Shadowrun: Richmond, Virginia, CAS

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.”

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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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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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