About This Blog

Shapcano was the moniker used by William H. Shapland. My brother Bill is remembered and his memory honored by people in many different circles. We were touched to have the Washington Post publish an article about him when he left us in April, and overwhelmed to see Georgetown University's tribute and life celebration. We were moved once again to find fans of his writing keeping his on-line published works alive. This blog is my contribution to that effort. Thanks for visiting.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


Welcome! You’ve stumbled into my  big pile o' fiction. Most of it is about the world of Shadowrun (Er….before you get too excited, I have to tell you that the page has been in existence for more than 10 years now, in one incarnation or another, and much of what’s written here is from editions 1-3, so it might be unfamiliar if you got interested in the game more recently. Oh and sometimes we deviated from cannon even back then, so be warned). In any event, the setting is set 50-60 years in the future. Magic has returned, bringing with it political upheavel, dragons, mutations and a bunch of other fun stuff, corporations have grown into nations unto themselves and technology and violence are out of control. Sounds cool, neh?
I've written three complete novels and a pantload of short stories. I've also got fiction by several other authors. It's all free. ENJOY. Oh, and I’ve also added some more standard Sword and Sorcery stories recently because…. Well, becauseits my page, so I can.

- As much as my brother valued the community of writers he worked with, I do not have the links to other people's writing here.  I wanted just to preserve my brother's craft, his generous heart for those he encouraged, and his humility.  I believe that I have captured everything available in the same order he posted it on his now-defunct website.   If you have access to any of his work that is not here, please share it with me!

Thanks -DS



Physical Adept Owen Glendower abandons his life as an elite assassin for the mysterious Compound and becomes a cat burglar. While robbing a chapterhouse of the Humanis Policlub, he stumbles upon a clue to one of the open bequests of the dragon Dunkelzahn. While he pursues the data to the dragon's treasure, Humanis hires shadowteams specializing in wetwork to pursue him. Eventually the Compound, which believed he was dead, gets wind of his quest and begins sending kick teams of their own after him. Can one man survive against Humanis, shadowrunners, biker gangs, cyberzombies and a werewolf while solving the dragon's riddle?


by shapcano
"Whap!" The sound suppressed 10 millimeter slug gouged a chunk out of the tenement wall less than a foot from his handsome face. Ducking reflexively, he continued into a shoulder roll and scrambled left around the edge of the building. A trail of dirt plumes followed him "thip-thip-thip-thip" as more lead buried itself in the vacant lot next to his sometime-partner's doss.
Darting from shadow to shadow he thanked the powers that street lights in this part of town were few and far between. Of course, most hostiles didn't need streetlights, but between the "shadow suit" which eliminated his heat signature to IR scanners and his armor lined cloak, his broken silhouette would be tough to zero in on even with those damn new Zeiss lo-light 4's. As he neared the corner he thought he might just make it out of this kill-zone, find a place to rest and figure out how he had gotten his hoop into this ambush, when his own Zeiss glasses revealed a heavily armed dwarf and two orks in the entryway of a burned out building diagonally across the street.
All of their weapons had silencers and since this part of town was no stranger to firefights, that either meant they'd been specially equipped by whoever had set him up, or that they were experienced pros who didn't want to draw attention. Either way it meant trouble.
Creeping closer to the derelict streetlight, he reached into a belt pouch drew out a squirter filled with DMSO and elephant tranq. Squeezing off three quick shots "chuff-chuff-chuff" he was rewarded with the sight of all three figures slumping down unconscious. Even better than a Narcojet he thought and was suddenly slammed forward by an impact in the middle of his back. The squirter slithered out of his hand into the street as he fell, but as he rolled to his left he caught a glimpse of the sniper on the roof of the dilapidated brownstone behind him.
Damn, he thought, that's going to leave a mark. What the hell did he hit me with? As he rolled he pulled a sling and a smooth black stone from an inner cloak pocket. His instructors at the compound had drilled him endlessly on the need for calm yet quick action in the face of a threat. He started the sling spinning as he came up on one knee, and released as he jumped back towards the front of the building that held the sniper.
He heard a meaty "thwack" followed by the "THUMP/Clatter" of a razor girl and her suppressed AUG sniper rifle falling three floors to the street. Before he could check his attackers or retrieve his weapon he saw a trio come barreling out of the lot he had just left. He fired off another sling bullet at the elf-woman in amerind garb who had stopped to begin gesturing and heard the unmistakable crack of teeth breaking as the black stone found face. Before he could congratulate himself on a very lucky shot he found himself dodging a titanic hammer swing by the troll who was on top of him. He kicked out at the side of the troll's knee and was rewarded by literally bouncing off the largely metal appendage. The troll just grinned and swung the hammer back the other way. He used the momentum of the bounce to keep him out of the troll's range and when the assassin stepped forward so did Owen, moving inside his opponents guard and then quickly v-stepping around him to fire solid blows from behind into the troll's unprotected kidneys and spine. The giant arched away in pain and fell forward, but before he could make sure that this discount Thor was out of it he was facing a furious human with extended cyberspur claws.
"Your gonna die slow for what you did to Joaney, Motherfragger". Owen knew better than to hold conversation during a fight, and rather than square off with the enraged razor he turned to run. Correctly assessing that the street samurai was too furious to simply pull his blaster, Glendower took three steps, only to stop short and kick out one leg behind him. As the maddened man folded around the ushiro-geri (back kick), Owen spun, bringing his other foot up to the razor boy's temple.
Not knowing if there were more than 7 in the team sent after him, Owen did not spend anytime distinguishing between the temporarily incapacitated and the permanently dead. He scooped up his squirter and quickly emptied it by firing once into each of his ambushes. He then darted from shadow to shadow for two blocks until he got to a beat up brown jackrabbit with two flat tires. Touching a button on his wristcom he disabled the security system, reinflated the flats, got in and started driving.
As soon as he was confident that he was not being followed, he began to review the events that had led up to the attack. Rarely working for "Fixers" he was an independent. He set up his own capers, and though the work was not as regular as other runners he ran less risk of being used and abused by the corps. He avoided "wet" situations and since he didn't kill he wasn't (lone) star crossed or pursued by vendettas. Because he didn't look to hire out he didn't have much of a street rep. In fact , although Owen Glendower was not his real name, as a handle it drew no reaction from even the most ardent shadow watchers. Until tonight, that is. Who wanted him?
His last run had been his most successful to date. He had spent weeks targeting the big house that the Humanis policlub used as a headquarters and had timed his run perfectly. With the data from Skater's matrix runs he was able to take off the club's paymaster when he was alone with 30 certified credsticks holding from 5K to 20K each. 325 thousand nuyen! He'd paid Gitya 5K for an hours work and Skater a full 100k, but the dwarf hacker was so thrilled to see the policlub busted he'd said he'd have done it for free.
"Owen, my lad, you're a wunder. Tell us agin how ye sneaked inta the verry room and waited quiet as a wee moose for three hours until the great pillock was by his lonesome."
"Well, ya dirrty Welshman, its mouse, not moose and you were the one who got me the data on the 'party' they were planning so I just came in with the catering crew."
"And did they ha no security at all, man?"
"Oh sure, but they raised such a fuss about Gitya being on the catering truck that I was able to slip in unnoticed."
"Th' dinna like th' orky, neh?"
"Not much, but since he ran away screaming, they didn't open fire on him. I slipped into the 'secret' room that Johansen had built off of his den and waited. How did you find that anyway?"
"There's a difference tween th' original measurements and th' footing they registered when they put in their bloody underground shootin range."
"Nice catch."
"It's what ye pay me fer." Skater said nonchalantly as he twirled his huge handlebar mustache.
"Anyway, I waited, he came in, transferred the funds to the sticks. I stepped up behind him, put him to sleep, took the sticks and climbed up to the attic."
"Ye should ha put him to sleep permanently."
"Maybe, but I don't do wetwork, any more."
" So, did they nay search for the wicked lad who took their gold ?"
"Oh, sure but nobody really believed the thief would stay in the house after the robbery so they paid more attention to searching the grounds and the neighborhood."
"And how did ye ever get doon?"
"Right... I tell you, then you post it on the shadowland BBS and pretty soon everybody is making daring daylight robberies of policlub's payrolls. Hey, that doesn't sound bad..... Seriously, I just waited all night and left the next afternoon. By then the heat was pretty much off because if they raised too much of a stink word would have gotten around that they had been ripped off."
"Well, it was lovely my clever lad, and let's not wait forever before we team up agin."
"Thank you kind sir. Hey, by the way, since I was appropriating credsticks, I lifted Hartley's. Do you want it?"
"You got the paymaster's personal stick?"
"And yer gi' it to me?"
"Chummer, yer a wunder."
Twelve hours later he found Skater tied to a chair by his own intestines. Skater's apartment had been tossed by professionals and when Owen smelled set-up and jumped out the window just ahead of the explosion, he found himself the target of a well armed, well prepared, hit squad. But who had sent them? The morons from the policlub were too blinded by their own hatred to hire a mixed race squad of runners. They wouldn't use metahumans, even for a termination, would they? And why had Skater sent back Hartley's stick by messenger? Had he found something dangerous in the data on the stick or had he sent something hot to Owen for safekeeping. He liked the little Welshman, but he knew that Skater ran the shadows with other teams. Had Skater been the victim of Owen's trouble or was Owen the victim of Skater's?

"Get up. GET UP! Get off me you stupid fraggin lumps!"
Realizing that the ork brothers were still unconscious Raxx none too gently pushed and pulled his way out from under the pile. Walls was right! Brick and Stone certainly weighed as much as their namesakes. The dwarf hitman debated briefly leaving the pair to the devil rats and then decided that it was wiser to have other survivors of this blown contract, than to face Mr. Johnson alone. But I'll be damned if I'm going to waste my own stim patches on you he thought. Searching the sleeping orks he found a half dozen stim patches and started slapping them on his team member's exposed skin. Damn, he thought, It was going so well! I 'persuaded' the hacker to reveal that he'd sent the stick by messenger to his partner and that his partner was coming. Tough cuss was a while dyin, and sure, it was a little messy. That stupid elf slitch had gotten sick and left the room, but the plan was good and we set up the ambush perfectly. We had the remote trip for my anti-personnel surprise, high cover, herders, receivers, everything. And the next thing I know I'm waking up under a pile of ork meat. Damn! I'd still be sleeping like this pair if I hadn't shelled out that nuyen for that adrenal pump and nephritic screen...What happened to the rest of the Wetboys?
"Uhh... wot happened? Wots goin on? Why do I taste olives?"
"DMSO cocktail. Get your fraggin brother and get your hoop in gear. It looks like we blew the contract. We gotta do damage assessment."
Brick and Stone gathered their blasters and stumbled muzzily after the dwarf.
"Check the Troll" was the curt order from the annoyed hitman.
"Bluto's bought it" said Stone.
"Yah, looks like the big fragger went into shock or somethin, cause he ain't bleedin but he ain't breathin either" said Brick.
"Well, looks like the elf biff caught a rock in the mouth and choked on her own teeth. Humph...some fraggin mage. Couldn't get the spirits ta give her a heimlich. No great loss, she spent too much time lookin down her nose anyway. You two check Deadeye."
"She's had it. She musta broke her pretty neck doin the high dive inta da street." said Stone.
"Yah, atts a shame. Wotta waste a talent" Brick said with a sigh.
Grimacing at the ork's misplaced romantic fantasies, Raxx checked the last of the Team's members.
"Well Wolverine's done too. Looks like the fraggers had the side of his head kicked in. Damn! This was a good team. We done a lot of work, iced a lot of fraggers and built a nice rep and now the Wetboys is down to me and two temp clowns."
"Hey Raxx, back off." said Stone.
"Yah, me an me brudder ain't no clowns" blurted Brick
"Just pick up the hardware and let's get outta here. Mr. Johnson's goin to want to know the good news soonest."
"Drek" replied Stone
"Yah, Drek" agreed his younger brother. "Hey Stoney,...uhm...can I have Bluto's sledge?"

His back was still bothering him, but the assassin's bullet had been stopped by the cloak, and he's had enough training to keep the pain from distracting him. Remembering the breakdown exercises from the compound he started trying to list assets and liabilities, but the picture of Skater's horrific death kept coming back to him. Gods and devils, how could one being do that to another? Then he started to flashback to some of the nastier lessons in his early training. He broke off the dreaded reverie when the horn from the truck in the oncoming lane brought him back to the present.
Whoa, drekhead, better leave memory lane for your leisure time and figure out how to survive. All those credsticks you stole are in the hidden pocket of the cloak, so you've got enough money. You've also got the squirt and 4 reloads, the Narcojet with 2 clips for that, your burglar tools and a car which doesn't seem to be under surveillance. On the other side, you're in some pain, you've lost one of your few friends and since nobody could have stood that mutilation in silence, you've got to figure that your doss is compromised. That means all those fake id's, weapons, and other gimmicks are unavailable. You don't know any fixers you can trust and anybody you go to for help may be in danger. You need to get something to eat and someplace to crash and you really need to find out what's on Hartley's stick. But first, you had better warn your friends.

"Allow me to understand you perfectly" the soft and dangerous voice said as NO VIDEO flashed on the Telcom unit. "You are telling me that you failed to retrieve the item in question, you failed to eliminate the current possessors of the item, you lost four experienced operatives and have no idea where the item or its possessor currently are. Is my understanding correct?"
"Yes" replied Raxx
"Do you wish to explain or offer excuses for this sorry state of affairs?"
"Do you wish to offer assurances or oaths that affairs will be put right?"
"Very well, since you have been refreshingly candid, I will refrain from threats or punishment." the voice said with a quality of inhumanely cold menace. "You will take the remaining agents to a safehouse at 132 Whiffletree Ave. You will maintain instant readiness for action as I find more competent trackers. End trans."

"Madame Magdelena's Talismans"
"Katya, this is Owen. Is Madame M all right?"
"Owen, I'm not getting any vid. What's going on?"
"I can't explain right now Katya, just tell me if you have had any strange visitors, anyone asking about me or anything out of the ordinary?"
"Darling, think about what you are asking. We always have strange visitors. If it weren't for strange visitors we wouldn't do any business....hang on.....Yes, Madame Magdelena, its Owen Glendower on the telecom.....alright.....Yes Madame. Owen, Madame Magdelena says she is shocked at your lack of propriety. She says if you wish to speak to her you must bring your pretty hoop to the shop and take tea."
"Katya, look, there's been some...problems. I can't go into details but some people who are currently ill disposed towards me may look to gain leverage by threatening my friends. I just wanted to warn you and Seka and the great lady. Please make my excuses to Madame M and...
"Owen? Owen? Is that you darling boy? I will hear no more nonsense over this infernal machine. I can't even see your handsome face. You will come to the shop and take tea. I will hear no argument. You may use the back entrance but you will come tonight or I will be very cross with you."
"Madame there is some danger that I would keep from your shop and...."
"Owen, do not be rude. Tonight." click
Two hours later a tall broad shouldered figure draped in cape and hood appeared at the barred security door at the rear of Madame Magdelena's Talisman shop. The door was opened before he could knock by a shapely elven woman with short platinum blonde hair. She indicated a need for silence as she closed the door behind him and replaced the locks. When she heard the front door chime indicate that the customer had departed she broke into a grin.
"Owen, so nice to see you. Katya told me that Madame commanded your presence and I couldn't be happier. Let me lock up the front. You can take off your cloak and wait for Madame in the parlor"
As the elf moved out through the curtain an equally shapely and beautiful human woman with long fiery red hair and a beautiful smile, came in.
"Owen, I see you made it. I'm so glad Madame invited you, I'll just tell her you're here. Why don't you wait in the parlor and take that dreadful cloak off."
"Thanks, Katya. Did you mention to Seka that there might be trouble?"
"Yes, of course that's what she's taking care of up front, silly. Now go wait for Madame."
After moving through the crowded shelves to Madame's parlor, Owen placed his cloak over the back of his usual chair and had a seat. No sooner had he sat down than a gray tabby came in, looked up at him and after a single "Meroww" jumped into his lap and began to purr.
"Hello Tabatha, do you have orders for me also?" he asked.
The cat looked at him for a minute and then began to rub her head against his hand, indicating that she did indeed have orders for him and that he was to begin petting.
"Of course, princess, why should your majesty be any different than the other females in this house."
"What's this about females in this house, young man?" asked the wizened old woman in the paisley dress and black shawl. He started to rise but she laid a bony hand on his shoulder and softly said "Don't disturb the cat". As she stood next to his chair they were eye to eye but her energy and the sense of power made her seem much larger. This was a woman who feared nothing, dared anything and had the confidence of one who regularly exercised great power. Although old and gray, her personal dynamism was quite magnetic. The grin that he could not suppress at seeing her was immediately reflected in the lined face of the old woman.
"I was just remarking that the majesty of this house is only matched by the majesty of the females who reside within." he said.
"And if I believe that you have a lovely bridge in Brooklyn you'd like to sell me too, neh? Oh, but you're a silver tongued devil, aren't you? Now, I'll ring for tea and when were alone you can tell me of your dangerous adventure. Tabatha is loyal but say nothing in front of those two young hussies. They are spies." she revealed with a twinkle in her eye.
"For whom are they spies, Madame?"
"Katya works for the UCAS government and Seka for the Tir's Council of Princes."
Owen carefully kept his face neutral through this revelation. To doubt this matriarch in her own house was neither polite nor wise and if she did not acknowledge the info as a joke, she might actually believe it. If she did believe it, he knew it was more than likely true. As she rang for tea and arranged herself in her chair her keen green eyes never left Owen's face. Neither did the cat's. He made very sure not to flinch away from the scrutiny or to make any indication that he disagreed with her pronouncement.
"Ah, Owen, its so refreshing to meet a young person who is so intelligent and polite. Its also nice that you're attractive enough to make those children in the other room jealous."
Owen's gallant reply was cut off by Seka and Katya's entrance with a beautiful Samovar and the lady's favorite tall Russian tea service. After serving the two young women disappeared as silently as they had come. Because Madame Magdelena considered it ungenteel to try to eat and/or drink and talk simultaneously, they had the tea and finger sandwiches in silence. When they had finished the girls reappeared as if by magic to remove the service. Owen waited until they departed and Madame Magdelena completed a number of arcane gestures before she signaled him that it was all right to talk. Whether she had actually performed magic or was simply playing with a gullible mundane was not important. Owen had paid her the courtesy of treating her desires with respect and so the old woman was willing to listen to his story.
"Now dear boy, tell me if your trouble has anything to do with those idiots on 16th street who lost all of their money yesterday."
Owen nodded appreciatively to the old woman, whose ability to sift data from gossip was quite formidable.
"Did you have evidence that I was involved or are you deducing?" he asked.
"I'd be quite disappointed in you, you young rascal, if you'd left any hard data connecting you with this....well, let's call it a prank. No, no, I just look at a bloodless...prank, which prevents dangerous idiots from spreading their stupidity and I put that together with warnings for my safety. I add the fact that poor Skater is dead, (I am sorry, my dear) and your orkish friend Gitya is in hiding and I conclude that you've been naughty."
"I'm afraid there is more madam..."
"Do you mean the deaths of those dreadful persons near Skater's home? Those dampmen or whatever they were called, were killers who reaped as they had sown. You can't mean them. You must mean the package you received by messenger earlier today."
"I don't suppose I'll succeed in hiding my amazement any more than I can hide anything else from you Madam."
"Oh, but you can try, young man, you can try."
"How did you learn of the package?" he asked.
"Your eyes really are the prettiest shade of blue." she replied
Owen dipped his head in acknowledgment "Forgive the gaff of that tactless question Madam, I was stunned by the detail of the information at your command."
"You ask forgiveness so prettily, you rogue, that I'll let it pass this time, but if you are dull again you will disappoint me." the old woman admonished.

On the 18th floor of the Hilton a gorgeous, tanned blonde woman rolled off of her bedmate and pulled a cigar out of the drawer in the bedside table.
"Frag", said the middle aged man. "I've never done anything like that before.....I mean...I'm amazed. You're fantastic."
If he tells me he thinks he loves me, I 'm either going to barf or have some real fun with some sharps on his flabby hoop, regardless of the assignment the voluptuous woman thought. But she smiled and in a throaty whisper said "Oooh, daddy, you're the best. You really know women. Your sooo good, you win this present I bought you." she said offering him the cigar.
"Oh...uh..thanks, but I don't smoke."
Looking downcast and pouting the blonde put on a hurt little child voice "Awww, daddy doesn't like baby's pwesent?"
Panicking about having said the wrong thing and ruining the mood, the middle aged man quickly said "You didn't let me finish, I was going to say I don't smoke unless its a special present from someone special in my life....I would love a good cigar...and I think I'm falling in love with you."
A sunny smile lit the blondes' face and she quickly lit the cigar. As he started to puff the middle aged man said. "Say, this pretty GAAAAAA... ACK.....UNHHHHHHHHHHHHH." His face purpled and he clutched his chest, and reached first for the PANIC Button that would summon Lone Star and then his wrist phone to summon Doc Wagon. The blonde batted his hands aside each time and coldly watched his face as over the next 2 minutes an apparent heart attack ended the man's life. His look of pain, confusion and eventual understanding didn't affect his assassin. She just watched until she was sure he was dead. Without bothering to get dressed she calmly walked over to the door to the adjoining room and unlocked it. When the elf decker and troll gillette came in she closed the door and said "The subject is on the bed. Download whatever's in his headware and check his credstick. I'm going to take a shower....oh and call beta team and tell them we've got Hartley, they're green light to take out the house."

"Now to business, do you have the package?" the old woman asked.
"Yes Madame, its a personal credstick for Jerome Hartley." Owen replied.
"The accountant for those idiots?"
"Yes Madame, but I didn't even look at it. I gave it to Skater as payment for his research and he sent it back with a note which said 'must see you, stat'. When I got there I found they had killed him in a particularly gruesome and lingering manner. Then they tried to take me out."
" And you still have not examined the stick?"
"No, Madame."
"Well, come with me....and just put Tabatha on the settee." At the mention of her name the cat looked up and said "Meow", to which the old woman replied "Oh, very well, miss busybody" and looking back at Owen she said "Perhaps you'd be so good as to bring the princess with you, dear boy." Gracefully rising from her chair, Madam Magdelena led her guest down another crowded hallway and through another curtain into a room filled with technology.
Pushing buttons on a dizzying jungle of crosswired table top computers, cyberdecks and telecom screens, the old woman explained. "I don't always trust the matrix, my dear, so I had this.....unconnected work station developed for sensitive projects." Owen recognized very little in the maze of machines. Here an ancient Radioshack CD-100 had bundles to an MPC IX table top computer, there an actual Fairlight Excalibur seemed to be tied to a standard pocket secretary and a simple chip reader. Not only was he confused by this hacker's hallucination, but he was amazed to find all of it in the house of a little old lady who refused to use the comm, describing it as an infernal machine. His confusion clearly in evidence, he slotted the stick, as directed, into a receptacle some 7 feet up one wall of electronic components and then returned to the side of the old lady's seat. Madam M began reading line after line of data from a central telecom screen. The alphabet displaying the data was unfamiliar to him, but the great lady kept up a running translation: "Name....SIN....address...personal data....credit balance 11,135 ....automobile start codes....home security codes....office security codes....I'm copying all of this onto a blank for you, Owen dear, in the event you want to use it later."
"But Madam, I though the whole idea of personal sticks was data so encoded that it couldn't be....." stopping at the look from the old lady he said, "I was about to be dull again, wasn't I?" She ignored his sheepish look and continued watching the screen.
"Ah ha.... here is something interesting.... it seems to be a fragment of an encrypted message overlaid by LTG code data.....lets see what it says.....Well!....Humph...Owen, this rude device is launching viruses and screaming for help from the matrix. Oh, dear, that's very strange for a personal credstick....And now its trying to erase itself!....My, my, my...so that's what it was hiding.... Owen, the code fragment decrypts as:Photo with D / H.P. alerted/ contact C. / H.G. eliminated." Tabatha jumped out of the young man's arms and into her mistresses lap. Both cat and mistress stared at Owen quite intensely and then as she absently stroked the tabby's fur the old woman sighed and spoke: "Get both sticks, Owen....My dear, I must tell you that unless I am mistaken, you are in very much over your head. Judging by its security setup, anyone who has contact with this will be marked for termination." Seeing the look on his face she quickly added "No, no, no, darling boy, I'll be quite safe as long as I remain here and no one knows that I've peeked...and before you ask, Seka and Katya are very well protected also. It's you who are in danger, and I'm afraid you must leave immediately. Seka and Katya will conduct you to your vehicle. Please do not ask me any questions. I will keep my deductions to myself for both our sakes." After several moment's consideration she amended: " I will say this: if I am right, you already know who D is, he died recently.....good-bye dear." Realizing that the dismissal was final, he went down on one knee next to the chair and looking directly into the great lady's eyes said; "Thank you very much for everything....I'll be back to tell you of my adventure when I've solved the riddle." Then, taking a greater liberty than he had ever before dared, he kissed her on the cheek, stroked the cat and went to retrieve his cloak. The cat and the old woman looked after him and when the cat said "Merrrow" the old woman quietly replied "I certainly hope so."
When he entered the parlor to retrieve his cloak, he was met by two huge and heavily armed trolls. Since they scowled at him and then giggled in the voices of Seka and Katya he immediately understood that though Madame M might have been joking about their being spies, she was not joking about their being well protected. Both women were mages. They signaled him to stay quiet and then rolled back a carpet to reveal a trap door in the floor. When this was opened Owen followed them down a flight of stairs and through a bewildering maze of tunnels. After nearly 10 minutes of walking in silence they stopped and the girls dropped their troll disguises.
"Up this ladder and to your right is another trap door. It will put you in the basement of a burned out building near your car." said Katya
"I want you to have these" said Seka, handing him a pouch filled with smooth black stones. She then took his head between her hands, kissed him quite thoroughly, smiled and resumed her Troll disguise. Owen was stunned. He had never made overtures toward either woman feeling that Madame M might not appreciate his taking such liberties with her...staff?....apprentices?....coven? He'd found both women very attractive but had just never thought of them as being available. Seka's kiss certainly indicated that assumption needed to be re-examined. As he started to smile he saw Katya staring daggers at her partner. Then she stepped up to him and said "And I want you to have this." She handed him a Yamaha Pulsar with 2 clips of the capacitor darts that make the Taser work. Then after looking over at Seka she threw both arms around his neck and gave him a longer, deeper and more passionate kiss than her predecessor had. When she finally pulled away, she looked deeply into his eyes and turned away and resumed her Troll disguise. Owen remained standing in the dark with a confused but happy look on his face as his escorts disappeared back up the tunnel.
Wow. Where the hell did that come from? he thought. Were they saying good-bye because they don't think I'll survive or was that their way of urging me to come back? Or maybe I just became a pawn for two competitive woman to fight over. Damn! Why does this have to happen now? This is something I want to stay and investigate...... Ah, well.
Finding his car undisturbed he tapped the button on his wristcom that disabled the security system and reinflated the two flat tires. After starting the car he took a moment to review what had happened in the last hour, and feeling a little overwhelmed he headed back to the highway.

Inheritance II

by shapcano
"Listen to me Raxx. I ain't thrilled with bein stuck with surprises like you at the last minute. You watch those fraggin orks or its your hoop. I ain't hardly playin. You're assigned the basement. Empty it. No survivors. No witnesses. No screwups." The chrome eyed male elf said.
"Got it" replied the dwarf as he loaded his Mossberg CMDT combat shotgun and thought and maybe you'll wander into some friendly fire from my trogs, Blitzkrieg. If they take you out, it'll give me an excuse for wackin them. Then we'll be minus 3 fraggin hoops and with all my headaches gone I can disappear. Maybe head down Aztlan way. They're always looking for experienced hitters.
"Uh....Raxx, I axed Stoney and he said to ax you. If , like all a dem Humanis scum wasn't kilt right away, you tink I could maybe use my new sledge on em? I gotta christen her before I kin name her." Before he could snap out a reply and/or smash Brick in the face, Raxx heard Blitzkrieg over the comm. link saying:
"All Right People! We just got the green light. By the numbers."
"Sky watch - green"
"Van one- rolling"
"Van two- rolling"
"Van three- rolling" the rigger in their own vehicle said.
"House magic wards-down"
"House power- down"
"All units move in"
As the hit teams piled out of the vans, Raxx noticed how many of the runners were metahumans. Of course, he thought, Mr. Johnson's got built in deniability if Metahumans attacked these pure blood racists. Probably didn't even have to pay half these stupid frags. Just give em guns and let em go.
Then, signaling Stone to bring his moron brother, he rounded the corner of the house and threw himself through the small basement window and into the darkness. The window was barely large enough for the orcs to squeeze through and as they struggled they proved to be lovely bait for Raxx. After diving into the darkness the dwarf had quickly ascertained the layout. A single door on the right midway down the long room and some sort of machinery at the other end. He ran past the room's door and scooted behind the water heater. When the door was opened to investigate the crash, the first thing the policlubbers saw, and (and aimed at) were the struggling orks. This provided a golden opportunity for Raxx to backshoot from cover. At this range he couldn't miss and though his supposed partners were at the wrong end of his shooting gallery, Raxx couldn't have cared less.
As the fourth Humanis member went down in a spray of blood, Brick and Stone got into the action. Tossing fragmentation grenades out the door, they gave the Dwarf time to enter a closet and create his own exit by emptying his shotgun's clip at the rear wall. Rather than reload, he dropped the shotgun and brought up an Ingram Smartgun loaded with AP ammo. As he tumbled through the whole, he opened fire on any policlubber who was still upright. This gave the brothers an opening to enter the room and begin mopping up the injured and unconscious. Naturally, Brick's enthusiasm could not be contained as he found repeated opportunities to christen "Wailin" on injured human supremacists. Raxx meanwhile began to systematically clear adjoining rooms. He accomplished this by first kicking open the door, then tossing in a grenade and then rolling into the room and blasting anything still moving. Of course, in one room this technique had the unfortunate effect of killing two elf women whom the Humanis group were apparently "entertaining", but the hitman barely spared a glance for the naked bodies tied to the wall as he passed through. When he returned to the main room he was just in time to see Brick's upraised hammer struck by the crackling electricity of a lightning bolt coming from the stairway as Stone struggled with a huge black fire breathing dog.
Drek! They've got hellhounds. he thought Well, lets see how good their mage is first. He pulled the pins on a stun grenade and an incendiary and tossed both around the corner and up the stairwell. The stun grenade's instant 175 decibel "thunderflashes" were painful and disorienting enough to keep the mage from spellcasting and the thermites' burning temperature of 2200 degrees centigrade insured that everything flammable in the stairway would be consumed. Again demonstrating sociopathic indifference, he did not flinch at the mage scream of agony, but hosed the rolling mass of orc and hound on his way to pick up his shotgun. He was less interested in saving Stone than he was in avoiding the attentions of the paranormal beast, but orcs are a tough lot, and as he started to climb back to the window by which he had entered, both Stone and Brick boosted him up. As they headed for the van, Raxx began reloading his weapons and calmly said over the commlink "basement clear and burning." He ignored the low growl "Who authorized a fire, you stupid frag, my people are still in the building". Raxx did not reply but thought You stupid dandelion eater. I don't care how much metal is in your meat, you're still a drekhead. Frag you. You'd better have some eyes planted in the back of your head before you start playing the hardman with me.
Raxx proved as good as his word. As the heavily cybered elf stormed out the front entrance of the building and headed towards the vans, he did not see the huge human with the minigun who had climbed out of the second floor onto the porch roof. Without any outward indication the Dwarf's smartgun system acquired the target, but rather than warn the team's "leader", he waited. Only after the policluber's weapon had shredded the elf's head and shoulders, did Raxx open fire, emptying a clip into the human's forehead. If only all of my problems were that easy to solve he thought, glancing at his wounded, charred but still functioning, orc 'pals'.

"Focus!....Minimize... your.... distractions! Concentration is a..... requirement... for.... survival! A misstep on a stair can break... your.... neck as fast as wrestling.... a.... dragon!" Remembering the endless refrain of Sensei Matsumuni's lecture, always punctuated by blows from the bokken, Owen put aside the questions raised by Madame Magdelena's revelations and abrupt dismissal. He stopped worrying about who tortured Skater to death or what they would do next. He even put aside the enjoyable speculation brought on by his farewell from Katya and Seka. He concentrated on discovering whether or not he was under surveillance and getting to the downtown section of the sprawl so that he could find an inconspicuous place to crash.
Reaching into the whole in his dash that might have originally held the sound system or digital location finder, Owen pulled out a small number pad. As he keyed in a specific code the outside of the car began to lighten. The beat up brown jackrabbit became a beat up beige jackrabbit as he drove along the highway. It was a minor change but prudence dictated that he assume others were on his trail and anything he could do to make pursuit more difficult would keep him alive that much longer. Pushing another set of keys he heard the car's voice assure him "Scan's Clean!" so he new that nobody had planted tracers on him or his vehicle.
Along the lines of prudent caution he considered where he might crash for the night. The coffin hotels near the airport offered anonymity, but their completely automated system meant he would have to use his personal stick. That would create a neon arrow for any cowboys who might be jacked in to the matrix and searching for electronic sign of him. If he used one of his newly acquired certified sticks his thumbprint would become the coffin's door trigger and any wire head who was clever enough would have him that way also. If he played it bold and brash, picked one of the luxury hotels in the area, security from matrix detection would be better but humanint might trip him up. There were so many watchers, scammers, hookers and bounts checking out the comings and goings at the luxury hotels that his odds of going completely unnoticed were no better than in the coffins. Mid-range looked like the way to go. It might be predictable, but it offered enough security and safety. He stopped and a public telcom, called the Stouffer's and reserved a room for the night as Natty Bumpo. When he got to the hotel he had no trouble checking in without ID as long as he pre-paid and left a sizable deposit from a certified stick.

Having secured his car and dropped off his bag at his flop for the night, he considered his body's need for food. Serious planning would have to wait until he put some fuel in the system. He decided to stop at Uncle Oh's Ramen Palace for a bowl of dinner. It was to be a quick stop, just a chance to wolf down some noodles before he settled in for some detailed analysis and intense sleep. At least that was his intention, until some Yaks decided that Uncle Oh needed fewer fingers. This reduction of digits would remind Uncle Oh that protection was not to be paid to any Seoulpa Rings, but only to representatives of the Yakusa. Owen's experience and his own situation argued that he stay out of it and leave the locals to sort out their own problems. But when Mrs. Uncle Oh (Aunt Oh?) got knocked to the floor in front of his stool, he reached down to help her up.
"Dame-dayo, gaijin, Hottoke-ba!" (Dangerous move, white man, leave her alone!)
Owen continued to help the old ork woman to her feet and then stepped between her and the small Asian male norm who had addressed him. The plastic gangsters who had been helping Uncle Oh to the cutting board dropped the old ork as they sensed a more entertaining show was about to begin.
"Dokka- ichime yo!" (Get out of here!) said the Yak collector, who could not have been older than 17.
Pushing back the hood of his cloak, Owen slowly removed his reflective glasses and after looking for a long moment into the kid's chrome eyes slowly shook his head. He moved slowly and deliberately to avoid provoking the gang leader but his intention to end the violence against the cowering old couple was unmistakable.
As every eye focused on Owen and the Yak leader, no one paid any attention to the pair of bodyguards and the man in the impeccably tailored blue suit who had appeared at the door.
"Please excuse me, so sorry, but you disturb my meal and the tranquillity of this place. Please be so kind as to leave." Owen said softly. After a moment of complete silence Owen repeated the sentence in flawless Japanese and bowed. He exuded an air of tranquil calm which denied the reality of the danger that he faced.
"Nante ittan-dayo? Nante ittan-dayo ?! Dare-ni mukatte mono itten-dayo?! (What did you say? What did you say?! Who do you think you're talking to?!) screamed the enforcer. To show this nosy busybody how messy the situation could become, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a pair of nunchaku. He then proceeded to give a three minute exhibition of the handiwork of whomever had programmed the skill chip he had slotted.
Owen did not move through this exhibition. He observed the entire kata with the eye of an expert, recognizing school , style and even the most likely master whose techniques were being perfectly mimicked by the kid. Mentally he was continually countering the high speed ballet of whirling hardwood but outwardly he displayed pure tranquility. He did not move when the program ended but continued to look straight at the young Yak.
The gang leader recognized that this tall white guy in the cloak was either completely stupid or incredibly dangerous. He had spent big nuyen to buy the latest and best martial arts skillsofts and it hadn't caused this fragger to even bat an eye. The kid knew he might be out of his depth but he also knew that if he walked away he'd lose face and be mocked forever by his own gang. He began nerving himself up to attack.
Even in the awakened world of the 21st century man still carried around his primitive roots. Everyone in the restaurant, except Owen, tensed in anticipation of the attack. The animal part of each mind froze to watch one beast attack another. But Owen was completely at peace and did not provide his opponent with anything tangible to trigger the attack.
Before the now furious teenager could psyche himself up enough to begin his attack, the man in the blue suit shouted out several sentence in rapid fire Japanese. The young Yak froze and began to pale, and the rest of his gang bowed as the man and his bodyguards made his way across the room.
"Why do you insult this man?" he shouted in English. "Can you not see he is making an extraordinary effort to overlook your rudeness? Would you embarrass the clan to make a name for yourself? Take these fools with you and wait outside!"
He then turned to the old orc couple who ran the noodle shop. "Please excuse this unseemly behavior by a bad mannered youngster. My name is Kawabata, Toshiro. Here is my card. Please call on me if you have any trouble in the future, from anyone." he said, looking pointedly around the room.
Turning to Owen he said in a quiet tone "Thank you for your restraint. If you had acted that young fool would have been damaged and for the sake of my clan I would have had to become involved. That would have been.....regrettable."
Ignoring the implied threat, Owen bowed and said "Thank you for your intervention."
"I am embarrassed by my sister's step son."
To which Owen replied "Please, do not feel embarrassed, we were all young and impatient once. It is a fault which only age corrects."
"You show great wisdom for one who cannot have more than a half dozen years on my nephew."
"You are very kind. On behalf of the many who struggled to teach such a poor student, I thank you."
"I was very impressed with your sense of calm. Did the teachers you mention train you in the path of Zen?"
"If they had, how might I answer?" asked Owen with a quiet smile.
"Ah, I see. Excellent. You know the Koans. That is not data one gains from a chip. I am impressed. Although I would greatly enjoy continuing our conversation I must speak to Ito and his friends. Perhaps we can talk another time. Ask anyone in this area and someone will bring you to me. Farewell."
No longer having much of an appetite, Owen was ready to pay and leave, but the old ork couple would not hear of it. Each took an arm and bowing and thanking and bowing again they pulled him into a private room in the back. Thrilled to be able to converse exclusively in Japanese with "Our own Yojimbo" they plied him with plate after plate of authentic food and real tea. Not soy taste-alike or flavored synthetics but real honest to goodness food.
He ate little at first, fearing he was bankrupting the pair, but as they continued to hector him, with the familiarity that only the old can use with the young, he remembered another lesson from the compound. The kindness you do not allow another to repay becomes a bitter burden Master Fuchard had said. You can cause your own betrayal by leaving friends too deeply in your debt. The lesson that the Instructor of Savate and explosives had imparted continued to ring true.
Finally, after an hour of delicacies and conversation, a well stuffed Owen managed to extricate himself from the gracious old couple and after promising to return, made his way back to the hotel.

Sandy was not taking Blitzkrieg's death well. She had insisted on listening personally to the after-action reports of each survivor who had witnessed her lover's death. In one case she had even denied an elf medical attention for his wounds until he recounted the team's leader's demise. She cursed Mr. Johnson colorfully and repeatedly for sending her, Spider and Iron Mike on the "natural causes" hit of Hartley while the rest of the Sandmen went with "temp help" after the poli's clubhouse. She cursed Slider and Gretchen for not watching Blitz more carefully. (This was particularly painful to Slider as the ork rat shaman had a mad crush on the ballerina.) She even cursed Go Go for sitting in the van while her lover was being shredded by minigun fire. She stopped short of cursing Raxx, who everyone agreed was the first to avenge the elf, but the look she flashed him said that if she ever found proof that he could have acted sooner she would make his death very long and messy. For his part, Raxx wanted to collect his nuyen and kiss the town (and particularly his two ork playmates goodbye). He had, however, enough respect for the reputation of the Sandmen to avoid antagonizing the cleaning crew. Rather than crow about the 'keeb fraggin with the wrong dwarf', he played the innocent and waited patiently for the payoff from Mr. Johnson.
"The loss of a particular operative does not significantly effect strategic objectives." the faceless voice informed them over the telecom. " Follow the attached instructions. I will contact again in 12 hours. End Trans"
When Raxx learned that the instructions involved payoffs and release of "temp help" and that neither he nor the Wall brothers had been included, he was furious. He was as upset at having to sit and wait for 12 hours as the bloodthirsty Sandy was. She itched to eliminate more Humanis policlubbers to avenge Blitzkrieg, he itched to shake the town and his associates off like the fleas they were. Two very dangerous professional killers were chafing at the restrictions which prevented them from practicing their craft, which boded extremely ill for whomever was in the vicinity when those restrictions were lifted.

The first thing Owen did when he returned to his room was to place small wooden wedges at the top and bottom of each door to the room. A deadbolt might be snapped off its anchor, but he knew that if the door was forced, the wedges meant that attackers had to take out the entire doorframe. He then closed the curtains after attaching two small devices to the window. One was a motion sensor which would give him early warning if someone decided to visit through the window, and the other was a white noise generator which would defeat a laser reading the window's vibrations when he spoke. Next he swept for electronic bugs. He then used a density scope to check the walls for secret passages. He did not really expect to find hidden passages and he didn't plan on talking to anybody while alone in his room either, but Junn had forced him to make security a habit and he knew he wouldn't rest until he had let his paranoia out for a walk. Of course, he thought, If those fraggers who did Skater do find out I'm here I have more worries about catching a guided missile than of being overheard. But the poison master's question: "How safe do you want to be?" kept him running through his security routines.
As he repacked his gear he flashed back on a repressed personal memory of the first time he saw how right Junn had been. It was his third assignment and his target, an elven combat mage, had spent most of the night "entertaining" in a hotel suite. Joy girls and joy boys kept arriving and departing (some in groups!), keeping Owen from fulfilling his contract which called for "minimal collateral damage". Finally the listening device he had planted revealed that the mage was alone and asleep. Owen had silently picked the lock on the service entrance and come in to kill the mage. If it hadn't been for the watcher the elf had left to guard his sleep, Owen's job might have been quick. As it was, he had nearly been killed and when the smoke cleared, the mage looked like his body had been used to test the machinery of an abattoir. The picture in Owen's memory made his gorge rise and he shuddered at the thought of what a butcher he had been.
He stumbled into the shower, stripping off his "business suit" and gear as he fought to keep from losing his dinner. He began breathing exercises while standing under the hot spray and eventually calmed himself enough to stop shaking and to focus on immediate problems rather than recriminations for his bloody past. As he dried he began his situation analysis.
Skater had been tortured to death. Before he was killed he had sent Hartley's credstick back by messenger. Madame M's analysis had discovered the coded data, which, with the other elaborate programming on the stick, pointed to something Skater had found rather than something he had hidden for Owen. Which means that I'm responsible for his death, thought Owen glumly. If I hadn't given him the stick he wouldn't have drawn down those goons by playing with it. Damn! I'm sorry, Skater. Now thoroughly depressed, Owen contemplated the rest of the puzzle. "Do you mean the deaths of those dreadful persons near Skater's home? Those dampmen or whatever they were called, were killers who reaped as they had sown. You can't mean them....." Madame M's words echoed in his mind. Dampmen .....Dampmen.....Wetboys? The group which had killed Skater and set up the ambush must have been the Wetboys. He'd heard of the group of termination specialists. Three street sams- dwarf, norm and troll, all heavily cybered, a norm female sniper/decker,the slitch who gave me this aching back, he thought, and an elf shaman. So those Orcs with the dwarf must have been supplemental help, he thought. I wonder how many I killed. Probably the sniper and the mage, since those black stones carry quite a punch, and possibly the Troll and the Norm. But I only knocked out the Dwarf and the Orcs, which means I should figure on at least three on my trail, probably four, possibly five.That's not good. And then there is whoever hired them to begin with. Damn! Have to figure that if he wanted the stick enough to hire the Wetboys to begin with, he probably will hire as good or better to insure the contract is fulfilled. My hoop is definitely is in deep drek.
Absorbing this alarming information, Owen focused on the data the stick had held Photo with D / H.P. alerted/ contact C. / H.G. eliminatedPosit the message is information and instructions. Hartley probably wouldn't be any of the initials listed because his first name was Jerome. JH. Which meant that either Hartley was sending the message to somebody or he had received it from someone. Call the sender of the message X. If X is Hartley, why the elaborate protections on the stick? Put together the message, send it, destroy the copy. But, If Hartley had received the message maybe he was supposed to pass it along./contact C/ sounded like instructions and Hartley's club had that "social function". Maybe the party was where Hartley would contact C. Ok assume that, what would Hartley do after the contact? Tell C that HG was eliminated, HP was alerted or that the Photo was with D. What had Madame M said about that?... " I will say this: if I am right, you already know who D is, he died recently....."Who do I know named D who had died recently? Skater was a dwarf and he might have uncovered a photo, and he was certainly a dead D, but that didn't make any sense. You would have to assume that in the entire sprawl I delivered a message about Skater to Skater. Not at all likely. Who else could be D? David Pak? No it couldn't be the little TaeKwonDo master from the compound anymore than it could Abbess Dee who taught Wing Chun. It couldn't be any D from the compound because Madame M wouldn't know them....Would she? Now don't get on that ride! Stick to the subject. Who could D be? If the Lady was indicating that D was known to everybody, he or she must be famous. Famous D.....Famous dead D.....Argh! I'm drawing a total blank. Maybe I can access the public library without setting off alarms.
Turning on the telecom, Owen put on one of the 24 hour news scans and went to retrieve a data chip to store his research on and a cold bottle of water to sip while working. He jumped back across the room and turned up the volume when a report came on about a raid at the Humanis policlub house on 16th street. They were pulling bodies out of a flaming building and the reporter on the scene was babbling about "...the worst outbreak of violence involving the Humanis policlub in several months. But this raid was directed at the club and its members by a well organized group of metahumans, who with military like precision..." Owen turned down the volume and watched the images thinking Too much of a coincidence for this to be unconnected to the robbery. I know the security layout for that place and no group of angry metahumans was going to get past that security with anything short of a tactical nuke. No, that was a run by pros. They were wiping out traces. He turned the volume back up as the announcer said "....related story, Jerome Hartley, prominent member of the Humanis movement was found dead earlier this evening of an apparent heart attack in a room at Hilton Hotel. Eye Team news has learned that Lone Star is currently seeking a young woman described as a "stunning blonde" who was with Mr. Hartley when he checked in.We will be tracking this story for Eye Team...." Stunned at all he had missed in few hours, Owen left the volume low but the news on as he sat back to review these new developments.
Hartley's deadWell, he thought eliminate Hartley as X and the message could now read -Photo with D/ HP alerted/ C not contacted/ HG and JH eliminated/ signed X. Great.... Fraggin alphabet soup. C might have been at the Humanis club party, HG was probably dead, HP knew something and could be in hiding, D was some famous dead guy who X insisted had a photo. Yikes! I could go nuts on this kind of puzzle. Maybe I'll have a better handle on it after I get some sleep. At least I should be able to figure out who the hell D is. Turning off the telecom and the lights he got into bed and quickly fell asleep.

Inheritance III

by shapcano
When he awoke the next morning at dawn, Owen began his daily ritual of meditation/exercise with Tai-Chi and Yoga. After an hour of exercise he showered and prepared to face the day. He still had 5 hours until checkout, but before he began sifting through his "alphabet soup" he arranged to pick up his messages. Leaving the hotel he walked several blocks until he found a public telecom and began punching in elaborate coded instructions. Through a pre-installed switching scheme he called his home telecom unit and told it to zip his messages and burst call them to several different numbers. He was only on the phone for a few seconds, but after placing the call he jumped into a cab and turned on his wristcom. One of the numbers his home unit had called was a "relay station" which received calls from only specific numbers and then immediately called his wristcom. Of course, to avoid being traced by this portable phone he used it while moving and only for the few seconds it took to receive the compressed data. He then turned the wristcom back off, paid the cabby, jumped out of the cab and two blocks away caught another cab back to his hotel.
In the hotel room he downloaded the messages to the telecom in his room along with a custom decompression program which allowed him to see the full messages. The first message was from a very fine looking elven woman who said she worked in the Tir embassy. Her name was Tanya and she had been given his name by a mutual friend. She was new in town and was wondering if he might show her the sights. Damn, Damn, Damn he thought for the past four months, since moving to town, absolutely nothing. Social Life Zero. Now, Now when I'm wearing a bullseye for every slot in the world, I've got more potential action than I know what to do with. DREK! But wait a minute...what mutual friend? Why all of a sudden.....wait, wait, wait. Keep it frosty. A little paranoia keeps you alive, a lot makes your life hell. Take the number, call her when you get out of this mess and then worry about grand conspiracies. You don't want to end up like lone gunman.
He played the next message. It was from Skater. He saw his friend was in a hurry. "Hoi, Chummer. That item ya gi me fer a bonus 'twas a nahsty piece o' werk. Ah've sent it back ta ya fer safety's sake. Meet me at me doss, quick as ye cahn." When the message was over he replayed it again and again. Finally he stopped the message and thought Farewell, my friend. I'm sorry my caper cost you your life. I will miss you.
The last message was from a fairly influential fixer who had been trying to interest Owen in work for several weeks. Hell, he thought, I should call the frag and ask him what part of "no" he doesn't understand. Here I've just killed a friend with a run that I dreamed up and had complete control over. This drekhead thinks I'm going to let somebody else make the decisions that put my hoop in a sling? NFW. No Fraggin Way!
As he stared at the screen he thought Well, that's it for messages. No call from Fuchi offering me deckers to search the matrix for C,X,D, HP or HG. No call from UCAS to offer the FBI's services. No call from Loftwyr begging to explain........wait a minute, something suddenly clicked Madame M had said "I will say this: if I am right, you already know who D is, he died recently..." Dunkelzahn?? Big D? My D? Could that be it? 'Photo with Dunkelzahn'....does that mean the photo is buried with the dragon? Lost in his estate? Why would anyone need to send messages about something well and truly hidden? Doesn't scan. But something that has been brought to light....maybe by the Dragon's death....Drek that could be it! he thought with growing enthusiasm. First, I need to head over to the library and do some research. I'll have to look at material related to the Dragon's estate. See if I can get a line on the photo in the message. Then, I'm probably going to need some absolutely frosty decker help. I'm sure that everything I need is not going to be available to the general public. But for that I need somebody who is arctic enough to leave no traces and unconcerned about what the shadows think of him. This is not going to be a run to brag about over brews at the local watering hole. Drek. First things first. Check out. Hit the library, see what you can see.

After checking out of the hotel, and taking the balance of his deposit in Mylar scrip, Owen walked to the library. He found his regular seat and while he was printing out a hard copy of Captain Chaos' Shadowland posting of Dunkelzahn's Will he was greeted by a slightly overweight Troll in a custodian's jumpsuit.
"Hullo, Mr. Glendower", the giant janitor said as he leaned on his broom, "you are here early...t-t-ttoday".
"Hello, Mr. Rodgers. Yes, I am in early. How are you feeling today?" Owen said as he leaned in to catch the Troll's reply. Whether it was because he was self conscious about his stutter, or a habit from working in the library all his life, George Rodgers always whispered.
"I am f-f-fine. C-Ca-Can I help you with your r-r-research?" Before Owen could reply a prissy little norm in an fashionable, but poorly tailored suit scurried up whispering: "George...George, you stupid trog! I've warned you about disturbing the patrons. Now you get down to..." He stopped as Owen stood up.
"I asked Mr. Rodgers a question, sir, and he was..."
"Mr.Rodgers? Mr. Rodgers?!" The little man squeaked with indignation. After eyeing Owen up and down he continued in a more conspiratorial tone "You mean this....lump? He's just a janitor and has no business talking to the patrons...." Before he could launch any further into his tirade another voice spoke up in a subdued but conversational volume.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Glendower?" Asked a white hared norm.
"Not at all, Mr. Wilson." Owen replied." I asked Mr. Rodgers a question and Mr......"
"Schmidt" Wilson supplied
"Mr. Schmidt was trying to insure that the patrons were not disturbed."
"I see. Thank you, Thomas. I'll handle this. I think Freddie was looking for you down at the receiving dock" Wilson waited for the little man to sniff and scurry away before continuing. "George, would you please check the restrooms on the fourth floor? Thank you." When George had moved off Wilson said. "My apologies. Would you care to step into my office.?" After slipping the hardcopy sheets into a cloak pocket, Owen accompanied the dignified gentleman to his office. Owen was a library regular and often chatted with the head librarian, whom he found was a font of information. For his part, Wilson was flattered to find an interested listener and a human connection in the world of instant data from the matrix.
"Thomas is new to the library and frankly not very tolerant of old George. I have to stay on my toes keeping them separated until they become accustomed to each other." Wilson said. "You know, by the way, that you are the only one I've ever heard refer to old George by his last name. That token of respect is probably the high point of his day. But enough of library politics. What can I help you with today?"
Owen considered for a moment. "I'd like your help, but I fear your involvement could make for complications in your life. I'm currently in the midst of some trouble and I'd like to avoid spreading it. What I really need is to hire a competent decker who can maintain confidentiality."
Wilson sat back in his chair and steepling his fingers, thought for several minutes. "Hmmm...Why not ask Professor Cortez from the University. I know he is a computer expert and I'm equally certain he could use the money. Provided there was no physical exertion involved he might do it, and he is the sole of discretion."
"Excellent" said Owen "Could you arrange an introduction?"
"Oh, you don't need me to be your 'Fixer', as I believe the vernacular has it, you already know the man. I've seen you play chess against him on several occasions in the park right across the street."
"Yes, the small Aztlaner gentleman with the prominent gold tooth."
"Pablo? Pablo is a computer scientist from the University? I had no idea. I know he is much better in a serious game than at speed chess and that he is one of the best players in the park but I had no idea he had any other job. I will ask him. Thank you. I would love to stay and chat but the sooner I leave the less likely you are to be caught up in my trouble."
"Very well. I hope everything works out. Stop by and see me again when you've resolved your ...difficulty." said Wilson as he saw Owen to the door.
"I will, and thanks again."

Owen was as familiar to the denizens of the park as he was to the employees of the library. It was his habit, whenever planning a job, or even between capers, to take a break from the library and cross the street to play chess in the park. The advent of the awakened world and the creation of the matrix had changed much in society, but, as it had been for the preceding 200 years, people (mostly male) gathered around stone tables in public parks and played chess. The Matrix gave anyone the opportunity to play every variant of the game imaginable (Zonal, Multi-level, Double, Monster, etc). It made it possible to play against any level of programmed AI or against any other so inclined individual anywhere in the world. But people still played in the park, with actual chess pieces on boards inlaid on stone tables.
"Hoi. Look, its Peter Perfect playing Dracula!" Yelled Mickey, a 19 year old male ork, generally considered one of the best 'speeders' in the city. Mickey was a prodigy and had been a ranked master before goblinizing. After his change he took to playing only lightning chess and was never seen anywhere without his clock.
"Wanna pick up some easy cred, Lance Dashing? I'll spot you 1 in a game to 5. Help expand your wardrobe so you can get rid of the fraggin cape."
Owen endured Mickey's taunts with good grace. The kid had been very hard hit by his change and though his mind was still razor sharp, he was terribly bitter about his looks.
"Thanks, Mickey, I'd love to have 5 minutes against you 4 but I've found that its actually faster if I just throw the credstick away, chummer. You seen Pablo?
"Yeah, he's down the end playin' the Rabbi. You sure you don't want a game? Those patzers are goin to take forever. If you work on it you might get me to spot you a knight."
"You're on! Knight and a minute in lightning to five offered and taken. Stakes?" Owen shouted out.
"Hey, I didn't mean you could have both!" said the ork, but the boos and catcalls from the surrounding tables made him back down. "Awright, awright, but we play for 50 nuyen, its best 3 of 5 and from 2nd game on it's piece or time, not both."
"Best 2 out of 3 for 10 and it's a match."
The next 22 minutes were a blur. Mickey had given away too much for lightning chess and lost the first game. In the second Owen took the time advantage and lost. The third game was played 'straight up' (no advantage) and although Owen had a slight positional advantage, the ork won when Owen's time expired. The last game had drawn a crowd of kibitzers, reacting to every move and when it was over there were congratulations for the victor and commiseration/advice for the loser. Owen made a production of paying off the wager, bowing to the master, which gave Mickey permission to "whoop and holler" about being "Top of the world, Ma!" When Mickey yelled "Next victim" the crowd immediately dispersed.
"Playing straight-up lightning against the ork is very foolish, my friend. If you have so much money to burn, perhaps you will give me an opportunity for some." said the small Aztlaner norm. "I understand you were asking for me."
"Yes, Pablo, I was. I have some business to discuss. Perhaps you will allow me to take you to lunch." Owen replied.
"Of course, of course. I never turn down a free meal."

"The additional operatives supplied will supplement the reduction of this team. Time factor is critical. The objective is the personal credstick of Jerome Hartley. Operatives will eliminate any and all individuals who come in contact with same. After determining validity of item, team will contact employer to arrange return. Team will conduct no further investigation of item. Team will inform employer of any and all developments during investigation/retrieval. Additional operatives can supply history of investigation to this point. Payment 180K nuyen. Questions?...........Very well, end trans."
After replaying the tape for the third time, Sandy turned to Raxx with fire in her eyes.
"So, it looks like not only are we stuck with you three, but were supposed to get information on this run from you", she said. "I'll tell you up front I don't like Mr. Johnson adding three strangers to the team to try to replace Blitz. I also don't like unknowns if it comes down to a firefight. But, I don't seem to have any choice. So, I'll tell you how it's going to be. Iron Mike, Slider and Gretchen are going to watch you three like hawks. At the first sign of any kind of trouble from you, anything hinky at all, you get the dirt nap. Keep your noses clean, do what you're told and we might consider you for membership in the Sandmen. Got it?"
Raxx's face betrayed nothing of his thoughts as he nodded. You fraggin breeder, you think you can threaten me? You could end up just like your keeb boyfriend, but quick. Though, on second thought, I might find some other uses for you before I send you on the long jander. Yeah, I might even give you to the trogs before you go. He thought, glancing over at the two battered Orks. They'd enjoy that, especially Brick. That moron already drools whenever the slitch walks by. And as to membership in the Sandmen, riiight.... as if I'm looking to take orders from a breeder biff. Get real.... I'd be outta here right now but Mr. Johnson sounds like a long armed fragger and I want the nuyen. I'll do what I'm told alright, until I see a way to get clear with the creds. Then its "Adi-fraggin-os, chica!"
"So, make with the know. What's the story on this stick?" Sandy asked.
Raxx went over to his backpack and pulled out Deadeye's deck. Spider immediately jumped up to see about the deck. He pulled memory chips and other utilities and played back the data through his own deck. After a few minutes he turned to the group.
"Hartley's credstick is rigged". the Elf decker said." The Wetboys' decker placed a smart frame in the matrix right where the alarm would be raised. When the call came they got to the slot within 2 hours."
"Yeah, but it was already too late." Raxx said "The slot figured he'd set off alarms, pulled the stick and shipped it back to his partner by messenger. We thought the partner was the one who actually pulled the job. Pretty slick work, he apparently ambushed Hartley in a secure room in the Humanis policlub. Walked off with a big wack of creds and for fun took the paymaster's personal stick too. Gave it to the decker as a bonus."
Raxx continued, "We pressured the decker who gave up an ork gillette named Gitya. Looks like he was a minor part of the action-some kind of diversion to get the partner into the house. We told Johnson and he contacted some associates to grab Gitya but they musta blown it cause the trog pulled a fade. Guess Johnson has people still looking for him. Anyway, Deadeye, that was our decker, dumped the data from the messenger service and found the partner's address. We must have just missed him because when we told Johnson about it, he called back within minutes to say that the item was no longer there and that we should ambush the partner. We had a pretty sweet setup but the fragger must've had help, cause he wacked four of the team and knocked me and the orks out with some tranq/DMSO cocktail. Didn't use a narcojet, though. No dart holes."
"Anyway, the subject, name of Skater, died during questioning. Johnson's probably looking at anybody he ran with. The name we got from him for the partner was Owen Glendower. I never heard of him. Whether Johnson had his doss tossed or just put watchers on it, I couldn't say. But if the frags got any brains at all he won't go anywhere near it."
Sandy turned to the rest of the crew and asked: "Anybody heard of this fragger?" Getting no response she said "Drek! I don't know him either. I'm going to call Mr. Johnson and ask him about searching the fragger's flop. Spider- you put the alarm back on the matrix in case he slots the stick. Also see about backtracking the last time it was used. I don't think its worth much but its a start. While your at it, check on Mr. Owen Glendower's background and associates. Slick job like the run against Humanis plus the job on the Wetboys says he ain't cherry or even a newbie. Which means somebody's had to of heard of him. The rest of you start calling sources- fixers, contacts, anybody who might be Dr. Know on this drekhead. It may tip some bounts but we'll worry about competition after we flush the fragger."
"Let's move people. The Man says 'Time factor is critical' and when the word goes out Mr. Glendower is going to be very popular."


Owen chose a fairly expensive sports bar/restaurant for lunch. The place wasn't crowded yet, but he knew it soon would be. Peeling off some bills from the wad of scrip he had gotten earlier at the hotel, Owen slipped the matre d' a little extra to secure what would normally be considered a crummy table- a booth with limited view of any of the giant trideo screens. After getting the menus he activated a white noise generator.
"I did not know it was going to be that sort of a discussion, my friend." Cortez said as he noticed the security precautions.
"Actually, it will be very much that kind of discussion, but if you will give me your word that anything we say will be kept in strictest confidence, I am willing to lay the entire matter out before asking you to become a part of it."
"Owen, of course I will be discreet....."
"I am sorry, my friend, but my life is at stake here. Discreet is not enough. I must ask for your word of honor that you will not discuss what I will tell you with anyone at anytime."
Pablo Cortez sat up straighter in the booth. He looked Owen in the eye and said very solemnly "I give you my word on the name of my family that I will never reveal what we speak of today."
"Thank you, Pablo."
:"But, Owen, I must tell you that if this business requires violence on my part....
Pablo stopped as the waitress came back with their drinks. After she had set down his beer (from a Tir micro brewery) and Owen's bottled water, they put in their lunch orders. As she left Owen said "Amigo, I ask you to commit to nothing until I have laid out the entire situation. Then we will agree on what to do next."
Owen then proceeded to explain all that had happened. How he had robbed the Humanis policlub, stolen Hartley's credstick, given it to the friend who had it sent back. Pablo was delighted with the early part of the story, calling the policlubbers "beasts" and admiring the simplicity and audacity of Owen's theft. Owen went on to explain how his friend had been tortured to death and that although Owen had killed some of his ambushers, others had gotten away. Cortez was sympathetic about the death of Owen's friend but had little but contempt for the ambushers who "deserved more punishment than they got." Similarly, he felt nothing over the death of Hartley or the loss of life in the raid on the house. However, he agreed that there was a lot more than coincidence at work.
After their meal arrived Owen continued with the fact that, through another associate he had learned of the code on the credstick. He then outlined his deductions on the possible meaning of the code and produced the copy of Dunkelzahn's will which he had picked up earlier in the library. Pablo listened intently to this portion of the story, making mental notes for later discussion. Finally Owen outlined what he was hoping for from the professor.
"I need someone who is an outstanding decker because I have to assume that whoever is behind the death of my friend, the attack on me, the death of Hartley and the raid on the Humanis house, has ordered everyone associated with the stick terminated. I don't know how many kick squads are involved but I assume the resources backing the other side are substantial. That means that I need someone who can work in the matrix without fanfare or trace and doesn't need to turn around later and boast about what he's done. I need someone who is very, very good, who can look at what the matrix may have on Humanis or other human supremacists groups so I can start to put some names with the letters HP, HG, C and X. If I can get enough of those names I hope to be able to tie them together and discover the victim in the photo."
After several minutes of concentrated thought, Pablo asked: "But if I deck for you and find all of this data, what will you be doing?"
"I will be the pawn in the center of the board that Black will be trying to take. In order for my plan to work the opponent must be constantly baited to goad him into committing his pieces to the capture of an obvious attacker. While this happens White will be establishing position and momentum for its discovered attack, its true attack which will be through the matrix." Pablo grinned at the chess analogy. "Of course, even a pawn can take an opponent's pieces and the deeper into enemy territory he goes the more dangerous he becomes. I am not above grabbing the odd knight in the course of an attack."
Since Owen's few victories over the professor had involved exactly this sort of strategy, Pablo gave a rueful laugh to Owen's waggling eyebrows. Then he got down to cases: "First of all let me say that what you ask sounds doable. I am frankly intriqued. I believe that I have the ability to do what you want in the way you want it done. However, I have some questions: on a practical level, how are we to communicate? It would seem if you are drawing the enemy's fire any contact between the two of us would endanger me."
Owen then explained a number of options which he planned to use. Physical and virtual dead letter drops where pickups could be made without contact, a system of codes or "flags" which would indicate the safety of the drop system. 'Cutouts' who would create a system of transfers while keeping the two communicators separate and safe. He quickly explained the principles that spies and agents had used since the days of Alexander the Great. He held off on the details of the precise system he would use to handle Pablo's other questions.
Satisfied on issues of physical safety Pablo touched on Matrix matters.
"You are the expert on the dangers in the net, but the entire concept here is subtlety." Owen said. "Knowing what the enemy defends is of greater use than overcoming those defenses at the price of a major piece. I, very shortly, will have a tough time sitting in the library to do research. Someone who could set up smart frames to pull current events data might serve my needs better than an icebreaker who leaves footprints and crushed ice every time he looks for paydata. Make no mistake, if the opposition learns that you are interested in what they want to hide, they will kill you simply because it is easier than worrying about you. I will understand if you decline to participate."
"No my friend, I want in. But on that subject, you know, you have not given this briefing properly." When Owen raised an eyebrow the professor continued "Shouldn't you have given me part of the data, then gotten my commitment to the run and then told me the rest? It is the way it is done on trideo."
Owen laughed with some bitterness "There are worlds of difference between what shadowruns are like on trideo and what they are like in the world, Pablo. But yes, that is how briefings often go. What trideo doesn't show is that most of the time the details after commitment make the run entirely different than its first description, that more often than that the entire briefing is a tissue of lies to place expendable assets where they can be expended. Shadowrunners, like covert operatives throughout history, are skilled people used as meaningless objects because they are deniable and briefings usually reflect that."
Seeing that he had touched a nerve, Pablo changed the subject. "Since I am precluded by my oath from getting help from the student body, I will assume that my expense money will be relatively small. Such a pity."
As Owen snapped out of his reverie he smiled at Cortez's weak attempt at levity. Then he said, "You will find in the vest pocket of your jacket a certified credstick for 10,000 nuyen." When Pablo snapped his hand up to check, Owen hid his smile.
"You...You are a mage?" asked the surprised professor as he stared.
Owen shook his head and said "I placed it there earlier figuring I could retrieve it if you turned me down. It is expense money. I have no idea what the dragon's Paris property is worth but I could offer you a portion of what I might realize or I can pay you a flat fee agreed upon up front."
"My greed wants a portion of the Dragon's hoard, but my better sense tells me to take the flat fee." Pablo said with a smile. "I will do as you ask for four more sticks exactly like this one. 50,000 nuyen would be a very comfortable figure."
Owen knew enough to take yes for an answer. He proceeded to layout the system the two would use for communications. After 20 minutes the they had a workable system for both regular and emergency contact that involved matrix, telecom and physical dead drops. When Pablo Cortez left the restaurant to return to the university, Owen remained behind. The less they were seen together, the safer the professor would be.

After making plans with the professor, Owen decided that he needed to be prepared for any eventually. To that end, when he left the restaurant he walked several blocks to "Smilin' Sonny's Surplus." As he toured the aisles he filled his shopping basket with camping supplies. A back pack, fatigue pants, mess kit, etc. Noticing the proliferation of flaming sword decals, Owen began formulating a plan. He moved over to the bigger ticket items, like an armored leather duster, and started getting attention from a salesman.
"That coat will offer you armor protection as good or better than the cloak you've got on" he said. "Protect you better from red rain, its easier to work in and more stylish, too."
When Owen only muttered a response the balding norm male walked over. "Go ahead try it on. I'm "smilin" Sonny Sousa and I'll make you a helluva deal."
Owen tried on the coat, shrugged his shoulders twice and tossed the duster in the basket. "Smilin" Sonny recognized a customer with cred to burn and decided that this merited his personal attention. As Owen continued up the aisle at each stop Sonny suggested the better quality (and higher priced alternative). "If you need a tent, this unit costs a bit more, but its self erecting, weighs less and collapses smaller." and "You really should go with our top of the line in sleeping bags. The thinsulate padding for this item gives it the same comfort rating but weighs less than 1/2 as much as that one and gives you a smaller roll to lug around." At each stop Owen took the salesman's advice without ever looking at the price tags. Seeing nuyen dance before his eyes, Sonny actually unshopped the items that Owen had selected earlier, insisting that "You want quality." When he suggested that "These fatigues are tough enough for a Troll." Owen snorted and gave him a dirty look saying "In that case, I'll stick with the other."
Sonny recognized that he had offended a customer who was looking more and more like a golden goose, and might be a fellow believer in the superiority of "pure" humanity. "Well, well, well, lets make sure you have everything you need for your camping trip."
"It's more of a hunting trip, actually." Owen said in a tone of dark menace.
"Oh, going for big game?"
"Maybe....maybe big and tough enough for those fatigues" Owen said significantly.
The salesman nodded slowly and said "Perhaps you'd like to come down to the basement and take a look at some other equipment that would be useful for....hunting. Just toss your purchases into the backpack and bring it with you. We might have some other goodies to throw in there."
Owen accompanied Sonny down a long dark flight of stairs in the back of the store. "This part of the store isn't open to the general public, but we sometimes get 'special customers' with special needs. How are you fixed for hardware?" Sonny asked.
"What do you have?"
"Hell, brother, I've got it all." he said pushing through a revolving section of shelving into a huge room whose walls were lined with ordinance. "I've got knives, shock gloves, heavy pistols and holdouts. You want SMG's? Light machine guns? Heavy Machine guns? Rockets? Mortars? Grenades? Son, if I ain't got it you don't need it."
Owen grabbed a pair of Ares Predator II's and 2 boxes of APDS ammo. "Excellent choice, sir" said the salesman. "Stopping power like nobody's business. I'll throw in a cleaning kit with those, but you'll probably want to upgrade the holsters-how about some Lamar quick-draws?"
"Yeah, that's fine", Owen said as he studied the grenade selections. "You have any CN/DM 3 gas grenades?" he asked.
"Well, we don't get much call for them, sir. Most customers prefer high explosive or fragmentation."
"Yeah, but they've both got drawbacks. Injured bystanders, structure damage, incomplete kills. The trah...er.. uh.. target that you leave wounded comes back with metal replacement parts gunning for you. Give me some puke&tear gas and a mask, I'll make absolutely sure of the target."
"Let me see what I have in the back" A few minutes later, Sonny reappeared beaming. "You're in luck. I've only got 1/2 a dozen grens left but, I've also got this," holding up what looked like a small fire extinguisher. "Its the same formula as the grenades, pressurized and concentrated. Enough in this tank for an entire office building. Hook it up to an air handler, there won't be a dry eye in the house. A steal at 400 nuyen."
"Yeah, I'll l take it."
"Right, that's 400 for the canister, I can let you have the grenades for 40 apiece, the camping gear and coat came to about 2K and...."
Owen tossed the salesman a certified stick with 10K nuyen on it and said "Just let me know when this runs out."
"YES SIR" said the thrilled salesman "Can I interest you in some heavy firepower today?"
"No, but I'll keep looking."
"Absolutely, friend. Take all the time you need. Would you like one of our new Mark X rebreather units? Not a mask on the market can touch it. Perfect with the gas you've selected. I'll throw in a pair of breathe-rite nose filters, for when you need subtlety, too."
After trying on the mask, Owen said, "Ok, I'll take this. You wouldn't have anyplace where I could site in the Predators do you?"
"Of course, of course, step this way."
On the way through the basement to the sandbagged area set up as a range, Owen picked up several knives. He was not at all surprised when he saw that the targets at the far end of the range were all cutouts of Metahumans. He smiled for Sousa's benefit and, using both guns, immediately blasted the points off all of the elves' ears and the horns off the troll's head.
"NICE shootin! You wired?" asked the salesman.
"Naw, just inspired by the targets." said Glendower
Owen then proceeded to launch 8 knives of different shapes and sizes in the span of a few seconds. When Sousa looked down the range he found his ork and dwarf targets each had knife hilts protruding from eyes, throat and groin.
"DREK! That's unbe-Fraggin-lievable! Brother, you are an artist. I guess I can call you brother since you seem to have your head on straight about the proper use for Meta-animals. But really, c'mon, you got be either chromed to the hilt or carrying a drekload of wetware."
"Nope. No metal in the meat and I am definitely no vatjob. (Truth is, medicos scare the drek out of me). I'm just a natural human and that's enough."
"Amen, brother. So, what chapter of Humanis are you affiliated with."
Feigning embarrassment, Owen stammered, "Well...see...I'm kind of new in town and I had an appointment to see some people on 16th street, but then they had the fire and that guy Hartley croaked so......"
"So you are a believer without an affiliation, eh? Well, don't worry about it. I can fix you up with some people I know."
"Really? Hey that would be great!" Glendower said, demonstrating enthusiasm for the first time. "You know Hartley was going to set it up for me. I met him once and...."
"Oh, yeah, yeah, Jerome was a great guy for such a four-eyed pipsqueak.'Course I liked him because we shared that 'follicle challenged' label." Sousa said grinning as he pointed to his thinning dome.
Owen looked perplexedly at the salesman for a few seconds "Are we talking about the same guy? Jerome Hartley? The guy I met was 6 foot, in pretty good shape for a middle aged guy, no glasses and a full head of jet black hair."
Sousa nodded and winking said "Can't be too careful."
"Oh, yeah, I see what you mean."
"So you were joining the 16th street chapter, eh? Not a real lucky group, but then northside's chapter isn't much luckier. All three of their senior tribunal bought it last week in a car crash."
"Gee, that's a shame. What happened?"
"Driver caught a stray round from a gang fight near the highway and wrapped the car around a tree. Gondorf, Williams and Lang were killed instantly."
"Gondorf, Gondorf why is that name familiar to me?" asked Owen "What was his first name?"
"Henry. But I don't know how you'd know him." said Sousa as he looked suspiciously at Owen.
"Doesn't ring a bell.....the guy I knew was called something else.......I can't remember what. Well, it doesn't matter. You got any light pistols, good concealability for a backup?"
Smelling money again Sousa slipped back into pitchman mode. "Yes, Yes indeed. We've got Tiffani's Self Defender, Fichetti's Executive Action, Morrisey's Elan, the Walther PB-120..."
"Walter! That was his name. Walter I-something Gondorf. W.I.G. they called him wiggy.....Sorry, I just hate it when I can't remember names. Lets see the Walther."
Owen emptied a clip cutting the head off the troll target. "I'll take it, and give me a couple of boxes of ammo. Explosive if you've got it."
"You know I've got it, brother. Say, how about an Ingram SuperMach 100? Just got them in, 60 round high density clip, 6 round burst, pretty sweet..."
"Ah, I don't know. Rippers like that take all the fun out of the hunt. I was thinking of maybe a Ruger 100. You know, bullpup config with removable barrel makes it real easy to throw in a bag."
"The Ruger's ok, I guess, but it doesn't have much flexibility. Now you take the AUG-CSL. You've got a bullpup with removable barrels, but you can turn it into a Submachine gun, a carbine, a assault rifle or a light machine gun. Very adaptable and I've got them in stock...I'll throw in a cleaning kit, a couple boxes of APDS ammo and a couple of silencers for the pistols."
"C'mon you want the best, don't you? I know it's expensive, but since when does that bother you? You're really buying 4 weapons in one. Look, I'll also throw in a dozen MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) and a couple of boxes of Power Bars, all the ammo you picked up so far and..... a dozen Flash grenades?"
"Make that stun grenades and you've got a deal."
"Done!" As Sonny began to gather Owen's purchases he was doing some mental calculation. By the time he had all of Owen's purchases packed (surprisingly getting everything into the backpack from upstairs and a shoulder satchel) he was frowning. "I'm sorry to say we've gone a little over the amount on the stick, brother."
"How much?"
"Well, I make it 10,750 but if you want to check my math..."
"No problem. I've got cash. I'm going to need it to get me some wheels."
"Wheels? Do you need wheels? Brother, there is no need to shop anyplace but smilin Sonny's. I got wheels out back! Tell me what you want and we will make it happen."

As Owen and Sonny stepped out into the fenced off yard behind the store they immediately noticed 6 teenaged norm males tearing the clothes of a teenaged ork female. The boys were standing around in a circle with the girl in the center trying vainly to defend herself as they tore her clothes away. Clearly terrified, and pleading for help, the girl was soon pinned to the ground as her bra and panties were torn away by the screaming youths. Before the actual rape could begin, Owen walked over and calmly pushed the 1st rapist off the girl with his foot. Although alarmed, Sonny said nothing, leveling the Ingram that he was still trying to sell at this customer, this "brother" who was preventing Sonny Jr. and his buddies from having some fun with a trog slitch.
The pack quickly shifted away from the girl to confront the threat of this outsider. As Sonny Jr. started to snarl out his defiance, Owen dramatically pointed at him and in 'Command voice' said "SHUT UP!" He then spun on another member of the gang who was reaching into a pocket. "Whatever you're going for, you better pray it turns into a sandwich because you're going to have to eat it." This was delivered with such cold blooded precision that the whole group froze. Owen then tossed Sonny Jr. a wad of cash and said "If you need some fun, here's 300 nuyen in scrip. Get a real woman. Don't demean yourself with this." The last was delivered with a contemptuous look at the cowering girl.
Recognizing that this stranger was not somebody to mess with and that they now had enough cash for some real fun, the pack abandoned their rape plans and quickly disappeared. Owen turned to Sonny and said "Sorry about that. Know it wasn't my place. But young people are the future of the world and it won't do to have them develop a taste for this" gesturing at the girl, "when they're young. Let'em stick to their own kind untill they're old enough to know what their choices mean." Turning to the girl he hissed "You make a single sound and I'll make God weep to see what I've done to you."
Sonny then said "Glad you explained yourself, brother. I thought for a minute we were goin to have a problem, but I see what you mean about young people getting started on the wrong path. I hope you don't have any objections if an adult gets some." This last was delivered while leering at the young girl as he rubbed his crotch.
"Hey, it's a man's own business if he wants animals. You can also frag your dog for all of the difference it makes to me, but you did say something about selling me some wheels...."
"Ha..Ha.. right...right. Of course, I wouldn't really dirty myself either but, like I said before, you can't be too careful. Now let's get back to business. You lookin' for a car or a scooter?"
"A Scooter, but I'm sick of those rice grinders that you have to ride with your hoop in the air. I don't suppose you've got anything that can move without making me feel like I'm waiting for the proctologist....do you?
"Brother, I've got the bike for you....." Before he could begin his pitch Owen said "Wait a minute. Do you have any restraints? I just had a thought. If I keep this alive, I might be able to use it for bait. I'll probably also need some clothes for it or I'll never get it back to my flop." Turning back to the girl Owen said "FOLLOW ME". The terrified girl said nothing but scrambled after her cruel rescuer. In the shop he threw her a sweat shirt, a pair of pants and a fatigue jacket. After she obediently donned the clothes he put plastic binders on her hands and she followed him back outside like a zombie.
While Owen was in the shop, Sonny was arranging his display of motorcycles. When his customer returned with the docile ork girl in tow Sousa gave her another look. 5-10, brown hair, muscular, but not a bad figure, pretty face (just the tips of those tusks showing)....Actually wouldn't mind a roll with her he thought not much chance of that now though...don't want to lose this guy as a customer....he certainly tamed her quick. He then began his spiel for the bike.
"Brother, this is the bike you want. BMW Blitzen 2025. Three firmpoints, but this is a true runners bike so its got a grenade launcher and a flame-thrower rear and I can mount an SMG forward. This bike...."
"I know the machine, Sonny. What's the mileage?"
"68K but I guarantee the overhaul has the engine cherry."
"Naw, I like the cycle but it's a little out of date and the mileage is too high. I'll keep looking, but what were you asking for it, anyway ?"
"18K firm, it's a classic."
"Riiiight, got anything else?"
"Look, I know scooters and believe me this is the hog you want. What's the problem?"
"What's the problem? I'll tell you what's the problem. A, I don't want a flame-thrower, an explosive round or a spell hits the tank and I'm singing "great balls of fire". B, I don't want a grenade launcher, the damn things never stop pursuit and 1/2 the time they leave unexploded toys in the street for the kiddies. C, the rubber on this hog looks weak. D, no forward firing weapon means I'm trying to one hand a blaster while steering, shifting and scratchin' myself. E, for another 7K I can get this year's model, totally cherry, with 68K fewer miles on it."
"Ok, Ok, look. We can make this work. You don't want a flame-thrower, no problem. I'll replace the napalm tank with the gas canister you just bought. Instant tear gas smoke screen. You don't want a grenade launcher, ok, how about we replace the grenades with a load of 2 inch steel calthrops?"
"You've got calthrops?"
"Absolutely. I've got 'em in 1/4, 1/2, 1 inch, 2 inch. I've got 'em by the pound. Conversion take 10 minutes, tops. Instead of dropping noisy bangs behind you, same mechanism spreads tire killers all over the road. You said the rubber looks weak, I'll replace the tires with runflat foam fills. Never have to worry about your tires being shot out again. You say no forward firing weapon, ok, I'll install the Ingram SuperMach, no charge for installation or weapon and I'll throw in 3 clips."
Owen thought for several moments and then said "I still don't know, the bike's seen a lot of road."
"Look, you give me 30 minutes I'll have new tires and a whole new weapons package installed. You can drive it away today. I know it's broken in, but a new 2050 is going to cost you a lot more when you start installing weapons systems, changing tires and setting up a security system."
"This bike has a security system?"
"Absolutely. My own design. A custom system guaranteed to keep the bike from being touched when you're not around. Brother, believe me, this is the bike you want. This is the bike for you." Sonny then let the machine talk for itself as he started it up and let Owen listen to the big engine purr.
"All right, all right, 18K after the modifications. Fix it up. I'll take it.
"You won't regret it my man. While I'm putting this together why don't you wander through the store again. Maybe you'll see something else you like."
"Hey, Sonny, give me a break will you? I'm about to hand you 18,750 nuyen on top of 10K I gave you 15 minutes ago. Let's just enjoy the afternoon without any more shopping, ok?"
As Sonny modified the bike, he chatted about his contacts with the Humanis policlub. Owen had placed the girl over by the fence and in her nearly catatonic state she simply stayed where she was put. He listened carefully to the tech as he handed him tools because he was very interested in any leads he could get on the secret organization. Seeing that he had an interested listener, Sonny boasted of his contacts, implying that he worked with the Flaming sword and was well connected with Alamos 20K. Although Owen took these claims with a grain of salt, he continued listening in the hope that he might glean some valuable nugget about these organizations from the mounds of drek the salesman was slinging. Eventually the subject turned to the security system for the bike and while absorbing all of the technical specs, Owen considered what to do with the girl.
I sure as hell can't leave the poor kid here, but DREK, where the hell can I take her? I'm about to play Johnny Target for who knows how many kick squads and now I'm taking along guests? I don't even know where I'm going to spend the night. Damn! She's so terrified it looks like her brain has vapor lock. I probably helped get her to that state but if those slots thought she was being protected, it would have been a blood bath. DREK, DREK, DREK!
"....that about does it. You use this system and anybody touches your scooter when you ain't around takes enough juice to light up an office building. 10 seconds later you're reset and ready to fry again. Now in the matter of payment..."
Owen paid the merchant, put his purchases and the girl on the back of the bike and with a quick farewell rode off. He did not go very far, however as several block away he stopped at his car and retrieved a bag full of burglary tools. He also ran his bug detector over the bike and found 2 active and 1 passive homing devices that Sonny had neglected to mention. He took a few minutes to remove them and place them on different delivery vehicles. He then reprogrammed the security codes before riding off.

Owen headed to what used to be called a red light district. Stopping at the Stuffer Shack's drive-thru he ordered a sack of fast food and rode to the Hotel Belvedere. An old hotel, gone to seed, the place was deteriorating as fast as the neighborhood. It had once been a hotel in the "Grand" tradition but as the neighborhood became notorious for joy boys and joy girls the hotel had begun catering to the available clientele. It was now the kind of place that didn't bat an eye at who, how many or what you took to your room as long as your credstick worked.
Despite the fact that it was mid afternoon and Owen already had a "date", he was propositioned three times in the lobby. Ignoring the offers, he used a certified stick to pay for 48 hours and signed in as Mr.& Mrs. Occupied. The clerk didn't even blink when he read the card and asked no questions about the handcuffed zombie teenager who must be Mrs. Occupied.
Owen got to the room and began his security sweep in the bathroom. When he was sure the room was clean, he cut the binders on the girls hands and told her to undress and shower. Like a robot, she began removing her clothes before he had even left the room. Shaking his head he checked the rest of the room and wedged the doors. After 20 minutes he knocked on the bathroom door.
"Miss?....Miss?....could you please come out, miss?" he asked in as gentle a voice as he could. The girl opened the door without dressing. Stopping her at the door he quietly said, "It would probably be more appropriate if you dressed first, miss. I know I scared you earlier but I promise I won't hurt you." When she glanced up and saw a gentle smile on his face, she completely broke down. As she stood there sobbing Owen felt he had no option but to hold her in a protective hug. The girl collapsed in his arms.
Two hours later she awoke to find herself under the blankets in a warm bed. What an awful dream was her first thought. As she looked around and saw the dingy room and heard someone moving around in the bathroom she realized it was not a dream.
"Ah, you're awake. Excellent. Are you hungry? Would you like to eat something? With the stress of this afternoon your probably in need of some fuel. I'll set it up. Oh...your clothes are on the back of the chair."
Owen turned and began reheating packages in the small flash oven. "By the way, I'm Owen Glendower. What's your name?" he asked over his shoulder as he afforded her what privacy he could.
"Barbara....Barbara Thompson." the girl said as she quickly jumped into her clothes.
"Well, Barbara, its very nice to meet you. I'd like to apologize for the rough treatment I gave you earlier. It was viscous and cruel, I know, but I needed to get you away from that filth and the only way I could do it was to be more vile than they were. Sort of the biggest dog kind of thing. I really am sorry I had to scare you. I hope you won't hold it against me. Now we have soy burgers, soy lo mein and Fries hot from the flash oven, if you are, as I suspect, a normal teenager, but we also have power bars, trail mix and MREs if you were a member of the armed services and are anxious for a taste of SGT. Mom's home cooking. Wait...wait. Was that a smile? Oh, you must be feeling better if you can smile at humor that weak. You go ahead and dig in. I've got to do some work on my pocket secretary here but you go ahead." Owen began coding his transmission to Pablo of the information he had gathered and indicated Henry Gondorf as a possibility for the HG in the message. He asked Pablo to research Gondorf's life and death.
The girl whose eyes had gotten big at the site of all of the food sat at the small table across from Owen and made a tentative grab for a fry. When he did not notice or object she took a burger and began wolfing it down. Owen quietly said without looking up "I haven't practiced the hiemlich maneuver in a while so you might want to do some chewing to avoid choking." When she looked at him in alarm she saw he was smiling but not looking at her. She didn't start eating again until he looked up and said. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't kid you when you're obviously hungry, but I swear there is no rush. Enjoy yourself."
This last license reassured Barbara who took a shake, fries, noodles and power bar and ate like she hadn't had a good meal in days. On her third burger she began to get self conscious and asked "Aren't you eating?"
"I'm not very hungry, but its probably rude of me not to join you. I'll just have some lo-mein" The two ate in companionable silence for several minutes. When they both were finished Owen began questioning the young girl.
"Well, I know today has been a very difficult time for you, but if you're up to it, I'd like to learn how you came to be in the yard behind 'Smilin' Sonny's Surplus. Just take your time and tell me what happened."
"I...I changed...I mean I didn't always look, you know, like this. I was normal and I had friends and...and a family and...." she started sobbing and Owen waited patiently and handed her a napkin to wipe her eyes. When she settled down she continued, "My sweet 16 party was three weeks ago and that was the night my life went to drek. See, I was popular, pretty, we live in a nice neighborhood. My dad's a systems analyst with Fuchi and my mom teaches grammar school. About the toughest thing I'd ever had to face was what to wear to the mall with my friends. Then I became this....this monster....and...."
"Please don't cry again." Owen said "It makes me sad and besides, we'll run out of napkins long before I figure out what's going on."
Barbara returned Owen's smile and bravely continued "Anyway, I started to change real fast. Mom and Dad took me to doctors and specialists but all they said was I was goblinizing. My clothes stopped fitting, my friends wouldn't talk to me and then my own family started looking at me weird. There were people in the neighborhood who wanted me out. We started getting com calls and I know it was because of me and nobody even cared that it wasn't my fault, I don't want to look like this...I'm not bad....I'm (sob)"
Owen let her cry for a few more minutes and when she settled down he took her hand and smiled encouragingly.
"Sorry...(sniff)...this is all just so, you know, bizarre. There's, like, no rules or anything. I don't know what comes next or what I'm supposed to do or drek. I mean my own family stopped loving me and I felt so bad......I... yesterday I ran away. I hid out at this guy's house. I think he deals chips or something but there are always people in and out of there so I crashed and nobody bothered me but when I woke up my credstick was gone and all I had was some coins and a few nuyen in scrip and I just thought I'd come to the city and there would be others like me and they'd at least treat me like a person, you know, and I'd like, you know, just blend in, but then I got here on the train and there were some other kids at the station but I got like, bad vibes, like, they must have wanted something 'cause, I don't know, they just didn't feel honest, you know? So then I took a bus, but I really didn't, you know, have anyplace particular that I wanted to go so I, like, just stayed on it and then the driver said end of the line and when I got off those guys were there. At first they were, you know, nice and like, they weren't mean and they didn't even think I was ugly and you have no idea what its like when you're, you know, popular one minute and then just like totally not the next minute so I kind of talked with them but I wasn't really flirting or anything because I'm not that kind and then they were protecting me they said and they were joking and, you know, they just made me feel like a person and not a freak and then they were going to get the car to give me a ride to wherever I wanted to go and then they just became totally animals and awful and they said terrible things and told me what they were going to do before they killed me and I was so scared and then you saved me but you were even, like, scarier then they were and I guess my brain just froze up because then I woke up in bed and I was, like, naked. Um...did we like...you know....do anything?"
"No. We didn't. You passed out after your shower so I put you to bed. Not that I wasn't tempted at finding a beautiful naked woman in my arms, but it wouldn't have been fair to take advantage of you, and finding out that your only 16, which I never would have guessed, I'm glad I was able to control my baser urges."
Owen knew he was treading on thin ice, flattering a young girl who was desperate for attention and trying to cope with a changing world, but he also knew that after the terror she had experienced recently she needed someone to reaffirm her value and desirability. Her blushes and shy smile told him he had accomplished the latter, and now he had to try to scare her home.
"Now, lets be honest about something, ok? Didn't a part of your brain say that if you could get to the city you could become one of those dashing shadowrunners like on the trideo? C'mon, you knew you were going to need money, and you avoided the recruiters for the joy houses at the station, so you must have had some thoughts along those lines, am I right?
"Wellll, yeah, I guess I was kind of hoping that I could do that." the girl admitted.
"Ok, see I can help you with that. Now whether you're a mage, a decker, a rigger or a samurai, the first thing you need is a gun. You don't have any cash, right?" When the girl sadly shook her head, Owen said "Not a problem. I happen to know a troll who I can hook you up with. He's been known to give new runners a start. Now, the way it works is, he and his wife are...well let's say they're liberated. If you agree to spend a couple of nights with them, they'll loan you a nice handgun, plus ammo...now, of course, its only a loan, but, they'll also give you a target. (Bubba and Bertha, in addition to being very broad minded sexually, have always got somebody they want killed.) You eliminate their problem and they let you keep the gun. Of course, I'm talking about a pistol here. If you wanted a submachine gun or something bigger, they'd want to spend more time with you and maybe have you wear one of those harnesses so they could make some simsense chips from your experience, but you don't look like you're really into S&M." Seeing the effect his speech was having on the 16 year old Owen continued. "Bubba can also become your fixer, you know, the guy who sets up work for you. If he or Bertha really...um...like you, they'll even take their fee in... trade. Of course, there are other options. One option where your education, background and looks don't have anything to do with your employability involves something entirely in the...entertainment field. I mean, you may not remember, but this very hotel thrives on....personal entertainers, and if that appeals to you, there are some people I could talk to. I don't know those people as well because... well... because they're just not very pleasant. I'd also say that's a tougher line of work, because you've got a limited future, zero backup and there are, as you found out today, some unpleasant characters out there waiting for innocent young girls. The thing is, you need to make some choices soon because just wandering around makes you a prime target for organleggers.....or worse." Owen looked earnestly at the now thoroughly frightened girl and said quietly "That's the reality of the streets. It's how runners get started. They're people who don't flinch at anything because they have no choices, no options. They do whatever they're paid to because they want to survive. Now, you can throw yourself into that world, or, you can give your family another chance. I'd be willing to bet that they didn't stop loving you, but even if they did, even if the last 16 years meant nothing and they can't see past what you look like, you've got a hell of a lot better chance to stay alive until your 17th birthday with them than you do on the street."
"But, I thought maybe....I mean, couldn't we...you know....couldn't I just stay with you? I mean, I don't have much experience but I'd... you know, do anything ...."
"Kid, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't tempted, but, I'm running for my life as we speak. A job that I thought was over has come back to bite me in the hoop. My best friend was tortured to death 24 hours ago and there are termination crews all over the city trying to find me. Much as I'd like the company you'd get us both killed way too fast."
"Oh, is there anything I could do to help? If you need money, I could...I mean my parents....."
"Are probably worried sick about you at this moment. Look, kid, Thanks for the offer. I mean it. You're really quite a woman." smiling as he said this got him another blush. "But right now I need to move. I've been in this dump too long. I can give you a ride to your home in the suburbs or you can stay in this room until they send up somebody to throw you out. Your choice."
"I'd like to go home please." the girl said in a very small voice.
"Best decision you've made all day, Barbara Thompson. Let me grab my gear and we can go."
Stuffing his beloved cloak into his backpack Owen wore the armored duster, it being more practical for the bike then the long cloak. (Of course, first he transferred several vital items from the cloak's to the duster's pockets and put on his gunbelt.) Warning the girl to stay close, keep her head down and avoid eye contact, Owen put on his lowlight glasses and left the room. He drew one of the heavy pistols before leaving the elevator, not because he expected a cleaning squad in the lobby, but because the various low lives who frequented the hotel and the area needed to see him as a predator rather than prey. He had no problem getting to the bike.

"I'm telling you Sandy, the guy's a ghost. The only thing we found in his doss was the bag and the flute. Other than that it was immaculate and empty in that Japanese way. Reading material was mostly on paper and in original languages. Which means he either he speaks Jap, Chinese, Korean, Russian, French, Spanish and German or he uses those skill chips. No booze, no recreational drugs, no tobacco, no simsense, no entertainment of any kind except for the bamboo flute. No photos of any kind, no momentos, no personal items. Clothes were ok but nothing flash. Like the guy worked really hard to be completely nondescript. Telecom's memory had an elaborate dump program which Spider says was a deadman rig. He calls in and doesn't issue failsafe code, after a certain amount of time the thing eats itself. Scramble and overwrite all memory. It then disables itself so any incoming calls get an out of service message." Iron Mike knew his business and when he gave a report there were no follow up questions.
He continued,"There wasn't too much furniture, but what there was, we did a complete search on and got zip for our trouble. Bag has a certified credstick with 4K nuyen on it, Predator 2 with 2 clips, change of clothes, some slap patches, some candy bars and a personal stick for David Copperfield with an account of 2,345 nuyen. Nice typical bugout bag. Apartment rented 4 months ago to Mr. Soren Kierkegaard. Paid through the next two months. Neighbors wouldn't know him if he was lyin' dead in front of 'em."
"Damn, that's not much." muttered Sandy.
"I got something" piped up the huge black norm female samurai.
"Well, spill it, Gretchen." commanded Sandy.
"The cat has been trying to interest our boy in a run, any run for a couple of weeks." Gretchen revealed.
"Really? And how does Mr. Felix know Glendower-Copperfield-Kierkegaard ?
"Seems like about a month ago our boy Owen took some gems from a city official who wasn't supposed to have them. Seems like he got past security set up by Brinks Limited, you know the group that doesn't use any computer records? Everything on paper kept in different safes and vaults. Which means that little Owen pulled a traceless job at a security company to get the data to pull a traceless run against a slot who cannot even complain about it. Mr. Felix figured this out when he got wind that some jewelry from the plex had been unloaded in Denver by a local old time fence. Mr. F pressured the fence to give up Owen. When he figured out what had been done he was very impressed, not only at the smoothness' of the job, but at the fact that Owen hadn't used it to make a name for himself. (I checked and the Humanis house on 16th also had security from BL.) Mr. Felix is hot for Owen, calls him a "class operator" but so far the catman has had no joy in seducing O into taking work from him."
"Does he know what the fragger looks like?"
"Not a clue."
"DREK! Anybody else got anything?"
"All negative" said Spider. "He's a lone wolf, sub-contracting for skills he doesn't have like decking. Which means he's either a warrior or a mage. Normally, I'd say he's way to subtle to be a street Sam, no offense intended all, but considering what happened to the Wetboys I don't think he's a spell slinger. Since the shadows are a limited community and eventually all of the players have heard of all of the other players I'd be surprised if he's even been in town more than 6 months. As to where he got his training....anybody's guess. It was certainly extensive. "
Spider continued, "There is also the possibility that he's been Mr. Johnson for other team's runs. He certainly has the strategic and tactical ability to set up jobs, however, I think this is unlikely given his recent history of hands-on work. Also, if you look at the precautions he's been taking you'll see the guy is more than a little paranoid. I'll keep looking for clues in the matrix, but I don't know how effective that will be given how much we don't know. Oh, I checked his phone records and he did call in to pick up messages early this morning, but he must have had some kind of subroutine set up on the telecom. In addition to setting off the self-distruct, his call lasted 4 seconds and 20 seconds later his unit made 20 call outs of 4 seconds each. I'm trying to trace them down but so far I've gotten numbers for Lone Star, Mitsuhama, Fuchi, and Aztechnology as well as the Governor's office and three answering services. It must have sent out some zipped files. It's probably a wild goose chase but I'll keep looking."
Slider then spoke up, addressing everything directly to the beautiful blonde leader. "I haven't been able to find anything about him magically from the apartment.," the ork shaman admitted. "It's almost like he had no attachment to the place or anything in it and he kept it disturbingly clean. Rat didn't like the place at all. I checked his clothes and his bugout bag but there was nothing there to trace him astrally. The flute is very old and has traces of its last dozen owners, so nothing is clear. I've left watchers all over the area in case he tries to get back to his doss, but I wonder if this wasn't just one of many safehouses where he could crash for a night and then move on. I'm sure that he wasn't a shaman and there were none of the usual indicators that he was hermetic, so I'd say we can rule out the idea he was a mage."
Sandy asked, "Anybody got anything to add? Ok. We are looking for a razor. Clever and well trained but he isn't a wire head or a wizard. Whether he's a physical adept, a vat job or highly chromed, we know he must be extremely fast and deadly. We've got three avenues to pursue: 1) History. Where did he get his training? Where did he work before he got to town? 2) Tendencies. Does he have a consistent method of operation? What kind of targets does he like? 3) Psychology. What will he do when chased? Where does he feel safe? Where will he go for help? Iron Mike and Gretchen will work on history. Spider you head up tendencies. Go-Go will do legwork at your direction. Slider and I will work on psychology." Slider didn't even try to hide his enthusiasm at this announcement. "Raxx I want you and your boys to find me the ork who worked the last job with him. I don't care what you do to get the fragger, but I want him alive, neh? He's the only one who can tell us what the target looks like. Ok, people lets get on it."

After an hour ride out to the suburbs, Barbara's return to her family was everything Owen hoped for. When they had pulled up into the driveway, Bobby, the younger brother, was in the front yard. His cries of "MOM! DAD! Come quick! It's Barb! SHE'S HOME! SHE'S HOME!! brought the entire family running. Forgetting sibling rivalries he launched himself into his sister's arms mumbling "You're home....You're home." as he hugged her. This was followed, as the rest of the family came out the front door, by tearful and clinging embraces from Mrs. Thompson who kept repeating "Thank God, thank God....we were so worried." and from Mr. Thompson who said nothing but brokedown and wept openly at his daughter's return. Barbara was completely overwhelmed.
That's a young lady who will remember that she is loved at home the next time she feels the world is lining up against her. Getting her away from those animals and back to her family may not make up for all of the evil I've done in my time, but it's a start.... and it sure does feel good. Owen thought as he witnessed the reunion.
While Mr. Thompson was hugging his daughter as though he'd never let go, Mrs. Thompson came over to Owen. "Please, park your motorcycle and come inside." she said, taking Owen's hand. "We'd like the opportunity to thank you properly for bringing Barbara home."
"Thank you ma'am, but I'm afraid that's not possible. I'm on the run from some very nasty characters and I need to keep moving. These individuals would not give a second thought to butchering this entire household, so for your sake as well as my own, I have to go. Your daughter is a special girl. Take care of her. HAVE A GOOD LIFE, KID". he shouted as he rode off. Sorry, Master Fuschard, but if the choices are engendering the bitter burden of an unpaid favor or risking that family's lives, I'll go with the burden.


Before pulling in to camp for the night in the park, Owen made a call to send an e-mail message to the professor. Because any encryption that a computer could generate another computer could eventually decode, Owen used an older and simpler system. The key to decoding the message entailed a sentence from either the King James Bible or the Annotated Shakespeare depending upon the number sequence which preceded the message. Any good human code breaker might eventually deduce the code system and the key books, but no computer would make the intuitive jump to start looking at those reference books. Owen's message asking the professor about Henry Gondorf was as secure as he could make it.
Owen then made another call to a different number and checked an electronic bulletin board's discussion about antique watches. Seeing that there was no message about "fobs of value" he knew the professor had no news for him yet. He then rode into the park and finding what he hoped would be a secluded enough place, set up camp for the night.
As he settled in for the night, Owen realized he was faced with a crossroad. Four months earlier he had abandoned lethal firearms as a new start with a new identity in a new city gave him a chance to escape his masters from the compound. He'd put aside 18 years of dedication and obedience, (the only family he had ever known from age 2 on), and nearly 3 years as a highly paid, elite assassin to follow a less violent path. Today he had purchased guns and displayed them as a symbol of intent. Tonight he was cleaning and loading them. Tomorrow he would probably have to use them.
Damn, he thought, it doesn't matter what I want or what I should have done with Hartley's stick. I'm a target. Prey. The hunt isn't over until I'm dead or the hunters are dead. I can't afford the luxury of knocking out my pursuit. I have to eliminate them. If I put them to sleep, it has to be permanent. I'm right back in the world I swore I was leaving.
As he lay there trying to blank the arguments out of his mind so that he could rest, a parade of images flashed through his mind. Other crossroads in his life.....
Age 4: "Stupid boy! If you want to eat you must be quieter. If I can hear you coming I will take your plate. Walk quiet as cat"....His first realization that here in the compound, love was conditional upon accomplishment....
Age 8: "But sensei, why must I waste my time learning other arts? If I concentrate on Karate and develop enough, won't I be good enough to beat an Aikido-ka or a Judo-ka?""Ha-ha-ha-ha will youoh brilliant one? Will you indeed?"....How the month of daily beatings by unfamiliar art forms that followed forced the realization that no art exists in a vacuum, that there was always room for more approaches, more techniques...
Age 10: The day the old gardener pulled the head off the rake exposing a blade and attacked him as his teachers stood by and watched "Kill him. Kill him or he will kill you."...The realization that his fondness for old Fred had not touched him as he ripped out the old man's throat....
Age 16: "Place the explosive so that it injures as many as possible. This exercise involves a school, the true test will involve a military base, but this is a live-fire drill."...His clinical detachment after the explosion, concentrating only Fuchard's critique of device placement.... Realizing that he was unaffected by the havoc he had caused, that he was becoming a kind of robot who killed on command....
Age 18: Slashed in a dozen places, his left side crushed, arm and shoulder dislocated, leg broken and bone shards sticking out, grinning like a maniac at the accomplishment of his quest. Defeat of a True form Mantid spirit in single combat. He was initiated!
The images flashed by faster and faster.... his first solo contract at age 20, leaving the compound grounds for the last time...the time he "cowboyed" 6 targets in 6 countries in 72 hours.... his fury when Anna had left him making him so blind with rage he had killed three of his fellow adepts with his bare hands.... until finally, the moment of Satori. Four months ago the years of Zazen had given him the moment of illumination. He found his connection to everything in the moment of detachment. In that single moment he had developed a conscience, questioned and rejected much of what he had "known" in his previous 23 years and in a real sense, been reborn. Even in the hell that his memories had become, the thought made him smile. Would Father Quinlan, the Jesuit who had started him on the path of meditation at age 17 ever believe that rather than helping him become a perfect marksman, Zen had made him a new man? Owen allowed himself a grim chuckle.
The wheel turns. I may not be a saint, or even a good man, yet, but I'm not the sociopath those bastards crafted. I shall do what I must do. Hell...I'd better get some sleep.

The old troll woman who had been Gitya's neighbor may have been physically imposing, but she was no match for Raxx and the Wall brothers. They had broken down her door, tied her to a chair and taken turns backhanding her each time she denied knowing where the orc samurai had gone. When her face was a solid mass of contusions Raxx lost interest and went to search for other clues while the brothers began breaking fingers, joint by joint. Unfortunately, while Brick was taking his turn, the poor woman had slipped into shock from her injuries. Because the orc assumed she was faking unconsciousness he did not stop the torture and by the time the brothers realized their mistake and tried to revive her she had passed away.
"Oh, Frag." said Stone in a hushed voice. "Raxx is going to be really cheesed off that we croaked the old slitch."
"Jeez, Stoney, don't tell 'em it wuz me wot done it. I don't tink he likes me anyhow. Dat little fellas a mean...."
Just then two voices speaking at the same time came into the room:
"Grandma, you left the front door open....
"You fraggers get anything yet....
From the direction of the bedroom the dwarf mercenary stomped into the room with hands on hips while at the same time a norm male carrying two armloads of groceries came in from the front door. While the two orcs froze guiltily, Raxx's wired reflexes kicked in and he drew his Colt Manhunter to cover the stranger in the room. His smartlink had the heavy pistol aimed right between the intruders eyes before he started to ask himself. Who the frag is this? 5-8 dark hair, dark eyes, looks middle eastern, carrying groceries...delivery boy?...too old...guy's got to be mid-thirties....did he say something about grandma?...maybe he's related to the old bat....maybe he knows where the trog went.
Having some experience, the norm very slowly lowered his parcels to the table and held his hands up. He did not demand to know who the intruders in his grandmother's apartment were or what they wanted. He knew that those who lived through situations like this were those who caused their captors the least grief. When he glanced around the room and saw the broken, bloody and lifeless body of his grandmother, all his calm evaporated. Grief, pain and fury battled for control of his mind. The only thing that prevented Raxx from blasting that mind all over the family room wall when the man moved toward the lifeless figure in the chair, was that he was hoping for another information source.
Unfortunately for Raxx, his anger at the orks for killing the old woman distracted him enough for the man to touch his lapel pin while moving towards the old woman's corpse. Immediately the room was filled with swirling, flashing lights as the chaotic world spell took effect. Amid the jangling discordant noise the dwarf heard the tinkling of broken glass as the mage jumped through the window onto the fire escape. "FRAG...he's a mage! Get the hell out before he tosses another spell in here", Raxx shouted as his wired reflexes launched him toward the door.
Brick and Stone, never quick thinkers to begin with, were absorbing these instructions when the fire elemental appeared in the room. Brick, still confused by the lights and noise, swung his hammer with all his might in the vain hope of smashing the elemental. Stone's skull, which received the full impact of the mighty (put poorly aimed) blow, shattered like an overripe melon. Brick had little time to realize or regret fatally wounding his brother as he was engulfed by the elemental and screamed in the excruciating agony of being burned alive.
Raxx was moving as fast as the muscle replacements in his legs would carry him. He'd played the game too long to even think about what had just happened. The only way to stay alive in situations like this was to let the animal take over and flee. Get out. Get away. Hide. Analyze later. Run NOW! He leaped down the stairs and when there was no back door, crashed through a first floor apartment door, barreled through the apartment and threw himself through a window at the rear of the building. He landed in the yard rolling and in an acrobatic move that needed to be seen to be believed, leaped to the top of a 6 foot fence that surrounded the yard. Scrambling over the fence he continued to run into the night at full speed, never suspecting the slight disturbance in the air behind him. When he caught a cab and headed back to the warehouse the Sandmen used as a headquarters he was unaware of any pursuit.

Master, it is done, all in the room are dead. One intruder fled very quickly.
"Yes, Lucifer. I am aware and have Sepi following him. Extinguish the room and then depart."
By your command.
al Kazar made his way down the fire escape to the street, brushing shards of broken glass from his clothing as he went. There was nothing for him to see back in the apartment. The old woman's spirit had departed and he did not want his last memory of her to be the sight of her empty shell. Although he wanted to grieve, or even give himself the relief of an act of fury, his studies of the occult affected the way his mind worked. Before he could give free reign to his emotions, he had to understand the danger. He had just been at gunpoint and he knew that meant someone was prepared to kill him.
But why? The attack on grandmother had not been simple street scum intent on taking an old woman's few posessions. The dwarf was lightning quick with the pistol and the fact that he had escaped Lucifer meant he had both the experience to recognize a magical attack and the physical ability to evade it. The orks looked like they had been torturing the old woman, which also didn't fit with the idea of a quick robbery. If they wanted something from her, what could it be? Part of an attack on me? Then why didn't the dwarf shoot when I first appeared. Could it have something to do with the missing samurai from next door? The ork, Gitya, whom grandma said all those strangers had asked about? Could these animals have been attempting to extract information?The more he thought about it the more plausible the explanation became. They probably had no idea who the old lady was related to. They clearly didn't recognize me or even know that I am a mage. Well, they will learn. I will make the dwarf suffer for what he did to you, Sofia, he thought,and I will also exact payment from whomever is the dwarf's employer.
The mage approached a beautiful black Saab "Dynamit" 776TI. When he got to the car he began speaking, seemingly to thin air. "Sarah, Sepi is following a dwarf, go and find him. You follow the dwarf and send Sepi back to me. Follow the dwarf until I call you and then remember where he is so you can guide me there."
The air elemental who had been guarding the car hesitated. Master, that small one is...unfocused
"If he refuses to come, say to him 'Balthazar'"
Yes, Master. The spirit said and vanished.
al Kazar climbed into the luxury automobile and told the autopilot, "Home". As the car pulled away from the curb a darting blue light entered the vehicle. Master, Master I was following the dwarf as you told me and she came and said go to you but I told her....
"Hush, small one, I wanted you here. Sarah will watch the dwarf. Now what did you see?"
The blue light formed a sphere which began to replay the observations of the dwarf. The mage noted with interest the dwarf's strength and agility and although he could not read aura second hand, he thought Looks like cyber legs or perhaps muscle replacement and wired reflexes. This is a shadowrunner rather than a street thug. He has also left the neighborhood, which confirms that this was no casual crime. I will have to prepare to punish this one. Let us see what Sarah discovers.
As the mage began laying plans for his vengeance the sky opened up and a downpour of fat heavy drops pelted the city. How appropriate, he thought as he returned to his home.
Upon arriving at his penthouse apartment, al Kazar summoned his ally spirit. In no mood for conversation, he told the spirit, who appearance was that of a Bedouin warrior of some 300 years earlier, "Naked Blade, I go to seek information that Sarah has gathered on an enemy. Guard my body until my return." The spirit said nothing but dipped his head in acknowledgement. The mage then left his body and traveled astrally at the speed of thought to the air elemental. When he arrived the spirit said:
Master, the short one is in there. When Sepi left I watched him change vehicles four times. He moved from cab to cab to bus to cab and finally came here. I did not follow more closely as there is a rat shaman within.
Very well, Sarah, you may go.
Looking over the neighborhood so that he would be sure to remember it he again summoned one of his watcher spirits.
Sepi, the dwarf that you watched earlier is in that structure. You are to wait here in hiding until the dwarf leaves this place and then follow him without being detected. You will do this until I command you to stop. You will remember every place the dwarf goes so you may show me later.
Yes, master, I understand, master, I can do it, master....
al Kazar nodded and returned to his body. He would have to include the shaman in his plans. There was much preparation to be done.

Noting the agitation of the dwarf when he first entered the warehouse, Iron Mike dispatched Gretchen to find Go Go and tell him to get the drones out, that something might be up. He told her to also get Spider out of the matrix and for the elf decker to head for the conference room. (Actually, when the warehouse had been a going concern, it had been a staff lunch room, but now that the Sandmen used this place as a base, it was their conference room.) Gretchen hated being interrupted from her analysis, hated being ordered to do things and hated that they were stuck with this dwarf troublemaker, but knew enough to trust the troll's instincts. Meanwhile, Mike called Sandy on his Comm link and told her that something was up to head for the conference room. The gorgeous blonde dropped everything and grabbing the ork shaman said "Something's up. Iron Mike wants a pow-wow. Move your hoop."
Sandy ignored Raxx's surprise at the team's quick reaction. "What happened? Where are your little playmates?" asked the team's leader.
The dwarf considered for a moment and then decided that honesty was the best policy in this situation. "We went looking for data on that Gitya slag. Tryin' ta find 'em. So, we started with one of his neighbors, old troll slitch. I figured a little pressure might loosen the tusker up so we worked on her a little when we're interrupted by this middle aged delivery boy. Only he ain't a delivery boy he's a fraggin mage. He's askin' for his grandma one minute, the next we got lights and bells and whistles. I saw it was some kind of distraction spell and I hear the window breaking so I figure he's a spell slinger and he's outta the room so I start beatin' feat. The orks are standin' there like there waitin' for the parade to start. Next I hear is one of em screamin', but by that time I was down the stairs and headed out the back. The mage must have fried their lardhoops. No great loss."
"So you came running back here. Leading the fragger back to my team?! the outraged Sandy yelled
"Don't get your panties in a twist," the dwarf responded. "I was shadowrunnin' when you were still in the sandbox. I know my way around. On the chance that there was pursuit I changed vehicles 1/2 a dozen times checking my tail. Not a trace."
"And if the mage sent a watcher after you?" asked the ork shaman. "A watcher wouldn't care how many transfers you made. It would still follow you back here."
"Aw, the mage didn't have that kind of time. I'm tellin' ya. He jumped out the window and two seconds later I jumped down the stairs. Don't you magic fraggers need line of sight? Well, he didn't see jack cause I was outta there."
"You stupid pygmy!" screamed Gretchen, "You risk our hoops on the guess that the mage didn't trail you..."
"Back off, breeder. I've had enough drek from....
"Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!" shouted Sandy. "Everybody just shut the frag up! Mike- defense"
"Go Go's putting the drone's up. Warehouse is on lockup, alarms outside of the offices are active."
"Thank God somebody's got some brains. First off, everybody grab a commlink and set it for 3A7. Ok, Gretchen- take the Barret for high cover-roof. Raxx take a load of fragmentation grenades and get into the rafters inside, over the main doors, tell Go Go so you don't set off anything while you're getting there. And Raxx, only frag grens, I don't want you burning this place down with incendiaries. Slider, I want some astral scouting, but don't waste too much juice. We may need major mojo and I don't want you outta gas come crunch time. Spider, you're reserve and guard for Slider's meat. All right, everybody, move!" Turning to Iron Mike she said "Quick work, big man, thanks. I miss anything?"
"Only my assignment" rumbled the troll.
"Hey, I know better. Take the minigun and get ready to do your stuff, babe. I gonna float till the drek comes down. You think we'll catch it?"
"Murphy's law"
When Slider began searching the astral space around the warehouse he was nearly too clever for his own good. Being a rat shaman his first thought was to search down and then out. If he had sent a watcher, he would have placed it as inconspicuously as possible which meant directly underfoot. Unfortunately for him, al Kazar's watcher, following it's orders to remain hidden, had been high above the warehouse when the shaman began his search. As Slider probed for a magical observer, Sepi retreated higher and higher above the warehouse to evade the magic user's detection. Because Slider was also trying to conserve his power, he failed to call up a spirit to help him, but relied on his own scouting of the astral. As a result it was only when al Kazar's orders "wait here" and "remain hidden" came into conflict that the ork found the magic surveillance. Sepi couldn't move any further away because it had been ordered to remain, but it had been ordered to remain hidden so it could not stay where it would be found. The conflict caused the spirit to expire, alerting its creator as it winked out of existence. Slider astral body "heard" the pop of Sepi's destruction. When he retreated to his meat body he relayed to the rest of the Sandmen:
"Heads up, everybody! There was some kind of watcher out there. I was able to destroy it but we gotta figure attack is imminent."
Back in his penthouse, al Kazar felt Sepi's destruction. No matter, he thought. I will deal with it in the morning.

When Owen awoke at dawn, it was still raining. He completed his morning exercise and meditation ritual and began packing his gear. He put his "shadow suit" and his weapons into the shoulder satchel, packing his narcojet, Taser and beloved cloak with his camping gear in the backpack. This done, he rode to the train station. Nearby he found one of the ubiquitous coffin hotels and used the communal shower facilities to prepare for the day. Armed and armored with everything from the satchel he rode back into the city, heading for Skater's old neighborhood. Riding through the rain slicked streets and the gray misery of the day he thought This weather's made for an ambush.
Owen spent the next three hours preparing. Although he didn't know how many enemies would show, he was sure that drawing them out would give Pablo more room to do his research undisturbed. He found a certain irony in using an area where he had been jumped to ambush others. He knew that if he could take out the magic users and the decker away from the hunters trying to kill him, Pablo might face less pressure. With his escape plan laid out he used a public telecom and plugged in Hartley's stick. Waiting 5 minutes, he then pulled the stick and, crossing the street, prepared to spring the trap.

The Sandmen were not a happy group of campers. They had spent the entire night on red alert, constantly expecting attack from the mage that Raxx had slotted off. Only grabbing short naps when they could, and then never actually being attacked, had them all on edge. Mr. Johnson had taken the news of the latest developments with no more emotion than he had previously displayed. Apparently he wanted to see if the runners would make it through the night or if he would have to find a new kick squad. Because Slider, true to his totem, didn't actually want a confrontation in the astral plane, he kept reminding everyone who would listen that he needed to conserve his magic for the fight that was to come, so he couldn't squander it by constant astral patrol.

al Kazar awoke refreshed and laid out the foci and fetishes he would wear for the upcoming battle. He had enough confidence in his ability and experience to be looking forward to the day's activities, but to insure that he had no unexpected problems he called for some mundane backups. The trio of troll gillettes, who billed themselves as freelance personal security operatives, agreed to take the job and would be waiting for him at the entrance to his building in two hours. With that chore out of the way he treated himself to a sumptuous breakfast.
After breakfast, al Kazar met his bodyguards for the day and explained his expectations to them. Piling into the mage's Rolls Royce Phaeton the group drove to the Sandmen's warehouse headquarters. They were just in time to see the Sandmen's step van pulling out of the warehouse. Intrigued, al Kazar ordered the driver to follow.

Spider had nearly jumped out of his skin when his personal Comm unit had gone off. He had set his smart frame alarm program to call him if Hartley's credstick was used, but the elf decker never in a million years expected that the long shot would actually pay off. He had spent a tense and sleepless night anticipating a magical attack. He was now at that point where his mind could not maintain the tension of anticipation any longer and was beginning to rebel against the enforced tedium. He started so badly at the suddenness of the unexpected call that he nearly fell from his perch in the warehouse rafters where he was relieving Raxx on guard shift. Shrieking into the Comm he made everyone jump saying "Sandy! Sandy! Its the alarm on the credstick. The fraggers using it at a public telecomm unit. I've got a location on Hartley's stick!"
If Sandy suspected this was part of the magic attack they were awaiting, she gave no sign. The contract sucked, the warehouse sucked, the weather sucked, the loss of Blitz sucked, the trouble making halfer sucked, and the lack of action sucked. But this last could be remedied and she was going to make sure of that.
"Everybody, into the step van! Move, Move, Move. Time to fill this fraggin contract. Go Go, I want any drone that can pop a cap with us. Let's move people."
As the van pulled away from the warehouse, nobody paid any attention to the beat-up old taxi that lumbered along behind them.

When Owen saw the van cruise past the block he pulled down the hood of the shadow suit and attached his rebreather. He was lying under a pile of debris in an entryway to a burned out building, with half his body hanging in the basement. Ok, I'm invisible to IR scan, a magnetometer will pick up metal all over this area so no worry about that and I'm invisible to gas scanners. Just have to wait.
As he waited motionless he heard the wine of a flying drone go by. Then a second armed drone hovered through the area and a wheeled drone "Doberman" came down the street. Finally the van which had passed earlier pulled up and a disciplined hit squad piled out. Owen reluctantly sited in on the member of the crew who remained in the truck. He wanted to eliminate the teams' mage, for his own safety and their decker, for Pablo's sake, but the rigger was the most immediate threat. The point of this exercise is to have the bad guys chase me, he thought. That's not going to happen if this clown kills me by remote control. He held his breath and squeezing the trigger, put a three round burst of armor piercers into the side of the rigger's head. As the wired reflexes of the wet workers kicked in and return fire raked the entrance of the building, Owen's rigged grenades went off. He had wired three of the gas grenades with a remote trigger and buried them among the debris between himself and the street. He had also wired 3 of the stun grenades and hidden them in the street light, the telecom and the debris on the other side of the street. Owen dropped into a hole he had cut into the basement just as Sandy's grenade launcher began destroying the front of the building. He hated leaving the expensive AUG-CSL rifle behind, but he did need to move light and fast if he was going to evade this "cleaning crew" and pulling it out of the mess would have taken precious seconds. As he hit the floor he rolled and dived into another basement room and then out a door to where his bike was waiting. He started the Hog and blasted away from the ambush.

When he saw the neighborhood the hairs on the back of Raxx's neck began to stand on end. He was thoroughly spooked by the brass of a razor who would set up an ambush where he himself had been set up before. Raxx knew, KNEW, without any doubt that he was walking into a killing ground so when the van stopped and the doors swung open he made a bee line back up the street towards a broken down cab which had just turned into the block. Gretchen, who was still keeping an eye on him, noticed, but as she prepared to cut him down he turned and unloaded his Mossberg into her legs. As she fell she returned fire from her high velocity assault rifle, but she was unable to hit anything vital on the small target which continued to move away from her. The ork shaman, who normally stayed to the rear of the battle, witnessed the betrayal and opened fire on the dwarf with his Ingram, only to be hit with a powerful Hellblast spell. The last words he heard were "No, he's mine."
When Raxx saw the Hellblast destroy Slider he turned back up the street. The beat up old Checker Cab was there but it was flickering. One second it was a cab, the next it was a long black limo. More important than that, the fragging mage from the apartment was standing there with smoke coming off his hands. At his gesture the dwarf found himself floating several feet off the ground, upside down and back towards his companions. Iron Mike and Sandy had recognized that they were being attacked from behind. In spite of the gas, which caused vomiting and made it difficult to breathe or see, in spite of the disorienting stun grenades, they both turned their weapons on the new threat. Slider was burning in his own fat, Gretchen had been cut off at the knees and was unconscious, Spider was crying and puking so hard that he could not even raise his weapon, but the original partners who had formed the Sandmen were still fighting. Both turned their weapons on the mage at the limo and opened fire.
Two of the trolls who had gotten out of the limo and were firing back at the pair threw their bodies in front of the mage. One caught a 3 second burst from Mike's Minigun which literally ate a whole through his chest. The other accomplished the same result by intercepting the last of Sandy's clip of high explosive minigrenades. The third troll was on the wrong side of the car to intercept bullets but he was laying down a hail of suppressive fire as fast as he could empty his heavy pistol.
In spite of several direct hits, Sandy dropped the grenade rifle and pulled her own high velocity assault rifle. As she was rearming, Iron Mike was exchanging fire with, and taking care of, the remaining troll bodyguard. As Mike opened fire on the mage, Raxx's screaming, floating body interposed itself between the shooter and the target and the dwarf's torso began shredding. Then the minigun too went dry and Iron Mike dropped it and pulled a Superwarhawk pistol with his still functioning left hand. Meanwhile, Sandy was having no better luck in attacking the mage than the troll had. Every bullet in the stream of lead she aimed at the mage was intercepted by the body of the dwarf, or a piece of the body of the dwarf, as gaps had now been chewed through the corpse. Unfortunately, when the floating shield was too porous to be of any more use the mage discarded it and allowed the shots to hit the bullet barrier he had in place. He then made a gesture that put both the troll and the blonde to sleep.
Surveying the damage to his bodyguards, al Kazar sighed and shook his head. DocWagon alarms were going off everywhere and he knew that a crisis response team would be there in minutes. He pulled a Kris knife from the fold of his robe and went forward to end the mess before witnesses showed up. As he approached the dying shaman, Slider was communing with his totem.
Please, RAT, I was taken unprepared. I was taken without being able to show your power. The mage has no respect for you. Please. Please, let me strike in your name.
When al Kazar leaned over to take whatever was left of the ork's life force, Slider opened the charred remains of his right hand and something sparkled in it. The mage, intrigued, went down on one knee and reached across the body to examine the bright object. Suddenly, Sliders left hand grasped the hilt of the knife, reversed it and with superhuman strength drove the point through the underside of the chin, through the brain and out the top of the mage's head. al Kazar's life force was sucked out by the sacred dagger even as his brain was being destroyed by its edge. As the wail of the mage's DocWagon bracelet joined the others, Slider also died.
Thank you, RAT, thank you.

Spider couldn't breathe, couldn't see, couldn't think. Every breath caused another dry heave. Stumbling toward Gretchen, he put a medkit on her and activated it. He could barely see through the tears, but it looked like her legs were completely gone below the knees. He stumbled further up the street, trying to get away from the gas and found himself next to a big black car. AC, oh please God, air conditioning to filter out the gas, he thought. Miraculously, the passenger compartment door was still open. He threw himself inside, pulled the door closed, attempted to throw up again, and blacked out.

The first DocWagon CRT unit on the scene called in "BOB, COLD" meaning the that it was a battle scene but that the team was not currently taking fire. Seeing that eight "clients" had alarms going off, the dispatcher sent in the High Threat Response Team as a precaution. This involved an orbiting helicopter gunship prepared to lay down suppressive fire should the CRT team become targets. Within 6 minutes every "client", dead or alive, had been removed from the area. Within another three minutes "Freelance Harvesters" for the organ banks had removed every "non-client" (also dead or alive), and @ 30 seconds later "Freelance Reclamation Specialists" had removed the Sandmen's step van and drones. Along the way everything from weapons (including Owen's buried rifle) to shell casings had miraculously disappeared. Either the good citizens were earnestly looking to keep the DMZ clean or everyone was taking the opportunity to grab whatever wasn't nailed down in order to turn it into nuyen later. Only the fact that the Phaeton's security system had activated when the door had closed prevented it and the unconscious elf decker from also being harvested and/or reclaimed. The Phaeton programming was such that if its passenger gave no order for a full ten minutes after entering the limo, the car's autopilot took him home. Precisely 10 minutes after its door had shut the car smoothly pulled away from the curb and headed uptown. So 20 minutes after Owen fired the first shot, the only evidence that anything had happened in the area was a lingering nauseating smell and few congealing pools of blood from which the devil rats were already drinking.


Owen was riding away from the ambush at breakneck speed, constantly checking for pursuit. He had planned the route carefully with abundant twist and turns so that anybody behind him would have limited opportunity to gain a bead on him. When no pursuit showed up he began to worry. Where the frag are they? If there not behind me, maybe they went airborne! He immediately diverted the big bike from his twisting route to an alternate with long straight-aways to put maximum distance between himself and the killing ground. After blasting through two tunnels, he cut across oncoming traffic to enter a parking garage. He waited for a full hour and still found no sign of pursuit.
lost them?! Is that possible? Humph....maybe I gave them too much credit. Maybe they were second stringers called in after the Wetboys..... But that doesn't scan.... they reached the ambush within minutes after I slotted the stick, which means they had enough on the ball to have some kind of watch on the matrix. Their approach to the site was textbook, and they returned fire before all of my "distractions" had gone off. I know they were good. Why didn't they follow?.............Maybe they thought I was leading them into more trouble....I don't know, that would make them as paranoid as me....... well hell, I won't be able to pull that "I slot the stick so come get me" stunt again, which means I'll have to think of some other way to raise my visibility if I'm going to keep them off Pablo. Which reminds me.....it's nearly time to check in.
Owen checked the bulletin board and found a message from the professor waiting. When he decoded the entry it read.
>Paydata! Your guess HG likely correct. Accumulating further proof of same. Pursuing lines of inquiry re: C. Hope for more within 24 hours. Files, as agreed, at site C. Good Hunting<

Slider's first thought on regaining consciousness was the car's moving. His second thought was I'm done with the Sandmen. I'll take a job at RadioShack before I go through that again. Oh, God, I can still smell that gas, its in my clothes. Fighting to keep control of his stomach he croaked "Water". A panel slid back to expose both an insulated tub full of ice and a full bar which included bottled water. He dumped the first bottle over his upturned face trying to wash the gas residue out of his eyes, nostrils, hair and mouth. He then disciplined himself to slowly sip from a second bottle to keep his stomach from reacting again. He needed the liquid but he knew that his system would bring up anything he put into it too quickly. The elf then sat back and filling his mouth with ice cubes, tried to figure out what was going on.
Peeking through the privacy curtains of the luxury automobile, he saw that the car was driving by autopilot and that he was approaching the Hilton hotel. He asked the car to pull over as he considered his situation.
What the hell happened? We piled out of the van and all hell broke lose. He shuddered as he remembered the first sounds of gunplay followed by that unholy gas. Gretchen....I saw Gretchen had her legs blown off....what happened to Sandy and the rest?... I heard Sandy blowing stuff to drek and I heard Mike's minigun, but where are they? Wait a minute....do I really want to know? There not going to be happy about losing their decker and I am definitely not going back. Maybe, I should just keep movin'. But I need cash.....hmmm ....maybe...maybe I can sell this fine ride for some seed money and look at relocating, like maybe to the kingdom of Hawai'i.
Using the car phone he made some calls. A fixer in town was willing to give him a certified credstick worth 50k, a new identity, complete with passport, and a one way ticket on the suborbital in exchange for the car. Since the limo retailed at about 1/2 million nuyen, the elf initially wanted to hold out for more, but since the car's autopilot was the only thing on the planet who recognized him as the owner, he thought the better of pushing his luck. Slider made the exchange and disappeared off the face of the earth.

Iron Mike regained consciousness in transit. As he started to thrash in the DocWagon Osprey, a technician immediately sedated him. As his focus went soft and hazy he thought Fraggin' DocWagon....best fraggin' investment I.....ever........fraggin'............
When he woke in the clinic a few hours later he realized that whatever and whoever is left of the Sandmen, we're not going to be able to pursue this contract. Hell, we'll be lucky just to get work after word gets out on this fiasco. Our reps in the drecker....frag, forget reps, who else survived?
As soon as he was able to make himself understood he asked about the casualties at the scene. He learned that Gretchen would have to be fitted for a pair of cyberlegs but would eventually be all right and that she was sharing a room with Sandy, who would also be increasing her metal content with pieces of cyberware, but was expected to make a full recovery. He also learned that he had the choice to become a simple amputee or have his destroyed right arm replaced, provided of course, that he could come up with sufficient funds. When he got the report on the rest of the casualties, none of whom were revivable, he realized that Slider was not mentioned. Either the elf got vaporized by the mage, who popped up outta fraggin nowhere, or he got away clean. Since he hasn't shown up, I gotta figure that either way he's out of the game. Not that I blame him. Well, frag it, good luck chummer, wherever you are....... Man, and what about Raxx slotting off a Hitmage? The fragging mage had to be after the stupid stuntie and figured he was Wizard enough to cack us all. Was almost right, too! I wonder how he got a magic dagger through the head..... well, not my problem. I'd better tell Mr. Johnson what happened. I'm going to be sure to mention how close Raxx came to getting all of us killed, thank you for the "additional operatives" you stupid fragging drekhead, and that this Glendower slot has to be the luckiest fragger on the planet, but that the Sandmen are off the job. Then we'll just see how available these nurses are.


>Login: Felix
>Password: ********
>>>>Bad Moon<<<<
>******* ****** ********
>****** *


>>>>POINT BALANCE: 37.1<<<<<
>>>>Please engage decrypt protocol 5<<<<<<
>>>>BOARD OPEN<<<<<
>>>>Current lurkers: 28<<<<
>>>>Board open 1:23:15 ago--TIME REMAINING 1:36:45<<<<
>>>>Node next availability +25.2 hours current<<<<
>>>>Chat room?<<<<<
> 1
>Owen Glendower
>>>> Message?<<<<
> I'm still interested in data on this runner. Raising my offer to 2.5 points for history, contact or current locale.-F
>>>>Felix! Where have you been, chummer? The board's already carrying a full 4 point bounty for the same dirt.-Grendel<<<<
>>>>Yes, amigo. I saw it posted about an hour ago, only your competition is also looking for vulnerabilities. I think, therefore, that where you want the burglar for your stable, your competition wants his head over the mantle piece-Lon<<<<
>>>>F-Was your boy mixed up with the Sandmen debacle?-Kyle<<<<
>What debacle?-F
>>>>7 dead, 3 wounded, 1 missing in the same block that saw the end of the Wetboys less than 48 hours earlier. Details for .5 points-Kyle<<<<
>.2 offered-F
>>>>Aw, Ok-Kyle<<<<
> LOG TRANSFER .2 points to account KYLE-F
>>>>Norm initiate grade hermetic mage named al Kazar, three troll bodyguards named Lion, Slade and Grimjack, norm Rigger named Go Go, ork rat shaman named Slider, dwarf samurai named Raxx (former Wetboy) all dead. 2 Norm samurai named Gretchen and Sandy as well as troll samurai named Iron Mike substantial injuries. Cyberware required for all three, currently recuperating at DocWagon Clinic #8. Elf decker named Spider missing. Some question of Sandmen association with 2 ork samurai named Brickwall and Stonewall, found incinerated 12 hours earlier at last known address for Gitya, ork samurai & last known associate of Owen Glendower. Sandmen launched several inquiries re: Glendower.-Kyle<<<<
> Full value, Kyle. Noted. LOG TRANSFER .3 points to account KYLE-F
>>>>Thanks, Felix. I knew you weren't a piker. Say, if your boy was involved, you're going to find some stiff competition in getting him. Anybody who can do that kind of damage is going to be on everybody's Christmas list. The Sandmen were very good. I've used them myself. Did he also do the Wetboys?-Kyle<<<<
>Possibly, but all this recent bloodshed is not his style. The man I'm looking for is subtle, quiet, in and out, no muss, no fuss and no attention. I wouldn't pick him for this kind of butcher's bill unless his back was up against it. Anybody got any details to add?-F
>Alright, anybody got details to add for .2 points?-F
>LOG OFFER: 5 points offered for location of Owen Glendower-F
>>>>Is that a typo, amigo? Are you really offering 5 full points for just location?-Lon<<<<
>Yes Lon, there is a Santa Clause. Subject to confirmation of data, I offer 5 full points for the current location of Owen Glendower-F
>>>>4 points offered for all data on user Felix- Zar VIOLATION. ILLEGAL OPERATION. SYSOP NOTIFIED<<<<<<


>I take it that Zardoz was my competition-F
>>>>C'mon, Chummer. After that flame you don't expect anybody to run the risk of slotting off the sysop by talking about another user, do you?-Candyman<<<<
>I suppose not.-F
>>>>Somebody help me out. I'm new here. Was that a 14 point penalty? Everything I've seen so far has been fractions like 1/32 or 1/16 of a point. How in God's name do you get a 14 point penalty?-Jason<<<<
>>>>Read your agreement, chummer. Board 1 is for heavy hitters. You shouldn't do anything more than pay for the privilege of lurking here. If you've got to ask about the rules you should post on board 4 where mentors are available.-White<<<<
>>>>>LOG OFF PROTOCOL ///Points expended this session .5///Points gained this session 4.0///Previous point total 37.1///Current point total 40.6<<<<

After Owen had spent another hour making sure he was not being followed, he stopped in front of a downtown storefront that said "Ye Olde Cyber Cafe- EST. 1997". He'd read an article somewhere describing this coffeehouse as being one of the original places that deckers (in those days called Hackers) used to hang out, drink coffee and playing in cyberspace. Although he knew he would stand out among what was bound to be a bunch of wire-heads, he needed to retrieve the data Pablo had assembled and he thought he might get a chance to do some research as well as get something to eat.
Entering the coffeehouse without a deck earned him hard looks, contemptuous snorts and some muttering. Finding a seat at the back of the establishment earned him a visit from the manager.
"Yes, sir. May I help you?"
"I'd like the use of a laptop and a menu, please."
"Yeesss, you wouldn't care to use your own deck?" the manager asked.
"That's not convenient at the moment. You do have laptops for rental, don't you?."
"Well...yes, in emergencies but we don't really encourage the practice any longer. They are so.... limited, you understand."
"Yes, well I'd like to use one."
"Well, sir I'm afraid that the only laptops we have are rather antiquated. I don't know if your datajack will fit."
Owen beckoned the dwarf woman closer and said quietly.
"Look, we both know that you don't want me in here, neh? I obviously don't have a jack so what am I doing in a decker hangout? The answer is, I have to get some material from the Matrix and this is one of the paces that offers the services I need, namely a computer, access and a place to work quietly. Now, as I see it you have two choices. You can test my resolve with more obfuscation followed by delay, followed by poor service, followed by non-functioning machinery. The other option is to give me what I ask for, just like my nuyen spent the same as everybody else's, and send me on my way as quickly as possible. Please, as a dear departed friend of mine used to say 'considerrr yer ahptions carrrefully.'"
Looking quizzically at Owen for a moment the manager asked "You were a friend of Skater?"
Owen was surprised that his imitation was recognized. He smiled sadly and after a moment said "Yes, he was my partner. I miss him a lot."
The manager said, "I'm sorry for your loss. You wait here and I'll get you what we have. Would you like something to drink?"
"Bottled water if you've got it."
"No problem."
While Owen was waiting some deckers wandered back to his table. They weren't exactly confrontational but he was glad he had a back to the wall as they obviously intended to urge him to leave.
"Hey chummer, not your kind of place is it?"
"The coffee here sucks. Why don't you do yourself a favor and move on."
"Yeah, healthier for you in another part of the plex."
Owen looked at the motley collection confronting him. Three norm males, an ork male and two norm females. Each had gleaming datajacks at their temples and spiked hair and extensive facial jewelry. Piercing is as big with these deckers as tattooing is with the Yaks, he thought. I really don't want to hurt these kids, who are just protecting their turf, but if I don't speak up soon they are going to see it as fear and they will probably attack.
"Here you are, sir", the dwarf said as she hustled through the crowd with water and computer."I think this will serve your needs. Nothing too good for the Skater's pard."
At the announcement that he had been Skater's partner the hostility aimed at Owen subsided. Apparently the dwarf decker had enough of a rep to buy his partner a pass. The crowd was still not real happy to have anyone without a "brain-tap" in their place, but in memory of one of their own fallen, they were content to let Owen go.

While Owen began retrieving the file Pablo had left for him, the "Plumbers", as the young deckers called themselves, began checking out his story. After leaving the "Meat-head" at his table, Razorback had pointed out that anybody could claim to have been Skater's partner, the dwarf was dead and couldn't defend himself. It was up to breathing deckers to defend the memory of the dead. The six deckers therefore bent to their task with a will. Along the way, one visited a virtual bar to do some legwork by talking with other deckers who might know Skater and his partners. This contact got back to a fixer who owed another fixer who eventually contacted Felix.

Owen was astounded at the volume of information that the professor had been able to accumulate. He had forgotten, when hiring Pablo, that the man was an accomplished academic. The biography that the professor's constructed on Hartley was 15.6 MP of data! Over 200 footnotes. Footnotes?! Pablo's taken all of the data out of public records, newsfaxes, trideo reports. Things anybody could get without a single illegal operation. Nobody would even know that anyone was looking for data on Hartley. OUTSTANDING! He must have constructed dozens of smart frames and filters because everything's cross referenced with extensive annotations. This is incredible. I wonder if any of the deckers in the coffeehouse could have gotten as much data, even with the most wiz utilities and a superdeck like the Fairlight. Before he began to digest the file he looked at what the professor had gotten on Gondorf. 8.7 MP... and didn't he say that he was still researching? This is going to work!
Owen copied the data to a chip and then began reading the file. As he started on his second hour of reading he began to get the feeling he was being watched. He looked up to see a pair of Steel Lynx drones had rolled in under some sort of invisibility and silence spell and now had their machine guns trained on him. As soon as his eyes shifted to look for escape, a norm female combat mage appeared between the two drones. "Please, don't do anything rash. In fact, please don't do anything at all. I've been told that you are SOTA (State of the Art). I am not at all anxious to determine the truth of that statement. My employer would like to speak with you. Since you have a penchant for avoiding conferences, my employer has gone to some expense to see that you wait. I understand these intentions. My friends outside do not. They will see your appearance outside as the result of successfully eliminating me and will seek vengeance. Please, let's avoid a misunderstanding."
As Owen considered the speech a pair of ork female samurai entered the coffeehouse and began rounding up the patrons in a corner near the door. Though polite, they were not particularly patient and their armaments ( a Vindicator minigun and a Panther Assault Cannon) insured that they didn't have to be. Owen decided that discretion was the better part of valor .With a small shrug he went back to his reading.

Twenty five minutes later a Citymaster Urban Security Vehicle pulled up in front of the coffeehouse. The orks inside emptied the place of patrons and staff as six female samurai of various races, armed with assault weapons, formed an outward facing corridor between the door of the Citymaster and the entry to the shop. An incredibly ugly and huge troll shambled out of the vehicle pulling a recalcitrant black Panther by the leash. She entered, crossed to the rear of the coffeehouse and stood looking vacuously at Owen with one finger absentmindedly up her nose. At this point a stunningly beautiful elf woman in a tight fitting black leather body suit stepped out and posed like a fashion model. Her dark skin, lavender eyes and white hair reminded Owen more of a trideo star than a model. She entered like a queen and after taking a seat across from Owen she smiled seductively.
"So I've finally caught up with my mystery man", she cooed. "I was beginning to think I would never get a chance to offer you......a proposition."
Owen turned to the troll and said "Well, I don't appear to have any options so I suppose I'd better listen."
After several seconds the troll said "Huh....What?"
"Oh, excuse my blunder, you'd rather maintain the fiction. I understand." He then turned back to the elf and acting as though he was entirely besotted with her beauty he said while sighing "You have only to name your desire, fair one, and I would achieve it though the gates of hell itself barred my path."
The elf was a 1/2 beat off on her response, confirming that Owen had caught her flat footed. As she recovered the troll burst into laughter.
"HA-HA-HA, Ho-ho. Oh my. Ha-ha. You are good..... I can see you are going to be worth the effort." She patted the elf gently and said "You did well, Jeanie. Don't feel bad. This is a special one." The elf continued to stare quizzically at Owen but got out of the seat for the troll. As she was moving to the seat the huge woman seemed to lose the leash for the panther which immediately leapt at Owen's throat. Exercising iron control Owen did not even flinch as the cat was brought up short inches from his face by the leash firmly held in its mistress' hands.
"Very, very good. It's a shame you're not a woman. Or that I'm not interested in men. Although it might be fun to see if you could change my mind." She said while giving Owen a frankly lustful look.
Owen repeated his previous performance exactly. With the same besotted look that he had shown the elf earlier he said while sighing "You have only to name your desire, fair one, and I would achieve it though the gates of hell itself barred my path."
"Touch�. And since I've lost three passes in a row I suppose I'd better get down to cases. I'd like........Oh, hell. Enough games. I've been impressed with your work for a while now. I've put together that you knocked over a security company and that they still don't know it. That you got 200,000 nuyen worth of diamonds from a city official who wasn't supposed to have them, so he can't complain. I also know what the fence paid you and how much he got. I know you got more than 300,000 from the Humanis policlub. That's pretty damn impressive for a new kid in town. I suspect that you are directly involved in the destruction of the Wetboys and the....what did he call it... the Sandmen debacle within 72 hours of each other. My interest in your exploits are both business and personal. From a biz standpoint, I'd like to be able to offer my clients your kind of competence and, on a personal level, I am intrigued by your choice of targets and your methods of operation. I'm not blowing sunshine up your skirt when I say that I'm a fan. All of that having been said, I'll admit that there is now some urgency in my getting you into the fold. While seeking information on you recently I found a competitor seeking the same info. This competitor was also looking for weaknesses, vulnerabilities is the description he used. I may have let my heart overrule my head but I didn't want him tacking your hide to the wall so I outbid him for the data. When I did, he made it clear that I had made myself a target. Self preservation now suggests that I do everything I can to help you get him before he gets me."
Owen said nothing for several minutes. The woman became more and more edgy as he considered her story. Finally she said "Look, I'm not boasting when I say I'm one of the top 10 fixers in the plex. I can get you virtually anything you can imagine-custom weapons, tools, inside data, magic support, Matrix support, physical support-whatever. My problem is I can't just disappear. You can dodge this guy for years by moving around and laying low. I've got to maintain visibility in order to do biz and that makes it easier for someone to wack me". When Owen looked around the room at all of the security, the troll snorted. "Hey, don't insult my intelligence. If they can hit a great dragon with resources of the entire UCAS government protecting him, they can get anybody and we both know it. My survivability depends on eliminating my competitor before he gets me."
"I don't doubt you can supply the kind of resources you promise me, but why do you need to supply them to me? Why not simply bring them to bear on your competitor?" Owen asked.
"For the same reason that the shadows exist in the first place. Fuchi can't get slotted off at Sader-Krupp and mobilize troops. If they did, every other major Corp would side with S-K and destroy Fuchi. The mega-corps are too visible to act directly. They have to attack covertly, using deniable assets-shadowrunners. The same is true for the major fixers. We all have to refrain from attacking each other directly to keep from being destroyed by the combined might of all the others. My competitor lost major face when he declared me a target. Right now he putting together deniable assets or some direct attack on himself that can be laid at my door after it has failed, of course, so he can be an aggrieved victim rather than an aggressor. Since you are already 'in play' as a target of his, your actions against him can't be attributed to me."
"Very neat and understandable," said Owen."Possibly even compelling. However, I can imagine several other scenarios: one in which you are the competitor trying to mobilize me against my 'fan', another in which there is no threat to you and this entire tale is a story to get rid of one of your competitors so you can get a larger market share and a third in which the story is a setup to put me in a position where I will have no choice but to work for you in the future...."
"Felix isn't like that!" interrupted the beautiful elf. "She wouldn't lie or make all that up...."
"Jeanie," the troll said quietly, "It's ok, honey."
Turning back to Owen she said "You're right. I can't offer you any proof that I'm telling you the truth and, contrary to what my pretty Jeanie says, I am quite capable of being exactly like that. I can see that anything I offer you by way of compensation would only confirm one of the other scenarios, so what can I do?"
The question was rhetorical but Owen gave it and answer. "Give me both your hands", he said, "Look me in the eye and tell me its the truth."
Felix looked at him for a few seconds, shrugged and gave the panther's leash to Jeanie. The animal showed that it had been brilliantly trained as it dropped its ferocious act and quite docilely lay at the elf's feet. Owen took the big warty hands in his own and looked hard into the troll's eyes. After a minute he said "No, let your guard down............ now stop acting.................now stop not acting....... be here..... in the moment..... right now...... with me...... yes, yes...now tell me the truth."
"I haven't lied....its all true." she said. After 30 more seconds of staring deeply into Owen's eyes she pulled away and pretended to sneeze violently and repeatedly. It gave her a plausible reason for the tears building up in her eyes.
Owen sighed and said "Its true. I guess I'm going to break another vow and let myself be hired to kill again. Damn. I hate this! Alright, I'll need everything you can get me on the mark including any reasoning you have on why he wants my head. I'll also want everything you've got on me, in detail, so I don't make those mistakes again. I'll also want a secure place to lay low, doesn't have to be great but clean would be nice. I'll need some of those custom toys you mentioned and a lot of other inconvenient drek. Since it's your life we're talking about I'm going to assume carte blanche on expenses. We will talk about the cost for this after the job is done. I'll tell you right now, it will be higher than you expect. You and I won't talk again until this is done. I'll want a liaison who can protect himself and whom you can deny. I'm not going to bodyguard your representative and wherever I am is going to be a hot zone. Don't get cute and don't get smart. You've got me to do this by being honest, you stop, I stop and we test your theory about how long I can live in hiding. You" he called as he rose and started towards the sams guarding the door, "give me your wristcom number."
At Felix's nod the samurai gave Owen the number. He turned and said "I've got to get some air. I'll call this number in an hour. Have your end ready. Oh, and please square it with the manager about her loss of business today. She didn't want me in here to begin with and I traded on the name of a dead friend. I don't want his memory tarnished because you decided that subtle wasn't working" He turned to leave and then turned back "Uhm....Look, I know I'm being rude, but every goddamn time I close the fragging book on my past, somehow it gets re-opened. It's not fair that I'm blaming you but.....hell.....I... I guess I'm not fair, either. Sorry."
After Owen stormed off Jeanie turned to Felix and said "He's cute"
Sighing, Felix said "Jeanie, I think I'm in love."


Hammer wasn't thrilled with being called in to answer the phone. The young male norm had been entertaining himself sucking face with his latest input, Darla. That girl certainly knows how to kiss, he thought rearranging his satin jacket as he moved to the only working telecomm unit in the "Clubhouse". Man, we gotta get out of this drekhole. The Night Hunters should have real wiz digs, not a fraggin' basement of a fraggin' project. We get our hands on some creds, we're goin' to start scopin' some prime dosses, I don't give a frag what bang-bangs Boo wants or how Zippy wines about wheels. As he entered the communication room he kicked through a pile of trash on the floor Got to get Parker to keep this fraggin room clean, you never know... He literally stopped in mid thought when glancing up at the viewscreen he the hooded figure watching him. Oh, Frag! Why didn't those fraggin hoops tell me it was Central?! he thought as he snapped to attention. The hooded figure let the silence stretch as beads of sweat began to form on the gang leader's upper lip. After several minutes the figure leaned back against the swastika covered wall behind it and folding its arms heaved a sigh. The masked figure's electronically distorted voice said:
"I despair to see what Humanis is forced to work with, boy. I truly wonder how we will survive the tide of meta-animal filth that daily erodes the foundation of our lives, when I see this...this..absolute absence of discipline. This lack of fundamental appreciation for the holy mission with which YOU have been entrusted. The Night Hunters don't just kill the wild animals that run freely in our streets. No, the Hunters, your group, Hammer, are the instrument of terror which deny the meta-animals the comfort and security they crave. Your group could be the vanguard of the army of humanity. You could be the bulwark of pure blood that stands against the tide which seeks to overwhelm us. To enslave us! But do you appreciate the importance of this mission? Do you understand the sacred responsibility with which you have been entrusted? I don't see it. I don't see someone who might rise through the ranks of Humanis. Who might gain the cyber-augmentation to become a Knight of the Flaming Sword. I see an unfocused, undisciplined boy and I wonder if he is worthy."
The figure paused and coming toward the telecom pickup said in a more confidential tone "It hurts me, boy. I approved your rise to power within the Hunters. You were hand picked by me as being a man on whom all of humanity could depend. Was I wrong? Is the burden too heavy?"
Hammer, a ruthless gang leader, who at age 20 already had 17 solo kills, who had not flinched at tearing a screaming metahuman to pieces with a pair of pliers, found himself on the verge of tears. He wanted to assure Central that he was worthy, that he did understand the sacred trust, that all he wanted was a chance to prove that he would not let humanity down. All that he could get out was a vigorous head shake.
"Then listen to me carefully. There is only one thing worse in the entire world than a meta-animal. That is a pure human who betrays his own kind. Someone who ignores his responsibility to humanity and deliberately chooses to serve the animals. I am developing information on two targets for the Night Hunters. One is a meta-animal, a tusker, who has deliberately opposed the will of true humanity. The other is a human who has stolen and killed for her. They must both be wiped from the face of the earth! The troll slitch's name is Felix. She is a Fixer who works in the plex. The other's name is Owen Glendower. He is a thief, a murderer and a traitor to all humankind. I will use all of the resources at my command to track these vile creatures to their lair so that they can be destroyed. You have a chance to show me that you are worthy of the trust I have placed in you. Find these two. Find them and kill them. Bring back their heads and earn the gratitude of your entire race! Will you do this? "
"I s..sw..swear, Central. I swear, I will do it! You'll see, Central, You'll see that I will never let humanity down. I'll make you proud."
"Good. DO IT. End Trans"
As the Telecom's picture faded out Hammer let out a deep breath and simply shook. A mission! A real fragging mission! Finally, I get a shot at something big! Not a patrol or a rumble with another gang, but a real search and destroy! Man, if I can pull this off it could be a stepping stone in the organization. Move up and I can really crack heads for mankind. But don't screw it up, man. You frag this and you can kiss your future goodbye. Frag it! I ain't going to blow this chance. I'm goin' to do a number on these targets that will make Central sit up and take notice of me.
"WAR COUNCIL! WAR COUNCIL! Right now! Get your fraggin hoops in here! Night Hunters are goin' to WAR!"

Well, so much for phase one of plan C thought the hooded figure. It actually is plan C. Wetboys were plan A, Sandmen were plan B and now the Night Hunters will be my third plan to get rid of that Fragging Glendower slot. Drek, better initiate phase 2. Walking into the adjoining room the figure addressed the collection of norm deckers.
"You are at this camp to be trained in combat and survival techniques so that you can return home and carry the fight to the meta-animals in the streets. Some of you are near the end of your time here and some of you have just recently arrived. You have been called here today because you are being entrusted with an important mission which only you have the ability to fulfil. This is a delicate assignment. Please listen carefully and follow instructions precisely. There is a troll fixer who operates in the plex called Felix. In spite of what you may have heard or assumed the trog is female. She is target 1. The second target is a male human named Owen Glendower. He is a thief and murderer. Humanis needs to accumulate enough data on these two so that they can be hunted down and exterminated. However, we cannot be seen to be looking. The data must be collected quietly, with a minimum of attention from outside sources. If there is any leakage about our intentions, word may get back to the targets and they may escape. This must not happen. You may carry your search to any part of the Matrix that you desire, BUT, you are not to contact other deckers or indeed anyone who is not in this room, you are not to be captured and most particularly you are not to be traced. I know that some of you think you can cover your tracks well enough so that traces are something you laugh off. THAT IS NOT THE CASE ON THIS MISSION. Are there any questions? No? Very well. My name is Central. Please contact me as you accumulate information. A hidden node has been established at this address," Central said, writing a string of numbers on the board. "Please dump your data there and check the dump site for duplications and for new leads. Thank you."

Owen was furious. At Felix, at himself, at fate, at life. He wanted a target for his rage. As he roared through the plex on the big bike his fury grew. Why, damn it, why is it, I try to leave the animal behind and somebody always brings it back! I want a life, I want to be connected and they keep making me put the armor back on. Protect my sanity by disconnecting so I can kill for them. Its unfair! I'd like to.. to at that moment his rage broke. His internal conversation found a calmer voice which asked...to what? To kill? Isn't that a brilliant way to protest the unfairness of a world that "makes you" a killer? Kill someone in protest. Get a grip on yourself! You're acting like a child. The world doesn't make you anything. You chose to target the policlub. All the deaths that resulted, all the killing that you've "been forced to do" have proceeded from your choice. You've killed people who were trying to kill you. It hasn't been for fun or profit. Stop acting like a man with a paper nose! You knew that operating outside of the law meant you might have to get your hands dirty. That fixer wasn't seducing you into a hit. She was informing you about an opponent who wants both of you dead. You aimed all that righteous indignation at her when she was doing what she has to stay alive and incidentally, helping you in the process.
He then flashed back to the great secret of his favorite teacher, Chandler. He remembered appraising the man at their first meeting with the expertise of a 15 year old know-it-all. This new teacher didn't look dangerous. He wasn't strong, or imposing, agile or quick, handsome or even remarkable in any way except for that goofy cloak he wore. He certainly didn't carry himself like the other compound instructors. How deadly could this guy be? He wanted to play hide and seek. A baby's game! But after weeks of frustration and hunger ("Oh, Chandler has your meal, you'll have to find him for it.") he began to appreciate the genius of a man so absolutely undistinguished that he would often escape notice standing in the middle of a room. When he began to understand the mechanics of hiding in plain sight, Chandler showed him the sling. The wonder of being outshot, regardless of the weapon he used, by a man with pebbles and a bit of leather was profound to Owen. After months of frustration at trying to master the primitive weapon, Chandler had told him the great secret "To be invisible or to use the sling well, the secret is attitude. For that, you first need an anal opticotomy. Its an operation that you must perform yourself, severing the nerve that runs between your hoop and your eyes that gives you such a dreky outlook. After the operation you'll be able to see that what you want, what you plan, what you aspire to, what the world denies you, all that drek, just does not matter. Let go of all of that ego (you're not the center of the universe) and just be still. You know what to do if you don't let your mind get in the way."
Thinking of Chandler's "operation" always made Owen grin. Although he had never meditated with his mentor, it struck him that Chandler's "anal opticotomy" had really been his first introduction to Zen. Calm enough now to laugh at the stupidity of his fury, Owen checked the time and saw that his hour was over. He stopped at a public telecomm unit and called in. The address he was given was in area of town where the warehouses predominated.

When he got to the address he spent several minutes looking for an entry. The featureless concrete building was off the street and surrounded by a high steel fence. The fence consisted of 12 foot high steel posts separated from each other by @ 3 inches. Owen recognized that for this kind of fence to work, the base would probably be set in concrete 8 feet below ground. That meant this fence would stop anything short of a battle tank. Upon closer examination he found indentations higher up in the steel that were probably made by monowire stretching invisibly between the posts. Climbing this puppy could be painful! He then began looking on the far side of the fence and observed what looked like burn marks at the edge of the dirt track which ran along the inside of the fence. Electrified ground mats? Ouch. Landing after jumping over this fence wouldn't be pleasant either. Somebody sure doesn't like unannounced company. I wonder how I get their attention. He was standing at a sign which read "ACHTUNG, Chucko! If you're reading this you got no business here. FRAG OFF!" While he was considering his next move a pair of drones rushed up from either end of the street and hovered on vectored thrust jets while aiming machine guns at him. "FREEZE, SUCKER" ordered the drones in unison. Owen stood waiting calmly for the next order.
"I thought you were supposed to be this hot-drek-super-ninja-kick-artist-cat-burglar. My toys certainly got the drop on you easily enough" the rough voice said over the intercom. "Felix made it sound like you were state of the art, but I ain't impressed."
Owen shrugged.
"What are you going to do if I don't let you in?" the voice asked.
"Go away." Owen replied.
"Yeah, and what if I let my pets take you out. Then what would you do?"
The rotary barrels of the drones' machine guns began to spin. Owen watched them with interest. After a moment the voice said
"Well, I'll give you this much: you don't rattle easy."
Owen's reply was a small smile and a single nod.
The drone's growling voice then asked: "Ain't you even going to tell me how 'if I open fire, I'd better be sure I kill you, because attacking you will be the biggest mistake of my life and/or the last thing I ever do'?"
"I wasn't planning on it, no, but if it would make you feel better I could probably put on some show of wounded machismo or posture with thinly veiled threats of lethal reprisals."
There were snorts and giggles coming from the drones' intercoms and a small section of fence slid smoothly into the ground.
"C'mon in. You're ok. You might actually be more than just a pretty face Felix is hot for. Just follow Willy exactly so I don't end up cleaning pieces of your hoop off my drones."
"Nilly will follow?"
"Yeah, yeah. Look, I might be ready to let you live, don't turn into a smarthoop, ok?"
Owen followed the guardian drone into the building.

As he followed the drone he noted that the path that "Willy" led him on involved twists, turns and switchbacks. If this route was based on something more than the rigger's sense of humor, the entire area between the fence and the building was a killing ground. Owen imagined mines, sentry guns and other lethal surprises, or possibly this is a test of my patience, or more likely still, its payback for guessing the second drone's name, I certainly wouldn't get in here this way with anything larger than this bike . Once he got into the building he was surprised by its size. Seem larger in here than I expected. He continued riding slowly after the floating guide until it led him to the source of the voice he had talked with at the fence. The ork was not particularly tall, but was quite bulky. He had the vacant look that riggers always took when their brains were running machines but after giving some final mental commands his eyes came back into focus and he unplugged his head jack. Before introducing himself, he took a nasty looking brown-black stub of something and stuck it in the corner of his mouth. After a few seconds Owen realized that the ork was not trying to burn away the blue stubble that covered his cheeks, but was attempting to light the stub of a cigar. The ork then put on a pair of half-glasses, which immediately slipped to the end of his nose, and stuck out a big hand growling:
"I'm Goren, pleased to meetcha. Don't touch nothin. Felix will be pissed if ya get killed while I'm watchin' ya."
Owen avoided flinching at the ork's crushing grip and said "I'm Owen Glendower, I'd also like to avoid getting killed. Uhm..what were those drones? I've never seen vectored thrusters like that before."
"Aw, there some Ares Guardian models, just got'em last week, pretty wiz, neh?"
"They stable enough to work from?"
"Sure, sure. As long as you run'em through maintenance regular, they're fine and that hover capability makes sighting a target easier than ever. You interested in tech drek?"
"Frankly, no. That stuff is way too complicated for me. But I do enjoy breathing and that means I got to pick up somethin' more than how to pull a trigger along the way. You don't want to end up a chalk outline, you try and learn about the other guy's toys."
"Well, these suckers are pretty wiz, let me tell ya...." For the next 30 minutes Owen absorbed all he could about the care and feeding of the Ares Guardian Drone. He even managed to ask some intelligent, if technically naive, questions. This served two purposes. First it gave him practical data on defeating the drones should he encounter them on a caper, and second it broke the ice with his liaison/minder.
After describing the drones in some detail Goren commented "Nice Bike" and asked to see one of Owen's blasters. Most Samurai would rather hand over an eye (cyber or meat) than lose one of their bang-bangs, but Owen didn't even ask why. He ejected the clip and cleared the action, then safed the pistol and handed it butt first to a stranger. Nodding approvingly at the appropriate handling of the weapon, the decker did a quick breakdown and reassembly before handing the weapon back. "Nice to see you know how to keep'em clean" he said. "Too many fraggers running around figgurin 'bullets in, bullets out' is all they need to know. Had it long?"
"Just got these recently" he replied as he also broke down the weapon and reassembled it (to make sure he hadn't gotten back a non functional pistol). He reloaded the pistol and returned it to his holster.
"Felix says you got some special requests. I'd like to get crackin on them now, then I'll give you the chips that Felix said you wanted to review.....wait a second.. HEY BeBop! Get in here."
The ork was answered by a dwarf woman in coveralls crossing from another area of the warehouse.
"Keep yer pants on, big boy! I'll be witcha in a minit"
"This is BeBop. She knows her way around a tool chest. Just be careful if she catches you alone." the ork confided waggling his eyebrows. "BeBop this is Owen Glendower. He's going to be stayin with us for awhile."
The dwarf offered Owen a grip as strong as Goren's and said "My pleasure. Don't worry about the big glom's warning. I'd never poach on Felix's territory and besides it looks like you might be packin more than the three inches I'm used to getting from the Stud here." she said, aiming a thumb at Goren with a twinkle in her eye.
"Three inches? THREE INCHES?!" roared the ork. "Maybe if you're talking width...."
"You're right, you're right. WITH three inches more you'd be considered normal."
As the bawdy exchange continued Owen got the impression that this was not the first time these two had engaged in such ribaldry, and resigned himself to a good dose of it while in their company.
"Now you stop, Goren. You're making the child blush. Behave yourself."
"Behave myself? Look, we gotta discuss some work here, but after that....."
"Promises, promises."
"Go ahead, kid. Tell us whatcha want."
Owen described the problem with weapons scanners detecting the metal of weapons in general and firearms in particular. "Now, if you know that the other guy is packin heat, you set up your reaction around it. With some of the scanners today you can tell how many rounds the weapon holds. I want to be able to operate without the other guy knowing what I've got."
"Its possible to get past the scanners with some weapons," said the ork. "Knives made from composites or plastics are about as big as you get."
Owen reached into the pouch on his belt and pulled out his Ares Supersquirt. "Why does this have to be made of metal?" he asked."There's no mechanical action, it just releases a burst of gas and some liquid. Couldn't this be made of plastic?"
Before answering BeBop went into one of the crates under the table and pulled an Ares Supersquirt II out of its plastic rap. "They solved the reservoir problem on this one," she said. "20 shots for both DMSO vehicle and the chemical nasty. "
Owen spent a moment examining the gun. "Yeah, but see, their still trying to reach a market that feels big guns are good, bigger guns are better. Look." Taking out his pocket secretary he called up a file for the weapon he had been thinking about. Trying to show this to two techs at the same time was going to be impossible. He took a big piece of cardboard off the table in front of him and grabbing a marker, began sketching. "See this is the design for a 22 pistol popular at the turn of the century. It was called High Standard. I'm not an artist or a draftsman, but you get the idea. Why couldn't the two reservoirs load side by side in the pistol's grip. The mix chamber is right here at the base of the barrel..."
As Owen continued his sketch the two weaponsmiths made suggestions and modifications.
"Ok, Ok but how you goin' to power it?" asked Goren." The gas cartridge used to be in the grip. With the reservoirs there, you got no room for the gas."
"Why couldn't you put the gas alongside the barrel?" Owen said taking a silencer out of his pocket. "If this were not an attachment for the end of the barrel, if the barrel went through the middle of this, the sleeve could hold the gas to power the gun. What do you think?"
"Alright! A challenge. The norms got a brain, Goren. If this works it might be worth some heavy nuyen. We could do this."
"This is gonna take some work, but yeah, it might be possible," the ork turned back to Owen "What kind of deal we talkin about?"
"I didn't really consider that," replied Owen, "this was just one of the ideas I had for avoiding the exposure of having to buy new weapons each time you get into a new town. Gas guns are legal just about everyplace and I figured this wouldn't be a cannon. I don't really care about how much it costs to make, Felix has to pick up the bill for this."
"Kid, I'm asking how much you want for the design. If we can make this work, and I think we can, this has real commercial possibilities. With some investment capital we do a production run and clean up, or better yet, we turn em out as hand mades and watch the high level suits kill each other to have a....a...."
"Goren Bee?" Owen asked pointing at the ork and then the dwarf.
"YEAH, Goren Bee, what do you think, babe?"
"I think", said the dwarf, "that we ought to make the young man comfortable and see what other ideas he's had for new weapons."
"First let's set the terms on this one," insisted the ork.
"Look, you make me the prototype and let me have the first one actually produced. Put your autographs on it, that's enough for me. You guys are really designing it, I just had the concept."
"Damn! Generous, smart and good looking. I may poach on Felix after all. What do ya say, hot stuff?"
"I say I am flattered, but I don't think I'm fast enough to get away from Goren's pets."
As Goren snorted and attempted to join in the banter, BeBop cut him off. "Aw, don't worry about the old man. I'll rock him to sleep and then you and me can run away together."
"Rock me to sleep?" Goren roared "Woman you musta downloaded some kinda mental bug, cause you ain't thinkin' straight. Why, on your best night...."
"Hey, Hey, hey." BeBop interrupted, "This sexy young thing said he had a bunch of ideas. Let's give him a chance to really make us rich."
Two hours later Goren surrendered the files that Felix had supplied for Owen. He and BeBop were happy as clams, arguing, mumbling and cursing at each other as they prepared to create the weapons the young man had discussed. Owen found a quiet corner where he could work undisturbed as he attempted to put the puzzle together. He still had Pablo's files to review, plus Felix's files on her competition. He also wanted to see her files on him so he could avoid the slip-ups that had brought him such visibility to begin with. He wished he had his flute to relax with before he began his studies.

After making it clear to the Night Hunters that finding Central's slags were absolutely top priority, Hammer and Darla set out to do some legwork. Since the gang had no deckers, the first place they headed was to wirehead row. This was a block of shops which contained RadioShack, Virtual Vinnie's New and Used Chips, SoFtwARe and Ye Olde Cyber Cafe. There were always wireheads looking for a cred or two for the newest bit of tech in that area and they were usually willing to do anything to get it. Even better, there were a few Night Hunter wannabes among the plug heads who might give up the data to get on Hammer's good side.
When they arrived on the block the pair cruised for several minutes. Darla noticed one of the skinny dweebs sitting on the curb kept eyeing her with incredible intensity. She whispered to Hammer that she had a pigeon and when they reached the corner she had the gang leader pull his bike over so they could play a scene. Whispering instructions to her man, she outlined a plan to get them free data.
"SMACK" the slap sound echoed up the quiet block. "You Stupid Slitch! I'll kill you if you don't get it back! I'll rip your goddam tits off and then have the club frag the drek out of ya before I sell ya, piece by piece to the organleggers. Or maybe I'll just have Kam Fong turn ya inta a meat puppet fer da trogs to use! You got 1 hour, Chica, then its your hoop." Hammer revved the bike and roared up the street, leaving a weeping and terrified Darla stumbling up the block, clutching a hand to her bruised cheek.
"Oh my god.....sob.....what will I do?" the girl cried. For 16 year old David Lang, "Dr. Doom" as he was known in the matrix, this was a fantasy coming true. An incredibly stacked, exotic and beautiful woman in studded black leather and fishnet stockings, needed help and protection. In the few seconds it took for her to come up the sidewalk towards him he conjured visions of his saving her, of his beating a gang of lowlifes and eventually killing the gang leader to earn her admiration and love. Before he could conjure the more sexual aspects of this fantasy, he realized she was standing by the wall a few feet away and crying.
"Uhm...Miss.....Uh...are you ok?" he asked, wincing as his voice broke mid-question. "Do you need some help?" For the first time in his life he was grateful that his mother had always insisted that he have a clean handkerchief with him whenever he went anywhere. Offering the beautiful redhead the white cloth, he was amazed (and delighted) when the girl threw her arms around his neck and cried on his shoulder. I gotta help her! he told himself.
"I'm...sorry...(sniff) I don't ever cry like this...I'm just so scared. I've never seen him so mad ....but I messed up..and now I'm screwed...I don't even know where to start..." she said as she leaned into the skinny teenager and rested her head on his shoulder. After a few moments she got herself under control, stepped back and straightening up she looked at him, shyly smiled said "thanks...thanks a lot.....You're very nice.... I've.. uhm... got to be going." She then looked up and down the street while biting her lower lip as though undecided about which way to go.
"Wait a minute, please, uhm....maybe I could help. Why dontcha tell me what's goin on ?"
"Its Hammer's ring. Hammer is that guy on the bike. He was trying to get money for chips or something. Anyway, he gave me a box of stuff and told me to sell it and I did, only he wanted me to take it to a pawn shop because his father's ring was in there, but I didn't know and I sold it to this guy who said he could sell the stuff again to this troll woman he knew. Now Hammer wants his father's ring back and I've got to find this guy or the troll woman or Hammer's gonna kill me. And I don't even know where to start looking."
"Well, who was this guy...uh..what did he look like....where did you meet him?" David asked.
"Oh I'm not sure where it was. I think it was near here, that's why we kept riding through here. I was trying to see if it looked familiar. I don't really remember what he looked like but I know his name was Owen Glendower and the troll's name was Felix. But how am I gonna find two names in this whole plex?" she said as she looked like she was about to cry again.
"Hey, don't cry. I can help. We'll look in the matrix."
"Are you a....a Decker?" she breathed as though deckers were the most wiz items on the planet.
"Sure am" he said, visibly swelling with pride. "Come with me" he led her towards the Cyber Cafe where Tony and Adrian and especially Sherry would see him with this sexy woman. His knees went weak when she smiled with relief and then looked with him with such trust and admiration. When she reached out and took his hand, he resolved to get her data if it meant busting Fuchi, itself.
Walking on air, the teenager entered the Cyber Cafe and directed his 'damsel in distress' to a booth and pulled out his deck. His pulse raced when she left her seat to come over to squeeze in next to him while he was setting up to jack in. When she whispered "My name is Darla, by the way" he reveled in the envious glances he was getting from the guys and pointedly ignored the looks Sherry was throwing his way. THIS IS GREAT! "They call me Dr. Doom in the Matrix" he whispered back and decided not to tell her anymore when she responded by going "ooh, that's wiz." as her eyes got big.
Jacking in, he began his search routines by launching smart search frames to key on the names. His Icon ordered "Release the hounds" and armed itself with revolver, magnifying glass and pipe. Almost immediately the "baying" of one of his hounds alerted him that data had already been recovered. He zipped to the hound and found an entire series of postings on a board associated with one of the virtual bars. "Excellent" he thought as he downloaded a physical description, last known address and detailed rumors about Owen Glendower. When he found the name Felix used as an associate in the files he began investigating it as well. Immediately a black towering wall of thorns began to spring up around him. Oh drek, he thought Black Ice protecting a name on a fragging bulletin board listing? This is a search and destroy some team of deckers is running right now. I'm gone.
Jacking out, he said "Got it" and basked in the adoring look he got from Darla. With a few keystrokes he began printing hard copy of everything, including a cybereye image of what Glendower looked like. He popped the storage chip out and saying "excuse me for a second" he made his way out of the booth and over to the corner where the Cafe's paper printers were. He gathered the sheets and as he turned back to the table he saw Darla had gone to the door and was beckoning him outside. He picked up his deck and followed her into the alley beside the building.
"We should have no problems tracing this guy" he said. "I've got a description of what he looks like, his address, rumors about work he's done and even a photo...."
"Wow, really? Can I see?" she asked while bouncing up and down with excitement. Temporarily hypnotized by the way some parts of the woman were moving, he eventually snapped out of it to say "uh..yeah, sure and uh..I've got it on chip for you, too. This, should give us a starting point to find that ring"
After pouring over the papers for a few minutes Darla turned back towards the decker. "But there's nothing about the tusker...." she said with a small pout.
"Yeah, well this Owen character might be all we need and the troll had some kind of operation going on. It looked like a team of deckers were on some kind of search and destroy mission to eliminate clues about her from the matrix. It was a pretty wiz group judging by their speed and I thought that if you give this stuff to that Hammer fragger he might leave us alone."
"Us?" she asked turning towards the youth so that he was "pinned" to the alley wall. "Do you mean, you want to stay with me?" she asked as she brought her face closer to his.
"Oh, yeah" he said as he closed his eyes.
The "snick" he heard didn't register as a danger sound until the point of the knife slipped between his ribs and into the pericardial sack. The jumble of thoughts that hit him through the haze of pain that marked the end of his life included the thought Switchblade...that's the sound of a switchblade. At the first shock of pain his eyes sprang open and the look of contempt on the face of his beautiful "damsel in distress" broke his heart figuratively just as her knife was doing the same thing in a literal sense.
"Ooh, but see, I've got what I want, Dr. Doom. Thanks."
Cleaning her blade on his shirt, she picked up the dead kid's cyberdeck. Probably worth good cred she thought as she whistled for Hammer to come pick her up.

"I'm telling you Central, its just impossible. I don't know what she's mobilized or how much she's spending but three of us have been fried trying to dig out any data on the trog. I'm talking three dead deckers and all we've found out is that were outclassed. I can show you the numbers. The group that's covering her trail has utilities at least a level higher than anything we can throw at them, I'm talking across the board! Reaction speed close to 18 percent higher, its like spears vs. Machine guns."
"All right, what are you telling me you need to get the job done?" The cloaked figure asked.
"Look, I'm not exaggerating. I'm not blowing stuff out of proportion so we can get nuyen for upgrades. I'm talking these fraggers have the easier job. They don't need to protect the data, they just have to find the string and burn it. They don't give a frag what it does to the architecture, or who's in the way. We are trying to search and retrieve without being traced and they are playing search and destroy without a care about who tries to trace them. They don't download, they don't even investigate they rip up anything that might possibly have data within the parameters and they're gone. If you bought us each Fairlight Excaliburs with level 10 utilities right now we wouldn't be able to get what you want because the slitch's deckers have already destroyed most of it."
Greeted by an ominous silence, the Humanis training camp's senior decker, whose handle was Icepick, began to doubt his wisdom at being so blunt with the camp's director. He'd heard enough stories of gruesome deaths for those who displeased the hooded figure to realize that he might not make it back out of the room after delivering this news. He quickly began the second part of the report.
"We were able to get some pretty substantial data on target 2," he said, hoping to save his hide. "Here is what he looks like, here is a complete physical description. Here is his address. Here is his legend-all of the jobs he is rumored to be associated with. We listed some conclusions and speculation about where he is now based on the data we've pulled together so far." The pile of papers he had been placing on Central's desk looked pretty pitiful even in his own eyes.
Central pulled open a drawer and extracted a data chip which was pushed over to the nervous decker. "Include this data in your computations and re-evaluate." the electronically distorted voice said. When the decker continued to wait Central said "that is all".
Icepick scooped up the chip and beat a hasty retreat out of the room.

Central had spent a lifetime working for Humanis. In that time many interesting allies, associates and opponents had come and gone. Now Central's own life was on the line. The bid on Felix was rash and ill advised. I tipped my hand and now, just as I am after her, she is doubtless after me. She seems to have pulled out all of the stops to cover her hoop. I suppose prudence dictates that I do the same. Central extracted a slip of paper from within the folds of its costume. Remembering the instruction from years ago, Central paused.
"This is only to be used in the most dire emergency. It can only be used once and the organization you will contact is far deadlier than you can believe. They are not even spoken of except at the level of the corporate court. Contacting them will obligate you to pay any price they demand which will probably be millions of nuyen, but could obligate us in ways beyond imagining. Make no mistake-dealing with this group is potentially as dangerous to you as it is to your opponent. I have never used this number and I pray you never need to either."
Central took the data that Icepick had accumulated and combined it with the data already acquired. Culling rumors, suspicions, speculations and conclusions from hard data, the cowled figure shook its head at the paucity of facts. Calling up another, private file, Central abstracted the hard data on Felix. Sighing with frustration at the lack of data, Central took the plunge and called the local number on the paper.
"Hello." said the electronically masked voice over the telecom as NO VIDEO flashed on the screen
"Hello, may I speak with Mr. Green?" asked Central
"Mr. Green is no longer here."
"I was interested in some work for the compound."
"Do you understand what you are asking?"
"You will be contacted within 24 hours."
"My location..."
"You will be contacted within 24 hours." click


After an initial reading of all of the data that Felix had left for him, Owen realized that it had gotten late and he was really hungry. I'm not all that anxious for MREs or Stuffer Shack, he thought, maybe I'll go back to Uncle Oh's. Nah, I'm not really up for noodles again. I wonder if the Cyber Cafe serves sandwiches. I could get something to go and maybe apologize for this afternoon. Yeah, I better make sure that I didn't completely dump on Skater's memory. Damn it! "Skater's memory" and I was laughing with him a couple of days ago. Owen threw on his duster and went to fetch his bike. BeBop first tried to interest him in the extensive frozen menu that the warehouse freezers carried. When this was no sale, she made him wait until Goren gave his reluctant approval before she would open the building doors to let Owen out. When he had assured them "I'll be home early, Mom & Dad, I promise," he gave Goren a chance for an exasperated "boys will be boys" which set off an entire chain of double entendre between he and BeBop. Eventually the diminutive weaponsmith handed Owen a small flatscreen which gave him directions through the mine field in exchange for his backpack, which he didn't need to get sandwiches. "When you come back hit this button 3 times and this once and we will open the gate."
"Thanks. You guys want me to bring you anything back?" Owen asked.
"Yeah, if you see any good cigars....."
"Piss on 'em and roll 'em in dog drek. Then they'll smell exactly like the crap he's smokin' now." said BeBop. Over Goren's cries of indignation she said, "Naw, we got years worth of stuff stashed here, we don't need nothin. Just be careful, ok?"
"His response of 'Yes, Mother' was delivered as the bike was already moving, which prevented his catching a slap which would have knocked him flying.

When Owen rode up to Ye Olde Cyber Cafe he found a spot right out front. He parked his bike and went in asking for the manager. The dwarf decker was not exactly thrilled to see him, but allowed that "Your troll girlfriend was generous enough in the compensation that I really can't complain too much. What do you want now?" Owen mentioned he was looking for some sandwiches to go and found her disposition improved when she learned he would not be staying. He apologized again for the difficulty and told her he wanted to make sure he had done nothing to smear Skater's name. She seemed pleased that he was sensitive about his partner's reputation but took his order and hustled off without further comment.
While he was waiting for his food he was conscious that a great deal of attention was being directed his way. Some of it was subtle, but some of it was blatantly hostile. He though about a number of possible reactions from nail cleaning with a combat knife to mooning the entire cafe. The last made him chuckle to himself at Goren and BeBop's bad influence. I never would have considered such a response before, he thought giggling to himself, not a defendable stance. He realized that the grin that this had brought to his face was probably seen as a feral snarl by the patrons of the cafe and coughed to keep himself from laughing out loud. His sandwiches came and leaving a substantial tip, he paid and left.
As he was walking out he caught the eye of a redhead climbing onto the back of a bike in the alley alongside the building. Her sudden gasp of breath indicated that she knew him, but he had no idea who she was or where they had met. Shrugging, Owen climbed onto his bike. As he rode away he glanced over and noticed that both the redhead and the ganger she was whispering to were watching him ride off.
Better safe than dead, he thought as he headed directly away from his new hideout. Although they didn't have enough training, Owen had to admit that the group following him had a certain animal cunning and were well versed on the streets in the area. He was catching just enough indicators of tails that he knew it wasn't his sense of paranoia working overtime. I don't know how or why, but I know I've become a target. Ok, do I let them herd me into their killing ground or do I pick a spot and challenge them right here. Or maybe.... Owen doubled back at high speed until he found a private parking garage. Planning to use his trusty old pass key card to lift the garage door and set up a little ambush of his own, he quickly realized that the card in question was still in the pocket of his cloak which was in his backpack which was at his new headquarters. Frag. So much for that excellent piece of planning, drekhead. Ok, they're moving in on this position, now what? Number 1 get off residential streets. The blowoff may be a firefight. Get on a highway.
As Owen headed toward the highway he sensed that the opposition's numbers were growing. Drek. Its a gang and they've called for reinforcements. No way are they going to let me near an on ramp. Hearing Chandler's voice telling him "You know what do to if you don't let your mind get in the way." he pulled over, activated the bike's security system and faded into the night.

After jumping off, Owen ran at top speed to put maximum distance between himself and the bike. He knew that the gang would set up a sentry line as far away as they could, depending on their numbers, and that everyone not on the line would attempt to drive him into it. If he hid he might evade the beaters, but if he could get outside of the sentries, set up behind their line, he could do substantial damage from a relatively safe position. Terror is the art of creating, in your opponent, the fear to act. How many instructors hit me with some variation on that theme? I'm either going to have to do this entire gang or I'm going to have to be so brutal that I scare the drek out of these hardened bastards.
Because Owen was running to get outside of the perimeter of the trap, he did not see smilin Sonny Sousa's security system electrocute Rhino when the big man attempted to take possession of the hog. He also missed Johnny Bones electrifying departure 40 seconds later when the laughing little man jumped into the saddle of what was clearly now his bike. With the smoldering remains of two Night Hunters as warning, nobody else tested the security system or attempted to claim the BMW.
Hammer was royally pissed. He had lost two of the 30 gangers at his command and they hadn't come close to this Glendower fragger. He then got a call on his wristcom that Nightshade had been found with her head sitting on the handlebars in front of her body. Spike, the lieutenant who called in with the report said it looked like the mono whip in her own fingertip compartment had been used to lighten the load her shoulders would normally carry. This was not the way it was supposed to go! Accustomed to isolating and terrifying metahumans in the middle of the night, a target that hunted the hunters was as unexpected as it was unwelcome. What to do?
He had started the "beaters" as soon as the perimeter had been established. He was personally directing the search so there would be no screwup, but this Glendower frag didn't act the way prey was supposed to. While he was coming up with and rejecting various plans to alter the hunt, he got two more reports from Spike, who was checking the perimeter. Hawkins was found with the top of his head blown off. Spike said that he had closed up the outside of the line enough that a shot would have been heard which means the fragger had a silenced pistol. He had also placed the barrel under the Hawkin's chin before pulling the trigger to leave the shower of blood and gray matter that surrounded the body. "Its fraggin sick, man. Hawk's skull is empty and there's like this huge pattern of blood in the street with chunks of gray in it. Who the frag is this slot?"
In his second report Spike's voice had gotten the high wine that usually precedes hysteria. Mongo, the largest, strongest (and dumbest) of the Night Hunters was found with his back broken. Now Mongo was one of the few gangers who had been able to afford cyberware and in addition to muscle augmentation he had bone lacing. "How the frag can that happen, man? I mean he had fraggin reinforcement on the biggest fraggin bones in the fraggin gang. How the frag does some fragger break his fraggin back and nobody hears a fraggin thing, man?!"
Hammer began trying to talk his lieutenant down. He gave him extensive instructions and did his best to calm Spike's fears. Finally he left the "beaters" in Darla's charge and rode around to the sentry line that Spike was controlling. He found Spike sitting on his bike with a clear plastic bag over his head. His killer had apparently pulled the bag down over Spike's head and then, by the look of his purpling hands, just held them to the handlebars while the ganger had suffocated.
As he realized how the execution must have taken place the hairs on the back of his neck began to rise. FRAG. This was one cold blooded son of a slitch. He took out four of the best the Night Hunters had and nobody had gotten off a shot. We need a plan to ambush this sucker. Whoever he is, he's too good for us to play on the fly. He started calling everyone in, back to the start point of the ambush, and when Boo didn't answer he started directing his anger at the armorer. That sucker is pissed that I left him to guard the bike, so he's ignoring my call. I don't care how good he is with those bang-bangs he better fraggin take orders.
Darla's near hysterical call brought Hammer rushing back to the start point. Glendower's bike was gone! Boo was there, sitting with Rhino and Johnny Bones, only his head was on facing the wrong way.
The Night Hunters, their numbers reduced by seven hurried back to the clubhouse, carrying with them the tracer that BeBop had attempted to plant on Owen's bike.

When Owen was certain that he wasn't being pursued, he made his way back to Goren's place. BeBop opened the gate and was waiting for him wearing a very puzzled expression.
"You want to know why your tracking device says I'm someplace else, right?"
The dwarf's frozen face was all the confirmation he needed.
"I got jumped by a bunch of gangers. Since they had to work hard to come after me, I figgured it wasn't a casual attack so I used the tracker you put on my bike to trace them. Their HQ might be a good thing to know."
Goren had put aside his work to come over and ask for details on what had happened. Owen described the gangers and their colors. When Goren concluded "Night Hunters" he and BeBop exchanged a look. Owen then explained the ambush and its reversal, talking about how he had terrified the gang without killing them all.
"The real crowning piece was the underboss who was checking the ambush line. I took him out with a Da Hu Yuan Jiao kick to the throat, but since I was trying to terrify them, I sat him up on his bike and put a plastic bag over his head. By smearing dirt on his hands and closing them around the handlebars, I made it look like I had put the bag on him and then held his hands to the bars while he suffocated."
"So Ka. That's not a pleasant way to go. Probably scare the drek out of me too." said Goren
"Yeah, the sick thing is, not that long ago I wouldn't have hesitated to actually kill that way rather than spend the time creating the special effects." When Goren and BeBop had no response, Owen parked the bike and wandered off into a darkened area of the warehouse.
"He forgot his sandwiches", observed Goren.
"I bet he couldn't eat them now, anyway", responded BeBop. "That's one disturbed young norm. We better leave him alone to work out what's bothering him."

In spite of her comment to Goren, several hours later BeBop, sandwiches in hand, went looking for Owen. She found him in a corner, sitting in the lotus position, attempting to meditate. She watched in silence for several minutes, but when she turned to go Owen said "You wanted something?"
She turned back and said "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you."
Owen opened his eyes and rose fluidly to his full height. "Don't worry about it. The path is eluding me tonight. I won't find it till I stop looking. What can I do for you?"
"I brought your sandwiches. You probably should eat something."
His look said he was toying with a response of "Yes, Mother." But instead he simply said "Thank you."
"It really bothers you doesn't it?" BeBop blurted out before she turned to go. "Those fraggers kill people every night because they don't like the way they look. They were trying to kill you and it still bothers you that you wiped out some of that trash."
Owen was quiet for a moment, wondering how to explain his training and talent for something he now hated doing. Finally he just said "Yes, Yes it does."

Central was in a towering rage. Hammer had called in with his report of last night's activities. Apparently he had found Glendower and instead of following him back to his, and potentially Felix's hideout, his gang had attempted an ambush. I'm to blame, raged Central I told him I was developing information on his targets and all he had to do was kill them. I should have explained that capturing one might have gotten information on the other. But I don't want the half-wit to think, I just want him as an attack beast that kills at my direction. Frag. But he couldn't even do that. He lost seven men and they didn't even catch a glimpse of the target. Damn! And why did he wait 12, no 12 and a half hours before reporting this screw-up. My hoop is on the line here!
Looking up from the desk, Central realized there was another figure in the room. Having no idea how long the other had been there, the hooded figure began planning it's next series of moves. At that moment the male elf said "You were told you would be contacted."
Seeing that Central was shocked, the elf continued. "A call to Mr. Green with some work for the compound? Surely you recall.... I am here for the details. Before you begin a long string of questions about who I am, how I did I get in here, do I know who I am dealing with, etc., etc. Let me just say, Zardoz or Central or Johnson or whatever name you are using today, that we know enough. Let's get down to cases without the usual blustering and posing, shall we? I require data on targets."
Central mutely handed across two data chips extracted from the drawer of the desk. There was absolutely no thought of triggering hidden alarms or pulling the flechette pistol also concealed in the drawer. The elf's nod at the wisdom of this course of action indicated that he was fully prepared to deal with any unwise choice that Central might make. Central studied the elf as he prepared to review the chips. Thin, athletic looking, attractive in that nearly feminine way that elves had, multiple data jacks at his temple says he's a decker but he moves with the kind of repressed nervous energy that overchromed samurai have...like a powder keg about to explode... A wildman working hard to keep from jumping out of his skin. When the elf loaded the chips into a reader, he seemed momentarily shocked at one of the targets. He recovered quickly and said "Contract under consideration on the female target. Price will be 500,000 nuyen if contract accepted. Contract accepted on male target. Price is 1 million nuyen. Male target designated as priority/immediate. Expenses 300,000 nuyen payable now."
When Central hesitated at the astronomical sums named for the wetwork, the elf cut off the objection saying "You were asked if you knew what you were asking for, were you not?" Central nodded. "Very well then," the elf said and proffered an ebony credstick for fund transfer.

Owen's night had been a restless one. In spite of taking all of his usual precaution before laying down to sleep, he had not been able to completely relax. He knew he should not have been disturbed by the ganger's deaths. On an intellectual level he was able to rationalize all that he had done. They wanted to kill him, they were trying to kill him, he killed them first. On an emotional level he felt guilty. People who had thoughts and hopes, dreams, families and friends were dead at his hands. It could never be undone. They were gone.
In spite of the limited sleep, he was up at dawn for his morning rituals. He grabbed a shower and throwing on some sweats, wandered from the living area to the work area where he had left Goren and BeBop the night before. He was surprised to see both weaponsmiths still working away.
"Don't you guys ever go to bed?" he asked.
"Kind of a personal question, ain't it, hot stuff? Or was that an invitation?" vamped BeBop.
"Aw, give the kid a break you horny halfer, he just got up." growled Goren.
"Well, its good to hear that one male around her can....get it up, that is."
"You see, you see what I have to deal with?" the ork asked Owen. "Why if I wasn't the studly ork I am, this tiny nympho would always be on the docks waiting for the fleet to come in. As it is, It takes all of my massive...." and ducked as can of spray lube sailed by his head.
"His massive! Your massive what? Imagination? Ego? Fantasy Life? Owen, that tusker is a legend in his own mind."
Shaking his head at another sexual inuendo battle, he started to wander off when Goren called out, "Hey, don't you want the stuff you ordered?"
Owen turned back in surprise. "You've already built it?"
"Well, not everything. We're still working on the pistol, but we were able to do some of the other items you asked for. Not everybody spends their valuable time in bed."
"Yes", agreed the dwarf. "Some of us have very little reason to even go to bed." She gave Owen a wink and holding thumb and forefinger an inch apart she looked at Goren and stage whispered "Very little!"
"You stuntie slut! Get the damn sword and I'll show the kid the knives."
Beckoning Owen over to a work table he handed him a piece of composite body armor. "Now, other than the fact that its a little heavier than usual, this is just a piece of reinforcing back protection, right?" Knowing that there was more to it than met the eye, Owen examined the armor very minutely. "Go ahead, run it through the weapon scanner at the door," the ork said. "It's set higher than your average airport detector and it doesn't even peep, right? Now push down with your thumbs on the two upper corners."
As Owen did the armor seperated along its edge, like a book. The inside had a series of patterns incised into it. After a few seconds Owen realized that they were Shuriken of different types in an interlocking pattern. He pulled one up and tossed it at a crate. The balance was perfect and the weight was exactly what it should be! Goren set up a long crate lid and invited Owen to try them all. Here were eight throwing weapons that would be transportable anywhere.
"They're composite material," Goren said, "so unless the security screen is set up to prevent your wearing bulletproof armor, and I've never heard of that, you should have no problem. The only drawback is that its not a weapon you can reach for quickly. Here's one that is." he said tossing Owen a thin but heavy weighted chain.
"Ah, a Manriki-gusari." said Owen as he swung the chain.
"Its made of a very tough ceramic cushioned by a polymer overlay. Don't believe you can shatter or crush it and even a monowhip won't cut it. I guess its useful as a defensive weapon." said the ork. Smiling, Owen shattered a corner of the crate lid with a blow from the weight at the end of the swinging chain. Goren swallowed and said "It won't set off alarms, but if you want something thats easier to conceal try this" and tosed him a 6 inch long composite tube.
"An Asp collapsing baton!" Owen said with surprise. "I haven't seen one of these in years, but your right. It is an excellent quick weapon." Owen flicked the baton out to its full length and took a few swipes with it. In a very fast move he delivered a strike which shattered another corner of the crate lid.
"You see, I told ya he'd know what it was." BeBop said as she joined them. "Show him the knives."
Goren brought out a tray holding several knives. "The folder is reinforced composite and is a decent pocket tool. This baby", he said holding up the second blade "also gets past the scanners and if you push this..." the blade flew across the room and buried itself in the crate lid. "Whamo! Nasty surprise. The handle is hollow and contains a very strong spring made from linked polymers. Actually, its an old design from Soviet Military, whatever that was, but the update will get into secure areas and may surprise some people. Let me show you how to reload the damn thing." After reasembling the spring balde Goren continued "This one is a survival knife. All kinds of crap in the handle. Same material as the others but may be too large to carry on you in an airport or someplace else your trying to be inconspicuous. But, slip it into this and throw it in your carry-on and it won't be found by x-ray, metal detector or hand search, unless they already suspect you of smuggling and are tearing apart your luggage."
"I've saved the best for last" the ork said. "This is a combat knife. It's formed of a single crystal grown in zero-g on one of the orbital platforms. Very expensive, very sharp, doesn't detect. It's called a Sten blade, I don't know why. It's 17 molecules thick at the edge...I know, I know, a monofilament whip is only a single stretched molecule, but this edge is on a rigid frame, which means you can cut through most things faster with this blade. Its got a dikote finish so it should get the job done for you. The scabard is lined with the same ceramics that monowhip reels are made of."
Owen checked the balance of the blade and then tossed it underhand at the crate lid. When the blade penetrated to the hilt he let out a low whistle.
"Be fraggin' careful with that thing, will ya! Take a limb off faster than you'd believe."
Then BeBop brought out a heavy jo stick. Owen spun the four foot length of hardwood and took several swings with it. "A little heavy, but it should do", he said. "I was really looking for more of a han bo, though this will be ok."
"Three feet wasn't long enough, but we used the extra space, hot stuff. Push in here...here and here at the same time." she said indicating 3 points on the staff. When Owen complied an 8 inch double-bladed dagger snicked out at the end of the stick. He was now holding a short spear. "Now push here, she said, and when Owen complied the blade shot into the target as the springblade had.
"Wow." said Owen. "That's a nasty surprise."
BeBop took the stick and reloaded the blade. Handing it back to Owen she said "Now pushing here exposes the catch, this releases it." Demonstating she pulled a straight, single edged, guardless, sword out of the staff. "With practice you should be able to do it in one motion. Blade is composite and even under x-ray this doesn't scan as a anything but a stick. The blade's not as sharp as the crystal knife, but it's dikote covered too and should be sharp enough to shave with."
Owen examined the sword for several minutes. Pleased with the feel and balance of the blade he resheathed it and, holding the cane sword before him in both hands he made a formal bow to BeBop and looking directly into her eyes said reverently, "I thank you for this ninja-toe and place myself at the service of your house."
BeBop was stunned by the sincerity and seriousness of the moment. She was quite pleased that Owen liked the weapon but she was a little out of her depth with the gravity he seemed to feel that the moment required. Not trusting herself to say anything, she returned his bow in silence. Even Goren refrained from making light of the moment and only after Owen began practicing the release and draw did he dare to whisper to BeBop as she came towards him.
"Don't get any ideas about him servicing you, now."
BeBop did not rise to the bait but simply shook her head. After a moment, as she led the ork back to their work area, she quietly said "That was so strange. It was like, if I told him I needed him to kill for me or die for me he was saying he would do it. He put himself completely at my command. I knew it, hell, I know it now. Anything I asked him to do, absolutely anything, he would do because I made him a sword. It's spooky. I never seen anybody make himself that vulnerable. I can see why Felix wants him so badly." Breaking out of her reverie she saw the look on Goren's face. "Now don't go getting jealous, you old reprobate. I'm not planning on sleeping with anybody but you. I just think the kid's pretty exceptional and I understand Felix's attraction."

After spending several hours practicing with his new weapons, Owen went out to find a public telecom unit so he could check for e-mail from Professor Cortez. He downloaded quite a volume of material and returned to the warehouse to view it. He spent the remainder of the day at the warehouse's computer trying to coordinate all of the data that Pablo had accumulated. While he was at it he loaded the files that Felix had sent and the odd fact that he had picked up along the way. Rumors from smilin' Sonny, the attack by the Night Hunters, the location they had fled to after the ambush, etc.
By evening he found some disturbing patterns forming. They were disturbing because facts and conclusions from Professor Cortez seemed to be duplicated in the information he had gotten from Felix. Eventually he set up a logic matrix which was really just a grid of sylogisms. (If C was really Central and Central ran a Humanis training camp, then C could control or influence the Night Hunters. But the Night Hunters often aided Zardoz's plans so Zardoz and Central might be associates, etc.) Eventually the odds became smaller and smaller that Central and Zardoz were different people. While he was trying to find a reasonable explanation for this, Goren came in with more data from Felix. When the new facts were included in the pattern the conclusion that Zardoz and Central were the same person became inescapable. He copied all of the data to a chip and prepared to go out on a scouting mission to evaluate the strength of the Humanis training camp. He now had an idea where the opponent that had sent the Wetboys, Sandmen and Night Hunters after him might be hiding. In addition to some of his new weapons he packed his cloak and selected burglar tools.

"Madame Magdelena, may we speak to you? Katya and I are concerned about Owen."said Seka.
"What's wrong now, child?", asked the old woman patiently.
"We know that we can't compromise ourselves or the network by giving him any obvious help..."
"But Madame M", broke in Katya, "look at the new pattern that's emerging. Five of the most dangerous assasins we know of have arrived in the plex in the last 4 hours. We know Jingle spoke with Central and almost immediately after that top hitters started showing up off suborbitals from Hong Kong, Tokyo, Honolulu, Damascus and London. It's got to mean that.....that group has accepted a contract on Owen. Can't we do something to help him?"
"My child, I share your concern, but you know that at this juncture anything we did to tip the scales would increase the danger rather than reduce it. You must see that has already happened. We 'helped' by steering Felix to the deckers she needed to deny vital data to Central. As a result, she has survived and Owen has gained some time. Unfortunately the frustration caused Central to escalate and call in .....that group. There's no value in crying about it now, but if the three of us had been more level headed about the young man he might not now be facing this danger. In some ways our particiaption magnifies the danger, and we cannot do anymore. Don't either of you start crying now. Have some faith that the young man is as exceptional as we believe and will extricate himself."
"Do you believe he will, Madame?" asked the elven woman.
With a sigh the old woman responded, "I hope so, child, I certainly hope so."


Jingle looked at each member of the spike team that had assembled in the luxury hotel suite. Until he had made the call, as the compound's representative in the plex, he had been the deadliest assassin in town. He knew that his discovery of a renegade long thought dead would cause the compound's council to send back-up, but he never expected he would be dealing with a collection of legends. Now the operation was taken completely out of his hands as Archangel was on the scene. Jingle looked over at the group's leader. He'd be the leader in any group, Jingle thought, he actually looks like an angel. 7 foot tall, Long flowing hair, stern yet beautiful face, perfectly sculpted body. He'd be deferred to even if he wasn't the most accomplished assassin the compound had ever produced. He's been the unchallenged number 1 for 15 years, and he hasn't shown any sign of slowing down. His speed with that rapier is still greater than most marks can see. In fact, the only rival whose fame ever had a potential of challenging the "Angel of Death" had been the defector we're after now. Gray, as he called himself then, burst onto the scene and gained notoriety with the apprentices and juniors for the emotionless precision of his executions. The masters had to explain the methods behind the hits because the fragger had no particular style, no signature element that made his work identifiable. I remember all the arguments at meals about his being a robot who took no delight in anything but efficiency.
Continuing to study the other members of the team, Jingle thought, You certainly can't say that about the rest of these fraggers. Khan can barely keep his emotions in check. Khan do Lee an Singh, the butcher.... that little Asian norm loves to work with those damn hand sickles and chains...Kusari-gama....killed 4 fellow students while "sparring" with those things....loves to leave pieces of opponents all over a hit scene.....The Whip, brooding with a mood as black as her outfit...that ork has never had any of her scars removed by surgery...its almost like they are trophies from working with that pair of monowhips....shame, she might have been quite hot looking once....the mage Flavius...you can see that pretty boy hates being in the same room with Archangel...he does suffer by comparison and in most other teams he would be the Prima Donna at center stage....I wonder if he'll do as he's told or try to one up big A...Smiley...now there's somebody who has to fight like hell to stay out of center stage...a Fomori physical adept whose weapon of choice are paired Sai...though I hear he calls them Tjabang because that's what those metal daggers with the hook like wings are called in Penjack-Silat...I heard he actually trained with Gray...I wonder how he feels about going after a classmate... he looks like he doesn't have a care in the world.
Jingle was jerked from his observation when Archangel began to speak in deep rich cultured tones."We will assume that the local representative is correct and that the target is the renegade Gray, currently calling himself Owen Glendower. Plan of action is as follows. We will not seek his base of operations. Reasoning: 1) Probability is high that they are temporary and several. 2) He would be familiar with the area and so evasion and counterattack are likely. 3) Time spent tracking increases the likelihood of his flight. We will, instead, set up an ambush around his target. The director of the Humanis Policlub training camp is named Central. This individual has directed several local hit teams to eliminate Gray. None have succeeded in their attempts, however the fact that each group has had survivors leads to one of two conclusions. Either the local representatives is in error about the identity of the target" all eyes in the room turned to Jingle. "Or Gray has developed some defect.... Question" Archangel eyes flashed at the interruption but he nodded to Smiley.
"Moight we be havin' the deetails on the preeveeus ahtacks, now? It moight be helpin to deetermine if were chasin the right lad, atall" the Troll asked in the high pitched voice and brogue that was entirely fictitious.
"When I complete the plan of action" The huge norm snapped.
He even sounds like a wrathful angel Jingle thought. That's creepy and I'd bet anything that its deliberate.
"To continue, It is reasonable to assume that Gray will counterattack Central to eliminate that threat. We will set up a wide perimeter ambush around Central's location and take the target when he comes for Central. Whether he reaches his target or not is of little concern although accounting would probably prefer that we collected our fee before Central was eliminated. Central will have to go in any event as it would be inappropriate for us to leave behind an observer who might increase the visibility of the compound. On a practical note, the local gang, the Night Hunters, are currently assigned to take out Gray. I will entertain discussion on whether they need to be eliminated."
Khan said "Kill them! Kill them before they get in the way."
The Whip simply made a thumbs down gesture.
Flavius said "They should be allowed to follow their drab and meaningless lives. Who knows, they may get lucky and geek the mark, thereby saving us time and effort."
Smiley chimed in with "Well now, if dey were to disappear, all of a sudden, mighten it not seem strange to the boyyo? Wouldn't he be askin himself, where the divil did all a those hooligans run off to? Isn't wondrous strange that I've nary a stump or a stile or anything at all, between me an me lovely target?"
Jingle thought I'd better keep quiet on this. I don't know if I'm supposed to be part of the team or just act in support, but I don't want to cross any of these fraggers.
Archangel nodded and said "We will not take out the Night Hunters at this time in order to avoid alerting the mark. Jingle will answer the question posed earlier about the history on the attacks on Gray."
Jingle cleared his throat and said "In the first attack the target evaded an explosive trap and used tranq on some ambushers, stones on others and his hands and feet on others. 4 killed 3 survived. Second ambush, virtually impossible to attribute damage as the survivors have not been available. Some indications of two teams operating, one a local kick squad 3 dead, 3 survivors , 1 missing and another team 4 dead, one of which was an initiate grade mage. Unclear whether the mage was an ally of the mark or pursuing some other course of action. Third attack involved the Night Hunters attempting a classic lion hunt last night. 7 fatalities, no-one saw the mark."
In a deep voice with no trace of an accent, the troll said, "It's Gray."
Archangel nodded after a moment and said "Very well, you have the address of the camp. Smiley, you will work north, Khan is east, Flavius is south, Whip is west. I will work inside the perimeter and Jingle you will observe from high cover. I have no objection to your sniping, but I would prefer that you not interfere with the other members of the team. Your primary mission will be to record the elimination of a traitor."

Owen rode his bike to a Stuffer Shack some 10 blocks from the target area and parked in the lot. After activating the security system he noticed a young boy rooting through the dumpster and paid him 50 nuyen to tell anyone who came close that he had just seen a guy electrocuted while touching that bike. He promised the kid another 50 when he came back and then nearly aborted the mission when the kid said "waitaminit" and ran into the Stuffer Shack. Minutes later the kid came back out with 2 bags of food and a face stuffed like a chipmunk's. Owen waited until the kid was able to swallow and then heard the explanation "Thanks, mista. I don get ta eat so regulah an I woulda gone nuts waitin wit coin in my pocket outside a dis place. My luck, somebody ud grab da bike while I 's inside and den you'd be aftah my hoop. Dis way I can go all nite."
Owen changed out of his duster and into the long cloak. If the maps that Goren had provided were accurate he had a route planned that would take him to a rooftop in the area that would allow him to observe both the training camp and the Night Hunters hideout. He wondered at the logic of putting both the gang and the training camp in the same area. It has several tactical disadvantages, but I suppose it allows for quick reinforcement at times of direct attack.
When Owen got to the building he had selected as his observation post he slipped on the Shuko that he would use to get to the roof. Rather than go through the building, he would use the gloves with the spiked metal palms to climb quickly up the outside of the decaying 10 story project building. At about the sixth floor Owen found himself thinking, Why didn't I just use the stairs? Pollution's taken its toll up here and the fragging bricks are turning to powder as you climb, you stupid slot. When he reached the roof he immediately hooked up a climbing rope, which he hid among some debris in the corner. Well, at least now I can get down in a hurry.
As he looked the roof over, Owen found it featureless except for the stairway door. That's how I should have come up he thought as he put the silencers on his pistols. Although it made them more difficult to draw, he wouldn't give his position away if he had to shoot someone. As he was hoping that wouldn't happen he heard a scratching at the roof door's lock. He immediately jumped up and laid flat on the roof of the stairway. There was barely enough room for him to lay flat without hanging over the sides, but it was the only possible place of concealment on the roof. The door opened and an elf stepped out carrying a Barret heavy sniper rifle. After giving the roof a cursory check, the elf set up the rifle and began scanning the area. After a few minutes he seemed to be mumbling to himself.
"Yeah, wouldn't that be sweet..... Fraggin lord high executioners roll inta town...tell me 'I'd prefer' this and you will do that.....like to pop the sumbitch right between the eyes. One shot, pop his head like a pimple and send them back to tell the council 'oops, we weren't needed after all.... coulda saved the suborbital tickets. Jingle did it himself. We just watched while the local rep took out Gray...."
Owen's heart started beating like a trip hammer Gray?! Tell the council the local rep took out Gray? Oh, Frag! The Fraggin compound's found me....wait, wait, calm down...breathe....ok, he was just mumbling, maybe you misunderstood...
At that moment the elf spoke clearly, obviously responding to an ear phone. "Observer in position. No activity." after a few seconds he began to talk to himself again "Make my rep, I beat those clowns to the punch, take Glendower's head myself...."
Owen aimed one of his silenced Predator II and double tapped the elf in the back of the neck. He quickly slipped down from the stairway roof and pushing the dead decker aside started staring through the silenced rifle's scope. He saw a figure emerge on the roof of what he assumed was the headquarters building. Darting from shadow to shadow the other figure was checking the roof as Owen had done. He quickly calculated the area where the figure would next appear and as soon as the figure stopped he stroked the trigger. In the instant before the big guns recoil moved the sight off target, he saw the profile of an angel. OH FRAG! He quickly reacquired the target which was now standing literally a head shorter than it had. He watched the spray of blood from the stump atop the broad shoulders blast into the air. As he dropped the gun and began to move towards the corner where his rope was hidden he thought I'm fragged, I'm fragged, I'm fragged. That was fraggin Archangel. The compound knows I'm here. Oh, holy Frag! They've mobilized a spike team. I've got to run. Quick and quiet is the only way I get out of this alive. At that moment Jingle's cortex bomb exploded blowing Owen off his feet.
As Owen groggily reoriented himself he scrambled towards his rope escape. Tossing the line over the side of the building he thought Frag. That blast alerted everybody. No time to climb down. He wrapped a loop of rope around the staff that BeBop had made for him and which he had carried down the back of his cape. Using his feet and the staff to slow his free fall he dropped over the side of the building.
As he landed at the base of the building he felt a sting across the front of his on his right thigh at the same time the pistol and holster dropped from his left. He began to roll left but stopped short at a buzzing sound and turned to see a badly scarred ork female across the alley wielding two monofilament whips. She smiled as he recognized her and the smile broadened as he began to swing his Manriki-gusari in a wide circle in front of him. For the first time in nearly a year she spoke. "You know better than that don't you, Gray. I'll cut up your chain and then I'll cut up your hoop." The incongruity of such a sweet mellifluous voice in such a scarred package was intended to distract, but Owen recognized the ploy for what it was. When the ork swung both whips in simultaneously Owen's swinging chain fouled them both. With a look of complete confidence the Whip jerked both her arms, but instead of cutting through the chain she found herself pulled off balance. As she started to recover Owen touched the four points on his staff and the composite spear blade deployed and kept right on going across the alley and through the open mouth of his opponent. Hearing someone running towards the corner, Owen threw his staff at ankle height while maintaining tension on the whip lines.
Flavius had heard the explosion of Jingle's cortex bomb and come running. He was sure that if the Whip had not finished the job the hellblast he was preparing to throw would. He activated his bullet barrier as he ran. He just had to get there in time. He ran around the side of the building and as he was about to enter the alley something hit him in the ankles. He was annoyed rather than worried about his fall and prepared to roll through it. The sting at the tip of his nose as the monowire began to slice through his head was the last thing he ever felt.
The slash through the front of Owen's thigh was not deep as much as it was distractingly painful. He dropped the fouled chain and as he ran out of the alley he scooped up his staff. As he started to head back towards his bike he recognized an armed group of norms piling out of the building in front of him. He ducked into the shadows and thought The Night Hunters. Frag. They heard the boom in their territory and they've come out to see what happened. I'll have to head the other way. As Owen turned to head in the other direction he saw another armed group piling out of a another building. And, of course that would be the camp's class of trainees and instructors. FRAG!! Knowing that any remaining members of the spike team would be headed towards the area he had just left Owen began sprinting from shadow to shadow towards the main headquarters.
Owen's initial thought when approaching the headquarters building was to pass it and try to get out of the area entirely. When he got to the far side of the building he caught a glimpse of some people coming his way, and with no other option, ducked into the building. He was surprised there were no guards on the main floor, but surmised they were probably the ones he had seen coming back into the building. He was grateful for their laxity.
Knowing that the compound had been alerted to his presence, he realized that this would be his last opportunity to make any sort of a run at C. He was willing to give up on the entire quest at this point, but realized that if C had contacted the compound, then Felix would be the next contract and that would be the end of the fixer. He had to find C and end the threat. He began creeping though the building.
As Owen ducked into the stairwell, he heard the echoes of a song being sung in a beautiful tenor voice:
"There was a man, lived in the north
a hero brave and bold,
Who robbed the wealthy landlords of
their silver and their gold...."
Recognizing the voice of someone he had spent years in training with, he was torn between his desire to escape, to avoid confrontation, and the chance to explain himself and possibly gain the aid of an old friend and ally. As he started up the stairs the song picked up again
"He gave the money to the poor,
to pay their rent and fees,
Count Redmond O'Hanlan,
the gallant .... I don't hear ye joinin in, boyo, can it be ye don't know the ditty, atall?"
Rather than respond Owen continued up the steps more cautiously. At the next landing he saw that the railing had what looked like fine pipe threading and realized that he had found an anchor point for some monowire. As he was making this discovery the singing continued.
"The soldiers all went after him,
to try to bring him back,
O'Hanlan only laughed at them,
Upon the mountain track.....mind where ye put yer feet, me lad, I seem to have misplaced some of me monowire, don't ye know. And while we're about it, why don't ye stay right where ye are and talk to me, if ye wont join in the flamin song. C'mon boyo, we're not in combat, ye can still say a word, or did ye lose yer power a speech when ye left yer friends and family?"
"I'll talk to you, if you'll drop that atrocious brogue, Smiley. And it would be nice to see you rather than shouting up an unsecured stairway in an occupied building."
A deeper and unaccented voice echoed back down the stairs "I'll change the volume, but I don't think I'll let you draw a bead on me just yet. First, I want to know why you ran away."
Owen debated about how he should explain himself. After several minutes he quietly said, "I got sick of it. They trained us to take off emotions like you'd take off a coat. But the emotions are still there, they were just buried. When I meditated, when I approached a state truly beyond emotions, I found them lurking. I couldn't get away from them. I still can't. I pay for my kills now with nightmares and sleeplessness and guilt and regrets. I just stopped enjoying the work."
The revelation was greeted with silence. Then softly: "We could've helped. You had friends, family. We would have taken care of you. You could have taught or gone into strategy/tactics..."
"C'mon Smiley! Listen to yourself. With a couple of exceptions I had fellow students or associates, not friends, not family. The Compound is not a scouting troop. You're saying I could have gone back, told them I couldn't cut it and they'd have let me teach students to do something that makes me sick. Or plan operations for killers when the killing has become abhorrent to me..."
"Damn it, Gray! We were friends. Allies. Brothers! You kept me alive my first few months there. I watched your back when Henry and his boys were after you. We were closer than brothers. GOD DAMN YOU! You let me believe that you were dead, to grieve for you...and all the time you were following some stupid fragging fantasy about being Robin Hood or Redmond O'Hanlan! I should kill you for that! I jumped at this assignment because if you were alive I wanted the pleasure of killing you..... But now....listen.....because of what I owe you, I'm willing to put all of that pain and anger aside. Come back with me. The doctors can help you and I pledge on my soul that there will be no reprisals."
"Gray, we can make it work! It's what you are, man. You can't run from it. You can't just walk away! Answer me this question: Archangel was an initiate with the most highly developed combat sense I've ever seen and what....15 years of experience, right? How did you blow him away?"
"A snap shot with a Barret your observer had", Owen said. "I anticipated his movement based on the sweep pattern he was using and pulled the trigger before I even fully recognized him. He must have felt the scrutiny because he was turning towards me when he was hit."
"Do you hear yourself, man? You simply can't do that. Archangel was the best that the Compound ever produced. Nobody can sight in on Archangel without alerting him. But you did, with weapon you hadn't even prepared! You've got more talent for the art than anybody. But instead of using it properly you're content to play burglar bill. A lowly fraggin thief! It's like some world class, concert virtuoso pianist becoming a fraggin piano tuner. Don't you want to be the best, anymore? It's all we talked about as kids, remember? You and me sneaking away from Junn's poison class to watch those damn old flatscreen samurai vids and dream about being the best in the entire world? Remember?"
"I remember, my friend"
"We swore that we would be the greatest the world had ever seen. It's why you studied with every master there, why I specialized...DAMN IT, Grayson. Don't walk away from that, its what you are!........Please"
Owen was silent for a moment and then said, "I'm sorry....It's what I was, little brother, it's not what I am now."
The stairway was silent for several moments. "I'm sorry, too". Then in his fictitious brogue, Smiley said "Ah, an 'tis a great shame indeed, boyyo, that you've chosen a course that'll leave one of us dead and one of us grieving'. I'll concede that ye may be quicker than meself an you've proved you're a holy terror with a long gun, so we'll keep it up close and personal, where I've a further reach and a sight more strength. Now, with yer sudden outbreak a conscience, I'm thinkin ya might hesitate to kill a friend, where I'll split yer gob with nary a worry. Ya see, to me, you're already dead. Mores the pity." He then began to sing as he came stomping down the stairs.
"Poor Gray, dead and gone
Left me here to sing this song........"
Owen ran down the stairs as fast as he could. The formori's right. I don't want to kill him and he'll use that in battle. I've got to get away.
At the second floor Owen swung the door open and sprinted through the hall. He wanted to avoid his troll pursuer without confronting all of the guards posted at the first floor of the building. As an escape plan was forming the elevator chime sounded and Owen froze against a wall as the doors opened. A pair of guards got out to patrol this unoccupied floor, but fortunately, started checking doors in the other direction. When Owen entered the elevator he found that the top floor required a mechanical key for entry. He pulled out his lockpicks and quickly sent the car up.

The elevator doors opened to reveal the sprawled figures of four dead guards. Immediately on alert, Owen quietly wedged the elevator doors open and began to examine the alcove. There had apparently been a firefight, with one of the guards shooting the other three while taking hits from the weapons of at least two of his victims. Suspecting Smiley’s handiwork (human shield to catch bullets while his weapon hoses the other guards) Owen picked up a guard's shotgun and re-entered the elevator. Tossing the weapon at one of the corpses as he flattened himself against the elevator wall, he was rewarded by an explosion followed by 3 other blasts in rapid succession. In spite of his armored cloak, his left forearm was pierced by a jagged steel shard. Damn, Smiley’s not playing. All four bodies were rigged with anti-personnel devices. As he pushed the barb through his arm, he examined it carefully. He paid less attention to Junn than he should have. A little coating of neuro-toxin on this and his assignment would be over. It still hurts like blazes! God, please let me get out of here before I have to kill the man.
Realizing that the explosion and inoperative elevator would bring guards to the stairway, Owen rushed over to the fire exit door and then stopped short. Smiley certainly did more than sing while he was on this landing. I bet the monowire wasn’t the only booby trap on that stairway. He backed into the elevator again and drawing his remaining silenced Predator II , shot the doorknob. The resulting explosion blew the stairway door across the room. After his ears stopped ringing, Owen checked out the stairway which now ended in a twisted wreck two floors down. Well, they won’t be getting up that way he thought. But, I also won’t be using it to get down, either. That means the only way to avoid Smiley will be heading up to the roof.
Entering the elevator he opened the escape panel in the ceiling and climbed up to the car’s roof. Carefully climbing the maintenance rungs which lined the shaft he kicked open the maintenance hatch for the elevator machinery and hoisted himself up to the roof.
"Sure, an I’d a been sorely disappointed if my toys had taken you out, boyyo." Owen spun to find the fomori standing across the roof with a bound and hooded figure in one hand. "Now I can hear ya wondering ‘what is it he’s doing with that Humanis piece of drek? Well, laddie buck, this is the skell" Smiley shook the bound and helpless Central, "that’s been after yer blood. I thought the fragger at least deserved a ringside seat at yer destruction." The troll then tossed the figure into a corner and drew his Tjabangs.
Owen centered himself and bowed formerly to his friend and potential murderer. Smiley pulled himself to his full height and with equal formality, returned the bow. Rather than shift into an en garde position with his short staff, Owen began to move his feet in reaction to Smiley’s movement and position. To the uninformed it might have looked like a long distance dance of some sort, but the fomori soon recognized that Owen was attempting a technique called Ato no Sen. This technique involves forestalling an attacker's intention as soon as it is perceived by preparing an immediate counter. To attack a master practicing this technique is suicide, but Smiley knew that the technique relied on more than reflexes and counter moves. To truly anticipate an opponent a state of Fudoshin (an immutable heart) had to be achieved. This meant that the practitioner's mind was not troubled by any externals. Without fear or distraction a pure concentration on the opponent allowed for almost instant counter attacks.
To prevent Owen from maintaining Fudoshin and practicing Ato no Sen, Smiley pulled out his scorpion machine pistol and emptied the clip into Central’s huddled form. Owen was so shocked that he nearly neglected to dodge the whizzing empty pistol when Smiley backhanded it at him with murderous speed. The troll followed this up with a bellow of ‘KAI-AI" and leaping at Owen, launched a blinding flurry of attacks. Owen began a series of counters and dodges, but never attacked. The battle moved back and forth across the roof, with Smiley launching brilliant combinations in attack and Owen constantly dodging and blocking. The pace became faster and faster until the arms and legs of both warriors seem to blur, but still Owen refused to strike. Smiley’s weapons, which looked like some sort of thin tapered daggers with elaborate wings shaped like hooks eventually found their marks. Owen was slashed across the chest and then received a bloody nose from a partially deflected elbow smash. His ribs were bruised by a reversed strike of one Tjabang while his ear was cut by the other. Through all of this, Smiley’s grin and anticipation of victory, grew. Owen knew that if he didn’t strike back in earnest he would be weakened by blood loss and pain enough for the fomori to kill him. When the troll successfully delivered a Fumikomi (crushing karate blow) Owen felt a grinding in his ankle which immediately began to swell.
Finally Owen began to use his staff to strike back as well as defend. Smiley seemed satisfied with this change as Penchak-Silat was most deadly when countering an armed opponent.. The Tjabang, in fact, although tremendously versatile for attack, had originally been designed as a defensive weapon. The weapons hooks were intended to trap striking weapons and Smiley immediately began to exploit this strength. Very quickly, Owen found his staff trapped between both forked Tjabangs, and saw that the troll was using his strength advantage to wrest the weapon from his grip. In a blindingly fast move Owen spun his body, drawing the sword blade and slashing through the side of the trolls neck. As the troll’s jugular vein was severed, a fountain of blood began to spray out. When Smiley dropped both weapons to staunch the flow, Owen stabbed him through the heart. The dying troll slumped to his knees, looked at Owen and mumbled "Zato-ichi...Grayson, you’re....Zato-ichi."
Owen knelt next to his dead childhood friend and wept. Lost in memories, he ignored the distant sounds of gunfire and shouting. Good-bye, little brother. I am so sorry. I loved you. I will miss you. With all of my heart, I wish it had not come to this, but you were too clever to avoid and too skillful to play with.......My God, will I kill everyone who I’m close to? After crying quietly for several minutes, Owen began to pull himself together. He reassembled his Shinobe-zue and shaking his head he thought, Yojimbo was always your favorite, little brother, and I was always fascinated by Zatoichi. You loved the ronin who could kill anybody and I liked the blind masseuse with the hidden cane sword. I never dreamed I would ever use such a weapon on you. Forgive me.
Owen went over to Central’s body and removed the hood. The norm male’s face that was revealed was absolutely unremarkable. Puzzled at the fact that this was the only Humanis member in the compound that he had seen in uniform, Owen removed the costume and searched the corpse. He found nothing out of the ordinary and only a personal credstick on the middle-aged norm's body.
As he was at a corner of the roof, Owen witnessed Kahn’s elimination of the last of the Night Hunters. Apparently, while Owen had been battling Smiley, the master of the hand-sickle had been trying to get to the headquarters building through all of the compound’s guards, trainees, instructors as well as the gang. There were bodies and pieces of bodies strewn everywhere. There must be 40 or 50 corpses down there. How the hell did one man, however bloodthirsty, or well trained, cause such carnage? Owen watched as Kahn was hosed by submachine gun fire from the last surviving ganger, but still managed to decapitate his opponent. Broken and bleeding, Kahn continued to limp towards the building, dragging his nonfunctional left leg. When he collapsed twice approaching the building Owen realized that the assassin’s left arm was not working either. When he collapsed the third time at the base of the building, Owen picked up Central and dropped him eight stories to land on Kahn, crushing him. As an exhausted, disgusted, wounded and bleeding, Owen Glendower looked down to survey the accuracy of his toss he caught a burst of small arms fire. Two rounds hit him in the chest while a third creased his scalp as he was knocked over on his back away from the edge of the roof. As the blood flowed down the side of his face, Owen blessed Chandler for teaching him to do everything in the bulletproof cloak. As Glendower looked at the sky he thought That’s still going to leave a mark....I guess everybody’s not dead yet. God, am I sick of this. I wonder how the frag I get down.
Picking himself up, Owen wearily pulled himself to the elevator machinery access hatch. He climbed back to the elevator car and heavily dropped inside. After unwedging the door he pushed the button for the ground floor. Leaning on his staff, Owen pulled his pistol. While part of his mind screamed "Climb back up on top of the car! They may be waiting to blast you as soon as the door opens. Another part of his mind said Aw, Frag it. I've lived long enough anyway.
When the elevator doors opened Owen was not met by a blistering fusillade of lead. In fact, he was not met by anything as the lobby was completely empty. Apparently those who were not victims of "Khan the mad sickle wielder" had simply run away. Leaning heavily on his staff, Owen limped out the front doors.
As he passed the body of Kahn he noticed that it was headless and that Central was in pieces. Must have had a cortex bomb, Owen thought without any real interest. While a part of his mind constantly scanned for threats to blast with the heavy pistol, the majority of Owen's attention was focused on taking the next step. Why the hell did I park so far away? Am I stupid?! I wonder if Goren and BeBop have a tub I can use. I'd like to soak for the rest of the decade.

Eventually Owen hobbled up to the Stuffer Shack's parking lot. The kid was sitting on the curb next to the bike, counting and recounting his coins. When he saw Owen he jumped up. "Damn, man! You look like you got your hoop kicked. You ok?" Owen nodded and sat down on the curb. "Drek man, don't you know nothin'? You gonna go frag with people you at least got to bring some slap patches." Slap patches, what a good idea. Why didn't I bring slap patches...wait a minute, I've got slap patches someplace..." Fumbling through his cloak like he was half asleep Owen pulled out several patches. When he started to apply a tranq patch the kid spoke up. "No, no, man you need stim, not tranq". After applying a stim patch the kid said "wait here" and ran back into the store. He came back with a bottle of topical antibiotic and some gauze.
Having the stinging liquid applied to his bleeding arm, thigh, chest, ear and forehead, along with the stim patch, woke Owen enough to decline the opportunity to have his nose washed out. The kid continued playing curbside doc and did a creditable job of binding some of the bleeding areas. When Owen asked the kid's name he got a mumbled "Jerome" as though that were something to be ashamed of.
"Well, Falcon, I know I promised you another 50, but you spent some of your money on me and my bike's still here. What can I give you as a reward?" The twelve year old was obviously thrilled with the nickname and looked longingly at the silenced Predator II hanging from Owen's hand but then said "Maybe a extra 20 creds?"
"I think I can spare more than that, but why were you looking at the pistol?"
"Well...I was thinkin if I could....uhm borrow it....see dese slots where I sometimes flop, dey kind of come after me an my sister Allie, she's only 11...cause dey want...you know, sex stuff. Well, I don wanna and Allie don wanna and we been runnin and trowin' rocks at 'em but dey keep comin' back an' if I had a gun I could maybe scare 'em away, so's we'd be safe."
"Ok, but Falcon, the only way you can make that work is to be ready and willing to actually use the gun, and you don't want to do that, do you?"
"Hey, its better an bein' turned inta a meat puppet in one a dose joyhouses, or being caught by the organleggers or the ghouls or the devilrats."
"But my worry is, if I loan you a gun, you may end up using it for more than a threat. I'd have done a great wrong if you grew up to be a killer."
"Hey, at least I'd have a chance to grow up."
After thinking about it for several minutes, Owen pulled the Walther and a cred stick. "Falcon, there's 200 nuyen on this stick and ten shots in the clip. If you use the gun to make a living you'll be damning my soul forever, but if I let you and your sister die by taking the safe road of not giving you the means to defend yourself, I'll be damning myself. Don't frag my karma by misusing this.
Falcon couldn't believe his ears. 200 more nuyen and a pistol. This was fantastic! Beyond anything he had ever dreamed. Now I can really look out for Allie. Maybe even buy her some clothes. And food! With 200 nuyen we can live for a year. And the gun! It's a perfect size for my hand and next time it won't be like when those fraggers caught Sasha and I couldn't do anything. She'd ended up dead, but with a gun I can protect Allie.
As Owen heaved himself to his feet, Falcon grabbed his booty and the remaining bag of food and disappeared. When Owen was about to get on the bike he heard a voice cry out. "Hey Mistah! the last guy who touched that thing got fried!" Owen stopped and deactivated the bike's security system. "Thanks, Falcon", he said as he shook his head ruefully Wouldn't that be perfect, survive a spike team of legendary compound hitmen and get electrocuted by my own bike. "Hey, thank you, Mistah!" Yeah, sure. I hope to God I haven't damned us both kid....I wonder if I can get home without getting killed.


When Owen pulled the bike up to the gate of the warehouse he couldn't find the flatscreen to alert Goren and Be Bop that he was home. While he was considering throwing rocks at the door to get the weaponsmiths' attention, Willy and Nilly zipped up with machine guns barrels whirring. This would also be perfect, being killed by the security system that's supposed to protect me. Owen waved at the droids and said "Ho-ney, I'm ho-me." The gate lowered and with Willy leading and Nilly bringing up the rear Owen was guided back to the door. When he got inside BeBop and Goren were both waiting like parents on prom night.
"If one of you says, 'where have you been young man', I may completely lose it." Parking the bike, Owen dismounted and nearly toppled over.
BeBop took charge of the situation. "Goren, grab him. Get him on the table and get his clothes off"
"Madam, although normally thrilled by that sort of attention I must point out that there is another gentleman present. Perhaps if we were alone" Owen said and waggling his eyebrows began to giggle.
"Drek, what's wrong with him?" BeBop asked "he never plays this way. It looks like he's had the drek kicked out of him, but why is he sounding goofy"
"I've seen it before", said Goren. "Something to do with massive adrenal overstimulation and the body trying to compensate with other chemicals. Looks like he's intoxicated when he's really....Oh, Frag! Get the medkit quick!" Goren had discovered that removing Owen's ripped shadowsuit had reopened all of his wounds. The chest wound did not seem deep, but the thigh and forearm were bleeding heavily. The contusions on Owen's chest and ribs made everything look worse and caused an involuntary drawing of breath and "ooh" from BeBop.
Owen said, "Why, thank you madam, its the reaction every man seeks when he drops his trousers" and began to laugh hysterically. The medkit began diagnosing and dispensed tranquilizers to keep the patient under control.
"NO Doctors. No doctors. I don't want any doctors. No doctors. Promise me Goren, ole pal. You can dew annythin yew waant butttttt nooooo doooccttoorrrsss....."
"He's out. Christo, the forearm went right through. That must have stung. No nerve damage. Check his head."
"Looks like his scalp got grazed by a shot here and his ear's sliced, don't think his nose is broken. We can fix this. What about his chest?"
"Beautiful collection of bruises, ribs don't seem broken, maybe cracked, chest gash isn't too deep. His thigh? I don't know. Looks like a monowhip but it didn't take the limb off, so once it stops bleeding and starts to heal it should be completely ok. His ankle is so swollen I'm going to have to cut the boot off. lets see the other side of him. Nice bruise on his back, but that looks older. I don't know. I'd still like to have some kind of medico look at him, but he was pretty insistent that there be no docs, what do you think, babe?"
BeBop said "Call Whitehorse. The slot will keep his mouth closed, he owes us enough and he's a bear shaman so he's supposed to be a healer."

Owen awoke 16 hours later screaming for Smiley. BeBop had been checking on him, but Goren was passing when he heard the scream. Before entering the room he yelled "Owen! Owen, its Goren, I'm coming in." He pushed the door opened and waited before sticking his head in. He found Owen sitting up in bed, a little wild eyed, but conscious enough to laugh at Goren's caution.
"Come in, Goren. You seem a little nervous."
"Well....uhm...no, I just....uhm...."
"What's all the screaming about in here?" said BeBop as she bustled in with a tray of food.
"I had a dream about....a ..friend....who died. I must have yelled and your significant other came in like I was about to open fire. I was just asking him why he's so nervous."
"Well, what do you expect? I'm an ork who has just discovered that he's got a latter day Invincible Young Master under his roof and I can't find the trideo cameras. Why the blank look, didn't you ever watch Invincible Young Master on trid? C'mon everybody used to watch. The guy single-handedly killed armies. Well, anyway we've heard that not only is the threat to Felix gone, but so is a branch of the Night Hunters, and a Humanis Training camp, and some slags nobody knows and ...." As Owen's face fell, BeBop shot a poisonous look at Goren.
"Could you guys excuse me for a moment" Owen said in a hollow voice.
"No." said BeBop. "Absolutely not. I know you, Owen Glendower. We leave you alone you're going to go all depressed and miserable. Then you're not going to want to eat and you're going to beat yourself up over stuff that you probably had no choice about. Well, I'm not going to have it! You will sit there and you will eat this soup. I made it just for you and when you've eaten all of it, you will tell us what happened without going all haunted and guilty. Then you can sit in the Hot Tub we've set up for you and soak while you read a book or watch trid, but I am not going to let you go off to be morose and tragic. Don't even look at me like that. Men are such children! They need to be taken in hand, sometimes."
"Boy, take my advice, when she gets like this just do what she says and tell her yes, dear" Goren confided "It works for me."
"And You! You big ape. Acting like the child should be proud to be associated with so much loss of life, when you know he's never gloried in that! Making jokes about killing! Honestly! Use your head."
"Yes, dear" said Goren and then looked at Owen as if to say 'See, I told you'
Losing the battle to remain depressed Owen asked, "BeBop, you're not by any chance related to anyone named Magdelena, are you?"
BeBop actually scowled at Owen before slipping back into her vamp role. "You mean I have a rival for your affections, hot stuff? I should be hurt, but if she puts you in your place then she serves a useful purpose."
When she placed the tray on Owen's bed, he took her hand and said "thanks".
She gave him a small smile and then patted him on the cheek. "Eat" she said.

After soaking for a few hours, Owen felt much better. BeBop had been right in demanding that he tell the story rather than mulling it over in silence. There had been a sort of release in verbalizing his feelings about having to kill his childhood friend. He still regretted the incident, and he knew the guilt would remain with him, but having talked about it with people who cared about him made him feel less isolated. I haven't known them that long, but I do feel like Goren and BeBop care about me. Maybe I'm just deluding myself, but I like the feeling.
When he finished soaking he got dressed and went looking for his staff. Not finding it he began hobbling into the work area.
"Kid, what the hell are you thinkin?" Goren exclaimed. "If BeBop catches ya, it'll be both our hoops! Yours for stumbling around while you're still busted up, and mine for lettin' ya. Do me a favor, will ya? Get back to yer room, before she sees ya."
Owen looked around and then sat down in a desk chair with wheels. "How about I stay in the chair. I'm not putting any weight on my leg and I can still move around. She wouldn't be upset about this, would she?"
"I don't know," mumbled the ork. "Lately, she's been acting kind of strange. Don't take this the wrong way, kid, but you got to be the deadliest fragger I ever heard of and yet you bring out the mother hen in her somethin' awful. I've never seen her so protective or domestic. It's weird."
Not knowing how to respond to Goren's observation, Owen changed the subject. "Uh, listen Goren, I've ...uhm..got to go out to make some phone calls and....
"No way, uh-uhm, nope, negatory. You ain't goin no place, jack. You got to allow some healin' time and that means no road trips fer a while. Besides, why can't you use the phone here? Don't you trust us?"
Owen was preparing to argue but the last question stopped him in his tracks. Looking directly in Goren's eyes, Owen quietly said "I trust you with my life, my friend."
Goren was taken aback by the seriousness of this response to his joking question, but he quickly said "Yeah, that soulful look and quiet voice may work with BeBop, but I still ain't lettin' you out to make phone calls or anything else. You think I want to destroy my own domestic life?"
"But I need to pick up my messages, to..."
"Kid, I work with Felix. You think I can't set up an untraceable call or 10? I can hook you up through 30 different relays and have you off before they've traced the first one. Don't sweat it. Gimme 5 minutes and I'll start setting it up. Before that though.....here's your staff. I replaced the dagger, just don't start walkin around with it or you'll put my hoop in hot water."
"I also got this for you from Felix", said Goren." It's the latest in stealth suits. It eliminates your heat signature, just like your old one, but it does it in a different way. There's a very thin layer of some kind of energy absorbing gel between the Plycra outer layer and the innermost poly-kevlarIV. This stuff absorbs your body heat to hide you from IR scanners, but it also absorbs impact energy from blows or bullets. Now, I wouldn't suggest using it alone against a vindicator, for example, but it just may be enough of an add on layer to stop an armor piercer that gets past that cloak. Figure it's like the dermal plating you don't have. It's light and flexible enough to wear under your street clothes, only thing is, try not to wear it in extreme cold. That energy absorbing layer will keep you dry and comfortable in summer, but in the winter it'll suck the body heat right away from ya."
While Owen was examining the suit Goren grabbed something off the worktable. "Speaking of that cloak, I cleaned it and replaced the second and third linings as well as the outer shell with the newer Kevlar weave. Your innermost was fine but I had to reattach a couple of pockets. I also got you a pair of the poly-ceramic chains to replace the one you lost. Now, when do you want to make those calls..."
"What is he doing running around?!" BeBop yelled as she stormed into the work area. "Are you both out of your minds? I swear...."
"Wait, Wait", said Owen. "I'm not running around. Goren tried to make me go back to bed, but as long as I stay in the chair I'm not putting any strain on my leg. See, I can roll around and get a little exercise, which keeps me from feeling sorry for myself, cause I know how you hate that.". Seeing that this was mollifying the dwarf, Owen could not resist adding in the whine of a ten year old "Besides, Ma, it's too early ta go ta bed."
Goren found something on the workbench to occupy his entire attention so BeBop would not suspect he was chuckling and Owen's mischievous grin and much as challenged the dwarf to deny she was being a mother hen. "Alright, Mr. Funnyman. We'll see if you find it so funny when that ankle starts to ache or you need dressing changed. Then we may all have some chuckles...." Owen looked at her like he had been cut to the quick, causing BeBop to halt her tirade abruptly. When Owen grinned again BeBop threw up her hands in exasperation and said "MEN!!" as she stormed off.
"Kid, I'll say this for ya, you do like to live dangerously" said Goren shaking his head. He then set up a call so Owen could retrieve his messages.

Katya and Seka where giggling and running around like a pair of school girls. Although Madame Magdelena normally frowned on such nonsense, she indulged the young women in their merriment on this occasion until it threatened to interfere with work.
"Seka, Katya that will be quite enough of that. I'm also pleased that the young man survived, but we have serious work to do."
"Oh, but Madame M, wasn't he brilliant?" asked Seka.
"Yes, can you believe he not only survived the attack, but he eliminated all of the assassins, and Central and the Night Hunters and...."
"Yes, yes, Katya and I'm sure he then leapt over buildings in a single bound, but we have work to do." said the old woman.
"But Madame", said the elf, "Have you ever heard of that group failing, or of them losing that many operatives?"
"No child, and if I could get my assistants to stop dancing and start concentrating, I might learn how this will affect the rest of the globe. Now, I am no less thrilled than you that the dear boy survived," then with a twinkle in her eye she said, "well, perhaps a little less thrilled..." which occasioned another fit of giggling. "But play time is over. We need some serious analysis because there has been an unprecedented change. We must begin to study its affects!"

"My Flute!" Owen exclaimed, his eyes lighting up like a kid at Christmas, "You found my flute!" Owen nearly sprang from his chair.
"Don't you move out of that chair!" exclaimed BeBop. She handed him his flute and bugout bag, explaining, "Since the danger is over Felix had the Sandmen's place raided. This stuff was inventoried as having been taken from your doss. She's so thrilled at what you've accomplished, she's trying to dream up suitable rewards and thought returning your stuff would be a start."
Owen pulled his mouth from the flute he was about to play and said, "Please thank her for the return of the flute, I really missed it, but tell her if she actually believes the danger is over, she's not as clever as I gave her credit for. The people who Central called in are way, way out of our league. It was a fluke that he was even able to hire them. Their usual clients are much, much bigger. Like, Zurich-Orbital big. These people don't miss and they don't stop, ever."
Goren, who had wandered in during the end of this exchange, interjected "Well, they missed this time and I don't think any of them will be back." BeBop shot him a warning look as Owen said: "Wishful thinking, I'm afraid. In the history of that organization, which believe me, is quite long, they've never lost that many.....agents at one time. I don't know how they will react, but you can bet they won't simply shrug and go away. No, I'm afraid this is only the beginning and Felix would do very well to consider herself in constant jeopardy. You guys need to be extra vigilant also."
Goren then responded, "If this organization is so big, so good and so secret, why are you so cool, ain't you worried?"
Owen smiled and said "Sure, but if they catch me they'll probably only kill me, where as if I try to walk around......" and gestured at BeBop. When Goren signaled that he wasn't even willing to play in that neighborhood, Owen forestalled BeBop's rejoinder by saying "and besides, they've been after me for the past 6 months," and then started to play the flute. Goren and BeBop could only shake their heads as they walked away.

"My Lord, please forgive the interruption but....."
"Dr. Chong has reported in."
And why is the spike team not reporting directly?
"Well, my lord,....the entire spike team has been...eliminated."
"Dr. Chong and his investigators arrived 24 hours after the team for debrief and cleanup. He found that the team, the observer, the principal, the principal's other assets including a street gang 22 strong, a dozen guards and a dozen training camp student's and instructors, all dead."
The target?
"Some confusion in that area. Many of the bodies were.....disassembled. Without proof, we have refused to assume success."
Details on demise of my assets?
"Archangel's body was found headless. Analysis leads to the conclusion that he was taken out with a heavy sniper rifle from a neighboring roof. The rifle was initially the tool of the local agent who was acting as observer. He was found with indications he had been taken from behind with a heavy pistol, unfortunately the cortex bomb he had makes conclusions on this tentative. Both the Whip and Flavius were found by genetic match searches through a local organ banks' database. All but the Whip's brain were available and used and Flavius was missing some fingers and both brain and skull were unusable in his case. Conclusions on their deaths are speculative. Smiley's body was discovered near Archangel's with the jugular vein slashed and a stab through the heart. Cutting pattern indicates the weapon used was a sword, but not Archangel's rapier. Khan Do Lee Ahn Singh sustained extensive damage from repeated hits with small arms fire and then suffered severe impact trauma. Dr Chong's team speculates that a body thrown from the roof of the building was used to crush him. The body was that of the principal."
The principal's assets?
"The on site team has acquired some information from witnesses that much, if not all of the damage was done by spike team members, Kahn in particular. He seemed to be single handedly attacking the headquarters and in a rage, began mowing down everything between him an his goal. This information has not been confirmed."
"My lord, we have prepared teams two and three and are ready to dispatch them. We are also mobilizing extensive support as the investigators on site are finding little helpful data from local sources. The local information sources are either completely without data or too intimidated of a target capable of such destruction to even aid in the investigation."
Dispatch no assets as yet. Send Anna to us.
"Yes, my lord."

Hank Pym read the reports with growing alarm. The deaths of Jerome Hartley and Henry Gondorf were of little concern. Functionaries of some stature in their own city, they were of no significance in the framework of a national organization. Central's demise was more troubling as he was a major player in his entire sector of the country, but even that death meant little, as every man could be replaced. The destruction of a the training camp and local biker gangs could be written off as the casualties of a battle, just as the destruction of the local chapterhouse had been. However, the cumulative effect of these losses was to leave a major urban center with huge gaps in its leadership structure at the same time that thier financial situation was shaky and their membership was at an all time low. Without the urban center, the surrounding areas were weakened and like a rock dropped in a still pond, the ripples of the losses would spread forever.
What happened out there? Who could have done us that much harm? Why hasn't one of the subhuman herd groups claimed responsibility? Even if it were a lie, you would expect them all to be boasting about having killed so many true men. I'm going to dipatch Krikor to find out what's going on.

"He's pretty good with that flute, ain't he?" Goren asked.
BeBop who had put down the part she had been working on to listen, looked up and said "hmm?...oh yeah, he puts a lot into it, and I swear, its almost magic that comes out. He was thinkin' about his friend Smiley the other day and playing and he had me to the point of tears. Then that night we were laughing about that stupid legalese packing instruction and he musta heard cause he started playing something that was so bouncy and light I felt like a little kid again."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. You know, the other thing is, he almost seems to be healin' faster since he got that flute. Maybe it is magical."
Sighing, BeBop said, "Whether it is or not, I think we're both gonna miss him when he leaves, and I think that day is coming soon. You want to show him the gun?"
"Let's wait till he finishes."
The two weaponsmiths sat in companionable silence listening to the haunting melodies produced on the bamboo flute.

"My lord, you sent for me?"
Yes, Anna. Tell us about Gray.
"My lord, I last saw him nearly two years ago. Surely................................."
"My apologies, my lord. We were lovers. We first became involved here when I was 19 and he was 16. He was a prize pupil. He seemed to suck up instruction like a sponge....they said it was because this was the only place he had ever known, or that he had a mutant IQ, but it wasn't that. Instructors, journeymen, other students all seemed to want to be around him. He....listened well. He seemed to understand so quickly and to accept without judging........ and people gravitated toward him.........I'm sorry, my lord, I don't know if this is what you want........."
Go on. Tell us about the two of you.
"I came to the compound at age 13. He had already been here for 8 years and though he was just a skinny young boy, he had a way about him. He just seemed able to take everything that happened without it touching his soul. People were drawn to him without his calling attention to himself. I thought he was destined for something great and as he grew to be more handsome I decided that an alliance would be beneficial. I seduced him at 16 and I suppose I was his first love. As time went on it became more than a potential alliance for me but as his reputation grew I started to see a change. He began solo work at 20 and had amassed quite a tally in his first two years, but work was one compartment of his life. He took no joy or pride in his kills and didn't want to discuss anything about them with me. "
"He talked often of our marrying and running away together. I was ambitious, but .... struggling at the time and thought he was being unfair by not sharing his expertise. I didn't want to be a wife, I wanted to be a revered assassin. If I asked him for advice or help, he treated it like I was giving him a test. He would analyze the data and then spit out a solution which he wouldn't explain or change.....and I knew he hated it so I didn't want to press. His solutions always worked, but I wanted a style, a signature that the others would recognize."
"Henry Redhat was around and saw my frustration. I suppose I should have realized that Henry wanted to hurt Gray more than he wanted to help me, but I was younger and vain and thought that Gray's jealousy would make him give me the kind of help I wanted. So, I started sleeping with Henry when I knew Gray would find out. I hurt Gray tremendously, more than I ever imagined, but he forgave me and took me back. He got even worse about helping me, though, and so I continued to sleep with Henry."
"Henry wanted to hurt Gray. I think he may have loved him when they were children and been rejected or at least not loved back to the same degree. It developed into a venomous hate on Redhat's part. Henry was a leader in his own right and had his own group which tried to physically punish Gray, who was friends with the fomori, Smiley. They protected each other when they were kids. As time went on, neither Henry nor his boys wanted a physical confrontation with Gray."
"I finally told Gray that he had to help me or I would leave him for Henry. He begged and pleaded but I wasn't at all reasonable. I'm ashamed to admit it now, but I thought his tears and his begging quite weak and humorous and I said some very cruel things. When Henry and two of his coterie joined in the laughter Gray went mad. He killed Henry with a Mae-te strike, then killed the other two in seconds. They never had time to even defend themselves. He grabbed me and just screamed "LOOK! LOOK! LOOK!".
"Chandler and Mafune Kyuzo took charge of him and the deaths were described as a training accident. Gray was forbidden to return to the island and threw himself into the work. Then we heard he had been blown up when a magic spell detonated some explosives he was planting. Master Fuschard was devastated but Chandler and the Zen Master never seemed phased by it."
"I....I have been chosen for one of the spike teams, my lord. I will do as I am ordered, of course, but...."
You still love him and would rather not kill him.
"No, my lord, I would never ask to be relieved for something as insignificant as personal feelings. Its.....well, it's that I've seen him kill and....I know that I am not nearly his match. I would not bring.... dishonor on my team by introducing less than perfect competence.
Do not concern yourself. The teams will stand down. You may go.
"Yes, my lord."
After the lovely Asian norm had glided from the room, the seneschal returned.
"Your orders, my lord?"
Dr. Chong will continue to investigate. The pep boys will handle this assignment.
".............yes, my lord."
"My lord, the need for escalation is known. This choice will be seen, therefore, as a lack of confidence in....more traditional methods."
Yes. Have the dwarf, Ironbeard, learn that the move is protective of our most valuable agent Gray.
"Yes, my lord." As he walked away he exclaimed "Ah, I see. Brilliant! The snitch informs the elves who then attempt to eliminate Gray for spite, and if they come into conflict with the cyberzombies......." realizing that he had not yet left the dragon's presence he spun and dropped to the floor "Forgive me, my lord. I spoke in surprise. I meant no disrespect." After several agonizing minutes the dragon said

Owen was delighted with the prototype pistol. It was light and, in an era where tailoring had come to incorporate the need for concealed personal protection, virtually impossible to see when he wore the suits that Felix had supplied. The Fixer had left word that she wanted to see him model his new ensemble, but Owen rejected the notion with deadly seriousness. He had accepted the clothing and equipment along with the new identities and passports, but he was not going to be cozened into the troll's service. Besides, in the three days since his encounter with the spike team, he had healed enough to be ready to pursue the professor's suggestion.
My friend. Attached is last installment of data unearthed on targets. Further investigation requires illegal (visible) investigation. Have noted increased activity/scrutiny on this subject. Suggest extreme caution. Also suggest your relocation to Newark for further research on remaining targets. Good Hunting.<
Owen reviewed the new files as well as all of the other information the professor had put together. He was amazed at the volume of public information available on these three individuals. He had enough for an entire novel! He agreed with Pablo's analysis that Gondorf, Hartley and Central had worked together with Hank Pym when they were younger, but he still had no data on who X might be or who the victim in the photo had been. For that matter he didn't know when or where it had occurred and how the photo had been taken. He knew he needed to do a lot more work.
Although Felix was not at all pleased with Owen's decision to leave town, she had supplied him with the name of a fixer in Newark. After packing his gear, he bade farewell to Goren and BeBop.
"I'm going to hold you to our deal. I expect an autographed first issue of the pistol before you guys are rolling in nuyen."
"No problem, kid." said the ork. "See ya around."
"Hey, Goren, uhm...thanks. For everything. I mean it."
"Your welcome, Owen. We'll watch your scooter 'till you get back."
After shaking hands the ork wandered back to his work area. Owen turned to BeBop.
"Thank you, too. For your care and concern and friendship."
The dwarf embraced Owen and while squeezing the breath out of him said
"Take care of yourself, hot stuff. Come back safe" before she went off in search of her partner. Owen walked a few blocks before calling for a cab to take him to the airport.

Krikor Valthusian was a hunter. Not a bounty hunter or a data hunter. Simply a hunter. All of his life he had hunted. When he was young, in eastern Europe, he had been content to hunt on all fours in his portion of the forest. As he grew he found he needed a wider territory and took all of the forest. Eventually, he used the power he'd always knew he had and assumed a human shape so that he could again expand his hunting ground. Now, his hunting ground was the entire world. It amused him to take gold from Humanis. It gave him pleasure that they wanted him to hunt for them, that they never understood that he hunted for himself. For the pleasure of the chase and the kill. He sensed as he deplaned at the busy air terminal that this chase would be extraordinary and he grinned at the thought of the kill.
As Krikor was entering the city, Owen was leaving. He was headed for Newark to pursue Hank Pym, X and answers to his questions. He was also leaving whatever group the compound next sent after him to stew in their own frustration.
At the same airport where Krikor and Owen were missing each other in the terminal, a massive Ares Dragon Rotorcraft landed to deliver a cargo hold which was loaded on a flatbed and rolled away. Contained in the truck's box was a suite of elaborate bio-mechanical monitors which relayed the conditions of the three "sleeping" cyborgs in the silvery coffins. Manny, Moe and Jack, victims of cybermancy, that combination of technology and magic which kept the soul residing in a body which contained too much metal for the person to actually live.
If the trio had still had emotions, if they were more than modified brains carried around in machines, they might have objected to the names. They might have resented the change which had erased their old names to give them new designations, based on some tech's knowledge of esoterica from the turn of the century. As it was, they neither knew nor cared.

"I honestly don't understand why you people can't even make the effort to find a more suitable location for these clandestine meetings," sniffed the dwarf. "I mean, old man, if your organization is always going to insist that our little tete a tetes be conducted physically, the least you can do is arrange for a less aesthetically appalling locale, neh? Personally, I'd prefer doing this without leaving the comforts of home, like over the comm, perhaps? Although, if you'd be willing to leave your input behind, we might work something out about your visiting me there. Something mano a mano? No offense, dear." This last was addressed to the elven woman with the green mohawk hairdo.
The pair of elves had been extensively briefed about the importance of Ferris Ironbeard's information and had heard of his outrageous behavior, but had still been amazed when the dwarf had flounced into the seedy bar wearing a brilliantly striped silk jumpsuit. His affectations did not prevent him from being a cagey fixer, as several competitors had found out on their way to new careers, but it took some getting used to. Ferris had always used this and other's frequent tendency to underestimate him to his advantage.
When the two fledgling Paladins of the White Hart had been dispatched to retrieve Ferris' data they had expected a quick data pass. What they got instead, was someone who seemed to wish to call attention to himself and was treating this like a social situation. In that neither Tristan's nor Bright Moon's sexual tastes would ever include dwarves of either gender, they were at something of a loss for how to maintain equilibrium when dealing with Ferris. They knew he was the only creature ever to gain reliable data on the Compound, so they could not afford to offend him. But they were highly trained elven warriors of impeccable breeding and upbringing. How many of these highly offensive suggestions were they supposed to endure?
Tristan decided to ignore the Dwarf's manner and get down to business. "You have some data for us," he growled.
"Oh my, you're one of those direct and forceful ones aren't you?" said the dwarf coyly. "You should really have the consideration to take my feelings into account. Have you thought that I might not like a 'wham, bam, thank you Ferris". That I might like a little foreplay, first?"
Tristan offense at the dwarf's tone and manner were becoming anger. Bright Moon recognized this mood in her partner and attempted to head it off.
"Our apologies, but Tristan is a little on edge. He knows how important your data is and wants to be sure he gets it before he.....deals with any other issues."
The dwarf accepted the data but refused to respond to the female. He looked at Tristan and said indolently "So, you're desperate to make good on this assignment. Perhaps I could find out how desperate..... now that I think of it, I haven't named a price for my 'important data'. Perhaps I'll ask for you instead of ....erk"
Ferris' voice was cut off as the elf grabbed a double handful of Ferris silk suit. Through clenched teeth he said "Listen you stuntie fag I'm...EEEEEEOOOOOOOOWW" touching the wrist of one of the hands that were holding his collar, the dwarf had released some sort of electric charge into Tristan. As her partner's unconscious body was thrown back against the wall of the booth, Bright Moon began a spell. Before she could complete it she found herself looking down the double barrels of a sawed off shotgun. "Don't" said the uninflected voice of the dwarf. He pushed the barrels against her breast and said "Bullet barriers won't save you at this range." She noted that the petulant voice she had heard earlier was replaced with an uninflected tone that was all business.
"Your partner is an ass. Report this incident to your superiors as it occurred, or you're likely to find yourself in the same creek your partner has just jumped into. I'm not a training exercise and you'd do well to remember that all of your contacts are not going to kiss your feet because of your pointy ears." Continuing to maintain pressure with the gun barrel Ferris said "Here's the data: The Compound has sent a top secret group to the following co-ordinates." he then gave a string of numbers. "Their mission is one of protection for an ultra-valuable asset named Gray. Human, male, 6-5, 215 lbs., brown hair, blue eyes, no known cyber, no record of bioware. No details on talents or specialty, but the crew sent for protection represent an investment of 23 million nuyen. That's right, 23 million nuyen tied up in the protection group, so I don't even want to guess about what Gray is worth. No details on the protection group but whoever or whatever they are, you can bet you don't want to meet them in a dark alley. That's it." As he slid out of the booth and prepared to leave, Ferris said: "Oh, and tell the Grand Knight of the Order that your instructor embarrasses us all by letting such ill prepared students out of Bernham."

Owen's entry into Newark was unremarkable. After landing at the airport, he took a cab into the city proper and used the credstick which identified him as Howard Roark to check into the Hyatt Regency Gateway. He had the bellman show him up to the room and then under tipped so that he would not standout from the other mid-level sararimen who would stay here. When the bellman left, Owen went into the bathroom and after turning on the shower he dumped 1/2 of the complimentary shampoo and dampened two towels, leaving one on the floor. He washed his hands, flushed some toilet paper and scattered toiletry items on the vanity. He then went back into the room, unmade the bed and rolled around on it. He unpacked his suit-bag. Satisfied that his room now looked like it had been used, he left to go shopping at an army surplus store. He wanted to have work clothes for when he needed them. He then put in a call to Felix's fixer contact.
"My name is Mr. Johnson and a certain cat told me I should talk to you about doing business in Newark."
"Nature of the request?"
"Looking for arctic decker help. Extremely dangerous for all involved, present company included."
"Fees are always higher in those cases."
"Agreed, provided all parties understand danger before negotiation."
"Interesting, and potentially awkward. Care to divulge rationale?"
"Sure," said Owen. "I cost you a prime contact unexpectedly, you don't send me a Christmas card, I let you know your hoops on the line from the getgo, you don't send me second stringers. Runners all know what their signing on for, I don't loss sleep when they start bitching about not knowing the score before we start."
"Very considerate. Why do I touch this?"
"Hey, I just told you its potentially lethal, now you expect me to convince you to take it? You will or you won't."
"Ok, let's suppose I am interested. You mentioned runners. How many deckers are you looking for?"
"As many as it takes to dig out paydata on Hank Pym of Humanis. I said runners because I expect opposition and the decker's meat is going to need physical and magical protection from hostile assets. Now before we go any further, you gonna play or you gonna watch?"
"Very direct. Why do I get the feeling that you've been on the wrong side of one of these transactions before?............................................................................Alright, I'll make the arrangements IF we can come to terms on the creds."
"What do you want?"
"Excuse me?"
"I asked how much you wanted for the job."
"How much you got?"
"Look, lets not play games. You understand that your hoop will be in danger from setting this up. Humanis isn't the only player. There is another group which eats wildcats, ghosts and other special forces types for breakfast. If they think that you can lead them to me, your heirs won't get much from the organleggers for your remains. You tell me what its going to cost to get the job done AFTER letting everybody know this is what they face."
".....Hmmm......call me back in 20."
Twenty minutes later Owen dialed Gom again.
"We were speaking a few minutes ago about a transaction involving some cold computers...."
"Yes, Mr. Johnson. The cost for the job is going to be 2.5 yards, large."
"That includes your fee of 30 percent?"
"25 percent, sir. 250,000 nuyen will get my personal guarantee of the best around. When would you like to meet the team."
"Tonight at the Ironbound Grill. 8 p.m. Will you be bringing a down payment?"
"No. My banker will transfer funds to you directly. I'll want you to bring the runner's portion."
"Ah......well sir, I don't really operate in that fashion, but I will send a representative with the credits, if that's acceptable."
"Well then, thank you for your business sir and best of luck in your endeavor."
After hanging up Owen made a call back to Felix and directed a transfer of 175,000 nuyen be made to Gom. When Felix grumbled about it, Owen said "Call it the first installment on the price for Central." and hung up.

Tristan had gotten off with a warning and proclaimed to any and all who would listen (except the Grand Knight) that if he had lost the assignment because of Ferris that he would have "Obliterated the queer halfer". The looks he gave Moon Bright indicated that she too would have been in danger if the report of his actions had brought about a demotion. In fact, in Tristan's mind, anyone would have been an appropriate target for his wrath. Was he not, after all, of noble blood? Beyond the rank he had inherited, wasn't it his destiny to become a Full Paladin and eventually gain royal patronage? Of course it was. If the evaluation fools could not see it, it was not his fault!
After the indignity of the reprimand, Tristan had endured the suspense of waiting to see if he would be selected for the action team being sent after Gray. The Grand Knight has to see what a blow it would be to the Compound if one of their most valuable assets were lost, he thought. I know he prattles on about "they are valuable opponents against whom we test our mettle" but we could show just how little they are worth if we took such a prized asset. He's got to send a team and he should let me lead it.
When both Moon Bright and Tristan were included on the action team, he put the best face on it he could. At least, I'm on the team, in spite of the machinations of that slitch. I suppose I should be grateful. There are worse team leaders than Galron. I just wished they'd let me run the team. I've heard about Barnaby, supposed to be cybered to the edge and Sayla Starseeker is a pretty powerful spell slinger. I'm just not crazy about being led by a decker. Ah, well. Maybe I'll get the chance to shine in spite of them. We move out within the hour, I wonder how soon we'll be back.

The Ironbound Grill led a dual life. At lunchtime and through the early evening it was a neighborhood bar. The clientele, as they had been for the last 100 years, were blue collar and local. After dark, though, the locals moved over to the VFW hall or to Portagee Joe's to do their drinking and socializing. The move was to avoid the "late night horror show" as they called it. As darkness settled over the city, the Ironbound Grill became a runner's bar. All sorts of business was conducted in the tavern, in part because there was no sound system, no dance floor, no laser light show. Many teams thought of this place as a safe haven for biz because the Johnson could calmly discuss what he wanted and what he was willing to pay without distractions. The teams that liked the Johnson to be off balance did business out of Ben E's or the Crocodile Club, where distractions were constant and intrusive.
Owen entered the bar at 8pm exactly and jandered over to the bartender. After a brief conversation he was directed to a table where 6 individuals were already seated. Four females, an ork with some blatant chrome, an elf with several data jacks, and two humans, one with a single jack and the other with a magesword, wearing several fetishes. The two males were humans, one with more muscle bulk than a human being was intended to carry and the other with a data jack in the center of his forehead.
Owen sauntered over and removed his cloak to reveal the very expensive suit he was wearing. The ork snorted as though she thought he was some kind of moron to so obviously display his status, and Owen recognized that she was already looking for a confrontation. He stopped to make sure she was snorting at him and when she looked him up and down and snorted again he asked, "Is there a problem?" She stopped her snorts but looked at him hard. He stared right back at her and said with a smile which never touched his eyes. "Let me give you some sound fiscal advice- don't laugh at the Johnson until after you've got his cred". When she started to look all innocent and confused he shook his head and started to put the cloak back on. At that moment an overweight norm female stepped up and said "You're not leaving so soon, are you Mr. Johnson?"
Owen raised an eyebrow as the woman explained "I'm Goldie. Gom sent me to arrange payment for your... investigation. Is there a problem?"
"Yes, in point of fact there is. I asked for a prime team and Gom's sent me kids. I told him how serious this is and he's sent me people playing high school hijinx with the new teacher. I've been insulted twice before I've even begun to discuss the work. Apparently there are some major differences between Gom's idea of professionalism and mine. I will have to seek employees from another source."
"Wait, wait please, sir. Surely we can discuss this. Gom has guaranteed that you will be satisfied."
"I suggest he discuss the relative merits of his guarantees with his employees. I, unfortunately, have neither the time nor the inclination."
Goldie started to panic. The boss would be pissed about blowing the easy cred, but this toff sounded like Gom's whole rep would be in the drekker because of this. That meant lean times for everybody as he moved to fixing lower level jobs. Frag! She remembered something that the boss had done years earlier.
"I apologize for the difficulty, sir. Although you are well within your rights to decline this crew as inappropriate, I would like to offer our services, without charge, in procuring you a more suitable group. I'm sure Gom would agree if he were here."
Owen smiled and shook his head. "Do you realize the sort of money you are offering to refund? Are you sure your employer would approve? Aren't you going to ask for time to contact him?"
Goldie said "Sir, if we have not provided satisfaction after guaranteeing our work, it is only fair that we make good on the situation. I'm certain my employer would agree. If you'll have a seat over here I will make arrangements immediately. May I get you something?"
Owen considered for a moment and then said "Nice recovery. I didn't want to give you a way out but I hadn't considered that you'd take a loss in money rather than a loss of face. I'll have some bottled water, please."
While Owen was being ushered to another seat, the B&E group were having a whispered conference of their own. If Gom's reputation got trashed over Tina Louise's rudeness, the whole gang would suffer. Their hard earned rep would drop, not only with Gom but with every other fixer in the Newark area. This snooty Johnson had Goldie running scared and they knew she had told Johnson's to kiss off in the past when the job smelled like a tailchaiser. Cyclops also pointed out that TL had deliberately provoked the Johnson and that wasn't the way to do biz, ever.
When Owen sat down Tina Louise made her way over to the table.
"Uhm....'scuse me....uh....I wanna 'pologize. I wasn't actin' like a pro an....hmm... I'll bow outta da job if ya give my chummers a crack at it. Dere real good an dey wanna chance.... don't hold my mouth against 'em.....please."
Tina Louise squared her shoulders and headed for the door. Owen very quietly said "wait".
When she turned around he offered her a seat. He leaned across the table and pulled out half a dozen 5 credit coins. He set each of them on a different spot on her side of the table. As he was placing the coins he said "I hate doing this but you've got the guts to swallow your pride for your friends so this lesson may sink in. Don't even think about repeating it. Now you've got wired reflexes and a cyber arm, right?" When she nodded he continued "And I'm a stupid wage slave too used to the soft life to know what not to wear in Ironbound at night, right?" Although she didn't nod he continued. "So here are six 5 nuyen coins on your side of the table. I'll count to three and you pick them up before I do, ok? One.....two.....three"
Tina Louise's chipped reflexes kicked in as she grabbed for the coins and she was almost, almost able to see Owen move. She was impressed, this pretty boy was greased lightning. She only felt 4 of the six coins in her hand which meant he had beat her to the draw on two of them. Damn, this fragger was good. She guessed he would now tell her that things were not always as they seemed. Instead Owen laid Five 5 nuyen coins in front of himself and invited her to do the same. She opened her hand and saw two 1 nuyen coins, a 5 and a Quebec 10 franc piece. As her eyes bugged out of her head, Owen collected the coins and said "I don't need to say anything more, do I? Let's rejoin your friends."
He signaled Goldie over to the table as he sat down with the crew. "I'd like to apologize to everyone for my ungentlemanly outburst. There really isn't any excuse for such rude behavior, but by way of explanation the business I am engaged in is deadly serious. I mean that literally and unfortunately I'm showing the strain. I hope you will be generous enough to put my unpleasantness aside and allow us to continue in a professional manner."
"Although I'm certain Gom warned you, let me start by saying that the organizations involved in this affair are extremely dangerous. The phrase I used with Gom was melodramatic but unfortunately accurate. I told him that more than one group was involved and that some of the people who want to lay their hands on me, eat Wildcats and Ghosts for breakfast. (Actually, you can substitute any well equipped elite special forces unit with equal accuracy). I also told him that should word of my involvement be connected, however peripherally with any of you, these people will insure that your heirs will make no profit selling your remains to the organleggers. I do not exaggerate when I say that these people must never suspect what you are doing because if they do, they will connect it with me and that, as they say, will be all she wrote."
"Now if everyone is properly terrified, I will offer you the opportunity to walk away. No takers? Very well. The job is research on Hank Pym of Humanis. I need a thorough collection of every bit of biographic data there is. I need the stuff that is publicly accessible and I need the stuff that isn't. I want your deckers protected magically and physically because Pym may know that he's being investigated. If he sics his policlub boys on you I want you to have enough escape and evasion planned that you get away clean. I won't warn you about the others because you'd never see them coming, but if you can stay a step ahead of Pym's protection nobody else should put you together with me. You'll report to Gom's representative, which I imagine will be you, Goldie and you and I will work out a dead letter drop for me to pick the data up.....What else...Oh, yes. Time frame. The sooner you can get this done the sooner your association with me will end and the safer you will be. Conversely, the longer it takes the greater the odds that we all get to visit the morgue."
"Any questions about the job before we touch the issue of payment? Very well. Goldie?"
When Goldie told the runners that the pay would be 180,000 nuyen, and that 1/2 was available immediately the runners looked at Owen like he was Santa Claus. 30K each was a nice piece of change for matrix work. When the team wanted to introduce themselves, Owen declined saying, "For both our sakes, I don't want to know you and you don't want to know me. Just be very very careful, please." He then got up and walked out into the night.


Walking out of the Ironbound Grill, Owen took a cab back to his hotel room. He took off his new suit and put the army surplus fatigues he had bought on over his sneak suit. He packed his cloak into the shoulder satchel he had purchased (after transferring tools and weapons to the armored duster) and ducked out the hotel's fire exit. After a short walk, he caught a cab on Broad Street and headed for Vailsburg.
Vailsburg had been the Italian sub-district of Newark for more than 120 years. He knew that he was heading into one of the Mafia's major strongholds in the UCAS, but, like the portion of Newark controlled by the Honjowara-gumi Yakusa, the area was clean, well lighted and free of street violence. The criminals who catered to the most base cravings of man, did not allow dangerous activity near their homes and families. Owen stopped at the Bella Vista Motor Inn and took a room. This is where he would actually stay while the B&E crew sought his data. He would use the room in the Hyatt as a decoy so that he would hopefully be aware of pursuit before he caught a high-powered, armor-piercing round.
Owen knew that in this part of town, although there was little street violence, the appearance of a stranger would prompt reports to many levels of the Cosa Nostra and that he should expect an eventual visit from some "connected" people. Rather than sacrifice the initiative Owen decided to take the first step. He took the bottle of water which he had hand carried on the flight, the bottle that he had picked up off the front seat of the Jackrabbit when he had stopped the cab on the way to the airport, the bottle that he never seemed to finish, out of the satchel. He poured the water very slowly and carefully into his hand, and when the bottle was completely empty he had some damp fingers and in his palm were 4 perfect diamonds. Each weighed 4 karats and was worth a minimum of 12K nuyen. A total of 48k nuyen, which hopefully, would buy him some security in Newark. These stones were untraceable as they had come from the job he had pulled 3 months earlier from someone who should not have had the stones and so could not complain about their theft. Placing the stones in his pocket, Owen headed down to the street.
Two blocks from where Owen was staying stood Lou's Pawn Shop. Glendower gave the desk clerk a nod as he headed out the door, as much as signaling that it was time for the local wiseguys to check his room. He jandered down the street and entered the pawn shop to the smell of frying peppers. The clerk, who Owen eventually learned was the proprietor, named Paulie, had set up a hot plate and was working a huge black skillet behind the counter. He was not in the least concerned about being "caught" cooking in a place with no ventilation or safety features that the board of health might require.
Owen spent some time studying the jewelry until finally Paulie finished cooking and eating his peppers and came over.
"See anything you like?", Paulie asked with a jerk of his balding head. He was a small norm with a compelling personal dynamism.
"Well, I'd like some advice, first." replied Owen.
"Oooh Kayyy, shoot."
"I have some valuable stones. I'd like to sell them. I'm not from around here, so I don't know who to talk to. I also know that just about anything I do might be seen as lacking respect for the right people. I don't want to show a lack of respect. I need some advice, but I don't want to insult you by offering you money. I also don't want to insult you by not offering you money for this advice. What should I do?"
"Not bad, you didn't lie once and by putting yourself in my hands you've obligated me to give you some help or kick you out now." After several minutes of silence, Paulie said "I'm not currently busy, I guess I'll answer questions. Just keep me entertained. First question."
"Should I offer you money for your advice?"
"Should I offer you something else as recompense for your time?"
"No, but that was a good follow up."
"Should I offer a percentage of what I sell to the...... community leaders?"
"Ha- ha-ha. Community leaders! That's rich. I'll use that one. Ha-ha community leaders. Ah, yeah, you should definitely consider a percentage for the community leaders. Next question. You know, you're pretty good at this."
Owen sketched a quick bow and asked "What would be an appropriate percentage to offer?"
"Depends on what you are looking to do. If you're setting up shop in the neighborhood it's going to be more than if you're just passing through. Also depends on how warm these stones are, how many and how much they are worth."
As Owen placed the four diamonds on the counter's square of black velvet, he said, "I hope to be gone in a week."
Paulie placed the jeweler's glass in his eye and picked up one of the stones with a pair of tweezers. As he examined the stone he said "Very nice, clear, brilliant, fine cut, I'd say 4 karats.... probably get you 12-13K per stone, if they weren't hot."
"Well I didn't dig them out of the ground, of course, but the party who I got them from wasn't supposed to have them to begin with so he won't be asking for them back."
"Ok, next question."
"Who should I talk to about selling these?"
"And how large a percentage would be appropriate considering the temperature of the stones and the duration of my visit."
"10-15 percent"
"How much will you give me for the stones?"
"10 large per rock"
"Whatta ya think, bottle tops?"
"Sorry, just trying to avoid a confrontation when I look for nuyen and get paid in dollars"
"You think I'm a fraggin thief?!"
"No", Owen said with a sigh, "I think I've asked one question too many."
Paulie's glower turned into a grin. "I like your style, kid. You got brains. You want a transfer to your account or certified sticks?"
"Actually, I'd like a certified stick for 10K. I'd like one of the stones to be presented to the appropriate authority, as a token of my respect. I'd like you to hold the 15K from the other two against contingencies. I mean, I've already blundered into an error with you and I may inadvertently insult someone else."
"What about the remaining 5,000?"
"I'd like to donate that in your name to an appropriate charity. Perhaps St. Dominic's?"
"Why would you do that?"
"Because I don't know much, but I know when I'm vulnerable. You've got a stranger over a barrel and you demonstrate that you are a man of honor and principle. I understand that and would like to extend a token of respect to you also. Since you've declined my direct offers I was hoping I could show my appreciation in another way."
"Impressive. Very impressive. Very old school. I like your style, kid...... But before I give you my daughter's hand in marriage, let's level with each other. What do you really want?"
"I want to be safe for a week. I want to not have to worry about extensive checks or searches being made about me. I want to be invisible and then I want to be gone. I'm not hot at the moment, but one question too many in the wrong circles and I'm a super nova. Wherever I am when the top blows off gets to be ground zero. Desert wars revisited. I'm willing to pay to avoid that, but I'm clueless on who to slip the creds to. I am sincere when I say I want to show you the respect you are entitled to, but I don't know any of the forms. I'm guessing using what I know of etiquette from an Asian country."
"Come with me"
Owen followed Paulie through a series of doors. When he got to the last door Paulie said "Leave your weapons here. All of your weapons."
Owen removed his coat and left his stick. He removed a number of secreted weapons and walked into the room. He found Paulie seated behind a large old desk. A younger, larger version of Paulie with a full head of black hair was slumped in one of the leather chairs in the office. He said "He's a phys ad, but he's good enough that I can't see anything more. Doesn't appear hostile." as Owen entered the room. Another Paulie look alike with reflective cybereye covers said "He walked through the SQUID without a peep." This meant that the quantum interference device had detected no weapons or cyberware. "He's clean. Not even wearing armor."
Paulie smiled and indicated that Owen should sit. "If you haven't figured it out, I'm the 'community leader', (damn, I love that), who you wanted to have one of your diamonds. I'd like to talk to you about something more. You interrupted my meal which should have meant you were screwed from the giddyup, but you were patient and handled yourself very well. I can smell a lie while most slots are still thinkin of it and you were completely honest. You also were sincerely respectful, which excuses an awful lot. You admitted what you didn't know and you actually did as you were instructed when I told you to take off all of your weapons. I wish my own crew would do as well. Anyway, you say you're cold now but one question too many puts you in the fire. I could maybe set it up so you found some regular work and some protection here in Newark. You have any interest along those lines?"
"Sir, with the utmost respect, I'm flattered that you'd consider me, but I must decline. I've made some serious commitments and I'm not free to pursue other opportunities. I hope you will understand that I'm only as good as my word and my word is already given."
Paulie looked at Owen for a full minute saying nothing. Then he sighed and said, "Well, that's a pity. We could have done quite a bit of business." Picking up a sheaf of papers that he started reading as he was speaking, Paulie continued "You have an undisturbed week to conclude your biz. You bring my area trouble, you make what the deckers call an 'unrecoverable error'. I thank you for the stone. Pete will give you your certified stick for the 10k. I will hold the 15k as a peace bond and on behalf of St. Dominic's I thank you for the generosity you've shown them in my name. Have a nice day."

Dr. Chong, normally unflappable "Clean up batter" for the compound was worried. He an his team were after action specialists. They analyzed after the action had occurred. They buried traces. Their deckers found reports and erased them or planted enough conflicting evidence that follow up was not worth the effort. The magic users banished battle remnants and masked what astral evidence they could not remove. The techs dismantled equipment and the muscle silenced witnesses. They were not prepared or trained to scout targets.
Although Dr. Chong was disquieted by the disruption in routine, some of his crew seemed anxious for the change of pace. Some of his support people were past-their-prime hitters, who seemed to be recapturing their glory days. Some of his crew were journeymen, learning the ropes, but anxious for the opportunity to prove their readiness to be full fledged operatives. However, most of his crew were simply out of their depth. They were just not prepared to do the kind of investigation that was being required. The deckers had discovered nothing from the local operative's records, because they simply had never been created. They had a physical description of the target, but absolutely no way to isolate him from the millions of other faces in the city. The magic users had no ritual sample and no single psychic image to trace, as the battle scene and it's aftermath contained too much violence to isolate a single imprint. The techs were trying to aid the muscle who were discovering a world of difference between pressuring someone into silence and getting them to share information.
To add to his grief, the latest "weapons" in the Compound's arsenal, the appallingly expensive Cyberzombies were on the scene. More machine than man, these fraggers gave Chong nightmares. If the walking dead were faster, stronger and deadlier than humanly possible, where did that leave mankind? And the Cybermage they traveled with, Deacon, was no day at the beach either. Chong had initially wondered what kind of man volunteers to have so much of his flesh replaced with technology that his soul could only be kept in his body through magic. Now he had bigger questions about the kind of man who specialized in keeping those souls trapped. When he had been summoned to the "Pep Boys" trailer box/home he had been horrified by the inhuman warriors, but terrified by the sheer bloodlust of the Cybermage. Deacon wanted targets NOW. He was desperate for a chance to show the Compound what his "boys" could do. He wanted to erase the shame of losing five top operatives. Most of all, he wanted to kill. The doctor shuddered as he remembered the almost sexual description and the gleam in Deacon's eyes as he talked about killing. He got the distinct impression that if a target was not provided, Deacon would take the pep boys out hunting on his own.

As Krikor prowled the streets around the former training center, he began to form a distinct impression that he was not the only hunter in his territory. He scented others looking for his quarry and it annoyed him. He was the hunter. The prey was his. Any who came between him and his target would become prey themselves.

Tristan was becoming convinced that Galron was a coward. They had discovered the Compound's protective group was located in an area which had originally been a manufacturing zone of the city. The heavy industry had produced so many pollutants that it eventually became more cost effective for the companies to relocate than to decontaminate. When the manufacturers had left, so did much of the population base and those that remained soon found that so many toxic chemicals had been left behind that the area was unlivable. In this desolate wasteland, the "Top secret assets" had hidden themselves. Tristan advocated direct and forceful action against this protection element. He argued that it would leave the "ultra valuable" target exposed. It would also instruct the Compound that it could no longer operate with impunity as it had come to the attention of the Paladins of the White Hart. It was the perfect message to send to the commoners. But Galron insisted that they wait and watch. "The patient angler catches the big fish" he had said. As if Tristan knew or cared about fishing! "Since we don't see them protecting anything yet, its premature to attack them. It will drive the quarry to ground" the elven leader had said.
Once again I'm being held back by the incompetence of others, Tristan thought. I know I could flush our quarry if we first took out all of his cover. He wouldn't go to ground, he'd just run. But Noooo. Galron says wait. Galron says be patient. I will never get recognition obeying his orders. I have to stir things up myself.

After receiving his certified credstick from Pete, who turned out to be the younger, cybered version of Paulie, Owen was escorted to a bar, a social club and a food store. In each, Pete had introduced Owen to seemingly random people as "a very good friend of the don's from out of town". Whenever business issues had come up with any of these strangers, Pete had said "We don't want to disturb Mr. G. here, he's only in town for a week".Apparently, I'm being marked as hands off, but only for the next seven days. Pretty good system, Owen thought.
By the time he had finished his "tour", Owen was accepted as a regular in the neighborhood. People who he had never met were smiling, nodding and waving to him. Word sure gets around fast, he thought. But I bet it could turn in a Newark minute and all my new "friends" could become enemies in a heartbeat. I'd better be long gone by the end of my seven days.
After Pete went back to the pawn shop, Owen called Gom from a public telecom. He asked Gom for the dead letter drop where reports from the B&E group could be left for him. Once he had the number and address, he complimented Gom on Goldie, mentioning that her quick thinking and professionalism had prevented Owen from rejecting the crew. When Gom heard the entire story he agreed both that Goldie had handled the situation perfectly and that she deserved a financial reward. He was quite effusive in his thanks to Owen and promised that he would be satisfied with the work the B&E ers would do.
When Owen returned to the hotel, he asked if there was someplace where he could play his flute without disturbing the other guests. He was told by the now fawning desk clerk the absolutely nobody would mind if a friend of Don Lucchese wanted to make beautiful music. Thanking the clerk, Owen returned to his room and took the bamboo flute out of his satchel. Wondering if he actually would be keeping the other guests from resting, Owen heaved a small sigh. If I don't play it means I have to lay down, which means another visit from poor Smiley's ghost as soon as I close my eyes....Maybe I can appease your spirit, little brother, if I play you one of those tunes you loved as a kid..... I wish we hadn't fought. Owen poured his soul into the simple peasant tune which Smiley had always called his favorite.

"All right, I need a detailed explanation of what happened. How did Kinsey get mauled? Where is Nitro?"
"I....well, let me explain, Doctor, see, we were in a bar, trying to make a contact with someone who might have some information on the target, when Nitro started staring at this bearded guy in a fur coat. He was...I don't know, it was like he was deliberately challenging him or something. I wrote it off as some weird macho drek or maybe a pickup technique, when the guy stood up and winked at Nitro and then gestured that he should come outside. Nitro got up and followed the fragger out without so much as a word. About 5 minutes later, we decided that we'd better find out what was going on so we went looking for them. I went around the front of the building and Kinsey checked the alley. The next thing I know, Kinsey is screaming like a banshee and unloading his AK at full spray. I went charging around with my short swords out, figuring I'd slice through the armor that was stopping Kinsey's lead. The next thing I know I'm getting knocked over by the biggest fraggin dog, I mean, I think it was a dog....well, it was big and furred and ran on all fours, but it was fast. Before I could even focus on it, the thing was gone. When I get up, I see Kinsey laying in the alley bleeding with most of his face gone. I threw slap patches on him and called for transport. He wasn't conscious so I couldn't ask him what happened. While I was waiting, I look in the alley and I see Nitro's pants and boots by one wall, with the legs still in them. I.....uh...well I started to barf and turned away and noticed that Nitro's arm and torso are by the dumpster, his other arm is about 20 feet further up the alley. I know it was him, but I never found the head.
"Could Nitro have encountered the target?"
"I don't know Doc, sounds like a hell of a coincidence. The guy he followed out wasn't as tall as the target, and he didn't look like the description we got, but with all that hair and beard and the fur coat, I guess it's possible..... But I don't think Nitro stared at him or followed him outside because he recognized the target. Nitro would have taken backup and called for support before he followed the target into an alley. We all know that the target took out the Archangel and Khan and the rest. Nobody wants a one on one with that fragger. No, I think there was something else between Nitro and the beard. Whatever it was tore Nitro to pieces.
"I will need to report this", said Dr. Chong, thinking to himself to both Deacon and my lord.

Bright Moon was quite pleased with herself. She had not violated Galron's orders, exactly, but she had gotten away from Tristan's whining and was now pursuing what was obviously a real lead. Earlier in the evening she had noted the trio of sams who were ineptly pursuing information about some boytoy. Curious, she had followed at a distance and had uncovered quite a bit. That the three worked for the Compound had been confirmed by their conversations about Chong. That could only be Dr. Chong, someone already identified as the Compound's clean up man. That they were attempting to gain information about a target was something Galron should know. If, however, she informed the team leader she would have to give some explanation for how she had acquired such data. Before she was faced with that unpleasantness, she wanted to get as much detailed intelligence as she could.
Having been in the same bar as the three compounders on two occasions, she had waited outside their third stop and had assumed an observation post on the roof of an adjoining building. When one of the sams had followed a bearded human in a fur coat into the alley, she had watched in horror as the samurai was torn, literally to pieces by the man-wolf. When the creature had thrown the Samurai's head away, Bright Moon had determined that she needed to follow the beast to ascertain its role in the conflict. She had not interfered when the Samurai's partners had come upon the creature unexpectedly and it had mauled one before escaping. Seeing how ineffective firearms were in stopping the wolf, she resolved to use her longsword should she ever come into conflict with the beast.
Using magic to slow her fall, Moon jumped from her rooftop perch and floated down the side of the building so she would not lose sight of the wolf. She moved with speed and in silence as she trailed the night creature. She was still following when, four blocks later, the shapeshifter ducked into an abandoned building. Suspecting a trap, Moon drew her sword and Uzi III. Shifting to astral perception, she attempted to isolate precisely where the wolf had gone. She got no reading and started to hurry through the building to find the backdoor that the Shapechanger must have run through.
Her first indication that she had made a mistake was when the wolf's jaws closed on her sword wrist and literally tore her hand off. The adrenaline overload that accompanied the surprise attack temporarily cut out the pain of the injury. She brought the Uzi to the monster's head and emptied the clip before the wolf could escape. As the wolf's body fell in one direction the elf's fell in the other. Then the pain came. Moon nearly lost consciousness before she could apply a tourniquet to stop the bleeding. Then she did pass out.
Moon awoke to find the nightmare would not end. She was in incredible pain, her hand was gone, she might bleed to death and as she looked over at the monster's corpse, she could see the fragments of skull coalescing back together. The hair on the back of her neck rose in horror, but before she could even move, the wolf's eyes fastened on hers and the creature seemed to grin. She brought the Uzi to bear and squeezed the trigger in panic, only to hear the hammer click on an empty chamber. She had already burned through an entire clip! As she began to curse as the Wolf began to change into a man, only to halt in mid-transition. Moon prepared to launch her mana dart spell, only to be completely distracted when the man-wolf disabled her left arm by grabbing above and below her elbow and pulling his hand-claws apart.
The elf saw a blinding explosion of light as the pain hit. Not only was her elbow dislocated but both upper and lower halves of her arm contained broken bones and portions of shattered elbow joint. She passed out again.
When Moon regained consciousness, the man-wolf was facing her, apparently waiting for her to awaken. She immediately thought to summon her ally spirit only to see the creature shake his head and slash her thigh open to the bone with his claws. Moon screamed in pain. In a growled half voice the amalgam of beast and man said "No magic".
The creature then growled "Who?" as he raised the ankle of the elf's uninjured leg to his maw. Sobbing, Moon told him her cover name "Leiha Firewalker". The man-wolf said "Lie" and crushed the bones in her ankle with his jaws.
When Bright Moon again regained consciousness, she was a broken woman. She knew that this monster would acquire the information it sought, even if it meant a slow and agonizing death for her. Her training had left her unprepared for such brutal treatment and she was desperate for it to stop.
"Bright Moon" she screamed, "My name is Bright Moon". The creature left its claw-hand pressed against her left breast. "Why?" Growled the monster. When the elf hesitated the werewolf began squeezing and Moon shouted "I saw you in the alley and followed". The monster continued to squeeze and as his claws began to break the skin, he repeated "Why?" The elf woman's reserves completely gave way and she told all she knew, about the Paladin's strike team, the Compound's clean up crew and protection squad, Ferris Ironbeard, anything, anything that would keep this inhuman creature from hurting her any further. She was disgusted with herself for her weakness, she was ashamed that she had been broken and she hated her trainers for sending her out unprepared for this kind of torture. When she had revealed everything she knew and truthfully answered all of the man-wolf's questions she almost welcomed the jaws closing on her throat to end her life.

Krikor left most of the elf's body for the Ghouls and devil rats. He had a wealth of information to aid him on his hunt. As was his habit, he checked for the wolf's head talisman that he wore around his neck. Without it, his ambushes would be much more difficult as mages would be able to spot him astrally. With it he would be able to isolate and ambush all of the hunters in this new group, all of these Paladins, without their being able to asense him. The talisman was very old and very powerful and was the only personal possession of an value to the shapeshifter.
Sure that the talisman still concealed him, Krikor completed his transformation into a man and left the building. As he stalked off into the night he began his plans to eliminate the other hunters so that he could pursue his quarry without interruption. The amount of information he had gained from the elf had made this a very good night.

Deacon was actually pleased with Dr. Chong's report. At last, something was happening. He would finally be able to send his toys out to do something instead of constantly making sure that their individual focus was centered on the real world. He ordered Chong to shift his team's investigation to the new threat and get him a target that the Pep Boys could eliminate. When Chong hesitated and suggested that this might even be a distraction by the actual target, Deacon snarled "You follow my orders, Doctor, or the pieces of you sent back to the compound for internment won't be big enough to warrant extra postage."
Unfortunately, when Chong reported back to the Compound, he was ordered to comply with the requests of "the strike force on the scene." He immediately began to retask his impromptu "researchers".


Owen awoke the next morning having gotten some sleep. Whether the flute had assuaged Smiley's spirit or simply settled Owen's subconscious enough, Glendower had not been haunted by his murdered friend. He climbed to the roof of the motel and greeted the dawn with his regimen of Tai-Chi-Chuan and yoga. The meditative techniques helped him clear his mind and prepare for the day. After showering, shaving and dressing he walked down to a local fruit stand and bought his breakfast. He then walked to the Vailsburg public library. He expected that the place would be largely empty, as most libraries were these days, but was surprised to see the number of college students filling the reading room. Apparently this was exam time at the local college and looking for a quiet place to study, many Seton Hall students had discovered the seldom used public library. Since Vailsburg was midway between the South Orange Main Campus and the Newark Corporate Law School Campus, there were both undergraduates and graduate students trying desperately to decipher notes, memorize facts and generally absorb months of material in the minutes remaining before they would be tasked with regurgitating this data.
Owen found an unused terminal in a corner of the third floor. He had just begun his research when a distressed male norm bustled up to the terminal. "Oh, um...er...ah....excuse me,.....uhm, you are in my spot"
"I beg your pardon?" replied Owen.
"My spot, my spot, you're sitting in my spot. I always sit in this spot, its the only auspicious place for me in the entire building. I have to sit in my spot or its terribly unlucky. You need to go find another spot, this is my spot."
Before Owen could respond a bored security guard came over and started to roust the small man with the bad toupee.
"Hey you, dis guy was here. I seen him come in. Ya better find someplace else to sit, an stop tryin' to force people outta seats which dey are legally entitled to use"
"But its my seat, its the seat I always use. I can't use any other seat....."
"Look chummer, dese seats is all da same. Move along before I toss you outta here."
"Excuse me, officer." said Owen. "It was my mistake, I'll find another seat."
"No. You wuz here first. Dis guy can't make you move. You gotta learn to stand up for your rights. Now you," he said to the little man. "Take off. And you" he said, turning back to Owen, " get back to what you wuz doin or I'll toss you too."
Owen moved to a nearby terminal which had come open as the conversation had gone on and the little man scooted into his seat, which was now open. As the guard was about to raise a stink because his Solomon-like wisdom had been ignored, his walkie-talkie notified him that he was needed on another floor. He glared at the little man and at Owen but threw up his hands and walked away.
After eight solid hours of research on Hank Pym from the public databases, Owen felt the little man was behind him again. When he turned he heard, "Uh...thanks...I'm..uh..called the worm. I appreciate the ...uh...consideration. I needed to work in my spot for luck, and you were a real gentleman. If I can...uh...you know, do anything for you......"
"Oh, don't mention it. My name is Owen. I'm just visiting in town, but back home I like to work out of the same seat in the library, too."
"Why are you researching Hank Pym?" the little man asked.
When Owen did not respond to the question, the worm explained, "I uhm....noticed your research, well....uh...I peeked, really...I tapped into the library's matrix connection through the server and monitored your station."
"I didn't know you could do that." said Owen.
"Well, you can't....I mean you're not supposed to be able to, but I hate it when they close off access to information so I uhm...unlocked the system, you know, so I could see what I wanted. So, why are you researching Hank Pym?"
"I'm trying to find out about him. How did you unlock the system?" Owen asked.
"I...uh...just made myself the sysop for the library. Why do you want to find out about Hank Pym?"
"You asked me if you could do anything for me a few minutes ago, didn't you? How about you stop asking me why I'm researching Hank Pym" Owen said.
"Oh, uhm....ok...I guess. I just was going to offer to get you some stuff on him from the city planners office, if you were interested, I mean. Are you interested?"
"Well, I would be interested, but if anybody were to find out that you were looking, they'd be willing to kill you trying to find me. That wouldn't be very lucky for you, would it?"
"Really? Why do they want to find you? Why would they be willing to kill me? I mean, if I were killed I couldn't very well tell them anything so that wouldn't be a very good plan, not that it would happen because nobody ever knows where the worm digs. I'm very lucky. When were you born?"
"Many years ago. Why do you want to know?"
"Oh, astrology, you know, influence of the stars and planets....luck. I'm lucky and if you're lucky then working together might make for cumulative luck effects, here...." reaching across Owen the worm's fingers danced over the keyboards. "See, here are the plans for Pym's house and here..." he typed in several new commands and the screen displayed an office building "...are the plans for the office buildings he works in. (I can be the sysop for the city planners office in...uhm...17 towns, and one of them is Newstead where Pym lives.) I hope you're not a friend of his or anything, because his charts are not real lucky, see" again the little man's hands danced over the keyboard. The display now showed an elaborate astrological chart. "When did you say you were born?"
"Actually, I didn't," Owen replied. "Why do you have Pym's astrological charts?"
"Oh, when I saw you were interested I checked the records for his DOB and drew that up. Why didn't you tell me when you were born?"
"Because I don't want you to know. Can I get a download of the data you've uncovered?"
"Yes, here." The little man slipped a data chip into the slot and copied the data. "You know you're very good at 'ask me another'?"
"I've played before. What's the score?"
"I fell behind when you told me my life might be in danger and I asked three questions and didn't wait for a response. I've asked....uhm..5 more questions and made 7 more statements. I...oh, man! What time is it? I'll be late! I gotta go! Bye."
"Wait, what's the charge for your research?"
"No charge, Bye."
"Oh, ..well....Thanks. And good luck! And uh...Bye"
Owen shook his head as the little man ran off. I wonder if the crew I'm paying a fortune to has unearthed as much information as that strange little man. It's probably time to check. Leaving the library, whose system he now knew was not secure, he found a public telecom and picked up the data waiting at his dead letter drop. It struck him that Vailsburg probably had more public telecoms per square block than anyplace else on earth. He headed back to the motel to review his data.

Owen downloaded the material onto the motel room's telecom (after disabling all of its outgoing connections and pulling the machine's memory chip) and examined the data that had been waiting at his dead letter site. He found that the B&E crew were definitely worth the money as they had very quickly accumulated a great deal of personal history on Pym. It was, of course, not as extensively footnoted as Pablo's research, but then it was also not limited to publicly available data.
Pym was a PR Director for a mid-sized, Newark based, fiber-optics firm which would likely soon be absorbed by Shiawase through one of its subsidiaries. Owen grimaced has he scanned the pages of rumors, conjecture, surmise and uncovered data dealing with the potential corporate acquisition. Doesn't give me anything I can use, but I can see that without specific directives the B&Eers are providing what they think a good sarariman wants to know. This personal history material I acquired myself is much more useful. After examining all of the information so far unearthed, Owen found one lead which the data did not explain. Periodically Pym traveled to Dee Cee and stayed at the Imperial 500 motor inn. Although he paid cash for this every three week trip, both the airline and motel required identification verification and the B&E deckers had tricked out the confirmation records. Why does a PR Director for a Newark based Fiber optics manufacturer have to regularly make trips to the Capital of the UCAS? Why does he always stay at the same motel? Why does he pay cash?
Slotting the chip that the worm had given him he examined the floorplans for Pym's house and business. The work location was probably very secure as Owen found numerous errors, omissions and deletions in the building blueprints. This smells like some heavy payola to the building inspector and fire marshal when the building is changed and the blueprints aren't. Owen tapped the keyboard to look at the corporate data that his deckers had provided, in order to see who ran security for Pym's firm. However, without the telecom's memory chip, he found he had to unload the current data, remove the storage chip and load the other chip to see what would normally have been available for a few keystrokes of labor. Price of paranoia he sighed to himself.
Owen then found Pym's home was a lot more than a home. The mansion in Newstead stood on 10 acres on the side of the South Mountain Reservation. With a view of the New York City skyline this property was beyond prime, and to own 10 entire acres marked Pym was one of the ultra-ultra wealthy. But that doesn't scan, Owen thought. If he's got that kind of money why is he PR director, why isn't he the CEO? Owen went through his chip swapping routine again to pour over the financial data from the B&Eers again. Sure enough, Pym was hiding in plain sight. He wasn't simply an employee of the fiberoptics company but the owner. He also owned an entire pharmaceutical plant in Nutley, several restaurants and hotels in Hoboken and Secaucus and a trucking company in Tenafly. This suckers got more money than Loftwyr, and he plays at being a PR guy. What a great cover. I wonder if his trips to FDC are about his other companies or on Humanis business. Looks like I need to get a lot more data on this guy before I begin to plan a move. Right now, though I'd like to plan some dinner.

Galron was upset. When Bright Moon had not reported in at the appointed time he had written it off as the inattention of the young. Remembering his own first few assignments, he heard again Alpha's lectures on consideration. You got your justice, elder sister, I now have exactly the same headaches that I gave you. As time had gone on however, the annoyance had grown to real concern. The team were all competent, qualified and indeed, expected to research independently, but there were deadly enemies in the area and he had to know if anyone was in danger. Finally, he had Sayla attempt an astral trace while he and Barnaby followed the homing beacon which was implanted in the heel of Moon's boot. Over his strenuous objections, Tristan was left to guard Sayla.
When they arrived at the derelict building, Galron's stomach was tied in knots. The signal was steady, but this was not the place an elf of Moon's background and breeding would stay for any length of time. Getting out of the car he received a call from Tristan.
"Galron, Sayla says that Moon...... She sees great violence and.......oh frag! GALRON, get back here, she's having a fit or something ..."
"Tristan.....Tristan, listen to me. Tell me what's happening."
"She's.....she seems to be coming out of it," Tristan said. "She was tracing Moon magically and all of a sudden she screamed and started shaking. I thought she was being attacked invisibly or something. She's crying now, kind of softly, but she doesn't seem to be under attack..........Galron, she says that Bright Moon died violently near where you are now. Look, why don't you come back here and let Barnaby and I investigate this..."
"Tristan, just take care of the Starseeker until I return. I'll be back soon. Galron, out." Turning to his team mate he said "This isn't going to be pleasant, but let's be safe." Both elves pulled SMG's out from under their long coats and entered the building.
There were not many pieces left of Bright Moon after an evening with the ghouls and the devil rats, but there were enough traces that the two Paladins were sure that this is where she had died. Both were sickened by the senseless waste of life, and both resolved to see justice meted out for this crime. After silently committing her soul to the world spirit, the elven warriors returned to their base to plan their vengeance.

Dr. Chong was beginning to feel the strain. Deacon was demanding a target, there was absolutely nothing in the matrix and the only time his team had anything to report it had cost him one operative's life and another's effectiveness for the foreseeable future. He was no longer even pursuing the primary target! He was now sidetracked into a hunt for a bearded slot with a fur coat. Failing any more effective plan of action, Chong had taken Simon's visual description of the new target and passed it out to all his agents. He knew that the chances were slim that the spotty description would result in a sighting but there was nothing else he could do.
When the call came in the next evening, that the target had been potentially identified, Chong was as surprised as anyone. Weighing Deacon's anger over a misidentification against the mage's fury if the target fled at the smell of scrutiny, Chong ordered that Simon, and other support NOT be rushed to the bar for confirmation of the target. Instead he immediately contacted Deacon and relayed the address. When the doctor mentioned that the target had not been confirmed for fear of alerting him, Deacon had responded "Quite right, quite right. We will take it from here. Remove your assets from the area." Chong had then immediately pulled his people out and other than two very high flying observation drones, completely abandoned the area to Deacon and his charges.

When Deacon learned of the target, he had just completed the ritual preparation to reinforce Jack's all too tenuous hold on life and Manny was undergoing diagnostic review. Both Moe and Manny had volunteered for the outrageously expensive operations that had turned them into more machine than man. Jack, on the other hand, had been rebellious to the point of total disregard for his own safety when he was a man, and now was paying the price as a cyborg. Unfortunately, the rebellious attitude combined with his disbelief in the current state of affairs, required that he be constantly monitored, drugged and "spiritually restrained" to keep him from dying. Deacon, therefore, ordered that Moe be prepared and released while he re-enslaved Jack's soul. He would have preferred to have been in on the kill or to at least have been able to watch it as it happened, but this wasn't, after all, the primary target and he would get to enjoy the tapes. Besides, Deacon remembered the instructions he had received quite clearly. If Jack died before going into action, Deacon would become the new Jack.

Krikor grinned at the (meta)humans' lack of subtlety. They probably thought they were "fading from sight" when they abandoned the bar. They reminded the wolf of nothing so much as a flock of geese fleeing the edge of the pond. Now they will send me their hunter, he thought. He will not be clever but he may be strong. With the patience of a predator, Krikor waited motionless for his adversary.
Valthusian almost laughed aloud when the metal thing entered the bar. These elves take the business of being knights much too seriously he chuckled to himself. A moment later his eyes opened wide as he saw the three high velocity barrels at the end of the knight's left arm begin to spin. This is not an elf in a metal suit, but an actual tin man they have sent for me. There was then no time for thought as the cyborg began spraying the inside of the bar with lead. Krikor took several hits as he dove through a boarded up window, but because none of the bullets were silver, their affects did not last long.
That much metal cannot be fast, Krikor thought. Perhaps it will be amusing to see it exhaust itself in a little run. As soon as he was sure the tin man had followed him out of the bar, Krikor assumed wolf form and began to run. Within minutes the wolf began to rethink his earlier deductions about the cyborg. The machine was keeping pace with the wolf effortlessly and instead of being led to the wolf's hunting ground, was herding the wolf in a direction of its own choosing. Anytime that Krikor deviated from the route that the machine was setting, it sped up to cut him off. And the machine did not seem to tire. It simply kept running.
Finally Krikor had enough. He stopped, turned and launched himself at the machine. Without even registering surprise, the cyborg used a one handed Te-guruma judo throw to toss the wolf over his head and into a wall. When the wolf was momentarily stunned, Moe extended his cyberspur blade from his right fist and repeatedly punched the animal's torso to puncture its internal organs. When the wolf stopped struggling the cyborg backed up to review his handiwork. Retracting the blade as he pulled a flamer from his holster, the machine prepared to destroy the carcass, only to find it tearing away at top speed.
Moe did not waste the time of returning his flame thrower to its holster, but began to run around the building after the creature. He was surprised when a wolf-headed man grabbed the arm holding the flame-thrower as he rounded the corner of the building. Surprised, but not overly concerned until he heard the servos in his cyber arm begin to whine as he lost ground to the wolf-thing. He was standing alongside the monster and could not bring his gun arm into play because the Hiji-waza (elbow lock) that the creature had on his arm prevented him from turning his body. A fragment of the cyborg's memory surfaced from his days as a young, largely meat, man. A wizened little Asian norm was demonstrating Aikido submission holds and showing how even trolls could be subdued by Kansetsu-waza (joint locks).
The cyborg grunted and began rotating his wrist, intending to fire the flame-thrower at point blank range. When the mechanical wrist had rotated beyond human capability and far enough to aim at his opponents head, he pulled the trigger. At that precise moment the man-wolf twisted the cyborg's wrist and disengaged the elbow lock, so that Moe gave himself a napalm shower.
The cyborg's pain editor could not kick in fast enough to prevent all of the searing agony as the flesh on his head and upper body crisped and fell away, but it did give him enough control to turn the spraying weapon on his adversary. He dropped the flamer as he rolled on the ground and attempted to put his head and torso out, but was gratified to hear the howls of the burning wolf-thing.
Krikor Valthusian had not known such pain in many, many years. He had consistently underestimated the cyborg and was paying the price in pain. It looked like a man the way he looked like a man. It was just outward appearance. The reality was as fast and as full of surprises as he was. Better sense and experience urged that he flee this threat until he could come up with a plan of attack, but pure animal rage dictated that he go for the kill. He changed form from man-wolf to wolf to man to man-wolf until the flames were extinguished and then leaped on the prone form of the cyborg.
Fastening on a now visible cable connecting the tin man's metal skull to its metal body, Krikor heaved with all his might. Although he ripped the wiring out of its anchors in the torso, before he could determine the extent of the damage a sustained burst of high velocity slugs from the cyberzombie's left arm blew off both of his legs. Before his severed members could reattach themselves, Krikor was locked in a hand to hand battle with the machine. Distantly realizing that the cyber creature no longer had control of its lower extremities, the the man-wolf struggled to keep the machine from severing his head with the blade extending over its fist.
Moe was as driven by animal rage as Krikor. He had sustained tremendous damage and was determined to lop off the wolf's head and burn the remains. He was limited in this kind of hand to hand battle, however, because he could not grapple with the cybergun in his left arm. He could and did bash with it but he was not being terribly effective. He also began to realize that his opponent's wounds kept healing while his own did not. If he did not kill this thing soon he would not kill it at all.
Summoning up everything he had, Moe shoved the arm blade at the man-wolf's neck. At the last possible second the creature turned into a wolf and took the spike through the shoulder. Although it howled in pain, Moe felt that it's legs had reattached and knew that he would not last much longer. Using his heavy metal body to keep the shapeshifter pinned, he pulled a pair of high explosive grenades from his web gear. Because he only had one manipulative member the grenades were rigged so that pulling them off the vest also pulled their pins. The wolf's eyes grew large as he recognized the Pyrrhic victory the tin man had embraced. Both warriors howled.
Then the world exploded.

Tristan was nearly crazy with the desire to do something! Twenty four hours has passed since Bright Moon's body was discovered and Galron still has not organized a reprisal raid. This is beyond cowardice! Even if Tristan had no particular use for the tattle tale slitch, her death demanded some kind of retaliation. Who cares about who we eliminate? That's not the point. Everybody has to know that the Paladins of the White Hart will not allow one of their number to be struck down without a price in blood being paid. Why can't the stupid Decker see that? Or, if he can, is he too enamored of the soft life to lead the team? What would the Grand Knight say if I took over and not only got vengeance for a fallen comrade, but also found and eliminated the target. They'd have to promote me then! I could do it too, except Barnaby and Sayla always work as a team. I could take either one of them, cack the sam with magic and the mage with muscle, but when they back each other I'm outclassed. And there doesn't seem to be anyway to convince them while the "leader" says wait and see. Damn! This is driving me mad!
Galron knew from experience that a confrontation was building between he and Tristan. The leader knew that Tristan saw himself as a Paladin in the classic mold, a fierce and deadly warrior whose arsenal included an array of powerful magic spells. Add to that his youth, his bloodlines, his family fortune, his looks and its no wonder the pampered snot thinks he should be in charge. If I can't come up with a lead from the area of Moon's death, I may have to let the hothead out to commit the random mayhem he keeps arguing "will send a message". Of course, he doesn't understand that the message it will send will be "We are incompetent but very angry. We couldn't find who did this so we killed whoever was handy at the moment."
The Strike team's leader and technical wizard returned his attention to the task at hand. He was sending a modulated static pulse into the area where Moon had been killed. His objective was to interfere with the microwave signals that drones and wireless comms used to relay data. He was hoping that those with the capability would "boost" their signals to break through the interference which would give them an electronic footprint large enough for him to detect and possibly tap into. He had discovered a pair of drones in the area and isolated their frequency. His deck with its cutting edge decryption programs was now attempting to "translate" their signals. When he succeeded he called the rest of the team over to observe the battle between the overcybered human and the Shapechanger.

Dr. Chong was aghast at Deacon's foolish pride. As he watched the scenes being relayed from the drones he wondered how the mage could allow this back and forth battle to continue? If one Cyberzombie had his hands full with this shapeshifting wolf, why didn't he release the rest of his monsters. Couldn't he see that the battle was too even to warrant such confidence in just one cybersoldier? Why didn't he, at least, ask for Chong's people to act as backup to keep the wolf-thing off balance. Certainly some more muscle wouldn't hurt and a little magic might turn the battle to victory. The doctor briefly considered sending in his own people anyway, but then recalled that Deacon had specifically ordered him to remove his people from the area. Whether he was just short sighted or believed that any help would diminish the victory, Deacon had been crystal clear and Chong did not want to deliberately flaunt the mage's orders. When he had called in the emergency request for a conference he had received the automated message from Deacon saying that he was conducting a ritual and would not be disturbed.

Deacon completed the ritual renewing Jack's binding and hurried to the monitor stations where Chong's rigger had relayed a feed from the drones above Moe's head. He concentrated on ignoring the others in the trailer because he wanted the experience to be fresh and uninfluenced by the inevitable outcome. He started the tape knowing that everything he was seeing had happened a half hour ago.
Minutes later the trailer echoed with the mage's screams "AAAAARRRRRRRR! MOTHERFRAGGIN, ROCKSUCKIN, DREKHEADS! YOU FRAGIIN' IDIOTS! HOW DID YOU LET THIS HAPPEN! GET ME CHONG!!! I swear, I will boil that bastard in his own fat! I will shred his soul! What...Get out of there..... CHONG! You moron! You Idiot! Are you blind?! Didn't you see what was happening?! Where was Moe's support? Do you think you can get away with this? You lost the Compound thousands of man-hours worth of magic, to say nothing of the tech..... This is your hoop little man!! When the compound learns of this..."
"My lord has already received a full report of this, Deacon," said the doctor in a calm but subdued voice. "The report includes the log of your direct orders to remove my people from the area, of your orders not to be disturbed, of my call to you in the emergency and of your recorded denial of my request for an emergency conference. I am already aquatinted with my lord's ire at all concerned with the loss of this asset, and I assure you, your threats are entirely superfluous. I suggest you prepare your own answers for the questions which have arisen over your handling of this affair." Pulling himself erect, Chong went on "My lord orders that you make contact with him immediately. Acknowledge"
Grinding his teeth in frustration the mage ground out "Acknowledged" and heard, "end trans" as he began composing himself for what promised to be a very unpleasant conversation.

Fortunately, Sayla Starseeker spotted what no-one else looking from the drone's eye view saw. At the end of the battle, when the cybersoldier had pulled his handgrenades, the wolf pinned beneath him had...faded. It was only briefly visible but Galron was able to replay the scene until everyone could see that in the final seconds the wolf became insubstantial and the metal man had seemed to settle on the ground. Then of course the explosion had vaporized everything and the secondary explosion of the flame-thrower tank had obscured the entire area. The feed was video only, so there was no way for the elves to hear the difference in the final howls of the two warriors. The wolf's howl had the tone of a supplicant where the cyberzombie's howl was one of final and bitter frustration. Their conclusion, however, was accurate. They now knew that the very expensive Compound assets they faced were cyberzombies and that the creature that had torn up their teammate was a shapeshifter who had used an unknown magic and probably survived the explosion. They now knew they had their work cut out for them.


When he had risen in the morning, Owen had noted the gray overcast sky with satisfaction. Good day for some scouting, especially since I now know that my research at the library will be compromised by the Worm. Because he wanted to be very familiar with his potential escape route, he walked the ten miles to the South Mountain Reservation. South Orange Avenue, the most direct route, had little traffic owing to both the weather and the early hour. He made good time in spite of his stops to pickup some sandwiches and a pair of old style "lensed" vision enhancers (quaintly called "Binoculars"). When he had gotten high enough in the park to look down on Newstead he began to methodically analyze the visible security measures of Pym's mansion. By lunchtime, Owen knew this would be a very tough nut to crack.
Apparently, Hank Pym had turned the mansion into a combination home/barracks. Owen saw that the Humanis leader was using the local policlub membership as a live-in security force, and judging by the glimpses he caught of the patrols, they were expecting trouble. Each of the groups circulating just inside the property's high fence consisted of a handler with a hell hound and a guard with a gyro mounted minigun. As time went on Owen noticed at least 4 drones flying an inner pattern closer to the mansion. He noticed a number of "dead zones" where no patrols ever ventured, and surmised that they would contain hidden and deadly traps. With all the physical security, Owen was sure that the mansion was well guarded against magic intrusion also. As he considered the problems of entry through these defenses, Owen heard a disturbance in the woods behind him. Rather than wait, he dodged silently into the underbrush and moved away from his observation post.
Owen circled around until he was behind the disturbance. He then followed quietly back towards his lookout point. When he got to the edge of the woods he saw 3 camouflaged norm males armed with sniper rifles. He listened to their quiet conversation.
"See, I told you Mandrake was paranoid. There's nobody 'staring down at us'".
"Ok, but let's make damn sure before we report back. That fragger gives me the creeps, and I don't want to argue with any magic user unless I'm absolutely sure." said the group's leader.
The third said nothing but began to scan the tree line as the other two made careful survey of the area. Owen had been careful to leave no traces and was confident that he had not given himself away, but remained absolutely motionless. He knew that the eye of the third member of this outer perimeter patrol would be drawn to movement before anything else, and did not want to alert the guards that they had been under his observation. If he could help sew the seeds of doubt the magic user's alarm, he might find ways to exploit that later.
The guard who was scanning the tree line began to move towards the spot where Owen stood frozen. Glancing around Owen saw a bombardier nest in the branches of the tree to his right. Waiting until the guard's eyes glanced to the left, Glendower faded down and around behind the tree, quickly flicking a pebble at the nest. When the awakened squirrel chittered in protest and began dancing around on the branch, all eyes were drawn to the disturbance. Owen used the distraction to practice a ninjitsu technique which translated as "walking night's shadows" to flee the area undetected.

When Owen returned to Vailsburg he found a public telecomm and retrieved the latest info from the B&E group. He returned to his room and was shocked at the data his deckers had uncovered. There were several indications that within the next 24-48 hours a Mitsuhama subsidiary would make a pre-emptive move against Pym to undercut the merger efforts Shiawase had made. This was incredibly valuable data that Owen would never have even looked for. Damn! I've got to pay them something extra for this. Pym would give them a fortune for this kind of data. I've also got to hit the mansion tonight, or I may lose the thread I've been following. If Pym gets hit by Mitsu I may never find out anything more about the damn photo. I'd better get rolling!
After calling Felix with instructions to transfer another 175,000 nuyen to Gom, and assuring the troll it would be the last such payment he would require, Owen called the Newark fixer's number and laid out his hastily conceived plan. Gom naturally wanted time to put together assets and possibly find new wrinkles to increase his profits, but Owen was adamant about the job going off tonight. Glendower informed the fixer that the transfer represented the balance owed on the first job, the full balance for the second, travel expenses and fees. While Gom worked on transportation issues, Goldie arranged for the B&Eers to meet Owen in the waiting room of the train station at 6:00 that evening. Goldie would also be there with the money and to work out logistics.

The B&Eers were surprised at the call for another meet with their extravagant Johnson. Steeldog assumed it was bad news and didn't want to make the meet but Tina Louise, his usual ally, was strangely silent on the issue. Cyclops advised caution but said that money from this Johnson was too good to pass up and Barcelona was too curious to walk away. Eventually the entire group was gathered in the waiting room of the train station. Goldie arrived early but other than assuring them that Mr. Johnson was not pissed, would say no more about the reason for the meeting. At 6:00 Owen walked in.
Politely asking if everyone would join him in the Oyster Bar, where they could talk in privacy, Owen conducted everyone to a private room in the back whose door was guarded by a very tough looking dwarf. After refreshments were ordered and delivered, Owen turned on a white noise generator and began:
"First of all, let me say that I am delighted with the paydata that you have unearthed thus far. I trust that you have not acquired any unwanted attention?"
When nobody responded Owen continued "Excellent. Although our initial contract is not yet complete, I am so impressed by the quality of your work that I would like to offer you a job to run this evening. I have a need for a distraction to pull the security assets away from a guarded locale. Perhaps 2 hours of preparation and 5 minutes of mock attack. I don't require or expect any sustained contact with the security element, merely a distraction. The pay is, if I do say so myself, exceptional, but relates to the work that you have done so far. If you decline the job, I am informed I can get another team for perhaps a quarter of what I am willing to pay you. Are you interested?"
Even Steeldog kept his mouth shut as everyone at the table nodded. "Very well. You've unearthed some remarkable data which leads me to believe Mitsuhama may take a crack at Pym in the next 24-48 hours. I intend to beat them to the punch. I need a rigger to run a drone at Pym's mansion to draw the attention of at least 4 security drones. I need a decker to muck with the power company grid and give me a blackout. I need a magic user to toss enough mojo to keep the astral security off balance and I need muscle to make enough noise to grab the human guards' attention. This has to go off with absolutely clockwork precision, and for the night's work I will pay each of you 10,000 nuyen."
The sound of jaws falling open resounded in the room. 10,000 nuyen for a single night's work? It was like winning a lottery! After the Christmas glow dimmed, however, the team's survival instincts made them look for the unmentioned detail that would cost them their lives. Predictably, it was Steeldog who spoke up.
"Ok, Mr. Santa Clause Johnson, what ain't ya mentionin that's gonna get us all cacked? I mean, it ain't that I don't trust ya, but I been around da block a couple a times an I know deres no such thing as a free lunch. What's da catch?"
Owen politely responded "The 'catch' is that the security force consists of edgy Humanis policlubbers who have better weapons and equipment than you. If it comes to a showdown, you've got real problems. I can't speak to the magic side of the contest in either direction, but in terms of manpower, firepower and tech they are out of your league. I'm assuming the same is true in terms of magic. The reason I am paying so much is that your deckers uncovered data that Pym would have given a fortune for. You did not betray that information and I see that as something that I should encourage. As a further mark of my respect, if you feel the danger outweighs the reward, I will, even now, allow you to walk away, provided that you agree to remain my guests, and incommunicado for the next 6 hours. I think that is more than fair. Goldie, if I might speak to you privately for a moment, we will give these gentles a moment to consider their options."
When the Johnson and Goldie walked over to the corner, the B&Eers held their conference. Barcelona, the magic user, spoke first "Spirits! We take this in a heartbeat. The pretty boy gives us such a gift. We have faced worse for much less. I say yes."
Steeldog replied "It still smells ta me. Deres gotta be sumpin he ain't sayin an it'll probly get us all geeked. I dunno"
Cyclops said "It does sound almost too good to be true, and we have been fragged over by these 'golden runs' in the past, but I don't think we can walk away from this without kickin ourselves forever, if it turns out to be as simple as he says."
Roadrunner, the team's rigger, chimed in with "I'm not certain that kickin ourselves isn't better than geekin ourselves, but what the hell, I'm game."
When Hardwire simply nodded all eyes turned to Tina Louise. She said quietly, "I can't 'xactly 'splain why, but I know dis is upfront. He ain't lyin an he ain't hidin' nothin. I say we do it."
The ork's look kept Steeldog from commenting on her newly acquired psychic ability, but the Samurai did give Owen his best steel-eyed-death-stare. "We've agreed to do it, Mr. Johnson, but if ya lied about da set up, I personally guarantee I'll have yer hoop fer a hat."
Owen nodded seriously, but then couldn't help adding "I understand your intentions, but may I say, that you have hit upon a remarkably unappetizing image."
Even Steeldog had to smile at the table's laughter following this observation. The members of the team introduced themselves and the detailed planning began.

Owen checked his harness a final time before preparing to drop from his perch on the bottom of the stealth modified Wasp. The chopper had been set up so that any upward looking radar might be fooled by its absorbent sheathing. The one man craft was traveling in the gap between the high edge of low detection and low edge of high radar coverage and after dropping its human payload would both climb and drop to try and occupy the attention of any particularly attentive radar operator. That Goldie had volunteered to remote rig the chopper had surprised and pleased Owen, as it left Roadrunner free to rig the attack drone. He insisted on paying her at the same rate as the team, even though she had volunteered to do it for less. She still thought his LALO (Low Altitude, Low Opening) jump was madness, but, caught up in the excitement of the run's planning, she had agreed to pilot the craft.
The timing had to be precise for the insertion to work and at the predetermined moment, Owen rolled off the tiny stretcher slung beneath the Wasp and dropped into the darkness.

Barcelona's astral form, ally spirit and a pair of air elementals approached the mansion from the south. Her meat body was with Roadrunner in the van parked in the lot of the burned out ice-cream parlor 2 miles away. She had removed any magical gear which might conduct spells back to her body and was about to commence her attack.

Precisely on time Hardwire's attack knocked out the powergrid for Newstead and part of Livingston. Cyclops's defensive utilities had gotten her to the node she needed to disable area power and the other decker was now guarding and monitoring the elf woman's meat body. Although their Johnson was aware that the mansion had backup power and that the grid would be restored within minutes, he had insisted that the disorientation of a few seconds of darkness would be all that he needed. As her attack brought out black ice, she jacked out of the system, having made some of the quickest nuyen she had ever dreamed of.

As the lights went out Steeldog and Tina Louise opened fire on the mansion grounds from the woods to the north with a pair of minigrenade rifles. Firing incendiaries, tear gas and high explosives, they provided one minute of the loudest chaos imaginable. As soon as they had emptied their clips, they had ridden their trail bikes at high speed back to the van. It looked like they had gotten away clean when the outer perimeter patrol that the Johnson had warned them of opened fire with sniper rifles. Neither of the Samurai were particularly alarmed and as Steeldog provided suppressive fire with his new Ingram Super Mach 100, Tina Louise loaded her clip of smoke and tear gas rounds and opened fire. Because of the lack of wind, the smoke grenades provided enough cover for the pair to load their bikes into the van without taking any more fire. Knowing that the security element they had just encountered would be repositioning themselves to ambush the van further up the road, the Razors jumped the median and headed back in the other direction.
The Yellowjacket attack chopper hovering around the road's first curve was an unpleasant surprise.

Roadrunner loved "flying". Her CyberSpace Dalmatian drone had been equipped with some nasty toys, but she was more interested in buzzing her opposition than in blowing them up. Her attack from the east had drawn the attention (and fire) of eight of the hovering Guardian drones that surrounded the house, as well as at least one heat seeking missile. She had no idea where that one had come from, but it was only by switching from horizontal flight to hover mode when the alarm sounded that she was able to dodge the missile. At that point she figured she had done enough and was about to "fly home" when she got the trouble call from Steeldog and Tina Louise.
She quickly climbed to 1500 feet and observed a Yellowjacket helicopter chewing up the roadway of South Orange Avenue as it tried to destroy the van skidding around the curves. Because there were no straight-aways the attack chopper had not even unlimbered its missile pod, but was using its minigun to try to destroy the van. Realizing that her armament wouldn't do a thing to the armored attack craft, she sighed and sent her drone into a suicide dive at the craft's rotor. Although she jacked out before the drone died, she was sure that the Yellowjacket would leave her teammates alone.

Barcelona was amazed at the level of magical protection around the mansion. She had encountered hell hounds and elementals, watchers, and a mage. She was dodging as fast as she could, having drawn the magical assets of the mansion to the south. She wanted to avoid battle but astral space and real space were different concepts and she had to defend herself over a long retreat from the mansion grounds. In fact, her strength was waning when the mage who was pursuing her realized how far afield his astral form had been dragged and returned to his post. Heaving a sigh of relief, her spirit returned to her flesh as Roadrunner was starting the van. They pulled onto the roadway just behind an identical van containing their two teammates. The convoy traveled up South Orange avenue at a leisurely pace.

As Owen dropped into the blackness he began a slow count. At 8 he pulled the ripcord and as the black parasail deployed he watched the attack on the darkened mansion. He was concerned for his team as he saw the pair of Yellowjackets lifting from their concealed hangers. Drek! I missed that, I hope the team doesn't get nailed by aerial assets. I wouldn't want to end up unattractive headware, he thought as he grinned again at the image. He was relieved to see that one of the choppers had been deployed to counter the "real" attack from the west, but was concerned about the rotorcraft moving north. At least I scammed some of the heat away from the team, but if I'd known about choppers, I probably would have tried something else.
Owen landed on the roof of the mansion and gathered his chute just as the house generator relit the grounds. There was seven kinds of chaos going on down there with alarms blaring, dogs barking, men shouting and the helicopter doing a dance of frustration as they all tried in vain to find the attackers. When the guard with the sniper rifle came up onto the "widow's walk" at the apex of the building, Owen took his chance. As silently as possible, Owen lowered himself down the stairwell, and when the guard was distracted by a radio call, opened the door and slipped into the house.

Owen knew from the worm's blueprints and a little logic that the small rooms on the uppermost floor would contain servant quarters and security monitoring stations. He drew his "Goren Bee" squirter from the shoulder holster and began sneaking along the passageway. He knew he had to get off the floor before he was spotted as his hooded sneaksuit, rebreather mask and lowlight goggles would probably mark him as not belonging. He also had to find someplace to hide the black chute that was hanging out of his shoulder satchel.
When he saw that all of the stairways were set up with metal detectors he breathed a prayer of thanks for the equipment he had gotten from Goren and BeBop. If there were any internal monitoring devices that had not been reset by the power outage, he would register as unarmed and hopefully not be considered a threat. Of course, he had no defense against being actually seen by either human or video eyes, but that was not a problem he could address at the moment. When he got to the base of the stairs the voices that he heard approaching prompted him to duck into the darkened master bedroom and then slip into a large walk-in closet.
Frag Me, Owen thought, I've lived in rooms smaller than this closet. This bastard must have 200 suits! Pushing through one wall of clothes and then another Owen found a wall safe. Oh, ho! And what do you keep in here Mr. Pym? Let's just have a look, shall we?
Owen studied the lock carefully. It looked like a biometric maglock as, in addition to the keypad, there was a hand pad which would scan finger and palm print, body temperature, etc before allowing the correct code to open the safe door. Looking very closely, Owen saw that there was a film of dust on the hand reader that was not present on the keypad. He immediately smelled a rat and deduced that the hand pad would probably set off alarms, or, at the very least, it would accumulate data on whomever activated it.
To avoid setting off any alarm, Owen removed a ceramic tube capped with two pull rings from his equipment belt. He unscrewed one end of the tube and drew out the length of monowire that it contained. Slipping the rings onto each hand he used the monowire to saw through the safe door's lower hinge. He then drew his Sten blade and pushing it through the metal, cut through the corner of the safe's door. It was arduous work because he did not want to disturb the maglock, but some 18 minutes later he had pried out the lower left corner of the still-locked, safe door, creating a large enough hole for him to empty the safe. He found quite an impressive collection of jewelry including a string of rare black pearls and a platinum necklace set with large fire opals. He also found several certified credsticks and a matched pair of hand tooled needlers. Although he estimated that the safe contained more than 1/2 a million nuyen worth of valuables, he was disappointed that he did not find any useful data. That's right, oh greediest of mortals, 1/2 a million's just not enough, is it? he asked himself. Placing the hinge inside, Owen had re-inserted the corner of the safe when he froze as he heard several muffled voices on the other side of the closet door.
Listening carefully, Owen heard some strange sounds. He slid to the floor and slowly extended a small plastic dental mirror under the door, moving it around until he could see what was going on in the room. A statuesque blonde woman, dressed in a shiny black latex sheath, (which left nothing to the imagination), was apparently preparing to whip a naked, (excited), athletic looking male for the amusement of a pair of scantily clad, twin, teenaged girls. Every time I have work to do, the circus comes to town, Owen thought. Couldn't the deSade family singers find someplace else to play? At that moment there was a loud knock at the bedroom door. Owen faded to the back of the closet, behind a rack of suits and clearly heard:
"Sorry, Security. Have to search the building. Orders. Everyone step into the hall. NOW." The Hell Hound's bark which punctuated the command spelled doom for Owen. He drew his pistol and combat blade and waited for the closet door to open.

As Owen heard the deviant club moving out, he shifted his position against the closet wall in order to prepare for an imminent attack, and felt it move. Quickly, he increased the pressure and found a seam in the wall. Pushing on the edge furthest from the seam Owen opened the concealed door and stepped into a tiny alcove. He quickly shut the hidden door behind him and shot the bolts just as the security team made a by-the-book search of the now empty closet.
Still expecting an attack from the Hell Hound, which could perceive in the astral as well as the physical, Owen held his breath and waited. When the para-animal did not kick up a fuss, he removed his rebreather and sniffed the air. The paint on the walls of the alcove had that tell-tale smell of the microbiologic life that had prevented magical invasion for years before the modern Fat Bacteria gasses had been developed. Pym probably had everything painted with that stuff to prevent magical spying. Well, might as well see what I've got here.
Owen unpacked the parasail from his shoulder satchel, rerolled it into a small bundle and sat on it. He activated a chemical litestick to give his goggles some light to work and then repacked the bag with the jewelry pieces, cataloging each one. I suspect Mr. Pym is much better off than even the decker's report said. Nobody leaves 1/2 a million nuyen in jewelry sitting in a closet safe unless they've got more money than they know what to do with. I could just dump the pieces in the bag, but when I try to move these, it might be better to have them in the felt cases Pym stored them in. I'll leave the needlers in their case too. Man, that's beautiful custom workmanship! Owen thought as he examined the pistols. I'll have to be careful with this bag now as the guns and credsticks will set off metal detectors.
Owen then examined the tiny alcove. By the weak luminescent glow he found a trapdoor near the outer wall of the building. None of this shows on the building plans, he thought. I'm glad I didn't try to take this guy at work. I bet his offices bear no relation at all to the filed plans. Opening the trap door he found a ladder built into the inside of the building's outer wall. He silently climbed down what he estimated was two floors, until he found another alcove.
Sneaking up to the alcove wall, Owen found an executive metal attach� case. He opened it and quickly realized that he had found Pym's bugout bag. The case contained 10 certified credsticks, each holding 50,000 nuyen. There were also 4 personal sticks with different names attached. There were 3 pages of rare stamps in plastic sleeves along with some 30 pages of hand written provenance for the stamps. Owen had no idea on the value of stamps, but knew that the pages tracing their history and proving their authenticity increased the stamps' value many times. There were also 3 plastic pages containing American Gold Eagles. Originally a 20 dollar face value coin of the 1800's, they were now such a numismatic rarity that Glendower was again shocked at the lack of security. I think I'll leave this here for the time being. I don't want to be so greedy that I can't move quickly.

Setting down the case, Owen focused on trying to hear if the room on the other side of the wall was occupied. He heard Mozart's "Eine kleine Nachtmusik" playing and slowly opened the secret door. His goggles compensated for the lights in Pym's private study. Owen snuck over to the large room's only visible door, intending to lock it, only to find that the heavy steel door already had bolts thrown on it's top, bottom and sides.
Owen approached the heavy drapes which formed a room within a room along one wall. He peeked in to see a healthy, attractive middle aged male, sitting stark naked in a vibrating recliner facing a wall of television monitors. As Owen watched the man took a crystal out of a refrigeration unit on the table next to his chair, popped it in his mouth and seconds later lost consciousness.
Pym's a SURGE junkie! Owen thought. He had read reports about the latest designer drug among the ultra-rich. Surge crystals were an off shoot of the pharmacological research that had produced Kamikaze. Where the combat drug was a tailored amphetamine, the genius who first produced Surge was looking for a psychoactive that would intensify emotional states. It was incredibly expensive because, like Owen's Sten blade, the crystals could only be formed in the zero-g environment of the orbital platforms.
Owen had read that the stuff was incredibly addictive, but that the jaded rich had chosen it as a drug to relieve the ennui associated with always having everything one wanted. The drug usually was used at parties where a single laughing jag could bring about a state of near total hysterical bliss for an entire room, or a lascivious remark could turn the same party into a week long orgy. The problem was that when using Surge, a simple disagreement could also turn into a lethal bloodbath as the drug amplified any emotional state.
Pym must have video links to watch the circus performers in the bedrooms. He keeps himself calm and relaxed with the music and chair, all in a safe little womb, and watches the show until the drug has amplified his state of sexual desire and he becomes a rampaging sex beast. Then I'm sure he makes personal visits with each of the performers. Let's see if we can jog his emotional state in a different direction.
Owen turned off the music and the monitors, killed the lights and moved Pym's unconscious body from the recliner to the straight-backed wooden chair which sat across from the ornate desk. He used plastic restraints to bind the Humanis leader's wrists and ankles to the arms and legs of the chair. He shifted the desk lamp so that the high intensity light shown in Pym's face and waited.

Hank Pym came back to consciousness expecting a night of fun. When he didn't hear his beloved Mozart, his eyes came open with a start. He was tied up! He wasn't watching his live porn, He was staring into a bright light. There's someone in here. What do they want? What will they do to me? Oh, God, no!! Pym thought as the terror began to take hold.
Owen sat behind the desk and waited in silence as Pym demanded release, threatened mayhem and eventually screamed for help. When he judged that the multi-multi-millionaire was in the right state of mind, Owen said "Shut up". He was immediately "rewarded" by Pym's loss of control of both his bladder and bowels. Reaching up to shift the light so that it illuminated the facsimile of the picture from Dunkelzahn's will, Owen said "Tell me about this."
As terrified as he was, Pym's first reaction was to deny knowing anything about the photo. After a few seconds Owen sighed and pushed back his chair from the desk. The sound of his unknown assailant's approach sent Pym over the edge.
"All right, all right, I was there, I was there, don't torture me, please don't torture me. I'll tell you everything..anything, please, please, sit down, sit down, don't come over here." Owen stopped moving around the desk but did not sit down.
"It was in Paris, it was 22 years ago... we caught the elf without his minders.... He was the Dragon's pet.... Dunkelzahn....We did it under orders from Alamos 20,000... Central leaked information that there was a plot to release a toxic bio-agent that would kill millions and lay it at the dragon's door, when the keeb came looking for clues we snatched him and executed him. The photo was sent to the dragon weeks later as a warning."
Owen returned to his seat and as the prisoner began to relax he said "Again"
"Could I please get cleaned up a little, this is really uncomfortable."
Owen turned the lamp back into Pym's face and said "Again"
"Hey, I'm cooperating.... right? There's no need to...."
The "THUNK" of a composite throwing spike hitting the high back of the wooden chair next to Pym's head ended conversation along those lines. Pym began crying and retelling the story, this time in great detail. When he finished Owen said "Again" and each time compared details. After the sixth retelling he felt he had gotten at the truth and now knew his next stop would not be FDC but back home to get the last of the murderers. He was now faced with the problem of what to do with Pym.
As he got up to retrieve his throwing spike Pym began to scream like a child "NO! NO! NO! You're going to kill me now! I know, I know! It's not fair! I told you everything! Please! Please! Don't kill me! I'll give you anything! Anything! You can have it all! Just PLEEEASE don't kill me! Look, look...right on the desk...right in front of you that paperweight...it's a 1/2 pound of solid orichalcum, I swear...it's yours....and...and in the top drawer their are some credsticks...take them, please......the swords on the wall, they are priceless, Japanese national treasures..."
Owen hesitated and the negotiator thought his approach was working. "There's lots you could take with you, enough to make you rich, and you can have it all if you just don't kill me....Look, see that painting on the wall, behind it there is a safe. The combination is 20#26872#4927*1355371211 .... just don't touch the hand pad because it will set off the alarm...."
When Owen didn't move Pym had another panic attack "Oh, GOD, I swear, I swear I'm not trying to trick you....you'll kill me before my people can even get in here...I swear you can have everything....open the safe, please...It'll be worth it, please..."
Owen punched in the numbers on the keypad and opened the safe without any apparent alarms sounding. Pym said "See, See I wasn't lying...that pouch has 10 diamonds in it..take it...there's other things....take it all just let me live," and broke down sobbing. Owen tossed the credsticks, pouch and data chips from the safe into his bag. He also retrieved a heavy sheet of stiff paper written in Japanese which judged the swords to be authentic. He reverently took the ancient weapons down from their display stand and after packing them with the items from the desk, he again moved to retrieve his spike. Pym screamed "Take the Fairlight!" Owen saw that on a shelf by the trideo was a beautiful Fairlight Excalibur deck. As he put the deck in it's carry case, Pym babbled, "Go out through the secret door. Go down the ladder and follow the right wall...after 20 paces take a high step and another high step as there are two strings of monowire about 8 inches off the ground. After that just follow the wall to the end. There will be a bike, some weapons and another keypad. Don't touch the hand pad but put in the same number as the safe. The door will open in 20 seconds but will only stay open for 4. You'll be in a drainage pipe about 100 yards from the road." When Owen finally reached over and pulled the spike out of the chair, Pym screamed and fainted.

Owen picked up Pym's bugout bag on his way out. Loaded with swag he reflected as he climbed down the ladder: Well if he didn't lie, this escape is a hell of a lot easier than the one I had planned. I'd like to study the swords and review the data chips, but as soon as I get out of here I've got to pick up my gear and head home. Since I finally know the score I've got to capitalize on it before the game changes again.
I wonder if Pym will survive. Owen thought. I can't say I care much, one way or the other, but I'd be curious to see which gets him first, the terror of being tied up naked and alone with a brain full of Surge or Mitsu's kick squad. Neither would be a very pleasant way to die, but from what I know of his dealings with Humanis, he's earned his end. He's got that Doc Wagon bracelet, probably a super platinum level contract, but that den is nearly impregnable. If he worries himself into a coronary I wonder if they'll be able to break in and revive him before the damage is irreparable. Well, I've got more immediate concerns, like how I get all of this booty on the plane home.


When Owen pulled Pym's Harley Scorpion into the motel in Vailsburg, he wanted nothing so much as sleep. He was "bone weary" after the long day's excitement, however, he knew that he had a great deal more to do. Returning to his room, he checked the telecom, and finding his modification had not been corrected yet, began checking credsticks. He made a pile of the certified sticks, noting with some surprise the total amount that Pym kept liquid (not in his various bank accounts). He found that all of the sticks of HP's alter-egos, all of his personal "escape" sticks, included extensive biologic data from Pym. Retinal pattern, fingerprints, blood and genotypes all described the rich man, even though the names varied. These won't have value for very long, Owen thought, but a decent fixer could probably rip the cred out of them. Shame I can't change the biologic details, I bet the legends on these sticks are the best money can buy. And how stupid was I to walk out with Pym's real personal stick? What was I thinking of? As if an ebony credstick would do anything other than point a neon sign at you wherever you tried to dispose of it...you moron! Better just dump that one at the airport.
Although it was late, he went down to the street telecom and contacted Goldie, telling her he had 6 false personal credsticks containing more than 120k that he needed to unload along with a Harley Scorpion. He told her that he needed an ironclad identity as a bonded courier, with appropriate licenses and specific sizes of secure luggage so that he could transport some items home. Goldie was, first of all thrilled that he had survived the run and appreciated the magnitude and potential profit of the task. She took great pride in the fact that the Johnson was dealing exclusively with her, rather than going through Gom, and knew that as soon as the robbery was discovered he would be a very hot customer. She promised to have everything he needed within 4 hours and arranged a meet.
Owen packed up his equipment, repaired the room's telecom and tried to relax with some meditation. He knew if he laid down he might oversleep, so instead he focused internally, ignoring the itch to review the data files or examine the daisho (sword pair). At dawn he moved to Tai-chi and by 7:30 was ready for his meet with Goldie.

Without the presence of any tormentor other than his personal demons, Pym was in hell. The Surge in his system kept increasing his fears as he sat tied to the hard wooden chair. He screamed hard enough to rupture a blood vessel in his eye, all the time knowing that the den was perfectly sound-proof and that no-one would dare disturb him. As he screamed in the darkness he thought he saw, from the corner of his eye, something dart. OH GOD. What was that? What's in here with me? What.... THERE IT Goes again....it's so fast! Like a mouse or...or a rat. A RAT! OHMYGOD! I'M HELPLESS IN A ROOM WITH A DEVIL RAT! IT WILL TEAR ME TO PIECES!! "HHHEELPPPPP!! HHHHEEEEEELLLLLPPPP MMMMEEEE!!! GOD IN HEAVEN HHHEEEEELLLPPPP!!!!"
Locked alone in the ultra-secure room of his well guarded mansion, Hank Pym so terrified himself with imaginary dangers that he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. When the blood vessel in his brain ruptured and his heart stopped, his Doc Wagon bracelet immediately put in a call for help. Unfortunately, Pym had never included the Humanis policlubbers who guarded the estate in his personal arrangements, and the soundproof room prevented their hearing the wail of his bracelet. So, when his "rescuers" arrived, they found themselves under fire from his "defenders" and the battle which ensued was one of the worst in Doc Wagon's history. Having withstood an attack earlier that evening the Humanis guards were in a high state of readiness when the attackers returned in their "false" Doc Wagon Vehicles. The alerted mansion withstood the incursion attempts by Doc Wagon so well that additional firepower was brought in from Newark and New York. The enclave of Newstead took on the trappings of Beirut as the battle raged and escalated. Since neither side had any mandate to negotiate, it was never considered in the entire 6 hours that fire was exchanged. The Policlubbers fought to the last man and the death-toll from Doc Wagon was staggering. Of course, in the end, it was all for nothing as Pym's cold, stiff corpse was well beyond any resuscitation.
Mitsuhama's public relations office later put out a statement "deploring the violent tragedy, mourning the loss of a giant in the business community and applauding the valiant efforts of Doc Wagon."

Goldie's solution for getting Mr. Johnson out of Newark and back home in a hurry did not please Gom at all. Of the 350k that had been transferred for Mr. Johnson's business, 250K had been spent on the first job and 85K on the second. Now Gom wanted to get Mr. Johnson out of town as cheaply as possible and pocket the remaining money for "carrying charges". Although she had acquired the special "secure courier luggage", Goldie had been unable to book her client on any commercial flight on such short notice. There were also some problems with the licensees he wanted for transporting the items that he was taking back with him. Rather than leave Mr. Johnson as a standby passenger waiting for hours in the airport terminal, she had used all of the remaining credit in his account to charter a private jet. He now had no problem with his luggage as there would be no metal detectors or inspections before he boarded the plane. A limo would take him out to the jet, he would board and be met by a limo at the other end when he landed.
Owen was thrilled with the solution, and although appalled by the cost, very complimentary of Goldie's ingenuity and efficiency. They still bargained for nearly an hour over the value of the credsticks that Owen was selling, but eventually settled on 80K on certified sticks and 2 new false ids. When Goldie said the flight was cleared to board at 10:45 and could leave at 11:00, Owen saw their business as nearly complete. He gave the final instructions for the B&Eers, whose research he now considered over, and then Goldie graciously offered him the use of the limo until flight time, insisting that she could grab a cab. Instead, Owen gave her Pym's Harley Scorpion as a bonus. Gom may not have been happy about the loss of some potential cred, but he had no complaints with Mr. Johnson and called to wish him a safe journey and a speedy return. Goldie added her personal assurance that Owen's business was welcome in Newark, anytime.
Owen went back to the hotel room in the Hyatt-Regency which he had never used, changed into an expensive suit and repacked everything into the courier luggage and suit bag. He paid his bill and rode back to Vailsburg. He paid his other lodging bills and then visited Lou's pawn shop. Paulie was not working, but Pete was behind the counter and cheerfully returned the 15k nuyen "peace bond" that Owen had posted. Pete assured Owen that he would always be welcome. "You impressed Paulie a lot, my friend. He's really sorry he couldn't interest you in work because he said you had style. You ever find you want to do a little business, you know where to come."
In the limo ride to the airport Owen listened to the detailed radio accounts of the bloody conclusion of "the battle of Newstead". Even the announcers most sympathetic to Humanis had trouble shifting the blame from the policlubbers for the devastation that resulted from their battle against Doc Wagon. So, Mr. Pym. The last moment of your life strikes a blow against the Humanis Policlub nationwide, turning public opinion against your group, while at the same time destroying a big piece of the local network. Can you spell Irony? Owen thought.

Owen was very tired and thought he might sleep on the plane, but was incredibly curious about the data chips and swords. He knew that the very attentive flight attendant, an extremely attractive black norm female, who seemed determined to find something to do for him, would see virtually any activity he engaged in as an opportunity for conversation. He knew that unless he wanted hours of chat, or some other possible recreation, he'd better fall asleep soon. Normally, he would have jumped at the opportunity to spend some time with a beautiful woman, but right now there was too much else going on. He was so curious, however, that he used the take-off as an opportunity to open his attach� case and read the paper which described the swords. The vellum was watermarked with the crest of the International Sword Society and was in Japanese. Owen's eyes got big as he read the text. The Shinsa team (evaluators) had been from the Honami family, a group Owen knew that had been evaluating swords for more than two centuries and were considered the absolute finest at their craft. They certified that the swords were a pair produced by Nagamitsu, one of the greatest swordsmiths of all time and certainly the greatest of the 14th century. The swords were in top condition and were rated Juyo Bunkazai which meant they were considered important Japanese national treasures. Owen refolded the paper and slipped it back into his case while closing his eyes to feign sleep as his mind was going at top speed. Holy drek! Juyo Bunkazai! How the hell did Pym get daisho rated Juyo Bunkazai? How the hell did he keep them? Usually when a Shinsa sits, if they find a national treasure, they run it to the embassy so that state departments can fight about it. These things are literally priceless. Even attempting to sell them publicly would be the gravest of national insults. Nagamitsu blades! I've never even seen a Nagamitsu except in photos. Good God! I don't even want to think about how this is going to complicate my existence!
Using a meditation trick that he had learned from sensei Mafune Kyuzo, the compound's Zen Archery master, Owen centered himself and literally turned his conscious mind off as he embraced the tranquility he needed. Within a few moments, much to the disappointment of the shapely flight attendant, he was sound asleep.

Upon arriving in town Owen considered where he might go. He considered visiting Madame Magdelena or staying with Goren and BeBop, but decided that until his mission was complete he would keep some distance from his friends to try to keep them safe.
He went first to the Nationsbank Central Security Depository and rented a large safety deposit box. He was both surprised and pleased by the amount of magical and physical screening his luggage had to undergo before he could transfer items to the box. The depository was rigorous in maintaining their own security, (Chem sniffers, mass detectors, scanning for magical foci,) while at the same time respecting their client's right to privacy (no one actually saw what was in the box). Owen transferred the swords, jewelry, gems, needlers and Pym's bugout bag to the box. He also put the lump of orichalcum, the Fairlight Excalibur and most of the certified sticks into the box and instead of a physical identifier for access to his property, paid for an elaborately coded Q&A sequence. This consisted of a programmed "tree" of responses that ran on a stand alone computer. Whenever he wanted to get to his box, he would have to answer questions posed by the computer. Each answer would determine the next question as well as the next correct answer. Any error would cause alarms to go off, while all correct data would only allow someone access to a keypad where a 32 digit number still had to be input. Because this system required so much personal data, most depositors felt more comfortable using other means of identifying themselves as box owners. For Owen's photographic memory, however, it was not a problem as he memorized all of the response branches from beginning to end. He was able to store the courier luggage with the depository, (for a nominal fee) and paid in advance for 5 years rental on the box.
Returning to the airport limo empty handed, Owen pulled the privacy curtain and changed clothes in the back while the limo drove through town. When he released the limo at the train station, he quickly entered and rented a long term storage locker to hold his suit bag and dress clothes. When he walked back out of the train station the tall, fedoraed man with mirror shades, was completely unremarkable from anyone else in that section of town. His black leather duster and army fatigues were not new and the only thing that was the least bit different about him was that his weapons were not visible except for the heavy walking stick he carried.

Simon felt like a sacrificial lamb. In the 24 hours since the wolf-thing had killed the metal man he had been on near constant patrol through the area. Everybody thought that when the Cyber had blown himself to bits, he had taken the wolf with him, but the mage who seemed to be giving Chong orders had reviewed the tape in slow motion and saw the monster fadeout just before the explosion. Christo, magic gives me the willies, Simon thought with a shiver. How are we gonna kill that thing if it can magic itself out of trouble? And why the frag do I have to be the one left out here for it to find? Just because I saw the fragger when it looked like a man! Those fraggin cybers had better be Johnny-on-the-spot when that thing shows or I'm going to be a tad bit fragged.

Deacon was growing impatient. His hoop was on the line after the destruction of Moe. The Dragon's speaker had reamed him royally for not monitoring the battle as it was happening. As though I was supposed to anticipate that the shapeshifter had a talisman of power! It really shouldn't have even gotten that far. If only Chong had sent some backup I wouldn't be left in this mess. I am going to find a way to get even with that slot, no matter how long it takes. Idling away the hours with elaborate (psychotic) dreams of revenge, Deacon and his charges waited for something to happen.

Tristan had finally had enough. He had gotten to town and been told to keep his investigations quiet and under control. Then Bright Moon had been savaged by the beast and Galron made them sit on their thumbs for a full 24 hours, rather than extract a blood price. Then they had seen, SEEN, that the enemy had lost a major component of its effective force and instead of attempting to find and destroy either the weakened beast or the real enemy from the compound, the coward was still advising caution. Well, Sayla and Barnaby might be stupid enough to blindly obey one who was obviously unfit for command, but Tristan Lightbringer was not.
Slipping the Gamma Scopolamine into their drinks was not difficult. He had considered using laes on Barnaby and Sayla, but knew that unless the dosage was exact, it might permanently impair their efficiency, and he just wanted to keep them from interfering in his showdown with Galron. He was certain he could take the decker, but did not want to take on both mage and razor too. They were followers, he reasoned, so if their leader was out of the picture they would need to take their orders from someone, and though they might be upset at first, eventually they would turn to him for instruction.
When Barnaby and Sayla's muscles locked up from the drug, Tristan adopted shatatain (carromeleg combat stance) and in formal Sperethiel began booming out his challenge to Galron. Entering the room to see what the noise was all about, Galron immediately recognized the poetry of rillabothien (the unresolved cord) and understood that his leadership was being ritually challenged. Glancing over at his other teammates he realized that they had been drugged to keep them from interfering. Galron shook his head as the Sperethiel expression "makkanagee Makkaherinit" (willfully stupid young fool) sprang to his mind. Does the kid really believe that my teammates will watch me die, formal forms or not, and then obey him? Doesn't he understand that however the fight ends up, he is a dead man? Doesn't he place any importance on our mission, that he would challenge while in the field? Drek!
".... qua veresp?"
"What is my answer? My answer is that this is neither the time nor the place for such a challenge and I want no part of this fight regardless of the forms or language you use. Besides, how even is this challenge you propose when you have magic and my pistol is not with me?"
"As the ancient form demands, we will use what we have, or are you too craven to face me with your hands, morkhan (fornicator with swine)?"
Sighing Galron replied "Oh, very well," and moved into a shatatain stance where he was across the room from his opponent. Tristan attempted "Striking of the Storm", attacking with incredible speed and ferocity. Rather than counter, Galron waited with his open hands held up in front of him as his assailant twisted turned and windmilled his arms as he attacked. At the last second Galron's left palm exploded as he fired the cybergun concealed in his arm. The heavy pistol round caught Tristan in the cheek below his right eye. The entry wound looked small but the exit wound took out 1/3 of the skull and much of the elf's brains.
Shaking his head, Galron looked down at the young elf's corpse. Such a waste! You had potential, but you refused to see what should have been obvious. I have not lived this long or risen to command my own team of paladins without having some ability, boy. Do you think a mage like Sayla or a samurai like Barnaby follow orders blindly? You should have seen that I've been around the block enough to know what's up, but you were too impatient for glory to see what was in front of you. What a waste.
Galron applied stim patches to his teammates against the possibility that the team might need to move before the drugs wore off. As the paralysis gradually abated, Galron distributed the silvered ammo and weapons they had been waiting for.

Krikor paid the price his talisman demanded for saving his life. He was in blinding pain, unable to even scream, for a full 12 hours as his body reconstructed itself. His use of the talisman's power had stripped him of his own natural magic and so he felt every bone shrink or elongate, every muscle expand or contract, every joint, ligament and nerve rearrange itself as he became a wolf. He had to feel the agony of his organs shifting in size, structure and location without the benefit of the magic that had been his all of his life. He could not even pass out from the agony, but had to remain conscious through the entire process.
When the change was finally complete the exhausted wolf curled up in a ball and slept for 12 hours. When he awoke, a ravenous man went out in search of food. Next time, I will embrace death rather than suffer through that hell, he thought. Spirits! But it took so long. I change in seconds and have complete control, but that single change took 12 hours. I need red meat to help regain my strength.

Owen grabbed a cab back to the area where he had parked his Jackrabbit. Surprisingly, other than the spray painted graffiti on the sides and hood, the car had not been touched. I wonder who Ian is, Owen thought as he read his car's new decorations, or what it is exactly that 'Dust rules'. I suppose it's another of those mysteries that life is full of.
Owen did a full visual inspection of the car, looking for tampering. Finding none, he deactivated the security system, reinflated the two flat tires and then, before he started it up, activated the internal scanner. The cheerful "scan's clean" gave him a further proof that car was ok to drive. As he got out onto the highway he punched in the code that would darken the car back to its previous shade of brown, obliterating the spray paint alterations that had been made in his absence.
He didn't have any conscious destination in mind, but thought that a drive would help him plan his next set of moves. I've got to find a safe place to crash. Owen thought That's the first order of business. I've got to assume that the Compound has sent other spike teams to deal with me, so I'm going to have to keep a very low profile. I've finally got the story behind the photo. Now I need to bring Mr. Rococo with me to the Draco Foundation offices in FDC so I have some corroboration for the chip I made of Pym's confession. I've got reams of data from Pablo's research on Gondorf, Hartley and Central, plus Felix's material on Central, plus The B&Eers stuff on Pym. I probably need to close the circle with historical data on the elf victim, Stendahl, and it would be nice if I could prove that Mr. Rococo was the X who had Gondorf killed and ordered Central to have Hartley eliminated. That may not be so easy as I can't plan on another interrogation of a Surge junkie.
As Owen's conscious mind was occupied with these complex plans, his subconscious had been driving. When he realized he was back in the quadrant of the city of the former Humanis Training camp, he immediately thought of Smiley. Although he knew it was potentially dangerous, he resolved then and there to spend a moment at the site of Smiley's death. He immediately parked the car and began the long walk towards the camp's location. While more than a dozen blocks from the site of his friend's death, Owen heard the sounds of distant gunfire and ducked into the shadows as he moved to investigate.

Luck was a fickle mistress and seemed to have abandoned Krikor Valthusian entirely. He was ravenously hungry but knew that his previous hunting grounds would probably be under surveillance by the metal men from the Compound that the elf slitch had told him about. (The thought of her tender flesh made his mouth water.) As a result he had gone farther afield, seeking to avoid ever having to deal with those monstrosities again. Even the greatest Hunter does not pursue the deadliest game in every hunt, he told himself. Unfortunately, he had blundered into the area where the elf paladins had their lair and was now battling for his life.
He had spotted them between two buildings, moving towards a vehicle and with the taste of Bright Moon's flesh spurring him on, he had been careless as he moved to attack. The stupid elf who smelled like metal must have heard because he had spun around very quickly, pointing a gun. Krikor had just grinned and continued moving to attack. I love prey that is too stupid to learn he thought. When the first bullets from the SMG pierced his hide, he howled as he felt the silver enter his body. Silver Bullets! Their weapons can kill me! he thought, as he threw himself behind a dumpster. His right arm was mangled by the weapon, but he was still a hungry wolf intent on feeding.
"He has no astral presence!" shouted the female. He remembered that she was the magic user called Starseeker. In spite of the pain he grinned at the thought that she was unprepared for his talisman's power. He smelled the males separating, seeking to trap him between them. He decided he would save the female for last as she would be the tastiest.
He assumed wolf form and moved into the building that the elf who injured him was circling. He was silent now and much quicker than a wolf had any right to be. The hallways of the apartment building were dark, but Krikor smelled warm flesh behind most of the doors. He was not distracted, however, as he was focused on destroying the elves. He climbed a flight of stairs and when he smelled the elf moving around the building, he launched himself through a boarded up window to land on his opponent. He shifted form as he descended and attempted to break the elf's neck by landing on it with all of his weight. At the last second, Barnaby dodged.
The elf was up in a flash, but Krikor's claw swiped the gun from his hand. This one is called Barnaby, Krikor realized. Perhaps I can distract him. "Barnaby," he growled, "the little female called for you at the end. Her flesh was sweet."
The normally taciturn Samurai realized, in one part of his mind that he was being bated, but was still incensed that the memory of Bright Moon was being soiled by this monster. That this abomination dared to gloat over the death of a teammate, so angered the Gillette that he literally saw red. With a cry of rage, he drew his silver dagger and thrust it at the man-wolf's chest. The elf was incredibly fast, but the wolf knew what was coming and was just a little faster. When Barnaby reached full extension, Krikor had shifted form under the thrust and fastened his jaw on the elf's shoulder socket. He shifted forms again, not slackening his grip and as he stood up, Barnaby was helpless. The man-wolf had his lower jaw in the elf's armpit and his upper jaw at the top of the joint. If he shook his head he would literally tear the arm off, but if he did not, there was literally nothing that Barnaby could do. His left arm was rendered useless because to bring it into play he would have to tear himself out of the Wolf's mouth, if he tried to kick out he would lose his right arm as his own weight would pull him from the limb. Of course, the arm in the wolf's mouth was also useless. He screamed in pain and frustration as the wolf's claw moved to tear open his chest.
Galron turned the corner of the other building and opened fire in the same instant. When the slugs tore into the wolf's back, Barnaby's arm did come off as the wolf dodged without letting go. He shifted back to wolf form and darted around the building. Galron screamed for Sayla has he ran to his wounded comrade. He slapped a medkit on the fallen razor and scanned for the wolf.
Sayla came around the building and immediately started healing spells to keep Barnaby from dying of shock. Her concentration on saving him was complete as she knelt by his side, so when Galron's attention was diverted by a young couple who blundered into the scene, Krikor had his chance. He was badly wounded, furious and starving. He was through battling with these elves, he wanted food! He changed into human form, and picking up a piece of pipe, launched himself at Galron's back as the young lovers fled the scene. The Paladin leader sensed something because he started to turn as the pipe hit him in the head. He was stunned, but still conscious when the second blow struck and was falling away, completely unconscious when the third shot landed.
Sayla Starseeker turned her head to see what was happening as Krikor grabbed her by the hair. He jerked her head back to expose her throat. The death touch spell which she launched, almost immediately, was absorbed by the wolf's talisman which glowed brilliantly. Krikor became man-wolf, laughed and opened his jaws to begin his feast. He tilted his head to get at the elf's neck and as he leaned forward to tear out her throat, there was a ripping sound and his head slipped off his neck.
Sayla was shocked to see a tall, grim faced, human standing behind the wolf with Barnaby's silver dagger in his hand. In all of the confusion he had stolen in unnoticed and beheaded the creature with one stroke. She gasped "The talisman...don't touch it with your hands." Adroitly, Owen flicked it off the wolf's neck with the tip of the blade. The body and head began to decompose at astonishing speed and within a minute the only trace left of Krikor Valthusian was some bad memories and some badly injured elves.
"I thought only flatscreen vampires did that" the man said to himself, which for some reason, struck Sayla as very funny. She continued to cast healing spells on Barnaby, to try to stabilize him while the man looked Galron over. When Barnaby's breathing settled she moved over to check Galron. "Nasty crack on the head. I'm no phrenologist but I'd guess that's going to leave a mark. Are you ok?."
"Yes, but I want to get them inside. Will you help?"
"Sure" said Owen as he picked up Galron and put him over one shoulder. With Sayla's help he got Barnaby on the other shoulder and carried them up to the apartment that the team had been working out of. After putting the injured elves down Owen started to leave. "Where are you going?" asked Sayla with concern.
"I'll be right back" replied Owen as he left. Five minutes later he was back with a collection of dropped weapons and Barnaby's mangled arm. "Doesn't do to leave this kind of stuff laying around," he said. "You look pretty beat, yourself. Why don't you take a break? I'll watch your partners." Although she didn't even know Owen's name Sayla curled up on the couch and fell asleep.

Sayla awoke to hear a subdued conversation between the tall norm and Barnaby. They were obviously keeping their voices down so as not to disturb the sleepers in the impromptu hospital room of the big studio, but she had never heard so much out of Barnaby before. The elf woman rose and straightened herself up. Glancing in the mirror she saw a delicate thin face with high cheekbones and large gray eyes framed by straight brown hair bound in a single long braid. Wiping some dirt from the bridge of her small, straight nose she caught herself and thought What is it about this tall norm that suddenly has me preening like a schoolgirl? Get a hold of yourself! Focusing her attention on the two warriors, she realized they seemed to be discussing some flatscreen vid and Barnaby was arguing about heroes.
"....how you can say that Tatsuya Nakadai's madman in Sword of Doom was more compelling than any of the Sleepy Eyes of Death films? Nemuri Kyoshiro, as a character, always allowed for greater range of responses, was more involved with the world around him.... oh, hello Sayla."
"How do you feel, Barnaby?"
"You mean besides embarrassed about having my arm bitten off by the big dogboy? The medkit has me so pumped full of juice that I couldn't tell you.... uh... this is Owen Glendower. He said we left the door open and he wandered in."
Glancing up at Owen, Sayla smiled as she brushed an arrant strand of hair from her face "Thank you, Owen. My name is Sayla Starseeker. Nice to meet you." As she checked and refilled the medkit that was treating Barnaby she told him, "He actually did a little more than that. He saved our lives by cutting off the Wolf's head, he carried you and Galron back up here and guarded us when I fell asleep." Turning back to Owen she asked "Any change in Galron?"
"Yes, he seems to be resting more comfortably and the kit I put on him hasn't prescribed anything in a while. BP stronger. I still think it's going to leave a mark, though." Owen responded.
"You killed the wolf?" asked Barnaby.
"Well, he wasn't paying attention" said Owen with a shrug. "It seemed like the thing to do at the time."
"I owe you, friend"
"We all owe him," interjected Sayla. "But right now I've got to make some arrangements to get you to a doctor. I like this new talkative version of Barnaby, but I've got to get going on a replacement arm for you....SPIRITS! THE TALISMAN!! I forgot about it! It's incredibly dangerous! We've got to find it! Anyone who touches it...."
"I thought you might want it so I retrieved it" said Owen. "I picked it up by twirling the chain around the blade of that silver dagger I borrowed so I never touched it. It's over there by the lamp."
As Sayla rushed across the room to check the safety of the talisman, Barnaby asked "How did you do the wolf?"
"By the time I first saw him, he had your arm in his mouth, Galron popped him and he and changed shape and ducked out of sight. Galron was guarding and Sayla was doing magic to keep you alive when a pair of kids came around the other side of the building. Everyone focused on them, the bad guy, now looking human, dropped Galron with the famous pipe-up-side-the-head move, grabbed Sayla by the hair, grew a wolf head to replace his human one and was about to chow down on the lady's windpipe when I snuck up behind him and made him a head shorter. When I flicked his talisman off he evaporated."
"Excellent. I really do owe you, my friend."
"No charge, chummer."

Simon had finally been allowed some down time from his bait/stakeout duty. Deacon would have forced him to work till he dropped, but Dr. Chong had argued that he would have to report if the Samurai became a victim of some random violence because he had been exhausted by continuous duty. The mage had taken this, as he took everything, with a singular bad grace, but had relented and allowed some sleep time. Simon was about to go back on duty, when a waitress named Carol, who he had been cultivating as a contact, approached him with some data. He had been telling anyone who would stand still long enough to listen, that he was looking for any information on a bearded man in a fur coat, or a big dog, or a wolf, or a wolfman. Carol had a friend who had watched a wolf, man, wolfman get wacked in a fight with some elves right outside her apartment. Carol was willing to put Simon in touch with this person for a small fee.
Simon gave her 500 nuyen on the spot for the friend's name, and instead of reporting for duty, went to pursue the lead. He got what data he could and then went to find Dr. Chong. He discovered his boss receiving a royal dressing down by the mage, flanked by the two cyberzombies.
"This is another example of your incompetence, Chong! I say that we should redouble our efforts to find targets, you say your assets need rest! I say every second counts, you say the lateness should be overlooked! Your slipshod approach to this assignment can no longer be tolerated...." noticing Simon presence for the first time Deacon stopped in mid-rant. "You! How dare you come here after scanting your duty! What possible excuse can you offer for this gross dereliction?"
Simon ignored the screaming mage and looked at Chong. When the doctor nodded he made his report as though the two were alone in the room. His data that the wolf creature had been destroyed in a battle with some elf shadowrunners required confirmation, but was of tremendous relief to Chong as it meant they could re-focus their efforts on the original target, Gray. Deacon, on the other hand, was so furious that he was radiating heat. This new data was as bad as it could get! He was being denied vengeance for Moe's death, as the wolf thing had been killed by some elves. He was denied Simon's head as the Samurai was obviously doing his job when he had been accused of dereliction of duty. He was denied an opportunity to strike at Chong, whom he saw as the source of all of his misery, and worse yet, would have to agree that the bastard had been right in insisting that his asset be given time off duty. On top of all of that, the mage knew he would have to swallow his ire over the lack of respect he was being shown and actually ARRRRGH congratulate the bastard. It was too much! Directing a look that could stop a clock at both Simon and Chong, Deacon stormed off in a fury. He would confirm this data himself!!

Galron had returned to consciousness before the Securecare transport had arrived. Securecare was a private service which did not do Doc Wagon type recoveries. They did provide top surgical specialists for both cyber and bio replacements, but were quite expensive. The doctor who supervised Barnaby's pick up, also gave Galron a thorough exam, which included testing the decker's datajack and chipjacks. He didn't find any damage to the connections and concluded that the elf should be ok with rest. When Barnaby was being taken out Owen had asked "Are you alright? You look like you're already dead."
Without dropping a beat, Barnaby had replied "Don't worry, I still have quite a few men to kill." When Owen had responded "You look worse when you smile" both had chuckled and simultaneously said "Luck!" as the stretcher carried Barnaby out. Sayla had cocked her head to ask what that was all about and Owen explained "Some lines from a classic flatscreen vid called Yojimbo. An interest Barnaby and I share."
The three sat down at the kitchen's large table, breaking down and cleaning weapons as they shared information about the wolf creature and it's talisman. "What will you do with it?" Sayla asked.
"Why are you sticking me with the thing?" Owen asked "I don't want it. I only brought it back because the way you yelled when you saw it, I thought it was too dangerous to leave out in public."
"But a magic item that powerful is incredibly valuable. Magic groups, Corps, governments, even dragons would pay big nuyen for it. The Atlantean Foundation, for example....."
Sayla stopped as Owen was violently shaking his head. "No, absolutely not. I don't want to get involved with any of the groups you named, or with any further association with that thing. Besides, the wolf was after you guys. You sell it. Or keep it. Or give it away. I don't want to have anything to do with it."
Galron said "Hey, you killed the wolf, the spoils of battle are rightfully yours. Besides, do you really want to give away something that's potentially worth a million nuyen?"
"If its that thing, yes, absolutely. Can't you hear it? I do not want any part of it or what its offering."
Alarmed that Owen was "hearing" the talisman, Sayla centered herself in order to begin perceiving astrally. Before she could focus on the seductive song that the talisman was directing at Owen, she felt and saw the wrongness of the cyberzombies auras as they approached the stairs which led to the studio. She fled back to her body and shouted a warning just before Deacon, who had recognized that he had been astrally scanned, shouted his order to attack.


Sayla's warning galvanized Owen to instant action. He and Galron flipped the heavy table on it's side to act as a shield for the elves, and grabbing an SMG, he had bolted for the "living room". The studio was laid out in an L shape, with the entrance facing the kitchen area on the short leg. Owen moved to the corner where the room turned, thinking he could use the wall for cover while attacking from the side of the enemies as they entered. He saw Sayla touching jewelry pieces and assumed she was activating fetishes as he threw his own duster back on.

As he charged up the stairs, Deacon screamed at his cybersoldiers "Don't kill them! I want them alive! Safe your weapons and subdue." At last, someone will pay for this drek assignment, he thought. Manny paused to wait for the mage at the landing outside of the studio and used his left eye, the one with the density scanner to "see" through the wall. He recognized Owen's ambush and launched himself through the wall.

When the metal man started coming through the wall, Owen pivoted, fired and began to dodge all in an instant. He was almost out of range when the (formerly) human tank completely emerged. He had emptied the Uzi's clip where the thing's head would eventually be, but he had delayed a microsecond too long when he saw that it's left eye and the left side of it's jaw were trashed and it was still coming. The cyberzombie's grabbing hand crushed the weapon, breaking two of Owen's fingers in the process.
As Owen was skipping back out of the way, the nozzle in the middle of the metal man's torso erupted, disgorging viscid mass which Owen dodged by rolling to his right. An internal glue gun, he thought, What twisted mind decided to replace the man's natural organs with a glue reservoir? Noticing the unnatural smoothness of the machine's moves Owen thought So that's what a move by wire system looks like.
As the zombie lined up for another blast of Glue, Owen pulled his staff and extended the blade. When the second blast of glue left the cyborg's chest, Owen was already leaping to the monster's blind side. Before Manny could pivot, Owen jammed his short spear's blade into the side of the metal man's knee. Owen would have been happy with this had he not caught the assault weapon mounted on the cyber's articulate arm in the ribs. He had not even realized that the monster had a third "arm" mounted on it's back until he was sent flying across the room with the ribs on his right side broken from the impact of the weapon.
Manny was moving in before his victim had even landed, but when Owen's back touched the floor he used his momentum to do a reverse somersault and from a standing position delivered a Phi Hoanh Sat Cuoc (Qwan-ki-do jumping round kick) at the right side of the monster's head. The move had zero effect on the cyborg but the movement made Owen's broken ribs feel like they were on fire. It also allowed the metal man to extend three cyberspurs from its left arm and slash Owen' shoulder. Although the armored coat and the fatigues was shredded Owen's underlying Shadowsuit provided enough protection for Owen to retreat in pain, but without losing the use of a limb.

As Manny was crashing through the wall, Jack took out the door. Jack always deployed near Deacon, as the mage never seemed to trust him much in battle. This didn't prevent the magic user from using Jack's metal body as a shield regardless of the bullet, blast and spell barriers Deacon always erected from his fetishes before going into battle. Jack also was compelled to wear a heavy armor helmet, as his head, unlike his brothers', was bone and meat.
Jack heard the order to subdue rather than obliterate and pulled a pair of Defiance Super Shock Stun batons. He did this while shrugging off sustained fire from Galron's SMG. The elf decker saw that the cyborg was about to advance and jumped from behind the table to the recessed area next to the refrigerator. This pantry cabinet was back far enough that the refrigerator provided a partial shield, and when Galron opened the refrigerator door and used it as a further shield, Jack was forced to hesitate as he waited for instruction from Deacon on which elf should be subdued first. Deacon meanwhile had tossed an Acid Bomb spell at the overturned table and was signaling Jack to wait while it dissolved.
Sayla and Galron had fought together many times and were aware of each other's tactics. After throwing an ineffective fire bolt at the mage, Sayla nodded at Galron and prepared to unleash her null spell. This was a tactic they had used against magic users many times as the null spell temporarily ripped operating spells away from the target, making them vulnerable to physical attack. Although the spell she had created was draining and dangerous, it usually left its target without any magical protective barriers so mundane items like bullets and bombs could find their targets before the spell dissipated and the magic returned. When younger, Galron had called it "the pause that refreshes". As she launched the spell Galron prepared to pepper the mage when his shields went down.
Unfortunately for the pair of Paladins, Jack's desire for his own end caused him to step in the path of the unknown magic directed at his spiritual slaver. When the cyberzombie caught the null spell, the binding which kept his soul in his body began to unravel. With a force of will, Jack's spirit broke free and the 8 million nuyen piece of metal that had been his body slumped over dead.

Owen drew his spring blade just as the tip of the index finger of Manny's left hand came shooting towards him. Glendower completed the "full moon cut" to sever the trailing wire before the cyberzombie could activate the incapacitating voltage of the Taser. The finger tip dart flew over Owen's shoulder as the severed cable discharged harmlessly into the floor. Owen then fired the spring blade, but it did not even penetrate the metal torso of the monster which began moving towards him at freight train speeds.
When Manny reached out his right hand to grasp, Owen used a Sumi-geashi (judo, corner throw). Owen grabbed the wrist while evading the hand by falling backwards. Drawing the speeding metal man on, Glendower pushed off with both legs against the monster's thigh while twisting the arm. The net effect was to flip Manny over Owen completely, landing his massive bulk flat on the articulated arm growing out of his back, destroying the weapon and hurting the zombie.
As both warriors sprang back up, Manny executed a ushiro-geri (back kick) to which Owen responded with an age-uke (forearm block). Surprised at the resilience and training of the metal man, Owen leapt backwards when Manny fired his cyberleg's foot anchor through the meat of Owen's forearm.

Deacon's scream of absolute fury was frightening. He watched Jack slump over dead and immediately understood what had happened. He launched a powerful fireball at the dissolving table top, intending to absolutely obliterate the slitch who had cost him another cybersoldier. The first spell had barely detonated when he launched a second one at the corner where the other elf was hiding. The refrigerator door "shield" became a weapon for Galron's opponent when the explosion ripped it off its hinges to smash the elf flat.
Deacon saw the elemental spirit that Sayla had summoned begin to appear. He laughed without humor at this pitiful elf trying to attack him with a spirit. He who had spent his life learning to bind and enslave men's souls would certainly not fall victim to any spirit this slitch could conjure. He bent his will to making the spirit his own to command.

On Owen's left side, his forearm had a large hole through it (again) and his shoulder had been deeply bruised by the Monster's cyberspurs. On his right side, two fingers were broken along with most of his ribs. The Cyberzombie was also damaged, as his left eye was not functioning, his left knee was damaged and his articulated arm was ruined. Because Owen had also twisted the arm when flipping Manny, the right arm's servos had a terrible whine whenever he used the arm.
Manny knew that whatever Deacon said, this target was too dangerous to live. Using his fully functioning left arm, the cyborg pulled the Superwarhawk pistol as Owen drew his Sten blade. Owen put on an incredible burst of speed as Manny brought the pistol up, launching himself at the gun hand. As the hand cannon fired "boomboomboom" the zombie's one eyed lack of depth perception caused the heavy slugs to pluck at Owen's coat rather than smash through vital organs. Owen's crystal knife slashed the cyber's wrist, dropping both hand and pistol to the floor. Protesting servos notwithstanding, the right arm smash that Owen received in reply broke the ribs on the left side of his body. Owen rolled out of the way of the stomp that would have squashed him like a bug, and when Manny bent back to pick up the pistol with his damaged right hand, Glendower flipped the Sten blade into the back of his cyberneck, destroying the move by wire controller, and damaging the few remaining human brain cells the monster had left. Manny dropped like a large rock.
Owen struggled to his feet and retrieved his knife, making sure that the cyborg was dead. His ribs were on fire, but his attention shifted to the magic battle that Sayla was loosing. He awkwardly drew his Goren Bee from the shoulder holster and fired several shots of the DMSO/elephant tranq mixture at Deacon. None of the mage's defensive magics were designed to keep him from getting wet and as he shifted attention to an anti-toxin spell, Sayla was able, with the last of her strength to banish the corrupted spirit. Owen knew that to falter now would be to lose the battle, but every motion was agony and he was sure that Deacon had more spells to toss. He dropped the pistol and began to swing the Manriki-gusari. His throw wrapped one end of the weighted chain tightly around the recovering mage's neck. His jerk on the chain brought Deacon quickly across the room and fortunately brought him between Owen and the dead cybersoldier. At that point the Cranial area bomb in Manny's head detonated and Deacon caught most of the blast. A piece of shrapnel (the top of Manny's metal skull) hit Owen in the shin, breaking the leg, but Deacon ate most of the blast with a large chunk of metal tearing through the mage's supposed heart.
When Deacon's Doc Wagon alarm started going off, Owen gritted, "Oh no, you don't" and without hesitating, cut off the magic user's head. He then pushed the corpse out the window, into the courtyard, closed the window, sat down and waited. He watched as the Doc Wagon team arrived within 6 minutes and found the body. They spent a solid 5 minutes scouring the area for a head, but not being able to recover it, eventually shrugged and went off to answer another call.
Sayla, who had no physical injuries, was completely exhausted but managed to call in for another Securecare pickup. When she staggered over to where Owen was sitting he said "Man, you guys sure like to party, don't you?"

Fortunately for Owen, the physician with the Securecare transport was more concerned with his Hippocratic Oath than with the company's policies. He bound up the wound in Owen's arm, taped and gave Owen a brace for his shattered ribs, set and put air splints on his broken leg and fingers. He was not insulted at Owen's paranoid avoidance of hospitals or even annoyed at his patient's constant demands for explanations as he was treating the wounds. When he finished Owen apologized profusely, but still did not change his mind about refusing Hospital time. The doctor left a fully stocked medkit when he took Galron in for treatment of his concussion, and as a reward, the Securecare company got several million nuyen worth of used cyberparts when they collected the bodies laying around the apartment. They even took Deacon's head, which they promised to dispose of properly. Because Sayla was already fast asleep, Owen asked for and got a receipt agreeing that Securecare would evaluate the parts they were collecting and credit fair value against the account that the Paladins were using. He knew he might get a better deal with work but was simply too sore and tired.
After a large bribe to the building's maintenance crew to create a temporary wall over the hole and another to get the front door reassembled. Owen hobbled, with the aid of his stick, over to the overstuffed chair by the window. Drawing his flute out of the shoulder satchel he began to play. His splinted fingers made some fingering difficult, but he was able to slip into that rapid healing state that he sought.

The Talisman, which had been unable to draw any attention to itself in the battle, now found it could no longer reach it's chosen vessel. It was ready to offer full and instant healing, great energy, invulnerability, immortality, anything at all. Unfortunately the one who had ended Krikor's life, the first new life force in more than 300 years, was in some sort of trance of healing. The magic was effective, but so slow, if it could reach the human it would whisper of being instantly complete and healthy again.
Unable to reach the man, the talisman began to infest the dreams of the female. If it could seduce her, capture her imagination, it could convince her to bring it in contact with the man. Once it touched his flesh their life together could begin. It would all be so easy if it were not wrapped around this cursed silver! Patiently, the ancient talisman began to subtly influence Sayla's dreams. She was already attracted to Owen, so the talisman began to amplify that attraction. It knew that males always responded to the lust of females and that he would be less likely to guard against her if he were concerned with sex rather than security.

Sayla was in a dark forest...She was running.... Fleeing.... Being pursued..... She ran faster but sensed her pursuer chasing faster..... Any look back, any delay and she'd be caught. Devoured by the teeth behind her..... Even thinking of them brought them closer..... She ran faster, faster..... Knowing, deep inside she could not escape the...nameless....beast that pursued her.... She could feel its exaltation as she stumbled and slowed, but could not look back..... She was terrified and nearly hopeless when she heard the sound. Giddy with fear she listened to the sweet, long notes of music floating on the air..... She sensed security in the music.... Escape!.... Peace and light that the beast would fear..... The music would save her, protect her, if only she could find it.
The beast knew this too and redoubled it's efforts to bring her down..... The brightness was ahead of her now..... She was close, but she could feel the hot breath panting on her. About to snap her up!.... She couldn't get to the music in time!.... Suddenly, he was there, catching her, enfolding her in strong arms..... The light was glorious, breathtaking......She felt him laughing at the beast, at her fear, at all the darkness, and it fled from him.... She trembled against his chest and felt the rumble of his laughter.... Nothing could harm her when he was near..... He would protect her, save her, chase away the evil..... She wanted to join in his celebration of life, to sing the pure song that poured from his lips as he laughed.
He said nothing but his eyes danced and she felt the joy and wonder of a child when she was with him.... When he showed her that the darkness was gone, he released her and played his flute for her.... She felt calm and serene as she listened to the music. She closed her eyes and the music began to fade, growing softer....she opened her eyes to see why he was playing so softly and found he was gone! The serene mood was shattered as panic set in. She was alone! The darkness came rushing back...she was surrounded by terrible eyes...eyes in the darkness... eyes closing in.... and the maw of the beast....coming to snap her up...to tear her to pieces.... she heard the notes of the song as a faint echo moving away....If she could only make him return....she called to him...she cried his name as the desperation and fear grew...she screamed OWEN! OWEN! COME BACK, PLEASE OWEN!
He was there, and suddenly the darkness was gone, but as it disappeared she felt the menace, the unspoken threat that next time she would not escape. That if she were ever alone again in this dark place, she would suffer endlessly. She shuddered and drew his arms around her, hiding herself in the protection of his power, drinking in the smell of him. As she laid her head on his chest her need for security and even the joy of his company began to give way to something more primal. She wanted the contact with him. She began to glow with an animal passion for this strong male. Her arms encircled his neck and she began to rub against him. She looked up into his face and saw the smoldering fire she felt within her, reflected in his eyes. Yes! She raised her lips to his and received a kiss which stirred her soul. She wanted him with a hunger, aserathilion, a demanding desire that she had never felt for anyone before. She began to remove her clothes and found that she was suddenly in a long formal gown. A dress with an endless train that kept getting wound around her feet. He stepped back and gestured for her to come to him, but she was held rooted by the gown wound around her feet. He gestured again but she could not get free...he shrugged and putting the flute to his lips began to wander away as he played a tune. She called him back, first frustrated, and then when she realized the darkness would return , with a desperate terror. "OWEN, PLEASE, OWEN DON'T LEAVE ME! OWEN!!!"

Owen was hobbling to the bedroom door when he heard the thump as Sayla fell out of the bed. He looked in to see her sitting on the floor with her legs and feet completely twisted in the bed clothes. "Are you alright?" he asked.
"Uh...yes...uhm ...I just had a dream."
"Must have been a humdinger, you screamed my name so loud you pulled me out of my flute, which, I can tell you, ain't easy."
"Oh...sorry.......... How...long have I been asleep?"
"Don't worry about it. I needed to get something to eat anyway. You've been out about 10 hours."
"10 Hours! Drek! And why aren't you at the hospital? What happened?"
"Why don't you shower up while I make some breakfast and I'll tell you all about it."
"I have a better idea. Why don't you get off that leg and play some more of the flute music for 5 minutes while I duck into the shower and then I'll fix us breakfast."
"I can make some breakfast, it's not that tough, really."
"Yeah, well you're not that tough either. Sit down before you fall down, I'll have your breakfast in just a few." She said as she bustled past the grumbling norm on her way to the shower.
"...not a cripple, for crying out loud....can make a simple meal....how tough is breakfast anyway?"
"What was that?" She called a minute later, over the sound of the running shower.
"I asked what it is about me that makes every woman I meet think I'm a 6 year old in want of direction."
"I said, I wonder why all the women I know, always boss me around."
"I can't hear you over the shower, Owen. I'll talk to you in just a minute!"
"YES, MOM." he shouted back. Then as he hobled around the studio he began mumbling to himself "....wish I could find a woman to treat me like a man....maybe I don't want to always follow instructions....maybe I want to say what's what, just for a change.... be treated like an adult....guys don't do that....you show them you can open a can of whupass, they treat you with respect..... but women, boy, you save them from the dragon it means they get to run the castle, and your life...pick out your clothes...."
"Who are you talking to and why are you still on that leg? Sit down." said the elf woman with her hands on her hips.
Owen couldn't believe she had gotten out of the shower and dressed so fast. His quick turn at the sound of her voice brought him a grimace of pain caused by his fractured ribs.
"You see. I told you to get off your feet. Just sit back and relax. That's better. Now, what do you want for breakfast?" Owen noticed how good she looked in the gray MIT&T tee shirt and jeans.
"Toast and fruit would be fine, thanks."
"Is that all you're going to have?"
In an undertone Owen said "doesn't sound like it" but out loud he said "Religious restrictions. Only way I'm allowed to break the night's fast."
As she gave him the gimlet eye he said "Really, all I'm allowed, honest."
"While I'm fixing breakfast tell me what happened last night. Why aren't you in the hospital, I assume that's where Galron is. What are those huge globs in the living room? Who fixed the whole in the wall?"
Owen spent the next half hour explaining about the zombie's internal glue gun, Galron's injury from the refrigerator door, and having to hire the building's maintenance crew to epoxy-seal the extra doors in the hole in the wall that the cyborg had made. While they ate he then talked about Securecare's receipt for used cyberparts and his own fear of doctors. This last was met by predictable exasperation from Sayla who insisted on casting heal spells on Owen's ribs, at least.
When she helped him get the fatigues and shadowsuit off (she needed to touch the injuries to heal them) she spent a moment in frank appraisal of the physical adept's body. Owen also thought she seemed to be touching him more than was technically necessary to work the magic, not that he objected, of course. After casting her healing spells she hustled him into the tub to soak. When she found she couldn't get out of the apartment because Owen had wedged the door back into place after Securcare had made their pickup, she was tempted to scold him for risking further injury by straining himself with broken ribs. Instead of scolding, she tried to use the fire escape, only to set off a piercing siren when she touched the window. Instead of dealing with the siren she ran back towards the bathroom yelling "It's me, It's me, my mistake!" to prevent Owen from reinjuring himself rushing to the rescue. He explained through the bathroom door how to deactivate the alarm.
When she had run out to get food and he was dozing in the warm tub, the talisman resumed its song of seduction to Owen.

Simon came to attention to deliver his report to Dr. Chong and whoever was listening on the vid phone. The Razor was clever enough to know that the doctor must have somebody pretty important on the line, so he kept his report to the point.
"When Deacon and the Cybers left here I followed. I thought they were pursuing the lead I had developed on the elves who had destroyed the werewolf. I stayed out of sight and trailed them to the location. After looking around they began to investigate the neighboring buildings. They entered one building and there was some kind of confrontation as I immediately heard a crash like a wall being destroyed and small arms fire. After a few minutes the noise died down and a headless corpse dressed like the mage was thrown out a window. The corpse had a DocWagon contract because it's bracelet was squealing. When Doc Wagon evac team showed up, they searched the area for a head but didn't find any. They took as much of the corpse as they could find and left. About 2 minutes after they left a Securecare medical van pulled up. They went into the building and about 20 minutes later came out with an elf on a stretcher. I saw it was an elf with a datajack, but I couldn't get any further details. They must have called for backup because a big van showed up and they took out two very heavy bodies covered by sheets. I'm not sure they were bodies because they were larger than human size and the trolls who were carting them out kept bitching about how heavy they were. One of the residents told me that was the second time they'd made a pickup from the building as earlier they had taken somebody out who had their arm ripped off."
"I was conscious that I might be under surveillance myself so I kept the questions very casual. I did not id any of the bodies but I watched the building for the next 8 hours and neither Deacon nor the Cybers came out."
"Conclusions?" asked the voice on the other end of the comm.
At Dr. Chong's nod, Simon said "I believe the headless corpse was the mage Deacon and that the draped bodies taken out by Securecare were Manny and Jack. I think those three took on more than they could handle and got waxed and I believe that Deacon's body was thrown out because of the Doc Wagon squealer. I believe his head was kept so that he could not be revived." Simon cleared his throat and then said, "I further believe that it was and is a mistake to use a after-action team as investigators. We've tried hard but it is not what we are best at. Other resources should have been applied." Despite Chong's subtle hand signs, Simon continued "I also believe that the change in focus that Deacon required, from primary to secondary targets, impaired efficiency and should not be a reflection on the doctor or his team."
"That will be all."
As Simon bowed and left, Dr. Chong turned to the blank screen. "Forgive him lord, I'm sure he did not mean....."
The Dragon's speaker interrupted "Quite alright, Doctor. He demonstrates intelligence and loyalty and we agree with his assessment. You and your people have earned some down time. You have done well in a trying situation. Convey that message to your team and return to the compound ....Oh, and doctor, We want you to consider Simon for larger responsibilities. He shows promise."

After the telecom call the seneschal turned to the Dragon and waited for a full 30 minutes. Then:
Have Chandler and Anna go to the landing strip. We will compose a message for them to deliver.
"Yes, my lord."

As Owen drowsed in the tub he began having visions of power and wealth and fame. He was in perfect health with an animal magnetism which drew women to him. These women did not scold him or give him orders, but jumped to gratify his wishes. Yeah, right, he thought. As though I've got a prayer in hell of that happening. I wish if you were going to try to seduce me with dreams of power, you'd at least include some inkling of reality. He thought at the Talisman. I'm not buying it. I'm not going to agree to wear you and become your partner or your vehicle or any other god damn thing. If I could find a way to get rid of you without endangering somebody else you'd be gone right now. As a matter of fact.... Owen climbed out of the tub, quickly drying he put his sneak suit back on and then put on his fatigues. After re-bracing his leg he hobbled around the apartment collecting all of the elves' unused clips of silver ammo and the other silver weapons from the hunt for Krikor. He took one of the metal ammo boxes that the supplies had come in and began emptying ammo clips into the box. When he had a sufficient layer of silver bullets he set the box on the floor and using the end of his staff, edged the talisman and it's dagger into the box. He then tossed in the other silver weapons and continued dropping in individual silver bullets. The Talisman was now completely immersed in silver. Now maybe I'll get some rest, he thought.
Owen was looking for a place to put his box where it would not be disturbed, when there was a knocking at the door. When he removed the wedges he found Barnaby standing there complete with his new arm.

"What the hell happened here?" The elf asked as he saw Owen's air brace and the studio's new wall of doors. He glanced at the piles of hardened glue, the wrecked refrigerator and the remnants of the kitchen table. "Where is everybody? What did I miss?" Owen set the rattling ammo box in the destroyed and doorless refrigerator and then moved back to "his" overstuffed chair.
"Well, I'll tell you...." for the next 30 minutes Owen gave an exact account of the preceding night's events with such detail that the story sounded like pure fiction. He was demonstrating the end of the battle when Sayla came back up the fire escape with her groceries.
"Barnaby, you're back so soon!" She said as she bustled through the room "How did you get out of the hospital? Owen, will you please sit down, darling, you're going to re-injure that leg." This last was delivered with a quick kiss on the mouth as she proceeded from the room. The two warriors looked at each other with exactly mirrored raised eyebrows. Barnaby's look said "What else did I miss?" while Owen's shrug said "Don't ask me, I don't have a clue".
Darling? Kissing me? What the hell is this all about? Is she trying to make Barnaby jealous? Owen wondered. He listened as Barnaby explained how between Smartlink, Cyberspurs, wired reflexes and Muscle augmentation his arm had been through enough surgeries that simply replacing the meat with metal was less of a strain than some of his other operations. Because he had already had extensive work done on the shoulder joint, with the meat arm gone it was simply a case of plugging in the metal, splicing connections and he was ready to go. They would have liked to keep him for observation but he felt fine and knew that their mission needed him back.
Although Sayla acknowledged that with Owen's help most of their mission was now complete, she suggested that they all try to rest until Galron was released from the hospital and their decker could give them a clue on what they needed to do next.

In the elaborate electronic suite of an old woman's talisman shop, reports and conclusions on the recent demise of several dangerous characters were being compiled.
"Madame Magdelena, now even you have to admit that he's amazing," said Seka.
"Yes really, Madame, you've got to acknowledge he's done what would be impossible for anyone else. I've always known he was capable of fantastic feats." added Katya.
"Alright, alright, he's the most wonderful thing since the wheel, now you two hussies stop daydreaming and lets find out what reaction this latest victory draws. He's given us our first glimpses into how those people operate and the model for predicting their reactions will be priceless if we don't miss details through inattention." As she walked away the old woman considered how her assistants' tone had changed. Instead of giddy schoolgirls, thrilled with Owen's victories, they were adopting the tone of women evaluating a potential mate. Successful, intelligent, competent, and highly competitive women. Dear boy, I'm afraid when this is all over Madame Magdelena's won't be a place to stop for a peaceful glass of tea and a quiet chat with an old lady. It will be a place where a pair of tigresses fight over you like a piece of meat. I only hope you survive to see that day, but whether you do or not we need to record and observe everything so our knowledge of the Compound grows.


After a full day with his flute, a night's sleep and another healing session with Sayla, Owen was able to get around without a limp. Because his armored duster was trashed, he took a cab to the train station to retrieve his cloak from storage. He checked the public database from a telecomm unit at the train station and armed with both SIN and name was able to find Mr. Rococo at a "senior village" located in the suburbs. He decided that a subtle approach might work best and, again using a local coffin hotel's facilities, changed into a suit. He called a limo service to pick him up at the station and was pleased to see that the ork male driver was a "protective services" type. This meant the the driver was large enough to become part of the charade Owen intended to perpetrate at the retirement home.
Owen knew that Sayla and Barnaby would be spending time at the Securecare facilities and although he wanted to visit Galron himself, thought it was more important to trace down the last lead in the issue of the photo. He hated to have it near him, but rather than leave the Talisman unguarded, he was carrying the armor box in his shoulder satchel.
The driver, whose name was Itami Hanzo, was more than willing to bodyguard Owen for a fee. Glendower called the village from the car phone on his way out of town, to say that he was an attorney who needed to speak with Mr. Rococo on a matter of some urgency. The village's deputy director assured Mr. Estopal that there would be no trouble meeting Mr. Rococo, but could make no assurances about the old man's state of mind.
The community was situated at lake side. After the large limousine had been parked in the visitor's lot, Mr. Estopal and his bodyguard were taxied to Mr. Rococo's residence in an electric powered cart, which was the biggest vehicle that the village roads could accommodate. Owen thought that the soothing Muzak which was being pumped everyplace would be enough to drive him mad in a very short time and noticed that Hanzo seemed to feel the same. When they were dropped off at Mr. Rococo's bungalow they found it unoccupied, but a neighbor mentioned that "the gentleman from number 6 was down at the stone boat." After giving directions the neighbor had said "Be seeing you" and went back to her garden.
When Owen and Itami made their way down to the lakeside, they found the 65 year old Mr. Rococo, playing chess. Owen introduced himself as an attorney and the game was adjourned to deal with this change from the daily routine. Rococo, "Rocky" as he insisted on being called, was anything but rocklike. He was a small, nervous man with a receding hairline and eyes which seemed to start from his head. He spoke very quickly and had a nervous habit of constantly wiping his hands on a pocket handkerchief. He continually lit pastel colored flick-sticks but never seemed to take more than a few puffs before lighting another. Owen noticed that the little man was very pale, almost pasty-white and had what Owen could only think of as a "smell of death" about him. Owen felt sure that the man was dying from within of some terminal malady.
After a few minutes of conversation this was borne out as a coughing fit from Rocky brought up blood into his handkerchief. When Owen recognized the huge doses of pain killer the little man was taking with his soyakaf, he felt certain that the disease must be in an advanced phase. Realizing that Rocky was dying and knew it, Owen dropped all pretense. This was certainly not someone whom he could threaten or bribe into an admission. Since nature already had the man under a death sentence and was torturing him as they spoke, Rocky could not be influenced by anything but the truth.
Owen laid out everything that he had discovered, concluded and guessed at. He explained what Pym had confessed and his reasons for coming to speak to Rocky. Other than a single laugh which became another bloody coughing fit, the little man had no reaction. He had sat through Owen's entire revelation, wiping his hands, smoking, extinguishing and lighting flick sticks without any comment or question. When Owen finished he had replied "I don't know what you are talking about, I'd like you to leave now and if you ever come here again I will alert security."
Having eliminated his other options, by telling the truth, Owen began to leave the "senior village" empty handed.

The stunning Asian norm female drew stares as she jandered through the airport. She was dressed in a fashionable dark business suit, flawlessly accessorized and might have been a high level corp wage slave but for the aura she projected. She moved like a cat and accepted the attention that was paid to her as a matter of course. Like royalty, she had a way of drawing and holding the eye, causing the breathless hope that she would recognize and in some way acknowledge the adulation of her viewers. She had a classically beautiful face which wore very little make-up and seemed to say "I don't need to accentuate anything, I'm perfect as I am." One also got the immediate impression that this physical beauty was not an acquisition from a plastic's surgeon's sculpting but something she had been born with.
Her long, lustrous, straight, black hair reached her waist and was bound in a loose pony tale with a single red ribbon at her neck. She had a fashion model's walk with a body which had more firm curves than was currently in vogue on the runways of Paris and New York. One got the impression, however that her face and body were famous from somewhere. She certainly had "star quality".
Her companion, by contrast, was as completely unremarkable as it was possible to be. He had an immediately forgettable face and the only people who even temporarily acknowledged his existence were those who walked into him while staring at his companion. If she was a head-turner, he was someone who could wait for days on a line before anyone even saw him.
The two had no luggage other than their carryons and when they grabbed a cab the hack actually closed the door before the male could enter. He had never realized that the man was even there, so bedazzled was he with the woman's smile. When she quietly asked him to stop, he slammed on the breaks and waited for the man to enter the vehicle. The man gave the impression, if anyone had paid attention to him, that he had experienced this many times before.

Barnaby was relieved to hear from Galron own lips that he was feeling better, particularly when he learned of Securecare's plan to release the decker. The last thing Barnaby wanted was for the team leader to get pushed back out of the hospital before he was ready to resume the assignment. The Razor had discussed the injuries with the doctors and eventually learned the precise definition for a concussion and the increased danger it held for anyone with metal devices (Datajack, chipjacks, etc.) in their skulls.
While discussing the current state of their mission, the conversation naturally turned to the unexpected aid they had received from the norm male. Both males noted the particular enthusiasm Sayla showed towards this subject of Owen, whom she insisted was to be called by his name, not referred to by his race and gender. She delighted in not only relating the details of Owen's victories, but in also talking about what a wonderful person he was. This sudden infatuation was noted by both males, but without understanding, (or ever hoping to understand) the intricacies of the female mind, both smiled indulgently at the fixation. Yes, it was out of character, yes it was sudden and extreme, but, she was a woman and women and romance were concepts only vaguely understood by the male of the any species. Better to let her be happy with this crush than to argue her out of sorts by pointing out the illogic of her position, they silently agreed. Neither suspected there was another agency at work, exaggerating the attraction that Sayla felt.

You idiot! You moron! How could you be so phenomenally stupid? Owen thought to himself. Did you really expect that the man was just going to confess? That he would blithely acknowledge a cold blooded murder and give you the details, because he may be sick? Is your head up your hoop? In the last fight, were your brains killed? My gods, if you heard a 10 year old with that interrogation style you'd still wonder if it was dropped on it's head as a baby!......AND you let him go! That's perfect! Now you can spend years feeling guilty over all of the other poor slobs you'll have to kill when he alerts his higher-ups and they start sending cleaners at you by the dozen. Don't just leave! Go after him!
Owen sent Itami Hanzo on to the car, while he diverted and walked to Rocky's bungalow. The door opened as he approached and he found the old man putting on what looked like a ceremonial robe. Before Owen could say anything, a fire elemental took shape in the room between the magic user and his guest. Glendower did not hesitate, but struck Men, Hidari-do, Tsuki, Migi-kote with his staff, using his entire will to power the blows. The kendo strikes to forehead, left side of the trunk, throat and right forearm would have scored points in an exhibition match, but the purity of the intentions behind the blows is what defeated the fire elemental's manifest form.
Rococo was both annoyed and frightened by the ease with which the norm had dispatched Hotspur. The fire elemental had been powerful and his loss forever scared the mage. He wanted to compel another elemental to manifest, but the speed of his intruder made that unusually difficult. Instead he threw a chaos spell, to give himself more time. As Owen was being struck by the distraction spell, he had drawn his Goren Bee and was firing DMSO/elephant tranq at his opponent. Because Owen was not focused on avoiding or resisting the spell, he caught the full effect, but because Rococo was spell casting rather than evading, he was hit twice by the tranquilizer. As a result, Owen did not hear Rococo's unconscious body hit the floor and spent the next 15 minutes in an incredibly elaborate kata, fighting off foes he could not see or hear.
When he was finally able to throw off most of the effects of the distraction spell, Owen saw that the little man was out cold. A mage! Damn! I wasn't prepared for that. Mages have healing spells, after all, don't they? I guess those spells may be more effective vs. trauma then disease. Or maybe he just isn't very good with healing spells. Or maybe the cough and color are just part of a disguise to lure fools like me into underestimating him. Damn! I still can't believe I was stupid enough to give him the whole story........Anyway, I guess his being a magic user explains why he was so much older than the the others in the photo. He'd probably have had to have been very good to take out an elf who was "the dragon's favorite". I'd want a magic capable member if I was on a team taking out a magically active individual. The question now is, what the hell do I do with him?

Intertech got the call from Mr. Kobyashi and immediately began their investigation. The detective agency had offices in every major city in the UCAS and the CAS and did extensive business in the Caribbean League. They did not do protective work, they did not do law enforcement, they were investigators. The administrative/support staff was kept to a minimum, with the lion share of personnel falling into 3 categories: Mages (paranormal investigators) Deckers (electronic investigators) and Meat (physical investigators). The last category contained the largest number of "operatives" and was by far the most effective. The trained investigator who examined clues on the scene and more importantly asked questions and followed leads was the real backbone of the company. Accepting the meager details that Dr. Chong had been able to acquire, before his investigation got sidetracked, as they were relayed by Mr. Kobyashi, a longstanding client with an excellent record for prompt payment, Intertech began tracking down Gray, a.k.a Owen Glendower. Per Mr. Kobyashi's instructions, the assembled data would be relayed to the individuals staying in rooms 415 and 417 of the Stouffer's hotel.

With Galron's release from the Securecare facility, the Paladins began moving their equipment to a new location. The studio was not even marginally secure as a base of operations after the recent violence. The only one who had any problem with the new arrangement was Sayla who kept voicing her concern that Owen would be unable to find them. When jokes about him being a big boy drew a frosty silence, Barnaby composed a coded note based on flatscreen Samurai vids which he tacked to the door and Galron sent a message to a dead letter drop that Owen could check. As an additional precaution Sayla left a spirit in the apartment with instructions to guide the norm to the mage's current location. That being done and the equipment gathered, the Paladins relocated to a boarded-up store front on the north side of town.

Owen was stuck. Rococo was a magic user, and as soon as he became conscious, Owen would have his hands full. Nobody wanted to try to restrain a spell slinger without a distraction hood to keep him or her from focusing on magic. The eyeless sack with it's built in gag and audio phones would effectively muzzle any mage, but Owen didn't have one. He also had to worry about taking an old man, admittedly a nasty old man who was probably a murderer, but who was nonetheless in poor health, away from the medical care which might be preserving his life. It might be a case where Rococo was faking his poor health, but in the event he was not, Owen could be putting his life in jeopardy on nothing more than Pym's panicked confession. The Draco foundation would take a very dim view of harm to a citizen in pursuit of Dunkelzahn's bequest, to say nothing of Owen's own conscience on such an irresponsible and potentially harmful act. On the other hand, if Rococo is a cold blooded killer whom I allow to walk away just because I haven't done enough research, I'll feel guilty about that too, Owen thought. Drek. What do I do about this? He's practically in a coma from the two hits of elephant tranq. If I transport him someplace else and he needs medical attention I'm fragged. If I try to sweat him here I've got to work fast and that may require my torturing a sick old man. I wouldn't even be in this fix if I hadn't blurted the story without thinking.
When Rococo moaned, Owen came to a decision. He applied a stim patch to the old man, pulled his Sten blade and waited. When the old man moaned and began to come around, Owen forced him to drink a glass of water. He very softly said, "Open your eyes." When Rococo did he saw the knife in Owen's hand shaving strips off the edge of a stone table. Owen said "I'll bet I can do you painful harm with this before you can launch a single spell. Want to bet?" Rococo looked up and silently shook his head. Owen said "Good" as he put down the glass and drew his squirter. "I'll also bet that a few more hits from this and you won't wake up again, but we will hold that bet until after you decide to test the other. Why don't you gather your strength, center yourself and prepare to make the attempt, I'll wait. By the way, which side do you write with?" Whether it was the words or the delivery, Rococo went even paler and began to sweat. Owen simply waited.
"What...what do you want?"
"Let's wait on that until after you've proved to yourself that I mean what I say and that I'm capable of what I claim, shall we?"
"I don't want to....to bet."
"Are you sure? I'm willing to wait until you are ready."
"No...No. I don't want to <cough, cough, cough> bet."
"Ah, I see. Would you like me to lower my guard and be lulled by your condition? Would that make the bet more to your liking?"
"I'm a sick man <Cough, cough> I'm not lulling you."
"If you say so" Owen replied and continued to wait.
"Just tell me what you want and <cough> leave me alone."
"You know what I want. I feel certain that your sense of pride, if nothing else, will cause you to test my ability and resolve, but after you have had enough pain, I also believe you will give me the information that I seek. I'd prefer that we completed the testing first as it will make for fewer lies later....."
Before Owen could complete the sentence the mage launched a fire dart and Owen used the Sten blade to pin the old man's left thigh to the floor. When Rococo blacked out from the pain, Owen retrieved a first aid kit from the bathroom and after removing the blade, cleaned and dressed the old man's wounds. After seeing to his own injuries from the spell, he reapplied the stim patch and waited for the mage to regain consciousness.
"Ahhh, you bbbastard! That fraggin hurts", the mage grunted.
"Yes, it does. You may use a healing spell if you know any, but do not summon anything as I will be forced to be more severe with you."
Rococo cast a healing spell which completely reversed the damage to his leg. Owen allowed this because the more magic the mage used to repair himself the less mana would be available for offensive spells. When the mage had repaired the damage, Owen said softly, "Let's try again."
"I don't want to <cough> try again! Just tell me what you want and get out of here."
Sighing Owen said, "I think I'll stick with the left leg. Go ahead."
"Look, you sick fraggin bastard <cough, cough> I don't want any more fraggin tests. <Cough> I just want you gone! "
When Owen stare did not waiver the old man continued. "Look I've got an inoperable form of cancer. It's eating nerves and <cough, cough> organs faster than the medicos can replace them. I don't have more than a few weeks to live <cough, cough, cough> but you can torture me to death right here before I'll put my family through the shame of a fraggin trid expose before they bury me! So you can go frag yourself. I <cough> got nothing to say."
"Very well", Owen replied, "We have a few options. I can promise this data will not reach the media until you are in the ground. You can believe me and give me what I want, or I can accelerate your trip to the next life with a few more tranq/stim sessions. I'm sure your system won't like it, but in the end the drug shock may break your will before it breaks your body. Your choice."
As Rococo considered summoning a spirit, Owen flipped the Sten blade through the marble table top and retrieved it faster than was humanely possible. The mage seemed to deflate as the last of his will drained away. The now shrunken magic user began relating his tale.
Rococo had been a senior in Humanis and all of the others had been neophytes out to prove their determination and worthiness. Alamos 20K had organized the strike at Dunkelzahn through the elimination of his elf assistant, Stendahl, but wanted the hoods of Humanis to carry it out. The mage had organized the assets for the strike. Grabbing the elf had been easy as they had set up information with a known informer about a plot to dump a bio-toxin into the water supply and leave clues linking the crime to the dragon. It sounded plausible enough to bring the elf, alone, to a rendezvous where he was to gain more information. The elf was grabbed by the policlubbers. At the last minute, Alamos 20k had sent in a rep to take the picture of the execution which was given to the dragon weeks later as a warning.
The dragon had searched for 22 years without ever tracing down the team that had killed his elven friend in Paris. When the photo came to light in the will, a mild panic had set in. Gondorf, who had never been entirely reliable, was eliminated on Central's orders. When Hartley had lost his cred stick and endangered the others in the group, he was taken out and his chapter was destroyed to prevent any research back up the line. Central's death had been a shock and when Pym was found dead in his home Rococo began waiting for his visit from the grim reaper. He explained in grim detail each executioner's action but could say no more about the photographer than that he was a member of the government in FDC.
Owen had made a chip recording all of this information, but did not know how he would get out of the bungalow without catching a fireball in the back. As he considered this problem, the mage began a coughing fit which would not stop. Owen put the man's medkit on him and the device dispensed enough tranquilizer to knock the old man out. It also put in an automated call for medical assistance. Owen took advantage of the opportunity to flee.

It was dark as Itami drove the limo back into town, but Owen noticed that they had garnered the attention of a biker gang. Before he could analyze the gang's "colors" to determine who they were, the bikers introduced themselves by lobbing antitank grenades at the front end of the car. Itami Hanzo was a skillful driver and for several minutes avoided the explosives, but eventually a pair of blasts went off under the right front fender and directly under the engine compartment. The rented vehicle was going nowhere, but the gang did not open fire. They yelled for the ork to come out and face justice. After apologizing to his passenger, and asking Owen to stay in back and not to summon Lone Star, Itami began shouting back to the gang.
"I've got a passenger. He has nothing to do with this. Let me get him out of here and I will deal with you."
"Deal with this, ya fraggin lowlife scumsucker!"
"Yah word ain't worth drek, tuskah. Yah passengahs a cawpse and so ah you."
"Time to pay da piper, limp dick. Come out now an we make it quick."
Owen lowered the privacy screen which separated him from the driver and observed "They don't seem very happy with you. What's the problem?"
Hanzo seemed torn between the professional detachment he normally cultivated and his very real need for help. Finally he blurted out "These are the High Hats, a gang that I used to run with. They got into dealing beetles, uh, Better Than Life chips after a raid on another gang. They were putting together a war chest when Tanya, Willie, Wraith and me....er...appropriated the creds so we could make a new start. Wraith got modified up the yin yang and runs the shadows. Willie and Tanya set up a bodega over in beaner town. I got the rig and some mods and do the driver/protection gig. Everything's been real quiet for three years now, but the High Hats got a new Topper....leader, who musta changed the priorities 'cause I heard the bodega got robbed and firebombed and Wraith's disappeared. I guess its my turn now. I'll try to get you out somehow, sir. "
Owen said: "Forget about that now. How many are we facing, what kind of armament and equipment, any magic?"
Like a soldier, Hanzo straightened at the no-nonsense tone and began rattling off responses "No magic, say 10 in this war party, 50 in the gang, I'd say only small arms but those anti-tank grenades aren't something you pick up at a local gun shop. All of my data may be completely wrong, though, I've been away from the gang for 3 years now."
"What equipment have you got?" Owen asked
"Just the Browning Max-power and 3 spare clips. There's an old Remmington Roomsweeper in the trunk, but it might as well be on the moon for all of the good it does us in there."
Considering for a moment, Owen said "Alright. You climb back here in case they start working on that front win...." Owen was interrupted by the distinctive sound of an AK97 on full auto ripping a clip at the front windshield. He grabbed Itami's collar and jerked him into the passenger compartment, raising the privacy screen as a second clip was emptied into the front of the car. The rigger was surprised to see that his client had used the opening minutes of the confrontation to strip off his suit and reveal a black "shadow suit" underneath. Without pausing Owen jammed his Sten blade into the limo's floor and cut himself an escape hatch.
Too much to hope we'd be over a manhole cover he thought as he pried back the armor undercarriage of the limo. After a quick look he muttered "Damn, it was too much." Looking at an expectant Hanzo he told the ork " When you hit the ground start rolling. Keep rolling until you hit something and then shoot at anything that moves. I'll go the other way. Move!"
The ork jumped through the hole head first and as he landed he rolled. He was stopped by roadway barricades with their flashing amber safety lights and opened fire with the dual intentions of drawing enemy fire and keeping their heads down with his own replies.
Owen jumped through the hole and rolled very quickly in the direction opposite of Hanzo's. He had his first sling stone on it's way before the Troll with the AK97 knew what was happening. The stone took out the metahuman's right eye, and the ganger's bellow of pain and indignation drew enough attention for Owen to disappear into the darkness.
"FRAG! BLOW IT!" Yelled another voice. Immediately a Panther Autocannon began firing into the car's gas tank until a fireball mushroomed from the damaged Limo. A portion of the fireball tossed Hanzo like a rag doll into the road barriers. The section of fender that the explosion threw after him made an impression as it wrapped around his unconscious skull.
The voice in the darkness continued "I WANT A PERIMETAhhhhhkkkkk..... uhhhhnnn" The silence that followed was absolute enough to hear the "THUD.......thud.....thud..thud" as the leader's head rolled into the pool of light shed by the burning car.
"Drek...Slash, take Scopes and Bobbie Blades and find that fragger. Leo, take Rain and find the traitor's body. I want...." The crack of the slingstone striking the speaker between the eyes ended the conversation forever, as the bone fragments penetrated the frontal lobe and dropped the ganger like a bad habit.
Owen then faced off against three gangers who had been approaching his position before he had fired the last sling bullet. Slash, the norm of the group was wielding a claidheamh mor (two handed great sword commonly called a claymore). Scopes, a near sided dwarf who refused to acknowledge or correct his disability, worked with a pick-ax and Bobbie Blades was an elf who carried dozens of throwing blades.
Bobbie introduced the group by tossing four knives in rapid succession. He was amazed when Owen batted aside three of the blades, stunned when the target caught the fourth in mid-air and dead when Owen returned it to it's sender's throat. Glendower leapt away from Slash's overhead chop and before Scopes could bring his weapon into play, had pounded on the top of the dwarf's skull with his staff. Of course, among the many weak spots on the metahuman body, the skull of your average dwarf is fairly low on the list. Scopes demonstrated this with a flurry of swings as he charged Owen. To rectify his earlier mistake, Owen extended the short staff's spear blade, leaped completely over the dwarf's charge and drove the 8 inch dagger through the top of the dwarf's head. He landed and immediately dodged a pair of horizontal slashes from his human opponents' 5 foot long blade.
Slash's weapon was virtually impossible to parry. It was heavy enough that it's momentum would drive it through nearly anything it struck. The price that one paid for such devastating momentum, however, was that each attack took a while to perform and prolonged battle could be very tiring. Owen relieved the ganger of this worry when he shattered the man's elbow with a thrust from his the unbladed end of his staff, which he followed with a twirling slash with the sharp end through the norm's throat.
Owen faded away from the scene as he heard Leo and Rain proclaiming their discovery of Hanzo. For their trouble, Owen put out Leo's other eye with another sling bullet and provided Rain with an impressive piece of body piercing as he tossed a throwing spike 4 inches deep into the ganger's ear. As the last two ganger's fell the Autocannon emptied its clip, firing blindly into the darkness. This sound was immediately followed by the sound of Rice grinders (Japanese made bikes) roaring off into the distance.
As Owen approached Hanzo's unconscious body, he ignored Leo's subdued moaning, and nearly paid for this oversight with his life. The troll couldn't see, but his ears where working just fine, and he was ready to sell his life for one chance to wrap his hands around the fragger who had cost him his sight. When Owen approached, the Troll sprang like a jungle cat, both arms spread to catch it's prey. Owen thrust the spear blade into Leo's throat, and when both hand's closed on the staff, Owen drew the ninja-to, slashed through the troll's neck and stepped out of the way of the ganger's fall in moves so fluid they looked to be choreographed.
After cleaning and resheathing his weapons, Owen pulled the fender off Itami and put a stim patch on him. While he waited for it to take effect, he searched the bodies, making a pile of the weapons and ammo. When he heard Itami moan, he hurried over to his "bodyguard".
"What happened?" The ork asked muzzily
"They blew up the limo with an Autocannon," Owen said. "Leo, Rain, Slash, Scopes and Bobbie Blades along with two leader types had a pressing engagement in another plane of existence, but I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you wanted to use any of their stuff. Your other playmates went to get more friends, so I suggest we leave before they come back."
"My friend you are wasted in the driving game. With those penetrating inquisitions and that bug-eyed look of surprise, you should host a talk show on trid. I'd still like to suggest that the next order of business is to grab a handful of hardware, steal some bikes and get the puck outta here."
Owen began examining Leo's Harley Scorpion for security devices while a muttering Hanzo picked up as many blasters as he could carry and checked Slash's Yamaha Rapier. The two left the area for a safehouse that Hanzo knew, minutes before the 45 living High Hats arrived at the scene.


Sayla was worried. Owen had not shown up at the new flop. He had not called. He had not, according to Galron, picked up the message at the dead letter drop. He had not encountered the spirit that Sayla had left to guide him to the elves' new location. As she paced nervously, her companions held a quiet conference of their own.
"What's the deal with Sayla?" Barnaby asked the decker. "She's nervous as a cat over a norm we just met. Did something beyond the firefight happen while I was in the hospital?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. Unless they had a hell of a night right after the battle with the Cybers, when I wasn't there, I don't scan it either. She seems way too concerned for somebody she just met. You get any indications when you came in the next morning?"
"Well, she kissed him and called him darling, but he looked as baffled as we do. Maybe she's just fallen for the guy."
"That's gonna complicate things no end." said Galron "We still have an assignment to complete, but the only magical scanning she's going to want to do is after 'poor Owen'"
"Yeah, 'poor Owen', who saved our hoops from both the were and the cyberzombies, who is probably the single most capable norm I've ever met, and she's running around like he's 8 years old and can't find his way home from the Mall. It would be funny if she weren't so damn serious about it."
"Well, I sure as hell am not going to try to tell her she's being silly. I'm going back to searching the matrix for clues to the 'ultra-valuable asset' that the compound was guarding. Why don't you try to make her see reason?"
Barnaby's grimace told the team leader that this ploy was not going to work even before the razor said "Yeah, and why don't you kiss my hoop. I'm tough, but I ain't stupid enough to step between any woman and the object of her desires, much less an initiate grade mage. I'll take the easier job and go find a Windego I can skin alive. Seriously, I'll go check some sources, but I'm not messing with her either. Later."

Within a few moments of arriving at the "safehouse", Owen concluded exactly what kind of a house it was. Itami had guided him to a 6 story office building. After parking their bikes the pair had been stopped at the door by a pair of Troll bouncers. Both of the giants had recognized Hanzo and after he had checked his newfound arsenal, he was admitted inside. Owen had simply leaned on his stick as he passed through the portal and although the doormen had scowled, since the scanner had not indicated danger, they allowed Glendower to enter.
The entire 1st floor had been turned into a parlor, with a large number of couches and easy chairs, as well as a huge bar in the center of the room. Owen was immediately accosted by a shapely norm female with spiked blue hair, whose bikini did nothing to hide an incredible proliferation of jewelry piercing her body. Owen politely declined, but as soon as Hanzo asked him to wait while he went to make arrangements, Owen encountered a muscular dwarf female in a black leather girdle and spiked, thigh high boots. When she stalked off after his refusal, a gorgeous dark skinned elf in a white chiffon nightie sauntered up. Only Owen's keen eye for details allowed him to recognize that the elf was a transvestite with a major investment in the silicone industry. He then realized that his sneak suit and cloak were being interpreted as a costume indicating sexual tendencies. His grin at this natural mistake was short lived, however, as a norm male bodybuilder in leather harness and biker's cap signaled him to kneel. Owen took a page from his old mentor's book and with a few moves disappeared from the consciousness of most observers.
As he wandered through the parlor he overheard a conversation between a bartender and someone on the other end of a concealed phone;
"Yeah...................in the elevator..................the door's open......yeah, he's got his arm around Barbie's throat. One bad move and he'll snap her neck...................I don't know. Maybe he slotted a bad chip. It doesn't matter. He's roaring like a loon, we can't even talk to him..................just tell the boss to get down here."
Owen wandered over towards where he assumed the elevators would be. He saw that security was arranged in an open semi-circle around an open elevator door. In the car a tall, attractive Ork female in a dark, see-through teddy was on her knees facing the open doors. Behind her, with one brawny arm around her throat stood a naked dwarf who looked like every hair on his body was standing on end. As his eyes bugged out of his head he roared incoherently and bent the ork's head at a more dangerous angle. It was apparent to everyone that the whimpering woman's neck would snap soon.
Owen, standing at the back of the small crowd, began tossing and catching an ashtray off a nearby table. He added an empty wine bottle and a shot glass. When he incorporated a coffee mug and people began making space for him, one of the guards moved to clear him out of the area. The ork's scream combined with the Dwarf's roars convinced the guard to return to his place as the madman watched the impromptu juggling entertainment. Owen added his glasses to the orbiting pile and the mesmerized dwarf slackened his hold on his hostage. When the arm fell completely away, Owen, moving faster than the eye could follow, pulled his squirter from the shoulder holster under the cloak and shot the dwarf twice in the face. He managed to catch and replace his glasses before the last item from above his head bounced off the carpet. By the time the dwarf fell face first to the elevator floor, Owen was already on his way over to the bar.
"Do you have any cold bottled water?" He asked the open mouthed bartender who had witnessed the rescue.
"I've got this one, Joe" came a voice from the other end of the bar. An Ork woman in a red evening gown, complete with feather boa, sauntered over to hand Owen his plastic bottle.
"I'm Maria. This is my place. Thank you. I owe you for saving Barbie, I appreciate your handling it without disturbing the other patrons and I'm impressed by your abilities, but I really need to know how the hell you got a pistol past my scanners."
Owen smiled but said nothing.
"So ka. The strong silent type, eh. Perhaps some of my ladies can.....loosen your tongue."
Glendower held up his hands in mock surrender and after introducing himself he handed over his Goren Bee.
"Very nice. Light, high impact plastic...no metal...you loaded with DMSO and Gamma Scopolamine?"
"Elephant Tranq"
"Hmm....instant nap time" as she handed the pistol back she said "but without the metal in the grip, what do you use for conductivity to complete the smart link?"
"I don't. It's just a piece of plastic. If I don't aim it right, I just make stains on the wall."
"Wow. Now I am impressed. You just moved at light speed from juggler to triggerman and made two headshots without the aid of a link? That's scary. Want a job?"
Owen smiled and said "No, thank you. I do have a friend named Hanzo who is looking for you though...."
"Yeah, that loser. What's he want, other than Barbie?"
"I believe he's trying to arrange for a safe place to stay...."
"No sweat, babe. I owe you at least that. Now, are you gay?"
Confused by the seeming non-sequiter Owen said "Not the last time I looked. Why? Should I be?"
"Not at all, honey, I just want to know who I should send to entertain you. I already know that Itami wants Barbie."
"Wait", Owen said, "I'm not looking for a place, I've got some friends I'm staying with. It's Itami who needs a ......."
"No. No way. I owe you, sweetie, I don't owe him anything. You're a good looking hero who dashed to the rescue, he's a love sick pain in the hoop who follows Barbie around like she was the goddess of love. You stay, I put up with him. You take off, he is outta here."
"But he's a victim of a terrible....."
"Honey, think about what I do for a living. Do you honestly believe that there is a sob story that I haven't heard? Do you really think you can convince me to let him stay because I owe you?"
"Well, when you put it that way, I guess not.....But look , about that company, I really don't....."
Unfortunately, after convincing Owen that he could not win her over with Itami's sob story, the madam had gone off to handle other business and had not heard him decline the offer of company.
Owen sat at the bar as "entertainer" after entertainer offered their services. The first few were sensitive enough to see his lack of interest and leave him alone, but as word spread that he had saved Barbie, the sisterhood became less understanding of his desire for solitude. In fact, his reticence brought out the competitive nature of the ladies who actually began to line up for another crack at "the hero". By the time Owen realized that he was becoming a prize, it was already too late. Finally Joe, the barman, took pity and came over with some advice.
"Look, pal, unless you enjoy being propositioned, you really ought to make up your mind. These gals ain't gonna stop until you make a choice."
"I don't want to insult anybody, but I really have no interest in.....professional help, no matter who is paying for it. I tried to tell Maria but she was already rounding up possibilities." Owen said.
"Yeah, the boss is like that sometimes. Listen, if you don't want company just take your key and head up to your room. You're a guest here. You shouldn't feel pressured into something you don't want. If anybody asks I'll tell them that you're madly in love with a woman and have sworn to be faithful. Hookers love that drek. Of course, some of them will be more committed to bedding you next time, but at least you won't spend the entire night at the bar. Here I'll get your key."
When the barman stepped away a pair of twins bracketed Owen to offer him some real fun. Joe came back with the key and chased the blondes off. "Girls, leave the poor man alone. He's sworn to be faithful to the woman he's madly in love with, and you're breaking down his will. Don't destroy his chances to win back the woman he loves, please."
"Ooooh, is that true?" the blondes said in unison.
Owen's sigh, wistful look and nod, convinced the twins, who then escorted him to the elevator to insure he wasn't further tempted. They even offered to escort him to his room and tuck him in, but Owen begged to be left alone in the elevator, so he could compose himself for the long night's vigil.

After wedging the door closed and disabling the three video cameras, Owen inspected the room. He did not need the satin sheets and laid out a blanket on the floor. He disabled any audio bugs he could find, and assuming the luxurious room on the top floor was soundproof, he played his flute for an hour to settle his mind for a night's sleep.
At dawn the next day, Owen conducted his morning rituals and headed back to the parlor. He had decided that today would mark the conclusion of his involvement with Dunkelzahn's will one way or another. When he got downstairs he found that this "safehouse", like many casinos, did not actually close, but that the new day just meant a shift change. He found his advisor Joe was going off duty and wrote a quick note to Itami and a Thank You note for Maria. He gave both the key to his stolen High Hat bike and some cash to the barman who promised he would play mailman. When Owen asked for a secure place to store the ammo box containing the Talisman, Joe placed it in a floor safe behind the bar, promising that it would be undisturbed until Owen reclaimed it. Owen then asked for a nearby clothing store where he could get some duds to travel in as he was planning on taking a flight later that day.
"What kind of clothes you looking for?"
"I just want something less conspicuous than the sneak suit."
"Come with me", the barman said as he led Owen to an office in the basement. He opened the closet doors with a flourish to reveal a collection of costumes used by the house's clients. Some where indescribably bizarre, but Owen did find a suit which, aside from being a little too large in the waist, fit him fine. While he was trying it on Joe said "I'm sure, since you declined our more active hospitality last night, Maria would want you to have this. Do you want the limo to take you to the airport or are you going to take a cab?"
"Limos haven't been so good for me lately. I think I'll take the cab."

At the airport, Owen was relieved when his walk through the metal detectors did not set off any alarm from the various weapons he had about his person. He had used one of the identities that he had picked up in Newark to reserve a seat to FDC. He was glad he would not now have to use an alternate plan to get to the Draco Foundation offices to turn over his data on the photo.
As he sank into the first class seat Owen began reviewing how he would present the investigation and the data he had unearthed. Using a chip reader he had bought at an airport gift shop, Owen slotted chip after chip containing research, analysis and deductions. He had volumes of material from Pablo on Gondorf and Hartley, he had chips from Felix full of data on Central and he had the B&Eers data on Pym. He also had the recorded confessions from Pym and Rococo. He planned his description of the investigation, with special attention to details so as not to expose or compromise the people who had helped him. He also wanted to avoid discussion of Central's death as connection with the compound would only complicate his life. He debated what he should say about the photographer from Alamos 20K, but decided that his conclusions and speculations on that subject were technically outside of the mandate of the Dragon's bequest. He would answer questions that were posed, but would not introduce the subject unasked. When he had a complete plan of what he would say and how he would say it, Owen used the remaining minutes of the flight to think about what rewards he might distribute to those who had aided him.

Sayla was making life miserable for her companions. She had gotten little sleep and was tense and irritable as her worry over Owen became overwhelming. The rational side of her brain recognized that she was becoming a bitch over a norm she had just met. Ok, He's attractive, strong, capable and even has a sense of humor, but your worry is way out of proportion. You just met the man, you fool. How can you be jumpy as a cat because you are not with somebody you just met? It doesn't make sense. Her emotional side just knew that it felt wrong being away from Owen, that every time she thought something bad might happen to him, she felt sick and that she would feel better when she could see him. If she had brought her considerable magic abilities into the self examination she would have recognized the Talisman's influence continuing to grow despite being removed from the pernicious item. All Barnaby and Galron knew was that they were not going to let the norm get away from them again until the assignment was complete and they didn't have to deal with Sayla. Both agreed "Love stinks".

The Draco Foundation might be new, but whoever had set up their security had been an old hand. After landing in the Dee Cee sprawl, Owen had headed over to the new corporation's headquarters. After passing through a weapon scanner in the foyer, Owen explained what he wanted and was given to a fresh faced "screener". When he had laid out enough material for the youngster to realize that he might have a legitimate claim, he was escorted through a more elaborate scanner to a more senior evaluator. By the time he had convinced this functionary of his legitimacy, he had surrendered his squirter and staff. Owen realized that each successive test would require greater scanning, so checked all weapons at this stage.
Owen was then passed on to one of Ms. Daviar's deputies. He began again to establish the validity of his claim when the deputy realized that this was something Ms. Daviar herself would need to look at. After passing through a quantum interference device, which, much to security's annoyance, discovered absolutely no weapons, a voice shouted out "Quicksilver, what the hell are you doing here?"
Owen turned to see a plain looking norm female with multiple data jacks standing in the hall with hands on hips. "Oh, I thought you were someone else," she said.
When Owen smiled and said "Sorry. My name's Owen Glendower. Who is it I remind you of?" The woman ignored his offered hand and muttered to herself "Same size, same body type, moves the same way, same hair, eyes are a little different, looks younger." She turned back up the hall, only to spin abruptly and demand "How old are you? Do you have any brothers?"
Owen moved for his second pass through the scanners as though he had not heard. "Hey! I asked you how old you are. Didn't you hear me?"
Owen turned and said without emotion: "Excuse me. I know I should respond to rude behavior with courtesy, but I've had about enough. I've introduced myself and tried to be pleasant. You ignored my overtures, spoken of me as though I were a specimen for study and then demanded more data. I heard you quite clearly, but in the words of an ancient song "Who the fuck are you?"
The immediate tension from security told Owen that whoever this woman was, no-one responded to her this abruptly. Great! This will help your claim. Piss off the high muckety-mucks before you ask them to release a fortune to you. Excellent strategy, drekhead. But another said Screw that, she wants respect, let her show some. At least you're not playing Milton Milksop with this female.
Before either security or the woman could say anything, a voice from behind him said "Ryan?"
Owen turned to see a beautiful elf woman with lustrous dark hair. She was tall and shapely and was wearing an expensive business suit. Her green eyes flashed as she realized that the man standing in front of her was not her lover Ryan Mercury. She covered the surprise with a smile and immediately offered her hand.
"I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else. My name is Nadja Daviar."
As Owen shook hands he said "Owen Glendower, ma'am. A pleasure to meet you. Apparently, I wore the wrong body today as several people have misidentified me."
"Oh, I wouldn't call it the wrong body" called out the plain female behind him. "Nadja, this is the one with the data on the photo we have to look at. He's also young enough to not take any drek, but he does know the music of Townsend. He does resemble Quicksilver doesn't he?"
"My abrupt associate is Jane, Mr. Glendower," said Ms. Daviar. "If you'll step this way, I believe you have some information for us."

Four hours later Owen had completed his presentation and the grilling by the Draco Foundation authorities. He knew that they were under observation and that his statements were being checked by teams of deckers almost as soon as he made them. Ms. Daviar herself asked Owen to wait in the room and offered him refreshments.
"We need to confirm these details and it may take some time. We'd appreciate it if you would wait here in the event we have any questions about the details. Can I get you anything?"
"Well, if I promise not to blow up the building with it, do you think I might have my flute back?"
"Of course. I'll have it sent in to you."
Owen found that despite his paranoia screaming that he was under constant observation, the fact that he was closing out his investigation made him comfortable enough to slip into a meditative state. After his internal clock told him he had been meditating for an hour, he got up and retrieved his flute. He played the flute for another hour before there was a knock at the door.
"Come in" he said.
Nadja Daviar stood at the door. "We're not done yet, but I was wondering if I might come in and listen to you play."
"Of course, please."
Owen played a selection of tunes and styles to entertain the gorgeous elf woman. After an hour he stopped to get a drink of water.
"You really have quite a talent, you know. It's breathtaking" Nadja said.
"Literally true", responded Owen with a grin and a gesture at the flute, "I don't usually play for an audience, but it helps me to maintain my pose of nonchalance."
"You shouldn't minimize it. You really have quite a gift."
"Thank you for your generosity, but I have to believe that you wanted to talk about something else. I mean, I can't picture one of the power players on the planet having nothing to do with her day but sit around and listen to me push wind through a piece of bamboo. What can I do for you?"
"Well, this has nothing to do with the foundation or your claim, its personal. The man you have such an uncanny resemblance to is, well, rather close to me. I have all sorts of questions about your background and family. You seem to have so much in common, I'd like to talk about it."
"I feel bad about inviting your questions only to turn them away unanswered, but I'm really uncomfortable revealing anything about my past. I'm sorry if that sounds rude, I assure you its not intended to be, but I'd rather not talk about myself. Sorry"
At that moment, another knock sounded at the door and a team of wage slaves whose "lean and hungry look" proclaimed them to be lawyers entered the room. After everyone was seated at the conference table (as before, foundation team on one side, Owen on the other) the white hared elder statesman cleared his throat and began.
"In the matter of your claim against the estate of Dunkelzahn......"
Nadja interrupted "Clyde, if Mr. Glendower will not stipulate to the legalese, you can have him sign it later. Just tell him what he's won."
"Hmph...ahem....yes, well providing you can supply us with some satisfactory information for liability purposes, the Draco foundation grants your claim. You have supplied us with a great deal of verifiable material on all particulars of your claim, so if we can just get some minor items cleared up, your System Identification Number for tax purposes, your affidavit that no laws were broken in making your claim......"
"Excuse me, sir," interrupted Owen. "I don't have a SIN and I don't intend to sign any affidavits about my investigation."
The ensuing hubbub was punctuated by the fish-out-of-water gasps of Clyde. A pinch faced norm female with a shaved head and a platinum datajack chimed in "Sir, we have moved very quickly, perhaps even precipitously, in recognizing your claim, you can not expect the foundation to put itself at risk of charges of collusion in illegal acts."
"Aren't you, as a multinational corporation, subject to the laws of your charter and the corporate court rather than those of your present location? "
"Yes," drawled a cadaverous male elf with green hair which cascaded to his waste, "But the same can certainly not be said of you. We must, therefore, make certain that the foundation is not charged as an accomplice in your breaking any laws."
"I see", responded Owen, "but without a SIN, I don't see how you can determine which laws I am bound by. I am not granted any of the rights and responsibilities entailed by citizenship. Since you were unaware of my activities I cannot be viewed as your agent. Are you asking if I have violated your laws? You would be able to determine that more readily than I. Are you asking if I have violated laws which do not bind you? Laws of another nation? How can you accrue liability from laws which do not apply to you? Where would such liability be charged? Are you positing that another jurisdiction takes precedence over your own?"
Both Jane and Nadja stole glances at each other and hid their glee as the lawyers were nettled. Owen had asked enough questions and introduced enough complicated concepts that there was no way for a team of professional debaters to agree. The noise from the individual arguments over portions of Owen's challenge kept rising to a crescendo. Nadja knew she would have to introduce some sanity, but as she examined plans for doing that, Owen caught everyone's attention with a blast on his flute.
"Ladies and gentlemen, forgive my presumption, but my time is not unlimited. The will promises the access codes to the Dragon's Paris property to whomever can find out who did what in the photo. It does not say get the who, what, where, when, why, how, AND have a SIN, AND don't violate any statutes, AND say 'mother may I'. I did what Dunkelzahn wanted done. You've checked and you agree. Pay me."
Nadja and Jane simultaneously began clapping. Five minutes later, over the most strenuous objections it is possible for a team of lawyers to make, Owen left the Draco Foundation with his weapons and the access codes. His quest was done.

Galron and Barnaby began to put some very disturbing facts together. With the departure of the Compound's after-action team, there were indicators that an international investigation company had been assigned to uncover facts that Dr. Chong's group had initially been after. This was unsettling on several levels. First, it meant that Ferris Ironbeard's initial data may have been inaccurate. Perhaps there was no Compound ultra-valuable asset to be protected, perhaps there was a prize, a person or thing that the compound sought. If this were true it meant either Ferris had misled the Paladins, or he had been misled by his source. Neither possibility was pleasant.
Second, it meant that the Paladins might be in a race with the compound to find and capture......something. Without knowing what they were looking for, it was virtually impossible to conduct a successful search. Third, it meant that when Intertech, the investigation company, found what they were seeking, they would report to a pick-up team. This meant that the compound had mobilized additional assets to the area. The Paladins could only hope that their opponents had not escalated their support after the elimination of the Cybers.
Add to these unpleasant possibilities, the fact that their own team had lost Tristan and Bright Moon, and that Sayla was acting like a love sick schoolgirl, that they were trying to match resources with a company which specialized in investigation and the situation was indeed grim. The only bright spot, the unexpected aid of the Phys ad Glendower, also looked like something they could not rely on because their ally had dropped off the face of the earth. As their investigation brought these facts into starker and starker focus, their new store front flop became a grimmer and grimmer place.

After catching a late flight out of Dee Cee, Owen took a cab to the "safehouse". When he arrived and the bouncers waved him in, he balked, asking instead if he could see Maria on the porch. The madam was sent for and arrived within minutes.
"What's the problem Julius?" she asked the Troll doorman as she stepped onto the porch.
"Dis guy wantsa talk ta ya, boss."
"Owen!" she exclaimed as Glendower stepped out of the shadows, "Honey, what are you doin' out here. C'mon in."
"Thank you, Maria", Owen responded, "But I wanted to make some arrangements before I entered your place. I'm returning the suit I borrowed, but I am armed as I was yesterday. I thought I owed it to you to bring this to your attention before I presumed on your hospitality. I would like to arrange for a room again, without company, please. I'll be out of your hair in the morning."
"You see boys," Maria responded to the doormen "There are still gentlemen left in the world. Sweetie," she said to Owen, "you are always welcome here. You are allowed to come in heeled, keep the suit, do whatever, or whoever you like. Your creds no good here. Some of my girls were just asking about you. Are you sure you don't want company?"
"Quite sure, ma'am. You see I've sworn this oath to the woman I love...."
"Drek!" the madam interrupted, "Who gave you that chestnut? Joe? Did he actually convince you that anyone would buy that line? Yeesh, you may be fast with that hogleg, but you're a babe in the woods when it comes to women. C'mon I'll make sure you get to your room with your virtue intact."

The next day Owen appeared at the Nationsbank Central Security Depository and removed several items from his box. He went to Federal United Express Package Services office and shipped some items to an address in Newark. He pulled all of the program/utility chips, (persona, sleaze, combat, etc.) from Pym's Fairlight to ship to the B&Eers. The rich man's playthings, the tremendously expensive, SOTA programs would now be in the hands of deckers who needed them for more than a diversion. He also sent Goldie a white gold tennis bracelet set with diamonds. He enclosed some instructions and payment for Gom and sincere letters of thanks to both Goldie and the B&E gang.
Owen's next stop was the public library where he recounted much of his tale to Mr. Wilson. When the Librarian realized that Owen was not staying, but had come specifically to fulfill his earlier promise, the old man was moved. After bidding Mr. Wilson farewell, Owen crossed the street to the park. He took Pablo to a secluded table away from the other players, briefly recounted the details of his quest and gave the professor the Fairlight Excalibur. Pablo was stunned by the generosity of the act.
"No, no, no, my friend. I could not possibly take it. This device could be sold anywhere for a fortune. You must not give it away simply because you do not deck......."
"Professor, this is payment for services rendered. The chips that deckers use for break-ins have all been removed. You will find this a useful tool in your research and I owe you so much for giving my quest both shape and targets. You will insult me greatly if you refuse my payment because it will be the same as saying that I am too foolish to know the value of a partner. Please. I insist."
A gentlemen of the old school, Pablo accepted the deck in the end. His eyes glowed like a child at Christmas as he ran his hands over the deck. Owen disappeared as the professor was examining his prize.
Owen's next stop was in the warehouse district. He took a cab to the area and stood outside a high metal fence. After a moment the drones Willy and Nilly showed up to escort him through the mine field.
"KID!" shouted Goren as he wiped his hands on an oily rag. Owen expected a handshake but was swept up in a bear hug. "Great to see ya, kid! How ya doin?" Goren mouthed around his ever present cigar butt. As he shouted for his partner, Owen shocked the weaponsmith by presenting him with a carved mahogany case containing Pym's collection of Cuban cigars. The Ork's eyes bugged out as he studied the hand rolled H.Upmanns. Owen's eyes also bugged out as he was swept up in BeBop's crushing embrace.
"Hot stuff!!" exclaimed the Dwarf woman, "You've finally come home. Damn, it's good to see you! How are you feeling?"
"Smaller" Owen grunted out to suggest the dwarf stop squeezing. BeBop realized her mistake and set Owen back on his feet. Over a hastily arranged lunch, Owen told his "minders" the story of his quest. When he was finished he gave BeBop the fire-opal and platinum necklace. She was stunned by the beauty of the piece and mumbled her thanks as she again tried to compact Owen's form with a squeeze. He then presented both gunmakers with Pym's matched set of needlers. Both admired the handmade blasters and in return presented Owen with an autographed version of the first production model Goren Bee.
"Thank you, guys. For everything." said Owen. "Can I get some reloads for the squirter and can you arrange for me to meet Felix? I'd like to bring her up to speed before I leave town."
"Leave town?" asked BeBop, "Hot stuff, you just got here! Why do you have to leave town?"
"Well, I'd like to see the Paris property, after all I've gone through trying to get it. I didn't say I wouldn't be back, just that I'd like to see it and I'd really feel better if I closed the books here, before I open anything else. Can you guys set up the meet?"
"Of course, Kid. We'll set it up right away. I'm sure Felix would love to see you." said Goren. "As to the reloads I actually got some Elephant tranq against your coming back here. Whether Paris becomes your home or not, you know you're always welcome here."
"Thanks, Goren......."
"Whadaya mean Paris becomes his home?" BeBop interrupted. "His home's here. He said he'd be back, he's just goin for a look. He doesn't want to live in a foreign country where they don't even speak English, do you?" she asked turning back to Owen.
"Zoot alors! Non! Mon petite chou-chou" Owen exclaimed in response. He then grinned and told BeBop, "No, I'll be back. I just want a look."

Owen expected that the meeting with Felix would be as quick and happy as his preceding meetings. When the fixers' stretch limo pulled up outside Goren and BeBop's warehouse, the scowl on the troll's face and the size of the security contingent that accompanied her car indicated that something was amiss.
Felix got right down to cases. "Babe, you're still very hot"
"Why, thank you, Felix. That's very flattering. I don't think the suit does much for me but......"
"Ok, smartass, that's not what I meant and you know it. Do you realize that the matrix has been burning with stuff about you? Intertech is combing the plex for you, there's some nova hot decker rippin through everybody's files for you, at least 3 fixers are trying to find you for work....."
"Wait, wait. Can we take this one step at a time? Oh, before I forget, this is for you as a thank you for your help and an apology for my treating you rudely." Owen handed her a felt box containing a cameo and a dozen data chips. "The stuff on those chips could do some major hurt to Humanis. The pin reminded me of you. Now, what's this about Intertech?"
Felix's eyes, which had lit up with the profit potential at the mention of the data chips, were riveted on the cameo. Her eyes began to tear as she studied the ivory profile. When she hurriedly excused herself, Jeanie came over and with shinning eyes kissed Owen on the cheek. "That was very sweet. She doesn't let anybody see that side of her, but you touched her. Thank you."
When Felix came back she began as though she had not been interrupted "Intertech is, for want of a better phrase a huge detective agency. They are virtually unstoppable on a specific target because they just keep asking questions until somebody cracks. They are looking for you for some out of town client. The decker who is after you is, I don't know, he's going about the search backwards. He's searching for what another group, which had been after you, but now has disappeared, found out when they were looking. The slot's pretty good, but it's like he doesn't even know who he's looking for. When he figures it out though, you're in trouble because this guy is good. It's also just a matter of time before he twigs to Intertech's search, and they do know who they are looking for. The fixers who are looking for you have put together a huge bunch of rumors and innuendo which make you look like superman, but that's the way it goes sometimes. You're the flavor of the month. Hopefully, that will blow over in time. Now, what have you been up to?"
After swearing Felix to silence Owen gave her a version of what had happened since last he saw her. She was impressed with his work, but crestfallen at the idea that he would be based in Paris. Owen assured her that he would be back after he had seen the property. Felix then began to pitch all the things she could do for him if only he would agree to take an occasional assignment from her. Owen refused, but told her that if she personally were in trouble and needed his help she could call on him. Seeing this as a foot in the door which might eventually mean he would work for her, Felix left happy.

Owen wondered if the "hot decker" who was tracing him was Galron. It was a strange thought, one without any supporting evidence, but in one of those intuitive leaps that sometimes happen, Owen knew that he had stumbled on the truth. He knew that the elves had a mission which they had mentioned as being nearly complete. Could the mission be to trace him? Who might they be working for? The compound ? Enemies of the compound? Owen's paranoia dictated that he change his plans about returning to the elves. And who was the out of town client who had hired Intertech? Could that be the compound?
In the confusing whirl of unknowns Owen reclaimed his bike and rode to Madame Magdelena's. The old woman was the best guide he could think of to help unravel the confusing knot he had found, and he had promised he would return when he had deciphered the riddle of the initials.
"OWEN!" Seka yelled as he came through the front door of Madame Magdelena's shop. Glendower then found his arms full of gorgeous female. Seka seemed determined to outdo the kiss that Katya had given him when he had left on the adventure. After several minutes the elf woman broke away and, taking his hand led him to Madame's sitting room. Fortunately, she was not interested in conversation as Owen was trying to catch his breath. As he sat in his usual chair, his mind was a jumble over the reception he had gotten from the beautiful elf. Seka went out to fetch Madame and almost immediately Katya entered. Her breathy "Owen" was the only word she spoke before seating herself in Owen's lap and attempting to outdo Seka's kiss. She was still at it when Tabatha padded in and Meeoowwed in annoyance that her usual seat in Owen's lap was occupied. In fact, it was not until Madame Magdelena sounded her "Ahem" that Katya slowly broke off the deep kiss and rose from her seat. She continued looking deeply into Owen's eyes and ran her hand up his arm and along his shoulder as she gradually left the room.
Both Tabatha and Madame Magdelena attempted for the next several seconds to make Owen focus on the present. When the cat extended her claw into Owen's finger, he snapped out of his reverie and apologized for his inattention. His joy at the old woman's company and some thorough scratching behind Tabatha's ears mollified the two females.
"Well, you rogue, have you solved the riddle, or did you just return to sample the mouthwash of my assistants?" Owen's blush and stammered apology charmed the old woman.
"Enough, enough. Let us have some tea and you can calm down."
Seka and Katya brought in the service, but seemed preoccupied with catching Owen's eye. For his part, Owen concentrated entirely on scratching and petting Tabatha as his only defense against the two women. Madame M. noted both behaviors with some amusement, but eventually signaled her assistants to leave them in peace. The two enjoyed the tea in silence and Owen actually closed his eyes to concentrate on his narrative when the two women retrieved the tea service.
For the next two hours Owen gave a detailed account of his adventure. Unlike his previous experience with the great lady, this time she affected total innocence as he told his tale. Only later, when she questioned him about details of the story, did she give any indication that she had information from other sources. When his story was complete, Owen asked Madame M. for help. He reviewed his confusion over Intertech's involvement and the possibility that his elven friends were actually seeking him.
"My dear, you've really done a magnificent job with the initial riddle. I admit I am quite impressed with you. So much so, that I don't think it's really necessary to hold your hand through your current puzzle. I would suggest that if one imagined a group concerned with you, exclusive of your involvement with the dragon's photo, and then posited a second group opposed to the first, many seeming contradictions would disappear."
Owen thought furiously Two groups, the compound and the anti-compound. Compound called in by Central, anti-compound becomes interested. Compound spike team dies....what then? Clean up team arrives and....searches for target? Not their job, but they are on the scene and functions are not completely dissimilar. Ok if I'm running things I leave them in place and what? Send in another spike team for when the target is discovered. OK, now anti-compound also sends in a team, to disrupt opponent, prevent compound reaching its goal. Logical, but who is who. Wolf was a single. Compound and anti-compound must have better resources than to give everything to a single, so mark him as a third team. Cybers? They might be from the compound, they're expensive as hell, very deadly, which makes the elves anti-compound. But how does the wolf fit? Anti-compound has other problems? Wolf exposes anti-compound forces to compound? The Cybers did attack right after the wolf struck.
OK two, no three problems. Compound: what do they do next? Intertech is working for out of town source Compound/anti-compound or Wolf. Eliminate anti-compound assuming Galron is the decker looking for me. Not logical, but feels true. Compound or wolf? Compound cleanup crew failed to find me because I was out of town. If I'm in charge I bring them home and call in some pros to do the research. And I send in another spike team. One that cannot fail. DREK! Where was I? Oh yeah, Wolf? Intertech might be working for wolf's team, but Madame suggested that two teams explains the contradictions. Leave wolf for the time being.....Problem two: Anti-compound. Why not tell me if you are my ally? They don't know I'm who they're looking for. The enemy of my enemy is my friend BUT can I afford to assume that everything is straightforward? No. Deal with the elves but watch your back at all times. Allies may have plans that make them deadlier than enemies. Ok, Problem three: what the hell is the deal with Seka and Katya? One or the other would be great, fantastic, wow, but this isn't good at all. They're way too aggressive, competitive. Any choice I make is gonna put my hoop in a sling with the other. I should have seen this coming from that kiss in the tunnels. Frag. Well, at least they stopped bitching about the cloak....
Owen realized that the old woman was waiting for him to come out of his reverie. He sat up and said "Thank you very much Madame. You have again been of invaluable help in supplying me with guidance. I can't hope to repay you but I would like to give you a small token of my appreciation. Perhaps you can find a use for it." Owen pulled out the 1/2 pound block or orichalcum and gave it to the great lady.
"Dear boy, there's no need...."
"Please Madame, accept this token of appreciation from one who would not have survived without your advice."
"Oh, you are a silver tongued devil, aren't you. Very well. I will accept your gift if you promise to come see me again." Noticing Owen's shift and glance at the room that her assistants had taken the tea service into she said "Yes, I know it will not be as comfortable as it once was, because you now must walk the tightrope between two very competitive women, but I am to old to be denied the pleasure of your visits just because two young women have decided to act as though you were a desireable male. So, make an old lady happy and promise to visit me again soon."
"Of course, Madame. I'm flattered by your attention. But perhaps you could give your assistants these gifts.......
"No, you don't, you rascal." the old woman interrupted. "You're not putting me in that position. If you want to give women gifts, lead them on, encourage their competition....."
"Madame M. Honestly, I didn't know....I....should I not give them these gifts?"
"No, No , No. Don't take the teasing of an old woman so seriously. Teasing the young is one of the few joys left to the very old. I suppose you want some support while you make your presentation..." the earnest nod she got in response prompted her to say "Coward" and then called in her assistants.
"Ladies," Owen began "I will be leaving town for a time and wanted you to have these to remember me until I return." Being very careful to hand both boxes to the women simultaneously he gave Seka a set of ruby earrings and Katya a set of emerald earrings. When the women attempted to simultaneously show their appreciation, Madame M. stepped in and said
"One at a time, ladies, and try to remember that you are ladies. Katya give Owen a kiss and a hug, and try to exercise some restraint.... That's enough. Now Seka, see if you can express your gratitude without scandalizing an old woman....Thank you very much. Now I don't suppose the boy will leave here in one piece unless I escort him out myself. Honestly! I wonder about you children. Come along Owen."


Owen rode his bike back to the studio where he had fought the Cybers. He put aside all thoughts of Seka and Katya, who had both slipped him notes as they had thanked him. I've got to figure that Intertech is after me and that there is another team from the compound in the area. On top of that I'm walking in on some allies who may not really be allies, in that I have no idea what these elves really want. I've also got the potential wildcards of a fixer doing what Felix did and sending a team after me to convince me to work for him or her. More than enough danger without dealing with the complications of two women simultaneously. he thought. As he parked the bike and activated the security system, he powered down the voltage for the first unauthorized contact with the bike to stun level. After that it would electrocute bike thieves as originally designed. The refinement was one that Goren had come up with while watching the bike in Owen's absence. Owen had talked about the danger the bike posed to someone who accidentally made contact with it and Goren had dreamed up a warning shot before the bike killed anybody. Glendower now felt more at ease that his bike would still be there when he got back without cacking someone who touched it accidentally.
When he climbed the stairs he found a cryptic note in Japanese pinned to the door. He was immediately on his guard and spent the next 20 minutes coming up with possible ways the note might be decoded. The most likely seemed to be an address which Owen memorized. He then braced himself for trouble and used his staff to rap on the door.
As Owen was decoding the note, the Intertech agents who had the studio, and indeed the entire area under surveillance, attempted to slip a homing beacon on Owen's bike. The first attempt blasted both the device and it's planter 3 feet in the air. A pair of agents materialized from the shadows to drag the unconscious techie out of sight, while a third agent used an airgun to splatter a blob of brown liquid on the bike's kickstand. The splatter may have looked like mud, but contained a unique radiation trace that would allow the Intertech van to follow the bike from a distance as great as a mile. After firing the capsule the agent faded back into his original surveillance position and notified the principal that the subject had been located.
Owen received no answer and pushed open the door. The room was empty except for a flitting burst of light which danced around Owen several times before zipping through a wall. 20 seconds later the performance was repeated. After the fourth repetition of the performance, Owen turned and started down the stairs. The light stopped in front of Owen as though to block him and he assumed an engarde position with his staff. The light immediately retreated and Owen continued down the stairs. The light now buzzed Owen at such dizzying speed that he got an impression of frustration. Because his combat sense was now functioning fully, as he stepped back into the street, Owen sensed the observers who were hidden in various areas.
Damn, I missed all of these suckers earlier. What was I thinking of? I've stepped in it now. If I head away from the right address, not only do I lead them towards Goren and BeBop's place but my little guide will go crazy. If I follow the light, they are going to know right where my elven allies are and they'll give that data to the compound's newest spike team. DREK! Hobson's choice...... But, what if I don't use the bike? They've probably got tracers on it in spite of the security system. I would in their place. Ok, assume it's compromised. Taxi, even limo is not going to evade these guys and walking's too slow......walking.....wait a minute....My car's a dozen blocks from here and I'd bet they don't know about that. How do I get there without the tail or my little guide?
Owen stepped back into the building and sat on the floor. He focused his entire will on a single thought. Tell Sayla I'm Coming. Tell Sayla I'm Coming. TELL SAYLA I'M COMING After 5 minutes of intense concentration on this single message Owen shouted "NOW" and the light zipped away at warp speed.
I hope to hell that Sayla left that thing, Owen thought, If not I may have just compromised the elves anyway....I also hope that the thing got the message....I never now with magic drek...Now to disappear.
Owen concentrated on the training in invisibility that he had gained at the compound. He stopped broadcasting thoughts, altered his breathing and movement rhythms and began blending with shadows. When some residents left the building, he slipped among them and out of the building. None of Intertech's observers, concentrating on the door, saw the tall cloaked human as he slipped out, in fact no-one but the master who taught him the technique could have seen Owen, but that was precisely who did.

Sayla was shocked when the simple spirit she had left to guide Owen to her came rushing in screaming "Tell Sayla I'm Coming, Tell Sayla I'm Coming. She called to Flick to calm it, as she tried to make sense of the spirit's message, but it just kept repeating "Tell Sayla I'm Coming". After a few minutes consideration she called Barnaby and Galron into the room. She explained that the spirit she had ordered guide Owen to her had returned with the message "Tell Sayla I'm Coming" and was incapable of relaying anything more. She then released the damaged magical being.
Barnaby suggested, "If Owen needed to dismiss the thing, would he have been able to do it?"
"No, but why would he need to dismiss Flick? It was just supposed to guide him to me."
Galron said, "Well, it sounds like he reprogrammed it so he could move around without it. Is that possible?"
Sayla responded "No, it shouldn't be. A summoned being takes its instruction from the summoner. I should be the only one who can 'program' Flick to do anything.
"I don't know, Sayla," responded Galron, "It sounds to me like your norm...excuse me, Mr. Glendower, sent the spirit back to you to let you know he was coming. Maybe he doesn't like the attention of magical summonings. If it is from him than you should get ready, and if it's not, we better be prepared for some kind of attack.
Sayla ignored the second part of Galron's warning and chased the males out of her room so she could prepare for Owen's arrival. Again, part of her mind rejected the adolescent school girl nervousness as beneath someone of her experience, while another part screamed "You look frightful! There are bags under your eyes, your skin looks gray, your hair is a mess. Fix it before he sees you like this!!"

Twenty minutes later Owen tapped on the door of the boarded up storefront. Barnaby opened up to let him in. The two warriors exchanged the curt nods that professionals extend to each other. An acknowledgment that said "Good to see you and I'm glad I don't have to kill you, yet." Nothing more was needed.
Galron, who was putting more and more pieces of the puzzle together on who precisely his team had been sent to get, was also restrained in his greeting. He had a growing suspicion that the Phys ad who had saved his team twice might be the "ultra-valuable asset" of the compound's. If he was, the team leader knew he had a slew of tough questions to consider. If Owen turned out to be the target, what should he do? They had been misled, either by Ferris or by the Compound about the "protection team". He had been there when the Cybers had attacked Owen, which they wouldn't have done if they were trying to protect him. Similarly, Owen would not have killed his own very expensive guards. Adding to this confusion, one of the members of his team had a mad crush on the norm, which would mean that a consensus on what to do would be impossible. As Galron continued to sort out the complications, Sayla saw Owen and rushed across the room into his arms.
Now, what? Owen thought. Maybe I should wear this suit more often. Women keep throwing themselves at me. Since when did I become irresistible? He started to move back from the embrace, but Sayla would not let him disengage. She clung to him as though she feared drowning. He looked over at Barnaby with a raised eyebrow to say "what is this all about?" but the Samurai mimicked the shrug he had received days ago which said "Don't ask me". Finally, Owen turned to look Sayla in the eye and the expression on her face scared the hell out of him. She looked like she was in the arms of her true love, and although Owen had fantasies along those lines, without the ground work that look instilled terror. How? His mind screamed, How the hell did she get to that look? I only met her a couple of days ago and I haven't even been around. It's like she's dreamt the whole.....DREAMT?! Damn! The Fraggin Talisman! Oh, drek.
"Sayla!" he shouted. "Sayla, listen to me!" He yelled as he grabbed her shoulders and shook her. "You've been enspelled, do you hear me? You don't love me, you don't even know me. Think, woman! We only met a few days ago. The talisman is affecting you. Use your magic to examine yourself."
Galron and Barnaby came rushing over when their teammate started getting thrown around. Both immediately recognized the danger Owen was describing and cursed themselves for not having reasoned out the cause of her lightspeed infatuation. Both had been too willing to accept and trivialize a girlish crush to see how out of proportion her reaction to Owen had been.
Sayla, for her part, was battling through a fog to even recognize what Owen was saying. It had felt so good, so right to be in his arms that it took time for her to even hear him. Why is he shouting? she thought He's so strong and forceful, look at his eyes flash! .....Use my magic? Examine myself?
Sayla Starseeker obeyed Owen's orders. As soon as she did she found her spirit was enmeshed in a dark growth. The root had begun deep within her but the magic had warped and corrupted the original blossom and created a tangled mass that was threatening her very soul. She looked at it critically and recognized that her attraction for Owen had been twisted by the talisman's spell. He seemed to have some good qualities, things that she would look for in a mate, but she really didn't know him. There hadn't been time to learn enough yet. She had taken a few acts and with the talisman guiding the way, had created a dream lover. She didn't even know how he felt about her. Gods! What was she thinking? The harsh light of reason destroyed the talisman's spell, but before she returned to herself a secret voice asked "Would it have been so bad?" and before she could answer, heard "How many men would have seen that before your soul was lost? Of those who could see, how many would have spoken up and not taken advantage of a woman in that state?"
When Sayla came back to herself she hugged Owen fiercely. She felt him tense up as he believed he was already too late. Before he could do anything drastic she gave him a quick peck on the cheek and let him go. She stepped back and with clear eyes and a firm voice she said "Thank you. That's the third time you've saved my life, hero. You were right!"
The relief evident in all three males was so exaggerated it was comical, but was short lived as a knock sounded at the door. Everyone prepared for an attack, but when Barnaby opened the door they saw an utterly forgettable male in a cloak followed by a gorgeous Asian female.
Sayla happened to glance at Owen as the door opened and noted with alarm as the color drained from his face. When the female announced that they had business with someone here and asked if they could come in she saw Owen center himself and bow profoundly to the male. She noted Barnaby's and Galron's reaction to the female but Owen seemed to be completely focused on the bland man in the cape.
"Gray, darling. It's been such a long time" cooed the female.
"Anna" acknowledged Owen curtly.
"Darling, why are you so cold? There was a time when you had so much to say to me. Surely, you have not forgotten all we meant to each other? But I'm being rude. Why don't you introduce us to your little friends so we can all get acquainted?"
Owen turned to the man in the cloak who said softly "We have a message."
Owen bowed and asked the paladins to join him at the other end of the room. "I think you suspect what this is all about." he said to Galron. "Please do not interfere. I cannot protect you from these people, and I cannot protect them from you, but if you interact with them here and now there will be fatalities. I swear, if I exist when this is done I will return here and we will resolve what remains between us, but now I must deal with these people alone."
Galron considered for a moment and then nodded and herded Barnaby and Sayla into the other room. Owen returned to his mentor and one time fianc�.
"Aw, aren't we going to play with the elves?" asked Anna "I always love playing with elves, and the female seemed possessive of you. Would she appreciate a little girl chat? I could....."
The look in Owen's eyes stopped Anna's words in her throat. She recognized that her personal history with Gray and his appreciation of the privilege of heralds notwithstanding, she was within seconds of death. Her poise and style evaporated as she stared at the floor. Chandler spoke up. "My lord says that you are overdue from your last assignment. He wonders at this apparent dereliction of duty and wishes an explanation."
"I am no longer his vassal."
"You don't get to decide that", said Anna from behind Chandler's shoulder. "You can't just....."
Another look from Owen caused her to again swallow her words and He turned to Chandler and said "Gray died on his last assignment. I am not that man. I owe your lord no fealty."
Chandler showed the briefest flash of smile and then resumed his role as messenger. "Interesting, but I observed you evade observation using techniques that Gray was taught in order to serve my lord. If you would use that which belongs to my lord, you must pay for it."
"How can I pay one who accepts only the coin of service that I cannot give?"
"A problem, certainly, but payment must be made."
"Sadly, we would merely be the first of an endless line of vassals who would seek restitution. My lord will not permit himself to be robbed. Your abilities are quite exceptional and the list of retainers who have failed to resolve this issue is already quite impressive, but it is not realistic to believe that you will always succeed. Eventually, my lord's subjects will prevail. Balance will be regained. Is this the course of action you choose?"
"Are there any other choices?"
"Yes. One. You may accompany us to my Lord. He will offer you safe conduct, and will hear your case himself. Is this the course you choose?
"Yes." responded Owen "May I gather some items before we depart?"
"We will pick them up on the way." Chandler said and after returning Owen's bow, expelled a huge breath of air. He turned to Owen, grinned and stuck out his hand, signaling that he was no longer an emissary, but simply a teacher with a favorite former student. "You handled that very well, son. Thank you for moving the elves out of the picture without bloodshed. I'm glad we didn't come to blows." After shaking his hand and looking in Owen's face for a moment he added "You found it, didn't you? The Satori you were reaching for, it happened, didn't it? You are more at peace then you were while training."
Owen smiled and said "I had that anal opticotomy" and both men laughed. Anna followed silently behind the men as they headed out to the waiting limo.
Owen stopped first at the Nationsbank Central Security Depository and then at Maria's where he retrieved his silver filled ammo box. Within an hour the limo had dropped the group at the chartered flight that would take them to the compound.

Owen's return to the compound was quite an event. He had relaxed with his mentor on the flight, discussing pleasant memories. Anna had remained a silent figure in the background through out as she knew that reminiscing with Gray could get her killed. She began to regret her past with him as he seemed a great deal more mature and desirable now that he wasn't chasing her like a lovesick boy. As Owen, Anna and Chandler made their way from the airport, students, apprentices, journeymen and seniors not on assignment found ways to observe the group. The instructors all avoided the show. Owen realized that with the elimination of Archangel and the others, he was probably now a legend himself. Owen snorted and shook his head and got the tingling that meant he was being observed through a weapon sight. He dodged as a matter of course and Chandler who observed this released a sling stone within seconds. The scream of the teenager falling from his high observation post to his death, shook Owen. Chandler simply said "None may violate the safe conduct my lord offered"
Owen was conducted to the lair of the lord of the compound. Anna and Chandler knelt before the screen which hid their master. Owen bowed deeply but did not kneel. The Seneschal, who often acted as the dragon's speaker said, "Chandler, Anna, we welcome your return. Who is this that you bring with you?"
"My lord," responded Chandler, "This is the one who was formerly your servant Gray. He has transformed and now does not owe fealty to any master."
"And does this ronin seek to become samurai?"
"No lord. He does not. I have explained that although he has changed, what he knows from his previous life was given to him in order to serve your glory. If he does not serve, he must balance the scales by repaying you for what you have given him."
Intriguing! And what then do you owe, child of our teaching no longer called Gray? Interrupted the dragon himself.
Without hesitating Owen said "My past, great lord is yours, for you supplied it. Since I live now at your sufferance my present is also yours. As I seek to have a future, that too I must gain from you who hold it.
################################ (a rumbling thought which the seneschal recognized as the dragon's laughter.) All but the supplicant are dismissed.
Owen sought to center himself as he was left alone with the dragon.
So child, how will you gain past, present and future?
"I would bargain for them, great lord."
We used to love games like this, but now weary of that title. If we call you Glndwyr, What will you call us?
"Retsudo Yagyu"
##################################################### Excellent.######## What will you use to bargain for your Past, Glndwyr?
"I offer a daisho created by the master swordsmith Nagamitsu. I submit this judgment of the Honami family that the blades are Juyo Bunkazai."
So ka. Bring us the blades.
Owen removed the blades and the vellum from the courier case. Kneeling he placed them at the screen and watch them float over it.
These will compliment our collection nicely. A rare find. Art I did not think to see again. Accepted. Glndwyr you have ransomed your past. What do you offer for your present?
I offer a talisman of power.
Disappointing. There are so many of these wandering about the planet..............very well. We will see it.
Owen dumped the ammo box and the talisman flared as it was freed from it's silver prison. Raw fury radiated from the wolf's head as Owen unwound the chain from the dagger, always being extremely careful to touch only the dagger and never the talisman or chain. As the talisman recognized it's intended vessel was handling it, it's hunger became palpable.
Ah, the wolf's head. How fitting. This is indeed a talisman of power, child. Of greater value than you can imagine, and you give this artifact freely to us?
"Retsudo Yagyu, it is yours"
Hmmmmm this bargain is a gain from your limited perspective as well. You embrace the path of the ronin and would not have this ancient artifact as a master. In spite of this, the value of the item is so great, we will accept it. We sense the artifact has a bond with you, though. Do not fool yourself that you will never see it again. You have ransomed your present. Glndwyr, what do you offer for your future?
"The future is unknown and so I offer the unknown. When the dragon Dunkelzahn died he left a will. In the will he offered the access codes to his Paris property to whomever could identify the hooded figures in a dark photo of a murder. I have completed that quest and offer the codes for my future.
The poetry of the unknown for the unknown pleases us but we would hear this story in detail.
For the next 10 hours Owen told of everything that had happened from his robbery of the policlub until his meeting with the dragon. Fortunately, the lord of the compound allowed Owen to gloss over some details that would expose the many people who aided him. When Owen completed the story, he sat in silence for several minutes. Finally the dragon expressed himself
You have undergone all that and trade away the prize sight unseen?
Forgive my presumption Retsudo Yagyu, but is it not meet that man labors for a future he can never know?
Profound, child. We accept your bargain more for the poetry of the offer than the value of the prize. You will remain with us for a time. We will chat and you will play for us. You will never teach what you have been taught, nor will you reveal what you know of our organization and we will no longer hunt you. Now go. Quarters have been prepared. Eat, sleep, bathe, return in 12 hours.

Owen stumbled into the quarters that had been prepared for him and collapsed. The tension of dealing with the lord of the Compound took everything out of the former assassin. Ten hours later he rose, exercised, showered and ate. As he walked from his quarters to the Dragon's lair, he received stares of curiosity, appraisal, admiration and challenge from the compound's residents. Owen ignored all and concentrated on centering himself for his session with the dragon. When he arrived the Seneschal bowed and left.
So, Glndwyr. Do you see any method in the madness of letting you leave?
"Retsudo Yagyu, I think you have created a bogey man for instructors to terrify students. I think that forcing my compliance now would be too difficult but that you hope for a day when it might be possible, and have decided to wait for that day. I think that, though you no longer hunt me, some of your most ambitious will want to measure themselves against a legend, on their own time, and you will have a free yardstick for the effectiveness of your training."
Perceptive, child. Your 'rebirth' has given you a breadth of view. Now we will relax and you will play the flute.
Owen played well for several hours. Eventually the Dragon signaled for him to stop.
We offer to keep you as a councilor, Glndwyr. You would have no cares or worries and no job other than to entertain us. You would have no cause to use the talent you now shrink from. All of your needs would be seen to in a manner befitting an advisor of the lord of this place. What say you?
"That my ego is greatly flattered, Retsudo Yagyu, but that my mind says it is a small step from accepting coin for one job to accepting it for another."
##################### Regrettable, child. You do amuse us. Play a song of farewell and be on your way. I see the passage of years before we meet again.
Owen played a final song and gave a deep bow of farewell. As he was about to say a final word the Dragon articulated it first

The flight back to the plex was uneventful and Owen considered all that he had lost and gained from the start of his adventure. He mentally prepared himself for his meeting with the elves and wondered about how Sayla would feel about him now that the Talisman was not enspelling her. He also considered Katya and Seka, but quickly decided that trying to solve too many problems simultaneously, especially women problems, might cause his head to explode.
The waiting limo returned him to the storefront. When he knocked at the door, Sayla Starseeker opened it and gave him a big smile of welcome. He took her delight at seeing him as a hopeful sign. The fact that she did not jump him was still more hopeful, as it indicated that she was past the Talisman's manipulation. He answered Galron's questions truthfully, when he answered at all, but refused to reveal anything about the organization from which he had escaped. Eventually he recounted most of the tale of his "inheritance" to the elves.
"But, you never even got to see the property after all of that work" Sayla said.
"But, I'm still alive and the Compound has ceased to hunt for me" Owen said "On top of that I got rid of the Talisman without becoming it's slave. That's not bad. And Dunkelzahn's will had hundreds of bequests. Maybe I'll try for another."
"I don't even think you have to," interjected Barnaby. "You still know the codes, don't you? You could hop a flight to Paris and pick up the odd priceless masterpiece without violating anything you gave to the Compound."
"Interesting idea, but I'd guess the reason they kept me for 24 hours was so that they could get to the property and change the codes against just that kind of contingency." Owen then looked at Galron. "So, what's the verdict, chief? Do we go to opposite corners and come out at the bell, or am I allowed to ask Sayla out to dinner?"
Galron considered as he looked at Owen. "Well, were certainly not going to square off," he began, "We owe you too much and we were misled about your relationship with the Compound. I'd suggest, though, that your problems are not done. Intertech may not be after you any longer, but whatever data they've accumulated will be available for any fixer, or anyone else, who wants to pay their price to track you down. I think that Humanis and its affiliates have little reason to love you. They'd be tough, but I might organize a datasteal against Intertech if you'd agree to come work for the Paladins."
"I thought you guy were an all Tir operation. Aren't "my ears to short to hear that song" as your countrymen say? Also, I can't discuss the Compound, and that's really what you want, isn't it?"
"We work with any sentient who agrees to our code", Galron replied "With your abilities and experience you could help in any number of ways, but yes, we really would like to know the kind of data on the compound that you could supply. And how much do you really owe to an organization that has spent the past couple of weeks trying to kill you?"
"I owe it to myself to live up to my word, chummer." was all Owen would reply. "And, though I thank you for your offer, I'm not looking for another employer at the moment."
"Well, that's unfortunate, as we could certainly use you. As to the second part of your original question, let me give you a sound bit of advice. NEVER ask a male for permission to date a female within that female's hearing. They really hate that."
Owen turned to see Sayla's folded arms and a cold expression on her pretty face. "So, you're fallible after all, eh hero? I was wondering when I would see the first chink in your armor. What have you got to say for yourself?"
"Uh...sorry. I....uhm...didn't mean to ask for permission, exactly....I just was, you know, making a contrast....."
"Just make sure it's a nice expensive place for dinner and that you maybe ask me to go dancing afterwards, and I may forgive you." Sayla said as a smile broke through. Then seriously she added: "You're not going to wear that cloak, are you?"

I started writing this as a short story which got away from me. I'd like to thank all of the people who took the time to write me e-mail of encouragement as I was posting pieces of this monster. I'd particularly like to thank Simon M. for his kind and critical evaluations. (The lad can't spell worth drek, but he gave his time and insight freely). I'd also like to encourage anyone who enjoyed reading this to put fingers to keyboard and create your own fiction. In spite of what you may have heard, you don't need anything more than a germ of an idea and some imagination, and posting to the web is free. (Look, if even I could do it, you know YOU could do it.) If you'd like to see your shadowrun story posted, send it to me. I'll put it up. I'd also like to hear what readers think of the final story. Did you enjoy it? Did I violate game rules? I'm going to try my hand at some short stories that are actually short for a change and I'll post them. Let me know what you think of them too.

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