Mickey the Mouse

by shapcano

"Wot's da damn hold up, Mandrake? We......."

"SHHHH! Shut up!" Came the whispered interruption "The target's talking with an unknown, and he may be too dangerous to ignore"

"Drek. Why da dangerous label?"

"I tried to asense him astrally and at first I got a flash like a lot of power. Like brighter than any aura I've seen, but as soon as I focused on it, it.....I don't know, dimmed. I'm looking now and I don't see any metal but I don't see the power. Either he's a heavy spell slinger with a major masking ability or......"

"Or ya fragged up da first glance. Drek." The Dwarf merc touched the stud on his wristphone<click> "Janet, ask your boy if he knows who's talking to da target." <click>

After a few seconds the call came back <click> "He says it looks like a guy named Owen who's a semi-regular for chess" <click>

<click> "Ask if da slot's a spell worm"<click>

<click> "Nah" Janet replied "Just a chess playing wannabe. Likes ta dress up inna cloak. Sounds like a real loser, but he is kinda cute...." <click>

"Frag! Mandrake you are one fraggin paranoid, incompetent, spell worm. Ya get us all worked up over a fraggin chess player? What's he gonna do checkmate us ta death?" After a derisive snort the Dwarf touched two studs on his wrist phone and said "Hit 'em"

The heavy set norm male's "But, Brak....." was completely ignored as all hell started breaking lose in the park. The dwarf's booted foot kicked open the van's door as he tumbled out with his AK97 ready to rock and roll. At the same moment from the opposite side of the park an Ork female with a Remmington Roomsweeper shotgun charged up from the east, a pair of Humans, a young decker male and a samurai female charged up from the south with pistols in hand and an elf male with a net gun moved in from the north.

Muttering under his breath, Mandrake prepared to toss his sleep spell.

"Look, I know I bust yer chops a lot, but....I...uh...talked ta some people who say you got this....uh...major rep in da shadows. I ..... drek... I need help. My deck's trashed, the fixer got iced, my team's scragged, I think they went through my doss....."

"Mickey, Mickey, slow down" Owen said "What's this all about? I only know you as the speed chess king."

" Yeah, well, I'm a decker. My handle's mouse. I was finishin a run fer dis Johnson, in da matrix, and I saw a pair a deckers fightin. One of got beat and jacked out but then some very black ice showed up and....Frag, I watched da decker buy it. I .... I shoulda done somethin but I just froze..... I guess he saw me too 'cause he gave me a data packet just before he....before he died. I dunno why, but I took it and jacked out and all hell broke lose. My team got wiped out, da fixer's....."


Mickey turned towards the sound as a Dwarf with an AK-97 came charging forward. Alarmed he turned back towards Owen, but as he did he fell asleep.

Owen was moving before the second word was out of the dwarf's mouth. Berating himself for coming to the park totally unprepared for battle, the Phys ad recognized the approaching groups were not coming to wish them a wonderful day and launched a sling stone at the elf with the net gun. He took out the non-lethal weapon for two reasons: first, because he'd recently read a posting from Typhoon's weapon shop of a new ammo, a net made of monowire, which potentially made the "capture gun" the most lethal of the weapons he faced, and second, because he knew how to deal with the firearms of the rest of the group converging on him. His satisfaction at seeing the elf go down was short lived as Mickey also dropped in such a way as to make Owen think magic was involved.

When his second sling stone smacked the dwarf's forehead, that worthy joined his elven comrade in the land of nod, and Owen began a series of rapid backflips to avoid being an easy target for the Ork with the shotgun. Tigra (the ork samurai's name) was so disoriented by the phys ad's speed and acrobatic moves as he approached her that when she finally tried to draw a bead on him he was close enough for what a Capoeirista would call negativa tesoura. Which is to say that from a nearly prone position on his back, he trapped her lower leg between his knees so that when he turned his body, she fell to the ground. He then rendered her unconscious with what looked like a pat on the head but which was actually a Chin Na Da Hsueh Far (cavity striking method) to Tien Ling Gai (heavenly spirit cover).

The norms running up from the south skidded to a halt as they encountered this unexpected set back. Crusher (the decker) took a two handed stance with a heavy pistol that threatened to completely overbalance the skinny male. Janet (the razor) began firing randomly without bothering to take aim. Drek, he's quick! she thought as she fired at Owen. If he moves fast enough to disarm Tigra when she's carrying a room sweeper, the odds are I'm gonna have more problems with my Predator, smartlink or not. Maybe, if I can pin him down, Mandrake can.... Before she could complete the thought, she delivered a yoko-geri ([Karate] side kick) to Crusher's gun arm, preventing the decker from shooting the unconscious ork who was the primary target. She had caught Crusher's aiming at the wrong target from the corner of her eye and acted instantly. After delivering the kick, which threw off the decker's shot, she glanced at her furious comrade. Stupid fragger gets his butt kicked in the matrix and is gonna blow the assignment by killing a target were supposed to cap....uh, oh. This last thought was in response to "the wannabe's" form flying into her vision as he delivered a ddwieo yeop chagi ([Hapkido] jumping side kick) to the distracted decker. Pivoting as fast as she could, Janet was still bringing her Predator to bear on her opponents prone form when Owen's hoijeon yeop chagi ([Kuk Sool] low spinning side kick) swept her legs out from under her. Before she could form a coherent thought Owen rolled the sam on top of him and used both legs to thrust her away, so that she flew into the path of Mandrake's second sleep spell, which knocked out his own team mate rather than the intended target.

Immediately, Owen leapt to his feet, screaming at the top of his lungs. As he ran towards the van he put his hands up and wiggled his fingers. The only purpose to any of these bizarre actions was to distract the magic user so that he couldn't throw another spell. Unfortunately, before Owen was able to cover half the distance to the van, Mandrake cast a mana missile, which hit the Phys ad in the chest. When the only effect the spell seemed to have on the charging norm was to make him grin like a maniac, Mandrake was panicked enough to try to aim Brak's Panther Autocannon at his attacker. Before he could get the weapon completely out of it's carry case, Owen's Shito Ken ([Ninjitsu] thumb strike) to the region just over a kidney had rendered the magic user unconscious.

OUCH! Owen thought as he collapsed next to the Mandrake's unmoving form. That Hurts! Drek! I wonder if my armor and stealth suit would have helped? The unkind internal answer he got Well, donkey, since you left it home, we'll never know, will we? did very little to increase his comfort or improve his mood. Eventually, Owen heaved himself up and tried to decide on a plan of action.

At the first sounds of gunfire the chess players had abandoned their tables and to all intents and purposes this part of the park was empty. Heaving the unconscious ork decker over his shoulder Owen said,

"Well, Mickey, you're hardly inconspicuous draped over my shoulder like this ........BUT, your friends have a nice van that you could maybe nap in. Since they are a sleepy group themselves, I'm sure they would understand."

Suiting his actions to his words, Owen carried Mickey to the van and deposited his sleeping form within. The exposed Panther Autocannon gave the Phys ad another idea, and continuing his conversation with the sleeping ork, he said:

"Yeah, with all the kids who play in the park, it won't do to leave all these firearms behind. I'll be right back."

On his third trip of looting the unconscious forms he informed the snoring decker:

"Well, I spread around the tranq patches so they could get their rest, but without the guns, I thought the ammo was probably useless, and then leaving the valuable comm gear, this neat deck, credsticks, and jewelry that might turn out to be magical, didn't seem right. I mean, it's a temptation that we just shouldn't leave lying around, right? I knew you'd agree.

On his fifth and final trip back to the van Owen said,

"Well, I couldn't very well leave them naked, but, this wise raccoon shaman told me that people aren't so quick to chase you after you've taken their shoes.......No, I'm serious....... Mask.......Yes, well maybe it was a little over the top, but drek, man, I didn't have anything except this piece of leather and a couple of rocks but they didn't go easy on me and that magic spell hurt! Maybe this will make them more considerate. Even if it doesn't, I bet it slows them down. Shoeless, broke and unarmed aren't considered optimal conditions for shadowrunners."

Owen's good humor lasted only until he opened the van's driver's compartment and found the vehicle was only driveable by a rigger. He called Itami, who had recently returned from his search for Gitya and asked if the rigger could come get him. When Itami started a litany of questions about what was happening Owen said,

"My friend, I have no idea. I was talking with a friend when a shadowteam jumped us. I've got their stuff, including a rigger van which I can't move. I'm at Glover Park across from the downtown branch of the Library. Could you please come give me a hand?"

The Phys Ad winced at the panic in the rigger's voice "OKAY, BOSS! Don't worry. I'm comin, just hang on! Keep yer head down! I'll be there in minutes!"

"Itami! Itami, there's no need.....Itami? Hello?" Turning to the sleeping decker, Owen muttered, "He didn't even hang up the phone. You see? Nobody listens..... Even with you, it's like I'm talking to myself."

Six minutes and 23 seconds later Itami arrived at the park on his Honda Viking. 18 seconds later Lug and Hamon piled out of the Jackrabbit as Doc was exiting the SAAB. Owen approached making calming gestures.

"Gentlemen", he said, "I fear you've been alarmed unnecessarily. I am in fairly good health and no immediate danger. I simply lack the ability to drive this rigger's van. I fear I didn't express this well to brother Hanzo, and actually led him to believe my situation was desperate. I ask your pardon."

Lug said, "Hey, ferget dat stuff, sensei. Tell us what's happening."

Owen relayed the conversation that the attackers had interrupted and then pointed to the various unconscious forms.

When Doc asked "Narcoleptics?" Owen deadpanned, "Apparently. I'd hate to think I'm that boring a conversationalist."

"I don't know, boss, some a dose slots look like dey was rocked ta sleep." Hanzo observed.

"Why aren't they wearing shoes?" Hamon asked.

"Well, you don't wear shoes when you go ta sleep, do ya?" Lug reasonably responded.

"Gentlemen," Owen interjected, "might I suggest that we repair to a marginally safer locale to continue this discussion? If Itami takes the van, I'll get my bike, Hamon can take Itami's hog, Lug can drive the rabbit and Doc, might I prevail upon you, for the good of the team to drive the SAAB?" Doc's sigh and reluctant nod got him a chorus of sarcasm "Oh, thanks, Doc." "Way to take one for da team, buddy" "Your sacrifice is noted" and from Hamon a very earnest seeming thumbs up.

The joking over, the lost boys got to their vehicles and headed towards the warehouse district and their new HQ, a warehouse that at one time served the same function for a shadowteam known as the Sandmen.

Mickey woke up just as the van had parked in the warehouse. Itami heard the alteration in breathing pattern but said nothing as he waited to see what the decker would do next. When Mickey pretended to shift in his sleep, bringing his hand closer to the pile of weapons that Owen had appropriated, Itami said over his shoulder,

"If ya pull one a dem, ya may decide ta use it, an ya don't even know if we're da good guys, come ta save ya. Just leave 'em alone till da boss gets here."

Although nervous and torn by the desire to protect himself, the decker found something reassuring in the rigger's words and decided not to shoot his way out until he knew what was going on. Seconds later the van door opened and he saw Owen.

"What happened?" Mickey quickly demanded.

"We were rescued" Owen replied brightly. Undeterred by the snorts from the driver's compartment, the Phys ad continued, "Whoever those people were, they seemed to want you pretty badly, my friend. Why don't you step out here so I can introduce you to the gentlemen who rushed to our aid."

As Mickey climbed out of the van, Owen said, "Your driver, and the organizer of the rescue mission is the inestimable Itami Hanzo. Itami, may I present the speed chess king of Glover Park, the decker Mouse, a.k.a. Mickey.

"Yeah, yer kiddin, right? Mickey Mouse? Here's hopin ya deck better than ya pick handles, kid." said the rigger.

"And the very fashionably dressed elven gentleman posing near the sportscar is Doc, a master of the arts arcane and film buff" Owen continued.

"Whoa," said the decker, "I heard a you. Are you really da guy with the killer rep, da spell worm dat brought back dat girl who writes da dragon stories, ah, Jennifer Graves, an,..... an yer da one who fought wit da green arrow yaks dat kidnapped her an....."

"The child has potential, Owen." Doc said to the Phys ad. "He's well informed about significant events in the world of the shadows and seems to have the proper reverence for......"

"Egos bigger dan a dragon's butt" Lug interrupted. "Don't go throwin anymore gas on dat fire, Mouse. We gotta enough troubles gettin his head through the doors witout a press agent. I'm Lug and my partner over dere is Hamon."

"REALLY?" Mickey asked "I heard a you guys, too. Yer like top drawer, I mean like prime guys dat everybody wants ta....."

"Mouse, we're not da ones ta butter up." Lug again interrupted."Sensei's da one who's gotta decide what ta do witya, not me."


"It's used to describe me, because of some instruction I've passed along," Owen said, "Itami insists on referring to me as boss, Hamon uses the Chinese equivalent of Lug's label and as the mood strikes him, Doc comes up with any number of titles for me. I assume you'd prefer to continue to use 'Lance Dashing' or 'Peter Perfect'?

Embarrassed, the Ork flushed and stammered "Uh....I...uh..didn't know, I mean...I'm sorry....uh...I never woulda busted yer chops in da park if I'd known dat you wuz....uh...."

"No worry, mate" Owen interrupted. He said it loud enough that Doc called back from across the room "That's not a knife.....now, THAT'S a knife."

"It's some sorta contest between those two," Lug explained to the perplexed decker, "they're constantly throwing lines from old flatscreen vids at each other. Just ignore it. We do"

"My apologies." Owen resumed "Why not give us a full account of what happened to put you into the difficulties with the runners we met in the park?"

"Brak. Brak, wake up! C'mon Brak! Ya gotta......"

"Get da frag off me ya stupid breeder! Oh, drek! My head...." after a few seconds of groaning and feeling his cranium the dwarf turned to Janet and said "wot happened?"

"The wannabe turned out not ta be a wannabe." The sam said, "From what I saw and can put together, he was movin at almost the same time we were. He took out Jason with a rock from some kinda strap and then took you out about a second later. He went backflippin at Tigra and took her out before she could get off a shot. I tried to pin him down for Mandrake with random fire but I hadda stop Crusher from blasting the prime target. When I was distracted this Owen slot landed a beautiful flying side kick ta Crusher's head, knocked me down and then flipped me inta the path of Mandrake's sleep spell. I guess he got Mandrake next."

"Where the frag are my shoes?"

"I guess he took em. Along with our weapons, gear, jewelry, cred sticks and transportation."

"Transport..... Ya mean da pudlickin, motherfraggin, son of slitch, hoopkissin, drekhead, stole Baby?!

"Uh, yeah."

Janet tried not to react to the colorful invective of the ensuing tirade by the dwarf rigger. Since in the entire 5 minute diatribe, the leader of the Barbarians barely paused to inhale and never repeated himself, Janet felt her lack of reaction was quite an accomplishment. Eventually Brak wound down enough to ask about the rest of the team.

"He musta put tranq patches on everybody after knocking them out", Janet responded. "I took em off and woke you right after I came out of it."

"Dammit! Well, help me up and let's see to the others." As he got to his feet, the dwarf asked a rhetorical question. "He took everything. Why didn't he just kill us?"

Ruefully, Janet said "We've got no guns, no money, no transport, hell, we ain't even got shoes! It's gettin dark and were a long way from home. I think maybe he did kill us and we just don't know it yet."

"......so Julio, he's a fixer, he called me and said he had this easy run. An easy one, perfect for a newbie team and we had a vote and decided to take it......."

"Vote?" Doc interrupted, "You mean your leader took everyone's input? One usually does not find that level of sophistication and confidence among a new group."

"Er...well, that's not exactly right, see, we didn't exactly have a leader....." The groans and head shakes from the experienced runners prompted Mickey to begin a defensive explanation, but Lug said,

"Mouse, you said there was 6 of ya, right? How many intelligent creatures with 6 heads do ya know about? Not many, huh? There's a reason for dat. Tough decision, morally questionable, risky, a leader can give everybody a chance ta back out, but the only way a team works is if da best qualified person makes the choice and everybody else backs him with all dey got. When we're runnin, when it comes ta strategy/tactics Sensei and Hamon are pretty evenly matched, so one a dem calls da shots and da other shuts up. If there's spells involved we listen ta Doc, if it's machines, we follow Itami's lead. Leaders ask fer advice, too. But when da chips are down ya gotta have one person ya trust yer life to who decides which way ya go next. It's da only way ya stay alive in da shadows."

The mention of staying alive brought home to Mouse just how accurate Lug's assessment was. With every decision made by a committee, the Maniacs hadn't survived their first run. A more somber decker continued:

"Well, we went to the address of ITC, its a small local corp. Works primarily with games software. We were told about the security set up, we got in without a sweat. Everybody was keyed up, nervous, but da codes got us in....."

"Waitaminit!" Itami interrupted, "They gave you passcodes?"

"Well, yeah....I mean, I figured we were working for somebody inside....."

Mouse story trailed off as the lost boys again were shaking their heads. This time Itami took point.

"Kid, those dream runs were the passcodes, magcards and combinations drop down from da heavenly Johnson only happen on trid, and only 'cause ya got 18 minutes between adverts ta tell da story. Next time ya see a job were dey give ya a map, or da keys, or da override ta shut down da sec drones, RUN. If it ain't a tailchaser it's a doublecross, which means at best yer an expendable decoy for da real run and at worst da new corp sec chief is da friendly Johnson and dat gleam in his eye is because he's dreaming of how good your dead hoop is gonna look on his trophy wall. Ya want a run dats real, here's three things ta look for: 1)Nobody has any idea how ta do it and it looks impossible. 2) Da Johnson is desperate enough ta pay ya but negotiates like hell if ya up da price. 3) Da Johnson don't like ya, ain't comfortable and wants out as quick as he can get it. Dey ain't absolute, but if it's easy or da pays too good or da Johnson wants ta buddy up with ya, yer in trouble."

"Succinctly put, oh pithy master of machines", Doc said, then turning back to the young decker he admonished "It's worthwhile to remember that there's a reason it's never called shadow walking."

After digesting this Mouse continued, "Well, we got in ok. Finlay, our rigger waited in da van an kept lookout. Juky covered da 1st floor, Joe Camel, Windsong and Kwan went with me up to da exec floor so I could deck in an get da codes. I had a can opener program, real sweet, but a one shot deal, I couldn't even look at it until I used it. Was that a mistake, too?"

"Why don't you just tell the story, Mickey," Owen asked "and we'll hold the Monday morning quarterbacking until you have finished."

"Well I deck in, sleaze my way to da data store and grab the target algorithms. I start back and I see two deckers goin at it. I never seen matrix combat so fast. Well, dis one decker gets dumped and as his icon disintegrates the other decker notices me. Before either of us could do anything he gets jumped by this huge hellhound. Black as night this Ice was and breathing fire. Before the decker can jack out he's badly burned and throws me a data packet. Then he.....he screamed. It was the worst sound I ever heard........... The hound turned towards me and I jacked out. That... That scream was still echoing in my ears.....I come back to da world and somebody's dumped a gallon a warm sticky stuff on me...... Only it ain't stuff, it's....it's Joe's blood. They.....they blew his head off an.. an...."

Hamon stepped up and handed Mouse a bottle of water. Turning his back the samurai began adjusting the straps for his Katanas, affording the young ork some privacy to compose himself out of sight of the rest of the team. When Mickey cleared his throat and Hamon stepped away he found the lost boys waiting as if nothing had happened.

"Before I do anything else I popped the memory chips out of my deck and pocketed them. Then I pull my pistol and crawl over to Kwan. He says Juky's got his hands full downstairs but that Finlay's goin to help him. He starts sayin something else and I see this red dot on his forehead. I threw my deck up but it didn't save him. The bullet went through my deck and then threw his head. Then Windsong went up in a fireball. Huge explosion....I...I ran, I mean, I crawled as fast as I could. Alarms, flashing lights, sprinklers, somebody was still shooting....I went flying down the stairs. I got to the first floor and there's no noise at all. I found the guys. Finlay's head was in his lap. Juky, they must have done Juky with a shotgun up close. There was like, pieces of him............................. uh, sorry. I got out and just ran. I was so sick and scared and I just ran."

"The next day I tried to get to Julio. I asked around and heard that his building, ya know where his place was, burned to da ground and nobody saw him get out. Dat's when I also heard dat you might be more dan a chess player" He said to Owen."Then I went back to my doss, because I'd spent da whole night on da street, but I got dis real strong feeling dat it was a bad move. I watched from an alley about a block away and eventually I saw some people I don't know comin around from behind the building. I spent da past two days in da park waitin ta get ahold of ya. Can ya......will ya help me?"

When Owen did not immediately respond, Doc decided to pontificate.

"Whilst our peerless leader contemplates, allow me to wax pedantic, young ork." Doc said as he began ticking points off on his fingers." Just as, I assume, you would not blindly take a chemical compound into your body without being sure of its effects, you should not take strange programs into your deck regardless of how wiz the program is supposed to be. Splitting up your team and leaving them behind you, like a trail of breadcrumbs, is not the strongest strategy in the world. I'll hazard a guess that this was part of the ready made infiltration strategy provided by the Johnson." When Mickey nodded Doc continued. "Why, pray tell, did you pull the memory out of your deck?"

"Uh, force a habit. I've got.....I had, real limited storage capacity, so I always used to swap mem as soon as I jack out in case I hadta use the deck again." Mickey replied.

"A fortuitous happenstance. Your instinctive move to cover your teammate with your deck is, perhaps, more significant than you imagine..... I know, I know, it was ultimately ineffective, however, all of us have seen and worked with deckers who have hazarded their lives and the lives of their teammates rather than risk their precious decks. That you would instinctively put another's life before such a personally valuable piece of property speaks exceedingly well of you. As to your running from slaughtered friends, you tell that part of the tale as if guilty of some character flaw. I'm at a loss to understand this perplexing attitude, so please elucidate. What other course of action was available to you? You were out manned, outgunned and without backup. To do anything other than run would be to willingly jump into Charon's ferry. Allow me to share with you a piece of sage wisdom that has always stood me in good stead and with which Shadowrunners everywhere agree: dying is bad."

"Uh, thanks Doc. I'll try ta remember that......"

Doc interrupted saying in a strange voice "No! Do or do not, there is no try!"

To which Owen replied in the same voice "For 800 years have I trained Jedi's. My own council will I keep on who is to be trained."

Since he had been told to ignore the exchanges between Owen and Doc, Mickey continued "And thanks to all of you fer saving us from the ambush in the park...." Mickey didn't understand the snorts and chuckles until Hamon quietly said "We didn't save you. He did" and pointed at Owen's retreating back. While the young Ork's eyes got big at the thought that somebody whom he had made fun of for poor fashion sense, had taken out an armed team of shadowrunners by himself, Hamon ended the evaluation by saying quietly "Good to listen to your instincts, bad to return to a known locale. Predictable gets you killed. Dying is bad."

Owen ceased pacing and turned to the group "Gentlemen, it seems that I've chanced on a young person in serious distress and I can not in good conscience leave him to his fate. Since Mickey is currently homeless and on the run, I'd like to request that you allow him to shelter here while I begin investigating who is after him and what can be done....."

"Excuse me, oh exceedingly polite master of mayhem," Doc interrupted,"but do my ears deceive me? Are you suggesting that this is something better handled without your merry band? Are you, by chance, offering us a tantalizing glimpse of an enigma and then planning on investigating the mystery without your team of stalwart bravos? Surely, you jest......."

Owen interrupted saying "No, and don't call me Shirley"

Doc's immediate response "I guess I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue" earned him a nod of acknowledgement before he continued "It's hardly credible that you would entertain thoughts of such a course of action, much less that you would believe that we would sit still for such treatment. Additionally, lest we be accused of, heaven forbid, altruism, I believe that the lost boys' deficiencies vis a vis matrix capable members might be solvable by inclusion of our rodental comrade on at least a provisional basis."

There is still some question about whether the ensuing silence was caused by surprise at Doc suggestion or simply involved the group's attempt to determine what exactly Doc's suggestion was. Finally Itami asked:

"Doc, is your circumlocution intentional ?"

"Heaven's no, stout machinist, " Doc replied, "I eschew obfuscation in all it's diverse manifestations."

Lug stepped up and after making eye contact with Hamon said: "Doc's right. A tad long winded and a bit obscure, but right, Sensei. Hamon and I would like to help. We could give Mouse some good advice, our contacts could help get to the bottom of his mystery quicker and if he worked out, a decker would make the team more effective. We don't like ignoring a cry fer help either."

After getting a confirming nod from Hamon, Owen asked "Itami?"

"Hey boss, you know I'm in on whatever yer doing. The kid would get a good start workin wit old hands and if even Hamon's talkin, ya know he'll get lots of advice. Besides, If yer takin him under yer wing, ya got have somebody around who can drive ta get the two of ya outta trouble."

"You see, my friend," Doc resumed, "the weight of popular support swings away from your, dare I say, greedy attempt to pre-empt the role of Maecenas. You know we could help."

"Hmm," Owen replied "Well, Mickey, I guess it's up to you. Are you willing to audition for a slot on the team while we figure out why people are after you?"

"I......I........I...you mean.........I...."

"You'll find that yes or no are the best choices for answering this inquiry," Doc confided, "Generally, where English is spoken they help speed both conversation and comprehension."

"As if de elf was ever concerned about either" Lug stage whispered.

"YES! I mean....Yes, please. Wow! I never expected......... but, uh, my deck is ...uh, gone. I don't know how I could......"

"I believe there's a Fuchi-6 in the van", Owen said. "Along with a nice selection of looted gear, weapons, jewelry and a pile of unpleasant smelling footwear. I've also got a number of certified credsticks, each containing 5k nuyen, which I imagine was a down payment on your capture. There's a kind of poetic justice if that same cred now is distributed among your protectors, don't you think? Please, gentlemen, help yourselves."

I can't believe this! Mickey thought, For the past three days I've been in a living hell, expecting to get cacked at any minute. Now I suddenly got protection, a place to stay, a better deck than I started with and a chance to join a team of prime runners. If this is a dream, I don't want to wake up. I wonder what's in my memory chip.

End of Part 1

A Better Mousetrap

"...... C'mon babe, be fair. I bit my tongue when you played hard to get as a single, but you helped some of my employees set up an independent business without any concern about what it would mean to me and without even the courtesy of letting me know. On top of that, you are now running a full fledged team with some of my best talent AND you want me to sell you data at the same time you're telling me you're not for hire. I'm hurt that you would take work from another Fixer in spite of......."

"OK, Felix!" Owen interrupted, "Ok....... Yeesh! Laying it on a bit thick there aren't you? I'm not taking work for another fixer, I'm helping somebody in trouble. I'm not actually running a team, the guys just wanted a piece of this. As to taking BeBop and Goren away from you, that's a load of bulldrek. Yes, I made a suggestion or two because they are good people who treat me like family, but helping them was never intended to hurt you, and how was I supposed to extend you the courtesy of letting you know that I had chatted with them when I didn't know if they would even take the advice?"

"Well," Felix replied "I guess its not quite as bad as I made it sound, but you do have some of my best talent ....."

"Felix, I'm sorry to interrupt again, but I don't HAVE anybody. I've signed no contracts, accepted no oaths and other than Itami's personal commitment, the lost boys are an association of independents. Please don't use guilt to wring concessions out of me. I'll end up resenting the deal and you and I really like you too much for that."

"Aw, drek. Well, I gave it a shot, babe. Can't blame a gal fer tryin." Felix flashed a tusky grin at the comm screen and then got down to cases. "Ok. Ya want data on a milk run at ITC three days ago. Fixer name of Julio set it up and may have gotten dead fer his trouble. Newbie group called the Maniacs wiped out except fer da decker who is now under yer protection. You suspect because of the matrix hit that the Maniacs were decoys fer the real run, but the double cross may have been a triple cross based on the mortality rate. Anything else?"

"Yes." Owen responded "There was an attempt at a kill or capture ambush in Glover Park a few hours ago. Whoever set it up must have had good information on the decker which means they may have been close to the original job. Any data along those lines would also be appreciated. Offer is 5,000 nuyen for as much data as you can get, BUT, since the opposition may have already killed a Fixer, I want you to keep your profile low on this, I don't want other teams hired for investigation and if you have someone go looking in the matrix they had better be ready to jack out at the first hint of trouble, because the people involved have proved that they can deliver electronic death very quickly. I need accurate data, but I need it before I get hit. Details and current info are a distant 3rd and fourth, priority wise."

"Ya want the data dropped, I call you, you call me, what?"

"I'll call in...... say four hours. That should give your people a little time. You tumble to anything you think I need to know, call my wrist comm. Transferring the 5,000 now."

"Talk to you in a while, babe." Felix said as the image of the Troll fixer faded from the comm screen.

While Owen was calling Felix for help, Lug and Hamon were doing their legwork on the street, Itami was studying the van Owen had appropriated (along with the equipment it contained), while Doc charmed a slew of barmaids, waitresses and hostesses. All tried to gain some data or detail that the others might miss.

Working out of the back of the Jackrabbit, Lug and Hamon, on Owen's advice, distributed the collection of used footwear to sinless and homeless street people. As a result, they accumulated enough data to conclude that Brak's Barbarians had been the ones to burn down Julio's building.

Doc's charm and good looks garnered him not only a plethora of telecom numbers, complete with provocative notes, but info that a pair of suitboys had visited several dives in the area a few days previously. The corps had spread nuyen looking for a fixer who might have a newbie team in his stable. The suits had been directed to Julio, more because the fixer had paid the largest bounty for such advertising than for anybody actually knowing who was or was not in his stable.

Itami found that if the rigger from the ambush team survived, he would probably make recovery of the Roadmaster his life's work. Not only did Itami find a pair of brand new Kanmushi crawlers, an MCT-Nissan roto-drone and a Condor long range observer, but the Roadmaster itself had been extensively modified with a more powerful engine, weapons pods and armor reinforcement. The vehicle was the product of a great deal of time and money from a sophisticated rigger/mechanic, which meant that in addition to the opposition looking for revenge, the rigger who had built the van was definitely going to come looking for the vehicle.

While all of this was going on, Mouse began investigating his new deck. More sophisticated and faster than he had ever imagined, the matrix interface had the decker in ecstasy. Only Owen's appropriation of the memory chip prevented the young ork from ripping into the mystery data packet. The Boss, as Mouse now thought of the phys ad, had been very polite but insistent that the potentially dangerous data packet remain uninvestigated until the lost boys returned from their information gathering missions. Although he appreciated the respect implicit in the boss' way of expressing himself, he wondered why the experienced phys ad felt a newbie was entitled to such deference. When he asked, Owen had said "If you aren't treated like a member of the team, how can you be expected to act like a member of the team?" As with so much else that he had heard recently, the decker tucked the info away for review later.

Although rage was Brak's standard reaction to difficulties, he had moved to an area beyond anger. Not only had his precious Baby been stolen, not only had the Barbarians failed in their mission, but he had lost two members during the 12 mile barefoot trek back to their base. Jason had been taken out by a sniper when the group had wandered through an enclave under the protection of one of the pure blood racist groups. Whether it had been Humanis or Alamo 20,000 or Flaming Sword mattered not at all. The elf had been taken out by several rounds of long range sniper fire as the rest of the group had scattered. The rest of the team, except for Crusher, of course. Brak thought, Stupid breeder's been a walking zombie since he found his deck was gone and he just kept walking like a wind up toy when we started taking fire. I guess the fact that he's a norm convinced the sniper to keep pumping lead into the downed keeb instead of popping the robot decker. With no means of returning fire the Barbarians had simply scattered and reformed later, one member shorter. They'd found Crusher mindlessly orbiting Washington Circle a half hour after the attack.

No matter how he rationalized it, Brak knew that Mandrake's death had been his fault. If he had kept his temper when the Go-gang had stopped them, if he hadn't risen to the bait and taken the challenge, the spell worm might have survived. But instead of backing off and playing it cool when the slitch had made fun of their shoeless condition, Brak had gotten confrontational and somebody in the Death's Heads had twigged to the fact that the overweight norm was a spell slinger. Mandrake's bullet barrier didn't stop the switchblade from entering his back and without magical help the unarmed Barbarians had gotten their butts kicked in a running battle as they attempted to escape the bikers. Tigra's arm and nose were broken, Janet had some busted ribs and a slashed shoulder and Brak's own knee and jaw were extremely sore. Fraggin Crusher didn't get touched, but the stupid breeder is still no use because he's fraggin catatonic over his missing deck. FRAG! Brak thought. Without the damn spell worm, we can't even get any magic to patch us up! This job sucks!

The comm call from the pair of Johnsons did nothing to lighten the rigger's spirits.

"Brak. You are overdue for your progress report. I hope this does not indicate a problem."

"Yeah, well, hope fer somethin else, 'cause we definitely got fraggin problems." Knowing that withholding or minimizing damage at this point might be a terminal mistake, Brak detailed everything that had happened. The fact that his team was without magical or matrix assets and short handed in both manpower and transportation meant no more to his employers than the fact that the survivors were working with backup weapons. All that Johnson & Johnson cared about was that the data packet which should not have left the ITC premises was now three days overdue. When Brak pointed out that without a deck his team could not even be sure that they had the data packet back, his employers had debated the merits of hiring a new team over sending out a "loaner". Brak had remained silent until the worst of all solutions, a compromise, was made. Brak's decker would be lent a Radio Shack CD 100, which he was not to modify, as a means of confirming the proper data packet had been retrieved. If the retrieval involved real decking, Brak would contact the Johnsons who would have a more competent and better equipped decker waiting in the wings. Rather than point out the weaknesses of this strategy, Brak sighed and agreed, taking down the details on getting Crusher's "new" deck. When the Johnsons began their admonitions and veiled threats, Brak just hit the disconnect switch.

"Hot stuff! I'm glad ya called! How ya doin? Waitaminit....GOREN! Get yer warty butt in here! It's Owen on da comm!"

When the Ork weaponsmith joined his wife, the dwarf woman resumed "So, what can we do fer ya?"

"I called because I just spoke with Felix and she seemed upset that I had helped set you guys up in an independent business venture without the courtesy of notifying her......"

"WHAT?!" the smiths interrupted in unison.

"Are you kiddin me?" Goren asked, "We been independents from the word go! Just because we've taken some jobs fer her doesn't mean......"

"Waitaminit!" BeBop interrupted, "That slitch is tryin ta lay it at yer door that she isn't our only source of income? I'm gonna give that tusker a piece of my mind that....."

"BeBop! Goren! Please. "Owen said "I didn't call to stir things up. I just wanted to say that Felix obviously considers you guys major assets and is nervous about losing you. I'd consider it a big favor if you'd take this into account the next time she asks you to help her out. I'd hate to feel that I paid back all I owe her and all I owe you guys by driving a wedge between you. You guys are like family to me and I know she's bent over backwards to help me out, so if you could, you know, still find a way to work with her, I'd be really grateful."

After several seconds of stunned silence Goren said:

"Kid, yer unbelievable. Don't worry about us dealin wit Felix. Nothin's changed, but....uh, thanks fer bein concerned."

BeBop then said "Can ya stop by, Hot stuff? I got somethin her ya."

"Sure. I'm right around the corner. I'll be over in a few."

"I spotted it in Helion's catalogue and thought it would be a perfect replacement for the sword the Vampire destroyed." BeBop said. "It's designation is CS-257a, "Vorpal" sword. The blade is a high impact ceramic so it won't detect and it's got greater tensile strength than the composite ya had before. The standard blade is double edged but when I special ordered this ninja-to style, they didn't bat an eye. I also managed ta do the shorter staff/scabbard that ya asked for last time. It doesn't have the concealed blade, but it shouldn't be as hard ta hide. The release works the same way. Try it out."

Delighted with the weapon, Owen practiced several draws. Before he could say anything the dwarf woman held up her hand and showed the Phys ad a silver Himogatana and a wooden Misericorde. The seven inch blade of the Japanese stiletto actually fit inside the 11 inch blade of the medieval French thrusting dagger. Putting the compound knife together, BeBop walked through the scanner without setting it off.

Grinning at Owen's look of incredulity she explained "The Himogatana is ceramic sheathed in silver. It'll do the same damage to an allergic creature as if it were solid metal, but it's not dense enough to set off the scanner. The Misericorde is made of Ironwood and with the "spine" of ceramic is impossible to break. Since they are both thrusting weapons, you don't have to worry about them keeping their edges. You've now got weapons for paranormals, that won't get you busted at the airport."

"BeBop.....Goren....I...thank you. Thank you very much. They are magnificent weapons and I'm flattered by the thought but...."

"Kid! Fer frag's sake" Goren exclaimed, "If ya mention money I don't even want ta be in da same time zone when da old lady gets started! Jeeze! Just take em. Please. Ya know we owe ya fer all da biz we got followin yer advice."

"But these are custom weapons....." noticing the look on the dwarf woman's face Owen said "I don't want to sound ungrateful BeBop, but this is too expensive and elaborate a gift......."

"Owen Glendower! I am surprised and disappointed at you. That you would think so little of us ta look at our gifts and think about the price tags. I never expected such behavior........"

"I'm sorry" Owen said quite suddenly. "You are absolutely right. The gifts are magnificent and I will treasure them as much for the thought that went into them as for their usefulness in preserving my life. I'm very grateful and sincerely ashamed that I was crass enough to think about their cost. Please forgive me and accept my apology and my thanks."

While BeBop smiled and nodded Goren shook his head in wonder. "How da frag do ya do that, kid? She practiced that lecture about a hundred times 'cause she knew ya'd think they wuz too expensive. Ya stopped her dead in her tracks and got her smilin. I ain't learned da secret in all da years I been wit her."

The mischievous look on the phys ad's face tipped everybody that he had some maternal comment in mind but after a second he said seriously, "You owe it to the people you love to accept the love they show you. BeBop saw that I finally remembered that debt."

After sweeping both weaponsmiths up in a hug Owen said thanks and took his weapons and left the pair shaking their heads in amazement.

Owen detoured on his way back to "neverland", the lost boys headquarters, for a stop at Lee Ho Fuk's House of Excellent Food where he picked up some 200 nuyen worth of dinner for the team and returned to cheers from the assembled group.

Before sitting down to the huge meal the team each equipped themselves for battle. After dining they began comparing notes and reporting their conclusions. Mouse hesitantly raised his hand.

"Ah, we have an interrogative from the neophyte." Doc said, "What weighs upon thy doubtless expanding mind, oh matrix boy?"

"Uh....I was wonderin how come we gotta get ready fer a fight an put on armor an have guns at our sides before we eat dinner an......uh....why'd we wait until now ta discuss what stuff we found out an why can't I look at the data packet?"

"A veritable cornucopia of questions," Doc observed, "I will handle the first, if I may, gentles. Have you ever noticed, young electron dancer, how storm clouds gather after the picnic is laid out, or how the telecomm rings just after you've stepped into the shower? This is due to a regulation known as Murphy's law, which states 'whatever can go wrong, will go wrong'. Now, when would be the worst time for an elite corp sec team to break in here with firearms ablaze seeking the elusive data chip? Might it be while we are unarmed and unarmored, relaxing over a meal?.....Ah, I see the light dawning behind those carmine rimmed glims. We've all run the shadows too long to be surprised by Senor Murphy's intrusions. In fact, we now plan for his interruptions. If we are battle ready, and expecting trouble the inverse codicil of Murphy's law applies, to wit: Trouble rarely occurs when you're waiting for it. We eat before we talk because the food is here now and we can talk anytime."

Lug then said, "We waited until we each had information an share it together 'cause we each have different approaches and experiences. Sometimes a question or an nugget a data will make ya think a somethin in yer past. Ya wanna take advantage of all da experience an imagination ya got, cause it might keep ya from repeatin yer mistakes."

Finally Owen said "I've asked you not to look at the data packet because we've no idea what opening it will do. There's a chance that some bit of data that someone picked up while investigating might include a warning about Ice in the packet or alarms as soon as the packet was opened or any number of unpleasant possibilities. After Felix calls and relays the data that she has uncovered we will be ready for you to look at the packet. Patience can save your life."

As the group moved to reform at the telecomm for Felix's call, Mouse pulled Itami aside.

"I know I been told ta be patient an all, but Itami, some a dis doesn't make sense. Why'd we spend all dese hours investigatin if we thought the corps might send teams after us? Why is Owen taking calls on his own comm if we're......"

"Kid," Itami interrupted "Ya got good instincts, but ya gotta learn to trust da guys who've been here before. Da Boss is waitin fer an attack. If he makes mistakes dat even you can see, like bringin another team's gear in here, remainin stationary too long, makin calls like he didn't have a care in da world, how are we gonna look to da opposition?"

"Sloppy?" Mouse asked.

"Sloppy and incompetent. Da kinda team ya don't need ta go all out ta beat. Da kinda team ya can send yer second stringers against fer a cheap win. Since we don't know who we're facin, we gotta get the other guy ta tip his hand, but ya don't want a corp coming at ya wit tactical nukes, so ya bait 'em inta thinkin yer rep's hot air an luck. We want 'em lulled inta thinkin it couldn't be a trap, cause da traps so obvious." Grinning at the decker, Itami said "Even a mouse won't fall for somethin that screams TRAP! So you just sit back an watch as da boss builds a better mousetrap."

"....even though, as I say, 4 hours is hardly enough time to do a thorough job....."

"Felix," an exasperated Owen interrupted, "I've already transferred the creds, and time may be a factor here. Will you please stop selling and give me the info?"

"So much for 'patience can save your life'" Lug said from the corner of his mouth. As Mouse chuckled, and Doc laughed out loud, Felix began her rundown.

"ITC is primarily a games programmer, but something about their latest algorithms has come to the interest of some much larger players. I don't know why, but big blocks of stock are being gobbled up at a hostile takeover rate. Buzz from the trading floor says Renraku and Mitsuhama, but who knows if it's because they want this 'discovery' or if they just want to frag with each other."

"There's a very bad smell coming from ITC's offices. Seems Dwayne Hickey, Deputy Director of Security Services, Ashida Kim, VP of Research and Development and a decker known as Brick have become thick as thieves ( that choice of words is deliberate). My sources tell me that four days ago they started looking for a team that was 'competent but unproven', which sounds to me a lot like 'victims that won't be missed', particularly as they already had Brak's Barbarians under contract."

"By the way, babe, did your lost boys play rough with that psycho and his playmates? I ask because a little bird told me they came home without their toys, bleeding, barefoot, and shorthanded. It couldn't happen to a better victim, in my opinion, but it's...uh...less neat than usual for your people. That halfer is several slices short of a loaf, so for everyone's piece of mind I ask that you'd be more thorough in your next encounter"

"Felix," Owen replied, "I can honestly say that when I last saw the dwarf and his companions, they were all together and sleeping like innocents. Is there something I'm missing between you and Brak?"

"Well, now that you mention it, my sources say that the fixer who arranged the contact between the nutball and his Johnsons, was wiped out by the nasty little man as part of the housekeeping for the job. On behalf of my profession, I'd like to see an example made of everyone involved in that sort of biz. I know you don't do wetwork, but...... no, I'll just leave it in your hands. You're so much more creative when left to your own devices."

"Uh....Thank you,.... I think." Owen responded.

"I will tell you that the Barbarians are working with their own backup weapons because the word has gone out and the fixers won't touch them."

"Interesting...." Owen said. "Any other data? Like who of the Barbarians didn't come home?"

"Jason, an elf sam was apparently zapped by some pure blood sniper and Mandrake, the group's magic user ended up decorating some go-ganger's knife. Death's Head, I believe. Oh, and Brick dropped out of sight three days ago. Vanished without a trace."

"Anyway, I agree with your analysis, babe," Felix continued. "I think the newbies were decoys while the actual run was pulled off by somebody else, probably the missing Brick. I wonder if ITC's matrix protection was augmented by one of the majors trying to prevent the unholy trio from stealing their algorithm and selling it to another corp, and if that's what got Brick. I think that when Hickey and Kim did not deliver the goods the corps started buying up the company. That means that Hickey and Kim are desperate to get the data and that they have the backing to hire a large number of ....uh..retrievers. They won't be working through fixers, but that may not slow Dwayne down much. I would also be on the lookout for Brak and company because they are petty enough to resent whatever it was you did to them and they probably think that they now need to do something spectacular to salvage their rep."

"Ok, Felix, I......whoops, gotta go. Bye."

Owen abandoned the conversation as the remote alarm light flashed on.

"Showtime, gentlemen" Owen said as the team began dispersing. Mouse was amazed at lost boys' lack of worry, but he suddenly had a million questions about what to do next. Seeming to read his mind, Owen said "Mickey, I'd like you to stick with Itami, please. He'll be rigging so you watch his back, ok?"

As he ran to follow the rigger, Itami said "The new truck is nicely armored, so I'm gonna rig from inside a there. You'll be able ta see a lot of the actions on da screens, BUT" he said, cutting off the rush of questions that Mickey wanted to pose, "it's gonna require all a my attention, so ya gotta sit quiet. Anybody opens them doors before we get the all clear, you blast 'em, ok?" With a grin the rigger asked "Did I forget ta mention we wuz da bait fer dis mousetrap?"

The pair climbed into the back of the Roadmaster and waited for the attack.

The dozen mercs who fast roped down to the warehouse roof from the chopper were not regular corp employees. Like all mercenaries, they were contracted for a particular job. Todd Sweeney, by virtue of experience and rep was placed in charge of the group attacking from the top of the building, but he had only a nodding acquaintance with more than 1/2 of his team. They were all pros, but in many cases they had fought against each other in the past, based on the vagaries of corporate politics.

Because this was a night assault, the balaclavas and armored jump suits were all black. Because it was organized by a corp, everyone had been issued the same web harnesses and similar equipment. Because the assault was a black ops job, everyone's weapons were silenced. Even those carrying shotguns were loading Teleshot (sound suppressed) rounds. The more massive firepower that such a group might normally carry had, over the objection of the participants, been left at the base. It was, after all, an urban warehouse district and not a gulf wars desert. The mission was simple- nobody living left in the building and every bit of electronics came back to base. If anyone had an objection about the diminished firepower, or the lack of magically capable team members, the fact that three dozen experienced mercs had been sent to take out 6 unprepared shadowrunners seemed to embarrass the dissenting voice into silence. In fact, right up until the first "Bouncing Betty" went off, the whole assignment looked like overkill.

In his truck, Itami waited until a good number of mercs were in the kill range for his remote controlled roof munition. At the critical moment there was a "sproing" sound as spring beneath the anti-personnel device launched it up three feet in the air. As the mercs turned toward it, the explosive detonated, launching the nearly 100, fin stabilized, Teflon coated, steel darts that studded it's outer shell in all directions. Of those caught in the 10 meter "kill zone" the most fortunate were those who died quickly.

His eyes riveted to the roof cam monitor, Mickey immediately felt queasy as he saw the devastating results of Itami's first salvo. He was glad he did not have an audio pickup, as the rigger did, to hear the screams of those who had not been killed. Thinking the worst was over, the young ork steeled himself for the violent and deadly new world he had entered. When he saw three other spiked deathballs jump into view, the decker reached for a trash can and lost his Soya-beef chow mein.

Although the Ingram Super Mach 100 was normally Hamon's ranged weapon of choice, because he anticipated that the opposition would be armored, the razor knew that his light weapon would be of limited use. Instead, Hamon was armed with a Castech Assault Rifle. The rifle's caseless ammo well held nearly as many rounds as the clip from his Super Mach, and if the weapon had greater recoil and less "hose" capability, it did mount a mini grenade launcher and fired rounds of considerably more stopping power. Hamon demonstrated this when he opened up on the 6 mercs who were approaching the south side of the building. The lead pair caught enough of the high velocity tumblers to immediately exit this plane of existence. Merc number 3 screamed like a small child as the concussion from the proximate detonation of the minigrenade ruptured several internal organs in spite of body armor. The remaining mercs from the south attack group found what cover they could and began blasting back at their unseen assailant. One merciful soul eventually dispatched the screaming merc #3 to join his companions in whatever eternal reward mercenaries earn.

Lug had also traded his standard weapon for this firefight, and instead of his beloved Colt Cobra, he was armed with an Ares Alpha Combat Gun. His defense of the west side of the building entailed allowing the merc team to cut through the chain link fence into his killing ground, electrifying the fence, and then hosing the mercenaries down as fast as his weapon could spit death. Although only one of the half dozen attackers was eliminated by Lug's opening fusillade, another was wounded and two were fried as they attempted to pull the fence apart for their comrades to get more breathing room. The surviving mercs hugged the earth for the meager cover she provided and directed all the fire they could back at the dwarf's firing port.

Directly across the building from Lug, Doc was watching the stealthy approach of 6 more black clad mercenaries approaching the building's east face. Surprised by the lack of magical power, the mage shrugged as he summoned a fire elemental. Taking shape in the midst of the approaching mercs, the flaming spirit had engulfed one invader and ignited a second before being riddled by SMG and assault weapon fire from the sound suppressed arsenal of the attackers. Of course, being a spirit, the projectile weapons meant nothing to the elemental which continued burning its targets. Far from being horrified by the screams of the mercenaries, as Mouse, doubtless, would have been, Doc used a glue spell to hold the invaders until the elemental could reach them.

Pulling on his own balaclava, Owen slipped silently out of the north side of the warehouse. Because there was no concealment available on this face of the warehouse, the Physical Adept dropped to the ground and began fast crawling towards the knot of squatting attackers. Announcing his presence by simultaneously throwing a single bladed throwing spike through the last mercenary's cheek while delivering a Soku Gyaku ([Ninjitsu] toe kick) to the first merc's diaphragm, Owen spun out of the way of the answering burst of auto fire. Merc number one was now vomiting blood while number 6 was screaming curses in several languages as he rolled on the ground clutching his shuriken pierced face. As Glendower spun back into range, Merc number 2 found that he was too close to bring his weapon to bear and was also blocking his teammates line of fire. He attempted a Mae-geri Kekomi ([Karate] driving inwards front kick) only to find himself quickly taken down when Owen's Ashi Kujiki ([Kukishin-Ryu] wrenching the leg) trapped the cyberlimb with the short staff and spun the merc to the ground. The first blast from Merc #3's shotgun prevented the phys ad from a follow up with the downed merc as he was dodging the blast. Unfortunately, Merc #4's attempt to bracket the phys ad caught Merc #2 as he sprang back to his feet. The close range blast from behind with the sound suppressed shotgun cut merc#2 in half and the stunned look of disbelief on number 3 as he realized what had happened became the expression he took to his eternal reward as the Phys ad's Inazuma ([Eishen-Ryu] lightning stroke) drew the new high impact ceramic blade from it's scabbard and in one continuous motion removed the merc's head from his torso.

Mercenary #4 was attempting to load another round into the chamber of his Franchi Spas-22 shotgun when he left this plane of existence. He had pulled the slide down on the pump gun, expelling the empty shell casing and was about to push the slide forward to chamber the next round when 8 inches of razor sharp sword emerged from the back of his neck. Of course, the only way for that part of Owen's blade to get to that location was by first passing through the mercenary's trachea and upper spinal column, an eventuality DocWagon generally advised it's client's to avoid.

Mercenary #5 was so shocked by this occurrence that he took an involuntary step backwards. This ushered Mercenary#6 off this mortal coil, as an unconsidered foot position (on the back of #6's head,) drove the imbedded shuriken into that worthy's tiny brain. The regret #5 felt at this accident was short lived as his moment of inattention to the phys ad caused him to receive the same sort of foreign-body-fatal-penetration that would have upset Doc Wagon about #4.

Because the mercenaries were experienced and planned their attack, all of there approaches were co-ordinated with the roof landing. Therefore all of these actions to repel borders occurred simultaneously. The burst of noise that accompanied the firefights was, therefore loud, sudden and short lived. The pilot of the Hughes Air stallion had hardly turned after dropping his passengers when the missile that Itami remote launched had taken out the chopper's power plant. Using the big copter's autorotation to get to the ground, the pilot walked away from his damaged bird, only to be taken out when he removed his helmet, by an Owen tossed Chakram that impacted in his forehead.

As the surviving mercenaries saw the chopper downed they began considering a hasty departure. The wounded survivors on the roof received their coup de grace from the SMG's of the new rotodrone that Itami sent up. To the sounds of Mouse's retching, the rigger ended the screams and moans of those who had survived the bouncing bettys.

Owen moved around the perimeter counterclockwise. When he clicked his communicator three times, Hamon knew to cease fire. If the three remaining mercs suspected anything, they gave no sign and when Owen flipped into their midst to break the neck of the middlemost mercenary his hasty departure was so sudden that the mercs on either side of him ended up riddling both their dying partner and each other with SMG fire.

Two clicks told Lug that the Phys ad had entered his quadrant and a few seconds later two more mercenaries were afforded the experience of the afterlife. The single click to signify that Owen was in Doc's defensive area had no meaning as the elf mage had already dismissed his elemental and had left very little other than charred leg stumps still stuck to the ground.

Like the efficient team that they were, each member of the lost boys, except the still sick Mouse, began dealing with the battle's aftermath. Itami got the all clear and hustled out with a pallet jack and a fire extinguisher. After dousing the chopper's smoking engine compartment he used the jack to raise the chopper enough to get transport dollies under the landing struts and towed the chopper into the warehouse.

While he was dealing with the helicopter, Owen, Lug, Hamon stripped the bodies of weapons and gear while Doc summoned an air elemental to carry the bodies to a single pile in the street. By the time all of the gear and the chopper had been moved inside, the reclamators (organleggers) had arrived from whatever holes they hid in and had begun loading the bodies into their trucks, sparing Doc the need for the planned conflagration. Twenty minutes after the battle had begun the only thing to indicate that anything had happened in the area was some blood, bullet holes and the lingering smell of cordite. LoneStar's eventual patrol had nothing to report other than that Kreme Donuts were out of crullers.

When he stopped vomiting and took stock of the situation Mouse was astounded. The lost boys were calmly discussing the most likely employers for the mercenaries while sorting through and cleaning up blood spattered weapons, ammo and equipment. Itami was actually humming as he examined the downed chopper. Damn! the decker thought, how do these guys do it? One minute they're joking, the next minute they're killin dozens of guys, then they're calmly discussing who sent the fraggers who wanted to kill us. They planned to be in the middle of this drek storm! Fraggin mousetrap, Itami called it. Damn! These guys are a lot more chill than I ever thought and the fraggin data packet must be a hell of a lot more important than I imagined. I wonder what the hell is in it?

End of Part 2

Of Mice and Elephants

".....that our young rodent, AH! Mickey, my lad!" Doc said when the decker stepped down from the back of the Roadmaster. "I apprehend you were feeling poorly, and I was devastated to hear it. Actually, I blame myself for not sharing some other dishes from Master Owen's good repast. I'm sure that it was the food rather than witnessing the bloody demise of those mercs, who would have, incidentally, delighted in eviscerating you slowly and painfully. Perhaps if you had tried something easier to digest, like, for example some of that excellent squid in that thin black sauce. Why, even cold, although it is a little greasier..."

"Doc!" Owen said "Don't do that."

"Aw, boss," Itami called out from the chopper, "It wasn't like he was offering da kid one a dem fatty pork dishes or dat thick white lobster sauce....."

"Ughhhh" this sound came from the retreating decker's back as he hurried back to his basket in the back of the truck.

"Was that necessary?" Owen asked. Shaking his head as he went back to sorting and cleaning the captured weapons, disapproval clearly evident. Both Doc and Itami sheepishly went to get bottled water and to check on the puking youngster.

Hamon spoke up when the pair had left "Stupid"

"Cruel" Owen agreed

"But sorta funny" Lug amended and he and Hamon chuckled.

Owen said "Now I know why Felix says we need a female around here."

Lug could not resist replying "If we can't get a female will a ork wit a dainty tummy do?"

Before Owen could reply the telecomm started chirping. Owen hand signaled the pair to get the group and join him at the comm.

As the lost boys gathered around the comm unit, Owen was in intense conversation with Felix. ".....ya gotta see, babe." The image on the screen showed an attractive young woman standing in front of a burning industrial park.

"...... loss of life. But as you can see behind me the entire park, buildings, storage facilities, manufacturing plants and offices, all of ITC's business future is going up in smoke. A "hot" property on the trading floor has now become......."

"DREK!" Owen shouted out, startling the lost boys. "Evac immediate. Three minutes from now we are on the road. Doc- you're the sweep, take the SAAB. Lug&Hamon- get the bikes in the truck, take the Jackrabbit. Itami- get the drones and ordinance into the truck. Mickey- get that pile of gear into the truck. Everybody grab bugout bags and ammo. Everybody grab a new wrist comm but leave them off until 8 minutes from now. We could catch major hell any second, gentlemen. Move!"

A testament to the experience of the lost boys and, ironically, Mickey's lack of the same, there was no hesitation or question. Quickly, quietly and efficiently the team removed as much of value from the warehouse as they could. Owen had signed off after a very brief conversation with Felix when a second call came through.

"Yes" he answered.

"Owen, it's me. Turn on the vid. What's going on, darling?"

"Drek! Sayla, I can't talk to you now. Please, go visit your uncle Gal. Now. Immediately."

An experienced shadowrunner as well as the love of Owen's life, Sayla Starseeker recognized the fear in the phys ad's voice. Although she was dying to know what was going on, the elf mage disconnected, grabbed her pistol and threw on her coat. The travel duffel that she had brought back from her last assignment, which she had dropped in the entry to Owen's doss filled one hand and unfortunately, the Bonsai tree that she had brought back as a gift for her lover occupied the other. This was unfortunate because, thus encumbered she had less freedom of action to avoid the evilly grinning dwarf with the narcojet waiting just outside her door. His leering grin as he shot her gave her a clue as to the reason for Owen's fear.

Four minutes and fifty two seconds after Owen's exclamation, the lost boys were turning on the interstate. Ten seconds later the wristphones began to ring. As Owen, sitting in the back of the Roadmaster, called Mickey and Itami in the front, the decker looked quizzically at the rigger.

"Conference call lets us all participate, makes sure our encrypted comm gear works, lets da boss tell us what he's figured out all at once." Itami said quietly.

"Gentlemen. We have a major problem. My strategy has been based on the reactions of a local corp. The destruction of ITC indicates we have some much bigger players in the game. The fate of ITC has led me to conclude that the new player or players cannot be described as subtle." Owen paused for the rueful chuckles. "And since we all know that the majors usually rely on subtlety to avoid antagonizing each other, I'm forced to conclude that the data Mickey found is of great enough value that the big boys don't care if everybody knows they're going for the prize. If anyone has another workable thesis I'd like to hear it now."

After a few second of silence Owen continued, "Now, I have to say that, forgive me Mickey, being a mouse with a peanut among a herd of hungry elephants is not my idea of a good position. Whichever pachyderm we pick to give the prize to is as likely to step on us out of sheer clumsiness as it is to protect us from the others of it's ilk. I believe, therefore, that we've got to put the prize where everyone can get it and we are no longer involved. I know this minimizes the profit potential of having the item most wanted by the rich and famous, but it does maximize our chances of survival. Pull in at the rest area ahead and we'll discuss this face to face. Out."

The greed and love of an easy cred that figures into nearly all shadowrunners' make up, sometimes wars with the instinct for survival. Old runners refer to this as stupidity. Although each of the lost boys had some dream of a bonanza-run-to-pay-for-retirement, the complete destruction of ITC's physical plant clearly indicated that this was not that dream run. When everyone had pulled into the rest area Owen spoke first.

"We don't know what's on the chip. We don't know for sure who wants it. We have indicators that Renraku and Mitsuhama may be involved. We also have a very blatant and destructive move which might involve those corps or indicate there are other players in the game. Considering the size of ITC and it's own wherewithal, I'd say that killing that corp was pricey and dangerous because now Major corps, Second or third level corps, and Governments are all going to develop an interest and want to join in the race for the prize that Mickey brought us. The six of us don't have the juice to make a deal with this size player and being chased by a herd of hungry elephants is not my idea of smart mouse-like behavior. I think we should get rid of it, but everybody's got to agree because were giving up a potential fortune."

"It ain't a fortune, so much as it's a ticking tactical nuke, Sensei." Lug said "I lost this game before and I don't like remembering how much it cost. Get rid of it."

Doc then said "Far be it from me to either agree with the diminutive ronin or give away a potential fortune, but your analysis has the ring of truth to it, oh peerless logician, and I am far too attractive to be flattened by some lumbering behemoth. I only ask why we could not simply hide the dingus for a better day."

"Corps want it, corps find it. Kill us while looking. Lose it" Hamon answered. After a few seconds Doc acknowledged the truth of the statement with a nod.

"Boss, ya know I back your play." Itami said "I wish we could get somethin, specially since I hadta leave a perfectly good chopper behind. I know, I know it needed some engine work, but I coulda had it flyin in no time and now we may lose it as we run. But, I guess dat's da way da gears turn, so lets get it outta here."

Everyone waited in silence for a few seconds until Mouse realized they were waiting for his decision "I....uh...I dunno. You guys know what yer doin. Why ya askin me?"

"Because you are a member of the team, my weak stomached lad." Doc said, "Despite your tendency towards nausea, you have more to say about the disposition of the gimcrack than any, for you retrieved it initially."

"But you all want to get rid of it. What if I wuz ta say I wanted ta keep it."

"Mickey," Owen responded "We work together because we want to. If you can convince us that we're wrong about this, we'll change our minds. Or, if you want to strike out on your own, there's nothing wrong with that either. We won't compel you to do anything. You have to decide."

After a few quiet seconds, Mickey said "I'd really like ta turn dis inta big creds so dat I could get upgrades and wiz programs an all. But you guys ain't scared a much an you think it's gonna get us squished, I'll go with ya on this. And...uh...well, thanks for includin me in the decision."

"Well we have to include ya, kid. Yer da one dats gotta give it to all a da corps" Itami said.

"SAY WHAT?!" Mouse replied

"Mickey" Owen said "We have to put the data packet where everybody can get it so there's no longer any profit in chasing us. We can declare the race a draw by giving everybody, including the spectators, the prize. That means you've got to find a way to take the data packet and Spam it all over the Matrix so that our elephantine and unsubtle pursuit can't simply nuke a bulletin board and keep the data private. Whether it's a formula for 'do-it-yourself Ebola virus' or revealing photos of the love lives of Corp CEO's, you've got to get it to universities and libraries and other corps and government offices and newsfaxes. Whatever the chip contains, we've got to give the info to everybody if we're to avoid getting stepped on. It's gonna be a hell of a programming challenge because there's a time element involved and were gonna have to keep moving. I'm sure that the matrix is already hopping as they look for you and unless I'm wrong we're going to start seeing physical pursuit very soon. You have to write the program that will disperse the data, we've got to keep you alive until you do, and save us all. Simple, neh?"

"You.....uh, mean......"

"He means, oh delicate constitutioned one, that, not to put too fine a point on it, our hoops are in your hands," Doc interrupted. "Recognizing the value I place on that part of my particular anatomy, and assuming that such valuation is consistent amongst all of the brethren, may I suggest that you get to it, and do that voodoo that you do so well, as opposed to standing here sputtering with mouth agape and arms akimbo."

"Any questions?" Owen asked. "Alright then, Lug, will you take lead while Doc continues in the sweep position? Thank you."

The lost boys' caravan quickly moved on into the night.

"Uh...Brak, I ain't so sure about this....."

"Listen Janet", Brak responded. "Tigra's tendin her busted wing and Crusher couldn't punch his way outta a wet paper bag. He did his part findin the fraggin chess player's doss. Now we got his squeeze and when Crusher finds him we're gonna trade. He can have the slitch if he gives us back Baby and all da drek he stole. Plus...uh, well, he's gotta pay us fer losin Mandrake and Jason. Witout da fatboy and da keeb we're short handed so it's only fair he compensates us."

"But Brak," The Sam replied, "we don't know the first thing about this elf bimbo. What if she's connected or magical or somethin. We could end up....."

"What, we could end up flat busted wit our reps in da drekker an only backup weapons? Girlie, dat's where we are now. I don't give a flyin frag at a rollin donut what you or anybody else tinks. We're takin da slitch fer barganin and if ya don't get wit da program, yer hoops gonna be laid out right next ta da fatboy's. Now help me roll her up in dis rug and lets get outta here before da fragger comes home."

Mouse began programming as intensely as he was able. Taking the boss's instructions to heart, he knew he had to get the data, which he still had not looked at, to as many public places as possible. Places where it would be picked up and spread. He also knew that any single starting point, no matter how popular, might get sat on by one of the "elephants" chasing them. In spite of the tension the decker smiled at the aptness of the analogy. He had to get the data to so may sites so fast that the elephants wouldn't be able to squash them all. He reasoned that to accomplish his goal he would have to be both blatant and subtle. He began programming his multi pronged attack.

Four hours later the tension of waiting for an attack while driving round the city was so intense that nearly everyone jumped when the decker called "Boss, I got it!" Owen had the caravan pull into another rest stop so the decker could explain what he had come up with.

"It's obvious and subtle," the excited decker exclaimed as the group gathered. "Anybody got anything ta eat? I'm starvin." Shaking their heads both Hamon and Doc offered candy bars which the ork began inhaling as he paced back and forth explaining his plan.

"Ok, so the obvious move. I post to Shadowland through a local board I know. Not subtle, but expected. Then I incase the data as text for a financial extract. Incredibly dull and full of formulas anyway, so it passes for our attempt to get clever. Even though it's pretty easily stopped, I'm betting that a bunch of public libraries will get the data before anyone realizes the Library of Congress catalogue number is bogus. A minor attack that may keep them busy is a page I took from a journalist I read about named Zeb Waverly. He put a simple printer override virus in the stuff he was tryin ta get out and anytime anybody started looking at the file they got a hard copy whether they wanted it or not. Now, I've got that, but my own brilliant twist is I managed ta put a name randomizer on the file. It's self replicating and every time it reproduces itself, it will change it's name so a simple destroy xyz.file won't take it out. Finally, the discovered attack: my first mailing will be to each corp and government's e-mail address as the financial abstract and as a personal e-mail to a random employee and as a sale announcement from a shopping network. I'm betting that as soon as they begin to realize that everybody's attempting to sanitize their own systems, they'll figure out that everybody's got a copy and give up on trying to supress it."

"Mouse, it sounds like dat chess playin has given ya a devious mind." Lug said "What is the data, anyway?"

"It's an algorithm that breaks public key encryption."

"WHAT?!" the lost boys exclaimed in unison.

"Looks like the programmers at ITC stumbled on an algorithm that can be used to break public key encryption. Ya know, don't ya, dat we're just using a refined variant of the program that was written like 60-70 years ago. Well, it's always been considered unbreakable so no serious research has been launched into overcoming the multi key system. This formula actually does it. Until somebody overcomes this programming or designs a new public/private key system anybody who has this gets ta peek at the other guy's cards. When ya think about it, it's probably only that anybody who smelled this would try to keep it completely quiet that's prevented world war three from being declared ta get this. Somethin musta broke down for ITC to have been killed in such an obvious way."

"Drek!" Owen exclaimed "Lets get this out of our hands right now! There are nations that would actually launch nukes over this. Mickey add embassies to your e-mail lists. Anybody else got anything to add?"

"Direct e-mailers. Spam masters already work from shadows" Hamon said.

"Excellent point! Here's a cred stick to hire those slime. Now if our luck will just......"

"BIKERS INCOMING!" Itami yelled. The group melted back into their vehicles as the go gangers started to pull into the rest area.

Doc's manablast took out the front ranks of the bikers and caused enough of a traffic back up to allow the caravan to get back on to the road. As Mouse began "planting the peanut" Owen called for Doc to move up and for the truck to take the trail position. Knowing better than to argue at a critical juncture, Doc eased the sportscar up in front of the Roadmaster. Owen opened the back door on the truck and then hit the button on in his bike, spraying calthrops all over the interstate. The steel jacks proved more deadly on the highway than they ever had in the city, as a blowout at 65 or 70 miles per hour, tends to be rougher on both vehicle and rider than a similar blowout at city speeds.

Pulling the door closed as the Roadmaster screamed down the interstate, Owen spotted the approaching three Yellowjackets and called a warning to the rest of the team.

"Ok boys, the drek has hit the fan. Whatever elephant the go-gang was working for has competition. We've now got attack choppers moving up from the south. Looks like it sucks to be us. Stay sharp."

The Yellowjackets proved that Owen's guess at their loyalties was correct. As the lead ship continued to pace the Roadmaster, it's partners began spraying the biker contingent with chin mounted mini guns. The ganger's leather jackets provided them with very little cover on the deserted stretch of four lane. No more cover, in fact, than the open sky held for the chopper targeted by one ganger's fireball spell, which ignited the helicopter's fuel lines and caused the one man chopper to become a single occupant, rapidly descending, crematorium. The second Yellowjacket avoided a similar fate by adding it's missiles to the minigun barrage. This strategy was flawless, wiping out the remaining bikers as it did. Ironically, the lack of missiles meant that the Yellowjacket had little in the way of sting to defend itself from the Aguilar-EX attack chopper which put in an appearance.

Where the Yellowjacket was a one man chopper modified for security work, the Aguilar-EX was a Milspec attack craft. In less time than it takes to describe the air-to-air missiles from the Aztechnology bird took out it's opponent. Seconds later a brief firefight ensued with the lead Yellowjacket. Although the Yellowjacket had not expended it's load of missiles, the firefight was and equally one-sided affair as the military attack craft simply out gunned the security chopper in every category.

Having disposed of it's competition, the Aguilar then began tearing up the interstate between the lead cars and the truck. The pilot had apparently determined that the largest vehicle was most likely the one containing it's target and utilizing the initiative that earns combat veterans both promotions and court martials, had decided that he wanted to capture rather than simply eliminate his prey. By isolating the Roadmaster and destroying the highway in front of it, the pilot was subtly indicating his desire for the truck to pull over.

The appearance of a feathered serpent above the truck shifted battle lines again. When the chopper pilot backed off and prepared to defend himself, Itami made a mad dash between recently excavated pot holes and sped into the night. After several minutes of aerobatic ballet between the chopper and the Draco form, the pilot noted his chaingun fire wasn't injuring his opponent. Realizing that he had been had, the pilot resolved that there would not be a capture mission, after all, but there would be several kills. He flew through a blast of illusionary dragon fire to resume pursuit.

"Heads up, my friends, our newest playmate has seen through my subterfuge. I don't imagine he's pleased." Doc said as his astral form returned to his body. As he resumed manual control of the sportscar, he added, "The overpasses and cloverleaves of the interchange ahead might afford us some cover. I suggest a stop."

In the absence of an objection, Itami and Lug slowed when under the cover of the series of overpasses to join the waiting Doc. The Aguilar pilot did not, unfortunately, see the east-west exchange, or the travelers upon it, as a particular impediment to his mission. He simply blew up segments of the interstate until his prey was again exposed in preparation for the completion of his attack. The appearance of a western dragon, flying in from the east only caused the pilot to snort as he lined up on the truck. The destruction of the lost boys was prevented when a blast of fire that the Draco form released detonated the Aguilar remaining stock of missiles, blowing the stubby weapons' pod wings off the chopper, much to the surprise of the highly annoyed pilot.

"OH DREK! That'snotme!" Doc yelled and the vehicles began dodging around shattered sections of overpass in their attempt to escape. The Aguilar pilot, meanwhile, pursuing some strange machismo code, placed the rotorcraft between the dragon and the fleeing convoy, confronting the dragon with a craft which had lost it's ability to attack. So strange was this behavior that the lost boys were able to drive at high speed for some minutes as the Draco form puzzled out the rotorcraft's game. Eventually the dragon grew annoyed at the suicidal lunges of the chopper and in a looping motion managed to score a hit on the tail, causing the helicopter to spin out of control and crash.

Before the dragon could resume it's pursuit, a flight of missiles from an incoming pair of BAC-Desault-MBB EFA assault jets announced a new player in the game. Ironically, once again, the similarity of purpose that the various attacking elements shared, that of destroying the lost boys and their vehicles, meant nothing to the competitors. If one group had simply let the other group do their job, the lost boys would have been a memory, but because each "elephant" was intent on being the one to stomp the "mouse", they kept running into each other and the mouse continued to survive. Because elephantine competition continued to manifest, the desires of some of the largest and most powerful groups in the world continued to be thwarted by a young ork decker on the second job of his life, sitting in the back of a truck. As the dragon and the pair of assault jets took their aerial ballet to a higher level a GMC Banshee approaching from the north began blowing approaching vehicles off the interstate.

Lug's warning call about the LAV allowed the convoy to make an immediate exit from the interstate onto the state roads of the suburban countryside. When Mouse came forward to say that the data had been fully dispersed, Owen quickly ordered him to get back to his deck and continue disseminating the info. "If you can't think of anybody else to send it to, start back at the top of the list! These bastards aren't going to give over pursuit until they know for certain that it is pointless."

Sweating as he jacked in again, Mouse began making really obvious moves in the matrix. He crashed virtual bars "screaming" his data and alerted paranoid "watcher" groups that vital data was being dispersed. He hired more and more inept Spam masters knowing that it increased the visibility of what he was doing while getting the data in more people's hands. He gave data "exclusives" to competing newsfaxes and even to competing reporters within specific newsfaxes or trid stations in the hope of demonstrating to the elephants that everybody had the peanut. He turned off that part of his mind that recognized the swaying and bumping of the truck as danger signs. He tried desperately to shut out the sounds of explosions which rocked the vehicle as the Banshee continued to fire on them, concentrating only on his mission. He had to get the word out and if it meant succeeding with his dying thought, Mouse was determined to get the data into as many hands as possible.

When the LAV's rotary autocanons began smashing in the rear left quadrant of the truck's armored body, Itami screamed "THAT'S ENOUGH" and raised a traversing Firelance Vehicle Laser. A lucky hit on the Banshee's weapon's turret detonated enough of the autocannon's ammo to silence the LAV's big guns. It did not, of course, silence the Heavy or Medium machine guns of the scout configured Low Altitude Vehicle, which continued to pound on the damaged rear quarter of the truck while quickly closing the distance with it's prey. Temporarily sidetracked by the need to deal with the sudden appearance of a feathered serpent, the banshee pilot was no quicker to recognize Doc's illusion than the chopper pilot had been. Unfortunately, autodrive on a straight section of interstate is very different than autodrive on winding country roads. When Doc's astral form recognized the danger his physical body was in, he quickly returned to his material form to drive the car, giving the banshee pilot enough clues to recognize that he had been distracted by an illusion. He'd also take hits from the Roadmaster's vehicle laser, but was in good enough shape to continue the pursuit.

Because Doc had been working his feathered serpent illusion, Lug and Hamon had taken responsibility for finding a course south. Since there destination had more to do with time than location they thought that doubling back on a parallel course might confuse pursuit. It didn't confuse the Banshee's Pilot, or the wounded but functioning Western Dragon which still chased the crew.

Fortunately, before either of those competitors could complete their respective missions or begin their attacks on each other, word reached them that there would be no payday for this assignment. The banshee pilot got the word on his comm and shrugging, broke off pursuit. This gave the dragon enough pause to receive word from an astral . Although his blood was up the worm recognized that his injuries needed care more than his pride needed vengance.

After several minutes of quiet as the convoy bumped along a country road, Owen went back to Mouse and told the sweating decker. "Good job, Mickey. Looks like you saved us all." The wide eyed ork whispered "You gotta come with me, boss. We been summoned"

There were a lot of things Owen hated about the hitcher jack. Primarily, he resented the complete lack of control it forced on him. He was little more than a spectator and the helplessness frightened him. The wonder of the matrix with it's surreal light show were lost as the Phys ad's mind screamed against his being completely at the mercy of others. He understood little of the trip or of the security check points he passed along the way to the virtual conference room. He imagined that the shadowy figures who sat around the table were intended to impress and frighten him, but he was too angry at himself for his fear to be impressed by this obvious psychological ploy.

"So, you are the two who have been irresponsibly spreading dangerous information around the world......"

"Ha Ha, I like that, 'Dangerous information', that's good." Owen interrupted.

The dimly lit figure that had been speaking seemed so put out at being interrupted that it did not know how to react. Another voice responded "What is it about the phrase that you find amusing?"

"Information is information. It is neutral. Only the use it is put to can be called dangerous and those who would judge the safety or danger that a piece of data may have, utilize such colossal arrogance in predicting the future that I find them funny."

After a minute of hubbub around the table a new voice, one silky with menace said "We're so glad you are amused. Perhaps you will be so good as to explain to us why you chose to distribute this data, dangerous or not, all over the planet."

"You mean instead of selling it to the highest bidder? Simple. Anyone who gained this 'dangerous data' would eliminate us in the interest of security. We couldn't hide it because, before we even knew what it was, we saw that major powers were willing to do anything to get it back. It was simply too hot a property to hold onto and we couldn't trust anyone who would buy something this secret and 'dangerous'. " Owen responded.

"Did you give any thought to the implications of your actions. To the responsibility that......"

"Excuse me. Yes. My responsibility was to avoid dying. It was to keep my team from getting killed. If you're asking about whether I thought about how annoyed corp and governments and others would be about not being able to keep their business secret, yes I considered it, but it wasn't worth the assured death of myself and my team that any other course of action entailed. If the secret could not be kept, the only way to maintain balance was to make sure that it was no longer a secret, that everybody had it. "

"Well, we of the corporate court may decide on that you and your team merit extermination for your actions", the first voice said "So you really haven't survived by adopting this course, have you?"

"Possibly not," Owen said, "But it seemed a better choice to pursue enlightened self interest rather than dying from greed or inaction, courses whose lethality, I notice, no-one has denied. May I ask if anyone here would have done differently if the same data was known to be in their hands?"

The silence of the group was very telling. The second voice that Owen had heard said "You seem to have made your point. We'd like the entire story in your own words."

For the next twenty minutes, Owen explained what had happened and what conclusions had dictated his actions. When he was done there was a brief period of silence. Finally the menacing voice said "You may leave. Now."

As he jacked out the shaking decker croaked "Boss, was that really.......... Uh.....Christo! Those guys were pissed.....if they....."

"Calm down, Mickey," Owen said. "Everybody dies eventually. If today is our day, it's our day. I don't know if that was really the boys and girls from Zurich Orbital or not, but there isn't any profit in revenge, they can't get the toothpaste back in the tube and they as much as admitted that we had no good choice. I don't think they would be so petty as to try to ice us because they're having a bad hair day, but, if I'm wrong, we'll deal with it. Nobody is ever guaranteed a tomorrow, my friend. On a more positive note, I want to thank you for your adroit handling of the situation."

"Ya did real good, kid" Itami said.

"Yes. An exceptional first effort, young rodent. Very impressive" Doc added.

When Lug said "Now if ya could just keep from blowin yer cookies, at every little thing, you'd be rock solid".

Hamon extended his hand and looking the ork in the eye said "Thanks"

"And it seems you've found a home, if you want one, Mickey." Owen concluded with a smile.

"Really?" Mickey responded, "Ya mean.......yeah. Chill. I'm a lost boy. Wiz."

Sayla awoke to find herself rolled in a rug, bouncing along in the back of a Nissan-Holden Brumby. As soon as she opened her eyes she saw a growling ork female samurai who said:

"Don't say nothin an ya stay alive. We ain't gonna hurt ya if ya don't give us no trouble. Just shaddup an y'all live."

Sayla nodded and mouthed the question "Why?"

"Brak wants ya fer bait. Dat's all. Just relax."

Sayla closed her eyes, seeming to surrender, as she sent her astral form out to reconnoiter. There was a male dwarf rigger driving the vehicle and a human female samurai sitting in the seat next to him. In addition to the Ork in the back of the van there was a skinny norm male who had a deck of some kind clutched to his chest as he rocked back and forth. Sayla wondered where she was being taken. The team of kidnappers seemed very small and poorly armed. But they were still enough to snatch you, weren't they? She thought bitterly. This was why Owen was trying to get me off the comm so quickly. He knew the doss was compromised. Drek! I should have called to let him know I was back before I went into his place.

The van came to a stop and the gruff dwarf asked the ork sam "Slitch awake?"

The Ork's nod made Brak smile as he said "Well, keep her covered. I'm gonna call her squeeze."

Over the next five hours the dwarf's frustration continued to mount at his inability to reach the Phys ad. Between calls he contented himself with describing in lurid detail all the things he would do to "Fraggin Owen Fraggin Glendower" when he caught up with him. He also spent some time rubbing his crotch as he looked into the elf woman's gray eyes and offered to free her if she'd "serve" him. For her part Sayla concentrated on her centering exercises to pass the hours.

Eventually the Dwarf got a call through to Glendower. "I got yer bimbo, pal" he said. "You bring back all a my property and I'll trade fer her. But ya gotta come alone."

"I'm not a rigger. I can't drive the Roadmaster." Owen responded.

Growling, Brak said "Awright. You bring along da rigger who took my Baby away. But nobody else, get me? Or yer little keeb will grow a second mouth in her neck" He said as he drew his thumb across his own windpipe."Ya try anything funny and I might just let her....entertain me fer a while. In fact, why dontcha bring about 50K with ya too. Fer carryin charges."

"Where and when?"

"25 minutes. The park where ya left us." Brak replied as he cut communications.

"Unroll her from dat rug, but keep her covered.....and, tie her up wit dese." The dwarf directed as he tossed Tigra some plastic restraints. As soon as she was out of the rug, the Sayla began tossing sleep spells to knock out the Barbarians.

Twenty minutes later when the Roadmaster pulled up and Owen stepped out of the front, Sayla had just finished laying the unconscious bodies on the grass. Before he even acknowledged her, a grimly determined Phys ad went up to the dwarf's body and snapped the unconscious rigger's neck. Taking the corpse's Ruger Super Warhawk, he then emptied the heavy pistol into the dwarf's skull. Dropping the empty pistol he swept Sayla up in his arms and clutching her to him mumbled "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry....oh Sayla"

Feeling his tears on the side of her face Sayla immediately began calming the shaking Phys ad. "It's alright, it's all over......It's ok.....shhh....I'm fine, sugarbear....shhh"

While this tearful reunion went on Doc dropped his invisibility spell on the remaining lost boys and at Hamon's direction they stripped the three surviving Barbarians of everything of value (including shoes). (This second setback of starting from scratch ended the Barbarians existence as a group, prompting Crusher to commit suicide rather than be deckless again, Janet to become a legitimate security guard with Ameritech and Tigra to launch a marginally successful career as a bodyguard.) The lost boys then ushered the lovers into the Roadmaster and drove both it and the Brumby back to neverland.

In the front of the damaged Roadmaster, Mouse said to Itami,

"I don't get it. The boss was in complete control. He single handed took out Brak's team ta save me, he handled the mercenaries without a sweat, he hardly raised his voice when the corps sent the bikers, choppers, an a dragon after us. He laughed at the corporate court and even put them on the defensive when dey was talkin about how they might kill us all for what we did. But if Hamon hadn't come up with the plan he might have just gone off on his own when his lady was threatened and he was, like, cryin when he saw she was ok. How come he can deal wit all a dem threats totally arctic but then fall apart over a woman?"

"Well kid," Itami said "He may have proved that a herd of elephants can't catch clever mice, but love.... hell, love's bigger than elephants."


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