Shadowrun: Richmond, Virginia, CAS

Investigating, Part 2

Sergeant Jim Moriarty was an average looking guy, something that had its uses in his line of work. He hid his badge, his magical ability, even his very nature, all for the purpose of being unassuming and thereby underestimated or ignored. He took great pride in the fact that he could observe the comings and goings of possible suspects, ambushing them when the time was right to arrest and ultimately convict criminals. Being a bit of an anachronism, Moriarty meticulously gathered evidence to ensure that he had the right culprit, and saw himself as a a guardian of the law. Some saw him as an unrealistic idealist, but his boss prized his loyalty to making the world a better place. Moriarty’s boss wanted loyalty to law and order, even above personal allegiances, but Moriarity had difficulty sometimes with this concept. Moriarity looked solely at the immediate time and place, and did not consider what actions he took as part of a larger system where law and justice needed a more utilitarian approach to ensure the most benefit for the most people. In these times, corporations drove forward not with these ideals, and often trampled the rights of individuals, endangering the entire system. However, in most dealings on a day to day basis, Moriarity’s moral compass was unerringly oriented to idealized principles.

Working for Quest Services, the company to which the city of Richmond contracted its law enforcement, placed an inevitable strain on Moriarity and his boss’ vision of helping the common citizen of the city. Profit, as always, took center stage, while law, order, and peace were secondary objectives. But Moriarty could always call on his boss to use her influence to ensure that their mutual objectives were always met. Moriarity cared deeply for his boss, not in any romantic way, but in a way that happens when two people shared such strong personal goals. In her position, Moriarity’s boss led Quest’s magical security officers and their magical group, giving her the authority and latitude to pursue her own own idealized objectives.

Today, however, Moriarity felt out of sorts. He was called in the early hours of the day to a scene of a homicide to investigate. Moriarty had seen all sorts of awful scenes, often crimes of passion, where one person killed another in the throws of grief, or jealousy. or desperate need. This scene was entirely different. Thirteen dead in a run down diner in the Petersburg barrens. The sole witness, a waitress named Wanda, reported a “ghost” as the killer, something that could not be corroborated with any evidence. It seems that every electronic recording device was somehow wiped clean, frying all the electrical systems in the block. Adding to that, the gang of thugs called the Rattlers were the unlikely victims. Moriarity had confrontations with them from time to time, but they were strictly small time, running a somewhat lucrative protection racket. The only possible motive might be a rival gang’s desire to take over the Rattler’s turf, but that theory was inconsistent with the limited evidence of the scene.

Moriarity carefully collected, tagged, and bagged any evidence. He took notes from the coroner. Took images, video, and captured three dimensional data of the scene for later reproduction and analysis. He consoled and spoke with Wanda, recording their interview for any scant details that she may have spoken but Moriarity somehow missed, something he rarely had happen. What struck Moriarity was the speed with which the Rattlers were killed. Wanda’s account strayed into the fantastic, nearly impossible to believe. She described a single assailant that she attributed with saving her life. albeit scaring her half to death and giving her nightmares for the rest of her days. This “savior,” her word, was an “angel sent from heaven to protect her” from the predations of the Rattlers. This “savior,” she said, “struck down” the villains saving her life. Moriarty was not convinced the Rattlers really intended her any harm beyond intimidating her. Random killing definitely was not part of the Rattler’s past and not likely a direction they would take. Push her around, scare her, perhaps, but kill her? No.

The sun just crested the horizon when a familiar, unmarked but unmistakably Quest police car drove up. Captain Katherine Parker stepped out. An attractive, blonde human with flawless porcelain skin, Katherine dressed pragmatically in a simple pant suit, carrying her badge, sidearm, and extra magazines strapped to her oversized belt. She wore a few simple pieces of jewelry that were in fact magical fetishes and items. Moriarity often wondered why she carried a pistol when she was far more dangerous as a magician. A powerful one. The one who led and taught the Quest magical services unit. She mentored all of the members, earning a title of “master” from her tight knit group.

“Well my gifted apprentice,” Katherine said with an almost ethereal, musical tone in her voice, “what do we have here?”

“Well, ma’am,” Moriarty answered in a slight Southern drawl, “I don’t know.”

“A first for you, isn’t it?” Katherine teased with a slight smile.

“I ain’t arrogant enough to say I know somethin’ when I don’t. None of this makes sense.”

“Mm…” Katherine sighed. “Postulate.” Katherine began looking over the bodies, neatly arranged on stretchers in the street outside of Max’s Diner.

“Two theories. The first is that a rival gang made a move and took out the Rattlers. That could be motive. But the scene is all wrong. No stray bullets. Every shot hit their mark. Trajectories put the shooters in the diner. Theory two, and one I find fantastic, is the waitress’ belief in a vigilante. One single assailant, kills the troll out front, tossin’ ‘im into the street, walks in, kills everyone in the diner, save the waitress who witnessed everything, and a cook who missed all of it. But, and this is where it gets crazy, the waitress says that the assailant was a ’ghost’ who could barely be seen. But that many dead in what is described as literally seconds also doesn’t add up.”

“Cybernetic or magical augmentation?” Katherine asked, in a way to lead a student’s thinking to learn something new.

“Yeah, I thought about that. Definitely not magical. There are much easier, and cleaner by the by, ways to kill a bunch of people using magic. This is messy business here. Cybernetic? Maybe. The wounds though don’t exactly match cyberspurs. These ain’t punctures, but cuts from three blades. The bullets look like a heavy pistol, ‘prolly a Predator. But what’s the motive? You can get cyberware, you got the money. You ain’t getting enough to be worth your time to kill a second rate group of gangers. Then we’re back to no motive. But…”

“Yes,” Katherine nudged.

“But this looks personal. Up close and personal. This ‘vigilante’ killed these guys close enough to smell their breath. This implies revenge? But revenge for what? And why save the waitress and the cook? They’re witnesses. You go through the trouble to somehow take out the power and electronics, but you leave them?”

“So, why are you opposed to the vigilante suggestion of the waitress?” Katherine asked, again leading the thought process.

“Why kill all of ‘em? For what? Pushing the waitress around? Seems a bit extreme. The Rattlers weren’t doin’ much. I’d have prolly just pushed them out with a warning for causing that tiny disturbance. This is hateful. Whoever did this was driven by emotion and rage, not trying to help the waitress.” Moriarty paused to think.

“It is a conundrum,” Katherine said softly with a bit of a laugh. She looked at Uni the troll’s body, running her fingers around the three closely placed puncture holes. “You are searching for answers, but like in all of your investigations, the one piece you must have is motive, even if it is simply that the killer is a sociopath. You can’t find an answer because you lack the ‘why.’ So, let’s look at this differently, shall we? We have some wounds that are like cyberspurs, but not, so something custom. We know that the killer must be enhanced somehow. He did, after all, toss a troll out into the street. There is the ‘ghost’ statement from the waitress, which is likely the result of some technology, though magic is not out of the question. And, the killer had some device that would destroy electronic evidence. You discount cybernetic enhancement because you do not believe someone with that much cyberware would gain anything from killing the gangers. Well, my apprentice, why not start with who could get custom cyberware and have the resources to find some type of suit that could camouflage a single individual?”

“You know who it is, don’t ya?” Moriarty replied.

“Mm,” Katherine said coyly. “Finish you’re work here sergeant. But don’t submit your report through normal channels. Bring it to me directly. I need to make a visit first.”

“And the press?” Moriarty asks, knowing the answer.

“No comment. Let them speculate and report what they will. That has it’s own uses. Good day, Sergeant Moriarty.” Katherine bowed slightly, then returned to her car.

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Investigating

Well, now. This is more like it. Finally a job that let’s me truly shine. All I need to do is good old fashioned detective work. While I’m really careful about these Grummish jobs, as they usually turn to crap and end up having a western dragon sit on me. No, really. True story. Being Lazarus can be terribly hazardous, but this time out, it’s a stealth mission. Just the kind that a Shadowrun should be. Not this drek about trekking through the wilderness, in the cold and dark. I left that behind when I left the military. My memory is coming back… but in glimpses. Bits and pieces. Enough to make me just want to know more. Like being a UCAS intelligence operative. I have this little bit of me looking at some target through a sniper’s scope. I think some official in Poland. Or maybe Germany? The memory tells me I succeeded in the assassination job, but not why I was there, who I was working for, or even who the target was.

I gave Grummish the lead about this gang on the east side of the Petersburg Barrens. During my investigation, I found that a few of the gang arrived at the ORC compound for the soup kitchen, getting a free meal and, apparently, doing some reconnaissance. In pouring through all the security camera feeds from the compound itself and in surrounding properties, I was able to catch a few frames of a contact Big P, the gang’s leader, meeting to pass along the information. Worse yet, I discovered that one of the ORC security officers met this same contact in Max’s Diner. Jeremy was to help the gangers get in if he saw any of them. I’d hate to be Jeermy Olsen right about now. He thought he wasn’t getting paid enough as a security officer to risk selling out Grummish? Jeremy better hope he doesn’t have any family members he cares about. Following Jeremy led me to Godfather’s, a local dive here in the Barrens, where I could get better imagery on Jeremy’s contact.

With that imagery, I contacted Larry, an acquaintance of mine who works down at Langley in a line of work I apparently engaged in. With a little facial recognition software, Larry got me to Peter Golinski, a fixer out of Nashville. Since I didn’t want to burn Galgoo, I used an alternate fixer out of Charlotte named, get this, the “Panther”. Guy must love football. I can’t make this shit up.

Panther set up a meeting for me with Peter Golinski. Panther bought that drek I spouted out about me being hungry for work and needing the cash. And all of this so I can sit on a rooftop, across from the restaurant, in a classic stakeout. I’m supposed to meet this Peter guy at 1:00 p.m., but I’ve been on this rooftop since 9:00 a.m. this morning. As expected, Peter shows up early at noon with his entourage of security folks. Six humans that look like G-men. That look works on most of the commoners. It’s lost on me. And it takes very little time for me to spot the mage sitting at a table who either loves Peter dearly or really sucks at his job. Seven human males. Six likely augmented with cyberware and the last is a mage or shaman.

I put together my 50 caliber sniper rifle, plus my tranquilizer rifle, and a brand new net gun. Then I assemble my remote gun mount for the sniper rifle. I sight the remote mount to focus on the mage, then get my tranquilizer rifle sighted in on Peter. It’s time to bag me one crooked fixer. When I’m ready, I activate the now automated sniper rifle to kill the mage and shoot Peter in the neck. I could have shot him in the leg and the tranquilizer would have still worked. But the neck is more… ah,… fun. The mage ends up with an enormous hole in his chest, and the six cyber-guards don’t know what to do.

And on cue, Katai steps out of a cargo van across the street, wearing his armored jacket and lined coat, veritable uniform of the shadowrunner. But he’s wearing a ski mask which is too small for his big head and occasional horn, so it leaves his chin and tusk protruding out under the mask. I suppose there’s really no hiding a huge troll with a Panther Assault Cannon.

I shake my head and call into the microphone, knowing that Katai can grab our guy. “Hey Dragon, how’s it coming?” Over the radio I hear, “The denial of service attack pretty much has tied up all communications in this part of the Nashville area. No 911 calls, or anything else, is getting through right now.” I can almost hear M-Dragon smile. I would have too, except for the sound of the PAC going off. Well, okay, not as quiet as I’d like.

Then there’s Katai’s gravelly voice in stereo, over the earpiece and just below my position on the roof across the street. “I said, ’Don’t move’. So what do you do? Move! Next time it’s the head, so be thankful you just lost a leg. Now come’ere you…” I don’t even look over, just listening to Katai grunting as he presumably picks up our man Peter. “I see you thinkin’. You’re thinkin’ I can’t possibly shoot you carrying your buddy. So, do you feel lucky, punk? Well do you?!”

“Just get Peter and get into the van,” I hiss through my teeth. I hear the van door open then two hand gun shots ring out… punctuated by the loud boom of the unmistakable PAC going off.

“See,” Katai shouts, “I told you! Now anyone else want to walk with a limp?” I suppose no one else did as I hear the van door shut.

I quickly pack up my gear. “Alight, I’ll meet you all at the rendezvous.”

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A Rainy Night

Uni stood outside the dive of a restaurant in the Petersburg Barrens south of Richmond. He could smell the rotten eggs characteristic of sulfur from the industrial complexes just north east in Hopewell, but fortunately the rain kept down the smell. Uni scanned the darkness, with a sawed off shotgun cradled in his arms. The rest of his gang, the Rattlers, was in the warm interior terrorizing Max’s Diner’s employees, the other patrons having fled when the gangers dropped in. Uni was a powerfully built troll, with a single horn in his forehead, hence “Uni” from unicorn. Of course, his horn was twisted and not quite centrally located with a slight shift to the left. The Rattlers, though, did not keep Uni around for his good looks. Uni’s dim-witted brain tended to land him in the less desirable duties of the gang, but Uni did not mind. Perhaps he simply enjoyed the camaraderie, but more likely he simply did not know any better.

Uni felt the cold rain run down his face, making small streams in the wrinkles of his skin, flowing past the warts much like the city’s James River flowed over the rocks. He slowly rocked forward and backward rhythmically on his heels, trying to whistle unsuccessfully through the large tusks protruding from his lower jaw. Uni saw others whistle, and figured it would simply take practice, so in times like these, Uni tried and tried, more often spraying the air with spittle than actually making any soothing, smooth whistle. Uni grabbed at his groin and adjusted himself.

Looking into the darkness, Uni noticed a shimmering in the air, something passing through the rain. The surfaces facing the sky had what appeared to be a coating of water hovering impossibly in midair. The shimmering was moving across the street toward the corner diner’s entrance where Uni stood. As it got closer, Uni simply could not make out what it was. Uni started rubbing his chin, something Uni was practicing to help him look smarter than he actually was. “What is that? Is it a man?” Uni thought.

In an instant, three blades extended into the air around the shimmering and forced through Uni’s thick skull. Uni’s body twitched as his minimal brain capacity was destroyed, and with it his life. Blood splattered the shimmering image, running down the near invisible figure. With a quick backward twist, Uni’s body was pulled down and tossed into the street. As his body came to a rest, the air from his lungs whistled through the remains of his skull.

Apparently, Uni could whistle after all.

Blood ran down the three, visible blades of the figure’s arm, now more defined, albeit still transparent. The invisible warrior pulled a single Ares Predator II hand gun in his right hand, leaving the blades extended on his left. With great force of the attacker’s kick, the door to the diner exploded inwards, splintering the wood, shattering the glass, and leaving the remnants dangling from the hinges. A young waitress in the diner who was being fondled by Big P, the human leader of the Rattlers. Big P was a name he gave himself, with the “P” being an obvious, phallic reference, with the “Big” part being unsubstantiated by anyone in the room. And Wanda, the black, human waitress, had no intention of being the first to confirm or deny the “big” part. Unclear on what was occurring, and in general already rattled by the advances of Big P, Wanda screamed indiscriminately.

Before Wanda even finished her ample lung full of scream, the Ares Predator II was leveled against Big P, and brain matter flew from the backside of his head, spraying Wanda’s pink waitress outfit. As the attacker entered the room, the three blades disemboweled a young Rattler in biker leathers near the door, with chunks of his intestines, mostly digested food, and urine from his pierced bladder falling to his feet. A second shot from the Ares Predator II entered the mouth of a ganger whose jaw was agape, laughing at some comment that Big P had just made an instant ago. As gravity took hold of Big P and two of his gang pulling them to the ground, two more gunshots rang out, with similar results, spraying brains and blood against the light fixtures dangling from the ceiling, turning the shade of light in the room to a darker, blood red. Another ganger is caught against the three blades in his ribs, throwing him across a table over three of his gang, his heart pierced, spraying arterial blood across the body of an increasingly visible attacker. As the thud of the bodies hit the floor and echoes across the room, the attacker leaps on top of the table above the three pinned under their dead comrade, killing two instantly with shots to the head, pushing blood, bone, and brains across the tiled floor like a mop.

A quick witted Rattler manages to pull his pistol, firing wildly at the back of the attacker, but at that short range, he is able to score a hit. Before realizing he had, in fact, shot the attacker successfully, he is stabbed through the head and thrown off the blades through the front window of Max’s Diner. Scrambling to uncover himself from the bodies of his dead friends, the ganger below the table of the attacker crab walks backward, scurrying away as quickly as possible. He does not clear two feet before he is shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest. The remaining two gangers scream and run for the front door, but are killed by two well placed shots to the back of their skulls. They collapse and slide just short of the door’s threshold.

Wanda finishes her scream and begins to shake uncontrollably at the carnage in front of her. The transparent figure, covered in blood, water, and some slight damage to his back, is now clearly visible, despite the otherwise invisible aspects of his body. He walks over to Wanda, who immediately cowers, screaming, “Don’t kill me!” repeatedly. She closes her eyes waiting for a death she is sure to come. The attacker grabs her hand and places something in it, saying in a deep voice, “Hold this.” Wanda stands confused, hearing the voice in an accent she cannot quite make out.

Slowly opening her eyes, she looks around and does not see the figure anywhere. Then she looks down at the device in her hand, with a countdown timer, reading 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Wanda hears a loud pop and suddenly she is in the dark as all the lights go out around her. The emergency lights do not come on either. Her mind confused and tormented, she simply passes out.

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Breaking News

Spitfire sat in her apartment, lounging in her oversize recliner, much as she would normally do first thing in the morning, drinking her first cup of coffee. She wore her red, fleece bathrobe, what she considered as typical attire when at home. The difference was that home and work were located in the same place: the fortified compound of the local Orks Rights Committee, or ORC. While not a Ork herself, Spitfire could understand, even though being a six foot two inches tall, gorgeous black woman in perfect physical condition tended to preclude her from the shunned group of people of the world.

“Turn on the television and set to channel six.” The large screen against the wall of her living room flashed to life, displaying the local morning news of channel six. A perfectly polished middle aged white man sat behind a desk with an equally attractive Hispanic woman in her thirties. The woman begins speaking.

“Breaking news out of Hanover county this morning. In the early hours, at precisely 3:00 a.m. this morning three separate explosions rocked three neighborhoods in what appears to be a coordinated attack. The homes belonged to the families of local Lonestar executive managers here in Richmond. Among the dead are seven children and their parents, bringing the death toll to thirteen in all. At the moment, Quest Security Services are asking for your help in solving this crime. Lonestar has also initiated an investigation on their own, and offered assistance to Quest. Virginia State Police and CAS ATF units also are investigating, determining if the attacks were the result of terrorism.”

Spitfire was not entirely surprised by violence in the city. However, since these happened to three Lonestar managers, there was something familiar about it. Then she heard the knock at her door. “Mute the television,” Spitfire called to the air, and the sound stopped. She walked to the door in her slippers and robe. Since her office and apartment were within the walls of the ORC compound, she had some relative safety. She opened the door, and then looked down to Dr. Bob. While Dr. Bob was not officially her boss, Dr. Bob held the money and directed most operations. Given her role in charge of the magical security of the compound, she reported to Grummish directly.

“Well dear,” Spitfire said to the older man, “y’all is coming kind of early to have a chat.”

“May I come in?”

“Of course, though sugah, you don’t make house calls.” Spitfire stood to the side letting the older man in to her living room.

Dr. Bob walked in and looked over at the silent television, reading the tag line at the bottom of the screen: “13 Dead in Speculated Terrorist Bombing Attacks”.

“Do you mind?” asked Bob as he nodded towards the television. Spitfire simply nodded her agreement. “Un-mute.” The sounds of the television returned. An older white man was now at the desk with the HIspanic woman in frame. The tag line at the bottom showed Dr. Leonard Pinsker, Clinical Psychologist.

“-therefore the attacks were not acts of terrorism?” said the Hispanic woman.

“No,” answered Dr. Pinsker, “I’m only suggesting that the attacks were fueled by immense anger. Targeting whole families? Why kill the entire family if your anger is focused on Lonestar? Add to that the amount of explosives used in each instance. The authorities are considering it near 1,000 pounds of explosives, which not only destroyed the houses of those three families, but shattered glass windows quite a distance away. Luckily for the surrounding community, the houses were on large, estate properties with no neighbors within the blast itself. Explosives of any kind are difficult to find, so someone who could find 3,000 pounds of it? No, whoever did this considered it very personal and has the connections to get anything he needed.”

“Thank you for your insight doctor,” the Hispanic newswoman responded. “We will continue to follow this story with great interest. After the break, we will get reactions from-”

“Mute,” called Spitfire.

“Who indeed has access to that amount of explosives…” Dr. Bob’s voice trailed off at the rhetorical question. After a moment, Dr. Bob turned to face Spitfire, his hands in his pockets. “This vendetta Grummish has over this Melissa thing will lead to ruin for all of us. And a lot of innocent people will be killed in the process. Frankly, I don’t need that on my conscience.”

“Whatch’all suggestin’ then? A mutiny? Overthrow the king?”

“No, no, no… nothing like that,” Dr. Bob corrected. “Grummish may be a seriously flawed individual, but he’s always stood by us and the rest trusted enough to be here. No, we need to change his course. Reason with him to back off of this destructive course he’s on.”

Spitfire scoffed, “I wanna be a fly on the wall when you have that chat with ‘im. Look, he might care about us, but if just us, this ain’t gonna work. We need Dana to talk sense to ’im. She knows ’im from way back.”

“Dana? Really?” asked Dr. Bob incredulously.

“Sure Dana.”

“Look, isn’t that a bit like throwing ethanol on a fire? Seems to me that there’s very little difference between Grummish and her. She might well go in and tell him 3,000 pounds of explosives is not enough and to find more!”

“You don’t give Dana enough credit, doc. She be as violent as they come, but she don’t go out assassinating whole families,” said Spitfire gesturing to the television. “I think if you and I go to Dana, she’d help out with this. This is no good for her either.”

Dr. Bob thought for a moment, “Perhaps you’re on the right track. How about Sunder? Another long time friend. He could help, and he tends to be the level headed one of the three.”

“Mm…” Spitfire nodded in agreement. “That could work. We need keepin’ this down low. Gotta make sure this don’t get out to everybody.”

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Finances

The morning sun was just cresting the horizon as Dr. Robert Chamberlain sat behind the desk of his office on the fourth floor of the fortified building, protected by bullet and explosion resistant glass behind him. While his office was distinctly separate from his private living quarters, where he slept was barely twenty feet from his desk. This job had it perks, but also limitations: where Dr. Chamberlain lived was dictated by his employer.

Many of the employees, mostly Orks though with a fair representation by other races, all knew him as Dr, Bob. The hard-working physician who ran most things from a day to day operations standpoint. Dr. Bob was a human of slight frame, somewhat under six feet tall, and barely 150 pounds. He had the slight belly that was so common among other fifty something year olds. He dressed less than formally, unless there was business being conducted with outside contacts. Dr. Bob began work early most mornings, even on weekends, taking a nap in the afternoon, and then working into the early evening. On this morning an infrequent visitor decided to check in on him.

Knocking on the glass door to his office, stood a six foot Ork dressed in an immaculate, and expensive, suit. Dr. Bob looked puzzled by the arrival of his employer, Grummish, knocking at his door, though surprised more that Grummish took the polite approach by knocking first.

“Ah, yes,” Dr. Bob called, “come on in.”

Grummish strode into the room, apparently oblivious to the time and to some degree Dr. Bob’s presence. Straightening his suit jacket first, Grummish took a seat across from Dr. Bob’s desk.

“So,” Dr. Bob asked, “to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”

“I came to discuss the state of our operations,” Grummish said plainly. “How are our enterprises faring?” Dr. Bob knew that “enterprises” was Grummish’s term for their legitimate business operations, as opposed to “organizations” which referred to those operations of a more criminal nature.

“Well,” Dr. Bob began, “the Taiwan T-Biotech business appears to be flourishing. It was a simple matter to purchase those private primary care facilities, particularly given the lobbyists clearing us a path. Our negotiations with Malstrite in New York have been particularly fruitful. It seems our feathered serpent dragon was able to get us into a lucrative deal with the UCAS government to provide forensic ‘services’. Of course, it’s much easier to work with Malstrite when you let him be in charge. Greedy and unsettling creature to be sure, but very predictable as you’ve pointed out.”

“Mm-hm,” Grummish nodded, looking disinterested.

“Tell me Grummish, why are you really here?”

“What about our Africa organization?” Grummish asked, ignoring the question.

“Well, our ‘organizations’ are always tricky, as you know. However, the arms sales continue to be solid, as are the cyberware sales. Funny how those warlords always seem so interested in high powered bodyguards. Putting cyberware on an under-trained soldier doesn’t really make those soldiers any more effective. I guess its the threat of those guards that keep others in line. There is, however, the lingering threat to our organizations there, as you and I have discussed before. Running two competing organizations to allow us to sell to both sides of any conflict is, well, dangerous. Any chance that we can reduce that risk?”

“As I have noted in the past,” Grummish said flatly, “reducing our sales in that continent is not an option. Anything else?”

“Yes,” Dr. Bob said sternly, “why are you really here? You can find these details in my weekly reports.”

Grummish gave an exasperated sigh. “We will need to move to a more offensive posture. I have made some purchases which will impact our revenue stream in the short term. As the Africa organizations are the primary funding source for these operations, we must ensure their continued viability. At least for now. The Singapore start up enterprise must also remain on schedule.”

“Are these operations local or overseas?” Dr. Bob asked nervously.

“Mostly local.” Dr. Bob grimaced at Grummish’s answer. Local, offensive operations always meant trouble.

“Is this over Melissa? You can’t jeopardize everyone’s safety for a vendetta-”

Grummish stood and slammed his first into Dr. Bob’s desk, cracking the thick glass. “My operations, good doctor, something you would do well to remember. And we will repay this offense. Would you not want for us to do the same on your behalf?”

“I, I-,” stammered Dr. Bob, “I’d prefer to not die in the first place.”

“Of course,” Grummish answered, again straightening his suit jacket. “Need not worry, your safety is a paramount concern.”

“Wasn’t Melissa’s?” Dr. Bob said quietly.

“Yes it was,” Grummish replied. “Nothing in life is guaranteed.” Grummish walked to the door, but stopped before opening it. Not turning, he said, “You may be important to me, doctor, but never forget your place. Am I clear?”

“Of course,” Dr. Bob said, “but remember, my value to you is by not always agreeing with you.”

“I do not doubt your loyalty doctor,” and Grummish left.

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Obituaries

Melissa. I remember meeting her for the first time when I arrived in Richmond, Virginia, from Massachusetts. She was a young brunette, thin of frame and pretty in a non-glamorous way. I remember her opening the door to the limousine I rented to pick me up from the airport. Melissa wore the typical navy blue pant suit, complete with a white shirt, tie, and even the cap. I remember her greeting me. “Welcome to Richmond Mr. Grummish.” It makes me smile to think of that time so many years ago. Of course I hired her to be my personal driver, paying well in excess of what she would typically earn driving business men to and fro around the city.

Over the years, she would have many close brushes with death, including even being blown up in the limousine she was driving. And yet, she stayed in my employ. Certainly she was paid well, but most do not have the fortitude to live and work in such proximity of death. And she encountered violence very often being in such proximity to me. I even provided medical care after such encounters. But through it all, Melissa still returned back to work. She earned and deserved her salary, and the many privileges working loyally for me provides.

In many ways, my comrade in arms Dana was her close friend. Both ladies spent time together, dancing in the local clubs and enjoying time together when Melissa was not dodging bullets. Or Dana firing bullets. In fact, in my real life, both ladies were as close to a family as would ever have. While Dana is more than capable of defending herself, Melissa relied on protection from others. Sometimes Melissa’s protection would be assured by Dana’s cyberware and combat skills. Other times, Melissa remained in the relative safety of the fortified compound in the Petersburg barrens. Within its walls, she would be safe, guarded by scores of security forces.

Or so I thought. Not only did she die needlessly, she died within the walls of my home. But one does not kill my family without expecting the inevitable death that would be retribution for such a heinous deed.

The killers, their family, friends, and associates would all burn until nothing remained of them. Not even the memory of their existence. As is the way of things in this world, death begets death.

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In a world of monsters

Once upon a time, in a world of light absent of monsters, I was a medical student. Named Alex by my loving parents, I received their support in all things, helping me to expand my knowledge and to take advantage of my natural, intellectual prowess. Perhaps I was too proud, too arrogant. Every challenge posed little difficulty, whether in school or in life. My fiancee was likewise gifted in beauty and intellect. A prize befitting an individual of my ample prowess. I excelled in all things of my life, loved by all, and admired by all. Everyone I met longed for my attention.

That surreal world, though, did not reflect the true nature of the world and the peoples in it. I lived isolated from reality, so much so that I could not conceive of a world different, a world without me at its center. In that world, my importance was not simply expected, but demanded. Every thing in that world swirled to advance me to a position of prominence, where everyone could longingly look to me as an example to strive towards, no matter how incapable those wretches were of becoming more.

Reality, though, can never be denied. It overshadows all, and in that darkness of reality’s shadow, everything becomes clearly illuminated. All the bright light of that false world falls away, and one is free of the glare and sees the world in its natural black and white. I transformed into the monster, one of many who shed their veneer and showed their true nature. My family’s first act of compassion? To disown me exiling me from their monetary resource and their affection. The prestigious university could not allow for monsters as part of their school, and I was expelled, pushed further from that idealized fantasy into the darkness of reality. As for the superficial fiancee? Certainly marrying a monster is impossible as she could never turn her back on the fantasy she lived, too blinded as many are to see the world as it is.

While those experiences that woke me from the induced coma were sufficient to make me see clearly, the worst part of my transformation was the dulling of my brilliant mind. When that intellectual capacity was diminished, I could clearly realize what I lost. The inability to reach for a glib word. The confusion of complex scientific problems that were once easily mastered. Reality, it seems, had one last thing to rob from me. And that most personal aspect of my self, that centerpiece, was taken abruptly. Dropped into the shadows of the back alleys of Worcester, Massachusetts. Alone. Hungry. Penniless.

Those months lost trying to get back to that dream, that comforting place, that illusion of love and devotion. That civility that made me as soft as freshly laid snow was an open wound, a way to tear me to bits. I would stand outside the gates of my former home, or in the rain under a tree outside my former fiancee’s apartment. Crying as if my pain mattered to them, would show them their loss, and return me to the fold. That possibility was just as unrealistic as any other of my dreams. One cold day in January, covered in paper, boxes, and a discarded soiled and torn blanket behind a dumpster, I realized my error. I assumed that somehow in this real world my actual feelings and thoughts would sway others who did not care for me in any way. At least in hatred, others showed that at least my existence mattered to them, but what I was experiencing was indifference. A complete lack of acknowledgement that I even existed, let alone generate any consideration of me at all. To that fantasy world, I was nothing. I may as well never have existed at all. And that made me angry. Angry that their indifference could cause me so much pain, while simultaneously allowing them to forget me altogether. And this injustice, in this new world, would not stand. I learned to kill shortly after that realization. My parents. My fiancee. They would never haunt my existence any longer. And from them I learned a skill.

I was a brute. I had physical abilities I did not have in that former fantasy life. Added to that, my intellect, diminished though it may be, was still more than most. I discovered that I could use my physical abilities to earn money, and while not reputable, it was lucrative. I could inflict pain. Torture. Even killing. All for profit. While no longer at university, I continued my studies, delving further into medicine and the new technologies of cybernetic enhancement. Between being the thug that I am and the intellectual, albeit diminished, I faced reality and found my place in it. I came to realize that I was perfectly suited to this world, no longer inhibited by social status or the worry of how I might appear to others. With the money, I could truly live in a style that I deserved and paid for myself, without the shackles of family.

Eventually, I came into the employ of a fixer named Galgoo. And while my viciousness grew to match the monstrous visage, to a point that made Galgoo wince, she had the connections I needed to grow in my new career. I invested in enhancements, trained with a diligence that represents one of my core attributes. And became more and more lethal. Lethal to a point befitting the monster that I am. The last step to rooting myself solidly in the real world was to lose the shackles of morality. Reality did not have such contrivances, and to imagine that it did would simply make one a victim. Victims for the monsters.

I am more machine and vat grown biomechanics, but that loss of the essence of my born tissue was meaningless, a vestige of humanity that had no place in monsters. The others I meet in life are met with the indifference they deserve. And for those very few companions with whom I work, I am loyal, even if they do not appreciate my solutions to life’s problems. I may dress with expensive tastes, enjoy the finest food, and speak as an aristocrat. But that is merely a guise to hide my true nature. The nature of a monster. A monster named Grummish.

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Arctic Village, part 4
Remember: Things can always get worse

We’re standing in a circle looking at each other. Katai’s big tank like Troll frame is just to my left. Katai’s face of obvious worry is mirrored in Spitfire’s face standing just in front of me. Spitfire’s craning her neck to see the beast behind me, as if my comparatively small frame would actually impair her view of the polar bear, rhino hybrid that breathes fire looming over me from behind. The tiny native american woman, Runs with Caribou, stands to my left apparently without a care in the world.

“He likes me,” Runs with Caribou explains, “because I live one with the natural forces around us. He won’t attack me for certain. I’m less certain about whether he will attack you once I leave.”

I see Jazz coming out of the helicopter some 50 feet away. “So, where’s this mighty bear,” says Jazz aloud, making air quotes when she says “bear”. I see just on the other side of the helicopter another of these bears. Apparently, she’s unaware of the beast, and I’m tempted not to warn her for that last sarcastic remark, but my conscious gets the best of me.

“Jazz,” I say in an even, flat monotone, “there’s one right behind you, so don’t make any sudden-” The creature lunges at her, taking her leg in its maw, and flinging her violently around, eventually releasing her to fly through the air in our direction. And I can’t help myself, so must use Kane’s catch phrase. “That’s what you GET!”

Jazz grunts over the radio weakly, “Can I get more than two seconds warning next time?”

I hear the beast behind start grunting more loudly, and then it shoves me forward a bit. And then I notice coming out of the murky night six more of the beasts, bringing the total to eight. Each is coming from a different direction. We’re surrounded.

“Jazz,” I whisper in my microphone, “don’t make any sudden moves.”

“You’re in luck, Laz,” Jazz responds, sarcasm in full gear, “I can’t hardly move slowly, so I think it’s safe to say ‘sudden moves’ are not gonna happen.”

I get another shove as the six others close in on our little circle.

“I think they want you to leave,” says Runs with Caribou. “I think that’s a gracious offer they’re giving you that most don’t get. Perhaps you should take him up on it?” I swear I can feel her smirking under that fur scarf of hers.

Leave, thereby leaving our other companions. Or, face off with eight of these things. Crappy options seem to be every waking moment of my days and nights.

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Arctic Village, part 3
Bear,... Big Bear,... Big Bear Chase ME...

Just as things are quieting down, there’s a crackle over the radio.

“Hey, its Bob,” says a timid sounding voice, “anybody out there?”

Ballsy Bob? I thought he and his gang-mates were out of the picture. I walk casually his direction. “Ballsy Bob! How you doing?”

“I’m okay,” Bob says, " but got separated during the battle. Looks like I get a bigger piece of the pay, I guess." His voice trails off. I guess he’s thinking about his dead companions. I think about killing him quietly so I don’t have to pay him. Nobody would know, and 75k nuyen is still 75k.

Before long, I see Bob in his combat armor walking towards me. His armor seems to be in good order, but then I see it.

“Bob!” I yell. “Look out behind you!”

Bob spins around with his assault rifle, but doesn’t get time to fire. A huge bear, or at least, I think it is. With one swipe from its clawed paw, Bob is flung 20 feet, the deep bloody scars across his armor’s chest, and his innards spilling out of them, means my monetary and moral dilemma is resolved.

But it looks like I have a new problem. The bear, must be 20 feet long, with armored plates across it’s body, with white fur hanging out all over. Before it decides to do to me what it did to Bob, I figure I should kill it. I draw both of my submachine guns, and empty two long burst of fire into it as it approaches. Then it roars. Loudly. Pretty much anyone in the valley where this village is could hear it. But, it appears I didn’t do anything but piss it off.

“Hey guys,” I call over the radio,“I’ve got a bit of a situation here. There’s, uh, a big bear over here.”

“Laz, you losin’ it out there?” called Jazz incredulously. “You’re worried about a bear? Hold on, I’ll spin up the chopper!” Sarcasm. Really? Why do I hang out with these guys?

I figure I had a few seconds before it could close with me, but I was wrong. I’m engulfed in fire. I smell plastic melting, hair burning, and unfortunately hear extra rounds of ammunition cooking off. Sounds like a fighting withdrawal is in order.

“And it breathes FIRE!” I yell.

“Aw sugah,” Spitfire replies, “see what you get for shooting first? Apparently, your momma didn’t raise you right.”

I hear the deep voice of Katai laughing. I begin running back to the group. “Glad I’m a source of entertainment, but we need to do something about this thing!”

I see Runs with Caribou run in front of Spitfire and Katai who are running towards me. “Stop,” I hear her yell, “you can’t attack it!”

“The hell I can’t!” says Katai with a bit of swagger in his voice.

“Let’s hear the little lady out,” says Spitfire with a chuckle, “Lazarus ain’t going anywhere.”

“It’s a Nahkhii Shih Tthoo,” says the diminutive shaman through her various furs covering much of her face. “They have been attacking more and more as modern devices and equipment make their way into the wilderness. I believe it was your battle and encroachment into our peaceful community that drew it here. Killing it will likely only draw more, and I will not do anything to stop it.”

As I get next to Spitfire, Katai, and Runs with Caribou, the beast is right behind me, snuffling around my back and body, but doesn’t roast and eat me. I’m already messed up from the burning, and not wanting a fight. Why its not attacking me is anyone’s guess. Perhaps, Runs with Caribou’s presence. I glance over my shoulder and see a mouth full of pointed teeth, big, black nose, and two dark soulless eyes. The white fur covers much of its body, including its face, but there are clearly bony plates just under the fur, giving it a bit of a rhinoceros feel. To say its worrisome would be a terrible understatement.

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Arctic Village, part 2
Killin' is my business, ladies, and business is good!

“Aw… crap…,” says Jazz over the radio in my ear, “Incoming!”

Suddenly the dark skies are taken over from the white flash of an explosion. I didn’t see immediately where it lands, and am tossed aside like a leaf on the wind. Just faster. And with a semi hard stop at the end. At least packed snow isn’t concrete. I spring back to my feet, noticing immediately that one of the Ares Dragon cargo helicopters is an inferno. Damn. There goes the gas to go home. “Hey Jazz,” I call out over the radio, “how about more than a two second warning next time?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she grumbles back.

“Hey Crazies,” I call to the gang, " do something about those visitors south."

A bunch of chatter suddenly floods the radio, with calls like “What was that?”, “Where’s those troops”, “I got somethin’ for y’all,” but most is nonsense.

“If you see anybody, and it ain’t us, kill ‘em. It’s what we’re paying you for!” I shout over the radio. I know they aren’t making it out, but they don’t know that yet. Expenses are getting cheaper by the body. “Spitfire, get those guys some orders. I’m on my way.”

“The Gwich’en Alaskans have no part of this fight,” Runs with Caribou says coldly. “You hit my town or it’s civilians, and we might have some problems!”

“Yeah, got it,” I shout back as I run south.

Gunfire erupts south as I close in. In the darkness, I can’t tell who is who, but the muzzle flashes tell the tale. I can see the short, focused bursts of the assailants in stark contrast to the wild, long bursts from the gangers.

“Hey Spitfire,” I call, “Let’s show ’em your little friend.” This should be good, I think, but then remember something. “Um, and Spitfire, try to avoid any of the town’s buildings and people.” I roll my eyes, though no one can see it.

Suddenly the battlefield to the south is illuminated by a vaguely man shaped living fire. Fire elementals definitely are handy. I can see bodies in the snow, many wearing the combat armor I supplied to the gangers. More importantly, I can clearly see the organized troopers advancing in a standard tactical formation. Predictable. Always handy. I change direction to flank them while the fire elemental has their undivided attention.

“This thing can’t bank worth a damn!” I see the flare countermeasures from the helicopter Jazz is in and a missile tracking towards her. “There’s a second bogey out there fellas,” Jazz says. “Katai, get in the game guy! Oh, I got something for ya…” The familiar whine of Jazz’s rotary autocannon is followed by the flashes of tracers in the dark sky, with the sound and sparks flying off the target it hits.

Don’t have time for Jazz. I’ve got my own problems. I open up with my pair of Guardian submachine guns, downing two of the enemy as I advance. The fire elemental throws flames from it “arms” incinerating two more. The enemy splits up to get more space, but with me on one side, the elemental on the other, and the hapless gang directly in front of them, they have limited options. They spread out, focusing their attentions to me and the elemental. So much the better, I think to myself with a smile.

A rocket takes off from the shoulder launched surface to air missile Katai picked up from the supply chopper. I can see it track into the night sky above me, but better to thin out the heard of security personnel on the ground. I take down two more troopers as the sentry guns begin firing. They’re programmed to attack aircraft in range, though can target individuals on the ground. The familiar boom, boom, boom can be heard followed by the exploding shells as they hit their mark.

“Sounds like the automated Katai’s are in business,” I say into the microphone. An assault cannon shell every half second can wreck anybody’s day, let alone two of them simultaneously.

“Splash one Banshee,” Jazz says. “Good shootin’ down there!”

A ball of flame cast by an opposing mage gains my attention as it engulfs Spitfire, the snow immediately melting around her. As the fire dissipates, I see Spitfire standing on top of a mound of snow with a crackling field of light protecting her and where she stands, all surrounded by wet, semi-frozen, ashen dirt. “Ah, sugah, you gonna have to take me to dinner before you can have your way with me,” Spitfire says calmly.

“Aw, now there’s my bitch,” the deep bass of Katai’s voice sounds almost cheerful.

I figure I should help Spitfire out. With one gun I take down another trooper, as I leap outstretched, holstering the gun in my right hand. I plow into the enemy mage, my right hand around his neck, my gun in his face, and my feet on his chest. But the mage doesn’t crumple as I expect, instead absorbing all of my momentum, leaving me in an awkward position: feet on chest, right hand gripping his throat, which keeps me from touching the ground. “Oops,” I say out loud.

I hear the loud boom of a nearby Panther Assault Cannon and watch the shell blow the lower part of the mage’s left leg completely off leaving a bloody stump and bits of bone and tissue embedded in the melting snow. “Hey Laz,” Katai calls, “look out!” Not surprisingly, the mage falls over, but I catch myself and keep standing.

“Surrender!” I demand of the mage. We need to know who these guys are, and this now legless wage mage would likely have the answers I’m looking for. But before he can answer, his head explodes right in front me, spraying my face with blood, chunks of flesh, and bone fragments. “KATAI!” I shout.

“Woah,” says Katai, “my bad. You needed him, didn’t you?”

“Forget him,” I yell. “You almost blew my leg off!”

“Hey, no worries,” Katai replies, “I can blow the wings off a fly with this thing.”

“Grrr…” I growl.

“Incoming!” Jazz yells again. An air to ground missile impacts and explodes right at Katai’s feet, blowing him backwards and off his feet. He lands in a snow bank, bits of his armor on fire. At that same moment, Spitfire’s magical protection sets off another missile sent her way. The explosion throws her back, shoving her deep into the snow around her.

“Jazz,” I order, “do something about that, will ya?”

“On it,” she replies.

I see the last of the gangers fall, being chopped to bits by a cybernetically enhanced soldier, who is making short work of them with a set of metal blades extending from his forearms. However, his team is fairing no better, with the fire elemental taking its rage out on them. I figure I’ll give the cyberguy someone else to worry about, and shoot him in the back twice from my submachine guns. That definitely catches his attention. He turns and leaps towards me, closing the distance in one long leap. Cyberlegs? Really? Who does that?

“Banshee number two is breaking off and heading north,” Jazz says. “Pursue?”

“No,” I say as I duck the blades thrust at me by cyberguy. “We need to protect our base, and losing air cover ain’t an option.” I grunt as I block one of cyberguy’s arms, but I let loose a burst from one of my submachine guns in a soft spot of his armor, in the arm pit. He screams out in pain. An explosion happens behind him, pushing him into me, but I manage to keep my feet. Apparently, Katai recovered from the missile.

“Look out Laz,” Katai says.

“Warn, THEN shoot,” I yell, “not the other way around!”

Cyberguy’s body goes limp. Damn. Lost another interrogation. I run over to Spitfire while Katai blows the legs off of the remaining troopers. “Stop playing with them Katai,” I say, shaking my head. Katai switches to heads instead of legs.

“Spitfire, you okay?” I ask.

“Hell no!” she yells, then coughs up some blood in her mouth. “Are you stupid or something?” She starts casting a spell, and her wounds begin to heal.

“Hey Spitfire,” Katai says as he walks over to us, “when you’re done with yourself, I could use a little of your attention, if you know what I mean.” Winking, he takes out a drinking straw from his pocket and starts to chew on it. Odd habit, but I suppose it’s better than smoking.

Jazz brings in the chopper for a landing. Everything returns to the silent night.

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