STUDENT


He tripped over the root and went sprawling for what seemed the hundredth time that night. It seemed like he had been running for days, where it had really only been a few hours. A few hours since the tribe had walked into an ambush and been jumped, a few hours since his friends, his family had been wiped out. A few hours since a simple data steal had screwed his life, making him a target with zero chances.


Flies with Hawks had set the job up. Badger, this is not going to be a cakewalk. I know the others have said that you're too young, that we need a decker with experience, but I believe in you, nephew. You always trust family before you put your hoop in the hands of strangers. Now you hear me, boy. The tribe is only as strong as the weakest member, so you make damn sure you don't weaken my tribe. Then his aunt had given him that wink, telling him that everything would be ok.

Flies with Hawks was always like that. She had run the shadows for years. She ruled her group of runners, her tribe with an iron hand, but she always gave special attention to Badger. Among the Orks of the Oakland (Orkland) Housing project, Hawks was a respected leader. An Ork who always brought back enough to help the community, and insisted that her runs have death benefits for the families of those who fell in battle. Even the dreaded shaman Blue Buffalo deferred to her in council. Yet despite her status, her power and her reputation, she had taken a special interest in Badger. She had insisted that he learn to read and write, add and subtract. When the young Ork had developed an interest in computers, she had shelled out the creds to get him a Radioshack CD 100. When he had demonstrated a talent for manipulating the matrix, she had paid for his datajack. She had always encouraged and guided him, and now she was dead. He had watched as the Samurai with the weird eye patch had put the shotgun to her head and splattered her brains.


Hawks had explained that the run had two objectives. They would break into United Technologies Ltd. and go after some proprietary data on a design for a new chip etcher. That was were Badger would prove his value, decking into United T's stand-alone main frame. If they could get the data, great, but if not, it would still cover the real mission which was to plant a remote detonation device, which would spray a paper eating bioagent on all of the hard copy of the companies files. Once the device was triggered, United would be slowed down as absolutely everything would have to go through the mainframe. It sounded lame to Badger, who wondered why they didn't just blow the place up, but he was new to the shadows and nobody was interested in the suggestions of a sixteen year old Ork decker anyway.

He had carried out his part of the mission flawlessly. He had hooked up to the mainframe and his badger icon had dug up the paydata. He had only used the claws and teeth of his attack program on a single piece of interfering IC, which he had shredded. It was the second part of the mission that had caused the drek to hit the fan. John Twohearts had been in charge of planting the device. He was a distant cousin of Badger's (as were all of the members of Hawks' tribe) who had made it plain that he thought Badger was too young to run with the tribe. When he was planting the device, some of the bioagent had dripped from the supposedly sealed canister on a file and not eaten through it. In fact the liquid smelled like a petroleum product and Twohearts had alerted the Hawks that something was wrong. When the sharp faced Ork woman had abandoned her guard position to check on the problem, Wanatanka should have adjusted as ordered.

He hadn't. The big Ork had, instead, filled the com with an endless string of chatter as he asked 'what was wrong?', 'what was happening?,' 'was it a set-up?', 'what should they expect?'. Hawks kept ordering him off the air, but every few seconds he had another question. When Blue Buffalo had threatened to cast a spell of silence on him, Wanatanka had come to get answers for himself. Though she was furious at his lack of discipline, Hawks was more concerned about the fact that the run was, in fact, a setup. That her tribe would look like they had robbed UT and then blown the place to cover their trail. Worse, the device might be detonated while the runners were still on the scene. Her concentration on disarming the device was so complete she could spare no time for Wanatanka's foolishness and so half of the perimeter was uncovered.

This fact was forcefully brought home when a line of slugs stitched there way across Twohearts body. All hell had broken lose. Wanatanka returned fire in an instant, his roomsweeper booming continuously. Hawks was screaming orders to be heard over the noise, while herself snapping off shots with her Predator. Badger had drawn the Browning Max-power that Hawks had let him carry but he had no idea where his target was. His aunt had lectured him, when she had trained him with the heavy pistol You don't pull it, unless you're gonna aim it, you don't aim it unless your gonna shoot it, and you don't shoot it unless you know you got an enemy you're gonna kill with it . Now he had to find a target to aim at before he wasted bullets. That was his thought until he saw his aunt catch a round in the shoulder. Then suddenly, everything had gone red. A haze of rage had overlaid everything and he had stood up from behind the cover of the desk, screaming and pulling the trigger at anything that moved.

The third time he tried unsuccessfully to pull the trigger, he started to return to himself and realized that the slide was locked open because he had emptied the clip. He reached for a reload without ducking back behind cover and paid for the mistake with the second most valuable thing in the world. Two rounds struck his deck, destroying his key to the matrix. This time instead of fury, it was heartbroken disbelief that overwhelmed him. He sank down, pawing the wires and chips, touching the solid state circuitry that had given him access to a larger world. He wanted to cry, but instead, pulled persona and utility chips as well as memory modules with a grim determination to get everything useful. He then reloaded his pistol and with cold-blooded determination began taking out the security guards who had attacked. He was about to circle around to ambush his opponents when his Aunt had grabbed his arm. His joy that she was alive was curtailed by the look in her eye.

Badger, were fragged. The run was a set up and we're caught between security here and another team of runners behind us. Wanatanka caught one through the neck. Grab his coat and weapons..... Give me the shotgun and his ammo belt. You take his pistol, but use both hands or it will break your wrist.....Blue Buffalo is holding off the other runners. I think Joe Dog is gone. He's not answering the comm....Now listen to me boy. You get on top of that filling cabinet. You get into those ceiling tiles, keep your weight on the metal or you'll fall right through. You get your hoop outta the building.....

But I wanna stay with you. You need my help and....

Shut up, boy! I ain't planning on dying here. I'll get out a way you can't. I'll meet you outside. And when a leader tells a member of her tribe to do something, she's not asking for opinion, boy! You do as your told! Then she had given him that wink which said that everything was going to be all right. She had reloaded the pump gun and said On three.....one...two...three and began emptying the shotgun as fast as she could work it with her damaged shoulder, firing from the hip. Badger had scrambled into the ceiling tiles and was moving toward the entrance when his aunt had lobbed the paper eating bioagent towards the other door and detonated it with the shotgun. The resulting explosion had knocked out (or killed) several building security personnel and thrown his aunt back several feet. He had turned at the sound of the explosion and crawled back far enough to see into the room. He therefore saw the death of his aunt, Flies with Hawks.

The Samurai who came in was wearing a strange eyepatch over one eye. He was a short norm with black hair and metal legs. He surveyed the room and was very angry. He went over to Hawks' moaning form, took the shotgun from her hand and placing the barrel against her forehead, blew her brains out. Badger was stunned. He couldn't fathom what he had just witnessed. Flies with Hawks was the biggest, toughest, most competent person he had ever imagined. She was a leader, she ran a tribe, she sat in council meetings and judged disputes. This norm had just killed her with no more thought than you would give to a crippled dog. It wasn't possible. A terrible roar began deep in Badgers soul as he reached for Wanatanka's Super Warhawk. At the same instant as he brought the hand cannon to bear, the norm looked up, the ceiling tile gave way and Badger began to fall as he fired the pistol. He was screaming with all of the power of his lungs and firing as fast as he could pull the trigger, paying no attention to the fact that he was plummeting to the floor.

The hard landing after the ten foot drop jolted him back to reality. He had dropped the empty Ruger when he had hit the floor and when he heard the Razor's answering roar of rage he ran from it as fast as he could. He had gotten out of the building and run at top speed back towards home.

I'm hit! Get that fraggin decker! It's gotta be a clean sweep or we don't get paid! Get that fraggin kid! Juan kept screaming as he started chasing the kid. He didn't get more than a step when his left leg locked in position. One of the rounds from the heavy pistol had caught the knee joint of his cyber leg at just the right angle to damage the joint. ARRRRRRRRRR he screamed in frustration. GET THAT FRAGGIN KID!

Juan's team scrambled to catch the young Ork. Voodoo signaled Night and the two females ran to their bikes, while Sandmann, Tok and Mack the Knife ran after the Ork. The dwarf Ratchet was left with the group's leader and had to listen to a solid hour of Juan's curses as he repaired the cyberleg and Juan attempted to patch the hole near his ribs.

The clock had just struck three when Badger scrambeled out of the building. Running with all of his might he had gotten three blocks before ducking into an alley at the sound of a pair of Yamaha Rapiers. He tried to catch his breath, but quickly became aware of the three Samurai coming up the street behind him. He had run up the alley and jumped the fence before the trio had split up to look for him while the bikes rode a wide perimeter around the search area. Twice he had broken out of the containment area by the dumb luck of crossing a street from one alley to another just before a bike or a runner had closed the gap. He knew that there were five hunters after him and with only three bullets left in his browning he didn't dare start a firefight. At one point he had hidden in a dumpster for 10 entire minutes, but somehow the hunters had realized that they had passed him and come back to find him. He knew the general direction he wanted to head in, but was in an unfamiliar area of town. Once he had strayed into some gang territory and gained the attention of a patrol, which also chased him. Only when he had moved into what he guessed was some other gang's turf did the first gang leave him to the runners who were after him.

After three hours of running, he had found a familiar area. He had been to this park at this hour several times before. Flies with Hawks had brought him here while she had done that weird slow motion exercise. He remembered how he had bitched the first time she had gotten him up before dawn to come to the park for sunrise exercise and how bizarre the whole thing had looked. Here were a bunch of people, up at dawn, not saying a word and playing a sort of slow motion follow the leader. And what a bunch of people! There were Samurai with obvious cyberware, old people, young people, all races and all meta-types. He'd been fascinated by one beautiful elf woman who seemed to be new to the exercise but was incredibly graceful. The tall norm next to her was obviously real good at it because the old Asian guy who had been at the front facing everybody had stopped and come over to him. Badger had watched as the old man had bowed deeply and signaled that the tall guy should lead the group. Nobody had said anything, but the tall guy had gone to the front and done the slow motion moves that everybody copied.

Afterwards, Flies with Hawks had told him that she did this every morning and that he should too. He hadn't gone back every day, but to please his aunt he had gone back four or five times. It was strange, but she seemed happy each time she saw him so he figured it paid her back in a small way for all the stuff she had done for him. When he got to the clearing he found that the group had finished the exercise and had left, but the tall guy was giving extra pointers to a dwarf with silver eye covers and an old troll woman. Since nobody ever spoke, he didn't know any names, but it was still a relief to see a familiar face. He was trying to figure an approach when the troll who had been chasing him came through some bushes and saw him. Badger immediately began sprinting towards the clearing as the troll pounded after him.

Badger was fast. He was young and energetic, but Tok had longer legs and muscle replacements. As they sprinted towards the now alarmed trio in the clearing Tok was gaining. When the kid tripped, the samurai thought it was over. He extended his cyberspurs to eviscerate the Ork and reached out only to find himself sailing through the air as the norm male grabbed his arm and spun. Tok was furious. He was so angry at this busybody who had stepped between him and his prey that he didn't even bother to draw his Predator II from it's holster. With a roar the troll scrambled to his feet and charged back at the norm.

The tall man waited calmly as the troll charged. Badger fumbled for his pistol as the norm, who he had only seen in slow motion, delivered a counter so fast that it looked like the Troll had suddenly jumped over the man to land flat on his back. When the troll charged again Badger watched the giant's feet continue moving forward as his neck and head stopped at the tall guy's outstretched arm. Again the troll was flat on his back. This time the norm quickly moved behind his opponent, dropped to the ground while throwing an arm around the troll's neck. Within seconds the choke hold rendered the Troll unconscious. The norm took all of the troll's weapons and ammo clips, including the one in his pistol and came over to where Badger was still sprawled. He waited as Badger got up saying Thanks.....wow, that was amazing. You tossed that sucker around like he was nothing. I...... The Tall man interrupted asking Where is your aunt?

As Badger swallowed and tried to answer he felt the tears welling up in his eyes. He tried to say the words, but they just wouldn't come. As he looked down he heard the man sigh and say Maybe you'd better come with me. Just because it was something to do that he didn't have to think about, Badger followed the tall guy.

You can call me Kiro the norm said, but then he heard the dwarf samurai call the guy sensei as he gave some kind of fist in palm salute. The tall guy returned the salute but must have signaled the dwarf to take off because Badger watched him pull an immediate fade. Badger mumbled his own name to be polite but then said If that's your name, why did the halfer call you sensay?

Kiro said I'm called by lots of names, Sensei means teacher, and since I was helping Lug with his exercise, he addressed me with a title of respect. Please don't call people by slang nicknames. Lug is a dwarf, not a halfer. Although the reproof had been mild and delivered without any heat, the intention was so serious Badger knew he would be conscious not to use street slang when talking to this norm. It was weird, he didn't know this guy from a brick, but he wanted his respect. It wasn't just that he had tossed a cyber-enhanced troll Samurai around like a sack of wash, although that certainly got ones attention. It was that he carried himself with a poise and self confidence that said he didn't have to prove anything to anybody because he had tested himself under fire and KNEW he was the equal of any challenge. The more Badger thought about it, the more it reminded him of his Aunt. He had admired the fact that Flies with Hawks always seemed to have a balance, a sense of being sure she could handle anything. Even when the run had blown up, when she was bleeding and trapped, she had lectured him about following a leader's orders and then given him that wink.

Again, tears started welling in Badger's eyes at the memories of his Aunt. Without really being conscious of what he was doing the young Ork followed the man out of the park, then through a bakery and then up to an apartment. He wasn't able to think, he wasn't able to feel, it was like his brain was overloaded. He didn't even pay attention to the beautiful elf woman waiting for the man in his apartment. He recognized that she was wearing nothing but a man's shirt and looked like she had just woken up, but he missed the by-play between the two in his daze. He followed orders when the man said sit and shoveled a pastry into his mouth when the man said eat , but he hardly saw the woman's look of concern or sympathetic smile.

Darling, he looks terrible, are you sure you don't want me to stay while he tells his story?

No, thanks, kitten. Get showered up and give me some time with him. How much longer are you on leave?

I got the call while you were out doing tai-chi. Why else would I be up at this ungodly hour after last night? I've got to be at the airport by noon. You sure you don't want me?

I'm sure I do want you, but not for help with the youngster, he responded with a smile. Say hello to Galron and Barnaby for me, and Sayla, be careful. You're very special to me.

How am I supposed to leave when you talk that way, Owen? Be fair. You know I have to go and you say things that make it impossible for me to leave. If I wasn't so crazy about you, you'd really piss me off. Then she stopped and quietly said I love you and ran off to the shower.

Badger kept shoveling pastries into his face until he realized that the bag was empty. He also noticed that he had polished off a half gallon of milk without ever being conscious of it. Although he felt guilty at eating everybody's breakfast he did feel better. As he was wondering about it the man said Low blood sugar. Stress causes the body to use energy reserves and blood sugar burns first. When the blood sugar is depleted the body doesn't have the fuel to operate properly, so it's hard to even think straight. Healthiest way to replenish low blood sugar is with fruit, but with teenagers it's usually sweets. Most experienced runners carry a candy bar or two for just such an emergency.

As Badger filed that valuable data away he looked curiously at the norm. Was the big man psychic? No, I don't read minds. I watched your face when you realized how much you had consumed and knew you were wondering why you had eaten so much. I knew you were wondering if I could read minds the same way. Think about cultivating a poker face, a persona that is immutable. Badger's blank look prompted Kiro to explain An attitude that doesn't let your face show what you are thinking.


Sandmann found Tok's sleeping body and gathered the other hunters as the stim patch brought the troll around. Hell of a place for a nap, big man. he observed.

Groggily the growling troll told the story of what had happened. Mack the knife sniggered at the thought of Tok being tossed around by an unarmed, unenhanced norm and nearly had his face pushed in for his trouble. Tok was not in a laughing mood. The kid was gone, which meant they were not going to get paid and were sure to hear it from Juan. The kid obviously had a friend and the friend was faster than the Troll believed possible. With his wired reflexes, muscle enhancements, training and experience there should have been no way on earth he could have been thrown three times and then knocked out, but the ork's chummer had done exactly that. As he remembered the placid look on the norm's face the Troll shuddered and thought He wasn't even worried. Frag. Who was that breeder?


So whoever set up the run didn't plan on Hawks' team surviving. Kiro concluded. He had listened so carefully to Badger's story and asked so many detailed questions at the beginning of the tale that the Ork boy had concentrated on an exact retelling of all of the details. Only now, after the story was out had the impact started to hit him. When Kiro said Take a few minutes and turned away, the boy felt something inside him break and he began to quietly sob. The big man left him alone and went off to say good-bye to the pretty elf woman. He then went into the shower leaving Badger some privacy in which to grieve.

When he had cried himself out, Badger started to take stock of his situation. He knew he couldn't go home, as whoever had hired Flies with Hawks probably knew that she always tried to use family from the Oakland projects. He'd have to figure that whoever they were, they were still after him. He had his Browning, with three rounds, an oversized leather jacket, 16 nuyen in coin and a couple of chips from his deck. His deck.....the enormity of losing access to the matrix threatened to overwhelm him. He might never fly through that electron world again Never's a long time, boy. his aunt's voice echoed in his head A leader can't think in terms of never if she's gonna protect her tribe. You start thinking in more reasonable chunks of time and we'll have something to talk about she had told him with a wink. He remembered her words had followed an incident when he was 6 years old. He had been angry with Martha Birdsong, a childhood playmate and had informed the tribal elder that he would never speak to the girl again. Flies with Hawks had not laughed off his childish tantrum, but had given him a tip on leadership and the secret wink they shared. His smile at the memory of his aunt's face was painful, but something in him started viewing her endless advice as a legacy that would keep her with him. When Kiro came out of the shower, the Ork felt ready to face the world.

Ah, you've found some balance the norm said You're ready to deal with your situation. Good. Your aunt would be proud.

Badger thought Damn. He's doing it again. I gotta get better at that poker face thing or I'll always be a step behind.

With a big grin, Kiro said That's right.


Mack the knife, being an Ork, had drawn stakeout duty at the Oakland (Orkland) project. He was there in the event that the decker kid went home. He hoped the kid would show soon as the projects was a dump and not being of amerind decent he was definitely an outsider, Ork or not.

Voodoo was checking virtual bars and bulletin boards for the records of any and all deckers who were known to run with Flies with Hawks on the chance she might find the kid that way. The black norm woman was no happier with her assignment then Mack was with his. Night, on the other hand, wished for an assignment, any assignment to get her out from under (literally) Juan. The norm shaman wondered what she had ever seen in the leader who had recently demonstrated that he was a bad tempered, vengeful and sadistic creep. Oh, sure, he was a great tactician, he had tremendous contacts and he was fast and deadly, but since that first time together he had treated her more and more as property, expecting and demanding that she ease his tensions when things didn't go well. Night had had about enough of Juan's ego and attitude.

Juan, for his part, was not loving life either. The job had been simple and straight forward but the decker had gotten away and now they wouldn't be paid until the kid had been eliminated. The Johnson had gotten a full and detailed report, in spite of the embarrassment he personally felt at Tok getting tossed around by a bystander, and now the Johnson wanted a hit on the busybody for free. When Juan had demurred on any freebies, the Johnson had brought the team's reputation for completeness into the conversation. Juan had caught the subtext Do the bystander or watch your rep go down the dreker On top of all of this, he was noticing a certain lack of enthusiasm from Night. He wondered if the shaman might be sick as he knew his performance lacked nothing.

Sandmann, Ratchet and Tok had drawn surveillance duty on the park. Since it was the last spot the kid had been seen, it was the starting point for any further investigation. Finding the norm or the Ork would at least get the trio out of the cramped confines of the van.


Badger wandered through Kiro's largely empty apartment. He had zero interest in the books, which his host seemed to collect in paper, which wasted so much space. When he asked about the doubled crate lids on one of the walls, his host had said Throwing targets inviting the question For what? . Kiro had stopped whatever he was doing at the desk and with a sigh had opened a footlocker some thirty feet from the lids. The footlocker held a huge array of throwing weapons. Idly curious, Badger asked You know how to use all these things? when Kiro had nodded and tossed a few throwing stars the Ork had observed, Yeah, but they're no match for a pistol. When his host had smiled indulgently the boy felt he had to defend his position. C'mon, a pistol is so much faster, it's no contest. I saw how fast you were with that troll, but if I had a pistol and you just had those knife things...... Rather than argue, Kiro handed the boy his own Goren Bee. He changed the chemical load on the squirter to water so the kid would have no hesitation about pulling the trigger. He then stood the boy in front of the lid and walked to the foot locker. Standing with his hands empty and his back to the boy he said Anytime you're ready, draw and fire as fast as you can.

But you've got your back to me. Badger said, You can't even see when I start to move.

Do it. was all he heard. Psyching himself up he grabbed the pistol and heard Thwok Thwok Thwok before he could pull the trigger. There were three bladed weapons in the target. One on either side of his head and one just outside his right arm. He recognized the switch blade quivering in the wood but had never seen the other two weapons. He gulped and in a subdued voice he said I guess I could be wrong....what are those things?

This said Kiro as he pulled out a heavy bladed throwing knife with a hooked end Is called a Hunga-Munga. It comes from Lake Chad. And this, he said as he pulled the flat steel ring from the wood, Is a Chakrram. The Sikhs of India perfected it's use more than two thousand years ago. As Badger attempted to return the pistol he noticed how badly his hand was shaking. Kiro said Don't feel bad. I constantly find that what I know is wrong. It's just part of life's rich tapestry. But enough philosophy. What should we do next?

Geez, I don't know. Why ask me, I'm just a kid. Even when I have an idea nobody wants to listen cause I'm not old enough. Besides, you're the one who is the sensee.

Yeah, but it's your life. You're in the mess, why should I have to figure a way out?

Drek......I guess you're right....I mean you don't owe me anything and you saved my hoop but....I've never done anything like this before and ......I could get killed if I make a wrong move.......could you help me, please?

Ok, when you put it that way. I'll help. First of all, since you have some trouble with sensei, why don't you just call me Kiro. Ok? Now I'll ask you some questions and you'll be surprised at how much planning you've already done. Why can't you go home?

When Badger had explained his conclusions about the other team of runners, Kiro had said See, you've already put yourself in the other guys shoes and figured out that he will have your place under surveillance. Question 2: Why not wait until this blows over?

Badger replied Because I'm not sure it will. Whoever hired Hawks for the run wanted a clean sweep or those fraggers wouldn't have chased me all night. With me on the loose the Johnson is at risk.

Good. What about running away?

Well, I've got no money, nowhere safe to go and for the same reasons I can't wait it out, running away just means they come after me someplace else. Besides, I'd like to pay them back for what they did to Hawks.

You were doing great until the end. I don't want to discourage you or break your spirit but I've got to tell you, the one thing you can't do is go looking for revenge. You just are not ready for that. Now, I'm not saying that these bastards shouldn't be terminated or even that they shouldn't be terminated by you, but there is a world of difference between setting out to protect yourself and setting out to gain vengeance. Are you hearing me? I set out to survive, I can follow whatever course of action helps me gain that. If I can get out by trickery or bribery or anything else, I use it because I want to survive. I set out on a course of vengeance, the only thing that satisfies me is the death of my enemy. Do you understand the difference? If I'm surviving, I can sucker my opponent into a wrong step with, say a corp. Then he's running for his life instead of chasing me. If I'm getting revenge, I may have to allow myself to be put into the prison where the corp is holding my opponent so I can make sure he dies. I'll give you a couple of minutes to think about it and then you decide what you want to do. I'll help you survive, but if you want vengeance I'm afraid you're on your own.

Several minutes later Badger said I want revenge, but what you said makes a lot of sense. If you will help me survive it will be enough. Thinking I can get my revenge later.

When Kiro responded You think you can get your revenge later, eh? Well, I suppose I shouldn't expect complete wisdom from one whose just suffered a loss. Don't look so surprised. Your face really is an open book.

After lunch, Kiro said Shall we go take a look at the opposition?

You know where they are?! exclaimed Badger

Sure. You do too. Where are they?

I don't have any idea. I mean they probably have my doss under surveillance.....

Very good. Where else?

I dunno........uh.......If I were them..... I might watch the park where I was last seen.

And? prompted Kiro

Uhm......the matrix! I'd look for a decker in the matrix. I'd check virtual bars, chat rooms, bulletin boards....

Where do you want to look first?

Forlornly feeling the chips in his pocket, Badger said I .......I guess the park.

Kiro nodded as he threw on the fatigue jacket he had worn that morning. Reaching into the pocket he pulled out the four clips of heavy pistol ammo that he had taken from the Troll. Handing them to Badger he reloaded his Goren Bee and slipped it into the holster sewn in the armpit of his jacket. He picked up some knives which disappeared into his clothing and grabbed his short staff. He then stopped and equipped Badger with a pocket knife, some slap patches, a couple of power bars and a certified credstick with 200 nuyen on it. In case we get separated or I get killed he said.

Properly equipped the pair set out for the park. When they had reached the bakery where Owen had bought breakfast, he turned to Badger and asked What do we do now?

Rather than be surprised or annoyed at this constant questioning from somebody who obviously knew the answers, Badger took it as a challenge. He's probably done this drek hundreds of times, but he wants me to think about it. I never thought being the leader would be this challenging. Lets get up to a rooftop and see if we can spot the opposition, Ok?

Your show, chummer. You call the shots.

Ok, then I want a high observation post to find the bad guys.

Cool. Where?

Uh, anywhere.

As Kiro made a point of drawing his pistol and extending the spear blade on his staff, Badger sighed and said Ok, ok. I get the point. He heard his aunt saying A leader gives her tribe instructions on the objective but doesn't try to cover every contingency. A leader trusts her tribe to do the job that she asks them to do. Let them know the why behind the choice and they won't make stupid mistakes. I'd like to get to a good vantage point. The top of that building or that building seem good to me. I'd like to not draw any attention or kill anybody getting up there. I want to be quick and quiet because if we draw attention to ourselves we'll get attacked.

As he put away the pistol and collapsed the blade back into the staff he winked and said Stick with me, chief. He walked over to a fire escape, leaped impossibly high to grab the bottom wrung of the ladder and when it reached the ground climbed up to the roof with Badger following close behind. When they got to the roof Badger stopped and said Uh, excuse me Kiro. I appreciate what your doing and I think I'm learning a lot, but you called me chief and I rather that you didn't. I'm of Ogalala decent and we really take that title very seriously. I know you didn't mean anything by it and I know I owe you and all but please don't call me chief.

Kiro stopped and looked at the young Ork quite seriously for a moment. He then bowed and said I apologize for my thoughtless remark. I did not know. Please forgive me. Badger was flustered by the reaction and began to stammer out the rationale for his feelings. Kiro held up a hand and again Badger heard Hawks. She was lecturing a nine year old in trouble: Boy, if you're wrong and you admit it, apologize and don't repeat the error, its over. The reason your mama's so mad at you is because you haven't taken the correction like a member of the tribe should.

When they had crept up to the edge of the building they had a good view of the park. Badger looked carefully but did not spot any bad guys. When he sank down he said dejectedly I don't see them. They're not there.

Kiro replied What? and as Badger began repeating himself alarm bells went off in his mind. He changed his statement to I don't see them, do you?

Yes.

Where?

You tell me.

Badger began scanning carefully, noticing details he had missed before. That van- I'd probably want to have a place that's warm and dry while I watched the park so I'd bring a van if I could. Plus maybe hide somebody someplace else like in the trees. Out loud he said They might be in the van and hiding in the trees

Kiro said Good on the van, but the trees is too obvious. Where would you watch from if you were out there?

Looking again, Badger asked The dwarf sleeping under the newspaper?

Good. One more. After several minutes Badger said I can't find him.

Kiro said OK.

When Badger realized that Kiro was not going to tell him and that he would have an unknown element in whatever he did next, he was tempted to just guess everyone he could see until his teacher confirmed one. Inside he knew that was cheating and spent the next 10 minutes in intense concentration. Nothing looked wrong. The guy at the hot dog cart didn't look suspicious, there were lots of little kids running around, the balloon man wasn't doing much business.....wait, with all of those kids, why didn't more have balloons? As he watched the balloon man lost another sale as he must have been asking for a fortune for the balloons he had. If I wanted to look like a vendor all day long without leaving to resupply, I'd want to keep my stock as long as possible, therefore I'd jack the prices up so nobody would buy what I was selling. With some conviction he said The Balloon guy

Kiro smiled and said Correct. What now.?

Badger thought for a moment and then said I'd like to know them for the next time I run into them. Can I get a closer look.....wait. I'd like your suggestion on how I could approach the opposition to get a close look at them.

Kiro said Change jackets with me for a start. If you pull your hair into a topknot and avoid looking at the van for the troll to recognize you, you shouldn't have any problems. I'd ask the dwarf to move over so I could have a seat and buy a balloon from the balloon man. Odds are they don't know your face and you'll recognize them after that. They certainly will not expect to be confronted by the prey they are chasing.

After the few cosmetic changes Badger moved down to the park. Kiro also moved down without his student realizing he was being shadowed. Badger had approached the Balloon man first and walked away without a problem, but when he spoke with the dwarf, he must have turned towards the van because suddenly, the dwarf sprang up and the Balloon Man began moving in. When Kiro saw the Balloon man was about to open up with an Uzi III, in spite of the danger to all of the children in the area, he launched a throwing spike which penetrated the skull, killing the samurai before he could open fire. He turned as Badger shot the Dwarf who was trying to pull a pistol from the rags of his disguise. Both teacher and student ducked as rounds from an assault rifle fired from the van began chewing up the Dwarf's bench and both screamed for the children to get down. When Badger saw a three year old, crying at the confusion and wandering into the line of fire, he launched himself at the child to get it out of the way. This move forced Kiro to stand straight up to distract the gunner in the van. As Kiro hoped, the sudden availability of both targets caused a brief confusion on the part of the gunner, which allowed Badger to pull the kid behind a stone fountain. As Kiro became the target of choice, being the only one visible, he started moving towards the van. He was moving directly into a stream of bullets in an awkward, jerky step that seemed to always be just where the bullets were not. Because the assault rifle was not belt fed, the gunner, Tok, could not keep the trigger depressed constantly as he would too quickly empty the clip. Instead he had to spray short bursts and Kiro's advance took advantage of these brief gaps. Badger was absolutely astounded. How anybody could survive, much less advance on a firing assault weapon was beyond his comprehension. When the firing stopped Kiro was still 30 feet from the van but he became almost a blur as he closed the distance.

Badger jumped up and ran to the van. He saw Kiro was looking for clues in the vehicle and that the Trolls forehead had been smashed in. The Ork shuddered as he thought of the power of a blow great enough to crush a Troll's skull. Kiro turned and said. You did very well, reacting with the dwarf. You kept your head and didn't panic. Risking your life to protect the child was very brave. An act worthy of the songs of the Ogalala. You bring honor to your tribe. Now, answer a question for me. What could we have done before that we cannot do now ?

Badger felt like a hero. Kiro thought he brought honor on his tribe. Worthy of song. High praise indeed from someone who would know, but his question was confusing. What could we have done before that we cannot do now? Be chased by those three? Be killed by them? They can't hurt us now, they can't do anything now. What could we do?...... FOLLOW THEM! DAMN! We could have traced them back, found the rest of the runners, maybe even found the Johnson who hired them. DREK! Here I am feeling heroic and I just eliminated a lead.

Don't feel too bad, Badger. Just learn from your mistake. A leader can take advice, in fact the best ones do. You got that on the issue of how to make the approach, but not on why to make the approach. You made a good choice in wanting to identify the opposition, but you didn't check to see if there was a better option. Just be sure that you look farther ahead next time.

Badger resolved that the message would not be forgotten and began searching the Troll's body. Both teacher and student knew that they had to leave as Lone Star would be arriving in minutes. Before they could abandon the vehicle they heard Tok, this Juan. Any news? Owen grabbed the dead troll's wrist com and shouted He's here as he hit the disconnect. He then looked up at Badger who said This time we wait and follow.


Juan heard He's here and immediately began gathering his team. Night and Voodoo got on their Yamahas, Juan jumped into the Ford Americar and called for Mack the Knife to meet them at the park. By the time they arrived Lone Star had sealed the park and was stringing yellow police lines around the crime scene. Rather than leave, the experienced team of runners waited patiently and some 25 minutes later, after Lone Star had collected the bodies, clues, evidence and police tape back up, the park was reopened. Juan had made some calls and actually got a detailed account of what had transpired. According to Lone Star, a derelict on a park bench had been rousted and shot by a teenager. When the Balloon vendor had moved in to help, a confederate of the teenager had hammered a spike through his head with some sort of Pneumatic device. The confederate and the teenager had then found a Troll parked in a van and used the device to crush his head. They had then opened up on the park with an assault rifle but since they were obviously on chips or drugs or both were unable to add to their list of victims as the only thing they hit was a bench. Lone Star was listing the crime as a drug/chip induced wilding incident and closing the book.

While Juan was considering the riddle of the pneumatic device and cursing about the loss of his teammates, Kiro and Badger were sitting in a cab with the meter running. As soon as Lone Star had left the park they had exchanged coats again and grabbed a cab to follow the runners back to their base. While they had been waiting Badger had caught each runner's face in a small high power rifle scope that Kiro had found on the assault rifle which had been used to try to kill him. The Ork and norm now knew the faces of their opponents.

With the loss of three of his team, Juan needed to meet with the Johnson. He would inform his employer about the loss of assets and the activity of the target, but he would also demand resources to supplement his losses. Juan wanted death benefits, not for the support of family members but as a financial backup in the event he had to hire free lancers to get the job done. He also entertained the hope that he might profit from the passing of his team members. After calling from his portable comm for a meeting that evening, he sent Mack the knife back to his observation post and ordered the ladies back to the abandoned gas station which served as their base. Voodoo caught the signal from Night and developed engine trouble which Night volunteered to help her with. Juan, who anticipated a quick tension easing session was less than thrilled but couldn't justify leaving a team member hanging and so left the women together as he returned to his base.

Badger was on the horns of Dilemma. He had seen all of the runners together, but instead of attacking, had opted to wait on the chance that they might lead him back to the Johnson. He was nervous when the Ork runner had left but still thought following the three remaining would be the correct course of action. Now the three were splitting up again and he didn't know if he should follow the leader or stay with the two remaining runners. While he was trying to look ahead at all of the implications of his decision, Juan's Americar pulled away. When he realized that his delay had caused the choice to be taken out of his hands, he was so furious he jumped out of the cab and started storming up to the area where the two women were talking. Sighing, Kiro paid the cabby and got out to follow his headstrong student.


When Juan pulled away, Voodoo asked What was that all about? as she reconnected the lead to the spark plug.

With a sigh Night said Thanks. I just didn't feel like be used as a tension reliever. The slot has decided I'm to be used at his convenience and I'm getting real tired of it.

So hit him with a love spell to make him treat you better, or conjure up a spirit that he can use for relief. Give him a dose of that magic drek

You know it doesn't work like that. Besides, he isn't the man I thought I was getting when we hooked up 6 weeks ago.

Tell me about it, honey. That man has a mean streak. I thought he was kinda cute with that katana hilt eye-patch. Well, maybe not cute, but exotic. I was jealous of you at first, but I've seen him treat everybody on the team like dirt. Did you see the reaming he gave poor Tok for getting tossed around?

No, but I could probably tell you everything he said. I thought that Tsuba made him look dashing and he was really attentive at first, but once we were an item, it was like he didn't have to spend anymore time with me. And he's such a child.....

Don't move! Badger said as he stepped forward with his Browning in hand.

Both women turned slowly and Voodoo said Well, well, well. Our little decker. The slot who just killed three of our teammates is now drawing down on us. You that good, boy? You gonna shoot fast enough to kill a shaman and a runner with years of experience on you?

From the bushes Kiro's voice answered If he can't we sure as hell can.

Both women shifted and when Night began centering herself for a spell she heard a soft chuff before falling over unconscious.

Voodoo was alarmed but kept her cool. Whoever the kid's allies were, they must have wanted something or they would have just fired from the darkness. She wondered if that was how they had taken out her teammates. She remained motionless as the hidden voice said All yours, sir.

Badger tried to maintain a calm exterior while internally he was raging. You didn't think ahead. How are you gonna get the data you need? What are you gonna do then? You gonna kill these women in cold blood? How could you be so stupid? If Kiro wasn't backing your play these two would have killed you just now. DREK. He said I want to know why you wiped out my tribe.

The black woman snorted and said Because we were paid to.

When Badger asked That's all? You were paid to so you killed five of my family?!

Voodoo lit a flick stick and drawled Yep. Did the job we were paid to do. Should've killed you too. Nothing personal.

When Badger cried out Well, its personal to me! and brought up his pistol to shoot, the hidden voice said Wait.

Kiro stepped into sight. He walked up to Voodoo and removed his low light glasses. He looked her straight in the eye until it was clear that she understood she was facing a painful and lingering death. He then said softly Tell me something worthwhile.

Voodoo swallowed and said It was a job. I've found the Johnson who hired us in UT's files. He's a VP in security named Remo Williams who wants the budget for upgrades to a more automated system. By commissioning the run he demonstrates a need. If his runners kill security guards, the company may look at the cost of replacement vs. upgrade. Maximum destruction likewise helps his case for the need for greater security which is why he sent the bomb.

The data?

It was bonified. He never thought Hawk's team would get that far. The tusker brought her team in ahead of schedule so we suddenly got time pressure for a clean sweep and data recovery because he really doesn't want to lose the process. Juan's got a meeting to report today's losses with the Johnson tonight at Dew Drop Inn at 8:00.

And the Ork on your team? Badger asked

Went to watch the Orkland apartments, Kid. Catch you when you come home.

Do you need anything else? Kiro asked.

When Badger shook his head, Kiro said Well, are you going to shoot her down in cold blood or run the risk of letting her go?

Badger said I.....I..I don't know. Please advise me.

What are you trying to do? Kiro asked.

Just survive

Will killing this woman in cold blood help insure your survival?

Not really. I've got to get at the guy pulling the strings if I'm going to stay alive.

Sounds like you have your answer. Why don't you wander back to where we were before. I'll join you in a few minutes.

When Badger was gone, Kiro said. Take the shaman and go. Your association with Juan is over. You have only one life. Cherish it.

He turned and started walking away. In the worst (and final) decision of her life, Voodoo chose not to see the gift of her life, but the payday of the complete assignment. She drew her MAC submachine gun in preparation of backshooting Kiro. Before she could sight in on the tall norm's back, his chakram had removed her head from her shoulders. When he returned to get his weapon he slapped a stim patch on Night.

He made sure that Night returned to consciousness and said Your partner wouldn't let go. She's dead. I'm sorry. Please don't make me kill you too. Just go away. Forget this assignment, forget Juan. You have only one life. Cherish it.

The leaden quality of the man's tone had the most chilling effect on Night. It sounded like a speech he had given a hundred times before but which never worked. She was sure that he was sure she was going to reject his offer, try something and force him to kill her. The strangest part was that she had absolutely no doubt that she would die. She didn't know this norm or his capabilities but something in the haunted quality in his eyes showed that he was hoping against the inevitable. The hair was standing on the back of her head and CAT, her totem was hissing 'RUN'. She muttered thanks , started her bike and rode away without looking back.

The relieved smile on Kiro's face did not last. He took Voodoo's deck, SMG, ammo, and bike, depressing the call button on her Doc Wagon bracelet to activate the squealer as he rode away. When he got to Badger he dismounted. Badger, my time with you is nearly done. You were precipitous when you chose to leave the cab. You let frustration prompt you against your better judgment, but you are still young so allowances should be made. You still need to develop a poker face or pros like that woman will always have the edge on you. I'm glad you made a smart decision with that runner. Death is not a decision you can reverse. It's been good working with you......

Please don't leave, Sensei, said the young Ork while bowing deeply. I know I made the wrong choice in the cab. I should have followed the leader instead of confronting those two, but I delayed too long and he left and it was so frustrating that I acted without thinking. I've learned from you and I know I'll need your help to complete this and ..... I'd like.....I was wondering.....would you help me with some ....direction?

After considering for several moments in silence, Kiro said All right, get on.

The two rode to the public library. In the park across the street Kiro introduced Badger to an aztlaner norm named Professor Cortez. The professor taught at the University and after a long conversation with Badger suggested that he might be able to help the young ork's application move through committee. Badger had never considered studying at college, but his brief time with Kiro had opened his eyes on how much experienced guidance could help him, and since Professor Cortez taught computer science, it was a way to get back to the matrix. When Badger raised the issue of money, Kiro seemed to feel it was not significant. He spoke privately with the professor for a moment and then had Badger tell the story of the run.

With the professor's help, Kiro's guidance and Voodoo's Fuchi-7 deck, Badger turned the memory chips from his own deck into a deadly weapon in the world of corporate politics. At Kiro's direction he composed a report exposing Williams' plan and attached the data specs on the chip-etcher as proof. He described himself as a struggling student seeking a full scholarship to the University. He mentioned that journalism was not of great interest but, without a means of paying for tuition, room, board and books for four years, he would constantly have to find stories to sell to the newsfaxes for whatever credits he could. He thought that, although Journalists usually didn't, it would only be fair to let the company know what was happening before the story was released. He sent the letter to the VP for Public relations with a cc to both the President and the CEO of United Technologies Ltd. Although he did not send it out until 5:35, by 6:00 he received the following reply.


Dear Mr. Badger:

I read your e-mail with great interest and was moved by your plight. Education is a great boon and we at United Technologies Ltd. have always been committed to the quest for learning. I am in complete agreement that it would be a shame if you were sidetracked in your pursuit of knowledge by a misguided urge to follow some petty journalistic distractions. We feel so strongly that this would be a waste of your abilities and talents that we are prepared, based on the report you sent us to offer you a Wartman scholarship.

The Wartman scholarship covers room, board, books and tuition for four years at the University of your choice. Once granted the scholarship cannot be revoked, but requires the recipient actually attain their degree. The recipient who does not acquire the degree must repay United Technologies Ltd. the full value expended with either credit or labor. The recipient must also agree that any scientific research or discovery made while studying under the grant be offered to United Technologies Ltd. before being sold elsewhere. The Recipient, therefore, may not publish any work without the approval of United Technologies Ltd.

The competition for the Wartman Scholarship is quite fierce, as you might well imagine, so I would appreciate an immediate electronic acceptance if you are interested. A full copy of the scholarship offer is attached.

Sincerely

Dan Porterfield

VP Public Relations

United Technologies Ltd.


Badger immediately transmitted his acceptance and walking on air, thanked the professor for five solid minutes. He and Kiro then rode to a Nuke-it Burger where Badger stuffed himself and Kiro spent a lot of time shaking his head. They then staked out the Dew Drop Inn from a roof top across the street and waited for 8:00. At 7:30 they saw Juan's car pull up and the Samurai got out. At 8:00 an overweight norm in trenchcoat and bowler entered the bar and a few minutes later both exited. Badger wanted to move in but Kiro held his arm and signaled him to stay quiet.

The Bike gang that rode up looked like any other gang in the plex, on first glance. Kiro pointed out their lack of identifying insignia or colors. The proliferation of cyberware among them was also exceptional, Kiro noted. They also opened fire before bothering to talk to either Juan or Mr. Williams. After unloading their SMG's into their two victims, Badger watched the gang's leader fire his heavy pistol twice into each man's head. The screech of Williams' Doc Wagon bracelet blended with the sounds of the bikes' engines as they rode off.

Kiro offered Badger a ride home. Before they entered the Oakland Projects, he yelled into a comm unit he had taken from Voodoo Get your hoop down here now before deactivating it. When they pulled into the project, the Ork who became most obviously nonchalant garnered Kiro's attention. In command voice he yelled FREEZE and then took advantage of the Ork's momentary confusion to ride over to him.

Hoi, chummer. You know about the three at the park, don't you? You recognize this bike, this deck? What's that tell you? Your shaman was smart. She's gone. Juan wasn't. He's dead. The Johnson? He's dead too. My question for you is, are you smart enough to walk away or are you dumb enough to die trying to fill a contract from a dead Johnson, who won't be paying you?

Kiro then quickly got off the bike and moved quite close to Mack. In a voice that admitted no hesitation he said choose

Mack the Knife did not hesitate. He backed a step away slowly raised his hands and began leaving the projects. He said to Badger over his shoulder Stay lucky kid. It's better than anything.

When Kiro also started walking away Badger said Sensei, where are you going?

Home

But the deck, the bike....

You'll need the deck for school and the bike.....use the bike to come to the park tomorrow for dawn tai-chi. It'll make your aunt's spirit happy.

END TRANS


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