City Master’s out.” At least that asset is still in good condition. “Looks like everything is over here. Team two, clear the lower levels.” Looks like we’re in evidence collecting and detective mode…

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Hilsa, Nepal

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Near Hilsa, Nepal

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Choices...

In the great hall, a reflecting pool is in the center. Some recognize it as very similar to the one found at Mount Isto in Alaska…

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While you were out...

I hit the ground with a dull thud, my joints screaming in pain from the twisting motion that led to the undignified, uncoordinated tumble through the dirt in the hot African sun. I’ve trained countless special forces operatives and mercenaries from around the world in close quarter combat, and he tosses me about with barely any effort. How does he counter every move, seemingly several steps ahead? He toys with me, though does not express anything other than dissatisfaction, spurring me to be better than I am now. If I had this training several years ago, how dangerous and sought after I could have been. Too late for that now. At least I can out shoot him, I think as he turns away from me saying for the thousandth time, “Again!”

I am at the pinnacle of human perfection physically, and augmented well past that. Physically I am his equal, but his skill is undeniable. I jump to my feet, and spring above his sweeping leg, only to get caught in my harness, spun around and slammed head first into the ground. He didn’t even turn around! “Again!” he shouts. I can’t continue to get humiliated over and over. My frustration is getting the best of me, which will make me sloppy. I know that to be true, but can’t help myself.

I charge forward, throwing my fist at his face. He simply side steps, using my momentum against me, throwing me once again into the dirt. I spin to my feet and throw a roundhouse kick to his abdomen. He blocks, knocking me off balance, but I recover in time to attempt an uppercut swing to his jaw. He leans back away from the swing, then at the right moment, slams his forehead into mine. I feel like an anvil being struck by a might blow from a blacksmith’s hammer. I black out briefly from the blow.

I open my eyes, and he looks down on me. “Again!” he shouts, with a snarl.

I climb to my feet, bones and muscles aching. I glare at him, trying again to analyze his movements. I move slowly, circling to his right. He stands motionless. I spring at him, grappling him from around the waist, lifting him off the ground. Something grabs my legs, causing me to lose balance. Regaining his feet, he falls backward, and we roll in the dirt. His elbow finds its way to my groin, taking my breath. “Again!”

No more, I think. This guys is going down. I step in close and he lets me, his eyes fixating on mine. In one deft movement, I extend the spikes of my cyberspurs punching at his face. But my cyberspur spikes are blocked by the edged blades of his, and I inadvertently push those blades into my fist. I grab my wounded hand, and he says “Stop!”

I step backward, clutching my hand. “Good,” he says. “Why did you attack me with your spurs?”

Ashamed, I say, “I let my anger get the best of me. We agreed that training was non-lethal.”

“Yes. And it was.”

My brow furrows with confusion. “But, I could have killed you.”

He smiles. I’ve never seen him smile. There is a disconcerting quality to it. Perhaps it’s the large lower jaw and symmetrical tusks. “No, you could not. So, you could not cause our sparring to be lethal. Therefore, all of your attacks were non-lethal.” My face reddens, though I’m not sure if I’m mad or embarrassed. Perhaps both.

“What the hell was this all about?!” I shout.

“Combat has no rules. What surprises me is how long it took for you to realize that in the present situation, you were outmatched and needed to take action to move the odds in your favor. Your technique is excellent, but your creativity and initiative are limited.”

He looks me over, glancing at my hand. “Go see Mr. Perfect to heal your wounds. You may need to endure his condescension, but he will take care of you.” Ugh. I thought the ork was bad. Perfect is a whole new level of life stealing insanity. I never heard of a shark shaman, much less met one. But if a shark considers himself the top of the oceanic food chain, then Perfect looks to all of us as lunch. He may look like a white, average build human, but Perfect seems a long way from actually being human. I nod at Grummish, thankful that training is done for the day.

I walk past the training ground where the third of our tormentors is conducting firearms training. They call the elf Mortis, presumably because of his lethality with weapons. While I can out shoot Grummish, Mortis must sleep with a pile of guns as pillows. I remember being led through a near impossible series of small arms tactics. The other trainees are from all corners of the world, each of us top operators. We were learning refinements to our skills, making us even more capable. Such training is priceless. Since most of us trainees did not know each other, a lot of training focus is for us to work together.

If my pay represents that which the others receive, then we are expensive. As of yet, I’m not sure what we’ll be doing, but clearly it won’t be delivering pizza.

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In Memoriam

Sergeant Moriarty sat on the remnants of a concrete wall that once belonged to a large shopping mall. Locals call the place Dragon’s Plaza, though the underworld community call it Goldstein’s Grave. Around the several acre large site stood crumbled walls, rotting wooden shelves, and shattered tile. Bits of glass and other detritus lay almost everywhere among piles of soaked, torn fabric whose colors were muted from many months of rain and weather. The bodies were long since collected from the battle between the forces of metahumans and the dragon of Lonestar, Goldstein. But the body of Goldstein, even though recovered, was removed from Quest Services’ custody. How can a huge dragon body simply disappear, questioned Moriarty under his breath.

Moriarty came here often, as a quiet place unfrequented by others as most feared this place, but today, he expected a visitor. As Moriarty knelt in the ruins, he was eclipsed by the shadow of an old friend. “Hey there Kelly,” Moriarty said without turning around. Kelly’s huge troll frame was further augmented by piles of cyberware. Most acquired in an earlier part of her life. Kelly stood at attention, emphasizing her imposing stature, and she had an intense gaze which might concern a stranger. Moriarty, however, was no stranger. Where Moriarty wished only to be overlooked most of the time, Kelly dressed the opposite. It was unclear if she were a ganger or maybe a prostitute for customers who wanted to get wild. Covered in tattoos that only meant something to her, Kelly stood out, even more than any other troll. At least her horns and tusks were symmetrical. I guess it would be kinda hard for her to not stand out in the crowd, Moriarty thought.

“Hey Joe,” Kelly said, bending down to deliver a soft tap to Moriarty’s back. A tap that nearly knocked him over. “Still comin’ back ta’ this God forsaken place, huh? Sometimes shit happens my fren. Dare ain’t rhyme or reason. Just-“

“Shit. I know.” Moriarty interrupted. “It’s just weird. The background count dropped to zero within days. Then the body disappears, and Goldstein is back like nothing happened? Dunkelzahn gets off’ed and there’s a great rift that takes tons of effort to close. Goldstein? Nada.”

“Really?” Kelly scoffed, “Goldstein ain’t Dunkelzahn.”

“Maybe not, but that doesn’t square either. Even if not a giant rift, I’d expect something to happen. Anything…” Moriarty’ voice trailed off as he rose to his feet.

“The mysteries of dem dragons, eh? We ain’t goin’ tru dis again. Case closed. No investigation needed.” Kelly became annoyed at the conversation topic. “You did’n call me ‘ere to hash tru dis shit again wit you. Ol’ five-oh buddies or no, I got no time for dis again.”

“Well, I’m working a case now that involves Goldstein.” Moriarty stiffened. “Or at least whoever is impersonating him. So, guess what? We’re talking about this old case from this battleground that appeared to kill our wyrm friend.”

“Impersonating him? You be serious banged in da head.” Kelly’s brow furrowed. “You bein’ serious?”

“Got trideo evidence from a reliable source. One minute you see Goldstein the old man, and for just a couple of frames, he turns into… something. Maybe a spirit?” Moriarty’s voice trails off again with a question more for himself than for Kelly.

“Why you be askin’ me? I be no dragon or spirit whisperer.”

“No, not you,” Moriarty replies. “One of your new associates.”

“Sugah Cane?” Kelly’s face broke to a toothy, tusky grin.

“You do know that his name isn’t about sugar? I’m pretty sure he means Caine. Like Caine and Able?”

“You got your view, and me got da truth,” Kelly said playfully. “My Sugah Cane.”

“Don’t get all hot and bothered. I don’t mean him. I mean Katai.”

“Dat little wannabe troll wit da little dick and big gun to compensate?” asked Kelly, one eyebrow raised.

“How do you know how well hung he is? Seen him naked?”

“Got big gun. Must have little dick. That be logic.”

“Regardless,” said Moriarty with an exacerbated sigh. “I believe that Katai and an old associate of his, a Shark shaman named Perfect met a dragon in New York. I don’t know where Perfect is, but I do know where Katai is. The feathered serpent’s name is Malstrite.”

Kelly bellowed with laughter. “You want ‘im to see a dragon for you?”

“No,” Moriarty replied flatly, “I want you and him and Caine’s crew to go see the dragon.” Kelly immediately became more serious, and a long pause of silence hung in the air.

“Dat be easy answer. No.”

“No what?”

“No, I not be seein’ no dragon.”

“Well, that’s not the worst part.”

“Dare be a worse part?”

“Malstrite will want some form of payment for any information he provides.”

“What da hell do a dragon need for payment? He be a DRAGON.”

“Yes. So, this dragon will want a favor.”

“Stop. You be wantin me and my Sugah Cane to go bargain wit a dragon to get information on Goldstein’s death. And you don’t know what he be wantin?”

“Yes.”

Silence once again enveloped the space around them.

“You be crazy.” Kelly finally said.

“Look, Katai met with this dragon and he’s still around.”

“He be crazy too. Prolly ‘cause he be havin a little dick.”

“Malstrite takes visits from people from time to time. He likes to see himself as all important, and it flatters him when people look to him for guidance. He is most interested in knowledge. Any knowledge really. I’m sure the favor will be for something you know that no one else does. Like some custom cyberware a certain Ork might know how to build.”

“He goes, an I damn well will not.”

Moriarty smiled, “So, you’re thinking about it.”

“Look, I be needin da work, what be the pay.”

“250,000 nuyen.”

“Just to talk an pass information?”

“Just to talk. Your world in the shadows and mine as a cop need to know what happened in this place. And not just anyone can meet with a dragon. Katai has the in with Malstrite. We need to use that. Our lives may very well depend on it.”

“Me go see Sugah Cane and feel him up.”

“I think you meant, ‘feel him out’”

“Nah, my fren,” Kelly said with a nod and wink of her eye.

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And then it hit the fan...

Spitfire walked into the kitchen to prepare some coffee to sip as she watched the morning news in her apartment. “Show Channel 6 News in the living room,” she called, and the large screen in her well appointed living room immediately came to life.

“Good morning Richmond!” called the morning anchor of Channel 6 News. “Our breaking story from overnight is the attempted mass escape from the Richmond City Jail in Shockoe Bottom.”

In the middle of her morning routine, Spitfire nearly dropped her coffee. “What is he up to now,” she muttered under her breath. “Display in the kitchen.” The video screen in the kitchen came to life, showing the morning news.

“Overnight, unnamed sources from the Quest Security Services managed jail indicated that a freak power outage caused all of the secured doors within the jail to open simultaneously, allowing prisoners freedom from their cells. More troubling, however, the prisoners had access to weapons. The same unnamed sources indicated that the arming of the prisoners was due to the lax security at the overcrowded facility and an environment of corruption among the Quest guards.

“Documents obtained exclusively by Channel 6, however, provides evidence refuting these unnamed sources with hard facts. In these documents, city Sheriff Leroy Pullman, working in conjunction with Lonestar, arranged for the security breach at the jail, freeing and arming the prisoners. We turn to Marita Parrish for the details. Marita?”

The screen changed to show a slender black woman, dressed in a bright red, skin tight dress holding a microphone. In these modern times, such devices are completely unnecessary, but it seems that newscasters needed something to hold in their hands to look official. Sometimes old customs live on. Behind Marita was the front of the city jail and scores of other reporters. A mass jailbreak is national news.

“Yes, Paul. New evidence acquired by our exceptional news team revealed that the jail’s security system was purposefully hacked by none other than local rival Lonestar with assistance from our own elected official, Sheriff Pullman. Now, it is only good fortune that a special security audit team was on site at the jail when the breach occurred. Quest Security’s Captain Katherine Parker had this to say.”

The screen cut to an image of Katherine, perfectly presented looking more like a model than a policewoman, standing at a podium with the familiar stylized “Q” corporate symbol behind her. “If not for the swift actions of our security audit team, scores of extremely dangerous rapists and murderers would be back on the street terrorizing families. Unfortunately, there were several casualties, however, those brave Quest officers who faced the hoard of armed criminals stood their ground professionally and restored order to the facility.” The scene switched back to Marita.

“When asked about the newly acquired evidence showing the payoff to Sheriff Pullman from Lonestar VP Michael Goldstein, Captain Parker said that Quest’s priority at this point is assuring the safety of the citizens of the city. She added that if asked by the city council, Quest would aid in the investigation, but recommended that such an investigation would be better served by state and federal law enforcement agencies and an independent third party.” The screen switched again, revealing Marita on the left and the news anchorman Paul on the right.

“Marita,” asked Paul, “what of rumors that the city council has already contacted an independent third party?”

“Yes, Paul. I just received an official statement from the city council naming Colt Security Services as the firm leading the investigation on behalf of the city. As you know, Colt provides security to the Hampton Roads, Virginia Beach, HRVB, metro area, the company’s largest security contract.”

“Isn’t the city council concerned about bringing in another potential competitor in an already inflamed situation?” The older, white news anchorman leaned in, giving the appearance of being intensely interested in the staged conversation between himself and Marita.

“Paul, my sources within city hall tell me that Colt has no intentions of expanding their contracts within Virginia, given the firm’s extensive contracts with several federal, military, and local organizations. Colt is moving quickly, and has in fact already acquired space at Richmond International Airport and named Ranger Ian O’Brian as the lead investigator.”

“The airport, Marita?”

“Yes. Ranger O’Brian’s support team will be based there, under the jurisdiction of the Federal Facility Security Administration so as to not be influenced by either Lonestar or Quest.”

“Marita, there were deaths at the jail?”

“Many deaths in the early part of the riot, though exact numbers are not available yet. There were also two or three explosions from within the facility based on eyewitness accounts. While the families of the inmates have expressed concerns, I think our viewers can all agree that keeping those violent criminals in the jail, no matter the cost, was in all of our best interest.”

“Absolutely,” Paul replied. “What of Sheriff Pullman? Given the evidence, has the city council decided on a course of action?”

“I’m told the city council has not made a decision on how to proceed with the city’s sheriff, but Mayor James was quoted as saying he was in contact with Virginia’s District Attorney to determine what legal action can be taken. Sheriff Pullman has yet to comment.”

“And Lonestar?”

“Well, Paul, clearly these new developments will play into any decision by the city council regarding the Lonestar contract which is set to expire June 30th.”

The screen switched again, showing only Paul. “Thanks Marita. I’m sure you’ll be following this story with great interest. Well, today’s weather looks to be perfect-”

“Mute. Where’s Grummish?” called Spitfire to the air.

From a disembodied voice in the room, “Mr. Grummish is not at the facility. His calendar indicates he is in Johannesburg.”

“Really?” Spitfire chuckled softly. “Well, least it’s not my problem.” she muttered as she finished preparing her coffee.

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A Less than Cordial Visit

Jeremy Olson thought through the events that brought him to his present state. Strapped to a titled hospital style table, in a cold, sterile room, he could imagine himself in any hospital he’s ever been in or seen in the holographic video shows he enjoyed. There were monitors taped to him, needles supplying fluids, and various scars lined his shaved scalp. He imagined a hospital. One that looked out for his care and well being. One that performed surgery to fix some grievous wound in his head. Unfortunately, this place was not that place.

Jeremy enjoyed many privileges at the Ork Rights Committee. Housing. Food. Medical care. And a solid wage. He knew he was not the smartest Ork in the Petersburg Barrens, but this place showed him comfort and more than that, a place where he belonged. A purpose. Jeremy thought about the offer from the old man he encountered one day in Max’s Diner after his shift. It was so much money. More than he had ever heard of, and simply for placing some devices around the compound and discussing when shift changes occurred. The task seemed harmless enough. Jeremy remembered his mom’s assertion of the adage: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Jeremy never ventured into the basement levels of the ORC compound. He knew that research and development occurred in the lower levels, and that surgical suits existed there as well. Whenever one of the employees were sick or injured, they would go below to receive medical care. On occasion, a shipment of medical supplies would arrive presumably to restock the stores there. No employee would be turned away, even if a high expense was involved. Sometimes, Mr. Grummish would provide that care personally.

I wish he was providing care for me, thought Jeremy, instead of what he’s doing now.

Jeremy tested the straps, another one of thousands of attempts, all in the futile hopes that he could wriggle out of them. A voice entered the room, with no apparent source for the sound.

“You ain’t gettin’ free, there friend,” said the voice in a chuckle. “Even if you did, where would ‘ya go? It’s one thing to refuse hospitality, but to turn on the hand that feeds ‘ya? Not smart there kiddo. Heck, you could’ve quit. Walked away. Left it all behind. No problem. People done that before, lookin’ to better themselves.” Another laugh. “Nah, you had to go and get one of us killed-”

“I didn’t kill anyone!” shouted Jeremy to the air.

“You did things that got someone killed,” said the voice spitting its words in contempt. “May as well have pulled the trigger yourself.”

“I didn’t mean for that to happen,” Jeremy whimpered, his voice trailing off.

The single door, oversized for the large medical gurneys, including those large enough for trolls, opened. Wearing a white lab coat, light blue examination gloves, and carrying a handheld computer tablet, Grummish entered the room, looking though his glasses at the computer. “How is our test subject today?” asked Grummish to the air.

“He’s been pulling on those restraints,” said the voice flatly.

“Well,” Grummish said swiping across the screen, “fear is a powerful motivator. Living things will do almost anything to save themselves. With the noteworthy exceptions of protect one’s lineage or those one may love. The test subject does not have such attachments.” Grummish paused. “At least not now.”

Grummish tapped the computer, saying aloud, “Record. Test Subject KO. Session 12. Subject continues to resist the restraints.” Grummish walked over to Jeremy, examining the incisions on his scalp. “Incisions are healing at an appropriate rate.” Grummish took an image of the wound from his computer. “Beginning negative verbal stimulus, script 113.” Grummish walked in front of Jeremy, looking directly into Jeremy’s eyes.

“Did you know that when you are injured,” Grummish began in an orchestrated monotone, "the injury itself does not cause the pain? In fact, there is a disorder where the person does not experience any pain. It is called congenital insensitivity to pain. This condition may appear to be a good trait, does it not? There is even cyberware designed to interrupt pain signals to allow the user the ability to take actions in spite of it.

“The inability to feel pain often leads to injuries left untreated and sometimes even death. Pain is a necessary component of life. It is through pain that we learn the need to avoid injury. To keep ourselves safe. However, the site of injury is not what causes the sensation of pain. Rather, it is your mind that interprets the signal from the nerves as pain. In fact, in cases of severe injury, the mind will respond by flooding your system with chemicals which dampen the pain. Some even report feelings of euphoria in such instances.

“The brain, though, also can cause you to shut down entirely. Too much trauma, particularly in the correct spot, and instant unconsciousness occurs, sparing pain, but leaving you completely vulnerable to any would be attacker. In the wild, such trauma would instantly make you food for any predators.

“So, what is the point of all this? We are going to test a piece of custom cyberware. You see, this cyberware causes pain overriding any natural tendency to minimize such pain, while preventing the body from falling into shock. The true power of this cyberware is that no physical injury is required. Remember, pain is a function of your body’s nerves sending signals to the brain. The same technology that dampens that natural response can likewise mimic those same signals causing pain without actually causing injury.

“For example,” Grummish said while tapping on the screen of the computer, resulting in Jeremy screaming in agony. "I can cause those signals to mimic every nerve ending in your right hand sending signals to your brain. That pain can be maintained over time, never diminishing, but never causing injury. No matter how much pain is created, you cannot fall unconscious.

“End recording. Subject’s response is within the expected parameters. Neither unconsciousness nor any euphoria noted. Pulse and blood pressure consistent with baseline data. Pain condition appears to effect only the mind, with no noticeable physiological results.”

Jeremy, overwhelmed, yelled, “Just kill me! Do it! Get it over with!”

Grummish’s visage changes, with a slight smile. “Let’s send all signals at once to the brain.” Another swipe on the computer screen and Jeremy begins to shake violently.

“Hm,” Grummish said in an upbeat tone, “the device is working beyond expectations. No physiological response at all. I am going to leave the subject in this state for a while. Continue recording results.” Grummish leaves the room.


“How is our subject faring?” asked Grummish as he entered the antiseptic research room with Jeremy.

The disembodied voice of the guard watching the room answered over the hidden speakers in the room. “He stopped shaking a bit back. He’s definitely awake. Been moaning about wanting to die. He’s barely whispering.” After a pause, “I gotta say boss, its hard to watch. Scary….”

“Your concern is noted,” Grummish answered pushing his glasses up to the bridge of his nose. “The testing is almost done Joseph. Remember his actions resulted in the death of one of us.”

Joseph, the voice, “Yes, sir. But this is way beyond what I thought might happen.”

Grummish looked up to face the one way glass. “Thank you Joseph. I believe you are correct that we should terminate this testing immediately.” He then tapped a few times on his computer and Jeremy’s body went slack in the restraints. “I will leave Jeremy’s fate to your good judgment. I am certain you will choose a correct course of action. Left to my good judgment may cause you even further moral… ah… discomfort.” Grummish then spun on his heel and walked out of the room almost before Joseph could respond with, “um… yes sir.”

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Private Conversations

Katherine sat within the Quest Security Services main offices in downtown Richmond. She peered out the window, watching the bustle on Broad Street outside her third story office. Broad Street reflected its name, being more than six travel lanes in width. In the early days after the city’s reconstruction from burning at the end of the Civil War, the street had rail lines in the middle for trolleys, but this mode of transportation succumbed to the draw of the never ending line of automobiles. Sometimes she would sit for several minutes at a time, looking at the people as they went about their daily activities, wondering what their thoughts and motivations were. Katherine would imagine what their day was like, envision their thoughts of loved ones at home, and contemplate the virtues of the simple life. A life lost to her ambition. She feared the fate of her favorite Shakespearean tragedy of Macbeth, where her ambition brought her ruin and even death. Where does this path lead, she thought.

After a light knocking at Katherine’s office door, a young man dressed in a suit opened the door slightly. “Ma’am,” he said, “you asked that I interrupt you when Detective Moriarty arrived. Shall I send him in?”

Without turning away from the window, Katherine faintly replied, “Yes. Please.”

As scruffy as ever, Jim Moriarty had the faint odor of a man who hasn’t bathed in a couple of days. Jim entered the office, purposefully standing next to the pair of chairs that faced Katherine’s desk. “I looked over that data you sent me. Not sure why you’d want to keep this information from official channels, but then,” Moriarty chuckled, “I don’t ask questions. I’m smart enough to-”

“Be discrete?” Katherine said plainly.

“I was gonna say ‘lay low’.”

“Of course,” Katherine replied, “please take a seat.” With a sigh, Katherine swiveled in her chair to face her desk and, across from it, Moriarty who took his seat.

“Well, seems that crew you hired came through. So quiet, and Lonestar ain’t admitting any loss of critical data. Got out clean. Things like that can go sideways quick.”

“Something you have learned through experience,” Katherine teased.

Moriarty’s brow furrowed. “Yeah, right. I try not to learn things the hard way. Just ain’t in the cards some days.”

“In any case,” Katherine resumed, “Kane and his associates have proven themselves of great value. I worried that with just Sunder and these newer associates of his, the mission would fail… or worse. Their good fortune is ours.”

Moriarty slouched backward in the office chair. “Well there’s a treasure trove of dirt in there which will keep our marketing boys supplied with anti-Lonestar propaganda and scandal for many months. Frankly, that alone is priceless.”

“I am not certain you understand what ‘priceless’ is. Aside from your ‘priceless’ data, did you find any data related to the private meetings of Goldstein?”

“Scary stuff that is.” Moriarty shook his head. “I got the relevant stuff on this data card.” Moriarty took out a small card and laid it on the desk. The desk had a large, built in screen under glass for Katherine’s computer.

“Open data card,” Katherine said aloud. The screen changed, displaying the contents of the data card laying on her desk. “Play file one.”

The screen in the desk changed again, showing an image of Goldstein’s office from one of the cameras around the room. The image appeared to have depth, rendering in detail position of the camera and accurate representation of proximity of the various subjects displayed. The man behind the desk was old and fragile, with a slight shaking in his hands. He appeared to be perhaps eighty years old, his pale skin looking almost ghostly and translucent. He was immaculate in his attire, wearing an extremely expensive grey suit, something completely lost on Moriarty.

“What is it with these old rich guys?” Moriarty asked without expecting an answer. “I could find lots better ways to spend cash than some monkey suit.”

A knock could be heard from the picture displayed, with the old man, presumably Goldstein, saying simply “Come.”

An older black human entered the frame, walking towards the desk, “Mr. Goldstein,” said the man, “I’m glad we could finally meet.”

Goldstein rose from his seat, extending his his hand. “Mr. James Cecil,” Goldstein said in upbeat, welcoming tone, “so good of his Honor the mayor to make this visit. I know your schedule is quite busy-”

“Advance to fourteen minutes, thirty-five seconds and pause,” Moriarity interrupted, “The first part of the meeting is drek about contracts, which city councilmen would oppose the Lonestar contract, yadda yadda. The juicy stuff comes in here. Resume.”

The scene shifts to the later time in the recording, with both Goldstein and Mr. Cecil sitting relaxed in their respective chairs.

“Mr. Cecil, if I can be candid,” began Goldstein,“our company and present contract is far too limited. We have the resources and capability to protect all of the citizens of the Richmond Metropolitan Area, but sharing policing with Quest Services inhibits our ability to meet the requirements of our present contract. We’re operating at a loss, which we cannot do long term. I suggest-”

“Goldstein,” interrupted Cecil, “save it. You know as well as I do that the Council districts are split, and only this compromise allows Quest and Lonestar to earn any revenue from this lucrative market.”

“Lucrative? Our third quarter earnings, or lack of earnings, has our lawyers trying to find a way out of this contract and leave you and your city with no police force at all.”

Cecil chuckled, “Really? Quest is just waiting for an opportunity. Are you saying you’ll just let Quest come in and cover the entire contract?”

Goldstein’s brow furrowed, “Planning to renege on our prior arrangement?”

“No, no, no. Look, I’m on your side here. You keep paying as you have and I’ll keep pushing for Lonestar to take over the entire contract. But you’ve not done so well in convincing the dissenting council members. Recent lapses in security within Lonestar precincts, including the attack on you directly within this very building, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it? I can only go so far. Politically, you’re bad for my image, so until you turn this around, all I can do is work behind the scenes. No public support or speeches.”

“I have personally sought some outside talent to stir up problems within the Quest Services precincts, but after the events of last year, not many Shadowrunners are available.” Goldstein paused. “Many runners lost their lives trying to kill me. Obviously unsuccessfully. FInding talent who can create havoc within those Quest areas is proving to be… difficult.”

Cecil shook his head, “Not my problem. Perhaps you can use your employees. I’m sure you have some, discrete operatives. Otherwise, you could look outside Richmond. Whatever. Just fix it. I need for you to discredit those councilmen supporting Quest, and you’ve not done that. And if I need to bail you out, we really need to renegotiate our terms.”

“Perhaps you have a suggestion,” Goldstein asked. “We can come to some financial arrangement. If you do.”

“Hm,” Cecil said, “I do have a thought. Sheriff Walters is a close personal friend of mine. As you know, the city jail and youth detention center are next to downtown, in Shockoe Bottom, within the Quest security zone. I could arrange for riot and mass escape from the jail into the heart of Quest’s most secure zone. They may have authority over the jail, but there are enough former city employees still employed there that can stoke the fires and release that fire throughout the city. Such gross negligence would do much to shake the city council’s confidence in Quest services. Perhaps give you the edge you need. What value would you put in that?”

Goldstein appeared to be in thought for several seconds. “Yes, I think your bank account will receive an additional payment. If the desired outcome is reached, then a second payment.”

“That will do just fine.” Cecil smiled, reclining back in his chair. “This may take a little bit of time to arrange, but I’m sure we can make this happen. You’ll want some deniability around this, so forgive me if I can’t provide you with specifics. And, to be clear, this additional payment does not replace our prior arrangement of a five percent commission for a Lonestar contract. Now, we want t have the highest realistic contract rate for Lonestar, so what are you going to do to help us reach this mutual goal? I sure do hope you have a plan, given your lack of privateers available to you.”

Goldstein’s posture stiffened at the condescension from Cecil. “Implying a lack of resolve on my part is… unwise. After all, the limited numbers of privateers was my doing, and no small market mayor will threaten me without risking his own safety.”

“Seriously? You’re gonna threaten ME?,” Cecil leaned over the desk from his chair, “The ONLY reason we’re even having this discussion is because you needed ME, not the other way around.”

“Not a threat at all, your Honorable Mayor,” said Goldstein, leaning back in his chair with a smile. “A demand for appropriate respect. You do not carry the level of favor and influence you believe you have. Keep that in mind. To your question, yes, there are plans to, ah… test the capabilities of Quest Services at their home. I can assure you that the efforts will not be traced back to Lonestar or to you specifically. Though, the ORC terrorists may harm or kill innocent bystanders. Sadly, such is the way with terrorists.”

“Or those impersonating them I suppose,” replied Cecil. “Word on the street is that the Ork Rights Committee is far more cozy with Quest than perhaps you realize.”

“Perhaps, but when the ORC is implicated, we shall see how cozy, as you put it, Quest is with them.”

Cecil leaned back, relaxing from his earlier bristling. “So, trying to make this about race, are you?”

“Isn’t it always?” Goldstein asked rhetorically.

Looking away from the screen, Moriarty said aloud, “Pause recording.”

“Well, that truly is important.” said Katherine. “Interrupting the plans at the jail will be difficult. If we increase security, we may still not stop whatever is planned, and look impotent.”

“Worse,” added Moriarty. “We look incompetent. Even with added security, we couldn’t prevent whatever it is from happening. Added to that, this intelligence will surely be known to Mayor Cecil. And what of your ORC friend?”

Katherine’s brow furrowed, “The ORC is of no concern to us.”

“So, um, Cap,” Moriarty replied, “one of the reasons you hired me was for my insight and ability to investigate, right? First, you’re a terrible liar, so it would likely be best if you left any street level negotiating to me. Second, I know you’ve been to that ORC compound in the Petersburg Barrens many times. All unofficially, of course. So, I suspect you’ll be making another of those unofficial visits down there. Or did you already give Sunder, Kane, and those ’Runners a copy of all these files I wonder?”

Katherine fixed Moriarty in her stony gaze. “Are you challenging my judgment?”

“Not at all, ma’am,” answered Moriarty. “You know I hold you in the highest regard, but I’d be of no value if I only saw the side of the world you showed me. Though, your answer was enough to tell me that you did pass that information along. You shouldn’t play poker.” Moriarity’s tone turned friendly and jovial.

Katherine’s demeanor changed to something akin to two old friends sitting on a porch together talking about the day’s events. “Perhaps not. Was there anything else?”

“Ah, well, I did save the best for last,” answered Moriarity. “Resume play and advance to fifty-three minutes.” Both Katherine and Moriarity turned their attention to the image on the screen.

On screen, Mayor Cecil is seen leaving the office, with the office door held open by presumably Goldstein’s assistant, an older white, human woman dress in trendy attire. The assistant comes into the room and closes the door behind her. She fixes her gaze to the floor as she walks into the room.

“Master,” she says, “we need to turn off the office recording. I am surprised that you chose to leave it on.”

“Quiet, you wretch. Such footage is necessary and… helpful for my plans. Office recording off-”

“Pause,” says Moriarty. “There, look.” Moriarty points to the frozen image. Goldstein in in these last frames of the recording appears to change shape, his normal skin turning a purplish crimson, his eyes drooping and turning black. His hands and fingers increased in length, with long, sharp black finger nails.

“That’s not Goldstein,” says Katherine as much to herself as to Moriarty.

“No ma’am,” answers Moriarty, “Definitely not.”

View
A Cordial Visit

“What the hell is she doing here,” Marcus barked. Being the personal body guard of Grummish, Marcus was obligated to meet all of Grummish’s visitors personally. And Marcus did not appreciate that he was to protect Grummish. After all, any would be assassin good enough to kill Grummish would kill Marcus dead. Something that Marcus thought about often. So what if, as an Ork, Marcus was more physically imposing that Grummish: size does not always matter. At least the pay and perks were good. Marcus rushed down the hall joined by Spitfire.

“Well, hon,” Spitfire said as she buttoned up her blouse, “perhaps y’all should consider what he did to bring her here.”

“Let’s get this over with.”

Marcus and Spitfire exited the front doors of the main building in the ORC compound, approaching a Quest police services “unmarked” car. Katherine had already left her car parked and walked, almost glided, across the pavement. She stopped as Marcus and Spitfire approached.

“Ah, Marcus, so good to see you again,” Katherine said with a sincerity that surprise him. “And miss, um, ‘Smith’, right?” Spitfire nodded. “I do apologize for the unexpected and early nature of this visit. I imagine he is here?”

Why does she ask questions about things she already knows, Marcus thought. “Of course. It is early, though. He might be unavailable.” Marcus asserted.

“I must insist, despite the inconvenience.” Katherine said softly. “I am certain he would consider this no bother. But, please, confer with him first. If it is not much trouble, may I wait inside until you tell me he is available?”

Spitfire’s eyes narrowed at the insulting presumption, no matter how eloquent the delivery.

“Of course,” Marcus replied, the annoyance clearly heard in his voice. “Is this official business?”

“Perhaps,” replied Katherine, “we will have to see what turn our meeting may take.”

Marcus and Spitfire escorted Katherine in through the front doors which led to a large reception area. The receptionist desk was empty, with only a lamp and communication system sitting on it. Many comfortable reclining chairs were arranged neatly around the room, and a large flat panel display on one of the walls provided generic information about Ork rights and the activities taken to improve the lives of metahumans around the Richmond metropolitan area.

“I am so sorry to hear about Melissa’s passing,” said Katherine as she looked at the receptionist’s desk. “She will be sorely missed.” Katherine’s tone had a warm quality about it. Comforting and soothing.

“If you’ll wait here, I’ll go find Grummish.” Marcus’ tone did not shift at all. Annoyed and curt. He left the room through double doors opposite the entrance to the room.

Spitfire leaned against the desk, her arms folded, glaring at Katherine.

“You know Miss Smith, I am not your enemy.” Katherine returned a peaceful, serene demeanor in stark contrast to Spitfire’s angry, stony visage.

“In mah line of work, missy, one needs to earn trust. Bein’ so soft and polite don’t count much. Save that sissy talk for someone more naive than me.”

“As you wish.” Katherine folded her hands and rested them in her lap.

The room remained quiet for several minutes with neither woman changing their posture in any way. Then Marcus returned.

“Captain Parker,” Marcus announced, “Grummish will see you now. Follow me.”

Katherine stood and followed Marcus through the double doors into an elevator lobby. After a short, and quiet, ride in the elevator, Marcus led Katherine to Grummish’s office. Marcus opened the door for Katherine, and closed it against after she entered, leaving them to their meeting.

In a sport suit with no tie, Grummish strode across the room extending his hand for Katherine to shake. “My dear captain, it is nice to see you, albeit unexpectedly and at such an early hour.”

Katherine smiled. “Alex, you are not much of a liar. Never have been.”

“Well, I promised that I would never lie to you.” Grummish replied. “Besides, what would be the point. Consider it polite conversation. Please, have a seat.” Grummish leaned against his desk facing Katherine as she sat down in one of the chairs in the office.

“You are very angry, Alex.”

“And?”

“No, I mean much more than is usual. Melissa’s death?”

Grummish paused for a moment. “Still using that emotion reading spell, aren’t you? And, to be honest, yes. Melissa’s death. You are here about that business with the gang this morning?”

“Mm,” Katherine vocalized with a nod.

There was an irony in that Grummish’s close friends actually knew less about him than Katherine did. Through past encounters, Katherine would read Grummish’s mind using her magical abilities. However, as time passed, she would stray further into memories that had nothing to do with investigations. Memories that told her he was predictable and loyal, while the anger and pain he experienced constantly lead to grizzly ends for those who were the focus of such anger. She knew that Grummish’s actions were suicidal, with the clear intent to die at the hands of his enemies, but not his own.

“So, how can I be of help?” Grummish crossed his arms and leaned back, showing a brutish, tusk filled smile.

“I need to know why,” Katherine said plainly, with perhaps the slightest amount of sadness in her voice.

“You know why.”

“They were involved with Melissa’s death… somehow.” Katherine’s brow furrowed, “I need to know why.”

“What does it matter? The gang were paid to collect information from within the walls of this compound. To determine locations of guards, but more importantly, to leave behind surveillance devices. It seems that whoever is behind this did not want to peak my interest with simple, random attacks. He wanted it personal.”

“He?” Katherine asked, somewhat surprised. “You know who this ‘someone’ is?”

“I suspect I know, but there are pieces of this puzzle I can not place. A fixer from Nashville apparently was involved, as well as one of my own staff.”

Katherine winced, realizing instantly what disloyalty earns with Grummish. “Alex, I know she meant a great deal to you, but this course of action you pursue will lead to a dark place from which you may not return.” Katherine genuinely worried about Alex’s safety. Something about him drove her to protect him, to watch over him. Something she could not place, just outside of the reach of her conscious mind.

A silence enveloped the room, both looking down towards the floor, lost in thought. After nearly a minute, Alex replied, “You need not worry about me. Your precious sense of justice will prevail. I do not want you to become a casualty in what is to come.”

“Tell me,” Katherine asked, “do you think Lonestar is involved? Perhaps Goldstein’s impossible return?” Alex looked at her, and she knew he agreed with her speculation. “Then, I believe an investigation is merited. Do not worry about the incident in the diner. Promise me that you will at least attempt to avoid killing everyone connected to this. Not everyone deserves to die.”

“Hm. No promises. If anything important arises from either of our work related to this, can I trust that such information will be shared?”

“Trust me,” Katherine said with a smile as she rose from the chair. “Always a pleasure to talk with you Alex. I know my way out.”

Alex chuckled slightly. “I suspect that Marcus is waiting just outside that door to walk you out. I know he is not always so polite as you, but then, he is a bit rough around the edges.”

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