Shadowrun campaign journal, first person point of view
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    Shadowrun campaign journal, first person point of view

    Hello all!

    First I want to let you know that English is not my first language, so I will have spelling mistakes, I apologize for that.

    This campaign journal is from the first person view of my character, we play Shadowrun 4th edition, our GM is very experienced in many RPG games, Shadowrun included, and we all play for many years and tend to like roll play and not just the action.

    This log, or story if you like, starts after the team already played together for a long time, the characters have gained about 70 karma each, and have history together, this will come to play during the story, as well as presenting the characters in the team, so I will not post the team details in advance, this will be revealed as the story advance.

    So, let's get to it.


    1. The other side of the mirror.


    I opened my eyes slightly, I could hear the gentle humming of my cleaning drone and smell a coffee that have just been made. A virtual display appeared in the corner of my vision, indicating the time was seven AM, Seattle weather was clear but slightly cold, and my alarm Clock was barking.
    I pulled the warm soft blanket over my head and snuggled deeper into the sheets, there was nothing needed to be done so early, was it? But the virtual alarm Clock, taking the shape of a small puppy kept barking at me in the cutest, yet annoying, way possible. I could see the virtual puppy even with my eyes closed, knowing my morning problem, I programmed it that way.
    "I hate you puppy" I murmured and pulled myself from the warmth of my bed. The barking pappy disappeared with a blink and I dragged myself to the kitchen passing by Mr. clean, my ever diligent and cheerful cleaning drone. "Good morning Amélie" it chirped cheerfully as I passed by it "it’s seven AM, it can’t possibly be good" I answered grumpily as I retrieved my soy-café from the automated coffee machine.
    Two hours later, after a warm shower, a small breakfast and about forty minutes in front of the mirror, fixing the right outfit, I left my apartment and went into Seattle cold blue morning. I needed to visit Ben to see if he had any new jobs for me and the team. I stopped a cab, I didn't feel like driving into Seattle morning traffic.
    It looked as if I was the only one worried about us getting new jobs, sure, it was mostly my responsibility as the "face" of the group, but they all seemed to be so relaxed about it. I just paid the monthly rent for my apartment and I was running annoyingly short of Nuyen. I was pretty sure I was not the only one.
    If I have asked them about it, Watson would have probably said something smart, but let me do the work myself, Kryss would say in her low, orkish tone something like "I have full confidence in you, I am sure you will get us a good run, Zer0" and JC would have snored dismissively and get himself a another drink.
    The cab navigated itself automatically along the gray streets of downtown Seattle, between the looming skyscrapers, and into the late morning heavy traffic. People were running around the pavements like tiny ants working for their mega-corporation queen, letting their life pass by them without even noticing. At least I was not like this anymore, not part of the great corporation’s ant nests.
    I could have simply call Ben, save myself the trip, maybe I should have, but I wanted to see Ben personally. It was not only the job we needed, it was also a year since Leon, my little brother, disappeared and Ben with all his connections had nothing new so far. I needed to talk to Ben face to face, to make sure he was doing the best he could.
    Thinking of Leon, my stomach knotted, where was he? Was he safe? Was he hungry and homeless? Where people making his life miserable? Especially now, after he went through goblinization and turned into an ork? I was always the one to be at his side since our parents passed away. I would have given everything to have him back.
    I was a little over ten minutes late, Fragging traffic. The coffee shop was small and mostly empty, quiet jazz was played at the background and a good looking waitress smiled to me as I entered “a table just for you, or will someone be joining you miss?” she asked politely “actually, I think someone is already waiting for me, a big guy called Ben?” “Yes miss” she said nodding “in the private booth, follow me please”.
    The booth was elevated with a half walls around it, giving us the privacy we needed. Ben was a big man with heavy tattooed arms and heavier bally. He lost one eye for reasons he didn’t care to share, and strangely enough he didn’t replace it with a cyber eye. Some of his clients and friends called him “One eye Ben”, me included, and I wondered if that might be the reason why he didn’t fix it, I think he liked the image the missing eye and the name gave him.
    A year ago, when my plan to defect from Renraku Mega Corporation went to the toilet, Ben saved me, I actually owed him my life. I was still considered a traitor as far as Renraku was concerned, and I was wanted with a price on my head by the Ancient elven gang who thought I set them up when they tried to extract me from Renraku, but I was still alive, and that was a good start.
    Ben got up as I entered the booth and gave me a crushing hug “Amelie, it’s been too long. I almost thought you forgot about me.” He held me back and looked me over “beautiful as ever” he smiled fatherly “you should have been an actress or a top model, not running the shadows risking your life, though I hear lots of good things about you and your team, it looks like you are moving up in the world, don’t you?” he smiled at me again, releasing me from his bear grip. I couldn’t help but smile back at him, he was indeed the only one I could trust since I left Renraku, beside my teammates, that is. “If I could work legit, I would probably have been working as a spider or a hacker for one of the corps, and I would have never met you, would I?” I asked, pouting my leaps and patting his big belly. “Ho, that would have been terrible indeed” he said taking his sit back.
    I set in front of him, he already ordered me a coffee, the real one, not the soy-café I had home, and also a small salad he knew I liked. I inhaled deeply, enjoying the coffee aroma. “Any news of Leon?” I asked, the coffee sweet aroma forgotten. He held his own coffee with both of his hands, between his large hands it looked like a really tiny cup of coffee, his one eye looking at his cup, then he let out a long sigh "I might have something, but I'm not sure about it yet, I need you to be patient and let me check it's not a fake" my heart skipped a beat, finally, there might be a lead "you do that" I said "money is not an issue, and update me as soon as possible" he held my gaze with his one brown eye "I will Amelie, you know I will."
    He leaned back into his chair "but speaking of money, I have another job offer for you and your team, a profitable one" he took a drink from his coffee, looking as if he was enjoying it and continued "it's a bodyguard job for a rich kid, one night job and you are done. You'll get twenty grand up front, and another twenty when the job is done and the kid is delivered back unharmed, you'll also get a bonus if there will be any substantial danger" "and the risks?" I asked "it's a well-known rich family, the kind of family that always has enemies, or someone that would simply like to kidnap the boy for ransom, but it's not one of the criminal families, so I don't expect any troubles that you guys can't handle" I raised an eyebrow "why then?" I asked "why do they need shadow runners like as? If they are rich and legal they can have their legal bodyguards, hell, they can have it even if they are rich and illegal" "true enough" Ben said "but the kid, the twenty eight years old kid" he emphasized "is having a party tomorrow night on the family yacht, and he hate being seen accompanied by bodyguards beside his own one bodyguard, don't get me wrong, there will be some more armed guards on the yacht, but he wants them away from the party itself, he will only agree for bodyguards who can mingle with his friends, and obviously, the everyday guards stand out. That's why they need you. I'm a friend of the family, and I said I might know someone who will know how to fit in, and here you are" forty grand for one night of potentially easy job were a hell of a lot of money, I mused "I must admit I'm tempted" I said "who is the family?" "The kid is the nephew of Mayor Matthew Hilcox of Everett, a powerful family, and the kid is what you should expect of such, spoiled and snooty, but you and your team will need to play his game, and be as polite as king George of England if you want this job" I really didn't like that type of kids, but that was a job, not a date, so we could babysit him for one night for that much nuyen "I'll talk to the team, but I believe we will take it" I said, finishing my coffee "and that was a great coffee". Ben face lit with his smile again, "of course it was, I wouldn't invite you to a place that serves anything less." He paused for a second looking at me "Check with your team, and if it's all good I'll transfer you the details of the family's chief of security, Carl Bowyer, talk to him as soon as possible and set a meeting in order to secure the deal".
    As I expected, the team agreed to the job gladly, as it had been a month since we had a run, and as I thought, I was not the only one short with Nuyen. At the afternoon of the next day we had a laconic meeting with Carl Bowyer. He repeated everything Ben said using his own wards, explained about the layout of the yacht and then he paid us our first twenty grands. We boarded a motorboat accompanied by the family PR. Manager, Janet Kor, a woman in her early forties that looked like she wished the whole party project was already done with, and she again repeated the warnings about the kid behavior before boarding with us and additional guard on the motorboat. They all seemed to be genuinely concerned of that boy attitude.
    The motorboat sped its way towards the three stories high bright white yacht as the late afternoon sun was planning it’s retire for the night, painting the blue water of lake Washington with orange fire. The weather was nice for Seattle afternoon, as if it was ordered especially for the party. It looked like rich people can buy anything.
    The dress I picked for the party was short, black and tight, with a sheath running along my right leg, somewhat reviling and suggesting, but not overly so. Underneath the dress I wore my form fitting half body armor suit, justifying its name it was indeed form fitting and was barely noticeable, and even if someone did notice it, he would have probably mistaken it for short tights and tight undershirt. Finishing the set was a matching light jacket, just long enough to hide a Concealable holster with my pistol.
    Kryss, our team's very talented ork mage, that hated and was terrible at social events, wore what she claimed to be her party outfit, a simple long gray pants and armored vest, I was more concerned with the amount of scars she displayed then with her choice of clothing, she had inflicted most of them on herself in an odd spiritual, artistic kind of way as part of her growing both in power and in understanding of the world, that’s what she told us, anyway, but I suspected there was more to it than she let us know. I think she had them all over her body, but seeing the red angry scars running over her face, neck and hands was enough to make her stand out in any social event.
    Watson, once a detective, once a medicine student, and a generally the brain in the team, came dressed with his usual outfit, the Mortimer of London greatcoat over his simple shirt and trousers. Now, it might not be my choice of liking, but I can't deny Mortimer's clothing line has some style, the coat has some of the flair of an old English gentlemen’s club, though I think the greatcoat might have been too warm for the occasion in this time of the year, style or not. But it was based upon the classic design of twentieth-century naval greatcoats, so it might fit a bout party after all. Watson didn't seemed bothered by it, he carried his shotgun in a cloth bag and I knew he had some concealed weaponry under that coat, as we needed to deposit all the obvious weapon in the yacht's safe after we board.
    Last came JC, JC who always joked about him grabbing a feel when I was in a coma-like state when I went into matrix virtual reality, though he never actually did so, he enjoyed making me red of embarrassment at his suggestive jokes, JC who liked his drinking way too much and was as direct and blunt as a running truck, yet the same JC who threw his life on the line to protect any of us, who did his best to appease me when my car died in flames, I was very attached to that car, and showed moments of sensitivity that surprised and baffled me.
    He left his armored jacket at his apartment this time, wearing his armored vest over his broad orkish chest, and military style trousers. He carried his private arsenal in his own cloth bag and I had no doubt he carried several concealed weapons on himself. I hoped he'll pass as a military fashion chic kind of guy. Who knows what those rich kids fashion style was nowadays.
    As soon as we boarded the yacht we were taken to the bridge at the upper level of the yacht. The bridge was occupied by two guards and the captain, an eastern man at his fifties that his virtual name tag displayed him as Captain John Wong. The captain was formal and cold toward us, and I wondered if that was him not liking everyone, or specifically not likening us, regardless, he kept professional and bowed his head slightly as Janet introduced us. At the back of the bridge was a door to a safe room, where we deposited our obvious weapons, keeping with us only the concealed ones. In my case I had nothing to deposit as I only had my Ruger Thunderbolt pistol in its concealable holster and a small taser in the pocket of my jacket. JC and Watson stored their rifle, shotgun and other heavy toys they were carrying in the safe, they did not like leaving their weapons behind, but we had no choice in this case. If we needed, we were planning to get those weapons back as soon as possible.
    Ten minutes later we had the questionable honor of meeting the kid himself, we were led to one of the larger rooms of the yacht in the lower deck, the room was dominated by an old wooden style bar with hundreds of high quality spirit bottles, the kind you can see only in bars meant for the rich and famous. Several soft looking sofas have been arranged around the room and everything screamed of privet designers and was as extravagant as you can get.
    Brandon, AKA the kid, was sitting on a high bar stool, holding a whisky glass and was accompanied by two men, a short thin young man in his early twenties and a huge bulky troll that was probably his favorite bodyguard, though the troll lounged carelessly on a sofa, lacking the alertness one might expect from a bodyguard. The kid himself was of average height with a blonde hair and lips that were a little too thick, those were twisted into an arrogant smile. I had to respect his cloth designer though, his clothing set looked both casual and extremely expensive at the same time.
    Janet, who showed us into the room, had a blank expression on her face as she tried to present us "Mr. Hilcox, those are the security people I told you about, they…" Brandon cut her mid-sentence by raising his hand and gesturing her to shut up in a rather humiliating way. King George would have been terribly disappointed by the kid's manners, I thought. "Don't go yet Janet, you might be taking some, or all of them back with you" he said as he slid down from his bar stool and walked around us, looking us over, his right hand still holding his whisky glass. His eyes lingered a little too long on the wrong places as he looked me over.
    "They might be amusing at least" he sighed, as he walked back to his stool, His short thin friend chuckled and the big troll smiled as if they knew something we didn't.
    The three behaved like three classic high school boys from a chip trideo series. Brandon was the classic leader thug, the smaller guy was his lackey and the troll was the bigger yet stupid thug that did everything the leader thug ordered, I hardly suppressed a smile. At twenty eight Brandon was three years older than me, yet I felt like he was a young, spoiled high school child.
    "Joe" Brandon said to his lackey "pour us from the good whisky, the one I keep for friends"
    None of us said anything as Joe went behind the bar and arranged seven glasses on the counter, but as he started to fill the glasses Brandon looked at him "what the hell do you think you are doing?" he yelled at him.
    Joe stopped filling the glasses and looked confused "you asked me to fill the glasses with the good whisky" he mumbled "I said for me and my new friends, not for you, you drek-for-brains" Joe mumbled apologies as he removed two of the glasses. I guessed the kid wanted to see if we were simple guards that followed the guards rules, not drinking on duty and not having fun on the job, or if we were ready to break the rules, no doubt he was also enjoying himself showing us who was the boss around here by humiliating as many people as possible, charming fellow.
    JC took his glass happily, as I expected, and downed it in one shot, earning an appraising look from the troll. It's not every day that I get to drink a whisky that cost half my rent, not that I drink much at all, but if I have to prove of me being chill by drinking whisky, let it be an expensive one, I figured. I mimicked JC, bravely downed my own whisky, which burned down my throat, made my eyes water and my face hot. Watson pated my back gently during the twenty or so seconds I coughed afterward. He and Kryss didn't have that much trouble with their own drinks and I vowed to myself never to drink whisky again, no matter how expensive it was.
    Brandon looked amused "You may go Janet" he said to his family PR. Manager, dismissing her with a wave of his hand "those four will do somehow" facing us he added "you can call me Jafar, but if you need anything you don't talk to me, you speak with Iron Ribs here" he pointed his thumb at the troll, "I expect you to be nice to my guests during the party. You can go anywhere on my yacht" he said, emphasizing that it was his yacht "but the two suites below are off-limits for you, for obvious reasons" he added with a smirk.
    Not very long after, the boat was already full of young people. All of them rich, or friends of the rich, which meant they were rich themselves, but maybe a little less than their really rich friends. They all were way over my league, at least financially. Girls and boys, around my own age, were enjoying the music, dancing in swimming suits and drinking carelessly. Even when I was working for Renraku I couldn’t participate in such parties. Was I jealous? I guess in a way I was of their careless and easy way of life, but I have already learned that everything had a price, and everyone had warries, probably those guys to, so maybe I shouldn't have been jealous. But the chip truth was, that it looked darn good to be rich.
    I wondered around the yacht, keeping my eyes open for trouble, I searched for a quiet place to sit and connect to the yacht surveillance cameras to be more effective. JC was at the lower level pool deck, keeping an eye on the kid and Kryss was engaged in conversation with two tattooed girls who seemed to admire her artistic scars. They showed her their tattoos and tried to convince her to join them in the pool, I hoped she had the sense to avoid it, adoring her facial and armed scars was one thing, but I was not sure how they would have reacted if she changed into swimming suit and displayed her body scars. It was a positive surprise though to see Kryss was doing well in such a social event, even though she looked as if she felt out of place.
    Watson, on the other hand, was trying to avoid a drunk guy, which eventually puked all over the floor, narrowly missing Watson on the process. Watson, being Watson, ran to the restroom to clean the few spits that managed to hit his shoes, he was terrified of diseases and few vomit spits on his shoes sent him running for his life.
    Finally, I found a quiet place at the small lounge in the middle level of the yacht and took a sit at an empty table. The place was empty but for one, elegant dressed young man standing at the far end next to the bar. Why did they have so many bars in one yacht? I wondered. I started playing with the augmented reality, connecting to the security cameras, as the guy approached me. He had short black hair and was a little above average height, a nice looking guy. He was cute, but I was working. "Hi" he said, looking somewhat embarrassed "can I get you a drink?" his voice was far from being confidant "thanks" I said, looking up from the AR, "but you should know I have a boyfriend", I cut straight to the chase, I couldn't be distracted even by cute guys. He lowered his eyes in disappointment, and I felt sorry for him. In truth, I didn't have a boyfriend, but I really had to keep my focus on the job. "I should have guessed he said, all the cool girls already have someone" I blushed and let my hair fall over my face. It happened to often that guys hit on me, especially when I was alone and in a party, but I was always embarrassed "I’m sorry" I said peeking at him through my hair "it's OK, it's not your fault for having someone" he said, extending his hand "Dave Bonham" he said smiling at me. Suddenly the room began to spin, and I had to grab the table, or I would have fallen off my chair, my AR display vanishing instantly as I lost focus. "Are you alright?" he asked, sounded genuinely concerned. I took slow deep breath, trying to steady myself "are you OK, you look pale, do you want me to bring you some water?" he asked again "yes, please" I managed to whisper, the room continued spinning. He hurried to the bar and came back with a glass; the water did help somewhat, and the room span a little slower. I sent a massage through my commlink to the team "something is wrong with me, I need help", but no one answered. The room spinning increased and I felt myself hitting the floor, and then everything went black.
    My consciousness did not return easily, the first thing I was aware of was a fragging too real to be a dream flashback of myself sitting next to a table with my hands cuffed behind my back, the light from a lamp on the table made it difficult to see who set on the other side of the table. A man was talking to me, somewhere from behind me, not the man who set on the other side of the table who was dealing with some equipment, and I did not recognize the voice at first. "You are not as smart as you think... well, that's nothing against how smart you would think you are!"
    I tried to open my eyes, but I couldn't, it felt like the world was moving, or that someone was carrying me. I felt myself drifting back into darkness, I fought the darkness, but lost.
    The next time I woke I felt myself lying on something soft. As I tried to force my eyes open the flashback returned, the voice spoke again "I owe you a lot, you know. After all it is you that allowed us to get our hands on this state-of-the-art experimental equipment. Ironically, it is YOU who's responsible to who you are becoming now"
    I blinked my eyes, bright light made it impossible to see, I tried to force myself to calm and use my fogy brain. Who was that man? Whose voice was it? What was he talking about and what the hell was happening to me? My cyber implant eyes should have negated any bright light, they were not working properly. Was the image sent to me through the matrix? That was possible, but it felt strange, like a real memory of something that actually happened to me, I tried to test my matrix connection, but it was dead, I couldn't feel the matrix at all, and I began to panic, my commlink was implanted in my head, not feeling the matrix meant the commlink was dead, or not in my head anymore, it also meant that the flashback was not a simsense sent to me through the matrix.
    "Too sad what happened to you and your Tarou. Really. Though I couldn't care less because the scum you are. You deserve each other - but sadly, the corp can't allow this reunion. And you knew it from the start! Unfortunately, you will never meet again"
    Tarou, the name made my heart ache, I felt I should have known why, but I couldn't remember. I felt I should know the voice that was talking to me. This was obviously someone who knew me well, knew my history with Renraku. I blinked my eyes again, this time my vision cleared, and I notice the ceiling above me with a bright lamp fixed on it, a tear dropped along the side of my face, the voice could have belonged only to one person, I recognized it now, Ben, my only trusted friend. How stupid I have been to put my trust in him, in anyone, reality was not a story with a good end, I knew then I could only trust myself, and even that was in doubt. He continued "And then you came to me... how easy it was to manipulate you then. At least we have THAT in common. We both hate Renraku now. But oh-how-will-you-hate-them when they finally put their hands on you. And I will collect the reward..." "Ben ho Ben, what have you done" I whispered to myself, yet, another memory, another flashback flashed before my eyes "So what would fit you more than a... woosy French ancestry. Amelie is good enough for you, Danielle. Can we affect her accent?" he asked the shadowy man next to the table. The man replayed with a faked French accent "Well, but of course" and they both laughed.
    "I am just playing with you Danielle. I have all this planned thoroughly even if you think I improvise. What will we make of your dear Tarou? ...Leon? Is it French enough? Let's scramble it a bit. Tarou is... sorry - LEON is YOUR BROTHER. And he... turned into an Ork - and Renraku can't allow that - mostly not to their elite "samurais". Samurais-my-behind if I may say. But you can't have them take your brother, can you? You'll be restless until you know what happened with him. Sadly, for you, I am the only one who knows..."
    Tarou, I could almost see him in my mind now, and I could feel my heart aching for him. Sadly, I knew Ben was not lying, it all felt so true, more true than my memories of the past year. In my flashback I looked down, and I got a glimpse of a light blue uniform I was wearing, I think it was Renraku uniform. Another man with the same uniform walked into the room, and whispers something to the man behind me, who must have been Ben. Ben replies vocally "Get the men ready in their positions, we're out in ten" then he spoke to me again "Amelie, we rehearsed it thoroughly enough by now. We've invested weeks on this show and the puppet you are now. The talented, exceptional hacker kid - who would have believed?" he laughed. "Well, our REAL talented hacker will back you up for it to seem real. He's exceptional. And with the equipment you allowed us to grab - oh, that's amazing stuff - no one would ever suspect. We will know everything you do. We're almost inside your head. So, it's over now, girl. Here we depart from reality as you knew it" the man in front of me opened a suitcase on the table and was dealing with something inside it "And starting thirty minutes from now" Ben's said with a final note to his words "I am going to be your best and only friend. You can call me Ben"
    At that point I was confused and panicked, flashes of memories swapped through my mind, and I wasn't sure which one was real and which one was not, I couldn't feel any of my implants and that confused me even more, I must have been hyperventilating. Suddenly someone in the room said "look, the chick is awake" I didn't even checked my surrounding till then, just to show how confused I was. "Good, I prefer her awake when we will have fun with her" another voice replied. There was no point pretending to be unconscious, after they clearly knew I was awake. I lifted my head, looking at the room, I was lying on a bed, only with me panties and bra, and this underwear set was not a modest one. Two shirtless oriental looking men were sitting on chairs next to the door to the room, it looked like they were playing cards before I regained conciseness and the way they both looked at me made a chill run down my spine. I carefully rolled up to my feet, standing on the bed, my eyes not leaving the pair as I tried to clear my head and focus. One of them was obviously augmented with cyber arms covered with tattoo-like drawings, I couldn't notice any augmentations on the second. The tattoos on the augmented one reminded me of the tattoos the Korean Komun'go ring gangers we tangled with several month ago had. I tried to cover myself the little I could with my arms, like that would have done any good, and that drew an evil smile from the two men "she is even hotter when she's awake" the augmented man said. They spoke Korean and surprisingly I understood them perfectly "what do you want of me" I snarled at them, speaking Korean "ha, she has got some fire in her" the other one said "relax baby, our boss is on his way, he has some question for you and then we will all have some fun together" his smile was mocking as he leered at me. He approached the bed, holding the deck of cards to me "here, pick a card, let's see your future" I figured I had little chance fighting the both, or even one of them, I was short for an elf, my 158 centimeters and 48 kilos were not a match for most men in unarmed combat, that's what I had JC for, only he wasn't here now. Yet, I wasn't going to let them have their fun with me without a fight. I snatched the cards deck angrily from the leering guy, he stepped back laughing "whoa, its looks like she wants to have some fun right now" he laughed. The augmented guy approached the bed, grinning evilly. It was not courage, but fear that drove me to action, before he could climb onto the bed I kicked his face with a skill that surprised both of us, and he stumbled back holding a broken nose. I tried to kick him again, but this time he was ready and blocked my kick easily, I guess the cliché about oriental people and martial arts has a grain of truth after all. While his friend looked amused, the augmented guy was furious, he drew a long cougar blade from his belt "I'm gonna gut you like a pig, bitch" he growled in a low angry voice and launched at me. Standing on the bed I had the advantage of height and I instinctively tried to block him, surprising both of us again, I was fast, but not fast enough compare to his augmented arms speed. he cut a long, but shallow cut along my ribs, I hardly felt it with the adrenaline rush I was in, I took a step back on the bed, the cards deck was still in my left hand, without even realizing what I was doing I drew a card from the deck and felt as if electrical currents were running through my hand to the card, it was glowing faintly. I was awed at what I did next, I threw the card at the tattooed man, and it flew at him almost like a bullet, cutting his throat. Blood was pumping out of the wound and he fell to the ground. He tried to press the wound, but after few seconds he stopped moving. Both I and the other ganger were shocked for a second, and then he was at me with his own blade, I tried to block him, but I was not even close. I don’t know if it was the wound, me being shocked or just bad luck, but his blade stabbed me through the stomach, and I could hardly breathe. His long blade went deep into me and he held it there, his face inches from mine, smiling at my shocked expression. He pulled his blade out and took a step back, and although I was close to losing consciousness again, the space he gave me was all I needed. Maybe he thought I was already dead, or maybe he just prepared himself for another strike, but a second later he had a card lodged in his throat, he fell back, dyeing within seconds. Later I found out I was very lucky, miraculously, the knife miss any vital organ, but I was bleeding badly from both wounds, especially the one in my stomach.
    I pressed my hand on the wound in my stomach tightly, it hurt like hell, and looked around the room as I tried to steady myself. My head was spinning and I was dizzy from blood lose. What were they saying? Their boss was on his way? I didn't think he was going to be happy with what I have done to his men, I needed to get out of there and fast. Looking around the room I found my stuff on a heap in the corner, of course, it was too much to expect my pistol will be there, but I still had that deck of cards clutched in my left hand, maybe I could use that card trick again. With all my aches and wounds I found myself chuckling painfully, card trick, ha? Maybe I should start doing shows for kids. I donned my form fitting body armor, not bothering with the dress, while trying to keep pressure on the wound the whole time. I was still dizzy as hell, even more so then before, and as my adrenaline rush was subsiding, the pain from my wounds was instance, especially with my armor brushing against them with every move I took. The stomach wound was not only terribly painful, but it also gave me trouble moving straight, the blade must have ruptured some muscles, drek I was in a bad shape. Sadly, not only my pistol was missing, my micro transceiver was gone, and that meant I couldn't talk to the team, if they even were alive. But then, I found the jackpot, my secondary commlink, or maybe it was my only real commlink, according to Ben. The massage icon was blinking, but I had no time for it. I sent a text massage to the team "I'm badly injured, I'm not sure where I am, but it's a suite with a bed, so it's must be one of the "off-limits" suites the kid had talked about". I breathed painfully with relief as several seconds later I received replays from JC asking me to stay put "no can do" I typed back, "the boss of those Korean gangers is on his way here, I'm trying to find a way out." I searched the now dead Koreans and found an electronic key-card, it opened the door with a blip.
    Try as I might, I couldn't avoid leaving a trail of blood behind me as I stumbled through the yacht lower level corridors. It was eerily silent as I stepped over several dead bodies on my way towards the back of the yacht, all belonged to once happy partying young people.
    JC texted me that he joined forces with Kryss and they were heading toward my location, and that Watson was at the front of the middle level, dealing with some gangers. Later I found that they all lost their consciousness just like I did, and each woke to find gangers around them, all but Watson who lost his consciousness while he was in the bathroom dealing with the few vomit spits, and the gangers didn't find him. It could only be that Brendon's whisky had some kind of drag in it. Luckily, the gangers presumed that JC and Kryss were dead, and didn't put a bullet in their heads, the gangers paid dearly for that mistake. JC found he still had his concealed pistol with its silencer on when he woke, and made good use of it, killing the two gangers next to him before they could even react and then killing his way toward Kryss, Kryss herself regain consciousness half submerged in the yacht pool, which was red with blood, and then killed the gangers on her path with her deadly spells, though casting so many spells taxed her greatly.
    I advanced as silently as I could along the corridor, my left hand press to my stomach and my right hand on the wall, I was not sure I could stay on my feet if I didn't support myself on the wall. I had to cross in front of an opened door and I took a quick peek through the door, the bodies of three girls and one boy lay on the floor, all dressed with swimming suits. It looked like they tried to run from the pool deck into that room and were shot at their backs, each was lying in a pool of dark red blood and had several gunshot wounds at their backs. A ganger was at the room, he was going over the bar content, throwing the bottles carelessly to the floor. A submachinegun was strapped on his back. I sneaked clumsily across the door, hoping he was too busy to notice. But again, my luck failed me, As soon as I sneaked across the door the sound of crashing bottles ceased, although I doubt the ganger saw me, he probably have heard me, I wasn't so light on my feet in my condition, and he might have had augmented ears or some other hearing improving device, and of course, there was a good chance he could notice the trail of blood I was leaving behind me. I heard the too familiar sound of a weapon being cocked as I tried to move faster down the corridor toward a second door, I hoped to sneak into it before the ganger could finish my painful existence. My vision was spinning and my legs felt rubbery, I was very close to the door, but I wasn't moving fast enough "freeze and turn around, slowly" the ganger voice commanded with heavily accented English. I spread my hands to the sides, I didn't want him to shot me just because he might think I was holding a weapon, and turned around slowly, the ganger was holding his submachinegun pointed at me. Drek, I thought, the chances I could survive this were slim at best. Suddenly, the ganger raised his weapon to his shoulder, pointing toward me and I dropped to the ground instinctively, hoping to dodge his bullets, only instead of bullets a bolt of force flew above me and hit the ganger to the chest, I could hear his ribs break as he flew backward and hit the wall at the far end of the corridor. Kryss has arrived.
    From what I knew of mages, they could only cast so many spells before draining themselves, they could overcast, creating even more deadly spell but risking their own life on the process. Physically, the effect of the draining on a mage vary between mages, in Kryss case her scars started bleeding when she drained herself to much, and drek, her scars bled badly.
    I tried to push myself back to my feet, but black spots appeared in front of my eyes, I stayed on all four waiting for the spots to disappear when a strong hand grabbed my arm and helping me up, it was JC who did so without the slightest effort with one hand while keeping his pistol pointing ahead with his other hand. "Although I appreciate the view" he said "I think we need to move" they both looked at my blood soaked body armor and then at my face "drek, you look pale" JC said, his humor vanishing "you are not going anywhere like this" Kryss said and started casting a spell, few seconds later I felt her magical energies surge through me and my wounds tingled in a strange way, I could actually feel my rapture muscles binding themselves back together, and although the spell did not heal the wounds completely, I felt much, much better. Kryss, on the other hand, was bleeding badly from her scars, even more then before "drek Kryss" I said "you don't need to kill yourself to heal me" I knew she couldn't heal the wounds she suffered from her own casting. JC and Kryss exchanges weird look as I spoke, and I was surprised, although maybe I shouldn't have been, I had no French accent, pure American accent. "What the hell happened to you?" JC asked "I'm not sure" I said, he probably was asking about my accent, but I preferred to avoid the question for now "I lost consciousness and when I woke I found myself without my weapons and armor in one of the suites with two gangers, one of them augmented. They tried to assault me and I killed them, but I got myself pretty bit up in the process" JC eyebrow arched "you?" he asked "you killed two gangers unarmed and unarmored?" I was the team hacker and face, I was OK with pistols, though nothing to brag about, but I had nothing to do with unarmed combat. I didn't know how I killed the two, though I felt that if I just had some time to sit and think I could remember my past, my true past, my true self. "Yes" was all I could say at that point.
    We headed toward Watson, JC took point as Kryss could not cast anymore spells without putting herself in a real danger, maybe even killing herself, and I was not sure I could explain my card trick at that point. Besides, after what happened with Ben I just felt I couldn't trust anyone anymore, so I kept my cards close to my chest, so to speak. We sneaked around several gangers advancing quietly, with Kryss out of energy we preferred avoiding combat if possible. As we walked I noticed about a dozen dead gangers, some of them were killed from a single bullet to their head, and the other were torn apart by Kryss magical forces.
    An explosion rocked the boat, coming from the direction Watson should have been, we couldn't know what was happening and we continued onward as quickly as we could, only to find Watson checking a machine-gun he retrieved from the smoking remains of a ganger, Watson liked grenades and rarely left home without one. "Let's move" I said "I'm sure the gangers are on their way here" Watson also looked surprised by the change of my accent, but he said nothing, it was not the right time. "To the bridge" he said "we got to collect our gear before we get out of here" JC frowned "I know it's expensive gear up there, but we should head for the lifeboat and get the hell out of here." They both looked at me expectedly, at past runs Kryss referred to me as the leader of the group, and weirdly that stuck, the fact that they trusted me with all the weird things that were happening to me was the best I could ask for, and maybe I could trust them despite what happened with Ben. I wouldn't have trusted me in their place.
    JC personalized assault rifle and Watson special shotgun were in the safe of the bridge, both weapons cost them a small fortune and were not easy to come by. With both Watson and JC armed I believed we could grab our gear without getting ourselves killed, so I said "lets head to the bridge, we do it fast and then head back to the lifeboat" everyone knew there was no time to argue so we headed to the bridge. As we were walking Kryss who walked behind me said "what's that on your hair, Zer0?" Zer0 was my code-name as the team's hacker, it was invented by Ben and it wasn't me, which made me angry. I moved my hand through my hair, a huge amount of dandruff like substance was dropping from my hair, drek, I never had dandruff before. Was that the supper advanced substance Ben was using to "be in my head", as he put it? "I am not sure, Kryss, but it's nothing that is important right now" I replayed.
    We ascended to the third level of the yacht and were preparing to advance on the bridge, when we heard some noises coming from the stairs we just came from. We hurriedly took position facing the stairs when a three meter high figure raced up the stairs, it was made of water, all of it, it's almost humanoid face kept changing, it's eyes and mouth were literally swimming around its face. "drek" Kryss coursed "a water elemental, run you fools" I doubted very much Kryss could stop the water elemental all by herself in her condition, although the mundane weapon we had could do little to help, but before I could say anything another figure appeared at the top of the stairs, it was a Korean older man, with an opened robe over an armored vest, if I needed to bet, I would have bet he was a mage, and probably the mage that summoned and control the elemental spirit. Maybe he thought that we have continued to the bridge, or maybe he was so confident in himself he simply came up the stairs, it looked like Kryss also identified him as a mage, and in a blink of an eye she sent a bolt of force at him that smashed his chest. I guessed right, it was the mage that summoned the spirit, and with him dead the elemental spirit was free and enraged, it charged down the stairs at the mage's friends and we could hear lots of screams coming from the lower deck. Kryss smiled at us, coughed some blood and dropped to the ground. Drek, Kryss, why did you have to be a hero? You could have proven me wrong about going to the bridge without killing yourself. I ran to her and checked her pulse, it took me few seconds to find it, it was weak but it was there. I picked her unconscious body from the floor and swung it over my shoulder, she was way lighter than I thought. Both JC and Watson looked at me with surprise and JC nod his head "we definitely need to talk when this is over" he said. Apparently I was much stronger than any of us thought I was.
    The breaking into the bridge went smoothly, I may not be a hacker, but I still know how to bypass a card reader, I managed to short the reader circuits and the door to the bridge opened. Watson and JC stormed in, surprising the three gangers and killing them within seconds. Captain John Wong body was lying over the security cameras console, he was shot twice in his chest and his captain shirt was socked with blood. While JC and Watson sacked the safe I shoved the captain's body from the bloodied console so I could start the security cameras and get a better look at what was happening. We also needed to see if we could find Brendon Hilcox among the gangers or the dead, a mission is still a mission, even if the hit the fan. Searching through the cameras I found no trace of him or his troll friend, I did found the body of his lackey, Joe, he lay dead on the floor of the same room where we met Brandon. I could also see several groups of gangers advancing towards the bridge "we are going to have company soon, let's get out of here" I warned the team.
    The next ten minutes we had several encounters with gangers, and we pushed them back, mostly Watson and JC, I was busy carrying the unconscious Kryss, and then something unexpected happened, a ganger head almost exploded from a sniper shot coming from the yacht upper roof. A vivid memory came to me, a Japanese middle aged man was lecturing a small group of people, me among them "in cleaning operations we need to station at least one sniper on a vantage point, a roof or an upper floor in urban combat, a hilltop in the wilderness, an area that will provide us with fire control over the battlefield" the instructor was wearing Renraku uniforms. I had terrible feeling about that "I don't know who the sniper is" I said "but I have a feeling we need to get the hell out of here, and now" there was no argument. We hurried back to the bridge and Watson pressed a button that started an automated machine-gun that was on the front of the yacht, we noticed the heavy machine-gun controls when we first visited the bridge, but we did not think we will ever need to use it. We started it now in order to create a distraction, the sound of the heavy machine-gun long bursts of fire echoed around the yacht. We could see on the security cameras that some of the ganger were indeed confused by it. We ran to the side of the yacht, I hoped that the night darkness will give us some cover, night vision or not. Watson pulled a rope he had in his bag, that man always had something for every situation, it's better to be prepared, he always said. I lowered myself down the rope till I hit the dark, Icy water, I hated cold water, and I still do. Next they lowered Kryss to me and I made sure to keep her head above the water as I started swimming with her toward the rear end of the yacht, where the lifeboat should be. We had no chance of swimming to the shore in the freezing water, we needed to get to the lifeboat to survive. JC and Watson soon joined me in the icy water and we found the lifeboat. JC helped me pull Kryss into it, while Watson sneaked into the yacht and cut the ropes holding the lifeboat. Several shots were fire at our direction as we started the motor a hundred meters or so from the yacht and headed toward the lights at the far shore, but they all missed.
    While we sailed I pulled my commlink out and press the play on the blinking massage icon, I guessed what it was going to be, but I needed to hear it anyway.
    "Hey darling, it's BEN." Ben's voice came mocking from the commlink speakers "Sorry I couldn't say farewell face-to-face. I really hope you get to hear my message before you die. Anyway, there's a last thing I wanted from you - and that's the reward on your head, deserter! There was never any Ancients involved in this, it was always your beloved Renraku that you've crossed. If you're lucky you will die before they get to you. And to get my rewards I've just told them where to find you. I must admit - though I am really, really satisfied, this vengeance left an empty hole in me. First, I have much less to do and solve when my Zer0 is gone! Second, I can't see your face when you realized the truth of all this. Last but not the least, I hate Renraku score a goal - yet, it's an own goal as I schemed your desertion which had made you wanted in the first place. Getting killed by your own is hell of a vengeance. Anyway, thanks for being the fall-guys for our becoming rich! You were the most talented naive puppet ever. Love you!
    BTW, if you feel uncomfortable dying with all these dandruff - don't worry, this is just the high-end gear we've used, thanks to you"
    This massage confirmed everything I suspected, and with it a flood of memories overwhelmed me. I remembered my childhood in Seattle and later in sun Francisco, I remembered my parents, they were killed at the famous Renraku Arcology shutdown when I was only eleven. Renraku took me in and was my new home, I remembered my training at Renraku for the red samurai elite forces and I remembered Tarou, his handsome face, his gentle touch, his caring, the only one who really cared about me, not about my potential, not about what I could do, but just about me. Ben took it all away because he wanted to get rich. The end was fogy, I couldn't remember what exactly happened with Ben, but I knew he set me up and betrayed me. I was behind furious. I murmured to myself "I am coming for you, and I will make you pay for everything". Looking at my teammates I said aloud "all our commlinks are compromised, we need to ditch them" and threw my commlink into lake Washington dark water. JC and Watson looked at me, then nodded and ditched their own commlinks. A commlink is a costly device, and they threw it without a word of complaint, and it was my fault they were in this mess. I had a user account in each of their devices, as the so called hacker of the team, they all gave me access, and if I had access so did Ben, he probably could track every movement we made, read every text and email we sent or received, and much more through those commlinks.
    Eventually the boat hit the shore in a relatively secluded place. It was dark, we were wet, freezing and wounded, Kryss was still out and we had no idea where we were.
    "What do we do now?" JC asked
    "We run" I said, and started towards the lights.

    The end of chapter 1

  2. #2
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    Hi readers, I hope there are some of you out there
    I'm not sure if anyone read this as there were no comments, but if anyone did, I want to let you know that the second chapter have been played already and I'm working on writing it, will be ready soon.

    I wish you all great gaming and reading.

  3. #3
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    So, as promised, the second chapter is ready.

    Shadows of the past

    "What do we do now?" J.C. asked
    "We run" I said, and started towards the lights.
    Not far from where we landed we reached a small dirt road, I laid Kryss down and looked for her pulse, I wasn't sure she was is still alive, and I sighed in relief when I found it.
    Watson came over and shoved me gently aside, he started a proficient medical check, putting his years in medical school into good use, while I stood there, wet and shaking, and not only because of the cold.
    "We need to get her to a safe and warm place as soon as possible, her body needs to rest and heal, there is nothing I can do here" Watson said, then he looked at me "She is strong and stubborn, she will be OK."
    Looking at the dark sky I estimated the sun will rise in about an hour or two. The only thing we could do for Kryss was to get her to our car as soon as possible.
    We had no commlinks and couldn’t use the GPS feature to determine our location, we also couldn't call a cab, and even if we could, we couldn't pay without our commlinks. Hell, we couldn't even know what time it was. I estimated we were south of the pier where we left Max, our car. Yes, we called our car Max, and yes, it was stupid. It's a long story for another time.
    Watson looked around examining the location of the lights around us "I thing we are about seven kilometers south of the pier" he said "I remember the map of the area, highway 405 should be about three hundred, maybe four hundred meters east of us" coming to think of it, I did hear running traffic, 405 highway had traffic running on it almost 24/7. Watson memory was a thing of wander, he could quote phrases from a text he read half a year ago as easily as if he was just looking at it, and if he said we were six clicks from the pier, I believed him. "If we just go along the highway while carrying Kryss someone will call the stars for sure" I said, I still called the police "stars" although Knight Errant won the contract and replaced Lone Star security services as the policing force of Seattle three years ago. Some suspected dirty play was involved, and I had no doubt of it, when politicians and mega-corporations were involved foul play was almost mandatory, behind the scenes, of course. But cops were cops, I didn't care who employed them. "We don't need to go on the highway" Watson said calmly "there should be a road going parallel to the highway on our side, it should start about five hundred meters north of us, and I believe that at this time there wouldn't be much traffic on it, if any."
    Watson was right, of course, we jogged along the dark road, taking turns carrying Kryss. Every fifty meters or so there was a street light, bathing the road with a pool of white light. Big old trees along both sides of the road loomed over our heads in the darkness. Frogs and crickets stopped their singing as we passed, starting it again seconds later. Couple of times a car did passed on the road, we took cover among the trees, though one time JC wasn't alert enough, the driver slowed down, looked at him and sped up again, dismissing him as a weirdo for jogging at the dark hours before dawn, wearing boots and an armored vest. At least I hoped he dismissed him as such, luckily I was carrying Kryss at the time and I managed to hide before the car's driver noticed me, JC was too tired to notice, drek, after a night of being drugged, fighting, swimming and running we were all tired.
    Ten minutes later a row of privet houses started to our left, blocking the view of the lake, not that we could see much of it in the darkness anyway. We did our best to keep alert, looking for any people or drones patrolling the area, but besides several dogs barking from dark yards, there was no one we could notice.
    An hour and Half later we stopped at a small park at the edge of Coal creek neighborhood. Before we went to the yacht we parked Max at the other side of this neighborhood close to the pier, about five hundred meters from the park we stopped at. It felt to me like it was ages ago, a time before this life. In a way it was indeed another life for me.
    If the cops were already aware of the yacht full of dead people, they might be patrolling the piers, or drones were scanning the area from the sky, also the Korean gang might be waiting for us, watching the car, not to mention Renraku, more dangerous than the cops and the Korean put together, but we needed the car and fast, we had no choice but to risk it.
    JC laid Kryss on a bench in the park “it's too dangerous, too many people might notice us in here” he said. He was right, although I hated the thought of splitting, especially when going into what might be a trap. We had bad experience with leaving one of the team alone in the past, but one of us needed to stay there with Kryss. “Also” JC added “without our commlinks, how the hell are we going to authenticate with Max?” I giggled without thinking “what's funny?” JC asked, giving me a questioning look “nothing” I said, looking at the ground “what’s nothing?” he insisted “I just" I said, pausing to think how to approach the subject "it's just didn't know you were using such long words” I said and giggled again, JC was chromed to the teeth with augmentations, yet he was still carrying a mechanical pick-locks in his pocket, for god's sake, as if it was the 20th century. “Ha, ha, so said the so called hacker, I can't see you are bringing up any solutions for our authentication problem” he growled the word ‘authentication’ loudly, and then murmured load enough for everyone to hear “not that you could hack a simple car when you were a hacker.” I did failed miserably the one time I tried. I could hardly believe it wasn’t me, but Ben’s hacker that did all the hacking without me even knowing, and failed that car job, it was so weird. Truth to be told, JC was not ignorant about technology at all, but I enjoyed teasing him now and then, serves him right for all the times he teased me. “The authentication” I said, rolling the word slowly over my tongue “won’t be a problem, I created a bio-metric authentication for myself with Max’s nod” “OK” JC said, keeping it cool, “so you must go to the car.” I knew I had to go, I also knew JC was the most lethal of us, but Watson was the best spotter, if there was an ambush he might spot it before we fell to it, if someone could ambush us we would have all probably died with or without JC, so it was better Watson came with me for Max, and not JC.
    Both JC and Watson still had their Micro transceiver with them, according to Neonet who manufactured the device, its communication range was four hundred meters. Although the car was about five hundred meters from the park, it was better than nothing.
    JC stayed with Kryss as me and Watson walked through the main street of Coal creek neighborhood, street lights still bathed the road although the eastern sky were not as dark as before, it was not far till dawn. Watson was dressed in his usual British armored suit that he had on the yacht, I had only my half body suit, but there was nothing I could do about it, we hoped to pose as a couple going back to their car after a night out, if anyone noticed us.
    It all went well till we were about a hundred meters from the car, then we both noticed several men standing around Max. We quickly dived into the darkness between two houses hoping we were not noticed and carefully looked through the bushes. There were four of them, all wearing dark Jackets with the digits 405 printed with bold white color on their backs. "405" Watson whispered "they must be 405 Hellhounds gang, they usually hang around the 405 highway" "fragging drek" I double cursed silently "is there anything else that might go wrong with this run?" Watson gave me a side look "I don't know what exactly you are going through, but your verbal vocabulary deteriorate" he said, using those 'vocabulary' and 'deteriorate' words with his British accent of his, he sounded like a British professor. Great, we were running from multiple very deadly enemies, without commlinks, IDs or money and couldn't even reach our car due to a group of gangers, a new enemy we weren't messed up with so far, and the professor was worried about my language. Though now that he mentioned it, I figured he was right, I did cursed way more then I used to, I also used military slang words like 'clicks' instead kilometers. Drek it was confusing, and I just cursed again.
    I had to focus at the immediate problem. "Is JC's transceiver still in range?" I whispered to Watson, although the gangers were about a hundred meters from us I did not know if they had any hearing augmentations, and didn't dare to raise my voice above a whisper. Watson gave me a short nod after speaking silently through his transceiver.
    We couldn’t just bug out from there, Max was our modified very expensive slick black, full size SUV Toyota Coaster, and our only way of transportation without our commlinks. "Tell JC to hide Kryss and come over, we will need his help." Watson raised an eyebrow "to hide Kryss? What should he do, tuck her under a bush or something?" he said, the sarcasm evident in his voice "well" I said "that’s a good idea".
    With Kryss safely tucked under a bush and JC on his way we settled to wait, but of course, the universe though it would be funny to throw some more trouble our way, so seconds later we heard the distinctive sound of a heavy motorcycle, and could see a black, arctic cool modified Thundercloud Contrail coming over the bend, passing next to us and stopping by Max and the gangers, I knew it was a Thundercloud Contrail, apparently I knew a lot about motorcycles. God, I was a shadowrunner cliché. “It’s about time you show up, Hacker" one of the ganger said to the newcomer “can you disable the anti-theft system and hack into this baby?” he asked, waving his hand towards Max. Max was a muscle car, not a baby, I thought with dismay. An attempt to hack into Max could end up in two possible ways, either the hacker succeeded, or the anti-theft system would send a high voltage jolt at the hacker, powerful enough knock him senseless. Hacker didn’t looked overly worried about it as he just shrugged and approached Max, and that worried me, if he was good it was a matter of seconds for him to break into Max, and then we were in a real problem.
    “Drek” I whispered, gaining a disapproved look from Watson “we can’t wait for JC, if they hack Max we are screwed” so it was the two of us against the four gangers and the hacker, it could get messy. “We should try to pose as a couple coming back from a night out” I repeated the original plan “if we are lucky they will back off when they realize they were caught red-handed breaking into the car of law obedient citizens like us, if they won’t, you know what to do” I said, holding my deck of cards in my hand. “Wait" Watson said as he hid his shotgun among the bushed "They will never believe us with the shotgun"
    We couldn’t waste any time while the hacker was messing around with Max, so we stepped casually into the street and walked leisurely toward Max and the gangers. They noticed us immediately and stood there, leaning on a fence next to Max.
    Watson pretended to be drunk as we walked, and I supported him. I was pretty sure that if JC was there in place of Watson, he would have found some ways to embarrass the hell out of me in the process, Watson was more of a gentleman though.
    “Excuse me” I said as we reached the gangers “I there any problem here?” they were not leaning against the fence anymore, but stood in our way toward Max “we had a long night, we are tired and we want to get to our car and go home, if you don’t mind” I tried to sound both innocent and assertive at the same time as I said that, I really hoped the gangers will decide the car wasn’t worth the chance of tangling with the stars, it was a good neighborhood and the police response time should have been rather fast. But of course they didn’t back off, I wasn’t even surprised anymore. One of them, probably the leader, took a step toward us “buzz off” he said moving the edge of his coat, revealing a sub machine-gun. Drek, the situation just escalated from thievery to a robbery. I tried again “we are not going anywhere” I said stubbornly “if you are not letting us to our car I’m calling the police” it didn’t impressed him, I guess he figured that in few minutes they’ll all be off with our car with them. “Barry” the leader called to one of the gangers “get rid of those two.” Although Watson's head lolled around like that of a stunned drunk man, I could feel his body tenses next to me. The ganger didn’t notice that the so called drunk by my side slide his hand to his pocket and garbed his Taser.
    As soon as poor Barry was close enough Watson drew his Defiance protector Taser and sent a high voltage jolt to his chest, Berry's body jerked like a leaf in the storm and he dropped twitching to the ground. I drew a card from my deck and again I felt the strange electrical tingling flowing through my hand to the card just before I threw it, and it flew like a bullet, embedding itself in the chest of the second ganger who fell to the ground, coughing some blood before he stopped moving. The third ganger was faster to react, just as Watson shot a jolt at him, he aimed his submachinegun at Watson and released a burst of fire. That was bad, and not only because Watson was shoot at, but also because the ringing sound of gunfire was heard all over the neighborhood, and I knew we didn't have much time before the police will arrive. It didn't look like Watson sustained any serious damage from the bullets that hit him, later I learned his Mortimer armored long coat absorbed all the damage, while Watson only sustained some bruises from the impacts. Watson succeed in hitting the ganger with his Taser, but this time the ganger, although shocked, kept on his feet and retreated behind Max along with the leader of the gang and the hacker. Watson used another one of his amazing abilities, years ago he went through a surgery to implant a special bio-ware in his ears, allowing him to use sonar-like echolocation sense, and by clicking his tongue he could almost see the gangers behind the car. I knelt beside the ganger they called Berry and bind his hands behind his back "the hacker is working on the car, we must hurry." Watson sound worried.
    We both started for the car, dangerously exposing ourselves to the gangers in case they decided to show their faces and start shooting, and of course, they did. As soon as we started toward Max both of the gangers stepped with their sub machine-guns drawn towards us, but we were ready for them, one of my cards caught a ganger at his throat and he dropped to the ground, the other one, the leader, was too far for Watson Taser, he raised his weapon and was about to release a burst of bullets at as, when a single shot was hear from the street behind us, a small hole appeared in the leader forehead and he froze in place for a second, blood running down his face, and then he collapsed face down to the ground. Looking back I saw JC lowering his rifle, he was about a hundred meters from us, impressive shoot. But it was too early for celebrations, I could see the hacker was already sitting in the driver sit, his hands were running over the augmented reality icons as he worked feverishly to hack Max's ignition. I ran to the passenger sit door and as soon as I touched it Max's server nod acknowledge my bio metric credentials and opened the door, I jumped into the passenger sit hoping to distract the hacker enough to stop his hacking attempts, It worked, the hacker stopped his hacking attempts, but then I realized I didn't plan it all the way through, he drew a pistol and pointed it at my ribs, and squeezed the trigger. I was fast enough to flatten myself back to the passenger sit and the flechette needles his pistol was firing shoot right past my chest. Thanks, but no piercings tonight. I grabbed his head and slammed it on the wheel, I was hoping to take him out without making him bleed all over the car, only it didn't work. His nose did look funny, but he wasn't out. He tried shooting at me again, this time I was able to slap his hand aside and the needles flew out through the opened door again, only one hitting the door frame. Then the driver door opened, and Watson slapped a tranquilizer patch at the hacker side, the hacker dropped unconscious on the wheel. I thanked the gods for Watson and his toys.
    We tied the hacker, took his commlink and threw him at the back of the car. JC arrived and collected the leader’s commlink. Then, using the hacker commlink he started the hacker exotic looking motorcycle, and by exotic I don’t mean it was dancing at some dark bars. I moved to Max’s driver sit and took off, Watson at the passenger sit beside me, while JC used the hacker’s motorcycle. We collected Watson shotgun, while JC drove to the park to get Kryss, when we got to the park he was already carrying Kryss, and we arranged her unconscious body comfortably at Max's back sit. As we drove out of the neighborhood, the black night sky turned pale blue and that dreadful night was finally over.
    I was actually surprised when we got on the highway and drove away from Coal creek neighborhood before the police arrived, we got lucky for a change. JC was driving the Thundercloud behind us and he could speak with Watson through the micro transceiver "JC say he knows of a safe place we can lay low for a while in Redmond" Watson said while sitting beside me and checking on the bruises he received during the fight with the 405 gangers, apparently they were nothing serious, as he dismissed them with a shrug. Redmond was JC's favorite safe haven, when we first met he used to live there in a rundown apartment just above a local pub that was named with the attractive name 'The fragger', until someone with some commonsense burn the place down. The stubborn owner rebuilt it and gave it the much improved name 'The New fragger'. "OK” I said “tell JC to lead the way, I just hope there gonna be no fraggers around" Watson shrugged "Redmond is full of fraggers" he meant the people, not the pub, although he knew the pub well enough as he too used to leave in Redmond. He was also right, of course, Redmond was where all the sinless, hopeless and money-less lived, they had not much choice about it and the authorities were just too happy to leave them there to their own fate, leaving in crumbling ruins of once expensive neighborhoods. Naturally gangs and other criminal elements flourished there. Lots of fraggers.
    We drove slowly into the street the safe house was in. there were piles of junk, barrels with burning fire with people huddling around them and several turned over old garbage containers that were used as improvised huts. I drove max around and between the junk while JC drove several meters in front of us with his rifle hanging on his back. The neighborhood squatters gave us a wide berth, they knew from past experience not to mess with well-armed people if you cared for your life, miserable as it was. Eventually we arrived to the place, and JC drove the Thundercloud into a small underground garage. He was shooing several squatters out of there as I drove Max into it, it was small enough that there was hardly room enough for the motorcycle and the car together. It looked like JC knew the place rather well, as he climbed on top of a box and pulled a heavy metal chain with an old mechanical lock from a hidden notch above the garage heavy door, and used it to lock the garage doors together. The place smelled dump and of human piss, lovely. I picked Kryss from the back sit, and I was happy to see she was not as cold as she was before. Watson carried the hacker less gently, more like a potato sack and JC led the way with his rifle through a small stairs shaft leading up from the garage. The squatters on the small room above the garage evacuated the place as soon as they saw JC with his menacing rifle. Although JC was not the kind of a person to harm anyone without a reason, the squatters were used to gangers and other scumbags that shoot anyone without any hesitation, and they didn’t wait to find out whether we were going to shoot them or not.
    I felt bad for the squatters, but as Watson explained, they were used to sleep wherever they found a place, and frequently it was a different place every night, so it wasn’t as if we were driving them out of their home. I wasn’t sure if that was the truth or Watson said that just to make me feel better, but we needed the place and there was nothing I could do about it.
    One might think that after all of those hours, after a sleepless night of swimming, running and fighting we would have won an Ironmen medal, or at least get some rest, but no, there was no rest for the wicked, and apparently, JC and I were the wicked. We assumed that we were probably the main suspects of the police investigation about the yacht mess-up, we also knew that the Korean Komun'go ring gangers, which is a similar organization to the Japanese yakuza, were probably looking for us and that Renraku were involved. With all those powerful groups looking for us we had to erase our tracks the best we could if we wanted to survive, and we decided to start by changing Max’s ID tag and replacing its basic license number, although it had a morphing license plate the basic license number was associated with its ID tag and it had to be physically replaced. It was also probably better to repaint the car with different color. Also, if we wanted to keep the thundercloud motorcycle we needed to take it for an overall cleanup, reset its server nod to factory default and ID\License replacement. So, while Watson stayed with Kryss and the tied and still unconscious hacker in the safe house, watching over them and getting some rest, JC and I went back to the garage to take both of the vehicles to Joshua. Joshua was one of JC acquaintances, the kind of acquaintance we are calling ‘contact’ in our line of job. A contact is someone that has a skill, connections, knowledge or anything else that might be useful for someone like us, and we shadowrunners have some kind of relationship with that person, it might be strictly professional and it might be more personal, regardless of what those relationships are, our cold heart profession simply tag those people as ‘contacts’. Joshua, JC’s contact, was an ace mechanic, he could clean or modify any vehicle we brought to him, and not less importantly, he was discreet about it.
    Entering the garage I stopped by the Thundercloud Contrail, it had an aggressive feature with an unapologetic vintage ganger-era dark style, a powerful chrome big twin electrical engines, and dual silver electromagnetic disk breaks to counter those. A single silver line ran from its front along the mat black body all the way to the back. “For god’s sake” JC growled from behind me “now I can’t ride the fragging thing” I tore my eyes from the thundercloud “why? What wrong with it?” I asked “how can I possibly sit on it after you just drooled all over it” he said and threw the hacker’s commlink to me “ho, wipe that grin off you face, you look like that cat from Alice in wonderland” he said as he opened Max’s door and took the driver sit.
    I don’t know if you ever experienced riding a heavy motorcycle, it is nothing like driving a car. As you gain speed the world loses its focus, the sounds of the wheels on the road, the wind around you, it’s all mix in your head to a special kind of music. The details loses their importance as you glide through the wind, and all that remains is you and the road, the world with all its problems is left somewhere behind you and nothing else matters anymore, only that moment and the road. I find myself breathing in with happiness during those minutes.
    This all was came back to me as I was riding the Thundercloud along the highway, I felt it was not my first ride. We circled around lake Washington as we wanted to avoid the checkpoints over the lake bridges. It took us about an hour to get to ‘Joshua’s Auto Repair and Upgrades’, in the outskirts of downtown Seattle Industrial park. The place looked like a typical garage, the large steel double door, painted red with the garage logo on it, were still closed. It was too early. I pulled my helmet off, my hair was a blonde mess, but it was a long time since I had so much fun. Too bad the rest of my life were crumbling down around me. JC stopped next to me, “it’s going to be at least another half an hour before the place opens” he said “I have enough time to bring my own bike” JC had a Suzuki Mirage racing bike, it was a very different kind of bike from the thundercloud, and it was parked next to where our apartments were clustered together. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea, if anyone is looking for us they probably already know where we live” I said, putting a hand on his arm “don’t go there.” JC only gave me an annoying smirk. “I’ll use a cab, our vehicles might be too hot already” he fished out a cred stick from Max’s hidden compartment, it wasn’t common, but it was possible to pay for many things with cred sticks, taxi drive included. The look on his face told me there was no point arguing, he was going to get his bike, and I could understand him. “OK” I said “I’ll just put my helmet inside Max and we’ll go” JC shook his head thoughtfully “no, one of us need to stay here, keep an eye on the vehicles, it’s still an industrial park and I’ll be extra careful, don’t warry, I’ll be back in less than an hour” I didn’t like it “drek, JC, don’t you know that anyone saying such things always die in low budget trideos?” I was surprised how really pissed I was with his idea, I actually stomped my leg unconsciously as I said that. JC laughed “luckily, our trideo is a well budgeted” he turned and started toward the main road. Without a commlink he had to go and wave a taxi ‘the old way’. “It’s enough Kryss is down” I cried after him, forgetting we were in the middle of the street “I’ll kill you myself if you die, you stupid ork” I yelled. He gave me the finger as he turned around the corner to the main street without even looking back. I slumped against a wall and clenched my fists, drek that ork was annoying.
    Sometime later a small soy-café stand opened fifty meters down the street, and I could really use a cup. I approached the stand only to remember that JC took the cred stick and I had no way to pay for anything. Fragging ork, I was still angry with him.
    I set on the sidewalk, leaning against the industrial Plasticrete wall of a large building that loomed over the street, and hugged my knees to my chest, putting my face between them, letting my hair drop around me and hide me from the world. It was the first time I was alone without any immediate emergency to take care of since I woke on that yacht. I sighed, it was time to deal with something I was only too happy to avoid till now, remembering my past. I knew the memories were there, only waiting for me to take a mental look at them, and so I did.
    My name is Danielle Hirano, I am the only child of Naoki Hirano, once a middle level manager at Renraku Corporation and Heather Hirano, an UCAS elven woman my father Naoki fell in love with while he was stationed in Seattle. Although marriage to a foreigner, and not just a foreigner, but a non-human foreigner was shameful in the Japanese society, my father was so enchanted by my mother overwhelming beauty that he stood against everything he was raised to believe, and married my mother.
    I was born at 29th of July 2048 and grew up in Seattle with my parents till December 19, 2059. I was eleven that day and was on a school trip to Bellevue, my parents were in Renraku America headquarters at the Arcology when the Arcology shutdown accrued, killing thousands. My parents did not survive. I still have an old two dimensional photo of a happy six years old blonde girl on a swing in the playground, her parents behind her, that family looks so happy. Even though I can see my parent’s faces on the photo, I can’t really remember their faces. After the shutdown Renraku lost face in Seattle, especially after surrendering the Arcology to the UCAS authorities. The blow to the Japanese honor was so great, that Renraku moved its headquarters to San Francisco, along with all the corporation employees. I was under Renraku custody, so I found myself moving not only to a new city, but a whole new different country I knew almost nothing about, the California Free State. Funny thing they call themselves 'the California Free State', they were not free for one week since leaving the UCAS.
    At the beginning, it was difficult being a lonely child in a Renraku enclave, besides achingly missing my parents, Japanese culture doesn’t look kindly at non humans, even elves. The few other elven kids that were with me in the enclave could feel I was not exactly like them, it was my mother secret; both she and I were not exactly regular elves, but elven sub race called dryads, and kids like to pick on anyone who is different.
    But with time, I became more popular, both kids and adults seemed to like me as the years rolled by, and the pain for losing my parents settled in some dark corner of my heart, leaving the rest of my heart free to enjoy life as it was.
    Being a short, petite elven women in a Japanese society, a society that looked down at lowly non humans and firmly believed that men were better than women, required me to prove myself to the best of my abilities. I decided to aim as high as I could, to prove them all a non-human woman could be one of Renraku best, and in my mind, Renraku best were the Red Samurai.
    The Red Samurai elite force have a thorough genetic and racial screening process, which excludes non-humans, or relatives of non-humans almost completely. The vast majority of Red Samurai are Japanese, and most Red Samurai are male soldiers, though women did made it into their ranks occasionally. I never heard of a western looking, non-human woman making it to the Red Samurais force though. So, naturally, I decided I will be a Red Samurai, I was so naïve those days, I actually believed Renraku will make an exception for me if I could only prove myself.
    I trained hard since I was a teenager, gymnastics; several different types of martial arts, weight lifting; aerobics and more. As soon as I could enlist for Renraku security forces, I did.
    The screening process was brutal, but I did well. Renraku security instructors were surprised by my abilities, actually, I was surprised myself, at certain moments my body seemed to do better than I thought it could. The instructors took notice and sent me for special examinations, I hoped that meant I might be able to do what no other non-human woman done before, to become a Red Samurai.
    To everyone surprise, especially mine, the examinations proved I had magical abilities, not the type mages have, but magical powers to improve my physical abilities and do extraordinary physical feats, this magical talent is called the way of the adept, and it opened for me the path to become a Red Samurai, or so I believed at the time.
    A selected group of us was sent to Chiba in Japan, to a training facility called Kaeteru in Japanese or ‘the forge’ in English. The name is self-explanatory. We trained there for a year, and it was there where I met Tarou, he was one of my team mates. Red Samurai teams are made of five people, the team setup is flexible, but most of the times it consist of three to four martial Samurai and one or two combat support Samurai, a combat hacker or even a mage. Although we were trained with blades among other weapons, Renraku Red Samurai are modern elite unit, with each member specialized in different combat role.
    A Red Samurai team is the Samurai new family, but something unexpected happened during our time in Chiba, Tarou and I became more than just teammates, I won’t get into the details because it’s none of your business, but we broke the Red Samurai code and developed forbidden intimate relationships, and I actually believed we were successful in keeping it secret, foolish me, though I'm still not sure that Renraku are those who found out. I know that Ben did.
    The year in Chiba was the best year in my life, I trained hard, improved my skills, developed my magical talent, but most importantly, I felt loved, desired and adored. I will always treasure this year.
    After this year flew by, we were sent to our last year of advance training. Red Samurai advanced training let each team member specialized in his own role. I was hoping to specialize with long range weapons, but even more than that, I hoped to be training at the same facility as Tarou, but when I got my assignment I was surprised to find I was to travel to a training facility called Yagyu. I never heard of the place, and the instructors kept avoiding my questions about it.
    Renraku does not admit it, but the Red Samurai are woefully behind in covert ops and espionage compared to other elite military and corporate units, partially due to the racial homogeneity. The Red Samurai excel in situations where stealth or subterfuge is not a factor. Most Renraku covert and espionage operations are hashed, no one talks about them, and I believed they might be contracted out to shadowrunners. Then I learned I was not really to become a Red Samurai, I also learned for the first time of Renraku’s covert ops and espionage special units, called by some ‘Red Ninjas’.
    Renraku had no intention breaking its tradition by allowing a foreigner looking non-human woman into the Red Samurai, knowing how important tradition was for the Japanese people, I was foolish to think they will make an exception, even if I had magic, but as foreign women I was prefect candidate for their covert ops training. I must admit though, that the covert ops training at Yagyu was fascinating, black operations tactics, infiltration and espionage required much more thinking then the straight forward way of the Red Samurai. Not everyone passed the training, and those who failed disappeared and I never heard from them again, I like to believe that Renraku relocate them to someplace nice. during our training we were instructed how to keep our new profession secret, we were not to let anyone know what we were, I could not tell anyone, not even Tarou about this, if I did, I was putting both our lives in danger, not just my own.
    Publicly, at my final training assessment Renraku declared I was not good enough to qualify as Red Samurai, and reassigned me as a security inspection officer. That, of course, was a perfect cover, that job required lots of traveling all over the world, just what a covert ops agent needed. Tarou was furious at my reassignment, he knew I was one of the best in our team, but I couldn't tell him the truth.
    I took the Shushin koyo oath, known to the western society as the permanent employment contract. The difference is that when a worker joins a Japanese company, he makes a pledge to stay with that company for his entire life, no matter what. My conscience still bugs me about breaking that oath.
    After the training was done we returned to San Francisco. I couldn’t tell anyone about my training and my true job. It drove me crazy I couldn’t tell Tarou anything, I was also traveling a lot, and that kept me away from Tarou and made me miserable.
    After that point my memories got fuzzy, I remember my frustration with Renraku growing by the day, not only because of my secret double life, not only because of the constant lies I had to tell everyone, but mainly because as long as I was with Renraku, Tarou and I were pulled farther and farther apart.
    Back in the reality of the industrial park, I took a deep breath, brushed my hair aside and looked at Max and the thundercloud, although I was tired and distracted by my memories I tried to keep an eye on the vehicles. My head ached as I tried to remember what exactly happened, I can’t remember how and when I escaped Renraku, and for the hell of me I couldn’t remember what happened to Tarou. The next thing I remember was how I met with Ben.
    I was still working under Renraku and was in one of San Francisco bad neighborhoods. I was under mission, I can’t remember exactly what it was. Then I saw a nerdy looking black haired man running from a group of five punks holding clubs, I was in a bad mood and did not have the patience for diplomacy, I kicked the hell out of them. The nerdy guy name was Buddy, just to be clear, it's a nick name, I don't know Buddy's real name. Buddy thought to become a shadowrunner, but the punks with the clubs made him reconsider.
    Buddy was the classic Bithead nerd, but he was a nice guy all the same. He was thin, about one meter seventy, black hair combed in a side hair parting style, if that can be called a style, and glasses full with hi tech vision accessories. After me saving his ass, he felt he owed me and bought me a coffee, or maybe he just felt safer around me back then. We kept in touch and hanged around rather often, he was friend zoned, of course. After some time, I trusted him enough to tell him about my plight with Renraku, it was a big risk as he could rat me out to Renraku, and he would have been well compensated for the effort if he did. But Buddy proved to be a friend with moral, it’s not an obvious quality nowadays.
    After some time he found on the shadow matrix someone who could maybe help, and put me in touch with the double faced scumbag Ben.
    I ran what happened in my head several times, I think Buddy didn't know who Ben really was; I believe he was fooled by Ben just like I was.
    Half an hour later and back in the reality of the industrial park, two men, one Hispanic looking and muscled wearing a tight sleeveless yellow shirt, the other a short dwarf wearing a grey coverall and looking just like a typical grease monkey, opened the garage doors. I pulled myself back to my feet, drek I was tired, and walked over to the thundercloud. The Hispanic guy smiled at me as he looked me over and gave the thundercloud an appreciative look before he reentered the garage. I knew JC already spoke with Joshua about us coming, so I decided to take Max and the thundercloud in. Just as I began pushing the thundercloud towards the garage doors, the unmistakable buzzing sound of a racing bike electrical engine could be heard around the street corner, yes, those engine buzz, don’t ask me why. Few seconds later JC pulled his Suzuki Mirage next to me. "See?" he said as he removed his helmet and smiled "it was as easy as running to the store to get some milk" I grimaced, we both knew there were no such thing as milk runs, especially not for us with all the trouble we were in. Was he trying to cheer me up, or was he trying to cheer himself up? Although I was relieved to see him back I was still angry with him, and I was also tiered and gloomy and didn't have the energy to think of anything witty to say, so I said nothing as he helped me take the bikes in.
    Several minutes later I joined JC and Joshua in the office. Joshua was a man at his middle fifties, he had black hair with strikes of grey and he kept smoking during our entire meeting, maybe he hoped this will make us leave sooner. Despite his smoking, he was friendly and fair, and in no time we had come to a reasonable agreement about the cleanup of the vehicles, he didn't even charge us much extra after we expressed our need for the work to be done sooner than later. Joshua was well practiced with the cleanup procedure and he didn't want to know about the why and the how involved. Just before we were about to leave he asked "have you heard about the yacht massacre? Shocking isn't it?" both me and JC stopped "what massacre?" JC asked "seriously?" Joshua said as he raised his eyebrows "it's all over the news" he tapped on his commlink and an augmented reality virtual copy of The Daily Seattle materialized in front of us.
    Lake Washington Massacre
    At least 77 dead and 6 missing on what appears to be an underworld gangs' dispute that took place on a yacht in Lake Washington facing Newport shore, in the middle of a private party. The police is speechless about the barbarism, mercilessness and insolence of the criminals involved. One of the missing persons is Everett Mayor's - Matthew Hilcox - young nephew along with his personal bodyguard. The metroplex police suspects he might was kidnapped after he was identified, yet was not the reason for the assault. Knight Errant Seattle's Head of Marine Crime Task Force, Osha Gray, claims "we will find those responsible and bring them to justice. We investigate in several directions, but we suspect we have a trace of those responsible."
    Newport, Bellevue had never seen such a criminal disaster. At the marine department of the metroplex police they approve it's the bloodiest marine crime in the history of the Seattle. At least 60 citizens - mostly young men and women under 40 years - were massacred brutally, mostly by gunshots, at what seems like an underworld mass murder taking place on a yacht belongs to the Hilcox family. Another 17 dead were identified, apparently, as members of the Korean organized crime in Seattle metroplex, also known as the Seoulpa Rings. A police officer familiar with the details told our reporter that so far no other criminal group was identified at the scene - which is untypical in such disputes, especially against the massive pile of Seoulpa Rings' victims. It is possible, yet improbable that they were shot down by the Hilcox' Yacht's security guards. As the police only arrived in force after the shootings had downed, it is possible that the other group took their casualties along with them. Part of the heavy investigation is to identify blood traces or other evidence for others than the 77 casualties. Among the known visitors at the Yacht there are at least 6 missing, among them Mayor Hilcox' nephew and his bodyguard. "4 others are a crucial lead to the investigation" told us a source in the police, "and are supposed to have fled the scene at some stage of the events". The police doesn't reveal any other details as it might damage the investigation.
    Mayor Hilcox sends his sincere condolences to the victims' families, yet he refuses to give any public comment for himself or his family, stating that he trusts Knight Errant to do their job and solve this barbaric crime and bring peace and security to the metroplex citizens. His family cooperates fully with the police and was hit by this tragedy just as any other victim's family.
    Osha Gray, the new Head of Marine Crime Task Force of the metroplex is leading the investigation personally. She's assured of solving this crime soon and bring those responsible to justice. "My condolences to the families of the victims. It's a shock to every citizen in the metroplex, as of how far and beyond any limit the underworld groups involved had gone. We have to take measures to insure such a catastrophe won't happen again." To the citizens of the metroplex she assures that they recruit whatever effort and manpower needed to finish the investigation soon and crack down on the criminals involved.
    Continued on page 4...
    I exchanged looks with JC "drek" I murmured. Joshua heard me, but misinterpreted the reason for me being upset "yes" he said "I know that people like you sometimes have some misunderstandings with the badges, but this" he waved his hand toward the Daily Seattle hologram "this is something else, I can't imagine what kind of people could slaughter so many young people, and at a party, no less"
    "Yes" I said "it's horrible".
    Besides this being truly horrible, I know, I saw it first hand, some of the news in this article were more bad news for us, the badges were looking for blood traces, and they were probably able to trace those DNA samples back to us if they put their resources into it, and they probably did. They most likely already knew of us, as I had no doubt the Hilcox security personal updated the police with all the information they could give them. Luckily that wasn't much, but even so, that will delay the badges only so much before they'll be on our trail. On top of that, the yacht massacre story was hot news, large group of rich people murdered, the nephew of the mayor kidnaped and a large group of the infamous Seoulpa ring found dead on the yacht without any clue of who killed them. I was sure the reporters were rubbing their hands with joy. Any police officer knew the reporters will not give them long before their vicious pens will be turned against "police incapability". The police must have put the case in the highest priority, Renraku was close to catch me on the yacht, the Seoulpa ring were also pissed with us and dear old Ben was meddling in all of this, doing his best to make sure I was dead. Somehow we had to disappear.
    Joshua gave us a temporary car, a rundown grey old Ford Americar with blue roof and hood, rundown or not, it glided smoothly as JC pressed the pedal.
    We parked at JC's safe house garage at Redmond and climbed up to the small room, ignoring the piss smell at the stairs.
    As we entered the room my heart leaped when I saw Kryss was sitting on the bed, alive and looking almost well, she still had black circles under her eyes, and some of her scars still looked torn open, but I had seen her worse. She was talking to Watson when we entered and her voice was as vital as ever. "Kryss" I said, surprised at how excited I was to see she was up so soon, I wasn't that emotional usually. "You are up and looking…" I didn't know what exactly to say "well, you look like you are ready to kick some ass" I finished with a smile. Kryss did not smile back "I am tired" she said. I couldn't blame her for being tired, we were all tired and she was mostly dead for quite some time, but seeing her like that, so vulnerable when she always was the strong and tough one, made me pause, I didn’t know what to say. JC snorted at my side "don't worry, we'll find you something to blast with your voodoo in no time, it will make you feel much better" Kryss only shook her head "no JC" she said in a law calm voice "it will not. I joined you, I followed Zer0 lead, but I can't do it anymore" I felt a hole in my chest, I failed her, maybe all of them. Besides, who said I was the one to lead them? To make the decisions? We never decided to make me the leader, we never even talked about it, sometimes they just let me make the final decisions, especially Kryss who kept calling me "our fearless leader", cynical or not, she had no idea how wrong she was. And now I failed them without even asking for this responsibility. "I still think you should stay here another day or two, recover and think this over" said Watson, calm and logical as always. Kryss looked at me, apologetic "it's not about your leadership Zer0" she said to me, using the fake alias Ben gave me "or about any of you" she added looking at us "it's about me" she said in an almost imploring voice "I had seen death and brushed with it too many time, too often, since I was reborn. I assumed I was reborn for vengeance against all the injustice in the world, but maybe this brings only more injustice. I don't know, I need time by myself to think."
    An hour later she left, someone I didn't know came and picked her up, along with some of the illusion of the security I felt within our little team. There was much I didn't know about my teammates, the people I dared hope I could trust, maybe I could even call friends, and then, just like that, I lost one of them. We did lose two before, first we lost the elven mage who called himself "The middleman", he was good with words and had many spirits at his call, he was still beaten down almost to death by some thugs when we were too far to help him, although he stayed for some time after that, he left eventually. I didn’t know him for long and was new for the shadow-running business, I didn't understood the significance of losing a teammate back then. Not long after Kryss joined us. We were team of five. The beautiful, leggy and deadly Purian was the next to leave, she was engulfed by a fire elemental, JC was able miraculously to shoot it down eventually, she survived, her fire resistant armor mostly protected her, but she lost her passion for the fight and left.
    And now Kryss. It was different for me with Kryss, somehow I was sure she will never leave, never die, she will stay standing and throwing spells at our enemies after we all fall. If she got broken, how could I continue? I shook my head, had I any choice? Renraku and Ben were after me, not after the others. There was nowhere to run, not for me. JC, Watson and me were the only one left of the team, but, wasn’t I putting them, too, in danger just by being with them? Maybe they should leave to? Frag, maybe I should leave. But what would I do without them? JC shook me out of my depressing thoughts "what now?" he asked no one in particular, but I felt their eyes on me, or was I just assuming they were expecting me to bring up ideas?
    I shook myself back to reality, I couldn’t indulge myself with that line of thoughts and self-pity, and we had to have some answers before we could try to find a way to hide, impossible or not, I decided that finding a way to hide was a problem for later. "Before all of this mess began" I said "I met a hacker kid back in San Francisco, although I think he wasn't part of the setup made for me he was the one who put me in touch with Ben and if I remember right he said he was originally form Seattle". "Let's find him then" JC nodded "maybe he will be able to shade some light on this bulldrek"
    When you are becoming dependent on your commlink for almost everything, and then you loose it, you learn to appreciate its importance. Since we had no commlinks we could work with, we had to travel to Redmond’s Touristville to find a public terminal just to connect to the matrix and search for information about Buddy. Being at Redmond's border with Bellevue, Touristville was the only place in Redmond with some false sense of security, although the badges patrol there every once in a while, it was still a lawless land and I wouldn’t go there unarmed, in my case I wouldn’t go anywhere unarmed, but that’s beside the point. JC had to give a threatening look at some thrill seekers who found me to their liking, luckily for them, they were smart enough to turn tail and leave us be, while I worked the terminal. I might not be a hacker, but I still know how to search the matrix, I had to do it manually without any search bots to do the work for me, but eventually I found a clue of Buddy whereabouts. After giving up on looking for address or commlink ID, I looked for visitor’s lists in renowned hacker’s bars and clubs, and what do you know, there was a regular Buddy visiting the Armadillo bar at Puyallup.
    Puyallup, it is said that Puyallup was once dotted with fertile fields and apple orchard, I found that unbelievable as we approached the district. We were welcomed by grey ash falling on the car’s windshield like grey snowflakes. I drove the car carefully on road 162, the main road to Puyallup neighborhood, it wasn't in the best condition although it was still maintained by the district government, As the Puyallup neighborhood, named after the district itself, housed the District Hall along with most of its businesses. JC sat on the passenger sit next to me, his hand griping the handle of his assault rifle as his eyes kept scanning the black and grey desolated land around us. The Puyallup River flooded again this year, it happened almost every year since Mt. Rainier lava flow pushed the river out of its former bed, the new river bed was shallow and the river overflow during the winter rains and the spring floods. The entire land between the road and the river was filled with toxic grey mud, stretching sometimes kilometer wide, and it smelled terrible. I wondered why Buddy was staying in the Puyallup neighborhood, although clean and safe by the standards of the rest of the district, it still was a place people came to only if they were running from something. Maybe I should move in too?
    It was also possible he wasn't actually living in Puyallup, he could get to the Armadillo even without living in the neighborhood.
    Eventually we arrived to the neighborhood safely and without any miss-happening on the road. Almost everyone who wanted to avoid the “P-lung” or “grey-lung” as the locals named the deep, hacking cough developed from long unprotected exposure to the air around Puyallup were wearing surgical masks or breathers, that, for a change, played for our advantage, as it gave us perfect excuse to put on our respirators which not only protected our breathing, but also made it more difficult to identify us.
    Puyallup neighborhood itself was different from Redmond, although both Puyallup and Redmond were considered slums, Redmond's Touristville, the equivalent of Puyallup neighborhood, was crowded and there were always squatters in the streets, Puyallup was quiet and almost empty, I guess it was mostly because Puyallup residents had to stay indoor most of the time if they care for their lungs, but it was also simply because there were much less people who dared come to live in this place.
    There was actually a parking lot next to the Armadillo, and that beaten up ford appeared to be just part of the beaten up neighborhood as I parked it there. It was already afternoon as we approached the Armadillo, the cold afternoon sun bathed the ash dirty snowflakes with gold, making it all appear surreal and almost beautiful. Mother Nature created beautiful scenes, even the harmful ash fall from an active volcano had its moments.
    I stiffed a yawn as we entered the Armadillo, it was over thirty hours since I last slept and my body demanded its beauty sleep, spoiled body. I forced myself to focus as I surveyed the bar, it was an average size bar with poor lighting that struggled to illuminate it's mixture of wood and plastic furniture, the bar itself was made of wood and a large picture of a middle age woman was hanging on the wall behind it, a spot light illuminating it brighter than the poor lit place, I guess it was someone important for the owner, though displaying the picture like that looked like an overkill to me.
    There weren’t many people in the place, but maybe I was just used to downtown standards. Most of the place occupants looked young and less rugged than I expected, and many of them looked like they were busy on the matrix, though this should be expected in the Armadillo, being a hot spot for hackers. I didn't see Buddy there, but just finding him there was too much to ask for.
    We approached the bar, JC eyeing the few bottles lined behind it with a mixture of disappointment and eagerness, a young barmaid was running it, she must have been in her early twenties. I pulled myself to one of the high bar stools, JC alongside me while Watson stayed several meters behind, keeping an eye out for trouble.
    "What can I get you guys?" The barmaid asked with a friendly tone, though I didn't miss the suspicious look she gave JC for the briefest of moments. JC grinned at her and he actually managed a friendly, disarming grin, no the wolfish scary grin he used so often when facing opponents, it wasn't the first time he used his charms to get what he wanted, when he wanted he could be quiet a charmer. "Let's try that whisky over there" JC said, as he pointed at a bottle on the back, I frowned, we were getting low with the little cred we had in that cred stick, and buying whisky was not among the high priority expenses we just had to make, but we needed it to look not overly suspicious, so it was probably justified. JC enjoyed his drink way too much though.
    She turned to me "and for you?" she asked. I decided there was no point going in circles around the subject "I don't drink" I confessed, I dreaded the thought of having whisky after my last experience with it "but I wonder if you could help me with something else" I continued "a friend of mine from San Francisco that moved here told me that if I get to Seattle I should come and ask for him in here, his name is Buddy, black hair, large glasses, a little bit nerdy" I added with a sheepish grin, I always felt uncomfortable calling him nerdy, but he just was. I thought I could see a flash of recognition on her face, but she just shrugged "that's describe half our customers" she smiled "but I can't say I know anyone by the name Buddy" she paused for a second looking at me "but you can ask Gregory, he know everyone that comes in here" she said and pointed at a dwarf at the other side of the bar.
    Gregory turned out to be… difficult, or at least that what he wanted us to believe, when I tried to ask him about Buddy he scrutinized me thoroughly and eventually he told me that Buddy moved to Denver. "Is there any way to contact him?" I asked "I really need to see him" Gregory scowled at me, but eventually said in his deep Russian accent "a friend of him might come here later, and maybe he can help you, maybe not, you can wait for him if you want."
    Was they setting a trap for us? They didn't look like the type to call on the police, but you can never be sure. But Buddy was my only link to my past life and to Tarou, if I wanted ever to find him again I had to take that risk.
    Watson and JC looked as worried as I felt when we settled to wait, we set next to one of the far tables, facing the door. JC got himself another glass of whisky and Watson set quietly, lost in his thoughts. Although I was tired I was to nerves to doze off, I kept running everything that happened in my mind over and over again, where was I wrong with my decisions? What made Kryss to leave? Was I missing something? There must be a hole in Ben's plan. But no matter how many times I ran it through my head I could not find any holes in his plan, frag the man. I was risking my friends to much, that I knew for certain, and I couldn't let my selfishness cause their deaths only because I was too scared to deal with it by myself. Was that the reason Kryss left? Was she really contemplating about her morals and her near death experience, or maybe she simply saw, as always, what was obvious before I saw it, that staying with me was too dangerous and that's why she left. She was always the smart one.
    The door to the bar burst open, I jumped from my sit, knocking it off, my hand grabbing my deck of cards, ridicules improvised weapon. I realized my fingers were itching for throwing knives. JC kept his sit, but he was holding his heavy pistol, only Watson kept calm, though his hand was holding something under his coat.
    Only there were no knight errant officer or Renraku samurai at the door, Buddy stood there, panting like he just finished a race. Gregory frowned at us from his corner "is that bunch of overly trigger happy duffers are you friends?" he growled loudly at Buddy. Buddy looked shocked to see me, he ignored Gregory and rushed at me, giving me a hug. I was shocked by myself by this and didn't know what to do, but eventually I put my hands around him lightly. Gregory growled to himself from his corner "I can see you are emotional about this, so I let you be" and he set back, minding his own business.
    Few seconds later Buddy let go of me, it looked like he just realized he hugged me and he jumped back, looking embarrassed. He looked at me "Danny" he said, and another tiny piece of my memory slipped into place, my friends used to call me Danny "I thought you were dead, where were you?”
    I pulled my chair back to its place and sat, folding my feet beneath me. Buddy looked genuinely happy to see me, while confused and excited at the same time "take a sit Buddy" I said "it’s a long story"
    I told him all that happened to me till the day of our yacht job, as the story approached that point JC caught my eyes and shook his head so slightly I could barely notice, but he was right, it was too dangerous to talk about our involvement with the yacht massacre, and anyone who knew about it could get into trouble, better not to tell Buddy. As I spoke I wondered if Buddy was who I thought he was, after all I thought Ben was my trusted friend, and I couldn't be more wrong, could I trust my judgment of people? Maybe Buddy worked with Ben? If he did though, he already knew my story and I had nothing to lose by telling it to him, but then again, it was Buddy, I used to trust him, and it was unfair to think so badly of him. I should be careful, but I should not distance myself from my friends or I'll find myself alone, and no one could survive in the shadows alone.
    "I felt something was stinking with Monte Bob as soon as you stopped answering my calls" Buddy said "he just disappeared, I tried to search the matrix and the shadow matrix, but all references to him were gone, everything about him was thoroughly deleted, it was like looking for a ghost, the man disappeared without a trace.” He paused, thinking “It looked more than someone just erasing any traces of his identity, it looked like this identity never existed in the first place." I frowned, so even Buddy couldn't give us anything, I was at a dead end.
    Buddy, either misunderstanding my frustration or simply feeling bad about his unwitty involvement in this mess looked at me miserably "I am sorry" he said in a low voice "all of this wouldn't have happened to you if I didn't put you in touch with Ben" I smiled at him, he was truly naïve and sweet "Ben planned this for years before I even met you Buddy" I said "all of this would have happened anyway, so don't beat yourself up about it" he looked somewhat relieved "if there is anything I can help you with, just ask" he said "actually" I said, smiling "there is."
    It is useful to have a nerdy bithead as a friend, and by calling Buddy a bithead I mean no offence, but a compliment, he was a nerdy computer enthusiast that could do magic with electronic devices, like taking two high quality commlinks that once belonged to the 405 Hellhounds gang and bringing them back to me two hours later clean and ready to use with an extra simple one as a gift. Finally JC, Watson and me had commlinks and that was a huge step forward.
    It was already dark when we finally left the Armadillo and I was dead tired, I briefly considered breaking the team, leaving JC and Watson, I felt bad putting them in such a great danger, and asking Buddy to crush in his apartment for one night, but that would have put Buddy in danger, and he couldn't protect himself like JC and Watson could, besides, I couldn't just leave, I had to explain why first. So we drove back, leaving the air polluted Puyallup district and found ourselves a road motel in Tacoma an hour later. Since we had commlinks we could connect back to our identities and pay, though I knew we had to create new fake identities as soon as possible.
    During our drive Watson came up with a good idea, if we could find Brandon, the kidnapped mayor nephew and his troll bodyguard, we could shade some light on Ben's involvement, after all Ben claimed he knew the family and although I didn't believe it was true it was worth checking, also, and not less importantly, if we could find Brandon and bring him back alive that might put the police pressure off our backs. Watson called a contact of his while we were driving, an information broker running by the name Sergey, and checked if he had any information about Brandon, but Sergey had nothing, though Watson did learn from him that every entrepreneur in Seattle was looking for the boy, no big surprise there.
    The motel was a two stories old fashion building, and each of us got his own room. I checked for emergency exit at my room, the window on the far side was large enough for me to get easily through and the drop to the garden below was not too high, it will do for emergencies. There was no luggage for me to settle, not even spare clothes, remembering that I sniffed at my armpit and wrinkled my nose, I smelled. I locked my door and took a quick shower, keeping my card deck at reach, having no clean set of cloth I just done my used ones back. The shower did make me feel better though.
    I took a deep breath and left the room, it was time to talk with the team, and it was time to break the team. JC was sitting on a wooden bench at the second level porch of the motel, just next to his room, dangerous, I thought, any sniper could take him down like that, but he didn't seem worried, he was actually lounging on the bench, drinking a beer. Where did he get that beer from?
    I knocked on Watson's door, and when it opened, Watson was standing there clean and shaved, holding a cup of soy-café "where did you…" I started, staring at his cup "ho, never mind” I stopped that line of thought, stupid coffee. "We need to talk" I said instead "sure" he said calmly "let's go and join JC." Watson took a chair from his room and we joined JC at his bench, I gave an uncomfortable look at the darkness of the opened road in front of the motel as I set on the bench beside JC. He moved his legs to give me some space to sit, and I took a deep breath and started "first" I said "I owe you some explanation about the changes I been going through since the problems on the yacht" JC gave me a look "you damn sure right about that" he said "what happened to my sweet little Zer0? Since when you have become a ninja?" he was half joking as he said that, but he hit the spot without even knowing it, I was trained as a ninja after all "well, about that" I said sheepishly, and then I told them everything, about Renraku, about Ben, about Tarou and even about me being a ninja. Watson looked thoughtful when I finished my story, he was probably looking at every angle of it in that calculating head of his, JC just said "damn, so you are a ninja." "Yes" I admitted "and that brings me to the other thing I wanted to talk with you about" "there is more?" JC asked "not like that" I said, taking a deep breath "we have been running together a long time, the three of us" I started "you used to trust me to lead us during our runs and we dealt with some pretty nasty drek, but I failed. Kryss left because of that, and even the Middleman and Purian getting hurt had everything to do with my bad decision making, now my own problems from my past come to hunt me, and those problems are bigger than we ever faced before. I just can't ask you to face those dangers with me, I can't lead you through this. I will just get us all killed." Both of them were quiet for a few seconds and then JC burst into laughter. I was confused, what was funny about that? I just came clean in front of him about my past and my failures and he found that funny? He wiped tears from his eye "girl" he said "you are still my old sweet naïve Zer0" now I was really confused, what in the nine hells was he talking about? I looked at Watson for support and said "I believe that what JC is trying to say is that you are assuming too much, we never chose you to be our leader, in fact, you are not" "he is right" JC said, still chackling "we happen to follow your advice many time because you have good ideas, and a firm grip on tactics, listening to your story now I understand why, fragging Renraku training" "but I still can't risk you…" I started to say, but JC cut into my words, this time he looked dead serious "you risked your life for me when that crazy cop was after me, both of you did" he said, looking both at me and at Watson "I never even asked you, but you joined me as if I was family, better then family, you are my team mates. I promise you Danielle, Danny, Zer0 or whatever your name is, we will get through this, we will stay together and we will find that Ben mother fragger and ice him, after we get the information we need from him" he finished, and he looked angry.
    I was stunned, so it wasn’t all my fault? Watson looked at me and said “we are shadowrunners Danielle, we live life of risks and we always facing danger, there is nothing new about it, if the problems you are facing are more complicated than usual, than we just need to prepare better. And yes, JC is right, we are a team, and we are staying together, even if things get rough sometimes.” I was so moved by their words I could feel tears swelling in my eyes. Don’t cry you stupid girl, I told myself, but a single stubborn tear rolled down my cheek. Watson gave me a quick smile “well” he said “it’s time for me to get some sleep, good night everyone” he said with that British accent of his. I smiled back at him as he walked to his room, maybe there was a chance after all, and maybe we could face all of this together. JC looked at my face, that tear that was rolling down my cheek, he drew another beer from his pocket and threw it to me, and I caught it and stiffed a lough. We sat there quietly, drinking our beer and saying nothing well into the night, until my tiredness was so overwhelming I had to crawl to my room, finally sleeping peacefully.

    I hope you enjoyed the reading, if you did, let me know
    Last edited by Shadowrunner; Tuesday, 21st May, 2019 at 04:54 PM.

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