1:47a.m. Tuesday

Brad Parkhurst was in trouble. As he huffed and puffed along as fast as he could, his mind was full of regrets. He regretted that he made a habit of overeating, but never made a habit of exercise. He regretted that he'd never signed up for a Doc Wagon contract. He regretted that he'd left the protection of the arcology for a night of wild fun. He regretted that he'd chosen the most beautiful joygirl, hell, the most beautiful female he had ever seen. I should have known trim that fine doesn't have to sell in the streets...OH GOD! There they are!! he thought as he caught a glimpse of the pale lanky forms moving through the shadows. He taxed his already overworked heart with a burst of speed which would carry him out of the alley and into the street, but in his haste, neglected to note the glint of the monowire stretched across the alley mouth about a foot above the ground.

The shock of the pain of losing the lower third of his left leg was not immediate. Brad had actually hit the ground and was reaching for his shoe and staring at the blood gushing from his stump when the pain hit. The agony, combined with the adrenaline overload on his already taxed system put the corporate Associate Vice President for Fiscal Planning into coronary arrest. He spasmed and lost the tip of a finger to the monowire which had already cost him his leg. As the pack of Ghouls closed in around his failing body, his last regret was that he had forgotten to tell his wife he loved her before he had left for work that morning. Betty.................

4:00 a.m. Tuesday

Inspector Jim Bridger had risen through the ranks of Lone Star through a combination of a brilliant mind, a fascination with details and a persistence that bordered on the maniacal. In the course of his rapid promotion, the dwarf had been nicknamed Bulldog, Lockjaw and Deathgrip, but preferred the sobriquet "Mongo the Magnificent". He had picked up the turn of the century detective fiction of George C. Chesboro almost by accident, but when he had first read of the dwarf detective as a kid in school, it had changed his life.

What would Mongo make of this, he thought as he stepped out of the Lone Star cruiser. 15 Fuchi executives already missing and now number 16 leaves us a bit of finger as a going away present. He marched over to the area marked off by yellow police tape.

Sgt. Mark Shields sighed as he saw the diminutive detective advancing on the crime scene. What the hell is that little frag doing here? he thought. Since when does the tip of an index finger concern the Serial Crimes Unit? I thought those guys only did murder investigations. I've got to be the unluckiest son of a slitch on the planet. 4a.m. on a Tuesday and I get Lockjaw looking over my shoulder. Drek!

"Inspector Bridger, I'm Sgt. Shields. Here's what we've got so far: Victim, if he is a victim, is named Parkhurst, Brad. Forty-three year old norm male 6-1, 315 lbs. Associate VP Fiscal Planning at Fuchi. Married, wife's named Betty, maiden name...uh, Page. Two kids- boy, Thomas age 10, girl, Caroline, age 4."

Consulting his notes, Shields continued, "Left the arcology at 10:30. We flashed his picture at a couple of the all night sim houses and got two confirmations that he was a regular. Every two weeks he came down here for a night of California Hots and sometimes some company. No regular on the company, but didn't seem to use the houses, just took some street meat. Usher over at the Eihorn Theatre said he saw our boy with a stunner. 6-5 blonde amazon. She's not a regular on this beat either. Anyway, we don't know if he took a coffin or one of the hourly specials at the flea bags around here, but about 2 hours ago we got a tip that a corp was being rolled in the alley. Don't need any more heat from the 'cologies so we sent round a car. Found a lot of blood and the last joint of Parkhurst's index finger. DNA match confirmed. Must have just missed the action because blood and meat in this neighborhood brings the Devil Rats at speed."

"What time did the Usher say he saw Parkhurst with the Joygirl?" asked the Inspector.

"He said about 1:30."

"Where was this?"

"The Eihorn's about 8 blocks north. The kid saw them across from the theatre. Were still rousting the locals for confirmation."

"Hmmmm.....why did you say 'if he is a victim'?"

"Well, sir, we don't really know if there was even a crime. Maybe the guy lost the tip of the finger in an accident or something."

"And the volume of blood?"

"UH.........he's a bleeder? Look, I don't know why there's so much blood, but why is the head of the Serial Crime Unit on the scene when we don't even have a body?"

"Good point Sgt. I may just be wasting my time. We'll see."

"Uh....yes, sir"

7:45 a.m. Tuesday

Owen finished his morning workout, stopped and picked up some fruit and a bagel for breakfast and was just completing his shower when a knock sounded on the front door. He thought Who the hell could that be? It's not even 8 a.m.! Toweling himself off, he threw on a robe and checked the telecomm, whose screen he had set to relay the images of the fiber-opticams he had rigged in the hallway outside of his apartment. When the knock sounded again he was sure that the courier, if in fact she was a courier as her coveralls proclaimed, was alone. He activated the intercom and said "Who is it" and saw the courier had no reaction to the voice of the 98 year old grandmother that the computer let her hear. He received the reply "Speedy Messenger Service. I have a package which has to be signed for by a Mr. Glendower...."

"Well, why the dickens do you have to deliver at this hour of the morning? How's a body supposed to get any sleep?"

"My apologies, Ma'am, but the instructions specified a 7:45 a.m. delivery. I need to get Mr. Glendower's signature."


"Mr. Glendower, Ma'am."

"What about him?"

"I need to get his signature"

"I can't hear you."


"Whose signature?"


"All right, all right, I'm not deaf. No need to wake my neighbors." He said as he opened the door.

The messenger was trying to figure out who the little old lady was, while at the same time giving the customer a very thorough lookover. Not bad, she thought. Not bad at all. In fact he's pretty damn hot. Nice eyes, he's in great shape, I bet he was in the shower...

"....package, mizzz?"

"Oh...uh....sorry, I need your signature on line 12" she said when she realized she hadn't heard a thing he had said.

While he signed the form she pulled out the small cream-colored envelope and snuck another peek. When he returned her clipboard and took the envelope he smiled and she came to an immediate decision. "I'll also need to get a telecom number, sir. In the event that the company wants to check on the .....uh..quality of the service you received."

His smile grew as he said, "Well, how about I give you the number of the service I use. You, ....Your company can call me and leave a message and I'll get back to them."

"That'll be fine, Mr. Glendower, just fine." she was also smiling now.

He gave her the number, noticing that she wasn't writing it down, but seemed to be memorizing it. He took the envelope and wished her a great day as he closed the door. He glanced at the envelope as he thought, Aw, a little harmless flirtation in the early morning. Probably brighten both our days. I bet even Sayla....drek! Glancing at the only holo in his entire doss, he studied the beautiful gray eyed elf woman who smiled so sweetly and thought, Sayla's great...I just wish she could separate her work from life. Every time she comes back from a mission we have such a wiz time right up 'till she starts pushing for me to join her group. I really like her, she's terrific, but damn! Her 'Paladins of the White Hart' get on just fine without me and I've had enough of faceless planners dictating my life. I don't know if she keeps after me about joining because she wants to be around me all of the time, or because she's been assigned to recruit me, or if she's just getting into that damn dominating-your-life-because-I'm-the-female-and-somebody-has-to-tell-you-what's-best thing.... And she always tries to make me feel guilty by describing injuries that wouldn't have happened if I was there. Maybe if I was less....less what? Another internal voice demanded, Less of a milksop, a gutless wonder, a doormat. If you stood up for yourself, told her once and for all to drop the subject or you were through....Yeah, but I really like her. I don't want to walk away. I......Aw drek. My head hurts. Sit down and eat your breakfast before you give yourself a hernia trying to think at this hour.

He opened the envelope to find a stiff piece of stationary, on which was written

Dear Boy:

It has been several weeks since your last visit and your neglect of a frail old woman is shameful. I am becoming cross with you. I warn you that if you do not bring your pretty hoop to my shop this evening I shall be most displeased.


A command performance, eh? It has been a while since I've seen the old girl, but last time when I brought Sayla with me, I got that arctic reception from Seka and Katya. Yeesh! And Madame M wasn't too thrilled either. She made it clear that our time was supposed to be private.....Well, you'd better bring flowers, boy. A whole drekload of flowers. Looks like your evening is committed.

He set the telecomm to split screen and retrieved his messages without sound while scanning the newsfaxes as he ate. Only way to keep your hand in for lip-reading, he thought. He saw that Mr. Greenblat was calling to tell him that the print copy of Stone's Glossary of Arms and Armor had come in and was being held for him. Lou Fredric had called again to ask about Kyudo instruction, Have to see about both Yumi and Ya (Japanese bow and arrows) and make sure that its taught elsewhere in the plex, so I don't violate Retsudo Yagyu's restrictions. Also have to find an isolated place to work, or I might wind up with more than a single student. Don't really need another scene like the Tai-chi "classes" in the park. Kyudo.... He was lost for a few moments in the memories of the awe with which he first beheld the 2.20 meter bow being wielded by a tiny Asian norm. He owed a greater debt to Sensei Mafune Kyuzo than to nearly any other being, because the spiritual training for the bow, the Shado, had led him, eventually, to the Satori, the moment of illumination, that had changed his life. Chandler's advice was practical but Sensei Mafune's silences were spiritual.

Breaking off the reverie with a sigh, he realized that he had missed the last message. He replayed it and found himself facing an attractive Ork female. He turned up the volume when he recognized that between her distress and the handkerchief she was using, he was bound to miss something without the sound.

"I'm sorry to bother you Mr.G", she said, "You probably don't remember me, but you saved my life at Maria's when Willie tried to snap my neck. My name is Barbie, and though I never got a chance that night, I wanted to say thank you. Maria said she got this number from a feline friend of hers, whatever that means. Anyway, I'm calling because Itami's in trouble and needs your help. Those gangers, the High Hats, figured out that it was you who messed them up when they blew up Hanzo's limo and now they want you. They said that Itami will pay for his crimes, but if you don't give yourself up, they'll make it last for weeks. Then they say they'll take out Maria's place and anything else that's associated with you. Maria says you should spit in their eye, that she'll kick their hoops, but I'm scared. I don't want you to be ambushed but I don't want those fraggers on the warpath either. Itami always talks about you like you're superman or something and I saw how fast you are, but a squirt gun isn't going to stop these guys. They said that they'll start on Itami tonight, so you have until then to put your affairs in order. They said you should be at the place where 'you murdered our brothers' at sundown. With all of his other buddies dead or missing, you're the only one who Itami could turn to, but if you go, be careful. Those bastards want blood."

Well, so much for a relaxing day, Owen thought.

9:00 a.m. Tuesday

When he called for Felix he was immediately put through.

"Well, babe, what can I do for you?" asked the troll fixer with her best cat-eating-the-canary grin.

"You can forget about exchanging favors right off the bat." Owen replied. Felix was one of the top fixers in the plex, a woman who could accomplish virtually anything. Anything, that is, except get Owen into her 'stable' of talent. Working from meager clues the fixer had deduced several of the jobs Owen had done, been very impressed with his efficient 'style' and proceeded to use everything in her arsenal to get the physical adept to work for her. She was sure that, with him as a sort of Ace-in-the-hole, she could guarantee her clients satisfaction on any job. She was willing to give him anything, but he continued to resist her enticements. Now that he wanted something, she was determined to find a way to use it to secure his services.

"Owen, babe, you do me wrong. I would never try to hold you over a barrel" she said. "I want you to be part of my happy family. Jeanie wants you to be part of my happy family. Oh, before I forget, she said if you called while she was out to be sure to tell you how grateful she was for bringing back her brother. She was too overcome at the funeral but she appreciated the flowers and the letter, but most of all that you joined us. It meant a lot to her and the two weeks he was in town with her was something she blessed you for after he was killed. We owe you for everything you did, Owen. Now, what can I do to help you?"

"Felix, that smile of yours scares the hell out of me. I need some data on a gang called the High Hats. Biker gang. I need whatever you can get in the next 4 hours. I need accurate and fast and I'm willing to pay whatever......"

"Owen," she interrupted, "weren't you listening? I just said that your risking your hoop in Newark for Jeanie's brother and then extending yourself at his funeral means we owe you. I don't want your creds. I'll get you the data, gratis."

"No, no, no. I know you, woman. It'll start as a favor here and a favor there and pretty soon I'll owe you and you'll start giving me work. We agreed on my price for Graham, and it was that you get him treatment. You don't owe me for that. As for Jeanie at the funeral, that was simple courtesy, the stuff people do because they're not animals. No debt involved. I want a cash for data deal. If you can't handle it I'll pay you for the name of another fixer who can."

"That's something I won't sell. I'm not giving my competition any smell of you, babe. Now why don't you let me get started and....."

"Give me a price, Felix," he interrupted in a tone that said he was about to disconnect, "Or I'll find somebody who will....."

"Ok, OK! Geez....were you a fixer in a previous life? I'll charge you....say...500...." When she saw the look on his face she said in a quieter voice, "ok, 2k is going rate for what you want. HQ, territory, membership, armament, methods, leadership. I'll call back in three and a half. And before you say anything, Maria and I go way back, she was desperate to reach you and she promised she'd destroy the number when she was done."

"Felix, if you think that hangdog act is going to make me feel guilty for being rude...well, you're right. I'm sorry. But I'm still not going to get suckered into working for you. I'm transferring the 2k to you now. I'll talk to you later.

9:15 a.m. Tuesday

Owen changed into his stealth suit, over which he threw jeans and a work shirt, a shoulder holster and then his new composite-armor lined duster. He secreted a dozen non-metal weapons around his person and in the inner pockets of his coat hid burglary tools. He slid his Goren Bee, a custom made squirter which looked like a High Standard .22 of the previous century, but functioned exactly like the Ares Supersquirt II, into the shoulder holster after making certain that it was loaded with his favorite formula of Elephant Tranq and DMSO. He slipped his Sten Blade, a 10 inch double edged crystal knife into the ceramic lined sheath on his belt. The blade, which had been grown in the zero G environment of the space platforms, was only 17 molecules thick at it's edge and because the edge was on a rigid frame the knife was a more effective cutting tool than a monowhip in many instances. He picked up his heavy short staff and looked in the mirror. He was now more effectively armed and armored than the average Lone Star Patrolmen, but would not trip any metal detectors. He decided that springing Hanzo might require some heavier firepower and pulled a grenade bag from the small safe in the floor of the linen closet. He then threw his rebreather into the bag, slipped on his lowlight sunglasses and began running through a mental checklist. After a few minutes he grabbed a personal stick with one of his many aliases, a few certified sticks against expenses and remembering his encounter with the man-wolf tossed a few silvered and wooden weapons into the bag. Not going to get killed because the fraggers invulnerable to my weapons, he thought. Now dressed for battle, he was about to begin meditating when another knock sounded at the door.

Owen checked the telecomm and saw a pair of "suits" at the door. "Suits" was Owen's description of the corp-type recruiters that the opticams revealed. He had seen the type before and knew they signified complications in his life. He immediately grabbed his flute, the remaining sticks in the safe and a backpack "bugout" bag that he had prepared for such an emergency, into which he jammed his armored cloak. He then checked the camera on the backdoor of the apartment and cursed as he saw another team waiting for him there. He assumed they would have the fire escape on the west side of the building covered so he pulled the memory modules out of the telecomm, grabbed Sayla's holo and slipping on the backpack, opened a window on the north side of the apartment.

His combat sense operating at maximum he stepped out onto the ledge, locking the window behind him with it's trip catch. Slipping his staff into the lining sleeve in the front of his duster, he put on his Shuko and used the claws in the palms of the gloves to begin climbing down the outside of the building. He arrived at the street seconds later and as he was trotting away heard a voice back up on the fifth floor yelling "Stop, Mr. Glendower, we want to talk to you...." Without a backwards glance he jumped onto his Blitzen 2025 and rode away.

9:30 a.m. Tuesday


Login: Felix
Password: ********
Rook's Pawn
******* ****** *****

**** ***


Please engage decrypt protocol 7


Current lurkers: 24
Board open 0:22:11 ago--TIME REMAINING 2:37:49
Node next availability +27.5 hours current
Chat room?



High Hats


I'm interested in pertinent data on this biker gang. HQ, territory, membership, armament, methods, leadership, capabilities, contacts, history. Offering .2 points per-F

F- I can sell you three of those, if you'll give me .7-Kyle
Felix, for you I'll do a deal. Territory, methods, capabilities and history for a measly point-Grendel
Felix, one stop shopping. All that you're asking plus a bonus for 2 points-Candyman

Don't tease me, Candy. I recall you made some similar claims on a certain Cutter's BTL deal which nearly got you banned-F

Felix, I'm wounded. Haven't you ever made an honest mistake and passed along erroneous data believing it was accurate? I've got what you need and for you, I'll take the 1.8 and let you judge the bonus. What could be fairer?-Candyman
F- don't get suckered. You can get my three for .5, and you know I'll give you the straight skinny-Kyle
Felix, please, let us not sink to the level of hagglers at a bazaar. This is not a flea market, regardless of how some users act. I have been the fixer of record for the group you seek and can give you as much detail as you need. 1.7 points gets you the rest from a voice of authority.-Candyman

Close bidding. LOG TRANSFER 1.7 points to account CANDYMAN. Data transfer encryption account Felix, mark private.-F


Open message -F

Thank you, Felix. As I mentioned I have been the fixer of record for the High Hats for the past 2 months. Normally I protect my people, but we've had a falling out recently and as far as I'm concerned, all bets are off. Before their recent growth spurt the biker gang had been stable with a membership of 36. I believe they had been about 50 strong a few years ago and in the last 2 months their ranks have swelled to approximately 60 (+/- 10%).
Gang Leader
Top Hat
Heavily Cybered
Executive Officer
Straw Hat
Shaman (totem unknown)
Financial Officer
Sgt. at Arms


Under Boss
Angela Deth
total sociopath
Under Boss


Under Boss


Under Boss
some bioware
Although they are not actually leaders, the High Hats also have a Sorcerer Adept (Marley) and a Rat shaman (Julius). Both are norm males. Julius is old guard and stays away from Sheila whenever possible.
Approximately 3 months ago Crown, Sheila and Charts joined and began a meteoric rise through the gang. Securing the top spots in the hierarchy, they began an aggressive campaign of recruitment and expansion. Within 6 weeks of joining they had virtually eliminated the old guard and installed their own selections in the positions of power. Their expansion is all the more remarkable for the number of old-timers killed while making room for new blood. A successful campaign against two smaller rival gangs has made them an up- and-comer on the gang scene while payola distributed through yours truly has kept Lone Star action to a minimum. Income for the gang generated by BTL and chemical trade along with standard Protection, extortion, strong arm work.
Territory, HQ
Lower east side gang headquartered in Executive Envelope factory building. EE went belly up in '48 and High Hats have squatted there for years. Control extends approximately 10 blocks in each direction from HQ. Call it 4 square miles. Includes entire "Tenderloin". See map file attached.
Armament, Capabilities, Methods
Due to the hard work of a certain brilliant fixer, whom I blush to say is none other than me, the High Hats have the latest in Small Arms and Handguns. They have also purchased 3 assault cannons, 2 Vindicator miniguns, 3 attack drones and more plas ex than I like to think about. Since they don't yet have a rigger in the gang, the drones are more indicative of the forward thinking of the leadership than a part of their armaments. On that last point, the forward thinking seems to be generated largely by the Straw Hat whom I suspect is at the center of a menage a trois between Crown and Charts. Having dealt with all three, I would venture that Crown has way too much testosterone and Charts' concern for the details keeps the larger picture from his grasp. Only Sheila has the vision to drive the group. She seems to be biding her time until the group is powerful enough to achieve some goal she has in mind for it. She is also capable of diplomacy, flattery, extortion, and brutality to accomplish her ends. Think of her as someone who has memorized Machiavelli's "The Prince" the way a preacher memorizes the bible. The High Hats are a biker gang. Their methods are usually biker gang methods, except when Sheila decides that some other strategy is called for. They are growing at a rate which is alarming to the Night Tigers, the Jerome Avenue AC's and the Warriors, all of whom have territory bordering the High Hats'.
The High Hats are currently clearing the books while they grow in strength. They have been after delinquent accounts, unauthorized departures and past petty thefts. One gets the sense that they are attempting to keep an edge while waiting for something that will probably be unpleasant. Most recently they have been nosing around after your boy Glendower. He apparently sanctioned several members who attacked a limo he was riding in and has been designated a target of opportunity. Knowing your concern with that individual, I hope you will demonstrate your usual generosity when evaluating this unsolicited data.

Close private message and download -F

LOG TRANSFER .5 points account CANDYMAN-F

Thank you, Felix. It's nice to see that not everyone considers this board a bargain basement where low price is the only goal-Candyman
Felix, just remember where you got that data and how much you paid when you find out about it's accuracy-Kyle



LOG OFF PROTOCOL///Points expended this session 2.3///Points gained this session 0/// Previous Point Total 39.7///Current point total 37.4

9:45 a.m. Tuesday

It's not fair! It's not! thought the old woman as she huddled in the corner of the big box she had chosen to hide in. They only come out at night.... Everybody knows that... They're not supposed to be here now....the sun is up. They shouldn't be here. They shouldn't. As the deranged old crone's brain fixated on this thought she became more and more upset. In fact, she was furious. They have no right to be here! It's not their time! Everything has a everything, turn, turn, turn...a time to every purpose under heaven.... Suddenly she sprang from her box and waving a dilapidated and tattered umbrella as though it were a fencing foil, screamed at the Ghouls sniffling through the abandoned warehouse "A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap. THIS IS NOT YOUR TIME. YOU ONLY COME OUT AT NIGHT! YOU CANNOT BE HERE NOW!!

She might as well have been reciting the Mahabarata in Sanskrit for all of the difference it made to the shambling forms. They advanced on her, tore the old woman to pieces and ate the scraps before returning to their methodical, plodding search.




INTERLUDE (2 weeks earlier)

Anna was wondering about a new alliance. She had only drawn one assignment since she and Chandler had brought Gray (or Owen as he was now calling himself) back to face the Lord of the Compound, and the beautiful Asian norm assassin found that she was restless after seeing her old flame. He was so self-possessed, so assured. They said he faced the dragon for 12 hours in a row and then went back the next day and did it again. He's grown up. It would have been nice to....Wait a minute! What are you thinking of? He's given up the art! He could have been greater then Archangel and he just walked away. Are you daydreaming of allying yourself with a civilian?! Have you lost your mind?

Although she tried to focus on her career as an assassin, some part of her kept remembering her past with Gray and left her feeling her life was lacking something. Then Seme returned to the Compound. Taking his name from the traditional sword of the Masai, the Panther shaman was huge, not only his size (6'10, 265 lbs.) but his voice, his appetites, his laughter, everything about the African norm was larger than life. Anna was swept up in his charisma. She lost herself in his enthusiasm and within a few days was a regular bedpartner. She adjusted her schedule to match his as Seme never went out except after sunset. "The Panther is a night hunter, woman, I have no use for the sun."

Anna knew that Seme was keeping other woman, that he would disappear for hours and return with an unabashedly sated look, but she was so caught up in his magic that she didn't demand anything of him. She didn't even mind when Seme kept returning to questions about Gray. 'What Gray had been like as a child?', 'Why she and Gray had broken up?', 'What Gray was like now?'. The shaman also asked very personal questions about how Gray was in bed and would she sleep with him again if she could. Although Anna was usually cagey about what she exposed of her personal feelings to anyone, she felt compelled to give Seme all the details he asked for.

A small part at the back of her mind recognized that Seme had some agenda and that he was using her, but the majority of her mind was focused on how wonderful it felt to be with someone who was powerful and strong and confident.

9:30 a.m. Tuesday

Owen rode at speed away from the suits who had staked out his flop. Other then some dress clothes and his books, there was nothing in the apartment that he needed to replace. Fortunately, after his last experience with his doss being placed under observation, he had set up several "safe houses" which he could use as a base of operations. Avoiding his car, which might also be staked out, he rode to a RadioShack where he purchased a bug scanner which he used to make sure that his bike was free of tracers. Along with a new wrist phone he also bought a multiple frequency jammer against a need to interfere with High Hat communications.

Recognizing that he still had a few hours to kill before he could collect the data from Felix, Owen found a building overlooking the area where he and Itami Hanzo had been ambushed. He jimmied the security lock on the roof access door and then wedged the door closed behind him. In the privacy of his high observation post, Owen began the meditation that had been interrupted by the "suits".

12:15 p.m. Tuesday

Felix used her time to good advantage. She had rigorously checked the data she had bought from Candyman against her own files as well as her network of snitches and informers. She sent her deckers into the matrix to grab what data they could about the biker gang and had personally contacted "Block" of the Jerome Avenue AC's to check the accuracy of her other sources. When she was done she was confident that she wouldn't be passing along bad data to Owen. She was about to call him when her private line rang.

"Felix" she said.

"Boss, I got a Owen Glendower on the line. You want ta talk to him?"

"Yeah, put him through."


"Owen, babe, you're early, and I'm not getting a video feed. Is something up?"

"Well, Felix, I'll tell you. After you and I talked a number of suits showed up at my doss. Had the look of corp recruiters. I pulled a fade and began E E (escape and evasion). You haven't been uh..indiscreet, about me, have you? "

"Babe, think about that for a minute. After all the effort, time and money I've spent trying to get you to join my team, would I alert my competition so that they can try to hire you? Not bloody likely! Do you know who they were?"

"Hey, I literally saw them at the door and went out the window. They had the look of corp recruiters although they could have been Jehovah's Witnesses for all the time I spent with them. Let's get back to the issue at hand. What have you found on the High Hats?"

"I've got an entire dossier here but it sounds like you aren't going to be able to take the data download, which means I'll have to read you the whole thing. I guess I can describe the maps. Ok, here goes...." for the next hour Felix read all of the data she had accumulated to Owen. He memorized her every word and asked questions whenever the details appeared nebulous. When they were finished Owen had a fairly complete layout of what he needed to know.

"Shall I look into those recruiters for you, babe?" the fixer asked at the end of their conversation.

"Felix, your tone is all innocence, but I can hear you rubbing your hands together with glee as I rely on you more and more heavily. No. I don't like the idea of an unknown behind me at all, but I like the idea of digging myself into debt to anybody even less. Thank you for your offer, and thank you for your thorough job with the High Hats, but let's leave my unknown visitors alone for the time being. Be seeing you" he said as he disconnected.

1:30 p.m. Tuesday

As Owen pictured the maps that Felix had described, he imagined that the railroad siding which ran to the abandoned factory was the most direct route through High Hat territory. Because the spur had a "right of way" for 150 feet on either side of the track, there wasn't the same kind of ambush possibilities that existed on city streets. Owen correctly assessed that the gang might be prepared for an attack in force or, more likely, an ambush at the surrender site, they would not expect a single rider to approach the headquarters' back door.

Owen knew that there was nothing to be gained by waiting until dark as the gangers would all be on peak alert after the sun went down. No time like the present, he thought as he went back down to his bike and began his ride to the abandoned factory. After a quick and quiet approach which had gone unchallenged, Owen was feeling more confident when he parked his bike and activated the security system. His confidence ended when the high velocity slug from the heavy sniper rifle on the roof knocked him down like a ten pin.

1:31 p.m. Tuesday

"Inspector Bridger" said the soft voiced executive in the tailored high fashion suit. The norm male was not handsome as much as he was pretty. His good looks were almost feminine and the indolence of his voice and manner indicated that he was well aware of his androgynous appeal. Sensuous was Bridger's initial thought, but as the detective recognized how deliberate the pose was he changed it to Decadent. Subtle, almost unconscious indicators eventually led the Dwarf to see how carefully calculated the mask was and eventually he concluded that the entire persona was a construct designed to disguise what was probably a very effective mind gazing out from under heavy half-closed eye lids.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Wainwright?"

"I'd like to know what progress your people have made in discovering where all our employees have gone. Our own security", he said in a voice that was at once confidential and disparaging, "doesn't have a clue and unless some progress is made, I'm afraid heads are going to roll throughout the entire security directorate.... Oh, my. I just realize how that must sound to a homicide detective. I didn't mean that heads would literally roll, you know...."

Nodding the Dwarf replied "I do understand figures of speech, sir."

"Of course, of course. So what progress have you made?"

"Unfortunately, very little, sir. In fact, Mr. Parkhurst's fingertip is the first concrete indication we've had that a crime has been committed."

"My dear inspector, I assure you that the lower mid-level managers who have disappeared are not relocating to other companies. We have looked both locally and nationally and our people are not simply changing affiliations."

"Perhaps they are moving outside the UCAS." Bridger suggested.

"Of course, that's possible. They could be all moving down to Aztlan for their health, leaving friends, wives, children, and bank accounts behind them." The look on Wainwright's face showed how likely this seemed to him. "Or they could have each gotten a sudden urge to become ascetic monks and fled to Tibet, or......"

"Yes, sir," the Dwarf interrupted. "I take your point. If we didn't believe their was foul play involved I wouldn't have been called in. What I meant to say earlier was that we have deduced abductions, but have not found any supporting evidence. No eye-witnesses, no ransom demands, no clues of any kind. The only thing that the victims have in common was they were all visiting "the tenderloin" area when they disappeared. Other than that we have very little to go by. With Miss Riley, Miss Hardesty and Mrs. Deefenbach, they don't even all have the same gender as a common point. Age range goes from 24 through 53, sexual preference is not consistent...."

"What about company affiliation?" Asked Wainwright.

"Like gender, it shows a general tendency but doesn't allow us to exclude anyone. There were more male victims than females, but women disappeared too. There were more Fuchi disappearances than others, but Renraku, Ares, Sader-Krupp, Mitsuhama all of the majors have lost people ."

"Would it be improper for you to give me a list?"

"Well, that's not really in my mandate. I'm in the business of collecting information, not dispensing it."

"But with the assets at our disposal, we might be able to eliminate some of the victims. If, for example, we knew they had been extracted to work for another company we could rule out foul play. If we could eliminate some of those on the list by mistake, a pattern might reveal itself."

"I have thought of that, Mr. Wainwright, but we both work for corporations that are, by habit, distrustful and would rather suffer in silence than reveal their weakness. Let's be honest, the only reason you have given me as much data as you have is that the problem has grown to such a level that revealing weakness to get help has been deemed more profitable than sustaining loss in silence. The other corps have not reached that point and would consider my 'sharing' with you a betrayal of trust".

"I see," said the corp, returning to his pose of indolence with a sigh.

"The only thing I can suggest at the moment is to warn your people to stay out of the Tenderloin until we are able to figure out whatever is going on down there."

"Well, thank you, inspector. Here is my card. Please contact me at any hour if you get any leads. I would appreciate it. A pleasure meeting you."

INTERLUDE II (3 days earlier)

Anna recognized that Seme was building a team of Compound operatives. He had recruited Monty "Crash" Burns to rig for him, though what he had used to induce the undernourished Ork male to join the team was a mystery as Crash seemed to have no interest in anything but his machines. He had drawn in the Troll twins, Left and Right, whose tastes, if rumor were to be believed, ran to the incestuous. The huge females were, in the words of one instructor, "blessedly free of the ravages of intelligence", so the question again arose as to what the shaman had offered them to gain their co-operation. Finally he had acquired the services of Wedge Sullivan, the decker. Wedge was a norm refugee from the CAS who, considering his personal history was the last person on earth she would pick to work with the African assassin. A "good ole boy" and fifth generation Klansman, Sullivan called the pure-blood racist policlubs 'soft' for not keeping the white race free of browns, reds and yellows. How a black norm, shaman or not, could get the klucker to work with an Ork, a pair of Trolls and an Asian norm was totally unfathomable.

At some level Anna was aware that Seme's team would be hunting for Gray. She hesitated more out of fear of her former lover, whom she had seen in action, than from any emotional consideration, but a tiny part of her regretted the fact that Gray could not survive. The larger part of her consciousness was anticipating the reputation she would gain from eliminating one of the best assassins the Compound had ever produced.

1:33 p.m. Tuesday

Sammy the Bull was pleased with the shot. He had hand-loaded each shell in the clip of the Walther MA 2100 and had never ever had a jam or a misfire. He had saved everything to pay for a heavy sniper rifle with a smartlink and had never failed on a target. That was why he had been selected to cover the factory's back door. One troll from a high position with the right tool was worth a dozen sams in full body armor at street level. When he was certain that the body lying face down next to the bike was a singleton, he called for backup as policy demanded. Humph.... POLICY since when did a fraggin' biker gang need POLICY? he thought. Though, I gotta admit, the High Hats have never done better than they have with Crown in charge. Him and that Sheila, man, now there's some tail I could really go for......Drek! Why the frag isn't anybody checking the body? Didn't they hear me?

"Back door to rover, back door to rover, do you copy? Over" click All he heard was the hiss of static.

"Back door to base, back door to base, do you copy? Over" click After a few seconds of waiting:

"Can anybody hear this fraggin' thing, over". click

"Frag this" The troll sniper rose from his concealed position on the roof and slinging his rifle started climbing down the fire escape outside of the building. He had been warned repeatedly against going inside the building by no less a personage than the Fedora, himself.

"Listen, omae. Dis is da chip truth. Ya don wanna go in dere. Ya could get yerself permanently dead. I mean we'd hafta bury a lot of little piles of Ghoul drek ta get ya in da ground. Ya hear me? Just stay da frag outta da fraggin buildin' an yall be ok."

Sammy the Bull wouldn't have taken that warning from anybody but the Fedora, but he'd seen the Troll Sgt. at Arms take his title literally when he tore the arm off the Ork, Whitey, and beat him to death with it. Beowulf was nobody to frag with and if he said don't go in the building, that was good enough for Sammy.

When he reached ground level he was tempted to check out the bike, which he immediately recognized as the Blitzen 2025. He figured he would get to claim the BMW, having iced it's owner, but before he could look the hog over he went to check the body. Business before pleasure, he told himself. He tried kicking the body over, but it was stuck on something. In his mind's eye he pictured the heavy bullet entering his victim's back and erupting from his chest with enough force to blow out rib fragments. Ugh, the fraggers probably stuck in the ground by his own ribs, he thought as he knelt down to turn the body by hand.

The death Sammy received for his trouble was one he had never imagined. Not that Sammy spent a lot of time imagining his own grisly demise, but even if he had, having a composite Misericorde jammed between his eyes and through his brain would not have been an end he envisioned. The thrusting dagger of 15th century France was the instrument for delivering the "coup de grace" to a fallen foe. The long thin blade of the "dagger of mercy" was intended to be thrust between armor plates, but Owen thrust it between the bones of the Troll's head. As Sammy the Bull crumpled, Owen got slowly to his feet.

That is definitely going to leave a mark, he thought. Damnation! If that bastard hadn't tried to put the bullet through both backpack and back, I would be extremely dead. Owen grabbed the Troll's body and painfully dragged him into the shadows alongside the building. He then deactivated the security system on the bike so that he could move that out of sight too. When the bike was concealed he reactivated the security system, removed his backpack and squatted down in the shadows. As he took out his cloak and examined the backpack, he saw that the folded up cloak which he had thrust into the pack as he fled his apartment had once again saved his life. The layer upon layer of poly-Kevlar material had stopped the penetration of the bullet. Only the kinetic energy of the slug had been transferred. Feels like this bad boy got to tag me with a haymaker while my back was turned. Drek! Serves me right for being overconfident and not concentrating on combat awareness. Let's see how much this is gonna slow me down. Squatting in the shadows Owen ran through a number of yogic stretching exercises until he was confident in his flexibility. The pain would be with him for a while, but he had worked in pain before and knew some mental tricks that would allow him to continue his mission to extract Hanzo. His next step was to get inside the factory.

1:48 p.m. Tuesday

Turning off the jammer, Owen removed the cloak from his backpack. The snipers bullet had made one hole through the cloak, but he knew he would feel more comfortable in it than in the long duster. He took a few minutes to move his tools from the duster to the pockets of the cloak, and then took both medkit and flute out of his backpack. He left the pack and duster with the bike and took the sniper rifle and comm unit from the dead troll as he again put on the spiked palm gloves. In very little time, Owen had climbed to the roof of the derelict factory.

Cutting the hinges from the locked roof door with his monowire saw, Owen affected a silent entry into the uppermost level of the High Hat headquarters. From the building's rafters he reconsidered the wisdom of using the sniper rifle. He had grabbed it on the thought that it might come in handy, but now realized that if he attempted to conduct this extraction through force, he would quickly be overwhelmed and destroyed. If, on the other hand, he attempted this run in silence, he might at least get to the ork before he was forced to deal with an outraged army of bikers. With this in mind he slipped the sniper gun into the rafters and began a silent descent.

He moved from rafters to catwalks to the factory's massive 2nd floor. The gang apparently did not use this level as the dust was quite thick and undisturbed. He moved silently but quickly as he was sure the gang would be starting their day soon and needed to find Itami before they began torturing him in earnest. The message they had left with Barbie seemed to indicate that Hanzo would be spared torture if Owen surrendered, but who the hell would enforce terms like that if both he and the Ork where in the gang's hands?

As he approached the main floor his combat sense was at maximum awareness. He had altered his breathing and movement patterns and was using all available cover, as he attempted to be invisible. Twice he froze in awkward positions as gang members passed near enough to touch. Owen also knew that there were three magically active members of the High Hats, who might become aware of him through some kind of magic drek. He needed to move along quickly if he were going to avoid the attention of the spell slingers. Little did Owen realize that his choice of bringing the sniper rifle with him had already gotten him past the magical guardian for the factory.

When the Rat shaman Julius had set up the Headquarters watcher he had discovered that the spirit was not smart enough to recognize a large number of people if they changed their clothes. Since the gang members did (occasionally) change their clothes, his answer was to draw a magical sign on a piece of property that each High Hat always had with them. This way the spirit would "recognize" the large number of individuals who came and went every day without setting off alarms with each arrival or departure. With most individuals, the gang's "colors" were the enchanted item, but for Sammy the Bull it was his sniper rifle, so when Owen carried it in the spirit "knew" he was a member of the High Hats and let him enter without raising an alarm.

2:22 p.m. Tuesday

Owen saw an area where all of the High Hats parked their bikes. There was a service bay with heavy machinery and several 55 gallon drums of gasoline in one area and row upon row of gleaming street machines parked around the central "shop". Pulling his Sten blade Owen began severing electrical connections on the bikes, but soon realized that he would be caught long before he had crippled all of the gangs' scooters. The only way to avoid being seen was to avoid staying in any one area. With this in mind, he moved quickly and quietly over to the fuel drums. Picking a plastic bag up off the floor, he set a stun grenade for five minutes, placed it in the bag and dropped it into an open gas drum. Not entirely certain that the "thunderflashes" would ignite the gasoline fumes, he used some tape from his kit to tie two stun grenades together. He set them for 4 and a half minutes and placed one on the lid of another gas drum, with its partner dangling above the open hole. When the stunners went off, one would be dropped into the fuel while the other was going off on the lid. You hope, he thought. Of course, if you'd bought some high explosive or incendiary grenades, you wouldn't have to rely on this jury rig, you drekhead. If this doesn't work you may be taking a very short trip.

Owen slipped away from the vehicle area and found the secured door to the factory offices. Assuming that this would be where the gang's leaders made their home, rather than trying to break in, he continued scouting. Moving along the wall he found a "shooting range" and a guarded secure room that was probably the gang's armory. Wish I could check that out, he thought. I bet they've got more than noisemakers in there. But it's guarded and probably alarmed, I still don't know where Hanzo is and my clock's running. Before leaving the area Owen set 2 stun grenades for 5 minutes and left them in the area between the guards and the bikes.

He came upon the "Commissary" and used one of his last three gas grenades. Setting the grenade for 2 minutes he smiled as he thought of the reaction this "present" would get. Didn't everybody want some puke and tear gas with their first cup of coffee in the afternoon? He slipped on his rebreather mask and moved back towards the offices as one of the most likely places to secure a prisoner.

As he moved back along the wall he infringed on the space of a very territorial Devil Rat. Rather than avoid the human, it hissed a warning and prepared to attack. I don't have time for this, Owen thought as he drew a throwing star. As soon as he released the shuriken he realized his error. You don't kill rats in a rat shaman's house, drekhead! As the rat died, Julius screams of alarm began.

The High Hats' immensely strong Sgt. at Arms had just left his bedroom when he heard the agonized wail of the rat shaman. He opened the security doors to "officers' country" only to find himself flying backwards as he received an iron palm strike to the center of his chest. Almost as soon as he landed he was back on his feet and facing the cloaked figure who had given him the nudge. He drew an axe from his belt with his right hand and extended a set of cyberclaws from his left and smiled at his smaller opponent.

Hung Fut! screamed Owen's mind. 'Ware the attack sinister! As Owen pulled his staff, he saw he was exactly correct as the Troll began with a left handed slash intended to confuse his opponent, while he would use the Masa Kari for a follow up attack. Owen dodged under the swipe by adopting the Ta Sheng Men squatting pose called "monkey snatches plum" and thrust his staff into the Troll's crotch. As Beowulf's eyes bugged out of his head and he started to double over, Owen thrust the staff upwards and smashed the front of the throat, collapsing the giants' trachea and cutting off his air supply. The Fedora crumpled and began dying without having made a sound.

Owen grabbed two grenades off the bandoleer across the dying troll's chest and recognizing by the striping that they were fragmentation grenades, went back to the security door, pulled the pins and lobbed them into the group which was surrounding the rat shaman as he examined his defunct little friend. He re-secured the doors and had pulled the troll partway into an office/bedroom when the pineapples went off. He finished pulling the troll into the room and closed the door.

At the first sounds of Julius screaming, Crown, Sheila and Charts rolled out of the massive bed they shared and began scrambling into their pants. When the grenades went off, Crown grabbed his SCK model 100 and ran out without shirt or shoes. Sheila had thrown on her blouse when the fuel tanks started exploding and realizing they were truly under attack, grabbed her fetish covered leather jacket and ran to defend her headquarters. She shouted over her shoulder for Charts to grab the prisoner and join them fast. As soon as he was alone, the elf decker opened the safe where the gang kept it's liquid assets. I'll bring the Ork, but I ain't leaving our warchest of 223K in certified sticks behind, he thought. He strapped on his deck and grabbing his TMP moved to the room where they had locked up the Ork.

As he was unlocking the door he saw a movement from the corner of his eye and turned just in time to catch a sling stone in the orbit above his left eye. His brain was trying to simultaneously process the billowing black shape that was speeding down the hall towards him, the fountain of red that was pouring into the eye and the tremendous pain that comes from having a facial bone shattered. Before his brain could order the information or make a decision about it, Owen's staff smashed the back of his neck, breaking it and turning the brain off.

Owen caught the slumping elf and tossed the corpse through the door. He found a bound, gagged and bloody, but relatively whole Itami Hanzo. After cutting the Orks bonds, Owen began searching the elf's body. He was looking for more grenades or ammo for the SMG, which he gave to Hanzo, but found only credsticks. He slipped them into his cloak and appropriated the deck. Hanzo was about to express his thanks when they heard Crown's bellow. The Top Hat had ducked back into his room to get his clothes while cursing about the attack. When he found the decker gone and the safe empty he bellowed for the elf.

Crown burst through the room's doors and backhanded Hanzo before the Ork could even bring his Sandler up. As the force of the blow knocked him into the wall Owen dropped his staff, which would be tough to use against such a fast opponent in such a small space and filled his hand with his composite ASP collapsing baton. He thought I guess he left his guns with his other boot, as he dodged four lightning quick blows before he could even extend the baton for a counterattack. Knowing from Crown's speed and strength that he was probably mostly metal, Owen wanted to avoid strikes to the limbs. At least one of his legs is steel, judging by the way he smashed the TMP with one stomp. Owen swung at Crown's head, but the ganger was too quick and Owen only landed a glancing blow. As the Top Hat tried to back out of attack range, Owen kept moving forward. Finally the gang leader tried a straight forward, stiff legged, kick. Owen stepped in to block the base leg and with a Chow-Gar pushing palm block continued the kicking motion higher than previously possible for the ganger. Although both Crown's legs were metal, Owen's counter proved that the connective tissue between them was not, and the groin rip he inflicted was extremely painful. So painful, in fact, that the Top Hat adopted the same bug-eyed facial expression that his Sgt. at Arms had worn a few minutes previously. Needless to say, Crown was unable to block Owen's follow up baton strike with anything other than the thin bone at his temple, which was not enough to save his brain.

Wasting no time, Owen grabbed his staff and pulling off the rebreather, said to the dazed Itami "Esu shinai to yabai ze!" (Let's get the hell outta here!) when he received a blank look in reply, Owen just said "C'mon."






2:46 p.m. Tuesday

As Owen led Hanzo towards the security doors he said "Quick and quiet. Keep your mouth shut and do what I tell you and we both might make it out of here. When I go through the doors I'm going to set off some fireworks. You count to 60, then keep your head down and run for the stairs as fast as you can. I'll meet you upstairs, Ok?" Getting a nod from the rigger Owen said "Luck", put his rebreather back on and slipped through the doors.

The scene that confronted him had all of the earmarks of a later day version of Dante's inferno. Screams of pain and terror, alarms, confused orders, sporadic gunfire, flames, explosions, vomiting, crying. Just goes to show you what a little inspired improvisation can do. In a flash he saw that there was a gunfight going on between the armory guards and a another group of bikers as the detonation of the stun grenades had deceived each group into believing they were being fired upon by the other. There were more bikers in the second group, but the armory guards had the heavier weapons and lots of ammo. The flames from the "service station" explosions was still having effects as the bikes' gas tanks were heating up and exploding, thereby spreading both fire and shrapnel. The situation was further aggravated by the "save my bike, frag everybody else's" attitude that the gangers had adopted as soon as they saw that their precious scooters were in danger. Owen tossed a puke and tear gas grenade into the confusion. He turned to see many in the commissary area were simply rolled up on the vomit strewn floor, dry-heaving themselves into unconsciousness as the first CN/DM3 canister finished spreading it's cloud. Owen picked up an AK-97 from a fallen ganger, put away his staff and started moving towards the "inspired" group that was opening the freight door at the back of the factory to try to get some ventilation. When he was in the midst of the group he opened fire on the High Hats who were shooting it out with their own armory and then ducked out of the way when their return fire "ventilated" the ventilation crew.

He ran back towards the office area and grabbed Itami as the Ork started hustling for the stairs. He redirected the rigger towards the partially open freight door and tossed a stun grenade up the empty stairwell. As he hoped, the triggermen among the High Hats responded to the noise by firing at their invisible enemies on the stairs. He'd have been willing to bet that the group was under Angela's direction, based both on Felix's description of the underboss and the group's care with target selection. Owen caught up with the Ork just outside the freight doors. Hanzo was dancing with a norm who seemed preoccupied with inserting a serrated edged Bowie knife into Itami's neck, although Owen suspected the big blade would be an effective means of liberating the soul wherever it was inserted. Owen delivered a Shi o Motarasu Sesshoku (lethal contact) blow which in China would be called Dim-Mak, but anywhere on the planet would be called fatal and pushing the corpse out of the way led Itami to his bike.

Owen deactivated the security system and climbed on. He would have liked to have had the time to change out of his cloak, but he didn't have that option. He made Itami put on the armored duster before climbing on behind Owen as he suspected the escape from the High Hats was not yet complete.

As if to confirm this suspicion ten bikes came roaring along the side of the building opening fire. Owen toggled the "smoke screen" switch on his bike, releasing a dense cloud of the same gas contained in his grenades. As he jinxed the bike left and right to spread the cloud, and dodge his opponent's bullets, he recognized that the gas would be nowhere near as effective as it had been in the enclosed space of the factory, but he also knew he would not want to ride in a cloud of it for any extended period of time. For good measure he also started spreading calthrops behind him. The inch long steel "jacks" were constructed to always land with one spike standing straight up. Anyone without foam filled tires would be stranded in a cloud of puke gas. Anyone with runflats would be severely slowed down as the calthrops would turn the wheels into studded snow tires (great for traction, not so great for speed). Eventually even foam tires would be stopped as the picked up a great enough number of the metal jacks.

Three minutes later the gas canister was empty, as was the reservoir of calthrops. Owen stopped and signaling Itami to get off the bike, turned it to face his pursuers. He didn't want to leave this area of decrepit factories while being chased by a biker gang that might shoot civilians while pursuing a vendetta against him. He was ready to blast the first biker out of the smoke screen, but none came. He waited for a solid 5 minutes as the cloud dissipated but still no High Hats. He took off the rebreather and stored it saying "I guess they had enough. Hop on, sport."

3:22 p.m. Tuesday

Owen's initial intention was to drop Itami off at Maria's (with one of Chart's credsticks to pay for his fun), ride to one of his own safehouses, shower, change, grab some dinner and after buying some flowers, head over to Madame Magdelena's Talisman shop for his "command performance". He would then spend the rest of the evening trying to heal his bruised back. Barbie and Maria put the end to that notion as they swept out as soon as Owen and Itami pulled up.

"Itami, you're alive, are you alright, my darling? Did they hurt you?" Barbie asked, as she embraced the rigger, revealing that Itami's feelings were not entirely unreciprocated.

"Owen, you got him! Great work, honey. C'mon inside and tell me all about it." said Maria as she possessively took his arm.

"I'd love to Maria but I've really got......"

"Oh, don't start with me, sweetie. Those creeps threatened my house. I've got to know what happened so I can prepare for what might happen next. You wouldn't leave me defenseless, would you?"

"No, I wouldn't want to do that, but Itami can tell........" Owen was stopped in mid-excuse by the crushed look he was getting from the ork madam. Aw frag! he thought. The earnestly hopeful look in her eyes when he hesitated made him say "Listen, I can only come in for a few minutes....." When he saw the satisfaction on Maria's face as she smiled, Owen knew he had been manipulated by a female yet again. Just give it up. You're a moron. You'll never learn, and every woman on earth reads you like a cheap novel. Why don't you just get a nose ring so you can be lead around like a brainless bull? You're hopeless! "I really do have someplace I've got to go, you know." he said as he tried to salve his ego. The earnest nods he got from both Maria and Barbie made him feel like an 8 year old being indulged by the grown ups. Muttering under his breath Owen parked his bike, grabbed his backpack and followed Maria.

3:28 p.m. Tuesday

Maria, by virtue of her profession as madam of a large joyhouse, was a virtuoso when it came to handling bruised male egos. She saw that Owen realized he had been manipulated and resented it. Instead of giving him more occasions for bad temper, she silently led him to a concealed entrance at the far end of the building's front and then to a private elevator. He did not have to fend off any questions or advances from the sisterhood as he made his way to the room she had reserved for him. She responded to his glowers and his muttering with attentive, patient smiles and eventually received an apology.

"I'm sorry, Maria. I know I'm acting like a drekhead, just seems that women are always giving me orders or manipulating me, and I guess I'm over reacting to female control. You are a gracious hostess and I apologize for abusing your hospitality. My behavior was boorish."

"Sweetie, you've just demonstrated why so many women want to "control" you. You have the good grace to recognize when you've made a mistake and the manners to own up and apologize like a mench. I have more experience in this area than most, and I can tell you that your old world manners are more irresistible to a female than your gorgeous bod....You see...You're actually blushing! It's charming..... But I'm not being much of a hostess if I make you feel awkward. Why don't you tell me what happened. How did you rescue Itami?"

Owen began to describe the events of the extraction. When he was about half way through the account a soft knock sounded at the door. Maria answered and after a whispered conversation asked Owen "Where exactly was the factory?" Owen gave her the address. She came back and signaled he should resume his story. When he had finished the tale she asked some shrewd questions about potential tactics of the gang.

"There will probably be some confusion with the loss of Crown and Charts. With Top Hat and finance minister gone, there may be some adjustment period as new loyalties are established. They're also without their Sgt. at Arms which may make for less order in the ranks. If we're lucky it may take them some time to compensate for the losses. We also know that at least a dozen died.........." Owen was lost in a world of his own for a moment as he thought about how many more lives he had ended. Maria called out his name to bring him back to the present, and when he looked up there was such pain and guilt in his eyes that the crusty ex-whore felt momentarily tempted to console him with a hug. He looked away and the moment was broken but Maria was left shaking her head at the emotional turmoil that the physical adept caused.

"That's 12 we know are dead." Owen continued. "How many were killed by the gas explosions or Beowulf's grenades, or the firefight with each other.....I don't know. Unfortunately, we have nothing to indicate that Sheila didn't survive and with her being a woman, if the gangers are anything like me, she probably ran the show anyway. Trouble is, they've still got such a large force....."

"Not really," Maria interrupted, "The report I got said that there was a massive explosion at the old Executive Envelope Factory in addition to the fire. Like a whole lot of munitions going up at one time. Blew out an entire side of the building. I also hear that the Warriors and the Jerome Avenue AC's have gone on a joint hunt to thin the High Hat herd. Seems they want a lot of payback from the Hats who, from what you've described, are now more of a theoretical go-gang than an actual. The only problem is that they were building a hell of a war chest and even without Charts, they might rebuild...."

"Not with liquid assets," Owen said "I got about 200K worth of that."

"200,000? From a biker gang?"

"About that. Look, since I seem to have brought your house into this mess, maybe you'd take some of this to beef up security. Hire some more defenders, alarms, whatever. What do you think?"

"What do you want in return?"

"Return?...No, look. These animals threatened your business because they found out I had been here. I figure they wouldn't be messing with you except they were after me, so I owe you. If you take half of these to help increase security........What?"

"Just wondering where you've been all of my life, honey. Are you serious?"

"Yeah," Owen said with a look of confusion on his face, "Why wouldn't I be serious?"

"I don't know. Most guys don't offer to loan me 100,000..."

"No, no, no. It's not a loan. Look, you were fine with the bikers until I came along. Now the gang is threatening you. If I give you this money for you to protect yourself I'm just putting things back the way they were before I arrived. It's not like it's my life savings or anything, it's money I found an hour ago. I'm not giving it to you for expansion or renovations, I'm giving it to you so you can hire the protection you need because of me. Just balancing the scales, you see."

"Oh...Ok...........uh, Thank you."

Owen counted out 100k in certified sticks and then moved too quickly as he got up to leave and winced from the pain in his back.

"What's the matter?" asked Maria in alarm.


"C'mon Owen, I saw that. What happened."

"Just hurt my back a little. I'll be fine."

"What did you do? Let me see."

The tone was so imperious that Owen had pulled off his cloak before thinking. Then he stopped and said "No. This is exactly my problem. A woman treats me like a child and I start following orders before I even think. I'm not going to show you anything. I don't want to be rude, but no."

"Owen, honey............No... No, you're right. I'm concerned, but you're a big boy and if you don't want medical attention, I may think it's foolish, I may think that you're picking the wrong time to assert your masculinity or independence, I may think you're risking aggravating an injury....what are you laughing at?"

"I'm sorry, its just I've never appreciated a master manipulator at work before. You saw that you couldn't bully me and if pushing wouldn't work you'd try pulling. It's a lot like judo. I now know where terms like verbal sparing comes from. I've got to go."

"What about your coat? Itami was wearing it wasn't he? I'll have somebody get it. Meanwhile, why don't you relax for a few minutes. I'll be right back."

3:45 p.m. Tuesday

Owen used his time to call Goren's warehouse on his wrist comm.

"Whatya want?"

"Ah, the dulcet tones of the mellifluous BeBop."

"Hot Stuff! How are you doing, Owen? When are you coming by?" The joy in the Dwarf woman's voice at hearing him gave Owen a warm feeling. "Hang on a sec while I get the old man." A few second's later he heard the gruff voice of the Ork weaponsmith "Hey Kid, How they hangin'?" He winced at the sound of the meaty slap that followed. "Ow. What can we do for you, kid?"

"A couple of things, Goren. First of all I'm trying to get my hands on some CN/DM3 gas grenades, plastic casing."

"Hmm.....kind of tough, kid. I've got CN/DM4 in stock, but the old stuff...."

"I didn't even know they came out with a 4. Same effect?"

"Worse. The Adamsite in this one will keep you barfing for like 4 hours after you breathe it. Starts within 30 seconds of the first whiff of gas. Nasty medicine. How many you want?"

"I'm looking for a dozen. I'd also like to get a pair of pressurized concentrate canisters, about the size of a fire extinguisher, pressure 60-80 psi."

"Can Do. Next?"

"I need about 4 lbs. of steel calthrops, 1 inch."

"No problem, what else?"

"Well I need to replace some stun grenades, but I've got another screwy concept for you guys to play with. I had to turn some stunners into incendiaries earlier today and I was wondering if there was some way to rig an option for simultaneous detonation of all 12 thunderflashes. You could keep the plastic casing but if all 12 of the little booms that make those things so damn noisy became a big boom, you've got, what a stick, stick and a half of old style TNT. Might find it a popular item, you know, 'Gee it's only a stun grenade, officer. Just something to let me run away.' But when that door is really stuck and you really need to unstick it... What do you think?"

"I think it's brilliant, hot stuff." interjected BeBop, "If it's anywhere near as popular as your squirter...."

"Are the Goren Bees selling?"

"Kid, we can't keep up with the orders." said Goren. "We're charging 5k per unit and we're on backorder for the rest of the year. The corp without one is wearing last month's tie. Have you got a name for this item too?"

"Yeah, but take my advice. Double the price you're asking for the squirters. Return your deposits and double the price but don't publicize it at all."

"Are you serious, kid? You didn't fall on your head or anything, did ya? You been right on the money so far but I don't know...."

"Look. 5K is way outta line for the squirter, work of art though it is. The people who are buying it are playing a status game pure and simple. Tell them you are retiring. That you've had enough of the rat race. Drop a hint that you regret not making just one more squirter but the pressure is just too much. When a customer offers you 10k, swear him to secrecy but agree to make just one more. When word gets around, and it will, let the other customers wheedle you into making one for them too. You won't be able to fill the orders if you live to be 100."

"Daring kid, very daring."

"Hey, what do I know? Free advice is worth what you pay for it, but this was just a part-time side light when you started. If they're selling as well as you say, you've already covered start up cost and made a nice profit. Now you can try for the brass ring and if it works you're on easy street. If it doesn't, next time you'll know better than to take marketing advice from a voice on the phone. Might be worth the shot............ My suggestion for the name of the grenade? With the power to both distract and destroy, you've gotta call it a BeBop. The slogan is 'More than just a stunner'."

"Ho-ho-ho Now I know why you're not making the suggestion in person." said the Ork. "What do you think, firecracker?"

"I think it's very sweet of you, Owen, and very flattering. Thank you. We will insist on paying you for this one."

"Hey, thanks, but I'm just the idea guy. You're the ones who risk blowing yourselves to bits trying to make it work. By the way, be careful, ok? There aren't that many people who put up with my flute playing. I can't have them exploding over my ideas. Can I stop by later tonight to get the gas?"

"Sure Kid. You're always welcome. See ya tonight" click

4:00 p.m. Tuesday

When Maria returned with his coat, she apologized over the delay, explaining that Itami and Barbie were very glad to see each other and didn't answer the door immediately. Owen smiled as he retrieved his coat and then handed over the 100k in certified sticks. Maria's entire bearing showed that she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. When she saw that there wasn't any other agenda for Owen than balancing the scales he had upset by his presence, she was stunned. She offered to have food sent up, in fact she offered to have any or everyone in the place sent up, but Owen let himself be convinced to have some food, as he was quite hungry. He asked if he might soak and play his flute undisturbed while waiting for dinner and Maria had the good taste to avoid the double-entendre opportunities.

After an hour of soaking in the fast-healing meditative state he created with his flute music, Owen was more than ready for dinner. The meal which was delivered as he was changing clothes did not disappoint as Maria had demanded both quantity and quality. As he was finishing his meal, Itami knocked on the door.

"Hey, sport! C'mon in. What can I do for ya, omae?"

"I...ugh...wanted to see ya and uh.....thank you, Mr. Glendower. You saved my butt from those fraggers the first time we met, and I never really got a chance to thank you. You could have bailed, but you stuck with me and pulled my hoop outta a shitstorm. Then you saved Barbie, the light of my life, when all I could do was stand and watch, and you left before I could even tell you thanks. Now, this time you went into the enemy's stronghold to save me. I was dead, anyway you cut it, but you pulled me outta the jaws before they could begin torturing me. Maria says you were hurt doing it. That you paid for my life with injuries to both body and spirit, and you really don't even know me. I...well....I just wanted ta say if you ever need somebody to catch a bullet for you, or to kill for you, I'll do it. I....I owe you my life and ....and I'd do anything ya wanted done, ever."

Owen stood silently and bowed deeply to the Ork rigger. Hanzo bowed all the way to the ground before he even looked at Glendower's face. Owen smiled gravely and said "You are an Ork of honor, Itami Hanzo. You show yourself worthy of the price paid, my friend. Would you be willing to take on a very tough assignment and help me find another friend I'm searching for?"

Itami's heart leaped at the thought of being able to pay some of the debt he owed. He resolved to do whatever it took to help the man he now considered "the boss". For his part, Owen realized that he either had to find a project for Itami to follow independently, or he would have the rigger underfoot in any further dealings with the High Hats, or with the corp recruiters whom he was avoiding or with any other demands on his time and attention. He also knew that if Itami stayed in this area it would only be a matter of time before the High Hats caught him again. Owen had been wondering about what had happened to Gitya when the Ork samurai had gone into hiding months earlier after aiding in the robbery of the Humanis Policlub chapterhouse. Had the Ork just continued to lay low, had he left the city, had he been killed? Owen felt responsible for Gitya's going undercover, since he had set up the run, and wanted to know what had happened to his ally. It might be an impossible project, but it would keep Itami occupied and out of harm's way while also giving the Ork a way of repaying the debt he felt he owed.

Owen gave Itami a complete description of the robbery of the policlub and of the groups which had sought them as a result. He mentioned Skater's grisly murder and how the Wetboys, the Sandmen and the Night Hunters had all searched for the thief and his accomplices. After giving the rigger Gitya's address and known associates, he assured Itami that he just wanted to make sure that Gitya wasn't in need after fleeing because of Owen's caper, but the rigger made it clear that he would find Gitya for no other reason than that Owen wanted him found.

When Owen tried to give the Ork 20K worth of credsticks for the investigation, Hanzo at first demurred. Glendower rather pointedly asked about how Itami would live while conducting the search. Mentioning that even Maria would eventually start charging him for living in the joyhouse, and asking what he was going to use to purchase information, Owen eventually got the Ork to accept the sticks. Itami promised to account for every cred and assured "Mr.G" that he would get the job done.

Owen then said "One other thing, my friend. Do you think you could find Maria for me? I'd like to say goodbye before I leave, but I know I'm not going to be strong enough to resist the temptation downstairs if I have to find her myself."

Itami grinned, and ran off, thinking It ain't his avoiding temptation he's worried about. He just wants to use the back door to avoid the Joygirls mobbing him. All of them have heard some version of the story by now. Maria's going to have one pissed off bunch of ladies when they find out their hero left without coming downstairs.

6:00 p.m. Tuesday

"Anthony! Get yer hoop up here! Ya can see it's gettin dark.Get yer brutha an get up here now."

Throughout the lower east side variations and echoes of the same call went out of windows as families locked themselves in for the night. There had been a time when the warning after dark meant staying off the main drag, or avoiding a particular disreputable address, but in recent weeks the number of "disappearances" had increased. Even those with family connections to the ruling gang, the High Hats, were not safe from the unspoken terror that walked the tenderloin after dark.

Everyone knew someone who had been taken. For the fortunate it was someone distant: a neighbor's cousin, a friend of a friend; for the unfortunate it was someone close, an uncle, a sister, a father; but everyone knew someone who had disappeared in the last few weeks.

Lone Star patrolled more frequently, not for the sinless residents, of course, but because the corps always had some suit looking for some extra-marital or just after hours fun in the joyhouses or sim parlors or 'dance clubs' that gave the region it's nickname. The corps complained when their people disappeared, so Lone Star increased their visibility. Not that it made any difference.

The Pimps who handled the joygirls and joyboys who worked the intersections, the street meat, banded together and hired a dozen tough trolls to watch from the shadows. The trolls had disappeared. No word, no pay, just gone.

The "businesses" that paid for the go-gang for "protection" complained that their bottom line was suffering, but the High Hats never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. After all, they couldn't be expected to be everywhere, all of the time, could they?

So the residents locked their doors and windows, bought guns and stayed in after dark. But all of the shotguns and streetline specials, all of the doorlocks and window bars, all of the warnings and worry didn't stop the disappearances. Somebody would get back late, or miss their regular bus or run down to the corner for a pack of smokes and not come home again, ever. What could you do? Tell the High Hats and get the drek kicked out of you for complaining? Tell the star? Without a SIN the star didn't know you existed and if you had a SIN and lived in the tenderloin you must be a perv anyway. So the quiet desperation of survival that the poor faced every day became more desperate as some unknown terror thinned the herd after dark.

6:30 p.m. Tuesday

On his way downtown to Madame Magdelena's Talisman Shop, Owen stopped at Sylvia's Flowers. Sylvia was one of the largest and most muscle bound Trolls Owen had ever seen. Whether he was selling flowers by day or acting as the doorman/bouncer at The Scoreboard after midnight, Sylvia took particular delight in wearing a name tag. Perhaps he had paid for the right by growing up with the name and all of it's attendant woes, but now Sylvia waited patiently for the "funny" comments or the suppressed giggle. He estimated that if Doc Wagon paid a commission for supplying them with patients he would already be a very wealthy Troll.

Owen had met the florist the first time he had bought flowers for a visit to Madame M's. It had been Sylvia, a romantic at heart, who had warned Owen about the need to buy different flowers for each of the ladies in the shop and about the hierarchy of flowers. One could not give roses to everyone, even if one varied colors. Orchids meant much more than simple courtesy. There were thousands of aspects of floral etiquette of which Owen was completely ignorant, but which Sylvia knew minutely. This being the case, Owen explained in detail what had happened in the last few visits to the Talisman Shop and agreed unquestioningly with Sylvia's decision on what he should buy.

Armed with Sylvia's selections he rode to the Talisman shop. The cloak was a little awkward for use with the bike, but Owen knew that no female that he had encountered thus far had liked the cloak, which made it all the more important for him to continue wearing it. He was also more comfortable in it if he should have a sudden encounter with some element of the biker gang he had fought with earlier that day.

6:35 p.m. Tuesday

Sheila examined the remnants of the High Hats with a barely suppressed fury. 65 go-gangers, control of 4 square miles of real estate including the Tenderloin, a warchest of 220K, bikes, weapons, equipment, headquarters. I had all of that this morning. Now I've got maybe three dozen functioning troops including my underbosses, provided they don't jump ship now that Crown is gone, two go-gangs have joined forces to hunt us, we've got maybe 20 bikes that are still rideable, no headquarters, and all because I let Crown argue me into a stupid fraggin vendetta. "Keep the troops sharp, keep them in training."

Damn, Damn, Damn. Why did I listen to that muscle bound clod? Who knew that the Ork would have the destroyer of worlds as a buddy? I thought it was multiple shadowteams, at least a platoon, but it turns out it was one fragger, one unbelievable fragger. It took me hours to reconstruct everything but now I'm sure. It must have been that bastard that Crown wanted to skin tonight. He killed Sammy, snuck in, planted bombs, planted puke gas, killed Beowulf, killed Crown, killed Charts, robbed us, took the prisoner and rode away. Month's of work and planning down the tubes!

Between the explosions, the puke gas and Angela's crew blasting everything that moved we lost Quiller and Julius. Marley is trying to pull a fade, and 1/2 my survivors still have the dry heaves from that fraggin gas. Too many of these fools saw me arrange this 'temporary shelter' with my ghoul allies, so those that won't join willingly will have to end up being sacrificed, which will further reduce troop size. None of them liked the fact that I let the ghouls have the bodies we left behind, but what the frag was I supposed to do? FRAG!!! I want the fragger who did this to me. I want his body for weeks of torture. I want to break his mind, make him beg me to give him death....I wish I had him here right now and a straight,no, a dull flensing knife..... Lost in psychotic dreams of revenge, Sheila did not hear Jago's approach. The gorgeous amazon waited patiently for her leader to listen to her report. Finally, Sheila turned and demanded "What is it?"

"Tam says John Parker ain't gonna recover and that he can't find Muldoon or Riptide. Makes our total 42, 35 of which can fight. I asked Skeeve about the scooters, he says 22 to ride, most of the rest are parts. He wantsa know if you're gonna decide who gets what, as some of the bikes belong to walkin wounded."

"Tell him I'll decide but later." Studying the tall blonde norm, Sheila gestured at the world with her chin and asked "What do you think?"

"Ya know I'm with ya. I've been with ya since you killed the whipmaster and pulled me and Mary outta Fuchi's private hell. Whatever it takes to pay those fraggers back, I'll do it. Ya know ya can count on me to back ya in whatever play ya gotta make."

"Thanks, Jago. Fuchi's gonna pay. This whole fraggin cesspit of a city is gonna pay"






7:05 p.m. Tuesday

When Owen entered Madame Magdelena's Talisman shop, his greeting from Katya seemed strangely subdued. The beautiful redheaded norm mage accepted the flowers with grace but would not look Owen directly in the eye. She made no comment about his cloak. I guess she must still be upset about my going out with Sayla Starseeker Owen thought. It's strange, last time she almost seemed confrontational about my choice and now she's acting.....guilty? Christo, I will never understand women!

When Owen was seated in Madame's parlor, Seka, Madame's other shapely assistant came in. The beautiful elf woman was very pleased with the flowers and was her usual flirtatious self. Owen shook his head at the mage's smile as she went to notify Madame Magdelena that her guest had arrived. That's weird, too. Katya and Seka are usually so much in synch that it's almost like they share thoughts. Now Katya won't look at me and Seka is playing the coquette. Man, am I ever out of my depth! Thinking about what women think and why they think it makes me dizzy.

The gray cat which jumped up into Owen's lap and began to purr brought his attention back to the present. "Hello, Tabatha. How have you been, princess?" he asked as he scratched the cat behind her ears. The responding PURRRR was loud enough to cover the entrance of Madame Magdelena. A small woman in a dark print dress wearing a dark shawl across her shoulders, Madame Magdelena projected tremendous power. She had that "larger than life" drive that was seen only in great people. Words like personal dynamism and Charisma were just inadequate to describe her aura. She conveyed that sense that everything changed whenever she entered a room because now something spectacular might happen. As Owen saw her, the smile of genuine delight that lit his face was reflected in the lined visage of the old woman. As usual, he started to rise but was stopped by a wrinkled hand on his shoulder and the admonition "don't disturb the cat"

"Well, you young rascal," she said as she seated herself across from Owen. "I hope you have a good excuse to offer for ignoring a poor old woman for so long."

"Madame, since you doubtless know everything that has transpired in my life, I wouldn't dare try to make an excuse. All I can do is offer these," he said as he brought the flowers up from behind his chair. "With my sincere apology and my promise to avoid the flaw in the future."

"They are lovely, dear boy, truly lovely and you apologize so prettily, I shall overlook your behavior this time, but next time....." After sternly wagging a finger at the physical adept, she rang a bell on a small table nearby and when Katya entered asked her to put the bouquet in water. The sharp eyed old woman noticed her shapely assistant's avoidance of eye contact with her guest. When Katya had left the room she asked, "And what have you done to my poor assistant, young man, that instead of mooning over you as she usually does, she refuses to even look in your pretty blue eyes?"

"Madame, I have no idea. I don't know if she still upset about my bringing Sayla on my last visit, although Seka isn't acting this way, or if I've done something else to offend." Owen shrugged as he confessed "I have some small skill in a number of areas, Madame, but understanding or predicting the attitudes of the fair sex is not an ability I possess."

The great lady smiled and said "Well, dear boy, why don't you divert me with some stories of your latest feats of daring?"

Owen told her of his extraction of Graham from the Mafia Don's home in Newark and of Badger's educational opportunity at the expense of a corp. He then described his retrieval of Itami Hanzo from High Hat HQ. Although the old woman did not seem surprised by any of the news, she listened attentively to Owen's re-telling.

"You mention an area of town that has been the scene of some strange happenings recently."

"Really, Madame? I wasn't aware of anything. What has been going on?"

"Well, there have been an exceptionally large number of disappearances in the tenderloin (a distressingly graphic descriptor) recently. Lone Star has focused on the corp employees who have gone missing, an inordinately large number coming from Fuchi, but the residents of the area are also under siege. The disappearances occur after dark and the gang you mention, the 'High Hats' who sell protection in the area seem to be singularly ineffective in discovering the agency that is causing the population decrease. If it wouldn't be too much of an imposition, dear boy, I was wondering if you might look into this....."

"Certainly, Madame. If you want it investigated, than I'll be happy to look into it. Of course, I'm not really very good at investigation per se....."

"Now, now, you young rogue. I am far too old to be dissuaded by false modesty. You've proven yourself a highly capable investigator in the past, from the sound of things you still have business with those High Hat persons, and I'd prefer to see you utilize your talents constructively rather than planning more of those larcenous escapades. I'm sure we can find some way to compensate you adequately...."

"Madame, excuse me, but you cut me to the quick! To imply that gratifying your desire is insufficient recompense for my labor, after all of the aid and guidance you've given me in the past, I'm shocked. That you would think I would be unaware of the debt which I owe...."

"Oh, stop. Honestly, dear boy, you are a silver tongued child of the devil himself! Now, stop this outrageous flattery before you quite turn an old woman's head. We will deal with the issue of recompense at another time. Hoping that I could prevail upon you to look into the matter, I've prepared this chip with all of the details I have gleaned on the recent disappearances on the east side. I'm afraid it isn't very complete, but it may give you a starting point. Now you be careful when you look into this. I will never forgive myself if you join the ranks of the missing. (And frankly, my assistants would make my life unbearable should such a state of affairs come to pass, regardless of Katya's current mood). Give me the princess and you may kiss my cheek goodbye as take your leave. Please try to exercise some restraint as you bid farewell to my assistants. Remember I am an easily scandalized old woman who still has some sense of decorum."

Owen said "Yes, Ma'am", gave up the cat, took the chip and dutifully kissed the old lady goodbye. Funny how I don't mind Madame Magdelena "controlling me" though I hate it when other women do the same thing. Maybe it's because she really is like the mother I never knew, or, more accurately, what I dream the mother I never knew was like. Owen gathered his cloak and blew a kiss to Seka as he passed. She was seated at a com panel and busy listening to something that she could not put down, but the frustration at not being able to bid Owen a more "personal" farewell was evident on her face. Owen hurried on, recognizing that his life was already complicated enough dealing with Sayla. He didn't need to add another female elf magic-user into the mix. When he got to the front door, Katya was waiting. She stood in front of the door with her hands behind her back and her eyes downcast.

Before she could say anything Owen spoke up. "Uh, Katya, look if I've done something to upset you, I'm sorry. Whatever it was, I didn't intend to hurt or offend you. I can be pretty thoughtless sometimes and...."

Katya broke into tears and fled past Owen into the shop.

Drek! Now what did I do? I was trying to apologize. I don't even know what I did wrong, but whatever it was, that apology certainly didn't work. Damn. You don't have an inkling of a hint of a vestige of a clue when it comes to women, do you? Maybe you should just keep your mouth shut.

7:45 p.m. Tuesday

Owen opened the door and stepped outside. He closed the shop door behind him and when he turned around found himself facing the multi-barrels of 3 Ares High Velocity Assault rifles. The suits on the other end of the rifles had the look of people intent on business. Owen did not move at all.

"Mr. Glendower, may we talk to you now?"


"Excuse me, sir. We only wish to talk" said the smooth voice of a male norm who stepped into Owen's line of sight. "I'm sorry we had to go to these lengths but...."

"But what?" Owen interrupted. "But you'll kill me if I don't listen to you? Does that make sense to you? Can you see yourself returning to your boss and saying, 'We tried to talk to him, but he wouldn't listen so we blew him away with assault rifles.' Doesn't sound like a reasonable scenario to me. Now, I neither know nor care who you work for or what you want. I am not interested. If you intend to open fire, do so. If not, get out of my way before this situation gets messy."

The four suits were so surprised at being faced down by an "unarmed" man surrounded by superior weapons that Owen was actually able to get past them. The leader hit on another plan as Owen was walking away. "Perhaps we can't compel you to listen directly sir, but we can deal with your friends......" Owen stopped, counted to 10 and turned around. He walked back up to the leader and removing his lowlight glasses, looked him directly in the eye.

"You have failed in your mission" he said in a quiet voice utterly devoid of emotion. "Do not complicate that failure. I do not threaten and I do not accept threats. Return to your masters and tell them that I would not listen to any part of your proposal and that I will not be compelled to listen to any part of your proposal. Let wiser heads than your own decide whether or not to escalate. A rash decision is a bad decision. Bad decisions should be avoided."

The total lack of emotion in the physical adept's voice caused the hair to sand up on the back of the necks of all four "suits". Although all four were biologically or mechanically enhanced, extensively trained, well experienced and heavily armed, on a subconscious level they felt like children being lectured by an adult. They were being corrected and the unspoken implication was that if they didn't accept correction they would be punished. Agents of their competence and experience seldom received this kind of correction, but to their credit, each was intelligent enough to recognize the truth when they heard it. They weren't the ones to decide to escalate the recruitment of Glendower and an unauthorized move that put the physical adept out of reach would be a career ender. When they would analyze this later all four would agree that they had been fortunate that neither side had been precipitous.

Owen deactivated the bike's security system and scanned for bugs. His scanner picked up two active and a passive locator. After removing and destroying all three he ran the scanner again and found another passive bug. He destroyed this and got on the bike. As he rode around he called Goren at the warehouse. He explained that he wanted to have the bike checked again before he visited his friends, but after determining that Owen had a jammer, the ork weaponsmith suggested that he turn on the multi-frequency device as an interim means of preventing detection. "That'll frag with any homer that got past yer scanner. I got some detectors here that should tell us if yer bikes been properly fumigated."

As he activated the jammer and headed towards the warehouse, Owen thought Well, at least I know now what had Katya so upset. She must have let those clowns know I would be visiting Madame M's tonight. Ouch. I wouldn't want to be in her shoes when the great lady learns that her hospitality's been compromised by her own assistant. Poor kid. She probably feels like drek now and will feel even lower when Madame M. finishes venting her wrath. I wonder what made her do it?

8:25 p.m. Tuesday

After an enthusiastic greeting from Goren and BeBop, Owen had described his day's activities to the weaponsmiths as he re-armed his bike. Towards the end of his tale he caught himself yawning and BeBop excused herself to go off and take care of something. Goren explained that modifying the stun grenades to make BeBops ("Great name, kid. She was tickled pink") was a relatively simple procedure. He wondered why no-one had done it before. Goren was just suggesting that Owen return tomorrow morning to get the stun grenades, when BeBop appeared and insisted that Owen should spend the night.

"Thanks, BeBop. I really couldn't...."

"Aw, Bulldrek, Hot stuff. You ain't goin back to yer flop 'cause you don't want to deal with those suits. That means you're sleepin in a safe house, right? Well there's no place safer then here, you're dog tired after the day you put in which means you shouldn't be riding around, and I've already made up the spare room."

When Owen turned to Goren the ork said "Hey, don't look at me, kid. Ya wantta fight yer way outta here, tryin ta get past her, yer on yer own. Personally, I wouldn't take on those odds, but yer a hero, ya wanna try, I still got the bear shaman's number fer healing spells."

Owen shook his head and held up his hands in surrender causing grins all around. "Thanks, guys."

In unison Ork and Dwarf dismissed the thanks with "AAAAHHHH, YER FAMILY."

9:30 p.m. Tuesday

Sgt. Shields sighed in exasperation. Only 9:30 and he already had another lost Fuchi fragger. Mrs. Sarah Lawler's Doc Wagon bracelet had been found by the old St. Johnsburry building, across from "Harry's Sim-o-rama". Of course "nobody saw nutin" but the (Meta)Human Resources Director of Placement would not be expected in her office tomorrow. After all, the traces of blood indicated that the Doc Wagon bracelet had been removed in the fastest and most effective method: Lop off the hand, slide the sealed bracelet off the stump, toss the personal locator away. 1, 2, 3 some mess but no sweat for anyone but the new amputee.

To make Sgt. Shields' night complete he saw Inspector Bridger climbing out of a police cruiser. Just what I need. Shields thought.

Bridger ignored the Sgt. for the moment and examined the scene himself. When he was done he called Shields over and said "Was she a regular?"

"No sir, near as we can tell, she's been here before, but whatever they been saying in the arcology either ain't workin or it's producing the opposite effect. Like maybe these stupid slots think it's a bigger thrill if a night of fun might cost you yer life. Forbidden fruit and all."

The dwarf took a few minutes to incorporate the Sgt.'s input into his picture of the scene. Finally he asked, "If they're not all regulars down here, how does anybody know they are Fuchi?"

"Maybe they don't sir. Maybe whoever's grabbing them, just grabs suits."

"Statistically unworkable, Sgt. I need two possibilities looked into. One, we've been assuming that it's just corporate types who are disappearing, but where are the witnesses? Doesn't it strike you odd that there's nearly no crowd at this crime scene. Normally we have 3 or 4 units designated just for crowd control, but there's nobody on the street. We need to find out if the SINless population is disappearing too. It's going to be tough, but start checking your sources to see if anybody other than corps have been going away unexpectedly."

"Two- If I want to make Fuchi execs disappear, I have to know who they are. Unless I'm tapped into Fuchi's personnel files, I can only see two ways to do it. Either I get a mole in the company to act as a spotter for me and tells me when someone is coming or...."

"Or you put a watcher around the arcology to see who heads this way." finished the Sgt. "But wouldn't that be nearly impossible, sir? I mean with all of the people who live there...."

"I didn't say it was foolproof, Sgt. I just think it's likely that someone is watching some point between the arcology and here to determine who belongs to Fuchi. Check all of the Fuchi victims' transportation. I doubt that there are 17 newly abandoned cars in this hood going unnoticed. See if they have a transport method in common. If they do, we may be able to catch the spotter and find out what the frag is goin on."

"Yes, Sir!" Sgt. Shields said and actually saluted. Damn! This is great! Who would have thought this little slot would have a brain! We might actually catch somebody, or at least stop the disappearances. I bet he gets the corp moving on the matrix tap and mole angles too. All Right! Finally we're doing something.

11 p.m. Tuesday

After two hours of the meditative trance that he entered while playing his flute, Owen had accelerated the healing of his deeply bruised back. He'd manage to review Madame Magdelena's chip, but was becoming so tired that the details were blurring together. Maybe my subconscious can spot something while I sleep he thought as he yawned. I'll just lay down here for a few minutes.....

Hey, even you've got to admit, it's been a helluva day he thought as he dropped off to sleep.

11:03 p.m. Tuesday

"Yes, Mr. Wainwright. It's Inspector Bridger. We've found the Doc Wagon bracelet of another Fuchi employee. A Mrs. Sarah Lawler of your (Meta)Human Resources division. The bracelet was intact, which indicates that her hand was removed to get the thing off. We're assuming she's the 17th disappearance from your company."

"I don't suppose there were any witnesses or leads or clues...." the bored voice drawled in response.

"No sir, not directly. We are looking at a few lines of inquiry that may be worthwhile though...."

"Yes?" the suddenly attentive voice shot back

"Yes, sir. I'd like to find out how someone is singling out your employees. We're looking at how they got to this area of town to see if they had transportation in common. I was wondering if you could check from your end on any matrix runs which might have been made against Fuchi recently that would have given someone a list of your employees. We'd also like you to look at new personnel who might conceivably be leaking your employee's plans for a night in the Tenderloin. Perhaps someone working with appointment calendars."

"Excellent, Inspector. At least we can do something other than keep tally. Are you pursuing any other leads?"

"Well, sir, we're actually just challenging an underlying presumption. We've viewed this as some sort of move against the corps, your corp in particular. I'm wondering if we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. What if the disappearances were much more frequent than we were aware of, if local residents had been disappearing and some agency just decided that they could also hurt Fuchi at the same time. Their intention would have been to cover the corp disappearances among the local populace, but we haven't even seen that the locals were missing."

"Hmm.... interesting speculation, inspector. But I don't see how it help us."

"Ok.... look, I want to rob your house. I get a bunch of lowlifes to rob some other houses in your area, then I rob your house. The police try and find a pattern to the crime and are stumped because all of the houses are robbed in different ways. Now apply the principle here. What if there was a pattern of disappearances already in existence that for corporate reasons had not been exposed to Lone Star. Someone wants to hurt Fuchi and capitalizes on the pattern. When Lone Star is called in, we look for a single motive that explains the entire pattern and are frustrated because, in fact, two patterns exist. One that was going on before we began investigating, and one which is hidden in the first. By isolating each pattern we have a better chance of predicting the next crime and stopping it."

"Good, inspector. In fact, that's brilliant. Two patterns does help eliminate inconsistencies. I'll see what I can dig up along those lines myself. Thank you, Inspector. I'll get back to you as soon as I have anything. " click

Bridger sighed as he disconnected the telecomm. I just hope it is that simple, he thought. Wainwright jumped at two patterns but there could be more than that. Copycats are always a danger and if the pattern is widespread, you can guarantee that some slot will use it for revenge or some other excuse for cacking his neighbor.

11:30 p.m. Tuesday

The two men in dark suits stood together on the airport tarmac as Lear-Cessna Platinum I was being serviced prior to departure.

"But Solo, I don't understand why you're chartering a flight back to Dee Cee. Why don't you just call Mr. Waverly and tell him what happened with this Glendower slot."

Mr. Solo raised his voice as he was talking to his fellow agent in order to be heard over the noise of the engines that were being started in the pre-flight check.

"Because Kay, Mr. Waverly is not going to be happy and is going to want someone at hand to vent his unhappiness on. If I'm not there he'll see it as me dodging the bullet and will make it all the more uncomfortable later on. Besides, I want to give him the emotional impact of Glendower's 'You have failed your mission' speech. I don't think the telecomm is going to let me convey the feelings properly."

"But the time you spend getting back there...."

"Can't be helped. Mr. Waverly definitely needs to decide if we escalate in recruiting Glendower and how exactly we do escalate. I don't want him making those decisions without clearly understanding that this fragger told us to shoot him, knowing we wouldn't. That he didn't even hesitate at having three assault rifles in his face. This guy is not going to follow any standard recruitment scenario, he sure as hell isn't going to be pressured into signing up and the boss has got to understand that before he starts deciding what to do next. You guys better get some sleep. I have the feeling when I get back we may not get much."

With that Mr. Solo climbed the stairs and prepared for the flight back to FDC and what he was sure would be a decidedly uncomfortable interview with his boss.

INTERLUDE III (Monday evening)

Anna was both excited and alarmed. She was excited because Seme had cleared it with the council for the group to "vacation" simultaneously. She thought the council was as amazed at the unlikeliness of the group as she was. If they had really thought the group was vacationing together, Seme would have doubtless been directed to a career in diplomacy. As it was, even she was not sure how such a disparate group could be formed into a functional team, but somehow when the big African was describing it, everything seemed to make perfect sense. This last thought touched on the subject which had her alarmed.

Seme was a shaman, and what he had done in forming the group could only be described as magical. He had gotten a Klansman decker to work with 2 moronic but deadly Troll samurai, an undernourished, complete motorhead Ork to work with a ballerina who used her looks to trap her victims and all at the direction of a large African whom none of the group had even met two weeks previously. Was he using magic on them? This was problematic on several levels. On an emotional level it meant that Anna couldn't trust what she was feeling for Seme, which was not a pleasant thought. If she were being used to the degree that her emotions were being manipulated, then she might just be a disposable tool for the leader to use and discard. Anna regularly made use of other's emotional attachments, but objected to being the recipient of that sort of treatment herself. On a practical level, it meant that the team would only work at the direction of the leader. Anna had enough experience to know that relying too heavily on any single individual was a guarantee of failure. What would this group do if Seme was not around to lead them? Anna was not comfortable on a team with an indispensable member.

She'd spent some time ruminating on the situation and trying to find in herself any magical compulsions. She'd formed a secret back-up plan that would give her a way out if the mission suddenly went in the drekker. During the daylight hours, while Seme slept in his darkened basement room, she'd slipped out to dally with a norm Samurai named Simon. Simon was part of Doctor Chong's clean up crew, but apparently had distinguished himself in some business pursuing Gray after the first strike team had been wiped out. Although he didn't enjoy the status that came with being an assassin in the Compound, he seemed to be highly regarded among the support personnel and was treated as Chong's right hand man.

Anna had quickly found Simon's desires and weaknesses and had begged him to help her. As Simon was desperately trying to get Anna to lie still at the time, he had been willing to agree to anything. Later they had planned an escape route which he could cover for her. Simon had been so smitten with the beautiful assassin that he had sworn that if he could not get an approval to follow the team, he would face the consequences of being AWOL rather than leave his love in danger. Now, with a backup plan in place in the event Seme was magically manipulating her emotions, Anna felt more comfortable leaving for the mission. It never occurred to her that if Simon recognized that he was being used, he might react to the emotional deceit in exactly the same way she had when she suspected Seme.

1:43 am Wednesday

I knew it! I knew it! thought Bob Morsund I knew if I waited and watched long enough I'd catch da fraggers! It's ghouls. Fraggin' Ghouls that's been grabbin everybody. Them bastards been feedin on the fraggers in da neighborhood. Dere's just so fraggin many a dem dat nobody gets ta put up a fight. Now I can tell da High Hats or even da Star dat dey gotta send some ghoul hunters down here ta clear out da fraggers' nests.

The alley that Morsund had chosen for his "blind" was alongside the old home of Metallurgical Fabricators Inc. When the company had operated in the area, the small foundry had worked with a large number of metals including lead. When the area's toxicity level rose too high, the plant had relocated, taking most of their raw stock with them. Lead, particularly lead slag, (the overflow and run off from the smelting process) is tremendously heavy and relatively cheap. Much of the metal was left behind and through pure dumb luck Bob had set up his observation post in an area where he was largely surrounded by the metal. Because of the metal's density, it acted as something of a screen to dual-natured creatures. The Ghouls who saw astrally as well as physically were therefore unable to find Bob by his aura as he observed their work. If he had waited until sunrise, he might have been hailed as the hero who broke the case of the Tenderloin disappearances. Unfortunately, his delight at learning the secret, combined with his impatience to share it, caused him to move out prematurely.

As Bob himself had observed "dere's just so fraggin many a dem dat nobody gets ta put up a fight." Morsund proved the truth of this some 5 minutes later when he snuck out of his blind and was immediately spotted by a roving band of ghouls. Although Bob was poorer, tougher and in much better shape than Brad Parkhurst, the two shared the same fate at nearly the same location. Bob was surrounded and when he had emptied his LD 120, dismembered and eaten by the remaining members of the ghoul horde precisely 24 hours after his corporate predecessor had met his fate. So ended one rotation of the planet in the tenderloin.





6:00 a.m. Wednesday

Owen awoke before dawn and conducted his morning rituals of Tai-Chi and Yoga. Though the sleep had done him good, he'd had a strange dream which he refused to even consider until after his shower. As he grabbed breakfast he began replaying the dream in his mind.

Dark....Dark and ahead but not left or right or up or down.... a tunnel. He was in a tunnel, but he was scampering along on all fours at great were others...he could sense (smell?) them in the darkness..... there was danger behind.... he was moving away from a danger in the tunnel...but what was he?

Falling.....falling from a great height... not falling, Flying! Suddenly, he was soaring above the plains and below him there was a hilly landscape dotted with holes... and something moving... he swooped closer to see heads popping up out of the holes. Thousands of tiny heads popping up and then disappearing back into the holes....Prairie Dogs! He was above a huge Prairie Dog town. He smiled at the antics of the tiny mammals as they stood up to look around and then jumped back into their burrows. Something had agitated them.

Suddenly, his vision bored through the earth at the site of the greatest activity. He could see through the ground that there were albino prairie dogs taking over a section of the tunnels. They were sickly and underfed but they were fierce and numerous. They grabbed the other prairie dogs when they could and bit them.... clawed them.... he pulled his vision back....back ....away from the burrows...out into the open air and caught a glimpse of a dog? No, a coyote.... a coyote driving, (leading?) the albino prairie dogs. The coyote looked up and saw him.... there was a look of such hatred in its eyes that he pulled back and while he was studying the coyote something else leaped up to grab him and...... the dream ended.

Owen shook his head as he finished his breakfast. Next time, try reading something pleasant before going to bed he thought to himself. He began studying Madame M's data chip in earnest as he wondered, what is it in here that gave me that weird Prairie Dog dream? After studying the chip for a few hours he wandered through the warehouse, but when he found that neither of the weaponsmiths were up yet, he found a quiet corner and spent the next four hours using his flute to attain the meditative state which allowed him to accelerate the healing to his back.

By the time he finished his meditations, Goren and BeBop had prepared his modified stun grenades. Owen entrusted BeBop with Charts' cyberdeck, the memory modules from his telecomm and Sayla's holo. He also gave her a pile of certified credsticks for safe keeping. "I grabbed most of this stuff when I was bailing out of my doss" he told her. "But I don't need to carry it around with me. If I could I'd like to leave it someplace safe..."

"Sure, hot stuff, no problem. Say, this chica is pretty wiz. Does Felix know about her?"

"Knowing Felix, I'm sure there's very little she doesn't know about my personal life, but no, I've never introduced her to Sayla."

"Pretty name, so...are you two.....happy?"

"We enjoy each other's company, if that's what you mean. Are we the next Goren and BeBop? I don't think we've gotten that far. Starseeker's a pretty powerful mage who works for a group from the Tir. Right now, we're still dealing with her wanting me to join and me wanting her to quit."

"Oh....I ..uh didn't mean to pry..."

"Sure you did!" Owen contradicted with a grin. "And I don't even"

Goren, who was just approaching, caught the spinning telecomm memory module that BeBop flung at the ducking physical adept before it could smash into anything. His thoughts of coming to Owen's rescue died unspoken as he saw the fire in BeBop's eyes. Instead, he thundered "Kid, what are you doing with my woman?!"

BeBop's rejoinder about how she had to search for someone to do something with her as a woman because of the inadequacies of her so called lover, gave Goren a chance to sputter about oversexed undersized women and signaled everyone that things were back to normal in the warehouse. Owen smiled and promised to return soon as the Ork and Dwarf continued their battle of double entendre, one liners and sexual cracks at each other.

9:00 a.m. Wednesday

When Solo had chartered out of the city, he had been the only one aboard the luxury craft. When he returned, every one of the 40 seats on the Hawker-Siddley HS-895 Skytruck was occupied by an employee of the UCAS.

When Mr. Waverly had gotten over his initial fury at hearing that the target was rejecting overtures out of hand, he listened carefully to Solo's analysis. The agent had made it clear that the target had enough intelligence not to be flustered by a show of force. It was also of note that the target had not rejected the terms of employment, but the entire concept of working for anyone. Waverly decided that he would have to get personally involved in this recruitment if it were to be successful.

If we can get this physical adept who has such a striking resemblance to Mercury, a world of possibilities opens up, the career civil servant thought. The vice president.... what is it they say, "a heart beat from the presidency", could be in our pocket. Honey trap her with this look-alike for her lover. Use him to divert intelligence intended for her from that stupid Draco foundation. He could gather sensitive data, sow misinformation, sabotage, convey false orders, and therefore effectively isolate her from any power base other than the UCAS government ...... we need to have him in hand so we can use him when the time is right....... But how do we get him on board? Wait, first things first. How do we get him to even listen? He seems to avoid confrontation..... hmmm.... avoidance......

In a flash Waverly had put events in motion to bring a huge team with him from FDC. They would follow Glendower, in such numbers and with such flagrancy that he would listen to terms just to get away from the parade. Yes, thought the government man, the perfect non-threatening annoyance. Make it impossible for the slot to do a goddamn thing until he agreed to hear the proposal and then, who knows, maybe keep it up anyway to pressure him to toe the line. Yes, if Uncle Sugar was providing his only means of support and we made it clear that they situation was not going to change, we make this willful pain in the hoop more tractable.

It was noon before the feds landed in the city and although their chartered flight was not handled through the regular passenger terminal, the line and variety of vehicles parked by the charter terminal made it appear as busy as it's commercial big brother. For Waverly's plan to work, the group would comb the city until they picked up Glendower's trail and then they would converge on him in such a way that he could not escape and when he moved he would have such a following that his passage would always be remarked. Let's see him function while he lives like a rock star. Waverly thought. He'll beg to hear my terms by close of business.

5:30 a.m. Wednesday

The Feds would not be the only group combing the city for sign of Owen, however, as Seme's team from the Compound had arrived on the "red-eye" before dawn. The Panther shaman had been in a great hurry to get to their base, a brownstone in the downtown area. After arriving, rather than check equipment, he had locked himself in the basement with orders that he not be disturbed. He did tell the group that the hunt would begin after dark, asking all but Sullivan to get as much sleep as possible. Wedge, meanwhile, was to begin searching the Matrix for any sign of Glendower so that the night's hunt would have a starting point.

All of the team had checked the specialized equipment that was waiting for them and when the other's had retired to their rooms, Anna contacted Simon to make sure her "guardian Angel" was available. When she was sure her escape clause was in place she too had retired for the day in preparation for a busy night.

12:10 p.m. Wednesday

Owen moved his various tools into his armored duster and, folding his cloak, placed it in his backpack. Although he preferred to operate in the cloak, he knew his visibility would be magnified by the distinctive outerwear. Have to assume that somebody in the High Hats has put together that they gave me an ultimatum and got their butts kicked in response. The last thing I need while investigating disappearances for Madame M is to wear a big "Come and get me sign". I wish I had thought to bring my hat.

As Owen rode around on the lower east side he thought Damn, why did I send Itami off tracing Gitya? I could use an insider's info for this 'hood. He also would be a source for predicting what the High Hats might do next because he was part of the gang. An internal voice picked up the refrain Brilliant, drekhead. Take a source of information that's at hand and send it away so you can start the research from scratch. Next time try to catch the bullet with your head. Nothing can penetrate material that dense.

As he was mentally berating himself for losing a source of data he noticed a pair of Orks carrying/dragging a young boy into an alley. Judging by his squirming and kicking the adolescent norm (couldn't be more than 13) was doing, he wasn't particularly enamored of his large escorts' plans. Owen parked the bike, activated the security system and quietly made his way into the alley.

SMACK! The sound of flesh striking flesh resounded up the quiet alley. Owen saw a norm male with long greasy dreadlocks backhanding the boy across the face as the orks held both the boy's arms. SMACK! "Ya tink yer funny, dontcha, crip? Ya like makin fun a Big Vito and my boyz, dontcha? Well I don hear ya laughin now, crip. Do youse hear 'im laughin, fellas?"

As the norm drew back for another punctuating slap Owen said quietly "Enough" The beefy norm looked up from his amusement and when his Ork buddies dropped their burden to face the new source of sound, stepped on the boy to keep him from trying to get away.

"Getouttahere ya nosey bastid. Dis don concern youse."

"Yeah, takeapowdah creep" echoed the nasal voice of the ork on the right. His face bore the ravages of an acne prone youth, the pitted surface highlighted by both tattoo patterns and piercing jewelry.

His larger partner on the left grinned vacuously as he smacked a beefy fist into his palm. Owen pulled out his springblade and waited for the hoods to make their move.

"Hur, hur, hur" laughed the leader. "Lookit, guys. Da bastids got a knife. Oh, what'll we do?" On cue the Orks joined in their leader's laughter. "Hey, stoopid! Dint nobody ever tell ya not ta bring a knife to a gunfight?" Suiting his actions to his words the leader began to pull his pistol, a Colt America L36. As soon as it cleared leather Owen released the catch on his weapon, allowing the polycarbide spring to send the blade flying into the leader's stomach. The look of surprise and dismay on the leader's face as his abdomen was punctured was quickly matched by the Ork on the right who saw his big buddy, Smasher, drop like a stone after catching 3 quick kicks to one side of his face and a punch from the tall norm's wrist on the other. Too much was going on too quickly for Rizzo to make sense of the battle, but he knew the norm in the duster wasn't makin proper fists. Owen might have explained the Kung-fu Crane Hook Hand but he was too busy delivering a Morote-tsuki (karate double fist punch) to his would be inquisitor's solar plexus. The short flight across the alley that Rizzo took on his way to a violent meeting with the wall did not clarify the situation as he was already unconscious.

Big Vito was, at that moment, as shocked as he had ever been in his life. One minute he was about to kill a nosey fragger who interrupted his fun with the crippled kid, and the next he was suffering more pain than he ever had before. When the tall norm said "Excuse me, I believe that's mine", and jerked the blade out of the wound in Vito's gut, he passed out from the pain.

After helping the kid to his feet, Owen cleaned and reassembled his spring blade. Resheathing the knife, he began searching the unconscious bodies. He tossed the mugger's credsticks to the kid. He took the pistols (a pair of streetline specials, a very old Ithaca Auto-Burglar, a Walther Palm Pistol and the Colt) thinking that leaving them in the ally might mean trouble. He spent some time looking at the sawed off double barrel shotgun with a pistol grip estimating that the design had to be 140 years old. Owen doubted that this weapon itself was that old, although by it's scars it had seen some hard use for a long period of time. "Got no bullets" he heard the boy mumble. Looking up from the weapon he saw that the youngster was talking about the shotgun. "Smasher's got no shells fer dat. Somethin bout da caliber. He just likes it cause it's scary looking. Smasher ain't too smart".

"Sounds like you have a flair for understatement." Owen replied


"Understatement is.... saying the corps have a few creds or.... that Winona Flying Horse and Cinnabar Carter are ok looking"

"Oh, I getcha, heh, heh, ....understatement. Like Dragons are a little bigger than me."

"Exactly. My name is Owen Glendower, by the way. What's yours?"

"Ian Scott. But around here they call me crip or gimp."

"Oh? Mind if I ask why?"

"My left foot drags. I busted a limaga, ligama...."

"A ligament?"

"Yeah, dats it. A ligament an some nerves and stuff so now if I lift it to walk normal, I can't feel if my foot's flat to land on, so I sort of drag it to keep from fallin down all a time. Watcha goin do wit dem guns?"

"I don't know. What would you suggest?"

"Dis ain't da best place fer goin around unheeled so if all ya got is dat trick knife ya outta keep da best. You could sell da uders, but everybody round here knows Smasher's so ya outta dump dat one. Didja cack 'em?"

"This trash? No. Smasher and the charmer with the jewelry are just out cold. Big Vito doesn't have a fatal wound, but who knows, with any luck he might go into shock, or draw enough Devil Rats before he gets treatment to snuff it. I can't say I care much either way."

"How come ya saved my hoop? I don know ya."

"Well, I wasn't doing anything else at the moment, and it seemed a good idea at the time. Why were they slapping you around?"

"I gotta big mouth. Gets me inta trouble sometimes. Dey heard I was mockin em out. Got pissed. I dodged em fer a couple a days but finally dey caught up wit me. You ain't from aroun here, cause I'd a seen ya before. Ya come down here fer da porn? Da chicas? If it's fer da joyboys, I know I owe ya an all, Mistah, but I ain't up fer gettin my hoop fragged."

"Thanks for the thought, it was very delicately put, but you're not my type. I'm really down here to try to find out why everybody's disappearing. Got any ideas?"

"Naw, I jus know ya can't be out aftah dark or ya ain't comin back.....uh... I wuz thinkin' maybe I should put da sticks back. If dey ain't dead...."

"Oh, you think they'd take a dim view of whoever sold their personal sticks for credit, eh?"

"Yeah..... understatement, right? I think dese fraggers would take a deadly dim view if dey found out I sold their sticks to a fixer."

"Hmmm.....How about you sell them to me. I'll give you a certified stick for.....200 nuyen?"

"But, you jus took 'em. You ain't gotta pay me for em......" said a confused Ian Scott.

"Omae, you've got them, correct? Well, that makes them yours. If you don't want to sell to me or think you can bargain for a better price...."

"DEAL!" shouted the teenager. "Deal! I just..... forget it, uh nevermind...200 for dese tree sticks."

"I'll buy them, but only if you can get me to a fixer who can buy the blasters."

"No sweat, Mistah. Come wit me."

1:45 p.m. Wednesday

The bar that Ian led Owen to was dirty, dark and dingy. Even this early in the day, the Blue Flame had a crowd. The Physical adept recognized that in addition to a base of operations for the fixer he was being led to, it was also a hiring hall. Lounging among the smoke and smell of sour beer were numerous hard cases waiting for work. Some looked competent, some had the anxious look of wannabes or newcomers, but the barely contained atmosphere of easy violence was something they all shared. Glendower caught a glower of challenge from a short norm male with an obvious cyberarm and a pair of hardwood batons in his belt, and then another from an ork with a reflective eye cover in a different corner of the room as he made his way to the fixer's table.

Owen sighed to himself at the knowledge that whatever else happened, he was going to have what Chandler would call a "dust-up" before he got out of the bar. He focused on the disreputable looking dwarf who seemed to be pulling some sort of bug or bits of uneaten food out of a beard which covered his extensive paunch.

"Whadaya want, gimp?" he asked the boy in a voice that sounded like a box of gravel being shaken around. "An who da frag is dis fragger? Ya bringing me pretty boys off da strip? Har-har-har."

The laughter from the surrounding tables reflected the generally ugly mood of the establishment. Owen ignored the kissing sounds and remarks suggesting he was wearing too many garments. He very deliberately tossed both sticks and weapons onto the table and said "What will you give me for these?"

There was dead quiet in the room as the sawed off shotgun was recognized. The fixer said "Well, joyboy, I might give ya a real good price, depending on what else you'll do fer me." and leered to the general amusement of the room.

Before Owen could respond the doors to the bar slammed open and the crowd got quiet as a pair of samurai entered. These razors differed from the clientele of the bar by their competence, confidence and the quality of their equipment. These were the kind of top runners that everyone in the seedy bar aspired to be. The only indication of cyberware in the Dwarf were his metal hand and cybereyes. His coat was fashionable, the paired Predator II at his hips were in top condition and the Colt Cobra he held casually in his left hand gleamed with a new coat of gun oil. His partner was a norm male with a body builder's physique and no apparent chrome. He moved with the catlike grace of a dancer and the paired katanas he wore across his back were complimented by the new Ingram SuperMach 100 which peeked out from his long duster. As the two moved through the parting crowd, Owen followed Ian, who backed into the shadows and the rotund dwarf pulled himself erect in the chair.

"Gimlee Hobbs, you fat piece of drek, you owe me money," called the dwarf Gillette as he made his way to the fixer's table. "You owe Hamon money too, an he don't like ya da way I do." As the dwarf saw the guns on the table he said "What are ya doin, opening a junkyard? Ya can't expect anybody's goin' ta buy dat crap, do ya? Damn, ya must a sunk lower than even I thought. Hey, Hamon, get a load a......." As the dwarf realized that his partner was not at his side he turned to see what the norm was distracted by. A support pillar holding up the sagging roof of the Blue Fame was between him and whatever his partner was staring at, but he read shocked disbelief in the norm's body posture. The next instant he saw Hamon bowing over a fist-in-palm salute as he murmured "Sifu". Lug was already moving out of his chair when Owen stepped forward. "Sensei" he said repeating a version of the salute that Hamon had just performed. "Sensei! Of all the drekholes in the entire plex, this is the last place I ever expected to see you! Please, sir, join us. Can we get you something?"

While he had been speaking, Hamon had rousted a group from a nearby table. Owen returned the salute and then with one hand on Ian' shoulder, guided the boy to the table. When the four were seated Lug yelled "SERVICE! God Damn It. Gimme some fraggin service!" The mousy looking waitress who scurried over to take their orders looked terrified. At a look and a head gesture from Owen, Lug completely changed his tone. "I'd like a bottled domestic beer, please. Perhaps an Iron City or a Rheingold, my friend would like a Schafer in a can. The young man will have, what sort of soft drink would you like, son? A cola? Yes, a cola for the young man and Sensei?"

"Cold bottled water"

"And a cold bottled water for my honored teacher, thank you." Both samurai were grinning like children at having found their teacher in this dive. They were bursting to ask what he was doing in this pit in the tenderloin, but knew that an impolite question might earn them a dismissal from both teacher's company and class.

"We missed you this morning, Sifu." said Hamon, uncharacteristically, "We're glad to see you weren't hurt or anything."

Owen's polite nod prompted Lug to try a different tack. Turning to the boy he said, "My name's Lug, which means to carry an excessive amount, and my partner there is called Hamon, which is what they call the pattern of the hardened edge of a sword blade in Japan. And what might your name be?"

"Uh..Ian Scott." gulped the youth.

"Well, Ian-boy, It's a pleasure to meet you, particularly in the company of the finest teacher in the plex."

"Teacher?" murmured the boy as he looked at Owen.

"Why yes, didn't you know, Master Fan lo Wong himself acknowledged Sensei's Tai-Chi Chuan and gave over his classes to become a student...." said Lug.

Hamon interrupted "And since he's started teaching, the legendary Marco Gracie has started studying and...."

"Kohai, enough" when the refreshments had arrived Owen continued, "Do you need to conduct some business?"

"It's not that important, Sifu. Gimli will wait." assured Hamon.

"Uh....excuse me," said the 13-year old. "How come he keeps callin ya one ting and he keeps callin ya anoder?"

Before either Gillette could explain, Owen said, "They're just different ways of calling me teacher. My calling them Kohai, acknowledges that I've coached them." Turning to the Samurai he then said. "Now, I know you gentlemen were pursuing some business, but before you go," he paused significantly, "perhaps you could help me. I'm looking into the rash of disappearances in this area recently and I was wondering what you might have heard on the subject."

Both Samurai's looked blank and Lug said "News to us. Could we be of help? Our rates are pretty reasonable, we are available and we do have some contacts in the area."

Owen thought for a moment and then remembering the importance of form said "Just what do you mean by 'reasonable'?"

The two samurai exchanged looks and then Lug said "Oh, 500 a day, plus expenses. If we uncover the goods maybe a bonus of ....say 2 hours of personal instruction?"

"Deal" said Owen, "But, I have to insist that you investigate, not obliterate. Collateral damage is unacceptable and you must bear in mind that pressure applied in my name reflects on me. I would not be labeled "heavy handed" because your exuberance prompts you to excess. If you'll give me your sticks I will transfer a total of 2,000 as a retainer and I will meet you here in 24 hours to hear your first report."

Both razors' demeanor changed as they moved from enthusiastic students to hard edged professionals. They checked the transfer of funds from Owen's certified stick and while their "Mr. Johnson" and his young guest finished their drinks, concluded business with Gimli Hobbs and left the Blue Flame Inn.

Of course, there is always someone who tries to make their reputation by testing someone else's. In this case, as soon as the Samurai had left, the short norm with the cyber arm swaggered up and said "You may impress the drek outta those frags, pretty boy, but your hoops got only one use for me."

"And what would that be?" Owen responded calmly in the deathly still that followed the pronouncement.

"Uh...Well whadda ya think, ya whowa?"

"I'm sure I have no idea. Why don't you explain it to me?"

Momentarily stunned by the tall norm's refusal to rise to the bait. Escrima, as he called himself, looked to the rest of the bar for support. Clearly the mood had changed from the earlier fun at the newcomers expense. Some of the other regulars were shaking their heads like he was making a mistake confronting this guy, like he was suddenly playing in the wrong league. Others had gone even farther and seemed to be embarrassed that he wasn't provoking this guy but was himself just looking foolish. Only the wannabes and the cherries seemed to agree with his assessment that this pretty boy wasn't anything special. Fearing that backing down would be seen as, well, as backing down, Escrima forged ahead.

"I ain't 'splainin nothin to you, pudlicker. You a motherfraggin whore, don't belong wit men. Get da frag outta da fraggin bar, 'fore I kick yer fraggin hoop."

Owen slowly stood up and then, faster than a striking snake, grabbed the nerve cluster that ran along Escrima's jawbone. To everyone in the bar it looked like he was pinching the razor's cheek. To Escrima, however, it felt like the top of his head had been blown off and someone was stirring his brain with a flaming ice pick. The pain was so intense that he could not make a sound. He could not move, he could not breathe, he could not whimper, he could not pass out. Each second of pain was unbearable, but each time the nerves had fired it seemed the grip shifted slightly and a new agony began. As he stood there for an eternity, looking at his reflected image in the source of all agony's sunglasses, he lost control of his bladder. When the pain increased after another eternity he lost control of his bowels. The grip slackened enough for him to inhale and as the tears of gratitude filled his eyes, Owen very quietly said. "I'm going to forget this ever happened, but I want you to remember. This is called keiraku hiko. Its a Sorinji Kempo technique for creating pain by applying pressure to nerve clusters. There are actually 708 points where this can be done on the human body. Some of them really hurt. Go away."

No one had made a sound through the frozen tableau of Owen pinching Escrima's cheek. When it was done and Owen let go, the bar started breathing again. No one said anything or looked at Escrima as he scurried towards the bathroom. Even the cherries knew that laughing at somebody who had been so obviously humbled would be considered very bad form. As Owen glanced around the room nobody looked at his face. When he sat back down conversation slowly resumed.

"Holy drek!" Ian whispered. "That was Escrima, da stick fighter. He's one a da toughest sams around. Even da High Hats don't frag wit him 'less deres a bunch a dem. Ya made him piss himself and drek his pants!"

"You'd do well to forget that, Ian. Your mouth has already gotten you in trouble with Big Vito. I think if you repeat this story, Escrima will just kill you to shut you up. Just forget about this." After a brief silence he asked "He really calls himself Escrima? That's like introducing yourself by saying 'my name is Wrestling', or 'call me Karate'. No wonder he wouldn't back down."

As Owen finished speaking Gimli Hobbs waddled up to the table and asked if he might sit down to conclude the business that had been interrupted. When Owen asked if he still "needed to do something special to get a real good price" the fixer said

"Just having a bit of fun, sir. No offense intended I assure you, sometimes I speak without thinking about the consequences of my words...."

"A problem we are all familiar with, sir" Owen responded while looking significantly at Ian. "But now to business. What are the firearms and sticks worth, sir?"

"Well, considering their condition...uhm.....300 nuyen?"

Owen turned to Ian and said "You've led me astray, young man. You said we'd get a good price from Mr. Hobbs in spite of the word I got other sources, but it seems they were right and you were wrong. I suppose I'll have to go back to have all of the business handled through them. This has been a complete waste of time."

Ian Scott was young and had no formal education but he'd run enough scams to know a set up when he heard it. Without missing a beat he said: "Sir, please, dere's been some confusion. Before ya take all a yer biz, please, give me a minit ta straighten dis out. My poor sis needs da money fer dat operation an if you'll just gimme a chance, I'm sure I can earn da comish ya promised by settin up da deal. Please sir."

"Oh, very well. You have 5 minutes."

Ian pulled Hobbs away from the table for a hushed and hurried conference.

"What's dis bulldrek about a operation, gimp? Yer sister's a dancers over at da Palladium. She don't need no operation."

"Mr. Hobbs, dis is da biggest fish I evah played. He's got tons a cred. He just paid a 5,000 nuyen retainer to each a dose sams fer an open ended job. He's got more money den a dragon, fer cryin out loud. I hooked him as a guide and he messed up Vito, Smasher and Rizzo widout breakin a sweat. He don need da cred from dat stuff. He gimme 100 fer showin him dis bar! He jus wantsa getta good price from ya so he knows yer on da level. Dere's no tellin how much he's gonna spend an if he does his biz wit you, I get a finder's fee of annuder hunderd. Can't ya give him, say 500 fer da stuff. Vito an his boys ain't kilt. Ya can get most a dere cred in findahs fees for da sticks an guns. Ya know Smasher'd pay anyting ta get his cannon back."

"Yeah, ok. But I'm only coughin up 450. Half a yer finder's fee is gonna make up da difference."

"Aw, man! Why ya gotta rob a poor crip? Aintcha got no heart?"

"Business, kid. Just business."

They returned to the table and Hobbs said "Yer...assistant has brought me up ta speed, sir. I'd be willing to go 500 fer da stuff."

"Not a cred less than 700"

"Be reasonable, sir. Da sticks don't have much cred on dem and da weapons, well da weapons are hardly in top shape. 525 is as high as I can go."

"You have a point. I'll drop my price to 650."

"But dat's crazy. I'd lose money on da deal. 550 is my absolute max."

After a half hour of heated haggling, which Gimli obviously enjoyed much more than Owen, they had settled on a price of 587 nuyen. Owen insisted that the books be closed on the business before he considered anything else and eventually Hobbs produced a certified stick for the full amount. Owen insisted that Ian handle the receivables so the boy got the stick. He then got down to the real reason he wanted to speak with the fixer.

"I'd like to know what's been causing the disappearances in the tenderloin." Owen said. "I know that there are others interested, but here's what I propose. I'll post a 10k nuyen bond with you. You offer a bounty for proof on who's behind the disappearances. Get me the data and you keep the bond. Somebody else gets the data, you give me back the 10K. How's that sound?"

"Sound's like I might not make a cred on this deal. What if I have teams bustin their butts and then you call to tell me da race is over. What do I get?"

"Zip. But then if you get somebody to sell you the proof for 100 creds tonight, you walk away with 9,900 nuyen for sitting on your hoop and drinking beer. You called it a race. That's exactly what it is. Fastest gets the most."

"What about expenses?"

"What about them? I'm not subsidizing every relative you have for the next two weeks. I'm offering you in on a race to 10K. You get lots of people looking, odds are good you find what I need quick and then you figure out how to divide the money. You keep the teams small you increase profit margin and decrease odds of success. You don't want to play, the other fixers send you thank you cards and laugh when I tell them you wouldn't even try. Which way do you want to go?"

"Im in."

"Ok, here's a certified stick for 10k. Any questions?"

"Yeah, what's to keep me from walkin away with your cred. Not that I would, but just so that I know."

"I hear Lug and Hamon are pretty good trackers, and of course you could check with Big Vito and his boys." Owen said. He then pointed to Escrima who was skulking out the back door. "Or you could ask him."






3:00 p.m. Wednesday

When Owen and Ian left the haze, noise and stench of the bar for the haze, noise and stench of the street, Glendower began making his way back towards his bike. Ian seemed to be trying to work something out, but kept quiet. When the bike's engine started and Owen said "Have a good life, kid" Ian finally spoke up.

"Wait!...uh, ya forgot yer stick, ya know fer da guns an all."

"Congratulations, Ian. That had to be a tough decision. In spite of whatever kickback you had to promise Gimli, I bet you've got more cred in your pocket than you've ever had before. But you reminded me about it, in spite of the fact that I'm sure you think I don't need it and you do. Why?"

"I....uh....I dunno. Ya helped me wit Vito an ya treated me wit respect, like ya knew I could hook Gimli for ya. Made me feel kinda grown, like. I wish udders would see dat I'm more dan just a gimp. I.....It just woulda been wrong ta, ya know, rip ya....I guess. I.....well.....See, Molly, dat's my sis. She's a dancer an....well, she always says dat money ya feel dreky about takin, ya feel dreky about spendin.....I dunno..... well, here." He said as he held out Gimli's certified stick.

"Keep it, Ian. You earned it by being honest enough to offer it back. Molly will be proud. Maybe you can start saving up to get that leg repaired. Anyway, it was a pleasure meeting you, Ian Scott. Have a good life."

With that Owen rode off down the street. He spotted an elevated Billboard (for NERPS, of course) which overlooked both an intersection and several alley ways, and decided to use it for his observation post that night. He hid his bike in the alley and after activating the security system he took his backpack and climbed up to the sign. Knowing that any movement would betray him, he found a concealed spot among the sign's support and settled in for a long period of motionless waiting.

4:00 p.m. Wednesday

Waverly doesn't understand the first god damn thing about stakeouts, Solo fumed to himself. I know how big the team is and how many man hours are being invested, but we are covering an entire fragging city, we've only been at it for four or five hours and the fragging target hasn't come anywhere near his old haunts. What the frag am I supposed to do, pull the son of a slitch out of my hoop? Christo! I wish the fraggin brass had some field experience other than pacing in a fragging hotel room.

When Waverly called again 30 minutes later, Solo lost it. Kay, against his better judgement, drove Solo back to the hotel, where his partner picked up a pair of curvaceous, extremely attractive, long hared, sensuous, professionals in the bar and paid them out of operating expenses to keep Mr. Waverly occupied indefinitely. When Kay had pointed out that Solo was risking everybody's career with a stunt like that, Solo had asked:

"How the frag are we supposed to do the fraggin job with this fraggin hoophole breathing down our fragging necks?"

Since Kay had heard Solo swear precisely three times previously in their entire association as partners, he quickly understood how frustrated the special agent in charge was. Still, he couldn't help but ask, "What if he likes boys?"

Solo did not hesitate a moment, but responded, "One of them was a boy!"

6:00 p.m. Wednesday

The federal agents weren't the only group being frustrated in their efforts to track down the elusive Glendower. While Solo was finding a distraction for the pacing Mr. Waverly, Sheila was receiving reports from Jago.

"The only way we're going to get anything outta Maria's is if we launch a full scale assault. She's beefed up on manpower like 100%. She's hired some real bad M.F.'s to watch close, and it looks like she's getting help from Don Lupo's squads around the perimeter. I don't know if that means she finally lost her independent status of if maybe she has but doesn't know it yet. Anyway, if the Glendower fraggers in there, we're going to have to be patient until the security relaxes."

"FRAG! Can't we just burn'em out. Toss a couple of molotovs and have some ordinance waiting when the slot comes out?" Sheila asked.

Jago shook her head. "She's got heavy duty coverage for a three block radius. You can't even get through the security perimeter unless you're known or can get through a Q A with her goons. Besides, I got one lead that says Glendower ain't even there."

"What?? Where did you get this lead? What are you talking about??" Demanded Sheila.

"Well I put on a frag-me outfit and made like I was going to work. I jandered past the outermost guards with some whistles, but after another block I get stopped by this fussy little norm who wants to know where I think I'm going. When I said 'I think I'm going to work, if it's any of your business.' And he says 'It is my business and you don't work at Maria's'. I tried to bluff the little prig, nothing. I tried to get him interested, nothing. I tried provoking him, no reaction. Finally I left and found a simple goon who was working the outer ring. I told him what happened, all confused and little-girl-lost, you know? Well this glom was huge, like 7-2, a norm but bigger than some Trolls I've met. Anyway, the lump is practically drooling before I even turn on the charm, and when I was done explaining how 'I just gotta get a chance to talk to Maria so I can get a job' and how 'I'd be sooo grateful for his help' the gorilla is ready to pound the snot outta anybody. Or so I think. When I tell him about the little man who sent me away, He stops dead in his tracks and says 'Maybe you better just get outta here. If Mr. Gracie says you gotta go. You gotta go.' The next thing I know, all kinds of heaters are being displayed real prominently, like there going to be used if I try to hang around. I never even got in sight of the place. BUT, there was a Joyboy who does work at Maria's who saw the whole exchange. He called me over and explained that the increased security was because 'this very dangerous, but simply gorgeous man, had annoyed one of those terrible biker gangs, and even though he hadn't even stayed the night, all the security was in case the gang came looking for trouble.'"

"I played the role for all I was worth and asked if I could get a number so I could at least call Maria for an appointment" When Sheila started to interrupt, Jago continued "I know, I know we already had the number, but while my new friend was writing, I started gossiping about what this gorgeous and dangerous man looked like. From the girl talk, I got a physical description, which we didn't have yet, and the information that neither he nor Hanzo are working out of the house any longer. Seems the heroic Mr. Glendower gave Hanzo some assignment. He's off someplace else in the city and Glendower hung around long enough to have dinner but then snuck out before Hanzo's welcome home party."

"That's good," responded Sheila. "I'm pretty sure Crown and Beowulf got a description out of Itami, so they'd know they weren't meeting a ringer, but with them gone, we don't even know the fragger's face. I was thinking that we'd have to spook Itami, who we do know, to find the fragger he would run to for help. This is much better. What's he look like?"

Jago said, "Roger, that's the chatty Joyboy, says that he's 6-5, 215 lbs. of solid muscle. Blue eyes, Brown hair (cut short), strong jaw, straight nose and 'the most smashing smile'. No obvious cyber and Roger swears he's a physical adept, though, of course, he might be a vat job. Told a story about him saving some joygirl who was about to have her neck snapped by a Dwarf john who had slotted some bad chips. Seems he started juggling to get the dwarf's attention, and when he had like 8 things in the air and the Dwarf let go of the whore's neck, he whipped out a squirter, knocked the john out and, if you can believe this, was walking away before the Dwarf or the last thing he was juggling hit the ground. He wears a long dark hooded cloak. Roger's never seen him without it."

Sheila considered the data for a moment. "Yeah, that tallies with what we got from Sandor before he died and what we got outta John Parker. A dark cloak, huh? Damn, but I'd love to give that piece of drek the slow death that he deserves. Alright. Let all our teams know-give out the motherfragger's description and let's get them sweeping all of our territory. They grab anybody the right size in a cloak, bring'em back here and I'll find out if he's the right fragger with some magic."

When Jago looked at her strangely, Sheila said "No, wait. You're right. The son of a slitch took out both the Fedora and Top Hat. He sure as hell ain't goin to come quietly because Billy Bats or Lulu tell him to. We'll have to plan an assault......Well, first we have to find the bastard. Get our people out and looking in pairs. They spot someone matching the description, one sticks with him while the other calls in for help. I'll see what Coyote says about our candidates and when we smell out the right one, between Angela's assault cannon and Booboo's minigun, we should be able to wipe the fragger out. I'd still like a chance to kill him real slow, but, as long as he's dead, I guess that will have to do. Anything else?"

Jago shook her head and said "I was gonna suggest we grab Roger or one of the hookers who knew the slot's face, but if you can magic him out, we avoid a big hassle with Maria's expanded security. I'll get the pairs out now. Start in our territory?"

"Yeah," Sheila said. "We make sure it's clear close to home first and then expand out from there. Oh, and Jago, put a reward for information out on Glendower. Say 1,000 nuyen. Make sure our people tell the locals."

"Ok, but I didn't think we had much cash left after everything.....that happened."

"Hey, I just said we were offering 1k. I didn't say we'd actually pay it."

6:03 p.m. Wednesday

Wedge Sullivan was, meanwhile, learning what the previous Compound hit teams had learned when searching for the man who now called himself Owen Glendower. There wasn't a whole lot about him in the Matrix. The Compound's local agent for the city was new and had very specific instructions from the Lord of the Compound himself, not to have anything to do with Glendower. The typical places where one might find data on a runner, Brag boards (where teams posted veiled run accounts to enhance their reps), Virtual bars, Watcher rooms (where "shadow gossips" gab about what was actually happening behind the scenes) all where without mention of Glendower. This was particularly surprising for the Watcher rooms as they where the places that were used to check the accuracy of the claims on the Brag boards, and kept data even after the "retirement" of a runner or a team.

Not finding anything in the typical shadow sources, Wedge began looking at protected, secure sites where he might run down data. He checked for medical records, and found that Doc Wagon kept their data in a stand alone computer, just before he got dumped from the system. He checked for phone records and didn't even get close, he tried DMV records and found nothing. After 5 hours of fruitless searching, on a hunch he started checking delivery records. He breezed through the various messenger services' billing records and eventually found a reference to Owen Glendower in Speedy Messenger Services' files. The delivery was scheduled for 7:45 am the previous morning . Wedge's trademarked rebel yell of victory "YEEEEEE-HAAAAA" echoed through the brownstone when he finally secured an address for their quarry. Seme's team now had a starting point for their hunt.

6:08 p.m. Wednesday

Owen watched the sun go down as he munched a Power Bar. He observed that sundown on the lower east side was different from sundown nearly every other place he had ever been. As the ambient light diminished, things became more hurried. The darker it got, the faster people moved towards their homes. The few whose business involved being on the street, joygirls and joyboys with their pimps and muscle, all tended to huddle together under the few functioning street lights. This, of course, did little for their business as a cruising car which slowed down was suddenly hailed by a cacophony of "vendors" displaying their "wares" very aggressively. On the few occasions where a customer actually made a pickup, the John must have been instructed to drive out of the area, because Owen saw nobody parked with their "carhop" in the Tenderloin.

As the night settled in, Owen observed some increase in pedestrian traffic. The newcomers were better dressed than the locals which spoke to their being "tourists" to this part of town. Even these "newcomers" seemed to walk with a nervous speed in their step as they visited the sim parlors or the clubs of the Tenderloin. Owen saw that even the Biker gang, the High Hats, were travelling in pairs. He watched with a special scrutiny as they stopped at each cluster of locals to ask questions. Oh ho. Owen thought. Madame M's chip said these slots were not in evidence until after the disappearances. I bet they're not suddenly mending their ways for the protection of the neighborhood. I bet they're out here looking for the individual who screwed up their HQ yesterday. I wonder how much they're offering. However much it is, I'd better keep a very low profile from here on out.

7:00 p.m. Wednesday

Seme's team filled the back of the panel truck. They were parked a block from the address that Wedge had gotten from Speedy Messenger service's records and the slumped form of the shaman attested to his attempt at astral recon. The fact that an identically nondescript van was parked two car lengths up on the other side of the street disturbed no one as, who paid attention to panel trucks anyway?

The Federal agents in that panel truck were not, however, ignoring this new vehicle. They had seen that nobody had gotten out of the truck when it parked, and professionals in the stakeout game, they had detailed a portion of the elaborate electronics suite that occupied one wall of the van to focus on this unknown in their territory. The remainder of the gear stayed focused on the address that the 1st teams of agents had visited the day before.

Long range sound sensors, density scanners and infrared detectors gave the Feds information on the numbers and racial composition of their opposite numbers before the Compound's team knew they had been observed. When Seme's spirit returned to the truck to say that the flop was unoccupied, he informed a wider audience than he imagined. The Feds listened with interest to the discussion among the hit team on how they should proceed next.

"Why doan we jus slip on in, quiet lahk, an leave Mistah Tahget a lil c-12 suhprize? Some anti-puhsonell munitions might soften him up jus rahht."

"Normally, that might work, but who know how paranoid Gray...uh, Glendower has become. He'll smell setup before anything can happen."

"I agree with Anna, Wedge. We must be patient as all night hunters are and wait for our quarry unseen. Disturbing his nest may alert the prey before the trap is sprung."

"Yoah the boss, Semee. Ah jus wanna make shoah that the suckah can't get away. But ahll wait it out, jes lahk you wahnt. Ah need some downtime enaway. If yall will excuse may, ahm gonna ketch some z's."

A recording of the conversation along with the pertinent details on the occupants of the truck was flashed to the circling stealth equipped Osprey II overhead where Solo considered the new players in the game.

Maybe this was why the Glendower slot was so adamant about not being hired. Maybe we aren't the only group that's after him, he thought.

"I want four teams, 2 from Alpha group and 2 from Beta," he said into his comm unit. "New group designation Delta. Target primary, that panel truck and its occupants. We need to know who the other players are and what they want with Mr. Glendower. Connover, you just became a group leader for Delta. Deploy your people and be ready when that truck moves. And Connie, don't screw this up."

"Roger, S.A.I.C. (Special Agent In Charge), thanks for the chance."

7:21 p.m. Wednesday

Sgt. Shields was not impressed with the Inspector's office. A desk with a broken leg, one chair that had seen better days and a coat rack with 2 broken hooks. Damn, even the lamp looks like it came out of excess property. They'd have the Corp's personnel slots would be all over the locals if he got treated like this 'cause he's a halfer. It must be because he moves around a lot with serial crimes. Well, at least he gets to travel, but if I had to come back to this....

"Sgt. Shields. Glad you could find my little corner of the world, looks like were both working night shift, eh?" asked the Dwarf as he bustled in. "I hope you've got some data for me. Have a seat, have a seat. What have you got?"

"Inspector Bridger, you were right on the money. We've been looking through reports and reviewing comm logs as well as talking to the locals out on the street and we've found that there was a pattern of disappearances on the street before we started looking into the problem Fuchi's been having. Interesting thing, I don't know if its significant, but all of the trouble dates to a few days after that accident Fuchi had at their eastside research facility....."

"Wait a minute Mark, may I call you Mark?" at the nod from the Sgt., Bridger continued "You can call me Jim if you like..." the uncomfortable look on Shields face prompted the Dwarf to amend "But inspector is OK too. I was out of town working a case in Denver, a cult that was killing people by scalding them to death...."

"The Steam Cleaners? You broke the Steam Cleaners case? They had like 2 dozen investigators working on that one for months until one man went undercover and wrapped the whole thing up. That was you?"

"Yeah, well I got lucky" Jim bashfully admitted. "But more to the point, I missed the incident you mentioned and I'd like to get as many details as you can remember. Take a moment to think, please."

"Ok, it was about 6 and a half weeks ago. Fuchi had a medical research facility on the lower east side. Pretty elaborate security setup for the science buildings but they did have a sort of outpatient clinic which took care of some of the neighborhood people. You know, the usual drek, they're looking for volunteers, giving a full checkup for applicants, so if you're SINless and ailing you volunteered for some test or other and if they found out what was wrong with you in the examination they'd prescribe something and send you on your way. People in the Tenderloin thought Fuchi was sent from heaven."

"Anyway, one night, there's fire and explosions through the whole complex." Shields continued,"Some of the firefighters said it looked like the place self-destructed after the fire started. I don't know about that, but Fuchi decided to cut their losses after the blaze and just left the facility barren. Same locals who were lighting candles for the wonderful corp now lined up to scream like hell that the big F stood for Fraggers and where was their free clinic. First disappearances started a few days later."

"When did the first Fuchi exec disappear?"

"A couple of days later. Why, do you think they're connected?"

"Well, I don't know yet, but it seems that there was a lot of bad feeling in the neighborhood. If somebody wanted to target Fuchi, there sounds like there would be a lot of people willing to help or at least not interfere. I'd like to know more about what sort of medical research they were conducting at that facility. Maybe, I'll ask Mr. Wainwright about what they were up to.... But, let's get back to the present. You said you had some data from the local people."

"Yes, sir. Near as we can figure we've probably only been aware of 20-25% of the disappearances from the area. We checked a relatively large random sample and virtually everyone knew someone who had disappeared recently. I mean they had immediate personal knowledge of someone who had gone missing in the last 6 weeks. I'm talking about 100 to 120 people who have disappeared if the sample proves out, which, if it's murder, would make this the largest serial killing spree in history."

"Let's not go planning any speaking tours or spending any bonuses yet, ok Mark? We still have to determine what is going on, who's doing what, what are they doing, why are they doing it, what will they do next and how do we stop them. An awful lot of work, especially when you realize our total collection of clues amount to a severed fingertip and a Doc Wagon bracelet.....Doc Wagon." After a moment's thought, Bridger said "Mark, check with Fuchi to find out how many of the missing exec's had Doc Wagon contracts. Then call Doc Wagon and find out the level of the contract and the disposition of the case....Shame these poor slots weren't better off. If they had Super Platinum contracts the monitor would get a fast response team to them as soon as their life signs were in danger. Then we might be able to at least have some idea about what it is we are dealing with."

Shields knew that the small detective was not through. He waited patiently while Inspector Bridger thought through the elements of the case. "What have you gotten on the transportation issue, Mark?"

"We looked carefully at abandoned vehicles in the area. 8 cars belonged to the missing." Consulting his notebook he continued, "2 Renraku, 1 Ares, 1 Mitsu, 2 SK, and 2 Fuchi. We also got some info from Mr. Wainwright. 10 of the missing execs lived in the arcology and had no personal cars. They cabbed around the city. Of the five remaining, all of whom lived in the suburbs, 3 cars were left in parking garages used by Fuchi execs, 1 is in the shop for some brake work, and 1 at home because Mr. Parkhurst lives on the Park Avenue bus line. Our guess is that all but the two who left their cars grabbed cabs from the arcology to the tenderloin. Both Red Top and Diamond have cabstands on Prospect St. and Checker Cabs have a stand at the Drake Hotel. All very convenient to the Fuchi Arcology."

"Excellent. We may have our starting point. Have you started looking into the taxi company's records yet?"

"No, sir. I wanted to talk to you about that first. If we focus a lot of attention on reviewing cab trip records I'm afraid we may spook whoever our link is between Fuchi and the disappearances. If it's a cabby or two who are in on it, they might not know we are looking, but I was thinking if it's a dispatcher or one of those operators who takes comm calls, they might be aware that their front office is suddenly being turned upside down while lone star searches for who is involved in trips from Fuchi to the Tenderloin. I also think that these slots....uh, victims, are well enough off to call for a hired sedan or a limo. One's less conspicuous than a cab, the other provides a potential rolling entertainment center for 'guests' picked up in an evening of fun."

"Very good points, Mark. Very good." The Dwarf detective nodded with pleasure at the meticulous thinking of the Sgt. "We absolutely cannot spook our only link to whatever is going on down there, but we have to find out who that link is. What do you propose?"

"Well sir, I was thinking that if we had decoys who could pass as execs at Fuchi, maybe with some help from Mr. Wainwright, they could try all three routes: Limo, Sedan and Taxi and then see if somebody tries to grab them. We could put a couple of choppers up with swat teams ready and maintain radio contact with the decoys. As soon as there was any sign of trouble we swoop in. If we catch the bad guys, the problem is solved, if we don't, we at least have the link which we can then pressure to get all of those involved in the plot. We keep using different transport companies until we stumble on the one that lands our decoy in the soup, then we move in."

"Outstanding, Mark. I think it's an excellent plan. I'd also suggest covering the bus lines. I believe there is an express which runs from in front of the arcology to Springfield with a stop at Pine and 4th streets. Less prestige in taking a bus, but greater anonymity if you're a little embarrassed about visiting the sim parlors and/or paranoid about your driver recognizing you later when you and the boss end up in the same cab to get to a meeting across town." After a moment the Dwarf continued, "I'm very impressed with your thinking on this, Mark. I'd urge you to consider taking the lieutenant's test. A little time and some work and you could eventually have a swell office like mine." Until Bridger broke down and grinned, Shields looked at him like he was crazy. Finally, with a chuckle he explained "Inspectors are out of the normal command chain because we go wherever we're needed. I don't have a fancy dress uniform or a flash office. I don't even rate a secretary, but I'm also not tied down to paperwork or office politics or the rest of that drek. I go from problem to problem and when I've solved this puzzle there's a new one around the corner waiting for me. Not much glory but you keep the old gray matter churning. But enough of my sales pitch. Have somebody check on the Doc Wagon data while you set up your decoy squad. I'll need your comm data as I will do the bus decoy."

"Yes, sir."

Sgt. Mark Shields left the inspector's office immensely pleased by the Bridger's praise. He had risen through the ranks fairly quickly, but when he'd pissed off Captain DeMaria his fortunes had taken a turn for the worse. He'd ended up in the Tenderloin because it was as close to a toilet precinct as DeMaria could send him without anyone taking notice. Mark had always thought of the Lieutenant's test as opportunity to kiss more hoop than he had a taste for, but now Bridger was showing him that if he could get enough time in grade at Lieutenant's level he might jump out of the political chain altogether. Inspector Shields, he thought. Has kind of a nice ring to it. Get me outta the corporate struggles and out there actually solving crimes, which is why I got into Law enforcement to begin with.

7:47 p.m. Wednesday

When Shields had left the office, Bridger called Wainwright.

"Yes, inspector" the exec said with an exasperated sigh.

"Just calling to inform you of where we are in the investigation, sir."

"Oh, oh I'm sorry, Inspector Bridger. I thought you were calling to tell me of another loss. Please excuse my earlier tone. What have you discovered?"

Bridger reviewed the information he had just heard from Sgt. Shields. He omitted some of the details about the losses from other corps, but indicated Lone Star's plan to go undercover. When Wainwright suggested that Fuchi's security people could act as the decoys, Bridger nixed the idea.

"We just increase the likelihood of losing our link by having two forces in the field simultaneously. Issues like chain of command, support, logistics all become much more complicated when there are two teams operating at the same time."

"Well, you could give the entire decoy operation to us....." Wainwright said.

"No sir. I don't think that would be a good idea at all. I'm sure if you wanted to make an issue of it, grander heads than ours would have to be consulted. I'd just point out two disadvantages to that situation. 1) you guarantee that the plan will not be in action tomorrow night by either team and 2) if Lone Star is forced off the case, they will be off the case entirely, which means Fuchi Security will have the problem for good. If I'm wrong about transportation being the key to the attacks, you will be left with the problem and the case. Do you disagree with my analysis?"

"No inspector. You are unfortunately correct. I won't push for our security to do the undercover work. You'll have our full cooperation in creating believable decoys. Isn't there anything of more value that we can do?" the exec almost pleaded.

"Yes, Mr. Wainwright, I believe there is. I understand that Fuchi had a medical research facility on the lower east side which burned down some 6 and a half weeks ago."

"Yes....." was the guarded reply of the corp.

"I understand that there was a great deal of ill feeling directed towards Fuchi by the locals when their free clinic was not re-opened. I further understand that the disappearances began within days of the fire and closing. I don't suppose you'd be willing to tell me what kind of research was being conducted there...."

"I'm afraid not Inspector. That information doesn't bear on the case and I'm not at liberty to disclose anything on that at this time."

"And the speculation that the various buildings self-destructed once the fire started...."

"That would also come under the heading of not bearing on the case and my not being at liberty to disclose, I'm sure you understand, Inspector. Do you have anything further on this investigation?"

"Not that I'm at liberty to disclose at this time, Mr. Wainwright. I'm sure you understand."

"Quite. Good evening, Inspector."

"And to you, sir"

Both parties stabbed the disconnect buttons simultaneously while muttering under their breaths about the parentage of the other.






4:48 a.m. Thursday

An hour before sunrise, Seme ordered the stakeout abandoned.

"Back to base. Our quarry will not return tonight. Tomorrow night we shall try again."

An edgy and grumpy group of assassins muttered at the pronouncement.

"Why we not...."

"...stay?" asked Left and Right in tandem. Delighted that they had put together a sentence, the Troll sisters grinned at each other.

"Yeah" added Crash, as though he were adding voluminous material to the discourse.

"Ah think we should wait aroun too, Semee. Maybe tha fraggah will show up fuh brekfas. Maybe we could hep take tha glow off'n his night a fuhn." said Wedge.

Anna, who had the most experience with the Panther shaman said nothing while waiting for the explosion. Seme surprised her with his reasoned response.

"Patience, patience is the mark of the hunter. The quarry is away. Why should we exhaust ourselves on the first night's hunt. We have marked his lair. We now check back to catch him at our leisure. My spirits watch the den. When he returns, they will follow and another night we will take the quarry. Savor the hunt, my friends. Do not rush."

When the panel truck pulled away, Crash was only driving for a few minutes when he called Seme to the front of the truck.

"What is the problem, Monty?"

"Tail" said the loquacious rigger.

"Are you sure? Who could be pursuing us? Does the hunted pursue the hunter?"

"Drone shows parallels. 4 car box. 1 block left, 2 blocks right, 1 up, 2 back."

Coming to an instant decision he said "Make a wide circle. You are looking for a tail without suspecting there actually is one. Pass this intersection again in 5 minutes." After quickly relaying the information to the remainder of the team and without asking that the truck be slowed, Seme leaped out of the passenger door into the night.

Twenty seconds later, he stepped imperiously in front of the Ford Americar making it's way up the street. When the driver hit the horn and attempted to bluff his way past, Seme launched a power bolt spell. Something in his stance or gesture alerted the federal agent to the magic, because both had their doors open and were exiting the car before the spell smashed through the windshield. Rolling away from the car as they drew their weapons, the agents were ready to fire on the man in the headlights before the sound of the spell had died away.

Very Good, Seme thought. These are better than the usual "muscle". Very fast and well trained. I think I will take the woman with me. She will be a source of information, and perhaps something more...

Federal Agent Tom Carver hated magic. It interfered with his notions of order and reason. When he and his partner were suddenly confronted with an obviously hostile magic user, one who had declared his intentions by tossing a spell at a pair of federal agents pursuing their assignment, he knew exactly which rules of engagement allowed him to respond with deadly force. His smart link to the Browning Maxpower was functioning perfectly, and rather than fearing the magic user, he pictured what the Glaser VI loads he was about to fire would do to the large dark skinned norm. Tom knew that the variety of metal shot held in the Teflon suspension of each shell would not only pierce most ballistic armor, but would also baffle several bullet barrier spells. A single pull of the trigger would release a semi-liquid Teflon mass which contained lead, steel, tungsten alloy, and iron with each component of the bullet releasing it's kinetic energy in a different way. As soon as the crosshaired circles in his left eye aligned in the center of the human silhouette, he began emptying his clip into the target. He smiled as he heard Agent Constance Connover open up at the same instant.

Seme considered destroying the male with magic, but a night of enforced inactivity while waiting for his true quarry had left him restless. He ignored the possibility of granting his opponent a spectacular death by magic as he ignored the bullets passing harmlessly through his body. Instead, like his totem, he raced forward to savage his prey with his teeth. Against the possibility that she would call for others to help her, the shaman threw a sleep spell across the car to knock Constance Connover out. While Seme shifted his attention for a second to throw the spell, Tom Carver cleared the action on his pistol, dropped the empty clip of Glaser VI ammo and reloaded with a clip of silvered hollow points with the practiced ease of a seasoned professional. He'd unloaded most of his second clip by the time Seme reached him. The backhand the shaman delivered sent the gun and the agent flying in different directions. Coincidentally it smashed the delicate sub-vocal communication gear implanted in the agent's throat as well as many of the teeth out of the left side of Carver's face. Tom's pain editor allowed him to draw his collapsible ASP baton before his opponent reached him. He flicked the baton to it's full length and when the shaman loomed over him delivered telling smashes to both the knee and shin of the black norm's right leg.

Seme's rage at being struck by his prey was huge. He reached down and with one hand around the agent's throat, lifted him into the air. When the federal agent kicked and struck at the elbow joint on the arm holding him up, Seme used his left fist to repeatedly smash his prey in the torso. After a dozen hard blows the fight went out of the fed. He was conscious, and his pain editor kept him relatively clear headed, but the internal damage that the blows had caused made it difficult to breathe. His ribs had been pounded into jagged shards, both lungs were punctured, his stomach had ruptured and he saw that his laughing opponent was growing longer canines. Vampire! he thought as the monster's maw started moving towards his neck. Flying Buffalo, ironing board! septa-centennial.

Seme caught a large part of Carver's exploding cranial bomb with his open mouth. His ability as a vampire made him immune to all but wooden weapons, but the agent's exploding head nearly blew the vampire's head off as well. He combined his body's regenerative ability with his own magic to keep his head on his shoulders until his healing spells could begin repairing the damage. Part of his mind was furious at this prey which had denied him his rightful meal, but another part admired the courage of an obviously overmatched and defeated foe who still managed to strike back with his dying thought. He tossed the fragments of torso to the ground and turned back towards the recumbent female on the other side of the car. This one won't deny me sustenance, he thought. He picked up the unconscious form and slinging her body over his shoulder as though it weighed nothing waited for the panel truck to return.

When the truck stopped, before Seme could reboard with his unconscious prisoner, Crash said "out" and left the vehicle. When the rest of the team was gathered outside he pushed a remote control button and the team watched as mini-lightning bolts of electric charge danced across the outside of the panel truck. At half a dozen points there were sparks and pops as the charge found something it didn't like. Without a word of explanation, Crash signaled that the team could reboard the vehicle. Seme said "Monty?" and the rigger responded "Bugs."

4:57 a.m. Thursday

The agents of Delta group were concerned. The behavior of their target seemed to be without rhyme or reason, their leader was out of contact, as was her driver, and suddenly every homing device that had been placed on the target vehicle had ceased functioning. The homers had registered an electrical surge and now none of the locators were functioning. Worse still, the magic user on board the target vehicle, who talked like a shaman, had rendered the entire truck invisible and nobody in the surveillance team could be sure that the target was still inside the "box". Hell, without word from the trail car, the only vehicle that actually had a visual on the quarry, no-one was even sure if they still had a box. Agent Brian McGuire, the most senior of the agents of Delta group cursed the fact that the group had no magic user and ordered a full sweep pattern be initiated in order to find the target. What was found instead was an empty trail car, pieces of a very dead agent, scattered spent brass shell casings and no group leader.

Calm professionals to the last, the group did not curse or fret about their dead comrade and missing group leader, but called in to the Special Agent in Charge to apprize him of the situation.

4:58 a.m. Thursday

Seme explained nothing about the unconscious female he was carrying, and as his healing magic was still repairing his face from the injury's he'd sustained when agent Carver's head exploded, none of the team was very anxious to ask questions. Anna felt a twinge of jealousy that Seme was interested in another female, but the unconscious body so resembled a piece of meat, that the ballerina felt little actual desire to replace her for the kind of attention she would receive from the shaman. It definitely did not appear to be the kind of attention she craved. During one particularly quiet stretch of road, she heard the sustained low growl that the team leader was producing.

When the team returned to their base, Seme carried his victim into the basement and locked the door. After eating a meal (dinner? breakfast?) Anna took a long bath and went out to meet Simon. She found herself wanting the security of being with someone who didn't make her insecure. Someone who treated her as an object of desire, who would lavish attention on her without expecting much in return. And if she had to wake him before dawn for some early morning delight, she was sure he would not mind. Humming absently to herself Anna made her way to Simon's.

5:13 a.m. Thursday

Constance Connover woke to find herself in hell. She could not see anything with her eyes' low light mode as she was in total darkness. She was secured, spread eagle, on a bed with both arms and legs held immobile by plastic restraints. She heard the low growl of an animal prowling in the darkness as she tested the bindings. Even her augmented muscles could not pull her free. She had been stripped before being laid out on the bed and she was fighting a losing battle with her imagination, worrying about the animal that might be loose in the darkness and what it might do to her helpless body.

Discipline, Constance, Discipline. If you die, it's in the line of duty. You had a good life, doing what you wanted most, serving your country. Anything short of that will be a bonus. You know your team is looking for you and if you survive they'll get you the best medical attention in the world. Stay calm. Stay cool. You're tough enough to survive anything.

"I see you're awake," said a voice in the darkness. "Excellent. It's so much more entertaining when they're awake."

Calmly and deliberately, just as the manual instructed, Connie said "You have interfered with a federal agent discharging her duties. This is a serious offense, but the penalties for your actions will become much more severe if you do not release me immediately....."

"Ah, federal agents, how interesting. Unfortunately, it's nearly time for me to sleep. Just time for a snack and a little...heh, heh,... fun before I turn in. You can tell me all about what you're doing here after my nap."

Lighting a candle, Seme revealed himself. As he slowly undressed, he explained in detail what he intended to do with the helpless agent's body, and when the young woman maintained her icy stoicism in the face of his lurid descriptions, he allowed her to see his canines elongate as he began to climb on top of her. Her will finally broke as she understood the extent of her violation. Her hopeless wail of despair was music to his ears.

5:24 a.m. Thursday

A half hour before sunrise, Owen abandoned his high observation post. What a total waste of time. You got to watch the bus go by 6 times, a large group of totally joyless joyboys and joygirls wasting their evening huddled under two streetlights, two cats arguing over the contents of a an overfilled garbage can, a patrol car from Lone Star and three checks by the High Hats to see if anybody wanted to turn you in. You stayed up all night long for nothing, you drekhead! But another voice asked Would it have been better if you'd watched people getting snatched off the street? Try to remember that your personal comfort is not the only measure of what is good.

Climbing silently down from the billboard, Owen rode his bike to the park where he usually led the Tai-Chi exercises. Although this was a predictable part of his daily routine, and therefore something that his sense of paranoia might normally have urged him to avoid while being pursued by the High Hats and probably the recruiters he had dismissed the other day, he felt relatively secure. He rarely spoke while leading the exercises and so very few of his students knew him by any other name than as "teacher". He hoped that the anonymity of his silence, combined with his avoidance of the other aspects of the Martial Arts community of the plex would keep his visibility low.

He stretched for a few minutes, nodding solemnly as some of the regulars showed up. He was pleased to see that Badger was still making the class in spite of the demands of college life. He also saw Lug and Hamon and signed that he would speak to them later. He acknowledged Marco Gracie as the master of the grappling art popularly known as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was a legendary instructor and martial artist in his own right. He gave special acknowledgement to Master Fan lo Wong who had demoted himself from instructor to student when he had recognized the harmony and Shen (spiritual power) of Owen's form. Without a preamble he bowed to the group and began the slow motion kata of the Yang style. One of the reason's Owen's class had grown to it's current size despite the hour and location, was that he incorporated elements of both the Sun and the Wu schools of Tai-Chi Chuan as well as Yang. Where Yang style was most frequently practiced, a wide circle style combining hard and soft techniques, Wu style dealt more with small movements and body technique and Sun style made more extensive use of what were called high patterns and agile movements. This combination of styles made for a tremendous variety and even advanced students suddenly found themselves following unfamiliar forms.

An hour later with most of the class departed, Owen was spending a few minutes with Mrs. Murphy, working on wa shou (tile hand) and bai he liang chi (White Crane Flaps Wings). The 83 year old norm female had originally wandered through the park mumbling and pushing her belongings in a shopping cart one day shortly after Owen had begun leading the exercise. Although she was dirty and smelled bad when she had first arrived, she had been attracted by the group. As time went on she moved from watching to copying and eventually began practicing diligently in silence and proving herself an incredibly apt pupil. In spite of her lack of obvious qualifications, she had advanced more quickly than many of the Samurai in the group and the peaceful hour at dawn had served to stabilize her otherwise chaotic day. She had gradually cleaned herself up and had even found a job bussing tables at a nearby Diner. Crazy Janey had become Mrs. Murphy in part because of the peace and harmony she found at dawn in the park.

Owen returned Mrs. Murphy's bow at the end of the session and turned to Lug and Hamon. He instinctively knew that the Sams were about to end their day, just as he was.

"You gentelmen didn't get anymore sleep than I did. Find anything?"

Hamon shook his head while Lug explained "We been amazed at the sheer numbers, sensei...." at the look from Owen, Lug amended, "I mean, Mr. Johnson. We haven't found anybody who has seen anything but nearly everybody knows somebody who has disappeared. It's spooky, and I can't believe we didn't know a thing about it until you gave us the case. We're still looking, but so far, nothing."

"Do you need any further financial resources?"

"No, sir. We're ok on that side of the slate, we just need to find that one key that will open the whole thing up."

"Well, best of luck. If you get anything please call me at this number. I fear returning to the Blue Fame after yesterday's excitement might not be......subtle or inconspicuous."

"Yeah, we heard about that. Word spread through certain circles like wild fire. You made Escrima drek himself? Man, I'm sure that would have been educational to watch, from a technique perspective, BUT," Lug added hurriedly, "I'd just as soon not have a demonstration on me, please. We will call as soon as we find that key."

"Thank you, gentelmen."

Owen left the park and headed to one of his safehouse. After checking his security arrangements and firing down a couple of Power Bars, he settled in to sleep.

8:15 a.m. Thursday

Mr. Waverly was relaxed. Very relaxed. Mellow, Solo thought as he met in the outer room of his bosses' suite. I really don't think he's going to object to the budget for this op. I'm going to get some names and numbers for that pair, though. They know their business and that might be the kind of assets I can use again in the future. Now to give him the bad news.

"I'm sorry to disturb you sir, but we've had some trouble. We were observing the suspect's address when a shadow team arrived in a van and set up their own surveillance. Team consisted of a norm male- team leader, magically active, possibly shamantic. Two Troll females, a norm female, a norm male and an Orc male. They observed the address all night and then left an hour before dawn. The leader left a watcher spirit to notify him if the address was entered or to trace the subject for later retrieval."

"We detailed a group to follow, they set up a standard box formation so we could trace the team to its base. We also planted both active and passive homers on their vehicle. Unfortunately, the target somehow spotted the tail and took out the trail car so they could escape observation after somehow overloading all of the locators. I've got one agent dead and another missing. None of the tracers on the missing agent's gear have shown up, so we have to assume that the opposition found every one of them."

Waverly thought for a few moments, absently picking lint from his bathrobe and then asked "What about the prime target. Any word?"

"No sir. No sign of the prime. We continue to maintain surveillance on all known locations and have 3 teams of rovers circulating through downtown to try to spot him."

"What will you do to get back the missing agent?"

"Until we get a locator signal or tie into the shadow team again, I don't know that there is anything we can do, sir."

The frustration in Solo's voice struck a cord with the otherwise unfeeling Waverly. He realized that he didn't want this new mystery group anywhere near his target, no matter why they wanted Glendower. He also imagined that if the other team was eliminated, his own people would concentrate on doing their job instead of worrying about one of their own who was MIA. He said "Why don't you trip the alarm they set?"

"I beg your pardon, sir?"

"The other team left some sort of magic alarm. That either means that Glendower's return will bring them running, or the spirit will follow whoever enters his doss and mark him for the bad guys. Get someone who is generally Glendower's size and shape. Put him in that cloak you described and let him trip the magic alarm. If the team comes running, outgun them. If the spirit just allows a trace, set up ambush ground and when the bad guys show up, eliminate them. Once they're wiped out you can stop worrying about your missing agent."

"Yes....yes, sir. That would work. Thank you, sir! I'll get my people right on it. Thank you, very much."

"Oh, that's all right, Solo. Thank you, too."

With a wink the career civil servant returned to his bedroom, closed the door and went back to his very busy bed.

8:18 a.m. Thursday

Sheila wondered if she even remembered what life was like when things were simple. Would she ever see an uncomplicated time like that again? Her money and tech support were gone, so was half her gang's strength, Angela was making noise like she should be the one calling the shots and now the fragging Ghouls were bitching about her insistence that they take a night off to prevent the Star from becoming too concerned with the Tenderloin. Her people hadn't had any luck finding the fragger Glendower and on top of everything else, she had just heard the Gimli Hobbs was offering big nuyen for data on the disappearances in the tenderloin.

Why does that fat fragger care about disappearances, and where is he getting big nuyen to offer anybody anything. He may be a fixer, but he's the most low budget, low rent, cheap, money grubbing, example of the whole sorry profession. FRAG! I hate this fraggin city so fraggin much I could scream........We can't find the fragger who put me into this mess, may he die slowly in front of me, I'm probably going to have to kill Angela unless I can give her another target and quick, and poor Mary says the pack of Ghouls we've put together is too large to be controllable. Damn, how I wish.....oh, frag it. I'm going to try to sleep.

8:22 a.m. Thursday

Simon was delighted to see Anna. He was surprised when she showed up unannounced at his door. He had given her his address against her need to escape the group she was working with, but he never imagined that she would use it for social visits. She had been quite blatant about what she wanted at that early hour and the smitten Samurai was only too happy to comply.

As they lay together in his bed, some 40 minutes later, Anna began recounting the night's events. In a way, Simon was relieved because her sharing the news meant that he would not have to find some subtle way to ask her about what was happening. It was not a job he wanted, but his last meeting at the Compound had been very clear on why he was being allowed to go.

"My lord is permitting you to travel as though you had no other commitments on your time, Simon" Dr. Chong had explained. "But do not, for one minute, mistake this for a holiday. My lord knows that Anna has begun to doubt the sincerity of Seme's intentions towards her, which is why she has established a relationship with you. Don't look so shocked. She may not be the greatest assassin the Compound has ever produced, but the Spiderwoman wasn't just overwhelmed by your looks. She wants and escape route and has found someone, admittedly capable and resourceful, but most important, someone who will move heaven and earth to provide that escape for her. My lord approves of this, BUT, you are not traveling to serve this woman. You are assigned to report on the methods and success or failure of Seme's team in their quest to eliminate Owen Glendower. If you can preserve my lord's assets while following this mission, by all means do so, but never forget that you will have to answer my lord himself on the success of YOUR mission, which means you must accumulate data on everything Seme and his team does. Do you understand?"

When Simon had agreed and prepared to leave Dr. Chong's office he....felt the thought Do not fail us and do not allow Glndwyr to suspect your mission and knew that the dragon had "heard" his entire conference with Dr. Chong.

Suppressing a shudder at the memory of the dragon's thought's echoing through his head, Simon returned to the present to absorb Anna's recount of the night. Fortunately, his reverie had occurred while Anna was describing the mind-numbing tedium of waiting and watching, so he had not missed any important facts. He listened attentively to his lady love, which was exactly what he would have done anyway, but now, because of his mission, was the best way to gain first hand data on the situation. Although both he and Anna wondered about the identity of the group that had tailed the team, and particularly about the identity of Seme's unconscious female captive, he was more concerned that he have all of the data he needed to compile the report that he would have to submit later that day.

9:06 a.m. Thursday

Solo made the mistake of asking for volunteers to impersonate Glendower and to set off the shadowrunners' alarm. After what had happened with Carver and Connover's disappearance, every agent, including Dwarf, Orc, Troll and Elf, male and female had proposed to impersonate the prime target. Solo eventually chose agent Bill Hurd for the assignment as his height, weight and build, were close to those of the prime target.

"We don't know if they are going to respond immediately when you enter the apartment, or if the spirit they have watching will just stay with you to act as a beacon," he informed the decoy. "If they respond immediately you could find yourself under attack with minutes. If they use the spirit as a locator beacon you could end up waiting all day for the attack. You need to be prepared for either eventuality. We will keep you very well covered. We've got both mages and 10 two man teams watching your hoop. If the attack doesn't hit immediately after opening the door, we want you to make your way north. Take the car and drive to this address," he said while handing the agent a slip of paper. "It's an unoccupied area where we will have a reception all set up. You go inside and sack out in the tub. (It's an old iron tub and the bathroom walls are all brick) That should be enough protection if they open up from outside. There is a trapdoor to the basement where Sean and Kiew will be waiting with plenty of firepower. Any questions?.....Ok, good luck."







9:15 a.m. Thursday

Agent Bill Hurd gritted his teeth as he picked the lock to Glendower's apartment. Not only was he concerned about the instructions the shaman had left with the spirit that he had been informed was watching the apartment, not only was he concerned that he might be minutes away from a major firefight, but he was also worried that the door might have been boobytrapped by the apartment's owner. A very tense federal agent pushed the apartment door opened and stepped inside.

Bill did not suspect that the magical alarm he was concerned about could not have been received, in any event, as the shaman who had set the spell was sleeping the sleep of the damned, sprawled adopt the bitterly sobbing, helpless form of Agent Constance Connover.

After a few minutes of standing just inside the door he stepped back out and quickly made his way to the street. He heard on his internal communications link "Decoy 1, we have you visually. Magical asset is right with you. Looks like a marker beacon. Proceed to location for surprise party."

9:21 a.m. Thursday

Angela's patrol had been out all night. Her crew, all norm males, had done the assigned job in the tenderloin and then, as the sun came up and they expected to head for base, they had followed the Ork female on an expanded search out of the east side entirely. Although no one had any enthusiasm for this late (early morning) expansion of the search, they had less enthusiasm for gainsaying the Red Cap, Angela, who had carved the "blood eagle" into the last ganger who had questioned her orders. They were tired, they were hungry, but they valued their skins too highly to become the target for the Angela Death's seemingly endless anger. None of the High Hats believed they would stumble across the target walking the streets of Downtown among commuters going to work, but it was so much easier to do what Angela wanted rather than argue and die in nasty and painful ways, that nobody mentioned the probabilities to the Ork.

If the truth were told, even Angela was shocked to see the tall cloaked male they were seeking walking out to his car on Washington Street. She covered her shock and quickly divided her limited forces. Donny and Kit, who were both bike-less and riding double were told to dismount. Donny would work the left side of the street and Kit would work the right. Both had SMG's to spray between or under cars if the target tried to escape the bikes that way. Long John and Barry K. would ride past the target and then turn to drive him back towards Angela, who would be waiting with her Mossberg CMDT Combat shotgun on the group's remaining bike.

Satisfied that she had whipped up a workable ambush plan, Angela set in in motion without a second thought for any of the concerns that Sheila had raised before the patrols had gone out. What did Angela care about verifying targets? If the breeder was stupid enough to look and dress like her target, he was going to get treated like her target. What did she care about the need for the concerted action of all of the High Hats? She had found the target by working harder than those other fraggers. She deserved the kill and when she got the slot in her sights, she sure as hell was not going to leave some of her team to follow the fragger while the rest went to get help. She'd just bring back his head and when she tossed it down in front of that breeder slitch who thought she was so fraggin good, she'd ask who was the most fit to lead the group? The "planner" who never left the base or the warrior who avenged the deaths of so many High Hats. Angela smiled as she saw the target recognize that the Long John and Barry K. were coming for him.

As agent Hurd drew his MP-5 TX from under his cloak he heard a single CRACK and felt relieved. 3 Barret heavy sniper rifles had fired so nearly simultaneously that their reports had blended into a single sound. The two bikers whom Hurd had recognized as a threat were still sitting on their bikes, but most of their heads were gone. Bill turned to look back up the street and saw that the last Biker was down but still seemed in one piece. Control must have wanted a prisoner for interrogation, Hurd thought as he prepared for the shootout with the remaining gangers, now squatting beside parked cars in the vain hope of cover. A second CRACK sounded as the trio of sniper rifles spoke in unison again and two more High Hats were denied the possibility of advancement in the gang by having their lives ended prematurely. Over his internal comm device he heard the voice of the S.A.I.C. himself say "Decoy 1, continue with mission. This group does not match the specs of the suspects from last night's surveillance. Proceed with caution but assume another attack will be forthcoming, out."

As he pulled away from the curb, Hurd saw that the bikes, the wounded and dead bodies and the ganger's equipment had already been removed from the street. Other than the odd bloody fragment of scalp or brain, there was nothing to indicate that anything untoward had just happened.

4:03 p.m. Thursday

Solo had been up too many hours in a row. He was tired, he was wired from the gallons of soyakaf he was downing, he needed a shave and a hot shower. Instead of getting any of the things he needed, he was going back into an interrogation room to sit with the Ork woman and give the ganger one more opportunity to talk. More like another opportunity to spit in my face, he thought. That slitch is tough. Even with the pain of her shoulder wound, the drugs Doc keeps pumping her full of and 6 hours of intense interrogation, my people are showing more strain than she does. Baxter and Brown actually started swinging at each other over what they should do with her next. Damn. I'm getting to hate this assignment.

As he opened the door to the interrogation room he heard the Ork woman sing out "Oh, ho, we're back to stupid fraggin breeder number 1. You cocksuckers must be runnin outta warm bodies and are startin to recycle. Why don't you fraggin hoopholes get me a new set a morons. I'm gettin tired a seein the same drekheads time an time again. Do you at least have some new questions you stupid son of a slitch?"

Solo ignored the taunting and referring to the datapad in his hand said "Angela, Angela, Angela, why are you acting like this? Your Lone Star records don't indicate you're so nasty with the authorities. In fact, your file says that you've been very helpful on several occasions. You gave up Willie to save your ugly hoop. And the Phantoms haven't been the same since...."

"LIES! You're a fraggin LIAR, you motherfraggin, hoopkissin, drekhead! Let me outta dese fraggin cuffs you pudlickin son of a slitch. I'll make you eat dem words you yellow bastard!"

"Angela! Such language! I'm shocked. And accusing me of lying when I've got the records right here....."

"You fraggin bastard, I'll...."

"SHUT UP! Just shut your mouth, you slitch! This ain't some local beef. We're not some corp group, tusker! Were the fraggin feds! You don't start singing, and I mean right fraggin now, and I'm going to get mad. You know what that means? That doesn't mean we kill you, although we can and nobody would say boo. It means I turn you over for medical research. After they've taken most of your organs, like your eyes, kidney, maybe a lung, they use what's left for experiments. We ain't handin out no cyberware, but, if you live through that, we give you a nice chemical lobotomy and put you to work handling radioactive waste. You'll know when the radiation poisoning starts killing you with leukemia but you won't be able to do anything but what your told. Sound like fun? I got the work orders right here. Just needs my electronic signature. Want me to start the process?"


"What's that? I didn't hear you, badass."

"No, sir."

"All right then. What were you doing this morning?"

Angela told all she knew about the High Hats pursuit of Glendower. She gave a complete and detailed account of why the gangers were looking for the Phys ad and what they wanted to do. Angela Death was a vicious sociopath, but like all bullies, was a coward at heart and knew when she was looking down the gullet of a bigger, meaner dog. She answered all of the questions truthfully and completely. Although everything was being recorded, force of habit prompted Solo to take notes. As he touched the light pen to the data pad he heard Angela start to wail.

"IT'S THE TRUTH!! I swear to God, man. Chip truth. I'll tell you anything, man. Please, please don't sign nothin."

With a start Solo realized what he must have looked like to the terrified ganger. He knew there were no "living death" work orders, that he was just jotting down facts he needed to remember, but to the woman he had just threatened it looked like the final act of betrayal. She had given up her loyalty, (as much loyalty as a sociopath can have) and was being rewarded by a painful lingering death. Solo said, "I'm putting these orders on hold, Angela. You continue to cooperate and you'll be ok, but if I find you've lied to me....."

The Special Agent in Charge felt really guilty when he saw the gratitude on the Ork woman's face. He sent in another team to get as many details as they could on the High Hats and their plans.

6:15 p.m. Thursday

Owen looked down from the high observation post he had reclaimed 2 hours earlier. He was more comfortable scouting from the painters ledge of the NERPS billboard, than he had been the previous night as this time he had brought along a supply of both sandwiches and a thermos of hot soup to fortify him. As he watched the locals scurry faster and faster as the sun went down, he wondered how well Itami was doing with his search for Gitya. I really should have given him some way to contact me, Owen thought. I guess if he needs something he'll try to reach me through Maria's. I'd better check with her....uh...tomorrow? Damn. This sleeping during the day and prowling all night has my rhythms all screwed up. Can't be helped I suppose. Drek, along those contact lines, I better pick up my messages from the service. See if Sayla's back in town. She'll be pissed if she's calling me and not getting any kind of response.

As Owen worried about his friends, Hoyle and Orange streets locked down for the evening. He saw the same rush of residents to get home by sundown and the same mass of "street meat" huddled under the same sad street light. Shaking his head at the desperate futility, Owen settled in to wait and watch.

6:27 p.m. Thursday

Connie felt the vampire open his eyes. There was no gradual return to consciousness, no growing awareness of the world. One moment the cold unbreathing mass atop her pinioned body was utterly lifeless and the next it was possessed of a consciousness of pure malice and evil. She had felt the monsters' attention as soon as he had returned to life and had sensed his mocking grin. The same grin she had seen just before dawn when he had violated her body, her mind and her soul. Her expression revealed the depth of her loathing, her desire for revenge, her wish for retribution, but only gained her further torment.

"Ahhhh, my sweet. You've stopped sniveling and now dream of vengeance. Good. Good! It is your first step into the real world. There really are only hunters and food. Hunters may do whatever they have the strength to accomplish; food, well, food is not the option of choice.....Here, let me show you...."

Connie's screams of frustration, prayers for divine intervention and oaths of vengeance were no more effective in stopping the vampire then her tears earlier that morning had been. If anything, the vampire seemed to take greater delight in demonstrating her complete helplessness and his total possession of her against her will. At her deepest core Connie's mind could not comprehend such sadistic pleasure at the victimization of the helpless. She had pursued and captured arch criminals as a federal agent, but she had no meaningful frame of reference for a....thing...that could act this way.

Seme relentlessly, ruthlessly, brutally continued to satiate himself with the agent's body and blood. Eventually, her mind snapped at the inhuman assault and she begged for death. When he was sure her reserves of will were gone he began questioning her about her mission. He never stopped abusing her, but when the fight went out of her his enthusiasm waned. When he had the answers he wanted he said:

"Now, what to do with you, that's the question. There's really not much left, is there? Not even the healthy fear of a trapped animal. Just a numb, unfeeling, lump. I could leave you like this until the virus I shared with you drove you mad enough with thirst to force you to act. It might be amusing to watch a proud, trained government agent become a ravening beast, mindlessly attacking any warm-blooded creature that crossed it's path......but no. I think I'll just have one more sip and then I'll take your pretty head to show your friends what happens to those who interfere with me. Maybe I should write them a note? Would that be alright, my sweet? Just scream out if you object."

The only sound in the basement den was the obscene slurping noise of the vampire's feeding followed by the ugly ripping squelch of a human head being torn from its body.

7:24 p.m. Thursday

Bill Hurd was going crazy from boredom. He had spent the entire day waiting for an attack that he was now beginning to doubt would ever materialize. He was too keyed up to sleep or read, if he paced too long one of the agents in the covering ambush team would spot him on a monitor and tell him to get back into the cast iron tub and wait for the attack. Minutes dragged into hours at a snails pace, and now that he was finally starting to relax, the agents on the perimeter where reporting an approaching vehicle.

"We've got a panel truck approaching......he looks like he's searching for an address......just turning into the street....wait one....HOLY DREK! NO THERMALS, IT'S A DECOY!! ALL TEAMS, MAX ALERT! ATTACK IMMANENT!

Every agent in the ambush team tensed in preparation for the attack. As each member of the team was searching for the penetration with every iota of his or her concentration, as the magic users on the team redoubled their efforts to detect a magically shielded attack, headquarters took on the look of an overturned Ant hill. Everyone at HQ scrambled. Agents who had completed 12 hour surveillance shifts and were trying to grab some sack time, suddenly jumped back into their clothes to reinforce their fellows. The Special Agent in Charge ran to the comm center before he had even finished dressing. The tension was tangible as those who had to observe the battle from a distance pulled for their fellows who would fight it in person.

"This is Solo- I want a full fire team on the pad and in the Stallion in the next 4 minutes. Surveillance teams are NOT, repeat NOT part of this exercise and are to remain on station. Get the drones up, high cover only until my release. MOVE IT, PEOPLE."

7:25 p.m. Thursday

Wedge loved this part of the job almost as much as he loved decking. He felt he had a real knack for explosives. He'd always been thrilled by the sudden huge release of energy, by the glorious destruction as his toys turned buildings into piles of ruble and bodies into, well, into nothing.

When Seme had come up out of his basement with that big drek eating grin on his face and the bundle under one arm, Wedge had a sudden flash of his leader as one of the stereotypical "darkies" that he hated so thoroughly. As soon as his eyes met the shaman's all thoughts along those lines vanished without a trace and when his good friend Seme had revealed that their prey had been located, Wedge was thrilled. When his very good buddy and leader told him that he could take as many explosives as he wanted because he was going to spearhead the attack, the Klanner could not express his gratitude. After a quick ride, he and the two Trolls would be making a direct frontal attack, while the rigger sniped, Seme took out any magical allies and Anna prevented the target from escaping. The plan was so brilliant, so perfect, Wedge wanted to just spend some time telling Seme how good it was. The shaman was, as always, modest and graceful, but urged the team to hurry. Everyone was excited by the prospect of action.

The Trolls, funny how I nevah really thought about them bein tuskahs before, the Klucker thought for a fleeting instant. Then Seme had gotten them all out of the truck for a quick 5 block trot to the prey's hideout while the rigger drove the empty truck up the street by remote. Left and Right were moving towards the back door while Wedge lobbed a C-12 package at the front door.

The CRACK of the high velocity, heavy slug as it violated the sound barrier might have been the last sound that Wedge Sullivan ever heard, but by virtue of it's speed, the projectile arrived, entered and exited the Decker's cranium before the sound of the shot could reach his ears. Had he somehow survived having his brains blown through the missing third of his skull, there is some doubt he would have heard the sound anyway, as microseconds later the C-12 detonated prematurely (Wedge actually wasn't as good with explosives as he thought he was) blowing up the door, the hallway and the front walls of the small brick house. The too near, too great, explosive force also ignited some pre-cut det cord on the decker's body, which, in a chain reaction, detonated the plastics, incendiaries, grenades and mini grenades. The fireworks that vaporized the decker's corpse were loud and tremendously impressive, and left a crater nearly 10 feet wide and 10 feet deep. The concussive force of the explosion finished the job that the "doah knocah" had started and took out the load bearing walls of the house, causing the roof to slide down towards the hole in the front walk.

Left and Right, for reasons that would only be clear to others "blessedly free of the ravages of intelligence", decided after barreling through the back door to get into the basement. Whether they thought the prey would be hiding down there, in spite of everyone's best guess that he would be near the center of the first floor, or had suddenly decided to look for edible grubs, was of no moment. As Wedge was "bringing down the house" at the front of the building, the Trolls were emptying their vz 88V assault rifles into a pair of agents in Heavy Military Armor who were returning the favor with M107 GPHMG's. Even the less-than-genius sisters realized they were outgunned an outclassed, as the armored figures were firing belt-fed heavy machine guns from behind a four foot high revetment and the Trolls were in an open killing field. Each had taken several hits through their bulletproof outfits when they were afforded the distraction that allowed them to escape. A trap door behind the agents opened and a cloaked figure dropped down. The momentary let up in the firing as the agents recognized what had happened, allowed the Trolls to scramble up the stairs and out of the building.

As the sounds of the explosion and settling house reverberated in the distance, Crash dropped his sniper rifle and piloted the truck away from the disaster. When he could see the truck from his rooftop vantage point, he launched a pair of rotodrones, thinking they could provide some on site support for the team, or at least delay pursuit long enough for the Compound's forces to get away. First he heard the sounds of a Panther Autocannon blowing his panel truck to pieces, and then he found his Rotodrones being buzzed by half a dozen Wandjina RPV's. All of the "Sorcerers" were agile, fast and heavily armed and within seconds Crash knew he was facing several riggers as each pair of the remotely piloted vehicles acted in slightly different ways. Seme had gone off to do some magic drek, so as soon as Crash determined that he was overmatched and his best chance of survival entailed getting the hell out of dodge, he commanded the rotodrones' dog brains to attack everything and began to exfiltrate. He heard the explosions as his drones were blown apart, but was far enough from the action to be outside of the Feds' outer ambush perimeter and made good his escape.

Anna, unfortunately, was close enough to the perimeter to be picked up as a pair of agent's converged on the house. Because she was not obviously armed or cybered, and might be a bystander, the agents ordered her to stop and raise her hands. When she fainted dead away, the agent's were cautious, but fearing the ribbing they would get for calling on backup to subdue an unconscious bystander, moved towards the beautiful ballerina themselves. When both were close enough, Anna used the concealed sprayers she had in each sleeve. The nozzles under her wrists released a toxic cocktail which included both enhanced plant and animal venoms and heavy metal poisons in a DMSO base which guaranteed immediate absorption. This was a weapon of last resort, as the released spray held as much danger for the assassin as it did for her victims. What the weapon lacked in range or safety, it more than made up for in effectiveness as both of her "captors" were dead within 4 seconds of getting a face full of the spray. Rather than gloat, or even study the corpses, Anna fled the scene as quickly as she was able.

Seme called his ally spirit, a huge black panther named Guenhwyvar, ordered it to guard his flesh and traveled astrally to Kerrie, the spirit that was acting as a beacon for the prey. The Mana blast that detonated when he approached the target destroyed the watcher and injured the Panther Shaman, but not so greatly that he failed to asense his prey. The dead spots he found in the cloaked figure who was climbing out of the tub to jump through a hatch in the floor told the whole story. Gray is a physical adept. He has no metal in his meat. Before Seme could follow this thought any further he found himself embroiled in a combat in astral space. He saw that the attacking spells were being thrown at him by a hermetic mage, but everything he would throw back would be intercepted by a waiting dog shaman. The combination would be very difficult to fight as the pair had greater access to mana and spells than a single shaman would. This battle is not winnable, he thought. As he returned to his physical form and dismissed his ally spirit he thought-

That must have been a disguised federal agent intended to draw my attack. Looking like Gray and dressed in that cloak, he must have tripped the watch I set on the apartment deliberately to draw us into a trap..... Very good.... With another player the game becomes even more exciting. Perhaps I should find the brains behind this trap them? No. My time is limited. Although it would be fun, I must concentrate on the true target. BUT, speaking of fun, let's leave these government boys a little keepsake to cry over. He then pulled Connie's head out of the sack he had with him and set it on the ground. The multiple mana bolt attack he had launched combined with his nearly immediate retreat from the astral plane had allowed him to return to his physical form without being traced by his opponent magic users, and now he converted that form into a cloud of mist and vacated the area.

Had Left and Right been smart enough to imagine turning to mist as a means of escaping trouble, the sisters would definitely have wished for the ability. Wounded and bleeding, the Trolls burst back out of the building to find themselves taking hits from heavy sniper rifles. When one of these rounds took most of the top of Left's spinal column out through the front of her neck, both Samurai stopped in their tracks. The bond the sisters shared allowed them a momentary look of tenderness before Left dropped like a stone and Right screamed with bestial fury as she launched herself at a Vindicator mini-gun. The seemingly solid stream of lead took only seconds to eat the top third of the Troll's torso.

Two minutes and twenty eight seconds after the first shot was fired, the battle was over. Two federal agents were dead versus three members of the Compound assassin's team, and since the resources available to the assassins were so much more limited than those available to the UCAS, an impartial observer might award the victory to Uncle Sugar. Unfortunately for the federal team, they had revealed a great deal to their opponents without learning very much in exchange. Seme now had an even more accurate picture of who he was up against while Solo and his boss Waverly were still contending with an unknown.

7:44 p.m. Thursday

Sean, Kiew and Hurd were still being dug out of the basement of the wrecked ambush house when Connie's head was found. The emotions among those who examined the grisly remains ranged from volcanic fury to pure grief. It fell to agent Kay, who was the senior at the ambush site, to relay the news to the SAIC.

"Solo, this is Kay. I've got an after action for you. I'll have all of the details when we come back in, but here's the butcher's bill: 3 perps down, 3 agents down. Breakdown: Perp 1 obliterated by a combination of sniper fire and his own explosives. Sniper report believes perp was human and male. No further data, no traces. Perp 2, Troll female, wounded by firefight in basement, eliminated by sniper fire. Perp 3, also Troll female, wounded by firefight in basement, destroyed in firefight with minigun. On our side Willard and Simpkins were taken out by some massive and deadly exposure to toxins. No marks on the bodies but evidence of massive biologic damage. Must have happened when the moved in from the perimeter. I don't know what they encountered but whatever it was, they didn't last long."

"And the third loss?" Solo asked.

"It's Connie. Solo....we...we found her head. It looks like it was just torn off her neck and......and the sick fraggin bastard carved a note to you into her face. It says 'Solo, go home or watch them all die'. The son of a bitch used something sharp like a nail and...and...the wounds was alive when he did it."

Solo scream of fury and pain cleared the room. As he stepped away from the comm unit he held his head in his hands as if he were preventing it from exploding with rage. He was so angry at what had been done to a young woman whom he had mentored and shepherded from a green recruit into a competent and experienced team leader that he completely trashed the furniture in the room before he even realized what he was doing. When he finally regained control of himself he swore that he would personally see that the bastard who had done that to Connie would pay for his crime, no matter what it cost or how long it took.






10:22 p.m. Thursday

Although Inspector Bridger would have been furious if he had known, Sgt. Shields intended to watch over one member of the decoy squad personally. Had he been asked, the Dwarf would have insisted that all Lone Star employees who volunteered for the dangerous duty of placing themselves in the enemy's line of fire deserved to be protected equally. The head of the Serial Crimes Unit would also have found the implication that he needed extra protection to be insulting, but Mark saved himself the trouble of this confrontation by simply failing to tell the inspector what he intended. Although there was a growing bond of trust and respect between the two officers, Mark told himself that his choice to put a little extra coverage on Bridger had more to do with the Inspector's value to the corp than any personal feelings. Besides, all of the other decoy/protection teams had worked together before and knew what to expect in terms of each other's moves. It was only prudent that the Inspector have somebody covering his hoop who had the rank to call in other resources.

As he watched the inspector board the bus that would take him to the Tenderloin he thought Have to admit, the little guy plays a suit pretty well. He's even got that middle age, too-much-of-the-good-life, waddle down. Hell, if I didn't know for sure it was him, I'd peg him as a Fuchi exec looking for some extra-marital fun....Hey! He's even got a wedding ring on. Not bad, Inspector. You could do some work on trideo.

The Sgt. kept his unmarked trail car, a badly dented monkey-shit brown, Mitsubishi Runabout at least two blocks behind the bus as it made it's way into the red-light district. The Inspector was, of course, being monitored by "Protect 1" a hovering Goodyear Commuter-47 LTA loaded with comm gear and observation personnel, as the blimp monitored all of the decoys throughout the night. There were SWAT teams primed and waiting at helipads around the area, needing only a go code from Protect 1 to board their choppers or VTOL fixed wings for immediate reaction. The inspector's plan, perhaps urged by Fuchi impatience, had received enough assets to guarantee it's success. Of course, if it didn't succeed there would be hell to pay come morning.

When Jim Bridger got off the bus, the driver hit the horn 4 times. There was no apparent reason for this as the driver had not hit the horn on any of his other stops and there was no traffic to justify his actions. As the Inspector glanced up and down the street, he saw what he assumed was a gaggle of street meat ducking into a bar on the corner. He had seen them huddled under the street light when the bus had pulled up, but now they were gone and the street was disserted. Checking the flat black finished Savalette Guardian in the holster rig beneath his armored top coat, Bridger called Protect 1. He got some static but was able to communicate with the circling blimp. Jim looked up and down the street and prepared himself to continue his role as a Fuchi Exec, when he noticed how still everything had become.

10:45 p.m. Thursday

Sgt. Mark Shields was sitting in his Runabout a block and a half from where the inspector had hopped off the bus. He was trying to simultaneously maintain visual contact with the Dwarf while playing with the frequency modulator for his comm unit. The static kept getting worse and the Sgt. wanted to remain in contact with both Inspector and floating base. He glanced down to see the LED on the comm unit and when he looked back up the far end of the street was no longer visible as what could only be described as deep shadow had settled between him and the inspector. Grabbing his Franchi-SPAS 22 shotgun, he jumped out of the car.

10:45 p.m. Thursday

Owen had filled the tedious hours of waiting and watching with thoughts about Sayla. He fantasized about romantic scenes in which she promised never to try to recruit him again and he convinced her not to risk life and limb on such a regular basis. They would just be together and happy. While in the midst of this pleasant contemplation his subconscious kept kicking him to focus on the present as something was happening. He ended his fantasies with a sigh and returned to the real world. The first thing he noticed was how quiet everything had become. This was not the ominous silence that precedes disaster, ("It sure is quiet", "Yeah, too quiet"). This was some form of silence spell being cast over a huge area. Focusing on the streets, Owen could no longer see the Dwarf who had gotten off the bus or any of the hookers under the street light. Oh drek. Magic. He thought as he quickly climbed down from the Billboard.

As he got to the street he found a very disturbing pattern to the magical darkness. It seemed that it hovered about 20 feet above the street and prevented sight for more than a 70 feet, but within that area vision wasn't affected at all. Like a bunch of different area spells thrown at the same time. The magical silence was different too as he now could no hear somebody yelling for backup. He moved towards the sound.

10:46 p.m. Thursday

Jim Bridger was a veteran of enough blown undercover missions to know when his hoop was in a sling. The Comm unit was giving him nothing but static and he had just caught a glimpse of two groups of gray looking figures converging on his position. He backed into the alley and found a corner to limit the ways he could be reached, drew his heavy pistol and continued to call for backup. When he saw the size of the Ghoul hunting party which had cornered him, he knew he'd be out of ammo long before he was out of attackers. When the targeting data in his left eye informed him that the smartlink had determined optimum range data he began pulling the trigger and watching the Ghoul horde go down.

Eight shots later the horde had not slowed down and with only 4 rounds left in his clip, the inspector had begun to think about saving the last round for himself. Suddenly there was whistling, linked explosions, noise and confusion as somebody set off a stun grenade in the middle of the tightly backed Ghoul horde at the entrance to the alley. As all attention focused on the disturbance a whirling figure in a long dark coat with a heavy stick in his hand made his way through the crowd. His progress was remarkable for the fact that he did not appear to be part of the horde and each time they grabbed at him with their iron hard claws, or swung a knife or cleaver in his direction, his staff seemed to flash in to intercept, disarm or brain his attacker. In the few seconds it took for him to make his way through the crowd, Bridger estimated that 6 more ghouls were put out of action and perhaps another 6 had been injured in some way. My ally's got to be mostly metal to move that fast, the inspector thought. But whatever he's made of, he's bought me a few seconds of reprieve. I'd better use them. Suiting his actions to his thoughts, Jim loaded a new clip into his Guardian and drew the Walther PB 120 that served as his backup piece.

Owen had tossed a stun grenade into the horde to give him the distraction he needed to get through the crowd. Magically mutated beings or not, several of those closest to the stunner were on the ground clutching their bleeding ears. Owen had just used a Kukishin Ryu technique called Naname ushiro omote waki uchi on a Ghoul who had struck out with a long butcher knife in his hand. "Moving diagonally back outside his attack and striking the side" allowed Owen to avoid being skewered while shattering most of the bones in the ghouls chest. He had started to pull back into the engarde position when a flashing foot took the staff right out of his hands.

Owen focused on the new threat and saw that the heavily muscled ghoul seemed to be bouncing and shuffling his feet. Putting this together with the speed of the kick which had just unarmed him, Owen concluded that he was watching a version of Ginga, the "dance"/ready position of Capoeira. Glendower was less than thrilled with this as the martial art developed by slaves was one of the most unpredictable in the world and extremely difficult to defend against. His opponent continued the dance/game/ fighting style by throwing up his hands and then twisting towards the ground only to launch a devastating heel kick at Owen's head when both palms were flat on the alley's floor. Owen dodged the Meia lua de Compasso, but before he could counter his opponent had assumed negativa, a position where his back was to the ground but his weight was supported on his palms and heels. The Ghoul then launched a double Chapa de Costas, a flip which put chest to ground, but kept the weight supported by the hands, while launching a double mule kick aimed at Owen's chest. Glendower saw the move coming and grabbed both his opponents legs as he did a forward flip over the prone figure. When both his feet landed in the middle of the Ghoul's back he continued forward while maintaining the grip on the Ghoul's ankles, snapping his opponent's spine. He released the legs and continued his forward momentum to deliver a double hammerfist blow to his next opponent, shattering both clavicles.

While this was going on, Inspector Bridger had emptied the new clip in the Savalette and was now holding off his opponents with his backup piece. In spite of the 15 or 16 Ghouls that he had killed, he knew that were it not for his unexpected ally, he would have been overwhelmed. He had not been able to even support the tall norm, as he was moving so fast that the Inspector hesitated to fire near him for fear of shooting a good guy. If Bridger could have spared a thought it would have been to wonder why he had no backup.

10:46 p.m. Thursday

Sgt. Shields heard the Stun grenade go off and hoped that the Inspector had more of the explosives. He could not reach the head of the serial crimes unit, could not, in fact, spare much attention to even think of his superior as he had to concentrate on keeping the ghouls off of the steps if he were going to live through the night. He had been running towards the inspector's last location, shouting into his non functional comm unit when the Ghouls had charged out of the side street. Normally a blast from the shotgun would have dissuaded the sick fraggers, but this time it hadn't even slowed them down. The Sgt. had been forced to retreat up a wide set of steps to put his back against the neo-gothic columns of the bank in order to survive.

An experienced shotgunner, Mark reloaded as continuously as he fired. He knew that although each pull of the trigger sent at least 8 lead slugs downrange, the weapon would empty itself in no time if he didn't keep feeding it. He got the impression that the booming noise of the shotgun was nearly as effective at keeping the Ghouls back as the rain of lead released by each shot. There were at least a dozen bodies on the bank's steps and no sign of the Ghouls tiring.

10:48 p.m. Thursday

Owen used the unremitting attack techniques of Jew Gar (Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu) as he battled his way through the Ghouls to retrieve his staff. When he heard the change in the boom of the dwarf's hand cannon, he knew it meant trouble. He's using a backup piece, Owen thought. If we don't break this attack soon, I'm going to lose the little guy. DREK. Knowing that everything would depend on his actions in the next few minutes Owen called upon his skills in Yagyu-Ryu Kenjutsu and released the sword blade from the inside of his staff. A Yonhon Me draw was followed by the technique called Shihogiri (Akumabarai) . The Four Directional Cut (Demon Cutting) began a process that would only have been possible to follow with the aid of slow motion video equipment. Owen became a blur, a whirling dervish of destruction, constantly placing himself in the midst of the thickest grouping of Ghouls and slashing and stabbing out with his composite ninja-to. Some of the ghouls were armed with pistols, but firing into the thickest group of their fellows only aided Owen in thinning the group. The Physical adept was actually fighting so fast that he moved from one knot of ghouls to the next before his victims started falling to the ground. He heard that the dwarf had stopped firing, but whether it was out of a desire not to hit the dancing adept, or because the dwarf had been killed by the ghouls, Owen could not determine. He glanced back to see that the original victim of the ghoul attack was reloading his heavy pistol. Owen then looked around to see that all of the ghouls he had faced were down or dead. Flicking the blood from his sword, he retrieved his staff and reassembled it as he shouted to small man "Let's get outta here while we can."

As the two started out of the alley they heard the boom of a shotgun followed by the quieter sound of a heavy pistol. Both men immediately recognized that someone else was fighting for their life and sharing a brief look, they ran towards the sound.

10:50 p.m. Thursday

The stone stairs leading up to the front of the bank were littered with the the corpses of ghouls. When Sgt. Shields had used all his ammo for the shotgun he had dropped the heavy weapon and pulled a pair of Predator II's from their holsters. Although the heavy pistols were arguably as deadly as the shotgun, the Ghouls seemed less intimidated by them and were moving up the wide steps in a staggered formation. If Mark fired on the leading elements on the right, the entire left side of the line drew nearer. When he tried to stem the tide there, the other side would advance. He had the sinking feeling that he would not survive long enough to enjoy the kudos that went with discovering the cause of the disappearances in the tenderloin.

10:51 p.m. Thursday

Owen took in the situation in a flash. The Ghouls were streaming up the stairs to the bank where they had cornered a lone norm. He pushed the concealed points on his staff and extended the spear blade from it's tip. Then considering the number of attacking ghouls, drew another BeBop from his bag, pulled the pin and lobbed it into the center of the crowd. While the thunderflashes were going off, Owen scooped up the dwarf (who was far heavier then he looked) and sprinted through the ghouls. He arrived at the columns just in time to impale a ghoul from behind who looked about to slash the norm male to pieces. He dropped the dwarf, who immediately emptied his pistol with a three round burst, and after freeing his spear blade, pulled the bleeding norm back to his feet. Owen immediately launched a Kata-te tsuki at another Ghoul attacker but found the "one hand thrust" had locked the spear blade between his opponents ribs. Using the tools he had, he positioned the dying ghoul as a shield, interposing him between a hook wielding Ghoul and the reloading Dwarf. The bailing hook finished the job the spear blade had started, killing the first Ghoul and incidentally freeing the blade which was immediately used to add a hole to the back of the hook wielder's head as Owen thrust the short spear through the second Ghoul's open mouth.

As his two allies continued firing into the ghouls, (the Dwarf now using the last of his ammo for the light pistol), Owen dropped his staff, drew and set a pair of BeBops. He set the stun grenades for simultaneous detonation and as he tossed them shouted "Cover your ears and look away!" The ensuing BOOOMBOOOOOM was large and loud enough to knock down the ghouls that it did not kill. It also had the effect of deciding the issue for the observation personnel on board the LTA. For the past eight minutes had been trying to determine what had happened to their equipment. Seeing and hearing the huge blast the observation leader stopped worrying about the magical and electronic interference and yelled "Battle in progress!!" and relayed the address to the hovering SWAT team which arrived very quickly and began fast roping down to the street.

10:53 p.m. Thursday

Not only were the SWAT boys and girls heavily armed and more than ready, they were pissed off. After waiting all night, they arrived to see a huge number of Ghouls (always fair game) littering the area as a pair of their own were being "protected" by some tall norm with a spear. What the frag was this? The frustrations and questions resolved themselves into a blood bath as every Ghoul, wounded, dead or dying received a heavy ammo "coup de grace" in the head. The Swat team didn't need information and everyone "knew" you couldn't talk to Ghouls anyway. Better to take out the night's frustration by expending a little ammo as a clear message to all those who would frag with the Star, than worry about prisoners and their rights.

Bridger, Shields and Glendower sat at the top of the steps and passed a bottle of water and one of Owen's power bars back and forth without saying a word. All three were feeling the shaking after effects of adrenaline overload from the battle. Happy to be alive, angry at nearly dying, guilty about killing while exultant about the same brutality, the three said nothing for several minutes as the Swat team executions continued and their body chemistries attempted to reestablish some semblance of equilibrium. All three felt the quiet bond of brotherhood that only those who have faced death together and survived share.

Eventually, while a med mage healed Shields' cuts, the three began talking.

"My name is Jim Bridger, I'm an inspector with Lone Star's serial crimes unit. My impetuous young friend is Sgt. Mark Shields of the 83rd precinct. Thanks for the assist. I don't much fancy the idea of either of us ending our days by satisfying some Ghoul's hunger."

"Yeah," agreed Shields. "Thanks. Those fraggers would have had my hoop if you hadn't shown up. Say, what kind of grenades were those anyway?"

"Nice to meet you Jim, Mark." Owen said as he shook hands. "Owen Glendower. The grens were simple stunners with all of the thunderflashes set to go off simultaneously. The fellow who makes them calls them BeBops."

"Well he can call them lifesavers from now on, because they certainly pulled our hoops out of some hot water and so did you. Don't take this the wrong way, or anything," said Bridger,"but why the hell did you jump in to that mess?"

"I don't know", responded Owen, "seemed like a good idea at the time. Were you guys actually trying to bait this horde into attacking? Forgive me for being blunt, but I can at least claim I saw a disaster in progress and jumped in without thinking. What's your excuse?"

"Yeah, well..uh.. not having any idea what was causing the disappearances down here, we thought a decoy might draw out the attack. We were pretty well covered, but didn't anticipate that our opponents would have both magical and electronic countermeasures." Bridger continued, "If we had suspected Ghouls, a)we never would have looked for a horde this size and b) we certainly never would have figured on the countermeasures. Have they finished the body count yet, Mark?"

The Sgt., who had been listening with one ear to a comm unit, said "Total of 72, sir. But at least this is finally over."

Owen and Jim shared a look and Bridger said, "I'm not real sure of that, Mark. There are an awful lot of Ghouls here, that's true, but I don't know that we have any justification for declaring the whole thing over. First I want the bus driver picked up for questioning. I think the slot dropped me in the drek by blowing his horn to let the fraggers know I was here. Second, I want to get some teams down here to hunt for the nest this bunch was using. It's probably a source of infection that we should be cleaned out anyway.....I'm missing something else but I can't.......damn! There something else we need to look at........"

When Mark shook his head Owen asked "Could it be about how they got here?"

"YES! YES, that's it! We need to look at the surveillance tapes and figure how long it took them to get here. They must have been coming from someplace close because the whole attack, from start to finish only took......." Consulting his watch the dwarf's face lost color. In a subdued voice he said "Christo! That had to have been the longest 9 minutes of my life. Damn!" He turned to Owen and said "Where were you that you got here that fast?"

Owen pointed to the NERPS billboard and said "I was trying to find out what was going on down here so I set up a high observation post. When the magical silence rolled in and suddenly I couldn't see the street, I scrambled down and heard you yelling for backup. I came running and saw the Ghouls had you trapped in a blind alley."

"You mean you saw that horde and still ran in? You just.....Damn....Thank you, sir. That's ..... I....I won't forget that, Mr. Glendower. I definitely won't forget that." After receiving a graceful nod from Owen and allowing Shields to express his gratitude, he turned to the Sergeant saying "And what happened with you Mark?"

The Sgt. recognized the change in tone. This was no longer a brother in arms whom he had just faced death with. This was the chief investigator of the Serial Crimes Unit putting together evidence. Mark said "I lost sight of you when the magical darkness rolled in. I looked down to check the comm unit because I was only getting static and when I looked up I couldn't see more than 60 or 70 feet. Since I lost sight of you I grabbed the shotgun and started running up the street because I realized you had no cover. The Ghouls came out of a side street and cut me off before I could get to you."

Bridger looked at the young sergeant for a long moment before quietly saying "Thank you, Mark. I won't forget that, either."

The young sergeant actually blushed and looked away, but in his heart he knew at that moment that he was going to take the lieutenant's test and follow in Bridger's footsteps.

11:00 p.m. Thursday

Simon felt miserable. When Anna had stumbled in nearly two hours ago he had simply wanted to comfort and protect her. Now as she was soaking in the hotel room's tub, he was thinking about how he could get a more complete report together about Seme's encounter with whatever massive organization was protecting Glendower. The Shaman had not shared with his team, or at least not with Anna, any of the information that he had gotten out of the captive he had taken to his basement room. Therefore Anna was unable to give Simon any clue as to who it was they were up against. He was repelled at his own hidden anger at the lack of data he was getting from her, but at the same time was coming to see that Dr.Chong and the Lord of the Compound had been correct. He was being used by the beautiful Asian assassin. Whenever she felt threatened or insecure she would return to him. He sighed to himself as he recognized that whatever her reasons, as long as it brought her back to him, he was fine with it. His intellect told him that he lacked self respect to let himself be used in such a blatant fashion, but his heart only knew that he was happy to be around Anna and didn't care about her ulterior motives.

11:08 p.m. Thursday

Gimli Hobbs was a happy camper. He had received a call from Mr. Johnson that the 10,000 nuyen bounty that had been offered for solution to the Tenderloin disappearances was being revoked. Normally this might have prompted a near suicidal depression, but Gimli had a quick mind. A dwarf who never let go of a single cred coin except to get a better grip on it, Gimli had temporized when the client had discussed arrangements to get his money back. Of course, he said, he would not feel safe roaming the streets with that size certified credstick in his pocket. Since he wasn't making any money on the deal, he had muttered, he couldn't be expected to go out of his way to return the creds. No, if Mr. Johnson wanted his stick, Mr. Johnson would have to come and get his stick. When the client agreed to be at the Blue Flame at midnight, Gimli had begun making arrangements of his own. After all, if some stranger got whacked in the Tenderloin at night BEFORE he could reclaim 10,000 nuyen, well Gimli couldn't be blamed for that. The more he thought about 9,000 nuyen profit, (his hitters would cost something, after all) the more gleeful he became. He was nearly giddy enough to buy a round for the house, but caught himself before he could be so profligate. He did have some harsh thoughts for Escrima, who had not only declined the hit, but who had left so hurriedly that Conan, Snick and Shoto Santos had all bumped up their prices. Drek. Hey, 9k is better than no k, he thought. I'll just make sure that Escrima's rep suffers for backing out and jack up my cut on his next run. Now if the three stooges can just make sure they remember to gun the slot down OUTSIDE the bar, everything will be chill. I wonder if Mr. Johnson will have any more cred on him.... the gimp said he was loaded.... hmm... maybe I ought to make sure that I get to search the corpse before anybody else.

Moving with an alacrity that would have astounded those who had only seen his slow waddle, Gimli charged out of the bar. Putting his fingers to his lips he gave 2 short shrill whistles followed by a single long piercing blast. As the sound of the note died, a figure materialized on the roof while two others stepped out of nearby doorways.

"Wadda ya want, Gimli?" boomed the dull voice from the roof.

"Shut up and get down here!"

When the three male wetworkers, an over muscled Ork with silver eye covers and a Ranger X compound Bow (Conan), an undernourished Elf with an obvious chip habit and a huge number of knives (Snick) and a small norm with a scoped Ruger 100 sporting rifle (Shoto Santos), were together Gimli said:

"What are you fraggers doin' so close to the fraggin bar? This is supposed to look like a coincidence."

"Yeah, but 'sdangerous roun here at night." Conan said. He then confided "Folks is vanishin"

"I know that, you clot! The whole......oh, never mind. Look. When he's dead, don't touch the body. He might have some.....uh.. some dangerous viruses...." For no apparent reason Snick found this hysterically funny for about 3 seconds. Looking at the not quite sane Elf who suddenly stopped cackling as if he had never laughed in his life, Gimli continued "so you just guard the corpse and get me. I'll search it."

"Ain't yoo 'fraid a virususus?" asked Conan.

"No, Conan. You see, I've got special.....what am I doing? Look. Just come get me when he's dead. Ok? Don't let him get close enough to reach you. Ya got it?"

The nods from the trio did little to reassure the Dwarf fixer who thought Why aren't they this stupid when they negotiate?






11:35 p.m. Thursday

While Bridger and Shields had sent out orders and consulted with the SWAT team leaders, Owen had used his time productively by making several calls from his wrist phone. After canceling his bond with Gimli Hobbs, he'd called Maria's and checked for messages. The madam had not heard from Itami, but would pass along Owen's warning about the High Hat search parties when the rigger called in. He'd checked his own service, using a bit of tech magic that Goren had shown him to make the call untraceable, but found no word from Sayla. He decided, before going to the Blue Flame that he would also bring Madame Magdelena up to speed. She probably already has more details on this then you do, he thought as he dialed.

"Madame Magdelena's Talismans" said a subdued voice when the comm was answered.

"Hello, Katya. It's Owen. Are you ok?"

"Yes.... Owen, I....." When the hesitation didn't end Owen was about to interrupt as he heard her resume ".....I need to explain why I......"

"Katya, don't worry about it. We'll talk when all of this is over. It's really no big deal, but I do need to speak with Madame M. Is she busy?"

"No...I'll get her, but..... Oh, Owen I'm so sorry!" This last was blurted out as he heard the young woman begin to sob. After several seconds another subdued voice came over the comm.

"May I help you?"

"Seka, it's Owen. I called for Madame Magdelena. Is Katya alright?"

"Owen.....I'll get Madame", was the only reply he received.

"Yes?" was the impatient reply he got some seconds later.

"Madame Magdelena, its Owen. Have I caught you at a bad time?"

"No, dear boy, please forgive my tone, I did not understand it was you. Apparently, this is a night for social gaffs as I find myself needing to apologize for the behavior of my staff...."

"Excuse me Madame, I know that you don't like this infernal device and I also know you don't appreciate being interrupted, but before this conversation goes much further, I must say that I am distinctly uncomfortable, and more than a little frightened of you in this state of high dudgeon. I am even more appalled at the thought of receiving your apology. I know that you have always cultivated the highest standards of civility and decorum, that you have made propriety and gentility your watchwords....."

"Oh, stop, you rascal" The old woman said with a chuckle. "Your grandiloquence makes it impossible for me to stay angry. You sound like such a pompous ass. What did you want to tell me?"

"I believe the Tenderloin disappearances were the work of Ghouls. I've just been rescued by two valiant Lone Star officers and more than 70 of the unfortunately infected have shuffled off this mortal coil."

"Ah, I see. YOU were rescued by the police, eh? I do want to hear this tale. More than 70, you say? I assume that means the danger has passed."

"No, I am less than sanguine about most assumptions and have particular difficulty with that one. The constabulary has yet to determine the horde's point of origin, and until that is done, I would just as soon not count my chickens, if you catch my meaning."

Chuckling again the great lady said "Would you care to tell me how an old woman is supposed to maintain a state of fury in the face of such farcical locution?"

"Counterproductive, Madame as I have already admitted to quailing 'at the fury of your gale'. Seriously, I would never presume to instruct you in any way, but I would ask if you, who have been so forgiving of my social faux pas, could not see a single slip by one of your own as 'the small dust of the balance' in this one instance. The young often need errors from which they can learn."

After a moment of silence Madame Magdelena said "Since you plead her case using both Gilbert Sullivan and the Bible, I suppose I must relent. I am ashamed to admit that I can be swayed by a pretty male with a silver tongue. When will you visit me?"

" see, I may have created an impression that things are nearer a fortuitous fruition than is actually the case. I haven't completed this assignment yet and would not dare to return without a full accounting of how the Ghouls were organized, where their magic support came from, etc. In addition there are some malcontents and ne'er-do-wells among the city's motor cycle fraternity who are currently ill disposed towards your investigator. I would beg leave to address these issues before consulting my social calendar."

Although he could not see her, he was willing to swear the great lady was shaking her head at him. "Very well, dear boy. Bring your quest to a 'fortuitous fruition' and then come visit me. Although why I indulge such a disrespectful scalawag.... and be careful, young man."

"Thank you, Madame Magdelena. I will."

11:55 p.m. Thursday

Because he was on his guard for an attack by the High Hats, Owen's combat sense began tickling him as soon as he turned into the street where the Blue Flame was located. He saw a reflected glint of street light from the chrome eye covers of the Ork on the roof, and his lowlight glasses quickly revealed the Elf and norm hiding in the shadows of the doorways on either side of the street. As he nonchalantly pulled the bike into the alley a block short of the bar he thought This seems too subtle and patient for a gang ambush. Wouldn't the High Hats mass firepower to take me out? Maybe this is one of a bunch of ambush sites and that's why it's so poorly covered.

Setting the security system for the bike, he threw his backpack on and climbed a sturdy drain pipe which ran up the side of the brownstone. When he reached the roof he made his way soundlessly across the roof tops, towards the ambusher who was intently watching the front of the bar. Owen grimaced at the ineptness of an ambush that failed to take the back door into account, but that did not prevent him from sneaking up on the Ork from behind. Using a Judo Shime-waza (strangulation technique) called Hadaka-jime, Owen threw his right forearm under the Orks throat to grab his left arm which was pushing forward on the back of his victims head. Conan's cyberspurs flicked out of both his hands but the "sleeper hold" rendered him unconscious before he could bring them into play. Owen searched the Sam's body, nearly whistling aloud when he saw the customized Ranger X bow and the small duffel full of special arrows. He found several tranq patches, which he slapped onto the unconscious body and then considered the two other bushwhackers hiding at street level.

Rejecting the idea of pinning dying carcass of his other ambushers to doors with bow and arrow as being too violent, he wondered about trying to splash them with his squirter. He then hit upon a better plan and stuffing his long duster and staff into the unconscious Ork's gear bag, he took the Sam's short leather jacket and the baseball cap which said "Your Favorite Band Sucks". Hoping that he wasn't about to contract lice or pinworm, Owen put on the cap and unpleasant smelling jacket. He took the bow in one hand, the bags, (His backpack and the ork's small duffel) in the other and climbed down the fire escape to the street.

Shoto Santos did not understand why the Ork had abandoned his high sniping position. The target would be here any minute and Gimli would be furious if they blew the hit. Conan might be stupid enough to be out of position at the crucial moment, but Shoto wasn't moving anyplace. When the Ork headed right for him he knew there was something wrong but he could not exactly put his finger on what it was. Conan is movin too smooth, he thought, I never seen him glide like that, it's so graceful....Hey, that's not Cona.........." The small norm was unable to complete his thought as Owen dropped the gear bags and delivered an Atemi-waza strike. Glendower's hand was in a position called Ippon-nukite and the single finger thrust to the Jinchu (point below the nose and above the upper lip) was delivered with enough speed and precision to immediately knock the sniper out. In his mind Owen heard the outraged scream of Dr. Yang, the instructor who had taught him Chin Na. "No, No, No, How often must I say, you collapse Rehzong cavity with leopard fist, hira-ken. All strikes on Du Mie must be pure! Atemi corrupt, derivative! You use source art! Not be boat-show!" Owen smiled at the memory when he thought that virtually anyone consulted would have scoffed at the idea of a strike below the nose as a knockout blow, whether from one finger or five. Owen found the strike point effective as usual since, in his experience, street sams rarely had bionic lip replacements.

Quickly adding the sniper's rifle and other gear to the overstuffed duffel, Owen began to move towards the last of his would-be assassins. Unfortunately, Snick might only have had sporadic contact with reality, but he was enjoying one of those rare times now and had watched the attack on Shoto in it's entirety. As soon as Owen started moving towards him the Elf began throwing daggers as fast as he was able. Glendower had dodged 4 well thrown blades before he was able to drop his bag and bow and draw his squirter. The Elf took two shots of the Elephant Tranq/DMSO mixture before he dropped to the ground unconscious.

Owen quickly changed back into his long duster and paused long enough to take the elf's knife belt, leaving cap and jacket in return. He stuffed the bow into the bag along with the knife belt and taking his staff in hand he calmly jandered into the bar.

11:58 p.m. Thursday

The Blue Flame became quiet as a tomb when Owen entered. He gave the room a long slow look before making his way towards Gimli's table. When he got there the flustered and nervous Dwarf gave him a toothy grin.

"Well, Mr. Johnson. Right on time I see. Great. Have a seat. I wanted ta talk with ya about this bond thing."

"There is no bond thing, Mr. Hobbs. I'm here to collect my credstick. Have the dogs taken out of here."

The dogs Owen was referring to were a pair of brindled Rottweilers who were softly growling from behind Owen's seat. The command about the dogs was not a threat or a suggestion. It was an order. Glendower recognized that in addition to the ambush, the Dwarf had decided on some animal insurance and his look and tone were all the warning the Fixer needed. Small beads of sweat began to form on the Dwarf's large forehead.

"Sure, sure. If they bother ya....Hey Harry, take Hamm and Eggs out back, will ya?"

When the dogs had been taken out the back door, the Dwarf earnestly said "I gotta apologize, sir, but I don't exactly have the money at the moment, ya see.....why are ya shakin yer head like that? I'm just explaining....."

With a small sigh Owen said, "You don't want to do it that way. If I raise my voice about your ripping off your own Johnson, how much work will you get?"

A look of pure hatred passed over the Dwarf's face. He might have tested his mettle against physical torture, knowing that the entire bar would come to his defense as one simply could not lay hands on a fixer. Even if you hated the son of a slitch's guts, violence against Fixers meant fewer fixers which meant less work for everybody. If the pretty boy had made a move to give him the kind of pain he had blessed Escrima with, Gimli felt he could hold out long enough for somebody to put a bullet in the slot's brain. This, however, was a different story entirely. The bastard was going to trash Gimli's rep and the Dwarf knew that since the tall norm would be in the right and taking into account he was here now, would be very difficult to kill, he might actually be able to put the Fixer out of business. It was a risk that Gimli simply could not afford to take. With a growl that was louder and deeper than the dogs, he put the certified stick on the table.

After carefully checking the stick Owen said, "Excellent. And now I have more business for you."

"I don't fraggin need anymore of yer fraggin business.....SIR."

"Oh, but you'll like this. I guarantee. See I've got a whole bag full of equipment that I'll sell you for a certified stick of 5K nuyen. Firm. I know, I know, you're saying, but I don't need 5,000 nuyen worth of equipment. But you do! You see, if I was to sell this gear to anybody else in the entire city, you would be very unhappy."

As he was going through his salesman's pitch Owen began pulling items out of the overstuffed duffel. Gimli turned a whiter shade of pale as each new piece of equipment was laid on the table. It wasn't so much that Hobbs thought his runners had been eliminated, or even that he was facing an opponent that could take out the ambushers without collecting a scratch, it was that Owen had mentioned selling the material elsewhere. This was the same threat that Gimli had just given up 10,000 nuyen to avoid. Granted, it wasn't really his 10k, but it could have been, and now after returning it he was being told to pony up another 5k or be run out of the biz.

From chalk white the Fixer began to turn beet red. That some fraggin pretty boy would try to blackmail him! That he would be able to actually do it, because, as mad as the Dwarf was at that moment, a purely intellectual part of his brain said he'd have to pay. If this fragger raises his voice about my trying to ice him to keep his nuyen, the story will be all over the plex by morning and I'll never be trusted or get hired again. FRAG!!!!!!

Without a word the Fixer pulled out a pair of sticks with 2500 nuyen on them. He tossed them down on the table refusing to even look at the Johnson. As Owen picked up the sticks he said "I'll just keep this arrow, if I may, as a momento." This was the final straw. When Owen started walking away, twirling the black, razor headed, hunting arrow in one hand, the dwarf roared, throwing the table out of the way and bringing a Franchi PA-3 up from under his coat. The three shot, pistol gripped, shortened, pump action shotgun had been around for a long time but was still a favorite "door opener" for SWAT and Special forces groups. At close range the hole it would create in a human body would be large enough to put one's head through. Before the Dwarf could fire from the hip, Owen dodged to the floor with a Soku Ho Kaiten (ninjitsu sideways roll) and threw the arrow. The shotgun blast injured several bystanders, but did not do more than pluck at Owen's coat. The arrow, on the other hand, went through Gimli's right eye, through his brain and stuck 4 inches out of the back of the Dwarf's skull.

As the Fixer's corpse crumpled to the floor, Owen slowly stood. He dusted himself off and began moving at a leisurely pace towards the front door. He took this pace for three reasons: 1) If he ran he would be chased, simple mob mentality; 2) Moving slow said "go ahead, take your best shot- I'm not worried" which, of course, was the best way to dissuade anybody from rushing to do anything stupid; 3) It allowed those who hated Gimli's guts to recognize that the Dwarf had drawn down while his opponent was walking away, which meant he deserved what he got.

Of course, Harry, in addition to calling the High Hats to say that the guy they were looking for was at the Blue Flame, had not taken the dogs out back, but out front. Owen was forced to club the poor animals as they repeatedly leaped for his throat. Because Owen understood how dogs bring down large game and was fast enough to strike first on actual attacks, the big dogs were subdued before he was injured. Harry, on the other hand, experienced the Kukishin Ryu move called Ganseki otoshi (dropping a big rock) and because Owen had little patience with the way the dogs had been used, woke up two days later with a shattered wrist, compound fractures, broken ribs and a dislocated shoulder.

12:01 a.m. Friday

When Sheila got the call from Dirty Harry saying that the Glendower fragger was a few blocks away at the Blue Flame she immediately scrambled the troops. She was still furious at Angela, who had depleted the gang's reserves by losing 4 members and a pair of bikes. Angela had gotten back a few hours ago with a lame story about being jumped by the Jerome Avenue AC's and losing her expanded search team. It sounded like bulldrek to Sheila but she hadn't pressed it when she'd seen the size of the hole through Angela's shoulder.

Sheila broke out the heavy weapons, she now was the only one with access to the big guns, giving them to her most expert shooters. Everyone was moving quickly to get to their bikes before their quarry escaped and they were again tasked with searching for him. Within seconds 18 bikes and 23 riders were roaring through the Tenderloin.

12:03 a.m. Friday

Owen was standing over the unconscious forms of Harry and the two dogs, returning his staff to the sleeve in his long coat when he heard the roar of bikes headed in his direction. He started back towards his own bike, but before he got there, saw the gang coming down the street. Ducking into the shadows of the doorway that Snick had so recently occupied, he realized that it would provide him with no more cover than it had offered it's previous tenant. Owen considered jumping back out into the street before the gang arrived or was organized, but the sounds of Sheila's coyote howl followed by the muffled Whump of a grenade launcher firing, decided him against that course of action. Damn! They already know I'm here he thought. In the seconds before the grenade landed Owen applied all of his skill and strength in shattering the boards covering the door to the abandoned tenement. The mini-grenade's explosion expedited the process, blowing Owen into the front hallway.

Without taking time to check himself for injuries, Owen continued scrambling away from the door. As he started heading for the stairs, another mini-grenade exploded behind him. He got onto the stairway, and out of the line of fire just as a vindicator minigun began ripping through the front of the house. He tried taking the steps two at a time, but before he got up to the second floor, a stair gave way, trapping his ankle. I don't have time for this, Owen thought as he drew his Sten blade and began hacking through the rotten wood. By the time he had freed himself, Sheila's fireball spell had started the first floor burning. That's not good, he thought and glanced out of a window overlooking the back of the house. The fusillade of SMG fire he garnered with the move told him that ducking out the back was not a viable option. Hmmm, trapped in a burning building surrounded by a heavily armed bike gang that wants my hoop. Not exactly my concept of late night fun.

As he passed a third floor window that faced the front of the building, Owen tossed out a CN/DM4 grenade. He knew that it would disperse quickly over the open area, but he also knew the psychological effect that another barf session would have on those who had already been the victims of a gas attack. Good for the goose, good for the gander, he thought as he lobbed another puke grenade at the group watching the back door. Although they could not see him, the response from both the front and back door squads was to retaliate by raking the building with as much ordinance as they possibly could.

12:05 a.m. Friday

Aboard the orbiting Goodyear LTA, a decision was reached. Normally the Star took little or no interest in gang battles in this part of town. The more slags who cacked each other, the less trouble for legitimate citizens. This situation, however, was not normal. Highly motivated, trained and heavily armed SWAT teams were sitting on their thumbs and bitching about lousy Intel preventing them from wiping out a horde of Ghouls. The Operations officer had heard call after call asking why the teams had not been given the go code, and nobody wanted to listen to the fact that his observers had encountered both magical and electronic interference. They all claimed to be results oriented and not concerned with excuses. Fine, thought Operations chief McDaniels, they need something to do, let them work out their mood on these slots. He directed two Air Stallions and their strike teams to pacify the area, dispatching two Yellowjacket attack choppers to provide air cover.

12:06 a.m. Friday

Fortunately, it would take a few moments for the fire on the first floor to reach the roof where Owen was trying to find a way out. Unfortunately, the gangers who had seen him on the second and third floors had concluded he would climb to the top of the abandoned brownstone and had begun firing their ordinance with that in mind. Owen's scalp was gashed and bleeding freely from the shrapnel of a minigrenade lobbed up from the front of the building, so he moved towards the rear. When a much larger explosion blew him backwards and sent shrapnel ripping through his left shoulder he thought, That's one strong fragging Troll to toss a fragmentation grenade to the roof of a four story building! Ouch! That is definitely going to leave a mark.

As he saw the Lone Star Yellowjackets begin to make their passes along front and back of the building, he thanked the powers for favors and cut up his shirt for bandages. He thought the aerial minigun of the attack chopper's chin mount was the sweetest sound he had heard in a long time. Using the nerve block disciplines that he had learned at the Compound, Owen centered himself and then began pulling the pieces of notched wire that were the core of a fragmentation grenade out of his shoulder without the benefit of anesthetic. He had to put pressure on the outside of the ragged wound to feel where the jagged bits of metal had lodged and then pry the pieces out with the composite folding knife he kept in his pocket. Maintaining the concentration that the nerve block required was difficult among the battle sounds of gangers vs. Lone Star Tactical, but as soon as it started to slip he felt physically ill and rigidly reverted to the mantras he had been taught as an assassin. Several eternities later, Owen had pulled all of the metal out of his shoulder, wrapped it in an improvised bandage and rose unsteadily to his feet. Remembering the gas grenades he had thrown, Owen slipped on his rebreather.

Looking for a way off the top of the burning building he saw the roof door open on the brownstone across the street. He pulled his sling, but somewhere in the course of the last few minutes had lost his pouch of black stones, meaning he didn't have a weapon that would reliably reach an adversary 200 feet away. He saw that the Troll had a very nice Panther Autocannon and hoped that the metahuman had decided to hunt Yellowjackets. The slow grin which spread across the ganger's face when he made eye contact with Owen informed the Phys ad that this was not the case.

Glendower quickly set a BeBop for simultaneous detonation, loaded it into the sling and set the leather twirling. The Troll seemed to be in no hurry to open up on his target who was, after all, trapped on the roof of a burning building and not going anywhere. Owen's injured left side did not interfere with his release which caused an impossibly massive BAAAAAAAABBBBOOOOOOOOM as the thunderflashes detonated the autocannon's ammo clip. Pieces of Troll ganger rained down on the street below.

Well, that was lucky, Owen thought but it doesn't get me off this roof. The Phys ad noticed that the roof tar had begun to soften as the building burned. I'd better figure something out fast he was thinking when the breeze of a Hughes WK-2 Stallion prop wash hit him. He heard the voice of Jim Bridger over the ship's PA system ask: "Need a ride?" as a rope dropped from the chopper's open bay door.

Owen smiled and began a one armed climb of the rope. He knew that the heat from the building made it impossible for the pilot to get any closer and imagined that the thermals were playing merry hell with the rigger's control of the big copter. Just keep it in the air until I'm out from under he thought. I owe Inspector Bridger big time.

12:08 a.m. Friday

Sheila's depleted gang were getting their collective hoop kicked. The motherfragger on the roof had dropped more of that gas from hell on them and people were weeping and puking all over the place. The Star had decided to crash the party and were not only spraying the streets from the air, but had dropped strike teams equipped with magic users and heavy ordinance. It didn't take the Coyote shaman long to see that the odds were shifting against her. Announcing retreat while crying, coughing and vomiting is no easy task, but the High Hats who were still alive got the word and began to scatter. At least we got the fragger, Sheila thought as the burning tenement started collapsing in on itself. She saw the big chopper with a passenger hanging from a rope move up and away from the top of the building and screamed "NOOOOOOOO!!!" When she realized he was getting away again, her fury supplied her with the concentration and power to launch her deadliest spell at the suspended figure. "DIE YOU BASTARD, DIE!" she screamed and immediately threw up again.

12:09 a.m. Friday

Owen felt the concentration and hatred of the shaman as if he had suddenly stepped into a spotlight. He actually had eye contact with her when she began to launch her spell The Dream! He thought, The Coyote in the dream! Oh, frag! He saw her spell reach out for him and instinctively let go of the rope and began plummeting towards the ground. The sudden departure of his weight caused the chopper to momentarily surge away from the spot and so both Owen and the chopper caught only limited damage from the huge explosive fireball which had been aimed between them, but which both were moving away from when it detonated.

The rigger piloting the chopper quickly regained control and called back to make sure that the Inspector was still alive. Although he was smarting from some minor burns, the Dwarf was still in one piece and so informed the pilot. Both officers were quickly on their radios demanding tactical suppression for an opposition magic asset which had targeted the copter. Inspector Bridges also asked that a med crew try to find Owen's body.

When Owen had let go of the rope he was looking at a 70 foot drop straight down to his death. When the spell had detonated, he had not yet reached terminal velocity and the push that the explosion gave him actually placed him over the roof of a neighboring building. He still had a 20 foot drop to the roof, and the price the fireball demanded for its nudge was that much of his clothing was on fire, but because the force of the explosion was horizontal, when he began Zenpo Kaiten (forward rolling) across the roof he was able to redirect the force of the fall, which he would not have been able to do without the blast. The rolling action did very little good to his injured shoulder, a roof top air handler brought him to a stop when he smashed head first into it, and the broken glass on the roof added it's own assortment of wounds, but he did manage to put the burning clothes out and strip out of the smoldering coat before he had suffered to much heat damage. Dizzy, disoriented, bleeding from a dozen minor wounds and a major one in his shoulder, a crisped Owen staggered to his feet.

He put out his backpack and then his coat. He knew there were other things he might be doing but he was shuffling like a zombie. He had reached a saturation point where the exhaustion of the superhuman effort the last hours had required all caught up with him at once. The med team that found him concluded he had a severe concussion which was preventing him from responding to them in a coherent manner.

12:28 a.m. Friday

As he came out of his daze Owen heard,

".....for fifteen minutes, sir. We can't get any response from him. He won't let the doc near him but he didn't object when Jimmy C. stopped the bleeding with a spell..................Yes, sir.............Yes, sir. We'll have a med mage up here in a minute sir, but they are usually held for...............yes, sir. I understand, sir."

"Well, does this civy rate a med mage?" asked another voice.

"Quote, as many as it takes to heal him. Authority SCU Prime, priority, confirmed, end quote. This fragger is definitely somebody. Not only is Serial Crimes calling him a hero, but I got the 83rd climbing all over me about him and now it looks like the federal boys want to chat with him. Is he...... there they are"

As Owen heard the voices move away he took in his surroundings through slitted eyes. He was on the roof of the building he had landed on. The Lone Star med personnel had removed the glass shards from his body and put adhesive bandages over the wounds. They had also used magic to stop the bleeding in his shoulder and scalp. He remembered fighting against having a medkit strapped onto him and that he hadn't let the doctor get near him. Unfortunately, he knew that medicos had a habit of over-ruling the desires of their patients, which was one of the reasons that they had always terrified him. He felt certain that Bridger or Shields would be along soon, but he had heard the comment about the feds wanting to talk to him and didn't care for that idea at all. While the med crew were discussing his case with the party that had just come through the roof door, Owen quietly gathered his belongings and slipped over the fire escape.

Moving as quickly and quietly as his wounds would allow Owen got back to his bike. He disarmed the security system and climbed aboard. He sat there and couldn't figure out where to go. He couldn't go home for some reason and he couldn't really remember where he had spent last night. Did he sleep outside? In his confused state Owen hit the redial on his wrist phone thinking that he had stayed with Goren and BeBop, and that they took care of him the last time he was hurt, so he should call them. When he heard "Madame Magdelena's Talismans" he said

"Katya? What are you doing at Goren's? Is Madame M. relocating to the warehouses? Let me speak to BeBop."

"Owen? Are you all right? What's happened?"

What had happened? "I found the Coyote, Katya. You know, from my dream. But I didn't get grabbed, it was more like being pushed and.....uh.... I had to hurt these big dogs. They weren't prairie dogs at all, they were very big, you know, dog dogs. I didn't want to hurt them but sometimes you just don't.........Is Goren around? I'll even talk to Willy and Nilly"

"Owen, listen to me. Listen carefully. Where are you? We'll come get you.

"I'm here. WAIT! Shhhhh" he whispered into the comm, "you can't come here or they'll see you."

"Who'll see me?"

" know.....uh...on the roof......"

"Owen, can you come to Madame Magdelena's?"

"Oh sure,...... unless you moved it when you changed the phone......but I'm not done with the 'vestigation yet....."

"That's ok, Owen. Madame M wants to see you right away. You should come to Madame Magdelena's talisman shop, Owen. She's waiting for you."

"Ok. Can we have some tea? I'm very thirsty."

"Yes Owen, we'll have tea as soon as you can get here."

"There's something else......oh, yeah. Don't be sad anymore Katya, ok?"

"All right Owen, I won't be sad if you come to Madame Magdelena's now."


Nodding while he whistled Smiley's song, Owen started the bike and rode downtown to Madame Magdelena's Talisman shop.






12:45 a.m. Friday

After the fact, Solo realized, there were moments when one had to believe that some higher power was laughing its hoop off at the comic antics of the inhabitants of the Earth. When the word had come that they finally, finally had a location on Mr. Owen Glendower, they had rousted him from a sound sleep, per his instructions. He'd already lost 4 good agents and they hadn't found a single trace of the target, but as soon as he had started to relax the call had come from a contact in Lone Star. Scrambling into his clothes, the Special Agent in Charge had jumped into the first car that was racing to the target's location. He'd wished the car had sirens and flashing lights to clear the road so he could get there faster, particularly after they'd nearly hit the drunk on the bike. Half dressed, a long duster dragging the street as it hung off one arm, filthy, covered with bandages, the fool was weaving the motorcycle all over the road and had nearly hit the fed's car head on. Solo had even put in a call warning the other cars to avoid the lunatic making his way downtown.

When he arrived at the burning brownstone, he had slapped on his rebreather at the first scent of the puke gas CN/DM4! God how I hate that stuff, he thought. Must just be lingering traces, but I still don't need to take a big whiff of that drek. He'd found a ranking officer to ask about Glendower's location, but when he recognized that he was being stalled, went off searching for someone else who could direct him to his target. Eventually he found a med tech who looked like he'd just seen his career plans go up in smoke and casually asked what was going on.

"Aw, some slot walked off before I could finish treating him and everybody's acting like I dropped the crown jewels down the sewer."

With a sinking feeling Solo said "Gee, that's tough. Somebody important?"

"Who the frag knows? The SCU wants him, the 83rd wants him, Head office wants him, and, oh yeah, the fraggin feds want him too."


"Yeah. I keep tellin 'em, he can't have got far. He's got a bad concussion, his shoulders ripped to shreds, he's covered with bandages, how hard can he be too find? Just grab every woozy slot with no shirt whose covered with soot.........say, what's so funny?"

Five minutes later Solo was still rolling on the ground and clutching his sides as he laughed like a madman. Everything he had gone through, the time, the money, the loss of life and his target had ridden right past after making a valiant effort to turn himself into a hood ornament. If that wasn't funny enough, Solo personally had warned every one of the federal agent rushing to the scene to avoid the drunk on the bike. They had to give the SAIC oxygen and a mild sedative before he could explain the joke without again dissolving in a fit of giggles.

12:50 a.m. Friday

Owen was sitting on his bike outside of the back of Madame Magdelena's Talisman shop. He didn't know why he was here, but he knew he wasn't really dressed for the occasion, and he didn't feel like moving. Maybe he could sneak into the shop.....why?.......he was good at sneaking. He heard a refrain from an operetta involving subtle movement and dramatically leaped from the bike.

Next thing he knew, he was laying on his back, looking up at the sky and listening to some drunk singing:



When he quieted down to hear the back door opening he noticed the singing drunk got quiet too, which was a shame, as he'd always liked The Pirates of Penzance....

"Owen? Is that you?"

"Katya!" he exclaimed, dramatically springing up. Then he was looking at the sky again lying on his back. He started singing softly "with Katya like tread, upon our preya we steal....."

"Oh my God! Madame! Seka! He's out back." As Katya raced back inside to get help, Tabatha trotted out to see what was going on. When Owen saw the cat he continued his serenade "no sound at all, Tabatha never speaks a word......" he was never entirely sure of the princess' reaction to the song as he drifted off before he could get her comment.

12:53 a.m. Friday

The three women somehow managed to muscle the Phys ad's unconscious form into the shop and into a bed. Although each of the three grimaced at the extent of the injuries and the smoky smell rising from his tattered clothes, they were all confident that he would soon be up and around by virtue of their healing spells. 40 minutes and 6 healing attempts later they were a great deal less confident, more concerned and completely perplexed.

"I've never seen anything like it", said the Elf. "His body is resisting the healing magic while his mind is unconscious. Amazing"

Seka's detached, clinical tone made Katya angry, but knowing this was unfair to her friend, turned the anger on herself. This might have happened because she had betrayed Owen to the federal agents. This could be her fault, and if they couldn't heal him, if he slipped into a coma and died..... Katya broke down and started to weep, only to hear Owen croak "don't be sad, Katya." She looked up to see a weak smile and immediately heard Madame Magdelena take over.

"Owen, this is Madame Magdelena. Can you hear me, dear boy?"


"Owen, will you let us heal you? We need you to relax your guard so we can cast healing spells."


When Madame M.'s healing spell began knitting together the ruptured fabric of the shoulder, all three women sighed with relief. The healing spell attempts had tired and frustrated the trio, but each addressed the more mundane aspects of caring for the injured. Katya seemed determine not to leave Owen's side while both Seka and Madame M. wanted to do some research in this bizarre ability their patient had demonstrated. Madame M, however, for the sake of propriety, determined that she was the only appropriate person to peel off his tattered clothes and sponge the soot off her unconscious guest's body, so she cleared the room. As she washed away the grime she inadvertently removed several of the adhesive bandages. She found no scars, in fact, nothing to indicate that there had been any injury at all. She was astounded at the speed with which Owen was healing after after having resisted the affects of the first 6 spells thrown at him. There is a great deal more to you, dear boy, then meets the eye, but I do love a mystery.

1:04 a.m. Friday

Seme gave up his initial plan of hunting his prey by waiting and watching the nest. The other hunters knew this tactic and had already turned it on him. No, he decided he would use the federal agents as a stalking horse. He and whoever remained of his team, would fade from sight and allow the government to flush the game while watching them very carefully. When they discovered the Physical Adept, he would snatch the prize from them and thereafter be known as the greatest assassin that the Compound had ever produced. He would bring back the head of the man who had eliminated Archangel, Smiley, Flavius, the Whip, Kahn, the three cybersoldiers and Deacon. An assassin who had defied the will of the Lord of the Compound and walked away. He might even have the trophy stuffed and mounted like a big game kill. Or wait! Better still, make the Phys Ad a slave! Yes! The triumph would be complete if he could slake his thirst, and perhaps his lust with this Glendower and then execute him before the assembled assassins of the Compound. The pleasure of the kill preceded by other....pleasures. Seme grinned as he saw his reputation grow to mythic proportions in his mind.

He had waited for five hours after the ambushed attack on the fed's decoy, but had only found the rigger, "Crash",of his original team at the rendezvous point. That Wedge, the Decker/demolition man had blown himself to fragments was neither a surprise nor a matter of great concern. The racist's single contribution to the hunt had been finding the target's address. Well, that and doing the world the service of blowing himself to hell, the shaman amended. Nor was it surprising that the half-witted Trolls had not returned. They had the perfect attitude for walking into disastrous crossfires. Hopefully they had taken some of the feds with them when they had gone. Because he had lost his drones and the van, the rigger was of limited use, but since the woman, Anna, had not returned, Seme decided he would keep the rigger against a need to quench his thirst without the work of a hunt. Perhaps the driver would be useful in other ways as his fascination with mechanical toys seemed to be boundless. A pity about the female, though, the vampire thought. She might have been amusing to train. The self-absorbed ones usually are.

2:03 a.m. Friday

Simon sighed with frustration. After what seemed like hours of questions, he had gotten Anna to admit that her team had established a fall-back rendezvous. He had then endeavored to convince her that she should go there. Instead of agreement or a professional's arguments about the site's danger from potential compromise, he had got the petulance of a small child. Anna would not go to the rendezvous because she did not want to go there, not for any professional reason. Seme's run had put her in danger. She might have been captured or killed, and this wasn't even an official assignment. She asked how Simon could be so cruel as to suggest that she go back to her team. Didn't he love her? Didn't he care?

As the Samurai was reassuring her of his undying devotion, he began asking himself if he was, in fact, telling the truth. He'd begun to notice how manipulative the beautiful woman was and had lost some of the giddiness that he had first felt at gaining her attention. If he loved her, what did he love? She was certainly physically attractive, but now surgeons could do that for anyone with enough nuyen. She carried herself like royalty, and was graceful about the adoration she received, hell, she expected it, but that wasn't enough to warrant his undying devotion. She was good in bed, but as he thought about it, he'd had partners who were more concerned with and derived greater fulfillment from mutual pleasure. So what was there to love? She was self-absorbed, unreasonable, insecure and, well, shallow.

Simon did a little growing up during those few moments and came to a major decision. If Anna would not return to her team, she should return to the compound. He would make her travel arrangements and she could be back in a secure environment before another day passed. Surprisingly, Anna's only question about this decision regarded his return. Why should he stay behind and force her to travel alone, she asked in a little girl voice. His response, that he wanted to make sure that her trail was clear, was accepted more for the fact that he was concerned about her than that she felt she needed the rearguard action.

Well, Simon thought, at least I know what to get her as a gift. A mirror would be perfect because it's how she lives her life. 'What does this make me look like?' No loyalty, no sense of honor or duty, no real person there at all. Just a beautiful empty shell that people project things into. We'll get back to the Compound and she'll lose interest in me because I won't be useful to her. Frag that.

He received a peck on the cheek in gratitude for beginning to arrange for her flight.

4:07 a.m. Friday

Jim Bridger had reached the end of his rope. He'd started the evening by being dropped in the drek by the fragging bus driver. They had brought the son of a slitch in, but had turned him over to the medical section for questioning. As happy as the Inspector was at nearly becoming a meal for the ghouls, he had some serious reservations about the disposition of his suspect. Why were the fragging inquisitors given priority with his perp? Obviously because Central office thought he was too close to the situation after having his hoop dropped in the drek. So who do they give the slot to for questioning? The sadists from med, the grand inquisitors who would drug the slot to the gills in order to "extract" the desired data. Fragging beautiful.

Then he had listened to the bloodthirsty SWAT fraggers who had a wild hair up their collective hoops because they didn't get in on the action of the Ghoul attack. When they were sent in to "pacify" the gangers and Bridger had gone along to see if there was any connection to the ghoul attack. He'd found Glendower in the middle of this scene and wanted to ask him if there was any trouble on the east side that he wasn't involved in. They'd pulled the norm off the roof of a burning brownstone, only to have some spell worm attempt to blow them out of the sky. When he'd gotten word that the tall man was still among the living, he started assembling a long list of questions he wanted to ask, only to find that the hero had wandered off in the middle of being treated for his wounds and nobody could find him.

Ignoring the bizarre scene with the hysterical fed, Bridger's people had begun tracking the ghouls. They'd found the storm drains that Ghouls had hidden themselves in and eventually traced back the likeliest places for the nest. For the past hour they'd been stonewalled by Fuchi's security forces who were keeping the Star from searching the sight of the former clinic. The Corp's forces, every bit as large as the SWAT contingent, were protecting the two square blocks of vacant lot and derelict building as if it contained the corporation's headquarters. SOP (standard operating procedure) for SWAT kept the media at arms' length, but Bridger had seen several high functionaries for other major corps watching the pre-dawn stand-off.

Finally, Wainwright had arrived and been about to order the Corp's sec forces out of the way when he'd gotten a priority call. That had been 23 minutes ago and Inspector Bridger wanted some fragging answers, NOW.

Wainwright returned, looking.....distracted. He'd given the orders for the heaviest of Fuchi's firepower to be drawn back, but Bridger heard the call from Protect 1 ordering The SWAT teams to return to base too. What the frag was this all about? He got a shrug from Wainwright who was apparently assigning a guard force around the area. Bridger began burning the lines to HQ.

"What the frag is going on?!" he demanded. "Why is the search for the Ghoul nest being abandoned? Who's made this dog's dinner of a decision?"

Senior Vice President for Operations is the title many companies give to the hatchetman. The President or CEO get in the news and make the speeches. They are the figures that the man in the street knows, but Sr.VP/Ops is the son of a slitch who closes a plant or relocates a division. When Bridger's call ended up in Lone Star's Sr. VP/Ops Renee Carter's office, he knew just how big and dangerous the issue had become.

"Bridger? Carter here. Congratulations on breaking the case. Fuchi sends their thanks. Well done. Now, what's the problem that's got you on my comm at......4:32 in the morning?"

"Excuse the hour of the call ma'am but since the battle we've been chasing down the Ghoul's nest all night. Finally we think we've got it and suddenly I'm facing a large, heavily armed contingent of Fuchi's guards who are quoting me the Shiawase decision over a vacant lot with some derelict structures. The Fuchi exec I've been liasoning with was about to order the security boys to let us do our job when suddenly he gets a phone call, reverses himself and my SWAT team gets recalled. These Ghouls constitute a major threat to the community, Ma'am, Fuchi shouldn't be allowed to do this and I'd like to know who from the Star decided to overrule the ranking officer in the field."

"You're talking to her, Inspector. Now before you say another word, let me explain something to you. You risked life and limb to break this case, just as you did in Denver. The Star is proud of you. There are bonuses and commendations, perhaps even promotion coming for both you and your.....Sgt. Shields. That being said, let me give you a sound piece of advice. Shut the Frag Up. I know all about your reputation as a bulldog, how you follow leads anywhere, how you never let go of a lead. Well, I eat bulldogs. Literally. Understand? I decide when Lone Star's contract with this city for law enforcement warrants violating the extraterritorial status of an international corp. Not you. Me. I've made my decision. You going to accept that or is your reward for this case going to entail the loss of your SIN?"

After allowing a second for Bridger to absorb the gravity of the situation, Carter continued.

"Now, I don't like waving a big stick. It's a poor management technique and I usually have somebody else to terrify you before it gets to me, but this is a unique situation. Fuchi will search the site with their own assets. We will not violate their territory. I hope the situation is clear to you Chief Inspector."

"Yes, Ma'am"

"Very well. Consider taking some leave, Chief Inspector Bridger. You've earned it." click

Jim Bridger disconnected and considered what he knew was a career ending, and possibly a life ending move. If he just marched into the lot, a single Lone Star officer, what would Fuchi do? With Wainwright on the scene they might use less than deadly force, and though the Star would never forgive him for violating Carter's orders, he might actually find something. He saw a SWAT sniper scan the area one last time through his rifle's scope and then sigh wistfully. I'd never get that far Bridger realized. Some over anxious kid on Fuchi's side would pull the trigger without orders, I'd be a memory and we still wouldn't have the Ghoul lair. Damn!

Calling together the units that the 83rd precinct had detached for Ghoul hunting duty, he said:

"Alright, listen up. Fuchi wants to search their own property. I guess we can't blame them. They've taken some losses without being able to hit back so now they're invoking corp extraterritorial status so they get to draw some blood." The newly made Chief Inspector saw that the reaction among the troops was sympathetic towards Fuchi's supposed blood lust, and grateful to him for providing some explanation. Sgt. Shields, perhaps predictably, wasn't really buying the argument.

"We can give the hunt up, of course, but because you officers are the experts in this area, I'd like to ask, is there anyplace, anyplace at all, that some of the ghouls may have nested other than this Fuchi property?" Jim saw a growing number of nods as Lone Star officers thought about the number of abandoned and derelict buildings in the area.

"Alright, I can see that some of you have some ideas. Here's what I'd like to propose. The SWAT teams are being pulled back to avoid a possible shootout. That's no big deal. You are the experts, the hunters who can uncover a trace of these Ghouls. Let's make sure that if some of these fraggers have a hidey hole that isn't on Fuchi land, we clean it out, so we don't have another rash of disappearances, What do you say?"

The rekindled enthusiasm for the Ghoul hunt put a bounce in the step of the Lone Star officers who scattered to begin their search. Bridger knew that the hunt would now lack the organization that the earlier pursuit had brought to bear, but would make up for that with the enthusiasm of the men and women involved. Only the look on Mark Shield's face gave him pause.

"You know HQ is not going to be happy about this, Inspector. They'd assume the hunt was over when they withdrew the resource of the SWAT teams."

"I guess they need a lesson about assumptions, omae."

6:21 a.m. Friday

Sheila had finally stopped vomiting. She was wrung out, dehydrated and miserable. When all of this was over she promised she would find herself an anti-toxin spell. In spite of the flame of rage which she usually kept so bright in her heart, she actually had sympathy for the gangers who had been subject to the gas attack twice and had decided to find new lives for themselves away from the go-gangs. Of course, sympathetic or not, between casualties and desertions she was down to 6 bikers and 5 scooters.

Jago was still with her which meant Janice, Jago's lover, was still in the group. Billy Bats, who had recently taken to following Sheila as avidly as Janice followed Jago was also part of the team. That was it for the norms remaining in the High Hats. Of the metahumans in the gang, only the dwarf female Penny and the Oni male Masaaki were still around. Penny stuck primarily because she was the last of the old gang. She had been a High Hat for more than 10 years. Masaaki stuck because he had some sort of personal honor thing going. The High Hats had accepted him when the Night Tigers had driven him off with small arms fire. He repaid this acceptance with unswerving loyalty. She thought Not much of a gang, but at least I don't have to deal with Angela any more.

In addition to now having the world's smallest go-gang, she was broke and exhausted, the sun had just come up, which she had always hated witnessing, and Mary needed a conference. As Sheila entered SRI Packaging Plant near her old HQ, she encountered that particular earthy stench as well as enough grinning ghouls to make her glad she was an ally rather than an enemy.

The smell and lighting took her back, and suddenly she was in Fuchi's chamber of horrors, e-wing. The Experimental section where "tests" were conducted on the east side's poor but magically active, or those with enough potential for magic. The "tests" were set up to evaluate links between a genetic pre-disposition for magic and a slow moving genetic infection like the newly developed goblinizing gene some biochemist had developed for the corp. Of course, to conduct the test "volunteers" were taken from the visitors to the "free clinic". Fuchi had no problems with the fact that they were turning people into ghouls, after all, they had signed waivers from all of the subjects agreeing to participate. It wasn't the Corp's problem if the poor who visited the clinic were too illiterate or too badly in need of medical help to know what they were signing. When the test subjects had understood what was happening to them they were horrified, terrified, furious, wrathful, despairing or hopeless, but it mattered not a jot to the lab coated automatons who conducted the inhuman testing.

Why did Fuchi develop such a dangerous tailored gene? Why had it been made to drag out the goblinizing process so that the victim could watch his humanity slipping away? Why did they need to know what it would do to those who could use the magic? These were the questions that Sheila had clung to when she had first entered e-wing. There was some misguided hope that if she got the answers and understood what was happening everything would somehow be alright. But it never was. She lived every day with the knowledge that because she was in the "control group" she would not undergo the horrific transformation that those around her were forced to endure. The guilt she felt as she witnessed the unending agony of her fellow prisoners had driven her beyond despair into another plane, the world of totems. She wanted to end the evil that was befalling her friends and fellow prisoners and believed that she would need tricks to do this. Perhaps the combination had made her acceptable to old COYOTE, the trickster, whom she now followed. In any event, while living in that hell-hole the trickster had guided her on the path of power until she had led the uprising which brought about the destruction of the experimental station.

Sheila ended her reverie with a shudder and thought about the woman she was going to meet. Mary, a bear shaman, was the leader of the ghouls. In an act of bravery that was still regarded with reverence, she had swapped numbers with a young ork girl, deliberately putting herself out of the control group and into the group to be infected. The girl had been so overwhelmed at being forced to witness the beautiful norm woman's transformation into a ghoul had ended her own life at the guilt. Mary had cared for her extended pack as Fuchi's experiments caused the group to grow and grow. When Sheila had found a way to get around the wards that Fuchi's wage mages had built into the cages, and killed the guards to affect the escape, Mary was "leader" of more than 200 Ghouls.

"I've lost more than 70 of my people," Mary began without preamble. "Arnold signaled he had another Fuchi on board and my raiding party went after him. None of them returned and I've been unable to reach Arnold. Could he have betrayed us?"

"I don't think so. Arnold was so angry about his wife and daughter that an ocean of Fuchi blood would not have been enough for him. Perhaps he was captured." Sheila replied.

"It is possible. There have been many Lone Star in the area."

"Tell me about it. I've lost all but half a dozen High Hats, either to the Star or that fragger Glendower."

"He attacked you again?" Mary asked.

"No, we had the slot cornered but he had more of that puke gas and then somehow called in the Star before we could cack him. What will......."

"Mary," a Ghoul interrupted, "Lone Star comes searching."

Both woman scrambled to the top of the building to witness the large scale search that Lone Star was engaged in. As the patrol vehicles came closer and closer to the abandoned factory, Mary gave orders for her people to move into the concealed utility tunnels that existed below the subbasement. There was no panic or unnecessary noise as more than 80 individuals went into hiding.

Sheila and Mary, in addition to magically masking the horde, spread snuff and fine ground pepper flakes over the floor of the factory. Man might be able to tell that Ghouls had been here but tracking animals would find their sense of smell out of commission after attempting to sniff the ground to find where the horde had gone. Since the Star was searching for a large group the two women secreted themselves in a storage room on an upper level and waited out the searchers.






9:34 a.m. Friday

Owen awoke to a presence in bed with him. There was a vibration, soothing but insistent that brought him out of his sleep. He opened his eyes to find a purring Tabatha curled up in the center of his chest. No sooner had he recognized her than the cat opened her eyes, stretched languidly and began washing herself. While Owen waited for the princess to conclude her ablutions (it would be unthinkably rude to disturb her by moving before she was done) he took stock of his situation. Tabatha meant Madame Magdelena's, though why he would be sleeping at the Talisman shop was a complete mystery. He was also lying naked under the sheet, which was not distressing in itself, but nearly unimaginable in the old woman's home.

He tried to remember what had happened last night. He knew he's battled with the Ghouls and he remembered the confrontation with Gimli, then there were those dogs and THE COYOTE! He'd dreamed of the angry coyote and then he'd seen her. He'd been hurt....he looked at his shoulders, felt his head, but there was no sign of injury....was that a dream too? No, there was an explosion....two explosions? The Troll with the Autocannon exploded....three explosions? The spell from the Coyote woman....damn! How many explosions were there? Wasn't I on fire? Whoa,....this is definitely screwy. How did I get here? Owen closed his eyes and began reconstructing all that had happened the previous night. By the time he had some semblance of a sequence of events, Tabatha had wandered off, presumably to find someone more interesting or attentive.

Owen was about to rise and begin a search for his clothes when Madame Magdelena bustled in with an overloaded breakfast tray and said "Don't you move, young man. I won't have you indecently tempting every female in this house. You stay right there until I can find you something to wear."

The Physical adept's "Yes, Madame" was delivered to a retreating back as the great lady hustled out of the room, only to rush back in a moment later with a pile of clothes. "Put these on and then get back into bed. No breakfast until you are decently attired." Before Owen could respond she was gone again closing the door behind her. When he started examining the clothes he heard, "Oh do hurry up, dear boy, your breakfast will get cold." Realizing that his hostess was standing outside the door Owen threw on the slacks and Polo shirt, wondering how they were precisely his size. He got back into bed, sitting up and pulling up the sheet when Madame Magdelena came back in the room.

"That's better. Now young man, you will eat all of this breakfast before you say a single word. Go ahead.....I know, I know you want to ask a thousand things, but it is rude to talk and eat simultaneously. It also makes for poor digestion, in my opinion, so get started. The sooner you clean your plate the sooner you'll have your answers."

Owen had no idea where Madame M had gotten her concept of breakfast but it definitely was at odds with his. Eggs, bacon, sausage, waffles, hash browns, muffins, biscuits, an honest-to-God orange, fruit juice, soyakaf, was she feeding a regiment? Owen ate the orange, a muffin and drank the juice. He then endured the scolding from the old woman and ate a piece of another muffin. Finally she hurrumphed and rang for the tray to be taken. Katya practically bounded into the room to assure herself that Owen was alright.

"Hello, Katya" Owen said.

"Owen.....I'm so glad you're alright....I...I was so frightened and I........"

"Excuse me, young lady", interrupted the stern voice of the old woman. "I believe you are here for a specific task, not to tire our guest with conversation." In a gentler tone the great lady continued. "Now you've seen he's alright with your own eyes. You can speak to him when I've finished. Take the tray and send Seka up with a carafe of water so she can witness our guest's recovery or I'll have no peace at all. Honestly! Young people today......"

No sooner had Katya exited the room then Seka entered with the water. She said nothing but eyed Owen up and down quite openly with a smile which could only be described as predatory until Madame Magdelena's "Thank you" sent her on her way. Tabatha then entered and jumped up into Owen's lap to be petted.

Madame M watched with some amusement and then said "Well, dear boy, it seems you have some explaining to do. How is it that you show up indecently undressed, caterwauling operetta outside a poor old woman's shop in the small hours of the morning?"

Owen began apologizing when the great lady held up a hand and said "I'm not upset, dear boy, but I would like an answer to my question."

Owen recounted the incidents of the previous night as well as he could. He was clear until the bike gang's attack and then the details became somewhat spotty. When he described the fireball thrown at him, Madame Magdelena raised one eyebrow and murmured "Hellblast" but prompted him to continue the story. He relayed some fuzzy impressions of landing on the roof, getting some treatment and escaping the med team. Then Madame Magdelena began filling in the details.

"Apparently, you called my shop thinking it was some other place. Perhaps your subconscious realized how badly you were in need of magical healing. You had quite a severe concussion in addition to a badly damaged shoulder and a number of other wounds and burns. It's remarkable that you were able to ride your motorcycle as far as you did. In any event, you arrived at my backdoor, sang a few snatches from Gilbert Sullivan and then passed out. We brought you inside and then spent nearly an hour trying to heal you. Yes, that's right. Trying to heal you. You resisted the healing spells. I've never seen or heard of that before, an unconscious person resisting spells. Would you mind telling me how you did it?"

"I...I have no idea, Madame. Honestly. Could something in the shop have interfered with the spells?"

"Owen," the old woman said with some exasperation in her voice.

"Sorry," he replied. "Could I have picked up something that repelled the magic? A Fetish or a Focus or some magical gee gaw that....."

"Believe me, young man, if you had anything on your person it would have been seen. No....oh, forgive me, dear boy, I know you are normally quite modest, but you need not blush so. I ....uhm bathed you myself and I assure you I saw nothing I have not seen before. In any event", she said as she changed the subject,"the spell you described that the shaman tossed at you sounded like a hellblast rather than a fireball, and you probably should not have survived it either. Have you ever resisted spells before?"

"Forgive me, Madame, but I've never even heard of such a thing. I'm not a magic-user. How could I have...."

"Just a minute, dear boy, what do you mean you are not a magic user? Aren't you what they call a Physical Adept?"

"Yes, but that's not really magic....."

"Oh, really?"

"Oh, I can trance when I play my flute and accelerate my body's ability to heal, but that's more like the mind over body control that yogis practice than real magic and when I pay attention I have a sense of where or what kind of attack is coming, but that's more like an ESP boost then actual magic."

"And your speed, strength, reflexes, endurance?"

"Well, I've had some practice and.....uh...."

"Owen, think for just a minute. Would all the practice in the world allow you to be faster than a fiber optic connection in a wired reflex or the hardwired link to a mechanical limb?"

"....Uh....I guess not....."

"So you are a magic user. Just because you don't throw spells doesn't mean you don't use magic. Tell me have you ever gone through an ordeal, a difficult test before your powers have increased?

"Well, yes" Owen said "I've had several of those 'tests' set up by my instructors, beginning with my defeating a true form Mantid. But those aren't really magic......"

"I see. Have you ever seen things in the astral plane?"

Owen initially said no, but then relayed the story of sending the spirit/guide back to Seka with the message that he was coming when Intertech had surrounded him and he needed to get rid of the flickering light. After several questions, Madame Magdelena said "Fascinating. You forced the spirit to return to it's invoker with a new message by concentrating your will."

"Isn't that what magic users do when they talk to each other through spirits?"

"Well, actually, spirits are not used that way. I suppose one could invoke a spirit intelligent enough to receive and relay information, but the spirit you describe seems to have been too simple for the use to which you put it. This is very interesting. It doesn't, however, sound like you were perceiving the astral because the spirit you manipulated had manifested a physical form to guide you."

The great lady noticed how uncomfortable Owen seemed with the thought that he was a magic user. She said "Come now, dear boy, you're not going to grow horns or a tail. You just have a talent that you perceive differently than you did a while ago. Perhaps because you don't view it as magic you have been able to achieve things that you could not have if you had a more thorough understanding of it's limits and abilities."

"How so?"

"Well, reprogramming a simple spirit by will alone or resisting spells while unconscious should not, by my limited understanding of the workings of magic, be possible. It would not occur to anyone with formal training in the arts to even attempt such things. If they did try, some part of them would know that it was impossible. And yet you've done them. Perhaps because you had never been told that magic does not work that way. It's nothing for you to worry about as you eventually returned to consciousness and gave me permission to heal you, it's just fascinating for someone of my years to still discover the new and inexplicable."

"But if it can't be done....."

"Dear boy, as you grow older you'll find that the authorities who have the greatest expertise in what cannot be done are most often saying that they couldn't do it. Be as flexible in your thinking as you can be. You can do much more than you think."

"Yes, Madame," he replied as he tried to think of himself as a magic user. He was so preoccupied that he did not even notice when the old woman and her cat had left the room. When he finally decided that concept that he was a magic user had no meaningful reference for him, that it was as pointless as trying to see himself as a part of a particular ethnic group, Katya had entered and was standing quietly by the bed.

"Owen.....I'm so sorry...I...."

"Katya, I keep telling you not to worry about it. None of this resulted from anything relating those men who wanted to hire me. Who were they anyway?"

After an embarrassed silence the beautiful redhead said "UCAS" in a subdued voice.

"Oh......well, no harm done. I told them I wasn't looking for work."

"Owen, those people, they....they don't take rejection well. In fact they don't take it all. They are still looking for you and when they find you they will have some unpleasant way of insisting....and...."

"Katya, look at me. Do you really believe that they will get me to do something I don't want to do?"


"That's not how you're supposed to answer! And, they won't. They won't find me and they certainly won't force me to do something I don't want to do and right now I don't even want to discuss their job with them. Stop looking so guilty. It's really no big deal."

When the mage said a quiet and sincere "thank you" and leaned in to kiss him, Owen turned his face and presented his cheek. Although she raised an eyebrow, Katya accepted the mild rebuff and asked "How is Sayla Starseeker?"

"Fine, I hope. She's on a mission and has been away for a while."

"Well if there's any little thing that you need an elf woman to do in her absence...." interrupted the voice from the door. Owen looked up to see Seka leaning back against the frame with an openly aggressive half smile on her face.

"Uh, no...thank you, Seka. I'm...uh.. fine. How are you?"

"That's what I'm offering you a chance to find out, Owen," she said with a throaty chuckle.

Shades of BeBop! Owen thought. I'm not at all comfortable with the sexual innuendo game and judging by the tension that's suddenly in the room, Katya doesn't appreciate it either. Damn. I'd better break the mood before something happens.

"Say, did any of my gear survive? I'd like to take a look at it if I might and bike! I need to hide that so uh..... hello?"

The two women stopped staring daggers at each other and both turned to Owen.

"I hid your bike in the storage room. It's quite safe" said Seka.

"I'll get your gear" volunteered Katya.

Before Seka could object Madame M rang the bell and Seka skipped out to see what the great lady wanted.

10:12 a.m. Friday

Owen reviewed the small pile of surviving gear with a sigh. His stealth suit had been shredded, his knives, credsticks and some of his composite weapons had survived. His staff was alright, but many of his electronic burglary tools were slagged. His long composite lined coat was trash as was his beloved cloak. His sunglasses, rebreather, grenade bag and backpack were missing or in tatters, but as luck would have it he still had his flute, which was more valuable to him than the rest of the gear put together. He also still had his Goren Bee, but none of the chemical reloads or holster. He began composing a long list of what he would need from boots (what in the world had caused him to run around shoeless last night?) to Shuko. He had just finished the list when Katya showed up with a shaving kit, towels and some slippers and instructions that Madame M. wished to speak to him downstairs after he had cleaned up.

Showered, shaved and ready to face the day Owen made his way down to Madame Magdelena's parlor. He was a little self conscious about the casual way he was dressed, but determined to make the best of it.

"Madame Magdelena", he said as he entered the parlor. "I neglected to express my thanks when we spoke this morning, not only for your generous hospitality but for your time and effort restoring me to health last night. I'd like to......"

"If you say a single word about repayment, I shall be deeply offended, young man." The old woman interrupted. "You were on a....oh, what do they call them....a Shadowrun at my behest and....."

"Excuse me, Madame, but the injuries I received were all at the hands of the ne'er-do-wells from the Motorcycle gang called the High Hats, so, you see, I am very much in your debt."

"Ah ha, and how did these hoodlums catch up with you?"

"I had been retrieving some nuyen from a fixer when they caught up with me."

"Really? And why pray tell, were you retrieving this money?"

"The....uh...job that I'd employed him to arrange...uh.... was completed by another party."

"This job wouldn't have involved a 10,000 nuyen bond posted with Gimli Hobbs at the Blue Flame for information on the east side disappearances, by chance? A bond which you revoked before you had to end Mr. Hobb's life as he attempted to shoot you in the back, perhaps? A bond which you yourself had earned by discovering that Ghouls were behind the attack?"

"Well, uh....yes Madame."

"I'm sorry, I interrupted you, what were you saying about the injuries being unrelated to the mission I sent you on?" The sweet tone of voice and innocent question was the great lady's way of saying "Gotcha".

"I, ah, seem to have been caught in a prevarication. Mendacity was not my intent"

Madame Magdelena's chuckled as she said "Well I suppose I must forgive a rogue who uses the language so whimsically. However, I do not consider the recompense adequate to the endeavor, so I insist that you allow me to replace your damaged equipment. Don't," she warned holding up her hand to forestall his objections, "don't argue with me young man or you shall make me quite cross. I may request that you risk life and limb to gather data for me, but it would be unconscionable for it to cost you the use of your equipment. I will replace what has been damaged or lost. That's settled. Shall we have some tea?"

Owen tried desperately to think of some counter argument before the tea arrived, but Tabatha chose that moment to jump into his lap and "Meow" demanding to be petted. With a sigh Owen silently surrendered to his fate, which seemed to always involve taking orders from yet another female.

12:18 p.m. Friday

Owen had been quietly reading while waiting for the shoes Madame M. promised him so that he could venture outside in more than slippers. He was completely surprised when Goren stomped into the room with a huge duffel bag. "Hey, kid. Howyadoin?" How on earth did Madame M know to contact the Ork weaponsmith? Owen thought as he grabbed the big Ork's hand. "Goren! How the hell.....oh, never mind. I'm just glad to see ya. Where's BeBop?"

"Aw, She's at the shop. She sez ta say hi. She wanted ta be here but she's doin some metal work an can't leave it at dis stage. So, what's yer problem?"

"Omae, I got busted up good last time out. Lost a drek load of gear."

"Yeah, so I hear. Well, not ta wurry. Ole Uncle Goren's here with a bag a goodies, already paid fer."

"About that Goren, I ...uh..was thinkin that....."

"Oh, no ya don't, hero." The Ork interrupted. His body language suddenly said he was absolutely serious "Remember, I ain't da stupid one where the females are concerned. I been paid an I'm makin delivery. Ya got a problem, ya take it up wit da Lady who paid me. I ain't goin back to her to say ya didn't want dis or dat cause it was too expensive."

"Yeah, well it's just that....."

"Kid, when are you goin ta learn? Ya can't win. Stop fightin it. Now lets see what we got in da ole' trick bag."

"According to the list I got, ya lost yer B E gear. I got an lockpicks, the old style and a set of ExpertPicks (dere automatic, an real good), monosaw, super epoxy, a couple a new magcards, an hey, check dis out. Ya put this goober over the eye socket for a retinal reader, ground dis, hook up dese and press here. The box fires a random pattern plus enough interference dat da scanner tries ta match up acceptable patterns, only da box is watchin da 'puter attempt da match and keeps jiggering the image until da two line up an bingo, yer in. Best of all it's plastic."

"Wow. That's got to be incredibly valuable."

"Kid, Ya ain't dealin wit some tyro. I ain't gonna give ya prices on any a dis drek. I will tell ya dat it's got a diminishing value fer about another 6 months. Right now it'll rascal rating 6 or 7. Past dat an yer lookin fer trouble. Won't, fer example get ya past da scanners fer a platinum credstick, but should get ya inta a pretty tight lab dat a lot a people use. 'Course the best security boys have already beat it and in 6 months or so everybody will have countermeasures, but for a while it's a wiz toy."

As he continued to dig through the duffel, Goren catalogued the items "Door wedges, white noise generator, motion sensor, portable bug scanner, plastic restraints, glow sticks, dental mirror. You carry all a dis crap aroun all da time?....... Composite Shuko, an let me tell ya chummer, dem climbin claws is a bitch ta find non-ferrous. Da set I found's even dikoted, though I don't know if dat means a lot fer dose things. I also got ya a new set a shades. Check em out."

After trying on the stylish wrap around sunglasses Owen said "Goren, what are you doing, these are Zeiss V's they're like, not even on the market yet. Low-light, flare comp, thermal, these have got to cost like a lung."

"Lady's order's pal. Lets see. Oh yeah, try this on." He handed Owen a lightweight zippered gear vest. As Owen was putting it on Goren said "Yeah, dat's a good fit. Now, lets start putting all these goodies away." For the next several minutes the armorer placed tools, and Owen's surviving weapons in the various sealed pockets of the vest. When he was finished he asked Owen to stand on his head and walk on his hands for a few minutes. Despite the awkward position, none of the gear spilled out. When Owen was back on his feet the Weaponsmith said "See, I was thinkin dat wit all a da jumpin aroun ya do, it's no wonder yer losin stuff. Also, I seen dat comedy a errors when ya change clothes an gotta move all a dat gear from one coat ta another. Dis way, it's wit ya, it won't fall out, an best of all, da suckers made a spidersilk. Decent bulletproofing." Taking a new Goren Bee squirter out of the bag, he said "Da vest's got a built in Lamar quick draw shoulder holster and yer reloads are sealed in here. How's it feel?"

Owen did a little shadowboxing and some stretching. "Feels great" he said.

"Ok lets put yer sharps away, what've ya got about 50?"

"Not quite that many, my friend, but I do have a few." For the next 5 minutes Owen secreted his blades in the gear vest and then rolled on the floor and did a side flip to see if the weapons gave him any difficulty. In the end he said "I probably should practice with it, but I don't see any major problems. What other toys did you bring me?"

"Just like a kid at Christmas, Frag da clothes, gimme da toys. Ok, here." the Ork said handing Owen a hardwood baton.

" Escrima stick." Owen said without much enthusiasm as he looked at the two foot long stick.

"Grab the ends, push in and twist."

The stick came apart in the middle but the halves were connected by a length of composite plastic chain on ball bearing swivels.

"Hey, Nunchaku! Wiz."

"Yeah, the sticks lock to a pretty solid club and I figured the surprise might be useful against a crowd. I got two and both of these will fit in those loops across your vest back, or you can put them in the sleeve down the front of this. He showed Owen a reversible insulated short jacket with a reach through pocket. "Ya can put da other squirter in here as a backup piece, though I wish you'd let me get ya a regular bang bang."

Owen tried on the jacket as Goren talked about the disguise limitations of a bulletproof cloak or a composite reinforced long duster.

"Kid, da cloak's a dead give away. Ya wear dat thing, ya got problems on da bike an everybody on the street knows who you are. Da long duster's better, but ya treat it like da cloak and ya still get recognized. Ya wear dis short jacket, and dis" he said as he pulled out a ball cap with an attached pony tail of human hair, "an nobody knows it's you. I also got dis fedora ta help ya disguise yerself. Da jacket's composite reinforced and kevlarIV. rip-stop lined....."

"Ok, ok, you've sold me! Although considering who contacted you, I'd bet that you were told ahead of time to replace my cloak which the ladies all seem to hate. I'll make do with the jacket for a while."

"Great. I got a new stealth suit for ya. This one is like da last, but it's got a rubberized coating....Wait, before ya start bellyaching, check it out. Da outer layer doesn't breathe so it insulates well enough dat ya can wear dis thing when it gets cold, in spite of the gel lining. And since da lining absorbs energy, even heat energy, it'll keep ya cool no matter how ya exert yerself. Plus, it's nonconductive, so da next fragger who slaps ya with a shock glove gets a very nasty surprise when ya smile at him instead of droppin like a rock. Try it on. It's still tight enough where ya can wear it under yer clothes."

Owen quickly stripped down and put on the suit. After moving around to test the fit he began getting dressed in the jeans and work shirt that Goren had brought. The black high tops that the Ork handed him fit perfectly, causing Owen to wonder exactly how that had happened. When he was dressed and disguised, Goren gave him a grenade bag containing a rebreather, BeBops and puke gas grenades. He then showed him where to stash his flute and then handed over what looked like a bulky flashlight with a wrist strap.

"What's this?"

"I heard a story of a certain cat who got chased up a tree and couldn't get back down," the weaponsmith said while looking pointedly at Owen, "and I thought 'how useful if someone could get out of those tight spots as quickly as he gets into them'....SO, I dug around and found this gadget."

Taking the device he said, "Ya see, dis contains a braided polymer chain filament", noticing Owen's look of incomprehension, Goren clarified "A wire. 300 ft long, 2,000 LB test. on a linked set a pulleys an spools. Ya push here and here an it fires dis up ta 200 ft straight up. Now, ya know how glue guns an super epoxy use air as a hardenin catalyst? Well, dis is full a super epoxy and when it hits, it breaks. Instantly sticks anything ta anything, including da wire ta say, da roof a da building. Da strap holds yer hand an da motor in here will take ya up or down at a rate a 10ft per second. Only problem is, it's so new I only got one. Hopefully it'll keep yer hoop outta da hospital and it fits in the grenade bag right here."

After checking everything over Owen said, "Well I still have my cred sticks, so all I really need are some heavy work gloves, duct tape and power bars and I'll be ready to rock roll."

"Got em right here. Dey were on da list, so I brought em, I just wasn't sure why ya gotta be a walkin hardware store"

"Well, omae," Glendower replied,"one of the worst feelings in the world is for an easy solution to be impossible because you don't have some common piece of gear. I learned this when I tried to make an escape down an elevator shaft and didn't have heavy work gloves. Instead of climbing down the cable, I had to drop from wall brace to wall brace. It only takes about 40 of those falls into darkness before you start considering the wisdom of carrying some extra gear you might not ever use. The tape, well" after a look the two males said in unison "If you can't fix it....duc it!" and shared a chuckle. Owen then said "Power bars are just a smart energy boost to have. I once worked at a place where you could carry sacks of actual raisins, but nowadays even if you have that kind of nuyen to burn, you have to find a shop that sells them. .....Listen, Goren, I really appreciate......"

"Ferget it kid. I'm makin good money on da deal an my partner would be all over my hoop if she thought you were out on da street wit less den da best. Besides, I gotta thank you, cause I owe you big time. I took yer advice and cancelled all my customer's orders fer Goren Bees 'due to retirement a da gunsmith, who can't take da pressure a da biz'. Dis was Wednesday. When I left dis morning ta come over here I had 60 orders backlogged at da 10k price AND Fischetti and Morrisey have both asked about my consultin fer dem. I also got a call at 9:45 am today from LoneStar's armament boys about modified stun grenades. Fraggin amazin. Da only thing is, me an BeBop really think ya should get a cut a dis. It wuz yer ideas an it don't seem right yer not gettin a taste. We'd like ya..... Come on, Kid! Don't wave me off. I gotta go home an face da halfer wit more dan a wave or its my hoop. At least talk to me."

Owen sighed and said "Goren, the craftsman who takes an idea and breathes life into it, who sweats and strains to make an idea beautiful and functional deserves the compensation. Nobody knows who suggested the revolver to Colt or the assault rifle to Kalishnikov. Who cares? You guys made the concept a reality. You should get whatever money is to be made. I'm glad for you but I could no more think about taking your money than.....than....than you would think of asking for part of my fees for a job because I used tools that you supplied."

"Well....ok, kid.... I guess. It would just be a whole lot easier if I could go home and tell BeBop dat ya agreed ta take a cut, or, waitaminit! What if we wuz ta make ya a consultant fer R D. Ya know, a think tank guy who comes up wit wiz concepts and den da company makes dem. Dat would be fair. Whadaya say?"

"No, I don't think so." Owen replied. "I may never have another good idea again. Besides, I wanted this stuff for me and I got it. I didn't want to own the concept. I wanted the gizmo. If you can make it work and sell it elsewhere, why does that involve me? If I'd come to you and said here's an idea that I'm selling you and named a price, that would be one thing, but to come along afterwards and try to say my idea was worth this, pay me, just seems wrong. I'd be like giving you a book to read and then coming around later to say the book changed your life so now pay me this much. Thanks for the offer, but that's not why I came up with the idea or the reason I gave it to you." Remembering Master Fuchard's warning about unpaid debts Owen then said "I'll tell you what, though. If you feel you have to repay me for the marketing advice you got lucky with, you could do this- I've been thinking of a weapon that I wouldn't want anybody else to have that you could make for me, if you wanted to."

"Sure thing, kid! Save my hoop with the old lady too. What is it?"

"Monowire Bolas. See, if you took a long strand, say 5 feet in length, super epoxy weights, probably about 6 ounce pieces of lead to each end and then twisted a ceramic ring or stem in the middle, you'd have a drone killer."

"Ouch, that ting would definitely be nasty. But dontcha need three balls fer dat ta work?"

Parodying the weaponsmith's own style Glendower said "Naw, if yer balls is big enough ya only need a pair, KID." As both men chuckled Owen said seriously " What you're talking about, which is the type most people are familiar with are called achico, what I'm asking for would be called a somai. Same principle though. The Eskimos actually have bolas with 4 to 10 weights called kalauitautin, but that's mostly used for birds. Anyway, it's a simple weapon, but I need to figure a way to carry it without shredding myself. Got any ideas?

"Sure, I gotta a couple a ways it could be done, but if I don't talk wit da little woman first, I'll be used as the target fer da first test. Ya say ya want this just fer yerself?"

"Well, yes. This could end up leaving a lot of crippled bystanders if it became a popular item on the streets. I just want it to take out drones. Someone else might use it on live targets, which would unfortunate."

"Well, I guess if dat's how ya feel about it.....Don't take this wrong, Omae, but dealin wit you is da damnedest thing I ever hope ta do. Anybody else would be cuttin da best deal dey could, but you, it like ya got a code dat don't change. Makes me.....I don't know, makes me feel like yer worth even more than I wuz thinkin a payin..... real strange. Well, I gotta run. BeBop wants ya ta stop by when ya get a chance. I should have yer Bolas ready tonight. Why dontcha stop by around 10?"

"Great. Uh, Goren, one other thing. I need a car. Cheap, old, you know, a junker that I can ditch if I have to. I'd also like to leave my bike with you for safekeeping while I use the car. Can you get me wheels by tonight?"

"No sweat, kid. I got a old runabout. Probably worth about 8 creds, but it still goes. Only thing is, ya try an pay me fer it an yer really gonna insult me. I'll have it waitin fer ya tonight. Catch ya later, kid."






2:37 p.m. Friday

Chief Inspector Bridger had not endeared himself to LoneStar HQ. To his great good fortune, his Ghoul hunt last night had uncovered 3 minor and one major nest of the infected. Forty three more Ghouls had been destroyed in the search he had ordered after SWAT had been called off. On the plus side, this meant that Bridger was protected from the repercussions of ignoring the implied orders of Ms. Carter. She had even called to compliment him again on "the solution of the largest serial crime spree in city history and the personal bravery of leading the hunt for and extermination of the menace to the community." Privately, Bridger knew that she would see to it that he never advance any further in the corp, which was fine with him.

On the minus side, with everyone considering the problem solved, getting a look at the property Fuchi was so anxious to protect had become much less likely. Bridger also knew that if he had not gotten all of the Ghouls last night, the next hunt would be a much tougher sell, and he really didn't have the answers yet on the magical and electronic interference they had encountered. In addition, SWAT was screaming to anyone who would listen about their mandate and operational orders, but this was to be expected as the most heavily armed group of law enforcement personnel had been denied an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the termination of 115 "fair game" lives.

At least Mark seems happy about the commendation and raise, Bridger thought. He certainly has the guts for the job, even if he is a little too tied up in what HQ wants. Drek, I guess I was young and ambitious once myself. Yawning, the Dwarf thought to himself, Damn, I've been up entirely too long. The PR slots want me to talk to the news crews, but I think I'm going to sack out. They'll have to get Mark to be their hero/spokesperson. Ha, that's good. He's certainly got the looks for it and it'll keep me out of the limelight.

Without a word to anyone the dwarf put on his jacket and hat and disappeared out of a side door. As tired as he was, he still noticed the couple walking behind him on the other side of the street. With the 6th sense that those who notice details for a living have, Bridger quickly picked up on the large number of trim, athletic men and women who seemed to be littering whichever path he chose to take. Finally he went up to a bearded Troll Hot dog Vendor and said "If you'd like to know where I'm going, why not just ask me, agent Solo?"

For about three seconds the Troll seemed to be considering something. Then he said "In da van." and led the way to a Panel truck. Once inside, the Special Agent in Charge began removing the elaborate troll costume and mask. When he was out of it he said

"Man, I hate that thing! Well, Chief Inspector. We didn't ask where you were going because we don't much care. We want your buddy Mr. Glendower, who seems to have a knack for being invisible. We've already spent far too much time, money and.... well, we've just spent too much trying to reach him for us to pack up our gear and go home empty handed. We want him and we are going to get him. Since he saved your hoop from the Ghouls last night, and then you returned the favor by pulling him off a burning building surrounded by gangers, we thought it was a good idea to watch you. That way, when he makes contact with you, we'll get our chance to him."

"And I suppose," responded the Dwarf detective, "that you didn't feel it was necessary to let me in on this little scheme, or to ask for my cooperation in your contact attempt."

"Bridger, my group is not stupid. A stranger saves your life, we know you don't want to repay that with something he's gonna be unhappy about. The fact is, however, that we are not leaving without at least talking to him. With or without your cooperation. So, as far as I'm concerned, it would be swell if you gave him a call and asked him to come in, but whether you do or not, we are going to watch anybody who might help us find the slot. Whether they like it or not."

"Very well" said the Chief Inspector as he left the truck. He considered a parting shot referring to Solo's episode last night, but realized it was the lack of sleep talking. I'd probably do the same thing in his circumstances, he thought. I hope Mr. Glendower has some real ability to stay undercover, because that's one fed who has started taking his job personally.

3:03 p.m. Friday

All of Owen's training and disciple were required to keep him from going out of his mind while waiting for permission to depart from Madame Magdelena's. He felt perfectly fine, had felt fine since he woke up that morning. He had given the great lady as detailed an account of his recent activities as it was possible to give and were it nearly any place else on earth he would have scrawled a thank you note and just left. One could not, however, abuse Madame M's hospitality with impunity. She had taken him in and healed him, given him shelter for the night. He could not simply walk out without taking proper leave. If the great lady was too busy or had just decided to make him wait, that was what he would have to do.

Initially Owen used the hours to fashion a mustache from the trimmings of his ball cap wig. Meticulously weaving the hair through a piece of gauze and then cutting, styling and re-weaving he had killed hours while listening with 1/2 an ear to the telecomm reports of LoneStar's valiant action last night. Although Owen's conscience was clear- he had ended life while protecting life, he grimaced at the reporters and commentators absolute refusal to acknowledge that Ghouls were people with a particular infection, not simply monsters to be destroyed. As the hours had accumulated, however, his patience had worn thin until finally Katya had come in and said Madame would see him shortly.

Gratefully, Owen entertained himself with flute music while he waited. Shortly turned out to be more than an hour and a half later.

4:49 p.m. Friday

As Owen left Madame Magdelena's in his jacket and disguise, smiling as he thought of how the new fu-manchu style moustache that he had put on was as unpopular with the ladies as his cloak had been, he scanned for observers. Sure enough, the Feds had been watching the Talisman shop in the hopes that he might return. Although they had not seen him enter, and he thought the changes were significant enough to disguise his identity, by virtue of the fact that he was an unknown and had exited the shop, the feds were following him on the chance he might lead them to their target. He was only aware of two pursuit teams but didn't want them spending a lot of time analyzing his size or the bike he was on. He picked up speed and headed towards the warren of alleys he had studied from his perch on the NERPS billboard.

The increase in speed had the unfortunate effect of making Owen look like a rabbit to the hounds that were pursuing him. They immediately began calling for additional units while becoming more obvious in their pursuit to prevent his escape. By the time he had entered the side streets of the lower east side the vehicles roaring after him could not be mistaken for anything other than the pursuit vehicles they were.

Owen thought I wonder if they're as prepared as they ought to be, and pushed the button which spread the steel calthrops behind his bike. He rode into an alley before he heard the explosions of tires ( not run flats) being pierced by multiple steel spikes, followed by screeching breaks and the crumpled metal impact sound of a rear collision. Guess not, he thought with a smile, and then stopped himself with a memory. Abbess Dee who had taught him Wing Chung had insisted "Never claim good fortune as a right. Luck turns most quickly on those who assume it's ownership. If your opponent makes an error, use it immediately rather than assume it will happen again." I bet they have units converging from the other direction. I'd better lose the bike.

Suiting actions to his thoughts he parked the bike in the alley next to a dumpster, set the security system and began changing his appearance. He reversed his jacket so that instead of showing an unmarked black back to the world, he was now wearing a silver jacket with FASA (Flying Aces of Southern Arkansas) stitched in inch high navy blue letters across the back. His wig was no longer a neat pony tail, but a flowing mass which hung to his shoulders under a fedora which shaded much of his clean shaven face. The grenade bag, now under the jacket in front of him made him look 20 lbs. heavier, and the stick now served to help him walk as he developed a limp to go with his height reducing slump.

As he stepped back out of the alley, a pair on a motorcycle suddenly slowed down. Owen casually looked up and saw the hovering Ares Guardian drone. Drek, They've got an aerial observer directing them. I'm going to have to get away from that thing's scans if I'm going to evade these guys. He immediately began screaming at the top of his lungs "It's the end of the world! Oh, Yes, you sinners! You shall not escape His wrath. The Lord is coming! He's coming for you!" Pointing at the pair on the bike, he began advancing across the street at them, seemingly oblivious to traffic.

"Do not attempt to flee His wrath, Sinners! It will do you no good!" The federal agents, who were supposed to be maintaining a low profile, were distinctly uncomfortable as a suspect advanced on them screaming about their doom. They sped up and turned the corner while calling for backup. The lunatic preacher immediately ducked into a building and started making his way towards the roof. Didn't you just get your hoop kicked by fleeing up a building, fool? Don't you ever learn, Melon head? Owen thought as he got to the roof's door.

Taking two vials of super epoxy and loading them into his sling, the Phys ad cracked the door. The vectored thrust drone was making rapid circuits around the building, keeping both the roof and the streets below in sight. Owen knew he had only minutes before the drone was joined by other rigger's toys as well as federal agents sweeping the building. He started the sling swinging, opened the door and released at one of the thrust jets. As he hoped, the shattered vials' contents hardened quickly, locking the drone's jet in position. He pulled out another vial and loaded it as the rigger fought the hardening glue for control of his jets which both maneuvered and supported the electronic platform. Owen managed to shatter the next vial of glue against the jet on the opposite corner of the drone and, as he had discovered in his discussions with Goren weeks earlier, the drone became impossible to maneuver. Glendower had found that the Guardian's vector thrust jets were linked in variable pairs, either front and back or left and right. When two jets locked, if they were on opposite corners of the floating platform, the rigger in control was limited to the options of going up or down.

As soon as he was sure that the drone could not follow him, Owen ran across the roof and leaped nearly 20 feet to the next roof. He then ran from roof to roof until he was a block away. He was about to start climbing down when he heard the distinctive WHIRRRRR of an approaching rotodrone. Without any hesitation he started his Manriki-gusari spinning, releasing it as soon as the drone hovered into sight around an old incinerator stack on the roof. The clatter as the 6 foot weighted ceramic/polymer chain fouled the rotor was immediately followed by the machine's internal grinding and CRAACK as it began to plummet to earth bleeding clouds of black smoke from its ruptured frame. When it hit the street it exploded in a pyrotechnic display. My drone killer wouldn't be that noisy, he thought as he slipped on his Shuko and climbed down the outside of the building to another alley.

Looking to change his image once again, Owen removed the fedora, reversed his jacket back to dark colors, put the baseball cap on backwards and shoved both wig and hat into the grenade bag on his hip. He also reapplied his moustache. He knew his staff was a give-away but felt it was too valuable a tool to lose, so instead of hiding it, he slung it across both shoulders. As he was about to cross back out of the alley a familiar voice called out "They'll nail ya if ya go out dat way." Owen spun around and scanned the alley. Even with the lowlight glasses removing the shadows and the thermal scan abilities of his new shades it was nearly 40 seconds before he spotted the teenager named Ian. Owen was about to speak up when the boy signaled silence and gestured urgently for the Phys ad to join him in the alcove between the two buildings.

Owen ducked into the alcove and out of sight as a pair of nondescript men crossed the alley mouth. They looked so average that they would occasion no comment from anyone, but when they had almost past the alley they suddenly burst into action. Working flawlessly in tandem they moved quickly up and back through the alley searching for their quarry. Because they were moving so swiftly, they did not notice the two in the alcove, but when it looked like they were going to get more thorough in their search, Owen took them both down with his squirter. As they hit the ground Owen whispered "I've got to go." and started towards the mouth of the alley when Ian said "No. Dis way." and headed past the unconscious agents towards the fence at the back of the alley

The Physical adept wondered how the disabled youngster was going to climb the 12 foot barrier, but before he could ask, Ian pulled some debris away from the base of the fence. Exposing a small gap the youngster adroitly slithered between the boards while whispering back "C'mon. If ya let da air outta yer body ya can get small enough ta get tru." Knowing his own limitations Owen quickly clambered over the wall and met his guide on the other side. "Not bad" the boy commented, "but roun here ya gotta watch fer monowire strung up at da top." Noticing Glendower's raised eyebrow he said "Sometimes ya find da stuff roun here in strange places, chip truth".

As they made their way through back alleys and all but empty streets Ian said "Neat trick wit da disguise. Let me hold yer stick an it's less of a give-away." Owen nodded and handed over his weapon. "I heard 'bout what ya did ta Gimli. Thanks. Fat Fragger wuz still tryin ta get da kickback cred outta me. Now he's gone I can put it ta better use. I also heard ya fragged up Conan an Snick and Santos when dey tried ta ambush ya. Very chill. Dese new Frags after ya from a corp? Dere pretty good but dey don't know dis area."

When Owen walked on in silence the kid said "Ya need a place ta crash? Goin ta be dark soon and even wit all a da reports about da Star takin out da Ghouls, folks roun here are still gonna lock up after sundown. Wit dese corps after ya, if I wuz you I'd think about layin low. I kinda owe ya, so ya can flop at my squat, but da only thing is", the thirteen year old stopped directly in front of his companion and looked him square in the face. "My sis is dere an I don't want ya gettin any ideas. Molly ain't part a da 'comodations. Ya mess wit her, I don care how tough ya are or how long it takes, I'll cack ya myself."

Owen said quite formally. "I understand and promise not to trifle with your sister. I appreciate the offer and don't seem to have any other option. Thank you. Should we stop at a stuffer shack first?"

"Whaddya think we got no grub, dat we need yer charity?"

"No, I think that as a guest it is incumbent on me to ease my host's burden by bringing along provender to restock the larder I will diminish during the course of my stay."

"Say what?"

"It's polite when you visit to bring a small gift of food. Typically if you are invited for dinner, bringing the desert is considered good form."


The two stopped at the stuffer shack where Owen bought several bags of groceries, including several expensive real food items, Strawberry Jam, Peanut Butter, popcorn, that had obviously been on the shelves of this store for a long time. On the way out Ian asked "How come ya know dat polite stuff? Yer tough enough dat ya don't need ta worry 'bout dat drek, ya know, rules an all, ain't ya?"

"Nobody's that tough, my friend, and everybody follows some rules. You know how you can act with your buddies in the alley and how you have to behave with your sister, right? Different rules, but it's not that tough to keep them separate. Well, I've just been more places and learned more rules. I certainly don't know them all, but I've learned how to recognize rules, even if I don't know them yet, and I try to be careful around them."

"Yeah, but I thought if yer tough enough ta make a street sam drek himself....."

"Well, just think about a few minutes ago. You offered me a place to stay and told me the rule was not to bother your sister. By your logic, if I'm tough enough, I ignore the rule, kill you so you can't kill me later and then do whatever I want with your sister. By my logic, I agree to abide by your rules and leave your sister alone and I not only get shelter but you think I'm a reasonable guy and maybe you share some more of your wisdom about the area like you did in the alley. You even helped me by carrying my staff so that I was less recognizable. Now, you helped me because I showed that I respect you. If you always have to watch for anybody getting an edge, you never help, or are helped by anybody. Isn't it a better world where people respect each other than where the biggest dog eats and everybody else goes hungry?"

"Ya know, it makes sense when ya say it like dat. I guess ya are a pretty good teacher."

"Well, I've had some good teachers but when Lug told you that he was exaggerating my ability to help him with his tai-chi."

"How didja get dem teachers?"

"Why, are you interested in education?"

Now clearly embarrassed Ian said "Well.....uh...if I could talk good like you do, I could maybe get...ya know, like...regular work an....uh den I could take care a Molly sos she wouldn't haveta dance. I got da money dat I wuz savin fer fixin my leg but I'd rather know howta talk right an know polite rules. It'd do me better."

While they had been talking the two had climbed the steps to the flat. As they opened the door they heard: "Ian, where da hell have ya been? Do ya see how late it is? I got ta get ta......" Now standing with her hands on her hips the shapely young woman asked "and who is dis?"

"Dis is Owen Glendower, Molly. I told him he could come ta dinner. Is dat awright?"

Molly gave Ian a long look but then said, "Oh, I suppose so. What is all dis?"

Owen removed his hat and said, "I thought it would impose less if I brought along some food. I seem to have gotten carried away. I hope it's not a problem."

Molly gave Owen a long hard look and then said archly "Ain't ya a little old ta be hanging 'round wit a 13 year old?"

"Aw, it ain't like dat Molly. Dis is da guy dat pulled me outta it when Big Vito and them wuz slappin me aroun. He's chill."

"Well thank ya fer dat, Mr. Glendower, but I'd 'preciate a answer ta my question."

Looking her straight in the eye, Owen said, "Yes ma'am. I suppose I am."

Taken aback by the answer, Molly snapped out "Well den maybe ya just oughtta go an find children yer own age ta play wit."

Owen nodded once, took his staff and headed back down stairs.

"Wait a minute, you." She called out behind him. "Since yer not a guest here ya can just take dis pantry wit ya. We don't need yer charity."

Owen silently retraced his step and began collecting grocery bags. Meanwhile, Ian who wanted to talk more about education with an adult who didn't laugh at his aspirations or shine him on was distressed but obeying his sister's upraised hand for quiet. When Owen had the load he stopped in the doorway and said. "I apologize for offending you." and then left. At the first landing Molly called out "Wait!"

The dancer came down the steps and said "I 'pologize. From what I heard from Ian, yer a dangerous man wit yer hands and yer feet, but ya didn't get rough when I trew ya out. You were both honest an a gentleman when I raised my voice. I have ta look out fer Ian an I don't want him aroun bad influences. I'm sorry I was rude to ya. Please come ta dinner."

Owen asked "Are you sure?"

"Meaning what? If dis is a game ya don't wanna play? That if I let ya into our flat I can't kick yer hoop out again? What do I have ta be sure of?" she asked with growing heat.

"Sure that you wouldn't prefer that I just leave you in peace."

"Oh, do whatever ya want. I don't have time fer dis!" She said as she stormed back up the stairs.

Owen shook his head and was about to leave when Ian came out and said "C'mon. It's ok. Really."

You do not have any idea how to deal with women, do you? You think you're being polite, they think you're being patronizing. Maybe if you just never spoke a word, never opened your mouth you could prevent inserting your foot, Owen thought as he made his way back upstairs.

The Raven hared dancer changed out of her bike shorts and half t-shirt and left for the club before the sun went down. Both Ian and Owen released long held breaths when she was out of the apartment.

"Sorry 'bout dat. She's kinda sensitive an she wantsta protect me all a time. She can be a royal......"

"Hey," Owen interrupted. "She loves you and wants you to be safe. Don't knock that. I just seem to have a knack for saying the wrong things around women, or maybe it's this moustache," he said as he peeled it off "Women hate this moustache," he confided.

Left to their own devices the two males made Peanut Butter and Jam sandwiches for dinner. For Ian, who had never tasted real strawberry preserves before, it was an incredible meal. He insisted that a portion of the jar be left for his sister when she came home. Ironically, real Peanut Butter was not as tasty to him as the peanut flavored soy substitute that he was accustomed to. As they ate, the subject returned to education.

"So you say you'd use the money you've been saving to repair your leg to further your education?"

"I dunno about further. I ain't had no real education. Molly taught me how ta read some, but I ain't real good at it an dat don't teach me how ta sound like you do. But see, if I could sound like ya, ya know, corp, I'd be able ta do a lot more, even maybe get a reglar job. Even if I got ideas good as yours, people gonna listen ta you 'fore me cause ya sound like ya know exactly what yer talkin about. I sound like da street, so folks is right away on guard or lookin down dere noses. I'd pay anyting ta change dat."

"Hmmm. There may be a way to do both. How much is the operation to replace your damaged nerve and ripped ligament in your leg ?"

"6500 Nuyen"

"And how much do you have saved towards that?"


"If I were to lend you the 5k that you need, what would you be willing to do?"

"I'd do anything.....well, I mean......"

"I'm not asking you for anything like that", Owen interrupted, "I'm asking if you'd be willing to do an incredibly difficult thing like studying constantly, improving your reading, studying math, science, history, geography, things that you may never ever need to know. Things that you have no interest in, but will have to absorb as if they were the most important things in the world. Would you be willing to undergo that kind of course of study, AND then repay my loan at 8 points a year, vig?

"Waitaminit. Vig don't work annual, it's like weekly or monthly. 8 percent a year's nutin. An I'd want ta know how long ya expect me ta study an...uh...well, let's start wit dat."

"Well, you do understand some math, which will help. What I do with my money is my problem. I know there are more profitable investments, but this is fine for me. How long would you study? Until your teacher says you are done. Maybe a few years, maybe 10. As long as he has stuff to teach you, would be my guess. I'd check every so often to make sure you're not slacking off."

"What happens if I am?"

"Then I'm real disappointed that I thought I was dealing with an honorable man and I was just dealing with a puffed up kid who could talk the talk but wasn't really as good as his word. If you think that's the case, you can save us both a lot of headaches by saying so now."

Ian was a little taken aback by the straightforwardness of Owen's statement. He thought for a minute before saying; "No. If I make a deal I live wit it. I still don't see what ya get outta it, though"

"Let's say.... that I hate living in an uneducated or undereducated world. That when I see someone who wants education but can't get it, I think it's worse than anything. I know someone who owes me a favor. He teaches you, he pays off the favor, but then you owe me a favor. I've lost nothing and the world's become a little smarter. I also made a promise to one of my teachers about lighting candles instead of cursing the darkness. I can keep that promise by making this deal with you. I win, you win, the world wins. What do you say?"

"It sounds real good, but why do I have to get my leg fixed first?"

"That's complicated but....well, if you've spent the money and can't get it back, you may be more serious about getting the education that is the real goal of this exercise. Besides, the education is supposed to remove impediments from your earning potential. If you're still walking with a limp, some of the same people who can't hear what you say now, won't listen to you, no matter how good you sound if they think you're a cripple."

After absorbing this for a few minutes, the teenager nodded and said: "Ok. Should we sign a contrac or sumpin?"

"Give me your word that you'll use the money to get your leg repaired, that you'll learn whatever your teacher chooses to teach you for as long as he chooses to teach you and that you'll pay me back the loan at 8 percent interest compounded annually and give me your hand."

After shaking hands Owen handed over Gimli's certified sticks and made a telecom call on his wrist phone.

"Hello, Badger. It's Kiro...................Yes, I'm fine. Badger, you remember when I introduced you to the Professor and we found a way to get you into the University, you kept asking how you could repay me? Well, I've found the way. Are you still willing to repay your debt?.........Good. There is a young man named Ian. A bit younger than you. He has very little formal education, some reading, some notion of math. He wants to learn. I'd like you to teach him...................... Oh, I leave the course of study to your discretion. I know you would not dishonor yourself by doing less than you should. He will be undergoing some surgery in the near future. When he has recovered from that, he will contact you and you will instruct him on what he needs to do......................Yes, it is a great deal of responsibility. If you feel you can't be trusted with it............................................... No, I don't mind if you talk to your friends or teachers for help. I believe you should get as much help as you need to aid this fellow seeker................Thank you, Badger."

"Well, my friend, it's all arranged. After you've had your surgery, you call this number and a friend of mine from the University will begin your instruction. Now, how about we cook up this popcorn?"






6:16 p.m. Friday

Just as flies seem to always find corruption or mosquitoes gravitate to warm blooded animals, Seme search for Glendower took him to the red-light district. Despite his desire to snatch his victim from Solo after forcing the federal agent to do all of the work, he knew there was a danger that the feds would make their capture while he slept during the daylight hours. To diminish this possibility, the Panther Shaman determined that he would have to actively enter the hunt himself. Naturally, he assumed his prey would gravitate towards an area where questions about identity where discouraged.

As he stalked the streets of the lower east side, he was amused by the "hard cases". Professional victimizers and professional victims all selling their flesh for use by others. All surrendering pieces of their souls as they sold their bodies. Prostitution may be the world's oldest profession, he thought, but even in the awakened world it still tastes of corruption. Delicious.

Something about his look or animal presence was enough to dissuade even the most desperate of street meat from approaching as he jandered up the street. Finally a salt and pepper team braved the big black man. "Oooh, sugah, you wanna have some fuhn?" The black woman was a little past her prime but still clinging to the only work she had ever known. In her mid-thirties, she covered her bad skin artfully with makeup and distracting facial jewelry, and still had the body for the tight leather micro mini-skirt and see-through blouse.

Her partner was younger. Much younger and exaggerating her youth. With red hair in pig tails and a scattering of freckles, she was dressed with the artful innocence of a teenager in the midst of puberty. Her figure was not as lush as her companion's and if not for the edge to her practiced innocence and the knowing gleam in the corner of her eye, one might imagine that she had wandered off the farm and into the streets of the tenderloin.

Ironically, it was the more hardened of the two, Bev, the one who had spoken first, that was frightened off. She saw something when she looked into Seme's face, that stopped her in her tracks. Muttering "Baron Semedi" in an awed whisper, she backed away in a terror that was tangible. If Patty had been smarter, or perhaps less desperate for nuyen to feed her chip habit, she would have trusted Bev's instincts and given the trick a pass. Unfortunately, times had been tight for the street workers of the tenderloin recently and Patty needed a score more than she needed a partner to split the cred with. When Bev backed off Patty put her hands behind her back and swaying, looked up into the big man's eyes as she said in a little girl voice. "We could still play if you wanna mister, even without Bev."

Seme's booming laugh and response of "Yes! By all means, I wanna play!" was not entirely effective in reassuring the street walker.

7:31 p.m. Friday

The Courier came through the hotel room door as though it had been left open. The magcard he carried rascalled Type III door locks regularly and made any hotel room his in seconds. He barely noticed the lush appointments of the suite as he smoothly glided to the bedroom door. This was also locked, but rather than spend the few seconds it would take his ExpertPick system to unlock the portal, he simply slapped the door with his palm just below the lock. As the mechanism shattered and the door flew open the trio on the bed scrambled to their feet.

The women, correction-male and female, were a practiced team. As Bobbie dove for his legs, Gigi delivered a flying side kick aimed for his head. The Courier stepped aside with all the speed of his wired reflexes, taking out his flying adversary with an ap hurya chagi (Tae Kwon Do hooking kick) to the throat. The momentum of the flying impact combined with the speed and position of the Courier's kick broke the female's neck. When her body landed with a THUD she was already dead. The male attempted to shoot in low for a takedown, revealing his predilection for the grappling of what was popularly called Brazilian Jujitsu. Although the ground work techniques of the art would normally be particularly effective in the relatively small confines of the bedroom, they did not work this time. The Courier allowed his opponent to wrap both arms around his waist in preparation for a takedown, only to extend an elbow spur which he drove down into the joyboy's spine, killing him instantly.

The battle had only taken seconds and Waverly was scrambling to bring up his pistol when the Courier applied an Aikido Gyaku te-dori (wrist lock) which incapacitated the career civil servant and brought him painfully to the room's telecom. Maintaining the painful pressure of the lock with one hand, the Courier used the other to dial the telecom. When Waverly began to protest that he should, at least, be allowed to dress, the increase in pressure caused the words to come out as an inhalation of breath.

"Waverly, oh for God's sake man, I'm eating. Cover yourself." The embarrassed government worker scrambled into his pants and began to protest about the treatment he was receiving. Before he could articulate a word, the glowering head on the screen said "Shut up. What the frag do you think you're doing, you stupid fragger? Did you think the Group was not only going to put up with this boondoggle while you get your ashes hauled, but was also going to allow you to compromise our network? Who authorized you to pressure our agent into revealing herself by giving you data on this....Glendower's location? Have you lost your mind, or are you just so fragging incompetent that you don't know whose plans you are screwing up?........WELL??"

"Uh....sir...uh, we needed to get a lead on the target early and....uh...the resource....."

"RESOURCE?! Who the frag told you that you had access to the resource of an agent that we worked years to get in place in a position of trust? Are you just too stupid to live? You'd better give me the entire report from the top, but I warn you, gloss anything over, omit a detail, lie, and the Courier will deliver a message of pain to you that will you will spend years absorbing.......GO AHEAD!"

For the next 2 hours Waverly explained how he had learned of Glendower's existence through the observation of the Draco Foundation headquarters, how he wanted to use the Physical adept to honey trap the Vice President after they had eliminated Ryan Mercury, for whom the target bore such a resemblance. Once in position the target could possibly act as a fifth columnist in the VP's organization, making her vulnerable and possibly manipulatable whenever the need should arise. He then explained how, after he had arranged for the initial contact through the agent working at the Talisman shop, the target had avoided contact and would not allow himself to be recruited. How 4 agents had been lost and how the 36 remaining Federal agents had been unable to uncover the target's location for the frustrating close pursuit strategy that would force the target to join the government's team.

Eventually the glowering head on the screen had said "I've heard enough. The Group gave it's approval based on your assurance that this matter would be taken care of quickly. At 9:00 a.m. Monday morning, you will be in my office with this Glendower, or at 9:15 a.m. your funeral services will be held at Monument Park, clear?"

"Yes, sir."


The Courier stepped into view.

"Stay with Mr. Waverly. Make sure I'm not a liar."

The Courier nodded once.

8:06 p.m. Friday

Simon's entrance into the Blue Flame went largely unnoticed for a number of reasons. First, It was a Friday night and the bar had a larger than usual crowd celebrating the weekend. Second, Gimli Hobbs was dead, so the "Hiring Hall" he used was now open to other small time fixers looking for muscle. Finally, Lone Star had destroyed the Ghouls who were menacing the area and the braver souls in the tenderloin had begun the experimental testing of the safety of the night.

All of these reasons, combined with the fact that Simon was a clever Street Samurai, allowed him to blend in with the crowd and gather information. Like the vampire, Simon had reasoned that the Tenderloin might be a place to look for the elusive Glendower as well as the Compound's hit team because it did so much biz after dark. The Blue Flame was the third bar he had visited thus far, but he was already hearing snatches of conversation about Owen.

"Ahm tellin' ya, dis Glendower fragger was faster dan meat or metal. One secon ahm callin him out, da next he's got my face an I never felt such pain. See dis? I pulled both a dese slugs out myself back in '55. No drugs, no magic, no med, nutin. Ya'd tink dat would hurt, right? Well, I'd do dat once a week for the res a my life, 'fore I'd let dat fragger touch me again. I ain't fraggin aroun. Ya know how dey found Conan, right? Fraggin devil rats ate tru his troat while he was unconscious on da roof................ wadda ya mean 'so'? Him an Snick and Shoto Santos had a tree way ambush set up fer Glendower. Gimli set it up. Santos an Snick got wacked by da star or da fraggin High Hats AFTER dey fragged wit da man an got laid out cold. I heard he comes in here an sells dere gear back to da dwarf, den when da fat frag draws down on him, he trew an arrah tru da fraggers head! Chip truth!.............. How do I know? Because da fat frag tried ta hire me fer da hit. I tole him, no way omae! I had enough a dat son of a slitch, I don ever wanna frag wit him again."

Simon moved closer to the man with the sticks so that he could hear the entire conversation. The Troll who had been the other party in the talk was now audible.

"Yeah, ya know Lug and Hamon treated him like he was some hot drek, and dose fraggers are strictly upper crust. I jus don get what he was doin in here wit da fraggin gimp." The Troll said.

"Ya obviously ain't talked with Big Vito den."

"Dat Greaseball! What's he gotta do with it?"

"Only dat Mr. Glendower mopped up an alley with him an a couple a pals who was fraggin wit da kid."



"What's Molly's crippled brudah to dis Glendower?"

"Nutin. He jus didn't want da kid fragged up so he stepped in."

"No drek?"

"Yep. Vito tried ta play it down but da tree a dem come in here lookin ta buy back dere guns from Gimli. Funniest drek ya evah seen. Gimli made em tell da story as part a da price fer der bang-bangs an den" Escrima could not contain his chuckles, "Den Gimli pulls out dere sticks an asks how dere gonna pay da rest a da recovery costs!"

"HUR-HUR-HUR Dat's great! Hur-Hur, Gimli was a prick but da fragger knew what was funny. Hur-Hur-Hur. Ah, drek..............But, back to da original subject, what about dem fraggin bikers?"

"Da High Hats? I dunno. I heard dere done. Whittled down ta nothin. The AC's will probably try ta move on dere turf, but I dunno if dere big enough fer dat much territory. Dats why ahm sayin dat dis Glendower fragger......."

"WAITAMINIT. Are you tryin ta tell me he took out a biker gang? What is he, da invincible young master or sumpin?"

"Hey, ahm jus sayin dat dey was lookin fer him after dere base got blowed up and wuz offering like a thou fer hot data. Den dey go aftah da man wit heavy artillery. Burned da fraggin Dorchester to da groun, got into a fraggin war wit da star, an da way I hear it Glendower walks away witout a fraggin scratch."

"DAMN! How da frag does 1 guy, I don't care if he's faster dan GOD, take out miniguns, assault canons, grenade guns......"

"Well, he is fast, but he's also got a set a big brass balls. I heard he cacked Gimli and then stood there brushin himself off an lookin aroun ta see who else wanted ta die. On top a dat, he's lucky. Plus, he's strong enough ta trow an arrow tru a Dwarf's head, which is pretty fraggin strong. He knows a lot a dat martial art crap and, way I heard it, he's got some kina toxic gas, puke gas dat keeps ya barfin fer hours. He gives ya a couple a doses an if yer still alive, ya start lookin fer a new career."

"Drek. Wish we could get dis fragger fer our Urban Brawl team."

"Yeah, did ya see Saturday's match? Fraggin pitiful! I wouldn't give ya my snot fer any banger we got........."

Simon edged over towards other conversations. He had some clear objectives that he hadn't had when he'd started the evening. Lug, Hamon - top runners, treat Owen with respect. Ian - crippled kid associated with Glendower in some way. Molly - Ian's sister. Big Vito - victimizes Ian, gets victimized by Owen. Glendower association with LoneStar - Why did they come in on the Phys Ad's side when he's battling the High Hat gang? Why are the High Hats, correction why were the High Hats after him? A wealth of material to investigate. If I can find Glendower, I can report to the Lord of the Compound whenever Seme's team finally catches up with him. As it stands now with Anna gone, I have no way of gathering the data that the dragon wants.

9:12 p.m. Friday

Owen judged that enough time had passed for him to leave Ian's doss without drawing too much attention. He made his way up to the roof and using his new glasses' thermal capabilities, began looking for hovering drones. When he found none he hopped from roof to roof among the densely packed buildings, working his way nearer to where he had hidden his bike. At each cross street he would descend down the side of the building, into an alley or other secluded area, move across the street and make his way back to the the roofs. The alleys were generally abandoned, but as he silently climbed down into one quite near his bike, he heard the sounds of a struggle. Focussing on the sound he saw what looked like a teenage girl with her hair in pigtails wrestling with a huge black man who seemed to be laughing. Something in the laugh was so contemptuous that Owen did not even spend any time analyzing the situation. He dropped onto the black man's back to drive him off the struggling female. The roar of frustration as the black man turned, accompanied by the bared fangs made Owen wish he had thought before jumping into the situation.

"AAARRRRRRRRR! WHO DARES DISTURB MY PLEAS......." Before the vampire could finish his sentence, Owen employed Eishin-Ryu technique called Tsuigekito (Pursuing sword). Stepping in with his right foot, he brought the staff whistling in horizontally to smash the black norm's right arm. Before the audible crack of the bone's breaking could fully register, Owen had brought his left foot forward, brought the staff up over his head and down into the vampire's right shoulder. Again the whrrrCrack of breaking bone was not distinctly heard before the Physical Adept had raised the staff again and smashed the vampires' left shoulder. Patty, who had been watching all of this from amid a heap of garbage where the Vampire had thrown her when he had turned to face the intruder, saw only a blur and heard what sounded like whrrcrackwhrrcrackwhrrcrack . Then she saw the black man spring straight into the air. The fourth whrrcrack sounded as she thought she saw the guy with the big stick smash the black guy in the leg, swinging the stick like it was a baseball bat as the black guy soared upwards. Then the black guy turned to smoke and drifted up into the night.

As the cloud disappeared the man with the stick offered Patty a hand getting out of the garbage.

"Uh..........thanks" Patty said without fully distinguishing between a hand out of the trash and a hand in preventing her from becoming an undead meal.

"Tough trick" Owen said conversationally as the two looked upwards.

"Yeah.......fragger didn't even pay me........"

Patty misinterpreted Owen's smile. He was struck by the incongruity of her statement in view of the fact that she had just avoided a horrible death. He had also meant that turning to smoke was a difficult thing to do. She thought the he was sympathizing about a difficult john and wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

"You....uh...want to finish what he started?" She asked in a little girl voice as she swayed with hands tucked behind her back. (She really wanted some cred to get her chips and was more focused on her goal than on what had just happened.)

"What....killing you by draining your blood? No, not particularly, but thanks for the offer."

As Patty was about to correct him about what he was being offered a chance to finish, his words hit her with a near physical impact. She was trying to get her mind around what he had just said, around what she had just seen. As the color drained from her face, she noticed her hands were shaking uncontrollably and her knees didn't have any strength. She passed out into Owen's arms.

Well done. Very well done. Owen thought Will you EVER learn? YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO TALK TO WOMEN!!! For somebody who is supposed to be pretty smart, you've certainly proved that you can't grasp that simple fact. YEESH. Now what are you going to do with sleeping beauty, you donkey? Carry her around all night? Brilliant idea, by the way, scaring the drek outta her. Very funny. Considerate, too. Hey, here's a new idea you should try: "Engage brain before starting mouth." You're such a hoophole!

Feeling guilty about his unthinking cruelty Owen carried the unconscious hooker into a nearby tavern. Knowing the area of town, he would not have been surprised if his entrance went unremarked, but apparently the young woman was a regular here, because the bartender and a waitress immediately rushed over asking what had happened. DON'T SAY A FRAGGING WORD! screamed the voice in his head. You'll only make it worse if you try to explain. Owen shrugged and put her down on a table quickly emptied of half filled beer mugs and an "exotic dancer". Where the waitress wanted to press for the story, the bartender said "Fer Christ's sake, Sherry! She needs help an dis guy didn't leave her fer da rats! Ain't dat enough?" Then to Owen "Thanks, Mister. Gimme just a minit and whatever yer drinkin's on da house."

As soon as all attention was focused on the unconscious girl, Owen slipped out of the bar, retrieved his bike and left the area.

9:15 p.m. Friday

That was him! That was your target! You let him escape! Raged the vampire as he fled to his basement sanctum. He wanted the security of his base because when he assumed a corporeal form the damage done from the Phys Ad's wooden weapon would take affect until he could cast the healing spells that would repair his broken bones. So fast! I never imagined that he would achieve such speed! He was a blur. I never even saw the first strike and I was looking right at him! And a wooden weapon! Who uses wood in an age of metal limbs and reinforced bones? I must have spells ready before I face him again. He moves too quickly to try to play on the fly. No. I must have a full plan worked out in advance for my next meeting with Mr. Glendower. Seme retired to his hideout to plan and prepare.

9:19 p.m. Friday

Solo knew it would happen eventually. Waverly had emerged from his private "sin bin" and was back to his old, annoying, tight-hooped self. He'd now called twice in the course of an hour "just checking" on progress in isolating the target. Gone was the mellow, grateful, relaxed Waverly, and with him, Solo's chance to work without interference. Tailing Bridger and watching both the target's home and the Talisman shop were now no longer enough. If Glendower had been spotted in the tenderloin last night and again earlier this afternoon, Solo was ordered to blanket the area on the chance he might return. The loose coverage that the SAIC had set up so as not to alert the target prematurely, was suddenly "completely inadequate", and nothing would do but for every agent who was not on duty to begin covering the lower east side.

To add to his problems, he had trouble with the locals. Bridger had every Dwarf on the Lone Star force visiting the apartment building where the Chief Inspector had rooms and changing outerwear before leaving. Solo knew he was being tweaked for not notifying the inspector but he had no way to protest. Where could he go? Tell Lone Star HQ that the unannounced surveillance of the Chief Inspector was more difficult because of the number of short people who kept entering and exiting the building? Ask Bridger to cooperate now, when he hadn't extended the cop the courtesy of notifying him in advance?

Beyond this, Kay, who had been assigned the follow up investigation of the group that had cost the lives of the four feds, was getting nowhere. The other group after Glendower seemed to be untraceable and since the attack had disappeared. Were they friends supporting the Phys Ad? Recruiters trying to hire him? Enemies hunting him? Had they been hurt badly enough to abandon their initial intentions, whatever those had been, or were they waiting for their moment, preparing to strike once the feds had isolated the target? Too many unresolved questions for anyone's comfort, and now Waverly's demands for action would prevent further resources being allocated to the search for answers.

The only ray of sunshine in all of the gloom had come, ironically enough, from the reappearance of Angela Death. The psycho biker bitch had been hanging around looking for payoff money for her valuable paydata on Glendower. Everyone knew, of course, that her go-gang had virtually been destroyed and that Angela was looking for some cred to keep her in nutri-soy until she could find another gang to accept her. When she had overheard two techies talking about the modification the forensic teams had found on the drones destroyed when the ambush had been sprung, she had volunteered that the only place for an out of town runner to get the kind of electronic modifications described would be to talk to Mr. Lincoln. Since the feds were not local to the shadows of the city, if they wanted to talk to Mr. Lincoln about his recent customers, they would have to find his address, which Angela could supply them with for a nominal fee. When the feds had paid off the Ork woman she had given them a location where they had been able to catch Mr. Lincoln.

The stoop shouldered norm had a face that immediately reminded one of a snapping turtle. The goggle eyes and beakish nose combined with his absurdly slow mannerisms and speech made nearly everyone who talked to him underestimate the norm as slow-witted. Mr. Lincoln, however was a tech wiz of the first order and had more cutting edge electronics at his fingertips than most techies dream of. Mr. Lincoln also had absolutely no sense of loyalty. When the feds confronted him and asked him about the drone modifications they had found, he gave them more than they thought of asking before they could apply any pressure. The mods had been paid for in cash on Wednesday afternoon by a cadaverously thin ork rigger who knew exactly what he was looking for and exactly where to look. No data on who had clued him to talk to Mr. Lincoln or even how to find the electronics wizard but the rigger had known exactly what he wanted and accepted no substitutes. Of course, to protect himself when dealing with a stranger, Mr. Lincoln had bugged the equipment before selling it, and if the feds would promise to go away and not to bother Mr. Lincoln again they could have the rigger's current location. Naturally the federal agents agreed and began planning an assault on the possible location for the shadowteam which had killed four of their fellow agents.

9:33 p.m. Friday

Owen called as he rode to Goren's Warehouse.

"Whaddya want?"

"BeBop! It's Owen. Coming in for a visit, if that's ok."

"Hot stuff, you know yer always welcome here. Come ahead."

When Owen arrived at the gate to the fence around the warehouse, he had barely stopped when it opened and the Guardian drones began guiding him through the mine field. He parked the bike inside the warehouse only to find himself in a bear hug from the immensely strong dwarf woman.

"Ack.......BeBop, you'll put me back in the recovery ward" he gasped out and was immediately released.

"Oh...Hot stuff, I'm sorry....I got carried away......are you alright?"

"Yes, I'm fine. I just don't know any martial arts move to power out of that hold the way you apply it." He smiled but saw the genuine concern on the Dwarf woman's face and said "Really! I'm ok. You don't have to worry.......Mom." This last was drew the weaponsmith's mock fury as she made an exasperated snort and shook her fist, but Owen had played this game too frequently with BeBop for either of them to take it seriously.

"Well, let me get da old man an you can tell us what happened. I think he's got some toys fer you too. He said ya wanted ta leave the bike here an ta give ya da keys to dat shitbox he used ta drive. It's parked around da corner. Have you eaten yet?" Noticing the look in the Phys Ad's eye she quickly added "An if you call me mom again, funny man, I swear, yer pretty hoop will be in a recovery ward."

"Yes, thank you, I have eaten." Owen responded with a straight face. As BeBop went to find Goren, Owen waited until she was just at the edge of ear shot to quietly add "Of course, it wasn't home cooking......" When BeBop stomped back into the room Owen was intensely studying the contents of the work table and seemed not to notice her return. The dwarf woman shook her head and threw her hands in the air as she wheeled about yelling "GOREN....Goren you better get yer ugly butt in here before we end up with a dead body to dispose of......GOREN!"

As BeBop left in one direction Goren came in from another "Psttt, kid!" he whispered "Is she gone?" When Owen nodded the Ork crept out and said "Ya gotta help me out, kid. She's been pissed off all day that ya won't take a percentage. I tole her about yer free book argument and nearly got brained with a socket wrench. Promise me yall either explain it to her in detail or take somethin. Otherwise.......Oh, there you are, oh light of my life. I wuz jus tellin da kid here dat he should wait till you came back before he started his tale".

The crossed arms and raised eyebrow on the scowling woman's face indicated that she was not buying a word of this. Owen decided to take the bull by the horns.

"BeBop, Goren spoke to me earlier today about the two of you wanting to give me a portion of your profits. I told him no, but apparently you were unhappy with my rejection of the offer. Let me explain something. I tell you in all honesty that I have spent most of my life learning not to trust anyone or rely on anything but myself. You guys have changed that. I trust you with my life and rely on your help whenever I get in a jam. I don't want you to be upset with me. I truly appreciate your generosity. It touches me deeply. But the only way I can do the things that I have to do and still remain sane is to follow a code. Taking money for something that you guys sweated and strained to create with your genius would violate that code. You worked for that money. I traded my concept for a tool. If I were to turn around and take your money now.....I'd have to grow a long beard, because I couldn't face myself in the mirror to shave in the morning. I know that sounds dramatic and corny but as much as I want you guys to be my friends, I can't give up my ideals, my concept of myself to make you happy. I hope you can understand that"

The silence that followed seemed endless to the Phys Ad. Had he just lost two of his best friends, people who were as close to family as he was ever likely to get?

"All right, Owen. I didn't understand how strongly you felt about it. We certainly wouldn't want you to take the money and feel bad about yourself" BeBop said in the same quiet and sincere voice that Owen had just used.

"Damn! Would you two lighten up?" Goren said."This is not da fate of da world were talkin about. It's a fraggin business proposition. Man, you put you two together......."

"Hey, I like dat idea" interrupted the dwarf woman, "Whadaya say, Hot stuff. You an me do a little horizontal tango while the old man........"

"Who are ya callin old, ya nymphomaniacal halfer? Yer no spring chicken yerself........"

"Spoken by an ork who knows all about sex with poultry......."

"UH....GUYS." Owen said "I do have some other things to do before Monday, so could we possibly....."

"Awright, Killjoy, awright" said Goren

"Jeeze, what a grouch" BeBop added, but then smiled to let Owen know that the couple wasn't really upset that he had interrupted their fun.

Goren then pulled out a handful of 2 inch long ceramic tubes. "Here's yer drone killer, kid. Pop the top off with yer thumb, turn it over an yer weights drop out, suspended by monowire which is anchored ta da other end a da tube which ya use as a handle. By the way, knowing how ya love goin tru detectors witout dem goin off, I used ceramic weights instead of lead. Ok, ya hold da handle, start it spinnin an let it fly. I got ya six plus one ta practice wit. Now if ya jus stan here an aim at da steel pole my lovely assistant has set up."

When the impromptu range was clear Owen demonstrated his proficiency with a release which caused the spinning monowire to cut right through the steel pipe. Of course, untwisting wire that was only a single molecule thick was a virtual impossibility, so it was the only practice that Owen got with the actual weapon, but his ability was great enough that he now felt confident with another long distance weapon to go with his beloved sling. Owen thanked his host profusely and then, because of his recent encounter with the vampire I assume that was a vampire and not just a rapist with a desperate need for orthodontic work Owen asked for some sharp sticks that he could tie together. When the weaponsmiths looked askance at his request he explained about encountering a Vampire and wanting some wooden distance weapons. The dowels that were provided were quickly trimmed and sharpened at both ends. Owen then tied two together at the center to form a cross and showed how the weapon could be used as both fighting dagger and throwing star.

While Owen was fashioning some more of the wooden shuriken he regaled the weaponsmiths with the tale of his latest encounters with the Ghouls and High Hats. He also warned the couple about UCAS surveillance, but told them he was fairly confident that he had not been observed coming to visit them. When BeBop asked about the silver weapons he had taken to carrying since encountering the werewolf, Owen confessed that they had been in his lost grenade bag. Nodding knowingly, the Dwarf woman brought him a lovely silver ankh. The piece was fairly large because it contained a 6 inch stiletto blade.

"It's not much, hot stuff, but it's something until we can cast some bigger silver weapons for ya."

"Thanks, BeBop. It's beautiful. Let's hold off on more silver weapons for the time being, though. They kind of defeat the purpose when everything else I have gets through the scanners."

"Maybe I'll just put some together anyway, so that when ya want da damn things with no fraggin notice, they'll be waiting for you."

Owen's quickly supressed smile tipped Goren, who interrupted before the Phys ad could respond. "Kid," he warned, "I ain't even goin ta clean up da blood dat gets spilt if ya make da crack yer thinkin of."

The look of shocked innocence on Glendower's face caused BeBop to grind out "Goren, I'm surprised at you. Hot Stuff here knows I don't find those 'mother' cracks the least bit funny. He wasn't about ta piss me off by making another one, were you, Owen?"

"Well......Oh, would you look at the time. Gotta go. Bye."

Goren's guffaws and BeBops roars about testosterone limiting intellectual development were still echoing through the warehouse as Owen ran out.






10:22 p.m. Friday

Lug had gone along with his partner on the importance of not leaving the investigation half done. Both knew that, in addition to a two hour private session with their teacher, which both were very interested in, their professional reputation was on the line. Certainly, it was not their fault if the case had been broken when the Ghouls had been caught and destroyed attacking Lone Star operatives, but neither sam wanted the extensive leg work they had done in tracking down the mystery to be ignored. They had sweated out quite a bit of data on Tenderloin disappearances, tracing the start back months and even showing how the vanishing had changed after the destruction of the Fuchi clinic.

Hamon, the quieter of the pair had noticed that before the Clinic's destruction, all of the disappearances involved people who were magically active or folks with magically active family members. After the fire at the Fuchi facility, the magic seemed to drop out of the profile of the missing and the common factors became solitary individuals from the neighborhood or corp execs. Both Sams had agreed that everything seemed to hinge on the destroyed Fuchi clinic, which made it the most logical place to search for clues. Unfortunately, the large guard contingent which the corp had set up surrounding the site, seemed determined to prevent exactly the kind of search that Lug and Hamon wanted to conduct.

Neither Razor was particularly daunted by the prospect of penetrating a heavily guarded area to conduct biz that the Corp was determined to prevent. It was, after all, the nature of their business. After having spent several hours scouting the site and counting the opposition the two had sat down to examine penetration plans.

"First of all", Lug had begun, "We can't get in from below without some digging equipment. I checked and the firefighters brought in their heaviest equipment and happened to park it right over the sewer mains coming in from all four directions. Gotta figure they wuz collapsin tunnels in addition to fightin fires."

Hamon nodded.

"Second," The dwarf continued,"Da group that's on guard might be possible to sneak by, but they'd like nothin better than ta find intruders inside the perimeter that they could turn inta itty-bitty meatballs, so whatever we come up wit has gotta have a exfiltration as well as a infiltration element or we are in for one helluva firefight."

Again Hamon nodded.

"Third, I think that whatever is gonna help us has gotta be underground. Everything above da surface has been exposed to da elements and da neighborhood fer like 6 weeks. No way deres anything useful left above ground. We need ta find where some basements were and get down inta them without da guards hearin us, if were gonna find anything worthwhile."

This time instead of nodding Hamon pulled out a scrap of paper with some notes on it. Where the Samurai had come up with the childish scrawl was a mystery, but there, on what seemed to be a crude map of what the facility must have looked like before the fire, was a building with a skull and crossbones. Lug needed no words to see that the basement of the rubble that had been building 6 would be a very good place to start looking for clues.

Hamon then said "Distraction?"

Lug thought for a moment and then said "Done to death. Might work once but we'd be pushing our luck to try it twice. Better to save it for on the way out. What about getting in?"

Hamon spread his arms to look like wings but Lug said "Frag dat, my man. Just cause you love dat fraggin ultra-light doesn't mean that I like riding in on dat damn neck-breaker. Besides, It'd be a cast iron bitch ta get it back outta there."

Hamon nodded and then put a finger to his lips.

"Yeah, sneak an peek looks like our way in an distraction fer da way out. We got da target, so I guess da only things remainin are who do we get fer da noisemaker an when do we go?"

Hamon shrugged and making a haughty face pulled the tops of both ears.

"Drake? I thought ya hated dat fragger." Lug said. When Hamon shrugged the Dwarf continued, "Yeah, well even if yer willing ta fergive an ferget, I bet dat fragger only wants ta bury da hatchet if you've got yer back turned. He is good at makin noise, but I wouldn't trust da daisy eater not to run a fast clock fer a little payback."

Reluctantly Hamon nodded.

"What about Jack? He'd be on time an on target. He'd make more dan enough noise an he actually likes us. Besides, if he thought he was kneeing Fuchi in the groin, he'd be real cheap."

Hamon uttered his second word of the conversation "ok".

"Let me give him a call. When do you want to do this?"

Hamon looked at his partner and shrugged.

"Yeah, no time like da present. As soon as we get Jack on board we can move out."

10:24 p.m. Friday

Although Owen had every intention of finding the remaining answers to why such a large group of Ghouls had banded together, where they had gotten their magical and technical aid and what they really wanted, he knew he had other jobs to take care of first. Before he could pursue the investigation, he needed to work out a plan for dealing with the government recruiters, who were becoming more than an occasional inconvenience. While I'm at it, he thought, I ought to figure out what to do if that vampire comes back. I don't think he was too happy with me for interrupting his meal. I definitely don't want to be standing flat footed when he comes calling next time. Instead of running around and hoping for the best, I'd better spend a few hours doing some intense planning.

With this in mind, Owen had driven from Goren's to a small house in the city's western suburbs and hidden the car in the garage. The safehouse that he had set up weeks previously was just as he left it. He entered the unlit and unfurnished basement where he would not be heard, assumed a lotus position and began playing his flute while he reviewed the facts in his mind. He played as he constructed and rejected plan after plan far into the night.

10:43 p.m. Friday

Perfect. Just fraggin perfect. Chief Inspector Bridger thought. Not only do I have to sneak outta my own doss to avoid the fraggin feds, but when I finally do get to work I find that the goddamn medicos, who shouldn't have had the prisoner to begin with, have overmedicated this bus driver slot and I won't be able to talk to him for hours. Just lovely. I should have a free hand to run the investigation but instead I get to review interview chips that the medical center made of their questions. Damn.

As he set up to review the data he found a short note from Mark.

Chief Inspector-

Check out time mark 02:22:23. Also 06:14:00. What I get is that the poor slot lost some family members to something that Fuchi did. Experiments? Tests? Medical treatments? I'm not sure from what they got out of him, but whatever it turns out to be is probably his motive for revenge against the corp. The Med Hoopholes didn't follow up too well on who he was working with (I guess they didn't think that was too important). I talked to some of the cleanup people who destroyed the Ghouls and they said there were jammers and magic fetishes with each group. Internal security snatched up all of the magical gear, but I hid one of the jammers in the file cabinet in your office. I figured you'd want to see what kept SWAT from fast roping to the rescue. Commander Powell said I needed sleep and sent me home, but you have my number. Please call me so I can be there when you wrap this up.


Well, in spite of his over inflated notions of what I can do, the young man has demonstrated again that he's got a good head on his shoulders. The Chief Inspector thought. I'll take a look at this jammer and then start reviewing the data chip, see if I can pull anything more off it than Mark did before I start drawing conclusions on what role our bus driver played and who he might have been working with.

10:59 p.m. Friday

Having made the necessary arrangements with Jack and put on balaclavas and sneak suits Hamon and Lug began crawling into the vacant lot that Fuchi was guarding. They had approached the gate that Fuchi had cut in their own fencing around the lot as it was obviously guarded and therefore not the place where an infiltration was expected. Both Hamon and Lug had run the shadows long enough to see that where the defender's preparation was intended to repel invasion, infiltration was most likely to succeed, whereas where the enemy was prepared for infiltrators generally made an excellent site to bring in the heavy armor. This warped perspective had made the runners a tremendously effective team for many years.

The two sams had crawled up to the gate and waited for the shift change. Eventually, the change of guards allowed the shadowrunners to sneak through the gate and begin crawling towards their target. After making some 10 yards of progress over 16 minutes of agonizingly slow crawling through the debris of the burned out lot, Hamon froze as a patrol approached. Lug, who was half a dozen yards away, also froze but because he was sheltered by the rubble of a fragment of wall, knew he would have to provide cover fire if his partner were discovered. Time dragged forever as the last remaining patroller in this sector retied his combat boot and then headed off in a new direction. Some minutes later Lug was the one at risk as a K-9 patrol nearly stumbled over his prone form. Hamon waited tensely as the huge silenced German shepherd caught some of the ground pepper that both invaders had sprinkled over their suits and began sneezing furiously.

"Ho, king. Ya comin down wit a cold, Big Fella? Have ta stop by the vet when we get off duty. Can't have my partner callin sick, now can I, boy?"

Eventually the handler had half dragged the giant canine off in another direction and away from Lug who had just begun breathing again. Although less experienced runners might have taken the opportunity to make up for lost time and tried running the 35 yards to what remained of Building 6, the old pros kept crawling. Both razors had seen their share of runs fall apart because crawling through dog drek, broken bottles and clumps of nettles clashed with someone's concept of the glamour of running the shadows. As they made their slow but steady progress towards the derelict building, both were glad that whoever was in charge of security had not yet installed extensive ground sensor units or sentry guns. Both had heard a rotodrone sweep by and knew that there was some mechanical defense but nothing that they hadn't rascalled so far.

Neither Sam even considered using their comm gear to talk to each other when some 40 minutes later they had arrived at the building site and there was some question about how to get into the basement without making any noise. Lug hand signaled that there didn't even seem to be a basement, much less a way in. Hamon signaled for a crawling sweep to find a way in, and the pair spent the next 30 minutes crawling around the perimeter of the building. It wasn't until Hamon drew a warning hiss from a Devil Rat that the pair proved the basement's existence and found a way in.

Of course before they could enter, Hamon would have to find a silent way past not only the rat he was facing, but the half dozen others who seemed to materialize out of the debris in the area. The Sam loaded a ball bearing into his sling shot, drew back as far as the elastic would allow him and silently ended the first rat's life. The other rats who did not flee, proceeded to make a meal of their comrade/leader ignoring the human. Not for the first time the Gillette thanked his childhood devotion to the weapon and resolved to continue practicing with it in spite of Lug's laughter at "da toy". I'd hate to think of how many times this "toy" has saved both our hoops.

As soon as the Dwarf joined him, Hamon began silently shifting building materials to widen the hole so that the pair could descend. Lug wanted to use the pry bar he carried, but Hamon signaled that unless the material was shifted one piece at a time there would be too much noise. Twice the pair froze in their silent excavation. Once for a pass by a roving rotodrone and once when a pair of all terrain mini-trikes carried their patrolling riders by. All told it took 25 minutes before the gap was wide enough for the pair to descend into the basement.

11:08 p.m. Friday

The federal agents had moved very quickly indeed in acting on the data Mr. Lincoln had provided. Once again Sean and Kiew were decked out in Milspec full heavy armor and gyromounted heavy machine guns. The others who were to enter the house would be wearing as much heavy armor as they found comfortable, but because Solo had chosen to take a page from the locals, CN/DM4 gas would be used extensively so everybody had a rebreather/helmet rig. The perimeter people, who were to guard against both escape by those inside of the house and aid rushing in from outside of the house were less heavily armored than the invaders, but would still shrug off most small arms fire. Solo had even managed to pull some of his magical assets from surveillance of the tenderloin for this operation. At precisely 11:09 p.m. Sean and Kiew kicked in both front and back doors while the drones fired gas grenades through the upper story windows.

Although Crash had only had only been in the house for a short amount of time, he had used that period to good affect. As soon as he had tested the electronics he purchased, he had found one of the homers and began preparing his reception for anyone who might follow the signal to base. He had put together a large number of countermeasures as well as his own escape route, and within seconds of the first alarm the rigger had hooked himself into the building's security system. So when Sean kicked in the front door and stepped into the entry hall, Crash released the supports he had set up in the hallway's underpinning and dropped the fed into the basement. Unfortunately for Sean, that meant he was intruding on a very unhappy vampire/panther shaman/assassin who was still licking his wounds in his basement sanctum. Seme's roar was clearly audible as were Sean's radio calls when the African tossed a fireball spell at him.


"Magic! I'm under attack from magic! Get the mage down here!"

After the initial shock of the drop and the fireball attack, Sean released his gas grenades and began chewing up the basement with heavy machine gun fire as he advanced away from the flames. He knew he would need to cross the room and climb the stairs he was facing as the fire would make it difficult for his team to follow him through the hole in the floor. Had Seme known about the number of hours that the feds spent training in the trick houses of Hogan's alley he might have been less surprised at the calm pragmatism of his armored foe. Even when the shaman ignored the noxious gas and the blast of heavy machine gun fire had passed through his chest without causing any injury, the fed's only response had been to call:

"Magically active perp is paranormal. I say again, Magically active perp is paranormal."

So, nothing to fear, eh? Just part of a day's work? Try this federal agent. With that the shaman gestured and Sean felt himself flying backwards across the room into the flame and intense heat he had just moved out of. As the heat started cooking him inside his shell, he was aware of two things happening almost simultaneously. The flames and heat seemed to be coalescing into a man like form as Sean was being drawn upward through the hole in the floor. He recognized from the gentleness of the rise that he was in the magical hands of one of his own, but at the same time was pissed off enough that he wanted to see the shaman get some of his own medicine when he was engulfed by the fire elemental.

Because the dog shaman who was telekinetically carrying him to the street was more concerned with burn treatment than battle witnesses, Sean never saw the spirit that Seme summoned to battle the combat mage's fire elemental.

Meanwhile Kiew had burst through the back door and into a withering crossfire from a pair of rail mounted security drones armed with miniguns. Although the fed could have spent days waiting for the first bullet to penetrate his armor, he could not advance. Whoever was controlling the drones was keeping him off balance by alternating the heavy volleys from the left and right weapons. As soon as he adjusted to the wall of lead and sought to push against it, the flow would stop and he would be pinned against the hallway wall with a burst from the other gun. The bastard working those drones is fraggin good and knows the weakness of this damn heavy armor. I've got to use muscle power to move it so if he keeps me off balance, I can't even stand up straight.

Crash, of course, was not limiting his activities to keeping Kiew pinned down at the back door. When agents DeGregorio and Urbina fast roped through the second story windows at the front of the building, Crash activated the electrified mats under the rugs. The high voltage charge not only knocked the feds out but tossed the unconscious bodies back out of the windows and into the front yard. Agents Pierce and Glover, who came in through the second floor windows at the rear of the house were immediately enslimed by glue guns, effectively eliminating their further participation in the raid by immobilizing them.

All was not perfect with the rigger, however, who was wishing for a more effective gas mask. Crying, choking and puking, he was unable to do much as his two remaining drones were both blown out of the sky by Air-to-air missiles from the federal drones circling the house. These fraggers are none too happy, the rigger thought as he activated the motion sensor linked anti-personnel devices throughout the house, and this is not going to brighten their day.

Meanwhile, in the basement, the hearth spirit that Seme had summoned was battling the fire elemental to a stand still. Neither seemed to make any headway in doing anymore than limiting the other. When the fire elemental sought to engulf the hearth spirit, it found it's opponent's accident power causing water pipes to burst over head. Seme, of course, was not idle during these exchanges, but summoned his ally spirit for the magic battle. When Gwenwyvar manifested he sent the huge panther streaking up from the basement like a missile aimed at the combat mage and guided by the smell of magic. As soon as he had dispatched his ally the vampire used his ability to turn to smoke to begin fleeing the scene. As much as the assassin wanted to kill all of the annoying mortals who had dared to attack him, he knew his strength was failing. He had already healed the injuries sustained earlier in the evening and now attempting a magical battle against a pair of fresh opponents was clearly a mistake. Seme knew enough to get while the getting was good.

Whether it was the distraction of the sudden string of fragmentation grenades going off, the difficulty of attempting to direct the fire elemental against the hearth spirit or the unexpected charge of the huge Black Panther, Federal Combat Mage Ellie Jerocha allowed herself to be distracted. She screamed as she brought up defenses against the charging animal, in spite of the fact that it was clearly the responsibility of her lover and fellow fed Karen Kelly to handle defense. Because the dog shaman had fewer distractions, (the panther was not, after all, charging her,) she almost immediately sensed what was happening and sent a mana bolt streaking at the attacker. On the plus side, the combination of defense and attack caused the spirit to retreat to it's own plane before doing any damage. On the minus side, both magic users had momentarily taken their attention off their real opponent, who was suddenly gone.

As part of his pre-arranged escape plan, Crash activated the dogbrain for the vehicle in the garage. As the Ford Americar burst through the garage door and drove at breakneck speed directly at the blockade of Federal vehicles, he stuffed sound dampers into both ears, put on a set of heavy ear protectors and flipped a switch. He was 2/3 of the way down his escape chute when the ultra high frequency squeal began jamming all comm gear and causing intense pain to all of those without cyberears' cut-off. The teeth-grinding high frequency caused drone crashes, blackouts and incredible pain until one maddened fed aimed his Panther assault cannon at the loudest source of the sound and held the trigger down until the noise stopped. When the smoke cleared much of the attic of the building, where the rigger had built his control center, was gone.

Ironically, for all of the attention that Feds paid to establishing a containing perimeter, it was one of the Lone Star patrol vehicles scrambled to the scene that spotted the rigger two blocks away. The running ork with the absurd ear protection strangely interested the trooper. This was not a neighborhood with many ork residents and a running ork always meant trouble. When the patrolman ordered the suspect to stop, his racism ended abruptly as a pair of explosive slugs in the face took off much of his head. His partner's answering fusillade might have been as quickly effective in ending the rigger's life, but that became impossible to determine as the cop emptied his defiance shotgun into the suspect, reloaded and emptied it again as he advanced on the disintegrating corpse. The pieces left were only subject to examination by someone with a mop and bucket.

1:11 a.m. Saturday

Having taken more than two hours to get into the basement of Building 6, Lug and Hamon found absolutely nothing worth while. There were the burnt out remains of some examining tables and overhead operating room lights, but nothing that would help solve the mystery of what had been going on in the corp facility. The Gillettes examined thoroughly and methodically using only a luminescent glow stick and their low light eyes but discovered nothing. When the pair heard a noise from the surface and froze, Hamon noticed a Devil Rat dragging a portion of his fellow's carcass into a gap behind some debris along one wall. When the pair had waited long enough to determine that the noise was not a Fuchi patrol about to burst in on them, at Hamon's silent direction they began clearing the debris. Eventually they discovered a stairway to another level.

Carefully descending the stairway, the pair were confronted with smells that each razor associated with prison. Hopeless despair, undirected fury, pain, anger. Normally one didn't think of smells being associated with emotions, but since both Samurai had seen the inside of at least the Star's holding tanks, they were able to recognize the psychic and olfactory miasma that such places generate. When they opened the door to the sub basement the Devil rats didn't scurry. They didn't even hide. They looked at the intruders with a predatory eye of evaluation. Before the pair could deal with the rats or begin the examination of the room there was a tremendous BOOM and rumble from the surface.

Lug mouthed "Jack's early" with a look that said he would kill the gunner for failing to wait for the signal, but Hamon shook his head and then with fluttering fingers indicated that up above it had begun to rain. The Gillettes had mistaken thunder for munitions.

When the pair returned to their examination of the sub-basement they found that several of the rats seemed to have disappeared. A few still watched from the corners, but not enough to alarm two cybered street samurai. As they carefully examined the sub-basement, the pair found a number of large cages and what might have once been electronic monitoring equipment. Being a home for Devil Rats seemed to have destroyed whatever equipment the fire and explosions had not. While Hamon tried to make some sense out of what he was seeing, Lug took the practical approach of searching the white coated skeletons. To his surprise and delight, the most badly damaged skeleton, whose labcoat had an ID tag reading Dr. White, had not only a paper notebook in the pocket, but seemed to have scraps of paper in nearly every pocket. Some of these were so charred as to be of any use, but Lug methodically collected all that he could.

Taking his cue from his partner, Hamon also began searching the skeletons' clothes. He found two credstick (which was probably what Lug had hoped to find), but nothing to shed further light on the mystery. Hamon also was the first to notice the growing number of Devil Rats which seemed to be filling the room. Lug might have ignored the phenomenon until it was too late, but Hamon had seen this massing behavior before. He still woke to the nightmare screams of Beth being torn to pieces in that sewer after that run at Aztechnology. Suppressing a shudder, the Samurai signaled Lug to get behind him as he filled his mouth from the hip flask. Something in Hamon's stance and demeanor immediately alerted his partner that they were in deadly danger and without a second's hesitation he abandoned the search and began making his way back up the stairs.

Hamon began spitting the mouth full of brandy back at the Devil rats as he flicked the old zippo lighter open and spun the thumb wheel to bring it to life. He became a human flame-thrower when the liquid ignited and kept turning his head back and forth. The sudden fire caused more confusion than actual damage but the Devil rats did hesitate long enough for the sam to join his partner running up the steps. Both made tracks as fast as their cyber-enhanced bodies could, aided by the rising volume and pitch of the rat squeals which signified that the awakened rodents were not only unhappy about having their territory disturbed, but hungry enough to take on the invaders.

The acidic rain on the Sams' upturned faces felt great as they climbed out of the darkened Rat warren, signifying, as it did, escape from a particularly unpleasant death. Lug hit the transmitter button and was immediately rewarded by the distant whump of mortar fire. The pair had unlimbered their weapons and slipped along as quietly as they could. They were unexpectedly aided by the Devil rats when the K-9 patrol (now a pair of huge silenced German Shepherd and their handlers) were suddenly overrun by squealing rodents. Both the dogs and their handlers were in the fight of their lives as the rat horde continued boiling out of the hole in the ground.

Simultaneously, the Willie Pete (white phosphorus) mortar rounds began walking along the north side fence, the K-9 patrol handlers began using their SMG's to try to stem the rat tide, which now looked like it might be in the thousands, and Lug and Hamon turned to each other and said "Oh Drek" as they began running pell mell for the gates. In the confusion surrounding the rat eruption and mortar attack both Sams manage to get to the gate without firing a shot. When the young looking officer at the gate demanded to see proper identification, Lug screamed:

"I want your name, your employee number, your supervisor's name and whoever first interviewed you, you stupid fragging slot. Are you actually trying to do ID checks in the middle of an attack on our perimeter while we've got men being attacked inside the fence by biologics?! Can you be that FRAGGING STUPID?!! OH, DON'T WORRY ABOUT YOUR FELLOW EMPLOYEE, DON'T TRY TO SAVE LIVES!!!! THAT WOULD BE TOO FRAGGING RISKY!!! WELL, WHEN I GET THROUGH WITH YOU, MORON, YOU WON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT YOUR JOB, YOU WON'T HAVE A FRAGGING SIN!!!!"

Hamon pulled the screaming Dwarf aside and seemed to talk quietly to him for a minute while the flop sweat from the young officer moved from a trickle to a deluge. Lug turned back with a look that said he wanted to kill the young officer but instead pulled out a credstick and held it in his hand. Between clenched teeth he said "Here is my ID. You can check it or you can do what you should be doing. What's your choice?"

"Uh...I want to do what's best for Fuchi, sir"

"Alright then, here's what you do. Detail a guard to watch us for the time being. Get on the horn and get some flame-throwers moving in from the outer-perimeter. Have the rest of your people prepare for a break in. North perimeter's getting shelled?"

The young man nodded.

"Possibly a feint. Have the north perimeter watched but get your riggers to set up drones over the south. We don't want them backdooring us. Magical assets?"

"Limited sir. I am a mage but ....uh"

"We don't have time, son. Get yer hoop in with the flame thrower boys. We can't fight in and out at the same time we need to get those biologics under control before we get hit. MOVE."

Lug returned the salute and then began dressing down the guard detail for not demanding the surrender of weapons. Everyone who was not immediately involved in this latest chewing out found something else to do, which allowed Lug and Hamon to take out their"guards" without any witnesses and make their escape.






1:18 a.m. Saturday

"Paranormal? What the frag do you mean, my target is being pursued by a paranormal?" Waverly exploded. "Are you telling me that you've had 4 agents killed and currently have 4 others requiring major medical care because of a...a ghost?!"

"No, sir. Because of a magically active Vampire, sir." Solo responded."The target is apparently being pursued by a Panther shaman who happens to be a vampire. We base this deduction on the description of the ally spirit he summoned combined with his immunity to heavy machine gun fire and CN/DM4 gas. That and the fact that he turned to smoke to effect his escape. Of course, even if we had known in advance what we were dealing with, there is very little that we could have done differently. We would have brought wooden weapons, which we will carry from know on, but......."

"What about the rigger that was running the trick house. How as it that he penetrated your cordon and LoneStar took him out.?" Waverly interrupted. He was trying to keep Solo on the defensive to forestall any question about the silent shadow, the Courier, who now followed Waverly everywhere.

"Well, sir.....apparently he had prepared an escape involving a slide from the attic where he was working, directly into a storage shed. After he tripped his ultrasonic device he had hopped a fence into a neighbor's yard before anyone was physically able to follow him."

"Hmmmmmm" said Waverly condemningly. "Sloppy work, Solo. Very sloppy work. And now you are proposing dividing a limited force, which, I remind you, has still not accomplished it's initial objective. In spite of this fact, you are proposing detailing part of this force to do nothing but hunt this vampire-shaman?

"Sir," Solo said, "We are talking about an individual who is responsible for the deaths of several federal agents, who represents a threat to your plans, who may wish to eliminate our target for reasons we know nothing about. To leave such a threat......"

"No, Solo. I can't see dividing a force which has still not proven that it is equal to the task at hand and reducing its effectiveness for some misguided notions of vengeance. If your people can bring me Glendower, I will permit you your hunt. BUT I want Glendower first! I don't have any time for anything else, and neither do you. Bring me the Physical Adept and then I will let you get your 'justice'.

The Special agent in charge ground out "Yes, sir." and stalked off.

1:19 a.m. Saturday

Mary turned to Sheila with a look of pure amazement on her face. From their vantage point on the roof of the Stuffer Shack the incredible scene unfolded like magic. They had been scouting Fuchi's lot, the old site of the medical center, with an idea that they might find some way of embarrassing the corp, when, in answer to their unspoken prayers, they suddenly found the corp was getting blown to hell by some other dissatisfied customers.

While Mary organized her tribe, Sheila had each of the remaining High Hats begin calling the newsfaxes and trid stations. Within minutes, every major news organization had reporters on the way to the scene. The ghouls also found ways to contribute as they were dispatched into the surrounding area. Fuchi ground forces found impromptu barricades making it more difficult for them to reach the areas where the mortar attacks were coming from. Air assets found magical impediments in the form of spirits interfering with everything they did. Within the fences, the tide of Devil Rat would seem to crest and begin to recede only to resurge with greater fury and numbers. Nobody had ever seen Devil rats charge, overwhelm and kill a Troll armed with a flame-thrower before and even after seeing it, many elements of Fuchi Security refused to believe. Because they did not see a magic user directing the rats, they did not imagine that the scurrying plague carrier's furious rage might have been magically created and/or was being maintained by a distant shaman observing from a nearby roof. They just kept trying to kill all of the Devil Rats.

The mortar attack ended as quickly as it had begun and the first reporters on the scene saw only crack Fuchi security troops battling a horde of awakened vermin. Who had set the fires and ripped up the fence on the north side of the heavily guarded vacant lot? And why was it so heavily guarded? Were the troops there to fight the Devil rats? Was Fuchi, by sending troops to battle the rats, acknowledging responsibility for the vermin? This had been the site of a Fuchi research facility, perhaps the corp was trying to cover-up their association with the 'Devil rat plague'. The people had a right to know!

In the feeding frenzy so typical of the 4th estate, every question by one reporter fueled another question by the next reporter. Within seconds the questions that the man in the street might actually have asked. "What happened here? Was anybody hurt? Can the security people handle that many rats?" had grown. Now, "Fuchi's failed attempts to cover up the Devil Rat plague created in it's labs to destroy the tenderloin was brought to light only because ___________________(fill in the blank), intrepid reporter, had found exclusive information, available only through ______________________ (name of media outlet)".

Despite the fact that nearly every reporter was creating their own rumors and confirming them by listening to the rumors of other reporters, the panicked calls to Fuchi, Lone Star, the Mayor's office as well as all of the trid channels, began flooding the comm circuits. Everything from demands for immediate cessation to all hostilities directed against "our four legged fellow creatures" to suggestions about the feasibility of Tactical nuclear weapons. From health concerns about the spread of the disease carriers to inquiries about Fuchi extermination services handling other problems. The longer the trid coverage continued, the more bizarre the questions and theories advanced by the media, which, in turn, increased the strangeness of the calls. Of course, with all of the strange calls coming in, constant coverage was required, which, in turn, kept the cycle spinning. Sometime around 4:00 am the media tornado died out, but at 8:00 am it began again as early morning viewers rehashed the events from the night before.

When Chief Inspector Bridger called his liaison with Fuchi, Mr. Wainwright was up to his ears in trying to sort reports from the field into answers for his superiors while responding to the media without actually saying anything.

"Thank you for calling Chief Inspector, Fuchi appreciates your offer of assistance, but at this time we feel the situation on our property is best handled internally. Should further problems arise which require additional support, we will keep your generous offer in mind but unless you could help drive off the media choppers which are violating our air space....."

"I'm afraid that doesn't entirely fall within our mandate, Mr.Wainwright......"

"I understand, Chief Inspector, and I would love to discuss the issue further but I really am pressed for time, so I will wish you a good night." click

1:53 a.m. Saturday

"......yeah, yeah that's interesting and all, but what I want to know about is the Rat attack. Now, when Fuchi held ya prisoner for their inhuman experiments, what exactly did they do with the Devil Rats? Did they make you........urk! mmmmph.....uhhhhhhhh....."

As the newhound's perfectly photogenic face continued to purple, Sheila counted slowly to ten. Then she released her invisible grip on his throat and as he desperately sucked in lungfulls of air, she began again.

"I lived in this neighborhood. Fuchi used their clinic to experiment on residents who needed medical help. They made them Ghouls! Do you understand?! I'm giving you the scoop that can make your career and you keep asking me about fraggin rats! Are you stupid?"

After a moment the newsy said "Ok, ok, Giant corp stepping on local slots will play. And...uh...the sec boys could be here as part of a cover up. Yeah! They wanna make sure that nobody digs up their nefarious deeds, so they guard the site because..... why do they need to guard the site now?"

"Because the recent disappearances of Fuchi Execs......"

"WHOA! Hold on! What recent disappearances of Fuchi Execs?!"

"Several Fuchi middle managers (17) have died recently while visiting the tenderloin. Fuchi may have kept it quiet but if you check with your sources in the Star, you'll find it's true. When the Star ran a decoy through last night, the Ghouls (that Fuchi created) thought he worked for the corp and attacked him. More than 100 were killed....."

"100 Ghouls wiped out by the Star?! And we haven't heard about it? Who are you kidding? The PR boys would have billboards up, they'd be filming specials........"

"Really? Think about it. The problem's gone on for a long time, and that would come out if they tried to tell the story. Fuchi would be real embarrassed too. Then there is the growing recognition that infection doesn't equate with a loss of humanity. The metahuman rights people would be up in arms. A huge number of families would not be saying thank you for killing rather than helping the infected. No. I think the Star would do just what it did and try to sweep the problem quietly under the rug and that Fuchi would try to find whatever might be found at the site while keeping everybody else out. Now in their investigating, if they disturbed a major nest of Devil rats......."

Sheila left the thought hanging, and like the fish that he was, ace investigative journalist and channel 89 weekend weatherman Curt Blowe snapped it up and made it his own. Nodding his head hard enough to endanger his "hair helmet" the mimbo's mind raced as fast as it could.

"Yeah, Oh yeah." Envisioning himself leading into each segment of the series he pronounced "Victims of horrible corp experiments get vengeance at terrible cost. Star hushes up genocide of infected. Fuchi cover-up backfires- Rat attack results. 89 U C IT exclusive."

The vacant smile on his too perfect face was quickly replaced with a predatory gleam. "I can do this story, but I'm gonna want everything. I'll need to get your part in this. I'll need details and ....uh... could we get a ghoul spokesman? Man oh man, this story could be huge. I'm gonna want an exclusive on this......"

The greed manifesting itself in the newsman's bearing told Sheila that she had found a willing pawn.

2:14 a.m. Saturday

"And what have you brought for me to viddie, oh my brothers?", The fantastically handsome Elf with the white mohawk asked.

"Wait, wait....I know dat one.... it's something wit clocks." Lug said

The disappointment on the Elf's face made his feelings clear even before he sighed.

"Well, I suppose I should be gratified that any part of the classic was recognized. It was 'Clockwork Orange', Lug. You stayed awake through much of the violence, as I recall."

"Yeah, dat's it. Da one wit da music....Ludwig Van, right?"

As he shuddered the elf held up his hands saying: "Ye Gods. Say nothing further on the subject, my friend, lest you send me screaming from the vicinity. Straightaway, I pray you, tell me what you and your stalwart companion seek from a humble puzzler."

"Were working on a case," Lug confided, "Not a lot a cash, but a prize we want at da end. We need a interpreter for some notes and since you wuz a college guy, we thought ya might be able ta help us out."

"And, since I owe you two for pulling my hoop out of the fire that Clayton set for me......"

"Please, look at them, Doc." Hamon said

"Do my ears deceive me? Importuned by the silent stoic? How can I decline, my edgy friend? Let me see the clues."

After studying the notepad and the scraps intensely for several minutes, the Elf stood and signaled the razors to join him. When a pretty young norm female hurried over and asked "Do you need something, Doc? I mean, is there anything I can...uh get for ya?" The Elf smiled gently and replied,

"Caroline, would you ask Thomas if my friends and I might make use of the back room for a moment or two. We have need of a private conference."

"Sure, Doc," she said with a sigh.

At a nod from the burly Ork barman the trio moved to Magilicutty's back room. Doc's smile and wink to the waitress as he jandered by drew another sigh from the woman.

"Caroline really likes ya, huh Doc?"

"Who can say for certain in matters of the heart, my friend? Is she enamored of the rarity of pointed ears, has the inflated notion held locally of my ability with the arts arcane unduly influenced her or does she see me as a way out of a career with a limited future? Who can say with any degree of certitude? Not I. But, to the issue at hand. These notes are in shorthand, seemingly random jottings intended to be fully recorded later. I don't suppose you have any more than this?"

When the two gillettes shook their heads the Elf said "More's the pity. It would be a stretch to get these into a courtroom, but unless I miss my guess, these indicate experiments conducted on human subjects. We'll start here......."

As the Elf outlined the contents of the first page, Hamon began jotting down notes while Lug activated a recorder to get the data on chip. He made sure to pull out the recorder and let the Elf see what was going on, as he had witnessed what had happened when Dexter had attempted to record Doc without permission.

The Elf made began cross referencing the notepad with the scarps of paper and showed how they must involve individuals who had been reduced to case numbers and injected with different formulas. When Doc translated the references to "transformations" and "changes in dietary supplements" Lug and Hamon exchanged a long look. When one of the case numbers was marked closed and then resurfaced as a dietary supplement, the investigators finally had the key.

Doc, of course, now had some questions of his own. When he found that the notes had come from Fuchi property he hesitated but as his lavender eyes settled on the sheets he had just decoded, a shudder seemed to seize him and he came to a decision.

"I will, of course, understand if you gentelmen refuse, but I would very much like to follow up on this. I do not desire any part of your payment, but if your Johnson has any intentions of stopping this, I would like to participate. I would also like to know if he or she intends to allow this to continue."

"Well, uh, thanks Doc. We appreciate da offer, but we'd...uh have ta clear it with da Johnson before we got anybody else involved. See, we wuz...... well, let's jus leave it dat we'd have ta get an ok before we could bring ya in. I hope ya unnerstan......"

"When will you be able to get this verdict from your employer?" Doc asked.

"Dawn" Hamon said.

"Very well. I will wait." The Elf said as he returned the papers to the Samurai.

3:47 a.m. Saturday

Seme was furious. Once again the UCAS agents had dared to interfere with his plans. Now they had gone as far as to attack him, to chase him from his abode. It was intolerable. In addition to their harassing interference, they now had seen his power and knew they were trifling with a Vampire. They would be bearing wooden weapons from now on. How had they found him? It must have been the incompetent Ork rigger. Somehow his fascination with machines had led the federal agents to the base. Well, at least they saved me the trouble of liquidating the tusker, Seme thought It looked like the local law enforcement actually did liquefy him.

Seme also knew he would have to find a new place to avoid the sunlight, and he would need to find it quickly. When his smoke form had taken him far enough from the battle scene, the Shaman had reverted to his normal form and begun walking. The dubious pleasure of this stroll had long since lost all appeal as he continue to jander through the darkened streets figuring out his next move. The anonymity of a squalid, run down hotel drew him like a magnet.

The Carlton-Metropolitan Arms had never in it's 130 years of existence been as grand as it's name. Never. In spite of the long wheezing claims of the ancient desk clerk/manager/handyman Tom Hunter it had always been a low rent flop house on the dusky edge of legality. The advent of the sixth world had done nothing to improve the squalid dive. It was exactly the sort of place where a stranger with no luggage and no reservation could show a cred stick and get the room of his choice at 4:00 a.m. with no questions asked. And if the room happened to be a basement store room without furniture or windows, but with two massive fire doors, that the guest was willing to pay extra to occupy, well, that occasioned no comment either.

So it was that the Vampiric panther shaman found a new abode before sunrise, enabling him to avoid the sun and potentially hunt for yet another night.

5:08 a.m. Saturday

I can't just keep missing the class unless I intend to abandon the exercise entirely, Owen thought as he drove in the pre-dawn darkness to the park. Besides, I really love this time of the day. In the quiet anticipation of the new sunrise there's a sort of tranquility that's very soothing. Of course, you've got to be a little weird to appreciate it, because otherwise why the hell would you get up this early to experience it? Chuckling quietly as he drove Goren's clunker through the largely deserted streets, Owen got to the park and stretched as his class began showing up.

After the hour of slow motion exercise, Owen bowed and received the bow of the class. He signaled Lug and Hamon to wait while he talked quietly with Badger.

"Sensei, I....I appreciate the honor of being asked to teach Ian," Badger said,"and I won't let you down, but I'm really still learning myself......."

"As we all are, Badger, and as any man hopes to do until he dies."

"Well, yeah, of course, but.....uh...I mean, I don't know if I have all the tools I need......"

"Then do what you can with the tools you have, my friend."

"Sensei," the young ork finally blurted out, "I'm not qualified to do the job, I....I do want to pay my debt but I....I'd hate to frag up with something as important as this."

"Then don't." Seeing the frustration on Badger's face Owen finally relented. "Look, Badger, I trust you. You know this is important and you want to do it right. If you can maintain that attitude you're bound to be a success. I asked you to do this because you are the best qualified for the job. Even Professor Cortez would have more problems with Ian than you will, because you know exactly what he is thinking and where he is coming from. Teach him what you can. He is as serious about learning as you are about teaching. You will do well. Believe in yourself as much as I do or Flies with Hawks did and everything will be arctic."

The blushing look of gratitude on Badger's face told Owen that the encouragement had worked, but before the air became too charged with emotion, he smiled as he added "And if you screw it up, I'll just kill you both so they'll be no witnesses."

As the Ork decker headed off Owen walked over to Lug and Hamon.

"Gentlemen. What do I owe you?"

"Well, Sensei. We'd like to set up a time for the private session." Lug said with a big grin.

Owen's raised eyebrow prompted the Dwarf Sam to continue. "It's no secret dat da Ghouls were behind the disappearances," he said. "But we've got some evidence on where da ghouls came from, which means we've found who is actually responsible for all da troubles in da tenderloin. We figured dat means we completed the assignment so....."

Uncharacteristically, it was Hamon who told the tale. "We searched the site of Fuchi's free clinic in the tenderloin after we saw that the shift in disappearances coincided with the clinic's destruction. We found notes indicating that the Corp had experimented on the SINless and created the ghoul horde. Our guess is that after they escaped, the infected tried to get their hands on any Fuchi employee they could, the higher the better, for revenge."

As Owen was absorbing the information, Lug brought forth the notes. "We had some help retrieving dese," the Dwarf said, "From a demolition expert and some help translating dem from a Mage we know. Both are real interested in anything you wanna do in pursuit of justice on dis issue. Both offered ta help."

As the razors looked on Owen's mind raced through the possibilities. Bridger and Shields decoy activities might have been in response to the Fuchi disappearances. It certainly seems strange for the Star to have mounted such an elaborate operation simply to protect the SINless in the area. I wonder if they know why the Ghouls were after Fuchi employees. Would that be the best place to start? Contact them and let them get justice for the people of the city? It is there job, but what do I do if they balk at tangling with one of the largest corps in the world? And what about this impromptu team which seems to have formed?

Owen glanced at the notes and said "This may not be enough to convince everyone, but it is certainly a start, and more than fills the terms of our agreement. I will provide your lessons at your convenience. As to the action to be taken on this......I think I will first see what LoneStar has to say about this and then let their action (or lack of action) determine my next move. Is that acceptable to you gentlemen and your team?"

Hamon nodded and Lug said "Sure Sense......uh, Mr. Johnson. Even talking to the Star is more than a lot of our employers would do......"

"I did not say I would make that my only response," Owen said, "I just know some people who enforce the law and have fought against these Ghouls, who deserve a chance to work within the system for justice before I start operating outside of it."

"Commendable restraint and consideration, combined with a refreshing, if somewhat naive faith in one's fellow man with an implied commitment to justice make the proposal completely acceptable," said an empty patch of air immediately behind the sams. Lug rolled left as his matched Predators seemed to magically leap to his hands while Hamon rolled right and pulled both his Katanas from the x-rig on his back with blinding speed. Owen turned slightly to his left, then further to his left and then back to his right as a tall handsome elf with a white mohawk appeared from thin air.

"Away put your weapons, I mean you know harm" croaked the Elf and then in his normal voice said "I apologize for intruding, gentles, but I have lost much of my faith in my fellow man in the course of my travels and sought to insure that the interests of justice were not ignored because of the size of the malefactor. I see my distrust may have been unwarranted."

"Doc!" Lug exclaimed "Christo! Ya scared da drek outta me! Don't do that stuff. Hamon mighta sliced ya before he knew it was you. Ya gotta be more careful!"

Hamon simply shook his head as he re-sheathed his weapons.

Owen waited quietly until Lug said "Sensei, dis is Doc. He's da one who translated da notes for us. As ya can tell he's a spell worm........Doc, dis is our teacher and Mr. Johnson."

With a brief bow Doc said "Delighted. One question before we go any further, when you heard my voice you didn't appear alarmed or put that staff into an engarde position. May I ask why?"

"It wasn't necessary. You certainly wouldn't have spoken up if you were attacking, and you might have had some devastating weapon in hand just waiting for a hostile reaction."

"So you chose to face me unarmed, as it were?"

Owen smiled and said "Sometimes nothin can be a pretty cool hand."

Doc began to grin, but asked "And how were you able to follow me when I was moving invisibly?"

In a deep voice Owen said "The force is strong in this one...."

"Outstanding! Two references from classic films--You're a movie buff!" The excited elf exclaimed.

Owen dipped his head but said "Not really a buff, but I have seen a few films and....."

"Don't be modest. You caught the reference immediately. What kind of film is your favorite? You're not a colorist are you?"

The Phys Ad knew enough to look indignant at the suggestion which drew an immediate apology from the Elf. Both the sams looked on with surprise as the normally aloof mage and the equally distant teacher chatted enthusiastically about their esoteric interest. The four eventually wound up at a diner where a discussion of options and interests was conducted over breakfast.

7:42 a.m. Saturday

"Allow me to understand this accurately, my friend," the Elf said as he sipped his soyakaf and munched another cherry Danish. "Your current list of potential pursuers includes a biker gang, a ghoul horde, an annoyed Vampire, and the UCAS government? And now you insist that you should be the one to give Lone Star incriminating data on Fuchi, potentially adding the city police and one of the largest corps on the planet to the list of those who are unhappy with you? Why not simply argue with a dragon or jump off a tall building if you are so hell bent on liquidating yourself in a grandiose fashion?"

"Been there, done that." Owen said and then grinned. "You over-dramatize. The biker gang has been greatly reduced, (I doubt it even qualifies as a gang any longer) as has the Ghoul horde, which, probably isn't pursuing me because, well, because those who might recognize me did not survive our first encounter. I honestly don't think the ghouls know who ruined their ambush the other night, so that's a groundless worry. The Vampire was surprised enough by my attack that he probably will avoid alleys for a while, but pursue me? I don't think so. The UCAS people are a problem but I've avoided them so far, so I refuse to worry about them. As to Lone Star and Fuchi? Well, I'll burn that bridge when I come to it. Now," he said turning to the two razors, "have you gentelmen decided when you would like your payment?"

Lug looked at Hamon for a second and then scratching his chin said "From da sound a things, it's either gotta be real soon, or maybe we better watch yer back fer a while. We won't get in da way or nuttin, but it would kinda be like protectin an investment, if ya know what I mean....Not that you couldn't handle most threats, sir. I'm not sayin dat. It's just, we'd feel better if ya had a........"

Hamon said "A distraction at a crucial moment by someone who was watching out for you."

"You might also need some magical back-up, old boy, which I would be delighted to provide" the Elf added.

"I....well I imagine that my opinion is not truly being solicited on this subject and that you are going to do what you want to do regardless of what I might say, so I suppose I ought to make the best of it and agree to it now."






8:04 a.m. Saturday

Simon was exhausted. He'd spent all night in the dives of the Tenderloin trying to piece together an intelligence report for the Compound on what was going on. In the early part of the evening when he'd visited the Blue Flame he'd gotten some leads on Glendower and the people he was associating with. Then, much later that night in The Apple Pie he'd picked up a bit of info that he assumed was about Seme. After paying for drinks for a dozen patrons, and buying some chips for a hooker who looked like she had just stepped off the farm, he gotten the details about the Vampire. Apparently, he'd attempted to feed on the hooker and been foiled by the high speed heroics of a tall man with a staff. Although he suspected that Seme had been attacked by his intended target, Simon was confused that the description of the hero did not involve cloak or long coat. Eventually he reasoned that Glendower must have recognized the liability of his distinctive outerwear and decided to throw his pursuers off the scent by wearing something else.

That's good for him, but the more he avoids patterns the worse it is for me. Damn, I'm tired! Spending the entire night listening to barroom bull drek is more exhausting than I would have believed possible, but at least I got something for my trouble. I'll put together my report and then sack out. I need to tell the compound about Glendower's friends? No, I can use that info, but it really doesn't touch on the reason I'm here. Glendower's change of style? Possibly indicative but..... YAWN well I'll definitely let them know that Seme is a) operating alone b) attacking the locals and c) got his hoop kicked in a surprise confrontation with his "target". I should probably also let them know I'm still at it.

8:22 a.m. Saturday

Chief Inspector Bridger was a little surprised to see Sgt. Shields until he noticed the clock. 8:22! Damn it! Time does fly when you're having fun, or in my case, beating your brains out over data you don't have. I'd never have dreamed I'd spent the whole night on those fragging recordings.

"You've got a visitor, sir." Mark said as he stood in the doorway. When the Dwarf looked up he continued "It's our friend Glendower. I don't know how he got past the weapons scanners but He's got a visitor pass and is waiting down at the front desk. Do you want me to bring him up?"

"Glendower's here? Yes, yes, bring him up, by all means. I have a few questions for our Mr. Glendower. Better ask him to wait in one of the interrogation rooms and Mark, I'd like you to hang around if that is at all possible."

"Absolutely, sir! Thank you. I'd love to get some answers on this."

Three and a half minutes later Owen was seated in a hard backed chair in a small Spartan room. In addition to the Phys Ad and the chair he sat in there was a battered plastic table, two other chairs and a mirror. After 40 seconds Mark and the Chief inspector returned.

"Mr. Glendower," Bridger said while shaking hands. "Glad you stopped by. We have a number of questions we'd like to ask you......."

"Mr. Bridger," Owen interrupted, "excuse me, but I did not come here to answer questions, although I may provide information if you will allow me the freedom to do so. I realize I am being abrupt, and apologize, however it has been my experience that those who enforce the law tend to be possessive of other people's time and I want it clearly understood that within the next 8 minutes I will be leaving this building. I hope your posture and that look on your face does not indicate your intention to prevent my departure as that would complicate both our lives. Please hear me out before deciding about contesting my egress."

"I have here some hand written notes taken from a sub-basement of Fuchi's 'research facility' which burned down six weeks ago. Agents in my employ retrieved these earlier this morning from the lab coat of a Dr. White. I'm confident that the translation accurately indicates that the corporation was experimenting on magically active residents of the area. The point of the research is still unclear, however the conclusion I've reached is that Fuchi was deliberately creating ghouls. If this conclusion is correct, it helps explain the size of the horde and their sudden activity. In that all of three of us nearly died at the hands of that horde, I feel more confident entrusting this data to you than to a.... less personally involved authority figure. I also know that I owe you quite a lot for your timely rescue from the roof of that burning building and wish to express my gratitude."

"I am fairly certain that you won't let me out of here without pressing for more data so here it is. My problems with the biker gang, which you so fortuitously interrupted, did not concern this issue. The 'High Hats' and I have had a number of disagreements and you just happened to observe the latest incident. The agents working for me were responsible for a part of the disturbance at Fuchi's Tenderloin site earlier this morning as they were affecting their escape. I don't know who alerted the media. What do I expect you to do with the data I have given you? After you come to a conclusion regarding its authenticity, I expect you to seek justice. What form that justice will take is a mystery to me but on little more than instinct I am willing to trust that you will not let the issue go, even if it means annoying a major corporate player. If you find yourself unwilling or unable to pursue the matter, I will, of course, take matters into my own hands. I believe that covers most of the areas you would have asked me about. "

"Actually," the Dwarf said, "it does. If you would just clear up the little issue of the UCAS government wanting to find you, I'm sure we can see you off within your pre-set time limit."

"Oh, um, you know about that" Owen said.

"Why yes, whenever the federal government begins following me to and from work, I tend to take some interest in the cause. Mark's being followed too and he was just remarking to me that it sure would be swell if good ole Mr.Glendower would drop by and EXPLAIN WHAT THE FRAG IS GOING ON!!" bringing his voice back under control the Chief Inspector said sweetly "You wouldn't mind telling us why the feds are so concerned with you, would ya?"

"I really don't know, " Owen responded "I know that they want me to do some job and apparently are unaccustomed to anyone declining their employment offers. I believe that the intense surveillance efforts are intended to harass me into taking their job, but thus far I have avoided their scrutiny well enough that their plan is not working."

"Well, unless you have some power of invisibility, they know where you are now, because they've had me watched ever since our meeting the other night. I think you're going to have to hear their offer." Bridger said. "As to the other data, I appreciate you're bringing it in and trusting me with it. I don't often deal with individuals who feel that kind of social responsibility. I won't abuse your confidence. I would like to talk to you at greater length, but if you will give me a phone number, even a message drop so that I can get back to you if I have further questions, I will see you out before the 8 minutes expire. Of course, if I had any reason to suspect you, you wouldn't be leaving for a long time, but I don't so.... goodbye."

After giving the Chief Inspector a message drop number Owen walked out of the front door of the building where Solo and a dozen agents were waiting in front of a fleet of vehicles.

8:31 a.m. Saturday

"Sir, my name is Solo, I'm a federal agent. Would you come with me, please?"

Owen said nothing as he considered the request.

"Look, sir, my orders prohibit my using force on you, but I've already lost several friends on this assignment because you weren't available when we spoke several days ago. If you 'decline' again a large number of federal agents will keep very close surveillance on you in a very obvious manner until you decided to talk to us. Although my orders prohibit actually getting physical with you, I do have some leeway with any suspicious individuals you might talk to. I'm not threatening, I'm just informing you that with the mood these agents are in, ANY suspected violation of the law will be investigated fully. It would be so much simpler if you'd just come with us now."

As Owen considered a snide response, he realized that this man was doing his job as best he could and didn't need to be taunted. Instead the phys ad put on his fedora, a pre-arranged signal to his friends not to interfere and then entered the waiting limo.

Within minutes the limo pulled up in front of the hotel. Owen was ushered up to a suite.

8:44 a.m. Saturday

After the fast ride to a posh downtown hotel, Owen was escorted to the 22nd floor. Surrendering his most obvious weapons at the guard post near the elevators he was led down the hallway to the double doors of a large suite. Two figures stood waiting for him within the room.

"So, this is the elusive Mr. Glendower," Waverly said.

Owen studied the pale little man who was looking at him as if he were a side of beef. He quickly analyzed that the little man was distinctly uncomfortable in the presence of his shadow, a very smooth moving and dangerous individual. Although unsure of the shadow's capabilities, Owen recognized the quiet menace the man radiated. Solo, whom Owen felt was probably a very capable and deadly individual in his own right, was giving this individual a wide birth, seemingly content to stand post at the door, and Waverly was definitely being thrown off his game by the presence of the silent man. I guess it's impossible to be intimidating when you're being intimidated, he thought. Solo mentioned dead agents and since I haven't taken out any feds there must be some other group at work here. I wonder if the cost of recruiting me has gotten the little guy in trouble with the shadow's boss.

"Nothing to say?" the little man continued, "Well, at least that's consistent with the earlier reports I've had. Mr. Glendower, my name is Waverly. I work for the federal government and we have need of services you are uniquely qualified to provide......"

"No." Owen said.

"Mr. Glendower, you haven't even heard what we want you to do, or anything about the price we are willing to pay....."

"Not interested"

"Really, Mr. Glendower, this simply will not do. Even if you have absolutely no moral character, if you feel that you can live in this great land without contributing when she needs you, certainly you must see the advantage to having the federal government on your side and....ahem...the disadvantage of being considered an enemy? "

Owen's face registered absolutely nothing as the skillful psychologist continued to probe.

"And besides, you don't know what we are asking of you. The assignment might be, in fact, I'll tell you, will be, delightful. A woman, a beautiful elf woman, is involved. Think of it, you will be handsomely paid and rewarded in other ways for doing something that millions of men fantasize about. Surely, you can't still maintain that you're not even curious...."

As Glendower turned towards the door and Solo moved to intercept, the little man raised his voice

"Very well, Mr. Glendower, if you seek to test our resolve, go. We will follow you constantly and in a very obvious fashion. Everything you do, everywhere you go, everyone you talk to from now on will be scrutinized by federal agents. In time, no one will talk to you or deal with you in any way for fear of the feds. We are the government of this country. We are in charge. You do not have a choice. You can run but you cannot hide."

Owen sensed more than heard the approach of the silent man as he reached the door. His battle sense on full alert he waited for the attack. The Courier also froze as he recognized that the Phys ad was waiting. Looking over Owen's shoulder, Solo saw a flash of what might have been surprise on the Courier's face before the silent man reached out with his shock glove covered hand with blinding speed. Despite the fact that he would clearly be too late, Solo began moving to his left to get around Glendower towards the attacking Courier.

At the same instant the Courier's hand closed on Owen's shoulder and delivered it's incapacitating charge, Glendower's right foot shattered his opponent's shin with an Ushiro-geri keage back kick. Because Owen's sneak suit, which was under his street clothes, was rubberized, he was not rendered unconscious by the shock glove's strike. He spun to his right, striking Solo with a left handed iron palm blow to the solar plexus. The blow forced all air out of Solo's body and dropped the agent to the floor. Owen continued his turn into a Mawashi-geri roundhouse kick.

Although the Courier was surprised by the failure of the shock glove and in tremendous pain from his broken leg, he was fast enough to execute a Teisho-uke palm block with his shock gloved hand. The second charge proved no more effective than the first, and when the Courier closed his hand on Owen's calf, turning the block into a hold, Owen instantly folded his support leg. The sudden shift pulled the Courier off balance and allowed the Phys ad to kick upwards from his back with his unencumbered leg into the Courier's groin.

As the federal messenger flew away from the prone phys ad, Waverly was bringing up his pistol. When the Courier's outstretched and shock glove covered hand touched the barrel of the revolver, Waverly's empty hand, trying to ward off the body flying towards him, made contact with the Courier's back. Nearly instantly several things happened. The shock glove discharged into the pistol. Because Waverly had his hand on the flying Courier's back and his other hand on the pistol, they formed a circuit, which caused the muscles in both men to involuntarily clench. This kept the Courier in contact with the pistol barrel he had in his hand, which kept the glove firing while forcing Waverly to clutch the butt of the pistol, keeping the circuit open. Both men were repeatedly blasted with the stunning voltage. Of course, gravity was not suspended during this brief electrical episode. The Courier's body continued to move as the law of inertia dictated, landing it on top of the now unconscious Waverly. Although he was no longer aware of his own activity, the electrical current's biophysical activity also caused Waverly's trigger finger to exert the pound and a half pressure required to fire his Ruger Super Warhawk. As the gun went off from the low angle, the slug caught Owen in the chest a few microseconds later, throwing the rising phys ad flat on his back.

The silence that descended on the Hotel suite with four prone figures on the floor was deafening

8:44:30 a.m. Saturday

"I apologize for disturbing you after what must have been a very tough night, Mr. Wainwright, but I really do need to speak with you immediately." Bridger said to the comm screen.

The harried and exhausted looking liaison officer sighed and said "Chief Inspector, normally I would love to get together, but to be honest with you, now is really not the best time....."

"Mr. Wainwright, some information has come to hand about the nature of the activities that had been conducted at your east side research facility before it was destroyed, and I really think it would serve all of our interests if we could talk."

In testimony to the level of exhaustion he was suffering the ultra smooth and unflappable Wainwright sat in stunned, open mouthed silence for several seconds. He then said "Yes, uh...yes, of course, Chief Inspector, perhaps someplace private....."

"Actually, I think it would be best if you came to my office in the 83rd precinct, sir. You do know where that is?"

"Well, yes, of course but I......"

"Excellent," Bridger interrupted, "Then I will see you as soon as you can get over here. Thank you, Mr. Wainwright, I'll see you soon. click

8:45 a.m. Saturday

Thank you, Goren. Owen thought as he picked himself up off the floor. He heard a quiet clunk as the bullet which had failed to penetrate his jacket dropped to the floor. He reached up to insure that the shot would not impair his mobility and felt a slight twinge where the bullet had struck his chest. That's going to leave a mark, he thought with a sigh.

Owen checked Solo to make sure the Federal agent was only unconscious and discovered the Ulas he had under his coat. What the hell is a federal agent doing with a Fiji throwing club? Carved wooden weapons aren't standard issue for federal agents, are they? Owen then checked the agent thoroughly and discovered a long bronzewood dagger in a sheath running down the outside of the agent's thigh. A Batardeau? Owen thought with surprise as he recognized the 16th century knife with hilt and blade in one piece. What the hell is going on? Owen then moved over to the tangle of Waverly and his shadow. Apparently the shock glove had fired all of it's charges because Owen found he could separate the bodies with his insulated foot quite easily. Waverly and his shadow were both still alive and as Owen searched the shadow he found a huge number of useful items but no wooden weapons. The shadow, it turned out was armed to the teeth. In addition to a narcojet pistol, a colt Manhunter and a Tiffani Needler, the man had no fewer than 15 throwing blades on his person, a matched pair of the very expensive Sten fighting daggers, a monowhip and his shock glove. Don't get all judgmental now, an internal voice warned Owen. A catalogue of what you carry around would amaze anybody. The shadow also had a number of magcard passkeys, an ExpertPick automatic lock pick system, several personal credsticks and a Fujicorp remote ignition switch attached to the keys to a Saab 776TI. Like to travel in style, too. He also had 3 small spray canisters. One, Owen recognized as containing a very powerful acid, the second marked with the Biogene logo had instructions for "Catalyst use on Plasteel 7" and the third seemed to be a mini flame-thrower. Owen pocketed all of the small items and the sheathed Sten daggers and after checking the clip on the narcojet to make sure it was only firing sleep darts, prepared to make his way back to the guard station by the elevators where he had checked his own weapons.

Making sure that the unconscious bodies were out of the sight lines of the door, he turned the knob and began backing out with his hands raised. The feds by the elevator immediately began drawing their own weapons, but hesitated when Owen groaned and grabbed his midsection as though he had just been shot. Pulling the narcojet from his waistband, the Phys ad fired from between his legs, hitting all three of the feds in the face. As the guards unconscious bodies were hitting the ground Owen thought I bet they haven't had much practice returning fire on a target that's mooning them. It may be effective, but I can't say that shooting at an upside down target from between my own legs is a favorite shooting stance for me either. It's certainly something I never could have done in the old cloak.

Owen reclaimed his weapons and staff after running his bug detector over all of them. Guess they didn't have time to monkey with these yet, he thought. I've got to find a way out of here quickly. But first, let me check.... Searching the unconscious feds, Owen found that each of them was armed with some form of wooden weapon in addition to the standard arsenal.

Returning to the room Owen pushed out a bathroom window which overlooked a shaft between the legs of the H shaped building. He released the anchor on Goren's flashlight sized escape system, and breaking the super epoxy anchor on a wall, prepared to make his escape. On a sudden inspiration, he ran back out into the hall and pulled the Hotel's fire alarm, then quickly returned and dropping a gas grenade in the tub, began lowering himself to the street. The small device worked flawlessly and three and a half minutes later the Phys Ad reached the alley 22 floors below. Hitting the release catch on the flashlight's handle, he joined the crowd that was pointing at the smoke pouring out of the windows of the Hotel's 22nd floor.

The federal agents surrounding the building attempted to fight the tide of evacuating Hotel guests without much success. In the confusion, Owen Glendower once again disappeared. So did the Courier's expensive sportscar.

9:06 a.m. Saturday

The comm unit on Bridger's desk chirped. "Yes?" he said

"Got a Mr. Wainwright down here to see you, sir."

"Send him up to my office, please." Bridger said as he disconnected.

A few minutes later the harried Fuchi exec was seated across from the Chief Inspector.

After a very perfunctory exchange of greetings the Dwarf said:

"I've gotten some physical evidence that a corp, I'm not saying which one, was involved in some testing at an eastside facility on local residents." As Wainwright was about to speak, Bridger held up his hand and said "Let me finish, please. I'll give you all that I've got before we begin discussing what to do about it. As I was saying, I've gotten some evidence that this corp was involved in medical tests on the locals. The evidence suggests that they was creating Ghouls, perhaps as a byproduct of some other research. I've also developed some independent lines of inquiry suggesting that many of the individuals who went in for medical treatment at the facility never came out."

"Now, before we begin discussing the possible validity of the data about this unnamed corp, I'd like to look at few hypotheticals. I'm not a paranoid conspiracy type who imagines that the corps all want to destroy us, but I have seen enough of the excesses of my own corp to know that it is possible for an individual in a position of trust to put the corp in a false position. Let's just hypothetically say that the evidence I have is a result of such a situation. The corp has very few options. They can attempt to suppress all of the evidence, hiring shadow teams to retrieve it and eliminate witnesses while the public relations people buy the silence of those who are well protected. While this might be a normal course of events, it assumes that the evidence leak is localized and traceable."

Wainwright's face might have been carved from granite for all of the expression it conveyed while he listened to the Chief Inspector. Bridger noted this as he continued.

"If, on the other hand, the evidence leak has grown too large to be traceable, if for the sake of argument, the data had been given to several responsible government agencies simultaneously, the corp has two options. They can take their lumps while denying everything, or they may consider another public relations attack in the form of some good deed to win the hearts of the consumer before their misdeeds are proclaimed. If, for example, the corp caught in this position were to, perhaps, create a reserve for infected people, it might serve to blunt the impact of any subsequent revelations. The only caveat to such a plan would be that it would need to be immediate if it were to predate the story's breaking."

"A fascinating hypothetical, Chief Inspector, and certainly one that was never proposed in business school." The cultured corp relied, "Since we are in the realm of the purely hypothetical, let's consider your first course of action, eliminating witnesses. That need not be done by a shadow teams. Accidents do happen. For example, have you heard about how Channel 89's Curt Blowe announced that he had some startling revelations for the 'U C IT' news and then how the elevator he was riding in had a cable snap, dropping him 28 stories, killing him, his producer and his camera man. Terrible accident. I'm only aware of it because a Fuchi subsidiary has just acquired the station and I was reviewing safety records. I'm just really becoming aware of how many accidents occur in our daily lives. But, I'm sorry, you were talking about hypothetical courses of action."

Recognizing that the stakes had been raised, Bridger considered for a moment Glendower wouldn't give the story to me and a newshound simultaneously, would he? He wanted justice done not a simple blast at Fuchi. Somebody else has tumbled to the story.

"That is interesting Mr. Wainwright. I was completely unaware of Mr. Blowe's investigation. I believe my information was developed along entirely different lines from other sources. There was some activity at the site of your east side facility last night wasn't there? I wonder if you knew a Dr.White who worked there?" After a brief but pointed pause the Dwarf continued "But back to our hypothetical problem. How can the corp be sure they have 'plugged all of the leaks' in a potentially embarrassing situation, even taking the occurrence of 'accidents' into account.. Why, even when one believes one has everything in hand, there are always surprises. Look here" he said as he indicated the comm screen."This was taken right outside of this precinct house a short time ago. Check the time log. A person whom I had interviewed and released stepped outside to this."

The camera angle, taken from above the precinct house doors showed Owen's back as he was approached Solo's team. Bridger left the audio on long enough for Wainwright to hear

"Sir, my name is Solo, I'm a federal agent. Would you come with me, please?"

He then turned off the sound and said "You see, here I thought the issues involved with this individual might be handled at a local level and greater forces were at work without my knowledge. It brings me back to the importance of the speed of the announcement of the 'good deed' of the corp to head off the upcoming negative publicity."

Where Wainwright's eyes had momentarily widened at the mention of Dr. White's name, the vid of the feds taking away a witness shook him to the core. Absolutely no data was entirely safe in the hands of UCAS civil servants. He began to realize that Bridger wasn't threatening him, but might actually be trying to keep Fuchi from scandal. Why would the dwarf care about my company? He thought, I don't believe in altruism. He must not want the Star's embarrassing lack of action on the problem to come out. If we minimize the impact of the revelation, which is bound to come out now that the feds are involved, he figures that nobody will scream to know why the Star wasn't concerned or even aware for so long. Enlightened self interest I can understand.

"Thank you for this information, Chief Inspector. I mean that sincerely. You've certainly opened my eyes to some interesting ideas which I will be sure to pass along to my superiors. Do you think a site for the housing of the infected will be enough....I mean, hypothetically."

Bridger replied "Mr. Wainwright, you didn't tell me how to run my investigation, allow me to return the courtesy by not trying to tell you about public relations."






9:11 a.m. Saturday

Well, that was certainly stupid! Owen thought as he drove the Saab towards the suburbs. You spent all of that time working out a detailed plan for dealing with the feds and then threw it all out of the window as soon as you were actually talking to the man in charge. So what if he made your skin crawl? You could have played along far enough to know what he wanted before you started blowing him off. As it is, what have you got? Just a creepy psychologist testing you with:

"And besides, you don't know what we are asking of you. The assignment might be, in fact, I'll tell you, will be, delightful. A woman, a beautiful elf woman, is involved. Think of it, you will be handsomely paid and rewarded in other ways for doing something that millions of men fantasize about. Surely, you can't still maintain that you're not even curious...."

A beautiful Elf woman that figures in the fantasies of millions of men.....Sim star? Got to be somebody famous that the public is aware of. That means sims or trid or Corp power or politics......Holy DREK! Daviar? The VP? Growing excited as a sixth sense told him he had stumbled into a possible answer, Owen began focusing on possible scenarios. He arrived at the suburban safehouse and sat in the garage as the car's engine cooled.

Ok, assume that some portion of the UCAS government wants to....what....kill?....... kidnap?......compromise?......influence? the Vice President. Take them one at a time. Kill...Why me? I look like Ryan Mercury. Ok, but what does that do? Frame up jobs are easier to put together than spending a week chasing me. Put assassination aside. Kidnap? I could get close to her but the differences between myself and Mercury would be caught by the secret service. They're on the lookout for that kind of thing. Besides all of this for an "extraction"? Seems like a sort of a one trick pony...... Compromise? Replace Mercury? They'd have to be pretty stupid to believe that could happen. I think those two are in love and that has a lot more to do with what you are inside than what you look like. Alright call that one stupid but possible..... Influence? Now. If those two are in love and they can't get their hands on the real Ryan Mercury, could they threaten a look alike to force the VP to do/not do something? Nadia certainly never struck me as the sort of person that would work with, but I only met her the one time..... Damn! If only you weren't such a mule, you might have gotten the entire assignment, but no, somebody rubs you the wrong way, you say adios to plans and contingencies and fire from the hip. What a drekhead!

Owen went into the house and assumed a lotus position on the floor of the empty basement. Ok, Ok, you screwed up. What can you do now? The feds aren't going to go away because you knocked a couple of them out (and stole some wiz toys! heh-heh). They're going to be back on your hoop instantly. Since you can't prevent that, (they're bound to be on their guard against betrayal now) can you let the VP know there's a plot? Sure, you don't know the details of what they want, who they are, how they will do whatever it is that they will do, but I'm sure the Vice President would love to take your call. Riiiight. Snapping his fingers he thought NO! Not as the VP, but a call to the Head of the Draco foundation, or better yet, electronic communication with Jane-in-the-box.

Owen immediately used his wrist comm to call Professor Cortez. Fortunately the Professor had gotten a late start for his trip to the park to play chess and was still at home.

"Professor Cortez, this is Owen Glendower. How are you?"

"Fine, Owen, fine. We've missed you at the park. Mickey has asked for you several times."

"Really? Well, I've been kind of tied up. How is Badger doing?"

"A brilliant mind, that one, and absorbing material faster than the standards for dishing it out. He just needs an unorthodox setting because he still has problems with classroom etiquette. By the way, that assignment you gave him was perfect. It's completely new and enough of a challenge that he's already pouring through educational theorists like Piaget so that he doesn't mess up the young mind you've put in his care. My compliments. But what can I do for you today, my friend?"

"I need to reach someone high up in the Draco foundation, Professor. I need to plant an electronic message that Jane-in-the-box, a decker of some consequence, will follow up on, so I can talk to the head of the Foundation. I'm in the dark on the methods or the mechanism for getting the message through, but it's very important. Can you help me at all?"

"Of course, of course. Give me the number you are calling from and I will see what I can do about having this lady call you."

"Thanks, Professor." Owen said as he relayed the number.

"Por nada, amigo"

Owen next called his "guardians". When Lug answered his phone Owen said:

"Well, where am I?"

"Sensei? Uh....we were just wondering about that ourselves, ya see, we...uh... that is ....."

Owen interrupted "When I gave you the signal not to interfere and went with the feds willingly, you naturally followed. When the fire broke out in the hotel (amazing coincidence, that) you gentelmen lost sight of me. Not to worry, I'm not there anymore."

"Where did you go?" asked Doc.

"Where are you now?" asked Hamon. Although Owen was sure there were other questions waiting, everyone on the other end of the line seemed to have been stunned into silence by Hamon's wordiness.

"I got away, gentlemen. Perhaps a bit hasty, but I felt the need to leave and did so. I am safe and sound at the moment, and miles from the scrutiny of the government, I hope."

"But we still have your car." Hamon objected.

Even Owen was surprised at the Razor's volubility but said "No worries, my friends. I got a new one. I'll call you in the next couple of hours and we can strategize."

"We'd probably feel better if we could watch where you are now, Sensei." Lug said.

"Yes, but I'd probably feel better if my friends had a little time off. I promise I'll call you to let you know before I move, and, lest you intend a little trace activity on this call, I've bounced it a dozen different times before it reached your number so the closest you'll get will probably be a relay station in the suburbs." A little lie, Owen thought. I don't actually have it bouncing anywhere but if they start watching this house other people will too.

Owen thought Lug was about to object again when he heard Doc say:

"Let him go, my friend. It's a wise man who knows when to throw in the towel."

To which Owen responded "And it is a moron who argues with a horse's ass."


"Tell Doc that he said 'It is a wise man who knows when to throw in the towel' and I said 'And it is a moron who argues with a horse's ass'."

Lug repeated the wording to Doc who was as baffled as the two gillettes. Owen then said "Tell Doc: Victor, Victoria. Talk to you later." and waited until he could hear the normally urbane, sophisticated Elf cursing like a sailor because he had missed a movie reference before disconnecting.

That was pretty damn obscure. Owen thought But if he can stump me with song snatches from the Blue Angel, I guess I can use it. The two film buffs had been dead even in their informal contest to stump each other with movie lines. Early on Doc had ruled out Owen's use of Samurai films as being foreign and subject to different interpretations. The Phys ad had accepted the restriction with good grace but had ruled out the Elf mage's use of the early talkies, and area where Doc's expertise was second to none. I'm in the lead for the first time! Owen thought Amazing how I can get excited about that when I've got so much more important stuff about which I have no clue. Like why, for example, are most federal agents armed with wooden weapons in this day and age, yet Waverly's shadow was not.

Owen was still wrestling with the problem of the feds arsenal, the shadow's identity and what the government wanted him for, some 42 minutes later when his wrist comm received a call.

"If this is some joke, I'll make sure it's that last one you ever play." the electronically masked voice said.

"No joke. Serious as death. We met a month ago at the offices where you work. I was there about a photo. You thought I was someone else. You asked my age....."

After a pause of nearly 12 seconds, "And you quoted Townsend" was the reply.

"Precisely. I'm trying to caution your boss. Some people from your home town are trying to hire me. I don't know the details but I believe they are trying to capitalize on a resemblance that you noted. The time and effort involved in this recruitment is excessive, and I'm concerned that the implications are not pleasant for your boss."

There was a moments silence as the brilliant mind on the other end of the line deciphered what was being said and what it might mean.

"Can you visit?"

"Not without bringing unwanted company."

"Ill call again in 28 minutes. I'll have my boss on the line." click

As Owen hit the disconnect, his mind flashed to the thought of assassinated Presidents. Nobody killed VPs. They weren't in the hot seat. If the president was gunned down, or simply stepped down, the VP became the person to own. Maybe they want to position Ms. Daviar so that should they have a problem with the president, they have someone more tractable waiting in the wings. But what the hell do they think I'm going to do for them? Get them blackmail material? Hypnotize her? Seduce her? This is way too labyrinthine for me to work out.

9:12 a.m. Saturday

Solo, Waverly and the Courier were revived after being evacuated from the Hotel suite. Solo knew exactly what had happened and was less angry than he was impressed. Fast. Very fast to catch me as I turned towards him. Technically it's assault, but since he could have nudged me harder and made it fatal, I suppose I shouldn't complain.

Waverly was shaken to the core by the second physical confrontation in his long career as a civil servant. The first, of course, had involved the Courier's termination of Waverly's playmates and the second had left him severely worried about the possibility of coronary complication resulting from repeated doses of electric shock. He thoroughly questioned the medical people about how sure they were his unconscious body had been subjected to additional stun charges and what the implications might be for his overall health. Given any option at all he would have been on the next flight back to FDC and away from the physical dangers of the field. Unfortunately, the Courier's presence eliminated those options. Waverly now had less tha 48 hours to bring Glendower in and could not afford to leave his life in the hands of others.

The Courier noted the loss of his equipment but was compelled by his orders to remain with Waverly rather than retrieve it. He indicted the need for magical healing spells for his broken leg and damaged groin and got them.

Beginning to sweat from the time pressure and perhaps emboldened by the knowledge that the Courier was not invincible, Waverly ignored his shadow and solicited data from Solo on what they should do next. He told the SAIC that there was an added element to the recruitment which he had not revealed to the target. He had to have the subject in FDC by 9:00 am Monday morning. When Solo pointed out that the surveillance plan required time for the subject to grow frustrated and that there was no guarantee this would happen by Monday morning, Waverly had moaned "I know, I know, but what else can we do?"

"Turn it into a regular manhunt, sir. Put out an APB, notify the media, post a reward......"

"No, no, no. The more attention we focus on what he looks like the less useful he will be in the future. We can't have photos of him hanging around town or flashing on the vid screen."

"Well then, sir, at least let my people have the freedom to bring him in. We can arm with narcojets, sleep gas and other non-lethals. We grab him, meet the deadline and then let the medicos and the mages turn him into whatever you need. It may not be as elegant as your plan but it will get the job done."

"Yes, yes, anything. Do whatever you want. Just don't bring others into this, don't damage him permanently and get him for me by the time limit."

"Yes, sir." The SAIC said with evident glee.

10:30 a.m. Saturday

When the comm went off Owen simply answered "Yes"

"My friend tells me you want to speak with me. Are you concerned about the security of this line?"

"I have no idea. I spoke more guardedly because I do not know who may or may not be involved. I don't even know for sure your identity, caller." Owen said.

"I understand. When we last met you refused several legal stipulations...."

"Which everyone in the room would have been aware of." Owen replied.

"Yes, well......." There was a pause of several seconds "I wonder if you recall my description of your talent at the end of your private recital."

"You said it was breathtaking."

"And you said 'literally true'"

"I'm sorry to be so paranoid." Owen said. "I don't have a lot more than I gave to your friend. I can't think of any reason for my recruitment other than as it touches you. When attempting to entice me to take the job, an attractive person of your sex and race was described as being involved. That plus my recent trip to your town, plus the resemblance you remarked on, have made me nervous that you are in some danger. I wish I could be more specific, but I declined to participate before further details were disclosed. Several people have advised me that these people don't take no as an answer, but I am concerned that if enough time passes these people may go ahead with their plans, whatever they are, using some type of alternate. I may be completely wrong about what is going on, but if something happens to you while I am looking for confirmation, I would feel very guilty for not alerting you to be on your guard."

"Well, thank you." Came the response. "I think I'll begin checking things from my end and I'll beef up security without being too obvious about it. Is there anything you need?"

"No." Owen answered, "The people who want to hire me are probably very frustrated that I haven't been compelled to work for them, and I suspect an escalation in their recruiting activities is imminent, but I don't see that there is anything you could do for me at the moment."

"Very well. Shall I use this number to get back in touch with you if I need further info?"

"No. I'll be using a new number as soon as this call is done. Here's a message drop location that I'll check." Owen gave out the drop's location. "Further contact will be through there from your end and if I need to reach you I'll use the same procedure as the initial contact. For recognition code we will use something your friend knows I'm familiar with. Good Luck."

After several seconds of hesitation the voice at the end of the line said "Thanks. Here's hoping that we don't get fooled again." click

Owen smiled as he thought that Jane-in-the-box must have been monitoring the call to give the Vice President the line from the old Who song so quickly to demonstrate that the recognition code reference had been understood. Now I have to remember enough damn Who songs so that I can answer a challenge if we talk again.

11:23 a.m. Saturday

The sleek black sportscar pulled up a block from Magilicutty's. The magic user who stepped out, (for what else could the bearded man be with his fetish covered jacket, silver headed staff and obviously flair for the dramatic? ), made some arcane gestures around his fabulous ride, and boldly strode up the front door of the bar/restaurant. He entered like royalty and when Rhondar didn't immediately open the security gate which controlled entrance after the weapons scanner, he snapped his fingers in irritation. The huge Ork took the implied reproof in stride as he had been a security officer for the bar for more than 10 years and didn't really care how lordly a patrons bearing might be. He was responsible for making sure that guns would not be pulled within the confines of the establishment and if that meant some high-and-mighties had to cool their heels until he was sure they were safe, well that was just too bad. Eventually Rhondar buzzed the inner door and let the spell worm out of the vestibule.

When the bearded norm walked up to the table where Lug, Hamon and Doc were seated, the Elf said "Welcome to the party, pal". His face fell when Owen responded:

"Yippee ki yay, motherfucker"

Lug and Hamon looked on blankly until Doc explained. "Our contest, gentelmen. We alternate giving each other lines from flatscreen vids. The challenge is to respond with a line from the same film, or failing that, to name the film. Our peerless leader has just correctly identified my line as being from the movie "Die Hard" by responding with another line from the film. Were we drinking, I would be buying. As it is, I suggest we retire to the back room.

"The beard does nothing for you, my friend." The Elf continued, when the four were seated.

"I know, but anything which changes my looks is desireable." Owen then went on to explain what had happened at the hotel and about his conversation with the Vice President.

"Ya think the feds are after ya because they want ta do something ta the Vice President? But why? Nobody cares about da VP. It's the president ya want ta control."

"True", said Doc, "but as we've seen recently Presidents get assassinated or resign. If you needed to get rid of the current president, wouldn't it be nice to have his successor in your pocket?"

"There's also the little matter of her suddenly controlling a foundation worth billions of creds." Owen added. "Powerful magic items, artworks, huge blocks of corporate stock, and big piles of cred, all under her control. Not surprising that someone has decided to find a hook to handle this new player on the world power scene. I just don't see how they figure to use me to do it. I mean, my resemblance to her lover might get me close but as long as he's around....."

"Kill him" said Hamon.

"Assuming, you could, what do you gain? I mean, other than to piss off a very powerful woman?" Owen asked.

"Here's a possible scenario." said Doc. "You undergo enough cosmetic surgery to eliminate the differences between you and Mercury, who has been quietly done away with. You're given memory blockers (laes, concussion, hypnosis, magic, whatever) and then dropped off where you will be found. You replace the VP's lover. While she's taking care of you and you're being nursed back to health, you provide information on what she's doing to your real boss, somebody who you've been brainwashed into believing that you love and obey unquestioningly. They've got an information conduit, a potential fifth columnist, even an expendable assassin in the enemy's camp. You give them good intel, sow misinformation, create dissention, influence the VP's decisions, and if necessary, take her out on command. They can even kidnap you to try to leverage her."

"Manchurian candidate, Hitchcock, and some others I'm not sure of, but I don't think our government friends see as many films as you, Doc....."

"Wait, Sensei," interrupted Lug. "Doc does have a lot a movie plots runnin around in his head, but he's got some possibilities that we outta consider. We know they wantcha for somethin. Even if it ain't that elaborate, if they only thought of part of that plot, we gotta keep ya outta their hands. Maybe if we could get ya ta the foundation....."

"No". Hamon interrupted "Excuse me, Sifu, but it was very unwise calling the Vice President. If we can imagine this plot, then so can she, which means that there are two ways of eliminating the problem. Get the conspirators or get rid of the tool they are trying to use."

The four sat in silence as they absorbed Hamon's words.

"Our quiet friend is right, you know." Doc said "Were I on the other side of this I would have to consider that the conspirators won't want to use you while Mercury is alive, so if you're dead, the woman's true love may be safe. An awful temptation for someone in power to protect herself and a loved one by ordering the death of a stranger."

"Well, I'd be disappointed if she went that route," Owen replied "but I've been hunted before. I'm betting that she gets the conspirators before she starts sending kick squads after me." After a few seconds he continued "On a lighter note, when I was getting away from our federal friends I had occasion to search several of them and they all appear to be carrying wooden weapons. Perhaps the Vampire I encountered is part of a larger group that the feds need to protect themselves from."

"Or maybe it wasn't a coincidence dat ya found dat vampire. Maybe he's after ya too."

"Well, thanks for that cheerful thought, but...."

"Wait, Sensei." Lug interrupted. "What if the vampire was after you at the same time that the feds were. Didn't you say that Solo bitched about losing 4 friends who you know you didn't kill? Maybe there's a connection between those feds getting iced and them carrying wooden weapons. It doesn't sound like a coincidence ta me."

The four sat in silence for a few moments as they considered the data. Finally Lug got up to get some refreshments. He was back at the door minutes later.

"You guys gotta come see dis!"

The trio left their seats to follow Lug into the main room. The Bar's trid system was airing a news report.

"......moments ago. Fuchi work crews have begun clearing the land that was the scene of the terrible Devil Rat eruption last night. In a release by the Public affairs office, Fuchi has said that because their property had become a haven for so many of the vermin that pose a health danger to the city it was part of their social responsibility to eliminate the problem by clearing the land. We've been told that in order to clear potentially hazardous underground sites, high explosive will be used to blast out and collapse the holes....."

"Makin fraggin sure nobody else pulls evidence outta the site...." Lug stage-whispered.

".....that press conference is just about to begin...."

"Thank you, Claire. That was Claire Fiore with live on the scene...... we have a live feed from Theodore Baxter at the Fuchi Arcology. Come in, Ted."

"Thank you, Todd. I'm standing in one of the Fuchi Arcology's auditoriums where we should be getting some..... yes...we go live now to the podium where Sylvia Shine, VP for Public Affairs is about to open the press conference."

"I have a brief statement before I take questions..... Ladies and Gentelmen, the events of the past twenty four hours have revealed that some property that Fuchi had held in an undeveloped state has become the home to an extremely large number of vermin. Efforts to exterminate the Devil Rats last night were incomplete and I'm happy to announce that in addition to completing the extermination work, Fuchi, as a responsible member of the community intends to use the reclaimed property as a sanctuary. After eliminating the Devil rat infestation, the property.....just a minute, ladies and gentelmen, let me finish....the property as well as the adjoining lots will be walled off and guarded as a refuge for Ghouls." The hubbub at these words was so great that nothing could be clearly heard for a moment. When the noise had quieted enough the spokesperson continued.

"We understand the concern that is quite natural when one mentions Ghouls. 'What about safety? 'Isn't there danger?' Ladies and gentelmen we need to recognize a few hard truths. Ghouls exist. Our efforts to hunt down and destroy them has never been entirely successful which means that we continue to make them more adept at avoiding control. In a single shelter where they could build their own community they will not be a threat to the rest of the city. Fuchi representatives have filed briefs with the city that the Corp's extraterritorial status will serve to exempt the ghouls from the usual bounty hunting. There will be a place where they are free and safe."

"Now, we are not talking about visitors from another world, ladies and gentelmen. We are talking about men and women who have become infected with a virus. They have families and loved ones that their illness tears them away from. Those loved ones then either have to destroy a father, a wife, a child or risk prison for sheltering a family member. Then these loved ones try to care for someone whose entire world has changed. Its not right."

"We intend to have a large area set aside, to donate enough building materials and other supplies so that these people can have a life in spite of their infection. Is it the best solution? No. The best solution would be to develop a retrovirus that could undo the mutation. Is it a good solution? Yes. It will give people an opportunity to live and not be a threat to the community while a cure is found. Is it better than covering our eyes and saying that we have no problem? Definitely. Lone Star does a wonderful job of protecting the citizens from criminals, but making mutation a crime and then asking the police to enforce the law is simplistic and inhuman."

"Will we catch grief for this? Yes. Unfortunately there are those who will say killing them is easier. But that costs the taxpayers money. This won't. Finally, the big question. Why? Why is Fuchi going to the expense and risk? Quite simply, we believe it is time to deal with issues beyond the corporate balance sheet. The losses suffered by companies in Chicago, who continued with a business-as-usual attitude while the world changed around them should be a guidepost for us all. We are part of the community and we have to start acting like it."

Ironically, it was Lug who signaled for silence and herded everyone into the back room before anyone reacted aloud to the news.

"SON OF A BITCH!" Hamon exclaimed "Those motherfraggers stepped in drek up to their eyes and now there going to walk away smelling like roses."

Doc pointed accusingly at Owen and said "THIS is what comes of trusting those in the system to get justice for you. The Star looks good, the corp looks great and no-one will ever believe that they actually created the problem to begin with!"

"We should have exposed those bastards, Sifu! You've let them off the hook!" Hamon added.

"SHADDAP! Both a ya!" Lug yelled. When the room quieted the sam said "What the frag did you guys expect? Did ya really figure the corp would drop trousers an wait fer a public spanking? That folks would hear what had happened and quit working there or stop buying their products? Grow up! Hamon, we been around long enough to know how the game is played. Doc, yer a college guy. Ya can't tell me yer surprised or that ya don't know the score. Me, I'm proud to have been part a dis. Sensei, I don't know how, but you an yer pal at da star got one of da biggest corps in the world to back off. Ya also got'em ta do something that will make the Plex a better place. How many people with an infection gonna have some hope tonight when they were runnin fer dere lives last night? I don't know about you slags, but I feel pretty good."

There was a moment of silence as Lug's word sunk in. Then both Doc and Hamon apologized and eventually began to smile. Owen still hesitated saying "But justice....."

"There's no justice, there's just us." Lug said. "A bad thing happened, Sensei. We used our skills and talent and now a good thing's happened. That's all."

Owen bowed deeply to the Dwarf and said quietly, "Please call me Owen, and thank you....... Teacher."






12:18 p.m. Saturday

NO! They can't do this! Sheila thought as she watched the trid report Great God! I don't believe those fraggers are trying to slip out of it! Blowe still hasn't aired his report and now nobody's going to believe it! FUCHI is going to fool everyone. "Member of the community"! Those fraggers caused the damn problem and now they look like the souls of compassion! They tortured and changed those slots and instead of paying they're going to be pointed to as the examples of responsibility?! AAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!

As the red mist descended on her sight Sheila vocalized her feelings with a howl that revealed the depth of pain in her soul. Fury, frustration, despair, helplessness and the need for vengeance coursed through her howl turning it into a wail of desperation. She howled until her throat was raw but venting the feelings did not banish them. When she howled herself to exhaustion she passed out, only to find herself in the plane of the totems facing COYOTE.

The sun beat down on the barren stone plane, washing out all color with it's glare. COYOTE sat a few feet away looking at her with his great wise eyes. He cocked his head as he studied her and with a sad look, shook his head and turned away. He began trotting off and Sheila tried to run after him. She found she couldn't move because her legs merged with the rock plane she was standing on. The stone seemed to grow from her legs, in fact the entire vast plane seemed to grow from her body. She shouted "Wait, COYOTE, Please! I need to talk to you!"

COYOTE stopped and sat down to wait for Sheila. As relieved as she felt that he was not abandoning her, she could not move any closer to him as she continued to be rooted to one spot. She saw the Trickster yawn as he waited for her and considered what kind of spell she could use to blow herself free of the stone. She saw COYOTE shake his head again and stand up. Desperately, she shouted "Please, I need to talk to you, to gain your help, but I can't free myself."

**I know.** she heard/felt/thought as COYOTE disappeared.

As Sheila returned to consciousness, the fire in her heart became a pure crystal of flame. Then I will do it without you, Trickster. She thought. But I will do it. I will see that Fuchi does not escape unpunished for what they put us through. I will not be denied!

12:50 p.m. Saturday

Finally having a mandate they could work with, the feds combed the city with a will. All 32 remaining healthy agents accepted the call for maximum effort and methodically checked bars and low-life hangouts, cheap hotels and joyhouses. They were an experienced force, accustomed to the authority of the federal badge, but they were having no luck tracking down their prey. When in the course of their manhunt, they visited Magilicutty's, their search did not turn up their target.

"Keep at it" Solo extolled "The slot's out there someplace."

So as drones and choppers buzzed the rooftops and athletic looking individuals asked question after question of the locals, the city's shadow community began to hum with the federal presence.

"What happened?", "What's going on?", "Why is Uncle Sugar such a busy boy?", and, as it had with media's examination of the rat plague, rumor fed rumor and supposition became accepted fact.

"Must be somethin big", "Yeah, real big.", "Yeah, big as a dragon." "What about a dragon?", "Must be somethin about big D." "Think so?" "Sure, what else would the feds be doing here in force." "Ya hear dat? Da feds is here lookin for Big D's killer." And so one reason for the federal presence was discovered.

"Rats after da rats", "Yeah?" "Sure, whatta ya think, it's a coincidence?" "So dere lookin fer somebody what knows about da rats?" "A course, dats why dere snoopin- ta find da guy what let loose all a dem rats." Ran another unshakable chain of conjecture.

"Fuchi brought those feds down on us with all their talk of a Ghoul haven.", "But it sounded so reasonable.", "Oh, sure, it sounds reasonable, until criminals who aren't ghouls start using it as a sanctuary, or the Ghouls start building terrorist weapons in there." "Oh, I hadn't thought of that." "Well, you can be sure that the UCAS government did and that's why they're here." Was the third popular line of explanation.

1:34 p.m. Saturday

Felix, who always kept her finger on the pulse of the shadows, was aware of these and other less popular lines of conjecture. The Troll fixer also had a fairly good description of who the feds were looking for and quickly understood Owen's peril. She flooded his message drops with cautions and called every number she could think of to reach him. She began calling in markers to try to alert him, to warn the phys ad of the situation, but was having little luck. When she decided to try to contact him magically, she called one of the top mages in the city, a very handsome elf with a white mohawk. The Elf's street-name was Doc.


"Hello, Doc. This is Felix. I've got a job for you. I need you to do a little magical tracing or astral projecting or whatever the hell you call it, but I need to find a guy."

"Felix," Doc said, "In spite of what you may have heard about magic's capabilities, finding you a guy is.........."

"Hardy-har-har, pointy ears," Felix interrupted, "Very witty, finding such a difficult target as my appearance, I hope you didn't strain your imagination finding that subject for jokes, I manage to hide it so completely. Now, unless you've become independently wealthy, can we talk about potentially the last piece of biz you ever do in this city?"

Everyone in the hidden back room of Magilicutty's went silent from the stunned expression on the Elf's face. Owen had caught Doc' side of the initial by-play which sounded like the kind of good natured ribbing that Goren and BeBop engaged in. Although he could not hear the other side of the cellphone communication, the instant change in Doc's attitude was apparent to all. He looked like a man who had joked with a friend over someone being better off dead only to find that they had passed away. Guilt and anxiety replaced frivolity and a light heart in seconds.

"Yes" was all he said.

"Good. Now if you can take time away from your career as a comedy writer, I need you to find a physical adept in the city. 6-5, 215, brown hair, blue eyes, handsome, goes by the name Owen Glendower or........"

"Just a minute," Doc interrupted. He held out the phone to Owen and said "It's for you."

Deeply concerned after witnessing the change in Doc, Owen hesitantly picked up the phone and said "Hello?"

"Owen? Oh my God. This is Felix. Where have you been, babe? I've been turning over hell's half acre trying to find you. There are federal agents all over the plex looking for you."


"Well, Damn! I'm trying to warn you of a potentially dangerous situation and that's all the thanks I get?"

"Felix, are you all right?"

"What do you mean, am I all right?! I'm fine. I was worried about you. I come back into town after a 4 day vacation, I find the feds turning over every rock they can, I try every way I can think of to reach you......."

"Ohhhhh. You were out of town" Owen interrupted. "That explains it."

"Explains what?"

"Explains the sudden alert. But before I forget, thank you, Felix. I appreciate your efforts to warn me. It was very good of you. As to the feds, they have been here a while. They were trying to watch me into submission. I guess after this morning's incident they decided to change tactics. I'm still a half step ahead of them. I thought from Doc's reaction that you were calling to tell me something truly terrible....."

"Uh, yeah. I guess I did sort of cut him off at the knees, but dammit I'm worried about a....a..."


"Alright, a friend, and he's making stupid cracks."

"I think he was just kidding, Felix."

"Yeah, drek....well put him back on the line."

When Doc said "Yes" in a subdued voice Felix said "Hey, look ya silly keeb, I'm sorry if I snapped at ya. I wuz worried and ya pushed the wrong button. I had no business suggesting that I'd hurt yer rep. That was a low blow. I called ya because yer the best at what ya do, an we both know it. I hope ya won't hold it against me."

"No, Felix. It is I who must apologize. I should not have presumed on our past association. It was ungentlemanly to upbraid you for something over which none of us have any control and......"

"Aw, lighten up. Everybody make mistakes..... we still friends?"


"Chill. Put Owen back on."

The relief on the Elf's face told Owen everything he needed to know. "Thanks, Felix. I appreciate your clearing that up with him."

"Yeah, stupid ta slot off a mage anyway. Well, babe, what are ya gonna do about the feds?" Felix asked.

"Funny, that's what we've been talking about for the last hour."


"Doc, Me, Lug and Hamon"

"Whoa, nice company. Some of the top talent in the plex. What sort of a run do you need such a high powered team for?"

"Isn't really a run, were just trying to stay a step ahead of the world's malicious intent."

"Well it sounds like you got the firepower, but I'd like to introduce some sanity to all that testosterone."

When Owen exclaimed "Ewww! Not GIRL cooties!" Felix began to roar. Whether it was the break in tension, or the delivery, or the words themselves, for the next several minutes the Troll fixer dissolved in a fit of laughter.

When she finally regained her composure she promised to be available if the "lost boys" needed anything.

2:31 p.m. Saturday

"Mary, you can't be serious!" When Sheila had invaded the unlighted warehouse basement where the Ghouls rested away from the sun's harmful rays, she'd expected that she would bring Mary up to speed on the latest slimy trick that Fuchi was trying to play and then have a strategy session on how exactly they could thwart and expose the mega corp. Instead she found Mary listening with interest to the story of a Ghoul sanctuary as if she might consider bringing her pack back to Fuchi.

"I mean, of all people in this entire plex, Mary, you know what kind of inhuman scum Fuchi is. I can't believe you would march your people back into their control after what they did to you!"

"You are too angry, Sheila," Mary said, "You hold the fire of your hate too close. I will not submit my people to Fuchi's control again, but I will listen if they create a safe place where we can live without being hunted....."

"It's a concentration camp, for frag's sake! Rounding up undesirables in one place is just a small step away from a "final solution" to the problem. You're falling into their plans! They say a safe place, but for whom? For you? Or for them? Won't it be convenient when they need to "find a cure" to have a ready made warehouse full of "volunteers". You've been a volunteer for Fuchi before, haven't you? Damn it! How can you be so blind?! Fuchi can never be trusted! Never! You're stupid desire for the world to be better place DOES NOT make it so! Why can't you see that?!"

"Perhaps BEAR lets me see things that you do not. This sanctuary is too controversial, too big a story for Fuchi to use it as you describe. I will learn more. I will hear more public commitments before I decide and then I will ask my people." Mary said, and then quietly added, "Sheila, in truth, would you be as adamant to oppose this if your own gang was still strong? You have so much anger, I fear it eats away at a noble heart."

"Don't try to flatter me while you betray our cause you stupid slitch!" Sheila exclaimed. In the darkness her eyes glowed with the fury and frustration she felt. "Maybe your mind has been dulled by your change in diet, but I'm not a stupid Ghoul to be ordered around like I'm mindless!" Now the Ghouls began closing in on the screaming shaman, moving her away from their leader. "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem! You....."

"Go Sheila!" Mary commanded "You have said too much. Go before my people lose patience with you. Go."

Abruptly Sheila turned on her heel and stormed off.

2:58 p.m. Saturday

Having finally come up with a workable plan for dealing with the federal surveillance, Owen was feeling pretty good when he and the other "lost boys" stepped out of Magilicutty's. He was about to answer Doc when he suddenly felt the "spotlight" he had last experienced when hanging from the chopper above the burning Dorchester hotel. He looked up to see the furious Coyote shaman ridding up the street straight at him.

Magilicutty's was situated at the top of the T formed where Q street dead-ended into 36th street. Sheila and her remaining High Hats were riding up Q when the man she hated most in all the world stepped into the street. He was with others and was wearing a disguise, but she had seen him so vividly and completely when he had escaped her last time that she would have recognized him anywhere. It was a moment of preternatural clarity as Sheila focused all of her frustration and anger at a specific point, preparing to obliterate it. Coincidence became destiny in her mind as the man she most wanted to kill was suddenly placed before her. With surprisingly little effort she threw her most devastating spell, a hellblast, directly at the man.

After delivering a witty bon mot, Doc was looking back at Owen as he waited for a reply. As soon as Doc saw recognition dawn on the phys. ad's face, with reflexes born of rigorous training he activated the fetishes for both his bullet barrier and spell barrier with a touch. He was still hearing the last part of Owen's shout "Scatter!" when the Hellblast detonated at the border of his spell barrier. He was reaching for both the Orichalcum short sword and Savalette Guardian concealed in his long coat as Hamon dove left, drawing his Ingram SuperMach 100, Lug somersaulted to the right, pulling his colt Cobra and Owen's sling stone went whizzing by towards the approaching bikers. Doc was not aware of Owen's exact position, but he was able to form the thought "Damn, we're fast" before both Lug and Hamon began opening up on the High Hats.

Billy Bats, who was riding his bike just behind Sheila, was lost in another sexual fantasy about the group's leader when she stiffened and then threw her arm forward. He saw the huge fireball blossom at the end of the block and was about to slow down so he could draw the old Colt Python that he carried when an impact on the chin snapped his head back so hard that he did a backflip off his bike. The sling stone's impact transferred enough energy to shatter the biker's jaw, as well as deposit him unceremoniously on the street, but he never recognized the cause as he was unconscious by the time he hit the ground.

Jago was not at all sure about her target, but when Sheila's spell detonated at the end of the block she depressed the trigger for the Uzi III she had mounted between her handlebars and began spraying the group that had stepped out of the bar. The spell worm with the bullet barrier was the only one who remained visible, however as the other three had immediately ducked for cover. The stream of lead she got in reply from Hamon's SuperMach was well aimed, taking out the front tire of her hog and knocking the wind out of her as the light rounds flattened against the armor plate in the front of her bike jacket. She tried to signal Janice to abandon bike, but the woman just clung on more tenaciously to Jago's big frame. Jago laid the bike on it's side, moving her leg out from under the big machine, but she and Janice still slid a dozen feet behind the wounded hog before they could get up and scramble for cover.

The bursts from Lug's Cobra never actually struck Penny as she unlimbered her Super Warhawk to return fire, but they did manage to knock out her headlight and mirror as she rode up the street. Because her Harley was one of the few bikes that had survived the attack on headquarters without so much as a scratch, when the Cobra's slugs began chewing up the brightwork she screamed like a banshee. She rode up to the parked vehicle that the "little pug ugly" was hiding behind and then attempted to shoot Lug right through the car.

Masaaki sensed the impending attack even before Sheila's Hellblast had detonated. He immediately stopped his bike, turned around and started racing up 35th street towards R street. He never hesitated, but he knew that if his plan for a flank attack did not succeed he would end his own life rather than accept the humiliation of being considered a coward. He knew that the parked cars along 36th street would give the opposition, whoever they were, a perfect defensive screen, while his own gang would be forced to attack up the single channel of Q street. If he could make it up R street, he could charge the enemies undefended flank riding down 36th and taking full advantage of the Remmington 990 he carried. Of course, if he was not in time he would have failed in his duty to the gang which had accepted him when his own people had thrown him out. The Oni opened the throttle full thinking that his future could only be guaranteed with speed.

When Thomas, the barman at Magilicutty's, heard the explosion of the Hellblast, he immediately pushed two buttons. One dropped the metal security shutters over the front windows of the bar as well as electronically locking the bolts on the front door. This prevented customers being killed, or rushing out to enter the melee, neither option being beneficial to the establishment. The second was a PANICBUTTON which alerted LoneStar to the trouble. It also had the unintended secondary effect of causing the Federal agent monitoring the police call signals to dispatch a drone for observation purposes. It didn't matter that LoneStar was using encrypted comm units or that the Fed was technically overstepping his authority by listening in on the Star's channel. All that really mattered was that the disturbance was going to draw the attention of both local and national authorities.

Doc squeezed off four rounds from his hand cannon before satisfying himself that the magic user on the bike also had a bullet shield. Against a potential need to take the battle into the astral, he made himself invisible and levitated to the top of the four story building which housed his favorite bar. After all, if he needed to leave his meat behind, he didn't want to do it where it became the most tempting target in sight. Meanwhile Sheila's fury nearly drove her mad. Her best spell, delivered flawlessly and with greater ease than ever before, foiled by the fragging white hared daisy eater who had just vanished. Would nothing ever go right where this damn Phys ad was concerned? She stopped the bike, ready to throw a fireball spell and began to pull the Armtech 6 mini-grenade gun, thinking that the explosions would drive her quarry from cover where her magic could destroy him. The sling stone's impact shattered her wrist and caused the gun to drop to the street from her numb and functionless hand.

Disdaining the further use of his SMG, Hamon drew his twin katanas and closed with the two women. He was surprised by Janice's suicide rush, but as he sidestepped her cyberspur attack and slashed with his blades, Jago hit him twice with rounds from her Predator. If the big woman spared a thought for the headless corpse of her former lover, it did nothing to interfere with her aim. Although Hamon's armor kept the bullets from tearing through his body, the hits did enough damage that he knew he had been tagged.

Lug tried to keep the engine compartment between him and the "mad Halfer slitch" with the Super Warhawk. He knew the wheel gun only chambered 6 rounds but his resourceful opponent was loading APDS rounds which meant she was chewing through the Ford Americar as though it were cardboard. When a hole appeared within inches of his head, he placed the Cobra against the aperture and held the trigger down until the clip was empty. The silence that followed indicated that his plan was successful, right up until he stood up and nearly lost his head to the monowhip being wielded by the dwarf woman on the hood of the car.

From his high vantage point Doc, who was about to take the dwarf woman out with a spell, saw the final ganger approaching. So, you didn't run away, my friend. You opted for a flank attack. But how will you attack if you are unable to see? Doc thought as he hit Masaaki with a chaos spell. The Oni was suddenly upside down and backwards in the middle of a fireworks display. He immediately fell off his speeding bike, whose explosion when it collided with a parked car simply added to the disorienting pyrotechnic show he was suddenly in the middle of. He knew it must be some kind of spell, but since his feet seemed to be above his head and everything that wasn't bursting with color seemed to be spinning wildly, he couldn't do much about it.

When Hamon had ducked down on the other side of the line of parked cars that Jago was using for cover, the Amazon opened a small chip carrier and pulling her long hair out of the way, slotted her prized Athletics and Kobu-Jutsu chips. Drawing her Tonfa she prepared to meet the Gillette on his own terms. She turned and exhaled as the spinning form of the sam flashed by in a flurry of steel. She was barely able to get the handled hardwood nightsticks up in time to prevent joining Janice in a dirt nap. She was strong, fast and the chips made her very skillful, but within seconds she could see that she was overmatched. As she adjusted to the notion that she was about to die, Hamon unexpectedly doubled her over with a kick to the midsection and then smashed the hilt of one of his blades into the back of her head, robbing her of consciousness. Sighing at the beauty of the unconscious woman as he shook his head, the Sam quickly applied a tranq patch and moved back to the battle.

Lug ducked under the whistling weight at the end of the monowhip and avoided being decapitated. As he ducked he drew his matched Predator II's, fell over backwards and unloaded the pistols as fast as he could into Penny's body. Her armor might have been enough to prevent Lug's rounds from killing her, but the three heavy rounds she took in the face combined with the unfortunate after effects of her horizontal monowhip attack ended the career of the High Hat with the greatest seniority.

Owen vaulted a car, hesitated in the middle of the street and then was gone in a blink. Not only did this prevent him from being fried by Sheila's hastily launched fireball, but unfortunately, it ended the effectiveness of Doc's Chaos spell. When Sheila's spell did not encounter Owen, it kept going just far enough to reach the dazed Oni in the middle of the block. When it detonated enveloping Masaaki, the chaos spell stopped being effective because the organs it affected were charred to ash. He did not even have time to think that he would be spared the need of committing seppuku.

If Sheila would ordinarily have regretted flambéing one of her own, she had no time now as she put all of her concentration into summoning a spirit to destroy her adversary. The magical energy began to coalesce, but before she could mentally articulate her orders for destruction, Owen's Sten blade slashed through her Jugular vein and in seconds she bled to death. As the light went out of her eyes the fire that had raged so long in her heart also died. In her final seconds she looked very peaceful and actually quite beautiful.

All four of the "lost boys" wanted to take a few minutes to catch their breaths after the battle. To assess damage and hear the after action reports of the other combatants, but all of them heard the approaching wail of LoneStar patrol vehicles and Doc, from his high vantage point caught sight of the approaching roto-drone. As he levitated back to the street he yelled "Drone coming"

As though they had worked as a team all of their lives the four split up. Owen said "Park, 1 hour" and received three nods. Hamon headed for the rusted out runabout, Lug jumped on Penny's Harley and Doc climbed onto Sheila's Rapier as Owen headed toward the Saab. Without anyone articulating the logic all four of the runners had accepted the need to scatter to different directions to throw off pursuers. What they did not know was that the feds had not only dispatched a rotodrone to investigate Lone Star's PANICBUTTON call, but because nothing else was happening at that point on Saturday afternoon, had focused their high overflight unmanned remote to cover the scene until a rotodrone could get there. The Fed Rigger "saw" the battle involving the bikers, and although it was too small to be a major gang confrontation, the profile for the suspect did involve problems with cycle hoods so she focused in more closely. When the survivors of the battle split up, she diverted the rotodrone so that it intercepted the easily recognized sports car, assuming that the group would join up again later. The contact was not good enough to justify alerting the SAIC, but she decided it was good enough for her to keep an eye on, personally.

The Lone Star patrol which arrived within 80 seconds of the group's departure found three dead bodies, two unconscious bodies and one charred mass which forensics would later designate as the fourth fatality of the incident outside Magilicutty's.

4:03 p.m. Saturday

Because they were aware that the feds were searching for Owen and that they might be linked with the Phys ad, the "lost boys" were circumspect in their approach to the park. Each of the runners had laid down an elaborate trail of misdirection to confuse and expose any potential pursuit. Only when they were confident that they were in the clear did they head towards their true destination, the public Park where Owen conducted his Tai Chi class.

Owen had also been circumspect in his attempts to evade pursuit. Since he was the actual target of the Fed's manhunt he assumed that he was observed from the beginning. He had driven the sports car to a major underground parking facility for one of the largest malls in the downtown area and then lost himself among the mall shoppers for 1/2 an hour. Leaving his highly identifiable staff in the car, Owen did his best to disguise himself with purchases at various shops. The old troll woman on the electric assist cart who left the mall might never have been identified by sight as the tall norm Phys ad, but Owen had overlooked one thing. Glendower's very effective stealth suit masked his body heat so well, that the high flying rotodrone was able to identify him regardless of what he looked like. On the drone's thermal scanners no other individual showed such a limited heat bloom. So whatever disguise he wore the Phys ad was obvious to the tracking technology at the feds disposal.

After thorough testing to insure that he wasn't being followed, Owen made his way to the park where he met his friends, dramatically removing his Troll disguise as he abandoned the assist cart.

"I think we can now eliminate concern about pursuit from the High Hats" he said without preamble.

"Nice to know that the good guys can still beat the bad guys" responded Doc.

"Good? Bad? I'm the one with gun." Owen said as the Elf grimaced over what he recognized as another movie test.

"Oh, Damn. Say it again."

Owen repeated the line and after several seconds of frustration Doc said "Drek! I need more."

"Gimme some sugar, babe."

Doc concentrated hard but when it was obvious that he wasn't getting it Owen said "Klattu Birrata Nichtu"

"Those other lines weren't from 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'!" the Elf mage exclaimed.

Owen waited patiently until Doc said "Oh, all right! What is it?"

"Army of Darkness"

"Damn! That puts you ahead by two! CRAP. You sure know how to ruin a poor mage's day, boss."

Lug and Hamon were vastly entertained by the spectacle of the aloof mage bested at his own game and grousing about it. Even the grin on their teacher's face at having won this round of the competition was unexpected. When the conversation moved to after action reports everyone got very serious.

The only surprises in the discussion came when Owen mentioned that he probably hadn't killed the first biker who went down as the sling stone had not been aimed for a fatality. When he concluded that he'd probably just knocked the young man out, Hamon admitted that the beautiful norm that he had fought with had also ended up simply unconscious. Defensive about the curious looks from his partner, Hamon blurted out that the woman had tried to meet him on his own terms and despite recognizing that she was overmatched and about to die, had fought on with a will.

"It just felt wrong to ice her" Hamon said.

"Methinks our quiet friend has something of the romantic about him." Doc said. "I know 'still waters run deep' appears in some movie, but I'm so upset by my recent humiliation that I cannot think of which. I think we must make allowances, oh Movie-reference master......"

"Yeah, he's usually pretty reliable, Sensei." Lug added.

"Gentlemen, far be it from me to criticize anyone's decision not to end the life of an opponent, particularly......"







4:09 p.m. Saturday

All discussion stopped when the bullhorn interrupted Owen. He immediately began streaking for the trees, followed by a line of tranq darts fired from the open side door on a silenced Hughes Air Stallion which appeared above the tree. Although he desperately wanted to warn his friends, figure out how he had been tailed, and revise his plans for a fed group that had now opened fire on him, the reality of the situation demanded that he simply run. All of the refinements and elaborate plans would have to wait until he was out of the crosshairs, which was going to be challenge enough.

Lug and Hamon took what cover they could under a nearby tree, drawing their weapons and preparing for a shootout. They also wanted to take stock of the situation and form a plan, but needed to find a defensible position first. Doc was actually up in the tree, but since he had again used the combination of invisibility and levitation spells, neither of the razors was sure where he had gone.

"STOP! YOU CAN"T GET AWAY! YOU ARE COMPLETELY SURROUNDED" came the amplified voice from the belly of the chopper.

That's not Solo's voice. Owen thought as he continued disappearing into the trees. One of his agents must have jumped the gun. We haven't been in the park long enough..... WORRY ABOUT THAT LATER! Another internal voice screamed Run, hide, avoid, evade, GETOUTAHERE!

Owen moved very quickly from tree to tree relying on the foliage overhead to hide him from the chopper's scanners. When a pair of microskimmers dropped through a break in the leafy cover he unlimbered his sling and sent a pair of stone missiles at the "flying trash can lids" before they could bullseye him for the rigger in the chopper. The first skimmer got belted into a junction of two branches where it was tightly wedged at a bad angle and could not get free. The second, when smacked by a sling stone made a "c-ch-ch-chh-chhh-chhhh-chhhhing---ching" sound as the fan blade that normally propelled the skimmer found the dented wall of it's airchamber, eventually causing it to crash.

Although Owen was now in the densest area of tree cover, he knew that the modified Air Stallion was somewhere overhead. Anticipating his opponents next move, he popped the top on one of his monowire bolos and started the weights swinging. Sure enough, he soon heard the distinctive "whhhhhhrrrr" of an approaching rotodrone and despite the dense cover, manage to knock off some of it's rotor blades, bringing the drone to the ground.

Owen then loaded a BeBop into his sling. He set it for simultaneous detonation with a 30 second delay and fired it to the right as far as he could. He then got as close to the edge of the tree line as he could and waited. When the explosion occurred the Chopper moved to investigate and Owen made his move across a stretch of open parkland and zipped into another cluster of trees. He made a trail to the edge of the park, but then, rather than leave, he doubled back.

Before crossing the 20 yards of open parkland between the two groves of trees, Owen paused for a moment. If you don't figure out how they traced you, you're going to get nailed again. The bug detector should have picked up any active or even passive homers on your person, but check again. After another clean sweep from the detector Owen thought Alright, activate the jammer to frag with any signal you missed and you've eliminated that possibility. Now you've changed clothes and you weren't observed making the change or they would probably have caught you or at least had a more complete ambush. So how else could they track you from a chopper? A pheromone detector would probably not be sensitive enough from that distance, besides with this rubberized suit....the suit? But it eliminates my thermal signature for my whole body.....EXCEPT FOR MY HEAD! Of course, this suit would leave me with a thermal signature only from the neck up. To a thermal scanner I'd be a floating head, which would be easy to trace. Damn! how could I be that dumb? Within seconds the phys ad had pulled on the tight fitting black balaclava made of the same material as the suit, lowlight glasses and rebreather. He would now be invisible to thermal scans Of course if somebody compares visual and thermal in a side by side I'll be as obvious as a circus clown, but the other option is to loose body armor and I'm not willing to give that up with all of the unfriendlies currently after my hoop.

Owen dropped to the ground and quick crawled across the open parkland towards his start point. He was silent as ghost as he moved back along his own trail. When he got close enough to see the area where Lug and Hamon where waiting, he paused to study the terrain. Eventually he spotted a distortion- a bent branch with nothing on it, an area where the birds did not fly, or rather flew around and deduced Doc's up there and he's invisible. Good idea. Owen quickly climbed a tree of his own where he could overlook the situation.

While he was waiting for something to happen, the Phys ad analyzed the situation. That wasn't Solo's voice on the bullhorn, and they didn't have me surrounded, so somebody must have jumped the gun. Some up-n-comer decided that my unconscious body would help make his rep and he sprung the trap prematurely. He should have shot first or have waited for the rest of the team. They'll be here soon and I know my friends are not going to start anything, but I also know they aren't going to surrender without a fight. I hope Solo gets here soon. He'll run a nice solid search but I don't think he'll take hostages. I'd better disappear too.

Although terms like astral masking or aura alteration would only have drawn blank looks from Glendower, he combined the ninjitsu techniques called Moku ton jutsu (using trees and grass for escape and concealment) and the Kuji meditation which made him completely at one with his surroundings to totally disappear. When Solo's accomplished Dog shaman Karen Kelly arrived later and attempted to sniff him out, not only did she find no indication of his presence, but her spirits could not say where he had gone.

While Doc observed quietly from above, Lug and Hamon discussed their options.

"Fed's seem pissed. Tried to take out Sensei with tranq darts. Hope he got away."

Hamon's look spoke volumes.

"Yeah, you're right. Chopper jock tipped his hand. Unless his backup was in position, Sensei's long gone. Where'd Doc go?"

Hamon shrugged and gestured up the tree.

"That'd be my guess too. Well, how ya want ta play it?"

When Hamon slowly shook his head but refused to drop his gun Lug said "Yeah, I ain't startin nothin but I ain't goin ta become some hostage in this game. They try and take us, I'm gonna shoot back."

Both Sams began laying out equipment like breathing apparatus and reloads. If the feds pushed, they were prepared to push back.

4:19 p.m. Saturday

"You did what?!" Kay yelled into the comm unit. The normally reserved and unflappable federal agent startled everyone in the chopper with his uncharacteristic outburst. The Deputy Special Agent in Charge was normally the calm detail man, but when he heard that the target had been rabbited by a green chopper jock and that the first solid lead in hours had vanished, he was furious.

"I'll be on the ground in 30 seconds. You get your hoop back here right now. I want you to look me in the eye when you tell me you just fragged all of us over with the boss. click

He then called back to base "Solo, we've lost him. We need you to bring out the magic users to try to get another fix on him." The team in the chopper couldn't hear the other end of the conversation but they all saw the DSAIC go pale and swallow as he said "Drek....sorry, pal.... yeah.... see you in a few." None of the seasoned veterans in the chopper were brave/stupid enough to ask about what had been said.

4:31 p.m. Saturday

The last chopper to land in the park contained not only the SAIC, but Waverly and his shadow as well. Ironically, all of the Feds' comings and goings were under the guns of the two Razors on the small rise with a single tree. The pair were studiously ignored by the various federal agents pending a decision from the higher-ups on what to do next. Because no one was sure if the pair was going to be annihilated, captured, coerced or co-opted the wisest course of action seemed to be to pretend they were not there until ordered otherwise by a supervisor.

For their part the runners found a grim humor in bullseyeing the feds who were pretending not to see them. Both knew that the game could get fatally serious in seconds, but rather than let the tension build they played cops robbers making quiet "blam-blam" sounds as they waited for the final verdict. The invisible elf mage in the upper branches shook his head at the gallows humor.

While Solo was listening to the lame confession by the agent who had jumped the gun and the trackers were following Owen's trail to the edge of the park, Karen Kelly began searching astrally. As accomplished as the Dog Shaman was, she found no trace of the target, and though she suspected a more powerful magic user was masked in the area she found no trace of Doc either.

In spite of the fact that he had arrived in the same chopper as his boss, Solo had to listen to Waverly's bitter questions about 'how something like this could happen?', 'weren't the agents properly trained?', 'didn't they understand the importance of the mission?' along with accusations of incompetence, negligence and malfeasance. When the young agent who was at fault seemed about to blurt out his culpability, Kay pulled him aside.

"No, no. You don't get rid of your guilt that easy, son." With a quiet fury Kay continued,"You watch that man who has been defending this country since before you were in high school get his head handed to him for your screw up, and you remember. He's doing his job right now by taking the heat for you. You make damn sure you never put him or anybody else in that position again. This was bad. Real bad, but next time maybe he's explaining to somebody's family that 'daddy won't be coming home ever again' because you didn't use your brain."

When Waverly finished his harangue he marched back towards the chopper, then stopped and stomped back to say "And what do you propose to do with those two?" pointing at the Sams under the tree. "You do know that time is running out and that we don't have the leeway to break them down for information, don't you?"

Solo's grimace when his boss tipped his hands for all to hear was so obvious that even Waverly realized his error. "Damn! Now see what you made me do!" he said as he turned and went back to the chopper.

For their part Lug and Hamon were too professional to giggle at the comedy of errors that was unfolding before them. They even stopped bullseyeing the feds when Solo began to approach. "Close enough, federal man. Say yer piece," Lug said.

"I'd like to offer you gentlemen a substantial piece of money for the location of the individual who left so quickly when our choppers arrived. 10,000 nuyen.....each...if you can point me in the right direction."

The pair took a second to consider and then Lug pointed left while Hamon pointed right.

After a few seconds of biting the inside of his cheek in frustration, Solo said, "I see. A couple of comedians. Well, yucksters. Laugh it up now. Were going to find your friend and he's going to pay for all that this recruitment has cost us, and I'm going to remember you two. I'll be looking for a chance to show you something that I think is funny, someplace down the road. I'll remember you." Turning to the teams he shouted "Mount up! Spread out. Targets got a 20 to 30 minute head start, but he's in the area. I want his hoop found!"

4:37 p.m. Saturday

"Well that was a tad bit of fun" Lug said when the last federal agent had left the area. "Shame agent Solo never grew a sense of humor."

As the two sams gathered their equipment and prepared to move out, Doc suddenly appeared between them saying "I couldn't agree more. And his boss! Truly a 'gray little fish-faced enemy of the people' ". Doc's expectant look received only blank stares in reply, but as soon as they started into the woods a voice said "Look at me. I'm wearing a cardboard belt!"

"Damnation!" Doc responded, then "Ok, 'Someone has got to put their foot down, and that foot is me"

"From this moment on they're on Double Secret Probation"

Although by this point all three runners were looking right at the tree where Owen hid, they still could not make out his form. He dropped down and Doc executed a formal bow.

"Full points on The Producers and Animal House. I obviously have to stay away from comedy. To the issue at hand, however, I know the feds had a shaman who summoned spirits to search the astral. How the hell did you avoid being spotted by them?"

"I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you."

"Oh, drek. Not again! Uhh....Navy Seals."

"I'll accept that."

"Excuse me, guys." Lug finally interrupted, "I don't want to interfere with your contest or anything, but a fairly pissed off Fed just led a troop outta here with blood in his eye and he ain't gonna be impressed with yer ability ta quote old flatscreen vids. Ya think we could maybe focus on da problem at hand, like how we keep off the most wanted list?"

"Uh, sorry fellows. I...uh, think maybe we'd better split up." Owen said "I really appreciate your help and all, but Mr. Solo has stopped playing nice and I don't want you guys to climb any higher on his drek list because of me. That little slot Waverly didn't bat an eye at the thought of torture, he just didn't have enough time, and Solo seems to be taking your lack of co-operation very personally. I wonder if he's had more setbacks......well, regardless, I think that if we split up....."

"Tactical error" Hamon said.


"Dividing limited resources in the face of a superior force without a concrete plan of attack or control of the location of conflict is an unacceptable strategy." Hamon responded.

After several seconds of stunned silence, Lug added:

"Yeah, what he said."

"I'm afraid I must concur, my friend." Doc said "This is much too interesting to abandon without some sense of closure. I will also see this through. More to the point, however, is the question of what to do next. As you rightly observed, the authorities have stopped playing nice, and it behooves us to develop plans which take this change in attitude into account. I would hasten to point out that modern methods being what they are, even our staunch allies might be persuaded to tell the feds anything they wanted to know within 36 to 48 hours, which leads to two inescapable conclusions: 1) the feds have less than that much time to bring you in and 2)we must expect that as the time grows shorter the feds will become more desperate and more potentially dangerous."

"I agree, Doc", Owen said, "Whether its a result of the losses they've suffered or a time limit imposed by whoever gave Waverly his shadow, I think that the danger grows if they don't lay hands on me soon. Fortunately, I have a hidey-hole in the suburbs where I can wait out the next two days to avoid the Feds. Since Doc is doubtless correct about the increasing danger, you gentlemen are welcome to join me."

The other three "lost boys" nodded and the four headed for their vehicles for the ride.

4:40 p.m. Saturday

"Are you kidding? Do you want to get reamed again? Isn't there a quicker way to flush your career down the crapper?"

The urgently whispered conversation was taking place in the control van that the Federal agents were using for electronic search for their quarry. Agent Trainee Jack Farley, after humiliating himself in the chopper had been relegated to a jump seat in the e-van. With nothing better to do he had plotted an area of electronic interference, triangulating it's size with radio signals from two other fixed points. It was a totally meaningless academic problem, but since he had nothing else to do but wait, he had plotted the dimensions and strength of the field which nobody cared about. When agent Kay, pointedly ignoring him had asked for reports on anything out of the ordinary, the freckle faced red head had kept quiet and out of the way. But now the field was moving. It was being carried by someone from the park towards a mall.

Trainee Cornell Burke, who thought Farley was kind of cute, warned him not to piss off the senior agents any further, but Farley continued nerving himself up to raise his hand to get the DSAIC's attention. He nearly wilted when Special Agent Solo entered the van, but Farley felt it was his duty to bring the information to his bosses' attention.

"Uh, sir." he said meekly.

Kay said "Yes" before he turned around and saw it was Farley speaking. Then he said "Farley! My god, haven't you gotten in enough trouble today? What the hell do you want ?"

"Uh....sorry, sir. It's an area of electronic jamming, sir. It's moving away from the park, sir. And, uh, it was there when I.....uh....I mean, when the target....."

"What's going on, son?" came the voice of the Special Agent in Charge.

"Uh... This pattern of interference is consistent with a hand held electronic scrambler. Radio Shack has one they sell over the counter which matches this pattern sir. It was....uh in the park, at almost the precise spot I landed after........uh, well it's started moving, sir. The DSAIC said to notify him of anything out of the ordinary and so......Look, sir, I am really sorry about before I was too busy thinking of the glory of capturing this guy and I really feel bad about what happened and....."

"And you still felt it was your duty to speak up about this even though you know that the DSAIC and I are less than thrilled with you at the moment", Solo concluded.

The young agent lost all color and nodded as he tried to gulp down some air.

"You may have the guts to be an agent after all. What do you think, Kay?"

"Oh, his guts were never in doubt," Kay replied "It's which organ he thinks with that has me confused."

"Show us what you got, kid." Solo said.

After pointing out the area and showing where the pattern had moved, Farley went on to explain his hunch that it might be the target.

"We saw that his trail went to the edge of the park before it disappeared and now we are searching the area in a widening pattern. But if he doubled back and somehow managed to hide in the park, we would have gone right past him. Then, when we're gone he comes out."

"Allowing that he hid under our very noses" a possibility that Kay clearly found both unlikely and annoying, "Why the hell would he leave a jammer going to show us where he is?"

"Well, sir. We wouldn't pay any attention to it. We followed him because of thermal scans. He might have figured that out and fixed the problem, but he couldn't be sure that we didn't have some bug on him that he didn't or couldn't detect. If I was faced with that, a multi frequency jammer would frag with the signal enough to hide me until I could ditch all my stuff or have it checked out completely. Nobody pays attention to those distortion zones because with all the tech out there, sometimes those things just pop up. I only paid attention because it was sitting in the area ........uh, the park and I had nothing else to do."

"So, you're saying that the target realized that he had tipped his hand somehow and then covered the possibility that we had him bugged. How long would he keep this jammer?" Solo asked.

"If it was me, sir, I'd leave it on until I knew I was bug free."

"Can you follow this interference that he's creating?" Kay asked.

"Well, uh..yes sir. With the center pinpointed we just need a few resources...."

"Kay, make sure young Mr. Farley gets whatever tech support he needs." Solo then said into his comm, "Attention all units. Possible lead on location of target. DSAIC will coordinate all activity. All units will respond to DSAIC's orders and nobody, repeat nobody will freelance or I will personally nail their hoops to my office door." Turning to the nervous young trainee, Solo smiled a sharks grin and said "Don't fuck up, kid."

5:15 p.m. Saturday

Knowing that he was going to be cooped up with the other "lost boys" for at least two days, Owen gave the trio directions to his safehouse before he left the park and stopped at the grocery store. One of the few advantages of suburban living was that out here, not everything was a stuffer shack. He enjoyed the shopping, as he filled his cart with food products he would never normally have purchased. Happily planning menus and picking out supplies, he nearly missed the sudden increase in the number of athletic looking young people who seemed to be avoiding eye contact with him. DAMN! I've been spotted again! How the frag did they find me so fast? Although nothing in his outward demeanor indicated he knew he was trapped, after a few moments the hunters began closing in. When Owen returned a loaf of bread to the rack near the bakery section, he also included a stun grenade set for a 30 second delay. He then moved towards the stock room doors, expecting that there were federal agents waiting for him on the other side.

"Owen Glend......" the string of whistling explosions as the dozen thunder flashes went off interrupted the fed's official sounding orders and caused everyone but Owen to flinch. Quick as a flash he vaulted the display cases of the deli counter while drawing his Goren Bee. The bread that had been blown up had not finished raining down on the stunned and screaming shoppers when Owen fired twice, dropping his two largest potential captors, Agents Sean and Kiew. For all their muscle and concealed body armor, the splash of Elephant Tranq and DMSO from Owen squirter put them out like lights. As a pair of gas grenades sailed over the counter towards him, Owen pulled on his balaclava, rebreather and gloves and tossed the smoking grens back the way they had come. Although the sleep gas now became more of a problem for the shoppers and the feds, for his trouble Owen's jacket was hit by the capacitor darts from Agent Hurd's Yamaha Pulsar.

Owen's rubberized stealth suit kept him from being taken out by the taser's charge. Agent Hurd, unfortunately, had no corresponding remedy for the hits he took from the Goren Bee. As the Fed slumped over unconscious Owen again jumped the deli case and examined the fed. He briefly considered trying to change identities with Hurd but quickly rejected the idea as impractical, just before heaving the unconscious agent up as a shield to the stream of darts being fired by the Narcojet rifle in Agent Urbina's hands. Without a second's hesitation, Owen knocked his attacker out by denting his forehead with a thrown can of Authentic Soya Brand Lima Beans. Probably should have used the pistol the Phys ad thought as the lights went out in the store.

Reholstering his pistol, Owen pulled the pins on a pair of stun grenades. If I let them organize, I'm dead he thought as he tossed the grenades randomly over the aisles in both directions. He then headed towards the dairy section as a narcojet dart fired by Agent Glover went "clink" as it bounced off a piece of gear in Owen's utility vest. Thank you, Goren. Glendower thought as he dropped to one knee and fired back at the fed, dropping him in the double doorway to the stockrooms just as the stun grenades went off. From his kneeling position, Owen pivoted and shot Agent Pierce as she dropped down from the top shelf above the pasta, and then took out Agent DeGregorio rather more messily above the jars of spaghetti sauces.

Clearing the clip from his squirter, Owen reloaded just in time to dive around the corner as concussion grenades bounced down the aisles. These boys are starting to play rough Owen thought as Soy substitutes were blown everywhere. As if to confirm his assessment, Glendower immediately dove towards Glover's sleeping form as the Soy Milk dairy products on his right began urinating white streams to the floor. As he turned to fire he thought Gotta be a rookie. Nobody uses a silencer on gel rounds. Its going to be pure hell to clean. The trainee in question would have to wait until after his nap to learn the truth of Owen's thoughts, as he suddenly developed an intense need to sleep courtesy of the Phys ad's squirter.

Eight down and who knows how many to go. How long will my luck last? Glendower's question was answered immediately as the pair of Doberman drones began rolling towards him from the Frozen Food section. You had to ask, he thought as he tried to set a BeBop with his Goren Bee still in hand. The line of gel rounds that stitched across his torso made for painful stings, but did not take the Phys ad down. Fortunately, the same could not be said for the grenades' simultaneous detonation a few seconds later. Both of the heavy wheeled drones were blown over on their sides, where turning drive wheels caused them to rotate in place.

The four agents who burst out of the store room were armed with supershock batons and were wearing enough body armor to make them immune to Owen's liquid attack. Holstering his pistol, Owen regretfully drew his new Sten dueling daggers and prepared to actually begin shedding blood. Distracted as he was by the mental adjustment to escalating the violence with a group of dedicated law enforcement professionals, Owen did not sense Agent Jerocha's invisible attack until the sap she swung made contact with the back of his head. As he slumped to his knees, three of the agents facing him hit him with their stun batons.

5:23 p.m. Saturday

"Will you look at this mess!" Solo exclaimed to no one in particular as he made his way through the grocery store. He marched up to the unconscious phys ad and shook his head as he listened to Kay's report.

"Two civilians, minor cuts when they fell running from our boy's stun grenades. We ought to look into those," Kay said."He's got stunners where all of the flash bangs go off at the same time. Explosive force was enough to knock two Dobermans over. Minor damage there. We've got eight agents down", when Solo looked up with alarm, Kay hastily clarified, "Just knocked out. Seems our boy was using some sort of squirter loaded with a powerful tranq. Probably something to accelerate it's absorption like DMSO. I guess the man didn't want a federal rap for injuring an agent, but as you can see at the end he had pulled knives. What this is going to cost to repair and hush up, I have no idea as yet, but we did get our man."

"Damage to the target?" Solo asked.

"Aw, Ellie just sapped him. Then we, uh.. kind of got carried away with the stun baton's but he's still breathing. He'll be ok."

"Why didn't she magic him to sleep?"

"Well up to the last minute I guess he was moving around too much, or too fast. I don't really care as long as we finally got the slot."Kay said.

"Ok. I want all of our people out of here first. Get them out of the area and then get them med or magic or whatever, but let's get them moving. Second, I want a very large and very thorough clean up squad to disinfect the area. That means find who actually saw what and shut them up. Pay the store manager and get all of this stuff up off the floor. Third, lets make very certain that our little playmate doesn't wander off. I want him bundled up and ready for transport to FDC in an hour. Let's move people.






5:25 p.m. Saturday

The parking lot for the grocery store was total chaos as the feds attempted to take care of their own unconscious comrades while maintaining order and security, dealing with both the media hounds and the local Lone Star officers as well as the Fire and Rescue people. The pandemonium in the store had caused one panicked shopper to back over a fire hydrant and then slam into the side of a passing city bus. To top off this driving performance the shopper had suffered a massive coronary and his Doc Wagon Super Platinum wrist monitor had sent out it's automatic distress signal, bringing a heavily armed rapid response team. Little wonder then that the object of all of this chaotic activity was quickly handcuffed to the gurney he was lying on and hustled to the waiting Osprey II without undergoing more than a cursory weapons search. After all, he was unconscious, (he'd been sapped and hit with three stun batons) and the most immediate goal seemed to be to get him airborne. If anyone gave it any thought, they probably assumed that once on his way to the airport he could be thoroughly searched and secured.

Agent Denis Kanach was supposed to be in charge of the small escort group in the rear compartment of the VTOL craft, but embarrassingly, his slip and fall among the shattered jugs of cooking oil in aisle 4 had him occupying the second stretcher in the compartment. All of his seniority and experience did nothing to diminish the phenomenal pain of the back injury and this kept him from clearly focusing on procedures. If not for the pain, for example, he might have noticed that the "unconscious" prisoner who had been knocked out with electric stun batons was wearing a rubberized sneak suit under his clothes. Or that he had not been properly searched before boarding the transport. Or that he was only secured by one wrist. In fact, the supposedly unconscious prisoner had freed himself of the stretcher and drawn a pistol from inside his jacket before agent Kanach's pain fogged mind recognized he was in trouble. As to the other five agents in the compartment, they were so caught up in describing the action they each had seen that the prisoner had begun spraying them with his squirter before they knew there was a problem. Kanach actually saw each of them slump over unconscious before the prisoner focused on him. Before Kanach's reaction dulled reflexes could draw his gun, the prisoner pulled off his rebreather gear and asked "What happened to you?" There didn't seem to be any reason not to answer.

"Slipped and fell on my back. Look. You have interfered with Federal agents discharging their duties. This is a serious offense, but the penalties for your actions will become more severe if you do not surrender immediately....." the soft chuff of Owen's squirter ended the rehearsed speech just as Kanch's Predator II cleared it's holster.

To add insult to indignity, when he was revived at the airport, Kanach was forced to admit that not only had the prisoner escaped the VTOL, not only had he rendered six agents unconscious to do this, but apparently had stolen and then changed into Kanach's clothes in order to affect his escape. Subsequent investigation showed that he had also used Kanach's badge and ID to get help from Lone Star in clearing a way out of the jammed parking lot for the sportscar he was driving.

Agent Kanach's next assignment, working as the liaison with the Coast Guard station at Farquharson Point in Nova Scotia, gave him lots of time to try cures for his chronic back problem.

5:41 p.m. Saturday

Pulling the sportscar into the garage, Owen sat and tried to catch his breath. His torso was well bruised from his encounter with the gel rounds as well as the slug from Waverly's Warhawk, his head was throbbing from Agent Jerocha's expert work with the sap and his body was reaching it's excitement saturation point after three fights and a pair of narrow escapes in the last 9 hours. Man! Some times it sucks to be me! I thought the weekend was supposed to be a time to kick back and relax. Drek! I guess some days you get to be the dog and some days you get to be the tree. I wonder what the hell gave me away this time. I'm sure it's not a bug, I've got the jammer running......the jammer? Could it be..... Owen pulled the device from his vest and turned it off. C'mon an internal voice raged You can't be stupid enough to have broadcast the way back to your safehouse, can you? DREK, DREK, DREK! Owen leaned on the horn until the other lost boys came rushing out of the house.

"Sorry, guys. I fragged up big time. They found me at the grocery store, I got away but came here. I think they must have followed my jammer's signal which means this place is now compromised. We need to move."

Without recriminations or even comment, Lug said "Get outta the car, Sensei. We gotta a doss we can hideout in, but if this thing's parked out front it's a neon sign. Doc, you take your bike. Hamon and me will take him in the runabout. Follow us but keep an eye out for the feds.... Ya ok, Sensei? Ya wanna bring yer staff?"

Owen mumbled "Drek......yeah......sorry," and let himself be led to the rusted out brown shitbox. Thirty seconds later the caravan was exiting the area.

6:02 p.m. Saturday

The lost boys' arrival at Lug's eastside flop was completely inconspicuous and unobserved, except for a single industrious street sam. This perceptive individual had found some sources that, for sufficient remuneration, were willing and able to point him in the direction of Lug's abode which he was tracing as a means of finding his true quarry. This quarry was, of course, a phys ad currently calling himself Glendower who was being sought by a certain group of "vacationing" Compound assassins. Simon, the perceptive street samurai, was as delighted as he was surprised to catch his first glance of Owen. He made himself comfortable as he watched and waited for something to happen.

Whiling away the hours as he waited for some action, Simon mentally began to prepare his report.

6:00 p.m. Observed subject entering apartment block on lower east side. Subject accompanied by norm male Razor named Hamon. Driver of vehicle Dwarf male Razor named Lug. Both reputed to be top talent runners. Trio accompanied by Elf male. Elf identity believed to be "Doc", top combat mage reputed to be initiate grade, known associate of previously listed street samurai. See attached file for research on gillettes. Observed from cover while waiting for activity.

6:03 p.m. Saturday

Trainee Farley felt like he was on a roller coaster. First, he was elated at finding the target and dreamt of a glorious single handed capture from the chopper. Then those hopes were dashed and replaced by mortifying embarrassment when the target had vanished. He had briefly returned to the sunshine when his idea for tracing the jamming signal had been adopted, and even the DSAIC looked like he might forgive and forget. Then the target had slipped away after being captured, and everyone had turned to him expecting he would again direct the chase. Although he felt great about having the team rely on him, that all changed when he couldn't find the jamming signal to direct the pursuers. Nobody seemed to care that there wasn't a signal to trace any longer, that the target must have realized that he was putting out a traceable signal and turned the jammer off, they just wanted him to tell them where the slot was and when he couldn't, he again became the goat.

Now the drek sandwich was being passed around and everyone was getting a bite. The only individuals who were in more trouble than the "electronic wizard trainee who cant find his hoop with both hands and a guide dog" were the 6 who had actually been on the Osprey II when the target had decided to leave. These were not trainees, but fully qualified field agents who had assumed a) that the sap hit had put the target out- close, but no cigar. b) that three hits from AZ 150 Super Stun batons were enough to finish the sap's job- not if the target is insulated. c) that somebody had searched the target before loading him on the gurney- even Farley knew better than to assume that and d) that one cuff was enough to restrain an unconscious body- not, as it turned out, in this case. Farley wouldn't change places with those 6, especially not the head of the detail, Agent Kanach.

Blushing as red as his hair, Farley heard part of the reaming that Mr. Waverly had given the agent. Demanding that the old guy stand at attention in spite of his injured back was bad enough, but then to call the man those kinds of names, wow! Farley wasn't sure who Waverly was, but he understood why he had to have a bodyguard follow him around if he was going to treat people like that.

The trainee was also close enough that when the little man had demanded an open channel to every agent on the assignment, he heard the SAIC get reamed for offering advice when none was requested. Farley had been around just long enough to know that Solo was a legend in the service and for the old man to get blasted like a rookie did nothing to enhance Waverly's reputation. Then he heard Waverly's speech:

"Listen carefully, all of you. This incompetence will stop or I will personally see to it that every last one of you spends the remainder of your careers in the worst assignments I can dream up. I mean it. You have demonstrated such a total lack of ability, such careless, lackadaisical ....incompetence that I wonder how you can look yourselves in the eye. You have 24 hours. Just 24 hours to redeem yourselves by bringing in the target. If you don't, your so called careers are in the drekker."

Farley found himself imagining the crosshairs overlaying Waverly's silhouette as the senior civil servant and his bodyguard went by. From the looks of the other agents in the area he knew he wasn't alone in those thoughts.

6:04 p.m. Saturday

Seme arose to begin his hunt. Tonight! Tonight I shall end the game. I will find this Glendower and I will take his life. Then I will leave this cursed city and the damned federal agents and receive the acclaim I deserve from the entire Compound.

Fired with the thought of the glory that would soon be his, Seme set out on his hunt.

6:12 p.m. Saturday

The flop that Lug and Hamon shared was poor but clean. As soon as they entered Hamon began cooking, Doc laid down to take a nap, Lug began breaking down and cleaning his weapons and Owen found a place on the floor of the back bedroom where he could quietly play his flute to aid in his accelerated healing trance. Within a short time the throbbing in his head had subsided and eventually he found his other aches melting away.

Thirty minutes later, having cleaned and reloaded his weapons, Lug wandered into the kitchen.

"Da man plays a pretty mean flute. I don't even think the Winstons are gonna object."

"Tranquil" Hamon responded as he continued working on his stir-fry.

"Yeah, dats a good description. Relaxing but not like..ya know...elevator music. Amazing he can even focus that much considering all the drek that's gone down fer him today. He looked kinda glassy eyed when we got him outta that sports job. Ouch!" the dwarf exclaimed as he drew back a stinging arm, "Hey, I wuz just tryin ta see if it wuz ready. No need ta get violent."

Hamon said "Wash" and returned to the wok.

Lug gave his partner's back a single finger salute, but then went to wash up and gather the rest of the team for dinner.

6:45 Saturday

Simon had watched the dark clouds rolling in as the sun had set and muttered that luck couldn't remain good for long. He had stumbled onto the quarry he was seeking, but now to pay for that good fortune it looked like he was going to get soaked. The razor moved around his roof top observation post looking for some shelter that would allow him an uninterrupted view of the building where his quarry had gone to ground while protecting him from the fat drops that had started to fall. After searching diligently, he shrugged and prepared to get soaked rather than risk losing his target by moving to shelter. Sure enough, within minutes the rain had become a cold downpour, drenching the sam and making his vigil miserable.

7:26 Saturday

Federal rigger Constantine Popov was puzzled. In spite of the warning he had given about leaving the rotodrones up in this weather, his superiors had insisted that he continue to use them to patrol the city. Since the parameters of the search were so broad, like finding a particular needle among several haystacks, he never believed anything would turn up from a general observation of the city. But now in grid H 35 he had found a peculiar re-occurrence. There was someone standing on the roof of a particular building. He'd been standing there when the patrolling drone had passed more than 1/2 an hour ago and was still there in spite of the pouring rain. Why stand outside in a deluge on a roof, when at least in the building's stairways one at least had cover over one's head? Why stand on the roof for so long at all? Perhaps it meant something. With nothing better to do, Popov put the drone into a hover mode far enough away to be unnoticed and activated his prize program routine.

Popov had rigged for the government for enough years to know that his superiors never really understood the principles of rigging. It was fine to say "well, tell the riggers to put up the drones" but none of the bosses ever seemed to understand that controlling (living) through several devices simultaneously was complicated. That the more drones you had active the more likely it became that you would be distracted and miss something. Constantine had worked on this problem for a long time before coming up with his Dog Brain Auxiliary Program. With DBAP he could set a large number of parameters for notification, a threshold, that the drone's simple dogbrain would maintain. Once the threshold was crossed the Rigger's conscious mind would be summoned by a simple feedback loop. In this case he set the rotodrone into a hover mode, focused both thermal and optical observation systems on the rooftop figure and set up a number of conditionals. If the figure left the roof, if the figure moved to a new area of the roof, if the figure took any number of positions defined as "sniping", the rigger was to be summoned. Until those thresholds were violated, the drone would continue to record it's observations while Popov's mind examined input from other drones. Knowing how many drones he might be called upon to control, Constantine also activated a timer threshold to summon his attention in 30 minutes, even if nothing else had changed.

At the end of the allotted time the drone demanded the rigger's attention. He focused on it's input and saw that nothing had changed, except that the weather had moved the drone slightly out of position. After considering for a moment he summoned a Dalmatian drone and set it up in a high observational orbit above the roof top in question. This way the roof would be observed even if the rotodrone got gusted behind an obstruction. He fed very similar DBAP commands into the second drone, repositioned and repeated his commands to the first drone and sent his conscious mind off in pursuit of more promising possibilities.

7:55 p.m. Saturday

The rain had driven the warm blooded denizens of the plex indoors, and after a few hours of mundane searching of Bars and restaurants, Seme was growling with frustration. There are too many places to check. The plex is too large to walk the streets in the hope of encountering the prey. Perhaps I can find him astrally.

Returning to his accommodations at the the Carlton-Metropolitan Arms, the shaman sent forth his spirit to hunt. Again confounded by the size of the plex, Seme summoned spirits to find him things that were out of the ordinary. While he waited for their return, he floated above the eastside looking for any clue that might lead him to his prey. Eventually he recognized the circling drone flying high above a particular building as a possible clue.

The drone orbits, he thought. But what does it orbit? As his astral projection floated lower he encountered the hovering metal of another drone. This one was not moving but its observation material seemed focused on a rooftop. Seme floated closer. What is this? I've seen this aura before...... at the Compound.... This is the samurai who works with Dr. Chong to remove the traces that the sloppy ones leave behind. But what is he doing here, and what is he watching. After observing Simon's rain drenched figure for a few moments Seme realized that he was staring fixedly at an apartment building near by. Seme's spirit drifted closer and to his great delight and surprise actually found his target.

GLENDOWER! I've found you at last! Tonight will mark the end of this hunt! the vampire exulted. His spirit made a beeline for the hotel where his meat body slept, and once again whole, the vampire-shaman raced back towards his prey's lair.

8:03 p.m. Saturday

After dinner, Doc had gone back to napping. He wanted to be fully rested and prepared for whatever happened next between Owen and the feds. He left one of his more intelligent watcher spirits on sentry duty and laid out to sleep. When Seethreepeeoh awakened him with the message "Excuse me sir, but an undead shaman approaches the building. His spirit looked in before, but this time he's brought along his meat body. I don't think he's very friendly" the Elf mage rolled off the couch yelling "Head's up! Company's coming!"

8:03:11 p.m. Saturday

Very little is required to draw the attention of a man standing in the pouring rain while watching a building. However, even if Simon's mind was not desperate for the distraction of something happening, the tall black man's approach would still have garnered the Sam's focus. The man was so determined and deliberate in his movement that Simon subconsciously knew that trouble was coming. He quickly moved to the edge of the roof to make sure that it was in fact Seme who was about to enter what Simon had begun to think of as Owen's building. Well, this may be it. Looks like there's going to be a blowoff between these two. I wonder where the rest of Seme's team is? The sam thought.

8:03:22 p.m. Saturday

Constantine Popov's attention was immediately drawn back to the drones he had tasked with watching the lone figure on the roof. Finally, some movement, he thought. I wonder what's gotten our wet friend's attention? Better set up to see what he's looking at, and while I am at it, let the boss know that I'm watching something suspicious. Bringing the Dalmatian into a somewhat lower orbit pattern, the rigger focused the cameras on the tall black man who was approaching the front of the building.

8:03:44 p.m. Saturday

With the ease born of long practice the lost boys armed themselves and prepared for battle. Not only did the four meet in the living room with weapons in hand, but each was throwing on the additional protection of their armored outerwear as they waited for further info from the mage who had raised the alarm.

"Undead shaman approaching the building. Anybody know why?" Doc asked.

"Drek! He may be my vampire." Owen said. "I didn't know he was a fragging magic user! Have you guys got wood......." before Owen could complete the question the front door to the flat was blown in. Exactly as the Vampire had planned, when Owen swung his staff through the billowing cloud that he assumed was the vampire in non corporeal form, the phys ad's favorite weapon ignited. Doc's yell of "FIRE Cloud!" came seconds too late as Glendower was forced to drop his burning prime weapon and join the scramble toward the back room. Every flammable item that the Fire Cloud spell touched in the apartment burst into flame but the lost boys managed to evacuate the room just in time to prevent their clothing from joining the conflagration.

Hamon's scream "WAIT" prevented Lug from diving out the back window into the alley. As the dwarf turned Doc confirmed Hamon's suspicion yelling "Trap! He's got a spirit panther down there waiting." As one, the lost boys looked to the phys ad to see how he wanted to play it.

8:04 p.m. Saturday

"Well sir", Constantine explained, "I started watching this lone figure on the roof in the rain. I didn't know what he was up to, but after a 1/2 hour he hadn't moved. I detailed some drones to keep an eye on him and now he's started moving. Seemed to be watching a building across the street. We got this tall black male norm approaching the building and then a few seconds ago we got an explosion and then fire pouring out of the windows of a second floor apartment."

"Let em see an image of the man approaching the building," Kay said."What? What is it?"

"Doesn't make any sense, sir, but I swear that looks like an all black tiger or a whatyacallums....a Panther."

"Holy drek!" the DSAIC said. Picking up the comm unit he said: "Solo! This is Kay. I have a locale on the bastard who did Connie and he may have found our target.....Right, I'll scramble everybody but the riggers who are searching, but I'm taking one rigger with us so we don't lose sight of the target..... Ok. Meet you at the front doors in 30 seconds." Turning to another comm channel he yelled "Scramble! Scramble! Map grid H 35. Henry three five. Priority Alpha!" Then dropping the comm he said to Agent Popov "You're with me. Move your hoop!"

8:04 p.m. Saturday

"Doc, if I distract it, can you blast the panther before I'm lunch?" Owen asked as he formed a plan on the fly.

"Absolutely" the elf said, neither he nor Owen noticed the look that passed between Lug and Hamon.

"Ok, I'll jump down there and get his attention, Doc you zap him. You guys follow me down and we'll get away from here before the place burns down. You ready, Doc?"

As the elf mage nodded Hamon grabbed his partner and threw him out of the window before Owen could get near it. The dwarf tucked into a ball in flight and rolled far enough away from the two story drop that when the Panther moved towards him, it came into Doc's line of sight. Wasting no time Doc launched a spirit bolt which caused Gwynewyhvar to scream in pain. The spirit's anger and pain did not affect it's mobility as the beast began streaking away. Doc, however was also quite fast and launched a second crippling attack before the panther could disappear.

While this was going on, Lug with Cobra in hand was looking for something physical to attack. Hamon, meanwhile had anchored a rope to the room's radiator and as soon as Doc moved out of the way he tossed the line to the ground. Ignoring Owen's sputtered "But I was......" Hamon gestured for Doc to climb down. The Mage shook his head with a smile, but before he could cast his levitate spell, Hamon's hand on in shoulder caused him to pause. The Sam only said "later" but Doc got the idea that the razor was cautioning him against channeling mana needlessly when they were opposing another magic user. The elf paused, nodded and then began climbing out the window.

Hamon had started lowering himself to the ground when Seme's roar was heard. He and Owen shared a momentary look and then immediately began scrambling out into the rain. The roar they had heard combined pain and rage with indignation. Neither man thought it wise to hang around for further analysis.

8:05 p.m. Saturday

Seme's roar echoed through the hallway at the front of the building. His spirit ally, in many senses a part of himself, had been wounded. The damned adept had some kind of magical help and Gwyn has paid a terrible price for the discovery. the shaman raged. Crippled by spirit bolts, the cat, who was supposed to delay the mice until his master could arrive for the kill, fled to his own plane, leaving Seme to battle Owen and his allies unaided. Furious as he was, the shaman recognized that his quarry was slipping out the back and immediately moved to intercept.

8:06 p.m. Saturday

Faced with the choice between burning to death or meeting an unknown terror raging outside ones door, most people will elect to face the terror. The resident of the Barcroft apartments proved this when they ignored the terrifying roar of the vampire/shaman and nearly trampled him in their hurry to exit the building. The sprinkler system, combined with the pouring rain outside kept the fire damage restricted, but no one was willing to trust their lives to the ancient fire suppression system, so Seme stormed out of the front door just ahead of a tide of residents clutching their most valuable possessions.

As he turned the corner to begin tracking his prey, he received the rude surprise of walking face first into Doc's fireball spell. Rather than flee the lost boys had waited for their adversary to come after them. Although the explosion and flames did not kill him, in spite of the downpour, the spell did ignite both clothes and flesh. The shaman rolled on the ground to extinguish the flame before being blasted by a CO2 extinguisher wielded by a helpful Barcroft resident. Of course, Mr. Dickinson got the scare of his life when the poor soul he had prevented from burning to death leaped up, hissed at him, and become a cloud of smoke which floated around the corner of the building.

8:06 p.m. Saturday

"Aw, Drek! You mean they're out of the building? Damn! Don't lose them. Just hang on for a few minutes I'll get you all the help you need." Solo told Popov before he got on the comm. "This is the SAIC. I need riggers to get their drones set up in all adjoining squares to grid H35. Priority Prime! Get me some coverage now. All other units continue converging. ETA to suspect's site 90 seconds."

"Solo, this is Waverly" , came a sour voice over the radio. "I am on my way to take personal charge of this capture. Don't even think of losing him before I get there."

"Yes, sir." The federal man replied, then, muttering under his breath, "although that was my plan. I intended to scramble every agent, race over here like my hair was on fire and all just in time to miss him. But now that you've specifically told me not to....."

Solo looked up to see Kay shaking his head "This one seem like a long assignment to you too?" the DSAIC asked.

"Naw," Solo replied, "We've only been after this guy for what, 3 or 4 months. Not a long chase at all."

"Gotta watch that", Kay replied, "You're getting sarcastic in your old age."

"Aw, blow it out yer ass."

The brakes squealed as the speeding vehicle stopped in front of the burning building and the federal men piled out.






8:06 p.m. Saturday

When Doc's fireball caught the vampire, everyone's first instinct was to go tearing around the corner and end the threat once and for all. Owen and Hamon, however, realized the strategic implications of being caught out in the open while being pursued by federal authorities. Both caught glimpses of hovering observation drones and knew what it meant. As Doc and Lug started to move in for the kill, Hamon caught their attention with a shrill whistle as Owen said, as he pulled on his balaclava: "Feds! We gotta go!"

Both men swallowed their bloodlust as they too recognized the danger and the lost boys tried to fade from sight.

8:07 p.m. Saturday

Simon could not believe the speed of the action he was witnessing. Within seconds Seme had walked in the front door, there was an explosion and fire, the dwarf came flying out of the window, the cat thing went for him and got zapped with magic twice, the others had climbed out of the apartment, Seme came around the corner where the Elf was waiting for him and got hit with a fireball. As the shaman was blown back around the corner, Glendower's gang had run off through the alleys in the other direction. Simon decided that rather than chase the vampire, who was at least temporarily and possibly permanently out of action, he would chase the phys ad. He fast roped down from the roof of the building without knowing what effect the fireball had on Seme and without realizing that he had developed a tail of his own.

8:07:34 p.m. Saturday

The feds were piling out of their cars and forming a hasty perimeter when The SAIC entered the riggers van and Popov said "They're gone! They ducked into an alley and the mage must have thrown up some sort mask spell because I don't see them."

"Damn!" Solo exclaimed. "Ok lets get a search pattern going. The son of a slitch likes to double back and let the pattern expand beyond him, so make damn sure you check it all before you leave the area. Kay! Bring me those sewer schematics. I don't want the bastard to take his playmates underground and slip through the net that way. Control!" He said into his comm link, "Goose every god damned rigger we've got. I don't want the slot slipping through adjacent grids because somebody stopped paying attention."

As the federal man imagined how he might escape from the box that was being constructed, he saw his boss pull up and scurry through the rain for a report, followed as always by his shadow. Fragging great, Solo thought, Precisely what I need at this moment. With a small sigh he braced himself and stepping outside, began rattling off the sit rep to the senior civil servant.

8:07:37 p.m. Saturday

Seme mist form coalesced into human form at the end of the alley down which his prey had fled. Between the rain, wind and his injuries, the mist form was just not keeping pace with his prey. Casting a healing spell to compensate for his fire injuries, the shaman then cast a shapechange spell, turning into a huge Black Panther to better pursue his quarry. The transition from human to animal form happened quite rapidly and suddenly the rain, wind and darkness mattered not at all. Seme's Panther face smiled with wicked anticipation as he suddenly picked up his prey's scent. Stepping out of the remnants of the armor lined clothing, the big cat loped off after his prey.

8:07:49 p.m. Saturday

Oh, Drek! Simon thought, Unless the zoo has an animal release program, the shaman has taken the form of his totem to catch his prey. I do want to witness this but I better not follow so closely that I crowd the bastard or I'm liable to end up kitty chow. Now more cautious in his pursuit, Simon followed the Panther down the alley.

8:07:54 p.m. Saturday

Popov felt Kay's hand on his shoulder and answered the unspoken question without opening his eyes or shifting his focus from his drone observers.

"Got the sam who was watching from the roof, sir. He got down off there in a hurry when the target disappeared and headed after them. He's slowed down because he seems to be following another big black panther. This one is even bigger then the one that got zapped and disappeared. I'll bring it up on display 2, sir and the tracker will show on the grid map. I don't have the real target, who would be red. The Panther is the blue blip, the watcher is the green one."

Kay watched the spaced pair of lights move across the map and wondering where the hell the real target was, went off to update Solo.

8:08 p.m. Saturday

Lug seemed to be leading the group up a blind alley. Suddenly he stopped and started pounding on a metal fire door. Owen wondered if the thick barrier was even letting sound penetrate when the door suddenly swung out. Instead of the glare of the interior light suddenly destroying their night vision, the portal gaped wide on velvet blackness. Lug mumbled something and ducked quickly inside, immediately followed by Hamon and Doc. With an internal shrug Owen also ended the stygian darkness. When his low light glasses did not illuminate the darkness, he realized there must be a magical component to the diminished visibility.

As the door clanged shut behind them, Lug tried to reassure everyone saying,

"These are friends". He then said to a dark area immediately in front of the group, "We're nova hot. Got a bad mojo man and federales on our hoops. Need egress and trail erasure. Can do?"

"Gonna cost"

"Agreed, do same to you one day."

"Drek, Lug nut, ask cover and threat?"

"No, hoops hangin out. You make pay, got no choice, but goes around comes around."

"Halfer's right," boomed a basso profundo from somewhere in the darkness to the right, "Charge enough ta sting, not enough ta make him want ta get even." There seemed to be a chorus of murmured agreement until:

"I say frag 'em. Kill 'em ourselves. Dey bring us trouble. Besides, I don't like his attitude." came a nasal voice from the left.

Owen flicked his left wrist and a stunned silence followed the "thwock" of a throwing blade penetrating wood. In a quiet but authoritative voice Owen said:

"And I don't like yours. Playtime's over. Name your price, fill your hand, or get out of the way."


"Bosco! Shut up! Yer in way over yer head." This newest voice was feminine and also had an air of authority. "Ya know ya don't want ta frag wit Lug an Hamon, yer not in Doc's class and judging by da company he's keepin and his description, I'd bet dis is da man who had such problems wit da High Hats. You remember the High Hats, dontcha? They ain't aroun no more. He don't need ta see ya ta kill ya.....An you, Mr. Ninja, don't be goading da youngster. I figure a thou....each is about right. We gotta......."

Owen tossed the stick with enough accuracy that it was caught without hitting the ground. "There's 5K on that. Certified. If we can start moving and stop talking, you can keep the change."

Whatever witty rejoinder was planned went unheard as there was a dull thud against the door they had just entered through. "This way" the voice said as a flashlight came on. The lost boys followed it through the darkness of what turned out to be a warehouse. Eventually a manhole cover was heard being dragged back and a gagging stench filled the area.

"Hey", said the voice muffled by a rebreather rig, "Ya wanta get away, yer gonna get dirty."

The lost boys donned the offered rebreather gear and climbed down into the sewer.

8:09 p.m. Saturday

FRAG! FRAG! FRAG! FRAG! raged the Panther's mind. The door has no handle and opens out. It's thicker and stronger than the surrounding wall! HE'S GETTING AWAY! The ROAR which Seme next gave vent to did absolutely nothing for him in terms of remaining inconspicuous. Neither did the bash he gave the door with a huge forepaw. It didn't even really make him feel better. The emotional purging did, however, cause him to remember that his Panther form might have trouble penetrating the building, but his mist form did not.

Regretting the fit of temper for alerting his quarry, Seme's mist form slithered through a gap at the base of the door.

8:10 p.m. Saturday

Although the hair was standing up on the back of Simon's neck as he watched the vampire enter the building, he was too resourceful to let this setback keep him from his assignment. Digging through his memory for a mental map of the area, he realized that the warehouse that Seme was entering had it's main doors on Market square where the wholesalers held their shipment auctions. Glendower wouldn't cut through the building to end up in a broad well lighted plaza. It would make him too easy to catch from the air. He wouldn't just hide in the building because eventually Seme would find him. If he can't stay and he can't use the other door to the place that means either up or down. I bet he's headed for the sewers and I bet Seme's gonna follow him. Damnation!

Simon immediately began searching for a manhole cover so he could continue to witness the hunt as it went below the surface.

8:11 p.m. Saturday

With one part of his mind Constantine activated a microskimmer and prepared it for an excursion through the sewers. Another part of his mind was activating his voice recorder by saying:

"8:11 situation update. Panther has disappeared. Assumed mist form and entered back of Esherick's Security Warehouse. Roof sam pursuing Panther immediately began searching for manhole cover which he has found, lifted and used to enter sewers. He must assume that prime target is trying to evade capture that way and that Panther will eventually follow also. Suggest immediate search be launched into sewers, Esherick's Security Warehouse be surrounded and searched and floating crawlers be activated and launched into sewers. Am sending microskimmer with thermal imaging system into sewer through access used by roof sam. report ends. Command: Priority marker active."

Secure that his fellow agents now had the data they needed to begin closing the net around their quarry, Rigger Popov directed his attention to following a barely detectable heat pattern through the sewers as his microskimmer attempted to follow Simon. He never spared a thought for the fact that for the next sixteen minutes, because of Mr. Waverly's directions, no one entered his van to see the blinking priority lamp and follow up on his detective work.

8:11 p.m. Saturday

Owen had never before fantasized about being a Troll, but anything that would put his head farther from the indescribable sludge they were wading through would have been a blessing. He felt bad for Lug, whose stature placed more of him in proximity to the reeking miasma that filled the bottom third of the tunnel, but he noted that Dwarf was taking the situation in stride. Doc, on the other hand, had slipped on his descent, covering the back of his longcoat with filth which he seemed to be constantly attempting to shake off. His quiet mutters of disgust, muffled by the rebreather he wore provided a background hum to the lost boy's subterranean escape.

The glow of the chemlights provided the only illumination as they followed the strangely garbed orc female through the tunnels for what must have been miles. They had been walking undisturbed for many minutes when Owen began to sense others in the area. Their guide seemed to be a magic user by the number and variety of fetishes she displayed and although Owen could not be sure, her mannerisms, gestures and appearance suggested she was a Frog shaman. She signaled a halt and said "Cat/not cat comes as blood drinker. Real badass. Watch out." She gestured back the way they had come and in the time it took to glance over one's shoulder and turn back, she had disappeared.

Doc's muttering became louder as he started activating fetishes "Of course, he'd attack in this disgusting slop, that way if I attempt to go astral my body ends up immersed in this mess and I die from one of the billion deadly diseases that breed in this filth......" Owen handed out his wooden shuriken, demonstrating in dumb show the wrist flick needed to launch the sharpened stick and miming how to use the joined sticks as a stabbing dagger.

8:21 p.m. Saturday

Seme was relying on updates from the spirit he had summoned to guide him through the sewers. As large as his panther form was, he refused to chase along on all fours through the muck of the sewer pipes. His animal nose also found the methane gas present in the pipes overwhelmed any ability to track by scent. So, assuming his human guise the shaman moved naked through the pipes, closing on his prey by mentally linking himself with the watcher spirit who had discovered the quarry moving through the sewers. Although the shaman regretted being without arms and armor, a part of his mind saw this as a chance for a purer and more glorious kill.

My prey is without his cursed staff, Seme thought, so if I can keep his companions occupied I can destroy Glendower Mano a Mano. I mustn't underestimate his aid, though. The elf was good enough to hurt Gwyn, so he may be a problem. He hasn't seemed to notice my watcher, so perhaps he was only lucky with my spirit ally. We shall see soon enough. I wish I had not had to leave my fetishes and Foci with my clothes.

8:22 p.m. Saturday

"I'm not interested in checking on the rigger in the van, Mr. Solo." Waverly fumed, "I want the search patterns I ordered put in place immediately. I don't have to remind you again about who is in charge here, do I?"

"No, sir. But....."

"But me no buts, Mr. Solo. Just execute the orders you are given. You've had your way, your 'expert' methods and we don't have our man. Now we are going to apply a little common sense and get our target. And you'd better be very clear on this. If you don't get with the program your name will remain on the list with the other agents on this assignment whose incompetence I fully intend to see punished."

The SAIC maintained a stone face, but something snapped inside. He could put up with the insults and abuse that he had personally received from the little man. He was able to deal with the accusation, the innuendoes and even the petty meanness of being dressed down in front of other agents or having his title reduced to Mister, or being forced to stand in the rain while Waverly stood dry under his golf umbrella. When Waverly continued to threaten the careers of the men and women who served under the SAIC, when he ignored the fact that agents had been wounded and given their lives in the pursuit of this assignment, that pushed Solo over the edge. Waverly was oblivious to the change taking place around him, but Kay understood that something had happened because he gave a single subtle nod and the Courier took a half step forward to challenge the fed's decision as he too saw the change.

The movements were subtle, the rain was pouring down and the respect each opponent had for the other's ability created a sort of equilibrium where no one wanted the disadvantage of making the first move. The standoff might have gone on indefinitely, but trainee Farley, who had watched his idol, (SAIC) be mercilessly reduced by the senior civil servant, chose that minute to interrupt. Oblivious to the tableau between the two feds and the Courier, he made up his mind to tell that little slot Waverly off, even if it cost him his career, but when he stepped forward to put in his two cents, the Courier's wired reflexes read attack and broke the stalemate. Simultaneously he launched a shuriken at the the trainee and moved forward to push Waverly out of harm's way.

The "thwack" of the throwing star impacting in the trainee's body armor was a sound of liberation for Solo and Kay. They had witnessed a federal agent (probationary) subjected to deadly force while in pursuit of his duty. Each man's cybereyes lit up at the license it gave them to respond with deadly force. Before the Couriers' muscle replacements could get him to Waverly, Solo's Predator II had cleared it's holster and Kay's Manhunter was just about to.

Waverly did not even recognize that the body hurtling at him was intended to move him out of the field of fire. All he knew was that he had suddenly been shoved off his feet, into the rain and that he wasn't happy about it.

The Courier's movement of his arm in a particular way caused his sleeve holster to drop another throwing blade into his left hand as his right forearm made contact with Waverly's back. He flicked his arm fast enough that the blade entered one of the hands Kay was using for his two handed pistol grip. The blade slid into the joint between the first and second fingers of Kay's right hand, causing incredible pain and pulling the pistol off it's target. Fortunately, Kay was left handed, so the dagger did not cause incapacitating injury. Unfortunately, it did cause the DSAIC to involuntarily squeeze off a round as his hand moved, which caused the heavy slug to enter at the base of Mr. Waverly's skull and exit through his forehead as he fell forward.

Kay's wound made it look like he had suddenly developed a six fingered hand, but nobody other than the DSAIC noticed. Faster than most humans could imagine the SAIC had lined up on his target while dropping to one knee to reduce his own silhouette. Solo's first shot caught the Courier in the hip, changing the direction of his flying body by suddenly adding a new force vector. As the Courier's body shifted, his own Colt Manhunter cleared leather and as he tried to line up the target circles the smartlink II created in his cybereye, Solo's second round caught him in the chest. The heavy slug should have been a man stopper, but Solo knew that these days everyone wore some sort of body armor.

As Kay pulled the dagger out of his hand, Solo dove for cover, the Courier also tried to roll to cover and Trainee Farley realized what was going on. His bringing up the CMDT shotgun that he had been issued made him a priority target for the Courier because at close range the shotgun didn't have to be more than generally accurate to be fatal in spite of armor. As the federal messenger's wired reflexes shifted the Manhunter towards the new target, Solo screamed "NO!" and unleashed a hail of lead as fast as he could squeeze the trigger. Farley's shotgun barrel was still not in line as the Courier's smartgun II link gave him a green light on his trainee target when the slug from Kay's handcannon struck the Courier's shoulder.

Far from a fatal blow in itself, Kay's round did shift the Courier's aim off target, causing the slug to crack past the trainee's ear rather than entering his eye. This allowed Farley to squeeze the trigger before the federal messenger could realign and fire again. The shotgun's "boom" signaled that the Courier had lost in his race to eliminate the feds and the gel round from the shotgun struck the messenger (painfully, but non-fatally) in the face just as the slug from Solo's pistol blew out most of his throat. The Courier's dying thought was that the trainee, on a capture mission had only non-lethal ammo and could have been ignored, allowing enough time to take out the SAIC, the actual threat.

Horrified at what had just happened, the trainee took about 8 seconds to begin puking up his guts. He was conscious enough of his surroundings to be shocked when the two senior feds emptied their clips into the Courier's cooling corpse before they allowed themselves to do anything else. They stood back far enough that the messenger's exploding cranial bomb did not endanger them. The surprise on his face was so evident that as Kay tried to staunch the bleeding in his injured hand, he explained "Never assume, son. You want to spend your pension, always make sure the job is done."

8:23 p.m. Saturday

In spite of the incredible disgust he felt for his surroundings, Doc was aware of both the spirit watcher that the vampire had sent and the retreating frog shaman who was vacating the area as quickly as possible. He gave no indication that he understood what was going on, but his brain was feverishly forming and rejecting plans for the upcoming battle.

The sewer would never have been the elf mage's choice of battle ground. Too many of his offensive spells involved fire and explosion for him to want to work in the methane rich environment. Besides that, his revulsion for the environment was a handicap in finding geography that might work to his advantage. Problem is, Doc thought, taking this back aboveground means we have to deal with the feds again. Damn! This sucks.

8:23 p.m. Saturday

Simon was quite sick as, unlike the groups he was pursuing, he had neither rebreather gear nor a vampire's ability to never inhale. He'd never imagined a smell so bad and though he had read that the olfactory system eventually accommodates itself to any pervasive odor, his own definitely was not adjusting fast enough. He slogged through the fetid liquid as unthinkably noisome detritus dripped on him from above. The only redeeming aspect of the situation for him would be to try to make the Lord of the Compound sick as he described his environment in loathsomely thorough detail.

He thought he heard a noise behind him like metal scraping a wall, but the noise had faded quickly and had not returned. Simon peered around a corner and quickly backed up as he saw a naked Seme some twenty yards further up the tunnel. He was just standing there, but Simon assumed that meant he was casting a spell.

As the sam backed up something went by over his head. He felt a slight breeze and instinctively ducked, but whatever it was went by so fast in the bad light that he never caught a glimpse of it. Damn! Must be bats down here he thought.

8:23 p.m. Saturday

Maneuvering the skimmer past the "roof sam" and around the corner did not pose any significant problems for Rigger Popov. He was at something of a loss to explain how the naked figure he saw down the tunnel was visible on his low light system, but invisible on thermal. When the figure began gesturing Constantine thought Oh, that explains it. He must be doing it with Magic. The rigger decided to hang back until the spell worm had worked his spell.

8:24 p.m. Saturday

Seme was actually working two spells when Popov observed him, and was preparing to release them when his quarry moved into the next junction. He'd have a perfect opportunity to remove his prey from it's support so that he could battle the phys ad in single combat. He moved quietly down the tunnel behind his prey as he readied his trap.

8:24 p.m. Saturday

Lug and Hamon were following the left hand wall of the tunnel while Doc was doing the same on the right. Lowlight eyes tried to pierce the darkness by the light of chemsticks as the sound of rushing water kept growing in volume. Lug was about to state the obvious conclusion, that they were coming on some sort of drain room, when the left wall ended. Conscious of the danger of ambush, the two sams began moving against the flow of waste into another tunnel that branched off to the left.When Hamon covered the green glowing chemstick with his hand, the pair were confronted with seemingly thousands of beady red eyes. Devil Rats, again! the pair thought in unison.

Doc had been sensing the Shaman's activities and knew that something was imminent. When he found the tunnel leading off to the right, he sensed that this was the point for attack just before he recognized the city spirit taking a physical form before him. Pulling its being from the noisome flow of waste the vaguely manlike creature filled the tunnel from floor to ceiling. Ugh, thought Doc, How do you beat a crap golem?

"GRAY! You're done. I've come to take your head" the deep voice echoed down the tunnel as Owen spun to face the large naked black norm advancing on him. "I see you're without your staff. How unfortunate that you've mislaid it since only wooden weapons have a chance against me. Oh, and I've arranged to entertain your friends until I'm done with you so don't count on their help. Why not surrender and beg me for a swift death?" Owen stood as one frozen in terror.

Recognizing that the gas in the tunnels made blasters potentially fatal to all concerned, Lug pulled his narcojet pistol and cougar fine blade at the same instant Hamon unsheathed his katanas. Being dimly aware that all of the others had challenges of their own, the two razors stood back to back and prepared to fend off the army of Devil rats. Uncharacteristically, Hamon said "Man, I seen this trid before, and I didn't like it the first time." As the last syllable left his lips a hissing devil Rat launched himself at the Gillette's throat and as Lug Narcojet began whispering death to the assembled multitude, Hamon's suihei (horizontal) cut dropped the rat into the sludge in two pieces.

Doc had dealt with toxic spirits in his travels, but he had never encountered anything as revolting as the city spirit drawing it's form from the effluvia of the sewer. The spirit seemed to read his revulsion and extended one of it's "arms" towards him. Knowing that his own arsenal had many pyrotechnically spectacular spells, but that anyone of them in his current environment could be disastrous, Doc centered himself and began attempting to banish the spirit.

Owen waited until the Vampire had come closer before he tossed his pair of wooden shuriken. Although he did not expect his quarry to have a weapon that could hurt him, Seme attempted to block the hurled weapons with his hand. For his trouble he found himself in agony as the first wooden x went through the palm of his right hand and the second buried itself to the crosspiece in his shoulder. Screaming with surprise and pain, the vampire drew the weapons from the smoking holes in his body and dropped them into the drek at his feet. "You will pay for that, Gray" he said as the phys ad pulled a two foot long baton out of his jacket. The vampire paused and gnashed his teeth in frustration as Owen assumed the Tindig Serrada (Escrima ready position) and waited for his opponent's next move.

Although Lug was plying his Narcojet to good effect and Hamon's blade wove a web of steel that the Rats could not penetrate, the rodents were not limited in their direction of attack. They scurried up the walls of the tunnel, darted across the ceiling, swam through the muck the razors stood in and launched themselves from ledges, crevices and holes in the tunnel. The sams also knew that they would eventually tire and/or run out of ammo, but there seemed no limit to the numbers of devil rats waiting to attack.

Doc was frankly surprised at how difficult the city spirit was to banish. Instead of losing the battle of wills and blinking out of existence, the city spirit seemed to shrink to smaller and smaller sizes but never entirely go away. It also had definitely twigged to Doc's revulsion and kept distracting him from completing the banishment by throwing bits of itself at his head. Each time Doc ducked or dodged the distraction allowed the spirit to draw more substance from the flow and grow larger.

Seme's fury at finding his prey armed with a wooden weapon did not slow his claw swipe at Owen's throat. When the phys ad leaned back just far enough to feel the breeze of the passing talons without being touched, Seme might have gotten even angrier, but instead was nearly maddened with pain as Owen's riposte was a Bartikal (backhand baton strike to the collarbone). Seme screamed as the collarbone shattered and then fell over backwards into the muck as Owen's second strike, an Aldabis sa Ilalim (backhand strike to the knee) damaged the vampire's leg. Desperate for a respite from the cruel baton, Seme cast a chaos spell at the phys ad as he scrambled back up and out of the sludge.

In a matter of seconds the tide of battle turned against the lost boys. Lug was loading his last clip of narcojet darts and the number of attacking rats seemed to have grown, Doc had been so revolted by a face full of sewer sludge that the city spirit had actually grown beyond it's original size and while Owen vainly tried to defend himself from a foe he could not see or hear, the vampire was casting a healing spell on himself and preparing to rip off his quarry's head.






8:25 p.m. Saturday

"There is no pain, there is no noise, there are no lights, You are not tired. These are all illusions. Unnatural excuses. Things to be ignored. There is only you and the arrow and the target and the target and the arrow and you are one. Why do you keep them apart? Let the universe be and you will find peace and the target and the arrow will be united."

With the archery lecture from Sensei Mafune playing in his mind, Owen became perfectly calm. With barely a thought he grabbed the ends of the baton, pushed in and twisted, unlocking the stick and turning it into a nunchaku. He assumed a Waki-Basami ready position and with eyes closed waited for the vampire to attack.

Seme, on the other hand, was far from calm. His last healing spell hadn't worked and nearly left him unconscious. He had channeled too much mana without rest and even his heroic frame could not sustain that much drain. He was woozy from drain, his hand, shoulder, collarbone and knee all hurt and he was now being confronted by a puzzle. Instead of a terrified victim, swinging wildly in every direction as he attempted to fend off an attacker he could neither see nor hear, the shaman was facing a calm, even placid phys ad who didn't seem bothered by the chaos spell at all. The Vampire did not suspect that while Owen was completely in the spell's grip, his training allowed him a focus in spite of the magical distractions.

The vampire also neglected to focus on the new weapon his quarry was wielding. That is, he ignored it right up until the minute when he moved in to attack and had several teeth shattered as the Kontei (bottom) of the Nunchaku that Owen had tucked beneath his arm suddenly lashed out into the Vampires' grinning mouth. Quick as a flash the weapon was back in the ready position, fully capable of lashing out to smash the vampire whenever he ventured too close.

As Lug emptied the clip of his narcojet pistol he had a sudden inspiration. Putting away the empty pistol he drew out a flash pack. He screamed "FLASHER" to alert his comrades and then closed his eyes and fired the device at where the rats were thickest. He grinned as he was rewarded by a chorus of squeals and the sounds of a mass retreat by the horde. The Devil rats, normally fearless, ravenous and unstoppable were frightened and disoriented by the blindingly bright strobe and fled from the new experience in what was literally blind panic. Repeating this procedure three more times, enough rats had retreated for Hamon to slow his Katanas and actually begin looking for individual targets instead of trying to maintain a wall of moving steel.

Doc finally put his distaste behind him and focusing his power began to banish the spirit. No longer concerned about the disgusting fecal missiles, Doc was able to banish the spirit that Seme had summoned. The muck man collapsed back into the flow without a sound.

Owen stepped forward as Seme retreated and fired the Nunchaku into the vampire's sternum. Then instead of resetting the end beneath his arm, the phys ad simply advanced swinging the hardwood in a figure eight (Hachiji-Gaeshi) at a blistering speed. Seme was smashed in the ribs, the forehead, the wrist and the hip in this way before he started running in earnest back the way he had come. He ran right below the microskimmer of agent Popov.

8:27 p.m. Saturday

Solo walked into the rigger's van just in time to see the prime target knocking the shit out of a tall naked black norm. He grew more alarmed as he watched the video feed from the microskimmer. The Vampire! he thought, That's the son of a slitch who tortured and killed Connie! Oh please, God, don't let the phys ad kill him! Let him come back up from the sewers into my hands. Please!

When the vampire began scrambling away from the deaf and blind physical adept, Solo made one of the few unprofessional decisions in his life. The textbook said that with a single resource for electronic surveillance, the prime target was the only consideration. Because of Waverly's mis- management that was exactly the situation the SAIC was confronting. But instead of following the book, Solo got the rigger's attention by placing a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. When Popov said "Yes?", Solo said "Follow the vampire"

Constantine's eyes actually popped open and he looked up at the SAIC. "But, sir....."

"I know," Solo said, "But that bastard killed three good men tortured one of our own to death and then threw it in our faces. I'm not gonna let him slither off to some hole so he can boast about it later. Follow the vampire."

"Yes, sir"

The rigger closed his eyes and spun the skimmer so that it followed the retreating vampire as the SAIC followed the progress on the map overlay.

8:27 p.m. Saturday

Simon was caught completely by surprise when the vampire turned and started scrambling towards him. He had watched the fight with interest, but expected to see more magical bolts and things as Seme used his shamantic abilities to at least give Glendower a run for his money. Instead he watched as the Vampire got beat up by wooden weapons in the hands of the physical adept. Although Simon wondered why the vampire didn't heal himself and attack, his more immediate problem was the the shaman was running right at him. Simon turned and began retracing his steps to the entrance he had used to the sewers.

8:27 p.m. Saturday

For the first time since becoming undead, Seme was in a blind panic. He was in pain, he was exhausted, his magic had failed him and his victim was beating him to death with a piece of wood. All he wanted to do was to get out, to get away, to escape. Stumbling away from the source of his pain, the shaman caught a glimpse of Simon. Follow him! Seme thought desperately. He must know a way out of here.....need time to recover.....lost without him. Croaking "Wait" the vampire stumbled after the samurai.

8:28 p.m. Saturday

Doc, Lug and Hamon all had turned back in time to see the vampire scrambling back up the tunnel while Owen stood calmly, seeming to watch him go. Hamon had even launched his wooden shuriken at the retreating vampire, but the missile had missed as the vampire had rounded a corner out of sight. When the physical adept did not pursue and did not respond to his fellow lost boys, Doc said:

"Must have been hit with some kind of illusion spell like Chaos. I'm amazed the man can even stand there, much less function, but somehow he's doing it. I think he knows we're not attacking him but I don't know how we can let him know that we've got to keep moving or the feds will nail us."

Lug simply went forward and grabbed the sakon (free rod) of Owen's nunchaku. Sensing the departure of his adversary, the blind and deaf Phys ad allowed himself to be turned and pulled down the tunnel.

"We definitely don't want to go left, as that's where all of the Devil rats are" Lug volunteered, "An it sounds like where headed towards a waterfall ahead, so I vote right."

Hamon said nothing, signifying that he voted with his partner, and when Doc sighed and said "Well I suppose since the muck man is gone, we might as well." they began slogging through the tunnels in that direction.

8:50 p.m. Saturday

Simon retraced his steps through the maze of sewer tunnels and made it back to the manhole cover where he had begun his subterranean exploration. He'd heard the moaning shaman slogging along behind him for the entire trip, but didn't trust the vampire not to decide to replenish his strength at the cost of the samurai's life. As he climbed out of the manhole he dodged into the shadows seconds before the feds arrived. He ducked behind a dumpster and watched.

8:51 p.m. Saturday

Exhausted, wounded and miserable, Seme pulled his large frame out of the manhole and into the city rain. Before he could get his bearings he felt a tap on his shoulder and heard a voice say "Excuse me". Growling, Seme turned and suddenly felt a wooden blade pushed through his chest. "This is for Connie" Solo said as his Batardeau went through the vampire's heart. Kay immediately stepped up and resting the stock on his forearm, with his good hand fired a wooden crossbow bolt through the vampires' head. The feds then stepped back as the corpse fell forwards and Agent Jerocha incinerated the remains with a fireball spell.

Huddled behind his dumpster, Simon thought Well, I guess I can go home now.

9:08 p.m. Saturday

Loath to use his magic ability for fear of both drain and alerting whatever watchers the feds had out, Doc was of no help finding the way out of the sewers and away from the feds. Without a guide and with their otherwise able leader held incommunicado by the shaman's spell, Lug and Hamon attempted to lead the lost boys to safety. After 20 minutes of wandering, Owen threw off the affects of the Chaos spell, but now without landmarks or a sense of direction or even a compass, the phys ad was no more help than the razors had been. The sewers hardly being a place to sit and catch one's breath, the four continued to wander aimlessly until suddenly a distant explosion was heard. As the lost boys moved towards the sound, splashing was heard approaching them.

9:09 p.m. Saturday

It wasn't supposed to go like this! Tom-tom thought as ran through the sewers. When Cracker described it, everything sounded so easy. We'd get the damn ghouls that had taken Robyn before Fuchi protected them by building their freakin shelter. He had the chemsuits, the shotguns, the headlamps, everything. We'd make the fraggers pay and then begone. Instead, what happens? Boyd decides to blast some Devil rats and the explosion when he pulls the trigger blows the drek outta everybody. If Fat Angie hadn't been between me and the blast, I'd be dead too. I no sooner pick myself up outta the slime than the fraggin ghouls come investigating. I don't know where I am or how to get out but if I don't keep movin I'm gonna end up just like Robyn. Oh, Frag!

Sobbing as he slogged along the 17 year old biker was so busy looking over his shoulder that he ran right into the lost boys before he recognized they were metahumans wearing rebreathers and not a ghoul patrol which had gotten in front of him.

9:10 p.m. Saturday

"Ya gotta help me!" the rebreather muffled voice exclaimed, "Ghouls, a big bunch a fraggin Ghouls down here. Don't shoot'em though, they'll magic it into a big blast! C'mon! We gotta run!"

"Calm down, sonny. Yer in good hands. Tell us what happened." Lug said.

"I jus tole ya. Big bunch a Ghouls back that way. If ya shoot, they make ya blow up wit magic...."

"The magic being muzzle flare igniting some combination of sewer gasses" Doc explained patiently.

"Look, mister, if it blows yer hoop to a million pieces it don't matter if it's magic or gas or somethin else. Listen ta me! They're comin! We gotta run!!"

"And do you, perchance, have a destination in mind, my excitable friend, or do you intend to simply exhaust yourself running aimlessly in order to make the ghouls an easier meal when they eventually catch you?" The Elf asked.

"Doc," Owen said "forgive me if I mention that your people skills could use some work." Then turning to the young norm he said "My name is Owen, this is Doc and these gentelmen are Lug and Hamon. What's your name?"


"Well Tom-tom, we appreciate the warning, but we're not going to simply run away. Would you like to stay with us?"

"Yeah, I.....I guess so."

"Alright. We are down here to escape some rather persistent people up above. Why are you down here?"

Tom-tom told the story of Robyn's disappearance and the belief that she had been taken by Ghouls. He told of how Cracker had gotten chem suits and other gear for the Ghoul hunt and how the biker gang had been blown to pieces as the first shot was fired. While listening to the story, Owen noticed the tunnel up ahead had gone absolutely silent and that the gloom ahead seemed completely impenetrable. He caught Doc's eye and subtly shook his head to indicate that the mage should not react to the magical encroachment, but continue to hold some mana channeling ability in reserve.

9:12 p.m. Saturday

As Tom-tom finished his story Owen stepped forward and addressed the darkness.

"Continue hiding in the dark and prove you are the subhuman beasts that everyone fears, or step forward and tell us what you want."

After several seconds a Ghoul who looked to be about 13 years old stepped into the dim light of the chemsticks and said "You come."

Without hesitating Owen stepped into the magically darkened tunnel, followed eventually by the lost boys and Tom-tom.

9:23 p.m. Saturday

The Ghoul troop took an incredibly elaborate path through the darkness. At one point, Owen was sure they had come back to the starting point and begun again, but without any landmark it was tough to tell. Eventually the parade ended it what sounded like a huge underground cavern. Owen's lowlight glasses picked up enough details for him to realize the huge number of Ghouls in the room and that he was probably facing the big chief.

From her raised dais at the far end of the room, Mary signaled the party to approach and then said, "The dwarf and the sword man have never hurt us but they were in our territory. I will deal with them later. The elf is the same but I sense he has great power.....he has used much, ah, I will also deal with him later. You, Glendower, have robbed us of a powerful ally and killed many of my people. I should order your death. However, Sheila's pain unhinged her mind and we know she attacked you. Mine you also killed when they attacked you and yours........ I may release you, but there will be a price. I need to find why Fuchi builds a sanctuary for my people. If you can gain this information....."

"Chief Inspector James Bridger and Sgt. Mark Shields of Lone Star gained that concession from Fuchi after they added the data that these three gathered to their own investigation."

"So, ka? How gathered? And why?"

"We went inta the facility and dug around, and then Doc researched, deciphered and translated the notes we found, and figured out what Dr White and his researchers were up to...." The low moan from the surrounding Ghouls was an eerie interruption, but Lug continued ".....but we were only there because our teacher paid us to find out what Fuchi did. He's the one who gave the info to the Star."

"And who is this teacher?"

Both sams pointed at Owen.

"It is a puzzlement. You pay for data you give to Lone Star and Lone Star makes Fuchi atone. Much to consider." Mary said and was silent for several minutes. Finally she pointed at Tom-tom and said :"This one, however, came to our place to hunt us. He must die."

"He's under my protection." Owen said grimly.

"Meaning what?" The Ghoul leader asked

"Meaning I will be killed before he is."

"And if I tell you his life is the price for all of your lives?"

"It is too high for me to pay." Owen responded without hesitating

"And the others?" Mary asked

"Owen speaks for us." Doc said. Lug and Hamon nodded in unison.

"But we may decide to take your lives anyway" Mary said.

Hamon responded "You may try....."

"Courage, honor, loyalty. This I understand." Mary said, nodding. "The manling has done no harm to mine. His own have paid the price of their folly. You may take him, but next time he will not leave. I do not understand all that you have done, or why you have done it, but I sense no malice in you and my people may profit from your efforts. We will show you a way out that is unwatched. This will help clear the way between us."

Owen executed the formal bow to a foreign prince and stayed down until the others had joined him. Twenty minutes later they were standing in the rain overlooking the train yards.

10:02 p.m. Saturday

"Drek!" Owen said as he sat down on the hillside. He peeled off his balaclava, rebreather and lowlight glasses and laying back, let the rain wash over his face. "I am certainly not going to be up at dawn tomorrow." The quiet chuckles and "amen" from the other lost boys was interrupted when Tom-tom said:

"Uh.... I.... Christo! I.....I never been so scared in my life! I don't.....You....."

"I think our sputtering young friend is trying to say thanks." Doc observed.

"Yeah, well kid, stay the frag outta the Ghoul huntin biz. Definitely not your strong suit." Lug said.

"Definitely" Hamon added.

"Your welcome." Owen said.

At that moment an overweight night watchmen from the rail yard noticed the hillside coffee klatch and yelled up "Hey! You kids get outta here before you get in real trouble." He was quite annoyed with the ensuing 5 minutes of hysterical laughter from the darkened hillside.

10:09 p.m. Saturday

Solo would have been kicking himself for losing the trace on Glendower, but it felt so good getting even for Connie, that he could not regret his decision. Even the always practical Kay could not disguise his satisfaction at clearing the books for the agents they had lost. Although the two Special agents were pleased with themselves, they knew they now had to start from scratch to trace down the phys ad. They were looking at the most likely ways the target could have gone when rigger Popov came running in with a comm unit.

"Sir, it's the deputy director!"

Picking up the phone The SAIC said "Solo, here"

"Solo, get your people together and come home. The mission is over."

"But, sir....."

"Solo, listen to me. I can't go into detail even with the scrambler. There's been a major shakeup here. The director and a slew of the civil servant slots are out. I'm holding down the fort with just 2 assistant directors and I'm due on the hill Monday for a rush confirmation hearing to move me into the director's chair. I need people I can trust back here. I want you and Kay to take assistant director positions, I need help picking a deputy director, and I want you to help me clear out the cabal of GS-15 to 20's that try to run this place without ever having been in the field. We've got a chance to clean the stables and I need you back here ASAP. Don't bother bringing back Waverly. He no longer has a job here and you can drop, check that, you will drop whatever you were doing for him. This comes from 1600 Pennsylvania, direct.

"Yes, sir. Congratulations, Mike, I mean, Mr. Director, sir. We are on our way."

Unable to contain his glee, after handing the comm back to the rigger, Solo pumped his fist in the air yelling "YES! The good guys finally win one! Alright!" With a grin that shocked and alarmed Kay, Solo said "Kay, pack it all up! We are outta here! Goddamn I feel good! And buddy, we did the right thing taking down the vampire! After that phone call, we'd have been suicidal if we had gone the other way. YES!"

11:07 p.m. Saturday

Owen considered ways to unwind as he sat in the living room of Doc's fabulous condo. The richly appointed living space was huge and the other lost boys each had called for lady friends to stop by for an impromptu Saturday night party. Although each of his friends offered to set him up, Owen sighed and shook his head thinking that Sayla was the only one he was interested in spending time with and she was probably still out of town. When he called his service to check for messages to make sure she wasn't back, he found one from Baba O'Riley. After a few minutes he realized that Jane-in-the-box wanted him to make contact and was using the music code.

He called in and immediately received a request for verification. So tired that he could hardly see straight and sick of all the cloak and dagger, Owen thought for a minute and then said "Momma's got a squeeze box". When Jane replied "Daddy never sleeps at night" Owen was glad the phone had no vid because he was sure he was grinning like an idiot at the politically offensive code he had chosen. Jane, however was a pro and simply said "Wait one." Then the Vice President came on the line.

"Hello. I've handled the matter that you brought to my attention. Those people will not be bothering you again. I'd like to show my appreciation for your warning, as I might have been placed in a very awkward position had I not known what was going on. As it is, I now enjoy greatly enhanced security and can keep close tabs on those who haven't been eliminated. Is there something I can do for you?"

Owen thought for a moment and then said "Yes, as a matter of fact there is. I'm sure you've seen the recent developments here involving a major corp and some infected people. I'm believe that with greater backing the program might become a model for other cities. I don't expect an overnight solution, but I'm hoping that you might focus some attention along those lines to see that the pilot program remains on track and perhaps urge it's adoption elsewhere."

"Yes, yes of course," the voice answered after a brief hesitation, "But I meant was there something of a more individual nature that I might do."

"No, thank you. Nothing that I can think of."

"Very well. I will look into the program you mentioned. Thank you for your warning. And...uh, well, please contact Jane if I can ever be of help in the future."

After he hung up Owen just sat for a few minutes, trying to sum up the energy to move. Doc came down to where Owen had been sitting with a pair of stunningly beautiful elven women to keep the Phys ad company, but he found only a note on the couch which read:


Thanks for everything. I'm going home to collapse in a pile for the next three days. Please thank the guys, but tell them if they want their pay before Tuesday they are SOL. I'll stop by next week and we can figure out what I owe you for your help.

"Until that time, Eustace, until that time" (No fair looking this up!)


7:45 a.m. Sunday

"Hey, sleepyhead! Get up! You planning on lying in bed all day?"

Owen groaned and yelled "Go away" as he pulled the covers over his head. The covers were slowly drawn back and he opened his eyes to find himself looking up into the beautiful face of Sayla Starseeker. Her large gray eyes sparkled as she watched Owen's pupils dilate.

"Sayla?....Sayla! Wow......what a great way to start the day. YAWN Open your eyes to see the woman you love. I missed you, kitten."

"Owen" she said softly, sinking down to him, but before their lips touched she pulled back saying "Oh, no! The goal here is to get you out of bed, not to get me into it. Come on! It's a brand new day. I bet you've been lying around all week while I've been gone. I'm right, aren't I? Well, no more, lazybones. Today you're gonna do something."

Recognizing that this was a battle with a female and therefore impossible for him to win, Owen sighed and said "Yes, dear." as he pulled himself out of bed.


Note from da author:

Whew! Ok. Now it's over. The End. Finis. Ende. Kaput.

Thanks to everybody who e-mailed me encouragement while I was writing this. If I'd only had some sort of plot I'm sure I could have done more with the five days that the book covers, (that's right, 5 days. Go back and check if you don't believe me........... Yeah, yeah I know, but Proust didn't write any Shadowrun stories......). Anyway, I'm going to again urge everyone who reads this to try their hand at writing. I don't know much, but I do know that if I can do it, anybody can. It's actually fun and I'll put your stories up if you'll send them to me. Thanks for reading all this stuff.